Last time, a Federation ship received the Tubberman distress signal and dispatched a shuttle with a Benden in it to see if there are any survivors on Pern. They found Stev Kimmer, his brood, and the Fusaiyuki clan all living together, and Kimmer somehow on charge. Kimmer is desperate to get off the planet, but it’s the Fusaiyukis that are providing more information and resources to get themselves off the ground safely.
The Chronicles of Pern: First Fall: Rescue Run: Content Notes: Sexual Assault Involving A Minor
The narrative resumes the next morning, after the clandestine fuel run, and Benden is sore all over from the haul. ni Morgana arrives soon afterward with numbweed salve and works it into Benden’s sore muscles. If that’s supposed to be a sign of budding romance between the two, I’m going to be be annoyed, because all we’ve seen so far is that Benden is attracted to her.
The two discuss that the Kimmer clan are stockier than they look at first, and then tell them what weight allowances they’ll have for the shuttle. Kimmer dismisses his daughters to go get things ready for the trip.
“Be damned grateful we’re getting off this frigging forsaken mudball,” Kimmer said angrily, rising to his feet. “Go on, now, sort out what you’ve got to bring but keep it to the weight limit. Hear me?”
The women removed themselves, with Faith casting one last despairing glance over her shoulder at her father. Benden wondered why he had thought any of them graceful. They waddled in a most ungainly fashion.
I know this is a fairly standard story trope, that once a man learns the alignment of a woman, they suddenly stop finding them attractive, but that just means I wish it would go away instead of being replayed endlessly. Also, this seems to have a little bit of a hint of “no fatties” with it that I can’t really untangle. In any case, it really rings of “oh, they were pretty before we found out they’re pretty devoted to someone we don’t like. Now they’re ugly.”
Kimmer tells the same story that Shensu did about why there are no survivors, but adds in the details that the ships that were in the harbor were Tillek’s, and so he must be dead because he would never abandon ships. Kimmer insists there can’t be anyone else because their instruments didn’t pick up anything, and that the best thing to do for the planet is to declare it uninhabitable. Before loaning Benden his sled to take a good look at the colony ruins, and then other stakes and locations, since they have power packs that can run the sled now. There’s still a lot of Kimmer insisting that he’s done everything he could to find survivors – to the point that it seems like a Suspiciously Specific Denial to have had so much text spent on it. While Benden is away, the caverns are just about finished packing up, although ni Morgana has suspicions of Kimmer’s daughters being up to something, something more than just stripping the cavern bare to bring stuff on the shuttle.
Benden is also apparently now on a first-name basis with ni Morgana, who has completed her research on Thread and whose suspicions are related to the fact that nobody standing watch on the shuttle has been able to stay awake during their watches, they all have headaches as if they’d been drugged, and the daughters are all exhausted and incredibly jumpy. It’s understandable that they don’t know about fellis and what it does, and how easily it can be disguised in other things so that it will be easier for Kimmer and clan to possibly steal the shuttle in its entirety and leave the rescue team behind, or to load it down with extra weight of some sort. They can’t have confirmed suspicions, though, because all the times that they scrupulously search everything, nothing out of the ordinary appears.
After a final feast, the shuttle lifts off for its intended rendezvous, only for it to be far too heavy (nearly 500 kilograms too heavy) to hit the right point and forcing Benden to insist on a slingshot course with the gravity wells of other planets in the system. Benden figures out how the excess weight got there, naturally.
“What I can’t understand,” Ni Morgana said in a flat voice, “is what they could have smuggled aboard. Or how?”
“What about your headaches, Saraidh?” Benden asked, seething with anger at Kimmer’s duplicity. “And those catnaps no one else’s had the guts to report to me.”
“What could they possibly have done in ten or twenty minutes, Ross?” Ni Morgana demanded. “Nev and I searched for any possibly smuggled goods or tampering.”
Benden pointedly said nothing and then scrubbed at his face in frustration. “Oh, it’s no blame to you, Saraidh. Kimmer just outsmarted me, that’s all. I thought removing him from Honshu would solve the problem.” He raised his voice. “Vartry, you, Scag, and Hemlet will conduct a search of the most unlikely places in this ship: the missile bins, the head, the inner hull, the airlock. Somehow they’ve overloaded us, and we have got to know what with and dump it!”
Lieutenant Benden, perhaps you could do a little less male angst and condescension toward ni Morgana and a little more fixing the problem. Cue the arrival of Stev Kimmer and the obvious knowledge that something is up from the apparently unceasing wails of Kimmer’s children. Kimmer suggests that there is weight to be lightened, with “malevolence in the gaze”, but Benden counters that Kimmer can “take a long step out a short airlock” if he doesn’t give up where the extra weight is. A short frisk reveals the entire Kimmer clan is clad in gold (which explains their excess weight when they were figured), but that’s not enough weight to account for everything. Benden explains to the now naked Kimmer that the only way everyone survives is by jettisoning the excess mass, because the cruiser can’t be raised and the current course means death to everyone.
