Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday's Chapter Mistress of Molecules by Gerald M. Weinberg

[What follows is Chapter 1 of Mistress of Molecules (a romantic thriller of the far future, from the Women of Power series by Gerald M. Weinberg.]

Chapter 1. Libra

Before the instant I launched my crocus-laden balloon plane, I had never doubted that I was my father's daughter. Now, parked in Clifton Plaza waiting for its return, my body, and my confidence, shook with fear. Nicolas Valois never feared anything. He had been solid as one of the Star Chamber's marble pillars, even as he'd stood before the Pope to receive his death sentence.

Although I was not yet born at the moment my father's molecules were disassembled and scattered, I know my father quite well. The vid of his show trial is part of the school curriculum. I have watched it hundreds of times.

Father was smarter than anybody in the Church. He must have known the Church would distribute the vid as moral lessons for the unfortunate inhabitants of our poisonous planet. So he used the trial, the vid, to communicate his own moral lessons, not to everyone, but only to me, his unborn daughter.

The Ministers caught Father with a kilo of crocus—less than my balloon plane now carried. They kept him out of public view for twenty-one days, no doubt torturing him until they placed him on public trial before our Pope. His Holiness served as judge, jury, and prosecutor. Sitting in full regalia—gold-trimmed purple chasuble over ivory alb and stole, a tall gold mitre decorated with seven purple crosses—he asked Father whether he had stolen the crocus.

Father stood tall and proud, though bruised, chained hand and foot, and dressed in baggy, wrinkled, orange prison clothing. "No, sir, I did not steal it."

After I had watched the vid a dozen times, I noticed the Pope flinching slightly when Father refused to address him as "Your Holiness," as was required of everyone in the court. I had seen a bailiff begin to move toward Father, probably to chastise him for this breach, but a wave of the Pope's finger motioned him away.

"Then you bought it?" asked the Pope.

"No, sir, I did not buy it."

"Then you smuggled it, perhaps from Earth?" The Pope looked down to check his console. "The record shows that you recently visited Earth."

"Yes, sir, I did. I was sent by my employer, the Telenergy Corporation."

"And upon returning from that trip, you smuggled the crocus from Earth?"

"No, sir, I did not. As far as I know, there is no crocus on Earth. Their air is not poisonous like ours, so Earthers have no need for it."

That statement, I knew, was a key part of his message to me.

The Pope continued. "So you know where all the crocus is in the galaxy?" He smiled knowingly for the audience, having put this arrogant criminal in his place.

"Everyone knows, sir, that crocus exists in only two places: here on Precursor, and on the Zgaarid home world, wherever that may be. I have never been there, nor has any other human, to my knowledge."

"And just how do you possess this vast knowledge of galactic affairs?"

"By logical deduction, sir. If the Zgaarid did not have a monopoly on crocus, and if the Church and the corporations could not use crocus to control our people, then we would not be held in docile slavery. But since we are no more than miserable slaves, the monopoly must exist. Why else would your church make it a crime to distribute a life-saving substance?"

"Hah." You could hear the smirk in the Pope's voice. "There, young man, you display even more ignorance. Even little children know that slavery is forbidden by the Church. That the Holy Church is your father protector, dedicated to your welfare and the welfare of your immortal soul."

"You would have to be a little child, sir, to believe that falsehood." Another message to me, I'm sure.

The Pope waved his hand dismissively. "Enough of your nonsense. If you did not steal the crocus, and you did not buy it, and you did not smuggle it, ... " He rolled his eyes heavenward. " ... then how did you obtain it?"

Father followed the Pope's gaze toward the ceiling. "God gave it to me, sir."

The Pope turned red and angrily banged his gavel on the bench. "That will be enough. Bailiff, gag the prisoner. And Clerk, you will now add blasphemy to the list of charges."

Before the bailiff could insert the gag, Father shrugged his shoulders and said, softly, "Fortunately, you can only murder me once."

Those were Father's last words before his body was disassembled into its component molecules. I know they were a message to me. They could only kill him once, but others would carry on his work. Others like me.

And what was that work? Again, that was clear from his testimony, though everybody else was too blind to see it. If he hadn't bought, stolen, or smuggled the crocus, he must have made it, which is what he meant when he said that God gave it to him. That is, God gave him the power to do chemistry, to make molecules. Molecules like crocus would free our world from both human and Zgaarid slavery.

Perhaps in another age, Father's ability to synthesize crocus would have been obvious to everyone. By now, however, humans had become so intimidated by Zgaarid technology that nobody even attempted to create things. Yes, there were people called chemists—my father was one, after all—but they were all simply technicians trained to operate pre-defined Zgaarid processes.

All, that is, except Father.

And, of course, me. The coward.

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