Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Heal the Sick

Last chapter, there was a lot of dancing and more chemistry between Moreta and Alessan, even though they won’t ever be able to do anything about it. Oklina was charmed by a dragonrider, but everyone is trying to make sure that she doesn’t get anything more than charmed.

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes: None but the Idiot Ball seems rather strong with this chapter.


The chapter opens with the Masterhealer, Capiam, awaking from an unplanned nap with a Lord Holder (Ratoshigan) breathing down his neck, asking for results of his analysis of the sickness afflicting people. Sh’gall is in attendance as well, having conveyed both Healer and Holder to their current location. Capiam relays what he knows.

Two have died of whatever it is that afflicts them,” Capiam said slowly, reluctant to utter the terrifying conclusion that he had reached before exhaustion had overcome him.
“Dead? Two? And you don’t know what ailed them?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Capiam noticed that Sh’gall had stepped back from the doorway at the mention of death. The Weyrleader was not a man who tolerated injury or illness, having managed to avoid both.
“No, I don’t know precisely what ails them. The symptoms–a fever, headache, lack of appetite, the dry hacking cough–are unusually severe and do not respond to any of the commonly effective treatments.”
[…here comes the boom…]
“These deaths are but the beginning, Lord Ratoshigan. An epidemic is loose on Pern.”
“Is that why you and Talpan had that animal killed?” Sh’gall spoke for the first time, angry surprise in his voice.
“Epidemic?” Ratoshigan waved Sh’gall to silence. “Epidemic! What are you saying, man? Just a few sick-”
“Not a few, Lord Ratoshigan.” Capiam pulled his shoulders back and leaned against the cool stucco wall behind him. “Two days ago I was urgently called to Igen Sea Hold. Forty were dead, including three of the sailors who had rescued that animal from the sea. Far better that they had left it on its tree trunk!”

Ah, now there’s a plot forming for all of us to see. There’s a plague, apparently brought on by the animal that the Igen Gather was to look at. Capiam explains his reasoning – the sickness is following wherever the “sea feline”, as it’s called, has been going. Ratoshigan doesn’t understand how a caged animal can transmit sickness, which suggests that Sixth Pass Pern does not have germ theory available to all…except that Capiam then refers to the illness as a virus, which suggests otherwise.

To try and arrest the situation, Capiam orders quarantine under his authority as Masterhealer. Ratoshigan protests and is shouted down by Capiam, who will be administering “empiric treatments since homeopathic remedies have proved ineffectual.”

And then asks to be taken back to his Crafthall, which is a major *headdesk* for me. Presumably, part of this diagnosis of epidemic has been looking into the vectors by which the disease travels – whether it required touch with the creature, touch with an infected, or whether there’s an airborne or waterborne component. From the description given of who has fallen ill, it doesn’t seem to be limited to touch and there’s a strong likelihood that the virus has an air transmission vector. Which means everyone who has come in contact with the creature or anyone who has contact with anyone that has encountered the creature is potentially infected. That includes you, Masterhealer, since both Weyrleader and Lord Holder in the room with you have both had direct contact. Unless you’re really sure that traveling through hyperspace nullifies the infection, if you go back, you’re potentially becoming a disease vector yourself.

As, we note, are any of the dragonriders that attended the Ista Gather and then went elsewhere, like Ruatha. So if you’re going to declare a quarantine, Masterhealer, you should be declaring it planet-wide until you are sure that you know how it spreads, and possibly until you’ve developed an effective treatment. Because nothing makes a Masterhealer happy like having to play a planet-wide game of Pandemic! with real stakes.

So, really, Masterhealer, you should be staying put right where you are and communicating with the home office by drums to find a cure, so as not to spread the disease yourself.

Incidentally, this is probably why this story has to take place in the Sixth Pass – if we were in the Ninth Pass, with dragonriders fully aware of their powers to twist through time, they might end up sending a single dragonrider, probably one infected, back in time before the discovery of the creature, grab it and move it back out to sea or otherwise prevent its discovery, then go off and live out their life dying of the disease. This would create an unstable time loop, unless the selected rider could forewarn themselves of their mission. Entirely doable, of course.

Anyway, back to the action. It appears that dragons are not affected by the illness, which is good, and neither are wherries or herdbeasts, but runnerbeasts and people are. (Also, apparently, the Healers believe that dragons and wherries are generically related to each other. Because they’re both winged creatures?) Capiam has no issues with heading back on the dragon because he assumes that Sh’gall is strong enough to resist any infection. And he does wonder if the cold of hyperspace could kill off an infection before arriving at the Harper Hall, having left instructions with Sh’gall for Moreta and the Healer, Berchar, on how to treat the plague and how long it takes to incubate.

The watchwher gives him an enthusiastic greeting, and Capiam muses on their loyalty and faithfulness, and how he and the Masterharper made sure the apprentices knew not to abuse it. The chained watchwher, that is. Because loyal animals need to be fettered and chained.

Inside the Hall, which is building an annex, the apprentices are asleep, and he doesn’t wake them, instead composing messages for the drummers to send to Holds, Halls, and Weyrs about the plague, and collapsing into bed himself, writing a Do Not Disturb message on his door before completely collapsing.

Not much action in this chapter. Although it seems at this point, everyone is really too exhausted to be of use. Perhaps with some rest, they’ll be better.


27 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Heal the Sick

  1. boutet January 7, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    I think there is a brief conversation between F’lar and Mnememoth in the first book about the potential relationship between dragons and watchwhers, when M does a grief roar for the wher dying in what it thought was the defense of Lessa. I can’t remember how that went, though, just that it happened.

    If between can stop this illness then they need to check that immediately, because then they have a cure. Just get everyone affected on a dragon, jump somewhere else, jump back, and we’re done. No mass outbreak, nothing else to do.

    What the heck is a sea feline anyway? Sometimes I wonder if MCaff even had any idea herself but just neglected to describe things, or if she just didn’t care what the various creatures were so didn’t bother (same with tunnel snakes… with legs).

  2. emmy January 7, 2016 at 3:18 pm

    I think they only mean ‘sea feline’ in the sense of ‘it was found in the sea, clinging to a floating thing’. Not that they’re suggesting it actually lived there.

  3. WanderingUndine January 7, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    I think it was one of the cheetah-type cats the settlers brought? Stev Kimmer was particularly involved, IIRC. Damnit Stev.

  4. WanderingUndine January 7, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Marine cats would’ve been cool, though.

    Is “Everything’s better with marine life” a trope? *checks* No it isn’t. But it might be my motto now.

  5. Lodrelhai (@Lodrelhai) January 7, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    As much as I don’t like the idea of chaining a loyal creature, I do see the purpose of it. It reminds me of a high-school friend’s Akita, who was a great dog so long as the owners were around. Meet her alone and she wouldn’t let anyone onto the property, even if, like me, they were frequent visitors. My friend’s family spent a lot of money just building up and reinforcing the fence on their property, because that dog was a genius at escaping the back yard. And he couldn’t roughhouse if she was around, because she’d assume he was being attacked and try to defend him.

    But as long as one of the family members was around and unthreatened, she’d play fetch and sit and roll over and accept scritches and even let everyone use her as a pillow. A great dog, and absolutely loyal – maybe a bit too much.

    The incident with the Ruatha watchwher in Dragonflight is, to me, further evidence of that. It goes to attack a dragonrider – a bronze dragonrider, with his massive dragon that the watchwher is afraid of right there – because it thinks Lessa is being kidnapped. But the moment Lessa calls it off it pulls back – pulls away so violently mid-leap that it breaks its own back (or neck, I forget which). Absolute loyalty.

  6. Madame Canard January 8, 2016 at 6:16 am

    Don’t know how much is OK to say about the origins of the watch whers as it’s explained in Dragonsdawn. Do people mind spoilers? But yes they are related to dragons and fire lizards.

    I always thought the whers were treated terribly.

    Capiam going back to the hall always bothered me. I can see that having him where all his equipment and research is is useful but he could quarantine himself at Ruatha and have stuff brought to him?

  7. only some stardust January 8, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    you can always use rot13 for spoilers if you want.

  8. genesistrine January 17, 2016 at 6:13 am

    So, the Masterhealer was still quartered at the Harper Hall in the Sixth Pass, eh? I was hoping to make that faintly logical by headcanoning that there originally was a Healer Hall but so many Healers were killed in the epidemic that the survivors moved in with the Harpers for the advantage of quick comms, but nope.

    Also, I’m helplessly sniggering at “homeopathic remedies have proved ineffectual”. Water isn’t working! What can we treat our patients with now!?

    Regarding between, I daresay extreme cold will sterilize the same as extreme heat will. But that’s only going to do any good if the contagion’s on your skin, not if it’s already in your lungs/bloodstream/whatever.

    Then again, Capiam’s already noted the infection pattern following the creature, and I think we can guarantee that a lot of dragonriders would’ve dropped in to take a peek at it, and maybe even given lifts to friends from Crafthalls and Holds. If the contagion cound easily spread through between there’d probably already be cases reported from the Weyrs and other places far-distant from the creature’s location, and the pattern would look a lot different.

  9. Silver Adept January 17, 2016 at 10:27 pm

    @boutet – I wish I knew what a sea feline was. I’m sure it would look cool.

    @Lodrelhei – even then, though, the solution wasn’t “chain it up all day long”, it was “figure out how to keep the yard fenced and figure out what behaviors trigger unwanted responses.”

    Capiam going back bothers me, as well – if its a thing of unknown vector, taking it to the Healers is possibly exposing the people who can cure the thing to the disease and killing the shot you have at beating it. It seems like an unnecessary risk.

  10. genesistrine January 18, 2016 at 3:23 am

    On the other hand, the Masterhealer is trying to treat a flu epidemic* with homoeopathy. I don’t get the impression the Healers are going to be much good except for palliative care in this crisis.

    *should we call it cat flu? Let’s call it cat flu!

  11. depizan January 18, 2016 at 2:30 pm

    Once again, I find the world building really super odd. Unless the original colonists were a bunch of assholes.

    How has Pern not had problems with disease before this? Both diseases the human colonists brought with them (I’m not sure how many of our diseases would come with us, but I know some certainly would.) and diseases native to Pern. Okay, humans are new, it might take a little while for something to mutate and affect humans, but the colonists would know that would happen.

    They had time to genetically engineer freaking dragons. How did they not also have the time to make sure that their descendants had knowledge? Is there some catastrophe that destroyed the knowledge?

    (Also, people in these books mostly seem awfully healthy for the level of medical care being suggested now. How many kids has Moreta had without any apparent ill effects?)

  12. genesistrine January 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I think we have to postulate that the original colonists were thick as bricks and unpleasant with it.

    Since genetic engineering’s advanced enough to inflate fire lizards to human-carrying size it doesn’t seem impossible that infectious disease has been effectively eradicated, and a load of twits and/or assholes didn’t do the research when they all decided to go back to nature and live in harmony with everything and restore hierarchical society and craft secrets and live the cosplay lifestyle 24/7 or whatever the hell it was they thought they were doing.

  13. Silver Adept January 19, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    It’s possible that disease resistance was converted through vaccination, and that the clear anti-tech ideas of the colonists and their descendants have probably stopped what would have been a standard course of immunizations. There isn’t enough herd immunity to handle the outbreak, and probably hasn’t been for several passes. Which means it only takes one carrier of something very ancient to produce a whole lot of trouble.

