Spanish Netherlands, Early October 1632


Within is the singularly most important paper on mathematics ever written. It is called the Crucibellus Manuscript, and it is only the first volume of several.

Digest the enclosed manuscript. This one was hand delivered to me by a man who got it from the writer in Grantville; supposedly a man of our time who accessed the substantial library there.

Mathematics, the sciences, and philosophy have taken a 350-year leap forward overnight!

Your friend in knowledge

Fr. Marin Mersenne

René Descartes looked at the bundle that accompanied the letter. He had heard of the town from the future, who hadn’t by now? But there were so many rumors, so many things that sounded too fantastic to be true. So, logically, they were not.

The Protestant church said the age of miracles was over. That was not true, because surely this was a miracle he held in his hands. Or at least the first evidence of a miracle. He cut the string with a small scissors and tore back the several layers of oiled paper from around the folio. Dropping the wrappings to the side he went to his desk, which overlooked the garden of the small house he was renting.

For the next two weeks, he studied the book. The little house was silent. His servant came in the morning, while he slept, and prepared his meals. Then she left him in solitude for the rest of the day. He studied, took notes, and studied more. He settled into a routine of reading a section of the work, taking notes, and then thinking solidly about it for a day or more. He scribbled questions in the margins of the book. And he thought.

And he thought some more.

The third week after receiving the manuscript, and having examined it from many perspectives, he flew into an uncontrollable rage. “It isn’t fair!” He threw papers from his desk, tore up notes and letters, kicked furniture, and broke the door of a very sturdy Dutch armoire. He broke dishes, and raged at the great unfairness of it all. “This was mine! Mine! Mine to discover, mine to tell people how to find! My methods. My name. My legacy!” He broke the remaining plates and after exhausting himself, collapsed onto the floor in the small study, sobbing. “This was all to be mine, someday. It is what I’ve been working on for years. My Methods of Logic. How to think. This should be all mine.”

After a while he drew himself up, and began to pick up the pieces of the manuscript. He stacked them carefully together, then set them on a table in front of him. He stood in front of the table, hands behind his back, peering at the neat but tattered stack. “These mathematics are understandable, reachable. And were reached with my methods. The book I am writing now. That I was writing now. That I am no longer writing. That I have no need to ever write.”

He stared at the manuscript for an hour, standing in front of it. His mind quieted from the rage, and he began to think. It was what he did; think. To think. Thinking . . .

At the end of the hour, he began to chuckle, and after a moment he broke out into a peal of guffaws. He laughed so hard that he cried. He eventually found himself on the floor again, in front of the table, exhausted.

“Never let it be said that God doesn’t have a sense of humor.”

Paris February 1633

“Did you know I had a child, Mersenne?” René Descartes rested the copy of an up-time book on the table in front of him, incredulous. “A child? Th-that’s preposterous. A child.” He shook his head, and ran the alien concept through his brain once again. He tossed it on the table, which was heaped with copies of up-time texts, including several biographies of himself. “When I went to Holland, I vowed to give up women. They are a distraction. A constant and nagging distraction. They make a man unreasonable, and he cannot concentrate.” He began to pace in the long room, with tall windows on one side so the sun could stream in. “One tends to think with the wrong brain, the little one, when women are around.”

Marin Mersenne looked up from his manuscript, and smiled. “Do I need to remind you, you are talking to a Minim Friar, René? That little brain you speak of is why we take a vow of chastity, along with poverty, and obedience.” He pulled up the sleeves of his coarse black wool habit, crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, smiling broadly.

René paused, and then awkwardly guffawed. “Ha! I would suppose so, my friend.” He paced again to the table, and spread his arms wide to lean on it. “Look at this. Three hundred years worth of mans’ thought. Piled on a table in our brand new Académie Française. Just like that. Plop! And this is just the surface. It will take us years to assimilate all of them. The math, that is straightforward. We can follow nearly all of that. But the philosophy, Marin, that is what excites me.”

Marin nodded. “I can see that, René. I can see your influence all over these books. In many ways, your math, and your methods, were the start of nearly all of this. You are the foundation, my friend, of modern thought. It says so, somewhere in this book, I think . . . ” He held up another up-time copy.

René tried to suppress a giddy grin, and failed miserably. “Rather remarkable when you think on it, isn’t it?” He straightened up from the table and once again failed to suppress a strutting walk toward the windows. “Did you read what it said about me, Marin? About taking care of the woman, the one who bore my child? I provided for her even after my death.”

Marin grew still for a moment, waiting for René’s giddiness to pass. “It is too bad about the child, René.”

René turned back from the window, toward Marin, and shrugged. “No need to mourn. I have left Holland. I will never meet this woman from Holland, never bed her, never have a child with her. And one needs to be born first, in order to die. Even Christ. There is no need to mourn for something that will never happen.” He shrugged again. “Butterflies. The up-timers call it the butterfly effect. More poetic than their usual penchant for reducing everything to acronyms.”

“It has been how long since they arrived? Eighteen months? Twenty?” Marin shuffled through the pile of papers in front of him.

René leaned against the windowsill. “Do you know what it means, Marin?”

Marin raised his eyebrows. He was a rather handsome man in his thirties. “I think it will take many years before we know what it all means, René. There are so many—”

“—No, that isn’t what I am talking about.” René waved his arms about as if shooing flies out of the air. “I am taking about me. What it means to me, and how I should interpret my once future actions that will now never be.”

“I am not sure I understand . . . “

René came back to the table and picked up the copy of his biography, and waved it at Marin. “I’m talking about this. The man described in these books.” He used the first manuscript to shove others about on the table. “Me. You see, up until the moment when this version of the future somehow collided with our reality, I was the same man as described in these books. Maybe even a little while after, at least until I first heard about Grantville. At that point, I became a different man, and the one who wrote these books is forever dead. At least will never exist.”

Marin nodded. “It was the same for everyone. We all were changed from what we would have been. Different choices. Different mistakes, different thoughts.”

“But you agree that we are the same men, only changed by our knowledge. You and I are not some new creation.”

“Yes. We are the same men, just changed in our paths for the last twenty months or so.”

René smiled. “So we are the same men as in these books.”

“Of course.”

“A child” René said. “And a woman. Do you know what this means?”

Marin grinned. “I know it isn’t usually in that order. A woman usually comes first.”

René made a face at Marin. “Don’t mock me, I’m serious here. We have known each other for, what? Ten years? And you know how I always felt about distractions. Women, chiefly. Terrible distractions. I hate distractions” He held up the manuscript. “But look at what I accomplished. Even with a distraction. This nameless Dutch servant girl, and a child. Do you know what this means?”

Marin thought for a moment. He looked at René, and the pile of manuscripts, and then back to René. Finally, he smiled. “I think I see, René. You learned to love someone. In spite of your work, in spite of your hatred for distractions, you learned to love.”

René sat at the table across from his friend, serious and muted. “I never thought I could love someone. That I, René Descartes, the man who was—and is to create the new ways of looking at things, could discover love such as that.”

“But you have always loved God. I see that from all of your correspondence from your works from the future. You were always scrupulous about staying within doctrine of the church. You clearly have a love of the Church and God.”

“Of course. But that’s different. Loving God is like loving your mother and respecting your father. It is simply something you do. Quite frankly, staying within doctrine is something you do in order to create—what did I read in one of these down-time political books? Ah, yes. Plausible deniability. Yes, that was it. One must always have plausible deniability when dealing with the inquisition. That’s why Galileo wrote his book on planetary motion as taking place in a ‘hypothetical’ universe. Doesn’t look like that was enough, they are still going to put him on trial, aren’t they?

“That will be a bit, well, awkward, I think.” Mersenne frowned. “It’s a great challenge for the church to determine what this all means.”

René came back to the table and sat across from his friend. “Awkward, yes. Something we scientists must watch with great interest. Church Doctrine versus Galileo, and Galileo has the up-time science on his side.” He pushed some books aside, and opened a copy of a third grade science textbook. This was one of the few original texts they had, and in it was a two-page color drawing of the solar system. The sun was solidly in the middle. Exactly where Galileo had placed it.

Paris, May 1633

“Do you believe it? A woman is Crucibellus. A woman! Damned bluestocking. It sends one to thinking, doesn’t it, René?” Etienne Pascal looked down the row of seats toward Descartes and smiled slyly.

The lecture was completed, and the crowd in the small drawing room was beginning to stand and move toward the doors. All around Descartes stood a group of men, and all had been taking copious notes. René Descartes looked back to Pascal, who sat next to him. “Why that smile, Etienne? What is it that you know that we do not?”

Pascal rose with Descartes and leaned in to speak quietly. “My son and daughter have been in the town of the future for several weeks now. I have letters. They say that men and women are equals there. It excites my daughter to no end.”

“I have not had the honor of meeting them yet, Monsieur Pascal. Perhaps that can be arranged when I return,” Colette Modi said quietly. Descartes turned to look into the eyes of the world-renowned Crucibellus. Her eyes were quite striking in a way he hadn’t seen when she was at the podium. While she lectured on number theory today, the intelligence in her voice was clear. But her intense gaze, coupled with her voice, now struck him and his group as someone very special. Pascal recovered first.

“Madame Modi, it is a true joy to meet you in person. We didn’t think we would be able to have this time with you, after the lecture.” Pascal’s manner was smooth, as one who was a member of the petite noblesse should be, thought René a little jealously.

“The pleasure is mine, Monsieur Pascal.” She curtsied as she returned the greeting.

Recovering, René bent into his own bow, and out of the corner of his eye he could see several other members of the Académie Française doing the same. “Madame Modi, it is truly a pleasure.”

She focused on him directly once again. “René Descartes?”

He rose from his bow and nervously returned her gaze. “Yes, Madame. That is I.”

“I imagine that you were well into writing Le Monde when my manuscript was sent to you? My apologies for the interruption. Cogito, ergo sum is a phrase that is known across the centuries. It is a pleasure to know one of France ‘s most famous philosophers.”

René felt his face flush, and he bowed again in thanks. “You do me an honor in saying so, Madame Modi. I must admit that the arrival of your manuscript was met by me with . . . uh . . . mixed emotions. So much of the work was based on the very things I was working on. I was, shall we say, cast adrift from my plans.”

Madame Modi smiled and nodded to him, her eyes cast down in an apology. “You know we have something in common, Monsieur?”

“I-I am not sure I understand, Madame. Of course we both love the mathematics, and the pursuit of knowledge.” René felt off balance as the woman looked directly at him.

“A dream. According to your biographers, you decided to become a philosopher when you were in Germany many years ago, on a winter campaign when you served with Duke Maximilian. In what was called a ‘stove heated room.’ “

René smiled. “Ah yes, my Day of Discoveries and Night of Dreams. I have read some of the future accounts of my past and my no longer possible future.” He looked at her with gentle accusation. “There was much abbreviation I found. But on the whole, they seem to have gotten it right. There are a few items, but I won’t quibble. But you are right, a dream is what sent me down the path. Or a series of dreams, rather. Did the same thing happen to you?”

“Somewhat the same thing. I had a dream where all of the great mathematicians faded into darkness after the Ring of Fire, unknown. I took as my task to make sure that wouldn’t happen. Newton should not be overlooked.”

René nodded quietly. “Nor should Sartre, or the Scotsman, Ferrier.”

She looked at him, with a questioning gaze. “You have read much, I see. More than I, certainly. I have focused on the math, and left the philosophy to others.” She straightened slightly. “But you, it makes sense. Your math was brilliant, but your philosophy is what helped change the world.”

A big man, whose patience had run out waiting for a break in the conversation, joined them, large and loud. Pierre Fermat. “Oh good heavens, don’t tell him that! He’s already hard enough to put up with.”

René was slightly relieved when the intense questioning gaze of the woman left him. He had always been awkward in the face of beauty, and while sequestered away in the Dutch countryside, he didn’t think of women. It was a tremendous advantage to his work. But in Paris, things were very different. He smiled. The big man, Fermat, was speaking.

“I’m Pierre de Fermat, Madame. Allow me to make some further introductions.” He pulled her by the hand without waiting for her approval. “As you know, the cardinal has started the Académie Française a few years early, and he has gathered many of us together. He had to haul Descartes out of the Netherlands to bring him here. I believe you have met Father Mersenne?”

Mersenne, wearing sandals and his only clothing of a severe black monks robe tied with a cord of four knots, bowed to her. “I am honored to meet you, Madame. It was very kind of you to send me the original manuscript.”

Fermat butted in. “Kindness had nothing to do with it. She knew you would send it to every mathematician in France the instant you read it. This is a shrewd young lady, indeed.”

She turned and smiled at the Minimus priest. “I hoped that was you in the audience, Friar. When I saw your robes, I assumed it was you. Thank you for coming to this small lecture.”

“You must meet the rest of them, Madame.” Fermat tugged at her arm. ” Over here we have the Académie Française Moon Crater Club. According to the research and some of the maps we have seen, these fellows here are charter members. This is Pierre Gassendi, who your up-time people will like. He has always been on the pragmatic side. He is very much a smug empiricist now. This young man is Jacques de Billy, whom we dragged to Paris from Rheims, along with his friend and mine, Claude Gaspard Bachet de M é ziriac. Oh, and let’s not forget our Turk, Katip Celebi, come to hear you from Istanbul. He has no moon crater named after him, at least that we know of.”

The crowd began to ease away from René, flowing along with Madame Modi. As they eased away from him, he heard Madam Modi interrupt Fermat, asking about some theorem. René felt relieved. The highly social, and somewhat loud Fermat irritated him. As he began to step backwards, away from the intensity of the crowd, he felt himself stepping solidly on someone’s foot.

“Ouch.” It was a quiet cry of pain, and an exclamation of suppressed surprise. René turned around nearly in a panic, and opened his mouth to apologize. But he was instantly struck dumb by the beauty with which he was presented. In shock, all he could do is blink into the face of the girl, whose own face was forcing a smile over what appeared to be some level of real pain. At the same time, her eyebrows were questioning, expecting something as she shifted her weight to her other foot . . .

He blinked at her twice more, his brain a jumble. Finally, “Apologize, you dolt!”

“Umm. Uh. I’m sorry mademoiselle. I am a clumsy mule. I did not look behind me. Please forgive me.” René shifted uneasily; he was still quite close to her. “I didn’t realize you were there, I-I apologize again.” He stepped back to bow to that beautiful face, and promptly stumbled backwards into a chair, tried to keep his balance, and ended up plopping down hard on the seat. He could feel his face flush, and he looked around to see if anyone noticed. It appeared all of the room’s focus was on Madame Modi, and nobody had seen him. Except the woman on whom he had stomped. And she was now standing on one foot, and hiding her mouth with her hand as she giggled, pain under the giggle.

René wished he could melt into the floor. He made some mental calculations on how much heat that might take.

The woman, quite young by his measure, at least younger than him, hobbled to the seat next to him and took off her shoe. It was a flimsy affair, barely a slipper. He stared down at his own heavy boots. Still staring at his boots, he added lamely “that must have hurt quite a lot. I am very sorry.”

“I was too close to you, as I was trying to listen. I should have realized. It’s my fault. My mother says I am too nosy. This will give her more reason to tell me not to come to lectures. Not that I am a nosy person, but I was just trying to listen to Madame Modi when you stepped back. Perfectly innocent, not nosy—Oh dear. I am rambling.” She took a deep breath, and extended her hand. “Isabeau. Isabeau Montclair.”

Gently taking her hand, almost if he were afraid he would break that too, he gathered from somewhere deep inside enough courage to look her in the eyes. “René. René Descartes. I am truly sorry for your foot, mademoiselle.” She had dark eyes, with flecks of green and grey scattered about, dark hair, a youthful and innocent round shape to her face, and skin very smooth. No pox scars, pristine. It made her look very youthful.

“Think nothing of it, Monsieur Descartes. I am sure it will heal. Sometime.” She smiled slyly at him.

“You are making fun of me now.” Inside he felt relieved. She can’t be hurt too badly if she is joking with me, he thought. But what to say next? What should he do? The pause stretched on. What should he say? Dammit. Why was he acting like a schoolboy? He glanced at her, she was sitting demurely, and glanced at him. He broke eye contact and once again examined his boots. There was more awkward pause. The crowd started to thin. After an eternity, she finally put on her shoe and rose from the chair. He rose with her, and offered her his arm.

“Do you require assistance, Mademoiselle?”

She gazed at him a moment, as if considering. “No, I think I am good. Nothing broken.” She wriggled her foot to test it. “Merci.”

René could feel his face fall. “But of course, whatever you wish, Mademoiselle.” He bowed and turned to go, this time avoiding the chair. Before he could take a step, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“I have changed my mind, René Descartes. I think my foot hurts more than it should. Perhaps you should assist me to my carriage.” She locked her arm around his in a movement that surprised and delighted him. He could feel the warmth of her arm, and the weight of her body against his. He caught his breath for a moment, felt his face flush slightly, and they eased carefully to the door.

Paris, October, 1633

“Will he be here soon, Isabeau? I tire of waiting.” Isabeau’s mother, Angelique Montclair, was absently fluffing pillows in the ornate drawing room. Late afternoon light filtered in through the large multi-paned windows, while the fireplace at the other end of the room tried and failed to radiate its heat to where Isabeau sat.

Isabeau sighed. “Very soon, I am sure. He is terrible with time, you know Mama. Terrible. He forgets what hour it is. He forgets appointments because he doesn’t keep a calendar. The cardinal actually gave him an up-time watch from Grantville so he would not be late. He forgets to put it on.”

“An up-time watch? That’s worth a fortune! Does it work? Or does it need those embattlements?”


“Oh, I don’t know what you call them? Fortifications?”

“Fortifications?” Isabeau furrowed her brow and struggled to understand her mother.

“They make the electricity-things.”

“Oh! The batteries.” Isabeau laughed “Yes. It has batteries.”

“That makes it worth even more money.”

“Mother, is that all you ever think about? Money? I know we have enough from before Father died. The farms in the country, his other interests. I have seen the letters, you know. We are secure.”

Angelique stopped her fluffing, and looked at Isabeau with a single raised eyebrow. “A woman on her own in this world is never secure, Isabeau. We are petite noblesse, not some family whose fortune and lands have come down from the old days. The only thing we have is money, dear.” She set the pillow down on the small couch and sat next to Isabeau. “The only reason we are accepted at all—that you are allowed to attend lectures and traipse across Paris like a princess and rub shoulders with real nobility—is because we have money. You may think they accept you because you know circles and rectangles and hypotenuse, but they wouldn’t give you the time of day if it wasn’t for the cash. I don’t know a battery from a battlement, but I do know that.”

“But, Mother . . . “

“No buts. That is why this match is so important. Personally, I think Descartes is crazy. But, fortunately you seem to truly like him, so that counts for something.” She patted Isabeau’s hand.

Isabeau turned and faced her mother. “But he isn’t crazy, Mama. Not crazy at all. He is brilliant, more brilliant than this world can contain. There are times when observing his mind can be like staring into the sun. You cannot look directly at it. Remember when Gassendi demonstrated for us with paper and pinhole, how to observe the sun? You can’t look at the sun directly or you will go blind. But if you look at it after it comes through a pin hole, and see it project itself onto a blank paper, then you can make out the details. That’s what being around René is like. You cannot understand him if you look directly at him. He is too strong mentally, too overwhelming. But if you are patient, and do not stare, and wait for him to turn his thoughts into something the rest of us can understand, then you can really learn things. See things with a perception that comes from somewhere very special. He can help you to see things that you never, in your most amazing dreams, could possibly think of.”

“The cardinal has said that he is a good catch too, you know. I corresponded with him just last week. He always asks about you and René. Do you know that he sends me a note nearly every week, inquiring about you and René?”

“And what do you tell him, mother?”

“That you are both good Catholics, and we are hopeful.”

We are hopeful?”

“I occasionally editorialize. The cardinal is always happy to hear of news about Monsieur Descartes and you.”

“So you report to Cardinal Richelieu on our relationship?”

“No, my dear. It isn’t anything like that. We just have a correspondence that’s all. He sends gifts on occasion. It’s quite gratifying to someone like me to have a famous correspondent. You’re not the only one in the family who can have a famous friend, you know. I do it for our family.”

“Mother, you’re a spy for the cardinal.”

“No dear. Not a spy. Simply a proud mother who desires the best for her daughter. And as suitors go, Descartes is the best one I can see. Except he is crazy. And has a large nose, even by French standards.”

Isabeau smiled at her, and extended her hand. “You know I would be bored out of my mind with any other suitors. Most of them are not bright enough to know when I insult them. I know math and sciences better than any of them—”

“—I never understood that about you.” Her mother interrupted. “Why you insisted on learning mathematics, learning about the sciences, attending lectures. ‘Tis something you were born with, like your father. God rest his soul, he was the same way. Always scribbling, always thinking about triangles and odd circles. It wasn’t natural, and it isn’t natural for you either. Especially as a woman.”

“Mother. We have discussed this before. What is and isn’t natural for a woman is changing. Slowly here in France, faster elsewhere. But it is changing. Look at Madame Modi when she was here in the spring. She had hundreds of the most brilliant minds in France falling at her feet, hanging on her every word. To be part of that is—is indescribable. Beyond imagination.”

Angelique looked at her with another raised eyebrow. “Sane men do not cut apart people and animals of all sorts and study them. What he does isn’t normal.” She extracted her hands from Isabeau’s grip. “He spends half of his time cutting up hanged criminals, and half of his time figuring out how to blow people up, or shoot down airplanes or fly airplanes, or drill through a mountain—”

“—Did I tell you he showed me how you can drink the air?

“That’s what I mean. People do not drink the air!”

“He showed it to me in the summer. There was a device they made, like two hollow cannonballs and pipe between them. He heated it, and then one end became very cold. He put a cup under the cold end, and in a few moments pure water was formed out of the air, and dripped into a cup. Enough to take a sip of cold water. That was in July, when it was so hot.”

“You drank water! That will kill you, or make you sick enough that you wished you were dead. You should stick with wine. For someone so smart, you’re very stupid sometimes.”

“Mother . . . “

” . . . And another thing, he has changed lately, don’t think I haven’t noticed. He seems even more brooding lately, darker. Have you noticed?”

“Mother, please,” Isabeau said firmly. “He has many things on his mind. The Académie Française, his experiments, and all of the up-time reading he is doing. It is very tiring for him. Is that something you put into your letter to the cardinal?”

“I’m not that stupid, dear. The cardinal only gets sunshine and roses from me.”

They were interrupted by a knock on the door. Both of them turned to it, and then back to each other.

Isabeau smoothed her dress in front of her and made a face at her mother. “You can go now, Mother. Please?”

“Very well. But I will be right next door.”

“Listening,” Isabeau admonished.

“Of course, dear. You don’t think I would leave you alone with that madman, do you?” With that, she turned and left the room through a door near the fireplace. There was another polite knock.

“Come.” The door opened and the footman ushered in René Descartes. His square frame stumped into the room, and he flung his cloak off his shoulders, handing it off to the footman in one motion.

“How late am I, Isabeau?”

“No more than usual, René.” She sighed.

“My misery continues. I argued with Fermat at the Académie Française again today. Long and loud. I don’t know if I can keep this up much longer.” He continued to stump across the room, agitated, at the same pace as when he entered. “I cannot think like this. I cannot fit into their laboratories or factories and their meetings of—of nothing!. Deadlines. They want deadlines for things that have never been invented before, things that are little more than rumors or shadows or outlines on the papers they bring from Grantville.”

“René, calm down. It isn’t necessary for you to shout. Please.” She crossed her arms and looked at him. He ignored her.

“These things must be thought about, they must be explored. One cannot snap ones fingers and create a flying machine . . . .” He continued to pace, almost frantically now. Isabeau stood and intercepted him as he crossed by, snatching his arm.

“René! Please. This is as bad as I have ever seen you about Fermat and the Académie Française.” He paused and looked at her for a moment, and then continued to pace without registering that he heard her. “You know this is for the good of France.”

“—Do not tell me of the good of France, the glory of France, the future of France, the greatness of France, the everlasting peace of France, the greater glory of God and France, or of France showing God’s way to the lesser nations!” He was now waving his hands about as he started pacing again. “I am sick to death of France, sick to death of Paris. I cannot concentrate here. I simply cannot. There are too many meetings, too many people, too many demands . . . ” he trailed off, seeming to realize where he was. He immediately looked sheepish, and his ears turned pink. “Damn.”

Isabeau flashed him her patient smile.

“Sorry.” He gracefully went to her, and kissed her hand. “I am sorry, Isabeau. You are the only thing that keeps me sane, in what has become an insane world. More insane by the day. Your presence is enough to soothe me.”

“Thank you, René.” She paused a moment and looked into his eyes. They were dark, intense and overwhelming. He seemed to catch her gaze as well, and his full intensity focused on her. She felt her diaphragm tighten, like it did the day she met him, when she latched onto his arm. She pulled him close. He bent to her compliantly, still smelling of the coolness from the street, and the chemicals of the Académie Française. “My mother is a spy for the cardinal. We must be discreet.”

His hand went around her waist. “Does this mean I cannot complain about that idiot Fermat in front of her?” He whispered back to her.

Her hands went to his shoulders, and she tilted her head back to continue gazing into his eyes. “That might be foolish, she would notice the difference if suddenly you stopped. So would the cardinal for that matter.”

He bent to her a little further, and touched his nose to her forehead, and then down her nose. Their lips brushed. “I thought we were quite good at keeping quiet, so no one could hear us.”

She leaned slightly forward with her body, and pulled her head back. “You are incorrigible,” she whispered.

“You made me that way, Isabeau.” He kissed her, gently at first, then as her passion rose, she responded. They kissed. After a long moment, René broke the kiss. “She spies for the cardinal?”

“Not in so many words, but yes.” She smiled coyly and played with his jacket button. “Not out of malice, but out of her love.” Isabeau didn’t add more to the statement, to do so would be unfair to her mother. They pressed their foreheads together gently. “Did you tell Fermat about the paper? What you want to write?”

He sighed deeply, paused, and broke the embrace. He looked at her a moment, then turned away and stepped to one of the windows. The brilliant spring day was fading, but the traffic in the city below looked as if it were trying to hold on to the sunshine, bustling toward the light as it drained out the long city boulevards, wanting to hold onto this day a bit longer, before the chill of a spring night returned. René understood their hope. Understood the cool night would be returning. He turned back to her. “Not yet, Isabeau. I’m not ready. It’s inevitable. The thought of these philosophers must come out into the open. Spinoza, Rousseau, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Russell, the list goes on. Just the acceptance of the concept of natural rights of man destroys the last thousand years of thought. And that is only one thing. It is so much, so fast. It means so much, asks so many bold questions. Questions I dare not have asked in this age. Grantville has unleashed a force that is too great to stop.”

“You used to say that God unleashed Grantville on us.”

“I’m not too sure any more. About God—”


“I have read things, Isabeau! As much as I possibly could. And then I thought. I thought long and hard on things by the greatest minds from the future. Men who took my work and built on it. My work, Isabeau. Great philosophers who grew up with the sun in the center of their solar system, and their solar system one of billions in a galaxy, and that galaxy one of an infinite number of other galaxies in the universe. That changes the way a man looks at the world. I was taught as a child, with absolute certainty that the heavens were a fixed dome, and the sun revolved around the earth. The Jesuits taught me this as a truth. But they were wrong. There is where I started.” He began to pace again. “Do you understand, Isabeau? A philosopher that knows about the construction of the universe as a truth from since he was a child, what kind of a difference that makes on his mind? How he views God? How he views man in relation to God? How he views the existence of God? Just that single lesson is enough to change your view of this planet, and where it sits in the greater scheme. Just that single lesson.”

“René. The cardinal must not know of these things. How you feel about this. He has stated what he thinks of Vatican II reforms that have been passed around—”

“—which I have read,” he interrupted firmly. “And studied. They are fascinating and speak to the changes that are coming. That must come, and inevitably will come to France. Whether Richelieu wants them to or not.”

“I see.” Isabeau sighed and pulled René to the couch, and they sat. She turned to him, worried. “René, do you speak of this to anyone? Anyone besides me?”

He snorted a suppressed laugh at her. “Somewhat with Mersenne, but I can trust him. I am not a fool, my dear. That sort of thing can get one in the deepest sort of trouble. And yet . . . ” His voice trailed off in thought, and his eyes glazed over as he stared at the fireplace along the far wall.

Isabeau had seen this sort of thing from him before, and she waited patiently for a minute while he thought. There were times he could do this for hours.

“What should we do, René?”

He stood up and away from her, and then looked at her strangely, seriously, but in a way that she had not seen before. He took a step toward her, and she involuntarily shrank away. “Do you mean that, Isabeau?” His intensity could be mercurial.

“Mean what?” She was confused. This was one of those times when his mind was elsewhere, working on a level she didn’t fully comprehend.

“Did you mean that?”

“I-I don’t understand. Mean what?”

“What should we do? You asked, what we should do?”

She shook her head trying to gain focus, and smiled. “Yes. I asked what should we do.” She began to feel uncomfortable as he took another step closer. “Simple enough question.”

He stopped and looked at her with a curious gaze. “Do you know you are the smartest woman I have ever met?”

She felt her face flush. “René—”

“You see, Isabeau, you didn’t ask what I should do. You asked what we should do. We. So there is only one thing we can do.”

“What is it?”

“One question first. Are you with me in this? The philosophers of the future? The advancement of human thought?”

She answered without hesitation. “Of course. How could I not be?”

He reached out and held her hand, smiled warmly, and then knelt in front of her. “We must marry.”

The Library at the Académie Française, after Galileo’s trial, July 1634

Marin Mersenne slammed his palm onto the library table with a great deal of frustration. “It is a matter of doctrine, René! You are more aware than anyone I have ever worked with—and I have worked with every scientist in France who is worth his salt—that church doctrine determines how we study the sciences. The natural philosophy of the future is diametrically opposed to present church doctrine. It’s heresy, pure and simple.”

René had his back to Mersenne, and was gazing out the massive windows of the library. René wasn’t looking at anything particular. And at the moment he was quite irritated with Mersenne. “I will write my summary. And publish it.”

Mersenne’s voice softened, trying a new argument. “You have read your future works. You were always scrupulous to maintain adherence to the teachings of the church. Your letters are full of conversations addressing the very issue. That history must mean something to you, René.”

René continued to stare out the window. “My desire was to have my book on philosophical method, my Le Monde, be the accepted text of the Jesuits, the only education worth a damn in this world. I wanted my book accepted as a canonical text, and have my methods taught at the highest levels by the best teachers.” He turned from the windows and faced the Friar. “Don’t forget plausible deniability. That’s why Galileo wrote his book on planetary motion as taking place in a ‘hypothetical’ universe. Fat lot of good that did him with the inquisition.”

“René, do you mean you do not have faith in God and the Church as you professed? That all of your entreaties to me about staying faithful to doctrine were false? I don’t believe it, René. You were practical, cautious, but I have never doubted your faith in the Church. Ever.”

René tossed the book on the table and again turned to the window. “In the other time line, I completed Le Monde, but abandoned it after four years of work. Do you know why?”

Mersenne sighed. “Galileo.”

René spun around, glaring at Mersenne. “Yes. Because of Galileo, that idiot, and the Dévots, who are even bigger idiots. They attacked him, they attacked the Copernican system, and they attacked everything that was scientific progress!”

“They were only following church doctrine.” Mersenne returned the glare with a challenge.

René met his gaze. “Then I spent my years kowtowing to a false doctrine, Friar.

René watched Mersenne’s face turn from frustration to a look of pain. “You do not know that, René. We do not know that. The church does not know if the Ring of Fire is an act of God, or a temptation of Satan. Up-timers barely believe in Satan, while in our world we battle him every day. Satan is as real to us as the ground beneath our feet.” He paused, thinking. “Let me ask you a question, René. And I want you to answer it as honestly as possible. Can you state the truth of the Ring of Fire with all certainty? Satan or God? The church is struggling to determine what this all means. And to handle it poorly could lead to schisms and further fractioning of the true church. I urge you to please reconsider publishing the paper, René. Please.”

“I will publish this paper. It will not be controversial. It will be a summation of up-time thought and philosophy. It has taken me months to write, and I have much more to do. I am doing nothing different than Crucibellus did with mathematics. She took the up-time concept and made it accessible to the down-time mind. I am doing the same with philosophy. And I am not the only one who feels this way. There are others here, but they push me to take the reins. I am taking the thoughts that started with me, the Father of Modern Thought, and tracing it all the way through modern up-time philosophers. It is a direct lineage. No one is better equipped to write it than I.”

“Listen to yourself, René. You are talking like a demigod of some kind.”

“Perhaps I am, Marin. Some of the books on this table speak of me in those terms.”

Mersenne threw up his hands in disgust, shaking his head. After a moment, he shuffled through the pile of books on the table, finally unearthing what he was looking for, a copy of the Catholic Bible. He held it up. “René, as of this moment in time, the church’s official position is the earth is in the center of the universe as Ptolemy, Aristotle, and God through his scriptures have placed it. Despite the outcome of Galileo’s trial and the despite the attempt on the life of the pope. It is still official church doctrine. It has not yet changed.”

It was René’s turn to look disgusted. “You have a mind, Marin, use it. You reviewed Copernicus’ calculations yourself. He adhered to doctrine by telling everyone his calculations were merely ‘aberrations that one must compensate for.’ He knew we were not the center of the universe. The math proves it. Galileo’s observations prove it.”

“Don’t you think that I know that, René? I am not a fool. Galileo is right! We are not the center of the universe. But the church still says so. Doctrine says so. And church doctrine is what determines your soul’s relationship with God. That has been an accepted truth for a thousand years! We must take this one step at a time. A gradual change. This Ring of Fire is a damned thing. It’s trying to force change on an institution that can trace its lineage all the way back to Christ himself. You wonder why people think The Ring of Fire might be the work of Satan? You are the fool who isn’t facing reality.”

“You are a magnificent defender of orthodoxy, Marin.” There was no sarcasm in René’s voice, merely a statement of fact and respect.

“I am a man of faith, René. Who understands the thing with which you gamble.”

“And what is that?” René was puzzled.

“Your soul.”

“My soul is my business,” he snapped back.

“Then I will fear for it, even if you will not. You are destroying the Aristotelian model. Calling it moribund. Not worth our time. So be it. But in the reality-that-might-have-been, it took over one hundred years for this new system to fully take root. And you expect acceptance to happen the day you publish, because you said so? Without schism? Without violence? Without a fight? Understand this. I must defend doctrine. If you publish, I will attack your ideas.”

“As you did with Flood and the Rosicrucians?”

“Yes. My arguments were impeccable and you know it.”

“Yes. They were. While so many chose ad hominem attacks, you clearly demonstrated the fallacies of new age Rosicrucian nonsense. To expect scientific solutions from the invocation of supernatural agencies is foolishness. Observation and fact was your argument. I will have no such weaknesses when I complete the writing.”

“Is there anything I can do to talk you out of this, René?”

“It’s not your choice to allow, or not. It’s mine. We cannot call ourselves men of science unless we divorce doctrine from discovery.”

“The two are inseparable!”

“The two are choking each other! And neither will grow until they are separate! As long as doctrine holds over science, we do not honor our God-given intelligence. When doctrine is wrong, as proven by science, the doctrine must change. If it does not, then the doctrine is the fool, and destined for the fool’s path. Prayer doesn’t hold up an airplane wing. It’s air pressure.”

Mersenne sighed. “You always were stubborn, René. And from our future readings, you grew more so as confidence in your thinking grew.” He paused and once again focused on René. “You are certain about this path, my friend?”

“More than I have ever been about anything.” René tried not to let belligerence creep into his voice. He wasn’t sure if he succeeded.

Mersenne leaned forward in his chair and once again challenged René, this time gently. “And your wife? How is she with this choice of yours?”

He could feel his voice weaken slightly. “She supports me, and our joint desire to bring these discussions out into the open. She supports me absolutely.”

Mersenne rose from his seat at the table, and embraced his friend. At first, René stood still, arms limp at his sides. After a moment he returned the embrace. Mersenne then stepped back and looked René in the eyes. “We part as friends, René. But we must part. It is my duty to destroy your arguments. But you know I will never attack the man.”

René nodded in the affirmative.

Mersenne’s voice grew even more serious. “Are you ready for what is to come?”

René nodded again, slower this time.

Mersenne smiled at him. “Will you tell Director Fermat that you intend to publish, or should I?

René perked up, all signs of pain gone from his face, and he smiled back, broadly. “I will. I enjoy pissing him off.”

October, 1634

Isabeau watched René as he stepped through the open doorway to their home. He handed his cloak, blade, and broad-brimmed hat to his servant. Another servant closed the door behind him. Isabeau was standing in the doorway of a small room, off the main hallway that served as his office. It had thick doors and walls so that his solitude could be complete. She watched him carefully, trying to gage his mood. He seemed neutral, not happy, not sad, not elated, just flat. Drained. Guarded. As he glanced down the hall toward his office, he caught her eye. She smiled at him, and he merely nodded. No change in expression. He mumbled acknowledgement to the servants, an up-time habit they adapted, and walked slowly to her. The servants melted away. She embraced him, and he returned the embrace. Lightly at first, and then gradually over a minute, his embrace became so tight that she could barely breathe. It was a desperate embrace, an embrace of a man who needed a rock of strength in a turbulent sea. He hung on to her for a while longer, and then stepped away.

She questioned him with her eyes.

He sighed slowly and deeply, just shaking his head. He abruptly stepped into his office, and she followed, closing the door behind them. He settled into his usual chair, she onto a couch. She waited patiently for him to speak. Isabeau knew it would take some time for her husband to gather his thoughts. The more agitated and emotional he was, the longer it took him.

She took a moment to glance around the small room. It was a high and ornate ceiling, decorated with a fresco of Odysseus sailing for home on the dome, with ornate cherubs and plaster floral decorations around it. His writing desk was in the corner, and around it were stacks and stacks of manuscripts. Some were handwritten by him, others had copious notes in the margins. Except for the fireplace, the rest of the room was bookshelves with only a high window for natural light. A clock on the mantel tocked loudly, drawing attention to itself in the silence. Isabeau tucked her feet under her dress and waited.

René was staring at the bookshelves next to the door, forefinger and thumb framing his jaw at one side of his face. With his other hand, he slowly drummed his fingers on the arm of the upholstered chair.

Finally he spoke. “Ridicule.” He looked at her for the first time since they had entered his office. “I suffered ridicule.” He grew quiet again.

Isabeau decided it was time for him to talk. Her feet came from under her dress, and she straightened her posture on the couch. “Tell me what happened at the lecture.”

He just looked off into the bookcase again.

“René, tell me what happened. You presented the paper, didn’t you? René?”

He turned to her slowly, and nodded in the affirmative.

“To the members of the Académie Française?”

He again nodded.

“This was a private presentation?”

He shrugged. “There were some others there I didn’t recognize, only a few.”

“And how was it received? René, answer me. I know the difference between sulking and thinking. You are sulking.”

“I am also thinking.”

“How was it received?”

“I think ‘poorly’ would be a good descriptor.” He nodded. “Yes, poorly would just about do it.”

“You knew there would be resistance. We spoke of it often.”

“Spectacularly poorly. That might be better.”

“René, tell me.”

He took a deep breath, and sighed.

“René! Did you begin with the Aristotelian review, and how it didn’t properly fit with the world, and then how the Platonic view tried and failed to make sense of the Christian world?” She motioned to him expectantly, trying to get him to pick up the conversation. “How did that go?”

He nodded and smiled ever so slightly at her encouragement. “That part went quite well. I was speaking their language, they understood the two models, and how philosophy had followed those two paths.” He nodded again. “Quite well.”

“Then I reviewed my work, not only what I was working on before the Ring of Fire, but also the impact that Galileo’s trial had on my work. Went over several other examples of my writings very briefly, and then began to touch on the work of others who came after me. Just outlines. My book will be over a thousand pages when I am done, and there is no way I could possibly touch on everything in this first lecture. But I wanted to move forward. I’ve been reading and thinking for so long, it was time to do something.”

“So what did you do?”

“I went over my Rationalist movement. They understood it. I’ve been talking about it for two years now, and it wasn’t anything totally new to most of them.” He turned to her, his excitement building. “Did you know that Baruch Spinoza is being raised by the Stearns family?”

“I know that, yes.” She impatiently waived her arm. “But you went over the Rationalists to the Empiricists?”

“Yes.” He grew quiet again. “That’s when some of them began to walk out. Not all at once, but in steady stream from that point forward.”

“They walked out of your lecture?”

“Yes!” He hit the arm of the chair with his fist. “The audacity of these men to walk out on René Descartes! I am the world’s greatest living philosopher, one of the greatest the world has ever known, and they simply began to walk away from my lecture. One by one, they walked out.”

“René, you didn’t speak of yourself in those terms, did you? You know what that does to Fermat when you say such things.”

“No, I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.”

She sighed, exasperated. That argument could happen on another day. Again. “What happened next?”

“I began to talk about the Existentialists.”

“And then?”


“I see.”

“I only told them what he said, and why he said it. Gott ist tot. God is dead.”

“Did they understand?”

René snorted. “Did they understand that what Nietzsche meant was that the Christian God as a moral compass was no longer the only source of morality? Was part of his argument that moral people can exist without the Christian God? No, Isabeau. And if they did, they didn’t acknowledge it.”

“And then?”

“And then, I was in an almost empty lecture hall, with only one person still sitting in their seat. Just one.”

“Who? Fermat? The Dévots? “

He shook his head. “Mersenne. He sat in the front row, in the center, and had tears streaming down his face.”

Isabeau grew concerned, but she stayed silent, letting him gather his thoughts again.

“Mersenne stood up, and told me he would always pray for me, no matter what. In the middle of an empty lecture hall, his quiet and strong voice told me he would always pray for me.” René’s eyes began to tear up, and his jaw took a hard set. “I didn’t realize this would be so hard, Isabeau. I thought . . . Well, I knew it would be challenging, and that we would have difficulty, and that many would not understand. But . . . ” His voice trailed off.

“Come here,” she said, after a moment. She patted the couch next to her.

He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and swallowed hard. “Why?”

“Just—come here. Sit.”

He rose out of his chair and sat next to her. She gently took him by the shoulders and turned him, and then laid him so that his head was resting on her lap. She began to stroke his forehead. “Better?”


She watched his eyes slowly close as she gently drew her fingers across his forehead. “I have something to tell you, René.”

“Mmmm?” One of his eyebrows arched quizzically, eyes still closed.

“I am pregnant.”

“Mmmm—what?” His eyes bulged open, and his face burst into instant illumination like an up-time light bulb. He sat up next to her, and stared at her like a schoolboy. She couldn’t help but giggle. “You—You’re sure?”

She nodded.

“When will he-she-it be born?”

She laughed, feeling happier than she had in weeks. While he was working on his lecture the house was quiet, even glum at times. When she finally was certain of the pregnancy, she was bursting to tell him. Her mother had cautioned her against getting his—and her—hopes up too soon. “These things are uncertain”, her mother said, “and dangerous. But the women in our family are strong, and have borne many children without a great deal of fuss, I’m hopeful you will be just fine.”

“Isabeau, this is wonderful news, on what’s been a less than wonderful day! It makes the pain go away like nothing else.” He leaned away from her suspiciously. “Did you plan this? Telling me today?”

“Yes. I did plan to tell you today. I wasn’t surprised you received the reception at the Académie Française you did. And the child should come in the spring, according to Mother, if all goes well.”

He grew pensive for a moment, and then put his hand on her stomach. She reclined, and he gently put his head on her lap. “Can I hear anything yet?”

“Soon, I am told.” She stroked his ear gently, knowing that pleased him. Smiling mischievously, she used his ear to pull his face to hers. They kissed, deeply. She eased closer to him, pressing her body to his in a way she knew would get his attention.

He unexpectedly pulled away. “This won’t hurt the baby, will it? Or you?”

She laughed and pulled him toward her.

The next week

Henri De Champs was a very pious man. He was also intelligent, thoughtful, loved his family, his king, and owned a successful cloth business. A few years ago his wife passed away after a short illness, and he now lived with his daughter and her husband and children. He could afford a place of his own quite easily, but it was far better to be near the children and eating homemade food, than eating a lonely meal indifferently prepared for him by servants. He was a quiet man who never made a fuss about anything.

There was a new parish priest, a young man who told Henri about the philosopher Descartes. In a sermon, he was described as the man who wanted to kill God himself. Descartes taught that morality was not the province of the church, or even of God, but with man himself. Henri had heard of Descartes, of course. Who in Paris had not? Two years ago, he was hailed as one of France ‘s greatest minds, along with Fermat and others who started the Académie Française, with the support of the king and Cardinal Richelieu.

But now, the man Descartes had overstepped his bounds. Descartes was clearly not pious, he was an elitist, and arrogant to boot. The Dévots had done nothing, it seemed to Henri. The authorities, nothing. The cardinal did nothing. Someone had to do something. This sort of talk, these teachings of heresy were not to be tolerated.

Henri went to the young priest to see what the church was going to do about this man, this heretic who was worse than a Huguenot, worse than a murderer, and surely a mouthpiece of the devil himself. The priest too, was a very pious man, who preached against the Huguenot, against Descartes, and against all heresy, including the Ring of Fire. “That very name,” he thundered from the pulpit, “That very name tells us that these people from the future are agents of the devil. Is not Hell a place of fire? Is not Hell a place of rings of suffering, ever increasing suffering? Surely something called the Ring of Fire is born of Hell, a spawn of the Devil.”

The priest told Henri that Descartes was likely possessed, and that his intelligence and his mind overcame his heart. His ego made him weak, and his elitist thinking made him stupid, ignorant, and a blasphemer. The priest told Henri confidently that this man would be struck from the face of the earth by God.

Henri agreed, and thanked the priest profusely.

That night, as Henri slept, after a wonderful meal made by his daughter from the same recipe his wife used years ago, he had a dream. God came to him, and told him that he must be the one to kill René Descartes.

Two weeks later

Armand D’Abo, the head of security of the Académie Française, handed Pierre Fermat, the Director of the Académie Française, a tattered pamphlet. The pamphlet was taken from one of the protestors that were now in the street outside the Académie. D’Abo watched as Fermat read the pamphlet for the second time. D’Abo had seen Fermat angry before, but never like this. Clearly he was trying to contain his fury.

“Dammit. Dammit to Hell! I never should’ve given permission to Descartes to lecture on up-time philosophy. Never!” He held the proof in his hand up for D’Abo to see. “Obviously, someone attended the lecture, took notes, and published them. This was supposed to be only an academic discussion on something that stupid bastard Descartes insisted on pushing on the Académie, and now it’s circulating on the streets of Paris. Likely in the hands of the Dévots.” His face paled. “In the hands of the king!” His face paled more. “And in the hands of Richelieu.” He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “Merde!” He angrily balled the paper into a wad and tossed it to his desk. “There is so much at stake, the fate of France, of the Catholic church, of our very civilization! And Descartes wants to lecture on philosophy, the idiot. Why couldn’t he just take an interest in designing airplane wings, or material sciences, or something practical?”

D’Abo wisely assumed it was a rhetorical question, and remained silent. Fermat continued. “His mathematics are superb, his work on optics was revolutionary, but that was before. Now, all he wants to do is read philosophy from the future, and write. And lecture on the convoluted points of logic and religion that are simply not important. I don’t understand why Descartes can’t see the needs in front of him. The terribly important needs of the country. He is one of the most stubborn men I have ever met! Mon Dieu!”

D’Abo felt he could comment on this aspect of Fermat’s dialog. “Oui, Director Fermat. He is very stubborn.”

Fermat shook his head. “It was supposed to be a closed session, D’Abo, but somehow, details of his lecture leaked out. I want to know the source of the leak, D’Abo. Track them down, and make sure that they never set foot in the Académie again.”

Oui, Director Fermat.” D’Abo felt a little bolder. “But it seems the damage is already done. People are gathering in the street in front of the Académie.”

Fermat turned on him. “Funding. Funding could be a problem if this becomes too big of an issue. The support of the king and Cardinal Richelieu are key to keeping the Académie operating. If Descartes keeps stirring up shit like this lecture, I figure I will have to take action and have Descartes tossed out on his ear. There is just too much at stake.”

D’Abo watched as Fermat tried to calm himself. Pacing, he went to the window. The second floor office overlooked the street below, and he leaned on the windowsill and absentmindedly peered down into the street, trying to gauge the crowd. Fermat barely had time to flinch out of the way as a rock was hurled at him, crashing through the window and landing on his office floor.

“Director Fermat, are you all right?”

Fermat stepped back from the window and brushed glass from his jacket. “Yes. What the hell is going on down there?”

D’Abo pulled Fermat back from the windows. “Extinguish the candles, Director. So they cannot see us inside.”

As Fermat went to his desk to snuff out the candles, D’Abo went carefully to the windows. The shorter days of fall meant dusk came early. Keeping a practical distance from the windows so those below couldn’t see him, he peered up and down the street. He could see torches approaching from both directions. Another rock hit the window, and bounced off. Someone else managed to hurl a cobblestone through another. There was a knock on the door.

“Come !”

Sergeant Maurice, D’Abo’s assistant chief of security entered the room hastily. “Director Fermat, are you all right? Officer D’Abo?”

“We’re uninjured,” Fermat answered for both of them “Have you sent a runner to the guard?”

Oui, Director. But I think it wise the members leave the building while we can. The crowd is increasing, and it seems they are looking to riot. I don’t want to take any chances.” Maurice gave a quick glance to D’Abo for approval, and D’Abo nodded back.

“There are more on the way, Sergeant Maurice. You can see from here.”

Fermat continued, “Then I don’t want to take any chances with the building. There are too many experiments, too much work here to allow a mob to ruin any of it. What we do here is too important. Send another runner, and tell the Guard to break this up immediately. The Académie Française must be protected. Send cavalry immediately.”


Captain of the Guard Louis Gerard de Montpassant laughed at the message. It was now completely dark, and there was no way he was risking mounted troops and horses through the narrow and uneven medieval streets. He would kill three or four of his men and probably a dozen horses before he reached the Académie Française. This was not the Paris of the future, with broad boulevards and open squares. This was still the Paris of the 1400s. Streets were crooked paths and haphazard mazes that took knowledge to navigate. De Montpassant had seen the layouts of the future Paris, and he very much liked it. The broad boulevards provided excellent fields of fire for dealing with unruly crowds. Cannon stationed at public squares could cover multiple directions at once. It was an excellent design. Ah well, pikes would do just as well. They will get there a little slower, but at least they would get there.

Dinner was about to be served, and the men would not have time to eat before they mustered out. De Montpassant felt a little badly for the rioters. His men were going to be very unhappy after double-time marching on an empty stomach for two miles. They were going to take it out on someone.


“How many were killed, Mersenne?” René asked dejectedly. Isabeau and Mersenne were sitting with René in his office.

“I was told eighteen bodies were found in the street. We don’t know how many people crawled away, or were taken away by other survivors. Surely several more. It was very dark during the riot. It wasn’t until daylight that you could see the bodies. Captain D’Abo and his men were able to prevent any of the rioters from getting into the Académie itself. But it was a near thing. Many of them were injured, including Captain D’Abo.”

“This is terrible,” said Isabeau. “Mersenne, How bad is Captain D’Abo?

“Little is certain, Isabeau. But he is at his family home recovering. If there is no infection, he should recover. It’s in God’s hands now.” Mersenne gave a sidelong glance at René, who steadfastly ignored his subtle dig.

Isabeau turned to her husband. “I think we should do something, René. It is obvious that people blame you for what happened—”

Me! What did I do? Did I create that pamphlet? Did I rage from the pulpits? Did I prey on the ignorance of others and drive them into a deadly frenzy?”

“No, of course not, dear. But the blamed person, you shall be. It was your lecture—”

“—I only lectured on what others had said, not what I believe.”

Mersenne jumped in. “That distinction of logic is doing you about as much good as it did Galileo when he set his book in a ‘fictional universe.’ Don’t try to play that game with me, René. I have known you and your mind for too long. Once you started reading the philosophy from the future, you were lost to us. Your mind couldn’t reconcile the ideas of the future and still accept the past and our present. Your stubbornness is only surpassed by your brilliance. I have fought you at every turn. But with logic and respect. Not respect for the ideas, you know my feelings on those, but respect for the man. Whoever published this pamphlet for the public like this clearly had no respect for the man or the science.” Mersenne stopped for air, and looked at René. “No matter what, this riot is on your hands René.”

“I refuse to accept the responsibility for the deeds of others. I had no direct control—”


Both men stared at Isabeau with slack jaws.

“An up-time phrase I learned a few weeks ago. Very fitting for this occasion.” She turned to her husband. “We talked about this many times. You knew there would be consequences. Certainly not this soon, certainly not this severe, but we knew there would be a toll to pay. Denying that toll now is the worst you can do. You must accept responsibility for what happened, apologize to everyone starting with the king and ending with the families of those injured. ‘Damage control’ is another up-time phrase that comes to mind. And while we may speak of the elegance of the French language as the highest ideal for political communication, we need to ‘manage the spin’ of this debacle, if I may be so inelegant. That is, if you want to remain in France, and out of the clutches of the cardinal, and the Dévots, and the king. Because they are three distinct and independent enemies. And you have made enemies this month, to be sure.”

René rose from his seat, and shouted. “This is not my fault! I did not do this thing.”

Isabeau looked imploringly to Mersenne. Do something, please, she thought at him, hoping he would understand.

He caught her look, and nodded. He stood in front of René. “René. Listen to me. We are not saying you did it.” He looked sideways at Isabeau. But this is the perception people will have.” He nodded to Isabeau, who nodded back. “I have an idea. I think we should go and visit Captain D’Abo. That will at least show support for those at the Académie Française who were wounded.” He glanced at Isabeau, non-verbally urging her to take up the argument.

“He’s right, René. That’s a start. At least a public start. His home is less than a half mile from here, we can walk there in a few moments.” Isabeau joined Mersenne standing in front of René, who reluctantly met their gaze. He stared at them for a moment.

“Very well. But this is to support the captain. That is all. I still don’t believe I hold responsibility for the actions of ignorant priests.”

“Let’s go now,” urged Isabeau. “We can make it there and back before dinner.”

Within moments, they were out the door and making their way through the streets of Paris toward the home of Captain D’Abo. It was a blustery and raw late November day and Isabeau and René were bundled into their heaviest cloaks, Isabeau with hers hooding her head, René with his bundled around his body, his large brimmed hat pulled low on his face. Mersenne, as always, was wearing open sandals, and clad only in his coarse woolen friar’s robes. It always amazed Isabeau how the man managed not to freeze to death in the winter.

They had gone only a short distance when they were approached by a well-dressed man. Isabeau looked at him and smiled. Middle-aged, graying hair neat and clean, fine gloves of lambskin. He came directly to her husband, who was to her right. Mersenne walked to her left. With her hood on, and a gust of wind, she couldn’t hear the man’s voice clearly. But it sounded like he was asking René if he was Descartes, the philosopher.

“Yes, that is I. But I don’t have time to speak to anyone right now . . . “

As René answered, the man casually pulled open his cloak, and gently, almost delicately, pulled a dagger from his belt. His relaxed motion had put René and Isabeau off their guard, and Isabeau could see that her husband had already dismissed the man. He was looking down the street and past the man. He didn’t see the knife.

