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The Stars Do Not Lie

Jay Lake

Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, where he works on numerous writing and editing projects. His 2012/2013 books are Kalimpura (Tor) and Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh (Prime). His short fiction appears regularly in literary and genre markets worldwide. Jay is a past winner of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and a multiple nominee for the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards. The author can be reached through his blog at jlake.com. Jay’s first story for us since October/ November 2005 treats us to a far-future tale of intrigue, daring acts of defiance, and the sudden revelation that . . .

THE STARS DO NOT LIE

 

 

In the beginnings, the Increate did reach down into the world and where They laid Their hand was all life touched and blossomed and brought forth from water, fire, earth and air. In eight gardens were the Increate’s children raised, each to have dominion over one of the eight points of the Earth. The Increate gave to men Their will, Their word, and Their love. These we Their children have carried forward into the opening of the world down all the years of men since those first days.
—Librum Vita, Beginnings 1:1-4;
being the Book of Life and word entire of the Increate

Morgan Abutti; B.Sc. Bio.; M.Sc. Arch.; Ph.D. Astr. & Nat, Sci.; 4th degree Thalassocrete; Member, Planetary Society; and Associate Fellow of the New Garaden Institute, stared at the map that covered the interior wall of his tiny office in the Institute’s substantial brownstone in downtown Highpassage. The new electricks were still being installed by brawny, nimble-fingered men of crafty purpose who often smelled a bit of smoke and burnt cloth. Thus his view was dominated by a flickering quality of light that would have done justice to a smoldering hearth, or a wandering planet low in the pre-dawn sky. The gaslamp men were complaining of the innovations, demonstrating under Lateran banners each morning down by the Thalassojustity Palace in their unruly droves.

He despised the rudeness of the laboring classes. Almost to a man, they were pale-faced fools who expected something for nothing, as if simply picking up a wrench could grant a man worth.
Turning his attentions away from the larger issues of political economy and surplus value, he focused once more on history.

Or religion.

Honestly, Morgan was never quite certain of the difference any more.

Judging from the notes and diagrams limned up and down the side of the wide rosewood panel in their charmingly archaic style, the map had been painted about a century earlier for some long-dead theohistoriographer. The Eight Gardens of the Increate were called out in tiny citrons that somehow had survived the intervening years without being looted by hungry servants or thirsty undergraduates. Morgan traced his hand over the map, fingers sliding across the pitted patina of varnish and oil soap marking the attentions of generations of charwomen.

Eufrat.
Quathlamba.
Ganj.
Manju.
Wy’east.
Tunsa.
Antiskuna.
Cycladia.

The homes of man. Archaeological science was clear enough. Thanks to the work of natural scientists of the past century, so was the ethnography. The Increate had placed the human race upon this Earth. That was absolutely clear. Just as the priests of the Lateran had always taught, nothing of humanity was older than the villages of the Gardens of the Increate.

Nothing.

Sick at heart, Morgan turned back to his photographic plates, their silver salts bearing indubitable evidence of the ephemeral nature of such faith in the Increate.
The stars do not lie.

* * *

  “Gentlemen of the Planetary Society . . .” Morgan Abutti let his voice trail off a moment. His next words, once uttered, could never be taken back. Not before this august assemblage of the greatest scientific minds of the modern era. He drew in a deep breath and plunged recklessly onward. “On examination of considerable evidence from fields as varied as paleontology, archaeology, and astronomy, I have been compelled to confront the distinct likelihood that we, the human race, are not of this world.”

He paused to give the audience a moment to consider the proposition. The racket of the city of Highpassage echoed from outside the Society’s Plenary Hall—steam whistles, horses, motorcars, the grumble of the new diesel engines powering the latest generations of airships. The seven hundred faces staring at him included a scattering of the paler-skinned northern folk, who were finally entering academe and the sciences thanks to the same progressive policies that had helped pave Morgan’s own way to the exclusive University of Highpassage. That women had been allowed to study a generation earlier had cracked open the door that later admitted the traditionally inferior white race.

