Home > The Long Mars (The Long Earth #3)(7)

The Long Mars (The Long Earth #3)(7)
Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Joshua grunted. ‘I remember Lobsang predicting a super-eruption, more than once. Blow-ups like that accounted for some of the Jokers we found out in the Long Earth, the disaster-blighted worlds. But he didn’t see Yellowstone coming.’

Sister John shook her head. ‘In the end he had no more insight than the geologists on whose faulty data he had to rely. And he couldn’t have stopped it anyhow.’

‘True.’ Just as Lobsang had claimed to have been unable to avert a terrorist nuclear strike on Datum Madison itself, a decade earlier. Lobsang was evidently not omnipotent. ‘But I bet that doesn’t make him feel any better . . .’

In the sidpa bardo, the spirit body was not a thing of gross matter. It could pass through rock, hills, earth, houses. By the mere act of focusing his attention, the locus that was Lobsang was here, there and everywhere. But increasingly he wished to be at the side of his friends.

Friends like Nelson Azikiwe, who sat in the rectory lounge in his old parish of St John on the Water . . .

Nelson’s host, the Reverend David Blessed, handed him another brimming mug of tea. Nelson was grateful for the warmth of the drink. This was August of 2042, in southern England – less than two years after the Yellowstone eruption – and outside it was snowing. Once again, autumn had come horribly early.

The two of them studied the third person in the room, a local woman called Eileen Connolly, as she sat before the big TV screen, watching the news report as it was repeated over and over. Three days after the assassination attempt at the Vatican, the key audio and visual clips were dully familiar. The deranged scream: ‘Not those feet! Not those feet!’ The horror of the brandished weapon, a crucifix with a sharpened base. The Pope’s frail white-clad figure being dragged away from the balcony. The assassin vomiting helplessly as stepping nausea belatedly cut in.

The would-be assassin was English. His name was Walter Nicholas Boyd. He’d been a staunch Catholic all his life. And what he’d done, single-handed, was to build a scaffolding in Rome East 1 to match precisely the position and height of the balcony of St Peter’s, where the Pope stood to bless the crowds in the Square below. It was an obvious location for a troublemaker, but astonishingly, and unforgivably in these times of step-related acts of terror, the Vatican security people hadn’t blocked it. And Walter Nicholas Boyd had climbed his scaffolding, stepped over with his sharpened wooden crucifix, and had tried to murder the Pope. The pontiff had been badly wounded, but would live.

Now, watching the reports, Eileen began to hum a tune.

David Blessed smiled, looking tired. ‘That’s the hymn they all sing. And did those feet in ancient times / Walk upon England’s mountains green? / And was the holy Lamb of God / On England’s pleasant pastures seen? . . .’ He half-sang it himself. ‘Blake’s Jerusalem. Mr Boyd was protesting against what they are calling the Vatican’s “land-grab”, wasn’t he?’

‘He was,’ Nelson said. ‘In fact there’s a global protest movement called “Not Those Feet”. To which Eileen belongs, does she?’

Eileen, forty-four years old, a mother of two, was once one of Nelson’s parishioners – and was now once more under the care of David Blessed, Nelson’s predecessor, who, in his eighties now, had come out of retirement to care for the parish in these dark post-volcano days.

‘She does. Which is why she’s got herself into such a tangle of doubt.’

‘They are difficult times for all of us, David. Do you think I could speak to her now?’

‘Of course. Come. Let me refresh your tea.’

So Nelson gently questioned Eileen Connolly, taking her through her very ordinary story, her roles as a shop worker and mother – and then the divorce, but life had carried on, she had raised her children well. A very English life, more or less un troubled even by the opening up of the Long Earth. Untroubled, until the aftermath of the American volcano.

‘You have to move, Eileen,’ David said gently now. ‘Out into the Long Earth, I mean. And you have to take your children with you. You know how it is. We all have to go. England is bust. You’ve seen the local farmers struggling . . .’

Nelson knew the score. In this second year without a summer, the growing season even in southern England had been ferociously short. As late as June farmers had been struggling to plant fast-growing crops, potatoes, beets, turnips, in half-frozen ground, and there had barely been time to collect a withered harvest before the frosts returned again. In the cities there was hardly any activity save a desperate effort to save cultural treasures by stepping them away – although there would be a globally distributed, internationally supported ‘Museum of the Datum’ in the stepwise worlds, the governments promised; nothing would be lost . . .

David said, ‘And it’s only going to get worse, for years and years. There’s no doubt about it. Dear old England can’t support us any more. We must go out to these brave new worlds.’

But Eileen would not respond.

Nelson wasn’t sure he understood. ‘It’s not that she can’t step, is it, David? She’s no kind of phobic?’

‘Oh, no. I’m afraid it’s theological doubts that afflict her.’

Nelson had to smile. ‘Theology? David, this is the Church of England. We don’t do theology.’

‘Ah, but the Pope does, and that’s what’s got everybody stirred up, you see . . .’

Eileen looked calm, if faintly baffled, and she spoke at last. ‘The trouble is, you get so confused. The priests say one thing about the Long Earth, then the other. At first we were told it was a holy thing to go out there, because you have to leave all your worldly goods behind when you step. Well, almost all. It was like taking a vow of poverty. So for instance the New Pilgrimage Order of the Long Earth was set up to go out and administer to the needs of the new congregations that would form out there. I read about that, and gave them some money. That was fine. But then those archbishops in France started saying the crosswise worlds were all fallen places, the devil’s work, because Jesus never walked there . . .’

Hot Novels
  • Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Chris
  • Fifty Shades Freed (Fifty Shades #3)
  • Never Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #2)
  • Fifty Shades Darker (Fifty Shades #2)
  • Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine’s Peculi
  • Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades #1)
  • Fallen Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #1)
  • Forever Too Far (Too Far Trilogy #3)
  • Ugly Love
  • Allegiant (Divergent #3)
  • Hold on Tight (Sea Breeze #8)
  • Bared to You (Crossfire #1)
  • The Destiny of Violet & Luke (The Coinc
  • Captivated by You (Crossfire #4)
  • Uprooted