The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

That was hard to do when earth satellites were in the loop, with multiple-channel capacity, but it appeared that some of Shelby’s friends or allies had found a way.

“Well, keep at it.” Jonathan was trying hard to recall all he could of the physical communications system on the hill. The new fiber-optic lines were underground, but someone had torn a fistful of connectors from the side of the house, just above the place where they went down into the trench.

Before leaving the suite of rooms, he turned to Amanda again, and saw that her slender right hand now held a pistol, a graceful and pearl-handled thing, a personal weapon she had had for many years, for self-protection. Actually she was quite an effective shot.

He stared at the woman who after thirty years was still able to surprise him. “I didn’t know you brought that! What made you bring it?”

“Just had a feeling, Johnny. Sometimes a person just has a feeling.”

“How well I know it. Keep the gun with you, Mandy, just in case. Dad, you stay here too. You two look out for each other, will you? This door’s a pretty good barrier.” He put out a hand and thumped what felt like four inches of solid oak. “Better keep it shut and locked unless you know who’s calling. I’ve got to go see about some other people.”

“I’ll do my best.” Jubal, with his cane in hand, looked ready to fight, but the enemy was going to have to come to him. At well past eighty years of age, he was not about to undertake any feats of running or scrambling through the dark, in an effort to come to grips with them.

Both Jubal and Amanda also promised that they would keep trying to phone for help. Repeated attempts might be necessary. The communications system at San Simeon had been state-of-the-art—in 1936. A lot had been updated since then, of course, several times over, but there was nothing wired in place today that would serve as an intercom under these conditions.

Once more urging Amanda and Jubal to keep down, Jonathan prepared to leave the room to check up on his workers, to see who might have been killed or hurt, and who was having some success at fighting back.

He took back his global and clipped it on his belt—maybe there would be less interference in another room.

“Why should we keep down when you’re sticking your neck out?” Amanda gasped after him in anguish.

Doors managed to ignore it. “Lock the door behind me. I’ll give a trick knock”—he demonstrated on a tabletop—”when I come back.”

On emerging into the hallway, Doors was struck by the fact that some of the interior lights of Casa Grande had already been shot out.

Doors supposed that the attackers had cut phone lines—assuming they could find any, after the recent upgrading of telecommunications gear. That was one of the first things he’d ordered on becoming the new owner of San Simeon. The Companions’ own communication network, of course, worked on an entirely different level from any human system from whatever decade. They might be able to reach other Taelons, in Los Angeles or San Francisco, and have them pass the word along to human law enforcement there.

The only trouble with that hope, thought Jonathan Doors, was that the Taelons at San Simeon seemed to be totally concentrated on their own major problem. They would be anxious to take off in their ship as soon as the Urod was loaded aboard.

Over the years he had cultivated a nastily suspicious mind, and now he toyed with the idea that the Taelons themselves had somehow arranged for the militia attack; still, he couldn’t see how they were going to profit from it.

Dim forms were moving in the gloom. He held his breath until he could recognize one of them.

In another suite of fantastically decorated rooms, a few yards down the hall, Doors held a hasty, ragged conference with a couple of his security people, and got the best estimate available of the attackers’ strength and positions.

They were crouched low in a hallway or entryway, out of sight of any windows. The barrage outside had started up again, with new ferocity.

Soon afterward, when Jonathan Doors once more found a vantage point from which to look down at the scene below, he observed that the big cargo hatch on the shuttle was now closed, the loading ramp withdrawn. The Urod and its transport device were nowhere to be seen, and he presumed they had been successfully taken aboard.

Jonathan’s next glimpse outside showed him four or five of the attacking militia, running about in front of the Taelon ship. Even as Doors watched, one man wearing a black ski mask, stopped and sprayed the vessel with his automatic weapon at point-blank range—to no effect. A moment later some marksman in the big house dropped the masked man in his tracks. Doors let go a yell of savage triumph.

The three big machines the Taelon had used to immobilize and move their enemy were still approximately where Doors had seen them last, but it seemed that the Taelons had at least temporarily abandoned the blue dinosaurs, which had accomplished their important mission. One of them had now somehow been tipped over on its side. A hatch stood open, on the side that would have been uppermost when the machine stood upright. The operator’s cab showed empty in the glow of one of the remaining lights.

As soon as Doors got back into the room where the old man and Amanda were still waiting, Jubal handed his son the global. “Got a caller for you, Johnny.”

“Have you got the creature aboard your ship?” Doors demanded, as soon as a Taelon face showed up on the small screen. He wondered jealously if they had some way of forcing a clear signal through the jamming when they wanted to communicate.

“Fortunately that task has been completed. We are almost ready to depart.” The Companion’s voice was as unhurried as ever, though somewhat strained.

“Then you’d better lift off, get out of this firefight while you still can.”

“One important matter remains to be accomplished, Jonathan. It is essential to Amanda’s welfare that she come with us.”

“I think you’d better not wait on that We can discuss her medical treatment later.”

There was no answer. Jonathan was certain that they were ignoring his advice.

No human or Taelon had told him so, but he had no doubt that Va’lon and Namor, in a strong push for human co-operation, were even now making their way into Casa Grande. He could see, as if in his imagination or memory, an image of them walking, and wondered suddenly if it came from the Urod. The pair of Taelons would be looking for Amanda, insisting on her compliance.

Gently and patiently their voices nagged the listening humans, strongly implying that they were now delaying takeoff and taking chances with the Urod, solely for her benefit.

“We are entering the main house on the ground floor, Jonathan,” the seemingly imperturbable voice informed him.

“Then you’d better turn around and get the hell out! Your ship looks safe, get on it. If you come in here, at least stay clear of the windows!”

Still they were coming on, as implacable as baseball umpires, as tax collectors.

“We wish to help Amanda,” Namor told him sweetly, “and I have undertaken her treatment. She is my patient, and I am responsible for her welfare. Therefore we are coming to convey her to safety.”

“All right, we’ll wait for you upstairs.” He cut off the communicator, shut it off as thoroughly as he could, and looked at his wife. Where were they going to hide?

She was standing straight now, and had tucked away the pistol somewhere out of sight, and disconnected the oxygen tank. For the moment Amanda looked twenty years younger.

“What’re we going to do, Johnny? You’d better make the decision, you’re the lad who knows what’s going on.”

He had to fight back an irrational urge to laugh. “That’s the trouble, Mandy. I know just enough to make the decisions awfully hard.”

* * *

Chapter Twenty-Three

« ^ »

Jonathan’s global was vibrating again, and he flipped it open. A call for help, from a face that he recognized as one of his workers on the estate, though he could not immediately fit it to a name.

In moments when it was possible to see and hear the worker’s outcries through the jamming, bits of hard information came through, enough for Doors to conclude that several people had been hit.

In a brief exchange Doors tried to find out which room the wounded people were in. That was difficult, but he thought he had it narrowed down to the right hallway.

With any luck at all it would take the Taelons a couple of minutes, at least, to find their way to where Amanda was taking shelter. Again Jonathan urged his wife and his father to keep their heads down, and defend themselves as best they could, while he dashed away to try to give assistance to another person for whom he felt responsibility.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred