Category Archives: Deconstruction: Pern

Dragonheart: Facing Reality

Last chapter, Fiona spent a significant amount of time reassuring and talking to others at Fort Weyr to make sure they weren’t ideating or otherwise neglecting themselves, before being put on dinner duty and cooking up something that would be served to all the people at the Weyrleader’s table, as a Fort tradition. Tannaz didn’t tell Fiona where the food was going, because that’s also apparently Fort tradition. Fiona got to meet the headwoman of Fort, who is suffering from dementia, and at the end of the day, participated in an impromptu conference indicating more dragons have become sick and are getting sent to the quarantine zone.

Dragonheart: Chapter Five: Content Notes:

Eyes green, delight
Eyes red, fright
Eyes yellow, worry
Eyes closed, no hurry.

(Fort Weyr, The Next Morning, AL 507.13.15)

Fiona oversleeps. And then starts hearing a dragon cough, and is worried that it’s Talenth. It isn’t, it’s Kalsenth, Tannaz’s dragon instead. Cisca sends Fiona to the kitchen to collect a decoction passed along by Lorana that’s supposed to help with the cough. They manage to get the dragon to swallow the whole bucket-full that’s been crafted for her. Fiona has to then oil and feed Talenth, and when she returns to the kitchen to look for Cisca, Zirina directs her into one of the back hallways. Fiona manages to find her way to the stores, where Cisca and Melanwy are having a battle over getting more of the herbs out. Melanwy doesn’t recognize Cisca and keeps challenging her authority to order anything. Fiona manages to navigate Melanwy’s inability to remember things by identifying herself as a daughter at Fort Hold and spinning a story that the Weyrwoman has promised Fort some of the stores for a sickness. Which works – Melanwy and Fiona collect all the things on Cisca’s list (the only ones we know about are echinacea and ginger) and get them out of the stores, and then Fiona escorts Melanwy back to her own quarters.

After coming back to the kitchen, Fiona asks Cisca whether what she’s experiencing is normal.

Fiona tried to fix the names of the riders, the dragons, and their colors in her head but found, to her annoyance, that she couldn’t.
“I used to be good with names,” she said, frowning. “I know all the names of every holder in Fort Hold and all the heads of every hold minor or craft–”
“Don’t worry,” Cisca assured her. “You’ll learn them all in time.”
Fiona contented herself with a sip from her mug and another bite of her roll. She was surprised that she was so hungry until she remembered that she hadn’t eaten at all that morning…which brought her back to the issue she’d been avoiding. “I seem to be in such a muddle all the time,” she confessed to Cisca. She met the Weyrwoman’s eyes. “I didn’t use to be like this.”
Cisca picked up on Fiona’s unspoken plea. “I don’t think it’s the illness,” she told her.
“But you’ve noticed?” Fiona persisted. “Is there something wrong with me?”
“If there is, you’re not alone.” The speaker was K’lior, who was striding up to them.

There’s a short discussion about how neither Cisca nor K’lior think that Fiona can’t handle her dragon and her responsibilities, and while they expected a certain amount of tiredness from raising a dragon as a teenager, they’re still keeping an eye on everyone affected to see if things change.

Cisca also mentions that K’lior drills his dragonriders in mixed-wing configurations, so that every rider can work with every wingleader without issues. Supposedly, it’s so the riders don’t get bored with their training exercises. Fiona accepts this and compares it to when Bemin switches the posts that the guards have. I’m also a bit blink-blink at this, because mixed-wing drills means that when the dragons start dying, K’lior shouldn’t have too much trouble at all restructuring his wings on the fly and they should have fewer Thread-related casualties, compared to any of the other Weyrs. And also, why hasn’t this idea spread from Weyr to Weyr, so that all of them do mixed-wing drills and thus Benden doesn’t end up in such a terrible situation where they suffer great losses once they start having holes in the formation? Like, this might be an ass-cover from the previous book for things making no sense, but what it does is make the dragonriders look like they hoard knowledge and secrets in the same way the Crafts do. Except that the dragonriders have a shared set of purposes: Fight Thread, Get Tributes, Oppress Everyone. They can be competitive at the Games, but it seems like the sort of things that will make for less Thread casualties would be shared freely. Lots of dragons are a good, and get plenty of tribute, at least in their opinions.

Cisca and K’lior suggest going out to the Holds under their jurisdiction to collect more herbs to help with the dragons. Fiona asks if she can go out to Fort, leaving unstated “so I can see and talk with my father.” K’lior and Cisca give their assent, and Fiona, after taking a hyperspace warp, walks up to the gates, gets recognized (although Fiona’s annoyed that she can’t remember a guard’s name), and is sent on in to the kitchens, after being told Lord Bemin isn’t there at the moment.

Fiona raids half the stores of Fort for echinacea, ginger, cinnamon, comfrey, and hyssop, which Neesa shrugs about, but Marla, one of the new kitchen helpers, is reduced to squeaking about how much is being taken and to what purpose it’s being put to. Neesa and Fiona have a small chat about Fiona’s tiredness and the unnaturalness of that tiredness, and then Bemin returns, having announced his return with a “loud shout” that “Fiona…recogniz[ed] the voice of Lord Holder Bemin in full rage.”

Fiona goes to talk with her father about what’s upset him so.

“Weren’t you at the Harper Hall?”
“I was,” Bemin snapped.
“Are you and Kelsa arguing again?” Fiona asked, her eyes dancing.
Bemin sighed and seemed to deflate where he stood. Fiona was surprised to see the worry lines around his eyes.
“She’s not upset about her gold?” Fiona wondered. Kelsa had Impressed a gold fire-lizard a number of Turns back and was quite attached to her. Fiona was certain Kelsa’a loss of Valyart had hit her hard. She also recalled that Kelsa and her father had made jokes about which bronze would fly when Valyart mated.
Even though she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, or perhaps even more because she was the Lord Holder’s daughter, Fiona had spent a lot of her youth with the herdbeasts and animals of the Hold; more than once she had helped a ewe birthing a lamb, or a herdbeast with a breech birth, so reproduction held no secrets for her.
And so it wasn’t difficult for her to take in her father’s stance and his bellowing, and came up with a shrewd guess: “Kelsa’s pregnant, isn’t she?”
“We were talking names,” Bemin said by way of confirmation. “Kemma if a girl, Belsan if a boy.”

Bemin tells her that he wants to raise the child in the Hold, especially if it’s a boy, and that Kelsa wasn’t having any of it. Fiona tells her father to stop being a ninny about the kilometer’s distance between Hall and Hold, and then bounds off with her herbs.

I’m having a few thoughts about this. Because Kelsa was very young when she was at the Hall at first. It’s been twelve years since then, so it’s not like I have to wonder about whether Kelsa’s of age for a relationship, it’s just that the story about Lady Sannora was that she was sweet on a Harper (Zist) but noting happened. And then there was how much Kindan was very sweet on Koriana, but again, the Lady Holder-to-be couldn’t really behave poorly with a Harper (so much so that it was a scandal they slept in the same bed without any sex happening.) And now we have widower Bemin, and he’s gotten the Song Master of the Harper Hall pregnant. I sincerely hope it was consensual, but I also wonder whether Kindan knows, and what his opinion on the matter might be. Especially since Fiona holds Kindan in a certain amount of respect and awe and possibly even infatuation of a small sort.

This seems to be the sort of situation that, on some soap opera or programming designed specifically for melodrama, would blow up the messiest, most dramatic way possible so that Kindan (and Fiona) would be entirely pissed at Bemin for what he’s done to Kelsa. Especially since Kindan was denied his chance at the Fort Hold person that he wanted. (And because it still seems like it’s a May-December Romance, and while I’ll believe Kelsa if she says that she fell in love or if she says it was supposed to be friends with benefits or any other relationship characterization Kelsa wants to provide, I’m having trouble figuring out why a high-ranking Harper like Kelsa wants to sleep with Lord Bemin at all. She seemed very interested in proving that she was a Strong Independent Woman Who Needs Not Any Man. It’s a story we’re probably not going to get, which makes me lean toward the idea that it’s not as good news as Fiona thinks it is, because this is Pern.

All that’s left in this chapter is for Fiona to get back, oil Talenth, and for both of them to get worried about what happens if Kalsenth doesn’t actually get any better.

Brave dragons, fly high, fly true
Gold, bronze, brown, green, and blue.

(Fort Weyr, Seven Days Later, AL 507.13.22)

Chapter Six starts with Tannaz telling Fiona not to bother with any more of the herbal drink, as it isn’t helping Kalsenth at all, and hasn’t for the last three days. As Kalsenth has gotten worse, so has Tannaz, because the link between them has Tannaz popping awake when Kalsenth coughs, or when any other dragon coughs, and it’s probably not helping much that Melanwy is hanging around, trying to take care of her and her dragon, even if much of the time, Melanwy thinks Tannaz is Nara, the previous Weyrwoman. Cisca, Fiona, K’lior, T’mar, and Kentai have an impromptu conference in the kitchens about the ineffectiveness of the herbal concoction and the general feeling of helplessness the riders have at their dragons being lethally sick. T’mar is unhappy that Kindan seems to be the one leading the effort to save the dragons.

He’s no healer,” T’mar persisted rebelliously.
“No,” Kentai responded agreeably. “he’s not. But it was Kindan who thought of the ways that helped the Holders during the Plague, and Kindan is the only one who has bonded with a watch-wher he Impressed a fire-lizard.”
“I trust Kindan,” Fiona declared hotly. “He saved my life.”
T’mar be her a surprised look, then lowered his eyes and muttered, “He’s no dragonrider.”
“But Lorana is,” Kentai responded. “And it is her herbal we have been using.”

There’s a real resistance here to acknowledging expertise, however fragmentary it is, that doesn’t come from a dragonrider, and I’m going to gleefully appropriate it for a context I’m guessing the original author may not have intended to say this is a perfect example of how anyone in our Terra who doesn’t look like a straight white man gets their expertise questioned and their ideas dismissed (or stolen). Kindan had to improvise barrier methods against infection, a method to determine flu status without touching someone, and a way of getting a starved population enough nourishment to recover. And he’s also had experience, at this point, with all three forms of dragon-like life forms, and bonded to two of them. While it’s entirely possible that Kindan is entirely wrong about everything, the appeal that T’mar is making should be swatted down swiftly. It won’t be, though, because I suspect Cisca and K’lior share that sentiment, even if they wouldn’t be so gauche as to state it aloud. But because Lorana trusts Kindan, they can, too. Because she has the correct status so that Kindan can be believed.

T’mar grumbles at the logic, and accidentally breaks his klah mug while trying to get himself caffeinated. Fiona swiftly offers her mug for T’mar, but he brushes it off to go get another, and interestingly enough, Cisca calls him to the carpet on it. “Are you sure you want to do that? It’s never wise to turn down the favors of a Weyrwoman.” Cisca says. T’mat immediately apologizes to Cisca, and then, with a quick nonverbal prompt from Cisca, to Fiona. Fiona accepts, so we don’t get to see what kind of consequences befall those who aggravate a Weyrwoman. For bronze riders, it might be “Good luck ever becoming Weyrleader,” but presumably it also would affect other dragon colors as well. Perhaps, since the Weyrwomen are in charge of things outside the battle, pissing off a Weyrwoman makes you a gong farmer for some significant time? (Or, possibly, gets you sent off to another Weyr?) There’s obviously a power dynamic going on here, but we don’t get to see anything more about it.

Instead, the narrative makes sure everyone is fed and caffeinated, and Fiona reveals that once she sat by one of the old people in the Hold while they died, when she was almost twelve, (making her about fourteen right now) as a way of explaining that wait and watch and hope doesn’t mean just sitting around doing nothing. T’mar re-evaluates Fiona based on this story, and that Fiona chose that duty willingly based on her feeling of duty, the narrative tells us, and Cisca and K’lior think it’s a good idea to have someone near riders with sick seasons at all times.

As the kitchen fills up with people, Fiona realizes that there are a lot more kids there than she envisioned a Weyr having.

