“Huh. That’s easy. The approach of any kind of machine by air is one of the things that can trigger a revival episode in the Urod.”
“Really?” Jonathan stared at his father. “How do you know that? Did your Taelon tell you? You said his name was—’Lekren’?”
“He was not my Taelon. But, matter of fact, he did give me some information on that point, when he was in one of his more lucid intervals. ‘Course in his condition it was hard to be sure when he was lucid and when he wasn’t. That’s what he got for tangling minds with a Urod.”
“But he didn’t seem to care if he told you all the Taelon secrets. Things you’d be free to talk about when you got home.”
“Son, I don’t believe that son of a bitch ever thought I’d really be going home, or Esther either. Sure, he told me we would, but either he was just babbling, or he was lying to keep me happy. Only reason he brought either of us along was so we’d be available as bait for the ‘gator’s jaws.”
“And he attached a special kind of machine to Esther,” Jonathan mused, “so that she remained asleep. But he let you wake up. How come?”
“I think he meant to fit me with the same thing. He just didn’t get around to it. Didn’t I mention the funny-looking thing I stumbled over, the first time I woke up on the ship? I thought it looked like a Siamese snake?”
“Yeah, I got a clear mental picture of what that must have looked like.”
Jubal nodded, mumbled something forceful.
“But then,” said Jonathan, “once Lekren saw you were awake, he decided the easiest thing was to try to use you as an active helper. Because, for one thing, he wasn’t sure if Lobo could be revived successfully, or how much he could rely on him.”
“Not much, as it turned out” Jubal nodded. “Anyway, one of the things Lekren did tell me was that whatever shred of consciousness a Urod retains while time-frozen is always on the alert for the approach of a Taelon shuttle.”
Jonathan filed that bit of information with everything else his father had been telling him, and tried to think about it all. To call Jubal’s narrative fantastic would be the understatement of the new millennium. Yet, for all Jonathan knew, it could be true, as true as the fantastic Taelon presence on the earth. Or some of it could be factual. To think that any part of it was bona fide was frightening. And the father he had known for half a century had never been given to flights of fancy.
Eventually he said, “That’s quite a story, Dad.”
“You going to tell me you don’t believe it?”
Jonathan started a chuckle that got nowhere. “Wouldn’t dare tell you I doubted your word, though I wish I could. Know what I mean? Even if the alternative seems to be to think that you’ve gone crazy.”
The old man nodded, understanding. “I’d find that comforting myself. The idea that I was going nuts, I mean. Just by comparison. If I could just relax, and talk myself into thinking I’d just imagined it all. But if I could do that, I would’ve done it years ago.”
Jonathan went on, “Especially I wish I didn’t have to believe in Urods, but I don’t seem to have any choice. So, tell me, what did you and Esther do next? You climbed out of the fountain, I suppose, and then what?”
“Well. At first I just kind of stood there, supporting her,” Jubal said. He made a hoop of his arms, holding them out to illustrate. “Holding her up, for I don’t know how long. But it couldn’t have been very long, for she was at last starting to come out of her mental fog by then, thank God, and we commenced slowly hobbling along the walk. Meanwhile, Flynn is still whooping with laughter in the background.
“Next thing I knew, the beam of a flashlight was in my eyes. I don’t know what we would have done, if Captain Murray hadn’t shown up when he did. With all the strange things going on, he’d decided to work the night shift himself Sunday night. And he’d noticed—something—that drew him back to the spot.
“He gave me a hell of a dirty look when he got a good look at us. There I was, holding Esther so she wouldn’t topple over, and she seemingly passed out. We were both disheveled, and I was in quite an emotional state, as you might imagine.
“Murray was working alone that night, and he came running up and grabbed me by the arm. He was angry as hell. Said he didn’t know what the two of us had been up to, and didn’t want to hear about it. That was fine with me. I know what he thought, naturally, but he was about as far wrong as it would be possible to get.
“We’d been on the wildest joyride that any two teenagers ever took, and all I got out of it, in that sense, was the one lousy kiss.”
The old man came to a sudden stop, considering. “No, I take that back. That kiss was anything but lousy. But by the time Murray saw us, Esther, thank God, was coming out of her daze. And Murray was just so mightily relieved to see that neither of us seemed to be badly hurt, or passed-out drunk, or totally shot full of dope… we just took Esther to her room. Murray had a key of course. We took her shoes off, and then her dress, and a couple of other things—given our mental states, Murray’s and mine, by that time we were as impersonal and trustworthy as two nursing nuns—wrapped her in a robe and laid her out on the bed. We tiptoed out and closed the door. Then Murray came back to my room with me, helped me deal with my wet clothes. Made sure I had no more adventures planned.”
“But he never said anything to your father, or to Hearst, about—”
Jubal was shaking his head. “See, the good captain was kind of afraid to blow the whistle on me, being worried that if he did, then stories about hiding dead bodies would start to come out.”
“I can understand that. Murray, you said his name was.”
“I wonder if he’s still alive. Couple of things I’d like to ask him.”
“I’ve been wondering about that too, but it’s not likely. He’d be at least a hundred.”
“And the man named Oscar? The other security guard?”
“He’d be about ninety, I suppose. Never heard his full name. Anyway, he wasn’t on hand that night when Esther and I came back from our big trip.”
“And Errol Flynn’s long dead,” affirmed Jonathan. He was something of an old movie buff in his spare time—when he had any spare time, which was rare. “And the girl he was with that night—”
“Would be older than me, I suppose, and I never knew her name. She and Flynn saw Murray and me kind of carrying Esther along, and they waved in our direction and called out something jovial that I was too tired to hear. And if Flynn or his girlfriend saw a spaceship, or a Urod walking, they probably put it down to an attack of the DTs.”
Jonathan grunted something.
His father nodded, and went on, “Now I really think that a whole lot of what Lekren told me aboard ship was probably the truth. You can well imagine that as a dumb kid back in the . Thirties, when I came back from our joyride I didn’t have any idea what to think. The only explanations I could come up with had a lot to do with dreams, and with myself going crazy. And it didn’t help that the vehicle I’d been space-traveling in didn’t look or act anything like the rocket ships I saw in Buck Rogers, or in the movies. Somehow that made the reality seem less real.”
“Dad, one thing it occurs to me to wonder about is this: Why did the Sekhmet statue, the Urod, pick that particular weekend to act up? The way you describe it, weekends at the Ranch must have been pretty much alike—usually some kind of sedate party going on.
“And maybe there were more than the usual number of aerial approaches—I suppose there’d be more people coming and going at the landing strip on weekends?”
“I’ve been thinking about that too, son, and I have an answer. It might not have been the number of planes landing and taking off that woke it up. On that particular weekend a certain other event took place, something I don’t think had ever happened at San Simeon before.”
“Pretty obvious, I’d say. The Taelons arrived in one of their fancy spaceships, intending to take the Urod away. In that case not caring if they triggered a revival episode or not, because they were right on the scene to handle it, and because they were underestimating by a mile how tough the job was going to be.”