Legions Of Pestilence – Snippet 45
Of Plague and Pestilence
Once the grand duke was up and around again, Dr. Guarinonius, having made the official call that Bernhard had been suffering from a rather atypical case of the plague, went home.
From Merckweiller, Gus Szymanski, the EMT from Fulda, arrived from the oil field, at Aldringen’s request, to train the Lorraine militia in plague-fighting.
“What do you think, Gus? Kamala asked. “Guarinonius and the other Padua men call it plague, but is it? From a public health perspective, I mean?”
She looked at him sharply. In her opinion–make that a professional opinion–the sixty-year-old medic from Fulda was just about on his last legs. “Sit down, would you? Put your feet up for a few minutes.”
“Do you want a guarantee? No, we’re not a hundred percent sure that it’s bubonic plague. That is, we’re not a hundred percent sure that it’s caused by yersinia pestis. But let me assure you that it’s a nasty disease that kills a lot of people.”
“Out here, in the field, we’re focusing on preventing it, not on curing it after someone has it. Quarantine. Isolation of identified cases–I preach about not coming into direct contact with the patient’s bodily fluids until I’m hoarse. Sanitary disposal of the corpses.”
“Don’t you care about getting a certain diagnosis?”
“Sure, we send samples to the medical school at Jena, just as you did for your grand duke, but we’re not in any position to conduct on-site research. It’s some kind of epidemic pestilence, but it’s a lot more contagious person-to-person than the classical bubonic plague was supposed to be. Maybe it’s mutated into some form of pneumonic plague. I preach till I’m hoarse about not coming into contact with any droplets that the patients breathe out, and then I preach some more. Flu mutated like crazy–why not plague? It’s not smallpox–though that’s endemic, of course. It’s not typhus, either, or measles, or diphtheria. It’s what the down-timers call Pestilenz.”
“Have you heard back from Jena?”
“If we have, I haven’t had time to read the letter. You want my honest opinion?” Gus Szymanski asked.
“It really is bubonic plague. I might have to eat my words then the lab results come in, but that’s what I think. Maybe not exactly the same kind of plague that, up-time, people in the southwest picked up from prairie dogs when they went camping out in the desert, but it’s plague. Something bacterial, at any rate. If it were some kind of unidentified virus, chloram wouldn’t cure it, even in the rare instances where we manage to get a new case of infection and a medic with enough chloram to treat it in the same place at the same time.”
“But you are curing it.”
“Yeah. Some of the time. With chloram and supportive treatment, we’re only losing about fifteen percent of the people who catch it. Without those, somewhere between fifty and ninety percent die. It seems to depend a lot on whether the person has some kind of latent immunity from prior epidemics. The up-timers who get it, like Andrea Hill and Fred Pence did, or Jeffie Garand last month, come down with the most severe cases we’ve observed.”
Kamala pursed her lips. “One thing I didn’t know, until Dr. Gatterer told me. I knew about rats. You knew about prairie dogs. Did you know that cats can carry the plague, too?”
“Hell, no! Never say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you. We’ve been encouraging people to keep cats around, to try to get the rat population down. I thought that the local desire to kill off all the cats was just some kind of witchcraft superstition.”
“Dr. Gatterer has collected quite a bit of data to show that house cats are another transmission vector. He thinks it’s pretty sure that inhaling droplets from coughing cats is what starts rounds of pneumonic plague transmission. Once that gets started, it does go from person to person if you aren’t awfully careful.” Kamala sighed. “And the death rate from pneumonic is a lot higher than from straight bubonic plague. What I mean is, just about everybody who catches it that way, dies. It’s probably where you’re getting your ‘ninety percent’ fatality rates.”
“Ain’t that the truth, though.”
“Now that I think about it, Andrea Hill had a kitten. I wonder where it got to?”
The draconian anti-plague measures that Aldringen, in Claudia’s name, imposed on the population of Lorraine did not make him, her, the king in the Low Countries, or the grand duke of the County of Burgundy particularly popular with the inhabitants of the territory that they were now administering.
For the time being, wherever a person was, whoever he was, soldier or civilian, patrician or beggar, in a city, a village, a military encampment, or the countryside, a nunnery or a brothel, there he or she would stay until such time as the quarantine was removed.
At least Lorraine was, for the moment, free of moving military units that might further spread disease.
The reaction of all the above authorities to the public discontent was, ‘So be it.”
Cold weather would be coming.
“You must understand, Moscherosch,” Jesaias Rompler said, “that before I undertook the project of this epic based upon the actions of Grand Duke Bernhard and King Fernando, I made a close study of up-time models as compared to the traditional models.”
“Yes, entirely. I devoted a full half-year in Grantville, its libraries and its salons, to the study of the up-timer ‘superheros.’ I have studied the various media in which they appeared–the comics, the movies, everything that the town’s resources had. I felt a need, an impelling need, to comprehend to what degree the underlying assumptions of what makes an individual ‘heroic’ might be in that culture.”
“To some degree. The up-time world had not abandoned the custom of maintaining and modernizing the classical models. I was, upon one occasion, invited by Frau Piazza, the wife of the SoTF president, to a private screening of a movie called ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum?’ It was in essence, as she herself pointed out in her introductory words, a combination of several different Roman comedies by Plautus, particularly as indicated by the character of Miles Gloriosus. She expressed her regrets that the intervention of the Ring of Fire caused her to miss her chance to see another of these movies that had been announced as forthcoming, a remake of Homer’s Odyssey set in up-time America. It had been publicized as using the music of one of her own favorite musicians, one Ralph Stanley. She played a recording of some of this Stanley’s music; he used an instrument called a banjo, which I understand is becoming quite popular now. Several of our own composers are producing music for it.”
“I suppose there is some moderate comfort to be derived from that knowledge.”
“They also re-used other traditions–those of the Arthurian cycle, for example. There is a book in the Grantville library titled The Once and Future King and also another of these musicals, called ‘Camelot.’ based on that novel. However, at the most fundamental level, the characteristics which the up-time authors provided for a ‘superhero’ were…”