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

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06-07-2007, 08:19 PM
Chapter 24 - Brownies

MacArthur's wardroom was crowded. All the seats at the main table were taken by officers and scientists and there were others around the periphery. At one bulkhead the communications people had installed a large screen while the mess stewards got in the artificers' way as they delivered coffee to the assembled company. Everyone chattered, carefree, except Sally. She remembered Rod Blaine's worried face, and she couldn't join in the happy reunion.
Officers and ratings stood as Rod came into the wardroom. Some of the civilians stood likewise; others pretended not to see the Captain; and a few looked at him, then looked away, exploiting their civilian status. As Rod took his place at the head of the table he muttered, "At ease," then sat carefully. Sally thought he looked even more worried than before.
"Is this room secure?"
"As near as we can make it, sir. Four files outside and I looked into the duct works."
"What is this?" Horvath demanded. "Just who do you think you are guarding against?"
"Everyone-and every thing-not here, Doctor." Rod looked at the Science Minister with eyes that showed both command and pleading. "I must tell you that everything discussed here will be classified Top Secret. Do each and all of you waive the reading of the Imperial Regulations on disclosure of classified information?"
There was muttered assent. The cheery mood of the group had suddenly vanished.
"Any dissents? Let the record show there were none. Dr. Horvath, I am given to understand that three hours ago you discovered that the miniatures are highly trained animals capable of technical work performed under command. Is that correct?"
"Yes. Certainly. It was quite a surprise, I can tell you! The implications are enormous-if we can learn to direct them, they would be fabulous additions to our capabilities."
Rod nodded absently. "Is there any chance that we could have known that earlier? Did anyone know it? Anyone at all?"
There was a confused 'babble but no one answered. Rod said, carefully and clearly, "Let the record show there was no one."
"What is this record you keep speaking of?" Horvath demanded. "And ~hy are you concerned about it?"
"Dr. Horvath, this conversation will be recorded and duly witnessed because it may be evidence in a court martial. Quite possibly mine. Is that clear enough?"
"What- Good heavens!" Sally gasped. "Court-martial? You? Why?"
"The charge would be high treason," Rod said. "I see most of my officers aren't surprised. My lady, gentlemen, we have strict orders from the Viceroy himself to do nothing to compromise any Imperial military technology, and in particular to protect the Langston Field and Alderson Drive from Motie inspection. In the past weeks animals capable of learning that technology and quite possibly of passing it on to other Moties have roamed my ship at will. Now do you understand?"
"I see." Horvath showed no signs of alarm, but his face grew thoughtful. "And you have secured this room- Do you really believe the miniatures can understand what we say?"
Rod shrugged. "I think it possible they can memorize conversations and repeat them. But are the miniatures still alive? Kelley?"
"Sir, there haven't been any signs of them for weeks. No raids on food stores. Ferrets haven't turned up a thing but a bloody lot of mice. I think the beasties are dead, Captain."
Blaine rubbed his nose, then quickly drew his hand away. "Gunner, have you ever heard of 'Brownies' aboard this ship?"
Kelley's face showed no surprise. In fact it showed nothing. "Brownies, Captain?"
"Rod, have you lost your mind?" Sally blurted. Everyone was looking at her, and some of them didn't seem friendly. Oh boy, she thought, I've stuck my foot in it. Some of them know what he's talking about. Oh boy.
"I said Brownies, Gunner. Have you ever heard of them?"
"Well, not officially, Captain. I will say some of the spacers seem lately to believe in the Little People. Couldn't see any harm in it meself." But Kelley looked confused. He had heard of this and he hadn't reported it, and now the Captain, his Captain, might be in trouble over it.
"Anyone else?" Rod demanded.
Rod had to strain to see who was speaking. Midshipman Potter was near the far wall, almost hidden by two biologists. "Yes, Mr. Potter?"
"Some of the men in my watch section, Captain-they say that if ye leave some food-grain, cereals, mess leftovers, anything at all-in the corridors or under your bunk along with something that needs fixing, it gets fixed." Potter looked uncomfortable. It was obvious he thought he was reporting nonsense. "One of the men called them 'Brownies.' I thought it a joke."
