Last time, Piemur observed an exchange between a dragonrider (T’reb), a Nabol man (Toolan), and an artist the man conned into creating some pictures of a space (Cramb), uncovering a little bit more detail about the plot hinted at in the first chapter. Apparently, the Nabolese help the dragonriders, the dragonriders help the Nabolese capture some land over their border and bring it under their control.
Piemur is also completely morose about his loss of singing voice and feeling aimless while he marks time doing things for Robinton.
Dragon’s Code, Chapter 3: Content Notes:
Also last time, Piemur had trouble hearing all of this because of the extremely loud background music of Yakkity Sax, as he continued to have all sorts of near-discoveries, culminating in his shock causing him to hit his head, get discovered, and have to flee both Toolan and Cramb. Which causes him to lose his hat and have to trudge back to Southern Hold in the hot sun. And it’s this plot-required decision that gets us going.
Toric says hello to Piemur and mentions his lack of hat at the beginning of this chapter, while Piemur leads Stupid to the trough and then starts splashing his own head with the water in the trough. So, y’know, the sort of thing that’s already a sign that Piemur is suffering from something and probably shouldn’t do anything but get cooled down. But because nobody knows this (and because Piemur isn’t going to say anything, which is something finally consistent with the characterization of the other Piemur from the original books), there will be yet more Yakkity Sax playing going on in this chapter. Before we get to that part, however, Toric has news for Piemur about Southern.
“The [time-skipped] sent word yesterday: They’re no longer permitting anyone from outside to enter their Weyr.”
Piemur jerked upright, sending droplets of water flying from his hair. He stared at Toric, his thirst forgotten, a frown creasing his burnt brow as he wondered if this latest development had anything to do with T’reb and the two men he’d been spying on.
“Can you believe it? Mardra and T’kul say that we’ve brought illness to their Weyr,” Toric spat, and Piemur had no toruble hearing the disgust in the Lord Holder’s tone. “Not a word from T’ron, though. His opinion on the matter is anyone’s guess.”
T’ron is still in charge, although Piemur notes that T’ron seems to be leaving most of the talking to T’kul.
It’s such a shame that these dragonriders don’t have any previous accounts of dragons getting sick and needing to be cared for to draw upon. Or, for that matter, any accounts of a raging pandemic and what the best options are for dragons and riders to keep safe from spreading the disease around. There aren’t any songs about heroic dragonriders who discovered vital information about their dragons, and how an entire communication system is built around encoding that information. Or a ballad of some sort about a heroic dragonrider who rushed to deliver inoculation serum to a wide area, seeming to break the boundaries of space and time itself with her speed because that was the best way to stop the disease in its tracks. These things are utterly, completely lost to these people, apparently, including to the people who are the nominal keepers of records and recorders of history in song. (Yes, I’m being harsher on this author than the others, but that’s because this author has had the benefit of having both previous authors available to pick, choose, and otherwise incorporate continuity from.)
“An illness is raging among the dragonriders, halp wat do?” is certainly a well-trod story decision for a Dragonriders of Pern novel, but because this is a Ninth Pass story, I feel like there should be some call-backs here.
Moving forward with the plot, after some physical description of Toric, Piemur voices his thought on Southern:
Even though the Southern Weyrfolk were no longer in favor with Benden Weyr, Piemur didn’t think they were all such a bad bunch. He reckoned only a small group of the Southern [time-skipped] were actually troublemakers, and that other members of the Weyr had stayed on with them out of loyalty.
I still don’t think it’s been fully explained why, other than reverence and awe for dragonriders that Anne’s Piemur never had nor obtained, why this Piemur is suddenly very willing to give the Southerners the benefit of the doubt. Also, the Piemur of Dragondrums, the one who was bullied severely and nearly killed by a “small group of…troublemakers” with either the collusion, assistance, or indifference of everyone else, seems like the last person who would be willing to say that it’s probably just a small group of troublemakers in the middle of a mostly-blameless whole.
