by Katherine V. Forrest
Fifty-five years have passed since 4,000 women escaped a tyrannical Earth and colonized the planet of Maternas. The women of the Unity have brought children into their world, the first in the history of humankind to inherit a legacy of ultimate freedom and possibility.
But these children are a breed unto themselves. They have bonded and communicate with each other in a way the older generation cannot fathom, and most disturbing of all, they question many of the Unity’s cherished precepts, laying claim to a rival standard of conduct.
Into this widening schism walks young Joss. She becomes deeply involved with Emerald, a woman who struggles to locate her long-lost daughter and finds herself caught between two factions in a burgeoning conflict of the gravest proportions.
With Daughters of an Emerald Dusk, Forrest has created her most electrifying and suspenseful novel yet in this acclaimed series that began with Daughters of a Coral Dawn.
Originally Published by Alyson Books 2005.
Lambda Literary Foundation
Daughters of an Emerald Dusk: Winner, Best LGBT Science-Fiction
Lambda Book Report
Pam Keesey: The third installment in the fascinating story of the women who colonized the planet Maternas, this is the follow-up to Daughters of a Coral Dawn (1984) and Daughters of an Amber Noon (2002). In the telling of this tale, set 50 years after Amber Noon, Forrest captures the ethereal, otherworldly, second generation offspring of the women of Maternas... Forrest has given us both an entertaining and thought-provoking account. Fans of Coral Dawn and Amber Noon will welcome this addition to the series and Forrest has still left us wondering what will happen to this colony of women next.
As of this day, I embark upon my greatest adventure. For the first time in my long life I hold only the scantest concept of the future spread out before me.
We cherish the peerless days in the history of our Unity, days beyond all our dreams, each seeming more consequential than any previous…
The first, surely, the day our extraordinary, singular Mother gave birth to the original nine of our Unity—of which I am one.
The day six generations later when our Unity came to its momentous decision to abdicate all further involvement in the affairs of Earth. Seven months afterward, the day that 4,144 of our number made their clandestine departure to seek a new home in the stars.
The day following, when the 2,011 remaining on Earth—of which I am one—selected our home to be in the forbidding—and what we mistakenly thought to be safe—environs of Sappho Valley, historically known as Death Valley.
Finally, that most tumultuous day of all, the confrontation with Theo Zedera, who had spent more than two years relentlessly scouring the entire planet for us.
And now this day. Wisdom and perspective—the fruit borne out of my more than a century of life—should persuade me that proclaiming this day as the most significant of all is foolish.
Call me foolish.
Still, I swing from exhilaration to despair. If wholly uncharted terrain beckons to me, I must leave my beloved Earth to seek it; and I know not when or if I will return. Beyond that: The sister closest to me, dearest Isis, is adamant that at least one of Mother’s original nine must remain as her representative on our birth planet and destiny has appointed her for this role.
A moral and most admirable position, I concede. One I have done my utmost to subvert. Including recruiting the ultimate ally, Mother—she being no more eager to lose a daughter than I am to lose the sister closest to me, my daily companion.
Taking Isis’s hands in hers, Mother scolded her: “Phosh. There is no reason for you to remain. You are not needed here.” She then issued her most potent declaration: “All my girls can manage.”
Gazing into Mother’s emerald eyes, Isis stated simply, “I must remain.”
Against my sister’s immovable conscience and sense of duty, if even an irresistible force like Mother could not prevail, that was the end of it, except for the pain of this loss that I can no more describe than convey the sensation of having my heart ripped out of me.
But then I have never had much aptitude for description, for any sort of eloquence, having performed these official recording duties out of necessity when my sister, Minerva the historian, departed with our Unity for the stars. During our time in Sappho Valley, I fulfilled the function with minimal efficiency, but in the year and a half since members of our Unity, including Minerva, returned to Earth during the climactic time of Theo Zedera, I did my duty grudgingly and only because Minerva contended that I must do so, that she lacked continuity of presence on the planet to take it over. During the nearly four months we will be in space, I will reclaim, indeed seize in my grateful embrace my previous occupation of philosopher, its rigors and luxuries of contemplation. Minerva, historian by profession, official recorder of the history on Maternas, will henceforth chronicle our future.
A future where the most basic unknown is time itself. My sisters who journeyed here from Maternas traversed a time warp, one we must also confront on the way back. Landing on Earth, they were shocked to discover that only three years had passed since their departure from Earth, while we were equally astonished that the equivalent of twenty-five of their 336-day years had elapsed on their new world. My sister Hera, our astrophysicist, is confident she can devise a course through hyperspace that will either circumvent or locate a wormhole puncturing the time warp.
If she fails, then this is the scenario as I understand it: My sisters were four months in reaching Earth, and another four will be required to return to Maternas. Additionally, they have been on Earth for two years and four months; our astronomers and physicists, led by Hera, required all this time for research based on the knowledge they had acquired in their journeys and for full remapping and reassessments of the star systems to avoid the time warp—this, combined with fitting our ship for the return trip. A total of three years, all told, will have passed by the time we reach Maternas. If Hera fails in her navigation theories, then another twenty-five years may have passed on Maternas, more or less, depending on the vagaries of the time warp.
It is only moments now until the completely refitted Connie Esperanza departs Earth. From what I hear of the unrest that had already begun to emerge on Maternas, and from the unease that has never left the faces of Megan and my sisters Hera, Venus, and Vesta, we travel toward considerable uncertainty…
I am about to decommission this recorder and keep only my personal journal.
Farewell, beloved Earth. May our Unity continue to tend you well.
I am no longer Olympia the historian. I am now Olympia the philosopher, and I go now to Maternas.
The unimaginable has become my reality.
Even though it is very late into what passes for a Maternas night, I walk along a seashore under a sky of brilliant star clusters in a canopy of red and blue fluorescence. Three moons pour silver over majestic crashing waves, greater than any I have seen even during Earth’s highest tides. In a world whose daytime hours are lighted by double suns, there is never full darkness when those suns set, and I find myself in a royal-blue twilight of the most ethereal beauty.
It is sixteen hours since the landing on Maternas. Too infused with wonderment to sleep, I walk here alone, still digesting today’s events.
I had fantasized endlessly about the moment when Tara and I, following our revered Mother and esteemed members of the Inner Circle—her daughters Hera, Olympia, Minerva, and Vesta—would step off the Connie Esperanza’s shuttle craft onto the surface of Maternas and into the wonders of an alien landscape. I had dreamed of falling into the arms of the birth family I have not seen in six Earth years. Greeting and embracing old friends. Marveling over the presence of our Unity on a new world, all those familiar to me and especially those of the Unity new to me, the children born on this home in the stars. I thought I had fully anticipated the emotional upheaval I would experience, so it never occurred to me that I would be unable to record events as they happened.
When I stepped onto Maternas, were it not for the unmistakably firm ground under my feet and the nectar-like air I breathed, or the roar of greeting that vibrated in my ears, I could have been back in those disorienting months of hurtling through hyperspace. Back in the daydream in which I stand on Maternas, land of legend, amid the waist-high ivory grass I have seen only in facsimile. Instead I was frozen in place, holding scarcely a coherent thought, unable to record a single moment of my birth family struggling their way through a churn of bodies toward me; I was capable only of trembling, of weeping.
Thousands waited to welcome us, strewn in fantastical array around our landing area, a natural amphitheater created by mountains on three sides with a coral lake forming the fourth. The crowds screamed their joy in greeting those whom they had mourned for lost on the journey to Earth, and cheered their welcome to those of us venturing here for the first time.
Mother, gathering her ceremonial green robe around her, seemed disconcerted, even shaken by the bedlam, and raised both hands in that universal request to quiet the deafening affection raining down on us, a gesture that resulted only in even greater clamor at the return of this most revered personage among us. Megan, the beloved leader of the first expedition to Maternas, was met by her own wave of pandemonium, the endless chanting of her name. But she was oblivious, rushing toward the three who ran pell-mell toward her—her beloved Laurel, and their two daughters, Emerald and Crystal.
With my senses inundated, I was able to take in only a tiny fraction of what transpired, and then my birth family overwhelmed me. “Silke,” I sobbed, embracing her in a bursting agony of love and gratitude, my need so imperative and childlike that I crushed the warm solidity of her against me. Hurriedly, I buried my face against her neck to conceal what I am sure was transparent: visceral shock at my first close-up sight of my birth mother.
My trauma would have been far greater had I not been forearmed for the moment—if Vesta, when the failure of our attempt to circumvent the time warp was discovered, had not immediately begun to counsel all eighty of us on board, including even Mother and the Inner Circle.
The presence on the Connie Esperanza of this highly gifted psychologist could not have been more vital. During the time required to traverse the Pleiades, her preparation for our landing combined group counseling with pictorial presentations of the decades of Maternas history she had requested to be sent to our ship’s computers from Maternas. We in turn sent extensive reports of ourselves and the astonishing developments on planet Earth to Maternas.
To further ameliorate the stunning theft from us of the kind gradualness of time, the ship’s message banks were allowed to overflow with the fondest messages of greeting to and from the planet, and a series of holographic representations of our loved ones aging throughout the years was presented in privacy to each of us.
Even so, the jolt of seeing Silke had routed all this careful preparation. My sister Trella was obviously suffering her own dislocation; she simply gaped at me. Six years ago, when I last saw her, I was her older sister; I was now the younger by more than five decades.
“Let me go, Joss,” Silke ordered, and struggled within my paralyzed arms, prying me away from her. “You’ve grown into a grand woman,” she cried, gripping my head in both hands, then cupping my face, tracing my features with her fingers. “You are so young!” she screeched with such delight that it caused Trella to grimace and filled me strangely with pain.