Isabeau screamed. Her husband started to turn toward her, and finally saw the blade. With his hands inside his cloak, and his cloak drawn tight around him, the only thing he could do was try and protect himself from the inevitable blow. He raised his arms inside the cloak, and Isabeau lost track of the blade in the whirl of heavy cloth, his hat, and her arms instinctively reaching for where she thought the knife would be. She succeeded in finding the assailant’s wrist, and she held it as the dagger plunged into her husband. Still trying to hold it, she felt the man twist his wrist and pull the knife back for another blow. She could feel the scrape of bone as it slid out of her husband.

The assailant took a step back and they locked eyes, she hanging onto his wrist. He had no expression, Isabeau could see, and a part of her mind felt even more afraid as she saw the deadness of his eyes. With his other hand, he deliberately and firmly pushed her back, while twisting his wrist in her grip to free his weapon. She stumbled away toward Mersenne. The man turned away from her, and back to René.

René had stumbled backwards, clutching his left shoulder, Isabeau saw. He must have deflected the first blow with his cloak and forearm. He then started an attempt to strip his cloak away, so that he could get to his blade. The cloak became tangled and caught on the hilt of the sword, and his broad hat fell into his face. The assailant moved in again. Isabeau found herself rooted to the spot. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mersenne move, and then place himself between René and the assailant. The assailant stopped at the sight of the friar’s robes, and took a step to one side to go around him. Mersenne moved to block him. Mersenne simply stood there. He didn’t take a defensive posture, his arms were at their sides. It was almost like he had bumped into the man on the street, and they were trying to find a way past each other. The man moved to the left, and Mersenne countered, then to the right with the same result. Mersenne started to say something to the man, in his clear and strong voice, and the man made a waving motion with his hand, and sliced Mersenne’s throat. Isabeau felt a warm spray hit her face. Mersenne stood there for only a second, tried to reach for his throat, then collapsed to the dirty street in a heap. Isabeau watched as the assailant calmly stepped over the body.

By now, René had dropped his cloak and hat. As the cloak dropped it was still caught on the hilt of his sword. He grabbed the hilt and the cloak in one motion, and pulled them together. He now had his blade in front of him, but he was tripping over the cloak as he held both. The man continued to advance. René lunged. Isabeau saw her husband’s blade strike the man in the chest. It stayed there, only stuck into him by the tip, the cloak restricting the range of motion.

The assailant screamed in pain and surprise, and stumbled back. With his motion, the cloak finally fell away, pulling the tip of the sword out of the assailant. The sword landed at René’s’ feet. He picked it up by the blade and retreated as he fumbled for the grip. The assailant continued to advance. Isabeau could see her husband slip to one knee on the blood covered cobblestones. The man was now between her and her husband, she couldn’t see . . .

The assailant suddenly stopped. She watched him from the back as he staggered, bent at the middle. He then began to swipe back and forth with his blade, like a child playing with toy swords. She heard her husband scream. His cry broke her paralysis, and she found herself able to move again.

The two men were locked together. René had plunged his blade deep into the assailant’s chest. Kneeling, he held the man at bay, impaled on his sword. The blade was very deep, and the man close enough, that the wild swinging of his blade connected with René’s face and forearms. The assailant weakened, and René was covered with blood and slashes. The man collapsed and fell on top of her husband. As he rolled to the side, Isabeau could see that his expression had not changed. Her husband lay motionless in the street.

She started screaming. She remembered screaming for a long, long time.

April, 1635

Pierre Fermat stood in front of the Paris town home of René Descartes. Over his shoulder was a portfolio of contracts and paperwork, and under his arm was tucked a small gift for Marie Descartes, the infant daughter born two weeks ago. Much was made of the fact that the mother had taken the infant for her baptism shortly after the birth, and that the father was not present.

Wishing he were elsewhere, he rapped on the thick door. It was immediately opened by a burly servant, and he was carefully and quite impolitely scrutinized. “Pierre Fermat for Monsieur and Madame Descartes, please.”

The servant grunted an acknowledgement and motioned him into the hallway. He was flanked by two other servants. He recognized one of them as a former student at the Académie. Fermat knew that Descartes still had many friends in the academic world, and his followers were all students of up-time philosophy, the study of which Fermat had banned at the Académie. He was ushered upstairs into a small vestibule where he was allowed to stand by himself for a few moments.

Finally, a door opened, and he stepped into the room to meet René Descartes, who was sitting upright in a chair, with his wife at his side. It was the first time that Fermat had seen Descartes since the assassination attempt, and considering what he had gone through, he really didn’t look that bad. His face was lightly scarred, his nose was missing a chunk on the left side, and his right eye looked like it drooped slightly. He was recovering, from what Fermat could tell, which agreed with the reports.

” Pierre,” began Descartes.

“Isabeau, René.” After a formal bow to each of them, he produced the gift. “Something for the baby. I understand she is doing well, as is her mother?”

Isabeau stood and accepted the gift from him. “Yes, Thank you, Director Fermat. Marie is sleeping now.”

“Ah. Just as well, I’ve never been good with babies. Babies or puppies.” He laughed, internally fighting the tension within him. He glanced around the room, and saw another chair. “Do you mind if I sit?”

Isabeau nodded, and he sat, drawing the chair closer to them.

“Well,” Fermat said nervously.

“Indeed,” replied Descartes.

Fermat cleared his throat. “This is something I’ve been putting off for a while, René. As I am sure you know.”

“Indeed,” said Descartes again.

Fermat was a brilliant man. He knew that about himself, he had accepted it a long time ago. He knew the people he was lucky enough to work with were all savants in some field or another. But none could be as frustrating as the man who sat across from him. A remarkable man. A pain in his ass. He took a breath and started to speak. “René, I—”

“Do you have the papers?”

Fermat stopped. He knows what all this is for. He then smiled, and pulled a stack of paper from his satchel. “Indeed.”

“Where do I sign?”

“It’s all marked out on the contracts, René. I can leave them with you and you can have your lawyers look it over—”

“I will sign them now, and you can take them back with you. I wish this to be our last meeting.”

“Indeed,” replied Fermat. While Descartes read and signed the various documents, Fermat felt his usual need to fill the silence. “Do you know where you will go? What you will do? We all assume you will go to the Netherlands again. After all that is where you did most of your writing.”

Descartes replied with only a raised eyebrow. He continued reading and signing.

Fermat plowed onward. “I see that your hands have healed. I heard that you had several tendons severed in your left hand. Can you still use it?” In response, Descartes lifted his left arm and flexed his fingers. Clearly only the thumb and the middle finger still functioned properly. The rest were frozen in place. He dropped his left hand, and continued shuffling the papers with his right hand.

Fermat nodded. “At least you can still write.” Fermat leaned forward toward the pile of paper in front of Descartes. “There are a couple of release forms there, and some contractual documents that forbid you discussing with anyone what we have worked on, or what you may have seen while at the Académie.”

“I was stabbed in the shoulder, face and arms, Pierre. None of those affected my ability to read.”

“Indeed.” Fermat could feel himself nodding in agreement. “I suppose that time you spent in the Army with Maximilian and the Prince of Orange came in handy. Never thought of you as one who was handy with a blade. And the killer was someone who was never any trouble, a good man by all accounts.” Once again, Fermat received an eyebrow for his trouble. He waited for the last document to be signed and handed back to him.

Fermat stood and stuffed the papers into his folio. “Thank you.” He then looked at the couple. “I know others have said this, but I wanted to add my official condolences for our mutual loss of Marin Mersenne. He had a strong mind, and was responsible for so many advances. He was taken from us too soon.”

Descartes stood quickly, and Isabeau went to his side, steadying him. He seemed to fight off dizziness. “Marin Mersenne was far more than a strong mind, Fermat. He was a man of deep faith. And his faith . . . ” Descartes’ voice trailed off, and he looked distant.

A puzzled Fermat prompted Descartes. “His faith . . . ?”

“Indeed,” replied Descartes.