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The Eleventh Gate: Chapter Twenty Five

       Last updated: Friday, May 8, 2020 09:50 EDT

 


 

EVERYWHERE

    The Observer is a pattern.  It had always been that, even when encased in a brain: a pattern of quanta within a field.  The Observer’s field, like any other field, makes up spacetime.  Electron field, Higgs field, photon field, more.

    Consciousness field.

    But this field is different from the others; it underlies all the rest.  It is the deepest level of reality, and the Observer is diffused throughout it, is it.  The Observer does not inhabit spacetime; it is integrated into spacetime, woven into a field that, before, it only glimpsed in erratic flashes.

    The Observer is an uncollapsed wave.

    It is the only consciousness “here,” at the deepest level of the deepest field, but it is not the only consciousness in the field.  Consciousness is a pattern.  There are more patterns in the field.

    In the gates are the Others, halfway translated into the field.   They are the gates, neither matter nor energy.  They stay there.  The Observer has gone so much deeper into the field that it has left them behind.

    There are also smaller patterns of consciousness, nodes in the field.  The patterns are contained in fleshy cases, and cannot escape into the universal field.  But these nodes are not completely contained.  Fields do not stop abruptly at boundaries.  The wavefunctions are concentrated in matter, but the tails of distribution go on, leaving their signatures.

    Once, the Observer was one of these.   It is aware of them now, as It is aware of all fields, of everything.

    29: THE ELEVENTH GATE

    Three months trapped behind the eleventh gate, and something shipboard was going to blow.  Martinez could feel it.

    He’d cut rations on all three ships to 1,000 calories a day.  Everyone had lost weight.  The barren, cloud-shrouded planet rotated below them; the inoperable gate shimmered in the black sky; there was nothing to see and nowhere to go.  Vondenberg and Murphy were holding discipline on their ships, following Martinez’s orders to keep everyone busy as much as possible.  Drills, further training, ship maintenance.  But on so little food, energy flagged.  Training and maintenance seemed pointless if they were all going to die of starvation.  DiCaria reported growing desperation among the crew.

    The probe that Martinez sent twice daily to the gate could not penetrate it.  Star-field calculations showed that the planet was hundreds of light years from the Eight Worlds.  The only way there was through the gate, and the gate was closed.

    Two expeditions to the surface had found nothing except the bottle-cap-shaped structures, which had no entrances.  As a last resort, Martinez planned on blowing them up from space, on the chance that machinery in there might be keeping the gates closed.  He hadn’t done so yet because what if machinery caused the gates, and taking the structures out meant that the gate disappeared entirely?  An attack on the structures right now would be premature.  The gate might still open spontaneously.  There was still a little time.

    But not much.

    On the Green Hills of Earth, a crewman was caught pilfering stores and court-martialed.  The officers, hungry and outraged and afraid of losing control, sentenced him to death.  Captain Vondenberg overruled her own court, locking the thief in the brig instead, and tensions were running high in the Zeus wardroom.

    On the Zeus, a young crewman killed himself.  He left a note: BETTER DEAD THAN THIS.  Captain Murphy, fairly new to command, seemed rattled when he reported the incident to Martinez.

    So Martinez was surprised when the crisis came not on either of the other two ships, but on his own.

    He was on the bridge and DiCaria With the conn when the alarms began.  Two blatts, then three, at maximum volume.  A hull breach.  His first, inanely dumb thought was: At least it provides something to do.

    The OOD said, “Section three cargo bay, sir, it’sâ¦fuck!”

    “Comet?  What?”

    “No.  Sensors show a perfectly square breachâ¦the hull’s been cut from the inside!”

    Martinez started running, snapping over his shoulder, “Evacuate and seal the section and get Security there.”

    By the time he reached section three cargo bay, the alarms had stopped.  The breach had been sealed by repair bots, the section re-aerated, and the crewman lay gasping on the floor, tangle-foamed wrists and ankles, still wearing an airmask.  His head was bloody.  The laser cutter had been kicked into a corner.  Three security crew stood over him.  The master-at-arms said, “He didn’t resist, sir, and he wasn’t armed.  But we hit him pretty hard and he’ll need a minute before he can talk.”

    “Good job, Helmsworth.  Get him to the brig.”

    “Yes, sir.  Sir, heâ¦he hasn’t ever been in trouble before.”

    Martinez looked at her.  She seemed to have lost more weight than most people; maybe she’d been really thin to begin with.  Her uniform hung on her.  From her expression, which she was trying and failing to control, Martinez guessed that she knew the gasping crewman well.

    Martinez said, “He’s in trouble now.”

    “Yes, sir.”  But her expression didn’t change.

    They were all, the whole fleet, in trouble now.

    Martinez commed the bridge.  “DiCaria, casualty reports from pressure loss.”

    “Two crew members in section three went unconscious from oxygen deprivation.  Both are recovering in medical bay and Dr. Glynn says preliminaries suggest no brain damage.  All else as usual.  Daily probe fired andâ¦oh!”

    Martinez said sharply, “DiCaria?” 

    “Sir, it went through,  The probe.  It went into the gate.”

    Without volition, Martinez felt his eyes close, open again.  “Wait for return of the probe.  I’m on my way.”

    He strode through the ship, crewmen flattening themselves against the walls of the narrow corridors out of his way.  Martinez barely saw them, and heard nothing.  The voice inside his head sounded too strong: Let the gate be truly open, let it stay open, let it be truly openâ¦

    It was, and it wasn’t.

    For the next hour, Martinez experimented, afraid that at any moment the gate would close again.  If Philip Anderson was somehow causing thisâ¦but Martinez didn’t believe the insane story Anderson had told him.  Woo-woo gobbledygook.  Still, the man could be alive down on the planet, inside a building and doing something to machinery.  No, he couldn’t be alive — what would he be eating?

    Probes went freely through the gate.  The scout from the Skyhawk did not.  The Skyhawk itself did not.  Neither did the Zeus nor the Green Hills of Earth.  Drones went through.  Martinez could send information by drone, but nothing else.  And who would he send information to?  Probe sensors showed no ships on the other side of the gate.  The Landry fleet, on the right side of the gate when it closed, had long since left.  All a probe could do was go back and forth through the gate, a yoyo on a pointless string.

    Martinez said, “Try a different scout.”

    The second scout failed to penetrate the gate.

    The third scout went through.

    Vondenberg, on viewscreen, said from the Green Hills of Earth, “Captain — scouts three, the two-man class-z’s, carry no beam weaponry!”

    Martinez said, “Launch your scout three.”

    It went through.  So did scout three from the Zeus.  The gate was permitting through only vessels not equipped with radiation weaponry.  Scout-three pilots carried sidearms, of course, but apparently those were undetectable by the gate.

    Or else the gate didn’t care about such minor weapons.

    A shiver ran over Martinez.  None of this made sense.  The probes that, for three solid months, had not carried weaponry hadn’t been able to pass through the gate.  Now they could.  So it was not just the presence of beam weaponry that determined penetration.  The gate had made a decision.

    But how long would that decision hold?

    Ten scouts left in his three-ship fleet.  Seven could hold four people; three were class-z two-seaters.  Even if you crammed in more peopleâ¦but the voyage from the other side of the eleventh gate to Prometheus, now a Landry world, took four weeks.  To new Utah, three months.  Everyone not on the scouts’ first trip would run out of food, or the scouts would.

    He could feel the tension on the bridge, pulling the air itself taut.

    He said, “Captain Murphy, immediately begin transfer by scout of everyone on the Zeus to the Green Hills of Earth and the Skyhawk, dividing personnel between them.  Also dismantle and eject all radiation weaponry from your ship.  Ask for a volunteer pilot and skeleton crew to attempt penetration of the gate.  Time is critical.”

    “Yes, sir!”

    Vondenberg said, “Captain, what about the torpedoes?.”

    “Yes,” Martinez said.  Torpedoes that could be armed with nuclear warheads were old-fashioned ordnance, not as accurate, immediate, or safe as radiation weaponry.  Few ships carried them since a PCSS cruiser had blown itself up in a freak, deep-space accident during training maneuvers.  The Zeus and Green Hills of Earth did not; the Skyhawk did, at Martinez’s insistence.  He believed in back-ups, even dangerous ones.  He said, “I think unarmed torpedoes will go through the gate — they don’t emit radiation until detonation.  If not, I’ll jettison those as well.”

    He meant: Unless it isn’t radiation signal the gates are objecting to but some even weirder woo-woo by something sentient.  He did not say this aloud.

    The transfer operation  took several hours.  Every thirty minutes, Martinez sent a probe through the gate and back again.   Their return should have been reassuring, but everyone knew the gate could close at any moment just as capriciously as it had opened. 

    When all but a skeleton crew had left the Zeus, Martinez sent the deweaponized warship toward the gate.  It disappeared.  Five minutes later, it reappeared, and the bridge of the Skyhawk broke into ragged, exhausted, hungry cheers.

    “Captain Vondenberg, are you prepared to deweaponize?”

     “Yes, sir.”

    “Begin immediately.  Captain Murphy, take your vessel back through the gate and wait.  Lieutenant Conway, begin ejection of Skyhawk weaponry.”

    Both the Green Hills of Earth and the Skyhawk, the latter with its torpedoes, glided easily through the gate.

    Martinez’s orders were to seize and hold the eleventh gate, but leaving even one of his warships armed and planetside would condemn its crew to starvation if the gate closed again.  If he left a ship spaceside, it would be unable to defend either itself or the gate.  The optimum plan, he’d decided, was take all three ships to New Utah to re-arm and re-supply there.  Then, if the gates had remained open, he could communicate with Sloan Peregoy and propose that he either return, armed, to the eleventh gate and defend it from the space side, or receive further orders from New California.  If the gates remained closed, then he would rearm, resupply, and send two of the ships back to the eleventh gate, with the third making regular supply runs from New Utah.  With closed gates, the war would essentially be over, and Martinez would, of necessity, be based forever at New Utah.  Nobody’s first choice, but there it was.

    The voyage would take three months.  Prometheus was only one month out, but it was a Landry world now.  The Landry fleet would have gone there after its commander got tired of waiting for the eleventh gate to re-open.  They might have moved on after that — if the Prometheus gate had also re-opened.  If not, the enemy ships would still be there, subsisting on whatever supplies the research station had in storage.  Martinez had no doubt that the Peregoy scientists at the station had all been killed.

    He had calculated his fleet’s food supply; if everyone alternated days of one-third and one-half rations, they could just make it to new Utah.  No one would be in good shape, but they would be alive.  Martinez would leave armed drones on the planetside of the gate, ready to fire at anything coming through that was not emitting a pre-arranged signal.  It was the best he could do.

    He had no idea what they would find on New Utah.  Was it only this gate, so close to the impenetrable structures on the planet’s surface, that was passable?  Or would the New Utah-New Yosemite gate also open to unarmed ships?  Were radiation weapons somehow closing gates through some fluke of physics, or were the closings a conscious attempt to stop an interplanetary war?

    A conscious attempt by what

    After the Skyhawk, denuded of radiation weapons but full of renewed hope, emerged from the gate into deep space, Martinez sent a final probe back toward the gate.  It could not get in.  The planet behind the gate had been sealed off. 

    Everyone on the bridge fell silent, the uncomfortable silence of people whose knowledge of the world had just undergone a tectonic shift.  Finally Martinez said, “Course for New Utah.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    Anderson, was that you?

    Ridiculous.

    But —


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