Saturday, 25 January 2014

Chapter 19. Of Bed and Bordeaux

I didn’t lunch, choosing to reserve my hunger for the evening’s lamb. Instead, I went to the Pedia room and chatted for a while with Harv’I about the fauna of Perinent. And I thanked him for his display that morning.

Ben, too, didn’t lunch. He strode off to the little room behind the bar, muttering something like “chambré.”

Jenna was not pleased, Lily told me later, to find that only three of the seven morning walkers – Lily, Ray and Sabrina – took lunch. But the afternoon group were all there. Sabrina had given an embroidered account of our encounter with the D’Leinotl. And had praised Ray’s attitude and prowess with the discus.

Around the 14, Lily found me in the Pedia room. The hotel was almost empty. The afternoon trippers were getting in the ’mobile. Gabriel and Michael were already in it. Ray was in the kitchen, with lamb on his mind. Dede and Shami were sleeping deeply in their room. The Tuglay had retired. Only Lily and I, Ben and Sabrina, were still about.

Lily kissed me, then said, “To our room. We’re going to do an experiment. Michael tells me it’s ‘for the advancement of science.’ And it will be fun.”

“Please explain,” I said, as she put an arm round me and walked me towards our room.

“On Friday, when we first tried Pulling,” said Lily, “Sabrina and I quickly understood we couldn’t do it. So we asked Michael how else we could help. He told us about a problem with Pulling people, which you will face soon.

“I quote Michael.” Here, she produced a piece of paper, and read from it. “It is not possible to Pull or Push any conscious being in the wakeful state. Therefore, you must put them to sleep. The usual Seraphim sleep-gas, pleasant though it is, acts too slowly to be useful in Pulling.

“So,” continued Lily, “yesterday, Sabrina and I tried some quick-acting sleep-gas mixtures. Only small doses, of course. Some worked better than others.

“Michael suggested that we try these mixtures on others in the Team, to work out which is the most effective. So, I’m going to treat you to an afternoon in bed. Sleep and sex, sex and sleep, whichever way round. Sleep first, I think. The sleep-gas doses are small – only about an hour to an hour and a half each.”

We had reached our room. Lily pulled the curtains, and we undressed quickly. She took something off the bed-table. Then she came to me, cuddled me close, rushed me across the room and bounced me on to the soft, luxurious bed. She kissed me, and there was a tinkling sound – she had broken the sleep-gas capsule. I had two or three seconds feeling high, then I was out.

When I woke, Lily was astride me, with another capsule in her hand. “You haven’t had a Lily-ride for four days and three nights,” she said. “You’ve been so busy, or so tired, you haven’t been ready for me. This will be quick. Enjoy it.”

I did enjoy it, for the brief time it lasted. Up, over and out. And the second sleep-gas acted even faster than the first. One breath, the world spun, and I was out again.

Lily was astride me again when I woke. “This time, I’ll give you Lily’s Special,” she said. “Lie back and try not to move, otherwise you may come too early. Kiss me when you’re ready for the climax.”

I remembered my first time in her bed, on the ship, when she had enraptured me. She had taken me up and up, but not all the way to the climax; then we had rested comfortably for a while before repeating. She had given me that pleasure again and again, each time taking me a little higher, until I finally felt the need to say to her, “Please take me all the way this time.” I enjoyed that.

She had given me Lily’s Special many times since, and I loved her for it. This time, as always, there came a point where I could bear waiting no longer. I kissed her, and she took me to the climax; gently but inexorably. I enjoyed that too.

Right afterwards, I heard the clink of a third capsule. This one gave a lot of pleasure on the way out, almost as good as the Seraphim’s usual gas, but quicker. Far quicker, about five seconds.

When I woke again, Lily was beside me, cuddling me. “That’s the end of the experiment,” she said. “Which do you think was the best?” “You,” I replied without hesitation. “No, of the sleep-gases I mean,” said Lily.

“If we Pull an individual for punishment, or if we need to Pull someone while they are standing or walking,” I said, “then the second sleep-gas, the quickest acting, is the right one. But if the person we must Pull is a friend, and is in bed or in a comfortable chair, we should use the third. If we can give pleasure, let’s do it.”

“You have agreed exactly with me and Sabrina,” said Lily. “Now, before dinner, there isn’t time for more sleep. But” – coming astride me again, and using her hands on my chest to bounce me up and down – “there is time for you to ride again in Lily’s back seat.”