The world was growing more open-minded by the decade in spite of itself. Were his colleagues in the Planetary Society ready for this, his grand conclusion?

What he’d thought to be shocked silence degraded into murmuring, muttering, even outright laughter in a few corners. Some delegates rose from their seats, ready to move onward to more fruitful pursuits. Others struck up conversations with their seatmates, or commenced making notes, in some cases with deliberate ostentation.

Morgan had lost the audience, waiting for their reaction to his news.

“I have . . . have assembled a précis of the evidence . . .” he began, but his voice trailed off. A moment later Doctor Professor the Revered Lucan Matroit, Secretary-General of the Planetary Society, plucked at Morgan’s sleeve.

“My deepest regrets, ah . . . Doctor Abutti,” Lucan said quietly, his tone as formal and disinterested as if the two of them had never met before. “The Society thanks you for your contributions.” He quite effectively twisted Morgan’s arm and propelled him toward the heavy maroon velvet curtains marking stage left.

“Dear ones,” Lucan called out to the audience, which immediately stilled its unrest at his piercing voice. “Let us now offer praise to the Increate, as redress to Them for the caprice and irresponsibilities of free will . . .”

Morgan did not hear the rest of the invocative prayer. Two of the Society’s burly porters—like most of their fellows, former Thalassojustity Marines—seized him by the upper arms, shoved his despatch case into his hands, jammed his bowler hat upon his head, and escorted him to a service entrance from which he was summarily ejected into a dung-spattered alley under the doleful gaze of a brace of hinnies hitched to a rag man’s cart.

At least they had not thrown him bodily into the muck. No, even that embarrassment had been trumped with a few mere words from Lucan Matroit.

Gathering the shreds of his dignity, Morgan resolved to retreat to the shelter of his office at the New Garaden Institute. The Avenida Tram line ran past the Plenary Hall, and would deposit him within two blocks of his destination.

Waiting for the next street car to arrive, Morgan noticed one of the porters watching him. The man leaned on a pillar of the rococo façade of the Plenary Hall, smoking a fat cigar and making no effort to hide himself or pretend interest in anything but Morgan. After adjusting his collar tabs and fussing with his shirt front, Morgan held his leather case to his chest as if it could armor him, and waited among the ladies’ maids and bankers’ daughters for the tram.

* * *

Riding among a crowd consisting mostly of servants summoned memories that Morgan had expended some effort setting aside. The human odor of painfully starched cleanliness and faint malnutrition within the tram was far too reminiscent of his own childhood. He stared out at the streets of Highpassage, ignoring the people around him with their muted gossip, and wondered what he’d been about.

Seeking truth, science, had been his path out of ungenteel poverty. That the good universities admitted scholarship boys at all was still a strange novelty when Morgan had first enrolled. He’d studied beyond reason to qualify, understanding perfectly clearly he would have to do twice as well to be thought half as good as someone of monied birth and good family.

Even now, with his doctorate and his post at the New Garaden Institute, far too few listened with ears of reason. People only saw and heard what they wished. If he’d been a titled scion of some ancient house, Matroit would not have been able to rush him out of the Planetary Society.

The most important discovery of the modern age was being crushed by pettiness. No different from the rough back alley games of his youth. The strongest ones, the ones with the most friends, always prevailed.

Head pressed against the glass, feeling the shudder of the tracks through the tram’s iron wheels, Morgan almost wept to realize the world’s unfairness had no end. He could never be good enough, never have possession of enough facts, to surpass that barrier.

* * *

The New Garaden Institute’s offices occupied the majority of an elegant building that had been designed and constructed during the height of the Neoclassical Revival at the beginning of the previous century. It had been one of the first structures in Highpassage built with the intention of being gas lit and centrally heated. Plumbing stacks, gas valve closets, ventilation shafts for the introduction of fresh air to the innermost precincts of the structure—the building had been a truly visionary project from the century’s most famous architect, Kingdom Obasa. A brilliant Iberiard educated outside the top-ranked university system, Obasa had very much gone his own way in both engineering and aesthetics. As a result, for all of its brownstone glory, the New Garaden Institute nonetheless resembled nothing so much as a cathedral that had been partially melted.
The recent addition of an array of rooftop electrickal signaling devices for the propagation and reception of radio waves had done nothing to alleviate the building’s strangeness.

