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

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06-07-2007, 08:18 PM
Chapter 22 - Word Games

The shower: a plastic bag of soapy water with a young man in it, the neck of the bag sealed tight around the man's neck. Whitbread used a long-handled brush to scratch himself everywhere he itched, which was everywhere. There was pleasure in the pulling and stretching of muscles. It was so finking small in the Motie ship! So claustrophobic-cramped!
When he was clean he joined the others in the lounge. The Chaplain and Horvath and Sally Fowler, all wearing sticky-bottomed falling slippers, all aligned in the up direction. Whitbread would never have noticed such a thing before. He said, "Science Minister Horvath, I am to place myself under your orders for the time being."
"Very well, Mr...Whitbread." Horvath trailed off. He seemed worried and preoccupied. They all did.
The Chaplain spoke with effort. "You see, none of us really knows what to do next. We've never contacted aliens before."
"They're friendly. They wanted to talk," said Whitbread.
"Good. Good, but it leaves me entirely on the hook." The Chaplain's laugh was all nerves. "What was it like, Whitbread?"
He tried to tell them. Cramped, until you got to the plastic toroids...fragile...no point in trying to tell the Moties apart except the Browns were somehow different from the Brown-and-whites..."They're unarmed," he told them. "I spent three hours exploring that ship. There's no place aboard that they could be hiding big weapons."
"Did you get the impression they were guiding you away from anything?"
"You don't sound very certain," Horvath said sharply. "Oh it isn't that, sir. I was just remembering the tool room. We wound up in a room that was all tools, wall and floor and ceiling. A couple of walls had simple thing on them: hand drills, ripsaws with odd handles, screw and a screwdriver. Things I could recognize. I saw nail and what I think was a hammer with a big flat head. I all looked like a hobby shop in somebody's basement. But there were some really complex things in there too, things I couldn't figure at all."
The alien ship floated just outside the forward window. Inhuman shadows moved within it. Sally was watching them too...but Horvath said dryly, "You were saying that the aliens were not herding you."
"I don't think they led me away from anything. I'm sure I was led to that tool room. I don't know why, but I think it was an intelligence test. If it was, I flunked."
Chaplain Hardy said, "The only Motie we've questioned so far doesn't understand the simplest gestures. Now you tell me that these Moties have been giving you intelligence tests -- "
"And interpreting gestures. Amazingly quick to understand them, in fact. Yes, sir. They're different. You saw the pictures."
Hardy wound a strand of his thinning red hair around a knobby finger and tugged gently. "From your helmet camera? Yes, Jonathon. I think we're dealing with two kinds of Moties. One is an idiot savant and doesn't talk. The other...talks," he finished lamely. He caught himself playing with his hair and smoothed it back into place. "I hope I can learn to talk back."
They're all dreading it, Whitbread realized. Especially Sally. And even Chaplain Hardy, who never gets upset about anything. All dreading that first move. Horvath said, "Any other impressions?"
"I keep thinking that ship was designed for free fall. There are sticky strips all over. Inflated furniture likewise. And there are short passages joining the toroids, as wide as the toroids themselves. Under acceleration they'd be like open trap doors with no way around them."
"That's strange," Horvath mused. "The ship was under acceleration until four hours ago."
"Exactly, sir. The joins must be new." The thought hit Whitbread suddenly. Those joins must be new.
"But that tells us even more," Chaplain Hardy said quietly. "And you say the furniture is at all angles. We all saw that the Moties didn't care how they were oriented when they spoke to you. As if they were peculiarly adapted to free fall. As if they evolved there..."
"But that's impossible," Sally protested. "Impossible but-you're right, Dr. Hardy! Humans always orient themselves. Even the old Marines who've been in space all their lives! But nobody can evolve in free fall."
"An old enough race could," Hardy said. "And there are the non-symmetric arms. Evolutionary advancement? It would be well to keep the theory in mind when we talk to the Moties." If we can talk to them, he added to himself.
"They went crazy over my backbone," Whitbread said. "As if they'd never seen one." He stopped. "I don't know whether you were told. I stripped for them.' It seemed only fair that they...know what they're dealing with." He couldn't look at Sally.
"I'm not laughing," she said. "I'm going to have to do the same thing."
Whitbread's head snapped up. "What?"
Sally chose her words with care; remember provincial mores, she told herself. She did not look up from the deck. "Whatever Captain Blaine and Admiral Kutuzov choose to hide from the Moties, the existence of two human sexes isn't one of them. They're entitled to know how we're made, and I'm the only woman aboard MacArthur."
"But you're Senator Fowler's niece!"
She did smile at that. "We won't tell them." She stood up immediately. "Coxswain Lafferty, we'll be going now." She turned back, very much the Imperial lady, even to her stance, which gave no sign that she was in free fall. "Jonathon, thank you for your concern. Chaplain, you may join me as soon as I call." And she went.
A long time 'later Whitbread said, "I wondered what was making everyone so nervous."
And Horvath, looking straight ahead, said, "She insisted."

Sally called the cutter when she arrived. The same Motie who had greeted Whitbread, or an identical one, bowed her aboard in a courtly fashion. A camera on the taxi picked that up and caused the Chaplain to lean forward sharply. "That half-nod is very like you, Whitbread. He's an excellent mimic."
Sally called again minutes later, by voice alone. She was in one of the toroids. "There are Moties all around me. A lot of them are carrying instruments. Hand-sized. Jonathon, did -- "
"Most of them didn't have anything in their hand's. These instruments, what do they look like?"
"Well, one looks like a camera that's been half taken apart, and, another has a screen like an oscilloscope screen." Pause. "Well, here goes. Fowler out." Click.
For twenty minutes they knew nothing of Sally Fowler. Three men fidgeted, their eyes riveted to a blank intercom screen.
When she finally called, her voice was brisk. "All right, gentlemen, you may come over now."
"I'm on." Hardy unstrapped and floated in a slow arc to the cutter air lock. His voice, too, was brisk with relief. The waiting was ended.

There was the usual bustle of bridge activities around Rod, scientists looking at the main view screens, quartermasters securing from MacArthur's fifty-kilometer move. To keep occupied Rod was having Midshipman Staley run through a simulated Marine assault on the Motie ship. All purely theoretical, of course; but it did help keep Rod from brooding about what was happening aboard the alien vessel. The call from Horvath was a welcome distraction, and Rod was ebulliently cordial as he answered.
"Hello, Doctor! How are things going?"
Horvath was almost smiling. "Very well, thank you, Captain. Dr. Hardy is on his way to join Lady Sally. I sent your man Whitbread along."
"Good." Rod felt tension pain where it had settled above and between his shoulder blades. So Sally had got through that...
"Captain, Mr. Whitbread mentioned a tool room aboard the alien ship. He believes that, he was being tested for his tool-using ability. It strikes me that the Moties may be judging us all on that ability."
"Well they might. Making and using tools is a basic -- "
"Yes, yes, Captain, but none of us are toolmakers! We have a linguist, an anthropologist, an administrator-me-and some Navy warriors. The joke is on us, Captain. We spent too much consideration on learning about Moties. None on impressing them with our intelligence."
Blaine considered that. "There are the ships themselves...but you have a point, Doctor. I'll send you someone. We're bound to have someone aboard who can do well on such a test."
When Horvath was off the screen, Rod touched the intercom controls again. "Kelley, you can take half your Marines off alert now."
"Aye aye, Captain." The Gunner's face showed no signs of emotion, but Rod knew just how uncomfortable battle armor was. The entire Marine force of MacArthur was wearing it on full alert in hangar deck.
Then, thoughtfully, Blaine called Sinclair. "It's an unusual problem, Sandy. We need someone who's generally good with tools and willing to go aboard the Motie ship. If you'll pick me some men, I'll ask for volunteers."
"Never mind, Captain. I'll go myself."
Blaine was shocked. "You, Sandy?"
"Aye and why not, Captain? Am I no skilled with tools? Can I no fix anything that ever worked' in the first place? My laddies can handle aye that could go wrong wi' MacArthur. I've trained them well. Ye will no miss me..."
"Hold on a minute, Sandy."
"Aye, Captain?"
"OK. Anybody who'd do well in a test will know the Field and Drive. Even so, maybe the Admiral won't let you go."
"There's nae another aboard who'll find out everything about yon beasties' ship, Captain."
"Yeah-OK, get the surgeon's approval. And give me a name. Whom shall I send if you can't go?"
"Send Jacks, then. Or Leigh Battson, or any of my lads but Thumbs Menchikov."
"Menchikov. Isn't he the artificer who saved six men trapped in the after torpedo room during the battle with Defiant?"
"Aye, Captain. He's also the laddie who fixed your shower two weeks before that battle."
"Oh. Well, thanks, Sandy." He rang off and looked around the bridge. There was really very little for him to do. The screens showed the Motie ship in the center of MacArthur's main battery fire pattern; his ship was safe enough from anything the alien vessel could do, but now Sally would be joined by Hardy and Whitbread...He turned to Staley. "That last was very good. Now work out a rescue plan assuming that only half the Marines are on ready alert."

Sally heard the activity as Hardy and Whitbread were conducted aboard the Motie ship, but she barely glanced around when they appeared. She had taken the time to dress properly, but grudged the necessity, and in the dim and filtered Motelight she was running her hands over the body of a Brown-and-white, bending its (her) elbow and shoulder joints and tracing the muscles, all the while dictating a running monologue into her throat mike.
"I conclude they are another subspecies, but closely related to the Browns, perhaps closely enough to breed true. This must be determined by genetic coding, when we take samples back to New Scotland where there is proper equipment. Perhaps the Moties know, but we should be careful about what we ask until we determine what taboos exist among Moties.
"There is obviously no sex discrimination such as exists in the Empire; in fact the predominance of females is remarkable. One Brown is male and cares for both pups. The pups are weaned, or at least there is no obvious sign of a nursing female-or male-aboard.
"My hypothesis is that, unlike humanity after the Secession Wars, there is no shortage of mothers or child bearers, and thus there is no cultural mechanism of overprotectiveness such as survives within the Empire. I have no theory of why there are no pups among the Brown-and-whites, although it is possible that the immature Moties I observe are the issue of Brown-and-whites and the Browns serve as child trainers. There is certainly a tendency to have the Browns do all the technical work.
"The difference in the two types is definite if not dramatic. The hands are larger and better developed in the Brown, and the forehead of the Brown slopes back more sharply. The Brown is smaller. Question: Which is better evolved as a tool user? The Brown-and-white has a slightly larger brain capacity, the Brown has better hands. So far every Brown-and-white I have seen is female, and there is one of each sex of Brown: is this accident, a clue to their culture, or something biological? Transcript ends. Welcome aboard, gentlemen."
Whitbread said, "Any trouble?"
Her head was in a plastic hood that sealed around her neck like a Navy shower bag; she was obviously not used to nasal respirators. The bag blurred her voice slightly. "None at all. I certainly learned as much as they did from the um, er, orgy. What's next?"
Language lessons.
There was a word: Fyunch(click). When the Chaplain pointed at himself and said "David," the Motie he was looking at twisted her lower right arm around into the same position and said "Fyunch(click)," making the click with her tongue."
Fine. But Sally said, "My Motie had the same name I think."
"Do you mean you picked the same alien?"
"No, I don't think so. And I know Fyunch (click)",she said it carefully, making the click with her tongue then ruined the effect by giggling -- "isn't the word for Motie. I've tried that."
The Chaplain frowned. "Perhaps all proper names sound alike to us. Or we may have the word for arm," I said seriously. There was a classic story about that, so old that it probably came from preatomic days. He turned to another Motie, pointed at himself, and said, "Fyunch (click)?" His accent was nearly perfect, and he didn't giggle.
The Motie said, "No."
"They picked that up quickly," said Sally.
Whitbread tried it. He swam among the Moties, pointing to himself and saying "Fyunch(click) ?" He obtained four perfectly articulated No's before an inverted Motie tapped him on the kneecap and said, "Fyunch(cick) Yes."
