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Kennon told him.

"You mean you took George!" Arleson said.

"Look in his cell if you don't believe me."

The soldier looked and then turned hack to Kennon. There was awed respect in his hard brown eyes. "You did that! -- to him! Man, you're a fighter," he said in an unbelieving voice.

A stretcher detail manned by two sober-faced Lani females came in, loaded Douglas's body on the stretcher, and silently bore it away.

"Douglas was a fool," Arleson said. "He knew we never handle this kind without maximum restraint. I wonder why he did it?"

"I couldn't say. He told me that gas and shackles would hold him."

"He knew better. These Lani know gas capsules. All George bad to do was hold his breath. In that cell George would have killed you. You couldn't have stayed away from him."

Kennon shrugged. Maybe that was what Douglas had wanted. Kennon sighed. He didn't have the answer. And it could just be that Douglas had tried to show off. Well, he would pay for it. He'd have a stiff neck for months, and perhaps that was a proper way to end it.

Commander Mullins, a thin gray-faced man with the hard cold eyes of a professional soldier, came into the corridor followed by another trooper.

His eyes took in the wreckage that had been George, the split lips, the smashed nose, the puffed eyes, the cuts and bruises, and then raked across Kennon.

"Spaceman -- hey?" he asked. "I've seen work like that before."

Kennon nodded. "I was once. I'm station veterinarian now. Douglas called me over -- said it was an emergency."

Mullins nodded.

"Well -- why aren't you tending to it?"

"I have to examine them," Kennon said gesturing at the cells. "And I don't want any more trouble like this."

"Don't worry. You won't have it. Now that you've beaten George, you'll have no trouble at all. You're top dog." Mullins gestured at the cages. "They'll be good for a while. Now you'd better get on with your work. There's been enough disruption of routine for today. The men will help you."

Kennon checked in at the commandant's office before he left for the main island.

"How is Douglas?" he asked.

"He's alive," Mullins said. "We flew him to Albertsville - and good riddance. How are the Lani?"

"They'll be all right," Kennon said. "It's just food poisoning. I suggest you check your kitchen and your food handlers. There's a break in sanitation that could incapacitate your whole command. I found a few things wrong but there are probably more."

"I'll check on it -- and thanks for the advice," Mullins said. "Sit down, Doctor. Your airboat won't be serviced for another few minutes. Tell me how things are on the main island. How's Blalok?"

"You know him?"

"Of course. I used to be a frequent visitor there. But with that young pup here, I couldn't leave. I didn't dare to. He'd have disrupted routine in a single day. Look what he did in half an hour. Frankly, I owe you a debt for getting him off my hands." Mullins chuckled dryly.

"That's a fine thing to say," Kennon grinned. "But I can sympathize. It took us two months to straighten out Alexandria after the Boss-man sent him here."

"I heard about that."

"Well -- we're under control now. Things are going pretty smoothly."

"They'll be better here," Mullins said. "Now that Douglas is gone." He shrugged. "I hope the Boss doesn't send him back. He's hard to handle and he makes discipline a problem."

"Could you tell me--or would it be violating security?" Kennon said. "Why do you have a Class II installation on full war footing out here?"

Mullins chuckled. It's no secret," he said. "There was a commercial raid on this place about fifty years ago. Seems as though one of our competitors didn't like us. Alexandria was on a war footing then and managed to hold them off. But it scared the Old Man. You see, our competitive position is based on Lani labor. Our competitors didn't know that. Their intelligence wasn't so good. Up until that time, we'd been keeping the males out here in what was hardly more than a stockade. Those people could have taken a few dozen females and a couple of males and they'd have been in business. But they didn't know. They tried to smash Alexandria instead. Naturally they didn't have a chance. And after it was over the Old Man got smart. He still had the tapes for Alexandria so he built a duplicate out here and spent a few millions on modern armament. The way we're set now it'd take a battle group to hurt us.''

"But how about security? Don't the others know about the Lani now?"

"It's a moot question. But it won't do them any good. They can't crack this place, and without males, all the females on Flora wouldn't do them enough long-term good to pay for the force they'd need to be successful."

"So that's why the males are isolated."

"There's another reason -- two of them in fact. One is physical. Even the best male is a dangerous beast. They have a flair for violence that makes them useless as labor and their training doesn't help matters. And the other is mental. The females on the main island believe that we humans are responsible for the continuation of their breed. This tends to keep them in line. We have a great deal more trouble with them out here once they know the truth. We've had a number of cases of females trying to engineer a male's escape. But they're never repeated," Mullins said grimly. "Actually, it would be an interesting life out here, except for the abattoir." He grimaced. "That's an unpleasant chore."

"You mean--" Kennon said.

"Why, certainly. What else could we do with senile animals?"

"But that's murder!"

Mullins shook his head. "No more than killing a cow for beef."

"You know," Kennon said, "I've never thought of what happened to aged Lani. Sure, I've never seen one, but -- Lord Lister! -- I'm a fool."

"You'll get used to the idea," Mullins said. "They aren't human, and except for a few, they aren't as intelligent as a Santosian Varl. I know that they look like us except for those tails, but that's as far as it goes. I've spent two hundred years with them and I know what I'm talking about."

"That's what Alexander says."

"He should know. He's lived with them all his life."

"Well -- perhaps. But I'm not convinced."

"Neither was Old Doc -- not until the day he died."

"Did he change then?"

"I don't know. I wasn't there. But Old Doc was a stubborn cuss."

Kennon stood up. "I've given instructions for treatment to your corpsman," he said. "Now I think I'd better be getting back. I have some reports to finish."

Mullins smiled grimly. "You know," he said, "I get the feeling that you don't approve of this operation."

"Frankly, I don't," Kennon said, "but I signed a contract." He turned toward the door and gestured to the two Lani who waited outside with his bags. "I can find my way to the roof," he said.

"Well -- good luck," Mullins said. "We'll call you again if we need you."

"Do that," Kennon replied. He wanted to leave, to get away from this place and back to the main island. He wanted to see Copper. He'd be damned if anyone was going to butcher her. If he had to stay here until she died of old age, he'd do it. But nobody was going to hurt her.


Kennon wondered if his colleagues in human medicine felt toward their patients as he did toward the Lani, or if they ultimately lost their individuality and became mere hosts for diseases, parasites, and tumors -- vehicles for the practice of surgical and medical skills -- economic units whose well-being meant a certain amount of credits. Probably not, he decided. They were human and their very humanity made them persons rather than things.

But the possession of individuality was not an asset in the practice of animal medicine where economics was the main factor and the satisfaction of the owner the principal personality problem. The normal farm animals, the shrakes, cattle, sheep, morks, and swine were no problem. They were merely a job. But the Lani were different. They weren't human, but they were intelligent and they did have personality even though they didn't possess that indefinable quality that separated man from the beasts. It was hard to treat them with dispassionate objectivity. In fact, it was impossible.

And this lack of objectivity annoyed him. Should he be this way? Was he right to identify them as individuals and treat them as persons rather than things? The passing months had failed to rob them of their personalities: they had not become the faceless mass of a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep. They were still not essentially different from humans -- and wouldn't men themselves lose many of their human characteristics if they were herded into barracks and treated as property for forty generations? Wouldn't men, too, approach the animal condition if they were bred and treated as beasts, their pedigrees recorded, their types winnowed and selected? The thought was annoying.

It would be better, Kennon reflected, if he didn't have time to think, if he were so busy he could drop to his bed exhausted each night and sleep without dreaming, if he could keep on the run so fast that he wouldn't have time to sit and reflect. But he had done his work too well. He had trained his staff too thoroughly. They could handle the petty routines of minor treatment and laboratory tests as well as he. He had only the intellectual stimulation of atypical cases and these were all too rare. The routine inspections were boring, yet he forced himself to make them because the filled the time. The hospital wards were virtually empty of patients, the work was up to date, the whole island was enjoying a carnival of health, and Kennon was still impaled upon the horns of his dilemma. It wasn't so bad now that the first shock was over, but it was bad enough -- and showed no signs of getting better. Now that Copper realized he wanted her, she did nothing to make his life easier. Instead she did her best to get underfoot, usually in some provocative position. It was enough to try the patience of a marble statue Kennon reflected grimly. But it did have its humorous side and were it not for the fact that Copper wasn't human could have been thoroughly enjoyable. That, however, was the real hell of it. He couldn't relax and enjoy the contest - his feet were on too slippery ground. And Copper with her unerring female instinct knew just what to do to make the footing slipperier. Sooner or later, she was certain that he would fall. It was only a question of applying sufficient pressure at the right spot and the right time. Now that she knew he desired her, she was content to wait. The only thing that had bothered her was the uncertainty whether he cared or not. For Copper the future was a simple thing and she was lighthearted about it. But not so Kennon. Even after the initial shock had passed there still remained the moral customs, the conditioning, and the prohibitions. But Copper - was Copper -- and somehow the conditioning lost its force in her presence. Perhaps, he thought wryly, it was a symptom of the gradual erosion of his moral character in this abnormal environment.

"I'm getting stale," he confided to Copper as he sat in his office idly turning the pages of the Kardon Journal of Allied Medical Sciences. "There's nothing to do that's interesting."

"You could help me," Copper said as she looked up from the pile of cards she was sorting. He had given her the thankless task of reorganizing the files, and she was barely half through the project.

"There's nothing to do that's interesting," he repeated. He cocked his head to one side. From this angle Copper looked decidedly intriguing as she bent over the file drawer and replaced a stack of cards.

"I could suggest something," Copper said demurely.

"Yes, I know," he said. "You're full of suggestions."

"I was thinking that we could go on a picnic."

"A what?"

"A picnic. Take a lunch and go somewhere in the jeep. Maybe up into the hills. I think it might be fun."

"Why not?" Kennon agreed. "At least it would break the monotony. Tell you what. You run up to the house and tell Kara to pack a lunch and we'll take the day off."

"Good! I hoped you'd say that. I'm getting tired of these dirty old cards." She stood up and sidled past the desk. Kennon resisted the impulse to slap as she went past, and congratulated himself on his self-control as she looked at him with a half-disappointed expression on her face. She had expected it, he thought gleefully. Score one for morality.

He smiled. Whatever the other Lani might be, Copper was different. Quick, volatile, intelligent, she was a constant delight, a flashing kaleidoscope of unexpected facets. Perhaps the others were the same if he knew them better. But he didn't know them -- and avoided learning. In that direction lay ulcers.

"We'll go to Olympus," he said.

Copper looked dubious. "I'd rather not go there. That's forbidden ground."

"Oh nonsense. You're merely superstitious."

She smiled. "Perhaps you're right. You usually are."

"That's the virtue of being a man. Even if I'm wrong, I'm right." He chuckled at the peculiar expression on her face.

"Now off with you -- and get that lunch basket packed."

She bowed. "Yes, master. Your slave flies on winged feet to execute your commands."

Kennon chuckled. Copper had been reading Old Doc's romances again. He recognized the florid style.

Kennon landed the jeep in a mountain meadow halfway up the slope of the peacefully slumbering volcano. It was quiet and cool, and the light breeze was blowing Olympus's smoky cap away from them to the west. Copper unpacked the lunch. She moved slowly. After all, there was plenty of time, and she wasn't very hungry. Neither was Kennon.

"Let's go for a walk," Copper said. "The woods look cool -- and maybe we can work up an appetite."

"Good idea. I could use some exercise. That lunch looks big enough to choke a horse and I'd like to do it justice."

They walked through the woods, skirting scant patches of underbrush, slowly moving higher on the mountain slopes. The trees, unlike those of Beta, did not end abruptly at a snow line, but pushed green fingers upward through passages between old lava flows, on whose black wrinkled surfaces nothing grew. The faint hum of insects and the piping calls of the birdlike mammals added to the impression of remoteness. It was hard to believe that scarcely twenty kilometers from this primitive microcosm was the border of the highly organized and productive farmlands of Outworld Enterprises.

"Do you think we can see the hospital if we go high enough?" Copper said. She panted a little, unaccustomed to the altitude.

"Possibly," Kennon said. "It is a long distance away. But we should be able to see Alexandria," he added. "That's high enough and big enough." He looked at her curiously. "How is it that you're so breathless?" he asked. "We're not that high. You're getting fat with too much soft living."

Copper smiled. "Perhaps I'm getting old."

"Nonsense," Kennon chuckled. "It's just fat. Come to think of it you are plumper. Not that I mind, but if you're going to keep that sylphlike figure you'd better go on a diet."

"You're too good to me," Copper said.

"You're darn right I am. Well - let's get going. Exercise is always good for the waistline, and I'd like to see what's up ahead."

Scarcely a kilometer ahead they came to a wall of lava that barred their path. "Oh, oh," Kennon said. "We can't go over that." He looked at the wrinkled and shattered rock with its knifelike edges.

"I don't think my feet could take it," Copper admitted.

"It looks like the end of the trail."

"No -- not quite," Kennon said. "There seems to be a path here." He pointed to a narrow cleft in the black rock. "Let's see where it goes."

Copper hung back. "I don't think I want to," she said doubtfully. "It looks awfully dark and narrow."

"Oh, stop it. Nothing's going to hurt us. Come on." Kennon took her hand.

Unwillingly Copper allowed herself to be led forward. "There's something about this place that frightens me," she said uncomfortably as the high black wails closed in, narrowing until only a slit of yellow sky was visible overhead. The path underfoot was surprisingly smooth and free from rocks, but the narrow corridor, steeped in shadows, was gloomy and depressingly silent. It even bothered Kennon, although he wouldn't admit it. What forces had sliced this razor-thin cleft in the dense rock around them? Earthquake probably. And if it happened once it could happen again. He would hate to be trapped here entombed in shattered rock.

Gradually the passage widened, then abruptly it ended. A bleak vista of volcanic ash dotted with sputter cones opened before them. It was a flat tableland, roughly circular, scarcely half a kilometer across, a desolation of black rock, stunted trees and underbrush, and gray volcanic ash. A crater, somewhat larger than the rest, lay with its nearest edge about two hundred meters away. The rock edges were fire polished, gleaming in the yellow sunshine, and the thin margin of trees and brush surrounding the depression were gnarled and shrunken, twisted into fantastic shapes.

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