Sunday, December 23, 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 morning, Yoj and Halling were basket cases. After Yoj dropped two teacups, breaking them both, while washing dishes, Veida pushed her away and said "I'll finish what we have left of these." Then Halling planted a whole row of spinach instead of lettuces in the starts tray. Qen said "You two -- go do damage elsewhere until it's time to meet with the Genist. Why don't you go to your cubicle, Yoj, and crate up the books and things you want to bring here?"

It was pouring, but they both obediently began putting on otos. Bux said "I'm coming with you". Once out in the drench and moving, they all felt better. They stopped to read kiosks, then borrowed metal crates at the Lofthall and went to the U.

Yoj sat down in her chair and tried to think about what she might want where. "I can't do without a dictionary either place" she complained.

"Take your most important ones home -- you can always go to the library from here" suggested Bux. But Yoj didn't trust Bux's advice with regard to her cubicle. Bux was pulling things from her shelves to examine them, and Yoj said "Wait. Just wait for me to tell you what gets packed."

Halling said "How about if I bag up the linens and laundry that are here and take them to the Lofthall for washing?"

"That would be fine" said Yoj. Halling rolled her eyes at Bux to come with her, but Bux refused to take her hint. She sat down on the stripped bed and said "You have a little more room in here without your clothes chest, you could add a second chair."

Halling banged out the door and Yoj waited until she was out of hearing before she turned to Bux and said "You have to levvin' get over the idea that this is my secret woman nest, or whatever you imagine it to be."

Bux flared instantly. "Don't tell me you've never brought anyone here, because I know better" she retorted.

"You do, huh? Tell me who, then."

Bux was stumped.

Yoj, winning that round, relented a little. "When I was lovers with Clun, yes, we came here because the alternative was her bunk at the Lofthall. But since Halling, it's only been her and me here. And now you. I swear to you, Bux, that's how it will stay. I see this as my writing refuge, first and foremost."

"You promise?" said Bux.

"I do. On my honor as dichter of Skene" said Yoj, laughing a little.

"Well -- don't bite my head off, but what about a second chair in here? Where I could sit and read while you work?" said Bux.

Yoj took a long breath and said "That's actually a good idea. You know what else? I could use a metal cupboard to hang on the wall here, to hold my change of clothes -- for that matter, your and Halling's changes and schmattas. Would you be willing to locate those for me and do the bartering? I'd like for you to help make this a place of yours as well."

Bux was delighted and stood up to kiss Yoj. "I'll paint your cupboard for you, and make cushions for your chair" she said.

"I'd love that" Yoj said honestly. "Okay, I think that entire shelf of books should go home with us. Plus all of the dictionaries except this one. And you can empty that right-hand desk drawer into a crate."

When Halling returned, she opened the door tentatively, only to hear Yoj and Bux laughing over a silly poem Yoj had written one blocked day. "Come on in, we've reached accord again" said Yoj. "We're almost done in here."

Halling sat down on one filled crate as Bux opened the last desk drawer and said "Any of this to go?" She reached in and picked up a ceramic case of the type that was lined with velvet and used to hold necklaces and bracelets. She asked "Why do you have jewelry here?"

Yoj tried to grab it from her, but Bux held it behind her. Yoj's face was crimson, and Halling fell backwards off the crate laughing, banging her head against the wall and saying "Ow" as she laughed.

Using her body as a shield, Bux opened the ceramic case and stared down at the pale green object lying on the velvet. Then she looked up at Yoj, wide-eyed, and said "Is that what I think it is?"

"Yes, it's a blossom" said Yoj, almost inaudible with embarrassment. Then she said "Halling's is in there, too."

"Hey!" said Halling, struggling to sit up, but Bux's deft hands pulled out the second case and opened it swiftly. "Yours is blue" she said softly.

Looking at Yoj again, her own cheeks going a dull red, Bux said "I've never seen one before. I don't even know where you get them."

"There's a place on Verzin" said Yoj. "You have to be personally fitted for them."

"And that is no fun" added Halling. "We went together, and once the plaster dries, trying to get it out -- well, I was bruised for days." As Bux stared at her, Halling explained "Because your inside is much larger than the opening, you know."

Bux said slowly "I guess I don't know. I mean, I'm not sure how they work."

There was a long silence in the room, where all they heard was rain against the window.

As Yoj stood up to lock the door and turn off the overhead light, Bux said to Halling "Good thing you left the quilt here."

Halling said uncertainly "But what if the Genist wants to -- examine us?"

"Yerush said she wouldn't" said Bux, "Just blood work. And so what if she does? That's hours from now." As Halling still sat on her crate, Bux said gently "Take your clothes off, sweetheart."

Yoj pulled her blossom from its box and said "It's filled with a gel that moves slowly from one side to the other. These four soft fronds here, they can expand to the shape of a thumb, one in each direction. That's the part that would go inside you. But it won't fit in you that way -- I squeeze it like this, see, and that forces all the gel into this other half which is the shape of my -- interior. Once the fronds are deflated, we can insert them easily into you. Then, we squeeze on my side to push the gel back into your half, and then it's snug inside you. Then you help put my side into me. After that, it's just about trading pressure."

"But yours is shaped a little different from Halling's. I don't mean that part, I mean the -- angle here" observed Bux.

"Yeah, well...mine is made to use best coming from the front, and Halling's is better from -- behind." Yoj was feeling lightheaded.

Bux, by now naked, lay down on the bed and lifted the quilt on either side of her. As Halling joined her and Yoj, Bux said "Grab yours, too. I want to see how both -- feel. And -- I'm going to want one of my own."

"They're expensive. An ek, at least" said Yoj. Bux just grinned at her, and Yoj said "But of course, totally worth it." Bux took Yoj's blossom in her hands and began squeezing with her strong, warm fingers.

By the time they returned home, all stress about the upcoming appointment had disappeared. Bux had boldly washed both blossoms in the sink at the public washroom of the U, halfway hoping someone would come in and catch her at it. Once dried, they were returned to their cases and tucked into the crates carried back to the Manage. They ate a cheerful lunch with the emmas, washed and dressed in the silks Bux had laid out for them, and put on raingear. Halling made sure she had currency in her pockets -- each meeting with the Genist cost an ek, no matter your income -- and they kissed the emmas goodbye without trepidation.

After they were gone, Qen wheeled on Yerush and said "Tell us they are not going to be turned down! Tell us at least that much you can be certain of from Raisa!"

Yerush, caught off guard, managed to hold back the first thing that came into her head. After a moment, she answered "Raisa doesn't make this decision, she's only the apprentice. But it's based on them, their prospects, not who we are. And I couldn't be prouder of them."

"Then all your assignations with Raisa, that's just because she's irresistible? Nothing to do with the intoxicating power she wields, far more attractive than my own?" burst out Qen.

The fight was on. Veida interrupted briefly to say "Do you want me in this?" When both her partners yelled "No!', she went outside to the new starts room and began filling trays with loam. The steady rain kept most of the shouts from reaching her.

Yoj, Bux and Halling trudged up their sodden lane past the school to where a larger lane led left across South Rambla. On the west side of the river, to their left was an extensive ejida, with massive greenhouses growing all sorts of warm-weather crops. At the end of the ejida, another lane led north, along the cliffs that overlooked West Tendril and Argile. One Manage over was the Genist's office, her quarters and her vault which went back deep into the rock underneath the Shatters. A vault beside it held the indispensible Archives of Skene, with the Archivist's office and reading library next door to the Genist. It was rumored they held keys to each other's vaults, although no one knew for sure except them. It was also said their vaults held food and water for a long siege, in case anything like the Troubles ever occurred again.

Yoj had difficulty believing the Troubles had actually occurred in the first place.

