Bart also had with him several chests of food. For his biochemistry was, unfortunately, not compatible with the food that was available on Perinent. He had a large climbing-frame on castors, the Tefla equivalent of a comfortable and easily moveable armchair. And he had a translator, with spools of paper which moved from one side to the other in front of his eyes, and on which the dots of the Tefla language could be displayed.
The translator had also a clasp, to attach it securely to what I can best describe as Bart’s neck. And, between and below the reels, a bottle of dark red liquid, darker than any wine. The Ink Drink, which Tefla use to write – or, perhaps, I should say speak – with.
“How long will Bart be here?” I asked Gabriel. “The plan is seven to nine days,” he replied. “But he has supplies for fourteen.”
Next morning, purple-robed and heading from the Pedia room towards breakfast after my daily chat with Harv’I, I met Bart Vorsprong in the passageway.
“Greetings,” he wrote/said to me. “I am Professor Bart Vorsprong of the Tefla of Tefla-4, and I am your project consultant.”
“I greet you, Bart,” I replied. “I am Neil, Team Leader of the Humans, and I hope you had a good journey.”
It was a little while before he replied. I realized I had to get used to this, because, although Bart wrote quickly, the reels of paper moved quite slowly.
“I had to sleep long and deep,” said Bart. “Travel is not kind to us Tefla. But my coils are now unwound, thank you.”
“Good,” I said. “I understand you have your own food, but will you meet with us at our breakfast?”
“I have already breakfasted,” he replied. “I am happy to meet your Team now.”
I had a sudden thought. Bart Vorsprong was the acknowledged Galactic expert on humans. Yet I was the first human he had ever met face to face.
At breakfast, I introduced Bart to the Team. He was well received by all its human members. Kenny, however, obviously decided that having a six metre long snake in his patch was bad news. He retired, with some speed, to the kitchen, where Jenna tried to console him with extra rations of food and milk.
When Gabriel arrived, he was carrying another mescap. “From Balzo,” he said. “All is well. Balzo will be ready to begin the meeting at 9 of the 22, Perinent time, tomorrow. And we don’t need to use Basic; we can send and receive everything in English.”
The Team had decided that today we would repeat the trip of the first Sunday, the walk in the mountains to the south-west. I was surprised when Bart said, “Yes, I will come. I love beautiful places, and I am told these mountains are beautiful. My normal pace is a little quicker than your human walk, but I am happy to go round about.”
“There is another advantage of having Bart with us,” said Gabriel. “We shall not need a laser gun. If a D’Leinotl tried to attack us, Bart would simply give it a hug.”
“Yes,” said Bart. “We Tefla have a way to deal with predators. We call it Hug the Thug.”
Laughter from the Team. “I suppose,” I said, hoping that the stories about the Tefla sense of humour were true, “that you could also call it Spoils in your Coils.”
“Quite so,” said Bart, with a shaking motion of his foremost metre or so, which I interpreted as laughter.
As before, Lily and I went in the morning group. This time, Gabriel piloted, and Michael led the walk. Otherwise, strangely, it was exactly the same group as three weeks before. Except that we also had Bart Vorsprong with us, cramming his ample length into the back seats as best he could.
The weather was, if possible, even better than at our last visit. Certainly, warmer; 30 degrees or so at our starting altitude.
This time, Shami elected to stay in the ’mobile. To begin with, Gabriel kept it close to us, flying in lazy curves, occasionally adding a sudden burst of speed or a sharp turn. But after twenty minutes or so, he obviously decided we didn’t need any help for a while, so he was going to give Shami an experience.
He set the ’mobile down a little way in front and to the right of us, pointing it towards the high mountain slopes to our left. Shami waved to us as we came up towards her. Then suddenly the ’mobile started moving, her head went back, and we saw her smile as the ride took her.
Less than ten seconds bumping over the meadow, then the ’mobile climbed at an ever steepening angle towards the peaks. Less than thirty seconds after that, we saw it pass the highest peak. It was fifteen minutes before we saw it again.
I spent most of the walk with Lily and Bart. It was a bit disconcerting to have a six-metre snake going round and round you. Even if he hardly ever came within a metre of us. But, when he was not talking to us, he forged ahead, and would often come back with some illuminating comment about the flora or fauna of Perinent.
Bart also let off a few puns, and I realized I was in the presence of a master. I replied as best I could, but I soon knew I was a second-rate pun gent. Still, a bond formed between us. Lily was unfazed; puns were not really her style, but she knew how important it was that Bart and I got on well together.
When we came to the higher meadows, they were full of insects, as Gabriel had predicted three weeks before. But Bart was not happy; he found Perinent insects annoying. And his biochemistry wouldn’t let him eat them.
We came to the green mound. Gabriel brought the ’mobile down, and offered to take to the top those who didn’t want to walk. Only Dede insisted on walking up with Michael, and then only because he hadn’t done it the previous time.
The rest of us enjoyed a brief, exhilarating journey up the mound, which, getting ever steeper, provided a perfect springboard for the high-speed loop which followed.
On the way back to the camp, Lily said to me, “Would you like to go again with the afternoon group? Let’s stay in the ’mobile. I will check with Michael that it is OK for us to go twice.”
“Yes, please,” I said. “As long as he promises to give us that same ride Shami had this morning, up to the peaks. Preferably more than once.”