Tuesday, December 1, 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 wrote hasty notes to go with the packets of photographs she sent home. Uli and Dodd were both at the jichang, and Pyosz persuaded Dodd to make her goodbyes early, leaving the new lovers a few minutes of privacy before parting. Qoj's eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

"C'mon, s'bemma, take me to breakfast at the cafe and help me put these stacks of pictures into a good order for my album." Uli and Qoj both hugged her gratefully, and Maar whispered "Save next Roke after dinner for me."

Over their eggs and rice in onion broth, Dodd asked Pyosz "Is she in love? Can you tell?"

"I cannot, s'bemma, and likely they aren't sure either, which makes it all the harder, I guess" said Pyosz. "If they are, wouldn't that be good news? Wouldn't that mean Qoj moving back home?"

"She needs to finish her education and pursue the best options for her career wherever that is" said Dodd a little primly. She sprinkled vis into her bowl, then added "Truthfully, I'm just not sure Uli will stand by her, not in the long run. You know what I mean, you sized her up and decided you could do better."

Pyosz was going to protest this as an unfair comparison, but Dodd went on in a softer tone. "Briel thinks Qoj may be as fickle as Uli, says I can't see it. I'm feeling pressure from a lot of angles and probably squeezing Qoj without meaning to. I'm ready for grandchildren, I'd like to cut back on my job so I could write music more, and I feel guilty every day about not living close enough to my emmas to look after them. It's going to fall too much on Prl, especially when you add in Lawa and Qala. I should clean up my own conflict, I suppose, before I demand anything similar of Qoj."

Pyosz felt instantly stricken, as if she too were letting down her abbas and emma. She took note of the fact that Dodd wasn't factoring in her own twin or Speranz, who lived with the abbas, as real support for their elder years. Dodd glanced at her acutely and said "Well, I suppose we should have Uli over to dinner one night this week. You're starting renovations on Saya, right? Tomorrow?"

"This afternoon" corrected Pyosz. "We have to be ready for the geothermal installer who'll be returning with the huolon on San. Which means Tu and Pank will be busier than spring beetles as well this week."

"And the first big rice harvest is next week. You should see if Klosa can set aside some good waders for you right now, by the time of harvest all that's left are stinky or leaky pairs" advised Dodd.

After they ate, Dodd walked with Pyosz to Klosa's, where they rented bib waders, Pyosz bought two more kitchen chairs and finalized delivery of her new aga on Ot. Klosa told her she had a line on a kiln that had been used for enameling in an engine factory. "'Thing is, it's large, maybe bigger than you need" she said. They talked it over, calling in Mrebbe from her shop nexy door to discuss dimensions, and Pyosz decided to take the kiln. She added it to the Ot delivery.

She made trips to the allotment center and Gitta's before heading home to make enough food to keep Mrebbe happy. When she found out that two members of Mrebbe's timmer crew were building the short bridge between Saya and Herne plus Tu and Pank's geothermal shed, she offered to feed all of them as well, saving the commute to Koldok's cafe. In exchange. Pank supplied sausage and ham for meals, Tu did dishes, and they paid for construction of a high goat-proof gate on Saya's end of the bridge. Extra hands were easily available when needed, and although Pyosz never had a free moment, she paced herself by her elderly cousins and enjoyed every hour of labor.

During dinner on Iki, with folks still at her table making short work of pies, Pyosz answered the radio to hear Thleen say loudly "Will you send me some of your jam that won a ribbon? And lemon curd? But not the hot sauce, it's too hot for me." They talked about Mchele Fair until a stern voice in the background -- must be one of the emmas -- told her it was bedtime, get off the radio. Thleen handed it off to Maar, whom Pyosz thought sounded a little tense.

"Listen, buddy, I wanted to let you know there's going to be another passenger on the flight home" she said in a lowered voice.

"You mean beside the geothermal installer? Oh, the folks who are moving to Kacang -- "

"No" Maar interrupted. "Sey. With all her wordly possessions."

Pyosz wasn't sure what to say. She didn't seem to care much. "I guess that'll be an uncomfortable seven hours for you, huh."

"Yeah, well the trip here was pretty grim, with Qoj weeping in the back seat" said Maar. "Anyhow, I wanted to give you a heads-up, in case you were coming to meet the flight or something."

Which I don't usually do thought Pyosz, puzzled. "Okay. Well, morrie vaseo, I should go, I have dinner guests."

"Who? Is it Uli?"

"No, Tu and Pank, Mrebbe --"

"Oh, right, how's the renovation going?"

"Great, you won't believe how good it looks. Are you sleeping at your family's Manage?"

"Haven't been asked. Well, I'll let you go, say hi to everybody for me, see you soon."

After she clicked off, Tu looked at her quizzically. Pyosz synopsized "Thleen requests jam and Maar wanted to warn me Sey is coming back on this flight to move here." She saw Mrebbe's eyes flash interest. Well, all Koldok is going to gossip about it anyhow she thought. "I guess Sey got the job. Woulda been nice if Mill or Ollow had told me,"

Pank said "She won't come near you." Pyosz thought she could detect a vague menace in her tone and was touched.

"I agree, but I'm not worried, actually. Is that milk jug empty? I'll go refill it."

Late San afternoon, Pyosz heard the deep rumble of the huolon overhead and stopped to look, squinting into the sun, but it was at an angle where the pilots could not see her so she did not wave: she certainly didn't want Sey to think she was welcoming her. She was trying hard to finish the last of the trenches she'd been digging all day, snaking from the newly finished geothermal shed to her barn, cabin, kitchen, well house, and chicken coop. In the trenches would go power lines from the new geo-powered generator -- unlimited power, no matter what weather they had -- plus for the aga a direct pipe carrying volcanic heat.

Her about-to-be-retired stove currently baked bread and cinnamon rolls for tomorrow, a rolled pork roast and zucchini/tomato casserole for tonight, simmering chicken and vegetables for the pot pies she'd offer for lunch tomorrow while she was between stove and aga, and steaming maxas for tomorrow's breakfast. Plus one pot of apple butter, because the apples couldn't wait another day. She'd been digging, cooking, or responding to Mrebbe's calls for help all day without a break, and after milking and a final shared meal, she'd still have a late night of last minute work. She longed for a soak in the hot springs, but there was no way to squeeze it in. At least they'd had three days of full sun and her solar power had held up against the extra demands on it. Maybe there'll be enough hot water for a quick shower before bed she thought.

Mrebbe was currently on her back under that bed, framing the hole they'd cut in the side of her cabin earlier to insert the vent and feed for her new radiator which would ensure warm nights from here on. Mrebbe had remarked even with the unlimited radiator, she could use some interior walls with insulation, but Pyosz said her budget didn't extend to that right now.

Pank and Tu ambled into view, trailed by the two timmers who had completed the bridge, built three sheds, and helped level ground for the massive greenhouse to be started next week. Pyosz looked at the setting sun and gave up on completing the final ten feet of trench right now. She stretched her back and said "Dinner's ready, as is everything else for tomorrow. If you'll pull it all out and set the table, I'll join you when I can."

Pank, already at the stove, said "These rolls for tonight?"

"One each. But the main dessert is rice pudding with currants, chilled in the coldbox." She scrubbed her hands and face at the sink in the barn before prepping for milking and going to meet her goats.

When she returned to the kitchen with a fresh pitcher of milk, the chickens and katts had been fed and put indoors, the last stretch of trench had been dug, and Maar was at the table. "Mail and packages from the abbas are on your bed" she grinned.

Pyosz's fatigue melted away. "How are the abbas?" she asked, accepting the plate Tu handed her.

"Thleen and I went for dinner there last night, along with your emma, and the five elders got into an argument about which cabbage was best to plant for the coming winter that became acrimonious. I thought Nan Bux was going to cry. I have no idea why they were so worked up" said Maar.

Tu leaned forward. "Which variety was Lawa advocating? And Halling?" she asked urgently.

"Don't tell her" advised Pank. Tu stuck her tongue out at her.

"Other big news which hasn't reached the papers yet is that someone had submitted a proposal for the next vote that Isola Fling be converted back from cropland into Manages for at least two families. With Pya wheat yields ever increasing, Skene thinks it needs room for population expansion more than the grain field." Maar looked very pleased to be passing on this development, and was gratified by Mrebbe's long whistle.

Pyosz said "I hate missing what my family had to say about this. Especially Yoj."

"Yeah, it was pretty interesting, all about how some problematic values still had not shifted, and the unspoken drive to try to keep more votes in Skene than in Pya, balance of power, that sort of thing" said Maar easily. Pyosz guessed that was as much detail as Maar would divulge in front of non-family.

Changing the subject, Maar said "Sey had booked in advance the only spare room at Koldok bucky, so Schlih the geothermal expert is having to bunk for the night in the Lofthall dorm. She's dour on a good day, but when I left, she was seething."

All the timmers laughed loudly. "She's good at what she does, but not as special as she thinks she is" said Mrebbe.

"What about the family taking Kacang?" asked Tu.

"Only two of the emmas came, Aleri and Nezi, to do a week's work and return to Skene until the whole family moves after midwinter. They have cousins in Dudor and will commute from there" said Maar.

"I'm meeting them on Kacang tomorrow" said Mrebbe. "They pay well but I'll miss the food here more." The other timmers rumbled agreement.

Maar stayed behind when the others left after dinner, saying "I have the day off tomorrow, I want to spend it helping on Saya and Herne. Right now, my aching bones could use your hot springs, you up for that?"

Pyosz raced through her mental list. "I have to roll dough and bake the pies, that can't wait. And I was going to do a cold water laundry, because I'm that low on clean milk rags, but -- "

"I'll do the laundry, you fill the pies, and we can go to the springs while they bake" suggested Maar.

It wasn't until Pyosz was in bed, muscles rejuvenated, body clean, that she realized she hadn't once thought to ask what Sey had been like; nor had Maar offered the information.

The following morning, a quartet appeared on the trail from Pyosz's dock: Maar, Pank, Tu. and a short, scowling woman who looked at the outdoor kitchen with disbelief. Her outrage at the skinflint barbarism of these Pya clients persisted, barely in check, until her first bite of hot, flaky cinnamon roll. When she had downed a crab-and-cheese maxa, interspersed with bites of apple-butter-glazed Mti bacon, she ventured a rusty smile and said "You manage all this without an aga?"

"Wait'll you see what's for lunch" said Maar. "Listen, can I look at the configuration you've got on that rock laser in your toolbox?"

Schlih's face slid into deep suspicion. She said coldly "Why should a pilot be interested in that?"

Pyosz bristled, but Maar answered easily "I'm the pilot who's in charge of our mezi ray as well as doing most of our rock excavating. It's part of my job description."

Pank set another cinnamon roll on Schlih's plate, though Pyosz wanted to drive her from the table at the moment. Schlih took a bite before answering "You can come with me into the hole, if you want. See how I do it." Which even Pyosz had to admit was a major concession.

Tu said "We don't want to be pushy, but we figure you ought to start on Herne. Because the owl will be less rousable earlier in the day."

"Owl?" said Schlih, her voice going high. Pyosz hid her smile.

"Yeah, that huge walnut is our owl nest and it's less than six meters from the geo shed" explained Tu. She said to Pyosz "We've only had one glimpse of her, she's nowhere near as big as yours, at least not yet."

Schlih had stopped eating. Heretofore her work on Pya had not involved owl-infested zones. it appeared. Funny reaction from someone who sometimes has to venture into caverns crawling with shu thought Pyosz.

"The owl on this end of Saya has the biggest wingspan we know of, 11 feet" said Pank. "At least, those of us not from Chwet."

"It landed right here on this table in the dark, right next to Pyosz, her first week here" said Maar. Pyosz suspected Maar was subtly exacting revenge for the crack about pilots.

"But her tree is north of the chicken house, we won't be in her territory at all today" assured Pyosz. She said to Tu "You think your owl could be one of mine's babies all grown up?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if yours was the emma and abba for all the forest owls in this range of the Pea Pods, including the other end of Saya and over on Teppe" mused Tu. "I don't know as much about the rock owls, although with all the caverns we've got around here, there's probably more of them." They began discussing the Owl People demonstration at Mchele Fair, which Pyosz could tell was making Schlih's skin crawl. To PYA she shouted inside her head.

As they were drinking the last of their tea, the sound of a sinner approached. "My aga and kiln!" cried Pyosz, leaping to her feet. Maar said to Tu "You all can go on to Herne, I'll help her here and we'll be over later." The three headed for the kissing gate as Maar stepped out to the area south of the kitchen, cap and scarf wrapped around her head, to signal lowering of the sinner's pallet. Pyosz watched for a minute, then busied herself with dishes.

An hour later, the aga was in place though not yet connected, the kiln was installed, and the old stove was in the pallet. Even with the use of the pallet's side crane and two special handcarts, Maar had scraped the flesh from her knuckles and Pyosz had sprained an ankle fitting the aga into the barely-wide-enough space left by Mrebbe's construction. They rested with cold tea and Pyosz's stream of consciousness ideas about what she wanted to make from Saya clay. After dressing Maar's scrapes with Lawa's ointment and supervising pickup of the pallet, they walked slowly, Pyosz limping, to the gate at the new bridge linking Saya to Herne.

Killer and a few kids were at the gate, and they turned to greet the humans expectantly. More ominous was Molars' presence, with fresh toothmarks around the latch and hinges. "She doesn't give up, does she?" said Maar as Pyosz tried to drive Molars away from the gate.

"Well, once Pank has her huge hogs roaming free on Herne, I imagine all the goats will suddenly think this barrier is an excellent idea" said Pyosz. "I don't know if their world view includes the notion of other livestock. Except for Killer, of course, who has now seen it all."

The aga was not quite hot enough to make dinner by nightfall, but Pyosz roasted kahe and balik on the grill, along with fresh corn and other tillage vegetables, and there were three kinds of pie. Mill, Oby, and Api joined them for dinner, Api signing off on the renovations with a flourish. Pyosz emptied her coin stash to pay Schlih, but the warmth in her cabin when went in to feed the katts was reward enough.

Before they all left, Pyosz turned to Maar and said "I understand the anniversary of your official entry into the Lofthall was yesterday. You're due another service bracelet, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but I couldn't get to the jeweler in Skene this time, I was offered work shifts -- " Her voice trailed off when Pyosz pulled a wrapped box from a kitchen drawer. Her eyes filled with tears as Pyosz, with unaccountably trembling hands, fastened the delicate links of Chloddia silver around her ankle.

"To Pya! To Skene!" cried Mill, and they all joined in, even Schlih. Pyosz took a photo to send Thleen. That night, after a long shower with unlimited hot water and a naked dash into a toasty cabin, she called Prl, waking her deliberately, to burble on about how happy she was. Prl listened with a bittersweet heart. Pyosz okayed the purchase of a wheel Lawa had found for her, accepting the temporary loan of its price and shipping from Prl until she could earn it from future labor, and after clicking off she whispered to her katts "I'm going to be a keramiker. Not just a capriste and baker, orchardist and beekeeper. I'm all of my ancestors distilled into one woman."

Curds gave her a look as if to remind her that such arrogance and ambition was not in keeping with Skene humility, but Ember snuggled closer, perhaps believing Pyosz was the magical source of the cabin's new comfort.

When Pyosz woke up, the sky was emptying itself onto Pya. She thanked the rain for holding off this long, then immediately had a pang for how wretched it would be for those working on Kacang today. She held out a cherry-almond pie from her delivery to Gitta, and as she was approaching the cafe, she ran into Maar in uniform under her burzaka.

"No sinning today?" she asked.

"Maybe this afternoon. Want company for breakfast?"

"Actually, I was going to get a large thermos of hot tea to take to Kacang, along with a pie, but yeah, I could eat something" said Pyosz, holding the door open for Maar. Who got only partway inside before stopping still.

"Move over, it's dripping on me" complained Pyosz, shoving past Maar. Then she, too, saw the occupants of the corner table: Sey and Uli, in laughing conversation. Pyosz walked woodenly on to the counter and shed her burzaka before claiming a stool. Maar joined her, whispering "I don't think they saw us come in."

Pyosz said to the counter person "Maple rice cakes, poached eggs with runny centers, kelp and onion balls, and tomato juice" before she turned and walked determinedly to the corner. "Hello, Sey, welcome to Pya" she produced in a perfectly friendly tone. Uli almost dropped her mug of tea, but Sey gazed at Pyosz eagerly and said "You -- you look really different. Good. I mean, you always looked good.." She trailed off, thick-tongued.

"Thanks. I'm sure I'll see you around. Hi, Uli, I'll be sure to let Qoj know I ran into you in my next letter to her. Have a good day, you two." She walked confidently back to the counter, noting most of the cafe had gone silent. A Redtop sighting with special points she thought to herself. Maar bumped her shoulder in muted jubilation and said "If Dodd walks by the window and spots them, she pry a brick from the sidewalk and heave it through the glass."

"What can Uli be thinking?" hissed Pyosz.

"Oh, it's just automatic with her" said Maar, confirming Pyosz's worst fears. "But don't be too disgusted, I think underneath it all she longs for more than the game. I think she actually wants connection and security. Hang onto her friendship, some of us just take a while to clean things up." Which made Pyosz turn and look right into Maar's eyes, inches away, for a long moment where Pyosz forgot about the scrutiny of the corner table or the rest of the cafe.

