The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Nothing had changed in the big room since last he saw it. Once Jubal laid hold of the gurney with intent to use it, he discovered with considerable satisfaction that it needed only a touch from his hand to start moving, turn right or left, or stop again. It propelled itself, as surely and tirelessly as if it had a motor aboard, though there was nothing of the kind that Jubal could see, only a platform and frame and wheels. And the cart displayed another eerie capability: whenever it came to one of the many holes in the deck, it automatically detoured around the gap. Jubal found it heartening to discover that something aboard the station still worked.

And the gurney indeed proved easily narrow enough to fit in through the hatch, and after that slid through the ship’s doorways, one after another, with about an inch to spare on either side. Jubal moved quickly, almost triumphantly through the rooms, guiding the empty cart ahead of him. He found the Taelon pilot still lying on his bunk, awake now and apparently expecting him.

The Taelon’s eyes lit up faintly when he saw that Jubal had brought the cart, and he did not appear to be discouraged by his helper’s brief, pessimistic report.

When Jubal had concluded his recital, Lekren’s lips parted, looking very thin and dry. The Taelon said, “You have done well.”

“Thank you.”

“Now.” A pause, as if to gather strength. The inflexible purpose was still there. “The Urod… we must…”

“You want him brought into the station. To that room where the processing or whatever is done.”


Jubal fidgeted a little, then came out with what was bothering him. “Is that really the most important thing we have to do?”

“It is.” The answer was immediate and emphatic; Lekren had no doubt at all of the overriding importance of the Urod, whatever the fate of anyone or anything else might be.

“What about the woman I saw in the glass case?”

“An image, Jubal. Like the other specimens you saw. One type of intelligent life. A picture, only.”

The boy hesitated, finally disagreed. “I don’t think so, she looked real solid.”

“We can make. Solid pictures.”

Jubal might have automatically rejected such a claim as unimaginable, except that Jubal had already seen an example. The image of the solid-looking little cube on the instrument panel was still sharp in his memory.

But other points still bothered him. He demanded: “You’re hurt, what about getting you some medical care? What about getting Esther care, if she needs it?”

Lekren was shaking his head gently, side to side. “My condition will improve. When the Urod is finally subdued. And then I can give Esther. Truly effective help.”

Jubal shrugged mentally, deciding that for the moment he would continue to go along—mainly because he couldn’t see that he had any real choice. “All right. But I don’t see how I can move the Urod by myself. He looks like stone, is he as heavy as stone? Not even counting that stuff he’s sealed up in. Besides, I’m tired out, I have to get some rest.”

“Yes. Indeed. Very heavy.”

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, I’m going to need a lot of help.”

Lekren fell silent, nodding to himself. Then, making what appeared to be a superhuman effort, he lowered the bar on the side of his couch nearest to Jubal. Then he got to his feet.

For a moment Jubal could only stare in amazement at the Taelon pilot, who was now supporting himself by leaning on the bed with one hand and on the cart with the other, with changes in coloring shimmering across his face. The Companion’s limbs were willowy without appearing weak, and when he managed to hold himself upright he carried himself in a way that suggested some beautiful actor or fashion model, and at the same time great authority.

Standing straight, Lekren towered over Jubal, but the Taelon could not hold that pose for long, and was still too weak to walk normally. He could make progress only by leaning on the cart, or on the walls, furniture, or on Jubal.

“Want to ride on the gurney?” Jubal suggested.

“No.” With the effort of standing and moving, the melodious voice had dwindled to a tormented whisper. “I must not. Lie down again. I might be unable. To get up.”

They pushed on aft, into the Urod’s room.

Moving steadily, the Taelon approached the bed on which his enemy lay physically confined. Lekren passed his hands rapidly over the wall beside the bunk, and then over the bed itself. His hand movements were smooth, and precisely directed. Jubal, though watching closely, knew he could not have duplicated them accurately, even supposing that the machinery would respond to him at all. Then he thought that probably it would; he had been able to make the red-haired woman dance inside her glassy tomb. Now he shuddered at the memory; it had been like watching a corpse perform on puppet strings.

In response to Lekren’s latest commands, the same apparatus that been keeping the Urod bound and sealed now delivered him onto the cart, which received the massive weight without collapsing.

“And now—?” the human apprentice asked.

“Now we must. Convey this creature immediately. Aboard the station.” The normal colors of Lekren’s face had gone flat with fatigue and injury, and he did not appear to relish the job before him. Jubal, watching warily, wondered if he could catch the pilot when he started to fall.

But the Companion seemed driven by a steely will, and presently the two of them, Taelon and human, had left the ship, and were moving through the scarred corridors that Jubal, despite their strangeness, was beginning to find familiar.

Lekren went first, moving only at a snail’s pace, undoubtedly the best that he could manage.

Jubal had charge of the gurney, and kept guiding it with the whole weight of the encapsulated Urod balanced on it, rather insecurely as it seemed to him. He could not remember ever feeling this tired before. Fortunately almost no energy was required to direct the self-powered cart and its strange, shimmering, almost crystalline burden.

Jubal thought he could have found his way back to the place alone, relying on his learned landmarks.

But Lekren was obviously determined to come along. When his energy flagged, he enlisted Jubal’s help in climbing onto the gurney, where he rode first sitting, then lying sprawled atop the body of his almost helpless enemy.

Exactly how long the journey was Jubal could not have said. On his first trip he had thought of counting steps, but then had given up the idea, having too many other things to think about.

This time neither Jubal nor the Companion had much to say during the long walk When Lekren did talk, he seemed to be speaking mostly to himself, in the fluting birdsong language. Though sometimes he uttered words in English, bemoaning the fact that there ought to have been a much better way to accomplish this task. And so there must have been, Jubal thought, under ordinary circumstances. But the station had been so badly shot up that the only really puzzling thing to Jubal was how anything at all could be expected to work.

On they moved, hauling the encapsulated Urod through the strange hallways and indescribable rooms.

Despite the fact that Jubal had warned him what to expect, Lekren seemed shocked and saddened by the destruction through which they passed.

When at last, after many necessary detours, they had passed through the door marked by a blue wedge, Lekren slid down from his resting place atop the Urod and spent a minute or two gathering his strength.

Then he directed Jubal to position the cart directly in front of the machine which resembled a giant experimental television. When that was done, Lekren tugged Jubal back, away from the equipment, while the machine itself unloaded the Urod from the cart, using a mechanism much like that which had transferred the burden to the gurney in the first place.

Then, for a time, nothing happened.

“What do we do now?” Jubal had to ask the question twice, for it appeared that the Companion was closer than ever to complete collapse.

The stiff, stonelike body of the Urod, still fixed with seeming permanence in a sitting position, was resting on a kind of worktable. Something happened that caused the glassy packaging to start to glow.

Then smoothly working mechanical arms emerged from somewhere to gently peel that crystal encasement loose. It had felt as hard as rock, but the machine had whatever key was needed to make it soften and disappear, leaving not a trace behind. In only a few moments the black statue stood totally exposed.

But, having proceeded smoothly to that point, the process seemed to stall.

Twice Lekren approached the great machine, and tried with futile gestures to activate some machinery. But the only result of this latest effort seemed to be another wave of mental fog unleashed by the Urod. Jubal felt the effects, but he knew the assault was not directed at him. Several times the Taelon stumbled as he moved about the central platform that held his nemesis.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred