Dragonsblood: A Short Genetics Lesson

Last time, Lorana woke up and several more dragons died, between the illness and Thread. K’lion hit on the idea of time-splitting riders to give them enough healing and maturity time to come back and fight Thread, while in the First Interval, the College is making preparations to find a way of giving their equipment and knowledge to their descendants to defeat the plague.

Dragonsblood: Chapters 20, 21, and 22: Content Notes: Dubious, alcohol-influenced, consent(?) with no evidence of coercion,

(Benden, Third Pass, 22nd Day, AL 508)

Mind to Mind
Heart to heart
Breath for breath.

That actually feels like poetry, for once.

The chapter begins with the preparations for flying Threadfall, with the newly bereft healer healer Ketan (the narrative is cruel) having a chat with B’nik and Lorana about the conditions. A dragon coughs during the sequence, and Ketan waits until after everyone leaves to ask Lorana who the latest victim is. It’s B’nik’s dragon. But Caranth gets everyone through to the Fall okay and there’s a sigh of relief.

It does prompt Ketan to ask Lorana if she would try to stop the Weyrleader from sending anyone if their dragon was sick enough. Lorana says she might just, before asking what would happen if they were allowed to teleport with a sick leader dragon. Ketan bluntly tells her it would be a mass telefrag.

Despite their best efforts, and the clear success of the tactics of having a wing sitting in reserve to plug holes in the formation as they develop, B’nik also has to set fire to a forest to prevent burrows from killing everything around themselves, which aggravates the local Lord (Bitra, this time). At the debrief, Kindan advocates for getting the miners back to force their way into the sealed door. Tullea is dismissive and scornful of the idea, but Lorana makes the case that their last and best hope is figuring out what the past has left them, given there are enough clues to suggest things have been arranged to this point from the past. B’nik eventually agrees to send for the miners, and the narrative swaps over to K’lior, who is receiving a report from the riders he sent back about the experiment of being in two times at once.

“I would never recommend it, Weyrleader,” T’mar replied, fighting to keep on his feet, “except in direst circumstances.
“The dragons were fine, but even the youngest riders felt…stretched and constantly drained,” he went on. “I even had fights among the injured riders, tempers were that frayed by timing it.”
He gave his Weyrleader a strained look.
“We were in the same time for too long, we could hear echoes of our younger selves, it was–” He shook his head, unable to find further words.

If we’ve been reading since the beginning (or we happen to be working on this while sometime else is reading from the beginning), this has been attempted before, and the Brown Rider Rapist did not come through in a perfectly good condition when finished with his own extended stay in the past. But because this future story is chronologically past, they don’t have his example.

They also went back to abandoned Igen a mere ten Turns in the past. At some point, I’d like to see a squadron go back into the past beyond any of their birth dates and see if they suffer the same effects. It’s dangerous to do, but that’s what an entity with foresight could help with by recording the wheres and whens of any temporal travelers. Moreta traveled beyond her death day and things seemed fine, other than that she was cut off from her dragon.

Also, now that we’re hurtling toward the end, the narrative is really starting to lay it on thick that Tullea’s behavior is likely due to time displacement sickness, not that any of the characters in the book have picked up on this yet.

Going back to Benden, we find Kindan looking for maps to help direct Dalor to where to excavate. Dalor points out there’s another rock slide of suspicious origin right next to them and asks to excavate it as well. Lorana says yes, Kindan tries to confess his love to her, she says she loves him back, but then she’s distracted by seeing a map of the rooms that their all hunting for, indicating there are three places that need to be opened. The first slide produced two rooms, one openable, one not, and there’s a big room hiding behind the slide Dalor wants to clear away.

The narrative shows us combined Weyrs fighting, then B’nik wisely taking coordinates rather than giving them, based on Caranth’s sickness, before the news settles in from Ketan that sick dragons have a maximum of twenty-one days from first signs of symptoms before they die. Which doesn’t give B’nik much time at all to stay Weyrleader. And more dragons are sick.

Tullea crashes the meeting and is unhappy at Lorana’s presence, but asks for information, anyway.

“How long has Caranth got?” Tullea demanded of Lorana.
Lorana gestured to Ketan, indicating that he was properly the one to answer.
“I’m asking you, dragonkiller.”
“Tullea!” B’nik shouted, his voice carrying over the angry growls of the others. “You will apologize.”
“Why?” Tullea responded silkily. “She killed her dragon, there’s no denying it.”
“She was looking for a cure,” Kindan told her, his eyes flashing in anger.
“If I had known, I would have done the same,” Ketan added. He nodded apologetically toward Lorana. “And she’s paid the price in full already, without your sniping.”
Tullea bridled, clearly not anticipating the outrage she had provoked. “I am Weyrwoman here. You owe me allegiance, Healer!”
[…Ketan points out that since he no longer has a dragon, he doesn’t owe her shit. He leaves in a rage, and Kindan follows, dragging Lorana with him…]
B’nik broke the shocked silence that followed. “What do you think you were doing?” he shouted at Tullea. “That was completely uncalled for!”
The blood drained from Tullea’s be as she looked from B’nik to M’tal and back again, the full impact of her words registering as she absorbed their angry expressions.

I can’t get a sense of how inappropriate that insult was, though, because Ketan and Kindan removed themselves after speaking a piece. Nobody flipped a table as soon as she said it, nor did they respond with vitriol of their own. Given how tightly bonded dragons are with their riders, and, I presume, what kind of visceral horror the reaction would be at the suggestion that a rider let their dragon die when they could have saved them, much less actively killed their dragon, Tullea should be staring down the equivalent of having said a seriously offensive ethnic slur in the presence of people from that ethnicity, and then the compounded problem of having brushed it of with “What? Everyone here has D-Word privileges. Stop being such a snowflake.”

Except there’s the problem of not knowing how much of Tullea’s behavior is Tullea being herself and how much of it is brought on by the fact that being split in time over long periods seems to make you much more inclined to sociopathy than you might otherwise be. And that makes it much more of a question about the narrative’s decision to include this and to set the lack of reactions the way they did.

Because we get “Ketan’s pissed and stalks off, Kindan’s pissed and stalks off, dragging Lorana with him, B’nik yells at Tullea for impropriety, Tullea’s clueless and defiant until B’nik yells at her, and then she understands, but it still takes her a while to decide to apologize.” We don’t see Tullea being worried she’s pushed B’nik past the breaking point, even if she really doesn’t give a damn about Lorana. We don’t see Tullea suddenly acting confused about what she had said, as if she had just returned from an episode of whatever condition time-splitting induces. We don’t get to hear what Lorana thinks about any of this, even though she’s the one who’s been directly insulted. Instead, we have men telling us what happened and then dragging her away so that she can’t register a (likely sympathetic) opinion on camera. Despite throwing hints at us that Tullea is not in her complete mind and hasn’t been fit the last three Turns, the narrative continues to have the characters act and behave like Tullea has always been this way (they explicitly say she hasn’t) and there’s nothing they can do to identify or fix the problem (which they totally can). The narrative might hinge on the characters not getting confirmation of their suspicions until after they have accomplished their appointed tasks to preserve the paradox that will keep them alive, but the characters should have formed opinions and theories (and possibly attempted to test them) by now, and they should not necessarily all be “Tullea’s flipped her bitch switch, and because women are unknowable black boxes, we’ll never know why she did it.”

In fact, if it were necessary to keep the secret of knowledge until the appointed time, that might even make for some interesting characterization, as those who know can’t tell those who don’t, but over time, there might be more people joining the conspiracy and trying to let on that they know to people who already know. Any of these solutions would be better than everyone accepting without question that Tullea suddenly changed and there’s no reason to need to know or investigate.

Anyway, the narrative continues that Tullea finally gets up the remorse to apologize, but has to track Lorana down, since she’s moved quarters, and the news about Fort’s successful timing it with the injured arrives and the apology goes swiftly out the window before it could actually happen. Ketan volunteers to go, which coincides with B’nik’s plan to send Ketan back so he only has to deal with healthy and growing dragons for those three turns.

And it is at this point where someone gets a clue, or at least acknowledges they might have a clue about what’s been going on.

“Rineth reports that it doesn’t bother the dragons at all,” Lorana said, inserting herself into the conversation with an apologetic look at B’nik. “But the riders are all confused and get very irritable.”
M’tal nodded, then stopped, looking thoughtful.
“Is there something you want to add, M’tal?” B’nik asked.
“Hmm?” M’tal roused himself, then shook his head. “No, no, just an odd thought that crossed my mind.”

Because apparently, despite J’lantir knowing about the symptoms of time-displacement well enough to warn Lorana she’ll feel it, it is only now that anybody seems to be thinking about whether Tullea is feeling it as well. This seems like the sort of thing that should have been passed down from Weyrleader to Weyrleader, like the secret of dragon time travel, perhaps as a way of spotting those that have figured out the secret and are putting it to use.

And then we switch over to D’gan

fuming about how the same news gets passed to them.

“This is utterly untraditional!” D’gan declared in outrage to his wingleaders as they met at Telgar’s Council Room. “I cannot believe that an ex-dragonrider would have the nerve to address herself to my dragon and not me.”

That’s because you’re an asshole, D’gan, and Lorana couldn’t address you directly anyway. And if she had, would you have taken her word? (It’s a sign of our times, I think, that D’gan goes to ex-dragonrider and not woman first.)

While D’gan seems ready to scrap the idea because someone else came up with it, his entire council is completely on board with the idea and get D’gan to grudgingly go along with it. The only potentially important thing from this exchange is that D’gan’s own dragon has the sickness now.

Flipping back to Lorana and company, the other rockslide has been excavated. Tullea is distinctly not invited to this opening. Lorana is equipped with something to open the door and run with, but she gets awestruck by seeing what’s inside, and so passes out from the bad air herself. Once she’s recovered, she is immediately ready to go, because she fears they’ll all run out of dragons before finding a cure. And that’s the end of chapter 20.

Mutualistic: A symbiotic relationship on which each species benefits.

Back to the College for this chapter, just past the meeting from chapter 19, where everyone is puzzling out how to teach their long descendants what they need to know to fix the plague. Power is a difficult thought, because while there’s enough to do active things, there’s very little chance those systems will make it all the way if they’re continuously on. So it had to be engineered to stay dormant and sip power until it’s needed. The Eridani equipment will be fine, since it’s rated for centuries on standby and decades of active use.

M’hall’s brother, Seamus, contributes the reason why he thinks Benden is the correct place, because there are fault lines that the rooms could be built near, guaranteeing they’ll stay undisturbed until needed through rockslides. Or “rockslides”. All they’ll need to do is convince someone else to part with the stonecutting machines. Mendin, Lord Holder of Fort, and skeptic of the plan, is said person that needs convincing. To convince him, the Benden boys steal the equipment with their dragons from him. In perhaps the most sensible thing anyone has done when the dragons have grabbed their stuff, Mendin shrugs and says, “Okay, so we’re doing this. We support the idea fully now.”

Before they get down to the business of building the rooms, there’s this.

“Tieran,” Emorra said as the effects of the wine belatedly registered on her, “I’ve drunk more than I should. We’ll need our rest. Mother will be certain to want to start early in the morning.”
Tieran looked reluctantly at his half-full glass, tossed it back in one gulp, and rose. “May I escort you to your room?”
Emorra dimpled, and allowed Tieran to help her to her feet.
Tieran realized he was taller than Emorra; he couldn’t remember when that had happened. Her cheeks were flushed with wine and her eyes–her almond eyes were warm and enticing.
“If I made a pass at you,” he suddenly asked, would you mind?”
“No,” Emorra said softly, leaning toward him.
Tentatively, Tieran leaned forward and kissed her.

Like, this manages to get over the extremely low bar of what happened to Brekke. But this is not the kind of consent scene that I want to see. Because while nobody was using the drink as a way of trying to take advantage of the other, people impaired by alcohol don’t make the same decisions sober people do. And I’m probably projecting a post-#metoo idea about consent backward onto a writer and culture who haven’t been willing to publicly admit that things are terrible, but “they’re drunk, and that’s how they get together” says a lot about how much value the narrative places on Tieran’s disfigurement preventing him from ever getting someone to love him, and how much Emorra’s “almond eyes” or her strict mother or the fact that she’s the fucking dean of the College, and therefore a powerful woman in her own right, might have gotten in the way of anyone making a pass at her.

I don’t care that they get together, I do care that apparently they both have to be plastered to do it, because that says a lot about how the society around them thinks of their attractiveness.

