Chapter Four begins with some politics.
Bishop Stein looked around the landscape. These hills were quite nice, grassy and tree-lined, with a lovely view of distant mountains. The sun was high and bright, but a cool, refreshing breeze rustled his thinning hair. It wouldn’t be a bad place at all for a summer cabin. Unfortunately, the urgency of his visit precluded investigating such possibilities.
He shoved a rock with his foot. He stared after it as it went clattering down into the crater where the Ur Scientia Affiliate had once stood. “This is all that remains?”
“Yes, Your Excellency. It is the clear work of a single, medium-yield Hilbert bomb. Total annihilation of all matter in the blast radius, leaving only slight traces of residual H-type fermions.” Dean Hobart’s face twitched periodically, the only sign of his internal difficulty in deciding whether making a public show of his sorrow at the disaster or his delight at the Bishop’s visit would be more advantageous.
“The Hilbert Atrophy is a fiendish weapon. It violates every law, physical and moral, handed down by our Creator. It should never be used.”
“Yes, Excellency,” said Hobart.
“No!” snapped Stein. “We use it to destroy and contain Divs. When there is no other way to stop a great evil except committing a lesser one, we must act. That is what forgiveness is for.”
Hobart bowed his head. “I apologize, Excellency. You are of course correct.”
Stein continued to gaze away from his companion, out over the crater, allowing him to roll his eyes without being seen. Did the little toady think uncritical agreement would curry Stein’s favor? “And yet the Federation dares claim that we would do this?”
“Um…” said Hobart.
Hobart shuffled uncomfortably. “That is not precisely the case, Excellency. They have claimed only that we provided the weapons and training to the terrorists who made the attack.”
“Fah!” spat Stein. “Utter nonsense.”
“Well, we have given Hilbert weapons to local groups of believers, in case of Div attacks. One of them may have–”
“No,” said Stein. “The Federation did this. They are framing us because they fear an Ur government founded on faith will turn against their godlessness.”
He turned back toward the waiting hopper. “Release a statement saying that the Church condemns such violence and offering all support to the investigation. Say also that our prayers are with the families of all the victims, and of all victims of violence everywhere.”
“At once, Excellency.” Hobart bowed deeply, and then began waddling down to his own groundcar.
Hobart settled into the hopper’s seat. “You are certain he knows nothing?” he asked as the hopper took off.
“Yes, Excellency,” said the pilot, one Odutola Odunaga, ostensibly a novitiate of the Sisters of the Merciful Hand. “He has not looked at a list of the dead. He has no idea the Ur government cleared its loyal citizens out in advance of the attack.”
“Ironic, isn’t it?” asked Stein. “If we’d just waited a little longer, the Federation would have killed its own people for us.”
“Our Lord is known for his mysterious ways.”
“Indeed,” said Stein. “This could work for us, Inquisitor.”
“How so, Excellency?”
“Think about it. Any investigation will reveal that we had no connection to the bombing, because we didn’t. At the same time, it’s erased all evidence that we removed the Original.”
“Hmm,” said Odunaga. A light on her board began to blink. “Personal message for you, Excellency. Very large file — it’s from Cardinal Passerina!”
“I’ll take it on the back screen,” Stein said, and changed seats. It would not do for a mere presbyter to hear such high matters as Passerina no doubt wished to discuss. Besides, Odunaga was an Inquisitor. Her order was answerable only to the highest levels of the Church, not the local bishop. He must never make the mistake of trusting her, no matter how helpful her information and assistance might be.
He pulled on headphones and began the playback. It was a video file, surprisingly. In full three dimensions, no less! The time needed to push a large file through the low-bandwidth EPR wavelengths, and the corresponding expense, meant that virtually all faster-than-light communication was either by text or carried on a ship. Even a Cardinal of the Fleet would not take on such expenses lightly; it must be of immense importance.
Her image appeared, flickering slightly: a small, dark woman with quick, precise movements and a penetrating gaze, robed in red. “Charges for transmission of this message have been billed to you, Bishop. The Exchequer has been instructed not to reimburse you under any circumstances. Perhaps that will impress upon you the importance of the task you have been given, and the magnitude of your failure.”
Stein stared, slack-jawed.
“We have received word that the exorcist squad on Bethel has not only failed to recover the Original, but have been massacred nearly to the last man! Meanwhile, the pirate Mikra is preparing to deliver it to Scientia.” Passerina’s jaw was set and her voice cold. Stein did not know her well — he was hardly prominent enough in the Church to rate regular communication with the woman responsible for the entire Lesser Spiral — but he knew she was furious.
“Do you know how Scientia persuaded him to do it, Stein?” she continued. “They paid him. He offered the Original for sale, and they bought it. Did that strategy occur to you, Stein? Did you consider it, then reject it because there was insufficient opportunity for failure? Do you enjoy wasting the lives of the faithful?”
Stein sank into his seat, very glad that Odunaga was busy flying and couldn’t see him or hear the message.
“You have one final chance, Stein. I will be on Fifth Jerusalem later this month to meet with whoever heads the new government. Bring the Original to me there, and without Scientia or anyone else learning of our involvement. Fail, and I will personally see to it that you are hailed as a martyr within the week.”
Stein closed his eyes. Mikra was doubtless going to rendezvous with the Dammerung, but how could Stein learn where the Dammerung was going to be? And without knowing that, how could he possibly intercept them? His mind whirled, building and discarding plans.
“Odutola, a change of plans. Take me directly to the spaceport; I must return home.” Yes, that much was clear. To keep the Church’s hands clean, he’d need the resources of the Empire. Artaxerxes, not the Church, would be performing the theft.
“Have you seen the polls?” Prime Minister Norris asked the moment Koi walked into the room.
“Afraid so, sir.”
“Do they have no gratitude at all? We gave them the vote, and this is how they repay us?”
“Apparently, sir,” said Koi. The latest internal numbers showed bad news for the Manifest Destiny party. The party had pushed through new laws giving Realian soldiers and veterans the vote, expecting them to respond to the party’s advocacy for increased defense spending and a tougher foreign policy. Instead, hardly any were supporting Manifest Destiny, being instead mostly split between the Unionists and Neo-libs. It gave the Unionists enough votes to build and dominate a coalition of their own, and reduce MD to an opposition party. “It seems to mostly be a values and religion thing. Only fourteen percent of enfranchised Realians say the party shares their values, and eighty-three percent perceive us as anti-religious.”
“Religion? Since when do those walking mannequins have religion?”
Koi bristled at the racism, but he managed to keep his anger out of his voice. “Saoshism has been quite popular among Realians for over a century, sir.”
“Saoshism,” the Prime Minister scoffed. “Still, that’s why I called you here, Koi. You’ve always supported Realian suffrage. You understand them. I’m going to need your help on this. How do we get the Realian vote?”
Koi hesitated. “I’m honored, sir, but –”
“There’ll be a Junior Ministership in this for you after we win.”
“I’ll get on it right away,” said Koi.
“Good man. Put a preliminary report together — initial ideas, what support you’ll need, the usual — and have it on my desk tomorrow.” He gestured for Koi to leave.
“Of course, sir. Thank you.” Koi turned to go.
“Oh, and Senator? Don’t rule anything out.”