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   Chapter 5 5

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 12795

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07

The main salon was crowded. The huge room, glittering with mirrors and crystal, floored with thick carpets, and hung with rich drapes, had something of the appearance of a Sarkian harem. Although there were only five of the Alexander family present, there were at least twenty Lani whose costumes ranged from the black G string and halter of the household staff to the utter nudity of Douglas's playthings. They were all female, and Kennon wondered for a moment what a male was like.

Besides Alexander, there were two men and three women: Douglas, still with his sulky expression, an older man in his late nineties who looked like Douglas's elder brother, two mature women who could be any age from fifty to three hundred, and a girl. She might have been thirty-perhaps younger, perhaps older, a lean feminine edition of Alexander, with the same intriguing face and veiled predatory look. There was a hardness about her that was absent in the others. Kennon had the feeling that whatever this girl did, she didn't do it half way.

"My sister Eloise," Alexander said in a low voice. "Watch out for her. She's as deadly as a puff adder and she collects men. The other man is Douglas's father, Henry. The plump redhead beside him is his wife, Anne. The other woman is my mother, Clara, even though Eloise and I don't look like her. We take after Father."

"Where's he?" Kennon whispered.

"Dead," Alexander replied. "He was killed twenty years ago."

"I'd like to present Dr. Jac Kennon, our new veterinarian," Alexander said into the hush that followed their entrance. The introductions that followed were in proper form, and Kennon was beginning to feel more at ease until Eloise sent one of her Lani with a summons. He looked around for Alexander, but the entrepreneur was the center of a three-cornered argument, hemmed in by Douglas, Henry, and Anne. Henry's voice was raised in bitter protest that Alexander was exceeding his authority. He shrugged. There was no help there.

"All right," he said, "tell your mistress I'll be along in a moment."

"Yes, Doctor," the Lani said, "but the Woman Eloise says for you to come, and she is not accustomed to being disobeyed."

"Tell her what I said," Kennon replied. "I shall be there directly." He crossed to the table and examined it, selecting a cluster of odd purple fruit which looked more interesting than it tasted. When he had finished he walked leisurely over to where Eloise sat.

She looked at him angrily. "I am accustomed to being obeyed by my employees," she said coldly. Her dark eyes, oddly like her brother's, traversed his hard body like twin scanners.

He returned her appraising stare with one of his own. "I'm not your employee," he said bluntly. "I was hired by your brother, and there's a full peeper rider on my contract." His eyes traveled slowly over her carefully arranged hair, her make-up, her jewelry at throat and arms, her painted finger- and toenails, and then across the slim small-breasted lines of her body half revealed under her thin ankle-length tunic of Lyranian silk.

"Satisfied?" she asked.

"On Beta," he said bluntly, "your appearance would qualify you for a parasite camp. Six months of hard labor would do you no end of good. You're soft, lazy, and undisciplined."

Eloise gasped. "Why, you-" she sputtered.

"And perhaps next time you'll learn to be polite," Kennon continued imperturbably. "After all, the superficial attributes of good breeding are not too hard to counterfeit."

To his surprise, Eloise giggled. "You bite, don't you?" she asked. "Remind me to remember that."

"I shall."

"Of course, your actions weren't good breeding either."

"Admitted-but I've never pretended to be what I'm not. I'm the son of a spaceship skipper, and I'm a veterinarian. That's all."

"That's not all. You are also a man." Her face was sober, "It's been some time since I've met one. I'd almost forgotten they existed."

"There's your brother."

"Alex?-he's a money making machine. Come-sit beside me and let's talk."

"About what?"

"You-me-your job, your life-anything you wish?"

"That line isn't exactly new," Kennon grinned.

"I know," she admitted, "but it usually works."

"I'm immune."

"That's what you think." Eloise's eyes were frankly appraising. "I think I could become interested in you."

"I have a job here. I don't think I would have time to give you the attention you'd demand."

"I get bored easily. It probably wouldn't be long before I would be tired of you."

"Perhaps-and perhaps not, I can't afford to take the chance."

"You seem confident."

"You forget. I was a sailor."

"And spacemen have a reputation, eh?" Eloise chuckled.

"At that, you might be right. I remember the first officer of-" she let the thought die. "But I became tired of him," she finished.

Kennon smiled. "I've never had that complaint."

"Perhaps you'd like to make the acid test?" she asked.

"Perhaps," he said. "But not tonight."

"Tomorrow then? Alex will be leaving in the morning. He never stays more than a few hours." Eloise's eyes were bright, her lips moist and red.

"I'll pick the time," Kennon said-and added to himself, "If ever." Despite her wealth Eloise was no different from the port-of-call girls. If anything, she was worse since she had enough money to implement her desires. They were merely in the trade for business reasons. No-Eloise would be something to steer clear of. Alexander was right. She was a mantrap. He stood up and bowed Betan fashion. "I see your brother is free now. He wants to brief me on my duties here. We were discussing it before we entered."

Eloise pouted. "You can always do that."

"You said yourself that Alexander never stays here very long. I would be a poor employee if I delayed him." He grinned knowingly at her and she smiled back with complete understanding.

"Very well, then. Get your business done. Your pleasure can wait."

Kennon steered Alexander over to an open window that led to a balcony. "Whew!" he said. "I see what you mean."

"She's a tartar," Alexander agreed. "I suspect that she's a nymphomaniac."

"You suspect?" Kennon asked. "By this time you should know. Let's get out of here. I've had about all of your sister I care to take."

"Can't say as I blame you. I'll show you to your quarters. Maybe Old Doc left a bottle or two, although I suspe

ct the old sinner hung on until the last one was empty."

