Another way to put the matter was to say that Companions could be as bad as humans at their worst. Jonathan seemed to remember that Jubal had put it that way once.
And when it came right down to it, Jonathan didn’t, he couldn’t, believe that his father was deranged. Or that, for some unfathomable reason, he was deliberately making the whole story up.
Jonathan thought to himself: All right, let us assume that my father is telling the truth, that all or most of the fantastic things he describes really happened to him. What does the human race do now? In particular, what do I do? To be an effective leader, I must have some kind of plan.
Even if the self-proclaimed Companions were as two-faced and treacherous as Jubal said they were, Jonathan could not simply turn his back on them. For if Jubal’s story was true, then humanity was also confronted by Sekhmet. The Urod was a survivor of every attempt at its destruction that Taelon technology had been able to manage. On the other hand, there was no reason to think it had any friendship for humanity. It represented a peril even greater and more immediate than the Taelons, and one that had to be dealt with first.
And yet: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Jubal’s story had several times hinted at the possibility of at least a temporary human/Urod alliance.
Fortunately, Jonathan thought he could see one way to determine, with reasonable certainty, whether his father’s story was true or not. Jonathan thought: If Va’lon gives me any evidence, any evidence at all, to support what Dad told me about the Urod—then I’m going to have to accept even the strangest parts of Dad’s story as essentially true.
Jonathan turned his global on again, and directed his steps back toward Casa Grande. He hadn’t gone far in that direction when the unit buzzed. The smiling face of Va’lon looked out from the small screen to propose a meeting.
The two met, a couple of minutes later, in the old library, where Hearst in his years of wealth and power had amassed some five thousand volumes, many of great value as collectors’ items. Almost all of the books had been gone for years, and empty shelves were gathering dust, though a few odd remnant volumes still remained.
When Va’lon suggested they take a walk, the two of them set out strolling on the esplanade—and Va’lon with subtle skill guided their steps so they wound up right in front of the statues. Jonathan had allowed himself to be guided, but now he stood with his back to the tall black figure, resisting an urge to turn and stare at it.
“Shall we sit here, Jonathan, and talk?”
Companion and human occupied two wicker chairs, antique Hearst lawn furniture recently resurrected from some catacomb of storage. Jonathan thought he could feel his scalp creeping with a premonitory warning. It didn’t help that for once the Taelon seemed almost at a loss as to how to begin. Several times Doors saw hints of the emotional color change begin on the surface of the Companion’s body and then swiftly die out again.
“You said there was a matter of great importance,” Jonathan prompted at last.
Va’lon nodded slowly. He seemed very calm, but Jonathan thought he could detect vibrations of considerable stress.
At last the Taelon said, “I have spoken with the Synod.”
Jonathan was careful to show no strong reaction to the name, the same name that Jubal’s Taelon had used for his council of directors or advisors, sixty-five years in the past. But it was only natural that he should ask the obvious question.
“The Synod? What’s that?”
“I am borrowing a word from your language. For us, as for you, a synod is an important council.”
“You had no problem about making arrangements to consult with such a council?”
“Problem?” Va’lon seemed distantly puzzled. “No. Why should there be a problem?”
“Never mind. Go on.” With a sense of doom, of fatalistic calm, Doors set himself to listen. “And what have you and your Synod decided today?”
“My associates and I have agreed that a certain matter must be revealed to you. It is for your ears alone. For a time we had intended that it should be kept entirely secret—but now I feel confident that you can be trusted.”
Having got that far, the Taelon uncharacteristically seemed not to know how best to continue. Again there were hints of what humans had started to call the blush.
Doors spoke into the silence. “Oh? I am always wary of being told other people’s secrets.”
Va’lon raised an almost invisible eyebrow, as if he were impressed. “That is commendable wisdom—or would be, in most cases. But when you hear this secret, Jonathan, you will understand why I reveal it to you. And why it must be kept from the rest of your people, at least for the time being.”
Doors drew a deep breath, a man preparing himself. “In that case, I think you’d better tell me now.”
The Taelon turned his gaze toward the dried-up fountain. “You of course know something of the history of the four statues here beside us, representations of the Egyptian god Sekhmet.”
“I’ve been told a little about them.” Doors felt a cold fist suddenly clenching in his midsection. And he realized that until this moment, despite the sken, despite everything, he had not believed in his gut that his father’s story was true. It cost him an effort to keep his voice even, but he managed it. “They’re supposed to be the oldest things in the whole collection.”
“No doubt they are. But the most important point is that one of them is not a statue.”
“Ah?” He did his best to look bewildered.
The story came out, calmly and efficiently presented, in only a few minutes of the Taelon’s usual smooth prose. There were moments in the course of the telling when Jonathan had the feeling of being caught up in a bad dream.
One by one, essential portions of Jubal’s secret narrative were solidly confirmed, including something of the Urod’s nature. (Though, as Jonathan noted carefully, Va’lon had not referred to that strange being by name.) The Companion emphasized the threat that this enemy posed to life of all kinds, even to the very stability of reality throughout a sizable volume of spacetime.
But so far Va’lon had said nothing of any abortive Taelon attempt to remove the Urod in 1936, or at any other time.
The Companion concluded his revelation with a firm declaration, “This thing, this creature, must be removed from your world.”
Doors while listening had turned on the bench to face the statue. And, without being consciously aware of the movement, he had slid a little farther away from it. He said, “I quite see that—if all that you’ve told me about it is true.”
“When time allows, Jonathan, we will be able to provide you with further evidence. You appear shocked.”
“I quite understand.”
“Certainly. You must consider my assertions quite fantastic and almost incredible.”
Doors nodded slowly. He didn’t doubt for a moment that he looked shocked. But actually, my dear Companion, the reason is just about the exact opposite from what you think. It’s that I have no trouble believing what you’ve just told me.
Aloud, Jonathan asked, “So, how do you go about removing it?”
“The safety of everyone concerned, human and Taelon, must be our first consideration.”
“Of course. By the way, what name do you give these—dangerous creatures?”
“They have no name for themselves; indeed it is almost true that they have no language of their own. But we generally call them Urod.”
“Yes. Jonathan, I see that my revelations are having a strong effect upon you. I regret that I must cause you distress; but what I am telling you is the truth.”
Doors nodded. “Yes, go on, tell me. Whatever it is. I want to know. I must know the whole truth.”
Va’lon made one of his graceful gestures. “But that is the extent of the disclosure.”
Oh, is it, now? “I see.”
“Now you basically know the worst.”
“Jonathan, our offer to purchase San Simeon is—how do you put it?—still on the table. I hope you will now promptly accept.”
Doors shook his head slowly. His mind was racing. “I don’t see how your buying the place would solve our basic problem, getting rid of this Urod. So I regret that my answer must be no.”
“If it is a matter of money—?”
“No. It isn’t that.”
“When I bought this property I had in mind preserving it for the people to visit and enjoy. I wouldn’t feel right about selling it to be used for any other purpose.”
“We would do our best to respect your wishes in that regard. Once the Urod has been removed, probably within a few days afterward, we would be able to open the site for public viewing once again.”