  14. Brenda Appleby January 19, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    It’s hard to know what the original plan of the colonists was, since it didn’t involve having to learn how to survive Threadfall – not to mention an emergency evacuation from a volcanic eruption. And then, our own records from 2500 years ago vary in their availability and accuracy.

    The “sea feline” was found clinging to some floating debris – I picture a leopard, that maybe was in a tree that got blown off a cliff during a storm and caught in the current. Since they don’t have large felines on the northern continent, the sailors brought it home as a curiosity.

  15. depizan January 20, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    The colonists were somehow able to pull of the genetic engineering of dragons while dodging Threadfall and volcanic eruption. It seems highly unlikely that they couldn’t pass on any of their knowledge.

    Also, 2500 years? I don’t know enough human history to be certain, but I’m pretty sure if you take any two points in human history that are 2500 years apart, the more recent era will have more advanced science and technical knowledge than the older era. Not only was the colonists’ knowledge lost, it hasn’t been regained. Which seems really bizarre.

    Though it may just be terrible world building rather than evil or Luddite colonists. I can’t remember for sure, but it seems like medical care has been implied to be better than it’s now being implied to be. Which could be because Moretta is set a little earlier than the other books, of course. But I can’t remember people dying from infection or childbirth or having STDs or any of the other things you’d expect in a world that has no idea how to treat a disease. (And it too 2500 years for something to finally mutate and affect the humans? That also seems really unlikely.)

    (Of course, the no one dies of infection – unless it’s dramatically important or part of the plot – is a problem I have with dung ages fantasy. So it’s not like it’s just McCaffrey fumbling there.)

  16. genesistrine January 20, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    If you think back to the stripped labs in DQ it does look like there was a Luddite or anti-tech phase fairly early on in Pernese history. They don’t seem to have been vandalised, though, just evacuated along with the contents – so where were those taken? And why?

    2500 years in human history – well, choose your points carefully enough and you can get pretty much any comparative level of technology you like. But human history in general is much, much more diverse than Pernese history – as far as we’re told the social structure there was established continent-wide during the first Threadfall and stayed static from then on. There’s no parallel to that in Earth history – Imperial China almost matches it in length, but has dynasties and invasions and what-all else, none of which appear in what we know of Pern. (Though as I’ve said before I suspect we’re getting the simplified Harper-approved version of history, which can’t necessarily be trusted.)

    The infection/childbirth/STDs stuff could be handwaved by Pern being decayed-high-tech rather than classic-dung-age – humans with the level of genetic engineering skills displayed could have adapted themselves (or been adapted by their ancestors) to get rid of some of the more obvious design flaws in human physiology. But that’s still assuming no enterprising virus/bacterium/fungus would adapt itself to infect and spread using humans over the centuries, which is pretty implausible.

  17. depizan January 20, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Yeah, on Earth you can find a wild range of science and technology even at the same year in time. But if you take any one culture (to match Pern’s single culture), that’s a big enough span of time that you’re going to have trouble finding a place where things went backwards. And stayed that way.

    That’s the really weird thing. That’s enough time for them to, well, not exactly regain the technology that was lost, what with space flight and genetically engineering dragons and all, but certainly to get them back to 21st century Earth. I mean, unless I’m doing math wrong, 2500 years ago on Earth was 484 BCE.

    The only way this possibly makes any sense is if the Dragonriders (or the Harpers) are actively and enthusiastically making sure technology and science don’t advance. But we don’t really see that. I mean, we don’t see people being super enthusiastic about advancement, but we also don’t see people being all BURN THE WITCH when something gets invented.

    The main threat on Pern seems to be Thread, which is neither so dangerous that people are just barely surviving nor so harmless that it wouldn’t spur inventions to try and deal with it. I do not get this world building. At all.

    (Could you really tamper with human genetics enough to make people immune to infection? We’ve come close to wiping out a few diseases with vaccines and all, but new ones keep popping up. And we know people on Pern get sick, which seems to rule out genetically improved super immune system that keeps anything from being a danger. It’s just that prior to this, we haven’t seen much mention of fatal illnesses. I don’t know, it just all seems really scrambled.)

