The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 29
24: THE ELEVENTH GATE
Martinez, fortunately, was already on the bridge when his farside scout emerged from the gate, emitting the pre-arranged Peregoy signal. The scout pilot commed his alert: “Polyglot vessel approaching the gate! Coming from Prometheus gate. Class 6A ship.”
A small Polyglot vessel? Neutral Polyglot, and coming from Prometheus? The loss of the Prometheus gate to the Landrys still stung. He said, “Approach distance?”
The scout pilot gave it: thirty hours out. Martinez had two scouts and three unmanned probes on the space side of the eleventh gate. The second scout would already be moving toward New Utah, away from any danger. Was Polyglot now in alliance with the Landrys?
There was nothing to do but wait. Surprise was his only advantage. Possibly the Landry vessel didn’t know Martinez was here. He could hit the ship as it came through the gate, before it had a chance to assess the Skyhawk’s position and deploy its new long-range weapon, if it had one. Could the new weapon even be fitted onto a small vessel rather than a warship? Martinez didn’t know but was taking no chances. His orders were to allow through the gate nothing but Peregoy vessels emitting the coded signal. He watched the exec’s instruments, trained on the delicate shimmer of the stargate.
Thirty hours later, a drone emerged and was immediately vaporized — but not before the Skyhawk had detected the Peregoy signal.
The artillery officer burst out with, “What the hell!”
Indeed. Had the Landrys cracked the signal? It was changed every day, based on a randomly generated program known to only Martinez and Peregoy headquarters. Had New California been taken by the Landrys? Was this the end of the war, and Peregoy Corporation the loser?
The drone had not been able to send position data back through the gate. Whoever sent it couldn’t know the drone had just been destroyed. Martinez still had the advantage of surprise.
“Mr. Conway,” he said to the artillery officer, “if anything else comes through the gate, delay firing for two seconds. If it emits the signal, delay until I give the order to fire.”
A minute passed. Two. A ship emerged from the gate, a Polyglot craft emitting the Peregoy signal.
“Don’t fire!” a woman’s voice cried on all-frequency broadcast. “This vessel is not armed! We come from Sloan Peregoy!”
DiCaria looked at Martinez; the exec clearly thought it was a Landry trick. But DiCaria didn’t know everything.
Martinez snapped, “Give verbal classified code!”
The voice said, “Wolves hunted at night.”
Correct. What was Sloan doing? Why send a Polyglot vessel? The only possible reason was to arrive here faster than any ship coming from New Utah; a Polyglot scout might get permission to use the Prometheus gate. But why would the Landrys grant that? Martinez said, “Hold fire. Vessel, use visuals. Identify self and intentions.”
A wallscreen brightened, showing the bridge of the small ship. A pilot in the uniform of the pathetic Polyglot space fleet. Two Polyglot crew. A man in civilian tunic, whom Martinez had never seen before.
Before the pilot could reply, the civilian said, “I’m Philip Anderson. I’m here on a…a special mission authorized by Sloan Peregoy. I have a data packet for your eyes only, Captain Martinez. This vessel carries no weapons at all. I don’t know if you have the means to verify that without boarding us.”
Martinez didn’t. “Send your retinal scan and those of everyone else aboard.”
“There are only we four.” Each of them leaned into a retinal scanner, which beamed the intel to the Skyhawk. The computer identified the three crew; Polyglot shared spacer information with all Eight worlds. The civilian, Philip Anderson, was not in the database.
Martinez said, “Why are you arriving on a Polyglot vessel from Prometheus?”
“It was faster,” Anderson said. “Rachel Landry and Sloan Peregoy agreed to cooperate on sending me here, which is why this ship has the Peregoy signal but comes from Landry-occupied Prometheus. Look, Captain Martinez, I know that sounds suspicious. Why would Rachel Landry and Sloan Peregoy cooperate on anything, and how did they do that? Please allow me to send you Director Peregoy’s data. He says you have the code to break the encryption. He also said to advance the gate code to the next iteration because now it has been compromised.”
Martinez scowled; that had already been done. He didn’t need this civilian enigma to tell him his business. “Send data now. Hold position until I order otherwise.”
“Holding position, sir,” the Polyglot pilot said. She, at least, understood military procedures.
The data arrived. Martinez read it on his wrister. Read it again.
His orders came authentically from Sloan Peregoy. What the hell was the old man thinking? But the orders were clear, and Martinez had no choice but to follow them.
To DiCaria he said, “Dispatch a team to rendezvous with the Polyglot vessel, board, verify absence of weapons, and bring Philip Anderson aboard the Skyhawk. Include Dr. Glynn — she will perform full bioscans and complete body search on Anderson. Only when she’s satisfied can anyone on the team return to the Skyhawk. Anderson is to arrive here with nothing, including clothing. If he refuses, the scout is not to board and will return without him and await further orders.”
From his face, Martinez knew that DiCaria understood what he wasn’t saying. Even naked and bio-searched, Philip Anderson could be a carrier, witting or unwitting, of some new new biowarfare pathogen. Martinez was doing what he could to minimize the risk, although risk remained. But Martinez had his orders.
“Yes, sir,” DiCaria said.
Anderson didn’t refuse. The Polyglot vessel carried no weapons at all. After Anderson boarded the Skyhawk, the small Polyglot ship was allowed to hover by the gate. If it moved too close to the gate, the Skyhawk would shoot it down. If a Landry warship came through, maybe a Polyglot vessel would confuse them. Certainly it had confused Martinez.
An hour after Anderson arrived on the Skyhawk, when Martinez had learned his story, Anderson left again. A Skyhawk scout carried him, clothed in a bulky s-suit of the kind used for research on inhospitable moons, for his insane trip downstairs. Martinez was not trusting the Polyglot ship to go down to the surface of the planet that Martinez had orders to guard.
The cloud cover was as dense as Martinez had ever seen it; he would know only what the scout and Anderson showed him. The s-suit held ten hours of air-conversion microbes. Anderson would have to return to the shuttle before that. If he lived so long.
“What if I need more time?” Anderson said.
“You don’t get it.” Odd — the man didn’t seem crazy. But, then, Martinez had never experienced so much as an abrupt mood swing. He knew himself unequipped to judge less steady temperaments, let alone delusional ones.
“But if — “
“Those are my orders,
Martinez watched the madman descend to the thick clouds.