Saturday, September 5, 2009


(Map of Dvareka on Pya, not completely filled in. Click on image to enlarge.)

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)


A few minutes later, they loaded their plates and returned to the pond to eat with gusto. Qoj said "This is how you feast every Shmonah?" and Pyosz earned a look of gratitude from Dodd when she said "Yes. Incredible, isn't it?"

Maar said "Pyosz has promised to teach me how to cook, so the mysteries of this lamb flavor, for instance, hopefully will be unlocked for me."

"Congratulations" said Nk. Abbo didn't look so pleased. Oby said to Qoj "At what point will you officially be called an astronomer and able to transport your skills elsewhere?"

Qoj grinned at the implication. "Well, that's the question, since the idea of an astronomer existing away from Astronomer Poke has never arisen before."

"What benefit would it give Pya to have you here?" asked Frahe. "I mean, aside from all of us wanting you in our midst."

"Space above us holds endless clues and science about how Skene as a planet is organized" said Qoj. "We could use more satellites, and I'd like to help plot those orbits. Weather, of course, is integral to Pya's function, and the current meteorology coming out of Skene isn't nearly as detailed as someone on the ground here could produce. And, I suppose, there's abba's whole Bulwark system, which at present will offer warnings only to Skene."

"Bulwark?" asked Maar. "We studied that in school -- something about providing for contingencies like a meteor strike? Or epidemics?"

Api explained around a mouthful of rib. "Pya's land mass offered a new look at how we, as a critically small population, could possibly survive dire circumstances. Epidemic has been the constant threat, yes, but also the fear of tidal waves resulting from underwater seismic events or a space object crashing into the ocean. Yoj set up a chart of scenarios and how we could prepare against them, researched by experts in various fields. It was voted into law when you were a child, Maar."

Mill added "It's scramble code green in pilot emergency training."

"Ah" said Maar, making the connection.

"You know" said Qoj, "The current theory about what happened to the first colonists here on Pya has moved away from thinking they encountered some organism from water or soil that triggered the illness that killed them. Most gakushas now believe a meteor stroke introduced a pathogen to Pya, which lived as long as its host humans lived, but disappeared when they all died."

Everyone looked at her in speculation. "That's a somewhat comforting notion" said Dodd. "Means we're not going to accidentally dig up the same virus or whatever when a new field is plowed."

"Or mine opened, or well sunk" said Ollow. "Any proof for that theory?"

"Not yet" admitted Qoj. "The original records being so scanty. Anyhow, if I can get a clear night while I'm here, I've brought a special camera to take detailed photographs of the stars visible from this hemisphere. With luck, I'll surpass what exists and guarantee an advanced degree for myself."

Maar began asking interested questions about this project, and Pyosz excused herself to get seconds of turkey and melon. Api followed her and they stood talking by the table for a few minutes. Api went into her office and returned with a sheaf of forms for Pyosz to sign. Pyosz put her copies with her crates inside the door before returning to the pond.

Dodd turned to her and said "We were talking about Mchele Fair, which is a major event here on Pya. You should enter some of your products in the cooking competitions."

Briel said to Tu "Are you doing the tree-cutting race again this year?"

"Yep" said Tu. "Pank's entering bacon and sausage, Nk and Frahe both have furniture to display, and at least one of the folks we work with is going to try for a pig-calling ribbon."

"Is it an all day affair, then?" asked Pyosz. Abbo laughed, saying "It's almost four full days. Starts on Ot after work with plays and a few demonstrations, then goes through Market Day -- "

"With the emma of all markets" grinned Mill.

"Competitions in everything you can name -- " continued Abbo, but she was overtaken by several voices saying "Sheep shearing", "Chicken plucking", "Turkey calling", "Log tossing". Pank said "There's a milking race, which is mostly sheepherders but you could hop in and show 'em how it's done, I bet."

"Maybe for the fun of it" said Pyosz. "I'm not prize-winner material. Not yet."

Abbo reclaimed her thread. "Then Roku after dinner is the all-Pya kickball championship game."

"Which ends badly, no matter who wins" said Api.

"Sju is when awards are given out for arts and crafts, plus the carnival is in full swing" said Abo. "That night is the dance. Then on Shmonah, folks get up late but there's a picnic midday at the fairgrounds, with singing and speeches afterward."

"I can't wait" said Pyosz, thinking about the apricot jam she'd been making with a dash of almond extract in it for a lovely kick of something different.

"So you're here through summer's end?" said Qoj. "Are you living in that metal shack Ferk had?"

