Under the circumstances, that was convenient. She didn’t want anyone around to distract her. Actually, the Old Galactics did almost all the real work of carrying on the conversation, but she made it easier by remaining simultaneously relaxed and attentive and not letting her thoughts stray. So while she was looking down at the book on her knees, she wasn’t reading. Her eyes, unfocused, blinked occasionally at nothing. She’d been invited to come; she’d come, and was waiting.
She waited, without impatience. Until presently:
Describe the problem.
She didn’t sense it as words but as meaning, and sensed at the same time that there was more than one of them nearby, her old acquaintance among them. They liked the great trees of the garden as dwellings, their substance dispersed through the substance of the tree, flowing slowly through it like sap. They had their own natural solid shape when they chose to have it. And sometimes they took on other shapes for various purposes. Now a number of them had gathered near the base of the tree, still out of sight within it, to hear what she wanted.
She began thinking about the Sirens. The small one here in its container, and its giant relatives, mysterious and beautiful organisms, spread about three worlds in towering forests. She thought of how humans had encountered the Sirens and discovered how dangerous they were to other life, so dangerous that their complete extermination was beginning to look like the only logical way of dealing with them, and of her feeling that this would be totally wrong even if it seemed in the end to be inevitable. She didn’t try to organize her thinking too much; what would get through to the Old Galactics were general impressions. They’d form their own concepts from that.
What do you want done?
She thought of the possibility that the Sirens had intelligence, and of reaching that intelligence and coming to an understanding with them so they would stop being uselessly destructive. Or, if they were creatures capable only of acting out of instinct, then ways might be found to modify them until they were no longer dangerous. The Old Galactics were great scientists in their own manner, which wasn’t too similar to the human manner. Perhaps, Trigger’s thoughts suggested, they would be able to succeed with the Sirens where humans so far had failed. She thought about the difficulties Pilch’s xenotelepaths had encountered in trying to contact her specimen on the mental level, and of the fact that most humans had to be protected by psi blocks or mind shields against Siren euphoria.
There was stillness for a while then. She knew she’d presented the matter sufficiently, so she simply waited again. About an hour and a half had passed since she first sat down under the tree, which meant that from the Old Galactics’ point of view they’d been having a very brisk conversational exchange.
By and by, something was told her.
Trigger nodded. “All right,” she said aloud. She switched on the container’s gravity float, moved it so that it stood next to the base of the big tree, and there grounded it again. Then she shut off the psi block, turned the front side transparent, opened the top, and sat down on a root nearby from where she could watch the Siren.
* * *
The euphoric effect became noticeable in a few seconds, strengthened gradually, then remained at the same level. It was always pleasurable, though everybody seemed to experience it in an individual manner. For Trigger it usually had been a light, agreeable feeling, which seemed a perfectly natural way to feel when she had it—a sense of well-being and contentment, an awareness that it came from being around Sirens, and a corresponding feeling of liking for them. In the course of time, that had been quite enough to produce emotional addiction in her; and other people had been much more directly and strongly affected. “That’s it,” she said now, for the Old Galactics’ benefit.
There was no response from them; and time passed again, perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes. Then something began to emerge from the bark of the big tree above the container.
Trigger watched it. In its solid form, an Old Galactic looked something like a discolored sausage; and this was what now appeared to be moving out from the interior of the tree. It was a very slow process. It took a minute or two before Trigger could make out that this wasn’t her acquaintance, who was sizable for his kind, but a much smaller Old Galactic, probably not weighing more than half a pound. It got clear of the tree at last, moved down a few inches until it was level with the top of the container, curved over to it, and started gliding down inside. Eventually then the sausage shape reached the base of the Siren, touched it, began melting into it.
Something else was said to Trigger. She hesitated questioningly a moment, then placed her wrist against the side of the root on which she was sitting and left it there. A minute or two afterward, a coolness touched the inside of her wrist. She couldn’t see what caused it, but she knew. She also knew from experience that it harmed a human body no more than it harmed a tree to have an Old Galactic’s substance dispersed through it; they were unnoticeable, and if there was anything wrong with the body when they entered, they would take care of it before they left, precisely as they tended to the botanical specimens in Mantelish’s garden.
In this case, they weren’t concerned about Trigger’s health, which was excellent. But they evidently felt, as had Pilch, that if she was going to be involved with a Siren, she should have the protection of a mind shield; and an Old Galactic specialist was now to begin providing her with their equivalent of one. He should be finished with the job in a few days. Trigger asked some questions about it, was given explanations, and presently agreed to let the specialist go ahead.
The rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully, as far as she was concerned. They’d told her after a while to restore the psi block and close the container. She was glad to do it. It was unlikely that a Tainequa would approach this section of the garden again today and get within range of the euphoria effect, but one never knew just what might happen if an area was exposed to the effect for any extended period of time. After that, the Old Galactics ignored her. She read in her book a while, stretched out in the grass near the tree for a nap, read some more. Eventually it was getting near evening, and there still had been no indication that the Old Galactics intended to interrupt whatever they were doing. Trigger went to the garden house, came back with her supper, a sleeping bag, and a few more books. She ate, read until dark, then opened the bag, got into it, and fell asleep.
She dreamed presently that she was back in a great Siren forest on a faraway world, swimming in the euphoria experience, but now frightened by it because she was aware she was becoming addicted. She made a violent effort to escape, and the effort brought her awake.
She knew where she was immediately then. A cloudbank covered the sky, with the starblaze gleaming through here and there; the garden lay quiet and shadowy around her. But the sense of Siren euphoria hadn’t faded with the dream.
Trigger turned over, slipped partly out of the sleeping bag, and sat up. She couldn’t make out the Siren container too well in the shade of the great tree, but she could see that it had been opened; and the psi block obviously was switched off. She had a moment of alarm. Then Old Galactic thought brushed slowly past her.
They weren’t addressing her, and she couldn’t make out any meaning. But she saw now that several dark sausage shapes of varying sizes were on the container. A vague thought pulse touched her mind again. It was ridiculous to think of Old Galactics becoming excited about anything; but Trigger had the impression that the little group on the container was as close to excitement as it could get. One of them evidently touched the psi block control then because the euphoria effect went out.
She sat there a while longer watching them and wondering what they were doing; but nothing much happened and she had no more thought impressions. Presently they began to move back to the big tree and into it. The last one shifted the control that closed the container before turning to follow his companions. Trigger got down into the bag again and went back to sleep. When she woke up next, it was cool dawn in the garden, everything looking pale and hazy. And the Old Galactics were speaking to her.