An exploration group had discovered the Sirens on a terratype world previously covered only sketchily by mapping teams. They were the planet’s principal life-form, blanketing the landmasses in giant forests. The explorers soon discovered that a kind of euphoria, a pleasurable feeling of being drawn to them, was experienced by anyone coming within a few hundred yards of the pseudotrees. So they began referring to this life-form as the Sirens.
It appeared that the Sirens induced other creatures to become dependent on them, and that even a highly evolved species then degenerated very rapidly to the point of becoming a true parasite, unable to survive away from its hosts. A space scan disclosed that two other worlds in that stellar area were also covered with Siren forests. On those worlds, too, there seemed to be no creatures left which hadn’t become Siren parasites, and the indication was that their original human discoverers had introduced them to two associated colonies. In effect, all three human groups then had been wiped out. Their modified descendants could no longer be regarded as human in any significant sense.
The discovery of the Sirens wasn’t publicized. General curiosity might be dangerous; there was a chance that Sirens could be transplanted to a civilization which wouldn’t recognize their strange qualities until it was virtually destroyed. Various Overgovernment departments began making preparations for the sterilization of the three worlds. It seemed the only reasonable solution to the problem.
But there was somebody who wouldn’t accept that.
The report didn’t give the name of the former expedition member who argued that it wasn’t the Sirens but their dangerous potential which should be eliminated, that they had intelligence, though it was intelligence so different from humanity’s that it had been impossible for them to recognize the harm they did other creatures.
That couldn’t be proved, of course. Not on the basis of what was generally known.
But neither could it be disproved—and the Overgovernment had been systematically alerted to the fact all along the line. A stop order went out on the preparation of sterilization measures . . .
Telzey’s lips quirked approvingly. Unless it could be shown that there was no alternative, or that a present emergency existed, the extermination or near-extermination of a species, let alone that of a species possessing sentient intelligence, was inexcusable under Federation law. The former expedition member had made a very good move. Investigations were now being conducted at various levels, though progress was hampered by the fact that investigators, unless given special protection, also became liable to Siren addiction.
“At present,” the report concluded, “no sufficiently definite results appear to have been obtained.”
The ComWeb had emitted a single bright ping-note a minute or two earlier, and the blue button was glowing again. Telzey erased the material on the Sirens and brought up the report on the determined former expedition member.
This extract was considerably shorter. Trigger Argee was twenty-six, had a high I.Q., had been trained in communications, administration, basic science, survival techniques, and unarmed combat at the Colonial School on Maccadon, had served in Precol on the world of Manon, and been employed in an administrative capacity on three U-League space expeditions. She was twice a pistol medalist, responsible, honest, had a good credit rating, and maintained a fashionable on-and-off marriage with an Intelligence Colonel. She’d been recently issued a temporary Class Four Clearance because of volunteer activities in connection with a classified Overgovernment project. Previous activities, not detailed in the extract, qualified her for a Class One Clearance if the need for it should arise.
The last was intriguing. Of the high-ranking people in the room below the balcony alcove, probably only Jessamine Amberdon held the Overgovernment’s Class One Clearance. It might explain why Undersecretary Orsler and others had been unable to check the Siren crusade. Telzey erased this report also and made a mental note to check occasionally on the progress being made in the project.
When she got back down to the alcove, they were still talking in the room below, but it appeared that Orsler and his Guardian Angel had made their departure, the Angel presumably having provided Orsler with an unconscious motivation to leave. He believed in taking no chances with his charges.
Telzey grinned briefly, quietly gathered up her study materials and carried them back to her room.
The Regional Headquarters of the Psychology Service on Farnhart was housed in a tall structure of translucent green, towering in wilderness isolation above a northern ocean arm. Pilch stood in a gray Service uniform at a window of the office on the eightieth level which she’d taken over from the Regional Director that morning, gazing at the storm front moving in from the east. She was a slender woman, rather tall, with sable hair and ivory features, whose gray eyes had looked appraisingly on many worlds and their affairs.
