Last time, Fort Weyr flew Thread, Moreta stitched up a dragon, Sh’gall continued to panic about infection, riders at infected Weyrs died, and Moreta fell victim to the plague herself.
Moreta, Dragonlady of Pern: Chapter IX: Content Notes: Depression, despair
This, too, is a double-length chapter, so we’ll see whether this one is worth the length.
Chapter IX returns to Capiam, who is in day three of the infection, and prefers the fever dreams to walking reality at this point. Something keeps him awake, though, and he realizes that it’s time for another medicine dose.
Something impinged on his semiconsciousness and forced him awake. Something he had to do? Yes, something he had to do. He blinked bleary, crusted eyes until he could focus on the timepiece. Nine of the clock. “Oh, it’s me. Time for my medicine.”
A healer couldn’t even be sick without responding to his professional habits.
Wait. Timepiece? “Of the clock?” I think this is the first mention of any sort of timekeeping device that is not the sun of Pern or its moon and stars. And certainly the first one that measures divisions of a day. How does Pern measure its time divisions with regard to day and night? Is this supposed to have been an inheritance that we don’t question, despite weeks and years having been renamed? What kind of timepiece are we talking about here? A sundial, marked candles, some sort of clockwork contraption? How big is it? What is it made of? And where is it? Is he looking out a window at a shared large clock, or at a small mantelpiece object? What sort of technological progress are we talking about here?
We’ll never know, as Capiam reaches for his symptom journal to record his progress, interrupted several times by a racking cough that’s his current torment, even as the fever, headache, body pain, and racing pulse are starting to subside. As he writes and reflects on how being ill is encouraging sympathy for the ill, the drums rattle through the news of the dead dragonriders, which Desdra fills him in on, before depositing a mug of cough syrup in his room and quickly exiting, surprising Capiam with her anticipation. As it turns out, according to the observations of the sickness, Capiam should start recovering the next day. The Records search hasn’t turned up anything like this, and so the Healers are still without precedent to rely on. Before the action leaves him, Capiam curses the curiosity that brought this disease to all of them.
We then leave to a meeting on a butte in Keroon the next day of the Weyrleaders, with S’peren standing in for Sh’gall, who is apparently sick from the plague as well as Moreta. The meeting is about figuring a plan for flying Thread even with sick riders and Holds with infections. The High Reaches Weyrleader, S’ligar, proposes that all healthy wings will scramble to wherever Thread is, regardless of where they come from, with the requisite promotions that will entail, and that the queens will take care of the ground and the low-altitude cleanup, possibly assisted by weyrlings on the ground. This works for all present.
Orlith’s eggs are discussed, and the other Weyrs agree to send up enough candidates from their own to make sure all the dragons Impress. And finally, the Weyrleaders agree that the South should be interdicted over risk of further infections, rather than explored as had been planned for the end of the Sixth Pass. Business concluded, the Weyrleaders depart.
So we go back to Capiam at the Healer Hall, who is wishing for a different outcome than the one he has now, and for help from the Records of the Ancients, where there are boasts about having eliminated the diseases that plagued the Ancients, and we get a listing of the animals that were brought over in the Crossing.
[…]the equine from which runners originated; the bovine for the herdbeasts; the ovine, smaller, herdbeasts; the canine; and a smaller variety of the dratted feline plague carrier. The creatures had been brought, in ova (or so the Record put it) from the Ancients’ planet of origin which was not the planet Pern, or why had that one point been made so specifically and repeated so often?[…]Couldn’t the Ancients have stopped bragging about their achievements long enough to state how they had eradicated plague and pandemic? Their success was meaningless without the process.
This is, regrettably, a failure of documentation. The Ancients probably expected to not need such things, or, for that matter, to have to run away from an angry volcano, but it is for these reasons (and other related disasters) that one should always document all things that might be important to the next person or generation that has to deal with something. It’s a convenient hand-wave that this data isn’t available, though, as I would assume the medical professionals of the era would still be taking notes about infections and other possible diseases in their area anyway, and that leaving clues behind that talk about things like viruses and vaccines might help someone else piece together what happened.
Capiam otherwise suffers the physical ailments and company of his own mind without audible commentary, holding up hope that K’lon was proving the plague could be survived, and assuming that he will do the same. He is starved for company, such that he even hopes for Desdra to be there just so that he doesn’t have to suffer alone. And the lack of company and the length of illness has his thoughts heading to darker places:
Capiam viewed, yet again, that he would have way more tolerance for the ill when he recovered. When! When! Not if. If was defeatist. How had the many thousands of patients he tended to over his Turns as a healer endured those hours of unrelieved thought and self-examination? Capiam sighed, tears forming at the corners of his eyes: a further manifestation of his terrible inertia. When – yes, when – would he have the strength to resume constructive thought and research?
