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

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06-07-2007, 08:12 PM
Chapter 12 - Descent into Hell

It was just possible to assemble everyone on hangar deck. The closed launching hatch doors-repaired, but obviously so-were the only open space large enough for the ship's company and the scientific personnel to gather, and it was crowded even there. The hangar compartment was stuffed with gear: extra landing craft, the longboat and the cutter, crated scientific equipment, ship's stores, and other crates whose purpose even Blaine didn't know. Dr. Horvath's people insisted on carrying nearly every scientific instrument used in their specialties on the chance that it might be useful; the Navy could hardly argue with them, since there were no precedents for an expedition of this kind.
Now the huge space was packed to overflowing. Viceroy Merrill, Minister Armstrong, Admiral Cranston, Cardinal Randolph, and a host of lesser officials stood confusedly about while Rod hoped that his officers had been able to complete preparations for the ship's departure. The last days had been a blur of unavoidable activities, mostly social, with little time for the important work of preparing his ship. Now, waiting for the final ceremonies, Rod wished he'd got out of Capital social life and stayed aboard his ship like a hermit. For the next year or so he'd be under the command of Admiral Kutuzov, and he suspected that the Admiral was not wholly pleased with his subordinate ship commander. The Russian was conspicuously absent from the ceremonies on MacArthur's hangar doors.
No one had missed him. Kutuzov was a massive, burly man with a heavy sense of humor. He looked like something out of a textbook of Russian history and talked the same way. This was partially due to his upbringing on St. Ekaterina, but mostly through his own choice. Kutuzov spent hours studying ancient Russian customs and adopted many of them as part of the image he projected. His flagship bridge was decorated with icons, a samovar of tea bubbled in his cabin, and his Marines were trained in what Kutuzov hoped were fair imitations of Cossack dances.
Navy opinion on the man was universal: highly competent, rigidly faithful to any orders given him, and so lacking in human compassion that everyone felt uncomfortable around him. Because the Navy and Parliament officially approved of Kutuzov's action in ordering the destruction of a rebel planet-the Imperial Council had determined that the drastic measure had prevented the revolt of an entire sector-Kutuzov was invited to all social functions; but no one was disappointed when he refused his invitations.
"The main problem is yon loony Russian customs," Sinclair had offered when MacArthur's officers were discussing their new admiral.
"No different from the Scots," First Lieutenant Cargill had observed. "At least he doesn't try to make us all understand Russian. He speaks Anglic well enough."
"Is that meant to say we Scots dinna speak Anglic?" Sinclair demanded.
"I'll let you guess." But then Cargill thought better of it. "Of course not, Sandy. Sometimes when you get excited I can't understand you, but...here, have a drink."
That, thought Rod, had been something to see, Cargill trying his best to be friendly with Sinclair. Of course the reason was obvious. With the ship in New Scotland's Yards under the attention of Yardmaster MacPherson's crews, Cargill was at pains not to irritate the Chief Engineer. He might end up with his cabin removed-or worse.
Viceroy Merrill was saying something. Rod snapped out of his reverie and strained to listen in the confused babble of sounds.
"I said, I really don't see the point to all this, Captain. Could have had all this ceremony on the ground-except for your blessing, Your Reverence."
"Ships have left New Scotland without my attentions before," the Cardinal mused. "Not, perhaps, on a mission quite so perplexing to the Church as this one. Well, that will be young Hardy's problem now." He indicated the expedition chaplain. David Hardy was nearly twice Blaine's age, and his nominal equal in rank, so that the Cardinal's reference had to be relative.
"Well, are we ready?"
"Yes, Your Eminence." Blaine nodded to Kelley. "SHIP's COMPANY, ATTEN-SHUT!" The babble stilled, trailing off rather than being cut off as it would if there weren't civilians aboard.
The Cardinal took a thin stole from his pocket, kissed the hem, and placed it over his neck. Chaplain Hardy handed him the silver pail and asperger, a wand with a hollow ball at the end. Cardinal Randolph dipped the wand in the pail and shook water toward the assembled officers and crew. "Thou shalt purge me, and I shall be clean. Thou shalt wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. Glory be to the Father, the Son, •and the Holy Ghost."
"As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, worlds without end, amen." Rod found himself responding automatically. Did he believe in all that? Or was it only good for discipline? He couldn't decide, but he was glad the Cardinal had come. MacArthur might need all the benefits she could get...
The official party boarded an atmosphere flyer as warning horns sounded. MacArthur's crew scrambled to leave hangar deck, and Rod stepped into an air-lock chamber. Pumps whined to empty the hangar space of air, then the great double doors opened. Meanwhile, MacArthur lost her spin as th6 central flywheels whirred. With only naval people aboard, an atmosphere craft might be launched through the doors under spin, dropping in the curved -relative to MacArthur- trajectory induced by the Coriolis effect, but with the Viceroy and the Cardinal lifting out that was out of the question. The landing craft lifted gently at 150 cm/sec until it was clear of the hangar doors.
"Close and seal," Rod ordered crisply. "Stand by for acceleration." He turned and launched himself in null gravity toward his bridge. Behind him telescoping braces opened across the hangar deck space-guy wires and struts, braces of all kinds-until the hollow was partly filled. The design of a warship's hangar space is an intricate specialty, since spotting boats may have to be launched at a moment's notice, yet the vast empty space needs to be braced against possible disaster. Now with the extra boats of Horvath's scientists in addition to the full complement of MacArthur's own, the hangar deck was a maze of ships, braces, and crates.
The rest of the ship was as crowded. In place of the usual orderly activity brought on by acceleration warning, MacArthur's corridors were boiling with personnel. Some of the scientists were half in battle armour, having confused acceleration warning with battle stations. Others stood in critical passageways blocking traffic and unable to decide where to go. Petty officers screamed at them, unable to curse the civilians and also unable to do anything else.
Rod finally arrived at the bridge, while behind him officers and boatswains shamefacedly worked to clear the passageways and report ready for acceleration. Privately Blaine couldn't blaine his crew for being unable to control the scientists, but he could hardly ignore the situation. Moreover, if he excused his staff, they would have no control over the civilians. He couldn't really threaten a Science Minister and his people with anything, but if he were hard enough on his own crew, the scientists might cooperate in order to spare the spacers...It was a theory worth trying, he thought. As he glanced at a tv monitor showing two Marines and four civilian lab technicians in a tangle against the after messroom bulkhead, Rod silently cursed and hoped it would work. Something had to.

