Last time, Moreta discovered there’s an afterlife to Pern, basically throwing everything we thought we knew about the planet out the window. And then proceeded to haunt the last place she was seen alive at, while the first dragonrider to go between without a destination gives her support and encouragement while he wanders the afterlife and shepherds the lost souls.
Beyond Between: Content Notes: Suicide, Assisted Death
When we last left Moreta, she had met Marco and Duluth, the first riders to go into hyperspace without a destination. At this point, she’s still operating under the idea that she can get home by using the right truck to unwarp herself away.
Some new knowledge comes our way about this particular zone that they both inhabit.
“Cats?” Moreta exclaimed nervously.
“Yes, cats. The big felines that Ted Tubberman bred and let loose down here.”
“Oh! But they’re the creatures that brought us the plague. Don’t let any of them come near you!”
[…they talk a bit about the cats and the plague…]
“Riders and dragons died, too?”
“Yes,” she replied sadly. “How did you know that?”
“I saw quite a few of them,” he said, grimacing. “Far more than would have been accounted for in a heavy Threadfall.”
“But if you saw them in between, then you must have seen where they went!” Moreta felt a rush of hope.
He shook his head slowly. “I don’t know where they went. I haven’t been there yet.” A curious expression touched his face as he talked. Duluth warbled gently to his rider.
Marco figures that this place they’re both in is some sort of alternate dimension, and that his longevity is due to being there for so long. He’s surprised to hear from Moreta that dragons can time-hop as well, before returning to the question of where the other riders he’s seen are going to.
“Sometimes, though… I see dragons, usually with their riders, just heading away – sometimes heading up…” he waved his hand in some inexplicit overhead direction. “They aren’t heading for between, because they are already between. They are aiming for some destination… beyond between.”
“Beyond between?” A shiver ran down her spine. “But there’s nothing beyond between.”
A heavy silence fell over them age it was quite some time before either one spoke.
“Are you sure?” Marco asked quietly.
“You should know. You arrived here in a spaceship, so you should have seen all there was to see of Pern.”
“You better believe it.” His tone was nostalgic.
Nice title drop there.
Also, why do I get the feeling that I’m listening to some form of evangelism? Pern is supposed to be a-theistic, inasmuch as the gods of the religion are the dragonriders, and so they wouldn’t necessarily have their own gods. And yet, this story started with someone in great anxiety about their own mortality seeing a ghost, who is herself being told if another place beyond where she is currently trapped. Marco hasn’t even told her she’s dead yet, although, as I read forward, he does so soon after this passage, for maximum shock value.
“If I can get back to Waterhole maybe I can get back to Fort Weyr.”
He tilted his head sideways, a wry look on his face. “Now that may be the problem. You see, you’re dead.”
She stared at him with a combination of horror and disbelief. “By the shards of my dragon’s egg! Then why am I here with you?”
[…a staredown ensues…]
“You’re not with the right dragon. You should have gone between with Orlith, not Holth!”
Okay, so Marco is Virgil and Moreta is Dante, then? This is so very much unlike any other dragonrider story we’ve had. And as an attempt at fixfic, it’s falling down pretty flat. Plus, it introduces a big problem – what the hell are you still doing there, Marco? You’re with the right dragon, so why haven’t you gone beyond between? Are we supposed to see you as a bodhisattva, instead, one who could go on to final enlightenment but has chosen to stay behind to guide others on the path? A Force ghost? Something else? Because by the rules that are set down so far, Marco and Duluth don’t have a reason to still be here.
Furthermore, Marco suggests that the dragons have been engineered to be functionally immortal – by themselves, their lifespan will likely outlast many, many humans, but because they’re so tightly bonded to humans, they follow the human into death. Which, again, seems life a really callous waste of resources. There should be a way of uncoupling and recoupling dragons to riders. That way, new weyrlings get the benefit of a dragon that has the experience of several riders before them to help make sure they stay alive. It would like of be like the Dax symbiote for the Trill.
Anyway, Marco talks about how his experience in limbo had made him pretty certain of the existence of a soul, and that the souls of a rider and their dragon are basically intertwined forever. Moreta has had enough of metaphysics and is determined to get a message to Leri so that this dragon cross gets taken care of. So she hops back to Waterhole, scaring Rusty and the runners, and starts trying to get Thaniel clued in to what’s going on. So we see from her perspective what we had seen from his at the beginning, for the first few haunting attempts. Marco encourages her along the way, as well as offering sympathy for the fact that she can’t just directly go back to the place where she wants to be.
The narrative shifts over to Leri, the survivor of the tragedy, who is talking to Kamiana, one of the other queen riders, and experiencing both survivor’s guilt and the pain of being old.
“I do so completely desire all this to be over,” Leri said wearily. “I’m tired of this old body. Orlith says if I stay until her clutch is ready to hatch, then she’ll take me with her between.
Kamiana bowed her head; she had no words of reply. She sat silently, a gentle hand resting on Leri’s arm.
[…Sh’gall, Tirone, and others come to visit, and everyone has memories of Holth and Moreta to share…]
“Will I forever be lost to Holth, and Orlith to Moreta?” The beseeching look the old queen rider cast about her was too much for the assembled group to bear. The men shuffled their feet and the women hastily dabbed at their eyes; Kamiana was not the only person getting hard not to weep.
