Thursday, 26 December 2013

Chapter 15. Of Harv’I of the Elo’I

Michael and I continued around the edge of the crater. As we walked, Michael briefed me about my next interview.

“The Elo’I,” he said, “are an interesting species. They come from a very hot planet, several hundred of your degrees Celsius. But they can survive, with some difficulty, on cooler planets like Perinent or Earth.

“The Elo’I are spacefarers on their own account. Unlike most Galactics, they do not use Naudar’I ships except in extreme need. They love to explore and to joy-ride, and in the past, they have caused through their exuberance problems on many planets, including Earth.

“Recently, the Elo’I, seeing that they are poorly regarded in the Galactic Association, have turned over a new leaf. Harv’I volunteered to be project manager here, in order to help repair the damage caused to you humans by his father, Jahw’I. All of us on the project believe that Harv’I is sincere. He is an exceptional individual.”

A pause, then, “What do you think of the Judaeo-Christian religion, Neil?” asked Michael, looking at me and chuckling.

“I lost it at age sixteen,” I replied.

“And yet, Neil,” said Michael quietly, “you are about to exchange pleasantries with the son of God.”

It was my turn to chuckle.

* * *

As we got towards Harv’I’s house, it became very hot. “Do not worry,” said Michael. “In the place where we will sit to meet Harv’I, the air-conditioning is good.”

We reached the small pavilion opposite Harv’I’s house, and sat on something like a swinging sofa. From the house, perhaps twenty metres away, a being came slowly out.

He looked as much like a penguin as anything else. He was about a metre tall. His head was roughly the same size and shape as a human’s, with eyes and mouth resembling saucers, like a Max Ernst god. His body was ovoid, his arms tapered to hands much like human ones, and his legs were remarkably short compared to the rest of him. His colour was black, though, all the time, flecks of fire flicked through his frock. A wave of heat wafted towards us, but was visibly deflected above our pavilion.

“Greetings,” the being said, in perfect English. “I am Harv’I of the Elo’I. You know my role.”

“I greet you, Harv’I,” I said. “I am Neil, and you know my role too. But it is for you, first, to tell us the story of your father’s visit to Earth.”

“Well done,” murmured Michael. “Putting the onus on to him, without being offensive.”

“I accept,” said Harv’I. “But it will take time. So” – and, at this point, he sent a telepathic picture of me as a child – “I ask, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.”

Remembering early 1960s children’s TV, I guffawed.

Now Harv’I had learned English, in order to talk easily with us. But he was also a telepath. As he told his story, as well as the words he spoke I received flashes of his thought. Many of these I saw as pictures, others I felt as thoughts or emotions in my mind. Harv’I’s communication was very rich; and my telepathic receiving abilities were improving. That was a good combination.

“Once upon a time,” said Harv’I, “the Elo’I – my race – established a colony on the planet Sol-2, which you call Venus.

“My ancestors found the planet uninhabited, so they took possession, and built a colony. The colony flourished for a while, but then, suddenly, contact was lost. All this happened more than a hundred of our generations ago.

“We sent missions, but they found nothing. Venus is a perfect planet for us – we breathe in carbon dioxide, like the plants on your Earth, and we enjoy hot temperatures and high pressures. Yet there was no colony, and there were no identifiable relics.

“Many generations passed. Our understanding improved. We became full Galactics. Then my father Jahw’I, an archaeologist, determined to visit Sol-2 to try to find out what had gone wrong.

“But his ship suffered a mechanical failure, and instead of landing on Sol-2, he crashed on Sol-3, your planet Earth. He landed in what you call the Sinai desert. He was hurt.

“Now, the Galactic Association maintains beacons on all habitable planets in the Galaxy. Someone who crashes on a habitable planet, if they can find the beacon, can summon help. There were – still are – four such beacons on your planet Earth. At that time, the nearest beacon was in a place you now call Jericho. My father knew where it was.

“But the beacons cannot be activated by anyone who is not physically near. So he had to journey to Jericho. Now, we Elo’I have many strong powers, but moving our own bodies from one place to another, without assistance, is difficult for us. My father was injured, too, and your planet is very cold for us and has little carbon dioxide.

“My father still had a limited ability to move around; he had a personal mover, which had not been destroyed in the crash. But it could not take him to Jericho. For that was about 700 of your kilometres, far beyond the mover’s range.

“So he sought help from the natives. But he had only one means of communication, telepathy. He had to find a human telepath; but they were few. The one he found was Moses. And Moses was a full telepath, both transmitter and receiver.

“My father saw that he could use Moses’ tribe to take him to Jericho and the beacon. So he impressed Moses with a display of some of his powers. And he sent him to Egypt, to find his tribe.

“Then my father maintained telepathic contact with Moses, even when he was many kilometres away. That, of course, is against Galactic law – an invasion of privacy. But my father reckoned that you humans, at the time, were hardly more than a Level Zero civilization – so he could get away with it.

“Then he used his powers to help Moses and his tribe escape from Egypt. They reached my father in Sinai. To make himself impressive to them, he clothed himself with emissions of smoke and fiery heat. I can show you myself how we Elo’I can raise a pillar of cloud and fire, but not right now – I am not prepared.”

“I look forward to that,” I said.

“Then,” continued Harv’I, “there were the burnt offerings. The main purpose of these was not food – though we Elo’I can take food on cold planets in many ways, including roast sheep and goats. My father’s real purpose in ordering burnt offerings was to ease the cold. And the carbon dioxide from the fires – along with that breathed out by so many people around him – made him more comfortable.

“My father tried to teach your ancestors a little of the Galactic way, but he mis-estimated. Of the ten commandments he taught you, the first four were to establish his own rule over you. The last six were aimed at individuals of Level One civilization, going towards Level Two. But, your ancestors, having not yet quite reached even Level One, could not easily be induced to obey them.

“My father ordered Moses to build an ark, in which the tribe could carry him to Jericho. He ordered it just large enough to hold him and his mover. And he had it lined with gold – a comfortable bed for an Elo’I. His heat was much diminished, so the porters could carry the ark without being stewed. But he could still create the pillar of fire when he wanted to – either above the lid of the ark, or, at need, a few metres away.

“He led Moses and his tribe north-east. When they were hungry, he used his powers to provide them with food. But he was very strict with them. His survival depended on their being obedient, all the way to Jericho. So, he killed those that disobeyed him.”

“He gave them quails and manna, but his manner made them quail,” I opined. Michael smiled. But Harv’I seemed too intent on his story to notice the pun.

“When they came east of the Jordan, opposite Jericho,” continued Harv’I, “my father realized they could not take possession of any part of the land you call Israel, without great force. So, he held them in the same place for many of your years. In this time, he made the tribe into a ruthless military force.

“Eventually, they crossed the Jordan – in this crossing, again, my father used his powers – and they reached Jericho. He made them march seven times round the city, on that fateful day, for a very good reason. They would be so tired that evening, that my father could leave the ark undetected, use his mover to take him into the ruins of Jericho, and find and activate the beacon.

“He did all this. Until his rescue, he remained hidden in what had been Jericho, but kept in constant telepathic contact with Joshua, the new leader. So the tribe continued successful in their military exploits. They conquered and exterminated virtually all those they attacked, taking their cattle and their other possessions. Once the rescue party arrived, though – led by my uncle Danl’I, for we Elo’I always rescue our own – the tribe were left to their own resources. That is why their military might gradually became less and less.

“A postscript. My father worried that what he had done to you humans could be criminal under Galactic law. Militarizing you and making you collectivist would be very serious charges. You are, even now, far less peaceful and individual than is usual for a species approaching Junior Galactic status.

“So, a while later, my father, with a family of friendly Cherubim, returned secretly to your Earth. They found and destroyed the remains of the crashed ship. And they replaced the beacon, whose records could have been used as evidence against my father, by a new one. It was this visit that your Ezekiel saw.

“There was suspicion of us Elo’I within the Galactic Association, over what had happened on your Earth. But my father could not be positively identified as the guilty one. And so, no charges were ever brought against him.”

I was amazed. So – as some suspected – God really had been one of the bad guys, after all?

There is a huge difference, I thought, between, on the one hand, “Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” and on the other hand, what Jahw’I then caused the tribe to do. In response to this thought, I received a telepathic grimace, with an apologetic tone to it.

But I had some more specific questions too. “Harv’I,” I asked, “how did your father do the things which are recorded in our books, to bring Moses and his tribe out of Egypt to Israel? Water turning to blood? Plagues of frogs, gnats, flies and locusts – not to mention swarms of dying quail? Boils? Selective deaths of cattle and of Egyptians? Thunder, hail and darkness? Parting the Red Sea and the Jordan? The sun stopping?”

“We Elo’I can do much,” replied Harv’I. “We can change the local weather easily enough. That accounts for thunder and hail, locusts and quail. We can exploit any large enough fault under the ground to make an earthquake, so causing seas or rivers to ebb for a time, or destroying a city. But some of the things in your bible must have been misrepresentations by your recorders. Unless my father had, as a few Elo’I do, unusual powers he did not tell me of?”

“And what of later events?” I asked, turning to Michael. “Were you Seraphim also involved in stories related in the bible? Did Gabriel, for example, really visit Earth to announce the forthcoming birth of Jesus?”

“No,” said Michael. “I myself never visited Earth, until I went there to pick up you and the Team. And, if Gabriel had been there before, I am sure he would have told me. Furthermore, about three thousand of your years ago, the Galactic Association declared Earth to be off limits to visitors, to avoid a repeat of what Jahw’I had done there.

“It is actually quite normal for species not yet Galactic to experience dreams or visions of Galactic species, especially of those who will later become their Helpers. I think this must have been the origin of your tales.”

Our conversation continued, but eventually I decided it was time to impose some structure. “To practical matters,” I said. “We all of us have responsibilities to drive our project forward. Let me summarize where I think we are.

“In about twenty or twenty-five days, Bart Vorsprong, the project consultant, will arrive here to help us plan in detail what we will do. Until then, we have two main responsibilities. One, we must establish a routine for the camp, which will work not only for those here now, but also later, when we have Pulled many people here for training. And two, as many of us as can must learn to Pull and to Push.

“As part of the routine, Harv’I, you and I must establish communications with each other. We should meet face-to-face regularly. I suggest that I come here to talk with you once a week – that is, about every seven days.” Harv’I signalled assent.

“On top of that,” I continued, “is there a way in which we can exchange messages without meeting? Do you have Pedia access here, Harv’I?” “Yes,” he sent.

To Michael, “The Pedia database we have is a local copy, yes?” A nod. “So we can add to it, without anyone trying to change or delete what we put in?” Another nod. “Then I suggest we establish an article in the Pedia for the exchange of messages between Harv’I and me.”

“Done,” signalled Harv’I. “Look up my name in your Pedia, and you will find it.”

“That was quick,” I said. Harv’I transmitted a sweeping bow.

Soon, it was time to part. “May you have much warmth and happiness, until we meet again,” I said.

“May your god go with you,” replied Harv’I, with a telepathic smirk.

Good, I thought. Harv’I did have a sense of humour after all.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Chapter 14. Of the Cherubim, and the Punishment Pit

I went to the robe room, and tried on various robes of near my size. “Pick six white robes, three white hoods to wear in the sun, and a special robe and hood of your favourite colour,’ said Shami. I did so, and my special robe was a light purple. I noticed there were no red robes. No communists here, I thought.

“Why are there no red robes?” I asked Shami. “Because red is the special-robe colour of the Seraphim,” she replied.

I met Michael outside. “Our visit will take most of the day,” he said. “It will be hot, so you will need water. And if you want lunch, you must take it with you.

“I recommend walking boots. And you will not need your translator. The Cherubim are telepaths, and Harv’I is not only telepathic, but he will have learned English too.”

I went to see Ben – who, as part of his role of barman, was also king of our bottled water supplies. Then back to the room, to change and pick up rucksack and boots. I didn’t bother with lunch, being a twice-a-day eater. And I made sure to take off my watch – being metal, it would have given me discomfort in the fields outside.

Michael and I set off from the west door. It was past midday, 11 of the 22, already. Gabriel was still helping Ray, Jenna and Marie to find, via the Pedia, the instruction manuals for their kitchen tools. Lunch was going to be late. The Tuglay were up and about, ready to start teaching. I noticed Cees talking intently with Tuglaydum. The rest of the Team were not in sight.

It was hot outside, but not uncomfortably so – around 30 Celsius, I reckoned. As we walked, Michael told me about the Cherubim. “They are very different from most Galactics,” he said. “They take their energy from the magnetic and other force fields around them. They need little else except a bit of sunlight.

“Among those few Galactic species who still have police and prisons, the Cherubim are much in demand as policemen and warders. That is why we use them to guard the Punishment Pit.

“There are three main reasons why Cherubim are good at these jobs. One, they can move faster over the ground without mechanical assistance than any other Galactics. They can go with little effort at sixty metres per second, in your measure. Two, with a touch, they can deliver an electric shock that can stun or even kill. And three, they are very strongly telepathic, and at need can read minds.

“They each have four legs, and they live in families of four,” said Michael. “You will often hear them say their credo, ‘Four in one, and one in four.’”

* * *

We came to the mechanism on the south side of the crater, which Dede had told us about. Michael punched a button. Up came, after a while, a lift. One side of the lift, the one on the same side as the crater wall, was coloured blue. The other three sides were transparent, looking like glass. “Stand with your back to the blue wall,” said Michael.

The door closed, and the lift went down – fast. It was a bit alarming to be suddenly almost weightless. Soon, though, I began to feel pressed back against the wall. It felt as if, as we rushed down the side of the crater, it was becoming gradually less and less steep. Then acceleration kicked in the other way, and I felt almost double my normal weight. The lift slowed, stopped and rotated into the upright position. The door opened. The journey had taken no more than twenty seconds.

A Cherub met us at the exit. He was about a metre and a quarter tall, and his body consisted of four blue-grey, mottled, blocky, strong-looking legs, arranged in a circle with the feet facing outwards, and connected by a solid, thick, darker blue membrane at the top.

“Greetings, Michael,” sent the Cherub. Then, to me, “Greetings, respectable Sir. We Cherubs. We four in one, and one in four. We guard Pit.” His telepathic accent was thick, but his signal was very loud. I had no difficulty at all understanding. Michael, too, clearly understood the Cherub, even though he was not normally a telepath.

Michael gave me a look, and I said, in speech and in thought at the same time, “I greet you, Cherubs. I am Neil, leader of the human Team in this camp.”

“Well met, Neil,” sent the Cherub. “You good humans in Team. You bring bad humans to Pit?”

“Yes,” I smiled, thinking of a few politicians and others that deserved some justice.

“We good guards are,” sent the Cherub. “See my brother run?” – pointing, with one leg, towards another Cherub, who was doing something astonishing. He put two of his four legs up into the air, then rotated – fast. He went across a hundred metres or so of ground in about two seconds, far faster than any cheetah. And then he stopped almost instantaneously.

I was reminded of the first chapter of the book of Ezekiel. I could well believe that the author had seen Cherubim, even if his story was embroidered. I could also see that some hacker had managed to insert, into his description, the word “not,” many times over. “They turned not when they went,” I thought, should really be “They turned when they went.” And the stuff about “going straight forward” was wrong too.

The Cherub pirouetted. “You us understand! You truth see!” In the heat of the moment, I had forgotten that the Cherub would have picked up everything I consciously thought.

“Please show us where those we Pull for punishment will be dealt with,” I said. The Cherub – rotating very slowly! – led Michael and me towards a building near the centre of the crater. I noticed, as soon as I started walking, that it was several degrees hotter down here than at the surface.

We came to the building, and it was empty. “We wait right size pallets,” the Cherub sent. “They should arrive in about thirty days,” said Michael.

“How many can you punish here at one time?” I asked. I got back from the Cherub an extraordinary image, of dozens of Skobar in a small space. Each was on a pallet, and they were stacked up as if on bunk beds. The scene looked like a cross between a world war two prison camp and a battery egg farm.

I looked at the building, and did a rapid mental calculation. “Humans are nearly twice the length of Skobar on average,” I said. “And broader and fatter, too. It looks to me as if we have space here to punish several hundred, but not thousands. Am I right?”

“You correct are,” sent the Cherub. And “About four hundred, or a little less, is the estimate,” said Michael.

“And what – beyond imprisoning them in insanitary conditions – can you do to add to their punishment?” I asked the Cherub.

