Monday, August 17, 2009


(Chinese propaganda poster, "New view in the rural village", 1953)

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Pyosz handed Maar her biggest stock pot and put in it two towels plus her body scrub and a washrag. She put a set of clean clothes in her carryall, picked up the flash, and they started for the pasture. On the way, Pyosz ducked briefly into the barn and came back with a prybar.

"What is that for, defense?" asked Maar nervously.

Pyosz giggled. "Nope, I'm going to take a look into one of the hives while I'm there."

"Won't you get stung? Aren't you supposed to wear protective gear?"

"They've gone to bed and I know how to not rile them, it'll be a quick peek" said Pyosz confidently. "I'll do an actual harvest and cleaning in daylight."

As they walked through the pasture, Maar pointed to their right and said "You been to that little beach over there yet? It's good nice shallow swimming on a warm day."

"I haven't" confessed Pyosz. "How's the current, doesn't it rip around the head of Saya as fast as it does through the channel by the ferries?"

"Yes, it's rapid, but if you don't go out very far it's all right" said Maar. "It's just as fast at the other beach, the shingle one on the south side, but the drop-off there is steeper. Although you could still walk over to that little Pea Pod nearby at low tide."

Though it was too far to see in dark, Pyosz pointed the flash to her right and said "That big area over here, in the pasture between the sand beach and the woods, why does it grow only gorse and a few thistles? I've never seen a goat in there grazing, is it contaminated somehow?"

"Ferk said no, it was simply poor soil. It collects water during the rainy season, you'll often see it standing like a shallow pond" said Maar.

Pyosz led the way into the woods with a bravery she was trying on for size. Thick roots sometimes crossed the trail, and she had to keep her flash aimed on the ground. She went slowly so Maar could benefit from the light as well. The absence of moving air or any starlight was striking. She couldn't tell if the rustles she heard was from leaves and branches or something which had legs. She pushed into the contrastingly open vista of the orchard on the other side with a definite sense of accomplishment. She heard Maar give an exhalation of relief as well.

Pyosz went first to the hot springs and checked it from all angles with her flash. "What are you doing?" asked Maar.

"Looking for lev knows what" said Pyosz. "I've had some ugly surprises since I got here."

"The springs are fine" said Maar. "Abbo and I were out here last week."

Pyosz felt a flare of irritation and -- disappointment, was that it? She moved off into the orchard, identifying trees and noticing the large numbers of fallen fruit and nuts, some it showing evidence of having been chewed. "This is just asking for shu to move into this end of the island" she said angrily.

"Won't be when you get done with it" said Maar equably. "You can scrub the trunks and paint 'em orange."

Which drew a reluctant chuckle out of Pyosz. She produced a fat candle from her carryall and held a lit match to its base to affix it to a rock overlooking the hot springs. A backdrop of more rocks protected the flame and projected warm flickering light onto the pool's surface.

"Now that is really clever" said Maar. Something Abbo didn't do first thought Pyosz. She said "I'm doing to check the hives now, you can go ahead and get in, if you want. I won't look."

There was silence behind her. She took her flash and prybar to one of the two hives and, after inspecting the outside of both hives, she began working to get the lid loose. It took a couple of minutes of effort, and during that time, despite her slow pace and quiet, a few workers emerged from the entrance, a couple landing on her forearm and walking around drowsily. When the lid finally came free, her arm jerked.

"Ah, shit" she said.

"What's wrong?" asked Maar from the middle of the pool.

"Well, it's completely filled with comb, for one thing, hasn't been tended in maybe years. And I upset a bee, she bit me" said Pyosz, replacing the lid and wiping away the body of the worker. She slapped at her neck and backed away from the hives, circling around through the orchard until she was sure she'd gotten beyond the defensive range of the few warriors out.

"Are you okay?" asked Maar. Pyosz glanced at her. She was chin deep in the pool, glancing uneasily into the air around her head. Pyosz couldn't see Maar's form clearly but it was just as pale as the rest of her.

"Yeah, fine. I've been bit a lot. Abba says beestings will make you less susceptible to arthritis when you get older" said Pyosz, unlacing her gilet and dropping her red cap on a shelf of rock. She didn't look Maar's way as she undressed with as much dignity as she could muster, despite the awkwardness she felt internally. When she finally turned toward the pool, Maar was facing the other way, toward the hives. Pyosz stepped into the end where a succession of rocks made a kind of stairway, and she gave a long groan as she was finally immersed in steamy water.

"I used to think this was too hot to bear when we came out here as kids" she said. "Now it feels utterly rejuvenating." Maar faced her again, smiling. They stayed a modest three feet apart as they drifted around the pool. Pyosz dipped under the surface and scrubbed her dreads lightly, working heat into her scalp. She popped back above water and sat on a rocky ledge at the side that still allowed her breasts to remain submerged, though they did tend to try bobbing upward.

"I wonder if I could plant warmth-loving plants, like maybe strawberries, in the rocks along the ocean-side edge" she mused out loud. "Don't you think if the hot springs are here on this island, there must be geothermal somewhere at the other end? My abbas have a tiny greenhouse and grow their own mangos and limes all year."

"You sure know a lot about farming for someone who grew up Riesig -- " began Maar, cutting herself off.

Pyosz grinned. "Riesig Rich, you were going to say. I like that one better than Riesig Rude. And yeah, only one of my five abbas grew up with eks in her pocket. The rest of 'em either suffered as children or grew up in very modest circumstances. They made sure to teach their kids, and me, how to do things for ourselves."

"Well, I didn't grow up with extra, either, to put it mildly, and I still don't know much about tillages or stuff like bees and owls" said Maar.

"Are both your emmas miners?" asked Pyosz.

"Yeah, and except for six months after a baby was born, they were gone all day. I was looked after by my abba Gusu until I went to school. After school, I ran in a pack with other kids. I worry about Thleen, she's having to do the same and, like me, she doesn't have her height or strength yet. She always has bruises on her" said Maar.

"From fighting?" said Pyosz, shocked. Fighting was strictly prohibited in Skene culture.

"They don't call it that, they call it rough and tumble play, with lots of shoving and falling down. But yeah, it's to impose yourself physically on others" said Maar. "Plus with Thleen, she can be sweet a pie, but when you tick her off, she's got a big mouth and won't back down."

"That's a good thing, in some respects" said Pyosz.

"She needs more defenders" said Maar.

"What about her other sibas?" asked Pyosz.

"They run with different packs and, well, there's all this tension between my family and me. So when I made myself the person sticking up for Thleen, it actually created jealousy between her and my other sibus. They're teenagers completely focused on not drawing attention to themselves, they treat her like she's a freak" said Maar bitterly.

"Why the tension? I mean, if you want to tell me" offered Pyosz. Maar drifted a little closer. That candle light makes her skin rosier thought Pyosz. Or maybe it's a flush from the hot springs.

"My family's been on Chloddia forever, since the first colonists, they claim. And everybody's been miners. So it was a major betrayal when I refused to go down underground. See, I can't take tiny spaces, or being away from open air. It wasn't that I always longed to fly -- I mean, yeah, every kid on Skene wants to be a pilot at some point, but it was more I had to get a job because I was thrown out when I refused to go into the mine, and piloting paid well. Plus, it turned out I had an ability for it, and now I love it. At least on Pya" said Maar.

"What would you have done if you'd had the chance?" asked Pyosz.

"Gone to the U" said Maar instantly. "Studied everything, maybe have gotten a degree in history. But there was no money for it, even if my emmas believed in such. I'll make levvin' sure Thleen goes, though. And I've offered to pay for my other sibs, but they're not listening to me."

"Do you read, then?" asked Pyosz. "'Cause I've got a steady supply of books coming my way."

"I noticed that" said Maar with a grin. "Abbo complains about the light from my bunk, but yeah, I read myself to sleep. Sure you'd like to loan me your expensive volumes?"

"I'd love it" said Pyosz. "Then we can talk about what we've both read. I'm more inclined to science and math, but when you meet my abba Yoj, and my emma, you can all have torrid conversations about history."

Maar looked agitated. Pyosz thought she must still be worrying about Thleen.

"Maybe you could bring Thleen here to live with you, I bet Mill could come up with some sort of housing for you" said Pyosz.

