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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Ten

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

 


 

NEW CALIFORNIA

        Sloan said to Sophia, “Are you sure?”

        “Of which part?” she said, logically.  “The battle or the planetary-development station?”

        “Both!”  He heard his agitated tone, breathed deeply, and brought himself to calm.  Although Sophia was the one person he ever allowed to see his self-control slip, he still didn’t like it when it happened.  But this was a double portion of bad news. 

        Sophia said, “I’m sure, sir.  Of both.”  In the corner of the room the wolves regarded him steadily from their yellow glass eyes.   Beyond the window, one of New California’s small, fast moons shone faintly in the evening sky.

        Sloan said, “All right.  Give me the details.”

        She recited what they both already knew in order to give him time to recover himself, a courtesy that Sloan didn’t like because it was so recent.  As if she thought he deserved extra care now because he was old.  “The gist is that the Landrys had some sort of new weapon with a greater range than ours.  A Peregoy resupply ship going to Prometheus was hit as soon as it went through the Polyglot-Prometheus gate, but an info drone got back through, and its recordings were received by our own people on Polyglot.  The supply ship was vaporized.  No intel on what happened to Luis Martinez’s fleet.  They might be gone, too.”

        Luis — perhaps dead.  Prometheus lost.  Were the scientists and support personnel at the research station now prisoners of war?  How would the Landrys treat them?  Did an undisciplined, every-person-for-themselves government take prisoners?  All of this, like war itself, was unmapped territory.

        Luis.

        He made himself say, “What information about the planetary development station?  Which station?”

        “The one here in Capital City.  Civil defense plans have been announced on all our worlds and people are reporting for wartime assignment — so far.  But here, less than half of the summoned recruits have reported in.”

        Sloan blinked.  Every young person served in Planetary Development for two years, working on infrastructure or environmental protection or the disaster response.  Everyone also remained eligible for recall until they were fifty.  That had happened during the last plague, during Hurricane Eris, during the big push to develop Sevigny island.  Everyone left their lives and reported in when requested, knowing both that their planet needed them and that the compensation they received would match what they had been earning.  No one refused to report when called.  It was a solemn duty.

        It was also futile to try to avoid.  On the Peregoy worlds, unlike the slapdash Landry chaos, everyone had to produce their citizen I.D. to do anything, including buy food.  Sloan’s intelligence agencies could track anyone, anywhere on the four worlds populated by Peregoy citizens.

        Three worlds, now.

        Sophia continued, her beautiful face as impassive as those of the dead wolves.  “The refusers say they won’t go to war.  That the two years already given to Planetary Development didn’t include any mention of military action.  That this is not what they signed up for.  That the increased taxes for the war effort is enough for them to give.”

        “They don’t decide what is enough to give!  I do!”

        “Yes, Father.  But if I may say so, sir, Peregoy Corporation has taken care of them all their lives.  We provide jobs, basic income, health services, education –“

        “Of course we do!  That’s what a good government does!”

        “Yes,” Sophia said, as Sloan turned his face away in confusion and sudden shame at his unseemly outburst. 

        Tactfully, Sophia pretended to not notice, continuing with her report.  “I would offer this for your consideration: People who have always been coddled are less likely to risk true danger.  The protestors are saying they’re pacifists.  They would rather be jailed than serve.  That’s fueling more protests and demonstrations.”

        Sloan watched the moon disappear below the horizon.  The silence lengthened.  Finally he said, “I’m disappointed, of course.  But swift action is necessary.  Has anyone involved in protests, on either side, been hurt so far?”

        “No.”

        “But they might be soon. Arrest all the leaders.  Is there a leader?  Who?”

        Sophia said gently, “That’s the other part of it, sir.  The resistance was organized by SueLin.”

        He said, a retort as automatic as whiplash after a blow, “SueLin couldn’t organize a dinner party!”

        “Then she’s lent her name to someone else’s organization.”

        “Arrest her immediately, and bring her here.”

        “She’s in hiding, sir.”

        “In hiding?  How?”

        “Probably with sympathizers who have taken care not to identify themselves with the resistance movement for just this reason.”

        “Have John Patel in intelligence find her.  Priority one.  Then bring her here.  Tell Defense Coordinator Clarke I want to see him here, as soon as possible.  Right now, if he’s nearby.”

        “Yes, Father.”  Sophia turned to leave.

        “No, wait—one more thing.  You said that ‘everywhere else people are reporting for wartime assignment–so far.’  What did you mean?”

        “What I said.”  All at once Sophia’s cool façade melted.  She came to Sloan’s desk, put both manicured hands on it, and leaned forward intently.  “Father, you know I agree with you about everything important.  You’re a wonderful steward of Peregoy Corporation and its people.  But it’s possible to get so caught up in ensuring everyone has the necessities of life that you infantilize them.  People like SueLin — they have tantrums when they have to do something difficult because everything has been smoothed for them.  And I think we have more people like that than you realize.  This insurrection could spread beyond Capital City.”

        Sloan had never seen his daughter so intent.   Her criticism stung, but he also knew it was just.  He said, “What are you suggesting?  I’m going to break this so-called ‘resistance.'”

        “I know you will.  But you also need something bold to galvanize citizens and to show the Landrys that they can’t just take our gates and our planets.  To show people, theirs and ours, that Peregoys are not soft lapdogs.”

        “You have something in mind, Sophia?”

        “I do.”

        “What is it?”

        She straightened.  “You know I play chess to relax.”

        “Yes.”  Chess had never seemed to him very relaxing: war by other means.  But Sophia was good.  The only person that Sloan had ever known to beat her was Luis Martinez.

        “In chess, when an opponent has the superior position and you can’t attack his major pieces directly, you attack the pieces protecting them.  In effect, you weaken the opponent by depleting his reserve resources.  If it’s unforeseen, that’s even better.”

        Sloan disliked analogies.  “I’m not following you.”

        “Capture the Polyglot-Galt gate.”

        He stared at her.  She was serious.

        “Use the PCSS to create a plan to seize the Polyglot-Galt gate and then defend it.  Polyglot vessels can come and go, as can ours, but no Landry vessels.  They rely on Polyglot for information, some raw materials, and markets.  For all we know, the new Landry weapon was developed at John Galt University — it’s the oldest university and has the best research facilities.”

        “Sophiaâ¦you can’t be serious.  Polyglot is neutral.”

        “And it can stay neutral.  You’re not going to take over the planet, just its gate to the Landry worlds.  It’s because Polyglot has always been neutral that they haven’t put a strong defense force there.  The Polyglot Council of Nations will protest, of course, but we can say we’re offering protection from the new Landry weapon, which we are.  We can also offer them whatever else you think is necessary.  You’re good at making deals.”

        Sloan said nothing, thinking.

        “Will you at least discuss it with Coordinator Clarke when he arrives?  And with Admiral Chernov?  Not that he’s any use; he’s doddering and you should retire him.  You really should.”

        “I will at least discuss it with General Clarke.”

        “That’s all I want.”  She smiled at Sloan.

        The smile changed her whole face, lighting it.  Sloan thought, not for the first time, what a shame it was that Sophia had not married someone like Luis Martinez and produced heirs for Peregoy Corporation.  That was the marriage that Sloan had intended for her.  But Sophia seemed to be one of those people with a very low sex drive, and she’d always made it clear that running the corporation was far more interesting to her than motherhood.  With Sloan’s son dead of plague, it had been left to Candace, with the weakest character of his three children, to produce heirs.  Thus, SueLin.

        The door said, “Planetary Defense Coordinator Lucius Clarke requests admittance.”

        “Admit,” Sloan said.


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