BY: R. L. GEORGE
Hearth: Home continues the chronicles of a world inhabited only by women: Earth’s masculine culture had left a bloodied history, and some women removed themselves from the two-sex society in order to evolve. In 2082, a portal to another dimension was discovered. Thousands of women passed through to begin building their new world, and they quickly moved beyond the fundamentals of food and shelter.
Those drawn to live on Hearth are creative, highly motivated, and ethically grounded, and their surroundings soon become as comfortable as their conscientious ideologies. Women no longer fear dangers such as abuse, assault, and oppression, but there are still challenges—including the question of procreation in an all-female world.
Liza smiled. She caught her friends noticing her nearly perpetual smile, which was in place on this typically sweet-scented morning in their new world, and she laughed with pleasure.
Belle stroked Liza’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. “That sounded like pure joy, love.”
“See that?” said Clara. “Refined perception isn’t necessary. It’s easy to see what’s going on inside other people.”
“I don’t need RP to recognize joy,” Belle retorted. She wove her fingers through Liza’s and leaned against her big shoulder. “Your happiness is my life’s wish come true.”
“Thank you, my love.” Liza beamed at her, and then at Clara, and at the others seated with them at the First Clearing. One month had passed in the new world, which they had accessed through a portal on Earth. Although some women on Hearth would return for visits with the fathers, brothers, sons, and friends they had left behind, they had less than a year to do so. Then, the portal would close, permanently.
Liza had already said her final goodbyes. The violence and wars of Earth had driven her away for good.
She had been born in the same decade as the BioNuclear war, which struck in 2025 and drastically reduced the world’s population—with the biggest losses affecting the male gender. By 2030 women had become the world’s leaders, and peace reigned for thirty years. That couldn’t prevent a faction of men from digging up some old nukes and threatening the new society, and apparently, nothing could stop the final war of 2060.
The inherent violence of a two-sexed human race had to be endured, and Liza had done so until 2082. Throughout the twenty-two years after that final war, she hadn’t been able to dredge up more than a small measure of equanimity. She’d had no option, no place else to live but Earth, and that was when she had lost the inclination to smile.
Then her friend Taylor found a portal to this remarkable world. Only women could pass through, and they could only bring themselves. No males, no food, or tools or clothing, even women who wore makeup when they passed through were clean faced after they made the millisecond transition from one world to the next.
A month ago, hundreds of women came bare-handed to this freshly formed planet, and hundreds more had come through since. Now several of the first arrivals were comfortably seated near the hearth at the First Clearing, enjoying a varied, richly textured brunch. They had been nibbling for two hours while the others who lived in the clearing had gone about their day.
Clara, her spouse Frankie, and their daughter Nadi were seated with Liza and Belle, as well as Jana and her spouse, Vic. The women were celebrating what Liza had cheerfully coined the “Day of Departure.” In the past week a handful of impatient explorers had begun drifting off to investigate areas much further away from the settled clearings, but dozens of women had decided to launch their trips on this particular day.
Belle asked Liza, “Is there some reason you’re especi-ally happy about the adventurers setting off on this ‘Day of Departure?’”
Fifteen-year-old Nadi interjected, “Today is also the one-month anniversary of our arrival here.”
“Okay, let’s call it the Day of Arrival,” Liza gamely conceded, and then she replied to Belle, “I have been especially happy every single moment of this month we’ve had on Hearth.”
“Has it been exactly a month?” asked Vic. She and Jana sat cozily together in a huge bag-chair, which had been fashioned by joining velvet leaf mats into a large casing and stuffing them with soft moss. Vic and Jana’s cat-like animal—the women called them “arrees”—sat in Vic’s lap.
Belle left her seat to retrieve the calendar she had been etching into a stone slab. “One month. Or to be more precise, thirty-seven days.”
“Our months will last thirty-seven days?” asked Vic.
“Not necessarily all year. This is based on the full-moon-to-full-moon during this season. There are bound to be adjustments, depending on the orbits of Hearth and her moon.”
Nadi said, “Whatever the case we can say wow, in a month’s time, we’ve done all this!” She stepped up on a stone of the hearth and turned a slow circle. “Impressive!”
Liza grinningly agreed. The First Clearing had taken on an organized look, radiating out from the big hearth at its center. Some women had devised a method of notching wood to join pieces together, and hearths in all the settled clearings were now surrounded by roughly built furniture. Here they had two large, sturdy picnic tables, along with benches placed at angles. There was an additional long bench that had been padded with velvet-leaf mats, It was placed closer to the firepit along with a few lava-stone and bag-chairs. The flowers that had first been found growing naturally in the clearing had been bordered with wooden frames, and they remained as part of the landscaping, scenting the air and pleasing the eye.
Surrounding the clearing were massive trees that appeared to be singular, but were actually stands that had grown together, creating an interior space large enough to become homes. In this clearing, fourteen of these dwelling trees had been made habitable. Curving to the left or right of open doorways, wherever the sun rested longest during the day, gardens had been planted around the bases of the trees. Between the dwellings were barrels for water, and tables and workbenches had been set up around the clearing. The workbenches were covered with various materials.
