Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Chapter 30. Of the Time of Storms

On the Saturday morning, after breakfast, Michael said to us, “We think that the Time of Storms will probably begin this afternoon. It may last a week, or two. We will not be able to do much, if any, work in that time. So, we need to decide what to do.

“Each of us has three options. To try to live normally, Option One. To take a big sleep-gas dose, enough to keep you out until the storms are over. Option Two, the luxury option – although you might wake up several days after the storms are over, and feel a bit left out. Or to be awake for only a small part of each day, Option Three.

“Gabriel and I will take Option One, because we Seraphim do not need sleep, and storms do not faze us. The rest of you should think which is best for you.

“Meanwhile, we have ordered a stockpile of food which does not require preparation. It is now ready on Seraph.”

“Fortnum and Mason?” I asked.

“Indeed,” said Michael. “But, with your permission Neil, I would like to ask Cees to Pull these supplies this morning.” I nodded. “For the moment, though,” he said, “I think we should keep our normal routine. We cannot be sure exactly when the storms will hit.”

* * *

Late that afternoon, huge black clouds approached from the south. And there was lightning, flashing at first far, then near, then nearer, then nearest.

Gabriel said, “There will be no ride this evening. Nor for a week or more. Close and secure the doors.” We did.

We soon discovered how good the hotel’s sound insulation was. Huge storms outside, but all we could hear was a low rumble and the occasional thump. The light was another matter. As we met for dinner, every window showed coruscating lightning. It was fun for a little while, but soon a nuisance. And Kenny was going manic.

Michael showed us the control – a tiny key I hadn’t noticed before – which let us black out the windows in each room. Of course, we then needed lights on all the time – as in the ship.

Ray was, as usual, displeased. “The Aga Khan cut out twice this evening,” he said. “How can you expect me to cook for you if you don’t give me the facilities?”

“That happens in the Time of Storms,” said Michael. “It will not be easy to cook, or to use other electrical equipment, till the Time is over. That includes Pedia access, and so our link with Harv’I. But the lights will stay on. They are on different and more robust circuits to the rest.”

After dinner, in the common room – also blacked out – Michael said, “What decisions have each of you reached?”

“We will take Option Two,” said Tuglaydum. “Storms weary us. And our main work is further in the future than immediately beyond the storms. If we wake late, we apologize.”

I looked questioningly at Lily, thinking “Three.” She smiled. “Lily and I will take Option Three,” I said.

“Hands up,” I said. “Who wants Option One – to try to live normally through the Time of Storms?”

Only Michael, Gabriel and Shami raised hands. She’s an idealist, I thought. But Dede said, “I want Option Three. Will you join me, Shami?” She put her hand down.

“Option Two?” I asked. No takers. “It looks as though none of us will have any duties during the Time of Storms, so any of you can take Option Two if you want.” “No,” said Jenna immediately. “We have Kenny to care for. We’ll need to check on him. So we’ll take Option Three, like the rest of you.”

“Now,” I asked Michael, “what do we who take Option Three need?”

“I have,” said Michael, uncovering a basket like a magician producing a rabbit from a hat, “mixed some sleep-gas capsules to do the job. Be aware, these are very much stronger than our normal sleep-gas. They are stronger even than the gas of the Galant’I.

“For each pair of you, I have a grey capsule to put you to sleep the first time. It will give you many minutes of pleasure before you go out. Then, fifteen violet capsules as repeater doses as you need them. Each will keep you out for about a Perinent day. And an orange capsule to bring you back.

“When you wake after each sleep, you will feel very drowsy. You will be able to do simple things like eating, drinking and washing. But they will be an effort. You should ensure before you start that you have everything you need inside your room. Having done what you need to, if the storms are still going, break a violet capsule. If they are finished, break the orange. That will bring you back to normality in about eight hours of sleep.

“And,” he added, “I have capsules for Kenny.” They were green. “I have tried to sync them to yours, Ray and Jenna, but I’m afraid it isn’t an exact science. Keep him with you, and lock the door.”

I said, “Take what supplies you need, each of you, to your rooms. We will see each other again in quieter times.”

* * *

The storms lasted eight days. Lily and I only experienced the outside world for about half an hour each day. At times, the rumbles and thumps we heard from outside were augmented by a keening noise, as if the wind was trying to lift us off the ground. And occasionally, the building shook.

The grey capsule had been fully as strong – and as pleasant – as Michael had told us. The repeat doses weren’t bad, either. Nor was the slow, dreamy, comfortable sex which preceded them.

* * *

We woke during the night between Sunday and Monday. It was quiet. Lily and I looked at each other. I turned the key which reactivated the window, and it was dark outside. Lily nodded, and took the orange capsule in her hand. One more gentle, luxurious Lily-ride, then she broke the capsule, and soon I was out again.

In the morning, normality was resumed. By midday, I and several of the others were up again, now free from tiredness. The storms had ended. Pale sun appeared. Mist gave strange reflections. The temperature was way down – twenty degrees Celsius at the most. For the moment, we didn’t need air-conditioning, for the first time since we had been on Perinent.

Our Pedia terminals were back working, so I could talk to Harv’I again. Harv’I welcomed me back to consciousness, and said that he had enjoyed the Time of Storms. “Strong electrical activity is pleasant for us Elo’I,” he said.

And the landscape had changed. Where before there had been bare sand, there were now flowers. Reds, yellows, violets, as far as I could see. Even under the Seraphimobile, parked a little way outside the east door, shoots were raising themselves.

It took a while before everyone was fully awake. Till 16 of the 22, or thereabouts. Then all the Team, with Michael and Gabriel – and Kenny – went out into this new landscape.

“Perinent seems to have been renewed,” said Ben. “Perhaps the storms are good for the planet?”

“Yes,” said Michael. “The storms have brought back the flowers. Soon, they in their turn will help bring back the insects and the animals.”

Just then, Jenna, who had Kenny on the long blue dog-lead she used to restrain him when outside the hotel, called out. “Look what Kenny’s found,” she shouted.

We converged. It was a mouse, which looked as if it had been alive until only a few seconds ago.

Everyone, except Elise, smiled.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Chapter 29. Of Apprenticeship

One evening the following week, Michael stood after dinner, and announced, “I have a piece of news for you.

“Soon after we came here to Perinent, Hoong asked me if Gabriel and I would teach him to pilot the ’mobile. I remembered how good a pilot he had been on the ship, and I was happy to teach him. And there is no danger. It is impossible for a novice pilot to crash the ’mobile, for its automatic systems will cut in in emergency.

“But I thought I should ask the advice of other Seraphim. We have in the Galaxy a moderately well-defined scheme, which we call apprenticeship. One species teaches another some of its skills, intending that both species, and the market they serve, will benefit from the increase in capabilities.

“It happens fairly often – about a quarter of the time – that the Helpers of species about to be admitted as Junior Galactics take the species they Help as apprentices.

“In your case, though, I realized that other species might want some of you as apprentices too. The Avor’I, in particular. Even, conceivably, the Tefla. So I sent the matter to Othriel, who is Chief Seraph for the time being.

“Othriel replied today. Apparently, it went all the way to the main Board of the Galactic Association. That is why it took so long. The decision was, that no species may claim to apprentice you humans as a whole. But any Galactic species may take individual human beings as apprentices by mutual consent.

“This is most unusual. It is very close to already admitting you as Juniors, even though you have not yet been formally evaluated. The last species to be apprenticed in this way were the Avor’I.”

“Were they also the last species to undergo an Awakening at around the same time as their admission?” I asked.

“Neil,” said Michael with astonishment, “how did you know about that?”

“Lohman told me,” I replied. “Not that they were the latest, but that there had been only five before us – including themselves.”

There was silence for a while, then Hoong spoke. “So, Michael and Gabriel, will you teach me to fly the ’mobile?”

Michael nodded, and said, “Of course.”

Then Lily said, “I, too, was a decent pilot on the ship. I want to learn to pilot ’mobiles. Will you teach me too?”

Michael nodded again, and said, “Yes.”

* * *

For the next two weeks, Hoong and Lily didn’t spend any time helping us add to Bart’s lists. Instead, they learned to fly the ’mobile. The lessons took place out of our sight – most of them, Lily said, among the mountains to the North.

On a Thursday, at breakfast, Gabriel said, “This afternoon, Hoong and Lily will fly the ’mobile, in your view. They are not yet ready to take you as passengers. Though both have agreed to ride while the other pilots.”

It was a sultry afternoon, promising a thunderstorm. Hoong piloted first. I went outside to wave to Lily as she sat in what was normally my seat. She didn’t wave back, but raised her eyebrows and smiled at me.

