All the Weyrs of Pern: A New Phase Dawns

Last time, someone actually expressed a lack of faith in AIVAS. Since it was Lessa, however, and she was in the presence of two Bros, Jaxom and the Benden Weyrleader, she was summarily dismissed, even when she had keen insight later on. Now, however, it’s time to take big dragons up to space and engage in the satisfaction of roasting Thread before it actually gets to the planet.

All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 13: Content Notes: False Humility, Manipulative Behavior

Sharra and Oldive have volunteered to dissect Thread. The big dragons are ready to go up into an airlock. The transfer up goes smoothly. Everyone has to adjust to microgravity, with the Benden Weyrleader commenting on how Lessa has to try it. “I know you don’t weigh much under any circumstances,” he says, and then tells Robinton, “No strain for you, Robinton.” My skin crawls at the casualness of making Lessa diminutive.

After adjustment, each grouping heads to their respective locations – analysis in a cold-sleep lab, the riders to the bridge to observe and destroy Thread. Path and Ruth take each Weyrleader to a different ship so they can enter the commands. Robinton gets to put things in on the Yokohama. As Thread gets vaporized, Sharra complains that no tools brought up can cut the outer shell, and there’s not nearly enough space to use a flamethrower, even if they wanted to. They speculate about whether a diamond cutter could get in. AIVAS casually remarks that laser technology is still beyond them before confirming that the diamond cutter would be effective.

“Then why on earth didn’t you suggest we bring one along on this trip?” [Sharra] demanded.
“The question was not put to this facility.”
“The trouble with you, Aivas,” Sharra continued with some asperity, “is that you only tell us every you think we should know: not necessarily all we need to know or what we want to know.”
A long silence ensued, during which she and Oldive left the laboratory, sealing the door behind them.
“Sharra’s right, you know,” D’ram remarked at last.
“Indeed,” Robinton said.
“But would we have thought that a diamond cutter would be necessary, considering the selection of edged tools Sharra and Oldive did bring with them?” Jaxom asked, though he agreed completely with his mate and was rather proud of her for speaking so bluntly. It was significant, too, that Aivas had not refuted the accusation.

No kidding. The narrative likes giving truthful statements to women. Perhaps because those women will then be taken as seriously as the plot demands of them. But nobody is going to take this idea seriously, as it would mean throwing their lot in with the cartoon villains, instead of taking time to think about whether or not the way they’re being fed information and technology might serve a purpose other than their own. They’ve already anthropomorphized the AI, surely that means they can envision the idea of it having interests of its own, rather than just theirs.

Before the next plot beat, Jaxom reflects on how nice it is to be able to work on two different time zones, so that he can stay with the AI and get the work done of running Ruatha in his twenty-hour days. Because someone might be concerned about the Lord being absent all the time or use that void to plot or otherwise sabotage him.

The plot beat is that a roof of Honshu has caved in and a secret compartment has discovered sacks filled with something. Fighting the urge to go back to sleep, Jaxom joins all the other dignitaries at Honshu, having to navigate fog for landing. F’lessan has been blessed with a little of good sense, so that when he opened a sack to examine the contents, he stopped at the awful smell and didn’t proceed to tasting the liquid inside. Since it’s Kenjo’s secret fuel stash, discovered when a dragon crashed through the ceiling, F’lessan can count himself lucky or prudent.

AIVAS confirms that it’s fuel, and dashes Jaxom’s hopes of being able to take a ship to the source of Thread and destroy it by showing them the actual scale of the Oort cloud that they would have to destroy. AIVAS exhorts everyone not to give up on the plan, even as it is still not forthcoming with the details of how they will alter the Red Star’s orbit. It also quickly changes the subject to say that every dragonrider is going to need to get trained in microgravity, much to the happiness of those riders.

A new enthusiasm swept through all the Weyrs, overcoming the mid-Pass apathy.
Three days later, fires were set among the fuel sacks, but fire-lizards gave the alarm so no harm was done. On hearing of the near disaster, Aivas was unperturbed and, in an offhanded tone, informed the agitated Lytol and D’ram that the fuel was non-flammable.
[…Fandarel wants to know how and is rewarded with a lecture on jet propulsion that confuses everyone…]
That evening Master Morilton dispatched his fire-lizard with an urgent and horrified message that someone had destroyed all the lenses his Hall had ready to be installed in microscopes and telescopes, ruining months of hard and patient work. Later the next morning Master Fandarel found that the metal barrels [a subordinate] had been producing to house the lenses had been thrown into the forge fire and distempered overnight.

That’s a good tactical change for the anti-AI faction. At this point, they understand direct action won’t work, so they’re resorting to sabotage and terrorism, like a good guerilla warfare unit would. Which means the next action should be a targeted attack on someone who seems vulnerable.

