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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Six

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

 


 

NEW CALIFORNIA

        The message reached Sloan before the messenger.  A scout from the cruiser Samuel Peregoy had sent it, heavily encrypted, as soon as the scout cleared the Polyglot-New California gate.  The message had traveled at light speed; the scout, constrained by matter, would not arrive at Capital City until tomorrow.  Sloan read the decrypted message, and then read it again.

        CLASS A COMMUNICATION

        CONFIDENTIAL TO DIRECTOR SLOAN PEREGOY ONLY

        FROM LT. C. RICHARDSON, PCSS

        Samuel Peregoy proceeded through the unknown gate and was blown up, all hands lost including passenger D. Gordon, as Gordon attempted to explore an orbital around the planet.  Gordon’s last message in its entirety: “Go! A Landry bomb!  Get away!  It’s going to–” Visuals and audio attached.  Landry vessel waiting outside gate; did not attempt to fire on me.  Arrival at New California tomorrow ETA 15:00 Standard.  Awaiting orders.

        Sloan called Sophia.  She glided into his office and viewed the message.  The recording contained everything the scout had received from the Samuel Peregoy and everything Gordon had seen on the orbital, including the damning manufacturing logo on the nuclear device: Freedom Enterprises.

        Landrys.

        Sophia spoke first.  “This is a clear act of war.”

        “Yes.”

        “They destroyed a PCSS cruiser.”

        “Yes.”

        Another long silence.  Sloan watched the entire recording again, stopping it at every image of the planet, enlarging them, leaning forward to squint at the holo.  The cloud cover was too heavy to see anything but blue and white swirls.  He prolonged his viewing, and Sophia seemed to understand: The longer they studied the planet, the longer they could postpone a decision.

        In a hundred fifty years, there had never been a war among the Eight Worlds.  Only once had they even come close, five years ago.  An unmanned Landry communication drone had disappeared going through the Galt-Polyglot gate, and Rachel Landry had accused Sloan of stealing proprietary information.  Both fleets had gone on high alert.  But the Landrys had been unable to come up with evidence, and Polyglot observation probes on both sides of the gate hadn’t shown any Peregoy vessels anywhere near the gate.  The crisis had passed, even though it had never been determined what happened to the drone.  Sloan’s opinion was that it hadn’t really existed, since gates never malfunctioned, and that the Landrys had lied about the entire incident.  Tensions between the two families continued, but to Sloan’s mind, their enmity had been more economic, a coveting of each other’s resources, than physical.

        Until now.

        War.  Unthinkable.

        But Sophia said, “If we don’t respond with force, this will be merely the opening attack.  The Landrys will feel free to seize PCSS ships guarding our gates, or to vaporize more ships.  All three Peregoy worlds will be at risk, and maybe also our research station on Prometheus.”

        “Yes,” Sloan said again.

        Wasn’t he capable of anything more than that one bleak syllable?  Apparently not.  Sloan’s throat knotted.  He hadn’t read much Terran history — Luis Martinez was always urging more on him — but he knew how terrible war could become, what costs it could exact from even those who won.  But there was another, nagging consideration as well.  Since the Landrys had set the bomb on the far side of the gate, they must have gone through it first.  Therefore, gate and planet belonged to Freedom Enterprises.  But it was innocent Peregoy blood that had been shed beside that gate, that had in a way bought that gate for the Peregoys.  Sloan didn’t know what lay under the unknown planet’s cloud cover, but by rights of war if not of peace, surely it should belong to the Peregoys.  And he wanted it.

        “Immediately file a legal claim to the gate,” he said to Sophia.  “And order Lieutenant Richardson to come directly here tomorrow.”

        “That’s not enough, Father.  You need to declare war.”

        “Sophia –“

        “You must.”

        Her face looked carved in diamond: hard, glittering.  An unexpected chill ran down Sloan’s spine.  Immediately he suppressed it; he must not look weak in front of his daughter. 

        He said, “I want to talk first to Admiral Chernov and Planetary Defense Coordinator Clarke.  Any possible military action will, of course, be confined to attacks at the Landry gates and defense of our gates.”  It would be unthinkable to take carnage to the surface of any planet.

