The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

The lanky man looked apologetic. “Sorry, Boss, I’m down to one.”

The other man, who seemed to be known as Shorty, had a spare, but he was out of cartridges for it. “I’d let you have this one, Boss, but…”

“Absolutely not. You people keep your weapons. You’re a lot more efficient with them than I would be.” Now that he was with these men, some details about them were coming back to him; they were both veterans of the recent war in the Middle East.

The noise of fireworks surged up again, and now, to judge by the volume of automatic weapons fire, they might have been under attack by an army. All of the attackers Jonathan had seen so far were wearing ski masks and camouflage clothing, with combat boots.

“Are any of them in the house yet?”

“I think they have to be. There’s several places on the ground floor where they can just walk in.”

There was some discussion as to whether the enemy had entered the grounds by road, or across country and over or through the fences.

“I’d bet on fences. Cutting their way through wire would be part of the fun.”

“But we didn’t realize there’d been an intrusion until—”

Doors cut short the debate. “Time enough later to figure out what went wrong. What I want to know now is, why aren’t we getting any help?”

People in the house had been trying for over an hour to make contact with the local police, and the Highway Patrol. The jamming had evidently been pretty successful.

He had underestimated Shelby and his colleagues once, and didn’t want to do it again. “They might have been smart enough to create some distractions, too. Stage more roadblocks, or another raid somewhere else. Draw the cops away first.”

Shorty had lost his own global, and was looking at Jonathan’s. “Try channel 39 on that thing yet, Boss? You’ve got to switch it over manually.”

“Here. Show me how.”

Results were inconclusive. The lanky man still had his own unit to play around with. “Keep at it,” Jonathan ordered, clipping his global back on his belt. It would be great to reestablish contact with other survivors among his crew; he assumed there were a substantial number, most of them just keeping quiet, keeping their heads down. “I’m going upstairs again to check on my wife.”

Doors left his colleagues and started to climb. There was a window on these stairs, and his attention was caught by a narrow, vertical streak of fire, come and gone in an instant, shooting straight up the side of Casa Grande. He stared for a moment before realizing what he had just seen. Evidently at least one of the attackers had come equipped with the latest in scaling devices, small rocket-launched weights and claws to carry their assault lines all the way to the top of the twin spires.

“Well,” he muttered to himself, “forget about their pulling back.”

Forget, also, about revising upward his estimate of their intelligence. Firing a scaling line did not seem the easiest or most sensible way to invade a building whose doors were probably all standing open.

And now the man who had fired the scaling rocket, or someone else, was coming up the line, climbing with an automatic weapon of some kind slung over his back Doors thought he had probably been waiting years for a chance like this—tonight fortune granted him not only a chance to use his toy, but to demonstrate his strength of arm as well. Yippee. Come in reach of me tonight, you thug, and I will show you strength of arm.

Jonathan looked in briefly on Amanda, and was almost immediately off again. “Got to try to see what’s happening,” he told his wife. “I’ll be on this floor, probably in one of the rooms along this hallway.” Quite possibly staying in one place would maximize his chances of personal survival, but he would be damned if he was going to sit passively while there was a chance he might accomplish something.

“Don’t forget me.” She wasn’t taking the possibility seriously. “They seem to be really trying to set the place on fire.”

“Not likely I’ll forget you, lover. Anyway, I doubt very much the whole thing is going to burn.”

Closing the door on Mandy, he went out again. No fire on this floor, not that Jonathan could see, though there was certainly a smell of smoke, waxing and waning. He knew there were automatic sprinkler systems throughout the building, and hoped some of them had come into play locally. Mainly he was relying on the fact that most of the furnishings had been treated for fire resistance, and the shell of the building was concrete and rebar.

The electric power was entirely knocked out now, and the high towers were almost entirely in darkness. Doors still wondered what the man who had gone climbing there might be up to. Fire smoldering somewhere, smoke in the dark air, and a fitful electric sparking. Occasional gunfire still, and the trickle of running water.

There was an abrupt surge of mental power from the expiring Urod, a warning of fresh danger, a last desperate psychic thrashing…

Doors did not see the man fall or jump, but heard the impact close behind him. It was a heavy thump, and Doors spun around, ready with his hands, wishing momentarily that he had not left the sword-cane with Jubal.

But the man who had just landed on the balcony was not going to attack anyone. He was crumpled on the terraced balcony, down and out, quite possibly dead but still twitching.

Running out on the terrace, bending over the broken body, Doors couldn’t tell at first whether the hooded invader had been shot, or had simply lost his grip and fallen. He supposed that plummeting thirty feet or so onto hard flagstone might well have much the same effect as a well-placed bullet.

Then Jonathan suddenly wondered if the Urod had somehow knocked the fellow loose from his high perch. It might not have been difficult. A startling image in the mind at precisely the wrong moment. The last necessary handgrip fading into unreality, even as an expectant hand reached out to grasp it…

Doors quickly unslung the automatic weapon from the victim’s back, and dodged back again into the deeper shadows. At last he would be able to shoot back! But the gun was of a type he hadn’t seen before and could not name.

Looking out from there, he spotted militia figures running across the plaza, and was considering whether to try to shoot the next one he saw, when there rose a more immediate danger, right in the house, on the same level.

Jonathan aimed from the hip and pressed the trigger.

Nothing happened. Hastily he retreated a step, seeking the shelter of darkness.

Jonathan’s intended victim had not seen him yet, and did not aim or fire. In another moment he had moved away, out of Jonathan’s sight. If the invader kept going in that direction, Amanda should be safe from him.

Studying the unfamiliar weapon as best he could in the poor light, Doors couldn’t be sure at first if there was some safety to be released. Then he realized that the fall had probably jammed the mechanism anyway. Or perhaps he owed the Urod one more debt of gratitude, for disabling the weapon when it was still in the enemy’s hands.

Frustrated, Doors hurried back to the dead militiaman and searched the body, looking for some other weapon, maybe a holstered pistol, even a hunting knife, anything in the way of armament. He had one brief joyful moment when he came up with a pistol, but when he pulled out the magazine he found that it was empty. Not even a single round remained in the chamber.

Cursing, Jonathan realized that the attackers were probably all in the same boat with the defenders, on the verge of running out of ammunition—given the amount the invaders had expended in the early minutes of the battle, it could hardly be otherwise.

The global on Jonathan’s belt was buzzing.

This time the face on the little screen was Jubal’s, and he was jubilant at having got through at last.

“Got the Highway Patrol on for you, Johnny!”

Moments later, Doors was talking to a uniform.

“This is Jonathan Doors, at the Castle. We are under heavy attack here, and at least half a dozen people have been killed. Some of my people and I are still holding out in Casa Grande.”

“We read you, sir. People have seen the fireworks, and we’ve had troopers trying to get to you for an hour now. They’re being held up en route.”

Jonathan went back to visit his wife in the nearby room where he had left her, and eagerly reported to Amanda his recent success in communication.

Having locked themselves in, they cautiously approached a window and looked out together. Amanda clutched his arm. “Look! Down there on the road!”

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred