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   Chapter 8 8

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 19977

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"Wake up, Doctor, it's six A.M." A pleasant voice cut through Kennon's slumber. He opened one eye and looked at the room. For a moment the strange surroundings bothered him, then memory took over. He stirred uncomfortably, looking for the owner of the voice.

"You have your morning calls at seven, and there's a full day ahead," the voice went on. "I'm sorry, sir, but you should get up." The voice didn't sound particularly sorry.

It was behind him, Kennon decided. He rolled over with a groan of protest and looked at his tormentor. A gasp of dismay left his lips, for standing beside the bed, a half smile on her pointed face, was Copper-looking fresh and alert and as disturbing as ever.

It wasn't right, Kennon thought bitterly, to be awakened from a sound sleep by a naked humanoid who looked too human for comfort. "What are you doing here?" he demanded.

"I'm supposed to be here," Copper said. "I'm your secretary." She grinned and flexed a few curves of her torso.

Kennon was silent.

"Is there anything wrong?" she asked.

For a moment Kennon was tempted to tell her what was wrong-but he held his tongue. She probably wouldn't understand. But there was one thing he'd better settle right now. "Now look here, young lady-" he began.

"I'm not a lady," Copper interrupted before he could continue. "Ladies are human. I'm a Lani."

"All right," Kennon growled. "Lani or human, who cares? But do you have to break into a man's bedroom and wake him in the middle of the night?"

"I didn't break in," she said, "and it isn't the middle of the night. It's morning."

"All right-so it's morning and you didn't break in. Then how in Halstead's sacred name did you get here?"

"I sleep next door," she said jerking a thumb in the direction of an open door in the side wall. "I've been there ever since you dismissed me last night," she explained.

The explanation left Kennon cold. The old cliche about doing as the Santosians do flicked through his mind. Well, perhaps he would in time-but not yet. The habits of a lifetime couldn't be overturned overnight. "Now you have awakened me," he said, "perhaps you'll get out of here."

"Why?"

"I want to get dressed."

"I'll help you."

"You will not! I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. I've been dressing myself for years. I'm not used to people helping me."

"My-what a strange world you must come from. Haven't you ever had a Lani before?"

"No."

"You poor man." Her voice was curiously pitying. "No one to make you feel like the gods. No one to serve you. No one to even scrub your back."

"That's enough," Kennon said. "I can scrub my own back."

"How?-you can't reach it."

Kennon groaned.

"Weren't there any Lani on your world?"

"No."

"No wonder you left it. It must be quite primitive."

"Primitive!" Kennon's voice was outraged. "Beta has one of the highest civilizations in the Brotherhood!"

"But you don't have Lani," she said patiently. "So you must be primitive."

"Halstead, Fleming, and Ochsner!" Kennon swore. "Do you believe that?"

"Naturally, isn't it obvious? You can't possibly be civilized unless you take responsibility for intelligent life other than your own race. Until you face up to your responsibilities you are merely a member of a dominant race, not a civilized one."

Kennon's reply caught in his throat. His eyes widened as he looked at her, and what he was about to say remained unspoken. "Out of the mouths of humanoids-" he muttered oddly.

"What does that mean?" Copper asked.

"Forget it," Kennon said wildly. "Leave me alone. Go put on some clothes. You embarrass me."

"I'll go," Copper said, "but you'll have to be embarrassed. Only household Lani wear cloth." She frowned, two vertical furrows dividing her dark brows. "I've never understood why inhouse Lani have to be disfigured that way, but I suppose there's some reason for it. Men seldom do anything without a reason."

Kennon shook his head. Either she was grossly ignorant, which he doubted, or she was conditioned to the eyeballs.

The latter was more probable. But even that was doubtful. Her trenchant remark about civilization wasn't the product of a conditioned mind. But why was he worrying about her attitudes? They weren't important-she wasn't even human. He shook his head. That was a sophistry. The fact that she wasn't human had nothing to do with the importance of her attitude. "I suppose there is a reason," he agreed. "But I don't know it. I haven't been here long enough to know anything about such things."

She nodded. "That does make a difference," she admitted. "Many new men are bothered at first by the fact that we Lani are naked, but they adjust quickly. So will you." She smiled as she turned away. "You see," she added over her shoulder as she left the room, "we're not human. We're just another of your domestic animals."

Was there laughter in her voice? Kennon wasn't sure. His sigh was composed of equal parts of relief and exasperation as he slipped out of bed and began to dress. He'd forgo the shower this morning. He had no desire for Copper to appear and offer to scrub his back. In his present state of mind he couldn't take it. Possibly he'd get used to it in time. Perhaps he might even like it. But right now he wasn't acclimatized.

* * *

"Man Blalok called," Copper said as she removed the breakfast dishes. "He said that he'd be right over to pick you up. He wants to show you the operation." "When did he call?"

"About ten minutes ago. I told him that you were at breakfast. He said he'd wait." She disappeared in the direction of the kitchen.

"There's a nightmare quality to this," Kennon muttered as he slipped his arms into the sleeves of his tunic and closed the seam tabs. "I have the feeling that I'm going to wake up any minute." He looked at his reflection in the dresser mirror, and his reflection looked worriedly back. "This whole thing has an air of plausible unreality: the advertisement, the contract, this impossible island that raises humanoids as part of the livestock." He shrugged and his mirrored image shrugged back. "But it's real, all right. No dream could possibly be this detailed. I wonder how I'm going to take it for the next five years? Probably not too well," he mused silently. "Already I'm talking to myself. Without even trying, that Lani Copper can make me feel like a Sarkian." He nodded at his image.

The Sarkian analogy was almost perfect, he decided. For on that grimly backward world females were as close to slaves as the Brotherhood would permit; raised from birth under an iron regimen designed to produce complaisant mates for the dominant males. Probably that was the reason Sark was so backward. The men, having achieved domestic tranquillity, had no desire to do anything that would disturb the status quo. And since no Sarkian woman under any conceivable circumstances would annoy her lordly master with demands to produce better mousetraps, household gadgetry, and more money, the technological development of Sark had come to a virtual standstill. It took two sexes to develop a civilization.

Kennon shrugged. Worlds developed as they did because people were as they were, and while passing judgment was still a major human pursuit, no native of one world had a right to force his customs down the unwilling throat of another. It would be better to accept his present situation and live with it rather than trying to impose his Betan conception of morality upon Lani that neither understood nor appreciated it. His business was to treat and prevent animal disease. What happened to the animals before infection or after recovery was none of his affair. That was a matter between Alexander and his conscience.

Blalok was waiting for him, sitting behind the wheel of a square boxy vehicle that squatted with an air of unpolished efficiency on the graveled drive behind his house. He smiled a quick greeting as Kennon approached. "It's about time you showed up," he said. "You'll have to get into the habit of rising early on this place. We do most of our work early in the morning and late in the afternoon. During the day it's too hot to breathe, let alone work. Well, let's get going. There's still time to visit the outer stations."

Kennon climbed in and Blalok started the vehicle. "I thought we'd take a jeep today," he said. "They aren't very pretty, but they get around." He turned onto the surfaced road that ran down the hill toward the hospital and the complex of red-roofed buildings clustered about it. "About those flukes," he said. "You have any plans to get rid of them?"

"Not yet. I'll have to look the place over. There's more detective work than medicine involved in this."

"Detective work?"

"Sure-we know the criminal, but to squelch him we have to learn his hangouts, study his modus operandi, and learn how to make his victims secure from his activities. Unless we do that, we can treat individuals from now to infinity and all we'll have is more cases. We have to apply modern criminology tactics-eliminate the source of crime-stop up the soft spots. In other words, kill the flukes before they enter the Lani."

"Old Doc never said anything about this," Blalok said.

"Probably he never knew about it. I was looking over the herd books last night, and I saw nothing about trematodes, or anything that looked like a parasite pattern until the last few months."

"Why not?"

"My guess is that he was one of the first deaths."

"You mean this thing attacks human beings?"

"Preferentially," Kennon said. "It's strange, too, because it originated on Santos so far as we know. In fact, some people think that the Varl bred it for a weapon to use against us before we conquered them. They could have done it. Their biological science was of a high enough order."

"But how did it get here?"

"I wouldn't know-unless you've hired a Santosian or someone else who was affected."

"We did

have a man from Santos. Fellow called Joe Kryla. We had to let him go because he was a nudist. It made a bad impression on the Lani. But that was over a year ago."

"That's about the right time to build up a good reservoir of infection. The fatal cases usually don't show up before an area is pretty well seeded."

"That's not so good."

"Well, there's one thing in our favor. The Lani are pretty well concentrated into groups. And so far there doesn't seem to be any infestation outside of Hillside Station-except for two deaths in Lani recently sent from there. If we quarantine those stations and work fast, may be we can stop this before it spreads all over the island."

"That's fine, but what are you going to do now?"

"Treat those that show symptoms. There should be some Trematox capsules at the hospital. If there aren't we'll get them. We'll take the sick ones back to the hospital area and push therapy and supportive treatment. Now that we know the cause, we shouldn't have any more death losses."

"Old Doc didn't treat at the hospital," Blalok said.

"I'm not Old Doc."

"But it's going to mess up our operations. We're using the ward buildings to finish training the Lani scheduled for market."

"Why?"

"It's convenient. Most of the ward space is filled right now." Blalok said. There was a touch of disgust in his voice.

"They're well, aren't they?" Kennon demanded.

"Of course."

"Then get them out of there."

"But I told you-"

"You told me nothing. The hospital area is needed for something more than a training center. Perhaps Old Doc was trained in outcall work, but I'm not. I work from a hospital. The only things I do on outcalls are diagnoses, vaccinations, and emergencies. The rest of the patients come to the hospital."

"This isn't going to set well with Jordan and the division chiefs."

"That's not my concern," Kennon said. "I run my business in the best way possible. The patients are of more concern than the personal comfort of any straw boss or administrator. You're the administrator-you calm them down."

"You have the authority," Blalok admitted. "But my advice to you is to go slow."

"I can't," Kennon said. "Not if we want to prevent any more losses. There simply won't be time to run all over the island dosing with Trematox and taking temperatures, and while that sort of thing is routine, it should be supervised. Besides, you'll see the advantages of this method. Soon enough."

"I hope so," Blalok said as he braked the jeep to a stop in front of the hospital. "I suppose you'll want to take some things along."

"So I will," Kennon said. "I'll be back in a minute." Kennon slid from the seat, leaving Blalok looking peculiarly at his departing back.

The minute stretched to nearly ten before Kennon returned followed by two Lani carrying bags which they loaded into the back of the jeep. "I had to reorganize a little," Kennon apologized, "some things were unfamiliar."

"Plan on taking them?" Blalok said, jerking a thumb at the two Lani.

"Not this time. I'm having them fit up an ambulance. They should be busy most of the day."

Blalok grunted and started the turbine. He moved a lever and the jeep floated off the ground.

"An airboat too," Kennon remarked. "I wondered why this rig was so boxy."

"It's a multipurpose vehicle," Blalok said. "We need them around here for fast transport. Most of the roads aren't so good." He engaged the drive and the jeep began to move. "We'll go cross country," he said. "Hillside's pretty far out-the farthest station since we abandoned Olympus."

The air began whistling past the boxlike body of the jeep as Blalok increased the power to the drive and set the machine on automatic. "We'll get a pretty good cross-section of our operations on this trip," he said over the whine of the turbine. "Look down there."

They were passing across a series of fenced pastures and Kennon was impressed. The size of this operation was beginning to sink in. It hadn't looked so big from the substratosphere in Alexander's ship, but down here close to the ground it was enormous. Fields of grain, wide orchards, extensive gardens. Once they were forced to detour a huge supply boat that rose heavily in front of them. Working in the fields were dozens of brown-skinned Lani who paused to look up and wave as the jeep sped by. Occasional clusters of farm buildings and the low barrackslike stations appeared and disappeared behind them.

"There's about twenty Lani at each of these stations," Blalok said, "They work the farm area under the direction of the stationmaster."

"He's a farmer?"

"Of course. Usually he's a graduate of an agricultural school, but we have a few who are descendants of the crew of the first Alexander, and there's one old codger who was actually with him during the conquest. Most of our stationmasters are family men. We feel that a wife and children add to a man's stability-and incidentally keep him from fooling around with the Lani."

A series of fenced pastures containing hundreds of huge grayish-white quadrupeds slipped past.

