In the female-dominated society of the twenty-third century, mating with a male, even if it is to save the human race, is a distasteful task and one Healer Jahara Hriznek has successfully avoided--until now.
Brenimyn is a gifted breeding instructor at the Garden of Serenity. Forced to copulate with all females requesting his services, he yearns to find the one woman who responds to his touch. When Jahara arrives with the new class of breeders, Brenimyn's body immediately aches for her, but convincing the stubborn healer that sex between a man and a woman is more than just an act for procreation proves to be a challenge he refuses to fail.
Jahara doesn't want to enjoy the sinful rapture only Brenimyn brings to her body. Brenimyn has no intention of dousing the flames of desire licking at them until Jahara is completely his--body, mind and heart. But when the government finds their loving relationship a threat to the natural order, there may be more than their stubborn wills at stake.
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November 13, 2009
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Excerpt from Healer's Garden by Nina Pierce
Jahara Hriznek's life was over. The evidence weighed heavy in her hands. In the time it had taken to do the retinal scan, her future had been stolen from her.
As she stood at the tall bank of windows, staring at the distant mountains, Jahara knew nothing could change this new course of her life. She felt the hollow reality as obviously as the barren expanse of desert stretching between her and the horizon. There was nothing to break up the monotony of the landscape. Nothing to take her mind off the inevitability of the days to come. Nothing to bring back the future she'd thought lay before her when she woke this morning.
No helo-vehicles were out this time of day. It was still much too hot for people to leave the climate-controlled confines of the buildings in the city on the other side of the mountains. It would be a few more hours still before the sun sat low enough to make the commute across the blistering sands a safe one. Then the nearly empty roadway, three stories below, would bustle with solar powered helo-vehicles and buses.
She wouldn't be among the commuters winding their way from the Eastern Territory's capital city of Lexington into her little village. Jahara had taken a much-needed day of rest from the healing facility.
The city's new government expansion had brought with it careless male workers whose stupidity forced them to the hospital in droves for emergency services. Those healers not completely repulsed by the men's presence were forced to work overtime to treat the injuries. Jahara had been fielding complaints and filling in for overworked healers for weeks.
For one day she'd wanted to think about nothing more taxing than what music selection she would pull from her computer files. She'd planned on using some of her monthly water allotment and soaking in a hot bath rather than her daily chemical wash. Jahara had even considered calling Merenith and convincing her to take the day off from the animal clinic and lounge around with her. She had no doubt her current lover and she could find ways to entertain each other.
But none of that had happened.
The messenger service had shown up at her door early this morning, delivering the wretched news. Had she known they were making their way to her, Jahara definitely would have worked at the hospital today and long hours into the night. Using her hands to heal males was preferable to holding this retched projection disk.
Now, as Jahara glared at the palm-sized disk, fear burned the back of her throat and trembled along her chin. Hot tears of anger welled in her eyes. She shouldn't be so upset. It wasn't as if she hadn't known this was coming. Her twenty-eighth birthday was next month. It was law. Her birth-mother, the Dame of her family, had held off the inevitable as long as possible. Jahara's position as medical director had, up until this day, kept her from fulfilling the horrid obligation. But no woman, no matter how prestigious her position, ever ran from it. The thought soured in her stomach.
She'd known what the packet contained the moment she'd opened the door to find the government currier standing in the hall. Jahara had wanted to flee, to shut the door and hide from the responsibility, but instead she calmly leaned forward and let the android do the eye scan that proved the disk had found its way into her hands. She stared down at the official government seal over her Dame's image on the disk. Even offspring of the chief administrator of the Eastern Territory weren't exempt from this law enacted by Congress nearly a century and a half earlier.
Throwing the disk at the wall, she let out a feral sound of frustration.
As if chastising her, the bells chimed at her door. The normally soft chirp sounded loud in the silent womb of her living abode where she'd closed herself away. Jahara didn't want to answer it. Didn't want to know there was more to fulfilling her obligation. When it rang again, the sound almost persistent, she reluctantly skirted around the couch and slammed her hand on the touchpad, retracting the pneumatic door.
"Having temper tantrums, I hear." Merenith leaned in for a quick kiss. "I heard you all the way down the hall." The short crop of blonde swished about her chin as her lover shook her head in disbelief. Her pouty lips were pulled tight between her teeth to mask--humor? Concern? Jahara couldn't be sure.
"You have no idea what kind of a day I've had." Jahara stepped back and invited the willowy beauty through the door. "The worst day of my life, as a matter of fact." As she passed, Jahara marveled as always at the beauty of Merenith's body. A descendent of the Olakuma clan, Merenith's ancestors had long ago lost any semblance of body hair. It was unnecessary in their life in the desert heat. Merenith's skin was all tawny satin, save for the velvety blonde eyebrows and thick lashes that once protected her people from the harsh sand thrown up in the hot winds.
The woman stared at her, arching one of those elegant brows, the skeptical expression marring the flawless contours of her face. "Worst? I think you're exaggerating just a bit." Merenith bent to brush the dust of the desert from her heavy work boots.
"You have no idea."
Straightening, Merenith tenderly pressed her lips to Jahara's and wrapped her in her arms. The comforting scent of jasmine, hay and the animals Merenith tended filled Jahara's nose. She pulled Merenith in tighter, wishing they could stay this way forever and ignore the projection disk.
Merenith might be four years her junior, but Jahara wanted to believe that what they shared was the stuff made of fairytales. At her age, Jahara was desperate to find the woman who would complement her in every sense of the word--a woman who could be the sun to her moon, the color on her drab canvas, the shadow that moved in synchronized harmony with her--a woman who would satisfy every part of her. She had hoped Merenith would become that person. But their relationship was still so new. There was no doubt fulfilling her obligation would have some affect on her career, but that she could rectify. Jahara just wasn't sure she would survive if it stole from her the one thing she wanted most--true love.
"Jahara, there's no need to be so upset." Merenith cupped her chin, coaxing Jahara from the soft cushion of her breasts. Her gaze seductively swept over her face. "Things really aren't as bad as they seem."
"You don't know what I threw across the room."
"It's the invitation you've been denying would come."
As if her words had burned, Jahara pushed out of Merenith's arms.
"Oh, don't be so defensive," Merenith said. "Your Dame called me."
"M'Dame called you?"
"Since her office sent them out, she knew you'd get the disk today and be upset by the news. Why do you think I came over tonight?" With a shrug, Merenith brushed past her and around the overstuffed furniture of the great room. She bent to straighten the imitation animal rug in front of the fireplace. "You mind if I help myself to some wine? I think you could probably use some." The humor glinted deep in Merenith's blueberry eyes as she shot a glance over her shoulder before walking around the bar separating the living space from the cooking area.
"You think this whole thing's funny?" Jahara could no longer hold back the tears that had threatened only moments ago. "Just because you've already fulfilled your obligation, you find the fact that now it's my turn rather amusing? Well, let me tell you. The whole thing is disgusting and if my Dame wasn't administrator, I'd petition to get out of this thing once and for all. It's a stupid law anyway."
Merenith came out of the kitchen nook. Setting the wine bottle down with two glasses, one side of her mouth curved in a melancholy smile. "No, I don't find this humorous at all. But you've said it yourself. You've used your position at the hospital and your Dame's place in the government to put this off since you were twenty. Now the time has come. No one gets around this law."
"Have you read the document?" Jahara shook her finger at the small piece of metal on the floor. "I have only two weeks to put things in order at the hospital. Two weeks!" Her voice echoed on the high ceiling where a fan churned the cooled air. "How do they think the medical director of a major healing facility can get things in order before being whisked away for two years?" Jahara couldn't bring herself to think how this would affect their relationship. She had wanted so much to develop something permanent with Merenith. But pushing the doubts past the hot lump in her throat was impossible.
"Jahara." Merenith came to her, gently kissing the tears from her face. "Don't think about it. If you're worried about us...don't be. I can visit you. They allow that." Holding her cheeks, Merenith pushed the black tendrils of hair from Jahara's face. It still amazed her how Merenith seemed to understand what she was thinking without her having to explain.
"Let's not talk anymore about it. Tonight, let it be about us." Merenith brushed her lips featherlight across Jahara's mouth. "Let me show you how much I care about you. Let me help you forget."
Merenith's silken tongue swept seductively into her mouth. Jahara needed to lose herself in this woman and believe that what they shared would be enough to carry her through this ordeal. But even as Merenith's skillful hands danced over her skin, Jahara felt the familiar emptiness settle itself deep in the pit of her stomach. The cold hollow had nothing to do with the proclamation on the disk and everything to do with a hole in Jahara's heart that it seemed no one could fill.
* * * * *
The night hung heavy in the desert, like the unsettled feelings surrounding them. Sitting in the light of the holographic fire, their shadows danced on the walls of her living abode. Even Merenith's presence wasn't a comfort. Jahara held the disk in one hand, a glass of wine in the other. They'd already eaten a simple meal of soy protein and vegetables. They'd taken time to walk in the park across from the living complex, feeling the heat of the day relinquish itself to the cool desert winds of evening. They'd talked about their days, skirting any mention of the projection disk or the impact it would have on their future. But like an elephant standing between them, the pronouncement on the disk could no longer be ignored.
"Merenith, how did you survive this...this place?" Jahara shook the piece of metal in her hand.
"What, the Garden of Serenity?" Merenith asked, staring at the flickering light.
"Of course, the Garden. All the stories I've heard, it sounds so awful. One of my birth-sisters swears copulating with a man is the most animalistic ritual she ever had to endure. The other gave up her government position to raise both her birth child and that of her partner's. But neither sister talks about actually birthing the babies, only about the mating and the pregnancy. I can't imagine being a human incubator for nine months!" A shudder of disgust shook her body. "Not one child--but two! And at my age. What are they thinking?"
Merenith was uncharacteristically silent.
Pressing a small button, the disjointed head of her Dame appeared and Jahara listened again to the words she hoped never to hear. "Jahara Hriznek, we are pleased to inform you--" Jahara looked up at Merenith. "They're kidding me, right? They think I'm happy about this?"
Merenith poured more wine into her empty glass, but didn't meet Jahara's probing gaze.
"--that you have been chosen to report to the Garden of Serenity, located in the southern section of the Eastern Territory, no later than 1400 on June the first, 2267. It is so ordered by decree of Congress, written on the Fourth day of July, 2112: In order to reestablish the human population and create a more heterogeneous gene pool, we mandate every woman before the age of thirty must birth, if physically able, two healthy infants--"
Jahara closed down the projection. "Blah, blah, blah..." Jahara gulped her wine. "I particularly like the part about the extensive blood work and wellness checks that must be completed before I go." Jahara threw the disk at the fire, watching it clatter unharmed through the hologram. If only she could truly burn it and pretend this had never happened.
"If you ask me, it's all a crockadung," Jahara muttered. "It's not my fault they used up the frozen sperm supply. Look at us, our clan ancestors had the right idea, keeping the bloodlines clean by using only specific breeders." Jahara held her hands in the air as if she were on display. "I think it's a stupid law written by a group of old-fashioned, uneducated women, desperate to have sex with men. How barbaric." She swallowed the acidic revulsion burning her throat.
A shiver rippled through Merenith and Jahara assumed she felt the same.
"I think the repopulation plan is going just fine without my help. I mean, how can they expect a professional woman to give up her life for two years just to birth offspring?" Jahara looked at Merenith sipping her wine and contemplating the question she'd just posed. This was her third glass, very unlike Merenith.
"It's not horrible," Merenith said at last. "Unpleasant definitely, but not the worst thing that could happen." She stared blindly at the flames and Jahara knew she was thinking back to her own time at the Garden. "Think of it like a vacation. You told me you haven't had one of those in years." Curving one corner of her mouth, Merenith turned to Jahara, lifting her shoulder. "I didn't mind being pregnant. The birthing stuff isn't even so bad, especially if the offspring are male. You just leave them at the Garden. I'm not even sure what they did with him. The girl I birthed was harder to leave behind, but I had no way of caring for her at the time. I know she's at some school where they love her."
Merenith turned her gaze back to the flames. "I didn't grow up with my birth family like you, Jahara. The school taught me everything I needed to know. I loved the girls there as if they were my birth-sisters. The teachers loved us like a true Dame would love her own birth child." Merenith stared pensively at the fire. In the six months they'd been together, Jahara realized the woman had never spoken of her upbringing.
"Really, it's not so bad." Merenith's voice lilted into a false cheerfulness. "Besides, you already know what to expect. You came with me during foaling season. It's a lot like that." She drained the last of the burgundy liquid.
"Those mares looked particularly uncomfortable. I remember a lot of grunting and kicking and blood. Lots of blood."
Laughter bubbled from Merenith. "Oh for goodness' sake, Jahara, if anyone was listening to you, they'd never know you were a skilled healer." She stood and collected the empty wine bottle and glasses. "Blood? That's the last thing that should be upsetting you." Merenith stared down at her, the humor gone from her face. "What about the men and everything they're expected to do? That gets a little intimate, Jahara." Merenith walked into the kitchen.
"Well, it won't mean anything if that's what's worrying you." Jahara jumped up and followed her lover. "I mean...it's just one or two times. Rutting. Nothing emotional. And who knows, there may be genetic advances in the next year or so with sperm that make them viable again for artificial insemination or better yet...cloning."
Merenith looked doubtful. "Whatever. I'm not sure why it's even bothering me." She reached for a glass to sanitize, but it slipped from her hand and shattered in the basin. Blood seeped from a jagged cut on Merenith's palm. When Jahara reached to help, Merenith pulled from her.
"I'm fine you don't need--"
"Mer, don't be silly." Jahara took the woman's hand in hers and let the warmth of her healing power flow through her, surrounding their hands in its soft white light. The flow of blood from Merenith's hand stopped, the ripped flesh came back together, and the scab repaired instantly to healthy skin.
Jahara brought Merenith's healed palm to her lips, gently kissing the spot where the glass had torn her flesh. "Mer, it's not like I'm the least bit attracted to men. I mean there's nothing about them that's the tiniest bit sexy. All their sex organs dangling about." Jahara nibbled at her jaw. "Nothing like a woman's soft, silky skin hiding her vulnerability."
"We've barely had a chance to get to know each other. And I guess I'm a little..."
"Jealous? Of a man?" Now Jahara laughed.
"I don't believe it. Those rumors of men and women living together outside the law? How could that possibly be true?" Jahara toyed with the rings on Merenith's fingers. "They're just children's tales meant to frighten. No more real than the desert horseman or the bloodthirsty animals of the night. They can't be true. There's no reason a woman would give up all we've worked so hard to build." Jahara waved her hand around her beautiful home. "Men are only good for physical labor and breeding. Why would any woman choose to make a life with that? The plague may have decimated the male population, but it gifted us with so much." Jahara kissed Merenith's healed palm. "The power to heal, to communicate with animals." She kissed her long fingers, working off one of Merenith's rings studded with small jade stones. "The power of telepathy, telekinesis, visions and intellect. We have so much. Women are meant to be their own leaders. Now have you ever met a man with any of those gifts? Especially intellect?"
Merenith giggled a nasally laugh. "No, I can't say I have. Not in all the time I spent at the Garden or in my years since."
"There won't be anyone else, Mer." Jahara slipped the ring onto her finger. "This is my promise to you." She wiggled her fingers, showing off the ring.
"I can't hold you to that."
"Do you not want me to have this?"
Color crawled up Merenith's cheeks. "I would be honored for you to wear it. At the very least you can claim you are promised." She shrugged. "It does make the breeding a little less demanding and the breeders do stay away from those who are claimed."
"Well, then it's decided. I'll wear your ring. I'll do anything to avoid the breeding obligation and keep the men from me. But really, can you imagine there's a man on earth willing to have me longer than it takes to impregnate me?"
They both laughed at the absurdity of her question.