The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Both of the Companions were trying to say something, offering orders or advice, but their words were drowned out by fresh battle noise. It sounded like the fighting was getting worse, if anything, and the occasional stray bullet came in a window.

Jonathan tossed the cane back to his father—Jubal fumbled the catch, but no one seemed to notice the heavy, metal-weighted thump of its landing on the parquet floor. Then Jonathan bent slightly and easily lifted his wife. His arms were strong, their strength augmented at this moment by adrenalin, and as always he was touched by the almost-weightless feel of her thin body. Amanda’s eyes were locked on his, her arms around his neck, oxygen bottle resting on her stomach.

Namor was starting to speak again, but Doors did not wait to listen. Without pausing he strode out of the room, into a hallway darker than it had been a minute ago—there must have been some further partial failure of electricity, and now it was barely possible to see where you were going. But in any case he knew the way, and he went on, bearing Amanda down the dark hall in the direction of the elevator.

Over his shoulder he called back, “There’s only room for two. We’ll meet you downstairs, Namor, Va’lon.”

“Very well, Jonathan. We will join you on the ground floor.” The Taelon voice that came floating after him was musically, insanely calm, with bullets rattling on the walls again. Being in sight of a window meant you were likely to be sprayed with dust, riddled with dangerous flying fragments of lead and stone.

He almost had to grope to find the elevator, but then the tiny cage appeared just a little beyond the place where he had expected it to be. As soon as the two of them were inside and the door closed, Jonathan, squinting in near darkness, felt to locate the button for the top floor, and pushed it hard. Fortunately all electrical power had not yet been shot out.

Or could this surge have some other source? Jonathan knew a sudden insight, that some physical, probably electric power was being supplied somehow by his new ally, the Urod. How that might be done was beyond his comprehension, but by now he felt confident of being able to recognize the touch of that inhuman mind.

Beside him, Amanda seemed to be enduring a partial experience of the same vision. “Johnny, what was that? I thought I saw something—like a ghost. But it must have been my imagination.”

“Your imagination’s getting a boost from someone. A friend, I hope—no, I won’t call him that. But maybe at least a temporary ally.”

Aged machinery clanked and groaned and rumbled; Doors thanked God that the power had not yet been entirely cut off. There was some kind of emergency system, he seemed to recall, relatively modern, connected to lights in a few key places, and also to a couple of other items. He could hope the latter included the elevator.

Should I be thanking the Urod too? But taking a gracious attitude toward it would not be easy, knowing everything he did about its taste in human minds.

“What are we doing, Johnny?” Now Amanda sounded more like her old self.

“Taking some evasive action.” He spoke with his lips close to her ear, so she could hear him above the primitive elevator noise, and the sounds of Armageddon from outside. “You’re not going offworld with them. Least of all are you ever getting on the same ship with the Urod. You’d be better off dying here and now.”

“That bad.”

“That bad. But I don’t want an open break with the Taelons yet, if we can possibly avoid it. Humanity can’t afford that yet. Mandy, I’m going to set you down here somewhere, and pull this damned thing right off your arm—if I can. I think they may be able to use it to track your location. Getting rid of it may hurt, but I have some reason to believe it won’t cause you serious damage. Anyway, it’s got to be done.”

She sucked in breath and wheezed it out. “If that’s what it takes,” she agreed, lifting her decorated arm slightly, and holding her voice steady with an effort.

He set Amanda on her feet, leaning her slender body back against the wall inside the little elevator. “I think it does. The whole future of the planet depends on how we… damn it, now what?”

The immediate problem was easy enough to see; the elevator had ground to a halt at the wrong place, and they were now stuck between floors. If only that would serve to keep the Taelons from getting at them—but it was not a hope he wanted to rely on.

Before even trying to get out of the elevator, he decided that he would forcibly disconnect Amanda from the Taelon device. He struggled to remember as many details as he could of what his father had told him about the problems and effects of unhooking Esther Summerson from her half-living snake.

At one point his wife cried out uncontrollably in the darkness.

“I’m sorry, Mandy.”

“Do what you—ahh!—do what you have to do.”

Jonathan did.

The crude operation caused Amanda some pain, but she survived, and suffered no serious injury. Her arm showed no sign of damage afterward—one more confirming parallel with Jubal’s tale.

When the half-living thing came loose, it writhed in his grip, and on the floor of the cage when he had cast it down.

Amanda gasped in horror.

But then suddenly the elevator car lurched on. The little light inside the cage stayed off, but the cage itself jerked upward.

“What’s happening, Johnny?”

“We’re getting power from somewhere. I think we’ve got an ally. They call it re-adaptation.”

At last the machine ground to a stop with its open gate overlapping a floor. Grunting as he squeezed his body through the tight space, Doors managed to boost his wife ahead of him, her oxygen bottle bumping along, and then climb out himself.

But just as they were ready to move off down another dark hall, there was once more a faint hum of power in the machinery, and the elevator lurched up to a stop at the proper level.

Probably the Urod yet again, Doors thought. Doing what it can to help us now, because it senses we are the enemies of its enemies. Whatever the explanation, he took advantage of the fact.

Leaving the small writhing bundle of Taelon gadgetry in the elevator, he tried to send the car back down to the ground floor. When he pushed the button he held his breath, fearing the cage would not move, but then it lurched again, and as he jumped out, began to descend the narrow shaft. He could only hope the Taelons would be innocently waiting down there for Amanda to be brought to them.

Meanwhile, it was time to be moving on. Amanda could still walk, with the support of her husband’s arm. All he knew for certain was that they were somewhere on an upper floor. Not in a tower, but on the fourth or fifth level—if there was a fifth floor, he couldn’t remember—looking for sanctuary. He hoped he would recognize it when it came in sight.

They had now entered one of the extensive regions within Casa Grande that Doors had never visited. There were not many windows and not much light. Some of the walls were painted, some papered, some were paneled. Practically all the lights were out now, and he could find his way only by the uncertain illumination washing in from outside. There were strangely angled corridors, odd corners that concealed only niches and not rooms, in one place a smashed skylight. The moonless night outside the shattered glass was clear, but here was a splash of water, and the sound of rain… no, not real rain on this clear night, but some indoor flow from broken plumbing. For a moment he had suspected that the Urod was playing tricks once more.

Soon Jonathan realized that at least one of the water storage tanks, high up above the rest of the house in the twin towers, must have been punctured by bullets. A steady flood of moderate size was in progress, ruining a prize assortment of fine woodwork and yet another ancient tapestry. The businessman that lived in Doors came to the surface long enough to wonder if the expensive insurance he had been forced to carry on the place would pay for damage due to acts of war and rebellion.

Flood or no flood, what they needed was a hiding place. Now Jonathan once more wished heartily that while negotiating the purchase of San Simeon, he had somehow found the time to go through the whole house at least once. But the total time he had spent here amounted to no more than a few days, and by far the largest part of the interior of Casa Grande was still a mystery to him—he knew there were more than a hundred rooms, but he had hardly been in ten of them as yet.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred