She gathered that the matter looked quite favorable, but that they couldn’t give her definite information yet. One of them was still inside the Siren, analyzing it. She was to take the container back to her room now, and return with it in the evening. Then they would be able to tell her more.
“Well?” Pilch inquired, when they met two days later in Ceyce.
“They can do it,” Trigger said. “They couldn’t explain how—at least not in a way I understood.”
“You hardly look overjoyed,” Pilch observed. “What’s the hitch?”
Trigger shrugged. “The time element. They live so long they never really seem to understand how important time is to us. Getting the Sirens tamed down would take them a while.”
“How much of a while?”
“That was a little blurry. Anything having to do with time tends to be with them. But I’m afraid they meant something like a couple of centuries.”
Pilch shook her head. “We can’t wait that long!”
“I know,” Trigger said. “What I told them was that I was in a little bit of a hurry with the Sirens, so I’d better shop around for faster results.”
“How did they react?”
“They seemed to think it was a good idea. So—I’m on the move again.” Trigger smiled soberly. “What are the other approaches you had in mind?”
“At the moment, I have two suggestions,” said Pilch. “There are a few Service xenos in whom I’d have some confidence in the matter. They’re among our best operators. However, they’re on an assignment outside the Hub. Even if they were to interrupt what they’re doing—which they shouldn’t—it would take them well over a month to get here.”
“I’ll be glad to take the specimen to them,” said Trigger.
Pilch nodded. “We may wind up having you do just that. On the other hand, you may need to go no farther than Orado. There’s a psi there who’s a very capable xenotelepath. She isn’t in the Service and doesn’t let it be generally known that she’s a psi. But if she feels like it, it’s quite possible she’ll be able to determine whether the Sirens have intelligence, and whether it’s a type and degree of intelligence that will permit communication with them. If that should turn out to be the case, of course, we’d be over the first great hurdle.”
“We certainly would be!” Trigger agreed. “How do I get in touch with her?”
Pilch produced a card. “Here’s her name and current address. Send her an outline of the situation, inquire whether she’d like to investigate the specimen for you, and so forth. If she’ll do it, she’s your best present bet.”
“I’ll get at it immediately.” Trigger studied the card, put it in her purse. “Telzey Amberdon. How much can I tell her?”
“Anything you like. Telzey’s come by more information about the Federation’s business than most members of the Council should have. But she doesn’t spill secrets. I’ll give you a Class Four Clearance to send her, to keep it legitimate.”
“What kind of fee will she want?” asked Trigger. “I might have to make arrangements.”
“I doubt she’ll want a fee. Her family has plenty of money. She’ll work for you if the proposition catches her interest. Otherwise, she won’t.”
“I should be able to make it sound interesting enough,” Trigger remarked. “Supposing she gets herself into trouble over this like some of your xenos?”
Pilch said, “Nobody’s suffered permanent damage so far. If she winds up needing therapeutic help, she’ll get it. I wouldn’t worry too much. Telzey’s a little monster in some respects. But I’ll be around the area a while, and you can contact me through any Service center.” She looked at her timepiece. “We’ll go to the Ceyce lab now, and get you equipped with your mind shield.”
“Well, as to that,” said Trigger, “I already have one. Not quite, but very nearly.”
Trigger explained about her resident Old Galactic, and that he’d been doing something to her nervous system for the past two days. They went to the Service lab anyway; Pilch wanted to know just what was being done to Trigger’s nervous system. Tests established then that she, indeed, had a shield. It permitted contact with her conscious thoughts but sealed off the rest of her mind with a block which stopped the heaviest probe Pilch tried against it. However, it was a block which became nonexistent when Trigger didn’t want it there.
“Any time I decide to get rid of it permanently, it will start fading away,” Trigger said.
Pilch nodded. “I noticed there’d been provision made for that.” She reflected. “Well, you won’t need the shield I’d intended for you. They’re giving you something that seems more effective. So I’ll be running along.”
* * *
She left. Around evening of that day, Trigger’s Old Galactic let her know he’d finished his work. She went back to his home tree and held her wrist against it until he’d transferred again, thanked them all around for their trouble, and returned to her room. The report to Telzey Amberdon was already prepared. It didn’t mention the Old Galactics but was candid about almost everything else, specifically the subject of risks. Trigger flew in to Ceyce and had the report dispatched to Orado at an interstellar transmitter station. Telzey Amberdon should receive it some six hours later.
That night, after the lights were out in the garden house and Trigger was asleep in her room, a visitor came to Mantelish’s garden. Three Tainequas on their way to their quarters saw, but didn’t notice, the cloaked shape moving toward them under the starblaze, went on talking in their soft voices, unaware of the shadow drifting across their minds, unaware of the visitor passing them a few feet away.
Pilch moved deeper into the garden and into the dimness under the great trees. Now and then she stopped and stood quietly, head turning this way and that, like a sensing animal, and went on in a new direction. At last, she halted before the tree where Trigger had conferred with the Old Galactics, and stayed there.
Awareness stirred in the tree, slowly focused on her. There was a long pause. An inquiry came.
Pilch identified herself. After a time, the identification was acknowledged. Your purpose?
She brought up assorted unhurried impressions of Trigger’s Siren specimen, of the Siren worlds, of the effects produced by Sirens, of their inaccessibility to psi contact. . . .
Yes. The Hana species.
What did they know of it?
Pilch gathered presently that they’d never encountered a Hana before this. They’d had reports. Not recent ones. They’d believed the species was extinct.
Was it as dangerous as it appeared to be?
Yes. Very dangerous.
The slow exchange continued. In Pilch’s mind, impressions formed. Time, space, and direction remained wavering, unstable concepts. But, by any human reckoning, it must have been very long ago, very far away in the galaxy’s vastness, that a race of conquerors brought Hanas to many civilized worlds. Presently those worlds were destroyed. The Hanas had swifter weapons than their ability to produce euphoria and mindless dependency in other species. Pilch watched as psi death lanced out from them, and all other minds in a wide radius winked out of existence. She saw great psi machines brought up to control the Hanas, and then those machines shredded into uselessness as their own energies stormed wildly through them. On a planet, while a semblance of its surface remained, the Hana species seemed indestructible, spreading and proliferating like a shifting green flood, sweeping up into furious life here as it was annihilated there.
They died at last when distant space weapons seared all worlds, many hundreds of worlds by then, on which they were to be found until no life of any kind remained possible. Then the great race the Hana had fought hunted long and far, to make sure none remained alive in the universe.
But it appeared that one remote planet, at least, had been overlooked in that search.
* * *
Near daybreak, a small aircar lifted from a forested hillside a little to the north of Mantelish’s garden and sped away toward Ceyce. Trigger awoke an hour later, had breakfast, watched a few Tainequas moving about the garden from the veranda of her room, settled down to read. Around noon, the ComWeb in Mantelish’s office on the ground floor began ringing. Trigger hurried down, took a message from the receiver.
It appeared Telzey Amberdon’s time next week would be mainly occupied with college graduation exams. However, she did want to see Miss Argee’s Siren and discuss her plan with her, and would be pleased to meet her on Orado. If it happened to be convenient to Miss Argee, she had the coming weekend free—that being Days Seventy-one and Seventy-two of the standard year.
It was now Day Seventy. Trigger called the Psychology Service Center in Ceyce and left a message for Pilch. She packed quickly, loaded the Siren container into her aircar, and headed for Ceyce Port. Within the hour, she was on her way to Orado.