Last time, the colony suffered widespread fatalities and casualties from Threadfall, which was invisible to the meteorological instruments. Only the intervention of dragonets and the luck of having shelters with Thread-immune outer coverings prevented a total colony kill.
Dragonsdawn, Part Two: Content Notes: None noticed.
Let’s talk about that for a minute. We’re supposed to believe that a large mass of spores in a tight formation evaded detection from weather instruments while similar entities composed of dust, ice, and water vapor would be picked up. And, for that matter, the survey team that first visited the planet did not conduct surveys of the other bodies in the system, including the other planets, the moons, and the wanderer that was passing through the area. (Have I said this before? It seems like I have.) Even if their data indicated that Pern was the only habitable planet for humans, someone surely would have noticed the masses of spores, even dormant, as a curiosity. And, apparently, Landing was the first site for the first Fall of the Pass – there hadn’t been any other location where a previous Fall might have gone, so that the instruments might notice what was going on elsewhere in the world. Humans are not exactly the best at pattern-spotting, sure, but this kind of devastation event seems like even the pre-tech society should be able to spot. Also, see all previous discussions about how the native life of Pern appears to never have evolved any sort of defense against Thread, excepting the dragonets. The narrative is robbing the colonists of understanding and perspective by having the only evidence of Thread be the circles of destruction.
The actual text begins with the aftermath of the disaster, with the wounded shipped in, and the two psychologists for the colony (the first mental health professionals mentioned on Pern!) pulling full shifts and then some for the grief and counseling needed.
Right after that, Sean’s father reveals himself to be the great-ancestor of Lord Tolocamp, having sent his wife and oldest daughter to help with disaster recovery, while he hid in his cave system and expected his son’s stallion to impregnate all the mares there.
Ongola notes that the only people that haven’t checked in are the mining camp with Our Villains. Rather than raise a party to go and check on them, it’s just a note. I would have thought someone would check, if for no other reason than to make sure they’re dead, and thus no longer a threat to the order of Pern. Because this is the right opportunity for someone to have a go at it.
The callbacks continue with the dragonets now being the moniker “fire-dragons” and the colonists naming the whole incident “Threadfall” (even though I have no idea how they would do so or why they would do so, since the behavior of the parasite very quickly stops it from being thread-like). Complicating analysis of Thread is that soon after it feeds, if it gets no other food, it dies. Further complicating matters is that fed Thread apparently had no upper bound of growth, as a segment of Thread accidentally discovered on a fishing vessel and “judicious”ly fed until it could get to Landing grew from a bit in a bait bucket to needing” the biggest heavy-gauge plastic barrel” on board the ship, grown to “a gross meter long and perhaps ten centimeters in diameter” when put in an observational cage. The assembled scientists try to figure out the origin, with Tillek pointing out the coincidence of the big red morning star rising and the appearance of the Thread, and then go to work analyzing and determining what just hurt their community.
Apparently, one night is all that was expected for solutions, as grumbles begin and demands are made of the scientists for answers the next morning. The news that they’ve kept a sample alive to study angers the grieving more.
“I’m a father first, and my daughter was… devoured by one of those creatures. So was Joe Milan, and Patsy Swann, Eric Hegelman, Bob Jorgensen, and…” Tubberman’s face was livid. His fists clenched at his sides, his whole body strained with rage and frustration. He glared accusingly at Emily and Paul. “We trusted you two. How could you bring us to a place that devours our children and all we’ve achieved the past eight years!” The murmurs of the delegation supported his accusation. “We”-his wide gesture took in the packed numbers behind him-“want that thing dead. You’ve had long enough to study it. C’mon, people. We know what we have to do!” With a final bitter, searing look at the biologists, he turned, roughly pushing aside those in his path. “Fire kills it!”
He stomped off, raging. His followers left without him.
“It won’t matter what they do, Paul,” Mar Dook said, restraining Paul Benden from going after Ted. “The beast is moribund now. Give them the corpse to vent their feelings on. We’ve about finished what examinations we can make anyhow.” He shrugged wearily. “For all the good it does us.”
This colony has been going for eight years and can’t detect a meteorological event? That seems fishy. As does someone not noticing the return of the wandering planet using their telescopes and possibly even getting a good look at what’s on the surface of it. If Wansor can manage it with his telescope, surely those people who are astronomers in this colony can with theirs. For everyone to be caught by surprise sounds a lot more like narrative blinkering than anyone not noticing until it was too late. In just a few paragraphs, telescopes will be trained on the wandering planet in getting to determine if it is the source of Thread. Yet nobody has apparently done this already, despite the fact that it’s an eccentric-orbit world that may or may not actually be there for a good long while.
Also, one night is not long enough to determine useful information about anything, even if you have a phalanx of scientists working on it.
The assembled team speculates whether or not Thread is an invasion weapon or an item designed to kill the colonists, both dismissed by Pol as “a suggestion from the fiction of the Age of Religions”. Which, no, Pol, religion does not just vanish in The Future, because humans will find things to be spiritual about, even when science has plumbed the vast depths of the universe and can provide natural explanations for just about everything. The only point in which religion dies of when science conclusively proves what lies beyond human existence. In essence, religion dies when Universal A.C. solves The Last Question. At which point, religion begins again.
The psychologists suggest that catharsis brought on by burning the cage the now dead Thread was in could be helpful with the grieving process, so Paul and Emily let Ted Tubberman incinerate the cage. It’s apparently not enough, however, and the psychologist continues to monitor him as he goes on a crusade to set fire to any Thread shell he finds.
The scientists more go back through the data they have about the original survey and their own observations, concluding that the wanderer’s orbit is about 250 years, some subset of which is spent close enough to Pern to potentially drop spores, as they determine the break in between incursions is 200 years. They also conclude that the survey team’s visit to the planet happened right after a cycle of Threadfall, where the team noted the aftermath without being able to connect it to anything. (The survey team didn’t think it odd, apparently, that a large swath of the country had significant amounts of new growth and others had quite a bit of very old growth.)
They also go exploring and find that there are two signs of previous Threadfall, one on the North, which is uninhabited, and one on an island where it was reported as having been more of rain with black specs. At Landing, however, the calls to figure out how long the rain will last increase, and the speculation starts to take on more alarming interpretations. Even sending one of the space probes to investigate produces only more information and no conclusions. Kenjo eventually comes in with new information – some of the circles of destruction have no husks associated with them, as if the Thread has burrowed and is now progressing to a new stage of life. The scientists slip out on small groups to study this, but their efforts yield no immediate fruit, and they are pulled from their work by communication indicating a new Fall on its way. Landing dispatches people equipped with flamethrowers and HNO3 canisters, which will apparently affect the Thread “like using fire and water at once” on it. I don’t understand the reasons why nitric avoid would be super-effective against Thread, but they don’t seem to be thinking of using nitric acid as a flamethrower fuel, which is nice.
For the most part, though, the scientists and leaders of Landing go about and observe and make sure that the affected areas are prepared – their crops are toast, but the people that built stone structures can wait out the Thread, and the defense party applies fire and acid to any Thread still alive, while noting that water and rain both are potential killers to Thread that comes in contact. That said, the bigger problem of what to do with the planetwide menace remains unsolved. The pictures of the devastation help the colonists decide that their Randian fantasies will have to be put on hold until the existential threat is dealt with. Which involves rigging improvised weaponry, it appears.
Tarvi drafted a crew to work round the clock, adapting empty cylinders into flamethrowers and filling them with HNO3. The easily made oxidant had not only proved to be very effective at destroying Thread but could be synthesized cheaply from air and water, using only hydroelectricity, and was not a pollutant. Most importantly, dragonet hide and human skin were not usually not severely damaged from spillage. A wet cloth, applied within about twenty seconds, prevented a bad burn.
I don’t have the requisite chemistry knowledge, but the wisdom of the Internet suggests nitric acid is not flammable at all, and is instead corrosive to the point where reacting with a base or an organic compound can cause the organic compound and the acid to ignite. So trying to light the stuff on fire seems like a bad idea, and that instead, these flamethrowers should be called sprayers or something else. The new sprayers and some flamethrowers are also mounted to the airsleds so that the colonists can mount a defense of burning Thread out of the sky before it gets to the ground.
