Friday, September 25, 2009


Basil oil
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 Roku, Pyosz had so many items for barter that Dodd teased her about needing to set up her own stall. "But that way I won't get to circulate and see what all is available out here" bantered Pyosz. "Unless you want to be my clerk for me -- "

"No, no, it's more fun making the rounds with you. I used that basil oil of yours on our salad yesterday, by the way, and I'm pretty sure there's more than just basil and olive oil in it" said Dodd.

Pyosz lowered her voice so only her nearby family could hear. "It's 25% avocado oil, plus extract of ramson, a dash of shamsjooz, and a teaspoon of dark vinegar in each quarter" she said. "I'm entering it in the Mchele Fair condiments contest."

Pyosz was already making reliable coin from the sale of her oil, vinegar, and preserves at Gitta's grocery. At market, she bartered pint bottles and jars for three jugs of the rare syrup found only on Pya made from maple sap; a new set of very soft sheets in marine blue; a handful of plates and glasses in no-two-matching colors and designs; another handful of silver utensils, again in random patterns; mint-flavored toothpaste powder in a reusable enamel tin; a good second-hand chicken feeder; two fat ducks and a goose for roasting; a bone-handled machete with a rusted blade that Pank assured her could be whet back into gleaming sharp edge; a bag of charcoal made from apple wood; 20 pounds of laundry flakes; a flat of lemons to make marmalade; two dozen sheets of tissue paper in assorted pastels; three of the coleus plants hated by katts; a glass pitcher with a pattern of scarlet trumpet vines snaking throughout its curves; and, going in with Maar, a handcarved wooden toy sailboat with sails of bright yellow canvas and a movable tiller, which they planned to give to Thleen.

Api and Ollow were with them and stopped at a stall run by two women who made baby clothes of silk and fine wool. Pyosz said "Oh, for Ngall's impending birth!" Everyone in the family purchased beautiful tiny garments or blankets, and Abbo bought a plush lamb for her about-to-arrive sibiya.

Oby eyed the purchases in Pyosz's cart and said "You're looking pretty domestic, there." Pyosz didn't laugh at this like the rest of her family did. She didn't want to examine where her feelings about Saya and even her shabby cabin led her. She diverted her attention to the fun she was having with Maar's company for Market, even if it meant Abbo was there, too, making side comments about Koldok neighbors that didn't seem funny to Pyosz.

As the crowds began thinning, the family went to a food stall selling kebabs and yogurt-based drinks. Pyosz noticed Mill ordered goat meat skewers and thought about asking for a taste, but then backed off from the idea. They went to sit in scattered shade on the seawall behind the Lofthall warehouse, dangling their feet over the edge and looking across the Kuono at Arta Island, while Pank, Tu, Nk, and Frahe shared ideas they had for building up Herne.

"Why hasn't anybody settled on Dou?" asked Pyosz at one point. "It's closest of all the Pea Pods to Koldok."

"It's small, has no pond, and the soil is thinner in what would be field areas" said Api. "It would take more investment but can't hold an extended family."

"Those trees in the northwest corner are majestic, though" said Tu. "We considered it. We opted for Herne not just it has more woods but also because of the easy connection to Saya. Which reminds me, Pyosz, me and Pank would like to spend the day on Saya tomorrow. We're going to visit Herne and do more surveying, but we also thought we'd do the pruning in your woods that shouldn't wait until fall."

"I'd be thrilled" said Pyosz. "I'll cook the goose, maybe with a cornbread stuffing."

"I'll bring you sausage and chestnuts for the stuffing" said Pank.

Maar cleared her throat. "I have tomorrow afternoon off as well, Pyosz, and I was going to ask you if you wanted to see another one of Pya's islands, but -- "

"No, go ahead" said Tu. "We'll do our work on Herne while you're gone. We're spending the night in Koldok anyhow."

Pyosz looked at Maar with anticipation. "What island?"

