BY: R. L. GEORGE
Hearth launches the chronicles of a world inhabited only by women; Earth’s masculine culture has left a bloodied history, and women must remove themselves from the two-sex society in order to evolve. In 2082, twenty-two years after a world war has eradicated much of Earth’s global population, a portal to another dimension is discovered. Thousands of women pass through to begin building their new world, and they quickly move beyond the fundamentals of food and shelter. Those who are drawn to live on Hearth are creative, highly motivated, and ethically grounded, and their surroundings soon become as comfortable as their conscientious ideologies. Women will no longer fear dangers such as abuse, assault, and oppression, but there will be challenges—including the question of procreation in an all-female world.
Taylor walked through the field in the early, predawn light until she reached a massive flat rock. It was centered between the four sections of land tended by those living in the surrounding homes, and after a brief pause at the edge of the round, wide, flat surface, she stepped onto the rock. Her mind wasn’t on the quiet of the morning, or on farming, or on anything of great importance. She was thinking about art. Something artistic could be created atop the gigantic immovable stone.
She took two steps across the surface and three things happened. First, a flash of dizzying disorientation passed through her. Second, a brief panic grasped her heart when she experienced an abrupt, fleeting blindness. Finally, she heard a sound that she first thought of as a “pop,” but quickly realized it was more of a highly condensed “kromp.” The sound was audible, physical, it had scent and taste, and an instant before it passed, her vision returned. What she saw caused a shock of astonishment, but her forward momentum moved her another step, and now she was off the rock.
For a number of seconds she stood still, concentrating on the afterimage of what she had seen during that disorientating handful of microseconds, and then she focused on her current surroundings. She stood on the opposite side of the flat rock centered in the farming sect- ions. Where else could she be?
The normality of her surroundings helped to clear her scattered thoughts. The backsides of homes dotted the edges of the collective farmland, and her own house was closest, about fifty meters from where she stood. The air was sweet, spicy, earthy, and tangy, all representing turned soil and low crops, the nearby Monterey Bay, and the fresh start of the day.
Taylor took a few tentative paces around the edge of the stone, achingly tempted to step onto it again, but she knew she should wait to tell the others about what had happened. She glanced up as the sun’s rim showed itself, aware that most of her friends would still be sleeping. As she considered what to do next she folded her arms across her chest, and that was when she realized she was no longer wearing any clothes.
Lolita dropped her small gardening shovel and stood to watch the tall figure standing out in the fields. It didn’t take long to recognize the woman as Taylor, pacing around the giant rock that was an informal indicator of who worked which parts of the land. The people in the four nearby houses took care of chunks of land that varied in size, and part of that sizing was measured from the rock to each of their homes. The house where Lolita lived with her sister was about a hundred meters away from the rock centered on the land.
The fields were for food, but Lolita also had this backyard with its small flower garden, which she preferred to tend in the quiet, early mornings. Just her, the earth, and its flowers. Now she shared the moment with Taylor Culbertson, who was the only one of their farming-quartet of homes who lived alone. In the measured increase of sunlight, it became clear that Taylor was naked.
A laugh slipped from Lolita’s lips and she hurried inside. A moment later she was walking toward Taylor, carrying a long green robe that had been knitted from finely woven hemp. It wasn’t until she was well across the field that Taylor noticed her approach and gave a brief wave of greeting. Lolita thought Taylor would start moving to meet her halfway, but the naked woman only returned her attention to the big rock.
As Lolita came closer she slowed her pace, examining this person who farmed for food like most people did, but was actually a scientist. At sixty years old, Taylor had surprisingly firm, smooth flesh. She wore her blond hair a little past her shoulders, and it moved in the momentary breeze she created when she glanced back at Lolita’s approach. Despite her nakedness, her general bearing was confident and self-possessed.
Lolita stopped next to Taylor, who said, “Hi, Lita.”
“Hi. Why are you standing here without any clothes on?”
“You’ll never believe me.”
