Thursday, December 27, 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


Most Skene children began learning to cook by age five with the process of making rice. It was simple -- two ingredients -- and required only the ability to measure and watch a clock. When a child turned out her first pot of rice, family acclaim was vociferous and usually genuine. In fact, the term "ricemaker" was used as an age dermarcation, much like the ability to read or write.

Halling had become a ricemaker by age three, despite having older sibs who jostled for kitchen time. This was a result of her appealing directly to Ng. Once Halling could make rice reliably, Ng moved on to teaching her the skill of risotto, which again was a common second cooking skill on Skene. With your basic rice and few more ingredients over a low flame, the child could stand on a chair and stir nonstop, freeing up emmas for other more complicated cooking. Stirring and paying attention to rice turned out a creamy dish that was most children's favorite food. Halling was especially good at risotto.

Six weeks earlier, Bux and Yoj had met Halling at the jichang in a light but steady rain and walked together to the Genist's, where Raisa had given them a sheaf of instructions and a bright green cylinder that was frosty to the touch. On the walk home, everyone who saw the cylinder grinned at them and called out "Quick fruiting!" to them. They returned thanks with red cheeks.

At the Manage, Veida and Ng fed them tea while they carefully unscrewed the lid to the cyclinder, discovering a double-lined inner chamber that exuded smoky cold. Halling could name the chemicals within the metal lining which, when shook together, created the cold. Her expertise trailed off there.

Veida handed Bux a worn glass syringe from her cupboard, unwrapping its padded lining and saying "I boiled it this morning. This is the one we used to make you" with a luminous grin. Yoj quickly declined Veida's offer to demonstrate technique, feeling lightheaded already. She dipped her teaspoon into the honey jar, licked it off, and stood up, saying to her partners "Are we ready?"

When they emerged from the bedroom two hours later, Halling had obviously been asleep -- there was a pillow crease in her cheek -- and Bux looked triumphant. Yoj was no longer embarrassed. Lying next to Bux, whose hips were elevated on pillows, and talking to her quietly as Halling drifted off had dispelled all her anxiety. Either it would work this time, or they'd try again. She washed the syringe carefully and tried to return it to Veida, but Veida giggled and said "We'll not be using it again. It's yours, now. Hand it on when you're done."

Yerush and Qen, ready to serve dinner, were bright-eyed and clearly dying to ask questions, but no opening was given them. Everyone ate and conversed cheerfully, letting the day's big event go undiscussed.

The following morning, Bux's temperature and mucus test indicated a dropoff in her ovulation receptors, which could mean nothing at all. Five weeks later, on the way to the privy right after awakening, she barely made it before vomiting abuptly, with a wave of queasiness. She came back into the kitchen shouting -- she was Veida's child, she knew the signs. That afternoon, Veida walked with her and Yoj to the curandera's for a blood test.

Two days later, she and Yoj met Halling at the jichang and the three of them walked with quick anticipation back to the curandera's for the results of Bux's test. Halling wept and Yoj kept leaning over to kiss Bux's belly before they began their jubilant dance home. As they came in the front door, Bux led the way, yelling out "Yes!" to Veida and Ng at the table. Halling picked Ng up and swung her around like a squaredancer. Veida kept saying "Just like Yerush! She always used the first tomato on the vine!"

Qen and Yerush did not come home at their usual time because a few days earlier, the Manage had received a letter from Culisa expressing an interest in visiting. Culisa had not been home since before Halling and Yoj moved in -- indeed, they had seldom heard news from her -- and her emmas were wildly excited about her coming to stay for the weekend. Yerush and Qen had gone to the ferry landing from Bosco to meet Culisa after work and escort her home.

Once the initial delight had settled into permanent grins, the family at the Manage began making dinner. Halling lightly sauteed scallops, crab and hamas in butter. She then commenced a risotto to which she would add the seafood and chopped parsley at the end. Bux was mixing peppers into beans which had been simmering all afternoon. Yoj's bread was cooling at the window, and she began scrubbing a stunning array of vegetables from the garden which she and Ng, already making radish rosettes at the table, intended to assemble into a single salad. Veida's pastry dish filled with layers of sliced summer fruit was chilling in the larder. She was mixing lemon juice and warm honey to drizzle over it right before serving. Katts had checked out all their possibilities and decided Halling was the only human worth petitioning for a handout.

The front door opened and Yerush entered from the bright street, carrying a small cloth bag. Qen was on her heels, carrying a second bag, and then Culisa appeared, a large orange round of wax-covered cheese in her arms. Culisa was thicker than she had been the last time Yoj saw her, with her already deep brown skin tanned to mahogany, her hazel eyes showing new lines around the lids.

Veida sprang to her feet and crossed the living room, crying out hello to Culisa and giving her a warm hug. Yerush and Qen set Culisa's bags by the spare room door. Bux wiped her hands and, less quickly than Veida, came to Culisa and kissed each cheek. Culisa looked over her shoulder into the kitchen, where Halling had gone to stand next to Ng and Yoj shifted from one foot to the other.

"Hello, Yoj" she said with a hint of amusement in her voice. Yoj came and shook Culisa's hand, then took the cheese from her. She turned to wave forward Halling, but Bux was at Halling's side and said "This is my other partner, Halling, and her emma Ng, who is part of our Manage now."

Culisa came to shake Ng's hand and then said "'re quite the shining light in the Lofthall, I hear." Again, there was a slight tone of something not quite earnest in her voice. Yoj saw that Veida seemed to hear it, though Qen and Yerush did not.

"Come here, let us show you the additions to the Manage" called Qen. She and Yerush gave Culisa the grand tour, while the others retured to their cooking. Yoj listened to Culisa exclaim politely over the new rooms, the addition to the mural, and the extra bed in the living room loft.

"Another threesome here now" said Culisa, coming to sit at the table. "Bux is like a shoot off the same branch, isn't she?"

This time Yerush looked at Culisa keenly, a question on her face. But Culisa was all smiles.

"Where's your partner?" asked Bux.

"They can only spare one of us at a time" answered Culisa lightly. "We don't get holidays like all you townie professionals."

Yoj glanced at Halling, who said nothing but stuck her pinkie out in a la-di-da fashion as she stirred the risotto. Yoj stifled a laugh.

"How can I help?" asked Qen, coming into the kitchen.

"Your salad dressing would be nice" said Yoj. Yerush poured cold tea for her and Culisa, and sat down at the table next to her, listening to Culisa talk about life among the goats. Culisa never even looked Ng's way, much less included her in the conversation. Qen was grinding mustard seed and garlic in the mortar, adding infusions of zayit methodically, when suddenly she said "Oh! I forgot -- What happened at the curandera's office?" She swung to look at Bux. Yerush, too, focused on Bux. Culisa stopped her stories in mid word.

Bux put down her spoon and reached for Halling's hand. Yoj came to stand on her other side, and before Bux could speak, Qen began shouting "It's true, it's true, I can tell by your face! Oh, oceans, I'm going to be an abba!" She tried to hug Bux, Halling and Yoj all at the same time. Yerush rushed to them and was also visibly overjoyed. Bux's face was flushed and radiant. When Halling had to resume stirring the risotto, Bux moved sideways into Yoj's arms and gave her a long, tender kiss.

"You're pregnant?" said Culisa, unconcealed disbelief in her voice. "I mean, the ridiculous partnership is bad enough, not to mention taking stragglers into the Manage, but you've actually gone so far as to aggie with these two? Why didn't anyone tell me this was going on?"

Halling froze. Yoj pulled Bux tight within the circle of her arms, as if to ward off a blow which had already fallen. Veida stood up at the table, glaring down at Culisa, as Qen crossed to Ng, putting her hand on Ng's shoulder.

Bux spoke first. "You've shown little to no interest in us since you left, why should I tell you news you don't care about?"

"I care about what happens to this Manage" retorted Culisa, "I am still older than you. I figured you'd wind up with some reject from a Fling, which you have, but I never dreamed you'd decide to move them all in here, into my home."

Halling removed the risotto pan from the heat. She walked over to stand next to Ng as well.

Yerush said, in a voice that dripped frost, "It's not your Manage, it's mine. Mine and your emmas. And when we go, it will be Bux's, and her partners. And after them, their children's. The first of whom I am delighted to hear is on her way."

Culisa shifted her stare from Bux to Yoj. "You finally landed one of us, didn't you? I knew enough to not fall for your grasping ways, but Bux was always too naive for words."

Yoj felt Bux stiffen in her arms, and pull away from her perceptibly. Qen said "Culisa, you are out of line, you need to not speak that way in this house."

"Oh, come on" yelled Culisa, wheeling on Qen. "You're the one who could never shut up about poor little Yoj, how she was always covered with shu bites and dressed in dirty rags, you were forever taking her extra food at school because she was so pathetically skinny. I mean, charity is all well and good, but you don't let them pass on their ways to your own grandchildren."

Bux left Yoj's side and crossed to Culisa. In a venomous voice, she said "And what will you do with your children, toss them over the cliff to feed the levs?" This blasphemy shocked everyone else into immobility, everyone except Yoj, who was headed for the door and out of it before they noticed. At the slam, Halling broke into a run, bolting across the living room and flinging open the door, looking in both directions and then turning right without closing the door behind her.

Bux began to follow Halling, but Veida said "Let them go, Bux. Halling will take care of her. You have to take care of yourself first, now."

Yerush pushed in front of Bux and said to Culisa in a shaking voice "You will leave."

"What do you mean, leave?" said Culisa.

"Pick up your bags and go. You are not welcome at this Manage, not now. It will be up to Bux if you ever return."

Culisa was incredulous. "You're throwing me out? I can't get back home today, the ferries aren't running any more."

"Then go get a room at the hostel. Here" Yerush reached into her pocket and pulled out an ek, far more than a room cost. "That will cover your accommodations and your dinner. Consider it your inheritance. Now, get out!" Yerush all but screamed the last two words.

Culisa moved. She backed out of the kitchen, picked up her bags, and started to open her mouth. Veida and Qen had come to stand beside Yerush, and Qen pointed her finger at Culisa, causing her to shut her mouth again without saying a word. She went out the open front door, turning left and not shutting it behind her, either.

After a minute, Bux sat down and Qen went to close the door. Veida checked Bux's pulse and gave her a sip of Yerush's tea on the table. Bux leaned over the table and broke into sobs.

"Tell me she's going to be all right!" she wailed. Everyone understood she meant Yoj.

"Halling will bring her back safe and sound" said Ng.

Bux looked up at Veida. "Did she and Culisa -- were they -- "

"Not that I know of" said Qen, coming up behind Bux and rubbing her shoulders tenderly.

"We'll get it all sorted out when Yoj returns" said Yerush. "We'll have some talking to do."

Bux took Yerush's hand in her own and kissed her palm. "Thank you, emma" she wept. "Thank you all."

Yerush pulled Bux against her belly and kissed the top of her head. "I'm so proud of you" she whispered, which made Bux cry even harder. After a few minutes, as her tears began stopping, Ng said "If a straggler may make a suggestion..."

Everyone except Qen laughed in bitter relief. Ng said "There's no telling how long they will be. Risotto is unforgiving. I think we should set the table, and eat, and celebrate the new life among us. We'll save them plates. And we can cut into that beautiful cheese your privy-mouthed child thoughtlessly left behind."

They laughed again, this time including Qen. The table was set and dinner served in short order. Bux dished up portions for Halling and Yoj first and put them in the larder. She didn't think she was hungry, but the baby in her belly told her otherwise. The cheese tasted especially good. Yerush told them stories about her pregnancy with Bux and Bux's babyhood, and they kept laughing raggedly as they ate, listening for the front door latch.

Yoj had a good head start on Halling, and her wind was better -- all that strolling around Skene she did. But Halling's leg muscles shoved her uphill faster than Yoj, and she caught up with her just past the schoolyard, when Yoj turned into the street that would dead end at the base of Sigrist Poke. Halling put her arm through Yoj's, which Yoj tried to shake off, saying "I'm NOT going back there."

"Nor am I" answered Halling, a little breathless, and clamping Yoj's arm next to hers. "Let's keep climbing, only could we ease up a bit?"

Yoj slowed her pace, and they continued up the Poke, winding around the side as well as in altitude until they were facing Bohaira Lagoon, looking out over the ripening orchards of Pomar. When they came to the small outcropping big enough for two asses, Halling sat down and pulled Yoj down beside her, putting one leg around Yoj's back and wrapping both arms around Yoj's chest.

"What a levving compost-muncher" began Halling, "she's a missed abortion, a hateful throwback who has no business being in Bux's Manage ever -- ". She went on ranting and swearing, and her anger as well as her arms was refuge for Yoj. Halling was hard to rile, but when she went off, her fury was righteous.

Finally she blew herself into silence, kissing Yoj's temple and saying "But what do you think?"

Yoj giggled and said "What would I do without you?"

"You'll never have to find out" breathed Halling. This was a promise she could not keep, yet whenever she made it to Yoj, for a few seconds Yoj believed her. Yoj turned enough to kiss the corner of Halling's fine mouth, then relaxed against her once more.

They watched a couple of women in the shallows of the lagoon with mussel rakes and baskets, harvesting a last-minute dinner. The sun was at least an hour away from setting, but Delma was visible in the northern sky, rising as a half-moon over a horizon that was faintly pink from a vast morrie strati in that region.

Yoj said slowly, "It was the shu bites part that hurt the worst. Well, and the dirty rags. I immediately thought of how Bux and Qen made me all those new clothes when I moved into the Manage. I didn't know it was charity at the time."

Halling shook her, hard. "It was NOT levving charity, you rockwit. It was a woman desperately in love with you playing dress-up with a body she couldn't get enough of, and her sweet emma helping her out. Plus, Qen does want to emma everybody, but she's always been especially soft on you."

"Because I was so pathetic" said Yoj.

"Rockwit" repeated Halling in Yoj's ear. "Just because someone loved you in a way your aggie didn't, doesn't make it pity, it makes them smart."

Yoj didn't think she could bear the tears that were rising in her throat. "Do you remember me being covered in shu bites? I mean, we weren't close friends then, but we were always in the same grade."

Halling paused, not to obfuscate but to search her memory honestly. "I remember you having abscesses twice, at least, where you wore a bandage on your arm and your leg after they had to drain the pus out. I wanted to look underneath and see the sores. And, I think I remember other marks, although we were so little, it barely registered. I don't remember any after you got up past 10 or so."

"By then I was mostly living at the dorm" said Yoj. "I went home only on weekends and did the mountain of chores they left for me, and went on shu patrol in every corner of the house, especially the rafters -- they were all over the rafters. I got so I could grab their tails before they could move and I'd snap their necks with my bare hands." The disgust in her voice made Halling pull her closer.

"As far as your clothes, again, I didn't notice until I started paying attention to my own, which was around the same age" said Halling. "And yours weren't new, but neither were mine. I had two older sibs, everything I wore had already been worn twice. Yours were clean, as I remember them."

Halling put her nose in Yoj's hair and said "You've always smelled heavenly to me."

Yoj began crying, then. "I did my laundry at the school, after everyone was gone" she wailed. "I kept most of my clothes there, in a chest Qen set up for me in a storage room even before I started staying at the dorm. It was Qen helping me out, I thought it was our secret, I didn't know she was gassing on about me at her home. Do you think that's why Bux was so fixated on me, because she felt sorry for me?"

"Of course not" answered Halling, but Yoj was too wretched to hear her at the moment. Haling let her cry it out. When Yoj was just hiccoughing again, Halling pulled the sleeve of her shati over the ball of her thumb and used it to wipe Yoj's face.

"I need to blow my nose" said Yoj, sucking snot back into her head.

"Well, you're not using my sleeve for that" said Halling, making them both laugh.

Halling said speculatively, "There were folks like Culisa at school, a few of them, always townies, as she put it, who snickered among themselves and made me feel -- not good enough. I avoided 'em completely. So did Xaya."

"So did Bux" said Yoj, remembering. Her chest felt clear again.

Halling giggled. "Bux was ready to rip Culisa's heart out through her chest, wasn't she?"

"What heart?" answered Yoj, and they laughed hard.

"It seemed like Bux maybe didn't know about me and Culisa, back when" ventured Yoj.

"Yeah, I got that impression. And lev her for twisting it around, lying about how it went even as she tried to use it as a weapon against Bux" said Halling.

"I want to see Bux" said Yoj, feeling it suddenly in her bones. "I want to talk to her. But I don't know about the rest of them. And I sure as hell don't want to ever see Culisa again."

"Bux will have dealt with Culisa" said Halling with certainty. "And the rest of them -- if you don't feel ashamed, you can just let them be your emmas. They all want to be, each in her own way."

"Oh, well, let me just turn the lever here inside me, no more shame, poof" said Yoj, wiping her hands together. They laughed again.

"I want some of Veida's pie, let's just get to the point where we can eat pie, shall we?" said Halling, moving her leg so she could stand up. Yoj got to her feet and pulled Halling up to face her. They kissed lingeringly, then headed back into town.

As they turned into their lane, they could see the front door was open and Bux was sitting on the top step, leaning against the facing. The moment she saw them, she rose and walked, then ran toward them. She flung herself into Yoj's arms, and Halling hugged them both from Bux's back.

"I'm so sorry, my darling, my beloved, I can't believe you had to endure that" began Bux.

"Are you okay, how are you feeling?" babbled Yoj in reply. They kissed and talked over each other until relief calmed them again. Bux turned in their arms and kissed Halling passionately as well, saying "Thank you, thank you".

"How're the others?" asked Yoj uncertainly. Bux faced her again. "Waiting on you. Qen has scrubbed the sink three times, she's so distracted. And -- Culisa is long gone. Yerush threw her out."

"She did?" said Yoj and Halling in unison. Bux told them the story with a glowing face, and they squealed with laughter.

"All right then" said Yoj. "Let's go home."

"Can we eat before we talk?" said Halling, as they linked arms and resumed walking down the lane.

"Yes, we saved you tons" said Bux.

Yoj went in the door first, and even Ng struggled to her feet to come hug her, then Halling. Bux bustled to the kitchen and set their plates on the table, and everyone else in a cluster escorted them to their places, offering tea, extras, a better fork. Once everyone was seated and Halling was shoveling risotto into her mouth, Bux asked Yoj "Where did you go?"

"Up the Poke" Yoj answered. "We have a spot there, where we sometimes talk."

"Will you show me it?" asked Bux, her mouth trembling a little.

Yoj looked at her. "Tomorrow" she promised.

When their plates were empty, Veida got the pie dish from the larder.

"There's two pieces plus one extra" she said, "As usual."

Yoj grinned at Halling. "You take the extra, and I'll have some of that cheese with mine" she offered.

"Don't have to ask me twice" said Halling.

"When this baby gets up older" said Bux, "You're going to have competition for that extra slice every time."

"We'll have to make bigger pies" said Halling, making them all laugh.

After two bites of pie, Yoj set her fork down on her plate and took the hand of Qen beside her.

"Please don't take this as an accusation -- but who else did you talk about me with, besides the Manage, here?" she asked Qen.

Qen's brown eyes instantly filled with tears.

"No one. I didn't even talk about it openly here, Yoj, I swear. Culisa must have eavesdropped on a conversation I had with Yerush and Veida. I know I sometimes gossip, but I didn't about that, not about you." She was pleading, and Yoj squeezed her hand.

"I never heard anyone discuss it" said Bux, confirming.

After a long pause, Yerush said quietly "I did talk with someone about it."

"You?" said Qen, wheeling on her. "Who did you share it with?"

"I was Ethicist at the time" said Yerush. "And I was at the school often, with our three there and visiting you. And every time, no matter if you were in class, Yoj, or on the playground, you stood out like a bright star. You were so very luminous. It was a joy to watch you."

Everyone's eyes were on Yerush, except Bux, who was looking at Yoj and agreeing inside, a bright star, yes.

"And it wasn't just you, Yoj, with -- shu bites. Myrd, when she began first grade, and then Owera -- your sibs showed the same signs of -- neglect." Yerush's face was inexpressibly kind.

Bux took Yoj's other hand. Yoj's palm was sweating.

"I heard -- from Veida, who asked the curanderas -- that none of you were being taken for check-ups or treatment. That was part of my job as Ethicist, you know, looking into things like that. And there's no excuse for children being repeatedly bitten by shu, not on a Fling, not anywhere." A note of anger appeared in Yerush's voice.

Yoj spoke hoarsely. "Rosz, my aggie -- she didn't like katts. Not at all. Wouldn't let them stay in the house. And Isola is, well, really cold and wet all the time. Katts didn't last long outdoors. I was always sneaking home kittens, and I'd try to give them scraps from my dinner..." Yoj burst into tears again, this time so bitter they stung her eyes. Bux stood and held Yoj from behind, her face defiant and proud at the same time.

Halling went to get a handkerchief from her clothes chest. When she returned with it, Yoj looked at it and switched from crying to laughing. "Better than a sleeve, any day" she said. Halling went back to her second piece of pie.

"So...I knew something had to be done" said Yerush. "Qen and others at the school had already asked for you and your sibs to be boarded during the week, and had been told no -- yelled at, really, by Rosz. I didn't want to -- take steps, I didn't want you to be branded as a child removed from her emmas, not with how special you were."

Yoj felt cold shock at the prospect of winding up fostered out.

"One day at noon, I rode the long string of ferries out to Isola. Rosz was there, weaving. Your other emma was on Yanja, where she frequently overnighted, I'd been told. It was just me and Rosz. The Manage was a mess, and she was not, shall we say, gracious. I got right to the point. I told her if you, and your sibus, were not allowed to board at the school during the week and over holidays, I'd have you all taken away from her. I told her our Manage would take Yoj, immediately. I waved a sheaf of papers, claiming they were documentation from the school of all the -- marks, and lack of weight gain, and a comparison of how much allotment you got each year to how much new clothing you wore. It wasn't any such documentation, Qen would never have given it to me -- it was a batch of handouts from the University. But she didn't ask to see them, which I counted on -- no one wants to read in black and white a record of their failure. She backed down, and gave her consent. I told her to sign the form and send it to school with you the next day. And sure enough, Qen informed me two days later that you and Myrd were going to move into the dorms, and the next year, when Owera was old enough to attend, she would as well. She was ecstatic."

"You never told me" said Qen, wonderingly.

"I don't gossip, either" replied Yerush, looking at her.

"Emma told me the commute was too hard on her, with us, because we were so bratty" remembered Yoj. "She said she'd get more done during the week without us bothering her."

Veida spoke. "I know it's a saying on Skene, every child is a wanted child. And it's mostly true. But when it doesn't work out that way, it's never the child's fault. Never."

It didn't help much. Still, the look of abject humiliation on Yoj's face diminished.

Halling, done eating, said to Yerush "Is that what you meant, then, when you said you'd talked it over with somebody? That you'd confronted Rosz?"

Yerush glanced at her appreciatively. Halling was as quick as Yoj.

"No. I meant -- I talked with the Genist. Well, the apprentice Genist then, Raisa."

Qen and Veida got very still. This was news to them, too, and a shocking transgression.

Yerush stayed focused on Yoj. "I asked her if Rosz and Nilma had applied for Leave to have a fourth child. She wouldn't tell me, at first. That's privileged information, not to be given even to the Ethicist. But when I told her my concerns, she finally admitted they had. They planned to have another child."

Yoj was stunned. She'd always assumed Rosz was just so disappointed in the three she had, she didn't care to try again.

"After talking it over with me, she and the Head Genist decided to turn down their Leave. Rosz was furious -- so was Nilma -- but they had no recourse. A Genist refusal is not something you make public."

Yoj stared at Yerush. No one else spoke. Finally she whispered "Thank you."

Bux kissed the back of her neck and said "There was only going to be one Yoj, anyhow. And we already had you, or had our eye on you."

Ng said "Yes, but if she'd been fostered with you, you'd be sibs and couldn't be partners."

This had not occurred to either Bux or Yoj. Yoj turned to look at Bux, horrified. "Oh, no, that would've been wrong" she said. "We were meant to be lovers."

"That's why it turned out the way it did" said Bux with certainty. Ng and Veida were laughing.

Qen wasn't quite done. "So the Genist knew -- all this, when Bux and Yoj and Halling applied for Leave to aggie?"

"Yes, and we -- Raisa and I -- had another long talk about at that point. We agreed, Yoj was a stellar example of how volcanic rock can transform itself into a fecund tillage. There was no doubt at all that she'd be a prime emma" said Yerush. Halling looked at her keenly -- Yerush seemed comfortable playing about with the destiny of others. It scared her a little.

But what Yoj heard was the final reassurance she'd needed. If Yerush, and the Genist, gave her the glowing all-clear to emma -- well, Culisa's words were just bile.

Which reminded her...She pulled Bux around to look at her and said "Me and Culisa, I didn't know you weren't aware, I would've told you -- we kissed a few times, and almost dated. But it was me who said no, not her."

Bux laughed triumphantly. "I figured as much. She was so outraged, that I got the Manage and the woman who turned her down!"

Yoj looked at the faces around the table "I can't tell you how much it means to have you all, to be part of this -- " Her voice broke.

"Meant to be" said Veida, with a grin.

Qen kissed her cheek, then began gathering the dirty dishes.

"Nope, I'm washing these" said Yoj, taking them from her. "It'll feel good to set the kitchen to rights."

"I'll dry" said Bux, following her to the sink, her hands on Yoj's ass.

Veida opened the back door and stood in it, looking at the sky that far away rode over ocean. Halling came to stand beside her and said "Missed the forecast."

"It was 50/50, but from the looks of those clouds, I'm thinking not just rain but a long storm" answered Veida. Halling looked around at Ng and gave her a thumbs' up, making Ng grin.

Veida said, a little sadly "If it does storm, Culisa will be stuck at the hostel for another night, maybe two."

Halling said "May her bunk be between farters" and pushed on outside toward the privy. She could hear Ng's laughter behind her.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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