As I lay back and enjoyed what she did, I wondered why she put so much into giving me the highest, most lasting pleasure. Then suddenly I knew why she had been so eager to be my woman.

One of the greatest pleasures a telepathic receiver can experience, is to give pleasure to a telepathic transmitter.

Lily laughed, increased the speed of her motion, and took me for a brief, beautiful ride up to a climax even higher than last time.

* * *

Almost everyone was late for dinner. Those who had gone on the afternoon trip, though they had not had any scares or illnesses, were tired. And they had come back late, because John, though slower than the others, had insisted on walking all the way.

Lily and I were slow to leave our bed. So were Ben and Sabrina, who had been doing the same experiment for the advancement of science. Dede was up again, but Shami would be asleep till morning.

When I arrived in the dining room, Ray was starting to get frantic. “Where is everybody? Do they really want their dinner overcooked? Tonight, I have made a dessert instead of a starter, so time is of the essence.”

“I’ll give them a maximum half hour,” I said. “Anyone who comes in after that deserves what they get. Cinders or nowt.”

While Dede laid the table, Lily and I found ourselves as substitute barpersons. Eventually, Ben strode in, did a double-take when he saw Lily and me behind the bar, then rushed into the little room behind. He emerged with three open bottles, laid them with ceremony on the table, then went back for three more.

Now, others came in. Michael and Gabriel, even the Tuglay, were more than twenty minutes late. Then, Ray and Jenna came out from the kitchen, each with an enormous platter of lamb. “Fear not,” Jenna said, “the Lamb is saved.”

Some of the Team laughed, but Jenna continued, “We will have to pick someone to do the carving.” “Michael and Gabriel,” I replied instantly. Then, to them, “Today is your day.” They accepted.

The lamb was excellent. Cees had Pulled it from a president’s personal store. And Ray had cooked it superbly – rare enough even for my taste, yet not so rare as to offend victual philistines, if there had been any among us.

The Bordeaux was even better. Michael, after his first sip, said “This is good.” After the second, “This is very good.” After the third, “You could export this to our planet.”

Afterwards, there was dessert. Ray brought in a tray of pies. Covered with pastry, they looked like small discuses. “There is fruit inside,” said Ray. “Earthly fruit. Like to guess what it is?”

The riddle was much too easy for me. “Raysberries,” I said. It was.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Chapter 18. Of a Walk in the Mountains

Sunday dawned – as had all the other days since we had been on Perinent – cloudless and promising warmth.

I got up early, and dressed in my light purple robe. I went to the Pedia room, and exchanged greetings with Harv’I. Then I asked him, in what order do you think we should go about bringing the guilty and the trainees to Perinent? One first, the other first, or a mixture?

Harv’I’s answer was, Neil, you do like to ask difficult questions.

That’s why I’m Team Leader (smiley face), I posted. I ask the awkward questions early.

* * *

At breakfast, we were all in our special robes. They seemed to fit us in a different way to our normal ones. Ben’s mid-blue, for example, had exaggerated shoulders, making him look even bigger than he was. My light purple robe flattered me, drawing the eye upwards rather than outwards. Lily, splendid in her own pale green, said to me, “If you had head-dress, you would look like a bishop.”

“Mitre than thou,” I replied.

Shami, in bright pink, sat and smiled. Among the Team, this colourful show was more her doing than anyone else’s. But it was Michael and Gabriel who took the big plaudits. They wore the Seraphim ceremonial colour – red. Now, I’m sure you have seen Buddhist monks wearing red. This wasn’t that colour. Nothing like it. This was red, red, red. And it made them look even more imposing than in their daily yellow.

It came time to decide who would go in the morning or the afternoon. “It will be cooler in the morning,” said Michael. “But there may be fog. So, it may be better walking in the afternoon. Each of you must decide which you prefer. Or, of course, if you want you can stay in the ’mobile, or you can choose not to go at all. It’s up to each of you.”

“I’ll go in the morning,” said Ray. “I have lamb to prepare and roast in the afternoon.”

“And it is my turn to cook lunch, so I will go in the afternoon,” said Jenna. “Marie, you have already done breakfast, so you have no more responsibilities today in the kitchen. You and Cees should go on whichever you please.”

“You and I,” said Lily to me, “should go in the morning. I will tell you why later.”

Ben and Sabrina, Dede and Shami elected to take the morning trip, piloted by Michael and with Gabriel as lead walker. The rest of the Team would go in the afternoon with the Seraphim’s roles reversed. The Tuglay declined; walking was not exactly their thing.

“The trip should take at most four hours,” I said. “Let’s leave as soon as possible – at the 9. Jenna, please arrange a light lunch at the 13. Then the afternoon group can go from the 14 to 18.”

* * *

As I got into the ’mobile, Lily was behind me. She threw her arms around me, turned me round, cuddled me, then pressed me backwards down the aisle. As we reached our usual row, she pushed me across and then down into the window seat.

“What was that about?” I asked, as Lily bounced into the seat beside me.

“Fun,” she said. “You’ve been working too hard these last few days. You haven’t been available, even to me. But Sunday is Fun-day. I want to give you some more fun this afternoon, too.”

“Sit back,” said Michael. We did.

It was a near repeat of the fast, bumpy take-off Gabriel had used on Friday. I kept my eyes open this time. Then we turned hard left, towards the south-west, and we were looking down on our camp. I could see clearly our hotel, the Punishment Pit and Harv’I’s house.

Near that house, there was a column of black smoke, with fire and lightning at its base. Harv’I must have been prompted to give us a Sunday treat, and show his father Jahw’I’s trick.

* * *

It took about a quarter of an hour to fly to the mountains. They were tall – as tall as the Alps. And, below their icy tops and slaty upper slopes, the land was green, not the brown we had become accustomed to. “At this time of year,” said Michael, “these mountains take out the moisture from the prevailing south-west winds. That is why it is so dry at our camp.

“The walk will follow an easy track through the mountain meadows, with great views of the peaks. Gabriel will lead you. I will keep the ’mobile near you. If any of you feel tired, signal, and I will bring it down to pick you up.”

“There are a few predators here,” Gabriel said. “But it is very unlikely that anything would attack us. First, because we are far bigger than their usual prey. And second, because of our bright colours. But just in case, I have a laser gun with me.”

We started from a green lawn at about a thousand metres up. It was cloudless; there was no fog. The path was clear before us. It went round the right-hand side of the meadow, leaving to our left the peaks and the tree-lined slopes below them. And it climbed up, up and up again. None of us had been at altitude recently, so we all puffed more than a little.

At first, I walked with Gabriel. He kept a gentle-seeming but steady pace, and in response I used my best uphill ground-eating lope. It amused me that, though he was far taller than I, my stride was much the same length as his. But after forty-five minutes or so, I realized that we had put ourselves far in front of the rest. We had to go back and look to the others.

Shami was in trouble, gasping and retching. She had never exercised at altitude before, and her body, even as improved by Doctor Guran, didn’t like it. Michael was already hovering the ’mobile near. I signalled to him to come down. Dede and Ben loaded Shami in. Then Michael said, “I will put her under sleep-gas, and take her back to the camp.”

Ben had to hurry out of the ’mobile, making it only just before the door closed. But Dede sat down beside Shami and held her as the sleep-gas took them both. Michael lifted the ’mobile and turned it hard right down into the valley.

We walked on, and the scenery became spectacular. Snow-clad peaks to our left, with woods at their bases and scree in between. And an ever bigger and steeper drop into the valley on our right. But the path was easy, sticking near the edge of the meadow. Though gradually the ground became more and more stony.

Another half hour, and I thought I saw grey shapes moving among the trees. “What are those?” I asked Gabriel. “They are D’Fanjel,” he said. “The local equivalent of Earthly wolves. They will not trouble us – they hunt at dawn and dusk, never in full daylight.”

“And that?” I asked, pointing to something trotting towards us from half-left ahead. It was dark reddish-brown, and looked a bit like a three-metre long fox. With six legs.

“Uh-huh,” said Gabriel quietly, “that is a D’Leinotl. It is the most dangerous animal round here.” He brandished the gun. “Gather behind me, all of you, please.”

Ray gave us all a meaningful look, bent and picked up a big stone, flat and round-ish but with sharp edges. I found a similar one, and motioned to Lily that she should do the same. Ben and Sabrina seemed to have taken Ray’s cue even before I did. I noticed something vaguely odd, and then realized what it was. Of the six of us, Gabriel included, I was the only right-hander.

