Last time, there was birth, reckless disregard for rules that turned out okay, and a sign of life from something that the colonists really, really don’t want to be waking up. Good thing there’s someone already preparing a place for them to go when they need to bug out.
Dragonsdawn, Part Three: Content Notes: Blatant Hypocrisy, Blinkered Thinking
This segment opens with Pol being distracted from this work by Mary Tubberman.
“Please don’t turn away an old friend away unheard.”
“Mary,” Pol said kindly, “you weren’t shunned.” He shared the earpiece with Bay, who nodded in vigorous approval.
“I might as well have been.” The woman’s tone was bitter, then her voice broke on a tremulous note and both Ray [sic] and Pol could hear her weeping. “Look, Pol, something’s happened to Ted. Those creatures of his are loose. I’ve pulled down the Thread shutters, but they’re still prowling about and making awful noises.”
“Creatures? What creatures?” Pol locked glances with Bay. Beyond them, their dragonets roused from a doze and chirped in empathic anxiety.
“The beasts he’s been rearing.” Mary sounded as if she thought Pol knew what she was talking about and was being deliberately obtuse. “He-he stole some frozen in-vitros from veterinary and he used Kitti’s program on them to make them obey him, but they’re still… things. His masterpiece does nothing to stop them.” Again her bitterness was trenchant.
[…Bay and Pol agree to come help her, after finding out that Ned’s not available and neither is her first choices…]
“Sue and Chuck moved north, Mary, after that first bad rock shower from Picchu.” Bay was patient with her. The woman had a right to sound paranoid, living in seclusion as she had for so long, with an unbalanced husband and so many earthshocks and volcanic rumblings.
This does not sound like paranoia to me. This sounds like someone who is scared for their existence and is trying to get someone to help them survive. Also, there are still people within the blast zone of the volcano? What kind of person stays within that death zone with evidence that it will, in fact, try hard to kill you? (…then again, Mt. Saint Helens. And more than a few other eruptions. Although in this case, everyone can pack up and move out of the zone. So not as much “can’t” as “don’t”.) Or, if I wait a few lines, I find that Bay is ready to move northward and not deal with the ash, so premature condemnation on my part.
As it is, Bay summons Sean and Sorka to investigate what’s going on at the Tubbermans, so that everything can be kept unofficial. And spends significant amounts of time during the flight cursing and condemning Ted Tubberman for having done generic experimentation.
but for Ted Tubberman, disgruntled botanist, to tinker with ova – and he had not understood the techniques or the process – to make independent alterations was intolerable to her, both professionally and personally. Bay knew herself to be a tolerant person, friendly and considerate, but if Ted Tubberman was dead, she would be tremendously relieved. And she would not be the only one. Just thinking about the man produced symptoms of agitation and pure fury which made Bay lose her professional detachment, and that annoyed her even more. There she was on dragonback, with only the noise of the wind in her ears, with all Jordan spread below her, and she was wasting contemplative time on Ted Tubberman.
I can’t really believe that anyone that would describe themselves as knowing they are tolerant, friendly, and considerate as actually being any of those adjectives. Especially when right before this self-delusion, Bay dismisses the thought that Ted might be able to understand the Ping program based solely on his profession as a botanist. Who hold the distinction, in Terran history, of being the first people to figure out genetics and how to breed specific traits into organisms. Ted is very much qualified to understand what Kitti Ping’s program does and how one might use it, even if he’s not experienced at the actual running of it. Plus, he’s done something like this before, with the thing that Ned was reporting on earlier. The extent of what Ted was doing may be surprising, but that he was doing things should not be.
As the dragons arrive, they see a building with significant damage, as if something had burst out of it, and the dragonets sent out to scout return with pictures of a very large spotted beast, which let up a yowl when the dragonets encountered it, and something else that is bigger, but apparently silent. Mary and her three children accept an offer to be moved somewhere safer, and the youngest, Peter, asks the blunt question about whether his dad is dead, and is unimpressed by Bay’s response.