"That's a surprise" said Maar. "But dress for outdoors and ease of movement."

When Pyosz returned to Saya, she wrapped her baby gift in tissue paper with red silk thread that sent Ember into spasms of kittenish playfulness. She was cutting lemons to start marmalade when the radio buzzed.

"Hey" said Halling. "You able to chat?"

"Yes, just back from Market Day." Pyosz recounted her barters, then noticed "Abba, isn't it very late there?"

"Yeah, I've been having trouble sleeping. I shouldn't be napping during the day" said Halling. "But yesterday was interesting. I was warming my solo lunch, a nice leftover chop, mashed potatoes, and greens, when the front door opened and Thleen strolled in."

"Wait, on a school day? Why was she alone in Riesig if school was out?" asked Pyosz.

"School was not out" said Halling. "She just left the grounds, after going to the privy, and came down to see what I might offer for lunch."

"Oh, no" said Pyosz. "What did you do?"

"Fed her" said Halling, chuckling. "First I called Xunu and told her where Thleen was. They hadn't missed her yet." Xunu was Pyosz's cousin, oldest child of Speranz and Tlunu, and first grade leraar at Skene School.

"That's disturbing, that children can wander off without adults noticing" said Pyosz.

"Yes, they're rather upset at the school" said Halling, but there was humor in her voice. "I gave Thleen my chop and potatoes, but she said she didn't much care for greens so I steamed some peas and carrots for her. She ate all of it, plus two glasses of milk and some barley cake. I think that child is hungry. I mean, she reminds me of Yoj in a lot of ways, but one of them is that she appears hungry."

This was stored away by Pyosz for future consideration. She knew how much Halling loved her chops, so she asked in curiosity "What did you eat, then, abba?"

"The greens, obviously. Fried some bacon and mushrooms to go with it. We did the dishes together, then I walked her back up to the school. We made a deal, me and Thleen. She's going to come to have lunch with me every Iki and Ot, but only after telling a leraar she's leaving. I'll wait in the lane for her. Yoj says she'll join us those days, and Bux if she can, and Yoj will walk Thleen to school afterward on her way back to her office. I've already cleared it with Xunu. She's sent a permission slip home with Thleen, so it's up to her emmas now, but I think they'll say yes. You might ask Maar about what she thinks, though" said Halling. She sounded very pleased with her twice-a-week lunch date. Pyosz hadn't realized how often she was eating alone, something Halling truly hated. And her arthritis is advanced enough, she doesn't walk to the Lofthall every day any more she thought.

As if sensing what Pyosz might be mulling over, Halling added "When Bux retires, after midwinter, I'm going to begin writing a sort of guide to running the Lofthall. Yoj says it will turn into my memoirs and we might as well write ours together, but Bux promises she'll help keep me focused on technical matters. A sort of text for everything Lofthall related." She sounded even happier about this idea. "Depending on whatever occupation you settle into when you get back, you could help me with it as well."

"I would love that, abba" said Pyosz, adding in her head But I can't promise anything right now. She kept thinking about Halling, about her abbas and their age, all during her afternoon marmalade-making. When Yoj retired, Qala and Lawa would no longer have the Archivist Manage as a residence. Prl had insisted at that point they would move in with her, but it would be a great loss of space for them, especially control over the shared tillage. And what about when emma retires? She won't have a Manage. It's up to me to make sure I have a home for her thought Pyosz.

She showered and washed her hair before milking, grateful it was a dry, warm dry. After milking, she ate a salad but counted on the place where the Gong Tong night was to be held offering snacks. She had one good shati which nobody had seen, a linen plaid of persimmon and cocoa brown, with a linen gilet that matched. She rinsed and lightly buffed her otos, tied a gold silk scarf around her neck, and felt good about how she looked in the mirror.

She met Uli at her house, where Uli already had two bikes waiting for them. "The rest of my friends will meet us there" said Uli. She led the way, around the southern perimeter path of Koldok to a road which went straight south between long fields of ripe-smelling crops. There were almost no lights along the road, and it was a mixture of gravel and dirt with occasional massive potholes, so they went slowly, chatting cheerfully. If there wasn't a pothole or a sand pit, Uli could ride without using the handlebars, leaned back on her seat, her hands on her thighs, which Pyosz found an irresistable sight.

After a mile, they turned almost due west onto a gravel road. Halfway along was a stretch of chicken houses, with lights and the clamor of hens not yet asleep. They arrived at the northern end of Dudor and headed for the center of town, to a community hall next to a large water tank. They parked their bikes in the cloak room and covered the seats with their burzakas, claiming them for the ride home.

Pyosz was relieved to find, amid the usual rice balls and ikan plates, a small kitchen offering to make crab cakes and spinach fritters to order, plus fresh cold soups in sipping bowls. Uli said she was hungry, too, so they ordered a large spread, with a pitcher of icy lemonade and cream-filled oatmeal bars for afters. Pyosz met five of Uli's friends, all of them around their same age, not yet partnered, office workers and apprentices for the most part. They were talkative, funny, and immediately welcomed her.

With seven in their group, they had enough to claim their own Gong Tong table. Several were already in play, so they selected one near the far wall. Pyosz and Uli took chairs facing the wall, back to the rest of the room, and when their food order arrived, they spread it on a smaller table nearby and invited Uli's friends to dig in while Uli counted tiles.

Gong Tong is played on a board three feet square that is intersected by hundreds of raised matrices, originally forged from metal but nowadays on Pya frequently carved from wood. Traditionally the background is black and the raised lips of the matrices is gold or silver. Each player is given 150 small octagonal tiles, 50 each in red, yellow, and blue. On her turn, a player can place an unlimited number of tiles on the board, or remove and rearrange any number of others' tiles, but intricate guidelines must be followed as to the meaning of placement. Red tiles were considered earth or hearth, blue tiles were water or work, yellow were fire or learning. Any tile could symbolize one or both of its meanings.

On a purely physical level, the tiles needed to interlock like a honeycomb, balanced on the thin ribs of the matrices so that future tiles placed on top of them in stacks will not topple. The real effort of Gong Tong, however, went into the constantly shifting expression of values and dynamics between the tiles. Cooperation was essential; competition was forbidden behavior. However, in contrast to Skene culture, when a player began her turn, she was not allowed to consult any other players for help with her strategy and, in fact, Gong Tong rules insisted she remove from her motivation any desire to ensure others' approval or future cooperation. She was, in theory, to create her best move and execute it without thinking of the others at her table, eschewing the desire for public harmony yet also avoiding any appearance of competition.

Which was the ultimate challenge, for a child raised on Skene.

Adding to the difficulty is that once a player's move was on the board, each of her teammates were then expected to critique her choices and intent as honestly and thoroughly as they could. Personal attacks were discouraged, but the raking-over which occurred after a move often left a player shivering with shame -- or with pride. You could never be sure how your team would view your strategy. Games took hours to complete, and left the players with a new intimacy and often a sense of shared accomplishment. The name Gong Tong meant "carrying wave".

After an hour, each of them had had a turn. Pyosz was starting to have insight for everyone's proclivities. She felt like she was working in good tandem with Cremen, a tiny, bright-eyed woman who lived here in Dudor and worked in the land use management office as a surveyor and records keeper. It was an unusual pleasure for her to be in the company of so many women her age whom she had never gone to school with and had the opportunity to get to know completely afresh.

The seven of them had just gotten a refill on their lemonade, with three of the crowd adding a jug of sparkling wine, when the door opened and in walked Maar with another pilot. Maar was wearing "ordinaries", as pilots called non-uniform attire, a sharply-pressed shati in striped sky blue under an unlaced gilet of charcoal grey, atop button-up nadraj in the same grey. The other pilot was in sinner mustard.