So: there were three Moties who would say "Fyunch(click)" to a human. Each to a different human, and not to the others. So?
"It may mean something like 'I am assigned to you,' Whitbread suggested.
"Certainly one hypothesis," Hardy agreed. A rather good one, but there were insufficient data-had the chaplain made a lucky guess?
Moties crawled around them. Some of the instrumen they carried might have been cameras or recorders. Some instruments made noises when the humans spoke; others extruded tape, or made wiggly orange lines on small screens. The Moties gave some attention to Hardy's instruments, especially the male Brown mute, who disasembled Hardy's oscilioscope and put it back together again before his eyes. The images on it seemed brighter and the persistence control worked much better, he thought. Interesting. And only the Browns did things like that.
The language lessons had become a group effort. It was a game now, this teaching of Anglic to Moties. Point and say the word, and the Moties would generally remember it. David Hardy gave thanks.
The Moties kept fiddling with the insides of their instruments, tuning them, or sometimes handing them to a Brown with a flurry of bird whistles. The range of their own voices was astonishing. Speaking Mote, they ranged from bass to treble in instants. The pitch was part of the code, Hardy guessed.
He was aware of time passing. His belly was a vast emptiness whose complaints he ignored with absentminded contempt. Chafe spots developed around his nose where the respirator fitted. His eyes smarted from Motie atmosphere that got under his goggles, and he wished he'd opted for either a helmet or a plastic sack like Sally's. The Mote itself was a diffused bright point that moved slowly across the curved translucent wall. Dry breathing air was slowly dehydrating him.
These things he felt as passing time, and ignored. A kind of joy was in him. David Hardy was fulfilling his mission in life.
Despite the uniqueness of the situation, Hardy decided to stick to traditional linguistics. There were unprecedented problems with hand, face, ears, fingers. It developed that the dozen fingers of the right hands had one collective name, the three thick fingers of the left another. The ear had one name flat and another erect. There was no name for face, although they picked up the Anglic word immediately, and seemed to think it a worthwhile innovation.
He had thought that his muscles had adjusted to free fall; but now they bothered him. He did not put it down to exhaustion. He did not know where Sally had disappeared to, and the fact did not bother him. This was a measure of his acceptance of both Sally and the Moties as colleagues; but it was also a measure of how tired he was. Hardy considered himself enlightened, but what Sally would have called "overprotectiveness of women" was deeply ingrained in the Imperial culture-especially so the monastic Navy.
It was only when his air gave out that the others could persuade Hardy to go back to the cutter.

Their supper was plain, and they hurried through it compare notes. Mercifully the others left him alone until he'd eaten, Horvath taking the lead in shushing everyone although he was obviously the most curious of the lot. Even though the utensils were designed for free-fall conditions, none of the others were used to long periods zero gravity, and eating took new habits that could be learned only through concentration. Finally Hardy let one of the crewmen remove his lap tray and looked up. Three eager faces telepathically beamed a million questions at him.
"They learn Anglic well enough," David said. "I wish I could say the same for my own progress."
"They work at it," Whitbread wondered. "When you give them a word, they keep using it, over and over, trying it out in sentences, trying it out on everything around whatever you showed them-I never saw anything like it."
"That's because you didn't watch Dr. Hardy very long Sally said. "We were taught that technique in school, but I'm not very good at it."
"Young people seldom are." Hardy stretched out I relax. That void had been filled. But it was embarrassing-the Moties were better at his job than he was. "Young people usually haven't the patience for linguistics. In this case, though, your eagerness helps, since the Moties are directing your efforts quite professionally. By the way Jonathon, where did you go?"
"I took my Fyunch(click) outside and showed him around the taxi. We ran out of things to show the Motic in their own ship and I didn't want to bring them here. Can we do that?"
"Certainly." Horvath smiled. "I've spoken to Captain Blaine and he leaves it to our judgment. As he says there's nothing secret on the cutter. However, I'd like there to be something a little special-some ceremony, wouldn't you think? After all, except for the asteroid miner the Moties have never visited a human ship."
