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.

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