Last chapter, the plot to get Robinton wrapped up with the trial and exile of everyone involved, Lord, Crafter, and serf alike. There’s only one thing left to do in this book…
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapters 19 and 20: Content Notes: Suicide
…but it’s going to take two chapters, naturally. The first starts with Fandarel complaining a bit about the waste of the engines and a bit of skepticism about the considerable destructive power of antimatter, as he and a crew of Smiths attach the apparatuses that will corrode the containment units for the antimatter. Then to Hamian, the Benden Weyrleader, and Jaxom, who are all trying to make sure there are enough suits for the lift operations. Jaxom knows there’s an upper limit of suits, but the others do not. Then up to the Yokohama, where everyone is working uptempo to try and find the perfect vector for Thread destruction. They don’t know about the full effect of their weapon, though, and Mirrim remarks that she’s up to batch 98 of trials for the day, so it’s probable there isn’t brainpower to spare to work it out.
Afterward, when Lytol wrote up the history of the Aivas years, he would remember the results, not the frenzy that had accompanied them, though he gave full credit to everyone involved in the different projects.
At last all the preparations had been completed–two full days before the date Aivas had set them.
As it turns out, they need the extra time because the couplings that would release the engines are stuck and need to be lubricated, and it takes time to manufacture a proper delivery system to get everything in working order again. This allows for some recovery time for Sharra, who had “lost weight and had deep circles under her eyes” from the extended and stressful schedule. Robinton is, in Jaxom’s estimation, “a man going through the motions of living,” and this distresses him.
Once everything is lubricated, separation of the engines occurs without a hitch. In the meantime, Lessa has been replaced as a leader by N’ton, because Ramoth is pregnant (and Jaxom has exactly zero interest in asking the Benden Weyrleader how he managed that one). This puts a slight wrench in Jaxom’s plans.
Jaxom has no troubles getting the first set of dragons back in time, and then scattering them back to their own Weyrs on the present so their space suits can be collected. (And without Mirrim bringing back a sample of ancient Thread by accident.) The Benden Weyrleader comes back and crows about his success in dropping his engine into place. And there is a drink of good Benden wine, to which Jaxom is offered a drink, confirming (in his own mind) that he’s finally being treated as an adult, instead of the kid Lord and dragonrider.
As it turns out, the re-matching and cleaning of the space suits happens so poorly that it takes enough time that N’ton has to take a new set of pictures from Jaxom to do his warp, solving neatly the problem of how to put one over on the otherwise very experienced Weyrleader. The final engine drop succeeds without issues, and everyone is eventually returned to their Weyrs and their times, even though some appeared temporarily at the right place and the wrong time.
Then there’s dealing with the politics of the matter. More specifically:
“Somehow–” Brand paused to frame his explanation. “A lot of people thought that there’d be no more Thread now. That once the dragonriders has done this explosion thing, Thread wouldn’t fall again.”
“Oh!” Jaxom made a face. “Bloody shards, Brand. Don’t they ever listen? Harpers have been explaining for the last four Turns that we can’t stem this Fall, but there won’t be any more!”
And, of course, any misfortune that befalls people during this period is also the AI’s fault. Jaxom decides to send word along so that the Harpers and Cove Hold are aware of the misunderstanding, and then he and Sharra settle back into Hold life, deciding not to go up on the bridge and watch the explosion of the engine, which is an anticlimax for the observers…and the narrative. Robinton, however, knows exactly how to put his journeyman to work.
“You,” Robinton said, pointing a stern finger at the journeyman, “will now have the unenviable task as a harper of explaining the true facts of the achievement to those who didn’t understand that this effort would not alter the path of Thread during the remainder of this Pass.”
To Lytol’s surprise, Robinton had not been at all dismayed by Jaxom’s report. In fact, the Harper has seemed to expect such disgruntlements.
“Menolly’s already composed one ballad,” Robinton went on, “with a chorus to hammer home the point that this is the Last Pass for Thread, that Pern will be forever free from the end of this Pass.”
I think I see wisdom poking through there, Robinton, about the actual power of your propaganda machine and the necessity of always repeating your message.
Also, I’m surprised Piemur hasn’t been field promoted at this point to a Mastery, given how much work he’s already done. Perhaps Sebell sees him as more valuable as an itinerant journeyman than a Master with an established base?
Now that the time paradox is resolved, AIVAS has a final task for this situation, one he thinks best suited for the browns, blues, and greens, who were mostly excluded from the engine lifts.
“Readings on the orbits of the two smaller ships have shown a marked increase in the frequency of adjustments. The adjustments take more and more power, and the prognosis is that their orbits are likely to decay over the next decades to the critical point.
[…the Yokohama is fine, of course, but the others should be moved into the sun…]
“Burned up?” Lytol asked.
“A heroic end for such valiant ships,” Robinton murmured.
“You mentioned nothing of this before,” F’lar said.
“There were more urgent priorities,” Aivas replied.
Well, there’s the answer to the question Fandarel asked several chapters ago and was dismissed from inquiring further about. So, yeah, someone remembered they had colony ships to deal with. They even acknowledge the destructive potential of even pieces of the ships touching down on the planet instead of burning up.
That said, apparently the Yokohama has backup engines, and so do the others, because their antimatter components were all just stripped and detonated. So this is likely more than just a sinecure for the other colors, but the most efficient way of getting the ships to the star for final destruction.
With the matter settled, all that’s left is to wind down the narrative. Jaxom will still fly for the remainder of the Pass, but apparently his time will be taken up by organizing and patching the holes in his Hold’s records.
Robinton pays a visit to AIVAS, who wants to know why he hasn’t seen Oldive about the fact that he’s also been suffering from fellis poisoning since the incident. Robinton waves him off, saying that there’s “no cures for worn-out human parts”, but expressing his pleasure that the classes are continuing.
“The priorities for this facility have now been met.”
“That’s true enough,” Robinton said, smiling.
“This facility now has no further function.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Aivas,” Robinton said somewhat sharply. “You’ve just gotten your students to the point where they know enough to argue with you!”
“And to resent the superiority of this facility. No, Master Robinton, the task is done. Now it is wise to let them seek their own way forward. They have the intelligence and a great spirit. Their ancestors can rightfully be proud of them.”
“They have worked hard and well. That is in itself a reward and an end.”
“You know, I believe you’re right.”
That is not an answer, AIVAS. Based on that resentment comment above, I might say your answer is no. You might be proud of their accomplishments, but it definitely sounds like you’re not sure the Pernese are ready for their next steps.
“‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,’ Master Robinton.”
“That is poetic, Aivas.”
There was one of those pauses that Robinton always thought was the Aivas equivalent of a smile.
“From the greatest book ever written by Mankind, Master Robinton. You may find the entire quotation in the files. The time has been accomplished. This system is going down. Farewell, Masterharper of Pern. Amen.”
Robinton sat straight up in his chair, fingers on the pressure plates, though he hadn’t a single positive idea of how he could avert what Aivas was about to do. He half turned to the hall, to call for help, but no one who had the knowledge–Jaxom, Piemur, Jancis, Fandarel, D’ram or Lytol–was near enough at hand.
The screen that had paraded so much knowledge and issued so many commands and diagrams and plans was suddenly blank, lifeless. In the right-hand corner, a single line blinked.
“‘And a time to every purpose under heaven,'” Robinton murmured, his throat almost too tight for him to speak. He felt incredibly tired, overwhelmingly sleepy. “Yes, how very true. How splendidly true. And what a wonderful time it has been!”
Unable to resist the lethargy that spread from his extremities, he laid his head down on the inactive pressure plate, one hand holding Zair in the curve of his neck, and closed his eyes, his long season over, his purpose, too, accomplished.