“Trigger Argee,” announced the communicator on the Director’s desk behind her, “is on her way up here.”
Pilch said, “Show her through to the office when she arrives.” She went to the desk, placed a report file on it, turned to the side of the room where a large box stood on a table. Pilch touched one of the controls on the box. Its front wall became transparent. The lit interior contained what appeared to be a miniature tree planted in a layer of pebbly brown material. It stood about fifteen inches high, had a curving trunk and three short branches with a velvety appearance to them, and a dozen or so relatively large leaves among which nestled two white flower cups. It was an exquisitely designed thing, and someone not knowing better might have believed it to be a talented artist’s creation. But it was alive; it was a Siren. Three months before, it had been a seedling. Left to itself, it would have stood three times Pilch’s height by now. But its growth had been restrained, limiting it still to a seedling’s proportions.
The office door dilated, and a mahogany-maned young woman in a green and gold business suit came in. She smiled at Pilch.
“Glad to see you!” she said. “I didn’t know you were on Farnhart until I got your message.”
Pilch said, “I arrived yesterday to handle some Service business. I’ll leave again tonight. Meanwhile, here’s your specimen, and copies of our investigators’ reports.”
“I’m sorry no one found anything positive,” Trigger said. “I was beginning to feel we were on the right track finally.”
“We won’t assume it’s the wrong track,” said Pilch. “The results aren’t encouraging, but what they amount to is that the xenotelepaths we had available weren’t able to solve the problem. Various nonhuman xenos were called in to help and did no better. Neither, I’ll admit, did I, when I was checking out the reports on the way here.”
Trigger moistened her lips. “What is the problem?”
“Part of it,” Pilch said, “is the fact that the investigations produced no indication of sentient intelligence. The Sirens’ activities appear to be directed by complex instinctual drives. And aside from that, your specimen is a powerhouse of psi. The euphoria it broadcasts is a minor manifestation, and we can assume that its ability to mutate other organisms is psi-based. But it remains an assumption. We haven’t learned enough about it. Most of the xenos were unable to make out the psi patterns. They’re very pronounced ones and highly charged, but oddly difficult to locate. Those who did recognize them and attempted to probe them experienced severe reactions. A few got into more serious trouble and had to be helped.”
“What kind of trouble?” Trigger asked uneasily.
“Assorted mental disturbances. They’ve been straightened out again.”
“Our little friend here did all that?”
“Why not? It may be as formidable as any adult Siren in that respect. The euphoric effect it produces certainly is as definite as that of the older specimens.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Trigger looked at the box. “You’re keeping a permanent psi block around it?”
“Yes. It can be turned off when contact is wanted.”
Trigger was silent a moment, watching the Siren. She shook her head then. “I still don’t believe they don’t have intelligence!”
Pilch shrugged. “I won’t say you’re wrong. But if you’re right, it doesn’t necessarily improve the situation. The psi qualities that were tapped appear to be those of a mechanism—a powerful mechanism normally inaccessible to alien psi contact. When contact is made, there is instant and violent reaction. If this is a reasoned response, the Siren seems to be an entity which regards any psi mind not of its own species as an enemy. There’s no hesitation, no attempt to evaluate the contact.”
“It may be a defensive reaction.”
“True,” Pilch said. “But it must be considered in conjunction with what else we know. The three Siren worlds appear sufficient evidence that the goal of the species is to take over all available space for itself. It has high mobility as a species, and evidently can cover any territory that becomes available to it with startling speed. As it spreads, all other life-forms present are converted to harmless parasites. This again, whether it’s an instinctive process or a deliberate one, suggests the Siren is a being which tolerates only its own kind. Its apparent hospitality is a trap. It isn’t a predator; it makes no detectable use of other forms of life. But it interrupts their evolutionary development and, in effect, eliminates them from the environment.”