Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Still Contagious

Last chapter, Alessan tilled fields until he had a brilliant idea to see Moreta and ask if the runners could be vaccinated against the plague. He returned Moreta’s dress, triggering her, and was rewarded for it with a kiss and inflamed passion, which I’m still giving Orlith some hand in.

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XIV, Part One: Content Notes: Casual Homophobia


We start the next chapter in the Healer Hall, with Capiam explaining to Tirone that illnesses do not just vanish and that no new cases does not mean no more cases.

“I did. I’ll be happier when the lapse is four days long. But that only means that this wave of the viral influence is passing. The ‘flu’ – as the Ancients nicknamed it – can recur. It’s the next wave that worries me dreadfully.”

And there we have it. If we hadn’t guessed by now, now we finally know what the mysterious virus is that has laid low so many on the planet. The misdirection to this point relies on a pronunciation distinction in the English language that produces a much bigger distinction in text.

[This explanation section will require a browser or reader that can serve the Unicode characters for the International Pronunciation Alphabet. Content courtesy Wiktionary.]

/ˈɪn.flu.əns/ = “influence” = [Def. 2] An action exerted by a person or thing with such power on another to cause change.

/ˌɪn.flu.ˈen.zə/ = “influenza” = (pathology) An acute contagious disease of the upper airways and lungs, caused by a virus, which rapidly spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics.

The second is what is referred to by “the flu” as a nickname. The pronunciations are similar enough, though, that if the final syllable isn’t stressed hard enough, it’s quite easy to think someone said “influence” when they meant “influenza”. (Wiktionary also says that influenza is Italian for “influence”, further correlating the two words.) This is decades before Jo Rowling would pull a similar verbal flimflam so as to hide the non Latin-aware that Remus J. Lupin (“Wolf-raised Roman J. Wolf”) is afraid of the moon.

They saw a silvery-white orb hanging in the air in front of Lupin, who said “Riddikulus” almost lazily.

So yes, it’s the flu, which does weaken the immune system and make secondary infections more likely, and which has had several varieties that do more than enough damage on their own as well as opening the door for others. That there have been lots of Passes since anyone had to deal with flu wouldn’t remove the defenses the human species has against it, I would think, but perhaps it’s the other disease that was the lethal one, born of the environment that is Pern and otherwise able to be fought off by the inhabitants. Or something mutated horribly in the intervening time that whatever the Ancients did, it doesn’t work anymore. In any case, as us poor Terrans know, flu is one of those illnesses where we can guess and try to keep it away, but we don’t always guess right.

Fortine articulates the problem of the mutating flu while Tirone is having trouble wrapping his head around it, and Capiam points out that the Records really only have one solution to the problem of infectious diseases – mass vaccination. Tirone is incredulous, but Capiam is persuasive, and believes that he can achieve mass vaccination because the social structure of Pern allows for mass tracking, so nobody gets missed in the vaccination sweeps. But it requires a lot of serum, and dragonriders to distribute, so as to basically isolate the flu and prevent it from spreading while the last sufferers use their supercharged immune systems to get rid of the remaining infections.

In the middle of this, Tirone tells us that the story of the sea animal is a lie, and he’s collected the reports to prove it. The logs of the ship indicate position and storm and the conclusion is that the sailors there landed on Southern, spent three days there eating the fruits and produce there, then returning. For Tirone, the obvious conclusion is that the plague was picked up from Southern. Which is possible, considering that it hasn’t been explored or inhabited since the disaster that sent the Ancients running.

With everyone convinced the humans need vaccinations and the runners, too, Tirone suggests Capiam consult Moreta and then put the problem of mass vaccination to the new Beastmaster, Besell, while he goes off to convince Tolocamp that vaccinations are good ideas and he should go along with it, believing that the lack of Harpers and Healers at Fort will have pushed Tolocamp to reconsider his ideas.

Shifting over to Ruatha, Alessan’s mind is on the process of getting usable serum from the runners, but he is willingly interrupted by his sister’s arrival on a blue dragon. Who then takes a curious interest in Oklina.

“Arith! Behave yourself! That’s Lady Oklina!” M’Barak called. The blue dragon had turned his head round toward brother and sister, and was now wiffling closer and closer to Oklina, his eyes whirling. By no means afraid of such attention, Oklina didn’t know what to do and clung to Alessan.
At his rider’s reprimand, Arith made a tiny little nose, a disappointed snort, and turned his head away while M’barak apologized profusely.
[…Dragon and rider take their leave…]
“Blue dragons are not usually fascinated by the opposite sex,” the harper remarked dryly to Alessan.
[…Alessan doesn’t understand any implications…]
Tuero’s grin broadened. “As I recall it, Ruatha has quite a few bloodties with dragonriders.”
Alessan stared from Oklina to the dragon already airborne, and remembered K’lon’s remark the day he had brought the vaccine to Ruatha Hold. “It couldn’t be!”

The earlier comment is K’lon saying that the vaccination Oklina received was probably from his own blood, with the implication that the blue dragon can sense that blood in Oklina and is thus interested in the K’lon part of her, since blue dragons aren’t normally interested in women. The way the sequence works out, it seems like Tuero thinks of it as a joke that a blue dragon would be interested in the gay blood in the straight woman. Not exactly enlightened ideas.

Of course, there’s another possibility that nobody is considering – Oklina might actually just be interested in women. The star-struck girl of the Gather might have been more interested in Moreta, like her brother, than in the suitors and dancers in the floor. Not that we can expect a sympathetic treatment, were it the case, despite the not always mentioned part where partnered dragonriders that aren’t partnered with a gold are two men together. This might be the first book where we’ve seen the love and support that dragonriders give each other when they’re committed. So it shouldn’t be a big deal if Oklina is interested in women more than men.

Unless, of course, you’re in a society that considers women to be little more than bargaining chips in making alliances and possibly expensive dowries to be paid out. One that couldn’t conceive of a daughter in rebellion, or one that wants to be a musician, or anything else other than a wife.

Before this line of inquiry goes any further, it’s time to test some runner vaccination, and there’s a disabled runner that’s been volunteered for the process. If it survives the night, and the runner appears to not be suffering ill effects, the vaccine is considered a working one. Alessan sleeps, the runner is still there, and so it’s time for mass vaccinations for runners and for Alessan to contemplate whether or not Moreta was just being nice with the kiss (he concludes she wasn’t, and that Orlith was on board with them going much farther), and whether it would be possible for him and her to have a relationship (his responsibility to get married and produce lots of kids would interfere, although they might have a nice discreet affair). He regrets the loss of Runel and his eidetic memory of bloodlines, and of the written records that had been stayed about which animals had been killed by the illness.

Unexpected news greets him on arriving at the quarantined area – a lot of pregnant mares are here, so perhaps the line won’t die out at all, and both Dag and Fergal have survived as well, so Ruatha’s fortunes look a lot better for the future. Which is all we get before a scene change.

Have I mentioned that this is a marathon chapter? We’re about a fourth of the way in right now, with this change to Capiam meeting Moreta.

His question is the same that Alessan had just asked, and it ticks Moreta off again to hear that nobody seems to have thought of the runners at all. She tells Capiam that she answered Alessan earlier affirmatively, and asks what he’s doing here. Capiam says he’s worried about another epidemic coming from the animals – the plague is “zoonotic” and “recrudescent” according to the terms in his records.
Moreta understands the implications and is properly horrified at them. As she works through them, she realizes the reason Capiam is here to see her – to use the dragonriders as a worldwide distribution network for vaccine so that everyone can get their supplies at the same time. Capiam unfolds his plans:

