Monday, January 7, 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


Yoj got into the habit of walking to the Lofthall at the time of afternoon when Halling tended to take a nap and joining her in her office. Usually, when they lay down together on Halling's cot, Halling would curl into Yoj and let herself cry from what seemed to her like a bottomless well of grief. It was familiar to them, the manner in which they had first grown close after Xaya's death. After ten minutes of all-out purge, Halling would drop abruptly into sleep and, a couple of minutes later, Yoj would too.

Bux, for her part, made sure she was home when the children returned from school and especially when Qen came in the front door with no Ng waiting for her. She began spending her afternoon time in the tillage with Qen, trying to fill the gap left by Ng's absence, listening to whatever Qen wanted to discuss or simply working alongside her in silent company.

Lawa began coming for dinner almost every night, and she chose to sit next to Qen. Speranz, who unlike the other children had never been forced into a high-chair at meals, was happy to give up her seat and claim a lap instead. At first, Yoj thought Lawa was trying to comfort Qen, but eventually she realized Lawa, like Halling, was now an orphan too, and Qen was the closest thing she had left to an emma. Yoj was only a year older than Lawa, but she expended an even greater effort to act like a loving siba toward her.

About two months after Ng's death, the manage immediately to their north, part of whose tillage they had persuaded into their own, came up vacant again: The elderly couple living there were moving back into the manage of one of their children. Qen announced it at dinner that night, adding "If we know anyone we'd like to have as neighbors, let's get their request in to the Ethicist right away."

Halling turned and looked at Qala and, unotrusively she thought, pointed her head at Lawa across the table. Yoj witnessed it, however, and saw Qala look away with a dark red flooding her cheeks. As they were doing dishes, she whispered to Halling "What was that with Qala? Does she have a sweetness for Lawa?"

"Yes. I guess I forgot to tell you, I've known for a long while" said Halling.

"And what about Lawa, is it returned?" continued Yoj.

"I don't know. I can't seem to find a way to bring it up" said Halling.

Yoj made a dismissive sound and said "Leave it to me."

"No!" hissed Halling, but Yoj was drying her hands and heading for the back door, saying "Lawa, would you come look at one of the beehives with me? I'm not sure if there's mildew in one spot on the comb."

Lawa picked up a flash and followed her. They were gone long enough for Veida to say "I wonder if the hive problem is really severe" before they returned. Lawa's eyes were bright, and she couldn't seem to stop grinning.

"Well?" demanded Bux.

The two of them stared at her, speechless, and she said "The bees?"

"Oh" said Yoj. "Fine, fine. We got to -- talking."

Bux glanced at the window. "It's begun pouring out there."

"Yeah. We stood in the greenhouse" said Yoj. She winked at Bux, and Bux let it alone after that.

But after the children were in bed and it was time for Qala to go home -- they were assuming Lawa would sleep over -- Lawa stood and said easily "It's a grim night out there, I'll walk you to the Lofthall, Qala." Qala was uncharacteristically mute and finally just nodded. After the door shut behind them, Halling wheeled on Yoj.

"What did you tell her, did you just blurt it out?"

Yoj was elated. "No, I asked her if there was anyone she had feelings for, and after bumbling around a bit, she said there was. I said that was interesting, because I knew someone who had feelings for her. She stopped breathing, I swear, her eyes glued to the ground, and when she asked me who, I made her guess. Her first guess was Qala. So, there!"

"I don't know how you keep out of trouble with that headlong way of yours" said Halling, but she equally elated. Bux put her arms around Yoj and said "That headlong way is one of your chief charms, if you ask me." They and the abbas sat at the table for a while, talking about the possible match.

The next morning when Halling got to the Lofthall, Qala wasn't up yet and her door was closed. Halling knocked at it lightly and said "It's me, can I come in?"

There was a thud inside, followed by Qala yelling "No! I'll -- give me a minute!" When she emerged, her hair stuck out in every direction and her eye were bloodshot. She shut the door behind her, and Halling said lightly "Whatcha got in there?"

Qala sat down in her chair and began laughing. "Waves and ripples" was all she could out. Halling went back to her door, knocked again and said "Are you up for braving the canteen or should I bring you a tray, sibu?"

In a minute, Lawa came out, her face shining. She hugged Halling, whispered "I'll get you for this", then said "It's up to Qala. This is your home, after all."

Qala stood and said "They'll show no mercy. Sit next to me, and just give me a nudge when we need to make a run for it." They walked in front of Halling to the canteen.

Still, it was way too early for them to think about having a manage of their own. Qala's room at the Lofthall was sanctuary enough for a pair newly in love.

Two weeks later, Bux announced at dinner "We have new neighbors to the north, I talked with them today. It's a young couple, Ried and Jaln. I remember Ried from school, she's a couple of years younger than me. She's taken the night shift curandera position at the hospital. Jaln has bought out the general consignment store we like so well, since the owner retired."

"Just the two of them?" asked Qen.

"So far. I told them we could give them advice about their tillage" said Bux. "I gave them a tour of ours, and they were quite impressed."

"Where did they move from?" asked Yerush.

Bux said "They've been living on Verzin, which is where Ried grew up. But Jaln's from one of the Western Flings, I could tell right away because you know how folks from Flings tend to talk, slow, as if searching for the right word."

Yoj stopped eating, staring at her. Yerush, feeding Speranz in her lap and not noticing, said "In contrast to people from the mining islands, where they talk so fast sometimes I have trouble understanding what they've said."

"And they do that trill with their r's and l's" added Qen.

"How about on Yagi, where they add that u-aftersound to O's?" said Lawa.

"And on Yanja, they flatten the A's. I get called Qaa-laa there" said Qala. Mill jumped in, saying "Haa-ling" to her emma with a giggle.

Yoj, still stung from the first remark, said "Well, folks on Riesig state their opinion as if it's legal fact, and they tend to not leave room for anyone else to speak up. 'Riesig Rude', my aggie always called it."

The older women all roared, including Yerush. Qen and Veida said they'd heard that term growing up, too. Finally Bux joined them. The children, however, weren't sure if they should be laughing at themselves.

Halling, grinning at Yoj, added "And emma always said people from Verzin spoke in such short sentences because they were all constipated, since they were waiting for someone to make them a good offer on their turds." Now everyone cracked up, in part to ease the ache of suddenly missing Ng.

Ried, the new neighbor, tended to get up in the afternoons around the time Bux and Qen were outside in the tillage, and they began visiting quite a lot. Veida and Qen pulled together some starts for their tillage, and Yoj heard Veida confiding to Yerush "It's good she has a friend. The other two have the Lofthall, you know -- she needs other people her own age to talk things over with."

The following Shmonah, after lunch, the prospect of a long afternoon pinned inside by heavy rain made the children immediately begin to crank. Halling stood beside the table where the abbas were drinking tea and called the children to come listen. She had a canvas bag in her hands, which aroused their curiosity.

"All right" said Halling, "I have a very special treat that comes in two parts. One part we can do today, while it's raining. But you have to earn the treat."

Mill groaned. "It's not flushing the privy again, is it? 'Cause I really hate that, emma."

"No, it's showing how much attention you've been paying to your abbas about how we grow what we eat here. Each of you will be in a different Manage some day, and you'll need to know what these brilliant woman are trying to teach you" said Halling.

"Not me" objected Speranz. "I'm going to live right here, all my life." She crawled up onto Yerush's lap confidently. The grin on Yerush's face gave Yoj a little jolt: She better not think she was going to mold Speranz into a younger duplicate of her -- not entirely.

"But you'll still need to know -- " Halling suddenly realized where her explanation was leading her, and stopped uncertainly.

Dodd turned to Speranz and said matter of factly "Because some day they will all be dead, like abba, and it'll be just us."

Every abba and emma felt a chill at the bone. Speranz and Prl both looked ready to cry.

"Dodd!" interjected Yoj. "We're not having a discussion of mortality here, we're talking about gardening, for lev's sake."

Speranz was diverted from tears by Yoj's profanity. "You said a bad word" she pointed out piously.

"What's mortality?" asked Prl.

Halling sighed and said "Do you want to earn this treat or not?"

"Yes" said Ndege, glaring at Dodd. "What's the treat, emma?"

Halling looked at Bux and Yoj, and sighed again. Maybe seeing the boats would help keep them focused. She opened the bag in her hands and pulled out the carved hulls she and Veida had done a week earlier, plus dowels intended for masts, sail-making linen cut into triangles, and bottles of paint with brushes. There was a general outcry and grab for the treasure, Speranz trying to launch herself across the table top, but Bux said "Stop! Hold it right there! Didn't your emma just tell you that this is a treat to be earned? If you do that, then you get to paint your boats and make your sails. Not before."

Prl stuffed her hands into her pockets, they were itching so hard to disobey. Halling slid everything to the center of the table and said, "Okay, here's what you must answer. Anyone who gives a correct answer is part of the group that passes, and it will be a particularly good thing if you help each other out. Beginning with the New Year, in Raccolto, what lettuces do we plant in the cold frames or the lettuce bed, in order, throughout the year?"

The children were thunderstuck. This was a gruelingly hard question. Qen giggled, and Prl decided to get in Qen's lap. Her stratagem showed plainly on her face. After a second, Ndege bolted around the table and leaned against Veida, putting an arm around her neck and giving her a false smile. Yoj was laughing hard even before Dodd claimed her. Mill was the only one who refused to suck up to an adult. She stood resolute and said "All of them? All the different kinds?"

"That's right" said Halling. "And I'll help you out, I'll name the first four: Right after the New Year, we set out Rain Glazes for the crisphead, White Dense for the butterhead, Chicken as leaf, and Tall Wave as cos. Plus, we keep the same endive throughout the winter, so the next endive won't come until we're in spring."

Mill's eyes were gleaming. "White Fist comes after Rain Glazes, I remember that. And Green Ice, 'cause it can survive the ice."

"And after that, Crispy Frills" said Ndege.

"What about Armony, we eat that in winter?" said Dodd.

"Red Bowl!" shouted Speranz. This was her favorite kind of lettuce. Ndege said witheringly, "No, that's only in summer."

Yerush breathed a word into Speranz's ear. "Red Butter!" she shouted. "That's what I meant to say."

Halling nodded, and Ndege looked suspiciously at Speranz and Yerush. No one noticed Qen whispering to Prl. Prl said "And the endive is Full Heart!"

"Excellent" said Halling. "Now, two months later, we're starting spring. What do we begin setting out in the beds now?"

"Imrald!" said Dodd.

"Storm Light!" said Ndege.

"Green Bowl and Red Lace" scored Mill. Speranz shouted "Red Bowl" again, and Yerush moved her mouth to the side of Speranz's head away from Ndege to say "No, not yet", then something else which Speranz promptly repeated: "Red Tongue, I mean!"

Ndege was beginning "Emma, she's cheat -- " when Prl said "The endive is Deep Heart!"

"Well done, Prl" said Halling, "You really know your endive." Prl beamed and wrapped her fingers around Qen's.

"But emma -- " said Ndege. Halling cut her off, saying "Do you think you're all done? Better focus."

Ndege looked furious, but after a minute she said "Green Towers, White Cos, and Early Crunch." Halling applauded her, and Ndege gave a laugh.

Mill and Dodd said simultaneously "Loosefold" and "Pearl".

Bux said "I am duly impressed" and looked it. Suddenly the game became an exhilirating challenge. Yoj said "Is that it for spring?" and all three abbas nodded.

"Summer, then" said Halling.

Yerush goosed Speranz and Speranz again shouted "Red Bowl!" Everybody laughed, even Ndege. "Absolutely right" declared Halling.

The three older children stumbled over each other to say "Flutters, Crazy Glazes, Slowbolt, Geriko, and Buttercrunch." Stumped for a moment, they looked at each other with furrows of concentration in their forehead. Veida whispered to Ndege who then said "Reks!" Not to be outdone, Yoj gave Dodd "Longest Day". Speranz managed to come up with "Blonde", and Mill began to look strained. Halling said to her conversationally, "I sure do love going to the cliff to look down at Bohaira, not just because it's the biggest lake on Skene -- "

Mill shouted out "Great Lake!" and grinned at Halling gratefully. Prl brought up the rear by saying "And the endive is Curly Ruff!"

"Now we've got only the autumn to go. It's getting cold at night, and our little lettuces have to be brave" said Halling.

Mill rattled off "Red Star, Red Fire, Red Sails". She looked at Speranz and said "That's your cue."

But this time Speranz said "Baby Star", which again brought a big laugh.

Dodd and Ndege alternated between each other with Breadknife, Long Salad, Pokewalk, and Hearth. "Freckles" tossed in Mill. "Rolly" added Speranz. Halling looked at Qen, who said "That's it except for -- " and she pointed to Prl, who said triumphantly "And the autumn endive is Ideal"!

Now everyone applauded, and the accomplishment was enough to make the children forget, briefly, about the bag of treasure. Until Halling gestured to it on the table. Yerush and Qen grabbed boats for their little ones first, and the older three squabbled but wound up with craft they liked. Bux announced "Before painting anything, each of you go change into your oldest shati. Yes, you can take the boats with you."

She and Yoj spread plastic cloth on the table and Bux used old cups to give every child a selection of paints. When the children returned, each was seated next to an adult who helped her with the work of painting hulls, drilling a careful hole in the upper wood for the mast, installing the mast, and gluing painted sails to the upright mast. Two hours passed in quiet joy. Yoj, between Ndege and Dodd, gave up her seat eventually to help Yerush begin dinner.

As Yerush was scrubbing yams, she said quietly to Yoj "I thought my own three were brilliant -- and they were, especially Bux -- but these children have phenomenal minds. There are a lot of adults on Skene who couldn't have pulled off that quiz."

Yoj said "I suspect some of them had a little help."

"Speranz did it all by herself" declared Yerush loyally.

By the time the boats were ready to line up on the shelf near the entryway to dry, baked yams stuffed with roasted garlic and thick cabbage soup sprinkled with fisk were ready. Yoj made last-minute fig bars for dessert. The meal's conversation featured frequent renaming of their boats by the children, while the adults tried to discuss a sex scandal on Juh that had just reached Veida's ears without divulging too much information for eavesdroppers.

The next day, Yoj had just reached the library when Sigrist radio came on to announce the death in her sleep of the Archivist. This meant ZaMa was now head Archivist, and would be looking for an apprentice. Yoj sat down in the nearest chair, dismayed. Her family needed her too much right now for her to immerse herself in a new training program, with all the hours away from home that would be required of an apprentice. And ZaMa was five years younger than Yoj. She would be most likely to select an apprentice who was considerably her junior.

By the time Yoj went for her nap with Halling, it was her who needed to cry brokenly in her partner's arms. After dinner, Halling brought up the subject with the other adults, saying "Is there any way we can swing this?"

Yoj immediately began protesting. "No, no, we're suffered an income loss, we're all still reeling, it's just not workable, Hall."

"But emma would hate it that our losing her means you don't get to do something you've dreamed of" argued Halling. "We have her bequests for the children's educations, that's all covered, so if we can't add to savings for a few years, we'll get by."

"It's not just the money" said Yoj stubbornly. "It's the time. I'm the one helping the children with their homework while I make dinner, I take them on outings every Sju, they're just not old enough for me to only be here -- " She stopped herself.

"As much I am, you mean" said Halling. She and Yoj were both stricken. No one else knew what to say in the way of solution.

Then Yerush leaned forward. "I have an idea" she said, reaching her hand toward Yoj, who reached hers out to take it like a lifeline. "What you want most is the study, and the books, and access to the learning, right?"

Yoj nodded.

"Well, I suggest we appeal to ZaMa, tell her your situation" said Yerush. "I'll go with you and act as your reference. Perhaps you can't apprentice, not officially, but you could start a course of study. I'll devise a curriculum for you, hopefully with recommendations from her, and we'll plead for leave for you to access more restricted portions of the Archives -- not everything, perhaps, but much more than you currently have. We'll say in case of dire emergency in the future, you could become apprentice in a pinch. In the meantime, you'll ask for no income, you'll swear to any confidentiality oath, and I'll do all the work of instructing you -- we can work around the hours you're available. How does that sound?"

"You'd do that for me?" breathed Yoj.

"I'd be honored. Working with you will expand my own knowledge, and it would definitely be for the betterment of Skene" said Yerush. Halling leaped to her feet and ran around the table to hug Yerush from behind, kissing each temple with a smack. "She says yes, oh yes, thank you, emma" Halling answered for Yoj.

Yoj was squeezing Yerush's hand tight, and Yerush felt a little pulled in two directions. She grinned at Yoj and said "I'll work you hard, mind" as she let go of Yoj's hand.

Yoj hugged herself and said "I won't let you down." Yerush laughed at her. Qala, with Lawa half in her lap, beamed her congratulations and said "We'll help even more with the children. And the tillage, now that warm weather is around the corner."

"Well, in that case" said Bux, "Maybe at the half-year I could run for Sheng Zhang. Ried says I'm so popular, I could probably beat the standing office holder if I planned my campaign well."

Halling stood upright, looking at her incredulously. "Did you not just hear how we pulled this out of the thin air?" she said to Bux. Her tone was unusually irritated. Yoj wondered if Halling was as tired as she was of hearing what Ried thought or stories of what happened at the hospital during the night shift.

Veida added "You're the youngest of us here, Bux. You'll get your turn but you have to wait for it."

Yerush pushed back her chair, indicating the matter was settled. "If I can borrow your study, Yoj, I'll go compose a formal letter to ZaMa. We can't send it until after the funeral and paying our condolences to her, but we can work on the wording now, and maybe talk about curriculum."

Yoj didn't want to look at Bux's face. She picked up her mug of tea and trailed after Yerush.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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