The Lani People
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 they 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 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.