"Cattle?" Kennon asked.

"Yes-Earth strain. That's why they're so big. We also have sheep and swine, but you won't see them on this run."

"Any native animals?"

"A few-and some which are native to other worlds. But they're luxury-trade items. The big sale items are beef, pork, and mutton." Blalok chuckled. "Did you think that the Lani were our principal export?"

Kennon nodded.

"They're only a drop in the bucket. Agriculture-Earth-style agriculture-is our main source of income. The Lani are valuable principally to keep down the cost of overhead. Virtually all of them work right here on the island. We don't sell more than a hundred a year less than five per cent of our total. And those are surplus-too light or too delicate for farm work."

"Where do you find a market for all this produce?" Kennon asked.

"There's two hundred million people here, and quite a few billion more in space-train range. We can produce more cheaply than any competitor, and we can undersell any competition, even full automation." Blalok chuckled. "There are some things that a computer can't do as well as a human being, and one of them is farm the foods on which humanity is accustomed to feed. A man'll pay two credits for a steak. He could get a Chlorella substitute for half a credit, but he'll still buy the steak if he can afford it. Same thing goes for fruit, vegetables, grain, and garden truck. Man's eating habits have only changed from necessity. Those who can pay will still pay well for natural foods." Blalok chuckled. "We've put quite a dent in the algae and synthetics operations in this sector."

"It's still a luxury trade," Kennon said.

"You've eaten synthetic," Blalok replied. "What do you prefer?"

Kennon had to agree that Blalok was right. He, too, liked the real thing far better than its imitations.

"If it's this profitable, then why sell Lani?" Kennon asked.

"It's the Family's idea. Actually-since the export type is surplus it does us no harm. We keep enough for servants-and the others would be inefficient for most farm work. So disposal by sale is a logical and profitable way of culling. But now the Boss-man is being pressured into breeding an export type. And this I don't like. It's too commercial. Smells like slavery."

"You're a Mystic, aren't you?" Kennon asked.

"Sure-but that doesn't mean I like slavery. Oh, I know some of those fatheaded Brotherhood economists call our system economic slavery-and I'll admit that it's pretty hard to crack out of a spherical trust. But that doesn't mean that we have to stay where we are. Mystics aren't owned by their entrepreneurs. Sure, it's a tough haul to beat the boss, but it can be done. I did it, and others do it all the time. The situation isn't hopeless."

"But it is with the Lani," Kennon added.

"Of course. That's why they should be protected. What chance does a Lani have? Without us they can't even keep going as a race. They're technological morons. They don't live long enough to understand modern civilization. To turn those poor helpless humanoids out into human society would be criminal. It's our duty to protect them even while we're using them."

"Man's burden?' Kennon said, repeating the old cliche.

"Exactly." Blalok scowled. "I wish I had guts enough to give the Boss-man the facts-but I can't get nerve enough to try. I've a good job here-a wife and two kids-and I don't want to jeopardize my future." Blalok glanced over the side. "Well, here we are," he said, and began descending into the center of a spokelike mass of buildings radiating outward from a central hub.

"Hmm-big place," Kennon murmured.

"It should be," Blalok replied. "It furnishes all of our Lani for replacement and export. It can turn out over a thousand a year at full capacity. Of course we don't run at that rate, or Flora would be overpopulated. But this is a big layout, like you said. It can maintain a population of at least forty thousand. Old Alexander had big ideas."

"I wonder what he planned to do with them?" Kennon said.

"I wouldn't know. The Old Man never took anyone into his confidence."

Jordan came up as the jeep settled to the ground. "Been expecting you for the past half hour," he said. "Your office said you were on your way.-Good to see you, too, Doc. I've been going over the records with Hank Allworth-the stationmaster here." Jordan held out his hand.

"You're an Earthman, eh?" Kennon asked as he grasped the outstretched hand. The gesture was as old as man, its ritualistic meaning lost in antiquity.

"No-Marsborn-a neighbor world," Jordan said. "But our customs and Earth's are the same."

"You're a long way from home," Kennon said.

"No farther than you, Doc." Jordan looked uncomfortable. "But we can compare origins later. Right now, you'd better come into the office. I've run across something peculiar."

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