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

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06-07-2007, 08:16 PM
Chapter 18 - The Stone Beehive

Horace Bury watched the foot-high Moties playing behind the wire screen. "Do they bite?" he asked.
"They haven't yet," Horvath answered. "Not even when the biotechs took blood samples." Bury puzzled him. Science Minister Horvath considered himself a good judge of people-once he'd left science and gone into politics he'd had to learn fast-but he couldn't fathom Bury's thought processes. The Trader's easy smile was only a public face; behind it, remote and emotionless, he watched the Moties like God judging a dubious creation.
Bury was thinking, My but they're ugly. What a shame. They'd be useless as house pets, unless- He checked himself and stepped forward to reach through a gap in the netting large enough for an arm but not a Motie.
"Behind the ear," Horvath suggested.
"Thank you." Bury wondered if one would come to investigate his hand. The thin one came, and Bury scratched her behind the ear, carefully, for the ear looked fragile and delicate. But she seemed to enjoy it.
They'd make terrible pets, Bury thought, but they'd sell for thousands each. For a while. Before the novelty wore off. Best to hit every planet simultaneously. If they breed in captivity, and if we can keep them fed, and if I sell out before people stop buying- "Allah be-! She took my watch!."
"They love tools. You may have noticed that flashlight we gave them!'
"Never mind that, Horvath. How do I get my watch back? In Allah's- How did the catch come unfastened?"
"Reach in and take it. Or let me." Horvath tried. The enclosure was too big, and the Motie didn't want to give up the watch. Horvath dithered. "I don't want to disturb them too much."
"Horvath, that watch is worth eight hundred crowns! It not only tells the time and the date, but -- " Bury paused. "Come to that, it's also shockproof. We advertise that a shock that will stop a Chronos will also kill the own~ She probably can't hurt it much."
The Motie was examining the wrist watch in a sober, studious manner. Bury wondered if others would find the manner captivating. No house pet behaved like that, even cats.
"You have cameras on them?"
"Of course," said Horvath.
"My firm may want to buy this sequence. For advertising purposes." That's one thing, Bury thought. Now there was a Motie ship coming here, and Cargill taking the cutter somewhere. He'd never get anywhere pumping Cargill, but Buckman was going. There might be returns from the coffee the astrophysicist drank after all
The thought saddened him obscurely.

The cutter was the largest of the vehicles in hanger deck. She was a lifting body, with a flat upper surface that fitted flat against one wall of hangar deck. She had her own access hatches, to join the cutter's air locks to the habitable regions of MacArthur because hangar deck was usually in vacuum.
There was no Langston Field generator aboard the cutter, and no Alderson Drive. But her drive was efficient and powerful, and her fuel capacity was considerable even without strap-on tanks. The ablative shielding along her nose was good for one (1) reentry into a terrestrial atmosphere at up to 20 km/sec, or many reentries if things could be taken more slowly. She was designed for a crew of six, but would carry more. She could go from planet to planet, but not between stars. History had been ma again and again by spacecraft smaller than MacArthur's cutter.
There were half a dozen men bunking in her now. Or had been kicked out to make room for Crawford win Crawford was kicked out of his own stateroom by a three armed alien.
Cargill smiled when he saw that. "I'll take Crawford, he decided. "Be a shame to move him again. Lafferty coxswain. Three Marines..." He bent over his crew list. "Staley as midshipman." He'd welcome a chance to prove himself, and was steady enough under orders.
The cutter's interior was clean and polished, but there was evidence of Sinclair's oddball repairs along the port wall where Defiant's lasers had flashed through the ablative shielding; even at the long distances from which the cutter engaged, the damage had been severe.
Cargill spread his things out in the only enclosed cabin space and reviewed his flight plan options. Over that distance they could go at three gees all the way. In practice, it might be one gee over and five back. Just because the rock didn't have a fusion plant didn't mean it was uninhabited.
Jack Cargill remembered the speed with which the Motie had rebuilt his big percolator. Without even knowing what coffee was supposed to taste like! Could they be beyond fusion? He left his gear and put on a pressure suit, a skintight woven garment that was just porous enough to allow sweat to pass; it was a self-regulating temperature control, and with the tightly woven fabric to assist, his own skin was able to stand up to space. The helmet attached to a seal at the collar. In combat heavy armor would go over the whole mess, but this was good enough for inspections.
From the outside there was no evidence of damage or repair. Part of the heat shield hung below the cutter's nose like a great shovel blade, exposing the control room blister, windows, and the snout of the cutter's main armament: a laser cannon.
In battle the cutter's first duty was to make observations and reports. Sometimes she'd try to sneak in on a torpedo run on a blinded enemy warship. Against Motie ships with no Field, that cannon would be more than enough.
Cargill inspected the cutter's weapons with more than usual thoroughness. Already he feared the Moties. In this he was almost alone; but he would not be so forever.
The second alien ship was larger than the first, but estimates of its mass had a high finagle factor, depending on the acceleration (known), fuel consumption (deduced from drive temperature), operating temperature (deduced from the radiation spectrum, whose peak was in the soft x-ray region) and efficiency (pure guesswork). When ii was all folded together the mass seemed much too small: about right for a three-man ship.
"But they aren't men," Renner pointed out. "Four Moties weigh as much as two men, but they don't need as much room. We don't know what they're carrying for equipment, or armament, or shielding. Thin walls don't seem to scare them, and that lets them build bigger cabins -- "
"All right." Rod cut him off. "If you don't know, just say so."
"I don't know."
"Thank you," Rod said patiently. "Is there anything you are sure of?"
"Oddly enough, there is, sir. Acceleration. It's been constant to three significant figures since we spotted the ship. Now that's odd," Renner said. "Normally you fool with the drive to keep it running at peak, you correct minor errors in course...and if you leave it alone, there's still variation. To keep the acceleration that constant they must be constantly fiddling with it."
Rod rubbed the bridge of his nose. "It's a signal. They're telling us exactly where they're going."
"Yes, sir. Right here. They're saying to wait for them." Renner wore that strange, fierce grin. "Oh, we know something else, Captain. The ship's cross-sectional profile has decreased since we sighted it. Probably they've ditched some fuel tanks."
"How did you get that? Don't you have to have the target transit the sun?"
"Usually, yes. Here it blocks the Coal Sack. There's enough light bouncing off the Coal Sack to give us a good estimate of that ship's cross-sectional area. Haven't you noticed the colors in the Coal Sack, Captain?"
"No." Blaine rubbed at his nose again. "Throwaway fuel tanks doesn't make them sound like a warship, does it? But it's no guarantee. All it really tells us is that they're in a hurry."

Staley and Buckman occupied the rear seats in the cutter's triangular control cabin. As the cutter pulled away at one gee, Staley watched MacArthur's Field close behind them. Against the black of the Coal Sack the battle cruiser seemed to go invisible. There was nothing to look at but the sky.
Half that sky was Coal Sack, starless except for a hot pink point several degrees in from the edge. It was as if the universe ended here. Like a wall, Horst thought.
"Look at it," said Buckman, and Horst jumped. "There are people on New Scotland who call it the Face of God. Superstitious idiots!"
"Right," said Horst. Superstitions were silly.
"From here it doesn't look at all like a man, and it's ten times as magnificent! I wish my sister's husband could see it. He belongs to the Church of Him."
Horst nodded in the semidarkness.
From any of the known human worlds, the Coal Sack was a black hole in the sky. One would expect it to be black here. But now that Horst's eyes were adjusting, he saw traces of red glowing within the Coal Sack. Now the nebular material showed like layer after layer of gauzy curtains, or like blood spreading in water. The longer he looked, the deeper he could see into it. Eddies and whorls and flow patterns showed light years deep in the vacuumthin dust and gas.
"Imagine, me stuck with a Himmist for a brother-in-law! I've tried to educate the fool," Buckman said energetically, "but he just won't listen."
"I don't think I've ever seen a more beautiful sky. Dr. Buckman, is all that light coming from Murcheson's Eye?"
"Doesn't seem possible, does it? We've tried to find other sources, fluorescence, UV stars deep in the dust, like that. If there were masses in there we'd have found them with mass indicators. Staley, it's not that unlikely. The Eye isn't that far from the Coal Sack."
"A couple of light years."
"Well, what of it? Light travels farther than that, giver a free path!" Buckman's teeth glowed in the faint multi. colored light of the control panel. "Murcheson lost golden opportunity by not studying the Coal Sack when he had the chance. Of course he was on the wrong side of the Eye, and he probably didn't venture very far from the breakout point...and it's our luck, Staley! There's never been an opportunity like this! A thick interstellar mass, and a red supergiant right at the edge for illumination! Look, look along my arm, Staley, to where the currents flow toward that eddy. Like a whirlpool, isn't it? I your captain would stop twiddling his thumbs and give mc access to the ship's computer, I could prove that that eddy is a protostar in the process of condensation! Or that it isn't."
Buckman had a temporary rank higher than Staley's, but he was a civilian. In any case, he shouldn't be talking about the Captain that way. "We do use the computer for other things, Dr. Buckman."
Buckman let go of Staley's arm. "Too damned many.' His eyes seemed lost; his soul was lost in that enormous veil of red-lit darkness. "We may not need it, though. The Moties must have been observing the Coal Sack for at their history; hundreds of years, maybe thousands. Especially if they've developed some such pseudoscience as astrology. If we can talk to them..." He trailed off.
Staley said, "We wondered why you were so eager to come along."
"What? Do you mean jaunting off with you to see that rock? Staley, I don't care what the Motie was using it for, I want to know why the Trojan points are so crowded.'
"You think there'll be clues?"
"Maybe, in the composition of the rock. We can hope so.,,
"I may be able to help you there," Staley said slowly. "Sauron-my home-has an asteroid belt and mining industries. I learned something about rock mining from my uncles. Thought I might be a miner myself, once." He stopped abruptly, expecting Buckman to bring up an unpleasant subject.
Buckman said, "I wonder what the Captain expects to find there?"
"He told me that. We know, just one thing about that rock," said Staley. "A Motie was interested in it. When we know why, we'll know something about Moties."
"Not very much," Buckman growled.
Staley relaxed. Either Buckman didn't know why Sauron was infamous, or...no. Tactful? Buckman? Not hardly.

The Motie pup was born five hours after MacArthur's cutter left for the asteroid. The birth was remarkably doglike, considering the mother's distant relationship to dogs; and there was only the one pup, about the size of a rat.
The lounge was very popular that day, as crew and officers and scientists and even the Chaplain found an excuse to drop by.
"Look how much smaller the lower left arm is," said Sally. "We were right, Jonathan. The little ones are derived from the big Moties."
Someone thought of leading the large Motie down to the lounge. She did not seem the least interested in the new miniature Motie; but she did make sounds at the others. One of them dug Horace Bury's watch out from under a pillow and gave it to her.
Rod watched the activities around the Motie pup when. he could. It seemed very highly developed for a newborn; within hours of its birth it was nibbling at cabbages, and it seemed able to walk, although the mother usually carried it with one set of arms. She moved rapidly and was hardly hampered by it at all.
Meanwhile, the Motie ship drew nearer; and if there was any change in its acceleration, it was too small for MacArthur to detect.
"They'll be here in seventy hours," Rod told Cargill via laser message. "I want you back in sixty. Don't let Buckman start anything he can't finish within the time limit. If you contact aliens, tell me fast-and don't try to talk them unless there's no way out."
"Aye aye, Skipper."
"Not my orders, Jack. Kutuzov's. He's not happy about this excursion. Just look that rock over and get back."
The rock was thirty million kilometers distant from MacArthur, about a twenty-five-hour trip each way at C gee. Four gravities would cut that in half. Not enough, Staley thought, to make it worthwhile putting up with four gees.
"But we could go at 1.5 gee, sir," he suggested to Cargill. "Not only would the trip be faster, but we'd get there faster. We wouldn't move, around so much. The cut wouldn't seem so crowded."
"That's brilliant," Cargill said warmly. "A brilliant suggestion, Mr. Staley."
"Then we'll do it?"
"We will not."
"But-why not, sir?"
"Because I don't like plus gees. Because it uses fuel and if we use too much MacArthur may have to dive into the gas giant to get us home. Never waste fuel, Mr. Staley. You may want it someday. And besides, it's nitwit idea."
"Yes, sir."
"Nitwit ideas are for emergencies. You use them when you've got nothing else to try. If they work, they go in the Book. Otherwise you follow the Book, which is largely collection of nitwit ideas that worked." Cargill smiled at Staley's puzzled look. "Let me tell you about the one got in the Book..."
For a midshipman it was always school time. Staley would hold higher ranks than this one, if he had the ability, and if he lived.
Cargill finished his story and looked at the time. "Get some sleep, Staley. You'll have the con after turnover."

From a distance the asteroid looked dark, rough, and porous. It rotated once in thirty-one hours; oddly slow, according to Buckman. There was no sign of activity: motion, no radiation, no anomalous neutrino flux. Horst Staley searched for temperature variations but there were none.
"I think that confirms it," he reported. "The place must be empty. A life form that evolved on Mote Prime would need heat, wouldn't it, sir?"
The cutter moved in. Stippling which had made the rock look porous at a distance became pocks, then gaping holes of random size. Meteors, obviously. But so many?
"I told you the Trojan points were crowded," Buckman said happily. "Probably the asteroid passes through the thick of the Trojan cluster regularly...only, give me a close-up of that big pock there, Cargill."
Two powers higher, and the screen was half filled by a black pit. Smaller pits showed around it.
"No sign of a crater rim," Cargill said.
"Noticed that, did you? Damn thing's hollow. That's why the density is so low. Well, it's not inhabited now, but it must have been once. They even went to the trouble of giving it a comfortable rotation." Buckman turned. "Cargill, we'll want to search through that thing."
"Yes, but not you. A Navy crew will board the rock."
"This is my field of competence, damn it!"
"Your safety's mine, Doctor. Lafferty, take us around the rock."
The back of the asteroid was one enormous cup-shaped crater.
"Pocked with little craters...but they are craters. Not holes," said Cargill. "Doctor, what do you make of that?"
"I can't imagine. Not if it's a natural formation -- "
"It was moved!" Staley exclaimed.
"Oddly enough, just what I was thinking," Cargill said. "The asteroid was moved using thermonuclear devices, exploding the bombs progressively in the same crater to channel the blast. It's been done before. Get me a radiation reading, Midshipman."
"Aye aye, sir." He left, and returned in a minute. "Nothing, sir. It's cold."
"Really?" Cargill went to check that for himself. When he finished he looked at his instruments and frowned. "Cold as a pirate's heart. If they used bombs, they must have been goddamn clean. That shouldn't surprise me."
The cutter circled farther around the flying mountain.
"That could be an air lock. There." Staley pointed at a raised cap of stone surrounded by an archery target in faded orange paint.
"Right, but I doubt if we'd get it open. We'll go in through one of the meteor holes. Still...we'll look it over. Lafferty, take us in."

In their reports they called it Beehive Asteroid. The rock was all many-sided chambers without floors linked by channels too small for men, all choked with dried asymmetrical mummies. Whatever miracles the builders had made, artificial gravity was not one of them. The corridors went in all directions; the larger chambers and storage rooms were studded everywhere with knobs for hand holds, anchor points for lines, storage niches.
The mummies floated everywhere, thin and dried, with gaping mouths. They varied from a meter to a meter and a half in height. Staley chose several and sent them back to the cutter.
There was machinery too, all incomprehensible to Staley and his men, all frozen fast by vacuum cementing. Staley had one of the smaller machines torn from the wall. He chose it for strangeness, not potential use; none of the machines was complete. "No metal," Staley reported. "Stone flywheels and things that look like they might be integrated circuits-ceramics with impurities, that kind of thing. But very little metal, sir."
They moved on at random. Eventually they reached a central chamber. It was gigantic, and so was the machine that dominated it. Cables that might have been power superconductors led from the wreck, convincing Staley that this was the asteroid's power source; but it showed no trace of radiation.
They worked through narrow passages between incomprehensible blocks of stone, and found a large metallic box.
"Cut into that," Staley ordered.
Lafferty used his cutting laser. They stool around watching the narrow green beam do nothing to the silvery casing. Staley wondered: where was the energy going? Could they be pumping power into it, somehow? Warmth on his face hinted at the answer.
He took a thermometer reading. The casing was just less than red-hot, all over. When Lafferty turned off the laser the casing cooled rapidly; but it maintained the same temperature at every point.
A superconductor of heat. Staley whistled into his suit mike and wondered if he could find a smaller sample. Then he tried using pliers on the casing-and it bent like tin. A strip came away in the pliers. They tore sheets off with their gauntleted hands.
It was impossible to map the Beehive with its tight, curving corridors. It was hard to tell where they were; but they marked their paths as they went, and used proton beam instruments to measure distances through walls.
The corridor walls were eggshell thin throughout the interior. They were not much thicker outside. Beehive Asteroid could not have been a safe place to live.
But the wall beneath the crater was many meters thick. Radiation, Staley thought. There must have been residual radiation. Otherwise they would have carved this wail out the way they did all the others, to make room for themselves.
There must have been a wild population explosion here.
And then something killed them all off.
And now there was no radiation at all. How bong ago did it all happen? The place was covered with small meteor holes; scores of holes in the walls. How long?
Staley looked speculatively at the small, heavy Motie artifact Lafferty and Sohl were manhandling through the corridor. Vacuum cementing-and the wandering of elementary particles across an interface. That might tell MacArthur's civilian scientists just how long Beehive Asteroid had been abandoned; but already he knew one thing. It was old.