This is the third time there’s been a plot involving a ship, precious metals and gems, and the likelihood that someone is going to die – Avril failed, Lemos and Nabol failed, and now, unless something happens soon, Kimmer’s going to bite it as well. The narrative is two for two so far in killing people who want to get away. You’d think Kimmer would have gotten wise, but apparently that’s not the case.
Benden hustled the naked, barefooted colonist down the companionway to the airlock and, palming the control for the inner hatch, shoved him inside, motioned for Greene to throw in the gold, and closed the hatch again.
“I mean it, Kimmer, either tell me what else is on board and where, or you go out the airlock.”
Kimmer turned, a contemptuous expression on his face, and he folded his arms across his chest, a gaunt old man with only defiance to clothe him.
[…Kimmer believes it’s a bluff…]
“I’ll have taken a Benden down with me,” the man snarled, his face contorted with hatred and sheer malevolence.
“But Chio, and your daughters, your grandchildren-”
“They were none of them worth the effort I put into them,” Kimmer replied arrogantly. “I have to share my wealth with them, but I’m certainly not sharing it with you.”
And Kimmer reminds us that he has always been about advancing himself at the expense of others, even to the point where those people die. And yet, somehow manages to have the luck of being indispensable to the people most likely to off him if they get the chance. Are we being wound up so that the eventual payoff is supposed to feel better? If so, the only reason going for that is that Kimmer keeps managing to avoid what should have rightly killed him.
ni Morgana pulls Benden back from the airlock, and explains to him what the extra weight is, having extracted it from one of the daughters using scopalamine as a truth serum. Platinum and germanium are stashed all over the ship in thin sheets and rolls everywhere, which, as they are found, are summarily piled up to be ejected from the ship. At which point, Benden notices the airlock is empty and immediately heads down to the Fusaiyuki clan to ask which one of them committed murder by spacing Kimmer. Nobody admits to it, and once all the extra weight is found, it is summarily tossed out the airlock, and the shuttle is able to course correct. The immediate threat disposed of, the crew of the ship now have the arduous task of reassuring the surviving daughters that they will not be reduced to poverty because of their rescue, from both the black diamonds they have and the money they’ll make by selling numbweed salve to the worlds of the FSP. In turn, the daughters and women reveal that Kimmer regularly impregnated Ito and Chio, the latter “two months after she became a woman”.
Cocowhat by depizan
That seems like am unnecessary detail to lay out, unless one believes the readers may be sympathetic to Kimmer’s death. He’s greedy, he’s endangered others, he’s always escaped problems, and he’s clearly not been a good patriarch of the Hold he took over. That he also is fathering children with women who are probably not done developing yet, if we take “became a woman” to mean “first menstruation”, only makes him that much more of a reprehensible human being.
This would have been the detail to leave earlier in the narrative to ensure that everyone knows Stev Kimmer is horrible and should not be allowed to escape again.
As things are, communication with the cruiser and the refiguring of trajectories requires both shedding more weight and a thrust blast that will knock out the entire crew of the shuttle to successfully get them enough velocity to make a meeting. Which happens after almost two weeks of drift, and then there’s two more weeks of drift afterward, which gets all the supplies down to the point of the emergency rations. Then one last burst to exhaust all the fuel on the shuttle, but it’s enough to ensure that everyone aboard gets back to their ship. The entire Rukbat system gets an official designation of uninhabitable and uninhabited, officially interdict, leaving the colonists that remain to live their lives for generations in peace. Everyone’s official report will say that Stev Kimmer killed himself once he knew his plan was finished. And that’s it, the this chronicle and for the book itself.
Which means…that was a filler story. The only real connection it has to Pern are the characters’ names. Otherwise, it didn’t do anything other than tell us about the eventual end of Stev Kimmer. And even then, it was another plot involving gems and shuttles and the near destruction of both, while the character that was avaricious ended up dead and their wealth scattered somewhere that couldn’t be retrieved. I’d almost say the narrative had a moral to teach in all of these sequences.
I’m also surprised at how easily the rescuers were convinced that there wasn’t anyone else there, because a civilization as advanced as the FSP surely has things like ground-penetrating radar on their sensor packages, such that they could bathe the planet in signals and see that the North was clearly inhabited by something giving off a big ping – or that the presence of the dragons would set off a thermal sensor somewhere.
Furthermore, this was the longest of the stories collected in here, so it was the biggest waste of time. I feel very unhappy at having spent all this time reading a story that turns out not to be about anything at all. I suspect even some of the bigger fans of Pern were sorely disappointed at this one.