"Oh, I've been working on that for three years" said Maar. "Thleen wants it as much as I do. But my emmas won't hear of it. See...Part of the story is that when they disowned me, they said I couldn't see my sibs any more. It nearly killed me and Thleen. I joined the Lofthall and got through my training, because once I began drawing real pay, I thought I could maybe buy myself a visit. Then Mill came to visit us new pilots and offered us all jobs on Pya, and the pay here is 15% more, you know. Plus it's more interesting, and she told me I could be a huolon pilot, which meant I'd be going back to Skene once or twice a week, which was about all I thought my emmas would let me see Thleen anyhow. So I came to Pya. And I was right, eks did find a key to the door. I give them a chunk of my salary and allotment, and Thleen gets one or two days a week with me."

Pyosz wondered how much "a chunk" of her salary went to the graspers on Chloddia. She bet it was half. As if reading her mind, Maar added "But I save regularly, too. I'll have enough to send all of them to the U, I'm making sure of that."

And what about your own future? What about a Manage, and children? Pyosz didn't realize she'd said it out loud until Maar looked her with wide eyes. Maar said "Thleen is my future. She doesn't have anybody else. When she's safely graduated, I can make other plans."

Pyosz felt a surge of unsorted emotions at this bone-honest declaration. She said "I'm glad she has you" as she headed for the steps. She removed the towels and scrub from her pot and set it beside the steps, asking Maar "I'm going to wash myself. When I'm done, will you come over here where the soap won't drain into the pool and pour buckets over me so I can rinse?"

Maar cleared her throat and said "Okay."

Pyosx didn't look at Maar once as she let the lemony oatmeal scrub remove layers of sweat and grime from her body. She hurried, because her body was chilling fast. "Okay, drench me" she called out, immediately regretting her choice of words. Maar stood on tiptoe to upturn the pot's cascade over Pyosz, but she paused and said "Lev, is that where the goat bit you?"

Pyosz twisted her neck to look down at herself. "It looks worse than it feels at this point" she said. She noticed Maar's gaze travel upward, to the blue spot at the base of her spine, a birthmark which ran in her family. But Maar didn't asked about it, instead pouring water over Pyosz's back. Pyosz squealed and hopped from foot to foot. She said "Okay, that's good enough" and dove back into the deep part of the pool, coming up gasping.

"If you want to use my scrub, go ahead and I'll return the rinsing favor" she called out. She couldn't help but notice that the carroty-red of Maar's head hair was repeated under her arms and at her groin. She forced herself not to stare: She hadn't known thatch hair could be red like that. When Maar was rinsed, they both went to the rocky ledge and sat only a foot apart, invigorated from the cleaning.

"Where did you get that scrub, in Skene?" asked Maar.

"Nope, made it myself. I'll make you a bottle, if you want."

"You bet" said Maar. "I meant to ask, how are the other goats adjusting to the loss of some of the herd?"

"I can't tell yet" said Pyosz. "I can't even tell them all apart yet. I've been looking at the logbook whenever I make milk entries, and slowly I'm figuring out some of the names. Like Spatter, black flecks on a buff coat, she was easy. And Echo, she's got the funniest bleat, like she's instantly repeating herself. Waddle and WhiteEye. And I finally figured out who Vapor is, from the wafts hitting me while I milked her -- I don't know what's going on in her digestive tract, but it must have been there since birth for her to have that name."

Maar was laughing.

"Speaking of goats, I have milking at dawn. I'm going to get out and dress, pick some of the fruit that's still good on the ground, and then we need to head back" said Pyosz. They dried themselves in silence, facing opposite directions. Still, Pyosz now knew that Maar's ass was fuller than it looked in the roomy kalsongers she tended to wear, firm as melons, and her thighs were massively thick with muscle. Her breasts were also larger than how she laced her gilet would indicate.

Pyosz filled her stockpot with fruit and nuts. She handed it to Maar, saying "Do you mind?" When she blew out the candle, the darkness was suddenly absolute.

"Uh, Pyosz?" asked Maar. "I want you to lead us back through the woods, but would it be okay if I like held onto your back belt?"

"I'm your owl buddy" assured Pyosz. "Like you're my lev buddy. You want to wear my red hat, it's thick."

Maar accepted. They moved in matched steps through the still and now even darker forest. Pyosz could feel Maar's breath on the back of her neck. About ten steps into the open pasture, Pyosz wheeled and hugged Maar around the pot. "I was scared too, I confess" she said. "Thank you so much for helping me see Saya from tip to tip."

"Make me a pie from these apples and we're even" said Maar.

At her kitchen, Pyosz piled the fruit in Ng's bowl and hung the damp towels over chairs to dry. Maar insisted on spreading more liniment on Pyosz's shoulders, and once Pyosz's shati was pulled off, Maar said "You've got a welt on her neck, did you get stung there, too?"

"Yeah" admitted Pyosz. Maar went to the sink under the cupboard and returned with ammonia, which she daubed on Pyosz's two wounds. "I may not know much about growing things, but I know how to tend injuries" she joked.

After a generous massage, Pyosz took Maar into the cabin to look through her books. The katts watched Maar coldly until she left with two volumes to borrow. In the kitchen, Pyosz began making Maar a lunch for her flight the following day, sandwich from brown bread, sheer slices of onion, goat cheese and strips of green beans, putting it in a carrying box with two slices of her pear-walnut pie. Maar picked up Pyosz's camera from the open cupboard and said "Does this have a flash?"

"Yes, but you'll do better to adjust the lens and take it in this overhead light" said Pyosz. Maar took one of her slicing onions, then held the camera out in front of them both for a joint photo as she stood next to Pyosz, still wearing Pyosz's red cap. She wandered off into the night with the camera and flashlight, and returned in a few minutes, saying "That disk is ready for printing" with a sly smile.

Pyosz walked Maar to the jichang and was suddenly too shy to give her a hug. She said "Tell Thleen hello for me, and that I want a chance to visit with her as soon as we're all in the same part of the world."

Maar grinned hugely. "You're asking for it."

Pyosz said "I presume you're flying with Abbo? Don't share that pie unless you have to, you have my permission to be greedy."

"I'll try" said Maar. "Yeah, me and Abbo are a team, have been for three years now."

A flicker of light seemed to pass near Pyosz's peripheral vision, so real she turned to look.

"What is it?" asked Maar, a little nervous.

"Nothing" said Pyosz. The flicker must have been internal, then. Pyosz's radio buzzed and Abbo's voice said "Maar? If you're done babysitting, we actually have to get up in six hours, in case you've forgotten."

Maar looked irritated and said "Ignore her. I'll see you at Arta Island on Shmonah, then."

Pyosz took a step back, stung by several realizations hitting her at once. "Morrie vaseo" she said automatically, turning off the flash to conceal her face. Maar buckled in and shut the hatch, her final wave lit by the instrument panel. Pyosz walked off before it rose into the air, heading for her privy because she felt suddenly sick to her stomach.

She sat on the seat in the dark, fighting nausea and letting memory fill in all the gaps. Her first year at the University, early that spring, Mill had shown up suddenly at her emmas' Manage one afternoon. Pyosz had been there talking over a study project with Yoj. Bux and Halling were the only others home. Mill coming in the door had clearly surprised them all. She'd sat down in a chair, run her hands through her hair, and said "I don't know what to do about Abbo. I think she's sleeping with a pilot."

"Who?" demanded Halling.

"Her name is Maar, and she's from Skene" Mill had said with a tone of accusation. NOW I remember why her name rang a slight bell when I met her in Yanja thought Pyosz. And emma of course knew all about this, that's why she reacted with recognition. How unbelievably obtuse I've been.

Halling had blinked and said "She's 17, I think. And Abbo is 16. I mean, it's not unusual at that age -- "

"Well Abbo is simply not mature enough yet to be having lovers!" Mill had exploded. "I caught them sneaking around, and Abbo just laughed at me. I gave that pilot what-for, and she's promised to keep it on a dating level, but of course that's not going to happen."

Halling said quietly "From what I remember of Maar during training, she's honest. If she says she'll do something -- "

""She's seventeen!" shouted Mill. "And Abbo won't leave her alone, and I simply won't levvin' have Abbo's future ruined by getting involved like this before she's even decided between the U or going into the Lofthall."

"Well, then, you can forbid them to see each other. The pilot will comply because you hold her future in her hands" Bux had pointed out. Pyosz, sitting in the living room, appeared to have been forgotten and she sat very still to keep them from reining in their conversation.

"And then Abbo will blame me forever" said Mill.

"Maybe you could ask them to wait a year, like we did with you" said Yoj.

Mill had turned a withering look on her. "You asked me and Oby to wait TWO years, and neither one of us was an independent adult like Maar is." A small reminiscent smile stole onto her face. "As it was...the night of my 16th birthday, I made sure we didn't live under that restriction any more."

