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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Twenty One

       Last updated: Wednesday, February 18, 2004 22:16 EST



PART III: March, 1634

    She thanked men,--good! but thanked Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name With anybody’s gift.

    Francisco Nasi looked out of the window at the winter snowscape, savoring the cool air of the window alcove after stifling in the heat of the offices. Growing up in Istanbul, he had come to relish, cherish even, the cool of northern Europe. When, that is, it was not raining. The first year in Grantville had been marvelous, while the air conditioning still worked. Most of it had broken down since, one way or another. Still, the summers had been tolerable.

    The winters were still marvelous, though, even here in Magdeburg. Nasi missed the hills around Grantville, but there had been no way to keep that town as the capital of the now greatly-expanded United States of Europe. Henceforth, Grantville would be the capital of a province, not a nation. The small United States restricted to Thuringia had not lasted even two years. It had given way—given birth, more accurately—to a much larger nation which encompassed perhaps half of the Germanies. A nation great enough, in fact, to add “of Europe” to its title without causing the slightest snicker anywhere. Many scowls, of course, and more than a few curses; but no snickers.

    Magdeburg was the capital of that new nation. And, since Mike Stearns had been appointed as its Prime Minister by the USE’s Emperor Gustav II Adolf, he’d transferred himself and his staff to the city on the Elbe.

    It was a brand new city, in everything but its name. Tilly’s army had destroyed the old Magdeburg less than three years earlier, massacring most of the population. The people living here now—pouring in every day—were new inhabitants, as were the buildings they moved into and labored in. Between becoming the capital of the USE and the industry rising up in and around the city, Magdeburg was now a boom town, with all the completely uncharming characteristics thereof.

    Still, Nasi liked the place, at least in the winter. The raw, flamboyantly industrial ugliness of the city was disguised by snow; it even seemed to improve the flatness of the landscape. Nasi had always had to travel to see snow, in his youth. To have it right outside his door could make him forget his dignity. He’d even been known to throw snowballs.

    He smirked slightly about that. Rising before dawn—no great feat at this latitude—he had walked to work past a small gang of schoolboys earning pocket money by shoveling entrances clear. He had seen one of them bend to prepare a snowball out of the corner of his eye, practically behind him, and had turned and let the junior-league bushwhacker have it between the eyes with the snowball he’d had in his pocket. He’d gotten pelted, of course, but it had been worth it for the look on the little rascal’s face.

    And now he was going to savor another expression. He’d had chance to read the morning paper before Mike Stearns came to the office, and Mike was now at his desk taking a moment to look at the day’s news. He should be reaching the offending piece about...


    “Why, that son-of-a-bitch,” Mike murmured. Then, louder: “What an asshole.”

    Nasi permitted himself a small moment of self-congratulation. He was coming to anticipate the prime minister perfectly—his reaction to some things at least—and certainly his reading speed.


    “Yes, Michael?” Nasi had also learned some of the American habits of informality. That mode of address, used back in Topkapi, would have earned him a bowstring around the neck and a place of his own at the bottom of the Sea of Marmara.

    “Did we send Joe Buckley to Venice?” Mike’s tone could have been used to etch steel.

    Nasi turned away from the window and smiled. “No, we did not.”

    Mike rested his elbows on his desk and his head in his hands. “Francisco, are our spy networks up to finding someone in France—a village idiot, maybe, in a remote province—who will actually believe that?”

    Nasi pantomimed giving the matter heavy consideration, cupping his chin in his hand and frowning, brow furrowed and eyes narrowed. “No, Prime Minister. Perhaps, did God lend us the service of his every djinn and angel—to use your heathen terms—we might scour Europe and find one such unworldly trusting fool. But certainly not in France.”

    Mike didn’t look up. He just groaned, deeply and theatrically. “What does this do to our own operations in Venice?”

    “Surprisingly little, as it happens.” Nasi had checked that first thing. The story—more like an editorial—that Buckley had filed on d’Avaux’s intrigues in the Venetian state had come as no great surprise. Only a few details differed in Buckley’s account from the reports Nasi had gotten himself. Francisco suspected that was due to the journalist making mistakes rather than to any defects in the organization his cousin was running in the Most Serene Republic. Unlike Buckley’s, those reports came with sources attributed and with reliability assessments.

    “Little?” Stearns was looking up and frowning. “Surely they’re about to have the mother of all mole-hunts right about now?”

    “Oh, surely they will. The French embassy there has an efficient and effective man in charge of—things.” Nasi didn’t want to put it more specifically than that. A man handling espionage and counterespionage could have surprisingly wide duties. Especially if his name was Michel Ducos.

    “He probably already knew that Buckley was speaking to the servants at the embassy, Michael. It is a standard enough ploy, even if few people do it as effectively as Joe Buckley. The only surprise will have been the publication of the material. As far as we can tell the French were assuming that Buckley was one of our spies—one of the reports they filed even suggested that he wasn’t the real Buckley but an impostor.”

    Stearns chuckled. “Makes a change for them, doesn’t it? Decades of journalists who either printed the press release, relied on rumor and hearsay or just flat-out lied. Suddenly they’ve got a for-real investigative journalist out after them. Ha! Do that French viper some good.”

    “D’Avaux or Richelieu?”

    Mike snorted. “Pair of ‘em. Had far too much freedom of action, you ask me. Bit of publicity beyond pamphleteering and state-approved sermons, just what they’re short of.” He grinned.

    Nasi snagged a tablet and a pencil to make a note. “We will encourage—oh.” Nasi looked at that grin.

    The grin got wider. “Time to stir this particular pot, I think. Get the propaganda guys on it. The line is that we deny all knowledge of Buckley, and while we deeply regret any inconvenience caused, we can’t intervene and the appropriate remedy would appear to be a slander action—no, strike that, let’s just have some standard ringing declaration for freedom of speech and the press, rule of law, contrast with the despotism of other and by definition lesser nations, France and her tyrannical Hapsburg allies, iron heel of Charles Stuart, et cetera, et cetera.”

    “But we keep our distance from Buckley?”

    “Oh, sure. Maybe warn our folks in Venice to do something if it looks like he’s going to get killed. Say, how likely is that?”

    “In Venice? Should the Venetian authorities decide he should die, he will die. Quickly, overnight, with no one to see how the thing is done.”

    Nasi remembered a scene he had witnessed as a boy, visiting Venice. Corpses, hanging with their legs broken, twisting in the light sea air over the Piazza San Marco. They had been hung there overnight, with no witnesses to the deadly and secret work of the Council of Ten. The same day, a mob of Arsenalotti at the Spanish embassy chasing Bedmar out of town. A little later, all of Europe catching light, and the sparks seeming to flare up at home. The mad sultan Mustapha enthroned and deposed three months later, the world gone mad.

    He brought himself back to the present, away from the pull of memories of a former home. “So unlike the civilized manner in which these things are done in the City,” he said. “The pasha who offends the Sultan is ordered to report for execution, and report he does. If he does not, the executioner goes to him, and—” He drew a finger across his throat. “All done out in the open. Honest. Healthy.”

    Mike nodded solemnly. “Oh, couldn’t agree more. Can’t be having executions in the dark and on the quiet, oh no. Publicity, that’s the ticket.”

    Neither of them held their faces straight for more than a second or two, breaking out in matching broad smiles. Nasi treasured moments like this, when Mike was not feeling the load so much. The world that Nasi had grown up in had far more idle nobles and under-worked functionaries, a wealth of sinecures for hangers-on to occupy and work at in dilettante fashion. It might make for a great deal of waste, but it also made for plenty of leisure time among the governing classes. The Sultan, to pick the most obvious example, generally had all his state business over with by lunchtime—and him no early riser, at that—on any given day. It left him with his afternoons to fill with a regular schedule of the arts, literature, science and drinking. Mostly drinking, as it happened.

    Mike, meanwhile, was running one of the biggest political units in Europe, by most measures, with a staff that in the Empire would be thought barely sufficient to run a small provincial town. Even here in Europe, where they made do with less government—and in Nasi’s humble opinion it showed—the running of the United States of Europe was a lean business.

    The result was a set of chronically overworked politicians and civil servants. That last was being remedied, slowly, as Amtmänner and their like took retraining in the new style of government and began to take on Federal responsibilities in their areas. It was half jury-rigging and hodgepodge, but it did the job and rationalization could wait for the war to end. As could, apparently, any hope of anyone taking a vacation, which was why Nasi tried to make a moment or two, now and then, for the slightly oblique gallows humor he liked and that Mike was getting a taste for.

    But Mike was back to scanning the news again. “This one, Francisco,” he said, stabbing a finger down a few columns over from the Buckley piece. “Franconia’s still not settled down?”

    Nasi heaved a weary sigh. That one escaped him, truly it did. Getting any intelligence on the situation in Franconia—and a dozen other places like it—was like trying to read fog, even if he had thought he had a hope of ever understanding the underlying business. It seemed that when they lacked Jews to pick on, Christians would name some of their own “heretic” or “witch” and vent their spleen on them instead.

    “No, Mike,” he said, “although now they have a regiment or two to worry about and hopefully that will settle them down. Instead of fantastical Hexerei, they can worry about real—and unruly—soldiers and how they will feed them.”

    The policy was a simple one. It was a while yet before the monstrous size of the army could be made more manageable; simply demobilizing tens of thousands of men at a time was a recipe for disaster. So they were being used as a crude police force, sent to sit on an area that was becoming unruly for reasons unconnected with the government, such as witch-panic, and giving the populace concrete concerns to deal with to take their minds off burning their neighbors.

    “Still. Two near-lynchings this week and another riot. We know what that’s about, yet?”

    Nasi shook his head. “No. I expect the reports shortly. The last time it was the rumor of Jesuits.”

    Mike grunted. “Figures. Why they can’t be like every other place and not give a damn if there’s no one breathing down their neck—” He waved a hand, as if to clear away the stink of bigotry. “Part of it’s just the way folks who are a gnat’s ass away from poverty behave, I suppose, when they get to thinking about it.”

    Nasi waited. Silence. He raised an eyebrow. “Usually there is more to this particular Stearns rant,” he mused.

    “I know, I know. This—” Mike stopped, chewing on his lower lip. “Francesco,” he said at length, “I am getting sick of this crap.” The last word was punctuated with a slam of his big hand, palm down, on the desk.

    “It could be worse.”

    “Sure, it could be worse. They could be sitting there in sullen resentment and boiling up like a frigging abscess. God, I wish they’d march on the capital and burn this place to the ground, it’d make more sense. It ain’t gonna happen, though. What burns my ass is that instead of folks actually getting on and making something out of it, or saying they’re mad as hell and not gonna take it any more, we get this penny-ante crap whenever there’s a hitch. Never because they’re pissed at me—although God knows there’s plenty are—but over religion or the number of Jews in the town or because some idiot thought he saw a witch or—” He ran out of wind.

    Nasi waited.

    “This business in Franconia. Not a damned thing to do with witches or Jesuits. It’s really happening because the rural places—you look, Francisco, and you find all these riots are in backwater little towns—are losing out to the bigger towns that are getting the factories and industries. Nothing I can do about it, either, except try and sit on ‘em to keep the peace. But do they get pissed at me? No, they don’t, they mob up and pick a neighbor to lynch.”

    “There are troubles in the cities, too. There is a new pamphlet, by someone you may recognize, from the style.”

    There had been a particularly nasty one, entitled Pestis Pontifica, Pestis Judaica. It had started with unpleasant suggestions about Rebecca Stearns and Cardinal Richelieu. Tracing the thing to the printing press was a tall order; in Germany every town, many of them not even big enough to afford so much as a one-fourth share in a horse—and a second-rate horse at that—regarded having its own press as a must-have status symbol.

    Dan Frost had taken some persuading to help with the search. Grantville’s former chief of police was now in private practice as a police consultant, but he was just as much of a stickler as ever. He’d only agreed on Nasi’s promise to leave the printer alone and follow the trail back to the source of the money that had paid for the typesetting and printing. Whatever the pamphleteer was saying, Frost had argued, he was free to say it. Tracking down and suppressing dissenters was against the Constitution.

    Dealing with restrictions like that had been Nasi’s biggest learning experience as an official of the United States government. He had had a good theoretical understanding of the science of government. It had been, of course, a favored subject of learned writers these two thousand years past. A grasp of the theory and an understanding that came from growing up in a system were, however, completely different things. There was what the Americans called a “learning curve.” The system of government Nasi had grown up in might have its rules, laws and established custom, but anything in it could simply be decreed out of the way if it proved inconvenient to a sufficiently powerful official. If the sultan ordered a thing done, the choice was obedience or rebellion. That set the usual political limits, of course. But the system included, required on occasion, that the sultan or one of his pashas should make a firman to cover some unusual situation. Such an order was just that: an order.

    The American tradition was very different. The laws covered far more, to begin with. The room for an official to maneuver in was stiflingly small, or so it seemed at first. In practice, the constraints forced one to move in different ways, and exercise other political faculties. In many ways, actually, Nasi had more freedom of action as head of the United States’ intelligence service than any Ottoman pasha below the Grand Vizier had ever had. The ability to make special rules for special cases was gone, though. The Rule of Law, they called it, although when he looked that up it turned out that the technical definition was slightly different from the practical one, which was that everyone had to be treated by the same rules. Bending them was as bad as breaking them and no one wanted to set a precedent that would be hard to live with.

    Dan Frost had a particularly hard line on the issue of the unknown pamphleteer. The objections he had raised to the treatment of Freddie Congden had been, in essence, that there was no precedent for what they were doing and he didn’t want to set one. They’d made an end-run around the policeman’s logic by pointing to his own precedent. He’d bent a few rules in his own time. It had been a logical misadventure which Dan hadn’t spotted, and one which Nasi still felt a little guilty about not pointing out at the time.

    Still there had been a good solid gain from that operation, and since it was kept very nearly entirely secret, it had not set any kind of precedent. A considerable amount of misinformation had been fed to an assortment of rival powers and great chunks of perfectly accurate scientific and technical knowledge had been spoon-fed them as well. That was knowledge that would do little short-term good and might tie up their better intellects in blue-sky projects. It was also knowledge that they would never have taken, Nasi remained convinced, if they had been freely offered it. The operation had turned a modest profit, too, funding a few of the more outlandishly secret projects Nasi had running.

    Mention of that particular pamphlet had put Mike into a brown study to match Nasi’s own. “Pamphlets,” he said at length, musing on the Pestis. The improbable sexual geometry of his wife and Cardinal Richelieu had been funny, to Mike, in a way Nasi would never have found it. Had it stopped there, it would have been another blowhard political diatribe to laugh off, like the ones that featured woodcuts of Americans eating babies, or “Use of nonnes to triall hell’s-armes upon,” with engravings of habited sisters being napalmed by leering Americans under the direction of Satan. This one, though, had included lengthy quotations from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which the author alleged the witches from the future had brought back in league with Jews of the present time.

    That had made Mike go quiet for the longest time Nasi had ever seen. The so-called Protocols must have come from an up-timer, since the text was quoted literally and it had not been created until the 19th century. In fact, the final version quoted in the Pestis pamphlet was forged by the Okhrana, the Tsarist secret police, in the 1890s. There was no way to make enquiries as to who had had the thing and brought it back to the seventeenth century. Freddy Congden had certainly denied it, hadn’t even heard of it, he claimed. Nasi wasn’t sure, but he thought he could believe Congden. He hadn’t the imagination to lie convincingly.

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