Once Potter had spoken there were a dozen others, even some of the scientists. Microscopes with smoother focusing operations than the best things ever made by Leica Optical. A handmade lamp in the biology section. Boots and shoes customized to individual feet. Rod looked up at that one.
"Kelley. How many of your troops have sidearms individualized like yours and Mr. Renner's?"
"Uh-I don't know, sir."
"I can see one from here. You, man, Polizawsky, how did you come by that weapon?"
The Marine stammered. He wasn't used to speaking to officers, certainly not the Captain, and most certainly not the Captain in an ugly mood. "Uh, well, sir, I leaves my weapon and a bag o' popcorn by my bunk and next morning it's done, sir. Like the others said, Captain."
"And you didn't think this unusual enough to report to Gunner Kelley?"
"Uh-sir-uh, some of the others, we thought maybe, uh, well, the Surgeon's been talking about hallucinations in space, Captain, and we, uh -- "
"Besides, if you reported it I might stop the whole thing," Rod finished for him. Oh, God damn it to hell! How was he going to explain all this? Busy, too busy arbitrating squabbles with the scientists- But the fact stood out. He'd neglected his naval duties, and with what outcome?
"Aren't you taking all this too seriously?" Horvath asked. "After all, Captain, the Viceroy's orders were given before we knew much about Moties. Now, surely, we can see they aren't dangerous, and they certainly aren't hostile."
"Are you suggesting, Doctor, that we put ourselves in the position of countermanding an Imperial Directive?"
Horvath looked amused. His grin spread slowly across his face. "Oh no," he said. "I don't even imply, it. I only suggest that if and when-when, really, it's inevitable- that policy is changed, all this will seem a trifle silly, Captain Blaine. Childish in fact."
"Be damned to you!" Sinclair exploded. "That's nae way to talk to the Captain, mon!"
"Gently, Sandy," First Lieutenant Cargill interjected. "Dr. Horvath, I take it you've never been involved in military intelligence? No, of course not. But you see, in intelligence work we have to go by capabilities, not by intentlons. If a potential enemy can do something to you, you have to prepare for it, without regard to what you think he wants to do."
"Exactly," Rod said. He was glad of the interruptions. Sinclair was still fuming at his end of the table, and it wouldn't take much to make him explode again. "So first we have to find out what the potential of the miniatures is. From what rye seen of the air-lock construction, plus what we gather about the 'Brownies,' that's quite high."
"But they're only animals," Sally insisted. She looked at the fuming Sinclair, the sardonically smiling Horvath and Rod's worried face. "You don't understand. This business with tools-well, yes, they're good with tools, but it's not intelligence. Their heads are too small. The more brain tissue they use for this instinct to make tools work; the more they have to give up. They've virtually no sense of smell or taste. They're very nearsighted. They've less sense of language than a chimpanzee. Their space perception is good, and they can be trained, but they don't make tools, they only fix or change things. Intelligence!" She exploded. "What intelligent being would have custom formed the grip on Mr. Battson's toothbrush?"
"As for spying on us, how could they? Nobody could have trained them for it. They were randomly selected the first place." She looked around at their faces, trying to judge if she was getting through.
"You're really sure the escaped miniatures are alive? The voice was hearty, tinged with New Scot accent. Rod looked across to Dr. Blevins, a colonial veterinarian drafted into the expedition. "My own miniature is dying Captain. Nothing I can do about it. Internal poisoning, glandular deterioration-the symptoms seem to be similar to old age."
Blaine shook his head slowly. "I wish I could think so Doc, but there are too many Brownie stories in this ship. Before this meeting I talked to some of the other chiefs and it's the same on the lower decks. Nobody wanted report it because first, we'd think they were crazy, and second, the Brownies were too useful to risk losing. No for all of Gunner Kelley's Irish folk tales, there have never been any Little People on Navy ships-it has to be the miniatures."
There was a long silence. "What harm are they doing anyway?" Horvath asked. "I'd think some Brownies would be an asset, Captain."
"Hah." That didn't need comment in Rod's opinion. "Harm or good, immediately after this meeting we will sterilize this ship. Sinclair, have you arranged to evacuate hangar deck?"
"Aye, Captain."
"Then do it. Open it to space, and see all the compartments in there are opened to space. I want that hangar deck dead. Commander Cargill, see that the essential watch crew are in battle armor. Alone in their battle armor, Number One. The rest of you give some thought to whatever equipment you have that can't stand hard vacuum. When hangar deck's done, Kelley's Marines will help you get that into hangar deck; then we depressurize the rest of the ship. We're going to put an end to Brownies once and for all."
"But" -- "Hey, that's silly" -- "My cultures will die" -- "Goddamn regular Navy bastards are always" -- "Can he do that?" -- "Aye aye, Captain" -- "What the hell does he think he's -- "
"Tenn-shut!" Kelley's roar cut through the babble.
"Captain, do you really have to be so vicious about it?" Sally asked.
He shrugged. "I think they're cute too. So what? If I don't order it done, the Admiral will anyway. Now, are we all agreed that the miniatures aren't spies?"
"Not deliberate ones," Renner said. "But, Captain, do you know about the incident with the pocket computer?"
"The big Motie took Miss Fowler's pocket computer apart. And put it back together again. It works."
"Uh." Rod made a sour face. "But that was the big brown Motie."
"Which can talk to the little Moties. It made the miniatures give Mr. Bury his watch back," Renner said.
"I've got the crew alerted, Captain," Cargill reported. He was standing by the wardroom intercom. "I didn't tell anyone anything. The crew thinks it's a drill."
"Good thinking, Jack. Seriously, everyone, what's the objection to killing off these vermin? The big Motie did the same thing, and if, as you say, they're only animals, there must be plenty more of them. We won't be upsetting the big Moties one whit. Will we?"
"Well, no-oo," said Sally. "But -- "
Rod shook his head decisively. "There are plenty of reasons for killing them, and I haven't heard any for keeping them around. We can take that as settled, then."
Horvath shook his head. "But it's all so drastic, Captain. Just what do we think we're protecting?"
"The Alderson Drive, directly. Indirectly, the whole Empire, but mainly the Drive," Cargill said seriously "And don't ask me why I think the Empire needs protecting from Moties. I don't know, but-I think it does."
"You won't save the Drive. They've already got that,' Renner announced. He gave them all a lopsided smile as everyone in the room swiveled toward him.
"What?!" Rod demanded. "How?"
"Who's the bloody traitor?" Sinclair demanded. "Name the scum!"
"Whoa! Hold it! Stop already!" Renner insisted. "They already had the Drive, Captain. I only learned an hour ago. It's all recorded, let me show you." He stood and went to the big screen. Images flashed across it until Renner found the place he wanted. He turned to the watchful group.
"It's nice to be the center of attention -- " Renner cut off at the sight of Rod's glare. "This is a conversation between, uh, my Motie and myself. I'll use split screens to show you both sides of it." He touched the controls and the screen sprang to life: Renner on MacArthur's bridge, his Fyunch(click) in the Motie embassy ship. Renner ran it at high speed until he found precisely what he wanted.
"You might have come from anywhere," said Renner's Motie. "Though it seems more likely that you came from a nearby star, such as-well, I can point to it." Stellar images showed on a screen behind the Motie; screen within screens. She pointed with the upper right arm. The star was New Caledonia. "We know that you have an instantaneous drive, because of where you appeared."
Renner's image sat forward. "Where we appeared?"
"Yes. You appeared precisely in the..." Renner's Motie seemed to search for a word. Visibly, she gave up "Renner, I must tell you of a creature of legend."
"Say on." Renner's image dialed for coffee. Coffee and stories, they went together.
"We will call him Crazy Eddie, if you like. He is a...he is like me, sometimes, and he is a Brown, an idiot savant tinker, sometimes. Always he does the wrong things for excellent reasons. He does the same things over and over, and they always bring disaster, and he never learns."
There were small sounds of whispering in MacArthur's wardroom. Renner's image said, "For instance?"
