Humans genetically modified with animal genes.
Created to lead – destined to liberate.
Prelude to the Mascot Trilogy
The Purlieu Experiment began on the desks of scientists of Planet Oriel as an innocent attempt to put humans on a pristine planet and learn how to keep it that way. Technology would be restricted.
That was the intent, but then the government got involved. Their list of requirements expanded to include the division of volunteers into 5 colonies and giving each an assigned government, language and medicinal advancement. Their intent was to find out how the colonies would progress over different generations.
The added conditions required more funding, so a private corporation contributed – with stipulations of their own, of course. They provided the essential spaceships, technology and their latest invention - Mascots. Their purpose was to test these new primates. A combination of animal and human genes had given them enhanced immune systems, intelligence, strength, endurance and longevity. Each Mascot had been designed for specific environments on Purlieu. The purpose of the Mascots in Fontalo's experiment was to protect and guide colonists.
Keeping Purlieu pristine meant giving up the conveniences the colonists had on Oriel. The colonists were to grow their own food. Approved power sources were hydro, solar or wind. Transportation would be provided by horses – equines, as the colonists referred to them. It was no surprise that the colonists used scientific names for wildlife species that might not have been identical to that on Oriel. Both labor and leadership eventually fell to those who were best fit for it – the Mascots.
This relationship went on for a couple centuries until a sudden plague killed 87% of the Mascots and sterilized most of the males. Without explanation, the experiment was abandoned. Three spaceships commanded by Mascots were left to protect the planet and and assist the colonist in whatever way they chose. No one knew if the scientists would ever return. The experiment was over for Oriel, but it had only begun for the occupants of Planet Purlieu.
Donte drew his equine to a halt in the clearing and looked longingly at the snow-capped mountains of Bergen colony in the distance. He'd like to be up there riding free. The thought shamed him. He loved his mate and son but the mountains were no place for a 4-year-old boy and a woman in her twelfth month of pregnancy. They were more comfortable in their modest farmhouse.
His gaze lifted to the clear sky. Was that a star? No, it looked like a reflection. Maybe one of the three spaceships left to protect them when The Parliament abandoned them nearly three decades ago.
Donte stiffened as he sensed the presence of a cervidae in the forest. They didn't need the meat, but he was supposed to be hunting. Actually, he had convinced himself that he needed and deserved a little time away from Liana. She had been irritable lately, snapping at him over trivial things. He had stayed at home throughout the fetal sickness stage so that his strong pheromones would reduce her discomfort. He would take care of Bjorn when the new baby arrived, which could be any day now. Today might be his only opportunity to enjoy the stress relieving effect of nature for a while.
The sensation hit him without warning. Bjorn was afraid and Liana was in pain. It was early, but she was probably in labor. He reined the equine around and dug his heals into its sides. Schilderen loved to run and he let her.
When they came to the steep incline, he could see their farm in the distance. He saw and sensed the presence of the riders. Malevolence and fear surrounded them. He sensed Liana's agony and... resignation?
He searched the rock-strewn slope for a way down – a shortcut. Panic threatened. What had happened to Bjorn? He could no longer sense his presence.
In desperation, he forced Schilderen toward the steep slope. For a moment, the equine resisted but finally plunged over the edge. It was a long slope and he struggled to stay in the saddle each time she stumbled.
When they reached the bottom, he urged her into a gallop. His heart pounded so hard that he could hear it in his ears. Where was Bjorn? What had the riders done to his family?
He could see Liana now, lying on her back in the yard, her clothing ripped open. There was blood – lots of it! He reigned Schilderen to a sliding stop near Liana and hopped to the ground, racing to her side.
Liana's blanched face glistened with tears as she spoke in a weak voice. "They took Bjorn and then came back." She clutched the lifeless form of their daughter to her chest. "They held me down and cut her from me." Her voice broke. "They didn't want a girl." She sobbed. "They have killed us, Donte."
Donte stared in numb silence as her presence faded and her eyes glazed over in death. She was no longer in pain and he could do nothing here. He needed to find Bjorn. They wouldn't hurt Bjorn. He would be the heir Farasi wanted...or the negotiating tool to get one. Logic urged him to leave Liana and find Bjorn. Fear froze him beside Liana. He couldn't sense the presence of Bjorn.
"No!" Donte stood and ran to Schilderen. He paused in indecision. He needed a fresh equine - but there wasn't time. He grabbed the saddle horn and threw himself into the saddle. Schilderen didn't hesitate. She began running before he had time to get straight in the saddle, but he managed on the run.
They didn't have to go far before he found Bjorn laying on the ground beside a rock. He leaped from the horse and scooped the boy in his arms. He listened for a heartbeat and felt for breath, even though the crushed skull told him that Bjorn was dead.
For a moment he stood still, staring down at his son, unable to comprehend what had happened. Why would they kill Bjorn? Why would anyone kill a defenseless child?
The answer came to him in a rage. Farasi had certainly resolved the issue of a mate and children. Farasi wanted an heir and he had decided Donte would be the father. Donte had declined. With departure of the scientists, there was only one way to reproduce, and he would never be unfaithful to his mate. He had escaped several times when Farasi's raiders had tried to capture him...and now this.
For a moment the numbness was replaced by a hot desire to track those men down and kill every one of them. He had never been violent in his life, but he felt capable of it now – as soon as he took care of his family.
He gently placed Bjorn's little body on the saddle and mounted again. Cuddling Bjorn to his chest with one arm, he turned Schilderen back toward their farm.
At the farm, he carried Liana and his children into the bedroom and placed them on the bed. He stared down at their mutilated bodies and felt ashamed. He had not been there when they needed him. Liana had trusted him to protect them and he had failed. If he had been home, he might not have been able to fight off the raiders, but he would have surrendered to save his mate and children. Would have...and now he could do nothing for them.
He brushed Liana's shiny black hair away from her beautiful face. "I love you." It did no good to tell her now. "I'm so sorry that...I failed you."
He suddenly turned and raced out of the house. He barely got outside the door when he began retching.
When he wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve, he noticed his hand was shaking. His legs felt weak. He retched again. This couldn't be real. Mascots were actually killing Mascots. But no, the raiders had been colonists - colonists killing Mascots.
He took a few steps on shaking legs before sinking to the ground on his knees. Thunder rumbled in the distance. He blinked to clear the flecks of light from his eyes. He made a feeble attempt to protect his face with his arms as he fell forward and lost consciousness.
Donte woke to the pound of rain on his back. He pushed away from the ground and stared back at the house, hoping it had all been a bad dream. He knew it wasn't, though, and he didn't want to see their bodies again. Schilderen snorted a short distance away. How long had he been out?
He staggered to his feet and stumbled to the equine. This was his fault and his responsibility to correct. He had not told anyone about the attempts to capture him. He had been ashamed of the reason Farasi wanted him and he didn't want to create a political issue between Nyumbani and Libertad or Bergen. He had a dream of uniting all the colonies. He had not yet contacted Lochfowk or Anialwch. And now...this.
He took Schilderen to the barn and switched the saddle to another equine before releasing Schilderen into the field. He mounted and rode to the nearest neighbor.
He related the news in a strangely detached voice and asked them to contact his father while he went after the raiders. After he left, it occurred to him that his neighbors would be fearing for their lives as well. It wouldn't hurt to have people on alert. If the raiders would do this, the possibility of further violence couldn't be ruled out – especially when he caught up with them.
There were six of them and they were not Mascots, so odds were about even. They would have fear against them and he would have anger in his favor. He had never fought anyone in his life, other than playful scuffles. Right now, he didn't want to fight them. He wanted to terminate them. If Libertad captured them, they might be sent back to Nyumbani. He was fairly certain that if his grandfather had anything to do with it, these raiders as well as Farasi would be punished severely. The killing of Mascots could not be tolerated. They had lost too many during the plague. The birth of Bjorn had given them hope.
The raiders would be heading for the river, so he rode at a gallop for a while without looking for sign. When he moved out of the storm's path, he found a clear trail of hoof-trodden grass. They weren't even trying to hide their trail. Why? He sat up straight in the saddle and looked around. Ahead of him lay a forest and beyond that, a river. He could not sense their presence, so they weren't waiting for him.
He stopped and thought about where they were going. Probably to the sea, where they would board a boat and return to Nyumbani.
He altered his course, hoping to catch them along the river bank. In the time it had taken him to go back to his house and then to the neighbors, in the opposite direction, it had given the raiders an opportunity to get far ahead – maybe too far for him to intercept.
He arrived at the first home with a dock on the river to find six spent horses. They had ridden them hard to get here. There were no boats. He stopped at the house and knocked on the door.
A woman peeked out the window and then came to the door. "I'm so glad someone came along. Some Nyumbani raiders were here. They wounded my mate and stole our boats."
He wasn't surprised that she knew the men were from Nyumbani. People from Nyumbani were easily identified because their skin was so dark.
He followed her into the bedroom where her husband lay on a cot. She wrung her hands together.
"I couldn't get him on the bed."
Donte kneeled beside the man. He wasn't a doctor, but his father was and he had learned some things from him. He pulled back the bandage and looked at the wound. The man had been stabbed in the abdomen. He had no way of knowing what kind of internal damage had been done. He looked up at the woman. "Do you have any curacion root?"
She frowned. "No. I don't know what that is."
He nodded. "I'll put him in the bed where he will be more comfortable and look in the forest for the root."
She pulled back the sheets and he moved the man to the bed. He left the house to search in the forest. It was a common plant in Libertad and it didn't take him long to find some. He washed the dirt off it in the river and took it to the house. "Peel those and boil them until they are soft. Then put them on the wound. It will help draw out any infection. I'll go for help."
The Nyumbani had escaped and probably wouldn't bother anyone else. There was nothing he could do for Liana and Bjorn, but he could help these people. He set his anger aside and focused on getting a doctor.
Donte met Libertad militia troops on his way back. His father was with them. Donte explained about the wounded man and led them back to the house by the river. He didn't say anything about Liana and Bjorn. Quade kept looking at him, as if wondering if he should address what had happen at the farm – or maybe he wondered why his son wasn't talking about it.
Throughout Donte's life, Quade had always been the one he felt comfortable talking with. His father was kind, gentle and wise. He was everything a father should be – and more. Donte loved and admired him, but right now he didn't want to talk to anyone about what had happened – not until he decided what he was going to do. Neither Quade nor Pieter would like what he had on his mind, but these raids on the people of Libertad had to stop. Sending militia into Nyumbani would only result in more bloodshed and escalation of hostilities. They wanted one man and it was his responsibility to see that they got that man – however briefly.
Donte stood over the graves, stone cold and only half listening to the eulogy. If King Farasi wanted him bad enough do this, why resist? He'd go to Nyumbani Colony, but not to give Farasi an heir. He wanted only one thing – to terminate the men who had murdered his wife and children, and that included Farasi. After that, they could execute him. His life no longer had value anyway.
Farasi had sent a message apologizing for the "unfortunate incident" and vowing that the men who did this would be punished. He had offered his idea of a peaceful solution to the raids - an heir in exchange for no more raids on Libertad or Bergen and its sub-colonies. As Donte had suspected, Quade and Pieter wanted to send troops into Nyumbani to punish them.
Donte had argued that the men who had killed Liana and Bjorn would be protected by Farasi and never be punished. Why risk the lives of their troops and innocent people in another colony when he could simply surrender to Farasi's terms?
Quade and Pieter didn't understand Donte's willingness to negotiate. They didn't know what he planned to do and he wasn't going to tell them. He didn't want everyone to suffer – only the guilty.
When the service concluded, Quade asked Donte and Peiter to his office. The two leaders had made a decision. If they refused to let him go in alone, he would request to go with the troops.
Quade shut the door to his office and waited until Donte and Pieter were seated before taking a seat behind his desk.
"Son," Quade began with a solemn expression. "Pieter and I do not agree with your decision, but we have decided to honor it. You are only twenty-two, but you are a man."
Donte glanced at his grandfather. Pieter said nothing. His blonde head leaned down in rare submission.
Quade's voce brought his attention back to his father. "I wish you had told me about the attempts to capture you. Maybe we couldn't have prevented this, but we could have tried." He glanced at Pieter. "Perhaps going to Nyumbani will settle this issue."
Peiter lifted his head and looked at Quade before turning his usual piercing light blue gaze on Donte. "When you put this behind you, come to Bergen. It is your destiny."
Donte said nothing. What was there to say? He would not be permitted to return after he completed his mission. He felt sick to his stomach every time he thought about the way they had killed Liana.
Donte had vowed to Farasi that he would give him an heir in exchange for the cessation of raids. A Mascot did not renege on a vow, but he need not be concerned. After the raiders were dead, Farasi would be the one breaking a vow when he executed their killer. There would be no heir – not for Farasi or anyone else.
Quade leaned his elbows on the desk; his dark eyes empathetic. "Are you certain that you want to do this?"
"I already promised."
Pieter shook his head and stood; a stocky figure in the dark blue uniform of Bergen colony's Ruler. "It is not too late. You owe no allegiance to Farasi. I should have told him long ago that he could not have you. This was my failing, not yours. You were only a boy of fifteen when he decided he wanted you."
Donte stood. He was taller than his grandfather, but not as tall as his father.
When Donte spoke, his voice broke with emotion. "If I had agreed before now, Liana and our children would still be alive." He wiped moisture from the corner of his eyes with his shirtsleeve. "Only I can end this without the loss of innocent lives."
Quade stood and walked around his desk. He served his colony as a doctor as well as President. He never wore a uniform, but the people admired him in both positions. Quade enveloped Donte in a paternal hug. "I love you and I am already looking forward to your return."