Last time, we got to see Torene experience her first mating flight and her first sexual experience at the same time. Naturally, it was with Sean and Sorka’s son, perpetuating the dynasty of Weyrleaders in the family. We also got a boatload of mythology dumped in us in the story of the founding of Benden Weyr. And now, it’s time for yet another short story, this one yet longer than the last.
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: Rescue Run: Content Notes: Male Gaze
So, having spent lots of time planetside, we get to cut back out to the world of the Federated Sentient Planets, with another person named Benden surprised about the orange flag on the Rukbat system. Ross Vaclav Benden reports to his superior officer about the flag, which contains the distress beacon that Tubberman sent up from Landing.
What are they doing out there in the first place? Apparently, despite the cessation of hostilities with the Nathi Empire, they’re still trying to annex the FSP. This cruiser, the Amherst, is out sweeping the boundaries of the Empire for Nathi incursions. So they’re in the right place to collect the message, and then decide what to do about it.
There’s some exposition about the colony and how this Benden had to endure having the famous uncle all throughout his days at the academy while the ship puzzles out that the distress beacon was cobbled together, aimed at the wrong place, and likely tossed off without the authorization of the colony authorities. The Oort cloud is of interest to one of the scientists aboard, Ni Morgana, and there’s a question about whether Oort clouds can generate dangerous life forms.
Having satisfied their knowledge, the captain authorizes a rescue run, to be headed by Benden, taking a shuttle and a few personnel down to Pern to establish contact and see what the current status is. After that, the ship collects a large sample of Oort Cloud material, which turns up the expected ice chunks, other rocky material, no sign of any weapon, and some material that Ni has not seen before. It’s definitely life, but isn’t responding to probing to see if it’s alive at the freezing space temperatures things are kept at. After an admonition to be careful, Ni is allowed to bring a sample up to a warmer temperature. A quick narrative cut has Benden and the captain summoned to the observation area to see the giant pulsating mass that activated and engorged Thread becomes, before it self-destructs from lack of food. Ni volunteers for the rescue run so as to be able to study Thread more. Another cut, and Benden is making checks before the mission is ready to launch and complaining to Ni about her choice of junior officer to accompany.
“Just what were you like as an ensign, Lieutenant?” Ni Morgana asked, giving him a sly sideways glance.
“I was never that gauche,” he replied tartly. True enough, since he’d been reared in a Service family and had absorbed proper behavior along with all the normal nutrients. Then he relented, grinning wryly back at her add he remembered a few incidents…”This sounds like a fairly routine mission: find and evaluate.”
“Let’s hope so,” Saraidh ni Morgana replied earnestly.
Ross Benden was delighted to be teamed up with the elegant science officer. She was his senior in years but not in Fleet, for she had done her scientific training before applying to the Service. She was also the only woman on board who kept her hair long, though it was generally dressed in intricate arrangements of braids. The effect as somehow regal and very feminine – an effect at variance with her expertise in the various forms of contact sport that were enjoyed in the Amherst‘s gym complex. If she had made any liaisons on board, they were not general knowledge; he’d overheard speculation about her tastes, but no boasting or claims of personal experience. He had always found her agreeable company and a competent officer, though they hadn’t shared more than a watch or two until now.
Waaaaaaaaitaminute. It can’t be a coincidence that the line before a paragraph describing how attractive Benden thinks Morgana is that we are treated to her full name, instead of the name that she and the narrative have been using up to this point. I think it’s supposed to help us establish her possible ethnic origin to help build a picture of the body that accompanies the braids that Benden finds fascinating and feminine, sufficiently so that it cancels or contrasts what most be a fairly athletic build based on her proficiency in contact sports. It wouldn’t be something, say, practical as a means of controlling and tucking away hair that might be very unruly if left fully loose, without having to use technology to clip or hold it in place. It has to be ornamental and prettifying, so that she can be elegant and regal, a woman that can be put on a pedestal even though she behaves in a much more rough and tumble way. And all of this has to be true-ish, even though Benden hasn’t spent any real duty time with her, either, making Ni Morgana an excellent example of a lady in a chivalric romance.
After this interlude into the pantsfeels of Benden, Lieutenant Zane provides a very concise explanation as to why Pern should never have been approved for colonization.
“There’ll be no one left alive down there. Ni Morgana had proved the Oort cloud generated that life-form, so it wasn’t Nastie manufacture. There’s no reason for taking a chance and landing on that planet if any of those things are alive down there! And they could be, with an entire planet to eat up.”
Precisely. If the survey team had done a proper sweep of the system for probable issues, they would have discovered Thread, and would have likely closed off the system entirely to colonization. Yes, we were told in the story that they were short personnel, but they didn’t study all the possible things in the system to make sure that the planet would be suitable and not have a collision or get too close to anything. The colony ships could be forgiven for not noticing, but the survey team needed to do more than they did before declaring the planet safe.
The plot then gives us the final meeting before and then the shuttle launch and approach, with a shrug by Ni during the descent described as “a shrug of her slender, elegant shoulders”, pretty clearly telegraphing what kind of pantsfeels Benden has for her, if the previous description wasn’t clear enough. The sweep over the site of Landing reveals no life forms or signs of people, excepting a small grouping at the Big Island. The exploded volcano and ash-covered site causes some exclamations about the likely fate of the colony. The dolphins, however, are rather happy to see something, but nobody on the ship speaks dolphin, so they can’t ask them what happened.
Since there’s no reason to deviate from the plan so far, the shuttle finds the landing grid that’s still under the ash and unloads personnel to take a look around. They find lots of dead Thread and evidence of the abandonment of Landing, as well as the evidence that Thread lands on the planet, even though Ni is not able to connect how Thread gets to the planet. Following along to the other beacon that pinged their sensors, the shuttle touches down and meets the civilization on the Big Island, currently commanded by: Stev Kimmer, currently in his 80s or 90s of age. After Morgana introduces herself, she mentions no signs of life at Landing, and Kimmer tells her everyone but his settlement must be dead, then, and he’s very glad to see them, since the genetic diversity of the place is starting to get a little thin. Benden looks at the people who are here, based on their features and resemblances and wonders if Stev has been committing incest with his descendants. The inside of the cavern is spacious, well laid-out, and contains murals and star charts on the wall and ceilings, which clues Morgana in on how Thread gets to Pern.
Age doesn’t appear to have softened any of Kimmer’s edges, and Benden has already noticed that there appear to be two factions in the cavern.
But Benden took note of the tension evident in the oldest three men. They stood just that much apart from the women and youngsters to suggest they had distanced themselves deliberately.
[…the children are described as having an Asian ancestry as Stev walks people through the cavern on a tour…]
“Did you have stonecutters?” Nev asked abruptly, running his hand over the glassy, smooth walls.
One of the older black-haired men stepped forward. “My parents, Kenjo and Ito Fusaiyuki, designed and carved all the principal rooms. I am Shensu. These are my brothers, Jiro and Kino; our sister, Chio.” He gestured to the woman who was reverently withdrawing a bottle from a shelf in a long dresser.
With a searing glance at Shensu, Kimmer hastily took the initiative again. “These are my daughters, Faith and Hope, Charity is setting out the glasses.” Then, with a flick of his fingers, he indicated Shensu. “You may introduce my grandchildren.”
“Pompous old goat,” Ni Morgana muttered to Benden, but she smiled as the grandchildren were introduced as Meishun, Alun, and Pat, the two boys being in their mid-teens.
“This stake could have supported many more families of only those who said they’d join us had kept their promises,” Kimmer went on bitterly. Then, in an imperious gesture, he waved the guests to the table and offered each a glass of rich, fruity red wine.
Yeah, that setup sounds a lot like after Kenjo was murdered by Bitra and Nabol and Lemos died in the shuttle accident, and then Tubberman got killed by his own creations, Kimmer was the only one left and seized control of the Big Island. I doubt Kenjo’s kids have forgiven him for what happened to their father, and Stev Kimmer taking over what is rightly theirs. By all rights, Kimmer should have been knifed, poisoned, or generally left outside during Threadfall. There doesn’t appear to be any reason for his existence to continue, unless there’s some sort of leverage or knowledge he has that’s indispensable to the running of the stake.
Incidentally, after serving the guests the best wine, both Benden and Morgana note that everyone else is drinking a watered-down version of it, which suggests that parsimony is also the way of the settlement – yet another reason for Kimmer to have been deposed.
Polite inquiry about what the situation was gives us Kimmer’s version of what happened, from a “forty year-old memory” that makes him angry at having been stranded after Bitra stole and lost the interstellar ship, and he insists very vehemently that there are no other survivors and that everyone here would have died without his assistance (Ito apparently asked Kimmer to take over after a difficult time giving birth to Chio), a premise that is clearly disputed every way except verbally by everyone around him. Once again, they’ve had forty years to leave Kimmer to Thread. Why haven’t they?
As Kimmer continues to detail his attempts to find survivors and any reason to believe anyone has survived, he also details his belief that Benden, Boll, and those that followed them were insane and are probably dead because nobody can beat Thread. Kimmer’s indispensable skill, it turns out, is in producing animals, grass, and other necessary food things for survival. The children “accidentally” let slip that they have vast quantities of gemstones and ores that would be useful back in civilization, which prompts Kimmer to exclaim that they will just be killed and their wealth taken, and then to have his facade crumble and beg to be rescued. While Benden tries to figure out how to get the survivors on board, if needed, Morgana asks for and gets all the useful reports on Thread and its origins from the Fusaiyuki sons, as well as a guide to go examine more of the dead Thread shells the next day.
We then get to peer in on Benden dressing down the ensign that suggested being able to rescue all the people in the cavern, before watching the herds come back, just beating out a brown winged creature. Which I have to assume is not a dragon, as a dragon doing this would presumably have alerted the rider th the presence of the stake. Before that path is followed too much, though, Ni and Shensu are hip deep in the specifics of their negotiations for Shensu’s help in studying Thread, while Shensu praises Admiral Benden and Kenjo for the work they did in fighting off Thread and throwing shade on Kimmer for what happened afterward, mixed with some bitterness about how long the rescue has been in coming. When Shensu asks to be taken away as his payment, Benden accepts, even though he explains the difficulty in doing so. Shensu then sweetens the pot by showing Benden and Morgana the secret fuel stash Kenjo had, while warning them against conversing, because the acoustics of the Hold makes eavesdropping very easy. The amount of fuel is clearly enough to fill the shuttle, so that people and their wealth can get away safely, and Shensu explains both how Kenjo’s flying made the stash, how he probably gave some away to Benden so that they could escape Landing, and how he’s now giving it away to a Benden to rescue them. There’s a short talk about what gems to bring with them for maximum value, and then Shensu shows what sort of lapidary skills he and his siblings have.
Shensu then explains that he’s sure there are no other survivors because there were ships ready to sail once, where Bitra and Kimmer were ready to just take off, but in three years, those ships never actually sailed. Which is not actually a good reason to believe nobody survived, considering the panic that happened at being to evacuate before Garben exploded, and if nobody knows which direction everyone actually sailed off in, then they don’t actually know what happened.
In any case, the officers and marines and Kenjo’s kids all haul fuel to the shuttle under the cover of night, and there’s still some left over when things are full up. This seems like a good place to stop, since we’re over the halfway point of this story. Next week, maybe we finally find out the ultimate fate of Stev Kimmer.