But Doors was already shaking his head again. “Sorry, but the answer is still no. I’m not selling now. Maybe at some future time.”
Va’lon studied him for a few moments in silence. Then the Taelon excused himself, saying he had to engage in another consultation.
Doors turned around on the bench and sat quietly for a minute, regarding the statue, which was, as always, as immobile and seemingly dead as any other piece of rock. Then he got to his feet and walked tiredly after his guest.
When Va’lon met Doors again, only a few minutes later, he Said he had just been communicating with his Synod.
Va’lon smiled. “We are now ready to propose a slightly different course of action.”
“If you decline our offer to purchase the estate, will you still allow us to occupy it, in effect take it over, for the next few days? To continue to exclude the media and the public, while we move in substantial amounts of equipment, and conduct a difficult operation?”
“I can do that, if you will allow myself and the people I have here now to remain. Perhaps I will even want to bring in a few more workers for one thing or another. Routine maintenance and security. Will this ‘difficult operation’ also be hazardous?”
“I cannot deny that there will be some degree of danger. But the long-term risk will only be greater if we do nothing.”
“Then what do we do?”
To effect the safest possible removal, the Companions wanted to be able to restrict all human presence from the immediate vicinity, and then to surround the hazard with their own people, their own machinery of some unimaginable kind—even so, Va’lon was conspicuously unwilling to promise that all risks were eliminated.
Jonathan said, “You mentioned before that there is some immediate danger involved in this process. Even when, as you say, you are taking all possible precautions.”
“I regret that is unavoidably the case.”
“I see. And what exactly is the scale of this menace we’re talking about? I mean, should we be evacuating everyone for ten miles around? Or are we putting half the state of California in jeopardy?”
“The menace already exists, Jonathan. What we are doing now is preparing to remove it.”
“That wasn’t my question.”
Va’lon still evaded giving a straight answer.
Doors looked at the statue and shook his head. “A perfect resemblance to natural black stone.”
Jonathan Doors was sitting in his wicker chair, as if collapsed, rubbing his face with one hand. Around him the California sunlight was bright and cheerful, and a lot of flowers were trying their best to bloom.
The Taelon sounded sympathetic. “I am sorry, Jonathan, that the truth is so upsetting. But it is better that you understand.”
“Of course. Actually it is essential that I understand. Yes. I see. All right, I suppose you will have to move in whatever gear you need to deal with the problem. I’ll see to it that my people all stay out of your way.”
“I was confident that when you knew the facts, you would give us your full cooperation.”
Jonathan got up out of his chair and paced the walkway for a time, casting grim looks at the Urod. Then he turned to confront the Companion.
“All right, I’ll go along with that. But, damn it, Va’lon, it’s still hard to believe. How could something like this Urod that you describe have possibly have wound up here? I mean, the thing has to have been sitting here for—for decades.”
“Oh, it has. As you are well aware, the man who ordered all this built”—Va’lon gestured gracefully, including all the buildings and what they contained—”was concerned to gather treasures from all past and present civilizations upon this planet. He did business with many dealers in antiquities. From one such dealer he purchased, in good faith; a set of ancient Egyptian statues, one of which was not at all what it seemed to be—”
“Just a moment. What about the other three?”
“It seems virtually certain that the genuine statues were carved with the Urod as model.”
“Carved by ancient Egyptians.”
“But how could such creatures as the originals, such monsters, have come to Earth in the first place?”
“The skies of your world have always been open and unguarded, Jonathan.”
Jonathan looked up at heaven’s sunny vault. “Yes, I suppose that’s true.”
Va’lon went on, “The powers commanded by the Urod are sometimes hard to believe, hard to accept, until one has seen them in operation—only a few do that, and some of those do not survive the experience. Sometimes members of that race achieve with seeming ease what we Taelons manage only with considerable effort and difficulty—and what humans may have trouble even imagining. Such as crossing the great intervals of time and space between the stars.”
“But you told me that this Urod was—time-frozen, you said. Somehow confined, encapsulated, in an almost helpless state.”
“Comparatively helpless—as it still is. But still capable, under the right conditions, of transporting itself over the great intervals.”
“Do you mean—are you saying—they can transport themselves through space—even between the stars—without a ship?”
Va’lon inclined his head in a graceful nod. “This one was attempting to escape absolute confinement. It fled to a vast distance, but it fled in vain.”
“I see,” said Jonathan. “All right, then. I—I see.” He refrained from asking whether any people who happened to be nearby when such a jaunt occurred might be accidentally swept along with it. His skepticism knew when it was licked. “A confinement, to which you now intend to return the Urod.”
“That is correct.”
“In a kind of—prison, somewhere?”
“The facility I am thinking of might be more accurately described as a hospital.”
Or a museum? But Jonathan resisted the temptation to ask that question aloud. He also refrained from inquiring whether there had been some kind of a violent battle, fierce fighting at the prison-hospital, more than sixty years ago.
In the course of their discussion, Va’lon at last did mention to Jonathan, almost offhandedly, that there had been a Taelon visit, or expedition, to San Simeon in the 1930s, an attempt to remove the Urod.
“It was of course a secret attempt as far as humanity was concerned, carried out without any general awareness on the part of your people.”
“Of course. And with what result?”
“That attempt encountered great difficulties, and I must confess that it ended in failure.”
“Is that so.”
Va’lon smiled ruefully and nodded. “We still do not fully understand the details of what went wrong. But the effort we now propose will of course be undertaken only after much more thorough preparation, and with a fuller understanding of the difficulties.”
Jonathan Doors thought about it Then he said, “So there may be, there may have been already, recurring episodes of strange phenomena here on earth, specifically in this immediate area, brought about by this Urod, struggling to get free.”
“That is so.”
“But it has never been able to free itself completely.”
“We intend to do all we can to make sure that it never does so.”
Jonathan Doors stood up and walked around and looked at the Urod again. “It has a very convincing resemblance to a stone statue. But it’s not dead, actually alive. Just somehow—frozen in time.”
“That is the best explanation I can give, to one at your level of scientific sophistication.”
Putting it politely, Doors thought. If somewhat condescendingly. To one at my level of ignorance, you mean. “Still hard to believe,” he said aloud.
“Indeed. But if you will walk with me, a little closer to the specimen we are studying, I will try to arrange a small demonstration.”
Jonathan Doors and Va’lon walked out along the esplanade, pacing a kind of loop up onto the plaza right in front of Casa Grande and back again. On the lower walk they stopped once more to gaze at the four images of Sekhmet, all but one of them dark stone, and that one indistinguishable from stone as far as human senses were concerned.
Doors deliberately walked near. “Which one is it? I can’t see any real difference in them.”
“Over the centuries it has made itself look more like the statues, and also caused the statues to become more like itself.”
“It can do that.”
“It can do many things. There are, as I have said, distinct alterations in reality. The Urod is the tallest of the four.” And Va’lon raised a willowy arm and pointed.
Jonathan Doors moved closer to it by another step, and from the corner of his eye saw his Taelon guide begin to raise a hand, as if to restrain him from some rash act. His human senses told him that this was surely only a statue, nothing more. Now the whole idea once more seemed utterly fantastic. Jonathan said, “It looks like stone. I can even see a—a vein, a layer, of slightly different colored stone, running diagonally across the legs, the base.”