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   Chapter 18 18

The Lani People By Jesse F. Bone Characters: 25015

Updated: 2017-11-28 00:07


"I'm frightened," Copper said, twisting uncomfortably in the shock chair beside Kennon's.

"After you have been so brave?" Kennon asked. "That's nonsense. It's just nervous reaction. Now web in like I showed you. It's time for blast-off. We don't dare wait much longer."

"All right-but I have a feeling that this isn't right. Something is going to go wrong."

"I hope you don't have precognition." Kennon smiled. "I've checked everything. The ship is as good as she'll ever be. There's nothing more that we can do."

"There's one consolation," Copper said wanly. "At we'll die together."

"There's a better chance that we'll live together."

"I hope so."

"Ready?" Kennon asked.

She nodded.

He flipped the switches that would send the fuel rods into the reactor. Below them a soft, barely audible whine ascended the sonic scale to a point of irritating inaudibility. Kennon smiled. The spindizzy was functioning properly. He flipped a second bank of switches and a dull roar came from the buried stem. Ashes and pumice heated to incandescence were blown through the air. Molten drops of radioactive lava skittered across the durilium hull as Kennon advanced the power. The whole stem of the ship was immersed in a seething lake of bolling rock as the Egg lifted slowly with ponderous dignity into the night sky.

"Hang on!" Kennon said. "I'm going to hyper." His hand moved a red lever and the Egg shimmered and vanished with a peculiar wrenching motion into an impossible direction that the mind could not grasp. And the interceptor missile from Otpen One nosed through the space the Egg had occupied.

* * *

"We made it!" Kennon said, looking across the writhing semifluid control board, shifting oddly in the harsh yellow monochromatic light that pervaded the cabin. The screens were leaking like sieves, but they were holding well enough to keep Cth yellow from being anything more than an annoyance. He glanced over at Copper, a fantastically elongated Copper who looked like a madman's dream of chaos.

And Copper screamed! The sound echoed and re-echoed, dying away with a lingering discordant reverberation that made his skin tingle.

"Copper! It's all right! It's all right! Stop it!"

Copper screamed again and her elongated figure suddenly foreshortened and collapsed into a small writhing ball from which two small pink hands emerged clutching at a gelid mass of air that flowed sluggishly around them.

And Kennon knew what he had forgotten! Hyperspace with leaky screens was nothing to inflict upon an unprepared mind. It is one thing to endure partial exposure after months of training, with experienced medics standing by to help you through the shock phase, but quite another to be thrust from a safe and sheltered existence into the mind shattering distortions of the Cth continuum.

The Egg was old. Her screens, never good at best, were hardly more than filters. Through the hull, through the drive lattice, the viciously distorted Cth environment seeped into the ship turning prosaic shapes of controls and instruments into writhing masses of obscene horror that sent extensions wiggling off into nothingness at eye-aching angles. A spaceman could take this-knowing it wasn't real-but a tyro could not.

Copper collapsed. Her mind, assaulted by sensations no untrained person should experience, went into shock. But she wasn't granted the mercy of unconsciousness. Terrified by a pseudo reality that surpassed her wildest nightmares, she stared wide-eyed at the control room and the thing that had been Kennon. She screamed until her throat was raw, until the monster beside her touched her with Kennon's hands. Then, mercifully, she felt a stinging in her arm and all sensation ceased.

Kennon stared glumly at the controls. Fleming alone knew how many objective years were passing outside as they hurtled through four-space. Subjectively it would only be hours aboard the Egg, but a decade-or maybe a century-might pass outside this mad universe where neither time nor speed had meaning. The old ships didn't have temporal compensators, nor could they travel through upper bands of Cth where subjective and objective time were more nearly equal. They were trapped in a semi-stasis of time as the ship fled on through the distorted monochromatic regions that bypassed normal space.

The Egg slipped smoothly out of the hyper jump, back into the normal universe. Beta floated above them, the blue shield of her atmosphere shining softly in the light of Beta's sun.

"Couldn't hit it that good again in a hundred tries," Kennon gloated. "Halfway across the galaxy-and right on the nose." He looked at the shock chair beside him. Copper was curled into a tight ball inside the confining safety web, knees drawn up, back bent, head down-arms wrapped protectingly around her legs-the fetal position of catatonic shock.