The animal seemed to sense us about two hundred metres away. It stopped, raised its muzzle, then turned suddenly and cantered away from us towards the trees.

“Pity,” said Ray, winding up and throwing his stone away from us like a discus. It went a surprisingly long way. “I used to throw the discus in my youth,” Ray explained.

“Not the boomerang?” asked Ben. “That too,” said Ray.

After the encounter with the D’Leinotl, the rest of the Perinent fauna we saw were far less spectacular. We saw local equivalents of rabbits and deer, as well as animals not quite like anything we knew from Earth. There were insects too, but not many. “Wait a few weeks, though,” said Gabriel, “until high summer, and this meadow will be swarming with insects.”

A while later, Michael returned. He flew the ’mobile slowly over our heads, waving to us. Then he steered towards the landmark we were approaching, a green mound about a hundred metres high, set back a little way from the drop to our right. “That is the target of our walk,” said Gabriel.

The path got steeper and steeper as we climbed the mound, but it was worth it. From near the top, we had a spectacular view of the mountain range. “When Galina has Pulled her camera,” I said, “we will have to come back here to record the scenery.” “Be aware that it may be a while before we have another day of such good weather,” said Gabriel.

At the top, there was a welcome sight; the ’mobile, with Michael lounging by it and smoking. Whatever it was he was smoking had a fragrant smell. I didn’t know that Seraphim smoked before, so I asked, “What is that?”

“It is a special preparation of ours,” replied Michael, “which we only use on Sundays. I suppose the Earthly equivalent would be somewhere between tobacco and incense. You are welcome to try it if you want.”

Only Ben was up for this offer, little surprise as he was the only smoker in the group. After a couple of puffs, he said, “Nice. Very nice. Does it make you high too?”

“A little, but not much,” said Michael. “We have other mixtures we can smoke to get high, but Gabriel and I both prefer to take that pleasure from wine rather than smoking.”

With that, it was time to start our uneventful journey back to the camp.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Chapter 17. Of Pulling and Pushing

Next morning before breakfast, I went to the Pedia room and looked for messages from Harv’I. Under his name, I found a welcome message, sent the previous day. I added my own welcome, telling Harv’I that I planned to check our message box at least once a day, and that this time of day – around 8 of the 22 – was a good time for a regular exchange with me.

Harv’I replied within a minute. Yes, any time of day is fine, he said – for Elo’I, like Seraphim, do not need to sleep. And, was there anything in particular that I would like him to be thinking about?

Yes, I posted, we need to work out among ourselves what we have to do to prepare for Bart Vorsprong’s visit. I want to involve you, me, Michael and Gabriel, and the Tuglay – at least. Other members of the Team may need to take part too. And I don’t know how feasible it is to communicate also with Balzo of the Avor’I, the overall project manager?

If you have a Pulling and Pushing machine, replied Harv’I, you can use it to send mescaps anywhere in the Galaxy. Mescap, he explained, stands for “message capsule.” It is a standardized container for Pulling and Pushing things up to about the size of a large book.

But you will need to configure the machine to access the target planet, added Harv’I. I believe Gabriel can do this, but it will take him time. Also you will need to code the messages so Balzo can understand them. There is a Basic script designed for mescaps – it’s a bit like your Earthly Morse code. But I don’t know if the translators you have can support it. If not, you will have to Pull a better one, perhaps from the Seraphim home planet.

I thanked Harv’I for this information, and asked him to send me any more thoughts he had on this matter. I had begun to realize that I had a lot of learning to do before I could even think about making decisions on how to run the project.

* * *

At the end of breakfast, I stood up and said, “Three subjects. One, a reminder about tomorrow, Sunday. I’d like everyone to wear their coloured robes tomorrow. And Gabriel and Michael have offered to take those of us who wish to the mountains. Walking boots aren’t obligatory, are they?” I asked Gabriel.

“Boots are not necessary for our walk,” he replied. “But if you have them, take them.”

Turning to Michael, I asked, “How long is the trip? Can we do it in two groups? I’m sure, for example, that Ray and Jenna will not want to be both away from the kitchen for hours at a time.” Ray nodded vigorously, and Michael replied, “It depends how long you want to walk. The best walk we know in these mountains is two to three hours, which means allowing three to four hours for the trip. So yes, it is possible to do it in two groups, but the timing will be tight.”

“Second,” I said, “now that Cees and Elise at least have learned how to Pull things of a reasonable size from Earth, is there anything any of you particularly want brought here?”

“A big joint of meat for Sunday dinner,” said Ray.

“Which meat?” I asked. “I should have asked this before, but does anyone have any objections to any particular Earthly meat?” None of us were vegetarians, I knew. Presumably that was a condition of being selected for the Team. I looked at Dede, who said, “I come from the Christian minority in my country. So I can eat pork, although I am not accustomed to it.” Then I looked at Shami, who said, “I cannot eat beef, but my reasons are medical, not religious.”

“Let it be lamb,” said Marie, loudly, and the matter was settled. “Cees,” I said, “please seek out and Pull suitable joints of lamb – check with Ray on exactly what he wants.”

Galina said, “There is something I also want to bring here. My portable camera-recorder, so John and I can make a start on recording the project. I can Pull it myself, but I will need some means of recharging its battery.”

“The electricity we have here is Seraphim standard,” said Michael. “When you have Pulled the battery here, Gabriel will Push it to an electrical expert on our planet, to make adaptors so we can charge it, and run other Earth appliances if we want, from the supply here.”

“That’s a complicated subject,” said Hoong, who knew all about (the lack of) Earthly electricity standards. “Depending on what equipment we want to use, we may need more than one type of adaptor. Or we may want to Pull some Earthly adaptors as well.”

“You may also want to think,” I said to Galina, “about how much of the camera is metal, and whether there is likely to be a problem with using it outside.”

“I had thought of that,” said Galina, “but I’ll face that problem when I come to it. I may need to Pull a plastic tripod, or some such.”

That was the end of the second subject, so “Third,” I said, “I have done some thinking about compensating those whose property we Pull here from Earth to use on our project. I know Cees has already planned how to pay the brewery for the barrel of beer he Pulled yesterday. But I find that approach a little complicated to use every time.

“I think that in general we should avoid Pulling valuable private property if we possibly can. Public property, on the other hand, I consider fair game simply to take. Over the years, political governments have taken more than enough from us. Now, it’s time for us to do some taking from them in return.”

There was laughter, and it was time for all of us to go to our work.

* * *

In my case, the morning’s work was to start learning Pulling. I went with Gabriel and Tuglaydum to a room, in which one of the five machines was. It was already configured for accessing Earth.

Gabriel showed me how to move the remote eye around the planet. There were rollers to move it in each direction, north or south, east or west, up or down, and to rotate it to left or right. There was a setting to control the scale of movement, so that one turn of the roller could move the eye anything between a metre and a thousand kilometres. I became quite proficient in a very short time. At the slowest speed, it was like being able to walk through walls. Pulling was easy – so far.

“Now,” said Gabriel, “focus on a small object, such as a pebble.” I picked a round, brown pebble on the French shingle beach I had brought the remote eye to. Gabriel took a piece of chalk, and drew a circle on the floor in front of me. “Now, this is the hard bit. You must focus on the remote object with one part of your mind, and on the place you want to bring it to with another. Then you press the lever to engage the force fields. That establishes a simultaneity between here and the remote eye. Then you simply wrench the object mentally from one place to the other. I can’t describe it any other way.”

I focused with my left eye on my chosen pebble, and with my right eye on the chalk circle. I pressed with my right hand the lever which activated the force fields. The scene in the remote eye started to shimmer. Concentrating hard, I tried a left-to-right mental wrench. The pebble – along with bits of other debris from around it – appeared about five centimetres above the chalk circle. It dropped with a thunk. My hand left the lever, and I felt drained.

“Amazing!” cried Tuglaydum. “Three first-time successes among thirteen of you! Human minds must be remarkably well equipped for this kind of work.”

“Neil,” said Gabriel, “congratulations. You have joined the ranks of the Pullers. Now, you must build up the size and weight of the objects you can Pull. Think of Cees’s beer-barrel.

“Your first Pull had only two technical faults. First, you must increase your accuracy in the target area, particularly vertically. Second, you did something very unusual – you Pulled more than just the object you were aiming to Pull. This is almost a good thing rather than a fault, because it means that your wrench was stronger than it needed to be to Pull that pebble. Most fail on the other side, and don’t wrench hard enough. But you need to learn the control to Pull only the object you intend, not things around it as well.

“Practice will make you better. I will leave you with Tuglaydum. He is a teacher, and he knows everything there is to know about Pulling, except that his mind does not have built into it the ability to wrench. You, however, have no problem in that area, so he should have all the skills necessary to help you move forward.

“I will return in two hours, to see what you have managed to Pull.” So saying, Gabriel left the room.

Tuglaydum was a hard teacher. He kept me at it for the whole two hours. First, I Pulled bigger pebbles, odd-shaped pebbles, larger stones. Then I switched to man-made objects. Books, a chair, a small table. Even a heavy toolbox. I didn’t always repeat my initial success – about one time in three, something went wrong and what I was trying to Pull failed to budge. That, Tuglaydum told me, was nothing to worry about. Even a highly experienced Puller failed occasionally.

For my tour de force, and in a spirit of competition with Cees’s beer-barrel, I selected a case of mature fine Bordeaux, which I found in the stores of an army officers’ mess. It was a tough Pull, and it made quite a noise too, because I brought the case into the target area about a centimetre too high. Fortunately, nothing was broken.

By the time Gabriel came back, I was completely exhausted. He looked at the wine, smiled and said, “Cees Pulled a barrel; but Neil has Pulled a case.”

The pun made even me groan.

* * *

I decided, unusually for me, to take lunch with the others. I took the opportunity to present Ben with the case of wine. He took out a bottle, held it up, and gazed at it reverently. “Where did you Pull this from?” he asked.

“From a French army officers’ mess,” I replied.

“The French army has taste,” observed Ben. “We shall have some of this wine tomorrow night.”

Cees, meanwhile, had spent the morning learning to Push – like Pulling, but in the opposite direction. With Pushing as with Pulling, he was a natural – he succeeded first time again. He had already carried out his scheme to pay for the previous day’s beer. And, unlike me, Cees did not look at all tired from his efforts.

He planned to spend the afternoon investigating government storehouses around Europe, identifying those from which he could start to Pull supplies. In particular, he would find a meat store and Pull lamb for tomorrow’s dinner.

Some of the Team, who had tried to Pull but not succeeded yesterday, had been using the other three machines, supervised by Gabriel and Tuglaydee. Dede and Jenna had finally succeeded in Pulling pebbles, but their progress was slow. Elise, Hoong and Galina planned to carry on in the afternoon from where they had left off the previous day.

I spent the afternoon in the Pedia room, looking up – among much else – mescaps, Basic script and Galactic electricity standards. I was so tired from Pulling, I fell asleep after a while. When Lily came to wake me, she told me that Elise, not wishing to be outdone by Cees or by me, had Pulled three bottles of the finest brandy to add to Ben’s store. And had also Pushed back the heavy toolbox which I had so laboriously Pulled that morning.

After the daily ride, this time piloted by Michael, I had a Pulling and Pushing progress meeting with Gabriel and the Tuglay. At this, we agreed the use of the machines and teachers for Monday. Cees and Elise would learn the next stage, that is, Pulling small animals. I, at this point the third most promising student, would learn the basics of Pushing.

As to the others, we would give highest priority to Hoong and Galina. This was because they were currently fourth and fifth in our order of skill, and – leaving Gabriel as reserve – we needed to train a total of five Pullers and Pushers for the five machines.

Friday, 3 January 2014

The Akademik Shokalskiy Passenger’s Lament

By the Darn-Poor Rhymer

(Neil's note - We interrupt normal service to bring you this message from the Darn-Poor Rhymer. A boatload of global warming alarmists, bound for Antarctica to try to find new excuses why it's worse than we thought, caught for a week in sea ice! In the middle of summer! You really couldn't make this one up.)

A Russian ship was sailing,
For Commonwealth Bay’s shore;
Adventure is my failing,
And this cruise promised more.
One storm, two storm, three storm, four,
Five storm, six storm, seven storm, more!

And so I took a cabin,
And found I was among
Some scientists, whose babblin’
Did seem to me far-flung.
One theory, two theory, three theory, four,
Five theory, six theory, seven theory, more!

They said: “This global warming
That you and we have made
Is killing penguins. Aw! Ming!
Please pass the marmalade.”
One unsubstantiated accusation, two unsubstantiated accusation, three unsubstantiated accusation, four,
Five unsubstantiated accusation, six unsubstantiated accusation, seven unsubstantiated accusation, more!