Hoong, with Gabriel beside him, had decided to imitate the long take-off run that Gabriel had used that first Friday. For a while, it went well. He negotiated the bumps without leaving the ground for too long. Then, the ’mobile started to twitch sideways, and it was obvious that Hoong was under stress. He lifted it after about forty seconds instead of the planned minute, and took it up into a loop.

At which point, I became a bit worried. For the ’mobile just kept on looping. It came back towards us, looping about every thirty seconds. Shortly after it passed the hotel, after eight loops or so, it levelled out, swung round and came in for landing.

Hoong was shamefaced when I met him at the door of the ’mobile. “I failed. Gabriel had to take over to stabilize it and to land it. Next time, I will do better,” he said as he left.

Meanwhile, Lily – not visibly affected by all those loops – was settling into the pilot’s seat, as Michael replaced Gabriel in the co-pilot’s. “Please come on the ride,” she said to me. “I must have a passenger, and Hoong is indisposed.”

I wondered whether I should invite the rest of the Team as well, but decided that would only heap more censure on Hoong. So I got in. “Sit back,” Lily said.

She didn’t disappoint. She modelled her performance on the ride Gabriel had given Shami in the mountains, and of which she and I had enjoyed a repeat from Michael that afternoon. It was quite a performance, too. But she was a lot less subtle than Michael had been in the way she put her foot down and piled on the acceleration.

Less than five minutes after take-off, Lily set the ’mobile down. She put the nose up, decelerated smoothly, and brought us to a stop outside the hotel. “Have I passed?” she asked Michael. “My goodness,” he said. “You have passed with distinction. If you want, you may repeat this tomorrow for the whole Team. But I will have to forbid the Tuglay from coming – you use too much acceleration for them.”

The next evening, Friday, Lily piloted, and gave us her best. As I observed before, a telepathic receiver learns how to give maximum pleasure. Even Hoong said he enjoyed it.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Chapter 28. Of Pallets and Porters

Tuesday came, and a cargo pod settled itself down into the Punishment Pit. It was a tall, black, noisy ship, on the model of three large rockets tied together like organ pipes, the tallest in the middle.

I was down there with my people. John and Galina were recording. Lily and Sabrina, the two most agile Team members, were ready to supervise the work, climbing up on to the pallets as necessary.

Michael came too. “Someone must sign for the delivery,” he said to me. “You have the authority, but your signature was not recorded early enough. My fault, I’m afraid.”

From the vehicle, there came several beings. At first sight, they were like the Cherubim. Blue, with many legs, and rotating. But they had eight limbs, not four. They were a lighter blue than the Cherubim, and far bigger. Their limbs were much wider than thick, more like wings than legs, and they had no feet. They rotated much more slowly than the Cherubim, and both ways.

“These are Garut’nim,” said Michael. “They are Galactic porters. They have suckers on both upper and lower sides of their limbs, which enable them to grip easily. They lift what they are to carry with one or two arms, then whirl it to where it is to go. At the ends of their limbs they have fronds, which are marvellously dexterous. So they don’t just carry furniture, but they can assemble it too.”

One of these land-octopuses came over to me and Michael. He was telepathic, but his signal was much weaker than the Cherubim’s. “Well met,” he sent. “Are you the authorizing parties?”

Michael nodded to me, and “We are,” I said and sent.

The octopus produced a clipboard from one of his arms. Exactly like an Earthly clipboard, but with a ceramic clip instead of metal. “First signature,” he sent. “Authority to deliver. Three hundred and eighty-four pallets. A strange number, if I may say. And eight sanitary facilities.”

I nodded. Michael signed. “There is not space for five hundred and twelve, as you can see,” he said. I relayed this in thought.

The octopus saluted. I won’t try to describe it, except to say that if you have seen in your mind Bart Vorsprong laughing, you should have no difficulty seeing this.

Frenzied activity ensued. A team of eight Garut’nim unloaded, carried and installed the pallets. With each pallet, there was a gym-mat. I thought, this is going to be about as comfortable for the inmates as a prison camp, or even an English boys’ boarding school. There were also eight human-style toilets. Whoever had planned this particular delivery – Balzo, I presumed – obviously intended the punishment to last a while.

Lily and Sabrina were enjoying themselves. Clambering like children over the rising tiers. And indicating to the Garut’nim where they should next apply their dexterity.

All was done, then the octopus came back to us. “Second signature,” he sent. “Proof of delivery.” Michael signed again, then the octopus sent, “Third signature? Acceptance of delivery?”

“I’ll let Lily and Sabrina decide that,” I said, “when they come down.” I signalled to them. Two grown women, treating prison-camp bunks as if they were trees to be climbed and swung down from.

They came. “Are these pallets properly put together?” I asked. “Yes,” said Lily, “these bunks will support the weight of even the very fattest politicians.”

Satisfied, I said to Michael, “Please sign acceptance.”

He held out the clipboard to me. “You can sign this. Acceptance of delivery is always delayed for four Garut’nim weeks. By which time, your signature will be on the formal records.”

I signed. The octopus sent, “I thank you. When we deal with new species, it is often difficult. I am glad that you Humans appreciate us. The Garut’nim are ever at your service.”

“Wow,” said Michael after the pod had blasted off. “You’ve just made some new friends.”

Monday, 7 April 2014

Chapter 27. Many Follow-ups

The first repercussion of our meeting was immediate and obvious. Michael, whose turn it was to pilot the daily ride, pleaded that he had too much work to do, and turned the duty over to Gabriel.

The second repercussion was almost as obvious. Gabriel, too, was weary after his day’s efforts. It was the gentlest ride yet.

Next morning, six of us met again. Harv’I, having expressed satisfaction with the outcome of Monday’s meeting, elected not to take part. Not needing the communications equipment in room 13, we therefore decided to meet in the common room.

The common room had two- and four-seat sofas for about 30 people. (32, actually – Galactics usually do things in powers of 2.) So far, we had only used it as a last, pleasant resort between dinner and bed, and as somewhere to relax on Sundays. But it would come into its own once the trainees were with us. Being the largest room in the building after the dining room, it would also have to double as a classroom.

Michael, Gabriel and I sat. Bart flowed off his climbing-frame and on to a four-seat sofa. The Tuglay chose to stay on their skateboards.

I began with Michael. “How are your notes of yesterday’s meeting?” I asked. “I have a lot of material,” Michael replied. “I am going to have to cut it all down to a summary.”

“If you need any help,” said Bart, “I have done the task before. Also, I think I know what Balzo will expect.” “Let the three of us meet afterwards to help Michael put his notes in order,” I said.

Then to Michael, “Have you entered Bart’s two lists into the Pedia yet?” “Yes,” he said, “I did that last evening. That was why I let Gabriel pilot.”

“Good. Are you happy to continue as recorder, for this meeting also?” Michael nodded.

Next, “Let us review what resources we will need during the project. First, the Punishment Pit. I understand the human-scale furnishings for the Pit should arrive soon?” “Yes,” said Michael, “a week today a cargo pod is scheduled to arrive with them. There will be Garut’nim to move everything into position and to build the pallets.”

“I would like to ask for volunteers from the Team to supervise this work,” I said. “Let’s discuss that at a meeting of all of us with the full Team. I’d like to be ready for such a meeting by tomorrow morning. We can also discuss then how we review and extend Bart’s lists of those to be Pulled for punishment and for training. And how we set up the monitoring, and who does what.” Everyone seemed happy with this.

“Are there any other resources we will need?” I asked. “For example, on P-Day – as I am calling it – I assume we will Pull those for punishment into this building, then we will need some way of getting them down to the Pit while they are still unconscious.”

“I would not advise you to try to Pull from the Pit,” said Gabriel. “The force fields down there are confused. So yes, we must Pull them into this building. I think we already have some trolleys which could be used to wheel them down to the Pit. Ben is the person to check with.”

“OK,” I said. “Next, the trainees. We have already discussed bedrooms for them. Whether we go for Plan A or B, we expect to have two classes, each of up to 32, here at one time. Tuglaydum, Tuglaydee, do we have enough space and furniture for your classes?”

“The dining-room and this room are both suitable,” said Tuglaydum. “We will need chairs and tables, pencils and paper, and three or four Pedia terminals for each class. We have no other large equipment.”

“We have enough tables and chairs in the store-room underneath for 80 people,” said Michael. “But I think we will have to re-arrange the rooms each morning and evening. This room will be a classroom by day, and a common room in the evening.”

“I don’t think that should be a problem,” I said. “We should have plenty of willing hands.

