The Arrival by Fred Saberhagen

It was all very interesting, or ought to have been, but Doors found himself having to struggle to repress a yawn.

In a little while the sound of tires crunching on gravel sounded from a lower level, and Doors glanced at his wrist-watch. He announced, “I’d say that’s my father now, having just got a lift over from the airstrip. I don’t know if dad has any idea that you’re here, but I’m sure he’ll want to see you.”

Va’lon responded with one of his courteous nods of agreement, and the two walked back in the general direction of the outdoor pool.

Jubal Doors was a smaller, leaner man than his only son. What little hair he had left had long since turned white. Bushy gray eyebrows, grown even bushier with age, gave him a formidable look. At about the time of his eightieth birthday he had taken to using a cane, but most people on meeting him would still have thought him ten or fifteen years younger than he was. Usually dapper, today he was tieless, wearing an old suit that his shirt and shoes made no pretense of matching, which suggested to his son that the old man had probably started on his journey to San Simeon in a hurry.

Jubal was ascending one of the countless short flights of white steps that led up to Casa Grande, using his cane to good advantage. The pilot who had just brought him here from Charleston, a balding young man with wrap-around sunglasses, climbed solicitously half a step behind the old man.

Jubal was halfway through a brisk greeting to his son, when his eye fell on the tall alien figure behind Jonathan. The old man fell silent at once, and his face became immobile.

Probably, Jonathan thought, that was not an uncommon reaction to one’s first look at a Companion, and it was probably very much like his own response.

He performed the introduction, which went smoothly. Shortly thereafter, as if understanding that father and son might have urgent private matters to discuss, Va’lon considerately excused himself. A room in one of the guest houses had been got ready for him, and he now retired into it, though he did not specifically admit to being tired or needing sleep.

“Well, Dad,” said Jonathan, as they watched the carved door of Casa del Mar close on their visitor. “I don’t know what Taelon habits are. He may not be going to sleep, but I’m about to. Escorting aliens around is wearing. Have an uneventful flight?”

“Yeah, yeah.” The old man, hobbling energetically with his cane, had turned away from Casa del Mar and was heading in the other direction. He still looked worried. Well, he would come out with his problem, or idea, whatever it might be, in his own good time. Jonathan, from a lifetime’s experience, knew better than to try to push him.

They were out in the middle of the esplanade again when Jubal stopped to look around him. “I haven’t set foot on these walks for decades,” he said in a hushed voice. “Amazing how little things have changed in sixty-five years or so.” He lifted his cane as a brisk pointer. “Those palm trees are a whole lot taller.”

“That’s right, I remember you telling me you were a weekend guest here once. When you were only sixteen. How about some breakfast, Dad?”

“Had some on the plane.”

“Well, I’m going to sit down and have some more coffee. I guarantee it won’t keep me awake. So, what did you think of your first Taelon?” Jonathan asked his father.

Jubal sat opposite him, and tried to prop his wooden cane on the smooth curving edge of the small table, from which position it promptly fell clattering to the pavement of imported tile. The old man ignored it, and his sharp brown eyes under the thick brows turned quickly on his son. “If you mean this fella here”—a nod toward the newly occupied guest house—”he’s not.”

Jonathan blinked. “Not the first Companion you’ve seen? There was a landing in Charleston, then? I hadn’t heard about that one.”

“No there wasn’t. Charleston somehow got left out.”

“No? Then what…?”

“There was no official word about the one coming down in your back yard, either: just that there had seemed to be a Companion arrival, as they call it, somewhere in your neck of the woods. But I had a hunch, and called the house, and Amanda said there had been, and you had jumped in a car with one of ’em and were headed here.”


“I’m trying to tell you, son. The first Taelon I ever saw was right here at San Simeon, but it wasn’t this morning. No, it was a good long while before you were born. Back in 1936.”

* * *

Chapter Four

« ^ »

When Jubal was sixteen, the Doors family had been financially successful but not enormously wealthy. In that respect they were doing a lot better than most Americans in the middle thirties. Maybe the country was really coming out of the depths of the Great Depression, as the politicians and the newspapers kept promising it would, but a lot of people would believe that times were good again only when they could get a steady job.

Jubal’s father had never actually worked for William Randolph Hearst in any capacity, as far as Jubal had ever been able to make out. His dad had certainly never been an editor or publisher, and the Hearst empire was primarily one of newspapers. But Dad had known the editor of a certain Denver paper, one of the hundreds across the country that W. R. Hearst owned or controlled. That acquaintanceship had led the elder Doors into a meeting with Hearst in Chicago, and that in turn to some kind of projected business deal. Jubal’s dad tended to play his cards close to his vest, and neither his son nor his wife had learned the precise details until later.

And in 1936 the acquaintance had also led to the family’s being invited to a weekend at San Simeon. And whatever the exact business relationship Jubal’s father and mother had been trying to establish with the multimillionaire, they were very keen on making a good impression.

His father had been as excited as Jubal had ever seen him.

“Even if it’s not a matter of direct employment, or direct sales. The power that those hundreds of newspapers—literally, almost seven hundred!—can exert is awesome.”

Jubal at sixteen was ready and willing to be impressed by great power in any form. “Dad? Is Mr. Hearst the wealthiest man in the world? Or in the country?”

His Dad had to give that query serious consideration. “I honestly don’t know, son. There can’t be more than a few who have more money. Maybe Carnegie, maybe Mellon, or du Pont. One or two other possibilities. I’d be willing to bet, though, that Mr. Hearst spends more money than any other individual in the world.”

“What does he buy?”

“What does he buy? Anything he wants. Just about everything. You’ll see.”

Still, as the family eventually realized, the odds were pretty good that neither Jubal nor his father would ever have laid eyes on San Simeon had it not been for Esther Summerson.

Before the fateful weekend arrived, Jubal had managed to catch her recorded voice once or twice on the radio. At that point in her career Esther hadn’t been one of the really famous singers, whom you could hear every day.

The word was that Hearst seldom or never went to parties at other people’s houses, but he loved to entertain at his, where he could control the timing of events, the guest list, the menu, and the rules—including, to a great extent, the amount of alcohol dispensed.

Hollywood people made up a very large proportion of the usual weekend-guest contingent. Esther, an up-and-coming teenage singing and acting star, had been invited to the “Ranch” for a weekend—with her mother as chaperone, of course—and to one of Hearst’s advisors it must have seemed a good idea for some other young people of her age to be invited, to keep her company. As a rule there were very few children among the many guests, and in feet Jubal was her only contemporary for the weekend.

No one on that fateful weekend realized the fact, of course, but 1936 was just a couple of years before the crash of Hearst’s empire. “Crash” being a relative term. The empire would not decline into total ruin, no, far from it. But the crisis led to the ferocious cutting back that had been necessary to save him and his organization from complete disaster.

On the appointed Friday, the last leg of a long train journey delivered Jubal and his parents to the village of San Simeon, and a small fleet of Hearst limousines had been waiting at the station to bring them and several of their fellow passengers up the Hill.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred