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.

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