Saturday, 31 May 2014

Chapter 34. Of a Visit to Camp Four

In my Friday progress report, I had said unusually much to Balzo of what I thought. I had also Pushed the mescap myself from room 13, instead of letting Gabriel do it.

Early on the Saturday morning, Lily went to do some more monitoring of African dictators and their henchmen. She very soon came back, bearing a mescap. “I found this in room 13,” she said. “The message is from Balzo to you. It is long.”

I read it. Balzo had understood my concerns. He took on himself the blame for not impressing on the Tuglay strongly enough how important every detail was in Bart’s report. “But that is one reason it is good to have Tuglay as ur teachers,” he said. “They can change plans quickly – as u asked them.”

He added, “I have also a request from the managers of the Company for Michael, Gabrel and u, Nil, to visit Camp Four. Something is bad there. Will u take a look? U three are the nairest trusted individals – except also Harv’I, but I think it not right to oose him in this sitooashun, as his heat might cause fright. I want u, Nil, to lead this. Please report to me on what u find.”

Wow, I thought. I was being co-opted into the Galactic executive class. When I wasn’t even a member of a Galactic species yet.

* * *

Saturday was cool, a day of persistent drizzle and sometimes heavy rain. Expectations for Sunday locally were little better.

“I think,” said Gabriel after dinner, “that tomorrow is the right day to take you all on a longer trip than before. It’s the only time we can do a really long trip, at least until after P-Day. So, if you wish, we will give you a larger view of Perinent.

“There is also a request, which has come to us via Balzo” – and he looked at me oddly – “that Michael, I and Neil should visit Camp Four. So we will, in your Earthly phrase, kill two birds with one stone. Tomorrow, we will take you for a tour, which will include a trip to Camp Four. You will need to take your translators, in order to talk with the species you will meet there.

“But to get to Camp Four and back, you will have to sit in the ’mobile for several hours. And some parts of the journey will not be very interesting. They will be transport, not a ride, and you won’t be able to see much. For, to make the necessary speeds, we will have to fly very high, almost outside the atmosphere.

“And there will be only one trip. Including Cristina and Helen, there are sixteen of you in the Team, and sixteen passenger seats.”

“Who wants to go?” I asked.

Every hand was raised. Except Ray, who said, “I have work to do tomorrow. Duck, and accompaniments, to cook.”

I asked Gabriel afterwards, “Why did you look at me like that, when you spoke of Balzo’s request?”

“Because Balzo sent his request to you first, and to Michael and myself only later. He went against the normal Galactic protocol, that the senior species is asked first. But when we queried him, he told us that he had consulted Harv’I – who, being formally the local project manager, outranks us – and Harv’I recommended that you be asked to lead.”

“So, what do you know about the situation at Camp Four, which I don’t?”

“Only,” replied Gabriel, “that there is tension between the trainee species – who are called the Brjemych – and their Helpers, the Ke’lan. And that the Brjemych’s Tuglay teachers have taken the side of their students. And there is another problem, regarding the Cherubim at the camp. Balzo has told us nothing more.”

* * *

On the Sunday morning, the ’mobile was full indeed. Only Ray, Kenny, Tuglaydum and Tuglaydee were left in the hotel.

We went, at first, to relatively close places of interest. To the river junction, three hundred kilometres south, where we saw herds of small deer hunted by D’Pluar and D’Xhohil. To the outlier of the ocean, a thousand kilometres beyond that. Turning left, towards the south-east, we flew down the coast. It looked often desolate, but there were occasional bays of plenty, where plant and animal life flourished.

After a couple of hours, Gabriel said, “Now we will make for Camp Four. It is roughly like our own camp, but it is on an island in the ocean. And it is many thousand kilometres from here. We will need to fly high and fast.”

We did just that. The acceleration was smooth, and only about fifty per cent greater than taking off in an Earthly jet plane. But it was unending. We turned round at the midpoint, and started decelerating – backwards. This was, as Gabriel had said, transport, not a ride.

On arrival, we were greeted by an individual looking like a small, dark grey horse, about the size of a New Forest pony and quite heavily built. Gelmar, team leader of the Brjemych, he introduced himself as. (He pronounced the name as “Burr-ye-mitch.”)

“I want to thank you all for coming,” said Gelmar. “I had expected only three of you, but I am most glad to see almost your whole Team, as well as your Helpers.”

Gelmar had two Tuglay with him. They were less alike than Dum and Dee. One, indeed, was clearly larger than the other. John, who knew some Italian, named the bigger Tuglayono and the smaller Tuglayino.

Tuglayino spoke first. “We Tuglay asked the managers of the Company to send you to visit here, because the Brjemych are refusing to attend our classes. Yet it is not us Tuglay they criticize, but the Ke’lan who are their Helpers.

“There is also a dispute between the Ke’lan and the family of Cherubim who are assigned to our Punishment Fort. Edriga, the project manager, told the Cherubim to leave, because she wants to bring in more Ke’lan to run the Fort. The Cherubim refused, saying that their contract with the Company gives them control over the Fort, and Edriga has no right to dismiss them.”

“Very good,” I said. “Michael, Gabriel and I will need to meet with Edriga, to hear her side of the story. You three, Gelmar and both Tuglay, should be there too. Will the Cherubim want to be present also?”

“No,” said Tuglayono, “the Cherubim refuse to speak directly with Edriga. They have asked us Tuglay to act as their go-betweens.”

“In the meantime,” I said to Gelmar, “will you show me and my Team round your camp, and introduce us to your Team and your trainees? And, if you can provide us refreshments compatible with our biology, we would appreciate it.”

Gelmar nodded. “It will be done.” He made a sound, and two of his Team appeared. They were similar in size to Gelmar himself, and more like horses than any other Earthly animals. But they were – different. Certainly, more different than humans of different races.

The three Brjemych guided us round the camp. It was on a smaller scale than our own. But Camp Four had a far more beautiful location than Camp Two. It was on the coast, and had its own beach. The local equivalent of our Punishment Pit – the Fort – was on a small island, connected to the rest of the camp by a causeway. Alcatraz to our Hades, I thought.

After the tour, we went inside the main building. It was very like our own, although the Brjemych didn’t use beds, just mattresses on the floor. They preferred showers to baths, and their sanitary facilities were, for obvious reasons, shaped differently from ours.

There were more Brjemych there. In total there were seventy-two; eight of Gelmar’s Team, and sixty-four trainees, a full complement.

I decided it was time to appoint a deputy, to be the focus of our Team while I was in meetings. I had given thought to who it should be, and in the end realized there was only one candidate. As an ex military instructor, Ben knew how to order people around when necessary. And he not only had a sense of humour, but was an engaging personality too. As long as you didn’t get on the wrong side of him, of course.

“Ben,” I said, “I have some meetings to go to. Please take charge of the Team while I am elsewhere. Make friends, and influence people.” He smiled and nodded.

* * *

“Before we meet Edriga,” I said to Gelmar, “Michael, Gabriel and I need to understand your side of the dispute.”

“Right from the start,” said Gelmar when we and the Tuglay had found an empty room, “the Ke’lan have treated us like inferior beings or children. All the time, they have tried to make us in their image – which we are not.”

“Then, how did you acquire the Ke’lan as Helpers?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Gelmar. “No-one better suited to us came in for us.”

There had been many flashpoints in the relationship between Ke’lan and Brjemych, Gelmar explained, some larger some smaller. But the immediate cause of the current protest was that Edriga had forbidden the Pulling and use of what the Brjemych called Hooch Juice. This was a highly alcoholic potion, used by Brjemych since time immemorial. If you want an Earthly equivalent, think vodka.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because she says it inhibits the learning process,” said Gelmar.

Tuglayono said, “We Tuglay told Edriga the facts. That Hooch Juice, taken before class, can damage learning. But, taken after class and with enough sleep before the next, it is a positive help to learning. For, under its influence, students will unwind and discuss with each other what they have learned – so learning more.”

Gelmar said, “But Edriga does not agree. She does not drink potions, and does not sleep. Therefore, she does not understand.”

* * *

We went to the common room to meet Edriga, leader of the team of four Ke’lan at Camp Four. For those who find lionesses attractive, she was a peach – if somewhat smaller than an Earthly lioness.

But there was a hitch. “A Brjemych should not be allowed in this meeting,” said Edriga.

I took a deep breath. “I am the one appointed to report on this matter,” I said. “I will decide who may attend. I admit Gelmar.”

Edriga started to say, “You can’t be serious,” but Gabriel cut her off. “Edriga,” he said, “Michael, I and Neil need to understand your side of the matter. It is for you to tell us.”

Edriga flounced. “The Brjemych are slow, lazy and ill-disciplined students. They keep their unpleasant habits – like Hooch Juice – instead of doing things the proper Galactic and Ke’lan way. I really don’t know why I am bothering to help them.”

Tuglayino, clearly angry, said, “We Tuglay will be the judges of the quality of the Brjemych as students, Edriga.”

“And what of your dispute with the Cherubim?” I asked.

“The Cherubim too,” said Edriga, “are lazy, inattentive and unprofessional. I ordered them to leave because they would not have done a proper job of punishing the bad Brjemych. We need Ke’lan to punish them harshly as they deserve.”

I saw Michael’s eyebrows rise. Certainly what Edriga had said about Cherubim didn’t tally with my own experience of them, and I suspected Michael was thinking the same. “Is that all you have to say, Edriga?” he asked mildly.

“I really don’t know why I even bothered to speak to you,” Edriga replied. “This meeting is at an end.” She stormed out.

“You have had only a few minutes of Edriga,” said Gelmar to me with a wry smile. “We Brjemych have suffered many weeks of her.”

I smiled back. “Right,” I said, “If they are willing, I want to hear the Cherubim’s side of the matter too. After that, I will meet with just Michael and Gabriel, to decide what we do next.”

On our way out to the Punishment Fort, I caught up with Ben, who had just enjoyed a shot of Hooch Juice and was extolling its virtues. The Brjemych were a friendly bunch, he said also, and the two species were mixing well.

The Cherubim were happy to meet us, and they confirmed what Tuglayino and Tuglayono had told us. In fact, they had made a formal complaint to the Company about Edriga’s attempt to breach their contract, and had requested that the Ke’lan be removed from the camp.

“This is a rum old situation,” I said as Michael, Gabriel and I settled on one of the Brjemych’s mattresses in an otherwise empty room.

“The breakdown of relations between Edriga and the Brjemych is complete,” said Michael. “And I judge that the Cherubim’s complaint is justified. If we recommend that the Ke’lan be removed, I think the Company will act and remove them.”

“I think we should do more than recommend,” said Gabriel. “I think we must act.”

“Clause 21?” said Michael. Gabriel nodded.

“What is Clause 21?” I asked.

“It is a Company rule,” said Michael, “which allows a suitably empowered Company official to remove from post any official who has committed a serious malfeasance or breach of Company rules. Subject to review by senior management, of course. But Clause 21 is an emergency measure. Act first, review later.”

“We three have, by our remit from Balzo, the authority to serve a Clause 21 on Edriga and her Ke’lan,” said Gabriel. “But that has consequences. It would mean that we ourselves must take the responsibility of finding a replacement project manager and Helpers. To allocate a pair of Seraphim and get them here could take several weeks. Particularly since we need one who is qualified as a project manager. In the meantime, one of us would have to remain here, at least until the Ke’lan have gone.”

“Toss you for it,” said Michael to Gabriel. He produced a large coin from an inner pocket of his robe. “Neil will spin. You call.”

“Wait one moment,” I said. “I think I see why it is better for us to take immediate action – Clause 21 – than just to report the problem and let the Company sort it out. But are there no other options?”

“I cannot think of any,” said Gabriel. “Only asking,” I said.

I put out my hand. Michael gave me the coin, and I spun it. Gabriel called heads. It was tails.

“Off topic,” I said, “but is there any way we could involve Harv’I in helping the Brjemych? Balzo mentioned him as a trusted individual, and I feel he is under-utilized working on our project alone.”

“Good point,” said Michael. “But there is a practical problem with asking Harv’I to spend time here, because he needs special accommodation due to his heat. And we don’t know whether he would be willing, or how well he and the Brjemych would get on.”

“There’s one way to find out,” I said. “Take Gelmar back to Camp Two with us for a couple of days.”

* * *

We told Gelmar and the two Tuglay what we planned to do. They looked much relieved. We asked whether the Cherubim wanted to be present when Gabriel served the Clause 21 – their reply was, “We deal not with Ke’lan. Tuglay will represent us.” Michael and I summoned Edriga and the other three Ke’lan to meet with the six of us – I think they knew then what was coming. Then Gabriel did the formal bit.

We left Gabriel behind, promising to return in two days. We took Gelmar with us back to Camp Two. He was nervous about flying – it is not part of Brjemych culture – and it was not easy to fit him into human-style seats. He ended up lying on his side, with his hind quarters on one seat and his head on Cristina’s lap on the next. Michael’s piloting on the way back was as gentle as we had ever experienced.

And so, with duck and orange and a bedtime shot of Hooch Juice for each of us, ended a long and eventful day.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Chapter 33. Of a Change of Course

I soon learned how to handle the laser gun. It had Stun and Kill settings, but Gabriel would not show us how to set it to Kill. “Stun will be enough to deal with any animal you might meet here,” he said. “It will work up to about a hundred metres away.” We had two of these guns, one kept by Michael, the other by Gabriel.

The gun’s beam was wide, meaning I didn’t have to shoot too accurately. Just as well. For, as I had discovered long ago when I tried to shoot a rifle, I was no hotshot. Not only did I not have the necessary steadiness of hand to keep a gun pointed exactly where I wanted to. But also, being right-handed and left-eyed, I found my eyes having difficulty telling my hands where they should point it in the first place.

I was not alone; for Dede suffered similar problems. Despite these, we each managed to stun a deer at eighty metres or so. The animals got up after about a minute, seemingly none the worse physically, but displaying a strong desire to remove themselves from our bailiwick.

Then Gabriel showed us, in the Pedia, the animals we might need to use the gun on. “You already know the D’Fanjel, the wolves of Perinent,” he said. “You might see them here at dawn or dusk, if you happen to be outside at that time. The D’Leinotl you will not meet here; it is a mountain species.

“There are only two other predators you might encounter. The D’Pluar is big, eight-legged and hairy. It is not fast, but it is very strong and quite stealthy. The D’Xhohil, on the other hand” – the “xh” he pronounced as “sh,” and the “h” in the middle was hard, as in Lohman – “is the nearest we have on Perinent to your Earthly cheetah. It can run fast, but it normally kills only small animals. It is all but unheard of for a D’Xhohil to attack anything the size of a human.”

When the lesson was over, I asked Gabriel to give the gun to Dede, saying it was time for him to take Cristina and Helen on their tour of the camp. I would need one of the guns in the afternoon, when I went to visit Harv’I for our regular Friday talk. But the rest of the morning I planned to spend with the Tuglay.

* * *

In the last few days, since the Time of Storms, I had been worrying just how appropriate the training course the Tuglay had planned was going to be to the situation on Earth. I had tried to bring this up with Michael and Gabriel, but they seemed to have difficulty understanding the problem. However helpful they were on day-to-day matters, they appeared to have a bit of a mental block when it came to anything strategic. Thinking back, this had been so from almost the beginning, on the ship, where they had not told me about the library until I asked a question which required a visit to it.

The Tuglay themselves had been asleep, but I thought they would probably resist any attempt to question what they were to teach. I had asked several members of the Team what they thought, and got several different answers, none greatly reassuring. With Bart no longer easily available, and Balzo only as a court of last resort, I could think of only one individual with whom I could discuss the issue in depth; Harv’I.

I had gradually come more and more to appreciate what Harv’I did for our project and for me. At first, I had found it difficult to see how he could contribute, particularly being remote from us. Yet I found him, again and again, quietly adding something no-one else brought. It was Harv’I, for example, who had suggested that we send the first wave of trainees back by ship. And it was Harv’I who had first told me about mescaps.

In the last few days, I had spent hours at a Pedia terminal, discussing my concerns with Harv’I. The problem, as I saw it, was that only a few of our trainees were well known public figures. Even among these, only a small fraction would actually be in a position to take power and explicitly become leaders. Some, perhaps, might be well placed to become advisors to a new generation of leaders. Others might become persuaders and opinion formers, teachers who could lead ordinary people towards the Galactic way of thinking.

If the course the Tuglay taught was too centred on leadership, I thought, we might miss these other skills when we needed them. As well, perhaps, as alienating those trainees who were not natural leaders.

Harv’I was a good listener. He was objective, though he also had a sense of humour. He was not afraid to criticize when I got something wrong, but he was never rude or gloating about it. Over the days, he helped reinforce my conviction that the Tuglay should be ready to be flexible about what they taught to whom.

And so, late that Friday morning, I sat down in a room with Dum and Dee, and began, “I have reviewed our list of trainees. I am not sure how many are naturally fitted to be active leaders when we send them back to Earth. It may be only a few. I have also been considering how many of them are likely to get the opportunity to become leaders. For human societies have a lot of inertia in them. Except in very unusual circumstances, it is hard for anyone to become powerful unless they are already well known.