“Which I will confirm as soon as you can also assure me that the Weyrs can assist us in delivering the vaccines. One of my journeymen is a wizard at figuring out what he calls time-and-motion processes. If we could rely on a minimum of six riders from each Weyr to cover their traditional regions, in a scheduled roster of stops to the various holds, halls, and Weyrs, that would be sufficient.”
Moreta was doing some calculations of her own. “Not unless the riders -” she caught herself and gulped in astonishment. In Capiam’s broadening grin she had an unexpected answer.
“I’ve been doing rather a lot of reading in the Archives, Moreta.” Capiam sounded more pleased than apologetic for the shock he had given her.
“How did that bit of information come to be in the Healer Archives?” she demanded, so infuriated that Orlith came fully alert, claws hooking protectively about the queen egg.
“Why shouldn’t it be?” Capiam asked with deceptive mildness. “After all, my Craft bed the trait into the dragons. Can they really go from one time to another?” he asked wistfully.
“Yes,” she finally replied, as austerely as she could. “But it’s not encouraged at all!” She right of K’lon, knew very well how often the blue rider had been at the Healer Hall, and wondered about such convenient Records. On the other hand, Capiam’s Craft had been credited with many incredible feats and displays of skill, secrets forgotten by disuse. She chided herself for doubting the integrity of Master Capiam, especially at such a critical hour when any strategy that might restore the continent to balance might be condoned. “Capiam, traveling in time produces paradoxes that can be dangerous.”
“That’s why I suggested the progressive delivery so there is no overlapping.” The eagerness in his manner was disarming.

This is extra confusing, because if it’s been written down somewhere that dragons do temporal as well as physical hops, it would seem like that would be part of the corpus of common knowledge. Them again, these Records are always conveniently fragmentary, so maybe the things that talk about dragon abilities are stayed away in the section about healing people and dragons in a Weyr. Also, once again, someone understands what the dragons can do and is asking only for a little bit of temporal strain to deliver vaccine, rather than for an immunized rider to go back and deliver serum to prevent the outbreak. Since it still isn’t really very clear what the rules are regarding time travel, other than that bad things happen if you get too close to yourself or try to exist in too many places at the same time, these assumptions and statements are never backed by any sort of proof or anecdote. K’lon gets “that’s forbidden!” Capiam gets “that’s a trade secret!” Surely somewhere there’s a cautionary tale of a rider who thought they were going to surprise a lover with two of themselves in bed, but that the proximity to themselves caused a thing that the movie version would need an effects squadron and a bucket of two of blood and viscera to recreate. Or a Weyrling who tried to get cute about always being on time and then trading with his more well-rested self in the middle of a lesson who shaved things too close and erased himself from existence. There are clearly enough curious dragonriders to keep discovering this trick, and riders other than the approved ones can manage it, so the reason of “Because we said so” isn’t going to cut it in terms of keeping a lid on the secret. There has to be an example somewhere. Or that all the appropriate attempts have resulted in Stable Time Loops where the original condition had to be restored because the alternative was worse.

I realize this is thinking more about the mechanics than the author may have, but since this is a critical element of the world, and we’re in the sixth book at this point, at some point it would seem that time will be devoted somewhere to sketching out a basic understanding.

Having secured Moreta’s assistance, Capiam, Desdra, and Moreta head out on Arith to see whether or not Alessan was successful with animal vaccine. Moreta observes the devastation with a similar eye as K’lon did earlier, seeing it as a place of an apocalypse. Once the dragon settles, though, Alessan relays the great news about having mares and foals, as well as the successful tests of the serum for animals. Capiam fills in Alessan on the importance of animal vaccination in addition to human vaccination, and Alessan is very happy to volunteer his animals to provide serum.

“Ruatha lost much – of its people, its herds, its honor, and its pride. Any help which Ruatha can now offer may perhaps remove the stain of our enduring” – Alessan indicated the burial mounds – “hospitality.”
There was no bitterness in the young Lord Holder’s voice but there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the aftermath of his first Gather had burned indelibly into his soul.
“What makes you think that you are responsible for that? Or any of this?” One flourish of Capiam’s hand indicated the burial mounds, the next, their meeting in the beasthold, and the veterinary preparations being made to one side.

Capiam continues delivering his speech about how nobody is really at fault and that their job is to keep people alive and Alessan should be proud of his willingness to help until an unexpected bronze arrives, with Oklina again appearing to provoke a reaction from Arith. Moreta finally provides a possible explanation – blue dragons are particularly keen on finding good queen candidates, and Orlith’s egg may be getting Arith prematurely wound up for that task.

