The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

“Mandy. Mandy—!”

Over the next half minute Jonathan Doors had to watch and listen while his wife gasped out her last rattling, dying breaths. Amanda did her best to speak to him once more. “You never did tell me what the Taelons… why…”

“Oh God. Oh God, Mandy, no I never did.” Jonathan was ready to tell her now, tell her all and everything, but her ears could no longer hear him, her eyes no longer see. He cradled Mandy helplessly, rocking her dead body back and forth. No need now for oxygen, no problems now with breathing. Her spirit no longer needed air, but she was gone from him. A pang, an agony of grief. But even at the worst moment, an undercurrent of something like relief: Better this, even this, than knowing she had been carried away to be used up in some experiment, or displayed as a specimen.

Everything was silent now, outside the house and inside, except for the distant, mad, useless continuation of alarms. He sat there, listening to them, while the California morning brightened beautifully around him, promising actual sunrise soon.

From the corner of his eye he caught a swift and silent movement of blue-white, well outside the window—the Taelon shuttle, lifting off. The removal of the Urod was at last being successfully accomplished.

Presently he realized that Shelby still breathed, was calling him by name.

Jonathan got to his feet and went back across the room, and stood there looking down at the colonel.

“Disappointed in you, Doors.” Shelby was evidently profoundly disturbed at having to abandon his belief that Doors had somehow been held hostage by the Taelons. To think that would be much easier than admitting to himself that Doors had made an utter fool of him, back at the roadblock.

“Are you? Try this for disappointment,” said Doors quietly, and lifted Shelby by the front of his combat fatigues, and banged his head with brutal force against the corner of the exquisitely designed stone fireplace. Again. And then once more.

Doors let the dead man drop from his bloody hands, and stood there swaying. Still his rage rose up and up.

I could have saved her, if we hadn’t been forced to hide out from the Taelons. I could have saved her, kept her with me, and then next year, or the year after that, we earth-humans could have found a real cure for her disease…

Gladly will I portion out a good share of the blame to the madman who actually shot her. Doors glanced at the inert body beside the fireplace. And he’s paid for that. And I must bear some guilt myself. He could feel that load already on his back, and he knew he would be carrying it for the rest of his life.

But the true blame, the main guilt, lies with the lying Taelons. With the dear Companions, their hands that look so pale and clean all soaked in secret, invisible blood.

Not that I will ever tell them that. No, I will never openly accuse sweet helpful Da’an and the others of anything at all.

Of course, had the Companions really been trying to help, I would have co-operated with them and they could have saved her.

Now the first lance of direct sunlight came striking in at the tall towers of Casa Grande, from over the inland hills. Now Doors could hear firm steady sirens in the distance. Soon law and order would have reestablished their claim along the California coast.

One of the first state troopers to come prowling, gun in hand, through the scorched and pock-marked halls of Casa Grande found him still sitting at Amanda’s side, holding her hand. Some of the blood was Jonathan’s, for his knuckles on both hands were badly torn. Jonathan’s lips kept moving, as if he were saying something, over and over.

When the trooper had shaken him by the shoulder several times, Doors suddenly stood up.

With a vague sense of shock he realized that he had forgotten about his father for several minutes. At the thought of Jubal, something in him stirred to life again.

“Dad? Dad!”

But Jubal was not here, in the suite of rooms where Mandy and her murderers had died. Of course, they had left him back in the other room.

Jonathan went out of the room at a stumbling run, down the shot-up hallway to that other room. He realized that it would even be a relief to find the old man dead. Better a bullet, better sudden heart failure, than…

The old man was not there, neither in spirit nor in body. And at once Jonathan felt certain, with a sudden new sinking of his heart, that Jubal had been taken aboard the Taelon ship.

Doors stood in the doorway looking, for once unable to think or plan.

He stood there for some time, seeing only the emptiness, before his eyes registered the fact that the wooden cane was lying on the parquet floor. An old man would have no need of a cane to help him walk, not if he had fainted. Not if an old man had somehow been put to sleep, and strong arms were carrying him away.

Jonathan saw that the sword had been drawn from the cane at last, but there was no blood on the blade, which had not been sheathed again. The cane lay in two parts on the fine floor, an elegant irrelevancy.

* * *


« ^

Final confirmation of Jonathan’s worst fear did not come until some hours later. An ongoing, fruitless search of the Enchanted Hill, by police and mobilized National Guard, was suddenly called off when a message from the Companions informed the local authorities that Jubal’s body was being brought back on a Taelon shuttle.

One of Jonathan’s employees, following orders, woke him from an exhausted sleep to tell him that the final word had now come in regarding his father.

Jonathan roused himself somehow and stumbled from his bed to watch, as the shuttle landed peacefully right on the plaza in front of Casa Grande—there was no longer any need to worry about disturbing any nearby and nonhuman presence. The actual spot of landing was not far from the dried-up fountain where three dark stone statues still remained.

Presently Da’an emerged from the shuttle, politely evading questions from police—the media swarms were still being kept at bay—and advanced until he was standing directly in front of Jonathan Doors.

“I offer my deepest sympathy in your separation from Amanda, Jonathan.”

“Thank you.”

“And now, I regret, I bring news that will add to your burden of loss.” Moments later, the Taelon representative to North America regretfully and formally informed Jonathan Doors that his father had died of a heart attack, aboard a Taelon vessel, despite all that Taelon science had been able to do for him.

“I see.” Jonathan’s face and voice were wooden, as if with great fatigue. “How did he—?”

“How did he come to be aboard? There is a simple explanation. Va’lon and I discovered him wandering in one of the hallways of Casa Grande, in obvious distress. The fighting was then still in progress, and you were unavailable…”

“Yes. I see.”

“Also, we dared not delay the transportation of the Urod any longer. So in the circumstances the best thing we could do for Jubal was to bring him with us…”

“Yes. I understand.”

Jonathan asked that the body be brought off the shuttle as soon as possible, before the media vultures descended on the place in force. Their copters were wheeling in the air now, pushing the envelope of police restrictions, ignoring signaled warnings, edging and circling hungrily ever closer to the restricted airspace law enforcement had imposed over the compound.

When the cart with his father’s body on it was rolled in a dignified progress down the ramp, Jonathan thought the vehicle probably looked much like that older one, that Jubal had called a gurney, and on which he had once wheeled Esther Summerson the movie star, trying to save her life.

Jubal was lying on his back, his body uncovered except for the nightshirt and slippers he had still been wearing when he died. His face in death looked peaceful. His hands, when Jonathan touched them, were cold and beginning to stiffen. Jonathan could detect no visible sign that any of his father’s nightmares dating from 1936 had overtaken him at last. But then he supposed that the Companions were quite capable of molding any dead human face—or probably any live one, for that matter—into any expression they wanted it to wear, assuming they had any interest in the matter at all.

Doors had his father’s remains brought into the house, where at least the vultures soon to be circling above would be unable to feast on the old man with their ever-hungry cameras.

Va’lon and Namor, neither of whom seemed to have gone on the ship carrying the Urod away, came to offer their personal condolences, and to convey the regrets of the entire Synod for the great personal loss that he had suffered in the deaths of his wife and his father.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred