Praxis

Feb. 3rd, 2006 04:15 am
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Posted as [livejournal.com profile] serenissima, August 18, 2005 for the New Year's Resolutions Challenge in [livejournal.com profile] yuletide



Author: serenissima
Recipient: Gloria Mundi
Fandom: Neal Stephenson - The Baroque Cycle
Rating: PG, Newton/Waterhouse Implied
Summary: Set between the ending and the Epilogs of The System of the World. Dr. Daniel Waterhouse takes his leave of Sir Isaac Newton, for perhaps the last time.
Assume all standard disclaimers.
Written For: New Year Resolutions 2005


Sir Isaac Newton's House in St. Martin's - Monday, 1 November 1714

Following the events of the previous Friday, Daniel Waterhouse gave serious consideration to the idea of leaving at once, avoiding comment, complication and potential unpleasantness. He could borrow a coach from the Earl of Lostwithiel and take it down to Cornwall to view the Engine, and then be met by the Minerva coming down from Plymouth. But, as he'd told Jack Shaftoe in the Black Dogg of Newgate, Isaac Newton was his oldest friend, and he could not in the end leave behind all that they'd shared, all that they were, without so much as a backward glance. It was for this reason that he'd found himself in St. Martin's Street, on All Saint's Day, irritably batting at his new scratch wig and awaiting an audience with the Master of the Mint. True, he was not as nervous as he had been eighteen months ago, when he had stood waiting the first time, uncertain as to how he would be received following an absence of nearly twenty years, but there was undoubtedly a cause for concern - he had not seen Isaac since the Trial of the Pyx. And more than that, there was the issue of the Solomonic Gold still between them, the elephant in the room. In short, the meeting was a disaster waiting to happen, and yet Daniel could no more avoid it than he could avoid breathing.

So, once again, Daniel stood outside the door to Isaac Newton's study, trying to think of what to say. Yet this time it was not time or distance that left him at a loss for words, but the sense of finality. These last few months, they'd lived in each other's pockets in a way that had not occurred since Cambridge. But, once Daniel left, he would not return, and he did not expect that he would see Isaac Newton alive again on this earth. Just at that moment, the door to the study opened to admit Miss Catherine Barton to the waiting room. The Body was rather chastely attired on this occasion, for she still wore an ostensible mourning for Roger Comstock, but that it was in its usual form was unmistakable as she leaned in to embrace him.

"I'm just going out shopping, since Mr. Conduitt has agreed to escort me, but I expect you'll be gone by the time I return, Doctor, so thought I would say farewell before I left." Very gently, she laid her left hand on the side of his face, and leaning up she whispered in his ear. "I also wanted thank you for everything you've done the last few months you've been with us - for me, for Roger, and especially for Uncle Isaac." She could not have failed to notice that Newton was quite dead when she loaded him into the sedan chair yesterday morning as instructed, yet emerged very much alive but a few hours later, but she evidenced no hint of concern regarding his miraculous resurrection. Perhaps Isaac had told her what to expect, or perhaps living for years amidst an irregular assortment of Whig aristocrats, Juncto financiers and natural philosophers had made her used to viewing the extraordinary as commonplace. "I certainly know that he is grateful." Daniel opened his mouth to dispute the statement, but that was when she caught him full on the lips with a kiss. "Godspeed, Daniel Waterhouse." And then she was gone, down the stairs in a swirl of perfume. Taking a deep breath, he straightened his shoulders. The door to the study beckoned.

Isaac Newton had fully recovered from his recent demise, and was looking as imperious as ever, seated at his desk in the wood panelled study. The familiar fall of white-gold hair spilled over his shoulders, and he wore his usual black and red scholar's gown. And as he had eighteen months ago, Daniel took shelter in an opening gambit, for now that the moment was here, it seemed there was, in fact, too much that needed to be said, and he did not know where to start.

"I thought I'd bring you this." The single golden button glittered in Daniel's hand for a moment, and then he threw it towards Isaac, who caught it out of the air with a swift gesture. "It's not that which you were looking for, but it's said to be one of the ones that Jack the Coiner threw to the crowd on the road to Tyburn. Call it a souvenir."

Isaac studied it a moment, turning it over in his palm. Then with his usual dexterity he rolled the button across his knuckles of his right hand, and it disappeared within the folds of his gown. He tilted his head, and all his attention was on Daniel, now, eyes bright with an intensity that almost hurt.

"They say he was the greatest vagabond who ever lived." Daniel said. " Tales will be told for years to come, of Half-Cocked Jack and his war with the Master of the Mint, of how it took all the King's horses, all the King's men, and the mind of a genius to outwit him in the end."

