Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: The Inevitable Disaster

Last time, the plan to vaccinate simultaneously went until action, and Moreta was called into the field when Telstar Weyr forbade any Telgar riders from going out at all. Moreta has just finished her timing run with Holth, and has just jumped back to the welcome she richly deserves…

Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter XV and Aftermath: Content Notes: Suicide, Meaningless Deaths

“Shouldn’t Moreta be back by now, Leri?” The blue rider had been prowling uneasily in the tiers, occasionally barking his shins.

I’ve got a sinking feeling about this…that is confirmed almost immediately. Considering what B’lerion was harping on about in the future trip, one would think that Moreta and Holth would recognize the need for rest when time-tripping. After all, they can return to the time they left, give or take an hour, and then continue resting while they fight off the symptoms of existing in two places at once. That headache world be coming anyway, because of the needlethorn trip.

Afterward, K’lon realized that both rider and dragon knew in the same instant. But Orlith’s reaction was vocal and spectacular. Her scream, tearing at his taut nerves, brought him round to witness the initial throes of her bereavement. Orlith had been lying at the rear of the Ground, her eggs scattered in the sand before her. Now she reared up on her hind legs, her awkwardly coiled tail all that prevented her from crashing backward as she arched her head back, howling her despair. The sounds she emitted were ghastly ululations in weird dissonances, like throat-cut shrieks. Then, in an incredible feat, Orlith launched herself from that fully extended posture, over her eggs, missing them by a mere handspan. She sprawled, muzzle buried in the sand as all color faded from her golden hide. Then she began to writhe, thrashing her head and tail, oblivious to the fact that she had caught her right wing under her, flailing the air with the left.
[…Leri can’t breathe, but K’lon is able to start her again by shaking her violently, after which she collapses in sobs. K’lon demands answers, which are coming from more than one dragon…]
They were too tired. They ought not to have continued so long. They went between… to nothing, the composite voice replied in the sad conclusion perceived by all the dragons in the Weyr.

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s… narratively, Moreta and Holth dying in a teleportation accident serves no purpose! The vaccine is delivered, the crisis averted, and they’re tired. Job well done, let’s go have a drink. Unlike our own narratives, which can be cut short by the most random of events (which is unsettling and disturbing, by the way), the author controls all aspects of this story. There’s no reason at all for anyone to have to die, and for this to happen at the very end of this chapter feels just cheap. Did Moreta engage in too much narratively forbidden activity by questioning the choice of Weyrleader in her mind? Did she trip the narrative’s wrath by having sex with Alessan? By having fun at a Gather, or her interest in racing? Because she thought about Leri retiring before going out on the emergency duty? There’s no reason for this kind of thing to have happened at all.

Second, again, how irresponsible are the engineers of the dragons for not putting in some form of failsafe? We’ve seen accidents happen from weyrlings not being able to visualize their destinations clearly enough when they’re awake, which is bad and needs a failsafe, but at least is understandable. Yet, apparently it’s possible to transit yourself into hyperspace without a destination and the dragon will go. And neither dragon nor rider will recognize the problem and immediately correct it to somewhere that does exist.

Or maybe Holth had enough energy to start the process but not enough to emerge on the other side. Again, a failsafe would work there. Dragons are sentient beings – they can know whether or not they have the capacity to make a jump. They can refuse if they are tired. Which didn’t help here, because Holth probably wanted to go and felt she could make it, but…grah.

There are just so many reasons, both Watsonian and Doylist, why this decision to kill a major character literally only a few pages from the end shouts its wrongness from the tops of the mountains.

The remainder of the chapter is the gestalt dragons connecting Leri and Orlith to make sure neither of them dies, (at least until the eggs hatch, Leri adds quietly), and K’lon having a giant amount of pain and shouting “What have I done?”, as if he was somehow responsible for this situation. This sounds suspiciously like manpain, but I’m going to call it K’lon’s empathy kicking into overdrive to take blame for something that he had nothing to do with.

Having killed Moreta, there is the Aftermath, one month later on (4.23.43). Here are the first lines:

The occasion of a Hatching ought to be a joyous one, Master Capiam thought without a single buoyant fiber in his body as he watched the dragons glide to the knots of passengers awaiting conveyance to Fort Weyr.
He had not attended to what Tirone had been saying to him. Then the Masterharper’s parting phrase penetrated his gloomy reflections.
“I will be singing my new ballad, composed in celebration of Moreta!”
“Celebration?” Capiam roared. Desdra caught his arm and prevented him from being trampled on by Rogeth. “Celebration indeed? Has Tirone gone mad?”
“Oh, Capiam!” Desdra’s soft exclamation was unusually gentle for that caustic lady, newly made a Masterhealer. Capiam glanced quickly about to see why. Then he saw K’lon’s grief-stricken face as the rider dismounted.
“Leri and Orlith went before dawn,” K’lon said, his voice breaking. “No one could – would have stopped them. But we had to watch, to be with them. That’s all we could do!” K’lon’s tear-filed eyes begged for solace.

