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


The following afternoon, when Yoj arrived at the Lofthall she begged off taking a nap with Halling. "Look at this" she said, pulling a thick sheaf of printing from her pack. "I went by Yerush's office at lunch, and she wants me to make a list of every scholarly book or treatise I've ever read. I mean, I do have a list in a journal, but when I expressed the difficulty of writing that all down, she gave me this as a head start."

"What is it?" asked Halling, taking it from her.

"It's the bibliography used by the gakushas at the U, every single title they recommend for their students, basic or advanced. Yerush said I could just check off the ones I've read, then add whatever else is on my list when I get home. After dinner tonight, I guess" said Yoj, excitement making her voice squeaky.

Halling, grinning uncertainly, said "I have a meeting with Iro tonight after dinner, to go over electrical issues -- that schematic Szebel sent me from Yanja, from that friend of hers who's a fadian? It really does seem to be of one of the old underwater sensors. We were hoping to make sense of it, but I wanted to use your study so we can concentrate."

Yoj said, "Oh, excellent, Hall. Then I'm going home now, to get a head start on this. I'll play with the kids after dinner, keep them out of your hair. I can finish this after they go to sleep."

Halling kissed her, saying "Will you pick up fish on your way home? Listen, get hamsa, that's Yerush's favorite. I can't tell you how much I appreciate what she's doing."

"Me, too" said Yoj happily.

But Qala had been eavesdropping. After dinner she and Lawa offered to take the children out into that night's rain to the schoolyard for a game of what they called puddle tag. "They'll come home drenched and muddy, but it's bath night, anyhow, right?" said Lawa. "We'll get them clean and ready for bed. It should buy you a couple of hours of study time."

Yoj had already ticked off the titles she'd read on the printed list. She retrieved journals from her study and turned it over to Halling and Iro. She sat at Yerush's end of the table, Yerush next to her, to add in the rest of her reading. Yerush was correcting essays. Qen and Bux were working on new ku for the children. Veida, with no room left for her at the table, decided to scrub down the shelves in the larder.

After an hour, the children came home, a little blue-lipped from the cold but full of stories which had to be told at the tops of their voices. Yoj stripped them down in the kitchen as she listened and Veida made them tea. Yoj put Dodd, Prl and Speranz into a hot tub together, so Dodd didn't wait -- she still got colds more easily than the others. Lawa wrapped Ndege and Mill in blankets and sat with them in front of the hearth while Qala bathed the first set.

When Yoj returned to her chair, Yerush had take her list and was studying it. Yoj had added four pages of handwritten titles and was nearly through, with maybe another page to go, she thought. Yerush was flipping through the printed sheaf, page by page: All but one or two titles on each page had a check-mark beside it.

She looked at Yoj with wide eyes as Yoj settled in beside her. "Are you exaggerating this?" she asked Yoj.

Yoj was immediately uncomfortable at the idea she would lie. "No, Nan -- I mean, Yerush" she said. Bux looked up from where she was cutting fabric.

"I know, I shouldn't have asked you" said Yerush. "It's just -- this is unprecedented, Yoj. The truth is, you've read more than I have." Now Qen was watching them as well.

Yoj flushed. "I find that hard to believe" she protested faintly.

"Well, believe it. Yoj, this is a lifetime of study already. How on earth -- I know you're at the library every day..." began Yerush.

"She reads at night after we go to bed. Not every night, but lots of times" offered Bux.

"What do you do with all this knowledge?" asked Yerush gently.

"I -- I think about it, all the time. I put it in my songs, and the stories I tell my children" said Yoj.

"She talks to us about it when we're alone" interjected Bux again.

"If you've retained even half of this, I have no doubt you could pass any graduate degree examination we could set for you at the University" said Yoj, a speculative tone in her voice.

"You mean, without attending advanced classes?" asked Yoj. Her hands were starting to tremble a little.

"Maybe more than one degree" mused Yerush to herself. "If you held double degrees, you'd have high access to the Archives..." She looked at Yoj, their face inches apart, and Yoj's lips began to tremble as well under Yerush's inquisitive gaze.

"Yoj, I'm going to revise my advice to you" Yerush said, making a decision. "I'm going to suggest that you apply to the U for as many degrees as a panel of gakushas think is appropriate. Take the exams, present a body of work, and then take a part-time position with us as a gakusha. You'll earn an income, you'll have the intellectual vigor of teaching, and I'll wager it will greatly enhance your petition to ZaMa for Archive privileges."

"A gakusha?!" exclaimed Yoj, just as Qala emerged from the bath room, along with a cloud of steam and three shiny children wrapped in towels. "Me, teaching at the U?"

Qala, quick on the uptake, said immediately "Who better? You can still be dichter part-time, you're making Halling reduce your income next budget anyhow."

"What?" said Bux. This was news to her, and she didn't like it.

Yoj explained "I can't justify taking full payment just for arranging old songs. I mean, yes, I'm on standby in case I'm needed, but people are going to protest and blame Halling if I go on taking uncut salary for what I'm doing."

"A gakusha salary won't make up the difference. Still, it'll be something, and more to the point, you'll be getting the respect and stimulus you deserve" said Yerush.

"But -- I don't have a book or treatise to present" argued Yoj, "And I don't have time to research or write one -- "

Yerush interrupted her, laughing. Veida and Qen were laughing, also. Veida said "Yoj, how long have you been dichter? Twenty years?"

"Twenty-one" said Yoj.

"And you've written a song a week for all those years?" said Qen.

"Not the last couple" corrected Yoj.

"Still, it's around a thousand songs" said Yerush. Lawa and the children from the living room were now standing with the other children, watching Yoj with interest. "A thousand original pieces of music, with lyrics about -- what, Yoj?"

Yoj's face was registering comprehension. "About Skene. About our identity, our culture, our geography, our history..." Her voice trailed off. Yerush put her hand over Yoj's and said, softly, "The work of a genius amongst us. I can't believe I've missed this. Your songs alone qualify you for a degree in music. Plus -- cultural studies, history, language -- totally aside from the gakusha aspect, Yoj, we need to publish a volume of your collected works."

"A giant thick table-thumper of a volume!" said Qala. "Every musician on Skene will drool over it."

Dodd had come slowly to Yoj's side and curled her hand into Yoj's sleeve. "Emma, can I have a copy of your songs?" she asked.

Yoj looked at her, stunned, then pulled her into her lap and hugged her wildly. "Of course you can, Dodd my own! I'd be honored." After a few seconds, she said "Your skin is chilling, we need to get you into sokken and a wool schmatta." She began to stand up, but Qala said "I'll tend to it."

Lawa began herding her two to the bath room. Yerush reclaimed Yoj's attention and said "Finish your list, we'll need to get it typed and copied. Your next assignment is to pull all your songs and get them set into a printable form. I'll talk with the dean and other gakushas, come up with a plan for you at the U. It will have to leave my supervision, so there's no question of favoritism."

"Shards" whispered Yoj.

Qen leaned over to give Yoj a hug, saying "Shards, indeed."

An hour later, when Halling and Iro emerged, the children had gone to sleep but Qala and Lawa were lingering, mostly because they wanted to see Halling's face when she was told of the new idea. Yoj had finished her list and was in the bath room, putting the children's muddy clothes into the boiler to soak overnight. Halling pulled her into the living room with a jerk and began waltzing her around wildly. After a minute, Bux joined them.

"Shhh" cautioned Yoj, pointing her head at the loft above them. But she danced with joy, between her partners.

Yoj spent much of the next week in a fog of past songs. Every one she transcribed into a clean format brought up specific memories, and she found herself reliving them, even as she cooked, washed clothes, or spent time with her children. When she was finally finished with the volume, on Roku a few hours after Market, she put her children into burzakas and they caught the ferry to Verzin, to drop her book at the cartagen. Afterward, they caught another ferry to Faar, where lambing was just beginning. Her five frolicked with kids from Faar among the mucky fields and raindrop-speckled baby lambs while she chatted with a flock-keeper. She bought three different kinds of sheep cheese plus a bag of fine black wool to make into dress sokken.

On the way back by the Lofthall, they waited for Halling and then went to the fish docks with her. When they got home, the Manage was dark and empty. A note on the table indicated the abbas had gone to visit friends two lanes over.

"I guess Bux is with them" said Yoj, setting the fish into marinade. "Mill and Prl, go pick a salad plus, Prl, bring me back three heads of broccoli right away, I'll made a casserole with some of this cheese. Dodd and Speranz, chickens, and Ndege, it's your turn to feed the katts."

Halling was starting a pot of rice and said "We're low on everything but apples, so how about if I stew some with cinnamon for dessert?"

"Good enough" said Yoj. But when Prl came back in with the broccoli, Bux accompanied her.

"Where were you all?" she asked, washing her hands.

"I told you, we had to go to Verzin today" said Yoj. "We went on to Faar for a while. Where were you?"

"Hanging out with Ried. She just left for her work shift. You'll never believe how some rockwit on Ada Fling broke her arm yesterday -- " Bux was off on one of her Ried stories, as Yoj thought of them, sitting at the table with tea. Yoj and Halling only half-listened as they pulled together dinner. When the abbas returned home, Yerush came directly to Yoj and said "How does it look?"

"Unbelievably thick" answered Yoj, grinning. "I went with linen binding, the leather was just too expensive."

"What are you talking about?" asked Bux, finally starting to chop vegetables for salad.

"Her book" said Yerush, her voice a little tart. Focusing back on Yoj, she said "We'll want a leather copy for your library, to hand on in the family. But we can get that made when the demand hits out there and we need to print more anyhow."

Yoj giggled incredulously. Halling kissed her in passing and said "Pay attention to Yerush, she knows what she's talking about."

Veida went out the tillage and returned after fifteen minutes, saying "No weeding at all got done today on the sugar beets. And none of the kale got set out."

"I'll get to it in the morning, emma" said Bux hurriedly. "I thought the children could help me."

"But Lawa's taking us to Motu tomorrow, to see our cousins!" protested Ndege.

"Fine, then" said Bux, now irritated.

"I'd help, but I've got stacks of laundry" said Yoj apologetically. "Still, we'll have some moments alone tomorrow here, eh?"

"Unless you're buried in your study again" said Bux shortly. Halling looked at Yoj behind her back and made a face. Yoj smothered a laugh.

For Shmonah dinner, Ektr, Iro, Rark and Danaan joined them, along with Qala and Lawa, shifting the children to the living room. Once everyone was eating, Halling grinned at Iro and said "You want to make the announcement, or shall I?"

Iro shrugged, grinning, and Halling said "We have a battery array that will provide one-and-a-half times the previous highest charge we've ever achieved for an aircraft."

Rark and Danaan clearly already knew about this, but Yoj, Qala and Veida all reacted immediately. "Thunder me down!" said Qala, "the tests came out okay?"

"All on the ground so far, but yes. I'd feel safe using it myself" said Halling.

Qala, seeing Lawa's slight confusion, explained: "This means we can make it to Danaan's Secano without risk. We can go exploring!"

Now all the adults began cheering, and the children of course rushed the table. As they began persuading themselves into laps, Yoj told them, with a sigh, "Go get your own plates, at least." She cleared the center of the table so there would be more room. Danaan scooted over to let Mill share her seat. Qen murmured to Yerush happily "Who knew when we were getting a bigger table that we'd need to seat 17?"

Veida asked Halling "What's next, then? Do you have to bring the issue of exploration to a Skene-wide vote?"

Yerush slid in smoothly. "Not necessarily. Because Danaan already landed there, it's now Skene territory, and technically going there is not exploration. If the Lofthall chooses to claim it as a rescue zone for pilots, they can do so temporarily; I can't imagine anyone arguing with them, because who else can reach it?"

Halling's eyes were half-closed over a calculating smile. "My conclusions exactly. And, we intend to be very above-board about what we do there. First step will be to send a team of trained pilots in a large sinner with land-sculpting lasers, to create a wide, level jichang. Once they're on the ground, they can go up the rise a couple of feet and terrace out another wide space to eventually hold a collapsible metal hut with supplies. At the moment, though, we'll place solar panels attached to a duplicate set of emergency batteries, plus a small survival kit. We'll also haul along a seismic thumper, to read the terrain underneath, see if there's water we can reach with a well and if we tap geothermal energy."

"Hence, all the extra training you two've been doing" Qala said to Rark and Danaan.

"Looking forward to seeing it with my own eyes" said Rark. Mill's expression was envious.

Qen said to Ektr "You must hate the idea of them being out of radio contact for all that time, though."

Ektr replied "Oh, they've been working on that, too." She waved back at Halling.

"We had a visit from the Astronomer earlier this week" said Halling. Yerush almost choked on the bite in her mouth. "Okano came to the Lofthall?!!" she sputtered.

"Walked right in the door" confirmed Halling. "She had a packet of papers she spread out on the dispatch room table, and I sent for Iro right away because I could tell I'd have trouble making sense of it without an interpreter. But Qala grasped it first. Nan Astronomer remembered hearing of it somewhere in her training, and had requested a search of the Archives months ago, finally turning up something specific: Some schematics for a way of making radio transmission carry over extremely long distances. To be honest, with enough construction, this could make any spot on Skene accessible by radio. We won't need that capacity, though."

Yoj could tell Halling was having a blast. She'd been so preoccupied with her own project, she'd missed out on hearing about this all week. She was thrilled, for Halling and for Skene.

Iro added "It looks entirely workable to me, except for the power source to get the thing into orbit -- we don't have that knowledge, yet."

"Orbit?" exclaimed Veida. She had entirely given up on eating. Ndege was stealing the more delectable nuggets from Veida's plate.

"Yep" said Halling, with an exultant giggle. "We fly something high above Skene, just outside the atmosphere so it goes into orbit like a tiny moon, sitting there -- like a kite but without a string" she said to Dodd's confused face.

"Gravity holds it instead of a string" Danaan added.

Halling nudged Mill and said "Go get your kickball." When Mill returned, Halling held the ball in the air and said "Now, pretend this is Skene. Mill, grab one of those chickpeas from my plate and hold it right above the surface of Skene, as if it was a lighter -- don't move it, just let it hover."

Speranz made the "Mzzz, mzzz" sounds of a lighter in flight, sending her and Prl into giggles.

Halling ignored them, her face animated as she explained. "Okay, so you want to radio from the lighter to somewhere, but sound travels in a straight line. How far can that signal go before it gets blocked by the mass of Skene itself?"

Mill traced a careful circle around her chickpea lighter with the finger of her other hand.

"Right. Not far enough for us. But -- " Halling gently teased Mill's chickpea upward, until it was two inches away from the kickball. "Now tell me what the range of the signal is."

Everyone saw it at the same time and gave out an "Ohhh!"

Jubilant, Halling said "We send a signal to the stationary satellite and bounce the sound back to anywhere in that big circle, we have almost instant communication. It reverses the path for them to radio us back."

"Was this in the first colonist's records?" asked Yerush.

"Yes. And from the original planet. They had them all over the skies there, the Astronomer said" Halling verified.

"Now, this is something the Ethicist will never okay on her own. It'll have to go to Skene, and, frankly, I think a lot of people won't understand the science behind it" said Yerush.

Bux chuckled, saying "You'll have to go from island to island with your kickball and chickpea, conducting lessons".

Halling handed the ball back to Mill, laughing, and said "It's going to be more enthralling than you know: This will create the capacity for private radio frequencies all over Skene. We'll be able to have unmonitored calls with any other Manage. No more going through the Sigrist."

Eyes were huge. Yerush said with relish "A major power shift in the offing. The battle over this is going to be fascinating."

Halling laughed deep in her belly and said "Won't it, though. Well, that's for maybe next year, keep it under your hat. First things first."

Yoj said "One thing you might consider for the interim -- increase the power and antenna on Peisuo. Z'bef might be able to reach Danaan's Secano from there, and she could act as relay."

Halling looked at her levelly. "That's a good idea. If the Ethicist okays it."

Ektr raised her cup and said "In the meantime, I say cheer, cheer for the brilliant minds and future of Skene gathered at this table!" They all toasted, Speranz spilling some of her tea into Yerush's plate but Yerush said it added seasoning, not to worry.

That night, before bed, Yoj added a last page to her monthly letter to Z'bef, telling her about the latest developments except for the radio idea. She slipped it into the package that would be delivered to Peisuo the next day, along with a copy of her collected songs, and sealed the crate.

The following Iki, Yoj was at her cubicle right after lunch when she heard a call go out for Veida's services as comadrona, this time on Argile. Even if she ran, by the time she got home to help Veida pack, Veida would be ready to go. She wondered how it was for Veida at the Manage alone these days, without Ng's company. For a brief moment, she let herself realize that some day, all of the abbas would be gone, and at some point when they were very old, she would lose one of her partners as well. It was too dreadful to think about, and she shoved the thought away.

A couple of hours later, she walked to the Lofthall to join Halling for her nap. Halling was in her office meeting with the canteen chief, discussing supply orders, so Yoj sat down next to Qala for a chat in between radio calls. She was still sitting there when her five children walked in the door from the pouring rain, Mill holding Speranz's hand.

Yoj got to her feet, startled. "What are you doing here on your own?" she asked.

"Nobody's home" said Mill. Dodd looked upset, and Yoj put her hand on Dodd's shoulder.

"Abba Veida got called to a birthing" said Yoj. "Abba Qen, she's still at school?"

"Yes, she said she had to work late today. And aggie's not there" said Ndege, her tone indignant.

"Did you look out back?" asked Yoj. Ndege made an exasperated face.

"Okay, well, something must have come up. You did the right thing, coming here." Yoj felt unsettled, in a way she couldn't explain. She asked Qala to let Halling know what had happened, and she left to walk the children back home.

There was no note on the kitchen table. Veida wouldn't leave one, knowing her family would have heard the radio, but Bux's unexplained absence was disturbing. Yoj walked through the tillage herself, looking in the greenhouse and the back room. She glanced toward Ried's house, thinking about asking her if she'd seen Bux, but the windows were dark -- nobody home. Maybe there was an emergency with the Sheng Zhang. Yoj fed the children a snack and sat down to do their homework with them. When that was finished, she sent them out front in their burzakas to play in the afternoon rain.

By the time she started dinner, she was frankly worried. Qen came home ten minutes later and Yoj poured out her anxiety to the older woman. They were still discussing what to do when Yerush walked in. Qen wanted to send Mill to Bux's office, but Yerush said they were overreacting. They continued making dinner, Yoj refusing to look at the clock again, until Prl trailed in, dripping from her rainhat, and said she was hungry again. Dinner was ready -- Yoj did look at the clock, then, and it was ten minutes past the time they usually ate. She turned to look at Qen, and they heard Halling calling from the front door, saying "I'm so sorry, I got delayed -- "

Halling walked into the kitchen, saying "Oh, good, I didn't hold you up. Shall I set the table?"

Yoj said "Bux isn't here, didn't come home after work, no note, nothing." Her voice was hoarse with fear.

Halling caught her worry instantly. "Have you gone to her office? Or asked the neighbors?"

"Jaln and Ried's house was dark. I didn't ask Ektr, but she doesn't get home until after Bux usually does" said Yoj. Yerush added, "I told them to wait on going to the office, but now -- wait, is it possible she went with Veida for some reason?"

"Without leaving a note?" said Qen. They all looked at each other, and Prl said "Emma? What's wrong?"

Yoj began taking off Prl's burzaka as Halling began putting her own back on. "I'll go to her office, and if she's not there, I'll go to the Lofthall, send a radio message to Argile, have someone there track down Veida to see if Bux is with her. If she's not -- " Halling stopped.

Yerush said "If she's not, send a call out on Sigrist. Better embarrassed than sorry."

"I'll go talk to all the neighbors" said Qen. "If I find out something, I'll send Mill to the Lofthall with a message."

"What do I do?" said Yoj, her voice high.

"We feed the children and keep them calm" said Yerush, going to the aga to pour soup into a tureen. Halling strode back into the kitchen to kiss Yoj and say "It's going to be all right. I'll be back as -- "

"Aggie!" cried Prl, pointing to the back door. Bux was just opening it, with a gust of wind accompanying her entrance. Her eyes were huge, her cheeks were bright red, and she had a grin from ear to ear.

"You're not sitting down yet, good, I'm just in time!" she said, not meeting anyone's eyes except Prl's.

"Where in the lev have you been?" demanded Yoj. "We were about to set a search for you over Sigrist radio."

"I don't always get home before dinner" said Bux defensively, startled by the intensity in the room.

"The children came home to an empty house! They walked to the Lofthall alone, looking for emmas!" said Yoj.

"Where was Veida?" asked Bux, looking around.

"She got called to a birth, didn't you hear it?" said Yerush. "It was just past lunch, you'd have still been at your office."

'No...I left work early today, I didn't eat lunch there" said Bux. "I was -- next door. With Ried."

"I looked there" accused Yoj, "The house was dark, nobody was there."

Halling, however, had a look of sick comprehension crossing her face, as did Yerush.

Bux slid her burzaka over her head, buying her face a few seconds of invisibility. Then, squaring her shoulders, she said "We were there. We've become lovers."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.

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