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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Nineteen

       Last updated: Friday, April 24, 2020 07:02 EDT

 


 

GALT

Days and nights of grief. 

        After Julie discarded him — that’s how it felt, yes — Philip left the university, rented a cheap room in the city, and tried to touch again whatever he’d reached while lying, drunk, in that field.  That touching had happened at night, so he bought sleeping pills, slept all day, tried all night.  He experimented with drinking, then fasting, then lying for hours in a warm bath.  Nothing worked.  He mediated on his bed, outdoors in a park, on the roof of his boardinghouse, almost tumbling off its steep pitch.  He began to wonder if Julie was right, and he was becoming crazy.  His obsession reminded him uncomfortably of Tara.

        He paid no attention to news, including the war, which seemed just as remote as what he now thought of as metaconsciousness.  He barely ate, growing thinner.  He stopped shaving or having his hair cut.  Some days he didn’t shower.  The room, already musty with stale odors, grew mustier.  The window had been painted shut.  Philip’s money was running out.

        I have to stop this.

        I can’t stop this.

        When he wasn’t trying to connect to the universe — and how stupid that sounded, even — he read physics on his tablet.  He couldn’t afford access to scientific journals, which — like everything else on Libertarian Galt — were not free.  But the university library had vast archives, many of them from old Earth.  Philip read about two-hundred-year-old theories, never proven as the slow train wreck of the Terran collapse took scientific inquiry down with it.

        Physicist Gregory Matloff’s idea of a “proto-consciousness field” extending through all of space.

        Bernard Haisch’s rogue theory that quantum fields produce and transmit consciousness in any sufficiently complex system, organic or not.

        John Wheeler’s “participatory anthropic principle.”

        Much older, Roger Penrose’s argument that quantum events in the brain link self-awareness with the cosmos.

        And oldest of all, Albert Einstein’s “cosmic religious feeling.”

        Although what Philip felt, what he touched, was not religious — was it?

        He meditated again.  Nothing.

        But once, he did succeed, at least partially.  Definite contact, but he couldn’t sustain it.  He was like a drowning man who gulped one lungful of air before the waters again closed over him.  And he couldn’t go there again.  But he had touched it, or them, and that emboldened him to keep trying.

        He was lying on the bed with a plate of congealed food on the floor beside him, waiting for night, when someone knocked on the door.  The room was not electronically wired.  Philip leapt up and flung open the door.  “Go away and leave me alone!”

        Two men, both in Freedom Enterprises security uniforms.  “Philip Anthony Anderson?”

        “Go away!”  He started to slam the door.  One of the men deftly blocked him. 

        The other said, “Philip Anderson, I have a message for you from Freedom Enterprises CEO Rachel Landry.  She wants to see you immediately.  We’ll take you there, sir.”  He handed Philip a datacube.

        Rachel Landry?  Hadn’t Julie told him that she was very ill, that the Landry granddaughters were running the corporation?  He hadn’t really listened. 

        Curiosity pricked him.  Also, he was nearly flat-out broke.  Rachel had brought him to Galt; perhaps she would fund his return home.  Although wasn’t the Galt-Polyglot gate now in Peregoy hands?  Philip slid the tiny datacube into his wrister.  The two men didn’t turn away, so presumably they already knew what the cube contained.

        The visual was not Rachel’s face, but a holo of a gate against a miniature star field.  Her voice said, “Philip, please go with these men.  I have a way for you to get what you most desire.”

        He blinked.  Probably the guards thought that meant sending him back to Polyglot.  Philip knew better.

        He said, “Give me five minutes to shower and pack.”

        #

        They drove him out of the city.  Philip smelled the sea long before he saw it.  The security men would answer no questions about why Rachel was here, away from the city, instead of in a hospital or at her apartment in the Landry compound.  If one of the guards hadn’t already spoken to him, Philip might have thought they were both mute.

        They passed through a gate in an electronically fortified wall and up a winding drive bordered with flowers.  The rich on Galt, with none of the taxation taken for granted on Polyglot, certainly did themselves well.  The house sat on a cliff above the ocean, with a gorgeous view of blue water dotted with distant islands.  Rachel greeted him in a wide, plastiglass-walled room.  She lay on a sofa, dressed in a long-sleeved top and calf-length filmy skirt the same color as the sea, made of some material that probably cost as much as Philip’s weekly salary.  She looked paler and thinner than he remembered.

        “Philip.  Thank you for coming.”  She flicked her eyes toward the guards, who immediately left the room.

        “It didn’t seem I had much choice.  Would you have kidnapped me?”

        “Yes.  This is that important.”

        Her directness reminded him of Julie, which hurt.  “What exactly is so important?”

        “Not here.  Help me up.”

        He gave her his hand.  Carefully, as if she’d aged decades in the months he’d been on Galt, she rose to her feet, leaning heavily on his arm.  He said, “Are you well enough to stand?  Shouldn’t you have a carrybot?”

        “No, and no.  Take me to the elevator.  Over there.”

        A small plastiglass elevator took them down the cliff face.  The beach below them was pure, pale blue sand.  Dyed to match the water and sky, he supposed, and grimaced.  What chemicals had it put into the environment?

        They left the elevator, Rachel again took his arm, and they walked slowly toward the water.  “We can talk safely here.”

        “Who would, or could, overhear you in the house?”

        “Oh, you’d be surprised.”

        Drones flew noiselessly overhead, each bearing the Landry logo.  Philip didn’t know if they were eavesdroppers, security, or possibly fakes bearing Peregoy bombs.  Rachel ignored them.

 



 

        At the water’s edge she sank gracefully onto the sand, her filmy skirt billowing around her.  “We can talk here.  The surf masks pretty much all sound.  But cover your mouth, like this, so your lips can’t be seen.”

        “Rachel — is all this necessary?”

        “Yes.  I need to ask you some questions, and to give you some vital information.  What happened to you on Fourmonth 16 five years ago?  And at what exact time, Earth-standard?”

        Philip stiffened.  How had she known that?  Tara, of course.  But why did she, another materialist like Julie, want to know with such evident intensity? 

        Fuck it.  He saw no reason not to tell her.  “I had a mystical experience.  I touched something out there that I’m now calling the metaconsciousness.  Go ahead, roll your eyes.”

        She didn’t.  “What happened four weeks after your surgery?  No, don’t ask questions yet, just tell me.”

        “I touched it again.”  After sex with Julie, he didn’t say.

        “And on Fourmonth 5 of this year?”

        “Yes.  Rachel –“

        “Tell me everything about those experiences.  Don’t leave anything out, especially not exact dates and times.  It’s vital, Philip, to every one of the Eight Worlds.”

        Bewildered, he told her.  Her manner as she listened was so different from the last time they’d talked, so attentive, that he gave her all of it: the presences, the image of the door — “My image, not theirs” —  the many failures, this morning’s flicker of success before her guards interrupted him.  He finished with, “They’re there, Rachel.  I’m not crazy.  They exist, both as metaconsciousness and in or near a physical place.  I had a brief impression of aridity, lifelessness, vague rounded shapes — I know how that sounds.  But I am not crazy.”

        “No.  I wish you were.  It would be easier.”  Then she was silent so long that Philip scowled.

        “All right, your turn.  Talk.  What is this about?”

        She dug her fingers deep into the blue sand.  “You know that the biggest mystery about the gates, other than how they work, is why they exist only beside planets on which humans can live.  The odds of that occurring naturally areâ¦.well, greater than the number of stars in the universe.  It can’t be a natural phenomenon.

         “On Fourmonth 16 five years ago at 16:03 standard, a Freedom Enterprises drone entered the Galt-Polyglot gate and never came out.  At first we Landrys thought that Peregoy Corporation had something to do with the disappearance, but no Peregoy ships were anywhere near there, and it never happened again.  We didn’t Link anything about the accident because there was, literally, no information.

        “On Fourmonth 5 of this year, the Prometheus gate, which Freedom Enterprises now controls, closed for eight hours and sixteen minutes.  Just closed up, so that no ships could enter it.  That started, as close as I can discover, around one in the morning, Galt time.

        “Before that, four weeks after your surgery, something else happened.  A Peregoy cargo vessel, the Quasar III, entered the New California-Polyglot gate and disappeared.  Never emerged on the Polyglot side.  The Quasar III carried a crew of four, now presumably all dead.”

         “No.  No.  That wasn’t me!” 

        “Are you sure?”

        He wasn’t.  His mind raced.  Five years ago, his first mystical experience, on the beach at New Chengdu.  Four weeks post-surgery, lying with Julie after sex, loose and free and gone, immersing himself in the shimmer.  Fourmonth 5, when he lay all night in the field beside the university and, for the first time, fully touched what lay below all known reality.  A door, a portal, that he’d felt open, and close.  He put his hands over his face. 

        Rachel pulled them away.  “No time for grief now.  It wasn’t anything you did deliberately.  Philip, listen to meâ¦can you control what you do to the gates?”

        “No!”

        “Can you learn to control it?”

        “I don’t know!  And how many people will die while I practice?  Only⦔

        “Only what?  Tell me!”

        “Last time, I almost touchedâ¦no, I did touch the metaconsciousness.  There was aâ¦a beckoning.  To a place they exist.  Materially, I mean.  Or did exist.  Or something.”

        Above the ocean, something sped toward them, low over the water and very fast.

        Rachel seized his arm.  “Quick, we don’t have much time.  If you went to that place, do you think you could improve your control over the gates?”

        “I don’t know.  How could I know?  Where is such a place?  Rachel, this is crazy!”

        “You think I don’t know that?  But we don’t have much choice.  I think your place is the new planet, the one behind the eleventh gate.  The gate that started this war.”

        And all at once, Philip knew that it was.  That’s where they were, the Others.  That was the beckoning.

        The speeding craft was a drone, closer now.  Rachel said directly into his ear, “I’m going to send you there.  You’re going to learn, as fast as possible, to control the gates.  And then close them all.”

        “What?”

        “You heard me.  No, don’t tell me how ridiculous that is.  It’s our only chance.”

        “Our only chance of what?  And how can you send me to the new planet — don’t the Peregoys control it?”

        “Yes.  You and I are going to Polyglot.  Sloan Peregoy is still there.  We’re going to bargain with him.”

        Philip just stared at her.  The drone circled, flew in to descend beside them.

        “Quick, they’re almost here.  That thing can hear a whisper a mile off.  Kiss me.”

        He gaped. 

        “It’s the only cover I can think of.  She’ll believe it.”  She leaned toward him.

        Her lips were dry, thin, old.  Her spindly arms went around him with surprising strength.  Philip was afraid of hurting her.  But her voice was just as strong as her arms.  “It’s my granddaughter, Jane.  We have to get to your ‘presences’ and close the gates, Philip.  Jane is building more ships and K-weapons.  She’s preparing to destroy the Peregoy fleet and, after that, every last city on New California.”


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