Saturday, January 12, 2008


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


Halling pushed down the mic button and clicked it to lock.

"Hello, citizens of Skene, this is Halling la Mwezi na Ng, Sheng Zhang of the Lofthall. Today I accompanied my sinning crew to the Northern Wasa to a site an hour's flight north and east of Exploit. During the course of our successful harvest of a larger-than-average sinning, we were attacked by fifteen adult leviathans and at least a dozen juveniles. Another two dozen levis were in the vicinity but did not attack. At my orders, one of our lighters trained in laser use fired her laser at the blue spot on the leviathan attempting to kill her and the sinners who were already engaged with the net. The leviathan was instantly killed."

Halling paused to take a sip of tea, allowing two seconds of silence. Yoj wished she could see the stark hush that must be occurring all over Skene, in manages and workplaces. Dodd pushed back against her and she picked her up, despite Dodd now being ten and hard to hold.

"As it turns out, the leviathan whose attack we met with self-defense is one we recognized as having been actively engaged in assault upon us for at least 33 years. It was easily distinguished by a mark on one side left by a long-ago attack. This leviathan has been witnessed as directly responsible for the deaths of two pilots over the last three decades, and involved in the deaths of two more." Halling now read the names of all the pilots, their emmas, and their islands of origin. She paused, and with strong emotion whispered "Carynn bye".

Yoj could hear Veida weeping very softly behind her. Halling had gone to her directly and said that Danaan had repaid a debt owed Maszon.

"I made the decision to fight back, for the first time in 500 years, based on certain assumptions and within a strict set of parameters. I, and the other pilots at the Lofthall, believe leviathans communicate clearly and easily with one another, over vast distances. They have an intelligence and logic system which, while not our own, is still comprehensible to us at times. They have long memories. They are stimulated by predator instinct, but their intelligence allows them to override that instinct when they find it in their own best interest to do so."

"Prior to human arrival on Skene, leviathans were the dominant life form here. Shortly after we became part of Skene, they set about to establish themselves again as the dominant life form. The first settlers dealt with this challenge in a manner that was ill-advised and excessive. I believe we can do better, and that our refusal to engage with the levis has led them to conclude we are prey and nothing more. I am interested in communicating to them that we are not prey, we are another form of intelligent life who insists on sharing the bounty of Skene, and they must strive to find balance with us as much as we strive to find balance with them."

Ah, perfect wording thought Yoj.

"I believe leviathans are drawn to our sinning activity not just because we coincide with large schools of fish -- they come to kelp sinning as well, where the main source of protein is only us. I believe they are drawn to us because they view us as prey, and they wish to teach their young how to hunt us. I want to disabuse them of that error in perception -- not by waging war on them, but by definitively eliminating any leviathan who attacks us without provocation. We have the means to do this cleanly, in a single strike, with no risk to other life, and we used that means today."

Halling took another sip of tea.

"When we fly far away from the archipelago that we call Skene, morrie strati fade away and clusters of leviathans do not occur. They are focused on us. But today, when we killed the leviathan who was attempting to kill us, every single leviathan in the vicinity sank beneath the water and vanished. They went away. I had the radar screen in front of me, and I saw them leave -- not just submerge, but leave the area." The amazement and triumph in Halling's voice was thick.

"Sigrist reported that almost simultaneous with our action, leviathan activity all around the islands of Skene markedly decreased. This confirms my conviction that they talk to one another. They sent out a clear message -- leave the humans alone -- and their kind responded. As a precaution, we've closed ferry service and warned against cortice activity, but the observable fact is, Skene has not been this safe in 500 years."

There was a small cry of gladness from Speranz that Yoj was sure went out over the radio. She could sense Yerush shushing her, rather than hear it.

"In line with our observed reality that leviathans reason and communicate their reasoning to each other, I had the lighters today which carried defensive lasers decorated, in a manner highly visible to anything below, with a lightning bolt representing a laser arc. Perhaps some of you saw this symbol today." There was faint note of entertainment in Halling's voice, a hint of a shared joke. "We did no kelp sinning today, in order to keep our focus on the one attempt at balance. Tomorrow I intend to fly out with the kelp sinners, with the same lighters, and if there is another overt leviathan attack, I will order a similar response. But, I tell you honestly, I don't think they will attack again. Perhaps impetuous juveniles will, from time to time, test the boundaries, in the way that our own teenagers do, and we will have to stay on guard. But I think the leviathans will, on the whole, seek balance with us. I am staking my future on it, and the future of all pilots who must face them daily."

Yoj could hear cheering from the main hall.

"I have notified the Ethicist of my actions and my plan in advance of this broadcast. She is no doubt conferring with various leaders at this moment, taking the measure of Skene. You may contact her or come to the Lofthall directly and give me your response. Unless I am ordered otherwise, I will proceed with our test tomorrow in Southern Wasa, and I will again come directly to you and inform you of the results. Thanks for listening. Morrie vaseo."

When Halling clicked her mic off, she drained the last of her tea and turned to face her family. Her forehead was shiny with sweat, but she was grinning from ear to ear. They launched themselves at her, screaming with joy. The door to the dispatch room opened a minute later and the room was flooded with jubilant pilots. Only Qala, wearing earphones, heard the soft message from Z'bef, broadcast on the Lofthall frequency, which said "As the only non-citizen of Skene, you have my complete confidence and congratulations, Sheng Zhang." Qala wrote it down to show Halling later.

The pilots were eventually persuaded to leave the dispatch room because Qala had to organize the transport of people stranded by ferry cessation. Halling helped her plan, the radio on speaker so she could gauge the tones of voice coming in with requests. After an hour, she murmured to Qala "Nobody's registering upset or disapproval, is that your read?"

"I'm getting cautious hope" said Qala. Halling walked out to the jichang to talk with Iro, Mill trailing along, and was startled to discover a hundred people outside the Lofthall, in animated conversation. When they saw Halling, a cheer went up. People kept shaking her hand, or clapping Mill on the back and saying "Your emma just made history!" But this was Riesig. Halling knew the response from other islands, especially Flings and places isolated by morrie vaseo, might be much more worried and possibly furious.

After another hour, Qala said they should go home, everything was winding down and the children would need dinner soon. Lawa stayed with Qala, and the rest of the family began walking home together. As they passed people in the street, they were greeted cheerfully. Some women wanted to stop and talk details with Halling, but she begged off, saying they were on their way to feed the kids. Once inside the Manage, however, Halling allowed herself to dance around briefly on her crutches. Then the children were set to chores as Yoj and Bux began dinner.

While Halling was arduously setting the table, a knock came at the front door. Mill got there first, and let in a teenager maybe a year older than her, thick where Mill was tall, with light brown hair and grey eyes. With self-conscious formality, she announced she had a message from the Ethicist of Skene and held out an envelope.

Halling came to take it from her and said "Would you care for some tea while I read it and consider a reply?"

"No, thank you" said the messenger, "Emma said -- I mean, the Ethicist said I was to wait by the door."

"All right" smiled Halling. She went into the dining room to read in its better light. Yoj and Bux came to peer over her shoulder.

The letter said:
Dear Halling, Sheng Zhang of Lofthall of Skene:
I will, of course, have to bring your proposed change in Skene policy to a community-wide vote. However, judging by the reports I've received from all islands, the outcome is a foregone conclusion. In anticipation of your approval, I have no intent to interfere with your plans for tomorrow.
Carynn bye.
Api, Ethicist of Skene

Mill remained in the living room, stiff-postured and eyeing the messenger. After a minute, the teenager pointed to the coatrack and said "Is that a real guibba? Yours, I mean."

"Yes" answered Mill. "It was emma's -- the Sheng Zhang's -- when she went into the drink. It shrunk enough to fit me."

"Wow" said the messenger softly.

After a pause, Mill said "You're in the grade ahead of me, right?"

"Yep" said the messenger. She extended her hand and said "I'm Oby."

Mill shook it and said diffidently "Mill."

"Oh, I know your name" said Oby. "Your abba, Nan Qen, has told me I have all the skills necessary to be a pilot."

"Lighter or sinner?" said Mill with interest.

"Lighter, of course" said Oby. Of course.

Yerush was watching this exchange from the kitchen and nudged Qen, who grinned at her and whispered "I see them."

Halling returned from the dining room and told Oby "Please convey to your emma my great pleasure at her decision, and also express to her my endorsement in her next election."

Oby's face shone with pride, and she said "I will be honored". Before she could reach the door, however, Qen called out "Wait a minute, please." She came to them and handed Mill something wrapped in a napkin, saying "Mill, would you represent our Manage and do us the courtesy of escorting Oby back to her Manage? We'll save a plate for you."

Mill's face relaxed in gratitude. "Thank you, abba!" Qen added in a whisper "There's a honeycake for each of you in the napkin, to eat along the way."

As the two young women left, Halling looked at Qen and said "What's going on?"

Qen grinned and said "You were about that age when I asked your leraar to put you and Xaya at the same desk."

Halling flushed and turned to stare at the closed front door.

Qen touched her arm and said "Come on, dinner's ready."

The following day, a handful of leviathans were found at the kelp beds, four of them juveniles. Rark and Danaan had replaced one of the lighter pairs, and Halling ordered lighters to begin the pattern before any nets were lowered. As the juveniles began swimming in spiraling streaks, Halling radioed Danaan and Rark "At your discretion". But before leaping began, a massive leviathan, the biggest any of them had ever seen, rose from the deep and drew a collective gasp from every pilot. Halling thought It's half again as long as what I've witnessed. It has power to reach beyond the 30 meter mark, but gravity works against it, with that bulk. The giant swam languidly into the path of one of the juveniles, a collision course that the juvenile avoided only by a contorted dive.

Halling realized what an extraordinary target the giant lev was. If she had not been schooled in Skene history by Yoj, she might have been tempted. Instead, as the juveniles stopped their frenzy, she gave the order for kelp sinning to begin. In another ten minutes, there were no leviathins within radar range. The sinning went off without a ripple, and when they started back to the Lofthall, Halling radioed the news to Qala.

Qala said "The Ethicist is standing right here." Api got on the mic and said "Looks like you were right."

"So far" said Halling. "We'll have to be cautious for a long time."

"That's in our nature" said Api. "All right if I steal your thunder and go on Sigrist radio myself to inform Skene of today's events?"

This was profound endorsement, Halling realized. "I'd be much obliged" she answered. Today, the crowd around the jichang was in the hundreds, and the cheering was sustained. Ferries were released to normal schedules. Halling waited until Qala was done with the last few runs so she and Lawa could come back to the Manage with them for dinner.

As they ate, Bux suddenly looked over at Yoj and said "This means you're the last Dichter of Skene." Yoj was shocked. After half a minute, Dodd burst into tears, and Yoj pulled her into her lap, murmuring "You can still be a poet and a songwriter, your talent will save hearts in other ways, I promise."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

Maggie, Maggie, Maggie.....
thank you. You are a fantastic storyteller.

Maggie Jochild said...

You're such a gratifying reader, Jan!