Pyosz didn't see them at first, but noticed instant tension at her table. Cremen leaned toward Uli and said "Isn't that Fohol? The one she had an affair with after dumping you?" Uli made a brief shushing gesture to Cremen, rolling her eyes in Pyosz's direction, and Cremen leaned back, pretending to focus on the board. Pyosz turned around in her seat, already knowing who Cremen must be talking about, and waved to Maar. Maar waved back, signaled she was heading for the snack bar first but would join them, and Pyosz grinned acknowledgement. Her brief scan took in the form and face of Fohol: Strong body, wide hips, plain features, and not standing too close to Maar.

It was the turn of the woman to Pyosz's right, and she began laying down tiles now, rearranging rows in two directions. The board was only a quarter covered so far, but stacks seven tiles high were already visible here and there. As the current player finished her explanation and took a deep breath, waiting for her team's reaction, Pyosz felt warmth close behind and said to Maar without turning "Pull up a chair, you two." Then, remembering her manners, she swiveled and held out her hand to Fohol, introducing herself. Fohol didn't seem to be carrying the suppressed tension everyone else around the table was. Maar plunked down a chair next to Pyosz, on the side away from Uli, and began eating from her plate as she studied the board. Fohol set her chair behind Pyosz.

"Nice shati" said Pyosz.

"Same back atcha" said Maar.

"What's that?" said Pyosz, looking at Maar's plate.

"Sweet potato fries with a horseradish dipping sauce. Plus cucumbers stuffed with bean paste" said Maar. Pyosz took one of the sweet potato fries, dredged it in the creamy sauce, and ate it in two bites, saying "I didn't see this on the slate up there."

"Used to be on the menu, they still make it sometimes" said Maar.

"Hold it over here closer so I can share" instructed Pyosz. Maar complied, never looking away from the board. Pyosz saw Cremen exchange a glance with Uli. She decided to ignore all undercurrents and backstories. She was out with friends, and that was the sum of it. She began her critique of the play that had just been made.

Before the round was over, Maar's plate was empty. She murmured to Pyosz "You'll eat more, right?" and Pyosz nodded as Maar stood to get aother order of the fries. The turn came to Pyosz, and she kept eating fries, taking sips of Maar's lemonade, as she considered her options.

"I'm betting you're really good at Gong Tong" mused Maar.

"Used to be" said Pyosz. Uli remarked "I remember hearing at the University that you were unbeatable."

"Used to be" repeated Pyosz.

"Wallflower swots are often expert players" said Maar, making Cremen's eyebrows shoot up. "Did you lose your edge when you stopped being a wallflower?"

Pyosz laughed. "Well, thanks first for graduating me from that category."

"Which I belonged to in high school as well" reminded Maar.

"No, I stopped playing so much because of something my emma told me" said Pyosz, pausing to gobble another fry. Maar nudged her and Pyosz said "She was surprisingly poor at Gong Tong, which I tried to needle her about in front of my abbas. She took it for a while, then declared that people who didn't actually care about earning the false admiration of others would make very good moves but be punished for it by their peers. That comment landed right in my soft middle at the time." She grinned at Maar.

Maar said "I guess your emma can't allow herself to ever be swayed by the need for public admiration."

"She's made a habit of closing her door against it" said Pyosz. "Well, I guess that's not news to anybody."

"Wait" said Cremen, "I don't know who your emma is, does she live in Pya or Skene?"

There was a brief silence. Pyosz met Cremen's eyes, her grin now fixed in place, and said "She's the Genist." Of all Skene.

"Whoa" said Cremen involuntarily. Pyosz watched her as Cremen took the next mental step, realizing who Pyosz must be. Cremen looked away.

Maar said "Yep, our Pyosz here is the pioneer baby of all time. She tries not to let it go to her head." Her bantering tone made Pyosz laugh. Maar continued "Honestly, Pyosz, I dribble a little pee at the prospect of having to meet your emma."

"You'll have to get over that" said Pyosz crisply. "You've already weathered the abbas, emma is -- well, okay, she's tougher than them, at least if you don't know her like I do." She heard Fohol behind her say "Hey, that means your abba, one of them, is the Sheng Zhang? Or was, I mean? Nan Halling?"

Pyosz felt like the people at the tables nearby were listening. "Yes. Plus the Archivist who was also the last Dichter of Skene, the Ethicist of Skene, the former Secretary to the Lofthall, and, bless Lawa, one plain ejida worker to round out the abba line-up." Her tone was becoming defensive.

"That's how I think of you, a plain ejida worker who cooks like a magician and is a secret artist" said Maar. Pyosz sensed Uli's surprise. She said to Maar "I like that description much better. Now stop talking to me, Maar, I need to figure out my play. That is, unless you want to give me advice about what move to make." This last was in an almost flirtatious tone, to counteract the flagrant taboo she was breaking regarding Gong Tong regulations.

Maar chuckled and said "Asking me for advice? That's against the rules, even for a Riesig stickypalms." Pyosz heard a gasp from someone else at their table.

"At least I'm in the open about it, whereas you Chloddia hooligans sneak around in cover of dark to commit your vandalism" retorted Pyosz. Unexpectedly, Uli burst into laughter, relieving the growing tension at their table. Maar said "Those crab cakes up for grabs, or should I sneak one?"

"Whatever soaks your crotch" replied Pyosz, which brought another round of laughter from their table. She focused on her turn, ignoring the conversation after that until she laid down an arc of tiles, reinforcing a heart-fire cluster Cremen had begun. The subsequent critique was much more thorough and interactive than her first round had been. After her team had gone, Pyosz turned to Maar and asked "You want to add anything? You, too, Fohol."

"I haven't watched enough yet to feel competent to comment" said Fohol. But Maar said "You seem to be assuming that the lead you've created between water and learning will continue and form a buttress against collapse on this whole matrice line. That's only going to occur if others agree with your priorities. If they don't, something else will have to be artificially overbuilt to compensate for your early imbalance." Everyone stared where Maar was pointing on the board.

Pyosz said softly "I guess wallflower swots are good at faking leadership but maybe not always tuned in to community sentiment." Maar picked up her hand, kissed the back of it gently, and said "An acquired skill, buddy. Mistakes are course corrections on a good day."

Pyosz heard Fohol snort, and turned with the rest to look at her as Fohol said "That's a direct quote from the Sheng Zhang. From when we were in pilot training together, that terrible day."

"What terrible day?" asked Pyosz.

Maar let go of her hand and sat back on her hips with a sigh. "It's a story, you sure you want to hear it?" Everyone else nodded, not just Pyosz.

"Well, you know before they ever let us even practice two-control flight, we spend hours on the simulator" began Maar. "The programs for these flights are designed by the Sheng Zhang and get progressively more challenging. We were about two months into training, when one afternoon another trainee -- I won't use her name, we'll call her Moja -- Moja was transporting a load of schoolchildren in the sinner from Riesig out to Byli and around the Western Tendril. Sheng Zhang was at the monitor board, and first one of Moja's flaps went out, which caused the sinner to list precariously to one side. The screams of children filled the training shed. It was raining, and visibility was limited, but Moja began looking for the nearest jichang, even on a Fling if necessary. Then two events occurred almost simultaneously, a freak wind sheer from the southeast and a partial electrical failure. The sinner began plummeting down, and Moja just froze as the screams crescendoed, high little voices in stark terror. A couple of seconds later, there was a crash from the speakers that actually rattled things in the shed, and all the lights went out. We sat there in the dark for half a minute. I remember I was having trouble taking a deep breath. When the lights came back on, Sheng Zhang was standing by the wall switch. She said 'This crash was preventable, although some are not.' Then she said that line, I've never forgotten, 'Mistakes are course corrections on a good day.' She told us that session was over, the next morning we were each to present with a paper outlining where Moja had made her errors and what we would have done differently. Moja headed straight for the privy and threw up a while. She dropped out of flight school that night."

"Lev" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, brutal. But necessary" said Maar. Now it was Pyosz who reached over and took Maar's hand to kiss its back.

"And you were 16 years old?" said Pyosz.

"Placenta not quite dried on my skin" replied Maar. "I hear the current Sheng Zhang at Skene has removed that particular module from the simulator. I think that's a mistake. We who survived use the memory to keep us sharp. Every time I climb into the school sinner, I never miss an item on the pre-flight check. Anyhow, let's get back to the game. It's Uli's turn, right?"

Pyosz faced Uli, who looked past her at Maar and said "Where did they get the soundtrack of those kids screaming?"

Maar grinned. "Turns out, Sheng Zhang called in her own children and their friends to make the tape. I've heard it since, and I think I can make out Mill's voice in the mix. Mill says they had a blast practicing screaming down at the Lofthall. But they repeated their performance on the school playground the next day and got jumped on by the leraar who was their abba." Everyone at the table laughed in a little relief.

"Yikes, I forgot to tell you!" remembered Pyosz. She recounted Halling's call about Thleen arriving for lunch. Maar got that furrow in her brow, saying "She's itching to walking into trouble, that sibu of mine. Please tell your abbas I'm sorry about her -- "

"I'm not going to tell Halling anything, she's delighted with the arrangement. I mean, isn't she the source of your wisdom about mistakes blah blah blah?" said Pyosz, dimpling. Maar had to laugh, and the furrow smoothed out.

Maar and Fohol left after an hour, saying they both had early runs the next day and needed to get to bed. Pyosz continued to enjoy herself, and was sorry to have to stop at 10:00, already yawning. The bike ride back to Koldok woke her up thoroughly, with a gritty edge to her alertness. She hugged Uli warmly, thanking her for the chance to meet all her wonderful friends and pleading to be asked to Gong Tong again. She found her ferry ride slightly unnerving, with high tide and strong waves slapping at the sides, the chain screaming and occasionally giving out sparks as it fought the current.

Once in her cabin, however, she suddenly felt too spent to even hang her clothes. She lay them across her trunk and crawled into bed, finding sleep right away.

School grades: Public school on Skene consists of grades one through four. Children begin school at age 3 and usually graduate when they are 16. Grade One includes children from ages 3-7; Grade Two has children ages 8-10; Grade Three has children ages 11-13; and Grade Four is for teenagers 14-16. This clustering eliminates much of the developmental pressure associated with age year-matched grades in our culture, and provides children with a larger exposure to those within their sui, invaluable when they are grown and seeking sexual/lifetime partners. It also fosters community by encouraging older children to stay in close relationship with and assume a helping role for those children who are at the younger end of their grade. Schooling lasts for 14 years. Beginning children at age 3 helps emmas/abbas stay in the work force, helps toddlers socialize faster, and offers concrete assistance to families who might be having trouble providing for their children. Ending school by age 16 or 17 means teenagers who are in developmental need for greater independence are pushed into the workforce, where liberty is matched by responsibility. On Skene, being single and dating does not usually mean privacy or freedom from community observation/supervision. Thus, sexual liberation occurs in a setting where a young person actively dating must still show up for a job, apprenticeship, or the University; has to share/pay for housing; and because of the fertility issue, the risk of unwanted pregnancy plus widespread STD's is virtually nil. Student-teacher ration is about 8 to 1, and about one out of every five Skeners is of school age. This means that on Pya, for example, with a population of 650 currently, 120-130 children attend Pya School, broken down into grades as follows: Grade One, 40 students; Grades Two through Four, 24 students each. Consequently, there are around 5 leraars (teachers) for Grade One and 3 each for the upper grades. Thus, all teaching is team teaching, embodying Skene emphasis on cooperative work and giving children enhanced learning environments.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.

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