Also, I think it’s clear enough for us in the 21st c. of Terra, in watching parliamentary politics, and the fact that we have specific language around bystanders and how they need to be trained to intervene, rather than look the other way, when things go, and especially now having seen the last decade of oppositions that work to obstruct everything when they are out of power, dismantle everything while they are in power, and provide cover for their own when they commit terrible acts, up to and including inciting and encouraging insurrection and violence against members of the government or deliberately withdrawing from international cooperation and accordances so their buddies can profit and the rest of us suffer, we might have a dim view of the idea that there’s only a few bad apples and the system behind them would simply vanish if all the bad individual actors were removed. Piemur was nearly killed by that attitude on Prime Universe Pern.
At this point, I’m willing to say this book is an Alternate Universe of Pern, a Ninth Pass that happened on some other timeline that looks like ours, that has a lot of the samely-named characters, and who might look mostly familiar to us, but are not the same people. Because otherwise we have to believe two mostly opposite Piemurs exist at the same time.
Back to the plot. Having digested the news, Piemur says that he’ll need to send a message with the additional development of the Southern closure of their borders, and Toric tells him not to bother, as he already did it and N’ton and Robintion are alreaedy inbound. Which they are, and Sebell is with them. When Lioth arrives, Piemur has managed to recover a hat, which is good, but there’s no indication that Piemur’s had a rest or recovered from everything he did in the sun.
Toric and N’ton both greet with “ ’Day”, which seems like an interesting contraction, and N’ton addresses both Toric and Piemur as “So’Holders,” so in this Pern AU, there’s a lot more contraction of language, it appears.
N’ton then does an acrobatic dive dismount off of Lioth, something that “filled him [Piemur] with awe even though he’d seen it dozens of times in the past,” proving that even in this alternate world, dragonriders still really enjoy taking risks with their life if they can show off to someone else. And then, from there, we get more of Piemur showcasing his awe of dragonriders, in this loving, almost purple, prose description of N’ton (compare to the significantly shorter description of Toric that I’ve left unquoted if you’re following along):
Standing almost two meters in height, N’ton, like most dragonriders, was supremely physically fit and carried his long, strong frame with a casualness that matched his easy manner and pleasant nature. All dragonriders had an indefinable presence, a strength akin to an electric force that radiated around them. Some folk attributed the dragonriders’ unique energy to the lifelong connection they shared with their dragons, or to their higher-than-average levels of empathy. Whatever its source, when dragonriders entered a room, they often charged the atmosphere with a buzz that could also infect others around them. N’ton, though relatively young, carried himself with an air of maturity as if he were much older than his Turns. His light-blue eyes had one or two creases at the cornersl his symmetric, handsome face bore a striaght nose and strong chin, and he seemed to be utterly unaware of how striking a figure he cut. Piemur had heard women gasp when they saw the Fort Weyrleader for the first time.
And, of course, after a few books where we were able to at least acknowledge the idea that dragonriders have the privilege of being able to be several of the identities on the queer spectrum, we have to remember that it’s the women who are gasping when they see N’ton. Certainly not any journeyman Harpers who spend significant and loving detail on the physique of the Fort Weyrleader.
The other possibility is that the energetic field that Piemur attributes to rumor, or dragons, or empathy, or some other thing might be the dragonriders themselves exuding the Shield of Sexiness, or whichever the relevant game trope is that gets people to do what you want and to listen to you because you’re hammering on their subconscious that you’re the sexiest, strongest, bestest person ever. Like a permanently on Charm Person status or something. Since, y’know, Pern is a world that explicitly acknowledges psi abilities and selects for dragonriders people who have high psi abilities with regard to telepathy and empathy, maybe it’s an unacknowledged, uninvestigated reality of Pern that every dragonrider has at least one rank in Memetic Sex God(dess), and that there are occasionally people like Lessa who have a lot more of it and the ability to control it a lot better, and those people become Weyrwomen, and usually Weyrwomen of legend, through their skill and power.
