1636 The Kremlin Games – Snippet 39
“Death and taxes,” Bernie muttered as he fell into the chair. “I’d really prefer a visit from the tax man.” It was April 15 and Bernie was in the Kremlin. Not because he was really needed but because he was the up-timer and the Muscovites believed that his presence was a shield against the slow fever. Typhoid, that was, in up-timer English. So he went through the hospices where the people who had gotten typhoid fever this spring were being treated with down-time made Gatorade. At least this year they had real instructions on how to make the stuff, not just what Bernie could suck out of his thumb. And they were making their own aspirin for the fever even if they couldn’t make chloramphenicol yet.
“It really does help, Bernie,” said Father Kiril. “You up-timers even tested it and gave it a name. Not that they were telling any down-time doctor anything they didn’t already know. Or any priest, either, when you come down to it. The placebo effect, they called in your future, and you, Bernie, are a very effective placebo.”
“Yes, everything’s great,” Bernie said sourly. “Natasha, Anya, Filip the whole staff of the Dacha, the mayor of Moscow, the rich and powerful, and the poor and huddled all agree. It’s likely that this spring’s outbreak of the slow plague will kill less than a hundred people. Which is great, if you don’t happen to be one of those hundred people. Sorry, Padre. It’s just that I know that we could cure this if we had the right antibiotic and we knew how to make them up-time. We even had the knowledge in the Ring of Fire, but we haven’t been able to make it. And ‘sorry, kid, maybe next year . . . oh yeah, you’ll be dead next year’ just doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“All we can do is the best we can do,” Father Kiril said. “The Ring of Fire didn’t change that. I suspect that nothing ever will.”
Guba Ivashka Kalachnikov was very interested in the knowledge from the future. He hadn’t been last year, much to his regret. He had found the up-timer uncultured and rude to people who had practiced the healing craft for decades. It wasn’t that Guba had any profound objection to washing his hands. True, it wasn’t a lot of fun in icy water and heating water was expensive. Boiling it, as the up-timer wanted, was even more so. But he had seen the results. He had seen patients that he would have said would die, live. If the Gatorade had that effect, what about the hand-washing? Since spring of last year Guba had been trying to learn more of the up-timer knowledge so that he might determine how much of what the up-timer said was knowledge and how much ignorance.
“Quicksilver, mercury,” he whispered, “is a poison?” He wasn’t that concerned about the lead that the ladies used in their makeup. There were other things that would work as well for that. He was busily trying to integrate the things that were coming from the Ring of Fire with his experience. He had a lot of the latter; he had been a healer for over forty years.
He listened to the rest of the list. It was something called a cheat sheet and was being read to him by a clerk from the Grantville Section of the embassy bureau. The clerk was a lad of fifteen and, even though he was Guba’s social superior, worked for him doing reading and writing. He paid the boy and thanked him for the service. Guba had never bothered to learn reading and writing. At least not what most people would think of as reading and writing. He used a set of symbols that was partly inherited from his teacher and partly made up by himself to keep track of what drug, prepared in what way, was in each container.
He worked with potions to relieve pain and balance the humors. He had mixed potions for Czar Ivan when he was an apprentice. Potions that included mercury. The knowledge that his potions might have been what drove Ivan mad didn’t sit well. “Mercury causes delusions?” he repeated. “I made drugs that drove Ivan Grozny mad? Drugs without which he would not have killed his son and the Time of Troubles would not have happened?”
he thought. It’s lies. It must be.And yet . . . He could think of no reason for them to lie. At least none that made sense given the circumstances.
The shop was in Moscow and up-scale. Guba knew about drugs and acupuncture and a number of other treatments. He had a large number of very wealthy customers, and he wasn’t sure what to do. In more than one way. First, the potion for relieving the pain of swollen joints worked. He knew that; he had seen it. Mercury potions were also the only effective treatment for syphilis that he knew of. The dementia, if it was caused by the drug and not the pain, was a side effect that took multiple doses over a period of time to manifest.
Nor did he have a replacement for the drug. Not one that was nearly as effective. He understood from some of the things the boy from the Grantville Section had said that Grantville did have drugs that were effective. The little blue pills of happiness that were supposed to relieve pain and restore manhood. Another called Mary Jane. It didn’t matter; he didn’t have them and had no practical way to get them or make them.