Evan Kidd journeys to a small town to solve the mystery of what's making children sick—but only cat people are allowed in the town without permission, and Evan's permission is granted on the condition he be constantly escorted by a guard.
Rene is assigned to be Evan's guard, and he doesn't like humans, and he especially doesn't like doctors. But Rene is also lonely, and despite his best efforts, hating Evan is not as easy he'd assumed it would be.
“Lily May is sick. Started with a rash, like the others.” Anne Evans walks into Dr. Nanook Wayra’s office in the Greenville community health center.
Anne is a beautiful woman, far too young for Nanook, but that doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the tabby-colored fur on her arms and face and her dainty pointed ears. Half-cat, half-human in appearance like all Felis, she’s a beautiful example of their kind.
They look completely different, not just because Anne is a woman, but because she is white, and Nanook is Native American, with dark tanned skin and darker gray fur and hair.
“Exactly the same as the others?” Nanook asks her. He’s got four sick kids in his center, which isn’t that unusual, but the sickness is. It doesn’t match anything Nanook has seen before, or anything in his medical books.
“Seems like it. Started with a fever and a rash, then she couldn’t keep down food, then she couldn’t change forms. Now she’s in pain if anyone touches her,” Anne says.
“Has she had contact with any of the other children?” Nanook asks.
“Not that her parents know of. I’m really worried. Nothing we give them works on any of the symptoms, and I’ve never known an illness that stops us from changing form.” Anne is a professional, has been a nurse for years. She’s seen a lot of things. Nanook knows if she’s concerned, he’s not overreacting to think he needs to do something drastic here.
“I want to have another doctor look at the children,” Nanook tells her.
“Who?” Anne asks.
“Dr. Evan Kidd,” Nanook says, turning on his laptop and going to the email app. He’ll also need to talk to the elders before anything happens.
“I haven’t heard of him. Where does he work?” Anne asks, sounding suspicious already, probably because she knows the doctors in the area.
“He’s currently working on a research project at his own small clinic. He’s good at weird. He focuses on the illness others overlook, sees connections others don’t. He’s only thirty and already very accomplished. A fascinating young man,” Nanook says, opening a new email and starting to type.
Anne glares at him. “Please don’t tell me he’s human.”
“Okay, I won’t tell you.” Nanook smirks.
“Don’t get clever with me, Nanook. Is this Dr. Kidd a human?” Anne asks.
“Yes, he is.” Nanook doesn’t care in the slightest. He met Dr. Kidd at a medical conference, and they’d started talking over a year ago. They’ve kept in touch mainly by email, but Nanook has wanted to ask the elders if Evan could visit for a while now. There are several projects he’s working on that he’d like Evan to look at.
“Do you really think the children’s parents will agree to this? Bringing in a human to look at them? You’ll have people wanting you fired just for suggesting the idea.” Anne shakes her head.
“I’m emailing the elders for a meeting as well. I won’t just bring a human here. I’ll ask them first. If he can’t come, I hope he’ll at least have ideas. You don’t understand, Anne. If I had a child, I’d want them to be like him. He has such an open mind, a thirst for knowledge…” Nanook replies.
“Well, I’ll work with him if he does come, but I won’t ask the elders with you. You’re on your own there,” Anne says.
“Of course, dear heart. Can you go check on the children and get back to me?” Nanook asks.
“All right. Try not to anger the elders,” Anne says as she leaves.
Nanook sends two emails: one to Evan, with the symptoms, and asking if he has the time and inclination to visit; another to the elders, a group of Felis who aren’t all actually older than him. That’s always just been the name for their governing council.
Evan gets back to him first, saying that if the elders agree, he’d be happy to come consult on the case. Not long after, he gets summoned by the head of the elders. Damon Cook wants to see him right away. So Nanook packs up his laptop, gets his file on the sick children, checks to make sure everyone can cope without him for a while, and drives to the building where Damon works as a civil lawyer.
“Hello, Doctor,” Damon says when Nanook enters his office, and then he offers Nanook a chair.
He sits on the other side of the desk from Damon and puts his file on the table.
“So, let’s cut to the chase. You want to bring a human to our town?” Damon asks, his tone neutral, but the slight curl of his lip gives away his distaste.
“Yes, I do. I know it’s unorthodox, but he’s not prejudiced against our kind, and no one else I have contacted has had any luck. He’s a good doctor. I fear if I don’t do something soon, these children will die.”
The five children cannot eat. They’re all on drips and feeding tubes to keep them from starving. They’re growing weak and suffering horrible pain.
“Is it true these children have lost their ability to transform into their second form?” Damon asks.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Damon frowns.
“Neither have I. Which is why I want a doctor who’s experimenting with new illnesses. He might know something—if this is something new,” Nanook says.
“You think he’s that smart?” Damon asks.
“Yes. I have a lot of faith in him.”
“He wouldn’t be allowed to wander around alone,” Damon says, but at least he seems to be considering it.
“He’d spend most of his time in the hospital, and I could keep an eye on him,” Nanook offers.
“No, you already like this human. If you bring him here, I want him guarded by someone of my choice at all times.”
Nanook bites back his objections; an argument won’t help anything. “Who did you have in mind?” Nanook asks.
“My stepson, Rene Cornell,” Damon says with a crocodile grin.