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The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 25397

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


Kennon was morally certain that the Lani were of human stock. Evolved, of course. Mutated. Genetic strangers to the rest of humanity. But human. The spaceship and the redes proved it as far as he was concerned. But moral certainty and legal certainty were two different things. What he believed might be good enough to hold up in a Brotherhood court, but he doubted it. Ulf and Lyssa might be the founders of the Lani race, but they had come to Kardon nearly four thousand years ago and no records existed to prove that the Lani weren't here before they came. Redes passed by word of mouth through hundreds of generations were not evidence. Even the spaceship wasn't the absolute proof that would be needed to overturn the earlier legal decision. Other and better proof was needed-something that would stand up in any court in the Brotherhood. He hoped the spaceship would hold that proof.

But Kennon's eagerness to find out what was inside the ancient spacer was tempered by hard practicality. Too much depended on what he might find inside that hull. Every step of the work must be documented beyond any refutation. Some method of establishing date, time, and location had to be prepared. There must be a record of every action. And that would require equipment and planning. There must be no mistake that could be twisted by the skillful counsel that Alexander undoubtedly retained.

He had no doubt that the Family would fight. Too much money and prestige were involved. To prove the Lani human would destroy Outworld Enterprises on Kardon. Yet this thought did not bother him. To his surprise he had no qualms of conscience. He was perfectly willing to violate his contract, break faith with his employers, and plot their ruin. The higher duty came first-the duty to the human race.

He smiled wryly. It wasn't all higher duty. There were some personal desires that leavened the nobility. To prove Copper human was enough motivation-actually it was better than his sense of duty. Events, Kennon reflected, cause a great deal of change in one's attitude. Although not by nature a plotter, schemes had been flitting through his mind with machinelike regularity, to be examined and discarded, or to be set aside for future reference.

He rejected the direct approach. It was too dangerous, depended too much on personalities, and had too little chance for success. He considered the possibility of letters to the Brotherhood Council but ultimately rejected it. Not only was the proof legally insufficient to establish humanity in the Lani, but he also remembered Alexander's incredible knowledge of his activities, and there was no reason to suppose that his present didn't receive the same scrutiny as the past. And if he, who hadn't written a letter in over a year, suddenly began to write, the correspondence would undoubtedly be regarded with suspicion and would probably be examined, and Dirac messages would be out for the same reason.

He could take a vacation and while he was away from the island he could inform the Brotherhood. Leaving Flora wouldn't be particularly difficult, but leaving Kardon would be virtually impossible. His contract called for vacations, but it expressly provided that they would be taken on Kardon. And again, there would be no assurance that his activities would not be watched. In fact, it was probable that they would be.

There was nothing that could be done immediately. But there were certain long-range measures that could be started. He could begin preparing a case that could be presented to the Council. And Beta, when it knew, would help him. The situation of the Lani was so close to Beta's own that its obvious merit as a test case simply could not be ignored. If he could get the evidence to Beta, it would be easy to enlist the aid of the entire Medico-Technological Civilization. It would take time and attention to detail; the case, the evidence, everything would have to be prepared with every safeguard and contingency provided, so that there would not be the slightest chance of a slip-up once it came to court.

And perhaps the best method of bringing the evidence would be to transport it under its own power. The thought intrigued him. Actually it wouldn't be too difficult. Externally the Egg wasn't in bad shape. The virtually indestructible durilium hull was still intact. The controls and the engines, hermetically sealed inside the hull, were probably as good as the day they stopped running. The circuitry would undoubtedly be bad but it could be repaired and restored, and new fuel slugs could be obtained for the engine and the converter. But that was a problem for the future.

The immediate problem was to get into the ship in a properly documented fashion.

It took nearly two months, but finally, under the impersonal lenses of cameras and recorders, the entrance port of the God-Egg swung open and revealed the dark interior. Kennon moved carefully, recording every step as he entered the black orifice in the spaceship's side. His handtorch gave plenty of light for the recorders as he moved inside-Copper at his heels, both of them physically unrecognizable in antiradiation suits.

"Why are we moving so slowly?" Copper said. "Let's go ahead and find out what's beyond this passageway."

"From a superstitious coward you've certainly become a reckless explorer," he said.

"The Egg hasn't hurt us, and we've been around it many times," she said. "Either the curse has become too old to hurt us, or there never was any in the first place. So let's see what is ahead. I'm curious."

Kennon shook his head. "In this business we must hurry slowly-very slowly. You know why."

"But I want to see."

"Patience, girl. Simmer down. You'll see soon enough," Kennon said. "Now help me set up this camera."

"Oh, all right-but isn't there any excitement in you?"

"I'm bubbling over with it," Kennon admitted, "but I manage to keep it under control."

"You're cold-blooded."

"No-I'm sensible. We want to nail this down. My future, yours, and that of your people depend upon how carefully we work. You wouldn't want to let us all down by being too eager, would you?"

She shook her head. "No-you're right of course. But I still would like to see."

They moved cautiously through the airlock and into the control room.

"Ah!" Kennon said with satisfaction. "I hoped for this, but I didn't dare expect it."

"What?"

"Look around. What do you see?"

"Nothing but an empty room. It's shaped like half an orange, and it has a lot of funny instruments and dials on the walls, and a video screen overhead. But that's all. Why-what's so unusual about it? It looks just like someone had left it."

"That's the point. There's nothing essential that's missing. They didn't cannibalize the instruments-and they didn't come back."

"Why not?"

"Maybe because that curse you mentioned a few minutes ago was real."

Copper drew back. "But you said it wouldn't hurt us-"

"Not now. The heat's practically gone, but when whoever flew this crate came here, the whole shell could have been as hot as a Samarian summer."

"But couldn't they have come back when it cooled?"

"Not with this kind of heat. The hull was probably too radioactive to approach from the outside. And radioactivity cools off slowly. It might take several lifetimes for its level to become low enough to approach if there was no decontamination equipment available."

"I suppose that's why the early ones thought the Egg was cursed."

Kennon nodded. "Now let's check-oh! oh! what's this?" He pointed to a metal-backed book lying on the control panel.

"It looks like a book," Copper said.

"I'm hoping it's the book."

"The book?"

"Yes-the ship's log. It's possible. And if it is, we may have all the evidence we need-Copper!-Don't touch it!"

"Why not?"

"Because its position has to be recorded first. Wait until we get the camera and recorders set up."

* * *

Gingerly Kennon opened the ancient book. The sheets inside were brittle-crumbling with age-but he could make out the title U.N.S.S. Wanderer with the date of launching and a lower line which read "Ship's Log." Kennon was thankful for his medical training. The four years of Classical English that he had despised so much were essential now. Stumbling over unfamiliar words and phrases, he moved slowly through the log tracing the old ship's history from pleasure craft to short-haul freight tractor to obsolescence in a space dump orbiting around a world called Heaven.

There was a gap of nearly ten years indicated by a blank page before the entries resumed.

"Ah-this is it!" Kennon said.

"What is it?" Copper said curiously. "I can't read the writing."

"Of course you can't. It's in English-a language that became obsolete during the Interregnum. I had to learn it, since most medical terminology is based on it."

"What is an Interregnum?" Copper interrupted. "I've never heard that word before."

"It's a period of confusion when there is no stable government. The last one came after the Second Galactic War-but never mind that-it happened long ago and isn't important now. The important thing that did happen was the Exodus."

"What was that?"

"A religious revival and a tremendous desire to see what was happening beyond the next star. During that century men traveled wider and farther then they ever have before or since. In that outward explosion with its mixed motivations of religion and practicality, colonists and missionaries went starward to find new worlds to tame, and new races to be rescued from the darkness of idolatry and hell. Almost any sort of vehicle capable of mounting a spindizzy converter was pressed into service. The old spindizzies were soundly engineered converters of almost childlike simplicity that could and did carry ships enormous distances if their passengers didn't care about subjective time-lag, and a little radioactivity.

"And that's what happened to this ship. According to this log it was bought by Alfred and Melissa Weygand-a missionary couple with the idea of spreading the Christian faith to the heathen.

"Alfred and Melissa-Ulf and Lyssa-they were a part of this ancient explosion that scattered human seed across parsecs of interstellar space. It seems that they were a unit in a missionary fleet that had gone out to the stars with flame in their hearts and Gospel on their lips to bring the Word to the benighted heathen on other worlds." Kennon's lips curled with mild contempt at their stupid foolhardiness even as his pulse quickened to their bravery. They had been fanatics, true enough, but theirs was a selfless fanaticism that would risk torture and death for what they believed-a fanaticism that was more sublime than the concept of Brotherhood which had evolved from it. They knew nothing of the enmity of race, of the incessant struggle man had since waged with alien intelligences all too willing to destroy intruders who encroached upon their worlds. Mankind's early selflessness had long ago been discarded for frank expansionism and dominance over the lesser races that stood in their way. And in a way it was too bad.

The ship's log, meticulously kept in neat round English script, told a story that was more than the bare bones of flight. There was passion and tenderness and a spiritual quality that was shocking to a modern man steeped in millennia of conquest and self-interest. There was a greatness to it, a depth of faith that had since been lost. And as Kennon slowly deciphered the ancient script he admired the courage even as his mind winced with dismay at the unheeding recklessness.

The Weygands had lost contact with the others, and had searched for them in hyperspace, doubling and twisting upon their course until they had become hopelessly lost, and then, with their fuel nearly exhausted, had broken out into the normal three-space continuum to find Kardon's sun and the world they called Flora.

How little they had known and how lucky they had been.

It was only by the grace of their God that they had found this world before their fuel was exhausted. And it was only by further grace that the planet was habitable and not populated with intelligent life. They had more luck than people were entitled to in a dozen lifetimes. Against odds of a million to one they had survived.

It was fascinating reading.

But it was not proof.

The last entry read: "We have circled this world and have seen no buildings-no sign of intelligent life. We are lost, marooned on this empty world. Our fuel supplies are too low for us to attempt to find the others. Nor could we. The constellations in the sky

are strange. We do not know which way to go. Therefore we shall land upon the great island in the center of the yellow sea. And perhaps someday men will come to us since we cannot return to them. Melissa thinks that this is an example of Divine Providence, that the Lord's mercy has been shown to us that were lost in the vastness of the deep-that we have been chosen, like Eve and Adam, to spread the seed of man to yet another world. I hope she is right, yet I fear the radiation level of the ship has become inordinately high. We may well be Eve and Adam, yet an Adam that cannot beget and an Eve that is not fruitful. I am trimming the ship for landing, and we shall leave it immediately after we have landed, taking with us only what we absolutely need. There is too much radiation from the spindizzy and the drive to remain here longer-and God knows how hot the outer hull may be."

And that was all. Presumptive evidence-yes. Reasonable certainty-yes. But not proof. Lawyers could argue that since no direct exploration was made there was no valid reason to assume that the Lani did not already inhabit Kardon. But Kennon knew. His body, more perceptive than his mind, had realized a truth that his brain would not accept until he read the log. It was at once joy and frustration. Joy that Copper was human, frustration that he could not obtain for her and her race the rights to which they were entitled. But the immediate problem was solved. His conditioning was broken now he was convinced that Copper was a member of the human race. It was no violation of his code to love her. The greatest barrier was broken, and with it gone the lesser ones would yield. Relief that was almost pain washed through him and left him weak with reaction.

"What is it?" Copper asked as he turned to her. "What is this thing that has turned your face to joy?"

"Can't you guess?"

She shook her head. "I have seen nothing but you reading this ancient book, yet you turn to me with the look in your eyes that the redes say Ulf had for Lyssa."

"You're human!"

Copper shrugged. "You're mad. I'm a Lani. I was born a Lani-and I shall die one."

"Don't you understand? All Lani are human. You all are the descendants of two humans who came here thousands of years ago."

"Then there is no reason why you cannot love me."

Kennon shook his head. "No," he said. "There is no reason."

Copper laughed. It was a sound so merry and gay that Kennon looked at her in surprise. She looked as happy as she sounded.

Simple and savage, Kennon thought. She cared nothing for the future, and probably very little about the injustice of her present. The thing that mattered was that what had kept them apart was gone. She was probably offering mental sacrifices to the Old Ones who had caused this change in the man she loved. She didn't really care about what had caused the change. To her it was sufficient that it had happened.

For a moment Kennon wished that it could be as simple for him as it apparently was for her. The fact that Copper was human posed a greater problem than the one it solved. The one had been personal. The other was infinitely greater. He could not let it lie. The very morality which had kept him from doing what he wished when he thought she was a humanoid now forced him to do what he did not wish. Every instinct said to leave it alone. The problem was too great for one man to solve, the situation too complicated, the evidence too inconclusive, the opposition too powerful. It would be far better to take his happiness and enjoy it. It was not his problem to solve. He could turn the evidence over to the Brotherhood once his contract was over, and better and more capable people than he could settle the Lani legal status. But the inner voice that had called him bestial now called him shirker, coward, and slacker. And this, too, could not be borne. The case of the Lani would have to be pursued as vigorously as he could do it. They were entitled to human rights-whether they wanted them or not.

His first idea of making the spacer operational was a good one, Kennon decided as they finished the inspection of the ship. Even if it was never used it would make a good means of retreat. He grinned wryly. In a guerrilla operation such as the one he was considering it would be wise to have a way out if things got too hot. The heavy parts, the engines and the controls, were in workable condition and would merely require cleaning and oiling. Some of the optical equipment would have to be replaced and fuel slugs would have to be obtained for the drive-but none of these would be too hard to accomplish. The slugs from any of the power reactors on the island would serve nicely. All that would have to be done would be to modify the fuel ports on the ship's engine. The spindizzy would have to be disassembled and checked, and the main leads, embedded in time-resistant plastic, would have to be examined. The most serious problem, however, wouldn't involve these things. The control board wiring and circuitry was where the trouble would lie. Normal insulation and printed circuitry wasn't designed to last for thousands of years. Each wired circuit would have to be removed, duplicated, and replaced. Every printed panel would have to be cleaned and receive a new coat of insulating varnish. Working full time, a four-man electronics team could do the job in a week. Working part-time the two of them might get it done in three months. And the other jobs would take at least another. Add a month for errors in judgment, lack of materials, and mistakes-and another for unavoidable delays-it would be at least six months before the Egg would be spaceworthy.

Six months.

Not too long if everything went well, but far too long if there were any mistakes. He would have to be careful, yet he must not give the impression of being careful. He shook his head. Being a subversive was going to require a greater amount of acting ability than he had ever been called upon to display.

And what of Copper? How would she behave under the double strain of knowledge that she was human and knowledge of the spaceship? Women weren't noted for their tight-lipped reticence. Would she tell the other Lani? Would she crack under the pressure? Did she have the qualities of a good conspirator?

As it turned out, he didn't need to worry. As a partner in crime, Copper was all that could be wished. Everything was normal. She was still obedient, helpful, and gay as ever. To watch her, no one would ever think that her bright head was full of knowledge that could rock Flora to its foundations. Never by look or word did she betray the slightest trace of strain or guilt.

And in her other moments she was ecstatic in her love and helpful with the repair work on the Egg whenever Kennon could get time to visit the old spaceship.

"You amaze me," Kennon said as they eased the cover of the spindizzy in place and spun the bolts on the lugs that held it to the outer shielding. He picked up a heavy wrench and began methodically to seat the bolts as Copper wiped the white extrusion of the cover sealant from the shining case.

"How?"

"The way you hide your knowledge of this ship from the others. I know you better than anyone else on this island, and yet you would fool me."

"We Lani are used to hiding things. You men have been our masters for centuries, yet you do not know our redes. Nor do you know what we think, We obey you, but there are parts of us you do not own. It is easy to hide a little thing like this."

Kennon nodded. It figured. He seated another bolt. Three more and the drive room would be restored and they could start on the control circuits. "I wish you were as clever about adopting human customs as you are about hiding guilty knowledge," he said.

Copper laughed. "You mean those silly things you have been teaching me? Why should I learn them? I'm happy as I am. I love you, you love me, and that is all that matters."

"It's not all that matters. Can't you get it through your head that civilized customs are necessary in a civilized society?" He gave the next-to-last bolt an extra-vicious wrench. "You'll have to know them if you expect to get along on Beta."

"But I will never see Beta."

"I am going there when my duty here is over. And you're going with me."

"When will that be?"

"Three years."

"So long? Well-we can think of it then, but I don't think Man Alexander will let you take me."

"Then I shall take you without his consent."

She smiled. "It would be easier to stay here. In another fifteen years I will be old and you will not want me."

"I'll never do that. I'll always want you."

"You swear too easily," she said gently. "You men live forever. We Lani are a short-lived race."

"But you needn't be. It's obviously-"

"It's been tried, my love-and those who were treated died. Man Alexander tried many years ago to make us long-lived like you. But he failed. You see, he loved one of us too."

"But-"

"Let us think no more of it. Let us enjoy what we have and be grateful to the Gods for the love we enjoy-or do you have any Gods?"

"One."

"Two are better. More, anyway. And besides, Ulf and Lyssa and the God-Egg are responsible for our joy."

"They are indeed," Kennon said.

"Then why should you think of leaving the place where they rule? You should stay here. There will be other Lani when I am gone. You will be happy always."

"Not without you," Kennon said. "Don't you understand that I love you?"

"And I you. But I am a Lani. You are a man."

"You're as human as I am," Kennon said abruptly.

"That is what you say," Copper replied. "I am not so sure. I need more proof than this." She waved her hand at the ship.

"What proof do you need?"

"The same as the proof you men require. If I should have your child, then I would believe that I was human."

"I've told you a thousand times that the radiation on this ship must have affected Ulf and Lyssa's germ plasm. Can't you understand that?"

"I can understand it all right, but it does not change things. Ulf and Lyssa may have been human before they came here, but they were not when they landed. They were Lani, and their children were Lani."

"But they were of human stock."

"The law that lets men become our masters does not agree with you."

"Then the law is wrong. It should be changed."

Copper shrugged. "Two people cannot change a law."

"They can try-particularly if the law is unjust."

Copper sighed. "Is it not enough for us to love? Must you try to run through a wall?"

"When the wall stands in the way of right and justice I must."

Copper looked at him with pity in her green eyes. "This I do not understand. I know nothing of right and justice. What are these things? Just words. Yet you will endanger our happiness for them. If it is my happiness you wish-then leave this foolishness alone. I have fifteen years I can live with you before I am old and you tire of me. With those years I can be content."

"But I can't," Kennon said. "Call me selfish if you wish, but I want you with me as long as I live. I don't want to live my life without you."

"You want too much," Copper said softly. "But if it makes you happy to try to get it, I shall help. And if we do not succeed you will at least be happier for trying. And if you are happy"-she shrugged-"then the rest makes little difference."

That was the crux of the matter, Kennon reflected bitterly. He was convinced she was human. She was not. And until her mind could be changed on that point she would help him but her heart wouldn't be in it. And the only thing that would convince her that she was human would be a child-a child of his begetting. He could perhaps trick her with an artificial insemination of Lani sperm. There were drugs that could suspend consciousness, hypnotics that would make her believe anything she was told while under their influence.

But in the end it would do no good. All witnesses in Brotherhood court actions were examined under psychoprobe, and a hypnotic was of no value against a lie detector that could extract the deepest buried truth. And he would be examined too. The truth would out-and nothing would be gained. In fact-everything would be lost. The attempt at trickery would prejudice any court against the honest evidence they had so painfully collected.

He sighed. The only thing to do was to go on as they were-and hope that the evidence would hold. With Betan legal talent at their back it might. And, of course, they could try to produce a child as nature had intended. They could try-but Kennon knew it would not succeed. It never had.

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