We pushed into the jungle above S’uval the next morning, my mind focusing on that special inner spot that had always centered me: I’m nothing but a man who tracks other men for pay; that is what I am, it’s what I do, and nothing else. I seek men who don’t want to be found–whether for reasons of crime, sin, personal disgrace, or some sort of queer, unknown psychological imbalance. Men who have slipped off the net, and have to be netted again so as to answer to others. That is all I am, that is all I need to be.
And I’d dealt with all those types, all those reasons. Yet never had I engaged in a commission as flaky or as suspicious as the one I now pursued. And why did I accept it? I certainly didn’t need the money,
not at this point in my career. For all I cared, Dr. Kline could have fallen down a rat-hole and been eaten by Eridani maggot-analogs.
And yet, I pictured those maggots as wearing the faces of the Directors of the Church of the Holy Psychological Redemption. There was something else going on here, and I was determined to wrench it to the surface.
I removed my field cap and swiped the sweat off my scalp with my hand, turned and waited for Laura and Pete to catch up.
"Hold up a minute, T’aylang! You hanging in there, Pete?"
Pete was panting, trying to catch his breath in the steamy air. "Is the . . . pope . . . a bear?"
"Time for a break, folks," I said.
I was suddenly aware of T’aylang by my side, studying Pete. "This man is not well-adapted to the environment or to the task at hand," he said. "Will we be required to carry him for the balance of the journey?"
"No, just give us a few minutes to rest here, Big Guy. Pete’ll be all right."
I looked sternly at Pete when I said that, hoping to drive that veiled admonition into him.
The Eridani raised his head to an erect vertical position. "This is not a safe place to stop. We are traversing a pyloc’s game trail. Similar to what you refer to in your language as a ‘big cat.’"
"So, are you seeing any?" I unclipped the holster of my firearm.
T’aylang pointed to one of the porters and barked a short command. The other Eridani began to sing, a strange polyphonous song whose ultrasonic overtones made me wince in pain.
"We will persuade any nearby ones to take an afternoon nap. But only a short one. It would be best if your colleague gets his breath back soon, so that we may continue on our way."
Pete gasped and nodded, apparently agreeing in principle with T’aylang.