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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Five

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

 


 

POLYGLOT

        Philip paused on the beach to gaze back at the factory on the ridge, which belched black clouds against a bright sky.

        Folly.  Before him lay the kelp farm, producing sustainable, low-cost, nourishing raw material for a variety of foodstuffs.  Behind him stood the same kind of polluting madness that, by ruining Earth, had sent humanity to the stars in the first place.  Didn’t anybody ever learn anything?

        No, that wasn’t fair.  Polyglot, by decree of its eccentric discoverer a hundred fifty years ago, was open to any nation, which meant that it had nations with their different governments, flags, ideas about resources.  The planet was basically one huge ocean dotted with lush islands, none quite large enough to qualify as a continent but nearly all large enough to host a colony with farming, mining, diverse biomes.  Most of the city-states practiced at least basic eco-preservation, but Sparta was an exception.  The founding family, a Greek oligarchy rich on Earth, had grown even richer by mining the plentiful ores on their island, manufacturing them into machine parts, and selling them to everybody else.  The Spartans didn’t seem to care what they did to Polyglot as a whole, and the weak Council of Polyglot Nations, for which Philip indirectly worked, couldn’t seem to make them care.

        It had been a frustrating two weeks, especially after his success with Adarsh.  The villagers were happily selling jeebee nectar and the jeebees were keeping lions away.  Whereas here in Sparta, Philip had completely failed.

        And yet he had requested this posting.  Sparta was Greek Orthodox, at least nominally, and Philip had heard of a Christian mystic living here, a woman who apparently not only acted as parish priest but also experienced something like the religious transports of Joan d’Arc, Saint Paul, and Saint Teresa of Avila.  Even though Philip believed — mostly, anyway — the biological explanations that temporal-lobe epilepsy caused such transports, he was getting desperate.  Five years without being able to re-experience whatever he had touched on that other Polyglot beach.  Five years of seeking for something he couldn’t name, or even adequately describe.  Five years of a lunatic quest after the only thing he wanted, longed for, was driven to find, even as he questioned it.  Why did he need so badly to touch something beyond this mortal life?

        Why didn’t everybody need that so badly?  How could everybody else be satisfied with the pale imitation that passed as “reality”?

        Maybe under the guidance of a Christian mystic instead of a Buddhist or Hinduâ¦

        And that, too, had been a failure.

        Mother Ann Niarchos of Sparta Abbey had met him in a small, beautiful church with pews of polished wood, windows of stained glass, and intricate old-Earth images projected on the altar screen.  Rain pattered softly on the roof.  The priest listened to his story without interrupting or changing expression.  She was middle-aged, plump, dressed in work pants and boots.  She looked more like a mechanic than a cleric, but Philip had long ago learned that appearances meant nothing.  Wasn’t that, at heart, why he was here?

        When he’d finished his long recitation, she said flatly, “You were blessed with grace.”

        Not his terminology, but the sentiment was right.  “Yes, but I haven’t been able to –“

        “To have such grace given to you again?  Why should you?  Most people don’t experience such heavenly bliss even once.  Why are you so greedy?”

        “It’s not greed, it’s –“

        “It is greed.  Gratitude is a virtue, young man.  You should cultivate it.”

        Anger stirred in Philip.  “You’ve experienced thatâ¦that grace more than once.”

        She snapped, “Yes, and with gratitude rather than any sense of entitlement.  Even though your experience was only partial, you should –“

        “Wait — what?  How do you mean, ‘only partial’?”

        Mother Ann regarded him severely.  “You told me you had a sense of a specific place and multiple presences.”

        “Yes.”

        “In a genuine mystical transcendence, there is no ‘place’ because one is taken into union with God, who is everywhere.  There are no ‘other presences’ because he is One, indivisible.  I’m willing to believe that you experienced something of that blessing, but from your own description, it was not the full experience.”

        Philip said nothing.

        Her face softened.  “You seem an eager seeker, but you’re woefully ignorant.  There are four levels of consciousness that a human can experience: wakefulness, the subconscious we access during dreams or drug use, the respite of deep sleep, and the mystical union with God.  Are you sure you were not dreaming during your experience?”

        “I was not dreaming.”

        “And now you’re getting testy.  You don’t like hearing truth.  That, too, will need to change if you’re ever to join fully with the mind of God.  You must learn humility.”

        His “experience” hadn’t been the mind of God; no one sounded less humble than Mother Ann; Philip hadn’t been on any of those “four levels.”  Nor “partially” stuck between them, like a malfunctioning elevator. 

        He said, “Then there’s a fifth level.  Deeper than the others, and I touched it.  The building has a  sub-sub-sub-basement.”

        “Are you mocking me?”

        He was, but his native decency made him regret it.  She believed what she believed.  Philip stood.

        “No, ma’am, I’m not mocking you.  Thank you for your time.  I’m going now.”

        “Go with God,” she said, and the words had followed him out of the church into the rain.  The next day he’d had his final, useless meeting on pollution control with a minor Spartan official who hadn’t heeded anything Philip said.   During the night he’d tried for hours to meditate, with no success.

        Turning away from the factory on the ridge, he stopped.  A woman walked along the beach toward him.

        Tara.  She’d found him again.  It was her decisive walk, her dark hair.  Philip drew a deep breath and braced himself.

        But — no.  As she neared, he could see that her body was thicker in the waist, her face much older.  Rejuv treatments, yes, but those couldn’t work miracles.

        She said, “Philip Anderson?”

        Her voice even sounded much like Tara’s, low and husky, although this version carried more authority.   He said, “Yes.  You areâ¦Annelise Landry?”

