The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Then Mandy had a question of her own. “Heard anything from Joshua? Is our son all right?”

Jonathan thought back over the past few days. “No, to the first query, probably yes to the second. I wouldn’t worry about Josh. Successful and ambitious lawyers probably don’t have time to take notice of little things like mass alien landings.”

“I suppose you’re right, but I wish he’d call.” Amanda hesitated. “The two of you aren’t fighting again, are you?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Oh, Johnny. You and Josh are so much alike. I suppose that may be the problem.” Amanda sighed and seemed to consider going into the subject at some length, but then decided against it. “So, tell me, what are our new Companions like? What do you think of them?”

“Right now my main concern is how much or how little they’re helping you.”

“For the moment I’m tired of talking about that. There must be other things about them worthy of attention.”

“They may be egotistical, but they certainly don’t talk much about themselves. You may have learned more about them than I have.”

Amanda said, “Outside of medical matters, about the only thing they want to talk about is the San Simeon art collection. I gather they have a special interest in some Egyptian statues standing out on the grounds. Didn’t I hobble past something like that just a few minutes ago?”

“Yes, they’re interested. No accounting for taste.” Jonathan wanted to change the subject. “What’s the news of the world? I haven’t been keeping up.”

“Mostly a lot of craziness, about what you’d expect.” Amanda went on to mention some recent events occurring in conjunction with various local arrivals around the world: the proclamation of a holy war by an Islamic splinter group (“So far, thank God, they’re not getting much support”); the wave of suicides in Panama and in Malaysia. A cult leader claimed that the Taelons had commanded those; the Companions denied that forcefully, and seemed genuinely horrified at the idea.

Most of the items she mentioned were indeed news to Jonathan, whose attention had been forcefully distracted for the last day or so. There had been scattered incidents of violence or attempted violence, directed at the visitors and those who welcomed them. But so far it was thought that no Taelons had been injured, and they had faced nothing like an organized military attack from any nation.

Jonathan absorbed the details, mentally discarding most of them as irrelevant to his concerns. Now and then he commented on some point, and asked a few questions. Nothing that he heard suggested to him the presence of other Urods anywhere else on the planet.

His attention was caught when Amanda observed, “You personally are getting rather more coverage than usual.”

“How’s that?”

“What did you expect? Media people have been taking note from a distance, of the goings-on at San Simeon, and they keep speculating about the possible significance.”

Meanwhile, in the privacy of his own thoughts, Jonathan had been going over and over his father’s story, looking for some way to test at least some of its outrageous claims and statements. If any substantial part of the whole was true—incredible thought!—a drastic change would be required in the whole attitude of humanity toward the Companions.

Simple faith in their good will would no longer do. Wary coexistence would have to become the watchword, even while people continued to make warm-hearted speeches about growing trust and friendship. The best that could be hoped for would probably be an armed truce, while humanity kept secret the amazing knowledge of Taelon duplicity held by a few of its members, and watched and waited for its chance to strike back at the subtle invaders. Above all, humanity must learn…

The Taelons had brought to the earth an overwhelming technology that afforded them power and authority. But humanity did have some advantages. Sheer numbers, for one thing, billions against a handful.

For another thing, secret knowledge.

Supposing, Jonathan thought to himself, just for the sake of argument, that Dad has been telling me the exact sober truth about his wild adventure back in the Thirties. The way the story wound up, there was no reason to think that the Taelons of the twenty-first century had any record of those events. Lekren could hardly have survived the final catastrophe at the space station. Nor had the Taelon pilot ever been able to communicate with his Synod during the time he was in contact with Jubal. So, Va’lon and his twenty-first-century contemporaries ought not to have the faintest suspicion that Jonathan’s father knew more than any human had a right to know about their ships and deep-space installations.

And about the uses they could occasionally find for human beings.

Jonathan remarked on this to Jubal when they were once more alone together, adding, “What the Taelons don’t know won’t hurt us.”

Now Jubal was holding his heavy wooden cane in his two hands as if he might be going to unscrew the pommel at the top. “That’s my thought exactly, son. My whole adventure with ’em was so improbable—maybe just the presence of the Urod brought on improbabilities.”

“Could the Urod—can this particular Urod—do that?”

“I’ve told you what happened, as best as I can remember it. Having seen what I saw, and felt what I felt when I was out there, I don’t want to put any limits on what a Urod can do.”

Jonathan felt himself being forced more and more firmly into the position that the old man’s story was essentially true. But, granted that was the case, how to use the knowledge? To talk of an immediate holy war was nonsense at this point. That would probably produce plenty of martyrs if it began now, but hardly a victory.

About a year ago, when the Taelons had begun transmitting pictures of themselves to earth, Jubal had been shocked to recognize, in their bald heads, pale skins, and slender bodies, that they were of the same race as the strange being he remembered as Lekren the pilot. Strong evidence that, after all, the whole experience had not been some kind of delusion, as he had almost managed to convince himself it was—

Then the more nightmarish aspects of his long-ago trip to Taelon-land had begun to bother him again.

Jubal knew he would have to face something he had so far avoided thinking about: All evidence pointed to the fact that the powerful, inscrutable Urod still waited at San Simeon. Why at this particular spot on the surface of the earth? The answer to that question seemed well beyond the current state of human knowledge. Maybe San Simeon was about as far as the Urod could get from its enemies, and if those enemies were still determined to turn the Urod into a museum specimen, they were going to have to come after it here, where perhaps, for some reason unknown to humanity, it felt best able to put up a defense.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner, Dad?”

“Bah. What would you have done? What could you have done? You would have thought for sure that I was crazy. You’d probably have sent a team of high-priced soothing head-shrinkers around to see me.”

“No. I wouldn’t have done that.”

“Maybe not. But you’d have been worried that the old man was cracking up, and you’d have consulted somebody. And then, sure as shooting, the story I’ve just told you would be out, or garbled versions of it would be, on TV and radio.”

“No. I’d make sure it wouldn’t.”

His father ignored the contradiction. “And they’d have picked it up, while their fleet was still months away from earth. By the time they arrived, they’d have pretty well figured out whatever they didn’t already know about the events of ’36, and my part in ’em.

“And soon after their arrival they’d have it arranged for me to die in some nice, natural accident—don’t shake your head, son, I know what I’m talking about.

“Or else they’d come up with some way to prove me crazy, so no one would believe any story I might have to tell. Whereas, if I never said a word to you or anyone else about Taelons or Urods, I had every reason to hope that I could live out the rest of my days in peace. Now, what’re you going to do, son?”

“I don’t know.”

Esther Summerson had gone on to be a famous actress, then died, still young, of an overdose. One of those supremely admired and successful folk whom millions envied.

“And in any case, she was unconscious practically the whole time you were away from earth. I suppose, even if she were alive, she’d have no memories of the whole alien-abduction episode.”

Old Jubal winced. “I wish you wouldn’t call it that.”

“Sorry. Of course, I haven’t seen or heard anything from Va’lon and Namor so far, to make me think they knew anything about you before they met you yesterday. Or that, even if they knew about 1936, they’d be especially likely to hold a grudge.”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred