The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 26
At the water’s edge she sank gracefully onto the sand, her filmy skirt billowing around her. “We can talk here. The surf masks pretty much all sound. But cover your mouth, like this, so your lips can’t be seen.”
“Rachel — is all this necessary?”
“Yes. I need to ask you some questions, and to give you some vital information. What happened to you on Fourmonth 16 five years ago? And at what exact time, Earth-standard?”
Philip stiffened. How had she known that? Tara, of course. But why did she, another materialist like Julie, want to know with such evident intensity?
Fuck it. He saw no reason not to tell her. “I had a mystical experience. I touched something out there that I’m now calling the metaconsciousness. Go ahead, roll your eyes.”
She didn’t. “What happened four weeks after your surgery? No, don’t ask questions yet, just tell me.”
“I touched it again.” After sex with Julie, he didn’t say.
“And on Fourmonth 5 of this year?”
“Yes. Rachel –“
“Tell me everything about those experiences. Don’t leave anything out, especially not exact dates and times. It’s vital, Philip, to every one of the Eight Worlds.”
Bewildered, he told her. Her manner as she listened was so different from the last time they’d talked, so attentive, that he gave her all of it: the presences, the image of the door — “My image, not theirs” — the many failures, this morning’s flicker of success before her guards interrupted him. He finished with, “They’re there, Rachel. I’m not crazy. They exist, both as metaconsciousness and in or near a physical place. I had a brief impression of aridity, lifelessness, vague rounded shapes — I know how that sounds. But I am not crazy.”
“No. I wish you were. It would be easier.” Then she was silent so long that Philip scowled.
“All right, your turn. Talk. What is this about?”
She dug her fingers deep into the blue sand. “You know that the biggest mystery about the gates, other than how they work, is why they exist only beside planets on which humans can live. The odds of that occurring naturally are….well, greater than the number of stars in the universe. It can’t be a natural phenomenon.
“On Fourmonth 16 five years ago at 16:03 standard, a Freedom Enterprises drone entered the Galt-Polyglot gate and never came out. At first we Landrys thought that Peregoy Corporation had something to do with the disappearance, but no Peregoy ships were anywhere near there, and it never happened again. We didn’t Link anything about the accident because there was, literally, no information.
“On Fourmonth 5 of this year, the Prometheus gate, which Freedom Enterprises now controls, closed for eight hours and sixteen minutes. Just closed up, so that no ships could enter it. That started, as close as I can discover, around one in the morning, Galt time.
“Before that, four weeks after your surgery, something else happened. A Peregoy cargo vessel, the Quasar III, entered the New California-Polyglot gate and disappeared. Never emerged on the Polyglot side. The Quasar III carried a crew of four, now presumably all dead.”
“No. No. That wasn’t me!”
“Are you sure?”
He wasn’t. His mind raced. Five years ago, his first mystical experience, on the beach at New Chengdu. Four weeks post-surgery, lying with Julie after sex, loose and free and gone, immersing himself in the shimmer. Fourmonth 5, when he lay all night in the field beside the university and, for the first time, fully touched what lay below all known reality. A door, a portal, that he’d felt open, and close. He put his hands over his face.
Rachel pulled them away. “No time for grief now. It wasn’t anything you did deliberately. Philip, listen to me…can you control what you do to the gates?”
“Can you learn to control it?”
“I don’t know! And how many people will die while I practice? Only…”
“Only what? Tell me!”
“Last time, I almost touched…no, I did touch the metaconsciousness. There was a…a beckoning. To a place they exist. Materially, I mean. Or did exist. Or something.”
Above the ocean, something sped toward them, low over the water and very fast.
Rachel seized his arm. “Quick, we don’t have much time. If you went to that place, do you think you could improve your control over the gates?”
“I don’t know. How could I know? Where is such a place? Rachel, this is crazy!”
“You think I don’t know that? But we don’t have much choice. I think your place is the new planet, the one behind the eleventh gate. The gate that started this war.”
And all at once, Philip knew that it was. That’s where they were, the Others. That was the beckoning.
The speeding craft was a drone, closer now. Rachel said directly into his ear, “I’m going to send you there. You’re going to learn, as fast as possible, to control the gates. And then close them all.”
“You heard me. No, don’t tell me how ridiculous that is. It’s our only chance.”
“Our only chance of what? And how can you send me to the new planet — don’t the Peregoys control it?”
“Yes. You and I are going to Polyglot. Sloan Peregoy is still there. We’re going to bargain with him.”
Philip just stared at her. The drone circled, flew in to descend beside them.
“Quick, they’re almost here. That thing can hear a whisper a mile off. Kiss me.”
“It’s the only cover I can think of. She’ll believe it.” She leaned toward him.
Her lips were dry, thin, old. Her spindly arms went around him with surprising strength. Philip was afraid of hurting her. But her voice was just as strong as her arms. “It’s my granddaughter, Jane. We have to get to your ‘presences’ and close the gates, Philip. Jane is building more ships and K-weapons. She’s preparing to destroy the Peregoy fleet and, after that, every last city on New California.”