Jandrax 73

Even if he were that fortunate, the other cow would kill him. He was sorely tempted. Here would be a fitting end for a man and a hunter. He sighted on the bull, his finger caressing the trigger, but did not fire.

After a time the trihoms wandered away, the cows having sensed something strange in the area. Trihom belligerence is matched only by trihom caution, so the beasts drifted off to the north.

Jean sat beneath the siskal, chewing a fresh stalk and thinking. He tried to unravel what had held his finger. It was partly because of what he had glimpsed on the island – the possibility of an existence where killing did not reign supreme. It was also partly the influence of Levi-Stuer who had preached that being a man was more than merely being a hunter. Part of his hesitation was due to his own thinking as well. He had done things that no man had done before. No brave hunter from the colony had ever dared the lake or sought out the secret of the disappearing herds, yet he, a cripple, had done so. His impulses had been largely self-destructive, true, but they were not so any longer. He had faced death and therein found the courage to face life.

When he crawled out of the bushes and set off he limped no less but was somehow less conscious of it.

He had not found new self-worth in a moment, but in a moment he had realized the culmination of that which had been building for a year. He was a man; let others think what they wished – he knew his own worth.

And having so reestablished his own worth, his loneliness was thereby intensified.

***

Firelight flickered in the night. Jean lay against the backrest of lal that he had woven, contemplating the fire and the various night sounds beyond. His belly was full to repletion and a massive hunk of humpox meat hung beside the fire, slowly drying and cooking. The carcass that had given up this meat lay nearly a half kilometer to the west and was doubtless even now being stripped by longnecks and krats. Jean had killed early in the afternoon and had lost no time getting what meat he could eat and retreating before the carnivores arrived.

His rifle, carefully recharged, lay across his knees. Behind him was a shallow pool which would give warning splashes if anything tried to reach him from that side. He did not even bother to turn his head in that direction. Ahead the ground fell away from the hummock he had chosen and any carnivores out there would be wary of the fire. Of course he dared not sleep until he returned to the gig and put safely out into the lake. That he would do in the morning, for he had much to think about tonight.

He had found the herds, which had been his ostensible purpose. Now he could return to the colony with his findings. Yet he knew that few would be interested, for it would be knowledge without practical import.

For the first time since his injury, he was lonely for humankind. Even during the year he had spent with LeviStuer he had shunned his fellows. Now he was transformed, though outwardly unchanged. It had been a slow process, but he had established a deeper acquaintance with himself and a truer picture of his abilities and failings.

He had no illusions about his fellow man, however. They would no more accept him now than they had before. This then was his dilemma, that he had progressed beyond his fellows and was thereby cast out.

Beyond the firelight, eyes watched him. Yellow, slitted eyes on a finely sculpted head – longneck. Other eyes watched him as well, brown eyes like his own, set in a human face. more tomorrow

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