Last time, AIVAS unveiled the True Plot to defeat Thread – use the starship engines at specific points in the past to move the orbit of the Red Star in such a way that the final explosion will do the rest of the job, and seed the planetoid with a parasite that will kill the entities of the Oort Cloud that use that symbiont in their own lives. Jaxom is given the charge to do it, because he has already done it, and also receives proof that it works by jumping into the future. Xenocide is on the table as a consequence of defeating Thread permanently, and nobody seems inclined to give a reason why it shouldn’t happen just like that.
The second half of the chapter involved the execution of the plan to kidnap Robinton, which works without a hitch, but is foiled on the getaway when the kidnappers are spotted by a fire lizard and hell comes in its wake. We pick up in the aftermath…
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 18: Content Notes: Murderous Intent,
Mob Mentality, “Enhanced Interrogation”
…where Robinton seems to be willing to forgive, now that Zair is fine, but he’s shouted down immediately by everyone else, with special sessions called of both the Lords and the Mastercrafters to sit trial of the persons involved. Lytol is scrambling to find precedent of a joint session, while Robinton continues to believe that it’s a failing of the Harper teachings, somehow, that brought on this plot and rebellion. Menolly kills that line of inquiry in fury before it gets anywhere and throws everyone else out so that Robinton can rest.
Of course, Robinton is right, and probably on the way that he is thinking – it is definitely a clear failure of propaganda that people plotted against the designated leaders of Pern and an even greater failure that they acted and succeeded at it. So there is clearly something wrong with the Harper teaching, in that it wasn’t robust enough to handle the rapid reintroduction of technology to the society that has built itself up to require large amounts of people in very stratified social roles.
Robinton’s cause isn’t being helped, either, by the generally extrajudicial attitude being taken by his supporters toward the plotters.
The riders had been forced to protect the nine men from being torn to pieces by the incensed crowd. Jaxom had them interned separately in some of the small, dark inner rooms of the Hold, supplying them with only water and dim glowbaskets. The little drudge who had served the Harper the drugged food was found, and although she was plainly of limited understanding, she was also placed in confinement.
The ship’s captain, it turned out, was one of Sigomal’s sons, which strongly suggested the Bitran Holder’s involvement. It was remarkable, N’ton commented, how willing a man became to talk after he had been dangled awhile in midair from a dragon’s forearm.
When a wing of Benden dragonriders had appeared at Bitra Hold, Sigomal loudly and indignantly denied any involvement in such a dreadful, contemptible business; he had bitterly denounced a son who would bring so much dishonor to his sire and his Hold.
F’lar admitted later that he had come very close to smashing Sigomal’s lying mouth–only Mnementh had saved the man. The big bronze dragon had been so incensed by his rider’s anger that a little curl of flame had escaped his lips, which had had the immediate effect of silencing Sigomal.
And beyond that, it appears that several of Norist’s smiths are implicated, and there is the name of the workman who built the wagon itself on it.
I realize that Pern has never been a democracy, and at its most egalitarian, it’s an oligarchy at best, but there’s a lot going on here that’s going to seem like arbitrary justice, especially for testimony obtained while someone’s life was threatened.
As it is, the trial proceeds on two counts – kidnapping and murder. The drudge that was the instrument of the poisoning is exonerated by reason of not knowing what she was doing, but just following orders to give specific food and drink to Robinton and his fire lizard. Since she was innocent, she also didn’t trip any hostile intent markers, either, so neither dragon nor did lizard knew anything was up. Thus, the Three-Laws Compliant way of poisoning someone with robots discussed in some of the early Asimov books and stories works just as well with drudges. Lessa is unhappy at the use of someone disabled in such a manner, and Sharra will keep her on as kitchen staff, since she’s apparently very good with the spit animals.
This seems to be a trend, actually, that the mentally disabled or neurodivergent end up in the kitchens, since Camo was the same. They all apparently are quite good at it.
Lytol looked for someone to speak and represent the defendants at their trial, normally a function of a Harper, but since there’s a massive conflict of interest in getting a Harper to do it, and nobody else is willing to do it, the accused have to defend themselves. Jaxom starts with the confessions of the men hired to kidnap Robinton, who implicate Lords Sigomal and Begamon as financiers and suppliers for the kidnappings and the attacks and sabotage earlier. Glassmasters and journeymen are also implicated as couriers and purchasers, all working under the direction of Norist.
