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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Four

       Last updated: Saturday, April 18, 2020 21:56 EDT

 


 

GALT

        Rachel Landry, CEO of Freedom Enterprises and head of the Landry Libertarian Alliance, strode through its glass and marble corridors.  It had been too long since anyone had seen Tara.

        Despite her age, she walked vigorously, long legs moving from the hips, arms swinging.  Two techs scurried out of her way.  She stopped by a large window overlooking the Galt spaceport.  A research ship funded by Caitlin’s division was just lifting off, bound for Rand’s moon.  Scientists aboard had a series of physics experiments planned for both the moon and the Galt-Rand gate.  Once, long ago, Rachel might have been with them.  By now, however, the physics she knew was probably all out of date.

        Or maybe not.  Most of humanity’s hundred fifty years of space settlements had been devoted to building on the worlds gifted by the gates.  Science had stagnated.  Only recently had Freedom Enterprises been able to afford the luxury of pure research.

        And the Peregoy worlds?  Was that old horror Sloan Peregoy appreciably advancing science in his tightly controlled “benevolent dictatorship?”  Rachel didn’t know, although probably scientists on the three Landry worlds did.  Peregoy, who tried to control everything and everybody, couldn’t control the exchange of scientific knowledge, and Rachel, of course, would never try.  The only control on Landry worlds was in the all-volunteer army, and that was Jane’s responsibility. 

        The research ship rose into the sky.  Immediately afterward, the protestors flooded back into the area, shouting their chants and activating their holo signs.  A huge one in letters simulating red flames said GIVE US JOBS!

        Rachel snorted.  No one “gave” jobs.  If you couldn’t find one, then start some sort of enterprise yourself.  There were whole sections of Galt and Rand still unclaimed, where an ambitious person could start a farm, a business, an entire town.  This youngest generationâ¦

        No, that wasn’t fair.  There were plenty of self-reliant individuals in her granddaughters’ and great-grand-children’s generations.  Just not out there among the protestors.  Still, decades, like eras, have moods, and the mood of this one was militant.  It had been otherwise when Rachel was born, almost ninety years ago.  Everyone had been caught up with working out the principles of this new, brave, Libertarian society on Galt and Rand and, later, New Hell.  Free trade, free living, free people.  Back then, they hadn’t even had an army.  But with the explosive growth of unfettered business had come not only prosperity but smaller, faster ships than the ones that had ferried the fortunate from the dying Earth.  That had led to competition for more gates, to acts of piracy, to the necessity of a military fleet.  Now, however, a slowdown of business had produced a recession.  This was all cyclical, of course, an inevitable blip of free-market capitalism, but right now it was producing a lot of discontent. 

        Rachel craned her neck to see the last of the research ship, but it had already disappeared, and here was Annelise walking toward her with a tablet in her hand.  “Rachel — I was just coming to see you.  We have a problem.”

        When didn’t they?  Annelise, the eldest of Rachel’s five granddaughters, was heir to the leadership of Freedom Enterprises.  As Rachel gradually shifted responsibility to her, Annelise’s load of problems increased.  Before Annelise could start in on whatever the new issue was, Rachel said, “Have you heard anything from Tara in the last month or so?”

        Annelise’s mouth turned down at the corners.  “When do I ever hear from Tara?  What’s she done now?”

        “Nothing that I know of.  But she’s been gone much longer than usual.”

        “She’ll be back when she gets bored.  Nowhere but Galt has enough amusements to distract Tara.”

        Not true — Polyglot did.  Or might.  Rachel had never been there.  Well, maybe after she retired.

        Annelise’s face softened.  “Don’t worry.  She always comes home.  Although not, of course, to do any useful work.  You should never have settled that trust fund on her.”

        Rachel didn’t feel up to this old, old argument, nor to pointing out that after Paul, her only child, died, Rachel had felt mortality heavy on her heart and so had settled money on all five of his daughters.  She hadn’t realized then that four of them would grow up to squabble continuously, while Tara, the youngest by fifteen years, would refuse to become involved with her sisters, with Freedom Enterprises, with the minimal government on Landry worlds.  Or, as far as Rachel could tell, with anything else.  Did Tara care about anything?  She was a mystery to her grandmother.

        Rachel said to Annelise, “What’s the problem?”

        “The refugee camp.”

        Of course.  Rand was having one of the periodic plagues that affected humans on any world they had not evolved to inhabit.  Microbes, evolving so much faster than humans, jumped species and adapted themselves to colonize these new hosts, which then developed immunity against them.  Or not. 

        Rand, however, by the luck of the genetic lottery, had more pathogens that could colonize human bodies than did any other of the Eight Worlds.  This particular epidemic, like the one that had killed Paul and his wife, was not responding to medication.  Many had survived the disease.  However, many more had used whatever resources they had to flee from Rand to Galt, where there were neither enough jobs for them nor, on a Libertarian world, any mechanisms to provide free food, shelter, health care, education.  Private charities assisted because they chose to, and Rachel, moved by pity, had contributed to these.  At the same time, she admitted to a scorn for able-bodied men and women who could not, or would not, think of ways to provide for themselves.  Although the heart-rending holos of ragged and hungry childrenâ¦

        Annelise didn’t appear to possess much pity.  “The refugees are holding two charity workers hostage until Freedom Enterprises provides them with, basically, a free living.  Jane wants to send in the army.”

        This was bad.  There had never been terrorists on Galt, where everyone was raised to assume responsibility for themselves and their children.  The same was true on Rand, of course — or was it? 

 



 

        Rachel said, “Are the refugees mistreating the charity workers or threatening to kill them?”

        “No, of course not!”  Annelise actually sounded shocked; a free people did not terrorize each other.

        “Then tell Jane no.  The charity workers assumed the responsibility for going to the refugee camp, which means they assumed the consequences.  But I want you to do two things, Annelise.  Offer to loan refugees the cost of passage back to Rand now that the plague is over, provided that each one who accepts will sign a contract to repay over ten years at six percent interest.  Second, hire a group to go to Rand in order to survey schools.  I want a report on the state of teaching of, and adherence to, Libertarian principles.  At every age level.”

        “Got it,” Annelise said.  “Did you ask Caitlin about Tara?”

        This was a concession.  Paul’s five daughters mostly did not get along well with each other — and why was that?  It was a mystery to Rachel, since each one alone was competent and even — periodically, at least — lovable, but none argued as much as Annelise and Caitlin.  Caitlin, president of John Galt University, constantly wanted more money to run it than Annelise would put in the corporate budget.  “A university is no different from any other institution,” Annelise always said.  “It should be self-sufficient.” 

        “Only someone completely ignorant of higher education would think that,” Caitlin retorted.

        “I wouldn’t know, since I never attended your university, did I?  I was too busy taking over the business and raising three children.”

        “Your choice, right?”

        Sometimes Rachel just wanted her granddaughters to shut up.

        However, Caitlin was the only sister that Tara would even speak to.  Tara seemed to respect Caitlin, who was less dogmatic than Annelise or Celia, less harshly judgmental than Jane.  Caitlin reported that Tara had asked her all kinds of questions about the field of biology.

        Rachel took a corporate flier the short distance to the university.  Caitlin was teaching the one class she’d kept in addition to her administrative duties.  It soothed Rachel to slip into the back and listen to the serious questions posed by these advanced students, even though Rachel knew next to nothing about virology.

        “Hello, Gran,” Caitlin said after everyone had left.  She was pretty enough but not as stunningly beautiful as her four sisters.  Her features, except for her unusually sweet smile, were unmemorable, and the bright green eyes of the others were faded to hazel with green flecks.  Intelligent and imaginative, she’d been trained as a virologist and had chosen the academic life over business, and she ran Galt University to very high standards.  But it was Caitlin’s sense of balance that Rachel valued most.  Balance sometimes seemed in short supply among the Landrys.

        She was also perceptive.  “Gran — is anything wrong?”

        A lot was wrong, but Rachel confined herself to the immediate problem.  “Have you seen Tara?  Or heard from her?  She’s been gone for months.”

        “No.  Did you send a tracer to Polyglot?”

        “No.  Should I?”  Getting a message to Polyglot meant sending a ship or a drone with the physical embodiment of the data through the Galt-Polyglot gate, then beaming it down to the Landry embassy on Polyglot, which would then trace Tara.  To contact New Hell, two gates away, was even more cumbersome and time-consuming.  Somebody needed to invent the ansible. 

        Rachel said, “Why do you think Tara might be on Polyglot?”

        Caitlin hesitated.  Rachel put a hand on her granddaughter’s arm.

        “Caity, if you know something, tell me.  I’m getting really worried about her.”

         “Well⦠all right.  Yes.  You remember I told you that Tara showed this sudden interest in biology, asking me all these questions, which I thought was pretty uncharacteristic.  It turns out she’s in love with some biologist on Polyglot.”

        “In love?  And she wanted it kept secret?  Is he a Peregoy?”

        “No, of course not.  He’s a Polyglot citizen.  But apparently he’s not in love with her and she’s doing everything she can to interest him.”

        Rachel didn’t like the sound of that — with Tara, “everything she can” could be extreme.  “What’s his name?”

        “I have only a first name: Philip.  From the kind of questions Tara asked, he might be involved in some sort of environmental applications of biology, rather than pure research.”

        It wasn’t much.  But it was more than Rachel had had before.  Onlyâ¦

        An embassy tracer might not be enough.  She would have to send someone to Polyglot to find Tara, or at least this “Philip.”

        No — she would have to go herself.  If Philip knew anything, he would be most likely to tell a distraught grandmother, not a stranger unconnected with Tara.

        At the thought of leaving Galt, even on a mission like this, Rachel felt her spirits lift.  She could have a short respite from the growing list of problems on the Landry worlds.  Maybe even a chance to talk with a few physicists on neutral Polyglot, see if her knowledge of physics was as outdated as she thought.  She could learn the latest research on the many mysteries of the gates.  Maybe there were even new ideas on the biggest of those mysteries: why gates formed only beside human-habitable planets.  Yes.

        On the way back to corporate headquarters, Rachel wondered if the protestors were still waving signs and chanting, demanding things be given to them.  Determined to bring down her society and its Libertarian principles.

        The flier skimmed toward headquarters.  The protestors were still there.


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