“You’re wondering, why so many children?” T’mar guessed from Fiona’s expression. Fiona nodded.
“The answer’s simple,” Cisca replied with a mischievous grin. K’lior must have kicked her under the table, for the Weyrwoman started and stuck her tongue out at him. She turned to Fiona. “Given that there can be up to five hundred dragonriders in a Weyr, and that each of them is expected to do his–”
“–or her,” K’lior interjected.
“–duty to the Weyr,” Cisca continued with a scowl for her Weyrleader, “you’d expect there to be upward of a thousand youngsters of various ages.”

Cocowhat by depizan

Not the numbers, but this expectation that dragonriders will do their duty to the Weyr and make babies. First, with whom? I thought it was a significant feature of Pern that blue, green, and brown riders are generally not het in their partner preferences. If the line now is that brown, green, and blue riders are bi, then that’s something worth stating outright. Second, though, because the narrative has been focusing on all the people at the top, whether in Weyr or Hold, there’s only been allusion that, say, the head cook has a kitchen staff, and the headwoman presumably has additional departments and drudges that report to her about the upkeep of the space. Somewhere in there, if each of those 500 dragonriders are supposed to make two kids each, there needs to be some significant number of women who can and want to carry children to term in the Weyr. Because otherwise, it sounds like the dragonriders as a whole rely on the sex rays from their dragons to coerce women, wherever they exist in the Weyr, into having sex with them, and then some other form of persuasion to get them to keep and give birth to the kids. Which is entirely in keeping with Pern as it has been shown to us so far.

Also, I can’t imagine a single Weyr Harper having to instruct all thousand of those kids himself in a one-room schoolhouse sort of situation. Where is Kentai’s staff? Or Kindan’s, for that matter, if Benden’s child numbers are approximately the same as Fort’s. The apprentices are all at the Hall, the Masters might be faculty at the Hall or possibly, occasionally, stationed somewhere else in the world, but it always has been presented as the idea that there’s a single journeyman or master harper at each major hold and several of the smaller camps and holds. In small places, a single harper could probably handle teaching and performance duties as well as any court obligations and such, but for exceedingly large places, there’s no way the harper could handle all of it themselves without mainlining caffeine in dangerous amounts. Fort Weyr needs a phalanx of harpers just for the teaching duties, even if Pernese education only goes to the equivalent of middle school. Where are they? (“The Plague” is convenient at this point in history, but I would then expect the Hall to say “Field Harpers, if you have a promising candidate or five, and they sound interested, dub them your apprentices, and if any of them show promise for the Hall, send them on when it’s time and gather more.” As Zist did with Kindan. Ish.

The narrative tries to make this seem like less of a daunting problem, but it doesn’t get rid of the issue completely.

” What happens to them all?” Fiona asked. “Where are they now?”
“Some are taking lessons,” Cisca said, gesturing in the direction Kentai had taken. “Some are helping with the weyr.”
“And some are doubtless getting into trouble,” K’lior added with a grin.
“Doubtless,” Cisca agreed. “And several are probably at this very moment on the Hatching Grounds, looking around and dreaming.”
“I doubt it,” K’lior declared. “I suspect it’s a bit too early for that.”
“What do they do when they grow up?” Fiona wondered.
“Some become dragonriders,” K’lior said. “Some stay on and work at the Weyr: some become weyrmates.”
Most weyrmates work at the Weyr,” Cisca corrected him.
“Some learn a craft and become apprenticed,” K’lior went on.
“We’ve three in the Harper Hall at this moment,” Cisca pointed out proudly.
“And two at the Smithcrafthall,” K’lior reminded her.

Three? I would expect thirty, not three. And similarly for the Smiths, and plenty more in the other professions because it’s pretty explicit that the dragonriders don’t do any work that isn’t directly related to their dragons. Someone has to produce food, raise beasts, make clothes, do leatherwork, metalwork, entertain and teach, and so on, so that the dragonriders can get the best value out of their tributes from everyone else. Perhaps not the entire complement of children, but I would expect most of the ones of apprenticing age are apprenticed out to the various crafthalls or are otherwise employed under the direction of someone who has received craft training.

The whole thing wraps up in a way that shades this from “Cisca and K’lior are justly proud of the accomplishments of the children of the Weyr” to “Cisca and K’lior don’t pay attention to what they are saying and how it could be unintentionally hurtful to others.”

“But you’ll never find Weyrfolk unwilling to help,” Cisca added, “if you ask for it.”
“I think I should check on Tannaz now,” Fiona said, feeling a bit out of sorts–the Weyrleaders were going on about how great weyrfolk were, and while she knew that holderfolk were every bit as kind and good, she didn’t think it would be wise to point that out. Besides, no one had offered to help her since she’d been in the Weyr; she’d done all the helping.
As she rose from her chair, the bronze dragonrider she recognized as H’nez approached their table, saying “More dragons coughing this morning, aren’t there?”
Fiona was glad to leave, she liked him even less for that comment than she had before. As if K’lior wasn’t doing everything he could!

Fiona has every right to be aggravated at this. She’s been doing just as much, if not more, work as Weyrwoman than she would have been as a Lady Holder, and without the support structure (or ability to order other people around) that being Lady Holder would normally grant her. Maybe the Senior Weyrwoman gets that, but she’s the most junior of them, and nobody is offering to help her figure out her duties and what she’s expected to do, or help her through them. She had to learn on the fly, and more often than not, by doing something she’s not supposed to.

Also, why hasn’t H’nez been shuttled off to some other Weyr, before the plague hit, given what kind of asshole he’s being? He thought he should be Weyrleader. Fine, but he’s not, and he’s deliberately sassing the Weyrleaders to their faces. Ship him off to Telgar if he wants to behave that way. He’s more than overstepped his boundaries with Cisca and K’lior. He goaded the Healer into a duel and killed him. There’s no reason he should be in any sort of leadership position at all.

Fiona, upon returning to her own Weyr, catches someone inside, and has a full-boil rage at her about Talenth. But we’ll get to that next week.

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Dragonheart: Grief and Recovery

Last time, it turned out that Fort was also concerned about the behavior of their Weyrlings. Unfortunately, while they’re not incurious, they also inexplicably think that it’s just a weird thing, rather than wondering whether their weyrlings are part of a future time-displacement plot. Fiona had an offscreen shouting match with Lord Bemin that Tannaz thinks was the best thing ever (while also being able to get in a comment about how hot Cisca is), and the dragon fatalities commenced in other Weyrs.

Dragonheart: Chapter 4: Content Notes:

Their lungs melted,
Their breath turned green,
Sick, listless, ailing,
Dragons fled between

(Fort Weyr, AL 507.13.12)

(Hee! I was right. Thirteen months! (As was pointed out in the comments from last week’s post.))

Also, that’s the kind of poem you tell as a nightmare for Halloween, or something. Not as evening entertainment for the masses.

The chapter opens with Fiona realizing she’s way overslept and popping out into the Weyr Bowl to see what’s going on. The eerie silence unnerves her greatly, and she’s relieved when she finally sees Tannaz about. Who promptly sits her down with a basket of rolls and butter and tells her to eat, before giving her a pitcher of cold klah to draw a mug from and drink. Having done so, Fiona feels remarkably more human again. Cisca arrives not to shortly afterward and also consumes rolls, butter, and klah to make herself feel the same thing.

Apparently, this complete numbness is an aftereffect of feeling the death of a dragon, and with three of them happening in such quick succession, everyone’s been hit particularly hard. And although Fort hoped they might be able to close off the Weyr and prevent the spread of the disease, it’s too late, as one of their own dragons starts coughing. Which summons an emergency meeting of the Weyrleaders and Wingleaders. H’nez plays the grumpy old man who wants action now, but Fort is hindered in their ability to do much because he’s responsible for them being a person down.

“You know why we’ve no Healer, H’nez,” M’kury growled. “It’s because you goaded old Sitarin into that duel.”
H’nez’s jaw worked angrily.

Cocowhat by depizan

I knew that dragonriders were not the smartest hatchlings in the clutch, but shouldn’t there be a rule forbidding involving Healers in duels? Because you need someone to stitch people up afterward, and I somehow doubt the Healer Hall is going to be all that eager to send another person out to a Weyr where they have the chance of dying if they piss off the wrong dragonrider. Even if they weren’t already very short-staffed from the Plague Years, if I were the (likely interim) Masterhealer, I would not send out someone to those knuckleheads at Fort any time soon. And now Fort needs someone who knows something about dragon anatomy and health because of the sickness that’s coming. Way to go, H’nez.

The update is courtesy of Lorana, whose ability to bespeak dragons directly is the same as Torene’s (who is apparently a legendary figure because of this). The only affected dragon so far is the Weyrlingmaster’s, and he quarantines himself and has T’mar (the one who’s been acting weird, remember) take over the instruction of the Weyrlings. Someone suggests fitting the dragons with masks like the humans got during the plague, and while H’nez thinks it ridiculous, the others would go for it, if they felt like they could manage it. K’lior advises caution and demands that anything in relation to the disease be immediately reported to him or Cisca, and the meeting adjourns. Fiona is sufficiently stunned by all of it that she sits there until everyone else leaves, including H’nez, who harbors a grudge about who’s in charge that he says aloud in Fiona’s presence. Only the call of needing to oil the itchy dragon gets her up and moving.

Once she’s done oiling Talenth, Tannaz recruits Fiona to help check on the dragonriders and make sure they’re all doing okay. Fiona quips that it’s like taking care of the sick aunties and the old uncles, but Tanaz is not going along with it, even if she does relent a little and say it’s probably a little like such things. Understandably, Fiona isn’t entirely sure what to do.

“What do I say to them?” Fiona asked, working to keep a whining tone out of her voice.
“You know how they feel,” Tannaz said, her voice turning softer, warmer. “Probably more than most, since you lost your fire-lizard.”
Fiona bit her lip, then shook herself fiercely and nodded for the Weyrwoman to continue.
“So talk to them about how they feel, how you feel. Don’t lie, but be positive.” Tannaz put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed firmly. “You are a Weyrwoman now.”
Something in the other’s tone made Fiona realize Tannaz was bestowing upon her a gift, not weighing her with a burden. Tannaz must have seen it, too, for she let go of the young girl and told her brusquely, “Off you go, now!”

Of course, Fiona doesn’t know where she’s going, but when she turns back to ask, Tannaz shouts down the corridor with the right place to start.

I’m not entirely sure that Fiona, at thirteen, knows what whining sounds like, but I’m willing to give that she doesn’t want to be seen as whining to Tannaz. I also think the author shorts us on Fiona’s thought process of how she comes to the realization that being asked to talk to the dragonriders is not a burdensome thing, but a position of honor and pride and something to do as a Weyrwoman. Tannaz could have given her a nice logical reason to latch on to, like “Soon enough, these riders will be yours, and it’s a good idea to get to know them early on so they’ll follow you when it’s your turn to be Senior.”

That would have been nice, really, because Fiona has an immediate panic about whether or not she can actually do the thing because she doesn’t have a clue what to actually say.

I can’t do this, she thought miserably, stopping one pace before the entrance to the Weyr. I’ve only thirteen Turns!
[…Fiona thinks about telling everyone her Impression was a mistake, but the thought of giving Talenth up is far too terrible to contemplate…]
Kindan had no one, Fiona chided herself, and he was your age when the Plague struck. He saved you and everyone at Fort.
Well, she corrected herself, tears filling her eyes, almost everyone. He couldn’t save Mother, or my brothers, or even my sister, the girl he loved.
But he saved me, she remembered, and thought of the tales her father told her of Kindan’s bravery. With those in mind, along with images of her own Impression, she lifted her head and stepped forward.
I can do this, she thought, and she called out, “Hello?”

I would expect Fiona to name her mother, brothers, and sister, rather than just referring to them that way. Koriana especially, since she supposedly was the love of Kindan’s life before she died from the plague. Bemin would have called them by name, so there’s no reason to believe that Fiona doesn’t know them. But also, Bemin is doing a significant amount of downplaying his own role in both how much he hated Kindan before the Plague stripped him of his family, save her. I would like to hear how Kindan tells the same story, and how much he would choose to include about how terrible Bemin was about it to Fiona. If she’s in the Weyrwoman mode she was in the last chapter, he might give it to her straight, no chaser.

As it turns out, the first rider she sees, L’rian, knew Lady Sannora, has heard the rumor that she was sweet on a Harper, despite being a Lady Holder, and regales Fiona with a half-hour’s worth of stories from his life. He intuits the reason for Fiona’s visit, and says that he’s ready to go when his dragon does. Fiona wants to know about his loved ones, but he says he’s seen most of them go on from life, so he doesn’t have any regrets. Fiona says that they’re going to need all the dragonriders they can to fight Thread, and when he makes a lewd remark about how they can talk after she’s had her first mating flight, she turns it into a promise (“heard and witnessed!”) that he’ll stick around long enough to talk with her afterward.

Fiona talks with several others for less time, but takes note of who’s talking, the stories they have of the spicy firestone, and which of them are trying too hard to project that they’re fine.

Fiona had been in her father’s company long enough to note those who spoke with a forced heartiness–she’d heard the same tone in prideful holders who had over-farmed their lands or were afraid to admit other shortcomings. Often the neediest Fort holder was the one least likely to ask for aid. Lord Bemin was constantly visiting the smaller holds, always on the pretext of preparing or collecting tithe, but even with only thirteen Turns to her, Fiona had noticed the times when her father had ordered some of the guards to help out with a planting or a fencing, or had sent back to the Hold for some special spices or tubers.
“I’ve so many tubers in our root cellars that I’ll have to get rid of them or let them rot,” she recalled him saying to one farmer whose entire crop had been ravaged by tunnel snakes. “Would you do me the favor of taking some?”
Or, “My men have grown soft on this trip; would you let me put them to work in that field over there?”

In Fiona’s case, she uses the understanding of her father’s indirect methods to suggest she’s hungry, even when she’s not, as a pretext of ordering up some food and making sure the dragonrider she’s seeing has eaten that day.

I also think this is the first time I’ve seen or heard a Lord Holder do anything of this sort, sharing his labor and largesse with his vassals, and taking care to do so indirectly for the ones that would never accept direct help because of their pride. It makes Bemin into a better administrator, and someone who might actually understand how vassalage feudalism works. It makes me wonder whether he was this way before the Plague ripped through his Hold or not. I can totally get behind Bemin deciding to be a much better ruler because he saw the Plague as a punishment for his attitude and effectiveness, even though Pern nominally lacks a God that would send plague as punishment for bad behavior. Bemin before and Bemin after Plague, from those that knew him well, would be a fascinating comparison, should anyone ever decide to do it.

After she completes her rounds, Tannaz flags Fiona and says everyone is supposed to pitch in at the kitchen for the feast tonight. Which makes Fiona the head cook’s apprentice for the night. When asked about whether she sings or dances, Fiona says she’d rather learn how to swordfight, based on stories of Nerra of Crom who apparently learned how, but Bemin never let her. Kentai, the Harper, catches her meaning, and says that Weyrwomen are generally taught bow skills, which segues into a story about how Cisca once put on a demonstration with flaming arrows that nearly set the weyrling quarters on fire.

Zirana, the cook, is cooking in the Southern Boll style and speaks mostly in single words and short sentences, which seems like there’s some sort of something going on here, but I can’t quite put my thoughts on it. Southern Boll style turns out to be stir-fry, compared to the stews that Fiona is used to, and the Igen style that Tannaz promises to teach Fiona when Zirana’s done. (There are also pernooms, funguses native to Pern that are presumably close enough to mushrooms that people got lazy with the naming.) There’s all sorts of things thrown in, including soy sauce (“From soya bean,” Zirana says when she adds it), onions, garlic, ginger, pernooms, and eventually, sliced wherry meat strips.

After showing Fiona how to make three dishes, Zirana tells Fiona to make her own dish. Which she does. Zirana approves of it and then tells her to go serve it to the Weyrleaders and wingleaders. It’s apparently tradition to make the youngest Weyrwoman cook the food for the head table without telling her that’s where it’s going. Cisca, when she stops by, is very surprised that Zirana let Fiona cook, but Ziana points out that Fiona learned more than enough by observing the kitchens from a young age.

When it comes time to serve, Fiona is again a bundle of nerves, and envisions herself tripping and shattering the serving dish, putting all her effort to waste. A voice not her dragon’s tells her in her head she’ll do fine, and she does.

It really is good! Fiona thought, amazed. Tannaz, who was still watching her, chuckled, saying, “What, did you think Zirana would let you serve something that wasn’t good?” Fiona’s look answered her and the Weyrwoman continued, “You’re not at the Hold anymore. You’ll be treated with respect, but no one will lie to you.”

Which is a pretty interesting juxtaposition to have here. Dragonriders believe they’ve managed honesty for everything, and they can also provide respect in that environment to everyone. We might also note that Fort doesn’t have a Healer because the Healer was killed in a duel that he was goaded in to. That makes me think that dragonriders’ honesty is much more like the people that believe they’re being the most honest by proclaiming social conventions to be so much bullshit and that everyone is always acting in self-interest, even if it looks like they’re being nice to someone else.

Tannaz makes a crack about Melanwy forcing Fiona to make three dishes before she’d let her serve, and Melanwy agrees with her, having appeared while Tannaz wasn’t looking. And she gives them grief about things and weyrlings performing before it becomes apparent she has some form of dementia, as she switches to being confused about where she is and what she’s doing. Kentai goes smoothly with it and leads her off to play drums for the performances. Fiona compliments him in his absence, and says that Holds have plenty of people who are addled, and who would rather not have been alive because of that. Melanwy is still headwoman out of pity and out of the fact that when she’s lucid, there’s none better, so Tannaz and Cisca are taking turns learning the craft of running the place from her in those moments where she can impart her wisdom. Fiona offers to help, but Tannaz and Cisca both think it’s a bad idea, given how much Melanwy talks about and is interested in morbid things these days. Fiona presses her case an says that learning would be more important than troubling subjects.

“You made your case.” She frowned and added, “Still, I don’t think it’s fair to rob you so young of your youth. I have a motherly duty–”
“Pardon, Weyrwoman,” Fiona intrrupted, her throat hard, her face hot, “but I lost my mother before my third Turn and, with her, any chance of a proper childhood.”
Cisca gave her a look that was part affront, part surprise, but Fiona met her eyes squarely. “I’m young, I know, but I’ve had to grow up fast and I don’t think I know how to stop.”
[…Cisca is unconvinced, but K’lior manages to convince her to drop it with a gesture Fiona can’t interpret, not having seen her mother and father interact…]
“Don’t be in such a rush to grow up,” Tannaz murmured as the plates were cleared.
“I can’t really tell you when I ever really thought I was a child,” Fiona responded. But in her heart she recalled all the times when she’d been with Kindan and wondered–until the fruit dessert that Tannaz and Ellor had made was served, and she enjoyed it so much that she completely forgot the previous conversation.

I’m not sure what to think about this exchange, because it feels like I want to criticize it for saying that without a mother, Fiona couldn’t have had a childhood, while at the same time knowing that Bemin probably started in early on the training for his last surviving child on how to be the perfect Lady Holder, since she was all he had left and the last opportunity for his bloodline to continue. Which would put Kindan in the place of being someone who saw her and treated her as a child (because she was one) without any of the extra pressure of having to be the survivor of the Plague (which she also was). So, make your own conclusions, maybe, about all of this? It still feels wrong, even though it’s probably more accurate than usual.

Fiona has to leave to handle Talenth, and then comes back to a conference of the Weyrleaders, where she gets to sit on Tannaz’s lap, apparently, and listen to all of them talk about the new sick dragons and what to do about them. K’lior seems blithe about the arrival of a new Healer before things get too out of sorts, but Fiona reminds them of something that the Weyrleaders apparently haven’t known or considered – med school on Pern takes just as long as it does on Terra.

Fiona chewed her lip before confessing, “Father said we didn’t be enough spare hands to send them to the Halls for eight Turns of learning.”
The others looked at her inquiringly.
“That’s how long it takes to train a healer,” Fiona told them. “Four Turns in the Harper Hall, four more in the Healer Hall.”
“Why so long?” Cisca asked.
“Why not just teach healing?” Tannaz added.
“Kindan said that a harper learns a lot of healing,” Fiona replied. “The extra turns at the Healer Hall are to learn even more.”

And because everyone else has been hammered hard by the Plague, nobody else has necessarily been sparing people to the Halls, either, so now it sounds even worse that their Healer is dead from a preventable duel.

I still want to know why becoming a healer requires for years of study with the musician-diplomat-lawyers first, before they can go on to graduate studies at the Healer Hall proper. All the first aid and such they could learn from the Harpers could easily be taught at the Healer Hall as well. On some world where science and knowledge had been better preserved than Pern, I could see the necessity of four years of undergraduate coursework at the College to lay the foundations before going on to med school. As it is now, the world needs field medics with their herbals and the ability to set bones, so if there were enough remaining doctors, they could train up a corps rapidly and then set to replenishing the ranks where possible, eventually phasing out the medics for proper doctors.

After the conference, everybody goes to bed and the chapter ends.

Exchanges like this continue to develop the line that the dragonriders, at least the ones that are Weyrbred, are so insulated from the rest of the world that they’ve no real idea how it works. Given the status of the Weyrs as the elites of Pern, this tracks. It also paints them in a negative light, in that everyone else, including Lords Holder, are the “little people” who should only be bothered with as much as they continue to keep the Weyrs supplied in people and goods. It’s a marked difference from earlier works that would have fallen all over themselves to portray the Good Guys Weyr as infallible in all the ways they could. A little bit of reality is starting to seep into the fantastical setting, and it’s nice. Fiona is helping re-tether them to at least some version of reality, even if it is the one of lords and ladies, rather than of the actual peasants. If this was what the author meant about tempers and such back in the beginning of the work, it’s tepid and mild to say the least, but small progress away from the idea of “the dragonriders can do no wrong” is better than no progress.

We’ll see how things continue next week.

Dragonheart: More Modern Sensibilities

Last time, we started a new book that so far looks to be “we’re rereading the story of the dragon illness, but this time from another perspective!” and for as by as I like alternate perspective stories in fanworks, this makes me wonder about the cohesion of the storytelling. It’s not wrong to do different perspective books, but it seems like you need a story where you have to read all the narrative parts to get a complete picture of what happened. That works better for interactive fictions, really, than it does for a work where someone could theoretically situate the narrative in the character that is needed for that particular part of story to be delivered. The alternate perspective story usually works best when there’s a hole in the events where you could situate that piece.

Anyway.

Dragonheart, Chapter 3: Content Notes: Male Gaze Woman

My small fire-lizard friend
Frolic in the sun.
Our love will never end
No matter where you run.

(Fort Weyr, AL 507.12.20)

Is it me, or does that sound more like a funeral dirge or a “Rainbow Bridge” card than anything? Kind of morbid, given that at the end of the last chapter, everyone sent their fire-lizards away.

Chapter 3 opens with a very tired Fiona going out to get air and getting mobbed by the other weyrlings. Once the Weyrlingmaster gives them a pointed directive on what to do, the group disperses. Fiona thinks it’s normal, and T’jen gently suggests otherwise.

“I’m all right,” Fiona said immediately. “Talenth’s fine–”
“And you’d know, being a Weyrwoman for…?” T’jen asked her, raising his brows in curiosity, a faint smile on his lips.
Fiona blushed in response. She thought back, her blush clearing into a smile as she remembered her amazing Impression of Talenth. How long ago had it been? It seemed forever. But how long? Her grown deepened as she realized she couldn’t quite remember.
“This is the twentieth day of the twelfth month,” T’jen supplied helpfully.
“Oh!” Fiona said. “Then it’s been–it’s been–” Angrily, she chided herself, This is simple! There are twenty-eight days–four sevendays–in each month, and she’d Impressed Talenth on the seventeenth of the month before, so that meant that…
“Thirty-one days, Weyrwoman,” T’jen told her softly. Fiona looked up at him, chagrined. “You’re not the only one confused. All of my weyrlings, even the steadiest of them, are acting like you.”

Fiona frets it’s the sickness, but T’jen suggests it isn’t, since the dragons aren’t much more than overly tired, and that his observations are because Cisca was concerned about Fiona. Which we’ll get to in a moment, but first, someone finally said something useful about the calendar system!

Twelve regular months of 28 days is 336 days. If Pern is very Parallel Earth in its revolution distance and speed, we’d need one more month to hit the close-to-Terra-standard 364 day Turn (which would be roughly a lunar calendar, even though Pern has two satellites) And if Turn’s End/New Turn were a single special day outside any month, it could absorb whatever corrections were needed to synchronizes the sidereal year and the calendar year, create the 365th day so the reader can think of the years as roughly the same, and otherwise function as a way of holding it together.

It’s also a very nice way of putting that detail out without causing an infodump or holding up the narrative.

There’s an even bigger minor miracle happening after that, which is that the Weyrleader is taking these concerns seriously.

“…so I’d say she’s the same as the rest,” T’jen concluded in his recounting to the Weyrleader and Weyrwoman over dinner that night. “Even the older weyrlings are acting odd.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you sooner,” K’lior said to the old Weyrlingmaster. “You’d said this last turn when the others Impressed, but I thought…”
“You thought I was just moaning,” T’jen finished with a snort.
“I’ve never heard a Weyrlingmaster praise his charges, after all,” K’lior said defensively.

But minus one million points for not listening to your staff sergeant, Weyrleader, and a million more from the author for suggesting that Cisca has been the one to notice and make a suggestion before yoinking that away and saying T’jen has been noticing and talking about it for at least a Turn and not including Cisca in the conversation at all.

Furthermore, K’lior and T’jen suggest there isn’t much to do but wait and see how things develop after letting us know that klah helps chase off the drowsiness. Cisca wants to be more active in trying to find a reason and course of action to take, but the best she can do is talk to her junior, Tannaz, and ask her to help her keep an eye on Fiona. Rather than the last time, where Lorana zoomed in on her chest almost immediately, and Fiona just thought of Cisca as big, with Tannaz, the narrative gives us a comparative description.

The two queen riders were a study in contrasts: Cisca was tall, broad-shouldered and muscled without appearing so, with shoulder-length brown hair and eyes to match, while Tannaz was short, thin, wiry; her eyes, so dark they looked black, were set in a stark face of dusky skin surrounded by wavy black hair that announced her Igen origins to anyone looking at her.

Huzzah, a person of color on Pern! Who sounds a bit like she comes from Medieval Muslim-land, and Igen being described as a “desert Weyr” certainly helps that along.

Cisca, in the other hand, is built but doesn’t look like it. Because that might make her less beautiful, I guess, never mind all the people who hustle after athletes all the time.

Tannaz is here because she refused to return to Igen from whence she came after Impressing at Fort, which should have been the biggest klaxon anyone heard around the planet that D’gan

was not the person who should be in charge of Igen. But instead of deposing the asshole, they let the entire Weyr collapse, because The Rules Are Absolute.

Tannaz takes the initiative on going to see Fiona, which makes Cisca realize she didn’t introduce them earlier because she was worried Tannaz and Fiona would like each other more than either of them liked her. Cisca dismisses her own jealousy as a silly notion. Tannaz goes to see Fiona, and joins in the oiling of Talenth for a long time before Fiona notices she has help.

It seems to me like this book is making more effort to get its characters away from being two-dimensional. That does take it in some directions that I’m not nearly as fond of as ones I am, though.

Belatedly, Fiona noticed Tannaz’s hand and reached for it, shook it quickly, and let go.
Tannaz frowned at the motion, wondering what had gotten into the girl that she’d come so cold so quickly. “What?” she demanded hotly. “Is my hand not good enough for a Lady Holder?”
“No,” Fiona replied, her face crumpling in despair, “it’s just that everyone says I’m lazy.” And she surprised herself by bursting into tears. The tears streamed unchecked down her face, her oily hands hanging limply at her sides as her sobs wracked her body.
Tannaz didn’t deal well with tears or crying girls–her first tendency was to run away or slap them. But this girl’s behavior was different and Tannaz felt strangely moved by it.

In Tannaz’s context, I wonder if that inclination is a holdover from seeing how the Igen Asshole handled anything like that when he saw it. If all she ever learned was that tears and crying meant punishment, she wouldn’t necessarily have a good toolkit to work with in regard to how to handle it herself. But because there are no therapists on Pern, Tannaz lacks the awareness to know whether her reaction is genuinely hers or whether it was imposed on her as a survival condition she doesn’t need any more.

Tannaz and Fiona talk about the crushing weight of expectations. Fiona worries she’s somehow allergic to Impression and that Talenth will be taken away because she can’t hack raising a dragon. Tannaz assures her that’s not the case and tells her she’s not alone in her behavior, which goes through this time, rather than when T’jen said it earlier, and Fiona switches into Problem-Solving Mode and asks whether any other people / riders are feeling the same way. For Fiona, that would mean asking the Hold Healer, but, appropriately for the toxically masculine environment of the Weyrs, trying to get a dragonrider to admit they feel bad is a fool’s errand.

(At which point I would hope that Cisca or Tannaz think that using their dragons to ask the riders’ dragons about the riders’ health wouldn’t be cheating too much at all, but they don’t.)

Instead, Tannaz’s opinion of Fiona is solicited.

“Oh, she’s got her plate full with all the things bothering her—not the last that she’s little more than thirteen Turns to her name–”
“And at all know how difficult that can be,” Cisca inserted with a sympathetic wince.
“That’s a harder age for girls than boys,” J’marin observed.

Actual sympathy for the terrible time that is puberty! Be still my heart. And also, apparently, Fiona is thirteen.

The Weyr Harper’s assessment, as relayed through Tannaz, is that Fiona already knows enough from having to learn about running a Hold and learning about the Weyrs that she won’t need much educating on being a Weyrwoman.

Later that night, Cisca remembers that T’mar, who was wildly favored to be Weyrleader, started acting odd right before the mating flight and it threw off his chances. K’lior wonders why she’s bringing up “unwarranted suspicions,” which aggravates Cisca. To his credit, K’lior recognizes he said the wrong thing and works to apologize for it, eventually allowing for the possibility that T’mar might also be affected by the same thing as the weyrlings. And even though they acknowledge this is a weird situation without precedent, they don’t do a whole lot with it except decide to wait and observe. (And yet, if J’lantir knows enough about the symptoms to remark on it to Lorana, one would think that the Weyrleaders or the Weyrlingmaster or someone would think time displacement was the cause. Even if it means knowing that something is going to happen in the future that will cause them to be time-displaced. The timeline can’t rely on them not knowing until they need to know, becauses it forces them into incuriosity mode, even though they’re clearly seeing the effects.

There’s also a developmentally disabled rider, D’lanor, who hasn’t necessarily been treated particularly well when he’s mentioned, but K’lior and Cisca seem to think he’ll be fine as a rider, although Cisca shades more toward ablist descriptions (“dim, slow”) than K’lior (winces and provides “challenged”). He’s been used as the standard of “if anyone else starts behaving like him, something is seriously wrong” a couple times before we fully understand he’s disabled, which still says that Pern is a shitty place to be disabled (unless you’re a favored bronze rider).

Even so, this sophomore effort is markedly better than the first one in terms of doing at least some things to make Pern less terrible. I’m a bit scared at what will happen if it all comes undone.

We flip back to Fiona, who, were it not for the constant fatigue, would be having the time of her life, the narrative tells us.

Except for the constant muzziness, this would have been a time of unalloyed joy for two reasons: first, because she got to spend every waking moment with her marvelous, brilliant, and fabulous Talenth; and, second, because her time was for once completely her own. She could be slovenly, she could forget to bathe for a whole day, she could be angry, she could curse, and she didn’t have to worry about being judged, frowned at, or silently derided because she was the Lord Holder’s daughter and the sole representative of Fort Hold’s future. Never mind that she was a girl and expected to marry the man who would be future Lord Holder, she was still required to “Set and example, Fiona!” “People look up to you!” “What would your father say if he saw you look that way?”
It was really only here, in the freedom of Fort Weyr, as Talenth’s Weyrwoman, that Fiona would ever have realized how much her role as Fort’s Lady Holder–in waiting–was a position that stifled her, that restricted her, and that caused her to wake every morning in dread. She was free!

There’s a good chance that Bemin was highly protective of his last surviving heir while she was growing up, but from what we’ve seen of hold life, any young girl might end up dreaming of being a queen dragonrider just to get away from the stultifying environment that expects her to do little else but run the house and make babies for whichever husband she’s married to, whether she wants to or not. I’m surprised that Bemin tried to pull the leash tighter on her, given what a disaster he and Lady Sannora thought Koriana had turned out to be, for the brief time she was tweaking the noses of everyone. Maybe he thought he could catch it before it sparked into rebelliousness and keep Fiona so boxed in that she wouldn’t be able to get out and have her rebellious phase.

The narrative decides to go with this idea, as right after reveling in her freedom from having to be the Lady Holder ever again in her life, Fiona gets a surprise visit from her father right when she’s at her filthiest from oiling Talenth. The narrative then chooses to skip over the actual scene and instead have Cisca and Tanazz discuss how it went, because the narrative thinks it’s a more important thing for us to know than to hear what happened.

“Lord Bemin was clearly desperate to see her; I don’t know why she insisted on keeping him waiting while she bathed first.”
“Why?” Tanazz retorted hotly. “Would you greet a Lord Holder dressed in your worst, oil-grimed, sleep-stained clothes with your hair and face all oily from your latest dragon-grooming?”
“Sure,” Cisca responded with a toss of her shoulders. “Why not? It’s only a Lord Holder, after all.” She noticed Tannaz’s look and continued, “Oh, certainly, if I could, I’d prefer to be better dressed, but if the matter was sufficiently urgent, I’d have no problem greeting him at my worst.”
Tannaz mulled Cisca’s response over for a minute before admitting, “I think you could meet him sky-clad and make him feel overdressed.”
Cisca felt herself blushing and could only nod in agreement, grinning. “It would not be my preference, but yes, if I had to, then I would certainly work to ensure that he felt overdressed.”

Aw, fuck. You were doing so well and then you had to get male-gazey again about Cisca. Come on. I don’t have to be told that Cisca is strong and chesty and beautiful at eery opportunity. I personally am getting to the point where I’m going to headcanon that Cisca is built like a brick shithouse, and has a supernatural beauty to her that makes every woman drool after her and wish they were bronze riders. (But not the dudes. It doesn’t work on them at all. They think she’s pretty, because she is, but they’re not required to comment on it like all the women are.)

Anyway, now that we’re done with compimenting Cisca’s beauty, we find out what happened in the meeting between the two.

“Well, you have to admit she was roused,” Tannaz said with a grin.
“Right–with a screaming match that scared every dragon in the Weyr. Not exactly what I’d had in mind,” Cisca said, her eyes flashing.
[…Tannaz explains that she thinks this screaming match turned out well…]
“Whereas here a Weyrleader’s authority only lasts until the senior queen’s next mating flight,” Tannaz continued. “So no one in the Weyr is used to as much authority as Lord Bemin wields in his Hold.” She paused. “And nowhere is he expected to wield that authority more than in his own Hall, over his own children.”
[…Cisca still doesn’t get it. Tannaz explains that Fiona told off her Lord rather than being a dutiful daughter, and this allows them both to adjust to their new relationship…]
“Fiona asserted herself as a Weyrwoman,” Tannaz said, “and that assertion carries with it the weight of the whole Weyr. Without meaning to, Fiona reminded Lord Bemin that the safety of his Hold depends on this Weyr and that he’s beholden to us.” An impish grin flashed on her face as she added, “I’ll bet our tithe this year from Fort will be much better this year than last.”
Cisca looked at the other woman for a long moment before shaking her head sadly. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to match you for deviousness.”
“Ah, so aren’t you glad that I’m your junior Weyrwoman?”
Cisca reached forward and hugged her. “I certainly am!”

Or, perhaps the author didn’t feel confident in their skill to write a knock-down, drag-out screaming match between Fiona and Bemin that accomplished all of the ends that Tannaz says happened. Because that would be pretty hard to write, given that it’s a thirteen year-old girl who’s just admitted to us that the best thing about it all is the freedom she gets from not having to be the dutiful daughter any more, and that she’s brain-fogged unless she’s downed a pitcher of caffeine, against a Lord who’s been doing the whole “authority” thing for longer than she’s been alive and is her father, who has very clearly been trying hard to make her into a dutiful daughter. Not impossible, certainly, but perhaps the reason we’re hearing about it rather than seeing it is that it was a bit above the confidence level of the writer. (And because someone could comment on Cisca’s physique.)

What’s actually useful in this exchange is the disconnect that Cisca has with Tannaz and Fiona, since she’s weyrbred and they aren’t. Cisca, after all, hasn’t ever had to deal with the reality that a single man could do anything he wanted to her and she would have to accept it, because he’s her Lord and that makes him God, as far as the rules of Pern are concerned.

I’m also calling a certain amount of bullshit on “power lasts until the next queen’s mating flight,” which is mathematically true, but practically hasn’t been in any of the situations we’ve seen. Only bad Weyrleaders ever seem to get replaced, unless it’s vital they doom their entire Weyr to hyperspace so that Lorana can send a message through time. “Good” Weyrleaders never seem to have to worry about being really challenged for their positions. Plus, it’s not really an egalitarian setup, in the sense that while the Weyrwoman stays the constant, she’s still seen as a subordinate to the Weyrleader, instead of the one who is in charge, and she delegates fighting to him.

The chapter itself continues with K’lior talking to T’mar about the fire-lizards and seeing if they can get anything out of Benden’s Harper, Kindan, which seems to progressively set T’mar more and more off, until K’lior gives him a mild rebuke and T’mar apologizes and corrects himself. The talk was apparently so that K’lior could gauge T’mar’s behavior, and he confirms it as odd to Cisca, and says he’ll continue to keep an eye on T’mar. The two of them talk about a discovery in the Archives of Threadfall charts, such that if they know when the first Fall of any given Pass is, they’ll be able to predict when and where every Fall will happen after that. Apparently, a new Threadfall happens every seventy-five hours, and while K’lior’s worried about being light on strength, Cisca’s more worried about lacking the extra Weyr for additional cover and extra rest for the fighting wings, because one of those groups is going to have to handle Igen’s nonexistent ground cover. Probably on rotation. Unless Telgar, under the Asshole, figures they can cover both Werys’ area by themselves.

To give us a time anchor, the chapter ends with three dragon deaths in quick succession, including Breth, the queen at Benden.

Dragonheart: Surely You Jest

Last time, the timeline aggressively pruned itself into a single outcome where the cause of the dragons’ illness was known several hundred years before it began, allowing early colonists to paradoxically leave rooms and knowledge for their descendants, who then layered a second paradox on board by popping dragons who had the cure back in time to restore their numbers and come back to fight Thread as promised without falling ill.

And we finally got confirmation of what we already knew – Tullea’s bout of emotional disregulation was, quite surely, the fault of her existing twice in time, since her queen is the one that carried the immunity and passed it on to her eggs. The more mature and less fragmented Tullea was apologetic and grateful to Lorana for all her work, and I hope that in between these books, she chews everyone who could have known at Benden Weyr out for not investigating and learning the truth about her personality shift as soon as it appeared.

Onward, then, to Dragonheart, and if this holds with pattern, this will be Dragonsblood, but from a different perspective.

Dragonheart: Prologue and Chapters 1 and 2: Content Notes:

The explanatory prologue appears again as “for readers new to Pern”, which adds that you can see the Red Star for all fifty Turns of a pass, rather than what we had previously thought of as it rocketing past and dropping the Thread in its wake, which makes the orbit even less sensical than it was before.

It’s just a show, it’s just a show. Every time hard science tries to get in, it gets mangled to fit the narrative of Pern.

Fire-lizards are described as “six-limbed, winged life-forms”, which only works with the classical concept of the Western dragon if the wings qualify as limbs five and six.

It also claims that no other solution was as effective as the dragons, which is a bold lie to tell, given what we learned about watch-whers in the previous book, but these people haven’t rediscovered the purpose of the Tubberman grubs, so it’s a small lie and not a big one.

Then there’s this gem:

Given their great losses, particularly in able-bodied older folk, the people of Fort and the other Holds soon found themselves resorting to an authoritarian system where one Lord Holder became the ultimate authority of each Hold. The Weyrs developed differently. Unable to provide for themselves and protect the planet, the dragonriders relied in a tithe from the Holds for their maintenance. Instead of A Lord Holder, they had a Weyrleader–the rider of whichever dragon flew the Weyr’s senior queen dragon.
And so the two populations grew separate, distant, and too often intolerant of each other.

Cocowhat by depizan

And we’re getting the cocowhat out early again, because put in those terms, Pern is ridiculous as a concept. “Oh noes, we’ve lost our elders! Clearly, the correct thing to do is revert to vassalage feudalism as a form of government and to try to placate the dragons and their riders with tithes so they will continue to protect us rather than decide we’re the vassals for them!”

“And how do the dragonriders figure out who their leader is?”

“Eh, whichever bronze bangs the oldest gold dragon.”

I mean, it’s not impossible, sure, but…

Heart, give voice to sing
Of life on dragonwings!

(Fort Weyr, AL 507.11.17, Second Interval)

The book opens with M’tal making the case that dragons and watch-whers should train together for night falls of Thread, because they have apparently been saving the lives of people all through the end of the second Pass, and there are now apparently enough of them and good enough opinion of them that this idea has some sort of merit and I already want to throw this book against the wall because there’s no way this should be happening unless Nuella is both badass handler and speaker and has waged a good enough PR campaign to defeat even the Asshole at Telgar on the matter. Not that C’rion or K’lior are on board either. The discussion doesn’t really go anywhere because it’s interrupted by the beginning of a Hatching, which gives the narrative an excuse to shuffle over to Kindan, who is apparently known both for giving up Kisk to “Nuella, the WherMaster” and for setting the fire that partially destroyed the archives at this time. Before he can complete one job of escorting someone to their place in the stands, Kindan is tackle-hugged by Fiona, Bemin’s youngest daughter, who we last saw recovering from the flu that killed Vaxoram and every other member of Bemin’s family. Her older sister’s legacy lives on in Fiona.

“Why, you would not believe where I found my daughter–”
“Father!” Fiona protested, a warm blush highlighting her freckles. Bemin laughed.
“Chasing tunnel snakes again?” Kindan asked her in a voice pitched for her ears alone.
He was not successful, as Bemin snorted, saying, “I cannot teach her any decorum at all!” He continued, “She was hours in the bath and I’m sure there’s still dirt on her.”

She’s at least twelve now, as the narrative refers back to the plague twelve Turns ago that wiped out the family and most of the people at Fort. This turns out to be important, because Bemin’s nth-worst nightmare (after, y’know, his family all dying horribly from sickness he couldn’t prevent) happens and Fiona Impresses the gold dragon that hatched and then ignored the candidates out in front of her. Which leaves Bemin, Lord of Fort, without an heir, unless he wants to adopt someone into the family. And also is making pretty common what used to be a fairly rare event. Seems like the stands should be built in such a way that it becomes easy for hatchlings to leave the sands, since they seem so interested in candidates not participating in the ritual.

The narrative doesn’t spend long on this, because it wants to move forward to Kindan’s recriminations about not Impressing himself and his thoughts about the Plague keeping him awake and sorrowful long enough to hear a dragon head to hyperspace as he falls back asleep.

Fiona and Talenth (really.) apparently can feel Kindan’s pain, and we learn that Fiona pleaded with Bemin to come so she could see Kindan. While Talenth tries to work things out, and Fiona considers that she could help Kindan with his pain, they hear a dragon going to hyperspace, too.

Then the chapter closes out with the unnamed rider going into hyperspace, but we don’t get any details about who she is or her dragon’s name.

Skin stretch
Flake, peel.
Oil, scratch,
Feed, creel.

(Fort Weyr, the next day.)

As you might guess from this bit of poetry, it’s the first time that the new author gets to write a “care and feeding of a hatchling” montage! And the new author doesn’t do too bad a job with it, actually, with Fire, the fire-lizard being both jealous and helpful in caring for Talenth, and Fiona pointing out that new people thrown into Weyr life are often scrambling more than usual, since they don’t know where anything is and they can’t go too far away from their hatchling’s constant care requirements. She’s a quick study, though,

figuring out how to use the Weyr’s amazing conveyor system to order food for her quarters. She envied the weyrbred riders who already knew their way around and had been more prepared for these first few weeks with a new weyrling.

Except, as had been pointed out earlier, gold rider candidates are almost always selected from outside the Weyr. It’s not certain how long the candidates spend at the Weyr before the hatching, but it seems like the sort of thing where the people at the Weyr should be used to a crash course of where it all is and how it all works, because they’re getting candidates semi-regularly in anticipation of the hatch. So Fiona is out of the ordinary, in that she hasn’t been here for a while, but I would expect there’s a system in place of “oh, hey, you’re new, so we’re going to [x, y, z] until you feel confident finding your way around.” Or something.

While Fiona concentrates on Talenth, Cisca surprises her.

Fiona jerked, startled by the voice behind her. But she turned quickly enough to nod to Cisca, amazed that such a big person could move so quietly.

And Fiona is twelve, maybe thirteen, so maybe she hasn’t necessarily been exposed to the rest of the outside world like that. And maybe when she says “big”, she means “grownup,” but since one book back, Lorana seemed awfully fixated on Cisca’s chest, there’s the possibility that Fiona means “big” in the same manner, or that Cisca is built on a solid frame, tall and broad and busty as well. Then the narrative tells us that Cisca is only six Turns older than Fiona, and I have to immediately revise my mental picture of her, to make her eighteen or nineteen instead of the somewhere-in-her-twenties-or-thirties I had been imagining.

It’s in the context of Fiona never having had an older woman whose directions she had to obey, which suggests that Lord Bemin has been behaving unusually for a Lord in not taking another wife and trying to produce more children in his age. It’s certainly not anything he had to or would have wanted to do right after the plague, but it’s been twelve years and his plan has apparently been to wait until Fiona is of marriageable age, marry her to a good Lord’s son and pass his inheritance to him. Given that all of his previous children and his first wife died in a plague event, that seems like quite the gamble. At the same time, Bemin has been severely traumatized, and there’s no timetable where anyone should expect him to be recovered in any sort of way from that tragedy, even a dozen years on, so perhaps the thought of having more children or taking another wife is something he’s not ready for, and may never be ready for.

Cisca is here to teach Fiona, the newest gold rider, about the duties she’ll have as a Weyrwoman, and also confirms our suspicion that there are missing queens in the structure of Fort Weyr. Cisca tries to explain to Fiona that running a Weyr isn’t all that different than running a Hold, so the instruction that Bemin gave her about that will give her a solid grounding. Fiona isn’t sure about that, since it seemed to involve a lot of sitting and listening to old people ramble on about the good old days. Cisca shrugs and says that she has to listen to old dragonriders, instead.

“I was talking about the queens’ wing,” Cisca said. “There’s only Tannaz and her Kalsenth now. Weyrs don’t fly a queens’ wing unless there are three queens.”

But there’s no mention as to why there are, as of now, only three queens in Fort Hold. I guess we’re supposed to assume that they died in the Plague, but supposedly the Weyrs isolated themselves in time so as not to succumb to the flu.

Anyway, there’s more talk about managing the Weyr, and we finally start getting to see competing perspectives about Holds and Weyrs regarding their arrangment.

“–the food from tithe?”
“Yes,” Cisca agreed. “When Thread is falling we don’t have time to find food.”
“Nor do we,” Fiona replied tetchily. She caught herself and blushed, shaking her head. “I meant the hold. Holders.”
“I’m Weyrbred,” Cisca responded. “I’m counting on you to remind me of what it is to be a holder.”
“It’s just that…” Fiona trailed off in embarrassment.
“Go on,” Cisca said. Her tone was kind.
“It seems that dragonriders don’t do that much and yet they get whatever they need, whenever they want it,” Fiona said, her frank blue eyes meeting Cisca’s warm brown ones. Cisca waited silently. Fiona lowered her gaze and pursed her lips. Finally, she sighed and looked up again at the Weyrwoman. “I’ve heard holder lads say the same thing about me.”
“And is it true?”
Fiona’s shoulders slumped. “I know I didn’t work as hard as some of them.”
“Are you lazy, then?”
Fiona’s eyes flashed angrily. “I never shirked a duty, never stopped until I was told, never–oh!”
Cisca smiled at the younger girl. “Perhaps you understand being weyrfolk better than you imagined.”

This is an interesting point of debate, because during Thread, the dragonriders clearly earn their keep as protectors and flamers and otherwise planet-wide saviors. Yet, during Interval, they don’t have a purpose other than to train and get ready for when Thread comes again. Fifty years of absolute hell interspersed with about two hundred years of nothing. Yet, for all of those years, the Holders are required to tithe and support the dragonriders, even if it might hurt their own stores or ability to survive.

We can blame Sean for the reason why the dragonriders get that idle time, but if we continue to think of the dragonriders as the mounted military force, what we’re seeing is the difference between a conscripted / volunteer army and a standing one. Pern only needs the dragonriders every so often, and supposedly the dragons were genetically engineered to breed down in Interval and breed up when Thread is near. Some amount of support structure should be in place to take care of those dragonriders that survive Thread and that keep the dragon population healthy and ready for when they need to ramp up, but, dare we say it, even though Sean was very firm about dragonriders never doing anything so basic as a profession other than being themselves, they really could take side jobs in Interval, and then call in the reservists when it’s time to properly train and fight Thread. Most dragonriders should be more of a National Guard than an Army, at least in the United States senses of thoe two forces. Instead, they’ve become the military-industrial complex, existing and consuming resources all on their own and demanding more from the Holders to build themselves up as a force while they continue to train. (And yet, they don’t take it upon themselves to get into land wars in Asia, so the Weyrleaders are at least smarter than some commanders.)

Which is to say I’m pretty sympathetic to the holder position — why should they be forced to subsidize the dragonriders, when the dragonriders don’t provide services in return when Thread isn’t falling? Surely the dragonriders can take care of themselves in the Intervals, starting from, say, 2-5 Turns after the end of Fall and starting again in the 2-5 Turns before a projected Fall will begin?

The biggest reason, of course, is that the dragonriders are the unquestioned rulers of Pern by force of might and having the war machines they have, and so a Holder that says no to them is asking for a short reign or an accident to befall them. I mean, Mr. TRADITION himself ordered kidnapping and hostage-taking to ensure his gravy train arrived on schedule and of the quality he demanded, and we were supposed to see him as a good guy. Even when the dragonriders no longer have Thread to fight, they make sure to get the best land for themselves and their dragons, rather than finally deciding it’s time to break apart the governmental system in place and create something much more egalitarian.

I should also mention that the way Cisca frames it as a question of laziness is the author doing something quite good. It’s a familiar argument for anyone who has tried to get people to understand about -ist behavior. Humans transform systemic problems they are at least somewhat responsible for into individual problems that they clearly aren’t responsible for, allowing them to believe that since they don’t engage in the individual problem, the systemic one doesn’t exist. If it’s a question of laziness then it’s clear the dragonriders aren’t doing anything wrong, because they’re not shirking their duties or lazing about or otherwise being idle. If it’s a question of the inherent unfairness that they don’t have to work for their food or supplies, regardless of whether they’re actively fighting Thread, then all the dragonriders are complicit by using the system. Since nobody likes being seen as complicit in a system that hurts other people…

But before the narrative can get any further, J’trel and Talith complete their suicide, giving us a temporal point of reference. Which is to say, we’re back at the early chapters of the last book, too. See my joyous face at the prospect of reliving another book, just from a different Weyr’s perspective. See it.

The death of Talith also reveals that Cisca thinks dragon memories are exceedingly short-term, as Talenth has forgotten all about Talith and the trip to hyperspace. Although they apparently remember some of the strangest things in addition to that, not that any examples are forthcoming right now. Not too soon after, Kindan’s fire-lizard dies of the illness that’s coming.

And, because we’ve already gone through the first book, this time around, Cisca and K’lior are allowed to openly talk about how their weyrlings seem to be half-here, really tired, and apparently unable to do the simplest of things. Y’know, the symptoms of being time-displaced? Not that they say as much, but apparently, they’ve suspected from an early point while Benden didn’t have an apparent clue.

Fire-lizards are banned and told to head to the Southern Continent so that they don’t pose an infection risk to the dragons. Which leaves a lot of sad Weyrfolk, and Fiona and her father reunite to get rid of theirs as well, with Bemin telling her how proud he is that his daughter is a queen rider, but also that because she has the dragon, and him the watch-wher of Fort, they have to do their duty and send their fire lizards away so they can’t become a risk to the dragons. It’s very teary and hard, but Bemin insists on Fiona keeping her chin up and giving the order to Talenth to do it. After she does, all we hear is “Oh, Father!” and the chapter ends.

Chapter 3 doesn’t pick up this thread, so I guess we just have to assume that after this, they have a cry and Bemin goes home. Father-daughter relationships aren’t important any more when there are dragons to tend and otherwise care more about, I guess.

Next week: More instances of people not knowing what they should know! Joy.

Dragonsblood: The Engine of Paradox

Last time, the dragonriders twisted time and sent their younglings back to grow up and get the injured healed so that their dwindling numbers could be reinforced in time for Threadfall, while in the past, Wind Blossom was put in charge of developing a curriculum and laboratory space for the Third Pass folk to discover and learn enough about the genetics of their dragons to gene-splice in immunity from the infection that’s killing them.

Dragonsblood, Chapters 22, 23, 24, and the Eiplogue: Content Notes: Mass draconic telefrag, author twisting the knife,

Harper, teach.
Miner, mine.
Smith, forge.
Healer, cure.
Dragonrider, protect them all.

(Benden, Third Pass, 26th Day, Al 508)

This chapter opens with Lorana and Kindan entering the classroom constructed, along with Ketan, and eventually M’tal and Salina join them. Upon entering the room, a message from Wind Blossom plays, advising them that if they are here because of an emergency involving dragons, they should proceed, but if they are not, they should leave immediately. Since they’re here for authorized purposes, they stay in the room, noting there’s a door in Day-Glo paint sealed with the verses of “Wind Blossom’s Song” that tell them they have to find the vector of infection before they can have access to the tools that will help them fix it. A recording of Emorra’s voice begins, directing them to a cabinet with binders full of information and telling them to sit at the seats so that the lessons can begin.

“Instructions will be played while the door is closed and everyone is seated. If you wish to take a break, simply either all stand, or have someone open the door. The instructions will resume from where they left off when the door is again closed and people are seated.
“Please note that there is no way to know how many of you are present, so if one of you must leave, be sure to leave the door open until that person returns, or she will miss parts of the instruction.” There was a pause. “Now, the first thing to do is to read the first chapter of the booklet. If you have problems reading the text, you will have to see if you can locate someone who can read it for you. If you do have such problems, please leave the room immediately. The power required to light this room and provide by voice is limited and will eventually fail.
“At the end of the first chapter you will find instructions on how to indicate that you have finished the first chapter and understand it.”
Kindan furrowed his brows in puzzlement. “That will be some trick,” he said.
“You may start reading whenever you are ready,” Emorra’s voice said. “Please do not stand on courtesy, as I am not present–this is merely a recording of my voice.”

I do like that there was foresight enough to think of the case where someone illiterate might discover the place and need someone who could read to be able to achieve their goals. If literacy as a skill had been completely lost in those 500 years, they would be up a creek, but the Harpers do what they can.

Having been instructed to begin, the students go at it. Lorana turns out to be the fastest reader of the bunch, looking to do an experiment at the end of the second chapter while Kindan, the slowest reader of the lot, is still working his way through chapter one. It’s a balls-and-rods experiment, where Lorana puts together a strand of PNA. Blue-yellow-beige (A, A’, N) works with red-beige-blue (B, N, A) and the two click together to indicate their compatibility. Lunchtime arrives, and Kiyary makes sure people take their time to eat and savor the food that’s been made for them, also leaving a pot of hot klah for them to continue working with. The afternoon provides a small amount of progress, and the group breaks for the night. At breakfast the next morning, there’s a breakthrough for everyone, because, like any good drummer, Kindan is constantly practicing on every available surface.

Shortly after that [having his tapping called out the first time], both of Kindan’s hands were on the tabletop again, tapping softly.
Lorana gave him a look but shok her head.
“Kin–” Ketan began, but Salina’s look cut him short. The ex-Weyrwoman was looking intently at Kindan’s fingers.
Lorana noticed her look and frowned, closing her eyes in concentration. A mmoent later, she opened them again and exclaimed delightedly to Kindan, “You did it! You learned the sequence!”
Kindan, startled out of his reverie, gave her a surprised look. “I did?” he asked. As her words registered, he shook his head. “No, I was just practicing some drum codes…” His voice trailed off thoughfully. “The drum codes are sounds.”
“But they’re grouped the same way as the PNA sequences,” Lorana insisted. Tentatively, she tapped out a sequence and then looked challengingly at Kindan.
“That was the START sequence,” Lorana said.
“No, it was the ATTENTION sequence,” Kindan corrected her. He frowned in thought and quickly tapped a different sequence. “What’s this?”
“That’s the STOP sequence,” Lorana answered promptly.
“It’s the END sequence for the drum codes,” Kindan told her. “What’s this?” He tapped a set of sequences.
“ABC, CBA, BCA,” Lorana translated.
“You’re right! PNA is based on drum codes!” Kindan declared.
“I’d say it’s the other way around,” Ketan remarked after a moment.
Kindan frowned. “I suppose you’re right.”
“But it makes sense,” M’tal said. “The genetic code is designed to store the most information possible in a group of three, so for simple drum codes it would be just as efficient.”

Bzuh?

Cocowhat by depizan

All that I know about music is from many years of being just good enough to be able to play an instrument, but I really, really have to know how this drum code works, becaus if it is based on the PNA code, that still means that a Harper has to be able to pick out any one of seven rudiments rumbled on a big drum with possible echo getting in the way of clear discernment, and all of this has to be done at tempo, of which there is such a thing as being too slow to understand and process so that they can keep on top of the message. Those rudiments are furthermore grouped into sets of three, presumably, and from there you can create nearly all the words in the language somehow (without the code being based on spelling or phonetics, since they can’t do “Blossom”). This is not a simple method of communication in any sort of form. What was the inspiration for drum code, I want to know, so I can try and understand how it came into this mangled form. It makes no sense at all.

Kindan, inspired by his new understanding, soon caught up with the others. Several times, in fact, they turned to him for guidance in difficult sections. He would close his eyes in thought and tentatively tap out a sequence, and correct it.
“How do you know whether it’s right?” Lorana asked when thay’d solved one particularly difficult problem.
“I’ve been drumming for Turns,” Kindan told her. “It wouldn’t sound right unless it was.

That I will believe, but I also have to go “Wait, what?” because Tieran, recall, built drum code off of PNA before there was any indication that it would be used in this way for helping people learn and remember the sequences ehy needed. It’s entirely possible that after the disaster started, Tieran tuned the code to be mnemonic for Harpers to carry the information they need in their own bones and ears, but that’s a big coincidence if it turns out that the drum code has been structured specifically to help keep this information alive for the people that desperately need it.

Also, there’s an assumption that this is the only time that this particular problem will happen in the future history of Pern. What happens if in the Fifth Pass something else finds the magic key to attack the dragons and fire lizards again? Will the genetic knowledge and tools have been passed down enough to that point so that the descendants there can do the same thing? Will the Eridani equipment still work that many years into the future? Will the instruction sheets survive, and the recordings with them? We don’t know.

B’nik is hoping for rapid progress, given that his own dragon has a doom clock counting over him, and Lorana wants a lot of progress, given that she can feel it when the clock runs out on all the other dragons, but while they’ve learned lots, they’re still not any closer to figuring out the root cause of the infection so as to open the sealed door. The narrative shifts over to D’gan

surveying his fighting strength before him after the trip through time they took. Kaloth, his dragon, is very sick and coughing, but D’gan won’t have it for a minute that he should sit the battle out, and he’s too busy blaming the healer for not coming up with a solution to think about what he has or hasn’t been doing for his dragon. D’gan also orders his son not to fly in the Fall today, wanting him to instead ferry firestone and messages.

Back to Benden, who are doing their own preparations for Fall, and Kindan and Lorana, who have gone back to the classroom to try and figure out what the sealed door needs to hear before it will open. Kindan tries to help Lorana logic out what the thing is they need to know, since it’s related, according to the texts they’ve been studying, of the problem we learned about in the last chapter – behind that door will be the correct answers, but the past needs to learn from the future what those answers are going to be. While they work, Kindan points out that there’s a really terribly creepy element to the song, since it seems to be talking about mass dragon death or illness, but Lorana isn’t hearing him, because her hears-all-dragons skill has just kicked in, and D’gan

is doing something phenomenally stupid.

Just as the cold of between enveloped D’gan, he felt Kaloth give another shuddering cough.
Not long now, he told his dragon. Kaloth coughed again. D’gan began to think that perhaps he would keep Kaloth back on the next Fall Let D’nal or L’rat lead–it would do them good.
Kaloth coughed again. A chill ran down D’gan’s spine, colder than the cold of between.
Between only lasts as long as it takes to cough three times, D’gan recalled.
Kaloth had coughed three times.
Kaloth coughed again–and in that instant, D’gan realized his error.
All the dragons of Telgar Weyr had gone beyond between.
The Weyrs! They must be warned! D’gan thought in terror as the last of his consciousness slipped away.
[…D’lin catches the warning form his father…]
Come on, Aseth, between! And with that, overwhelmed by despair, hopelessness, and pure courage, D’lin urged his dragon between
–without envisioning his destination.
Two thousand Turns later, their bodies would be discovered, entombed in solid rock at Benden Weyr.

D’gan causes the death of the fighting strength of his Weyr because his pride wouldn’t let him sit back and let someone else lead. Because he wouldn’t listen to the sensible advice around him. Because he bullied and fought and refused to step down, and nobody could or would replace or depose him. Mass telefrag, just as feared.

And there’s an extra fuck-you to D’lin, because the rider entombed in rock is just a piece of lore that didn’t necessarily need to be answered, and it’s a further indictment of how dangerous and without safeties these dragons are envisioned. In grief and terror, you’re telling me that D’lin couldn’t visualize somewhere safe over Benden, or some part of the place that would give his dragon a place to appear, but instead just said “To Benden!” and the dragon chose a random point in space-time to appear out of, not knowing if it was safe or not? That doesn’t make sense to me, especially if drilling on waypoints is something that Weyrlings do to the point where they’re supposed to be able to envision them by reflex.

All of this sets up the condition in Wind Blossom’s song. Caranth heads out to try and find the missing Weyr, and Lorana tries hard to pull him back and anchor him to this plane, but she needs the strength and ability of all the other dragons of Pern to do it, and to search for the missing Weyr.

High Reaches is odd to Lorana – not enough dragons, and they echo weird, but she’s looking for more important things. Lorana doesn’t find Telgar with the massed power of dragons, but she does find someone else — Garth, and attached to Garth, someone who desperately wants to know how the dragons are getting sick. Lorana knows, somehow, having connected to this mind, and shouts and sends the message to the other person that the infection is transmitted by air. Which is the keyword that the sealed door needs to open. Not that Lorana is actually conscious enough to recognize this, as the effort has knocked her out totally. That’s the end of Chapter 22.

Parasite: A life-form inimical to its host, often killing the host to ensure its survival.

(College, First Interval, AL 58)

The chapter starts with Tieran wondering exactly how they’re going to pull off this paradox, before a thunderclap interrupts them. Which sets Tieran in motion to check on Wind Blossom, because Kassa said the weather was going to be clear, and Kassa’s never wrong about the weather. They find Wind Blossom in time her her to shout “Air” as well, and hear her explain the connection she forged with the powerful girl from the future. Emorra promises to write a song so the future knows that Wind Blossom has a question about this they need to answer. And then Wind Blossom expires, feeling triumphant that she’s managed to free her bloodline from the Eridani edicts.

Then, without saying a word, she [Emorra] moved to her mother’s dresser, oepned the top drawer, searched quickly, and pulled out the yellow tunic. She returned to her mother’s side and gently lifted the lifeless body, deftly maneuvering it until she had exchanged the yellow tunic for the white one in which Wind Blossom had died.
“I did notice,” Emorra whispered, tears streaming down her face.

But never said anything about it, of course, because that would have been weird or improper or otherwise not okay. But at least Wind Blossom gets to be buried in the thing she wanted to be buried in? Possibly, if she’s lucky, next to Purman, who she might have loved?

The rest of the chapter is essentially Tieran and Emorra telling everyone they can do the job of instruction to the future riders, now that they know which data to load into the equipment, Seamus helping out with power genration and hooking up ways of playing back recorded instruction, and setting up the idea that they want three rooms: one for instruction, one for lab work, one with the potential cures. And also, that the last-ditch plan was to alter watch-whers so they could be turned into dragons.

It’s all that I can give you,
To save both Weyr and Hold.
It’s little I can offer you,
Who paid with dragon gold.

(Upper Crom Hold, Third Pass, 28th Day, AL 508)

Last chapter, since that’s the end of the song, and we now know everything that the song entailed has come to pass. This chapter opens with the possibility that Upper Crom will end up with no protection at all from the Thread falling, before a group bursts in from High Reaches and chars all of it in short order.

We pop back to Benden, where Lorana is awake again, shakes off any insistence that she should rest, notes the second door is open, opens the final door and realizes they discovered the rooms in the wrong order, and then discovers a microscope and some prepared specimen slides to get them used to using it. They have all the equipment needed. The problem is, people are coming back from the Fall and the adventure, and Minith is now sick with the disease. This is potentially good, if the group can convince Tullea to let them take a sample from Minith to examine, sequence, and then develop a retrovirus for. They succeed at this task, and there’s more time spent with the narrative telling us about Lorana using the sequencer to isolate likely gene targets to build against, and they breach the problem that I was just talking about — fixing now only means that the next group has to do the same thing again, and there’s no guarantees they’ll get this option. Lorana also explains the watch-wher solution was included, and that she accidentally gave Arith that cure among other possibilities when she didn’t know any better.

Tullea interrupts the proceedings, storming in and complaining about Minith’s clutch having five stillborn eggs in it, and because of that, she wants Lorana evicted immediately, calling her “dragonkiller” again, which prompts B’nik to forcibly eject Tullea from the room, “grabbing her and propelling her out of the room[…]manhandled her from the room.” There’s just one problem.

M’tal nodded sternly. Then he stopped and looked up at Kindan. “When did Minith clutch?” he asked.
“She hasn’t,” Ketan replied, his face showing obvious surprise.

The entire exchange gives Lorana the inspiration she needs to figure out that they’re going to build a parasite shield into the dragons’ genetic code, by altering either the STOP or START sequences so that any later-generation attackers have to find the keys to the kingdom all over again before they can make any headway. There’s enough material in the various vials to produce exactly one dose of the retrovirus, and the best thing for them to do is to give it to a dragon that will pass down the new genetic code to their offspring. Which means that Minith is the only candidate to receive it. Which means convincing Tullea. Who is, predictably, not having it out of a desire to protect the last queen of Benden, and because she doesn’t trust Lorana at all.

“No!” Tullea jumped up, scything toward Lorana with her nails. B’nik rose and clutched her, keeping her from striking Lorana. “No, I won’t let you! You are not Minith’s rider! Minith, go between! Now!”
No, Minith replied firmly. Tullea’s eyes widened in surprise. I am Benden’s last queen, it is my duty.
“Minith says she will do it,” Lorana calmly informed the others.
“No,” Tullea protested. She turned to B’nik, pleading, “You can’t let her. She killed her dragon and now she wants mine!”
[…Minith is going through with it anyway, as it’s their last, best hope for victory…]
“Well, do it then,” Tullea growled. After it was done, she speared Lorana with a glare. “You can talk to all the dragons, can’t you?” She didn’t wait for a resopnse. “Do you hear them die?”
“And feel them,” Lorana admitted quietly.
“Good,” Tullea replied heartlessly, storming from the room into her dragon’s quarters. “Then whatever happens to Minith, I hope it hurts you as much as anything.”

Like, those are sensible reasons not to do the thing, because the track record here so far, at least from Tullea’s perspective, doesn’t look good at all for trusting Lorana. By now, of course, we’ve spent so much time invested in the idea that Tullea’s just not to be listened to, and is otherwise just being a bitch, that we’re supposed to dismiss her out of hand. Except now that we’re finally at the point where all the preordained things have happened, the narrative can finally let the characters get clued into what they should have already known before now.

“She didn’t use to be like this. She’s as bad as those who timed it.”
M’tal’s eyes lit. “She is, isn’t she?” he said slowly. His brows furrowed in thought.
[…Time to go, boys…]
“But if I’m right, I know why Tullea’s acting this way.”

And they turn out to be right. They go back in time to High Reaches Weyr (the one that got closed off and sent the very terse reply to wait when asked by Zist), where there’s a perfectly healthy and thriving Weyr that has the necessary immunities to beat the infection, thanks to Lorana’s cure working and Minith laying several very healthy eggs. To close the time loop, however, that means that Tullea has to go back in time and convince D’vin to close High Reaches into quarantine. Which she does, and then reappears soon after she has gone, but it’s the older, wiser, and much more appreciative Tullea, who is no longer being time-twisted. She apologizes to Lorana for all the terrible things she said when she was exisitng in two places at once, and has a distribution of dragon ichor to have injected into every sick dragon so they can be cured and have their own genetics rewritten to fight off the infection.

Tullea has the brightware she stole from the classroom to give back to Lorana, as well as a case with a locket inside that has the part of Arith’s riding gear that Tieran preserved, as well as a locket that has a picture of Wind Blossom on one side and Tieran on the other, who has been drawn with Grenn, so Lorana knows that at least one of her fire-lizards survived in the past. That’s the end of Chapter 24.

And the children shall lead them.

(Benden Weyr, First Interval, AL 59)

Which is here mostly to tell us that Emorra and Tieran did more than just hook up, they had a kid, as Tieran looks for a place to hide the locket in the classroom. And to say that Lorana is one of the direct descendants of Wind Blossom, and that’s why she could find the connection to her ancestor so easily. “And have you ever known one of us to not get our way in the end?” Tieran quips as the last line of the book.

It’s done! There’s an acknowledgements section, where Todd graciously thanks his mother for allowing him to play in her sandbox, notes that she gave him a smiley face on his first outline of the story, and then proceeds to give thanks to the people that help make a story come into being, including a Doctor Natascha Latenschlauger that helped out with the genetics parts and illnesses, and an editor, Martha Trachtenberg, who helped bring “Wind Blossom’s Song” into a better form with her songwriting knowledge.

This was certainly…something as a story. The time travel plot seems a bit dodgy, and I wonder how the system was able to distinguish between someone making a definitive statement about the origin of the disease and someone, say, discussing air speed or air currents or getting fresh air or any other context where the word air might be uttered in the presence of the doorway to open it. Perhaps they keep the doors closed and the people out when not actively studying, but even then, while studying things, they could have said the keyword.

I am also entirely displeased with how long the narrative waited to let one of the characters have a thought that maybe, perhaps, Tullea is experiencing the effects of extended existence in two periods of time at once. The narrative suggests that it only comes to mind after people have experienced it already, but even at the beginning of the story, there are dragonriders who talk about the fact that being in that situation has effects on people. I know there are suggestions on writing that say you want to make the reader feel smarter than the characters in the narrative, but it’s a long stretch to say that nobody had an inkling of checking to see if Tullea’s sudden behavior change had external origins. Even if all the boys are being lunkheads about it, maybe Salina or someone else could discreetly check. And they finally only check in the last chapter, right before the situation itself has to happen.

This is the first effort, however, but a new author, and there’s the possibility that this was a bit on the rough side because it’s a first effort. (Or because there were quite a few fingers in the pie making sure someone didn’t stray too far outside the boundaries.) We’ll have to see if things get better in the next offering. Which starts next week.

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)

Impression:
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.

Dragonsblood: A Clue Would Be Nice Right About Now

Last time, our Second Pass team discovered a present left behind by the previous generation for them. They don’t have an actual clue how to use it, though, and Tullea’s increasingly paranoid behavior is getting in the way of making actual progress. This didn’t stop Lorana from attempting to cure her dragon with what was left behind. Unfortunately, all it appeared to do was accelerate the sickness, and Arith popped out of Lorana’s reach, leaving her devastated and unconscious.

The dragonriders of the Second Pass are running out of dragons.

Dragonsblood: Chapters 17, 18, and 19: Content Notes: Standing on triggers

(College, First Interval, AL 58)

Any Eridani Adept willing to change an ecosystem must commit her bloodline to maintaining that ecosystem eternally.
–Edicts of the Eridani, XXIVth Council

Cocowhat by depizan

Sorry, no, firm believer in individual choice here. Those descendants get the option as to whether or not to continue the family line and the family business. Which I think is what Wind Blossom is trying to engineer, given that Kitti Ping and Ted Tubberman and their first-generation descendants, save herself, are dead. It just doesn’t make much sense to get rid of everything that could monitor the dragons, as well as the knowledge of how they work, unless you believe that the genetic program that created dragons is basically flawless and won’t ever run into any issues down the line as evolution does its slow and steady movement toward finding vulnerabilities in your program. Or that those problems will be your descendants’ issues and you don’t have to care about that because you’ll be dead and gone by that point.

Wind Blossom is having trouble getting to sleep as the chapter opens, and the arrival of Arith from the future doesn’t help any. Instead, she’s up and directing everyone to dissolve the dragon’s corpse in acid to kill the infection still living on it. Tieran salvages some of the riding gear, so they can identify her, although he sinks the material and his hand into a vat of acid to make sure it’s purified.

While the sterilization is ongoing, Wind Blossom is trying to understand how she knew to go outside, and how she knew when the fire lizards were arriving, and this mysterious connection she seems to feel to someone else, but the situation on the ground moves her mind on from such extrasensory musings to wondering why seeing the dragon the way it was had significance to her mind, but she can’t quite put her hands on it.

Emorra calls her to breakfast, Tieran offers to stay behind and supervise the construction of Arith’s grave, and Wind Blossom goes on. It’s a short foreshadow chapter.

Thread scores
Dragons scream.
Thread burns
Freeze between.

That doesn’t scan right, to me. Too many syllables? Or perhaps the /i/ sounds are too close to each other in the last line?

(Benden Weyr, Third Pass, 12th Day, AL 508)

Losing her dragon has not been kind to Lorana. Kindan has been sitting vigil with her for a couple of days, but Lorana isn’t interested in anything. Salina evicts Kindan on the reality that he also needs sleep and rest and goes in with M’tal to keep watch on Lorana.

Turns out that Lorana can not just hear all dragons, she can block them all from talking to her as well. When K’tan arrives to check in on Lorana, he asks Salina what made her keep going after Breth died.

M’tal gripped Salina’s hand tightly. The ex-Weyrwoman’s eyes shimmered with tears, which she wiped away hastily before explaining, “I couldn’t go. I was needed.”
M’tal circled behind her and hugged her tightly against him. K’tan nodded, uneasy in the presence of their intense emotions.
“Then let’s hope Lorana feels as needed,” he said softly. He looked up at Salina, his lips showing the hint of a smile. “I’m glad you decided to stay–it d have been much harder without you.”
M’tal felt Salina stiffen in his arms and, through years of intimacy, correctly interpreted her gratitude at the healer’s words. The ex-Weyrleader eyed the healer, however, with the eyes of a leader of dragonmen.

K’tan, you’re standing on a big trigger of Salina’s. In the most charitable interpretation, you don’t know you’re doing it, but that discomfort at intense emotion is a warning sign.

Also, I am not having this “many years of intimacy means M’tal knows Salina freezing up is a sign of gratitude” bullshit. Like, if we knew already that everyone knows K’tan is all abut the gallows humor, this world read differently. Instead, it looks like K’tan stands on Salina’s trigger, then possibly hits on her (what’s with the slight smile?) with the idea that had she completed suicide, the boys would be much sadder if they didn’t have her as eye candy to look at. Salina freezing up makes sense, if she thinks she’s in danger and she’s already in a bad headspace, but as best I can tell, there’s no gratitude in any of her body language, and M’tal is behaving protectively toward her in this line of questioning. Like, K’tan getting thrown out on his ass and M’tal and Salina sharing a cry would be what I would expect. It’s like the author (or a beta reader) looked at the passage and said, “Dude, no, not cool.” and the response was “I’ll just put something in here about how she’s secretly pleased and grateful, and my Hero can intuit this, so it’s less creepy and wrong because I say so.”

Having been dismissed to get some rest himself, K’tan happens upon Kindan, singing the strange song he saw in the Archives. Kindan has a breakthrough and remembers the last of his verse, proving the whole song is essentially “There’s a password on the vault in Benden. Say it, and the way will open.”

Not that Kindan understands, and a drum message coming in distracts him.

Kindan smiled at him. “And the watch-whers fought the fall,” he said, taking delight in the way the healer’s eyes grew wide with astonishment.
“Nuella led them,” Kindan went on cheerfully. “Looks like Wind Blossom’s creatures have more of a purpose–“

Which unlocks the title of the song in Kindan’s memory: “Wind Blossom’s Song.” (Not exactly inventive or creative on the title part, even if the music part is definitely that way for it to have stuck around long enough to be rediscovered.)

I’m also still…marveling a a good word to use, about how the fact that watch-whers can fight Thread at night has been forgotten and needs rediscovery. If Thread is the end-all destroyer of lives and livelihoods, as we are about to find out, then it should be seared into the cultural memory who can fight Thread and when. Especially when they can fight in the time that’s not good for dragons because of visibility issues. We shouldn’t have to deal with an understaffed Fort Weyr and Hold reckoning with the consequences of burrows that includes setting fire to old-growth (forty year-old) forests and thinking about the fallout of the subsequent erosion and the unemployment of the loggers and developers of that forest. A good Hold would have a fleet of wherhandlers on standby to deploy for night Falls.

Then again, it’s been suggested plausibly that the Pern colony ship is more of a B ark than anything expected to succeed, and perhaps this is showing through for the convenience of the narrative to have other dragon-related plots.

Right before this serious talk, Tullea has a heart-to-heart with Lorana that strongly suggests she’s having strong emotions of her own in relation to Lorana and Arith. Of the “stages of guilt” variety.

“I said get out!” Tullea shouted for the third time at Tilara. “I’ll call you when you’re needed.”
With a worried look toward Lorana, Tilara retreated from Tullea’s anger.
“It’s not like she needs a whole guard,” Tullea muttered to herself as she heard Tilara’s feet hasten down the corridor. “Probably going to tell Mikkala. Well, let her. I’m the Weyrwoman. Not even Salina can criticize me.”
She looked down at Lorana, lying on her back, motionless, in her bed.
“I tried to keep you away,” Tullea said, almost apologetically. “But you had to do it your way. Wouldn’t tell anyone. The first we hear is you and your dragon shrieking in the middle of the night.”
Her voice rose as her anger grew. “You didn’t deserve that dragon, you know? You were so sure, so certain so willing to risk everything. You deserved to lose her, do you hear? You deserved it!” Tullea realized she was shouting at the top of her lungs into Lorana’s ear and pulled back, both appalled at her own behavior and amazed by Lorana’s unresponsiveness.
“You can’t die,” Tullea said. “Salina was with her Breth for ten times more Turns than you had months with your dragon and she didn’t die.
“You can’t die. You’re not allowed, do you hear me? It wouldn’t be right. You’re not allowed, you’re not…”
Tullea found herself on her knees at Lorana’s bedside, cradling the woman’s head in her arms, her tears falling onto Lorana’s hair like rain.
Please don’t die,” Tullea whispered, begging. “Please.

I mean, it’s nice to give the reader evidence that Tullea does care, but it’s happening out of sight of everyone else. If they observed this, maybe they might come more swiftly to the conclusion that Tullea is twin-timing and work to remedy it?

After this outburst is the Fall over Fort where burrows happen and forests have to be burnt to ash to kill the Thread and stop it from burrowing. K’lion is upset that they don’t have enough time to do anything, and then remembers that dragons can time-travel. So he hatches a plan to send the Weyrlings and the injured back in time so they can train and grow up and pop back ready to fight the next Fall with numbers.

Before we hear much more about the plan, we shift to K’tan seeking Salina’s advice about what it’s like to lose your dragon, because he knows he’s running on false hope. And he does cry at the impending loss of his dragon, because losing your minbonded friend is traumatic, no matter the toxic culture that demands he regain his control after he leaves Salina’s presence. After relieving Tullea and making sure she didn’t hurt Lorana, his dragon takes the one-way leap to hyperspace, which hurts K’tan entirely, but also brings Lorana back to consciousness. Between themselves, they swear to stop the illness. And there is Chapter 18.

Symbiont: A life-form that lives in harmony with its host, often performing valuable functions for the host, e.g.: E. coli in the human gut.

(College, First Interval, AL 58)

The College is in quarantine for dragons, so M’hall has to set his dragon down a ways away and approach on foot. Tieran explains to M’hall (skeptical that a dragon of that size was that young and also a queen) that Arith is about the right size for development at the thirtieth generation, confirming she’s also from a future where the illness got to the dragons. Additionally, the piece of harness Tieran preserved had Benden’s mark and the same animal healer mark Grenn had on his harness. At the hastily-called assembly of the Lords and Weyrleaders, Emorra tells them all it’s a dragon from the future, shocking the Lords that didn’t know time travel was possible and introducing the paradox that needs resolving: Since Arith shows signs of genetic manipulation, there has to be a way for that knowledge to persist into the future. Wind Blossom says she would likely die from the shock of being thrown into the future, and says there’s no other person that could probably successfully defeat the illness than her, which neither Tieran nor Emorra object to. It’s not likely the knowledge will pass down through the generations, given how few people know about it now, so to resolve the paradox, the College has to figure out how to get their knowledge and equipment to survive until the time it is needed. They resolve to do just that, and the chapter ends.

So now we are on track to likely cause a paradox in the future so as to resolve the problem of draconic illness. Of course, they could have also figured out a way to clearly communicate that Tubberman and Purman’s grubs were beneficial to the planet, so that they had time to spread everywhere in the Interval and all the people have to do is go inside during Fall, but then we don’t get dragons throwing flames in the sky.

I am again reminded of the message that states, simply, DO NOT MESS WITH TIME TRAVEL. But it’s a staple of Pern by now, and so we probably shouldn’t try to map out the continuity and figure out which of the many possible timeliness is the one that we are actually on.

More on constructing the methods of paradox next week.