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   Chapter 11 11

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 38977

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Mixed emotion! Ha! The author of that cliche didn't even know its meaning! Kennon strode furiously down the dusty road toward Station One trying to sublimate his inner conflict into action. It was useless, of course, for once he stopped moving the grim tug-of-war between training and desire would begin again, and no matter how it ended the result would be unsatisfactory. As long as he had been able to delude himself that he was fond of Copper the way a man is fond of some lesser species, it had been all right. But he knew now that he was fond of her as a man is of a woman-and it was hell! For no rationalization in the universe would allow him to define her as human. Copper was humanoid-something like human. And to live with her and love her would not be miscegenation, which was bad enough, but bestiality which was a thousand times worse.

Although throughout most of the Brotherhood miscegenation was an unknown word, and even bestiality had become a loose definition on many worlds with humanoid populations, the words had definite meaning and moral force to a Betan. And-God help him-he was a Betan. A lifetime of training in a moral code that frowned upon mixed marriages and shrank appalled from even the thought of mixing species was nothing to bring face to face with the fact that he loved Copper.

It was odd, Kennon reflected bitterly, that humans could do with animals what their customs and codes prohibited them from doing to themselves. For thousands of years-back to the very dawn of history when men had bred horses and asses to produce mules-men had been mixing species to produce useful hybrids. Yet a Betan who could hybridize plants or animals with complete equanimity shrank with horror from the thought of applying the same technique to himself.

What was there about a human being that was so sacrosanct? He shook his head angrily. He didn't know. There was no answer. But the idea-the belief-was there, ingrained into his attitudes, a part of his outlook, built carefully block by block from infancy until it now towered into a mighty wall that barred him from doing what he wished to do.

It would be an easier hurdle if he had been born anywhere except on Beta. In the rest of the Brotherhood, the color of a man's skin, the shape of his face, the quality and color of his hair and eyes made no difference. All men were brothers. But on Beta, where a variant-G sun had already caused genetic divergence, the brotherhood of man was a term that was merely given lip service. Betans were different and from birth they were taught to accept the difference and to live with it. Mixing of Betan stock with other human species, while not actually forbidden, was so encircled with conditioning that it was a rare Betan indeed who would risk self-opprobrium and the contempt of his fellows to mate with an outsider. And as for humanoids-Kennon shuddered. He couldn't break the attitudes of a lifetime. Yet he loved Copper.

And she knew he did!

And that was an even greater horror. He had fled from the office, from the glad light in her eyes, as a burned child flees fire. He needed time to think, time to plan. Yet his body and his surface thoughts wanted no plans or time. Living with a Lani wasn't frowned upon on Flora. Many of the staff did, nor did anyone seem to think less of them for doing so. Even Alexander himself had half-confessed to a more than platonic affection for a Lani called Susy.

Yet this was no excuse, nor would it silence the cold still voice in his mind that kept repeating sodomite-sodomite-sodomite with a passionless inflection that was even more terrible than anger.

The five kilometers to Station One disappeared unnoticed beneath his feet as he walked, and he looked up in surprise to see the white walls and red roofs of the station looming before him.

"Good Lord! Doc! What's got into you?" the stationmaster said. "You look like you'd seen a ghost. And out in this sun without a helmet! Come inside, man, before you get sunstroke!"

Kennon chuckled without humor. "Getting sunstroke is the least of my worries, Al," he said, but he allowed Al Crothers to usher him inside.

"It's odd that you showed up right now," Al said, his dark face showing the curiosity that filled him. "I just had a call from Message Center not five minutes ago, telling me to have you call in if you showed up."

Kennon sighed. "On this island you can't get away from the phone," he said wryly. "O.K., where is it?"

"You look pretty bushed, Doc. Maybe you'd better rest awhile."

"And maybe it's an emergency," Kennon interrupted. "And probably it is because the staff can handle routine matters-so maybe you'd better show me where you keep the phone."

* * *

"One moment please," the Message Center operator said. There were a few clicks in the background. "Here's your party," she continued. "Go ahead, Doctor."

"Kennon?" a nervous voice crackled from the receiver.

"Yes?"

"You're needed out on Otpen One."

"Who is calling-and what's the rush?"

"Douglas-Douglas Alexander. The Lani are dying! It's an emergency! Cousin Alex'll skin us alive if we let these Lani die!"

Douglas! Kennon hadn't thought of him since the one time they had met in Alexandria. That was a year ago. It seemed much longer. Since the Boss-man had exiled his cousin to that bleak rock to the east of Flora there had been no word of him. And now-he laughed a sharp bark of humorless annoyance-Douglas couldn't have timed it better if he had tried!

"All right," Kennon said. "I'll come. What seems to be the trouble?"

"They're sick."

"That's obvious," Kennon snapped. "Otherwise you wouldn't be calling. Can't you tell me any more than that?"

"They're vomiting. They have diarrhea. Several have had fits."

"Thanks," Kennon said. "I'll be right out. Expect me in an hour."

"So you're leaving?" Al asked as he cradled the phone.

"That's a practitioner's life," Kennon said. "Full of interruptions. Can I borrow your jeep?"

"I'll drive you. Where do you want to go?"

"To the hospital," Kennon said. "I'll have to pick up my gear. It's an emergency all right."

"You're a tough one," Al said admiringly. "I'd hate to walk five kilos in this heat without a hat-and then go out on a call."

Kennon shrugged. "It's not necessarily toughness. I believe in doing one job at a time-and my contract reads veterinary service, not personal problems. The job comes first and there's work to do."

Copper wasn't in sight when Kennon came back to the hospital-a fact for which he was grateful. He packed quickly, threw his bags into the jeep, and took off with almost guilty haste. He'd contact the Hospital from the Otpens. Right now all he wanted was to put distance between himself and Copper. Absence might make the heart grow fonder, but at the moment propinquity was by far the more dangerous thing. He pointed the blunt nose of the jeep toward Mount Olympus, set the autopilot, opened the throttle, and relaxed as best he could as the little vehicle sped at top speed for the outer islands. A vague curiosity filled him. He'd never been on the Otpens. He wondered what they were like.

* * *

Otpen One was a rocky tree-clad islet crowned with the stellate mass of a Class II Fortalice. But this one wasn't like Alexandria. It was fully manned and in service condition.

"Airboat!" a voice crackled from the dashboard speaker of the jeep, "Identify yourself! You are being tracked."

Kennon quickly flipped the IFF switch. "Dr. Kennon, from Flora," he said.

"Thank you, sir. You are expected and are clear to land. Bring your vehicle down in the marked area." A section of the roof turned a garish yellow as Kennon circled the building. He brought the jeep in lightly, setting it carefully in the center of the area.

"Leave your vehicle," the speaker chattered. "If you are armed leave your weapon behind."

"It's not my habit to carry a gun," Kennon snapped.

"Sorry, sir-regulations," the speaker said. '"This is S.O.P."

Kennon left the jeep and instantly felt the probing tingle of a search beam. He looked around curiously at the flat roof of the fortress with its domed turrets and ugly snouts of the main battery projectors pointing skyward. Beside him, the long metal doors of a missile launcher made a rectangular trace on the smooth surface of the roof. Behind him the central tower poked its gaunt ferromorph and durilium outline into the darkening sky bearing its crown of spiderweb radar antennae turning steadily on their gimbals covering a vast hemisphere from horizon to zenith with endless inspection.

From the base of the tower a man emerged. He was tall, taller even than Kennon, and the muscles of his body showed through the tightness of his battle dress. His face was harsh, and in his hands he carried a Burkholtz magnum-the most powerful portable weapon mankind had yet devised.

"You are Dr. Kennon?" the trooper asked.

"I am."

"Your I.D., please."

Kennon handed it over and the big man scanned the card with practiced eyes. "Check," he said. "Follow me, sir."

"My bags," Kennon said.

"They'll be taken care of."

Kennon shrugged and followed the man into the tower. A modern grav-shaft lowered them to the ground floor. They passed through a gloomy caricature of the Great Hall in Alexandria, through an iris, and down a long corridor lined with doors.

A bell rang.

"Back!" the trooper said. "Against the wall! Quick! Into the doorway!"

"What's up?"

"Another practice alert." The trooper's voice was bored. "It gets so that you'd almost wish for a fight to relieve the monotony."

A trooper and several Lani came down the corridor, running in disciplined formation. Steel clanged on steel as they turned the corner and moments later the whine of servos came faintly to their ears. From somewhere deep in the pile a rising crescendo of generators under full battle load sent out vibrations that could be sensed rather than heard. A klaxon squawked briefly. There was another clash of metal, and a harsh voice boomed through the corridors. "Fourteen seconds. Well done. Secure stations!"

The trooper grinned. "That ties the record," he said. "We can go now."

The corridor ended abruptly at an iris flanked by two sentries. They conferred briefly with Kennon's guide, dilated the iris, and motioned for Kennon to enter. The pastel interior of the modern office was a shocking contrast to the gray ferromorph corridors outside.

Douglas Alexander was standing behind the desk. He was much the same. His pudgy face was haggard with uncertainty and his eyes darted back and forth as his fingers caressed the knobby grip of a small Burkholtz jutting from a holster at his waist. There were new, unpleasant furrows between his eyes. He looked older and the indefinable air of cruelty was more pronounced. He had been frightened the last time Kennon had seen him, and he was frightened now.

"I'm not sure whether I am glad to see you, Kennon," he said uncertainly. "But I suppose I have to be."

Kennon believed him.

"How have you been?" Kennon asked.

"Not too bad until this afternoon. Things have been going pretty well." He shifted uncomfortably from one foot to another. "I suppose Cousin Alex will skin me for this, but there's nothing else I can do." He licked his lips. "You've been here long enough-and you'll have to know eventually." He fidgeted and finally sat down behind the desk. "We have trouble. Half the Lani were stricken about four hours ago. It was sudden. No warning at all. And if they die-" his voice trailed off.

"Well-what are we waiting for? Get someone to bring my bags down here and we'll look them over."

"Do you have to?-Can't you prescribe something?"

"How? I haven't examined the patients."

"I can tell you what's wrong."

Kennon smiled. "I hardly think that's the way to do it. Even though your description might be accurate, you still might miss something of critical importance."

Douglas sighed. "I thought that's what you'd say," he said. "Oh-very well-you might as well see what we have out here."

"You can't possibly believe that I don't already know," Kennon said. "You have male Lani."

Douglas looked at him, his face blank with surprise. "But-how did you know? No one on the main island does except the Family. And we never talk about it. Did Eloise tell you? I noticed she was struck with you the day you came, and the Lani who have come out here since have been talking about you two. Did she do it?"

Kennon shook his head. "She never said a word."

"Then how-"

"I'm not stupid," Kennon said. "That story you've spread about artificial fertilization has more holes in it than a sieve. That technique has been investigated a thousand times. And it has never worked past the first generation. If you had been using it, the Lani would long ago have been extinct. Haploids don't reproduce, and the only way the diploid number of chromosomes can be kept is to replace those lost by maturation division of the ovum. You might be able to keep the diploid number by using immature ova, but the fertilization technique would be far more complex than the simple uterine injections you use at Hillside Station."

Douglas looked at him blankly.

"Besides," Kennon added, "I have a microscope. I checked your so-called fertilizing solution. I found spermatozoa, and spermatozoa only come from males. What's more, the males have to be the same species as the females or fertilization will not take place. So there must be male Lani. Nothing else fits. You've been using artificial insemination on the main-island Lani. And from the way this place is guarded, it's obvious that here is your stud farm."

Douglas shrugged and spread his hands in a gesture of resignation. "I suppose," he said, "that's the way Old Doc found out too. We never told him, but he knew before he ever came out here."

"The only thing that puzzles me," Kennon went on, "is how you managed to eliminate the Y-chromosome carriers within the sperm."

"Eh?"

"The male sex-determinant. Half the sperm carry it, but so far as I know, there's never been a male born on the main island."

"Oh-that. It's something that's done in the labs here. Probably one of the technicians could tell you. It's called electro-electro freezing or something like that."

"Electrodiaphoresis?"

Douglas nodded. "That sounds like it. I don't know anything about it. One of Grandfather's men did the basic work. We just follow instructions." He shrugged. "Well-since you know the secret there's no sense in hiding the bodies. Come along and tell me what's wrong."

It was a peculiar feeling to walk down the row of cubical rooms with their barred doors. The whole area reminded him of a historical novel, of the prisons of early human history where men confined other men for infractions of social customs. The grimness of the place was appalling. The male Lani-impressive in their physical development-were in miserable condition, nauseated, green-faced, retching. The sickening odors of vomit and diarrhea hung heavily on the air. Douglas coughed and held a square of cloth to his face, and even Kennon, strong-stomached as he was, could feel his viscera twitch in sympathy with the caged sufferers.

"Great Fleming, man!" Kennon exploded. "You can't keep them here. Get them out! Give them some fresh air! This place would make a well man sick."

Douglas looked at him, "I wouldn't take one of them out unless I had him shackled and there was an armed guard to help me. Those males are the most vicious, cunning, and dangerous animals on Kardon. They exist with but one thought in mind-to kill!"

Kennon looked curiously through a barred door at one of the Lani. He lay on a bare cot, a magnificently muscled figure with a ragged black beard hiding his face. There were dozens of scars on his body and one angry purple area on his thick right forearm where flesh had been torn away not too long ago. Beads of sweat stood out on his forehead and soft moaning noises came from his tight lips as he pressed his abdomen with thick-fingered hands. "He doesn't look so dangerous," Kennon said.

"Watch it!" Douglas warned. "Don't get too close!" But the warning was too late. Kennon touched the bars, and as he did, the Lani moved with fluid speed, one huge hand clutching Kennon's sleeve and pulling him against the bars while the other darted for his throat. Fingers bit into Kennon's neck and tightened in a viselike grip. Kennon reacted automatically. His arms came up inside the Lani's and crashed down, elbows out, tearing the Lani loose. He jumped back, rubbing his bruised throat. "That fellow's not sick!" he gasped. "He's crazy!"

The Lani glared at him through the bars, disappointment written on his scarred and bearded face.

"I warned you," Douglas said. His voice held an undertone of malicious laughter. "He must be sick or he would have killed you. George is clever in a stupid sort of way."

Kennon looked into the cubicle. The Lani glared back and growled. There was a beastlike note in his voice that made the short hairs on Kennon's neck prickle.

"That fellow needs a lesson," he said.

"You want to give it to him?" Douglas asked.

"Not particularly."

"Ha!-man!-you afraid!" the Lani taunted. His voice was thick and harsh. "All men fear me. All Lani, too. I am boss. Come close again man and I kill you!"

"Are they all that stupid?" Kennon asked. "He sounds like a homicidal moron."

"He's not stupid," Douglas said. "Just uneducated."

"Why is he so murderous?"

"That's his training. All his life he has fought. From childhood his life has been based on his ability to survive in an environment where every male is his enemy. You see here the sublimation of individuality. He cannot co-operate with another male. He hates them, and they in turn hate him. George, here, is a perfect example of absolute freedom from restraint." Douglas smiled unpleasantly.

"His whole history is one of complete lack of control. As an infant, being a male, his mother thought she was favored by the gods and she denied him nothing. In fact we were quite insistent that she gave him everything he wanted. By the time he was able to walk and take care of himself, he was completely spoiled, selfish, and authoritative.

"Then we took him and a dozen others exactly like him and put them together." Douglas grinned. "You should see what happens when a dozen spoiled brats are forced to live together. It's more fun. The little beasts hate each other on sight. And we stimulate them to compete for toys, food, and drink. Never quite enough to go around. You can imagine what happens. Instead of sharing, each little selfish individualist fights to get everything he can grab. Except for one thing we don't punish them no matter what they do. If anyone shows signs of co-operating he is disciplined severely, the first time. The next time, he is culled. But other than that, we leave them alone. They develop their personalities and their muscles-and if one proves to be too much for his fellows we transfer him to a more advanced class where the competition is keener, and he learns what it is to lose.

"At puberty we add sex drive to the basics, and by the time our male reaches maturity we have something like George. Actually, George is more mature than either you or I. He has all the answers he needs. He's strong, solitary, aut

horitative, and selfish. He has no curiosity and resents encroachment. He's a complete individualist. If he proves out he should make an excellent sire."

"But isn't he dangerous to handle?" Kennon asked.

"Yes, but we take precautions."

Kennon grimaced with distaste.

"Look at it objectively," Douglas said. "We're trying to select the best physical type we can in the hope that he'll pass his qualities to his offspring, and there's no better practical way to select the strongest and hardiest than by natural selection. We control their environment as little as possible and let Nature do our educating until they're old enough to be useful.

"Naturally, there are some things which we cannot provide, such as exposure to disease, to the elements, and to predators. The one isn't selective about whom it infects, while the others would tend to produce co-operation as a matter of survival."

"Isn't there a great deal of mortality under such a regimen?" Kennon asked.

"Not as much as you might expect. It's about twenty per cent. And there is a great deal of compensation from a management viewpoint. We get essentially the same physical end product as we would from a closely managed operation, plus a great saving in labor. Males, you see, are fairly expendable. We only need a few a year."

"It's brutal."

"So it is, but life is brutal. Still, it's efficient for our purposes. We merely take advantage of natural impulses to produce a better product. Grandfather got the idea out of an old book-something about the noble savage, natural selection and survival of the fittest. He thought it was great-said there was nothing like relentless competition to bring out the strongest and hardiest types. And he's been right for centuries. Can you imagine anything much better than George-from a physical viewpoint?"

"He is a magnificent animal," Kennon admitted as he eyed the Lani. "But it seems to me that you could train some obedience into him."

Douglas shook his head. "That would introduce a modifying factor, something bigger and more powerful than the male himself. And that would modify the results. We can control them well enough with knockout gas and shackles. And those things, oddly enough, don't destroy their pride or self-esteem. They think that we use them because we are afraid, and it satisfies their egos."

Kennon eyed the caged Lani dubiously. "This is going to be difficult. I must examine them and treat them, but if they're all as homicidal as this one-"

"You fight me man," George interrupted, his face twisted into lines of transparent guile. "I am boss and others do as I say. You beat me, then you are boss."

"Is this true?" Kennon asked.

"Oh, it's true enough," Douglas said. "George is the leader and if you beat him you'd be top male until some other one got courage enough to challenge you. But he's just trying to get his hands on you. He'd like to kill."

Kennon looked at the big humanoid appraisingly. George was huge, at least five centimeters taller and fifteen kilograms heavier than himself. And he was all muscle. "I don't think I'd care to accept that challenge unless I was forced to," Kennon said.

Douglas chuckled. "I don't blame you."

Kennon sighed. "It looks like we are going to need reinforcements to get these brutes under control. I'm not going in there with them, and I can't examine them from out here."

"Oh, we can hold them all right. Paralysis gas and shackles will keep them quiet. There's no need to bother the troopers. We can handle this by ourselves."

Kennon shrugged. "It's your baby. You should know what you're doing."

"I do," Douglas said confidently. "Wait here until I get the gas capsules and the equipment." He turned and walked back to the entrance to the cell block. At the iris he turned. "Be careful," he said.

"Don't worry, I will." Kennon looked at George through the bars and the humanoid glared back, his eyes bright with hatred. Kennon felt the short hairs prickle along the back of his neck. George roused a primal emotion-an elemental dislike that was deeper than reason-an antagonism intensely physical, almost overpowering-a purely adrenal response that had no business in the make-up of a civilized human.

He had thought the Lani had a number of human traits until he had encountered George. But if George was a typical male-then the Lani were alien. He flexed his muscles and stared coldly into the burning blue eyes behind the bars. There would be considerable satisfaction in beating this monstrosity to a quivering pulp. Millennia of human pre-eminence-of belief that nothing, no matter how big or muscular, should fail to recognize that a man's person was inviolate-fed the fuel of his anger. The most ferocious beasts on ten thousand worlds had learned this lesson. And yet this animal had laid hands on him with intent to kill. A cold corner of his mind kept telling him that he wasn't behaving rationally, but he disregarded it. George was a walking need for a lesson in manners.

