Is it a plane? I thought. Too small. Is it a helicopter? Too silent. Is it Superman? It’s the wrong colour. Is it the Flying Spaghetti Monster? No noodly appendage visible.
I stopped and looked. It was getting bigger.
I put my rucksack down beside the path, and sat on it. I had decided this could be interesting, so I would stay and see who it was.
The craft came in silently, nose well up as it decelerated, and landed on the heath about ten metres from me.
On the ground, it was as much silver as black. Maybe fifteen metres long, the back two-thirds a flattened cylinder about four times as wide as high, the front third moving forward to a point. Two tiny wings about half way along, looking like useless decorations.
A man got out. Well, not a man – for he was taller and broader than any human on the record. He was two and a half metres tall at least. He was wearing a dark yellow robe, like an academic gown. And his face had a sheen that was almost golden.
“Hello,” he said, in perfect English. “Are you Neil?”
“I am,” I replied, “and who are you?”
“My name is Michael,” he said.
Now, I had heard of Michael the archangel. And this guy fitted his description. It was in me to guffaw, but instead I asked, “What do you want with me?”
He said, “I have a proposition to put to you. It will take only a few minutes of your time to decide. But I am on a tight schedule. So, would you like to take a ride in my ’mobile here, while I tell you what I ask? No charge to you, of course.”
Having seen a very little of what the machine could do, of course I wanted a ride. But I was cautious. Sales Pitch No. 1, I thought. Fun – at someone else’s expense! No sale, yet at least.
“Not so fast,” I said. “Tell me here and now what you propose.”
Michael frowned, and started to intone like a newsreader. “The human race faces terrible problems today. Your political system has failed. All humans face extermination unless our project to save you succeeds. Do you want to die with the rest of them?”
Sales Pitch No. 2, I thought. Fear, Uncertainty, Despair. No sale here either. But I clawed at something he had said.
“Michael,” I said, “you’re not going to sell me anything with that pitch. But what’s this about a project to save us?”
Michael brightened, and his voice became more normal. “I am here to help my friends bring you humans into the Galactic Association, Junior Section. You can help this project; and if you are willing to do so, we can help you richly in return.”
Aha. There’s a job offer coming, I thought.
“Come on,” I said to Michael. “Get to the point, man.”
Michael smiled. “I offer you,” he said, “a contract, on Galactic Scale 15A, with the Company for Galactic Advancement, as Team Leader of the human team on the Human Birth Project, No. DSE/11619/BV. The contract will last around two Earth years, and we will pay you many times what you earn today. All your living expenses will be taken care of, too. And you will be compensated for any losses you may suffer on Earth as a result of being away.”
I paused. “Where’s the small print?” I asked. “Will I lose most of what I earn, through Galactic taxes? Will I be hounded by bureaucrats trying to make my life difficult?”
Michael said, “There are no Galactic taxes. We Galactics do not allow any kind of forced impositions. And, as to Galactic bureaucrats, I suppose that I am one. But we take on such roles only for the purpose of specific projects – like this one.”
I paused again – for a long time. Then, “In principle, I accept your offer,” I said. “But I will not obey anyone’s orders unless I agree with them. I’ll work with your project, as long as I can do what I think is right. If I fall short of the contract, please deduct the appropriate portion from my payment.”
After I quieted, Michael smiled once more. “So, we are back to my first offer to you. I am Michael of the Seraphim from Seraph-2, and I invite you for a ride in my Seraphimobile. We are the best short-haul pilots in the Galaxy. We’ll get you where you need to be as fast as Galactically possible, but we never make any of our passengers feel sick or scared. And this ’mobile is very comfortable for humans.”
I was sold – except for one thing. “How will you stop the criminal gangs that call themselves governments from firing missiles at us?”
“They can’t see us,” said Michael. “This ’mobile is in quiet mode. It is impossible to see or otherwise detect it at distance, unless the pilot deliberately projects an image – as I did for you.”
“OK, but what if they detect something they can’t see, which moves? Won’t they fire missiles at the hole they can’t see?”
Michael was about to reply, but at that moment a dog came round the corner of the path. I looked at Michael, picked up my rucksack, trotted over to the ’mobile, and got in.
Inside, it was much like a small plane. Four rows of four somewhat larger than human-sized seats, all empty. Black leather, they looked like. With a double-seat at the front for two Seraph pilots.
I took a window seat in the second row. I was still sinking down into its luxury, when “Sit back!” Michael said, and the craft started on a short, fast, bumpy take-off run over the heath. Then it leapt into the air, and went into a steep climb that pinned me enjoyably, but also helplessly, back in the seat.
But, as Michael had promised, I didn’t feel either sick or scared. The passenger seats in Seraphimobiles, I later learned, can be set to exude tranquillizers for whatever species are riding in them. The Seraphim don’t like to have to compromise their style when piloting, so they sedate their passengers.
In less than fifteen minutes, we came down again in a flat, green landscape. I recognized it as Holland. Michael got out. I watched him talking with an early middle-aged man with a goatee beard. I heard enough of their conversation to know the man’s name was Cees. (Pronounced “Case,” for English speakers.)
The sell wasn’t going well for Michael. So I got up from my seat – it was an effort – and went to the door of the machine, behind Michael. “I don’t know where he wants to take us either,” I said to Cees. “But I accepted his offer, and I’ve enjoyed the ride so far.
“Come on, Cees,” I said, “what do you have to lose? Are you happy with your present life on Earth? Are you happy with your prospects? Are you happy with politics as usual? Michael is offering you a chance to be part of change for the better. Will you take it?”
Michael looked back at me with what seemed like astonishment. Then Cees walked firmly across to the door, entered, and took the opposite window seat to mine.
We took off again.
We stopped twice more. Once in southern Sweden, to pick up a young girl who introduced herself as Elise. And once a little west of Moscow, to pick up Galina, a biologist. I didn’t get out of my seat either time.
After we left Moscow, Michael took us up – fast. “Now,” he said, “I must put you all to sleep. You would not enjoy the next stage of the journey. We Seraphim do not need to sleep, so for us it is a grave duty to make any sentient being unconscious. Therefore we make it as pleasant as we can for you before you go out.”
The short hiss, which followed his words, brought a whiff of a sweet-smelling gas. And shortly after, I was in bliss. I felt sexual pleasure, mental euphoria, a beautiful relaxation through my whole body. And, after a while, perhaps a minute or so, the world started to spin, and I fell into unconsciousness.