When Jubal tried to look steadily at this phenomenon for more than a few seconds, it hurt him, not in his eyes but somewhere in the space behind his eyes, and not physically so much as mentally. At certain places, that might have been farther away than others, the distortion gave the impression of wrinkling and unwrinkling, very slowly…
Concentrating on objects inside the cabin was a little easier, even though he could hot understand what he was looking at. But here, what bothered him most, even more than the lack of visible controls, was the total absence of any sense of speed, almost of movement of any kind.
So, just to stand in the snug cabin was something of a challenge. But what made Jubal retreat from it at last was not the psychic discomfort that it caused, but the sound of a feeble voice he did not recognize, somewhere behind him, persistently calling him by name.
He had a confused impression that several other voices were also clamoring softly for his attention. But they were not calling him by his name, and he managed to tune them out for the time being.
Turning his back on the chamber he now thought of as the control cabin, he passed through the room in which he had awakened, to find himself in another compartment that was almost identical.
In this chamber also the furniture consisted of a single couch, and it was occupied. Timidly Jubal approached to stand beside it. On closer inspection, this bunk was somewhat different from the one where Jubal had regained his senses, more closely resembling an ordinary hospital bed. This one had a rail on each side, rather like those on a baby’s crib. And at a distance of about three feet from the head of the bed a projection from the curving blue wall held small panels, each displaying an intricate pattern of small, shifting lights, at an angle where they would be readily visible to the occupant of the couch. A number of strange devices, tubes and coils, came curling up out of the lower portion of the bunk to clasp and connect in several places with the body of the single occupant.
This was a bald, long-bodied but fine-boned man (after momentary hesitation Jubal rejected the possibility that it could be a woman) who would be tall when he stood up. Not that he seemed capable of standing at the moment. Most of his body was covered in what appeared to be a single, tight-fitting garment of shaded blue, and his pale and not-quite-human face was turned anxiously in Jubal’s direction.
The eyes in that pale face were blue, and very human-looking, and at the moment they seemed to be struggling to stay open. The man’s gaze was aimed not up at the panels, but directly at Jubal.
Jubal could only hold his breath.
Pale lips opened slowly in the pinched face.
Words came, slow and soft, in a voice that would have been musical had it not been filled with strain. “My name is Lekren, Jubal. Pronounce it if you can.”
Jubal swallowed. His lips moved. “Lekren.”
“That is correct. That is good.” But oh, the words were coming slowly now. “I am a Taelon, not an earthly human like yourself. But I would be your Companion.”
The voice continued to be gentle, totally unfrightening. It spoke quietly and soothingly. At first Jubal had trouble understanding the words, but only because of the persistent shadows of dark dreams in his own mind. Then gradually they began to come clear.
“You know my name,” Jubal got out at last.
“I know. Your name.”
Now the one on the couch appeared to be having some difficulty breathing. He gave the impression that there we’re many things he wanted to say, and with considerable urgency, but it was as if he could get out only a few words at a time.
“I know. Some things. But not enough, it seems.” Breathe in, breathe out.
“How did I get here?” Jubal asked, humbly.
The answer surprised him. “There has been. A terrible fight. And I. Have been hurt. I trust you have not, Jubal.”
Jubal didn’t feel hurt, not really. “I’m all right,” he said. And he waited, hoping it was true.
This time Lekren needed an even longer pause for breath. Then at last he got out, “This ship will. Take us to a place. Where we will find. The necessary help.”
And with that there came a distant roaring in the air, reminding Jubal of certain strange noises in the gardens of San Simeon. Not that, he didn’t want any more of that, whatever it had been. No more of that just now, please God! He swayed on his feet, and to keep his balance had to cling to the rail on the side of the strange bed.
“How did I get here?” he asked again, still humbly.
“I brought you aboard. I was too badly hurt. To do more. All I could do. To get here to my own bunk.” The occupant put out a hand to touch Jubal’s where he held the rail. The contact had a warm and human feel.
“You must not fear me, Jubal. It was not I who hurt you. Nor did I hurt your friend.” The bald head rolled a little, side to side, negating such ideas. The breathing was just a little easier now.
“She is here too. I am doing my best. To save your lives. Along with my own.”
“I’m not hurt,” Jubal said. He moved his limbs gently, and blinked his eyes, testing himself. My friend? What friend? But of course, this strange man had to be talking about Esther. “I don’t think I’m hurt.” The waves of not-quite-dizziness, of numbness in the brain, were gradually receding.
“That is good.”
Lekren talked to him a little longer, doling out words as best he could, a few at a time, all of them meant to be reassuring, none of them very informative. Jubal’s head began to feel a little clearer now. He still had no idea of where he was, but another question seemed even more urgently in need of an answer.
He said to the figure lying before him, “I saw something… when I was still there at San Simeon…”
“Go on. Tell me. Take your time.”
The gentle encouragement of the voice helped him to relax a little more. “Back there I thought I saw… it looked to me like one of the statues had come to life.”
“Sekhmet,” said the being on the bunk, without the least surprise or hesitation.
Jubal closed his eyes; he knew he’d heard that name somewhere, but he had to think for a minute. “Yes,” he said, and opened his eyes again. “They were statues of Sekhmet. Some Egyptian god.”
“What you call Sekhmet. Is really our enemy. Yours and mine. A very powerful enemy.”
The head of the supine figure on the bunk was shaking, ever so slightly, from side to side, signaling no. “Four figures standing. Around a pond. Three of them were really stone. But the one that you saw moving was not really a statue. It was never that.” Pause. Now the breathing began to go considerably easier.
“A long story, Jubal. Of how Sekhmet came to be there, with the statues that resemble him. Great mistakes were made. Not by you. Or me. In a certain—museum. Very far from here.”
“A museum?” Jubal wasn’t sure he’d heard that right.
“The story is so long. I cannot tell it now.”
Jubal murmured something. Briefly he wondered again if he might be going to faint.
“Jubal. You must listen. About Sekhmet. The one you call Sekhmet. Is an Urod. There are certain beings in the universe. Who, though intelligent, have forfeited those innate rights. That intelligence commonly confers.”
“What’s an Urod?”
Around them the strange spaceship, if that was really what it was, was silent. The man on the couch seemed unable to come up with any kind of quick explanation. Maybe that was because he again had to work hard at his breathing. Meanwhile Jubal drifted, gaping. The only being he was now able to talk to had just told him that there had been a terrible fight, of some kind, but everything might still be made to turn out right. Somehow the words Jubal was hearing stayed with him, so he was able to turn them over in his mind and try to extract their sense. So far there didn’t seem to be a lot of sense to be extracted.
The wave of faintness was retreating. Time to go back to basics. “I’m sorry,” he said to the man on the couch. “What did you say your name is?”
“I have said my name is Lekren. I am a Taelon. I would be your Companion, your faithful friend.”
At that point Lekren had to pause again. Now the boy got the impression that the man was in considerable pain. “I’m sorry if you’re hurt,” Jubal said.