Last chapter, the major action was the discovery of a plot to kidnap Robinton and ransom him in exchange for the destruction of the AI, which is a damn sight better than “kill Jaxom and replace him with a puppet,” certainly. The action continues…
All the Weyrs of Pern: Chapter 17: Content Notes: Plotting xenocide, murder, poisoning, kidnapping
…or rather, doesn’t, as chapter 17 opens with the lack of attempts on the plot, even as most of the Crafts withdraw their masters from Bitra and Nerat Holds, although not from Keroon, as Lord Corman seems to be distancing himself from any possible plotters, the Weyrs keep a lock on the dragonriders, and the Harpers run down every whisper of a lead.
On board the Yokohama, Mirrim discovers where Thread keeps its genetic material, and not too soon after, a viable pathway for a pathogen to infect and spread through the organism. There’s a little wonder why the Ancients themselves didn’t do all of this destructive revenge against Thread, but it passes mostly in smugness, because there’s a thought that the AI might be having some feelings of its own.
“Aivas hates Thread, inasmuch as an inanimate machine is capable of hatred. He hates what it did to his captains and Admiral Benden. He hates what it’s done to us. He wants to be sure it can never menace us again. He wants to kill it in the Oort Cloud. He calls the project ‘Overkill.'”
Jaxom regarded her in puzzled astonishment. “He’s more vindictive than F’lar!”
No, it’s plotting contingencies, given that you have already demonstrated that dragons could potentially warp out to the Oort Cloud and back, given a sufficient oxygen supply. Then again, nobody said explicitly whether the AI had been programmed with a personality…
As it is, the overkill project essentially is to infest Thread with a malicious version of a parasite helper it already has, even though the work will likely leave Sharra too exhausted for the Gather.
Which makes it all the more interesting when AIVAS drops the bombshell on Jaxom that he’s already done two of the three necessary explosions for altering the path of the Red Star, using Ruth as the leader of a time travel group that created the current chasm with the two previous explosions. Based on the records already scanned in, that talk about bright flashes on the Red Star at the ends of the Fourth and Eighth Passes. When Jaxom protests that something might go wrong, the AI points out that if that were true, Jaxom wouldn’t be here talking now, and his group would similarly be missing from the timestream. Jaxom protests, but AIVAS tells him the only reason for the Long Intervals that it can determine is the detonation of engines in attempts to knock the Red Star out of orbit.
Jaxom changes tactics, telling AIVAS that no dragonrider would willingly time it 1800 Turns in the past, to which it tells him that nobody actually is going to know they’re warping across time as well as space, since all they’re doing is going to a picture. And they’ll already have oxygen, so they won’t notice the time lag for the temporal part of the journey. Jaxom doesn’t want to risk Ruth, but Ruth is pretty confident that it can be done. Still, Jaxom resists until AIVAS lets slip the real reason why it has to go that way.
“You already have, Lord Jaxom. You are the only one who could, can, would, has. Think this proposal over carefully and you will see that the project is not only within the capabilities of yourself and Ruth, but feasible. And essential! Three explosions at this point in time will not have the desired effect on the future path of the Red Star.
Ah-ha. There’s not enough oomph in the engines to blow the planet out of orbit, and AIVAS knows it. So, instead, with a dragon that can pinpoint in time, the engines are to be used strategically to nudge the planet away. Beyond that, though, it turns out that Jaxom will also be seeding the wandering planet with the malicious parasites each time he visits with an engine, as well.
“But if these mechanicals could be contaminated, infected with our disimproved parasite, they would carry it with them to destroy all similar life-forms in the Oort Cloud itself, probably including the note intelligent ones, too. Then, no matter what happens, Pern will forever be freed of this menace.
[…AIVAS explains the Long Intervals…]
“I’m also to be a disease carrier?” Jaxom was not sure which he felt more keenly: indignation, fury, or incredulity at the audacity of Aivas’s scheme.
Worse, Jaxom: You’re going to be the instrument of the xenocide of several intelligent species in the Oort Cloud. I’d like to believe that this fury and resistance is Jaxom’s conscience ringing alarm bells at this plan, but it is most likely just his reluctance to risk Ruth and himself on a mission like this.
So Jaxom demands proof that the Plan works. AIVAS has him pull up the plan of the current orbit of the Red Star, then tells Jaxom to jump forward fifty Turns, gather the same printout, and make comparisons. Every self-preservation instinct Jaxom had says not to do it, but Ruth’s confidence and his curiosity win out over the realization that time paradox is a definite risk. So Jaxom commits himself forward fifty Turns, grabs the printout, tries to tell the AI about his findings (and gets no reply. This seems significant, although I don’t know how) and hops back to admit defeat, as the new path clearly shows the wanderer in a decaying orbit around the fifth planet of the system. Having been snared into following through with the True Plan, Jaxom heads back to eat, sleep, and then enjoy the Gather that’s underway when he wakes up.
Jaxom and the protagonists have a good time at the Gather. So much so, that even though they are reminded of the plot by the conspicuous absence of the plotters, nobody notices that Robinton’s been switched for a dead man and his fire lizard poisoned until well after the switch is done. Fellis in the food and wine, served by one of the new drudges hired for the party, because of course you need extra staff to handle it, and who pays attention to drudges, anyway, and the kidnap plot succeeds.
It really shouldn’t, considering Lessa disguised herself as a drudge for a decade to beat Fax’s notice, and Piemur did the same for a shorter time to sneak in and gather intelligence on people shipping goods South. Why is anyone not on a trusted list getting anything to Robinton, knowing that there’s still a plot against him?
That said, props to the kidnappers for choosing the right venue and method most likely to succeed at the task, assuming you could get everyone distracted long enough to make the switch.
Suffice to say, once noticed, care is summoned for Zair and all the dragonriders and fire-lizards, save Jaxom, fan out to try and find where Robinton is being held (and naturally, Ruatha is beyond the maximum range of the locator device provided to Robinton.) No luck through the night, and searches are imposed on any and all travelers that intend to leave the Gather.
As you might guess, though, with add many fire lizards dispatched on the finding mission, it isn’t long before one notices a cart and wagon staying very far off the roads and trails and determines Robinton is inside, which essentially summons the air force to stop the wagon, which is searched, its secret compartment discovered and opened, and Robinton recovered and sprinted back for medical care after Sharra’s field assessment says he needs better hands than hers.
The chapter ends with the Healers ring to heal Robinton with the hope that he will survive it. Which is good for dramatic tension purposes, so we’ll leave off here and pick it back up next week.