As Liza and her friends enjoyed their morning, others were seated in groups or alone working at various occupations. Some carded wool from Hearth’s unicorn-like sheep—sheepu—while others were “spinning” the prepared wool by pulling, stretching, and turning it with their fingers. Another small group pounded chunks of metallic rocks that had been found in a nearby cave, shaping them into various useful objects. There were a few arrees with the women, although most of the animals had left after sunrise to roam freely.
Near the northwest and southeast entrances to the clearing were some carts, each with a base of about two meters square, and they rested on wooden wheels Belle had created. Because there was no blacksmith shop, it had been necessary to use sturdy lengths of a hard wood as axles. The sides of the carts were built up with long, smooth sticks.
All of the women on Hearth now wore basic articles of clothing. The clothes were fashioned from leather pieces that had been cut with the sharp edges of crystal, pieces of which were abundant around a mountain of the material. Some of the women wore halter tops similar to bathing suits, mainly to support their breasts, and some wore a single shift. All had a lower covering for comfort while seated. A number of the women wore simple jewelry, some created from woven reeds and flowers, while others braided leather strings of necklets or armlets that had a a simplistic beauty, accented with bits of crystal or colored stone embedded in the braid.
Frankie responded to her daughter Nadi’s comment. “Not a lot of slouchers moving to this world.”
Jana thoughtfully clicked her long fingernails together. “Not a lot of people at all, if you ask me. Not as many as I would have thought.”
“What do you mean?” Nadi exclaimed. “There are hundreds and hundreds of women here!”
The older women laughed, and Jana said, “Honey, your perspective is a little bit off. You grew up in a town that had about fifty people in it, but you need to remember there are a few million people on Earth. Here we have five or six hundred on the whole planet. That’s about as low-population as it gets.”
“And the amount of people coming over here isn’t increasing noticeably,” said Clara. She pressed her lower lip in thought. “I heard only about forty women came through yesterday.”
“There will be another surge,” Liza said. “It takes a while to get from the other continents to Monterey.”
“How much of a surge?” asked Vic. “What do you see as the population before the portal closes, Liza?”
“Three or four thousand.”
The others were surprised by what seemed a very low number, but Liza was unworried. In fact, her focus was on the leather pouches that were hanging from thongs on the picnic tables. “Is one of those leaking?” she asked Nadi.
Nadi checked the bags and found one to be moist on the bottom. “The bladder must have split inside.” She lifted it and squeezed, and the bottom dampened more. She eyed the supplies that had been gathered on the large nearby table. Only one end of one long table was somewhat clear, stacked with clumsy looking but effective ceramic plates. Otherwise there were piles of supplies, along with additional water bags, and bits of leather.
There were also cuts of salted meats, including something fatty and reminiscent of pork, different styles of poultry, and a meat no one could compare to anything on Earth. The white flesh was solid, but when cooked and chewed its texture was very soft, similar to sausage. Aside from the meats there were fruits, roots, nuts, and vegetables, some in piles on the table and some in buckets. Until nails, tacks, and staples could be made, the metal straps that held the slats of the buckets tight were firmly twisted at the ends.
On a second table were some crates, and each was filled with a leather package of the salted meats, a bucket of the fruits and nuts, and a bucket of the roots and vegetables. There were also a few more dishes and utensils made of metal or wood, lengths of leather, a sack filled with sharp-edged crystals of various sizes, and a satchel filled with the needle-like thorns and a thready material that had been found. In another satchel were various herbs that had been collected for their taste as well as possible medicinal attributes, and lastly, each crate held three empty leather sacks for liquids. A wool blanket covered the top of each crate.
All of the women who planned to travel would be taking one crate, and aside from a bundle of torches made from what were called knotty-trees, the rest of the space in their carts would be available to transport whatever else they found.
At the first table, Nadi lifted a spare leather bag and transferred the water into it, and then hung it with the others. She said, “You’ll each only need to take one of these, moms, because you’re going along the river.”
Clara chuckled. “We know, sweetheart.” She nudged Frankie, who sat next to her, with their arree Coffee in her lap. “Our daughter thinks,” Clara said, “we’re ill-prepared.”
Nadi sat with them on the long bench. “You’re going to be safe, right? What will happen if you break a leg or something?”
“You’re the one who talked us into this,” said Clara. She stroked Nadi’s arm. “It’s the fact that everyone feels so safe here that makes it easy for us to go.”
“I know how much you both wanted to explore the mountain, but now that you’re really going, you should be ready for anything. Where are Taylor and Willow? They plan on reviewing the medico stuff with you again before you leave, right?”
“They’re at the Second Clearing,” said Liza. “They won’t be long.”
The Master healers’ progress had begun with the lake, which had been named Lake Esmeralda. That had been the idea of Nadi’s sister Cerise, because she and Esmeralda were the first to visit the place, and they had decided to live there. Also, the color of the water was a distinctive, shimmering emerald green. Women had been moving to the lake all month because the area was huge and invitingly beautiful, but a number of the arrivals planned to continue on to the northwest toward the ocean, or due north, toward the distant mountains.
Taylor and Willow had stayed at the lake the previous night to brief the traveling women about burns, sprains, and so on. In the morning they had followed the river southeast to the River Clearing, from which women would be crossing to the far bank and exploring the land to their east. Next the two Master healers had headed westward, to the Plains Clearing. From there, explorers would be moving further to their west out of curiosity about how long it would take to reach a southern shore of the ocean.
The two women had made the brief trip northeast, to the Second Clearing, although no women were traveling from that location. They had stopped in as a response to a request from the healers there, who wished to confer with them. Taylor and Willow didn’t mind. Not only were they responsive to every request, but they also loved to see the children. The Second Clearing was the area where all the women arriving with children had chosen to congregate.
Like the First Clearing, the Second Clearing was about 75 meters in diameter, with loose boundaries created by twenty-five or so dwelling trees. There were more of the dwelling trees outside of the clearing areas, of course, and in the Second Clearing, many of those more distant trees had also been made into living spaces. Because the insides of the trees were so spacious, two or more women could share each home with one or two children.
After the first month, over a hundred women were living in the Second Clearing, along with eighteen children. Chih, who had brought the first baby to Hearth, was the only mother who lived in the First Clearing with her child.
The First Clearing would be the Master healers’ last stop. Nadi’s mothers would follow the river along the foothills and then travel up into the mountains for as long as the spirit moved them. Both Taylor and Willow had powerful RP, and because they had insisted everyone be quizzed about healing techniques on the day of departure, they knew Clara and Frankie had been waiting patiently.
Nadi’s patience had faded away. She had decided not to travel but to stay at the First Clearing with Liza and the others, and in her opinion, her mothers needed to hit the path. With a burst of nervous energy she lifted one of the full crates on the table.
“Where are you going with that?” asked Frankie.
“It’s a spare. I’ll take it to the Second Clearing, in case they need it.” The crates had been assembled at the First Clearing, and all but the last four had been claimed by travelers. Two would be used by Clara and Frankie, so they had two extras. As Nadi walked away she added, “I can find out what’s taking Willow and Taylor so long. Come on, Apacci, if you’re coming.”
Apacci used her nose to nudge Coffee, the arree that had claimed Clara and Frankie, but Coffee chose to stay with her women. As Nadi started on the path through the trees Apacci set off after her, following with her long-legged steps.
It wasn’t necessary for Nadi to personally check in with the healers because those with the strongest RP, including Taylor, Willow and Liza, easily communicated across distances. This had been discovered by Nadi’s sister Cerise, who was the first to use a piece of crystal in a necklace. She made a necklace for each of her mothers, and although the RP possessed by Clara and Frankie wasn’t as strong, Cerise found she could speak into their minds while they all wore the crystals. Their responses were audible, too, if they gave their thoughts great focus.
From Lake Esmeralda, Cerise was able to hear the thoughts of people in the First Clearing, but at that distance it was often indistinct. Liza, Willow, and Taylor said there were too many other thoughts and voices and other styles of interference for it to reach further. While Clara and Frankie hiked into the mountains they would lose touch with Cerise at the lake, but would be able to hear from Liza and Taylor in the First Clearing for a longer while. The effective distance would be similar to that of the distance between the lake and the First Clearing, about twenty-eight kilometers.
Nadi didn’t have a crystal. Around her neck she wore a choker woven from strips of leather, and her long, fine hair was always tied with a similar leather braiding. She also wore her leather skirt longer than many did but forewent an upper garment. Until she left Earth she had always been somewhat shy about exposing her body, but after arriving on Hearth and living fully naked for over a week, she had reached a level of comfort that made her decide she would only wear an upper covering when the weather made it necessary.
She moved quickly on the worn path between the clearings, to reach the Second Clearing took at least ten-minutes at a brisk pace. Soon she began to hear the children, and a little girl called out, “Nadi’s here! I told you she was coming!”
Her young mother smiled at Nadi and said to the girl, “Yes, I know. But let her make her own entrance.”
“Okay mom. Hi Apacci!” She intercepted the arree while Nadi walked to Willow and Taylor.
Willow stood leaning a hip against one of the picnic tables, talking to a group of women seated there, and Taylor was seated, stroking her arree Contesta. When Taylor saw Nadi she asked, “Are your mothers ready to go?”
Nadi set the crate on the table. “You’d think they’d be, but they’re acting pretty casual about it. I won’t let them go until you talk to them.”
“Good. They will be going up a mountain, which might have more dangers than the other travelers will encounter.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling them. They’re foolishly fearless.”
“May is here!” called out the talkative little girl, and when Nadi turned she saw not only May, back from visiting Earth for two days, but also Kate. Paz’s Kate. The woman Paz had accidentally knocked in the eye. The bruising was gone now, and the pretty, good-natured woman was all Nadi could see.
Only a few women made a habit of returning to Earth, May among them, but Nadi had stayed on Hearth since that visit, when she first met Kate. This surprised those who knew of her love for making music, but Nadi had decided she would be more compelled to build instruments if she didn’t have her guitar on Earth to fall back on. Because she hadn’t returned, and because this was Kate’s first visit to Hearth, Nadi hadn’t seen the woman since their first meeting.
As Kate and May approached, Nadi checked her hair tie, shuffled her feet for a moment, took a step, and stumbled to one knee.
Willow grasped Nadi’s arm. “What is it?”
“Nothing.” A subtle red flushed through Nadi’s skin, but she jumped to her feet and grinned. “I always kneel at the approach of great beauty.”
May and Kate laughed and exchanged hugs with everyone. Although May had chosen a leather top along with a skirt at the portal, Kate wore only a skirt. When she hugged Nadi, Nadi was hyper-aware of their breasts pressing together, and she backed away clumsily. Taylor gave her a sideways glance and asked Kate, “What brings you here?”
“May does. Her dad, along with Ohz and Paz, dragged so many details from her that I had to see for myself.” When she smiled Nadi felt a buzz of pleasure at the sight of the small gap between the woman’s two front teeth. It brought a more exquisite beauty to the big brown eyes, perfectly shaped ears and the high, intelligent forehead, but even as Nadi thought about this, Kate briefly covered her mouth with her hand as though trying to hide the imperfection.
“How long will you be here?” asked Taylor.
“Very open-ended. I’m taking a break from Earth for a while.” She chuckled at the idea of her statement and peered into the crate Nadi had set on the picnic table. “What’s this for?”
“The explorers,” said Nadi.
“Oh, right, I heard about the preparations. Will you be taking a trip?”
“No. I’m going to concentrate on building some instruments. You know, to make music. But my moms are going.”
“Don’t tell me, I remember…your moms are Clara and Frankie?”
“Right. They’re going into the near mountains.” Nadi gestured over her shoulder.
“What do they expect to find there?”
Nadi had finally regained her equilibrium. “The same as everyone else, is what it comes down to. New types of foods, new materials, new horizons, that sort of thing.”
“What about you two?” Kate asked Willow and Taylor. “Are you going to do any traveling?”
Willow said, “It would be fun, but I should probably stay close to home.”
“Nonsense,” said Quinterie. She and Nadi’s abuela Izzy entered the Second Clearing with a load of bricks for the kiln they were building. While Izzy enthusiastically greeted May and demanded an introduction to Kate, Quinterie qualified her remark, pointing to the women who had been talking with Willow and Taylor. “There are healers in every settlement, and two of them live right here.” Her finger moved to point at Willow. “Neither one of you should be restricted by your abilities.”
“But as far as we know,” Willow replied, “we are the only healers with enough RP to communicate with everyone.”
“What do you need to communicate? The other healers are competent.” Quinterie swept her long white hair off of her shoulder and folded her arms. She stared searchingly at Willow. “Do you want to go adventuring?”
Willow thought about this for a moment. “I would enjoy it.”
“Personally, I would love a bit of travel,” said May. She smiled at Kate. “What about you, sunshine? Wouldn’t it be dreamy to see more of this world?”
“I’ve barely seen any of it, so far.”
“Everything you’ll see is what has already been discovered. You can make discoveries of your own. Imagine that!”
Kate’s eyes narrowed. “That is alluring.”
“Where would you go?” asked Nadi. She spoke neutrally but didn’t think she had fooled anyone with RP. The possibility that she would only see this woman again for a brief time was thoroughly disappointing.
But Kate was staring off in the direction of the southeast mountains. “I’d want to head for the hills, if I went anywhere.” She laughed softly, and in a quiet voice she added, “I really, really need a break from my life.”
Nadi hefted the crate from the table. “Well, in case you decide to travel, I’ll haul this back.” To Taylor and Willow she asked, “Coming?”
They all left the Second Clearing, including May and Kate, followed by the arrees Apacci and Contesta. Willow and Taylor asked after the people on Earth, and while May and Kate brought them up to date, Nadi strode along behind them with her thoughts tumbling.
This woman, Kate, she was with May’s brother Paz. Nadi had known the siblings all her life, but Paz had hurt Kate—accident or no. It seemed that Kate hadn’t ended it with him, at least not yet.
Nevertheless, she was fully het. Nadi knew this because although her RP wasn’t much, her intuition had always been true. She discreetly watched as Kate walked, her light, short, blonde hair lifting in the breeze she created by her movement. Her back was very straight, and whenever she turned slightly to speak, Nadi saw that her breasts looked absolutely perfectly formed. High, round, and full, not overly large but not on the small side, simply perfect. As she walked, Kate’s hips swung under the leather skirt she had chosen from the supply at the portal. Nadi realized she was staring and directed her gaze forward as they entered the First Clearing.
“Hello Sweet Tia!” May called out to Frankie, and then to Clara, “Hello, Tia Dulce!” She embraced them both and introduced them to Kate.
After Clara pressed palms with Kate, she warmly enclosed the young woman’s hand with both her own. “Terrific kismet, that you’ve come before we’ve gone. We would have missed meeting you.”
“I’m glad I get to meet you, too,” said Kate. “I’ve heard a lot of nice things about you and your family.”
