Saturday, August 8, 2009


(Pya, showing island names; click to enlarge)

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post from yesterday. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post. Terms first introduced in previous chapters will not be re-explained here.

Blue, I hope you're having a speedy recovery! I rushed this just for you. Lub, Mags


The huolon raced the sun, flying into yesterday's dark of night, back into Moja. When Pyosz heard Abbo rouse Maar, she sat up and looked out the window: Impossible darkness in all directions, but who knew what kind of life below, and to what depth? It was the dark of one moon and crescent of another, not much in the way of light to reflect off the water.

After 20 minutes, though, Pyosz sensed a change in the blackness below, as if they'd passed over land. In the next second, she saw a dim light, unmistakably human, and knew they were over Mti, the small settlement of foresters, pig farmers, and woodworkers who perched on one edge of a woods-heavy island. She had family down there: Halling's siba Tu, her partner Pank who had also been Pyosz's habibi Veida's sibiya and so was kin in her own right, their only child Nk and her partner Frahe. She wished it were daylight and they were awake, because she felt sure they'd be out watching for her, to give her a wave. She like these cousins very much.

Tu and Pank were each single until almost 40, never thinking they'd find the kind of love they now had. Tu worked in the mulberry groves of Seda and Pank was a duck and goose farmer on Beras. But then Pank had transferred to the ejida on Byli, and there was no room for her in the bucky there, so she found a bunk in the bucky on Seda, preferring a short daily ferry commute to sleeping on someone's couch. By their second night at the bucky dinner table, Tu and Pank realized they would never stop finding the need to talk to one another.

Tu had a remote cousin with a manage on Seda and a spare room, so they moved out of the bucky and into shared lodging. There were no emmas or abbas nearby -- Tu was orphaned like Halling by that time. Still, they had always wanted children, so with no real expectation but hoping against hope, Pank applied for Leave to become pregnant. They, and all the rest of the family, were flabbergasted when Leave was granted. That same rogue Genist who had taken Prl as apprentice decided to give these two middle-aged women a Contribution. And on their fourth try, it worked. They had Nk, the absolute joy of their existence, a clever and deft child with the long flat bones that ran in Veida's family.

The year after Nk graduated, she and her emmas migrated to Pya, one of the very first families to do so. At first they lived with everyone else on Dvareka, in the original settlement there named Pertama, or "first". This was between the Pertama River and the stone ziggurat which had been the last dwelling of the original colonists. Apparently, an epidemic of some disease the colonists could not identify or treat had killed enough of them that the survivors were too few to manage the work of survival for more than a couple of years. Another small group had been isolated on the island Mill named Hore, for sorrow, but they had perished as well. Logbooks for Pertama had been found in the owly caverns next to the river, and Yoj's translation didn't give her all the answers she wanted. Especially, there was no mention of the colony at Skene, which might mean the Pya colony had come and died before the Skene attempt. No records at all had been found on Hore, only skeletons and artifacts which seemed to indicate that one pathetic survivor had lived on there for at least a decade, utterly alone.

Nobody wanted to live on Hore, still, after all this time.

Dvareka was mostly fairly level land with soil that could be amended and turned into vast stretches of crop fields. There were groups of trees everywhere which appeared to have seeded themselves, windblown, from the northeast corner of Dvareka where a planted forest was thick and ancient. The colonists had also left behind pigs on the island, who retreated to the woods at night but rooted through all of Dvareka by day. Lmape, the original exploration team leader, had been attacked by wild pigs who burst out of a thicket near the river. Her thigh was cut open and had to be stitched. Oby's laser made short work of the attacking pig and the rest were driven back. Mill reported in her radio broadcast that night "We are happy to declare the pigs of Dvareka are identical to those of Skene in appearance and flavor." After two weeks of existing on canned and dried foods, the entire pig had been roasted on a blazing fire in direct contravention of Skene's instructions to not ingest native foods until testing had been carried out. Along with the pig, they had baked apples and chestnuts from nearby trees, although this tidbit didn't make it into the report.

Skene declared all forests off limits for harvest unless it had gone through their winding bureaucracy, where decisions were made by people who not only had never been on Pya but probably had never been to one of Skene's three small sets of woods. Pya had four large islands plus one medium-sized one where the original colonists had intelligently planted different varieties of trees, no doubt intending future harvest and replenishable use. Hayashi Island was named for the fact that it was entirely covered by pine and other evergreens. Trumpinne, named for its shape like a bird drumstick, was found to have a surviving ancient olive grove five times the size of that on Yanja. Linmu, also meaning woods, was mostly nut trees, beech, hickory, walnut, pecan, and filbert. Mti was a mixed forest, though mostly oak, maple, chestnut, hornbeam, poplar, and cherry. The woods on Nec, however, had filled the explorers with awe. Its trees were impossibly tall, with trunks so wide that all of them standing with outstretched arms could not wrap around it. It was not until they were home that the botanist identified this species, sequoia, from an ancient reference.

Despite all this plenty, the woods on the northeast corner of Dvareka were declared protected by Skene. Harvesting trees could only be done by submitting forms and waiting for approval. In the meantime, the pigs were a menace to settlement. A large number of them were trapped and taken to Prase, which Mill arbitratily declared pig habitat, since it too rocky for much farming and had no other visible resource. The first immigrants spent weeks gathering stone to build a wall across Dvareka from ocean to river, enclosing the woods now named Puaa for the pigs there and making the rest of the island safe for human use.

Once this was done, Tu and Pank, along with a couple of other adventurous souls, went to Mti with some basic supplies and a few of the secano metal huts as shelter. Pigs were "accidentally" released into the woods, but before they became territorial, Pank and Tu found newly-fallen trees in each of the most beautiful hardwoods. They cut wide boards from these trunks, sanded them to a high gloss and covered them in varnish, then shipped them back to Skene as "samples". They knew full well the lumber-lust this would set loose on Skene.

In the meantime, the rest of the fallen trees, along with several others, were planed into lumber that was immediately used to build a barracks, a cookhouse, privy, toolshed, and a canopy for their outdoor sawmill. They filled in no applications and sought no permits, claiming it was all salvage and no environmental use except as eventual sawdust, anyhow. It was two years before Skene found out the timeline of how things had occurred, and by then, weekly shipments of wood were a regular export from Pya to Skene, so nobody complained.

Nk turned out to have a particular gift for seeing the possibilities in a board's grain and transforming it into spectacular furniture. She apprenticed to a timmer, who had another young apprentice, Frahe. Within a year, Nk and Frahe were partnered and gave up forestry for woodworking. Pyosz had heard their pieces furniture were works of art, unequaled by any other on Pya or Skene. Well, she'd heard it from Mill, but she thought it was true as well. In due time, they had a single child, Frank, without requiring the services of the Genist or of Briel. Frank, two years older than Pyosz, was now on Skene, training to become a comadrona.

When Pyosz had visited Pya as a child, she always spent one day of her visit alone with Tu and Pank -- none of the other young cousins were invited, just her and these two women who were by then starting their 60s. Mill would drop her off on Mti, wearing hardy clothes for roaming through the forest. They'd fry bacon to make sandwiches, put on hats and gloves, and head into the wild woods.

Pank always seemed to know if a pig was nearby, and she'd alert them. Tu would shimmy up a tree -- it was a marvel to Pyosz how adept these older women were at getting up high in a tree within seconds. Pyosz would be handed up to her, and then Pank would follow. They'd watch the pigs appear below, root around for a while and wander off; sometimes the tree-sitters would drop twigs on their bristly backs. Pyosz was never afraid with Tu and Pank.

They talked softly, stopping to show her every wonder they could. After a few hours, they'd be near one of the small streams on the island. Pyosz's kiatus and sokken would be removed so she could wade barefoot in the cold water, while Tu foraged for fruit and nuts to augment their lunch. Then they'd sit on mossy rocks and eat the heavenly crisp sandwiches, alternating with slices of apple or pear cut by Pank's big knife she wore on her belt, and finish with walnuts. In between bites, they took long drinks of the cold, clear water. Pyosz imagined this was how they lived all year long, spending every day wandering the glades: In her mind, it was always summer on Mti.

Her best memory was when she couldn't have been more than four. They came to a place that Pank recognized, and she put her two fingers to her lips to sign "no talking". A very large poplar was climbed, and once they were all settled safely between two massive branches, Pank pulled small field glasses from her gilet and focused them on an even larger tree 20 yards away. In clear line of sight was a dark patch on the trunk, and Pyosz gradually realized this was not discolored bark but a hole in the tree, a wide black hole. She saw a blur of white momentarily inside the blackness, and jerked back against Tu. Pank put the glasses to her eyes and breathed into her ear how to focus them. It took her long minutes to finally twiddle the knobs in the right direction, but suddenly a fuzzy white head with a short beak leapt into her vision. If Pank had not been holding the glasses, Pyosz would have dropped them.

Pank breathed "Owlets, two of them, and their emma behind, can you spot them all?" Eventually Pyosz did. Emma owl was massive and drowsy, watching them but not alarmed. Her babies were curious. Pyosz had thought I bet they never saw a little human before, just like I've never seen a little owl. In fact, she'd not seen a grown owl, either. This was her first. After long looks, they slid back down the trunk and went on in the opposite direction, Pyosz between them, gripping their hands tight.

Mill had told her Tu and Pank were still employed as foresters, though now as expert consultants, no longer doing manual labor. Since they were at least 80, the age when most long-lived Skeners retired, Pyosz thought they must love what they do. They shared a Manage with Nk and Frahe, but Mill said it wasn't quite to their liking for some reason. However, there were no ferries to Mti. The only way to go back and forth from there and the rest of Pya was by air.

Pyosz was so absorbed in her memories that she forgot to try to see Saya Island's outline in the dark as they flew over until it was too late and they were dropping down onto the jichang in Koldok. If it had been light, Saya would have dominated the western view from any point in Koldok. Once the loud engine stopped, Curds immediately began yowling again, anticipating release from her torture.

"Is Mill at the Lofthall?" asked Pyosz as the pilots began unbuckling. Abbo snorted. "It's two hours before dawn, she's dead asleep. She said to put you in her office, there's a cot in there. She'll come wake you up soon enough, along with the ejida worker who's been filling in at Saya this week. We're to leave your stuff inside the Lofthall door, except that what you need with you."

"My carryall, I guess" said Pyosz, feeling a little abandoned. "And Curds."

"Don't let her loose" warned Maar, looking into the carrier. "Wow, that's an unusual color, she white all over?"

"Utterly" said Pyosz.

"Is she simple, then?" asked Maar. The occasional all-white katt on Skene was often born with pale blue eyes and an inability to learn. They tended to die while still kittens.

"Nope, smart as any other katt" said Pyosz, picking up the now rank carrier with one hand and her carryall with the other. She took them to Mill's office, where her cot was neatly made up and waiting. Pyosz shut the door on Curd's outrage and went back out to help the pilots with her other belongings, but they had already unloaded them and were opening the back hatch to retrieve the crate of sheep.

"After we get these in that shed" said Abbo, "We're leaving the rest for the distribution crew. The canteen is open if you want something, but I'm heading for my bunk."

"No, I'm fine" said Pyosz. The silent, shuttered town was not the welcome she had anticipated.

"G'night, then" said Abbo, grunting as she and Maar dragged the large crate over the jichang. Maar was panting heavily and didn't say anything.

Pyosz turned uncertainly and went back to the Lofthall office. She washed her face, then ventured outside again to use the privy. There was no sound of human activity at all. She hurried inside and tried to comfort Curds, who only wanted out of her carrier, nothing else would suffice. Finally Pyosz lay down on top of the blanket still wearing her otos, not the least bit sleepy, and pulled the earflaps down on her cap to shut out some of Curds' noise.

