Best of the Gazette Winner – 2020

Inside the mind of Blaise Pascal, Blaise Laboratories and distillery, Bamberg

October, 1637

History would not have been overly kind to Blaise Pascal.

His accomplishments as laid down in various encyclopediae were mostly intellectual and he had, in the end, died alone and childless. Even his similar triangle theory stumped most up-timers until he showed them, using a simple tool a forester used to measure the height of trees. It was beautiful in a way it appeared only he appreciated.

Yes, he could do most of the math in his head but it was as romantic as kissing his own hand. If Logan Sebastian wasn’t going to drop him like a poorly-factored third-order algebraic equation he needed to ‘do’ something more tangible than playing mind games with right triangles. Even Pythagoras wasn’t enough. Logan understood the Pythagorean Theorem but saved her true passion for more physical things. Right triangles were cold and empty in her mind. Logan demanded things she could touch and hear and see.

Like this electric motor he had built from scratch. She would be interested in that. The math of angular momentum and torque were just numbers to her. Electricity was just something controlled by a switch on the wall.

Americans. All that beauty and no appreciation.

First, he had calculated every dimension including the tricky design of the sintered magnets to the exact placement of the shaft and the balancing of the mass. The bearings had been a pain in the fundaments. He heard Logan, faintly shouting in his memory, “No one says fundaments, you doofus. They say ass! They say pain in the ass not pain in the fundaments!”

Blaise flinched at the silence in his memory. Logan silent meant she was looking for something to at least threaten to hit him with. “Okay! The bearings were a pain in the ass. Happy now you . . . harridan!” Blaise looked about quickly to make sure she wasn’t right there, listening to him. Logan might not respond well to being called a harridan.

The electric motor hummed its eloquence to him. It was a living working exemplar of an entire linked series of mathematical equations right down to the size of the plates in the batteries that powered it.

His father would certainly be proud of him. Logan would just smile one of her silly smiles.

1+1 = 2: mathematics at its most basic. Even the Sumerians would have understood this.

Like his whiskey, brewing in various ways and manners about him, a whiskey he had brewed, also, from scratch.

The German boys could care less about his scratch-made electric motor. All they seemed to want to do was laugh about him and Logan.

Germans were as romantic as a rockslide or a river at flood. They were as romantic as lighting a candle and took right to the little nursery rhyme, confusing annoyance with romance:

Logan and Blaise sitting in a tree. . . k-i-s-s-i-n-g; how provincial. Why would Logan and he be sitting in a tree when there were chairs and tables and pizza.

First comes LOVE, then comes MARRIAGE . . . Blaise slapped the lab bench but this did nothing to stop the mental chorus in his mind. The rest of the addictive little ditty heard while wasting time at school refused to be turned to silence in his head.

Germans, especially boy Germans, were like dogs in rut even at an early age.

Whenever he thought, or merely pondered, the possibility of discovering something, Logan would pop into his mind, unbidden, capricious, attended by a gay collection of thoughts meant, it would seem, to distract him. Logan did not ‘love’ him, did she? And what exactly did LOVE have to do with MARRIAGE? Marriage was a contract, as romantic as boilerplate.

He had been introduced to the term almost from the moment he had offered his services as an accountant. Double entry bookkeeping, as romantic as rotten fish.

Blaise sighed as he managed his memories. Or at least attempted to.

Mathematics was simple and, once you were fluent with it, engineering was even more straightforward, especially when you knew what would work because, there it was, sometimes including pictures (like a certain drawing of a Big-Nosed French Boy Logan had shown him. She even had a copy of the picture which she had not thrown away.) That said something, didn’t it? Well, you Big-Nosed French Boy, DID IT? Logan had ceased, like the humming would cease if he disconnected the device from the two lead-acid batteries, well, to tell the truth, cells, he had created with his own hands. Well, again, to be honest, he had used gloves. Acids were almost evil in their insidiousness. What they did to expensive clothing was evil. Whenever he even tried to lie, or almost did, there was Logan firmly in his mind, hands on hips, threatening him with her eyes.

If he allowed it his memories would fill in all the gaps. Blaise tried to concentrate on the motor humming before him. The bearings had been the most difficult thing but, even then, engineering was an entirely different matter when you knew, simply knew, beforehand that certain things would and would not work. You didn’t need to start hammering and banging with barely a clue what the outcome might be, even without the mathematics clamoring in your ear, how correct everything was.

Here, before him, was proof. No prophet in the Bible was as dependable as any single volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Blaise peered uselessly into a dark corner of his laboratory/distillery where he kept his ‘anhydrous’ alcohol, so pure even thinking of fire might ignite it. Now, if he could only make an oxidizer, like peroxide, as easily.

He could easily fool everyone, even Logan, into thinking he was making a disinfectant for the medical clinic in Grantville when he was really trying to make dependable rocket fuel.

It was all there in the various books Grantville brought with it when something brought it from the year 2000 to 1631, six years ago. Liquid fuel rockets were common then. He would make them common again and, no, he wouldn’t blow himself up doing it. He had the prophecies of the encyclopedia!

The scientists and engineers at Peenemunde had nothing of the sort. They guessed and tried and failed and picked up the pieces, did it all over again. And through it all they hadn’t the slightest clue whether success was one more explosion, one more failure away. Hell, most of the time they couldn’t even hit London with their inventions.

The whole V-2 rocket program was an embarrassment from start to finish! Germans! Pfah!

No wonder they lost the war. He had calculated every variable, from the exact number of coils of exactly what gauge wire he needed, to the orientation of the coils and, voilà, the electric motor worked. Yes, the bearings often required threats and in the worst cases a tweaking of the rotor, but even they were nothing more than copies of copies. He had even, mostly for its calming effect, calculated the field strengths of the lines of magnetic force which led him to create the magnets in exactly the shape necessary and the proof of the ‘pre-engineering’ spun with all the certainty of the number line which, despite any moral or emotional mutterings, in spite of romance, made 1+1 equal to 2.

‘Love’ or even marriage had little to do with the proper operation of an electric motor. Mathematics did. Blaise tried, until he could get a firm hold of himself, to imagine why he and Logan might be sitting in a tree and, of all unimaginable things, kissing. Holding on for dear life, would be more accurate. Did she chase him there or did he chase her? Was the branch strong enough? Was there a wind? Did the tree provide a home to some animal? Logan made him think.