Halling had begun to say "Then why are you being so rigid about -- " but Yoj had interrupted to ask Mill "What do you mean? We had a big party for you at the Lofthall, I remember, and then we all came back here. Without Oby."

Mill grinned. "I had arranged for her to come over the fence after you were all in bed and sneak into my room. I told her I wanted to open her present from me in private. But I had another plan in mind, and she finally got the idea."

Bux had turned to Yoj indignantly to yell "I told you we shouldn't have let her have that room with its own door!"

Halling, returning to her own thread, had leaned forward to look Mill in the face and say "Seems like you have a different standard for yourself than you do for Abbo. You might want to take a look at that. If this is a battle of wills between you and Abbo, you're probably going to lose. You need to save your effort for life-and-death issues. If Maar isn't bad news, then leave them alone. Abbo will be coming here to Skene in three months, anyhow, no matter which choice she makes. Do you think Maar is going to follow her?"

After half a minute's consideration, Mill had said "No. She's committed to Pya. And she's -- way more responsible than Abbo."

"Is there a chance of pregnancy?" Yoj had asked.

"No" Mill said again. She was chewing the inside of her cheek. There was a long silence. Finally Yoj had said "Sex and love is what normal kids do at this age. The fact that both of yours are seeing someone means you and Oby did a good job."

Pyosz had been flattened by that comment from her abba -- "what normal kids do at this age." But not me Pyosz had thought.

Mill, however, had looked confused and said "What do you mean, both of mine? Are you talking about Ngall?"

"Oh dear" said Bux. "We thought she'd written you."

Mill had risen, in cold fury, and demanded "Where is she? Where is Ngall?"

"Either at the U or -- " At that moment, Yoj remembered Pyosz was in the living, because she'd turned to look at her. Slowly, all the others did as well.

"She's not at home" Pyosz had said weakly. Mill's gaze scorched over her as she turned and stalked out the front door. Pyosz made her escape soon after.

So Maar and Abbo were lovers. It explained so much -- Abbo's hostility in particular, because Maar was paying way too much attention to Pyosz, even as a defacto member of the family. Maybe they hadn't partnered yet, maybe there were still in that pilot kind of juvenile attachment, but even in that situation, you don't chase your sweetheart's cousin.

Or had Maar really been chasing her? Pyosz wasn't sure of anything any more. She'd been crashingly wrong about Sey, and now, less than two weeks after being left, she'd already been setting herself up for another duplicity. Or self-delusion.

She held her hands over her mouth and refused to throw up. The odor in the privy was starting to get to her. She pushed into the cold night air and walked back to her kitchen, gulping in breaths and not turning on her flash, forcing herself to focus. She drank down a glass of milk and thought about writing home. Or calling emma. She could use a hard cry.

But she decided to go to bed, instead. She turned off the kitchen light and glanced for just a second toward Koldok before entering her cabin. She thought it would be a good idea to read a while before sleeping. She put the candle back in a holder and lit it, pushing her trunk next to the bed to act as a nightstand. Both katts came to investigate the flame, and Curds managed to singe a whisker. In alarm, she leaped up to Ember's windowsill. Ember regarded her steadily for a minute, then moved to the end of the trunk to wash.

"You two are a lesson to me" said Pyosz. "Ember, are you glad to have a friend of your own kind?" Ember didn't respond.

Pyosz changed into nightwear and stood in front of her books, looking for something that wasn't about mastitis or worms or vinegar-making. She remembered abba Yoj insisting she take poetry and fiction, but four of those volumes were now loaned out. Suddenly she remembered the novel with the lurid cover, which she had shoved under her pallet. She pulled it out now and thought "Might as well. May be as close as I ever get again."

She crawled into her nest of blankets and curled toward the candle, starting to read. After one page, the deathless prose was already getting to her. She began scanning the pages, unwilling to invest in the build-up. "We know what these books are good for, let's get to it" she said out loud. She kept flipping pages until, in the middle of the second chapter, the word "drench" caught her eye. She giggled briefly, remembering her use of it earlier that night. She began reading more carefully, and a page later she said "Aha." She read the next two pages with an increasing pulse, and when the exposition was done -- with a disappointing dearth of detail -- she read it through again. She blew out the candle, drawing a small hiss from Curds, and slid her hand down to pull up her schmatta, finding her own drench with her newly muscled fingers. Five minutes later, she was blissfully asleep.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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