"Nice, isn't it?" Alexander remarked as they rounded another turn on the switchback path.
"Yes. You can't hear a sound from back there except for that generator. It's almost as though we shut those people out of existence by merely closing a door."
"I wish it were that simple," Alexander said. "But doors that can be closed can also be opened. Well - think you'll like it here?"
"I think so, providing I don't have to entertain your relatives.''
"You mean Eloise? Don't worry about her. She's as fickle as the wind."
"I've never seen anyone so frankly predatory," Kennon said. "She worries me."
"They'll all be gone tomorrow -- except for Eloise," Alexander said with mock comfort. "Douglas is on the Otpens for a year, and the others are off somewhere."
"You'll be staying, I suppose."
"No -- I'm afraid I can't."
"I hoped you'd help me get organized. This whole thing has been something of a shock. I was expecting something entirely different."
"Sorry -- someone has to run the business. But Blalok'll brief you. Actually he's more qualified than I. He knows everything worth knowing about this place. We're going past his house in a minute--want to stop in and see him?"
"It's pretty late."
"Not for Blalok. He's a Mystic -- a nocturnal. He's probably doing his work now."
"Perhaps we shouldn't disturb him."
"Nonsense. He's used to it. I visit him frequently at night."
"Sure -- but you're the boss."
"Well -- in a sense you are too. At least in the veterinary end of this business." Alexander swung sharply to the left and climbed a short flight of stairs that led to the nearest house. Lights flared on the deep porch, and the old-fashioned iris door dilated to frame the black silhouette of a stocky, broad-shouldered man.
"Good evening, sir," he said. "I was expecting you. That the new vet with you?"
"Your pipeline's still working, I see," Alexander said. "Yes, this is Dr. Kennon -- Evald Blalok -- I wanted you two to meet."
Kennon liked the gray middle-aged man. He looked honest and competent, a solid quiet man with a craggy face and the deep-set eyes of a Mystic. His skin had the typical thickness and pore prominence of the dwellers on that foggy world from which he came. But unlike the natives of Myst, his skin was burned a dark brown by Kardon's sun. He seemed out of place on this tropic world, but Kennon reflected wryly that there was probably more than one misplaced human here, himself included.
"I've been going over Station Fourteen's records with Jordan,'' Blalok said as he ushered them into the house. A tall black-haired man rose as they entered.
"Skip the formality, Jordan. Sit down," Alexander said, "and meet Dr. Kennon -- Steve Jordan -- Jordan runs the Lani Division."
Kennon nodded acknowledgment as Alexander continued, "What's this trouble at Fourteen?"
"I don't know. We've got an epizootic of something. Another youngster died this morning, and there's three more that look pretty bad, jaundice, no appetite, complaining of muscular pains. Same symptoms as took the others. The one this morning makes the fourth this month, and we're only half through it."
"Are all your losses in this one station?" Kennon asked.
"No -- but it's worst there."
"I don't like losses like that," Alexander said.
"Neither do I," Jordan replied.
"This isn't Jordan's fault, sir," Blalok said quickly. "As you know, we haven't had a vet for three months."
"Two," Alexander corrected.
"Three -- Old Doc wasn't around at all the month before he died," Blalok said. "As a result we've got a problem. We need professional help."
"Well here he is -- use him," Alexander said. He looked at Kennon, a trace of amusement on his face. "There's nothing like getting into things early."
"Particularly when one comes into them stone cold," Kennon added. "It's a poor way to start a career."
"We can't afford to wait," Jordan said. "We need help."
"I'll see what can be done," Kennon replied. "Have you saved the body?"
"Every one of them," Jordan said. "They're in the hospital in the autopsy room."
That was sensible. A post-mortem might give us an answer. Where's the hospital?"
"I'll show you," Jordan offered.
"Count me out," Alexander said. "I have a weak stomach."
"I'll go along if it's necessary," Blalok said.
"There's a staff there, Old Doc trained them," Jordan said.
"Then it shouldn't be necessary," Kennon said.
Blalok sighed with relief and turned to Alexander. "We could check the records while those two are about their bloody work."
"I'd rather check a long strong drink," Alexander replied. "What with the Family and this, it's too much to take for one evening."
Kennon hid a smile. Alexander had a weak spot. He was squeamish. That was a good thing to know.
Jordan opened the door of the two-story building below Blalok's house. "This is it," he said, "just outside your front door. Convenient -- no?"
"Too convenient," Kennon said, "also too quiet. Isn't anyone on duty?"
"I wouldn't know. Old Doc never kept the place open at night."
There was a stir of movement in the darkness, the lights flashed on, and a sleepy-eyed Lani blinked at them in the sudden glare. She looked blankly at Kennon and then brightened as she saw Jordan. "What's the trouble, sir?" she asked.
"Nothing. We want to look at the Lani I sent down this morning -- Dr. Kennon would like to inspect the carcass."
"You're the new doctor?" the Lani asked. "Thank goodness you've come! I'll get the staff. I'll be back in a moment." She stepped quickly over to the switchboard beside the door and punched five buttons. Four more humanoids came into the room, followed a little later by a fifth.
"Where's the emergency?" one asked.
"He is -- it's our new doctor."
"More females," Kennon muttered to himself. He turned to Jordan. "Aren't there any males in this crew?"
Jordan stared at him with mild surprise. "No, sir -- didn't you know? There are no male Lani."
"Just that," Jordan said. "Only females. There hasn't been a male on the island since Old Man Alexander took over. He killed them all."
"But that's impossible! How do they reproduce?"
"Ever hear of artificial fertilization?"
"Sure -- but that's a dead end. The offspring are haploids and they're sterile. The line would die out in a generation."
"Not the Lani--you can see for yourself. We've been using the technique here for better than four centuries, and we're still doing all right. Over forty generations so far, and from the looks of things we can go on indefinitely."
"But how is it done?"
"I don't know. That's Alexander's secret. The Boss-man doesn't tell us everything. All I know is that we get results. Old Doc knew how it was done, and I suppose you will too, but don't ask me. I'm dumb."
Kennon shrugged. Maybe -- maybe not. At any rate there was no sense in belaboring the point. He turned to the staff. Five of them were the same big-boned heavy-framed type that apparently did most of the manual labor. The sixth, the late arrival, was an elegant creature, a bronze-skinned, green-eyed minx with an elfin face half hidden under a wavy mass of red-brown hair. Unlike the others, she had been docked - and in contrast to their heavy eyes and sleep-puffed features she was alert and lively. She flashed him an impish grin, revealing clean white teeth.
Kennon smiled back. He couldn't help it. And suddenly the tension and strangeness was broken. He felt oddly at ease. "Which of you are on duty?" he asked.
"All of us," the redhead replied, "if it's necessary. What do you want us to do?"
"He's already told me. He wants that last carcass prepped for a post-mortem," the nightcall Lani said.
"Good," the redhead said. "It'll be nice to get to work again." She turned to face Kennon. "Now, Doctor -- would you like to see your office? Old Doc left a fine collection of notes on Lani anatomy and perhaps you could do with a little review."
"I could do with a lot of it," Kennon admitted. "Unless the inner structure of a Lani is as similar to human as their outer."
"There are differences," the redhead admitted. "After all, we aren't quite alike."
"Perhaps I'd better do some reading," Kennon said.
"You need me any more?" Jordan asked.
"No -- I think not."
"Good. I'll get back. Frankly, I don't like this any better than Blalok or the boss, but I'm low man on that pole. See you later."
Kennon chuckled as Jordan left. "Now, let's get ready for that cadaver," he said.
"Carcass, doctor," the redhead corrected. "A cadaver is a dead human body." She accented the "human."
Even in death there is no equality, Kennon thought. He nodded and the Lani led the way to a door which opened into a good-sized office, liberally covered with bookshelves. An old-fashioned plastic desk, some office cybernetics, a battered voicewriter, and a few chairs completed the furnishings. The redhead placed several large folio volumes in front of him and stepped back from the desk as he leafed rapidly through the color plates. It was an excellent atlas. Dr. Williamson had been a careful and competent workman.
Half an hour later, well fortified with a positional knowledge of Lani viscera, Kennon looked up at the redhead. She was still standing patiently, a statue of red-gold and bronze.
"Get a smock and let's go," he said. "No -- wait a minute."
"What's your name? I don't want to say 'Hey you!'"
She smiled. "It's Copper Glow - want my pedigree too?"
"No -- it wouldn't mean anything to me. Do they call you Copper or Glow? or both?"
"Just Copper, sir."
"Very well, Copper - let's get going."
The body of the dead Lani lay on the steel table, waxy and yellowish in the pitiless light of the fluorescents. She had been hardly more than a child. Kennon felt a twinge of pity - so young - so young to die. And as he looked he was conscious of another feeling.
It had been an open secret among his classmates that he had refused an offer to study human medicine because of his aversion to dissecting cadavers. The sarcoplastic models were all right, but when it came to flesh, Kennon didn't have the stomach for it. And now, the sight of the dead humanoid brought back the same cold sweat and gut-wrenching nausea that had caused him to turn to veterinary medicine eight years ago.
He fought the spasms back as he approached the table and made the external examination. Icterus and a swollen abdomen - the rest was essentially normal. And he knew with cold certainty that he could not lay a scalpel edge upon that cold flesh. It was too human, too like his own.
"Are you ready, Doctor?" the Lani standing across the table from him asked. "Shall I expose the viscera?"
Kennon's stomach froze. Of course! He should have realized! No pathologist did his own dissection. He examined. And that he could do. It was the tactile, not the visual sensations that upset him. He nodded. "The abdominal viscera first," he said.
The Lani laid back the skin and musculature with bold, sure strokes. An excellent prosectress, Kennon thought. Kennon pointed at the swollen liver and the Lani deftly severed its attachments and laid the organ out for inspection. The cause of death was obvious. The youngster had succumbed to a massive liver-fluke infestation. It was the worst he had ever seen. The bile ducts were thick, calcified and choked with literally thousands of the gray-green leaf-shaped trematodes.
"Let's look at the others," he said.
Two more post-mortems confirmed the diagnosis. Except for minor differences, the lesions were identical. He removed a few of the flukes and set them aside for further study.
"Well that's that," he said. "You can clean up now."
He had found the criminal, and now the problem assumed the fascinating qualities of a crime hunt. Now he must act to prevent further murders, to reconstruct the crime, to find the modus operandi, to track the fluke to its source, and to execute it before it could do more harm.