The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 21


World government was never really either.

Sloan Peregoy, seated as a not-at-all-welcome guest at the Polyglot Council of Nations, watched Council members file in, most of them a few minutes late.  Inexcusable — everyone knew this was a critical session for the entire Eight Worlds, even though this “government” had limited power over the actual government of Polyglot’s twenty-six nations.  Two of those nations didn’t even belong to the Council, maintaining some sort of ethnic purity by limiting contact with everybody else.  Ridiculous.  A planet couldn’t be governed efficiently and benevolently when twenty-four city-states had to argue over every detail.  Not that Sloan, right now, could be considered a “detail.”

The delegates wore a bizarre variety of business tunics and what Sloan supposed were “native costumes” from old Earth — why?  It had been a hundred fifty years since the Escape began.  If Samuel Peregoy had been the first to claim Polyglot instead of that lunatic nationalist Patrick Fenton, this planet would look much different now.  Assimilation aided identity and reduced conflict.

Conflict…but he wasn’t going to think now about SueLin and her ridiculous “resistance.”

“Greetings, Director Peregoy,” said this year’s Council president Allie Bakshi, a middle-aged woman in a crimson sari.  Another problem with Polyglot: a different leader every two years disrupted any continuity of policy.  And not everyone in the Council spoke English.  Sloan saw no translators except his own; they were probably linked to their principals through earplants.  Ridiculous.  A planet should have a universal tongue.

However, Sloan did approve of the Council chamber.   Made of stone and foamcast, it somehow managed to look impressive without ostentation or wasted expense.  A high, wide dome roofed with invisible plastiglass, so that it seemed they were under open sky.  Unadorned white columns in a colonnade around the perimeter, with the huge circular table, a hollow O, in the center.  To one side was an observer or guest section behind a low polished railing.  The only decorations were tubs of healthy native plants from the different island nations of Polyglot.  Simple and yet majestic, conveying authority.  Sloan would tell his architects.

President Bakshi rose and made a ritual speech in excellent, musically accented English.  A few minutes into her remarks, a ripple of astonishment spread around the table and through the subordinates in the colonnade.  Sloan turned to follow the gazes.  Rachel Landry and two bodyguards walked toward the table.

Sloan felt his upper lip lift and his nostrils spread.  Almost a low growl formed in the back of his throat.  He controlled himself, betraying nothing.  What was she doing here?  She must have come the long way around, through the Galt-Earth gate to Terra and then the Earth-Polyglot gate.  Damn the Council for insisting that he delay his presentation a week until every single last member had arrived from their insignificant nations!

A man stopped Rachel Landry and spoke to her.  She nodded.  The two bodyguards left; personal security was not permitted in the chamber, and weapons nowhere on Council grounds.  Although there was no telling what hidden and unknowable weapons Landry had on her person; everyone knew it was unregulated mayhem on Galt.  And this woman had somehow devised a way to destroy an entire cargo ship during transit through a gate.

President Bakshi spoke to the Landry woman, after which she was permitted to take a seat in the same guest section as Sloan, although not beside him.  Several other people sat between them.   President Bakshi resumed her place at the table, still standing.

“You all know why we are here,” she said in English.  “Director Peregoy, of Peregoy Corporation, has traveled from New California to defend Peregoy Corporation against the grave charge of violating Polyglot neutrality.  This is not a trial, but Director Peregoy understands that he could be detained on Polyglot if the Council so votes, until Peregoy Corporation ends its illegal seizure of the Polyglot-Galt gate and also pays sufficient reparations to Polyglot.  These acts are unprecedented in the history of the Eight Worlds, and all Council members are encouraged to not underestimate their significance.  Then, quite unexpectedly but in the interest of fairness, we will hear from Rachel Landry, CEO of Freedom Enterprises and head of the Landry Libertarian Alliance.  Director Peregoy, you may begin.”

Not an impartial introduction, but no more than Sloan had expected.  The faces watching him, brown and black and white, were wary and hard-eyed.  It was important that he not underestimate them, even though he considered them a disorganized pack of misbegotten idealists, surviving only because Polyglot happened to be the largest, lushest, and best favored of planets.

“Members of the Council of Nations, thank you for allowing me on Polyglot and for agreeing to hear me this afternoon.  President Bakshi has named a grave act on the part of Peregoy Corporation, and she is correct.  I very much appreciate the opportunity to explain to you three circumstances concerning Peregoy violation of Polyglot neutrality.

“The first you already know, although perhaps not in detail.  Peregoy Corporation declared war on the Landry empire — a war we did not start.  A Peregoy ship, the Samuel Peregoy, went through the new gate discovered beyond Prometheus, and discovered there a small orbital around a new planet.  A scout ship made contact with the orbital and one man boarded it.  Immediately afterward he, the scout, and the Peregoy cruiser were blown up by a bomb on the booby-trapped orbital — a Landry bomb.  We have proof of this, and the Landrys have never denied it.”

Sloan paused and looked directly at Rachel Landry.  All gazes followed his.  If she denied it, he had the recordings to play.  Revealing her to be a liar, in addition to a murderer, could only help his cause.

She said nothing.

Sloan continued.  “Three hundred people died aboard the Samuel Peregoy, including my cousin Magda Peregoy.  If that had been a Polyglot cruiser wantonly destroyed, what would the response of Polyglot have been?  You are a neutral planet — but in the face of a direct, brutal attack on a Polyglot ship, would you not have responded?  Your citizens depend on their leaders for their safety, each and every precious life in each and every one of Polyglot’s twenty-four nations.”

There — an appeal to nationalism, a driving force on Polyglot.  Nationalism stupidly fragmented worlds, but it was useful to Sloan now.

“But why, you’re probably asking, wage this war by taking the Polyglot-Galt gate, violating Polyglot neutrality?  The second circumstance guided that decision.  You know that the first battle of this war occurred at the Prometheus gate, Polyglot territory under lease to Peregoy Corporation.  We lost that battle, and the gate.  What you may not know is that the Landrys deployed a new weapon, which we have since learned they call the ‘K-beam,’ with a firing range much greater than anything possessed by either the Peregoy or Polyglot fleets.  This weapon is, quite literally, capable of defeating any ship anywhere in space — which of course includes Polyglot’s four gates.  Peregoy Corporation decided it must act quickly to protect both our planets and Polyglot, and so took the Galt-Polyglot gate to prevent any ships equipped with this weapon from attacking Polyglot neutrality, on which we all depend.  The only way to protect Polyglot is to wait on your side of the gate and destroy any Landry ships coming through from Galt before they can deploy this brutal new weapon.”

A rising murmur among the Council.  Before it could swell, Sloan held up his hand.  “So why didn’t we inform Polyglot of this weapon and let them decide if they wished Peregoy to defend your planet?  No time.  We had no idea when the Landry Alliance would attack next, or with what.  And subsequent events proved us right.  But before I get to that, the third circumstance, let me say that, even if time-driven, Peregoy Corporation’s unilateral decision to take the Polyglot-Galt gate was a violation of Polyglot’s rights, for which I’m prepared to make reparations.  For every Polyglot ship carrying goods to a Peregoy world, Peregoy Corporation will pay ten percent over and above the goods’ value.  Half of that will go to whatever entity, whether corporation or state, is registered as the vessel’s owner.  The other half will be paid directly to the Council of Nations.  Thus will Peregoy Corporation demonstrate its good faith toward, and solidarity with, Polyglot.”

A cacophony of voices.  Again, Sloan held up his hand. 

“Please, let me finish.  The third and most damning circumstance is yet to be named — although I know that you already are aware of it.  The Peregoy cargo vessel Quasar III was destroyed within the Polyglot-New California gate by yet another new Landry weapon.  Your own surveillance drones, like ours, have shown that.  The Quasar III entered the gate on the New California side, and never came out the Polyglot side.  Why do I think that the vessel’s destruction was caused by a Landry weapon?  Because Peregoy Corporation, obviously, would not destroy our own ship.  Nor would neutral Polyglot.  In a hundred fifty years, no gate has ever malfunctioned.  That leaves the Landrys, with whom my corporation is at war.  What is the obvious conclusion?

“And who is next?  One of your ships, to bring Polyglot under Landry control?  Libertarians, as you well know, do not believe in the rule of law, only in individual self-interest.  If Polyglot is vulnerable, they will take it.  And more lives will be lost, lives like these.”

Sloan held out a portable holoprojector and activated it.  Four holos jumped out, life-sized on the Council chamber floor.  Two older men, a middle-aged woman, and a young man.  “Captain Joshua Murphy of New California, commanding the Quasar III.  Warranty Officer Chloe Wang of New California.  Spacer first class David Twenge of New Yosemite.” 

As he named each, the holo disappeared, leaving only the last, a handsome young man with pale brown skin, very white teeth, and a mop of thick hair.  He smiled from his illusion of light, then waved one hand.

“Spacer Scott Richard Schneider, of Zuhause, Polyglot.”

Now the cacophony was unrestrained.  Zuhause was among the richest of Polyglot’s nations.  Schneider’s expression was eager, open, a young person avid for life.  A citizen of Polyglot’s largest nation, New America, would have been better, but Sloan was glad to have gotten Schneider.

Over the clamor rose a single voice, climbing to a shriek.  “No!” Rachel Landry screamed.  “It wasn’t us!  There was…once before…Tara…”

She clutched at her chest, staggered sideways, and fell.

People rushed to her.  For a moment, indignation held Sloan immobile — how dare she steal his speech like that?  And with a staged, melodramatic collapse?  Then he saw that it was not staged.  Rachel Landry, a decade older than Sloan, had had a heart attack.

For an instant, mortality brushed him with cold wings.  Then he stepped forward, pasting concern onto his face.  “A doctor!  Send for a doctor!”

His mind raced, calculating whether it would be better or worse if Rachel Landry died.  Would that create a martyr?  Or create weakness on Galt due to confusion and rivalry among the Landry granddaughters?

How should he play this now?