Day 38. 123 pages, 54,819 words.
The warehouse, Adithol explained to Massington in his formal, archaic and still-largely-unexplained Xidh dialect, was a combination repository, hiding place, and sacred hereditary trust. Most of the stuff on the shelves and in the boxes was exactly what it looked like – junk. The intention was to hide the real treasures in plain sight, as well as enable the larger acts of concealment, like that of Fat Tuesday and Big Thundering Bjørn themselves, to likewise pass undetected. Gundabaal’s surveillance and general alertness was pretty low-key anyway, Vanjing having long since passed the heyday of its theocratic importance – and besides, the main pilgrimage spots were on the other side of town and even they didn’t get more than a few thousand visitors a year.
The warehouse also had Mer, or Osrai, actively running interference on any electronic scrutiny or data analysis that might involve the property. Adithol said a lot of things about bills, and taxes, and censuses, and other currency-based technicalities, that were apparently very important to the Vanjing city council and humans in general, and upon which the warehouse might leave some sort of suspicious fiscal shadow. Osrai prevented this.
It occurred to Massington that an undertaking like the warehouse probably required far more logistical effort and dedication from the humans than it would under Molran control. Humans, after all, had shockingly short life-spans. They’d barely have time to get settled in as custodians, he thought, before having to find – or breed – a trustworthy successor to carry on the good work for the next ludicrously-fleeting eighty or ninety years.
Massington realised with a chill that he would probably still be going through his First Prime when the humans following the current crop of warehouse-keepers all died of old age.
The warehouse had stood here, apparently, since the ‘Pinians’ had left. Whatever the ‘Pinians’ had been. As Mer had explained, the Pinian Disciples were some sort of sainted or otherwise holy figures in human folklore, and Vanjing had been their sacred city. There had been three of the mythical beings, or possibly four, and they were considered deities. Or one deity and three henchmen. Or something. Anyway, they were the focal point of the desultory pilgrimages that still came to Vanjing.
“And so we remain,” Adithol concluded grandly, although the very language itself made just about everything he said sound grand, “as caretakers and […]. Holding this place and its secrets in trust, yea, e’en unto death. […], and […] the foul gaze of years uncounted, to remember. Remember, aye, and to […] if necessary.”
“And also the roofing,” Katter Boylson – Massington had hesitantly identified the larger human as the one responsible for all the actual maintenance and cleanup work around the place, possibly because he was a junior acolyte – added, and then said something in Gund. “Tell it about the roofing fornication,” he thought Katter might have said. Or something like that. It sounded intriguing, although Massington suspected it was profanity and didn’t actually refer to the humans mating on the roof. He couldn’t rule it out, however – human entertainment was predominantly about mating, and the new generation of warehouse-keepers had to come from somewhere.
“Have you told them about the Five Species?” he asked Mer, speaking as quickly and as colloquially as he could and giving the humans an apologetic but toothless-as-possible smile. The humans, already turning to one another and starting a discussion or argument in rapid Gund about what Katter had just said, didn’t seem to mind his distraction. “The aki’Drednanth?”
“Not yet,” Mer replied. “I think they suspect, though. You didn’t exactly react to Tuesday and Bjørn as though you were seeing their kind for the first time.”
“I didn’t realise they were Metak masters.”
“The humans might have missed your reaction, since they’re a bit unobservant,” Mer said, “but the Ogres, even though they’re not telepathic and not particularly sharp, are good judges of animal responses.”
“Should we tell them about the aki’Drednanth?”
“I think it might be a good idea for you to volunteer the information, yes,” Mer said. “A bit of share-and-share-alike.”
Massington glanced uneasily at Bjørn and Tuesday. The Ogres still hadn’t put their helmets back on, and the mist had stopped rolling from their collars by this stage. He became acutely aware that they were both watching him with great interest.
“What do they want?” he murmured, feeling his smile become a little strained.
“Oh, they probably just want to sniff you,” Mer replied.
“Mass, I’m not about to sully an alien contact situation with dumb jokes.”
Massington sidled past the intently-bickering humans and approached the Ogres. Big Thundering Bjørn stumped a couple of paces forward on boots and fists, and made an unchallenging grrrrmph sound in his chest. This close to the massive creatures, the faint but distinctive smell of defrosting aki’Drednanth was quite apparent. You never really forgot that smell.
He held out his upper right hand, palm-up, feeling distinctly foolish. Bjørn leaned in, buried the hand in the freezing, slightly-slick hair around his snout, and snuffled loudly. To do so he had to angle his huge head down and tilt his jaw so Massington could reach over – or actually through – his row of great tusks. This left the enormous spines pointing almost directly at Massington’s face and throat, which was a decidedly ear-curling experience.
After Bjørn, Tuesday had a sniff. The humans, meanwhile, had stopped discussing rooftop fornication, and were watching with what Massington assumed to be pleased expressions. Then, when Tuesday stepped back, Adithol hurried forward and took Massington’s thawing-Ogre-slimy hand, and snuffled his pointy little nose and small, round mouth into the Molran’s skin. Boriel Belal and Katter Boylson then followed suit, and then Massington was obligated to do a bit of sniffing of his own, to all five of the aliens. He was left with deep regrets and a strong taste of raw skartegaal in his sinuses.
“Are you sure you’re not going to make a joke?” he muttered.
“I would never,” Mer protested.
 Massington had become fairly certain that Adithol and Katter at least were male. Boriel was a slightly more difficult case. They all looked much the same as each other and they all wore the same baggy garments, so it was hard to tell despite the study he had made of human entertainment broadcasts. These humans looked very little like the ones from the transmissions.
 Skartegaal: A form of high-yield protein-rich livestock/crop produced on Worldships in the final years before Earth contact, not technically an animal so much as a nodular semi-autonomous yeast-based biomass. When processed and prepared, it was quite tasty and rich in a lot of vital nutrients and was an energy- and environment-friendly alternative to printed foods; when taken in its natural growing environment, apparently by pure cosmic coincidence, it smelled strongly of sweaty human crotch with undertones of unwashed human armpit.