Before we hop all the way back to the Ninth Pass and pick up the thread left off so long ago at the end of The White Dragon, we’re going to make a stop for one more short story, written well after many of the books we’ll be getting to. It’s out of sequence for the list that I’ve been following, but I suspect that this story, much like Rescue Run, isn’t going to do much more for explaining or expanding anything vital. So we head back to the Sixth Pass.
Beyond Between: Content Notes: Death Crisis
The foreword starts with a very shortened version of the spoiler prologues, with specific mentions made of the way that death causes terrible issues in dragons and humans, and Moreta is summed up thusly:
In an effort to perform this unusual delivery [of vaccines], dragons and their riders relied on a little-known, or -understood, ability in the dragons to teleport not just anywhere their riders could visualize, but anywhen. It was very dangerous to cross not only distance but also time and, when tired and confused, even the best-trained dragon and rider could make mistakes.
So the official story is still that Moreta died because she was tired and confused from multiple time-hops, instead of sensibly just taking a nap in the field until she was recovered and then going home from there. It’s also officially still said that the time-hopping power is not known or understood well, despite the ease in which everyone seems to be able to figure it out in the clutch, and the official information from Moreta that time power is a tightly kept secret among the bronzes and golds.
The story proper begins at a runnerbeast farm, with Thaniel missing his wife, who died in childbirth, and having what might be best described as a midlife crisis about the finality of death and his adjusted role in his own hold ever since one of the beasts kicked him and put him in the duty of what used to be his wife’s job of keeping the place clean and the people fed. The time cue for the story comes with Thaniel remembering his hold is due for plague vaccine, and the arrival of a clearly exhausted dragonrider and dragon carrying the vaccine. Thaniel knows she coming, because Rusty, his favorite runner, always gets frightened at the presence of dragons.
Holth is described as a very pale gold. Moreta isn’t faring much better.
He remembered her as a very pretty woman, with short blond hair and deep-set eyes. Now her eyes were underscored by dark circles of fatigue, her body was listless, and her skin was tinged slightly grey, making her look far older than he knew her to be.
Moreta has done far more short hops in the same time frame rather than the Brown Rider Rapist’s ten year stint, but the effects appear to be the same regardless of how long the warp takes place.
Thaniel is confused as to why Ista riders aren’t out delivering, but he buys Moreta’s excuse that she knows the area better. Right until he remembers Moreta addressed Holth, but by that point, the tragedy has already happened. He also heard Moreta say that everything was finished with this final delivery, and so we once again have to shout at the narrative that this tragedy was entirely avoidable if they had just rested at the very end of the journey.
At the evening meal, the oldest daughter insists on giving the vaccinations, but they are interrupted twice, once by Rusty screaming as if he was seeing a dragon, and once again by Masterharper Tirone, who rode in on a queen dragon, thus spooking the horse. Tirone has two other dragonriders (and dragons) with him, as well as Desdra, explaining that they’re tracking Moreta’s movements for the day. With Thaniel’s information, everyone comes to the conclusion that Moreta missed her visualization, while Desdra applies the vaccination to everyone present. Thus satisfied of their conclusion, the visitors return to their own narratives.
We stay with Thaniel, and the next night, while he’s alone, Rusty once again shrieks about draconic presence, but there’s nobody visibly there, despite Rusty’s clear agitation.
Suddenly Thaniel felt as if he’d been touched on the arm by a shaft of sheer ice. He pulled his arms to his body, muttering quietly, “What was that to make me shiver as if this were midwinter and me catching a cold?” And then more loudly, as a horrifying thought hit home, he said, “Am I getting the plague after all?”
Trembling violently, Thaniel turned and ran, terrified, to his hold, slamming the door shut behind him.
Yeah, that sounds about right for someone suffering from the existential crisis – completely triggered by the thought of contracting a disease that has proven fatal to a lot of different people. I don’t think that’s the intent of this story, but as with many descriptions of trauma and life-altering events, those that aren’t trying to describe them often get them exactly right. The kids find Thaniel clearly in the middle of an anxiety attack, but they get through to the end of the night okay.
The next day, dragonriders check to make sure they’re all vaccinated, but Thaniel has a sneaking suspicion they’re there because he might have been the last person to see Moreta alive, which is triggering his own anxiety. So much so that his children are reluctant to leave him alone in fear that he will end up having another anxiety attack. Unfortunately, a runner gets itself caught in such a way that all the kids have to go out and rescue it. True to story, as soon as the kids are gone, Rusty starts acting up again.
The dust kicked up by Bill’s and Jerra’s mounts had only just settled when Thaniel was overcome by a terrible sinking feeling that was punctuated by a frightful scream from Rusty. Heart skipping several beats, Thaniel crept to the door, holding a thick stick as long as a man’s arm. He opened the door and scanned the horizon for any sign of dragons. All he saw was Rusty rearing on his hind legs, striking out with his forefeet at some invisible foe. Within a few moments the runner started to calm down, only to start shrieking again. He was so frightened that he backed away from the fence as fast as his feet could move.
[…Rusty’s panic increases to running around the paddock to the point where Thaniel is concerned he’s going to have to put the animal down for a clear mental illness. Except…]
And so Rusty’s wild behavior continued, night after night, until the fifth evening after Moreta had vanished until between. That night, Thaniel was watching at the right time. To his utter amazement, the full moon illuminated the ethereal forms of a dragon and rider.
Hollering louder than Rusty, Thaniel dropped his club, turned, and fled back to his hold, where he slammed the door quickly behind him.
Oh. We’re in a ghost story, then. Instead of something that would be a meditation on living in a world where death rains from the sky and you have to implicitly trust a group of people you don’t know at all to keep it from destroying you completely. And, having revealed what our story actually is, the narrative does a flashback and perspective change all the way back to Moreta’s jump to supposedly nowhere.
As soon as Moreta realizes something is wrong, she asks Holth mentally about it.
“Holth?” she cried. “What has happened? We are not back at Fort Weyr!”
“We are between. I did not ‘see’ where we should go,” replied Holth in a querulous tone, bugling in distress.
Panic welled in Moreta’s chest and she tried to think back to what she had said to Holth as the tired old dragon had lurched off the ground. She shook her head.
“I had to have visualized Fort Weyr for you, Holth!” she protested, forcing her time-wearied mind to recall exactly what she had said. “I’ve been a rider too long to make such a weyrling mistake.”
“We are both tired,” Holth replied blandly. “We went between, as you said. That is all we did.”
“Why didn’t you ask me where?” Moreta demanded sharply, wondering how a dragon so experienced could have forgotten something so basic.
‘You have been telling me where to go, Ave at what time to get there, all day. You always gave me the directions. Specific directions, according to the sun. This time you only told me to go between. Despair crept into the dragon’s mental tone.
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
Cocowhat by depizan
Dragons have no self-preservation instinct, apparently. That’s the only way I can figure that Holth would do something that clearly causes death. Or whatever this strange place is. I’m sure we’ve talked about the lack of safety measures present in dragons after they were engineered, but there’s no dragon or fire lizard that I know of with a live partner that would willingly plant themselves into hyperspace. And yet Moreta and everyone else refers to this as a weyrling problem, still meaning in all the years that humans and dragons have been partnered, nobody has yet figured out a way to impose the most basic of sanity checks on what their human is about to do. There has to be an instinctual panic button somewhere that functions as a default, even if everything else is blank or otherwise incapacitated. It just doesn’t make logical sense otherwise.
Having gone into full panic, Moreta tries to get Holth to jump back home to Fort, but the dragon apparently can’t do that, which I raise yet another eyebrow at. Nor can Holth or Moreta raise Orlith or anyone else to tell them about what happened. I would think that if someone can will themselves into an alternate dimension, they should be able to will themselves out of it as well.
To help make sense of this strange situation, another dragon and rider appear to Moreta. Moreta believes she is hallucinating, but the dragon and rider are real enough to her.
The old dragon put her nose forward and made the expected courtesy touch with a newcomer. Then Holth backed up with far more energy than she had previously shown.
Duluth? the gold dragon asked, surprised.
“What’s happening? Who are you? Why can I hear and see you?” Moreta cried. The panic was rising in her again. The old queen backed up a further step.
“I’m Marco Galliano,” the young rider said in a measured, calming tone.
So the caretaker of this part of hyperspace is the first pair to have gone there without a destination in mind. They make it a daily task to examine the area and welcome any newcomers. Marco offers to take them back to Paradise River Stake on the Southern Continent so they can warm up. With nothing better to do, they follow Duluth back to warmth, and the exhaustion finally catches up with them and both dragon and rider sleep for a long time.
After sleep, Moreta’s much less panicked, but she’s still stuck, apparently. And trying to make sense of where she is and who he is. It’s more than a little overwhelming for her, that Marco has been in that place for so long. He mentions that there have been a lot of other riders passing through this space onto some sort of final destination.
Yes, we’ve found purgatory, Pern style.
ETA: Next week, we’ll explore what exactly that might mean as Moreta tries to figure it out for herself and Holth and why she’s still stuck here haunting someone instead of in the dragonrider equivalent of Valhalla. (Apparently, that part got cut off.)