He shook her shoulder-no response. Her pulse was thready and irregular. Her breathing was shallow. Her lips were blue. Her condition was obvious-space shock-extreme grade. She'd need medical attention if she was going to live. And she'd need it fast!

"Just why, you educated nitwit," he snarled at himself, "didn't you have sense enough to give her that injection of Sonmol before we hypered! You haven't the sense of a decerebrate Capellan grackle!"

He turned on the radio. "Emergency!" he said. "Any station! Space-shock case aboard. Extreme urgency."

"Identify yourself-give your license. Over."

"What port are you?"

"Hunterstown-will you please identify? Over."

"Your co-ordinates," Kennon snapped. "Over."

"280.45-67.29 plus. Repeat-request your identification."

"Pilot Kennon, Jac, Beta 47M 26429. I have no I.D. for the ship-and you'll see why when I land. Over."

"Hunterstown Port to Kennon. You are not-repeat not-cleared to land. Go into orbit and report your position. Over."

"Sorry, Hunterstown. You wouldn't have checked in if you didn't have room, and a hospital. This is an emergency. I'm setting down. Out."

"But-" The words got no farther. Kennon was already spinning the ship.

"All right-we have you on the scope. But this is a class one violation. You may come in on Landing Beam One."

"Sorry. I have no GCA."

"What?-what sort of ship are you flying?" The voice was curious.

"I'm matching intrinsics over your port. Talk me in when I break through the overcast."

"Talk you in?"

"That's right. My instruments are obsolete."

"Great Halstead! What else?"

"I have an Ion drive. Plus two radioactive."

"Oh no!-And you still want to come in?"

"I have to. My passenger's in shock. She's going to have a baby."

"All right-I'll try to get you down in one piece."

"Have an ambulance ready," Kennon said.

Kennon lowered the Egg through the overcast. Ground control picked him up smoothly and took him down as though it had been rehearsed. The Egg touched down in the radioactive area of the port. Decontamination jets hissed, sluicing the ship to remove surface contamination.

"Ochsner! what sort of a ship is that?" Ground Control's startled voice came over the annunciator.

"It's an old one," Kennon said.

"That's a gross understatement. Stand by for boarders. Ambulance coming up."

Kennon opened the airlock and two radiation-suited men entered. "At least you had sense enough to wear protective clothing in this hotbox," one said as they carefully unwebbed Copper and carried her out of the lock. "You wait here. The Port Captain wants to see you."

"Where are you taking her? What Center?" Kennon asked.

"What should you care? You've nearly killed her. The idea of taking a pregnant woman up in this death trap! What in Fleming's name's the matter with your brain?"

"I had to," Kennon said. "I had to. It was a matter of life and death." For once, he thought wryly, the cliche was true.

The Betan's face behind the transparent helmet was disgusted and unbelieving. "I hear that sort of thing every day," he said. "Am I supposed to believe it?"

"You'd believe it if you'd have been where I was," Kennon muttered. "Now-whe're are you taking her?" he demanded.

The man arched blond eyebrows. "To the local Medical Center-where else? There's only one in this area."

"Thanks," Kennon said.

He watched the ambulance flit off as he waited for the Spaceport Patrol. There was no further need for the protection suit, so he peeled it off and hung it in the control-room locker. Copper was right, he mused. It did itch.

The Port Captain's men were late as usual-moving gingerly through the radiation area. A noncom gestured for him to enter their carryall. "Port Captain wants to see you," he said.

"I know," Kennon replied.

"You should have waited upstairs."

"I couldn't. It was a matter of medicine," Kennon said.

The noncom's face sobered. "Why didn't you say so? All you said was that it was an emergency."

"I've been away. I forgot."

"You shouldn't have done that. You're a Betan, aren't you?"

Kennon nodded.

They drove to the Port Office, where Kennon expected-and got-a bad time from the port officials. He filled out numerous forms, signed affidavits, explained his unauthorized landing, showed his spaceman's ticket, defended his act of piloting without an up-to-date license, signed more forms, entered a claim for salvage rights to the Egg, and finally when the Legal Division, the Traffic Control Division, the Spaceport Safety Office, Customs, Immigration, and Travelers Aid had finished with him, he was ushered into the presence of the Port Captain.

The red-faced chunky officer eyed him with a cold stare. "You'll be lucky, young man, if you get out of this with a year in Correction. Your story doesn't hang together."

It didn't, Kennon thought. But there was no sense telling all of it to a Port Captain. Under no circumstances could the man be any help to him. He had neither the power nor the prestige to request a Brotherhood Board of Inquiry. In rank, he was hardly more than a glorified Traffic Control officer. It would do no good to tell him an improbable tale of slavery on a distant planet. The only thing to do was wait out the storm and hope it would pass. If worst came to worst he'd use his rank, but he'd made enough stir already. He doubted if the Captain had authority to order him into Detention-but he was certain to get a lecture. These minor officials loved to tell someone off. He gritted his teeth. He'd endure it for Copper's sake-and to get out of here quietly. Alexander would undoubtedly have agents posted by now, and his only chance for temporary freedom of action was to get out of here with as little fuss as possible.

He sat quietly, his flushed face and tight jaw muscles betraying his impatience as the Captain paced up and down and talked on and on. The man sounded like he could go for hours. With increasing impatience Kennon listened to the cadenced flow of complaint and condemnation, occasionally inserting a "Yes, sir" or "Sorry, sir" or "No, sir" as the words flowed around him.

However, there had to be a breaking point somewhere, and the monotony was beginning to wear his temper thin. Another five minutes, he reflected, was about all he could take.

The door chime rang softly.

"Come in," the Port Captain said, breaking off in mid-tirade. The change in his manner was so abrupt that Kennon couldn't help smiling.

A young blond man in an interne's gray uniform entered the room.

"Yes, Doctor," the Port Captain said. "What can I do for you?"

"Do you have a Jac Kennon here? Dr. Jac Kennon?"

"Did you say doctor?" the Port Captain said in a half-strangled voice.

"You never let me tell you," Kennon said mildly, "that my landing here was a matter of medicine. Technically you have contributed to a delay in treatment."

The Port Captain's face paled. "Why didn't you say something?" he said.

"Against your gale of wind I would be but a faint breeze," Kennon said coldly. He turned to the interne. "I'm Dr. Kennon." They bowed formally to each other.

"I'm Smalley, sir, from the medical center. Dr. Brainard sends his compliments and requests that you join him for consultation."

"The Port Captain-" Kennon began.

"Don't worry about it, Doctor. I'll relinquish responsibility to Dr. Brainard," the Captain said.

"I have placed a formal written request with your office," Smalley said stiffly. "You are relieved of further charge. Dr. Kennon is urgently needed. It is a matter

of medicine."

The Captain looked relieved. On Beta it was poor policy to interfere with the doings of doctors and engineers-or even doctors of philosophy.

"Very well. He's yours-and I'm glad to be rid of him." The Port Captain bowed to Kennon and Smalley and stalked out of the office.

"Pompous little man," Kennon observed, "but he certainly can talk."

"Oh-you know these Administrative people," the interne said depreciatingly. "One mustn't mind them. They're necessary nuisances." He eyed Kennon curiously. "How is it that you didn't stand on your professional rights?"

"I have my reasons-but they have nothing to do with medicine."

"Oh-I see. Ethical." The interne's voice was faintly sarcastic.

"Manners, Doctor-manners." Kennon's voice was gentle but the interne flushed a dull red.

"Sorry, sir."

"Don't mention it. It's normal for a graduate to confuse liberty with license." Kennon smiled. "Don't worry. I shan't report you."

"That's good of you, sir." Smalley's face registered relief. Demerits were difficult to erase-particularly ones of courtesy.

Kennon wondered if the young man would report himself. He doubted it. The interne didn't look the type-probably he was dated for some obscure job, like a general practitioner. He shrugged. It took all kinds to make a profession. Even the Smalleys had their place.

"That girl you brought in," Smalley said as they entered a white car emblazoned with the three crosses, red, blue, and green, that represented the three fields of medicine. "She's an interesting case. I've never seen space shock before. And the patient herself-one would hardly believe she was a Betan."

"She isn't," Kennon said.

"So?" Blond eyebrows rose in inverted U's of surprise. "But that's hardly possible. Our tests indicate-"

"Don't you think that this is a matter for Dr. Brainard?" Kennon said icily. "Protocol-"

"Of course. Stupid of me-but the case is so interesting. Half the center staff have seen her already. I wasn't proposing to discuss the case. It wouldn't be proper. Even though you are only a veterinarian."

"Only?" Kennon's voice was hard. "I shouldn't have to remind you of this, Mr. Smalley-but I have been for the past two years on a world of bad manners. I expected better here at home."

Smalley flushed to the roots of his straw-colored hair. "Sorry, Doctor," he muttered. "I don't know what's the matter with me."

"I can tell you," Kennon said. "You've just graduated."

"How did you know?" Smalley said.

"I was a graduate once, myself-not too long ago."

"How long, sir?"

"Class of Eighty-seven."

"That's twelve years ago," Smalley said.

Kennon nodded. Ten years lost. Not bad-not bad at all. But Alexander could have done a lot in ten years.

"I meant no disrespect," Smalley said worriedly.

"I know it. But if you intend to practice on Beta, you'd better polish your professional manner. Now where I was, it didn't make much difference. Laymen often called me 'Doc.'"

Smalley was properly shocked. "I hope you didn't encourage them, sir."

"It was impossible to discourage them," Kennon said. "After all, when the man who hires you-"

"Oh-entrepreneurs," Smalley said in a tone that explained everything.

* * *

The car stopped in front of the Medical Center's staff entrance. "This way, sir," Smalley said. He led the way down a green-tiled corridor to an elevator-then down another corridor past a pair of soft-footed nurses who eyed them curiously-looking at Kennon's tunic and sandals with mild disapproval in their eyes. Smalley stopped and knocked softly on a closed door.

"Enter," said a pleasant baritone voice from the annunciator.

"Dr. Brainard-Dr. Kennon," Smalley said.

Kennon liked the man instantly. A plump, pink-cheeked man of middle age, with prematurely white hair, Dr. Will Brainard combined a fatherly appearance with an impression of quick intelligence. The fat that sheathed his stocky body had obviously not touched his mind. Brainard rose from the deep chair near the window where he had been sitting, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and bowed stiffly. His eyes-sharp points of blue in the smooth pinkness of his face-surveyed Kennon curiously.

"So you're the young man who takes untrained pregnant women for rides in old-fashioned spacers," he said. "Didn't you know what would happen?"

"I was in a hurry, Doctor," Kennon said.

"Obviously. Now tell me about it." Brainard looked at the eager-faced interne standing behind Kennon. "That will be all, Smalley," he said.

Kennon waited until the door closed. "Ordinarily," he said, "I'd never have done a thing like that, but there were some very pressing reasons. However, I should have given her an injection of Somnol before we started. I'm criminally liable. If anything happens to her-" His voice was tight with worry.

"You'd give her an injection?" Brainard said. "I hope you didn't mean that."

"But I did, sir. I've given thousands of Lani injections."

"What's a Lani?"

"She is, sir. The impression has been that her race isn't human."

"Nonsense-it's obvious she is."

"A Brotherhood Court of Inquiry didn't think so."

"Hmm. Is that so?"

"Yes, sir.-But before I go on, tell me, how is she?"

"Oh, she'll be fine. A little mental therapy and plenty of rest are all she needs. She's a remarkably healthy young woman. But this is beside the point. There are a number of unusual features about this case that need investigation." Brainard took a standard hospital form from his desk. "Mind if I ask you some questions, Doctor?"

"Not at all but you are due for some unpleasant shocks as you go through that form."

"I believe I can survive them," Brainard said dryly.

"This is professional confidence-" Kennon began.

"Of course, of course," Brainard said impatiently. "Now let's get on with it."

* * *

"This is the most amazing tale I've ever heard," Brainard said slowly. "Are you certain you are telling the truth?"

Kennon grinned. "I don't blame you for not believing me-but the evidence is conclusive, and there is enough documentary evidence in the space ship-and in the fact of the ship itself to prove what I am saying. Laboratory tests here will establish the fact that Copper's child is also mine. And as for Flora, a Brotherhood Investigation Team can prove that part."

"That will be attended to," Brainard said grimly.

"But how did you deduce she wasn't from a Betan colony?" Kennon asked.

Brainard smiled. "That wasn't hard. Her sun tan and the condition of her feet proved she was a practicing nudist. No Betan girl ever practices nudism to my knowledge. Besides, the I.D. tattoo under her left arm and the V on her hip are no marks of our culture. Then there was another thing-the serological analysis revealed no gerontal antibodies. She had never received an injection of longevity compound in her life. This might occur, but it's highly improbable. The evidence indicates that she's extra-Betan."

Kennon nodded.

"But this business of her being fifteen years old! That's impossible. She has the development of a woman of twenty-five."

"Remember the Alpha V colony?" Kennon said.

"Of course-oh-I see! It could be something like that. Certainly-strong yellow G-type sun-an isolated colony serviced at twenty-year intervals-there was a marked physical precocity."

"And if this had been continued for several millennia?" Kennon asked.

"Hmm-I see. Yes, it's possible. On Alpha V the colonists grew from infancy to maturity in fifteen years."

"And wasn't Heaven one of our early colonies?"

"Yes-it was established after the Great Schism near the end of the First Millennium-when science and religion split irrevocably on this world. We packed the whole lot of them off to a world of their own where they could develop as they pleased. They called it Heaven-odd name for a fogworld-but there's no accounting for tastes." Brainard chuckled.

"I thought that was the case, but I couldn't remember. My ancient history is pretty weak."

"You should read more," Brainard said. "But as I see it-this girl is of Betan ancestry providing your theory and the facts coincide."

"Which could also explain why an outworld species of agerone would be toxic. They tried to prolong Lani life and met with failure. Our plants are mutant forms."

"Just as we are a mutant race," Brainard said, "or partly mutant." He sighed. "You have brought us a great deal of trouble, Kennon. You are bringing matters to a head. If our investigations prove your statements, we are morally bound to open the Lani question. And if those people are of Betan origin-that fellow Alexander will have plenty to answer for."

"I don't believe it is really his fault," Kennon said slowly. "I don't think he has ever known the truth."

"Why didn't you tell him?"

"The answer to that should be obvious. Even though I trusted him completely, I could never be sure. He has a Free Trader background and those people can't he trusted where money's concerned. The whole Kardonian culture is an outgrowth of Free Traderism: small business, independent corporation, linear trusts, and all the cutthroat competition such a culture would naturally have. It's a regular jungle of Free Enterprise. I couldn't predict how he would react. He could either act in a moral manner and make restitution, or he could quietly cut our throats and go on with his business."

"I see. The temptation to cut a throat might be overwhelming."

"They fight commercial wars," Kennon said.

"Disgusting-utterly uncivilized! Under the circumstances you had no other course. Still, they have no moral right to enslave human beings."

"There is always the element of doubt. Maybe they didn't know. After all, an impartial court declared the Lani alien-and the Betan mutation isn't known throughout the Brotherhood."

"One doesn't go around broadcasting data on the variations of one's germ plasm," Brainard said. "That's a private affair-a matter of personal privacy."

"And public safety?"

Brainard nodded. "We're no more courageous than any other civilization. We have no desire to borrow trouble. We are content to leave things alone."

"That's the trouble," Kennon said. "We're all content to leave things alone. If I hadn't found the spaceship I'd not have been able to lay aside my moral conditioning. And if I had not, Copper would not have become pregnant and forced me into these drastic actions. It's even possible that I would have done nothing." He grimaced. "And when I left Alexander's employment mnemonic erasure would have removed all memory of the Lani's human origin." He shrugged. "I still am not certain that it wouldn't have been the wiser course. Naturally, once I knew, I couldn't do anything else than what I did."

"Naturally," Brainard said. "Humanity reaches the heights when it faces questions of moral responsibility."

"To mankind," Kennon added heavily. "We have a convenient blind spot regarding our moral responsibility to other intelligent races."

"A harsh fact, but true-and who is to judge whether it is right or wrong? We achieved dominance of Earth by our moral responsibility to family, tribe, and nation-and we nearly exterminated ourselves when we forgot that this responsibility went beyond nations and embraced all mankind. We learned that after the Exodus. As for the other races-perhaps someday we will learn moral responsibility for all intelligence-but we are not ready for that yet. That's too big a mental hurdle." Brainard sighed. "We are what we are, and we change slowly. But we change."

"True enough," Kennon said. "But it's hard to be philosophical about it."

"You're young. Live a couple of centuries and you will understand patience."

Kennon smiled.

"You know," Brainard said thoughtfully, "you still have plenty of things to do."

"I know. I'll have to make a transcript of this discussion, have it witnessed, and make a sealed record. I have to arrange for the reposition of the evidence inside the Egg, and a complete recording of the Egg itself."

"And to be safe you'll need several facsimiles, properly attested. The arms of these outworld entrepreneurs are long, and unfortunately not all Betans are models of honesty."

"I'd better get started then."

"Let me help you," Brainard said. "I have a little influence in this area-and your cause interests me." He picked up the phone on his desk.

Kennon sighed. He had found an ally.

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