Wednesday, January 2, 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


As they were getting in bed one night, Halling said to Bux and Yoj "I'm worried about Dodd. About the change that's coming on her and Ndege, and what adolescence is going to mean for her in particular."

Yoj said "You mean because she's a Y."

"Yes. I don't think it's a lot different, but there's some difference" said Halling. "Plus, there's a possibility she could get someone, well, pregnant, if she has sex during her teenage years. She's got emma helping her through it, explaining things about her body as it -- changes. Just like she did when Dodd got out of diapers and had to learn to pee standing up. Or when she went off to school and found out she was part of only a small number" said Halling. "But I think a second Y in her life would be good, especially if they were younger than emma."

"Ng is great with her" said Bux. "I've never seen her feeling bad about herself, not once."

Yoj said "Dodd and I are very close, I can talk to her when things come up -- "

"Yes, and you will" said Halling, "But -- I was thinking about asking Qala to take on that role. As Dodd's mentor."

"Qala?" said Yoj in bewilderment. "I mean, she's close to this Manage, but why her instead of me?"

"Not instead of -- " began Bux, but Halling was staring at Yoj. She said, in an incredulous voice, "You do know that Qala is a Y?"

Yoj felt the shock throughout her entire body. She couldn't seem to speak.

Halling, now laughing, said "Oceans, Yoj -- all this time, you -- well, I guess since you didn't shower at the Lofthall at the same time she did, and -- "

Bux collapsed into giggles, saying "This proves once and for all you really never were lovers with her. But how funny it would have been if you had decided to have an affair, and that moment of discovery! Almost would have been worth it."

Yoj gave her a scowl, and retorted "Well, now that I do know, maybe it's time I find out what it's like. I mean, that way I could be more informed with regard to Dodd."

Bux stopped laughing instantly. Halling gave Yoj a shove and said "Get off it, don't tease her about that."

Yoj was silent, trying to readjust her thinking. Bux was still tense. After a minute, Yoj said "Yeah, that'd be a great idea, Halling. Why don't you let me talk with Qala? I'll make it clear the request is from all of us, and she can discuss it with any of us."

Halling and Bux nodded. Yoj lay down, and pulled Bux against her, saying "C'mere, you. Of course I didn't mean it. And you're right, my reaction would have been hysterical. Except to Qala, of course."

Bux relaxed against her, saying "Poor Dodd. I hope she doesn't run into that herself, out there with the women she loves."

After a moment, Yoj said with soft grief "I do too."

The next day at dinner, Yerush said she'd learned that Z'bef's cousin was making an appeal to the Ethicist for a commutation of Z'bef's exile. The cousin said her Manage was willing to take Z'bef in, to assume responsibility for her, including the cousin's emma who had been the sibu of Z'bef's aggie, the woman she had murdered.

Everyone had stopped eating and was staring at her. "Is the Ethicist considering it?" asked Yoj hoarsely.

"She can't, really. There's no law providing for commutation. But one could be written, and voted on this year. She's asked me to help write the law" said Yerush. "I told her I'd be honored to participate."

Veida leaned over and kissed her cheek.

"This must be because of the video" said Yoj.

"I gather it was, and that video will be helpful when it comes time for people to vote" said Yerush.

"Does Z'bef know about this? Should I mention it in my letter to her this month?" asked Yoj.

"She does. She and the cousin write every month as well" said Yerush.

It was five months until the next Vote Day. Every letter from Z'bef during that time mentioned the possibility of her return to Skene, what it would be like for her, asking Yoj how she thought the vote might go. All Yoj could tell her was that the people she knew were ready to change the law.

But the revision went down to defeat by a narrow margin. Yoj was up at dawn, with Halling, to check the kiosk, and when she read the results, she had to sit down on the curb, she was so upset. Halling urged her along with her to the Lofthall, where they locked the door to the dispatch room and Yoj had a private ten-minute call with Z'bef.

When Yoj emerged, she said "I don't know how she bears it."

"We'll try again" said Halling. Yoj, her face in anguish, said to her accusingly "You had Schla stand guard with a bloodstained axe!"

Halling said softly "I had to be able to tell the Ethicist I had observed the regulations -- otherwise, neither you or I would ever be able to go out there again."

Yoj finally let herself cry, and pushed into Halling's arms.

The next day, Shmonah, a double leviathan attack on the kelp sinners pulled down both Schla and a lighter named Hmeh trying frantically to divert the lev leaping for her. Small metal remains of their craft floated back to the top of the kelp bed an hour later.

Bux and Yoj were at the jichang when Halling landed, along with a crowd. Halling could see the cluster of wailing pilots, and for once her landing was off-center, giving her a powerful bump at the end. She opened the hatch and said to Yoj, "It must be the kelpers, it wasn't us."

Yoj stepped to her and said "Schla and Hme."

"Both?" cried Halling. She looked at Bux's tear-stained face and stepped to her, wrapping the three of them into an embrace. Bux cried again, but Halling did not. She chose not to go to the Lofthall, instead walking home with them. She said she wasn't hungry, drank only a cup of tea, then went to bed. They both offered to lie down with her, but she said she simply needed to sleep.

When she got up, the children were home. Mill came to her for a hug. Halling sat down in the living room, and Mill nestled into her side. After a minute, Mill said "Emma, I promise, when I'm a lighter, I won't let any lev get me."

Halling went very still. After a minute, she stood up and went to put on her boots.

Yoj came out of the kitchen, saying "Hall? What are you doing?"

"I need to go to the Lofthall" Halling said, grabbing her guibba.

"Hang on till dinner's ready, will you? I'll go with you."

"No, I need to go now" said Halling.

"Can I go?" asked Mill.

"No!" said Halling. "Don't wait dinner on me, I'll eat whenever I get back."

She was out the door. Yoj turned to Ng in concern, and saw Ng's face bleak with worry. "Should I go after her?" she asked the room.

"Or I will" offered Bux. But Ng said "No. Best to wait."

Halling was back after dinner was over, her guibba wet, her cap missing. Yoj grabbed a towel and sat her down in a chair, rubbing her hair dry, as Qen pulled the plate of food they'd kept warm for her from the aga and Yerush made tea. Ng picked up Halling's hand nearest her and warmed it between her own.

Halling took a long drink of tea, ignoring the plate in front of her. Finally she looked up at Yoj and Bux, and said "I told Igoz I needed some time off."

"You mean -- like a vacation?" said Bux.

"Just away from the Lofthall" said Halling.

"What did she say?" asked Yoj.

"She said no, they couldn't spare me" said Halling, a disturbing grin coming onto her face. "So I quit. Told her I wasn't fit to fly right now."

Suddenly all you could hear in the room was the hiss of the aga. Even Speranz seemed to be holding her breath. Yoj whispered "Was Qala there?"

"Yep. But she didn't have to do anything, Igoz immediately did her rapid back-pedal, said of course I was due some time off, it was the slack time of year for sinning anyhow, she'd be glad to give me a week with full pay. She all but drooled on my hand" said Halling, her voice oddly toneless.

"Well, of course she changed her tune, the rockwit, they can't possibly lose you -- " began Veida.

Halling looked at her and said "We're all expendable. That's part of the definition of piloting, expendability." She finally noticed her food and picked up her chopsticks, beginning to eat.

"Halling, we'll get you rested, we'll help you find your balance again" said Qen.

Halling chewed her brussel sprout thoughtfully, then said "I want to see Skene."

"What?" asked Yoj.

"I've flown over it, and I've landed on most of the islands, but I've not seen them. Just here, and Motu, and what's in between. I want to ride the ferries and walk the lanes. I want to see where I live" said Halling.