Wind Blossom gets put in charge of figuring it all out, with Tieran and Emorra as her assistants. Wind Blossom’s plan is essentially “build classrooms and teach them what they need to know, in layperson’s terms.” Solid plan. With that out of the way, Tieran wonders why we haven’t seen signs of mutations or illnesses or basically any such before, which leads into a discussion of how Pernese orgnasims differ from humans. Rather than quote the whole thing, it’s this: Terran genes are a double helix with two strands and four base pairs (A, T, C, G.) Pernese genes (PNA) is a twisted triangle with three strands and seven base pairs (A, A’, B, B’, C, C’, N,) Both DNA and PNA group their base pairs in sets of three called codons. DNA has a START and a STOP codon for gene sequences, and other codons that make amino acids. Out of the 64 possible amino acids, Terra-based creatures only use 20, plus START and STOP, giving ample room for error and mutation to creep in. Which is awesome, when it lets us evolve immunities and cool powers, and terrible, because it means we get sick and sometimes, a person comes up with the short end of the genetic stick and has serious illnesses and problems. PNA, on the other hand, uses all 27 of their possible combinations in 23 amino acids and two separate START and STOP sequences, leaving no room for mutations that affect “junk” material.

As Wind Blossom points out to Tieran’s explanation, that means that Pernse creatures mutate on a slower basis and their mutations tend to be immediately fatal, so it appears that the fire-lizards and dragons of the future have drawn the short straw against an organism that has evolved to attack them.

As they draw up their lesson plans, however, there’s one problem still staring them in the face.

“There is too much data,” Wind Blossom repeated. “With all the information on the various immune codings, there is at least three times more data than the mapper can store.”
“So we eliminate some,” Emorra suggested, matter-of-factly.
“What if we eliminate the wrong data?” Tieran asked her, shaking his head.
“So we don’t,” Emorra replied.
“And how can we do that?” Tieran demanded. “Are they just supposed to tell us what they need?”
Emorra’s eyes widened as she absorbed Tieran’s words.
“Yes,” she said. “And that will be the key to opening the second door in the classrooms.”

And on that cryptic remark, the chapter ends.

Emorra is deliberatlely provoking a paradox here, on the assumption that the people of the future will be able to send a message back in time to their ancestors about what data they need, so their ancestors can provide them with the information they can use to cure the dragons and let their ancestors know what information they need to cure the dragons.

It’s another Stable Time Loop, but this one’s aggressive. It assumes there are no timelines where Grenn and Arith did not come back into the past from the future and these preparations were made. Because, on any timeline where the dragons didn’t appear, the ancestors did nothing to prepare their descendants, and the dragons die out because nobody was smart enough to figure out genetics in time. It also aggressively prunes out any timelines where the ancestors guessed wrong and provided unhelpful data to their descendants, because the dragons die out, again, leaving us with a sole timeline where the Ancients guessed right the first time and the descendants then cement that guess by providing them with the information needed.

Pern’s a big Timey-Wimey Ball, I’m saying, and that’s not necessarily good for your narrative.

We’ll pick up with what happens when those descenants find their way into the classroom set for them next week.

6 thoughts on “Dragonsblood: A Short Genetics Lesson

  1. genesistrine September 5, 2019 at 2:02 pm

    They also went back to abandoned Igen a mere ten Turns in the past. At some point, I’d like to see a squadron go back into the past beyond any of their birth dates and see if they suffer the same effects.

    Me too, but I suspect the problem there may be the lack of reliable co-ordinates. Though you’d think they could send a squad of, say, 30-ish-year-olds to co-ordinates remembered by a 50-something.

    Because apparently, despite J’lantir knowing about the symptoms of time-displacement well enough to warn Lorana she’ll feel it, it is only now that anybody seems to be thinking about whether Tullea is feeling it as well.

    It’s possible that M’tal dismisses the thought because Tullea has the “wrong” symptoms – in every other case of… time-travel-induced personality disorder? it’s the time-traveller who has the problem. There’s no-one thinking back 10 years and saying “oh, that’s why those guys were acting weird back then; they were getting brain echoes from their future selves”. There’s no hint that F’nor’s past self had any mental issues or disturbances when he was sharing a time with his future self; it always seems to be the future selves who suffer.

    Except in Tullea’s case, apparently so the author can do some M Shyamalan Night “see, I have a clever reason for her apparent bitchiness!” twist. That doesn’t fit at all with the previous way time-travel psychological disturbance has worked.

