Terra Incognita


A Plague On Both Your Houses

by Paul Drye

Christopher Columbus was a satisfied man when his ships made anchor in the Bahamas on October 12th, 1492. While the small size of the islands suggested he was in the outlying portion of Asia, the handsome stone houses, fine horses, and odd triangular coins of the natives gave him every reason to believe he'd reached his destination. Several rounds of charades and a local guide later, he was sailing south to a long, large island he had no doubt was Cipangu.

He ended up in Cuba, not Japan, of course, but this wasn't apparent to the Great Navigator, as language barriers and preconceptions led him to believe he'd made the voyage he expected. The kingdom he'd reached was actually Hotzhetsi, but their word for "city" -- Tzemanzhu -- came up during more attempts at communication, and was sufficiently close in pronunciation to what Columbus wanted to hear. He proclaimed his discovery of Cipangu in a letter to the Ferdinand and Isabella, which he sent to Madrid along with "Cipangan" goods and a half-dozen willing natives upon his fleet's return to Palos, Spain in February.

Columbus never realized his mistake for, like several members of his crew, he died of a fever a few weeks later. It was a follow-up expedition under Martin Alonso Pinzon that discovered the greatest of the American civilizations, Eoh'medah at the mouth of the Mississippi River. After another month, one of Pinzon's ships returned to Spain with another half-dozen New Worlders, while the rest of his expedition continued their exploration of this vast, rich land. For two years, an increasing number of ships went back and forth between Europe and America, carrying men and cargo in ever greater volumes.

By the middle of 1495, it became apparent that something was wrong on both sides of the Atlantic.

Decay and Evil Days

The current year is 1519, and both Europe and America are in complete chaos. In the Homeline, the Hispanic colonization of the Americas turned the New World into a charnel house. Diseases bred in the urban environments of Europe and Asia ripped through the naive immune systems of Native Americans, killing millions. It is believed that in this timeline, dubbed Jenner-1 by Infinity Unlimited, a proto-Cheyenne genius domesticated one of the last American horses about 8000 BC rather than spearing and eating it. Most of the other American megafauna were extinct already, but with the example of the horse in front of them the Native Americans of Jenner-1 also managed to tame the South American glyptodont (see the entry for Doedicurus, p. 68 of GURPS Dinosaurs) as a gigantic, armored substitute for the plough and cart ox, as well as the familiar llamas and ducks of Homeline.

Armed with three useful species of burden, the Americas followed much the same technological arc as Europe, and had progressed into the Iron Age by 1 AD. Though behind the Old World due to a smaller population and fewer food crops, the Americans nevertheless produced an impressive urban civilization by 1492, one about equivalent to the early Roman era on the other side of the Atlantic. When Columbus and Pinzon opened up the New World, Europe gave the Americas smallpox, measles, and influenza as they did on Homeline. But the Americas returned cachexy, tetter rot, and the calenture to Europe.

If anything, the plagues in America were worse than on Homeline, as the higher population kept the new diseases from burning out quickly: in 1519 the American civilizations are dead, along with more than 150 million people. Perhaps 20 million are left, and that figure is shrinking every day. Europe has done better, but only in comparison. Two-thirds of a population of 80 million have died -- this is about twice the mortality rate of the Black Death. It is enough to have brought Europe to the very brink, and its population continues to dwindle as well.

In Spain and France, the epidemics have been worse they are in the Americas. There are about 1.5 million people left in Iberia and France taken together; cities and towns are abandoned by all but diehards who can't or won't leave, and now survive only because they rarely see another person. A few small villages in out of the way locations -- up in the Pyrenees, for example, or the Massif Central -- have managed to carry on.

In all cases, distrust of other people is what has kept the survivors in France and Spain alive, and it is dangerous to travel anywhere in the region. The two countries are reverting to wilderness, but if a human being is encountered he will be mad, diseased, motivated to kill for his own protection, or any combination of the three.

