Meanwhile, on Lyten, Dumarest has met a man named Zalman who is a “reader”: a non-telepath who can read people’s thoughts and motives with near-psychic ability based on their body language, tone of voice, and other subtle clues. Zalman was an acquaintance of Leo Bochner (from Book 19, The Quillian Sector), who Zalman claims died under mysterious circumstances which Dumarest assumes was a Cyclan assassination. Zalman knows from Bochner about Dumarest’s quest for Earth, as well as the fact that he has something very valuable to the Cyclan. Zalman also happens to have a friend, Rudi Boulaye, who is a scholar who has spent his career searching for Earth. The last time Zalman and Rudi met (which was years ago), Rudi had supposedly discovered Earth’s location and was working on a plan to build a fortune to finance an expedition.
Zalman offers to introduce Dumarest to Rudi, in exchange for services to be rendered later. Despite his initial suspicions, the temptation is too great and Dumarest finally agrees. He and Zalman travel to Elysius, where they discover Rudi is dead, apparently killed years ago in an accident in the mine where he believed a fortune in the rare mineral juscar was to be found. His widow, Isobel, is a geologist who met Rudi at the university where he taught before he started his quest for Earth in earnest. Elysius is a reputed paradise with mild weather and free, highly nutritive food in the form of “manna”: the residue of the spawning process of a local life form. Unfortunately, unnoticed by the locals, the life form has gradually mutated within the last hundred years or so, causing the manna to acquire the additional property of acting as a euphoric drug. Isobel has been unable to find new personnel to work the mine since Rudi died because of the manna-induced lethargy in the local population (and which eventually affects newcomers too).
Dumarest himself almost succumbs to the drug before he figures out what’s going on and gets clean. He, Isobel and Zalman re-open the mine with the assistance of some of their fellow passengers (who with Dumarest’s aid have realized the planet is not the paradise they believed and sought). In exchange, Isobel allows Dumarest access to Rudi’s notes, which confirm most of the clues about Earth he has discovered to date but tell him nothing new. However, Dumarest is convinced from the supporting documentation that Rudi did know Earth’s coordinates, and from Isobel and Zalman’s descriptions of Rudi’s fanaticism, concludes that the jealously guarded medallion Rudi wore on his person at all times must contain the secret, now buried with him in the old mine.
Isobel, Zalman, and the other partners are only interested in the juscar, but Earl insists on finding Rudi’s body. Except for Zalman, they all grumble about the seemingly wasted effort and risk, and Isobel in particular tries to discourage him. Meanwhile, friendship and mutual trust have grown between Earl and Zalman because Earl is the only person who has ever appreciated just how lonely being a reader is for Zalman. Zalman, who originally planned for Dumarest’s half of their earlier bargain to be selling to the highest bidder whatever incredibly valuable item or secret the Cyclan was chasing him for, will now be content with his share of the juscar.
Zalman’s talent proves invaluable in managing the expectations and actions of their often contentious partners, but inevitably disaster strikes. After Dumarest and Sven Axilla, one of the partners, survive a seemingly inescapable rock fall in the mine, Zalman and Isobel coordinate the rescue. In their flight from danger, Dumarest and Axilla discover A) the mother lode of juscar, B) natural caverns connecting the old and new mines, and C) Rudi’s remains. Disturbingly it appears that Rudi was murdered, not killed in an accident as the official story went.
Dumarest deduces that A) Rudi abandoned his search for Earth and any hope of turning a profit from the mine because he had become addicted to manna, B) Isobel killed him in a homicidal rage because of his weakness, and C) Zalman is unable to “read” her beyond the vague sense that she is hiding something because she has repressed the memory of her crime so deeply that it has driven her insane. Funny, because Zalman and Isobel are frantically searching for Duamrest and Axilla at that very moment.
“Rescue” isn’t exactly the correct word for being reunited with a homicidal maniac, in an unstable mine, immediately after you’ve just discovered her dark secret. Isobel A) tries to kill Dumarest, B) destroys the medallion, and C) causes a rock fall that kills Zalman and herself. Dumarest is simultaneously so pissed and grief-stricken that he takes his share of the first haul of juscar, bequeaths the mine to his surviving partners (including Axilla and Axilla’s new girlfriend Anna, a fairly minor character who helped Dumarest kick his manna habit), and prepares to high-tail it off-world.