The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

With a feeling of inevitability, he recalled the encapsulation his father had seen on the Urod’s body, while they were both inside the Taelon spaceship of 1936.

Beside him, Amanda whispered that she could see it too.

There’ll never be a better time to talk to her than now, he thought. Now, when they’re all distracted. Jonathan cleared his throat, then whispered. “Listen, Mandy. I’ve got to tell you—”

A figure leaning from another window, only a few feet lower in the great white wall, raised an arm suddenly and pointed urgently outward. Not at the Urod and its opponents, but beyond them, into the California night, deep black beyond the circle of Taelon light and activity.

I can’t see anything at all out there, thought Doors, staring at nothing to no avail. Only sheer blackness. Now what—?

And at the same moment, someone at yet another window was having the same thought.

“But what’s that?” The voice carried plainly, conveying innocent curiosity.

The answer came, loud and terrible and shocking, in a barrage of bullets, gun flashes visible in the darkness out beyond the lighted plaza, rapid automatic fire, in a continuous blasting roar, all aimed toward the great house, pocking the front of Casa Grande. Moments later another weapon joined in, and then another.

* * *

Chapter Twenty-Two

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The castle’s surroundings were dimming rapidly, in sudden leaps of advancing darkness, as antique and precious alabaster globes of light were shot away. Now it sounded like the outbreak of World War III.

“Who the hell—?” But almost before Jonathan could formulate the question for himself, he knew the answer. Colonel Shelby, of course, or someone like him. Maybe one of Shelby’s rivals, leader of some different band, perhaps a little better armed and organized.

Already Jonathan’s mind was abstractedly critiquing the operation: They should have waited until the hour before dawn. They’re not going to catch anyone at San Simeon asleep at midnight—not tonight.

Meanwhile his body was already in rapid motion, as if by instinct.

“Get down, Mandy! Get under the bed!”

She had moved, as quickly as her disability would let her, to one side of the window, but she was still hovering beside it. Her voice was clear and sharp. “You get under the bed if you want to, Jonathan Doors! I want to see what’s going on!”

“At least keep away from the bloody window!” he bawled at his dear wife, and hauled her by main force into the maximum shelter that the walls of Casa Grande could provide.

Jonathan knew those walls were thick with layers of reinforced concrete inside the facing stones, and ought to offer at least some measure of safely. An oxygen bottle, connected to Mandy by a plastic tube, came banging behind her as he dragged her down. God help them both if a bullet should hit that.

And he was angry at himself for having underestimated the determination and resourcefulness of Colonel Shelby and his group.

There was a loud and heavy knocking, wood on wood, on the door of the sitting room, followed by a hoarse muffled cry. Recognizing his father’s voice, Jonathan shouted an invitation to come in.

The heavy door swung in to reveal Jubal, standing in a half-darkened hallway wearing slippers and an old-fashioned nightshirt, and gripping his cane tightly in one hand. “Can’t a man get a nap around here? What the hell is going on?”

“Dad! Come in but keep clear of the window!”

The old man’s hands were trembling as he stumbled across the threshold, but his bushy eyebrows looked fierce, and his voice sounded ready for battle.

“Sons of bitches woke me up. What the hell is going on?” he repeated. The way he glared at Jonathan gave a momentary impression that he meant to hold his son personally responsible.

“We’re doing our best not to get killed,” Amanda informed her father-in-law, while Jonathan was still searching for words. “Come in and help us. But stay clear of the window.”

Jubal stumbled in. After taking a hasty look up and down the hall and seeing no one, Jonathan slammed the door shut again and latched it, not knowing but that the house had already been invaded. The door wouldn’t stop armed men for long, but they might rush on past it looking for some easier game. He had his global unit in hand now, and was rapidly punching in orders, trying to reach all of his security people, and in the intervals of waiting get off an urgent call to the Highway Patrol.

Then Jonathan Doors swore violently; somehow all the channels available for regular global operation were being jammed.

He tossed the unit to his father. “Here, Dad, see what you can do. We’ve got to get through to the cops somehow.”

“Jonathan!” Mandy screamed her warning. “Get away from the window!”

He waved her back. “If I can’t talk to anyone, I’ve got to try to see.”

The assault was almost overwhelming in its violence, as any must be when carried out by attackers so well armed. But so far, at least, there was no evidence that it had been intelligently planned.

Hundreds of feet away from Casa Grande, a few feet downhill from the plaza and to Jonathan’s right as he looked out, the watery surface of the outdoor pool, mirror-calm a moment earlier, was shattered by the splash of a falling human body, hurling the reflections of the remaining lights into dancing oblivion.

What little Jonathan could see of the fight, peering out from one side of the window, included the sight of rapid muzzle flashes high on the flank of Casa Grande, assuring him that the firing was not all one way. Doors felt a fierce elation that some of his own people were managing to put up a pretty good resistance, almost from the very start.

Closing his eyes and concentrating intently, he tried to recall what weapons his security guards might have available. He could definitely recall seeing only a couple of pistols. Jonathan realized to his frustration that he really had very little idea how well his bodyguards and the wardens of his property were equipped. He felt sharp anger at himself for not having seen to it that they were better prepared.

But who could have expected anything like this? Well, anyone in his own position ought to have foreseen the possibility. It was only to be expected that the landing of alien spaceships would bring out every variety of fanatic that the earth possessed.

The few trained security people Doors had on hand were highly professional, but it was obvious from the volume of fire out there that they were greatly outnumbered, and this despite the fact that he had been able to move a few extra people here from elsewhere over the last couple of days. Thank God he had at least done that.

There was a brief interval of near-silence. One or two foolhardy souls in other rooms had just returned to the windows of Casa Grande and started to look out again, when they were driven back by more bursts of small-arms fire, coming in through half a dozen of the high windows of the big house. Bullets knocked chunks of cornice from ledges under the high balconies, broke iron railings, gouged armloads of imported stone out of the towering walls.

In another room, on the same level as that in which the Doors family were taking shelter, and frighteningly close, someone screamed in a high voice, making a sickening, ugly sound.

Doors crawled to the door leading out into the hall, stuck his head out, drew a full breath and bellowed at his people not to stick their necks out at the windows. Granted that those who were armed ought to make some effort to shoot back, there was no point in cooks and housekeepers getting their heads blown off.

Having delivered some stern orders to that effect, Jonathan promptly violated his own rule by scrambling back to the window and risking another quick peek. There had been a sudden pause in the shooting, while someone out in the darkness, armed with a bullhorn, treated whatever survivors remained in the big house to a rambling, semi-intelligible diatribe.

Most of this echoing outburst was unintelligible to Jonathan; he caught a few words about the racial purity of earthborn humanity, and how it was being endangered as never before. Whatever came after that was drowned out in a burst of return fire from the house. Still, he got the point of the lecture, not that there had been much doubt about it from the start.

“What was that all about?” Amanda queried in a fierce whisper.

“I think these guys have hidden all their womenfolk away in the hills, so the Taelons can’t rape them.”

“I see. That makes a lot of sense. About as much as the rest of what they’re doing.”

Jubal meanwhile had been making repeated efforts to contact the Highway Patrol; now he reported to his son that there seemed to be some kind of jamming or other interference, moving up and down all the usual communications frequencies.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred