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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Twenty Three

       Last updated: Monday, May 4, 2020 07:36 EDT

 


 

THE ELEVENTH GATE

        In the Skyhawk scout, seated beside the pilot, Philip finally remembered the Eddington quote he had tried to recall for Julie, months ago.  Arthur Eddington, brilliant maverick, physicist and mathematician and philosopher of science:  Consciousness is not sharply defined, but fades into subconsciousness; and beyond that we must postulate something indefinite but yet continuous with our mental natureâ¦.the stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”  A position ridiculed on several planets, starting with old Earth.

        As the small craft pierced the clouds, Philip sensed nothing.  No jolt of recognition, no transcendence.  Only the faint claustrophobia of the s-suit, even before he put on the helmet.  Only the hum of ship machinery.  Only the glow of data- and viewscreens, one with Martinez’s doubting face and one with floaty, deadly clouds.  Nothing more.

        Impossible to meditate in this cramped, scornful space.  Impossible to meditate with his agitated brain.

        He closed his eyes, breathing deeply and steadily.  His mind still skittered like a frictionless bearing.  Unable to focus on the mystery of nothingness, he tried to focus on the mysteries of physics.

        Matter is no more than condensed energy, a wave that has collapsed.

        An observer at the quantum level changes the system, as the observer becomes part of that system.  It is observation that creates matter by collapsing the wave.

        At the Big Bang, unimaginable energy became entangled particles, creating a universe that is all one.

        Matter is no more than —

        The scout dropped below the clouds and landed.

        A barren landscape, broken only by strange gray structures with sloped, ridged sides.  The pilot said, her attempt at neutrality failing completely, “Here is where you get out, Mr. Anderson.”

        Philip put on his helmet, the pilot ran a check on his s-suit, and he entered the tiny airlock.  Outside, he walked toward the structures, almost stumbling in the light gravity.  His infrared augments saw no heat emanating from the structures, or from anywhere else.  Nothing grew, nothing moved but clouds, nothing but him made any sound.  This planet was dead.

        When he reached the first building, he touched it with one gloved hand, hoping forâ¦what?  Some unimaginable, transcending sensation, some signal, some recognition?  There was nothing.

        All right.  He had to do his part.

        He sat beside the structure and began to meditate.  This time, it came easily.  And after only a few minutes, it happened.  He reached past his conscious thoughts, deeper than his subconscious, into â¦.what?  There was no name for this.  “Metaconsciousness,” it turned out, was not even close.  No.  But whatever it was,  he was there.

        They were there.

        The presences, again faintly surprised, and then not.  Wordless, they recognized his existence.  Wordless, he recognized theirs: not human, neither young nor old in a realm where time was interchangeable with space, non-local as entanglement was always non-local, and yet concentrated in places where they, observers, had collapsed the wave.  Into matter?  No.  Into something indeterminately between matter and energy, as the quantum universe was until observed.  Into probability.

        The place was not inside the structures beside Philip.  There was machinery there, of some unimaginable type, but not presences.  The presences were in the gate above the alien planet.

        No — in all the gates. 

        They had created the gates, long ago, when they learned enough physics to build the translation machinery behind these walls.  The translation was from sentient consciousness to cosmic consciousness, perpetual observers who had died only in terms of matter.  They had known that infant humanity shared sentient consciousness, in a very primitive form.  They had created this gate for themselves, to inhabit, and other gates near planets habitable to humanity, should we ever need them.   Even though they thought humans would never get that far.

        Then, existing in the eternal now, they ignored Earth and its puny spawn.

        Yet here Philip was, to their astonishment, and then their curiosity.

        #

        “Captain, incoming probe.”

        Martinez had heard the Peregoy signal, followed now by the drone’s message: “Alert!  Alert!”  He read the data scrolling down the wall screen.  Enemy ships approached the space side of the gate, a fleet of four — the Landrys were determined to take this gate.  They had guessed, or learned, his strategy and were willing to lose a few ships in order to learn the position of his three vessels and annihilate them with their new beams.  Martinez could not hold out against warships equipped with the new weapon.

        He had three hours before making what had to be a suicide stand.

        “Mr. DiCaria, Captains Vondenberg and Murphy, prepare for incursion, and then fire at will.”

        Assents from captains of the Zeus and the Green Hills of Earth.  Martinez did not have to tell them how this would end.  They knew.

        #

        Philip understood now — although “understanding” was the wrong word for this wordless knowledge — what he had done before.  The Quasar III had been returned from matter  to energy and, later, gates had closed for eight hours, both events because he had briefly merged with the gates.  Briefly and wrongly.  Time was not the same within the gates; Philip had touched them so briefly that the gate presences had been aware something had happened but had not known what, or why.  Only here, at the gate by the planet where they had once lived, was he clear to them.  Here, by the machinery of translation.

        They did not know everything.  In fact, they knew nothing.  They didn’t know when ships passed through the gates, or failed to pass through.  They could have known, but they chose not to—why?

        He felt it.  A deeper level of reality, a substrate to the universe, which they chose to not inhabit.  Physicists — Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Bernard Haisch, Erik Verlinde, Anna Varennes — had long speculated that such a thing must exist, the field below the fields, the substrate to everything. 

        The presences knew it was there, and that it could control the gates.  It was what Philip had touched — briefly, wrongly, disastrously.

        #

        Martinez positioned his ships close to the eleventh gate, for maximum ability to take out enemy vessels as they came through.  He could do no more than that.

        Eighteen minutes remaining.

        #

        He asked “them”: Why?  And was surprised when they “answered.”

        To merge fully with the deepest level of reality was to become pure energy.  It was to lose all individuality.  It was to become one with everything, and so lose oneself.  Beyond satori, nirvana, moksha, enlightenment, beatitude, all of which were only pale and temporary shadows of the substrate.

        So the presences remained half-committed to their own translation, half in and half out, neither matter nor energy, indeterminate and without control. 

        He could not imagine anything more human.

        #

        Five minutes. 

        Martinez, superb at keeping his mind focused on the task at hand, nonetheless had a momentary, regretful thought: I would have made a worthy heir to the Peregoy empire.

        #

        The wall, on which Philip rested one gloved hand, dissolved so suddenly that he nearly toppled over.  No sound, no debris, nothing — a six-foot section of wall simply no longer existed. 

        Come.

        He knew what they meant: not merely Come inside, but Come to us.  Become one of them. 

        This was what he had sought for his whole life, had risked getting experimental brain implants for, had refused to give up in exchange for Julie.  To know their deeper level of reality.  And yet it was not the deepest.

        No, they said.  Because if he went past them, if he let the machinery translate him fully, he could not ever be one with them again.  They lived in the gates; he would become the gates, and everything else.  There was no return from that state.  He would be alone, the observer who collapsed the wave, so entangled with the multiple fields that generated the universe that he could never again communicate with those half-in, half-out.

        Next to that unimaginable solitude, it hardly mattered that his body would die.

        Over his helmet came the pilot’s voice.  “Anderson, you have fifteen minutes of air-conversion microbes left.  Return to the scout now.”

        Fifteen minutes?  He’d been here nearly ten hours?  But next to the choice facing him, it hardly mattered to him whether his body died.  It mattered far more that the interruption of the pilot’s voice had not shattered his trance.

        That was the moment he realized he’d already made his choice.

        #

        Three minutes. 

        #

         Philip walked into the structure, which immediately rematerialized behind.  The pilot was yelling now, but her actual words didn’t register.  They never would again.

        No.

        Yes.

        The machinery wasn’t, really.  It was shadowy arcs ofâ¦..something.  Probabilities, he guessed, and it was his last thought as Philip Anderson.  The arc took him.  There was no pain as he died.  He slipped from the meat that had encased his consciousness as easily as shedding a winter jacket in spring. 

        No.

        Yes.

        They were there, the inhuman presences who seemed so human — but for only a nanosecond.  Then the machinery, guided by his consciousness, slipped him deeper, and Philip Anderson merged with the most fundamental level of reality, beyond spacetime, beyond matter and energy, ineffable source of them both.

        #

        “Sir — the gate!”

        On the viewscreen, the shimmer of the eleventh gate brightened so much that Martinez shielded his eyes with his hand.  The light filled the bridge, almost a solid thing, before it faded as quickly as it had come. 

        The ship’s sensors showed nothing but the same quick, brilliant burst of inexplicable radiation in the wavelengths of visible light, a sun without heat or radiation.

        #

        He was the Observer in the system.  He was alone now, forever. 

        He saw everything, and was nothing, beyond both matter and energy.  He was pure probability, and he could collapse all probabilities.

        There was no “he.”

        The Observer sensed the presences in the gate — in all the gates — but they existed on a less fundamental plane, and were as different from the Observer as were all things made of matter, even approximate matter.  The Observer could see the system, could change the system, but could not communicate with its micro-components.  The Observer was not a presence but instead was woven into everything, just as Philip-that-once-was had dreamed of.

        Warships, machines of destruction, flew toward the tenth gate.  Memory, connections between particles that were only condensed energy, was scattered across the universe, but still entangled into an intact whole, knowing what warships meant.

         The Observer collapsed the wave.

        #

        One minute.

        No minutes. 

        Nothing came through the gate.  Why was the enemy delaying?  Martinez and DiCaria exchanged glances.  They waited, because there was nothing else to do.

        The scout pilot radioed.  “Sir — “

        “Not now, Cassidy.  Remain where you are.”

        Two hours later, Martinez let the scout return to the Skyhawk.  The pilot, shaken, reported that the bottle-cap-shaped building had opened, dragged Anderson inside, and closed again.  The timing coincided with the gate data going haywire.

        Martinez sent a probe to the gate.  It could not enter.  The gate had, once again, closed.

        “Captain?”  DiCaria’s voice vibrated with tension.

        “We wait some more,” Martinez said, because there was nothing else they could do.

        Six days later, they were still waiting.


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