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

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06-07-2007, 08:17 PM
Chapter 20 - Night Watch

For a wonder the gun room was quiet. With three junior lieutenants crammed in among six middies, it was usually a scene of chaos. Potter sighed thankfully to see that everyone was asleep except Jonathon Whitbread. Despite his banter, Whitbread was one of Potter's friends aboard MacArthur.
"How's astronomy?" Whitbread asked softly. The older midshipman was sprawled in his hammock. "Hand me a bulb of beer, will you, Gavin?"
Potter got one for himself too. "It's a madhouse down there, Jonathon. I thought it would be better once they found Mote Prime, but it isn't."
"Hm. Mapping a planet's no more than routine for the Navy," Whitbread told him.
"It might be routine for the Navy, but this is my first deep space cruise. They have me doing most of the work while they discuss new theories I can't understand. I suppose you'd say it's good training?"
"It's good training."
"Thank you." Potter gulped beer.
"It doesn't get any more fun, either. What have you got so far?
"Quite a bit. There is one moon, you know, so getting the mass was straightforward. Surface gravity about 870 cm/sec square."
"Point 87 standard. Just what the Motie probe's accelerating. No surprises there."
"But they are in the atmosphere," Potter said eagerly. "And we've mapped the civilization centers. Neutrinos, roiled air columns above fusion plants, electromagnetics-they're everywhere, on every continent and even out into the seas. That planet's crowded." Potter said it in awe. He was used to the sparseness of New Scotland. "We've got a map, too. They were just finishing the globe when I left. Would you like to see it?"
"Sure." Whitbread unstraped from his web hammock. They climbed down two decks to scientist country. Most of the civilians worked in the relatively high gravity areas near the outer surface of MacArthur, but bunked nearer the ship's core.
The 120-cm globe was set up in a small lounge used by the astronomy section. During action stations the compartment would be occupied by damage-control parties and used for emergency-repair assemblies. Now it was empty. A chime announced three bells in the last watch.
The planet was mapped completely except for the south pole, and the globe indicated the planet's axial tilt. MacArthur's light-amplifying telescopes had given a picture much like any Earth-type planet: deep and varied blues smeared with white frosting, red deserts, and white tips of mountains. The films had been taken at various times and many wave lengths so that the cloud covers didn't obscure too much of the surface. 'Industrial centers marked in gold dotted the planet.
Whitbread studied it carefully while Potter poured coffee from Dr. Buckman's Dewar flask. Buckman, for some reason, always had the best coffee in the ship-at least the best that middies had access to.
"Mr. Potter, why do I get the feeling that it looks like Mars?"
"I wouldn't know, Mr. Whitbread. What's a Mars?"
"Sol Four. Haven't you ever been to New Annapolis?"
"I'm Trans-Coalsack, remember."
Whitbread nodded. "You'll get there, though. But I guess they skip part of the training for colonial recruits. It's a pity. Maybe the Captain can arrange it for you. The fun thing is that last training mission, when they make you calculate an emergency minimum fuel landing on Mars, and then do it with sealed tanks. You have to use the atmàsphere to brake, and since there isn't very damned much of it, you almost have to graze the ground to get any benefit."
"That sounds like fun, Mr. Whitbread. A pity I have dentist appointment that day -- "
Whitbread continued to stare at the globe while he sipped coffee. "It bothers me, Gavin. It really does. Let' go ask somebody."
"Commander Cargill's still out at the Beehive." As First Lieutenant, Cargill was officially in charge of midshipman training. He was also patient with the youngsters, when many other officers were not.
"Maybe somebody will still be up," Whitbread sug gested. They went forward toward the bridge, and saw Renner with flecks of soap on his chin. They did not hear him cursing because he now had to share a head with nine other officers.
Whitbread explained his problem. "And it looks like Mars, Mr. Renner. But I don't know why."
"Beats me," Renner said. "I've never been anywhen near Sol." There was no reason for merchant ships to go closer to Sol than the orbit of Neptune, although as the original home of humanity Sol was centrally located as transfer point to other and more valuable systems. "Never heard anything good about Mars, either. Why is it important?"
"I don't know. It probably isn't."
"But you seem to think it is."
Whithread didn't answer.
"There's something peculiar about Mote Prime, though It looks like any random world in the Empire, except- Or is it just because I know it's covered with alien monsters? Tell you what, I'm due for a glass of wine with the Captain in five minutes. Just let me get my tunic and you come along. We'll ask him."
Renner darted into his stateroom before Whitbread and Potter could protest. Potter looked at his companion accusingly. Now what kind of trouble had he got them into?
Renner led them down the ladders into the high-gravit) tower where the Captain's patrol cabin was. A bored Marine sat at the desk outside Blaine's quarters. Whitbread recognized him-reputedly, Sergeant Maloney's vacuum still, located somewhere forward of the port torpedo room, made the best Irish Mist in the fleet. Maloney strove for quality, not quantity.
"Sure, bring the middies in," Blaine said. "There's not much to do until the cutter gets back. Come in, gentlemen. Wine, coffee, or something stronger?"
Whitbread and Potter settled for sherry, although Potter would have preferred Scotch. He had been drinking it since he was eleven. They sat in small folding chairs which fitted into dogs scattered around the deck of Blaine's patrol cabin. The observation ports were open and the ship's Field off, so MacArthur's bulk hovered above them. Blaine noted the middies' nervous glances and smiled. It got to everybody at first.
"What's the problem?" Blaine asked. Whitbtead explained.
"I see. Mr. Potter, would you get that globe on my intercom? Thank you." Rod studied the image on the screen. "Hm. Normal-looking world. The colors are off, somehow. Clouds look-well, dirty. Not surprising. There's all kinds of crud in the atmosphere. You'd know that, Mr. Whitbread."
"Yes, sir." Whitbread wrinkled his nose. "Filthy stuff."
"Right. But it's the helium that's driving Buckman up the bulkhead. I wonder if he's figured it out yet? He's had several days...Dammit, Whitbróad, it does look like Mars. But why?"
Whitbread shrugged. By now he was sorry he'd raised the subject.
"It's hard to see the contours. It always is." Absently Rod carried his coffee and irish Mist over to the intercom screen. Officially he didn't know where the Irish Mist came from. Kelley and his Marines always saw that the Captain had plenty, though. Cziller had liked slivovitz, and that had strained Maloney's ingenuity to the breaking point.
Blaine traced the outline of a small sea. "You can't tell land from sea, but the clouds always look like permanent formations..." He traced it again. "That sea's almost a circle."
"Yah.. So's this one." Renner traced a faint ring of islands, much larger than the sea Blaine had studied. "And this-you can only see part of the arc." This was on land, an arc of low hills.
"They're all circles," Blaine announced. "Just like Mars. That's it. Mars has been circling through Sol's asteroid belt for four billion years. But there aren't that many asteroids in this system, and they're all in the Trojan points."
"Sir aren't most of the circles a bit small for that?" Potter asked.
"So they are, Mr. Potter. So they are."
"But what would it mean?" Whitbread said aloud. He meant it mostly for himself.
"Another mystery for Buckman," Blaine said. "He'll love it. Now, let's use the time more constructively. I'm glad you brought the young gentlemen, Mr. Renner. I don't suppose you both play bridge?"
They did, as it happened, but Whitbread had a string of bad luck. He lost nearly a full day's pay.

The game was ended by the return of the cutter. Cargill came immediately to the Captain's quarters to tell about the expedition. He had brought information, a pair of incomprehensible Motie mechanisms now being offloaded in hangar deck, and a torn sheet of gold-metallic stuff which he carried himself with thidk gloves. Blaine thanked Renner and the middies for the game and they took the thinly veiled hint, although Whitbread would have liked to stay.
"I'm for my bunk," Potter announced. "Unless -- "
"Yes?" Whitbread prompted.
"Would it nae be a bonny sight if Mr. Crawford were to see his stateroom now?" Potter asked mischievously.
A slow grin spread across Jonathon Whitbread's plump features. "It would indeed, Mr. Potter. It would indeed. Let's hurry!"
It was worth it. The midshipmen weren't alone in the debriefing rooms off hangar deck when a signal rating, prompted by Whitbread, tuned in the stateroom.
Crawford didn't disappoint them. He would have committed xenocide, the first such crime in human history, if he hadn't been restrained by his friends. He raved so much that the Captain heard about it, and as a result Crawford went directly from patrol to standing the next watch.