Additionally, even though they have long since stepped down from a leadership position, Benden, Boll, Keroon, Tillek, and Ongola start finding other people asking them to make decisions. A colony psychologist (who finally gets a name – Tom Patrick) says that someone has to take the reins and oppose Ted Tubberman.
“I don’t think you can steal a showdown much longer,” he said, “or you and Emily will lose all credibility. That would be a big error. You two may not want to take command, but someone will have to. Tubberman’s constantly undermining community effort and spirit. He’s so totally negative that you ought to be thankful that most of the time he’s out trying singlehandedly to clear the continent of rotting Threadshell. Grief had totally distorted his perceptions and judgment.”
“Surely no one believes his ranting?” Emily asked.
“There’re just enough long-buried gripes and resentments, and good honest gut-fear, right now that some people do listen to him. Especially in the absence of authorized versions,” Tom replied. “Tubberman’s complaints have a certain factual basis. Warped, to be sure.” The psychologist shrugged, raising both hands, palms up. “In time, he’ll work against himself – I hope. Meanwhile he’s roused a substantial undercurrent of resentment which had better be countered soon. Preferably by you gentlemen and Emily and the other captains. They still trust you, you know, in spite of Tubberman’s accusations.
Remember in part one where Avril thought that if she couldn’t get off the rock and back to civilization, she’d settle for disputing the colony and trying to take it over for herself? We have a perfectly suitable villain for the narrative, and since the narrative hasn’t shown any qualms to this point about wallowing in negative stereotypes, why not tack a few more on to Avril and make her the antagonist? Instead, she’s just off on her own island, apparently unconcerned with this clear discontent brewing, still existing in this unknown state because nobody decided to go and check on her. If she turns up later, twirling a mustache, I will wonder about the intelligence of the nominal leaders of the colony.
Who are currently plotting to get the stakeholders to call a meeting of their own volition so the stakeholders will elect them to emergency rule all while believing it was their own idea to do so. Because that’s the only way the colony itself will survive Thread. Maybe we don’t need outside villains when the heroes are more than manipulative enough.
The meeting does get called, and the seniormost legist (lawyer), Cabot Francis Carter, starts with a rousing speech about how human ingenuity can beat most problems and that the planet itself is by far better than the inconvenience of Thread. Having primed the audience, he delivers the suggestion that stake autonomy be suspended temporarily and a central government reformed until the menace is handled. Ted Tubberman counter-suggests sending back to Earth for aid, but is shouted down by the colonists remembering what happened to a different colony that requested help – it took fifty years for a response, and the debt and obligations that came with it were crushing. Ted tries again, this time betting the colonists won’t want to be cooped up with each other while Thread rains outside, but he is again shouted down by voices suggesting Thread is nothing more than a challenge to be solved, and that humans excel at solving challenges. Ted calls for a vote, and is voted down on sending for help. Soon after, the colonists vote to temporarily reinstate Boll and Benden for the duration of the emergency, which they accept. Ted accuses the vote of being rigged and is sure neither Boll nor Benden will step down.
Even though he’s lost his credibility with the colonists (and, presumably, the reader) at this point, I’d give good odds that Ted is basically correct on both accusations. A trained orator is making the case for recentralization, while the most prominent voice of the opposition is a grief-stricken man with a clear need for vengeance. And since nobody knows exactly how long Thread will be around, Benden and Boll have basically become dictators-for-life. The Randian paradise is over, thanks to a worldwide threat that can’t be handled by everyone acting in their own self-interest. Even without Thread as the catalyst, power was eventually going to concentrate on the hands of those who did best and had excesses, so this would have been the eventual result, anyway. It’s just been sped up significantly.
After the election, Cabot mentions that Thread is likely to fall tomorrow, and Benden and Kenjo explain the need for the aerial fighting team. Those with dragonets are encouraged to join the ground crews that will find and exterminate any Thread that falls through. The meeting ends in a spontaneous cheer from most of the people there, but this segment ends on a very creepy vibe, not out of place in a suspense novel or a thriller.
“Perhaps only Ongola took note of those who remained seated or silent.”
Ongola, the one person who has been consistently paying attention to these things, as perhaps the spymaster of the colony and its newly re-formed government. What, exactly, does Ongola know anymore?