Germany has lost 75% of its population, though the consequences are not as bad as they could be because the many tiny states of the region are largely self-supporting and don't need the large-scale trade and government that other parts of Europe have come to rely upon. The situation is certainly desperate. but Germany has not become a wasteland like France and Spain. There are even signs that Germany is beginning to come together, as a religious zealot from Wittenburg has shot to prominence in the last ten years, preaching against indulgences and papal power, and pointing to the plagues as evidence of God's displeasure. Johann Tetzel, a former indulgence peddler himself now fired with the fanaticism of the newly converted, has brought more spiritual and temporal control to himself that most popes could ever dream. Whether his new "Recusantism" movement will expand beyond the boundaries of Germany remains to be seen.

In the British Isles, Henry VII -- the man who ended the Wars of the Roses -- died of calenture in 1501, leaving the throne to his eldest son Arthur, who then died six months later. His younger brother (Henry VIII on Homeline) and eldest sister had predeceased him by a week, so the ruler of England was five year old Mary Tudor (aunt of the more famous person of the same name on Homeline). England collapsed into civil war again, despite being less affected by the epidemics than almost any other European country. One person in three in all of the British Isles has died, no worse than during the Black Plague and the country survived that. However, Scotland got off better than England, and the border country is periodically invaded by the Scots and James IV. Mary is now an adult, but unmarried and in thrall to the various factions in the new civil war.

Similarly, the Ottoman Empire has fallen into chaos. Sultan Beyazid died of cachexy in 1499 during his campaign to take the Morea from the stricken Venetians. Jenner-1's Selim I was rendered sterile by a mild case of calenture, and no Suleyman the Magnificent was born to his wives -- or any other children. Selim ruled for three years and, as he had killed his brothers and sisters on accession like he did on Homeline, there was no clear line of succession to the throne when he died. The Balkans have been in constant turmoil, trying to break free, but the Hungarian enemy to the north has been laid low as well and is in no position to intervene. Unfortunately for the rest of Eurasia, the Empire's trading routes have been the primary gateway to India and China for the epidemics.

Scandinavia, Poland, and the Russias have receded beyond the horizon as far as Western Europe is concerned. While the plagues have no doubt hit them as well, no-one has any clear idea what is happening there any more.

By all rights, Italy should be as badly ravaged as Spain and France. The country is urban, and heavily populated, and does not have the cold, wet winters that give the north of Europe some protection. However, while the epidemics have been bad, society in the peninsula is still holding on by a thread. Partly this is because Italy, like Germany, has few large states, and people are used to working from local resources. There are fewer area-wide social structures to collapse, such as governments, though the end of most trading has ended Italy's prosperity too. What makes the most difference, though, is the Accademia dei Unicorni.

Men of Hope

Southern Europe's future rests on the work of a very few people who have devoted their lives to stopping the plagues. Leonardo da Vinci made the connection between the voyages to Cipangu and the epidemics, and discovered that the transfusion of a small amount of blood from a Cipangan horse to a man would confer immunity to calenture (the blood carried along a less virulent strain of the virus that caused the infection, though Leonardo did not know this, nor is it known now). This has been the only one of the new diseases to be cured -- and there were not enough Cipangan horses to stop it cold -- but Italian mortality has been relatively low because Leonardo's experiments have led to treatments for Old World killers. The Great Man himself discovered the immunization for smallpox using matter from cows, while his young German disciple Theophrastus has recently determined that a measure of resistance to the plague and typhus may be obtained by fumigation: seal a house as completely as possible and burn a large quantity of coal in the fireplace. The more buildings in an area treated this way, the better. Even water has come under examination, and Baldassare Peruzzi has determined that certain water causes disease, leading to the virtual elimination of cholera. The new diseases still burn bright, but many people are still alive because the old ones are fading away instead of taking their own toll on top.

Leonardo remains the head of what is now a formal organization, the Accademia dei Unicorni. He is an old man, though, haunted by the death of every last one of his peers, and many of his disciples. In Homeline he died in 1519; ironically on Jenner-1 he is still healthy, though fading as he pushes 70. For game statistics, refer to GURPS Who's Who 1, p. 60, for a slightly younger version of da Vinci. Jenner-1's da Vinci has left behind art for medicine: reduce his Artist to 18 and Sculpting to 10, while giving him Physician-19 and Diagnosis-19. As he ages, Theophrastus is taking on more of the duties of his master; his statistics can be found in Who's Who 1 on page 64. That version of the man is fourteen years older than Jenner-1's, so most of his skills (except for his finely honed Diagnosis, Herbalist, and Physician skills) are pitched at a lower level.

Both men coordinate the Accademia's work full-time from Leonardo's boyhood farmhouse in Anchiano, a rural region west of Florence about a third of the way to Pisa and Lucca. Unless one travels there specifically, they are unlikely to be encountered, though the two sometimes perform experiments in the surrounding countryside.

The "Unicorno" characters are most likely to encounter is Baldassare Peruzzi. In Homeline he was an architect with a sideline in hydrological engineering; here he is much more interested in water and water supplies, and spends all his time wandering Western Europe setting up clean wells or diverting creeks for villages. For his efforts, he is one of the few outsiders tolerated in the small communities of France and Spain. Many of his clients -- he works for room and board -- think he is a magician of some sort, but in their desperation they simply don't care.

Peruzzi's assistant is a young man, about sixteen, though it is difficult to tell much about him -- he is a survivor of tetter rot, and is mute and horribly disfigured as a result. He is, however, learned, and communicates in Latin, Italian or French with a wax tablet and stylus he carries everywhere. The apprentice answers to the name "Giro," but otherwise refuses to offer more information about himself. His master probably knows more, but will only add that he came from Parma after that city was wiped out by the plagues.

Everywhere he goes, Peruzzi carries the half-finished architectural plans and sketches of a building. Late at night when he is not working, he shows them to people he has befriended. Characters with Architecture skill may recognize them as the Villa Farnesina, an actual building in Rome on Homeline. Peruzzi was its architect there; it does not look, as if it ever be built on Jenner-1.

Baldassare Peruzzi

107 points

Age 38, 5'8", 150 lbs. A short, thin man with black, slightly curly hair, and dark, weathered skin, dressed usually in rough brown and gray "outdoor" clothes.

ST: 10 [0] DX: 10 [0] IQ: 13 [30] HT: 10 [0]
Speed: 5 Move: 4
Dodge: 4 Parry: 4

Advantages: Ally Group (Accademia dei Unicorni, Group, 12-) [20]; Literacy [10], Reputation +2 (Among villagers of southern France: helpful wizard) [5].

Disadvantages: Broad-Minded [-1]; Dependent (Giro, 75 points) [0]; Sense of Duty (sick people) [-10]

Quirks: Always following creeks to their source; Carries plans of the Villa Farnesina everywhere [-2].

Skills: Architecture/TL4-16 [8]; Area Knowledge (Southern France/Northern Italy)-13 [1]; Area Knowledge (North of France)-12 [1/2]; Area Knowledge (Catalonia)-12 [1/2]; Diagnosis/TL4-13 [4]; Engineer (Hydrology)/TL4-17 [12]; Geology-16 [10]; Mechanic/TL4-15 [6]; Physician/TL4-12 [2]; Riding (Horse)-10 [2]; Short Sword-10 [2]; Stealth-11 [4]; Survival (Southern France/Northern Italy)-13 [2].

Languages: Italian-14 (Native) [0]; Catalonian-12[1]; French-12 [1]; Latin-12 [1].

The Scourges

Any traveler to Jenner-1 should be aware of the three diseases that have been imported to Europe from the Americas (the diseases affecting the New World are all known and curable by Homeline science).

Cachexy: Cachexy is a wasting disease caused by bacterial infection. Unlike calenture and tetter rot, it can be treated using antibiotics in combination with rehydration therapy (the drinking of salted and sugared water). Neither technique is known to the natives of Jenner-1, but Infinity Unlimited's scientists have discovered the combination.

