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.

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