She had just dozed off when Mill flicked on the overhead light, sending Pyosz's body into shock and her mind into confusion. "Hey, sibiya, I am sure glad to see you! Gaahh, what the lev stinks in here? Oh." Mill ruffled Pyosz's head, then bent over the carrier, saying "Hi, unhappy katt."

A short brown woman around Mill's age stood in the doorway, and she said crankily "She brought another katt?"

"I guess so" said Mill. "Pyosz, this is Poth, she's going with us this morning to train you in all things goat. Poth, this is the new capriste of Saya." Poth was now looking at Pyosz's new otos with an unreadable expression, but she shook her hand and said "We've got a thermos of tea in the sinner, if you're ready to go."

"Uh, yeah" said Pyosz, standing with jangled weariness and collecting her things. In the main office, another cranky-looking woman was sitting down at a desk. Mill said "You're up early, Jiips."

"Like I had a choice" said Jiips darkly, casting a glance at the carrier. Curds was back in full scream mode.

"Pyosz, this is our radio operator, Jiips. We're heading to Saya, I won't be available even by radio for however long it takes, refer all questions to Oby" said Mill. Pyosz's trunk, hamper, and crate of books were gone from beside the door: They must already have been loaded on the sinner.

Pyosz followed Mill and Poth to a nearby sinner. The sky had lightened enough that Saya was visible, and this sight stopped her for a moment. She had forgotten how large it was. She wished she had a little more time to adjust, but Mill stopped to look back at her and she hurried on.

The flight took all of a minute. Mill asked after the abbas, asked how the journey had been, but they were there and Poth was striding off into the dim trail between trees. "She's getting the wain" said Mill, tying down the sinner. Pyosz took a second to look around her.

Saya was a long arc that was high at either end. This end, which held the goat barn, pen, chicken house, water tank, jichang, and a few other structures she couldn't determine yet, was framed in rocks overhanging cliffs down to the sea. At the opposite end, she remembered, was the hot springs, an orchard, and then a good-sized woods. In between, with a sharp drop, was grassy pasturage.

They could hear the wain coming before they saw it. It was battered and wobbly, oxidized aluminum frame over iron axles, with a person-sized yoke in the front. Pyosz wondered if it would collapse under the weight of her trunk and books, but although it squealed when pulled, it lasted until they reached a tiny metal hut next to a tin canopy over an outdoor kitchen and table. There was wood planking on the sandy ground under the kitchen, but no shutters or any kind of rain-break for the sides. The stove and cold box were quite small, and there were two ancient metal chairs at the table. On the table was a rolled-up straw pallet.

Mill said "Go ahead and put your katt inside the cabin with Ember, it's still too early to let them loose, owls, you know." Ember must be the name of Ferk's katt. Pyosz felt a gush of sorrow for Ferk and poor Ember, who would never understand why she'd been left. Pyosz decided to leave Curds in her carrier until she could roam free.

The "cabin" was, in fact, one of the modular secano structures they'd used 20 years ago to reach Pya. It looked very much as if it was from the original expedition, with dull, stained aluminum walls strengthened by struts every few inches. It was barely tall enough for her to stand upright in, and there was a bare metal single bed, some cupboards on the wall, and perhaps enough space to hold her trunk beside the bed if she turned it sideways. Some sort of reeds or grass had been woven together and stuffed into the spaces between the struts -- surely it could not be for decoration, because it looked like compost. Probably some form of insulation.

As she shut the door on disbelieving Curds again, Mill said "Uh, the pallet Ferk had been using was, uh, we tore it apart and put it on the compost." Poth said obliquely "I scrubbed that floor in there." Mill went on "The solar panels on this roof and the kitchen supply only the kitchen. Oh, and the shower, there." An outdoor shower with a small water tank on a frame, heated by the sun. "If you drain these batteries, your coldbox and stove will go out, and even worse, the radio here, so be careful. The chicken house and well has its own solar array, which is always adequate for those needs. And the goat barn has a large array, but it needs it because the commercial milk coldbox and the drying shed is in there."

Pyosz looked at her, confused. "There's no geothermal plant? The only power here is electrical solar?"

"Uh, yeah. We've never had the funds to dig for geothermal, and Ferk didn't care" said Mill. Poth was starting to look impatient. "Oh, and the power for the chain-drive on the ferries comes from Koldok, but the dock lift on Saya is part of the chickenhouse circuit."

Pyosz kept trying to make sense of a set-up very different from how things were on Skene. "You said well, freshwater well? Where's the grey water tank?"

"Uh, there is none" said Mill. "The sink and privy both drain to the inlet out there between Saya and Koldok. But the current is extremely swift, everything gets dispersed and carried away. So, uh, the privy has a seawater flush hose. Don't use that for anything else except a fire. The fire danger here is extreme, with all this grass and woods, and it's up to you to spot it and put it out before it destroys the island. But the saltwater will of course kill anything that you douse, so...only in worst case need."

Pyosz could suddenly hear Prl's voice in her head. See what you've gotten yourself into?

The bleating of goats had become continuous, and Poth said "We have to get started."

"Okay." Mill followed Poth's long strides toward the barn. Pyosz paused long enough to get Lawa's gloves from her carryall, tucking them into her gilet because she wasn't sure if Poth was going to give them a withering glance as well.

The barn reeked of ammonia and animal fur. Poth began rattling instructions at her. "This is the canister containing udder wash solution, you put one cup per bucket and fill with warm water. You have to wash each udder before and after milking, or else you'll get contaminant in the milk and risk infection for the goat. You use one of these wipe rags per goat, don't use it for more than one goat or you'll risk infection. You have to wash these every other day or you'll run out, boiling water with disinfectant. This is Ferk's log book, you have to keep track of how many quarts or gallons each doe gives -- "

Pyosz interrupted. "How do I know which goat is which, do they have collars with names on them?"