There had to be an answer, a solution, a cure, a therapy, a restorative, a remedy! Something existed somewhere. If the Ancients had been able to cross unimaginable distances, to breed animals from a frozen stew, to create dragons from the template of the legendary fire-lizards, they surely would have been able to overcome bacterium or virus that threatened themselves and those beasts. It could only be a matter of time, Capiam assured his weary self, before those references were discovered.
it certainly doesn’t take sickness to get into this mode, but sickness can do awful things with your head.
A new message requesting more medicine spins Capiam into a new worry about supplies before Desdra arrives to calm those fears and give Capiam soup and gossip, which mostly centers on Tolocamp, Fort Weyr, and Ruatha. There’s also a threat to send Nerilka to nurse Capiam, which I only mention here because the next book is supposed to be her story, and that she’s a daughter of Tolocamp’s.
Switch back to Fort Weyr, now with Leri in charge again, with S’peren as her partner during the sickness. They’re consulting lists of riders that could be scrambled, and Leri is telling S’peren that Moreta and Orlith have an excellent bond, one worth showing more than they do. K’lon arrives to tell them of Capiam’s recovery, marked by his verbal cursing, as well as Capiam’s theory that the deaths are not due to the plague, but to infections that follow in on a weakened immune system. If the Lords Holder could separate everyone out enough and keep them all warm, the plague wouldn’t be as virulent or deadly.
Those of us who are students of Terran history nod, because many of our outbreaks become epidemics because of the enforced proximity of people, especially those in major metropolitan areas. It allows for the spread of disease on a faster scale.
Leri waits for K’lon to pass out from the drugs that she had S’peren put in his klah, and then sends S’peren out to spread the new knowledge and insist that nobody with even the most remote sign of a possible infection get anywhere near the plague quarantined.
I wonder why we’re getting this new information secondhand, instead of through Capiam’s head. He knows it better than anyone else, and presumably, when he’s not stuck in his own depression, he could mention it to Desdra (and has, at least once, for it to come out and be delivered). It seems like it was there for an excuse to go over to Fort for a bit while the stagehands rearrange the Healer Hall set for this next scene.
A new day starts (3.15.43) at the Hall with Masterharper Tirone and Maaterhealer Capiam poring over various old records. Tirone is wearing an “uncharacteristic” scowl as we join in. After a quick discussion of how Tirone has basically managed to avoid the plague at every turn he could have caught it, we have the two men documenting what has gone on to this point.
“If I don’t get details from you, Capiam, I shall be forced to rely on hearsay and that is not a proper source for a Masterharper.”
Because they’re usually spreading it rather than reacting to it. Anyway,
“Tirone, I am not about to die. While I laud your zealous desire for a true and accurate account, I have a more pressing duty!” Capiam raised the ledger. “I may have recovered but I have to find out how to cure or so this wretched disease before it kills further thousands.”
Tirone pacifies Capiam with the knowledge that Desdra threatened him if he tired Capiam, and then goes back to badgering him about everything because nobody seems willing to talk to him. Before Capiam begins, though, an offhand comment spells out just how far things have gone.
“Talpan…now there’s the man you should be talking to when this is over.”
“That won’t be possible. Shards! Weren’t you told?” The Harper half-rose from his chair, hand outstretched in sympathy.
“I’m all right. No, I didn’t know.” Capiam closed his eyes for a moment to absorb that shock. “I suspect they thought it would depress me. It does. He was a fine man, with a quick, clever mind. Herdmaster potential.” Capiam heard another swift intake of breath from Tirone and opened his eyes. “Masterherdsman Trume as well?” And when Tirone nodded confirmation, Capiam steeled himself. So that was why Tirone has been allowed to see him: to break the news. “I think you’d better tell me the rest of the bad news that neither Desdra nor Fortine voiced. It won’t hurt half as much now. I’m numb.”
[…Tirone describes the casualties, including the fact that many of the healers who tried to fight the disease have succumbed to it…]
“They brought honor to your hall.”
