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1634: The Galileo Affair: Chapter Thirty Eight

       Last updated: Thursday, March 25, 2004 00:10 EST



    After Mike Stearns had finished reading the latest report from Venice, he raised his eyes—his head still lowered—and looked at Francisco Nasi.

    “Did you expect this? Any idea at all?”

    Nasi chuckled. “Would you believe me if I claimed that I did?”

    Mike smiled and slid the file onto the desk. “I’d call you five ways a liar. I sure as hell didn’t. Never in my wildest dreams. Larry Mazzare summoned by the Pope to Rome to defend Galileo. Lord in Heaven, you want to talk about an opening.”

    He rose from his chair and went over to the window he favored at moments like this. What Mike found to look at out there, in the still-ugly raw newness that was the city of Magdeburg being reborn, Francisco had never been able to determine. Most likely the Elbe rather than the city itself. Nasi knew that Mike Stearns found looking at moving water something of a comfort and an aid to concentration. That might be part of the reason he had insisted on having the new building which housed the USE’s executive branch built along the river bank.

    A small part, though, if any. The main reason was that the building fronted along Hans Richter Square and was named—also at Mike’s insistence—the Richterhof. If there was any trick of propaganda and public relations that Mike Stearns would shy away from, Nasi had never encountered it. Magdeburg was the political capital of the new United States of Europe as well as—so far, at least—its major industrial center. Over time, the two aspects of the city would most likely reinforce each other. There was no way to tell, as yet, and wouldn’t be for many years. But Nasi thought that Mike’s estimate that Magdeburg would eventually come to provide the same center of gravity for Germany that London and Paris provided for England and France was probably correct.

    If so, Mike Stearns would take the time and effort now to stamp the city in his own political mold as best he could. Using the memory of Hans Richter as the stamp, every chance he got. Richterhof, Richterplatz, Richterstrasse—there were at least three of those in the city—Richter Park; for all Francisco knew, a Richter lamppost somewhere and no doubt a profusion of Richter Alleys.

    Stearns was utterly shameless. Francisco glanced at a nearby wall of Mike’s office, which was covered with enlarged portraits. A few of them were photographs; most were paintings. Mike agreed fully with Mary Simpson that drawing artists to Magdeburg was yet another way to ensure that Germany’s most radical city also became its most important. As Paris goes, so goes France; the same for London—and if Stearns had any say in the matter, the same would be true of Magdeburg as well.

    Most of the portraits were what you’d expect in the office of the new nation’s Prime Minister:

    A large portrait of the Emperor, Gustavus Adolphus;

    A not quite so large—perhaps by half an inch—portrait of Mike Stearns and Gustavus Adolphus and Axel Oxenstierna solemnly discussing political affairs. The Emperor seated, his two principal advisers standing. Francisco was particularly taken by those poses: Oxenstierna with his hand atop a globe of the world—well, that was reasonable enough—and Mike Stearns with a sword belted to his waist and one leg turned out in the finest courtier style. Given that Mike Stearns did not own a sword, had no idea how to use one, and had never been seen by man nor beast in any stance that was not either relaxed or what you’d expect of an ex-pugilist...

    Those type of portraits.

    Ah, Magdeburg. Nasi loved the city, despite its multitude of flaws. It was the only city in the world other than great Istanbul which he found truly exciting.

    His favorite portraits, however, were two others. One, by far the largest, covered almost the entire wall in the back—where visitors would first enter the room. The enormous painting had been only recently completed by the young Dutch artist Pieter Codde, a student of Franz Hals who had managed to escape Amsterdam just before the siege closed in. The painting was entitled Allegory of the Rebirth of Magdeburg, and it was all Francisco could do not to burst into laughter every time he entered the Prime Minister’s office and looked at the thing.

    His amusement was caused not so much by the image of Michael Stearns standing just beside Gustavus Adolphus—but carefully portrayed as barely more than half the Emperor’s size. Not even by the truly ludicrous spectacle of Mike Stearns as the loyal spear-carrier, wearing a Roman centurion’s armor, no less!

    Nor was it caused—well, perhaps a bit—by the inevitable mob of cherubs lifting the soul of slaughtered Magdeburg to Heaven, accompanied by the inescapable angels blowing upon their horns.

    No, it was the centerpiece which Francisco could never look at without having to suppress the urge to riotous laughter. The babe, of course, was to be expected. Magdeburg reborn, looking much like any babe. But the young mother so tenderly cradling the infant... the obvious symbolism, the allegory to the birth of Christ...

    He must have choked. Mike glanced at him. “What’s so funny?”

    Francisco shook his head. “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking of the mother in that grotesque new painting of yours.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder, not daring to actually look. They did have serious business to conduct, this day.

    Mike glanced at the huge painting, and smiled. “I have to admit I get a kick out of it myself. I will say that Pieter did one hell of good job, having to work from memory the way he did, with the model still back in Amsterdam.” He went back to staring out the window, the smile still on his face. “Spitting image of my wife. Who is, ah, no longer a virgin and has never been a Christian at any time.”

    He hooked his own thumb over his shoulder. “But don’t lie, Francisco. I know you think that other one is even funnier.”

    Nasi examined the portrait to which the thumb was pointed. It was not a portrait, as such, but one of the few photographs hanging up on the walls. A classic example of that peculiar sub-genre of the visual arts known as Politics, American, Crass Beyond Belief.

    “Indeed. Michael Stearns. Cheerfully eating the first Hans Richter Victory Sandwich produced by the Freedom Arches in Magdeburg. What are the ingredients, again?”

    “Baltic rye bread, Danish ham and cheese, with, of course, the essential splash of French dressing. It’s not bad, actually.”

    The Prime Minister turned away from the window. “All right, Francisco, enough of the drollery. I know you could bring down the house with your comedy routines. Well, anywhere except in Istanbul.”

    Nasi winced. “Risky business, that. Murad the Mad is prone to assuming that all jokes are at his expense.”

    Stearns pointed to the file. “I also know that you’re just stalling because this is one of the few subjects you don’t feel particularly knowledgeable about. I understand that. I don’t expert a Sephardic Jew from Istanbul to be the world’s expert on the inner workings of the Roman Catholic church. Still, what’s your best estimate?”

    “The truth? I think we are sensing a tremor beneath our feet. The first sign of a coming political earthquake.”

    Mike stared down at the file, his hands now planted on the desk. “That’s what I think, too. Jesus, Joseph and Mary.”

    Nasi shook his head. “The man will not take sides, you understand.”

    “Don’t be silly, Francisco. He has been taking a side, whether he liked it or not—which, by all reports, he didn’t much.” Stearns rapped the file with a finger. “Simply the act of declaring neutrality is taking a side, when you’re already on one.”

    “Not what I meant. Sorry. I only intended to say that I think there is no chance—no chance at all—that the Pope will do or say anything overtly which could in any way be construed—formally, you understand—as an alliance of any kind with the United States of Europe.”

    Mike gave Nasi a very placid look. Francisco braced himself. That sleepy expression invariably signaled the coming sarcasm.

    “At a rough guess, Francisco, I could get the same assessment from two out of three urchins in the streets of Magdeburg. Nineteen out of twenty, in the streets of Rome. Maffeo Barberini who was, Urban VIII who is, has been accused of a lot of things in his sixty-some odd years. Deviousness, manipulation, cynicism—not to mention a truly breath-taking devotion to nepotism—but never once, that I can recall, being a moron. Try again.”

    Nasi sighed. “Michael, this is not a subject—”

    “Try again.”


    “Try again.”

    Nasi puffed out his cheeks. “You’d do better to ask von Spee. He’s back in town, you know.”

    “Good idea. I will. Try again. And I’ll make it easy for you, since you brought up von Spee. Who is still, I remind you, a Jesuit.”

    Stearns gave Nasi a little encouraging jiggle of the chin, the way a mother encourages her toddler to say mama. “Don’t try to start with a Pope maybe undergoing a real and profound crisis of conscience. Start with what you know. Would Urban even consider this if he didn’t think he had Vitelleschi in his corner? And I’m not talking about that famous fourth vow of obedience. I’m talking about the Father-General of the Jesuits—the Black Pope, they sometimes call him—being really in his corner.”

    Francisco felt the ground stabilize beneath his feet. “No,” he said firmly. “Not a chance.”

    “What I think, too.” Stearns stared at the file on the desk. Then, suddenly, slammed his open palm down upon it. Stearns had big hands. The loud noise almost startled Nasi out of his chair.

    “Hot damn!” Mike exclaimed. “Hot diggedy-damn. Chew on that, Richelieu. And you can downright choke on it, you stinking emperor of Austria. And you, puke-face Elector of Bavaria, you can take your so-called Catholic League and stick it where the sun don’t shine. Y’all just lost your fig leaf. ‘Bout to, anyway. If that wasn’t enough—you morons!—you just lost the help of what is probably still the most effective political organization in Europe. Maybe the whole world, the way the Japanese seem to be squawking. Sure as hell the most experienced.”

    Suddenly energetic, Mike slid himself into his chair. “Okay. First. You’re right. Get von Spee in here, ASAP. Second, get in touch with Spartacus and tell him I’ll want a private meeting. Private as in private. If I have to, I’ll use regular soldiers and goddamit firing squads to put a stop to any and all anti-Jesuit riots from now on. But I’d really prefer it if the Committees handled the problem informally.”

    “Ah, I believe what you’re alluding to is actually illegal, Michael, not ‘informal.’”

    “Sure is,” Mike said cheerfully. “And be assured that I will so inform Spartacus in no uncertain terms. If I catch the Committees doing anything illegal like pounding the crap out of stinking bigot lynch mobs, I will have them charged and prosecuted to the full extent and rigor of the laws.”

    “Amazing, really,” mused Nasi.


    “I do not believe I have ever heard a sentence that long which had almost the entirety of its emphasis upon a single word in it. ‘Catch.’ The rest was practically a murmur.”

    Mike just grinned. “Third. Get in touch with Morris in Prague and have him feel out Wallenstein. Shouldn’t be a problem, I don’t think. Wallenstein’s always been partial to the Jesuits. He’ll probably be tickled pink.” The prime minister paused for a moment. “I don’t suppose there’s any way we could get him to think we’re trying to make amends for the ruckus over the copper business, is there?”

    Nasi enjoyed the opportunity to bestow a placid look upon his boss.

    “Right,” Stearns snorted. “Grow up, Mike. ‘Wallenstein’ and ‘moron’ don’t belong in the same sentence either. So it goes. Fourth. Start sending out feelers—quietly, you understand; I don’t need my stubborn Lutheran emperor hollering at me—suggesting that any Jesuit educational project will be more than welcome to set up shop in the USE. Um. Well, hold off on that until we’ve had a chance to consult with von Spee. We gotta be slick, here. We really can’t afford to show our hand openly. Gustav Adolf hollers really, really good, if I say so myself as shouldn’t.”

    Nasi nodded. Mike Stearns was capable of hollering superbly well himself, though he rarely chose to. But Gustav Adolf was in a league of his own. “We should be able to manage well enough, I think. Freedom of religion is the law in the USE after all—”

    “—until Wilhelm wins the election,” Mike interjected sourly.

    “—and in any event, alas, the Emperor is pre-occupied on the war front. He’s not likely to pay much attention to the complex minutiae of educational affairs. Which—you’d be amazed—can get incredibly complex and minute. And don’t exaggerate, Michael. Wilhelm and his Crown Loyalists advocate the restoration of established churches in those provinces whose legislatures elect to do so, but he’s always been very careful to stipulate that no minority faiths—even non-Christian ones—will be penalized in any way. He even insisted on writing that in as a formal part of his party’s program.”

    Mike didn’t look noticeably mollified. “Yeah, swell. So members of non-established churches get taxed to support the established ones, and then have to pay for their own out of their own pockets.” He blew out a breath. “Oh, well. I admit it beats pogroms and inquisitions and auto-da-fé. We do what we can, one step at a time. Mostly, by taking ten steps forward and nine steps back.”

    “Which is still a step ahead,” Nasi replied. “That’s a quote, by way, from a speech I recently heard. Given by a man who, I regret to say, I have come to conclude is the most brazen politician in Europe.”

    He swiveled in his chair and gazed backed upon the Allegory of the Rebirth of Magdeburg. “It’s astonishing, really. I can—just barely—understand how a superb artist could visualize you in that preposterous Roman armor. But how did he manage the expression on your face?”

    Mike glanced at his portrait. “That suggestion of stalwart dim-wittedness? The hint of adulation for the Emperor? The mouth that looks like butter wouldn’t melt in it?”

    Nasi nodded.

    “I gave Pieter firm instructions, what do you think? Paid him a good bonus, too. Worth every penny. Gustavus Adolphus thinks very highly of that painting, did I mention that?”

    “As I recall, you boasted about it for ten minutes straight.”

    “Don’t be sarcastic, Francisco. It’s very unbecoming. Okay, back to business. Fifth—”

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