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

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06-07-2007, 08:24 PM
Chapter 33 - Planetfall

Three smallish cones, falling. A man nested in each, like an egg in an egg cup.
Horst Staley was in the lead. He could see forward on a small square screen, but his rear view was all around him. Except for his pressure suit he was naked to space. He turned gingerly, to see two other flame-tipped cones behind him. Somewhere, far beyond the horizon, were MacArthur and Lenin. There was no chance that his suit radio would carry that far, but he turned to the hailing frequency and called anyway. There was no answer.
It had all happened so fast. The cones had fired retrorockets and b~ the time he had called Lenin it had been too late. Perhaps the signal crew had been busy with something else, perhaps he had been slow- Mont felt suddenly alone.
They continued to fall. The rockets cut off.
"Horst!" It was Whitbread's voice. Staley answered.
"Horst, these things are going to reenter!"
"Yeah. Stick with it. What else can we do?"
That did not call for an answer. In lonely silence three small cones fell toward the bright green planet below. Then: reentry.
It was not the first time for any of them. They knew the colors of the plasma field that builds before a ship's nose, colors differing according to the chemistry of the ablation shield. But this time they were practically naked to it. Would there be radiation? Heat?
Whitbread's voice reached Staley through the static. "I'm trying to think like a Brownie, and it isn't easy. They knew about our suits. They'd know how much radiation they'd stop. How much do they think we can take? And heat?"
"I've changed my mind," Staley heard Potter say. "I am not going down."
Staley tried to ignore their laughter. He was in charge of three lives, and he took it seriously. He tried to relax his muscles as he waited for heat, turbulence, unfelt radiation, tumbling of the cone, discomfort and death.
Landscape streamed past him through plasma distortions. Circular seas and arcs of river. Vast stretches of city. Mountains cased in ice and cityscape, the continuous city engulfing the slopes to the snowy peaks. A long stretch of ocean; would the damn cones float? More land. The cones slowing, the features getting larger. Air whipping around them now. Boats on a lake, tiny specks, hordes of them. A stretch of green forest, sharply bounded, laced by roads.
The rim of Staley's cone opened and a ring of parachute streamed back. Staley sagged deep into the contoured seat. For a minute he saw only blue sky. Then came a bone-jarring Thump. He cursed in his mind. The cone teetered and toppled on its side.
Potter's voice rang in Staley's ears. "I hae found the hover controls! Look for a sliding knob near the center, if the beasties hae done the same to all. That is the thrust control, and moving the whole bloody control panel on its support tilts the rocket."
Too bad he hadn't found it sooner! Staley thought. He said, "Get near the ground and hover there. The fuel may burn out. Did you find a parachute release, Potter?"
"No. 'Tis hanging under me. Yon rocket flame must hae burned it away by now. Where are you?"
"I'm down. Let me just get loose -- " Staley opened the crash webbing and tumbled out on his back. The seat was 30 cm lower within the cone. He drew his weapon and burned out a hole to examine the space below. Compressible foam filled the compartment. "When you get down, make sure there are no Brownies aboard the lifeboat," he ordered crisply.
"Damn! I nearly flipped over," came Whitbread's voice. "These things are tricky -- "
"I see you, Jonathon!" Potter shouted. "Just hover and I'll come to you."
"Then look for my parachute," Staley ordered.
"I don't see you. We could be twenty kilometers apart. Your signal is none too strong," Whitbread answered.
Staley struggled to his feet. "First things first," he muttered. He looked the lifeboat over carefully. There was no place a miniature might have hidden and lived through reentry, but he looked again to be sure. Then he switched to hailing frequency and tried to call Lenin-expected no answer and got none. Suit radios operate on line of sight only and they are intentionally not very powerful, otherwise all of space would be filled with the chatter of suited men. The redesigned lifeboats had nothing resembling a radio. How did the Brownies intend for survivors to call for help?
Staley stood uncertainly, not yet adjusted to gravity. There were cultivated fields all around him, alternating rows of purple eggplant-looking bushes with chest-high crowns of dark leaves, and low bushes bright with grain. The rows went on forever in all directions.
"Still haven't spotted you yet, Horst," Whitbread reported. "This is getting us nowhere. Horst, do you see a big, low building that gleams like a mirror? It's the only building in sight."
Staley spotted it, a metal-gleaming thing beyond the horizon. It was a long walk away, but it was the only landmark in sight. "Got it."
"We'll make for that and meet you there,"
"Good. Wait for me."
"Head that way, Gavin," Whitbread's voice said.
"Right." came the reply. There was more chatter between the other two, and Horst Staley felt very much alone.

"Wup! My rocket's out!" Potter shouted.
Whitbread watched Potter's cone drop toward the ground. It hit point first, hesitated, and toppled into the plants. Whitbread shouted, "Gavin, are you all right?"
There were rustling sounds. Then Whitbread heard: "Oh, sometimes I get a twinge in my right elbow when the weather's nasty...old football injury. Get as far as you can, Jonathon. I'll meet you both at the building."
"Aye aye." Whitbread tilted the cone forward on his rocket The building was large ahead of him.
It was large. At first there had been nothing to give it scale; now he had been flying toward it for ten minutes or more.
It was a dome with straight sides blending into a low, rounded roof. There were no windows, and no other features except a rectangular break that might have been a door, ridiculously small in the enormous structure. The gleam of sunlight on the roof was more than metallic; it was mirror-bright.
Whitbread flew low, traveling quite slowly. There was something awesome about the building set in the endless croplands. That more than the fear that his motor might burn out checked his first impulse to rush to the structure.
The rocket held. The miniatures might have changed the chemicals in the solid motor; no two things built by Moties were ever quite identical. Whitbread landed just outside the rectangular doorway. This close the door loomed over him, it had been dwarfed by the building.
"I'm here," he almost whispered, then laughed at himself. "There's a doorway. It's big and closed. Funny- there -- aren't any roads leading here, and the crops grow right-up to the edge of the dome." -
Staley's voice "Perhaps planes land on the root"
"I don't think so, Horst. The roof is rounded; I don't think there are ever many visitors. Must be some kind of storage. Or maybe there's a machine inside that runs itself."
"Best not fool with it. Gavin, are you all right too?"
"Aye, Horst. I'll be at yon building in half an hour. See you there."

Staley prepared for a longer hike. There were no emergency rations that he could see in the lifeboat. He thought for a while before removing his combat Armor and the pressure suit under it. There weren't any secrets there. He took the helmet and dogged it onto the neck seal, then rigged it as an air filter. Then he took the radio out of the suit and slung it on his belt, first making one last attempt to contact Lenin. There was no answer. What else? Radio, water bag, sidearm. It would have to do.
Staley looked carefully around the horizon. There was only the one building-no chance of walking toward the wrong one. He started out toward it, glad of the low gravity, and swung easily into stride.
A half-hour later he saw the first Mode. He was practically alongside before he noticed it: a creature different from any he'd seen before, and just the height of the plants. It was working between the rows, smoothing soil with its hands, pulling out weeds to lay between the careful furrows. It watched him approach. When he came alongside it turned back to work.
The Mode was not quite a Brown. The fur patches were thicker, and more thick fur encased all three arms and the legs. The left hand was about the same as a Brown's but the right hands had five fingers each, plus a bud, and the fingers were square and short. The legs were thick and the feet large and flat. The head was a Brown's with drastically back-sloping forehead.
If Sally Fowler was right, that meant that the parietal area was almost nil. "Hello," Horst said anyway. The Mode looked back at him for a second, then pulled out a weed.
Afterwards he saw many of them. They watched him just long enough to be sure he wasn't destroying plants; then they lost interest. Horst hiked on in the bright sunshine toward the mirror-bright building. It was much farther than he had thought.