"Signal from flag, sir. Keep station on Redpines."
"Acknowledge, Mr. Potter. Mr. Renner, take the con and follow the number-three tanker."
"Aye aye, sir." Renner grinned. "And so we're off. Pity the regulations don't provide for champagne at a time like this."
"I'd think you'd have your hands full, Mr. Renner. Admiral Kutuzov insists we keep what he calls a proper formation."
"Yes, sir. I discussed that with Lenin's Sailing Master last night."
"Oh." Rod settled back in his command chair. It would be a difficult trip, he thought. All those scientists aboard. Dr. Horvath had insisted on coming himself, and he was going to be a problem. The ship was so swarming with civilians that most of MacArthur's officers were doubled up in cabins already too small; junior lieutenants slung hammocks in the gun room with midshipmen; Marines were packed into recreation quarters so that their barracks rooms could be stuffed with scientific gear. Rod was beginning to wish that Horvath had won his argument with Cranston. The scientist had wanted to take an assault carrier with its enormous bunk spaces.
The Admiralty had put a stop to that. The expedition would consist of ships able to defend themselves and those only. The tankers would accompany the fleet to Murcheson's Eye, but they weren't coming to the Mote.

In deference to the civilians, the trip was at 1.2 gee.
Rod suffered through innumerable dinner parties, mediated arguments between scientists and crew, and fended off attempts by Dr. Buckman the astrophysicist to monopolize Sally's time.
First Jump was routine. The transfer point to Murcheson's Eye was well located. New Caledonia was a magnificent white point source in the moment before MacArthur Jumped. Then Murcheson's Eye was a wide red glare the size of a baseball held at arm's length.
The fleet moved inward.

