Stars and Gods
By Larry Niven
Tom Doherty Associates Copyright © 2010 Larry Niven
All rights reserved.
Excerpts from the Novels
Louis Wu woke aflame with new life, under a coffin lid.
"Dracula," he murmured; but the analogy had a dubious flavor. Boosterspice was centuries old. Nobody need turn vampire just to live a long time.
Displays glowed above his eyes. Bone composition, blood, deep reflexes, urea and potassium and zinc balance: he could identify most of these. The damage listed wasn't great. Wounds; fatigue; torn ligaments and extensive bruises; two ribs cracked; all relics of the battle with Bram. All healed now, rebuilt cell by cell.
He'd felt dead and cooling when he climbed in, eighty-four days ago, the display said. Sixty-seven Ringworld days, about nine falans.
He'd been under repair for twice that long the first time he lay in this box. Then, his internal plumbing systems had been leaking into each other, and he'd been eleven years without the longevity drug called boosterspice. He'd been old.
Testosterone was high, adrenalin high and rising.
Louis pushed steadily up against the lid. The lid wouldn't move faster, but his body craved action. He slid out and dropped to a stone floor, cold beneath his bare feet.
He was naked. He stood in a vast cavern. Where was Needle?
The spacecraft Hot Needle of Inquiry had been embedded in stone, last he looked, and Carlos Wu's experimental nanotech repair system had been in the crew quarters. Now its components sat within, a nest of instruments and cables on a floor of cooled lava. The 'doc had been partly pulled apart. Everything was still running.
Tunesmith must have been studying its workings while it healed Louis Wu.
Nearby, Hot Needle of Inquiry had been filleted like a finless fish. A slice of hull running almost nose to tail had been cut away, exposing housing, cargo, docking for a lander now destroyed, thruster plates, and the hyperdrive motor housing. More than half of the ship's volume was tanks. The rim of the cut had been lined with copper or bronze, and cables in the metal led to instruments and a generator.
The cut section had been pulled aside by massive machinery. It too was rimmed in bronze laced with cables.
The hyperdrive motor had run the length of the ship. Now it was laid out on the lava, in a nest of instruments. Tunesmith again. The Hindmost wouldn't have needed to study that.
Louis wandered over to look.
It had been repaired.
Louis had stranded the Hindmost in Ringworld space by chopping the hyperdrive nearly in half, long years ago. Dismounted, it looked otherwise ready to take Needle between the stars ... and the design looked altered.
I could go home, Louis thought, tasting the notion. He liked it.
Where was everybody? Louis looked around him, feeling the adrenaline surge. He was starting to shiver with cold.
He'd be two hundred and sixty-odd years old by now, wouldn't he? Easy to lose track here. But the nano machines in Carlos Wu's experimental 'doc had read his DNA and repaired everything down through the cell nuclei. Louis had done this dance before. His body thought it was just past puberty.
Keep it cool, boy. Nobody's challenged you yet.
The spacecraft, the hull section, the 'doc, machines to move and repair these masses and crude-looking instruments arrayed to study them, all formed a tight cluster within vaster spaces. The cavern was tremendous and nearly empty. Louis saw float plates like stacks of poker chips, and beyond those a tilted tower of tremendous toroids that ran from a hole in the floor right up to the roof. Four Needle-sized cylinders lay near its base, within more of Tunesmith's machinery. Those were new.
He'd passed through this place once before. Louis looked up, knowing what to expect.
Five or six miles up, he thought. The repair center was forty miles high, so this level was near the roof. Louis could make out its contours. Think of it as the back of a mask ... the mask of an asteroid-sized shield volcano.
Needle had smashed down through the crater in Mons Olympus, into the repair center that underlay the one-to-one scale Map of Mars. Teela Brown the protector had trapped them there, had moved the ship eight hundred miles through these corridors, then poured molten rock around them. For all these years the ship had been trapped. Now Tunesmith had brought it back to the workstation under Mons Olympus.
He knew Tunesmith the Night Person, but not well. He barely knew Tunesmith the protector. He'd watched the protector fight, and that was about it. But Louis had set the trap that made him a protector, and now Tunesmith held Louis's life in his hands.
He'd be smarter than Louis. Trying to outguess a protector was ... futz ... was silly but inevitable.
So. Needle was an interstellar spacecraft, and that huge, tilted tower was a linear accelerator, a launching system. Tunesmith might need a spacecraft. Meanwhile he'd leave Needle gutted. Louis Wu and the Hindmost might use it to run, and he couldn't have that.
Louis walked until Needle loomed: a hundred-and-ten-foot-diameter cylinder with a flattened belly. Not much of the ship was missing ... the hyperdrive, the 'doc, what else? The crew section was wide open, the floor eighty feet up. Under the floor, all of the kitchen and recycling systems were exposed.
If he could climb that high he'd have his breakfast, and clothing, too. He didn't see any obvious route.
He couldn't guess where Tunesmith might place a stepping disk, or where it would lead.
The Hindmost's command deck was exposed. It was three stories tall, with lower ceilings than a Kzin would need. Louis saw how he could climb to the lower floor. A protector would have no trouble at all.
