The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 31
26: NINE WORLDS
Sloan was finally ready to leave Polyglot for home. He had set up the networks of financials, business holdings, and fortified bunkers necessary if Peregoy Corporation lost the war. Now he would go home to ensure that did not happen. Only a coward would stay in safety on Polyglot, and he was no coward. He had a duty to lead the citizens of the Peregoy worlds.
However, he was also not stupid. Arrangements were in place to secretly convey him and Sophia back here if Jane Landry’s forces prevailed. So far, she had not attacked. Still building K-beams? He hoped they required scarce resources, took a long time to manufacture, malfunctioned in test flights, exploded aboard Landry warships.
He told the wallscreen. “Summon a car for the spaceport.”
“Yes, sir, car sum — priority one alert!”
An ear-damaging alarm sounded — really, Polyglot systems had been programmed with such exaggerated drama — and then a voice said, “Planet-wide alert. All four Polyglot gates have become inoperable. Repeat — all four Polyglot gates have become inoperable.”
Inoperable? What did that mean: that they had closed again? If so, they would re-open in a few hours, as they had before.
Rachel lay back on the bed in her penthouse on Galt. Her strength was returning more slowly than she would like. Right now, however, that hardly mattered.
Philip had done it.
No one would believe that, of course. Physicists would puzzle, religion would have a resurgence, conspiracy theories would spring up like sprouts after rain. But Rachel knew the truth. Philip had closed the gates to stop the war.
The disruption would be massive. People would be marooned on planets hundreds of light years from where they wanted to be, and now could not go. Interplanetary trade agreements would vanish. Each world, Peregoy and Landry, was going to have to subsist on its own. Rachel would never again see her granddaughter Celia, directing mining operations on New Hell, nor Jane, overseeing weapons development on Rand for battles that now would not happen. Jane would be furious at having been deprived of her war.
But millions would live instead of die, and civilization would not crash — again — in the same fiery, incredibly stupid catastrophe that had destroyed Terra.
When Rachel was stronger, she would take back the position of CEO from Annelise, never as fractious as Jane. Annelise would see, as Rachel now did, that Galt would have to change if it was going to survive. There would be no more refugees from Rand, and no way for Caitlin to send the remaining refugees back. They would have to be incorporated into a governing structure that moved away from pure Libertarianism into something that fit these new circumstances, without causing revolution. Caitlin, over several visits, had made Rachel understand that much.
And someday, Rachel was sure, Philip would reopen the gates. She knew it.
Now, however, she owed a difficult explanation. It was only right that she make it, as soon as she was strong enough to travel to the hospital. Tara had a right to know that she was never going to see Philip again.
After three weeks stranded on the planet side of the closed gate, Martinez put his ships on two-thirds rations, trying for survival as long as possible. Each of the eight worlds was hundreds of light years away. There was nothing to eat on the desolate planet below. Their only hope was that the gate might open again. It had done so before, although not after so long a delay.
He sent a probe to the gate every few hours, then once a day. It always came back.
Dying in battle was one thing. Starvation was quite another. His fleet could hold out for months, but not years. Toward the end, it might be better to fly all three warships into the star.
But not yet.
Except that what if —
In the gates, and everywhere else, the Observer watched…
“Consciousness is not sharply defined, but fades into subconsciousness; and beyond that we must postulate something indefinite but yet continuous with our mental nature….the stuff of the world is mind-stuff.”
Sloan was dreaming more than ever before. Not nightmares, which might have been expected. Not of the closed gates that had marooned him here on Polyglot for three months, with no end in sight. Not of his lost stewardship of the Peregoy worlds. Not even of Sophia, whom he missed. Not of Luis Martinez, stranded somewhere in space.
Sloan dreamed of wolves.
He saw the stuffed wolves in his office on New California, shaking themselves into life, running free in a landscape transformed into open grassland, leaping and hunting and nursing cubs. Multiplying. Bringing down prey. Flourishing.
Sometimes he woke with tears on his face, which was sheer nonsense. Ridiculous! After all, wolves had been gone for centuries and he, Sloan, was not at all in danger of either extinction or despair. His great-great grandfather Samuel Peregoy had come to a new planet with far less than Sloan had on Polyglot, and Samuel had built an empire. Sloan was at least the man that his ancestor had been.
During the day, he was busy every minute, with multiple projects. During the three months on Polyglot, he’d used his holdings here to set up the Futures Institute, which was exploring possible ways to open the gates because there had to be a rational explanation for their closing. Not Rachel Landry’s stupid mystic explanation about Philip Anderson, but something based on science. Sloan would find that explanation. He had already recruited some of the best physicists on Polyglot for the Institute, and they would find a way to reverse the closings. There was always a way, if you had enough money and power.
And the dreams about the wolves were just that, harmless dreams. Sloan would have preferred that his sleep not be invaded by symbols of a failed species, but after all, it wasn’t his fault. A man couldn’t choose his dreams.
He swung his legs over the side of his bed and cleared his mind for the day. There was work to be done. In addition to the Futures Institute, Sloan was creating a secret biolab to duplicate the retinal-transplant technology that had gotten Rachel Landry onto Polyglot identified as someone else. Sloan needed to be able to detect such transplants, in order to keep them from foiling Security. He also wanted to duplicate the procedure. It could prove very useful for his information network. In an hour he had a meeting with one Dr. James Hegeman, a top Polyglot scientist that Sloan was going to recruit.
That was what mattered — building, arranging, developing. Not dreams.
He strode into the shower.
Dr. Hegeman, unfortunately, proved to be a better negotiator than Sloan had anticipated.
Tall, broad-shouldered, with a full head of gray hair — genemods? Or just the luck of the genetic lottery? Either way, Sloan approved. But Hegeman’s eyes went stony as Sloan explained his offer, and the salary that went with it.
“And let me reiterate, Dr. Hegeman, that I mean it when I say that you will have not only anything you need for the research, but you will have it immediately. With bureaucracies like those on Polyglot, there are understandable checks and balances, red tape, delays. But in my new facility you will report solely to me, and I will make it a priority to get any personnel, supplies, or equipment the day you request them. Plus, as I’ve said, you will have complete autonomy in your research, as long as you, with your expertise, think that it’s moving toward viable results.”
Hegeman picked up an instrument — Sloan had no idea what it was — from his cluttered desk and turned it over and over in strong fingers, without taking his gaze off Sloan. “That’s very generous, Director Peregoy, but I must decline. I have my own research here.”
This resistance wasn’t real. The man wanted more money.
“Naturally, your current research on eye diseases is important. I understand that. But I’ve looked into it a little bit — as much as a layman can — and I gather that it’s been going on for several years, with publication at each stage, and will continue for several more. That told me — correct me if I’m wrong! — that it can resume after your temporary contract with Peregoy BioLab is fulfilled. But I fully grasp that you are devoted to your current project — you wouldn’t have such a fine reputation if you were not — and that even leaving it for six months or a year will be disruptive. To compensate, let me offer what perhaps I should have offered in the first place, a salary commensurate with the sacrifice. Say, half again my original figure?”
“Thank you, but no. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another appointment.”
“All right, Doctor. Twice my original offer.”
Hegeman put down the instrument and stared at Sloan. “You really don’t understand, do you? You want me to leave research on a pathogen native to Polyglot that has adapted itself to the human eye and is blinding children — in order to develop a method of retinal implant whose purpose is to enable people to pass illegally through security checkpoints? Because that is the aim of your Institute project, isn’t it?”
“The benefits of collateral findings you can discover — “
“Don’t lecture me on how science works, Director. I’m not interested in your project, even if you state that the prototype exists on Galt. Galt is closed to us. The ocular pathogen is here, now. In addition — and I don’t know if you’ve considered this — a retinal transplant requires a healthy donor. Where and how are you planning to acquire the tissue for experimentation? We have strict laws about that on Polyglot. I’m sorry, but no amount of money will convince me to accept your offer.”
Hegeman rose and strode through the door, leaving Sloan burning with an indignation he did not show. The pompous, self-righteous ass…but there were other scientists. Too bad that he couldn’t get to Galt to hire away the original retinal researchers. On Galt, lawless as they were, they at least understood money.
To the startled youngster who entered Hegeman’s office he said, “Thank you, but I can find my own way out.”
Outside, his car waited for him, along with Chavez. The city street, a main thoroughfare with wide walks, teemed with people: shoppers, business people, students, vendors selling flowers and toys and the spicy fried makti that gave Sloan heartburn. At the end of a long mall bright with genemod flowers sat the graceful Polyglot Council of Nations building. Its white columns gleamed in the sunshine. A service bot walked a pair of greenish-yellow dogs. Why had dogs adapted to the Seven Worlds, but not wolves? And why were these pale green?
“Address, please?” the car said as he climbed in. When he was half in-half out of the car, a man dashed through the crowd and seized Sloan’s arm.
Chavez leapt forward; in a moment he had the man pinned to the ground. A boy, really, who didn’t struggle in the bodyguard’s grip but called up to Sloan, “Sir! Sir! I’m from your office! Ms. Denby sent me! Something happened!”
“Let him up, Chavez. All right, boy — what happened?”
The boy gasped for breath; he must have run all the way from the Futures Institute. Why hadn’t that idiot Christine Denby just called Sloan?
“What is it?”
Panting, the kid told him.