There’s something here where I want to shout at the author “This could have been prevented! You have yet to prove that these deaths have importance or meaning! And if it’s supposed to be a great circle of life, new coming from old thing, get stuffed.”

Desdra is able to put the most positive spin on the day that is possible.

“They were so brave. So gallant! It was dreadful, knowing they would go. Dreadful knowing that one day we would wake up and they would be gone! Just like Moreta and Holth!”
“They could have gone that day…” Capiam began, knowing that wasn’t the thing to say, struggling to find something to ease K’lon’s grief.
“Orlith could not have gone till the eggs were hard,” Desdra said. “Leri stayed with her. They had a purpose and now it is accomplished. Today must also be a glad day, for dragons will hatch. Surely that is a good day for going. A day that had begun in unmeasured grief will end in great joy. A new beginning for twenty-five – no, fifty – lives, for the young people who Impress today begin a new life!”
Capiam stared in wonder at Desdra. He could never have expressed it so well. Desdra might not speak often but she chose the right words when she did talk.

Not according to the book I just read, Capiam. Desdra speaks a lot, and is also very good when she speaks. I’ve also just noticed this, but Desdra has also just completed her journey from caustic journeywoman to Master healer by becoming significantly more feminine and gentle over the course of the book. Capiam complained very early on in the book that her bedside manner needed to improve before she could get her mastery. So now we have Desdra as the font of empathy, perhaps because she’s the only woman in the group, perhaps because of this softening of her characterization that had resulted in her promotion. Maybe it’s unintentional, but then there’s Moreta and Leri to contend with, who were both uppity women and mostly unapologetic about it, and are both now dead because of the narrative and its rules.

The engineers who designed and strengthened the psychic link apparently also forgot to include a safeguard of some sort that would allow the connection to unwind in case of death or be buffered in time of great emotions, so that the dragons, who are possibly longer-lived than the humans, could pair again or go live the remainder of their lives as wilder creatures, and so that the humans might not spiral into the deep depression that accompanies a dragon death. It’s possible to pull sometime back from that, as Lytol, Brekke, and Kylara demonstrate. The draconic gestalt is apparently also able to achieve this for the dragon side, so the question seems to be why they don’t do it more often and instead seem content to let valuable assets and knowledge destroy themselves in their grief. Choice is important, but it seems like a decision of that nature is best made when lucid and able to think it through, assuming that the person affected can get close to lucid after this kind of tragedy. Capiam muses on this scenario for a line before dismissing it as “wistful futile thoughts”, because “the halves that were missing could never be replaced.” Which is true, but utterly precludes the possibility that the might be a way of continuing on anyway, with good community support, and possibly one of those head-Healers the planet desperately needs.

This whole premise is mightily fucked up.

With regard to the Hatching Ground, though, there seems to be the full set of moods on display for the day. We now know we have Tirone to thank for the Ballad of Moreta, a song that will continue to be sung more than five hundred years in the future, because apparently there are things worth preserving, culturally, about a person who died from exhaustion after time traveling to several places to deliver a vaccine. Presumably, Tirone has taken liberties to make it sound more heroic. Capiam is trying to hold his emotions in check, lest everyone see the Masterhealer express his grief at the losses suffered. He’s doing very poorly at it, by the way. K’lon, of course, is fully grieving, which is probably the healthiest reaction of the men assembled. Desdra is the person with perspective on it all, even though she’s also grieving, so delivering the lines about turning a sad day into a happy one falls to her.

The Hatching starts, and Capiam observes those entering. Despite being near the end, there are hints of stories not told that probably deserve more than a paragraph.

Desdra’s hand tugged at his and he followed her gaze to see Alessan entering the Hatching Ground with Lady Nerilka. They were a striking pair, Alessan a half head taller than his consort, but, even at this distance, Capiam could see that Alessan was pale. He walked steadily, if slowly, his arm linked through Nerilka’s. Tuero was on his right side, Dag and little Fergal a respectful pace, for once, behind their Lords Holder. Capiam had been surprised by Alessan’s choice of wife, but Desdra said that Rill would support Alessan and he needed that.
Master Tirone arrived, with Lord Tolocamp and his ridiculous little wife. Capiam wasn’t sure if the emergence of Lord Tolocamp from his self-imposed isolation was a tribute to the occasion or would be a trial, but he had made the effort today. As Nerilka had noted to Capiam, the man had never known he had a daughter missing. When told that Nerilka had become Alessan’s wife, Tolocamp had remarked about Ruatha swallowing up his women, and that if Nerilka preferred Ruathan hospitality to his, that was the end of her in his eyes.

Charming. And also, the blink-and-you’ll miss it solution to the question of who Rill is at the beginning of chapter XV. Which should have been an easier thing to figure out (Ne-RILL-ka), but, of course, by the time we joined the action, everyone was three sheets to the wind. I think we’re also supposed to recall that Nerilka has super disguise abilities from the earlier chapters where she became a drudge and slipped into the quarantine zone, and just accept that nobody could have known that it was her. And the reader is kept off the scent by another of those linguistic tricks that would require thinking of “Rill” as a nickname and possibly one of a syllable nature, instead of as just another character in a long cast of them.

Also, Alessan had a really whirlwind courtship with Nerilka if he’s marrying her one month after the disaster. That would have been nice to see happen, to figure out how the grief process worked (or didn’t) for him, and how the two of them bonded enough to get married.

A consequence of the marriage, however, is that Oklina is one of the candidates standing for Orlith’s queen egg. Presumably, Alessan and Nerilka can produce themselves more heirs to keep the lines going now, instead of needing Oklina to have kids.

Capiam thought Oklina looked stunning. He remembered her as so shy and diffident in the bustling, lusty family that had once cramped Ruatha Hold as to be unremarkable. She had certainly bloomed. Then he noticed B’lerion watching her intently. He, too, had changed dramatically since Moreta died.
[…Capiam gets weepy, but the eggs crack and make happiness a part of the day…]
Two of the girls wavered in their stance but in Capiam’s mind there was never any question of which girl the little queen chose.
Capiam turned to embrace Desdra in celebration. Clinging together, they watched Oklina lift shining eyes, her gaze instinctively finding B’lerion in the mass of faces confronting her.
“Her name is Hannath!”

And that’s it for this story, with the birth of a new queen to replace the two that died. Hardly seems fair at all.

Not to mention that this entire section that I’m commenting on took six pages in the electronic version I’m using. On actual paper, I’m sure it took more pages, but all of this, death, suicide, song, marriage, and birth, took a very small portion of the actual book and contained all the permanent action aside from the mass deaths from the plague. It seems to be a failure of pacing, really, to tack on that idea after most of the book was tense about her plague infection and to see if she would die from that.

Plus, there’s one big hanging thread that had not been addressed – there’s a future Moreta picking needlethorn that hasn’t been caught up to yet. While the death during the errands may be a fixed point in time, there’s nothing stated in the rules of time travel that says she has to go back immediately. A different dragonrider could potentially intercept Moreta in the future, collect Holth from the past somewhere, catch Leri and Orlith on the day K’lon observes them leave, and all of them could live out perfectly good lives past the disaster point, returning only at the last point to do the delivery so that the timeline is satisfied. Which assumes that Moreta has to do that death run at all. Moreta could leave detailed instructions of the Keroon Plains for another dragonrider to take her place and deliver the vaccines and explanations needed to make things work and just skip out on this point where she supposedly dies. It certainly seems like there are more than a few options for enterprising dragon riders like K’lon to try and see if the whole thing can be avoided or shunted away such that all the observed narrative happens, but the result is not the death of two queens and their riders. This is a big thing just left without explanation, and I doubt it will come back at all.

Next up is Nerilka’s Story, which will likely contain much of the things I wanted to know about Nerilka and Alessan inside.

(The Dragondex at the end offers symbols, colors, and Leaders, as well as oaths and terms of interest, now including length measurements of dragons, and including the sterility of greens based on their firestone use, as well as a timeline in years (should be Turns), that goes from Planetfall, to First Fall, and from thence on. Large amounts of spoiler data abounds here, as is the case with many of the versions available.)


13 thoughts on “Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: The Inevitable Disaster

  1. Firedrake April 7, 2016 at 9:06 am

    Another thought: how do the dragons know Moreta is gone? I.e. what is their experiential difference between “Moreta is six months in the future” and “Moreta is lost in hyperspace until she suffocates/freezes”?

  2. beappleby April 7, 2016 at 11:09 am

    About Desdra – we only see Desdra’s bedside manner from Capiam’s POV, and it is an established cliche that doctors make the worst patients. Also, if she already has feelings for him, she may well be making an effort to be extra strict with him rather than let it show. It would be interesting to see what she’s like with other patients.

    The performance of the ballad in Dragonsinger does not mention the timing at all. The substitution of seeds for needlethorns could have been a simplification, but could also have been intended to hide the fact that they were harvesting needlethorns out of season. Timing is still being kept as secret as possible in this period.

  3. depizan April 7, 2016 at 12:31 pm

    Wait, WHAT. I somehow missed last time that they were finished and jumping home. Not resting first becomes even less sensible. There’s no urgency at all. They just had get-there-itus. (Which, yes, is a real thing and has caused actual air disasters. But in a book, needs to be foreshadowed WAY the hell more than this was.)

    So much of this is so poorly explained or glossed over. It makes for a really unsatisfying story.

  4. genesistrine April 7, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    @Firedrake: that’s a really good question, especially since there’s even a bit earlier on when Orlith’s freaking about not being able to contact Moreta because Moreta’s timing it.

    @depizan: it’s pure and simple “oh yeah, this character’s got to die because her ~tragic opera~ in the future says she did, um, MORETA DIED ON THE WAY BACK TO HER HOME PLANET, there we go.”

  5. Firedrake April 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    It’s not even that hard to fix. Lose the time travel, obviously (say it hasn’t been discovered at this point). Keep the simultaneous vaccination thing; it doesn’t really work but it gives you time pressure. Then have Moreta (always a hard charger) misjump with the last cargo load, when the time pressure is still on (but the end result is enough to stop the plague anyway, it’s just touch and go for a bit). That’s consistent with the Great Tragedy in the Teaching Doggerel, and not wildly out of character either.

  6. WanderingUndine April 7, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Only four cocowhats for this book, IIRC, and three of them in the final chapter. That’s progress. 😛

    The short story “Beyond Between,” in the anthology Legends II (edited by Robert Silverberg) gives some “closure” to Moreta’s fate. I don’t remember much about it, though.

  7. Firedrake April 8, 2016 at 3:07 am

    (Goes and looks for it.)

    Oh, my. Fixfic that breaks the universe.

    (Summary: dragons are unaging, there is an unknown afterlife but only for dragons and their riders, Moreta and Holth manage to appear as ghosts to tell Leri and Orlith where to go, everyone gets sorted out.)

  8. genesistrine April 8, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Blimey. I found a summary and you’re not kidding. How is that supposed to work for riders like Lytol and Brekke? Who were, well, Left Behind?*

    Not to mention dragons like Nemorth – her body’s next to the clutch in DF. Oh, who am I kidding. Consistency between Pern books, ahahahaha. It’s all those timing riders stirring up the timeline, obviously….

  9. Wingsrising April 8, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Yeah, Beyond Between doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

    Re-reading Moreta — and looking at Beyond Between and the analysis of Moreta’s jumps in The Atlas of Pern — the time travel aspect is even more puzzling because she’s really not making THAT much time. Enough to befuddle her from having 5 copies of herself floating around at once, sure. But if (as Beyond Between asserts) the delivery day OR tomorrow would be acceptable to do the vaccination, and if Moreta really was only extending time by 2-3 times… it doesn’t seem like it would have been hard to do the delivery without timing just by increasing the number of riders doing the delivery. They certainly could have tripled the number of delivery riders without risking Pern to Thread.

  10. genesistrine April 8, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Yes, the vaccination really, really doesn’t have to be done all at once. Other than dragons the fastest method of travel is runners, so the epidemic can’t travel any faster than that. Just divide Pern into quarantine areas and use immune riders to blanket them with vaccine one by one. Hell, you can even have riders drop off the vaccine at larger Holds and have their messengers distribute it! No need for time travel at all.

  11. WanderingUndine April 8, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    Interesting. I read most of the Pern books (including Moreta) 11-14 years ago and “Beyond Between” two and a half years ago, so I didn’t remember enough to notice the contradictions.

  12. Silver Adept April 9, 2016 at 1:05 am

    That is a really good question, Firedrake – clearly there must be a difference between “my partner is somewhere in the threads of time that I cannot reach” and “my partner is dead” or Orlith would have tried to suicide as soon as Moreta went forward in time.

    I also like the fix for the tragedy – it still leaves the problem of future Moreta, but it makes it a lot less of “And then she died because the narrative said so.”

    beappleby – I don’t think that the author would have known of the idea of the tsundere, but if what you’re suggesting is what we’re supposed to think, then that concept certainly seems like the closest fit. I don’t like it, but that’s because I like to think of Desdra as being able to hang with the boys on their own terms.

    WanderingUndine – Perhaps it’s progress, but I also note that most of the people who could be the sources of whatfruit are sidelined in this story – Sh’gall gets sick, Alessan is too busy rebuilding, Capiam is trying to manage the plague and Tirone is trying to avoid it. Tolocamp seals himself up. It’s a story about awesome women being awesome without men interfering. So the whatfruit count is going to be less, I think.

  13. WanderingUndine April 10, 2016 at 6:28 am

    And we’re not told what Capiam thinks is “ridiculous” about Trollocamp’s new “little wife.” That’s an adjective I’ve used to describe a person, but not lightly.

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