“Where would I be without Logan? Playing games with pencil and paper, measuring and remeasuring silly triangles, that’s where. Double entry book keeping! Logan is all about application, application, application . . .” KISSING became the unsettling part of the refrain in his febrile mind. “P-51 Cadillac of the sky!” he muttered in a falsetto voice. He had remembered asking her which was her favorite movie. There were plenty of choices. She gave him one of her looks that told him he had stepped in it again. She chose Empire of the Sun and almost smacked him when he wouldn’t stop asking questions about which empire was being referred to.

The Japanese must have been some empire if they had to be nuked twice. Imagine having to measure explosive power in kilotons? He could do more than imagine. The math was right there in his head!

She had to replay the part about the flash from the nuclear bomb twice before he understood. He would have gone immediately to a pencil and paper to calculate the force of a bomb that could be seen and almost felt that far away if Logan hadn’t threatened to break every bone in his hands.

And Logan had even threatened to stab him in the eye with his pencil then decided that the explosion caused by the deflation of his ego might qualify as a nuclear explosion.

His ego, whatever that was—leave it to Germans to invent such a word—wasn’t that big, was it? Logan watched him watching the movie, eager to figure out what would impress him the most and what was he doing? Watching her. And what impressed her? “P-51 Cadillac of the sky . . .” Except for that part where the Cadillac of the sky decimated the Japanese landing field, Logan showed little or no emotion. One might have been led to believe she did not care about the movie then those tears came as she almost stood and mimicked the silly British boy dancing up there while world War II came to a slow, deadly conclusion.

That was the moment, with tears glistening in her eyes, when Blaise knew he had to come to some agreement, within himself, about what he was going to do. The data dropped on him like a bomb. Solving problems involving conics was not going to be ‘it’. She had giggled when he had solved the chaotic math of the dripping water faucet. She had chuckled, that was the correct word, after finding out why he had been trying to measure the height of the church steeple. She had given him the drafting ruler which had put the inaccurate plastic ruler to shame. His growing anger with an unfair universe had ended with those eyes and that metal ruler. What was a boy to do? “You wanna kiss me where?” K-I-S-S-I-N-G First comes love then comes marriage . . . why not marriage first?

When she informed him of his discovery of barometric pressure she had shrugged as if it was of no importance. His family name was used to measure a unit of barometric pressure! Her response? Shrug.

Logan Sebastian gave not two shakes of a lamb’s tail about barometric pressure and measuring it. Barometers interested her but the inner workings of barometric pressure were like the flow of air to a bird, important but of no value since the bird could do little to effect or affect those flows. Butterflies, however . . . oh shut up, he admonished himself.

Not once had she teared up when confronted with his mere mathematics. Not once had she peered with such concentrated, undistilled ecstasy at his journal entries concerning the factoring of quadratics (oh, how he had breathlessly marched numbers into and out of the quadratic formula) as she had at the low, agile, deadly passes of ‘the Cadillac of the sky.’

Blaise remembered the eager thrill in her eyes as she had, hands clasped as if in prayer, watched her second favorite movie, Top Gun. She watched F-14s thunder into the sky from the deck of an aircraft carrier; highway to the danger zone, indeed. The music was almost pornographic in its effect upon her. Top Gun, indeed.

He was barely second fiddle. Hell, he might not even be in the orchestra.

Why had those damn planes needed two jet engines? Two! Was not one more than enough? He had almost driven himself nuts calculating the torque of not one but two of those kinetic energy monsters.

It wasn’t that the mathematics was hard but he would need to invent hydraulics because no mere wire control would even annoy the control surfaces required to direct that kind of power. Fly by the seat of your pants in a monstrosity like that and they might not even find the seat of your pants after the ground rose up to smack you out of the sky.

Danger zone? More like debris field . . . of course that didn’t make for good lyrics. Could anyone sane imagine an Italian like Bernoulli trying to create anything like his ‘law’ under conditions like that? He would run screaming for the hills. If Goddard dared to raise his head now, he would have panicked every time he dared even imagine lighting the fuse of a mere liquid fuel rocket after having seen a Saturn V, or just the space shuttle heading heavenward like a badly spoken, potentially blasphemous prayer.

If he was going to earn Logan’s LOVE then he had to make something. Do something. Not merely calculate something.

She didn’t see the world in the same terms as he did. She couldn’t calculate the parameters of the jet engine the way he could. She wanted to feel them kick her in the butt and throw her into the sky, not ponder certain interesting aspects of kinetic energy and force.

Blaise Pascal, world’s greatest mathematician, could plot the course of that jet with very intricate mathematics that Logan could care less about. Even the mathematics of launching missiles from the moving platform of the ‘Tomcat’ had distracted him. Logan merely clapped. Clapped, of all things. How would the two of them meet, with him on the ground with a pad and paper while she zoomed about at Mach two, of all things, up around thirty thousand feet as simple as walking out your front door in the morning or brewing whiskey?

The equation for kinetic energy was nothing, zero, compared to roaring by atop its creation. She had threatened to rip his tongue out if he continued to try to mathematically analyze the aircraft leaping from the deck of that aircraft carrier which, according to her, had its very own nuclear power plant deep inside.

Hers was not a mind to love the simple things, like a correctly factored third-order algebraic equation or the tense heresy of a mobius strip cut the third time. She smiled a tired little smile at him after introducing him to the mobius strip, watching him try to disprove the inevitable.

At least she trusted him with her scissors, the good pair she kept hidden away with her drafting pencils and metal protractors.

The mobius strip had been at least as bad as the 1.21 gigawatts, which Blaise had used to slowly introduce his father to the world the Americans had brought to the seventeenth century. If Etienne Pascal had thought the term gigawatts grossly obese with unnecessary zeros then the mobius strip . . . Even his sister, Jacqueline, with her prurient interest in ‘romance novels,’ had not horrified Etienne Pascal nearly as much as the concept and proof of the one-sided piece of paper.

Etienne Pascal looked at his son as one might a plague ship that had brought plague before and was now reentering the harbor again.

Logan simply shook her head and barely took the time to even snicker at him now. But Logan, look at the calculus . . . She usually just turned and walked the other way. Did she not understand . . . of course she didn’t! First comes LOVE then comes MARRIAGE then comes . . . Solve that equation, Blaise Pascal, world’s greatest doofus! Blaise shrugged his shoulders under the heavy inevitability of the turnout coat which had been a gift from Chief Matheny when it became clear he was leaving Grantville and going to Bamberg to be closer to his family (and Logan, of course).

Anyone with common sense knew Matheny was happier that ‘boy blunder’ was well away from the power plant. He never liked the way Blaise looked at transformers on power poles.

Blaise had not been such a doofus that he didn’t comprehend the possibility that Matheny was happy to be rid of him, that many in Grantville sighed in relief when he left. He didn’t wear the heavy coat out of fear of the whiskey he was brewing. He had learned enough chemistry, by this point, that he could calculate the explosive force of an air-alcohol interaction sparked by candle or kerosene lamp, even write out the oxidation reduction, redox in the insipid abbreviation lust of these up-timers who dared call him crazy, so he had hunted down potential ignition sources with a serious concentration even Logan thought him incapable. Blaise could balance a chemical reaction with the best of them and calculate delta G better than most and mostly in his head. He could also deal with static electricity.

No, he wore the turnout coat for the same reason a Catholic priest wore vestments. He was in his laboratory, his cathedral of learning and creation. A turnout coat was the least he could do. If he wasn’t doing ‘real stuff’ then why the need for a turnout coat? Besides, Logan had once described him as looking cute in it. He then adjusted the already tight chin strap of the helmet and face shield that had not been a gift but an ‘acquisition’ after Chief Matheny had, offhandedly, shown it to him and demanded he wear it while doing experiments behind the fire station where it was hoped an entire on-call crew of firefighters might be able to ride herd on his enthusiasms and put out any fires before they spread.

Messing around with black powder rockets had made it clear to him that there were limits to the amount of damage the human body could withstand. Improperly calculated tensor equations might be annoying, a waste of time, paper, and pencil lead and, worse, make him late for pizza, but in real life, some of the things he was doing could quite easily make him permanently late for ever consuming another slice of Logan’s most excellent pizza, especially with Shabby not being involved so Blaise could have sausage with his cheese pizza.

Why did God make such a big deal about not eating cheese with meat? He would have to remember to have his Jewish friend explain it to him again.

The helmet felt heavy on his head for some reason. Did he have a swollen head, was it getting bigger even now? Why? Would Logan notice if she walked in right now? He wore the helmet and shield not as a means and manner to protect his eyes or head but as proof to the world that he was doing something worthy enough that his eyes might be endangered, his head pummeled by forces of nature he sought to control or bend to his will. Why would he wear it otherwise?

A deeply buried part of him had hoped that any explosion capable of damaging his eye might remove a large part of his nose and, thereby, earn him some pity and self-recrimination from the girl who had called him, during the initial part of their introduction to one another, ‘the big-nosed French boy’. He had presumed that was the extent of her romantic feelings for anyone.

During his . . . reallocation of the ‘extra’ helmet, Blaise had not found gloves and boots to complete the vestments appropriate to a ‘scientist’ or ‘engineer’ in his holy laboratory.

Would the pope be the pope without his hat? What would Richelieu be without his hat? Angry, annoyed? Still a cardinal?

“Lord, help me to do great things as if they were little, since I do them with your power; and little things as though they were great, since I do them in your name, amen.” Blaise Pascal had been introduced to his prayer by the relentless researches of his sister, Jacqueline.

He realized that there was something inherently blasphemous in his soul since he felt that mathematics was not so great a thing, far too humble to lay at the feet of God. Even Logan’s father wondered when he would turn to theology as apparently, he had in that ‘other time,’ that ‘other history’ when, apparently, MARRIAGE had not been in his future.

He had died in Paris 19 August 1662, apparently unmarried, childless, alone.

As a form of atonement, he had dragged himself through the tedious Latin of a text written by St. Ambrose where the Saint had written about his fight with ‘lust.’

Blaise was sure he did not lust for Logan. Merely bringing the two words together in his mind made him flinch as his overactive imagination, fed by the coal of predestination as could only be mined from almost any volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica, imagined exactly and with what implement Logan would cool his ardor.

Imagine if Saint Ambrose had been introduced to Logan Sebastian. Highway to the danger zone, indeed. She had viciously shoved Blaise into a pool once merely for trying to cover her near nudity (Blaise! It’s a one-piece bathing suit! I didn’t see you trying to cover any of the girls prancing about in bikinis or, in one case, a thong, and you certainly didn’t almost call one of them a whore!) then stood, effective little fists planted firmly on her little hips, watching him desperately try to remain afloat, then laughingly demanding he stand up since she had shoved him into the shallow end.

Even enraged, she saw to his safety. What would he not do to earn from her the sort of devotion she obviously lavished on even the fantastical thought of flying a P-51 Mustang or an F-14 Tomcat? Certainly not by calculating his own buoyancy no matter how easily and deftly done.

Her father had taught her that Blaise was a well-known mathematical genius. Easily-solved equations were as obvious to her as they were often obvious to him. If he was going to win her devotion, he needed to create a thing worthy of it.

Blaise remembered the rest of that day at the pool, almost his final day on Earth.

“Well, are you coming out?” she had screamed at him as small children deftly dogpaddled by as he stood there, dripping.

“No, I am staying right here!” Blaise slapped the water which had promptly splashed him in the face.

“Fine, stay in there until you dissolve!” she had turned and gave her back to him.

Blaise, realized right then she almost looked as good from the back as from the front. When she had finally turned around, he had been gone, wading toward the stairs leading out of the pool. For one moment, she had scanned the entire pool in a panic. When she caught sight of him walking toward her, his feet making wet slapping sounds on the warm concrete, it was the look of relief he remembered. With a huff and a twirl of her damp hair, she walked away from him.

“Logan . . .” Suddenly, he remembered, he had not been able to think of a single thing to say. So, when she had arrived beside the deep end of the pool, he reciprocated, a procedure he had thought he was well aware of and comfortable with, commonly done when dividing two fractions. Oh, the beauty of dividing two fractions by taking the reciprocal of one and turning the whole thing into a multiplication problem, what a neat trick! He reciprocated her by shoving her into the deep end. Logan, true to her form and function, had turned and fixed him with a vengeful eye as she sank into the water.

Then it had been his turn to panic. What if she could not swim? He had not shoved her into the shallow end. She had seen to his safety; he had not seen to hers!

“Logan?” came his panicked whimper, a sound he still heard in his head when he thought of her then. So, Blaise had done what he was good at: he acted without thinking. He jumped in after her, sure and certain he would think of what to do while in the water with her. He remembered the awful feeling that he would not get to the surface again before he needed to breathe as he passed her on the way down.

He remembered the air bubbles going by, laughing at him, and Logan had screamed his name out as he passed her, his name sounding odd through the medium of the heavily-chlorinated water which was already reminding him of his need for air as he descended, feet first.

Oh Buoyancy, why have you forsaken me?

Calculating it made not the slightest difference to his sinking. Logan kicked her legs, grabbed him under the chin and pushed both of them to the surface.

He remembered thinking that she was a powerful swimmer.

His last thought, until after the panic was past, was that he was proud of her for being able to do what captains of ships often could not do. Swim.

She had shoved him roughly to the edge of the pool and held him there while he coughed and hacked and remembered to breathe in loud, grumbling draughts of glorious air.

He remembered being moved almost to the point of writing a poem.

She popped out of the pool, took a firm hold of the waistband of his swimming trunks, borrowed from her father, and pulled him out to lie prostrate on the deck of the pool, coughing up water and drawing in, ruthlessly, huge lungfuls of sweet glorious air. Lying there, half dead, but half alive, he decided he would learn to swim. Logan laughed at him, suggesting he should learn how to drown first. She was always mocking him, but in ways that seemed to propel him in new directions, such as, in this case, to the surface where a human could actually breathe.

Her attempt to mock him by wearing a cheap rapier to match his had encouraged him to learn another weapon which had shocked his father. He asked his father to hire someone to teach him how to handle the French battle axe. He had not earned the tutor’s respect by comparing the weapon to something the Vikings carried and the Swedes could be seen carrying even now, at times. He remembered, swinging the heavy piece of French weaponry around, thinking, for the first time, that, yes, maybe the French were not the first and best at everything.

The French relationship with Vikings had probably brought the axe to their attention and it had been copied, not invented by them.

Blaise Pascal, largely because of Logan’s silly rapier, had done it again, changed his perspective, and he never considered the Seine River, from estuary to initial spring, the same way again. If the Vikings could come up the Rhine and torment the Germans, they could do exactly the same thing to the French, such as they were, by rowing up the Seine. So, whenever Logan wore her rapier, he wore his battle axe, and Logan’s father would never laugh more loudly at the sight. Logan’s mother merely shook her head and turned away.

“You touch the handle of that thing, and I will cut you to ribbons and show you why the Vikings could not do to the French what they did to almost every other nation in Europe.”

Logan made generalization into an art form.

She also introduced him to the concept of ‘cumbersome.’ Blaise remembered saying something about the beginnings of the French cavalry and how the implementation of the horse probably messed up the Vikings only to have Logan draw her rapier and ask for proofs. Blaise had wisely yielded at that point being as there were no immediately available horses and thinking where Logan might stab him if he tried to clamber aboard one.

But Logan was the only person who could make him ‘yield.’ He had been told, firmly and succinctly, that inertial guidance was beyond both this century and him.

“Lord, let me do little things as if they were great since I do them in Your name . . . what could be more great than to do little things of such significance in your name, Lord? Can’t do it, indeed! I will not yield,” Blaise announced to his distillery. “You hear me? Logan?” The answer was silence. “Pfah!” Blaise shouted into the fermenting silence of his distillery. “Inertial guidance is as simple as differential equations! Hell, I bet I could model it with nothing more than arithmetic! Beyond my ability, indeed. I will show you, Logan Sebastian, exactly of what I am capable!” If he had his battle axe at hand, he would have unwisely swung it about to punctuate his pronouncements. “Now, if I can only overcome the persistent and annoying lack of aluminum . . . damn its reactivity. I need aluminum!” The mathematics said it could be done. Joseph Drahuta’s aluminum baseball bat made it quite clear it could be done. So, why had it not been done? “If only aluminum were not so rudely positioned in the periodic table it could be wrestled out of the Earth as easily as its cousin iron . . .” Blaise looked to his right and fastened his attention on the bottle just outside his reach, that lay upon the lab bench, waiting for his attention. It represented a paltry victory, but a victory, nonetheless.

If he could duplicate it reliably, Logan would be suitably impressed. He knew he was. There was no need to predict or guess or even calculate, though knowing the math helped. “Damn the Aqualator . . . damn it to all the Hells available to it for all eternity,” Blaise sniffed, his voice growling with almost the same tone as the electric motor on his bench. His device. He had created it. He would not lose again. Someone had stolen his idea for a water-based computer right out of his head. How?

Blaise knew that Logan had kept the ‘adder’ he had given her, his first foray into making something he knew could be made so had done so. “Okay, so maybe I should not have tried to pin it to your dress.” His words had fogged the inside of the visor for a short time. The helmet sat heavy on his head. Safety first, he heard Chief Matheny’s refrain replay in his head. “Safety first, my ass! If you don’t know where the danger is how can you even predict what safety would be useful? I am asking you! How?” Blaise raised both his hands as if in prayer. “The numbers tell me all I need to know. Numbers first, creation second and safety . . . third, at least!”

“At least Logan is worried I might die . . . maybe Matheny and Julie Drahuta . . . might shed a tear if I died but Logan would shed two or three, I know it!” Blaise Pascal looked around his laboratory. The plastic visor reflected light in odd, unexpected ways and distorted his vision but did nothing to refute ownership. Copper ‘bioreactors,’ stills in a determined vernacular, slowly, relentlessly produced alcohol.

Of his many failures, this was not one of them. His whiskey was made with enough corn to qualify it as such, even amongst the moonshiners he had laboriously interviewed for whatever tricks of the trade he could discern.

He used white oak barrels whose insides had been “scorched, not burned,” giving the ethanol its amber color so favored amongst aficionados. With the meager but steady profits of his liquor production—even his father nodded ever so slightly at his whiskey—he had been able to make the small, efficient motors necessary for his next, more interesting product; rockets that used liquid fuel and had inertial guidance and, therefore, if the mathematics was right and he, being the world’s greatest mathematician, had very few doubts of that, would go where he aimed them. Most solid fuel rockets made even by up-timers tended to have a firm mind of their own once the fuse was lit. His rockets would not have such a capricious ‘mind.’ His rockets would do what they were told, when they were told. And with that math firmly in mind, only then, would he dare the next stage in his plan.

Aluminum would help, of course. He required a pressure suit. Eventually rubber would be available and, with any luck plastics were on the way. He tapped the eye shield as if to make his mental point.

Even Logan did not suspect where he intended to go with this carefully elucidated mathematics, and, more importantly, that he intended to get back. And, to avoid the disaster of the water-based ‘adder’ and computer, he had not told anyone what he was doing. He would keep it all to himself!

Even the mathematics of launch and reentry would remain firmly in his head!

“Copy that if you dare, you French poseurs!” Blaise shouted into the dank, gloom of his laboratory. The motor, firmly clamped to his test bed, yet another term he had picked up during his researches, howled rhythmically. He would need to work on the bearings. He had fooled the great and never-to-be-underestimated Logan Sebastian into thinking his interest in ceramics was attuned to his interest in bottling the products of his distillery.

No, if he could not obtain aluminum for the skin, then maybe ceramics would be sufficient.

Blaise smiled at the electric motor that he had first modeled with his mathematics, then built as if the humming voice of God whispered directions into his ear.

“Great things in your name, indeed, my Lord . . .” Blaise smiled and inhaled. “It’s alive!” Blaise giggled. He remembered thinking of this when the door to his laboratory (a term which rarely did not bring a self-satisfied smile to his face regardless of what Logan had to say or even do) burst open and a well-remembered voice shouted out into the gloom and stink of a very active distillery. Blaise, not one to discount the importance of chemistry, had determined that an atmosphere redolent of ethanol was not one where flame from even a small candle should be introduced, so the gloom was a measurable absence of light and not a more emotionally-tinged declaration. How could his laboratory ever be gloomy, he asked the howling little motor at work before him as if expecting a tender reply.

“Blaise Pascal! I know you’re in here! What in the Hell are you doing?” Logan Sebastian demanded from the doorway and the burst of early afternoon sunlight. “It stinks like a distillery in here!”

“Maybe that is because that is what I am doing . . . distilling whiskey, real whiskey . . . not that rye substitute. I believe, dearest Logan, that I have spoken a pun.”

“Blaise! Cut the ‘dearest’ crap. I have your journal, you . . . you . . . French catastrophe!”

“You have been spying on me!” Blaise tried, with little effect, to raise himself off his sturdy stool and confront this minor wrath of God named, of all things, Logan Sebastian.

“Of course, I am spying on you!” she announced as she wove her way around various and sundry apparatus and marched right up to him, holding his journal like she held most things—like a weapon. “Everyone expects me to know what in the Hell you are doing at every waking moment. One boy thought I might engage in pillow talk. He needed a pillow filled with ice when I was through kicking him. From the smell of it, you are trying to turn yourself into the world’s greatest moonshiner.”

“This is not moonshine, Logan. This”—he waved his hand about, proudly indicating the various containers to be found, from oak casks to copper ones—”is whiskey!”

It was possible, looking at Logan from a determinedly up thrust chin, that Blaise did not see her hand, the one that did not hold a journal before him or he had merely accepted that fact that Logan would do with him whatever she liked and there was nothing to be done about it. Either way, Logan took a firm grip of his lace jabot and shook him, turnout coat and all. It was too hot to keep it buttoned. He wore it less as a protective garment and more like a heavy shawl. “Don’t play silly word games with me, Blaise Pascal . . .”

“Not on your life!” Blaise grumbled past the knuckles that were dangerously infringing upon his throat, “This is no word game. I am making whiskey. Over half the mash is corn. I cannot say it is bourbon since I am not a member of that august family or making this drink within their demesne, but actual Americans called it bourbon regardless. So, there you are, Logan, no word games.” He even tried a shrug, which was just possible.

“If I do not get a detailed answer as to what you are doing, I will take this to your father and have him translate it! My French is not good enough but his is impeccable.”

“Father says your French is quite good . . . Hey, the lace, my dear!”

“I am not here about my French. I am here about this!” She shoved the journal, spine- first into Blaise’s face. “I am sure he will translate it into English for me, Blaise Pascal.” Blaise opened his mouth to reply but all that seemed to come from it was the sound of glass creaking, possibly as small cracks grew within its silica matrix. Logan turned and gave the glass bottle that stood nearby, seeming to rattle or vibrate ever so slightly, an accusing look. “Blaise! What in the hell! What is this?”

“It is something called a ‘Snapple’ bottle. I found it in the trash a while ago, back when I first came to be in Grantville, before I met you. It is a wonderful thing, is it not? It is quite sturdy. Modern, meaning this century, my dear, glassmakers think it a wonder.”

“Why is it vibrating?”

“It is perfect for storing, for a short while at least, my newest creation . . . dry ice! I was going to make some observations when you came bursting in.”

“Blaise! You frigging idiot!” Logan, in one violent motion, dropped the journal and released the boy’s jabot. Then, bent him double with a stern, well aimed blow to the solar plexus. She used his motion to bring him, if not painlessly then rapidly to the ground. “You put dry ice into a sealed glass container? You? Mister ‘There is a unit of pressure named after me’ Blaise Pascal!”

“What could go wrong? It is a very sturdy bottle . . .” Logan inhaled in preparation of a long explanation when the pressure building up inside the glass container reached the limits of the materials ability to contain that pressure, and the glass bottle exploded.

“What could go wrong? Other than that?” Logan whispered down upon him. “You see this?” she tapped one, impatient finger upon the outer surface of his visor. There just above her insistent fingernail, distorting the light the open door allowed inside, was a sliver of glass, stuck to the plastic surface by the remnants of a label that had come with the ‘sturdy’ glass bottle. “Tell me, world’s greatest doofus, how much volume does a piece of dry ice require as it sublimates and what pressure would it exert on the inside of the container it is kept in?”

“You painted your fingernails . . .” Logan grabbed tight hold of the chin strap and slammed the helmet with his head firmly inside, on the stone of the floor. When Blaise could open his eyes again, the sliver of glass was gone and her nose was pressed up against the plastic visor. “So, you made dry ice . . . and, being the seventeenth-century doofus you are, you put it into a glass bottle, not just any glass bottle, but a thick sided glass bottle with a metal cap that seals to the bottle and then, in this warm laboratory, you left it on the table next to your damn head. Where would you be, Blaise Pascal, world’s greatest mathematician, if that had exploded while you sat pondering your whiskey empire? On this floor, bleeding to death!” With that a drop of blood splattered with a wet tick on the face shield as if to make her point.

“Logan . . .” Blaise tried, and succeeded, to get a word in edgewise as Logan, too, was a bit startled by the drop of blood.