Buckman collected Potter and scurried to the astronomy lab, sure that the young middie had created chaos. He was pleasantly surprised at the work accomplished. He was also pleased with the coffee waiting for him. That flask was always full, and Buckman had come to expect it. He knew that it was somehow the work of Horace Bury.
Within half an hour of the cutter's arrival, Bury knew of the sheet of golden metal. Now that was something odd-and potentially quite valuable. The ancient-looking Motie machines might be equally so- If he could only get access to the cutter's computer! But Nabil's skills didn't include that one.
Ultimately there would be coffee and conversation with Buckman, but that could wait, that could wait. And tomorrow the Motie ship would arrive. No question about it, this was going to be a very valuable expedition-and the Navy thought they were punishing him by keeping him away from his business! True, there would be no growth without Bury to supervise it and drive his underlings on, but it wouldn't suffer much either; and now, with what he would learn here, Imperial Autonetics might become the most powerful firm in the Imperial Traders' Association. If the Navy thought the ITA made trouble for them now, wait until it was controlled by Horace Bury! He smiled slyly to himself. Nabil, seeing his master's smile, hunched nervously and tried to be inconspicuous.
Below in hangar deck Whitbread was put to work along with everyone else who had wandered there. Cargill had brought back a number of items from the Stone Beehive, and they had to be uncrated. Whitbread was ingenious enough to volunteer to assist Sally before Cargill gave him another job.
They unloaded skeletons and mummies for the anthropology lab. There were doll-sized miniatures, very fragile, that matched the live miniatures in the petty officers' lounge. Other skeletons, which Staley said were very numerous in the Beehive, matched the Motie miner now bunked in Crawford's stateroom.
"Hah!" cried Sally. They were unpacking still another mummy.
"Uh?" Wlhitbread asked.
"This one, Jonathon. It matches the one in the Motie probe. Or does it? The forehead slope is wrong...but of course they'd pick the most intelligent person they could find as emissary to New Caledonia. This is a first contact with aliens for them too."
There was a small, small-headed mummy, only a meter long, with large, fragile hands. The long fingers on all three hands were broken. There was a dry hand which Cargill had found floating free, different from anything yet found: the bones strong and straight and thick, the joints large. "Arthritis?" Sally wondered. They packed it carefully away and went on to the next box, the remains of a foot which had also been floating free. It had a small, sharp thorn on the heel, and the front of the foot was as hard as a horse's hoof, quite sharp and pointed, unlike the other Motie foot structures.
"Mutations?" Sally said. She turned to Midshipman Staley, who had also been drafted for striking the cargo below. "You say the radiation was all gone?"
"It was dead cold, uh-Sally," said Staley. "But it must have been a hell of radiation at one time."
Sally shivered. "I wonder just now much time we're talking about. Thousands of years? It would depend on how clean those bombs they used to propel the asteroid were."
"There was no way of telling," Staley answered. "But that place felt old, Sally. Old, old. The most ancient thing I can compare it to is the Great Pyramid on Earth. It felt older than that."
"Um," she said. "But that's no evidence, Horst."
"No. But that place was old. I know it."

Analysis of the finds would have to wait. Just unloading and storing took them well into the first watch, and everyone was tired. It was 0130, three bells in the first watch, when Sally went to her cabin and Staley to the gun room. Jonathon Whitbread was left alone.
He bad drunk too much coffee in the Captain's cabin and he was not tired. He could sleep later. In fact he would have to, since the Mode ship would pull alongside MacArthur during the forenoon watch but that was nine hours away, and Whitbread was young.
MacArthur's corridors glowed with half the lights of the ship's day. They were nearly empty, with the stateroom doors all closed. The ever present human voices that drifted in every corridor during MacArthur's day, interfering with each other until no single voice could be heard, had given way to-silence.
The tension of the day remained, though. MacArthur would never be at rest while in the alien system. And out there, invisible, her screens up and her crew standing double watches, was the great cylindrical bulk of Lenin. Whitbread thought of the huge laser cannon on the battleship: many would be trained on MacArthur right now.
Whitbread loved night watches. There was room to breathe, and room to be alone. There was company too, crewmen on watch, late-working scientists-only this time everyone seemed to be asleep. Oh, well, he could watch the miniatures on the intercom, have a final drink, read a little, and go to sleep. The nice thing about the first watch was that there would be unoccupied labs to sit in.
The intercom screen was blank when he dialed the Moties. Whitbread scowled for a second-then grinned and strolled off toward the petty officers' lounge.
Be it admitted: Whitbread was expecting to find two miniature Moties engaged in sexual congress. A midshipman must find his own entertainment, after all.
He opened the door-and something shot between his feet and out, a flash of yellow and brown. Whitbread's family had owned dogs. It gave him certain trained reflexes. He jumped back, fast, slammed the door to keep anything else from getting out, then looked down the corridor.
He saw it quite clearly in the instant before it dodged into the crew galley area. One of the miniature Modes; and the shape above its shoulders had to be the pup.
The other adult must still be in the petty officers' lounge. For a moment Whitbread hesitated. He had caught dogs by moving after them immediately. It was in the galley-but it didn't know him., wasn't trained to his voice- and damn it, it wasn't a dog. Whitbread scowled. This would be no fun at all. He went to an intercom and called the watch officer.

"Jee Zuss Christ," said Crawford. "All right, you say one of the goddamn things is still in the lounge? Are yot sure?"
"No, sir. I haven't actually looked in there, but I only spotted one."
"Don't look in there," Crawford ordered. "Stay by the door and don't let anyone in there. I'll have to call the Captain." Crawford. scowled. The Captain might well bite his head off, being called out of bed because a pet had got loose, but the standing orders said any activities by aliens must be reported to the Captain immediately.
Blaine was one of those fortunate people who can come awake instantly without transition. He listened to Crawford's report.
"All right, Crawford, get a couple of Marines to relieve Whitbread and tell the midshipman to stand by. I'll want his story. Turn out another squad of Marines and wake up the cooks. Have them search the galley." He closed his eyes to think. "Keep the lounge sealed until Dr. Horvath gets down there." He switched off the intercom. Have to call Horvath, Rod thought.
And have to call the Admiral. Best to postpone thai until he knew what had happened. But it couldn't be put off long. He pulled on his tunic before calling the Science Minister.
"They got loose? How?" Horvath demanded. The Science Minister was not one of those fortunate people. His eyes were wounds. His thin hair went in all directions at once. He worked his mouth, clearly not satisfied with the taste.
"We don't know," Rod explained patiently. "The camera was off. One of my officers went to investigate." That'll do for the scientists, anyway. Damned if I'm going to let a bunch of civilians roast the kid. If he's got lumps coming, I'll give 'em myself. "Doctor, we'll save time if you'll come down to the lounge area immediately."
The corridor outside the lounge was crowded. Horvath in a rumpled red-silk dressing gown; four Marines, Leyton, the junior officer of the watch, Whitbread, Sally Fowler dressed in a bulky housecoat but with her face well scrubbed and her hair in a bandanna. Two cooks and a petty officer cook, all muttering as they rattled pans in the galley, were searching for the Motie while more Marines looked around helplessly.
Whitbread was saying, "I slammed the door and looked down the corridor. The other one could have gone the other way -- "
"But you think he's still in there."
"All right, let's see if we can get in there without letting him out."
"Uh-do they bite, Cap'n?" a Marine corporal asked. "We could issue the men some gauntlets."
"That won't be necessary," Horvath assured them. "They have never bitten anyone."
"Yessir," the corporal said. One of his men muttered, "They said that about hive rats, too," but no one paid any attention. Six men and a woman formed a semicircle around Horvath as he prepared to open the door. They were tense, grim, the armed Marines ready for anything. For the first time Rod felt a wild. urge to laugh. He choked it down. But that poor, tiny beast- Horvath went through the door quickly. Nothing came out.
They waited.
"All right," the Science Minister called. "I can see it. Come on in, one at a time. It's under the table."
The miniature watched them slide through the door, one by one, and surround it. If it were waiting for an opening, it never saw one. When the door was shut and seven men and a woman ringed its refuge, it surrendered. Sally cradled it in her arms.
"Poor little thing," she crooned. The Motie looke around, obviously frightened.
Whitbread examined what was left of the camera. It ha shorted out, somehow. The short had maintained itself long enough for metal and plastic to fuse and drip, leaving a stench not yet removed by MacArthur's air plant. The wire netting just behind the camera had melted too, leaving a large hole. Blaine came over to examine the wreckage.
"Sally," Rod asked. "Could they have been intelligent enough to plan this?"