Capiam’s heart thumped slowly in his anguish. All dead? Mibbut, gentle Kylos, the earthy Loreana, earnest Rapal, the bone-setter Seel, Galnish? All of them? Could it really be only seven days ago that he had first had word of the dreadful sickness? And those he had attended at Keroon and Igen already sick to their deaths with it? Though he was now positive that the plague itself didn’t kill, the living had to face another sort of death, the death of hopes and friendships and what might have been in the futures of those whose lives were abruptly ended. And so near to the promise and freedom of an Interval! Capiam felt tears sliding down his cheeks but they eased the tight constriction in his chest. He let them flow, breathing slowly in and out until his emotions were in hand again. He couldn’t think emotionally, he must think professionally.
And you know what would help right now? A friend. A person for whom Capiam can grieve with and nobody will pass judgment. Because this part where he thinks he needs to be professional instead of emotional?
Grief is not avoidable. It can be put off for a time, perhaps, but it does not simply go away by being ignored. Big grief, like the radical restructuring of the world that will happen at the end of the pandemic, will not simply disappear. And while I can say that Capiam needs a therapist, we have already established that there are none on this planet. Apparently nobody has seen the need it has taken up the mantle of professional listener, even though they’re are clearly regular events happening on Pern that would and should scare the natives shitless, even if there are dragons flaming in the sky. The generations born into Thread that may not actually see an Interval are more likely, I would guess, to have problems in their lives, since the only thing they’ve known since they were young is the terror of Threadfall. To have a pandemic on top of that has to be wretched for the psyche. The whole planet needs therapists, and yet there are none. Possibly because of attitudes like this that seek to compartmentalize very real emotions like grief.
We also see the most detailed description of the “feline” to this point, after Tirone asks whether Capiam has actually seen it.
Capiam would never forget its snarling face, the white and black whiskers that sprang from its thick muzzle, the brown stains on its tusks, the nicks in its laid-back tufted ears, the dark-brown medallions of its markings that were so fancifully ringed with black and set off on the tawny, shining coat. He could remember its fierce defiance and had even then, when he’d first seen it, conceived the notion that the creature knew perfectly well that it would take revenge on the beings who had restricted it to a cage, who had stated at it in every hold and hall.
Is this supposed to be a sea lion of some sort, maybe? I know we’re not supposed to be paying attention to all of these things, but the paucity of detail about the world makes even throwaway stuff worthy of further inquiry.
Capiam details how he and Talpan both came to the conclusion that the creature was the cause of the infection, and Tirone offhandedly dismisses the Southern Continent as too threatening to life, earning him a strong rebuke from Capiam about where everything came from.
“Life and its maintenance are my province, Masterharper.” Capiam held up the ancient ledger and waggled it at Tirone. “As the creation and development of life was once the province of our ancestors. The Ancients brought with them from the Southern Continent all the animals we have here with us today, including the dragons which they generically engineered for their unique purpose.”
So, here we are again with the Sixth Pass knowing so much more than the Ninth Pass, including what genetic engineering is and how it was used. This plague can’t be the whole reason for the complete loss of knowledge in those intervening times…
“It is knowledge as well as life that is being lost all over Pern. What you should be jotting down as fast as you can push your fist is knowledge, the techniques that are dying in men’s minds and cannot be recovered.” Capiam waved the Record about, Tirone eyeing it with alarm. “As we can’t recover from all the ledgers and Records of the Ancients exactly how they performed the miracles they did. And it’s not the miracles so much as the working, the day-to-day routine which the Ancients didn’t bother to record because it was common knowledge. A common knowledge that is no longer common. That’s what we’re missing. And we may have lost a lot more of that common knowledge over the past seven days! More than we can ever replace!”
Capiam lay back, exhausted by his outburst, the Records a heavy weight on his guts. That sense of loss, the pressure of that anxiety, had been growing inside him. That morning, when the lethargy had passed, he had been disquietingly aware of the many facts, practices, and intuitions he had never written down, had never thought to elaborate on his private notes. Ordinarily he would have passed them on to his journeymen as they grasped the complexities of their craft. Some matters he had been told by his masters, which they had gleaned from their tutors or from their working experiences, but the transfer of information and its interpretation had been verbal in all too many instances, passed on to those who would need to know.
Capiam became aware that Tirone was staring at him. He had not meant to harangue; that was generally Tirone’s function.
“I could not agree with you more, Capiam,” Tirone began tentatively, pausing to clear his throat. “But people of all ranks and Crafts tend to keep some secrets which-“
Cocowhat by depizan
THIS. THIS. THIS IS (one of the many reasons) WHY PERN CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS.