"Don't get the idea that I'm afraid of you-you overmuscled oaf," Kennon snapped. "I can handle you or anyone like you. And if you put your hands on me again I'll beat you within an inch of your worthless life."

The Lani snarled. "Let me out and I kill you. But you are like all men. You use gun and iron-not fair fight."

Douglas returned with a gas capsule and a set of shackles. "All right," he said. "We're ready for him." He handed Kennon the shackles and a key to the cell door-and drew his Burkholtz.

"See," the Lani growled. "It is as I say. Men are cowards."

"You know gun?" Douglas asked as he pointed the muzzle of the Burkholtz at the Lani.

"I know," George growled. "Gun kill."

"It does indeed," Douglas said. "Now get back-clear back against the wall."

George snarled but didn't move.

"I'll count three," Douglas said, "and if you're not back by then I'll burn you down. You'll obey even if you won't do anything else.-one-two-"

George retreated to the far end of his cell.

"Now face the wall." Douglas tossed the gas capsule into the cell. The thin-walled container broke, releasing a cloud of vapor. George crumpled to the floor. "Now we wait a couple of minutes for the gas to dissipate," Douglas said. "After that he's all yours. You can go in and put the irons on him."

"Will he be out long?" Kennon asked.

"About five minutes. After that he'll have muscular control." Douglas chuckled. "They're stupid," he said. "They know what gas does to them, but they never have sense enough to hold their breath. They could be twice as much trouble as they are. All right, it's safe to go in now." Douglas let the gun dangle in his hand.

Kennon unlocked the door.

And George rolled over, muscles bunched and driving! He hit the door with such force that Kennon was slammed against the wall, dazed-half stunned by the speed of the attack. George-he had time to think in one brief flash-wasn't stupid. He had held his breath for the necessary two minutes!

Douglas jerked the blaster up and fired, but his target was too quick. George dropped and rolled. The sizzling streak of violet flashed inches above his body and tore a six-inch hole through the back of the cell. And then George was on him! The huge, marvelously fast hands of the humanoid wrenched the blaster out of Douglas's hands and jerked him forward. A scream burst from Douglas as George's hands closed around his neck. Muscles sprang into writhing life in the humanoid's huge forearms. There was a soft, brittle crack, and Douglas sagged limp in the iron grip that held him dangling.

"Faugh!" George grunted. He dropped Douglas as Kennon pushed the door back and came out into the passageway. "Maybe you make better fight," George said as he lowered his head into the muscular mass of his broad shoulders.

Kennon eyed him appraisingly, swinging the irons in his right hand.

This time the Lani didn't charge. He moved slowly, half crouched, long arms held slightly forward. Kennon backed away, watching the humanoid's eyes for that telltale flicker of the pupils that gives warning of attack. The expression on George's face never changed. It was satisfied-smug almost-reflecting the feelings of a brute conditioned to kill and given an opportunity to do so. The Lani radiated confidence.

Kennon shivered involuntarily. He wasn't frightened, but he had never met an opponent like this. A chill raced up the back of his legs and spread over his stomach and chest. His mouth was dry and his muscles quivered with tense anticipation. But his concentration never wavered. His hard blue eyes never left George's, searching with microscopic intentness for the faintest sign of the Lani's intentions.

George charged-hands reaching for Kennon's throat, face twisted in a snarl of rage and hate. But even as he charged Kennon moved. He ducked beneath the Lani's outstretched hands and drove his left fist deep into George's belly just below the breastbone.

Air whistled out of the Lani's gaping mouth as he bent double from the power of the blow. Kennon clipped him on the chin with a driving knee, snapping George's head back and smashed the bearded face with the shackles. Blood spurted and George screamed with rage. One of the Lani's big hands wrapped around the shackles and tugged. Kennon let go and drove another left to George's ribs.

The Lani threw the irons at Kennon, but his aim was poor. One of the handcuff rings scraped across Kennon's cheek, but did nothing more than break the skin. Half paralyzed by the blows to his solar plexus, George's co-ordination was badly impaired. But he kept trying. Kennon wrapped lean fingers about one of George's outstretched hands, bent, pivoted, and slammed the Lani with bone-crushing force against the bars of a nearby cell. But George didn't go down. "He's more brute than man," Kennon thought. "No man could take a beating like that!" He moved aside from George's stumbling rush, feeling a twinge of pity for the battered humanoid. It was no contest. Strong as he was, George didn't know the rudiments of hand-to-hand fighting. His reactions were those of an animal, to close, clutch, bite, and tear. Even if he were completely well, the results would have been the same. It would merely have taken longer. Kennon drove a vicious judo chop to the junction of the Lani's neck and shoulder. Brute strength was no match for the highly evolved mayhem that every spaceman learns as a necessary part of his trade. George had never been on planet leave in a spaceport town. He knew nothing about the dives, the crimps, the hostile port police. His idea of fighting was that of a beast, but Kennon was a civilized man to whom fighting was an art perfected by millennia of warfare. And Kennon knew his trade.

Even so it took longer than Kennon expected because George was big, George was strong, and George had courage and pride that kept him coming as long as the blazing will behind his blazing eyes could drive his battered body. But the end was inevitable.

Kennon looked at his bloody arm where George's teeth had reached their mark. It was hardly more than a scratch, but it had been close. George had his lesson and Kennon felt oddly degraded. He sighed, dragged George back into the cell, and locked the door.

Then he turned to Douglas. The howls of hate from the caged Lani died to a sullen silence as Kennon gently examined the limp body.

Douglas wasn't dead. His neck was dislocated, not broken, but he was in serious condition. Kennon was still bending over Douglas wondering how to call for help when three guards burst through the door, faces grim, weapons at the ready.

"What's going on here?" the leader demanded. "The board showed an open door down here." He saw the body-"Mr. Douglas!" he gasped. "The commandant will have to know about this!" He took a communicator from his waist belt and spoke rapidly into it. "Arleson in stud cell block," he said. "Attempted escape. One casualty-Douglas Alexander-yes, that's right. No-he's not dead. Send a litter and bearers. Inform the commandant. I am making investigation on the spot. Out." He turned to look coldly at Kennon.

"Who are you-and what happened here?" he asked.

Kennon told him.

"You mean you took George!" Arleson said.

"Look in his cell if you don't believe me."

The soldier looked and then turned hack to Kennon. There was awed respect in his hard brown eyes. "You did that!-to him! Man, you're a fighter," he said in an unbelieving voice.

A stretcher detail manned by two sober-faced Lani females came in, loaded Douglas's body on the stretcher, and silently bore it away.

"Douglas was a fool," Arleson said. "He knew we never handle this kind without maximum restraint. I wonder why he did it?"

"I couldn't say. He told me that gas and shackles would hold him."

"He knew better. These Lani know gas capsules. All George had to do was hold his breath. In that cell George would have killed you. You couldn't have stayed away from him."

Kennon shrugged. Maybe that was what Douglas had wanted. Kennon sighed. He didn't have the answer. And it could just be that Douglas had tried to show off. Well, he would pay for it. He'd have a stiff neck for months, and perhaps that was a proper way to end it.

* * *

Commander Mullins, a thin gray-faced man with the hard cold eyes of a professional soldier, came into the corridor followed by another trooper.

His eyes took in the wreckage that had been George, the split lips, the smashed nose, the puffed eyes, the cuts and bruises, and then raked across Kennon.

"Spaceman-hey?" he asked. "I've seen work like that before."

Kennon nodded. "I was once. I'm station veterinarian now. Douglas called me over-said it was an emergency."

Mullins nodded.

"Well-why aren't you tending to it?"

"I have to examine them," Kennon said gesturing at the cells. "And I don't want any more trouble like this."

"Don't worry. You won't have it. Now that you've beaten George, you'll have no trouble at all. You're top dog." Mullins gestured at the cages. "They'll be good for a while. Now you'd better get on with your work. There's been enough disruption of routine for today. The men will help you."

* * *

Kennon checked in at the commandant's office before he left for the main island.

"How is Douglas?" he asked.

"He's alive," Mullins said. "We flew him to Albertsville-and good riddance. How are the Lani?"

"They'll be all right," Kennon said. "It's just food poisoning. I suggest you check your kitchen and your food handlers. There's a break in sanitation that could incapacitate your whole command. I found a few things wrong but there are probably more."

"I'll check on it-and thanks for the advice," Mullins said. "Sit down, Doctor. Your airboat won't be serviced for another few minutes. Tell me how things are on the main island. How's Blalok?"

"You know him?"

"Of course. I used to be a frequent visitor there. But with that young pup here, I couldn't leave. I didn't dare to. He'd have disrupted routine in a single day. Look what he did in half an hour. Frankly, I owe you a debt for getting him off my hands." Mullins chuckled dryly.

"That's a fine thing to say," Kennon grinned. "But I can sympathize. It took us two months to straighten out Alexandria after the Boss-man sent him here."

"I heard about that."

"Well-we're under control now. Things are going pretty smoothly."

"They'll be better here," Mullins said. "Now that Douglas is gone." He shrugged. "I hope the Boss doesn't send him back. He's hard to handle and he makes discipline a problem."

"Could you tell me-or would it be violating security?" Kennon said. "Why do you have a Class II installation on full war footing out here?"

Mullins chuckled. "It's no secret," he said. "There was a commercial raid on this place about fifty years ago. Seems as though one of our competitors didn't like us. Alexandria was on a war footing then and managed to hold them off. But it scared the Old Man. You see, our competitive position is based on Lani labor. Our competitors didn't know that. Their intelligence wasn't so good. Up until that time, we'd been keeping the males out here in what was hardly more than a stockade. Those people could have taken a few dozen females and a couple of males and they'd have been in business. But they didn't know. They tried to smash Alexandria instead. Naturally they didn't have a chance. And after it was over the Old Man got smart. He still had the tapes for Alexandria so he built a duplicate out here and spent a few millions on modern armament. The way we're set now it'd take a battle group to hurt us."

"But how about security? Don't the others know about the Lani now?"

"It's a moot question. But it won't do them any good. They can't crack this place, and without males, all the females on Flora wouldn't do them enough long-term good to pay for the force they'd need to be successful."

"So that's why the males are isolated."

"There's another reason-two of them in fact. One is physical. Even the best male is a dangerous beast. They have a flair for violence that makes them useless as labor and their training doesn't help matters. And the other is mental. The females on the main island believe that we humans are responsible for the continuation of their breed. This tends to keep them in line. We have a great deal more trouble with them out here once they know the truth. We've had a number of cases of females trying to engineer a male's escape. But they're never repeated," Mullins said grimly. "Actually, it would be an interesting life out here, except for the abattoir." He grimaced. "That's an unpleasant chore."

"You mean-" Kennon said.

"Why, certainly. What else could we do with senile animals?"

"But that's murder!"

Mullins shook his head. "No more than killing a cow for beef."

"You know," Kennon said, "I've never thought of what happened to aged Lani. Sure, I've never seen one, but-Lord Lister!-I'm a fool."

"You'll get used to the idea," Mullins said. "They aren't human, and except for a few, they aren't as intelligent as a Santosian Varl. I know that they look like us except for those tails, but that's as far as it goes. I've spent two hundred years with them and I know what I'm talking about."

"That's what Alexander says."

"He should know. He's lived with them all his life."

"Well-perhaps. But I'm not convinced."

"Neither was Old Doc-not until the day he died."

"Did he change then?"

"I don't know. I wasn't there. But Old Doc was a stubborn cuss."

Kennon stood up. "I've given instructions for treatment to your corpsman," he said. "Now I think I'd better be getting back. I have some reports to finish."

Mullins smiled grimly. "You know," he said, "I get the feeling that you don't approve of this operation."

"Frankly, I don't," Kennon said, "but I signed a contract." He turned toward the door and gestured to the two Lani who waited outside with his bags. "I can find my way to the roof," he said.

"Well-good luck," Mullins said. "We'll call you again if we need you."

"Do that," Kennon replied. He wanted to leave, to get away from this place and back to the main island. He wanted to see Copper. He'd be damned if anyone was going to butcher her. If he had to stay here until she died of old age, he'd do it. But nobody was going to hurt her.

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