Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Blue spot on back birthmark
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)


On Shmonah, Pyosz once again had a morning without ferrying milk to Koldok. She ate a leftover slice of pork with apples and leeks on a piece of toast as she walked to the goat barn. When she was done with milking, she decided to do her breadbaking now instead of that evening after milking, because she wasn't sure what the day's light might afford her solar battery running her stove.

During the first rise, she used the last of her fresh eggs making a lemon custard pie, as well as all the other pies she intended to sell to Gitta. She made a cucumber and yogurt side dish for her curry and a pot of rice. She kept thinking that she was going to see Maar soon, then forcing her thoughts away from that idea.

She had to use a metal crate to carry all the food she transported to Arta Island. Api met her at the ferry dock, saying "My word, child, you've brought enough to feed us all". Pyosz sent her ferry back to the pylon so folks could transfer from Koldok and send that boat back to the main wharf there. She was the first of other family members to arrive, so she helped Ollow set up the buffet-style table with dishes and flatware. Ten minutes later, Dodd and Briel came into view, trailed by Tu and Pank. Dodd and Briel brought crabcakes and new potatoes in parsley butter. Tu said "We planned to stop and pick up ice cream -- which we did -- but look, fresh strawberries at Gitta's!"

Dodd said "While we're waiting on the rest, I'm grabbing a swim, it's already a scorcher." Everyone except Ollow followed her to the pond at the southern edge of Arta, where they shucked clothes and dove in with squeals at the still-cold water. As they were frolicking, Abbo appeared and quickly stripped to drive in. She'd picked up Nk and Frahe, and Pyosz paddled to the edge to say hi to them as they disrobed to swim. There was no sign of Maar, and Pyosz was glad when Dodd asked after her.

"She has the toxics run today, she'll be here after while" said Abbo. As on Skene, the non-recyclables produced by humans, including toxic byproducts and mine tailings, were carried to an underwater volcano just peeking above the sea surface, where they were dumped by a sinner from a crate with a remote-control trap on the bottom. On Pya, this hot zone was 20 miles to the east of Nec, in an ocean already devoid of marine life because of constant lava and gases bubbling up from below.

Pyosz felt disappointed and relieved simultaneously. After a long romp, she climbed out of the water with some of her cousins and lay face-down on a towel spread over grass near the pergala, enjoying the feel of sun and air on her back. She listened to Nk and Briel talking about Frank's comadrona training, and never noticed as she dropped off into a nap.

Maar arrived by ferry from Koldok. Ollow saw her coming down the path and modestly went to drape a towel over Pyosz's sleeping form. Pyosz didn't wake up immediately. However, when Tu saw what Maar was carrying, she shouted out happily "Is that Seda mulberry wine you're bringing?"

Maar replied "You know your labels", handing the bottles to Tu with a grin, adding "Fresh from Skene." Pyosz rolled over, blinking and wondering where the towel had come from. She unconsciously pulled it back over her as she came awake.

"Hiya, Pyosz" said Maar.

"Hiya back" said Pyosz, sitting up and finally discarding the towel. She thought about saying out loud, to inform whoever had covered her, "We've already seen each other naked" but decided that would simply make trouble. She put back on her maillot and her baggy ku, untying the ankle cinch on her ku and retying it above her knees to convert them into shorts.

Maar was wearing a short-sleeved linen shati in a faded celery-green check, looking very nice, Pyosz thought. She said "How did you leave Thleen?"

"Sad, as usual. But this week is kickball camp, so she'll be too busy to miss me much, I hope" said Maar. "She told me the stories you told her, and I have to ask, did you really walk out unarmed into the pitch dark to find out who had attacked your cabin?"

"What?" exclaimed Dodd. Pyosz saw the attention of her entire family was on her. She retold the story, and they laughed, eventually. But Maar, grinning, shook her head and said "You got guts, that's all I can say."

"I didn't have a lot of choice, there's no lock on the door of that levvin' tin can" retorted Pyosz. Mill glanced at Dodd and said "We can do something about that."

"I'll rig you a bolt nobody'll get past" offered Pank, and Pyosz nodded, saying "I honestly do feel safe over there, but I can't pass up one of your mechanical creations."

"Well, we're all here now and what needed heating up is warm, let's eat" said Ollow. Nk and Frahe had brought a glazed ham and an almond cake. Several salad and veggie dishes were provided by the Arta Island Manage, and Pyosz realized it had been a week since she'd eaten a meal primarily made by someone else. Well, except for that one breakfast at the cafe, she remembered.

"Which dishes are by you?" asked Maar, coming to stand beside her. Pyosz pointed, and added "There's a lemon pie, you might want to get a piece of that stashed away first." Maar hurried to comply, while Pyosz filled her own plate with more Mti pork, Dodd's crab and seafood sauce, Arta bean salad and asparagus. She returned to sit on the grass, next to Nk, but within a minute Maar was settling in beside her. She watched as Maar took a big bite of the chicken curry, and couldn't help laughing when Maar began to choke, tears spilling onto her cheeks.

"Eat some plain rice with it, here" offered Pyosz from her own plate. Maar coughed her throat clear, then smacked the ground beside her and said "Lev, but that's good! Hot on so many different levels, how'd you do that?"

"Emma's magic spice box" replied Pyosz. "Eat small bites interspersed with the yogurt and cucumber salad, and you'll find your palate comes completely awake."

For a while, most of the sounds were of folks eating appreciatively. Pyosz declined a glass of the Seda wine but did take a sip from Tu's glass. When they moved on to the multiple desserts, conversation resumed, beginning with Maar saying "We had bad weather the whole way back this time, and our cargo was mostly very heavy metals, so we were logy. I got to ask you, Api or Mill, why we don't open up more mines here on Pya? Some sort of bias against creating a mining culture here?"

Her face looked bland but there was an undercurrent of something like anger in her voice. Pyosz was struck by how this question was directed at Mill, technically only the Sheng Zhang of the Lofthall, as well as the Ethicist. The power structure here is shaking out differently she thought. I wonder if Oby will run for Ethicist when Api retires? I wonder if that will cause tension between her and Mill, or consolidate an invisible bloc?

Api began "Pya does not have a bias against miners or mining culture, I really don't want that kind of talk to gain traction out there. Our contracts with Skene have prohibitions against mining expansion because they want to keep us dependent on trade with them for essential metals and minerals, you know that, Maar."

Maar shrugged, not irritable but not convinced, either. She leaned forward to pull off her otos and sokken, rolling up her kalsongers to mid calf. Mill said, slowly, "I understand what you're driving at, Maar. And there's a kernel of truth in what you're thinking." Api blew air out her lips and Maar looked up at Mill, startled.

"The thing is" continued Mill "Even if and when we have complete go-ahead to mine wherever and whatever we want on Pya, we have to look at what happened to the mining islands on Skene. The original design was not for habitation, certainly not for balance." The paramount Skene value, balance. "The people who came here meant to take everything they could from the mines and leave again, so environmental considerations didn't enter into their decision-making. Then, once it became clear nobody was leaving, well, Skene was fighting for survival and what the mines produced was critical to survival, so the imbalance remained uncorrected. It's the islands themselves which have been abused, but after enough time, we on Skene identify with our immediate environments, our culture becomes tied to our home island, and the abuse of land is transferred to the people who claim that land. Perhaps not overtly, but in their minds and then the minds of outsiders, I do think that happens."

Mill paused. Pyosz was watching the expression on Maar's face, gratified but also fighting back -- bereavement, maybe?

Oby took up the thread, exasperating Api further. "The Southern Wasa here, especially off Dvareka, is already showing traces of contamination -- not just from mining, but also all the industry in Cogio and Sepek. If we limit expansion on Pya, that means we'll increase our demand on Skene, adding to the strain on Chloddia and Exploit. But if we don't limit dirty commerce -- and I don't think there is such a thing as a completely clean mine -- then the people who do that work will be exposed to ill health in a way the rest of us aren't. How do we make that fair? Where is the balance in that? We have the time to ask those questions on Pya."

"The miners on Chloddia haven't had a raise since I was born, my emmas say" pointed out Maar. "But I looked at the manifest, we're paying extremely high prices for their product. Why aren't they getting that money?"

"Because Skene hasn't figured out how to have an economy based on expansion. It's not natural, a growth economy. What we're good at is balance. Pya is facing the same issues in different arenas" said Api.

Briel said "The population of Skene is now close to 1500, which is 500 more people than it can feed or keep healthy without imports from Pya. The budget questions over there must be mind-boggling."

"The question of balance between Pya and Skene is even more mind-boggling" said Ollow.

Pyosz said "Abba Yoj says the ability for us to stay in step, the two worlds, is what will keep war from returning to Skene. She and my other abbas are always looking for signs of cultural aggression creeping in." She reached over and tapped the three delicate silver chains looped around Maar's left ankle. "Like those. Danaan has forbidden pilots to wear those on Skene, she says they're too close to being like signs of rank."

Abbo snorted and said "As if uniforms don't already set us apart. Danaan is terrified of reminding people she's not Halling."

Pyosz thought that was extremely unfair, but she saw an appreciative smile on Mill's face. Maar said mildly "They're made from the best Chloddia silver, almost certainly mined by my emmas, though they'd shit on themselves if they saw what I was doing with it. Chloddia thinks everything the Lofthall does is an attempt to wage covert war on Skene again."

Pyosz was stuck by that word "again" but before she could ask what Maar meant, Mill stood and pulled up her own kalsongers. A tangle of silver chains twinkled around her own ankle. "Thirty-eight years" she said proudly. "I jingle when I walk, and my skin is tarnished. But each one is a mark of service, not rank." They all laughed.

Maar turned to Pyosz and said "Speaking of marks, I noticed that Molar's bite mark on your bottom is fading fast, that's good." Well, there it was, proof that Maar had at some point in the past see Pyosz's bare ass. Pyosz felt the wave of speculation hitting her family around her. Maar continued "But I meant to ask you, what's that blue spot on your lower back? It's not a bruise, it hasn't altered."

"A birthmark some of us in the family have" said Pyosz. Tu raised her hand and said "Like me." Dodd added "And our Mruch." Pyosz went on "Plus sibemma Speranz, and emma, and of course Halling."

"I don't remember aggie ever talking about it in her line" said Tu "It must have manifested in her family, though, before me and Halling came along."

Pyosz said, in confusion, "Mwezi, you mean? But it doesn't come through her, it comes from Ng's side."

"You know for a fact, then, that emma Ng was a fertile Y?" asked Tu with a challenging look in her eyes.

"I've heard it from Lawa and Halling themselves, not the Genist" countered Pyosz. "Plus, I mean, there's all the evidence, birthmarks in particular."

"No, that's makes no sense" argued Nk. "Ng might have passed it on to emma and Halling, but what about you? And Speranz, and Mruch? Abba Ng wasn't -- I don't know the word for it."

"Our Y contribution?" said Pyosz, looking around her in growing dismay. They didn't know. This branch of the family didn't know.

Dodd cleared her throat and said gently "Actually, she was. Her contribution was used for all five of us sibs, all of the children that Bux aggied. That's how it got handed on."

Tu rose effortlessly to her full height, her usually smiling face turned to stone. "Are you saying that Halling was half-sib to her own children? Who would do such a thing? That crotch-breathed Raisa, am I right?"

"The Genist before my emma" Pyosz whispered to Maar.

When Dodd nodded, Tu's face darkened with anger. "You mean, you are my half-sib as well? And you?" she jabbed her finger at Mill accusingly.

"I knew about it" admitted Mill. "But only after I was grown."

"I find this despicable, it makes me sick to my stomach!" shouted Tu. "Is this how the Genist operates, muddying up people's family relationships?" She had now wheeled on Pyosz.

"Not my emma" said Pyosz firmly. "She was horrified when she found out -- I mean, it's her own line, as well. She told me it was an extreme aberration and if Raisa hadn't died before it came out, she could have been prosecuted."

"But who's to know what's going on now?" thundered Tu. Pank jerked her head in Pyosz's direction, catching Tu's eye. Tu took a breath and said "I don't mean Prl, Pyosz, I'm not maligning her. It's just the whole -- did emma ever know? Ng, I mean."

"No" said Dodd in a definite tone of voice.

"Emma agrees with you" added Pyosz. "She's very concerned with the abuses inherent in her own position." She saw Abbo roll her eyes, and wanted to spit at her.

Dodd said "Prl deliberately set out to alter Skene's dependence on the Genist. She had the excuse of Pya being discovered, and the consequent societal upheaval that was going to bring anyhow, but we had long talks, before I migrated, about how to make her occupation -- well, if not obsolete, at least not people's only choice."

"That's why she did what she did in creating me" said Pyosz. "She knew it would mean revolution."

"That's not the only reason she created you" interrupted Dodd, with a grin. "Not even the main reason. She wanted you simply for who you are."

Tu finally sat down again, but she continued to clench her hands. "I didn't mean to say having you as a half-sib is what makes me sick to my stomach" she said to Dodd.

"I know what you meant" said Dodd.

"If Ng's contribution was used, that could mean there are others out there, other Skeners who are related to me through her" said Tu, talking stream of consciousness. "Now I'll be looking at everybody over a certain age for signs of resemblance." Pank nudged her and said "Sibemma Veida said the blue spot happened in other families, not just yours."

Pyosz said "That's right, it occurred among more than one of the original colonists. So it's not an absolute sign of our blood."

"Are all the blue spots in your line identical, then?" asked Maar, who had been listening with fascination. Tu stood again, saying "No. Mine is shaped like a sideways hourglass" as she pulled up her shati and turned her back to expose it.

"And yours is like a swimming kuvual" Maar remarked to Pyosz, setting loose another silent ripple of consideration around them. No one ever told me it looked like that thought Pyosz.

Abbo had become increasingly restless, trying to get one of the katts to chase a stem of grass, then throwing pebbles into the pond. Now she stood, saying "Okay, enough of all this post-lunch flatulence, every Shmonah, yammer yammer yammer." She kicked at Maar's oto and said "You didn't get to swim before we ate, you ready for some action now?" She began pulling off her shati.

Maar slowly stood, but asked Abbo, "Hey, did you give everyone their mail?"

"Oops, nope, it's in the crate by the door" said Abbo, continuing to undress.

Maar turned and went to the Manage, returning with a large canvas bag of mail. Oby threw a largish rock and smacked Abbo hard on the shoulder with it, yelling out "What have we told you about people and their levvin' mail?"

People on Skene were serious correspondents. The work load was such that, even with three days off every week, most people didn't have time to visit their family on other islands, even when morrie vaseo was available. Without public radio, letters became the way folks who loved each other kept close. This had not lessened once calling from Manage to Manage became possible because now there were families separated by a half-day of time zones and an onerous distance to travel. Mail was still life's-blood to Skene, and its daily flow was one of the responsibilities of the Lofthall.

Abbo rubbed the mark left by Oby's missile but grinned, saying in Mill's direction "It wasn't people, it was only my family." Which got a laugh from Mill, but not Oby. Abbo jerked off her knickers and dove into the pond as Maar made the rounds, handing out letters and occasional small packages. When she got to Pyosz, she set a bulging bundle of letters into her lap and said "We have too many big crates for you to burden you with here, we'll drop them off at Saya later, okay?"

The letters felt warm with love under Pyosz's hands. She read the return addresses, and felt relief that she had written each of these family members first, juicy private letters they would have already gotten. She decided to save her mail for later, when she was back alone on Saya and fighting the occasional wave of loneliness. She went to stash them in her carryall and noticed her camera. As Maar joined Abbo in the pond, Pyosz went to each member of her family reading their mail, quietly taking a photograph of them rapt in concentration, their faces happy and open. With a sense of duty, she also turned and took a photo of Maar and Abbo rough-housing in the pond. She had one shot left, and was going to use it on the ravaged buffet table when Dodd said "Pyosz, emma -- Yoj -- sent me a copy of some ancient sheet music she found in the archives. She's had a turn at translating but wants my help, and honestly, I'm having trouble deciphering her notes. Her handwriting has really deteriorated, don't you think?"

Pyosz sat beside Dodd, putting down her camera and leaning against her sibemma to look at the double-page of unfamiliar markings. "Abba's tremor is almost constant now, and she keeps refusing to wear her glasses, says she's used to the blur" explained Pyosz. "When she tries to read the newspaper, she complains about how poor the type quality has become, until abba Bux gives a snort and rips off her own glasses to jam them on Yoj's head. What is this, though, that's not ancient Skenish, is it?"

"It's how they made musical notation" said Dodd. "Emma and I have pretty much figured out what that all means. She wrote in the margins that this is a song about having memories while standing in a cluster of trees, which she thought I might like to convert for Pya. But the title she's translated as 'Ash Grove', that can't be right -- the trees are still standing, they've not been burnt."

"That's what I read, too" confirmed Pyosz. "There's gaps in her translation, and it doesn't entirely scan."

"She hopes I can smooth it out" said Dodd. "First the music, though." Briel appeared in front of them, holding Dodd's fiddle case. Dodd beamed at her, saying "You're always one step ahead of me." She began picking out the melody, and slowly the rest of their family finished their letters, leaning toward Dodd to listen. When she could finally play it through, Ollow said "That's haunting. " Frahe added, "Can you read us what there is of the words?"

Dodd complied, and Pank rubbed moisture from her eyes. "That's a keeper" she said.

"Play us something else" urged Nk. Maar had left the pond and was drying off. Abbo crawled out of the water now and said "I'll go get my drum." Within minutes, singing together relaxed all previous tension and had them laughing together again. Pyosz was going to take a photograph of Dodd and Abbo riffing with each other, but discovered her last shot had been used, after all. When she got the prints developed two days later, she discovered Briel had picked up her camera and taken a photo of Pyosz and Dodd poring over the sheet music, Pyosz's arm over Dodd's shoulder, the two of them gazing into each other's faces for an instant of shared comprehension.

After a while, they took a break to get cold drinks and eat the last of the ice cream. Dodd asked Pyosz "Did you get back those photos you took on Market Day yet? I think that one I took of you and Uli is going to be a great one."

"It is" confirmed Pyosz. She saw Maar react to the name with some strong emotion, and Abbo's smirking grin appear.

"Uli?" said Maar.

"Yeah, we spent Market Day together" said Pyosz as casually as she could. Abbo said "Fast work, as usual" in an undertone to Maar, but Maar clearly did not think Abbo's meaning was funny. Whatever her meaning was.

Out of nowhere, Tu turned to Dodd and said "Did Yerush know? About Ng, I mean, and that whole Raisa mess."

Dodd looked wary for the first time all day. Pyosz asked "Why would Yerush know?" She saw Tu close her lips tight, and realized she was about to be shut out of some piece of family information.

Api temporized "Yerush imagined herself to be Ethicist of All Skene even when she hadn't been elected, and I have to say, as the actual Ethicist, her influence and connections often outstripped my own." But that's not an answer thought Pyosz. She stood and said "I need to use the privy", heading for the northern end of the island. Afterwards, instead of returning to the pond, she stood in the edge of the woods on the cliff staring out at Saya to left, Koldok to her right, taking a moment to ponder riddles.

When she heard a twig snap behind her, she knew who it must be without looking. Maar's shoulder almost brushed her as Maar said "Wow, Shmonah dinner on Arta was never this interesting before you came along."

And what does THAT mean? thought Pyosz, adding it to her list of enigmatic statements by others.

Maar said "That wain certainly does show up, doesn't it? I found out this morning at breakfast that the other pilots have a contest going on, to see who can spot you when they fly over. If they get a 'red cap' sighting, that's one point; if you're pulling the wain, it's another point; if you're doing labor that usually requires two people to accomplish, it's another two points; and there's a wholly imaginary category of if they spot 'the owl', it's five points. I tried to shut it down, but apparently the game was started by folks in Koldok." Her tone was amused, and another time Pyosz would have laughed with her.

Instead, Pyosz faced Maar and said "I need to tell you...after you left, that night -- that night we went to the hot springs -- I realized how unavailable you are. But I think you've been playing a game with me around it, Maar. I don't think you've been as honest as you could have been. I'm upset about it."

Maar's face fell. "I've tried to be honest, Pyosz. I never meant to lie -- what do you mean, game?"

"You know what I mean. And the thing is, I'm not available either, Maar. I have other things that come ahead of -- whatever. So I need it to be clear between us, we're friends only. Permanently."

She expected to see resentment on Maar's face. Instead, she was confronted with disconcerting grief in Maar's wide brown eyes. Maar said softly "Buddies. I hear you." Pyosz had to look away. She said to the ocean "I really am going to write Thleen, if that's all right with you."

"I couldn't hope for better" said Maar, still in a smal voice. Then, almost unwillingly, Maar said "I wonder, how did you meet Uli?"

"Oh, Maar -- not right now" said Pyosz, wheeling and striding back toward the pond. She joined her family mid-song, although Abbo looked at her suspiciously, and Abbo's smile disappeared when Maar emerged from the same trail Pyosz had just taken. Pyosz refused to look Maar's way.

After two more songs, Pyosz stood and said "I'd love to stay through dinner, but I have goats at sunset as well as at dawn. Thank you for my first real day off."

Api said "I'm making you a plate to take home for dinner, then. Any requests?"

"Everything there is, except my own chicken, I've been eating a lot of chicken lately" said Pyosz. "I hope there's a piece of that almond cake left." They all strolled to the kitchen, starting to wash empty dishes and helping Pyosz load her crate. Dodd said "Hey, there's a dance next -- oh, wait, Uli already told you. Can't wait for you to see my band play."

Abbo said "I'll drop off your freight when we stop to pick up Tu and Pank's tools on their way home."

"Thanks" said Pyosz, making the rounds for hugs. She hugged Maar too, briefly, and Dodd walked her to her ferry.

On Saya, she felt a rush of mixed emotion -- glad to be back on familiar ground, but wishing she had another human to share it with. She fed the katts and sequestered them, setting her mail on her pillow for later. She put away the chickens and untied her ku from their short version to go milk. She had finished and was about to put her dinner in the oven to warm when she heard a sinner landing at her jichang. She walked that direction with a flash. She was astonished to see each of the six passengers pick up a crate and head toward her kitchen, some of them clearly carrying weight.

Nk set her crate down on the counter with a grunt and said "This has to be books."

"I'm sure it is" said Pyosz, recognizing the label of the bookseller in Riesig. Abbo interrupted, however, to say "I need to speak with Pyosz alone, I have a private delivery from the abbas." It was clumsily done, and Tu's eyebrows shot up, but Pyosz said "Come into my cabin, then."

Once the door was shut, Abbo unzipped her guibba and pulled from it a leather pouch of the sort used by merchants and Sheng Zhangs to carry money. It had been wrapped in both directions with heavy purple cord and at possible access points, knots had been sealed in wax and impressed with the seal of the Archivist. Abbo hefted it in her hands, and Pyosz heard the dull clank of precious metal.

"That crying fit you threw really paid off, cousin" said Abbo in a snide voice. "I'm thinking it's all silver eks, two long rows of them, three years' average income. You know, they only gave me three eks when I graduated from flight school, you've really got their number."

Pyosz felt nauseated, seeing the way Abbo stealthily pressed her fingertips against the leather. She imagined Abbo having groped the bag all the way home. "I don't want that" she said. "I didn't ask for it, you can take it back to them."

"I want nothing more to do this this" said Abbo. "I have to deliver what's given me, remember? And don't worry, I'll keep your tawdy little secret." She tossed it on Pyosz's bed and left the cabin, leaving the door open. Pyosz hurried to shut it, shoved the bag into her cupboard, and closed her eyes for a minute, trying to calm her racing pulse.

When she returned to the kitchen, Abbo was helping herself to a glass of milk and Pyosz's piece of almond cake. The others glanced at Pyosz, but politely went on looking through the carton of books. "Help yourself to any you want to borrow" Pyosz said in an amazingly calm voice. She picked up the smallest carton, seeing Lawa's handwriting, and sat down to open it. Inside was the head of an old crescent hoe, worn slender by decades of use, and a package of flax seed. Pyosz burst out laughing at the flax seed. Tu, leaning over her shoulder, said "That's the first hoe she bought for herself, when she went to work at the ejida!" Pyosz held it to her lips and kissed it lightly before handing it to Tu for her to examine.

The flow of treasures, old and new, continued to pour from the crates. Qala, signing Lawa's name also, sent an old silver teapot with a green ceramic liner, matching sugar bowl and creamer. Her note said "The silver is from Exploit, the clay from Seda, when you drink from this think of how we came together to raise you." She wept at that.

Prl sent the silk cushions from Pyosz's own bed at the Genist Manage -- but not all of them, Pyosz was happy to see, leaving some for her room to remain familiar if she got a chance to visit. Pyosz hugged them to her chest, then said "These go on my bed here, I guess." Maar was the one who took them from her, going carefully through the cabin door on a lookout for katt escape. When Maar returned, she said "That new rug in there is beautiful."

"Thanks, Udek made it" said Pyosz, still not looking at Maar. Prl had also sent a new paring knife, a vegetable rasp, and a stunning mortar and pestle made from Yanja ronyang. The mortar was deep red with a high gloss, and the pestle was an equally gleaming black.

Prl had clearly colluded with the abbas, because the next crate from them held a large cutting board of the same black ronyang as the pestle. "Oh how I've needed this" said Pyosz, taking the stained and slightly moulding board she'd been using and setting it beside her new outdoor grill. "Kindling" remarked Pank. Pyosz arranged the cutting board at the end of her table and lined up the other new kitchen items in the center of the table.

Also in their crate was a stack of plant starter trays, three dozen to a tray, formed out of some sort of organic material. "We have starter trays on Pya" remarked Frahe, fingering them.

"Not like those, they're made from compressed animal dung" said Pyosz. Frahe quickly moved her hand away. Under the trays were dozens of packets of seeds, herb, vegetable, flower, and fruit, all gathered from the Riesig Manages and sealed into small paper envelopes painted by Bux. Pyosz began crying again, holding some of the packets up to the light and saying "You can see why abba was a wandmaler before she changed careers, these are tiny works of art."

"Bux?" asked Maar, and Pyosz nodded. Tu said "Uh, could we barter for some of those seeds?"

"No, but you can have them" said Pyosz. "I'll share them with you gladly, they have the best tillage on Skene."

Yoj had included a good used food mill that could be clamped to the table and a nifty combination fruit parer and peeler. Bux had tucked in jars of mango chutney made from her emma's reknowned recipe and a small bottle of dark brown liquid that Pyosz didn't recognize until she took off the lid and took a taste. "Aged vinegar!" she cried. "This is like liquid gold, oh, I'm going to make such good food with this." She passed it around for everyone to take a dab on their fingertip for tasting. Finally meeting Maar's face, she saw Maar's eyebrows shoot up at the flavor.

"How do they make this vinegar?" asked Maar.

"Years of sitting in oak barrels" said Pyosz. "That batch is probably older than Thleen."

Halling had sent her a small bedside lamp that ran off a removable rechargable battery and had a clamp for affixing it to her headboard. "I can charge this every day on the barn circuit and never worry about running out of light when I read at night" said Pyosz. The last small box was also from Halling. It held her pilot binoculars, the ones she had always carried with she flew. "For lev and owl-spotting" her note read. Pyosz passed it to Maar with a laugh, even as her eyes filled with tears.

She wanted to ask Maar to stay behind while Abbo flew the rest to Mti, eat dinner with her and keep her company. But that was of course out of the question. Still, as they went to what Pyosz now thought of the killing field to load tools into the sinner, Pyosz stayed behind long enough to wrap the final brownie in a napkin. She caught up with Maar in the dark and slipped the brownie into her guibba pocket, whispering "Don't look at it until you're alone and won't have to share."

She waved them off with a less burdened heart. She decided to read her mail while eating dinner. She could deal with the money debacle tomorrow. She sprinkled a few drops of the aged vinegar on Dodd's crabcakes before opening the letter from her emma.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.