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   Chapter 4 4

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 9408

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

Douglas Alexander was a puffy-faced youngster with small intolerant eyes set in folds of fat above a button nose and a loose-lipped sensual mouth. There was an odd expression of defiance overlaid with fear on his pudgy features. Looking at him, Kennon was reminded of a frightened dog, ready either to bite or cower.

But it wasn't Douglas who held his eye. It was the two Lani who followed him into the room. Every line of their bodies was perfection that spoke volumes about generations of breeding for physical elegance. They moved with a co-ordinated grace that made Douglas look even more clumsy by contrast. And they were identical, twin cream-and-gold works of art. They were completely nude-and Kennon for the first time in his life fully appreciated the beauty of an unclad female. To cover them would be sacrilege, and ornaments would only detract from their exquisite perfection.

Kennon knew that he was staring like an idiot. Alexander's amused smile told him that much. With an effort he composed his startled features.

The pair looked at him with soft violet eyes-and it was as though some psychic bathhouse attendant had poured ice water down his spine. For he had seen that look before, that liquid introspective look in the velvet eyes of cattle. He shivered. For a moment he had been thinking of them as human. And somehow the lack of that indefinable some thing called humanity robbed them of much of their glamour. They were still beautiful, but their beauty had become impersonal.

"Don't take these as representative of the Lani," Alexander said suddenly. "They're a special case, a very special case." He glared at his cousin. "Damn your impudence," he said without beat. "I sent for you-not your toys. Send them away."

Douglas sulkily thrust out his lower lip. "You can't talk to me like that, Cousin Alex," he began. "I'm just a-"

"You heard me, Douglas. Out!" Alexander's voice didn't rise but it cut like a whip.

"Oh, very well," Douglas said. "I can't fight you-yet." He turned to the humanoids. "You heard the Boss-man. Go home."

The two nodded in unison and departed quickly. Somehow Kennon got the impression that they were happy to leave.

"Just wait," Douglas said. "You can't boss me forever. Just wait. I'll reach my majority in five years. I can vote my shares then-and then I'll fix you. You won't be so high and mighty then, Mr. Big. I'll throw in with the rest of the Family. They don't like you too much."

"Don't hold your breath waiting for the Family to help you," Alexander said. "They wouldn't have anyone else but me handle the finances. They love money too much. And until you get your inheritance remember one thing-I'm master here."

"I know it," Douglas said, and then curiously-"Who's the oddball?" He gestured at Kennon with a pudgy thumb.

"Our new veterinarian, Dr. Kennon."

"Oh-great! Now you tell me!"

"There's nothing like making a good first impression," Alexander said with ironic emphasis. "I hope he cuts you off from the Lani. He'll have the authority to do it, since he's taking Old Doc's place."

"He can't. I'm an owner. I own-"

"You own nothing. You're a minor. And under the terms of Grandfather's will, you'll own nothing except an allowance until you reach legal age. And that brings me to the reason I brought you here. Just when did you gain the right to reorganize the household staff? Just when did you get the power to interfere with the experimental program?"

Douglas flushed dull red and bit his lip. "Do we have to go into this in front of strangers?"

"Kennon's my agent," Alexander said coldly, "and he might as well learn about you and the others from the start."

"Well-what do you want him to do-watch me crawl?" Douglas asked bitterly. "You'll make me do it. You always do. Do you want me to beg, to say I was wrong, to promise I won't do it again?"

"You've done that already," Alexander said. "Several times. You need a lesson. I won't have you meddling with valuable animals."

"And what are you going to do about it?"

"Put you where you can do no more damage. As of tomorrow you'll go to Otpen One."

Douglas paled. His lips quivered, and his eyes flicked uneasily as he watched Alexander's granite face. "You don't mean that," he said finally. "You're joking."

"I never joke about business."

"But you can't do that! I'll tell the Family. They won't let you."

"I already have their consent," Alexander said. "I obtained it after your last escapade. You'll be happy out there. You can play tin god all you like. Master of life and death on a two-acre island. No one will mind. You can also go to work. No one will mind that, either. And Mullins won't m

ind as long as you leave the troops alone. Now get out of here and get packed. You're leaving tomorrow morning."

"But cousin Alex-"

"Move! I'm tired of the sight of you!" Alexander said.

Douglas turned and shambled out of the room. His ego was thoroughly deflated and he seemed more frightened than before. Obviously the Otpens weren't the pleasantest place in this world.

"They're a military post," Alexander said. "And Commander Mullins doesn't like Douglas. Can't say that I blame him. Douglas is a thoroughly unpleasant specimen, and incidentally quite typical of the rest of the Family." Alexander sighed and spread his hands in a gesture that combined disgust and resignation. "Sometimes I wonder why I have been cursed with my relatives."

Kennon nodded. The implications behind the empty eyes of Douglas's Lani sickened him. There were several ways to produce that expression, all of them unpleasant. Hypnoconditioning, the Quiet Treatment, brainburning, transorbital leukotomy, lobectomy-all of the products of that diseased period of humanity's thinking when men tampered with the brains of other men in an effort to cure psychic states. Psychiatry had passed that period, at least on the civilized worlds, where even animal experiments were frowned upon as unnecessary cruelty.

"You saw those two Lani," Alexander said. "Grandfather had them made that way as a birthday present for Douglas. He was getting senile. He died a year later. You'd think a man would be ashamed to keep things like that around-but not Douglas. He likes them." Alexander's voice was tinged with contempt. "He knows they disgust me-so he parades them in. I could strangle that pup sometimes!"

"I wondered about it. I wouldn't like to work for a man who permitted such things."

"That was done before I took over. For the past three years there have been no dockings, no mutilations. I can't see treating a helpless animal like that."

"I feel better about it," Kennon said. "I didn't think you were that sort."

"Understand me," Alexander said. "I'm always opposed to senseless cruelty and waste-particularly when it's dangerous. Docked Lani are the height of stupidity. Just because someone wants a pet that is an exact duplicate of a human being is no reason to risk a court action. Those Lani, and a few others whose tails have been docked, could be a legal bombshell if they ever left Flora."

Kennon was jolted. He had been thinking of mental mutilation and Alexander had been talking physical. Naturally they would be dangerous property. Anyone attempting to sell a docked Lani would probably be thrown in Detention and charged with slave trading.

"Did you ever figure the cost of taking a legal action through our court system?" Alexander asked. "Even the small ones set you back four or five thousand, and a first-class action like a Humanity Trial could cost over a million. Grandfather found that out. Sure, there are differences between Lani and humans, but a smart lawyer can make them seem trivial until the final test and that would drag on for nearly two years until all the requirements were satisfied-and by that time the unfavorable publicity would drop sales to zero. The Family would be on my neck for lost dividends, and I'd lose much of the control I hold over them.

"Sure, it's possible that prehensile tails could be produced by mutation, but so far as we know it hasn't happened in human history. As a result, the tail serves as a trade-mark-something that can be easily recognized by anyone. So we sell them intact." Alexander crossed his legs and settled back in his chair. "Shocks you, doesn't it?"

Kennon nodded. "Yes," he admitted. "It does."

"I know. You can't help it. Most of our new employees think the Lani are human-at first. They learn better, but adjustment is always a strain. They keep confusing external appearances with the true article. But remember this-Lani are not human. They're animals. And on this island they're treated as what they are-no more, no less. They are a part of our economics and are bred, fed, and managed according to sound livestock principles. Despite some of the things you may see here in Alexandria, don't forget that. You are a veterinarian. Your job is to handle disease problems in animals. Lani are animals. Therefore you will be doing your job. I was disappointed in your reaction when you first saw them, but I suppose it was natural. At any rate this should clear the air."

"It does-intellectually," Kennon admitted. "But the physical resemblance is so close that it is difficult to accept."

Alexander smiled. "Don't worry. You'll accept it in time. Now I think it's time that you met the Family."

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