Last time, the Pern colony officially passed the point of no returning to space, the planet continued to be as advertised, and the process of bringing a full ecosystem online hit some bumps along the way, as various species of plants (like the cucumber family) and animals aren’t adapting as well as had been hoped, or are being actively attacked by the Pernese ecosystem.
And Sorka’s fire lizard was the talk of the town, Sallah wrestled with how to get Avril in trouble for her greed, Avril continued with her plan on how to get off the rock with enough gems to live in luxury, and Pern mentioned that it was the kind of world that had earthquakes.
Dragonsdawn: Part One: Content Notes: Speciesism, Anti-transhumanist sentiment
We’re picking up into a chapter (an ebook chapter, anyway), after the status reports, with Sorka noticing what seems to be puffs of fire coming from her bronze as the colony’s dragonets regularly go out and keep the wherries away from the chickens and other possible wherry prey. Everyone else is impressed with the tactical and team coordination abilities of the dragonets, with open speculation that the dragonets are communicating with each other, even though there’s no visible signs of that. So the scientists come by to talk to Sorka, who believes the bronze is the leader of the assault team. And has strong opinions about whether the dragonets are friends or pets (friends). The scientists ask for the notes that Sorka has been keeping about feeding habits and the size of Duke, when she mentions them. Then, there’s this:
“Really, you know, this is a fascinating evolution. Especially if those plankton eaters the dolphins report could represent a common ancestor for the tunnel snakes and dragonets.”
Mairi was surprised. “Tunnel snakes and dragonets?”
I’m also interested in this, but not because they have a common ancestor, but because they’re calling them tunnel snakes. so, apparently even the colonists have forgotten that snakes generally don’t have limbs. Tunnel lizards, I would believe, but not snakes. Especially as they are described:
“Yes, an aquatic eellike ancestor, in fact. With six limbs. The first pair -” He pointed at the dragonet still clutching his morsel in his front pincers. “-originally were nets for catching. See the action of the front claw against the stationary back pair? The dragonets dropped the net in favor of three digits. They opted for wings instead of stabilizing middle fins, while the hind pair are for propulsion. The dry-land adaptation, our tunnel snake, was to make the front pair diggers, the middle set remained balancers, especially when they have food in the front pair, and the rear limbs are for steering or holding on.”
So they’re hexapods, not snakes, not really. And considering they are considered pests and things that need to be killed or shooed away, I would have assumed the natural name for them would be “hexes”, given the etymology. But I’m not writing this, so I don’t count.
The scientists are looking for a clutch and ask if Sorka knows where one is, as well as the behavior of the older dragonets regarding protecting and imprinting of the hatchlings. And to see whether or not Sean would help them.
Sorka regarded the zoologist for a long moment. He had always kept his word to her, and he had been very good about Duke that first day. She decided that she could trust him, but she was also aware of his high rank in Landing, and what he might be able to do for Sean.
“If you promise, promise – and I’d vouch for you, too – that his family gets one of the first horses, he’ll do just about anything for you.”
“Sorka!” Mairi was embarrassed by her daughter’s proposal. The girl spent entirely too much time with that boy and was learning some bad habits from him. But to her amazement, Pol smiled cheerfully and patted Sorka’s arm.
“Now, now, Mairi, your daughter has good instincts. Barter is already practiced as an exchange system on Pern, you know.” He regarded Sorka with proper solemnity. “He’s one of the Connells, is he not?” When she nodded solemnly, he went on briskly. “In point of fact, this is the first name on the list to receive equines. Or oxen, if they prefer.”
I don’t quite understand why there is such revulsion at striking deals, since there’s no money to facilitate exchange. If it’s about currying favors with the scientists, well, that spirit of communal cooperation between people with diverse skill sets is pretty much what the whole colony needs to be successful. If it’s because there’s some overarching desire to stamp out the idea of power differentials and get everyone into a nice socialist paradise, then the whole idea of “everyone gets their own piece of land and all the products they can coax from it” has already pretty well screwed the socialist paradise idea completely. If, instead, it’s supposed to be about teaching Sorka that she has to be able to do everything herself, then her training should be more than just to join one guild. It very much seems like there are competing philosophical ideas here on Pern, and barring some sort of impending disaster, the colonies are set up to let those competing ideas try and succeed.
The bargain struck, Pol and Sorka go to find Sean and consult with him about eggs. Pol figures that he can treat Sean like any other opinionated young man, like the ones he had to deal with in academia before coming to Pern, and so, instead of offering a bonfire, which he knows won’t work, he gets Sean to talk about the horse he had back on Terra, and then promises Sean an identical horse from the eggs, thanks to his ability to genetically manipulate the eggs. Sean takes the offer, and soon after, Pol, Sean and Sorka are on a ship looking for clutches on the coastline, along with an extra scientist (that turns out to suffer from motion sickness) and Captain Tillek and his crew. Sean is also a little nauseous, but Sorka is happy and Tillek is giddy to be sailing. Sorka inquires about why Tillek’s map is mostly uncolored, and he explains it as a way of knowing what’s unexplored, and points out the additional markings he’s adding that indicate wind and current.
When the ship puts in for the night at a cove, Sean tells Sorka to go east while he goes west, which tweaks Tillek the wrong way about how he does it, but Pol stops Tillek from delivering a reprimand. Probably because Pol is more interested in the deal. But it’s nice to see there’s someone who wants to speak up for the women, even if he hasn’t done it yet. Sean and Sorka soon return with four possible clutch locations, two likely laid by greens, two by golds. Pol and Bay (the seasick scientist) are just looking for a couple specimens, one or two of each color, to bring back and analyze, rather than trying to cart off whole clutches. We’re also treated to a lecture from Pol about how poorly designed the dragonets are and how humans are even more poorly designed, with vulnerable brains and air pipes crossing food pipes in such a way that humans can choke. Tillek points out that other species have other problems, especially in the genitalia, to which Pol retorts:
“So you think having the playground between the sewers makes sense?”
“Didn’t say that, Pol,” Jim Tillek answered hurriedly with a glance at the two children, though neither were paying the adults much heed. “It’s a bit handier for us, though.”
“And more vulnerable. Oh my, oh my, there I go again, falling into the lecture attitude. But there are endless ways in which we humans could be profitably improved…”
Pol, I don’t think you know particularly well what getting hit between the legs is like for women. Or, for that matter, getting hit in the chest for anyone with child-nursing mammaries. If you want to talk vulnerabilities, there’s plenty to go around for every body type.
“But we can’t do much yet, of course, with the laws that the Pure Humans forced through to prevent drastic changes.”
“Who’d want to?” Tillek asked with a frown.
“Not us,” Bay assured him hastily. “We don’t have that kind of need on this world. But I sometimes feel that the Pure Human Life Group was wrong to oppose alterations that would permit humans to use those water worlds in Ceti IV. Lungs exchanged for gills and webbing on hands and feet is not that great or blasphemous an adaptation. The fetus still goes through a similar stage in utero, and there’s good evidence for a more aquatic past for adults. Think how many planets would be open to humans if we weren’t so limited to land areas that met our gravitational and atmospheric requirements! Even if we could provide special enzymes for some of the dangerous gases. Cyanides have kept us out of so many places. Why…” She threw up her hands as words failed her.
Hrm. There was hopefully a very interesting discussion that happened between the Pure Humans and the transhumans about what makes humans humans and whether or not persons with those adaptations would be treated as having full human rights under the law or whether there would have been another series of angry conflicts regarding rights and privileged people and possible slavery. In the best case, the Pure Humans passed through a bill that said “no, you don’t get to alter humans unless you pass bills that say the altered humans are still humans and will not be discriminated against at all.” In the worst, the Pure Humans passed the bill to ensure that only unaltered humans would be called humans, showing their speciesist selves to their most xenophobic, and preventing the discussion from happening in the first place, condemning everyone to yet another iteration of the “we hate and want to try and subjugate those who are different than us” bullshit.
The plot continues with Sean getting up very early to sneak off and Sorka following after Sean leaves the cave. Sorka almost trips over the cache in a daydream about wanting to find the most beautiful spot, and almost gets so distracted by the hatching dance that she wouldn’t get the egg she swipes back to Bay. Having managed to get things in the right place at the right time, Bay ends up Impressing a gold, and then Sean comes back to camp with two dragonet corpses in tow. Everyone settles in to food, having achieved the mission they intended.
The narrative is about to shift characters again, so here’s a good stopping point. We’ll pick up with the Avril plot next time.