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.

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