“But I never felt anything like this.”
“That’s Mr. Urod calling, son. The fella who lives time-frozen in that black stone body.” Jubal was trying to keep a light tone, but he looked and sounded a little sick. “Not nearly as bad as it hit me in the Thirties. Maybe it realizes that I don’t make the decisions anymore.”
“What the hell does ‘time-frozen’ mean, anyway?”
“Dunno. I’ve looked in scientific dictionaries now and then over the years, but never found it. Judging by what happened to Lobo, one thing it can mean is being paralyzed, unable to move physically. Fortunately or unfortunately, that kind’ of paralysis doesn’t slow down a Urod much. I’ve never seen this one in any other mode.”
“Dad, does the Urod—do you think it knows you, recognizes you from way back when?”
Jubal nodded. “The idea scares me, but I kind of think it does. It knows me, but it just doesn’t care.”
It was about ten o’clock of a dark and moonless night, when Da’an, evidently taking advantage of some kind of recess in the ongoing struggle, approached the house again, calling ahead on his communicator to say he wished to talk with Jonathan Doors.
Jonathan met him on the ground floor. “Are you making satisfactory progress?” Doors inquired mildly.
“There is progress indeed, though not entirety satisfactory. We have now moved the Urod several yards, and prevented any significant re-adaptation.” Da’an did not appear perturbed, exactly—perhaps a little worn. His coloring was stable.
He said to Jonathan, “The business will perhaps require more time than we expected. I have come now to warn you that there will be a risk of occasional bad dreams tonight. This applies to anyone sleeping in the great ‘house, and to a lesser extent, in any of the three smaller mansions, which are at a slightly greater distance from the center of activity.”
Doors observed that the only ones who had been assigned quarters in the smaller houses were the Taelons themselves.
The gracious gesture, the small bow. “Then, as we do not intend to sleep, it is necessary to consider only those humans residing in Casa Grande.”
“I will pass along the warning. But I doubt that anyone in the house will be getting much sleep tonight anyway.”
“They may attend, from a distance, if they wish. But there will not be much for them to see.”
“Maybe not, but we’re all interested.”
Da’an asked if any of his family members, or workers, were feeling any ill effects so far.
“I haven’t been told of anything,” Doors reported.
Actually the handful of humans now in residence could all have been not only accommodated but lost in the big house. The workers, excluding medics but including maintenance people, were all currently housed in the part of Casa Grande that used to be known as the servants’ quarters. Only Jonathan Doors, his wife and father, and Amanda’s human physician, Dr. Kimura, were installed in the guest bedrooms.
“But, excuse me, Da’an, wait a moment—are bad dreams the worst possibility we have to worry about? Does that mean this Urod represents no real, material danger?” Jonathan, still straining for crumbs of useful information, wanted to get the Taelon to talk about its enemy as much as possible.
“Unfortunately there are other risks, and they are very real. Though perhaps they present no material danger, in the strict philosophical sense. Reality itself is not precisely material.”
Jonathan thought that one over, or tried to. Then he considered that he might have been better off just trying to get a good night’s sleep. Philosophy had never been his strongest suit.
“Could you amplify that a little?” he asked the Taelon. “I ‘ mean, is there danger of a—great explosion? Or a meltdown? Something on that order?”
The Companion said, “An event of physical violence on the scale that you suggest is highly unlikely. I am told you personally have now experienced something of the powers that the Urod is capable of exerting. It is possible, that in its last desperate bid for freedom, it might be able to induce a substantial re-adaptation of reality.”
“What now appears as a stone statue might possibly acquire some other aspect. The contours of your great house, or some other object, might be slightly changed.”
“Well. That doesn’t sound too bad.”
Da’an said nothing.
“I’m not sure I understand just what…”
“This is one of those cases in which verbal translation must be always difficult. Perhaps we could find a better word, but I hope there is no need. In its mildest form the reaction I am describing might bring on unpleasant dreams in any human mind nearby.”
“Implying that we might also anticipate some other forms, that would not be so mild?”
“If all goes well, we will not have to worry about those.”
“And if all does not go well?”
The Taelon raised almost-invisible eyebrows. “Patience, Jonathan. If there is any serious cause for alarm, I will let you know in time to take appropriate measures.”
“What sort of measures?”
But one of the other Taelons, whose name Doors had never learned, had come into the house, some urgency apparent in the speed with which he moved. Da’an had already turned away to confer with his compatriot, and answered Jonathan only with a gentle wave.
Jonathan went back into the house, not certain that the latest conference had taught him anything at all.
Doors pulled his global from his belt, flipped it on and passed along to his crew the latest warning from the Companions. “I’m told that anyone who falls asleep in this building tonight may experience bad dreams. Take it for what it’s worth.”
By about eleven o’clock, Jonathan and Amanda were once again alone together in their third-floor suite of rooms. They had opened one of the windows, which afforded them an excellent view of what was happening below, on the plaza and in the nearby areas that were not obscured by trees or bushes.
Just beyond the plaza and to the left, on a slightly lower level, they had a good view of the statue (despite everything, as often as not Doors still thought of it that way: as a stone image carved by human hands), still bathed in bright light. It seemed to be resting now on some kind of low platform, equipped with rollers, and it was very slowly being inched along a broad walkway, toward a sloping ramp that led up into the interior of the waiting Taelon shuttle. Inside that exotic cave a haze of blue lights now awaited the Urod’s arrival. People, or objects, indistinctly seen, were moving around in there.
Gradually Jonathan’s expectations were being realized: Almost every other human on the Enchanted Hill seemed to be watching too. Just about all the windows on the west face of Casa Grande that turned most directly toward the broad plaza and adjoining walkways, were occupied by heads. None of the local employees of Doors International needed to rest, it seemed. It looked to Doors like no one had gone to sleep. Maybe, he thought, I just don’t work them hard enough. Or maybe they were all really afraid of nightmares.
The chief effect of Jonathan’s latest warning seemed to have been to reinforce the curiosity engendered by the first. Now, apart from a couple of workers who were unable to leave their posts of duty—one at the front gate, one at the improvised communications center—the whole staff wanted to see what kind of a fantastic enterprise the Taelons were up to. Heads were visible in several windows in the big house, and men and women had found various other places from which to watch, outside the crudely marked-out triangle of Taelon power.
That power, like the other alien force it was opposing, trying to contain and seal away, seemed to be operating essentially beyond the range of human senses: Jonathan could not see, or hear, or feel, that the Companions’ three mechanical dinosaurs were doing anything at all. Only the intense concentration of their operators, whose pale faces and slender bodies were partially visible inside the glassy cabs of their machines, testified that something very important was going on.
“It’s very strange, Mandy.” Oh, if only I dared to tell you just how strange it really is. Maybe I had better take the chance and tell you now. If anything were to happen to me, and Dad, no other human being on earth would know…
“It sure is, Johnny. Look!”
It seemed to the observers that the difficult process of loading the Urod had now been partially accomplished. The black object on its transporter was halfway up the ramp. But evidently the struggle was not yet over. Something, some last-ditch resistance on the part of the confuser of reality, prevented the loading from being completed.
It seemed to Jonathan, though he could not be sure, that some kind of crystalline encrustation had now begun to take shape around the Urod. There were glimpses of an almost ghostly framework, coming and going. In a way it reminded him of the Taelon blush, but this phenomenon was taking place outside the Urod’s body, not on its surface.