“Man, “ said Terl, “is an endangered species. “
The hairy paws of the Chamco brothers hung suspended above the broad keys of the laser-bash game. The cliffs of Char's eyebones drew down over his yellow orbs as he looked up in mystery. Even the steward, who had been padding quietly about picking up her saucepans, lumbered to a halt and stared.
Terl could not have produced a more profound effect had he thrown a meat-girl naked into the middle of the room.
The clear dome of the Intergalactic Mining Company employee recreation hall shone black around and above them, silvered at its crossbars by the pale glow of the Earth's single moon, half-full on this late summer night.
Terl lifted his large amber eyes from the tome that rested minutely in his massive claws and looked around the room. He was suddenly aware of the effect he had produced, and it amused him. Anything to relieve the humdrum monotony of a ten-year  duty tour in this gods-abandoned mining camp, way out here on the edge of a minor galaxy.
In an even more professional voice, already deep and roaring enough,
Terl repeated his thought. “Man is an endangered species. “
Char glowered at him. “What in the name of diseased crap are you reading?”
Terl did not much care for his tone. After all, Char was simply one of several mine managers, but Terl was chief of minesite security. “I didn't read it. I thought it. “
“You must've got it from somewhere, “ growled Char. “What is that book?”
Terl held it up so Char could see its back. It said, “General Report of Geological Minesites, Volume 250, 369. “Like all such books it was huge but printed on material that made it almost weightless, particularly on a low-gravity planet such as Earth, a triumph of design and manufacture that did not cut heavily into the payloads of freighters.
"Rughr, " growled Char in disgust. “That must be two, three hundred Earth-years old. If you want to prowl around in books, I got an up-to-date general board of directors' report that says we're thirty-five freighters behind in bauxite deliveries.“
The Chamco brothers looked at each other and then at their game to see where they had gotten to in shooting down the live mayflies in the air box. But Terl's next words distracted them again.
“Today, “ said Terl, brushing Char's push for work aside, “I got a sighting report from a recon drone that recorded only thirty-five men in that valley near that peak. “ Terl waved his paw westward toward the towering mountain range silhouetted by the moon.
“So?” said Char.
“So I dug up the books out of curiosity. There used to be hundreds in that valley. And furthermore, “ continued Terl with his professorial ways coming back, “there used to be thousands and thousands of them on this planet. “
“You can't believe all you read, “ said Char heavily. “On my last duty tour-it was Arcturus IV-'
“This book, “ said Terl, lifting it impressively, “was compiled by the culture and ethnology department of the Intergalactic Mining Company. “
The larger Chamco brother batted his eyebones. “I didn't know we had one. “
Char sniffed. “It was disbanded more than a century ago. Useless waste of money. Yapping around about ecological impacts and junk like that. “ He shifted his bulk around to Terl. "Is this some kind of scheme to explain a nonscheduled vacation? You're going to get your butt in a bind. I can see it, a pile of requisitions this high for breathe-gas tanks and scoutcraft. You won't get any of my workers. “
“Turn off the juice, “ said Terl. “I only said that man-'
“I know what you said. But you got your appointment because you are clever. That's right, clever. Not intelligent. Clever. And I can see right through an excuse to go on a hunting expedition. What Psychlo in his right skull would bother with the things?”
The smaller Chamco brother grinned. “I get tired of just dig-dig-dig, ship-ship-ship. Hunting might be fun. I didn't think anybody did it for-'
Char turned on him like a tank zeroing in on its prey. “Fun hunting those things! You ever see one?” He lurched to his feet and the floor creaked. He put his paw just above his belt. “They only come up to here! They got hardly any hair on them except their heads. They're a dirty white color like a slug. They're so brittle they break up when you try to put them in a pouch. “ He snarled in disgust and picked up a saucepan of kerbango. “They're so weak they couldn't pick this up without straining their guts. And they're not good eating. “ He tossed off the kerbango and made an earthquake shudder.
“You ever see one?” said the bigger Chamco brother.
Char sat down, the dome rumbled, and he handed the empty saucepan to the steward. “No, “ he said. “Not alive. I seen some bones in the shafts and I heard. “
“There were thousands of them once, “ said Terl, ignoring the mine manager. “Thousands! All over the place.“
Char belched. “Shouldn't wonder they die off. They breathe this oxygen-nitrogen air. Deadly stuff. “
“I got a crack in my face mask yesterday, “ said the smaller Chamco brother. “For about thirty seconds I thought I wasn't going to make it. Bright lights bursting inside your skull. Deadly stuff. I really look forward to getting back home where you can walk around without a suit or mask, where the gravity gives you something to push against, where everything is a beautiful purple and there's not one bit of this green stuff. My papa used to tell me that if I wasn't a good Psychlo and if I didn't say sir-sir-sir to the right people, I’d wind up at a butt end of nowhere like this. He was right. I did. It 's your shot, brother.“
Char sat back and eyed Terl. “You ain't really going hunting for a man, are you?”
Terl looked at his book. He inserted one of his talons to keep his place and then thumped the volume against his knee.
“I think you're wrong, “ he mused. “There was something to these creatures. Before we came along, it says here, they had towns on every continent. They had flying machines and boats. They even appear to have fired off stuff into space.”
“How do you know that wasn't some other race?” said Char. “How do you know it wasn't some lost colony of Psychlos?"
“No, it wasn't that, “ said Terl. “Psychlos can't breathe this air. It was man all right, just like the cultural guys researched. And right in our own histories, you know how it says we got here?”
"Ump, " said Char.
“Man apparently sent out some kind of probe that gave full directions to the place, had pictures of man on it and everything. It got picked up by a Psychlo recon. And you know what?”
“Ump, “ said Char.
“The probe and the pictures were on a metal that was rare everywhere and worth a clanking fortune. And Intergalactic paid the Psychlo governors sixty trillion Galactic credits for the directions and the concession. One gas barrage and we were in business. “
“Fairy tales, fairy tales, “ said Char. “Every planet I ever helped gut has some butt and crap story like that. Every one. “ He yawned his face into a huge cavern. “All that was hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago. You ever notice that the public relations department always puts their fairy tales so far back nobody can ever check them?”
"I’m going to go out and catch one of these things, “ said Terl.
“Not with any of my crews or equipment you ain't, “ said Char.
Terl heaved his mammoth bulk off the seat and crossed the creaking floor to the berthing hatch.
“You're as crazy as a nebula of crap, “ said Char.
The two Chamco brothers got back into their game and intently laser-blasted the entrapped mayflies into smoky puffs, one by one.
Char looked at the empty door. The security chief knew no Psychlo could go up into those mountains. Terl really was crazy. There was deadly uranium up there.
But Terl, rumbling along a hallway to his room, did not consider himself crazy. He was being very clever as always. He had started the rumors so no questions would get out of hand when he began to put into motion the personal plans that would make him wealthy and powerful and, almost as important, dig him out of this accursed planet.
The man-things were the perfect answer. All he needed was just one and then he could get the others. His campaign had begun and begun very well, he thought.
He went to sleep gloating over how clever he was.