Monday, August 31, 2009


Shoyu bottles (Shoyu bottles outside Shikoku, painting by Jana Donoho-Strong)


Dodd announced the band was taking a break, then jumped off the platform and headed their way, fiddle tucked under her arm, and grabbed Pyosz in a tight hug. "You light up this whole corner of the room" she whispered. She grabbed the chair next to Qoj and allowed herself to be plied with food and drink as she cooled off. Pyosz found it interesting that Dodd sweated as much from playing as the more energetic dancers did.

After 20 minutes, Dodd excused herself briefly, went to the mic and said "We'll be resuming in five minutes. Five minutes." Pyosz felt a sudden expectancy in the room, heightened by someone flashing all the overhead lights several times. A minute later, teenagers began appearing at the edges of the room, those who had braved the weather to hunker under trees with sweethearts or hopeful sweethearts. First and second-graders clotted the stairwells at either end of the room, noisy and scuffling with each other, but Pyosz had the sense they were also waiting.

Dodd downed a last gulp of cold tea, winked at Qoj, and climbed back on stage, joined by the rest of the band. As soon as they were all standing in front of mics, the lights went out. The darkness was not total -- there was a geolight on the schoolground, and another small beacon by the row of privies out back, giving a hint of illumination through the rain. But it was inky enough that Pyosz felt suddenly unmoored, then instantly moored again by the sound of wet wind against the wide windows and, eerily, an entire community breathing almost in unison. Until even the breathing stopped.

Pyosz sensed someone moving to stand behind her chair, and she smelled lemon. Two familiar hands rested on her shoulders, and she leaned her head back lightly against Maar's belly.

From where Dodd had been standing, the last time Pyosz could see her, came the mournful call of a bird Pyosz heard every morning as she was waking up, a pre-dawn lament she had been unable to identify yet to a particular bird. Pyosz realized Dodd was creating this somehow on her violin. After one cry and repeat, a second set of song joined it, this from a bird Pyosz thought was a qale. She decided it was the mandolin player somehow making the double trill and whistle. The trumpet brought forth txikadiis, the lower keys of the accordion did a creditable jae, and as the dawn chorus gathered strength, a single thrum from the bodhrán brought abrupt silence to the room again. The bodhrán repeated its percussive cough, and Dodd knew instinctively it was an owl. She felt Maar squeeze her shoulders briefly.

But the light from outside seemed to gather, somehow, a reminder that the sun cannot be stopped in its path, and defiantly the songbirds began their chorus again, joined by various members of the audience who were skilled at this or that call. Pyosz felt thrill after thrill travel down her spine. Skene has no idea what they're missing she thought.

The concert kept growing in strength and variety, until suddenly there was the er-er-er-aroo of a chanticleer asserting that she, too, was a bird. Pyosz giggled as hens began clucking around the room. From clots of teenagers came pig grunts and turkey gobbles; small voices from the stairwells adding quacks and baas, choked with giggles. Pyosz didn't think before she gave forth a long cascade of bleats, mimicking WhiteEye who was the first goat start talking each day and the last to shut up. She felt Maar's belly shaking against the back of her head.

Then, cutting through it all, came a baby's fretting cry that swiftly turned into a high wail. It was so realistic that emmas nearby shifted in their seats instinctively, and a couple of actual babies began crying in empathy. There was no more sleep to be had: Morning had arrived on Pya. With that, someone threw back on the overhead lights and they all blinked at each other before roaring with joyous laughter. Maar returned to her chair, and Uli leaned over to say "Excellent goat."

The band swung into a jig, and older children scrambled back upstairs. Crying babies were carried around the room by comforting emmas. One of them passed in front of Pyosz, and she was still so caught by the aftereffects of the dawn chorus, she didn't immediately recognize the woman in front of her as Poth. The ejida worker who had trained her, after a fashion, her first day on Saya.

Pyosz waved politely and Poth motioned her head urgently, insisting Pyosz follow her. With vast reluctance, Pyosz excused herself and followed Poth to a table crowded with other ejida workers. Poth's infant, less than six months old, had calmed again, and Poth handed her to her partner as she introduced Pyosz around the table.

Pyosz was surprised at the wide smiles she was getting, and even more so when Poth said "I gave her the shittiest reception possible -- the baby was very ill that week, you remember,and all I wanted to do was stay home instead of running back and forth to a place one step away from total ruin. I was sure you wouldn't last five days." She said to her friends "Had never laid so much as a fingertip on a goat, and look at what she's done with Saya." They applauded her with callused hands, and she found herself speechless.

The baby was watching her with sober intensity, and Pyosz finally said "Is she all right, now? Your little one, I mean."

"Like nothing ever happened to her, you know how they can bounce back" said Poth reverently. Her partner Thava passed the baby back, and Pyosz realized this was Poth's real world, this cocoon of love. A first-grader appeared to make a plaintive complaint of Thava, who made a suggestion the child didn't like. The child eyed Poth, who said "I'm with Thava" but offered a quarter slice of apple as a sweetener against emma solidarity. The child took it and vanished back up the stairs.

"We've got one starting fourth grade next year as well" said Poth. "They're spread out, but that way I've gotten to spend more time with each one."

Thava leaned forward and said "We knew there was a problem with excessive bucklings in your herd, unconscionable, really, and Poth was going to address it once our personal crisis was over. But before we could arrange for one of us to come out, here you are sending us the bucklings for slaughter. How did you figure that out so fast?"

"Complete credit goes to my cousin Vants" said Pyosz.

"From Yagi? Vants the capriste there?" said Poth, looking impressed. Pyosz forgave her everything in that instant, as she nodded.

"So how's it going now out there?" asked Thava. They talked goats, tillage, orchards, and other ejida topics at that table through two songs. Pyosz was lightheaded with happiness. Eventually the baby found its way to her lap, and Pyosz kept sniffing of her newborn frizz with long inhaled breaths.

Finally she said "I need to return to my family, but listen, I have free hours during the day -- well, some days -- that I'd like to use seeing other parts of Pya. I remember helping with the rice harvest a few years ago. I'd like to be on a roster as fill-in help for other harvests as they come along this summer -- whatever I can mesh with my Saya demands, of course."

"You sure?" said Thava. "Because a quick learner and strong body like yours, we'll jump at the chance to call you."

"No scut work, okay?" grinned Pyosz. "I get enough shit shoveling on Saya."

Poth laughed. "I'll make sure it's interesting and that the crews you're on are good folks. Frankly, I'll put you in with my crew."

"Good" said Pyosz, reluctantly handing back the baby with a little wave. At her table, Pank said "Poth is one of our best, I'm glad you got a chance to meet that bunch." The music started again, and Pank added "Oh, it's a line dance, come on, cousin."

Pyosz was dragged to the floor by Tu and Pank, who positioned her in line between them. Probably the steps and pivots were elemental, but Pyosz was hopelessly lost and out of sync with the rest of the room by the second turn. Nobody was watching her, however, they were all focused on the person next to them, laughing non-stop with the exuberance of collective motion. Tu and Pank knew all sorts of embellishments and furbelows to the basic routine, so when Pyosz found herself facing left as everybody else faced right, one of her cousins would do a quick do-si-do around her and comically get her back in rhythm.

If I'd gone to dances as a child and young teenager, this is how I would have learned she thought. But Prl had also avoided dances, and Pyosz realized for the first time how odd that was. Unrequited love and dancing, a tough mix, she thought.

Back at the table, Pyosz decided to go get them another pitcher of cold tea and more snacks, since they had run out. Uli stood to accompany her. In line at the drink stand, Uli said "So, are you about ready to share a dance with me?"

"I'll be honest, Uli, I'm woefully unskilled and I won't enjoy it. I mean, the line dance was an exception" said Pyosz. "How about if we find a quiet place to visit for a bit?"

"Accepted" said Uli. "However, I don't want to emulate teenagers out under the trees..." She looked out the window in the direction of Koldok and her own Manage.

"My s'bemma's office is on the third floor, we can go up there" improvised Pyosz. They dropped off refreshments at the family table currently emptied onto the dance floor and snaked around the edges to the nearest stairs.

Dodd's office resembled Yoj's so much, Pyosz felt a little homesick. She sat down behind Dodd's desk, grinning at the battered ancient fountain pen Dodd wouldn't give up and the bottle of green ink she always used. Uli pulled around another chair to sit within reach, turning off the overhead in favor of Dodd's desk lamp.

"So" began Uli. "Do you have ambitions to become a gakusha like your abba Yoj or Yerush before her? Or will you seek a more practical application for your mathematics degree?"

