Tuesday, December 18, 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:
NEW: Skene Map: Yanja
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


The following San, Yoj walked to the jichang to meet Halling alone. Bux had work all afternoon at her Sheng Zhang's office. As Halling was hosing down her sinner and telling Yoj about that day's run, a local-haul sinner in training landed and came over to Yoj with an envelope. "A woman on Yanja asked me to give this to you directly" the sinner said. "Didn't want it to take a day through the mails."

"Okay, thanks" said Yoj. The envelope was addressed to her in her emma Nilma's handwriting. Why the rush?

She opened it and read the first two lines, then sat down abruptly on the tarmac. Halling dropped her hose and rushed to Yoj, saying "Are you all right? What happened, did you fall?"

Yoj looked up at her with an expression Halling had never seen. "My aggie" Yoj said hoarsely. "She's dead. She died -- I don't know, today?"

"What?" said Halling, squatting beside her. "How could that have happened? Was she at the hospital?"

"No" said Yoj. "She died at home. Alone. Nilma found her. They've taken her body to Yanja, to the coroner there." The letter dropped from her hand. Halling grabbed it and began reading it.

A couple of other pilots had come over to see what was wrong. When Halling was done with the letter, she folded it again and put it in her guibba. She told the pilots "It's her aggie. She's died."

They both exclaimed in sympathy and offered to help Yoj to her feet. Halling insisted on doing that herself, however. Yoj seemed to be in some kind of shock. They walked her to the Lofthall, where Halling sat Yoj in the radio room and told Qala what had happened. One of the pilots brought a cup of tea laced with milk and honey to Yoj and Halling held it to her lips to drink.

Halling said to Qala "What on Yanja can you raise by radio?"

"The shipping office and the small clinic there" said Qala.

"We need to get a message to her emma. Preferably, talk to her directly, but I'm not sure where she is" said Halling.

"Where does she work?" asked Qala, turning on her dial.

"She's a qigong, so somewhere at the steamworks" said Halling. "And she has a room there in the dorm, but she might also be at the coroner's office."

"I'll find her" said Qala, putting headphones over her ears. Halling asked the pilot who had brought Yoj tea if she would run to the Shenz Zhang of Rahat's office and find Bux. "Be sure to tell her what's happened, and that we're both okay, don't leave her in suspense" Halling reminded her. The pilot took off at a literal run.

Halling pulled out the letter and read it again. "Pneumonia? How could she have pneumonia and nobody know it? Why didn't she get brought to the hospital?"

Yoj answered slowly, haltingly. "She never went to a curandera. Hated 'em. And Nilma sometimes didn't come home for days at a time. And Owera decided she didn't want to be a weaver, after all. She's working on Yanja, too. Boarding there somewhere."

After ten minutes, Qala turned around in her chair and said "I've got her. She was at the coroner's, which is near the clinic." She held out the headset and mic to Yoj. Halling said "Put it on speaker, okay?"

"Emma?" said Yoj. "Can you hear me?"

"Yes" came Nilma's voice, wooden.

"Are you okay?"

"I'm holding up. Sorry I had to write you a letter, but I didn't think I should broadcast this on Sigrist radio. Is anybody else going to hear what we're saying now?"

"Just pilots. Emma -- how long ago -- how long was she -- "

"I think she died yesterday. I've been caught up in a refitting, I just couldn't get out there since last Iki" said Nilma, sounding defensive.

Yoj didn't seem to know what else to say. Halling spoke up: "Nilma, this is Halling. When is the funeral, do you know yet?"

"Tomorrow at noon. Owera's here -- well, not here in this office, but at the coroner's. And I wanted to sent a letter to Myrd, too, but I couldn't find someone to take it."

"We'll get word to her within the hour" said Halling "We'll be there in the morning for the funeral. Where will you be?"

"I don't know." Nilma sounded bewildered. "I guess come to the coroner's, I'll go there after breakfast."

"Do you need us to bring you anything?" said Halling.

There was a long silence, and just when Halling was going to say "Nilma?" again, her voice answered "I just realized, I don't have clothes for the funeral. They're on Isola."

Qala whispered to Halling "I'll send a lighter to pick up whoever, Nilma or Owera, and take them to Isola, then return them, if you want."

Halling nodded and repeated this offer to Nilma.

"All right" said Nilma. "I'll send Olwera. Is Yoj still there?"

Yoj roused herself from her torpor and said "I'm here, emma. Do you need me to come there tonight? I could get a ride on the lighter."