“You’re kidding!” said Frankie. “We cut a swath of destruction through the west coast for decades!”
Everyone chuckled, and Nadi introduced Kate to Jana and Vic. Willow and Taylor began talking with Clara and Frankie about poultices, splinting techniques, and anything else that could be foreseen. Kate listened carefully, and before long, Willow turned to her and asked, “Have you ever thought about working as a healer?”
“She thinks about absolutely everything,” said May, and Kate gave her an affectionate smile. May returned the smile and added, “We call her a professional student.”
“What are you best at?” asked Clara.
Kate gave a shrug with one shoulder, and again, May answered for her. “She’s a writer, Tia Dulce. A good one. Just like you used to be.”
“Excuse me?” Clara sat up straighter and cocked her head. “Used to be?”
“Well, you haven’t written anything for years, have you?”
Frankie said, “Fifteen years, to be exact.”
“Yeah, Mamita,” said Nadi. “Did something happen to your muse after I was born?”
“She started falling away from it before then,” said Frankie. “And I have a theory about why.”
“Oh,” said Clara, “you do?”
“Want to hear it?”
Before Clara could answer, Nadi said, “I sure do!”
Kate said, “I’m curious, too.” She smiled her endearing smile, self-consciously hiding the space in her teeth with her fingers.
Clara rolled her eyes at Frankie with an indulgent look of permission. “What’s your theory?”
“It’s because she wrote Divine Enterprise,” said Frankie, “and then she was asked to chronicle the confrontation in 2060.”
As Frankie spoke, Taylor nodded thoughtfully. “I see where you’re headed. Clara, do you have guilt issues?” She spoke with an almost teasing tone, but her eyes were serious. Long ago, it had been discovered that issues with guilt, stress, and other unpleasant emotions had been the greatest contributors to illness.
“I’ve wondered about you myself,” Liza said to Clara.
Everyone was looking at Clara, and she squirmed a bit, burying both hands in Coffee’s fur as she answered. “I had daughters to raise, land to till, and wine to brew.” She self-consciously scratched the bridge of her nose. “I’m making excuses. I have to admit I’ve felt more like writing since we’ve come here, but of course there aren’t any writing materials.”
“We’ll be working on that soon enough,” said Taylor. “Clara, we need people to write.”
May nudged Kate. “You heard that, sunshine?”
“I heard it. Clara, I’d love to talk to you about the craft sometime.”
“It would be a real pleasure.”
“Why don’t we join them and explore the mountain?” said May, nudging Kate again.
Nadi cringed inside as she heard Willow say, “Yes, why not? Clara and Frankie are going alone to the most potentially dangerous region. That doesn’t seem like the best of ideas.”
Vic interjected with a small frown for Jana. “I was willing to go, but I couldn’t talk Jana into it.” She shook her head ruefully. “Two weeks in a dwelling tree sucked the adventure right out of you, babe.”
“Sorry. Camping never makes it onto my to-do list, but I won’t mind doing some traveling when we can go from one civilization to another.”
“Wait,” said Belle, “what danger are you talking about, Willow?” She cast a glance at Liza. “I’ve had the impression nobody thinks there is anything dangerous in the world.”
“That’s true,” said Taylor. “Not even disease. Ever since I’ve arrived, I’ve had the distinct sensation that there is very little in this world that will be harmful to us.”
“But,” Willow said, “accidents do happen. There are falls and scrapes and other injuries that can arise when people are climbing a mountain.”
“We’re not going to be climbing it,” said Frankie. She was fifty and Clara was forty-four, and although they were both in good physical condition, they knew serious mountain climbing would require a lot more training. “We’re planning on just…”
“Meandering,” Clara finished for her. “This isn’t meant to be a grueling task or some kind of personal challenge. It’s going to be a measured and pleasurable exploration.”
Vic looked toward the sun, which was nearing a mid-point in the sky. “Is that why you’re not in any big hurry this morning?”
With a squint at the sky, Kate said to Vic, “I guess the sun will be the only clock for a long time.”
Before she replied, Vic’s smoldering gaze traveled across the young woman’s face and settled on her mouth. “It’s all we’ll ever need.”
“We’ll take off soon,” said Frankie. “We’re going to be hauling those carts up uphill, so we don’t plan on going far in the beginning.” She stretched her arms out in front of her and examined the definition of her muscles. “After we build up some endurance, we’ll go further each day.”
May asked her, “Would you mind some company?” She gently rocked Kate by her shoulder.
“Not at all! If you both come we’ll take another cart, and there are extra crates of supplies. The more people who come with us, the faster we can set up a dwelling of some kind.”
“Great,” said Nadi. “If May and Kate go too, there will be four of you to worry about.”
Willow left her seat and began pushing through the supplies in the crates. Her eyes strayed to Jana, who didn’t return the look, possibly because it was continually intercepted by Vic.
“Then we’re set!” said May. “Willow, Nadi wouldn’t have to worry so much if you came along. You’d be able to keep an RP connection with Liza and Taylor for a lot longer, too.”
Willow replaced the rough wool blanket on top of the crate she had been examining. “That would require more blankets. At least one for each of us. The weather is likely to be cool in those mountains.”
“We can let you have some,” said Belle, gaining a nod of agreement from Liza. “It’s warm here, and summer is on the way, so we have plenty of time to make more.”
“Enough,” said Kate, who’d grown tired of May’s nudging. “You’ve talked me into it.”
“Well,” said Nadi. “Everybody’s leaving, are they?”
Clara smiled softly. “You can come with us, daughter-mine.”
“I know.” Nadi returned the smile, but she was also amused by her own crushy behavior around Kate. “I’m a proponent of impulsivity, and I applaud the spontaneity I’m seeing now.” She grinned at Kate and playfully pressed her hands together with a small bow of her head.
Clara said, “Then you’ll come?”
Nadi was still looking into Kate’s eyes and she saw a curious flickering in them. Whatever Kate needed right now, and whatever it was she might seek with the other women who would take the trip, it did not include Nadi. It wasn’t a dismissive, or even an unpleasant attitude, but it made Nadi’s decision firm. “No, Mamita, I’m going to stay here.”
Kate said, “First I’ve got to eat something, and I would love to try some of the goodies you have here.” She picked up a piece of the meat and when she broke it open, she found it was the type that was firm and white inside. “This is cooked through?”
“Cooked twice,” said Belle, “after being stewed and salted on-site.”
“Yes, May told us about Lake Carne.” She took a bite and smiled. “Delicious!”
“This whole world is amazing,” said May. “Willow and I keep noticing how accommodating it is here. I could hardly believe we found that salted lake, which also happens to get so hot that it cooks animals—which incidentally go there to peacefully drift off into death on its shores. There’s no need for violence, or killing, yet we have meat! There’s the general sensation that there won’t be disease, and the weather is always perfect—”
“That depends,” Liza interrupted, “on your idea of ‘perfect’ weather. We’ll have seasons.”
“But I agree with May,” said Nadi. “Everything is conveniently easy.”
“And here we are,” added Belle, “in an entirely different dimension. It’s so different and yet quite like Earth, isn’t it?”
“That’s because we’ve only moved to the dimension next door to ours,” said Taylor. “Dimensions that are right up against each other are going to be similar.”
“That’s something Papa and Uncle Berton were talking about,” said May, and Kate nodded. May continued, “If we were to pass from here to a new dimension, and then outward from there, it would take a while to get to a place that would be unrecognizable to us.”
Belle said, “It does seem that would take forever, doesn’t it? It’s so similar between here and Earth. Those changes would happen quite gradually, and we’d be long dead before we arrived at a point in a dimension we couldn’t conceptualize.”
Nadi said, “Not necessarily.” She was at the large pot on the hearth, dipping in the scoop to ladle out some tea for the others. “I say that because I suspect time would be different, too.”
Liza smiled at her protégé. “Nice catch, Nadi.”
“Really? I’m right?”
Nadi grinned. “So time would be different, and it looks like circumstances are different, too. I mean, with the ‘no violence’ thing.”
In a low voice, Jana said, “Women have violence in their nature, people. There’s no denying that.” She rested her wrist on her upraised knee and absently clicked her fingernails together. “Are you saying we’re not bringing that to this world?”
“We’re not.” Liza moved to the picnic table and leaned against it, giving each of those around her a short, musing stare. “Almost every one of the women who are drawn to enter the portal have a minimal propensity for characteristics like violence and greed. They’re also more motivated, as can be seen by our progress. The women who come to this world have inclinations that are different than many of those on Earth.”
“Hold on,” said Nadi. “It sounds like you’re saying we’re more evolved.”
“It’s true that species can evolve at varied speeds, but humans are all of the same species. No, we’re not more evolved, but we’re more susceptible to what this world represents. And now that we’re here, we will evolve differently.”
“This world represents something?” asked Kate. “I thought it was just a planet.”
“It’s more than that. I was talking to Pearl the other day, and she says this place confuses her because it lacks the essential balance of male and female. Not only are there no male humans, there are no male animals at all. That apparent lack of balance is an oddity.”
“How do the animals reproduce?” asked Kate. Everyone looked at her, because the subject had been continually gaining momentum as a hot topic.
It was Taylor who answered. “We’ve talked about parthenogenesis, but that doesn’t quite fly because on Earth, it only occurs in female species that have an XY determination system. You know, like men and women. But we think men can’t pass through because of their Y chromosome.”
“Also,” said Willow, “parthenogenesis is defined by the fact that an egg does not need fertilization from a male. Our eggs do need that.”
“Our bodies are changing,” said Liza.
This was met with looks of surprise, and Clara asked her, “Are you saying that by living here, we’re changing into something…not human?”
“Oh, no, we’re still human, but we’ll evolve differently. The balance of the human race is no longer concentrated on Earth, but is now between our two planets. They have their ways, and we’ll create a new type of balance with our ways.”
Nadi folded her arms across her chest. “Then we are evolving!”
“Always. Species evolve.”
“Are you, or are you not, saying,” May demanded, “that our eggs won’t need to be fertilized anymore?”