"If he had to put up with your relatives as a steady diet, I can't say that I blame him," Kennon said.

"Careful, Doctor. You're talking about my kinfolk," Alexander said wryly. "At that, though, you have a point." The two men slipped quietly from the room. Apparently none of the Family was conscious of their departure except Eloise, who watched them leave with an enigmatic expression on her narrow face.

They left the fortress through the rear gate and walked slowly down the winding path that led to the cluster of buildings in the valley below. It was a beautiful night, calm and clear with the stars shining down from the dark vault of the heavens. The constellations were strange, and Kennon missed the moons. Beta had three, two of which were always in the sky, but Kardon was moonless. Somehow it gave the sky an empty look.

A damp coolness rose from the ground as the evening rain evaporated mistily into the still air. Kennon sniffed the odor of soil and growing vegetation, clean pleasant odors in contrast to what he had left. In the distance a bird called sleepily from one of the fortress turrets and was answered by some creature Kennon couldn't identify. A murmur of blended sound came from the valley below, punctuated by high-pitched laughter. Someone was singing, or perhaps chanting would be a better description. The melody was strange and the words unrecognizable. The thin whine of an atomotor in the fortress's generating plant slowly built up to a keening undertone that blended into the pattern of half-perceived sound.

"Nice, isn't it?" Alexander remarked as they rounded another turn on the switchback path.

"Yes. You can't hear a sound from back there except for that generator. It's almost as though we shut those people out of existence by merely closing a door."

"I wish it were that simple," Alexander said. "But doors that can be closed can also be opened. Well-think you'll like it here?"

"I think so, providing I don't have to entertain your relatives."

"You mean Eloise? Don't worry about her. She's as fickle as the wind."

"I've never seen anyone so frankly predatory," Kennon said. "She worries me."

"They'll all be gone tomorrow-except for Eloise," Alexander said with mock comfort. "Douglas is on the Otpens for a year, and the others are off somewhere."

"You'll be staying, I suppose."

"No-I'm afraid I can't."

"I hoped you'd help me get organized. This whole thing has been something of a shock. I was expecting something entirely different."

"Sorry-someone has to run the business. But Blalok'll brief you. Actually he's more qualified than I. He knows everything worth knowing about this place. We're going past his house in a minute-want to stop in and see him?"

"It's pretty late."

"Not for Blalok. He's a Mystic-a nocturnal. He's probably doing his work now."

"Perhaps we shouldn't disturb him."

"Nonsense. He's used to it. I visit him frequently at night."

"Sure-but you're the boss."

"Well-in a sense you are too. At least in the veterinary end of this business." Alexander swung sharply to the left and climbed a short flight of stairs that led to the nearest house. Lights flared on the deep porch, and the old-fashioned iris door dilated to frame the black silhouette of a stocky, broad-shouldered man.

"Good evening, sir," he said. "I was expecting you. That the new vet with you?"

"Your pipeline's still working, I see," Alexander said. "Yes, this is Dr. Kennon-Evald Blalok-I wanted you two to meet."

Kennon liked the gray middle-aged man. He looked honest and competent, a solid quiet man with a craggy face and the deep-set eyes of a Mystic. His skin had the typical thickness and pore prominence of the dwellers on that foggy world from which he came. But unlike the natives of Myst, his skin was burned a dark brown by Kardon's sun. He seemed out of place on this tropic world, but Kennon reflected wryly that there was probably more than one misplaced human here, himself included.

"I've been going over Station Fourteen's records with Jordan," Blalok said as he ushered them into the house. A tall black-haired man rose as they entered.

"Skip the formality, Jordan. Sit down," Alexander said, "and meet Dr. Kennon-Steve Jordan-Jordan runs the Lani Division."

Kennon nodded acknowledgment as Alexander continued, "What's this trouble at Fourteen?"

"I don't know. We've got an epizootic of something. Another youngster died this morning, and there's three more that look pretty bad, jaundice, no appetite, complaining of muscular pains. Same symptoms as took the others. The one this morning makes the fourth this month, and we're only half through it."

"Are all your losses in this one station?" Kennon asked.

"No-but it's worst there."

"I don't like losses like that," Alexander said.

"Neither do I," Jordan replied.

"This isn't Jordan's fault, sir," Blalok said quickly. "As you know, we haven't had a vet for three months."

"Two," Alexander corrected.

"Three-Old Doc wasn't around at all the month before he died," Blalok said. "As a result we've got a problem. We need professional help."

"Well here he is-use him," Alexander said. He looked at Kennon, a trace of amusement on his face. "There's nothing like getting into things early."

"Particularly when one comes into them stone cold," Kennon added. "It's a poor way to start a career."

"We can't afford to wait," Jordan said. "We need help."

"I'll see what can be done," Kennon replied. "Have you saved the body?"

"Every one of them," Jordan said. "They're in the hospital in the autopsy room."

"That was sensible. A post-mortem might give us an answer. Where's the hospital?"

"I'll show you," Jordan offered.

"Count me out," Alexander said. "I have a weak stomach."

"I'll go along if it's necessary," Blalok said.

"There's a staff there, Old Doc trained them," Jordan said.

"Then it shouldn't be necessary," Kennon said.

Blalok sighed with relief and turned to Alexander. "We could check the records while those two are about their bloody work."

"I'd rather check a long strong drink," Alexander replied. "What with the Family and this, it's too much to take for one evening."

Kennon hid a smile. Alexander had a weak spot. He was squeamish. That was a good thing to know.

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