Tuesday, January 8, 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


Even with the tinctures, sleep was not solid for Yoj. Still, she got up when Halling arrived and finally braved the canteen, where it was clear news of Bux's affair had arrived. Eventually, pilots began talking to them normally again, and Yoj ate enough to pass Halling's muster.

Yoj mixed the small portion of leftover crabmeat with grated carrots, rice flour and eggs to make fritters for the children's breakfast, along with stewed apples and glasses of milk. They were already adjusting to the new circumstances and squabbled predictably over who got the bigger fritters. Yoj and Bux continued to occupy the same rooms without speaking. After Yoj walked the children to school, she went to the allotment center to get more milk, coming home to make yogurt from some of it as Veida mopped floors and cut herbs to make new canisters of tea.

At noon, Yoj went to her cubicle, stopping by Yerush's office for a quick, energizing chat. She worked at her desk for an hour, finding herself able to concentrate for longer minutes before thoughts of Bux intruded. She went back to the Lofthall and lay down with Halling. Instead of sleeping, they found themselves making love fiercely, rapidly. They lay in each other's arms afterward, laughing with relief.

When Halling dropped off, Yoj got up, dressed, and went into the dispatch room. Qala waggled her eyebrows at Yoj and said "Sounds like you two are doing okay."

Blushing, Yoj said "I'm going home to work there. Are you coming for dinner?"

"No, Rark and Danaan asked to come tonight. They're concerned and want to express it" said Qala.

"We'll miss you then. I'll see you tonight" said Yoj.

After homework, Yoj sent the children to play in the lane during the late afternoon sun. She did another two loads of laundry, getting a head start on the weekend, and set beans to simmer. She worked in her study until Halling came home with Rark and Danaan. They put together the rest of dinner, talking over the feasibility of leaving some good hunting katts at Danaan's Secano to clear it of shu vs. doing the slaughter by hand.

Bux came in the back door 45 minutes before dinner was ready and went directly to the bath room to wash. Yoj whispered angrily to Halling "We're not putting a gate in our side wall for their benefit." Then "I forgot to ask, how was it sleeping with her last night?"

"Distant" said Halling. "I'm getting Mill to join us tonight so she can take the middle."

Yoj sat in her usual chair, and as she glanced down at Dodd beside her, she said "Honey, have you been crying?" Lane dirt revealed tear streaks on Dodd's face.

"Not any more" said Dodd, a little evasive.

"What happened?" persisted Yoj. Dodd clammed up, but Ndege said "Her feelings got hurt when that woman yelled at her."

"Who yelled at her?" said Qen. Rark slid her arm around Dodd.

"Nan Ried. We were playing hoops and it flew into their yard, so we sent Dodd over the wall to get it, but Nan Ried came out and told her to stay the L out of her yard" said Ndege.

Every adult at the table froze. Bux broke the silence with "What did you do, trample her vegetables?"

Dodd looked at her in shock. Yerush said "You do realize this is Dodd you're speaking to?"

Ndege added "That's why we have her go after balls and stuff, because everybody knows she'll never hurt a tillage."

Yoj thought her head might explode. She didn't trust herself to look at Bux. "When did this happen, Dodd?" she asked in a remarkably controlled tone.

"Right before we came in" said Dodd, worry contorting her face.

Yoj pulled Dodd into her lap and said "You did nothing wrong. Not a thing." She looked around the table at the children, still avoiding Bux. "Kids, from now on, if anything goes into Ried's yard, you leave it and come tell one of us. And you're to never deal with her again. If she speaks to you, about anything, come tell me instantly. You understand?"

Mill's face was unreadable. Yoj focused on her, and Mill said "She's mean. About us, in particular."

Now Halling's voice was controlled as she asked "Why do you say that, Mill?"

"A while ago, maybe last week, I heard her say something to Nan Taleeya" said Mill cautiously. Nan Taleeya was the neighbor on the same side as Ried and Jaln but one Manage up the lane from them.

"What?" demanded Halling.

Mill shifted in her chair. "I was it, we were playing Riptide, and so I was up the lane, behind them. And Nan Ried pointed to Speranz, who was crying because Ndege wouldn't let her get in front of her -- "

"That's not true!" flashed Ndege, "she was -- "

Halling said "Enough" to Ndege. Her face was stone as she looked into Mill's eyes. "What did she say about Speranz?"

"I don't want to tell it out loud" said Mill, shifting in her chair again.

"Then whisper it to me." Halling cupped her hand behind her ear and put it to Mill's mouth. When Mill was done, Halling's eyes were flinty black. She looked at Mill again and said "You know I believe you, always. You make me proud with how trustworthy you are. But this is very important, honey. Is there any way you misheard her, or are exaggerating it just a little?"

Mill said "No, emma. It made me so mad I wanted to hit her. But I remembered instead I should tell you, and I was going to, only -- it was the night Nan Iro and Ektr came to dinner, and then -- other stuff has been happening, and I forgot it until tonight, when she made Dodd cry. You can ask Nan Taleeya, it made her mad, too, I could tell. She said 'These children are the pride of our lane' and she went into her house."

Halling said "All right, Mill. You've absolutely done the right thing, and I'm even more proud of you." Then she turned to look directly at Bux, and it was an expression Yoj hoped to never see aimed at her from Halling.

After a minute, Halling addressed the table, saying "Children, I want to back up what your emma said. Ried is not someone we want you dealing with. She will never be a guest in this Manage, and you come to us with any questions."

Yoj looked at the abbas: Halling had never uttered a declaration on behalf of the Manage before. Everyone was shook. Halling added "The grown-ups will need to talk a bit after dinner. Now, let's eat. Who won at hoops, and kind of throw did you use?"

After dinner, Danaan said "You kids know that store down by the docks which has a big glass window, where they put little scenes using things in the store? Well, I saw there's a new one today. How about if we walk down there with flashes and look at it?"

She and Rark got the children into coats and out the door while the table was cleared and dishes set to soak. Halling got another cup of tea and sat down, looking very tired.

"What did she say?" asked Yerush, getting right to the point.

"She called Speranz a flat-nosed dullard who had obviously been left at the tit too long." Yerush literally rocked back in her chair.

Halling continued fiercely, addressing Bux "And before you even think about implying Mill made it up, that's not language she knows or uses. I won't have my children exposed to such evil thinking. If there's ever a future incident with that woman and my kids, I'm going to the Ethicist and lodging a complaint."

Once again, Bux simply stood and went to the bedroom.

"Is that all she knows how to do?" said Yoj.

"She's lost her mind" said Qen softly. Veida said to Halling "You'll need to talk with Mill. Make sure that doesn't get passed on or -- believed, in any way, by her."

Halling nodded grimly. "I -- should I go talk to Ried? Or to Jaln? Bux said Ried and Jaln have an understanding, they are allowed affairs without consequence."

"Of course, they have no children or other responsibilities" added Yoj bitterly. "I can't believe she loves such a -- " She couldn't think of a word vile enough to describe Ried.

"She said she loves her?" exclaimed Veida. "She didn't tell me that, did she say it to you?" she asked Qen and Yerush.

Qen shook her head miserably. Yerush said "For 20 years, Bux has been spoiled. She's had intimacy that involved real love, and trust, and the best that partnership can offer. She has no clue about -- other kinds of sex. She thinks what she's feeling is love, but it's not." She spoke with an insider's knowledge.

Halling put her head in her hands. "I honestly don't know what to do."

Veida put her hand on Halling's shoulder and said "You're handling it as it comes up. You're doing what you should. At this point, the next move is up to Bux. We have to leave it to her."

Yoj snorted. Veida fixed her gaze on her, saying "It's not just about your feelings of betrayal, Yoj. She's in as much trouble as you are, and I don't believe you've stopped loving her, no matter how hurt you are."

Yerush bristled a little and said "Neither is it up to Yoj to manufacture compassion she doesn't feel."

"It's their problem, Yer. Not ours" Veida repeated. Yerush met her gaze and nodded.

Halling looked at Yoj and said "I'm changing my plan, tonight I'm going to sleep the little ones in their bed. Let Bux sort it out alone."

Yoj was trying to fit Veida's words inside her. She sighed, drained her tea, and said "Let's walk down and join them. I could use the air."

"I'll go with you" said Yerush.

When Yoj got to the Lofthall that night, Qala's door was open and her light was still on. Yoj knocked and went in; Qala and Lawa were lying curled on the cot, their faces dreamy with love.

Yoj told them the latest news. Qala sat upright, burly in rage. "Let's go to the hospital right now and deal with her! I know, Lawa, you accidentally trip her and I'll pretend I've tripped, too, land hard on top of her, I'm sure I could break at least one bone if I do it right. Yoj, you be my witness."

Yoj had to laugh, even though Qala wasn't joking. "No, Veida's right. And so is Qen, when she says pushing Bux against the wall never works. We don't need to push, things are bad enough as they are."

Lawa, just as mad as Qala, said "Speranz looks the image of Halling when she was that age, she's a breathtakingly beautiful child. And just as smart as Halling, too!"

Qala said "Makes you wonder what she finds attractive about Bux -- why is she chasing the aggie if she finds the children so repellant?"

This struck them all into silence. Once again, Yoj felt a moment of concern for Bux, and once again, she denied it room to grow.

"Listen, I'm sharing this with you as family, but we need to not tell the pilots or anyone else. I don't want it to ever get back to Speranz, even by a shift in attitude" asked Yoj.

They talked a few more minutes, then Yoj got herself some tea, took her tinctures, and went to bed. This time she slept soundly enough to dream.

The next day was Ot. Yoj resumed her new routine. After getting up from a nap with Halling, she walked to the fish docks and made a selection for dinner, tying it up with plastic and string to keep because it was her afternoon to go teach singing at the school. Right before the turn from the shop district into the lane that would take her a faster route to the school, she had to pass by the consignment store run by Ried's partner, Jaln. She crossed to the other side of the street from the shop and didn't look at the front window -- the last person in the world she wanted to talk to right now was Jaln.

To her extreme dismay, however, she had not reached the corner before she heard a voice calling "Yoj? Yoj, isn't that you? Could you spare a minute to talk with me?"

Jaln was standing in front of her shop. Feeling hunted, Yoj turned back toward her and said "I only have a minute, really, I'm on my way to the school."

"It'll be brief." Jaln looked serious and led Yoj to the back of the shop, sitting at her desk and fingering a small clasp envelope lying on it. "I've been hoping to have a chance to talk with one of you -- I know this must be hard for you, but it would be better to clear it up, don't you think?" she said.

Yoj sighed raggedly. "It is extremely hard, Jaln, and yes, we should have an -- understanding, I guess, but I honestly don't think I'm ready yet. I'm still reeling from it."

Jaln looked worried. "Oh, gosh, I'm really sorry. I guess it must be that much worse for Halling, then."

"No, Halling's coping better than I am. But I think if you need to have a talk, you should begin with Bux, don't you?" said Yoj.

"Bux?" said Jaln, surprised.

"I mean -- she's the one involved. Not us" said Yoj.

Jaln's face was bewildered. "I -- I'm not sure if we're talking about the same thing. I had a lot of Ng's ceramics still in here, after her -- passing. And they've all sold, quickly, in fact. I've had her share of the sale here for weeks, I just didn't know when it was right to bring it up with you" said Jaln, pushing the clasp envelope on her desk toward Yoj. Dumbly, Yoj picked it up and felt the heft of currency.

"Oh. Oh, no wonder you thought Halling -- this is really nice of you, Jaln. It'll mean a lot to -- " Yoj's voice trailed off. Her brain was insisting This means she doesn't know about Ried and Bux. This means Ried is lying to Bux. She couldn't find anything else to say.

"What, may I ask, did you imagine I was talking about, then?" said Jaln. Her brain was clearly busy, too.

Don't tell her, don't tell her, Bux will find a way to blame you if do.

"You said Bux -- Bux was involved -- with this consignment?" Jaln was talking to herself. "No, you didn't know it was about the consignment. But something -- you're reeling from it, you said. But not Ng, it wasn't about Ng."

Yoj stood up, but Jaln stood too and reached out a hand toward Yoj's arm. "Why were you trying to avoid me, you really were trying to not look at me when you walked by, weren't you? What -- " Jaln's face suddenly suffused with blood. "Is Bux -- are Ried and Bux -- ?"

"I can't talk about this with you" said Yoj hoarsely.

"Lev her, she promised this would never happen again, that's why we moved -- Yoj, just tell me, is Ried sleeping with Bux?"

Yoj kept her face expressionless and her mouth clamped shut.

"Where is Bux right now?" demanded Jaln. Yoj remained a statue.

"All right, fine, your silence tells me what I need to know" said Jaln with growing fury. She fished a key from the drawer and began striding toward her front door. After a second, Yoj followed. Jaln shoved her out onto the sidewalk and began locking the door behind her. "Please express my deepest apologies to Halling" she bit out, "And I appreciate you not lying to me. I've had enough lying for a lifetime." She stormed around the corner.

It took Yoj a minute to begin walking again. When she did, she found a bubbling, secret joy inside her, a mean-spirited but still welcome joy. She began grinning as she headed for the school. Singing with children was exactly what she wanted to do at that moment.

Yoj stayed after school to help Qen clean up. She felt better than she had all week. Her children had gone on home, and when she and Qen walked down the lane, they and some neighbor children were playing glow on the flow and fansha tag in the lane. She cast not a single glance at Ried's house. She turned down offers to be the Touzi but did say them "Remember, you have to be heard over the magma and metal screams". When she followed Qen into the house, Halling, Veida and Yerush were sitting at the table, talking in low voices. Her bedroom door was shut. She got herself a cup of tea and sat down next to Qen, who was starting to whisper with Yerush.

They all looked at her expectantly.

"Listen -- " Halling began urgently.

Yoj cut her off. "No, you listen to me first." She pulled the envelope of coins from her pocket and pushed it over to Halling, then told them about her encounter with Jaln. Halling leaned back and whistled, saying "So that's how the explosion happened. She seems to believe you had something to do with it."

"I did, and innocently enough, but if I'd found out the truth another way, I would have intervened then, too" said Yoj. "She's holed up in the bedroom, I gather."

"Burst in while I was napping, crying like someone had died" whispered Halling. "Told me to get the lev out, that you and I were conspirators and it was all ruined, or something like that."

Yerush had begun to giggle, and Yoj grinned at her with equal enjoyment. "Sounds to me like Jaln walked in and caught 'em at it. That's what I hope, anyhow. Lying sack of shit" said Yoj with satisfaction.

"Are you going to talk to her? Tell her what happened?" asked Halling.

"Lev, no. She set up the ethics of this whole mess, she kicked our lines of communication down into the dirt and stomped on 'em. Let her suffer" said Yoj. "But you can tell her whatever you want."

Qen and Halling still looked shocked. Yoj turned to Qen and said "I know I need to make bread this evening, but I found out today that flickerlings are running in the river tonight. I'd rather take the kids to watch the fun after dinner. It means I won't have bread for Market, but I will make it for us tomorrow, first thing. Is that all right with you?"

Qen said "I think it would be ideal to get the children out of the house tonight."

"Do you need me to go with you? I mean, I don't know what's going on here -- " said Halling uncertainly.

"Whatever you think is best, Halling. You and I are just fine. And I will thoroughly enjoy time with my wonderful children" said Yoj, noticing the intense cacophony of yanjanger racket coming in through the front walls. She stood up, saying "I got two kinds of fish for dinner, one for grilling and one to poach in maybe a pepper sauce."

"I pulled things for salad" said Veida, "I'll do that part."

Qen and Yerush started for the back door, to find other vegetables ready for picking. Halling looked uncertainly toward their bedroom and said "I'm not sure..."

Veida said "She didn't want to talk with you. Take her at her word for now."

"Okay" said Halling, standing. "I'll deal with the chickens, then."

Prl came through half an hour later to use the privy, and when she returned, Yoj said "Go get your sibs, tell 'em it's time to wash for dinner. I have a surprise for after we eat."

A minute later, all five of them were in the kitchen saying "What's the surprise? Is it dessert?"

"Wash and then I'll tell you" said Yoj, turning off the grill. Yerush had cooked rice noodles with sliced garlic, and Qen was setting a jug of her creamy tamari dressing on the table beside the salad, steamed spinach, and sauteed zucchini.

Just as Ndege was scooting into her chair and looking at the empty head of the table wonderingly, Yoj heard their bedroom door open. Bux appeared in the doorway with an extremely swollen face and a defiant set to her shoulders. She didn't look at Yoj. Dodd said "Aggie, what happened to your face?"

"I've been crying" said Bux shortly. "Looks like dinner is all ready?"

"Just have a seat" said Halling, coaching Speranz in setting the table.

Yoj brought over the last platter of fish and settled in between Dodd and Ndege. As she helped the children serve themselves, she said to Bux "You can do the dishes tonight, because I'm taking the kids to watch the flickerlings run."

Bux still didn't look at her. "Oh. That's happening tonight? Oh -- of course I'll do the dishes." Then, a moment later "You all have fun."

Yoj turned to Yerush and said "That book you left on my desk? What a wild collection of memoirs. Was that written around the time of the publication date or earlier, within the first two decades?"

"Earlier" said Yerush. "Right about the point where they were trying to come to grips with never going back home again."

"What book?" said Dodd.

"It's stories by the first people on Skene about the holidays they used to celebrate on their old planet" said Yoj. "I'm planning to tell you the wackiest ones for bedtime tonight."

Yoj and Yerush did a valiant job of keeping conversation going during the meal. Yoj knew that right beneath her good cheer was a deep well of rage, but for the moment, she was simply energized to not feel kicked in the teeth any more. Dessert was a small orange apiece, and once that was done, Yoj helped the children change into old clothes, pocketed a flash, and they were out the door.

"Do flickerlings bite?" asked Speranz as they walked up the lane toward North Rambla. Yoj couldn't help but notice that no lights were on at Ried's house.

"Nope. They're little bitty, remember, like your finger? And they swim into our river from the ocean to find aggies and get ready to have baby fishies, only one night a year. They light up so they can see each other in the dark water" explained Yoj, as she had every year since Mill was two.

"Can we eat them?" said Speranz.

"No, they're all bones, not yummy at all" said Yoj. "We're going to see how beautiful they are."

The riverbank was already lined with people, calling out greetings. The older children wanted to go off with friends, but Yoj insisted they stay together as a family this time. The bioluminescent minnows were so thick in the river, it looked as if it were full of small flames. The shallows were particularly alive with them, darting and creating endless shifting patterns. Yoj suddenly ached for Bux and Halling -- they'd always done this together. But she wasn't going to invite Bux and hear another no. Not this week.

Dodd exclaimed "Oh, look at the pool under the bridge!" and broke in that direction. There was a reflection back and forth between the water and undersurface of the bridge. Yoj yelled "No, don't go under the bridge!" with a note of panic in her voice. All the children turned to stare at her, questioning, and she said as casually as she could "There could be shu under the rocks."

She heard a snort behind her, and then an adult voice saying disparagingly "No, honey, pay no attention to her, there's no shu here".

Dodd walked back to her and took her hand. Yoj had a sudden memory of being Speranz's age, going somewhere with Rosz and taking her hand, saying earnestly "It's okay, emma, no one's laughing at us." What had triggered her need to reassure Rosz? She couldn't remember, but she didn't want Dodd to be doing that for her. Or needing reassurance from her because she was passing on irrational terrors. She squeezed Dodd's hand and said "Silly me, I forgot. Yes, all of you can go look under the bridge, but hold hands together so nobody falls in."

They skipped off lightly. She watched them hungrily, sitting down on the bank and hearing their voices and laughter magnified once they were under the span. She chuckled when Speranz asked "Do you think they taste like butter or lemon?"

She walked to join them, pulling off her cap and squatting at the water's edge to catch a few flickerlings in her cap. All five of them leaned on her, taking turns touching the panicked little creatures until the water had dripped through and she flung them back into the river.

"Do it again, emma!" begged Prl. "Let's catch some and take them home to live with us!"

"No" said Yoj, "They don't want to live with us. They need to make their babies. We don't have a right to mess with other creatures like that."

"We eat other creatures" pointed out Ndege. "We just ate fish for dinner."

"Yes, we have a right to eat, and everything we eat was alive before we came along. But we don't have a choice about that, do we? I mean, we can't eat rocks or clouds." They found this entertaining to consider. "We can meet our needs, but no more. It's a daily balance." Another chance to teach this lesson.

"Can we walk to Rimple Park?" asked Mill.

"Yes, let's" said Yoj. At the park, a group of children were playing on swings and whirlagigs, so Yoj sat down on a bench and turned her pack loose for a while. Then they came back down the banks of South Rambla. When they got to the bridge that led to the ejida, they ran into Lawa, who hugged them delightedly and said she'd walk them home.

Along the way, Lawa told the latest installment in her Pale Parsnip People saga, which she'd been telling the children since Mill was a baby. These tales centered on a family of five parsnips who pulled themselves from the ground each night and went off on rollicking adventures. They managed to avoid harvest by always shoving themselves back into the earth at the end of the row, where the seedlings had just been transplanted. Every one of the children had at some point claimed to have seen a Pale Parsnip Person, ghostly with match-thin legs and arms, diving into foliage at the tillage or vaulting over a wall to escape detection.

By the time they got home, Yoj's cap was almost dry again. She told the children to go on in and stood in the lane with Lawa to tell her a thumbnail version of the day's drama.

"Wow -- is Halling okay?" whispered Lawa.

"Come in and ask her yourself. I just wanted to give you a head's up, 'cause it's kinda tense in there right now. But I bet she'd like to talk with you." They went into the house, where Speranz was explaining that flickerlings tasted like parsnips.

While Lawa played a hand of cards with the kids, despite the late hour, Yoj got a fresh shati and set of underwear from her clothes chest and put it in her pack, refusing to check if Bux was watching her. Halling left with Lawa to walk her to the Lofthall to meet Qala, and no doubt get some troubles off her mind. While Bux tucked in the two youngest, Yoj told her promised stories to Mill, Ndege and Dodd in their loft. After she climbed back down, Yerush said "Do you want to go over that essay from yesterday and try to decipher the footnotes, or are you too tired?"

"I'm tired, but that's too good an offer to pass up" said Yoj. They went into her study and closed the door.

An hour later, there was a knock. Halling poked her head in and said "I'm assuming you're going to the Lofthall?"

"I am" said Yoj, "Wanna go with?"

"No -- she asked me to sleep here tonight. But, will you go to Market with us tomorrow?"

"Yeah" said Yoj. "In which case, I better head to bed."

"Why don't you go slide in with Prl and Speranz?" said Halling. "They'll be over the moons in the morning to find you there."

Yoj thought about it. "Okay, as long as you understand it has nothing to do with the break-up of our famous love-nest next door."

Halling laughed, coming in and kissing Yoj lingeringly. "I knew there was something rotten about it all" she whispered. Yoj grinned, and said "Don't tell her I'm in the house tonight. Let it be a morning shock."

After Halling shut the door again, Yerush said "I have not a leg to stand on here, I know, but I find it hard to believe she was that naive. To be played like that by someone trolling a new neighborhood."

Yoj was suddenly unsure if she really should be talking so meanly about Bux with her emma, however wickedly good it felt. She looked into Yerush's blue eyes, now slightly paler than Bux's because of age, and whispered "Thank you for all the support you've given me this week. You've been my best friend."

Yerush kissed her cheek and said "She's lucky to have you. Now, as much as I'm enjoying this discussion, you're right, you do need sleep. I'll make you your favorite eggs for breakfast."

"Love you, emma" said Yoj. She could hardly wait to sleep again under her own roof, especially with those cuddly little ones.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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