“It is something I have thought often about,” Sh’gall said quietly. “When our lives as dragonriders are over, do we go on with our dragons to something else, or is this all we are?”
“I like to think that there is more for us, somewhere else,” Leri said wistfully, through her unchecked tears. “Another part to this life. But I am just a foolish old woman, hoping I’ll find my beloved between.”
“As to that,” Master Tirone cleared his throat, rocking back on his heels as he assumed an academic stance, “we only know that it is an area of nothingness separating here from there. But there is -” He paused dramatically. “-more to it than we will ever know. Another dimension, perhaps, through which only the dragons may travel.”
“Another dimension?” Lidora looked startled.
“As height and width and depth are dimensions. Between may be another such.”
“But we don’t know, do we?” Levalla, the Benden Weyrwoman, said in a puzzled tone.
“No, we don’t and I’m not sure how that applies to this…situation,” said Sh’gall.
Sh’gall, as we saw him in Moreta, doesn’t seem to have the brain capacity for musing like that on the afterlife. Tirone, no problem at all, but I don’t really believe that Sh’gall has been this otherwise brilliant and philosophical man, and only around Moreta does he seem to be a dunce.
This sequence does beg the question of how many dragonriders choose to commit their own deaths, either by going to hyperspace without a destination, or by “accidentally” letting themselves get killed by Thread, because fifty years of fighting and training has to take a toll on one’s mental health, especially without any mental health professional to help get them through the siege. The next few lines are Leri asserting that she has the right to choose the time and method of her own death against all the people in the room who want her to stay, despite both her and Orlith having lost the entity most dear to them.
I’m really thinking this story is much more the author telling us about their experiences with getting older, musing on death, and laying out their hope that there is something beyond the veil for those who have the ability to make it there. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and Pern is familiar ground at this point, but it’s really rather too religious for the setting that Pern is. Tirone has the right way of going about it to make it work with the setting – if the dragons can traverse space and time, it makes sense they should be able to traverse other dimensions as well.
Anyway, Moreta goes back to haunt Waterhole again, without the desired result, and one more time, this time the one where Thaniel actually sees Moreta in the moonlight and gets the message she has been trying to scratch into the ground – “Get Leri. Moreta.”
So they do. The Stationmaster for the messengers (Runners) comes to deliver the message personally to Leri, who slips him a full “Harper Hall credit” and sends him back with a reply message to wait until Orlith’s eggs hatch. (We’ll talk more about the existence of a messenger guild when we get to the correct story in the sequence that brings them fully formed into existence, instead of having them exist from the beginning. Possibly with Cocowhats.) When the fateful day comes, Thaniel sends Rusty away, greets Leri with bread and klah, then retreats back inside to continue making and baking bread until sundown.
It was about an hour later when the second dragon appeared. Thaniel let out a deep sigh when he heard the glad cries from the women, and the loud trumpeting of the dragons.
The reunions brought tears to Thaniel’s eyes as he looked on from the doorway. Moreta leapt from the back of Holth and ran to Orlith. She caressed her queen’s head, touching the pale gold neck with great tenderness as she gazed adoringly into faceted eyes that whirled bright blue with happiness. Leri dropped her cup and walked as quickly as she was able to meet Holth; she hugged her dragon’s neck fervently, as a newly Impressed weyrling would. Thaniel later said that he thought his heart would break at the old Weyrwoman’s joy.
“I never thought I’d see your again, dear heart,” Leri said amid tears of joy, while her fingers remembered the texture of Holth’s wattling hide.
[…thanks to Thaniel are given from Moreta…]
“Now, we are matched correctly,” she [Moreta] said with an air of intense satisfaction.
[…news of the Hatching and Oklina’s Impression, and then the two queens launch into the air and disappear into hyperspace…]
Thaniel wished them well, as his tears at last brimmed over. He bent to pick up the handle that was all that remained of the mug. He suddenly felt reassured for the first time in many years. Perhaps there was some other place he would go eventually; some place he did not yet know. Some place where he might see his beloved wife again. He slipped the broken handle into his apron pocket and patted it – a keepsake by which to remember Moreta.
And that’s the end. No description of the space beyond, no Marco giving them a wistful wave and a chuckle, before moving on to the next resident of his corner of limbo, not even a pair of shooting stars streaking across the sky.
I’m glad, in some ways, that Thaniel feels hope at the end point. Admittedly, though, blest more are those that have not seen and yet believe, and all that. Thaniel gets the benefit of having seen Moreta and Holth’s ghosts to know there’s something beyond. Which is still way different than anything we’ve seen in Pern to this point, or in the past of Pern, and suggests that maybe spirituality survived just fine on the planet, even though it never gets mentioned. All in all, this has been a very strange trip, and perhaps one that’s been more insightful into the author than the characters. We don’t even know if this was a successful trip for them to heaven. Just that they both went away.
Let’s move on. Time to go back to the Ninth Pass and finally move that story forward in the new realm where the South is being explored and people should be dying a lot from cat attacks.