"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.
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.
"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?"
"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."
"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?"
"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.
Copper had been acting strangely of late, Kennon thought as he rolled over in his bed and watched her standing before the full-length mirror on the bathroom door. She pivoted slowly before the glass, eying herself critically, raising her arms over her head, holding them at her sides, flexing her supple spine and tightening muscles that moved like silken cords beneath her golden skin.
"What are you trying to do -- become a muscle dancer?" Kennon asked idly.
She whirled, a crimson blush deepening the tan of her face. "You were supposed to be asleep," she said.
"I'm an unregenerate heel," he replied, "and I don't sleep too well nowadays unless you're beside me."
"Well -- I suppose you might as well know now as later," she said. "You'll know in any event."
"That you're right. I am human."
"And what brought on this sudden change of--" He stopped abruptly, his eyes widening.
"Yes," Copper said. "I am with child. Your child."
"But that's impossible."
She shook her head. "It's a miracle perhaps, but it's not impossible. It's happened. Can't you see the difference?"
"See what? You look just as you always do."
"I suppose you can't see it yet," she admitted. "But I am with child. I'm two weeks past my time."
Kennon's mind leaped to the obvious conclusion. Pseudo-pregnancy. He had seen it before among Lani at Hillside Farm. It was an odd syndrome which occasionally occurred in humans and animals. The brain, desiring children, made demands upon the body and the body responded to its desire by tricking the brain. Lani were fairly subject to its probably because they had better imaginations. He would run a few tests when they went down to the hospital, and once she realized the practical joke her body was playing everything would be all right. No wonder she seemed excited.
"We'll find out about that later," he said equably. "We'll settle this when we get back to the hospital."
Copper smiled confidently and patted her stomach. "I know what you are thinking, but you're wrong. We Lani know about these things. In forty generations I am the first to conceive as the Master intended."
"I hope you haven't," Kennon said with such bitter sincerity that Copper looked at him wide-eyed. "Not now. Because if you have, neither your life nor mine is safe."
"The Alexanders. Do you think they'll take it lying down? We're not ready for them yet. They'll fight, and the first thing they'll do is kill you and erase me so we would never be able to talk. You have been declared an animal, and you will not be allowed to change."
"What can we do?" Copper asked. She shivered. "I do not want to die."
"Nor do I want you to," Kennon said.
"I could tell the others."
"And just what would that accomplish?"
"In a week every Lani on the island would know it. There would be revolt. For the Lani would no longer be dependent upon Men to survive. Their greatest hold on us would be gone. And we would be free again on our island world."
"You would not!" Kennon said. "That sort of thinking is foolishness. Alexander would have men here within a week, and a week after that you would be smashed. Don't you realize that there are thousands of millions of men in the galaxy -- and to every one of them you would be animals. You know nothing about what you would face. Your puny hundreds couldn't even stand against a fraction of the power Alexander could mount against you. Have you seen a Burkholtz blaster work? Have you seen remote-control antipersonnel missiles? Have you push-pull projectors, atomic warheads? All of these weapons Alexander can command. Don't you realize he's an entrepreneur? -- one of the most powerful men in this sector?"
Copper shook her head. "No," she said in a small voice. "I know nothing about these things."
"And do you think forty generations of absolute obedience to men can be overcome because one Lani says she is pregnant by a man?"
Copper frowned. "You put that in a different way. You talk as if it were my belief rather than the truth."
"What is truth?" Kennon said heavily. "Who would believe you? There are hundreds of others with child.
"Sure you're human. You know it. I know it. I've been trying to convince you for the past two months. You're just as human as I am. But pray that you're not pregnant. We can't get out of here in less than four months and by then everybody will know about you. Someone will certainly check the records. And after that will come the psychoprobes. Everything will come to light. The Egg will be destroyed. I will be erased. You will be dead. And that will be the end of it." He looked down at her with an odd expression of pity on his face. "You see?" he demanded harshly.
Copper nodded. "I didn't understand," she said. "Don't be angry with me. I shouldn't have told you. I thought you'd be happy."
"I was never angry with you, but I am with myself. I was stupid. I didn't figure on the remote possibility that we might be genetically compatible. I should have my head examined for putting you in such danger. However there's the possibility -- the probability -- that your body is playing a trick upon you."
She shook her head. "You are wrong. I am not mistaken. I am with child and the child is yours. But the fault is no more yours than mine. I wanted you before you looked on me. I still do and I do not feel at fault. That I am yours, that my child is yours is a thing of wonder and joy. Never could I have expected so much."
Kennon looked down at her smudged face, streaked with the sudden rivulets of tears, and bitterness galled his throat. Dear God -- let her be wrong, he prayed silently. Let it be pseudopregnancy this time. Let the tests be negative.
But they weren't. Unequivocally they confirmed Copper's diagnosis. Here was the proof he needed. The final test that would prove the Lani human. And he had no way of getting it where it would do any good. It would take at least four months of steady labor before the ship was ready, and he didn't have that sort of time. He was needed here and his prolonged absence would cause suspicion and investigation. Something would have to be done -- but what? He couldn't take Copper off the island in an airboat. They were checked with microscopic care by Otpen One's IFF. A jeep didn't have enough range to take them to the mainland. And even if they got there they couldn't get off the planet. Alexander knew everything that happened on Kardon's two spaceports. The Egg was the only way, but the Egg was unfinished and unspaceworthy.
Frantically Kennon considered concealing Copper. He shook his head. It wouldn't work. It would be impossible, to hide a baby on a place where every birth was recorded. Nor could one hide evidence of pregnancy in a Lani. Childbearing leaves telltale marks upon the body, and Copper, even if she could be concealed for the duration of her pregnancy, could never survive the sharp-eyed scrutiny of her fellows or the other humans. Questions would inevitably be asked.
There had to be a solution. He rubbed his forehead wearily. It was strange how so little a thing as the union of a spermatozoon and an ovum could produce so much trouble. He looked across the office at Copper placidly filing case cards. She wasn't worrying. With sublime faith, she was sure that he would find the answer, the one that would solve everything. He shuddered. The only logical solution was abortion -- and that was unthinkable! He would not murder his child -- nor would Copper permit it if he was capable of doing so.
It was almost a relief when his phone rang and Blalok's voice came cheerfully across the wire.
"Tried to get you about an hour ago," the superintendent said, "but your girl said you were busy."