The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 07

Rachel said, “Are the refugees mistreating the charity workers or threatening to kill them?”

“No, of course not!”  Annelise actually sounded shocked; a free people did not terrorize each other.

“Then tell Jane no.  The charity workers assumed the responsibility for going to the refugee camp, which means they assumed the consequences.  But I want you to do two things, Annelise.  Offer to loan refugees the cost of passage back to Rand now that the plague is over, provided that each one who accepts will sign a contract to repay over ten years at six percent interest.  Second, hire a group to go to Rand in order to survey schools.  I want a report on the state of teaching of, and adherence to, Libertarian principles.  At every age level.”

“Got it,” Annelise said.  “Did you ask Caitlin about Tara?”

This was a concession.  Paul’s five daughters mostly did not get along well with each other — and why was that?  It was a mystery to Rachel, since each one alone was competent and even — periodically, at least — lovable, but none argued as much as Annelise and Caitlin.  Caitlin, president of John Galt University, constantly wanted more money to run it than Annelise would put in the corporate budget.  “A university is no different from any other institution,” Annelise always said.  “It should be self-sufficient.” 

“Only someone completely ignorant of higher education would think that,” Caitlin retorted.

“I wouldn’t know, since I never attended your university, did I?  I was too busy taking over the business and raising three children.”

“Your choice, right?”

Sometimes Rachel just wanted her granddaughters to shut up.

However, Caitlin was the only sister that Tara would even speak to.  Tara seemed to respect Caitlin, who was less dogmatic than Annelise or Celia, less harshly judgmental than Jane.  Caitlin reported that Tara had asked her all kinds of questions about the field of biology.

Rachel took a corporate flier the short distance to the university.  Caitlin was teaching the one class she’d kept in addition to her administrative duties.  It soothed Rachel to slip into the back and listen to the serious questions posed by these advanced students, even though Rachel knew next to nothing about virology.

“Hello, Gran,” Caitlin said after everyone had left.  She was pretty enough but not as stunningly beautiful as her four sisters.  Her features, except for her unusually sweet smile, were unmemorable, and the bright green eyes of the others were faded to hazel with green flecks.  Intelligent and imaginative, she’d been trained as a virologist and had chosen the academic life over business, and she ran Galt University to very high standards.  But it was Caitlin’s sense of balance that Rachel valued most.  Balance sometimes seemed in short supply among the Landrys.

She was also perceptive.  “Gran — is anything wrong?”

A lot was wrong, but Rachel confined herself to the immediate problem.  “Have you seen Tara?  Or heard from her?  She’s been gone for months.”

“No.  Did you send a tracer to Polyglot?”

“No.  Should I?”  Getting a message to Polyglot meant sending a ship or a drone with the physical embodiment of the data through the Galt-Polyglot gate, then beaming it down to the Landry embassy on Polyglot, which would then trace Tara.  To contact New Hell, two gates away, was even more cumbersome and time-consuming.  Somebody needed to invent the ansible. 

Rachel said, “Why do you think Tara might be on Polyglot?”

Caitlin hesitated.  Rachel put a hand on her granddaughter’s arm.

“Caity, if you know something, tell me.  I’m getting really worried about her.”

 “Well… all right.  Yes.  You remember I told you that Tara showed this sudden interest in biology, asking me all these questions, which I thought was pretty uncharacteristic.  It turns out she’s in love with some biologist on Polyglot.”

“In love?  And she wanted it kept secret?  Is he a Peregoy?”

“No, of course not.  He’s a Polyglot citizen.  But apparently he’s not in love with her and she’s doing everything she can to interest him.”

Rachel didn’t like the sound of that — with Tara, “everything she can” could be extreme.  “What’s his name?”

“I have only a first name: Philip.  From the kind of questions Tara asked, he might be involved in some sort of environmental applications of biology, rather than pure research.”

It wasn’t much.  But it was more than Rachel had had before.  Only…

An embassy tracer might not be enough.  She would have to send someone to Polyglot to find Tara, or at least this “Philip.”

No — she would have to go herself.  If Philip knew anything, he would be most likely to tell a distraught grandmother, not a stranger unconnected with Tara.

At the thought of leaving Galt, even on a mission like this, Rachel felt her spirits lift.  She could have a short respite from the growing list of problems on the Landry worlds.  Maybe even a chance to talk with a few physicists on neutral Polyglot, see if her knowledge of physics was as outdated as she thought.  She could learn the latest research on the many mysteries of the gates.  Maybe there were even new ideas on the biggest of those mysteries: why gates formed only beside human-habitable planets.  Yes.

On the way back to corporate headquarters, Rachel wondered if the protestors were still waving signs and chanting, demanding things be given to them.  Determined to bring down her society and its Libertarian principles.

The flier skimmed toward headquarters.  The protestors were still there.