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Before “The Mote in God’s Eye” was published, 50,000 words were cut from the text, including this Prologue which Larry and Jerry titled “Motelight.” 
Motelightfirst appeared in Galaxy Magazine, January 1976 as part of a longer work titled “Building The Mote in God’s Eye” a series of articles describing the physics of the Alderson Drive and Langston Field, and the society and politics of the Empire. _Motelight_ itself describes how the astronomers of New Caledonia first noticed the brightening of the Mote, an event which signaled the launch of the Moties' laser-powered light-sail craft.

The short literary piece “Motelight” is presented in a severely excerpted form (to preserve the integrity of the longer work of which it is part) copyright by its authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The short fiction Motelight is wholly owned by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, its purpose here is to present the context of the original artwork above.

”These nights interplanetary space rippled with the strange lights of war, and the atmosphere glowed with ionization from shock waves, beamed radiation, fusion explosions . . .

Now, late in the evening of New Scotland's 27-hour day, Thaddeus Potter, Ph.D., strolled out into the night air.

It was a good night for seeing. Interplanetary war could play hell with the seeing; but tonight the bombardment from New Ireland had ceased. The Imperial Navy had won a victory.

Potter had paid no attention to the newscasts; still, he appreciated the victory's effects. Perhaps tonight the war wouldn't interfere with his work. He walked thirty paces forward and turned just where the roof of his house wouldn't block the Coal Sack. It was a sight he never tired of.

The Coal Sack was a nebular mass of gas and dust, small as such things go-eight to ten parsecs thick-but dense, and close enough to New Caledonia to block a quarter of the sky. Earth lay somewhere on the other side of it, and so did the Imperial Capital, Sparta, both forever invisible. The Coal Sack hid most of the Empire, but it made a fine velvet backdrop for two close, brilliant stars.

And one of them had changed drastically …

The bombardment started as Potter was boarding his bike. There was a hot streak of light like a very large shooting star; and it didn't burn out, but reached all the way to the horizon. Stratospheric clouds formed and vanished, outlining the shock wave. Light glared on the horizon, then faded gradually.
"Damn," muttered Potter, with feeling. He started the motor. The war was no concern of his, except that he no longer had New Irish students. He even missed some of them. There was one chap from Cohane who –

A cluster of stars streaked down in exploding fireworks. Something burned like a new star overhead. The falling stars winked out, but the other light went on and on, changing colors rapidly, even while the shock wave clouds dissipated. Then the night became clear, and Potter saw that it was on the moon.

What could New Ireland be shooting at on New Scotland's moon?

Potter understood then. "You bastards!" he screamed at the sky. "You lousy traitor bastards!"

The main telescope itself was on New Scotland's tiny moon.

A brilliant violet streak flamed high overhead. The violet light grew more intense and flared white, then vanished. A warship had died out there.

The single light reddened.

He stormed around the side of Edwards's house shouting, "The traitors bombed the main telescope! Did you see it? All our work-oh …"

He had forgotten Edwards's backyard telescope.

Potter and Edward worked through the night, as improbable as it was, the conclusion was incontrovertible: the Mote was shining with coherent light.

In 2862 there were no starships behind the Coal Sack. On the other side, around Crucis and the Capital, a tiny fleet still rode the force paths between stars to the worlds Sparta controlled. There were fewer loyal ships and worlds each year.

The summer of 2862 was lean for New Scotland. Day after day a few men crept outside the black dome that defended the city; but they always returned at night. Few saw the rising of the Coal Sack.

It climbed weirdly, its resemblance to a shrouded human silhouette marred by the festive two-colored eye. The Mote burned as brightly as Murcheson's Eye now. But who would listen to Potter and Edwards and their crazy tales about the Mote? The night sky was a battlefield, dangerous to look upon.

The war was not really fought for the Empire now. In the New Caledonia system the war continued because it would not end. Loyalist and Rebel were meaningless terms; but it hardly mattered while bombs and wrecked ships fell from the skies.