“I’m saying our bodies will adapt to the different circumstances in our lives.”
“Here’s an example,” said Taylor. “When I turned thirty my period changed by staying a day longer, and my flow was heavier. I talked to another medico about it, and we agreed that changes in bodies can be like clockwork. It wasn’t turning thirty that changed my period, yet the human body can move through its stages almost at the turn of a clock.”
“What I’m describing,” said Liza, “has similarities to those principles. But your recent DNA hypotheses have been closer to the mark.”
“She’s talking about my latest theory,” Taylor explained to the others. “Willow and I were discussing it with the women at the Second Clearing. They’re growing concerned because none of them are getting their periods.”
“What?” Kate exclaimed.
“No one has had a period on this planet, at least not yet. Urination and bowel movements are minimal, too.”
Kate looked at May. “Why haven’t you mentioned anything about this to anybody on Earth?”
“I suppose I don’t think much about it when I’m not bleeding.”
“So you haven’t had a period at all in the last month? You haven’t been here the entire time. Wouldn’t your return trips to Earth bring it on?” She pressed her hand to her waist and a look of panic crossed her face. “Am I going to lose my period because I came here?”
“Only if you stay,” said Liza. “And it won’t go away forever.”
Nadi sat down and tapped Liza’s arm. “Tia, you make statements like that and then you leave us hanging. Why don’t you tell us how you know, or what it means?”
“Because I don’t know those details. There are limits to what I know.”
“The same is true for me,” said Taylor. “I’m not able to see everything like a completed painting, it’s more like the artist’s earliest sketches.”
“But how can either of you be sure about what you are saying?” asked Kate. “When you talk about it, it sounds like you’re speaking about facts.”
Liza answered her. “I know things with the same conviction that you know I’m sitting here having a conversation with you. Despite knowing that we’re conversing, you can’t be absolutely certain of what I’ll say next, can you? Yet you understand the direction of our conversation without knowing the details.”
For a moment Kate only stared, and then she gave a nod that implied a reserved understanding. She picked up a piece of unleavened bread and examined it.
Nadi said, “You should try that with the nut butter. It’s spectacular.”
“Spectacular nut butter?” Kate grinned, accepted the pot from Nadi, and smeared some of the butter on the bread.
“They have regular butter at the Plains Clearing,” said Jana. She eyed Belle, who responded by pointing to the half-built butter churn on one of the worktables.
“I agree with Beatnik,” said May, “I prefer the nut butter over regular butter. Are we going to bring some with us?”
“We can,” said Clara. She left her seat and began looking through an array of ceramic pots. “I’m glad you thought of it.”
Nadi could tell that her moms, along with the distractingly attractive Kate, were thinking of leaving at any time. To keep the conversation going, she spoke to Liza. “You’ve said the people who come here are different than those on Earth. Does that mean we all think alike?”
“Of course not, but I assume you have a reason for that question?”
“I’m wondering about laws.”
“I see. I don’t think we’ll need a canon of laws.”
“Really!” Clara exclaimed. “There won’t be any need to establish certain rules of behavior?”
“We may not all think alike, but we have similar ethics.” Liza glanced in the direction of the Plains Clearing, where everyone knew the rough-natured woman named Julie was living. Liza asked, “Is there anyone you’ve met here who you think would rape? Or steal?”
Jana was the one who responded. She unfolded her long body from the giant bag-seat she’d been sitting on with Vic and stood tall before the other women. “Even on Earth, rape isn’t a natural female desire. And how does somebody steal and keep friends? Everybody is going to know it if something turns up missing from one house, and then it shows up somewhere else. Liza, you’re not addressing the big one. Taking a life.”
“Death isn’t the terrorizing ordeal it’s cracked up to be.”
“Maybe not after we’re dead, but the survivors sure do suffer.”
“That’s an emotional loss, very much like losing a lover in a failed relationship. Death is difficult, but necessary. It’s change and change is an inevitable element of existence.”
“But why does suffering need to be necessary?” asked Frankie.
Nadi moved to Frankie and rested a comforting hand on the back of her mother’s neck. In the war of 2060, before Nadi was born, Frankie had lost her son. The pain of that loss showed in her posture. Frankie said, “If Hearth is going to accommodate us, why not establish a pattern of peace, love, and contentment until we die?”
Although the emergence of Liza’s joy with this new world had been continual, all who knew her were still startled when she abruptly threw back her head and let loose an eye-watering guffaw. “There’s the rub,” she said. “Here we have a utopian potential. A certain balance has shifted in that we’re no longer confronted with issues that arise between males and females. We’ve also been relieved of the heaviest burden of violence, not to mention a whole lot of other cruel and malicious behaviors. But there will always be balance in existence. If you ever want to feel peace, love, and contentment, you’re going to need something to compare it to. That’s how you’ll recognize it.”
Jana raised her eyebrows. “I don’t need any kind of confirmation, honey. I’m good with the idea of blithely enjoying myself, with or without a clue of why I’m happy.”
Liza’s laughter had abated but her smile remained. “You know I’ve always appreciated your mind, Jana. Tell me, what taught you to think in the way you just described? Did you gain that understanding from bliss, or from struggle?”
This brought a low, slow chuckle from Jana. “You got me there.” She stretched her arms leisurely above her head and said to Clara, “I’m going to miss you reminding me to stretch in the mornings, baby girl.” She reached upward to the right with her left arm, then to the left with her right. Her arree stepped over near her and began to stretch with its own limbs.
The women laughed, and Clara said to her own arree, “You’ll come with us, won’t you, Coffee?”
Coffee sprung from Frankie’s lap and strode to Clara, who knelt to lift her. Sensing the nearness of their departure, Nadi said to Liza, “Wait a minute. Tia, how much struggle are we going to face in this world? It’s so comfortable for us here.”
“We’ll have conflict, but it will be on different levels.”
“I agree,” said Taylor, “And besides, we’ve already faced struggles as part of a male/female race. It’s in our DNA, now. We understand it on a cellular level, but our new struggles will have something more to teach us.”
Liza lifted her hands in an expression of, ‘There you have it.’
“I still don’t get why any of this ‘life’ stuff happens at all,” said Nadi. “Why are we here?” This drew another diaphragm-laugh from Liza, and Nadi grinned. “What?”
“The greatest question of all time. Maybe you’ll find an answer to it, someday.”
Clara went to Nadi and placed her palms on the girl’s cheeks. “I’m going to miss you, daughter-mine. You’re absolutely positive you don’t want to come with us?”
“Positive. I know it’s something you both want to do very, very much.” She hugged her mother. “And you’re not worried about me staying here without the two of you.”
“It’s the reason we can go at all. But it doesn’t mean I won’t miss seeing you around.”
Nadi stepped back. “How long do you think you’ll be gone, Mamita?”
“No way of knowing, but it will be a while.” Clara touched Nadi’s face again, this time with one hand, and lightly stroked her cheek.
“A while!” Nadi tried to turn her head—she was about to glance at Kate—but Clara held on. “We’ll be in touch through RP for as long as we can. I’m hoping Taylor will make some paper soon, and we can write.”
Nadi laughed. “Funny.”
“I wouldn’t stay up there for years,” Kate interjected. “I mean, I’ll have to come back before the portal closes.”
Clara kissed Nadi, dropped her hand from her face, and turned to Kate. “It should be an easy return down the mountain.”
“So you will come back to visit fairly often?” Nadi asked both her mothers.
Frankie took Nadi’s arm but spoke to Clara in a stage whisper. “Our daughter is acting strangely, considering that she talked us into this trip, and in fact moved out of our home on Earth before her fifteenth birthday.” She embraced Nadi and held her a long time.
With her face muffled against Frankie’s shoulder, Nadi muttered, “You were always right around the corner.”
Frankie let her go. “Missing us will only strengthen our love. And I miss you already. I’m going to ask you one more time if you’re sure you don’t want to come with us?”
Kate interjected again, this time to say, “I think it would be a pleasure to write out long letters to someone, and then wait for her to receive it and consider all that I said, and then receive what she writes back to me. I’d always be looking forward to something.”
“Done,” said Nadi. She turned to Taylor. “You’ve got yourself a paper-making apprentice.”
The women hauled their crates of supplies to the carts, and more women came over to say goodbye. Chih approached, bouncing her baby Lily on her hip. Willow kissed Lily on the head and asked Chih, “Are the diapers working well?”
“They’re doing the job. I hope to have something better than a leather string to keep them on by the time she’s walking. You’re going on the expedition, I see.”
Willow nodded. “A last-minute decision.”
“You’ll be able to see more stars.”
“That has crossed my mind.” Willow had a tendency to stay up late, or if she went to sleep early, she would wake in the middle of the night. That had been pleasurable, because it meant she could watch the stars and learn about them. Weeks ago, in the deepest part of the night, she had sensed that Chih was up walking with Lily, and soon the woman entered the Second Clearing, where Willow had been staying. Willow had asked her how she was able to walk in such utter darkness, with no torch or candle. Chih had intimated that she believed she had gained an ability to see in the dark. They had stayed awake to watch the stars that night, and soon it became a fairly regular meeting.
“I’ll miss our talks,” said Chih.
In a voice of announcement, Clara said, “Anyone who wants to come up and see us while we’re gone is not only welcome but encouraged to visit.”
Frankie laughed. “How can anybody ‘see us while we’re gone,’ sweet woman? That sounds like something your mamita Izzy would say.”
“Oh, right, where is she?” Clara grasped her crystal and directed the question toward the Second Clearing. Izzy’s RP was non-existent, but Quinterie heard, and let Clara know they were on their way.
Nadi approached Kate and said, “I really will write to you, you know, when it becomes possible.”
“That would be nice. I meant what I said about it.”
Nadi moved in to give Kate a farewell hug, but Kate raised her hand for the customary friendly grasp. Nadi pressed her own palm to it and said, “We’re going to make some paper, and you’ll be hearing from me.”
“You’ll be hearing back from me.” Kate gave Nadi’s hand a quick squeeze.