“I also think the trainees will have among them different abilities. For some humans are, temperamentally, very different from others. Some may be most effective on our project as advisors to leaders. Some may be natural teachers and persuaders. I think we need to make the maximum possible use of each talent.

“What I would like to do, therefore, is to look at what you plan to teach the trainees. I want to make sure that we understand and cover all the different ways in which the individuals you train can contribute to our project. I also want to make sure we try, as far as possible, to guide each individual towards a role that he or she feels happy with, and is likely to be good at.”

In fact, I did not get the resistance I had feared. “Our course is based on a core of Galactic values,” said Tuglaydee. “But there are also modules we can add on for individuals of different skills and temperaments. Active leadership is only one of those. We also do, particularly towards the end of the course, one-to-one sessions directed towards each individual’s needs.”

“Fine,” I said. “I think, then, that I would like you to start, as early as possible, tailoring your course to each individual’s talents. Is it possible for you to assess each trainee as we Pull them over the next three weeks, before the classroom work even starts?”

“That is unusual,” said Tuglaydum, “but not unprecedented. It will take time, an hour or so for each individual. But I think we can do it.”

“Now,” I went on, “what can I authorize Michael and Gabriel to say to interviewees about your course? I would like to stress its flexibility. I want to reassure each trainee that we will help them find a role in our project which is appropriate to them, to their particular skills and temperament. That they will have considerable choice in what they learn. And that we will try to avoid pushing them into doing anything they are uncomfortable with, or not naturally suited for.”

“You ask much,” said Tuglaydum. “Much, indeed,” said Tuglaydee. “But I think I appreciate your concern.

“Before we came here, we had heard that you humans as a whole are more collectivized, less individuated, than most species ready to become Juniors. We planned our course on that assumption. Yet we have found you and the Team to be quite the opposite. You plainly expect that the trainees will be strongly individual – as Team members are. And you want us to teach them accordingly.”

“You have understood me perfectly,” I replied. “For I think your research sources may have misled you a little. If you reread Bart’s report on us, you will find that he gave the collectivized humans the name ‘zombies.’ But by no means all humans are like that. I think I can assure you that very few of the trainees will be zombies!”

“Very good,” said Tuglaydum. “We will do what you ask. It is a significant change to what we had planned, but we see that it is a change for the good. Call Michael and Gabriel here now, and we will agree on a form of words for them to use at the interviews.”

* * *

When I met with Harv’I that afternoon, I reported the success of my talk with the Tuglay. And when I did my progress report for Balzo, I included a detailed account of the agreement we had come to. I asked him for any further thoughts he or Bart might have on the matter. And I queried, why had the Tuglay seemingly done their initial planning of the course without reference to Bart’s report?

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Chapter 32. Of the Planning for the First Wave

The next day, Friday, was also the day the Tuglay rejoined us after their long sleep.

I began the morning meeting by saying, “On Monday, I want to start to Pull the first wave of trainees. You have probably noticed that I haven’t been available to the Team much this week. I have been spending a lot of time with Michael and Gabriel, and with Harv’I. I have been trying to work out in detail how to go about the next phase of the project.

“For the next two to three weeks, our main task is to bring the first wave of trainees here. Our secondary task is to find out enough about them, so that we know their particular potentials, and therefore what the Tuglay should aim to teach each individual.

“I’m going to put forward today a plan for how to do this main task, getting the trainees here. It affects pretty much everyone, except John and Galina who will continue with their news-gathering duties. So I want to run it past you all. If you’re happy, we’ll try it, starting on Monday. We can always change it if some things don’t work.

“But first, I want to bring up an issue with our Pedia database. We will need to give the trainees Pedia access. Now at the moment, everyone has access to everything. However, there are certain things the trainees shouldn’t be allowed to see. In particular, my progress reports to Balzo, the documents Sabrina is working on, and my communications with Harv’I. Only those in this room, and Harv’I, should be allowed access to those documents.

“I understand that the Pedia includes security features to allow different types of users access to different parts of the system?” Michael nodded. “But we haven’t turned them on yet. Do I have a volunteer or volunteers to set these up, so we can stop the trainees getting to our sensitive information? It needs to be done in the next three to four days.”

I got two volunteers – Ben and Hoong. It turned out that Ben, after a long career as an instructor in the military, had become a systems administrator. And Hoong, an electrical engineer by training, was heavily into computers. It was not difficult to appoint the two of them to do this job, under the tutorship of Michael.

