The people of Wer had been forced to adjust after the first horrifying discoveries, but the cause was never found, nor was there a cure, so the planet was listed as quarantined, and as a result, there was not much commerce between Wer and the rest of the Union. Trade was restricted to inanimate objects; not even livestock was exempted from the curse of Wer, and where humans could survive, their animals could not. People wanting to travel to Wer did so at their own risk, and of course, the citizens of Wer were seldom willing to be stuck in their animal form, so few of them went off-world.
As his ship entered orbit around Wer, Justin held his question-and-answer session until no more questions were forthcoming. This time, after everyone else had left, one woman remained behind; she was blind, and though she had heard it all, she couldn’t see any of it, so she wanted to touch him. As Justin showed her around the ship, he fell hopelessly in love with her. As was his habit, he would go on leave during their stay. This time, he would have remained aboard, forgoing the pleasure of seeing his human face in the mirror for a while in favor of spending more time with this most captivating creature, but this time, he had passengers – he had to go – he was the pilot.
The next morning, just before leaving for the surface, Justin made one more effort to discourage his passengers and succeeded with one young couple, but the others and ‘her’, Amani Dupree, remained. Some people simply couldn’t resist the mystery of Planet Wer.
Once they’d landed, after seeing Amani in the capable hands of her chaperone, Justin answered a summons to his father’s home. When he got there, he learned that his father was dying and it seemed that the rest of the family hadn’t noticed. Justin’s father, Isaac, was going to finalize his will and he wanted Justin, the only engineer in the family, to take over the core family businesses and responsibilities. Justin’s two eldest brothers, who expected that inheritance, would get nothing more than they already had; it just wasn’t sound business.
Such an offer meant that Justin’s life would need to change. Just how much did he want to keep his job as number-two mechanic aboard a space ship? This was more important; he accepted. Since Isaac had a wife and two legal mistresses, Justin’s family was extensive, but even so, the reading of the will was as expected – all the way up until Justin’s new standing as head of family was announced. Isaac’s wife and her two sons were insulted and left the family meeting in a huff.
As head of family, Justin now turned his attention to figuring out why his father was deteriorating so fast. There was also another mystery; apparently, Miss Dupree couldn’t change. On the off chance that her blindness was the cause, Justin flew them off the surface of the planet to see, but it was true; she was the one person on the entire planet who could leave with no problem. This was a mystery that would need some research. In the mean time, Amani and her chaperone, Delia, went out to spend some time at the family ranch.
Tests had revealed that poison from a local viper was the cause of Isaac’s deterioration, given to him in small doses every night in his evening brandy, given to him by his butler, a man who had worked for him since before Justin was born. When Justin, joined by Amani, went to tell Isaac this news, they found live vipers wrestling for the warmest spot on Isaac’s bed and the butler was nowhere to be found.
After the vipers were removed, something his delicate new heart throb accomplished with ease while his own heart nearly froze with the horror of it, police were called; someone was trying to kill Isaac and it was a bigger problem than just the unusual progression of an illness.
The priestess, the head of the temple where the change was studied most extensively, and where it could be predicted to a certain extent, arrived about the same time as the police. The priestess had discovered an old prophecy that suggested that Miss Amani might be able to solve the mystery of Wer. To do so, they would need to travel to the one and only sight of archeological interest on the entire planet, and to do that, would require the use of wagons and the local version of an ox to pull them, as well as the local version of a mount to carry the rest of them. The police needed to catch up on the poisoning and investigate the incredible happenings of the morning.
Later, Justin went to town to answer more questions at the police station. To consolidate errands, he went to meet all the people who had been running his father’s businesses. On the way home, he learned that one of the barns had been burned, coming close to taking other structures as well, then he found himself being questioned once again; someone was indeed trying to cause mayhem for the family.
Plans and preparations for the expedition continued and what with current happenings, a contingent of under cover policemen was ‘hired’ to go along. Before leaving, Justin had one last thing to do; he had to take his letter of resignation to his captain. He could have sent it, but he wanted to take it personally, it would give him a chance to say good-bye to all his friends.
When he arrived with his two little sisters, Justin found the ship’s commons full of several of his immediate family and of course all of the passengers; they were giving him a real send off.
That evening, at home, Justin fell asleep on the couch, and no one woke him to go to bed. It was noises from the kitchen that woke him and he saw one of the servants, Minnie, starting breakfast preparations. He headed to his room to shower and change; they had a lot to do today.
Someone had covered him with a quilt while he slept on the couch and Justin now tossed it on his bed as he stepped into the bathroom. Barely a heartbeat after closing the door, Justin’s room exploded and he was knocked to the floor. As soon as he was able to pick himself up, he tested the door only to find it blocked.
As Justin was being cut out of the bathroom, the fire department and the bomb squad were called; another attempt had been made on the family and it looked like Justin was the target now.
The next morning was filled with harnessing and saddling, but they were able to pull out of the yard with relatively little fuss. Despite the extra police presence - despite the activity and the fact that it was impossible to figure everyone’s movements, someone was able to get into the house. In the office, they had hastily rifled through the latest mail and tried to access the computer.
The expedition departed as planned. Handling the local stock had its difficulties, but one difficulty could be avoided easily enough; if they didn’t mix males and females, they avoided any troubles that might arise from one competing for the attention of the other.
On Justin’s expedition, they had taken only female animals. Two days into their travels, the attack came in the form of a male cason, a massive ox-like animal, sent after them jacked up on hormones. Being optimistic, if it had managed to reach the center of their camp, the damage could have been enough to turn them around and it was even likely that people would have been killed. Fortunately, long before it reached the edge of camp, the females recognized the wrongness and attacked it before it could get any closer.
While order was being restored to camp and damages were being assessed, Justin took three men and backtracked the cason. They found a dilapidated homestead with signs of recent use. They also found a car. One of the men, an undercover police officer, was sent back to the ranch with the car and some of the evidence. It was hoped that, without the car, the occupant wouldn’t be able to go very far.
Leaving everything else untouched, they mounted up to return to the wagons. The unknown assassin wasn’t finished yet, but haste forced him to make a mistake. Since he had no long distance weapon, he used an old rifle from the old house. The first shot knocked Justin from the saddle and the others dove out of their saddles as the second shot whizzed by without hitting anything, and after the third shot, there was silence except for sounds of their stock rapidly retreating. It was discovered that the old rifle had blown up with that third shot, killing the shooter.
Justin was only injured and he elected to continue with the expedition, but these developments had to be relayed to the authorities. A note was left but Justin insisted that no mention of his injury be included.
The death of the shooter seemed to mark the end of further attempts on Justin’s life, so the expedition reached the ruins without further incident. It wasn’t until after a week of peaceful surveying and exploring the ruins that the next unusual event happened. A squeal of alarm sounded from farther within the ruins and all of their own stock not only answered, but ran to the rescue; the men had to follow - they couldn’t afford to loose their stock.
When they reached the source of the disturbance, they discovered two wer-men held prisoner by something none of them had ever seen before. The local fauna had six legs rather than four like on earth, and this creature, though very familiar in general form, no longer stood on six legs. Standing something like the mythical centaur, it held one wer-man pinned against a short rocky cliff and pinned another on the ground under a six-toed hoof.
Released, Justin discovered that the two wer-men were in fact his two eldest brothers and it didn’t take long for one of them to admit that they were there to bring about Justin’s death. They also discovered the reason for the mystery of Wer, but you’ll have to read the book to find out what it is.