The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

Again they sought to reassure him that in the case of Jubal they had done everything medically possible.

“I’m sure you did,” he readily agreed.

“We hope also that you will derive comfort from considering that Amanda and Jubal have moved on to the next level.”

Doors thanked them graciously. His years of experience enabled him to do that. His voice sounded perfectly sincere when he thanked all the Taelons who had come to earth for all that they had done for humanity, and all they had tried to do.

The Companions were plainly relieved that he was taking his compound loss so well, and that he showed no tendency to hold them in any way responsible. “We hope you will soon feel well enough for an extended conversation, Jonathan. There are many things we have to talk about.”

“There are indeed.”

And as far as human science could tell,” it was perfectly true that his father had died of a heart attack.

Before the new day was over, Jonathan had ordered a secret private autopsy. There was no sign of foul play. Just eighty-plus years of active life, and then a quick and peaceful, natural death—not a bad bargain to be made with fate. Not if that was all there really was to it.

But Jonathan could not believe it for a moment.

To be the chicken for the alligator’s jaws…

Some people thought, and continued to think, that old Jubal had just died in Jonathan’s arms, overcome by fear and shock in the course of the gun battle.

Standing over the body, before the autopsy, Doors marveled at how physically small his father suddenly seemed. And he made a solemn pledge to the dead: I won’t forget what you told me, Dad. Sorry I ever doubted you.

Dr. Kimura came hobbling on crutches to offer her sympathy. She had been wounded in the leg early in the fighting, and had lain for hours in great pain, unable to reach her patient. Doors tried to reassure her, told her his appreciation of all that she had done.

Several of the nurses came by too. They had not been able to enter the estate until this morning. And after them, housekeeping people.

“We’re so sorry, Chief. She was such a marvelous woman…”

“Yes. Yes, she was. Thank you.”

Whoever survived among the security force came also to offer their condolences. And others from the staff of San Simeon, and from his personal staff.

Doors made a point that very day of visiting the badly wounded among his own people in a nearby hospital, of asking them if there was anything they needed, anything he could do. For one he arranged to pay off a house mortgage, for another to finance medical care for a relative.

By late afternoon, San Simeon was swarming with all kinds of law enforcement, police vehicles everywhere. Media helicopters were in the air, vultures as thick as butterflies right over the castle now, and for miles up and down the coast. Grief counselors, smelling blood and television coverage, were doubtless on their way from all around the nation. Doors and his security staff were being given worldwide credit for their heroic rearguard defense that had enabled several Taelons to escape assassination. So far no news regarding the Urod had leaked out.

And Jonathan Doors finally received a communication from his son, Joshua, who at the moment was en route to California from New York. Amanda’s son was of course coming to her funeral. And it would be unnatural if he did not, under the circumstances, have at least a brief face-to-face meeting with his father.

The small image of Joshua’s face on the little screen was hard for his father to read, as always. But if the image had been ten feet high, the father would have found it no easier.

Josh said, “I was trying to reach you last night, but somehow I couldn’t get through.”

This is my son, thought Jonathan Doors. I truly wish that I had something honest and real to say to my son now. He gave the matter thought, but the best he could come up with was, “There was a lot of communication failure here last night.”

Josh perhaps picked up something in his voice; or maybe the lawyer was only being logical. “Dad, do you blame the Taelons for this?”

“Absolutely not.” Jonathan glanced down briefly at the white knuckles of his own fist; he felt confident that nothing showed in his face or voice. Josh would not detect the lie. Jonathan had already answered the same question twenty times for the media.

Now he said, “The Companions were trying to help us out—but they had their own problems. Josh, there’ll be a joint funeral service for your mother, and your grandfather, and for several of my people who were killed last night. I’m making the arrangements now.”

He was gazing at the modest fountain and its little artificial pool, decorated by three harmless black basalt statues. He kept looking back, half-expecting that at any moment the fourth one might reappear. He didn’t really expect that, but after all that had happened he couldn’t rule it out. What would he do then? Probably try to make a deal with the Urod, somehow, against their common foe.

But that seemed a remote chance indeed.

“Son, the Companions did all they could to help her, and your grandfather too. And so did I, right up to the end. That’s about all I can tell you at the moment.”

Doors had on his polite and friendly mask; it was a kind of performance for which business, as conducted at the billionaire level, was excellent training.

On the surface, Jonathan Doors remained on good terms with the Companions, and in fact had taken a widely publicized position as one of their chief supporters. He had already agreed in principle to make a series of public appearances with Da’an.

But in fact Doors had now become the Companions’ implacable enemy. In his private thoughts he was laying out plans for the underground organization he would create to fight them. It had already occurred to him that one important step in the process might be the counterfeiting of his own death.

And time passed.

The gun battle on the Enchanted Hill and its approaches, which for days dominated the news of the world on every continent, had left Jonathan Doors with not a shred of concrete evidence of Taelon wrongdoing to show the world. No use in making Jubal’s story public when he had nothing to support it. Any attempt Jonathan might make now to denounce the Companions, to organize popular opinion against them, would doubtless bring out the fact that he had refused their offer to get Amanda out of Casa Grande, only moments before her death. What would his credibility be then?

Quite a few of Shelby’s militia gang were dead, others under arrest. But about half of them had escaped, or fled before the police arrived in force, and those were still being hunted through the hills. Maybe I will see some of them again, thought Jonathan Doors. Maybe some of those very men will be working for me, next time. Enlisted in my private, secret army, because that’s what I’m going to need. I will use any tool that comes within my reach, to destroy the Taelon power. And I will provide those who follow me with infinitely better leadership than Shelby did.

Doors considered that Shelby and his crew had been dead wrong, not only in their choice of tactics but in their strategy as well. In the early years of the twenty-first century, any straightforward warfare by earthly humans against an enemy as powerful and technically advanced as the Companions would be doomed to failure. The intruders, though they preferred subtlety and could usually afford to indulge their preference, were not only strong enough to defeat any armed counterattack that our backward race could put up; they were almost strong enough to ignore it.

The best con men in the universe, Jubal had called them. Dad, how right you were.

Open rebellion against the subtle conquerors of earth could not possibly succeed, not yet or for some years to come.

But there were other ways.

Jonathan Doors, his gaze following yet another departing Taelon shuttle up into the sky, thought: They killed you, Mandy. They killed you, Dad. They’ve taken from me everyone who really mattered, destroyed the center of my life. And for all their crimes, I am going to make them pay. I will make them pay.

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61

Categories: Saberhagen, Fred