1636 The Vatican Sanctions – Snippet 12

“A colloquium? What does this mean? Why does he not summon a Council of the Cardinals?” Borja idly wondered if a sufficiently large bomb could be fashioned to send Urban and all of his heretical red hats into the heavens for judgment and damnation, all at once. Of course, such a powerful device would also necessarily be imprecise. Many innocents would no doubt be killed. But they would also no doubt be received in heaven as martyrs whose lives had been sacrificed to ensure the continued safety of Mother Church.

Dolor did not so much as blink as he explained. “The colloquium is expressly ecumenical, Cardinal Borja. My agent in Basel learned of it because of an invitation that had gone out to a leading Calvinist theologian who was wintering there.”

“A C-calvinist?” Borja sputtered.

“We feared as much, Your Eminence,” Maculani muttered darkly as he scratched at the paper before him.

Borja resisted the urge to put a hand to his forehead; such a pose was not consistent with the firm and resolute image he wished to convey. “So, at the same time that this parasite upon the Church is whelping litter after litter of new cardinals every time he touches his chest and murmurs, ‘in pectore,’ he is traitorously inviting heretics to help him spin a wider, unholy web. It warrants a crusade!”

Maculani’s restless scrawling ceased. “That would be a — a most difficult and provocative undertaking. Your Eminence.” From his startled tone, the recently elevated bishop seemed unsure whether Borja was speaking figuratively or literally. Borja was not entirely sure himself.

Dolor folded his hands. “I have few details of this colloquium beyond the fact that Urban has sent inquiries far and wide. Judging from other reports, there is an intimation that the United States of Europe are facilitating this with their dirigibles.”

Maculani’s inquiry was swift. “Not radio?”

“No, Your Grace. From your change in expression, I suspect you see why.”

“Yes. These radio transmissions give an adversary routine access to codes, since they are always free to be heard by all who know the correct — er, is the word ‘frequency’?”

Dolor bowed his head. “Bishop Maculani’s knowledge — and foresight — are most excellent.”

Borja could not help a proud smile from curving his lips slightly. Vincenzo Maculani had been a rare find: a cleric with an excellent education, a willingness to get his hands dirty (what former head inquisitor could do otherwise?), and an early life that made him familiar with the cynicism and brutish reality of the streets. So far as stratagems and their execution were concerned, he was nearly Dolor’s equal.

But then Maculani went and ruined it all: “Your Eminence, this news — what it portends, and how we vouchsafed it — compels me to renew my appeal that we retain the services of a radio operator.”

Borja almost groaned aloud. “Not this again, Maculani.”

“Please, Your Eminence, consider how Don Dolor’s report demonstrates the indispensable nature of this technology. Not only did this intelligence reach us from distant, winter-locked Basel within a day of its acquisition, but it was conveyed by a roving agent. Two radio operators, moving with two guards could furnish us with urgent news weeks, even months, before standard couriers could bring it to us.”

Borja shifted. Which must have let Maculani know that this was the moment to press home his decisive argument: “And if we wish to stop Urban from creating more cardinals to build his appearance of legitimacy and of Church dominance, we must be able to control — carefully and precisely control — the operations we have considered mounting to stop him.”

Borja stared at him, half annoyed, half hoping that Maculani would somehow find a different path.

But the square-headed and square-chinned bishop — who would probably have made a formidable wrestler — only stared back and added, “The operations we have considered will be most delicate, Your Eminence. Indeed, it would be quite advantageous for the hands not to know precisely what the head is planning until just before they are set in motion.”

Borja glanced at Dolor.

Who shrugged. “Your Eminence certainly knows my opinion on this matter. Last year, when pursuing Urban VIII, I was forced to communicate with our agents in Venetian territory via pigeons. And once events moved beyond the reach of the coops the pigeons knew, our agents were left to their own crude devices. If we had had a capable radio operator traveling with or near them –”

Borja flicked a sharp, irritated wave in Dolor’s direction, even as he looked away. “Yes, yes, you have made it quite clear how the outcome could have been much different.”

Dolor did not reply, simply nodded and looked at Maculani.

Who looked baleful. He was not comfortable with Dolor. Last September, shortly after the assassin-turned-intelligencer had returned from Spain with letters patent from none other than Olivares, he had paid a respectful visit to Borja, even though he no longer answered to the cardinal. Maculani, not a talkative man in his most extroverted moments, sat as still and silent as a graven image during that brief meeting. When Borja later asked him of his impressions of Dolor, Maculani’s frown had deepened. “He makes it hard to form an impression; he reveals so little of himself. Which I do not trust.”

But on this particular winter’s day, Maculani’s crucial and possibly only ally was this selfsame man he did not trust. He turned his eyes back to Borja. “Your Eminence, I understand that you wish to guard Mother Church against infernal up-time devices. So do I. But it may be that we may not protect her adequately without making an exception in this case. You know that Don Dolor and I often have very different opinions on our strategies and their execution, but we are of one mind on this. I believe I speak for both of us when I beseech you to consider: is not the good to be done by retaining the services of a radio expert far greater than any danger it might pose?”

In fact, Borja was not convinced of that easy formulation. Something told him that the greased slide into a world dominated by the up-timers and their devices began with just such “exceptions” as this. Ultimately, such exceptions would become more routine, then plentiful, and then ubiquitous, until, finally, the up-timers had recast reality in the form that suited them and their inscrutable, but certainly nefarious, designs. But the cardinal also had to admit that instant communications had been a far, far more decisive factor than the weapons or airships the up-timers had used to best them the prior summer. And he could not allow Urban VIII to continue on his present, ruinous course — ruinous both for Mother Church and Gaspar de Borja y Velasco. Concepts which, in his mind, had begun to elide and merge into one.

“Very well.” Borja sighed. “We shall take this step. Who must we consult to find a reliable operator and technician?”

Dolor cleared his throat. “In acquiring a radio for my own operations, I have encountered a number of operators who might serve your needs.”

Borja nodded. “Very well. Who do you recommend most highly?”

Dolor seemed to reflect for a moment, which struck Borja as slightly odd; Dolor always seemed to know his intended path long before he was asked to reveal it. “Bruno Sartori, a Venetian.”

“A Venetian?” Borja was happy that Maculani’s voice had joined his own in a chorus of dismay and aversion.

“A Venetian,” Dolor persisted quietly, “who was disowned upon being revealed as one of our agents last summer. He has been living in Rome since September, and has been unable to find suitable work.”

Maculani’s frown became a scowl. “And if this Sartori is so accomplished, why have you not retained him yourself?”

Dolor shrugged. “By the time I knew he had fled to Rome, my needs were already met. He would not have fulfilled them, anyhow: he does not speak enough languages. Only Italian, German, and weak French. Much of my work involves monitoring USE transmissions, and many of their operators use English or Amideutsch. Furthermore, he is a functionary, not a man for field work. He will be happy to receive a good salary in Rome, where he may have his creature comforts.”

“Could he be bribed by our enemies, do you think?” Maculani asked in a low mutter.

“Possibly, but for the same reason he would not be serviceable in the field, he should not pose a security risk. So long as his salary is sufficient, I estimate him to prize safety from retribution more than the additional funds he might realize by becoming a double agent. However, if you are looking for an upright pillar of the faith who would serve out of principle, I fear I do not have any such candidates to recommend. My duties rarely put me in touch with such persons — at least not those who have the skills you require.”

Borja huffed lightly. Hardly an ideal candidate, this Sartori. On the other hand, a paragon of virtue might not be what they needed in this case. Particularly not with the orders they inevitably would have to send to their operatives in Besançon. Pontificide would trouble the conscience — and perhaps loosen the guilt-ridden tongue — of a more upright man. So, on second thought, perhaps this Sartori was indeed the ideal candidate, specifically because he was not the ideal Catholic. “The Venetian should do. Send him to us as soon as you may.” And now the delicate part of the meeting, which hopefully Dolor would not realize as the reason Borja granted him an audience so swiftly. “I understand that you traveled a bit before returning to Rome. Searching for radios and operators to recruit for your own operations.”

Dolor’s nod was almost imperceptible. “You Eminence is extremely well informed.”

Hah. Dolor can be surprised! One of the frequent weaknesses of spymasters was that they often believed that they, and their immediate enemies, were the only ones doing any spying. “Did your own travels take you to Besançon?”

“I am sorry to disappoint Your Eminence, but no, they did not. It was not needed.”

“Not needed?” Maculani asked.

“Yes, Your Grace. As His Excellency Count-Duke Olivares already had taken steps to have an agent placed in Besançon to observe the changes wrought there by Bernhard Wettin, it was deemed extraneous for me to go there myself. I merely needed to get an update from the agent.”