A man in thick black robes had come for Louis Pasteur, his face concealed by a beaked leather mask, bearing tidings of death.
“No luck,” said Emanuel Ashbel, his voice both muffled and echoing within the plague doctor getup. “The chickens you vaccinated with McCadish’s strain are showing symptoms.” He produced two vials of blood from his coat and handed them to the doctor.
Pasteur cursed, his own voice muffled by the gauze wrap around his mouth. “I had thought McCadish’s infection would have been weakened enough to allow the body to immunize itself.” He took the samples and quickly prepared a glass slide for his trusty Chevalier microscope. “You look preposterous in that outfit, by the way,” he said as he adjusted the focus to peer into the microbial world.
“Doctor, sick people come and go from this lab all day,” said Ashbel. “I’m not taking any chances after Aimslee turned ill. If this outfit kept out the Black Plague, it’s good enough for me.” He grabbed the mask and pulled it off. “So, what’s it look like in there?”
Pasteur stood up and offered Ashbel a look. “I’ll need a more prepared slide to be certain, but I believe the McCadish strain did work … or began to. See on the right, the bacteria cluster in much smaller numbers, as if weakened. I believe that when we take a more detailed look, we will find that the bacteria that still show vigor are of a slightly different shape.”
“So, what do you think it means, Doctor?” asked Ashbel.
“We starve bacteria by keeping it where it cannot feed,” Pasteur said. “But perhaps this bacteria does not starve, but hibernates. When it finds a suitable environment again, it awakens and sets to work faster than the body can address it. If we could keep it weakened …” He trailed off, then stood up suddenly and went to the rear of the room, with the racks of sample cultures growing in agar. He carefully examined the arrayed vials, not even noticing when Lula Morgan stomped in in her own hastily assembled protective gear.
“Is this where you two have been?” she asked. “I’ve been trying to get in touch with you all day, but at this point I can’t even find a courier who isn’t sick. I’m losing money hand over fist with all this lost work.” She pulled off a glove and shook bits of dust out of it. “Find a cure for the workers, before we all go bankrupt.”
“Je travaillais déjà sur ce problème. La science médicale est plus importante que vos caprices cupides,” Pasteur muttered under his breath.
“What was that?”
“Oh, Dr. Pasteur doesn’t speak English,” Ashbel lied. “He was just asking me what you were saying.”
“Oh, all right,” said Lula. “In that case, you should tell him ‘Je sais que vous parlez Anglais, Pasteur. Votre vie va prendre une tournure déplaisante si vous continuez à gaspiller le temps et l’argent de votre mécène.’ ”