Black holes and starseeds! What must the Hindmost be thinking?
Pierson's puppeteers were cowards. When the Hindmost built Needle, he had isolated his command deck from any intruders, including his alien crew. There were no doors at all, just stepping disks booby-trapped a thousand ways. Now ... the puppeteer must feel stripped naked.
Louis crouched beneath the edge of some flat-topped mass, maybe the breathing-air system. Leapt, pulled up and kept climbing. The 'doc had left him thin, almost gaunt; he wasn't lifting much weight. Fifty feet up, he hung by his fingers for a moment.
This was the lowest floor of the Hindmost's cabin, his most private area. There would be defenses. Would someone have turned them off?
He pulled up and was in forbidden space.
The first thing he saw was the Hindmost. The next was his own droud sitting on a table.
He'd destroyed that. He'd given it to Chmeee and watched the Kzin smash it.
So, a replacement. Bait for Louis Wu the wirehead. Louis's hand crept into the hair at the back of his head, under the queue. Plug it in, let the battery trickle current into the pleasure center of his brain ... where was the socket?
Louis laughed wildly. It wasn't there! The autodoc's nano machines had rebuilt him without it!
Louis thought it over. Then he took the droud.
The Hindmost lay like a jeweled footstool, his three legs and both heads tucked protectively beneath his torso. Louis's lips curled. He stepped forward to sink his hand into the jeweled mane and shake the puppeteer out of his funk.
He caught himself. Why did he want the Hindmost awake?
"Do not touch anything."
Louis flinched violently. The voice was a blast of contralto music, the Hindmost's voice with the sound turned up, and it spoke Interworld. "Whatever you desire, instruct me."
Needle's autopilot knew him, knew his language at least, and it hadn't killed him. Louis found his voice. "Were you expecting me?"
"Yes. I may give you some limited freedom here. Find a current source next to —"
"No. Breakfast," Louis said as his belly suddenly screamed that it was empty, dying. "I need food."
"There is no kitchen for your kind here."
A shallow ramp wound round the walls to the upper floors. "I'll be back," Louis said.
He walked, then ran up the ramp. He eased around the wall above a drop of eighty feet — not difficult, just scary — and was in crew quarters.
A pit showed where the 'doc had been removed. Crew quarters was not otherwise changed. Louis went to the kitchen wall and dialed cappuccino and a fruit plate. He ate. He dressed, pants and blouse and a vest that was all pockets, the droud bulging one of the pockets. Finished the fruit, then dialed up an omelet, potatoes, another cappuccino and a waffle.
He thought while he ate. What was his desire?
He needed the Hindmost to tell him what was going on ... but puppeteers were manipulative and secretive.
A little leverage?
He dumped the breakfast dishes in the recycler toilet. He climbed around the wall, carefully. "Hindmost's Voice," he said.
"At your command. You need not risk a fall. Here is a stepping disk link," and a cursor showed him a spot on the floor of crew quarters.
"Show me the Meteor Defense Room."
"That term is unknown." A hologram window sprang up in the portside wall. "Is this the place you mean?"
Meteor Defense was a vast, dark space. At the edge of the Voice's window, under a glare of light, the bones of an ancient protector had been laid out for study.
Three long swinging booms ended in chairs equipped with lap keyboards. In the far shadows stood pillars with large plates on top, mechanical mushrooms — "What are those?"
"Service stacks," the Hindmost's Voice said, "each made from eight of the float plates you found on arrival, topped by a stepping disk."
The display Louis was looking for was not at once obvious. It was as black as the room around it. He saw it when a boom swung across it. One of the booms ended in a knobby, angular shadow.
All protectors look something like medieval armor.
The protector was watching an oval display screen thirty feet high, fifty wide. The camera would be somewhere on the Ringworld itself, looking away from the sun. Louis knew better than to expect asteroids or worlds. The Ringworld engineers had cleared all that out. This drift of moving lights would be spacecraft held by several species. Now the view focussed on a gauzy, fragile Outsider ship; now on a glass needle, tenant unknown; now an ARM warship.
Tunesmith's concentration seemed total. He zoomed on a spray of stars occluded by a foggy lump, a proto-comet. Tiny angular machines drifted around it, marked by blinking cursor circles. A lance of light glared much brighter: some warship's fusion drive. Here came another, zipping across the screen. No weapon fired.
The Fringe War was still cold, Louis thought. He'd wondered how long that could last.
The protector's arms jittered above the keyboard.
In the corner of Louis's eye, sunlight glared down. Louis spun around. The crater in Mons Olympus was sliding open, flooding the cavern with unfiltered light. The linear accelerator roared; an arc of lightning ran bottom to top.
The crater closed.
Louis brought his eyes back to the display. Looking over Tunesmith's shoulder, he saw fusion light flare from offscreen and dwindle to a bright point. Tunesmith had launched something at high velocity.
Wonderful. Tunesmith had joined the Fringe War.
Well, that should keep him busy. Now, how much freedom had Louis been allotted? "Hindmost's Voice, show me the locations of all stepping disks."
