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   Chapter 17 17

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 18319

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


It was the last trip. Kennon loaded the jeep with the last-minute items he would need. The four reactor cores in their lead cases went aboard last and were packed inside a pile of lead-block shielding.

He helped Copper in and looked back without regret as the bulk of Olympus Station vanished below him in the dusk. The last of the work crew had left that afternoon. The station was ready for occupancy. His assignment had been completed. He felt an odd pleasure at having finished the job. Alexander might not be happy about his subsequent actions, but he could have no complaint about what he did while he was here.

"Well-say good-bye to Flora," he said to Copper.

"I don't want to," she said. "I don't want to leave."

"You can't stay. You know that."

She nodded. "But that doesn't make me any less regretful."

"Regretful?"

"All right-scared. We're going to try to make the God-Egg fly again. Not only is it sacrilege, but as you've often said, it's dangerous. I have no desire to die."

"You have two courses-"

"I know-you've pointed them out often enough," Copper said. "And since you decided to go I'd go with you even though I knew the Egg would blow up."

"You're quite a girl," Kennon said admiringly. "Did I ever tell you that I love you?"

"Not nearly often enough," Copper said. "You could do it every day and I'd never get tired of hearing it."

The jeep settled over the lava wall. "We'll leave it in the passageway when we're through," Kennon said. "Maybe it will survive blast-off."

"Why worry about it?" Copper asked.

"I hate destroying anything needlessly," Kennon said.

"And since we have plenty of time, we might as well be neat about our departure."

He was wrong, of course, but he didn't know that.

* * *

Douglas Alexander checked the radarscope and whistled in surprise at the picture it revealed. "So that's where he's going," he said softly to himself. "Cousin Alex was right as usual." He grimaced unpleasantly. "He's up to something-that's for sure." His face twisted into an expression that was half sneer, half triumph. "This is going to be fun." He moved the control, and his airboat, hovering silently at five thousand meters, dropped toward the ground in free fall as Douglas loosened the Burkholtz in the holster at his waist. "But what is he doing?" he muttered. The question hung unanswered in the still air of the cabin as the airboat dropped downward.

Douglas hadn't been impressed with Blalok's attempt at a delaying action. Normally he might have been, but his fear of his cousin was greater than his respect for Blalok. The superintendent had only succeeded in accomplishing something he had not intended when he had tried to dissuade Douglas from visiting Kennon. He had made Douglas cautious. The airboat and long-range surveillance had been the result. For the past two nights Douglas had hung over Olympus Station, checking the place-to leave at dawn when the new day's work began. For two nights Kennon had been lucky. He had departed for the Egg shortly before Douglas took up his station, and had returned after the watcher had called it a night and had returned home. But this last night, Kennon left late-and his departure was noted.

"Wonder who's the girl with him?" Douglas said as the boat plunged down. "Well, I'll be finding out in a minute."

Kennon's head jerked upward at the sound of air whistling past the airboat's hull, and a wave of icy coldness swept through his chest. There was no question that he was discovered. His shoulders sagged.

"Well-it was a good try," he said bitterly as Copper looked at him with sudden terror on her face.

"I don't want to die," she wailed.

"You won't-not if I can help it," Kennon said. "Move away from me-quickly!"

"But-"

"Do as I say!" Kennon's voice was sharp. "And keep that hood over your face."

The airboat settled softly on the ash in front of him, the door snapped open and Douglas dropped to the ground, Burkholtz jutting from his pudgy fist.

"My, my," Douglas said, "what have we here? Dr. Kennon and a woman! I thought better of you than that, Doctor. And all dressed up in antiradiation suits. This is interesting. Just what are you doing up here on the mountain so late at night-prospecting?"

"You might call it that," Kennon said. His body sagged with relief. Douglas thank Ochsner it was Douglas! He was running true to form-talking when he should have been shooting.

Douglas jerked his head toward Copper, standing a few feet to his left. "Who is she?"

"None of your business," Kennon snapped, hoping that his outburst covered Copper's gasp of surprise and fear, and knowing that it didn't.

"I'm making it my business. There's something funny going on around here."

Kennon blinked. Could it be that Douglas didn't know? Had he been watching them on radar? Durilium was radar-transparent. It absorbed and dissipated electromagnetic waves rather than reflecting them. For a second he felt a tiny surge of hope.

"Stand where you are," Douglas said as he stepped over to the half-paralyzed Copper and jerked the hood back from her face. For a moment he looked puzzled. "Just who are you?" he demanded. "I don't recall seeing you before." And then recognition dawned. "Old Doc's Lani!" he gasped.

"She works for me now," Kennon said.

Douglas laughed. It wasn't a nice sound. "All dressed up?" he asked. "Nice work."

"That's my fault," Kennon said.

"You know the rules," Douglas said. "I could blast you both."

"Go ahead," Kennon said, "but if you do, you'll never find out what we're doing up here."

Douglas hesitated. Kennon's voice was flat and filled with utter conviction.

"There's a reason why Copper's wearing that suit," Kennon continued, "and you won't know that either."

The Burkholtz swiveled around to point at Kennon's belly. "I've had about enough of this. Let's have it. Tell me what you're doing here!"

"I'll do better than that," Kennon said promptly. "I'll show you. You'll be surprised at what we've uncovered." He made his muscles relax, and forced himself to speak naturally. Copper, he noted, was still rigid with terror. The Alexanders-any of them-were everything he had said they were. They were the masters here. And despite Copper's boast, she was as susceptible to their influence as any other Lani.

"All right," Douglas said, "show me this thing I'd never be able to find without your help." He half turned to Copper. "Stay where you are, Lani," he said. "Don't move until I come back."

"Yes, Man Douglas," Copper replied. Her voice was flat, colorless, and submissive.

Kennon shuddered. He had never heard precisely that tone from her before. One word from Douglas and she had become a zombie-a mindless muscle preparation that existed only to obey. Anger filled him-anger that one he loved could be ordered by someone who wasn't worth a third of her-anger that she obeyed-anger at his own impotence and frustration. It wasn't a clean anger. It was a dark, red-splashed thing that struggled and writhed inside him, a fierce unreasoning rage that seethed and bubbled yet could not break free. For an instant, with blinding clarity, Kennon understood the feelings of the caged male Lani on Otpen One. And he sympathized.

"Follow me," he said and started around the ship.

"Stay-no-go ahead," Douglas said, "but remember, I'm right behind you."

Kennon walked straight up to the pit and pointed down at the dark bulk of the Egg., concealed in the shadows of the bottom.

"That's it," he said.

"What? I don't see anything," Douglas said suspiciously.

"Here-I'll shine a light." Kennon reached for his belt.

"No you don't! I know that trick. You're not going to blind me. Take that torch loose carefully-that's it-now hand it to me." Douglas' hand closed over the smooth plastic. Cautiously he turned on the beam and directed it downward.

"A spacer!" he gasped. "How did that get here?" He leaned forward to look into the pit as a dark shadow materialized behind him.

Kennon choked back the involuntary cry of warning that rose in his throat. Copper! His muscles tensed as her arm came up and down-a shadow almost invisible in the starlight. The leaning figure of Douglas collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been suddenly released. The torch dropped from his hand and went bouncing and winking down the wall of the pit, followed by Douglas-a limp bundle of arms and legs that rotated grotesquely as he disappeared down the slope. Starlight gleamed on the Burkholtz lying on the lip of the crater, where it had fallen from his hand.

"I told you that not even Man Alexander could order me since I gave my love to you," Copper said smugly as she peered over the edge of the pit, a chunk of lava gripped in one small capable hand. "Maybe this proves it."

"Douglas isn't Alexander," Kennon said slowly as he picked up the blaster, "but I believe you."

"Didn't I act convincingly?" she said brightly.

"Very," he said. "You fooled me completely."

"The important thing was that I fooled Douglas."

