The harem had begun innocently enough when, after the Desolation, Ahasuerus invited the orphaned young women of Shushan College to relocate to his immense pueblo-style residence. Hegai, a brilliant sculptor, became their mentor and tutor. After the Citadel was erected and General Haz moved to the castle keep with his striking young bride, Lady Vashti, young people of both sexes stayed in the pueblo as career performers who played for the Court.
As soon as they were sixteen years old, they were paired by the psychological panel according to the dictates of the Expansion philosophy created to speedily populate the new kingdom. The few deemed unsuitable for marriage and parenthood were still expected to contribute offspring to the Expansion program.
Married women were rewarded with homes of their own as soon as they produced a viable infant. Single women remained in the pueblo to become surrogate mothers and to care for children from the Fortress Villages during the months of planting and harvest.
The pueblo was a beautiful multi-level facility encircling the mountaintop of the Mountain Cavern, its fluid lines blending into the rock. Within the pueblo existed four harems, the domain of Shaashgaz, custodian of all women and children living there. Entertainers lived in the first harem, single women with infants under age two dwelt in the third harem, and female nannies and instructors stayed in the fourth harem to care for the boarding children.
“What’s become of Harem Two?” asked Zara.
“You probably know from your sources that the second harem occupied the uppermost three floors of the pueblo when I first went there as a candidate for the position of Lady of the Citadel,” said Hadassah. “After I won the title, as it were, the selection committee determined that the nineteen other finalists remain as perfect specimens for the Expansion program. At that time, the second harem was downsized to a single level.”
“You mean the finalist candidates became baby makers?” asked Zara, horrified.
“Partly. The General wouldn’t want their bodies deformed by the pregnancy process, so their eggs are regularly harvested, fertilized artificially, and implanted in the women of Harem Three. The resulting infants are cared for by the women who give birth to them until age two. Then they’re adopted by other families.”
“How can you stand knowing these things?”
“It’s the way it is here.”
“Will you have more children?”
“I hope so. My children give my life meaning and joy.”
“No doubt it would make the General happy.”
“Of course,” said Esther. “He expects us to be the supreme model for the Expansion philosophy.”
SEVENTY-FIVE KILOMETRES SOUTHWEST of DúndirkaNoka across Georgian Bay lay the island monastery of Abbey Trádún. Surrounded by high stone walls and possessing a remarkable gateway, the abbey was an oasis of peace—albeit one equipped for peacekeeping. Its sheltering walls, which had long housed hermitage huts built into its northeast section, steadily thickened over time to incorporate market buildings, stables, and sheds along its length. Interspersed amid its sheds, shops, and huts were bunkers for abbey guards, and secret entryways to hangars below.
One entered the monastery’s courtyard from the south through an archway bearing the Latin inscription Justórum ánimæ in manu Dei sunt, et non tanget illos torméntum malitiæ; visi sunt óculis insipiéntium mori illi autem sunt in pace, allelúja: The souls of the just are in the hand of God and the torment of wickedness shall not touch them; in the eyes of the foolish they seem to die, but they are in peace, alleluia.
The large courtyard contained several small outbuildings along with benches and trellises dispersed along paths that wandered leisurely through well-tended gardens. Irrigation was automatically controlled by a system that drew water from Lake Huron as soil conditions demanded. The abbey’s beautiful stone basilica was centred against the eastern wall. Attached to its north side were four rectangular cloisters with enclosed gardens, three for monks and one for retreatants and guests. On the south side were two cloisters for nuns, one for families, and one for residential students. The entire monastery was designed to sink into rock vaults previously blasted into the earth, leaving only its roofs flush with surrounding terrain in an emergency situation.
Beneath the courtyard, eco-rooms housed animals and growing plants. A secret maze of tunnels, conference rooms, and vehicle hangars joined the abbey to caves where the waters of Georgian Bay lapped at the island’s shores. Before the Desolation, government intelligence meetings were conducted here with personnel from Abbey Trádún, DúndirkaNoka, the Canadian Military, and the Ministry of First Nations.
Recognizing the potential of having Intelligence personnel in both DúndirkaNoka and Abbey Trádún, the pre-Desolation government had arranged for both underground communities to have sophisticated security systems and secret military forces in order to function jointly as a highly secretive Intelligence mission. Between DúndirkaNoka and Abbey Trádún existed a triple precautionary system comprising a secret satellite signal, safe.talk chambers, and use of the redspeak code. To outsiders unaware of their covert activities, the relationship between the centres had seemed innocuously natural because of their shared esteem for creation.
The monastery and First Nations communities were physically linked by an advanced land-water-land navigation system. Lurking in subterranean hangars, spherical vehicles known as Waterbugs could speed without detection beneath the waters of Georgian Bay and thence through tunnels connected to the underground cities. When a Bug emerged from water on either side of the bay, it sprouted legs, enabling it to scale the embankment leading to a tunnel mouth. Even more manoeuvrable and deadly than Waterbugs were the Airbullets, prudently inactive since the Desolation. Housed in hangars adjacent to the Bugs, at both Noka and the abbey, the Bullets waited expectantly, hidden from Shushan spies and the Citadel’s fierce Dragonflies which routinely scouted the Great Lakes area.