Friday, December 21, 2007


This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future. There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


The next afternoon, right before dinner, Jua the timmer came to their door. Bux let her in and they climbed into the loft over the living room together to take measurements. Jua stomped around a bit, testing the rafters and inspecting the joints, while Bux came back down and made tea and honey toast for her.

When she sat down at the table with the Manage, Jua said "The wood's still sound, but I'd like to redo some of the hangers."

"Okay" said Yerush, though she wasn't sure what that meant. "We're having an addition put on, do you need to do that all together or can we begin with the loft and new bed?"

"Up to you" said Jua. "I can do the bed right away, have a couple of days this week."

Bux looked at Halling and Yoj, then said "Let's go on with that, then. The usual three-person size, whatever wood you recommend."

"Are you bartering or paying?" asked Jua. "Trading in your old bed?"

"No, we're keeping that in the room downstairs" said Bux. "Here's a list of what we have to barter. We can pay for any difference. And we haven't used our wood allotment this year. " She passed a sheet of paper and their allotment book over to Jua.

Jua read them slowly, then pulled out a notebook and made some figures in it as she chewed toast. Finally she said "Our eldest is pregnant, will need a comadrona in two months. Veida comes highly recommended, we'd want her in any event. And strawberries, now, it's rare we see those in our market. Say a pint a week for the season, and birthing the new baby, plus two eks for a bed of pine and the work on the loft?"

"How about that for oak instead of pine, and you redo the ladder as well?" countered Veida.

When Jua looked hesitant, Yoj added "And we'll of course feed you all your meals while you're here. And your family, if they bring them along."

"This is really good bread" said Jua, with a grin. "The family doesn't like to go to jobs with me, but yes to feeding me and maybe a loaf or two to take home?"

"Deal" said Bux, and they shook hands.

Yoj cleared her throat. "I have a request about the bed, that I don't think will alter the cost" she said.

Jua looked at her, and Yoj said "The headboard needs to be really strong, and the footboard shouldn't come all the way up to the mattress."

Bux went bright red, and Veida choked back a laugh. Yerush got up and went outside, muttering something about putting away the chickens. Jua grinned and said "Got it. No problem."

Halling then said "I have a question, too." Bux gave her a stricken look. Qen, chopping vegetables at the counter, dropped her knife with a clatter.

Halling said "We'll need to keep our clothes chests up there. Is the loft wide enough for a larger bed plus access on both sides plus the chests along the railing?"

"Already figured in" said Jua. "My emma is who built that loft in the first place, and just like her, I know what I'm doing."

"That's why we called you" said Veida, grinning. "So, dinner will be ready soon, will you join us?"

"Nah, I need to get on home" said Jua. "I'll be back at 8 tomorrow to do the loft revision, maybe the ladder, too. I'll put in a lighter request to deliver the bed lumber the following day, if you can make sure you have a spot cleared for them to set it down. If the weather stays clear, I can cut and plane the boards outside, then assemble it up there. It'll still be noisy and messy, be warned."

As Jua stood, Bux went to get currency for the cash portion of their payment, and Yoj stepped into the larder for two loaves of her bread. As Yoj gave Jua the bread, she whispered something to her, and Jua grinned as she nodded. After she left, Bux pulled Yoj aside and demanded in a low voice, "What else did you ask her?"

"It's a surprise, for you" said Yoj. Bux had gone bright red again, and Halling was laughing as hard as Veida.

"Tell me now" Bux hissed.

Yoj held up her hands in surrender. "All right! I asked her to leave it unstained, I thought you'd like to stain or paint it yourself."

Bux's face relaxed. "Oh. That's a nice idea."

"Why, did you have something else in mind?" asked Yoj in mock innocence. Bux goosed her in the side and said "Enough. I'm not a pilot, I don't joke that easily about -- all this."

Yoj pulled her into a hug, whispering "Yeah, you play the innocent all you want, some of us know better. And tell me you aren't happy about the first request I made?"

Bux giggled and kissed her. They went to help Qen with dinner.

The next morning, Yoj got up early to eat breakfast with Bux before Bux went to work. Yoj stayed at the Manage to let in the timmer and keep her supplied with tea and meals all day. Veida was gone on a midwife interview visit, so it was just Yoj and Jua for lunch. Jua was not much of a talker, but she did ask "You got your mattress yet?"

"For the new bed?" asked Yoj, startled. "No, none of us expected to have the frame this fast."

"Takes 'em weeks, usually, to fill a mattress order" said Jua.

"Lev" swore Yoj. "I remember that, from when I got the little one for my cubicle. Well, I guess I'll walk down after lunch and put the order in."

Jua cut another slice of Yoj's bread and said slowly "My happens she works at the mattress shop on Verzin." She was staring off into the living room.

Yoj grinned. "Does she now. You and her, between you a complete bed, eh?"

Jua allowed herself a grin and glanced at Yoj. "Works out well. And she says there's a storage room of mattresses that are available for emergencies, or for workers to buy. Workers there get a five percent discount."

"If they pay cash, you mean" said Yoj, feeling her way.

"Yep" said Jua. "If she was to make the request tomorrow, and pay currency down on the counter, like, she could pick one up by the end of the week."

"By the time you finish with the bed, I'm gathering" said Yoj. "Well, that's quite an offer -- if it is an offer?"

Jua grinned directly at her this time.

"But surely we'd need to recompense her for that discount she'd be using on our behalf" said Yoj.

"Sounds fair" drawled Jua. "Plus you'd have to haul it yourself."

"Where in Verzin?" asked Yoj.

"North end of Nahar, just across the river from the Astronomer's tower."

That was quite a distance to carry a three-person mattress, most of the length of Verzin, then catching the ferry to Riesig and up the hill to home from the ferry docks. Still, had to be done.

Yoj said "Now, when I bought my one-person mattress, it cost me half an ek. So I'm thinking a three person must be about an ek and a half. Before the discount, of course." The bartering had begun in earnest. Yoj was determined not to pay more than two and a half eks.

"Well, that must have been some years ago, because prices, you know, they go up. A three-person, of good quality, is now running just over three eks" said Jua. "Discount would bring it down to, let's see, two eks and six ten-ek pieces."

"That's pretty steep" said Yoj. "We eat well but we're not fancy, here. We'll have to make do with a less expensive model, I guess. Something in the range of, oh, say 2 eks. With the discount."

"I've seen that two-ek mattress" said Jua, "And frankly, it's lumpy. Now here's a decent one at the two-and-a-half range."

"Which with the discount -- " began Yoj.

"No" interrupted Jua smoothly, "That two-and-a-half after the discount is figured in."

Yoj pretended to think it over. "And we'll have to haul it, you say, an island and a half's distance."

"Can't help where you live" replied Jua.

"All right. If you'd be good enough to take our payment to your partner tonight, and arrange for us to pick it up on Ot, it would be much appreciated" said Yoj.

"You need to consult with your partners? Especially that one who blushes so easily?" said Jua slyly.

"No, we trust each other" grinned Yoj. She got up to pull coins from the kitchen stash, along with a pad of paper. "If you'll just write out a receipt while I count the money" she said, handed Jua her fountain pen.

The deal concluded, each was pleased with herself. That afternoon when Halling and Bux got home, Yoj told them about her accomplishment. Bux said "It better be good quality, because I know for a fact good three-person mattresses really are running over three eks."

Yoj said "The discount at most factories on Verzin for workers starts at ten percent and goes up with seniority. And we're going to have future business here, what with kids in our plans, which Jua will want to be considered for. I'm pretty sure we're getting a top of the line model, and her partner is still making money on it."

"You're not such a hick from the Flings, are you?" Halling teased her. "But forget about us trying to tote that heavy thing, especially on an Ot with everybody in the streets and on the ferry. I'll pick it up with my sinner after work and bring it to our front door. You tell Jua tomorrow, and one of you will have to be here to unhook it from the chains since I'll have to hover over the lane."

"Pays to know a pilot" said Bux. "And a sharp deal-maker from the Flings." She kissed them both, then said "Sheets. We'll need bigger sheets."

"Well, lev" said Yoj. "I keep missing the obvious."

"Don't worry about that" said Bux. "We've got lengths of linen, I can make those tonight. Just a series of fast seams on the machine. I'll use an old set of the emmas' sheets for measurement."

Halling lowered her voice, although they were alone in their bedroom. "What about -- you know, we'll be up in that loft, not behind a closed door? And your emmas in their loft in the next room?"

Bux was determined to be casual. "I grew up listening to them make love."

"That's all well and good for you" said Yoj, "But I'm not ready for it. And I'm certainly not ready to do -- things where I know they can hear us."

