The Eleventh Gate – Snippet 10
Philip had been on Galt before, but not like this.
On his first two trips, he’d been a student, once working his way caring for life-support algae on a creaky and antiquated cargo ship, once as an intern with a summer biology expedition to a dying ecosystem on an outlying island. Both times he been at the bottom of the status ladder, doing whatever no one else wanted to do. Both times he’d slept rough and eaten when and what he could. He hadn’t minded; he’d been twenty.
The third trip, three years ago, had been to attend an environmental conference at the university. By that time, Philip had a job, the small inheritance from his parents, and a girlfriend. None of those things had lasted, and the trip had been just one more lackluster round of endless theoretical papers, almost totally divorced from actual environments. Accommodations, though not as crude as on a freighter, had been pretty basic.
Rachel Landry’s personal ship, the Landry Libertarian Alliance Security Corps ship Blue Flame, had staterooms, crews’ quarters, a chef, robocleaners, a live steward. There was a billiard table, a game he’d never heard of, which wasted the cubic feet of an entire small room. Philip turned out to be surprisingly good at it. He played with off-duty crew. Rachel had no time for him, presumably running the Landry worlds from her quarters. The night before planetfall, Philip got slightly drunk with the steward, who was very drunk.
“So,” Johnston said, lining up his shot, “what’re you shooing…doing here?
Impossible to explain. What could Philip say: “I’m a seeker, looking for the fifth level of reality, the true substrate of the universe, the panconsciousness”? True but incomprehensible, sometimes even to him. He merely smiled.
“Thought so,” Johnston said, with deep satisfaction. “If I looked like you… But isn’t she a little old? Hope you’re getting paid enough.”
Philip blinked. “Uh, no…Rachel…we’re not lovers! I’m a biologist.”
“All biology, isn’t it?” Johnston missed his shot by at least six inches.
Philip thought of walking out. He thought of slamming his cue stick against the table, possibly breaking one, or both. He thought of using this opportunity to obtain information.
He said as he aimed for the number four ball, “I hear there’s trouble on Galt.”
“Oh, you don’t koe..know the half of it. Protests all over the damn planet.”
“Not enough jobs, no government help…well, hardly no government, is there? Dawg eat dawg. I tell you, I’m damn lucky to have this job.” Johnston’s face clouded; a fear had penetrated the fog of his inebriated brain. “You aren’t going to tell her what I said, are you? I know you two aren’t fucking.”
“Won’t say a thing, I promise,” Philip said, from equal parts pity and distaste.
“Thanks. Hey, what part of Pogyglot…Polyglot you from?”
Philip sank the four and aimed at the ten. “Albion.”
“Don’t know it. They got real government there, that helps people to jobs?”
“Sort of. Halfway between Landry libertarianism and Peregoy corporate dictatorship.”
Johnston spat on the deck. “Fucking Peregoys. We should blast ’em all to hell.”
Philip straightened up from the table. This was unexpected. “Why?”
“Why? Because they want to take every little thing we got, that’s why!” He rammed the cue ball so hard it careened across the table and leapt off. “Aw, game’s over. Gotta go. You won’t…you know, say anything to her?”
“No. I promised. I –“
The captain’s voice cut him off, booming throughout the ship. “This is the captain speaking. Six weeks ago, a Peregoy Corporation cruiser on an exploration mission was accidentally destroyed in deep space, and New California has issued a declaration of war against the Landry Libertarian Alliance. I repeat, we are now at war. Within the hour, CEO Landry will issue a statement to the citizens of Galt, Rand, and New Hell. As of now, this ship will assume wartime duties, regulations, and security. All crew, report immediately to the wardroom.”
The steward, instantly sober, said, “Aw, shit.”
Philip felt stunned. Wartime regulations and duties? The Landrys had such things in place, ready to go “as of now”? Did that mean war had been anticipated? Had Rachel expected this?
And why had a Peregoy cruiser, rather than a much smaller research ship, been on an exploration mission? Exploring what?
The only person who could answer those questions was Rachel, and Philip understood that he had no chance of getting time with her now. Even finding Tara would be secondary to war. Wherever Tara had gone, she wasn’t…
All at once, he had a suspicion of where she might be. The suspicion grew — not enough to fight his way into Rachel’s sanctum, but still a definite possibility. What should he do with it?
And what would now happen to him, marooned on Galt with little money and no assistance from the woman who had just become the commander-in-chief of a private navy at war?
Philip needn’t have worried. An officer met him at the departure lock with a credit chip, an address, and a hasty message from Rachel: “Give this recording to Dr. Hampden at Galt University, the Institute for Brain Research.” Rachel hadn’t forgotten him.
He took a maglev from the spaceport to the university. Life had undoubtedly been altered drastically in the Landry fleet, in the offices of power, at unseen military bases. But even though the announcement of war had been made hours ago, life in the city seemed more affected by civil unrest than by any fear of attack.
Three years ago, he’d seen poverty, disaffection, and addiction to the tempting array of street drugs that masked poverty and disaffection for a few hours. However, the city now looked tenfold worse. From the train window he saw people, thin and sunken-eyed, camped on littered sidewalks. Some seemed to be families with children. In a park a group of protestors marched around twelve-foot-tall holosign: GIVE US JOBS! The holosign flickered, shone brightly again, then abruptly vanished.
The man in the next seat looked up from his tablet and snorted. “Parasites can’t even protest well.”
The train hurtled beyond the press of buildings, past fields dotted with litter and cheap foamcast tents. Philip leaped to his feet… “Oh my God!”
In the middle distance, two women ran toward the maglev. As Philip watched in horror, they threw themselves in front of the train. In an instant they were gone, and a lake of dirty water flashed past. Philip demanded of the man, “Did you see that? Those women killed themselves!”