The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

“I am honored.” And Doors made his own attempt at something like a Taelon bow.

Now that the introduction Da’an had wanted was out of the way, it became obvious that the three most recent arrivals had not come to San Simeon to socialize. Da’an soon rejoined his compatriots in their confrontation with the Urod, and the trio of large machines became unceasingly, untiringly busy. The black statues at the focus of attention of the blue dinosaurs looked utterly insignificant by comparison. Otherwise, there was not much for earthly eyes to see in what the Taelons were now doing, nor for human minds to comprehend.

Dusk was now beginning to engulf the low-lying areas of the estate, shadows filling the sharply cut ravines, and lengthening on the east side of buildings and clumps of trees. Bright Taelon lights stabbed out from each of the big machines, bathing the figure of Sekhmet in glaring illumination from several directions.

Not until several hours after the three machines had settled into their chosen positions on the ground, did Jonathan at last see a Taelon shuttle land directly on the estate. The sun had set in modest glory, and all the outdoor lights were on. The newest visitor was a comparatively small ship, and it came seemingly out of nowhere to descend slowly onto a broad walkway, only a few yards from the statue that was really not supposed to be a statue. Jonathan did not see anyone get out of the shuttle, but it opened a large cargo hatch, a huge black vacancy in the middle of its belly, from which a sloped ramp extended itself to rest on the walk.

Va’lon meanwhile had come to seek out Doors, the owner of the property, and apologized to him for damage inadvertently done to several flower beds.

Jonathan abstractedly told the Companion not to worry about it. He was still looking at the huge open hatch of the latest Taelon arrival. He thought this vessel looked very much like—and perhaps was the very same—as the craft that had ‘descended with Va’lon and Namor aboard, bringing them right down into the Doors backyard, only a few days ago. Somehow that already seemed a long time in the past.

Obviously the silent struggle between Taelon and Urod was still going on, though as far as the earthly observers could tell, nothing much was happening.

“Do you need more lights?” Doors asked the nearest Taelon—who happened to be the physician, the only Companion now in the house.

“That will not be necessary,” Namor replied at once. Evidently he had no need to consult with any of his colleagues on the matter.

“Are your people almost ready to take our friend away?” Doors asked.

“‘Friend, Jonathan?”

“The Urod.”

“Ah. Yes, we are almost ready.”

Presently Va’lon was called out of the house, a message conveyed to him by some means that had escaped Jonathan’s observation.

Then Da’an appeared once more, to confer with the Taelon physician in the plaza outside the enormous front door of Casa Grande. Doors got the impression that the removal of the Urod wasn’t going as well as the Taelon engineers had hoped. Presently Va’lon came back to the house, the Companion liaison to North America climbed back into his blue machine, and the silent struggle with the Urod went on. The mental tumult that it engendered seemed now to be continually in the air, like the noise of some vast, distant construction project But so far Doors, and most other people he assumed, were managing pretty successfully to tune it out.

Now, whenever Doors did manage to catch sight of a Taelon face the look on it was grim.

Time dragged on. But no one on the Enchanted Hill thought of retiring for the night.

The next time Amanda was alone with her husband, she took the opportunity to whisper to him. “Johnny. I don’t want them to take me away from you.”

“I don’t want you to go with them, Mandy. In fact I’m not going to let you go.” And at last he had to admit to himself that he would soon have to tell her more, pass on some of the frightening information about Jubal’s story and the events that tended to confirm it. “I’ve learned some things—about them.” His tone made it clear that the knowledge gained was not favorable.

“Learned what? And how?” Amanda squeezed her husband’s hand as hard as she was able, but she did not seem utterly surprised.

“Long story. I’ll tell you about it later. I want to tell it exactly right, and I’m afraid I can’t if I try to condense it into a couple of dozen words.”

She sighed in exasperation. “This is one of those times when you have to do it all alone?” There had been a very few such occasions over the past three decades.

“I’m afraid it is, Mandy. For a little longer, anyway.”

Down there on the encircling walk, only a little distance beyond the plaza in front of Casa Grande, two races from beyond the stars were contending, in ways that no human could fully understand, and few even begin to grasp. If Doors could not begin to understand the struggle, he could sense it in the back of his mind. It would certainly seem that this time the Taelons ought to have the advantage; they had known what they would be facing here, and they had come prepared, armed with tremendous weapons. And yet, the contest did not seem to be all one-sided.

If we cannot understand them, well, so be it. They will never be able to comprehend us fully either. To Taelons and Urod, we will forever be beings who live out beyond the stars.

And Jonathan tried to think what reason he might give the Companions, to explain his wife’s refusal, backed up by his own, to be transported away from the earth to receive the best in Taelon medical care.

What was the best reason he could give, without arousing their suspicions?

* * *

Chapter Twenty-One

« ^ »

Hours ago, Doors had assembled his local staff—about half of them in person, the others electronically—and had given them a partial explanation of what was going on tonight. The general idea he wanted to convey was that the Taelons would be engaged in a difficult and possibly dangerous operation, involving some of the statuary, and it was important for everyone to stay off the plaza and walks in front of Casa Grande, out of their way.

“Any questions?”

Mostly he got blank looks, but he thought he could read their minds. Statuary? Didn’t all that stuff belong to the boss since he bought the place? And so, couldn’t the Taelons ship some of it away if he had given them permission?

Jonathan sighed. He wanted these people to be concentrating on their jobs, and he wasn’t going to hit them now with any more of the truth than he deemed absolutely necessary.

He raised his voice a little. “I’m telling you this because there may be some element of danger involved for anyone who stays on the grounds while this is going on, and any of you who want to leave can do so now. Come back in the morning and I won’t hold it against you. I don’t think it’s a very big risk—you’ll notice I’m still here, and so is my wife, and so is my father—but you deserve to know.”

One of the security people raised a hand. “Excuse me, boss, what kind of danger are we talking about? Taking care of some of the tough stuff is what you’re paying us for, after all.”

“Thanks, Frank.” Doors nodded his appreciation. “The problem has been presented to me in extremely vague terms, and all I can do is pass it on to you that way. Any other questions?”

There were only a couple, which he dealt with fairly successfully. In the end, no one left. At first, Doors was rather startled by the fact that none of his workers even seemed to discuss the possibility of leaving; but when he thought about it, he was not really surprised. He tended to hire people with an adventurous streak in them.

… and the struggle between the Companions and their uncanny enemy went on, the creature’s dark thoughts rolling like thunderclouds across the background of Jonathan’s consciousness. It was called the Urod, by the Taelons who feared it mortally, but the dark thing gave itself no name. It had no words, or it chose to use none, when it tried to communicate with Jonathan Doors, but only offered him glimpses of terror and power.

Jonathan dismissed his workers and went to look for his father.

“Dad.” Jonathan raised a tentative hand to his own head. “I’m feeling a kind of…”

He didn’t have to finish what he was trying to say. Jubal had already recognized the problem.

“I know, I’m getting it too. Like some damn nightmare, that keeps coming back, and back again.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred