Monday, 3 February 2014

Chapter 20. Of Mice and Mescaps

Next morning, it was my job to start learning Pushing. In theory, it was the same as Pulling, only the other way round. But I found it a lot harder. It took me five tries before I Pushed my first pebble.

My breakthrough came when I drew a second chalk circle, well to the left of the first one, and placed the pebble in it. Now I could use the same left-to-right wrench to Push as I had done to Pull. The pebble disappeared obediently, and re-appeared on the remote beach. Two more tries worked perfectly, as well.

“Aha,” I said to Gabriel, “it looks as if I naturally wrench from left to right. I find it much harder to do it the other way.”

“That is not unusual,” said Gabriel. “For most purposes, it does not matter which way round in your view the local and remote eyes are before you Push. By all means, build up your strength at Pushing whichever way suits you. However, before you can Pull people, you will have to learn to Push small objects, at least, the other way. For in order to Pull a conscious being, you must immediately before Push a sleep-gas capsule to put them out. Didn’t Lily tell you that yesterday?”

“Yes, I will have to learn to Push right-to-left too,” I said. “Unless, of course, I stand on my head to do the Pushing.” It seemed to take Gabriel a second or so to work out that I wasn’t serious.

Gabriel left me to practise Pushing on my own. He had to help Cees and Elise learn the next stage, Pulling small animals. And the Tuglay were occupied with Hoong and Galina. By the time he came back, I had managed to Pull and then Push back objects up to the size and weight of a volume of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Sometimes, even, with a wrench from right to left.

“You’ve made a good start,” Gabriel said. “You will need more time to improve your Pushing than you needed with Pulling. But there are two weeks and more even before Bart Vorsprong arrives.”

I noticed then that Gabriel was carrying a battery in one hand, and what looked like a large blue book in the other. I looked at him quizzically. Holding up the battery, he said, “Galina has Pulled her camera-recorder from Earth. This is its battery, and I want to send it to a friend on Seraph-2 to get an adaptor made, so we can charge it here. Of our five machines, only this one has the settings for Seraph. I need to use it for a few minutes, please.”

“No charge,” I said, oblivious of my pun. “But what is that in your other hand? Is it a mescap?”

“Yes,” replied Gabriel. “How did you know?”

“Harv’I told me about mescaps, then I looked them up in the Pedia. Some of the protocols for sending and receiving messages are very complicated.”

“Too true,” said Gabriel. “But in this case I already know the individual concerned and his location. So there is no problem Pushing the mescap to him. The difficulty is in retrieving the reply. Because of the force fields, it is much easier to Pull a mescap to Perinent from Seraph, than to Push it from Seraph. So, I will use the fixed-return protocol. After I Push the mescap to my friend’s incoming queue, I will retrieve it at a stated time, from his outgoing pigeon-holes.”

Gabriel took out of an inner pocket of his robe two sheets of paper and a pen. On one sheet, he took about a minute to write something in a flowing script. “This is my request to have the adaptor designed, and an order for five of them,” he said. “I know that Galina and John want to use some other Earthly equipment as well, beyond the camera. I have also written here the authorization to charge our project for the work.”

Gabriel opened the mescap, which was hollow. He put in the battery and the sheet of paper. He closed the mescap, and turned a catch. Then, on the second sheet, he wrote some things in the same script. “First, I put the address of my friend, in case the mescap goes astray,” he said. “Then, a statement of the protocol we will use. Last, my signature and return address.” He placed it in a transparent sleeve on what would have been the front cover of the mescap, if it had been a book.

He took my seat at the machine. I watched from behind as he used some controls I hadn’t noticed before. “I am switching the focus to our planet,” said Gabriel. Then he placed the mescap near my chalk circle. During which time, I had a clear view of the surface of the planet Seraph. I was the first human ever to see the home planet of a Galactic species. Though, at first sight, the landscape didn’t look much different from Earth or Perinent.

Gabriel came back to the machine, and started to manipulate the rollers. The view changed. I saw a few Seraphim walking by, wearing robes of different colours. Then, I saw what looked like a very boring basement. Gabriel gathered himself, and Pushed. The mescap disappeared with a small pop, and re-appeared in the remote eye.

“My friend’s standard terms for such work are two Seraph days, excluding Sundays,” Gabriel said. “That is almost three Perinent days. Now, it is Wednesday on Seraph, so there is no Sunday in the way. So I will retrieve the mescap three Perinent days from now, at 12 of the 22 on Thursday.”

“That is good,” I said. “I want Galina to have her camera-recorder ready when the Team visit the Cherubim and Harv’I next Sunday. But I must ask you something else. When Bart Vorsprong is here, I would like, if possible, to involve Balzo, our overall project manager, in the discussions. Harv’I suggested we might use mescaps to contact Balzo. What do you think?”

“You ask much,” said Gabriel. “First, Balzo has many claims on his time, beyond this project. He is a busy lizard. Second, I do not know where Balzo will be at the time Bart Vorsprong is here. It may be hard, or even impossible, to contact him.”

“Yet,” I said, warming to my task, “it must be possible to send a mescap to his base office? I think we should inquire whether, if it is convenient to him of course, he can be available to communicate with us at the time of our meeting.”

“OK, I will do it,” said Gabriel. “But it is a big job. I expect it will take me all afternoon.

“First. I will have to configure the machine with the settings for Avoran-2. That will take a couple of hours at least. Then I need to translate the message into a language Balzo can understand. I would like to use the Basic script, which is designed specifically for mescaps. But neither your translators nor ours support it. We had not envisaged needing to send messages to any planet other than Earth and Seraph. Perhaps, though, the Tuglay’s translators can do Basic. If not, I will have to Pull a full-function translator from our home planet.”

“Good,” I said. “Please get that message to Balzo this afternoon. Now, let us break. It is nearly time for lunch.”

We had only just left the room, when an animal, tiny and very much alive, rushed along the floor past us. This was followed shortly by Elise, looking very flustered, and brandishing a dustpan and brush. “My mice! My mice!” she exclaimed. “I Pulled twelve mice, I didn’t give them enough sleep-gas, and now they’ve woken up and escaped!”

Initially, Gabriel and I were very unhelpful. He merely laughed. And I said, “Why don’t you Pull a cat?”

Elise stopped, and looked at us woefully. We all paused. Then, “You have not done anything wrong,” I said. “None of us here have been harmed, or are likely to be harmed.” Then, to Gabriel, “Unless there is a disease dimension I don’t know about?” “No,” he said, “there are enough protections in place that no Earth animal can cause an epidemic on Perinent.”

“But can Earth mice survive here?” I asked Gabriel. “Maybe,” he answered. “There are plenty of plant seeds just below ground for them to eat. The sugars are the right way round. And this place is not nearly as desert as it may look at this time of year. But I worry whether the mice will be able to find water. Most of the water here is well below the surface.”

“Let it go,” I said to Elise. “If these mice die, they die. If they survive, they have established an Earth outpost on another planet. Either way, you can’t do any more.”

She relaxed, and then suddenly laughed at how silly she must look, hunting mice with a dustpan and brush.

“However,” I thought to myself, “maybe Pulling a cat here is not such a bad idea after all.”

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