Three Hearings on the Existence of Snakes in the Human Bloodstream.
   Asimov's Science Fiction, Feb 1997

     1. Concerning an Arrangement of Lenses, So Fashioned
     as  to Magnify the View of Divers Animacules, Too  Tiny to be Seen with
the Unaided Eye:

     His Holiness, Supreme Patriarch Septus XXIV, was an expert on chains.
     By holy law,  chains were  required on every defendant  brought to  the
Court Immaculate. However, my Lord the Jailer  could exercise great latitude
in  choosing which  chains  went on which  prisoners. A  man possessed  of a
healthy fortune might  buy his way  into  nothing  more  than  a  gold  link
necklace looped loosely around his throat; a beautiful woman might visit the
Jailer privately in his chambers and emerge with thin  and glittering silver
bracelets -- chains, yes, but as  delicate as thread. If, on the other hand,
the  accused could offer  neither riches nor position  nor generous physical
charms... well then, the prison had an ample supply of leg-irons,  manacles,
and  other  such fetters, designed to  show these vermin the  grim weight of
God's Justice.
     The  man   currently  standing  before  Patriarch   Septus  occupied  a
seldom-seen middle ground in the quantity of restraints: two solid handcuffs
joined  by  an  iron chain of business-lute  gauge, strong enough  that  the
prisoner  had  no chance of breaking free, but not so heavy as to strain the
man's shoulders  to the  point  of  pain.  Clearly, my Lord the  Jailer  had
decided on a cautious  approach to this particular case; and Septus wondered
what that meant. Perhaps  the accused  was nobody himself but had sufficient
connections to rule out unwarranted indignities...  a sculptor  or musician,
for example, who had won favor with a few great households in  the city. The
man certainly had an artistic  look --  fierce eyes in an  impractical face,
the  sort of high-strung temperament  who could express passion but  not use
     "Be it known to the court," cried the First Attendant, "here stands one
Anton Leeuwenhoek,  a natural philosopher who is  accused of  heresy against
God  and Our Lady,  the Unbetombed Virgin. Kneel, Supplicant,  and pray with
his Holiness, that this day shall see justice."
     Septus  waited  to  see  what  Leeuwenhoek would  do. When  thieves and
murderers  came before the court, they dropped to  their knees  immediately,
making  gaudy  show  of begging God  to  prove their innocence.  A  heretic,
however, might spit defiance or hurl curses at the Patriarchal throne -- not
a good way to win mercy, but then, many heretics came to this chamber intent
on their own martyrdom.  Leeuwenhoek had  the  eyes  of such a  fanatic, but
apparently not the convictions; without so much as a grimace, he got to  his
knees and hewed  his  head. The Patriarch  quickly  closed his own  eyes and
intoned the words he had recited  five times previously  this  morning: "God
grant me  the wisdom  to perceive  the truth.  Blessed Virgin, grant me  the
judgment to serve out meet  justice. Let us all act this day to the  greater
glory of Thy Divine Union. Amen."
     Amens  sounded around the chamber: attendants  and advocates  following
the form.  Septus glanced sideways toward Satan's Watchboy, an ominous title
for  a  cheerfully  freckle-faced youth,  the one  person here excused  from
closing his eyes during  the prayer. The Watchboy  nodded  twice, indicating
that Leeuwenhoek had  maintained a proper  attitude of prayer and said  Amen
with everyone else. Good -- this had just become a valid trial, and anything
that happened from this point on had the strength of heavenly authority.
     "My Lord Prosecutor," Septus said, "state the charges."
     The  prosecutor bowed  as deeply  as his  well-rounded  girth  allowed,
perspiration already heading on his powdered forehead. It was not a hot day,
early spring, nothing more... but Prosecutor ben Jacob was a man famous  for
the  quantity  of  his  sweat,  a  trait that  usually  bothered  his  legal
adversaries more than himself. Many an opposing counsel had  been distracted
by the copious flow streaming  down ben  Jacob's  face,  thereby overlooking
flaws in  the  prosecutor's arguments. One  could always  find flaws in  ben
Jacob's arguments, Septus knew -- dear old Abraham was not overly clever. He
was, however, honest, and could not conceive of winning personal advancement
at the  expense of those he  prosecuted; therefore,  the Patriarch had never
dismissed the man from his position.
     'Your Holiness," ben Jacob said, "this case concerns claims against the
Doctrine of the, uhh... Sleeping Snake."
     "Ah." Septus glanced  over  at Leeuwenhoek. "My son, do  you truly deny
God's doctrine?"
     The man shrugged.  "I  have disproved  the doctrine. Therefore, it  can
hardly be God's."
     Several  attendants gasped  loudly. They  perceived it as part of their
job to show horror at every sacrilege. The same attendants tended to whisper
and make  jokes during  the descriptions  of true horrors:  murders,  rapes,
maimings. "The spectators  will  remain silent," Septus said wearily. He had
recited those words five times  this morning too. "My Lord Prosecutor,  will
you please read the text?"
     "Ummm... the text, yes, the text."
     Septus maintained his composure while ben Jacob shuffled through papers
and parchments  looking  for what he needed. It  was,  of  course,  standard
procedure to read any passages of scripture that a heretic  denied,  just to
make  sure there was no misunderstanding. It was also standard procedure for
ben  Jacob to  misplace his  copy  of the relevant  text in a pile  of other
documents. With any other prosecutor, this  might be  some kind of strategy;
with ben Jacob, it was simply disorganization.