Without offering a reply, Taylor took a few thoughtful steps around the rim of the stone. Lolita’s eyes followed the fine lines of the lithe body, and she said, “Tierra madre, I can’t believe you’re six years older than I am!”
Taylor chuckled. “Thanks.” She gestured to the material folded in Lolita’s hands. “What do you have there?”
“It’s for you.” Lolita unfolded the garment to display its length. “I think it will look good on you.”
“Thank you!” Taylor accepted the robe and slid her arms into the sleeves. “This really is beautiful, Lita.”
“I finished it last week.” Lolita reached up to straighten the fall of the material across Taylor’s shoulders, turning her this way and that to brush invisible lint from the back and sleeves. “I’ve been planning to give it to one of you tall women, and now I did.”
“This is so kind. I don’t know if—”
Lolita snapped her hand up. “It’s perfect for you, it looks good, and it brings out your eyes. And…” She brushed Taylor’s shoulder one last time and took a step back. “It shows you have a really nice body.”
This remark brought a smile to Taylor’s lips, but something cynical danced in her eyes. “I accept that compliment with suspicious gratitude.”
“Why are you suspicious when someone gives you a present and a compliment?”
“You might be vying for something in return.”
“ ‘Vying?’ You know English isn’t my first language.”
“If you say so.” Taylor’s fingers touched the smooth fabric of the robe as her smile touched the corners of her lips.
“You’re confusing me.” Lolita held a hand over her eyes to shade the light of the rising sun. “Will you tell me why you decided to come out here naked?”
“That wasn’t my decision.” Her attention returned to the stone. “I’m still trying to work out what happened in my own head. I want to talk to all of you together.”
“You know you’re sounding totally loca, right?” When Taylor laughed at that, Lolita couldn’t resist laughing with her. “Will you at least tell me why you’re standing in front of El Monolito at the crack of dawn?”
“The Monolith?” Taylor tapped the edge of the stone with her foot. “Yes, I guess it is sort of like that, in an inverted kind of way.” Not long ago the stone had been electronically measured by Belle, the town’s engineer, and she had told her friends that leaving it in place would be the only way to deal with it. “I remember the way Belle put it,” said Taylor. “She said this is the flat top of a massive, granite berg that gets bigger as it goes deeper underground.”
Lolita pointed to the edge Taylor had tapped with her foot, which was in the area of the field she tended with her sister Izzy. “This is in our section, and a little piece of that part is in yours.” She pointed to the opposite edge of the stone, six meters from where they stood. “That wedge is in Liza and Belle’s section.” Her arm swung to the right. “Opposite them is the land Clara and Frankie are farming with their girls.”
Taylor gently massaged the back of her own neck. “Aren’t we an interesting group?”
“If you say so.” Lolita delivered this repeat of Taylor’s words without changing her expression, but the tall woman’s attention remained fixed on the stone.
“By interesting,” she said, “I mean not just as people, but also in a scientific way.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Taylor.”
“I’m not keeping up with myself very well, either.” She looked toward her home. “I should do some research while we’re waiting for everyone to wake up. Want to come along?”
“Why would I want to do that?”
“It would help me to talk it out with someone.”
“Talk about what, science? You know that isn’t my subject.”
A sigh of exasperation pushed out from Lolita’s lips. “I’ll come with you if you’ll tell me what’s going on. Let’s go.” She started across the rock, but Taylor grabbed her arm.
“Walk around it.”
“Don’t step on it.” Taylor led her around the stone and didn’t let go of her arm until they were on the other side, heading in the direction of Taylor’s the house. “I will tell you that the initial reason I came out here. I’ve been wondering if you’d consider building something on that spot.” She jerked her thumb at the stone. “You know, one of your things.”
“Things?” Lolita said, with mock offense. “You call my artistic masterpieces ‘things’?”
“That was the wrong word. I meant your…stuff.”
Lolita laughed, an audio of her sister Izzy’s perpetual smile, beautiful, endearing, shared freely and often. “Why,” she asked Taylor, “would you want my art on that boulder?”
“Hm. Good question.”
Lolita could always pull a smile across Taylor’s lips. As they continued walking companionably through the field, Taylor glanced down at the top of Lolita’s head, which only came up to Taylor’s shoulder. Almost by accident, Taylor sent out a curious, probing strand to see if she could take a peek inside Lolita’s mind. She immediately withdrew the probe, embarrassed by her own audacity, but she knew she had bumped up against a block. What she didn’t know was whether that block had been innocent or intentional. For something to say, she asked, “Have you ever heard the term ‘multiverse?’ ”
“Maybe, but I don’t really know what it’s about.”
“It’s a theory about a multitude of universes existing simultaneously in different dimensions.”
“That kind of shit makes my brain hurt.”
They had arrived at Taylor’s back door, which entered into the kitchen. “It can be mind-blowing. It’s like trying to think about infinity.” Taylor paused by the stove and rested her hand on the kettle. “But the theory makes me wonder what could happen in our particular place in this multiverse, at this particular time.” She stood quietly for a few seconds, and then focused on her own hand. “Do you want some coffee?”
Lolita rolled her eyes. “Not as much as you want to start digging into your books.”
This brought another chuckle from Taylor, and they left the kitchen for what everyone called the local library. It did fit that description well. Armchairs, reclining lounges, and couches of varied length were interspersed throughout the giant open space, and near all the seats were tables. Many of the tables were made from low, stout bookcases, and books also lined the walls. On the far wall was a large fireplace, cool for the moment, and it was bordered by two bay windows. Some angled couches and easy chairs fronted the fireplace. Taylor pointed that way and said, “Have a seat,” and then went to one of the shelves on a wall. Within seconds she had found some books, and carried them to the fireplace area. Lolita hadn’t taken a seat, but was using a small broom to sweep old ashes from the hearth.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Lita.”
“I don’t mind. What do you have there?”
Taylor sat on a short couch and flipped open the top book. “Physics, chaos theory, multiple dimensions…”
Lolita rested the broom in its holder and sat next to Taylor, who tilted the old, tree-paper book toward her. “See this? It’s called a Calabi-Yau form.”
“What’s it supposed to mean?”
“They were trying to illustrate the appearance of six dimensions.” Taylor handed her the book and opened another, this one fabricated from hempaper. “During the BioNuclear war there were some physicists working on inter-dimensional travel, and that’s what I’m looking for. They wanted it for military reasons, but the war ended before they made any real progress.”
Lolita continued turning pages of the book she held, examining more visual interpretations of the Calabi-Yau model. “This is really weird. I keep starting to think it’s scary, but that’s not what it is. I don’t know what to call it.”
“Is ‘titillating’ the word you’re looking for?”
“Huh? What does that mean?”
When Taylor looked up, she became aware of Lolita’s proximity on the small couch. “Titillating? It means exciting, in a good way. Why, what did you think it meant?”
Lolita cupped her own breast and gave a laugh that was short but sincere. She looked back down at her book while Taylor couldn’t resist looking a bit down the woman’s low-cut shirt. It occurred to her that although Lolita wasn’t one to read a lot of books, and sometimes used that “second language” excuse, the woman had a respectable vocabulary. A smart woman, and seductive, too. The comments they’d just exchanged might even have been orchestrated to lead Taylor’s gaze in its current direction.
“Are you ever going to tell me about the trip you took from the Sixth Continent?” The Sixth Continent was south of their own. For reasons she had yet to explain, Lolita had never told anyone exactly why it had taken her some eighteen years, after the war of 2060, to make the journey from the southern Sixth Continent to a small town called Monterey in the Central West Coast, Fifth Continent.
Lolita tipped her head back on the couch, looking thoughtfully at Taylor through lowered eyelids. Taylor waited. “Yes,” Lolita finally said, “I’ll tell you. But not now. You act like you have more important things to think about.” She looked at her book again, and after a moment, Taylor went back to her own.