Quinn stared absently at the beaker in her hand, the project forgotten for the moment as she considered Erin's latest information. It should have come as no surprise that central command on planet Oriel had requested assistance from Spaceship Lyra. Opus was a mere three-week trip from planet Purlieu, home base for the research and rescue spaceship.
Over the last month on Opus, miners had been disappearing in the Yora Desert. When law enforcement started investigating, they started losing men. That was when General Richards took over - and now he had lost men. Fly-overs revealed nothing but miles of dry, seemingly uninhabitable country.
She sighed as she set the beaker on the counter. "I suppose it was inevitable. How does a person fight an enemy they can neither identify nor locate?"
Erin’s expression was wary. “Well, General Richards thinks he knows who is doing it.”
Quinn could hardly blame her for being cautious about what she said at this point. Opus, was a divided planet. People weren’t working together to resolve this problem. They were choosing sides – for or against the natives of Opus. It wasn’t that simple, of course. The Opus natives couldn’t be grouped as one. There were distinctly different clans in different stages of evolution. Some thought the original expedition had been too hasty in classifying them as human. After a brief and highly unsuccessful attempt at modernizing them, the natives had returned to their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. They wanted nothing to do with the congested Oriel cities. Who could blame them? Quinn had imagined a new way of life when she moved to Opus, not the same lifestyle with added problems. Opus wasn’t a frontier. It was a new Oriel.
Quinn nodded. “They haven’t found a body, so we don’t know for sure what is happening. It could be lions.”
Erin stared absently at the chart in her hands, as if unsure if she should counter the information. “General Richards says there isn’t enough game there to attract lions.” She lifted her gaze to Quin and shrugged. “Then again, maybe the lions are killing people because there isn’t enough game.”
Quinn nodded again. "Or they could even be falling in caverns, like Marlin and Donte did.”
Marlin was currently a congress woman in the capital of Delaney, but she had been part of the original expedition that explored Opus prior to colonization almost a decade ago. Donte, now Supreme Commander of the Lyra, had fallen into an underground cavern with her. Without his assistance, and that of the Lyra, Marlin wouldn’t be alive today. It was a story that was quickly fading from the history classes on Opus. Donte had friends among the Opus natives, and that was a strike against him now. He was also a mascot – a human contaminated with animal genes. As if all that wasn’t enough, his ancestors were natives of planet Arcane.
Quinn stood and walked across the room to get a tray of test tubes. “I can see why Oriel would want the Lyra back to investigate. They probably know more about the terrain on Opus than anyone. They did most of the initial exploring. Still, I heard that they didn’t explore that area. It has such a harsh climate that the original colonists didn’t think they would ever use it.” She lifted the tray from the shelf and turned. “Until they discovered precious metals. Now they are blasting it to pieces. If it is the Yora, as General Richards suspects, then who can blame them for retaliating?”
Erin’s expression was still far away and her response made Quinn wonder if she had heard anything she said. "I heard they searched for them for three weeks and didn't find anything. Then a mascot found them only hours after the Lyra arrived." She looked up at Quinn. "I hope they are as successful this time."
Quinn returned to her chair without responding. Apparently Erin wasn’t comfortable with the direction of their conversation so she let it go with a general response. "I suppose it's possible."
She sighed and turned to the door. "I thought you'd want to know. I'd better get back to my patients."
Actually, the information interested Quinn in a way that no one - not even Erin - would have anticipated. When she left Oriel almost three years ago, the Lyra and its crew had been nothing more to her than legend. Planet Opus was her dream back then. Opus needed chemists and she had graduated at the top of her class. But Opus was far more civilized than she had anticipated. Far from being a few small colonies as she had expected; it was growing faster than its government could control. Crime and corruption were a part of daily life and there was no accepted moral code of conduct. People were free to do as they pleased. Maybe morals couldn’t be legislated, but she would feel safer in a more structured environment. She had been raised with a strict hand and having no walls was more frightening than having too many.
Her interest in the Lyra had begun after a seminar Marlin and her husband, Reyse, had given about the role Purlieu played in the colonization of Opus. One of their original Oriel expedition members, Chandler Marks, had joined the Lyra crew. Now he was living on planet Arcane. Chandler had trained people on the Lyra, and she hoped to give them more current training.
What would it be like to work with people who were designed with the desire to assist others? Did it get old for Chandler? The mascots could live up to 400 years and it was said that they never forgot what they learned. That might be intimidating to some people, but she was intrigued. Of course, Fontalo had created the mascots illegally and that was wrong - it might even be wrong to continue using them, but they kept volunteering. She had wondered how she could contact the Lyra about a position without alerting her current employer that she was looking for another job. If she lost her job, she might be deported back to Oriel.
She had nothing to return to there. Her parents had pretty much disowned her when she broke from their religion and left the commune. They called it shunning, but it amounted to the same thing. She had six sisters and brothers, but they were members of the same religion. She still loved them all, and they still loved her, but she was never going to accept their religion and they didn’t want to leave it. They shouldn’t have to. She respected their religion. She simply didn’t think they were right. Then came the opportunity to work in the new colonies on Opus. That had been the final act that excluded her from the family.
On Opus, she discovered that her upbringing had instilled some moral ideas that she still held dear. Everything Marlin had said about the Lyra made her think she would fit in better there.
Contacting someone on the Lyra might be much easier when it reached Opus. Rianne, the Lyra representative, was who she probably needed to contact. No doubt Rianne would visit the capital city of Delaney when the Lyra arrived. Getting an opportunity to talk to her would probably be the biggest challenge. Maybe Marlin would help her with that.
"One step at a time," she said to herself. "First the Lyra has to get here."
Marlin had mixed feelings about assistance from the Lyra. She had worked with Donte and Rianne during the exploration and colonization of Opus. She couldn’t imagine Donte and General Richards getting along. In her opinion, both were lone wolf leaders.
Donte would be shocked at that description, but she didn’t think of it as an insult. Donte was an unconventional leader. He couldn’t be depended on to follow the rules – not even his own. Whatever action the situation warranted, he adapted his policy to fit. He was incredibly effective, so people had a tendency to overlook his methods. He was tenacious, but selfless. Donte had a kind and gentle heart, and that was where he differed from General Richards.
Marlin didn’t like General Richards. In her opinion, he was arrogant and oppressive. If it came to a choice between his career and what was best for Opus, she believed he would choose what worked best for him personally. It was a harsh evaluation, but that was the way she saw it.
Her father was the CEO of Fontalo, the company that colonized Opus. Arlo Delaney was a man who got things done, and he knew Donte wouldn’t let him down. Actually, she was certain that Donte didn’t give much thought to the idea of letting her father down. If he worked with anyone, it was because he believed in what they were doing. That was at the heart of the reason she thought he wasn’t the right person for this mission, and why she had advised her father against getting the Lyra involved.
Donte had made it clear long ago that he felt the Opus Natives had prior claim to Opus. When she reminded her father of that, he said he had dictated the terms. The Lyra team was only there to locate and identify the cause of the disappearing people. They were not to engage or negotiate with them if they discovered the Yora clan was behind the disappearances.
If she hadn’t worked several years with Donte, she might have thought that was an effective covenant. In order for it to work, Donte would have to follow the rules. She had no doubt he had agreed with good intentions.
General Richards was fully convinced that the Yora were behind the disappearances. He didn’t believe the Yora had any rights to the land because he was convinced they were not human. That was where he and Donte would clash. General Richards insisted that the only way to deal with the Yora was to classify them as primates and treat them like any other animal. If they continued to be a problem, they should be annihilated.
Truthfully, the Yora had been problematic from the beginning of colonization. They were territorial and aggressive. Their culture included taking slaves from any group they considered inferior. When Donte tried to interfere, they had attacked the first colony. It had been Donte who led the resistance against them during the Amelioration Expedition, and they had retreated. For almost a decade, the location of their clan was unknown. It was believed to be somewhere in the arid area they now called the Yora Desert.
General Richards was probably right in his assumption that the Yora were involved in the disappearances. All the trouble had started when colonists began mining in the Yora desert. There was a limit to how far people could be pushed before they began pushing back. Their rebellion was quixotic, though. It was unrealistic to think they could win. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they would rather die than submit.
In contrast, the Quaet clan had seen the futility of resisting. Rather than adapting to the lifestyle of colonists, they had retreated to their caves and resumed their hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Other than an occasional accusation that they had killed a domestic animal for food, they gave the colonists no trouble. Like all the other wildlife, they avoided contact with the colonists.
Marlin had introduced legislation that would provide reservations for the Opus natives. She wasn’t opposed to reclassifying them as primates, and she didn’t think they would object. It was unrealistic to expect them to blend in with colonists. Their lower intelligence and ape-like appearance would make them stand out. They could probably do menial labor, but they would constantly be reminded that they didn’t belong. No one disputed that they were primates, or that they were more intelligent than apes, but most colonist agreed that they were not human.
Donte wasn’t human either – by his own admission. He looked and acted like a human, though. In fact, only Donte argued the fact that mascots were more intelligent or superior in some ways to humans.
The majority of Opus colonists had never seen a mascot, though they had heard of them and had been taught that they were instrumental in the colonization of Opus. Most of the colonists currently on Opus had arrived after the Lyra left. The colonists were receptive to the idea of assistance from the Lyra. General Richards was the only one who objected – and that was probably due to an inflated ego.
In spite of her concerns, she was looking forward to the arrival of the Lyra. She liked…loved…Donte and Rianne. She counted them among her closest friends. Donte had saved her life, and he had delivered and named her daughter. Rianne had helped her with Gezant as well as with the preparation for the first colonists. Without their assistance and that of the other mascots, she doubted colonization would have been successful so soon. Opus owed a great deal to the crew of the Lyra. Hopefully, the new colonists would learn to love them the way the original colonists had. She had an idea how she could introduce Donte and Rianne in a positive way that would entertain the colonists while exhibiting the couple’s human attributes. It had worked on Oriel decades ago.