The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 28
One week. That was the time for the Peregoy vessel carrying Philip Anderson to reach the Polyglot-Prometheus gate, pass through to Prometheus, and then begin the four-week trip into deep space to reach the eleventh gate. Five weeks total, and Rachel could think of nothing else. Which was unfortunate because there was a lot else to think of.
Three days after she left Polyglot, she still felt weak. However, business did not wait for weakness to pass. Rachel worked from her penthouse apartment in the Landry compound. People came and went. She was no longer CEO, but courtesy reports came in from Annelise and — more important — from Rachel’s private intel networks, unknown to Annelise or Jane. Sometimes it was useful to know what was going on that her granddaughters and Freedom Enterprises VIPs might not wish to share. Between bouts of work, Rachel raised her eyes to the window, watching a storm gather over the plains to the west. High anvil clouds — there would be thunder and lightning.
“House, open the study window.” All at once she wanted to feel the gathering humidity, the electric tingle in the air. It rushed in, warmer than usual, heavy with coming rain. Rachel breathed deeply. How long since she’d stood outside in a thunderstorm, letting it pelt her, laughing at the sky?
Years. Decades. She was so old.
The door said, “Terry Mwambe asking for admittance.”
Mwambe, one of the most trusted people in Rachel’s private network, entered the room. If it was useful to know what things were going on, it was even more useful to have people who could do something about those things.
“Ma’am,” Mwambe said. He was tall, strong, augmented, with very dark skin and hair dyed bright red. Hardly inconspicuous, but that was intentional. Hide in plain sight.
Rachel said, “SueLin Peregoy?”
“Delivered and received on the designated orbital. Operation completed as planned.”
“Thank you.” Sloan had his granddaughter back, and Philip Anderson was launched on his incomprehensible mission. Rachel dismissed Mwambe and turned to something she could understand, the Freedom Enterprises aggregate quarterly audit.
She scowled. Something here was not right. The audit flagged huge withdrawals from Caitlin’s personal account, which Caitlin had a right to do, supplemented by smaller, discrete transfers from general operating funds, which she did not. The funds had then been paid to a number of companies, none of which made sense. Rachel summoned her.
While she waited, she lifted her hair off the back of her neck; air from the open window was so hot. Unusual for Galt, which had such a small axial tilt that it was seasonless, a constant paradise. But even paradise had weather fronts. Rachel didn’t close the window. The garden fragrances were worth the heat and humidity.
Caitlin arrived and hugged her. “Gran! You’re looking much better.”
“And you’re a sweet liar.”
Caitlin grinned. It was an old joke between them: Even as a child, Caity had only lied to make other people feel better, never to save herself from punishment. Rachel looked at her granddaughter with pleasure. Caitlin wore a pale long tunic of some synthetic material so light that it floated with every movement, along with a complicated necklace of pale stones. She looked cool and competent, but without Annelise’s rigidity. She also looked defiant in a Caity sort of way, without belligerence.
Rachel said, “So what are you building at the university that you haven’t told me about?” The funds had gone to contractors, some of whose companies had not existed a few months ago.
Caitlin said, “It’s not at the university. It’s at the refugee camp.”
“So I suspected. Tell me, Caitlin, as you should have done before now.”
“I don’t have to report how I spend my personal monies.”
“No. But you’ve transferred funds from Freedom Enterprises.”
“Yes. I was going to tell you about those, as soon as you got stronger. I didn’t realize you’d recovered so quickly.”
Rachel hadn’t, but she knew she looked as if she were more healthy than she actually was. Caitlin leaned forward and put her hand on Rachel’s arm. “Gran, I was making conditions tolerable for the refugees. Basic housing, food, medical care. You didn’t see the conditions at those camps.”
“The refugees should have stayed on Rand. Millions did, helping the plague-containment effort instead of abandoning it. The refugees made their own choices. They were told that the economy here couldn’t absorb them, but they came anyway.”
“And mostly sold everything to do that. They were protecting their children!”
No use to argue with Caitlin about kids. She went soft and mushy over them, and why hadn’t she produced any of her own? Rachel knew the answer: Caitlin was a secret romantic. She’d waited — maybe still was waiting — for the right father, and he had never appeared.
Rachel said, “When did all this begin?”
“Months ago. Two women at one of the camps got so desperate that they threw themselves under a maglev to bring attention to conditions in the camp. They killed themselves.”
“I remember the propaganda holos. I also remember that a refugee camp held two charity workers hostage and then mysteriously let them go. Did you pay a ransom?”
“No,” Caitlin said. “That would only encourage more kidnapping. I don’t know what happened there.”
At least Caitlin’s charity hadn’t overrun her common sense.
Rachel changed tactics. “All right, you established free services at the refugee camps. That doesn’t account for the enormous sums that went into ‘Dyer Foamcast Contracting,’ which doesn’t exist.”
“No. I had to create a company that would get past Annelise’s accounting programs, at least for a short while. Dyer Contracting is a shell to buy passage on various small cargo vessels that normally carried trade to and from Polyglot. Since Peregoys captured the gate, many ships are idle. They’re glad of the business.”
“You’re paying to send the refugees back to Rand. With your own money — and mine — on small cargo vessels.”
“Jane has commandeered everything that can be retrofitted as warships.” Caitlin’s grasp on Rachel’s arm tightened; her voice vibrated with passion. “Gran, these are our people. They can’t just rot here, away from their homes.”
“Caitlin, these are individuals who made their own choices, bad or not, and it’s not your job to rescue them.” But Rachel knew her voice lacked conviction.
Caitlin knew it, too. She stroked her grandmother’s hair. “I’m sorry you found out this way, Gran. I was going to tell you.”
“After the rescue operation was over.”
“Well — after it was far enough along to finish up successfully.” Caitlin grinned. She had a fine grin.
Rachel said, “I don’t know.”
“Don’t know what, Gran?”
“Anything.” Philip Anderson. “I don’t know anything at all anymore.”
“You’re tired. Shall I take you home? Do you want me to call for a gurneybot?”
“Not that tired. I’m just going to take a nap on that sofa.”
Caitlin could take a hint. She left, kissing her grandmother tenderly. The light material floated around her young body. Young? Yes, thirty-five was still young. Ninety-six was not.
Rachel lay on the sofa. Beyond the window, the sky at the horizon has whitened to the color of bone, the clouds are piled even higher, but the storm hasn’t broken.
Not yet, Rachel thought. Not quite yet.