Augustin Mouchot felt the autumn rain alien. He knew he was in his homeland, but the five or so years in the Atacama desert had changed him. The downpour on the window of the restaurant felt the strangest phenomenom now, an impossibility that could only occur somewhere where the laws of nature were different. He remembered considering the sun of Tarapacá an implacable tyrant, before he could harness and domesticate it. Now it was the sun of France the one who felt impotent. He now spoke with an accent and his skin had tanned permanently. Contrasting with his clear eyes, it gave him a more stern gaze, which appeared to slightly intimidate the candidate for the position of Chief Metallurgist.
And yet, Mouchot enjoyed being perceived as one of the inventors described by Jules Verne, so he worked to dispel his image. He raised his glass to make a toast, thanking the young man for his time.
- I realize that this isn't the most conventional of job offerings, so I'll be as open as you need me to be about it. Rest assured, however, that we have the resources to make it worth your time.
- Thank you. You'll understand that, at my age, I'm more concerned about building the bases for a good future than forming a family. - Said the candidate, a prodigy named Michel Porte, which at 23 had obtained his Doctorat d'Etat in metallurgy. - However, this offer does sound too good to be true. Three times the salary of a metropolitan engineer? And a starting bonus? - Mouchot was drawing an image in his mind, a man destined for academic life.
- We are paying that wage because we know what we are asking our employees to do. You'll be working on another country, one which doesn't have the amenities you'll take for granted here, and one with its very own type of extreme weather. We are compensating for that... but we're also looking for excellence. I can say without any exaggeration that we are forging the 20th Century in Tarapacá. I was skeptical when I arrived to that desert, unsure if my theories would stand against reality, and in five years we have built a profitable company out of them, and made countless discoveries that will, in time, change the world.
- The ad said that you needed someone with knowledge about extreme cold-resistant materials, but that doesn't make any sense if what you're working with is concentrated solar heat... could you explain that?
- Of course. As a result of our research, we have stumbled upon a way to reach extremely low temperatures. Enough to liquefy air, which I don't think I need to explain just how important it is. We can safely reach temperatures of around 200 K with current materials, and have began producing commercial units for domestic cooling. It makes the desert an actually livable place.
- However, lowering the temperatures further would make any metal used in the process too brittle to tolerate the workload, right?
- Exactly. - Said Mouchot, impressed by the young man quick understanding of the problem at hand. - This is the limiting factor. We can only reach those temperatures for a few minutes before rendering our systems useless... at quite a cost, I might add.
Michel threw a quizzical look.
- Wait. De Caillet's apparatus doesn't need to cool the air to the temperatures you mentioned. Certainly not to 200 K, and you haven't even mentioned any problems with pressure... which means that you're liquefying air in normal conditions. Which means you've developed a way to reach to around 70 K.
- ... - Mouchot stood there, processing the talent of the young man. - Yes, that's the short of it. - He was able to say.
- That's impressive! How could you achieve that? I ca- You know what, don't tell me. I'm pretty sure it's sensible information and you won't tell me. But... room-pressure air liquification? Yes, I'm in. Just... give me a few days to reflect on it.
Mouchot smiled. He could recognize raw talent when it was in front of him.
Morgan Cottrell was a happy once again. He still felt a tinge of anger when he remembered the incident with the Patent Office, but enough time had passed that he could see that the Frenchman had won the patent in a fair manner, and that it was his right to profit from his invention. Morgan didn't have the inclination or the talent for design, but had developed respect for the team of engineers working under him, and the working relationship allowed him to solve problems and upgrade systems one by one. What they lacked in imagination, they made up in thoroughness and methodology. The Solar Boilers they designed weren't innovative, but they were reliable products that worked as advertised. Even better, they were making him a fortune.
Fortune smiled on him the day Fritts' Voltaic Cell arrived. The bulky device had arrived without damage on a sunny spring morning. It was just a matter of unboxing and connecting the wires according to the Yankee's instructions to make it operational. It was a simple task, but he still ordered it to be performed by his electrical engineer and other highly trained professional, who looked at the strange array of polished surfaces and layers of unidentifiable materials without quite understanding what they were supposed to do with it. It certainly wasn't as intuitive as a solar boiler, but it didn't feel out of place on the lawn of the manor-turned-laboratory.
A quick test with a light bulb demonstrated that the device generated electricity, just as Fritts had promised. It left some of the engineers baffled, and it left Morgan satisfied. More tests were performed during the morning, the team of engineers working against the clouds forming on the sky as they squeezed the last ray of sun out of the silent, unmoving machine.
But the clouds won the battle before noon, and the voltage dropped below detectable levels. The device was pushed inside an unused horse stable and beneath heavy tarps to protect it from the elements. Only then did Morgan felt hunger, and understood that his engineers probably felt the same way. He went to the kitchen and ordered a full meal for the team, as well as quick preparations to sate the immediate hunger. He returned with sandwiches and a kettle of tea, which the team ate quickly and without attention to decorum... just as Morgan did. Nobody cared, not in the face of the events of the morning.
As hunger eased, Morgan put his attention to the state of the laboratory. It looked dilapidated. He called Benjamin Bucknell, Head of the Engineering Team, to talk with him private about it.
- This can't continue. This isn't sanitary, and unconductive to morale and discipline. The place looks right out of Lord Byron's Frankenstein! - Morgan said.
- I will speak with the staff, and instruct my team to mind the order of the installations. However, there's only so much we can do about the ambiance. This place was built in medieval times, it stands to reason that it looks like something written by Mary Shelley.
- Shelley? - Morgan asked. - Oh, right. It was Shelley who wrote Frankenstein. My bad.
- It doesn't matter. We'll make efforts to improve the environment. - Bucknell replied.
- ... why did I say Lord Byron, though?
- Excuse me, Sir. I've heard that mistake before. It's quite common to attribute Romantic works to Lord Byron, which is one of my pet peeves. I hope it didn't come off as too aggressive.
- No, not at all. If anything I'd ought to thank you for revealing that weak flank of mine. I need to study my poets again or I'll look foolish in front of more people.
- If your think so... I could share some works by the Romantics from my personal libraries.
- An admirer of them?
- Not an admirer, sir. I am devoted to them. I owe my career to one of them, in fact.
- Really? Please, tell me more.
- Well, when I was fourteen I started correspondence with Lady Lovelace. I sent her some of my poems... and she was thoroughly unimpressed and sent me a scathing letter telling me that I wasn't talented.
Morgan chuckled. It was a good that he admired Alexander the Great, which was too busy being dead to shatter his dreams. - I guess that should be enough to kill someone's hopes for becoming a great poet.
- Oh, that's not the end of it. A few days later she sent me another letter, still telling me that my poetry was awful, but noting that I was using complex mathematical structures on it, asking me if they were intentional. They were, and I sent the notes used on the poem, which then led to a much more fruitful discussion about mathematics. She was the greatest of them all, you know? Most poets can elicit emotions. Ada Lovelace had something else. A genius of her own, one that could have changed the world if illness hadn't taken her so early.
- Why is that? Was her poetry so moving?
- Not her poetry. Her mathematical work. She deviced algorithms for what I can only describe as "thinking machines". Well, not thinking as you and I think, but capable of resolving complex mathematical problems. We did the math and... well, it was possible. I can't explain the process behind it, but a friend of her built a machine that could solve complex problems.
- Is that so? - Morgan asked, feeling a slight sense of opportunity on the words of his Senior engineers.