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The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 11665

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Jordan opened the door of the two-story building below Blalok's house. "This is it," he said, "just outside your front door. Convenient-no?"

"Too convenient," Kennon said, "also too quiet. Isn't anyone on duty?"

"I wouldn't know. Old Doc never kept the place open at night."

There was a stir of movement in the darkness, the lights flashed on, and a sleepy-eyed Lani blinked at them in the sudden glare. She looked blankly at Kennon and then brightened as she saw Jordan. "What's the trouble, sir?" she asked.

"Nothing. We want to look at the Lani I sent down this morning-Dr. Kennon would like to inspect the carcass."

"You're the new doctor?" the Lani asked. "Thank goodness you've come! I'll get the staff. I'll be back in a moment." She stepped quickly over to the switchboard beside the door and punched five buttons. Four more humanoids came into the room, followed a little later by a fifth.

"Where's the emergency?" one asked.

"He is-it's our new doctor."

"More females," Kennon muttered to himself. He turned to Jordan. "Aren't there any males in this crew?"

Jordan stared at him with mild surprise. "No, sir-didn't you know? There are no male Lani."

"What?"

"Just that," Jordan said. "Only females. There hasn't been a male on the island since Old Man Alexander took over. He killed them all."

"But that's impossible! How do they reproduce?"

"Ever hear of artificial fertilization?"

"Sure-but that's a dead end. The offspring are haploids and they're sterile. The line would die out in a generation."

"Not the Lani-you can see for yourself. We've been using the technique here for better than four centuries, and we're still doing all right. Over forty generations so far, and from the looks of things we can go on indefinitely."

"But how is it done?"

"I don't know. That's Alexander's secret. The Boss-man doesn't tell us everything. All I know is that we get results. Old Doc knew how it was done, and I suppose you will too, but don't ask me. I'm dumb."

Kennon shrugged. Maybe-maybe not. At any rate there was no sense in belaboring the point. He turned to the staff. Five of them were the same big-boned heavy-framed type that apparently did most of the manual labor. The sixth, the late arrival, was an elegant creature, a bronze-skinned, green-eyed minx with an elfin face half hidden under a wavy mass of red-brown hair. Unlike the others, she had been docked-and in contrast to their heavy eyes and sleep-puffed features she was alert and lively. She flashed him an impish grin, revealing clean white teeth.

Kennon smiled back. He couldn't help it. And suddenly the tension and strangeness was broken. He felt oddly at ease. "Which of you are on duty?" he asked.

"All of us," the redhead replied, "if it's necessary. What do you want us to do?"

"He's already told me. He wants that last carcass prepped for a post-mortem," the nightcall Lani said.

"Good," the redhead said. "It'll be nice to get to work again." She turned to face Kennon. "Now, Doctor-would you like to see your office? Old Doc left a fine collection of notes on Lani anatomy and perhaps you could do with a little review."

"I could do with a lot of it," Kennon admitted. "Unless the inner structure of a Lani is as similar to human as their outer."

"There are differences," the redhead admitted. "After all, we aren't quite alike."

"Perhaps I'd better do some reading," Kennon said.

"You need me any more?" Jordan asked.

"No-I think not."

"Good. I'll get back. Frankly, I don't like this any better than Blalok or the boss, but I'm low man on that pole. See you later."

Kennon chuckled as Jordan left. "Now, let's get ready for that cadaver," he said.

"Carcass, doctor," the redhead corrected. "A cadaver is a dead human body." She accented the "human."

Even in death there is no equality, Kennon thought. He nodded and the Lani led the way to a door which opened into a good-sized office, liberally covered with bookshelves. An old-fashioned plastic desk, some office cybernetics, a battered voicewriter, and a few chairs completed the furnishings. The redhead placed several large folio volumes in front of him and stepped back from the desk as he leafed rapidly through the color plates. It was an excellent atlas. Dr. Williamson had been a careful and competent workman.

Half an hour later, well fortified with a positional knowledge of Lani viscera, Kennon looked up at the redhead. She was still standing patiently, a statue of red-gold and bronze.

"Get a smock and let's go," he said. "No-wait a minute."

"Yes, sir?"

"What's your name? I don't want to say 'Hey you!'"

She smiled. "It's Copper Glow-want my pedigree too?"

"No-it wouldn't mean anything to me. Do they call you Copper or Glow? or both?"

"Just Copper, sir."

"Very well, Copper-let's get going."

* * *

The body of the dead Lani lay on the steel table, waxy and yellowish in the pitiless light of the fluorescents. She had been hardly more than a child. Kennon felt a twinge of pity-so young-so young to die. And as he looked he was conscious of another feeling.

It had been an open secret among his classmates that he had refused an offer to study human medicine because of his aversion to dissecting cadavers. The sarcoplastic models were all right, but when it came to flesh, Kennon didn't have the stomach for it. And now, the sight of the dead humanoid brought back the same cold sweat and gut-wrenching nausea that had caused him to turn to veterinary medicine eight years ago.