And journalists had passes;
Grauniad, BBC.
Repeating, for the masses,
Alarmist litany.
One it’s worse than we thought, two it’s worse than we thought, three it’s worse than we thought, four,
Five it’s worse than we thought, six it’s worse than we thought, seven it’s worse than we thought, more!

The evenings, though, were hearty.
It was a Russian ship,
And they ensured the party
Would all enjoy the trip.
One vodka, two vodka, three vodka, four,
Five vodka, six vodka, seven vodka, more!

And so, we came to sea ice,
And to our penguin count.
They said, “Don’t be too precise;
The total must not mount.”
One penguin, two penguin, three penguin, none!
One penguin, two penguin, three penguin. Fun!

And then the Captain ordered
Us all back to the ship.
For we would soon be bordered
By ice we couldn’t rip.
One message, two message, three message, four,
Five message, six message, seven message, more.

But I was chasing Boojums;
And too late did I hark,
Until there came a few chums.
Boy! Did they give me snark.
One insult, two insult, three insult, four,
Five insult, six insult, seven insult, more.

We all survived our bad trip,
And live another day.
But now, I ask, how much scrip
Do we deserve to pay?
One trillion, two trillion, three trillion, four?
Five trillion, six trillion, seven trillion, more?

Chapter 16. Thank God it’s Ride-day

Michael and I walked back to the hotel by the northern route. As Dede had told us, there was little of interest there.

“I think,” said Michael, “that it would be good, now we are on Perinent, to go back to your – and our – week-cycle of seven days, in which Sunday is a special day. Do you agree?”

“I think that is a good idea,” I replied. “But why did we not use days of the week while on the ship? And what day is it now?”

“For one,” said Michael. “every culture, almost, has a week-cycle. But all differ in its start point and its length. And to try to impose a common week-cycle on Galactics who have different day-lengths would be stupid. So, the use of week-cycles is discouraged on Naudar’I ships. For two, when we arrived here, it was Thursday morning. Now, it is early evening on Friday.”

“Right,” I said. “Let us go with the notion that today is Friday, and that Sunday will be different.

“So,” I asked, “what will we do this coming Sunday? I thought we might use it to bring the rest of the Team to meet Harv’I and the Cherubim.” I laughed, for the name sounded like a very bad 1970s rock group.

“Gabriel and I,” said Michael “had thought about taking the Team for a trip to the mountains.”

“So, angels don’t keep the Sabbath day?” I inquired, with some acid in my tone.

Michael smiled. “A pilot’s work is never done! Seriously, Sunday is often our busiest day.”

I made a decision, then, “OK, we’ll go on your trip. The Team’s visit to Harv’I, and to see the Punishment Pit, can happen the following Sunday, or during the week if necessary.”

“Done,” said Michael.

* * *

When we were still a kilometre or so from the hotel, I saw the Seraphimobile beyond it. It was speeding silently from south to north – from right to left, as I saw it. It was already going faster than an Earthly plane on take-off. It was still accelerating, visibly bumping over the uneven ground, and showed no sign of lifting just yet.

I knew that Seraphimobiles could take off vertically, or any which way the pilot wanted. So this had to be for fun. I was gutted I had missed the ride. It was another half minute and more before I saw the ’mobile finally lift, then power into the sky.

* * *

We arrived at the west door, to find Cees and Ben with grins on their faces. “We have something to show you,” said Ben.

Michael and I followed them to the cooling room beneath the dining room. There were many bottles of Seraphim white wine there. But also, a large barrel of beer, clearly labelled as the product of one of Holland’s better small breweries.

I adopted a mock dramatic pose, and declaimed, “How comes this here?”

Ben and Michael laughed, but Cees said, “I Pulled it.” “And now,” said Ben, “I am cooling it.”

“But how did you pay for it?” I asked Cees. “I would not have my Team steal from any honest person or business.”

“As it happens,” said Cees, producing from his pocket a wallet, “I saw, in my wanderings round Amsterdam looking for things to Pull, a pick-pocket steal this wallet. So, I Pulled it out of the thief’s pocket. There are many euros in it. Tomorrow, when I have learned to Push small objects as well as Pull, I will Push enough money to the brewery to pay for the beer. Then, I will return the wallet, and the rest of its contents, to the rightful owner.”

“When will the beer be ready to drink?” I asked Ben.

“It won’t be fully cold until tomorrow,” he replied. “But I’m happy to serve some tonight anyway.”

I made the grimace I sometimes use to precede a bad pun, then said, “Cool.”

* * *

Now suddenly there was a commotion, as those who had been on the ride came in at the east door. They all looked happy, though several were not entirely steady on their feet.

“All aboard for the next ride,” said Gabriel, like a Cockney with a megaphone. Five of us boarded – Michael, myself, Cees, Ben, and Jenna who had been manning the kitchen while Ray was on the first ride. Tuglaydee came too – he and his skateboard needed two seats, and he wore a harness to hold him in them. And Lily, having already been on the first ride, somehow persuaded Gabriel to let her stay on for a second.

“You’ll enjoy this,” Lily said, sitting down beside me, pressing me gently back into my seat, and starting to massage my thigh. “Gabriel’s Fun-ride No. 1. The fastest, longest and most luxurious fun-ride in the Galaxy.”

“Sit back,” said Gabriel, and we all obeyed – involuntarily. Heads hit headrests with a thump. The ’mobile bumped along the ground faster and faster. The feeling of speed was so overwhelming, I had to close my eyes. Then, suddenly, I felt hurled upwards into an exhilarating ride in the sky.

The motion kept me pinned in my seat, alternately bouncing me up and down, and flinging me into high-speed turns or loops. Yet, whenever I began to feel a little queasy, the seat-sedative kicked in, and I felt calm, comfortable and a bit sleepy, and enjoyed the ride and Lily’s massage even more.

About twenty minutes later, we came in to a landing as smooth as the take-off had been bumpy. “We’ll be doing this again,” I said to Lily with a smile, as we came to a halt outside the hotel.

“Tomorrow,” said Lily in a matter-of-fact tone, “I will take the window seat. Then I can do your other thigh.”

* * *

As I left the ’mobile, I said to Gabriel, “Thank you, that was great. But now I need to meet with you and the Tuglay, to see where we are on Pushing and Pulling.”

Ten minutes later, we met in one of the many spare rooms in the hotel. “We have already two Pullers successful on their first attempts,” said Tuglaydum. “Cees and Elise. It is very unusual and pleasing to have two such quick students.”

“I saw the beer which Cees has Pulled,” I said. “I will drink some of it later.”

“Hoong and Galina,” said Tuglaydee, “have also Pulled small objects, though each of them took several tries before succeeding.”

“Everyone in the Team has tried to Pull,” said Gabriel, “except you – because you were absent – and Ray. Ray refused even to try. He said, ‘A chef’s job is in the kitchen.’”

“How many Pullers and Pushers do we actually need to train?” I asked. “I understand there are only a limited number of the necessary machines.”

“We have five machines,” said Gabriel.

“So, is it sensible to train more than five of us to Pull and Push?”

Tuglaydum said, “We need to know, first, who are the most talented. Then, we will decide who to train further.”

* * *

Dinner time came. Ray and Jenna had done another magnificent job. Tonight, the Tuglay were with us. They did not share our food; they had their own preparations. But they shared in the conversation – and in the wine, which they enjoyed poured around their roots.

As dinner ended, I got up to speak. “First,” I said, “we haven’t been using days of the week for a while, but it turns out that today is Friday. The day after tomorrow is Sunday. We will be wearing our special coloured robes that day. We won’t be doing our normal work, like learning Pulling and Pushing. And Michael and Gabriel have offered to take us this Sunday to the mountains.

“And second, I want to welcome the Tuglay in their own vein.

“We welcome you, dear Dum and Dee.
Though to us you each look like a tree,
We know you can teach
Us to lengthen our reach,
And to do what we need to be free.”

The Tuglay bowed, and the Team tittered. But not at my limerick. Have you ever seen a Christmas tree bow?

Ben stood up, and announced, pointing to the beer-barrel (which he and Cees had brought up from the cellar while I wasn’t looking), “We have beer tonight, lads and lasses. Providentially Pulled, all the way from happy Holland, by good Corporal Cees. Who wants some?

“And, while I’m up here,” said Ben, “a big thank you to Gabriel and Michael for the ride this evening.”

Sabrina, next to Ben, turned the tap on the barrel. Beer gushed out into Ben’s mug.

“Thank God it’s Ride-day,” Ben said, and drained the mug.