None of them had ever been in the Genist's office, and neither Yoj nor Halling would have recognized the Genist or her apprentice if they saw her on the street. The middle-aged woman who answered their knock, however, smiled broadly at Bux and pulled her into a friendly hug. This must be the infamous Raisa, then.

She was disconcertingly plain-looking, with short silver hair and small brown eyes. Not nearly as beautiful as Qen, Yoj thought loyally. She led them into a room with a long table and indicated they could sit on one side. She brought them tea and cakes, and chatted amiably with Bux about her last wandmaler lineage for a few minutes. Finally, a door on the side opened and a tall, very thin woman with bright white hair left loose around her shoulders came in. Raisa stood up abruptly and, a second later, so did the three applicants. Raisa introduced her as Dest, Genist of all Skene, and then introduced Yoj, Halling and Bux to her in turn. Dest sat down gracelessly opposite them. Raisa brought tea to Dest and then sat at the far side, deferentially. A fat folder lay on the table in front of Dest, and without taking a sip of her tea, she opened the folder, read a line or two, then looked up at Bux and said "You're the aggie, of course."

"Yes" said Bux, a little disconcerted by the coldness of her tone.

Dest read again and said "You're 20, and you indicate you're applying to begin your family by age 22 or thereabouts. Why the wait?"

"We're a new relationship" said Bux. "We want time -- together first."

"What's to say you won't change your mind in two years?" Dest's bluntness was definitely getting under Yoj's skin, Bux could tell. But she stayed calm and said "Anything can happen, of course. However, I've planned to aggie my entire life, I don't anticipate that changing."

Dest, as if sensing the weak link, turned to Yoj and said "How about you? How sure are you?"

"I've been sure since I was 16" replied Yoj. Dest couldn't see Bux's foot under the table, resting solidly along Yoj's, but Yoj drew calm from it. Dest flicked her glance to Halling.

"And you? This is your second partnership, and your first was with another pilot. No chance of children there, was there, unless one of you gave up piloting?"

"We, too, had planned for children. After ten years, she was going to aggie while I switched to sinning" said Halling.

"Hmmm" said Dest, returning to her folder. She read down one page, turned it over, then looked up at Yoj again. "Have you entered into a contractual relationship with this woman for her services as an aggie?" she said, indicating Bux.

Yoj looked confused. "I don't know what you mean by contract -- We applied for partnership, yes, and you should have those papers. We're waiting on a big ceremony until after the rainy season, but legally we're al -- "

"No" Dest interrupted her. "I see here a considerable expenditure from your account toward her Manage. Are you paying her to have your children?"

Yoj was shocked speechless. And offended, Bux could tell. She nudged Yoj's foot, and Yoj swallowed, hard. Then she said "It's not her Manage, it's our Manage. Our families are now blended. And yes, I'm heping pay for that because it will be the home of my children. But no, I am not paying Bux to aggie, nor am I paying her to love me. I have given her my heart. Her and Halling."

Dest didn't seem interested in Yoj's declarations of love. She turned to Halling and said "Same question."

"Same answer" said Halling, with a voice only Yoj and now Bux would have recognized held anger.

"It will come out, you know, if you are trying to play this system" said Dest, with a hint of belligerence. "It's obvious you two are up against it -- if you want children, she's you're only hope -- and you have a great deal more disposable income than most people your age. If I find out you've attempted to manipulate things here -- if one of you moves out, for instance, once the children are born -- I'll have them taken away from all three of you and fostered out."

Yoj turned and looked at Raisa, to see if such accusations and threats were to be allowed. Raisa's jaw was tight, and she avoided meeting Yoj's eyes. But Halling's voice came from the other side of Bux: "What do you mean, up against it? If Yoj wanted to aggie, she would have applied for it herself. It's just that Bux has a preference -- "

Dest interrupted again. "Yoj has no chance of being accepted to aggie, because she's infertile. Surely you're aware of that?"

It was a body blow, and Dest gave a small smile when she saw it land. Yoj had trouble focusing her vision. Bux put her hand out and took Yoj's in hers, on top of the table. Yoj choked out "Infertile? How can you say that, I haven't had the blood work done yet -- "

"Every Skener has a physical upon graduating from high school. We take blood then and those results are put in your file against future application" said Dest. "We notified your emmas. Didn't they tell you, then?"

Clearly they had not. The gloat in her voice was inexcusable. Halling stood up and moved her chair to beside Yoj's, taking her other hand and saying "Well, at least this answers your insinuation that we are somehow trying to buy a child and an aggie. We didn't know we would need to, until this minute."

Halling's voice was steady as ever, but now even Dest recognized Halling was exercising iron control. She returned to her folder and went through the rest of her questions rapidly, at times not seeming to care what they answered. When Bux laid out her arguments for being allowed to have five children instead of four, Dest did not answer but gave a small snort. She read on in her folder for several pages, occasionally muttering to herself, then suddenly slapped the folder shut and said "That's all. Your application will be processed and we'll give you an answer in writing."

"How long -- " began Bux, indefatigable.

"When we make our decision" Delt snapped. She stood up, leaving her folder on the table, and left without a goodbye.

Once the door was shut, Bux turned to Raisa and said "Did we offend, somehow, or is she always like that?"

Raisa lowered her voice and said "You did nothing wrong." She stood up and said "I'll see you out."

Halling walked with her arm around Yoj all the way to the front door. She shook Raisa's hand, and after a second, so did Yoj, thanking her numbly. Bux gave her a hug and Raisa said "Give my regards to your emmas."

They walked down the lane until they were out of sight. Then Halling pulled Yoj over to the stoop of a Manage and sat her down, crowding in beside her and spreading her burzaka to keep both their legs dry. She lifted Yoj's chin so their eyes met and said "My love, my darling -- you can let it go now."

But Yoj was parched inside. It felt hard to even swallow. She opened her mouth and tilted her head up to catch rain in it. It tasted amazingly good, rich, not quite salty. She let her face get a solid sheen of moisture on it, then turned to look at her partners again. "What a levving old turd she was" she said conversationally.

Bux burst into relieved laughter. Yoj stood up and kissed her exuberantly, saying "If I could buy your children with a few walls and new bed, well, you'd be the bottom of the bruised apple bin, wouldn't you? Amazing how she contrived to insult all of us in one go."

She turned to Halling then and kissed her very thoroughly. "What's say you go get your sinner and we dangle her over the deeps on a detachable rope until the beasties take her off our hands?" Halling roared and replied "Don't tempt me."

"Let's go home, my guess is by now Qen will have chewed through her own lip" said Yoj.

Which was not far off, except it was Yerush's lip instead of her own. The fight had finally ended simply from exhaustion, as the fights over Raisa always did. Qen attacked Raisa's character in every way she could imagine, and Yerush stuck to her insistence they had an agreement to see other people. When Veida heard no more shouting, she waited five minutes, then went inside. Yerush was taking a bath, and Qen sat on the sofa in the living room, weeping. Veida settled down beside her and pulled her onto her shoulder, saying "It's really not about love or desirability. If it was, she'd leave you. You know that."

"I hate Raisa, I always have, even in school she'd rather take something that belonged to another child than earn her own" bawled Qen.

"I know. But she's not taking Yerush. Yerush is ours. After all this time, Raisa has no one to share her bed these long cold nights, and Yerush is here with us. Because she wants to be with us. With you, Qen. As do I, oh, as do I."

When Yerush emerged from the bath room, dressed and pale, she looked at Qen, now resting in Veida's arms quietly, and brought a warm washcloth to wipe her face sweetly. They kissed, looking each other deep in the eyes, and Yerush said "You go on sitting here, I'm going to start dinner."

"No, I'd rather help" said Qen, leaning on Yerush to stand.

"They're taking a long time" commented Veida. At that instant, the front door opened, letting in a blast of damp and cold, and the younger women came down the steps, shucking burzakas and calling out hellos.

"Tea" said Yoj, "Hot tea with milk and honey." Everyone bustled into the kitchen and once tea was made, they sat down together.

"We have no answers yet" began Bux, "And it was truly awful."

She and Halling told the story without embellishment, taking turns. Yoj sat silent, sipping her milky tea, watching them with bright eyes. When they were done, Yerush said slowly "I'm having a hard time -- believing she was that -- brutal."

Qen stared at her with disgust, and Halling stood up, saying "Do you really doubt our word?" Yoj had a sudden vision of Halling hurling her teacup at Yerush.

"No" Yerush backed down instantly, "No, I believe you. I just don't understand it. She wasn't like that with us. Was she?" She appealed to her partners, who both shook their heads.

"Perhaps absolute power has soured her" said Veida.

"She lives up there in her cave, away from all decent human interaction" said Qen. She couldn't help adding "They both do."

Yerush was too weary to jab back. She looked hard at Yoj and said "Are you all right?"

Yoj felt Bux's foot against hers again. She sure did know how to touch, that Bux. "I don't know. For now, yes. And I'm not surprised that Rosz kept it from me -- she was furious that I went to University instead of coming back home to help her. I guess she thought it would serve me right, if I decided to aggie, to find out I couldn't. I can hear the argument in her head."

"Well, the joke's on her" said Bux. "Because I'm going to give you all the babies you ever wanted. Dest or no Dest."

Yoj laughed. "If anybody could, it's you, Bux of my dreams." She stood up, noticing she was sore from earlier in the day, and said "Tonight I'm craving toasted cheese squares with one of your rich tomato soups, Yerush. And broccoli with Qen's hot dressing. How does that sound?"

"I'll go pull the broccoli, since I'm already damp" said Halling.

"Grab an onion and some kale" asked Yerush.

"I'll feed the chickens and katts" said Bux.

Later, while they were eating, Yerush remarked "I don't know how she hears what's going on all over Skene, but she does. Dest, I mean." She looked at Qen and said "Raisa isn't telling her. Raisa actually isn't as well-informed as Dest seems to be. She must have spies out here. And, it occurs to me -- if she raised the idea that you two are buying Bux as an aggie, then that rumor is circulating out there somewhere."

Bux's face went a slow red. "That's vile!" she said.

"I agree" said Yerush, imperturbed. "Best thing to do is ignore it. Don't bother to disprove it; anyone who's laid eyes on the three of you knows the truth of what you have between you."

Bux, with a wicked grin, leaned over to Yoj and whispered "And our love just continues to blossom, doesn't it?"

Yoj sprayed soup all the way across the table onto Halling's shati.

"Hey" objected Halling. Bux thumped Yoj's back as she choked and said "Did you find a spicy bit, then?" The older women steadfastly ignored them.

Dinner at the Genist's also included talk about the new application for Leave to aggie. Raisa, as usual, had cooked the meal. Dest refused to go near an aga except for tea, so when left to her own devices, she ate cheese, bread, an occasional ikan, and raw fruit. Raisa was not a particularly good cook -- when Yerush visited her, Yerush always made the meals, sending Raisa into raves. Tonight Raisa steamed some vegetables with pork and served it with rice. Their groceries were provided by special allotment, and they had plenty of Skene's rarer items.

Often an entire meal went by without conversation. As almost always turned out to be the case, the Genist and her apprentice had come to loathe one another. The more knowledgeable on Skene suspected this was intended to be the way things evolved. A new Genist was allowed to choose her apprentice, and she always selected someone she felt would complement her ideas. But as the Genist learned the utmost secrets of Skene, and as she settled into her role of complete control over the distribution of childbirth and parentage, inevitably her apprentice began to question some of her decisions. With no one else to act as social arbiter, the apprentice's arguments came to feel intolerable to the Genist, presumptuous, ignorant in the extreme. And the apprentice began to long for the day when she would sweep in a new, modern, enlightened order.

It didn't help that most people were too intimidated to socialize with them, or that Genists and apprentices, by law, did not have partners or children. Qen's assessment of them was not far off.

After a couple of bites, Dest commented that the pork was dry and lacked flavor. She was right, but her constant criticism of Raisa's cooking was just another way to get under Raisa's skin. Raisa more or less lived for Yerush's visits, because Yerush treated her with respect and interest. She imagined herself to be in love with Yerush, these many years, a tragic mismatch because she could not partner. Qen and Veida were not obstacles to their passion, not in Raisa's eyes: It was her own pledge to be the next Genist that kept them from being together. She honestly had no idea that her attraction, for Yerush, did in fact reside in her power (current and pending), plus Yerush's compulsion to not have only Qen and Veida in her sphere.

Raisa did not reply to the crack about her pork. Dest's narrow face showed a determination to engage, however acrimonious -- in fact, some nights acrimonious was the entire goal. After a few more bites, she said "I suppose you have one of your grandious schemes for this particular trio. Something designed to launch Skene into a new era."

Raisa tried not to react. After a few moments, she said "I've looked over the possibilities, yes. In the way that you trained me to do."

"Let's hear it then" said Dest, leaning back in her chair with enjoyment.

Raisa was torn. She could dissemble, try to put forth a theory not in line with her thinking in hopes that Dest's almost certain contradiction would result in something close to what she really wanted. But Dest picked at her theories until the undersurface was revealed, and Raisa was actually not very good at lying. This didn't meant she was honest -- honesty involves self-examination, among other things. After a sigh, she told the truth.

"This is an excellent opportunity to test a number of things. The Manage in question has a higher than average income and tillage; it has two leraars and a comadrona in residence; it has multiple emmas who are all in good health and highly respected in the community; and it's right under our noses -- it will be easy to follow the childrens' development. It's an ideal situation to give the children a single Contribution, so they are all full sibs, and further, we have the chance to make them all related by genes to not only their aggie but one of their emmas. It will enable us to watch the fertility and long-term health of that batch of Contribution. In fact, we could give them twins, fulfilling not only the request for five children -- if ever there was a Manage able to handle five, this is it -- but safely challenging the parameters of twinship from that particular line of Contribution."

Dest laughed unpleasantly. "And what about the undesirability of giving children to two of those emmas? What about the high risk of mortality? What about the failure of past emmas?"

"We have no hard rule against allowing pilots to be emmas. And as for the other -- yes, I admit to your failure in judgment with regard to one individual's emmas. But I think she's demonstrably overcome your experimentation there." Raisa couldn't help the veiled attack.

Dest felt no need to hide her anger. "I disagree that any such character has been demonstrated. Any stability in her current life seems to come from others, not from her own choices. In fact, her choices often mirror that of Yerush, the prestige bloodsucker of Skene who trades sex for favors."

"Leave Yerush out of this!" flashed Raisa.

"But how can I, when she'll be there in the household raising these children, no doubt infecting them with her -- proclivities? I am the one here immune to her -- charms, shall we say, so I see it as my responsibility to insure her tendencies are not further spread. No -- I think it far more prudent to grant them at most three children, dependent on future circumstances; each with a different, unrelated Contribution, to give each child a different chance at overcoming the home influences that are of concern; and -- if the pilot dies, no more children, of course." Dest stood up, leaving her meal unfinished, and left for her rooms.

Raisa wept. Not for Bux, Halling and Yoj, although she told herself it was for their loss. But underneath, she was terrified at Yerush's reaction when Yerush realized how her Manage had been disrespected. Yerush might stop coming by, even at the once every two or three weeks rate they had now. After a few minutes, she left the food on the table to spoil -- there was always more to be had -- and went to her own rooms to worry.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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