     "Here we are, yes, here we are," he said at last, producing a dog-eared
page  with a  smear of  grease clearly visible along  one edge.  "Gospel  of
Susannah, chapter twenty-three, first verse." Ben Jacob paused while the two
Verification Attendants found the passage in their own scripture books. They
would follow silently as he read the text aloud, ready to catch any slips of
the tongue that deviated from the holy word. When the attendants were ready,
ben Jacob cleared his throat and read:

     After the procession ended, they withdrew to a garden outside the walls
of Jerusalem. And in the evening, it happened that Matthias beheld a serpent
there, hidden by weeds. He therefore took up a stone that he might crush the
beast; but Mary stayed his hand, saying, '"There is no danger, for look, the
beast sleeps."
     "Teacher," Matthias answered, "it will not sleep forever."
     "Verily," said Mary, "I promise  it will sleep till  dawn; and when the
dawn comes, we will leave this place and all the serpents that it holds."
     Yet still, Matthias kept  hold of the stone and gazed upon the  serpent
with fear.
     "O ye of  little faith, "  said Mary to Matthias,  "why do you  concern
yourself with the  sleeping creature before  you, when you are blind  to the
serpents in your own heart?  For I tell you, each drop of your blood courses
with a legion of serpents, and so it is for every Child of Dust. You are all
poisoned with black venoms, poisoned unto death. But if you believe in me, I
will sing those serpents to sleep; then will they slumber in peace until you
leave this flesh behind, entering into the dawn of God's new day."

     Ben  Jacob  lowered  his  page  and  looked to the Verifiers for  their
confirmation. The  Patriarch  turned in their direction too,  but  he didn't
need  their nods to tell him  the scripture had  been read correctly. Septus
knew  the  passage by heart; it  was one of the  fundamental texts of Mother
Church,  the  Virgin's  promise of salvation. It  was  also one of the  most
popular texts for heretics to challenge. The presumption of original sin, of
damnation being inherent in human flesh... that was anathema to many a fiery
young soul. What  kind of  God, they  asked, would  damn  an infant to  hell
merely for being born? It  was a good question, its answer still the subject
of much  subtle debate; but  the Virgin's words were unequivocal, whether or
not theologians had reasoned out all the implications.
     "Anton Leeuwenhoek,"  Septus said, "you have heard the verified word of
scripture. Do you deny its truth?"
     Leeuwenhoek stayed  directly  back.  "I must,"  he  answered.  "I  have
examined human blood in meticulous detail. It contains no serpents."
     The  toadies  in  the  courtroom had their mouths open,  ready to 'gasp
again at sacrilege; but even they could hear  the  man  was not  speaking in
deliberate blasphemy. He seemed to be stating... a fact.
     How odd.
     Septus straightened  slightly in the Patriarchal  throne.  This had the
prospect of more interest than the usual heresy trial. "You  understand," he
said to Leeuwenhoek, this passage is about original  sin. The Blessed Virgin
states that  all human beings are poisoned with sin and can only be redeemed
through her."
     "On  the  contrary, Your Holiness." Leeuwenhoek's voice was sharp. "The
passage states there are snakes in human blood. I know there are not."
     "The snakes are  merely..." Septus stopped himself in time. He had been
on  the verge  of saying the  snakes were merely a metaphor; but  this was a
public trial, and any pronouncements he made would have the force of law. To
declare  that  any  part  of scripture was  not  the  literal  truth  ... no
Patriarch  had ever done so in open forum,  and Septus  did not intend to be
the first.
     "Let us be clear  on this point,"  Septus said to Leellwenhoek. "Do you
deny the Doctrine of Original Sin?"
     "No.  I could never make  heads or tails of theology. What I understand
is blood; and there are no snakes in it."
     One  of  the toadies ventured a small gasp  of horror, but even  a deaf
mall could have told the sound was forced.
     Prosecutor ben Jacob, trying to be helpful,  said, "You must appreciate
that the snakes would be very, very small."
     "That's just it," Leeuwenhoek answered with sudden enthusiasm. "I  have
created a device that  makes it possible to view tiny things as if they were
much  larger." He turned quickly toward Septus. "Your  Holiness  is familiar
with the telescope? The device for viewing objects at long distances?"
     The Patriarch nodded in spite of himself.
     "My device," Leeuwenhoek said, "functions on a  similar principle -- an
arrangement of lenses that  amplify one's vision to reveal things  too small
to  see with  the naked eye. I have examined  blood in every particular; and
while  it contains numerous minute animalcules I cannot identify, I swear to
the court there are no snakes. Sleeping or otherwise."
     "Mm." Septus took a moment to fold his hands on  the  bench in front of
him. When he spoke,  he did not  meet the prisoner's eyes. "It is well-known
that snakes are adept at hiding, are they not? Surely it is possible  that a
snake could be concealed behind... behind these other minute animalcules you
     "A legion of serpents," Leeuwenhoek said  stubbornly. "That's what  the
text said. A legion of serpents in every drop of blood. Surely they couldn't
all find a place to hide; and I have spent hundreds of hours searching, Your
Holiness. Days and weeks and months."
     Troublesome to admit, Septus didn't  doubt the  man. The Patriarch  had
scanned the  skies  with an excellent telescope, and had seen  a universe of
unexpected wonders -- mountains on the moon, hair on  the  sun, rings around
the  planet  Cronus.  He could  well  believe  Leeuwenhoek's magnifier would
reveal  similar  surprises...  even  if  it  didn't  show  serpents  in  the
bloodstream. The serpents were merely a parable anyway; who  could doubt it?
Blessed Mary  often spoke  in poetic  language  that every  educated  person
recognized as symbolic rather than factual.
     Unfortunately,  the  church was not composed of  educated  persons.  No
matter how sophisticated the clergy might be, parishioners came from humbler
stock. Snakes in the blood? If that's what  Mary said,  it must be true; and
heaven help a Patriarch who  took a less dogmatic stance. The bedrock of the
church  was  Authority:  ecclesiastic  authority,  scriptural authority.  If
Septus  publicly  allowed  that some doctrines  could be interpreted as mere
symbolism -- that  a fundamental teaching was metaphor,  not literal fact --
well,  all  it took was a single hole in  a wineskin  for everything to leak
     On the other hand, truth was truth. If there were no snakes, there were
no snakes. God made the world and all the people in it; if the Creator chose
to fashion human lifeblood a certain  way,  it was the duty of Mother Church
to  accept and  praise  Him for it. Clinging to a lie  in order  to preserve
one's  authority  was worse  than  mere cowardice;  it  was the most damning
     Septus looked at Leeuwenhoek, standing handcuffed in the dock. A living
man with a living soul; and with one word, Septus could have him executed as
a purveyor of falsehood. But where did the falsehood truly he?
     "This case cannot be decided today,"  Septus announced. "Mother  Church
will  investigate the  claims of  the accused to  the  fullest extent of her
strength. We will build  magnifier devices  of our own,  properly blessed to
protect against  Satan's interference." Septus fought  back a smile at that;
there were  still  some stuffy inquisitors who believed  the devil distorted
what one saw through any lens. "We shall see what is there and what is not."
     Attendants nodded in agreement around the courtroom, just as they would
nod  if  the sentence had been immediate acquittal or death.  But  ben Jacob
said, "Your Holiness -- perhaps it would be best  if the court were to... to
issue  instructions that  no other person build a magnification device until
the church has ruled in this matter."
     "On  the contrary,"  Septus replied.  "I  think  the church should make
magnifiers available to all persons who ask. Let them see for themselves."
     The  Patriarch  smiled,  wondering  if ben  Jacob  understood. A decree
suppressing  magnifiers would  simply encourage dissidents to build  them in
secret; on the other hand, providing free access to such devices would bring
the curious into the church, not drive them away. Anyway, the question would
only interest the leisured class, those with time and energy to wonder about
esoteric  issues. The  great  bulk  of  the  laity, farmers and  miners  and
ostlers, would never hear of the offer. Even if they did,  they would hardly
care. Minute animalcules might be amusing curiosities, but they  had nothing
to do with a peasant's life.
     Another  pause  for  prayer and then Leeuwenhoek  was escorted away  to
instruct church scholars  in how  to build his magnification device. The man
seemed happy with the outcome -- more than  escaping  a death  sentence,  he
would now have the chance to show others what he'd seen. Septus had met many
men like that: grown-up children,  looking for  colorful shells on the beach
and  touchingly grateful  when someone  else took an interest in their sandy
little collections.
     As  for  Leeuwenhoek's  original  magnifier  -- Septus  had  the device
brought to his chambers  when  the court recessed at noon. Blood was easy to
come by:  one  sharp  jab  from a pin  and the  Patriarch had  his sample to
examine.  Eagerly he peered through the viewing lens, adjusting the focus in
the same way as a telescope.
     Animalcules. How remarkable.
     Tiny, tiny  animalcules... countless schools of  them,  swimming in his
own  blood.  What  wonders God had made! Creatures  of  different shapes and
sizes, perhaps predators and prey, like the fishes that swam in the ocean.
     And were there snakes? The question was  almost irrelevant. And yet ...
very  faintly,  so  close to invisible that  it might be a trick of the eye,
something as thin as a hair seemed to flit momentarily across the view.
     Then it was gone.
     2. The Origin of Serpentine Analogues in the Blood of Papist Peoples:
     Her  Britannic Majesty,  Anne VI, rather  liked the Star Chamber. True,
its power had been monstrously abused at times in the past five centuries --
secret trials leading  to secret executions of people who were probably more
innocent  than the monarchs sitting on the  judgment seat -- but even in the
glorious Empire, there was a place for  this  kind  of hearing. The queen on
this side of the table, one other subjects on the other... it had the air of
a private  chat between  friends: a time when difficulties could  get sorted
out, one way or another.
     "Well, Mr. Darwin," she said  after  the tea had been poured, "it seems
you've stirred up quite a hornet's nest. Have you not?"
     The fiercely bearded  man across the table  did not answer immediately.
He laid a finger on the handle of his cup as if to drink or not to drink was
some momentous  decision;  then he said, "I have  simply spoken  the  truth,
ma'am...as I see it."
     "Yes;  but  different  people see different truths,  don't they? And  a
great many are upset by the things you say are true. You are aware there has
been... unpleasantness?"
     "I  know  about  the   riots,  ma'am.  Several  times  they  have  come
uncomfortably  close  to me. And  of course, there have been  threats  on my
     "Indeed." Anne lifted a  tiny slice of buttered bread and took what she
hoped would seem a thoughtful  nibble. For  some  reason, she always enjoyed
eating in front of the accused  here  in the Star  Chamber;  they themselves
never had any  appetite at all. "The threats  are one  reason We invited you
here today. Scotland Yard is growing rather weary of protecting you; and Sir
Oswald has long pondered whether your life is worth it."
