Last time, we looked at the Benden Weyrleaders contemplating getting old and the Southern Holder being as contemptuous as he could get away with without crossing the line into actual rude.
The Skies of Pern: Part 1: Segments IV and V: Content Notes: Torture References
We flit over to the Healer Hall, where Oldive is studying a virus under a microscope that looks suspiciously like one in the AIVAS files, but doesn’t match up exactly enough to be definitively thus. So now I have to wonder if AIVAS was able to teach the Healers about genetic mutation and the general rule that smaller organisms mutate way faster than bigger ones. There have probably been more than sufficient generations of the virus that you could put them in the same family, but this specific strain is likely new.
Oldive is appreciative of the new headquarters he has at the hall, and the increased number of medics studying under him. Sharra surprises him in a stretch, because according to him, everyone with sense is out at the Gather, and not stuck behind the “triple-plated glass” that gives such a nice view without letting the cold in.
Pern has apparently been taught the secrets to insulating panes and layers of glass. And about mutations, too, at least to a basic knowledge, because Sharra asks as to whether this new virus is one, since the Pathology Records mention the possibility, and it’s been long enough for mutation to take place.
Oldive is noncommittal about the answer, and says that Sharra should be with her husband. Sharra has no interest in being bored with proclamations and petitions, and asks whether they will have an electron microscope to use.
What’s not mentioned is the infrastructure that would be needed to actually use such a thing, and with Pern still not really able to manufacture new computers (at least, last we checked), it looks like that dream will be a long time away. Master Morilton is forever in demand, and we finally learn why the other crafts aren’t getting a whole lot of anything – the Healers have priority, and getting Healer Halls stocked fully is the priority of the Healers. Morilton is considering dedicating an entire Hall to fulfilling the Healer requirements. Both Oldive and Sharra are ready to take a meal break when they hear the sound of breaking glass, and understand they’re the only ones in the Hall to deal with the intruders. First Sharra gets her own fire lizards to harass the unseen intruders, then asks Ruth to summon reinforcement lizards to drive them out. Which they do, into the waiting visages of some very angry dragons, but not before significant damage has been done to their storerooms and labs.
Oldive inquires as to why, and the leader of the group shouts for the need for the Abomination to be halted, a name that gives Sharra some shudders. Eventually, as the riders of the dragons arrive, the group is shouting some decent slogans.
“Tradition must be upheld!” He glared around him, his angular face and burning eyes inciting his followers. “Halt abominations.”
“Turn back to tradition at Turnover!” screeched one of the three women, waving a bloody hand at Ruth, who frowned down at her.
“Our petitions have been ignored!”
“We protest the Abomination!”
“And all its works!”
Stoically, Sharra and Oldive endured the chanting.
[…Reinforcements for the Healers arrive…]
“Destroy all the Abomination’s devices.”
“Purity for Pern!”
“Turn to Tradition.”
[…more reinforcements for the Healers arrive…]
“Restore our tradition!”
“Shut up!” Groghe bellowed, the volume of his voice as intimidating as the powerful runnerbeast he pulled up just short of knocking the leader down. The man rocked back and it was then that Sharra noticed that he, and the rest of his vandals, had the effrontery to be wearing green: not the genuine Healer green but close enough to answer how they had been able to gain access to the Hall.
As a plan goes, it’s good – get colors close enough that you won’t get a second look from the sentries, and then go smash things. And if there aren’t people actually in the Hall, you get away with it and melt back into the crowd.
There’s also a bit there that has parallels to a religious profession of faith in at least the Catholic tradition. At least once a year, instead of reciting a creed, the congregation and priest do it as a question and response. The way it starts (or started, when I was much younger than I am now) was:
“Do you reject Satan?” [“We do.”]
“And all his works?” [“We do.”]
“And all his empty promises?” [“We do.”]
I wouldn’t be surprised if that particular segment about protesting the Abomination and all its works wasn’t inspired by that bit (or its equivalent in other denominations). Seems an appropriate thing to shout at something that you consider is the ultimate evil opposed to your pure traditions.
I’ll also quibble that “Shut up” as a phrase is unlikely to have survived the journey across space and several millennia of a completely different context to have exactly the same meaning. Some form of “Silence!” certainly will, but not that form.
One of the protesters realizes she’s bleeding from a head wound, and the assembled crowd is more than content to let her do so, but Oldive holds true to ethics and patches her up, suggesting that it will require stitches. The Luddites recoil at an “abomination,” but I’m pretty sure wound stitching has been used long before AIVAS. It’s just internal surgery that everyone has been up in arms about.
Thankfully, context arrives in that Oldive’s diagnostics and offer of numbweed are also rejected, with it getting clear that Oldive and the Healers are the “abomination.” Oldive remarks that having given his diagnosis and recommendation, he’s done his job as a Healer, and it’s up to them to accept or reject his suggestions. They reject it, and Oldive moves away. Right afterward, the Healer sent to check on the damage returns with her report.
“The stillroom’s a complete shambles! Every sack, canister, and bottle in the treatment rooms have been emptied, and what they didn’t burn–” She paused in her telling to take a deep breath before she could continue. “–they urinated on!”
This sets the crowd off more, with one going so far as to use his club on a prisoner to beat someone to their knees. Groghe stops things before they get too far, claiming his prerogative as the Lord Holder, before trying to interrogate the group. They have no visible markings, and they’re not talking, so Groghe asks the crowd to help search them. Which they do with a touch more vigor than Groghe wants, and over the protests of the prisoners that they have rights. A holder points out their rights mean precisely nothing in the face of having defied the Lord Holder.
The Healer who gave the damage report, Keita, recognizes one of the group as a person who came for itch cream before, and goes off to see what name was given by the scout. Sebell, who came with the first party of reinforcements, points out the clothing and leathers of the prisoners will get their identities from the merchants they bought them from. Sharra points out that these people aren’t dressed for the party, and that their beasts and saddlebags might provide all sorts of information about them. Which it does, as the beasts were ready for a quick getaway. Possibly to a ship in the harbor. There’s one specific thing in the saddlebags that Groghe takes grim amusement at.
Groghe held up a piece of paper by an edge. “What? You make use of abominations?” he cried, eyes glinting with malice as he turned to the leader. “No less than a map printed by Master Tagetarl’s abominable press. Useful things, abominations!”
Sharra tried not to grin at Groghe’s style; he’d always appeared so pragmatic. Mockery was unusual for him, but today the gatherers loved it.
OOC Is Serious Business, y’all. And while the narrative suggests this is mockery, I think that mockery might be less conscious derision and more incredulity that such a thing would be put to use by those kinds of people. When you stare at rank hypocrisy, one of the first reactions you get is to laugh at it. At least for me, it is. Then you bear down on it.
As the Lords and assembled discover evidence that this Hall was not the only one targeted, the drums rumble in with a message of vandalism at Boll, and injury to Healers, which pisses Groghe off mightily. In retaliation, the prisoners are to be trussed up, sent to a level without lights, given bottled water only, denied contact with anyone else, and the leader delivered to a very specific space for interrogation. Groghe thunders off to Gather requirements, and Oldive, Sebell, Sharra, and the arriving Benden Weyrleaders compare notes about the coordinated attacks, concluding that it’s gone well beyond random attacks to an organized strike. With varying degrees of effectiveness – Tai forestalled a more complete destruction earlier in the book, and Fandarel repelled his invaders. Canon says Tai got “messed about” before her dragon arrived in support, but I’m inclined to believe that even a lightly drunk dragonrider would knock heads unless the assailants were trained fighters. Because trained fighting dragonrider. (Even if the narrative would insist she couldn’t because girl.)
We follow Sebell to the searching of the packs and everyone seems horrified by a bound book where pictures of surgical procedures have been repurposed and re-captioned to make a propaganda volume called Tortures of the Abomination. Sebell thinks of it as amateurish and dismisses it as such in front of Horon, calling it the disinformation campaign that it is. He doesn’t quite seem to solidly get that, without context, the pictures of medical procedures can be quite grisly and ghastly, but he’s at least got an inkling of it so that he can not be seen to be affected by the propaganda.
Sebell sends for someone, who turns out to be the Healer with the surgical specialty, so that he can explain what the pictures and their context actually are, and one of the exuberant holders reports to him that the prisoners are happily naming each other. And so we close out this particular segment…
…and jump back to Landing, where F’lessan is being told he should take a nap after all the excitement. This is how Tai is described:
“I just want to check on Tai. They kicked her around a lot. Persellam said she’d be badly bruised but the gash on her cheek wouldn’t scar.”
Which suggests to me that Tai was ambushed by the vandals in some manner and overpowered that way. I’m still not sure on the how of that, and I’m still waiting to hear the part where she caused plenty of injury herself.
Tai is swimming, described as “a black spot in the sea,” which is regrettably still making her ambiguously brown, in case it’s her hair that’s black and not her skin. F’lessan calls her in to shore, and then we get another thing that doesn’t make sense:
Her body, legs, and arms were covered by bruises. Persellan had done a neat repair of the gash on her right cheekbone.
“What’s wrong, F’lessan?” she asked anxiously, splashing the rest of the way.
“What are you doing?” he demanded, looking but not looking–as was polite–at her long lean figure and her long, lovely legs.
No, I cannot suspend my belief nearly far enough to think that the dragonriders are uncomfortable about naked bodies or have a politeness requirement about such things, and that such a thing has developed over the course of this series. Perhaps in this new world it has always been this way, but it certainly has no precedent in any of the published works before. In fact, I would expect the dragonriders to have the least number of issues with nudity, given that they are likely to encounter each other having dragon-induced sex, and they seem to enjoy communal bathing, especially when the dragons have to be washed and scrubbed. That suddenly it’s polite not to stare, and that it’s a bronze dude doing it for a green rider stains credulity, given the known reputations of both of those rider types and the general lack of evidence that this kind of politeness has come up before. I can imagine this happening if it’s F’lessan trying to get over his reputation and he thinks it a good idea not to actively ogle, but I can’t see that being extended to all the riders.
We finally get to peer in Tai’s head as F’lessan applies numbweed about how things went down. Tai discovered the group, wrestled a crowbar from one of the men, “poked him hard in the groin” and then started laying about her indiscriminately. Apparently, though, it wasn’t enough and Tai might have been seriously injured or killed had one of the vandals completed a swing of his hammer. Like I said, sounds like Tai gave as good as she got. Might have been knocked down and then hit from there, but everyone else had made it sound like she didn’t do a lot of damage to the intruder group.
F’lessan finishes applying the numbweed, makes sure Tai is going home, and then Golanth tells him he’s too loopy from a lack of sleep to go anywhere else but home and to bed, and takes him there. And we jump perspectives again.
This time, it’s a war council composed of Benden and Fort Weyrleaders, Groghe and sons, Jaxom, Sharra, Sebell, and Crivellan, the Healer with the surgical specialty Sebell called earlier. N’ton went to go check and make sure there were no exiles from the last time unaccounted for on their island, which uses the AIVAS date – 2359 – as the time when they were exiled, instead of the Present Pass date, so N’ton seems on board with the new epoch system. Jaxom asks about the ones sentenced to the mines, and so naturally Groghe dismisses the escaped prisoner as likely dead, since he was deaf and not too bright, supposedly.
Lessa wants answers, and now, suddenly, we pick up a thread that hasn’t been used in decades.
However, the ability to sense people’s thoughts–and sometimes cloud their perceptions with the strength of her mind–could be useful in extracting or confirming truths. Aivas had said she was as much a telepath as any of the dragons. [Her weyrmate] had called it “leaning on people,” though she had never been able to cloud his mind. Still, though it was an enervating process and one she disliked being required to use, she had leaned on people to advantage on a number of occasions. Tonight would probably be another.
Oh, look, Lessa’s got her psi powers back, as if the author had never buried them in an attempt to make the series much more of a straight fantasy before reintroducing the science fiction elements.
Also, “had never clouded his mind” is bullshit. The Benden Weyrleader did not take one look at her and realize she’s the lost heir, rather than a drudge not worth noticing. He has been consistently able to feel when Lessa is deploying her power (and beat her for it when she did), but he did not pierce her disguise. We are supposed to believe that he has since been encouraging her to use the power rather than dissuading her more. It’s an evolution that can happen, but it needs more than author fiat to be believable.
The war council takes stock of the damage and all the locations that were hit with attempts, and all agree that these were not random attacks, before asking Groghe about what information he collected from his batch of prisoners. Their fears and only having bottled water available for them in the mood for talking. Groghe says “No real discipline in the bunch,” and “harrumphed at such moral weakness before he went on,” which is a pretty shit thing to do. Of course, he’s not the one being tortured so he can continue secure in his untested belief that he could withstand such things.
The running thread through everyone that’s been caught is that they all have a grievance against Healers for not fixing their ailments or because family members died of disease. Nobody knows yet who the leader of these groups are. There’s some discussion about how rumor and negative ideas can spread easily and be very hard to combat, before Haligon suggests using the Runner corps as a vehicle to listen and be listened to about this situation and hopefully provide, warning, a way of combating propaganda, or both. That suggestion is adopted by the table. Likely Haligon will ask Tenna to spread the word.
Then they call for Batim, the leader of the group that smashed up the Healer Hall HQ, and try to get information out of him. Batim says very little but to demand his rights. The Benden Weyrleader casually threatens to leave Batim in hyperspace, and then Lessa casually mentions that they could trace messages back through the Runner network, find out from traders where they sold enough green to clothe a lot of people, and then starts naming places as potentially liable until she gets a reaction from him to confirm where he got his orders from. Without having said anything, Batim is providing enough clues that the council is satisfied, and Groghe orders Haligon to take Batim away.
Whereupon we get yet another place where the Charter and case law have supposedly fallen down – the treatment of prisoners.
“I have rights! Chartered rights! You’re all so big about that blinding Charter of yours,” Batim cried hoarsely as Haligon called the guard in. The prisoner made a frantic surge toward the table but was thwarted by the quick-footed Haligon. Struggling, Batim reached straining fingers toward the glasses. “Water. I’ve had no water all day.”
“Actually,” Lessa said in a cold voice, “the Charter does not cite water in the list of rights.”
“But it has to!”
I’m quite sure it doesn’t. It should, but it doesn’t. That said, as genesistrine pointed out in earlier Charter discussions, it also forbids corporal punishment. There is probably a solid legal argument that denying someone light and water constitutes corporal punishment. (They might be able to weasel around the water part by suggesting that the bottled water is sufficient for that obligation, and that prisoners are free to imbibe or not as they choose.)
As would dropping someone off in hyperspace. Crivellan is horrified that the Benden Weyrleader suggested such a thing. N’ton points out that it is a convincing threat, but it’s empty because dragons don’t hurt people. Which is not common knowledge in any way, and as far as I know, a trained dragon and rider probably could leave someone behind if the rider really willed it to happen. It was used to get Batim mentally off-balance. Knowing that, Crivellan immediately apologizes for doubting the methods. I suppose it’s no more dirty than police officers making empty but convincing threats to get suspects to talk, and there’s plenty of case law here on Terra that allows police to flat-out lie to someone if it gets that person to tell the truth about crimes committed. Which is to say it’s a terrible dirty trick and should be deplored, but it’s probably not forbidden in the Charter to lie to someone else.
Pern needs the equivalent of the Geneva Conventions, the Conventions on Torture, and a whole lot of other laws that would be applicable planet-wide, and it needed them in the actual Charter.
What Lessa pulled from Batim’s mind was mostly him trying to get psyched up for the torture he was sure would happen to get him to talk.
“The very idea!” Master Crivellan was appalled.
“Someone like Batim would probably enjoy being tortured,” Jaxom remarked.”
“Jaxom!” Sharra exclaimed.
“He’s right, you know,” Lessa said. “Don’t deny that you would have liked to help, considering how distressed Master Oldive was.”
“Then I would have,” Sharra replied candidly, “not now. I’m sorry they don’t know better.”
…not wrong, Jaxom. Batim probably would use it as fuel to make himself into a martyr. He probably is using what is already being done to him for that purpose.
The assembled have small recriminations about how they’re not really paying attention to how progress is being received, but they mostly just blame it on the people being too stupid to understand the benefits of what’s happened and willing to believe easy lies over hard truths. They lack understanding, and so the plot can continue.
Inquiries are set up to trace people and goods, and Groghe demands exile for his prisoners. This provides a little more illumination as to how the process works…
Crivellan jumped at the crack of fist on wood. “I thought that required a trial and jury,” he said, surprised.
Groghe gestured to include those present. “Masters, Weyrleaders, and Lord Holders. Adequate judges. The vandals were caught in the act. Plenty of people saw what they did. Destroyed valuable property, depriving others of medicines and services. […]”
…but it’s still going to be a kangaroo court. Groghe bullies Crivellan into going along with the idea by saying the Healer Hall needs to make a statement about how you can’t attack them with impunity.
In any actual adversarial process with a presumption of innocence, the torture already underwent by the prisoners would probably be enough to exonerate them, or at the very least have a significant amount of evidence and testimony thrown out as fruit of a poisoned tree. There might be enough impartial witnesses to make a proper case, but Groghe and his sons and any of the parties to the treatment of the prisoners would not be accepted.
Decisions made, the war council breaks apart, and we finally get to the end of the first day of this particular part.
Tomorrow, it’s Haligon and the Runners, and now we know why we stopped off at Runner of Pern first.