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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Seven

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

 


 

GALT

        Philip had been on Galt before, but not like this.

        On his first two trips, he’d been a student, once working his way caring for life-support algae on a creaky and antiquated cargo ship, once as an intern with a summer biology expedition to a dying ecosystem on an outlying island.  Both times he been at the bottom of the status ladder, doing whatever no one else wanted to do.  Both times he’d slept rough and eaten when and what he could.  He hadn’t minded; he’d been twenty.

        The third trip, three years ago, had been to attend an environmental conference at the university.  By that time, Philip had a job, the small inheritance from his parents, and a girlfriend.  None of those things had lasted, and the trip had been just one more lackluster round of endless theoretical papers, almost totally divorced from actual environments.  Accommodations, though not as crude as on a freighter, had been pretty basic.

        Rachel Landry’s personal ship, the Landry Libertarian Alliance Security Corps ship Blue Flame, had staterooms, crews’ quarters, a chef, robocleaners, a live steward.  There was a billiard table, a game he’d never heard of, which wasted the cubic feet of an entire small room.  Philip turned out to be surprisingly good at it.  He played with off-duty crew.  Rachel had no time for him, presumably running the Landry worlds from her quarters.  The night before planetfall, Philip got slightly drunk with the steward, who was very drunk.

        “So,” Johnston said, lining up his shot, “what’re you shooingâ¦doing here?

        Impossible to explain.  What could Philip say: “I’m a seeker, looking for the fifth level of reality, the true substrate of the universe, the panconsciousness”?  True but incomprehensible, sometimes even to him.  He merely smiled.

        “Thought so,” Johnston said, with deep satisfaction.  “If I looked like you⦠ But isn’t she a little old?  Hope you’re getting paid enough.”

        Philip blinked.  “Uh, noâ¦Rachelâ¦we’re not lovers!  I’m a biologist.”

        “All biology, isn’t it?”  Johnston missed his shot by at least six inches.

        Philip thought of walking out.  He thought of slamming his cue stick against the table, possibly breaking one, or both.  He thought of using this opportunity to obtain information. 

        He said as he aimed for the number four ball, “I hear there’s trouble on Galt.” 

        “Oh, you don’t koe..know the half of it.  Protests all over the damn planet.”

        “What about?”

        “Not enough jobs, no government helpâ¦well, hardly no government, is there?  Dawg eat dawg.  I tell you, I’m damn lucky to have this job.”  Johnston’s face clouded; a fear had penetrated the fog of his inebriated brain.  “You aren’t going to tell her what I said, are you?  I know you two aren’t fucking.”

        “Won’t say a thing, I promise,” Philip said, from equal parts pity and distaste. 

        “Thanks.  Hey, what part of Pogyglotâ¦Polyglot you from?”

        Philip sank the four and aimed at the ten.  “Albion.”

        “Don’t know it.  They got real government there, that helps people to jobs?”

        “Sort of.  Halfway between Landry libertarianism and Peregoy corporate dictatorship.”

        Johnston spat on the deck.  “Fucking Peregoys.  We should blast ’em all to hell.”

        Philip straightened up from the table.  This was unexpected.  “Why?”

        “Why? Because they want to take every little thing we got, that’s why!”  He rammed the cue ball so hard it careened across the table and leapt off.  “Aw, game’s over.  Gotta go.  You won’tâ¦you know, say anything to her?”

        “No.  I promised.  I –“

        The captain’s voice cut him off, booming throughout the ship.  “This is the captain speaking.  Six weeks ago, a Peregoy Corporation cruiser on an exploration mission was accidentally destroyed in deep space, and New California has issued a declaration of war against the Landry Libertarian Alliance.  I repeat, we are now at war.  Within the hour, CEO Landry will issue a statement to the citizens of Galt, Rand, and New Hell.  As of now, this ship will assume wartime duties, regulations, and security.  All crew, report immediately to the wardroom.”

        The steward, instantly sober, said, “Aw, shit.”

        Philip felt stunned.  Wartime regulations and duties?  The Landrys had such things in place, ready to go “as of now”?  Did that mean war had been anticipated?  Had Rachel expected this?

        And why had a Peregoy cruiser, rather than a much smaller research ship, been on an exploration mission?  Exploring what?

        The only person who could answer those questions was Rachel, and Philip understood that he had no chance of getting time with her now.  Even finding Tara would be secondary to war.  Wherever Tara had gone, she wasn’tâ¦

        All at once, he had a suspicion of where she might be.  The suspicion grew — not enough to fight his way into Rachel’s sanctum, but still a definite possibility.  What should he do with it?