Hardy shrugged. "They make little enough of our coming aboard their craft. You want to remember, though, unless the whole Motie race is fantastically gifted at languages-a hypothesis I reject-they've had their special ceremony before they lifted off their planet. They've put language specialists aboard. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that our Fyunch(click)s are the Motie equivalent of full professors."
Whitbread shook his head. The others looked at him, and finally he spoke. He was rather proud of having worked out a technique to let a junior officer interrupt the others. "Sir, that ship left the Mote planet only hours- maybe less than one hour-after MacArthur appeared in their system. How would they have time to gather specialists?"
"I hadn't known that," Hardy said slowly. "But these must be specialists of some kind. What use would such fantastic linguistic abilities be among the general population? And fantastic is not too strong a word. Still and all, we've managed to puzzle them slightly, or did the rest of you notice?"
"The tool room?" Sally asked. "I guess that's what you'd call it, although I don't think I'd have figured it out if Jonathon hadn't given me the clue first. They took me there just after I left you, Dr. Hardy, and they didn't seem puzzled to me. I noticed you stayed a lot longer than I did, though."
"What did you do there?" David asked.
"Why nothing. I looked at all the gadgetry. The whole place was covered with junk-by the way, those wall clamps weren't substantial enough to take real gravity, I'm sure of that. They must have built that room after they got here. But anyway, since there wasn't anything I could understand I didn't pay much attention to the place."
Hardy folded his hands in an attitude of prayer, then looked up embarrassed. He'd got into that habit long before he entered the priesthood, and somehow could never break himself of it; but it indicated concentration not reverence. "You did nothing, and they were not curious about it." He thought furiously for long seconds. "Yet I asked the names of the equipment, and spent quite long time there, and my Fyunch(click) seemed very surprised. I could be misinterpreting the emotion, but I really think my interest in the tools unsettled them."'
"Did you try to use any of the gadgets?" Whitbread asked.
"No. Did you?"
"Well, I played around with-some of the stuff..."
"And were they surprised or curious about that?"
Jonathon shrugged. "They were all watching me all the time. I didn't notice anything different."
"Yes." Hardy folded his hands again, but this time didn't notice he was doing it. "I think there is something odd about that room and the interest they showed in our interest in it. But I doubt that we'll know why until Captain Blaine sends over his expert. Do you know who's coming?"
Horvath nodded. "He's sending Chief Engineer Sinclair."
"Hmmm." The sound was involuntary. The others looked at Jonathon Whitbread, who grinned slowly. "If the Moties were puzzled by you, sir, just think what'll go through their heads when they hear Commander Sinclair talk."

On a Navy warship men do not maintain an average weight. During the long idle periods those who like to eat amuse themselves by eating. They grow fat. But men who can dedicate their lives to a cause-including a good percentage of those who will remain in the Navy-tend to forget about eating. Food cannot hold their attention.
Sandy Sinclair looked straight ahead of himself as he sat rigid on the edge of the examining table. It was this way with Sinclair: he could not look a man in the eye while he was naked. He was big and lean, and his stringy muscles were much stronger than they looked. He might have been an average man given a skeleton three sizes too large.
A third of his surface area was pink scar tissue. Sharp metal flying out of an explosion had left that pink ridge across his short ribs. Most of the rest had been burned into him by puffs of flame or droplets of metal. A space battle left burns, if it left a man alive at all.
The doctor was twenty-three, and cheerful. "Twenty four years in service, eh? Ever been in a battle?"
Sinclair snapped, "You'll hae your own share o' scars if ye stay wi' the Navy long enough."
"I believe you, somehow. Well, Commander, you're in admirable shape for a man in his forties. You could handle a month of free fall, I think, but we'll play safe and drag you back to MacArthur twice a week. I don't suppose I have to tell you to keep up on the free-fall exercises."

Rod Blaine called the cutter several times the next day, but it was evening before he could get anyone besides the pilot. Even Horvath had gone aboard the Motie ship.
Chaplain Hardy was exhausted and jubilant, with a smile spread across his face and great dark circles under his eyes. "I'm taking it as a lesson in humility, Captain. They're far better at my job-well, at linguistics, anyway-than I am. I've decided that the fastest way to learn their language will be to teach them Anglic. No human throat will ever speak their language-languages?-without computer assistance."
"Agreed. It would take a full orchestra. I've heard some of your tapes. In fact, Chaplain, there wasn't much else to do."
Hardy smiled. "Sorry. We'll try to arrange more frequent reporting. By the way, Dr. Horvath is showing a party of Moties through the cutter now. They seem particularly interested in the drive. The brown one wants to take things apart, but the pilot won't let him. You did say there were no secrets on this boat."
"Certainly I said that, but it might be a bit premature to let them fool with your power source. What did Sinclair say about it?"
"I don't know, Captain." Hardy looked puzzled. "They've had him in that tool room all day. He's still there."
Blaine fingered the knot on his nose. He was getting the information he needed, but Chaplain Hardy hadn't been exactly whom he wanted to talk to. "Uh, how many Moties are there aboard your ship?"
"Four. One for each of us: myself, Dr. Horvath, Lady Sally, and Mr. Whitbread. They seem to be assigned mutual guides."
"Four of them." Rod was trying to get used to the idea. The cutter wasn't a commissioned vessel, but it was one of His Majesty's warships, and somehow having a bunch aliens aboard was-nuts. Horvath knew the risks he was taking. "Only four? Doesn't Sinclair have a guide?"
"Oddly enough, no. A number of them are watching him work in the tool room, but there was no special one assigned to him."
"And none for the coxswain or the spacers on the cutter?"
"No." Hardy thought a moment. "That is odd, isn't it? As if they class Commander Sinclair with the unimportant crewmen."
"Maybe they just don't like the Navy."
David Hardy shrugged. Then, carefully, he said, "Captain, sooner or later we'll have to invite them aboard MacArthur."
"I'm afraid that's out of the question."
Hardy sighed. "Well, that's why I brought it up now, that we could thrash it out. They've shown that they trust us, Captain. There's not a cubic centimeter of their embassy ship that we haven't seen, or at least probed with instruments. Whitbread will testify that there's no sign of weaponry aboard. Eventually they're going to wonder what guilty secrets we're hiding aboard."
"I'm going to tell you, Are there Moties within earshot?"
"No. And they haven't learned Anglic that well anyway."
"Don't forget they will learn, and don't forget recorders. Now, Chaplain, you've got a problem-about Moties and Creation. The Empire has another. For a long time we've talked about the Great Galactic Wizards showing up and deciding whether to let the humans join, right? Only it's the other way around, isn't it? We've got to decide whether to let the Moties out of their system, and until that's decided we don't want them to see the Langston Field generators, the Alderson Drive, our weapons...not even just how much of MacArthur is living space, Chaplain. It would give away too much about our capabilities. We've a lot to hide, and we'll hide it."
"You're treating them as enemies," David Hardy said gently.
"And that's neither your decision nor mine, Doctor. Besides, I've got some questions I want answered before I decide that the Moties are nothing more than steadfast friends." Rod let his gaze go past the Chaplain, and his eyes focused a long way off. I'm not sorry it's not my decision, he thought. But ultimately they're going to ask me. As future Marquis of Crucis, if nothing else.
He had known the subject would come up, and would again, and he was ready. "First, why did they send us a ship from Mote Prime?' Why not from the Trojan cluster? It's much closer."
"I'll ask them when I can."
"Second, why four Moties? It may not be important, but I'd like to know why they assigned one to each of you scientists, one to Whitbread, and none to any of the crew."
"They were right, weren't they? They set guides on the four people most interested in teaching them -- "
"Exactly. How did they know? Just for example, how could they have known Dr. Horvath would be aboard? And the third question is, what are they building now?"
"All right, Captain." Hardy looked unhappy, not angry. He was and would be harder to refuse than Horvath.. partly because he was Rod's confessor. And the subject would come up again. Rod was sure of that.