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The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 15056

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"I was a poor learner of the redes," Copper confessed. "And I'll have to skip the Mysteries. I never even tried to learn them. Somehow I was sure I'd never be a preceptress." She settled herself more comfortably on the tawny grass and watched him as he lay on his back beside her.

"Eh?" Kennon said, "Preceptress?"

"The guardians of our traditions. They know the redes and mysteries by heart."

"And you have kept your religion alive that way all these years?"

"It isn't exactly religion," Copper said. "It's more like history, we learn it to remember that we were once a great race-and that we may be again. Someday there will come a male, a leader to bring us out of bondage, and our race will be free of dependence on men. There will be pairings again, and freedom to live as we please." She looked thoughtfully at Kennon. "You might even be the one-even though you are human. You're different from the others."

"You're prejudiced." Kennon smiled. "I'm no different. Well-not very different at any rate."

"That is not my thought," Copper said. "You are very different indeed. No man has ever resisted a Lani as long as you have."

Kennon shook his head. "Let's not go into that now. What are these redes?"

"I do not remember them all," Copper apologized. "I was-"

"You've said that before. Tell me what you do know."

"I remember the beginning fairly well," she said. "It goes back to the time before Flora when everything was nothing and the Master Himself was lonely."

Without warning her voice changed to a rhythmic, cadenced chant that was almost a song. Her face became rapt and introspective as she rocked slowly from side to side. The rhythm was familiar and then he recognized it-the unintelligible music he had often heard coming from the barracks late at night when no men were around-the voiceless humming that the Lani sang at work.

First there was Darkness-starless and sunless

Void without form-darker than night

Then did the Master-Lord of Creation

Wave His right hand, saying, "Let there be light!"

Verse, Kennon thought. That was logical. People remember poetry better than prose. But the form was not what he'd normally expect. It was advanced, a style that was past primitive blank verse or heroic pentameter. He listened intently as Copper went on.

Light filled the heavens, bright golden glowing,

Brought to the Void by His wondrous hand;

Then did the Master-Lord of Creation-

Nod His great head, saying, "Let there be land!"

Air, land, and water formed into being,

Born in the sight of His all-seeing eyes;

Then did the master-Lord of Creation-

Smile as He murmured, "Let life arise!"

All of the life conceived by the Master,

Varied in shape as the grasses and birds;

Hunters and hunted, moveless and moving,

Came into form at the sound of His words.

"That's a great deal like Genesis," Kennon said with mild astonishment. "Where could you have picked that up?"

"From the beginning of our race," Copper said. "It came to us with Ulf and Lyssa-but what is Genesis?"

"A part of an ancient religion-one that is still followed on some of the Central Worlds. Its followers call themselves Christians. They say it came from Earth, the mother-world of men."

"Our faith has no name. We are children of Lyssa, who was a daughter of the Master."

"It is an odd similarity," Kennon said. "But other races have had stories of the Creation. And possibly there may be another explanation. Your ancestors could have picked this up from Alexander's men. They came from Earth originally and some of them could have been Christians."

"No," Cooper said. "This rede is long before Man Alexander. It is the origin of our world, even before Ulf and Lyssa. It is the first Book-the Book of the God-spell. Man Alexander came in the sixth Book-the Book of Roga."

"There's no point in arguing about it," Kennon said. "Go on-tell me the rest."

"It's going to be a long story," Copper said. "Even though I have forgotten some of it, I can chant the redes for hours."

Kennon braced his back against one of the fat tires of the jeep. "I'm a good listener," he said.

She chuckled. "You asked for this," she said-and took up the verses where she had left off. And Kennon learned the Lani version of creation, of the first man and woman, cast out of Heaven for loving each other despite the Master's objection, of how they came to Flora and founded the race of the Lani. He learned how the Lani grew in numbers and power, how they split into two warring groups over the theological point of whether Ulf or Lyssa was the principal deity, how Roga the Foolish opened Lyssa's tower to find out whether the Ulfians or Lyssans were right, and brought the Black Years to Flora.

He heard the trial of Roga and the details of his torture by the priests of Ulf and the priests of Lyssa-united by this greatest sacrilege. And he heard the Lani version of the landing of Alexander's ship and man's conquest of Flora.