Potter and Edwards worked on, learning nothing, fighting with each other and screaming curses at the New Irish traitors.

They might as well have stayed under the shield. The Mote produced coherent light of amazing purity. Four months after it began, the light jumped in intensity and stayed that way. Five months later it jumped again.

It jumped once more, four months later, but Potter and Edwards didn't see it. That was the night a ship from New Ireland fell from the sky, its shield blazing violet with friction. It was low when the shield overloaded and collapsed, releasing stored energy in one ferocious blast.

Gammas and photons washed across the plains beyond the city, and Potter and Edwards were carried into the University hospital by worried students. Potter died three days later. Edwards walked for the rest of his life with a backpack attached to his shoulders: a portable life support system.

It was 2870 on every world where clocks still ran when the miracle came to New Scotland.

An interstellar trading ship, long converted for war and recently damaged, fell into the system with her Langston Field intact and her hold filled with torpedoes. She was killed in the final battle, but the insurrection on New Ireland died as well. Now all the New Caledonia system was loyal to the Empire; and the Empire no longer existed.

They were alone behind the Coal Sack.

The Mote continued to grow brighter as the years passed. Soon it was more brilliant than the Eye, but there were no astronomers on New Scotland to care. In 2891 the Coal Sack was a black silhouette of a hooded man. It had one terribly bright blue-green eye, with a red fleck in it.

One night at the rising of the Coal Sack, a farmer named Howard Grote Littlemead was struck with inspiration. It came to him that the Coal Sack was God, and that he ought to tell someone.

Tradition had it that the Face of God could be seen from New Caledonia; and Littlemead had a powerful voice. Despite the opposition of the Imperial Orthodox Church, despite the protests of the Viceroy and the scorn of the University staff, the Church of Him spread until it was a power of New Scotland.

It was never large, but its members were fanatics; and they had the miracle of the Mote, which no scientist could explain.

By 2895 the Church of Him was a power among New Scot farmers, but not in the cities. Still, half the population worked in the fields. The converter kitchens had all broken down.

By 2900 New Scotland had two working interplanetary spacecraft, one of which could not land. Its Langston Field had died. The term was appropriate. When a piece of Empire technology stopped working, it was dead. It could not be repaired. New Scotland was becoming primitive.

For forty years the light from the Mote had grown. Children refused to believe that it had once been called the Mote. Adults knew it was true, but couldn't remember why. They called the twin stars Murcheson's Eye, and believed that the red supergiant had no special name.

The records might have showed differently, but the University records were suspect. The Library had been scrambled by electromagnetic pulses during the years of siege. It had large areas of amnesia.

In 2902 the Mote went out.

Its green light dimmed to nothing over a period of several hours; but that happened on the other side of the world. When the Coal Sack rose above University City that night, it rose as a blinded man.

All but a few remnants of the Church of Him died that year. With the aid of a handful of sleeping pills Howard Grote Littlemead hastened to meet his God . . . possibly to demand an explanation.

Thirty-five light years away, the aliens of Mote Prime had launched a light-sail spacecraft, using batteries of laser cannon powerful enough to outshine a neighboring red supergiant.”

                                                                                          – Motelight …From ”Building The Mote in God’s Eye”
                                                                                                                                          By Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

From ”Building The Mote in God’s Eye.” Coal Sack/Hooded-Man figure is a composite of my own air-brush painting in Photoshop enhanced with selected crops of Hubble, Spitzer, and *SDO images.

Mote Prime Laser created with Lights-Ibitiura.


M42 Post-Coolant, Courtesy NASA/JPL
Messier 78, Courtesy NASA/JPL
The Sun via Solar Dynamic’s Observatory, Courtesy NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Stock Resources:


High res Planet Stock IV by The-Prototype92

Related Images:

Coal Sack, New Caldonia, Murcheson's Eye, & Mote

I.N.S.S. MacArthur

MacArthur:New Caldonia Orbit

Starship Fixture Design


The Langston Field Effect: Descent to Fire 

*Solar Dynamic’s Observatory
Image size
4000x4000px 4.11 MB
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