"What's your plan, then?" said Bux, staring at her. "We save all our fun for your cubicle?"

"No" said Yoj dejectedly.

"You'll just have to not listen" said Bux. "And they'll do the same for us. It's how it works on Skene, I mean, didn't your emmas ever -- ?

Yoj cut her off. "All right, don't bring that up."

Halling was laughing hard. "And you, Bux, so blase about it all -- what about when you start shrieking at one of us 'Don't stop, please, go all the way, more, more!' That won't change a bit once we're out over the living room?"

Bux's face went deep red. "I don't shriek, it's a quiet kind of urging" she said.

"You make the windows rattle" argued Yoj.

"In that case, they've already heard me countless times" said Bux, standing up and heading for her door. "I'm going to make sheets, and you two need to go help with starting seeds for the next round of transplants."

As she left, Halling said "You're as loud as she is. And she's right, you know. This room is not sound-proof, we don't have any secrets from them."

"But, Hall, I just don't want to hear Yerush putting it to Qen" said Yoj with a tinge of horror in her voice.

"Or -- Qen putting it to Yerush, and Yerush begging for more?" conjectured Halling. Yoj threw up her hands and followed Bux out the door. Halling was still laughing as she went to join them.

The next morning, Jua and Yoj stood in the small grassy patch right outside the back door and received lumber lowered down in chains by an apprentice sinner pilot who looked extremely nervous. Yoj guessed it must be nerve-wracking handling work that would be judged by Halling and the dichter. After she flew off, Yoj helped Jua set up sawhorses and run extension cords to her power equipment. For the final carving, however, she had a gorgeous set of shiny chisels. All six katts sat on nearby perches, watching intently.

Bux intended to work a full day with the Sheng Zhang so she could take Ot afternoon off, to receive Halling's delivery of the mattress. Veida was on another call, so again it was just Yoj and Jua for lunch. The bed was already taking solid shape. Jua was slow but wasted no motions, and Yoj kept getting up to watch her out the kitchen window, admiring a skill she'd never seen: woodworking was a rare craft on Skene. She kept refocusing, however, on her song, which she hoped to have done by the following afternoon.

Jua came in around 2:00 for a mug of tea and to warm up a bit by the hearth. It was clear and sunny but cold outside. She was still there when the crew of yanjangers and house carpenters arrived to begin work on the extension. A surveyor had been out the week before, along with a couple of rongyangers who had disassembled the wall between their tillage and the next, piling the stones at the corner for re-use later. This crew now had a roll of plans which they spread out on the table to show Yoj. She nodded blankly at their explanations -- she didn't understand the half of it. But Jua joined the conversation and they all chattered at each other with much excitement. Every so often, Jua turned to Yoj and translated, which Yoj really appreciated. Basically all they needed from her was access.

Yoj cut into the bread they had planned to use for barter at Market and made a pile of sandwiches, along with big pots of tea. Workers tracked endless dirt into the kitchen, coming back and forth to eat, drink and confer. Jua didn't return to her own work for at least two hours. When Yoj went outside to check on their progress, she was shocked to discover a vast hole in the earth where the next-door fallow tillage had been this morning. The good topsoil was heaped neatly next to the rongyan stones, and various big machines were doing damage to the thankfully empty tillage. They must have been lowered in by sinner over the past couple of hours. She had heard nothing sitting in the kitchen.

A fadian and a qigong were down in the hole with yanjangers, marking electrical and steam lines. Once these were clear, a woman-sized metal contraption with two wheels was grunted down into the hole and one of the workers, snapping on protective eyegear, turned it on. Getting it into pernsnickety position, she grabbed the handles and suddenly bright white laser light shot down from it into the ground. Yoj watched in fascination as she dug the holes where yanjang walls would snug down next to the foundation, with drainage below into the municipal tunnels. It took an astonishingly short period of time for the entire addition to be outlined and readied. The fadian and qigong hoisted themselves over the wall into the lane and left. The rest of the workers covered everything, including the large hole, with tarps, ate the last of the sandwiches, and tromped out the front door, saying they'd be back the next day when the walls and roof were delivered. Jua, with obvious reluctance, returned to her bed, pulling out a small chisel and giving a great sigh before she laid in a delicate line, peeling up oak curls.

