The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 04
3: DEEP SPACE
The Peregoy cruiser approached the uncharted eleventh gate. There — it showed on the viewscreen, a gorgeous lacy shimmer against the blackness of space, its sensory data creating the same incomprehensible pattern as the other gates. David Gordon’s fists balled in excitement.
David wasn’t captain on the Samuel Peregoy; Sloan hadn’t agreed to that. Well, much as David had wanted to captain her, the decision made sense. He’d never had the conn on something as big as this; the ship was undoubtedly armed in ways David wasn’t familiar with; Sloan wanted to control, if only by proxy, whatever action might lay on the other side of this new gate. Peregoys were big on control.
At the command console on the spacious bridge sat Captain Magda Peregoy, some distant relative of Sloan’s. Keep it all in the family. David had always thought it was weird the way all Peregoy kin had that same last name no matter who their other parent was. So did the Landrys. Arrogant — not that arrogance was always a bad thing.
He sat beside the captain, watching the gate grow from an instrument detection to that mysterious shimmer an irregular kilometer across. Unlike many spacers, David had never tried to understand how or why the gates existed. The best guess was something to do with plasma cosmology and the quantum flux, whatever that meant. It didn’t matter. The only things that mattered were that the gate existed, he had found it, and it was going to make him some degree of rich, depending on the planet that lay on the other side. It might be lush and fertile, a new part of the Peregoy empire, with David receiving a percentage of all immigration fees. It might be useful for mining. It might — worst case — be fit only for tourist viewing from orbit if, say, it was in such early formation that it was geologically violent. David would still get a percentage of fees. But he expected better than that; all planets beside gates had, so far, been habitable by humans even if, like the Landry mining planet New Hell, only barely.
“Thar she blows,” David said. The captain and her crew ignored him. Maybe they didn’t get the reference, or maybe they were just as much uptight pricks as Sloan Peregoy. No matter.
Sloan knew his business. David, accustomed to the bureaucratic licensing delays and credit problems that were the inevitable fate of his small-time expeditions from Polyglot, had been astonished at how fast Sloan had been able to create this enterprise. Less than a week to equip the ship with personnel and supplies. Then a few days on conventional drive through the New California-Polyglot gate. A week to the Polyglot-Prometheus gate, farther away from Polyglot than any other gate from its planet. Why? No one knew. From the dwarf planet Prometheus, an entire month in deep space to this lonely shimmer much farther from Prometheus than other gates from their planets.
The executive officer said, “Captain, there’s a ship following us.”
“Just a minute…got it. Class 6A vessel.”
It was a small Landry ship. But then, David already knew that. Only–the ship was supposed to be here already, waiting at the gate, not just arriving. Certainly not behind the Samuel Peregoy. That was the plan.
The captain said, “Full speed ahead. We can reach the gate first.”
Disaster! The Samuel Peregoy would reach the gate first, go through, and claim the gate — depriving David of his chance to be part of history. And Tara had planned this so carefully! The Landry ship was supposed to be waiting at the gate. It was supposed to pass through simultaneously with the Peregoy ship, and both families would thus own the gate and the planet beyond. They would be forced to cooperate, which would be the opening wedge to defuse a rivalry growing steadily more dangerous. And David would be a part of that. He would be a fucking hero.
Although, on second thought…maybe this was better. In Tara’s plan, all the money to be made from a new gate and a new planet would be split between the ruling families, with David taking his percentage from the Peregoy share. But if the Samuel Peregoy went alone through the eleventh gate, only Peregoy Corporation — which meant Sloan — would own the discovery. David’s take had just doubled. Of course, now the new gate wouldn’t help bring peace…but hadn’t the Eight Worlds managed for a hundred fifty years to avoid an actual war? A few skirmishes in space, money spent building weapons, a lot of tension…but no war. It could just go on like that. Maybe this was better.
The exec said, “Gate perimeter imminent.”
The captain said, “Proceed through.”
The passage felt like nothing much: a shimmer on the screen, a nanosecond blip on the sensors, no different from any other gate. As a citizen of neutral Polyglot, David had gone through Peregoy gates and Landry gates. He hadn’t yet gone through this one, nor even approached it ever before — despite the lies he’d told Sloan. Only Tara had gone through, when she first found this gate. She could have claimed it for the Landrys but instead had chosen to set in motion this idealistic plot. When she hired David to approach Sloan, he’d been a little surprised at her scheme; when he’d known her on Polyglot, she hadn’t seemed like the idealistic type. They’d had some good evenings in bars, some athletic sex, but then she’d fallen hard for some visiting lecturer at the university and tossed him out of her bed. Still, they’d kept in touch, and she’d always been interested in David’s spacer exploits, especially the ones a bit outside the law.
“We’re through, captain,” the exec said. And then, unable to keep surprise out of his voice, “Object just ahead!”
David felt his mouth form an O. Not possible.
No human had been through this gate except Tara, once and very briefly. That’s what she’d told him. That meant this object was…had to be…
The object, magnified, skimmed across a viewscreen. David couldn’t get a clear idea of its size. But it was clearly in orbit around the planet ahead, which showed heavy cloud cover. The orbital was cylindrical, featureless except for a short projection that was — had to be — a landing dock.
An alien landing dock. How had Tara not seen this? But she’d said she only stayed a moment beyond the gate, and the orbital might have been on the other side of the planet. But an orbital this close to the gate meant that the aliens — unthinkable word! — knew about the gate. Why hadn’t they ever gone through it? Why were they unknown to the human universe?
It didn’t make sense.
Captain Peregoy’s voice held the undertones of someone exerting control to keep herself steady. “If we see them, they see us. Initiate contact.”
The exec started a pre-recorded message. Someone had planned for the improbable. The message sounded on the bridge and, David guessed, went out to the orbital on all possible wavelengths. First were tones giving a sequence of prime numbers, repeated twice, and then, “This is the Peregoy Corporation Space Service ship Samuel Peregoy, Captain Magda Peregoy commanding. We come in peace. Please answer.”
On the bridge, tension prickled like heat.
The exec said, “No other objects detected in orbit, ma’am.”
The orbital disappeared behind the planet, then reappeared. The exec said, “Length is ten meters, diameter four meters.”
The thing was small — smaller than Sloan’s office. The message from the Samuel Peregoy repeated constantly for an hour. Were they conferring, down there on the planet? As it turned, David glimpsed the blue of ocean, plus a brown tip of land mostly still under cloud cover. Was anyone there? Maybe this was the sole orbital still in the sky after the civilization that put it there had decayed or perished. After all, that had happened on Earth. Only semi-savages were left on Earth, people whose culture had degenerated to practically iron age. David had read once, or maybe been told, that all sentient civilizations unable to spread to other planets would eventually destroy their own. Too many beings using up too many resources.
Captain Peregoy said, “Prepare to launch a scout to rendezvous with orbital.”