Ringworld is perhaps Larry Niven's best known story. It is one of the very few novels to win both of science fiction's most prestigious literary awards, the Hugo (Best Novel, 1971) and the Nebula (Best Novel, 1970).
Chapter 1: Louis Wu
FlatlanderLouis Wu was traveling around Earth via transfer booth, celebrating his 200th birthday with friends in different time zones; yet he was bored with his life. Unexpectedly, a jump landed him in an unintended destination, a hotel room where he met a Puppeteer named Nessus, who wanted to recruit Louis for a mission of exploration. Louis recalled that Puppeteers had disappeared from Human Space centuries before, and asked where they had gone. Nessus explained the "proverbially cautious" (or cowardly) Puppeteers had fled following discovery of the core explosion, which released a flood of radiation which would make Known Space uninhabitable... 20,000 years in the future. Nessus refused to reveal any details of the proposed mission, offering only a picture of what appeared to be a star with a sky-blue ribbon around it, as a hint to their destination. He offered as payment the blueprints and prototype for a Quantum II hyperdrive starship, one which traveled thousands of times faster than standard starships; Louis accepted. To recruit a third member of the expedition, they went to a restaurant. Nessus, although normally cowardly, outrageously insulted and enraged a party of Kzinti diplomats, challenging them to join his expedition and offering the same payment. One Kzin accepted: a young apprentice diplomat, who introduced himself as "Speaker-To-Animals" — a deliberate insult to Humans. Louis took offense and challenged him to a duel, but another Kzin issued an apology. Speaker-To-Animals (aka "Speaker") told Louis he found the challenge overly verbose; in challenging a Kzin, "You scream and you leap."
Louis returned to his home and his birthday party, accompanied by Nessus and Speaker. In his office, Louis asked Nessus why a Puppeteer would provoke dangerous Kzinti, and also questioned the disparate choices for expedition members. Nessus explained he was insane by the standards of his species, a manic-depressive; no sane Puppeteer would leave the safety of his homeworld. The Puppeteer leaders wanted a Kzin for the mission to test their theory that continual loss of the most aggressive Kzinti in the Man-Kzin Wars had evolved a species capable of peaceful dealings with other races. The Puppeteers also wanted a Human on the mission, and Louis was a proven survivor type. The three joined Louis' party. Louis found himself attracted to Teela Brown, a very pretty — but apparently immature, brainless and shallow — 20 year old Flatlander girl. Speaker enjoyed admirers scratching his ears. Nessus was startled upon hearing Teela's name — she was a potential recruit for the fourth member of the team. Louis argued that Teela was completely unsuited for the mission; she had never been offworld. Nessus explained that Teela was descended from six generations of Birthright Lottery winners; the Puppeteer leaders speculated Humans were breeding for luck, and wanted to test that theory.
Chapter 3: Teela Brown
Teela refused to go on the expedition. Louis' birthday party wound down, but Louis was attracted to Teela and asked her to stay; the two became lovers. Two days later, a trembling Nessus, on the depressed leg of his manic-depressive cycle, returned and reported his agents still had not located a suitable Birthright Lottery winner for the expedition, complaining of improbable difficulties in tracking them down. After Nessus left, Teela asked Louis why he was going on the expedition. He explained the danger of the core explosion; how in twenty thousand years or so, a wave of deadly radiation would sweep across Known Space. Louis thought Humans would need the Quantum II hyperdrive to be able to flee to safety. During their discussion, Louis realized Teela was far from stupid, despite his initial impression. Suddenly, Teela announced she would join the expedition. Louis pointed out she was entirely unsuited to be an explorer. He tried to browbeat her into staying, but Teela was undeterred.
Chapter 4: Speaker-To-Animals
Teela revealed she was joining the expedition because she was in love with Louis. The next day the team traveled to Nereid, a moon of Neptune, where Outsiders had a base. There rested the prototype Quantum II hyperdrive ship, the Long Shot. Louis asked Nessus to reveal the location of the Puppeteer homeworld, a great mystery in Human Space. Nessus, amused, merely replied they would learn the location before long. Speaker produced a variable-sword, and tried to hijack the Long Shot. But Nessus zapped him with a surgically implanted tasp, reducing Speaker to helpless ecstasy, and Louis disarmed the Kzin. Nessus warned Speaker he would use the tasp whenever he felt menaced. Speaker replied he would not again threaten the Puppeteer; a prideful Kzin would not shame himself with addiction to a tasp. Louis was to be the pilot of the experimental ship, with the other three riding in crash couches encased in stasis fields. The team transferred to the Long Shot, with Louis on guard until Speaker was imprisoned in his stasis field.
"Puppeteer Fleet of Worlds" by Schuyler Horn
Chapter 5: Rosette
Five days later, a dirty and exhausted Louis Wu had taken the Long Shot outside Sol System. Engaging the Quantum II hyperdrive, he dodged stars for several hours with one cramped hand on the panic switch. During a break, he considered Teela's apparent shallowness. She had a lack of empathy because she had never been hurt. When they arrived at the coordinates, Nessus directed them toward five "dull stars" which, incredibly, were five planets in a regular pentagon, arranged to orbit an empty central point, a "Klemperer rosette". This was the Puppeteer Fleet of Worlds; five planets without a sun, each artificially lit, flying at near lightspeed out of the galaxy. A shuttle [see rendezvous ship] met the Long Shot to carry the explorers to the Puppeteer homeworld [called Hearth in later accounts], which was one planet in this Fleet. Louis tried to guard Speaker with the variable sword against further hijack attempts. But Speaker grabbed the weapon, then handed it back, explaining "A threat is a challenge." On the shuttle, Louis questioned the safety of moving an inhabited world at such extreme velocity. Nessus earnestly explained it was much safer than hyperspace travel. He stated his species had difficulty with population control, and spoke of the history of the Fleet of Worlds. The Puppeteer homeworld had first been moved away from its sun, using powerful planetary thrusters [see thruster (c)] purchased from the Outsiders, to relieve waste heat on their overcrowded and intensely industrialized world. The planet had been moved again when their sun expanded into a red giant. Other planets were moved and terraformed into farm worlds to feed their growing population, eventually a trillion Puppeteers. When the Puppeteer migration began, his species already had experience in safely moving planets. Speaker admitted that even a Kzin found the power displayed by the Puppeteers to be frightening.
Chapter 6: Christmas Ribbon
They landed in a deserted parkland of colorful plants surrounded by miles-high skyscrapers, on a tiny island on the Puppeteer homeworld. Nessus left to meet with the Puppeteer leaders. A projected image of a Puppeteer named Chiron briefed them on their mission. The Puppeteers had discovered that near the flight path of the Fleet of Worlds lay a star with a ring around it, as seen in the picture shown to Louis. The Puppeteers' telescopes had revealed the ring was a solid object; an artifact bigger than worlds — the
Ringworld. Spectroscopic analysis showed the inside surface, towards its sun, had an Earth-like atmosphere and temperature. The ring was spinning fast enough to provide Earth-like gravity, and 20 rectangular shapes regularly spaced in a closer orbit blocked the sunlight at regular intervals, providing a day/night cycle. The Ring was about a million miles wide, with a radius just slightly more than Earth's distance from its sun; the surface area was about three million times that of Earth. Louis and Speaker speculated that to justify such an enormous, ambitious and costly engineering project, the
Ringworld Engineers must have been limited to slower-than-light travel, and must have had overwhelming population pressure. The rest of the Ringworld's stellar system had been cleared of planets, asteroids and comets, presumably to prevent collision with the Ring. Speaker spoke of landing on the Ringworld, but Chiron instructed them to land only if the Ring builders insisted.
Chapter 7: Stepping Discs
A very jittery, obviously depressed Nessus rejoined the group. He reported that in his meeting with those-who-lead-from behind, the Puppeteer leaders, he had demanded the right to breed in exchange for leading the expedition. In fact it was the leaders' chairman, the Hindmost, who accepted Nessus as his mate. Louis asked if either Nessus or the Hindmost was female, but Nessus was offended and refused to answer. Recovered from his fright, Nessus led the group to a series of stepping discs; open transfer "booths" which were laid out in a grid pattern at each intersection in the city of fearfully high skyscrapers. One had only to take three steps to travel a block. Louis was exhilarated at this new form of travel, and indulged in a daydream, a seven-leagues-boots concept which escalated to using planets as stepping stones. Presently the team arrived at a spaceship built on a #2 General Products hull, in which they would survey the Ringworld. A revolutionary design, only the ship's control cabin, roomy living quarters, life-support system, and hyperdrive were inside the hull. Everything else was mounted outside the hull on a large delta wing. There were only two openings in the hull: the airlock, and a small conduit for connections with the systems on the delta wing. In an emergency, both openings could be sealed and everything inside the hull protected with a stasis field. Despite the plan to avoid landing on the Ringworld, lockers inside the ship were filled with explorer gear. The controls were configured for a Kzin, and Speaker piloted the ship away from the Fleet of Worlds. Louis found the ship had many weapons, but each was something a Puppeteer could claim had another purpose. He therefore named the ship the Lying Bastard (aka Liar). A week later, the Liar dropped out of hyperspace near the Ringworld.
Approaching the Ringworld required a day and a half of deceleration. Thousand mile high rim walls were observed on the outer edges of the Ringworld, rising towards the sun and holding in the atmosphere. Tension grew aboard the Liar. Teela was bored and irritable. Nessus and Speaker repeatedly argued over a cautious or bold approach. The Puppeteer repeatedly insisted the Liar's path not intersect the Ring, while the Kzin demanded the expedition land against orders. The explorers made numerous attempts to contact the Ringworld, but there was no answer. Speaker believed they were being deliberately ignored, and grew enraged. Approaching a rim wall, they observed the enormous rings of what appeared to be a linear accelerator, a spacecraft landing system [see spacecraft acceleration rings]; then saw a large Ringworld spaceport, apparently abandoned, with two tremendous Bussard ramscoop starships. Speaker then flew the Liar along the underside of the Ring, using the fusion drive as a searchlight; they observed the underside of terrain, like the back of a mask, which had been molded into the Ring floor: mountains, valleys, shallow seas, rivers. The outer side of the Ringworld was protected from meteoroid impacts by a layer of spongy material; occasional holes appeared where meteoroids had bored through this layer.
Chapter 9: Shadow Squares
To end the arguing, Louis suggested they all take a rest. He woke to find Teela miffed because he hadn't kept watch with her. The ship was moving toward the shadow square system, to survey them. Nessus reported the inside surface of the Ringworld, towards the sun, was covered with an Earth-like, varied terrain, including mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers. But there were large areas of desert. Nessus suggested maintenance had broken down, that the Ring had reverted to savagery. Speaker woke and resumed arguing for a fast, direct approach; but Nessus ruled out any course intersecting the Ringworld, to avoid attracting a hostile reaction. As a compromise, they aimed the ship at the sun, planning to change course when the ship neared the shadow squares. But apparently the ship's autopilot noticed the danger of hitting the sun, and turned the ship. The Liar lit up like a flashbulb. When the ship came out of stasis a few seconds later, they discovered the wing and everything on it had been vaporized. The Kzin thought they had been attacked by a powerful x-ray laser; Louis dubbed it the meteor defense laser. Left with no way to maneuver, the Liar fell helplessly towards the shadow squares. Louis and Teela discussed the young woman's seemingly improbable luck, which Louis was convinced was just random chance. Suddenly the ship lurched. Hours later, it came out of stasis a second time. Outside the ship was a writhing, glowing thread, long enough to vanish in the distance; apparently the ship had hit it. Speaker went outside to investigate. The very thin thread, or rather wire, cut through a metal tool as though it were a variable-sword. Returning, the Kzin suggested such wires connected the shadow squares [see shadow square wire]. Nessus lamented that Teela was no good luck charm after all. A ship's evening and night passed as the Liar fell towards the Ringworld. In the morning, the Ringworld floor drew near, and the landscape whizzed past at 770 miles per second, blurring details. Suddenly everything blazed violet, and the ship went into stasis again.
The Liar rested nearly upside down in an enormous, shallow gully, on a shiny, flat translucent "floor", surrounded by ridges of cooling lava. Teela left the ship through the airlock before testing the air. Louis put on his pressure suit and followed. The surface proved as slick as ice; the air tested as breathable. Louis gave Teela a dressing down for taking risks without thinking. Speaker noted the ship was in a furrow created by the force and heat of its landing, resting on the Ringworld foundation material [called scrith in later accounts]. He fired a laser at the Ringworld floor, but the material was unmarked, nor did it retain any heat. Nessus said nothing like this material was known. Louis, protected by his suit, climbed the hot lava ridges to look around. Teela followed, then quickly retreated with singed feet, baffled and angry. Louis saw they were in a sandy desert. The Liar had bounced across a landscape with no horizon. In the distance, the land gradually rose to where sky and land blurred together. Louis saw no sign of civilization, no living things. In one direction was an enormous mountain, much too large to exist on any normal world, so high its peak thrust above the atmosphere. The explorers determined they must get help to drop the Liar off the Ringworld, so the velocity from the Ringworld's spin would carry the ship out to where its hyperdrive could be safely activated. They decided to head for the nearest rim wall, where the spaceports were located. The explorers spent hours unloading their flycycles and other equipment they would need for exploration. During a break, Louis tried to explain to Teela that they were in a risky situation and she needed to be cautious. But she had almost no experience with being hurt, and did not understand. Nessus explained the operation of some of their equipment. Each flycycle contained a kitchen slot, a unit to condense water from the air, and a communicator; the "saddle" on each was a padded contour chair or couch, shaped for the individual explorer. Their weapons included flashlight-lasers and a Puppeteer disintegrator. Communicator discs would allow the speech of Ringworld natives to be relayed to the Liar's autopilot, for translation. Speaker and Nessus argued over who should lead the expedition.
Chapter 11: The Arch of Heaven
As a shadow square slid across the sun and night approached, the explorers rose into the sky on four flycycles. Louis took the lead, with the other cycles slaved to his by remote control. As night fell, the full glory of the Ringworld appeared as an impossibly enormous Arch overhead, stretching from one end of the sky to the other. Faced with this overwhelming sight, Nessus screamed and curled into a fetal position. Speaker assumed command, and steered them towards the port rim wall, which he said appeared slightly nearer. As the flycycles rose and accelerated, eventually going supersonic, Louis investigated the equipment and properties of his vehicle. Nessus recovered, but Louis persuaded him to let Speaker retain command. Louis slept in the "saddle" of his flycycle. The next morning, he woke to find they had come 7000 miles. They were leaving the desert; ahead were rivers, lakes and fertile land with green vegetation. Louis noticed Teela was in a Plateau trance, hypnotized by the appearance of the Ringworld's mock-horizon. The expedition needed to land so Louis could help Teela. But as they descended, they spotted natives fishing; natives who appeared to be Human!
Chapter 12: Fist-of-God
Avoiding the natives, the explorers landed in an area with grass and bushes. Nessus gathered specimens of plants and insects. He found the plants very Earth-like, and lamented the Liar had not carried a starseed lure, which he said could have been used to attract an Outsider ship, thus summoning rescue. Just then, Louis noticed Speaker was staring at them with bared fangs, for no apparent reason. The Kzin then abruptly left. A puzzled Teela came out of her trance; she and Louis wandered off alone and made love. When the party met again at the flycycles, they discussed the natives. From their smell, Speaker was certain they were Human, not merely humanoid. But how did Humans come to be so far from Human Space? Flying on, the explorers soon discovered the ruins of a fallen city, formerly a floating city. Nessus suggested the floating buildings had all fallen at once, during a power failure. They discovered short, hairy natives living in the decaying ruins. They landed, and some hairy natives [see Hairy Ones] approached. One began speaking, and presently the communicator disc began translating. The fallen city was called Zignamuclickclick. The spokesman told of the ancient glory days, longing for their return; and called the gigantic mountain Fist-of-God. He called Louis "engineer", believing the explorer was of the race which created the Ringworld, and asked Louis to display his power. Louis used his flashlight-laser to burn a hole in stone. But the natives were shocked; it was taboo to "fight with light". When the spokesman described the world as an Arch, Louis laughed, not realizing this was a religious belief. Enraged, the natives attacked. Louis dropped his flashlight-laser but fought his way through the crowd of natives to his flycycle. By then Teela was already in the air, and Speaker was slaying all within his reach. Nessus was attacked by a club-wielding native. The Puppeteer turned his back to the danger — but then his foe was felled. Shortly, all four flycycles were in the air. Speaker started to attack the natives with the Puppeteer disintegrator, but Louis talked him out of it.
The flycycles resumed their course. Louis belatedly realized the natives had made gods of the Ringworld Engineers, that the native spokesman was a priest, and that he had given the wrong responses to their ritual. Communicating via intercom, Louis noted that during the fight, Nessus had spun around and kicked his foe hard enough to fell the native. Louis argued the act of a Puppeteer turning away from danger wasn't cowardice, but rather a combat reflex putting him in the best position to attack. Nessus disagreed, saying Puppeteers run from danger. The next day, Louis considered the implications of the Puppeteers possessing a starseed lure. Previously, back on Earth, Nessus had admitted the Puppeteers considered exterminating the Kzinti circa the First Man-Kzin War. Outsiders spent most of their time following starseeds... and Humans had won that war using hyperdrive technology sold to them by Outsiders. Had Puppeteers subtly guided the Outsiders to contact a Human colony, ensuring Humans would win the war and thus reverse the expansion of the warlike Kzinti Empire? Speaker had suspected this earlier, which is why Louis had seen the Kzin bare his fangs when Nessus first mentioned the starseed lure. Now, Speaker confronted Nessus with the accusation. Nessus admitted it was true. Furious, Speaker threatened Nessus, who sped up his flycycle and flew ahead. Louis was also upset at the Puppeteers' manipulations. Teela defended the Puppeteers; if they had not intervened in the war, Humans would live only as Kzinti slaves. Speaker was also angered by Teela's defense. Louis accused the Puppeteers of also meddling with Earth's Fertility Board to create the Birthright Lotteries. Nessus admitted this also, and Teela was outraged to learn she was the result of a Puppeteer breeding experiment. The explorers flew on without communicating, over a sea and a mountain range where bare gray scrith lay exposed, another sign that maintenance of the Ringworld had broken down long ago.
Chapter 14: Interlude, with Sunflowers
After 18 hours of flying, Louis wanted a break. The group, now without Nessus, landed in a wooded area near a pool of water. Louis proposed to Speaker that they use a "god gambit" in dealing with primitive Ringworld natives. Speaker would be the "god", with Louis and Teela his acolytes. He argued they needed Nessus, who would pose as a "captive demon" who would use his tasp to reward cooperation. Speaker refused to make peace with Nessus, and bounded off to hunt for food. Louis found Teela sobbing under a waterfall in the pool. Initially she rebuffed his attempt to apologize, but later they reconciled and made love under the waterfall. Teela would not forgive Nessus, but reluctantly agreed to let Louis try to get the Puppeteer to rejoin them. The three took off again; Speaker still refused to make peace with Nessus. Flying above an endless blanket of clouds, they spotted an odd light shining up through a break in the clouds. Speaker flew off to investigate, and suddenly the light flared. Before he could retreat, he was blinded and burnt over most of his body. Speaker ordered Louis to investigate. Descending where the clouds were thickest, Louis landed and discovered a large field of Slaver Sunflowers, and wondered how they came to be on the Ringworld. As the wounded Kzin needed first aid, Teela and Speaker also risked landing in the Sunflower patch.
Louis used the disintegrator to dig a large hole, a shelter for the explorers, while Teela treated the Kzin's burns with a medical foam. Speaker was angered to discover Puppeteers had been able to buy restricted Kinti military medical supplies. Louis correctly guessed that Nessus had circled around to follow the others, literally becoming the expedition's "hindmost". He called the Puppeteer, warning about the Sunflower patch. After nightfall, Louis, Teela, and Speaker continued their flight. They continued past the edge of the Sunflower patch. Before dawn, Louis spotted a light shining in the distance. Investigating, the explorers discovered lights blazing from a ten-story floating building, a "dream-castle" [see Heaven], levitating above another ruined city. The building was covered with windows of varying shapes, many quite large. Speaker blasted one open with the Puppeteer disintegrator, and the explorers entered. The building was independently powered, operational but abandoned. Inside was a banquet hall-cum-throne room with a large wire sculpture hanging above, the bust of a hawk-featured hairless man. Louis believed the dream-castle was a seat of government, that the sculpture portrayed the ruler. The sky castle also held lavish decorations, and a huge bedroom with a vast bed, large enough for a sizable orgy. Falling gently past a bedroom window, Louis spotted the shadow square wire which the Liar had dislodged before impacting the Ringworld floor. The next day, Louis discovered a huge low-tech kitchen, probably a later retrofit after an autokitchen-like facility stopped working. Speaker was healing, altho still mostly furless. He had found a map room.
Chapter 16: The Map Room
The map room was on the top floor of the dream-castle. It featured a holographic scale projection of the Ringworld's inner surface, and a projection screen showing enlarged details. Speaker used the screen to show Louis the rim transport system, a series of linear accelerator rings running along the tops of the rim walls. However, the views were not live, but rather old recordings. There were also holograms of ten planets in the room. In a large ocean, Louis found groups of large islands which he thought were large scale models of flat projections of the planets' continents, nostalgic reminders of the homes the Ringworld Engineers left behind when they moved to the Ringworld. Oddly, Fist-of-God mountain did not appear on the map. Louis and Speaker were dismayed at the hundreds of thousands of miles still left to travel before reaching one of the spaceports at the rim wall. Teela entered, and reported natives were gathering in a square in the ruined city below [see Zrillir City], looking up at the dream-castle. Speaker suggested trying the "god gambit" with the natives, but Louis and Teela laughed at the idea of the furless Kzin, with his ridiculous appearance, trying to pose as a god. Louis decided to contact the natives alone, and flew his flycycle to land in the middle of the city square, beside a priest and an Arch-shaped altar [see altar of the Arch]. These natives were of the same hairy race seen at Zignamuclickclick. The priest related their legends of the dream-castle they called "Heaven". It was once ruled by Zrillir, who threw sunfire from Heaven when he was displeased. But there came a time when it was suspected Zrillir could no longer command sunfire. The natives revolted, then tried to invade Heaven. This failed, but later the "angels" left Heaven in flying cars. Suddenly Louis' communicator disc, which was translating their dialogue, delivered a recorded warning regarding use of a restricted wavelength [see edict twelve], then it grew red-hot and Louis had to throw it away. Now unable to communicate with the natives, Louis flew back to Heaven.