During the trial, Sigomal protests his innocence, only to have his son testify firmly that he’s a leader of the plot, to which Sigomal punches him in the face to shut him up.
The wagon kidnappers explain that Sigomal hired them, but that they didn’t intend to kill anyone, only that their conspirator had to drink some of the poisoned wine to make it seem authentic. The ship kidnappers say that Begamon offered an island off his coast to harbor them until the ransom was done. Nobody in either crew is part of the Fishercraft, to Idarolan’s relief.
Norist has no regrets, and regrettably, because he’s a villain, the parts that he says that make sense are going to be lost.
“I did what my conscience dictated, to rid this world of that Abomination and all its evil works. It encourages sloth and dalliance among our young, distracting them from their traditional duties. I see it destroying the very structure of our Halls and our Holds. Contaminating our Pern with vicious complexities that deprive honest men of work and their pride in workmanship, turning whole families away from what has been proved good and wholesome for twenty-five hundred Turns. I would do it again. I will do all in my power to destroy the spell this Abomination has placed on you!” He extended his arm and swept his pointing finger at every one of the Masters who sat in judgment on him. “You have been deluded. You will suffer. And all Pern will suffer because of your blindness, your lapse from purity of our culture and knowledge.”
Two of his Masters and five of his journeymen cheered their master.
For all the bluster about purity (which might have a common antecedent with the Harper insistence on language purity), Norist’s main point is something worth considering – the introduction of mechanization does mean more idle bodies that may or may not be locked into learning the trade of their parents, and that could cause significant social problems if new work doesn’t spring up to put them in professions. Not to mention that once the threat of Thread is gone, that means there will be a lot more idle people with flame-throwing creatures. Pern has presumably had many Turns to parse out what the possible ramifications can be, and has hopefully already started making provisions for putting all of those characters to work. They haven’t done a thing about it, because Pern, but they at least had the opportunity.
As an aside, I don’t think the concept of magic made it to Pern, not like that, but it’s also entirely possible that the concept re-developed over the lost period. I don’t know that the word spell would have made it, but at this point, it’s more of an annoyance that words that don’t really have a demonstrated need to be there still keep showing up.
In any case, as the last piece of evidence before deliberations, Oldive testifies that the death of Biswy, the Robinton impersonator, was likely due to ingesting too much fellis by his own hand, and the subsequent heart failure that resulted. Jaxom drops the murder charges in light of the evidence, and the Lords and Craftmasters begin deliberations. After Robinton addresses the audience and attempts to convince everyone that the technology brought forth is nothing more than what the ancestors intended for the planet, and that the attempt to sever the link to the past provided by the AI is the great folly of Norist’s viewpoint. And then:
Master Robinton looked at the three abductors. “I forgive you for myself; but you took marks to do evil, which is a great wrong. And you tried to silence a Harper, and that is a greater wrong, for when speech is restricted, all men suffer, not just I.”
Nothing beats an opportunity for a little propaganda. Also, since when is free speech a Pernese value? Unless he means it solely for the Harpers, or maybe for the Lords, riders, and Crafters. A lot of this book has been about suppressing speech, and more than a few instances of the past, including the Renegades book, has been about preventing speech or putting someone in an impossible position over that speech.
As things are, the Lords and Craftmasters don’t take much time to deliver their verdict. Sigomal and Begamon are stripped of their Holds and sentenced to exile for their kidnapping… as the second part of the reasoning. The first is “to plot and carry out a punitive action in another Hold or common property, which is the designation of Landing”. It seems more important for them to be punished because they took action in another Lord’s sovereign territory than for actually kidnapping and planning on extorting a ransom for their hostage.
Gomalsi, Sigomal’s son, is also sent to exile for his acts, and for the crime of “setting himself up as a captain of a seagoing ship without qualifications,” which “offended all members of the Fishercrafthalls.” Norist is stripped of rank and exiled, as are all other Glass-smiths involved. All the others who are neither Lord nor Crafter are also sent into exile by Jaxom, as he apparently has the power to decide (as the Lord on which the offense happened, I guess). In a bit of mercy, Jaxom says their families can accompany, should they desire to do so.
That closes the court, and the rest of the chapter is lots of people, and Ruth, too, reassuring Jaxom that he did excellently in administering the court and fairly in his choice of punishment, and the actual act itself of exile. The last part is a lead up into the fact that there are only a few days left before the Plan happens, where Jaxom will have to get two separate groups of dragonriders to drop engines and parasites at their appointed places and times. It sounds like it’s going to be logistical.