Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Chapter 36. Of the Building of the First Wave

Next day, we could not Pull any more trainees, for Michael had to take the ’mobile again to Camp Four. First, to take Gelmar back there. And second, to see how Gabriel had fared, and if appropriate, to bring him back.

Only three humans went on this trip; myself, Lily and Cristina. I went because Harv’I had asked me to help with plans for Camp Four, so I needed to know as much as possible about what was going on there. Cristina went to comfort Gelmar. Lily went, as usual, for the ride – her offer to co-pilot having been politely turned down by Michael.

This time, Gelmar travelled in more luxury than before. We lowered the backs of a pair of seats, so that they and the ones behind them formed, in effect, a bed. He was held in place by a harness, like the ones the Tuglay used when they rode in the ’mobile. And Cristina sat across the aisle, ready to touch him if he needed it.

We reached Camp Four. Gabriel, Tuglayino and Tuglayono met us. A Cherub was there too. I was surprised.

“Much has happened in two days,” said Gabriel. “Odam of the Toronur, appointed only yesterday in charge of this project, sent a mescap dismissing Edriga and her Ke’lan from the project. They refused to comply of course, so I asked the Cherubim to guard them. The other three are now holding the Ke’lan in the common room.

“I replied to Odam that, by Balzo’s authority, we had already served a Clause 21 on Edriga. That we were looking for Seraphim as replacement Helpers, and planned to ask Harv’I if he was willing to take the local project manager role. And that we would appreciate whatever Odam could do to get the Ke’lan quickly off this planet.

“Odam was very quick, both to reply and to act. The ship to take the Ke’lan away is due about two hours from now. A Toronur ship, too. They are not renowned for comfort.”

We went inside. I said to Gabriel, “I can tell you one thing. Harv’I is willing to take on the new job. But who are the Toronur?”

“They are Galactic all-rounders,” he said. “They are about fifth best in the Galaxy at getting things done, and they are also interstellar pilots. They were originally a vegetable species, but they evolved feet and something like hands. They look a bit like Earthly crop plants, but with bigger, stronger stalks. And they can run fast when they need to.”

“Where are they in the rich-list?” I asked. Gabriel blanched. “No. 15,” he said. “Well above us.”

I ignored the drama around the common room, and went with Gelmar and his Team to an empty room. There, I asked them, “Who is your project consultant? Who in the Galaxy understands you best?”

“We do not have one,” said Gelmar, and his Team agreed. “Until you humans and Seraphim came to us two days ago, we only knew the Ke’lan, Tuglay and Cherubim among Galactic species.”

“Then how did you get here?” I asked. “The Ke’lan Pulled us here in our sleep,” Gelmar replied. “We were offered no option to go back.”

It sounded as though the Camp Four project had been set up cockeyed from the start. I didn’t know who had been in charge at that stage. I made a mental note to investigate the history. Then I switched to future orientation. “What do you Brjemych think needs to happen to make you into a Galactic species?”

There was a silence – a long silence – then eight voices spoke simultaneously. “I can take only one reply at once,” I said. “Gelmar first – he is Team Leader, after all.”

I listened to eight variations on, “I don’t know, I thought at first Edriga knew, but she didn’t. Maybe the Tuglay know?” My cup was filled.

“For the record,” I said, “I’m going to recommend a complete review of your project, ground up. I believe that Gabriel and Odam have the authority to order such a review. I do not think I will have much difficulty persuading them that it is necessary.”

* * *

Less than two hours later, a Toronur ship landed just west of Camp Four. It looked like a squat, ribbed, copper-coloured cylinder, about twenty metres high, with an equally squat ribbed cone on top. It was quieter than the Garut’nim’s cargo pod, but did not compare with the silent Seraphimobile.

A large vegetable-like being – a two metre tall wheatstalk with feet and hands, I thought – came out, and conferred with Gabriel. The conference was not long. Gabriel signalled, and the Ke’lan came out of the building, shepherded by all four Cherubim. Edriga looked drained, and was limping. The Brjemych watched silently as the Ke’lan were loaded in. Then the wheatstalk, apparently from nowhere, produced a clipboard. Gabriel gave his signature. The wheatstalk bowed, and went back into the ship. Five minutes later, it took off.

* * *

Back at Camp Two, with Gabriel restored to our company, we went ahead with the Pulling of our trainees.

It certainly didn’t go as planned, but we always made progress. For Cees and Elise had quite different approaches to the task. Cees was a hunter. If he couldn’t find the individual he planned to Pull, he would go for someone else. And so, at every try he always brought someone to us. One was not even on the list, but what the hell, Cees opined.

Elise, on the other hand, was utterly conscientious. She always got her man – or woman – in the end. It meant that sometimes she came up with no result. But equally, there were times when she was inspired. (There was one morning when she Pulled five trainees inside two hours. It made a lot of work for Dede and the rest of us.)

Our trainees were a mixed bag. Professors, writers, business people – and the occasional politician. Never too close to the corridors of power, though. We did Pull prominent anti-establishment figures from a few countries, some from prison or house arrest. One in particular, from Africa, thanked us effusively for saving his life.

We also – after a lot of thought – Pulled Ray and Jenna’s neighbours, Paul and Melinda. Paul was a doctor, and I had decided I wanted a medic among the first wave. Not so much while on Perinent, but I thought medical skills might be useful when they reached Earth.

As reserve Pullers, Hoong and I were hardly needed. Though I did insist on myself Pulling a relatively sane member of the European parliament. He survived the experience.

As the company swelled, so too did the workload on Ray, Jenna, Marie and the Aga Khan. And on Ben’s barmanship. A tipping point, though, was reached when the common room was no longer big enough to hold everyone after dinner. The company now split into three. The talkers remained in the dining room – and always asked for more wine. The relaxers preferred the plush seats of the common room, and usually asked for more wine. And the earlybeds went out two by two for some hurrah.

Cristina and Helen evolved a protocol to deal with the demands on them. Whenever they went on the daily ride, any man wanting service for the following half hour just had to sit next to one of them. They spent the evenings in the common room, taking their time about deciding who they would invite into their beds for the night. But they gave priority to those who hadn’t been with either of them for a while.

The rest of the induction process – tour of the camp led by Dede, meetings with Harv’I and the Cherubim, evaluation by the Tuglay – went about as smoothly as you might expect; not very. Some complained about toothache, and aches in other joints, when they were outside the hotel and near the Pit. I realized this was probably due to the fields, and made a mental note to see if our trainees could be offered the same Galant’I treatment we the Team had had.

The Sunday trips were also problematic at times, in particular with people jostling for places on the canyon-rides.

But, three weeks from Pulling the first, we had fifty-nine trainees, twelve couples and thirty-five singles, just nine of them female. Perhaps surprisingly, no-one had refused to join us – though one individual had demanded that we Pull his new girlfriend to be with him. We had been most happy to oblige. So, fortunately, had she.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Chapter 35. Of the Landing of the First Wave

Monday was hardly less hectic than Sunday had been.

After breakfast, I said, “I planned that we start Pulling the trainees today, in two groups. But, due to unforeseen circumstances, Gabriel is not with us today. So Michael is now our critical resource. He must do double duty. He must take Gabriel’s place in the other reception committee as well.”

Michael smiled uncertainly. Elise, with a much bigger smile, said, “That’s OK. Remember you said that we wouldn’t be using Monday mornings to Pull trainees? But I’ve done so much work on my first trainee, that I feel ready to Pull him this morning. He’s a Chinese professor of economics, by the way.”

I looked at Cees, expecting him to trump Elise’s attempt to be first. Not so. “I have, in my sights for this afternoon, a Japanese writer and his partner,” he said. “I will wait till the afternoon, when Michael is ready. But I will Pull two, while Elise Pulls only one.”

The beauty of competition, I thought to myself.

* * *

A little after the 9, Elise Pulled the Chinese professor to us. Then I went to write my report to Balzo on Sunday’s events. And to alert Harv’I that I would visit him in the afternoon with Gelmar, and with many questions.

The professor slept till almost the 11 and a half. We gathered to interview him.

He said that he had long waited for a chance to help make genuine change for the better. But those in charge of the political system had conspired against him. So, he was far more than pleased to have this opportunity to join our project.

Being the cynic I am, I would not have believed him, except... that he was on Bart’s list. And I respected Bart.

When they took the professor to the ’mobile to sample Hoong’s piloting, I went to see Gelmar. He was only just awake. He excused himself, saying that human beds were much softer than he was accustomed to.

“Enjoy our beds while you can,” I said. “It is time for you and I to visit Harv’I. It is about forty minutes’ walk each way.”

On the way out, I took one of the laser guns – just in case.

* * *

As we walked to Harv’I’s house, Gelmar told me more about his species, the Brjemych. While built much like Earthly horses, they were omnivores. They ate mainly cultivated fruit and vegetables, sometimes killed small animals for meat, and shunned eating grass unless they had to.

Their most unusual characteristic was that they had an extra pair of jointed legs, just in front of their forelegs. To the casual observer, this was not immediately obvious, because for much of the time the Brjemych held their “arms” doubled up close to their bodies. These “arms” ended in what we might call hands – with four long, flexible fingers each. It was through these that they manipulated their environment – including distilling Hooch Juice.

We reached Harv’I’s pavilion. Rather than try to sit or lie on the swinging sofa, Gelmar elected to stand at one end, but still inside the cool zone. Harv’I gave us courteous greetings.

“I have brought Gelmar here,” I said to Harv’I, “to find out whether you would be willing to take on the project management of Camp Four as well as our own. Gelmar is team leader of his species, as I am of mine.”

“You ask much,” said Harv’I. “I enjoy my leisure and my thinking time here. Yet you want to double my workload, and more!”

“Let Gelmar tell you his story,” I said.

He did. It was long, but Gelmar was a good story-teller, and a truthful one. Then Harv’I asked him many pertinent questions. He answered them well.

Then Harv’I asked Gelmar, “Would you accept me as project manager?” Gelmar said, “Please.”

“There are some practical problems,” said Harv’I. “I can get to your camp – I have my own ship. But if I am to spend time at your camp, I need a house there like this one, to contain my heat and to make it comfortable for you Brjemych to visit me. I think that may be too expensive. Alternatively, we can set up communications between the two camps.”

“I am surprised,” I said, “that there are not already radio communications, at least, between the six camps.”

Harv’I said, “I agree, Neil, it is an oversight. I doubt those who set up the camps here on Perinent thought about the need for two project teams to talk to each other.

“But even with good communications you, Gelmar, will still need to come here regularly to meet with me. That will be possible once we get here a pair of Seraphim to be your Helpers, for they will surely bring with them a ’mobile. We must make sure the ’mobile can transport you Brjemych comfortably between the two camps.

“And if I am to become project manager of Camp Four, I must review your plans. But I myself have no skill in such detail. So, I want Neil to help me examine your plans.”

Gelmar said, “What plans? I know only what Edriga told me – while I still trusted her – of what we are here to do.”

“I suspect,” I said “that for Camp Four, we will need to make a whole new plan.”

Harv’I and Gelmar both agreed with me.

* * *

We had spent four hours and more with Harv’I, and it was around the 17 and a half when Gelmar and I set off back to the hotel. It was almost autumn now. It was still warm at this time of day, but it would go dark all too soon.

Then suddenly I saw what looked like three Alsatian dogs moving stealthily towards us from half left ahead. They were D’Fanjel, I realized. If it hadn’t been for the yellow flowers, it would have been very hard to see them in the gathering dusk.

I raised the laser gun, fired and kept firing while I rotated the gun from right to left. I got beginner’s luck; all three went down. Then I saw Gelmar, beside me on my left, had turned himself round. I turned the other way – not wanting to put Gelmar in the line of fire. And I saw three more D’Fanjel, coming fast from what had been our back side.

I fired at the one nearest the edge of the crater. It was so close to the edge that, tottering for a moment unconscious, it fell down into the Punishment Pit. The remaining two took a quick look at where their comrade had gone, then bolted.

“I have some explaining to do to the Cherubim,” I said.

* * *

We got back to the hotel about three-quarters of an hour before dinner. Lily met us at the door. “It’s been an eventful day,” she said. “Cees Pulled the Japanese writer and his partner this afternoon. They will be asleep till tomorrow. And Helen has taken the Chinese professor to her bed. You missed the ride, so do you want some fun now?”

I had not often refused Lily before, but I was still holding the laser gun, and I said to her, “Look at the charge meter.”

Looking, she said, “It is under 98 per cent. You fired the gun?”

“Yes, Gelmar and I were attacked by six D’Fanjel. I stunned four – one fell in the Pit. The others fled. I am not accustomed to so much adrenalin, and I think that right now I might be a little – hasty. Not at my best.”

“After dinner, then,” said Lily. “After dinner,” I said.