"A little less shackified, but yes" said Pyosz. "You have to come see what I've done with the place."

"I found Ferk a little frightening when I was small" said Qoj. "She seemed like part goat herself."

There was an awkward silence. Pyosz said "The fact is, Saya Island is really enough work for a Manage, not just an individual, even a young one like me. She did what she could, and I'm able to handle more in large part because I'm getting serious help from family. And friends" she added, smiling at Maar.

Abbo said to Qoj, in a not-quite-joking voice, "Maar has a bad case of volunteeritis, which usually gets focused around the Lofthall, where she's always sniffing after extra work from my emmas, but since Pyosz got here, she's over at Saya every day pretending to be an ejija worker."

The awkward silence returned. Ollow broke it by saying "Ngall's second baby is due in three weeks, she wrote us. Our second great-grandchild!"

Conversation flowed from there to more singing, another swim, and even a brief nap for Pyosz before she put on her otos again and stood to say "Well, maybe I'm part goat now, too, because I swear I can hear them calling me."

"Let's make you a plate for dinner, we've got so much leftovers" said Oby. Maar stood as well and said "Can you make it two plates? I don't like Pyosz going off to work and eat alone every Shmonah while we get to stay here with each other, so I'm going to volunteer to help her and share her day-off meal afterward." Her wide grin took some of the sting out of her emphasis on volunteer. The vibratto in Pyosz's chest went nearly still when Maar followed this by bending to Qoj, putting her hand on Qoj's shoulder and saying confidentially "I'll be back for our plans by 8:00."

Be happy with what you get Pyosz said to herself sternly. She and Maar each carried a crate and a covered plate to the ferry. On Saya, Maar put food in the oven to stay warm and said "I'll do the chickens and katts."

"Curds and Ember are going to start thinking you're their second emma" said Pyosz, embarrassing herself which she covered by walking to the pasture gate. As they sat down to eat, Maar said "That was very generous of you, what you had to say about Ferk."

"I meant it" said Pyosz. "I can imagine a big Manage here, over there on the north end with a view of Teppe Wasa, and a family full of children thinking this is paradise." They chewed in silence for a while.

"Leave the dishes" said Pyosz. "Seriously, you have other commitments, don't you?" She wanted to know what Maar had planned with Qoj. But Maar didn't offer the information. Instead, she said "I hope this isn't presumptuous, but can I stay long enough to see what your family sent you?"

"That would be fun" said Pyosz. The first crate held more books and a separate carton which contained the lava rocks for her grill she had requested. Maar stared into the box and said "You asked for these? Did you fill out the request forms -- I can't believe you got a permit this fast."

"For what?" said Pyosz, bewildered.

"Importing any kind of rock from Skene is very strictly controlled" said Maar.

"Even this much? I mean, it's not for construction, it's for my grill" argued Pyosz.

"That counts as construction. Whew. This means me and Abbo participated in the commission of a crime" said Maar. She was grinning.

"Shit. So I suppose I better turn it in and suffer the consequences" said Pyosz. "I had no idea."

" could tell your emma and abbas to not breathe a word of it -- I mean, Bux surely knew this was breaking rules -- and keep the lid on your grill pit when people come over" said Maar. "I won't tell Abbo if you don't."

They giggled together. "Fair enough" said Pyosz. "Help yourself to books, by the way."

The second crate had potholders, tongs, and some new napkins, plus several beautiful old copper pots with lids, ranging from butter-melting size to tall stock pots. Pyosz sat down, overcome with affection for those who loved her so well.

"They looted their own kitchens for these, plus -- I think bought a few used" she said, examining each pot in detail. "This will make a huge difference in my cooking. These tin and aluminum relics from Ferk are now destined for candle-making and other ejida chores."

Inside the stock pot, padded with a sheep's fleece that Pyosz knew the katts would appreciate, were several packages of smoked eel, two mangos, and a pound of chocolate nibs. "If I wasn't stuffed to the gills, I'd be alternating bites of eel with bitter chocolate" said Pyosz.

"Please invite me when you do" said Maar. "Well, I sure wish you were going with us, but I better get back."

"What do you mean?" said Pyosz. "You didn't invite me on whatever it is."

"But you were there when she talked about it, weren't you?" said Maar. Pyosz shook her head, feeling relief travel down to her toes. "Qoj wants me to take her up above the cloud layer to get high-altitude photographs of the night sky. She's not sure if they'll be as clear as ground-based photography because of the motion, but I promised to keep it as smooth as I can. We'll be out until midnight, so I understand if you can't stay up that late. Still..." Maar looked at her hopefully.

"Is Abbo or Dodd going?"

"No, just me and Qoj."

"Oh, lev, count me in, I can't miss this" said Pyosz, hoping her own motivations were as pure as she pretended. Maar danced a jig step and said "Go bundle up, every warm thing you've got. We can't turn on the heater. And no thermos of tea, it might steam up the windows. It'll be uncomfortable before we're done."

"I don't care" said Pyosz.

"Then I'll go pick up Qoj and we'll stop at the jichang for you in a few minutes" said Maar.

Pyosz dressed in layers, two pair of sokken, her red cap and manteau, leaving her lamp light on for when she returned. She grabbed her own camera and binoculars before skipping to the jichang when she heard the small sinner overhead.

It was a night she'd remember the rest of her life. The three of them, chilled by spectacle as much as by the thin air, bonded closely as Qoj talked stream of consciousness about what she was seeing, what it meant, physics asking as many questions as it answered inside her head. Maar would turn off the lights on her instrument panel to improve Qoj's photographs, flying by feel alone, giving Pyosz her first inkling of how very good a pilot Maar was. Pyosz understood the curve of her home orb in a new way, and when they finally began dropping down to Pya again, the twinkle of lights filled her with a surge of emotion.

At the jichang, both Qoj and Maar crawled out to hug her exuberantly. "I have to get up in four hours" she laughed. "But I may not be able to sleep for feeling like I'm still falling into the heavens."

The next morning, her tiredness combined with a triple load of milk was brutal. She stopped in at Taamsas' to give her dimensions for a pot rack to go over her stove and table. As she was heading home, she ran into Qoj. They hugged again, Pyosz saying "I am so lucky, to have you for a cousin!"

"I feel the same way, you made the whole night perfect" said Qoj. "Although that Maar, she certainly is dishy. But we both know she only has eyes for another, huh?" She winked at Pyosz, and Pyosz managed to keep smiling. She said "If you're free, come out for lunch, I'll make something half-goaty."

Qoj laughed and said "Actually, I'm meeting Uli at the cafe for lunch. Another dishy one, Koldok has certainly improved since I lived here."

Fast mover indeed thought Pyosz, and this time it was easy to keep her grin. "Have fun, then. See you soon."

At her kitchen, she ached for a nap but first called the Genist Manage to thank them for her packages. She recounted to Prl the events of the previous day and evening in an excited voice. At one point she said "It's funny, I remember you and your emmas talking about Bulwark a lot when I was little, but I guess it's not such a worry now. Nobody mentions it" said Pyosz.

"It was on my mind daily for several years, that's true" said Prl.

"There would be a signal sent out over Sigrist Radio, right? That we were all supposed to seek shelter or something? And when I started school, you and I began having those fun races every week. I swear, emma, I think that's where I got my endurance and strong legs, from trying to improve my time each Roku afternoon." Pyosz chuckled.

Prl did not. The first weekend after Pyosz had begun first grade, Prl took her to the schoolyard and said "All right, this is a let's-pretend game. The notice has just come over the radio that everybody needs to find safety. Your leraar knows that for you, that means coming home to our Manage, okay? So you simply stand up and run out the door, don't try to get your burzaka or anything else, just start running. I'm going to be up the lane timing you. Don't start until I yell 'Go', because that will be the signal on the radio." Prl walked halfway to the Genist Manage and called down the lane "Now, Pyosz! Run as fast as you can!"

Pyosz fell a few times, but learned to scramble to her feet and keep going, her chubby legs churning as fast as they could. Prl would be calling encouragement and there was always a wild grin on Pyosz's face. Prl would be watching a timer in her hands, and when it dinged, she would come forward to meet Pyosz, swinging her up into her arms and saying fervently "That was wonderful, darling, you were even faster than last week, I'm so proud of you!" The intensity in those embraces was Pyosz's reward.

Each year, Pyosz could get farther before the timer bell rang. Until finally, halfway through second grade, she was able to burst breathlessly into the Genist Manage kitchen where Prl was standing, and they both gave a shout as the bell rang. They didn't practice any more after that.

"What was I racing against, emma? You must have had some particular goal in mind, although for me it was just against the timer" asked Pyosz.

Prl hesitated before answering. "Emma -- Yoj -- had several hypothetical scenarios worked out. One involved a tsunami approaching Skene, and the best-case scenario of daylight hours and a Sigrist facing the right direction or a pilot calling it in, giving us enough warning to seek higher ground. I used that timetable."

"But why was the Genist Manage considered higher ground? I mean, it's at the top of the lane, but that's only what, 15 feet or so?" puzzled Pyosz.

"The vault inside the Shatters, used by both Genist and Archivist -- aside from the waterproof, blast-proof doors protecting records, Contributions, and a biological archive with frozen DNA for all our essential plants and animals -- there's a chamber at the top, with built-in water and energy supply, food and medicine. It will hold maybe four survivors through almost any calamity, if they can get there in time. The lift to it is in the vault itself." Prl's tone was grim.

"So -- I was running to get to that chamber? Stars, emma. I'm glad I didn't know" said Pyosz. "Who else were among the lucky few allowed to use it? Yoj, I gather."

"If she was at the Archives, yes" said Prl. "The botaniste from across the street here. Our mandate was to have the training necessary to help restart life on Skene. It's in my contract, was added in once the Bulwark program was executed."

Pyosz's brain was working hard. "Except -- I wouldn't have been in your contract, would I, emma? I mean, my survival could not be considered essential to restarting Skene."

"No" said Prl softly. "That was my decision, to include you. Because I wasn't willing to go on without you."

"But emma, I wasn't able to reach the entrance to the vault for what, six years of constantly working at it? All that time, you were facing having to close the door against me if I didn't make it?"

"I was not facing that, no. I would never have left you to face the approaching wave alone" said Prl.

"In other words, you chose me over your sworn duty to Skene" whispered Pyosz.

"It was an easy choice" said Prl.

"That's why -- that day I finally made it to the Manage on time, we were screaming and jumping around, and then all of a sudden, you were crying, picking me up like I was still a toddler and holding me a little too night. It really scared me, I remember. Oh, emma." Pyosz felt her heart break a little, realizing what Prl had been suffering through. After several seconds, Pyosz said "And now here I am, half a world away."

"The contradiction of being an emma is that for the first two years of your child's life, you have not a single second where you're not thinking about them, completely beholden to them because they depend on you utterly. Then, once they start reaching for independence, you spend the rest of your life in progressively more difficult lessons about how to let go of their hands" said Prl.

"Well, emma, the part of Saya Island where I live is at least 20 feet above the water" said Pyosz. As it came out her mouth, she realized that was not high enough. She continued "And from my cabin, I can see an ancient oak that's big around as a room, with roots down into bedrock and a height that tops 50 feet. And I'm really good at climbing trees. Whatever it takes, emma, I'll survive and I'll find a way back to Skene, so you go into the vault and ride that lift up, you hear me?"

Prl laughed. "Getting back here probably won't be the major obstacle. Pilots are scrambled into the air first thing, under the Bulwark plan, to save craft and provide rescue vehicles."

Pyosz allowed herself a brief thought of Maar and jubilation at her likely survival.

Prl continued "But now I'm worried about you climbing such massive trees. Bulwark is a doomsday plan, sweetheart, not something we need to actually keep in our thoughts."

"Then why was it so prevalent for a while there, I wonder?" asked Pyosz.

"Pya was being settled, and for the first time in Skene's history, we could hope for secure longevity. Plus -- for me, you were heading out into the world, not tucked into this Manage with us all the time any more. You were a bold and curious child. The race back to my arms seemed symbolic, somehow" said Prl.

After the call, Pyosz took a two-hour nap, waking up hot but rested. She rinsed her head under the tap and plunged into the next item on her long-term list. Pyosz made small flags from baling wire and leftover tree flagging, and numbered them sequentially. She stuck pins with the same numbers on her map of Saya Island, and began taking soil samples, doing her end of the island first, then working her way from west to east. When she took a sample from a spot on the map, she put a flag in the ground at that spot. She didn't have hope that the goats would leave alone all the flags in the pasture, but for now, kids were following her from spot to spot.

She was halfway between the woods and the kissing gate when she heard Maar's voice call out "There you are" from the escarpment. Pyosz waved her down and explained what she was doing. Maar began carrying the basket into which Pyosz was putting her plastic bags of samples, marked with not only the labels Taamsas had given her but the appropriate flag number. They came to the low area where only gorse grew, now showing a small sheen of standing water.