"No!" said Sally and Horvath, forcefully, in chorous. "The brain's too small," Dr. Horvath amplified.
"Ah," Whitbread said to himself. But he did not forget that the camera had been inside the netting.
Two communications division artificers were summoned to patch the hole. They welded new netting over it, and Sally put the miniature back in its cage. The artifice brought in another video camera, which they mounted outside the netting. No one made any comment.
The search went on through the watch. No one found the female and the pup. They tried getting the big Motie to help, but she obviously didn't understand or wasn't interested. Finally, Blaine went back to his cabin to sleep for a couple of hours. When he woke the miniatures were still missing.
"We could set the ferrets after them," Cargill suggested at breakfast in the wardroom. A leading torpedoman kept a pair of the cat-sized rodents and used them to keep the forecastle clear of mice and rats. The ferrets were extremely efficient at that.
"They'd kill the Moties," Sally protested. "They aren't dangerous. Certainly no more dangerous than rats. We can't kill them!"
"If we don't find them pretty soon, the Admiral's going to kill me," Rod growled, but he gave in. The search continued and Blaine went to the bridge.
"Get me the Admiral," he told Staley.
"Aye aye, sir." The midshipman spoke into the com circuit.
A few moments later Admiral Kutuzov's craggy bearded features came onto the screen. The Admiral was on his bridge, drinking tea from a glass. Now that Rod thought of it, he had never spoken to Kutuzov when he wasn't on the bridge. When did he sleep? Blaine reported the missing Moties.
"You still have no idea what these miniatures are, Captain?" Kutuzov demanded.
"No, sir. There are several theories. The most popular is that they're related to the Moties the same way that monkeys are related to humanity."
"That is interesting, Captain. And I suppose these theories explain why there are monkeys on asteroid mining ship? And why this miner brought two monkeys aboard your war vessel? I have not noticed that we carry monkeys, Captain Blaine."
"No, sir."
"The Motie probe arrives in three hours," Kutuzov muttered. "And the miniatures escaped last night. This timing is interesting, Captain. I think those miniatures are spies."
"Spies, sir?"
"Spies. You are told they are not intelligent. Perhaps true, but could they memorize? That does not seem to me impossible. You have told me of mechanical abilities of large alien. It ordered miniatures to return that Trader's watch. Captain, under no circumstances may adult alien be allowed contact with miniatures which have escaped. Nor may any large alien do so. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir."
"You want reason?" the Admiral demanded. "If there is any chance at all that those beasts could learn secrets of Drive and Field, Captain..."
"Yes, sir. I'll see to it."
"See that you do, Captain."
Blaine sat for a moment staring at the blank screen, then glanced across ,at Cargill. "Jack, you shipped with the Admiral once, didn't you? What's he really like under all that legendary image?"
Cargill took a seat near Blaine's command chair. "I was only a middie when he was Captain, Skipper. Not too close a relationship. One thing, we all respected him. He's the toughest officer in the service and he doesn't excuse anyone, especially not himself. But if there are battles to be fought, you've got a better chance of coming back alive with the Tsar in command."
"So I've heard. He's won more general fleet actions than any officer in the service, but Jesus, what a tough bastard."
"Yes, sir." Cargill studied his captain closely. They had been lieutenants together not long before, and it was easier to talk to Blaine than it would be with an older CO. "You've never been on St. Ekaterina, have you, Skipper?"
"But we've got several crewmen from there. Lenin has more, of course. There's an unholy high percentage of Katerinas in the Navy, Skipper. You know why?"
"Only vaguely."
"They were settled by the Russian elements of the old CoDominium fleet," Cargill said. "When the CD fleet pulled out of Sol System, the Russkis put their women and children on Ekaterina. In the Formation Wars they got hit bad. Then the Secession Wars started when Sauron hit St. Ekaterina without warning. It stayed loyal, but..."
"Like New Scotland," Rod said.
Cargill nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, sir. Imperial loyalist fanatics. With good reason, given their history. The only peace they've ever seen has been when the Empire's strong."
Rod nodded judiciously, then turned back to his screens. There was one way to make the Admiral happy. "Staley," Blaine snapped. "Have Gunner Kelley order all Marines to search for the escaped Moties. They are to shoot on sight. Shoot to disable, if possible, but shoot. And have those ferrets turned loose in the galley area."