Last chapter, there was a lot of dancing and more chemistry between Moreta and Alessan, even though they won’t ever be able to do anything about it. Oklina was charmed by a dragonrider, but everyone is trying to make sure that she doesn’t get anything more than charmed.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter IV: Content Notes: None but the Idiot Ball seems rather strong with this chapter.
The chapter opens with the Masterhealer, Capiam, awaking from an unplanned nap with a Lord Holder (Ratoshigan) breathing down his neck, asking for results of his analysis of the sickness afflicting people. Sh’gall is in attendance as well, having conveyed both Healer and Holder to their current location. Capiam relays what he knows.
Two have died of whatever it is that afflicts them,” Capiam said slowly, reluctant to utter the terrifying conclusion that he had reached before exhaustion had overcome him.
“Dead? Two? And you don’t know what ailed them?”
Out of the corner of his eye, Capiam noticed that Sh’gall had stepped back from the doorway at the mention of death. The Weyrleader was not a man who tolerated injury or illness, having managed to avoid both.
“No, I don’t know precisely what ails them. The symptoms–a fever, headache, lack of appetite, the dry hacking cough–are unusually severe and do not respond to any of the commonly effective treatments.”
[…here comes the boom…]
“These deaths are but the beginning, Lord Ratoshigan. An epidemic is loose on Pern.”
“Is that why you and Talpan had that animal killed?” Sh’gall spoke for the first time, angry surprise in his voice.
“Epidemic?” Ratoshigan waved Sh’gall to silence. “Epidemic! What are you saying, man? Just a few sick-”
“Not a few, Lord Ratoshigan.” Capiam pulled his shoulders back and leaned against the cool stucco wall behind him. “Two days ago I was urgently called to Igen Sea Hold. Forty were dead, including three of the sailors who had rescued that animal from the sea. Far better that they had left it on its tree trunk!”
Ah, now there’s a plot forming for all of us to see. There’s a plague, apparently brought on by the animal that the Igen Gather was to look at. Capiam explains his reasoning – the sickness is following wherever the “sea feline”, as it’s called, has been going. Ratoshigan doesn’t understand how a caged animal can transmit sickness, which suggests that Sixth Pass Pern does not have germ theory available to all…except that Capiam then refers to the illness as a virus, which suggests otherwise.
To try and arrest the situation, Capiam orders quarantine under his authority as Masterhealer. Ratoshigan protests and is shouted down by Capiam, who will be administering “empiric treatments since homeopathic remedies have proved ineffectual.”
And then asks to be taken back to his Crafthall, which is a major *headdesk* for me. Presumably, part of this diagnosis of epidemic has been looking into the vectors by which the disease travels – whether it required touch with the creature, touch with an infected, or whether there’s an airborne or waterborne component. From the description given of who has fallen ill, it doesn’t seem to be limited to touch and there’s a strong likelihood that the virus has an air transmission vector. Which means everyone who has come in contact with the creature or anyone who has contact with anyone that has encountered the creature is potentially infected. That includes you, Masterhealer, since both Weyrleader and Lord Holder in the room with you have both had direct contact. Unless you’re really sure that traveling through hyperspace nullifies the infection, if you go back, you’re potentially becoming a disease vector yourself.
As, we note, are any of the dragonriders that attended the Ista Gather and then went elsewhere, like Ruatha. So if you’re going to declare a quarantine, Masterhealer, you should be declaring it planet-wide until you are sure that you know how it spreads, and possibly until you’ve developed an effective treatment. Because nothing makes a Masterhealer happy like having to play a planet-wide game of Pandemic! with real stakes.
So, really, Masterhealer, you should be staying put right where you are and communicating with the home office by drums to find a cure, so as not to spread the disease yourself.
Incidentally, this is probably why this story has to take place in the Sixth Pass – if we were in the Ninth Pass, with dragonriders fully aware of their powers to twist through time, they might end up sending a single dragonrider, probably one infected, back in time before the discovery of the creature, grab it and move it back out to sea or otherwise prevent its discovery, then go off and live out their life dying of the disease. This would create an unstable time loop, unless the selected rider could forewarn themselves of their mission. Entirely doable, of course.
Anyway, back to the action. It appears that dragons are not affected by the illness, which is good, and neither are wherries or herdbeasts, but runnerbeasts and people are. (Also, apparently, the Healers believe that dragons and wherries are generically related to each other. Because they’re both winged creatures?) Capiam has no issues with heading back on the dragon because he assumes that Sh’gall is strong enough to resist any infection. And he does wonder if the cold of hyperspace could kill off an infection before arriving at the Harper Hall, having left instructions with Sh’gall for Moreta and the Healer, Berchar, on how to treat the plague and how long it takes to incubate.
The watchwher gives him an enthusiastic greeting, and Capiam muses on their loyalty and faithfulness, and how he and the Masterharper made sure the apprentices knew not to abuse it. The chained watchwher, that is. Because loyal animals need to be fettered and chained.
Inside the Hall, which is building an annex, the apprentices are asleep, and he doesn’t wake them, instead composing messages for the drummers to send to Holds, Halls, and Weyrs about the plague, and collapsing into bed himself, writing a Do Not Disturb message on his door before completely collapsing.
Not much action in this chapter. Although it seems at this point, everyone is really too exhausted to be of use. Perhaps with some rest, they’ll be better.