A cachexy victim loses blood circulation to the arms and legs, causing the muscles there to waste away; ever-expanding blue and black patches on the extremities and rapid weight loss are the primary symptoms. This kidneys are overloaded as they work frantically to clear the muscle cells from the body. Death comes in two to three weeks due to kidney failure. A victim must make a roll against HT-3 every 24 hours, with a loss of either 1 point of ST or 1 point of DX on failure. When both ST and DX reach 0, the patient dies. Mortality is 100% without treatment -- there is no known way to recover lost attributes without it. Allowing cachexy to take hold in a victim causes permanent damage that can only be partially regained even with antibiotic treatment: only half (rounded down) of the lost values can be regained through exercise.

Calenture: This disease is the most straightforward of the three, though the most deadly unless one has taken advantage of da Vinci immunization procedure, or something more advanced. A viral infection, calenture causes an extremely high fever, which eventually kills the victim by overheating. Over the course of five days the body temperature rises 1 degree Fahrenheit every 18 hours or so (one Celsius every 32 hours). A roll against HT-5 is needed to prevent the increase, and a failure decreases HT by 1 as well as causing a one degree increase in body temperature. If HT reaches zero, the patient dies; if a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit is reached, however, and HT is not zero, each following roll will allow the fever to break on a success. That victim will survive, and recover.

Aspirin and other antipyretic drugs can help control the fever, and make it easier to break. Once infected there is no known cure other than to allow the disease to run its course, but infection can be prevented by immunization.

Tetter Rot: The least deadly of the three American plagues, but the most feared, tetter rot lives up to its gruesome name.

People who survive tetter rot are severely disfigured, though no longer infectious. Surprisingly, even in the paranoid small-village mentality of Jenner-1's Europe they are not ostracized, as there is a common folk belief (wrong, but still believed) that a survivor can help protect others from the disease -- this is possibly a garbling of da Vinci's discovery that Cipangan horses can immunize against calenture. Still, tolerated or not, they're far from popular.

A tetter rot infection lasts 2 weeks. A roll against HT-1 is needed to survive it, however, survivors are scarred for life. Once the disease has run its course, all survivors suffer from Hideous Appearance, and must roll against HT three times: once to avoid 1 level of Reduced Manual Dexterity, once to avoid becoming Mute, and once to avoid Lame (Crippled Leg).

Adventure Seeds

"Saint Camillus Preserve Us": Infinity Unlimited keeps a tight grip on access to Jenner-1, as the American epidemics could cause havoc on Homeline, particularly the incurable tetter rot. Agents are drugged and immunized to the eyeballs, even including some experimental nanobots gleaned from Caliph, before being sent outtime. On return, quarantine is strict, and lasts for three months. The question of sealing up the timeline entirely and leaving it to its fate comes up in high-level circles at least twice a year.

Knowledge of the timeline's existence has leaked out, however, and with the help of some sympathetic insiders (now sequestered on a detention line for their behavior), a religious humanitarian organization has managed to get some personnel onto Jenner-1. They have gone to ground somewhere in Italy, and it is suspected that they will be contacting the Accademia and passing along the understandable parts of 21st century medical knowledge to da Vinci and his cohorts.

The adventurers are charged with preventing this from happening, and keeping inter-timeline travel a secret. Whether they follow orders exactly or come up with something . . . more creative is entirely up to them.

Once More Unto the Breach: Hopeful that other cures like the immunization for calenture can be found, the Accademia has decided to send another expedition to the Americas. While there, the explorers are to capture local animals, particularly some glyptodonts if possible. More Cipangan horses are needed too, so they can be bred for immunization purposes -- the ones they have already will mate with European horses, but the foals always die before they are born. Purebreds seem to be the only answer.

Unlike Europe, the Americas on Jenner-1 have no analog any other timeline. Members of the expedition will be true explorers, unfamiliar with the architecture, language, culture, and almost anything else that can't be gleaned out of the few records left from 1492-1495. The cities of Tzemanzhu, Eoh'medah, and other American nations are ghost towns, but people still live in the country, echoing the paranoid lifestyle of their European counterparts.

Article publication date: October 22, 2004

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