The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Amanda said, “And Va’lon has not suggested that we leave San Simeon, or proposed that all humans be evacuated from the area. Has he?”


“I didn’t think so. Actually, it was Namor’s suggestion that I join you here.”

Jonathan bunked at her. “I didn’t realize that What do you mean?”

“Just what I say. Namor did raise the point with me, when I was still at home. It was that I might want to join you here. I was about to tell him I wanted to do so, since you didn’t seem in any hurry to come home, when he beat me to it. I think perhaps he just wanted to come here and see what was going on, and bring his new patient along with him.”

“Interesting,” Doors grunted. In fact he had no idea what to make of it.

Distantly he could hear a couple of his current indoor staff, somewhere downstairs in the big house, calling back and forth in cheerful Spanish. Well, if any of them thought that would keep the Anglo boss from understanding them, they were going to be surprised some day.

Amanda retired into her bedroom to get some rest. Left alone again, Jonathan regretted that his wife had ever come to San Simeon. But there wasn’t much to be done about it now.

If only he dared to really talk to her! Sooner or later he must find a way to unburden himself of Jubal’s terrifying story! That would have eased his own mind enormously. But Jonathan still held back, not wanting to risk having any of his father’s secrets overheard. There were at least five Taelons at San Simeon now. Maybe eavesdropping was one of the functions of the Taelon machine that was supposedly recording Amanda’s vital signs. Sheer paranoia, Doors? Maybe. There were situations in which only the paranoid survived.

And when Amanda came out of her room following her nap, and Jonathan got a close look at her again, he had to admit to himself that she really did not seem to have benefited much from Taelon treatment.

And the continued presence of the rubbery Siamese snake on her right arm did nothing for her husband’s peace of mind.

“Did Namor tell you anything new about this?” He touched it with one finger, and shuddered inwardly at the sense he got that the thing was partially alive.

“Oh, one thing. I was given a calm but very clear warning that its connection to me must never be broken by clumsy earthborn human hands.”

“Those were his exact words?”

“Not really. To that effect. Something about the thing bothers you, doesn’t it?”

“Do you feel any better, really? Since Namor’s been treating you?”

“Johnny, I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I think I do, sometimes I have doubts.” Amanda paused, then added, “They’re not magicians, Johnny. Not really miracle workers, though they can do some things that look miraculous to us. And they did warn us my treatment might take time.”

“That’s true.” And that was perhaps the worst of all: that the hopes of a cure had been raised again, only to be dashed.

“I’m still looking at your rubber snake.” He tried to keep his voice light and easy.

“Yes, I can see that. Your dad was staring at it too. My new doctor says that all his regular Taelon patients routinely get one to wear. Just as we put wristbands on people when they go to the hospital.”

“Do they have a name for it?”

“If they do I haven’t heard it.”

Sken, that was the name according to Jubal. Doors casually tested his wife’s sken with his fingers. He didn’t get the feeling that it would be easily torn off, though of course he wasn’t trying to do that yet.

“Looks like they fastened it on pretty solidly,” he observed.

“I suppose that’s good. Isn’t it?”

He would have given much to be able to deny the horrible feet, but he could not. His beloved Amanda had now been fitted with the same equipment worn by Esther Summerson, when Esther was tagged as an intended human sacrifice back in 1936.

In silent desperation, Jonathan clung to the one slender advantage he could still realistically hope that he possessed: simply that Va’lon and his compatriots did not suspect how much he knew about them: their secret installation, part museum, part surgery, part God knew what, somewhere in deep space; and their historical dealings with the race of Urods. Nor could they suspect that he realized just what the rubber snake might mean.

Suddenly he wondered if, when the human mind had been chewed up and destroyed, the body, perhaps undamaged, would be exhibited as a specimen in one of those fantastically remote display cases.

At least, he thought with some relief, they hadn’t yet suggested that she be pushed into the same machine with the damned monster.

“Anything wrong?” Mandy was asking him.

“No. Just tired.” But he realized that he was now beginning to get mental signals from the Urod, even as Jubal had got them long ago.

And something, some image that came to him with the latest touch of the Urod’s mind, gave Jonathan something new to worry about: Did the Urod recognize in the aged Jubal the young human who it had dealt with in some fashion in 1936? And if so, what would be the consequences?

Jonathan, who had been watching his father’s reactions closely, got the old man aside before Jubal burst out with something that would alert the Taelons.

Neither man said much about the tag to Amanda. But Jubal whispered his recognition to his son.

“I know. I remembered your description.”

“What’re you going to do, son?” For once Jubal sounded almost humble.

“I don’t know. Might try to get her away, of course. But there are Taelons everywhere, scattered all over the surface of the earth—and isn’t it possible they can trace her as long as she’s wearing the snake?”

“I don’t think it worked that way with Esther, when I was trying to hide her aboard the station. But maybe this is an improved model. You might just yank it off her arm.”

“Have to give them a reason if I do that. I’m not ready yet for a real fight.”

Jubal nodded, sighed.

Jonathan went on, “So, we’ll just politely decline any offer of hospital treatment that they might make. Unless, maybe, they want to set up a hospital here on earth, after the Urod’s gone.” And he nodded in the direction of the Urod and the triangle of blue machines. “Any suggestions, Dad?”

“I’m retired from making suggestions.” The old man moved a hand in the direction of the Taelon activity on the plaza. “Are they doing what I think they’re doing down there?”

“They tell me we’ve got a Urod, and they’re going to get rid of it for us.”

The next time Jonathan saw Namor, he asked the Taelon again about the. snake, and got the same answer Amanda said she had been given, “It is part of the routine procedure. Just as the patients in your hospitals routinely wear wristbands.”

And then the Companion calmly but very directly repeated the warning directly to Jonathan, that the connections between Amanda and her Taelon machine must not be broken by clumsy earth-human hands. What might happen if that was done was left unspecified, but it would certainly be terrible.

“I see.” For the time being he had to let it go at that.

Jonathan Doors had a feeling that the world was closing in on him. He didn’t know yet what he would do. But he was going to have to do something.

When he slept, briefly and unsatisfactorily, his rest was marred by evil dreams that he could easily attribute to the Urod.

Immediately after Amanda’s current session of treatment, Namor asked to sit down with the couple for a serious talk. Jubal was standing in the doorway, and Jonathan gave him a look. “Come in, Dad.”

Namor’s slight smile was absent this time, his voice less musical than usual. “Amanda, Jonathan, I have been reviewing the latest information from Amanda’s monitoring unit.”

“What’s up?”

Namor went on to explain that unless she could be treated in a Taelon hospital, it was highly unlikely that her recovery would proceed successfully.

Some folk who had long acquaintance with Jonathan Doors said he was at his best, his most dangerous, when his worst fears were confirmed. But his voice held no hint of panic, only natural, intelligent concern. “Isn’t there some other way you could continue with the treatment here on earth—?”

Namor said in gentle tones, “If I am to be responsible for my patient’s welfare,. I must insist.” Then the Companion’s eyes turned compassionately to Jubal. “Are you ill, sir?”

Jubal shook his head energetically. “Just old, son, just old.”

When the old man had hobbled away, Namor also offered to examine Jubal, and Jonathan Doors stalled him off.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred