The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Now it was becoming mentally painful just for Jubal to watch. He had to fight back an impulse to jump up and run away. A background hum of mental noise made it difficult for him to see straight or think straight.

He thought of calling out to Lekren, but what would he say? Jubal put his fingers in his ears, and squinted his eyes shut, but it didn’t help against the torrent of hate and violent images. The main effect the onslaught was having on him was to convince him the Taelon was right in wanting to dispose of the damned creature.

Lekren continued fanatically intent on processing his captive Urod into this system; his attitude seemed to say that he would get this done if it killed him, and his appearance suggested that it might well do so.

At last he summoned Jubal to him with a weary gesture, and put his hand on Jubal’s arm, in what seemed the gesture of one about to plead for his life.

“You must return to the ship.” It seemed both a plea and a command.


“Then you must put Esther on the cart and bring her here. You can do that. Without my help. She is not heavy. Or dangerous.”

Jubal felt a wary impulse to withdraw. “No, she isn’t. But I don’t see how bringing her here is going to help anything.”

As Jubal pulled away, Lekren’s hand fell weakly back to his side. “If you wish her to regain her senses. If you wish her to recover. You must bring her here.”


The Taelon drew a deep breath. He shook his head gently, as if to clear it. “It may be possible. To use the Urod. To help Esther.”

“Oh. I’ll go get her, then.” Jubal’s doubts rose up and his shoulders slumped. But what else could he do? “You’re staying here?”

“I must remain. On guard.” Lekren gestured at the Urod, and Jubal got the impression the Taelon was afraid to let his enemy out of his sight for even a moment. Or possibly the Taelon was simply too weak to move. But just as Jubal was about to leave, Lekren called him back and gave him a special warning. “Esther is wearing a sken. On her arm. You must not try to disconnect it.”

“The thing that looks like a black rubber snake. A sken.”

“That is correct.”

“What does it do?”

“Later. All will be explained.”

Jubal started off with the cart, but as he was about to leave the room whose door was marked with the blue wedge, he paused and looked back, as if he could force the truth out of Lekren just by staring. So for, nothing seemed to be happening to the Urod, while on the other hand both human and Taelon were being treated to another blast of mental interference.

Having made his way back to the ship without incident, he positioned the gurney close to Esther’s bed, just leaving room for himself to stand between. She still slept on—not a thing in the world to worry about. Not even the rubbery snake that clasped and bound her arm. The sken—he thought that was what Lekren had called it.

“All right, girl. Here we go.”

But before he actually tried to move her, Jubal paused, assailed by suddenly growing doubts. What was he doing? Following the orders of some inhuman alien who might, for all Jubal knew, be some kind of maniac… but if he rebelled against Lekren’s orders, what else was he going to do?

Getting Esther out of her bunk and onto the cart was physically a much easier job than moving the massive Urod. But the longer Jubal contemplated the implications of the move, the stronger grew his instinctive reluctance.

He had to fight back an instinctive urge to unwind the Siamese snake from Esther’s arm, throw it on the deck and kick it, as he had the similar device he’d found near his own bunk. But the Taelon had specifically warned him against doing that.

Picking her up was made easier by the fact that the bunk held her body high, almost at the level of his waist. Also she was small and light, and though Jubal was not big he had wiry strength. One arm under her shoulders and one under her knees, and up she came, just as neatly as some movie hero’s girlfriend who fainted when the bad guys were closing in. Maybe Errol Flynn could do it better, but then again maybe not.

Pushing the cart with Esther on it back through the station, Jubal found himself again and again taking a wrong turn. His eyes would close, and he would start to doze off while he was walking. There came a point where he knew he had to lie down to rest, or he was going to fall over in exhaustion. Maybe if he got just a little nap, he would be able to think straight, to decide what to do. Only a few minutes. Even if he only rested his eyes…

Stretched out on the deck beside the wheels of the cart, he dreamed, a comparatively normal dream this time. He was in the museum, but as a specimen and not a spectator. He was on exhibit, sharing a display platform with the naked woman with red hair. When Jubal looked at her closely, the head of a rubber snake came out of her mouth and started for him. Struggling to hold his own jaws shut against the serpent’s penetration…

In a sudden shift he was dreaming that he slept and dreamed, and in this inner dream he woke up to find the damned thing fastened to his right arm, put there by some inanimate machine. Then he realized that no, it was the pilot, Lekren, who had fastened it to Jubal’s body. And how was he ever going to get it off? He straggled with it for a few dream-hours, and then suddenly he was back in the ship and the ship was moving again, and in the next moment the sken had fallen off all by itself.

He was going to take Esther in his. arms and kiss her, and suddenly her sken had bound itself to him as well, tying Esther and Jubal indissolubly together.

… and Jubal woke up gasping, on the verge of screaming his head off.

When he looked at Esther again, her condition was unchanged, except that one of her shoes had fallen off somewhere. He felt irrationally worried about the loss.

A little later, pushing the cart again in the direction of the processing room where Lekren presumably still waited, Jubal realized what it was that had made him keep imagining, for a little while, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, that he was in a hospital. Whatever the true purpose of the station might be, it was, like a hospital, in some sense a people-processing place. They both tended to have some kind of pushcarts on which people could be moved around. The machine that the Urod could not quite be forced to enter might have been a fancy X-ray or fluoroscope.

No, he couldn’t remember the pilot ever telling him in so many words that the station could provide ailing humans with whatever medical treatment they might need. But he had said, over and over, that help would be available here, and Jubal had somehow assumed that medical help was what Esther, not to mention the Taelon himself, seemed to need.

When at last Jubal pushed the cart back into the blue-wedge room, he expected the Companion to bawl him out for being late—how many minutes or hours late, Jubal could not have said. But he had needed sleep so desperately that he was ready to put up an indignant defense.

But the boy need not have worried. When Jubal pushed the cart into the blue-wedge room again, he found Lekren collapsed, right on the deck. Going to him, Jubal saw that he was not dead. But the Taelon was now almost delirious.

The Companion was stretched out almost at the Urod’s feet, so that the antique Egyptian god, sitting there motionless as if on a great throne, looked like the conqueror and the Taelon like his slave. He kept moaning and complaining that he was unable to make proper contact with his Synod.

“Lekren? Lekren!” It took Jubal a while to get him up.

Lekren, his face and body turning colors, dragged himself to his feet and laid hands on the cart, pulling it closer to the central machine and the Urod. Then he tried to lift Esther from the cart, but he was too weak.

“Jubal. Help me.”

“You want me to put her into the same machine with that thing? Why?”

“Jubal. I am too ill. To argue.” Lekren gestured feebly. “Come. Do what I say.”

“Maybe you’re too ill to think straight.” And then he was afraid that he shouldn’t have said that. Talk about thinking straight, he couldn’t do it either, not with the Urod continually hammering at his mind.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred