Home > The Long Mars (The Long Earth #3)(8)

The Long Mars (The Long Earth #3)(8)
Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter

Nelson had read up on this in preparation for meeting Eileen. In a way it had been an extension of old arguments about whether inhabitants of other planets could be regarded as ‘saved’ or not, if Christ had been born only on Earth. Out in the Long Earth, as far as anybody knew, no humans had evolved anywhere beyond Datum Earth. So Christ’s incarnation had surely been unique to Datum Earth. In fact the body of Christ Himself had been uniquely composed of atoms and molecules from the Datum. So what was the theological status of all those other Earths? What of the children already being born on worlds of the Long Earth, their very bodies composed of atoms that had nothing to do with the world of Christ? Were they saved by His incarnation, or not?

To Nelson it had all been a hideous mish-mash of misunderstood science and medieval theology. But he knew that many Catholics, all the way up to the Vatican itself, had been confused by such arguments. And, it seemed, members of other Christian denominations.

Eileen said now, ‘All of a sudden you started reading about these hucksters selling Holy Communion wafers from Datum Earth, which they said were the only valid ones to use because they came from the same world as Lord Jesus.’

‘They were just hucksters,’ Nelson said gently.

‘Yes, but then suddenly the Pope says that the Long Earth was all part of God’s dominion after all . . .’

Nelson had a healthy cynicism about the sudden change in the Vatican’s stance towards the Long Earth. It was all about demographics. With the continuing mass exodus from much of the planet, colonies on the nearby worlds were suddenly filling up with lots of little potential Catholics. And so, just as suddenly, all those new worlds were holy after all. The Pope had taken his theological justification from Genesis 1:28: ‘And God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth, and subdue it.’ The fact that God didn’t explicitly say the Long Earth was no problem, any more than it had been in 1492 that the Bible hadn’t mentioned the Americas. But you did still need to have your priests’ source of blessing deriving from the Pope, so that the Datum Vatican remained the source of all authority. Oh, and contraception was still a sin.

Some commentators marvelled at the way the two-thousand-year-old institution of the Church had survived yet another huge philosophical and economic dislocation, as it had the fall of the Roman empire that had nurtured it, and the science of Galileo, Darwin and the Big Bang cosmologists. But even some Catholics were appalled at what was called the most audacious land-grab since 1493, when Pope Alexander VI had divided the entire New World between Spain and Portugal: here was an antique ideology claiming hegemony over infinity. Hence Walter Nicholas Boyd, and his despairing cry of ‘Not those feet!’

And hence poor Eileen Connolly with her utter confusion.

‘I didn’t like what the Pope said,’ Eileen said firmly now. ‘I’ve been out there, on treks and holidays and that, in the stepwise worlds. You’ve got people building farms and homes from nothing, with their bare hands. And all those animals nobody ever saw before. No, I’d say we have to be humble, not just claim that it’s all ours.’

David said, ‘That does sound wise, Eileen—’

‘I feel angry sometimes,’ Eileen said bluntly. ‘Oh, just as angry as that fellow Boyd on the TV, probably. I sometimes think this place, Datum Earth, is so foul and messed up that it’s the source of all evil. That all the innocent worlds of the Long Earth would be better off if this place could be stoppered up, somehow. Like a big old bottle.’

David said gently, ‘You can see why I asked for your help, Nelson. People do get superstitious, you know, in apocalyptic times like these.’ He lowered his voice. ‘Over in Much Nadderby, there have been mutterings about a case of witchcraft.’

‘Witchcraft!’

‘Or possibly a demonic possession. A little boy who was brighter than the rest – eerily so. One tries to calm things down, of course. But now this nonsense from the Vatican!’ He shook his head. ‘Sometimes I feel we’re so foolish we deserve all the suffering we get.’

And Nelson, who had become a close ally of Lobsang – or, as Lobsang had put it, a ‘valuable long-term investment’ – knew that Lobsang, at least some of the time, would agree.

‘This is what I’d like you to do. Go with her, Nelson. Go out with Eileen, at least for a while. God knows I’m too old. But you . . . Go with her. Bless her. Bless the land she and her children settle in. Baptize them anew, if they wish. Whatever it takes to reassure her that God is with her, wherever she takes her children. And whatever the wretched Pope says.’

Nelson smiled. ‘Of course.’

David stood up. ‘Thank you. I’ll fetch us another pot of tea.’

Lobsang longed for his friends.

At least, in the aftermath of Yellowstone, they had been drawn back to the Datum, like emergency workers rushing towards the fire. Lobsang had welcomed their company, even when, like Joshua Valienté, they seemed to have little time for him. But as the years had worn away since the eruption, and the situation stabilized, they came back less and less, they resumed their own lives, far away once more.

Sally Linsay, for instance. Who, four years after the eruption, could have been found on a parallel world some one hundred and fifty thousand steps away from Datum Earth. Although Sally Linsay was always very, very hard to find . . .

You could call it Sally’s mission in life to be hard to find. Although in fact her life was full of missions, especially when it came to the flora and fauna of the Long Earth, about which she was quite passionate.

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