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

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06-07-2007, 08:22 PM
Chapter 29 - Watchmakers

Cargill made his way to Rod's cabin. "I think we've got Brownies again, Skipper." He told why.
"Have you talked to Sinclair?" Rod asked. "Jesus, Number One, the Admiral will go out of his mind. Are you sure?"
"No, sir. But I intend to find out, Skipper, I'm positive we looked everywhere when we cleaned out the ship. Where could they have hidden?"
"Worry about that when you know we've got them. OK, take the Chief Engineer and go over this ship again, lack. And make damned sure this time."
"Aye aye, Skipper."
Blaine turned to the intercom screens and punched inputs. Everything known about miniatures flashed across the screen. There was not very much.
The expedition to Mote Prime had seen thousands of the miniatures throughout Castle City. Renner's Motie called them "Watchmakers," and they functioned as assistants to the brown "Engineers." The big Moties insisted the Watchmakers were not intelligent but inherited an ability to tinker with tools and equipment, as well as the typical Motie instinct of obedience to the higher castes. They required training, but the adult Watchmakers took care of most of that. Like other subservient castes they were a form of wealth, and the ability to support a large household of Watchmakers, Engineers, and other lower forms was one measure of the importance of a Master. This last was a conclusion of Chaplain Hardy, and not definitely confirmed.
An hour passed before Cargill called. "We've got 'em, Skipper," the First Lieutenant said grimly. "The B-deck air adsorber-converter-remember that half-melted thing Sandy repaired?"
"Well it doesn't stick out into the corridor any more. Sandy says it can't possibly work, and he's digging into it now-but it's enough for me. We've got 'em."
"Alert the Marines, Number One. I'm going to the bridge."
"Aye aye, sir." Cargill turned back to the air maker. Sinclair had the cover off and was muttering to himself as he examined the exposed machinery.
The guts had changed. The casing had been reshaped. The second filter Sinclair had installed was gone, and the remaining filter had been altered beyond recognition. Goop seeped from one side into a plastic bag that bulged with gas; the goop was highly volatile.
"Aye," Sinclair muttered. "And the other typical signs, Commander Cargill. Screw fastenings fused together. Missing parts and the rest."
"So it's Brownies."
"Aye," Sinclair nodded. "We thought we'd killed the lot months ago-and my records show this was inspected last week. T'was normal then."
"But where did they hide?" Cargill demanded. The chief Engineer was silent. "What now, Sandy?"
Sinclair shrugged. "I'd say we look to hangar deck, sir. 'Tis the place least used aboard this ship."
"Right." Cargill punched the intercom again. "Skipper, we're going to check hangar deck-but I'm afraid there's no question about it. There are live Brownies aboard this ship."
"Do that, lack. I've got to report to Lenin." Rod took a deep breath and gripped the arms of his command chair as if he were about to enter combat. "Get me the Admiral."
Kutuzov's burly features swam on the screen. Rod reported in a rush of words. "I don't know how many, sir," he finished. "My officers are searching for additional signs of the miniatures."
Kutuzov nodded. There was a long silence while the Admiral stared at a point over Blaine's left shoulder. "Captain, have you followed my orders concerning communications?" he asked finally.
"Yes, sir. Constant monitoring of all emissions to and from MacArthur. There's been nothing."
"Nothing so far as we know," the Admiral corrected. "We must assume nothing, but it is possible that these creatures have communicated with other Moties. If they have, we no longer have any secrets aboard MacArthur. If they have not- Captain, you will order the expedition to return to MacArthur immediately, and you will prepare to depart for New Caledonia the instant they are aboard. Is this understood?"
"Aye aye, sir," Blaine snapped.
"You do not agree?"
Rod pondered for a moment. He hadn't thought beyond the screams he'd get from Horvath and the others when they were told. And, surprisingly, he did agree. "Yes, sir. I can't think of a better course of action. But suppose I can exterminate the vermin, sir?"
"Can you know you have done that, Captain?" Kutuzov demanded. "Nor can I know it. Once away from this system we can disassemble MacArthur piece by piece, with no fear that they will communicate with others. So long as we are here, that is constant threat, and it is risk I am not prepared to take."
"What do I tell the Moties, sir?" Rod asked.
"You will say there is sudden illness aboard your vessel, Captain. And that we are forced to return to Empire. You may tell them your commander has ordered it and you have no other explanation. If later explanations are necessary, Foreign Office will have time to prepare them. For now, this will do."
"Yes, sir." The Admiral's image faded. Rod turned to the watch officer. "Mr. Crawford, this vessel will be leaving for home in a few hours. Alert the department heads, and then get me Renner on Mote Prime."

A muted alarm sounded in the Castle, Kevin Renner looked up sleepily to see his Mode at the intercom screen that formed inside one of the decorative paintings on the wall.
Renner glanced at his pocket computer. It was almost noon on MacArthur but the middle of the night in Castle City. He climbed sleepily to his feet and went to the screen. The expression on Blaine's face brought him to full alert. "Yes, Skipper?"
"There's a small emergency aboard, Mr. Renner. You'll have to ask the Moties to send up all our personnel. Yourself included."
"Dr. Horvath won't want to come, sir," Renner said. His mind raced furiously. There was something very wrong here, and if he could read it, so could the Moties.
Blaine's image nodded. "He'll have to nonetheless, Mister. See to it."
"Yes, sir. What about our Moties?"
"Oh, they can come up to the cutter with you," Blaine said. "It's not all that serious. Just an OC matter."
It took a second for that to sink in. By the time it did, Renner was in control of himself. Or hoped he was. "Aye aye, Captain. We're on the way."
He went back to his bunk and sat carefully on the edge. As he put on his boots he tried to thin-k. The Moties couldn't possibly know the Navy's code designations, but OC meant top military priority...and Blaine had been far too casual when he had said that.
OK, he thought. The Moties know I'm acting. They have to. There's a military emergency out there somewhere, and I'm to get the hostages off this planet without letting the Modes know it. Which means the Moties don't know there's a military emergency, and that doesn't make sense.
"Fyunch(dick)," his Mode reminded him. "What is the matter?"
"I don't know," Renner replied. Quite honestly.
"And you do not want to know," the Motie said. "Are you in trouble?"
"Don't know that either," Renner said. "You heard the Captain. Now how do I go about getting everybody moving in the middle of the night?"
"You may leave that to me," said Renner's Mode.

The hangar deck was normally kept in vacuum. The doors were so huge that a certain amount of leakage was inevitable. Later, Cargill would supervise as hangar deck was put under pressure; but for now he and Sinclair carried out their inspection in vacuum.
Everything seemed in order, nothing out of place as they entered. "Now," said Cargill. "What would you fiddle with if you were a miniature Motie?"
"I would put the boats on the hull and use the hangar deck as a fuel tank."
"There are ships like that. Be a big job for a swarm of Brownies, though." Cargill strolled out onto the hangar doors. He wasn't sure what he was looking for, and was never sure why he looked down at his feet. It took him a moment to realize that something was wrong.
The crack that separated the two huge rectangular doors...wasn't there.
Cargill looked about him, bewildered. There was nothing. The doors were part of the hull. The hinge motors, weighing several tons apiece, had vanished.
"Where are the doors?"
"Why, y're standing on them, ye bloody- I don't believe it."
"They've sealed us in. Why? How? How could they work in vacuum?"
Sinclair ran back to the air lock. The air-lock door controls- "The instruments read green," said Sinclair. "Everything's fine, as far as they know. If the Brownies can fool instruments, they could have had the hangar deck under pressure until just before we arrived."
"Try the doors." Cargill swung up onto one of the retractable bracings.
"The instruments show the doors opening. Still opening...complete." Sinclair turned around. Nothing. A vast expanse of beige-painted floor, as solid as any part of the hull.
He heard Cargill curse. He saw Cargill swing down from the huge retractable brace and drop onto what had been a hangar door. He saw Cargill drop through the floor as if it had been the surface of a pond.

They had to fish Cargill out of the Langston Field. He was chest deep in formless black quicksand, and sinking, his legs very cold, his heart beating very slowly. The Field absorbed all motion.
"I should have got my head into it," he said when he came round. "That's what all the manuals say. Get my brain to sleep before my heart slows down. But God's teeth! How could I think?"
"What happened?" Sinclair asked.
Cargill's mouth opened, closed, opened again. He managed to sit up. "There aren't words. It was like a miracle. It was like I was walking on water when they took away my sainthood. Sandy, it was really the damnedest thing."
"It looked a mite peculiar too."
"I bet. You see what they did, don't you? The little bastards are redesigning MacArthur! The doors are still there, but the ships can go through them now. In an emergency you don't even have to evacuate hangar deck."
"I'll tell the Captain," Sinclair said. He turned to the intercom.
"Where the hell did they hide?" Cargill demanded. The engineering ratings who had pulled him out stared blankly. So did Sinclair. "Where? Where didn't we look?"
His legs still felt cold. He massaged them. On the screen he could see Rod Blaine's pained expression. Cargill struggled to his feet. As he did, alarms hooted through the ship.