Gavin Potter had traded hammocks with Horst Staley.
It had cost him a week's labor doing two men's laundry, but it had been worth it. Staley's hammock had a view port.
Naturally the port was beneath the hammock, in the cylindrical spin floor of the gun room. Potter lay face down in the hammock to ldbk through the webbing, a gentle smile on his long face.
Whitbread was face up in his own hammock directly across the spin floor from Potter. He had been watching Potter for several minutes before he spoke.
"Mr. Potter."
The New Scot turned only his head. "Yes, Mr. Whitbread?"
Whitbread continued to watch him, contemplatively, with his arms folded behind his head. He was quite aware that Potter's infatuation with Murcheson's Eye was none of his damned business. Incomprehensible, Potter remained polite. How much needling would he take?
Entertaining things were happening aboard MacArthur, but there was no way for midshipmen to get to them. An off-duty middie must make his own entertainment.
"Potter, I seem to remember you were transferred aboard Old Mac on Dagda, just before we went to pick up the probe." Whitbread's voice was a carrying one. Horst Staley, who was also off duty, turned over in what had been Potter's bunk and gave them his attention. Whitbread noticed without seeming to.
Potter turned and blinked. "Yes, Mr. Whitbread. That's right."
"Well, somebody has to tell you, and I don't suppose anyone else has thought of it. Your first shipboard mission involved diving right into an F8 sun. I hope it hasn't given you a bad impression of the Service."
"Not at all. I found it exciting," Potter said courteously.
"The point is, diving straight into a sun is a rare thing in the Service. It doesn't happen every trip. I thought someone ought to tell you."
"But, Mr. Whitbread, are we no about to do exactly that?"
"Hah?" Whitbread hadn't expected that.
"No ship of the First Empire ever found a transfer point from Murcheson's Eye to the Mote. They may no have wanted it badly, but we can assume they tried somewhat," Potter said seriously. "Now, I have had verra little experience in space, but I am not uneducated, Mr. Whitbread. Murcheson's Eye is a red supergiant, a big, empty star, as big as the orbit of Saturn in Sol System. It seems reasonable that the Alderson Point to the Mote is within yon star if it exists. Does it not?"
Horst Staley rose up on an elbow. "I think he's right. It would explain why nobody ever plotted the transfer point. They all knew where it was -- "
"But nobody wanted to go look. Yes, of course he's right," Whitbread said in disgust. "And that's just where we're going. Whee! Here we go again."
"Exactly," said Potter; and smiling gently, he turned on his face again.
"It's most unusual," Whitbread protested. "Doubt me if you must, but I assure you we don't go diving into stars more than two out of three trips." He paused. "And even that's too many."

The fleet slowed to a halt at the fuzzy edge of son's Eye. There was no question of orbits. At this distance the supergiant's gravity was so feeble that have taken years for a ship to fail into it.
The tankers linked up and began to transfer fuel.

An odd, tenuous friendship had grown between Horace Bury and Buckman, the astrophysicist. Bury had sometimes wondered about it. What did Buckman want with Bury?
Buckman was a lean, knobby, bird-boned man. From the look of him he sometimes forgot to eat for days at a time. Buckman seemed to care for nobody and nothing in what Bury considered the real universe. People, time, power, money, were only the means Buckman used to explore the inner workings of the stars. Why would he seek the company of a merchant?
But Buckman liked to talk, and Bury at least had the time to listen. MacArthur was a beehive these days, frantically busy and crowded as hell. And there was room to pace in Bury's cabin.
Or, Bury speculated cynically, he might like Bury's coffee. Bury had almost a dozen varieties of coffee beans, his own grinder, and filter cones to make it. He was quite aware of how his coffee compared with that in the huge percolators about the ship.
Nabil served them coffee while they watched the fuel transfer on Bury's screen. The tanker fueling MacArthur was hidden, but Lenin and the other tanker showed as two space-black elongated eggs, linked by a silver umbilicus, silhouetted against a backdrop of fuzzy scarlet.
"It should not be that dangerous," said Dr. Buckman.
"You're thinking of it as a descent into a sun, Bury. Which it is, technically. But that whole vast volume isn't all that much more massive than Cal or any other yellow dwarf. Think of it as a red-hot vacuum. Except for the core, of course; that's probably tiny and very dense.
"We'll learn a great deal going in," he said. His eyes were alight, focused on infinity. Bury, watching him sidewise, found the expression fascinating. He had seen it before, but rarely. It marked men who could not be bought in any coin available to Horace Bury.
Bury had no more practical use for Buckman than Buckman had for Bury. Bury could relax with Buckman, as much as he could relax with anybody. He liked the feeling.
He said, "I thought you would already know everything about the Eye."
"You mean Murcheson's explorations? Too many records have been lost, and some of the others aren't trustworthy. I've had my instruments going since the Jump. Bury, the proportion of heavy particles in the solar wind is amazingly high. And helium-tremendous. But Murcheson's ships never went into the Eye itself, as far as we know. That's when we'll really learn things." Buckman frowned. "I hope our instruments can stand up to it. They have to poke through the Langston Field, of course. We're likely to be down in that red-hot fog for some considerable time, Bury. If the Field collapses it'll ruin everything."
Bury stared, then laughed. "Yes, Doctor, it certainly would!"
Buckman looked puzzled. Then, "Ah. I see what you mean. It would kill us too, wouldn't it? I hadn't thought of that."
Acceleration warnings sounded. MacArthur was moving into the Eye.

Sinclair's thick burr sounded in Rod's ear. "Engineering report, Captain. All systems green. Field holding verra well, 'tis nae so warm as we feared."
"Good," Blaine replied. "Thanks, Sandy." Rod watched the tankers receding against the stars. Already they were thousands of kilometers away, visible only through the telescopes as bright as points of light.
The next screen showed a white splotch within a red fog: Lenin leading into the universal red glare. Lenin's crew would search for the Alderson point-if there were such a point.
"Still, 'tis certain the Field will leak inward sooner or later," Sinclair's voice continued. "There's no place for the heat to go, it must be stored. 'Tis no like a space battle, Captain. But we can hold wi' no place to radiate the accumulated energy for at least seventy-two hours. After that-we hae no data. No one has tried this loony stunt before."
"Somebody should have," Renner said cheerfully. He had been listening from his post on the bridge. MacArthur was holding at one gee, but it took attention: the thin photosphere was presenting more resistance than expected. "You'd think Murcheson would have tried it. The First Empire had better ships than ours."
"Maybe he did," Rod said absently. He watched Lenin move away, breaking trail for MacArthur, and felt an unreasonable irritation. MacArthur should have gone first...
The senior officers slept at their duty stations. There wasn't much anyone could do if the Field soaked up too much energy, but Rod felt better in his command seat. Finally it was obvious that he wasn't needed.
A signal came from Lenin and MacArthur cut her engines. Warning horns sounded, and she, came under spin until other hoots signaled the end of unpleasant changes in gravity. Crew and passengers climbed out of safety rigglng.
"Dismiss the watch below," Rod ordered. Renner stood and stretched elaborately. "That's that, Captain. Of course we'll have to slow down as the photosphere gets thicker, but that's all right. The friction slows us down anyway." He looked at his screens and asked questions with swiftly moving fingers. "It's not as thick as, say, an atmosphere out there, but it's a lot thicker than a solar wind."
Blaine could see that for himself. Lenin was still ahead, at the outer limit of detection, and her engines were off. She was a black splinter in the screens, her outlines blurred by four thousand kilometers of red-hot fog.
The Eye thickened around them.

Rod stayed on the bridge another hour, then persuaded himself that he was being unfair. "Mr. Renner."
"Yes, sir?"
"You can go off watch now. Let Mr. Crawford take her."
"Aye aye, sir." Renner headed for his cabin. He'd reached the conclusion that he wasn't needed on the bridge fifty-eight minutes before. Now for a hot shower, and some sleep in his bunk instead of the conning chair.
The companionway to his cabin was jammed, as usual. Kevin Renner was pushing his way through with singleminded determination when someone lurched hard against hint.
"Dammit! Excuse me," he snarled. He watched the miscreant regain his feet by hanging onto the lapels of Renner's uniform. "Dr. Horvath, isn't it?"
"My apologies." The Science Minister stepped back and brushed at himself ineffectually. "I haven't gotten used to spin gravity yet. None of us have. It's the Coriolis effect that throws us off."
"No. It's the elbows," Renner said. He regained his habitual grin. "There are six times as many elbows as people aboard this ship, Doctor. I've been counting."
"Very funny, Mr. Renner, isn't it? Sailing Master Renner. Renner, this crowding bothers my personnel as much as yours. If we could stay out of your way, we would. But we can't. The data on the Eye have to be collected. We may never have such a chance again."
"I know, Doctor, and I sympathize. Now if you'll -- " Visions of hot water and clean bedding receded as Horvath clutched at his lapels again.
"Just a moment, please." Horvath seemed to be making up his mind about something. "Mr. Renner, you were aboard MacArthur when she captured the alien probe, weren't you?"
"Hoo Boy, I sure was."
"I'd like to talk to you."
"Now? But, Doctor, the ship may need my attention at any moment -- "
"I consider it urgent."
"But we're cruising through the photosphere of a star, as you may have noticed." And I haven't had a hot shower in three days. as you may also have noticed...Renner took a second look at Horvath's expression and gave up. "All right, Doctor. Only let's get out of the passageway."
Horvath's cabin was as cramped as anything on board, except that it had walls. More than half of MacArthur's crew would have considered those walls an undeserved luxury. Horvath apparently did not, from the look of disgust and the muttered apologies as they entered the cabin.
He lifted the bunk into the bulkhead and dropped two chairs from the opposite wall. "Sit down, Renner. There are things about that interception that have been bothering me. I hope I can get an unbiased view from you. You're not a regular Navy man."
The Sailing Master did not bother to deny it. He had been mate on a merchant ship before, and would skipper one when he left the Navy with his increased experience; and he could hardly wait to return to the merchant service.
"So," said Horvath, and sat down on the very edge of the foldout chair. "Renner, was it absolutely necessary to attack the probe?"
Renner started to laugh.
Horvath took it, though he looked as if he had eaten a bad oyster.
"All right," said Renner. "I shouldn't have laughed. You weren't there. Did you know the probe was diving into Cal for maximum deceleration?"
"Certainly, and I appreciate that you were too. But was it really that dangerous?"
"Dr. Horvath, the Captain surprised me twice. Utterly. When the probe attacked, I was trying to take us around the edge of the sail before we were cooked. Maybe I'd have got us away in time and maybe not. But the Captain took us through the sail. It was brilliant, it was something I should have thought of, and I happen to think the man's a genius. He's also a suicidal maniac."
On Renner's face was retrospective dread. "He should never have tried to pick up the probe. We'd lost too much time. We were about to ram a star. I wouldn't have believed we could pick up the damned thing so fast...
"Blaine did that himself?"
"No. He gave the job to Cargill. Who's better at tight high-gravity maneuvers than anybody else aboard. That's the point, Doctor. The Captain picked the best man for the job and got out of the way."
"And you would have run for it?"
"Forthrightly and without embarrassment."
"But he picked it up. Well." Horvath seemed to taste something bad. "But he also fired on it. The first -- "
"It shot first."
"That was a meteor defense!"
"So what?"
Horvath clamped his lips.
"All right, Doctor, try this. Suppose you left your car on a hill with the brakes off and the wheels turned the wrong way, and suppose it rolled down the hill and killed four people. What's your ethical position?"
"Terrible. Make your point, Renner."
"The Moties are at least as intelligent as we are. Granted? OK. They built a meteor defense. They had an obligation to see to it that it did not fire on neutral space craft."
Horvath sat there for what seemed a long time, while Kevin Renner thought about the limited capacity of the hot-water tanks in officers' country. That bad-taste expression was natural to Horvath, Renner saw; the lines in his face fell into it naturally and readily. Finally the Science Minister said, "Thank you, Mr. Renner."
"You're welcome." Renner stood.
An alarm sounded.
"Oh, Lord. That's me." Renner dashed for the bridge.

They were deep within the Eye: deep enough that the thin starstufi around them showed yellow. The Field indicators showed yellow too, but with a tinge of green.
All this Renner saw as he glanced around at half a dozen screens on the bridge. He looked at the plots on his own screens; and he did not see the battleship. "Lenin's Jumped?"
"Right," Midshipman Whitbread said. "We're next, sir." The red-haired middie's grin seemed to meet at the back of his head.
Blaine sailed into the bridge without touching the companionway sides. "Take the con, Mr. Renner. The pilot ought to be at your station now."
"Aye aye, sir," Renner turned to Whitbread. "I relieve you." His fingers danced across the input keys, then he hit a line of buttons even as the new data flowed onto his screen. Alarms went off in rapid succession: JUMP STATIONS, BATTLE STATIONS, HEAVY ACCELERATION WARNING.
MacArthur prepared herself for the unknown.