“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.