“Now, back to our main topic,” I continued. “I want to set up two rooms in this building specifically as reception rooms for Pulling new trainees. I suggest the two rooms either side of the east door, 48 and 49, both of which are currently monitoring rooms. And I want to set up two reception committees, one for each room. One reception committee, if you are all willing, I would like to consist of Cees, Michael and Lily. The other of Elise, Gabriel and Hoong.”

All six were more than willing.

“The trainees we Pull,” I continued, “may be either individuals or couples. We are looking to do up to 52 Pulls in the next three weeks. If there are sufficient couples among them, that may bring us as many as 64 individuals. I think we must aim for each reception committee to do two Pulls and interviews each day. One in the morning, one in the afternoon. Sundays excepted, of course. And we won’t generally use Monday mornings either; I think that time is best reserved for monitoring those we plan to Pull in the days ahead.

“I envisage that Cees and Elise will Pull the great majority of the trainees. Hoong and I will do an occasional one now and then, to keep us in practice.

“I think we should look, if we can, to Pull people from their beds at home, as early as possible in the night. That gives us the chance, if any of them refuse to join our project, to return them before they can be missed. Since the Perinent day is two hours shorter than the Earth day, that means the best time zones to pick them up from will move round the Earth from west to east at two hours a day.

“Our Pullers will need to know each day which of the potential trainees are in time zones where we can pick them up in this way. Sabrina, can you organize a new version of the list of trainees, sorted by time zone of their homes?” “I’ll try,” she said.

“And can you keep us informed each day of how Perinent time relates to Earthly time? One of those ‘world clock’ displays in the dining room would be helpful, updated each evening before dinner.” She nodded.

“Of course,” I went on, “the Pullers will need to check on the individuals they are planning to Pull a day or so ahead. They must first get their dossiers from Sabrina, and talk to whoever has been monitoring them already. They will cross off their list, for now, anyone who seems to be away from home. And, each time they go to Pull, they should have a reserve or two identified, in case the individual or couple they planned to Pull turn out not to be available at the time.

“We also need to make sure the two reception committees don’t both try to Pull the same person. I suggest a simple solution. Let Sabrina put a unique serial number against each trainee individual or couple, extending the numbering system Bart already did. Then Cees can look to Pull only odd-numbered ones, and Elise even-numbered.”

I threw the discussion open at this point. There were many suggestions, but in the end we agreed this was a good a start as any.

“Moving on,” I continued. “We will have to work out the exact timing as we go along, but I think the way we brought Cristina and Helen here is a good model. We will use the blue sleep-gas capsules, which will put them out in five seconds or so, and keep them out about two hours. Knowing when the Pull took place, the reception committee will be ready to interview them when they wake up. We will also need Shami ready to provide robes, and the kitchen team tea or coffee.

“If the trainee was sponsored by a member of the Team, I want that person to be in the interview too. In fact, the sponsor should be the first person trainees see when they wake up.

“The interviews, hopefully, shouldn’t last more than about half an hour. Michael and Gabriel, please take the lead in explaining to the trainees what the project is about, what we are going to ask them to do, and the rewards. In the next few days, we will agree on exactly what you may say to them. That depends on what we are going to do about our secondary task, assessing each trainee’s strengths. And that depends, in its turn, on a meeting I want to have later today with the Tuglay.

“I will sit in on some of the interviews myself, but I cannot be there for anything like all of them. On Fridays in particular, I will be busy elsewhere.

“After the interview, assuming the trainees are interested, we take them for a ride in the ’mobile. That is why I have included a human pilot in each reception committee.” (The previous afternoon, Hoong had at last shown enough mastery to be allowed to pilot the Team. He had, in Lily’s phrase, passed his driving test.)

“I think it is best that we keep the trainees from the two reception rooms apart, until they have made their decisions. That may mean that one has to wait a little while. But I don’t want any possibility of them influencing each other negatively.

“Then we ask for a decision, while they are still in the ’mobile – so Michael or Gabriel can take them up again after they accept, just as we did with Cristina and Helen. If they are undecided, we take them back to the reception room, and give them half an hour or so to decide.

“If they reject us, and we cannot persuade them otherwise, then you, Michael or Gabriel, dose them with the special gas that will give them so much fun that they can’t remember, and Cees or Elise will Push them back.”

“Ah, yes,” said Michael. “The light, bright, white capsules I told you of. I will mix some. Before that, I will ask Gabriel to Pull the necessary ingredients from Seraph.”

I continued, “I want them back where we found them, awake but not remembering the interview, inside six hours from being Pulled. Also, you must tell Sabrina to cross them off the master list, so we won’t try to Pull them again.

“If they accept, we first need to assign them a room. Sabrina will maintain the list of allocated and vacant rooms. She will also note them on the master list as having arrived.” She nodded.

“Then we will take them to Shami to get a full set of clothes and some bed linen. We also give them a brief tour of the building, tell them about the timing of meals, and promise a full tour of the area the next day. Or, for those who arrive on a Saturday, tell them what will happen on Sunday, and promise them a full tour on Monday.

“Then, if they are tired, we can put them to sleep till dinner, or if they are really tired, till the following morning. If the trainee has a sponsor, the sponsor should organize all this. Otherwise, Lily or Hoong will do it.

“I suggest also that I, Sabrina and the members of the two reception committees meet each evening, a quarter of an hour before dinner. We will discuss the day’s progress, and make sure that Sabrina’s master list is absolutely accurate.”

Time for more discussion. Again, there were lots of suggestions. But again, my vision came out on top. That’s one reason I’m the Team Leader, I thought to myself. Lily and Gabriel, simultaneously, found it hard to keep from laughing.

But I had more to say yet. I turned to Dede, who had already volunteered his services as tour guide. “The second day each trainee is here, I would like you please, Dede, to give them their induction. Lead them on a tour of the camp. Take them to meet Harv’I and the Cherubim. Introduce them to the Tuglay. Brief them on who is who on the project, from Balzo down. Show them how to use the Pedia. Tell them about the daily rides, Sundays and whatever else they need to know about life here. Get them to write a message to family or friends on Earth. And organize one of our Pushers to send it where they ask.

“I guess that will take you roughly a morning or an afternoon for each group. As the pavilion for visiting Harv’I cannot hold more than four, your maximum group size is three. That means that, apart from Tuesdays, you will need to do two tours each day.”

Dede was, typically, relaxed and good-natured about what he had taken on.

“One last thing,” I said, turning to Michael and Gabriel. “Till now, it has been quite safe for us to wander around outside the hotel. I haven’t been out of the building since Monday except to the ’mobile, but I have noticed a steady increase in the amount of animal life here. Yesterday afternoon, I saw a herd of what looked like small deer. Which raises the question, where there are herds of animals, are there not also likely to be predators we need to be able to defend ourselves against?”

“It is rare for predators to come into this particular area,” said Gabriel. “These animals are indeed prey, but they are migrating. There are much easier places on their route for predators to catch them than here. At rivers, for example.”

“Nevertheless,” I said, “I think you ought very soon to teach Dede and myself, at least, how to use the laser gun, and what the potentially dangerous animals look like.”

Gabriel agreed to do that right after the meeting.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Chapter 31. Of Ladies from Amsterdam

While I had been relaxing during the Time of Storms, pleasantly drugged, my brain had been thinking, as brains do.

I was concerned about what happened if someone we Pulled took umbrage. Bart’s solution – send them on a paid holiday – seemed too simplistic. We needed, I thought, to give them the opportunity to say No at an early stage, if they preferred to stay on Earth rather than come to Perinent. But in such a way that they couldn’t damage our project.

I ran the idea through Harv’I, the most likely individual I could think of to be objective about this. He agreed that we should give the people we Pulled for training at least as much opportunity to exit the deal as Michael and Gabriel had done when they picked us up.

“But no-one in the Team pulled out,” Michael said to me when I put this to him. He clearly failed to understand my concern.

“True,” I said. “But I, and all the others, met either you or Gabriel before we left Earth. We saw the Seraphimobile, and were offered a ride in it. It was clear to us that we were getting into something special.

“But those we Pull for training will have no idea of this. They will wake in a strange bed, and wonder, where am I? Why am I here? We will need to sell them on joining our project.

“It isn’t about whether they can do the job. We should already know that. Instead, it’s about reassuring them that what we are asking them to do is worth their while.”

“What do you propose?” asked Michael.

“I don’t have it fully clear in my own mind yet,” I replied. “But I want those we Pull to have an interview. I want to tell them enough about the project to whet their appetites. I want them to meet you, or Gabriel, or both. Perhaps even the Tuglay too. I want to give them a ride in the ’mobile. I want to make them aware of the consequences to them if they accept the assignment. And, of course, if they reject it.”

“If they reject it,” said Michael, “what do you propose to do?”