As the Healers and Alessan talk about how best to prepare the runners, Desdra points out one snag in the plan – not enough sterile needlethorns. Moreta offers to get more, even though they’re very much out of season, and won’t be in season until autumn, because Desdra points out the lack of supply may mean some places don’t get their vaccinations. Since the Healers already know the secret, the real trick is to convince B’lerion that the time hop is necessary to make the plan work.
“B’lerion, I know where we need to go, in both Ista and Nerat. I know when needlethorn is ripe to be harvested. The ging tree is always in bloom. I have seen the rainforest resemble a green face with a thousand dark-rimmed eyes-”
“Highly poetic, Moreta, but not exactly the guide I’d need.”
“But it is a when. And to get the proper coordinates we’ve only to check the autumnal position of the Red Star. Alessan would have the charts. It’s rising father and farther west. One only has to calculate the autumnal degree.” She could see that that argument did much to reassure B’lerion.

So now we’re gearing up for something that seemed wild during the Ninth Pass – jumping into the future to harvest a crop that will be used in the past to ensure that future comes to pass. Moreta thinks a crew of six will be enough to make it work – Moreta, Alessan, Capiam, Desdra, B’lerion, and Oklina. At the sensible mention of potential paradox, Moreta says they all just need to avoid Ista at the time they will have already been there.

A couple things to mention before this plan gets underway, which we’ll get to in the next post. First, there’s the bigger paradox worry than being in two places at the same time – if the future depends on the harvesting of needlethorn to vaccinate the runners, then to stabilize the time line, there has to be a Bad Future where there aren’t enough and something happens to the herds. If that’s a very Bad Future, where another outbreak causes mass deaths, well, that’s a problem. Hopefully that particular future is one where Desdra has miscalculated the available supply and there was barely enough to get it all done in time.

It’s also possible that I’m misreading this situation and the planned jump is one into the past, but it certainly seems like everyone plans on harvesting this year’s crop early.

Second, if this were a series that just continued forward in time in successive books, then this would be a clever bit of call back to The White Dragon and Wansor and his groundbreaking work. Instead, we have to deal with the knowledge that three Passes before, the great astronomical knowledge had already been put into place. There has to be some form of unenlightened times to get from Sixth to Ninth. If this plague is the catalyst for a great loss of knowledge between then and now, then if this book continues on after the plague, we might start to see the effects of this loss. If it’s not this, then there still has to be some great tragedy yet to come to explain the reasons why the future is relearning the past. (Latin Christendom had such events when they were invaded and overrun, and when they spent their time fighting instead of learning from the cultures around them.) So it might have been better to try out on a picture that Moreta had, the same way Lessa used a tapestry to jump back, rather than to have charts and graphs to construct an image to use, which will get the landing party ready at dawn of the day they choose to jump forward to.

Next time, the actual plan gets underway.


16 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Still Contagious

  1. genesistrine March 18, 2016 at 3:10 am

    ‘Flu is serious business, even though we’re used to thinking of it more as an annoyance – look at the recent bird and swine flu panics, and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 ( It mutates a lot, which is why people keep getting it, and there’s always the chance that the next mutation will be an extra-nasty one.

    Re lost knowledge: Capiam has a Hall. With Records. By the Ninth Pass the then-Masterhealer will have a room in the Harper Hall with no on-site apprentices/journeymen/infrastructure.

  2. Wingsrising March 19, 2016 at 7:34 pm

    New poster here:

    Re: going back to prevent the plague. I haven’t read most of the Todd books, but IIRC it’s made fairly explicit in The Skies of Pern that in this universe time travel works via stable time loops: you can’t change something that’s already happened. (Nor can I think of any example in which someone has actually changed the past via time travel.)

    Which doesn’t mean no one tried to go back and prevent the encounter that caused the plague, but perhaps if they did they didn’t mention it to anyone when they realized they were the ones who gave the plague to the cat in the first place. 🙂

    That said, I’m not sure I follow why going to the future now would require an alternate Bad Future? I’ve always figured it just meant that, well, if someone had shown up on that date in that location in the future, they’d find our harvesting team there.

  3. Silver Adept March 19, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    Flu is serious business, most definitely. It just seems like based on the symptoms described that it wouldn’t necessarily be fatal, and casualties would be from other infections.

