Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Quarantine the Infected

The last chapter was a bit of filler, with Moreta going about her Weyr informing them of the quarantine order, the suspected cause, and the recommended courses of action. And finding out her usual Healer counterpart is sick with the disease.

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter VI: Content Notes:


Still the same day in Chapter Six, but this time we’re at Ruatha Hold, with Lord Alessan just watching Moreta vanish and thinking of her as his ideal woman. Dag arrives shortly after, noting that many of the runners that were near the one that died have also developed a sickness, and telling Alessan that he’s going to move the other stock well away from that area until the sickness passes, and he’ll take his grandson with him. In an otherwise throwaway paragraph, though, we get some useful information about Holds of the Sixth Pass:

Second only to Squealer in Dag’s affections was his daughter’s youngest son, Fergal, a lively rascal who was more often in the black records than any other holding. Alessan had a sneaking admiration for the lad’s ingenuity, but as Lord Holder he could no longer condone the antics that Fergal inspired. His most recent prank had so angered Lady Oma, involving as it did the smirching of guest linens, that he had been forbidden to attend the Gather, and the punishment was enforced by locking the boy in the Hold’s cell.

Okay, so now we know that jail (or the dungeons) exists on Pern, and that one of the ways for it to actually be used is to piss off the Lord Holder’s mother. (By, perhaps, pissing on the guest bedsheets? Is this supposed to be a callback to Dragondrums, but in Sixth Pass Pern, and in Holder culture, such pranks actually get punished before they get out of hand?) An overarching justice system is still absent, nor is there any indication as to what else the cells might be used for, but I suspect we’re supposed to fill in the details from what we know of the relevant Terran history and assume such things are there when the Lord Holder or other designated noble wishes to put someone there for whatever reason they choose.

Alessan goes to bed, picking his way through the crowd of sleeping revelers to his own room, glad that he wasn’t forced to share space by his mother, then realizing that she probably arranged it that way thinking he would be taking someone to bed with him tonight. Grateful for the alone time, and realizing he needs to return Moreta’s dress to her, he sleeps until awoken by a rough shaking. Lady Oma informs him that the sickness has spread to more runners, and to two people. What gets Alessan moving, however, is that someone is talking to Lord Tolocamp about this and not him, which Alessan rectifies by throwing on clothes and going to the briefing. Alessan chooses to recall anyone that left Ruatha this morning, both humans and people, just to make sure that nobody is carrying sickness back to healthy holds. The visitors and guests grumble at the delay, but Alessan handles all of them while summoning his family to help with logistics and security. His job is made a lot easier when the Harper drums pass a message from the Masterhealer up. We also find a reinforcement that there are more than Harpers that understand drum code.

As Alessan counted the double-urgent salutation and heard the healer code as originator, he took a moment’s pleasure in the astonishment on Tolocamp’s face, but lost it as the meat of the message boomed out. Those who could not understand the code caught the fear generated by those who did. Drums were a fine method of communication but too bloody public, Alessan thought savagely.
Epidemic disease, the drums rolled, spreading rapidly across continent from Igen, Keroon, Telgar, Ista. Highly infectious. Highly contagious. Two to four days’ incubation. Headache. Fever. Cough. Prevent secondary infection. Fatalities high. Medicate symptoms. Isolate victims. Quarantine effective immediately. Runnerbeasts highly susceptible. Repeat Epidemic warning. No travel permitted. Congregating discouraged. Capiam.
The final roll commanded the pass-on of the message.

…okay, if that’s the exact wording of the message, then drum code is a highly specialized language, and apparently Lord Alessan understands the long tail of it as well. I’m also still trying to figure out how many drums and what kind of technique have to be involved to permit this kind of specialized language and for it to be comprehensible over distance. Back in Dragondrums, it seemed like drum code had a grammar form that purged particles, connectors, and other words that we use in conversation and tried for as few words as possible to convey the message.

It also seems like drum code would be a language that would have a single measure for concepts rather than words, like one measure would represent “foot travel” and then there would be a modifying measure to indicate “fast” or “slow” to say “run” or “no hurry”.

Then again, there was apparently a measure for “Oldtimer”, so there probably are measures for “run” and “walk” as well, adding complexity to a language that I still can’t quite conceive how it works without massive confusion.

Getting back to the plot, the news causes all the symptoms of a beginning panic – denial of a problem, bargaining to break the quarantine, and so forth, but Alessan doesn’t bend and provides reassurances that the measure is, so far, temporary. Tolocamp ends up helping after initially being in denial. After taking care of the first wave, Alessan’s mind immediately goes to logistics – feeding the extra people, where to house the sick, and what to do next.

Next turns out to be the Hold Healer, Scand, who did not understand the message, and describes that his sweatroot treatment has not been effective against the heart palpitations and headache that Vander (the herder in the middle of the sick animals) and two of his subordinates are suffering from. Once informed of the content of the message by a journeyman Harper, Alessan leaves Tolocamp and another Holder in charge of creating makeshift shelters, while he goes to look at the sick animals and get an update on their status. While he’s giving orders on how to medicate the stuck runners, a wagon-puller (a herdbeast, rather than a runner) collapses and dies, confirming that it’s not a disease that will stay confined to one variety.

And, apparently, one should use the Pernese curse “Shards” in place of the Terran curse “Shit”. Apparently Pern does have curse words, and they are related to dragons, the most religious things on the planet.

Anyway, seeing the other beast collapse convinces Alessan that the correct policy at this point is scorched earth.

“Right, Norman. Get some men up to take charge of that team. Use them as long as they last to haul carcasses. Burn the dead animals down there,” Alessan pointed to a dip in the far fields, out of sight from the forecourt and downwind. “Keep track of the dead beasts. Reparation should be made.”
“I’ve no recorder.”
“I’ll send down one of the fosterlings. I’ll also want to know how many people stayed the night down here.”

Which is a lovely gesture from Alessan, and I would desperately like to know how those reparations will be made. One-for-one from Alessan’s stock of surviving animals? Does Alessan have enough beasts to guarantee this in a timely manner? Or would it be more like an insurance payment, the agreed-upon amount of marks that a runner is worth, paid out of Alessan’s coffers? Depending on how far this sickness spreads, Alessan could be looking at a very expensive guarantee.

Alessan’s thoughts again turn to Moreta, as he realizes that she made contact with the dead runner. He thought of her as a distant and insular person, and the discovery of her as a racing fan humanized her. And while his mother scolded him for not spending enough time with the women, and he knows he needs to eventually choose a wide and stay making sons, he wanted to get away from “stammering insipidy and timorousness”. Which puts the nail in, really, that this era of Pern thinks of women in the same way as the future we were just at. Moreta was on an unapproachable pedestal to him, until she and he both slipped out of their roles and hung out, and now he’s infatuated with her because she’s different from everything else. And then compared to Moreta, no woman can measure up, and their topics of conversation must necessity become not just unappealing, but inept or inferior, and the women the same.

Maybe it runs in the water at Ruatha, because this seems like a rehash of Jaxom and Sharra, just with a different sickness involved.

Then again, where we’ve seen Holder women, there’s also almost always been a negative judgement associated with them, because we see them usually in opposition to the protagonists. Kylara came from the Holds and is hissboobad according to the narrative, Mavi is complicit in Yanus’s abuse of Menolly and adds some of her own, Sella is a typical literary sibling, Pona and the Mean Girl Squad are more interested in social rank and boys than in manly pursuits like music (clearly the more important thing), which Alessan’s suitors are following on the footsteps of, just substitute “racing” for “music”, Lady Oma is portrayed as a domineering woman, although not as neurotic about proper behavior as Dunca, it seems (perhaps because son and not daughter?), Oklina as a flighty and naive girl, of which Corana seems to be her mold. Only main characters (Menolly, Moreta, Lessa) or love interests of main characters (Sharra, Moreta, Silvina(?)) are allowed to be complex characters and have good sides.

Having handled his own house, the next thing Alessan decides is to send messages to the places that would be expecting the return of their revelers and that aren’t within earshot of a message drum, and to figure out who else might have infected animals and order their destruction. If Alessan intends on replacing those animals, too, this is going to be a very expensive prospect for him.

Another thing on his mind is trying to keep people calm and controlled. It’s noted that one small cell is enough for pranksters, but not for seriously angry people. Tolocamp isn’t going to be an angry person, but he’s definitely wanting to get back home. Alessan defeats his argument by pointing out how Tolocamp always brags about how good his sons are at running the place while he’s gone, and this will be an excellent exercise. Tolocamp points out this emergency is probably beyond anyone’s experience, and so Alessan has to fall back to the position that it would be bad form for Tolocamp to break an order he would enforce on others, and Alessan dangles the possibility that Tolocamp could go back of he shows no signs of the sickness. Tolocamp relents:

“Yes, well. Hold one, hold all.” Tolocamp’s expression mellowed. “It is true that it would be very poor discipline for me to break a quarantine.” He became noticeably more amenable. “This outbreak is probably confined to the racing flats. I have never followed the sport.” A disdainful wave of his hand dismissed one of the major pastimes of Pern.

In beginning to wonder whether the decision to change the era of this Pern is an excuse to scrap everything and remake the world as much as possible, as the world of the Ninth Pass doesn’t talk about racing as much as a “major pastime” would. And since we’ve gotten away from the dragonriders (who have performed games and races before they had to retrain as a military organization) at that time, I would think some mention of the races would be a regular thing. All I remember is Robinton occasionally laying bets while deliberately saying he never lays bets, a practice Sebell also follows. It would seem like the races would be a common element of small talk, much more than they actually were. But in three Passes, perhaps the races have died out.

After mollifying Tolocamp, Alessan’s prediction about angry Holders comes true and Alessan decides he’s going to nip this particular problem in the bud.