The explorers left Heaven and flew on under an overcast sky. Louis spoke to Nessus via intercom, relating their discoveries. All four of the explorers' communicator discs had been burnt out. Nessus pointed out that once the Ringworld civilization fell, it could never recover because there were no metal ores to be found in the Ring's thin covering of soil and bedrock. The flycycles rose above the cloud blanket, revealing what appeared to be an impossibly vast, blue Human eye, with a dark pupil. Teela screamed, Louis wondered if he was encountering the Creator, and even Speaker was awed. The Kzin related that there was a heretical Kzinti religious sect, followers of Kdapt-Preacher, who believed the Creator looked like a Human. Louis wanted to fly around the eye, which might be a cloud formation. But Speaker, feeling his courage was challenged, determined to fly directly into it. Louis discussed the phenomenon with Nessus. Normal hurricanes could not form on the Ringworld, due to lack of Coriolis force. But a vertically-oriented hurricane could develop above a meteorite puncture in the Ringworld foundation, if the air escaped and formed a vacuum above the hole. Nessus thought flying through the center of the eye storm would be safe, so the explorers flew into the dark iris of the storm. Louis found it terrifying, like falling into the eye of God. The iris was a black tunnel continuously lit by lightning on all sides. A dip in the floor of the tunnel was a vortex, a tornado descending to the meteorite puncture below. Teela flew her flycycle down for a closer look, and was caught in the vortex. She screamed as she was pulled towards the puncture and the vacuum of space outside the Ringworld; Louis watched helplessly. Finally Teela fainted in the thinning air, and banged her head on the flycycle controls, whereupon her flycycle shot out of the vortex to safety. Nessus said she must have accidentally activated the flycycle's emergency thrust, although accidental activation was nearly impossible. Unconscious, Teela flew away at mach four.
Chapter 18: The Perils of Teela Brown
Speaker allowed Nessus to rejoin the group. The three explorers discussed their ideas about Teela's extraordinary luck. Nessus decided it was undependable, since Teela had been injured in the eye storm vortex. Speaker didn't believe in psychic luck. Louis now did, and argued the only way she could have grown up never being hurt is if her luck constantly protected her from even the slightest pain. For example, Teela never fell, never dropped things or banged an elbow, but was still clumsy because she had never had to learn to be graceful. But he wondered why Teela's luck would allow her to join such a dangerous expedition. Nessus was shocked and terrified when Louis suggested Teela's luck was so powerful that it controlled what happened to all of them. In the intercom, they saw Teela recover. Teela reported she was passing over a city, and then her transmission abruptly ended. Nessus was now afraid of Teela, and remained behind as Louis and Speaker flew off to find her. Eventually they approached a large seaport [see Hotrufan City]. In the middle was a Civic Center with skyscrapers and floating buildings, glowing with electric lights. As Speaker and Louis approached, they suddenly lost control of their flycycles. Something was pulling them in.
Louis' flycycle lost power and dropped toward the ground. Crash balloons popped out, holding Louis tightly. A magnetic field grabbed the flycycle, stopping its fall but turning it and Louis upside down. They were pulled into the floating building [see police building]. As they entered the dark interior, Speaker's flycycle also inverted and he was also trapped by crash balloons. Louis turned on his flycycle's headlight; surprisingly, it worked. They were in a prison, with a floating "Sargasso Sea" of floating, rusting vehicles of various kinds, and concentric rings of cells around the walls. At the bottom were the bones of those previously trapped in the prison. Via intercom, Nessus surmised a "zap gun" had burned out all the active electronic and electromagnetic circuits in the flycycles. The functioning headlight proved there was no active zap gun inside the prison. Speaker and Louis could use their weapons, but if they destroyed the mechanism holding their flycycles aloft, they would crash to their deaths. If they remained where they were, they would eventually die of thirst. Nessus reported their communication was being monitored from the prison building. After a time, Louis decided he'd rather risk death than go crazy hanging upside down. He popped a balloon with his flashlight-laser, desperately managed to climb up, then rocked the flycycle back and forth until it rolled over. When it finally stopped rocking, he was clinging atop the overturned vehicle. But he did not dare move. Speaker was awed at Louis' seeming ability to defy gravity. Louis guessed Speaker was a Kdaptist, and the Kzin admitted he'd been raised in that faith. Louis noticed a native was watching him; a woman balding and beautiful, but regal and aloof. Nessus decided to join the others. He allowed his flycycle to be captured, but shut off all systems so the zap gun didn't burn them out. After entering the prison, he was able to reactivate everything and control his flight. Nessus began using his tasp on low power on the woman, conditioning her to enjoy seeing and being near the explorers, and began learning her language.
Chapter 20: Meat
Louis continued clinging to his overturned flycycle, but was very aware that he would eventually lose his grip and fall to his death. Speaker, hanging head down for hours, had slipped into unconsciousness. More time passed, then Nessus' flycycle rose to dock with the observation platform the native woman was using to watch them. The two walked off, and not much later, the Sargasso Sea including the flycycles gently sank to the bottom of the prison. Exhausted and cramped, Louis crawled to Speaker and freed the Kzin from his crash balloons. He got some water from Nessus' flycycle spigot, then carried a little to Speaker. Then Louis noticed Teela's flycycle was also there, without the crash balloons deployed, and concluded she had fallen to her death somewhere outside. Much later, Louis awoke to find Speaker looking down at him with a wistful look. Louis realized he was the only source of meat in the prison for the Kzin! But Speaker stated that honor demanded he not eat Louis, even if he starved. They found a broken picture window in one of the prison cells, and looked out at the ruins of the city, the harbor, and a sandy beach. Far in the distance was Fist-Of-God mountain. The native woman provided Speaker with a goat-sized carcass; he ate ravenously, as did Louis after cooking some with his flashlight-laser. Nessus announced the native woman had been partially conditioned by his tasp, and luckily she was a spacer, a ramscoop ship crewman. "Jackpot!" Louis exclaimed.
Her name was Halrloprillalar Hotrufan, nicknamed "Prill" by Louis. Prill's ship had been the Pioneer, which gathered goods from distant planets to trade on the Ringworld. But on her eighth voyage, the Ringworld spaceports failed to respond to hails. The crew panicked and mutinied, and the ship was landed at a Ringworld spaceport, stranding it there. The crew was also stranded outside the Ringworld habitat, for the spaceports had no airlocks. Each ship carried a cziltang brone, an "osmosis generator" which softened the rim wall to allow passage to the interior. But the ship's cziltang brone was broken. An accident when attempting to rebuild the device killed some of the crew and reduced others to morons. The remaining crew finally succeeded, and passed through the rim wall to the interior. They discovered their civilization had collapsed in a disaster known as the Fall of Cities. A plague had eaten the superconductor which Prill's people used in making beamed power receivers, which powered nearly all their machines and buildings. The refugees from the Pioneer wandered for a time, looking for a surviving pocket of civilization, but found only ruins, other wanderers, and savages who treated them as gods. Finally Prill decided to walk to the distant city of her birth [see Hotrufan City]. Her people had a superior variant on boosterspice; she had a supply which she used to extend her life and, when necessary, as trade goods. Nessus thought she had gone mad during this period. After countless years of travel she reached the city, and took up residence in the police building. She repaired the building's speed trap, hoping it would trap someone who could lead her to surviving civilization. Nessus pointed out there was now no reason for the explorers to go to the rim wall; no civilization would be found there. However, Louis announced he had a plan, but refused to give details. Nessus persuaded Prill to let them turn the police building into a vehicle for travel. With Louis' aid, Nessus anchored his flycycle inside the floating building, to be used for propulsion. In the night, Prill came to Louis and they engaged in sex. Louis had thought of Prill as a mere ship's prostitute, but in her culture, her profession was not low status. Rather, she was a highly skilled and experienced specialist, as Louis quickly discovered.
Chapter 22: Seeker
Speaker used the Puppeteer disintegrator to cut away the dead weight of the prison, the bottom half of the police building. Although Louis thought it ridiculous, the ungainly vehicle flew quite steadily. Louis set their destination: the city where the shadow square wire had fallen; but he refused to explain why. Louis dubbed the flying building Improbable. Prill gave language lessons to the explorers; Nessus and Speaker learnt quickly, but Louis was left far behind. Prill came again to Louis the next night, but demanded that Louis give her Nessus' tasp. She attempted to use pleasure to control him, just as Nessus used the tasp to control her. But Nessus, observing, gave Prill a full-power jolt with the tasp, to condition her to enjoy sex with Louis. Prill stopped trying to control him; their enjoyment became mutual. The next morning, Louis confronted Nessus, and raged at him for using the tasp on Prill. Threatened, the Puppeteer gave Louis a full-power jolt with the tasp. Afterward, Louis experienced what Prill felt; the black depression from tasp addiction. Then he suddenly noticed an aircar had been caught by the speed trap field during the night. Prill brought the car up to dock with the Improbable. Out stepped Teela Brown, unharmed, followed by Seeker, a heavily muscled, sword carrying, native "hero type". Teela reported that, after escaping from the eye storm, her flycycle had been caught in the speed trap. She immediately landed and climbed off the flycycle, then watched helplessly as it was pulled into the police building. She was rescued and given protection by Seeker, who was a wanderer, and not overly bright. They became lovers. Finding an aircar which still flew, they chased after the Improbable until caught by the speed trap. Louis, making a speech, asserted Teela's luck had brought her to the Ringworld because it was her ideal environment, and that her luck controlled her actions so completely that she had little if any free will. Teela became upset, and Nessus was so terrified by the idea that he rolled into fetal position. But Louis grabbed the Puppeteer and gave him a tongue-lashing: Using Humans for breeding experiments was dangerous. Too many "Teela Browns" could render probability irrelevant; even physics was nothing but probability at the atomic level. Nessus should tell his people "the universe is too complicated a toy for a sensibly cautious being to play with." Nessus was shamed.
Chapter 23: The God Gambit
Arriving at their destination, the explorers found the shadow square wire draped across the fallen city in a gray cloud. Speaker tried to cut the wire with the Puppeteer disintegrator. This failed, and the explorers were immediately attacked by a horde of natives. Louis started cutting them down with his flashlight-laser. Speaker fought hand to hand. Seeker, guarding Teela, held off attackers with his sword. Nessus ran into a trap made from the shadow square wire, which neatly sliced off one of his heads. Louis ran to help. He tied a tourniquet around Nessus' neck, aided by Teela; who for the first time reacted well in an emergency. Louis picked up the Puppeteer and staggered back to the Improbable, with Seeker and Speaker covering the retreat. Nessus was attached to his first aid kit, which initiated life support. Speaker ran back to the trap, retrieving the bulb-shaped end of the shadow square wire, which he dragged back to the Improbable. Louis tried to explain to Speaker why Teela had needed to learn to empathize with others, concluding "The Ringworld is a lucky place for Teela to be, because it gives her the range of experience to be fully human." But Speaker, lacking Human empathy, could not understand. Louis and Speaker secured the end of the shadow square wire to the Improbable. Teela announced that she and Seeker were leaving the group; they exited into the tower of Heaven. The Improbable began the long journey back to the crashed Lying Bastard, with the shadow square wire trailing behind. Gradually Louis learned to communicate with Prill, and gradually she began to recover from the depression of tasp withdrawal. When they ran out of food, the explorers started getting a supply from the natives by playing the "god gambit". Speaker made a fearsome "god", with Prill his acolyte. A few months passed. Louis learned that Prill was familiar with ramship operations, and skilled in anatomy, psychology, and playing a musical instrument. Prill decided to leave the Ringworld and go to Earth with Louis.
Speaker pointed out that scrith provided protection from radiation, and the Ringworld was oriented at the correct angle to protect most of its habitat from the core explosion radiation. If Teela's luck kept her alive forever, she would need such protection. Louis and Speaker decided to keep certain secrets from their governments. If Kzinti learned of the Puppeteers meddling in the First Man-Kzin War, the Kzinti Empire would attack the Puppeteers — who would utterly wipe them out. Louis tried to persuade Speaker not to try again to steal the Long Shot, arguing that if the Kzinti Empire kept expanding it would eventually run into a species they couldn't handle. Reaching the crashed Lying Bastard, they transferred Nessus to a Puppeteer autodoc on the ship, then Louis and Speaker celebrated a return to civilized luxuries. The next day, Louis rigged the shadow square wire to be pulled freely through the Liar as the Improbable pulled the wire behind it. The Improbable's propulsion wasn't strong enough to drag the ship. Louis set a new destination: the top of Fist-of-God Mountain, but again refused to give a reason. Louis and Speaker took their spacesuits into the Improbable with them. Prill was left in the Liar. Day by day the Improbable rose up the mountain. Louis and Speaker donned their spaceduits when the air had thinned. As the Improbable was entering a pass into the crater at the top, Louis radioed Prill and told her to close the hatches of the Liar. As soon as the Improbable entered the crater, Speaker saw it was full of stars! The "crater" was a hole in the Ringworld foundation. Louis explained he had deduced Fist-of-God was made by a Luna-sized meteorite which had hit the underside of the Ringworld, raising up the landscape into a mountain shape before tearing a hole in the peak. The shadow square wire tightened and begin acting as a tow rope, and the dead weight of the Improbable, now falling out though the hollow interior of Fist-of-God, dragged the Liar up the mountain. After the Liar was dragged out into space and into freefall, they would use the thrust of the flycycle to dock the Improbable with the ship. Speaker announced he would not again try to steal the Long Shot. The need of the Kzinti for the Quantum II hyperdrive was too great to take the risk of losing the ship. Louis wondered what Teela and Seeker would find, exploring the Ringworld. Speaker said they could not return to the Ringworld... not until they had delivered the Long Shot to their respective governments and acquired a new starship.