Which might actually resolve the problem I had about Masterharper Robinton being able to feel Lessa’s powers in Ninth Pass 2.0 – since he’s canonically able to inspire this same sort of sex god status in others, and he can talk to the dragons and they talk back to him, and the reason Robinton’s not a bronze rider himself is because Petiron would never let him go to do it, so basically, I guess we were supposed to conclude that Robinton would have been one of the best dragonriders that ever was, but instead gets to tbe the greatest and sexiest musician that ever way. Lucky for Robinton that he also happened to have perfect pitch and all the other musical talents that Petiron demanded of him in addition to all of this dragonrider power stuff. This would, now that I think about it, possibly also explain what the blue riders are looking for when they go on Search, and with a little worldbuilding, could also explain why the blue dragons and riders are the ones with the uncanny knack for finding candidates – maybe they’re the most sensitive to the Sexy field?
Robinton, a Mary Sue? Perish the thought. But also, this is a disturbingly effective underlying worldbuild and could explain a lot of things, if this were one of the core underlying assumptions that never actually gets expressed anywhere.
We’re getting off-track here, ever so slightly. I’m speculating that Piemur might have the hots for N’ton, if only slightly, and in the world of 2018, that should be a thing that can be said without worry that the readers are going to be upset about it. Or so I think. But instead we have this last line of “no homo, bro” and we have to sigh and grumble about representation again.
After some exposition about the architecture of the place and Toric calling for refreshments, Piemur takes a seat in the shade, only to recognize that he’s got a fierce headache, an upset stomach, and he’s still radiating heat. All of which sound like he should be venting his heat somewhere and trying to cool himself back down before he passes out from heatstroke, but that’s not going to happen because he still has to make his report to Robinton and Sebell before he can go get himself cooled off.
And then we get something like the Menolly-equivalent, but who ran away from the dragonriders, Meria.
Piemur had met Meria on the day she first arrived at Southern Hold. She had left Southern Weyr and, needing shelter—no one on Pern, even on the Southern Continent, would choose to live in the open, under the threat of Threadfall—had sought succor from Toric. As far as Piemur knew, Meria had never offered an explanation as to why she had left the Weyr, which was something Piemur often speculated about.
Except now I want to know how old Meria is, because if she’s old enough to have aged out of the queen candidacy system, she would be an excellent character or learning about what happens to queen candidates after they’re no longer being treated as potential dragonriders. Also, it’s a woman who left the Weyr. We already knew that the men supposedly can leave the Weyr and be Randian supermen wherever they go, but here it appears to be that women who leave have to immediately go find someone to protect them.
(Also, Prime Universe Piemur got Stupid by living through a Threadfall and then went, “Huh, maybe I can do this out here without needing to be in a Hold at all.” And also, Menolly managed it for a while herself. So maybe people don’t choose to do things this way, except Prime Universe Piemur, but there’s nothing in this section of Piemur remembering his own experiences out in the open during Threadfall.)
Toric, when explaining why he’s called the council says “As my message stated, the Oldtimers—my pardon, I meant the Southern Weyrleaders—formally closed their Weyr to us yesterday.” Which, I think this is the first time where anyone has begged a pardon for using that particular nickname. That it’s coming from Toric could be in character, but there’s no indication that Toric is being sarcastic or insincere with this correction, for this or for Toric following up with not being too concerned about the dragons not flaming Thread, because grubs will keep them protected, but he says he’s worried that he can’t send his tithes and there won’t be dragonriders flying over his skies. Robinton asks Toric if he’s informed Benden, and Toric says he hasn’t, not that it would be worth anything anyway.
Prime Universe Toric is a schemer who would be overjoyed to short the dragonriders their tithes for his own profits and tell nobody about it. I can’t imagine him being the kind of person who would willingly invite Robinton or N’ton to his place and give them the opportunity to sniff out any of his schemes while they are in action. So, yeah, this is still weird characterization world. Because there’s no noted insincerity or other kind of indication that Toric is anything other than serious about this, and the Toric I am used to might be brought up short because his rudeness is showing too much, but I can’t imagine Toric offering a sincere beg-pardon for anything involving dragonriders.
Robinton asks for Piemur’s report, but because he’s still heatstruck, he talks about the plot that he discovered and the people he shadowed, but he’s having trouble remembering the correct order of events, how long he spent chasing this thing, and why it relates to being asked about the Southern Weyr. It’s very broken sentence structure, and Piemur is very clearly making an effort to recall events correctly and tie them ogether in a coherent narrative. Sebell seems interested, but Robinton doesn’t, and during the subsequent conversation, Piemur interrupts to press his point, and gets subtly rebuked, apologized for, with the heat blamed, and led off by Sebell to get into the shade so he doesn’t embarrass himself further. A Piemur who hasn’t been heatstruck would be significantly more coherent and able to explain what’s going on to everyone, but instead, he loses his opportunity to convince Robinton and Sebell of the plot that’s afoot, whatever it might be. Because of the timelines and events yet to come in this book, this is because Piemur can’t be spoiling an extremely important event before it comes to pass, but it seems like a contrivance, in this case, meant mostly to make sure the book doesn’t end prematurely.
I am reminded, at this point, that stupid decisions are a regular part of our lives, and so it’s entirely plausible that Piemur brought this upon himself, but it still seems like all of these things are set up in a carefully-orchestrated domino chain meant to make sure that Piemur isn’t taken seriously prematurely and the book can proceed.
In the conference afterward, Piemur tries again to explain what’s going on, but it’s still not coming out any more coherently than it did in the initial conference, and Piemur believes that Sebell doesn’t believe him either. Sebell plays into that with the next assignment he has for Piemur.
Piemur, before N’ton fetched us this morning, the Master and I discussed your role as a scout. This new position the Southern Weyrleaders have taken has changed everything. The Master thinks it might be best if you concentrate on mapping again. You’ve done more than your fair share of scouting for now.”
[…Piemur presses his case, but Sebell asks whether T’reb actually said anything or whether it was Toolan and Cramb speculating, without explaining that making an accusation like that against a dragonrider, without proof, is suicidal…]
“You’ve done good work, Piemur, but I think you may have been out in the hot sun for longer than is healthy. It’s obvious to me that you’re not behaving like yourself. Why don’t you get out of the heat and rest? When you’re ready, the Master thinks you should map the terrain near that steep bluff to the west of here. You know where I mean, don’t you?” Piemur nodded. “You always talk about how much you like climbing, so this should be a welcome task.”
And Piemur gets a lift to the cliffside that he’s being asked to climb and map from N’ton, but it’s not enough to stop the bad feelings.
[…]Piemur had started his journey in an unnaturally foul humor, unable to shake the feeling that Master Robinton no longer valued him, that he’d made a fool of himself in front of Sebell, N’ton, and Toric. Ever since that afternoon it had been hard to keep his spirits on an even keel. He felt as if he didn’t fit in anywhere anymore. Throughout the last fourteen days he’d mentally argued with himself about returning to Southern Weyr to discover more of what the [time-skipped] were planning with the men from Nabol, and every time his better sense won out and he convinced himself not to act contrary to Master Robinton’s orders, he felt like a coward, willing to do anything in order to fit in. Where had his gumption gone? Had he lost so much of his strength of character along with his singing voice that he was no longer able to act on his own?
There’s also that thing where disobeying the direct orders of a superior is much more likely to get you canned or hurt than promoted, could worsen relationships that are already fragile, and could result in serious damage if an unfounded accusation were leveled against people who have the ability to make your life completely miserable. Piemur might be at least subconsciously recognizing that being wrong about this would make him an extremely attractive scapegoat if everything goes entirely pear-shaped, and his self-preservation instincts are kicking in.
That said, this particular train of thought is familiar, at least the part where messing up once means that everyone hates you and no longer wants to have anything to do with you. The bit of “and then I’ll hare off and Show Them All” is less familiar to me, but I understand the idea of desperately wanting to be proven right or at least get back into the good graces of others. This is still Alternate Universe Piemur, though, because he’s thinking about disobeying, rather than just going off and doing it. And we learn that he got advice from his foster-mother, Ama, to follow his instincts when he wasn’t sure what to do. And that the diminutive nickname form of his name is “Pie,” which means I’ve been pronouncing his name completely wrong in my head for this entire series.
As he’s climbing, Piemur hums a tune he used to sing, but one of the jumps doesn’t come easy, because puberty changes still give him an unsettled voice, which aggravates him. Yet again, he feels like he’s been discarded from his Hall because of his voice cracking, but eventually he starts climbing again. Farli appears to try and warn him of something, but the images are all jumbled and Piemur doesn’t get anything about it. Farli then projects a single image of Piemur climbing very quickly, before chittering loudly and disappearing, but Piemur doesn’t understand the import of it until something catches his attention in the periphery. Once he turns to see what it is, he proves Farli right by scrambling up to try and outrun the Thread that Farli was trying to warn him about.
So, we’re splitting Menolly’s origin story between two people, with Meria as the one who ran away from safety and then was brought to another place, and Piemur gets to do the fitting himself into a cave that’s barely big enough for himself. Since he already has a fire-lizard, however, he doesn’t have to try and feed a fair of just-hatched ones. And, as it turns out, Farli is interested in helping defend her bonded human and giving him some additional breathing room.
What was that sound? He could hear something like gushing liquid or rushing air—or maybe a combination of the two. It grew louder. Through his tightly-closed eyelids Piemur could sense an orange glow. His eyes snapped open just as flame spewed in front of the rock face, and Piemur wondered if he was dreaming. Then another burst of fire flared in front of his eyes and, hissing, Farli flew into the cave.
She must have flown off to find firestone when she first caught sight of the Threadfall, Piemur thought in amazement. He knew that fire-lizards, like dragons, could chew firestone in order to breathe flame, but he’d never seen it before.
And, unlike their bigger cousins who had their genes messed with according to someone with extreme views about gender roles, chewing firestone to flame doesn’t affect the fertility of the fire-lizards at all.
After flaming out, Piemur sends Farli to poke N’ton’s fire lizard and relay his location, which allows N’ton and Lioth to come out and otherwise flame a swath through the rain long enough for Piemur to jump from his hiding space and supposedly land on Lioth. Which he does, but Piemur is unable to stick the landing, so N’ton has to grab him by the tunic to keep him alive, and after a frantic quick warp (where we hear the communication between N’ton and Lioth, even though Piemur would not have), N’ton dumps Piemur into the local body of water, saving him from Thread and from falling to his death. Which ends the chapter, as Piemur asks for a moment to recover himself after all of that excitement.
So, yeah, other than also giving us many more reasons to believe this is an alternate Pern out of continuity (or at least out of characterization) with the original series, this particular chapter seems to be mostly there to make sure that the plot doesn’t get spoiled too early and to give Piemur some peril, as well as to continue hammering on the idea that Piemur is awkward and clumsy and all out of sorts with the person that he used to be before his voice cracked and everything changed. If there’s something useful later on in the story from this, that’s fantastic and will give this chapter some usefulness, but otherwise, this doesn’t appear to do a whole lot of lifting toward the narrative in any sort of way.
On the positive side, we’ve made it three chapters, a whole quarter of the story, without any sort of sexual violence done or threatened to anyone! Nor do we have any extraordinarily young characters being pressured into becoming dragonriders and/or young characters engaging in sexual behaviors because their dragons will compel it from them soon enough. (I think we’ve had exactly two women with speaking lines at this point, which is not so great.)