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Fire-lizards and Impression

The survival instinct of fire-lizards is both strong and unscrupulous. Having devoured all food resources within its egg, a newborn fire-lizard hatches ravenous and driven by a single imperative: to eat. It will devour the first and closest food it can find, up to and including its siblings if nothing else is available.

Under ideal circumstances the hatching of a clutch of fire-lizard eggs is closely attended by the fair of the laying queen. The adult fire-lizards build a defensive barricade around the eggs as protection from predators and bring food for their young to consume. This ritual of offering and consumption triggers fire-lizard Impression. The young Impress to their elders, bonding them to the fair. As a communal species, the fire-lizards find both safety and prosperity in numbers. Impression, therefore, is an important way of enhancing the strength, population, cohesion, and ultimately the survival of the fair.

Where a hatching occurs without the protection and provision of adults, the infant fire-lizards’ vulnerability increases enormously. The imperative to eat remains, and becomes more critical than ever with the risk of attack by predators. In a brutally pragmatic solution to the necessity of surviving those first perilous minutes and hours of life, the fire-lizards turn cannibal. Only the strongest can survive this harsh exercise in natural selection, and these are likely to be the larger colours – the queens and bronzes – who in turn are best equipped to survive to breeding adulthood and pass on their genes to future generations. Without the support system provided by Impression within an established fair, however, these fine young cannibals have a significantly reduced chance of making it to adulthood.

By offering food to newborn fire-lizards, Sean and Sorka unknowingly fulfil the role of the adult fair and trigger the Impression instinct in their bronze and brown hatchlings – so powerful a survival instinct that the newborns don’t even distinguish between members of their own species and that of a wholly alien one. Later, fire-lizards hatched far from their home fairs Impress without scruple to humans. But should the Impression bond become disadvantageous or abusive, fire-lizards are free to break it. Many fire-lizards rejected the move North after the original abandonment of the Southern Continent in the early years of Pern’s colonisation, and Meron’s fire-lizards left him when he tried to force them to go to the Red Star. To fire-lizards, Impression is a preferred state, not a required one. But when Kitti Ping came to create the dragons, she recognised the hazard inherent in the fire-lizards’ very flexibility. The only halfway safe way to unleash a super-predator on Pern was to force it to Impress to humans.

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