Faced with the possibility that useful, important, necessary knowledge to the functioning of the world might be lost, Tirone says “But Craft Secrets…” instead of “Right you are! I’ll use my position to insist that documentation is the most important thing for everyone to engage in right now!” Because, whether a tiny project to do a small thing or the basics by which your profession is constructed, documentation is the easiest way to ensure the preservation of knowledge and ensure that someone else can replicate or modify it when new functions are needed. Capiam and Tirone are hip deep in a problem that got extra complicated because their predecessors failed to document appropriately and nobody has yet built an index of Records such that the relevant works would be easily accessible, either. If someone had taken time to document beforehand, and the Archivists had enough staff to build finding aids, then this could have gone a lot smoother and with less fatalities. Capiam is asking Tirone to help him preserve knowledge, something the Masterharper should be very interested in, whether with altruistic motives or Machiavellian ones, and that he can help accomplish due to his position as Masterharper, and Tirone balks over Craft Secrets. As the people with those secrets are potentially dying.
This line of inquiry is cut short by drum news from Igen that enough dragonriders were able to fly the Threadfall today, to Capiam’s great surprise. While Tirone is ready to wax poetic about the virtues of the dragonriders, the mention of Threadfighting in their blood rings a very distant bell in Capiam’s brain.
Blood! That’s what Tirone had said. It’s in their blood! Blood! Capiam hit his temples with the heels of his hands as of he could jolt the vagrant memory into recall. He could almost hear the creaky old voice of old Master Gallardy. Yes, he’d been preparing for his journeyman’s examinations and old Gallardy had been droning on and on about unusual and obsolescent techniques. Something to do with blood. Gallardy had been talking about the curative properties of blood–blood what? Blood serum! That was it!
Blood serum as an extreme remedy for contagious or virulent disease.
And so Capiam sets to recovering his own notes and old Records, much to Desdra’s dismay and worry about his still weakened state. Finding what he is looking for, he explains that taking blood from those that have survived, spinning it so that the serum rises to the top, and then using that serum to inoculate others is a way of getting the pandemic under control. And with a worldwide distribution network that can be called in as a favor to spread vaccine, it’s quite possible this could turn out well.
Capiam sends out Desdra to collect the things needed to draw and store blood, including syringes with stoppers, a jar, needlethorns, reeds to carry the blood, and redwort solution for sterilization, and then returns to his notes, with a long list of diseases that had been prevented by vaccination, and the calculations needed to create serum – 1.5 litres of blood produces 50 mils of serum, of which 1-10 mils are needed for the immunization. Here is also the first mention that the metric system had survived into the Sixth Pass. It’s not unusual, necessarily, that this is so, as metric is an easy system to remember and propagate, but I do wonder where the Bureau of Weights and Measures is that keeps the official definitions of what constitutes these things.
Desdra returns with the supplies, and Capiam has her draw off some of his blood (needlethorn in syringe, with reed to carry blood to jar) and then, after firmly sealing the jar and tying a rope to it, has Desdra swing it about get had to generate the necessary force to separate serum from other blood components. After explaining the need to inject the serum to Desdra, she wryly points out that Capiam has a test subject – Fortine has contacted the illness.
And that’s the end of the chapter.
I’m not very up on my immunology, but if Fortine has already contracted the disease in its full form, are we relying on the antibodies in the serum to effectively fight the disease and to teach the other antibodies how it’s done? I’d like to believe, that with as much knowledge as Capiam has about the immune system, that he has an idea of how many things could go sideways with this plan, even if it is the best plan that’s available.
Presumably, if they weren’t already eradicated from the gene pool, blood-borne pathogens would be a real issue right now. There’s nothing to suggest they’re gone, unless we’re supposed to take from the previous list of vaccinated diseases that issues that would be associated with blood were also taken care of. The plague happening now, however, suggests that even previous immunities may not be effective against new mutations that Pern had had time to develop over the many Passes that humans have been here. So there’s always the possibility that the serum could confer immunity to one disease, only to open a vulnerability to another. And, if the statement about liver and kidney disease is true, I believe several forms of hepatitis are blood-transferable.
This is clearly a desperate move on Capiam’s part, and with no microscopes or government entities to ensure a sterile supply of blood, Pern’s survival is rolling the dice that everyone who has survived so far isn’t carrying anything else, and that the procedures developed so far have adequate sterility so that the serum isn’t contaminated with something else. It’s not going to be pretty if the dice roll poorly.