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

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06-07-2007, 08:18 PM
Chapter 21 - The Ambassadors

As the Motie ship made its final approach, all details of its construction remained hidden by the flaring drive. MacArthur watched with screens up and charged. A hundred kilometers away, Lenin watched too.
"Battle stations, Mr. Staley," Blaine ordered softly.
Staley grasped the large red handle which now pointed to Condition Two and moved it all the way clockwise. Alarms trilled, then a recorded trumpet sang "To Arms!," rapid notes echoing through steel corridors.
Officers and crew rushed to action stations-gun crews, talkers, torpedomen, Marines. Shipfitters and cooks and storekeepers became damage-control men. Surgeon's mates manned emergency aid stations throughout the ship-all quickly, all silently. Rod felt a burst of pride. Cziller had given him a taut ship, and by God they still were taut.
"COM ROOM REPORTS CONDITION RED ONE," the bridge talker announced. The quartermaster's mate third class said words given him by someone else, and all over the ship men rushed to obey, but he gave no orders of his own. He parroted words that would send MacArthur leaping across space, fire laser cannon and launch torpedoes, attack or withdraw, and he reported results that Blaine probably already knew from his screens and instruments. He took no initiative and never would, but through him the ship was commanded. He was an all-powerful mindless robot.
"Staley, have the Marines not on sentry duty continue the search for those missing aliens," Blaine ordered.
"Aye aye, sir."
The Motie ship decelerated toward MacArthur, the fusion flame of its drive a blaze on the battle cruiser's screens. Rod watched nervously. "Sandy, how much, of that drive could we take?"
"It's nae too hot, Captain," Sinclair reported through the intercom. "The Field can handle all of that for twenty minutes or more. And 'tis nae focused, Skipper, there'd be nae hot spots."
Blaine nodded. He'd reached the same conclusion, but it was wise to check when possible. He watched the light grow steadily.
"Peaceful enough," Rod told Renner. "Even if it is a warship."
"I'm not so sure it is one, Captain." Renner seemed very much at ease. Even if the Motie should attack he'd be more a spectator than a participant. "At least they've aimed their drive flame to miss. Courtesy counts."
"The hell it does. That flames spreads. Some of it is spilling onto our Langston Field, and they can observe what it does to us."
"I hadn't thought of that."
"God damn it!" Blaine shouted. "That's astronomy. Get those corridors cleared!"
"It'll be Buckman," Renner grinned. "And they'll have their troubles getting him to his stateroom..."
"Yeah. Mr. Staley, tell the Marines to put Buckman in his cabin even if they have to frogmarch him there."
Whitbread grinned to himself. MacArthur was in free fall, all her spin gone. Now how would the Marines frogmarch the astrophysicist in that?
"One of the leading cooks thinks he saw a miniature," Staley said. "The Marines are on the way."
The alien ship drew closer, her drive a steady white blaze. She was cutting it very fine, Blaine thought. The deceleration hadn't changed at all. They obviously trusted everything-their drives, their computers, sensors...
"The Marines have Dr. Buckman in his stateroom," Staley said. "Dr. Horvath is on the intercom. He wants to complain."
"Listen to him, Staley. But not for long."
MacArthur was at full alert. All through the ship her crew waited at action stations. All nonessential equipment located near the ship's hull had been sent below.
The tower containing Blaine's patrol cabin stuck out of the battle cruiser's hull like an afterthought. For spin gravity it was conveniently far from the ship's axis, but in a battle it would be the first thing shot off. Blaine's cabin was an empty shell now, his desk and the more important gear long since automatically raised into one of the nullgravity recreation areas.
Every idle compartment at the ship's core was jammed, while the outer decks were empty, cleared to make way for damage-control parties.
And the Motie ship was approaching fast. She was still no more than a brightening light, a fusion jet fanning out to splash MacArthur's Langston Field.
"No surprises," said Renner sotto voce.
The light expanded to fill the screen-and then dimmed. Next moment the alien ship was sliding precisely alongside the battle cruiser, and its drive flame was already off.
It was as if the vessel had entered an invisible dock predetermined six days ago. The thing was at rest relative to MacArthur. Rod saw shadows moving within the inflated rings at its fore end.
Renner snarled, an ugly sound. His face contorted. "Goddamn show-offs!"
"Mr. Renner, control yourself."
"Sorry, sir. That's the most astounding feat of astrogation I've ever heard of. If anyone tried to tell me about it, I'd call him a liar. Who do they think they are?" Renner was genuinely angry. "Any astrogator-in-training that tried a stunt like that would be out on his tail, if he lived through the crash."
