View Full Version : Mote In God's Eye, The - Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

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06-07-2007, 08:10 PM
Chapter 9 - His Highness Has Decided

The Viceregal Palace dominated New Scotland's only major city. Sally stared in admiration at the huge structure and excitedly pointed out the ripple of colors that changed with each motion of the flyer.
"How did it get that effect?" she asked. "It doesn't seem like an oil film."
"Cut from good New Scot rock," Sinclair answered. "You've nae seen rock like this before. There was nae life here until the First Empire seeded the planet; yon palace is rock wi' all the colors just as it boiled out of the interior,"
"It's beautiful," she told him. The Palace was the only building with open space around it. New Scotland huddled in small warrens, and from the air it was easy to see circular patterns like growth rings of a tree circle making the construction of larger field generators for protection of the city. Sally asked, "Wouldn't it be simpler to make a city plan using right angles now?"
"Simpler, aye," Sinclair answered. "But we've been through two hundred years of war, lass. Few care to live wi' nae Field for protection-not that we do no trust the Navy and Empire," he added hastily. "But 'tis no easy to break habits that old. We'd rather stay crowded and ken we can fight."
The flyer circled in to rest on the scarred lava roof of the Palace. The streets below were a bustle of color, tartans and plaids, everyone jostling his neighbor in the narrow streets. Sally was surprised to see just how small the Imperial Sector Capital was.
Rod left Sally and his officers in a comfortable lounge and followed starched Marine guides. The Council Chamber was a mixture of simplicity and splendor, walls of unadorned rock contrasting with patterned wool carpets and tapestries. Battle banners hung from high rafters.
The Marines showed Rod to a seat. Immediately in front of him was a raised dais for the Council and its attendants, and above that the viceregal throne dominated the entire chamber; yet even the throne was overshadowed by an immense solido of His Most Royal and Imperial Highness and Majesty, Leonidas IX, by Grace of God Emperor of Humanity. When there was a message from the Throne world the image would come alive, but now it showed a man no more than forty dressed in the midnight black of an Admiral of the Fleet, unadorned by decorations or medals. Dark eyes stared at and through each person in the chamber.
The chamber filled rapidly. There were Sector Parliament members, military and naval officers, scurrying civilians attended by harried clerks. Rod had no idea what to expect, but he noted jealous glances from those behind him. He was by far the most junior officer in the front row of the guest seats, Admiral Cranston took a seat two places to Blaine's left and nodded crisply to his subordinate.
A gong sounded. The Palace major-domo, coal black, symbolic whip thrust into his belted white uniform, came onto the platform above them and struck the stage with his staff of office. A line of men filed into the room to take their places on the dais. The Imperial Councilors were less impressive than their titles, Rod decided. Mostly they seemed to be harried men-but many of them had the same look as the Emperor's portrait, the ability to look beyond those in the chamber to something that could only be guessed at. They sat impassively until the gong was struck again.
Everyone scrambled to his feet. As Rod stood he thought of what was happening. It would be easy to be cynical. After all, Merrill was only a man; His Imperial Majesty was only a man, they put their trousers on one leg at a time. But they held responsibility for the destiny of the human race. The Council could advise them. The Senate could debate. The Assembly could shout and demand. Yet when all the conflicting demands were heard, when all the advice was pondered, someone had to act in the name of mankind...No, the ceremonial entrance wasn't exaggerated. Men who had that kind of power should be reminded of it.
His Highness was a tall, lanky man with bushy eyebrows. He wore the dress uniform of the Navy, sunbursts and comets on his breast, decorations earned in years of service to the Realm. When he reached his throne, he turned to the solido above it and bowed. The major-domo led the pledge of allegiance to the Crown before Merrill took his seat and nodded to the Council.
Duke Bonin, the elderly Lord President of the Council, stood at his place at the center of the big table. "My lords and gentlemen. By order of His Highness the Council meets to consider the matter of the alien vessel from the Mote. This may be a long session," he added with no trace of sarcasm.
"You all have before you the reports of our investigation of the alien ship. I can summarize them in two significant points: the aliens have neither the Alderson Drive nor the Langston Field. On the other hand, they appear to have other technologies considerably in advance of anything the Empire has ever had-and I include in that the First Empire."
There were gasps in the chamber. The First Empire was held in almost mystical reverence by many Imperial governors and most subjects. Bonin nodded significantly. "We now consider what we must do. His Excellency Sir Traffin Geary, Sector Minister for External Affairs."
Sir Traffin was nearly as tall as the Viceroy, but the resemblance ended there. Instead of His Highness' trim, athletic figure, Sir Traffin was shaped like a barrel. "Your Highness, my lords and gentlemen. We have sent a courier to Sparta and another will be dispatched within the week. This probe was slower than light, and launched well over a hundred years ago. We need do nothing about it for a few months. I propose that we make preparations here for an expedition to the Mote, but otherwise wait for instructions from His Majesty." Geary jutted his under lip truculently as he looked around the Council Chamber. "I suspect this comes as a surprise to many of you who know my temperament, but I think it wise to give this matter extended thought. Our decision may affect the destiny of the human race."
There were murmurs of approval. The President nodded to the man at his left. "My Lord Richard MacDonald Armstrong, Sector Minister of War."
In contrast to the bulk of Sir Traffin, the War Minister was almost diminutive, his features small to match his body, not finely chiseled, so that there was an impression of softness in the face. Only the eyes were hard, with a look to match those of the portrait above him.
"I full well understand the views of Sir Traffin," Armstrong began. "I do not care for this responsibility. It is great comfort to us to know that on Sparta the wisest men of the race will backstop our failures and mistakes."
Not much New Scot to his accent, Rod thought. Only a trace, but the man was obviously a native. Wonder if they can all talk like the rest of us when they have to?
"But we may not have the time," Armstrong said softly. "Consider. One hundred and thirteen years ago, as best our records show, the Mote glowed so brightly that it outshone Murcheson's Eye. Then One day it went out. That would no doubt be when the probe was ready to turn end for end and begin deceleration into our system. The lasers that launched that thing had been on a long time. The builders have had a hundred and fifty years at least to develop new technology. Think of that, my lords. In a hundred and fifty years, men on Earth went from windpowered warships to a landing on Earth's Moon. From gunpowder to hydrogen fusion. To a level of technology which might have built that probe-and in no more than a hundred and fifty years after that, had the Alderson Drive, the Field, ten interstellar colonies, and the CoDominium. Fifty years later the fleet left Earth to found the First Empire. That is what a hundred and fifty years can be to a growing race,: my lords. And that's what we're faced with, else they'd have been here before.
"I say we can't afford to wait!" The old man's voice lashed out to fill the chamber. "Wait for word from Sparta? With all respect to His Majesty's advisers, what can they tell us that we won't know better than they? By the time they can reply we'll have sent more reports. Perhaps things will have changed here and their instructions will make no sense. God's teeth, it's better to make our own mistakes!"
"Your recommendation?" the Council President asked dryly.
"I have already ordered Admiral Cranston to assemble all the warships we can spare from occupation and patrol duties. I have sent to His Majesty a most urgent request that additional forces be assigned to this sector. Now I propose that a naval expedition go to the Mote and find out what's happening there while the Yards convert enough vessels to be sure that we can destroy the alien home worlds if necessary."
There were gasps in the chamber. One of the Council members rose hurriedly to demand recognition.
"Dr. Anthony Horvath, Minister of Science," the President announced.
"Your Highness, my lords, I am speechless," Horvath began.
"Would to God you were," Admiral Cranston muttered at his seat to Rod's left.
Horvath was an elderly, carefully dressed man with precise gestures and every word spoken just so, as if he intended to say just that and no more. He spoke quietly but every word carried through the room perfectly. "My lords, there is nothing threatening about this probe. It carried only one passenger, and it has had no opportunity to report to those who sent it." Horvath looked signifcantly at Admiral Cranston. "We have seen absolutely no signs that the aliens have faster-than-light technology, nor the slightest hint Of danger, yet My Lord Armstrong speaks of assembling the Fleet. He acts as if all humanity were threatened by one dead alien and a light sail! Now I ask you, is this reasonable?"
"What is your proposal, Dr. Horvath?" the President asked.
"Send an expedition, yes. I agree with Minister Armstrong that it would be pointless to expect the Throne to issue detailed instructions from that great distance in time. Send a Navy ship if it makes everyone more comfortable. But staff it with scientists, foreign office personnel, representatives of the merchant class. Go in peace as they came in peace, don't treat these aliens as if they were outie pirates! There won't ever be an opportunity like this again, my lords. The first contact between humans and intelligent aliens. Oh, we'll find other sentient species, but we'll never find a first one again. What we do here will be in our history forever. Do not make a blot on that page!"
"Thank you, Dr. Horvath," the President said. "Are there other comments?"
There were. Everyone spoke at once until order was established at last. "Gentlemen, we must have a decision," Duke Bonin said. "What is the advice you wish to offer His Highness? Do we send an expedition to the Mote or no?"
That was settled quickly. The military and science groups easily outnumbered Sir Traffin's supporters. Ships would be sent as soon as feasible.
"Excellent." Bonin nodded. "And perhaps the character of the expedition? Shall it be naval or civil?"
The major-domo struck the stage with his staff. Every head turned toward the high throne where Merrill had sat impassively through the debate. "I thank the Council, but I shall need no advice concerning this final matter," the Viceroy said. "Since the question concerns the safety of the Realm there can be no problem of sector prerogatives involved." The stately address was spoiled as Merrill ran his fingers through his hair. He dropped his hand hurriedly to his lap as he realized what he was doing. A thin smile came to his face. "Although I suspect the Council's advice might be the same as my own. Sir Traffin, would your group favor a purely scientific expedition?"
"No, Your Highness."
"And I think we need not ask My Lord Minister of War for his opinion. Dr. Horvath's group would be outvoted in any event. As planning an expedition of this nature requires something less than the full Council, I will see Dr. Horvath, Sir Traffin, My Lord Armstrong, and Admiral Cranston in my office immediately. Admiral, is the officer you spoke of here?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Bring him with you." Merrill stood and strode from the throne so quickly that the major-domo had no chance to do his ceremonial office. Belatedly he struck the stage with his staff and faced the Imperial portrait. "IT IS HIS
As the others left the Chamber, Admiral Cranston took Rod's arm and led him through a small door by the stage. "What'd you think of all this?" Cranston asked.
"Orderly. I've been in Council meetings on Sparta where I thought they'd come to blows. Old Bonin knows how to run a meeting."
"Yeah. You understand this political crap, don't you? Better'n I do, anyway. You may be a better choice than I thought."
"Choice for what, sir?"
"Isn't it pretty obvious, Captain? His Nibs and I decided last night. You're going to take MacArthur to the Mote."