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

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06-07-2007, 08:23 PM
Chapter 30 - Nightmare

There were a dozen humans and two Brown-and-whites aboard the cutter. The other ground party Moties had reported directly to the embassy ship, but Whitbread's and Sally's Fyunch(click)s had stayed aboard. "No point," said Whitbread's Motie. "We've been seeing the decision maker every day." Perhaps there was a point. The cutter was crowded, and the taxi to MacArthur had not arrived.
"What's holding them up?" Renner said. "Lafferty, put in a call." Lafferty, the cutter's pilot, was largely unemployed these days. He used the communications beam.
"No answer, sir," he said. He sounded puzzled.
"You're sure the set's working?"
"It was an hour ago," Lafferty said. "Uh-there's a signal. It's from Lenin, sir."
Captain Mikhailov's face appeared on the screen. "You will please request aliens to leave this vessel," he said.
Somehow the Moties conveyed amusement, surprise, and a slightly hurt look all at once. They left with a backward look and a signaled query. Whitbread shrugged. Staley didn't. When the Moties were in the air-lock bridge, Staley closed the door behind them.
Kutuzov appeared. "Mr. Renner, you will send all personnel aboard to Lenin. They will wear pressure suits, and one of my boats will arrive to get them. Civilians will cross on a line and will then obey orders of my boat's pilot. They must carry sufficient air for one hour in space. Meanwhile, you will make no attempt to communicate with MacArthur. Is this understood?"
Renner gulped. "Aye aye, sir."
"You will not admit aliens until further notice."
"But what do I tell them, sir?" Renner asked.
"You will tell them Admiral Kutuzov is a paranoid fool, Mr. Renner. Now carry out your orders,"
"Aye aye, sir." The screen went blank. Renner looked pale. "Now he's reading minds -- "
"Kevin, what's going on here?" Sally demanded. "Get us up in the middle of the night, rush us up here- Now Rod won't answer us, and the Admiral wants us to risk our lives and offend the Moties." She sounded very much like Senator Fowler's niece; an Imperial lady who had tried to cooperate with the Navy and now had had enough.
Dr. Horvath was even more indignant. "I will not be a party to this, Mr. Renner, I have no intention of putting on a pressure suit."
"Lenin's moving alongside MacArthur," Whitbread said casually. He stared out the view port. "The Admiral has her ringed with boats-I think somebody's carrying a line over."
Everyone turned to the view ports. Lafferty focused the cutter's telescope and flashed the results on the ship's bridge screens. After a while figures in space suits began moving along lines toward Lenin's boats, which then moved away to let others take their places.
"They're abandoning MacArthur," Staley said wonderingly. He looked- up, his angular face contorted. "And one of Lenin's boats is headed this way. My lady, you'll have to hurry. I don't think there's much time."
"But I told you, I am not going," Dr. Horvath insisted.
Staley fingered his pistol. The cabin grew tense.
"Doctor, do you remember the orders Viceroy Merrill gave Admiral Kutuzov?" Renner asked Carefully. "As I recall, he was to destroy MacArthur rather than let the Moties obtain any important information." Renner's voice was cool, almost bantering.
Horvath tried to say something else. He seemed to be having difficulty controlling his features. Finally he turned to the pressure suit locker without a word. After a moment, Sally followed him.

Horace Bury had gone to his cabin after the coffee demonstration. He liked to work late at night and sleep after lunch, and although there wasn't anything to work on at the moment, he'd kept the habit.
The ship's alarms woke him. Somebody was ordering the Marines into combat uniform. He waited, but nothing else happened for a long time. Then came the stench. It choked him horribly, and there was nothing like it in any of his memories. Distilled quintessence of machines and body odor-and it was growing stronger.
Nabil was crying in panic. "Fool! Your suit!" Bury screamed and ran for his own. Only after he was breathing normal ship's air did he listen for the alarms again.
The voices didn't sound right. They weren't coming through the intercom, they were-shouted through the corridors. "CIVILIANS WILL ABANDON SHIP. ALL CIVILIAN PERSONNEL, PREPARE TO ABANDON SHIP."
Really. Bury almost smiled. This was a first time-was it a drill? There were more sounds of confusion. A squad of Marines in battle armor, weapons clutched at the ready, tramped past. The smile slipped and Bury looked about to guess what possessions he might Save.
There was more shouting, An officer ~appeared in the corridor outside and began shouting in an unnecessarily loud voice. Civilians would be leaving MacArthur on a line. They could take one bag each, but would require one hand free. -
Beard of the Prophet! What could cause this? Had they saved the golden asteroid metal, the superconductor of heat? Certainly they would not save the precious selfcleaning percolator. What should he try to save?
The ship's gravity lessened noticeably. Flywheels inside her were rotating to take off her spin. Bury worked quickly to throw together items needed by any traveler without regard to their price. Luxuries he could buy again, but- The miniatures. He'd have to get that air tank from D air lock. Suppose he were assigned to a different air lock?
He packed in frenzy. Two suitcases, one fo~ Nabil to carry. Nabil moved fast enough now that he had orders, There was more confused shouting outside, and several times -- squads of Navy men and Marines floated past the Stateroom door. They all carried weapons and wore armor.
His suit began to inflate. The ship was losing pressure, and all thought of drill or exercise left him. Some of the scientific equipment couldn't stand hard vacuum-and nobody had once come into the cabin to check his pressure suit. The Navy wouldn't risk civilian Jives in drills.
An officer moved into the corridor. Bury heard the harsh voice speaking in deadly calm tones. Nabil stood uncertainly and Bury motioned to him to turn on his suit communications.
PLEASE PROCEED SLOWLY. THERE IS TIME TO EVACUATE ALL PERSONNEL." The officer floated past and turned into another corridor.
Port side? Good. Intelligently, Nabil had hidden the dummy tank in the nearest air lock. Praise to the Glory of Allah that had been on the port side. He motioned to his servant and began to pull himself from hand hold to hand hold along the wall. Nabil moved gracefully; he had had plenty of practice since they had been confined.
There was a confused crowd in the corridor. Behind him Bury saw a squad of Marines turn into the corridor. They faced away and fired in the direction they'd come. There was answering fire and bright blood spurted to form ever diminishing globules as it drifted through the steel ship. The lights flickered overhead.
A petty officer floated down the corridor and -fell in behind them. "Keep moving, keep moving," he muttered. "God bless the joeys-."
"What are they shooting at?" Bury asked.
"Miniatures," the petty officer growled. "If they take this corridor, move out fast, Mr. Bury. The little bastards have weapons."
"Brownies?" Bury asked incredulously. "Brownies?"
"Yes, sir, the ship's got a plague o' the little sons of bitches. They changed the air plants to suit themselves...Get movin', sir. Please. Them joeys can't hold long."
Bury tugged at a hand hold and sailed to the end of the corridor, where he was deftly caught by an able spacer and passed around the turn. Brownies? But, they'd been cleared Out of the ship...
There was a crowd bunched at the air lock. More civilians were coming, and now noncombatant Navy people began to add to the press. Bury pushed and clawed his way toward the air-bottle locker. Ah. It was still there. He seized the dummy and handed it to Nabil, who fastened it to Bury's suit.
"That won't be necessary, sir," an officer said. Bury realized he was hearing him through atmosphere. There was pressure here-but they hadn't come through any pressure-tight doors! The Brownies! They'd made the invisible pressure barrier that the miner had on her survey ship! He had to have it! "One never knows," Bury muttered to the officer. The man shrugged and motioned another pair into the cycling mechanism. Then it was Bury's turn. The Marine officer waved them forward.
The lock cycled. Bury touched Nabil on the shoulder and pointed. Nabil went, pulling himself along the line into the blackness outside. Blackness ahead, no stars, nothing. What was out there? Bury found himself holding his breath. Praise be to Allah, I witness that Allah is One- No! The dummy bottle was on his shoulders, and inside it two miniatures in suspended animation. Wealth untold! Technology beyond anything even the First Empire ever had! An endless stream of new inventions and design improvements. Only...just what kind of djinn bottle had he opened?
They were through the tightly controlled hole in MacArthur's Field. Outside was only the blackness of space- and a darker black shape ahead. Other lines led to it from other holes in MacArthur's Field, and minuscule spiders darted along them. Behind Bury was another space-suited figure, and behind that, another. Nabil and the others ahead of him, and...His eyes were adjusting rapidly now. He could see the deep red hues of the Coal Sack, and the blot ahead must be Lenin's Field. Would he have to crawl through that? But no, there were boats outside it, and the space spiders crawled into them.
The boat was drawing near. Bury turned for a last look at MacArthur. In his long lifetime he had said good-by to countless temporary homes; MacArthur had not been the best of them. He thought of the technology that was being destroyed. The Brownie-improved machinery, the magical coffeepot. There was a twinge of regret. MacArthur's crew was genuinely grateful for his help with the coffee, and his demonstration to the officers had been popular. It had gone well. Perhaps in Lenin...
The air lock was tiny now. A string of refugees followed him along the line. He could not see the cutter, where his Motie would be. Would he ever see him again?
He was looking, directly at the space-suited figure behind him. It had no baggage, and it was overtaking Bury because it had both hands free. The light from Lenin was shining on its faceplate. As Bury watched, the figure's head shifted slightly and the light shone right into the faceplate.
Bury saw at least three pairs of eyes staring back at him. He glimpsed the tiny faces.
It seemed to Bury, later, that he had never thought so fast in his life. For a heartbeat he stared at the thing coming up on him while his mind raced, and then- But the men who heard his scream said that it was the shriek of a madman; or a man being flayed alive.
Then Bury flung his suitcase at it.
He put words into his next scream. "They're in the suit! They're inside it!" He was wrenching at his back now, ripping the air tank loose. He poised the cylinder over his head, in both hands, and pitched it.
The pressure suit dodged his suitcase, clumsily. A pair of miniatures in the arms, trying to maneuver the fingers...it lost its hand hold, tried to pull itself back. The metal cylinder took it straight in the faceplate and shattered it.
Then space was filled with tiny struggling figures, flailing six limbs as a ghostly puff of air carried them away. Something else went with them, something football shaped, something Bury had the knowledge to recognize. That was how they had fooled the officer at the air locks. A severed human head.
Bury discovered he was floating three meters from the line. He took a deep, shuddering breath. Good: he'd thrown the right air tank. Allah was merciful.
He waited until a man-shaped thing came out of Lenin's boat on backpack jets and took him in tow. The touch made him flinch. Perhaps the man wondered why Bury peered so intently into his faceplate. Perhaps not.