The Hindmost's Voice popped up a Map Room. It blanked out the outside view completely. The Ringworld surrounded Louis, a ring six hundred million miles long and a million miles wide, banded blue for day and black for night and broad fuzzy edges for dusk and dawn. Orange cursor lights winked across its face.
"Ninety-five are now in use. Two failed. Three we dropped into deep space were shot down by the fleets."
"Have you sent anything to the shadow square ring?"
The Hindmost had brought stepping disks on his voyage to the Ringworld, but not a hundred! "Has the Hindmost built a factory for stepping disks somewhere?"
"No. Tunesmith built such a system. Work proceeds slowly."
Blinking orange lights were thick along the Great Ocean arc of the Ringworld. The far side looked sparse. "Are any of these en route to somewhere else?"
Vector arrows popped up. Most of the lights weren't moving. None had reached the Other Ocean, but two were moving in that direction. "ETAs for those," Louis said. No response. "Give me estimated time of arrival for —"
"Expect this service stack," flicker, "in place at the spinward rim of the Counterbalance Ocean by early 2900 your count."
Most of the lights were clustered around the Great Ocean, and of those, most were in a tight cluster that must be the Map of Mars. Louis pointed. "Give me a slow zoom on that."
The map expanded.
"A little faster."
The Great Ocean expanded. Louis began picking out individual lights for close-ups.
Deep into a jagged inlet, a narrow wedge seen from above was Hidden Patriarch, the mile-long seagoing craft built by local Kzinti.
The Map of Mars was a maze of lights ... twenty. "Are these all underground?"
"Four are on the surface." They blinked violet.
One at the icy north pole, at the Map's center. One at the rim — "That one. Under the waterfall?"
The remaining two were on the map of Mons Olympus. "Is that one upside down? Can you tell?"
"I can. It is."
The trap set by martians was still in place. "What's the other?"
"The stepping disk aboard Hot Needle of Inquiry's lander."
Teela had blasted the lander during that last duel. "It's functional?"
"Is the lander functional, too?"
"Life support is marginal. Drive systems and weaponry have failed."
"Can some of these service stacks be locked out of the system?"
"That has been done." Lines spread across the map to join blinking lights. Some, like the trap on Mons Olympus, had crossed-circle verboten marks on them: not open. The maze was complicated, and Louis didn't try to understand it. "My master has override codes," the Voice said.
"May I have those?"
"Number these for me."
"How shall I order them?"
"Distance from this point. Then print out a map."
The scale was huge; he'd never get any detail out of it. He folded it and stuffed it in a pocket anyway. "Now, here's what I want, and you tell me if I can have it...."
He broke for lunch and came back.
The more recent disks were on service stacks: mobile. He set two of those moving and changed a number of links. The Hindmost's Voice printed another map with his changes added. He pocketed that, too.
The Voice refused to make weapons. The crew quarters kitchen hadn't done that either.
Tunesmith was still at the end of a boom, still tracking whatever he'd launched. "Where are the rest of us?" Louis asked, and felt a sudden flood of embarrassment. He should have asked that first!
"Who do you seek?"
"I do not have that name —"
"The Kzin we shared this ship with. Chmeee's child."
"I list that LE as —" blood-curdling howl. Louis found he was trying to pry his fingers loose from a table edge. "Rename him Acolyte?"
The map was back, and a blinking point near Fist-of-God ... a hundred thousand miles port-and-antispin from Fist-of-God, and two hundred thousand miles spinward of the Map of Mars. The Ringworld scale had to be learned over and over. "Here we set Acolyte four falans ago. He has since moved by eleven hundred miles." The point jumped minutely. "Tunesmith has altered the setting for the stepping disk. It sends to an observation point on the Map of Earth."
Home to his father? "Has he used it?"
"Where are the City Builders?"
"Do you mean the librarians? Kawaresksenjajok and Fortaralisplyar and three children were returned to their origin —"
"Yah!" He'd meant to do that himself.
"To the library in the floating city. I note your approval. Who else shall I track?"
Who else had been his companions? Two protectors. Bram was dead. Tunesmith was ... still busy. He'd zoomed on that receding point, the vehicle he'd launched. Its drive was off ... flared hugely and blinked off again.
A warship. Reaction motors were needed for war; modern thrusters couldn't switch on and off as fast.
"Have you kept track of Valavirgillin?"
The map jumped. "Here, near the floating city and a local center of Machine People culture."
Good, and she was well away from vampires. "Why did you track her?" He hadn't expected that.
Carefully, "Who do you take orders from?"
"From you and Tunesmith and —" a blast of orchestral chaos, piercingly sweet. Louis recognized the Hindmost's true name. "But all such may be countermanded by —" the Hindmost's name again.
"Is Tunesmith restricted from any interesting levels of this ship?"
The Hindmost was still in wrapped-around-himself catatonia. "How long since he's eaten?" Louis asked.
"Two local days. He wakes to eat."
"Good. Wake him up."
"How shall I wake him without trauma?"
"I saw him in a dance once. Turn that on. Prepare food for him." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Stars and Gods by Larry Niven. Copyright © 2010 Larry Niven. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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