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The Lani People by J. F. Bone

Part 5 out of 5

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"Which makes me -- what? A murderer? A slaver? A tyrant?"
Alexander clutched his head with lean-fingered hands. "What am

"An innocent victim of circumstances," Kennon said. "You didn't
know. None of us knew. And we still wouldn't know if the Lani
weren't of Betan extraction." He grimaced painfully. "I've done
some soul-searching myself, and it hasn't been a pleasant task."

"But it's nothing like mine," Alexander said in a low voice. "I
suspected they were human when I was younger, but I denied my
suspicions and accepted false facts instead of investigating."

"You would have found nothing."

"Unfortunately, that's not true. We discovered quite a bit from
the experimental station you left us when you disappeared ten
years ago. But we stopped when we found the age that was being
indoctrinated with Lani tabus. We could have gone farther, but I
didn't think it was necessary."

"Didn't Douglas tell you?" Kennon asked curiously. "I told him
when I turned him loose."

"Douglas didn't tell anything except that you had somehow gotten
a spaceship. I assumed it was one of those that were involved in
that commercial raid a few decades ago, but I see it wasn't. No
-- I knew nothing about this development. And Douglas, I guess,
wanted to keep it hidden. He gave your co-ordinates and ordered
Mullins to launch a missile. But he apparently forgot to turn on
his IFF. At any rate the missile lost you -- but found Douglas.
Douglas was still talking to Alexandria when it struck."

"He might have informed you," Kennon said. "If he had more time."

"I doubt it. He ordered the missile first. He was trying to
destroy you before you could destroy Outworld Enterprises.

His motives were selfish as usual." Alexander looked at Kennon
with a haggard eye. "I owe you an apology," he said. "I've
considered you responsible for Douglas's death for ten years.
I've searched for you on a hundred worlds. My agents in every
branch office have had standing orders to report any unusual
arrivals. I have hunted you personally. I wanted to break you --
I wanted to kill you."

"I couldn't help the delay," Kennon said. "The ship was old."

"I know. You've told me more than you think. I'm a telepath, you

"I've never forgotten it," Kennon said. "That was one of the
principal reasons I came here. I wanted to see how you'd react
when you learned the whole truth."

"And I suppose you gloat -- no -- you're not doing that. But you
are right. I could have checked it further. But I didn't.
Outworld Enterprises is far bigger than Flora -- and I was busy.
Galactic trade is a snake-pit. And, after all, there was
Douglas's death -- and the Family with their never-ending clamor
for money and their threats when it didn't come promptly. I like
being an entrepreneur, but until I made Outworld independent of
Family control, I couldn't do anything except run the business to
their wishes. Actually the island was only a small part of the
corporation. I tried to run it as humanely as possible under the
circumstances.'' He shuddered. "I don't think I was ever
needlessly cruel."

"No," Kennon said, "you were indifferent."

"Which is just as bad," Alexander said.

"Well -- what are you going to do about it?" Copper interjected.
"You can beat yourself until you're blue, but that won't
accomplish anything."

"What are you going to do?" Alexander countered. "You have the
upper hand."

"Me?" Copper asked. "I have nothing. This is between you men."
She lapsed into silence.

Alexander turned back to Kennon. "You have undoubtedly made some
arrangements. You wouldn't come here -- oh! I see.
Congratulations. Handling the evidence that way was a wise
course. You have my admiration. But then I should have known that
I was not dealing with a fool." He smiled wryly. "Subconsciously
I think I did know -- but----"

"That's one consolation," Kennon grinned. "To be thought a rascal
is bad enough, but to be considered a fool is intolerable."

"But your decision not to use the evidence unless you were forced
to -- that's poor business."

"But good morals," Kennon said. "Neither the Brotherhood nor I
could settle this affair. It is a matter only you can handle.
There is no sense in killing Outworld or throwing Kardon into
centuries of litigation. The Lani never were numerous enough to
lay claim to an entire world. I'll admit the club is there, but
I'll never use it unless it's necessary."

"Why not? -- it's sound business practice."

"I'm a professional -- not a businessman. And besides, I haven't
the moral right to return evil for good. You have not been a bad

"Thanks," Alexander said glumly. "I've always considered myself

"I wouldn't go so far as to say that," Kennon said. "Honorable,
yes -- civilized, no. But none of us are really civilized."


"We haven't changed much, despite our development. Perhaps we've
varied a little physically -- and we've learned to use new tools,
but our minds are still the minds of barbarians -- blood brothers
against the enemy, and everything not of us is enemy. Savages --
hiding under a thin veneer of superficial culture. Savages with
spaceships and the atom." Kennon looked down at Copper.
Apparently her thoughts were miles away in an introspective world
that was all her own. She had said her piece and having done that
was content to let the two men develop it. Kennon looked at her
with odd respect. Alexander eyed her with a mildly startled
expression on his lean face. And both men smiled, but the smiles
were not amused.

"Judging from Copper," Alexander said, "I don't think we'll have
to worry about how the Lani will turn out." He looked at Kennon
with mild sympathy. "You are going to have quite a time with
her," he said.

"I suppose so. I'll probably never know whether I'm guided or
whether I'm doing the guiding. I've changed a lot of my opinions
about Copper since the day I met her."

Copper looked up and smiled at them. It was an odd smile, hinting
at secrets neither of them would ever know. Alexander chuckled.
"It serves you right." He crossed his legs and looked up at
Kennon standing before him. By some uncanny legerdemain he had
gotten control of himself and the situation at the same time.
Being telepathic was an unfair advantage, Kennon thought.

"You were equally unfair with your accusation," Alexander said.
"Sure -- humanity makes mistakes, and like this one they're
sometimes brutal mistakes. But we are capable of atonement.
Morally we have come a long way from the brutality of the
Interregnum. I shouldn't have to use examples, but look at that"
-- he waved at the view wall at the panorama of gleaming fairy
towers and greenery that made Beta City one of the most beautiful
in the Brotherhood. "Don't tell me that five thousand years of
peace and development haven't produced civilization. That's a
concrete example out there."

"It isn't," Kennon said flatly. "Sure, it's pretty -- clean --
and beautifully designed for art and utility -- but it isn't
civilization. You're confusing technology with culture. You look
at this and say, 'What a great civilization man has built,' when
you really mean, 'What a great technology mankind has developed.'
There's all the difference in the world. Technology is of the
mind and hands. Civilization is of the spirit -- and spiritually
we are still in the Dark Ages.

"We conquer, kill, loot, and enslave. We establish standards to
keep humanity a closed corporation, a special club in which men
can live but aliens can't. We've made the standards for admission
so rigid that we even enslave our own kind and call them animals.
That's not civilization -- that's savagery!

"For nearly five hundred years your family has run a slave pen.
Your fortune is based upon it. And you have perpetuated this
traffic in flesh on the specious reasoning that a court judgment
of half a millennium ago is as good today as when it was handed
down. Never once did anyone have the moral courage to re-examine
that old decision. Never once did any human question the
rightness of that decision. None of us are immune. We all based
our conduct upon an antiquated law and searched no further.
Everyone was happy with the status quo -- or at least not so
unhappy that they wanted to change it. Even I would have been
content had it not been for Copper."

"Yet I do not feel that it was bad that I hired you," Alexander
said. "Even though you have shown me that I am a slaver, and made
me see faults I never knew I had." His face was drawn -- harsh
lines reached from nose to lips, from eyes to chin. Suddenly he
looked old. "I can accept censure if censure is just. And this is
just. No -- I'm not sorry I hired you even though the thought of
what I have helped do to the Lani makes me sick to my stomach."

"Well--" Kennon said. "What are you going to do about it?"

"I don't know," Alexander said. "At the first smell of trouble,
the Family will turn tail and run. You can break the company, and
I won't stand in your way. It's only just. You're the one who's
carrying the ball. Now run with it."

"That damned blind spot," Kennon said. "You realize, of course,
that you're not legally liable. It was a mistake. All you have to
do is admit the error and start from there. Naturally -- no
reasonable intelligence would expect that you change the older
Lani. They're too old for either agerone or change. It would be
both cruel and inhuman to turn them loose. It's with the
youngsters that you can work -- those who are physically and
physiologically young enough to derive benefit from agerone and

"As I remember, you bought a planet called Phoebe. Now why don't

"Phase out! Of course! But that means that you can't press

"Why should I? I'm not one of these starry-eyed reformers who
expect to change things overnight. It's the future of the Lani
race that's important, And Brainard agrees with me. A phase-out
is the proper solution. Change the education, let males be born
-- teach the young to think instead of to obey. Give them Phoebe
for a home -- they never owned all of Kardon anyway. And within a
century or two we will have a new group of the human race -- and
then we can tell the Brotherhood."

Kennon looked inquiringly at Copper. She smiled and nodded. "It
would cause less trouble that way," she said. "It would be more
sure -- and there are never too many old ones."

Kennon shuddered, thinking of the euthanasia chambers on Otpen
One. "There will be more from now on," he said.

"Outworld can afford it. It'll bend us a little but we won't
break -- and besides, the Lani will need our help for some time
to come." Alexander looked at Kennon. "Can we make an agreement
that all parties will respect?" he asked.

"I think so -- providing there are no sleeper clauses in it,"
Kennon said.

"There won't be," Alexander said.

And there weren't.

* * *

It was a private ceremony. The Family, sulky and unwilling, faced
with a choice of drastically reduced income or outright
confiscation and preferring a portion of a loaf to none.
Alexander -- grim but oddly peaceful of expression. Brainard --
pink-cheeked and emotionless. Kennon and Copper -- happily
conscious that it was at last finished. It was an oddly assorted
group of conspirators who planned to restore a segment of
humanity to the human race.

Kennon signed last, and as he did, Alexander looked at him with a
sly grin distorting the smooth pallor of his face.

"You forgot something," he said.

"What?" Kennon said -- aware suddenly that something was wrong.

"What do you plan to do, now that this is over?"

"Join the Medical Center here and practice veterinary medicine."

"You wouldn't care to work for me -- to help rebuild the wreckage
you've helped create? I'll need a manager on Kardon to phase out
the island while we phase in Phoebe."

"No, thank you. I've had enough of that."

"You just think you have," Alexander said gleefully. "That's what
you have forgotten. You've gotten your agreement -- now you will
satisfy me. As I see it you have breached your contract by
leaving Flora without authorization."

"That is right," Kennon said. A small lump of lead began to grow
rapidly larger in his stomach. Brainard was grinning and Copper's
eyes were shining. "You've been jobbed!" his mind told him. He
sighed. He knew what was coming next.

"The punitive clause for breach of contract," Alexander went on
inexorably, "is very broad. Discretion is vested in the
entrepreneur. I can obtain judgment against you in any court on
any planet."

"I know," Kennon said glumly.

"But I am going to be civilized," Alexander said. "I am going to
be merciful. I am going to extend your contract until phase-out
has been completed. You are going to have control of the entire
Kardon phase of the operation. It's poetic justice -- you made
the mess -- now you can clean it up."

"That's inhuman!"

"Humanity has nothing to do with it. It's justice," Alexander
said. He smiled at Copper's radiant face. The thought of going
home was good to her. "Good luck on your new job, Dr. Kennon," he
said. "And welcome to the brotherhood of the ulcer."

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