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


Everything seemed to go fuzzy for Yoj. She didn't realize she had dropped the can of oil she was holding until Qen lunged forward, bending at Yoj's feet and grabbing the can to stop the cascade of oil onto the floor. She glanced at the mess and didn't care. Halling had taken a step backwards, her eyes fixed on Bux.

Yoj said in a strangled voice "No. You're not."

Halling turned to look at her then. The expression on Halling's face made it real. Qen stood up, right in Yoj's face, and said "Take it to your bedroom. Now, Yoj. Not in front of Prl." Yoj began walking automatically, and Halling fell into step beside her. In their bedroom, Yoj couldn't imagine sitting on the bed, so she came to rest clumsily on her clothes chest. Halling remained standing as Bux came into the room and closed the door behind her.

"When did this begin?" said Halling in a tone Yoj didn't recognize.

"Today. This afternoon. I told you as soon as I could" said Bux. She couldn't seem to stop the glow on her face.

"No, that's already a lie. You told us after the fact" said Halling.

"Well so did you" flashed Bux. "You didn't even tell us in person, you wrote it in a letter!"

Yoj found words. "She wasn't sneaking off next door to spread her legs for the neighbors" she said harshly. "You've been sniffing around each other for who knows how long. I can guarantee you that if Szebel had been here on Riesig, Halling would have come and talked with us before doing anything."

"Oh, I knew you two would stick together, it's all about Yoj and Halling first!" said Bux, throwing herself back on the bed, furious. "But I'm not supposed to even look at anyone else. I wasn't sneaking around, I just didn't know she felt -- what I was feeling -- until today."

"And what is it you're feeling?" asked Halling, deadly calm.

"I -- think I love her" said Bux. Again, she couldn't dampen her smile. Yoj suddenly hated her.

Halling said "Why did you ignore the fact that Veida wasn't here, and leave the kids to fend for themselves?"

"I didn't hear the call" said Bux. "Ried turns off the radio during the day because it wakes her up when she needs to sleep."

Yoj said with clenched jaw "Ah, such a devoted curandera, eliminating the possibility that someone could call for her in an emergency. But you weren't sleeping today, were you?"

She stood up, opened her cupboard and pulled out her overnight bag. She threw back the lid of her clothes chest and began stuffing handfulls of clothes into the bag, not paying any attention to what items they were.

"What do you think you're doing?" she heard Bux say to her back. When the bag was full, Yoj buckled it shut and dropped the lid of her chest with a bang. She turned around to see Bux sitting on the edge of the bed, glaring at her.

"You are not leaving this Manage" declared Bux, "you of all people have no right -- "

"Me of all people?!!" Yoj interrupted, her voice savage. "I've never once lied to you, I've never cheated on you, I've never led anyone else on, I've met every single responsibility you ever tossed my way -- " Her throat felt like it was closing up. She took a deep breath, and continued "You're right that I'm not leaving this Manage, this is as much my home now as it is yours. But I won't sleep with you tonight or, and the way I feel right now, ever again. I'll be back in the morning to feed my children breakfast, get them dressed, and I'll be here waiting on my children when they get home from school, because I have the ability to remember they exist even when there's ginny in the levvin' air. And when it comes time to decide who leaves this Manage, I'm positive Qen and Veida will be on my side because I now know exactly what they've had to endure all these years!"

She saw it drain the echo of a smile from Bux's face, finally. Yoj started for the door, and Bux stood up, not quite in her way but considering it.

"You stink of that shu-crotch you've chosen to destroy this family over" hissed Yoj. She saw Bux recoil, and she realized she wanted to hit Bux. "At least I won't have to listen to any more of those idiotic stories where the only point is for her to prove how much better she is than anyone else on Skene."

She bolted from the bedroom. Her children were now all at the table, but she couldn't look their way. She jerked her burzaka from the coat rack without stopping to put it on, flung herself out the front door, and slammed it with a deafening crash.