By the time they finished their meal, Uli and Sey were long gone. The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle and Maar returned to the Lofthall while Pyosz rode the new ferry out to Kacang. Api was there, under a temporary canvas canopy, and introduced her to the future immigrants, Aleri and Nezi. When Mrebbe spotted her, she yelled out "You bring food?", drawing forth the other timmer and Schlih. Twenty minutes later, Pyosz returned to the ferry with an empty pie tin and thermos.

Tu and Pank, working through the mud on Herne, joined her for lunch and dinner, as well as a mid-afternoon hot springs soak once lightning risk had passed. Maar landed a lighter at the jichang while Pyosz was milking, putting a bucket of clams near the aga for the next day and making the salad dressing for supper. As Pank and Tu took the ferry back to Koldok to stay at Dodd's, Maar and Pyosz buckled into the lighter.

They flew directly away from the long-set sun, over Dvareka in an arc toward the southern tip of Chwet. Maar took them the length of Chwet, entirely dark aside from the handful of lights at its inhabited end.

"Owl paradise" said Pyosz. "And I guess squirrel too, despite the owls."

"We all eat other living things and know there are things that want to eat us" said Maar. She made a sharp bank to the right, climbing at an angle, and Pyosz realized why when she looked out the window and saw they were barely clearing the treetops of Nec.

"Waves and ripples, Maar, is this forest planted on a peak?" she asked.

"Nope. Those older trees are over 100 meters tall" said Maar. "We'll go for a picnic some Sju when I'm not working. It's like nothing else on Skene." She kept flying west, leaving Pya behind. At first there was morrie strati below, visible from the light of a half-full Delma already in the zenith, but it didn't look as vibrantly red as the morrie strati on either side. It soon gave way to deep-looking ocean that was dark green, Pyosz thought, rather than a shade of blue.

As if reading her thoughts, Maar said "We don't sin in these waters. For one thing, no fish migration goes through here, but the reason for our avoidance as well as theirs is what's being churned up out of Jiang Giant land by that." She pointed directly ahead, where the kale green water morphed to turquoise, then magenta, then a bubbling ring of crimson.

Pyosz breathed out in awe. "That looks much larger than the cone off Yanja" she said as Maar began a bank to circumnavigate the emerging volcano, with the best view out Pyosz's window.

"It is" affirmed Maar. "The water here is several hundred feet deeper, so it must be massive to have reached the surface at all. They think this is what's causing all the seismic activity on Tetama. And, of course, if it frankly blows instead if the creep upward it's doing now, the resultant tsunami will wipe out Pya. Probably Skene, too."

"What a terrifying thought" said Maar, taking photographs.

"One I have every week as I fly out here to dump our cast-off toxics right into its open mouth" said Maar grimly. "You have no idea how sweet it is after that solo run to land on Arta and walk toward singing, laughter, the smell of food."

Pyosz became aware of almost tangible intimacy in the small cabin. "I have something to confess to you" she said impulsively. Maar focused on their heading, straightening back toward Pya, before warily asking "What?"

"All this time...ever since I got here, until last week when Ngall set me straight...I've thought that you and Abbo were lovers. Still lovers, I mean."

Maar gave her a swift, incredulous glance before bursting into crazed laughter. For a minute, Pyosz wondered if she should take the stick, except their flight was stable and she hadn't the foggiest notion of how to operate a plane. Maar finally wiped her face with her scarf and said "Well, that explains a great deal."

"You're not upset with me for being so obtuse?" asked Pyosz.

"Your version of obtuse brings a thrill to my existence" said Maar, blushing instantly. After an awkward moment, she began talking about plate tectonics, and Pyosz gladly followed the change in topic. They said goodbye at the jichang: Maar would be leaving the following morning for Skene.

"I don't have a letter for Thleen -- wait there, I'll be right back." Pyosz hurtled into the dark and returned with a cheese box filled with jars of jam, curd, and honey. "Give her this, and if you have a chance to call me, I'd love to talk with her" said Pyosz breathlessly.

"I'll miss you all on Shmonah" said Maar.

"Go spend it with my abbas instead, in my name" urged Pyosz.

Maar hesitated, then said "I want you to know, I've not had a lover in over six months and I'm not going to -- I'm not looking." The small orange light from the lighter instrument panel made her hair look even more fiery than usual.

After a long pause, Pyosz whispered "Carynn bye" and kissed Maar's cheek lightly before stepping back so the hatch could swing shut. She waved her off before going to make instant tea from the always-simmering aga cistern.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild