April, 2006: Katherine V. Forrest's best-selling Daughters of a Coral Dawn was published in 1984 and became an instant classic. In Daughters of a Coral Dawn, 4,000 women, descendants of a single mother whose origins are the planet Verna, leave Earth to start their own civilization on a planet they call Maternas. But many of their sisters chose to remain on Earth. What happened to those women? Now, nearly two decades later, the saga continues. Daughters of an Amber Noon picks up where Daughters of a Coral Dawn left off...
It has been the eternity of twenty-four hours since the penultimate day in the existence of our Unity.
One day ago we bade farewell to the four thousand one hundred and forty-four of us who have departed on a great adventure: to find a permanent new home in space, hidden, beyond encroachment by Earth.
Yesterday: a time of rejoicing, of celebration, exhilaration.
Today: a desolation of bereavement that spares not one of the two thousand and fifty-one of us who remain here, root-bound on our turbulent and noxious home planet.
With my beloved sister Minerva off to the stars as eyewitness-recorder of their divergent chapter in the history of our Unity, I, Olympia, find myself called upon to replace her—as if anyone could replace Minerva, the historian. Still, I must attempt to assume her responsibilities, even though my efforts will be but a pallid emulation of her brilliance and distinction.
From this day forward, I am no longer Olympia the philosopher. I am Olympia the historian, recorder of the continuing history of our Sisterhood on Earth.
Our Unity is again gathered in the inland desert of Southern Calivada, in the location where we first met more than seven months ago. We occupy the same refuge Kendra dropped into place back then, an inflated camouflage dome that from the air resembles ancient, blackened bomb craters—the purpose to which this brutalized land was put in centuries past. Our dome provides a cloak of invisibility, Rakel taking the additional and very necessary precaution of spraying its ceiling to deflect body heat–seeking sensors. Over the past month we have arrived at this place from different directions and by using individual flight paks, knowing that traveling here by any other conveyance or in groups would trigger satellite surveillance.
Seven months ago, when we reached the shattering decision that a majority of us would seek a new home in the stars, our entire Unity focused its energies on facilitating their escape. The perils they face as they now navigate their way through the solar system to the Einsteinian Curve, pursued by Earth’s military might, defy my powers of imagination. But their escape is thus far successful: a fact confirmed through our own information-monitoring sources and by public conjecture and rumors, rumors vehemently denied by officials who also deny the existence of such a flight. We draw considerable comfort from this. If our sisters’ ship were captured or destroyed, there would be immediate disclosure and Earth’s military would be gloating.
Although we have our reasons for remaining on Earth, we are no less in exile from our home planet than those en route to the stars. Under no circumstances will we continue to contribute our intellectual gifts to Earth’s leadership as it is presently constituted. We fully concede that all our efforts—our infiltration of the halls of power over five generations, our labor, our gifts of persuasion—have come to naught. None of it has changed or deflected this planet’s predication of supremacy on armament and conflict and subjugation. We will not corrupt ourselves by using any of their weaponry or any we could create to fight them; our Unity rejects, reviles, repudiates the use of violence and weapons of destruction to attain and hold power.
Our Mother, whose diminutive body is our origin, whose all-encompassing mind and gargantuan spirit are the fountainhead of our existence, spoke to us from this very stage, and the image of her—resplendent in her green lustervel robe, arms crossed as she addressed the six thousand of us—is indelible, as are her words: “It has never been the female nature to seek or want power.” As Mother so witheringly pointed out, “In this primitive culture we have been at the whim of its inferior leadership.” Then she put forth her ultimate recommendation in her pithy, inimitable way: “My dear ones, let’s just get the hell out of here.”
And we have.
Although we worked mostly behind the scenes in the world we abandoned, by any definition we held a considerable measure of influence. We occupied vital positions in all the professions key to the successful conduct of Earth’s progress: the sciences, commerce, politics, spirituality, all cultural interchange. Thus, we phased out our withdrawal cautiously, unobtrusively, like stars in a canopy blinking out one by one.
Our collective absence has been calamitous. Our previous influence in tempering international hostilities and economic tyranny is more than painfully obvious in the two-week-old military takeover by Theo Zedera, the loathsome and universally feared Premier Supreme whom everyone refers to with the appropriately ugly name Zed. With living conditions plummeting to deplorable depths, he continues to consolidate his power by obliterating all opposition, his troops brutally mopping up any vestige of resistance. Guerrilla warfare has all but ceased, and even the historically contentious renegade Eastern and Arab blocs have capitulated. Just when it appeared that humankind had managed to advance to the point of shedding itself of megalomaniac rulers, Zed has seized the invincible power that Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin, and Zhou only dreamed of—the key difference in his strategy being that he represents no nation, only his grandiose view of his own new world order.
Amid this triumphal takeover we, however, are the discordant note. The lone remaining symbol of defiance. The consternation at our disappearance, the impotent fury at the audacity and success of our escape, can be inferred from the gearing up of the search. Zed’s henchmen have begun to scour the planet for any lead to us, any trace. Careful not to disseminate the truth—the full scope of our disappearance—Zed’s central news dispensary has reported as missing several dozen of the most famous among us, including Africa and Tara and Viridia, and has offered vast rewards for information leading to their discovery. If they do manage to intercept our sisters as they venture into the stars, or if they capture any of us who remain earthbound, death will be infinitely preferable to what would follow—and of course death would be a component of the incarceration, degradation and slavery that would follow.
Where will we go, how will we live? How do we continue to conceal ourselves from our lethal enemies and their resources? How do we redirect our considerable energies and all our talents into a drastic transformation of our lives?
As Mother made her way to the service ship for transit to the starship Amelia Earhart one month ago, leaving us to conduct our lives and our future on this ravaged planet, she smiled and issued the same vote of confidence she has given us all our lives: “I’m sure you girls can manage.”
She had no concept of Theo Zedera.
We have spent these past six days in our desert compound absorbed in discussion and information analysis, forming and reforming into enclaves, our meetings extending late into each night. Six months ago, Tara made a viable and altogether ingenious proposal for a future habitat that was greeted at that time with skepticism and resistance. But that was before Zed. We pore over its possibilities now, assessing the most complex questions of geology, agriculture and horticulture, psychology, hydrology, atmospherics, structural design, volcanology. There is no hint of rancor in any of the discussions, only a searching evaluation of our challenges, a weighing of all possible answers.
Anguished over our vanished sisters, consumed by planning and decision-making, we work tirelessly, unmoved by brilliant, crystalline desert nights. Sexuality has dimmed among us, the blazing carpet of stars flung across skies of ebony velvet having little allure; it is simply a vast cold entity that has swallowed up our sisters…
I, Olympia the historian, and my sister, Isis the mathematician, especially feel the urgency of our situation. We are the only members of Mother’s Inner Circle—daughters born directly to her—who have chosen to remain on Earth. Of our original nine, from whom all the generations of our Unity have descended, beloved Selene long ago perished in a deep-sea diving accident off Antarctica; and Demeter, Diana, Hera, Minerva, Venus and Vesta have accompanied Mother into space. I feel my separation from them with knifelike keenness.
For this night of decision we have exercised, as the elders of our Unity, the prerogative of choosing the presenter to summarize the choices we have made, and those still to be determined. Young as she is, Tara is the logical choice on all counts. Isis and I wish to acknowledge her for the ingenuity of her proposal, and to evaluate her leadership potential at this perilous time—to observe her conduct among a divergent group ranging in age from twenty-five years her junior to more than eighty years her senior. We call ourselves a Unity, but we are a tumult of nonconformist, independent, confident, indeed arrogant women—women who nonetheless require leadership, as Mother well knew; but anyone attempting to don that mantle must run a daunting gauntlet, as Megan learned when Mother anointed her to lead the expedition to the stars. But leadership we must have, be that one leader or several. We require the coordination of all our talents.
The Unity has assembled in a semicircle of tiers rising above a central platform where Isis and I now enter in our amber ceremonial robes. Tara is already there and stands slightly behind where we sit, her arms crossed, gazing at the colorful, noisy, unruly array. Amid women clad in a rainbow assortment of pants and shirts and trouser suits, she is the color of sun and sand with her pale hair, dune-colored pants and shirt, and dusty desert boots. The youngest of Regina’s three daughters, Tara ranks with the most brilliant scholars ever to walk the corridors of Oxford. Her restless energy, that impatient intelligence in her gray eyes, are vibrant echoes of Megan, her extraordinary sister.
At my signal she takes one stride forward, arms at her side, her tall body straight and tense. “My sisters,” she begins, her resonant, unamplified voice filling the dome, vastly different from the bell-like tones of her sister’s voice but no less commanding: silence and stillness descend. “Esteemed Olympia, esteemed Isis,” she says, turning slightly toward us, “I am honored to share this platform with you.” Isis and I nod, pleased by her graciousness.
Tara addresses the Unity gravely, formally. “As we all know, since our withdrawal the search for us has become relentless. We dare not risk the slightest exposure, we dare not be careless—our enemies have surely determined that not all of us escaped into space on the Amelia Earhart.” I see a shadow deepening the gray of her eyes, and it occurs to me to wonder what possible reason would compel this young woman to remain here. But then, each member of our Unity has her own reasons for her decision.
Tara continues: “The first consensus we arrived at is that we will remain together.”
Even though this conclusion has been apparent for days, an approving murmur rises from most of our Unity. Most, but not all. I myself am pleased that additional painful separation will not be added to what we have already suffered.
“Our great challenge,” Tara says somberly, “is to reinforce the safety of ourselves and our children by remaining invisible. We have therefore chosen one of the most formidable and forbidding areas of our Earth. And now, my sisters, we will review the strategy to make this place on our Mother Earth into our new home.”
General Lucan Desmond strode down a long, sculpture-lined corridor in the Premier’s current residence, a sun-splashed palatial compound overlooking the pellucid waters of Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Smoothing the jacket of a black-and-gold dress uniform that did not need smoothing, Desmond returned the simultaneous salute of four stone-faced, black-clad sentries standing at attention beside the Premier’s office suite. He then passed under the DNA scanner, pricklingly aware that a negative reading would result in his cremation by laser beams. The two-second probe culminated in the automatic opening of the door to the Premier’s office. Desmond marched a dozen steps in precise cadence across the antique oriental carpet, saluted, and stood at attention.
Premier Supreme Theo Zedera, as usual, was in the company of Esten Balin, who was hunched over an array of monitors in a corner alcove and did not acknowledge Desmond, did not so much as move his bulk or raise his bald head from his work. The room was scented with the faintly sweet aroma of Balin’s stim-soaked cigar.
The Premier sat behind an onyx desk, his chair framed by a huge bay window open to a vista of palms and ferns against an azure sky. Chunkily muscular in a close-fitting gray silk tunic, he had also not looked up at Desmond’s entrance; he was absorbed in a dark-hued portrait of a diaphanous woman on the wall to his left, a painting that Desmond had heard dated from the nineteenth century. Smiling faintly, the Premier moved the fingers of one hand to the strains of a violin concerto bathing the room.
Desmond took the opportunity to stare at him, once more attempting to take some measure of this man as a man, not a dictator. The Premier was, in truth, handsome, a fact obscured by a reputation that branded him as fearsome, pitiless, subhuman. In profile his large head appeared sculpted, his hair dark and thick, his florid features Romanesque; his eyes were thickly lashed and his full lips were faintly curved in a sensual smile.
At the close of a musical phrase, the Premier touched a panel on his desk, and turned his leonine head to stare at Desmond, the music cut off, the smile gone.
Desmond held the dark, lengthy gaze with difficulty, yet with a degree of equanimity as well. He knew of no one who was not thoroughly intimidated by the combination of searing intelligence and implacable ruthlessness in this man who had unflinchingly ordered the incineration of cities and nations.
The Premier finally spoke in a husky, soft voice. “Sit down, General.”
As Desmond lowered himself into a brocade-covered armchair, the Premier lifted a velvet-shod foot to rest it on the corner of his desk and steepled his fingers. “Where are they?”
Desmond forced his body into a semblance of relaxation. He cleared his throat. “We have considerable information and many leads, sir. We’re following them up thoroughly.”
“Meaning you still have no idea where they are.”
“We’re closing in on them; we’re absolutely confident we’ll capture them.”
“Yes.” The Premier eased his foot off the desk and leaned forward, hands flat on the desk, fingers splayed. “Just as you were absolutely confident you’d capture their escape vessel. Right up to the moment they vanished into space and laughed in our faces while they did it.”
To be out-thought and outsmarted by women…Heat suffused Desmond, intensified by the expression on the Premier’s face: amused contempt.
Desmond ground out his reply: “A miscalculation that won’t happen again, I guarantee it. We’ve kept a tight lid on news of the escape.”
“Rumors have escaped your so-called tight lid.”
Desmond shrugged. “They always do, sir. But they’re just rumors. Anyone involved knows how they’ll die if they so much as hint they know anything.” Balin would get them. He could feel Balin’s malevolence permeating the room. He was always aware of Esten Balin. “We’ll find that ship—we’re using full telescopic overlap trace scans.”
“Overlap scans in open space,” the Premier ruminated, half-smiling. He picked up a malachite pen. “Locating their ship will be as easy as locating a needle in the Sahara.”
“Sir,” Desmond said doggedly, “you’re right that it may take some luck to locate them in space, but we have another solution. You do agree with our assessment that not all escapees left on that ship?”
“An obvious hypothesis.” The Premier fingered the iridescent green pen. “Which took a week to arrive at when Africa Contrera could have given me the same answer in half an hour with half the evidence.”
“Sir, there’s never been anyone like Africa Contrera,” Desmond protested.
The Premier had spoken the word with an emotion Desmond could not identify, and Desmond, remembering the Premier’s previous closeness to her, said, “She’s a genius.”
“A genius who’s taken her genius with her.” Desmond flinched at the harshness of his tone. “Along with the genius of everyone else who left with her. Somehow no one in my Secret Service managed to notice that women in key positions were vanishing one by one.”
The Premier waved away Desmond’s attempt at a reply. “From your report of the schematics of that ship and the equipment they bought on the black market, I understand it’s outfitted to hold forty-two hundred at the very outside.”
“Correct, sir. Meaning that the rest of them are still here. Including perhaps Africa Contrera—”
“And when we find them—”
“We’ll gain information to lead us to the others—a more useful and reliable tool than space scans. You have no limitations whatsoever on the manpower and equipment at your disposal, Desmond. Find them.”
“Yes, sir.” And with barely concealed eagerness Desmond asked, “Any restrictions?”
“Certainly,” the Premier said with irritation. “Do whatever is necessary to anyone you think has information, but I want any woman you find brought to me alive. Tell your men the capture of any of them wins a bonus of ten years’ privileges. Provided the women are delivered unharmed. Completely unharmed. Am I clear on this?”
“Absolutely clear, sir.” Ten years’ privileges was an enormous bonus, but Desmond had hoped to make freedom to use the women an additional inducement to his troops. After all, it had been the Premier’s order to enhance their testosterone levels, and sexual aggressiveness required slaking along with the stoking. But Desmond had learned that none of the Premier’s orders were issued by whim; there was rationale behind everything. Still, he might rescind this particular restriction when Esten Balin, with his infinite gifts for such work, thoroughly and excruciatingly extracted information from the first few women to be brought to the Premier…
The Premier said in dismissal, “I want you and your aides in the council chamber tomorrow at nine o’clock for a full strategy review.”
As Desmond rose from his chair, the Premier again placed a foot on the corner of his desk, then said in an easy, almost jovial tone, “This is the last piece in what we need to accomplish, Desmond. Find these women and I’ll see to it that you’re a very happy man for the rest of your days. If not…”
Desmond saluted. “I guarantee results, Premier.”
With limitless manpower and technology at his disposal, he felt all the confidence he had expressed; yet, as he marched from the office, he could not help stealing a glance at Esten Balin.
Balin had lifted his gaze from his monitors. His thin lips, clamped around his cigar, were curved into an arctic, predatory smile.
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