Nov. 13th, 2008

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Posted as [ profile] serenissima, December 25 2007 in the [ profile] yuletide exchange.

[Unknown site tag]

Title: The Early Days of A Better Nation
Author: killalla
Fandom: Amazing Grace
Pairing: Wilberforce/Pitt the Younger

Premise - 1777

You remember the day the world changed. You’d just arrived at Cambridge. Caught up in the beauty of a winter morning, you’re running, late to a lecture when an icy cobblestone sends you sprawling into a stranger, a tangle of gowns and books.

“Mind out!” His voice is too strident, but the hand offered is warm and strong. “You’ll have to be more careful than that, sir!”

“Wilber – William Wilberforce.” You scramble to your feet. Your chest is tight, and you feel curiously short of breath.

He smiles. “William Pitt, Billy to my friends. I’m very pleased to meet you.”

Thesis - 1787

The guests have left, the table was cleared, and the fire burned down to embers.

“Damn you, Billy. That wasn’t fair. You knew I was uncertain on this matter, and now you’ve given me a cause I cannot refuse.” Unusually, William Wilberforce was in his cups, drunk as much on idealism as on claret.

“I want you in my government, Wilbur. If I know your weaknesses and exploit them for that end, I will make no apology for it. I’m prepared to do anything necessary. ” Pitt had drunk deeply as well, softening the sharp edge to his features.

“Anything?” Wilberforce looked over at his friend, still wearing that slightly sardonic smile. He was suddenly aware of loud his heart was beating, how close Pitt was sitting. But hadn’t they always been close? Right beside each other, all along…

And then Pitt is leaning forward, so close that Wilber could smell the wine on his breath. Those hands – warm, strong, and sure come up to cup his chin “Anything. Anything at all.” The silence stretches to an eternity, filled with the answers to unasked questions.

The glasses are drained, the chairs are empty, and the candles have been blown out.

Inference - 1797

Barbara Wilberforce, née Spooner, paused at the door of the drawing room to look back at her husband. Around her, the celebrations continued, and there would soon be other wedding guests who would demand her attention. But for this moment, she could simply observe, and hope to understand.

She had imagined they would be eager to talk, after over a year apart, but their conversation had already become more intense and intimate than that. Wilbur was as animated than she had ever seen him, leaning forward to gesture and touch the hand of his dear friend, while Pitt’s sardonic smile had become gentle, almost fond. For them, in this moment, it seemed as though nothing else in the world existed.

She had known, all along that there would be a third person in her marriage. Even from those early occasions, when she stayed up all night talking with Wilbur, it was impossible to miss the presence of Prime Minister. Much as he was in politics, he was everywhere in the narrative, the premium mobile. In her heart, she wondered if she would have even met Wilbur, much less married him, had he not been estranged from Pitt at the time.

But if Wilbur was the romantic hero of her girlish fantasies, then abolition was his crusade, and Pitt his dearest friend and closest ally. She knew that Wilbur would be a good husband and a wonderful father. She would never need to worry about mistresses or gambling debts - the worst he was likely to do was try to feed all the parish poor from his own pocket. And if his political campaign meant that he might spend the occasional evening away from home, closeted with the Prime Minister at his apartments near Westminster, it was something she could accept.

Conclusion – 1807

The passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807 was without a doubt the highlight of my political career. It set in motion the process that would lead to the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery, and the eventual emancipation of all enslaved Africans. Since that time, I have also devoted myself to other worthy causes – moral reform, worker’s rights, and the prevention of cruelty to animals – which have brought improvement to the lives of many, but never have I had a victory so great or so hard won. I think that had my life ended that day, I would have been content, knowing that its purpose been fulfilled.

But there were those who had done so much for our cause who could not be present that day: James Ramsay, Olaudah Equiano, and above all my dear friend William Pitt. Although as Prime Minister, he could not be seen to take such a partisan approach, I know that we could not have succeeded without him. Indeed, without him, I might never have begun such an arduous or rewarding undertaking to begin with. It is my greatest sorrow that he could not be present to see our work to its end.

In the study of his estate in Mill Hill, north of London, the old man sets down his pen. He is seventy-four years old, an elder statesman, a father and grandfather, a renowned campaigner and reformer, one of ‘the Saints.’ But time has come to sit heavily on him in these last few years – his eyesight is failing, his body aches, and he is wracked with frequent bouts of influenza and the ulcerative colitis that nearly killed him in his youth.

The light is fading now, and memories gather close. A cold Cambridge morning, breath frosting in the air and a warm hand in his; the rich, bitter taste of coffee on his tongue and the gleam in the eye of the young man who told him that together, they would change the world; the sweet heavy scent of tobacco and cologne, and the biting wit and wicked humour of the friend who kept him from being so serious, the only one who could always make him laugh. And the strange and precious tenderness of the more-than-friend whose brow he kissed, and at whose side he waited, though those last painful hours. Soon, I will be by your side again.
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Posted as [ profile] serenissima on 25 December 2007 in the [ profile] yuletide exchange.

[Unknown site tag]
Title: Calculation
Author: killalla
Fandom: Sherlock Holmes/The Baroque Cycle
Rating: G

Spoilers: For all three books of The Baroque Cycle, and most of Sherlock Holmes canon, including The Final Problem and The Empty House.
Author’s Note: This story was inspired by Sherlock Holmes Society of London lecture on Mathematics in Canon. The speaker referred to the fact that Professor James Moriarty had initially gained academic recognition for his treatise on the binomial theorem, which he noted had in fact been discovered by one Isaac Newton a few centuries earlier. From there, the calculation, as they say, was a simple one.
Summary: Perhaps mathematics really is the most dangerous discipline of them all.

“It is, indeed, a fearful place. The torrent, swollen by the melting snow, plunges into a tremendous abyss, from which the spray rolls up like the smoke from a burning house. The shaft into which the river hurls itself is an immense chasm, lined by glistening coal-black rock, and narrowing into a creaming, boiling pit of incalculable depth, which brims over and shoots the stream onward over its jagged lip. The long sweep of green water roaring forever down, and the thick flickering curtain of spray hissing forever upward, turn a man giddy with their constant whirl and clamour. We stood near the edge peering down at the gleam of the breaking water far below us against the black rocks, and listening to the half-human shout which came booming up with the spray out of the abyss.” – The Final Problem

After a long time, a man pulled himself from the roiling waters at the base of the falls. Retching and choking, he vomited a large quantity of water over the jagged rock which lined the pool, and wearily began to pick his way along the muddy, treacherous riverbed, his left arm handing limp at his side.

By the time he had reached the comfort of his inn, bathed, changed into dry clothing, and bound his arm up in a sling, his pain had greatly decreased. He was considering the merits of packing and leaving at once, when the landlord knocked on his door with the news that he had a visitor. He sighed. So, there was to be a reckoning, after all. “Come in, Doctor Waterhouse – or should I say Watson?”

The man at the door was middle aged and heavyset, conservatively dressed in the style of a travelling English gentleman, with a full and an impressive moustache. He wore an expression of perplexity and wonderment. “So, it is you then?”

“Honestly, Daniel, must you be so predictable?” The speaker waved his companion into one of the two large chairs that sat before the fire, where a cheerful blaze was just beginning to warm the room. “Will you have something to drink? The brandy is not particularly good here, but I am sure the landlord would stretch to a pot of coffee.”

“Nothing for me, thank you.” Daniel Waterhouse, who for the past fifteen years or so had answered to the pseudonym “John H. Watson,” set down his coat and hat, and then collapsed heavily into the chair. “When Holmes first mentioned you, I began to wonder, especially with the mention of the binomial theorem – that wasn’t very subtle you know, Isaac. Even I could guess.”

“Bah.” Newton swept aside the tails on his coat with one hand as he seated himself on the opposite chair. “No-one but you and Gottfried were likely to notice, they never pay attention to mathematics these days.”

“Is that why you felt it necessary to turn to criminal enterprises?”

“If you are referring to the flattering title you protégé has bestowed upon me, he overstates the case.” Newton ran a hand across his forehead, resting it there for a moment. “I met Bonaparte while he was in exile in Elba, just before the hundred days. He had a much better grasp of strategy and tactics than I ever would, although I fancy what he lacked was vision – he could not see the shape of the future that was emerging.”

“I do not think there is a man in Europe who can see the shape of the future as you do, Isaac.” Daniel focused on a wall panel just above his head. “But surely that should be a reason to support the rule of law and order, not to promote chaos through a network of blackmail, intimidation, bribery, theft and murder!”

“How so? Do you think that the mere fact of its existence necessarily makes a government just? The system of the world, our system, extends beyond the petty concerns of nation and state, and if there are those who would seek to constrain it, well then, other methods must be found.” Isaac sighed. “It is always a disappointment to me when otherwise promising intellects fail to grasp that concept.”

“You refer to Holmes.”

“You’ve done a good job of grooming him, Daniel, and supporting him – much as you once supported me.” Isaac smiled very briefly, as that memory passed over his face. “And I don’t doubt that you have dropped the occasional hint about the system, or the shape of things to come. But until your detective is able to step beyond the bounds of his narrow logic and embrace an altogether stranger world, he will never achieve his true potential. And he will never be able to match me. After all, time is on my side.”