Halling took a step toward the bedroom door and Bux said "Oh, right, now's when you run after her!"

"No" said Halling icily. "I'm leaving with her."

When she got to the living room, she went to her children, who seemed to be in shock. She put her arm around Mill and said "Emma and I are going to sleep at the Lofthall tonight. We -- there's a fight going on, but it's nothing to do with you or how much we love you." She realized her voice was shaking, and tried to steady it. "We love you just the way we always have. Yoj will be here in the morning to get you up, and she'll meet you after school tomorrow."

Mill begged "Can I go with you tonight, please, emma?"

"No" said Halling, waving at the other children who were about to echo her plea. "We have to talk tonight. But -- listen, I'll come to the school tomorrow at noon and eat lunch with you all, how's that sound? And I'll see you tomorrow night, I promise." She walked around the table, kissing each child swiftly. Prl was going to wail at any minute. "I have to run."

And she did, literally, run for the door, grabbing her burzaka and loping headlong down the lane. She caught Yoj just as Yoj reached the University.

"Don't you dare try to talk me into going back" said Yoj when she saw Halling.

"No, I'm -- I'm sleeping with you tonight" Halling said, breathing heavily. "But let's go to my office, not your cubicle. We haven't had dinner -- "

"I can't eat anything, I'm about to throw up as it is" said Yoj. "And I don't want to see anybody, to have to tell them..." She couldn't finish the sentence.

"We don't have to deal with anyone else, I'll walk us straight into my office" said Halling. "Come on, take my arm, sweetheart." She led Yoj back to the Lofthall. The hall was empty, and once inside the dispatch room, Yoj made a beeline for Halling's office. Halling hung up her burzaka and ran a hand through her wet hair. At that moment, Qala and Lawa emerged from Qala's room.

"What's wrong?" said Lawa, after one glance at Halling's face. Yoj shut the door to Halling's office, a little too loudly. Halling sat down at the desk and found she was still having a trouble breathing. Qala knelt in front of her, her hands on Halling's knees, and said "Who's hurt?"

Halling laughed abruptly, saying "Who isn't?" Then she pulled herself together and said "Nobody, not physically." She put one of her hands in Qala's, the other in Lawa's, and said in a disbelieving voice, "Bux has begun sleeping with Ried."

"Who's Rie -- that waterwit next door?" asked Lawa incredulously.

"Not Bux!" breathed Qala.

"I -- we left. We're sleeping here tonight. I can't talk about it more, not yet. I have to be with Yoj, she's -- we're both a little crazy. But -- will you help us?" Halling beseeched.

Lawa said "Who's with the children?"

"Qen and Yerush are there. Veida's still at the birthing, and Bux is there, for what that's worth" said Halling bitterly.

"Your hands are like ice" said Qala. "I'm getting you some tea from the canteen."

"Don't tell anybody" Halling said urgently.

"I won't" said Qala. Then, "Did you have dinner?"

"No, but I don't know if ..." Halling trailed off again, looking at her office door. "I have to go be with Yoj."

"I'm going to the Manage and hang out with the kids" said Lawa. She kissed Qala and said "I may not be back tonight."

"Take my love with you" said Qala. "Halling, I'll bring a tray to your door, go on, I'll keep everyone out of here tonight." Halling stood, her knees not quite solid, and walked woodenly to her office.

Yoj was sitting on the cot, staring at the wall. Halling got a towel from her cupboard and dried Yoj's hair, then her own. She hung up Yoj's burzaka and pulled Yoj's otos from her feet, checking her sokken to see if they were dry. Yoj whispered "I don't know if I'll ever trust her again."

"I know" said Halling, sitting beside her.

"What are we going to do?" asked Yoj. Halling didn't answer, because she didn't have one.

A gentle knock came at the door, then Qala let herself in with a tray of food and a big pot of tea. She set it on the desk and made a cup, bringing it to Halling: "Lots of milk and sugar, the way you like it." Halling looked up at her and burst into tears.

Qala handed the cup to Yoj, sat down next to Halling and lifted her into her lap, as if she were small. Halling wailed "I'm doing everything I can, I'm stretched thin and nothing's ever completely right because I can't go home to emma! And now -- I don't know how to fix this!"

Qala rocked her and listened as Halling's sobs seemed to burst out her chest wall. Yoj took a sip of the tea, then another, and eventually drained the cup. She was glad, in a detached way, that someone was looking after Halling. Someone should.

When Halling was done, she blew her nose on Qala's handkerchief and slid back onto the bed, saying with a laugh "If the pilots only saw what just happened, they'd never look at the same again."

"Shu shit" said Qala succinctly. She reached for the cup, nodded at Yoj in approval when she saw it was empty, and got up to make Halling another cup. Handing it to Halling along with a sandwich, she turned to kneel in front of Yoj and say "How about you, sweetheart?"

Yoj stared at her for a minute, and said "I don't know about me."

"Will you eat something for me?" said Qala gently.

"I feel sick inside. Everywhere."

"Well, then, we'll start with rice. Rice will help settle your stomach. And maybe an apple after that? I'll slice it for you." Qala fed her slowly, coaxing another cup of tea into her as well.

When Yoj had eaten enough for Qala to let up, she said "I'm so scared for the children."

"Lawa's gone to spend the night with them" said Qala, but that didn't entirely address Yoj's fear. "After a hard shock, we need time to make sense of it. C'mon, I'll walk you two to the privy, the front way so nobody will see. Then you need to lie down and get some rest. In the morning, things will be better, they always are."

But once in her schmatta, lying in the dark with Halling spooned back into her, Yoj could not sleep. Every time she relaxed enough to turn off her mind, images of Bux with that small-eyed, sneer-mouthed Ried came to her, Bux in ectasy, Bux going down on someone else, and she would have to clench her stomach to keep from vomiting. She listened to Halling's even breathing, holding on to her like a rope, and drifted through the long night.

At dawn, Qala came in and quietly got Halling up. Halling asked, as she was pulling on pants, "Did you sleep?"

"No" said Yoj.

"Try to let it go, Yoj. I'm with you, always, rock-solid" said Halling. "I'll come get you up in an hour or so, to go home."

Of course Yoj didn't sleep after that. She listened to the chatter in the dispatch room increase, and the sounds of lighters and sinners leaving the jichang. At least she didn't have to face Halling flying out to the deeps today. Maybe this was the trade-off: Maybe she was getting to have Halling safe, now, and changes under way that might make Mill safe in the future. The exchange they had to make was Ng, and now Bux. Yoj was familiar with having to give up one thing for another. She lost her aggie in order to have an education, and lost Isola in order to have the Manage.

When Halling came to get her up, she was already dressed and waiting. Halling gave her a cup of tea and sat with her a couple of minutes. "I'm sorry I can't go with you. I promised the kids I'd meet them for lunch at school, though. And I'll get off early today, I'm cancelling a meeting this afternoon" Halling said, kissing her earnestly as she left.

The air was damp and cold but the rain had stopped. Yoj's head pounded, and her eyes were blurry. She opened the Manage's door in a wave of dizziness, and was able to breathe out fully when she saw Veida and Yerush sitting at the kitchen table -- just them, no Bux.

Yerush stood swiftly and came to her, pulling her into a hug that felt warm and completely accepting. "You look ghastly" she whispered. "Come on, sit down. I've made porridge and boiled eggs, you don't have to worry about breakfast."

Veida, looking weary, gave her a sweet hug as well.

"How are the children?" asked Yoj, afraid of the answer.

"They're okay. They'll be better when they see you, but they're okay. We split them up for bed -- we put Dodd between me and Qen" said Yerush. "Lawa's in with the little ones, and Bux took the two oldest with her. Once she'd done with all her crying and drama in the bedroom after you left." Yerush's tone was harsh at the end.

Yoj looked at Veida and said "How was the birth?"

"Breech but we managed. Good-sized baby, happy emmas" Veida said briefly. "I got home about an hour ago. They paid me in wheat flour, by the way."

Yoj began to feel some of her brain loosening up, with this normal talk. She froze for an instant when she heard a door open, but it was Lawa, emerging from the front bedroom. Lawa went to the privy, and when she returned, she whispered "How's Halling?"

"Qala held her in her lap and Halling cried like a baby" Yoj said. "She ate dinner and slept all night."

"But not you?" asked Yerush.


There was another set of creaks, making Yoj's heart leap, and Qen began coming down the ladder. She slid in next to Yoj without going to the privy first, blowing a kiss across to Veida and then pulled Yoj tight against her. "Don't you worry, we're still your emmas" she whispered to Yoj.

Yoj said "I didn't worry for a second. Thank the stars, in the midst of all the wreckage, I never worried about you three."

Yerush put her hands in Qen and Veida's, squeezing them once, and said in a slow voice, "I need to say something. To you, my lovers. I know -- my example is part of why this has come to pass. I -- it's devastating to see firsthand what -- I did. I am so terribly sorry. I had no right. I'll -- I'll spend the rest of my life with you making up for it."

Qen and Veida were struggling to know how to react. It was a promise Yerush had never made; still, it was clearly hard for them to take in completely.

Suddenly Dodd's clear voice rang out above them: "Emma!" Yoj stood and went to pluck Dodd from the ladder as she scrambled down. Dodd wrapped her arms and legs around Yoj, saying "You came back, emma!"

"Of course I did, Doddy my own" said Yoj, gripping her tightly. "I'll be stuck like glue to you for the rest of my life."

Within a minute, the other four children were up and crowded around Yoj, having heard Dodd's cry. Yoj picked each of them up, even Mill, kissed them and let their life flow into her. Some part of her mind was waiting to hear Bux's step, but she pushed that aside, saying "Okay, get on your rainboots and let's trek to the privy."

When they returned, Bux was at the table. She didn't look at Yoj, and Yoj ignored her back. "Get dressed first" said Yoj. "Speranz and Prl, I'll come help you. Abba already has breakfast cooked, let's hurry."

Lawa poked her head in the front bedroom to say goodbye on her way to work. "I'll see you later; Qala and I will come back for dinner, if that'll help" she said.

"Bless you, yes" said Yoj. "Stay warm."

Back at the table, Bux was just finishing -- she hadn't eaten much. She went to dress while Yoj and the children ate. Qen dressed and left, whispering to Yoj "She'll come to her senses. She's my child too, remember." Yerush dressed but lingered as long as she could, helping Yoj fix the children's hair. Finally she had to go, too.

Bux slipped out the front door while Yoj was stacking dishes in the sink, waving only at the children. Yoj helped the kids get into coats and caps, bookbags in hand, and they filed into the lane, chattering happily. Even the creases on Mill's brow had disappeared. As they walked by Jaln and Ried's front door, Yoj pulled up phlegm from her chest and spat it onto their doorstep, without thinking about it. The children all stopped walking and looked at her in disbelief, and Yoj said "Ooops!" gaily. They laughed all the way to school.

Back home, Veida was still up. She had a few bottles in front of her, along with a fresh cup of tea. "Take these" she commands, putting drops into the tea. "Then go lie down -- in the little ones' bedroom, don't argue with me. I'll get you up at noon."

Yoj obeyed, and they left the dishes to soak. Veida was climbing to her own loft as Yoj shut the door. She was afraid this room, with its memories of her first days with Bux and later association with Ng, would erode the small balance she was starting to feel. Instead, the smell of her children on the pillow wrapped around her and she dropped off immediately.

When she woke up, it was not Veida beside her bed, it was Yerush, lying down beside her and saying "I came home to check on you. I can make you lunch, or you can keep sleeping, whichever sounds better." She pulled Yoj's head onto her shoulder. The smell and feel of her was reminiscent of Bux, but also of something older, something Yoj didn't know how to put into words.

