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.

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