Monday, August 3, 2009


(Pya, with named islands; click on image to enlarge)

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post from yesterday. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post. Terms first introduced in previous chapters will not be re-explained here.


Pyosz arrived at the Yanja jichang by 7:00 on the day she was going to Pya, delivered by the school sinner, whose pilot helped unload her trunk, her crate of books, a lunch hamper from the abbas, her katt Curds screaming non-stop in a carrier, and her carry-all. She was wearing her new otos, her red hat, her burzaka, and some of the work clothes which she had already washed once so they didn't look utterly new.

The huolon to Pya was next to the Yanja warehouse, being loaded with crates of metals not yet mined on Pya, chemicals, vinegar jugs, silk, tools, cable, medicine, ink, pumice-based cleansers and abraders, mail, and a portable cage containing two long-haired breeding-stock sheep who were making a racket rivaling that of Curds. Doing the loading was her cousin Abbo and another pilot, a tall woman with short orangy hair and extremely pale skin. Getting in the way was a child of six or seven, who despite having auburn hair and tan skin looked so much like the other pilot that she had to be a sibu.

The pale pilot stopped loading when Abbo said "Hey, Pyosz! You're the only passenger, we're gonna put you in the seat right behind us and turn all the rest into cargo hold." As Abbo carelessly dragged Pyosz's trunk across the tarmac, the pale pilot picked up the child and carried her to the school sinner. The child was clinging to her, and Pyosz heard her say "When will you be back, Maar?"

Maar: Pyosz recognized the name. They'd gone to school together, though she was a year or two ahead of Maar. She remembered when Maar had started first grade, her pale face had brown flecks all over it that Pyosz had thought was dirt. She'd told the leraar about it, and the leraar had explained they were called freckles, natural spots on her skin. Pyosz found this disturbing. In fact, Pyosz couldn't remember having seen freckles on anyone since.

Maar put her sibu on the sinner and stood in the hatch, talking with her earnestly in a low voice. She pulled coins from her pocket and put them in the child's hand, kissed both cheeks repeatedly, then finally buckled the child into a seat and closed the hatch. After the sinner was in the air, far enough away that the small waving hand was no longer visible, Pyosz saw Maar's shoulders heave once. Maar turned and walked out of view for a couple of minutes. When she returned, her eyes were red and her pale cheeks roughly wiped dry of wetness.

Abbo said to her "Funny how you always have to say goodbye to Thleen right when there's the last of the lifting to be done." Maar made an obscene gesture and bent to pick up Pyosz's metal crate of books, having to stop and try a second time because the weight caught her off guard.

"What the lev do you have in there, cousin?" said Abbo.


Abbo snorted and rolled her eyes at Maar. "New capriste, bringing shitloads of books to Ferk's tiny cabin" she said. Maar ignored her, putting the crate on top of Pyosz's trunk behind the second pilot seat and strapping them both down. Abbo said to Maar "Where do you want your katt?"

"On the trunk beside my seat" said Pyosz. "Here, let me get in, I'll arrange it." She put the hamper on top of the book crate and her carry-all, which held a small blanket and pillow, at the edge of her seat which was directly behind the pilot. She started to fasten her harness, then said "Wait, I need to take a final piss."

"Good thinking" said Abbo. Pyosz ran to the privy and relieved herself: There was a privy on board but it was chemical and smelled horrific. Experienced travelers tried to not use it during the seven-hour flight. Pyosz stopped at the sink in the office and scrubbed her face. She herself had cried hard after leaving her abbas and emma at the Lofthall jichang, choking it off only as the silent sinner pilot began their descent to Yanja.

At the huolon, Abbo was standing impatiently by the hatch. "Is that katt going to do this the whole trip"" she complained.

"I don't know, I've never flown her anywhere" replied Pyosz, climbing in with a sense of excitement despite Abbo and despite leaving Skene. Maar was in the pilot seat, running a checklist. Abbo removed chocks and tie-down, walked around the plane once, then swung in and shut the hatch with a strong slam, locking it in place. She slid into the seat beside Maar and began flipping switches as she buckled her harness.

The two pilots talked to each other and the radio operator with terse focus for the next few minutes. Pyosz looked out the window as they banked around the southern end of Yanja, catching a glimpse of most of the Eastern Tendril but not quite able to see Riesig. She shifted her legs a few times because the new otos didn't feel right on her feet. They passed over the bubbling red circle of magma where a new island was trying to rise from the Southern Wasa, and then they were over Morrie Strati. Pyosz turned to Curds and began reassuring her that everything was going to be just fine. If anything, Curds' cries went up in volume.

Once the huolon seemed to have leveled off and Abbo was reaching into her own carryall, Pyosz loosened her harness so she could lean forward between the seats. Getting her face close to Maar's so she could be heard over the engine, she stuck out her hand and shouted "We didn't get introduced. I'm Pyosz, replacement capriste for the summer."

"Whoa" said Maar, reeling backward. "Did you have cabbage and garlic for breakfast?"

Abbo howled, pounding on the wall beside her. Pyosz sat back in complete shock. As a matter of fact, I did she thought. It's my favorite dish by my abba Bux, and I requested it especially for a send-off. She rebuckled her harness and looked out the window, hoping her cheeks were not flaming red. She hated Maar on the spot.

Abbo finally stopped laughing and made a nest for herself in her seat, leaning against the sidewall and dropping instantly into sleep. A few minutes later, the throbbing engines died down into a steady hum, and cold began to drift into the cabin. Curds went silent, and Pyosz checked on her. She was curled into the old woolen blanket Pyosz had torn into shreds to line her carrier. Her pupils were completely dilated, and the hair on her rump looked like she had already pissed herself.

"I'm so sorry, baby" Pyosz whispered. She fished a crumb of fisk from her carry-all and opened the small door to put it in Curds' bowl. Curds didn't even sniff at it, but she accepted Pyosz's petting with urgent bumps of her forehead against Pyosz's hand. "You should sleep" said Pyosz. "It's going to be eons in katt-time."

Pyosz pulled out her blanket and pillow, and found a comfortable position. The early morning sun was blazing through the front windscreen, however. She pulled her red cap over her face, which didn't totally block the light but made it a crimson shadow. To her complete surprise, she fell asleep.

When she woke up, she was stiff and cold. Looking out the window, she noticed first the vast stretches of Morrie Strati below, an unsettling sight. Then she realized it seemed appreciably later in the day.

"How long was I asleep?" she said out loud, looking at her watch.

"Coupla hours" said Maar. "But we're flying toward the east, remember."

"Oh, right." There was an 11-hour difference between Skene and Pya, with Pya's time earlier in the day. Which meant flights from Skene to Pya lost daylight. Pyosz began trying to figure out what time they'd arrive without checking her travel papers.

"Pyosz?" The pale pilot had turned around partly in her seat so she could speak more softly through the gap. "First of all, I'm Maar, we didn't get introduced." She held out her hand, and Pyosz shook it politely.

"Listen, it's been bothering me what I said. About the cabbage and all. I've spent the last two days with children -- " here Maar rolled her eyes toward sleeping Abbo, which made Pyosz smile in spite of herself -- "and I was just plain rude. It was a crappy way to start your trip to Pya, and I'm sorry."

Pyosz didn't want to let her off the hook. Still, she was clearly in earnest. Pyosz said "All right. It was rude. But I don't want my first new acquaintance to be someone I avoid."

"I remember you from school" said Maar, turning back to the controls. "You were a year ahead of me, but everyone talked about how smart you were."

I bet that's not all they talked about thought Pyosz. A second later she wondered Has Abbo never mentioned me, then?

"I remember you too, when you started first grade" said Pyosz. She instantly realized she couldn't follow that up with "I thought your freckles were weird." Reaching into her memory, she said "You're from Chloddia, right?"

Maar looked pleased. "Yeah. But I migrated to Pya directly from flight school, been there three years now."

"That child, your sibu? She looks a great deal like you were at that age. Lighter skin and hair is all" said Pyosz.

Now Maar's face was transformed by a grin into something radiant. "Her name is Thleen, and thanks. I think she's the most beautiful being in the world."

Abbo began moving, waking up with a grumpy expression on her face. "Don't get her started talking about Thleen, she'll never stop" Abbo said with a froggy voice. She reached for a metal box at her feet and pulled out a flagon of cold tea to take a drink. "You hungry?" she asked Maar. "Might as well eat before we switch."

Pyosz realized she was hungry again, too. She checked on Curds, who hadn't touched her water or food but was curled up with eyes half-closed. She pulled the hamper into her lap and opened the clasp.

Abbo looked around and said "Hey, is that from the abbas?"

Pyosz nodded, and Abbo said "You know they packed enough for a yanjanger crew. What's for sharing?"

Pyosz saw Maar nudge Abbo, who ignored her. Pyosz said "Um...There's bridies, which are filled with, let's see, this one's pork and onion, and the round ones are, yay, shrimp and cheese. There's a tomato and cucumber salad, some new potatoes in parsley butter, pickled beets, spinach fritters, orange-glazed carrots, a thermos of soup -- it's vegetable rice, I think -- and of course various bread and rolls."

Abbo handed back a large metal plate. "Pile it high, cousin. Except skip the soup."

"Abbo" protested Maar. "We've got our own basket from the jichang at Yanja."

"You don't want to pass by the abbas' cooking" said Abbo. "Trust me on this."

"It's okay" affirmed Pyosz. "I'm sure they assumed I'd be feeding Abbo, too." She handed a heaped plate back to Abbo, who ate three large bites herself before offering a bridie to Maar. Once the savory filling reached Maar's mouth, her shaggy orange eyebrows shot up her forehead almost to her bristly hair.

"Thunder me down!" she said through her full mouth. "That's the best I ever had."

Pyosz grinned at her in the mirror as she fished a small bit of shrimp from her own plate and put it in Curds' bowl. Curds sniffed the air but didn't move. Pyosz whispered "I'm so sorry, katt of mine. Eventually you'll forgive me, once you have an island to yourself." She poured a cup of soup and began dipping one of Yoj's flaky brown rolls into it with each bite.

She enjoyed watching Maar exclaim over each new dish, eating as much as Abbo by the time they were done. Pyosz put the lid back on her thermos, and Abbo turned around again to say "Dessert? And don't try to foist off those oranges I see, Halling will have made a pie or Yoj some cookies, we both know it."

In fact, Yoj had made an enormous tin of her cherry-oatmeal cookies; Pyosz had discovered it at the bottom of the hamper. But they were her favorite, and she had a napkin concealing them. "Let's see, this box looks promising" she temporized as she pried up the lid.

"Abbo, we're stuffed, we shouldn't be -- " began Maar.

"Lemon bars!" declared Pyosz.

"Lemon?" said Maar in a weak voice.

"Her favorite" giggled Abbo. Pyosz took a bar for herself and handed the box up front. Later, after she repacked the hamper and Abbo switched seats with Maar, Pyosz reluctantly used the onboard privy and returned to her harness chilled and faintly nauseous. She wished she'd packed her manteau at the top of her trunk. She pulled the sleeves of her sweater over her hands, huddled back in her seat with the cap over her face again, and tried to go back to sleep.

No chance. She had too much to think about. Still, she wanted space to think, not chat, so she pretended to be sleeping, this time with her head away from the window so she was facing Curds and could loop one finger through the mesh of the carrier. Poor Curds. Her emma had all but insisted she not take the katt, citing the risk of owls, but Pyosz didn't want to face a summer without her best companion.

For a high school history project, she had read and listened to all the first reports from Pya, explored not long before she was born. A crew of eight, including her sibemma Mill and partner Oby, had hopped from secano to secano across vast stretches of otherwise uninterrupted ocean, to reach the new land whose presence was originally presumed only from a single unverified map. It had taken a year to prepare the secanos to serve as these stepping stones. They were tiny, shu-infested, and often almost entirely vertical. A lighter equipped with a rock laser and two pilots flew from the nearest land, starting at Yanja, and carved a landing pad on the first secano. By the time they set down, the charge in their aircraft batteries was dangerously low, certainly not enough to return them home. They usually spent the first night in the lighter, saving their piss in bottles to use as shu-repellant.

The next morning, they emerged with the same lasers set to use as killing machines, scrubbing the secano free of all visible shu. It was a vile and messy business, and most of these missions had fallen to Mill and Oby, still very junior pilots who were desperate to earn a place on the subsequent exploration team. After slaughter, the jichang was expanded enough to hold a large sinner plus a prefab metal hut which whose six walls were lashed together in the back of the lighter. The hut was then assembled, bolted to the rock, solar panels erected on its roof to run a small generator, and stocked with a roll-up pallet, carboys of water, food staples, radio, and other emergency supplies. Its exterior was dowsed with the saved urine.

That first night spent inside the tiny structure must have been nearly intolerable: Surrounded by loud leviathan song, the stench of decaying shu and their own piss, the scuttling of surviving shu trying to find a way in through the aluminum. If there had been enough sunlight to restore their lighter's charge, they returned home the following morning. If not, they had to stay until the weather was clear long enough to give them juice.

Once home, the hardy adventurers rested up and their findings were studied. Surveys were made of the underlay of each secano, hoping for perhaps fresh water so a well could be sunk or geothermal presence to allow a permanent turbine for power. Nothing but rock was ever found. This led to speculation that the rumored islands at the end of their quest would also be unwatered, unearthed, and uninhabitable.

Still, Halling pushed on with the Lofthall mission to map all known land on Skene. The second secano was reached after a hop to the first to spend the night and hope for a recharge. Each subsequent venture took longer and longer, as two days or more were added for each new secano reached. The lighter Mill and Oby used began to retain a permanent odor of rotting flesh. Some wag of a pilot painted "Death To All Shu" on its nose, and Halling allowed it to stay, although it of course revived gossip about the Lofthall sliding into militaristic aggression again, 500 years since its last such transgression.

Skene held onto its worst fears like they were beloved blankets without which no one could sleep.

Finally, nine months after the venture to Pya had begun, the final push was at hand. To Mill and Oby's unending outrage, they were not selected to be the team who would actually first witness the fabled goal. Instead, Danaan and Rark were chosen as the pair to fly all the way to Pya. This was not just a political choice on Halling's part -- although since Danaan had been the pilot to find the first secano, nearly losing her life in the process, and since Rark had saved Halling from the jaws of leviathans, all of Skene celebrated them being rewarded with the final exploration.

However, it was also going to be necessary for the first visitors to make split-second decisions of extreme consequence. Rark and Danaan had repeatedly proven themselves intelligent, flexible, and reliable. Mill and Oby were brave but not yet seasoned.

The final secano was approximately one-half day's lighter charge from the presumed new world. Danaan and Rark were equipped with several cameras and aerial survey instruments. They were to do a thorough fly-over of everything they could reach, recording constantly, then return to the final secano again and collate their findings. If the data was sufficient, they were to begin a return. If not, they were to risk a second fly-over. And if, because of unforeseen consequences, they were forced to land on the new terrain, they were to remain in the craft unless life or death circumstances forced them out into an unknown environment. Halling trusted them to make judgments based on science, not the thrill of exploration.

There was, once a day, the opportunity for a quarter-hour of direct communication between the far-flung pilots and Halling at the Lofthall. This came in on an open frequency that was listened to, avidly, by all of Skene. Yoj had told Pyosz that on "exploration days", all activity in Skene came to a virtual standstill when it was time for these radio transmissions. Halling, along with her partners and Qala, had created an elaborate code so vital information of a sensitive nature could be transmitted without alarming the general populace. However, when it came right down to it, the exploration pilots were operating under their own authority, and Halling knew it.

Pyosz had of course watched the tapes of Danaan and Rark's flyover of Pya, along with every second-grade class on Skene since. Because Danaan and Rark were as family to her, she could read the intense excitement and wonder underwriting their frequent matter-of-fact statements about what they were seeing. But even for those without this insider knowledge, it had been electrifying.

The hardest concept for people to grasp had been the sheer size of Pya. Once the data was back home, Yoj had commissioned a scale map to be drawn, showing Skene and Pya side by side. This was mounted and hung in the main room of the Lofthall, where it drew daily crowds for a while. Pya had more than ten times the landmass of Skene, much of it on large islands with unimaginable stretches of arable land and/or forests. This had been conveyed by Rark's low-key comment "Now over the main island, and the entire horizon in all directions is occupied by terrain. No ocean in sight." How could there be a place for humans to stand where no ocean was visible?

