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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Nine

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

 


 

GALT

        News of the victory at the Prometheus gate reached Rachel on Galt eight days after the battle.  Interplanetary communication was, she thought and not for the first time, a throwback to pre-industrial humanity on old Earth, when news must travel by horse or runner or raven.  The gates had their drawbacks.

        “Grandma?” commed Jane Landry.  Jane, the granddaughter in charge of corporate security, had renamed her division the War Department.  “Didn’t you hear me?  I said we’re now in possession of the Polyglot-Prometheus gate!  And we have proof that my K-beam prototype works!”

        “Yes, of course I heard you,” Rachel said, eyeing Jane.  “That’s good news.  Or as good as war news can get, anyway.”

        Jane tilted her head and scowled.  You just never knew how your children would turn out, and certainly not your grandchildren.  As a child, Jane had been the plainest of the five granddaughters, dumpy and sullen.  Now she was by far the most beautiful, with the Landry dark hair in effortless deep waves and the Landry green eyes darkened to a sometimes disturbingly bright emerald.  Jane was also, with Tara, the most intense of the five.  As tensions between Peregoys and Landrys had grown over the years, Jane had increased and improved Freedom Enterprises’ security division and then had — seemingly overnight! — morphed it into a full-grown military organization. But she saw all events without shades of gray and for that reason, Rachel didn’t confide the two things distracting her from this first dubious victory: its implications and the repeated messages from Philip Anderson. 

        The K-beam prototype developed by Jane’s “military research corps.” Also recently renamed, was by her fevered account a success.  But it had not destroyed the Peregoy cruiser.  That meant that before long Sloan Peregoy would learn of the brief battle, if he hadn’t already.  Jane tended to dismiss Sloan: “His ass is clenched so tight he couldn’t shit out new weapons or new anything.”  The wisdom on Galt was that the Peregoy totalitarian dictatorship, no matter how “benevolent,” could never match the enterprise and accomplishments of a free people, or of a voluntary military rather than a conscripted one.

        These ideas seemed borne out by Jane’s victory at the Prometheus gate, and once Rachel would have agreed.  But escalating protests, one of which she could see from her office window this very moment, was undermining her certainty.  Demonstrations about the deaths of the two refugee “martyrs” who had thrown themselves under a maglev — choosing to do so! — had not let up.  Rachel was disturbed by what seemed a mounting dissatisfaction on Galt by those who, instead of assuming responsibility for their lives, wanted the Landrys to provide for them.  She knew enough of Earth’s past to know that from strong enough dissatisfaction could grow revolutions.

        There was, however, no way to impress any of this on Jane, who burned with war fever.

        Nor could Rachel explain to anyone else why she was disturbed by Philip Anderson.  He had called six times since his arrival on Galt, and she had taken none of his calls.  No time, and his ridiculous quest was a low priority, to say the least.  But the last message, which arrived just moments before Jane had burst into Rachel’s office, had held not only a note of exasperation but a lure to get Rachel to return the call:  “Please call meâ¦.it’sâ¦I didn’t want to say this before because it’s so tentativeâ¦but it’s about Tara.”

        “Grandma!” Jane said.  “I’m explaining my next strategies to you!  Were you listening?”

         “Yes,” Rachel said, although she hadn’t been, not carefully.  It didn’t really matter.  Rachel was still CEO of Freedom Enterprises, but Jane had autonomy for her division, and she had capable — if inexperienced at war — fleet captains. 

        “Good.”  Jane, as usual, broke the link without ceremony. 

        Rachel called Philip on what he did not have access to: an encrypted link.  He answered immediately, and his face — really, a man should not be that handsome, genemod or not, it made him look like a caricature from some romantic holodrama — appeared on the viewscreen on Rachel’s desk.

        “Philip.  Sorry I didn’t return your call earlier.  It’s busy here.  What about Tara?”

        If he was disconcerted by her abruptness, it didn’t show.  “I think I know where she may be now.  It’s only a guess, but I thought I should tell you.”

        “Yes.  Where?”

        “On Polyglot, at a small northern village called Adarsh, where I told you that I saw her last.  Again, I’m only guessing that –“

        “Why do you think she might have returned there?”

        He grimaced, and then looked as if he regretted the grimace.  “Because that’s where I’m supposed to be.  She knew I was scheduled to return about now to check on an experiment the International Environmental Service is running with pollinators and lions.”

        “You think she might have gone there solely because you might be there?”

        “It sounds egotistical, butâ¦yes.  I do.  I could be wrong.”

        Rachel had a queasy feeling that he wasn’t wrong.  She hadn’t fully realized how disturbed Tara was.  Or how lonely.

        “Thank you, Philip.  Bye.”

        After she hung up, she realized she should have asked him how the deep-brain implant project was going.  Tara had driven all else from her mind.  But probably it didn’t matter; Philip might gain something from the implants, and the university might gain knowledge, but it was impossible that implants, tools of the physical universe, could deliver all the wish-fulfilment aims he hoped for.

        Which was also true of the victory at the Prometheus gate.  Too bad that Rachel could never convince Jane of that. 

        She set about arranging for a trusted aide to go to Polyglot and find Tara.


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