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.

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