  18. Firedrake January 21, 2016 at 6:57 am

    I’m afraid I’m Doylist rather than Watsonian: Pern was conceived as a fantasy world, and the SF trappings were layered on later because SF had a slightly higher rep than fantasy as the wave of LotR imitations hit in the early 1970s. A house built on sand…

  19. genesistrine January 21, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    @depizan: Well, for all the human cultures that have existed since anatomically modern humans appeared ours is the only one (or mutually-influenced cluster of ones) that’s gone balls-out high-tech for whatever reason or reasons. (I’d nominate scientific openness/sharing data and techniques and a merchant/business class driving innovation, automation and mass-production technology as important for starters, but there’s no doubt other factors too.)

    I don’t want to go all rah-rah-rah Western capitalist imperialism yay! but it’s unique in human history and we’ve no idea how likely this kind of runaway development is. In 60k-odd years of humans it’s only shown up once. Something like Pern’s stasis may actually be more normal.

    Though I still find Pern itself unconvincing, simply because they find so much in the records once they start looking – eg Fandarel’s batteries. Those records must have been copied and recopied tens, even hundreds of times to survive, and nobody tried to put them to any use before?

    Re the diseases, I was thinking more of eliminating the diseases themselves, along the lines of smallpox already being extinct in the wild, but I don’t see why an amped-up immune system wouldn’t be feasible. And after 2500 years of no maintenance and bugs evolving it wouldn’t be surprising if it wasn’t as effective as it used to be.

  20. genesistrine January 21, 2016 at 5:44 pm

    @Firedrake: sorry, no, doesn’t fit. The SF trappings were fully in place in the first book. I don’t know if the explanatory preface was in the first novella or whether it was added for the fix-up book, but either way it’s always been a fantasy-tropes-explained-with-SCIENCE-words series.

    I think you’re almost right, though – I think what Pern is is science-fantasy trappings layered over a core of “romance novel” – particularly the “good girls can’t say yes” thing, hence the non-consent fantasy and the “swept away with passion” fantasy and all that ick.

  21. Firedrake January 22, 2016 at 2:43 am

    genesistrine: the preface is a later addition; it wasn’t in the edition I read in the 1980s. I think the first thing I’d call explicitly science-fictional is the description of the Red Star in Dragonquest: that’s clearly a hostile planetary atmosphere, not a fantastic hell-realm, and I’ll certainly agree that by the time of The White Dragon (1978) you’ve got actual planets and the Dawn/Day Sisters and “but found it necessary to move north to shield” and so on.

    Dragonflight has a mention of the machines of the olden times (in the final section, not the original two pieces), but I’d fall that a fantasy thing more than SF. I may well have missed something more SFnal in Dragonflight.

  22. genesistrine January 22, 2016 at 4:19 am

    @Firedrake: your edition must have been a variant – I’ve got the Corgi SF Collectors Library edition from 1970, and that has the “when is a legend legend” intro involving G-type stars and interstellar colonists etc – I just dug it out to make sure.

    Yeah, ancient wisdom and Ancient Engineering Projects are definitely A Thing in fantasy too. DF also has the explicit mention of Arrhenius spores, though the characters don’t understand the reference, as well as HNO3 elided to agenothree.

  23. Firedrake January 22, 2016 at 5:29 am

    Huh, strange. Thank you for that!

  24. genesistrine January 22, 2016 at 3:25 pm

    No problem; it’s nice to get some use out of the piles of old books hanging round the house!

    I wonder if it’s actually the reverse – if your edition had the intro cut to make the series look more fantasy?