  2. Silver Adept September 5, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Hold on to the thought about how Tullea’s special, because Tullea is pretty soon going to be seen as closer to the new normal than the weird outlier, at least in terms of being able to tell that someone’s time-twisted by behavior that is completely out of the norm for them. The Retcon is sailing again, and we just aren’t supposed to notice because there are very few instances in the Anne-only books where characters are traveling to their own past for any significant enough amount of time for the symptoms to develop.

    Also, for reliable coordinates, Ruth was able to send groups of dragons to times well before his own death based on constructed coordinates. Admittedly, with the help of a supercomputer, but the point about the olds being able to send the young back to a time before their own birth makes good sense, too. And that would still alleviate the problem of being in two places at the same time, so it’s a wonder why they don’t do it. And have, like, a backup Weyr or something that’s used specifically as the R&R zone, with meticulous records kept of who was there at any given time.

  3. genesistrine September 11, 2019 at 12:48 pm

    Toot toot! I don’t think there’s a single book in this series when the SS Retcon hasn’t sailed at least once…

    Ruth and Jaxom were navigating competently even before AIVAS showed up by using planetary positions.

    A backup R&R Weyr would be a good idea. Or, hell, designate the middle century of each Interval as R&R Century and have dragonriders bounce back to that to heal up and relax. But nobody ever *plans*. Every Weyrleader has to bodge up a way to use time travel in a crisis by himself, and then it’s forgotten until the next crisis. I think in all honesty McCaffrey should never have used time travel before Lessa discovered it, since there’s never any sensible explanation of how everyone managed to forget about it.

    Mari Ness seems to have given up entirely – maybe it all got too depressing/annoying…

    (Or maybe she just got sick of people telling her no, Pern was SF from the start!)

  4. Silver Adept September 12, 2019 at 9:05 am

    They were, although everyone is so quick to point out that Ruth is special and has greater accuracy than everyone else.

    I don’t know why they don’t plan, especially once they can time travel. It always seems like after the existence of the Second Pass, there should be a lot of planning for the eventual Third Pass, even if it takes a long time for it to come to fruition. I admit that we’re not good at Clock of the Long Now kinds of thinking ahead, but I would think any given Pass would be able to set things up so the next Pass knows where to go to rest and heal and has all the information they need about Thread and dragons so they’re ready for when it arrives to them. Especially with the potential of time travel that seems not to aggravate the paradoxes, relaying information across the years should be a much easier task.

    It’s too bad. I was looking forward to having Mari Ness’s commentary in parallel, but maybe she got too tired of the fanpeople insisting she was wrong at every turn and that later books corrected the problems of the early ones, so Pern is perfect and cannot be criticized.

  5. Silver Adept September 12, 2019 at 9:11 am

    (I am reminded by looking into the Endless Void that Mari Ness is also fighting with an airline that broke her wheelchair at the beginning of August and has yet to repair or replace it in September, so that may be taking up a greater-than-normal volume of cope and spoons. Perhaps once all is right with the world and the people responsible have been punished, Mari will be able to write again.)

  6. genesistrine September 12, 2019 at 3:49 pm

    Well, we’re not good at Long Now right here and now, but also we don’t have actual time travel, sooo….

    They could literally plan to do Lessa’s Great Leap Forward *every* Interval. Though I can see why “letting the producers get used to not being tithed” miiight not be the most politically astute move. But still, sending a selected gang of experienced Thread fighters ahead to the next Pass should cut the losses as dragonriders learn how to fight Thread in practice rather than just theory. And there’d no doubt be some with no particular attachments in the present who’d be willing to head to the future out of adventurousness, curiosity, wanting to get away from a toxic relationship, the wish to show off what an expert Thread-fighter they are etc etc.

    As for Mari, *yipe*. Well, I can see why Pern would be way down her list of priorities ATM; WTF. How is “replacing someone’s wheelchair that you busted” not a priority? It’s not something people tend to bring spare ones of!

    (And considering that if she’s going roughly-chronologically the next up is Dragonsong, with double-amputee Old Uncle literally having sweets shoved in his mouth to shut him up, that may add its own distinctive shittiness to the I Do Not Want To Deal With This Right Now sundae.)

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