And thus, both Robinton and Zair breathe their last, having been the perfect witnesses to AIVAS’s final act, and unable to stop it from doing so. If fire-lizards can guide to the place beyond between, then Robinton probably is there, drinking wine and singing songs. For as much as he was responsible for in life (and I suspect we’ll get to a fuller accounting in the book that’s all about him), someone would probably say he received his wounds from the front, as was questioned in the Scottish Play.
AIVAS, on the other hand, could probably be accused of having taken the coward’s way out – it had accomplished the purpose of the destruction of Thread, but now that it might have to face a world where even its prized students would gainsay it, or put its knowledge to uses other that its own, it chooses to self-terminate rather than gave the consequences of its actions. There’s still a world in upheaval out there, and just because the most prominent Lords arrayed against the AI are exiled doesn’t mean they’re the only ones who have that idea.
AIVAS has put all of its students in a much more precarious position in convincing the rest of the world to go along with technological achievements.
Oh, and eventually the Yokohama is going to need to be moved, as well. Will Pern forget about that until it is too late?
Not to mention that I take significant umbrage at the idea that spanning all the worlds and all of the time that’s gone on since humans left Terra, that people believe the writings of an Abrahamic religion are still the best book they’ve created.
No. Unless there’s evidence that the people who programmed the AI held those beliefs, there’s no reason for an AI with a functioning history module to believe that a book that is the justification for so much lost life, inflicted pain, suffering, and war is the very best book humans have created in all of that time.
No. That assertion is not a logical conclusion.
Getting back to the plot, the death of Robinton trips the telepathic telegraph, with everyone racing to Landing (Jaxom and Sharra collect Oldive first) to witness what happened. Asking AIVAS for an explanation yields the other problem, and none of Jaxom’s attempts to restore the AI automatically are successful. Jaxom wants to go back to an appropriate time and save Robinton, but everyone else is firmly against this idea, and also against trying to revive the AI. D’ram plays spokesperson for this thought.
“He has served his purpose in helping us destroy Thread. You will come to realize just how wise Aivas was in this. We were beginning to count on him too heavily.”
Cocowhat by depizan
You still are counting on it, every time you access the data stored in the machines that you teach with, that you research with, that you work with. The only thing you can’t count on any more is the interactive mode that the voice system provided and its calculations and advice. Which, frankly, terrifies me, because now Pern has the approximate tech level of 20th c. Terra, with knowledge in the databases, presumably, about the atom, antimatter, and with the experience of engineering a lethal plague to another life form. If the Great Filter exists, Pern is probably rubbing right up against it. The Union of Concerned Pernese Scientists are setting the clock very close to midnight at this point. If AIVAS were still here, it might take on a Hari Seldon role and try to steer the planet through what are going to be some very tough decisions and scenarios, but no, it decided that once the people on the planet became collectively teenagers in their development, that it was time to check out permanently. Asshole AI.
The rest of the chapter, and the book, is the burial of Robinton, and Ruth getting Jaxom to give up on his bitterness at being bereft of his mentor, teacher, and an entity that treated Jaxom as important and an adult in the company of his peers. Ruth points out that the knowledge is still there, and that none of what has been accomplished would have been done without them. So, instead of with a birth of a child, the book ends with the birth of a planet, with Jaxom and Ruth going back to Cove Hold, “ready to delve into the legacy of knowledge that Aivas left for them.”
Good luck, Jaxom. May you make better decisions with your power than the societies before you.
This would be the logical point of the end of the Dragonriders of Pern. The Great Menace is defeated, the torch is passed to the next generation, the mood is theoretically optimistic toward the new knowledge to be learned and the technology to be applied, and the narrative is handing it all to us in a bow.
*checks how many books are yet to come*
Then again, it’s not like we don’t have several previous Passes that could be mined for more adventures and stories.
All right, then. Join us next time, when someone finally gets around to the fact that humans and dragons aren’t the only intelligent and communicative species on Pern. It’s time to go swimming with The Dolphins of Pern.