        “If we can confine it to gates,” Sophia said.

        “No ‘if.’  There won’t be –“

        SueLin burst into the room.  “Grandfather!  I need to talk to you right now!”

        “No,” Sloan said.  “Later.”

        “No, now!  That bitch Evelyn Jemison cheated on the bird competition, she used illegal genemods, I should have won but she –”

        A bird competition.  Birds.  Sloan looked at his oldest grandchild, an adult but acting like an adolescent, spending all her time breeding and competing songbirds.  Interested in nothing but her own petty triumphs.  SueLin, the daughter of Sloan’s estranged daughter Candace, also weak and ineffectual.  SueLin, heir to the Peregoy Corporation after Sophia, who was childless.  At one time, Sloan had hoped that Sophia would marry Luis Martinez.  By now there were supposed to be plenty of Peregoy heirs, sturdy and smart and capable of looking after three hundred million people on three worlds.  Instead, something — Sloan didn’t know what — had ended the romance between Martinez and Sophia, and a vacuum-sled accident had taken Sloan’s son Jonathan before he’d fathered any children.  That left SueLin and her five-year-old brother, who could turn out to be anything but so far did not look promising.

        Sloan made the decision he’d been contemplating for the last year.  Martinez had once mentioned that Roman emperors and Norman kings had decreed their heirs, bypassing bloodlines when that seemed appropriate.  Sloan was no emperor, but he had an obligation to ensure continued strong and benevolent leadership for those under his care.  A sacred trust, in fact.

        SueLin continued to rant about songbirds and “criminal cheating.”

        Sloan said to Sophia, “Call Security.  Get her out of here.  And file that claim on the eleventh gate.”

        Anyone else would have heard the astonishing words “eleventh gate” and seized on them.  SueLin heard only “Get her out of here.”  She started to curse him, including insults Sloan had never heard before.  Security arrived and seized SueLin.

        “You’ll regret this, you stinking old man!  You can’t treat me this way!  I’m a Peregoy, too, and when this is all mine — let me go, you motherfucking bastard!”

        The silence after she’d been dragged from the room felt solid, as if the air were not gas but some denser form of matter.  Sloan found it hard to speak.  But he did.

        “You’re right, Sophia.  I’m going to declare war.”

        #

        Luis Martinez stood in the captain’s cabin on the PCSS Skyhawk.   The porthole had been deopaqued, but Martinez ignored the view of New California turning below his ship, the wallscreen that had blanked minutes ago, the expensive but sparse furnishings of his cabin.  His face furrowed with thought.  Someone knocked on the door, which said, “Lieutenant Commander DiCaria.”

        “Open.”

        Martinez’s executive officer, Zachary DiCaria, entered and saluted.  “You sent for me, sir?”

        “Yes.  Sit down, Zack.  We have orders.”

        DiCaria’s eyes gleamed, light brown against his dark skin.  Martinez considered him a rising star — intelligent, loyal, and vigilant — and both of them knew it. 

        Martinez said, “Ten minutes ago I finished speaking with Director Peregoy.  He had just finished meeting with Admiral Chernov and Defense Coordinator Clarke and is summoning the corporate Board of Directors immediately.  An eleventh gate has been discovered, about a month out from Prometheus and three months from New Utah in its current position.  Peregoy Corporation is claiming it.  The Landrys went through first, lured the Samuel Peregoy through the gate, and blew it up.  All hands lost except a scout pilot, who reported to New California.  Two hours from now, the Director will declare the Landry attack to be an act of war.”

        For a long moment, DiCaria said nothing.  Then, “What are our orders?”

        Martinez knew officers, including the ancient Admiral Chernov, who maintained strict and formal distance from their staff.  In this, they copied the Director.  Martinez, however, had always chosen a different course, and it was what had made him so valuable to Sloan Peregoy.  Martinez studied his officers carefully, chose a few to trust, and worked with them closely.  Not without military discipline, of course, but cultivating a two-way openness that encouraged their observations and opinions.  He’d learned a lot that way.  DiCaria had been promoted quickly in part because he, in turn, cultivated the trust of the NCOs aboard ship.  What DiCaria learned, he passed on to Martinez.

