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The wolves needed dusting again.

Sloan Peregoy rose from his massive karthwood desk and ran a finger over the film on the animals’ gray pelts and yellow glass eyes. The cleaning bot should be able to do better than this. He said to the wallscreen, “Note to Morris: reprogram J84. Dusting.”

Sophia entered Sloan’s office. “Father, two more appointments.”

Sloan glanced appreciatively at his daughter. His dead wife had chosen for Sophia the genetic template of a Mayan princess rather than Yvette’s’s own watery Nordic beauty, and the choice suited Sophia. Tall and strong-featured, she had inherited her father’s drive, competency, and preference for formality. You couldn’t engineer personality, but Sloan’s famous luck had held with Sophia. She ran as much of Peregoy Corporation and its three worlds—four if you counted Prometheus, not technically a Peregoy planet but no one else was on it—as Sloan did, and Sophia was his sole heir. He’d made sure of that. Neither her sister nor Sloan’s son, dead in the same plague that had killed Yvette, had possessed ability or inclination to govern.

But in line after Sophia—

Sloan didn’t choose to ponder that long-term problem right now. He was tired. It had been a long day; beyond the window, two moons gleamed above his corporate headquarters’ soaring towers. Sloan wanted his dinner, whiskey, and bed. The rejuv treatments could do only so much for someone as old as he was, and it was unlike Sophia to allow appointments this late. In fact, Sophia rarely facilitated appointments at all—that was Morris’s job—so these must be important.

“Who are they?” He’d had his biweekly meeting with the full Board of Directors just this afternoon; it was unusual for something urgent to arise since then.

“SueLin,” Sophia said. “I’m sorry, Father. She insisted.”

Of course she did. Still, Sophia could have denied SueLin if she’d wanted to. That SueLin was here was testament to the one thing Sloan and Sophia disagreed on, which it looked like he couldn’t avoid after all. Some distant day, SueLin, as Sloan’s oldest grandchild, would inherit Peregoy Corporation. Sophia wanted her trained for that, which was why she maximized SueLin’s time with her grandfather. Sloan, however, had other plans that he did not yet choose to share with Sophia. Too vague, still.

“Who’s the other appointment?”

The sharply angled planes of Sophia’s beautiful face hardened, which meant that she considered something important. “A spacer from Polyglot, who—”

“Why would I see a spacer from Polyglot?”

“—claims to have discovered something important. He’s been vetted, and I think you should hear his story.”

“You’ve already heard it?”

“I have.”

Sophia said no more, and it wasn’t like her to be so mysterious. Sloan didn’t like it, but he trusted her judgement, even though Polyglot wasn’t to be trusted. The planet was weak because it was not unified, a patchwork of individual nations. Nations, that outmoded concept, could never equal the efficiency and strength of a corporate state. It was amazing that once, on Terra, they ever had. Or so Luis Martinez informed Sloan.

He said, “Show in the spacer. What’s his name?”

“David M. Gordon.”

At least he wasn’t a Landry. But then, no amount of vetting would have admitted a Landry.

“I know how busy you are—I’ll see Gordon alone.” They both knew that “alone” actually meant with Carl Chavez, Sloan’s augmented and superbly trained bodyguard.

But Sophia said, “Without Chavez.”

Sloan raised an eyebrow, but he trusted Sophia’s judgment. She and Chavez left as David Gordon entered. He spotted the wolves and stopped cold. The taxidermist had captured well the animals’ fierce, vanished vitality. “Wolves?”

So he recognized them. Most people did not; neither wolves nor anything like them had ever existed on any of the Eight Worlds. Gordon was short enough to suggest no genetic augments, more muscled than most spacers, younger than Sloan had expected. Handsome, with an unpleasant swagger. His eyes, deep brown, studied the wolves. “You had them gene-made? Of course.”

Of course indeed. Wolves not only didn’t exist on the Eight Worlds—they didn’t exist on Earth. Almost nothing existed on the ruin that Earth had become. Had been allowed to become. Gordon might be intelligent, but he had the bad manners that flourished on Polyglot, the first-settled world, neither Peregoy nor Landry.

Sloan said deliberately, “Hello, Mr. Gordon. I’m Sloan Peregoy.”

Gordon ignored the rebuke. “Why did you have the wolves made? And then kill them?”

“I didn’t kill them,” Sloan said, irritated. Further rebuke was necessary; Gordon didn’t know as much as he thought he did. “They died of natural causes.”

“Without breeding first?”

“Please state your business, Mr. Gordon. My time is limited.” Sloan had no intention of explaining to this rude outsider that geneticists had been able to reconstruct the wolves from Terran DNA, but had not been able to create a female that could carry to term. Seven miscarriages had weakened the female; the last had killed her. The male had died alone and defeated, unwilling even to hunt in the preserve Sloan had created for him. Sloan kept them as a powerful reminder of what happened to a family that did not expand, did not breed strong heirs, did not continuously master its environment.

Gordon’s eyes sharpened. “Yes, sir. I’ve made a discovery that I think will really interest you. I’m proposing that you and I create an expedition to explore it, creating a business deal to share resulting profits.”

Sloan didn’t change expression, despite Gordon’s incredible effrontery. Why had Sophia admitted him? Sloan did not see people like this. He was, after all, Director of Peregoy Corporation and governor of the corporation’s three planets, all of which were run both benevolently and with the tight control necessary to ensure that none of them would ever suffer Earth’s fate. On Peregoy planets, everyone worked, everyone ate, everyone had medical care, everyone was educated. The small land masses on each planet were environmentally protected, the population kept optimal. Most important, the stargates between worlds, those precious portals that made everything else possible, were so well guarded by the Peregoy Corporation Space Service that not even the Landry fleet could get through. And this arrogant puppy from a world with no central government, no ruling family, not even a common language—from a planet rife with constant “international” tensions and wasted resources—this unmannerly scrap of space jetsam wanted to make a deal with Sloan Peregoy?

He said frostily, “I am not interested in acquiring another mining asteroid.”

“It’s not an asteroid.”

“Or a drifting renegade moon.”

“It’s not a moon.”

“I don’t—”

Gordon said, “It’s another gate.”

Sloan stared at him, for once unable to control his expression. But only for a moment. “There are no more gates. Everyone has looked.”

“Not where I did. I’m the only one who knows where it is, Director Peregoy. I—are you all right? Should I call your aide?”

“Certainly not,” Sloan snapped, although he put one hand on his desk. Another gate…not possible.

But Sophia had vetted Gordon. If he was a habitual liar, or crazy, or in the pay of the Landrys, she would know. Sloan’s intel network, both overt and covert, was superb.

He said, “Did you take your vessel through this alleged gate?”

“No. I don’t know what’s on the other side, but since the gates are always near a planet—or pretty near, anyway—and there isn’t a planet on this side of the gate, I want a big ship under me before I confront whatever’s beyond the gate.”

“Why didn’t you take this to the Landrys? Why me?”

Gordon made a face. “Libertarians—they don’t agree on how to act, and with everybody doing their own thing, you’re never sure that one Landry’s thing won’t derail another Landry’s thing. I don’t want to be derailed or delayed by endless discussion because everybody is equal.”

“They do have a military organization.” Although Sloan always wondered how Landry men and women, raised with doctrines of individuality and self-reliance as their supreme values, could become soldiers who had to take orders. But somehow they did, despite the fact that their independent businesses often ignored their home planet’s best interests if it would make individual corporations more money.

Gordon said, “Yes, they have a military. But you have totalitarian control of Peregoy resources.”

“That isn’t accurate. I am a CEO, not a dictator.”

“Is there any difference when the corporation is the state?”

Sloan scowled but wasn’t about to digress into a discussion of political philosophy. Another gate

There had always been only ten gates. Physicists said they were a natural phenomenon, inexplicably stable children of the unstable quantum flux. No one understood the gates’ origins, not even after a hundred fifty years of trying. The gates were inexplicable, permanent, and immovable, not unlike the enmity between Landrys and Peregoys. Both families had been among the first to escape the dying Earth, and both had claimed planets connected by the newly discovered gates orbiting Earth’s Moon. Both had defended their claims. In a bewildering new environment, facing unknown challenges, family was all the settlers had had, and they had built civilizations on it.

Polyglot, however, had been discovered by an eccentric without family, multi-billionaire Patrick Fenton. He had opened the planet to everyone who could somehow arrive there, resulting in a patchwork of remnants of Terran nations. That was possible only because, of all the Eight Worlds, Polyglot possessed the most land mass, the best climate, the most resources. Fortunately, each city-state was too small and uncohesive to mount any sort of challenge to the Peregoys. Branching off from Polyglot, Kezia Landry had managed to claim three worlds. Samuel Peregoy, Sloan’s great-great-grandfather, claimed three more.

As space expansion continued, it was discovered that each new gate led to a different planet, hundreds of light-years apart but all—except for Prometheus—habitable by humans. The other seven were in the Goldilocks zone, each with breathable atmosphere and gravity close to Terra’s, and no one understood that, either. The odds were infinitesimally small. Religions, theories, and demagogues had sprung up around this habitability, especially during the years of discovery. The map of the Eight Worlds became to every schoolchild everywhere as familiar as his own family’s allegiances: the Landry Libertarian Alliance of Galt, Rand, and New Hell. The Peregoy worlds, all named for the lost nation Samuel Peregoy had hoped to recreate:

Sloan was not interested in where the gates came from or why they orbited only habitable worlds. All that was as abstract and pointless as Earth’s ancient history. What mattered was the fact of the gates’ existence, not their cause. What mattered was Peregoy Corporation’s obligations to its citizens.

What resources or opportunities might lie behind an eleventh gate?

“Have you proof of this gate, Mr. Gordon?”

“I have. Spectrum readings and other scientific evidence.”

Sloan said to his implant, “Sophia, I want three physicists from the university here immediately.”

She said, “I already have them waiting.”

Sloan moved toward a conference room, saying over his shoulder, “This way, Mr. Gordon.” Gordon followed him.

SueLin would have to wait. Let her pout. She never wanted anything substantial, anyway. Another gate

As Sloan passed the dead wolves, their dusty, glassy, yellow eyes gleamed at him in the overhead light.

* * *

David Gordon blinked at the size and opulence of the conference room. Well, what did he expect—this was Sloan Peregoy. Certainly no Landry had ever seen this gorgeous room with its curved walls softly programmed in shifting pastels—although if it hadn’t been for Tara Landry, David wouldn’t be here, either.

Not that the Peregoys would ever know that.

He’d been half afraid that somehow Sloan or his daughter would discover what he and Tara were up to. Weren’t the Peregoys famous for their spy network? David must have passed initial vetting, but what about truth drugs or even torture? He’d heard stories…

Apparently the stories weren’t true. Landry disinformation, maybe. Nobody seemed eager to drug or torture him. He and Tara might—could it happen?—actually get away with this desperate, necessary deception.

That would be worth the personal risk. David would be a hero, a man who had singlehandedly (well, almost) united worlds, maybe even averting a war. And, not incidentally, for the first time in his ramshackle life, he would be rich.

He sat down at the conference table, polished karthwood with inset holoscreens, and watched the scientists file in.

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