"Fine -- she's healthy as a horse."
Kennon winced at the cliche It was so ancient that it had lost all meaning. Most Betans didn't know what a horse was, let alone whether it was healthy or not. From what Kennon could remember of veterinary history, the horse wasn't too healthy an animal. It was rather delicate, in fact.
"How is the child?" Kennon asked. It took a little courage to ask this question. The baby could be anything from normal to a monstrosity.
"Perfectly normal," Brainard said. "A true Betan type even down to the vestigial tail. We amputated that, of course."
"Thank Ochsner!" Kennon breathed. "I was afraid."
"Of course you were," Brainard said. "Do you want to see them now? When I left, Copper was asking for you."
Kennon sighed. Leaving, he realized, wasn't going to be as easy as he had thought.
"We'll have to keep them here for a couple of months," Brainard said. "We must take exhaustive tests if we expect the court to reverse its prior decision."
"I expected that," Kennon said. He shrugged, "It's probably best," he said. "Now show me where Copper is."
"She's back in the same room. You don't need a guide."
Kennon didn't. In fact, he behaved quite admirably.
Longliners, Kennon reflected, didn't make Beta a port of call, and the Shortliner connections with other worlds were 'infrequent. Beta had done a good job separating from the rest of the Brotherhood. Too good. The spaceline schedules showed only one departure in the next month, a Shortliner for Earth, and from Earth the road to Kardon was long and tortuous, involving a series of short jumps from world to world and a final medium-range hop from Halsey to Kardon. If everything went right and he made every connection he would be in Kardon four months after he left Beta. Kennon sighed as he left Travelers Aid. Morality was a heavy load to carry.
He walked slowly down the road from the spaceport toward the Co-operative where he had been staying. He had left Huntersville and Copper a week ago, after he had seen his child. His child! The thought of being a father was oddly dismaying. It distorted his sense of values. But one thing was certain. He was returning to Kardon, and Copper was not coming with him. She had a duty to their son - and he had a duty to his contract with Alexander, to the Lani on Flora, and to Copper -- and none of these could be satisfied by further running. He had to return and settle the account.
A tall man in a conservative yellow-and-black suit was waiting patiently in front of his room. "My name is Richter," he said " -- Art Richter. Are you Dr. Jac Kennon?"
"I could deny it, but I won't," Kennon said.
"Thank you, Doctor. It was just a formality anyway. You see, I know you by sight." He sighed. "One has to observe the formalities in this business." He drew a long white envelope from his tunic and handed it to Kennon. "Most of my subjects try to deny their identity," he said.
"It's a refreshing change to find an honest man." He bowed formally. "I really thought this would be harder, considering the charges against you." He bowed again and walked away.
"Now -- what was that?" Kennon muttered as he opened the envelope. The man Richter was undoubtedly a process server -- but who had hired him? He unfolded the sheet and scanned the charges -- coercion, larceny, livestock theft, and breach of contract. He shrugged. This was Alexander's work. What was the man thinking of? It was insanity to bring the Lani matter into open court. Hadn't Douglas told him what had happened? Couldn't Alexander guess that he had fled with Copper for a good reason -- one that would stand up in court? Didn't he know about the spacer? Or had Douglas turned on his cousin? The pup had so many hates that it was possible. He was a natural troublemaker. Maybe Alexander didn't know. Maybe he was working in the dark. Kennon scanned the sheet quickly. Ah! here it was. Complaint - Mr. Alexander X. M. Alexander, Skyline Tower 1024, Beta City!
Alexander! Here on Beta! Kennon opened the door of his room, went straight to the phone beside the bed. He lifted the handset from its cradle and dialed the operator. "Get me Huntersville THU 2-1408. I want to speak to Dr. Brainard, Dr. Will Brainard. This is a priority call -- my name is Kennon. Dr. Jac Kennon D.V.M. I'm in the registry -- 47M 26429 -- yes -- of course, and thank you." He waited a moment. "Hello -- Dr. Brainard? -- Kennon here. I've just had some news. Alexander's on Beta! Yes -- he served me with a summons. Can you get a restraining order to prevent him from leaving? You can? Good! Here's his address." Kennon rattled off the location. "Yes -- I'm taking the next airboat to Beta City. This should simplify things considerably. -- Of course it should. He was a fool to have come here. Yes -- I suppose you should tell Copper. Oh! She is? I'm sorry to hear that, but there's no reason for her to be angry. She should realize that I did this for her -- not to make her miserable. Hmm.-- She -- she has? You think she should come with me? -- Yes, I realize she can be a problem when she wants to be. All right then -- tell her to pack a toothbrush and a few spare diapers. And see if you can get me a couple of tickets on the next flight to Beta City. I'll be over in a couple of hours and pick her up." He cradled the phone and dialed the operator again.
"I want the phone number of Skyline Tower 1024, Beta City, Mr. Alexander. Yes. I'll wait. This number is HUV 2-1278 and my name is Kennon, Dr. Jac Kennon 47M 26429. I called you before. No, I'm a transient. I can refer you to Dr. James Brainard, Huntersville Medical Center. Yes, I'll accept charges. Now will you give me that number? BCA 7-8941--thank you."
Kennon hung up, dialed the number, and waited.
"Hello," he said. "Mr. Alexander? This is Dr. Kennon. - Yes -- I suppose you do, but I've been trying to get back to Kardon for the past month. You are? Well, that's your privilege, but I'd advise you to go easy until I see you. Naturally -- I'm coming as soon as I can get there. We'll be seeing you tomorrow morning at the latest. We? -- I'm bringing Copper, of course. I just wanted you to know."
Kennon wiped his forehead. Alexander sounded angry and dangerous. Ten years hadn't served to cool him off. What had happened on Kardon after he had left? Kennon shook his head. There was something here he didn't understand. The entrepreneur should have been covering his tracks, not threatening jail and disaccreditation. It was obvious that a personal visit was more necessary than he had thought.
Alexander was waiting. His eyebrows rose at the sight of Copper in formal Betan dress -- and lifted a trifle more at the sight of the baby.
"What is this, Kennon?" he asked.
"Trouble," Kennon said. He took off his hat. "I came here to settle things before you took this case to court. You obviously do not understand what has happened. I suppose Douglas has double-crossed you. It would be characteristic of him. But before we go any further I think we should clear the air and let each other know where we stand. I don't want to make trouble if it's not necessary. You'll notice I'm not wearing a thought screen, so you'll be able to check everything I say, and know I'm telling the truth."
"It had better be good," Alexander said grimly. "I've been looking for you for ten years. I intend to throw the book at you."
"I don't know whether my reason is good or not. Technically I'm guilty of breach of contract and larceny of corporation property, but there are extenuating circumstances."
Alexander chuckled mirthlessly. "There are a few other charges. And quite probably I can think of more if you beat these. I'm going to make an example of you, Kennon. I'm going to drag you down and stamp on you. You're going to be a horrible example to all smart operators who think they can break contracts. It's taken a million credits and ten years' time to hunt you down, but it's going to be worth it."
"Copper's child is a boy," Kennon said mildly. "My son."
Alexander froze. "You can prove that?" he asked in a half-strangled voice.
Kennon nodded. "You see the extenuating circumstance?" he asked. "Suppression of human slavery!"
Alexander sat down. It was as though some unseen hand had pulled his legs from under him. "You believe it," he said. "-- No -- you've proved it! Why -- why didn't you tell me? What sort of a man do you think I am?"
"I didn't know. I couldn't take the chance until Copper was protected. You see, sir, I love her."
"That isn't hard to do with Lani," Alexander said. He sank back in his chair, his face clouded, his expression troubled. It was obvious that the realization shocked him.
Kennon felt an odd sympathy for the entrepreneur. It wasn't a nice feeling, he suspected, to have the beliefs of a lifetime ripped apart and sent to the disposal chute.
"So the Lani are a human variant," Alexander said dully.
"The proof is here," Kennon said, "and the supporting evidence is conclusive."
"Which makes me -- what? A murderer? A slaver? A tyrant?" Alexander clutched his head with lean-fingered hands. "What am I?"
"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 know."
"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 boss."
"Thanks," Alexander said glumly. "I've always considered myself civilized."
"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 education.
"As I remember, you bought a planet called Phoebe. Now why don't you----"
"Phase out! Of course! But that means that you can't press charges."
"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."