It was a story of savagery and superstition, of blood and intolerance, of bravery and cowardice, of love and beauty. Yet through it all, even through the redes that described the Conquest, there was a curious remoteness, a lack of emotion that made the verses more terrible as they flowed in passionless rhythm from Copper's lips.

"That's enough!" Kennon said.

"I told you you wouldn't like it."

"It's horrible. How can you remember such things?"

"We begin to learn them as soon as we can talk. We know the redes almost our entire lives." Copper was silent for a moment. "There's lots more," she said, "but it's all about our lives since the Man Alexander-the old one-took possession of us. And most of the newer redes are pretty dull. Our life hasn't changed much since the men came. The Book of Man is boring." Copper sighed. "I have dared a great deal by telling you these things. If the others knew, they would kill both of us."

"Then why tell me?" he asked.

"I love you," she said simply. "You wanted to know-and I can deny you nothing."

A wave of tenderness swept over him. She would give her life for him-and what would he give? Nothing. Not even his prejudices. His face twisted. If she was only human, If she wasn't just an animal. If he wasn't a Betan. If, if, if. Resentment gorged his throat. It was unfair-so damned unfair. He had no business coming here. He should have stayed on Beta or at least on a human world where he would never have met Copper. He loved her, but he couldn't have her. It was Tantalus and Sisyphus rolled into one unsightly package and fastened to his soul. With a muttered curse he rose to his feet, and as he did he stopped-frozen-staring at Copper as though he had never seen her before.

"How did you say that Roga was judged responsible for Alexander coming here?" he demanded.

"He went into Lyssa's tower-where Ulf and Lyssa tried to call Heaven-and with his foolish meddling set the tower alight with a glow that all could see. Less than a week later the Man Alexander came."

"Where was this tower?"

"Where Alexandria now stands. Man Alexander destroyed it and built his house upon its ruins."

"And what was that place of the Pit?"

"The Shrine of Ulf-where the God-Egg struck Flora. It is buried in the pit, but the Silent Death has protected it from blasphemy-and besides Man Alexander never learned about it. We feared that he would destroy it as he did Lyssa's tower."

A wild hope stirred in Kennon. "We're going home," he ann

ounced.

"Good."

"And we're going to get a pair of radiation suits-and then we're coming back. We'll have a good look at that Pit, and if what's in there is what I think it is"-his face was a mixture of grimness and eagerness-"we'll blow this whole operation off this planet!"

Copper blanched. "It is death to meddle with the God-Egg," she said.

"Superstition!" Kennon scoffed. "If that Egg is what I think, it was made by men, and you are their descendant."

"Perhaps you're right, but I can't help thinking you are wrong," she said soberly. "Look at the trouble that came with Roga's meddling. Be careful that you do not bring us a worse fate."

"I'll be very careful. We'll take every precaution."

"We?"

"You're coming, of course. I can't imagine you staying away."

Copper nodded.

"You shouldn't worry so much," Kennon teased. "You know we men live forever."

"That is true."

"And if I'm right you're just as human as I. And you're capable of living as long as I do."

"Yes, sir," Copper said. Her voice was unconvinced, her expression noncommittal.

"You females," Kennon said in quick exasperation. "You drive a man crazy. Get an idea in your head and it takes triatomate to blast it out. Now let's go."

Two hours brought them back to the volcanic area, and knowing what to look for, Kennon located the pockmarked mountain valley. From the air it looked completely ordinary. Kennon was amazed at the perfection of the natural camouflage. The Pit was merely another crater in the pitted ground. He dropped to a lower altitude, barely a hundred feet above the sputter cones. "Look!" he said.

Below them was the crater of the Pit and in its center a smooth bluish-black hemisphere protruded from the crater floor. It would have passed unnoticed by the casual eye-nearly concealed by two gigantic blocks of pumice.

"The God-Egg!" Copper exclaimed.

"Egg-ha! that's a spacer! I thought it would be. I'd recognize durilium anywhere. Let's go down and look this over, but first we want a couple of pictures." He pointed a camera at the crater and snapped the shutter. "There-now let's have a closer look at our baby."

"Do you expect me to get into that thing?" Copper said distastefully as she prodded the shapeless green coveralls with a bare toe. She eyed the helmet, gloves and boots with equal distaste. "I'd suffocate."

"If you want to come with me, you'll wear it," Kennon said. "Otherwise you won't come near that pit. Try it and I'll chain you to the jeep."

"You wouldn't!"

"Just try me."

"Oh-all right. I'll wear the thing-but I won't be comfortable."

"Who cares about that? You'll be protected."

"All right-show me how to put it on. I'd rather be with you than worry about what you are doing."

The suit was several sizes too large but it covered her adequately. Too adequately, Kennon decided. She looked like a pile of wrinkles with legs. He chuckled.

She glared. "So I'm funny," she said. "Let me tell you something else that's funny. I'm hot. I'm sweating. I itch. Now-laugh!"

"I don't feel like laughing," Kennon said. "I feel the same way."

They approached the edge of the Pit carefully. Kennon kept checking the radiation counter. The needle slowly rose and steadied at one-half roentgen per hour as he thrust the probe over the rim of the depression. "It's fine, so far," he said encouragingly. "We could take this much for quite a while even without suits." He lowered himself over the edge, sliding down the gentle slope.

"How is it down there?" Copper called. The intercom crackled in his ear.

"Fine-barely over one roentgen per hour. With these suits we could stay here indefinitely." The sigh of relief was music in her ears. "This place is barely lukewarm."

"That's what you think," Copper said.

"I mean radiation warm," Kennon said. "Stay up there and watch me. I may need some things."

"All right." Copper squirmed inside the hot suit. The thing was an oven. She hoped that Kennon didn't plan to work in the daytime. It would be impossible.

Kennon gingerly approached the ship. It was half buried in the loose debris and ash that had fallen or blown into the pit during the centuries it had rested there. It was old-incredibly old. The hull design was ancient-riveted sheets of millimeter-thick durilium. Ships hadn't been built like that in over two thousand years. And the ovoid shape was reminiscent of the even more ancient spindizzy design. A hyperspace converter like that couldn't be less than four millennia old. It was a museum piece, but the blue-black hull was as smooth and unblemished as the day it had left fabrication.

Space travel would have gotten nowhere without durilium, Kennon reflected. For five thousand years men had used the incredibly tough synthetic to build their spacecraft. It had given man his empire. Kennon gave the hull one quick glance. That part of the ship didn't worry him. It was what he would find inside that bothered him. How much damage had occurred from two thousand or more years of disuse? How much had the original travelers cannibalized? How much could be salvaged? What sort of records remained? There were a thousand questions that the interior of that enigmatic hull might answer.

The upper segment of the airlock was visible. It was closed, which was a good sign. A few hours' work with a digger should expose it enough to be opened.

"Copper," he said, "we're going to have to dig this out. There's a small excavator in the cargo bed of the jeep. Do you think you can bring it down here?"

"I think so."

"Good girl!" Kennon turned back to the ship. He was eager to enter it. There might be things inside that would settle the question of the Lani. The original crew had probably recognized the value of the hull as a repository as well as he did. But in the meantime there would be work-lots of it. And every step must be recorded.

It was the rest of the day's work to expose the emergency airlock. The little excavator toiled over the loose ash for hours before it displaced enough to make the port visible, and the ash was not yet cleared away sufficiently to open the portal when darkness brought a halt to the work.

It would be impossible to unearth the spaceship with their low-capacity digger, Kennon decided. It would be difficult enough to clear the emergency airlock in the nose. But if the tubes and drive were still all right, by careful handling it should be possible to use the drive to blast out the loose ash and cinders which surrounded the hull.

Kennon reluctantly gave up the idea of entering the spaceship. That would have to wait until tomorrow. Now they would have to conceal the work and call it a day. A few branches and the big blocks of pumice would suffice for temporary camouflage. Later they could make something better. Anything in the jeep which might be useful was cached along with the radiation suits in the passageway through the lava wall-and in a surprisingly short time they were heading homeward.

Kennon was not too displeased. Tomorrow they would be able to enter the ship. Tomorrow they would probably have some of the answers to his questions. He looked ahead into the gathering night. The gray mass of the abandoned Olympus Station slipped below them as he lined the jeep along the path indicated by the luminous arrow atop the main building, set the controls on automatic, and locked the craft on the guide beacon in Alexandria's tower. In a little less than an hour they would be home.

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