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

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06-07-2007, 08:22 PM
Chapter 28 - Kaffee Klatsch

Rod and Sally sat alone in the Captain's patrol cabin. The intercom screens were off, and the status board above Rod's desk showed a neat pattern of green lights. Rod stretched his long legs out and sipped at his drink. "You know, this is about the first time we've had alone together since we left New Caledonia. It's nice."
She smiled uncertainly. "But we don't have very long-the Moties are expecting us to come back, and I've got dictating to do...How much longer can we stay in the Mote system, Rod?"
Blaine shrugged. "Up to the Admiral. Viceroy Merrill wanted us back as soon as possible, but Dr. Horvath wants to learn more. So do I. Sally, we still don't have anything significant to report! We don't know whether the Moties are a threat to the Empire or not."
"Rod Blaine, will you stop acting like a Regular Navy officer and be yourself? There is not one shred of evidence that the Modes are hostile. We haven't seen any signs of weapons, or wars, or anything like that -- "
"I know," Rod said sourly. "And that worries me. Sally, have you ever heard of a human civilization that didn't have soldiers?"
"No, but Moties aren't human."
"Neither are ants, but they've got soldiers- Maybe you're right, I'm catching it from Kutuzov. Speaking of which, he wants more frequent reports. You know that every scrap of data gets transmitted raw to Lenin inside an hour? We've even sent over samples of Mode artifacts, and some of the modified stuff the Brownies worked on..."
Sally laughed. Rod looked pained for a moment, then joined her. "I'm sorry, Rod. I know it must have been painful to -have to tell the Tsar that you had Brownies on your ship-but it was funny!"
"Yeah. Funny. Anyway, we send everything we can to Lenin-and you think I'm paranoid? Kutuzov has everything inspected in space, then sealed into containers filled with ciphogene and parked outside his ship! I think he's afraid of contamination." The intercom buzzed. "Oh, damn." Rod tuned to the screen. "Captain here."
"Chaplain Hardy to see you, Captain," the Marine sentry announced. "With Mr. Renner and the scientists."
Rod sighed and gave Sally a helpless look. "Send them in and send in my steward. I imagine they'll all want a drink."
They did. Eventually everyone was seated, and his cabin was crowded. Rod greeted the Mote expedition personnel, then took a sheaf of papers from his desk. "First question: Do you need Navy ratings with you? I understand they've nothing to do."
"Well, there's no harm in their being there," Dr. Horvath said. "But they do take up room the scientific staff could use."
"In other words, no," Rod said. "Fine. I'll let you decide which of your people to replace them with, Dr. Horvath. Next point: Do you need Marines?"
"Good heavens, no," Sally protested. She looked quickly to Horvath, who nodded. "Captain, the Moties are so far from being hostile, they've built the Castle for us. It's magnificent! Why can't you come down and see it?"
Rod laughed bitterly. "Admiral's orders. For that matter, I can't let any officer who knows -how to construct a Langston Field go down." He nodded to himself. "The Admiral and I agree on one point: If you do need help, two Marines won't be any use-and giving the Moties a chance to work that Fyunch(click) thing on a pair of warriors doesn't seem like a good idea. That brings up the next point. Dr. Horvath, is Mr. Renner satisfactory to you? Perhaps I should ask him to leave the room while you reply."
"Nonsense. Mr. Renner has been very helpful. Captain, does your restriction apply to my people? Am I forbidden to take, say, a physicist to Mote Prime?"
"But Dr. Buckman is counting on going. The Moties have been studying Murcheson's Eye and the Coal Sack for a long time...how long, Mr. Potter?"
The midshipman squirmed uncomfortably before answering. "Thousands of years, sir," he said finally. "Only..."
"Only what, Mister?" Rod prompted. Potter was a bit shy, and he'd have to outgrow that. "Speak up."
"Yes, sir. There are gaps in their observations, Captain. The Modes hae never mentioned the fact, but Dr. Buckman says it is obvious. I would hae said they sometimes lose interest in astronomy, but Dr. Buckman can nae understand that."
"He wouldn't," Rod laughed. "Just how important are those observations, Mr. Potter?"
"For astrophysics, perhaps verra important, Captain. They hae been watching yon supergiant for aye their history as it passed across the Coal Sack. 'Twill go supernova and then become a black hole-and the Moties say they know when."