“I think you are bleeding?” The second, third and fourth drops came in rapid succession. Logan, with both of her hands grasping Blaise’s chin strap, could not, even had she wanted to, have prevented Blaise from reaching up and swiping a finger across the back of her bare neck then holding the gleaming digit up for her to see. “Let me see, turn your head just so . . . oh dear Lord . . .” Blaise Pascal sincerely hoped that the semicircular section of bottle cap was much less than it appeared as it protruded from the back of her neck, right over the soft bump of a vertebra. More drops of blood ticked and tocked on the plastic of his visor. For some reason, Doctor Guillotine’s invention paraded itself through his head.

Logan was not Marie Antoinette.

There was an object embedded in Logan, an object that had no right to be there so he did the only thing he could be calculated upon to do. He grasped it between thumb and fore finger and yanked. “I got it out!” Blaise smiled, thrusting it toward Logan.


He threw the foul object and proceeded to divest himself of his silk laced jabot and used it to apply pressure to the back of her neck. Blaise, pouncing like a kitten on what little he knew of first aid, smiled up at her. “It wasn’t squirting so it is not an arterial bleed.”

“Did you pull my spine out with that thing? Was that the cap? Those are metal you know. My neck hurts . . . Blaise . . . you . . .”

“No, no, do not faint. I am commanding you not to faint, Logan Sebastian. What will someone think if they come in and find you . . . fainted on top of me. Logan?”

“Blaise, shut up. If I want to faint, I will do so.”

“This reminds me of the pool. You pushed me in then almost jumped in after me but you knew it was the shallow end and all I needed do to avoid drowning was to stand up. You knew what to do immediately. You always do.”

“Blaise, besides trying to kill yourself in the most weird ways possible, what are you doing in here. I knew your grilling of me about the Redstone rocket wasn’t as innocent as you pretended. Dry ice confirms it. You are trying to make liquid oxygen. Don’t deny it. Do you have liquid oxygen in here?”

“Don’t I wish. I would need a better compressor for that. Dry ice is the best I can do. And I need to go to Madame Drahuta’s house to do it. They have access to electricity there. All the electricity I can use or need. The math was right there. Easy as pi. That dry ice existed was as easy as looking it up in the library. It’s like the moon. I almost feel sorry for this Jules Verne who had not the slightest clue about Newtonian physics or open space when he wrote that stupid story he is well known for. Were all problems reduced to artillery in the eighteenth century? We landed on the moon already once so it can be done again. We orbited the Earth many times so if this John Glenn could orbit the Earth three times then why can’t we? Of course, it can be done. I have most of the orbital mechanics done. The mathematics is all there. Now we only need the engineering. That’s what I want to do. The math is easy. Building things, now that takes mental guts. I think you have stopped bleeding. That’s good, right?”

“You THINK I stopped bleeding? Keep it there until you KNOW I have stopped bleeding.”

So, Blaise did so. What else could he do with Logan lying on him and glaring at him through the face shield. “Just look at the periodic table of elements. That wasn’t mathematics, that was arithmetic. Simple as addition and pop . . . there’s another element, as easy as a number line. The math is easy. Engineering, now that’s hard. Metal under tension . . . the math’s right there, waiting. Now if someone could get the whole smelting aluminum thing working, I know I can make a jet engine for an aluminum skinned aircraft. You know why? I saw them on that movie Top . . . Gun?”

“Blaise, you are supposed to be a mathematical genius, not the inventor of a Tomcat.”

“But it’s already been invented. All the math was done and checked then double-checked. Why did they name it after a sort of lustful cat? Unlike that damned 1.21 gigawatts . . . even the 747 is doable. A lot of things are doable with aluminum. I could almost hate you for your joke about Mr. Fusion.”

“Blaise, can we just get past the piece of metal in my spine? That Mr. Fusion thing was funny . . .” Logan smiled one of her evil smiles. “You almost killing me with an overpressurized Snapple bottle is not.”

“Oh, the bleeding has stopped,” Blaise assured her and, of course, himself.

“Blaise,” Logan leaned her head on his chest. “What are you doing? Julie always says that all I have to do is keep track of what you are doing and the ‘why’ will make sense. People are worried because they can’t figure you out. I can’t figure you out. And If I can’t, no one else can.”

“P-51, Cadillac of the sky,” Blaise whispered into her hair. “I know I can make one if we could just get enough aluminum . . . for the skin. How can you do Mach one with canvas skin?”

“And a V-1650 Merlin. . . there is no way you are going to make one of those, Blaise . . . You couldn’t even make an Allison engine. Heck, the Wright Brothers can out do you enginewise. Stick with mathematics. It’s what you are good at.”

“You cried . . .”

“Blaise, stop it. You are going to drive yourself more nuts than you already are. I am sorry about the Mr. Fusion . . . but that whole thing with Mr. Coffee was funny. They still talk about it . . .”

“You never cried over a failed long division problem or a conical dissection. I watch you utterly fail simple long division. Your mathematics needs work, Logan.”

“I see the way you clench your fists when you do a mobius strip, Blaise.”

“The mathematics is already done. Now, it’s on to building it. I will start with orbiting the Earth. I have decided I want to see the curvature of the Earth with my own eyes. Instead of a worldwide electric grid, I will start there. If I can build anything like a Redstone rocket people will stop looking at me as merely a math genius. I have already done everything I have done. I need to do something else, something more. . . understandable. No one cares about conical sections. Everyone looks up when an airplane goes by. And the train, people stand around simply to watch it come and go. I talk about calculus, and people just shake their heads and walk away.”

“Even if it kills you? And everyone around you? High pressure isn’t a joke. Liquid oxygen . . . Jesus, are you aware of the magnitude of the errors involved? Liquid oxygen, it will take days for stuff to stop falling from the sky after you blow up your lab. Chief Matheny would kill me if I didn’t warn him.”

“Escape velocity . . .”

“A bit more than 11 kilometers per second . . . Mach Unachievable. And it isn’t velocity since there is no vector. Gotcha . . .” Logan laughed as she punched Blaise in the chest with her forehead. “Blaise, stop it. Stick to math. No one ever died from an improperly-factored quadratic equation.”

“Actually, I can think of how an improperly-figured quadratic equation could result in an engineering failure . . .”

“Blaise, enough!” Logan hit him again with her head.

