Last chapter presented sabotage and attacks as well as a discovery of Honshu and its secret fuel stores. The Pernese got a look inside a Thread casing, but didn’t learn a whole lot. And now comes more space exercises…
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 14: Content Notes: Toxic masculinity
The chapter opens with the fuel from Honshu deposited into the main tanks, which is unremarkable except for that technology has marched on to the point where Jaxom and Piemur can share klah from a “hot bottle” composed of glass, an insulating layer of plant fiber, and a plastic outside layer. AIVAS called it a thermos when Piemur got it, and Jaxom has a little bit of gadget envy. Piemur dismisses it as Harper privilege to try out new things, and that he was conveniently there to receive it. Having dumped fuel, AIVAS tells them that the next step of the Plan requires dragons to be able to survive the vacuum for at least twelve minutes, ideally fifteen. AIVAS would like Ruth and Jaxom to be the test flyers to make sure the idea of anchoring dragons by letting them grip enclosures that had fuel tanks is sound.
Piemur, normally the daredevil, is hesitant, while Jaxom is game.
Then Piemur fixed Jaxom with a fierce stare. “So you’re going to do it? Without checking with anyone?”
Jaxom glared right back, anger rising. “I don’t need to check with anyone, Piemur. I’ve been making my own decisions for a long time. This time, I get to make it without anyone else’s interference. Not yours, or F’lar’s, or Lessa’s, or Robinton’s.”
“Sharra’s?” Piemur cocked his head, his eye contact unswerving.
[…Piemur continues to be anxious…]
Jaxom gripped his shoulder. “Don’t forget that Aivas cannot endanger human life. And we’ve seen tapes of spacemen doing EVA drills.”
THAT IS PATENTLY FALSE, JAXOM. Unless, that is, you believe the deafening that Aivas did didn’t endanger anyone’s life, even though it did permanent damage to their hearing. It could have really ruptured something that would have endangered life or made it impossible to keep balance or any number of things. And that, I presume, is one of the lower-level protection systems in place. From everything I have seen and heard so far, the AI is definitely not Three Laws Compliant and would probably happily exterminate an enemy of the Plan that proved a threat or danger to it or anyone it needed.
As it is, Piemur helps Jaxom get settled in his suit, and there is an EVA, where Ruth shows a lot of initiative and independence in decision-making where they want to go and when it is time to go back into the ship. Ruth thoroughly enjoys the trip, and Jaxom appreciates the view. Piemur is less happy about it.
Piemur let out an exaggerated sigh. “And if you and Ruth can do it, every other dragon and rider on Pern will feel required to follow your example. Is that what you wanted, Aivas?”
“The result is inevitable, given the friendly competitiveness of dragonriders.”
Piemur raised both hands in a gesture of resignation. “As I said, with a friend like Aivas, you don’t need enemies!”
Indeed so, Piemur. Although I wonder how much of it will be “friendly competition” and how much it will be “can’t be shown up by the runt and the Holder-child.”
When they get back to Landing, Lytol gives Jaxom a mild dressing-down about the unscheduled EVA, followed by the text mentioning that several more were given as each of the other major stakeholders are informed of what happened. D’ram and Robinton immediately see there is a reason behind the reason of getting dragons adjusted to space and decide to go ask the AI, who finally decides to let them and us in on the plan, assisted by Jaxom and Piemur realizing key points along the way – to move the engines on the spacecraft to a chasm on the wanderer, and then engage an uncontrolled matter-antimatter reaction by using the nitric acid already used for flamethrowers to corrode the protective barrier between the two. The resulting explosions should provide enough force at the designated time to permanently shift the wanderer’s orbit into a nonlethal pattern.
“How heavy are those engines?” F’lar asked.
“Their mass is the one weak point of the plan. However, you have constantly stated that the dragons can carry that which they think they can carry.”
“Correct, but no one has ever asked them to carry engines!” F’lar replied, awed by the scale of the loads.
Jaxom began to chuckle and received offended stares. “That’s why the bronzes have been exercising in free-fall–to get them used to things being so much lighter in space. Right, Aivas?”
“That is correct.”
“So if we don’t tell them how much those bloody things weigh…”
“Now, really, Jaxom,” F’lar began.
“No, really, F’lar,” Jaxom replied. “Aivas is applying a valid psychological technique. I think it’ll work. Especially if we think it can work. Right?” He gave F’lar a challenging look.
This “cheeky kid” routine is probably supposed to make us cheer for Jaxom more against the established and slow older generation, and also show us just how much more clever the young ones are, but Jaxom comes off the worse for this exchange, more like the insufferable know it all who impatiently words for everyone to catch up to his genius. He’s convinced of his rightness and nobody is getting in his way. That he’s the main character means the narrative invests in proving him right instead of making him wait.
The plan of making the dragons believe they can receives approval from Lytol and D’ram, and the Benden Weyrleader eventually comes around to it, as well. Lessa voices a practical concern – the distance to travel will be massive, and so dragons and riders both will need protection.
There’s also a quick speculation that the reason why Lessa nearly died during the time jaunt was a lack of oxygen, implying that large time leaps are possible, if one has a spacesuit and sufficient oxygen supply for the trip. The lack of interest in experiencing history or documenting everything more thoroughly is even more glaring now, but since this bit is sandwiched in between other plot points, I don’t expect it to come up again.
AIVAS also gets to tell us about its calculations on how long the jump will be.
“From what has been said by every rider interviewed, only eight seconds elapse to reach most destinations here on Pern,” Aivas went on. “Of those eight seconds, the dragons seem to use a basic five or so to assimilate their coordinates, and the rest of the time for the actual transfer. Using this premise and adapting it to a logarithmic computation, assume that travel takes 1 second for 1,600 kilometers, 2 seconds for 10,000, 3.6 seconds for 100,000, and 4.8 for 1 million and 7 to 10 seconds for 10 million. While this method of transference is still incomprehensible to this facility, it does appear to work. Therefore, knowing the approximate distance from Pern to the Red Star, it is easy to compute an interplanetary jump. It has also been established that dragons are able to function for fifteen minutes before their systems are in oxygen debt–more than enough time to make the journey, position the engines in the chasm, and return. The dragons are accurate fliers.”
I’d like to know how the AI comes to the conclusion of five seconds of orienteering, unless somewhere in the databank is the results of experiments in dragons and their travel capacities. Also, the way AIVAS calculates suggests the dragons either accelerate in hyperspace, or perhaps that folding hyperspace the right way to get to the destination takes a little longer for a dragon to do when the distances are greater.
And no, it’s not just a matter of knowing the distance, it’s knowing the distance and giving the dragons a target point to land, on an object hurtling through the system at speed. It’s so nice that dragons take this into account, if unconsciously. Otherwise, we would have to use computers.
The Benden Weyrleader immediately volunteers himself to make a trip out and back to test the theory, and forbids anyone else from joining him. Jaxom says he’s coming, and that he’ll go anyway if he’s forbidden, so there. Lessa thinks they’re both fools and decides to join them. Lytol is firmly in the camp of caution, on the idea of “if all y’all get killed at this juncture, you can kiss goodbye any chance of restarting this plan for a very long time” and that it is impossible to completely predict the future. He is ignored because there’s way too much toxic masculinity in the room, between the Benden Weyrleader’s “I can’t ask anyone to do what I wouldn’t do myself, because I AM LEADER,” Jaxom’s “I know best out of all of you, so you can’t stop me,” and Lessa’s “I’m not missing out on this just because you think I’m a helpless chick.”
But he’s right, and has been all this time about the dangers of these missions. It’s a Star Trek Away Team mission, composed of the highest bridge and department officers. And if this were a realm where they were the only dragonriders, then sure, caution to the wind. But there are entire Weyrs of dragonriders that could be sent on such a mission, even if there’s only a small subset of them that are trustworthy enough to actually undertake it. Like, say, Mirrim, who has the temperament and desire to prove herself every bit the equal. Why not give her the opportunity to do something heroic and awesome?
The chapter stops here, with the plan agreed to and Lytol pointing out the shortcomings of their confidence. One thing not mentioned that I can think of right now – if the ship engines are teleported and detonated, that leaves the ships themselves as giant hulks of metal on a decaying orbit. Fandarel was rightly concerned with being Colony Dropped when the ships ran out of fuel, and now the plan is to do just that, apparently. Unless the AI believes the massive ships will burn themselves up completely in the atmosphere. Or that dragons can be used to transport the ships safely to the ground where they can be scrapped or studied in case the Pernese decide to go exploring. But nobody is asking in their rush to prove themselves, meaning it will likely be up to Jancis or Fandarel to actually point this out.
Let’s see if they do it next time.