Blaine nodded. The Motie pilot had left no margin of error at all. And- "I was wrong. That couldn't possibly be a warship. Look at it."
"Yah. It's as fragile as a butterfly. I could crush it in my hand."
Rod mused a moment, then gave orders. "Ask for volunteers. To make first contact with that ship, alone, using an unarmed taxi. And...keep Condition Red One."

There were a good many volunteers.
Naturally Mr. Midshipman Wbitbread was one of them. And Whitbread had done it before.
Now he waited in the taxi. He watched the hangar doors unfolding through his polarized plastic faceplate.
He had done this before. The Motie miner hadn't killed him, had she? The black rippled. Sudden stars showed through a gap in the Langston Field.
"That's big enough," Cargill's voice said in his right ear. "You may launch, Mr. Whitbread. On your way-and Godspeed."
Whitbread fired thruster clusters. The taxi rose, floated through the opening into starry space and the distant glare of Murcheson's Eye. Behind him the Langston Field closed. Whitbread was sealed outside.
MacArthur was a sharply bounded region of supernatural blackness. Whitbread circled it at leisure. The Mote flashed bright over the black rim, followed by the alien ship.
Whitbread took his time. The ship grew slowly. Its core was as slender as a spear. Functional marking showed along its sides: hatch covers; instrument ports, antennae, no way to tell. A single black square fin jutted from near the midpoint: possibly a radiator surface.
Within the broad translucent doughnuts that circled the fore end he could see moving shapes. They showed clearly enough to arouse horror: vaguely human shadows twisted out of true.
Four toroids, and shadows within them all. Whitbread reported, "They're using all their fuel tanks for living space. They can't expect to get home without our help."
The Captain's voice: "You're sure?"
"Yes, sir. There could be an inboard tank, but it wouldn't be very large."
He had nearly reached the alien craft. Whitbread slowed to a smooth stop just alongside the inhabited fuel tanks. He opened his air-lock door.
A door opened immediately near the fore end of the metal core. A Motie stood in the oval opening; it wore a transparent envelope. The alien waited.
Whitbread said, "Permission to leave the -- "
"Granted. Report whenever convenient. Otherwise, use your own judgment. The Marines are standing by, Whitbread, so don't yell for help unless you mean it. They'll come fast. Now good luck."
As Cargill's voice faded, the Captain came on again. "Don't take any serious risks, Whitbread. Remember, we want you back to report."
"Aye aye, sir."
The Motie stepped gracefully out of his way as Whitbread approached the air lock. It left the Motie standing comically on vacuum, its big left hand gripping a ring that jutted out from the hull. "There's stuff poking out all over," Whitbread said into his mike. "This thing couldn't have been launched from inside an atmosphere."
He stopped himself in the oval opening and nodded at the gently smiling alien. He was only half sardonic as he asked formally, "Permission to come aboard?"
The alien bowed from the waist-or perhaps it was an exaggerated nod? The joint in its back was below the shoulders. It gestured toward the ship with the two right arms.
The air lock was Motie-sized, cramped. Whitbread found three recessed buttons in a web of silver streamers. Circuitry. The Motie watched his hesitation, then reached past him to push first one, then another.
The lock closed behind him.

The Mediator stood on emptiness, waiting for the lock to cycle. She wondered at the intruder's queer structure, the symmetry and the odd articulation of its bones. Clearly the thing was not related to known life. And its home ship had appeared in what the Mediator thought of as the Crazy Eddie point.
She was far more puzzled at its failure to work out the lock circuitry without help.
It must be here in the capacity of a Mediator. It had to be intelligent. Didn't it? Or would they send an animal first? No, certainly not. They couldn't be that alien; it would be a deadly insult in any culture.
The lock opened. She stepped in and set it cycling. The intruder was waiting in the corridor, filling it like a cork in a bottle. The Mediator took time to strip off her pressure envelope, leaving her naked. Alien as it was, the thing might easily assume she was a Warrior. She must convince the creature that she was unarmed.
She led the way toward the roomier inflated sections. The big, clumsy creature had trouble moving. it did not adapt well to free fall. It stopped to peer through window panels into sections of the ship, and examined mechanism the Browns had installed in the corridor...why would an intelligent being do that?
The Mediator would have liked to tow the creature, but it might take that as an attack. She must avoid that at all costs.
For the present, she would treat it as a Master.

There was an acceleration chamber: twenty-six twisted bunks stacked in three columns, all similar in appearance to Crawford's transformed bunk; yet they were not quit identical, either. The Motie moved ahead of him, graceful as a dolphin. Its short pelt was a random pattern curved brown and white stripes, punctuated by fot patches of thick white fur at the groin and armpits. Whibread found it beautiful. Now it had stopped to wait for him-impatiently, Whitbread thought.
He tried not to think about how thoroughly he was trapped. The corridor was unlighted and claustrophobically narrow. He looked into a line of tanks connected by pumps, possibly a cooling system for hydrogen fuel. It would connect to that single black fin outside.
Light flashed on the Motie.
It was a big opening, big enough even for Whitbread. Beyond: dim sunlight, like the light beneath a thunderstorm. Whitbread followed the Motie into what had to be one of the toroids. He was immediately surrounded by aliens.
They were all identical. That seemingly random pattern of brown and white was repeated on every one of them. At least a dozen smiling lopsided faces ringed him at a polite distance. They chattered to each other in quick squeaky voices.
The chattering stopped suddenly. One of the Moties approached Whitbread and spoke several short sentences that might have been in different languages, though to Whitbread they were all meaningless.
Whitbread shrugged, theatrically, palms forward.
The Motie repeated the gesture, instantly, with incredible accuracy. Whitbread cracked up. He sprawled helplessly in free fall, arms folded around his middle, cackling like a chicken.
Blaine spoke in his ear, his voice sober and metallic. "All right, Whitbread, everyone else is laughing too. The question is -- "
"Oh, no! Sir, am I on the intercom again?"
"The question is, what do the Moties think you're doing?"
"Yessir. It was the third arm that did it." Whitbread had sobered. "It's time for my strip-tease act, Captain. Please take me off that intercom...
The telltale at his chin was yellow, of course. Slow poison; but this time he wasn't going to breath it. He took a deep breath, undogged, and lifted his helmet. Still holding his breath, he took SCUBA gear from an outside patch of his suit and fitted the mouthpiece between his teeth. H turned on the air; it worked fine.
Leisurely he began to strip. First came the baggy coverall that contained the suit electronics and support gear. Then he unsnapped the cover, strips that shielded the zippers, and opened the tight fabric of the pressure suit itself. The zippers ran along each limb and up the chest; without them it would take hours to get in and out of suit, which looked like a body stocking or a leotard. The elastic fibers conformed to every curve of his musculature as they had to, to keep him from exploding in vacuum with their support, his own skin was in a sense his pressure suit, and his sweat glands were the temperature regulating system.
The tanks floated free in front of him as he struggled out of the suit. The Moties moved slowly, and one Brown, no stripes, identical to the miner aboard Mac Arthur came over to help.
He used the all-purpose goop in his tool kit to stick his helmet to the translucent plastic wall. Surprisingly it did not work. The brown Motie recognized his difficulty instantly. He (she, it) produced a tube of something and dabbed it on Whitbread's helmet; now it stuck. Jonathon faced the camera toward him, and stuck the rest of his suit next to it.
Humans would have aligned themselves with their head at the same end, as if they must define an up direction before they could talk comfortably. The Moties were at all angles. They clearly didn't give a damn. They waited, smiling.
Whitbread wriggled the rest of the way out of his suit until he wore nothing at all.
The Moties moved in to examine him.
The Brown was startling among all the brown-and white patterns. It was shorter than the others, with slightly bigger hands and an odd look to the head, as far as Whitbread could tell, it was identical to the miner. The others looked like the dead one in the Motie light-sail probe.
The brown one was examining his suit, and seemed to be doing things to the tool kit; but the others were prodding at him, seeking the musculature and articulations of his body, looking for places where prodding would produce reflex twitching and jumping.
Two examined his teeth, which were clenched. Others traced his bones with their fingers: his ribs, his spine, the shape of his head, his pelvis, the bones of his feet. They palpated his hands and moved the fingers in ways they were not meant to go. Although they were gentle enough, it was all thoroughly unpleasant.
The chattering rose to a crescendo. Some of the sounds were so shrill they were nearly inaudible shrieks and whistles, but behind them were melodious mid-range tones. One phrase seemed to be repeated constantly in high tenor. Then they were all behind him, showing each other his spine. They were very excited about Whitbread's spine. A Motie signaled him by catching his eye and then hunching back and forth. The joints jutted as if its back were broken in two places. Whitbread felt queasy watching it, but he got the idea. He curled into fetal position, straightened, then curled up again. A dozen small alien hands probed his back.
Presently they backed away. One approached and seemed to invite Whitbread to explore his (her, its) anatomy. Whitbread shook his head and deliberately looked away. That was for the scientists.
He received his helmet and spoke into the mike~ "Ready to report, sir. I'm not sure what to do next. Shall I try to get of them to come back to MacArthur with me?"
Captain Blaine's voice sounded strained "Definitely not. Can you get outside their ship?"
"Yes, sir, if I have to."
"We'd rather you did. Report on a secure line, Whitbread."
"Uh-yes, sir." Jonathon signaled the Moties, pointed to his helmet and then to the air lock. The one who had been conducting him around nodded. He climbed back into his suit with help from the brown Motie, dogged the fastenings and attached his helmet. A Brown-and-white led him to the air lock.
There was no convenient place outside to attach the safety line, but after a glance his Motie escort glued hook onto the ship's surface. It did not look substantial, that hook. Jonathon worried about it briefly. Then frowned. Where was the ring the Motie had held when Whitbread first approached? It was gone. Why?
Oh, well. MacArthur was close. If the hook broke they would come get him. Gingerly he pushed away from the Motie ship until he hung in empty space. He used helmet sights to line up exactly with the antenna protruding from MacArthur's totally black surface. Then touched the SECURITY stud with his tongue.
A thin beam of coherent light stabbed out from his helmet. Another came in from MacArthur, following his own into a tiny receptacle set into the helmet. A ring around that receptacle stayed in darkness; if there we any spillover the tracking system on MacArthur would correct it or, if the spill touched still a third ring around Whitbread's receiving antenna, cut off communication entirely.
"Secure, sir," he reported. He let an irritated but puzzled note creep into his voice. After all, he thought, I'm entitled to a little expression of opinion. Aren't I?"
Blaine answered immediately. "Mr. Whitbread, the reason for, this security is not merely to make you uncomfortable. The Moties do not understand our language now, but they can make recordings; and later they will understand Anglic. Do you follow me?"
"Why-yes sir." Ye gods, the Old Man was really thinking ahead.
"Now, Mr. Whitbread, we cannot allow any Motie aboard MacArthur until we have disposed of the problem of the miniatures, and we will do nothing to let the Moties know we have such a problem. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir."
"Excellent. I'm sending a boatload of scientists your way-now that you've broken the ground, so to speak. By the way, well done. Before I send the others, have you further comments?".
"Um. Yes, sir. First, there are two children aboard. I saw them clinging to the backs of adults. They're bigger than miniatures, and colored like the adults."
"More evidence of peaceful intent," Blaine said. "What else?"
"Well, I didn't get a chance to count them, but it looks like twenty-three Brown-and-whites and two brown asteroid-miner types. Both of the children were with the Browns. I've been wondering why."
"Eventually we'll be able to ask them. All right, Whitbread, we'll send over the scientists. They'll have the cutter. Renner, you on?"
"Yes, sir."
"Work out a course. I want MacArthur fifty kilometers from the Motie ship. I don't know what the Moties will do when we move, but the cutter'll be over there first."
"You're moving the ship, sir?" Renner asked incredulously. Whitbread wanted to cheer but restrained himself
Nobody said anything for a long moment.
"AU right," Blaine capitulated. "I'll explain. The Admiral is very concerned about the miniatures. He thinks they might be able to talk about the ship. We've orders to see that the escaped miniatures have no chance to communicate with an adult Motie, and one klick is just a bit close."
There was more silence.
"That's all, gentlemen. Thank you, Mr. Whitbread," Rod said. "Mr. Staley, inform Dr. Hardy that he can get aboard the cutter any time."

"Well, you're on," Chaplain Hardy thought to himself. He was a round, vague man, with dreamy eyes and red hair just beginning to turn gray. Except for conducting the Sunday worship services he had deliberately stayed in his cabin during most of the expedition.
David Hardy was not unfriendly. Anyone could come to his cabin for coffee, a drink, a game of chess, or a long talk, and many did. He merely disliked people in large numbers. He could not get to know them in a crowd.
He also retained his professional inclination not to discuss his work with amateurs and not to publish results until enough evidence was in. That, he told himself, would be impossible now. And what were the aliens? Certain they were intelligent. Certainly they were sentient. And certainly they had a place in the divine scheme of the universe. But what?
Crewmen moved Hardy's equipment aboard the cutter. A tape library, several stacks of children's books, reference works (not many; the cutter's computer would be able draw on the ship's library; but David still liked books, impractical as they were). There was other equipment: two display screens with sound transducers, pitch reference electronic filters to shape speech sounds, raise or low pitch, change timbre and phase. He had tried to stow the gear himself, but First Lieutenant Cargill had talked him out of it. Marines were expert at the task, and Hardy's worries about damage were nothing compared to theirs; if anything broke they'd have Kelley to contend with.
Hardy met Sally in the air lock. She was not traveling light either. Left to herself, she'd have taken everything, even the bones and mummies from the Stone Beehive; but the Captain would only allow her holographs, and even those were hidden until she could learn the Moties attitude toward grave robbers. From Cargill's description of the Beehive, the Moties had no burial customs, but that was absurd. Everyone had burial customs, even the most primitive humans.
She could not take the Motie miner, either, or the remaining miniature, which had become female again. And the ferrets and Marines were searching for the other miniature and the pup (and why had it run away with the other miniature, not its mother?). She wondered if the fuss she had made about Rod's orders to the Marines might be responsible for the ease with which she won her place on the cutter. She knew she wasn't really being fair to Rod. He had his orders from the Admiral. But it was wrong. The miniatures weren't going to hurt anyone. It took a paranoid to fear them.
She followed Chaplain Hardy into the cutter's lounge. Dr. Horvath was already there. The three of them would be the first scientists aboard the alien ship, and she felt a surge of excitement. There was so much to learn!
An anthropologist-she thought of herself as fully qualified now,, and certainly ,there was no one to dispute it-a linguist, and Horvath, who had been a competent physicist before going into administration. Horvath was the only useless one in the group, but with his rank he was entitled to the seat if he demanded it. She did not think the same description applied to herself, although half the scientists aboard MacArthur did.
Three scientists, a coxswain, two able spacers, and Jonathon Whitbread. No Marines, and no weapons aboard. Almost, the excitement was enough to cover the fear that welled up from somewhere in her insides. They had to be unarmed, of course; but she would have felt better, all the same, if Rod Blaine had been aboard. And that was impossible.
Later there would be more people on the cutter. Buckman with a million questions once Hardy cracked the communications problem. The biologists would come in force. A Navy officer, probably Crawford, to study the Motie weapons. An engineering officer. Anyone, but not the Captain. It was unlikely that Kutuzov would allow Rod Blaine to leave his ship no matter how peaceful they might find the Moties.
She was suddenly homesick. On Sparta she had a home, Charing Close, and within minutes was the Capital. Sparta was the center of civilization-but she seemed to be living in a series of space craft of diminishing sizes, with the prison camp thrown in for variety. When she graduated from the university she had made a decision: she would be a person, not an ornament to some man's career. Right now, though, there was much to be said for being an ornament, especially for the right man, only- No. She must be her own woman.
There was a crash couch and a curved instrument board at one end of the cutter's lounge. It was the fire-control bridge-some lounge! But there were also couches and recessed tables for games and dining.
"Have you been through this boat?" Horvath was asking her.
"I beg your pardon?" Sally answered.
"I said, 'Have you been through this boat?' It has gun emplacements all over it. They took out the works, but they left enough to show there were guns. Same with the torpedoes. They're gone, but the launch ports are still there. What kind of embassy ship is this?"
Hardy looked up from a private reverie. "What would you have done in the Captain's place?"
"I'd have used an unarmed boat."
"There aren't any," Hardy replied softly. "None you could live on, as you'd know if you spent any time on hangar deck." Chapel was held on hangar deck, and Horvath had not attended. That was his business, but no harm in reminding him.
"But it's so obviously a disarmed warship!"
Hardy nodded. "The Moties were bound to discover our terrible secret sooner or later. We are a warlike species. Anthony. It's part of our nature. Even so, we arrive in a complete disarmed fighting vessel. Don't you think that's a significant message for the Moties?"
"But this is so important to the Empire!"
David Hardy nodded assent. The Science Minister was right, although the Chaplain suspected he had the wrong reasons.
There was a slight lurch, and the cutter was on her way. Rod watched on the bridge screens and felt helpless frustration. From the moment the cutter came alongside the Motie vessel, one of Crawford's batteries would be locked onto her-and Sally Fowler was aboard the frail, disarmed ship.
The original plan had the Moties coming aboard MacArthur, but until the miniatures were found that was impossible. Rod was glad that his ship would not be host to the aliens. I'm learning to think paranoid, he told himself. Like the Admiral.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of the miniatures, Sally wasn't speaking to him, and everyone else was edgy.
"Ready to take over, Captain," Renner said. "I relieve you, sir."
"Right. Carry on, Sailing Master."
Acceleration alarms rang, and MacArthur moved smoothly away from the alien vessel-and away from the cutter, and Sally.