Wednesday, January 9, 2008


(First chapter in a double interrelated post.) 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


After dinner, Yoj said to Yerush in a remarkably normal tone of voice, "Emma, I want to keep spending time with my children. The weekend's almost over. We'll have to finish my outline another day. But I really appreciate all your attention today."

She saw a brief expression of having been thwarted cross over Yerush's face, which frightened her in a new way. Yerush said "All right" in a calm voice, however, and brought her own work to Yoj's study.

At one point, talking with Dodd and Mill, Yoj mentioned she'd written a new poem that weekend. They immediately asked to hear it, and Halling, cleaning shoes on the front steps, also looked up to say "Me, too." Yoj got it from her pack and read it aloud. Bux was sitting at the table with Qen and Veida, looking over the planting schedule, her back to Yoj. When Yoj was done, she saw Bux's shoulders sag in the way they did when she cried. She suddenly ached to go to her and touch her. Halling was watching them both. When Yoj didn't move, Halling said "That may be the best ever. Next to our partnering song, of course. Do you have music for it yet?"

"Not yet. A few inklings."

"Well, I can't wait to hear a full band do it, with maybe Amya singing" said Halling. Yoj saw Bux nod to herself.

Once the kids were in bed, Yoj realized she definitely did not want to go to her cubicle or the Lofthall alone tonight. Halling was already in bed, and Bux was brushing her teeth. Yoj followed her into their bedroom and said quietly "Would it be intrusive if I slept with you two tonight?"

Bux pulled in air over her lower lip, measuring her response. "Not intrusive, no. Do you want Halling in the middle?"

They both looked at Halling, who was on the far side and snoring softly. Yoj noticed tonight she was lying in a spot where she'd be in contact with Bux. "No, don't wake her up. I'd -- like to read, will that be okay?"

"Sure" said Bux.

Yoj went to the bath room to put on her schmatta. When she returned, Bux was lying on her side, Halling spooned back into her. Yoj got nervously into bed and tried to read, but found she couldn't concentrate. She finally turned off the light and lay with her back to the rest of the bed. Bux whispered "Good night." Yoj said "Sweet dreams." Yoj heard the change in Bux's breathing when she went to sleep.

She realized the only reason she had not been wild to be back in contact with Bux was the distraction of study offered by Yerush. In some way, she felt like she had been seducible -- maybe not sexually, but in terms of her priorities. She was terrified about the conversation with Halling. She forced her mind onto meter and rhyme, her only chance of going to sleep.

She came awake partway when Halling got up at dawn. She wasn't sure if Halling's kiss and whispered "I love you" had really happened or was a dream. She didn't wake when Bux got up. By the time she trudged from their bedroom, feeling rested in a way she had not for some time, the only person not at work or school was Veida. Yoj got herself some rice gruel with fruit and a mug of tea, and sat down across from Veida.

"I'm meeting Halling at work to talk with her" she said quietly.

"Bux told me" said Veida. "She thinks you're planning to dissolve your partnership with her. She didn't believe me when I told her you wouldn't do that."

"I've considered it, this past week" admitted Yoj.

"Then you're an ass" said Veida tiredly.

"I know" said Yoj.

"I asked Qen to take the afternoon off and come home at lunch. I couldn't tell her why, and I've never asked her for something like that, so I'm sure she's half-frantic. When we're done talking, we'll go corner Yerush at her office."

Yoj looked at her intently. "I'm grateful for you in all this" she said. "I can't imagine how you're dealing with -- your end."

"We love who we love" Veida said. "Although this is stretching the bonds as tight as they can go."

After eating, Yoj did two loads of laundry, mostly children's clothes, before washing and dressing. She hung the clothes outside to dry, then swept and mopped all the muddy floors. She made a snack for the children and put it in the larder, a small gift for Bux later.

She ate lunch at the Lofthall with Qala. Halling was out at a meeting. Yoj longed to tell everything to Qala, hear her perspective, but she couldn't do that before talking to Halling. Qala did ask her how things were with Bux.

"I'm -- ready to move closer. Just don't know quite how yet" said Yoj.

"You'll figure it out, you always do" said Qala. "You made the right choice with her, in the beginning, I mean. She really is your heart's desire." That helped to hear.

Yoj said "Veida was doing the household accounts, earlier, and every month we keep showing up with an extra ek that we can't identify as income. It occurred to me to ask you about it."

Qala grinned bashfully. "Well, Lawa brings you all kinds of largesse from the ejida, and I have dinner there as much I do here. And those kids never seem to stop eating, so I wanted to contribute."

"You should put it in savings" began Yoj.

"I have a huge savings. Listen, if you'd rather, I'll start separate savings for the children" said Qala. "Between your Manage and Moasi's, coupling with Lawa makes me sibemma to eight kids whom I actually get to love personally."

"We have savings for them, and Ng's covered their education" reminded Yoj. "Tell you want, you want to contribute to the Manage food stores? Collect your allotment, whatever you're not sending to Chloddia or giving to the Lofthall, and bring it to us. You'll impress the lev out of the abbas and the kids, and you'll have the added thrill of watching it go into their mouths at mealtime."

Qala beamed as she turned to answer a radio call, giving Yoj a thumb's up. Halling walked in soon after, handed Qala a set of papers, conferred with her a minute, then said unsmilingly to Yoj "In my office, I guess." Halling sat at her desk, and Yoj sat on the bed, holding the edge with her hands.

"You better not be thinking about dissolving our three-way partnership" said Halling without preamble. "I know you can get through this."

"That's not what I need to talk over with you" said Yoj.

Halling said "Spill it, then."

Yoj told her. Before she was half done, Halling was swearing, her face dark with rage. When Yoj was done, Halling stood up over Yoj and, glaring down at her, said "Look me in the eyes and swear to me you had no idea, you weren't somehow playing this game with her."

"I swear" said Yoj. "But I don't feel innocent. If I wasn't estranged from Bux, I can't see Yerush having tried this."

Halling clenched her fists and glanced toward the door. "I'd like to walk right over to her office -- "

"Not your job. You job is me and Bux. Veida and Qen are doing that part" said Yoj.

"Bux must never know" Halling said fervently, echoing Veida.

"I know."

"I mean, never ever. It would kill her. It would ruin every relationship in the Manage. It would taint our children." Halling was passionate.

"I know, Hall. Whatever else, this she doesn't deserve. It's not lying to her, I understand the difference."

"Are you still in love with Bux?" Halling sat back down.

"I think so. I wouldn't be so hurt about Ried if I wasn't, would I?"

"Were you hurt like this about me and Szebel?" asked Halling.

"No. And it's not that I love you less. But you were Xaya's first, and so I never felt like the biggest love of your life. And how Bux fell for you, well, I was a little jangled by that, except I was included, you know? I was part of it with you, so I didn't feel left behind. And we kept growing together. But Ried was such a -- manipulator, as it turns out, and Bux not being honest with me in advance -- and then her going back to sleep with Ried again after Ried lit into Dodd and said that sewage about Speranz -- "

"Bux didn't sleep with Ried after she found that out" said Halling. "Where did you get that idea?"

"She went over there the next day" argued Yoj.

"Yes, to confront her and end it with her" said Halling. "How could you imagine she'd do otherwise?"

Yoj was trying to wrap her mind around this new, conflicting information. "Really? She was breaking up with her, even before Jaln showed up?"

"And how. I mean, yes, Yoj, she messed up that first day when she didn't know Veida wasn't home, and she was -- obsessed. But she'd never neglect the children, I can't believe you don't know better -- oh, I get it" said Halling, her face clearing. "You thought you'd picked an aggie like Rosz. You suddenly found yourself living with Rosz again. No wonder you've been so nuts."

Yoj wasn't sure she could breathe. Halling came to sit beside her, putting her arm over her shoulder. She continued, in a gentle voice.

"And Yerush saw her chance. She didn't want you, Yoj, I hope you can see that. She just wanted to get something that hadn't seemed possible to acquire until then -- like she hit on Ng when Qen stepped into some independence. You didn't know that either? Yeah, she propositioned Ng one day when Qen wasn't around, despite them being out of sui. You can just imagine how Ng said no. Yerush -- She wanted to take a piece of what Bux had." Halling's scorn was inches thick.

"Oh, lev, Halling. How are we going to go on living with her?"

Halling sighed. "Follow Veida and Qen's lead, I guess. Some of us are visibly flawed. At least Bux came out okay. But you know, I suddenly understand the rationale behind exile, behind the rule that once you cross a line, your entire Manage can be contaminated." Halling was speaking in a whisper; even so, Yoj glanced at the door fearfully.

"And it wasn't just trying to steal from her own child" continued Halling, "But she knew what your weak spot was, has been your whole life -- your aggie. You wanted love and attention you didn't get. And Yerush knew if she suddenly became -- available, it would be like Rosz magically turning around and claiming you as her child."

Yoj flung herself down onto the bed, bursting into tears. "I'm the one who's flawed, Hall, no wonder Bux didn't think I was enough any more!" She sobbed frantically, her body spasming with ancient grief. Halling lay down beside here murmured "That's it, get all that muck out of you, it's gonna be okay, sweetheart".

The purge was absolute. When she was done, she felt weak but immensely better. Halling's smell filled her nostrils, her hands warm on her back.

Halling said "I honestly don't think Bux has changed in how much she loves you. She's hurt right now, and pulled away, because you're all swoll up and also she feels bad about what she's done. She wants your forgiveness. The fact is, she wants you to comfort her about making such a mistake as to believe Ried, and the Yoj I know would have been able to give that to her. But the Yoj I know got replaced, seems like, by a wounded child for these last few weeks."

"If I have Bux, and you, I can face anything" said Yoj, coming back into her right mind and heart with relief.

"You faced much worse without us, but yeah, you've got us now" said Halling.

Yoj giggled and said "I remember what you said the first day we all slept together. You told me 'It's good there's two of us', remember?"

Halling laughed. "It's a good number, three."

"At least for us" said Yoj, feeling another wave of worry for Qen and Veida. "You know, Bux is at home alone with the kids."

Halling said "I'm going with you. We need to stick together right now. You ready to be a grown-up now?" asked Halling.

Yoj stood briskly and pulled Halling to her feet. They kissed gratefully, and Halling said "You should wash your face before we head out."

When Yoj and Halling turned into the lane which lead home, they saw a crowd of children playing in the street, theirs among them. Ndege, Dodd and Prl were in a frenzied game of tag with several neighbor kids. Prl ran up to them and said "Will you play with us, please, emmas?" Halling laughed and said "After dinner -- we have to go help your aggie right now." Prl whirled away back to the game. Mill was on a bench wrapped around another child her age, giggling and whispering. Speranz and a couple of other toddlers were sitting at the edge of the lane, digging in the dirt with spoons. When Speranz grinned up at them, there were brown streaks at the corners of her mouth.

"We don't eat dirt, remember, Speranz?" said Yoj. Speranz nodded solemnly.

They went down into the house. Bux was in the kitchen, mixing fishcake batter. She looked up at them expressionlessly. Halling went to give her a hug and asked "What needs doing?"

"Rice is ready" answered Bux tiredly. "But nothing's been picked for a salad."

Halling got a basket from the shelf and went out the back door, giving Yoj a stern look.

Yoj washed her hands at the sink, standing near Bux at the counter, and said "I could stew some dried apricots with cinnamon, maybe make that sodabread you like and we could spoon the fruit over it."

"That would be much appreciated by the children" said Bux quietly, not looking at her. After a moment, she added "I have a wandmaler job at the start of next week, I'm going to Juh to meet with the family as soon as the ferries run."

"I'll be here for the kids after school. Will you make it home for dinner?" asked Yoj.

"No. But by bedtime" said Bux.

"We'll miss you" said Yoj. Bux didn't answer. Yoj stepped over behind her and whispered into her ear "I miss you right now."

Bux stopped mixing, and didn't seem to be breathing, either. Yoj put her hands on Bux's waist and said "Ried was an imbecile."

Bux wheeled to face her and threw her arms around Yoj's neck. "No, I was the imbecile, oh, Yoj, I'm so sorry!"

Yoj melted around her, saying "I don't know how to find our balance again, darling, but I want to try."

They looked into each other's eyes for a long time, relief seeming to literally change the Bux's blue to a deeper color. Bux leaned toward her slowly, as if beginning a kiss, and Yoj whispered "Not yet. I can't do that yet. Let's just keep looking at each other."

When the back door opened, they broke apart, radiant, and grinned at Halling returning with a basket of vegetables. Halling was not looking at them, however; her eyes were on Yerush, standing in the doorway to the kitchen, staring at them with an unreadable expression.

Yoj tightened her grip on Bux and looked away from Yerush. Halling said hello and walked by Yerush to wash her lettuces at the sink. Yerush went out the back door without a word, and Yoj began slicing apricots. She wondered where Veida and Qen were.

Half an hour later, Yerush came in the back door with a chicken carcass. Her hands were blood spattered, and bits of down were all over her shati.

"Did you find one we missed this weekend? And -- my word, aggie, did you pluck that without scalding it first?" asked Bux, surprised.

"She was old" said Yerush shortly, as if that explained it.

"It looks like a hen, not a capon" observed Bux. Halling and Yoj were staying very busy.

"It was Mitty. She'd stopped laying" answered Yerush in a tone of extreme irritation. Bux looked at Yoj -- Mitty had been her favorite, the one Yoj saved particular scraps for. But Yoj was looking at Halling expressionlessly. Yerush put the chicken away in the larder and went to the bath room to wash.

Once she was out of earshot, Bux said quietly to Yoj "What crawled up her ass?"

"I couldn't say" answered Yoj. "The apricots are ready, and the soda bread will be done in half an hour. I'll set the table."

"Qen and Veida aren't here yet, wonder where they are?" said Bux. Halling went to the front door and called in the children. When they tumbled into the house, the grime factor was high, especially for Speranz. Halling and Yoj lined them up at the kitchen sink and got their faces and hands clean enough to eat. "But after dinner, baths for everyone" said Yoj.

"You promised we'd play!" protested Prl.

"We will. In the living room, after baths" said Halling.

Qen and Veida came in the front door. Qen's eyes were swollen and red, and Veida looked exhausted. Yoj was immobilized by worry, which only got worse when Yerush emerged from the bath room, gave her partners a stony look, and stalked to the ladder to climb to her loft. Then Yoj remembered Halling's instruction to be a grown-up. She went to Qen and put her arms around Qen's waist. Qen was stiff for a moment, but she put her cheek next to Yoj's and finally wrapped her arms around Yoj in return. "I'm so sorry" whispered Yoj.

"Not your fault" whispered Qen back.

"I love you as if you'd given birth to me" Yoj continued. "I'll never hurt this family."

Qen fought starting to cry again. "I know that" she said. She kissed Yoj's cheek and went to the bath room to wash her face.

Yoj hugged Veida next. "I talked to Halling" she whispered. "We're sorted out, and I'm beginning to be with Bux."

"Good" said Veida.

Yoj said out loud "Dinner's ready, as soon as you feel like sitting down."

Bux was putting a pitcher of water on the table, and said hello to Veida distractedly. When Yerush came back down the ladder with a clean shati on, Halling and Yoj began getting the children seated. Qen joined them at the last minute, her face still ravaged by what looked like hours of crying. She sat next to Yerush without comment. Bux studied her face and clearly wanted to ask what was wrong, but Qen's refusal to meet anyone's eyes kept Bux silent.

Despite the obvious tension between the three abbas, dinner was raucous. The children seemed to pick up on the change in their emmas' dynamic, the way children can, and they pushed for much more interaction than mealtime had held in weeks. Yoj couldn't stop looking at Bux's hopeful face, and every time she did, she found Bux looking at her. When Bux got up to take the soda bread from the oven, she kissed Yoj on the top of her head. Halling winked at Yoj, and then Veida did likewise, with a tight smile.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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