        And what would now happen to him, marooned on Galt with little money and no assistance from the woman who had just become the commander-in-chief of a private navy at war?

        #

        Philip needn’t have worried.  An officer met him at the departure lock with a credit chip, an address, and a hasty message from Rachel: “Give this recording to Dr. Hampden at Galt University, the Institute for Brain Research.”  Rachel hadn’t forgotten him.

        He took a maglev from the spaceport to the university.  Life had undoubtedly been altered drastically in the Landry fleet, in the offices of power, at unseen military bases.  But even though the announcement of war had been made hours ago, life in the city seemed more affected by civil unrest than by any fear of attack.

        Three years ago, he’d seen poverty, disaffection, and addiction to the tempting array of street drugs that masked poverty and disaffection for a few hours.  However, the city now looked tenfold worse.  From the train window he saw people, thin and sunken-eyed, camped on littered sidewalks.  Some seemed to be families with children.  In a park a group of protestors marched around twelve-foot-tall holosign: GIVE US JOBS!  The holosign flickered, shone brightly again, then abruptly vanished.

        The man in the next seat looked up from his tablet and snorted.  “Parasites can’t even protest well.”

        The train hurtled beyond the press of buildings, past fields dotted with litter and cheap foamcast tents.  Philip leaped to his feet…  “Oh my God!” 

        In the middle distance, two women ran toward the maglev.  As Philip watched in horror, they threw themselves in front of the train.  In an instant they were gone, and a lake of dirty water flashed past.  Philip demanded of the man, “Did you see that?  Those women killed themselves!”

 



 

        “Martyrs to the cause.”  His lip curled.

        “What do you mean?”

        The man looked at him more closely.  “You’re not from Galt.”

        “No.  Polyglot.”

        “Not a good time to be a tourist, with war just declared.”

        “I’m not a — what did you mean, ‘martyrs’?”

        “These are all refugees from Rand.  They came here expecting the unearned hand-outs they couldn’t get there, and since we don’t support parasites who won’t work, they try to manipulate public opinion with these public suicides.  That little stunt was being carefully filmed, you can be sure of that, and the film will be used as propaganda.  Which will backfire, of course.”

        “But if they want jobs –“

        “They don’t, no matter what they say publicly.  What they want is for those of us who do work to support them.  That won’t happen.”  He went back to his tablet.

        Philip hated him too much to say aloud what he was thinking: War will create more jobs.  It always did, throughout history.  He looked at the man’s clean-shaven face, smug even in repose, and felt slightly sick.  If Rachel hadn’t, even in the midst of crisis, remembered Philip, he might have been in the same position as those refugees, and just as subject to the supercilious cruelty of people like this.

        Whose basic ideas of total self-reliance Rachel presumably shared, promoted, ruled by.

        By the time the train stopped at the university, Philip was in an internal rage of social indignation, fear, and hunger.  If it were possible, he would leave Galt immediately and forget this stupid idea of brain implants.  Since a brand-new war ban on unnecessary travel made it impossible, he found a dining hall, ate, and went to look for Dr. Hampden.

        “That way,” a hurrying student said, pointing.  “Can’t miss it.”

        “Oh, you have wrong directions,” another said fifteen minutes later.  “You go through that building thereâ¦wait, I’ll walk you there.”

        Oddly, this calmed him down.  These students might be heartless Libertarians, but they behaved like all other students he’d known, and had been himself: willing to help, courteous to a stranger.  And the campus was beautiful, shaded by Galt’s native trees like giant ferns, bright with beds of genemod flowers, glowing in late afternoon light from the sun.  It glinted off the plastiglass windows, turned the foamcast walls to mellow gold, suffused the warm air with the spicy scents of flowers.  Still, he was aware that only those who could afford the fees attended university.  Hired security forces kept out those who could not. 

        Tara Landry had turned her back on all this beauty and protection to go to Zuhause University on Polyglot, a much more diverse and raucous college.  Philip wasn’t surprised.

        The Institute for Brain Research was a building of stone, not foamcast, with simple arches forming a colonnade on all four sides.  People sat on railings or stone benches, talking earnestly.  He found Dr. Hampden’s office on the ground floor and knocked.  The door said, “Just a moment, please.”  When it opened, Philip was looking at a woman only a few years older than himself.  “Yes?” she said. 

