It had all happened so quickly, and Helen didn’t know what to make of it. A few moments ago, Gort had returned with Klaatu in his arms, and Helen saw that the gunshot wound he’d suffered this evening was fatal. But then that shrieking machine had done the impossible, and Klaatu had walked out of the ship’s control room, the door closing behind him, leaving her alone with the eight-foot-tall robot. Without taking her eyes off Gort, she slowly edged back to the bench and sat.
She was trapped in an alien spaceship. Helen took several deep breaths to subdue the panic that made her heart race. She clamped her hands together, frequently glancing at Gort, who stood motionless across the room.
Seconds, minutes, hours. She had no sense of time. She wondered how time was measured on Klaatu’s home world. She wondered where that was.
She wanted to see Bobby.
Two circular panels continued to watch her as she waited. She had no idea what she waited for.
Their conversation in the elevator had reassured her of his intentions. She took a few deep breaths. She trusted Klaatu more than she’d trusted anyone since Robert died.
She glanced at Gort. A living creature would shift its weight or twitch a muscle, but the robot stood motionless.
She’d go mad if she had to stay here much longer. She wanted to see some familiar face that would remind her that the world she knew was outside. Reassurance that she could return to it.
Gort moved suddenly. Helen jumped, leaning as far back against the wall as she could as the robot made his way around the perimeter of the room. He waved his hand, and the door opened. Klaatu stepped into view, dressed in a silvery suit that emphasized his thin, tall frame and the breadth of his shoulders. The helmet he had worn upon his arrival was nowhere to be seen. “I’m sorry I left you alone,” he said quietly, gesturing for her to join him in the corridor. “I had to prepare for my departure.”
She hesitated, waiting for Gort to precede her. Of course he was leaving. In a few short days, he’d been shot, forced to live clandestinely, betrayed by someone Helen had trusted, hunted like an animal, and murdered. Klaatu had to complete his mission, and he probably wanted to be rid of this planet and everyone on it. Though only acquainted a few days, she would miss this strange, kind creature terribly. He was already dear to her.
“Are you all right?”
She remembered herself and walked to Klaatu’s side. A few steps in the cramped, curved hall brought Gort back into sight.
“Please tell Bobby I shall miss him,” Klaatu said quietly.
“He’ll miss you, too,” Helen replied, unable to look any higher than the round collar of his silvery suit. “I’m so sorry for what Tom did,” she added.
“He thought he was protecting you.”
She shook her head, remembering Tom’s words: You’ll feel differently when you see my picture in the paper. She blushed, ashamed that she had so much as considered marrying a man like that. “That’s not why he turned you in.”
“I’m sorry I came between you,” he murmured.
At this, Helen did look up into her friend’s sharp, hawk-like face. “I’m not.”
Klaatu’s dark eyes searched her face, and she wanted to drown in them. “I shall miss you, as well.”
For one crazy moment, the thought welled up and longed to be put into words: Take me with you. She trembled with the strain of not saying it, thinking of Bobby and her parents and anything else that would keep her anchored to this Earth. Or stay with me.
He seemed to sense her conflict, so he took a half step back. “You understand more than anyone else on Earth,” he said stiffly. “Work with Professor Barnhardt, and when we return, we may be able to open a more reasonable dialogue between our civilizations.”
We? “Will you return?”
Klaatu looked away. “Others will come. I will send them to you and Professor Barnhardt.” He hesitated. “It is possible, even with that,” he said, gesturing to the room they had just left and the machine that had breathed life into him again, “that I will not survive the journey home.”
Helen’s breath shuddered backwards. Stay with me, her mind repeated, but she didn’t voice it. He had to return home, wherever that was. Surely he was answerable to the leaders of his civilization, and he had to tell them all that he had seen and experienced. This was so important that any other option wasn’t even worth considering. If Gort was as powerful as Klaatu had said earlier tonight, then he had to finish his mission.
And surely he had family who worried about him. Maybe even a mate. He needed to return to what he knew.
Light illuminated his face, and she turned toward the faint sound of Professor Barnhardt’s reedy voice drifting into the ship. Gort had opened the door. Helen heard a low buzz of voices as the robot stepped outside.
It was time for them to leave each other. She stepped toward the light.
He’d never called her by name before. She turned. His eyes were sorrowful. “I am glad they sent me. I’m glad I came to the boarding house and met you and Bobby. Do not doubt that.”
She smiled. “I’m glad we met you, Klaatu.”
He gestured to the door, and they walked out.