The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

A silence fell.

“So what happened to the Taelon ship?” Jonathan asked his father, after a lengthy pause.

“What ship?” The old man could indeed be irritating sometimes.

“The one that must have brought you back to earth. And was the return made on autopilot, or what? How?”

The old man sighed. “You’re not listening, son. I didn’t say the ship brought us back, or that it even came with us. Either the ship was destroyed along with the station, or its autopilot fired it away in some other direction entirely. It might be goin’ yet. Esther and I were translated back to earth by some other means.”

Jonathan stared at his father. “Such as what?”

“A re-adaptation of reality.”

“You mean the Urod brought you back.” Jonathan was beginning to feel something of a severe letdown. Until they had come to this business of the impossible return, he had been almost convinced. Now, if he hadn’t known his father as well as he did, he’d be ready to suggest that the old man had dreamed it all. “Somehow it survived that big blast you described, and it brought you back.”

Jubal nodded. “I don’t see any other way. Probably we two humans were transported just by accident, not out of the goodness of the heart a Urod doesn’t have. I been thinking about it for damn near two-thirds of a century, and that’s the best I can come up with. The Urod won its wrestling match with Lekren, in the end, and Esther and I were dragged along by accident, just because we were physically so close to it.” The old man slowly shook his head. “But I’m not sure. Maybe, having come so near to devouring Esther, it didn’t want to let her go. Maybe…”

“And you’re saying Urods can do things like that. Space travel without a ship.”

“How do you figure it got here in the first place?”

Jonathan’s head was whirling, and he needed a distraction. Getting up from his chair, he wandered out into the hallway, and then into another room. His father followed, floor-tapping with his cane. This chamber, like most of the rest of the house, was obviously long vacant, such furniture as remained in it covered with sheetlike white cloth. Doors could faintly smell the mothballs and other preservatives that had been applied at some time in the fairly distant past.

Jonathan could hear his global ticking at his belt, and restlessly he tore off the latest geemail print-out and looked at it. The narrow strip urged him to do something quickly about his electronic stocks, and it bore the return address of Thomas Tonga, one of his chief investment consultants. No doubt about it, he had been letting his business slide for a couple of days; but he wasn’t going to concern himself with numbers just now. It was just going to have to keep on sliding a little longer.

His father was too restless to sit down in the new room. Jubal said, “Don’t know when I’ve done this much talking. I could use a glass of whisky, son.”

“I think I know where we could find a bottle of beer at least.” And Jonathan once more pulled his global from his belt, made contact with a face from the kitchen and asked whoever had a free moment down there to please bring a couple of beers upstairs. Judging from the reaction of the face, the only person in the kitchen at the moment happened to be very busy.

“That’s all right. Never mind, we’ll come down.” The Doors men descended into the huge kitchen of Casa Grande to look for their own beer. On the way they passed a couple of painters touching up the interior trim, who had been chatting idly, but instantly began to look very busy, only a beat too late, when the boss hove into sight. Jonathan observed that the new owner’s reputation was already well established among the help.

Beer bottles in hand, father and son wandered out into the plaza and sat on a handy bench. Jonathan noted that his father had chosen a place from which the statues of Sekhmet were not quite visible.

Jonathan Doors had arrived at San Simeon with Va’lon early in the morning of Day One, as the news media all around the earth had begun to call the first day of Taelon presence on the planet; and it was now late morning, Pacific time, of Day Two. Both men had had a chance to grab a few hours’ sleep, between story-telling sessions. Va’lon too had evidently enjoyed a period of rest, for the Taelon had remained in his assigned cottage for some hours.

When Va’lon had emerged, he told Jonathan that three more Taelons would soon be arriving at the castle. One of them would be Da’an, Companion liaison to North America, and Va’lon somehow conveyed that this would be an important visit.

Doors hadn’t been aware that the Companion had any communications equipment with him, but he didn’t question the announcement.

“They’ll be welcome,” Jonathan had replied. And they would be, too, if only for the reason that he hoped to learn from them something about themselves, about the Taelon race in general. If they were really big shots of some kind in the Taelon organization, so much the better. What they said and did might help Jonathan Doors decide, one way or the other, what attitude he, and the rest of humanity, really ought to take regarding their alien presence on the earth.

Until the near-miraculous explanation of Jubal’s and Esther’s return home, Jonathan had been on the point of accepting his father’s story unconditionally, but his mind boggled at the idea of human bodies being safely transported across some interstellar distance without benefit of spaceship. The point was still on his mind when he replied to Va’lon.

“How will they be traveling?” Jonathan asked. “In one of your shuttles? Or on the ground?”

Uncharacteristically, Va’lon hesitated and seemed uncertain. “We will see. Is their mode of transportation a matter of importance to you?”

“No. No, I suppose not.” Except it has some unexpected importance to you.

Around the middle of Day Two the sky had started to cloud over, a heavy grayness rolling in slowly, almost majestically, from over the sea. Now whatever power controlled such mings was trying to make up its mind whether or not today would see serious rainfall on this section of the California coast. Watching the continual pelting of large, fat drops that kept threatening to turn into a downpour but never did, Jonathan could not help wondering whether North America was still getting any measurable fallout from the recent nuclear exchanges in the Middle East. Most of the regular forecasts had stopped giving routine hourly and daily readings. Complicating their predictions was the fact that experts were divided as to whether the world’s long-range weather patterns were in a transitional stage, and, if so, why.

Father and son had each finished their beer, and the bottles were resting at the foot of their bench.

Jubal roused himself from a brief reverie. “Just thinking about your mother,” he announced, in response to a silent question from his son.

“She was quite a lady. Not that I can remember her very well.”

“That she was, son. That she was. But in all our years together, this was one story I never told her.” Jubal sighed and seemed to pull himself together. “Sorry. What were you asking me a minute ago?”

“I’m still curious about that spaceship, Dad. You rode a Taelon ship out to the mysterious ‘station’ where all the really strange stuff happened. But I’m still not quite clear as to exactly how you and Esther got back. You say you were on the spaceship when the thing happened that brought you back.”


“So, what happened to the ship?”

Jubal sighed, looked for his beer again, and realized that it was gone. “As soon as I realized we were back home, I assumed the ship had brought us. But when I thought to look around for it, about ten seconds after I’d pulled Esther out of the pool, it wasn’t there. I checked again later, and there was no trace of any ship. Not even a mark in the grass. If the ship did bring us back—and I told you, I don’t believe it did—it just went away, the same way it came.

“There was never a word about strange sightings in the sky that night—at least I never heard any—so apparently no one on the ground ever noticed any spaceship. Which in itself proves nothing. Back then there was no radar guarding our airspace. Hell, I don’t even know if our radar today can pick them up, if they don’t want to be seen.”

Jonathan nodded slowly. “So, answer one more question for me: Why is it, do you suppose, that even today our Companions have been very hesitant about approaching this place by air? I suggested to Va’lon that we fly over here from my house, and he’d have none of it. And I asked him just now if his associates were coming by air or on the ground, and he sounded even vaguer than usual.”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred