“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.”