Halling was shaking her head No, but Nilma answered "I don't think so. People are being very helpful. And I don't know where you'd sleep. I'll just plan to see you tomorrow."

"All right, then" said Halling. "A pilot will be there within half an hour, can you ask Olwera to meet her at the field?"

"Yes" said Nilma. "Okay, I'll go then."

"I love you, emma" said Yoj, her voice sounding very small.

"Oh. I love you too, Yoj" said Nilma.

Qala put back on her headset and changed the frequency, calling in two lighters for the runs. Halling took a piece of paper and wrote a note to Myrd, then had Yoj sign it. She wrote instructions on the outside saying where to find Myrd. As she was finishing, Bux burst in the door. She rushed directly to Yoj and gathered her to her chest, saying "Oh, my darling, I'm so sorry, I'm so terribly sorry."

Yoj suddenly burst into tears, a choking kind of crying that got louder with each breath. Qala turned up her volume but looked very glad to finally see Yoj cry. Halling kissed Bux's cheek, whispered she'd be back in a minute, and left to go deliver her note to the pilot who would carry it to Myrd on Exploit.

When Halling got back, Yoj was blowing her nose on Qala's handkerchief and another pilot had brought her more tea. Halling wiped her cheek tenderly and said "Do you feel up to walking home?"

Yoj nodded, then said "I don't have this week's song finished."

"This is when we use the emergency song" said Halling. She turned to Qala and said "Will you get it from the file and post it on the board?"

"Will do" said Qala. "And I'll tell Igoz you'll be off tomorrow. What time do you want a ride to Yanja?"

"I'd thought we'd take ferries" began Halling.

"Nonsense" said Qala, "That will take you all morning. After one of the school sinners comes in, by 8, it can take you and your whole Manage to Yanja. Say, 8:30? And I'll ask for a volunteer to pick you up tomorrow after our shifts here are over. You can call me from the shipping office there at the airfield."

"Bless you, Qala" said Halling. "That will be much easier on her."

Qala stood up to hug Yoj goodbye and kissed her cheek, saying "We all love you here. We are your family, too."

When they got to their Manage, nobody else was home yet. Halling ran a hot bath for her and Yoj while Bux made more tea for Yoj and a quick meal for Halling. She joined them in the bath room and fed Halling bites of a sandwich while Halling held Yoj in front of her. Then they both tenderly washed Yoj, letting her cry again, and dried her off. Halling pulled Yoj into bed with her, spooning her. Bux said "I guess I should start dinner."

"No!" said Yoj. "Please come get on the other side of me."

Bux pulled off her dubikun and joined them. Within a few minutes, Yoj was asleep. Bux whispered to Halling, "What on earth went on out there? And to tell her by letter..."

"You'd never guess from Yoj how cold and strange they are" answered Halling. She was starting to drop off, too.

"Now I'll never meet her aggie" said Bux sadly. Halling didn't answer. A few minutes later, Bux went to sleep, also.

Qen woke them all up a couple of hours later, gently shaking Bux and saying "Dinner's almost ready."

Bux sat up, then remembered and looked down at Yoj. She started to speak, but Qen said "We know. Yerush heard and told us. Is she all right?"

"She's a little wonky" said Bux. "But we're making sure she's okay. The funeral is tomorrow, can you go?"

"We can all go" said Qen. Yoj was stirring. Qen leaned over Bux and kissed Yoj's forehead, saying "Sweet Yoj, I'm so sorry for your heartbreak."

Yoj's eyes opened wide, and she began crying again. Bux pulled her into her lap and rocked her as Halling got up and dressed, then helped Yoj get dressed when she was done crying. They all came into the kitchen together, where Yerush and Veida were setting food on the table. They both gave Yoj long hugs and whispered endearments. Yoj was cried out for the moment.

"We made your favorite, cheese and egg pie with leeks" said Yerush. "With some greenhouse tomatoes in big red slices on top."

Yoj surprised herself by being able to eat. Veida pulled a rice pudding from the oven and drizzled mulberry syrup on it for dessert. They talked over the plans for the next day, and Bux got up to hang funeral clothes for the six of them to air out. When she returned to the table, everyone encouraged Yoj to tell stories of her aggie and her childhood. Bux had her chair next to Yoj's so she could keep both arms around Yoj. Halling kept bringing her more tea, until finally Yoj said, with the first grin they'd seen from her, "My bladder is stretched tight as a bulb kelp, I have to go relieve myself."

"I'll go with you" said Halling, grabbing a flash as they went out the back door.

While they were gone, Bux told them what she knew of the disturbing circumstances of Rosz's death.

"We'll need to get a memorial plaque made for the Shatters" said Veida.

"I wonder what will happen to their Manage" said Yerush. "If Nilma isn't really living there, technically it will go to Yoj."

The others looked at her in surprise. Bux said "She's not moving back out there!"

"Of course she's not" said Qen. "Her home is here. We'll figure it out with her later, after the funeral has been gotten through."

When Yoj came back in, she said "I know it's early, but all I want to do is go back to sleep."

"A good choice" said Veida. "Wait just a minute, I have a tincture to give you for peace of heart." She got a small bottle from her shelf in the larder and put a dropperful into Yoj's mouth, then gave a dose to Halling and Bux for good measure. Yoj was sent off to bed with many kisses and hugs. She snuggled in between Bux and Halling, and again dropped off almost instantly.

"She may have nightmares tonight" Halling said to Bux.

"Not with what Veida just gave her" answered Bux.

"We're all her aggies now" said Halling.

"Yes" agreed Bux.

Two days later, the funeral behind them, Bux came home for lunch and found Yerush there for the same purpose. Veida was gone on a birth, Qen and Halling were working, and Yoj had insisted on going to her cubicle.

After getting a bowl of rice with steamed vegetables and tofu, Bux sat down next to Yerush instead of at the other end of the table. As Bux was pouring piquant sauce on her meal, Yerush asked "How is she?"

"I'm not sure. I mean, emma, I'm confused by it all. I didn't see Nilma cry once. And the way she hugged her children was -- colorless. How did Yoj come from that? I mean, you met her aggie, was she that distant, too?"

Yerush hesitated, then said "Yes and no. Physically, seems like no one touched those children. Qen said they each arrived at school unaware of laps or simple affection, but after a week or so, went into a frenzy of need that all the teachers did their best to meet. I used to wonder if that was part of the explanation for Yoj's -- long string of lovers."

Bux's cheeks turned pink but she didn't stop listening.

"Emotionally, Rosz came and went. She did talk to Yoj, they had moments of extraordinary intimacy. Then she'd disappear, into her work, I guess. And Yoj, being the oldest, was leaned on far too heavily in terms of helping around the house, including raising her sibus."

"Is that why Myrd was so -- aloof, with Yoj?" asked Bux. "I mean, at times I thought she was making jibes at her, but when I'd look at her, she's just unpolished and cold. But not hateful."

"I think Myrd felt left behind when Yoj grabbed at the help that was offered her. And Myrd didn't have Yoj's brains or charm. Neither did Owera. It must have been very painful to have the same kind of hardship Yoj did but no chance of escape through learning or music" said Yerush.

"Neither of her sibs looked in the least like her" said Bux. "Nor did Nilma. It's as if they were no kin at all."

"Yoj looks -- looked like Rosz. Almost a dead ringer, in fact." Yerush caught herself in dismay, then she and Bux both started laughing. "You know what I meant."

Bux put her hand over Yerush's for a moment. They didn't have private conversations like this very often.

"Rosz was also very, very smart. She's enough younger than us that she was in Qen's class the first year Qen began teaching. And she was beautiful."

"Of course" said Bux, "If Yoj resembles her."

Yerush smiled and continued. "She could have partnered with almost anybody on Skene, and gone into any number of occupations, or to the University. Instead, she retreated back to Isola and eventually wound up with Nilma, who was nearby on Yanja. Another solitary sort. Women who work in the steam tunnels are often -- odd."

"And now Owera is doing the same thing. And Myrd is a miner, yet another career that isn't public-oriented" mused Bux.

"Well, Yoj was the catch of Skene in her day, only she's made the most of it" said Yerush.

Bux looked at her sharply. "I hope you don't mean that in a nasty way" she said.

Yerush tried not to be offended. "No, I was sincere. I think you're just as lucky to have her as she is to have you. And Halling. My word, the three of you are a cabal, if you only worked at it."

"I don't care about that, emma, I just want to make them happy" said Bux.

"They're out of their minds over you" said Yerush drily. "As you well know, stop fishing for it."

Bux giggled and said "Doesn't hurt to hear it from your aggie."

"No" said Yerush softly, "It doesn't. You are the culmination of generations of our line, the best of us all. It isn't just your partners who are out of their minds over you."

Tears came to Bux's eyes, and she gave Yerush a kiss on her cheek. "I'm getting a bit more, you want some?" she said, standing up with her bowl in hand.

"No, I'm done. I have to get back to the U and try to teach some depressingly non-Yoj students about economics in the 200s."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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