Characters: Ed, Thomas Edison, and Al
Fic type: Historical angst and Fluff
General Fic, no pairings.
Warnings: LOTS of histoical information, MOVIE and End of series SPOLIERS.
“Invention is 99 percent perspiration and one percent inspiration.” Thomas Edison said, as he looked down at the paper before him.
Edward shifted in his seat, feeling a little nervous. It was his father’s connection with Winston Churchhill that had gotten him the interview in the first place. In truth, Edward Elric was not entirely sure whether he was qualified for the job. He was still very much a student in electromagnetism, and was struggling with finishing his degree. But with Alphonse now at his side and a dependant, he decided it was best to take an internship in Thomas Edison’s West Orange factory with his famous Insomnia squad. The thought of working with some of the most brilliant men of his time thrilled him.
They sat in a room with long wooden tables, covered with Bunsen burners, jars of chemicals, a Wimshurst electrostatic generator, and an assortment of gadgets ranging from a pipe organ to a Dictaphone which Edward had never seen before. They sat at one such table, with Edison occasionally peering at a substance underneath a microscope and taking notes as they talked. He was an older gentleman, in his late seventies, with white hair, blue suit, and bow tie.
“I am a strong believer in those words.” Edward said, voice hitching nervously. He adjusted his bow tie and wondered if his brown sacque suit was appropriate for the occasion. In England and Europe it was a popular style among the working class, he hadn’t seen many of the high 4 button neck coats around in the American formal wear. “I am very dedicated to my research. As you can see, I’m a strong believer in experimentation.” He paused. “I believe you were one for saying there was never a useless experiment.”
The gentleman before him nodded, scribbling down a few notes. “Are you familiar with automobiles, Edward?” He asked after a moment of thought.
“I have driven one.” Edward replied, remembering to keep his voice loud and steady. Edison was deaf in his left ear. The man had boasted over a thousand inventions, including a hearing aid, but Edward had seen no sign of the device in his ear. “I understand you are friends with Henry Ford…”
“Yes, yes, we have done quite a few projects together.” Edison replied. He was a man who kept himself surrounded by some of the most brilliant and phenomenally capable peers known in the scientific community, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and naturalist John Burrows. Men who had helped shape and change the known world. “But I am now embarking on a new project, Edward Elric. And I would like to know your opinion.”
“My opinion?” Edward asked, leaning forward, brow lifted. Outside he could hear the rumbling of carriages and the sounds of pedestrian commuters on their way home from a long day's work. Yet, while the rest of the world went home to families and dinner, Edison’s insomnia squad remained at work, toiling over the latest project at their electrically lit workstations.
They were as devoted and driven as the man himself. Sighing, Edward wasn't sure he was capable of such focus. He had been in the past, when trying to save Alphonse. He peered up at the clock on the wall, it was 7 in the evening, and he wondered how Alphonse was doing. The boy volunteered to wait outside, while Edward met with Edison.
“Yes your opinion.” Edison gestured to the microscope. All the while Ed was there the man had been studying the substance underneath it. From what Edward could tell it was a few drops of liquid made from a green and yellow plant sitting on the lab table before them. “Tires, auto tires, Edward Elric.”
“Rubber, you mean?” Edward frowned. “You want to invent a synthetic rubber?”
“An interesting suggestion, young Elric.” The old man smiled sitting back and rubbing his chin. He was pale, and worn looking, but enthusiasm glinted in his gaze and shone though his weary exterior. “Or perhaps, find a domestic plant, like goldenrod, something that is common, that is capable of producing the proper substance for rubber.” He gestured to the plant, tired eyes focusing on the electric light buzzing overhead, thinking.
Edward Elric was an alchemist. He could certainly transmute goldenrod into rubber. It would take science a great deal of time to do so and in the end, would it be necessary?
“A synthetic rubber would be trivial.” Edward replied. “All it is, is a loosely coiled linked poylomer chain with carbon and hydrogen molecules.” His mind conjured the image of rubber’s alchemical components and turned them around in his mind. “CH2:C(CH 3)CH:CH2.”Edward paused seeing if Edison was following him, than dropped his hands to the table. “Why all one would need is a synthesis of the polymer or isoprene. Its chemistry is almost identical and it would last far longer than natural rubber. Trivial!”
“Trivial, indeed." Edison lifted a brow, obviously impressed. “And you did that all in your head?” Edison fingered the pencil in his hands, but made no attempt to jot down Edward’s calculations. “Yes, I suppose you have a point... Its manufacture would be simple and economic and our society is not adverse to synthetics.”
It was all about transmutation and economics, Edward thought, studying the old man. Men like Edison moved the world because they insisted on using economy to push their scientific discoveries. It was business, and he supposed knowing Henry Ford, and how popular automobiles were, it was sensible for the Americans to invent their own source for rubber rather than rely on the expensive exports they were dependent on.
They spent a lifetime turning dreams into reality. Certainly in the 1880s no man dreamed of having New York City lit with electric lights, but Edison had made it possible. He made power plants capable of generating power to street lamps and businesses. And now, in the 1920s a great deal of the nation was lit by Edison’s Electric lights.
Edward Elric understood this. In a way Edison and his people were like the Alchemists of their world, creating useful materials and making them available for the common people.
Where did he, Edward Elric fit? “Yes, in my head.” Edward repeated. He wondered if he had offended the man by dismissing his idea about goldenrod. Awkward, he cleared his throat. “I do see where you would have an economic advantage to using goldenrod, it is all over, bloody weed, I believe. You would provide jobs to farmers and for people to harvest it. It would help in boosting this country’s economy importing as well as exporting it.” Men like Edison thought in big picture terms. He considered everything in the end, which was why, Edward himself wanted to impress him and work for him. “If it is possible, I’m sure you’d find something. But I’m no botanist. Though I have dabbled in forms of Chemistry involving botany.”
“Hmmm, yes, spending the money on a private project is never wise, not unless I have the required results.” Edison said softly. “One can be a scientist and a dreamer as long as they understand that to work in the real world one must understand the reality of their dreams, without limiting the imagination. A balancing act, my dear boy.” He dropped his pen and leaned over, meeting Edward’s gaze. “You have demonstrated you have quite the imagination, my boy, I’m impressed. Yes, I have thought of synthesizing rubber in my lab, but it would take years of experimentation, which is necessary to be done, even with your simple conclusion. I would have to work it in the lab until it was perfected." Edison studied Edward’s resume once more. He tapped it with a finger, features considering it very carefully. A long moment passed, and to Edward’s disappointment, the man’s excitement suddenly faded from his features. “Yes, Edward Elric you would be interesting addition to my company. I am looking for men like you. I understand you need the money to support you and your brother, Alphonse.” He ran his finger along the lines of print on Edward’s cover letter. “Your father died what a month or two ago?”
“Two months, sir.” Edward explained. His stomached tightened, what on his resume made Edison suddenly hesitant about him? “I was studying in Munich, but...”
Edison looked sympathetic. “I hear your father’s death distracted you. I’m sorry, Edward, I hear he was quite the scholar. I met him once, you know, amazing man. But I digress.” He rubbed his chin. “This is about you, finding a position that will enable you to support your family. I see nothing wrong with finishing that education of yours. You could apply in London at any of the universities. Your father had a good standing there. Your work in rocketry is impressive, but I suggest you continue your studies in Electromagnetic fields. Your father’s work needs to be finished.”
Yes, as much as he hated to admit, his father did have a good reputation. Though currently in Munich, their reputation was now tangled in scandal, which was why it was so important for him and Alphonse to move to the new world. “I need a job, Mr. Edison.” Edward said trying not to sound dispirited. He hoped to turn the discussion around. “Finishing my father's work will not get me the money I need.“ He folded his arms, puzzled. “Mr. Churchill said you were looking for scientists. And I am one of the best you’ll find!”
“I have no doubt you are one of the best. “ Edison began. “If you get a job with me, you and your brother will be able to come to America to live. Yes, I’ve seen it many time, new jobs, new reputations… Edward, it could be yours, I’m not one to turn down someone looking for internship and you are the sort of young man I’d employ. But I have one question. Are you willing to work the many hours I’d expect?”
Edward looked around the room feeling suddenly he was on the spot. “Of course.”
“With a recently orphaned brother?” Edison lifted a brow. “My first wife died you know.” Regret filled his eyes and he peered around them. Ed recognized the look. The man was wondering if all his hard work was worth it. “They said she was overwhelmed by my long hours and the stress killed her.”
Sitting back in the chair, Edward folded his hands on the table. He looked puzzled. Why was Edison telling him this? “Are you saying you regret everything you’ve done? That is preposterous! You are the Wizard of Menlo Park! Father of the Electric age! With out you, we would be living an a dark silent world!”
“I do not regret anything I have done, young man.” Edison informed firmly. He curled his hands around the table and came to a stand. He moved slowly, stiffness showing in his elderly limbs. Ed had heard the man suffered from health problems and had been forced to lighten his workload and spend more time at home. “But I made sacrifices. Sacrifices that I do not know a young man like you can afford to make.”
"Then, you are not going to hire me? I may not have completed my education, Mr. Edison, but my skills and credentials do speak for themselves! I am a competent chemist, I have understanding of physics and electromagnetism. I’ve studied Rocketry under Oberove…”
“It is not the credentials, Edward.” Edison trailed his hand along the lab tables as he walked. “It’s the time. Time is everything. You need time to raise a 13-year-old boy. Yes, I suppose he could go to boarding school, you will likely be able to afford it if you come and work with me and discover an American equivalent to rubber. But do you want that?”
He and Alphonse spent years working to be together, did he have the right to separate them once more by diving himself into a job that would destroy any chance they would have being together? Edward sighed. “The job…”
“Yes, it is a job and I am looking for young men like you, ones capable of thinking with their imagination as well as business sense.” He walked across the room to the window, and peered out.
Rubbing his automail arm, the room was chilly and he was starting to feel the dark cloud of regret. Carefully, Edward watched . “Sir.”
“Why, I am sure, Edward Elric, you would find exactly what I am looking for. But Alphonse, what about him? I saw very little of my own sons.” Edison looked over his shoulder. “They’re men now, men I barely know.”
“He and I are close.” Edward said weakly. “And I would regret not being with him.”
“As I guessed.”
“How did you know?” Edward picked up his resume from the table and came to his feet. He joined Edison at the window and looked out at the street. Beyond the factory he could see a movie lot, and several buildings. Alphonse sat on the building steps, watching the world pass by, patiently. It was chilly out, and the boy was bundled in a frock coat, mittens, hat and scarf. White flakes of snow drifted down from the dark sky coating the brown and gray landscape beyond. Edward sighed, pressing his hands on the window frame. “This job thing, looking for one, is new for me. I had no idea how or where I can start.”
“You called it a job, Edward, and that is all it was to you. A job to support your brother. It’s my life, young man. Your brother, he is your life. Perhaps teaching would suit you, more Mr. Elric. You are enthusiastic, you love science, and you understand the imagination necessary to make dreams happen. You would recognize those young people capable of understanding the dedication needed to do my kind of work.”
He was abrasive, He was impatient. He was short sighted… How in God’s name could he teach? Edward twitched, looking away and feeling lost. “I…”
“Need to finish school and think about it, if then, you decide you wish to make my life yours, I will gladly hire you. But until then, I strongly suggest you find another trade. University, would be good for you, it will allow you to do your research, even support it. It will also help you take the time you need to do whatever things you desire in your life. Time.” His gaze focused on the boy below. “I should spend a little more time with my family…”
“Yes, sir.” Edward replied thinking of his father. Somehow he had wished to hear the same words from him. He wondered if Mr. Edison was too late, for his sons, like Hoheim was. “Why, why are you telling me this, sir?”
“Because I see myself in you, Edward Elric.” Edison replied. “Someone whose scientific curiosity hungers to do great things in their life.” He patted Edward’s back. “I have not the imagination to balance the people in my life with my work. Perhaps, a young scientist like yourself, shall invent it, hmm?”
“Yes sir.” Edward puffed out air, blowing his bangs from his eyes. In all his eighteen years it was the first time anyone one ever turned his talents down. It was an odd feeling. “You think I can teach?”
“It’s practical, Mr. Elric. And if you can’t I suggest you learn how, very quickly.” He waved a hand and returned to his table and microscope. “Now, I’ve wasted enough time with this interview, I suggest you take that boy of yours out for some dinner, he has been all too patient and I have research to do!”
With a sigh, Edward Elric nodded and made his way out the door. If only Edison knew the truth, and yet, he seemed to just looking into Edward’s eyes and saw how weary the boy was and at the same time, how excited he could get, about making a difference in the world he lived him.
Shutting the door behind him, Edward Elric bid farewell to one of the greatest men to ever live. “Thomas Edison, be thou for the people. Yes, indeed, it has a cost.” The alchemist dropped his resume into a garbage can. “Even you are bound by the principles of equivalent exchange'!