  25. only some stardust January 23, 2016 at 3:49 am

    No… with Pern, we’re talking about a society that after a big disaster, doesn’t seem to progress at all over the course of centuries. Even socially progress. I could buy a lack of tech progress maybe with sufficient philosophical mindset to justify it – they had all the science they could wish for once and just aren’t interested in it – but societies above the hunter-gatherer level change.*

    It’s not just Western Society that advances over the course of centuries. Every society has done that, hell many societies don’t even last that long or not with the same leadership (China had more than one dynasty, Egypt too. Heck, Egypt didn’t start out with giant monuments!), and a thousand years ago you would never have guessed that backwards-ass Europe was going to be the big guns; if anything, for awhile it looked like the Arabic world was going to be King of Science, because of its translating things like Aristotle and it’s thriving secular intellectual tradition and free market (free in the sense that government won’t enforce debts; they had laws against loaning with interest/ usury. not like modern free market.) that created great trust in trade and a drive for merchant adventurers on ships rather than military naval adventurers….

    Heck, even as late as 1492, Europe was bending over backwards to trade with ‘the great giant’, China, who seemed to have an upper hand, with all the silk and nothing from Europe it wanted except silver. Hence the initial rush to have American-Indian slaves mine silver in the Americas when such was discovered, and the continual push to go past America and reach China from that direction. (yes, it didn’t stop after they discovered a huge ass continent in the way) But trade brought invasive Western species, and there’s a good argument to be made that, as much as any scientific revolution, it was devastation by Western disease and invasive species like rats and grasses that led to successful Imperialism. After all, if millions die (and millions did) without you having to even lift your gun from disease you introduced, it becomes a moot point that you only have a few hundred or thousand men.

    China, much like everyone else except much of Europe (Irish potato famine as an exception), faced disaster from introduced species such as drugs and New World crops that encouraged risky investments in terrain farmers had no experience farming in, leading to massive erosion and other problems. Europe benefited a lot from an intellectual tradition, but it also benefited by being the primary introducer of foreign species, meaning Europeans are going to be familiar with them before anyone else and far more of them are going to be ones Europeans specifically favor and picked up on purpose. It was a two-pronged advantage, and the intellectual one was not one that lasted, other states were just a bit slower/hobbled, although it is true that the intellectual ideas of science that spread were Western in origin, we can’t know what they would have developed independently if the invasive introductions hadn’t happened. Prosperity can have huge links to intellectual development of a nation.

    *Maybe they have things so all their needs are perfectly met by farming and there’s no population excess ever and they’ve genetically weeded out aggression to prevent ambition, to create a society with no pressure to change, a true Utopia… but the books don’t back this up. Dragonriders stabbing each other disproves it right there. Anyway, states/cities have ways of preserving far more information than hunter-gatherer societies do, likely even ones that rely purely on oral tradition because they can afford to keep more people around purely to be poets or mathematicians, and have more to reward such people, and this enhances their rate of change.

  26. only some stardust January 23, 2016 at 3:56 am

    Ach, I meant to say ‘could buy a lack of great tech progess’, not ‘could buy lack of tech progess’. Zero tech development at all isn’t very realistic. Even the ‘dark ages’ had tech development.

    Perhaps an argument could be made that Pern is so incredibly poor, suffering, and backwards that, below its upperclass of dragonriders and lord holders, its masses simply have no energy to invent, spent as they are in roles like Drudges. The upperclass don’t want things to change, because they like being on top, so they suppress innovation discreetly.

  27. genesistrine January 23, 2016 at 4:31 am

    Technical development sure, but in the sense of better horse-collars, better irrigation methods, spotting useful crop variants and cultivating them, that kind of thing, not the runaway industrialisation of Europe/America and the cultures it influenced.

    And for all we know Pern has had that kind of incremental progress (though the colonists may also have brought optimal designs for a lot of things – having your culture as the descndants of space-travelling colonists, who presumably had access to all we know about optimal agricultural methods and a lot more besides is an unusually good excuse for the “The Ancients knew best! You’re not going to be able to think of anything that works better!” trope).

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