The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

“We could go right now, if you’re that eager,” Doors offered. “Be there in maybe half an hour. There’s a landing strip near the house at San Simeon, and my plane’s available here. Of course I’d really enjoy a joyride in that ship of yours.”

“I would prefer not to use either the aircraft or the spaceship.” Va’lon’s reply came without hesitation, smoothly but firmly. “Surely it cannot be a very long journey from here by surface vehicle?”

Doors tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling, considering. “About three hours on the highway. Maybe less. Traffic will be light now in the middle of the night—even this night, by God, I’ll bet. Everyone will be home watching on television as your people arrive.”

But of course everyone would not, really, be doing that. Jonathan Doors was thoroughly aware of how tenaciously the world went on its way, big changes usually coming only with glacial slowness. Millions would have slept through midnight’s transformation, either because they misunderstood, or they simply did not care whether interstellar visitors dropped in or not, or perhaps just because they were tired. Billions around the world had been and would be getting up and going to their jobs as usual, not fully understanding that the world they labored in today was not at all the same as yesterday’s. That whatever happened from now on, the world would never be the same again.

“Are you personally willing to make the journey with me?” Somehow the Companion’s manner suggested that he was issuing an invitation to a momentous adventure.

Doors got to his feet. “If that’s really how you want to spend your first morning on the earth, yes, I am. Let’s go.” There flashed through his mind the idea of possibly calling the governor, getting an escort. But no, no, that would mean hours of delay, and the drive would be made in the company of a thousand swarming media people. He and his new house guests would have to face that all too soon in any case.

But of course, no matter how much wealth and power a man might have, or maybe just because he had so much, few things could ever be accomplished quite as quickly and simply as he would like them to be. Right now there was, as usual, a lot of, Doors International business to be taken care of around the world, and the midnight shift in California was a bit short-handed. Doors called together the helpers he had on hand, gave a few people some final instructions, and considered that things were pretty well under control.

When business was taken care of, for the moment, the last thing Jonathan Doors did before leaving—and he had saved it for the last deliberately—was to go into Amanda’s sitting room, to let her know what he was doing.

“How’s she doing, Dr. Kimura?” he inquired.

“I want her to get some rest.” The human physician, a generation younger than her patient, was, like everyone else in the room, staring helplessly at the two Companions. “But it can wait until…” The words trailed off.

Amanda, still clothed in robe and slippers, reclined now in a comfortable armchair, looking sleepy, but no sleepier than an invalid on supplemental oxygen ought to look when kept awake until well after midnight. Namor made no objection to her husband’s sudden entrance, so Doors brusquely interrupted the proceedings to kiss his wife goodbye, and murmur something reassuring.

The room was fully lighted, and there was an atmosphere of calm. The human doctor and nurses were looking on in utter absorption, now and then asking a question phrased in medical jargon, to which the Taelon physician replied calmly. Doors noted that several items of exotic hardware, evidently drawn from an extensive medical kit that Namor had been packing on his back, had now been deployed around the patient. Tubes of various colors looped around her limbs, and her head wore something like a small skullcap, so some phase of the medical exam was evidently still in progress—each piece of extraterrestrial medical gear, on any ordinary day, would have drawn Doors’s attention for a good chunk of time.

Namor pleasantly assured Doors that all was going well so far, and said he would soon be preparing his preliminary report on Amanda’s case.

“I’ll drive myself,” Doors informed Va’lon briskly, a minute later, as the two of them headed downstairs through the big house to the garage. He was thinking that the whole place was a little short-handed tonight, and anyway he liked the idea of having the alien all to himself for a time—talk about exclusive interviews. Beside him, Va’lon easily kept pace, sometimes taking two stairs at a time with his long, unhurried, graceful stride.

His stride… or hers? Doors, who had been taking a certain matter for granted until now, was suddenly uncertain.

“Sitting and watching is all right,” he went on. “And sometimes it’s the only thing to do. And talk is good. A talk like the one we’ve just had is very good. But then the time comes when it’s necessary to do something.” He studied his recently acquired Companion with frank curiosity. “I suppose you know what I mean?”

“Our philosophical tradition regarding the need for action and its consequences is an ancient one, and rather complex.” Va’lon accompanied the words with a self-deprecating smile, as if to say: I know this is not the direct answer, either confirmation or argument, that you were looking for. But it is perhaps too soon to give you that.

Lights came on automatically in the garage Tinder the house as soon as they passed through the door, striding into a domain of white paint and smooth, gray concrete. Yellow lines defined a dozen parking spaces, of which only two were occupied at the moment.

Doors hesitated .only momentarily, then chose the available SUV over the Jaguar. He wasn’t sure just how much headroom his tall guest was going to need for comfort, and anyway he himself when driving preferred to look out over the world from a slightly higher platform than that provided by any regular sedan. In a matter of seconds Va’lon was installed in the front passenger seat, where Doors saw to it that his seat-belt was properly fastened. This vehicle provided ample room for the passenger’s high cranium. A few seconds more, and Doors had the engine started and was backing out of the parking space, taking just a moment as he did so to scan the diagnostics on the instrument panel. The fuel tank was almost full, and all systems were in the green.

The big garage door rolled itself up at the vehicle’s approach, and closed swiftly again behind it as they went roaring up the ramp outside. The gravel driveway curved away from the big house, quickly leaving behind all the lighted windows. Doors got a passing look at the alien shuttle—if that was the right word for the conveyance in which the visitors had arrived—still sitting where it had landed, not on but near the landing strip. Its shape put Doors in mind of some monstrous predatory insect. The strange form, still faintly glowing blue and white as it had in flight, was partially obscured by the trunks of his orchard’s trees. Under these conditions it was hard to judge the shuttle’s size.

Now a tall gate, formed of thick steel bars in ornamental curves, opened on its electronic cue to allow the SUV to pass out of the private drive. And a minute after that they were cruising on the highway. Jonathan’s prediction about traffic was proven correct; at the moment there were no other headlights or tail-lights to be seen in the California night.

“So,” said Doors, after half a minute of peaceful silence in the snug cabin of the SUV. “What’s it like out there among the stars?”

“It is very beautiful, and sometimes it is very dangerous. But you need not ask me that, Jonathan. Your world here is as much ‘among the stars’ as any other.”

“I suppose it is,” said Doors after a thoughtful pause. “But now I’d like to hear about your world, Va’lon. Tell me about it, if you will. I want to hear everything that you can say to me about your people, and what they do there.”

And Doors glanced sideways to study the enigmatic Companion countenance beside him, washed in the faint glow of the instrument panel, and the reflected white of the SUVs own headlights coming in through the windshield.

“I am truly sorry, Jonathan.” And indeed the pale alien face now turned his way did look unhappy. “But that I may not do as yet. There are vitally important reasons for my reticence, that you will come to understand in time. For now, I must ask you to accept what I can give you, as a token of our good will.”

Doors shook his head, his vision once more concentrated on the narrow, winding highway. “More than a token, believe me. If you can give me what you suggested back there—if you can restore Amanda to health—that will mean more to me than I can express. You will never have to give me anything else.”

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