Welcome back. While we’re here in the First Pass, we’re taking a look at this collection of short stories that will look in on Landing and its successors and give us some extra perspective.
The spoiler data for this volume includes a timeline of the stories themselves, including the years of the deaths of major characters from Dragonsdawn, as well as some very interesting events that may or may not be covered in the stories.
The Survey: P.E.R.N.c: Content Notes: Persistence beyond sense
This story opens with the survey team collecting data. More specifically:
“It’s the third planet we want in this pernicious system,” Castor said in a totally totally jaundiced tone, his eyes fixed on the viewscreen.
Hang on a second.
- Causing much harm in a subtle way.
- Causing death or injury; deadly.
- Affected with jaundice.
- Prejudiced; envious; as, a jaundiced judgment.
That’s two adjectives that should not be together – potential death and prejudicial statements. Characters that are flip when death is possible generally don’t end up doing well at all.
Furthermore, the survey team seems to be working under an artificial deadline.
Looking up from her terminal, Shavva screwed up her face for a moment before she spoke. “I’m happy to report that that’ll work out fine. Pity we can’t have a look at the outer edge of the system,” she added. “I’d love to have a look at those heavy-weight planets and the Oort cloud, but that can’t be done when we’ve got to do an entry normal to the ecliptic. As it is, the slingshot will only give us ten days on the surface.”
The explanation for the timetable is that Rukbat Three is the fifth of seven planets to be surveyed on this swing through space. Additionally, this survey team has had approximately one death for each of the planets that have visited, each with an initial at the end of their reports indicating whether the planet would be suitable for humanoids. Two on the last, one on the first, one on the third (and Castor injured), and none on a planet the probes had said was entirely lethal, so nobody went down there to die.
Probes are dispatched to see if Rukbat Three will support life, and a report dispatched back to the Federated Sentient Planets about the recent casualties and reports – using the names of the dead scientists as the names for the planets that claimed their lives. There’s a short discussion about the presence of an Oort Cloud and a theory that suggests there’s some form of space virus that kills life in planetary systems that comes from Oort clouds, with the same name as was used in Dragonsdawn to talk about whether Thread – now we know what the Hoyle Wickramansingh theory is, at least. Thankfully, at least a few of the crew still subscribe to Occam, suggesting that absent observation of a space virus, meteoric impacts are probably the more likely reason worlds get destroyed.
The away team preps for a landing on the planet, with Shavva mentally cursing out Flora, the dead botanist, for not having packed proper supplies on the mission that got her killed, as she offers assistance to help pack supplies. After a run down of the modified and doubled duties of the surviving crew, the probes report back that the planet is very much Earthlike, so much as to warrant a beginning designation of P.E., Parallels Earth, the first half of Rukbat Three’s eventual name.
Before we continue, though, I really want to know why this survey few hasn’t aborted and noped their way back to their origin point. They’ve lost four people and a fifth is injured, and it’s pretty clear they’ve fallen below the minimum threshold needed to do an effective job. Yes, they can do the work on an emergency basis by reassigning roles, but at some point, the mission commander probably needed to assess things realistically and give a great big NOPE and abort.
So what awaits the survey team if they do? Well they be prosecuted or court-nartialed for a dereliction of duty? Would their employers refuse to pay them for the work they’ve done? Or worse, are the FSP such cheapskates that they’ve only given the survey team enough fuel that they have to complete all their gravity slings to be able to get back to where they came from? From what we have heard of the FSP (from our pastorally-biased colonists, admittedly), they’re run by or in thrall to megacorps looking to squeeze every ounce of profit and resources our of their planets. We saw that the colonists were only able to raise enough funds the a one way trip. So there’s a strong chance that the survey team can’t abort but can only press on and get what they can before they all die. How little life means when you have so much of it to use, maybe. This is about half to three-quarters of a whatfruit’s worth of WTF.
The strange circles in the vegetation are noted, but since the crew is so sparse, they think of it as a local fungus and launch the shuttle to investigate further. After a short piece on how Castor, the most experienced climber, feels that he could have prevented the most recent two deaths (by a landslide) if he had been uninjured, that is. There’s a lot of feeling personally responsible for the deaths of others on this crew.
On the planet, the crew takes soil and rock samples as they try to puzzle out why there seems to be overlapping rings of growth in different generations of vegetation. Marine life samples get taken, but the team notes a lack of ruminant creatures and vegetation grazers on the land, although they do encounter creatures first described more like flying barges and a “ten-centimeter-thick, seven-meter-long example” of a reptiloid. Before we find out why those barges are called wherries:
“Wherries, that’s what they were called,” he said suddenly that afternoon. “Vessels that were used to ferry stuff between the English isle and the European continent. Wherries, and call ’em the biggest life-forms seen in the report. Maybe the term’ll stick.” Liu rarely exercised that EEC team prerogative.
This is, in some ways, a testament to the large world built in these stories, that each of these prequel installments can reveal some of the mythology behind how things came to be in Ninth Pass Pern. That said, it would be nice if these bits and pieces were things from other worlds than Terra. We had a whole lot of Governor Emily Boll, hero of a non-Terra world, in the last book. She could have provided something to all of this.
The team also finds evidence of dragonets, by the cracked shells on the beach, but no actual dragonets, of course. Lots of insects, and evidence of the ruminants by bones in a tar pit, which does nothing to assuage the problem of the ruminants not being present in the present moment.
And some diamonds.
Rough stones, one as large as Shavva’s fist, were pried out of the soil. The team kept several as souvenirs; they were not particularly valuable otherwise, for the galaxy had produced many gemstones more exotic than these, though diamonds remained useful in technology for their durability and strength.
And, as if on cue, a reminder that there are other worlds out there. This does make Avril Bitra’s plan to grab gems and hightail it back to civilization look a little less brilliant – if the galaxy has moved on from the precious gems and metals of Terra and the like, then she wouldn’t be able to make it rich with the gems and metals she mines.
The team observes a very stinky creature, with no apparent eyes or mouth, get stuck by a needlethorn plant. Which they are intrigued by, because the plant doesn’t indiscriminately fire needles in all directions, but only in response to a stimulus. After spraying it with a quick-freeze, the team captures a small specimen for examination later. And discovers the glow fungus that night, before being able to observe the dragonets at play, making a rather apt observation of them.
“Sentient?” Shavva asked, wanting and yet not wanting those beautiful creatures to be the dominant sentient life-form of this planet.
“Marginally,” Liu murmured approvingly. “If they’re leaving eggs on a shoreline where storm waters could wash them away, they’re not possessed of very great intelligence.”
“Just beauty,” Ben said. “Perhaps we’ll find large and related types of the same evolutionary ancestors for you, Liu.”
I think that describes the dragonets, and the eventual dragons, pretty well – and also the humans that transformed the dragonets into dragons without implementing safeguards into them.
The continued investigation of the circles supports the idea of meteorite impacts, especially since the circles are planet-wide, but the team is very worried that they can’t find the actual meteorites that made the impact, and the pattern is wrong for a planet to have been whacked by space objects on a regular basis.
The northern continent has metals and gold, and also an interesting tree.
…a vigorous tree whose bark, when bruised in the fingers, gave off a pungent smell. That evening, she made an infusion of the bark, sniffing appreciatively of its aroma. Empiric tests showed it was not toxic, and her judicious sip of the infusion made her such with pleasure.
[…Liu tastes it and approves, and Ben tastes it when it’s ground and filtered like coffee…]
“A sort of combination of coffee and chocolate, I think, with a spicy aftertaste. Not bad.”
Yep, they discover the klah tree.
That pretty well seals it for Rukbat Three, with no casualties, and I appreciate someone actually testing the drink for toxicity before drinking it. With the track record the survey team has, this would turn out to be something that tastes fine, tests okay for toxicity, and then kills the drinker a couple days later, as it turns out that the chemical reactions in human stomachs create poisons, or something, but it was nice to have someone actually thinking about possible problems.
Rukbat Three’s final designation is P.E.R.N. (parallel Earth, resources negligible), with a small c in the corner to indicate it is suitable for colonization.
That is, if any colonial group wanted to settle on a pastoral planet, far off the established trade routes, and about as far from the center of the Federated Sentient headquarters as one could go in the known galaxy.
Which, coincidentally, will be exactly what the folks of Landing want.
That said, the survey team is recommending this planet for colonization despite the meteorological oddity that has just ravaged the planet. Even if it was a one-off, I would have thought evidence of a recent meteor shower would have been something to recommend more caution with regard to that planet. From what we see in Dragonsdawn, though, to the colonists, it seemed to come across as a curiosity of some sort, rather than as a possible issue for colonization.
Also, I’m still not sure how the survey ship doesn’t pass by the Oort cloud on the way in, or doesn’t dispatch a probe or two to examine the interesting parts, after the comment early on that probes are in plentiful supply. They might not have received any useful information either, but the issue of probes being mangled by the Oort cloud would be noticed much earlier in, and possibly a connection made between the probe destruction and the impact circles on the planet. The reason Pern exists is because both survey and colony ship arrive in between a Threadfall, and only the colony stays long enough to discover the truth. It seems like a smarter option for colonization would be to send a second, longer-term survey out to any planets that seemed promising to stay for a full planetary cycle, just in case the summers turn out to bake everything dry or the winters cover the planet in six inches of ice. And then, once the cycle survey is done, one can make recommendations for colonization. It still wouldn’t catch Threadfall, necessarily, but it would catch places that look nice and turn out not to be.
Next week, we get to talk to the dolphins, before they get their own book later.