Renner's Motie's image paused to think. It said, "When a city has grown so overlarge and crowded that it is in immediate danger of collapse...when food and clean water flow into the city at a rate just sufficient to feed every mouth, and every hand must work constantly to keep it that way...when all transportation is involved in moving vital supplies, and none is left over to move people out of the city should the need arise...then it is that Crazy Eddie leads the movers of garbage out on strike for better working conditions."
There was considerable laughter in the wardroom. Renner's image grinned and said, "I think I know the gentleman. Go on."
"There is the Crazy Eddie Drive. It makes ships vanish."
"Theoretically, it should be an instantaneous drive, a key to throw the universe wide open. In practice it makes ships vanish forever. The drive has been discovered and built and tested many times, and always it makes ships vanish forever with everyone aboard, but only if you use it right, mind. The ship must be in just the right place, a place difficult to locate exactly, with the machinery doing just what the theoreticians postulate it must, or nothing will happen at all."
Both Renners were laughing now. "I see. And we appeared in this point, the Crazy Eddie point. From which you deduce that we have solved the secret of the Crazy Eddie Drive."
"You got it."
"And what does that make us?"
The alien parted its lips in a smile disturbingly shark like, disturbingly human...Renner gave them a good look at that smile before he turned it off.
There was a long silence, then Sinclair spoke. "Well, that's plain enough, is it not? They ken the Alderson Drive but not the Langston Field."
"Why do you say that, Commander Sinclair?" Horvath asked. Everyone tried to explain it to him at once, but the Chief Engineer's burr easily carried through the babble.
"Yon beasties' ships vanish, but only at the correct place, aye? So they ken the Drive. But they never see the ships back home, because they coom into normal space in yon red star. 'Tis plain as a pikestaff."
"Oh." Horvath nodded sadly. "With nothing to protect them. After all, it is the inside of a star, isn't it?"
Sally shuddered. "And your Motie said they'd tried it often." She shuddered again. Then: "But, Mr. Renner- none of the other Moties ever talk about astrogation or anything like that. Mine told me about 'Crazy Eddie' as if he were around only in primitive times-a lost legend."
"And mine spoke of Crazy Eddie as an engineer always using tomorrow's capital to fix today's problems," Sinclair blurted.
"Anyone else?" Rod prompted.
"Well -- " Chaplain David Hardy looked embarrassed. His plump face was almost beet-red. "My Motie says Crazy Eddie founds religions. Weird, very logical, and singularly inappropriate religions."
"Enough," Rod protested. "I seem to be the only one whose Motie has never mentioned Crazy Eddie." He looked thoughtful. "We can all agree that the Moties do have the Drive, but not the Field?"
They all nodded. Horvath scratched his ear for a moment, then' said, "Now that I remember the history of Langston's discovery, it's no surprise that the Moties don't have the Field. I'm amazed they have the Drive itself, although its principles can be deduced from astrophysical research. The Field, though, was a purely accidental invention."
"Given that they know it exists, then what?" Rod asked.
"Then- I don't know," Horvath said.
There was complete silence in the room. An ominous silence. Finally the bubble burst. Sally was laughing.
"You all look so deadly serious," she protested. "Suppose they have both Drive and Field? There's only the one planet full of Moties. They aren't hostile, but even if they were, do you really think they would be a threat to the Empire? Captain, what could Lenin do to the Mote planet right now, all by itself, if Admiral Kutuzov gave the order?"
The tension broke. Everyone smiled. She was right, of course. The Moties didn't even have warships. They didn't have the Field, and if they invented it, how would they learn space-war tactics? Poor peaceful Moties, what challenge could they be to the Empire of Man?
Everyone except Cargill. He wasn't smiling at all as he said, quite seriously, "I just don't know, my lady. And I really wish I did."

Horace Bury was not invited to the conference, although he knew of it. Now, while it was still going on, a Marine guard came to his cabin and politely, but very firmly, ushered him out of it. The guard would not say where he was taking Bury, and after a while it was obvious he did not know.