    As for the lost Hall and knowledge… I still want to know what it is that causes such destruction that the Healer Hall is destroyed. Something like that seems like it should have been part of the official history of the planet, or in a Harper song.

  4. genesistrine March 20, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Could be a comorbidity going on – I’ve read a suggestion somewhere that the Black Death was so deadly in comparison with other bubonic plagues because it was actually bubonic plague in combination with a simultaneous other pandemic, possibly flu again.

    Also, remember what a ghastly hole Pern is. We’ve seen well-nourished Weyr and nobility survive it; the peasantry and drudges are probably malnourished and overworked and have far less reserves and resistance.

    Lost Hall doesn’t have to be melodramatic enough to be sung about. The plague will probably kill off a lot of Healers as well as farmers, and if no-one organises and politicks fast and effectively enough everyone will focus spare people and energy on getting crops in and raising beasts to pay dragon tithes; the Hold ladies will fill in the gaps left by professional Healers (which seems to be common anyway, viz Nerilka and her sisters/Mavi at Half-Circle) and the centralised training system is sidelined with promises of maybe in a few years but right now we need to feed people, hey, the old Healer Hall isn’t being used we can use those caves for storage/refugees from the abandoned outer Holds of this domain who’ve come in to work the fields in the meantime. Oh, just shovel those Records out of the way, Lady Whatserfaceica knows plenty about doctoring, what use would they be to her?

  5. Firedrake March 20, 2016 at 5:28 am

    Silver Adept: an obvious reason for it not being in a Harper song (which are the official history, I think) is that the Harpers did it.

  6. genesistrine March 20, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    This should be when we find out that the Healer Hall became the Harper Hall….

  7. Silver Adept March 22, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    Disturbingly plausible in all ways. Even though it would seem like Healer would be a thing that stays in the forefront, especially if the Healer plan to mass immunize the planet works.

    Then again, if the Harpers don’t want anyone stealing their and the dragons’ thunder as objects of worship, then perhaps the Harpers do just let the Healers die off.

  8. genesistrine March 23, 2016 at 3:55 am

    Look at anti-vax stuff these days. 10 years on, every child born who isn’t physically/mentally/behaviourally perfect in every way is all the fault of that Healer thing, interfering with nature, would have burned itself out naturally anyway, it was Moreta who did it all anyway haven’t you heard that song. Etc.

  9. Silver Adept March 24, 2016 at 3:48 pm

    Hello, Wingrising! Nice to meet you.

    As for stable time loops, going forward and coming back makes the future good timeline dependent on the people in the past going forward. But if the future jumped to is already the good future, then how did they originally manage it? It’s a bootstraps paradox. So there should be a Bad Future for them to jump to, gather what they need for the Good Future, and then go back. That creates a stable Good Future line and terminates the Bad Future line at the point where the needlethorn is gathered.

    That would actually help explain why the dragons couldn’t communicate into the future – there were divergent timelines.

    @ genesistrine –

    It becomes increasingly difficult to make commentary about this world and its inhabitants when the narrative itself shows signs of fundamental unreliability. Also, the anti-vax comparison is appropriate for this. How much of the Ministry of Truth should we be seeing in the practices and ideals of the Harper Hall?

  10. beappleby March 24, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Timing it to the past is usually either to make something right, like bringing the Weyrs forward – or to be in two places within the same amount of time, like K’lon doing his duties while also visiting A’murry. The latter doesn’t ever seem to make much difference – another example is F’lar jumping back in DQ to see the grubs in action during threadfall.

    The big stuff, though, can only work because it already has – the Weyrs are missing, so Lessa has to go get them, which she wouldn’t have if they weren’t missing, but she has to go get them because they are missing. But when a character dies in a later book, and Jaxom is about to try and time it on Ruth, it is pointed out that if it could have been done it would have been done.

    But if it had, would he have known to do it? When Lessa goes back in time she makes sure to tell the Masterharper to write the song that gave her the clues to go back…

    Basically, going back in time to do something important only will be successful if you can figure out that it was done. However, going to the future is more flexible, assuming one can predict well enough for a clear visualization. Do the task, and when you return to the present, make a note of anything that needs to be done in the future to ensure that the task can be carried out – like making sure no one is around to see people harvesting needlethorn next spring.

