We’re returning to Ascar today, to meet the pinnacle of the scientific community, Lady Catherine Nelson. This is a rare privilege indeed. Lady Nelson has worked as a scientist for over forty years. (Note: In Numoeath, the term “scientist” is used mainly to refer to those who investigate the curse, whether in terms of epidemiology, pathophysiology or evaluation of the paranormal powers bestowed on the afflicted.) The scientists work in the Keep, one of the three buildings inside the Royal Compound. The Keep contains offices and laboratories, and there is an infirmary and residential accommodation for the afflicted who haven’t yet learned to control their powers.
We had originally agreed to conduct the interview in Lady Nelson’s office at the Keep, but she pleaded a minor ailment and requested me to attend her at her house instead.
The Nelson mansion is in north-east Ascar, in the nobles’ quarter. Judging by the worn state of the stone window ledges, the house has been standing nearly as long as Ascar has. An ancient butler has just admitted me, leading me into a drawing room. My first impression is of lurid green and yellow wallpaper (think 1970s retro), and a slightly musty smell.
Lady Nelson is enthroned in a padded armchair covered in pink velvet, her feet on a matching footstool. There is, of course, no yappy terrier or incontinent spaniel lying beside her. I suppose that’s something to be grateful for, in this realm.
IC (bowing): Lady Nelson, I am indebted to you for a few minutes of your time.
CN: (inclines head)
IC: If you don’t mind, could you please give us an overview of your early life, and what prompted you to start studying the curse?
CN: The easy thing to do would have been to continue managing my family’s business in paper production and book printing. But with nobility comes an obligation to one’s society. From an early age I knew that my superior education and abilities gave me an advantage in the exacting methods required for true scientific research. I therefore viewed it as my duty to take on the burden of evaluating the curse and making my own small contribution to its elimination.
IC: And what have been your proudest achievements?
CN: I critically evaluated records of all documented curses, both contemporary and historical. From these I applied rigorous analysis and assessed the incubation period, which proved to be two to three days. From this has become enshrined in governmental regulations the needs to keep population centres at least a week’s travel from each other, to keep communities safe.
IC: This must have been a considerable commitment. Did you ever regret giving up your former life?
CN: It was my duty to provide my expertise to those not so well favoured, and regret does not come into it.
IC: I can certainly see you have a very strong sense of duty. How have things changed for the unfortunate cursed as a result of your work?
CN: As the curse is… (coughs) essentially, an incurable disease, our efforts have concentrated on preventing its transmission. That means minimising exposure to beasts in the wild, since it is their bites that cause the curse. Additionally, we must keep the afflicted from doing harm, so we isolate them in the Keep.
IC: I understand. What kind of harm?
CN: It depends on what power— That is, the afflicted go mad and are taken over by unnatural forces. We do not pretend to understand such forces, but sometimes the afflicted wreak physical damage beyond their natural abilities. Or they may affect the mental functioning of people in close proximity.
IC: That sounds very frightening.
CN: Indeed. But I tire now… I trust you have the information you seek?
IC: Maybe returning to my question on how things have—
CN: You may leave.
IC: Thank you for your time.
CN: (extends hand)
IC: (kisses hand)