Midshipman Whitbread laughed. Everyone turned to stare at him. Whitbread could hardly control his features. "Sorry, sir-but I was there when Gavin told Buckman about that. The Eye will explode in A.D. 2,774,020 on April 27 between four and four-thirty in the morning, they say. I thought Dr. Buckman was going to strangle himself. Then he started doing his own checking. It took him thirty hours -- "
Sally grinned. "And he almost killed the Fyunch(click) doing it," she added. "Had Dr. Horvath's Motie translating for him when his own came apart."
"Yes, but he found out they were right," Whitbread told them. The midshipman cleared his throat and mimicked Buckman's dry voice. "Damned close, Mr. Potter. I've got the mathematics and observations to prove it."
"You're developing a talent for acting, Mr. Whitbread," First Lieutenant Cargill said. "Pity your work in astrogation doesn't show a similar improvement. Captain, it seems to me that Dr. Buckman can get everything he needs here. There's no reason for him to go to the Mode planet."
"Agreed. Dr. Horvath, the answer is no. Besides-do you really want to spend a week cooped up with Buckman? You needn't answer that," he added quickly. "Whom will you take?"
Horvath frowned for a moment. "De Vandalia, I suppose."
"Yes, please," Sally said quickly. "We need a geologist. I've tried digging for rock samples, and I didn't learn a thing about the make-up of Mote Prime. There's nothing but ruins made up of older ruins."
"You mean they don't have rocks?" Cargill asked.
"They have rocks, Commander," she answered. "Granite and lava and basalts, but they aren't where whatever formed this planet put them. They've all been used, for walls, or tiles, or roofs. I did find cores in a museum, but I can't make much sense out of them."
"Now wait a minute," said Rod. "You mean you go out and dig at random, and wherever you dig you find what's left of a city? Even out in the farm lands?"
"Well, there wasn't time for many digs. But where I did dig, there was always something else underneath. I never knew when to stop! Captain, there was a city like A.D. 2000 New York under a cluster of adobe huts without plumbing. I think they had a civilization that collapsed, perhaps two thousand years ago."
"That would explain the observation lapses," Rod said. "But-they seem brighter than that. Why would they let a civilization collapse?" He looked to Horvath, who shrugged.
"I have an idea," Sally said. "The contaminants in the air-wasn't there a problem with pollution from internal combustion engines on Earth sometime during the CoDominium? Suppose the Modes had a civilization based on fossil fuels and ran out? Mightn't they have dropped back into an Iron Age before they developed fusion power and plasma physics again? They seem to be awfully short on radioactive ores."
Rod shrugged. "A geologist could help a lot, then-and he has far more need to be on the spot than Dr. Buckman does. I take it that's settled, Dr. Horvath?"
The Science Minister nodded sourly. "But I still don't like this Navy interference with our work. You tell him, Dr. Hardy. This must stop."
The Chaplain linguist looked surprised. He had sat at the back of the room, saying nothing but listening attentively. "Well, I have to agree that a geologist will be more useful on the surface than an astrophysicist, Anthony. And-Captain, I find myself in a unique position. As a scientist I cannot approve of all these restrictions placed on our contact with the Moties. As a representative of the Church I have an impossible task. And as a Navy officer
-I think I have to agree with the Admiral."
Everyone turned toward the portly Chaplain in surprise. "I am astonished, Dr. Hardy," Horvath said. "Have you seen the smallest evidence of warlike activities on Mote Prime?"
Hardy folded his hands carefully and spoke across the tops of his fingertips. "No. And that, Anthony, is what concerns me. We know the Moties do have wars: the Mediator class was evolved, possibly consciously evolved, to stop them. I do not think they always succeed. So why are the Moties hiding their armaments from us? For the same reason we conceal ours, is the obvious answer, but consider: we do not conceal the fact that we have weapons, or even what their general nature is. Why do they?"
"Probably ashamed of them," Sally answered. She winced at the look on Rod's face. "I didn't really mean it that way-but they have been civilized longer than we have, and they might be embarrassed by their violent past."
"Possibly," Hardy admitted. He sniffed his brandy speculatively. "And possibly not, Sally. I have the impression the Moties are hiding something important-and hiding it right under our noses, so to speak."
There was a long silence. Horvath sniffed loudly. Finally the Science Minister said, "And how could they do that, Dr. Hardy? Their government consists of informal negotiations by representatives of the givers of orders class. Every city seems to be nearly autonomous. Mote Prime hardly has a planetary government, and you think they're able to conspire against us? It is not very reasonable."
Hardy shrugged again. "From what we have seen, Dr. Horvath, you are certainly correct. And yet I cannot rid myself of the impression that they are hiding something."
"They showed us everything," Horvath insisted. "Even givers of orders' households, where they don't normally have visitors."
