The first body was found in March, laying in the grassy field just east of the dining hall. Identification was simple; the colony had only three thousand members and there wasn't a single one who couldn't point out Billy in a crowd. Full name William Harris Jenkins, male, twelve years of age. He was the first child born on the colony, and there was nobody that didn't love him. We kept it quiet for a few hours while we moved the body and cleaned it up a little; it didn't show any signs of damage but the irrigation pumps had come on and so his face was covered in mud and grass. Once he looked like himself again - other than the lack of color to him which we couldn't do anything about - I made the difficult trip to inform his parents.
Billy answered the door.
When I say there were three thousand members you need to understand that that's the grand total. Between the ages of ten and fourteen there were three hundred, and half of those were girls. There's just no way you fail to notice two kids are perfect look-alikes in a pool of a hundred and fifty.
"Hey Sherriff," he said, "My mom's not home. Can I get you anything?" Such a polite kid. I smiled at him and asked for something to drink, then waited for him on the porch. As the oldest member of the colony - very nearly fifty years old - I felt like I had some kind of responsibility to remain calm and collected even in the face of something impossible. He came out and we talked a little about the harvest and his mother's quilts, and then I asked him about the field.
"You ever play out there, Billy?" He sort of nodded and shrugged simultaneously, the standard "I guess so" gesture all the kids used. I pressed for more, but he insisted he hadn't been out there for weeks because he had been collecting the bounty on bull-spiders.
I finished my lemonade, headed back to the office, and told the others. To put it plainly, they thought my frail mind had snapped out of grief. It took a while to sort things out while keeping anyone from being alerted, and then all of our precautions turned out to be for naught - because the next body was found smack-dab in the center of town. By himself. Cody Williams came into the office one right after the other, following alongside the stretcher like a concerned loved one. The doctor was actually pleased, laid them down side by side and did a full comparison. I'm sure it was great for the scientific aspect of things, but it did something awful to Cody's head and for the next month he wouldn't get out of bed because he insisted he was already dead. Meanwhile the doctor declared the corpse to be some sort of crazy forgery, an advanced clone. It calmed everyone down to know nothing supernatural was happening, but that left a lot of questions for me.
The doctor didn't make his proclamation overnight, and by the time he did three more were found - one an infant. I watched as he did examined the most recent one and I tried to get some details from him.
"Doc, correct me if I'm wrong... but we don't have a rig that can make duplicates of people like that."
He nodded, turned off his recorder. "That's correct, Sherriff. It was just the best thing I could come up with."
I got goosebumps all over, but I pressed on anyway. "Don't rule anything out, then. Aliens. Demons. Let your mind go wherever it wants, I won't tell anyone and I won't say you're crazy."
He smiled at me, with a kind of pride. "I'll tell you that I have ruled out time travel as of this morning. Denise had a cut on her right hand that was on the corpse as well - and it's healed up now. I've implemented a test for another hypothesis, but I can't tell you right now."
"And that's it? All you can rule out is time travel?"
"So far. If I had my old lab from Earth, maybe, but with travel time for the bodies it would take twenty years to hear back even if the supply ship arrived tomorrow."
They continued to pour into the doctor's office through April and May, at a pace of about twelve per week. People started to get used to it, which was actually sensible since at that rate it would be almost five years before everyone had a turn. It was on May twenty-fifth that the Doctor called me in, pointed to his own body on the slab. He looked like he hadn't slept in weeks. I probably didn't look much better; I had been working non-stop on the surveillance systems even though I knew there was no way I would be able to cover even a quarter of the colony and whatever was going on never happened on camera.
"Sherriff... a few months ago I started dosing myself with radiation. It was a silly idea... after all, anything that can reproduce a body that exactly should be able to get radiation right too, but the readings had been just slightly different between a few of them. The dead Cody, for example, had a little less background radiation."
I could feel ice running down my spine. I already knew what he was going to say.
"This corpse, my corpse, matches exactly the levels and type of radiation that I had documented for myself. I... do not."
I said before that I try to remain calm and collected, and that's just what I did. I told the doctor - or the thing that looked like the doctor - to keep it to himself and not raise a panic. I went to my house and packed a few things, slipped away to the emergency shuttle, and abandoned them all to be replaced one by one. My deputy noticed the shuttle leaving, of course, and he tried to tell me to come back. I didn't even respond - after all, I had dragged his cold body out of the office myself a week before. I reached the mining outpost and refueled, sent as detailed a message as I dared back to the government hub but I didn't wait for a reply - I know they just thought I was crazy. I've been laying low ever since, but I had to come here and get a stiff drink today - see, it's been ten years since the supply ship picked up some of the colonists to go back to Earth... they're docking at New York Port right now.