And lo, after talking a bit about how Thread is weird, even for the AI, and pointing out that metal tools get brittle at the necessary temperatures to keep Thread dormant, Sharra is involved in a riding strap break in much the same way that Jaxom’s was. Because, of course, Jaxom didn’t tell Sharra about his problem, nor where he was hiding his own straps, so as not to worry her. Ruth saves her, and then Sharra goes on using a different dragon and rider (called “all right for an [time-skipped]” by Ruth), Jaxom takes care of discipline meetings, and then, when he fesses up to Sharra about what happened, she “[tears] strips out of him for ‘sparing’ her anxiety” and then confirms for us that Jaxom really is the main character here.

“Especially when you’re the leader for all of Aivas’s plans.”
“Me? The leader?” Jaxom stared at her in complete surprise.
“Well, you are, even if you don’t realize it.” Then her severe expression softened. “You wouldn’t.” She gave him a sweetly condescending smile. “You are, though. Take my word for it, and everyone on the planet knows it.”
“But I–I–”
“Oh, don’t get fussed, Jax. It’s one of your most endearing traits that you don’t get puffed up with importance and irritate people with an inflated self-consequence.”

Oh, yes, and it’s “Jax” and “Sharrie” as pet names for each other.

Also,

Jaxom doesn’t get too egotistical, we’re told, despite trying to pull rank last chapter, demanding an apology for the Weyrs before that, and generally having had the privilege of being both Lord and dragonrider before also becoming the leader of whatever AIVAS has planned. And before that, used said dragon to be the hero that returned the egg, to steal his wife from where she was being kept prisoner, and also used his station to get a girl to have sex with him. But he’s not got an inflated sense of self-worth…compared to the other, more senior Lords Holder, perhaps, who have been used to their positions and their power for all their lives, instead of being precariously balanced, as Jaxom has been.

At the scheduled meeting for discussing the vandalism, Jaxom informs everyone else about the incidents with the riding straps and is dressed down by everyone else in the room for not telling them when they happened, over his protests that he’s been careful. AIVAS mandates extra security for the Halls, and is glad the vandals didn’t damage the truly useful things to the plan.

“All that work is divided along several Halls and different locations,” Fandarel said with an air of relief. Then he shook his head, his expression doleful. “I find it very hard to believe that some member of my Crafthall could so wantonly destroy the hard work of his colleagues.”
“Your society is a trusting one,” Aivas said, “and it is sad to see that trust betrayed.”
“It is, indeed,” Fandarel agreed, his voice heavy with sadness.

Cocowhat by depizan

That’s…no. At best, I might describe Pern as a place that espouses “Trust, but verify.” Where “trust” is very specifically spelled out in contracts and agreements that always benefit the aristocrat over anyone else except a dragonrider. Fandarel can’t be ignorant of the politics – even a ruthless drive for efficiency will put you on someone’s bad side. I would believe he usually has a buffer between himself and the rest of the planet, though.

If I were feeling cynical, I would say that was a calculated statement by the AI, to try and make people believe the best of themselves, instead of the reality that the sabotage represents. And I would also point out that we just had a novel all supposedly about the people who are cast aside by this society and would probably enjoy doing damage to it, given resources to do so. Even more so now that there’s a focal point for all that disaffection, and it could create alliances between the disaffected and the Lords who want to keep their hands officially clean.

Security measures are implemented, including watch-whers, fire-lizards, and feline cubs, which Sharra mentions Toric has used, although they need to be locked up during the day. This suggests to me that the Records from the plague in the Moreta/Nerilka time have been lost or destroyed, as nobody that I know of would willingly associate with what was suspected to be a plague-carrier. Sensitive objects are to be sent up to the spaceships as soon as possible, including the fuel.

“Is there any guarantee that they’d be safe there?” Lytol wanted to know. He ignored those who regarded him with anger, dismay, disbelief, or anxiety as he waited for Aivas’s reassurance.
“This facility can efficiently and effectively monitor the Yokohama as you [can] your individual Holds, Halls, and Weyrs,” Aivas replied.
“And the guardian guards himself!” Lytol added in a low voice.
“Q.E.D.,” Aivas said.
“Cue ee dee?” Piemur asked.
“That has been demonstrated.”

And on that cuteness, the chapter ends.

In that last block, it doesn’t seem likely that Lytol would be the person to both ask for reassurance and add an additional bit on the end. I think that last line was intended to be spoken by someone else. But that’s just me.

Lytol is right, though – all it would take is one rogue dragonrider and the spaceship is just as vulnerable as everywhere else. Even though AIVAS would react faster than humans would.

I expect the tempo and seriousness of the attacks to increase, despite the additional security, because that’s what would make a good story at this point. Tune in next week to see if I’m horribly disappointed.

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4 thoughts on “All the Weyrs of Pern: A New Phase Dawns

  1. genesistrine June 15, 2017 at 10:00 am

    instead of taking time to think about whether or not the way they’re being fed information and technology might serve a purpose other than their own. They’ve already anthropomorphized the AI, surely that means they can envision the idea of it having interests of its own, rather than just theirs.

    My guess is that the “the question was not put to this facility” thing is AIVAS subtly emphasising that of course it’s just a machine and can’t do anything unless specifically asked no need to worry about me having an agenda of my own puny humans!

    Fighting the urge to go back to sleep, Jaxom joins all the other dignitaries at Honshu

    Because no ballad-and-book-inspiring tragedy has ever happened because of teleporting when exhausted.

    At best, I might describe Pern as a place that espouses “Trust, but verify.” Where “trust” is very specifically spelled out in contracts and agreements that always benefit the aristocrat over anyone else except a dragonrider.

    Depends a lot on your caste, as well. We saw a little from Jayge’s travel how the average Pernese traveller needs documentation, letters of warranty from reputable people etc. Other protagonists have the privilege of dragons, being widely known and respected, belonging to reputable crafts etc (and now I want to read about a Pernese con man/woman who can fake the relevant knots and knowledge…), but by and large I bet most Pernese “trust” is based on “knowing said person all your/their life” or “being in a position of authority”.

    Fandarel can’t be ignorant of the politics – even a ruthless drive for efficiency will put you on someone’s bad side.

    There is a certain nerd innocence that he might be sharing; the belief that no-one’s going to try and do anything nefarious or selfish with stuff you’ve made; an “I wouldn’t do that so why would anyone else?” kind of thing.

    This suggests to me that the Records from the plague in the Moreta/Nerilka time have been lost or destroyed, as nobody that I know of would willingly associate with what was suspected to be a plague-carrier.

    This would be shocking neglect on the part of the original ballad-writer then, since the whole point of Harper ballads is to be educational, and informing people that felines from the Southern Continent should be avoided because they can carry super-flu would be a really important health advisory.

    it doesn’t seem likely that Lytol would be the person to both ask for reassurance and add an additional bit on the end.

    Maybe he’s trying to find out more about AIVAS’s capabilities. He knows about the sonic defenses in the AIVAS complex, but what does it have on the ships?

    And if the ships have internal sonic defenses or similar, who were they meant to be used on? Were the crew expecting attacks from the passengers? Were they actually prison transports? Or forced-emigration? (Well, it’s already been implied they were for the various travellers/nomads aboard; were the shipfitters expecting trouble so installed crowd-control systems?)

  2. emmy June 16, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    The lack of useful information in the Moreta-related ballads already comes across as a shocking problem that undermines the whole reason for the Harper Hall’s existence. I mean, half of Pern nearly died until the healer remembered an obscure, almost-forgotten technique. The song should have been packed with important medical knowledge rendered into easily memorable rhyme. Instead, unless you retcon that scene, the song we got completely made up a cure that had nothing to do with the real plague!

    Much like the problem of Bitra Hold, this ends up requiring some interesting political schisms in order to explain at all. Who benefits from lying about Moreta and suppressing knowledge that might lead to another catastrophe?

    Or you go with the handwave that she would have rewritten the ‘seeds’ bit if she’d thought about it and the ‘real’ Moreta ballad contains more information. Toric might have simply decided he didn’t care about the prohibition against felines, since he’d already discarded so many traditional prohibitions about the South.

  3. Brenda A June 16, 2017 at 7:27 pm

    Don’t forget, it was revealed after a while that the crew of the boat weren’t just exposed to a random feline floating in the ocean, but had actually gone ashore. So it could have been the feline that infected them, but it could have been something else as well. I doubt that information became widespread, either.

  4. genesistrine June 17, 2017 at 4:45 am

    @emmy: Who benefits from lying about Moreta and suppressing knowledge that might lead to another catastrophe?

    Another possibility is that all the “Harper Hall preserves knowledge!” stuff is just harpers stroking themselves, and their actual function is just propaganda and social control.

    That way whoever wrote the ballad couldn’t care less about incorporating usable info on disease control and was only interested in writing a dramatic tragedy for propaganda purposes. The Pass was coming to an end, so people wouldn’t see so much need to support dragonriders, and since a hell of a lot of people died in the pandemic it would be harder to produce pretty much everything and people would be less keen to tithe because of that too. A catchy propaganda ballad about a noble dragonrider sacrificing herself to save everyone would be very useful PR at that point.

    I can also see the balladeer thinking, “why put all that medical detail in? That’s Healer Hall’s business to remember that!” (Which became a problem whenever whatever happened to Healer Hall happened….)

    Though I bet more that a few ballads about Horrible Things happening to people who landed in the South went around too!

    @Brenda A: oops, forgot. See above!

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