“I can’t. I have to do something everyone understands. No one cares that I can solve a second-order derivative or understand the mathematics of imaginary numbers and how it applies to solving problems in electrical engineering. Nobody cares that I can do math in my head they couldn’t do without a calculator. I am going to be trapped into doing double-entry bookkeeping for the rest of my life if I don’t make something work now. I made that dry ice . . . it was hard and I had to scavenge for everything. In three hundred years I don’t want to be known as Blaise the wonder accountant.”

“You could open a casino?”

“And who would show up? Is there anyone who is not aware that I am the father of probability? No, I saw how you cried during that scene . . . P-51 Cadillac of the sky. I want to do something that makes you cry like that. I want you to care about me like you care about . . .”

“Well, blowing a piece of Snapple bottle lid into my neck came close . . .”

“Well, the bleeding is stopped. Let’s get something clean on the wound and take you to Julie. Maybe there is something else to be done.”

“Blaise, what are you doing?” Blaise closed his eyes.

“I am trying to build a rocket out of ceramics, okay? Laugh, go ahead. Everyone else does.”

“I have never laughed at you. And . . . who else knows about this?”

“Nobody takes me seriously. They treat me like I am a kid who can’t be trusted to wipe his own butt.”

“Well, can you?”


“Wipe your own butt? Most Europeans don’t comprehend the concept of toilet paper.”

“You are being unfair, Logan.” Blaise felt it was his duty to defend his century-mates.

“God, Blaise, you are such an asshole. There you go again. Changing the subject, and I helped you do it. What. Are. You. Doing?”

“I am trying to make an inertial guidance system for a medium-sized rocket so that when I launch my own Redstone rocket . . . and don’t lecture me on copyright. The real Redstone is hundreds of years away in a ‘now’ that will probably never exist. The point is, when I aim my rocket up I want it to go that way. Period. I have been building electric motors, high speed ones, so that there is a resistance to changes in torque, like on a motorcycle wheel that resists leaning . . . I think that’s yaw. I figure if I can get to at least a hundred thousand feet then I will have succeeded.”

“In what? Dying a horrible death from asphyxiation? Flaming reentry? Blaise, did you even read the entry in the encyclopedia on Peenemunde? The Germans, well known for their engineering ability, took years to build the V-2 rocket. Years, Blaise, and they didn’t do it in a distillery, though I remember some of the old films showing their failures. Very catastrophic, right up your alley, Blaise.”

“I am not German. I am French! The French do not fail!”

“You are not Werner Von Braun, Blaise Pascal. Stop pretending you are. If you start singing the French national anthem, I will knee you in the nuts! You’ll just blow up and probably take large parts of Bamberg with you then they will come to me and ask me why I didn’t warn them.”

“See? Even you think I am incapable of understanding basic concepts . . .” Blaise moaned, trying to get his knees closer together.

“Oh, like how much volume a certain mass of a condensed gas occupies and the forces such a transition from solid to gas would apply to the container, the sealed container, you big monster of a doofus, until the container explodes. The glass container with a metal lid.”

“I admitted my error, Logan. And, once again, you were around to protect me. So there. I told my sister that’s why I like having you around. Even when you shoved me into the pool . . .”

“Because you came this close”—Logan held up her pointer finger and thumb, separated by a very small gap—”to calling me a whore, Blaise Pascal.”

“I most certainly did not. A whore? Never. A prostitute, perhaps, though, from what I have heard, even the prostitutes in Venice would have been upset at that one-piece bathing suit, French cut of all things, and you blame me for wearing colors that do not exist in nature and you were wearing a bright pink swimsuit I could have used as a visual navigational aid from the stratosphere, Logan Sebastian . . . ”

“I am not a prostitute!”

“Well, if you were, I would hire you to be nearby when I experimented knowing you would save my life at the drop of a hat, pink or otherwise.”

“Oh,”—Logan considered Blaise’s face shield in a way that was not comforting— “and how much would you pay me?”

Blaise realized very suddenly that he had put himself in a very bad position. “Now Logan . . .”

“Don’t ‘now Logan’ me, Blaise Pascal. How much?”

“. . . um, a quart, using that abominable English system of measurement, a full quart of my very best aged whiskey.”

“Aged?” Logan smirked.

“Well, okay, next month it will be one year.” Blaise frowned up at her.

“Some of the best, single malt, Scotch whiskey is aged for ten years, at least.”

“And how do you know?”

“My father likes aged Scotch whiskey. Single malt if he can get it.”

“How do the Scottish know anything about whiskey? Is there anything like Bourbon three hundred years from now from Scotland?”

“Twelve-year-old Glenfiddich single malt Scotch whiskey. My dad’s favorite. Oh, that explains it.”

Blaise sighed deeply. “Explains what? Your father laughed at me when I offered him some of my . . . whiskey.”

“Did he try it?”

“Yes . . . then he bought a quart so he could pour it out on the ground.”

“Wow, he must have liked it.”

“What do you mean?”

“That’s what he does to anything he sees as a threat to his Glenfiddich. So, one quart, huh?”

“Two? Per week?”

“Deal, AND I want to be aware of what you are doing so I can prepare people for bits of Blaise falling from the sky.”

“I admit trying to obtain the silk for parachutes. My calculations suggest at least three will be necessary. But I will not need aluminum if my experiments with ceramics don’t work. You Americans are too content with your aluminum alloys and steels. You did not respect the ceramics. When I talk ceramics to Americans, they ask me about coffee cups and floor tile. Calculating the funnel parameters on a liquid fuel rocket then carving them out of clay has been . . . intellectually amusing. Most people think they will melt. Do people realize how hot clay is made to make it into pottery? Some people are just . . . stupid.”

“So, you want to make intermediate ballistic missiles so you can see the curvature of the Earth?”

“What else would I use them for?”

“Delivery of bombs to distant targets?”

“Why would I want to do that? Have the Japanese become a threat?”

“Blaise . . . how heavy was the life control module that Glenn was in when he was launched into space? Why were the Russians and the Americans trying to put heavier and heavier payloads into outer space?”

“Until this very moment, I was not even thinking nuclear bombs. You put that thought in my head, Logan. You.” He tapped the tip of her nose with one finger. “You always put thoughts in my head, thoughts I would never think of myself.”


“I am not making nuclear bombs to launch into orbit, Logan Sebastian. Perhaps getting to the moon would be an amenable target . . . why are you laughing?”

“You are funny when you’re angry.”