"You did that all right. Now let's get him out of that pit."

"Why?"

"The jet blast will fry him when we take off."

"What difference would that make?"

"I told you," Kennon said, "that I never destroy things unnecessarily-not even things like Douglas."

"But he would have destroyed you."

"That's no excuse for murder. Now go back to the jeep and fetch a rope. I'll go down and get him out."

"Do we have to bother with him?" Copper asked, and then shrugged. It was an eloquent gesture expressing disgust, resignation, and unwilling compliance in one lift of smoothly muscled shoulders.

"There's no question about it," Kennon said. "You're becoming more human every day."

He chuckled as he slid over the edge of the pit following the path Douglas had taken a moment before. He found him sitting on a pile of ashes, shaking his head.

"What happened?" Douglas asked querulously. There was fear in his voice.

"Copper hit you on the head with a rock," Kennon said as he bent over and retrieved the torch, still burning near Douglas' feet.

"The Lani?" Douglas' voice was incredulous.

"Not a Lani," Kennon corrected. "She's as human as you or I."

"That's a lie," Douglas said.

"Maybe this spacer's a lie too. Her ancestors came in it-a pair of humans named Alfred and Melissa Weygand. They were Christian missionaries from a planet called Heaven out in Ophiuchus Sector. Went out to convert aliens and landed here when their fuel ran out." Kennon paused. "That was about four millennia ago. Their descendants, naturally, reverted to barbarism in a few generations, but there's enough evidence in the ship to prove that the Lani were their children."

"But the tails-the differences-the failure of the test," Douglas said.

"Mutation," Kennon replied. "Those old spindizzy converters weren't too choosy about how they scattered radiation. And they had come a long way." He paused, looking down at Douglas, feeling a twinge of pity for the man. His world was crumbling. "And there was no other human blood available to filter out their peculiarities. It might have been done during the first couple of generations, but constant inbreeding fixed the genetic pattern."

"How did you discover this?" Douglas asked.

"Accident," Kennon said briefly.

"You'll never be able to prove they're human!" Douglas said.

"The ship's log will do that."

"Not without a humanity test-they can't pass that."

"Sorry to disappoint you. Your grandfather used the wrong sort of sperm. Now if there had been a Betan in the crew-"

"You mean she's pregnant!"

Kennon nodded. "There's been mutation on Beta," he said. "And it's apparently a similar one to hers. Betan-Lani matings are fertile."

Douglas's shoulders sagged, and then straightened. "I don't believe it," he said. "You're just a damned sneaking spy. Somehow or other you got a spacer in here after you wormed your way into Cousin Alex's confidence-and now you're going to space out with the nucleus of a new farm. Just wait. When Alex learns of this the galaxy'll be too small to hold you."

"Don't babble like a fool!" Kennon said with disgust. "How could I land a spacer here without being spotted? You sound like a two-credit novel. And even if I did-would it be a can like this?" Kennon played the torch over the blue-black durilium protruding from the ashes.

Douglas' eyes widened as he took in the details of construction. "What an antique!" he blurted. "Where did you get this can?"

"I found it here."

"Tell me another one."

"You won't believe," Kennon said flatly, "because you don't dare believe. You have a mental block. You've killed, maimed, tortured- treated them like animals-and now your mind shrinks from admitting they're human. You know what will happen if the old court decision is reversed. It will wreck your little empire, dry up your money, break you-and you can't stand the thought of that. You don't dare let us leave, yet you can't stop us because I have your blaster and I'd just as soon shoot you as look at your rotten face. Now get on your feet and start climbing if you want to stay alive. We're getting out of here, and you'll fry inside this pit."

"Where are you taking me?"

"Back to your airboat. I'm going to tie you up and set you off on autopilot. You'll be able to get loose quickly enough but it'll be too late to stop us. We'll be gone, and you can think of how you'll manage to face the human race."

"I hope you blow yourself and that antique clear out of space."

"We might. But you'll never know for sure. But mark this-if I live I'll be back with the Brotherhood. You can count on it."

They struggled up the side of the pit and halted, panting, on the rim. "How much radiation was down there?" Douglas asked worriedly.

"Not enough to hurt you."

"That's good." Douglas accepted the statement at face value, a fact which failed to surprise Kennon. "You know," he said, "I've been around Lani all my life. And I know that they're not human. No self-respecting human would take a tenth of what they put up with."

"Their ancestors didn't," Kennon said. "They fought to the end. But your Grandfather was a smart man even though he was a Degrader."

"He wasn't!" Douglas exploded. "No Alexander is a Degrader."

"He realized," Kennon went on, "that he'd never succeed in enslaving the Lani unless he separated the sexes. And since women are more subjective in their outlook-and more pliable-he picked them for his slaves. The males he retired to stud. Probably the fact that there were more women than men helped him make up his mind.

"In every society," Kennon went on inexorably, "there are potential freeman and potential slaves. The latter invariably outnumber the former. They're cowards: the timid, the unsacrificing-the ones that want peace at any price-the ones who will trade freedom for security. Those were the ones who hid rather than risk their lives fighting the aggressor. Those were the ones who survived. Old Alexander had a ready-made slave cadre when he finished off the last of the warriors. For four centuries the survivors have been bred and selected to perpetuate slave traits. And the system works. The men don't want freedom-they want liberty to kill each other. The women don't want freedom-they want males. And they'd serve them precisely as the Sarkian women serve their menfolk. You've killed any chance they had to become a civilization. It's going to take generations perhaps before they're reoriented. There's plenty you Alexanders should answer for."

"If there's any fault, it's yours," Douglas snarled. "We were doing all right until you came here. We'd still be doing all right if I had shot you both." His shoulders sagged. "I should have killed you when I had the chance," he said bitterly.

"But you didn't," Kennon said, "and to show my gratitude I'm letting you get away with a whole skin. I don't expect you to be grateful, but at least you'll not be on my conscience. I don't enjoy killing, not even things like you."

Douglas sneered. "You're soft-a soft sentimental fool."

"Admitted," Kennon said, "but that's my nature."

"Yet you'd destroy the family, wreck Outworld Enterprises, and throw a whole world into chaos over a few thousand animals. I don't understand you."

"They're human," Kennon said flatly.

"Admitting they might once have been, they're not now."

"And whose fault is that?"

"Not ours," Douglas said promptly. "If there is any fault it's that of the court who decided they were humanoid."

"You didn't help any."

"Why should we? Does one treat a shrake like a brother?-or a varl?-or a dog? We treat them like the animals they are. And we've done no worse with the Lani. Our consciences are clear."

Kennon laughed humorlessly. "Yet this clear conscience makes you want to kill me, so you can keep on treating them as animals-even though you know they're human."

"I know nothing of the sort. But you're right about the killing, I'd kill you cheerfully if I had the chance. It's our necks if you get away with this. Of course, you probably won't, but why take the chance. I like my neck more than I like yours."

"You're honest at any rate," Kennon admitted. "And in a way I don't blame you. To you it's probably better to be a rich slaver living off the legacy of a Degrader than a penniless humanitarian. But you've lost your chance."

Douglas screamed with rage. He whirled on Kennon, his face a distorted mask of hate.

"Hold it!" Kennon barked. "I don't want to kill you, but I'll burn a hole clear through your rotten carcass if you make another move. I have no love for your kind."

Douglas spat contemptuously. "You haven't got the guts," he snarled. But he didn't move.

"Just stand still-very still," Kennon said softly. The iron in his voice was not hidden by the quiet tone.

Douglas shivered. "I'll get you yet," he said, but there was no force in the threat.

"Here's the rope you wanted," Copper said as she emerged abruptly from the darkness. "I had a hard time finding it."

"You haven't been too long," Kennon said. "Now tie Douglas' hands behind him while I keep him covered."

"It's a pleasure," Copper murmured.

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