“Push them back where we Pulled them from, of course,” I replied. “Within a few hours. Quick enough so they won’t become missing persons. But I wonder, is it possible to make it so they don’t remember what happened to them?”

“There are amnesia drugs,” said Michael. “But they are Galactically illegal. I think, though” – and here he gave a wink – “there’s another way. Before we Push our friends back, we must put them under sleep-gas. I think we can craft a gas that gives so much pleasure before the out – far more, even, than the one we gave you for the Time of Storms – that they will not want to remember anything else of their experience, except that pleasure.”

* * *

There was another aspect, which I brought up before the whole Team in the common room after dinner that Monday. “None of the people on our list has dependent children. All are either singles or couples. But, among the singles, there is a gender imbalance. About three-quarters are men. Which raises the question, do we need to provide a sexual outlet for those of the trainees who don’t have partners?”

When I feel like spring, I want to ring, Ladies from Amsterdam,” sang Ben, to a well-known tune. Titters.

“I have some friends among those girls,” said Cees, who did indeed know Amsterdam and its inhabitants well. “Times are not so good for them at this moment. I think it would not be hard to persuade one or two of them here.”

“There are,” I said, “two unfilled places in the Team. What do you think of bringing here two ladies of expertise, to service the needs of our male trainees?”

After some to and fro, most agreed. “Cees,” I said, “please select two appropriate girls and Pull them here. But I want to try out on them an interview procedure, which if it works we will then use on the trainees. So let’s wait a couple of days, until we have detailed the procedure.”

Marie got up. “Your bed,” she said pointedly to Cees, “is my bed. I don’t want you to go with ladies from Amsterdam. So come on now, and enjoy.” She swept him off the sofa on to his feet, and danced him out of the room.

* * *

The new procedure worked well enough, when we tried it on the Thursday morning. Cristina and Helen – Pulled by Cees from the bed they shared when they had no customers – were at first confused. They had heard a clinking noise, smelt sweetness, enjoyed a few seconds of pleasure, felt themselves spinning into sleep. Then they had woken up somewhere else.

Cees greeted them. On Earth, he had been single, well paid, and living near Amsterdam. And Helen and Cristina – while too old to be in shop windows – had been two of his favourites. Cees told them why they had been brought to Perinent. “But not for me,” he said, “Marie is my girl now.”

The second Team member they met was Shami, bearing robes for both. After that, they met me and Michael. I explained to them, as best I could, what we were trying to do, and what we wanted to enlist their help in. And that we needed them for several months.

Michael explained the financials. I noted that these posts were on Galactic Scale 9A, substantially below my own reward.

Once they seemed satisfied with the idea in principle at least, Michael said, “Now, we invite you to take a ride in our Seraphimobile. You will find it very enjoyable.”

“Who will pilot?” I asked. Knowing already where the answer would come from.

“I will,” said Lily, coming through the door. “So far, I am the only human pilot to have passed my driving test. Michael, will you co-pilot?”

Pause. “If I spoke French,” said Michael, “I might call this a fait accompli.” I smiled. “Your French is very good, Michael,” I said.

I indulged myself, and went on the ride. It was short, less than five minutes. Lily based her performance around the same elements she used before, but she was learning to add new things. Cristina and Helen at first sat like trussed-up turkeys, then relaxed as the seat-sedative calmed them. Soon, they were enjoying themselves hugely. And by the end, they didn’t want to get up. They wanted more.

“OK,” I said to them. “Are you agreeable to working here with us on Perinent for the months it takes?”

“Yes,” said Cristina. “Yes,” said Helen.

“Welcome to the project,” I said.

“Don’t get up,” said Michael with a grin. “To celebrate you joining us, Cristina and Helen, we will take you up again. It is now my turn to pilot. And Lily’s turn to sit beside Neil.”

In the next few minutes, I was reminded how much gentler and subtler the experience was when given by an expert Seraph pilot rather than a novice like Lily. But no less exciting or enjoyable.

* * *

Since it was now early afternoon, and we had Pulled them from night-time into morning, it made sense for Cristina and Helen to sleep till dinner. Michael mixed for them two shortened standard doses – four and a half hours out, instead of the usual eight – and administered them himself.

Cristina and Helen joined us at dinner. Ben waxed lyrical about them.

One black one, one white one,
But both with a red light on…

We welcomed them with much beer – for Cees had been on another of his procurement raids. We invited them to the meeting the next day, Friday. Then all went to bed.