“You threatened to stick a radiation detector . . . in a very delicate location if you caught me ‘fooling,’ your term, fooling with radioactive materials or even researching too heavily into the activities of Pierre and Marie Curie. I have every right to be . . . concerned about your threats, Logan. Is that your grandmother’s pistol?” Blaise shifted slightly underneath Logan.

“Blaise! Watch your hands, please.”

“It is poking me in the thigh. And you did threaten to employ your knee in a very unladylike manner.”

“So,” Logan began, shifting her weight slightly, “mathematics isn’t enough for you anymore? And I am not a lady.”

“Nobody cares about my similar triangles or my work on conics. GE will soon have tubes which means tube-based computers. I have been studying the mathematics of tube-based computers. You are aware, no doubt, that a computational language was named after me. This time I will be more careful with my discoveries and work . . .” He pulled the journal out of Logan’s grasp and closed his eyes as he held it.

“Blaise, are you still . . .angry . . .” ”

“Yes! I AM. My father made it very clear how disappointed he was that I was so busy writing letters to Descartes that I let the invention of the Aqualator slip through my fingers. I won’t let that happen again. I was going to reinvent computers, Logan. Apple II, computer of the skies . . . No one cared. Even the company who stole my idea for a water-based computer has refused to return my correspondence. They have made it perfectly clear that they do not want to speak to me. If I was really as smart as the encyclopedia says, why does no one come to me and ask me to solve their problems? I am laughed at, smirked at . . . a death pool is made to predict the date, time, and manner of my death so others may profit . . .”

“Well, I was going to buy up all the ‘Blaise dies trapped in Earth orbit or in a horrific explosion and fire on the launch pad’ . . . but I won’t if . . . Blaise Pascal and his very own Apollo 1 disaster upsets you.”

“No, go ahead. May my death profit you, Logan Sebastian. It’s only fair.” Blaise looked at the blood stain on his lace jabot. “I have the reentry math all figured out. I will not be trapped in orbit. Don’t buy that one. I have the reentry burn all calculated. It’s in my head. Some scumbag steals my rocket idea and tries to be the first doofus in space, they will be—forever. They will not get my reentry math. Most people, as I have learned, think you go up then you come down. Well, it’s not that easy. Good luck to them trying to calculate their reentry parameters on the fly with pencil and paper and an aqualator. That would be amusing to watch from the ground, inside a bunker, shielded against falling objects.”

“What about landing? I suppose we could zero in on the sound of your screaming . . .”

“I am thinking mid-Atlantic, near the Canary Islands. At least it will be warm.”

“Blaise.” Logan reached in under the plastic visor and wiped away a tear. “You don’t have to prove anything to me . . .”

“Yes, I do. I am tired of bookkeeping and having people shout out questions like, Blaise, what is the square root of 187? I am not a trained monkey or one of these parrots you keep talking about.”

“Grey parrots can do math,” Logan smiled.

“Is that what I am to you? A grey parrot?”

‘I bet you’re thinking of where you can get your hands on a grey parrot. I can see your brain working through your eyes, Blaise Pascal.”

“By my research an elephant is smarter.” Blaise sighed.

“Well.” Logan smiled after a few moments. “What is the square root of 187? I am assuming there is a point in there somewhere. When it comes to numbers you are not random. I have heard you curse chaos mathematics, Blaise Pascal.”

“13.67 . . . is that all I am? Some kid who knows math and nothing else?” Blaise sighed. “If I am going to be ignored then I want to be rich so I can afford not to care. If I am going to be nothing more than a cheap, pocket calculator then I want to be a cool one that people consult at the drop of the hat. I am tired of being ignored. No one cares that I am Blaise Pascal, world’s greatest anything. Not a single university has returned my correspondence. Not one, Logan. Maybe if I launch myself into the stratosphere and return, alive, people will take me seriously. I won’t be some stupid boy everyone is waiting around to see how he dies.”

“I don’t want you to die, Blaise Pascal, no matter how big a doofus you are.”

“I am concerned you even thought for a moment I would try to make a nuclear bomb. Even as a method of propulsion the half-lives are foul things to inflict on future generations. What were Pierre and Marie thinking? 1600 years? Now there are a pair of doofi, if you were to ask me.”

“The Curies were not doofi. They just made a mistake. You do worse things on and with purpose. It is only self-defense that people try to predict what you are doing and how that . . . changes things.”

“I have also been working on components.” Blaise smiled up through the blood-stained visor.


“If GE makes tubes they will need capacitors and resistors and diodes and such. I think I can make those. Maybe they will be more profitable than whiskey.”

“What caused all this making stuff? You are known as a mathematician, not an engineer.”

“People can change. No one cares if you can factor a whole number or even know why. People care about your computer working or your rockets flying where they are meant to go. No one cares that my similar triangles are, indeed, similar.”

“Okay, I get it . . .”

“Do you? I died unmarried, no children, alone.”

“So did your sister . . .”

“Well, yes, but she has a boyfriend now.”

“How did you find out?”

“I am, after all, her big brother. Of course, I found out. Actually, the young man came to me to ask if it was okay. He didn’t want me mad at him. He had read some book by Sabatini and knew that all French men were expert swordsmen. Don’t tell Jaqueline. She’ll only get mad and lecture me into a stupor about how it’s none of my business who her boyfriend is. I haven’t the faintest idea what father would do. You don’t know how afraid I am that we won’t work out. Maybe God has a plan for me and it’s a plan for me to die alone. I am sure I would make a good father . . . but I want to have done something worth your attention, worth your part in my new future. When you gave me that ruler, you changed everything.” Logan watched Blaise reach over to a space above his heart where, under all that cloth and the metal of the turnout coat fasteners, that stupid draftsmen’s ruler hung on a silver chain.

She began laughing, and its suddenness startled him.

“Sometimes, Blaise Pascal, I want to beat the crap out of you and other times, I want to kiss you but I can’t because you got this stupid, bloody plastic thing covering over your face.”

“Well, it’s rather simple, really. Watch, you just do this and the visor slides up and over the top of the helmet.” Blaise turned his head slightly, expecting a kiss on his cheek. Logan, grabbing his chin, turned his face and planted a more intimate kiss which, more than her laugh, startled him. “What will someone think if they came in right now?”

“This is a laboratory. Let’s experiment . . .”

“Logan . . .” Blaise’s muffled demand for something or other from Logan was ignored and the experimentation continued amongst the broken glass and the hum of a still functioning electric motor, ignored on the bench where it had been unceremoniously left.