Gerritt stared out the tram window, only aware of the falling snow in an abstract way. Soon they would be in the colony of Bergen. His parents lived about an hour from there by equine. He had left as a boy of twenty only three years ago to serve on Bergen’s spaceship, Moeder. He was coming back a man - at least he hoped so. He wasn’t sure where he was going to live now, but it wasn’t going to be with his parents. They were great people, but they still saw him as a child. Maybe they always would. He was their only boy and the youngest of five children. He didn’t want to spend the rest of his life working a farm. He wanted to do something more important. He didn’t know what that might be, but he was certain that it involved the Prophecy.
He shifted his gaze to study his commander, sitting in the seat facing him. Donte had been in a reflective mood since they boarded the tram. No doubt he was thinking about his mate and daughter. Donte was thirty-five, but he didn’t look a day over nineteen. That was due to the fact that he was a mascot – a genetically modified human. Donte didn’t think of himself as a human, but he most definitely was. He was a remarkably handsome man with dark hair and deep blue eyes. His smooth cheeks were void of any whiskers, as all mascots were. He was a head taller than the stocky people of Bergen, and had a lean build. Donte was a magnet for women. That didn’t help Gerritt much. Apparently, he was the other end of the magnet – the one that repelled them.
Donte had a deep voice and a soft way of speaking that caught and held the attention of those around him. He was kind and intelligent. Everyone liked Donte. He was the kind of person that people wanted to emulate; honest and loyal. Gerritt would trust him with his life.
In the three years they had served on the Moeder, Donte had become a close friend. Gerritt wasn’t sure that would continue after they returned to Bergen. Donte was very much a family man, but that wasn’t Gerritt’s concern. Donte was destined for greatness. He was the grandson of Pieter, Ruler of Bergen. Pieter’s mate, Saskia, had been the Queen of Bosvrouwen until she exchanged vows with Pieter. Their daughter, Princess Anica, had exchanged vows with Quade, the President of Libertad colony. Quade and Pieter were the two most influential men on planet Purlieu. It was no surprise that the offspring of those two families had become so popular. Pieter had named Donte as his successor and the cabinet had enthusiastically confirmed him. All that was impressive enough, but Donte had also been identified as the Anialwch Connection in the Prophecy.
Thirty years ago, the experimental colonies on planet Purlieu had been abandoned after what The Fontalo claimed was a plague had killed or sterilized almost all the mascots. The Fontalo was the group of scientists who had created the mascots. They had left three spaceships and the remaining mascots to protect the colonists. The Prophecy indicated they would return. Donte and Princess Celyn of Anialwch were supposed to lead the colonies to freedom. That wasn’t supposed to be for another five or six years, but Gerritt intended to be ready to fight beside Donte.
All of the colonies were currently ruled by mascots, but Donte believed the colonists, whom he referred to as humans, should have equal opportunity to lead. As a colonist, Gerritt agreed, but he was afraid Donte was going to get into trouble if he continued to openly express that concept.
The mascots had been created to guide and protect the colonists of Purlieu. They had been programmed to lead. To do that, they were made stronger and more intelligent than the colonists. They had been given animal genes to help them adapt to the specific climates and terrain. The mascots of Bergen had been altered with the avialae genes to help them tolerate the cold in the mountains, while the mascots of Libertad were given genes from Felines. The mascots of different colonies weren’t supposed to mix because it would cause mutations. Donte was a mix and it had merely given him more attributes – what he referred to as superpowers. While no one denied his superpowers; most of Donte’s amazing accomplishments could be attributed to the effort he put into everything. He had earned each of the honor badges on his uniform. They weren’t simply given to him because of his destiny. In fact, Commander Adriaan had expected more from Donte than he had the others - and he got it.
Mascots certainly had some advantages. One was that their life expectancy was up to 400 years. Pieter was only a couple hundred years old, but complications from the plague had left him in poor health and he was now confined to a wheelchair. There were disadvantages to being a mascot, though. Mascots couldn’t reproduce with colonists, and female mascots only had estrus every 3 years. Gestation was twelve months and their child producing years were only forty to fifty years. That was an issue for Donte and Rianne because she was two years older than him. Donte thought the restrictions were a method of birth control, but Gerritt wondered if they were merely a result of the tampering with genes. After all, The Fontalo decided to sterilize all the males by giving them a serum that resulted in an 87% kill rate of the males – adult and children. They even gave it to pregnant females. Donte and Donica had escaped that because their mother refused to take the serum. When the mascots started getting sick, The Fontalo said it was a plague and then gave more serum to the rest of the mascots in their food.
When Donte told Gerritt what actually happened, he had been shocked. Most of the older colonists knew a mascot who had died of the plague. They thought it was a weakness in the mascots that made them vulnerable. To discover that a team of scientists had actually intentionally caused it was scary. The idea that they might return was doubly so. Last time it was the mascots. Next time it might be the colonists.
Gerritt had never actually known a mascot until he served on the Moeder. Anouk was a female mascot from Vlaktes. Everyone liked her. Until he met Anouk and Donte, he always thought mascots were aloof and lacked the emotions of colonists. He was wrong. When it came to emotion, mascots were no different than colonists.
Gerritt looked at Donte. “You must be excited about seeing Rianne and Petra again.”
Donte turned from the window and smiled at Gerritt. “It’s been a month since I last saw them.
“Have you seen Celyn since you went into the service?”
“No. When I have time off, I spend it with my mate and daughter. It’s hard to believe she’s three years old now. I’ve missed so much, but I felt I needed the service experience. I hope I can make it up to her…and Rianne.” He looked at his hands. “When we read Niall’s files on the Baigh four years ago, she said we had nine years left together and she was going to make the most of it. I took three of those years away serving on the Moeder.”
Gerritt had never met Rianne, but he felt as if he knew her. Donte talked about her all the time. He couldn’t imagine how any relationship could survive under the circumstances they faced. He would have thought Rianne would be the one who couldn’t accept Princess Celyn’s vision, but she did. It was Donte who insisted that her vision of exchanging vows with him when she turned nineteen was misinterpreted. Yet both Donte and Rianne accepted that Celyn was a seer. It would be difficult to deny. It was Celyn’s vision that resulted in the rescue of Donte and Akira in the desert by King Neirin and his men. Celyn had told them exactly where and when to find them. Donte didn’t want to believe the vision. He insisted that a 9-year-old girl would know nothing of nuptial vows or love. Probably so, but she didn’t even know Donte and Akira existed until she saw them in the desert in her vision. Without a doubt, Rianne was Donte’s greatest weakness. No one was as perfect as Donte thought Rianne was.
Gerritt wanted to meet Celyn. Donte had described an ursidae hunt where Celyn had saved his life in the form of a strigiformes. She didn’t become the aves form, but she did see things through their eyes during her visions. Evidently, she was able to influence their actions as well. The next few years were going to be interesting and informative.
Donte stepped off the tram at the Bergen station and looked around for Rianne. Instead, he saw Saskia holding Petra. He pushed disappointment to the back of his mind and smiled a welcome as Saskia joined them.
Petra squealed and reached for Donte. Donte plucked her from Saskia’s arms and tossed her into the air. She squealed with delight as he caught and hugged her. He let her sit on his arm, with one arm around his neck as he turned to Saskia.
“She had a meeting in Bosvrouwen today. She will be back on the evening tram.”
It was something he had long ago accepted. Rianne was the official representative for Bosvrouwen. They allowed her to maintain that position even though she lived with her mate in Bergen as long as she returned regularly for meetings. How long that would last, neither of them knew, but she didn’t want to give up the position. She had worked hard for it.
Donte introduced Gerritt to Saskia. His blond brows lifted and he lowered his head in respectful acknowledgment of the ruler’s mate. “I am honored to meet you, Saskia.”
Saskia smiled at him. “It is nice to meet you.” She looked at Donte. “I assume you are hungry? I have some food ready at the Groot Thuis.”
Gerritt rubbed the blonde stubble on his chin absently with one hand while his light blue eyes searched Donte’s face. “Perhaps I should go….”
“Come with us, Gerritt,” Donte interrupted. “I’d like Papaw to meet you.” He looked at Saskia. “They gave us a farewell celebration before we left the ship. Gerritt and I were the last to leave, so I hope you won’t be offended if we aren’t hungry.”
Saskia glanced at each of them. “Maybe later.”
They rode a coach to the Groot Thuis and took the lift to the second floor, where Pieter and Saskia lived. Pieter came out of his office in his wheel chair and grinned at Donte, his eyes twinkling with delight.
“Welcome back. It is good to have you home.”
“Thank you.” Donte introduced Gerritt to Pieter.
Gerritt shook Pieter’s hand and exchanged pleasantries. All the while Pieter was measuring him. Maybe Gerritt wasn’t aware of it, but Donte knew his grandfather. It annoyed him that Pieter didn’t accept Gerritt on the merit that he was a friend. He brushed the feeling aside. Gerritt wasn’t going to be staying with Pieter anyway.
“Petra has fallen asleep.” Saskia said to Donte. “Would you like me to put her down on our bed?”
She would probably sleep better on the bed than his shoulder, but he wasn’t ready to put her down. He patted her on the back. “I’ll hold her for a little while longer.”
Saskia smiled. “I thought that might be your answer. You seemed to be enjoying her.”
It was a statement that needed no qualification. He had lost a mate and three children already. It felt good to hold a sleeping child in his arms again.
Pieter’s critical gaze shifted to Donte, traveling up and down his tall lean frame and landing on the badges pinned to his uniform. He studied them for a moment before his gaze lifted to Donte’s face.
“You have received the highest honors.”
Donte nodded. “Pheromones work wonders.”
Pieter frowned. “What?”
Gerritt glanced at Donte, his gaze holding a touch of humor. “He can’t seem to grasp that people like him for who and what he is instead of how he smells.”
Donte laughed. When he looked at Pieter, he was scowling at Gerritt. Donte explained, in an attempt to draw Pieter’s negative attention from Gerritt.
“I never know for sure. Ever since I discovered that the pheromones are intensified with the generations of mixing among mascots of different colonies, I have wondered if people are motivated by my pheromones.”
Pieter’s gaze came back to Donte, minus the scowl. He was silent a moment, probably considering that information. Finally, he shrugged. “Does it matter?”
“Sometimes. If someone was passed over for me because of it; then it matters.”
A slow smile came to Pieter’s lips. His gaze shifted to Gerritt, as if sharing a thought with him. When his gaze came back to Donte, he released a deep sigh.
“Perhaps it is a good thing to have self doubt. It keeps a person humble. Nevertheless, I’m sure you have earned each of those badges.”
Donte shrugged. “Possibly; I know I worked hard for them.”
Pieter nodded. He changed the subject and never came back to it. They talked for a while and finally Petra became heavy in Donte’s arms. Saskia lifted Petra from Donte’s shoulder and took her into their bedroom. Donte stood and looked down at Pieter.
“It’s almost time to meet Rianne at the station.” He glanced at Gerritt. “Would you like to join me?”
Pieter interrupted before Gerritt could respond. “Go on and meet her alone. I’ll entertain Gerritt until you return.”
Donte looked at Gerritt. He smiled. “Go ahead. I’m sure you have enough to say to each other without me tagging along.”
“You’ll be staying at our house, then?”
Gerritt nodded. “If you wish, but I can get a room.”
Donte gave him a wry smile. “Rianne would have my hide if you did that. I’ll see you in a little while.”
At the tram station, Donte selected a book from the shelf and sat in a chair to wait for the tram Rianne would be on. He opened the book and looked at it, but his mind was on something else.
He had been offered a position as second in command of the Moeder. He was deeply honored and, under different circumstances, might have accepted. It was possible that it would put him in a better position to defend the planet of Purlieu, should The Parliament or The Fontalo return. The Prophecy indicated that he and Celyn would lead the colonies to freedom, but it didn’t indicate how. In fact, he wasn’t certain whether they were supposed to lead the mascots, the humans or both. He could only take the facts he had and work them into some kind of plan.
Donte and Commander Adriaan had discussed some areas that needed work before The Prophecy came to pass. They didn’t always agree and on some things, they had different perspectives, but they both agreed that some preparation was required and it needed to be done in the next few years.
Communication was one of the things Donte felt was most important. Adriaan wasn’t sure that was a general problem. Donte felt that emergency stations were needed on Purlieu. Currently, a message by wire was the most reliable, but that method of communication was only available where the tram lines existed because the wires were inside the tram rail. While tram lines were expanding, it was unlikely that they would ever serve the remote areas. The only way to get a message to a remote area was by foot, equine or camelus. That simply wouldn’t be fast enough in event of an invasion from space.
Donte had been intrigued by the communication medallions used on the Moeder and other spaceships. The colonists wouldn’t be able to contact the space ships with them, but they could contact each other in the event of an emergency. The shuttles were able to contact the space ships from the planet. The colonists could use the same technology to build remote emergency stations. One of his troops, Nieke, had shown interest in communications and thought that it wouldn’t be difficult to do. Adriaan wasn’t keen on that idea. To his way of thinking, the remote stations would only become targets in an invasion. He thought that the colonists would begin to rely on the medallions and emergency stations for personal emergencies. That was where Donte and Adriaan parted company on perspective. To Donte’s way of thinking, the personal emergencies of the colonists were as important as any other. Of course, one would have to define emergency. To Donte, that was simple – anything life-threatening was an emergency. That topic led to another. If they were able to communicate an emergency, how would anyone get there in time to help? At that point, transportation became the topic of debate.
One of the purposes of the Purlieu Experiment had been to determine if the colonists could progress without polluting the planet. The problems their mother planet, Oriel, faced were addressed in the records in detail. Apparently, the purpose of the records was to assure that they didn't make the same mistakes on Purlieu. Unlike the earliest population of Oriel, the humans and mascots of Purlieu were educated on the prevention of pollution, so they didn’t have to go through trial and error. Currently, Purlieu was almost as pristine as the day they were put on the planet. The tram operated on solar energy. All colonies maintained the rule that the rail would be at least ten feet from the ground at all times. The wildlife was never in danger and neither was any other form of transportation. The problem with the tram was that the rails were limited to the major population centers and the distance between. The rest of the planet had no emergency route. Donte had suggested emergency transports like the shuttles used by the spaceships. Runways were not required because when the shuttles were on the ground, they traveled on a cushion of air. They could be used on land, water or in the air. Their power source was clean. Again, Adriaan’s objection was that the colonists would rely on them for personal transportation. Without a doubt there would have to be strict rules that were enforced, but Donte couldn’t see where that was an insurmountable problem. Of course, the number of shuttles were limited and the spaceships needed all that they had. The factories of Bosvrouwen were capable of building more, and they wouldn’t have to be as elaborate, because they wouldn’t be traveling in space. Adriaan was concerned that if they began building them on Purlieu, it would lead to the issue they faced on Oriel, with everyone wanting one or two of them for their own purpose. Donte had to admit that could become a problem. All the colonies had only started contacting each other in the last four years. Each colony had an individual government. Since the Parliament abandoned the experiment, there was no one to enforce the old regulations or create new ones. Adriaan felt that the spaceship commanders should serve that purpose. Donte was inclined to agree. Currently the leaders accepted the authority of the commanders, but the commanders had never interfered with the colonies in the past.
Another preparation that needed to be addressed was something Adriaan could neither advise nor help. He could only lend his support to Donte, and he did so with great enthusiasm. Donte and Celyn had to learn how to use their superpowers together.
Celyn was only fourteen; too young to be of much help in the planning. As a seer, her visions had only contributed confusion. She insisted that Donte was supposed to exchange vows with her when she was nineteen. He had scoured the files and the library on the Moeder and Baigh, searching for a clue about what other vows might be required. As always, he came away with more questions than answers. The controversy over the vows had distracted him from the issue at hand. He had to remedy that. He had to set all that aside and work with Celyn on a professional level.
While all his research had turned up more questions, it had also resolved a few of his questions. Niall, the original commander of the Baigh, had named Donte as the prophesied Anialwch Connection. Apparently Celyn was the other end of the connection. Her colony, Anialwch, had been modified with the gene of the camelus, but her biological father was Beier, from Bergen. The mascots of Bergen had been modified with the gene of the aves. She had picked up both genes, giving her the ability to connect with him through various aves. For him, it wasn’t that simple. His father, Quade, president of Libertad, was a mascot modified with the gene of the feline. His mother was the offspring of Pieter and Saskia. Pieter had the aves gene, but the people of Bosvrouwen carried the gene of the aves and the camelus. He had often wondered if offspring inherited all genes of the parents.
He knew he carried the aves gene. That was how he survived the trek through the snowcapped mountains in scant clothing four years ago. He knew he had the feline gene because he had the night vision ability. While serving on the Moeder, a blood test had confirmed he had the camelus gene as well. His blood corpuscles were oval, altered to store water. He carried all three genes, but was that true of all the offspring of mascots? The records on the Baigh had stated that mixing the genes made each generation stronger; creating superpowers. Celyn had the superpower of a seer. His superpower had manifested in the ability to sense living creatures near him as well as their mood. When he hunted, he sensed the presence of the animals around him – including humans. Knowing their mood gave him an advantage – a way to separate those who assisted him from those who intended harm. Still, his twin sister, Donica, had no superpowers, nor did his mate, Rianne. Did they inherit the genes? Would his children?
Would Petra have superpowers? When she was born, he had examined every inch of her tiny body and felt relieved when she appeared to be normal and healthy. Rianne wanted another baby. He wanted another baby. Did they have the right to take another chance?
The Prophecy said the scientists would return. How could the colonists defeat them with inferior technology and numbers? How could a person reason with insanity on that level? Every time he thought of that part, he thought about Farasi. He had terminated the insane mascot tyrant. It wouldn’t be that simple with The Fontalo.
There were no aves on the Moeder; not even a proxy, like the accipitridae plaque on the Baigh. If Celyn had been able to see him on the Moeder, he was unaware of it. He glanced at the insignia on the arm of his uniform. The emblem of the Moeder was a floral crest. It was strange that the Baigh would use an accipitridae (an avialae) on their insignia when their genetic make-up had been modified with that of the anura (an amphibian) while the Moeder used a floral design even though they were modified with the gene of the avialae. Of course, who would want an anura on a plaque? What would it be doing - flinging its long sticky tongue at an insect? The accipitridae, with its large sharp bill and piercing gaze, looked intimidating. The floral crest was attractive, but its significance of peace and purity seemed contradictory to a troop of trained military men and women.
Donte looked up as the tram arrived from Bosvrouwen. He put the book back on the shelf and watched the passengers emerge into the lobby. One of them was Beier, a mascot who had been a captive of the Lochfowk for 30 years. He spotted Donte and joined him, offering a palm up for the mascot handshake.
“It is good to see you back, Monomi.”
Donte grasped his forearm. “It’s good to be back – for good.”
Beier released his arm, his gaze taking in the badges. “It looks like you did well in your training. I’m not surprised.”
Donte nodded, his attention shifting to Rianne as she came into the lobby. “I don’t mean to be rude, but Rianne has just arrived.”
Beier turned and looked at Rianne. “Well, I can’t blame you. I’ll talk to you later.” He turned and walked away.
Rianne joined Donte, never looking at Beier. She had to have seen him on the tram. It made him wonder if Beier was bothering her. If he was, Donte was certain Rianne could handle it without his interference.
Rianne hugged him. “Come on.” She grabbed his hand, tugging him into a secluded hallway.
He didn’t need any encouragement. Once out of sight, he pulled her into his arms. She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his lips; her own brand of welcome. She finally drew back, breathless. “I missed you so much! I’m so glad you’re home to stay.”
If she thought he was going to be at home all the time from now on, she was going to be disappointed. He wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while; not until he knew she was carrying that baby she wanted, anyway. Still there were many things they could do together and as a family. Petra wasn’t too young to benefit from travel – as long as it was safe.
“I’m eager to see all the changes you mentioned.”
She frowned. “What changes?”
“The new tram lines….”
“Donte.…” She rolled her eyes. “You’re never going to be content to be home with your family, are you?”
Oops. He pulled her back into his arms and kissed her until she was breathless again. At that point he wasn’t sure if or how he should bring up the subject of a guest in their home.
“We’d better get back to the Groot Thuis. I left Petra there. She was asleep.”
Rianne smiled up at him. “Saskia has already made arrangements to watch her tonight so you and I can be alone.”
Oops again. Why hadn’t he anticipated this? Of course, she hadn’t related her plans to him any more than he had revealed his to her. He’d just have to talk to Gerritt. He would understand, though it would be awkward bringing it up.
“Still, I left a friend there.…”
Rianne lifted her brows. “Please tell me it isn’t a girl.”
He grinned. “It most definitely isn’t a girl. His name is Gerritt and he is a colonist.”
She smiled. “And you invited him to stay at our cottage.”
It would do no good to attempt hiding anything from her. It was as though she had a direct link to his mind.
“For a few days. I didn’t think you would mind. I should have asked first. I’m sorry.”
She took his hand in hers. “I don’t mind, and I’m sure you would love the opportunity to spend some time with Petra.” A twinkle came into her eyes. “I mean, I’ve got you all night long.”
He pulled her into his arms again. “And I’m looking forward to that.”
She laid her head on his chest and released a sigh of contentment. “I’ve missed you so much. It is going to be nice to have you under foot.”
He laughed. “We’d better go get Petra.”
When they arrived to pick up Petra and Gerritt, Saskia was trying to quiet Petra. Petra looked up when they came in, her eyes red and her face tearstained. “Daddy!” She screamed as she wriggled off Saskia’s lap.
Donte met her half way across the room and lifted her into his arms. He wiped a tear from her face. “What’s this?”
Saskia stood. “She thought you left again. I couldn’t convince her that you weren’t going back to the spaceship.”
Donte kissed Petra; a lump forming in his throat. The scene reminded him of the last time he saw Chiku. He spoke with a restricted voice. “I don’t have to go back to the spaceship anymore, sweetie.”
Petra hugged his neck. “Can I sweep wif woo tonight, Daddy?”
Rianne lifted Petra from Donte’s arms. “Mommy asked first.” Her facial expression and voice indicated she was serious, but the twinkle in her eye when she looked at Donte made it clear that it was intended as a joke between them.
Gerritt laughed. He had quite an appreciation for dry humor. He was going to like Rianne.
Donte introduced Rianne to Gerritt. Rianne shifted Petra to one hip and offered a hand to Gerritt. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. We welcome you to our cottage”
Gerritt gripped her hand and glanced from Rianne to Donte and back again. “Look, I don’t want to intrude on your homecoming. I can get a room here.”
Rianne smiled. “Of course, we don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, but you are welcome and certainly not intruding.”
“I think I’d feel more comfortable with my own room, if you don’t mind. Saskia tells me they are planning a celebration for the homecoming of all the servicemen and women. I’ll hang around until then.”
Donte glanced at Pieter, who was giving undue attention to a fingernail. What had he said to Gerritt? He looked at Gerritt.
“I hope you’ll be around after that. I thought we were going to work together.”
Gerritt glanced at Pieter, who was still examining the nail. Gerritt’s attention lifted to Donte. “We can talk about it later. I’m pretty tired now.”
Pieter looked at Gerritt, but not at Donte. He said nothing. Something had happened in his absence and he intended to find out what it was.
Donte shrugged. “If you would be more comfortable with a room, then that’s what we would like you to do. I do want to talk to you tomorrow, though.”
Gerritt nodded. “We will talk tomorrow.” Without further comment, he left.
Donte took Petra from Rianne and turned to Saskia. “We’re going to go now too. Thanks for watching Petra. We’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Saskia handed Donte a little blanket. “It’s cold out there. Keep her warm.”
As they entered the lift, Rianne looked up at Donte. “What has he done this time?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then why are you angry with him?”
“He said something to Gerritt. I’m sure of it. For some reason, he doesn’t like him.”
The lift doors opened and they stepped into the lobby on the first floor.
Rianne frowned. “How do you know he doesn’t like him?” She stopped and waved a hand in dismissal. “All right, I shouldn’t have asked that. You know; that’s enough. What do you think he said?”
“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”
She followed him through the lobby and outside. Donte waved to the coach driver and he whipped the equines into action, pulling alongside them. Donte gave him instructions and they climbed into the coach.
Rianne snuggled next to him. “What is Gerritt to you?”
Donte put an arm around her and kissed her forehead. “Maybe nothing, but I will make that decision, not Papaw. This has to do with The Prophecy. If I must lead, I cannot permit people to undermine me; not even Papaw.”
Rianne sat up and smiled at him. “I’m glad to see you are accepting it now. For whatever it is worth, I believe in you. I trust your judgment.”
He hugged her close. “It’s worth a lot. I can’t think of anyone I want to please more than you.”