    I read a very moving fanfic one time where the surviving characters from the book are aware that this was the day they were there, and if they went there they could see her again, but they can’t because they need for the needlethorns to have been harvested without incident. I think it would be easier to cause a paradox in the future case than in the past – you could just *not do* what you think would have been done, but that doesn’t guarantee that someone in the future won’t be the one to actually do it.

    Sorry about the wall of text – this was very much stream-of-thought.

  11. genesistrine March 28, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    War is Peace
    Freedom is Slavery
    Dragons are the Bestest

    The whole time travel thing is just existentially depressing. You can’t even think of changing the past unless there are very clear flags that you already did – who’s enforcing this? Given that the only two loops we know of (possibly barring Lessa’s nightmares) are dragon-survival related; Lessa bringing the Weyrs forward and Jaxom preventing dragon-on-dragon war, is it possible that it’s dragons monitoring and occasionally permitting loop creation as a survival tool?

    Doylistically I know I’ve said this before, but it was a really bad move to add time travel to sixth-pass Pern – it doesn’t add anything to the story; they could perfectly well have had to raid Tolocamp’s stores for needlethorns, or harvest them from Southern with the peril being that they didn’t know if they might get reinfected or attacked by cats. Adding in time travel (with random rider figuring it out just because he wanted time with his boyfriend) just makes all the riders in the previous books look even stupider than they did before. How is that something that was forgotten about until Lessa?

  12. Silver Adept March 29, 2016 at 8:03 am

    The way that Moreta and Leri describe it, time travel is a heavily guarded secret of Weyrleaders and Weyrwomen all over Pern. But that might be implication, and perhaps only a few actually know about it and are keeping it secret – once they die, of nobody else has been told, then the secret dies until it can be rediscovered. Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t more riders that discover it by accident, or that it really is an open secret that everyone pretends not to know and uses discreetly anyway.

    It doesn’t make sense, Dotlistically, for time travel to be here, except as the element of the plot where the world is to be simultaneously vaccinated. But that doesn’t make sense to me – as immunity is conferred from that strain, the problem stops. It might start again when a new strain of flu comes in, but it shouldn’t need to be this tightly timed. And needlethorn stores can be appropriated, and so forth.

    As for Jaxom, the fire lizards got increasingly agitated with him for not going back with Ruth and stealing the egg back – their memories of the event weren’t lining up. That might suggests the dragons and fire lizards can sense impending paradox or stepping into a divergent timeline from the one they know. That could keep the past away from meddling characters, as their dragons would simply refuse to let them move history onto a different timeline, but that leaves the future somewhat unguarded, and could create the distress the dragons had about not being able to contact Moreta in the future.

    Some rules of time travel would be nice to have. Or for it to have been quietly dropped as an important thing now that we’ve shifted into the past. Much easier to write a believable disaster when you don’t have characters that could theoretically stop it.

  13. genesistrine March 29, 2016 at 9:03 am

    You’d think that moving back to the Sixth Pass would be the perfect excuse to ignore time travel and all its associated plot and conceptual issues. But nope. And quite apart from what I’ve already said, the simultaneous-vaccination thing makes Moreta’s death from exhaustion completely pointless – she’s time-travelling! She can take a rest of any length of time any time she damn well pleases and then hop back to when she left!

    The Great Pernese Stupidity Mine gets more and more inexhaustible.

  14. Firedrake March 30, 2016 at 9:53 am

    genesistrine, I was going to wait until we got there, but yes: that particular plot element was the point at which the teenage proto-Firedrake stopped being a fan of Pern.

  15. genesistrine March 30, 2016 at 1:38 pm

    @ Firedrake: Oops, sorry. I wasn’t thinking of that as a spoiler since we’ve already had the ballad performed and know the ending, but….

    And yay. Very sensible of you. I think teenage proto-genesistrine decided this was a blip, since I didn’t give up until Dragonsdawn, but oh boy how I wish I’d had the sense to do it earlier.

  16. Silver Adept April 1, 2016 at 3:15 pm

    Proto-Silver is going to go on a long way after that, and probably didn’t understand a whole lot about the absurdity of it all. So there’s still a long way to go before the end…

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