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.”

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