Pyosz was stumped. "I haven't considered my degree in weeks. Not a gakusha, no. I didn't know how suited I was to outdoor life until I got here." Where did I pick that up? she asked herself, and immediately answered The tillages. Small scale compared to Saya, but growing and cooking was always where I was happiest.

"You could join forces with the physicists who are working on creating yet another sort of aircraft power source for the Lofthall" suggested Uli. "The rest of the planet will remain a mystery until we can fly vastly longer distances than our current capacity."

"It's an idea" agreed Pyosz. "But -- a jigong is not outdoors enough, I don't think. I guess it's all on hold until I return to Skene." But my life doesn't feel on hold, it feels like it's just taking off.

"Perhaps you'd like to run for office, that's certainly in your family's repetoire" said Uli. "Ethicists travel between islands daily, touring ejidas and docks, and you have a gift for pleasing people. You could begin by assisting your abba in her re-election campaign this time around, since there's a threat on the horizon."

"What threat?" Pyosz had heard nothing about this, and her hackles rose.

"The manager of rice production on Beras has filed intent to run against Nan Bux" said Uli somberly. "She has no real public office experience, but her sib and cousin network is very influential and sprawls across Skene. The editor of the newspaper is her sibiya, and she's having a quiet affair with the Sheng Zhang of Rahat."

"Is she competent?" asked Pyosz.

"Hard to quantify, especially when compared to the experience of Nan Bux" said Uli. Almost against her will, Pyosz waded into an intense discussion of Skene politics. She was frequently surprised at Uli's acumen, even more so at her unofficial sources of information. This was the other side of her upbringing, the kind of talk that would dominate family meals once the tillage was harvested and food cooked. Time passed without her keeping track. Uli's dark eyes in the lamplight sparkled with intelligence and interest, and the perspiration-dampened silk on Pyosz's back and inner thighs dried completely in the warm room.

Suddenly the door swung open, and Maar stood there, a furrow between her eyes that Pyosz had not noticed before.

"Oh. Excuse me for intruding, I'm really sorry, I just -- we didn't know where you had gone. Abbo said you must have returned to Saya, but..." Maar's face was going deep red, except for the paler indendation of the furrow. "I'll leave you alone."

"No, Maar, hang on, lev, look at how long I've been gone" said Pyosz, standing. Uli rose fluidly beside her and returned her chair to its place on the other side of the desk. "Is my family worried?"

"Not worried, no" said Maar, moving two feet away on the landing to completely clear the doorway for Uli's passage.

"Thanks for looking for me" said Pyosz. Uli offered her arm as they descended the stairs, and Pyosz accepted with a light hand. She sensed Maar deliberately lagging behind in following them downstairs. In the main room, Uli said "That was a fascinating conversation, I hope we can continue it soon."

"It's a lot to think about" agreed Pyosz. Uli hugged her, waved at Maar, and went toward her own family's table. Pyosz turned to Maar and hooked her arm through the crook of Maar's arm. "I really am sorry about spacing out like that. And for the record, I would never go back to Saya without telling you."

"That's what I said." The furrow on Maar's forehead was lessened, though not completely gone. They found a path through the melee to their own table, where Abbo said "Let me guess. Holed up with Uli, right?"

Pyosz was fairly certain Oby kicked Abbo under the table. She said to Briel "Please tell Dodd that the stains on her desktop ought to come out with lemon juice." After a moment, her family exploded into laughter and when Pyosz looked at Maar, the furrow was gone.

The music changed again, to an extremely slow serenade, and Pyosz said to Maar "I'm willing to punish you further on the dance floor, if you're game."

They joined the counter-clockwise glide and drifted toward the center front, where gentle swaying seemed to be acceptable motion. Pyosz whispered "She told me there's someone planning to run against my abba Bux in the next election. I don't think emma, at least, knows about it or else it would have come up. Where does Uli get her information?"

"She splits open moonsnails and reads their entrails" said Maar. Pyosz laughed so hard she had to stop even swaying for a minute.

"I wish we could talk freely about Uli" she said to Maar.

"We can't" replied Maar. "Not yet." Her solid jaw pointed past Pyosz's cheek, but her body was relaxed and for the next minute, Pyosz felt like she might understand the appeal of dancing. The trumpet gave a flourish, the beat changed abruptly, and in an instant, the tempo changed to a polka. Everyone around them seemed to know this was coming, immediately breaking into a rollicking stomp, pairs swinging wildly in each other's arms.

"Just follow my lead, and step high" said Maar, plunging them into the mix. Pyosz sucked in a breath and gave it her best. Two twirls later, right in front of the bandstand, she somehow hooked the heel of one oto around Maar's ankle and pulled her entire leg out from under her partner. Maar crashed face-first to the floor, Pyosz tumbling after and landing on her back.

Pyosz rebounded in horror, getting to her feet with alacrity. But the spectacular crash had thrown off the band's focus, and their playing trickled to a stop. The entire room was in a second of suspended animation, staring at Pyosz and Maar, until Maar rolled onto one elbow with her widest grin and loudly sang the first line of Pya's anthem:

I embrace this good green earth

She kissed the dance floor with exaggerated fervor, and during the ensuing hullaballoo, she accepted the help of guffawing bystanders in getting upright again. She gave an apologetic bow to Pyosz, who was mute with gratitude. Hands clapped Maar on the back in good humor as she took Pyosz's arm and they strolled back to their table, Maar limping slightly. Dodd counted the band back into rhythm and the polka resumed.

Even Abbo was focused on Maar, gleefully yelling "Great save, babe!" and enveloping her in a hug. Pyosz, finally finding her voice, rubbed Maar's knee gently and asked if she needed first aid.

"Just a Molars-style bruise" dismissed Maar, but she gave Pyosz a quick wink nobody else saw. Pyosz sat at the table for two more songs, watching Maar lead Qoj through an elegant waltz after a quick recovery. Then, during a lull, she said "I hate to bring it up, but -- "

"Goats at dawn" finished Maar for her.

"Exactly. I love you all, this has been the best dance of my life, and at least I get to see you all tomorrow" said Pyosz, gathering hugs and kisses. She stopped by the bandstand to wave at Dodd and gave a farewell hand-squeeze to Uli on her way out in Maar's wake. They ran for the jichang, giggling, and instead of a straight shot to Saya, Maar looped them over Puaa Woods, Pirinc, Shu, and back the length of Teppe before setting them down "home", as Pyosz thought of it. Torrents of water kept them from seeing much, but it was still exhilirating to Pyosz.

"Do you want some tea?" offered Pyosz.

"Better not, I owe the last dance to Abbo and you need your sleep" said Maar. "I'm almost dead on my feet, myself."

"No, I'm the one with dead feet, remember?" quipped Pyosz, giving her a hug. But a tiny shimmer of the glory she had been feeling faded with the memory that Maar would be going home with Abbo, climbing into a bunk with Abbo. She stood with her face to the rain until Maar's lighter was out of sight before mucking down the trail to her privy. Once on the seat, she turned on her flash to look for spiders. She didn't much like spiders. There was a web in the upper corner, and she examined it carefully, trying to find its inhabitant, without success. She really hoped it wasn't one of the furry ones, she liked those least of all.

When she turned on the light in her kitchen, she noticed her peppermill was overturned. She could find no other signs of visitation, but the wind wasn't strong enough to have toppled that squat heavy base. She hoped it was an owl rather than a shu. She decided against tea, after all, and went into her cabin. She hung her silks lovingly, though they'd have to be washed before she could wear them again, and rubbed her hair with a towel, smiling at all the glitter that cascaded down to her green and blue rug. Curds kept meowing, probably upset at her long absence on a stormy night. She said "It really was the best dance of my life, Curds" as she crawled under her blankets, Ember giving up the windowsill to join her.

She picked up her adventure book and tried to get back into it. After a few minutes, she traded it for the rice paddy workers novel, which was now falling open to the second chapter. Her hands were cold but warmed up quickly.

The next morning, Pyosz started a sponge before stirring rice porridge for breakfast, adding warm milk fresh from her does. During the second rise, she made pies and jam tarts. It was going to be a hot clear day, and under the kitchen canopy, it was airless. Curd and Ember had taken to claiming the chairs with cushions in them for their own, which was fine with Pyosz -- I have my own built-in padding she thought.

After putting in the bread to bake, she stemmed three dozen figs and cut them in half. She drizzled them with a thick glaze of honey, butter, and lime zest, adding a bare sprinkle of salt at the end. With her lamb and mint jelly, she decided this was enough and no pie was necessary today. She set out for Arta as soon as her bread was cool enough to bag and store in the larder away from txikadiis.

Tu, Pank, Nk, and Frahe were already at Arta. Tu was starting charcoal in a chimney and Pank was slicing perfectly ripe melons. Nk and Frahe had brought short ribs with a hot dipping sauce, and Tu's famous upside-down apple cake sat on the buffet table. Pyosz discussed cooking times and temperature for her lamb and figs with Tu before heading to the pond for a swim. After a few minutes, Dodd, Briel and Qoj joined her. Qoj said "Emma made a stuffed turkey! An entire turkey."

"We put in your lamb with it already" added Dodd. "They should take about the same time." Mill and Oby came to swim, and Api shooed Tu away from the grill, so Tu and Pank paddled around briefly before sitting on a rocky lip with their feet in the water.

"Was this pond here when you moved to Arta?" Pyosz asked Mill.

"Yes, but not nearly so wide or deep. And it was a shu haven" said Mill. "It was Oby who said our children would need a place to swim."

"It was you who moved us out of Pertama" countered Oby. To Pyosz she said "Relocating the Lofthall offices from Pertama to Koldok caused an uproar. Especially from Skene, who wanted another Riesig to deal with, even if it was a town instead of an island."

"They want a Riesig except they won't give us what we need for our own hospital" said Briel bitterly. "Or authorization for a second university" added Dodd.

Pyosz saw a sinner land at the Arta jichang and realized she had been watching for it. A couple of minutes later, Abbo and Maar appeared, Abbo already unlacing her gilet. Maar waved a handful of envelopes, saying "Mail for those who didn't get it yet!" Pyosz got out of the pond as Abbo dove in, going to hug Maar despite her dripping state before taking her mail. "You have two more crates by the front door, but this time they aren't impossibly heavy" said Maar.

"No Seda wine?" called out Tu.

"Something else from Seda" grinned Maar, starting to unbuckled her ku. Tu and Pank looked at each other, and Pank said "I'll go."

Pyosz sat down cross-legged on the grass and looked through her mail. There was one flat envelope in a child's handwriting, and she looked up to see Maar watching her as she pulled off her maillot. Inside was a sheet of school paper with a drawing of a stick-child running toward a kickball. The stick-child had tomato red hair. At the bottom was written "FOR PYOZS FROM THLEEN I LOVE YOU SEE YOU I HOPE SOON". She hugged it to her chest and got up to go put her mail on her crates, away from water splashes.

She returned to the pond area and sat cross-legged on the grass, declining Tu's offer of baicang. Briel was crunching away happily, and Qoj tried one, saying "Not bad. But I'll wait for turkey." When Api and Ollow also joined the baicang feast, Pyosz began to wonder if it was a Western Tendril preference.

Maar swam back and forth across the pond with hard, strong strokes a few times, then got out again to plop down between Pyosz and Qoj. She dried herself and redressed in gauzy ku and shati.

"Aren't you at least going to roll up your sleeves?" asked Pyosz. "It's blistering today."

"That's what I'll do if I sit out in this uncovered, blister" said Maar.

"What do you mean?"

"My skin burns from too much sun exposure" said Maar. Pyosz had never heard of such a thing. Maar pulled a small tub from her carryall and smeared her large nose with a bright white paste.

Pyosz said "I notice every time you get your hair wet, afterward you part it in the middle and comb it down to the sides. But after it dries, it just sticks back up straight."

"I want to look like the latest fashion. My hair, however, has a mind of its own" said Maar. Tu, strands of baicang in her teeth, said "That middle part thing is in fashion again? My emma wore hers that way when I was little, eons again. I guess everything comes back around."

Qoj had half-turned toward Maar and now asked "Why are you and Abbo the huolon pilots? Is that reserved for the best fliers?" There was a hint of flirtation in her voice. Pyosz stared at her and did a quick calculation: Qoj and Maar were within sui. Lev.

Abbo, who had drifted to the edge of the pond closest to them, snorted at Qoj's question. "Hardly. I mean, it's deadly boring. The upside is you accumulate acres of flight hours. But it's not skilled flying, you just point and go." Pyosz could see Mill's frown even at a distance.

"Well, unless something goes wrong" said Pank. Mill's frown deepened. "Then you're up a limbless tree without bark or rope."

"Exactly" said Maar calmly. She leaned back on her elbows and crossed her ankles, her head facing Qoj. "We can ask Pyosz to do the math, but more flight hours means higher odds that the statistically exceptional will occur, isn't that right?"

If you're asking me a question, you might look my way thought Pyosz. "Not exactly" she said crisply. "The causes of ocean crashes are linked to equipment and pilot error, not how many times you fly." Maar's head turned her direction when the words "pilot error" came out of her mouth with a particular emphasis.

"When was that huolon crash?" Pank asked Tu. Maar answered "'64." Dodd looked at her quizzically and said "You must have still been a baby, have you studied it, then, to know the date so fast?"

"Some of passengers were from Chloddia, lived on our lane, coming back from visiting kin in Pya" replied Pyosz. "Folks talked about it for years. Plus, yes, I've studied it. For obvious reasons."

"Was it pilot error in that instance?" said Qoj. Pyosz cast a glance at her to see if Qoj was trying to turn her words back on her, but Qoj wasn't that kind of coquette.

"Nope" said Abbo. "Lightning hit the tail and shorted out every electrical system except radio. The pilots talked for ten minutes before it went silent."

Nobody spoke for a minute. Maar said softly "I've listened to the tape of that transmission. There's a baby crying in the background. That memory wakes me up at night sometimes." She lay all the way back on the grass and closed her eyes, putting her clasped hands on her belly.

"Well, but that was then. We've got all sorts of safeguards now" said Abbo, fidgeting in the pond. "We've got much shorter transit times, and better radio, and if all else fails, we've got life rafts and the mezi. Plus the mezi symbol is painted on the bottom of the rafts."

When Halling had brought about what Yoj named the Pax Piscata, ending leviathan attacks on humans, she used a laser gun to convince the leviathans instant death would be the reward for any assault. It had taken centuries to figure out how to kill levs efficiently, and decades more to oversome Skene antipathy to warfare so that a pilot could use the laser as a weapon. Counting on leviathan sentience, communication, and ability to learn, Halling had a lightning bolt painted on the underside of all aircraft carrying the laser, and she had been right: The levs would not attack if the symbol was on display. At least, not adult leviathans who had impulse control.

It was Bux who had come up with the term mezi, which was an old but still-used Skene term for balance, as a euphemism for what was essentially a gun. Referring to it as assisting the leviathans in their shared quest for balance with humans was a means of circumventing Skene reaction to armed pilots.

Pyosz wondered how many people were actually fooled by the terminology. Yoj had coined the phrase Pax Piscata in irony, and was dismayed when it caught on as an earnest description.

Maar, her eyes still closed, said up to the cloudless sky "You place much more faith in mezi than I do, Abbo. It's a choice on the part of levs whether to concern themselves with consequences, a choice they can undo at any moment. And it was the Sheng Zhang who taught Skene that levs are problem-solvers."

"What do you mean by that?" demanded Abbo. Maar sat up on one elbow to answer. "Well, if I was a leviathan and I saw above me a thin plastic raft that was the only barrier between me and several mouthfuls of creatures I loathe, you know what I'd do? I'd circle around until I found the part of the raft where the person holding the mezi laser was sitting. I'd come up under her from the deep, take one chomp to put her out of action, and have the rest of those left in a sinking raft for dessert."

Abbo was outraged. "You never said anything like that to me before, what are you trying to do, scare me shitless? Who told you that idea?"

"I don't have anything to do for seven hours each way but think about things" said Maar flatly. "Seems like a logical place for the mind to go, it came to me a long time ago. Anyhow", she said, lying back down and closing her eyes, "I'm the one who's supposed to carry the mezi laser in the raft, remember?"

Abbo flung herself backward into the pond, beginning to swim laps. Mill said sententiously "I hope it goes without saying that none of this speculation is to be repeated out there in the general public, we don't want to create fear." She was looking in Qoj's direction, which earned her a glare from Dodd.

"Of course, Sheng Zhang" said Maar equably. Only Pyosz, and maybe Qoj, were close enough to hear her add sotto voce "Although fear of leviathans is, I think, a very smart idea."

"I have news to share" continued Mill. "We've had a firm request for migration from a large, well-skilled family with several children and more to come. They are asking for a Pea Pod, and given their numbers and abilities, they qualify for one of the largest land masses among the Pods."

Tu and Pank leaned forward in interest. "Which means what island, exactly?" asked Tu.

"Either Kacang, right here on our ferry route, in line of sight between Saya and Arta, or Bupkis, which we could link by ferry to Dodor" said Mill. "Technically, Gisantes is the largest of the Pods, but its nearest land mass is Hamsa and they don't want to be that isolated." Pyosz noticed Tu and Pank had looked at each other with a little relief.

"If they choose Kacang" said Dodd, "It will be an easy commute for the children to school."

"Yes, but they have ambitious land use plans, and some of it will depend on the geography of the island themselves" said Api. "They're looking over soil tests and other surveys, and will let us know this week."

"What kind of land use?" asked Pank, the tension returning to her and Tu.

"Well, a small vineyard, for one" said Oby. "A winery with their own label. A paddock for sheep with black fleece. A soybean field from which they intend to produce tempeh and fermented paste. And -- what was the other one?"

"Saffron" answered Api. "If the climate permits."

"Pricy stuff" said Tu. "And labor-intensive."

"They've got the numbers" repeated Mill. "Children to do basic picking and chores, ejida-trained abbas to perform technical tasks, and there's three emmas. None of them are over 50. I liked them all when they came here to check out their options. Well, I didn't actually meet the children, they left them on Skene. Anyhow, if its Kacang, we're going to see some serious construction beginning soon."

Briel asked their names but Mill declined to pass that on until their arrival. "We like to let people control their own migration information" said Mill. Pyosz noticed Tu and Pank were relaxed again. What was that about?

"Speaking of construction" said Pyosz, "I was wondering if I could convert an unused wall in the barn's toolroom into bins and shelves for storing some of the stuff I'm canning. My larder is inadequate."

"Pyosz the producer" teased Maar.

"Shouldn't be a problem" said Api. "I'll review it with you when I come for my inspection."

Pank said "We could help you, maybe, when we come to cut those trees."

"What trees?" said Pyosz. "You mean the ones you flagged in the woods?"

"They need to come down this week" said Tu. "There's a magnificant old maple whose roots are so shallow, really the only thing holding it up is a too-close walnut that's also dying from crowding. One major storm, and they'll both fall in ways that could be very damaging."

"I'll need your signature before you leave today" Api said to Pyosz. "Pank already filled out the forestry forms, and arranged for transport of the equipment."

"We was thinking San afternoon if the weather's clear" Tu said to Pyosz. "We could come in the morning and do other things."

"Sounds good to me" said Pyosz. "I'll feed you lunch. This will be very interesting to watch."

"You'll need to feed the work crew that comes with the equipment, too" said Api. "Two of them. Lunch and possibly dinner, depending on how long it takes."

"I was going to be killing more chickens this week anyhow" grinned Pyosz.

Pank said to Nk "You remember that Manage you built in Talaba with the upstairs porch, and how you made wooden blinds to go around it on all sides that could be shut when it stormed? I had the idea of getting something like that made for Pyosz's kitchen, when it comes winter again. That sound feasible to you?"

"Absolutely" said Nk. "You know how to take measurements, get me those and a basic floor plan, and we'll come up with a design."

"And permits" added Api. "Though I agree, it sounds like a great idea."

I won't be here in the winter, have you forgotten? thought Pyosz. But she didn't want to say it out loud. The smell of roasting meat hit her nostrils, and she said "I'm going to baste my lamb, shall I do yours, too?" to Dodd.

"I'll come with you" said Dodd, standing and brushing off her bottom. At the grill, Dodd said "Seeing you so happy and successful here is having a positive effect on Qoj. We've got our fingers crossed about her coming back home."

Nk appeared on the trail and came to turn her pork ribs. "Time to put on my figs, I think" said Pyosz.

"Then let's find room for all the veggies Oby has arrayed on this platter, too" said Dodd. After the lid was replaced, they set out more ice and arranged the buffet table while Nk went to tell everyone food would be served in 10-15 minutes.

"Emma sent me more sheet music" Dodd told Pyosz.

"Oh, can we have a preview after we eat?" begged Pyosz.

"I'll see, it's pretty thick going."

"The dawn chorus, s'bemma -- was that your idea?"

Dodd grinned shyly. "Yeah, but it evolved from a few bird calls into the amazing collaboration you saw last night. We always wind up with real babies crying. We haven't had goats before, however."

"When I woke up this morning, I got shivers listening to what was going on around me in a brand new way" said Pyosz.

(to be continued)

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Blue said...

Every time you post a new chapter I get a little thrill of excitement.