"I should take two or three samples here" said Pyosz. She began six inches outside the "fallow" zone, then walked into the water a foot and struck her spade deep into the ground, pushing on it with her oto before turning over the soil. She crouched to look into the hole, saying "It's very wet, but oddly, it's paler further down in the hole. Moisture should increase darkness, I think." She dug the hole deeper, to almost eighteen inches, and deposited the definitely pale, dense soil she had turned up onto the puddle surface. She crouched again, taking some of the light grey-green soil between her fingers and kneading it lightly. She held it to her nose for a sniff, two sniffs. To Maar's astonishment, Pyosz then put her fingertips to her mouth and tasted the soil.

She fell back onto her rump, letting go of the shovel. "Oh, no" cried Maar, "Are you poisoned? Pyosz, can you stand up, let's get you to Briel."

Pyosz waved away her tugged. "It's okay, I'm fine. I'm just gobsmacked."

"Why? What is it?" Maar crouched beside Pyosz. Pyosz held out her fingers for Maar to sniff.

"Do you know what that is?" she asked.

"Dirt, wet dirt, that's all I can say for sure" said Maar.

"Try a taste. I promise, it won't hurt you" said Pyosz. Maar briefly touched her tongue to Pyosz's fingertip.

"I still don't know, although I have to admit, it's familiar" said Maar.

"That flavor is kaolin. This is clay, porcelain-grade clay, Maar. As good as anything I've seen on Skene." Pyosz stood again, measuring the fallow area with her eyes. "If this is what it looks like, a clay field, it's a major find." She picked up her shovel with a troubled expression on her face.

"Clay on Pya? Hooray!" cried Maar. "MIll's going to be ecstatic."

Pyosz took a single sample from the bottom of the hole she'd dug and decided not to take any more from the region. She walked silently on to the next quadrant of grassy pasture. Maar, following her, said "What's going on in your head? You look upset, not happy about this discovery."

"Well, I was just thinking about Argile and the clay fields there. Have you seen pictures before they rebuilt at least half the island? It was a waste zone. The clay was too badly needed to think about balance there, they just dug and dug until they hit bedrock 20 feet down." She looked at Maar with troubled black eyes. "I don't want them destroying Saya to get out the clay, here. It'll ruin this pasture, the goats will have to be moved elsewhere."

"Oh" said Maar.

"I'm tempted to not even turn in a soil sample, but they'd notice the gap eventually, since Uli is going to be mapping these results. Lev. I wonder if I could get her to keep quiet about it?"

After a minute, Maar said in a careful tone "I wouldn't count on that. Uli is ambitious, she won't play games with the law."

"Well, I'll have to talk to Mill and Api, I guess" said Pyosz. "I mean, I love clay for its own sake, don't get me wrong. I took two semesters of pottery making at the U, did I ever tell you that?"

"No" said Maar. "But I'm not surprised, you've got a strong artistic streak."

Pyosz smiled at her. "My habibi Ng was a keramiker, one of the best Skene's ever had. I took the first course simply as a break from geometry, which was busting my head that semester. But I turned out to have -- not just an aptitude for it, but a real affinity. It gave me serious happiness to shape clay. I'd have done more if I hadn't been involved with Sey and trying to follow her path instead of strictly my own." She numbered another soil sample and said "What are you doing here, anyhow? Hoping for a late lunch?"

Maar grinned. "I come to visit you for more than gastronomic reasons. But now that you mention it..."

"There's a pot of beans and sausage simmering on the stove. If you'll make a salad, and heat up either rice or cornbread, I'll finish the pasture and be there in 15 minutes" said Pyosz.

When she came to the kitchen to wash her hands, Maar had set the table and steamed some squash as well. "I see you went for the cornbread" said Pyosz. She made a swift dressing in mortar, relaying her thought process out loud so Maar could learn from it, and spooned it into a bowl they could dip from. After sitting, Maar took her hand and initiated the before meal thanksgiving her emma's Manage had always done. Pyosz closed her eyes until Maar squeezed her hand.

Over the meal, she told Maar about the conversation she'd had with Prl. Maar's eyes went wet and she said "I am so lucky to be around your family."

"I ran into Qoj in Koldok this morning" said Pyosz. She paused before saying "She has a lunch date with Uli."

Maar looked at her wide-eyed for a minute before giggling. "Whatever it would take to get her to move back to Pya. Did you see the hope on Dodd's face every time Qoj said something good about being here?"

"Speaking of hope, is there any chance of you getting Thleen here for a visit this summer?" asked Pyosz. She was instantly sorry, because Maar's face lost all its light.

"I won't stop trying, but it looks bleak" said Maar. "My emmas believe huolon flights are treacherous."

"Because of that crash, involving people they knew?" asked Pyosz.