Makfar [Alessan’s brother] had noticed the deputation and, although Alessan gave Turvine [the angry Holder] his complete attention, he was aware that his brother had signaled armed holders to converge.

This would be a lot easier to imagine if we had any semblance of what “armed” means in this context. Because there’s still no real mention of weapons past flamethrowers and belt knives. Clearly this context indicates there’s some amount of weapons other than these. And perhaps some amount of body armor, since wherhide can keep out the cold of hyperspace. Swords, axes, polearms…just what are these people armed with? We’re no closer to knowing that when we hashed it out in Dragondrums (after expressing a universal revulsion at the tactics Robinton was willing to go to so that Nabol Hold wouldn’t fall into conflict after Meron’s death).


“You’ll bide here! That’s my order!” Alessan spoke forcefully and the men backed off, looking uncertainly for support from Tolocamp. The Fort Holder stiffened, ignoring their tacit plea. Alessan raised his voice, projecting it beyond the group to those watching and listening from the roadway and the forecourt. “The drums have decreed the quarantine! I am your Lord Holder. As surely as if Thread were Falling, you are under my orders. No one, no animal leaves here until that drum”–Alessan jabbed his arm at the tower–“tells us that the quarantine is lifted!”
In the silence that ensued, Alessan strode rapidly toward the hall door, Tolocamp in step behind him.

We’ll have to see how well the proclamation sticks, how many of those armed men there will be to help, and what kind of rigging will be needed for those people that end up in the jail. Because I suspect that look at Tolocamp says all we need to know about how well Alessan is going to be respected.

The next order of business is figuring out how to send messages to all the places that don’t have drums, can’t hear drums, or otherwise need the message relayed to them to hunker down and not travel. Alessan wants to do it without risking people or animals, but before he has to think too hard about it, the Masterharper (Tuero) appears with the other Harpers in tow to offer themselves as the messengers, pointing out that written messages can be relayed without risk of exposure. Alessan accepts the convenient solution and leaves it to the Harpers to organize the relay. They’re wrong about relays not causing exposure, but I don’t think anyone on Pern has ever actually formulated germ theory and experimented as to what materials and surfaces can transmit disease.

Alessan lets Tolocamp use the message drums to send orders back to Fort before the next bad news arrives as he sees the smoke from the mass burning of corpses – Vander has died. And that’s the end of the chapter.


7 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Quarantine the Infected

  1. WanderingUndine January 21, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Nerilka’s Story might have been an attempt to spotlight a currently-minor femal character, a Holder who (IIRC) never gets involved with the Weyrs long-term.

    Reading this post, I mentally heard the quarantine announcement in the National Weather Service radio alert voice. Haha.

  2. genesistrine January 21, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    I think Silvina fits into the same mould as Manora – sensible-reliable-matron-type. Dispensers of food and clothes and non-maternal kindness, and pretty much indistinguishable from each other.

  3. boutet January 21, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    “I’ve no recorder.”
    “I’ll send down one of the fosterlings.”

    So… he’ll send down someone else’s child who has been put into his care… to work with the people hauling the diseased corpses of humans and animals? I don’t think the fosterling is supposed to handle the bodies by this description, but he’s still sending someone else’s under-age-of-majority child to work in the corpse-burning crew. You didn’t have a single literate adult to spare?

    Unless I’ve misunderstood the fostering system and the fostered kids stay in their foster location into adulthood? It seems strange and unlikely, or at least unlikely that they would continue to be considered fosterlings rather than becoming full members of the hold/whatever.

    For reparations for dead animals, Alessan doesn’t actually specify who should be making reparations, only that they should be made. Maybe the records are the only thing he will offer to the owners, so that they can go pursue reparations from whoever is found responsible for the illness.

  4. only some stardust January 23, 2016 at 2:56 am

    Maybe fosterling is a pernese word for ‘orphan’ like runnerbeast is for horse and he’s using orphan slave labor to do whatever he feels needs doing.

    Okay, probably not. That seems too cynical, even for Pern.

  5. depizan January 23, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    Wait, they have the concepts of epidemic diseases and quarantines, but the healer was using homeopathic remedies? (Which is also an odd phrasing, really. Wouldn’t whatever they were using just be “medicine”? Or healing or whatever they want to call it.) Pern just gives me a headache when ever I try to sort out what it is anyone knows, how the world works, what’s happened (or not happened) in the past, or, well, anything that’s not specifically the plot. (When that doesn’t give me a headache, too.)

  6. Madame Canard January 24, 2016 at 5:42 am

    Sometimes I think McCaffrey churned out words without really checking out what they really meant or the implications for the story.

  7. genesistrine January 24, 2016 at 6:08 am

    I’m perfectly happy to believe she didn’t know the difference between “homoeopathic” and “herbal”, since so many people don’t seem to. I’d hope a writer would be better informed/more curious, but….

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