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Ringworld's Children

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Ringworld's Children

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Author: Larry Niven
Publisher: Tor, 2004
Series: Known Space: Ringworld: Book 4
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Hard SF
Mutants
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Synopsis

Welcome to a world like no other.

The Ringworld: a landmark engineering achievement, a flat band 3 million times the surface area of Earth, encircling a distant star. Home to trillions of inhabitants, not all of which are human, and host to amazing technological wonders, the Ringworld is unique in all of the universe.

Explorer Louis Wu, an Earth-born human who was part of the first expedition to Ringworld, becomes enmeshed in interplanetary and interspecies intrigue as war, and a powerful new weapon, threaten to tear the Ringworld apart forever. Now, the future of Ringworld lies in the actions of its children: Tunesmith, the Ghould protector; Acolyte, the exiled son of Speaker-to-Animals, and Wembleth, a strange Ringworld native with a mysterious past. All must play a dangerous in order to save Ringworld's population, and the stability of Ringworld itself.

Blending awe-inspiring science with non-stop action and fun, Ringworld's Children, the fourth installment of the multiple award-winning saga, is the perfect introduction for readers new to this New York Times bestselling series, and long-time fans of Larry Niven's Ringworld.


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Louis Wu

Louis Wu woke aflame with new life, under a coffin lid.

Displays glowed above his eyes. Bone composition, blood parameters, deep reflexes, urea and potassium and zinc balance: he could identify most of these. The damage listed wasn't great. Punctures and gouges; fatigue; torn ligaments and extensive bruises; two ribs cracked; all relics of the battle with the Vampire protector, Bram. All healed now. The 'doc would have rebuilt him cell by cell. He'd felt dead and cooling when he climbed into the Intensive Care Cavity.

Eighty-four days ago, the display said.

Sixty-seven Ringworld days. Almost a falan; a falan was ten Ringworld rotations, seventy-five thirty-hour days. Twenty or thirty days should have healed him! But he'd known he was injured. What with all the general bruising from the battle with Bram, he hadn't even noticed puncture wounds in his back.

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 complex called boosterspice. He'd been dying, and old.

Testosterone was high, adrenalin high and rising.

Louis pushed steadily up against the lid of the 'doc. 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. Stone?

He was naked. He stood in a vast cavern. Where was Needle?

The interstellar spacecraft Hot Needle of Inquiry had been embedded in cooled magma when 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.

Hubristic, massive, awesome: this was a protector's work. Tunesmith, the Ghoul protector, must have been studying the 'doc while it healed Louis.

Nearby, Hot Needle of Inquiry had been fileted like a finless fish. A slice of hull running almost nose to tail had been cut away, exposing housing, cargo space, docking for a Lander now destroyed, thruster plates, and the hyperdrive motor housing. More than half of the ship's volume was tanks, and of course they'd been drained. 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. The cut surface 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?

Louis wandered over to look.

It had been repaired.

Louis had stranded the Hindmost in Ringworld space by chopping the hyperdrive in half, twelve or thirteen years ago. Dismounted, it looked otherwise ready to take Needle between the stars at Quantum I speeds, three days to the light year.

I could go home, Louis thought, tasting the notion.

Where is everybody? Louis looked around him, feeling the adrenalin surge. He was starting to shiver with cold.

He'd be almost two hundred and forty 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 through a gap in the floor right up to the roof. Cylinders lay near the gap, caged within more of Tunesmith's machinery. They were bigger than Needle, each a little different from the others.

He'd passed through this place once before. Louis looked up, knowing what to expect.

Five or six miles up, he thought. The Map of Mars stood forty miles high. This level would be near the roof. Louis could make out its contours. Think of it as the back of a mask…the mask of a shield volcano the size of Ceres.

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 had trapped them there after she turned protector. She had moved the ship eight hundred miles through these corridors, then poured molten rock around them. They'd used stepping disks—the puppeteers' instant transport system—to reach Teela. For all these years since, the ship had been trapped.

Now Tunesmith had brought it back to the workstation under Mons Olympus.

Louis knew Tunesmith, but not well. Louis had set a trap for Tunesmith, the Night Person, the breeder, and Tunesmith had become a protector. He'd watched Tunesmith fight Bram; and that was about all he knew of Tunesmith the protector. Now Tunesmith held Louis's life in his hands, and it was Louis's own doing.

He'd be smarter than Louis. Trying to outguess a protector was…futz…was both silly and inevitable. No human culture has ever stopped trying to outguess God.

So. Needle was an interstellar spacecraft, if someone could remount the hyperdrive. That tremendous tilted tower—forty miles of it if it reached all the way to the Repair Center floor—was a linear accelerator, a launching system. One day Tunesmith might need a spacecraft. Meanwhile he'd leave Needle gutted, because Louis Wu and the Hindmost might otherwise use it to run, and the protector 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 housing was a cross section, its 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. Maybe there was a stepping disk link? But he couldn't guess where Tunesmith might place a stepping disk, or where it would lead.

The Hindmost's command deck was exposed too. It was three stories tall, with lower ceilings than a Kzin would need. Louis saw how he could climb up to the lowest floor. A protector would have no trouble at all.

Louis shook his head. What must the Hindmost be thinking?

Pierson's puppeteers held to a million-year-old philosophy based on cowardice. When the Hindmost built Needle, he had isolated his command deck from any intruders, even from his own alien crew. There were no doors at all, just stepping disks booby-trapped a thousand ways. Now…the puppeteer must feel as naked as Louis.

Louis crouched beneath the edge of some flat-topped mass, maybe the breathing-air system. Leapt, pulled up, and kept climbing. The 'doc's repairs 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. Tunesmith might have turned them off…or not.

He pulled up and was in forbidden space.

* * *

He saw the Hindmost. Then he saw his own droud sitting on a table.

The droud was the connector between any wall socket and Louis Wu's brain. Louis had destroyed that…had given it to Chmeee and watched the Kzin batter it to bits.

So, a replacement. Bait for Louis Wu, the current addict, the wirehead. Louis's hand crept into the hair at the back of his head, under the queue. Plug in the droud, let it trickle electric current down into the pleasure center…where was the socket?

Louis laughed wildly. It wasn't there! The autodoc's nano machines had rebuilt his skull without a socket for the droud!

Louis thought it over. Then he took the droud. When confused, send a confusing message.

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.

"Touch nothing!"

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," it said, "instruct me. Touch nothing."

The Hindmost's voice—Needle's autopilot—knew him, knew his language at least, and hadn't killed him. Louis found his own voice. "Were you expecting me?"

"Yes. I give you limited freedom in this place. 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 were not otherwise changed. The plants were still alive. 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. He finished the fruit, then dialed up a...

Copyright © 2004 by Larry Niven


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