Stung, embittered, saddened by his setback, but firmly in command of himself once more, Morgan stumbled through the vestibule into the receiving parlor only to find the Desk Porter in close consultation with a pair of on-duty Thalassojustity Marines. His view of the wide expanse of maroon carpet, delicate settees, and brass rails telescoped into a horrified vision of another ejection from his barely attained positions of privilege. The Marines’ formal red tunics contrasted oddly with the firearms borne by both of the large men. While Morgan had little familiarity with weapons, even he could see that these were not the long-barreled, wooden-stocked rifles carried on parade, but rather short, snub-nosed bits of machined steel slung tight on well-worn leather straps. Businesslike tools of violence, in other words.

“Ah, Dr. Abutti,” one of the Marines said, even before he’d turned from the Desk Porter’s podium. The man’s purple-blue eyes were like grapes squeezed into the unnaturally pale, ruddy flesh of his face.

Morgan was impressed for about three beats, until he realized the Marine had seen his reflection in the glassed-over painting of the Battle of Mino Harbor behind the podium.

“Indeed. I do not believe we have been introduced.” Morgan glanced pointedly at the Desk Porter. The Desk Porter—was his name Philas? Phelps?—just as pointedly failed to meet Morgan’s eye.

“No need, sir. You’re to come with us. Thalassojustity business. You’re being called before the Lesser Bench, sir.” The Marine favored Morgan with a warm smile that did not meet the eyes. His fellow favored Morgan with the blank stare of a gun barrel casually swung to bear.

“Now?” Morgan asked with an involuntary swallow.

“Now.” And after a moment too long, “Sir.”

“I may be some time,” Morgan told the Desk Porter.

“I’ll make a note, Doctor.” This time he did raise his eyes with a faint flash of malice.
 
When first they hanged the pirate Black upon the beach
Little did the captains trow what they set upon the sea
Neither haunt nor hollow, down the long years between
Justice for the open waves, and a fire upon the deep
Lords of the Horizon, Ebenstone (trad. attrib.)

By sharp contrast with the New Garaden Institute, the Thalassojustity Palace was arguably the oldest building in Highpassage. It was certainly the oldest building still in regular use. The legal and sovereign relationship between the Thalassojustity and its host city was ambiguous, strained by two millennia and more of precedent, treaty, and occasional open warfare.

In other words, arguably not in Highpassage proper. The Increate, as always, manifested Their power on the side of the big battalions.

Morgan Abutti was treated to a close view of the Pirate’s Steps, the ancient risers that led to the formal portico. A temple of the sea, the palace had been looking out across the Attik Main for over a third of recorded history. He knew the building well—impossible not to, as a fourth-degree Thalassocrete. The initiation ceremonies stressed history above all else.

Normally he used a discreet side door for the alternate Thursday lodge meetings. Only criminals and heads of state paraded up the Pirate’s Steps. He knew which he wasn’t.

“What have I done?” he asked of the two Marines for at least the sixth time. For at least the sixth time, they gave him no answer. Even the false smiles had vanished, to be replaced by a firm grip on each arm and the banging of one Marine’s firearm against Morgan’s hip.

At the top of the steps, he was hoisted around and faced outward, so that he stared at the bottle-green waters of the Attik Main. Shipping crowded the waves, as always at Highpassage, one of the busiest ports in the world. Great iron steamers from the yards at Urartu far to the east passed above dish-prowed fishing boats whose lines had not changed in a thousand years of beachfront ship building. A white-hulled Thalassojustity cutter cruised past barges and scows waiting for their dock pilots. Overhead, a pair of the new Iberiard dirigibles beat hard against the wind, engines straining as they slung urgent deck cargo to landfall from a vessel waiting too long for a slip.

Highpassage, crossroads of the world.