     That  got the  expected reaction -- Darwin's finger  froze  on  the cup
handle, the color draining away from his face. "I had not realized...."  His
eyes narrowed. "I perceive, ma'am, that someone will soon make a decision on
this issue."
     "Exactly," the queen  said. "Sir Oswald  has turned  to the  crown  for
guidance, and now We turn to you." She took another tiny  bite of the bread.
"It would be good of you to explain your theories -- to lay out the train of
reasoning that led to your... unsettling public statements."
     "It's all laid out in my book, ma'am."
     "But your book  is for scientists, not queens." Anne set down the bread
and allowed herself  a  small  sip of tea.  She took her time doing  so, but
Darwin remained silent. "Please,"  she said  at last.  'We  wish to  make an
informed decision."
     Darwin grunted... or perhaps it was a  hollow chuckle of  cynicism.  An
ill-bred sound in either case. "Very  well. Your Majesty," he nodded. "It is
simply a matter of history."
     "History is seldom simple, Mr. Darwin; but proceed."
     "In...  1430-something,  I  forget  the exact year,  Anton  Leeuwenhoek
appeared before Supreme Patriarch Septus to discuss the absence of snakes in
the bloodstream. You are familiar with that, ma'am?"
     "Certainly.  It was the pivotal  event in the Schism between Our church
and the Papists."
     "Just so."
     Anne  could see Darwin itching to leap off his chair and begin prowling
about  the  room,  like a  professor lecturing  to  a  class  of dull-lidded
schoolboys. His strained impetuosity amused her; but she hoped he would keep
his impulses in check.
     "Pray continue, Mr. Darwin."
     "It is common knowledge  that the  Patriarch's  decision led  to a... a
deluge, shall we say,  of  people  peering  at  their  own blood  through  a
microscope. Only the upper classes at  first, but soon enough  it  spread to
the  lower  levels of society too. Since the  church allowed anyone  to look
into a microscope without cost, I suppose it was a free source of  amusement
for the peasantry."
     "An opiate for the masses," Anne offered. She  rather  liked the phrase
-- Mr. Marx had used it when he had his little visit to the Star Chamber.
     "I  suppose  that  must  be  it,"  Darwin  agreed.  "At  any  rate, the
phenomenon far outstripped anything Septus  could  have  foreseen; and  even
worse for the Patriarchy, it soon divided the church into two camps -- those
who claimed to see snakes in their blood and those who did not."
     "Mr. Darwin, we are  well  aware  of the fundamental difference between
Papists and the Redeemed."
     "Begging  your  pardon,  ma'am,  but  I  believe  the usual  historical
interpretation is... flawed. It confuses cause and effect."
     "How can there  be  confusion?" Anne asked. "Papists have  serpents  in
their blood;  that is apparent to any child looking  into  a  microscope. We
Redeemed have  no such contaminants; again,  that  is  simple  observational
fact. The obvious conclusion, Mr. Darwin, is that Christ  Herself marked the
Papists with Her curse, to show one and all the error of their ways."
     "According to the Papists," Darwin reminded her, "the snakes are a sign
of God's blessing: a sleeping snake means sin laid to rest."
     "Is that what you think, Mr. Darwin?"
     "I think  it  more practical to  examine  the  facts before making  any
     "That is  why  we  are  here  today," Anne said  with a pointed glance.
"Facts... and  judgment. If  you could  direct  yourself to the heart of the
matter, Mr. Darwin?"
     "The heart of the matter," he  repeated. "Of course. I agree that today
any microscope will show that Papists have snakes in their bloodstream... or
as scientists prefer to  call them, serpentine analogues, since it is highly
unlikely the observed phenomena are actual reptiles--"
     "Let us not bandy nomenclature," Anne interrupted. "We  accept that the
entities in  Papist blood are  unrelated to cobras and puff adders; but they
have been called  snakes for centuries, and the name is adequate. Proceed to
your point, Mr. Darwin."
     "You  have just made my point for me, ma'am. Five centuries have passed
since the original controversy arose. What we see now may not be what people
saw  then."  He took  a  deep breath. "If you  read the  literature  of that
long-ago time, you find there was great doubt  about the  snakes, even among
the  Papists. Serpentine analogues  were  extremely  rare  and difficult  to
discern... unlike the very obvious entities seen today."
     "Surely  that can be blamed on the  equipment," Anne said. "Microscopes
of  that  day   were   crude  contrivances   compared  to  our  fine  modern
     "That is the usual  argument," Darwin nodded, "but I believe there is a
different explanation."
     "My argument, ma'am, is based on my observations of pigeons."
     Anne blinked.  "Pigeons, Mr. Darwin?" She blinked again.  "The  birds?"
She bit her lip. "The filthy things that perch on statues?"
     "Not  wild pigeons,  Your Majesty,  domestic  ones. Bred for  show. For
example,  some centuries  ago,  a squire in  Sussex took it into his head to
breed a black pigeon from his stock of gray ones."
     "Why ever would he want a black pigeon?"
     "That remains a mystery to  me too,  ma'am; but  the historical records
are clear. He set about the task by selecting pigeons of the darkest gray he
could find, and  breeding them together. Over many  generations, their color
grew  darker and  darker  until  today, the squire's  descendants  boast  of
pigeons as black as coal."
     "They boast of that?"
     Darwin seized up a  piece of bread and  virtually stuffed it  into  his
mouth.  The  man  had  apparently become  so engrossed  in  talking, he  had
forgotten who  sat across the table.  Good, Anne thought;  he  would be less
     "We understand the principles of  animal husbandry," Anne said. "We  do
not, however, see how this pertains to the Papists."
     "For the past five centuries. Your Majesty, the Papists have been going
through exactly the same process... as have the Redeemed, for  that  matter.
Think,  ma'am. In  any  population, there  are  numerous chance  differences
between individuals;  the squire's pigeons, for example,  had varying shades
of  gray. If  some process of selection chooses  to emphasize  a  particular
trait as desirable, excluding other traits as undesirable -- if you restrict
darker birds  to  breeding with one another  and prevent  lighter  ones from
contributing to  the bloodline -- the selected characteristic will  tend  to
become more pronounced with each generation."
     "You are still talking about pigeons, Mr. Darwin."
     "No, ma'am," he said triumphantly, "I am talking about  Papists and the
Redeemed. Let us suppose that in the times of Patriarch  Septus, some people
had almost  imperceptible serpentine  analogues  in  their bloodstream  -- a
chance occurrence, just as some people may have curls in  their  hair  while
others do not."
     Anne  opened her mouth to say  that  curls were frequently not a Chance
occurrence at all; but she decided to remain silent.
     "Now," Darwin continued,  "what happened  among the people of that day?
Some saw those tiny, almost invisible snakes; others did not. Those who  saw
them proclaimed, This proves the unshakable word of Mother Church. Those who
saw nothing said, The scriptures cannot be taken literally -- believers must
find the truth in their own  hearts. And so  the  Schism  split  the  world,
pitting one camp against another."
     "Yes, Mr. Darwin, We know all that."
     "So, ma'am, you must also know what happened in subsequent generations.
The rift in belief  created a similar rift  in the population.  Papists only
married Papists. The Redeemed only married the Redeemed."
     "Of course."
     "Consequently,"  Darwin   stressed  the  word,  "those  who  could  see
so-called snakes in  their  blood  only married those of  similar condition.
Those who saw nothing married others who saw nothing. Is it any wonder that,
generation by generation,  snakes  became more  and more visible  in  Papist
blood? And less and less likely to be seen in  the Redeemed?  It is simply a
matter  of selective breeding,  ma'am. The Papists are not different from us
because  the Virgin put  her mark on them; they  are  different because they
selected to make themselves different.  To emphasize the difference. And the
Redeemed have no snakes in their blood for the same reason --  simply a side
effect of our ancestors' marital prejudice."
     "Mr.  Darwin!"  Anne  said,  aghast. "Such  claims! No  wonder you have
angered the Papists as much as your own countrymen. To  suggest  that  God's
sacred sign is a mere  barnyard accident...." The Queen caught  her  breath.
"Sir, where is your decency?"
     "I have something better than decency," he answered in a calm voice. "I
have proof."
     "Proof? How could you prove such a thing?"
     "Some years ago, ma'am," he said, "I took passage on a ship sailing the
South Seas; and during that  voyage, I saw things that  completely opened my
     "More pigeons, Mr. Darwin?"
     He  waved his hand dismissively.  "The birds of the Pacific Islands are
hardly fit study  for  a  scientist. What  I  observed were  the efforts  of
missionaries, ma'am; both Papists and the Redeemed, preaching to the natives
who lived in those isles. Have you heard of such missions?"
     "We sponsor several of those missions personally, Mr. Darwin."
     "And the results, ma'am?"
     "Mixed,"  Anne confessed.  "Some tribes  are open  to Redemption, while
others..." she shrugged. "The Papists do no better."
     "Just so. Your Majesty. As an  example,  I visited one island where the
Papists had been  established for thirty years, yet the local priest claimed
to  have made  no true converts. Mark that word, true. Many  of the  natives
espoused Papist beliefs, took  part in Papist worship,  and so on... but the
priest could find no snakes in their blood, so he told  himself they had not
truly embraced Mother Church."
     "You would argue with the priest's conclusion?"
     "Certainly," Darwin replied. "In my eyes, the island tribe was simply a
closed  population that  for  reasons of  chance never  developed serpentine
analogues  in their  blood. If you interbreed  only  white pigeons, you will
never develop a black."
     Anne said, "But--" then stopped  stone-still, as the words  of a recent
mission report rose  in her  mind. We are continually frustrated in our work
on  this  island;  although  the people bow before God's  altar, their blood
continues to show the serpent-stain of the Unclean...
     "Mr. Darwin," Anne murmured, "could there possibly be islands where all
the people had snakes in their blood, regardless of their beliefs?"
     "There  are  indeed, ma'am,"  Darwin nodded.  "Almost  all  the  island
populations are isolated and  homogeneous. I found  some tribes with snakes,
some  without -- no matter  which  missionaries ministered  there.  When the
Papists land among a people who already have analogues in their bloodstream,
they  soon declare  that  they  have  converted  the  tribe  and hold  great
celebrations. However, when they land among a people whose blood is clear...
well, they can preach all they  want,  but they won't  change the effects of
generations of breeding. Usually, they  just give up  and move on to another
island where the  people are more receptive...  which  is to say, where they
have the right blood to begin with."
     Anne lowered her eyes. Darwin had been speaking  about the Papists, but
she knew the same was  true of Redeemed missionaries. They tended to  stay a
year in one place, do a few blood tests, then move on if they could not show
results --  because results were exclusively measured in blood  rather  than
what the people professed. If missionaries,  her own  missionaries, had been
abandoning sincere  believers  because they  didn't believe  the conversions
were "true"... what would God think of that?
     But Darwin hadn't  stopped  talking. "Our  voyage visited many islands,
Your  Majesty, a few of which had never  received missionaries  of any kind.
Some of those tribes had serpentine analogues in their blood, while some did
not... and each island was homogeneous. I hypothesize that the potential for
analogues  might have been distributed  evenly through  humankind  millennia
ago; but as populations grew isolated, geographically or socially--"
     "Yes, Mr. Darwin, We see  your point."  Anne found she  was tapping her
finger on  the edge  of the table. She stopped herself  and stood up.  "This
matter deserves further study. We  shall instruct the police to find a place
where you can continue your work without disturbance from outside sources."
     Darwin's face fell. "Would that be a jail, ma'am?"
     "A comfortable place of  sanctuary," she replied. "You will be supplied
with anything you need -- books, paper, all of that."
     "Will I be able to publish?" he asked.
     "You will have at  least one  avid reader  for whatever you write." She
favored him  with the  slightest bow of her head. "You have given Us much to
think about."
     "Then let  me give you  one more thought. Your Majesty." He took a deep
breath, as if he was trying to  decide if his next  words would be offensive
beyond the pale.  Then, Anne supposed, he decided  he  had nothing to  lose.
"Papists and the Redeemed  have  been selectively  breeding within their own
populations for five  hundred years. There may come a time when they are too
far removed from each other to be... cross-fertile. Already there are rumors
of an unusually high  mortality rate for children with one Papist parent and
one Redeemed. In time -- millennia perhaps, but in time -- I believe the two
populations may split into separate species."
     "Separate species? Of humans?"
     "It may happen, Your Majesty. At this very moment, we may be witnessing
the origin of two new species."
     Queen Anne pursed  her  lips in distaste. "The origin of  species,  Mr.
Darwin? If that is a joke, We are not amused."
     3. The  Efficacy of Trisulphozymase for  Preventing SA  Incompatibility
Reactions in Births of Mixed-Blood Parentage:
     The hearing was held behind closed doors -- a bad sign. Julia Grant had
asked some other  colleagues what to  expect and they all said,  Show trial,
Show trial.  Senator McCarthy loved to get his name in  the  papers. And yet
the reporters were locked out today; just Julia and the Committee.
     A very bad sign.
     "Good afternoon, Dr. Grant,"  McCarthy said after she had sworn to tell
the  truth,  the whole  truth,  and nothing but  the  truth. His voice had a
smarmy quality  to it; an unpleasant man's  attempt at charm. "I suppose you
know why you're here?"
     "No, senator."
     "Come now, doctor,"  he chided,  as  if  speaking to  a  five-year-old.
"Surely  you must know  the  purpose  of this  Committee? And  it  therefore
follows that we would take great interest in your work."
     "My  work  is  medical  research,"  she replied  tightly.  "I  have  no
political  interests at all." She forced herself to  stare McCarthy  in  the
eye. "I heal the sick."
     "There's sickness  and there's sickness," the senator shrugged. "We can
all  understand  doctors  who  deal  with  sniffles  and  sneezes and  heart
attacks... but that's not your field, is it?"
     "No,"  she  answered.   "I'm  a  hematologist,   specializing   in   SA
compatibility problems."
     "Could you explain that for the Committee?"
     The  doctor suspected that every man on the Committee  -- and they were
all men --  had already been briefed on her research. If nothing else,  they
read the newspapers. Still, why not humor them?
     "All human blood," she began, "is either SA-positive or SA-negative--"
     "SA stands for Serpentine Analogue?" McCarthy interrupted.
     "Yes. The name comes from the outdated belief--"
     "That  some  people  have   snakes   in  their  bloodstream,"  McCarthy
interrupted again.
     "That's correct."
     "Do some people have snakes in their bloodstream?" McCarthy asked.
     "Snake-like  entities,"   another   senator   corrected...  probably  a
     "Serpentine analogues are  not present in anyone's  bloodstream," Julia
said.  "They don't appear until blood is  exposed to air. It's a specialized
clotting  mechanism,  triggered  by  an  enzyme that encourages  microscopic
threads to form at the site of an injury--"
     "In other words,"  McCarthy said, "SA-positive  blood works differently
from SA-negative. Correct?"
     "In this one regard, yes," Julia nodded.
     "Do you think SA-positive blood is better than SA-negative?"
     "It provides slightly more effective clotting at wounds--"
     "Do you admire SA-positive blood, doctor?"
     Julia  stared at him. Mentally, she counted to ten. "I am fascinated by
all types  of blood,"  she  answered  at  last. "SA-positive clots faster...
which  is  useful to stop  bleeding but gives  a  slightly  greater risk  of
stroke.  Overall, I'd  say the  good points and the bad  even  out. If  they
didn't, evolution would soon skew the  population  strongly  one way or  the
     McCarthy folded his hands on the table in front of him. "So you believe
in evolution, Dr. Grant?"
     "I'm  a scientist.  I also believe  in gravity, thermodynamics, and the
universal gas equation."
     Not a man on the Committee so much as smiled.
     "Doctor," McCarthy said quietly, "what blood type are you?"
     She  gritted  her  teeth.  "The Supreme Court  ruled that no one has to
answer that question."
     In  sudden fury, McCarthy slammed his fist onto the table. "Do you  see
the Supreme  Court in here with us? Do you? Because if you do, show me those
black-robed faggots and I'll boot their  pope-loving  asses straight out the
window."  He settled back  in his chair.  "I  don't think you appreciate the
seriousness of your situation, Dr. Grant."
     "What situation?" she demanded. "I am a medical researcher--"
     "And  you've developed  a new drug, haven't you?" McCarthy  snapped. "A
new drug. That you want to loose on  the public. I  wonder if the person who
invented heroin called herself a medical researcher too?"
     "Mr.  McCarthy, trisulphozymase is not a narcotic. It  is  a  carefully
developed pharmaceutical--"
     "Which  encourages  miscegenation  between Papists  and the  Redeemed,"
McCarthy finished. "That's what it does, doesn't it, doctor?"
     "No!" She took a deep breath. '"Trisulphozymase combats certain medical
problems that occur when an SA-positive father and an SA-negative mother--"
     "When a  Papist  man  sires  his filthy  whelp on  a  Redeemed  woman,"
McCarthy interrupted. "When a Papist fucks one of the Saved! That's what you
want to encourage, doctor? That's how you'll make the world a better place?"
     Julia  said nothing. She  felt her cheeks  burn like  a child caught in
some forbidden  act;  and she  was infuriated  that  her reaction was  guilt
rather than outrage at what McCarthy was saying.
     Yes, she wanted to say, it will make the  world a better  place to stop
separating humanity into  hostile camps.  Most people  on  the planet had no
comprehension  of  either  Papist or  Redeemed theology;  but  somehow,  the
poisonous idea of blood discrimination  had spread to  every country  of the
globe, regardless of religious faith. Insanity! And  millions  recognized it
to be so. Yet  the McCarthys of  the world found it a  convenient  ladder on
which they could climb to power, and who was stopping them? Look at Germany.
Look at Ireland. Look at India and Pakistan.
     Ridiculous... and deadly,  time and again throughout  history.  Perhaps
she should  set aside SA compatibility  and work on a cure for  the drive to
demonize those who were different.
     "A doctor  deals with lives,  not lifestyles," she said  stiffly. "If I
were confronted  with  a patient whose  heart had stopped  beating, I  would
attempt  to  start  it again, whether the victim  were an  innocent child, a
convicted murderer, or even a senator." She leaned forward. "Has anyone here
ever seen an SA incompatibility reaction? How a newborn infant dies? How the
mother  goes into spasm and usually  dies too?  Real people, gentlemen; real
screams  of  pain!  Only a monster could witness  such things and still rant
about ideology."
     A  few  Committee members had the grace to look uncomfortable,  turning
away from her gaze; but McCarthy was not one of them. "You think this is all
just  ideology, doctor?  A lofty discussion of  philosophical doctrine?"  He
shook his head in unconvincing sorrow. "I  wish it were... I  truly wish  it
were. I wish the Papists weren't trying  to rip down everything this country
stands  for, obeying  the  orders of  their  foreign masters to  corrupt the
spirit of liberty itself.  Why should I care about  a screaming woman,  when
she's whored herself to the  likes of them?  She made her decision;  now she
has   to   face  the  consequences.  No   one  in   this  room  invented  SA
incompatibility,  doctor. God did...  and I think we  should  take the hint,
don't you?"
     The sharp catch  of bile rose  in  Julia's  throat. For a  moment,  she
couldn't  find  the strength to  fight it; but she couldn't be sick,  not in
front of these men.  Swallowing hard,  she forced herself to  breathe evenly
until the moment  passed.  "Senators,"  she  said at last, "do  you actually
intend to  suppress  trisulphozymase? To withhold life-saving treatment from
those who need it?"
     "Some might say  it's a  sign," McCarthy answered, "that a Redeemed man
can father a child on  a Papist without complications, but it  doesn't  work
the other way around. Doesn't that sound like a sign to you?"
     "Senators," she said, ignoring McCarthy, "does this Committee intend to
suppress trisulphozymase?"
     Silence. Then McCarthy gave a little  smile. "How does  trisulphozymase
work, doctor?"
     Julia stared  at  him,  wondering where  this  new question  was going.
Warily, she replied, "The drug  dismantles  the SA factor enzyme into  basic
amino acids.  This  prevents  a more  dangerous  response from  the mother's
immune  system, which might otherwise produce  antibodies to the enzyme. The
antibodies are the real problem, because they may attack the baby's--"
     "So what you're saying," McCarthy interrupted,  "is that this  drug can
destroy the snakes in a Papist's bloodstream?"
     "I  told  you,   there  are   no  snakes!  Trisulphozymase  temporarily
eliminates the extra clotting enzyme that comes from SA-positive blood."
     "It's only temporary?"
     "That's all that's needed. One injection  shortly before  the moment of
     "But what  about repeated  doses?" McCarthy interrupted. "Or  a massive
dose? Could you permanently wipe out the SA factor in a person's blood?"
     "You don't administer trisulphozymase  to an SA-positive person," Julia
said. "It's given to an SA-negative mother to prevent--"
     "But  suppose you did give it  to a  Papist. A big dose. Lots of doses.
Could  it destroy the SA factor forever?" He  leaned forward eagerly. "Could
it make them like us?"
     And  now Julia saw it: what this hearing  was all  about.  Because  the
Committee couldn't really suppress the  treatment, could they?  Her  results
were  known in the research  community. Even if the drug were  banned  here,
other countries would  use  it; and there would eventually  be enough public
pressure to force re-evaluation. This wasn't about the lives of  babies  and
mothers; this was about clipping the devil's horns.
     Keeping her  voice  steady,  she said, "It would  be unconscionable  to
administer this drug  or any other to a person whose health did not  require
it. Large doses or long-term use of trisulphozymase would  have side effects
I  could not venture  to  guess."  The  faces  in  front  of her  showed  no
expression.  "Gentlemen," she  tried again, "in an SA-positive  person,  the
enzyme is natural. A  natural component of blood. To interfere with a body's
natural functioning when there  is no medical justification..." she threw up
her hands. "Do no harm, gentlemen. The heart of the Hippocratic Oath. At the
very least, doctors must done harm."
     "Does  that mean," McCarthy  asked,  "that you  would  refuse to head a
research project into this matter?"
     "You're the top expert in your field," McCarthy shrugged.  "If  anybody
can get rid of the snakes once and for all, it's you."
     "Senator," Julia  said,  "have you no shame? Have you no shame  at all?
You want to endanger lives over this... triviality? A meaningless difference
you can only detect with a microscope--"
     "Which means they can walk among us, doctor! Papists can walk among us.
Them with  their  special  blood, their  snakes, their damned inbreeding  --
they're the ones who care about what you call a triviality! They're the ones
who flaunt it in our faces. They say they're God's  Chosen. With  God's Mark
of Blessing. Well, I intend to erase that mark, with or without your help."
     "Without," Julia told him. "Definitely without."
     McCarthy's  gaze was on her. He did  not look like  a  man who had just
received an absolute no.  With  an expression far too smug, he said, "Let me
tell  you a secret,  doctor. From our agents in  the  enemy camp. Even as we
speak, the  Papists are planning to  contaminate our water supply with their
damned SA enzyme. Poison us or make us like them... one way or the other. We
need your  drug to fight that pollution; to remove the enzyme from our blood
before it  can destroy us!  What about that, Dr.  Grant? Will your  precious
medical ethic? let you work on a treatment to keep us safe from their damned
Papist toxins?"
     Julia  grimaced.  "You know  nothing about the human metabolism. People
couldn't 'catch'  the SA  factor  from drinking water; the enzyme would just
break down in your stomach acid. I suppose it might be possible to produce a
methylated   version   that  would  eventually   work  its   way  into   the
bloodstream..."  She stopped  herself. "Anyway, I can't  believe the Papists
would be so insane as to--"
     "Right now," McCarthy interrupted, "sitting in a committee room of some
Papist  hideaway,  there are a group of men who are just as crazy as we are.
Believe  that, doctor.  Whatever we  are willing  to  do  to them,  they are
willing to  do to us; the  only question  is, who'll do it first."  McCarthy
settled back and cradled his hands on his  stomach. "Snakes  all 'round, Dr.
Grant. You can make a difference in who gets bitten."
     It  was,  perhaps,  the only true flung  McCarthy had  said  since  the
hearing  had  begun. Julia tried to  doubt it, but couldn't.  SA-positive or
negative, you could still be a ruthless bastard. She said nothing.
     McCarthy stared at her a  few moments  more, then glanced at the men on
both sides of him. "Let's consider  this hearing adjourned, all right?  Give
Dr. Grant a little  time to  think this over." He turned to look straight at
her. "A little  time. We'll contact you in a few days... find out who scares
you more, us or them."
     He  had  the nerve  to wink  before he turned away. The  other senators
filed  from the room, almost bumping into each other in  the hurry to leave.
Complicitous  men...  weak men, for  all their power. Julia remained  in the
uncomfortable "Witness  Chair," giving them ample  time to scurry away;  she
didn't  want to lay eyes on  them again when she finally went  out into  the
     Using  trisulphozymase on an SA-positive person...  what  would be  the
effect? Predictions were almost worthless in biochemistry -- medical science
was a vast ocean  of ignorance dotted with researchers trying to stay afloat
in makeshift  canoes. The only prediction you could  safely make was  that a
large enough dose of any drug would kill the patient.
     On the  other hand, better to inject trisulphozymase  into  SA-positive
people  than  SA-negative.  The  chemical reactions that broke down  the  SA
enzyme also broke down the trisulphozymase -- mutual assured destruction. If
you didn't have the SA enzyme in your blood, the trisulphozymase would build
up  to lethal levels much faster,  simply because there  was nothing to stop
it. SA-positive people could certainly tolerate dosages that would kill a...
     Julia felt a chill wash through her. She had created a  drug that would
poison SA-negatives but not SA-positives... that could selectively  massacre
the  Redeemed  while leaving  the Papists  standing. And  her research was a
matter of public record. How long would it take before someone on the Papist
side made the connection? One of those  men McCarthy had talked about,  just
as ruthless and crazy as the senator himself.
     How long would it take before  they used her drug to slaughter half the
     There was only one way out: put all the snakes to sleep. If Julia could
somehow wave her hands and  make every SA-positive  person SA-negative, then
the playing  field would be level again. No, not the playing  field  --  the
killing field.
     Insanity... but what choice did she  have? Sign  up  with McCarthy; get
rid of the snakes before they began to bite; pray the side effects  could be
treated.  Perhaps, if  saner  minds prevailed, the  process  would  never be
deployed. Perhaps the threat would be enough to force some kind of bilateral
enzyme disarmament.
     Feeling twenty years  older, Dr. Julia Grant left the hearing room. The
corridor  was empty; through the  great glass entryway at  the  front of the
building,  she could see late afternoon sunlight slanting across  the marble
steps. A single protester stood on the sidewalk, mutely holding a sign aloft
-- no doubt  what  McCarthy would call  a Papist  sympathizer,  traitorously
opposing a duly appointed congressional committee.
     The  protester's sign  read,  "Why do  you  concern  yourself  with the
sleeping creature before you, when you are blind to the serpents in your own
     Julia turned away, hoping the building had a back door.

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