"Sally was just getting to that before you came in," Rod said quickly. "I'm fascinated-how does the Mode officer class live? Like the Imperial aristocracy?"
"That's a better guess than you might think," Horvath boomed. Two dry martinis had mellowed him considerably. "There were many similarities-although the Moties have an entirely different conception of luxuries from ours. Some things in common, though. Land. Servants. That sort of thing." Horvath took another drink and warmed to his subject.
"Actually, we visited two households. One lived in a skyscraper near the Castle. Seemed to control the entire building: shops, light industry, hundreds of Browns and Reds and Workers and-oh, dozens of other castes. The other one, though, the agriculturist, was very like a country baron. The work force lived in long rows of houses, and in between the row houses were fields. The 'baron' lived in the center of all that,"
Rod thought of his own family home. "Crucis Court used to be surrounded by villages and fields-but of course all the villages were fortified after the Secession Wars. So was the Court, for that matter."
"Odd you should say that," Horvath mused. "There was a sort of square fortified shape to the 'barony' too. Big atrium in the middle. For that matter, all the residential skyscrapers have no windows on the lower floors, and big roof gardens. Quite self-sufficient. Looked very military. We don't hive to report that impression to the Admiral, do we? He'd be sure we'd discovered militaristic tendencies."
"Are you so sure he'd be wrong?" Jack Cargill asked. "From what I've heard, every one of those givers of orders has a self-sufficient fortress. Roof gardens. Brownies to fix all the machinery-too bad we can't tame some of them to help Sinclair." Cargill noted his captain's -black look and hurriedly added, "Anyway, the agriculturist might have a better chance in a fight, but both those places sound like forts. So do all the other residential palaces I've heard about."
Dr. Horvath had been struggling to control himself, while Sally Fowler attempted without success to hide -- her amusement. Finally she laughed. "Commander Cargill, the Moties have had space travel and fusion power for centuries. If their buildings still have a fortress look, it must be traditional -there's no possible purpose! You're the military expert, just how would building your house that way help you against modern weapons?"
Cargill was silenced, but his expression showed he wasn't convinced.
"You say they try to make their houses self-sufficient?" Rod asked. "Even in the city? But that is silly. They'd still have to bring in water."
"It rained a lot," said Renner. "Three days out of six." Rod looked at the Sailing Master. Was he serious? "Did you know there are left-handed Moties?" Renner continued. "Everything reversed. Two six-fingered left hands, one massive right arm, and the swelling of the skull is on the right."
"It took me half an hour to notice," Whitbread laughed. "The new Motie behaved just like Jackson's old one. He must have been briefed."
"Left-handed," said Rod. "Why not?" At least they'd changed the subject. The stewards brought in lunch and everyone fell to. When they finished it was time to leave for the Mote.
"A word with you, Mr. Renner," Rod said as the Sailing Master was about to go. He waited until everyone but Cargill was gone. "I need an officer down there, and you're the one senior man that I can spare who meets the Admiral's restrictions. But although you've no weapons but your side arms, and no Marines, that's a military expedition, and if it comes to it, you're in charge."
"Yes, sir," Renner said. He sounded puzzled.
"If you had to shoot a man or a Motie, could you do it?"
"Yes, sir."
"You answered that very quickly, Mr. Renner."
"I thought it over very slowly, some time past, when I knew I was joining the Navy. If I had decided I was incapable of shooting anyone, I'd have had to make damned sure the Captain knew it."
Elaine nodded. "Next question. Can you recognize the need for military action in time to do something? Even if what you do is hopeless?"
"I think so. Captain, can I bring up something else? I do want to go back, and -- "
"Speak your piece, Mr. Renner."
"Captain, your Fyunch(click) went mad."
"I'm aware of that," Captain Elaine said coldly.
"I think the Tsar's hypothetical Fyunch (click) would go mad much faster. What you want is the one officer aboard this ship who is least inclined to the military way of thinking."
"Get aboard, Mr. Renner. And good luck."
"Aye aye, sir." Renner made no attempt to hide his lopsided grin as he left the cabin.
"He'll do, Captain," Cargill said.
"I hope so, Number One. Jack, do you think it was our military manner that drove my Mode crazy?"
"No, sir." Cargill seemed positive.
"Then what did?"
"Captain, I don't know. I don't know a lot of things about those bug-eyed monsters. There's only one thing I am sure of, and that is they're learning more about us than we are about them."