With good reason – Tubberman’s corpse is discovered inside the damaged compound, having been gnawed and mauled, but not so badly that it wasn’t clear that fangs and claws hurt him, and Tubberman’s back was broken by what killed him. Sean calls Tubberman insane for working on big predators, and the team gets to work collecting all of Ted’s notes and data, as well as finding sufficient material to cremate Ted’s body. They also collect a sample of grubs and grass to analyze and see if they can figure out how Ted made Thread-resistant things. After having seen the family off, Sean and Pol light the cremating pyre and then fly off under “yet another shower of the volcanic dust which would eventually bury Landing.” There’s going to have to be a lot of that dust to provide enough cover and stop the Thread from burrowing in and destroying everything, so that their descendants can find the preserved remains two thousand years later. While nobody can apparently force anyone to go, it’s pretty clear at this point that staying is a death sentence.
The narrative wants to stay with the Tubberman theme, as it picks up with Pol trying to break the cipher that Ted put on his research and failing frustratingly.
“Judging by the DNA/RNA, he was experimenting with felines, but I cannot imagine why. There’re already enough running wild here at Landing. Unless-” Pol broke off and pinched his lower lip nervously, grimacing as his thoughts followed uneasy paths. “We know-” He paused to bang the table in emphasis. “-that felines do not take mentasynth well. He knew that, too. Why would he repeat mistakes?”
Ted’s motivations are unclear, at this point, but given that he was an exile from Landing, big predatory animals probably works pretty well as a defense system. Cats being extremely intelligent animals, getting an empathetic or telepathic bond with them and being able to direct them would be pretty interesting as a defense troop or as a set of assistants. Or as pest control, as we find out from Tubberman’s son. Ted was directing the cheetahs that he had used the mentasynth on to hunt tunnel snakes. Ted may have been working on cats just as a way of proving himself to be the superior mind, too. We can’t ask him, though.
Wind Blossom’s watch-wher ancestors are still reviled by everyone but her, whom they adore, incidentally.
Ted working on predator cats means that the excuse of “sea feline” is now a bit more plausible, even though it turned out to be untrue. Is there anything that’s still on the list of things that need to be explicitly foreshadowed or created before we finish the book?
As everyone tries to decipher the notes on the cats and the grubs, the narrative shifts to the administrative offices, where one of the seismologists bursts in and tells Emily [spelled Emilie at first] that the big volcano that Landing is sitting in the shadow of is about to blast its top, and so everybody needs to go, NOW. Ash production has increased significantly, and continues to the point of darkening the sky in ash as everyone executes the evacuation plan already devised. Humans, animals, and technology all get herded on to the shuttles, with one away and safely and the other just barely beating the actual volcanic eruption that very swiftly buries much of Landing in hot lava. No casualties, remarkably, with everyone either safely away from the lava or holed up in the caves away from the lava. But that also means the final link to the spacecraft still in orbit will be severed, as it cannot make the journey. The dragons and their riders surreptitiously grab some sheep from the stocks to feed the dragons before Emily comes over to ask them to be airlifters of cargo to the new settlement. While discussing, one of the sled drivers is on a collision course with a dragon and rider, who avoid the collision by popping into hyperspace. And falling to return, sending the dragons and fire lizards info grief keening and the dragonriders and administration scrambling to figure out a solution so as to avoid this scenario happening again. The decision made is to start really observing and figuring out how to consistently direct the fire lizards to use their teleportation skills, so that they can then translate those skills into commanding the dragons to do the same, so that even in a startle situation, dragons and riders don’t get lost to hyperspace.
Which is actually weird, as the fire lizards startle and go somewhere without human direction. One would think that the dragons would also have a space they would reflexively go to in the instance of being startled or needing to self-preserve. So, even if the human blanks, the dragon should have a default space to go to. The more we learn about how the dragons were designed and have evolved, the more I wonder why Kitti Ping would not put basic safety protocols in place so as to protect the investment of time and materials into the dragons. Or to install a dead man switch such that the connection between dragon and human is severed in case of the death of mental damage of one of the partners. For designed and genetically manipulated organisms, there’s a significant lack of having passed the plan through the five-year-old test. (“One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation.”) A world that has been deliberately built on No OSHA Compliance (which also has an entry in the Evil Overlord List, incidentally) sounds exciting to anyone who thinks they’re a protagonist, but really is just going to cause problems like the one that killed Moreta and that just killed one of this first generation of dragons. It’s even worse when you remember that dragons were meant to protect life from Thread. Designing a savior that can just as easily kill as save seems like a really dumb idea.
Returning to the plot, the dragonriders realize in fairly short order the inklings that the dragonets are visual on their teleport power, and devise an experiment to time how long it takes for the dragonets to teleport over distance. It’s pretty consistent that no matter what the distance is to teleport, it takes the dragonets eight seconds to complete the trip to whatever location they are sent to. So long as the picture sent is clear enough for the dragonet to use, anyway. To alleviate boredom, the dragonriders practice flying in formations so as to be able to pop out of hyperspace in the correct positions, ready to attack Thread. They decide three sections are best, with six as a full complement, needing three leaders – Sean, Sorka, and Dave are swiftly elected squadron leaders.
There’s also a useful comment suggesting that dragonets and dragons are likely to be very long-lived and disease resistant. If they didn’t have such a tight bond causing dragons to kill themselves, it would be possible for them to transfer their bond to another person. What a world that would be, if one could pass a dragon down through the generations, accumulating the minds and memories of an entire family of riders. Imagine if every dragonrider became a Dax, of sorts, or had the connection of the Avatar (of The Last Airbender / Korra) such that their dragons were a conduit to the past and continuity. That would be really awesome.
Eventually, Sean gets asked to have the dragons transport some Thread-sensitive equipment northward when they head that way on Benden’s request. Sean initially bristles at being treated like pack animal riders, but he quickly realizes that cooperation is better and agrees to do it, selling it to the other riders as a way of getting pictures in their head they’ll need layer to fight Thread with.
On a hunt in the morning, as he did with every other discovery, Sean accidentally finds the way to direct dragon teleportation.
“All right, Carenath,” he said, thinking ahead with relief to the last loads at Landing. “Let’s get back to the tower as fast as we can and get this over with!”
He raised his arm and dropped it.
The next instant he and Carenath were enveloped in a blackness that was so absolute that Sean was certain his heart had stopped.
I will not panic! he thought fiercely, pushing the memory of Marco and Duluth to the back of his mind. His heart raced, and he was aware of the stunning cold of the black nothingness.
I am here!
Where are we, Carenath? But Sean already knew. They were between. He focused intense thoughts on their destination, remembering the curious ash-filtered light around Landing, the shape of the meteorology tower, the flatness of the grid beyond it, and the bundles awaiting them there.
We are at the tower, Carenath said, somewhat surprised. And in that instant, they were. Sean cried aloud with relief.
[…Having seen it done, the rest of the wing materializes behind Sean, everyone arriving safely…]
It was easy, you know. You thought me where to go, and I went. You did tell me to go as fast as possible. Carenath’s tone was mildly reproving.
“If that is all there is to it, what took us so long?” Otto asked.
“Anyone got a spare set of pants?” Nora asked plaintively. “I was so scared I wet myself. But we did it!”
Catherine giggled. The sound brought Sean to his senses, and he allowed himself to smile.
“We were ready to try!” he said, shrugging nonchalantly as he unbuckled his riding straps. Then he realized that he, too, would need to find a clean pair of pants.
Pants-wetting terror aside, yet another accidental discovery for Sean Connell. Which seems to be a major theme in Pern – rarely is anything accomplished through dogged pursuit and methodical experimentation and refinement leading to a breakthrough – instead we have geniuses and accidents of fortune that advance knowledge or restore lost knowledge back to the people that are there. The scientific method is another casualty to the lost knowledge of Pern. Unless perhaps Fandarel has rediscovered this in the Ninth Pass in working on his distance writer.
This is a good break point for us, with a good thing happening to give hope to the colony after a sequence of disasters. I’m pretty sure, however, that this happy point is a blip and we’ll be back to bad things soon enough. After all, Stev Kimmer is still out there and hasn’t had his attempt at revenge yet, and we’re getting close to the end of the book.