Grantville gazette V

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Capacity for Harm

Richard Evans


Belfort, Franche Comté, 1633

"So, Herr Doctor Lebenenergie. You designed this yourself?"

"Not exactly, Commissioner Vaden." Tomas cursed himself for ever thinking that coming to Belfort would be profitable. He knew that Franche Comté was rife with witch hunts again, but he just needed some extra copper wire and plates for his second machine. Those could be made in Franche Comté.

"I met with some Americans a couple of years ago. I studied their books on electricity. While I was there, I saw them use a device that made that power available to them with a press of a button. They shocked a farmer back to life."


"So I thought at first, sir. But it was nothing but a machine. I hied myself to this town they said they came from and just walked into their library and asked about these machines. I spent two months there." Tomas tried to sit up straighter but the bindings prevented it. "I watched their doctors use similar machines and finally came up with the theory that applying this power in varying amounts to the proper locations of the body, one could rebalance the ichors within and cure maladies. This was proved to me when I saw a movie called 'Frankenstein.' They laughed and called it 'fiction' and said it was a moral lesson about a man's hubris. The machines in that movie were well within what we could make right now.

"So I did." Tomas knew now what that movie had been trying to teach him, but now it was too late. His only recourse was to make himself useful to these witch hunters. Somehow. "I built my Elektrischer Generator from parts I found near Geneva and Upper Genoa. The lodestone was the most expensive piece."

"Lodestone? Explain." Someone just out of sight asked. Tomas felt someone moving up behind him.

"Continue, Herr Eichemann." The other Vaden waved the questioner back.

"Certain stones, when hung from a string or wire, will always have one side point to the North."

"Yes, those I know of," the elder Vaden interjected. "They are how the compasses on the ships work, gentlemen." He shook his head. "We know that is not sorcery. Nor are we here for that reason. I believe this is much simpler. Continue." The elder Vaden's cold, dead eyes compelled Tomas to obey.

Tomas Eichemann took time to gather his thoughts. He wasn't sure exactly what the two witch commissioners wanted with him. No one he knew of had accused him of being a warlock—that he knew of. The two men had just ridden out to his camp and invited him to attend them back in town. Invited him. With their guards present.

He should have left earlier in the day when he'd heard that there were people asking for the whereabouts of the traveling doctor and his magical device, the Elektrischer Generator. It was always safer to leave when people started asking questions. Twice before he had managed to flee other towns just ahead of the authorities. Small towns were the worst; nowhere to really hide. Especially to those who had good clean clothing, their own wagon with many strange devices hanging from its side, too. Jealousy or suspicion always resulted in the same thing. Someone had sold the information to someone else who knew someone who was in a position of authority.

But the smith had promised him that the copper plates for his capacitor and the wires for his two inductor coils would be ready that afternoon, no sooner. I should have gone to Geneva instead. No one would have cared about one more traveling merchant there.

The smith had delivered them as promised. Tomas had just managed to get a couple miles out of town and make camp when the two men with the wide-brimmed black hats and cloaks of official witch commissioners had appeared out of the dark. They hadn't been alone. Twenty guards on horse were with them. All were wearing the colors of the bishop of Strassburg. They had called him by name. The invitation hadn't been one he could have refused and lived. The four mercenaries he'd hired to see him safely through the battle lines had laughed when he ordered them to protect him. Then the sorry bastards had faded into the nearby woods. Their laughs mocked him even now.

"Continue, Tomas Eichemann. Yes, we know your real name." The elder Vaden sneered at him. "But we will get back to why you have given yourself the new title and name, later. Tell us more about why you needed a lodestone."

"The stones have a power inside them that can push something called electrons. Those are particles that are too small to see. But when they are present in great numbers, we can see their results during a summer storm."

"This box makes lightnings?" The younger Vaden's eyebrows rose in disbelief.

"Of a sort. Water?" The heads shook from side to side. There would be no comforts until all their questions were answered. Tomas licked his dry lips. "When spun inside a coil of copper wire covered in lac, the lodestone—the magnet, as the Americans call it—pushes the particles in one direction. That creates flow of power. It acts like a water wheel in reverse, pushing electrons through the copper as if it were a channel. Or you could think of it as a pump pushing water through the pipe.

"When spun at the right speed it creates enough power in a small coil to make it magnetic, like the lodestone. The coil pulls a metal cylinder bound to a small spring and makes a contact under the lid. Just like a lodestone attracts metal filings or that nail that your brother has been playing with. This opens the circuit to let power flow from the smaller generator to a larger coil deeper inside the box. If the device is working, the two silver studs under that glass lid will throw small lightnings at each other. Then you throw that small lac-covered lever there next to it to close a second circuit.

"This lets the small power created by the hand crank form a larger, more powerful, magnet to spin off the same gears, so you produce more energy for the same amount of work. This is because the second coil has more magnets, many pumps, or many water wheels, working together. These iron core magnets don't really spin this time though. This time it is the coils that spin." The older Vaden nodded his head and then looked to his younger brother who was standing by the box.

"Close the box, Brother." He turned back to Tomas. "Continue if you would, please." The friendly smile wasn't forced at all and that scared him deeply. Tomas suddenly recalled prayers that he'd hadn't spoken in many a year.

"There are two taps, links to the coils, copper brushes that spin along the circular plates shown on the drawing. That lets the power go towards charging two plates of copper that have sheets of glass between them. They call that a capacitor. It stores the power until needed. To that is connected another coil, this time heavier copper wire wrapped around another iron core. This is hooked up to the lac-covered wires that are attached to the proper locations of the body with clamps or leather cuffs with the contacts sewn into them, so that power can be applied. How much is dependent on how fast you spin the gear handle and how long you press the red button."

"I see. Like this?"

Tomas screamed. His body jerked against the leather straps binding him to the heavy wooden chair.

"Yes. Yes. But you shouldn't spin the handle so fast. Too much power will harm the patient." Tomas gasped a bit. "Too much power can burn them from the inside. If the patient has a weak heart, it can kill him. If the lightnings under the glass are large and constant, you can back off spinning it so fast." Tomas felt his voice break from his adopted instructor and doctor's persona. He knew it sounded like the desperate pleadings of a condemned man.

The two brothers looked at each other and smiled. "Indeed?"

Tomas grasped at a straw. "I have the body charts and shock tables in that map case. It's over by my pack. On the table." Tomas tried to nod, but could only flick his eyes in the proper direction.

"Ah. We shall study it most thoroughly, Dr. Lebenenergie. Most thoroughly, indeed." The Vaden brothers had the most spine chilling smiles that Tomas had ever seen.

The older brother smiled again. He leaned forward and whispered into Tomas's ear. "Yes. I must thank you. With such a device, I do believe we can process more voluntary confessions per day. And we won't even leave a mark upon our charges. So the priests who feel that we are beating confessions out of the accused will have no grounds at all." The smile chilled Tomas to the core. "No grounds at all."

"That was most efficient, Commissioner Vaden. Very well done." Tomas' eyes darted over to see who had spoken and locked his eyes on those of a local magistrate. "I told you, Antoine, these men are efficient in their work. The two best lawyers I've ever met."

"Truly," answered another magistrate. Tomas couldn't quite identify him in the dim lighting. "Though I am more concerned that we got down all the pertinent details about the device. I believe that is the most important thing here."

From behind him Tomas Eichemann heard another voice, this one higher pitched. "I've got the information, sir."

Sweat began to roll down his forehead. What was really going on here? There were at least four other silent figures in the room. Tomas gathered his breath and looked up at them. "Am I to be charged as a warlock, then? Or am I free to go? I helped you as I said I would. I have done everything in my power to show you how to build your own Elektrischer Generator. I'll even help you build your own. As many as you need! But I don't see how a healing machine can help you in your Holy cause, commissioners. It is a machine to shock the body back into working right. I have many affidavits, witnessed and sealed, of patients who've been cured by my machine."

"Yes. That you have. And we thank you so much for the neat lists of names you gave us. Many of them are very rich indeed. You sold them smaller versions for their own use, I see."

"Yes. But those won't last like this one. The magnetics will fail eventually, as will the soft metal gears. They only make minor shocks that stimulate the muscles and circulation. They will need me for full revitalizations, as they don't know how to do that. It is very good money. I could share it with you, make you partners perhaps?" Bribing commissioners was risky, but commonly accepted as necessary. Many of them were in the business more for the money than any real desire to do Holy work.

The younger Vaden turned to the small crowd behind him. "Gentlemen, he has voluntarily admitted that he's sold devices to many unsuspecting clients. Devices designed to fail."

The older Vaden smiled. Grimly. "As for the donations . . . That won't be necessary, Tomas. Though we do thank you for your donation . . ." Someone behind them coughed politely. ". . . offer."

The younger Vaden chuckled. "Yes, indeed. We can both use new boots. The roads here are simply atrocious, wouldn't you say, Brother?" Someone else chuckled.

"Yes." The older Vaden leaned down over Tomas and smiled. "As for your release . . . not just yet. We do need to see the full capacity of this machine, after all. As well . . ." He smiled. "We need to see which is stronger. The guilty soul of a self-proclaimed doctor and admitted charlatan or that of a machine." He waved his hand to the hooded man who stood by the machine. The crank began to spin.

"I do believe you will find a comfortable place in Heaven, Tomas. Eventually."

The black gloved hand pressed the red button. And held it down.


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