“Frankly, I don’t think my father would appreciate that. He has his own doctors, in whom he puts a lot of faith.”
“That is understandable. Especially in one who has entered his advanced stage of life.” The Companion made a gesture that seemed to push the matter decisively to one side.
Every indication that Doors could read, in the look or the behavior of his wife of thirty years, every sign conveyed by her gestures and in the tones of her voice, told him that she was sick unto death of this ghastly existence.
What he saw also reinforced his strong new suspicion that the Companions had now given up on trying to heal her—he wondered now if that had ever really been their goal—or were they in fact intent on preparing her to face the same fate that had been intended for Esther Summerson.
The doctor (if Namor really was a doctor—once you knew they were absolute liars, you doubted everything they told you!) said they would take her to a place where her case could be “studied and treated.”
Once more, Namor smoothly repeated his advice that Amanda had better be transferred to a Taelon hospital for study and treatment This time Namor’s manner as he made the suggestion was brightly upbeat. He was rubbing the palms of his hands together in a slow circular motion. He said, “We are fortunate in that transportation is immediately available.”
“Within a few hours.
Doors kept his own voice neutral. “You mean, on the same ship that will transport the Urod?”
The Taelon physician was confidence personified. “Yes; the journey will be perfectly safe. We are taking every precaution.”
“Of course. And just where is this hospital?”
“It is hard for me to describe the location, in terms that would be familiar to you.”
Jonathan looked at Amanda, who at the moment seemed too busy trying to breathe to pay much attention to the talk going on around her. But her eyes were alert, and she and Jonathan held a brief silent conversation, in the way that is possible with couples who have been married for thirty years.
Amanda: You’ve been warning me about offers like this, and I don’t intend to accept.
Jonathan: I agree 100 percent.
Turning back to the Taelon, he did his best to give an impression of a man struggling to make a difficult decision. “How long would she be at this hospital of yours? Would I be able to visit her?”
“Even with the best of care, it is impossible to know in advance what length of treatment may be necessary. I regret that visits would not be possible.”
“Oh? Why not?”
Namor raised his eyes toward heaven, momentarily giving the impression that he prayed: God of the Taelons, deliver me from this stubborn earthman. But all he said was, “There would be—difficulties.”
“What sort of difficulties? If the journey is really as safe as you say?”
To soothe him, and insure his willing co-operation, Namor appeared to be granting a considerable concession. “Perhaps, after all, some way could be worked out.”
Doors nodded thoughtfully. “I’ll talk it over with my wife. We’ll have to think about it.”
The Taelon bowed gracefully. “I feel sure that you will reach the right conclusion. But remember, a decision must be reached soon.”
Jonathan nodded yet again, and favored the Companion with a tired but friendly smile.
* * *
« ^ »
No one got to be a billionaire without accumulating a number of energetic and dangerous enemies. Years of experience had taught Jonathan Doors that it was vital to learn as much as possible about your opponents, as quickly as possible. That was the first step in trying to come to grips with them. Therefore he yearned to get a good close look at the three newly arrived Companions, who were currently in the process of jockeying their three large blue machines closer to the big house at San Simeon. But his chance of being able to study them in any detail seemed remote. At a distance Jonathan found the trio of newcomers, all tall, slender, and blue-clad, indistinguishable from the Taelons he had already met.
He was soon absorbed in observing the three massive units of newly arrived equipment—the three blue dinosaurs he had earlier observed making their patient way cross-country from the landing site, the lowering sun casting their long shadows across the golden California grass. Watching them in action, Jonathan was reminded of three huge, self-propelled earth-movers, except that instead of shovels or scraper blades, these machines sprouted enormous nozzles, putting him vaguely in mind of the heads of long-necked machines. Doors wondered whether they intended to spray the Urod with something when they got close to it.
The machines had been moving along divergent paths as they advanced, like units on a battlefield expecting to come under heavy fire. Now they suggested to Jonathan’s imagination a trio of huge robotic infantry, crawling on hands and knees. One of the units had to make a laborious passage clear around Casa Grande and its encircling plazas and gardens, to reach its assigned position. Meanwhile the other two waited in place, marking time until the first was almost in position, before they moved forward again.
When the three machines were finally deployed, their positions defined a triangle, at the center of which stood the Urod and its small cluster of accompanying statuary.
Once the three sleek blue machines had reached their assigned positions, all was quiet for a while. Each had its nozzle extended, toward the central target, but nothing was being projected, as far as Jonathan could see.
After a minute or two during which nothing seemed to happen, the cab of one machine swung open, and the Taelon who had been inside came out and climbed down to the ground. He started toward the house but disappeared momentarily behind a clump of foliage.
A moment later Jonathan, observing as carefully as he could from a high window of Casa Grande, saw this Taelon approaching the main house on foot. When he was halfway across the plaza, just in front of the main entrance, Va’lon came out of the front door to meet him.
Immediately the two Companions began an animated discussion, in their own trilling, flowing language. Jonathan was so distant that only an occasional sound reached him, faintly. He decided he ought to find out what was going on, and after a word to Amanda started downstairs. He had just reached the ground floor when he met Va’lon and the newcomer, entering the house.
Va’lon looked up and called to him cheerfully, “Jonathan, my friend, we were coming to find you. This is Da’an, Companion liaison to North America, and he has expressed a desire to meet you before we proceed any further with our current operation.”
The name meant nothing to Doors, but the title sounded important, and Va’lon’s manner reinforced the suggestion.
“Pleased to meet you too,” Jonathan responded. Having observed on several occasions that Companions preferred to avoid shaking hands, at least with mere earthlings, he did not attempt to do so this time, but only nodded.
Da’an in return performed the slight Taelon bow, accompanied by a simultaneous graceful lowering of eyelids, even more elegantly than Doors had expected. Every time a Companion did that it was hard to escape the impression that he really was expressing his respect.
The newcomer’s voice was even more melodious than Va’lon’s. “I heartily commend you, Jonathan Doors, for your co-operation with us in this matter of the Urod.”
“Thank you.” Jonathan could be gracious too. “It seemed the only thing to do. I hope the matter can be settled, quickly and safely.”
“I am confident that it will be. We are currently delayed for technical reasons, but in a few minutes will be able to resume our progress.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Doors assured him.
“Allow me,” said Va’lon, “to take this opportunity to emphasize once more the importance of all humans keeping their distance from our machines and their operations. It may appear that nothing is now happening there, but appearances are deceptive.”
Jonathan nodded agreeably. “That is often the case, isn’t it?” He looked out over the portion of the esplanade where the innocent-looking black statues in their fountain formed the center of the triangle formed by the siting of the three large Taelon machines.
He added, “I will speak again to all my people here. By the way—Da’an—I also want to thank you and your colleagues—perhaps I should say your Synod?—for your special assistance to my wife.”
Again the gracious bow. “You are quite welcome.”
“Am I going to be introduced to your two newly arrived colleagues at some point?” Doors jerked his head in the direction of the front door. Beyond that barrier all was silent, but he felt sure that nevertheless some kind of a struggle had already begun.
“Later there will be time and opportunity. For a little while now we are all going to be extremely busy. But I wanted to meet you before doing anything else.”