        She smiled.  “Thank you for that, but Annelise is my granddaughter.  We all look somewhat alike — strong genes.  I’m Rachel Landry.  You know my youngest granddaughter, Tara.”

        Philip managed to nod.  What was Rachel Landry, CEO of Freedom Enterprises and de facto owner of three worlds, doing looking for him on a beach on Polyglot?  Tara had said her grandmother never left Galt. 

        She said, “When and where was the last time you saw Tara?”

        “Has something happened to her?”

        “That’s what I’m trying to find out.”  The smile again, this time strained.  “Anything you can tell me might help.  Please.”

        A sudden breeze blew the dark hair into her mouth, and she whisked it out and made a little moue.  Philip was conscious of her charm, of her genuine concern for her crazy granddaughter, of the steadfastness of purpose underlying her polite request — all qualities that Tara lacked.  Tara was steadfast only in pursuit of him.

        A wave broke on the sand and washed close to their feet.  Rachel Landry did not move.

        Philip said, “Director Landry, I –“

        “Rachel, please. We aren’t very formal on Galt.”  Again the smile, but she was watching him carefully.  What augments did she possess?  Heightened visual recognition of the subtle facial shifts that indicated lying?

        “Rachel, I saw Tara over five months ago standard, here on Polyglot, at a Hindu village called Adarsh.  I was working there.  I work for –“

        “Yes, I know.”

        Of course she did — she probably knew everything about him, including what he ate for breakfast.  But why?

        “Did you and Tara go to Adarsh together?”

        “No.  She often turns up wherever I am.”  He stared at her steadily, not wanting to disparage her granddaughter.  On the other hand, maybe this dynamic matriarch could keep Tara away from him.

        Rachel said, “She’s stalking you.”

        “Yes.”

        “She wants you, and you want her to go away.”

        “Yes.”  Only later would he think it odd that Rachel had said “wants you” instead of “loves you.”  It indicated a depth of knowledge about her granddaughter that must have been painful.

        “Tara didn’t return to Galt when she said she would.  She’s now long overdue.  Please tell me everything that happened when you saw her at Adarsh, plus the times before that, going back to when you two met.   It may help.  And then tell me what I can do for you in return.”

        Philip frowned.  His information was not for sale; he was giving it freely.  But then he realized that of course Rachel Landry thought in terms of exchanges, of deals, of contracts.  That was how libertarian Galt, Rand, and New Hell functioned.

        “You don’t have to give me anything, Rachel.  I met Tara at Polyglot four years ago, when I was giving a guest lecture at Zuhause University.”  He went through their whole history, not seeing how it would help, hoping that it would.  She listened carefully, the green eyes so like Tara’s never leaving his face, as the wind freshened and grew colder.  She put on a thin-wrap sweater she pulled from a pocket; Philip imagined she was the kind of person who prepared for everything.  Which meant, come to think of it, that she probably had a bodyguard or armed mini-drone somewhere nearby, and also that she was probably recording him every minute. 

        “â¦and I think that’s everything.”  And then, even though he hadn’t wanted this to look like a contract, “Can you keep Tara away from me?  She sometimes seemsâ¦well, a little unbalanced.”

        “She is,” Rachel said, unflinchingly, and what did it cost a grandmother to say that?  “But you must know that on Galt every adult has complete freedom to come and go as they choose.”

        Philip didn’t believe that complete freedom could exist, but he said nothing.

        “Thank you, Philip.  But since I can’t keep Tara away from you, let me give you something else in return for your help.  You’ve been visiting temples and churches and Kabbalistic synagogues everywhere on Polyglot.  Clearly you’re looking for something: enlightenment, nirvana, samadhi, salvation, moksha, satori.  An altered state of consciousness of some sort.  You might find it, but it won’t mean anything.  However, if you want to persist even longer than you have, there is a new deep-brain stimulation technique being developed at John Galt University to treat schizophrenia.  The researchers are looking for someone very experienced in meditation as a subject for part of their project.  If you are interested, I’ll make arrangements and pay for them.”

        Confusion took Philip.  Could he reach that place he’d been five years ago through mechanical means?  It didn’t seem likely.  Butâ¦he hadn’t reached it any other way.  Electrodes deep in his brain, stimulating implanted genemod cells developed from bacteria…the thought was repulsive.

        The thought was alluring.

        He was, he suddenly realized, more like Tara than he had thought.  Their kinship was obsession.

        Rachel cocked her head to one side, studying him, waiting.

        To cover his confusion, he attacked.  “Why do you say that an altered state of consciousness — ” paltry words for what he had experienced! — “wouldn’t mean anything?”

        “I’m a physicist, or was.  The mind arises from the brain, and whatever you find in any state of consciousness is just a temporary distortion of biochemical processes. That’s reality.”  She smiled whimsically.  “As one who experimented with psychotropic drugs in my youth, I know this.”

        He wasn’t caught by the whimsy.  “If you’re a physicist, then don’t you also know that on the quantum level, reality itself doesn’t exist if you’re not looking at it?  Until there is an observer?”

        “We don’t live on the quantum level.”

        The wind was stronger now, whipping waves into whitecaps.  Philip shivered.  Rachel Landry waited for his answer, her arms crossed over her chest to keep her wrap from blowing open.  Philip’s mother, long ago, had stood in that same posture whenever she waited for anything.  No two women could have been more different: the landscape gardener and the powerful director of the Landry Empire.

        He said, still stalling, “I don’t think I told you anything useful to find Tara.”

        “You told me more than you think you did.  Come on, Philip, I’m cold.  Decide.  Are you coming with me to Galt?”

        ‘Yes,” he said.  “I am.”


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