Saturday, December 5, 2009


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

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

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


Pyosz fell asleep with the radio in her hand, after talking for an hour with her abbas and emma. When it buzzed in her hand, she thought it was one of the katts purring. She tried to push it away, but the clatter as it fell on the floor startled her. She turned on her lamp and leaned over to pick it up, answering "Emma?"

"No, it's me" said Dodd in a grainy voice. Pyosz held her breath. "They've been found. Some of them."


"Abbo and the passengers. They're being taken to the hospital in Skene, mostly hypothermia or exposure, sounds like. Moko is -- missing."

"Oh no, s'bemma. Her family..."

"Mill and Api are with them right now. And Briel" said Dodd. Pyosz thought But those abbas at the Lofthall, they must be sobbing in relief.

"Where were they? What happened?"

"I don't have a full story yet, none of us do. They were on a secano, the second closest to Skene, had to go through the water to get on shore. No trace of the huolon, Maar said. She was right, wasn't she?" Pyosz could envision Dodd's tired smile.

"Worth betting your life on" said Pyosz fiercely. She jumped as her alarm went off. "I guess I'm up for the day. What are you doing?"

"Going home to sleep a few hours. Briel will stay with Moko's family and I'll relieve her later. Moko was one of my favorite students, you know. Kind and smart, a good mix."

What would Pya do without my family? thought Pyosz. "I'll come to the Lofthall after I make my deliveries" she said.

It felt odd to go out into the still-grey dawn without her redcap on. As she milked, she tried to sort through her joy at the survival of that beautiful child, joy mixed with bitter grief for the likely fate of earnest young Moko -- in service to Pya for only three days.

It began raining while she walked the goats to the kissing gate. She released the katts, who skittered off to relieve themselves before fighting for aga territory, then fed and turned out her chickens. She loaded her wain with milk and stopped at the kitchen to pack crates for Gitta, covering them with a tarp. She was about to muscle the wain on down the now muddy trail when her radio buzzed.

"Emma?" she said again.

"No, it's me" said Maar in a flat voice.

Pyosz sat down in the chair nearest her aga, wiping droplets of rain from her front dreads. "Where are you, buddy? How are you?"

"I'm at your emmas, actually. Abbo's at the hospital, talking with my Sheng Zhang. Danaan and Halling were there when I left. Fohol and I went to crash at the Lofthall, but then -- I need to talk, Pyosz. I came here, I hope that's all right -- "

Pyosz heard Qala's voice say "It was absolutely the right place to come."

"You can talk to me, Maar. Whatever you need to say, I want to hear."

Maar's voice nearly broke as she said "I don't have family, I -- "

Prl said "You do have family, and you're in their kitchen."

Pyosz said "Maar? Is this a private line?"


"Then call me back so you won't have to think about censoring, it's okay if we keep calling back" said Pyosz.

"What time is it there, do you have -- "

"Milking's done, it's a perfect time" assured Pyosz. "I'm all yours."

"Okay. Give me a minute." When Maar clicked off, she looked bleakly at Prl, Lawa and Qala sitting at the table with her. A bowl of untouched soup sat in front of her. She said "Pyosz says you three can be trusted with anything. What I'm going to say -- you can't tell anyone. Or try to do something about it. It's up to me to deal with. If you don't want to hear, I understand."

"I want to hear whatever you tell Pyosz, and I'll match however she handles it" said Prl. She clasped her hands to conceal their trembling. Lawa refreshed Maar's tea, adding honey and milk, as she said "Drink that, you need it." Qala nodded, and Maar dialed Pyosz's number.

"We flew low with the floods on, despite the drag and drain on batteries. Every secano we circled three times in increasing spirals. I'm pretty sure after the first hour we had a group of big leviathans keeping up with us, tracking us. I need to figure out what that means..." Maar rubbed her face with her free hand and drank half her tea.

Pyosz said "Tell Halling and my other abbas, they'll think about it with you." Qala spread toast thickly with butter and grape jam as Lawa refilled Maar's tea. Prl cut the toast into fingers, and almost unconsciously, Maar took one and bit into it as she continued talking.

"The two secanos where I thought they'd be, they weren't. I got pretty sunk then, but the sun was up at least, which made it a lot easier. To be where they were, they had to be way off course. Hopelessly off course. That's the thing, Pyosz, Abbo's already covering herself by saying they headed for land but to even be in range of that particular secano -- it's her fault, Pyosz, it has to be. And if she tries to in any way lay it off on Moko..." Maar's voice nearly broke again.

"We'll figure it out, buddy" said Pyosz. "After you've gotten it out and rested, there's plenty of time. You did the urgent stuff already."

Maar swallowed and drank more tea. "That secano is especially small, it was a tough landing, we sloped a little. There were shu guts everywhere, and flocks of feasting seabeaks. Abbo was outside the cabin, waving her scarf like mad. The kid was unconscious and her emma was inside under the blanket with her, in shock. But I got an IV in the little one, and we had electric warmers on the sinner, and she came to even before we reached Skene." Maar sobbed once. "I put your cap on her, Pyosz, and they left it on at the hospital, I'll get you another one. She was so cold -- "

"That's exactly what I would have done" said Pyosz, fighting back her own sob.

"So..." Maar was trying to organize her story. Qala dropped crumbled cheese onto the soup, and Maar picked up her spoon. "She said Moko woke her up because the engine was missing. Half the instruments were out and the radio wouldn't fire. They could get a compass reading, and when she figured out where they were -- it was dark and she said she had to fly by moonlight, mostly. She finally saw the secano but the huolon's too wide to set down and they were going down, anyhow. She managed to glide into the surf without a break-up, which I give her full points for. She yelled for Moko to open the side hatch and launch the raft, and told the passengers to put on float vests, but they couldn't find them." Maar stopped, and Pyosz said "Isn't that part of preflight check, showing passengers where the emergency equipment is?"

"Yes" said Maar harshly. "Maar got on her own vest, and looped the mezi ray over one shoulder, the big lantern over another. The huolon was thrashing about in the surf, and the child was screaming. She pushed the emergency beacon but if it had ever transmitted, someone would have heard it, I think. Anyhow, she told Moko to get in the raft and tie it secure to the hatch so they could transfer the passengers. But by the time she picked up the kid and got to the hatch, the raft and Moko had vanished. She said if Moko had made a sound, she might not have heard it over the racket. She flashed the lantern, but there was nothing, just surf."

In the long silence that followed, Qala finally said "Sign of lev?"

"No. But they were in deep water, still. She decided to go out the front hatch on the other side -- turns out, the emma can't swim, so Abbo told her to wait, climb out onto the roof if the huolon kept going down, and she jumped into the water with the child on her back. She swam about 25 meters, then hit an underwater reef of rocks where she could stand and wade to a tall rock about three meters from shore. She stopped to rest on the rock, turned on the lantern and saw the shore was swarming with shu. So she put her guibba on the child, gave her the lantern, and told her she'd be back with her emma, to shine the light so they'd know where to go."

"Shu can swim very well" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, but the child was already in hysterics, no use in panicking her further" said Maar. "I have to give Abbo even more points for going back into that surf. She had the cockpit light to follow, except it was getting lower and lower, by the time she got there the emma was out on a wing, babbling that something was bumping the plane from underneath. Abbo said she was numb from cold, she had trouble undoing the buckles on her life vest to put it on the emma. Then the woman balked at going into the water, but they heard the child begin shrieking and that got her moving. By the time they got to the rock, the child had been bitten twice on her hands and once on her cheek. She'd dropped the lantern in the water but Abbo managed to retrieve it -- they're tough, those rescue lanterns -- and she used the mezi to kill all the shu around them." Maar had been talking around mouthfuls of soup, and she stopped to spear a final potato for eating. Pyosz made herself a pot of tea and put an egg-and-onion tart into the aga to warm.

"From the rock to shore was only wading, no swimming, but Abbo still had to drag the emma along, holding the child. They were met by a surge of shu, and Abbo went on a killing spree. She cleared a path to the cabin, which shu had not managed to get into but it was still absolutely rank inside from their stench. Icy and damp, and there was no power because shu shit was encrusted on the solar panels. No water, and most of the food had molded, but there was a jar of fruit preserves and a metal tin of rice cakes that were edible. Abbo made everybody strip down and get under blankets together with the child in the middle for body heat. She was trying to get the radio to work but had no luck. She got up, dressed in her freezing clothes, and went back out to a rocky point with the mezi and lantern, slaughtering any shu and yelling Moko's name, until she realized she was falling asleep from hyothermia. She managed to get back inside and under blankets before she passed out."

Prl had gotten up to fill a shallow bowl with hot rice. She poured cream over it, sprinkled it with cinnamon and brown sugar, and set this before Maar. Maar had to call back, and picked up her spoon as Pyosz answered.

"When Abbo woke up, it was light outside, though it was raining. She was shivering and stiff but knew moving was the best thing to do. She went back out for more shu-icide, then rigged a plastic sheet to funnel rainwater into a pan. She filled a bucket with seawater and some cleanser she found which has taken most of the skin off her hands, I guess she was too cold to notice how caustic it was. She scrubbed down the solar panels and by golly it worked, the batteries started charging. But the radio still was down. She made hot porridge and they got some into the child before she stopped responding altogether. Abbo was trying to fix the radio, with raw, oozing hands, when she heard our sinner."

"And they're all expected to recover fully?" asked Pyosz.

"Yeah. Except -- " For Moko Pyosz finished in her mind. "We couldn't tell where the huolon had sunk, even with Abbo pointing it out. And there was no debris. But levs everywhere, almost as thick as the seabeaks" said Maar, her voice drained. Pyosz heard the scrape of a spoon on ceramic, and Prl asking "More?"

"No. Wait, maybe a glass of milk" said Maar. She really loves her milk thought Pyosz. She could imagine perfectly that distant kitchen, Prl walking to the coldbox, the green glass pitcher from which she poured the milk. She heard Maar gulp, then say "I don't know what's right here. Abbo is already being hailed as a hero, and for sure she's done heroic things, she saved them. From what I saw, that emma and child would have gone down in the huolon if Abbo hadn't jumped into leviathan infestation and hauled them to land."

"You're right, Maar. But the reason why they were in peril in the first place -- "

"Exactly" said Maar. "I mean, isn't that a question which has to be raised? But Sheng Zhang is going to blow up at anyone who raises it. Not to mention -- Pyosz, I'd never have asked a greenhand to be the first into the raft. I'd have expected lev attack, I'd have strafed the mezi before launching the raft and -- well, I'd have been the one taking the risks. Moko didn't have a chance. And it's possible that none of this has even occurred to Abbo."

"Because you, and others, always do the thinking for her" said Pyosz.

"Or the clean-up afterward" said Maar.

"Which you did this time, you figured out where they'd be and you found them" said Pyosz.

"Me and Fohol" said Maar automatically. "And I didn't do that for Abbo only."

"No, you saved the life of that emma and child, and really the future life of the emma and baby waiting for them on Skene. You know what it means to do the work you do, Maar, it's love that drives your brain as well as your heart. And I don't think you understand folks for whom that's not the case. Honestly, sweetheart, I don't either."

It was that "sweetheart" which pushed Maar over the edge. She lay her head forward onto her arms and wept. "Moko" she choked out, "She was only 17, and so thrilled about getting to pilot a huolon." Pyosz was sure that Qala's long arm was now around Maar's shoulders.

Maar didn't cry long, she was too exhausted. Pyosz said "Do you think you can sleep now? Don't go back to the Lofthall, walk ten feet to my bedroom and lie down in my bed, emma will let them know where you are. After a night's rest under that peaceful roof and some of Lawa's pancakes in the morning, you'll be like new."

Even as she spoke, Prl was putting clean sheets on Pyosz's bed. Maar said "All right. I'll call you again when I can. Pyosz...thank you so much. Thank you all."

Qala said "We're the ones should be thanking you. I'll be right back, I've got a schmatta that will fit you."

Maar said goodbye and handed the radio to Lawa, who said "You all right over there, little spud?"

"I am, thanks to you all taking her in" said Pyosz.

"No problem" said Lawa. "I only wish Halling coulda been here."

"We'll get her in the know" said Pyosz.

"This carrothead reminds me a lot of her" said Lawa, making Maar and Pyosz both blush. "Here, your emma is waving imperiously for the radio."

"Darling, it's an honor to be trusted like this. We've fed her and we'll get her rested, don't you worry. Are you going to be able to sleep all right?"

"It's morning here, emma" Pyosz reminded her. "And yes, her trust is the ultimate honor. I'm glad for all of you. Dodd and Briel are looking after Moko's family, and I'm going to join them after I deliver my milk."

"Call me whenever you need" said Prl. After she clicked off, she put clean towels in the bath room and a carafe of lemon-water on Pyosz's nightstand while Maar went to the privy. She kissed Maar's cheek before closing the bedroom door.

Qala had helped herself to soup poured over rice. "Lev, what a mess" she said softly.

Lawa looked at Prl challengingly and said "The next time you start in about how Pyosz is ruining her life, I want you to remember she's never come close to Abbo's failures and she never will. She's choosing to fill her life with the likes of that pilot, as you call her."

Prl sat down and rubbed her brow with her hand. "I know" she said softly. "Can you imagine having to plan a funeral for your child without a body to wash and wrap?"

They sat in silence, except for the ticking of the kitchen clock.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild

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