Mr. Midshipman Jonathon Whitbread waited. He had done enough of that since joining, the Navy; but he was only seventeen standard years old, and at that age waiting is never really easy.
He sat near the tip of the reentry cone, high enough to bring his head above the plants. In the city the buildings had blocked his view of this world. Here he saw the entire horizon. The sky was brown all the way around, shading to something that might have had blue tinges directly overhead. Clouds roiled to the east in thick patches, and a few dirty-white cumulus scudded overhead.
The sun was just overhead too. He decided he must be near the equator, and remembered that Castle City was far to the north. He could not sense the greater width of the sun's disc, because he could not look directly at it; but it was more comfortable to look at near than the small sun of New Scotland. The sense of an alien world was on him, but there was nothing to see. His eyes kept straying to the mirror-surfaced building. Presently he got up to examine the door.
It was a good ten meters high. Impressively tall to Whitbread, a gigantic thing for a Mode. But were Moties impressed by size? Whitbread thought not. The door must be functional-what was ten meters high? Heavy machinery? There was no sound at all when he put his pickup microphone against the smooth metallic surface.
At one side of the alcove containing the door was a panel mounted on a stout spring. Behind the panel was what seemed to be a combination lock. And that was that-except that Modes expected each other to solve such puzzles at a glance. A key lock would have been a NO Trespassing sign. This was not.
Probably it was intended to keep out-what? Browns? Whites? Laborers and the nonsentient classes? Probably all of them. A combination lock could be thought of as a form of communication.
Potter arrived panting, his helmet nearly awash with sweat, a water bag hanging from his belt. He turned his helmet mike to activate a small speaker and cut off his radio. "I had to try the Mote Prime air for myself," he said. "Now I know. Well, what hae you found?"
Whitbread showed him. He also adjusted his own mike. No point in broadcasting everything they said.
"Um. I wish Dr. Buckman were here. Those are Motie numbers-aye, and the Mote solar system, with the dial where the Mote ought to be, Let me see..."
Whitbread watched interestedly as Potter stared at the dial. The New Scot pursed his lips, then said, "Aye. The gas giant is three point seven two times as far from the Mote as Mote Prime. Hmmm." He reached into his shirt pocket and took out the ever-present computer box. "Umm...three point eight eight, base twelve. Now which way does the dial go?"
"Then, again, it might be somebody's birthday," said Whitbread. He was glad to see Gavin Potter. He was glad to see anyone human here. But the New Scot's meddling with the dials was-disturbing. Left, right, left, right, Gavin Potter turned the dials...
"I seem to remember Horst gave us orders concerning this building." Whitbread was uneasy.
"Best not fool with it. Hardly orders. We came to learn about Moties, did we not?"
"Well...It was an interesting puzzle. "Try left again," Whitbread suggested. "Hold it." Whitbread pushed the symbol representing Mote Prime. It depressed with a click. "Keep going left."
"Aye. The Mode astronomical maps show the planets going counterclockwise."
On the third digit the door began to slide upward. "It works!" Whitbread shouted.
The door slid up to a height of one and a half meters. Potter looked at Whitbread and said, "Now what?"
"You're kidding."
"We hae our orders," Potter said slowly. They sat down between the plants and looked at each other. Then looked at the dome. There was light inside, and they could easily see under the door. There were buildings in there...

Staley had been walking for three hours when he saw the plane. It was high up and moving fast, and he waved at it, not expecting to be seen: He was not and he walked on.
Presently he saw the plane again. It was behind him, much lower, and he thought it had spread wings. It settled lower and vanished behind the low rolling hills where he had come down. Staley shrugged. It would find his parachute and lifeboat and see his tracks leading away. The direction should be obvious. There was nowhere else to go.
In a few minutes the plane was higher and coming straight toward him. It was moving slowly now, obviously searching. He waved again, although he had a momentary impulse to hide, which was plainly silly. He needed to be found, although what he would say to a Motie was not at all clear.
The plane moved past him and hovered. Jet pipes curved down and forward, and it dropped dangerously fast to settle into the plants. There were three Moties inside, and a Brown-and-white emerged quickly.
"Horst!" it called in Whitbread's voice. "Where are the others?"
Staley waved toward the rounded dome. It was still an hour's march away.
Whitbread's Mode seemed to sag. "That's torn it. Horst, are they there yet?"
"Sure. They're waiting for me. They've been there about three hours."
"Oh, my God. Maybe they couldn't get inside. Whitbread couldn't get inside. Come on, Horst." She gestured toward the plane. "You'll have to squeeze in somehow."
Another Brown-and-white was inside and the pilot was a Brown. Whitbread's Mode sang something ranging through five octaves and using at least nine tones. The other Brown-and-white gestured wildly. They made room for Staley between the contoured seats, and the Brown did things to the controls. The plane rose and shot toward the building ahead. "Maybe they didn't get in," Whitbread's Mode repeated. "Maybe."
Horst crouched uncomfortably in the speeding jet and. wondered. He didn't like this at all. "What's wrong?" he asked.
Whitbread's Motie looked at him strangely. "Maybe nothing." The other two Moties said nothing at all.