"The guns!" Cargill shouted.
"I beg your pardon?" Sinclair said. Blaine's image focused on the First Lieutenant.
"The guns, Skipper! We did not look in the guns. Damn, I'm a bloody fool, did anyone think of the guns?"
"It may be," Sinclair agreed. "Captain, I request that you send for the ferrets."
"Too late, Chief," Blaine said. "There's a hole in their cage. I already checked."
"God damn," Cargill said. He said it reverently. "God damn them." He turned to the armed Marines swarming onto hangar deck. "Follow me." He was through treating the miniatures as escaped pets, or as vermin. As of now they were enemy boarders.
They rushed forward to the nearest turret. A startled rating jumped from his post as the First Lieutenant, Chief Engineer, and a squad of Marines in battle armor crammed into his control room.
Cargill stared at the instrument board. Everything seemed normal. He hesitated in real fear before he opened the inspection hatch.
The lenses and focus rings were gone from Number 3 Battery. The space inside was alive with Brownies. Cargill jumped back in horror-and a thread of laser pulse splashed against his battle armor. He cursed and snatched a tank of ciphogene from the nearest Marine and slammed it into the gap. It wasn't necessary to open the stopcock.
The tank grew hot in his hand, and one laser beam winked through and past him. When the hissing died he was surrounded by yellow fog.
The space inside 3 Battery was thick with dead miniatures and filthy with bones. Skeletons of rats, bits of electronic gear, old boots-and dead Brownies.
"They kept a herd of rats in there," Cargill shouted. "Then they must have outgrown the herd and eaten them all. They've been eating each other -- "
"And the other batteries?" Sinclair said in wonder. "We'd best be hasty."
There was a scream from the corridor outside. The Navy rating who'd been displaced from his post fell to the deck. A bright red stain appeared at his hip. "In the ventilator," he shouted.
A Marine corporal tore at the grating. Smoke flashed from his battle armor and he jumped back. "Nipped me, by God!" He stared incredulously at a neat hole in his shoulder as three other Marines fired hand lasers at a rapidly vanishing shape. Somewhere else in the ship an alarm sounded.
Cargill grabbed an intercom. "Skipper -- "
"I know," Blaine said quickly. "Whatever you did has them stirred up all over the ship. There are a dozen fire fights going on right now."
"My God, sir, what do we do?"
"Send your troops to Number 2 Battery to clean that out," Blaine ordered. "Then get to damage control." He turned to another screen. "Any other instructions, Admiral?"
The bridge was alive with activity. One of the armored helmsmen jumped from his seat and whirled rapidly.
"Over there!" he shouted. A Marine sentry pointed his Brownie-altered weapon helplessly.
"You are not in control of your vessel," Kutuzov said flatly.
"No, sir." It was the hardest thing Blaine had ever had to say.
"CASUALTIES IN CORRIDOR TWENTY," the bridge talker announced.
"Scientist country," Rod said. "Get all available Marines into that area and have them assist the civilians into pressure suits. Maybe we can gas the whole ship -- "
"Captain Blaine. Our first task is to return to Empire with maximum information."
"Yes, sir -- "
"Which means civilians aboard your vessel are more important than a battle cruiser." Kutuzov was calm, but his lips were tight with distaste. "Of second priority are Motie artifacts not yet transferred to Lenin. Captain, you will therefore order all civilians off your vessel. I will have Lenin's boats outside our protective field. You will have two reliable officers accompany civilians. You will then secure any Motie artifacts you think important for shipment to Lenin, You may attempt to regain control of your vessel in so far as that is consistent with these orders-but you will also act swiftly, Captain, because at first sign of any transmission from your vessel other than through secure circuit direct to me, I will blast MacArthur out of space."
Blaine nodded coldly. "Aye aye, sir."
"We understand each other, then," The Admiral's expression didn't change at all. "And Godspeed, Captain Blaine."
"What about my cutter?" Rod asked. "Sir, I have to talk to the cutter."
"I will alert the cutter personnel, Captain. No. There will be no transmission from your ship."
"Aye aye, sir." Rod looked around his bridge. Everyone was staring wildly about. The Marines' weapons were drawn, and one of the quartermasters was fussing over a fallen companion.
Jesus, can I trust the intercom? Rod wondered. He shouted orders to a runner and waved three Marines to accompany the man.
"Signal from Mr. Renner, sir," the bridge talker announced.
"Don't acknowledge," Blaine growled.
"Aye aye, sir. Do not acknowledge."
The battle for MacArthur raged on.