Isaac snorted. "Indeed." His expression was one that Daniel could not recall seeing, a curious combination: part indulgent, part amused, and part something he could not recognize. "I may well have underestimated our Jack, but I certainly underestimated *you,* Daniel." And then Daniel identified it: admiration, and perhaps even respect. "I suppose I should be wroth with you - you lied to me, betrayed me, plotted with my enemies, and withheld from me the one thing I have wanted, the one thing I sought above all others for half my life. Even when you came to me that day as I lay dying of gaol fever, you would not speak of it." Instinctively, Daniel's opposite hand slid down to the empty spot on his ring finger, and he knew that Isaac caught the gesture. "Oh yes, I noticed the ring. Delirious and half-dead of fever, I observed it. But I could not compel you to give it to me, nor indeed should I have - for in denying it to me, you saved my life and my reputation, so that I cannot even be angry." Isaac smiled then, and the invisible weight Daniel had not known he was carrying was lifted from his shoulders.

Daniel opened his mouth to speak, but he still did not know where to begin. The Solomonic gold was gone from Isaac forever now, he had to know that - and he would, perhaps, still be wroth were he to learn that much of it was in the hands of his old rival Leibniz. Besides, Isaac has risen from his desk and was moving slowly but inexorably towards him. Daniel felt glued to the floor, unable to move, his palms damp and his mouth suddenly dry.

"You hide your light under a bushel, toiling away at your logic mill out in that colonial backwater. You must know by now that you will never see it finished, that we lack the mechanical skills to build it properly." Up close, Isaac was a formidable presence as ever, and Daniel felt the heat of that familiar gaze. He could but close his mouth, which had been gaping, and nod. "But I'd have died were it not for you, Daniel, and not just this once, but a hundred times over. All those years at Cambridge, when you cared for me, fed me, watched over me as I slept - did you think I did not notice? I am at times consumed by my art, but I am not blind. And yet, you would take nothing from me in exchange, never - not money, nor credit, nor even the love that I bore you."

Isaac seemed mere inches away from him, now, and the part of Daniel's brain that could still function wondered if perhaps he would not manage to return to Boston after all, for his pulse was racing, his heart beating wildly, as if to break his chest, and he could not breathe, all sure signs of a cardiac arrest. "But as you yourself acknowledged at Grafton, Isaac, certain things were settled between us as of Whitsunday 1662." Yet this, Daniel realized had always been a falsehood, for they were tied together inexorably, nothing had been able to change that - not time, or distance, or even, it seemed, death itself.

"Perhaps it is so, for you." Isaac smiled again, and Daniel felt his heart miss its beat. "Yet I will always honour you, and your friendship towards me. And ever will I love." Isaac leaned forward, and the kiss, when it came, was gentle as a blessing, a benediction. "I will see thee again in paradise, Daniel Waterhouse, whether it be in this world or the next." Isaac stepped back then, and there was a breath as the world righted itself around them.

"Isaac, I..." Daniel could not see for the tears in his eyes, and his hands were shaking, as if from the palsy. The promise changed nothing. He would still leave tomorrow. Isaac would remain in London. Death would come for them both, in time. And yet, Isaac had spoken, and the truth of the words lay between them now. Knowing no better way to respond, Daniel moved forward into the space between them and wrapped Isaac into an embrace. Isaac stiffened for a moment in surprise, but in a moment his arms came up to encircle Daniel's shoulders, and they stood there for a long moment. More even than Roger Comstock, losing Isaac Newton would be losing a part of himself, but it had been a distant eventuality until Isaac had acknowledged the bond between them, and the final parting that would await them. But then again, Daniel mused, perhaps even that was not so final.

By the time his vision cleared a little, Isaac was once more seated at his desk on the other side of the room, making notes with pen in hand. The interview was apparently over. Half-blind with his tears, and still reeling a little, Daniel fumbled for the door. As he stepped out, Isaac raised his head and spoke to him one last time. "Besides, you will be needed to judge the debate between Baron von Leibniz and myself. In a hundred years' time, remember?" And strangest of all, it was the sound Isaac Newton's laughter that followed him out of the room, down the stairs, and out into the London streets.

History records that Baron Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz died in 1716. Sir Isaac Newton, Fellow of the Royal Society and former Master of the Mint, passed on in 1727. Less is knows of the fate of Daniel Waterhouse, founder of the Massachusetts Institute for Tecknological Arts, but he is believed to have followed his friends and colleagues to the grave a few years later.

Yet, consider this:

In 1714, Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz agreed to meet a century later to continue their debate.

In 1814, world powers were gathering to plan the defeat of the Emperor Napoleon. Waterloo and the Congress of Vienna were imminent, events which would redraw the map of Europe.

In 1914, those old alliances were at the breaking point, and Europe hovered on the brink of war, a World War that would be the first to be truly global in scope.

And in 2014 - well, that story will have to wait.

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