eyes. His voice was like rusted iron. "Relax," he told me. "I'm not
burning you down, Mister. Not yet."
I made myself stare him down. "Who are you?" I said.
"Name don't matter," he said without moving the heater an inch.
"What's important is, who are _you_? And what are you doing here?"
"James Carson's my name," I said. "I'm from Ancarta." It was a small
city halfway around the planet, a nice, anonymous place to be from.
"And I'm minding my own business."
"Sure," the big man said. He jerked his head and whistled, one sudden
sharp note. The clearing was full of men.
They were all sorts, big and small, thin and fat, dressed in uniforms,
cast-offs, suits, rags, anything at all. Half of them were carrying
heaters. The rest had knives, some good and some home-made. They
watched me and they watched the big man. Nobody moved.
"Maybe you're a Government man," the big man said, "and have come out
to catch some of Bill Sergeant's boys."
"No," I said.
He grinned at me as if he hadn't heard me. "Well," he said, "this
ought to be a big enough batch for you, Mister. Want to capture us all
right now and take us back to New Didymus with you?"
"You've got me wrong," I said.
Another man spoke up. He was older, in his late forties, I thought.
His hair was thin and gray but his face was hard. He had a heater
strapped to his side, and he wore a good uniform. "Government men
don't come out one at a time, do they, Huey?" he said.
The big man shrugged. "No way to tell," he said. "Maybe Mr. Carson
here's got a call-radio for the rest of his boys. Maybe they're all
just waiting for us, some place nearby."
"If they're waiting," the other man said, "they'd be here by now.
Besides, Huey, he don't look like a Government man."
"Think they all got tails?" Huey asked him.
I judged it was about time to put in a word. "I'm not Government," I
said. "I'm from Ancarta. I'm here to help you--if you're the men I
think you are."
That started some more discussion. Huey was all for labeling my offer
a trick and getting rid of me then and there--after which, I suppose,
he was going to clear out my mythical followers in the nearby jungle.
But he was pretty well all alone; there's got to be a rotten apple in
the best-picked barrel and these boys were smart. The only sensible
thing to do was staring them in the face, and it didn't take them long
to see it.
"We'll take you back with us," Huey's friend told me. "When we get to
a safe place we can sit down and talk this out."
I wanted to insist on finishing my supper right where I was, but
there's such a thing as playing a little too much for the grandstand.
Instead, I was herded into the center of the group, and we marched off
into the jungle.
Only it wasn't a march; there was no attempt at order. For a while we
used the trail, and then straggled off it and went single-file throughDownload<<BackPagesMainNext>>