Yoj returned to the kitchen and began stew for dinner. Halling planned to get her nap at Yoj's cubicle today, anticipating noise at the Manage, so everyone arrived home at around the same time. They all went out to gape at the hole and listen to Yoj's description, then stood around watching Jua until Jua straightened up, took off her her glasses, and said mildly "You're giving me the jimmies, you're worse than the katts." They apologized and went back in the house, where Halling swept the floor and Bux mopped it after her as Yerush and Qen helped Yoj finish making dinner.

They called Jua in to eat, and she sat down between Yoj and Qen, smelling deliciously of sawdust and resin. She explained she was behind and would need to rig lights outside to finish, because it might rain and she wanted to be done with carving before that happened. After eating, Bux and Halling set up lamps without shades on chairs where Jua directed. Yoj began making bread a day early -- they were going through it at an alarming rate -- and Yerush mashed bean paste while Qen sliced tomatoes and onions for the next day's sandwiches. By the time the bread was done, Bux and Halling were already in bed. Yoj wrapped her loaves and put them in the larder. Then she, Qen and Yerush began helping Jua haul in pieces of bed to the loft, where Jua would assemble the final product the next day.

Glancing at the clock, Yoj said "You'd better run, if you plan to catch the last ferry. We'll put away your tools, I promise to do it right, I watched how you unpacked them." Jua hesitated a long few seconds, then said "All right. I'll be late tomorrow, the ferry doesn't run until 9." She put on her coat and hustled out the door, the fastest Yoj had seen her move all day.

Yoj lovingly wiped and put away Jua's tools as Yerush and Qen took down the lights. After stashing the tools indoor, Yoj took a flash and a small bag out to the grassy plot and carefully gathered as much pieces of wood shavings as she could, joined by intrigued cats. She set the bag in her cupboard, said goodnight to Qen and Yerush going up the ladder to their loft, and went tiredly to bed herself.

The next morning she woke up alone and was just making herself tea when the yanjang crew returned. She let them in, made them tea and honey toast, then began assembling sandwiches after they went out the back door. At 9:20 Jua arrived, ate a sandwich and refused her offer of help with the bed, then climbed the ladder in the living room. Today Yoj heard percussions on the side of the house and went out to look. A huge slab of black lava flooring, polished on one side, was being lowered into place at the bottom of the hole. Once it was down, the sinner flew off and several workers came into the living room with metal braces they jacked into place between the roof rafter and the floor. They joked to Jua that she want to get out of the loft since if the wall failed, the whole rafter assembly would come down. Jua laughed merrily, unconcerned.

Yerush came home early, and Yoj wanted to hug her with relief. They went out to look at the hole, where now wires were snaking over the flooring. One worker told them they should either get out of range or put on protective goggles because they were about to use laser. Yoj and Yerush walked back around the corner of the house, calling katts as they went. Inside the house, they got the same warning from the workers inside. Jua had on a pair of dark goggles. They shut all the katts, with much protest, into Yoj's bedroom and went back outside to sit on the steps as a horrific racket began from two directions.

"I hope none of the katts empties their bowels on our bed" said Yoj.

"I hope the house remains standing" said Yerush, expressing Yoj's deepest fear. After half an hour and a distinct thud that shook the ground, there was a minute of silence. They stood up to go see if things were done, when the racket began again. They sat back down. The chickens were traumatized, hovering near their house.

"Not many eggs today, I bet" said Yerush.

"Or more than usual -- scaring it out of them" said Yoj. They managed a laugh.

An hour later, the noise had stopped but they still weren't sure whether to go in until the work crew came around the side to the back door, laughing about how "It damned near turned her into paste, eh?" and pushing cheerfully by them into the kitchen. Yerush followed them in to serve a big platter of sandwiches from the larder, plus cups of hot soup Yoj had managed to make before the lasers began.

There were now two holes in the wall of their living room, letting in light to reveal clouds of rock dust in the air and drifting down onto everything. Jua descended from the loft and said "She's done", then went to eat with the workers. Walls now stood around all the new rooms outside, with gaps at the seams showing steel connectors riveted deep into the sides. There was no roof yet, but metal rafters stretched across the space above them. The walls had holes in them for clerestory windows in the new bedroom and study, plus two low, wide windows in the back room that looked out on the tillage.

Yoj went back into the kitchen to set out apples, plums, and ikan. These workers were phenomenally proficient. After every possible crumb was consumed, two stayed in the living room to affix braces and doorframes to the new doorways, two went back outside to receive delivery of the roof sections, while the rest went into the new rooms to install windows and finish seams.

Jua prepared to leave. Yoj asked her "How are they going to close those gaps, where the metal is?" Jua looked at her to see if she was joking, then said "With rock. Molten rock. One of those machines out there can heat lava back to liquid level. When they're done, it'll all be one solid sheet of rock again, all six sides."

Yoj gave Jua another loaf of bread and said "We'll see you again, I'm sure."

"Glad to hear it" said Jua. "Much joy in your new bed."

After she left, Yoj let the katts out. They skittered in a wild-eyed clump out the back door and over the back wall into other tillages. There was fur all over the quilt but no accidents that Yoj could find.

Returning to the kitchen, where Yerush was beginning to wipe rock dust from surfaces with a wet towel, Yoj said "I hate to do this to you, but I really need to finish this song, and I can't do it here."

"Go" said Yerush. "You've done your share and then some. Veida will be home soon, and Bux." Yoj hugged her, grabbed her pack, and headed for her cubicle.

She found her desk and small room blessedly peaceful. She was able to finish and set the song in time to walk over to the canteen just as the pilots came in for dinner. Singing it through with them twice, she posted it in the hall and walked home in early dusk.

Inside the Manage, everyone was working at all-out speed. Bux was in the living room loft, washing down the new bed, the loft and the rafters. The new mattress was leaned against the mural wall. Halling and Veida were in the tillage hauling wheelbarrows of topsoil to their compost pile before other neighbors pilfered it. Qen was making dinner, and Yerush was in the new rooms, washing walls and floors.

The addition was all done. The roof was on, bare light fixtures hung overhead with a lit bulb in each, and smudged windows or doors hung in each opening. Yoj could feel heat coming up from the floor beneath her. It felt miraculous to her, this appearance of new rooms where two days before there had been nothing.

She went into her study and stood for a minute, looking at the four walls and imagining shelves of books, planning where to put a desk. She'd have to get a new desk; no matter what Bux suggested, she was not giving up her cubicle.

Halling joined her, smelling of sweat and loam. "Sweet little room, isn't it?" she grinned.

"I never once dreamed of having this kind of a space" Yoj answered.

"The rongyangers won't be back until Monday to rebuild the wall. Once they do, we can erect fencing and put in a metal tank for ducks and geese, then go pick out some gosling and ducklings, won't that be fun?" said Halling.

"All I want at the moment is a meal and an early bed" said Yoj.

At dinner, everyone talked of the weekend's projects. Bux planned to stain and paint a design on the new bed. Veida intended to set up shelves in the back room and begin plant starts. Yerush wanted to wash windows inside and out, polish the new metal doors, and go buy globes for the light fixtures. At the end of her shift, Halling wanted to haul Yoj's childhood bed to put in the new bedroom. And with the Manage next door empty and the wall down, Qen wanted to go raid their tillage for plants left behind that might find a new home in their own plots.

Bux turned to Yoj and said "Are you going to put up shelves, or go hunt for a desk and chair?"

"I don't know" said Yoj. "Mostly, I just want a bath and sleep."

"Oh, gutters!" said Qen. "They didn't install the gutters, left that to us. We have to get to that right away, before it rains."

"And coldframes for the new roofs" said Veida. "We'll need a second ladder, won't we?"

"We can get Jua back to build it" said Yerush.

Yoj drained the last of her tea, took her plate to the sink, and went to run hot water for her bath. When she got done with her bath, they were all still at the table, talking. She went on to bed.

The next morning, Yoj woke up alone in the bed again. She turned to look through the clerestory and saw clear light, so Halling must be at work. She felt reluctant to get up. She lay still, distracted by stray images from the day before.

A while later, the door opened softly and Bux came in carrying a plate and a cup of tea.

"Oh, you're awake already!" she said happily. "I was bringing you breakfast in bed."

Yoj sat up and leaned against the headboard. The plate Bux handed her had two poached eggs cooked to just the doneness Yoj preferred, fried potatoes with Veida's hot sauce, and a small bowl of chunky applesauce.

"Oh, Bux, this is lovely" she said, taking the offered fork and digging in. Bux sat down beside her, holding her tea and giving her a sip when Yoj asked. The door was open, and after a minute, Yoj noticed the rest of the house sounded quiet.

"Where're the others?" she asked, through a mouthful of potatoes.

"Market. They wanted to barge in here and wake you up to go with them, because they want to go by the used furniture place and get a desk, but I told them to leave you alone. I thought you needed a break" said Bux. "All three of them were up at first light installing gutters and hooking them up to the municipal drains. They were exhausting even me."

"Thank you" said Yoj. "Have you started on your painting of the bed yet?"

"I made a couple of sketches at breakfast, but no" said Bux. She reached over and put her palm against Yoj's forehead, checking for fever.

"What?" said Yoj.

"Well, you didn't wake up at all last night when Halling and I joined you. Are you okay?" asked Bux.

Yoj thought about it. She still felt tired and resistant in some way. "I don't know" she admitted.

"Is it -- the new bed? The loft, I mean, having to sleep out there? Because we can just move into the new bedroom, if that's the case" said Bux.

"No. I mean -- I don't think that's upsetting me, but maybe yes to moving into the new room instead of the loft. We can talk it over with Halling when she gets home, if that's really all right with you" said Yoj.

"So you are upset, then" said Bux, looking a little worried. "Is it all the expense? Are we spending too much of your money?"

"No" said Yoj emphatically. "First of all, it's our money, not mine, and secondly, it's my life that's getting better as much as anyone else's, I'm clear on that."

"Then it must be losing Isola" said Bux.

Yoj had finished her breakfast. She set her plate on the floor, her teacup on top of that, and slid down in the bed. "Come here" she invited, and Bux lay down to face her. Being alone with her, alone in the house, suddenly felt extremely comforting to Yoj.

"I don't know what, exactly, is going on with me" said Yoj. "I don't mind losing Isola. Going back there with Veida was awful."

"She won't tell me what happened. Is it a secret?" asked Bux.

"Not a secret. Just -- hard. I had a hard time as a child, Bux. In ways I haven't told you. I want to tell you, I do. It's just -- I get so ashamed."

"Oh, Yoj, you have nothing to be ashamed about, whatever happened, it wasn't you, I know that" gushed Bux, kissing her gently.

"I know you think I'm perfect" said Yoj.

"Not perfect" giggled Bux. "But close enough to make me breathless around you."

"Ah, you have quite the gift for words yourself, you know that, sweetheart?" said Yoj, finally smiling.

Bux's bare toes were playing with Yoj's ankles. She slid one foot between Yoj's, then her knee. Yoj waited for Bux to roll on top of her. Instead, Bux stuck to her questioning. "Then what is bothering you, my Yoj?" she asked sweetly.

Yoj thought hard. She closed her eyes against the distraction of Bux's deep blue eyes. When she opened them again, she said "There's a lot of change happening at once. All of it is good, but -- in my life, moving forward into goodness has usually meant a loss of something else. I mean -- even how I got Halling only happened because Xaya died, and I was always aware of Halling's broken heart. Getting to go to the U meant not doing the kind of work people in my family have always done. Moving to Riesig permanently meant losing -- that's when I lost Isola and my aggie, way back then. So -- here's all this change again, and I guess I'm waiting to find out what I have to sacrifice in order to get you, and this Manage. Replacement emmas. Lots of food, never having to worry about meals again." Now that she said it, Yoj felt like crying. But she could not quite let go.

Bux pulled her in even closer and said "My darling, my hard worker -- this is all due you, it's just finally time you get what you deserved. You can relax now. I'm going to be with you the rest of the way."

Yoj didn't not relax, however. Bux pulled back so she could focus her eyes on Yoj, and said "What else?"

Yoj finally said "I'm so scared of losing Halling. I'm scared every single day, Bux. I've learned how to not let it stop me in my tracks, but that's why I have to always go see her land -- I can't tell you how relieved I am to see her overhead."

"I know" whispered Bux. "I feel the same way, and it's only been these few weeks for me. I can only imagine how much it's built up for you." Now Yoj moved to hold Bux tightly, letting her in.

"Promise me if -- something happens to her, we'll find a way to go on" she begged Bux. "Promise me it won't destroy us both."

"I promise, Yoj. I don't know how, but we will -- I will, I won't let you go, no matter what it takes" breathed Bux. Now, finally, Yoj could let herself cry. She went on longer than usual, and when she was done, the tightness inside her had unwound. At least for today.

She rolled over on her back and said "Ahhh. That was the best breakfast ever."

Bux laughed and said "Now what? Do you want to brave the Market, it's still going on?"

Yoj looked at her and said "I'd rather you get up and close that door."

"Oh" said Bux, a dimple appearing in either cheek. "Be right back."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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