“Now, to victuals. We need to discuss how things will work when there are 80-odd people here. This will need so many of the Team, that I think we should take it as part of the main Team meeting.” General agreement.

“We will also need to check over the clothing, shoe and linen stock with Shami, and work out how she will manage so many people requiring her services. That probably needs only me, Michael and Gabriel, though Bart, please come if you want. I think we can do that this afternoon.” Again, agreed.

“Now two matters for you, Michael and Gabriel, to ponder. First, the daily ride. So far, most of the Team have been going pretty much every day. Except Lily, who has been going twice!” (Laughter.) “I don’t know whether the take-up rate among the trainees will be that high, but if it is, we are going to have to do one of two things. One, up the number of opportunities, perhaps shortening the rides in the process. Two, institute a roster.”

“I think we can easily expand the supply to meet the demand,” said Gabriel. “We may perhaps need to start a little earlier, but that depends on the Tuglay’s classroom hours.”

“Normally, we will teach in class from the 9 to the 12, and the 13 to the 16,” said Tuglaydee. “Six days a week. We will omit the first hour on Friday, because of the meeting. There will often be individual sessions as well. These are usually half an hour or maximum an hour, and we will do them between the 16 and the 18. So every trainee will have at least an hour free between the 16 and the 18.”

“Then it seems we have no problem there,” I said. “But what about journeys on Sundays? If everyone wants to go – and I expect most will – we need to take five groups, not two. Depending on where we are going, that may mean an earlier start for the first group, a later finish for the last, or a shorter time spent there for all.”

“I think we will have to look at each Sunday individually,” said Michael.

“Last, for this morning,” I said, “we need to get a handle on how long all this is going to take. Let’s just think about Plan A for now. First, we need to flesh out the lists of trainees – particularly of the first wave – and of those to be punished. That’s a couple of weeks at least. Then we need to start monitoring those we want to Pull in the first wave. It’s not clear to me how long that will take. Michael and Gabriel, have you any idea?”

“If you are going to Pull them one by one, and it doesn’t matter exactly when, then one Perinent working day on each individual or couple, spread over some weeks, should be sufficient,” said Gabriel. If you are going to Pull them all at once, though, you need to spend about three times as long. Even then, you won’t get all of them at exactly the moment you want.”

“So that’s 52 man-days for 12 couples and 40 individuals. Now, Galina’s machine will be used mainly for news collection, and there will also be some time needed for Pulling food and drink. So I think we must assume only 4 machines for monitoring. That is 13 days. It sounds like we should allow three to four weeks to monitor and Pull them all?”

“Let’s bear in mind, also,” said Michael, “that the Time of Storms is coming. It is quite a disruptive season. In three or four weeks from now, there will be a week, or perhaps two, in which you cannot do much work, if any. There is little point in Pulling any trainees here until the Time of Storms is over.”

“Right,” I continued. “Then, Tuglaydum, Tuglaydee, your training course I believe takes ten to twelve weeks for these numbers – two groups, each of up to 32?” “Correct,” said Tuglaydum.

“We could start one group perhaps a couple of weeks ahead of the other, if we wanted. Is that a good idea?”

“I think probably not,” said Tuglaydum. “If the two groups start together, we can move individuals so the strongest are all in the same group. Competition between them will then help to drive them forward.”

“In the meanwhile,” I went on, “we will be monitoring the individuals to be Pulled for punishment, and the second wave of trainees. This is a lot of effort – several hundred Perinent man-days, though anyone in the Team can do the work. The critical resource is that we only have five machines.”

“It looks to me,” said Bart, “as though we can do it in the time it takes to train two waves. But not in half that time. That, by the way, is an argument against Plan B. Without more machines, you wouldn’t have enough time to monitor those to be punished closely enough to Pull them all at once.”

I nodded, having reached the same conclusion. “So we are looking, roughly, at six weeks from now to Pulling our first trainees, say three more to assemble the first wave, and twelve weeks to train them. At which point, we send them by Naudar’I ship back to Earth. We Pull the second wave of trainees rather more quickly – say, a week. There’s then another twelve weeks to train them, and only then are we ready to Pull those to be punished, send the second wave back, and have them join the first wave who have arrived by ship.

“That’s 34 weeks, gentlemen. Not far short of a year on Perinent, or a little over seven Earth months. It’s a long time to wait until we can even start the revolution.”

“You need not worry,” said Bart. “Your timescale is short by the standards of other projects. The Skobar project took many weeks longer. And they only had one wave of trainees.”

“And now, the big question,” I said. “What have I forgotten? What have we missed?”

“I am not sure yet,” said Bart, “but Balzo will know. By tomorrow, you and I will have enough to write down a detailed plan. If we get it to Balzo on Thursday, he will review it before our meeting on Friday.

“I know Balzo’s reputation. He is good at these things.”

* * *

The rest of the week passed much as planned. There was enough time on the Tuesday afternoon to allow Bart, guided by Dede, to visit Harv’I. “I have never had the opportunity to meet an Elo’I directly before,” he said.

On the Wednesday, Ray was not pleased at being asked to change from preparing all Earthly food to a diet mainly of Seraphim food, though he did understand the reasons why. Nor was Cees pleased that he wouldn’t be doing as many Earthly procurement Pulls as before. “I really enjoyed Pulling that lamb from that president’s store,” he said. “You can still do that kind of thing,” I replied, “just not as often.”

And Sabrina took charge of Bart’s lists, and realized that the job she had volunteered for was one of the toughest among all the Team.

We talked also about how we could flesh out Bart’s lists. Where Team members suggested individuals to add to the punishment list, they would be investigated by John and Galina, who would report back to the rest of the Team. A show of hands would save or condemn (and, in the event of a tie, we would ask Harv’I to be an impartial judge.)

Trainee candidates suggested by the Team, if they were public figures, would be dealt with the same way. If they were friends, I would appoint a member of the Team as “devil’s advocate” to say why they should not be brought to Perinent for training. And the sponsor and the devil’s advocate would debate before a jury of three – nominated by me in each case, but not including me.

Bart and I had our plan and timescales finished early on the Thursday – though we hadn’t bothered to do much work on Plan B. We circulated the draft to everyone, Harv’I included. We received many helpful comments, but in the end there was little change, except that my desire to Pull the second wave all in one week had been replaced by a more realistic three weeks. There were 36 Perinent weeks from now to P-Day. Gabriel sent the plan by mescap to Balzo about lunchtime.

On the Friday morning, we met as before in Room 13. Again, I controlled the communication with Harv’I, and Gabriel with Balzo.

Balzo did not waste time. His first mescap said a lot. “Ur work, Bart and Nil,” he said, “is excepshunal. I do not fault anything in it. I approve ur Plan A. It is within our budget.

“I have searched for a sootable ship to convey ur first trainee group to Earth. The standard journey from Perinent to Earth is eight to nine Earth weeks. U allow fifteen Perinent weeks, or almost fourteen Earth. Slow ships are uncomfortable, so I propose an indirect route.

“Ur group will change ships at Socotera-5. The wait will be about four Earth weeks. Accommodation will be Seraphim standard throughout. And the Seraphimobile and pilots to take the Hoomans to Earth and to defend them there will meet them at Socotera. Unless, perhaps, I can find a pair of Seraphim who can go first to Perinent.

“Bart, are u happy with this?”

“Socotera-5,” said Bart, “is a planet with similar gravity to Perinent, slightly less than Earth’s. It is quite cold by Galactic standards – even colder than your Earth. But it is a favoured waiting-point for those with ships to catch, because the Socoterans are good at providing environments comfortable for each visiting species.”

With acceptance of this route, I sent more questions to Balzo. “How long will we the Team – and Harv’I – need to remain on Perinent after P-Day? And what will we be doing in that time?”

“U will be interfaring,” replied Balzo. “U will be Pulling more individals for punishment. For this phase, if necessary, I will send either Bart again, or perhaps my assistant Lohman, to guide u.

“As to how long, it is hard to say. From prevous projects, I think perhaps six Earth months, thirty or so Perinent weeks. But it may be longer.

“Once the Board has decided u are fit to be Junors, we will take Michael, Gabrel and u the Team back to Earth in a first class ship – smaller, faster and more comfortable than the one u came to Perinent in. Ur return journey will take about four Earth weeks.

“Meanwhile, Harv’I, if u leave once the Board have made their decizhun, u will have plenty of time to reach Earth before the Team do.” Harv’I concurred.

“Then,” said Balzo, “U will all jon the celebrashuns on Earth. I too hope to be there.”

Bart left us on the Saturday morning, to fond farewells. Kenny could come out of hiding at last.