Trigger nodded slowly. “It’s not a good picture.”
“It’s a damning picture,” said Pilch. “Translated to human terms, this is, by every evaluation, a totally selfish, paranoid, treacherous, indiscriminately destructive species, a deadly danger to any other species it encounters. What real argument for its preservation can be made?”
Trigger gave her a brief smile.
“I’ll argue that the picture is wrong!” she said. “Or, anyway, it’s incomplete. If the Sirens, or their instincts, simply wanted to eliminate other creatures, there’d be no need for that very complicated process of turning them into parasites. One good chromosomal error for each new species they came across, and there’d be no next generation of that species around to annoy them!”
“Yes,” Pilch said. “That’s one reason, perhaps the only substantial reason so far, for not being too hasty about the Sirens.” She paused. “Have you been getting any encouraging reports on the physical side of the investigation?”
Trigger shook her head. “Not recently. The fact is, the labs are licked—though some of them won’t admit it yet.”
“What we’ve learned about the specimen,” said Pilch, “indicates they’ll be forced to admit it eventually. If it weren’t basically a psi problem, all the talent you’ve rounded up and put to work should have defanged the Sirens before this. The problem presumably will have to be solved on the psi level, if it’s to be solved at all.”
“It does seem so,” Trigger agreed. She hesitated. “I’m trying to keep the labs plugging away a while longer mainly to gain time. If it’s official that they’ve given up, the push to sterilize the Siren worlds will start again.”
“It may be necessary to resort to that eventually,” said Pilch. “They can’t be left at large as they are. Even if the closest watch is maintained on those three worlds, something might go wrong.”
“Yes, I know. It still would be a mistake, though,” Trigger said. “Exterminating them might seem necessary because we hadn’t been able to think of a good solution. But it would be a mistake, and wrong.”
“You’re convinced of it?”
Trigger shook her head. “I don’t know. Since I became unaddicted, I haven’t even liked the Sirens much. It’s not that I dislike them—I simply feel they’re completely alien to me.”
“How do you react now to the euphoria effect?” Pilch asked.
“It’s an agreeable feeling. But I know it’s an effect, and that makes it an agreeable feeling I’d sooner not have. It doesn’t exactly bother me, but I certainly don’t miss it when it’s not there.”
Pilch nodded. “There’ve been a few other occasions,” she remarked, “when you’ve acted in a way that might have appeared dead wrong to any other rational human being. It turned out you were right.”
“I know. You think I’m right about this?”
“I’m not saying that. But I feel your conviction is another reason for not coming to overly hurried conclusions about the Sirens.” Pilch indicated the container. “What plans do you have for the specimen now?”
“I’m beginning to run a little short of plans,” Trigger admitted. “But I’ll try the Old Galactics next. They’re a kind of psi creature themselves, and they’re good at working with living things. So I’ll take the specimen to them.”
Pilch considered. “Not a bad idea. They’re still on Maccadon?”
“Very probably. They were there six months ago, the last time I visited Mantelish’s garden. They weren’t planning to move.”
“When are you leaving?”
“Next ship out. Some time this afternoon.”
Pilch nodded. “I’ll be passing by Maccadon four days from now. I’ll drop in then and contact you. And don’t look so glum. We’re not at the end of our rope. If it seems the Old Galactics can’t handle the Sirens, I’ll still have a few suggestions to make.”
“Very glad to hear it!”
“And while we’re on Maccadon,” Pilch continued, “I’ll have you equipped with a mind shield.”
“A mind shield?” Trigger looked dubious. “I know they’re all using them in the labs, but . . . well, I had to wear one for a while last year. I didn’t like it much.”
“This will be a special design,” Pilch told her. “It won’t inconvenience you. If you’re going to start escorting the specimen around again, you should have a good solid shield, just in case. We know that now.”
In the rolling green highlands south of the city of Ceyce on Maccadon, Trigger’s friend Professor Mantelish maintained a private botanical garden. It was his favorite retreat when he wanted to relax, though he didn’t manage to get there often. Trigger herself would drop in now and then and stay for a week or two, sleeping in the room reserved for her use in the big white house which stood near the center of the garden.
The garden was where the Old Galactics lived. Only Trigger and Pilch knew they were there. Mantelish might have suspected it, though he’d never said so. Very few other people even knew of their existence. They’d had a great culture once, but it had been destroyed in a vast war which was fought and over with in the Milky Way before men learned how to dig mammoth pits. Not many Old Galactics survived that period, and they’d been widely scattered and out of contact, so that they had only recently begun to gather again. The garden appeared to be their reassembly area, and a whole little colony of them was there by now, arriving by mostly mysterious methods from various regions of the galaxy. That any at all of the fierce race which had attacked their culture still existed was improbable. The Old Galactics had formidable powers; and when they finally decided something needed to be eliminated, they were very thorough and patient about it.
Communication between them and humans was at best a laborious process. Trigger had done them a service some time before, and had learned how to conduct a conversation with Old Galactics on that occasion. They seemed to live on a different time scale. When you wanted to talk to them, you didn’t try to hurry it.
So when she arrived at the garden with the Siren, she went first to her room in the house, steered the container on its gravity float to a table, settled it down on the tabletop and switched off the float. Then she unpacked, taking her time and putting everything away, arranging books she’d brought along on the shelves beside others she’d left here on her last visit. Afterward, Mantelish’s housekeeper brought a lunch to the room, and Trigger ate that slowly and thoughtfully. Finally she selected a book and sat down with it.
All this time, she’d been letting the Old Galactic with whom she was best acquainted know she was here, and that she had a problem. She didn’t push it, but simply brought the idea up now and then and let it, so to speak, drift around for a moment. Shortly after she’d settled down with the book, she got an acknowledgment.
The form it took was the image of one of the big trees in the garden, which came floating up in her mind. It wasn’t the tree the Old Galactic had been occupying when she was here last, but they changed quarters now and then. She sent him a greeting, slipped the book into her jacket pocket, and left the room, towing the Siren container behind her.
By then, it was well into the spring afternoon. Three Tainequa gardeners were working near the great tree as she approached, small brown-skinned men, members of a little clan Mantelish had coaxed into leaving its terraced valley on Tainequa and settling on Maccadon to look after his collection. Trigger smiled and said hello to them; and they smiled back and then stood watching thoughtfully as she went on toward the tree, selected a place where she could sit comfortably among its roots, grounded the container, and took the book from her pocket.
When she looked up, the three Tainequas were walking quietly off along the path she’d come, carrying their tools, and in a moment they’d disappeared behind some shrubbery. Trigger wasn’t surprised. The Tainequa valley people were marvelously skilled and versatile gardeners—entirely too good at their craft, in fact, not to understand very well that Mantelish’s botanical specimens flourished to an extent even their talented efforts didn’t begin to explain. And while they knew nothing about Old Galactics, they did believe in spirits, good and evil.
If they’d thought the local spirits were evil, the outrageous salary Mantelish was obliged to pay the clan couldn’t have kept it on Maccadon another hour. Benevolent spirits, however, are also best treated with respect by mortal man. The Tainequas worked diligently elsewhere in the garden, but they kept their distance from the great trees which obviously needed no care from them anyway. And when Trigger sat familiarly down beside one, any Tainequa in sight went elsewhere. She wasn’t quite sure what they thought her relationship with the spirits was, but she knew they were in some awe of her.