“Mostly, need not,” he sent. “All together in small space is bad. They fight each other. We add bad thoughts if need. Or shock them with touch.”

Soon, it was time to part with the Cherub. “I wish you all that is good to you, until we meet next time,” I sent.

“Perinent good place is,” replied the Cherub. “Good fields, sunny. Much making justice. We four in one, one in four, happy here. We wish you and Team also happy.”

The Cherub pirouetted again. Michael and I both bowed to him, and we made our way back to the crater lift. Going up was fully as fast as going down had been.

As we exited the lift, I said to Michael with a grin, “Those are the nicest prison warders I’ve ever met.”

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Chapter 13. Of Camp Two, and the Tuglay

“We are,” said Dede, “near the east side of a giant crater in the ground. It is roughly circular, and about two kilometres across. It is hundreds of metres to the bottom. I couldn’t see anything down there.

“To the south side, there is a mechanism, which looks like an elevator down into the crater. To the west, there is a house, looking a little like ours, but much smaller. And beside it, a small pavilion. It is very hot there. And I saw a sleek, black ’mobile parked next to the house.

“To the north,” Dede continued, “I found nothing but rocks and sand.

“I come out of Indonesia,” said Dede finally, “and I find hot weather comfortable. But here on Perinent, it is hotter – and drier – than I am used to. I like it already.”

“Good work, Dede,” I said. Then, “Gabriel, what can you tell us about Perinent and about our camp?”

“It is now early summer in this latitude,” said Gabriel. “This is dry season here. It will get hotter. Some days it will reach up to forty or even forty-five of your Celsius degrees. But then, there will be the Time of Storms, and afterwards it will be cooler. The Perinent year is about three-quarters the length of the year on Earth.

“As to Dede’s report, the crater he describes is the Punishment Pit. There we will place all those you Pull here for retributive justice. There are four beings called Cherubim, who rule the Pit. They have four legs. And they are blue. Do not touch them! – you will get a bad electric shock.

“And the house on the west side is Harv’I’s. He is the local project manager. Neil, you will need to spend much time with him.”

It was my turn to lead. “I asked some of you,” I said, “to report on the facilities you have for doing the jobs you volunteered for. Ray, Jenna and Marie, this dinner proves that both your cooking skills, and the kitchen facilities the Seraphim have provided us, are excellent. But is there anything more you would like, to make your job easier?”

Jenna said, “Every implement we managed to use in the kitchen worked well. The Aga Khan is superb. But some of the machines, we can’t work out how to use them. And others, we can’t even work out what they are for. We presume they are made by the Seraphim, like the Aga. Gabriel, can you explain these machines to us?”

“I, no,” said Gabriel. “Michael is better than I am at cooking. But the answers you seek can be found in the Pedia. I will help you find them tomorrow.”

“Ben?” I asked.

“I transferred a good stock of wine to the bar in this room,” said Ben. “I found the cool-room underneath, but I couldn’t work out how to turn the cooling on. That is why all the wine we have tonight” – looking around at the bottles on the table, some fuller, some emptier – “is red.”

“Another for the Pedia?” I asked Gabriel. “No, I know how to turn the cooler on,” he said. “I will show Ben right after dinner.”

Shami reported that she had found a good stock of robes in various sizes, as well as plenty of bed-linen and underwear, and a good variety of socks and shoes. Most of the robes were white, but about one in seven were of different colours. “Sunday best?” asked Ben, and everyone laughed, except Gabriel, who said, “Yes, we Seraphim wear different robes on special days. We thought it good to try to replicate this custom here.”

Shami reported that she had started a catalogue of what she had. “I think I am about half way through,” she said. “And I haven’t tried the laundry machine – because there are no dirties yet!”

“I think Shami is giving us a hint,” I said. “Tomorrow morning, let each of us visit the robe room and pick a week’s worth of wear. Then let’s leave our dirties with Shami, so she can try out George Washing-tun.”

* * *

Next morning, Michael returned with the Seraphimobile. And in it, the two Tuglay teachers.

Now the Tuglay looked like nothing so much as a pair of small, brown Christmas trees. Each was, more or less securely, attached to a moving platform, a bit like a silver skateboard. And the platforms moved fast.

The Tuglay had translators more sophisticated than ours. Not only did they convert our English into the Tuglay language, which they spoke very fast, and which sounded like a mixture of soft susurrations and clicks. But they also translated the Tuglay language into English, meaning that we could talk with them without needing our own translators.

The Tuglay introduced themselves, mellifluously and limerixiously.

“For we are the teaching Tuglay,
We never accept any lie,
And we’ll push you to reach
The potential of each,
And then, you’ll be ready to fly.”

We very soon noticed that one of the Tuglay preferred to sit slightly on the left side of the platform, and the other slightly on the right. We named them Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee respectively; I think it was Marie who created this appellation.

* * *

While we ate breakfast, the Tuglay went to their room to rest. After breakfast, I called a meeting, at which Michael said, “Today, if you will Neil, we will begin the Team’s education in Pulling and Pushing. The Tuglay are teachers; but they do not themselves have these particular skills. It is Gabriel who has them already. So Gabriel will show you how, then the Tuglay will help you acquire the skills.”

“That’s fine,” I said, “but what of me? Don’t I need to meet Harv’I, and the Cherubim, as soon as possible?”

“Yes,” said Michael. “You will have to start learning Pulling and Pushing a day behind everyone else. I will take you today to visit the Cherubim, and for your first talk with Harv’I.”

“And what of the promises which Gabriel has made to help Ray, and Jenna, and Marie, and Ben, understand their equipment? I judge that this is more important than beginning with the Pulling and Pushing. First build the foundation, then add the new skills,” I said.

It was my first serious decision as Team Leader, and Michael respected it. “OK, Gabriel will spend the morning helping the Team, then we will begin the tuition in the afternoon. I see now that it is better so, for the Tuglay will have more time to recover from their journey.”

“Good,” I said.

“Another thing,” said Gabriel. “Now that there are no other claims on the ’mobile, we would like to institute a daily ride for those who want it. Michael and I will share the piloting. We will do our best to make it fun for the passengers. I suggest that we fix 17 hours of the 22 as the time. If not all of you who want to can go at that exact time, we will offer a second opportunity a little later.”

Two hours before dinner sounded like a good time to finish work for the day. “Done,” I said.

“To today,” I said. “All of us need, first, to go to Shami to get robes for the next week or so. Then, to deliver to her the ones we are wearing now. Then, Michael and I will visit the Cherubim and Harv’I of the Elo’I. Gabriel will help the food and drink team with their questions in the morning. After lunch, the Pulling and Pushing tuition will begin. Ray, Jenna, Marie, Ben, Shami, you must each make your own decision as to whether you attend, or continue with your other duties. Any questions?”

Everyone was so astonished by my forcefulness, that there were no questions.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Chapter 12. Of Our First Day on Perinent

Having arrived in the early Perinent morning, we soon got used to our new accommodation. The rooms were as large as those on the ship, but the furniture was more human in scale. The beds were also more comfortable, even luxurious. And the air-conditioning was perfect. We’re going to be here a while, I thought. Two Earth years, Michael had said when he picked me up.

The geography of the hotel was thus. There was a long north-south corridor, with rooms on either side. Lily and I chose the northernmost room on the west side – it was number 1. There were 64 human rooms in all. To the south of these, there were rooms for the Seraphim and for the Tuglay. (The Tuglay were the teacher species, who were going to help us learn Pulling and Pushing, and to teach those we Pulled here for leadership training.)

On the west side, the right as you went towards the dining- and meeting-room at the south end, there were a Pedia access room and a large, plushly furnished common room. On the other side, there were cloakrooms, a laundry room and a large kitchen. There were store-rooms below ground too. The main doors were half way along, on both sides. The Seraphimobile was parked twenty metres or so outside the east door.

* * *

We were no longer in a full service hotel, so basic tasks – like cooking and laundry – were now for us to organize ourselves. So, as team leader, I called a meeting after we had enjoyed a “Fortnum and Mason” picnic breakfast.

“First,” I said “to food. What supplies do we have?”

“We have a good stock of Seraphim food,” said Michael. “But, once you learn to Pull, you can bring more and fresher food from the Seraphim home planet, or, if you prefer, from Earth.”

“How will we pay for supplies we Pull from Earth?” I asked.

