Grantville gazette V



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The Prepared Mind

Kim Mackey

Chance favors the prepared mind.

Louis Pasteur



Grantville, May 1632

When Amy Kubiak walked into the biology classroom, Lori Fleming had her head on her desk. Amy smiled. Pete Farmer had been a good biology teacher when Amy had had him in high school. But now that she was working to become a teacher herself, she knew that she would have had trouble if Pete was her colleague. He had been so patronizing to his female students, unlike Greg Ferrara. Lori, on the other hand, wasn't patronizing at all, and her experience in the USDA helped her make her biology lessons more connected to reality, unlike Pete's mania for microbiology.

"Lori, you okay?"

Lori raised her head slowly. "I'm fine. Just another long meeting last night with the Ag group. I swear, men say that women are the gossipers, but you get J.D. and Gordon and Willie Ray together . . ."

Amy laughed. "I was wondering why Alexandra was looking so bushed. When did the meeting finally break up?"

"Midnight. Again." Lori grimaced. "But at least I have tonight free. Once we get Tony's little job done."

Amy grimaced herself. "Nice how we got 'volunteered' for it. Ever notice when cleaning work needs to get done that Tony always seems to find other things he has to do?"

Lori got up from her desk and stretched. "I noticed. I just wish he was less of a bureaucrat and more of a leader. He may be head of the science department, but that doesn't mean he can't, or shouldn't, get his hands dirty along with the rest of us."

"Speaking of hands, he better start keeping them to himself in the future. I like teaching, especially chemistry, but now that I've got other options . . ."

Lori tilted her head quizzically. "Other options?"

Amy nodded. "My roommate, Nicki Jo, has been hired by Colette Modi to get the ball rolling on a chemical company that will be set up in Essen. She's cutting back to half-time at the methanol plant so she can spend more time with the chem team doing research. She said if I ever need work, she could use me in a heartbeat. And now that the Modis are flush with cash from Louis de Geer, it would pay pretty well."

Amy paused and smiled at Lori. "We're procrastinating, aren't we?"

Lori laughed. "Yeah, we might as well bite the bullet and get it done. Onward!"

Together the two women left the classroom and headed down the hall.

 

"Oh God!"



Amy laughed as she pulled on her latex gloves. "That bad?"

Lori looked into the open door of the science department's refrigerator and shuddered. "Worse than bad. Horrid. Smelly. And there are . . . things growing on the walls!"

Amy looked around the corner of the refrigerator door and shook her head. "Want me to go get some sulfuric acid? Or a flame thrower?"

"No, I think the hot water and bleach will do. But this looks like it's going to take awhile. You still up for it? It's my responsibility, according to Tony."

"Yeah, well, too bad he didn't tell you that last fall. Or that it was stuffed with Pete Farmer's bacteria and fungi supplies. You could have used them."

Lori shook her head. "Probably not. This first year I was just happy to stay a chapter ahead of the kids in the textbook. I was too scared to try any labs beyond some basics with plants and animals. Not to mention I had no time outside of school to think about labs what with all the extra work helping with the agricultural stuff."

She sighed. "Well, let's get started. If we find anything we want, we can put it in the cooler to stay fresh."

It was fifteen minutes later when they found the paper bag labeled "Kwik-Stiks."

"Kwik-Stiks?" Amy asked, opening the bag. "What are Kwik-Stiks?"

"I don't know," Lori said. "Cultures of some kind? Let me see."

Amy pulled several silver packages from the paper bag along with a product sheet that she handed to Lori. Lori nodded as she read the sheet. She pointed to the first few lines.

"See? I was right. 'Lyophilized reference stock cultures.' "

"Lyophilized?" asked Amy.

"Freeze-dried, essentially. Keeps microorganisms in good condition for awhile. So what have we got?"

"This one sounds interesting. Clostridium sporogenes. Putrid odor. Yummy."

Lori took the package, marked "Microbiologics" on the label, and looked more closely. "Yeah, but notice the expiration date. October 2000. Which would have been last October. Way out of date. Anything else?"

Amy rummaged through the paper bag and pulled out another Kwik-Stik. "How about this one? Penicillium roqueforti. Even more yummy. Roquefort cheese organism. And can't we use this to get penicillin?"

Lori shook her head. "No, you need a particular strain of penicillium, not just any strain. I forget the exact species. As I recall, Alexander Fleming, the guy who discovered penicillin, had his cultures contaminated by accident. Besides, this one has an October 2000 expiration date as well."

While Lori had been talking Amy had been rummaging in the bag and she pulled out the next package in triumph. "Bingo! expiration June 2001!"

"Penicillium italicum, causes blue mold of citrus fruits." Lori smiled. "Closer, but still not the right one."

With a flourish Amy pulled another package from the bag. "Next to last one. Ring a bell?"

"Penicillium notatum. High yield. Expiration March 2001. A little out of date, but it still might be viable. Expiration dates are generally conservative. This is the stuff we want."

"Cool!" Amy said. Moving quickly the two women searched through the remaining paper bags in the refrigerator. Most of the Kwik-Stiks they found were far out of date or of organisms that didn't seem important. Only three were Penicillium notatum, two labeled "low yield," with expiration dates of June 2001, and the one labeled "high yield." They transferred the penicillium Kwik-Stiks to the cooler while they finished cleaning the refrigerator, then transferred them back.

"So what should we do with the Kwik-Stiks?" Amy asked.

Lori shrugged. "I'm not sure. I do know that the chem team took some stuff last fall, so they may already have some penicillium cultured up. Ask Nicki Jo tonight when you see her. If they can use them, I bet Len Trout would be happy to give them up. And they probably won't be viable for much longer."

 

That night at the Modi house Amy told her boyfriend, Franz Dubois, and Nicki Jo Prickett about the Kwik-Stiks.



"Penicillium notatum? Oh yeah, the chem team already has some of that cultured." Nicki Jo said. "But it's good to have more. Given the expiration date, I bet the school district will let us have it for free. Use it or lose it, and it's probably too close to the end of the current classes to use it in a high school lab experiment."

Franz Dubois looked puzzled. A second cousin of Colette Modi, he had arrived in Grantville in December 1631 from Hanau near Frankfurt. Always fascinated by chemistry, he had found himself spending many hours talking with Amy Kubiak. Within a month he had discovered that he was fascinated with Amy Kubiak as well.

"Penicillium notatum? Used to produce penicillin?"

Nicki Jo nodded. "Yup. But penicillin isn't really that much of a priority right now. We're in the seventeenth century, not the early twentieth. We need stuff that is going to prevent or cure the major epidemic-type diseases we might see, like typhus, bubonic plague and smallpox. That's why the chem team is concentrating on things like DDT and chloramphenicol and the medical people are working on smallpox vaccinations. Oh, we'll be making some other antibiotics, mainly the sulfalike drugs, which aren't that difficult if you have the ingredients. Sulfanilamide is even in one of my organic chem books. But synthesizing pure penicillin in sufficient quantities is pretty difficult, according to the sources we have. That'll have to wait a few years. In the meantime, we're sending out cultures of Pencillium notatum, along with instructions, to various hospitals and universities around Germany as we get visitors headed in the right direction."

"But if we can't really make penicillin right now, what good is it to send out the cultures?" Amy asked.

"I think the rationale is not to have all your eggs in just the Grantville basket," Nicki Jo said. "If something happens to us, the people in charge wanted to make sure there are plenty of the right penicillium species available for the day when someone can manufacture it. It probably took a decade of intense effort up-time to mutate the original Fleming strain into even the lower yielding strains we have cultured right now."

Amy looked over at Franz. "What about those two men from Cologne you're translating for? Aren't they physicians or something?"

"No," Franz said. "One, Gerhard Eichhorn, is a surgeon, and the other, Matthias Wagener, is the praeceptor of a hospitaller order in Cologne, the Antonites. They're leaving for home next week though."

"What's a praeceptor?" Amy asked.

"Essentially just the head monk," Franz said. "But with responsibility for overseeing all the hospitals the order administers in Cologne and interacting with the city council to ensure things run smoothly."

Nicki Jo nodded. "Well, check with them to see if they'd like some of the penicillium. The Kwik-Stiks would be more convenient to transport than the actual cultures. I'll check with Greg to get the okay and he can arrange for permission from Len Trout."

 

Matthias Wagener turned one last time to look back at Grantville before urging his horse into a canter to catch up with Gerhard Eichhorn.



"An interesting six weeks, wouldn't you say, my friend?" Matthias said when his horse came level with Gerhard's.

Gerhard snorted. "You've always had a gift for understatement, Matthias. Do you finally believe they are really from the future?"

Matthias shrugged. "Of course. Or from some future. But the philosophical questions are the most fascinating. Why did God decide to send them here? And why now?"

Gerhard smiled. "So you don't subscribe to the opinion of some of the Protestants we met? That God sent Grantville back in time to punish Catholics for Tilly's sack of Magdeburg? The timing would certainly indicate a correlation of some kind."

Matthias waved his hand in dismissal. "Highly unlikely, Gerhard, in my opinion. God is not so petty. If anything, God sent them back for the children. Think of how many children will be saved now that we know more about disease and the reasons for early mortality."

Matthias shook his head. "And not just children. Now that we know about the importance of sanitation, we can focus on building better sewage systems."

"Well, I will help when I can. But your position as praeceptor of the Antonites should be sufficient to enlist the city council behind the changes that need to take place."

"Easier said than done, my friend." Matthias shook his head again. "Too many will resist the changes because the Americans are starting to ally themselves with Gustavus Adolphus. Others because they will see no economic benefit, just expense. Still others will say it is good that so many children die young, rather than to grow up into misery and pain and starve to death.

"As for you, Gerhard," Matthias continued, "I would be very careful if I were you with the knowledge you've gained in Grantville. Franz Wilwartz is always looking for ways to make your life more miserable."

Gerhard grimaced. It was true. Franz Wilwartz, like many barber-surgeons in Cologne, was more barber than surgeon. He had always been jealous of Gerhard's skill in treating wounds and other ailments. Twice in the past five years he had threatened to file a complaint against Gerhard with the Beleidmeister about not following guild regulations. And now that his daughter had married one of the more prominent physicians in Cologne . . . 

"Oh, I'll be careful, Matthias. I just hope I can convince the guild of the need to change some of their regulations. I'll need your help in that, of course."

"You'll have it, Gerhard." Matthias said. "So what did you do with the Penicillium notatum the Americans gave you?"

Gerhard turned and slapped the box tied to his saddle. "On ice, as the Americans would say. Hopefully I can keep it relatively cool until we can get back to Cologne. And yours?"

Matthias smiled. "Given the fact that the package was already out of date, I decided it was important to get it back to Cologne as soon as possible, so I hired a special courier. Gysbert should have it in four days, at the most, God willing."

"Gysbert Schotten? The herbalist?"

Matthias nodded and smiled again. "The greenest thumb in Cologne. If anyone can get the mold to grow, he can. I just wish I could see his face when the package arrives."

 




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