He fought the spasms back as he approached the table and made the external examination. Icterus and a swollen abdomen-the rest was essentially normal. And he knew with cold certainty that he could not lay a scalpel edge upon that cold flesh. It was too human, too l

ike his own.

"Are you ready, Doctor?" the Lani standing across the table from him asked. "Shall I expose the viscera?"

Kennon's stomach froze. Of course! He should have realized! No pathologist did his own dissection. He examined. And that he could do. It was the tactile, not the visual sensations that upset him. He nodded. "The abdominal viscera first," he said.

The Lani laid back the skin and musculature with bold, sure strokes. An excellent prosectress, Kennon thought. Kennon pointed at the swollen liver and the Lani deftly severed its attachments and laid the organ out for inspection. The cause of death was obvious. The youngster had succumbed to a massive liver-fluke infestation. It was the worst he had ever seen. The bile ducts were thick, calcified and choked with literally thousands of the gray-green leaf-shaped trematodes.

"Let's look at the others," he said.

Two more post-mortems confirmed the diagnosis. Except for minor differences, the lesions were identical. He removed a few of the flukes and set them aside for further study.

"Well that's that," he said. "You can clean up now."

He had found the criminal, and now the problem assumed the fascinating qualities of a crime hunt. Now he must act to prevent further murders, to reconstruct the crime, to find the modus operandi, to track the fluke to its source, and to execute it before it could do more harm.

Photographs and tri-dis would have to be taken, the parasite would have to be identified and its sensitivity to therapy determined. Studies would have to be made on its life cycle, and the means by which it gained entrance to its host. It wouldn't be simple, because this trematode was probably Hepatodirus hominis, and it was tricky. It adapted, like the species it parasitized.

Kennon leaned back from the microscope and studied the illustrations in the parasitology text. No matter how much Hepatodirus changed its life cycle, it could not change its adult form. The arrangements of the suckers and genital structures were typical. Old Doc's library on parasites was too inadequate for more than diagnosis. He would have to wait for his own books to be uncrated before he could do more than apply symptomatic treatment. He sighed and rose slowly to his feet. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

The door opened behind him and Copper slipped quietly into the office. She looked at him curiously, a faint half-shy smile on her face.

"What is it?" Kennon asked.

"Are you ready to fill out the autopsy protocol? It's customary."

"It's also customary to knock on a door before entering."

"Is it? Old Doc never mentioned it."

"I'm not Old Doc."

"No, you're not," she admitted. "You're much younger-and far more beautiful. Old Doc was a fat, gray old man." She paused and eyed Kennon appraisingly with a look on her pointed face that was the virtual twin of Eloise's. "I think I'll like working for you if you're as nice as you are pretty."

"You don't call a man beautiful or pretty!" Kennon exploded.

"Why not?"

"It just isn't done."

"You're a funny human," she said. "I called Old Doc beautiful, and he didn't mind."

"That's different. He was an old man."

"What difference does that make?"

"I don't like it," Kennon said, hitting on the perfect answer.

She stiffened. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I won't do it again." She looked down at him, head cocked sideways. "I guess I have a lot to learn about you. You're much different from Old Doc. He didn't snap at me." She paused for a moment, then drew a deep breath.

Kennon blinked.

"About that report," she said. "Regulations require that each post-mortem be reported promptly and that a record of the Lani concerned be posted in the death book together with all pertinent autopsy data. Man Blalok is very fussy about proper records." She drew one of the chairs to a spot beside the desk and sat down, crossed her long legs, and waited expectantly.

Kennon's mouth was suddenly dry. This situation was impossible. How in the name of Sir Arthur Fleming could he dictate a coldly precise report with a naked redhead sitting beside him? "Look," he said. "I won't need you. I can operate a voicewriter. You can pick up the material later and transcribe it."

Her face fell. "You don't like me," she said, her green eyes filling with quick tears. "Old Doc never-"

"Oh, damn Old Doc!" Kennon snapped. "And stop that sniveling-or get out. Better yet-get out and stop sniveling!"

She leaped to her feet and fled.

Kennon swore. There was no reason for him to act that way. He had been more brutal than necessary. But the girl-no, the Lani-was disconcerting. He felt ashamed of himself. He had behaved like a primitive rather than a member of one of the oldest human civilizations in the galaxy. He wouldn't bark at a dog that way. He shook his head. Probably he was tired. Certainly he was irritable, and unclad females virtually indistinguishable from human weren't the most soothing objects to contemplate.

He wondered if his exasperation was real or merely a defense mechanism. First Eloise, and then this! Confound it! He was surrounded! He felt trapped. And it wasn't because he'd been away from women too long. A week was hardly that. He grinned as he recalled the blonde from Thule aboard the starship. Now there was a woman, even though her ears were pointed and her arms were too long. She didn't pressure a man. She let him make the advances.

He grinned. That was it. He was on the defensive. He was the one who was being pursued-and his male ego had revolted. He shrugged and turned his attention to the autopsy report, but it was hopeless. He couldn't concentrate. He jotted a few notes and dropped them on the desk-tomorrow would be time enough. What he needed now was a stiff drink and eight hours' sleep.

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