A doctor is an unlikely carrier of scientific evidence that God is unnecessary - but who will be interested? Is it possible that one man can truly prove that God does not actually exist? This is an action-packed conspiracy thriller, with events spanning the globe from the Russian permafrost through to the fiery hell of Guantanamo Bay.
Campo de' Fiori, Rome, 1600AD
Night came. She brought her lover, death. In the alleys surrounding the open field, throats were slit for a few coins or in drunken revenge, the dying dispatched under starlight.
The space - an historical site of executions, duels and murder since Roman times - was crowded now. Torches threw jumping shadows across ugly and distorted faces. Thieves circulated easily. Couples slipped towards quiet lanes for the quick, illicit embrace.
The gathering was anxious. Cursing. Simmering. Always the unspoken fear that they would be denied their entertainment. The fat Bishop sensed the mob's impatience, at last got awkwardly to his feet. Self-important in heavy robes, he carried a jewelled crosier. His purse bulged with coins for the night of whoring and gambling that lay ahead. He was a master of the uncouth, had a deep understanding of peasant ways and needs, as well as the perversions of their masters. The confessional, this was the secret of Mother Church.
The Bishop's street wisdom had levered him to the very head of the flock of Rome - God's holiest, God's chosen. He eyed the boiling crowd - perhaps a thousand souls in all - blessed himself in exaggerated motions. The crowd took the cue, mostly imitated his symbolic gesture. The coarse chattering fell to a steady hiss.
Bishop Peter cleared his throat, spat a gob of phlegm into the black. He raised his arms, staff aloft. That brought silence. Good. With the symbol of his God-given power, he indicated the sorry figure before him. The man was broken, the circulation gone from his limbs, his will taken.
'So, Brother Bruno. What is your answer? Do you recant your heretical ideas? Do you acknowledge that there is but one oasis of life in God's Universe? Do you accept that this planet, God's sole Eden, is at the centre of God's Universe?'
The Bishop stood on a raised platform beside the pyre. He was at eye level with Bruno. A file of Inquisitors - white robes, pointed hoods, slits for eyes - surrounded the pile of dry sticks that had the mad monk at its peak. They kept the crowd in check, their masks generating fear, gleaming spears held tightly.
It was intimidation that maintained the power of the few, observed Bruno. He gazed at the unknowable, then raised his eyes to the unforgivable lie.
'Bishop Peter, my friend. In the name of all that is holy, look to the stars,' he gasped.
The Milky Way glowed fiercely across the night sky, a river of light. A billion suns shone weakly on the depressing scene. But the crowd focused on just one light: the torch in the Bishop's hand.
'You recanted quickly enough in the water chair,' hissed the Bishop. 'See!' continued Bruno. 'The heavens are filled with the light of God.'
The crowd wasn't listening. Impatience and selfishness led to calls of Burn, Devil, Go to
Bruno continued, his final action, thinking only to plant a doubt in the Bishop's smug indifference.
'There are hundreds of planets like our own jewel. To say that they cannot also be filled with God's life? How can this be? The evidence will come. One day soon.'
The Bishop looked to the ground, spat again, muttered a prayer. It was time to discredit Bruno completely.
'Copernicus before you had similar delusions and he was proven to be a heretic, a womaniser, a gambler and a drunkard. You, Bruno, are a fellow traveller of Copernicus and you will share his fate, ignored by history, turned away from the gates of Heaven. So, burn.'
He casually threw the torch on to the pile of wood below Bruno. The crowd squealed.
Joyous with relief, they had their spectacle. The Inquisitors moved nearer the Bishop. Within seconds, Bruno was engulfed, tormented. The stink of burning flesh forced the Bishop down from his platform. Thick smoke masked the stellar view, cutting the scene from the Universe beyond, keeping it secret, lessening the cosmic shame of it all. If angels had been watching.
Bruno writhed for a long minute as his nerves sparked. Then his body was consumed, his soul spent. The fire's ferocity faded fast and the crowd's anger and fervour dissipated. An odd sense of calm descended. The faithful, full of the whispers of observed death, quietened. The mob dispersed, some even saying a little prayer for the crazy monk. A few watchers lingered, taking the dregs of the heat, hoping for a morsel of sweet meat.
The Bishop blessed the black, smoking bones of his dead friend. He chatted for a few minutes with some councillors and the parish priests. Then he made his way to the brothel quarter as the surrounding galaxy once again shone defiantly.
Just ten years after the Catholic Church murdered Bruno, Galileo Galilei proved that Earth and the other known planets orbited the Sun. That other planets had moons. That there were far more suns than could be seen with the human eye. That the Roman Church's stated and immutable truths about the structure of the Universe were wrong. Utterly and incontrovertibly wrong.