"Oh, come on, Number One. They take our people anywhere they ask to go. Sally says they're bending over backwards-well, for them, that isn't so hard to do-but anyway, she says they're very cooperative. Not hiding a thing. You've always been scared of the Moties, haven't you? Any idea why?"
"No, Captain." Cargill looked closely at Blaine and decided that his boss wasn't accusing him of funk. "I just don't like the feel of this." He glanced at his pocket computer to note the time. "I've got to hurry, Skipper. I'm supposed to help Mr. Bury with that coffee business."
"Bury- Jack, I've been meaning to speak to you about him. His Motie lives on the~ embassy ship now. Bury's moved to the cutter. What do they talk about?"
"Sir? They're supposed to be negotiating trade deals -- "
"Sure, but Bury knows a lot about the Empire. Economy, industry, general size of the Fleet, how many outies we've got to deal with, you name it and he'd probably know it."
Cargill grinned. "He hasn't let his right hand know how many fingers there are on the left, Captain. What's he going to give the Motie for free? Besides, I've sort of made sure he won't say anything you wouldn't approve of."
"Now how did you do that?"
"I told him we'd bugged every inch of the cutter, sir." Cargill's grin broadened. "Sure, he knows we can't listen to every one of those bugs every time, but -- "
Rod returned the grin. "I expect that'll work. OK, you'd better move along to the Kaffee Klatsch-you sure you don't mind helping with this?"
"Hell, Skipper, it was my idea. If Bury can show the cooks how to make better coffee during combat alerts, I might even change my opinion of him. Just why is he being kept a prisoner on this ship, anyway?"
"Prisoner? Commander Cargill?"
"Skipper, everybody in the crew knows there's something funny about that man's being aboard. The grapevine has it he's implicated in the New Chicago revolt and you're hanging onto him for the Admiralty. That's about right, isn't it?"
"Somebody's doing a lot of talking, Jack. Anyway, I can't say anything about it."
"Sure. You've got your orders, Skipper. But I notice you aren't trying to deny it. Well, it figures. Your old man is richer than Bury-I wonder how many Navy people might be for sale? It scares me, having a guy who could buy a whole planet as our prisoner." Cargill moved quickly through the companionway to the main crew kitchen.

The night before, the dinner party conversation had somehow turned to coffee, and Bury had lost his usual bored detachment when he spoke at length on the subject. He had told them of the historic Mocha-Java blend still grown in places like Makassar, and the happy combination of pure Java and the gnua distilled on Prince Samuai's World. He knew the history of Jamaica Blue Mountain although; he'd said, not its taste. As dessert was ending he suggested a "coffee tasting" in the manner of a winetasting party.
It had been an excellent ending to an excellent dinner, with Bury and Nabil moving like conjurors among filter cones and boiling water and hand-lettered labels. All the guests were amused, and it made Bury a different man somehow; it had been hard to think of him as a connoisseur of any kind.
"But the basic secret is to keep the equipment truly clean," he had said. "The bitter oils of yesterday's coffee will accumulate in the works, especially in percolators."
It had ended with Bury's offer to inspect MacArthur's coffee-making facilities the next day. Cargill, who thought coffee -- as vital to a fighting- ship as torpedoes, accepted happily. Now he watched as the bearded Trader examined the large percolator and gingerly drew a cup.
"The machine is certainly well kept," he said. "Very well kept. Absolutely clean, and the brew is not reheated too often. For standard coffee, this is excellent, Commander."
Puzzled, lack Cargill drew a cup and tasted it. "Why, that's better than the stuff the wardroom gets."
There were sidelong glances among the cooks. Cargill noticed them. He noticed something else, too. He ran a finger along the side of the percolator and brought it away with a brown oilstain.
Bury repeated the gesture, sniffed at his finger, and touched the tip of his tongue to it. Cargill tasted the oil in his hand. It was like all the bad coffee he had ever swallowed for fear of falling asleep on duty. He looked again at the percolator and stared at the spigot handle.
"Miniatures," Cargill growled. "Take that damned thing apart."
They emptied the machine and disassembled it-as far as it would go. Parts made to unscrew were now a fused unit. But the secret of the magic percolator seemed to be selective permeability in the metal shell. It would pass the older oils.
"My company would like to purchase that secret from the Navy," said Bury. "We'd like to have it to sell. OK, Ziffren, how long has this been going on?"
"Sir?" The petty officer cook seemed to be thinking. I don't know, sir. Maybe two months."
"Was it this way before we sterilized the ship and killed off the miniatures?" Cargill demanded.
"Uh, yessir," the cook said. But he said it hesitantly, and Cargill left the mess with a frown.