Michael smiled, and Gabriel said, “Neil, you always ask the difficult question before time. But you will work out an answer for that. Right now, you should ask the simple, obvious question.”

“Yeah,” I said. “What cooking facilities do we have?”

“As good as anything on Earth,” replied Michael. “We have a fully equipped kitchen, with an oven of Seraphim manufacture. You know that we like to take brand names from Earth, so the makers call their brand Aga. But this oven is a chieftain, even among Agas.” He smirked. “So, we call it the Aga Khan.”

We all laughed. “So,” I asked, “who wants to do the cooking? Who Khan rule the Aga?”

I got no laughs, but three hands raised; Ray, Jenna and Marie. “Your credentials, please,” I said.

It turned out that Ray was a professional chef, and as Jenna was his wife and assistant, it wasn’t difficult to appoint them both. And, as Marie had done some years of restaurant cooking – and at an up-market French restaurant, too – we were all happy to let her be their stand-in.

“Now, to cleaning,” I said. “That is not necessary for you to do,” said Michael. “The robots that maintain this hotel will keep it clean. Mostly, you will not see them – they are too small. The largest and most active look like doorstops. Keep out of their way, and they will do their job.

“However,” he added, “we do have a few brushes and dustpans too, for emergencies.”

“And laundry?” I asked. “What facilities do we have for that?”

Michael replied, “We have robes enough for more than seven days for at least eighty humans. And we have an excellent laundry machine. Also of Seraphim manufacture. We call it George. Do you know why?”

“Because it’s a washing-tun,” I replied. A few titters from the Team, then, “Who will be Robemistress? Or Robemeister?” I asked. Shami eventually put up her hand for office. She was accepted nem con.

“Right,” I said. “Are there any other tasks we need to allocate before we get into the project?”

A slight pause, then “I’ll be the barman,” said Ben.

Laughter, then I said to Michael, “The supplies we have already, of course, include wine? And beer?”

“Yes, plenty of wine, both red and white,” said Michael. “But no beer. If you want beer, you will have to Pull it from Earth.”

Ben’s offer, too, was accepted without demur. “Any more?” I asked.

“I would like to be recorder,” said John. “I want to make a film record of the project. It may help when shown to people on Earth.”

“And it may help future projects with other species, too,” I added.

“I’ll be cameraman,” said Galina. “I have some experience.”

“You will first need to Pull a suitable camera from Earth. There are none here,” said Michael.

“So, what else do we have?” I asked. “We have Pedia access, I presume?”

“Yes,” said Michael. “But the database is more than two Earth months old. It came in the same cargo ship which brought the human-size furniture.”

“What communication facilities do we have outside Perinent?”

“When you have learned to Pull and Push, you will have direct communication with Earth. We can also Pull things from the Seraphim home planet, at need. For other planets, it is possible, but it takes time to set up. It will have to be justified on each occasion.”

After much more from all of us, Michael said, “I must take the ’mobile this afternoon to pick up the couple of Tuglay. Gabriel will remain, and I shall be back early tomorrow morning. Also this afternoon, Harv’I of the Elo’I, project manager, will arrive in his own ship. It may be quite noisy.”

Then, “Neil,” Michael said to me in front of all the Team, “this is the moment, at which the authority over the Team becomes truly yours. Gabriel and I are here to help, but the decisions are yours.”

I suddenly felt tired. Ship-lagged, perhaps. “Ray, Jenna, Marie,” I said, “please assess our kitchen and food resources, and prepare lunch for those who want it, and dinner for all of us. Ben, please do the same for our alcohol stores, and arrange a suitable celebration for our first evening here. Shami, please report on the clothing situation.

“Let’s all meet for dinner at 19 hours of the 22.” (I was glad that I had instituted the Perinent clock while we were on the ship. It saved a lot of potential disruption.) “Until then, let those, who have the energy, explore our new surroundings.” Yawn. “Don’t go too far.”

I was so tired, that I slept all afternoon, and didn’t even hear Harv’I’s landing a few kilometres away. But others were not so idle. Ray, Jenna, Marie and Ben all did their immediate tasks to perfection. And Dede came back with a report on the geography of our camp. Our first dinner on Perinent was festive.