        Not that the Director was wrong in his basic approach to the worlds in his care.  Sloan understood the necessity of preventing the ecological and scientific disasters that had destroyed Terra: climate change, resource exhaustion, species extinction, desperate and annihilating biowarfare.  Avoiding those on the limited land surfaces of the three Peregoy worlds required unrelenting control of the economy, the population, and science.  In addition, people had to be planned for, including those in each generation who turned out to be helpless or stupid or ruthlessly exploitive.  The first were cared for by the corporate state.  The second were helped to simple jobs that paid enough to maintain themselves with dignity.  The third were stopped, harshly if necessary.  The result of so many obligations was the vast set of interlocking rules that regulated the Peregoy planets.  Too strict rules, some said, but they worked.  Mostly.

        Martinez went one step further.  Unlike the Director, Martinez read a lot of Terran history.  He understood, if Sloan did not, that the populace’s reactions to rules were also important.  Sometimes, those reactions were critical.

        He said to DiCaria, “We leave at sixteen hundred hours to guard and defend the new gate.  Two other PCSS cruisers go with us, the Zeus and the Green Hills of Earth.  I am Fleet Commander for this OpOrd.  What I want from you, Zack, is a reading on the general attitude of the crew.  They’re not getting the chance for a final leave with their families before we depart, and those on leave and too far away to return to ship will be left behind.  A replacement roster is already on the way upstairs, including an officer to replace Lieutenant Jones.  I’ll want your recommendation on whatever your non-coms tell you about crew attitude toward war.”

        “Yes, sir.  Captain — is the Director firm in this?  Might not meeting with the Board change his thinking aboutâ¦about war?”

        DiCaria’s question told Martinez more than the young man suspected.  It wasn’t only the crew’s attitude that Martinez needed to understand.  He said crisply, “I’m only privy to what I was told.  If anything changes, I’ll inform you.”

        “Yes, sir.”

        “Dismissed.”

        After DiCaria left, Martinez drew a small, e-locked box from his pocket.  Sloan had sent it upstairs by special drone.  The box was marked PERSONAL.  “Don’t open it,” Sloan had said, “until you’re departing this new gate to return to New California.”  It wasn’t like Sloan to be mysterious, and Martinez would have sworn that the old man’s face on viewscreen had looked embarrassed.  Why? 

        He locked the box into the safe in his cabin and turned to the viewscreen.  New California’s one continent was just turning into sight.  Martinez gazed at the continent below, its lush green forests and three cities and outlying islands in the clear blue sea.  He’d been born on Linda Vista Island, to one of three families with a license to colonize that lovely, semi-tropical Eden.  His parents were buried there.

        They’d been basic farmers, so inept at farming that their agribusiness had grown smaller and more in debt each year, until finally it failed completely.  It shouldn’t have; the firm that had purchased it had doubled, then tripled, crop yield over the next few years.  The fault had lain not in the farm but the farmers.  Both had been disinclined for work or sacrifice.  They had followed pleasurable pursuits instead, harmless enough but distracting, until finally they’d distracted themselves into the relative poverty that Peregoy Corporation safety nets permitted, and their teenage son along with them.

        He’d hated them for that, for years.  Only time had brought him to appreciate the one sacrifice they had made: to send him to spacer college.  He had done well enough to forgive them, and eventually he’d made their last years happy with a small, perpetually messy house by the North Ocean, where they had partied too much and bragged to everyone about their wonderful son.

        Martinez owed everything to Sloan Peregoy.  He’d come to Sloan’s notice in college; Sloan had always had an eye for talent.  Sloan had mentored him, promoted him, made sure the promotions were both deserved and honored by jealous colleagues.  Martinez could not say that he and Sloan were close; Sloan got close to no one except his daughter Sophia.  Martinez was well aware that at one time, Peregoy had hoped he would marry Sophia and produce better heirs than Sophia’s sister’s kids, never mind that Sophia was twenty years older than Martinez.  Her eggs had been frozen, and probably still were, since Sophia never showed any interest in him or any other mate, male or female.  Martinez had married Amy instead.  Since her death, there had been no one else, and never would be.  He was married to the fleet now.

        Butâ¦war.

        Gods and Rationalists help us all.


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