        Brown eyes, rather dull brown hair tied back, dressed in dark pants and a green tunic, she was in no way remarkable.  Neither pretty nor plain, short nor tall, skinny nor fat.  Yet Philip felt he would have noticed her anywhere: her confident carriage, alert expression, intelligent eyes.  This was someone who knew who she was and what she wanted to do, but was not going to trample others to get it.  She was the antithesis of the man on the train.  She was the un-Tara.  Nothing in her manner suggested either impatience or the kind of female reaction Philip usually got to his spectacular genemod looks.

        “Yes?” she repeated. 

        He’d been standing there like a fool.  “I’m looking for Dr. Hampden.  Rachel Landry sent me.”

        If that impressed her, she didn’t show it.  “I’m Dr. Hampden.”

        Philip had regained poise.  “My name is Philip Anderson.  I have a message for you from Ms. Landry.”

        He handed her the chip and she listened to it.  Someone within called, “Julie?”

        “Just a moment, Cy.”  She turned her gaze on Philip.  “You’ve volunteered to be a deep-brain implant subject?  Why?”

        “That’s not an easy question to answer.”

        “We’re most certainly not going forward without an answer.  Which will be followed by a battery of physical, mental and psychological tests.  This lab is not a whimsical hobby of Rachel Landry’s, nor of university president Caitlin Landry.  Neither one makes scientific decisions for me, and I need to protect the validity of my research and its methods.”

        “I understand,” Philip said.  He’d touched a nerve.  But if a favorable decision rested with Julie Hampden, then he would convince her that he was healthy, sane, and possessed of a convincing reason to undergo an experimental messing with his one and only brain.

        Yeah, right.

        “Dr. Hampden,” he began, “may I ask how familiar you are with –“

        “Julie,” a man said, crowding into the doorway, “this can’t wait.  Post-op called.  Subject Six had an epileptic fit.”

        “All right.  Yes.  Mr. Anderson, sit down over there and wait.  It might be a long wait, unless you’d rather come back tomorrow.”

        “I’ll wait,” Philip said.  Silently, he completed his own question: –with Varennes’s theory of the intersection of quantum entanglement and the collective unconscious?

         She would never accept him as a research subject.  And if she did, would he too end up in a post-op epileptic fit?  On this Libertarian planet, where each person was allowed to make decisions about his or her life and there existed no governmental controls, just how experimental was experimental science allowed to be with human subjects?

        Who was crazier, him or her?

        #

        Two weeks later, Philip lay on a gurneybot, waiting to be taken into the operating room.  His shaved head was covered by a thin helmet he couldn’t see and his hands were strapped down to prevent him from touching the helmet.  The room was too cold.  The gurney was too hard.  He felt like a trussed, decorated, chilled chicken readied for sacrifice to some mechanical god.  There was no other place on the Eight Worlds that he would rather be. 

        Julie Hampden, swathed in sterile garb, suddenly loomed over him.  All he could see of her were two brown eyes, but his heart leapt.  He said, “I didn’t think you’d be here.”

        “Me neither.  Your surgeon gave way only because I got permission from Caitlin Landry herself.”

 



 

        Philip smiled.  He wanted to kiss her eyelids.  He wanted to rip off her scrubs and then everything else.  He wanted to ignore the careful protocol that had kept them from so much as touching hands during all his pre-op tests.  He wanted more of whatever drug they’d already given him, because this recklessness was a drug reaction — wasn’t it?

        He didn’t need more drugs to tell her how he felt, how he’d been feeling since the moment they met.  “Julie –“

        She cut him off.  “No.  Don’t.”

        “But –“

        “You’re drugged, Philip.  Don’t talk.”  She smiled.  “Unless it’s about physics.”

        “It’s not.  I –“

        “Look at this.”  She held up a tablet, which held an image of green and red worms.

        Her rejection should have made him feel bruised, but it didn’t.  They both knew what lay between them.  It would happen, when he was no longer her research subject.  Everything would happen at exactly the right time!

        Only, what if, afterwards, he —

        “Philip, don’t get amorous.  It’s a side effect of the drug.  Look at this. Do you know what it is?”

        “No.”  Sulky now.  He didn’t seem in control of his emotions.  He was as bad as Tara.  Tara — where was she?  Had he remembered to tell Rachel Landry —

        “Focus, Philip.  Be you.  This is an electron microscopy image of neural connections.  This is what the implants are going to boost.”

        Of course it was.  Did she think he didn’t know that?  Why was she telling him what they’d spent so much time discussing already?

        He realized the answer: Because she’d wanted to be with him during the operation, but she didn’t want to discuss anything personal.  The green-and-red worms were a distraction.  She wanted him to be detached, cerebral.  He wanted desperately to please her.  Only all at once it was hard to think, hard to talk.

        Fucking drugs.

        He said, “Gamma rays,” and she smiled.

        “Yes.  Gamma rays.”

        That was what the operation was for, yes.  The brain produced them naturally.  They aided memory, the immune system, concentration.  Deep-brain stimulation from implants had been used even on old Earth to combat a growing list of ailments and memory problems.  Serious meditation dramatically increased cerebral production of gamma rays — but not, for Philip’s purposes, enough of an increase.  The implants would boost that production.

        Someone started the gurneybot moving.  Julie walked alongside.  Philip wanted to say something, but he couldn’t find words.  Finally he mumbled, “Physics⦠of nothingness.”  She didn’t hear him, or she chose not to respond.

        But Philip knew what he meant.  The physics of nothingness was why he was here.  Julie was interested in his brain.  Philip, who’d spent every spare minute reading as much physics as he could understand, was here for the void. 

        Which didn’t exist.  Even “empty space” roiled with gravitational waves.  With particles that popped in and out of existence, brief excitations in fields of energy.  With non-locality and unseen dark matter. With energy that became particles and particles that became energy.  Everything in the universe was entangled with everything else; particles existed in all states at once until observed, and observation changed the whole system, even the dimension of time, so that effects could happen before their causes.  It was a seething jungle out there, and he was a blind man trying to stumble through it encased in a cage of meat.

        But the number of potential neural connections in a human brain, which also operated partly at a quantum level, exceeded the total number ofâ¦something.  Stars in the Milky Way, maybe?  Julie had told him that — hadn’t she?

        There was something he wanted to say to Julie, to himself, something written by someoneâ¦Eddington?  Yes, Arthur Eddingtonâ¦but what?

        Then there were people moving around him, and very bright lights, and someone saying, “Breathe,” and then a genuine nothingness.

        #

        He woke, slept, woke again.  The third time, he lay in a hospital bed, in a small room with dimmed lights that were nonetheless still too bright.  Monitors hummed softly around him, and footsteps went by in a corridor.  A man laughed, low and pleasant, and said something Philip didn’t hear clearly.  The footsteps receded.

        He was alone.

        He touched his head: bandages under some sort of thin film.  A nurse appeared, somehow looking both compassionate and stern.  “Mr. Anderson?  You’re awake.  I’m going to ask you some questions, all right?”

        As if Philip had a choice.  But he said, “Sure.”  He wanted to get this over and again be alone.

        When the simple questions were over, sternness took over from compassion.  The nurse said, “One more thing, and it’s very important.  Dr. Hampden left word that when you awoke, you are not to try to meditate yet.  Wait until after both the doctor and she have seen you.  All right?”

        “Yes.”

        “Repeat back to me what I just said.”

        Philip did, word for word.  The nurse fussed with machinery for a few minutes and then left.

        Philip began to meditate.

        Clear his mind, concentrate on his breathing, let the emptiness-that-was-not come as everything else faded away.  It was surprisingly easy, easier than it had ever been before, but then he had to push away the elation he felt.  Elation wasn’t emptiness.  Push away everything, let his mind just beâ¦.

        Time passed.  He touched something.

        A second later, it was gone.

        With a deep shudder, Philip returned to himself.  Daylight flooded the room.  Julie, two of her researchers, and a doctor stood by his bed.  The researchers were absorbed in the screen displaying his brain waves.  The doctor looked grave.  Julie looked quietly furious.

        Disappointment tsunamied through Philip.  

        Julie said tightly, “You were told not to do that.”

        The doctor said, “There doesn’t seem to be any harm done.”

        Philip said nothing.  Whatever had just happened had been brief, partial, unsatisfactory.  Nothing like the transforming experience of five years ago.  Yes, he had touched something, but he couldn’t sustain it, couldn’t understand it, had gained nothing from it. 

        A researcher said, “Increased production of gamma rays, yes, but fitfully — look at this graph.  He wasn’t –“

        Philip stopped listening.  He closed his eyes.  For this he had machinery in his brain — for a graph that didn’t even excite researchers all that much?

        Then the researcher said, “I wonder if there’s a learning curve.  If he can control the gamma wave production with practice.  We need to set up a schedule that controls for variables.”

        Practice.  Like a concert pianist, an athlete, a dancer.  Practice and discipline.  And then maybeâ¦

        Philip opened his eyes.   “Yes,” he said.


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