But the message wasn’t that, Morgan knew. He’d sat through too many initiations not to see the point the Marines were making. The hanging tree, the ultimate symbol of both justice and power across the world’s maritime extents, stood on the beach below him, memorialized as a granite monument to the largely legendary death of the largely legendary pirate Black. That angry court of captains and bosuns had met on a firelit beach in the teeth of a rising storm over two thousand years past to take justice in their own hands after the King of Highpassage had declined to act. The sailors had broken Black, so the story ran, and unintentionally founded a line of power that controlled the high seas to this day, serving as a pragmatic secular counterbalance to the widespread spiritual and temporal influence of the Lateran Church.

Drawing on that tradition to this day, justice, as untempered by mercy as the sea itself, was the purpose of the Thalassocretes.

“You’re a man of keen wit and insight,” said the pale Marine in a surprisingly soft tone, to Morgan’s surprise.

“I am likely blind to much in this life.” He felt as if he were uttering his last words. “Science is both my mistress and my muse. But even I can still see history.”

Like estranged lovers met on a sidewalk, the moment swiftly passed. A rough adversity resumed. Morgan found himself pushed within, toward the upper halls and the quiet, incense-reeking rooms of the Lesser and Greater Benches of the Thalassojustity.

* * *

The Most Revered Bilious F. Quinx; B.Th. Rhet.; M.Th. Hist. & Rit.; Th.D. Hist. & Rit.; 32nd degree Thalassocrete; and master of the Increate’s Consistitory Office for Preservation of the Faith Against Error and Heresy, watched carefully as His Holiness Lamboine XXII paged through one of the prohibitora from the Consistitory’s most confidential library.

The two of them were alone—unusually so, given His Holiness’ nigh everpresent retinue—in the aerie of the Matachin Tower of the Lateran Palace. This room was Quinx’ private study and retreat, and also where his most confidential meetings were held. The latter was due to the architecture of the tower walls that rendered the usual methods of ecclesiastical eavesdropping futile.

Quinx, in both his official capacity and from his well-developed personal sense of curiosity, worried about the possibility of spying via the new electricks. For that reason, he had thus far forbidden any lights or wires to be installed in the Matachin Tower. He preferred instead to rely on traditional oil lamps tended by traditional acolytes who damned well knew to keep their ears shut. And besides which who wore nubble-soled slippers so they could not sneak.
Privacy was both a commodity and a precious resource within these walls of the Increate’s highest house. Quinx made it his business to control the available privacy as much as possible.
Still, having His Holiness leaf so casually through a prohibitorum was enough to give a thoughtful man a galloping case of the hives.

Lamboine—who had once been called Ion when they were boys together in a mountain village plentifully far away from the Holy Precincts—raised his eyes from the page. “There is nothing in this world I am not entitled to know, Bili.”

“You understand me perfectly as always.”

Those words summoned a small, sad smile, one that Quinx also remembered far too well from a youth lost six decades past. “That is why I am the Gatekeeper and you are my hound,” Lamboine replied. As ever, his voice was preternaturally patient. “I have always wondered why our friends among the Thalassocretes have never sought to place a man on the Footstool of the Increate.”

Ion was one of the few remaining alive who could provoke Quinx to unthinking response. “Do you honestly suppose they never have done so? I am numbered among their rolls, after all.”
“They think you their spy in the house of the Increate.” Another small smile. “In any event, I should think I would know if one of them had ever held my throne. My opinion is that they have never felt a need to. Truth is a strange commodity.”

“Much like privacy,” Quinx almost whispered, echoing his own, earlier thoughts.

The Gatekeeper shook his head. “Privacy is just a special case of truth, or its withholding. This . . .” His hand, palsied with the infirmity of age that had yet to overcome Quinx, swept over the open book. “This is truth of a different sort.”

“No, Your Holiness. It is not. It is only the Thalassocretes’ story. We have the Increate and the evidence on our side.”

“What makes you think there are sides, Bili?”