"I'm sure that's a lot of it" said Maar. "But my family -- well, most of Chloddia -- I grew up hearing that the Lofthall is what began the Troubles, way back when on Skene. Pilots waged war, trying to assume control over all the colonists, and innocent people died as a result. People on Chloddia say 'They brought us here to work and nothing else', and perversely, they refuse to try to change that reality in whatever way it still exists. And the number one source of keeping the mining islands down, they think, is the Lofthall. Followed by Yanja and Riesig in general."

"Wow. Sucks for you, but it's also fascinating. Would it be all right with you if I asked my abba Yoj about that? I bet there's some truth to what you've heard, she's always excavating the cores of myths on Skene" said Pyosz. Maar nodded, her cheeks pink.

They cleared away lunch. Pyosz said "I haven't made new pies yet, but here's a quick sweet treat." She cut a few small squares of dripping comb and rolled them in chocolate nibs. Maar's eyes skidded shut after one bite. "That's such a complicated, head-pounding set of flavors" she whispered. When she left, she took Pyosz's soil samples to drop at the ejida for testing.

That evening, as another row of brightly-colored jam jars glinted in a row on the table, the radio buzzed. Pyosz answered to hear Halling "You got a minute? Something interesting happened today." Her voice was more animated than Pyosz had heard in a long time. Halling continued "You'll never guess who came to visit us."

Oh, lev. Not Sey thought Pyosz.

Halling didn't wait for Pyosz's guess. "That child Thleen you've menitioned -- the sibu of your friend the pilot?"

"No kidding" said Pyosz.

"Technically, her two sibas were with her, but they were unwilling lag-behinds. Thleen apparently recognized our door from some drawing you sent her and decided to knock as they walked by. When I answered, her sibas were trying to drag her away, mortified as only teenagers can be" said Halling, chuckling.

"What did you do, abba?"

"Well, she's a beautiful child, bright-faced and engaging" said Halling. "She said you were her friend, which was good enough for me. I asked 'em in and gave 'em tea with cake."

"Exactly what I would have done" said Pyosz.

"Yoj came home half an hour later, and then Bux. When Tlunu got up, we had a party going on. Thleen planted herself in Yoj's lap, that child magnetic zone, as you well know. Finally the sibas said their ferry was running again and they had to get home -- they'd missed the school sinner for some reason. But when Bux heard they had to go all the way to Chloddia, she asked Tlunu to give them a ride. Anyhow, it was quite a conversation. I told Thleen to come back any time."

"Abba, that means she will, I'm pretty sure" said Pyosz.

"I expect you're right" said Halling happily. "With Ngall quickening, we only get to see Ehall if we trek out to Pomar. It was a treat having a little one in the Manage for a while."

Pyosz talked with each of her abbas in turn and clicked off wishing she could walk down the lane and let herself in at that copper door with the cao on it.

The next day when Pyosz returned from Koldok, she slaughtered two more capons and a stewing hen. She put the plucked capon carcasses, cut up, into her coldbox and started stock in her lovely new pot. She decided to make a double batch of bread and pies because the following day she might be too busy with tree-removal to bake. In between punching-down and rolling-out, she worked on letters to Skene.

She'd just found room for all her baked goods in the larder when her radio buzzed.

"Hey" said Maar. "I'm at the fish docks, done sinning, and I'm headed to Mti to pick up the lumber order for your toolroom renovation. I thought I'd grab you some of today's catch to help feed your crew tomorrow, but it was a great run today, I can't decide. What are you in the mood for?"

They began discussing options, Pyosz enthusiastic about each new fish Maar named. Finally Maar said "You free for the next little bit? I could come get you, won't take but a jiff. Add to your seeing more of Pya quest."

"I'm ready now" said Pyosz. She put her camera and binoculars into her carryall and waited at her jichang.

At the fish docks, she settled on uo to smoke the next day, dagaa to make her own fermented fish sauce, and kahe for dinner that night. Maar put the iced crate in her sinner and said "You eat lunch yet? That stall over there has a memorable lentil sandwich. The bun is pedestrian, but the lentil patty is spicy like you'd do it. And their onion rings are made to order."

Maar got a side order to share of apple and celery salad with a quart of chilled lemonade. She led Pyosz up a fire escape ladder on an adjacent warehouse, sitting on a metal balcony overlooking the glassblowing works. "I found the food stall because I spotted the vetriste's from the air and wanted to watch, but I needed to eat at the same time" said Maar, crunching cheerfully and swinging her legs off the side of the balcony. "It's one of the most interesting views on Pya."