Danaan and Rark had performed a single flyover. With their typical efficiency, they managed to collect a wealth of readings in that time, and decided it was more important to return this to Skene than to grab for more. Qala had told Pyosz when they reported their decision via radio to the Lofthall, Mill had snorted in disbelief and Oby had said "So close, but scooting back home?" Halling had said nothing but her expression plainly revealed this was confirmation of her wisdom in not choosing Mill and Oby for the mission. Qala had mused that this was perhaps the moment foretelling Mill's decision to eventually migrate to Pya, giving up on any ambition she had for the Skene Lofthall in favor of operating without Halling's leash in the new world. Her choice meant that Halling never again had to decide between the advancement of her own child and that of Danaan, her beloved protege. Which, in the long run, had been good for all concerned, though at the time, Mill's departure nearly devastated Halling.

It had taken another maddening year from the time of Danaan and Rark's flyover to the actual exploration of Pya. This was because it no longer was under the sole province of the Lofthall, but now fell under jurisdiction of votes by all Skene. Without Api as Ethicist of Skene at the time, Yoj said it would have taken much longer, but she managed to cut through minutiae and bring public focus onto the important questions. During that year, a breakthrough in power technology enabled the construction of a sinner which could carry far heavier loads over the distance between secanos -- a technology which had continued to progress to today's level.

Eventally, eight members of an exploration team were chosen. Danaan had become pregnant, and thus she and Rark were out of the running. A veteran sinner, Lmape, became expedition leader. Mill and Oby sweated out the selection process, having long discussions about what they would do if one but not the other of them were chosen. Halling made it easy on them by not forcing this issue.

The explorers landed in the center of the largest island, beside one of two rivers there, next to what looked like a human-made clearing intended to be a jichang. No signs of habitation had been seen on the flyover, but more than one island had these intriguing flat squares of weedy, not entirely overgrown, leveled surface.

The clearing around it was small, and the team first ventured briefly, timorously, into the woods, armed with lasers and (unbeknownst to Skene) long machetes, theoretically intended to clear brush but also clearly available as defensive weapons. Stumps were discovered, straight-cut and mossed over, hinting at trees cut down. Nearby, what had looked like a hill turned out to be a series of buttes atop each other, looking suspiciously like a climbable ziggurat, with a vast indentation in the river-facing side. As they approached it, a small green mound drew their attention. Mill had chopped at the bushes on one side and uncovered a glint of metal. After a moment them all staring at each other, they fell to yanking away the vegetation, eventually revealing the remains of an ancient lighter-like craft.

The first colonists had been here, too. Were they still around?

Eventually, the eight had progressed on to the oddly-shaped hill, where once again Mill used her machete on the thicket of vines in the rocky recess. When she found a large metal door rusted shut, they felt new apprehension. Lmape considered waiting until she could confer with Halling about what to do next, but that would mean waiting until nightfall when the radio transmission window would be available. The idea of camping next to an unknown, possibly occupied dwelling seemed foolhardy. A perimeter was established, with lasers at ready, while Mill and Oby volunteered to pry the door open.

Inside was a room clearly once inhabited by humans, with tables, chairs, a small kitchen with stove vented through an upper wall. Other airhole vents were visible in the dark, and at the back and sides were more doors, including one at the top of a set of stairs. A deep layer of dust covered everything, and there was a faint pong, but no sign of shu. Any cavern on Skene would have been crawling with shu. It felt to Oby to discover why this space was clear.

She went to the back wall, where a desk and shelves looked like it held communication equipment. As she focused her flash on the desk, a hint of motion above her made her jerk her flash in that direction. A massive bird was silently lifting itself from atop a cupboard, a dark brown animal whose size was simply impossible for a flying creature, with a wingspan twice as long as any human was tall. Oby screamed, and as the others turned flashes in her direction, they screamed as well. The owl -- for that is what it was -- aimed for the open door, and most of the explorers in its path fell to the ground, covering their heads. It zoomed swiftly, silently, out into the afternoon. After a minute, Oby followed because she found she had to empty her bowels.

Exploration of the cavern was put on hold. The team set about constructing their metal huts, with a laser assigned to each pair inside a hut. Great quantities of dry wood was collected to build a bonfire that could burn all night long, Skene rules about conservation be damned. As preparations for a meal began, Mill pulled out the old bestiary Yoj had made for her children when they were small, containing pictures of semi-mythical creatures from the original colonist's planet. It was she who was able to name the bird as an owl, and the close-up drawing did nothing to allay their terror. The written description indicated it was not supposed to be the size they had seen, but was carnivorous and mostly nocturnal. They decided to go to bed early.

Lmape asked Mill if she would deliver their first radio report from Pya. Lmape was not especially modest, but she had a slight stutter when excited, and she didn't want that to come out in a historical broadcast. What a lot of people didn't know is that Mill also wrote the content of the report, drawing on her Halling-like ability to be succinct combined with her Yoj-given vocabulary and Bux's grasp of political considerations. Pyosz had listened to all these broadcasts for her high school project, marveling at how young Mill sounded and, for the first time, understanding what a revolution her accounts must have wrought in Skene.

Mill began that first broadcast with "This is Lofthall pilot Mill, reporting we are all alive and well on the big island in the land we are calling Pya." The name Pya had been researched and suggested by Yoj beforehand; it came from an ancient term for "new", and had no other connotation in Skenish. Yoj had suppllied all the explorers with a dictionary of possible terms, and Halling had laid down strict instructions for naming: Nothing based on personal names, nothing similar to or derived from an existing Skene locale, no inside jokes, and preferably names based on simple physical description or salient features. By the end of that first exploration, the large island was being called Dvareka, which meant "two rivers", and most of the other islands had preliminary names as well. All of these were pencilled onto the public map in the Lofthall, pending final vote.

What the average listener in Skene had not known is that Mill identifying herself as "Lofthall pilot" was code for "there have been no injuries and no serious problems." If otherwise had been the case, she would have called herself "Lighter pilot", alerting the Lofthall to listen for further code as to what had gone wrong.

She then said "We have two major pieces of news to report. The first is that the original colonists were here as well and left behind clear evidence of their habitation. We have not seen any signs of recent human presence, but will search for that tomorrow as earnestly as you might expect." Skene reeled at this news, but Mill did not pause -- she only had a narrow window in which to convey her report. She continued "We also discovered a new lifeform today, a dark-colored hunting bird with wings which stretched eleven feet from tip to tip. We think this is an introduced species, descended from a bird on the original planet called the owl. It did not attack us, though we disturbed it and it had ample opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, we are taking all precautions and will sleep on alert tonight."

The next day, Yoj posted a picture and description of owls at the Lofthall. When it became apparent that owls had no history of ever being edible, Skene speculated nonstop as to the insanity of those first colonists, loosing such a menace into their own environment. The link between owls and shu-control was not yet known.

After listening to all these first reports, Pyosz had gone to her abbas for further interviews, videotaping their retrospective views as to what it had meant at the time for each of them. She interviewed Mill over the radio, taping it as well. Her eventual presentation of all this additional material had earned her highest marks and a request from her teacher to present it to the gathered school. After a week of talk, a second presentation was asked for the entire community, and Pyosz obtained permission from her interviewees to comply. Some of her classmates grumbled at how she was only getting all this attention because she had privileged access to those involved, but in fact Pyosz had spent months researching and piecing together her report, full of excitement about an event which happened before she was yet was still very fresh.

She had not gone to Ferk's funeral, after all. Mill told her the Pya pilots would be attending on behalf of Pya, and the cousin wanted things kept low-key. Instead, Pyosz had visited her own family, going to bed late but finding herself unable to sleep. She eventually got up and retrieved the book of Pya's first exploration, including transcripts of Mill's reports, that she had used for her high school project. She lay in bed and read this until, past midnight, she had finally drifted off. She thought about those first impressions of Pya now as she headed in its direction, ready to assume responsibility for one of its important resources.


Bridie -- a hand-held pastry filled with sweet or savory stuffing
Capriste -- goatherder
Chloddia -- Skene island in the Eastern Tendril dedicated to mining (mostly metals)
Fisk -- a variety of plentiful fish used for drying, a staple of Skene cuisine, and baked into crackers for use as katt food
Jichang -- airfield of any size
Secano -- island without fresh water on it
Wasa -- ocean
Yanjanger -- lava sculptor

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Blue said...

wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. thank you.