In that moment, Quinx saw Lamboine’s death. Flesh stretched tight and luminous across his face, the deep, natural brown of his skin paling to the color of milk in coffee, his eyes brittle as cracked opals. The man’s fires were guttering. “There are always sides, Ion. That has been my role these long years here, preserving and defending your side.” He paused a moment, then added: “Our side.”

The Gatekeeper waited several measures of silence too long for comfort before replying. “I am glad you did not claim a side for the Increate. They are all, and They are everything.”
“Of course.” Quinx bowed his head.

A trembling hand descended in surprising blessing. Quinx had not even realized that the Gatekeeper had set the book down. “Do not rely too much on evidence, my oldest friend. It has a way of turning against you in time. Proof can change with circumstance. Faith is the rock upon which we must always build.”

Quinx remained bowed until the Gatekeeper had departed, shuffling far enough down the spiral stairs to summon his attendants, who bore him away on a wave of soft whispers and perfume. After a time, he rose and set some incense alight before kneeling on a bolster with a small ricepaper copy of Librum Vita in his grip. It had been made in distant Sind, something of a curiosity, copied out in a firm hand by a man wielding a brush comprised of only a single hair. Act of faith? Dedication to art?

It did not matter. The Increate’s words fit in the palm of Quinx’ hands. From there, he drew comfort as surely as he had from his mother’s grasp once so long ago.

Or Ion’s.

The relief of prayer drew him in then, toward the dim inner light that always filled Bilious Quinx when he sought the Increate in honest, faithful silence with open heart and empty thoughts.

* * *

Much later he trimmed the wicks in his office and lit the night lamp. Darkness had descended outside, the evening breeze bearing the itching scent of pollen and spring chill off the mountains to the east and south. Quinx opened his windows, their red glazing parted to let the tepid lamplight spill out and compete with the distant stars.

The Lateran Palace had its own observatories, of course. Someone must demarcate the lines of the world. Even the almighty Thalassojustity had in the past been willing to leave the skies to the Church. The irony of that was not lost on Quinx in these late days. He was certain it was no less lost on the Thalassocretes in Highpassage and elsewhere.

No matter his own initiation into their ranks; the Thalassojustity had always known who and what Quinx was, and whose creature he had been, body and soul. That Ion was dying now changed nothing of Quinx’ loyalties.

He considered the prohibitorum, lying so carelessly open where the Gatekeeper had left it on one of the round room’s several curve-backed writing desks. The book was open to a map of the Garden of Ganj, annotated only as the heretics of the Thalassojustity would bother to do. This particular volume was a first printing of the Revised Standard Survey, Th. 1907. Almost a hundred years old, and their color plates a century past were as good as anything the Lateran presses could manage even today.

Ion had left a scrap tucked in the center crease. Quinx plucked it out, his own hand trembling. It was a short note that must have been written before the Gatekeeper had come up to see him, in Ion’s lifelong careful copperplate hand, rendered edgy and strange by the exigencies of age.

Dearest—
Do not let them elect you to the Gatekeeper’s throne after me. And do not be afraid of what may be proven. Farewell. I regret that I must go before.
Always yours.

So he had seen truly into the Gatekeeper’s face. And Dearest. They had not used that word between them in over five decades. Quinx carefully burned the note, then stirred the ashes. After that he trimmed his night lamp back to darkness, closed and sealed the prohibitorum with a black ribbon, and took a chair by one of the open casements to watch the stars wheel slowly until just after midnight when the Lateran tower bells began to ring their death knells.
When the great, iron bell of the Algeficic Tower tolled last and slowest of all, his tears finally flowed.

Love is the sin that will not be denied.
Librum Vita, Wisdoms 7:23;
being the Book of Life and word entire of the
Increate

The funerary rites for His Holiness Lamboine XXII began at Matins as the first flickering sweep of dawn glowed like coals in the eastern sky. In his role as Preserver of the Faith, and therefore fourth-ranking priest in the Lateran hierarchy, Quinx could have insisted on being the celebrant. The two men above him were already closeted deep in the electoral politics of the Primacy, those same delegates from around the world having received the Gatekeeper’s death notice by telelocutor for the first time in Church history.

Quinx had a sick feeling that he would soon grow very weary of that last thought: the first time in history.

Instead of celebrating, he chose to attend as a congregant, a man, a priest, a mourner. The Deacon of the Lateran High Chapel led the first round of services. He was a young man with a perpetually surprised expression, now properly dressed in a sweeping black cassock embroidered in gold and silver thread, though he’d begun the services in a nightshirt before being rescued by an acolyte with the right set of chamber keys.

Incense, again, and the familiar tones of the chimes indicating the order of service. As the deacon struck them in turn, Quinx tried to put the memory of the tower bells away. Not to forget, for nothing could be forgotten by a man in his office, but to be set aside.

Prayer was a valve opened to the comfort of the Increate, from Whom all things sprang and to Whom all things flowed. There were times when he could understand the attraction of the Aquatist Heresies, for all that their pernicious metaphors had nearly fatally tangled the Lateran Church in its own liturgies. There were times when he wondered what the Increate truly intended, as if They would speak directly to him in response. There were times when quiet refuge was the greatest gift They could give him. Quinx let the deacon’s droning voice lead him from grief to some other place where his cares could wait on the attentions of his heart.

Somewhere in memory, two young men on a hillside scattered with sheep, goats, and bright blue flowers laughed under a summer sky and spoke together of all things great and small.

* * *

When fingers touched his shoulder, Quinx was briefly startled. He’d gone so far into meditation that he’d lost himself in the well-worn rituals of the service. Become the liturgy, as they used to say in seminary.

He looked around. Brother Kurts, his lead investigator, stood as always just a bit too close.
“Sir,” the monk growled. A big man, one of those pale northerners who somehow never seemed to advance far in the Church hierarchy, Kurts carried far more than his own weight. The man was a boulder in a snowfield. Here, in the midst of service, his blocky frame and the dark brown rough-spun habit of his Sibellian Order made him a brutal shout against the soaring of the silk-robed choir who must have filed in to the loft while Quinx had been meditating.

“Kurts?”

“You must come, sir. We have an urgent dispatch from Highpassage. By air.”

“By air?” Briefly, Quinx felt stupid—an unusual sensation for him. Of late, matters of great urgency were transmitted via telelocutor. His own office had approved such innovation only three years earlier, well after the undersea cable had been laid between Highpassage and the Lateran, crossing beneath the Attik Main. Matters of great secrecy were handled quite differently, and always with utmost discretion.

Sending an airship across the sea the night of His Holiness’ death was tantamount to lighting a flare.

“By air, sir,” Kurts confirmed. “Matroit dispatched the messenger.”

Matroit. The man was the very model of probity, and no more likely to panic than he was to fly to the moon. But the timing of the thing . . . It stank of politics. Quinx felt briefly ill. “Was the vessel a Thalassojustity airship?”

The monk shook his head. “A racing yacht. I understand it was put about to have been sent on a dare by some of the young wastrels of the city.”

Not an utterly unreasonable cover story, Quinx had to admit, for all that such defiance of the Thalassojustity was outrageous. Outrageous served as the stock in trade of a certain set in Highpassage. He set aside for later consideration the issue of how Lucan Matroit was connected to that set in the first place. For now, a dispatch this urgent would be a distraction to his grieving heart.

How welcome or unwelcome remained to be seen.

He did not bother to ask if Kurts had read it. The man would not have done so. In his entire life, Quinx had only ever trusted two men utterly. The first of those had passed on into the hands of the Increate last night. The other was here before him. Whatever Kurts’ many flaws, the monk was loyal to the bone. Blood and vows, vows and blood, as they used to say.

Quinx gathered the skirts of his cassock and rose from the prayer bench. He gave an approving nod to the deacon, now well into the third iteration of the funerary mass and looking distinctly tired, before withdrawing from the High Chapel in the wake of his man.

* * *

They closeted themselves in a tiny dining room from which Quinx had by virtue of his office ruthlessly evicted four hungry priests. Plates of plain eggs and blackbread toast still steamed. He considered the contents of the envelope presented by Kurts. The seal had been genuine enough, to the best of Quinx’ rather well sharpened ability to determine. For something that had come rushing over hundreds of miles of open water, the letter within was sufficiently sparse as to seem laughable. A single sheet of crème-colored Planetary Society paper, with that slick finish favored by the very wealthy, though it would take few inks. A rushed hand, script rather than copperplate, the pigments a curious green that was one of Matroit’s affectations. And only a very few words indeed.

But such dangerous ones.

It was dated the previous day though no time was given. He realized on reflection that this missive must have been written before Ion’s death could have been known, just by judging the miles the message had flown even at the speed of the fastest air-racing yacht.

Revered—
The Externalist heresy was proclaimed again today in the Plenary Hall. To my surprise, the Thalassocretes have taken custody of the young man in question, but I have secured his work for the nonce. There is a possibility of empirical evidence.
M.

Evidence.

Proof.

Had Ion known last night this letter was coming, known as he was dying? Or was it simply that now happened to be the world’s time for such trials? The cloying smell of cooling eggs provided no answer.

Still, Quinx felt a swift trip to Highpassage would be in order. With their profound challenge to the roots of Lateran doctrine, Externalists were a far more troublesome heresy than the dissenters such as the Machinists or the Originalists. Putting paid to this renewed outbreak of Externalism before it had a chance to establish and multiply was an utmost priority. And that errand in turn would keep him safely away from the deliberations of the Assemblage of Primates, who would surely be meeting in camera the moment the Gatekeeper’s body had been sufficiently blessed. Death was an unfortunate pause in events, but politics continued forever.

There was a young man to see, and a Thalassojustity to face down. Again.

Why people insisted on resisting the obvious and holy truths of the Increate was one of those mysteries of free will that a priest could spend his lifetime contemplating without any success. If all the saints of ancient days could not answer such a question, surely Bilious Quinx would be no wiser.

Questions he could not answer, but problems he could solve.

“Brother Kurts . . .”

“Sir?”

“Does the airship pilot perhaps await our pleasure?”

There was the briefest pause, then the slightest tone of satisfaction in the monk’s reply. “I have already made certain of it, sir.”
 
The advantages of the reflecting telescope over the refracting telescope cannot be overstated, and should be obvious to any thinking man. While the great refractors of the past century have multiplied our understanding of the Increate’s work amidst the heavens, the practical exigencies of glass-making, gravity, and the engineering arts limit the refracting mirrors to less than fifty inches of diameter. Advances in the philosophy of the reflecting telescope have produced designs by such luminaries as Kingdom Obasa’s son and successor, Brunel, for mirrors of a hundred inches or greater! Even now, the Planetary Society raises a subscription for such a heavenly monster to be placed upon Mount Sysiphe north of Highpassage, that we might enumerate the craters of the moon and count the colors of the stars to better understand the glories of Creation. A true union of Science and Faith can only prosper from such noble endeavors.
—Editorial in the Highpassage Argus-Intelligencer,
November 2nd, H.3123, Th.1997, L.6011
 
“Lesser Bench” was a misnomer. Morgan knew that. Everybody knew that. The Greater Bench met only in solemn conclave on the beach to hear capital cases, and certain classes of piracy accusations. Everything else that transpired in the Thalassojustity took place under the purview of the Lesser Bench.

The question was which of those benches.

The two Marines dragged Morgan into the interior of the Thalassojustity Palace. The main nave soared to the roof, some eighty feet above, and was lined with enormous statues of sea captains and Thalassocretes through the ages. The joke ran that the bodies remained the same and the heads were switched from time to time. Whatever the truth, the sculpture represented one of the greatest troves of Classical art in the world, with continuous provenance stretching back well before the onset of consistent recordkeeping.

Glorious, strange, and too large for the world—that was the majesty of the Thalassojustity, encapsulated in the dialectic of art. . . .

.Copyright © 2012 Jay Lake

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