"This lentil patty beats anything I know how to put together" said Pyosz, trying not to wolf it down. "Best meal I've had so far on Pya." Maar looked very pleased.

They couldn't linger, though one of the glassblowers looked up to wave and grin at Maar. They returned the empty lemonade jug and flew from the docks in an arc over central Dvareka and Dudor, north again over Arta Island, and west toward Mti. Pyosz took photos whenever Maar banked to give her a good angle. As they traveled, Pyosz told Maar about Halling's call the night before.

At first, that worry furrow appeared in Maar's forehead. Pyosz stressed that her abbas were delighted to have Thleen visit, and Maar relaxed, saying softly "That's my Thleen."

On Mti, Pyosz helped Maar load her small order of pine, signed lading slips, and popped briefly into Nk and Frahe's shop to say hi before they returned to Saya by way of Teppe and Shu overflights. Pyosz stacked her boards at the side of the jichang and hastened Maar off, saying she'd already used up Maar's lunch hour.

After hauling her load to the barn, Pyosz went to her orchard and filled all the bushel baskets, moving meditatively in the early Mchele amber light, part of her mind trying to decode that lentil patty recipe.

The next morning, Pyosz stopped in Koldok only long enough to make her deliveries and have her photo disks printed. She made a post-milking breakfast of leftover kahe fried with eggs on toast, and was looking through her photos for a third time while finishing her tea when Pank and Tu arrived via a brief lighter drop-off.

"Maar says hi and she'll come for dinner later" said Tu. "Is that kahe?"

"Have a seat, you want your eggs over easy or hard?" said Pyosz. After her cousins ate, she showed her lava rocks in the grill to Pank, who laughed uproariously at Abbo having been made an unwitting smuggler. Pank showed Pyosz how to set up her grill for smoking, and Pyosz put on the grill three dozen herring marinated in basil-chili oil.

Tu and Pank had brought only basic hand tools and one portable electric saw this time. They listened to Pyosz's needs in the tool room, and Tu said "This won't be dovetailed or fancified like Nk'd do it. This'll be simply sturdy shelves, some with slide-out boxes to hold onions and the like in straw."

"Perfect" said Pyosz. She assisted as they directed her. When sorting the lumber for cutting, Pank said "Now look here, this plank is double thick and we ain't got the wherewithal to split it -- oh, here's why they did that." On the long end of the two-inch-thick board was a knot that penetrated into the width but didn't emerge on either face. Tu examined it and said "This deformity is at least 3/8 inch clear of the surface. We could chisel out the knot and shape a ilttle one-inch high cavity in there, for a shallow drawer, maybe."

""Don't have the tooks to make dovetails or runners for a proper drawer" pointed out Pank.

"So, just a flat box with leeway on either side, waxed to not jam" replied Tu. "A little secret place if she turns this edge of the shelf toward the wall" speculated Tu.

"If we peg it onto the shelf brace, nobody'd ever guess it'll lift right off so's you can get at the recess" agreed Pank. She said to Pyosz "You got a use for a little hidey-hole like that?"

"As a matter of fact..." said Pyosz, putting two fingers to her grinning lips in the "keep mum" sign. The hidey-hole was adroitly excavated by Pank, the shelves nailed in by Pyosz, and the edges hand-planed by Tu.

"Looks dang good" said Tu, casting an appraising eye from the doorway. Pyosz helped them wipe and put away tools before going to check her herring. She put in the oven a casserole she'd assembled earlier of wide rice noodles layered between cheese, milk sauce, and kale. With a large salad, pumpernickel toast, cold tea, and their choice of four different flavors of pie, she felt ready to feed her lunch crew.

But lunch and the others' arrival was still an hour off. Tu said to Pank "Shall we?" Pank draped a coil of rope around her shoulders, Tu pulled towels from her carryall, and they strolled through the kissing gate.

Pyosz had to follow, curious about how tree-climbing gear was going to be meshed with visiting the hot springs. Halfway across the pasture, Tu and Pank turned south, walking to the shingle beach and staring at the Pea Pod island named Herne which was only nine meters offshore, across a shallow but racing strait.

As Pyosz caught up with them, Pank tugged off her otos and dropped her kalsongers. She left on maillot and knickers, talking with Tu in sentence fragments about the rock face of the opposing small cliff on Herne, while Tu crafted a four-point harness ofrope around Pank's torso.

Pyosz was too stunned to object when Pank waded into the current, using her bare feet to feel her way. Midway, the depth was past Pank's waist, and Tu anchored her heels in the shingle, holding onto Pank's lifeline. She looked arond at Pyosz and said "Here, come lend a hand."

Pyosz complied, finding her voice to say "There's a jichang on it, you know, someone would be glad to fly you there." She kept her eyes obsessively on Pank, whose suddenly fragile-looking frame had reached the base of Herne's cliff and was now testing for fingerholds as she began her climb.

"We know" said Tu lightly. "We've been. But we thought we'd take the chance to look on our own."

Pank's drenched knickers, old and misshapen, hung almost to her knees. Pyosz was muddled with anxiety for her cousin. When Pank finally slithered over rocky lip onto solid ground of Herne, Pyosz gasped out loud in relief.

Pank was tying her end of the rope around the trunk of a hickory tree. Pyosz turned to ask Tu what Pank meant to do now, and was again silenced, this time by Tu stripping down. Tu folded her buksers neatly, removed a claspknife from one pocket and cut a length of rope to fashion a sliding harness. She tied this around herself, looped through it the long rope crossing to Herne, and anchored her end tightly around a boulder.

"You'll stand vigil, yes?" she asked Pyosz. Pyosz could only nod dumbly as Tu entered the current. Pank had both hands on the hickory belay, calling out occasional advice. Tu followed Pank's track up the cliff. With a wave to Pyosz, they vanished into the trees on Herne.

Pyosz decided she'd let her herring and casserole burn to a crisp rather than venture one inch from her post on the beach. The half-hour which passed was an ordeal for her. Once she heard a peal of Tu's laughter. As last they reappeared atop the cliff, and Pyosz now found it was even worse to watch Tu descend with the same slow care she'd displayed in her climb. Pyosz wanted to chastise her, say "You're over 80 years old, no matter how fit you are, bones turn brittle and hip sockets are delicate as china." Instead, she helped Tu coil in rope until Pank was blessedly back on shore.

Both the elders looked slightly blue-lipped from their adventure. Pyosz left them to dry and dress -- or, for all she knew, magically take flight by flapping their old woman arms -- while she returned to her meal preparation.

To her surprise, Maar landed at the jichang a few minutes later. She told Pyosz "I swapped my run for this, couldn't resist seeing those two fell trees. I owe another pilot more time next week." Pyosz didn't have a chance to tell Maar what "those two" had just done because they appeared around the corner of the barn.

"Do you need to go with me to pick up the sledge and come-along, or -- " began Maar.

"Nah, the crew can handle it. We'll serve better here in the pasture, directing your placement" said Tu.

"Well, back soon then" said Maar. Tu and Pank ambled with her toward the jichang, and Pyosz again followed. Past the chicken run, Pank looked left to the stand of trees towering there, taller than anything else on Saya. The central gargantuan was the oak Pyosz had mentioned to Prl as her haven against tsunami. In its shadow was the old fig tree, a chestnut, a maple, and a pecan.

Pank stopped abruptly, causing Pyosz to almost collide with her from behind. "I betcha that's it" she said to Tu. Tu looked at the cluster of trees and nodded.

Moving soundlessly, Pank walked north of the grove to enter it from that side, snaking back toward the rocky escarpment at its west. Tu was at her heels, alert. Pyosz and Maar looked at each other before following. The shade at the back of the oak was deep, and its spongy leaf-litter damp. Its bark was nearly black with age.

Pank stopped a meter away from an oaky tangle of roots and, sliding on her glasses, began scanning upward methodically. After a minute, she pointed with a very restrained motion.

What Pyosz had thought was a vast stain on the bark turned out to be, in fact, a wide hole, probably left by lightning some centuries before. The oak had survived its assault, growing upward around the opening to its heart.

Pyosz was terrified if she looked too long at this entrance, she'd see her great owl peer back at her with anger over its den being discovered. She reached beside her and found Maar's hand, lacing their sweaty fingers together tightly.

The owl did not appear, however. Pank signaled for them to back away, and Maar was quck to lead them back to full sunlight. Pyosz said "I won't be picking figs from that grove any more." Maar laughed a little manically and, swatting Pyosz goodbye on her shoulder, strode to her sinner.

The other three returned to the kitchen area. Tu said "Wonder how many layers of bone fragments there are in the hollow of that oak?"

Pyosz asked "The trees you've marked to cut down today -- they aren't going to bother any owls down there, are they?"

"Got it easy today" said Pank. She lifted the grill lid and helped herself to a herring, eating it whole with what Pyosz assumed were asbestos lips and tongue.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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