Thursday, December 20, 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 weekend after Paha and Tlochin's visit, after returning from Market Day and sitting down to lunch, freezing rain driving all the katts indoors to squabble over warm spots, Yerush said "I think it's time we discuss expanding this Manage."

Bux looked at her and said "I've done my share."

Qen giggled and said "No, she means physically expanding the house. Now that you have done your share."

"Like adding rooms?" said Bux. "But where? We're using every square foot outside."

"I heard from our elderly neighbors next door, to the north of us, that they are planning to move in with their youngest child and her partner, on Bosco. It's getting hard for them to handle living on their own" said Yerush.

"You want to ask for their Manage?" asked Bux, in growing distress. "Are the three of us supposed to move out of here, then?"

"No" said Yerush testily. "Let me finish. There's no way we could qualify for a second Manage, not until we -- I mean you -- have children. But -- that house is much smaller than this one. It's really only suitable for a couple without children. Which means their tillage is more than they are fairly entitled to. There's at least a 10 meter wide strip right next to our wall that they aren't using, have not used in years. And even if a new couple in there were to be more physically able to plant it -- it would provide them with extra to barter, not what they actually need. But we are going to need it. I want to ask the Ethicist to reapportion the tillages and give us that ten meter strip -- I think it could mean an additional 130 square meters for us."

Halling whistled. "That's a chunk of soil. What makes you think the Ethicist would say yes to it?"

"You mean aside from the clear logic I just laid out?" said Yerush, still testy.

But Veida cut through Yerush's drama. "She plans to have the Ethicist to dinner, let her hear your plans for having five children, be dazzled by Yoj and Halling, feed her our best dishes, and, if I'm not mistaken, use her Yerush honeypot charm to befuddle the woman."

Qen burst into laughter. Yerush looked at Veida in shock. Veida just shrugged and said "I personally think it'll work."

Yoj turned to Qen and said "I'm sensing you've all talked this over." Qen nodded merrily. "Well, tell us the rest, then."

Qen adroitly took over Yerush's role as leader, leaning forward on the table to look at the three younger women. "I know you love-birds are happy to sleep like stacked spoons for the moment, but you really do need a three-partner bed at some point -- we speak with the voice of experience on this -- and that room you're in is just not wide enough in any direction to hold it. Not unless that's all it has. You could move out to the sleeping loft over the living room, but after babies come you won't want to climb up and down ladders with them. Not to mention, five children will take up more than just one extra sleeping space. So, we think part of the extra land should be a wider bedroom on that far side, off the other side of the living room. And we could put a small spare room next to it, as long as we're messing with the walls on that side, and a third room not directly connected to the kitchen but off it, into the back tillage, where we could have windows and shelves for starts and store more tillage material. All of these rooms along that side could have the same sort of flat roof over your bedroom now so we could have four times the coldframe space we do currently."

Yerush got up stiffly and pulled a sheet of paper from a kitchen drawer. "I drew a sketch of what it could like" she said, handing it down to Bux with a flourish. But the handwriting on most of it was Veida's.

Halling grinned at Veida, then bent over the drawing with Yoj and Bux. After a minute, Yoj said "Can they cut into a solid lavaplank wall like the living room to make doors without weakening the whole structure? I mean, what if that side of the house has to come off?"

"They can't take it off, because of the roof and all the lofts being connected to it" said Veida. "It would mean gutting the Manage. But I think I've seen where they add metal supports to share the load so putting in doors is safe. We'll of course have to find out."

"This middle room is very small" said Bux. "What's it's purpose again?"

"I was thinking a guest room" said Yerush. "For when your sibs come to visit. And then, eventually -- "

Before she could finish, Bux said "Oh, I know! A study, for Yoj! So she could stay home and write in quiet, instead of always having go to the cubicle."

"I like my cubicle" said Yoj with a hint of warning in her voice. Halling was trying not to laugh.

"I'm not asking you to give it up" said Bux, just as stubborn as Yoj. "But after we have babies, you know good and well you are not going to want to leave me home alone with them, now are you? You can just walk into a study and close the door when you need to work, but if I need you, or you need a book, presto, you're right here."

This was base manipulation, Yoj knew, and still it worked. She really would want to be home when they had children.

Yerush cleared her throat. "As I was going to say, at some point your emmas, Bux -- " she emphasized your emmas -- "are going to be too elderly to climb up and down from a loft every night. So we are going to need a bedroom of our own as well."

Her reminder of their coming old age sobered up Yoj and Halling, but not Bux.

"When that day comes, emma, we'll be delighted to give you our new three-partner bedroom and we'll move into one of the lofts. And we'll still have a spare room, because that won't happen until the children are grown, I bet, not as vigorous as you three are." Bux was determined to have that study for Yoj. It was a golden opportunity on the road toward prying her loose from that cubicle where strange women could just show up any time of the day. Bux added "I'm sure Yoj will be glad to let you use her study, too."

Yerush was furious, Yoj could tell. Bux went blithely on, saying "And what's this square out here at the corner, another shed?"

"A greenhouse!" said Qen happily. "A tall one, all in glass, big enough to hold tropical trees."

Halling stared at her. "Those mango things you were talking about?"

"Maybe" said Qen. "We'll have to explore our options. And over here, we will have a patch that's at least 6 meters by 8. We could grow sugar beets half the year -- I did the math, and that would give us 20 pounds of brown sugar after processing, can you imagine what we could do with that much sugar? And the other half year, we could fence it to raise ducks and geese. At least a dozen each, which we could butcher and smoke in the fall."

"Sugar" marveled Halling.

"And roast goose" added Yoj. Grinning at Qen, she said "I love how you think."

Yerush said coldly, "These are income producers, not necessarily additions to our table. We have to pay for all these expensive changes, it's not simply desserts and roasts, we're not children here."

"No" answered Bux a little too smugly to be attractive, Yoj thought, "We are hard-working adults. The fact is, emma, we can pay for every bit of the expansion up front. Thanks to the generous savings accounts of my partners. So we can, in fact, give Halling her desserts and Yoj her goose breasts."

Bux had learned finesse from the best, and was facing her down at the other end of the table. Yoj's study was a foregone conclusion, now. How could Yerush object if Yoj was paying for it?

Yerush stood up and went to make more tea. Over her shoulder, she tossed "We'll need to expand the privy to a two-holer, with all the additional load it's handling."

Halling simply could not keep from laughing. Yoj gave her a scandalized look, which only set her off more. Veida joined her, saying "I guess all that extra good eating will have to go somewhere."

When Qen joined in as well, Bux got up and went to Yerush, now standing by the stove. She put her arm around Yerush's waist and said earnestly "I do appreciate how much work you've put into thinking about how to make this Manage a better home for me and my partners, and our children. Your grandchildren to come. They will be blessed, to be born into these walls. I'll have to lean on your experience and judgment heavily as all this comes to pass."

Yerush was trying to believe her. Bux added "When you first began and I thought you wanted us to move into the Manage next door, it nearly broke my heart. I really do want to live with you, all of you."

Yerush leaned her cheek out and let Bux kiss it. "Good, then. First things first -- we can draw lines on paper all day, but the Ethicist has to be persuaded to give us growing room."

"I'll follow your lead there" said Bux. They returned to the table and continued talking plans and strategy.

On Ot after coming from their singing session at the school, Halling took a nap while Yoj threw herself into bread-making. Bux was busy with Veida weeding, trimming, and raking the outside until it was a model tillage. Yoj did all the laundry, four loads, in between bread-making, as well as turning out cookies, biscuits, and small honeycakes. When Yerush and Qen got home, and Halling woke up, they joined the others in scrubbing down every inch of the Manage, including the clerestory windows and the interior walls. Bux crawled along the rafters and dusted them, creating much interest among the katts. Afterward, she sat on the back step and combed katts into lustrous beauty, taking scissors to some of their shaggier parts.

Foln the Ethicist was coming for dinner on Roku.

Yerush had arranged some complicated three-step barter with a Manage on Faar that would end up, after two ferry trips, in them having a couple of lambs to roast. Yoj had never tasted lamb. Veida made mint jelly, and Qen was harvesting the youngest and finest of the tillage's vegetables for various dishes that ranged from cheesy to spicy. In addition to Yoj's confections, Yerush was making her one great dessert, a caramel flan. Bux chose everyone's outfits -- dress linens rather than silks -- and pressed them into crisp respectability. Halling shined all the otos, then did the ferry runs necessary to bring home the lambs. On the way, at a market on Faar, she noticed a small basket of peas for sale. She paid hard currency for them, and got a squeal out of Qen when she revealed her acquisition.

By the time Foln knocked at the front door, ten minutes late, everyone in the Manage was strung tight and ravenous from the smells in the kitchen. Foln remarked, shucking her manteau, that the aroma was intoxicating. Bux led her to the table, bypassing the living room -- Yerush had insisted everyone act as they would with any other guest -- and giving Foln the chair where Bux usually sat. Bux squeezed in with Halling and Veida. Yoj presented honeycakes and cookies while Yerush served tea. Everyone else sat down, trying hard to act natural.

Foln took a nibble of honeycake, raised her eyebrows and polished it off in two more bites, took a long drink of tea, and picked up a cookie. Before tasting it, however, she said "I sincerely hope no one here has committed a murder, because this is too wonderful a kitchen to disrupt. But I must wonder what has instigated all this effort."

Yerush laughed gaily, an expression on her face that Yoj had never seen before -- she could not stop staring at Yerush. She looked years younger and completely approachable.

"That's you, Foln, right to the point. Why you keep getting re-elected. Well, I'll match your dance step: We want to expand our Manage ten meters to the north, reducing the tillage of our neighbors as they retire and before a new Manage moves in there."

Foln's eyes widened, but the amiable smile on her face did not lessen. She ate her cookie slowly, appreciatively, took another long draft of tea, and said "That's a remarkable request. Let's hear your reasoning."

Bux had drawn a full-color, large-scale version of their planned expansion, and she got up to retrieve this for Foln, refilling her tea in the process. Yerush waited until she was seated again before beginning her presentation. Her argument was succinct and extremely persuasive, using all of her decades of professorial skill. Foln went through two more honeycakes as she listened, putting on her glasses to pore over Bux's illustration. She asked questions at various points -- Did they have official Leave from the Genist yet to have five children? Could she see the savings account books in question? What had the tillage's barter record been for the past year?

She got up to inspect Bux, Halling and Yoj's bedroom, then strolled outside with Veida to look at the tillage with a practiced eye, ending up at the northern wall and looking at the unused portion of their neighbor's land. When she came back in, she said "Let's eat while I think about this."

Yoj could not tell which way it was going. When they had admitted they had not yet met with the Genist, she thought it counted against them. But the savings accounts books had impressed, she was sure. And Yerush was unbelievably charming, sitting a full table length away from Foln yet seeming to hang on her every word as if she was pressed up next to her. Yoj was worried that Qen and Veida might be jealous -- Bux certainly would have been if it were her or Halling acting that way -- but they were cheerful and unconcerned.

The meal was spectacular. Yoj discovered she loved lamb. The carrots and peas were perfect, her biscuits vanished down to crumbs, and Halling took three helpings of the new potatoes and pearl onions in cream sauce. As Yoj and Bux put dinner plates in the sink, Halling and Veida set out dessert plates, Qen refilled tea, and Yerush served her platter of three perfect flans floating in pools of caramel.

After they were all reseated, before cutting into the flan, Foln raised her hand and said "I want to say something before I partake more of your generosity. I am -- reluctant to alter more than hundred years of this lane's tillage distribution. Your arguments make sense, and I am compelled to agree that as the structure to your north stands, it is in fact inappropriately scaled to the amount of tillage it commands. But -- a new family moving in there could remedy it by adding on a room or two, as you have done here and want to do again. And, not to hold your industry against you, but you all here are making superb use of what you've got. I can't help believing you'd continue to do so with similar expertise after the arrival of hypothetical children. Therefore, I think this decision must go to a community vote. It does mean the reduction of another family's resources to the advantage of your own."

Yoj was stunned. She met the eyes of Halling and Bux, and could tell they were devastated as well. She was afraid to look at the emmas. After a long silence, Yerush said, still with her charming voice, "Foln, you know as well as I do that a Skene-wide vote will go against us. This is not the kind of step people will understand enough to support."

"I'm afraid that's true, Yerush. But that doesn't mean I have the right to make it for them" said Foln. Her voice actually did sound full of regret. Still, after watching Yerush's performance all evening, Yoj wasn't sure of anyone's sincerity any more.

"Well, you must do what you think is best, of course" said Yerush, still not angry. Yoj had to look at her face to be sure. Yerush cut the flan and said "Hand me your plate, Foln, you're going to love this, I promise."

There was terrible silence as plates were passed and Yerush cut generous servings for everyone. When they were all served, Foln raised her glass and said "To this Manage!" and they all toasted loudly with her. After one bite, however, Yoj set down her fork and looked at Foln steadily. When Foln met her gaze, Yoj said "What about if we swapped another tillage for expansion of this one? What if it wasn't our gaining extra land, overall, but instead the community got extra land to redistribute? Could you make that decision on your own?"

She could feel the confusion of almost everyone else at the table, including Foln. Halling, though, Halling sucked in her breath, comprehending. Yoj kept her eyes on Foln. Her hands in her lap were trembling.

After a minute of consideration, Foln said "Yes, in that instance, that's what I'm elected for, to act in the interests of the community when it is to their advantage for me to do so."

Yoj got up and went to her cupboard in the living room. When she returned with a letter, she saw Bux suddenly understood what was happening. Bux said "Yoj -- " and Yoj looked at her then, said "It's right, Bux. It's the right thing to do."

Yoj sat down and handed the letter to Foln. "That's from my emma, Nilma. My aggie Rosz died recently. She was the inheritor of our Manage on Isola Fling. In that letter, Nilma passes on the inheritance to me. My sibs don't want it, so it's mine to dispose of as I see fit. If I give the Fling back to Skene, can we get the tillage we need here?"

All three of the emmas gasped. Foln took that in, the fact that Yoj was acting of her own volition. She put her glasses back on, pulled out the letter and read it carefully. She set it down beside her plate, and took a bite of flan. A look of pleasure crossed her face. Qen took Yoj's hand and said "Yoj, you really don't have to do this, we'll be all right without it."

Yoj was grateful for the hand to hang onto. It helped with the tremors in her entire body now. She looked at Qen and said "This is my home. It's where I was meant to be, where my heart led me."

Foln said "Well put. And I agree -- this is the right thing for you to do. So my answer is, Yes, I can make this decision. Skene gains a Fling as well as the expansion of a deeply respected Manage in the heart of Riesig. No population will be lost. It's good for all concerned. I grant your request."

Halling stood up abruptly to shout, hurtling her chair backwards. Qen's grip on Yoj's was now becoming painful -- that woman had unbelievably strong hands. Bux came around the table and wrapped herself around Yoj from behind, murmuring "Are you sure, are you really sure?" Yoj slid halfway to face her, still hanging onto Qen, and kissed her, saying "You are my home, this is just me confirming you always were my home."

Foln ate her flan, grinning, as the Manage celebrated. By the time they were done, not a single drip of caramel was left on the serving plate -- Halling made sure of that -- and Foln had a package of honeycakes and cookies to take home with her, as well as Bux's illustration. She said to Yoj as she stood "You'll need to come down to my office and fill out papers. And apply for permits for all the work to be done." Yoj looked at Yerush, but Yerush just pointed her back to Foln.

Foln said "An extremely enjoyable evening, with perhaps the best meal of my life. I hope you'll invite me back when the work is done and there's no agenda except fine eating."

"We will" said Bux, her arm linked with Yoj's. The emmas escorted Foln to the front door and saw her out. Once the door was shut, Veida dashed back into the kitchen and lifted Yoj from the ground in a hug, something Yoj wouldn't have believed Veida could do. Another freakishly strong emma.

After plying Yoj with hugs and kisses, everyone sat back down to more tea and feverish planning. Bux pulled Yoj to sit close between her and Halling, which Yoj particularly appreciated because she was a little uncomfortable with the gratitude of the emmas being directed at her. At one point, Qen stopped making notes on the pad they were all sharing and looked at Yoj keenly, asking "Are you having any regrets?"

"No" said Yoj. Halling studied her face for a minute, then said to Qen "She's all right, she really is. She just liberated herself."

Qen laughed, and so did Yoj. Bux whispered "I'll make sure our children know what you did for them tonight", and that Yoj could feel, all the way down to her bones.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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