“Touché.” Daniel shook his head, ruefully. “Still, I expect you were rather put out when Holmes managed to break your syndicate.”

“It was an experiment, nothing more, and now it is over. It is time to be someone new. What will you do, then, will you wait for your detective?”

“You know, I think I will have a glass of brandy after all.” Daniel stood, and walked over to the sideboard, where a tray, glasses and gasogene sat beside the crystal decanter. “Will you have something, Isaac?”

“Just a splash – no water, thank you, I’ve ingested quite enough this afternoon.” Newton extended his good arm to accept the glass that was offered to him and inhaled deeply. “I doubt I’ll sleep at all, otherwise. I do find that death, or near-death experiences tend to leave one uncommonly energized in the aftermath. Indeed, I surmise that it is actually akin to a mental process of rebirth – and a new life, or at least a new identity is created as a result. Certainly, this is the case for those who, like us, have partaken of that particular elixir. But even in ordinary men, a brush with death is likely to precipitate often radical changes in beliefs, appearance and habit.”

Daniel sat down again, cradling his own glass. “But you haven’t changed that much over the past century or so, Isaac – you’re still brilliant, arrogant, insufferable and completely convinced of the superiority of your own ideas.”

Newton laughed. “Ah, Doctor Waterhouse. Always ready to set me in my place.”

“But, you have changed a little – just now, when you laughed. The old Isaac would have been positively indignant and tried to argue the point. Perhaps it’s just that you can take heart in the fact that you could simply have me killed, or at least tortured in several nasty ways. You’re more emotional now, but at the same time colder. It suits you.” Daniel shook his head. “The hair doesn’t, though.”

“I will admit to a twinge of vanity at its loss.” Isaac brushed a hand along his scalp. With the appearance of a balding crown and a prominent forehead, he had an almost reptilian look. “It was always natural, you know – I never in all my days required a wig. But, your Victorian gentleman does not favour the long hair of our youth, so I must adopt the appropriate camouflage.”

“You’re thinner, too.”

“While, you dear Doctor, have if anything become more robust. It’s delightful, and entirely suited, the moustache especially.” Newton looked across at his companion, and for just a moment, those cold eyes softened. “You never do change much, do you, Daniel?”

“Despite my own death or near-death – first in London, and then in India, and later in Afghanistan, I’m still the same stubborn old fool. It is my only virtue. Well, that and patience, I suppose.” Waterhouse drained his glass and set it down on the floor. “So in answer to your earlier question, yes, I will wait. I will go back to London, and tell the world of the death of the world’s greatest detective and the world’s most notorious criminal mastermind. And then I will resume my medical practice and my writing, and I will wait and see. What will you do?”

“Oh, a new identity, I think – although it has been rather enjoyable being a ‘criminal mastermind’ as you so dramatically describe it. The system of the world is beginning to take shape, but I fear that there will be many obstacles and conflicts before it comes into being.” Isaac gestured to his bandaged arm. “I’ll have to wait until I finish healing up, of course, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Perhaps I’ll go to Berlin and see what Leibniz is doing these days.” He took another sip of brandy, and then paused, as if steeling himself. For a just a moment, the greatest mind in Europe almost looked uncertain. “Everything changes, Daniel, and we must change with it. Are you sure you wouldn’t like to come with me?”

Isaac said nothing more, but Daniel could hear the unspoken argument in his head, as compelling and as persuasive as ever. On the loose in London, wandering across the continent, making new discoveries and finding new adventures. Back together again, just Daniel and Isaac, just like old times. But no, not this time. “As you say, Isaac, everything changes, and I must change as well. So I’m going to refuse you, at least this once. I am going to London. When Holmes comes back, if he comes back – well, if he wants me, I am his.”

If Newton was hurt or angered by this response, he gave no sign. In fact if anything, the expression on his face was thoughtful, almost amused as he raised an eyebrow at his old friend and companion. “And what happens after that?”

“Then, we find out how long forever lasts. After all, it’s all down to your system, isn’t it?” Daniel rose, and put on his coat. He picked up his hat, and there was an awkward moment as he contemplated attempting to embrace Isaac. But the impulse passed. “Goodbye.”

Isaac nodded gravely, but said nothing, remaining motionless until the door clicked shut, and Daniel’s steps could be heard retreating down the hall. Then he raised his head and whispered softly to the empty room. “Not goodbye, my dear Doctor, but au revoir – until we meet again, whether in this world, or the one to come.”


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