"I don't know who I'll be if she doesn't love me best" Yoj whispered.

"Of course she loves you best, that'll never change" said Yerush. "How could she not? Her stupidity has nothing to do with who you are. You don't deserve this, Yoj la Rosz, it's not a mess of your making." She kissed Yoj's forehead and looked keenly into her eyes with a tenderness Yoj had only see Yerush give to Speranz.

Suddenly Yoj was crying, screaming and sucking in air to scream some more. Yerush held her entire body close and murmured "I know, I know" as the sickness drained from Yoj. Yoj kept crying "Emma, emma!", and flashes of memory went through her head.

Eventually, Yoj had to sit up because her nose was clogged. She looked for a handkerchief, found none, and finally blew her nose on Speranz's grimy shati from the day before, left on the floor. Yerush sat up with her, saying "I'm so proud of you, Yoj. You were meant to be with us. I feel like I've loved you all your life. And -- again, I am so sorry for for how I -- I'm responsible for this, I dug this rut she's stuck in -- " To Yoj's utter surprise, Yerush began crying. She realized she had never seen Yerush weep, not like this. After a moment, she pulled Yerush into her own arms and returned all the tenderness Yerush had just given her. It amazed her to feel the trembling and heartache of a woman who had always been a steely figure in her mind.

She offered another section of Speranz's shati to Yerush when she was done, and laughing wildly, Yerush accepted. "What a fine lunch hour you've had, eh?" giggled Yoj. "Shards, but I feel better."

"Me, too. I have to rush, though" said Yerush, standing.

"You can wait one minute, I'm making you something to eat later" insisted Yoj. Yerush went to wash her face while Yoj threw together a sandwich and a ripe pear. They kissed sweetly and Yerush bustled off, once again the imposing gakusha.

Yoj did the dishes, two loads of laundry, and, belatedly, released the outraged chickens into their yard with an extra scoop of seed on the ground. After deciding the clear weather wasn't going to last, she hung the wet clothes on racks by the hearth. She stashed snacks in her pack, gathered up kites and string, and went to meet her children at school before they started for home, telling Veida who had just gotten up that they'd be back in a few hours.

There was no sign of Bux. Ried's house was dark but Yoj knew what that meant, now.

On the way home, at the turn in the lane they saw Halling below them, heading for home with two buckets in her hands. Kites were dropped as the children hurtled toward her. Once in the kitchen, Yoj instructed belongings be put away and homework started. Glancing at the buckets, she asked "What did you trade for?"

"Red crabs" said Halling triumphantly. "My favorite!" breathed Yoj.

"I'll start the boiling pot" said Halling. "Then I'll pull vegetables. Maybe Veida will make her famous dipping sauce?" she asked Veida, coming in the back door. Yoj added "Red crabs!" Veida's face lit up, and she said "I'm on it."

After homework was done, Veida and Yerush collaborated on a pudding with the extra wheat flour and a few sliced mangos. Everyone was home early for dinner except Bux, who slipped in the back door at the last minute, her cheeks once again bright red.

Yoj felt her rage return, this time without the self-doubt. The three older children were suddenly wary, even with Lawa and Qala trying to distract them. Bux came to the aga, trying to act normal, and asked brightly "Anything need my help? I'll do the dishes tonight, to make up my share."

Yoj said in a tone too low for the children to hear "You can go scrub yourself, you reek of sewage from next door and I won't have it at my table." Bux blinked, and Halling looked at Yoj in dismay. Bux wheeled and went to the bath room. As Yoj put rice on the table, she asked Lawa if she could trade places with her, "to sit next to my emma Qen". Lawa calmly slid down between Ndege and Dodd, keeping Prl on her lap. Qen, however, said "Sit between me and Yerush, honey" and scooted over as well.

When Bux returned, everyone was already piling food onto their plates. She flicked her eyes at the change around the table but said nothing. Yoj and Halling encouraged the children to tell funny stories about lunch that day and the kite-flying.

At one point, Mill announced "Emma told us she's sleeping at home tonight." Halling looked at Yoj apologetically, and Yoj said "Good. I'm glad for you all. I'll be at the Lofthall again tonight, if Qala will have me."

Qala said "We'll walk you back after everyone's in bed, our pleasure."

After dinner, Qala and Lawa started games with the children in the living room. Halling and Yoj went to her study to talk.

"I meant to tell you about sleeping here -- " began Halling.

"No, it's good for them. I'm just not ready yet. Are you going to -- sleep with her?" asked Yoj.

"In the same bed, yes. Maybe with one of the kids. But not -- honestly, Yoj, the idea of being lovers with her right now makes my skin crawl, is that awful of me?" said Halling.

"If it is, then I'm awful too" answered Yoj. She told Halling about Yerush's apology to her partners that morning, and their shared weeping later.

"Wow" said Halling. "I knew you looked like a person again, now I understand why. Oh, Yoj, I'll miss you terribly tonight."

"Me, too. But the kids need it, and I need to see them not suffering" said Yoj. They kissed for a while, and Yoj felt even more balance in her body.

When they went back into the main rooms, Yoj saw Bux had her secretarial work stacked on the table. No doubt she was as far behind there as she was at home. Heading off any request to use her study, Yoj said to Yerush "Emma, Halling's going to join the kids and I've volunteered to tell them bedtime stories. Between now and then, would you explain degree possibilities to me in my study?"

"Gladly" said Yerush.

"Can I come, too?" asked Dodd.

"You can sit in my lap and listen, or draw, but the talking has to be between me and abba" said Yoj. This ordinary limit was reassuring to Dodd. She came to sit in Yoj's lap for a while, then abandoned them for the living room fun again.

Yoj felt a new security with Yerush, and talked with her as an equal more than she ever had. They kept making each other laugh, and now that Yoj didn't feel a need to try to impress Yerush, she realized she did, in fact, impress her often.

When they came back out, Halling was taking the children for a final trip to the privy. Qen was at the table with Bux, talking. Yoj heard Qen say "I've never known a Manage to have two members campaigning for office at the same time, but that doesn't mean it's impossible, I suppose." She turned to Yerush and said "We're discussing the winter Vote, when Halling runs for re-election -- if Bux could think about campaigning then as well."

Yerush smiled at Bux tightly and said "We'll have added prestige we'll be garnering from Yoj's new position and popular book, and Halling is going to sweep the election. But people will be fully aware that you are having an ill-conceived affair that's already the talk of the neighborhood, against the wishes of your partners, and public blame is going to settle on you alone. You've drained away your chances at being elected to anything at all for at least two years, and longer than that if people don't witness your partners supporting your reckless choices."

Bux went so pale that for an instant, Yoj felt sorry for her. She stood and walked stiffly to her bedroom, closing the door quietly. Qen said "Lev, Yerush, that was like slapping her across the face!"

"Did I say anything you don't agree with?" asked Yerush calmly.

"No" admitted Qen, "but you know pushing her just makes her dig in her heels deeper."

"It's a nasty habit, and the sooner she gets rid of it, the better for her. I'm not expecting anything of her I'm not facing myself" said Yerush. Qen raised her eyebrows and looked at Veida.

Veida said "In the final analysis, it's up to those three, not us."

Ndege came in the back door, and the topic was dropped. Halling helped Yoj put the children to bed, with collaborative stories that left them all giggling and at peace. Veida gave Halling a special tea with tinctures, and handed Yoj a bottle to add to her own tea back at the Lofthall. Yoj kissed her emmas goodnight, kissed Halling rather more, and left with Qala and Lawa, who linked their arms through hers to stroll down the lane.

"Yerush is really disgusted with Bux" whistled Lawa.

"Bux keeps asking for it" said Yoj. Qala and Lawa went silent.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

how we hurt the ones we love.....