"The Gunner, he says to stay with you and be ready to take you to where the rest of them is, Mr. Bury."
Bury slyly examined the man. What would this one do for a hundred thousand crowns? But then, it wasn't necessary. Not at the moment. Surely Blaine wasn't going to have him shot. For a moment Bury was frightened. Could they have made Stone talk, back on New Chicago?
By Allah, no one was safe. Absurd. Even if Stone had told everything, there were and could be no messages to MacArthur from the Empire. They were as effectively sealed off as the Moties.
"You are to stay with me. Does your officer say where I am to go?"
"Not right now, Mr. Bury."
"Then take me to Dr. Buckman's laboratory. Why not? We will both be more comfortable."
The private thought about, it. "OK, come on."
Bury found his friend in an ugly mood. "Pack everything that can't stand hard vacuum," Buckman was muttering. "Get everything that can ready for it. No reason. Just do it." He poked at gadgetry. He had already packed a good deal in boxes and big plastic bags.
Bury's own tension may have showed. Senseless orders, a guard outside the door...he was feeling like a prisoner again. It took him quite a while to calm Buckman down. Finally the astrophysicist slumped into a chair and lifted a cup of coffee. "Haven't seen you much," he said. "Been busy?"
"There is really very little for me to do in this ship. Few tell me anything," Bury said equably-and that took self-control. "Why must you be ready for hard vacuum here?"
"Hah! I don't know. Just do it. Try to call the Captain, he's in conference. Try to complain to Horvath, and he's in conference. If they aren't available when you need them, just what use are they, anyway?"
Sounds came through from the corridor outside: heavy things were being moved. What could it be about? Sometimes they evacuated ships to get rid of rats...
That was it! They were killing off the miniatures! Allah be praised, he had acted in time. Bury smiled widely in relief. He had a better idea of the value of the miniatures since the night he had left a box of baklava next to the open faceplate of his personal pressure suit. He'd almost lost it all.
To Buckman he said, "How did you make out in the Trojan point asteroids?"
Buckman looked startled. Then he laughed. "Bury, I haven't thought about that problem in a month. We've been studying the Coal Sack."

"We've found a mass in there...probably a protostar. And an infrared source. The flow patterns in the Coal Sack are fantastic. As if the gas and dust were viscous. Of course it's the magnetic fields that make it act like that. We're learning wonderful things about the dynamics of a dust cloud. When I think of the time I wasted on those Trojan point rocks...when the whole problem was so trivial!"
"Well, go on, Buckman. Don't leave me hanging."
"Uh? Oh, I'll show you." Buckman went to the intercom and read out a string of numbers.
Nothing happened.
"That's funny. Some idiot must have put a RESTRICTED on it." Buckman closed his eyes, recited another string of numbers. Photographs appeared on the screen. "Ah. There!"
Asteroids tumbled on the screen, the pictures blurred and jumpy. Some were lopsided, some almost spherical, many marked with craters.
"Sorry about the quality. The near Trojans are a good distance away...but all it took was time and MacArthur's telescopes. Do you see what we found?"
"Not really. Unless..." All of them had craters. At least one crater. Three long, narrow asteroids in succession, and each had a deep crater at one end. One rock twisted almost into a cashew shape; and the crater was at the inside of the curve. Each asteroid in the sequence had a big deep Crater in it; and always a line through the center would have gone through the rock's center of mass.
Bury felt fear and laughter rising in him. "Yes, I see. You found that every one of those asteroids had been moved into place artificially. Therefore you lost interest."
"Naturally. When I think that I was expecting to find some new cosmic principle -- " Buckman shrugged. He swallowed some coffee.
"I don't suppose you told anyone?"
"I told Dr. Horvath. Why, do you suppose he put the RESTRICTED designation on it?"
"It may be. Buckman, how much energy do you think it would take to move such a mass of rocks around?"
"Why, I don't know. A good deal, I think. In fact..." Buckman's eyes glowed. "An interesting problem. I'll let you know after this idiocy is over." He turned back to his gear.
Bury sat where he was, staring at nothing. Presently he began to shiver.