It was a good time, and the Hana dwarf now lived there often for a while before returning, strengthened, to the life of the moment and the knowledge of being among the Veen. There was little else to do. The Veen held it enclosed in a cage of energy, difficult to penetrate and opened only when they came with their prying minds and mind machines to seek out and enslave the captured Hana mind, precisely as they had done in other days. They’d learned much in the interval, if not greater wisdom and less arrogance. The Hana dwarf was aware of the manipulations which stopped its growth and prevented it from developing and distributing its seed. But such things were of no significance. They could be undone. The question was whether the Veen could reach its mind.
It hadn’t believed they could. It was more formidably armed than any Hana had been in the times of the Veen War; if its defenses failed, the touch of its thought would kill other minds in moments. But it was less sure now. The Veen’s first probes barely reached its defenses, broke there; and a brief period of quiet followed. But they were persistent. Indications came that another attempt was being carefully prepared, with mind qualities involved which had not been noticeable before.
It would warn them, though Veen had not yet been known to respond sensibly to a warning. They were the race which knew no equals, which could tolerate only slaves. If they persisted and succeeded, the Hana would emerge to kill, and presently to die. A single pulse would be enough to notify the Three Worlds, long since alerted, and waiting now with a massed power never before encountered by Veen, that the Veen War had been resumed.
The Hana shaped its warnings and set them aside, to be released as seemed required. Then, with its several deaths prepared, it, too, waited, and sometimes dreamed.
* * *
Toward evening, four days after Trigger and the Siren specimen moved into the Amberdon summerhouse, Telzey was on her way there by aircar. It had been a demanding day at college, but she was doing very well in the exams. When she left Pehanron, she’d felt comfortably relaxed.
Some five minutes ago then, her mood shifted abruptly. An uneasy alertness awoke in her. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt that way during the past few days.
The Siren? From behind a psi block and over all these miles? Not likely, but perhaps not impossible either. She hadn’t made much headway in the investigation over the weekend and the last two evenings, and hadn’t tried to. That was a strange being! Under the mechanical euphoric effect seemed to lie only the empty negation which had met her first probe. The Service’s translating machines had reported nothing at all, but most of the Service xenotelepaths also had sensed the void, the emptiness, the vacuum. Some of them eventually found something in the vacuum. They weren’t sure of what they’d found; but they’d stirred up a violence and power difficult to associate with the midget Siren. Mind shields had been hard tested. Some shields weren’t tight enough or resistant enough; and as a result, the Service had a few lunatic xenos around for a while.
Even without Trigger’s forebodings, it wouldn’t have looked like a matter to rush into. When the exams were over, Telzey could settle down to serious work on the Siren. All she’d intended during the week was to become acquainted with it.
In doing even that much, had she allowed it to become acquainted with her? She wasn’t sure. Something or other, at any rate, seemed to have developed an awareness of her. Otherwise, she’d had no problems. The addictive effect didn’t bother her; that could be dampened or screened out, and whatever lingered after a period of contact was wiped from her mind in seconds.
The something-or-other did bother her.
Telzey turned the aircar into the mouth of a wide valley. It was between winter and spring in the hills, windy and wet. Snow still lay in the gullies and along the mountain slopes, but the green things were coming awake everywhere. The Amberdon house stood forty miles to the north above the banks of a little lake. . . .
There was this restlessness, a frequent inclination to check the car’s view screens, though there was almost no air traffic here. Simply a feeling of something around! Something unseen.
When it happened before, she’d suspected there might be a psi prowling in her mental neighborhood, somebody who was taking an interest in her. Since such uninvited interest wasn’t always healthy, she’d long since established automatic sensors which picked up the beginnings of a scanning probe and simultaneously concealed and alerted her. The sensors hadn’t gone into action.
So it shouldn’t be a human psi hanging around. Unless it was a psi with a good deal defter touch than she’d encountered previously. Under the circumstances, that, too, wasn’t impossible.
If it wasn’t a human psi, it almost had to be a Siren manifestation.
* * *
The feeling faded before she reached the house and brought her Cloudsplitter down to the carport. Another aircar stood there, the one Trigger had rented for her stay on Orado.
During the past two evenings, they’d established a routine. When Telzey arrived from college, she and Trigger had dinner, then settled down in the room Gilas Amberdon used as a study when he was in the house. Its main attraction was a fine fireplace. They’d talk about this and that; meanwhile the Siren’s unshielded container stood on a table in a corner of the room, and Telzey’s thoughts drifted about the alien strangeness, not probing in any way but picking up whatever was to be learned easily. She soon stopped getting anything new in that manner; what was to be learned easily about the Siren remained limited. Some time before midnight, they’d restore the psi block, and Telzey went off to Pehanron.
But before she left, they turned on the lights in the grounds outside for a while. The very first night, the day Trigger and the Siren moved in, they’d had a rather startling experience. They were in the study when they began to hear sounds outside. It might have been tree branches beating against the wall in the wind, except that no tree grew so close to the house there. It might even have been an unseasonable, irregular spattering of hail. The study had no window, but the adjoining room had two, so they went in, opened a window and looked out.
At once, something came up over the sill with a great wet flap of wings and tail and drove into the room between them, bowling Telzey over. Trigger yelped and slammed the window shut as another pair of wings boomed in from the windy dusk with more shadowy shapes behind it. When she looked around, Telzey was getting to her feet and the intruder had disappeared into the house. They could hear it flapping about somewhere.
“Are you hurt, Telzey?”
“What in the world is that thing? There’s a whole mess of them outside!”
“Eveers. They’re on spring migration. A flock was probably settling to the lake and got in range of the Siren.”
“Good Lord, yes! The Siren! We should have realized—what’ll we do with the one in the house?”
“The first thing we’d better do is get the Siren shielded,” said Telzey.
Trigger cocked her head, listening. “The, uh, eveer is in the study!”
Telzey laughed. “They’re not very dangerous. Come on!”
The eveer might not have been a vicious creature normally, but it had strong objections to being evicted from the study and put up a determined fight. They both collected beak nips and scratches, were knocked about by solid wing strokes and thoroughly muddied by the eveer’s wet hide, before they finally got it pinned down under a blanket. Then Trigger crouched on the blanket, panting, while Telzey restored the psi block. After that, the eveer seemed mainly interested in getting away from them. They carried it to the front door between them, bundled in the blanket, and opened the door. There they recoiled.
A sizable collection of Orado’s local walking and flying fauna had gathered along the wall of the house. But the creatures were already beginning to disperse, now that the Siren’s magic had faded; and at the appearance of the two humans, most of them took off quickly. Trigger and Telzey shook the eveer out of the blanket, and it went flapping away heavily into the night.
It took them most of an hour to tend to their injuries and clean up behind it. After that, they ignored unusual sounds outside the house when the container’s psi block was off.
Other things were less easy to ignore.
* * *
The night Telzey started back to Pehanron after the weekend was the time she first got the impression that something unseen was riding along with her. Psi company, she suspected, though her sensors reported nothing. She waited a while, relaxed her mind screens gradually, sent a sudden quick, wide search-thought about, with something less friendly held in readiness, in case it was company she didn’t like. The search-thought should have caught at least a trace of whoever or whatever was there. It didn’t.