“You,” I stammered, staring back at her, “you look…you look… magnificent.”
And she did. Fifty-five years on this planet had added age to her in the gentlest of fashion. Her face, framed in a simple fall of fine silver blonde hair, was an elegant filigree of age, her eyes a cleaner blue than I remembered. Her skin had burnished into gold under the double suns of this world.
I turned to my sister and hugged her tightly to me and amid the frenzy that reigned around us I put my lips to her ear to declare, “It’s good to see you. If only I can grow to look like you!” If indeed I could be anything like my supple, gracefully mature sister…
One aspect of Trella had not changed: her shyness. “We have so very much to share with each other,” she told me, eyes downcast, cheeks dimpling in a smile, an achingly familiar shadow of youth in the foreign maturity of her face. Then, shaking her head as if greater awareness had just arrived, she said proudly, “Joss, meet my daughters, Nitara and Verda.”
I am ashamed to say I could not take in Trella’s two daughters even as they spoke graciously and embraced me. My glance had fallen upon the three virtually nude, statuesque women behind them, waiting to make their own greetings to me.
Trella continued, introducing those three, “And these are their daughters, Niabi, Kaylee, Netis.”
Something in her face and in her tone seemed odd, but I was distracted by these three, each of whom extended both hands to me. Fleetingly, I noticed that all three appeared to be around my age or younger and that they wore stretch bands to hold their ample breasts, roughly made sandals on their feet—and nothing more. Their eyes held me fast. Enormous coral eyes, mesmerizing. Unlike the black pupils of everyone on Earth, theirs glowed of ivory. They were women of confident bearing, broad-shouldered, tall, fully fleshed—Netis fair-skinned, Kaylee copper, Niabi ebony—and were differently and inexpressibly beautiful. They exuded health and sexuality.
I also noticed that everyone around me seemed as hypnotized by this arresting, newest generation as I, and were staring at them—staring in a manner I found disconcerting and inexplicable: Their stares were visibly pained, wary, loving, anxious.
As I clasped hands with Netis, Kaylee, and Niabi in turn, they held my hands in theirs with evaluation in their gaze: cool measurement. I felt their distance. I felt them to be alien. Yet I also felt beguiled by them.
Breaking away from these women, I returned my attention to Nitara and Verda, who had conveyed more genuine warmth in their welcome, and who were also more conventionally Earth-like in appearance. Nitara’s exquisite face held elements of an Oriental heritage; Verda was more clearly Indian. What all these descendants of Trella told me with their genetic patterns was that Trella had had each daughter with a different sexual partner, and these two daughters had followed the same paths in having their own children, and that somehow this new generation displayed altogether different genetic variations. Of course a new and free culture would have evolved on this alien world, I told myself. And it would be one far removed from my own experience of societal control and repression.
Feeling oddly adrift and disoriented, I glanced helplessly about for Tara, my closest companion before and during our journey from Earth. Although she had disembarked from the shuttle craft by my side along with Megan, her sister, she had quickly vanished under the crush of greeting. I searched the surging, celebratory crowd with faint hope, knowing she and Megan would be enfolded in the ardent embrace of their closest family members, just as I was in mine, the family who was now clamoring for me to leave this mad scene and accompany them to a place of privacy. As if she had somehow received a telepathic message of my seeking her, Tara waved from a raised platform at least one hundred women away from me. A pale-haired, gray-eyed version of Megan, she stood next to her birth family, and I was immediately comforted by this touch of the familiar.
The seven members of the Inner Circle, stately in their customary robes, had been led to this platform, well above the jostling, rowdy crowd, along with Mother, and Megan and her family—which of course included her sister, my Tara. Megan’s family was fully immersed in their reunion, while the Inner Circle viewed the tumult with various expressions ranging from proud approval on the aristocratic face of Hera to the all but glassy-eyed bemusement of Olympia, like me here for the first time, and similarly unable to find an emotional foothold.
Tara. How like her sister she is in the steely grace of her strength. I do not deserve her. She has been such solace for body and soul during the past three years while I recovered from the deep wounds inflicted by my searing encounters with Theo Zedera and Africa Contrera. Those end days of Earth were more than anyone could cope with, much less someone like myself with a mere two decades of life to her name. Africa had taken up so much of my days and nights—my awareness, my music, my dreams—that to this day her face remains on the periphery of my vision, her presence in my soul.
For a year after she left I went into deep retreat, and Tara waited for me, understanding that I required reflection and time to heal, but not understanding the true depth of my grief. That I have retained Tara’s love through all this travail is a gift I do not nearly merit. Because—this is my inescapable truth—to this day I still love Africa…dream of her, long for her, mourn her.
Seeing my gaze fixed in Tara’s direction, Silke asked me, “Is that Tara? We must meet this woman who is so meaningful to you.”