"That's a good idea" said Bux. "I could take a day or two off, we could -- "

"I want to do it alone" said Halling. Not coldly, just matter of fact. "I need time to think, and look around. I arranged to hitch a ride in the morning with the school sinner out to Yanja. I'll spend one day there, then start riding the ferries back in, island by island. I'll go visit Paha and Tlochin on Beras, maybe. Get as far as Verzin, walk up and ride back out to Exploit."

Her eyes were still opaque. She was eating steadily, but without her usual enjoyment. Yoj didn't know what to say. Apparently none of them did. They stood or sat, watching Halling eat, until she was done. She said "I'll give dessert a pass. I need to go pack" and walked into the bedroom.

After a glance at each other, Bux and Yoj followed, shutting the door behind them.

"Halling, something's wrong" said Yoj.

"You got that right" said Halling, pulling a large rucksack from under the bed.

"You need to talk with us, get out whatever's bothering you" said Bux.

"No, I've figured out what I need to do" said Halling, rolling sokken into balls and dropping them in the rucksack.

"And we're not part of it?" asked Yoj.

"Not at the moment" said Halling. "It's inside me, the work I need to do. Something about me, and about Skene."

"Well, I'm part of Skene, and I love you, and I don't want you walking out on me like this!" said Bux, her voice starting to break.

"I love you, too. I'm not walking out on you. I'm just -- walking" said Halling.

"But will you be back?" demanded Bux.

Halling finally looked at her. "Of course I'll be back. This isn't about you, Bux." She paused for a minute, then began folding shati into her bag.

Bux looked at Yoj, then, as if Yoj needed to take action. Yoj said "You're scaring us, Hall."

"I'm sorry about that" said Halling. "I don't mean to be. But I can't fix anything right now. Not until I fix -- myself."

"Let me do that with you" said Yoj. "I always have before, you know that!"

"I wish you could" said Halling. "This time is different. You just have to trust me. I go out there and I do -- impossible things, and I find a way back home every day, don't I? And you trust me every day. Well, this is like that. Except I won't be in as much peril." She opened her cupboard, looking over the contents of her shelves as if considering what to add to her bag.

"Fine" said Bux. "Whatever. I need to go be with our children." She slammed out of the room.

"She's mad. Are you mad, too?" asked Halling, still not looking at Yoj.

"Scared. I already told you" said Yoj.

"I'll help put the kids to bed" said Halling. "And I'll come back as soon as I -- figure this out."

Yoj sighed and said "All right. I don't see what choice I have."

"You got that right" said Halling again. "You and me both."

Yoj went to sit beside Ng and repeat the conversation to her. Ng said "She's never taken a single planned day off, not since she graduated. That alone has got to add up. I don't think she's self-destructive. She's just -- worn out."

"And she can't rest here with us?" asked Yoj.

"She doesn't turn off feeling responsible very easily" said Veida. "You're the same way, you know what that's like."

I'm not choosing to leave thought Yoj. Halling came out of the bedroom and set her bag by the front door. She offered to play Quackers with the children if they washed up and got their schmattas on, and there was a rush for the bath room.

The next morning, Bux and Yoj got up with Halling, who put last minute items in her bag and said "I'll be at the hostel at Yanja, in case of emergency. After that, I'll tell you where I am."

She hugged them both, and kissed them. "Thanks for trusting me" she whispered. She still looked exhausted to Yoj. She hugged and kissed Ng and Veida, then peered up into the loft. When she saw Mill was up, she motioned her to the ladder and climbed a few steps so she could kiss Mill, as well. When she walked out the door, Bux began crying. Yoj took her back to bed, and they both wept a while, going to sleep wrapped together, until the children got them up again.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


letsdance said...

Jan "the fan" here.....WOW! Maggie, you sure can write!

Maggie Jochild said...

So, Jan -- what do you think about what's going on with Halling? Any opinion is okay, you know.

letsdance said...

My sense of the path that Halling is on is that she will become a leader on Skene.