Another cold look. "Of course not. I don't actually know their names, you'll have to figure it out. She has a list of their names in the book, but we don't have time for that right now. Okay, grab a doe and lead her to the milk stand. No, that's a buckling, does have udders full of milk." Scathing scorn and a glance at Mill. "Okay, put a half-cup of feed into the trough at the front and she'll stand there as long as she's eating, but you've got to work fast. Well, most of them will, anyhow. A couple of them are kickers, if you lean your head toward their side they'll break your cheekbone or put out an eye. Okay, now sit on the stool and reach under..."

Five minutes later, Pyosz finally got a stream of milk to come out of one pink teat, by which time the doe was done eating and ready to leave. She was told to keep her in place and finish the job, using a bump at the end to persuade the doe to release her last bit of milk. In the meantime, Poth set a second stool beside the other milkstand and began rapidly filling a bucket from a dark grey, older-looking doe.

"This one I do know, she's Boulder and she's one of the kickers. She's also the lead goat, wears a bell and takes offense if she's not the first to be milked. But she takes offense in general" said Poth. Like you thought Pyosz.

After Poth had milked five goats and Pyosz had started on a second, Mill wandered off. Pyosz heard her talking to someone, presumably on the radio. Within half an hour, Pyosz' thumb pad was throbbing and threatening to go into spasm. Mill came back to the barn and said "It's full light out, so I released the chickens into their run, fed and watered them. The chickenhouse really needs cleaning, though. Do you want me to let the katts out?"

Pyosz managed to lose only a pint of milk as the current doe in front of her kicked over the bucket. "You levvin -- oh, let out Ember but not Curds. I need to be with her for that transition."

An hour and a half later, Poth had milked a total of 40 goats and Pyosz only 8. Even that number was with Mill's assistance, pouring her full buckets into the five-gallon milk cans and doing her after-washing for her. In addition to her thumbs, Pyosz's shoulders, neck, and forearms were on fire from muscle strain. She stood to stretch and Poth said "Grab Boulder, lead her to the kissing gate."

"The what?" said Pyosz. She couldn't remember which one was Boulder. Poth had left the barn, and Pyosz heard the wain begin protesting their way. Mill said "The double gate to the pasture, it's called a kissing gate, don't know why." Pyosz felt a vicious pain in her buttocks and wheeled around, ripping her cheek from the teeth of a buff-colored goat. Swearing and trying to twist around to see if she was bleeding, Pyosz yelled "You levvin old turd, I oughta -- "

"Hitting 'em makes no difference" said Poth, coming back in. "That biter, Ferk named her Molars. She sure had a sense of humor, our Ferk." She and Mill laughed sadly. She grabbed the beard of a grey goat, presumably Boulder -- there were many grey goats -- and tugged her toward the door, but Boulder broke into a trot and quickly found her own way to the gate. Poth followed, pushing at goat flanks and saying to Pyosz "Load all those cans into the wain, and then all the cold cans. You milk twice a day, before dawn and before dusk, but you only deliver in the mornings. Last night's milking is in the coldbox."

Pyosz grabbed the handles of a full can and grunted as she muscled it up into the wain. Poth didn't return until Pyosz had all the cans loaded. She picked up all the dirty wash rags and strode back to the kitchen area, dropping them beside the laundry tub. "You want to save out any milk for yourself?" asked Poth.

Pyosz looked in the cupboard for a pitcher, finally locating one which she had to wash out. She filled it clumsily from a can and opened the cold box, which was empty but smelled like it had recently contained rotting food. Pyosz washed a plate as Poth paced in irritation, put the plate on top of the pitcher and set it in the coldbox. Mill said "You should have staples in the larder, lots of eggs and veggies in the tillage, fruit on the trees in the orchard, and you can get whatever dairy stuff you need from the djostiker. I didn't buy any extra food for you, but I did put some of our island's corn meal and dried corn in the larder."

"Thanks, s'bemma" said Pyosz. Poth was pulling the wain toward the point of the island, where a muddy trail descended rapidly toward a dock. Locking the wain's brake at dockside, Poth and Pyosz lifted the cans onto a wooden platform between the dock and ferry which turned out to be a pulley lift. Poth said "Only time this is too high for the ferry is at very low tide." She leaped nimbly into the ferry and began offloading the cans into a rimmed channel in the middle of the ferry. She looked at Pyosz and said "Milk goes bad fast, you can't dawdle with this once it's out of the coldbox."

Pyosz scrambled into the ferry and helped her. Mill followed and sat by the control to the chain. Once they were done, Mill pulled the lever and the ferry began clanking toward Koldok. This, at least, was familiar to Pyosz. She knew the extreme drag at the chain was only the current, and she remembered how to unhook one connector at the intermediate pylon, rehook it to the circle ring before unhooking the second connector, and then repeat the process at the chain which took them on to Koldok. To their right was the chain which led to Arta Island, the home of Mill, Oby, Oby's emmas and sib, plus Abbo when she wasn't at the Lofthall. To their left was a chain going to an as-yet unoccupied island.

On the five-minute transit, Pyosz said "Why do I have a pallet instead of a mattress? And why do all the trees have copper wire mesh around the trunks?"

"We don't have a mattress factory on Pya" said Mill. "They're fiercely expensive by the time they get shipped from Skene, so we make straw pallets for interim use. Since we don't know who's going to take over Saya, they could already have their own mattress, I got you a temporary. But you slept on it as a kid when you visited, they're comfy."

Poth added "The wire is to keep the bark from being eaten off by goats. Ferk liked to let them run loose around the cabin sometimes, said it kept down the grass. The tillage is safely fenced it, but they'll eat anything they can. Including my ass thought Pyosz, sitting gingerly on one cheek.

At the Koldok wharf, Mill climbed the ladder to go find a cart while Pyosz and Poth unloaded the ferry onto another pulley lift. By the final transfer of ten heavy cans to one of the metal carts left sitting around town for public use, Pyosz felt like her back might be permanently injured.

"Okay, I've got to run, I've got a full day at the ejida ahead of me" said Poth. She shook Mill's hand, wished Pyosz "luck" and strode away in the direction of the road to Pertama.

"Come on" said Mill, "I'll introduce you to Kolm, she's the djostiker for Pya."

Kolm's Manage and adjacent business was at the end of the central street on the right. She was waiting out front. "Sorry for the delay" said Mill, "First day and all."

"It's okay, I'm just glad you're here" said Kolm. She was round and perhaps ten years older than Pyosz, with a real smile and creamy brown skin. She helped Pyosz unload into a room where a huge vat was ready to begin warming the milk. They emptied the cans through a large strainer, and Kolm turned on switches. The milk began swirling around in the vat.

"Okay, come into the creamery here, let's jot down your totals. I'm guessing you want some of your own lovely cheese?" said Kolm. "Well, not yet that you milked, but from your goats."

Mill excused herself, saying "I really have to go deal with business, kiddo. Stop in at the Lofthall later if you want. Call me on the radio for anything at all, and I'll check in later." She hugged Pyosz tightly, saying "You're saving our goats, here."

Pyosz lingered in conversation with Kolm, relishing her warmth and encouragement. She took half a pound of butter, a quart of raw yogurt, and two kinds of cheese, soft and aged, wrapped in kelp paper, when she finally left. Kolm came out to help her load ten clean cans into her cart. The empty cans felt miraculously light.

As Pyosz pushed her cart back to the dock, she saw many curious glances directed her way, and a few friendly waves. She thought about going to visit Briel and Dodd, or returning to the Lofthall, but Curds was alone in her foul carrier, so she made her way back to Saya. By the time she got the cans into her wain, her shoulders were throbbing again. Tomorrow I have to do this lifting all alone she thought. And the milking tonight will probably take me until midnight.

She left the cans in the wain, but put away her perishables and unpacked the hamper. The coldbox was completely crammed by the time she was done. She opened the cabin door and almost reeled at a funk that she didn't think was entirely Curds. When she opened the carrier, Curds shot across the sandy clearing and into the trees. Ember gave brief chase, but then came back to the kitchen and began crying next to the cupboard. Her fur was black and orange swirls, and she looked to be at least five years old.

"I bet you get fed twice a day, too, huh" said Pyosz. She filled a bowl with water and set it under the table. She found fisk in the larder, crumbled it into two bowls, and set them at opposite ends of the under-table area. With a moan of pain, she lifted the pallet onto her shoulder and dumped it on the bed. When she opened her trunk, linens were on the very top, and she gave a silent thanks to Prl. She felt too far gone, however, to put sheets. Instead, she tossed a quilt over the canvas ticking of the pallet, threw a pillow onto the bed, and dropped down after with a long groan. Just a nap she told herself. She was asleep in less than a minute.

Bucky -- A residence hall for unpartnered workers in a given locale.
Comadrona -- Midwife. Most births on Skene are at home with a comadrona assisting.
Kiatu -- canvas lace-up shoes worn by children, dyed bright colors
Sibiya -- Niece or nephew, the child of one's sib.
Timmer -- Carpenter.
Wain -- Farm wagon.

There are 24 hours to each day, 8 days to a week, 5 weeks to a month, 10 months to a year
One year = 400 days, 50 weeks
First five days of the week are work days for all occupations and school days for children, followed by a three-day weekend where the first day is market day, next day popular for performances and social gatherings as well as community meetings, last day often given over to rest and quiet. Exceptions are lighters and sinners -- they must work when the weather allows.
In Skene, ferry schedules (and consequently some work and performance/meeting schedules) are run according to tides -- many ferries cannot run during high tide because there is no morrie vaseo when leviathans can approach shores or inlets.

Day one: Moja
Day two: Iki
Day three: San
Day four: Empat
Day five: Ot
Day six: Roku
Day seven: Sju
Day eight: Shmonah

Month one: Raccolto (main harvest begins this month, New Year, big honey harvest, apples dipped in honey -- school resumes, autumnal weather, storms at end)
Month two: Burzas (onset of winter, long storms, hog slaughter)
Month three: Kall (coldest month)
Month four: Jian (cold but starting to warm at end -- sheep shearing)
Month five: Yaomur (rain month, much fog, rice planting)
Month six: Nastere (spring month, lambs and kids born, some slaughter, planting in earnest)
Month seven: Lamminsade (spring continues, two week period of storms)
Month eight: Med (eel migration and harvest, beginning of summer, first light harvest, first honey harvest = school out)
Month nine: Ljeto (high summer)
Month ten: Mchele (late summer, cooling begins, rice harvest)

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, August 7, 2009


(Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni; pewter miniature designed by Alan Dickinson.)

I watch television with captioning turned on. Partly this is simply professional interest: As a transcriber, I want to see how fast and accurate others are. Mostly, I've not been impressed. More about that in a paragraph. Also, I have friends who are deaf/hearing impaired and I want to see what limits are in place on their access to TV. Third, I often watch in the middle of the night and if I have on captioning, I can reduce volume so much that I'm sure I'm not disturbing my apartment neighbors. Lastly, some information comes through in captioning (background song titles and artists, specialized terms, foreign language vocabulary) that isn't available in audio.

On regular channels using the captioning commercial TV provides, the performance has been absolutely shitty. Those hired to do the simultaneous translation -- because that's what on-the-spot transcription is -- clearly have only one time through to hear and type the information, and if they get behind (which they do), drop-outs occur. Big drop-outs in information, and sometimes actual reversal of meaning. Or, more likely, long strings of ASCII-like gobbledegook.

This changed recently, however, when HDTV came along and one of the options you can select during set-up is alternative captioning services. I tried a few of these, and settled on the first in the line-up. The transcription is exponentially better, and the additional information I mentioned above started appearing. There are occasional small errors, and even more rare, a howler of a mistake.

Yesterday I was watching one of the two alternative PBS channels I now get with HDTV, what I think of my crack cocaine TV because it's all cooking, travel, woodworking, gardening, and history. I mean, if they didn't repeat them, I'd be unable to turn off my set. Oh, and there are craft shows which I do NOT watch -- more about that later. Anyhow, I was watching Rudy Maxa's travel show, not thrilling (like, say Battlefield Britain or How Art Made The World) but way better than most stuff on regular TV. The theme of the show was spiritual travel quests, and they were nattering on about Aachen, how the cathedral there has four items in its shrine to draw christian worshippers of dead people parts. They listed the four, something that was allegedly once worn by John the Baptist, two items supposedly connect to Mary, and -- this is where I gaped at the captioning -- "the pampers of Jesus". I had the sound off, so I don't know what Rudy actually said, but the transcriber heard it as "the pampers of Jesus." I screamed with laughter, frightening Dinah, and I've laughed every time I've thought of it since.

But here's the puzzle: I can't figure out what the actual term might have been. What sounds like pampers and is a garment that Jesus might have worn? If you have any idea, put it in the comments.

Now, as for those craft shows: I am developing an unreasonable aversion to them. Like Vicky Payne and Sloan Rutter, for instance, a mother and daughter crafting/designing duo who account for more than their share of air time. Vicky does sewing and stained glass in addition to general craftiness. They're not bad at what they do, but not especially good, either, and their aesthetics are not mine.

My mother and her sister (Aunt Sarah) were both avid and talented needleworkers, and skilled in almost all aspects of that art -- knitting, crocheting, sewing, embroidery, needlepoint, even tatting. On the top shelf of the massive bookcase in my living room is a 20 volume set called Manos De Oro, an encyclopedia of needlework that Mama bought in Brazil. It's in Portugese and I haven't found anyone who wants it, but I can't bear to get rid of it because she used it so passionately. I also own Mama's Singer, bought the year I was born, which I suppose makes it a genuine antique. I began trying out various needle skills at an early age, and during high school, I had four years of home ec (mandatory in smaller Texas schools for girls at that time), which was almost entirely focused on sewing. Despite all this exposure and expertise, I simply don't care for it very much. Making a garment from scratch doesn't give me a thrill of accomplishment. So I avoid the sewing shows.

The one that drives me most nuts is the The Katie Browne Workshop. She uses her little girl voice and cutesy dimples nonstop as she shows how to assemble shoddy material into crap nobody will want, or ham-hands her way through recipes that can be found on the back of Campbell's soup labels. She's like the anti-Martha Stewart.

Not that I don't get irritated with Martha, too, where it's all about product endorsement, looking upper class with a glue gun, and skating over the fact you need several large houses to hold all the "marvelous tools" and collections she has. Martha's cooking show, Everyday Food, is a prime example of food porn. The implements and design of the kitchen goes beyond perfectionism into red-alarm OCD, the kind of set Monk would be happy in. The glistening ingredients and shiny pans are nothing you'd find in any real kitchen. The lighting and close-ups are porny, and the instrumental soundtrack used to accompany "technique" -- well, you get the idea. Most of her cooks are obviously chosen for looks as much for cooking ability. Indeed, my knife skills are better than most of theirs, and I'm no professional.

I have two further gripes. I will give her props for the fact that the "everyday" meals presented are closer to what Michael Pollan recommends that we be eating than most cooking shows: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But the obsessive avoidance of carbohydrates is entirely in line with the current multi-billion dollar diet industry, and is a nutritional disaster. The problem isn't carbs, it's PROCESSED carbs. If you're eating brown rice, real whole-grain bread (no white flour or supplements in at all), organic potatoes, doing bean and grain combos, you will be well-nourished, get full, not have an insulin-spike and start craving fats and sugars, and the other "plants" you're eating will find the essential minerals they need to pair up with to do you good. So for g*d's sake, Martha, let your recipes add in a seven-grain roll, a stone-ground-corn tortilla, or some whole-wheat spinach fettuccine.

My other ongoing aggravation is not limited to Martha, it's all the how-to shows where the person doing a demonstration must explain their actions as they go along. I feel boxed in by the anemic and mindless vocabulary of most of these folks. On Martha's shows, the main descriptor of EVERYTHING is "nice". A nice onion, a nice heat in the pan, a nice glaze. Are there not other specific terms for what you mean?!!! Hubert Keller, for whom English is a second language, I'll grant you, simply cannot form a sentence that does not contain "actually" or "of course". Sara Moulton, whom I adore, is way too scattered to be trying to talk and cook at the same time. And all of them, everywhere, should have a buzzer go off every time they say "sort of". Or "kind of". As in "you sort of zest the lemon" -- well, no, you either zest or do not zest. Makes me want to go all Yoda on their asses.

Heaven help you with some of these cooks if you don't drink wine. It is possible to have a palate and not be slugging back the alcohol, you know. And, on a side note, don't tell Joanne Weir if you'd rather not use a certain ingredient in her cooking class, because she will then drown you in it. On a recent episode, a young guy admitted he wasn't that fond of fennel (nor am I, anise and cilantro are STRONG flavors that folks either love or hate, respect that). Joanne got that "I can't hear you" stubborn look on her face, and wound up adding not just slices of fennel bulb, but seeds and chopped frond to every single dish they made that day. I'd have vomited on her butcher block in response. I mean, she's usually a good teacher, but that was just plain rude.

On the plus side, these new channels couldn't have arrived at a better time. I've got new health problems on top of the old ones, and my ability to get up from bed has been hammered this summer. Regular TV is nothing but judge shows, very very bad reality scenarios, CSI/Law & Order reruns, and Tyra Banks. PBS, on the other hand, not only runs History Detectives every summer season -- which has a decidedly "let's tell the REAL truth about American history" subversive agenda -- but this year they're doing Time Team America, and I'm utterly enthralled. If you don't know about this science and archeology series, seriously, go to the website here and watch the four episodes already aired, then jump in this week with the next dig.

I'd discovered MI-5 on our regular PBS station, but the back episodes are appearing on one of the new channels and I've caught up. I could never stand to watch 24, but this BBC-produced show makes 24 look like the joke it is. If the actions and inner turmoil (or lack thereof) of Tom, Zoe, Harry and Danny don't scare you shitless, you're not paying attention. Unfortunately, there seems to be a high turnover in cast from season to season. Possibly this series has been a star-maker in the UK, because I've seen all of them in big roles on other features -- like the actor playing Tom, who got the main male lead recently for Masterpiece Theater's Little Dorrit. It was tough enough losing Ellie and Maisie; I kept hoping they'd come back and Tom could have a real life again. The guy who's now replaced Tom, Adam, is not nearly as interesting, and his psycho double-agent wife is one-dimensional. Still, I'll keep watching for the writing and plots, not to mention the look of disgust on Harry's face every time the Bush government is mentioned.

So, if you ever want to get me a gift and are stumped, here's a wish list:

(1) A microplane for zesting. (sort of)
(2) A copy of Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney: A phenomenal expansion/reclamation of vocabulary pertaining to place and history.
(3) That magic map Peter Snow uses in Battlefield Britain. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch the excerpt below from the episode about how Queen Boudicca almost led the Britons to defeating Rome and casting them out of England. As a bowdyka myself, I keep wishing I lived in a world where she had succeeded. What a difference that would have made, eh?

Battlefield Britain - More amazing video clips are a click away

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Thursday, August 6, 2009


(A string of cosmic pearls surround an exploding star; click on image to enlarge.)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite.

Thunder is shaking the roof of my car
I will go through a desert for you
My thoughts are flying to where you are
I will go through a desert for you

Right on the edge of the storm
Tonight I'll be with you and warm
Oh, to lie in the circle of your arms
I will go through a desert for you
And for me
I will go through a desert for you

Oh, the sky had been falling
When I heard your voice calling me by name
Calling me by my name
Out of the corner of my eye
I saw you blazin' brightly by
You're such a shooting star
That's what you are
You're just a shooting star

Mountains are moving in the desert sun
I am crossing this desert for you
It is a lesson and it must be done
I am crossing this desert for you

Oh, the sky had been falling
When I heard your voice calling me by name
Calling me by my name
Out of the corner of my eye
I saw you blazin' brightly by
You're such a shooting star
That's what you are
You're just a shooting star

~~"Shooting Star", from The Changer And The Changed by Cris Williamson

(Eternal love to Annie Bell, who was the first to sing me this song and call me her shooting star.)


Wednesday, August 5, 2009


(Footprint on the moon, July 1969. Photo from NASA. Click to enlarge.)

I can tell you in detail what I was doing this morning 40 years ago. It's the recent Moon Landing anniversary, and other hallmarks, which make it possible to be so precise. Plus my freaky memory, of course.

The previous Christmas, we had returned from a year in Aracaju, Brazil to spend holidays with family in North Texas and Southern Oklahoma before leaving for another year on my father's overseas contract, this second year to be in Singapore. The week between Christmas and New Year was spent in Stoneburg, Texas, where my mother (and many generations before her) had grown up, in the home of her adoptive mother, my grandmother Zura. Zura was in her 80s by that time, living alone in a crumbling farmhouse, and I think that is the reason my mother decided we -- her, me and my little brother Bill -- would stay in Stoneburg through the spring semester while Daddy went on to Singapore, taking his time in finding us a place to live.

Staying with my grandmother was not a good idea. She was hard to get along with and her house, for example, had no hot water. My parents were lucky to discover that a house kept by the local school for teachers was not occupied that semester, and its fence actually abutted my grandmother's land. In fact, she and her husband had built it as two-room cabin during the early 1900s. It had been modernized and expanded, now with three bedrooms and most conveniences. Daddy bought a load of cheap furniture with his overseas bonus, we moved in, and he happily took off for Singapore.

I was not happy with this plan, although I wasn't looking forward to going to Singapore, either. I thought Stoneburg was a hick town and at age 13 I was sick of hearing from every stranger I met that I was the spitting image of my mother. But that school and that place turned out to save my life and shape me inexpressibly. I had deep roots there I'd never really felt before -- a lot of the kids in school were distant cousins. There were a few extraordinary teachers, and the school was so tiny -- an average of 8 students per class -- that teacher attention was very available.

In my 8th grade class, that first day, I met a fat boy with yellow hair and light blue eyes who introduced himself as Loren. It turned out, not only were we related, but his mother has been my mother's best friend all through school, and his grandfather Tobe had been my grandfather Bill's best friend all their lives, including through World War I. Loren and I were basheert. By April, he had confessed to me that he thought he was gay, and I had confessed back to him that I only liked girls. We promised to stick by each other, marrying each other for cover if we had to.

A month before the end of school, I came home one day and, sitting on the counter of that rent house while Mama did dishes, I asked her if there wasn't a way we could stay in Stoneburg so I could go all the way through high school there. I pointed out moving around during high school had really messed up my older brother, and this way she could be close to her mother. Since that high school was also where Mama had graduated valedictorian, and her mother ditto before that, she wanted to give me, her beloved daughter, an equal chance.

But not going to Singapore at all was not something my father would tolerate. It would mean divorce. It would meant splitting up our family. I didn't know that when I asked it. I didn't know it until only ten years ago, and I found it out accidentally in a conversation with Daddy, who never put the pieces together for himself. Just as well.

Mama decided to stay in Stoneburg. I was thrilled, and as soon as school was out, I began spending much of each day at Bowie Lake with Loren and other friends. I had a crush on a girl who was giving me signals back. (She eventually became my first lover, but that's another story.) Mama was told by the school she had to move out of that rent house, and the only other dwelling available for rent in Stoneburg was the old Holihan place, barely habitable. It had one bathroom, accessible through what would be Bill's bedroom, and all its water came from a windmill. Which meant if the wind didn't blow (which it often does not during Texas summers), we'd run out of water. There was no heating, not an issue at the moment but a real problem come winter. There was also no air conditioning. But it was in Stoneburg, and that's all I cared about.

Mama had been hoarding the bonus money Daddy left with her for the spring and our travel to Singapore. She hired some teenaged boys to move our furniture, spent days cleaning up the empty old house, and shelled out for a window unit to go in her room at the front, which was really the living room. Our TV was a used 10-inch black and white, and our car was a rattletrap aged Buick meant to last us only a few months.

So, Mama, Bill and I watched the Moon Landing in the old Holihan house, volume up loud to compete with the shuddering air conditioner, huddled together on her bed despite the heat because it was so incredible, so impossible. Mama cried and cried.

But the other reason I wanted my body in contact with her is that she had been complaining of chest pain for almost a month. She said it was indigestion, and she was not eating regular meals with us. She looked pale and seemed to often have trouble breathing. I was starting to get scared. She wouldn't go to the doctor, said it would pass. What I didn't know is that we only had enough money to last, sorta, through the end of August. In August she'd have to tell Daddy we weren't coming to Singapore at all, not just staying in Stoneburg for the summer but permanently. She'd have to tell him she was leaving him.

The previous November, the Beatles had released their White Album. I couldn't afford to buy a copy, but I had borrowed it from one of my new friends and played it incessantly. Unless you were a teenager during that time, I don't believe you can comprehend the revolution each new Beatles release caused in our collective and individual psyches.

I was especially mesmerized by "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" because there were lines in it (a mistake which was retained by John Lennon) hinting at gender role reversal. You know: "Desmond stays at home and does his pretty face" while "Molly has the children lend a hand." There were worlds of possibility in that simple flip.

So, on this morning 40 years ago, I was sitting in my hot bedroom, also at the front of house, with broken windows covered by cardboard and holding only a bed and dresser, listening to my record player (on the dresser) scratch out "La-la-la-la life goes on." Mama knocked at my door and came in with her hands held behind her back. I grinned at her, turning down (but not off) the music. I'd been expecting her ever since I woke up. It was my 14th birthday.

But her face looked ashamed, underneath the grin. She started with telling me what a blessing I was to her, how my birth had been her reason for existence. I liked hearing it, but I began getting scared again. Then she said there was no money for presents. She would make me a chocolate cake --

I interrupted to tell her, as I had other times in my life, that I didn't care about presents, what mattered was being with the people I loved. (My g*d, how true that has become, now that I don't have any of them any more.) I got up and went to her, hugging her. I wanted to stop the pain I saw on her face, and I didn't know how.

She pulled from behind her several books of S&H Green Stamps, 11 and a half, to be exact. She'd been saving them ever since we got back from Brazil, only shopping at stores that gave them out free with a purchase. She told me there was some neat stuff in the S&H catalogue and I could order anything I wanted, 11 books was a decent amount.

She and I both knew she was lying. The stuff in their catalogues was mostly poor people crap, or for grandmothers, and 11 books would not get much. Maybe a mass-cast plaster statue of the Pieta, or a plastic tablecloth in a flower print. But I made a production over the stamp books, thanking her and hugging her repeatedly. She cried then, and even now, it fucking kills me to remember the look on her face. If there is one moment in time I could go back and erase, that might be it. Erase it from her memory, not mine. Her humiliation was (and remains) unbearable.

Working class and poor kids will do almost anything to rescue their parents' dignity. That's why we have such a headwind against us, dealing with generations of conservative hate among the lower classes: To acknowledge your parents were dupes and dead wrong about most of that they taught you, it's asking someone to betray family. Often family that's no longer around.

I stayed home from the lake that day, looking through the catalogue and watching soap operas with Mama on her bed. I eventually ordered a card table, which I said I needed to write on in privacy. And, in fact, I did write on it, all throughout high school.

The next week, school started. Bill and I had no new clothes, and last year's notebooks, but I acted like it didn't matter to keep Mama from feeling bad. (It did matter: Starting your freshman year, even in that forgiving school, wearing a dress from last spring that was too small -- it was tough. Nobody said anything, which made it worse.)

After dropping me and Bill off, Mama drove ten miles into Bowie and finally went to the old drunkard doctor who, with his brother, also a drunk doctor, offered the only medical care in half the county. He was sober enough to immediately call an ambulance and had her rushed to the hospital. She'd had a massive coronary at least six weeks before and was now in the process of dying.

A neighbor woman was standing in front of the school when I got out. She told me Mama was in the hospital with a heart attack and my Aunt Sarah had been called. Aunt Sarah was Mama's older sister, lived in Dallas, and she was figuring out a way to track down Daddy. The neighbor woman said me and Bill were to stay with them until Daddy got back, and there was no use for us to go visit Mama because she was unconscious and in the ICU. They wouldn't let us kids in.

I slept in a twin bed that night with this kind woman's 10-year-old daughter while Bill was put on the couch. I'd rather have shared the couch with Bill. We were both scared mute. The next morning, we were given breakfast and driven to school, where everybody was very nice and didn't have any reassurance that could penetrate.

Aunt Sarah didn't drive, and her husband, my Uncle Stuart, was a traveling salesman currently out on the road. She had a daughter at home, my cousin four months older than me, and a grown daughter already married. Still, somehow, Aunt Sarah got from Dallas to Bowie that day, and she told the neighbor lady to bring us to the hospital no matter what once school was over.

It was a tiny hospital. The waiting room was only an alcove with a single couch, no TV. Aunt Sarah apologized to Bill, whom she adored, that he was too little to possibly go in and see Mama. She promised we'd be back soon. She hooked her arm through mine and began pulling me down the hall.

I was terrified to see Mama, honestly. Aunt Sarah whispered to me "Let me handle this" and added "She's not waking up. She's going to die if she doesn't wake up." Nurses tried to stop us but Aunt Sarah literally pushed them aside like a blocker and shoved me ahead of her into the room where Mama lay. Mama was grey as ship paint, her mouth gaping open, her eyes closed. There was no door to shut out the nurses, but they gave up and said only "Five minutes."

Aunt Sarah took my hand and put it on Mama's hand, below the vicious-looking IV. Mama was cold and clammy. I wanted to pull away. Aunt Sarah leaned in to Mama's face and said coaxingly "Mary Jo? Jo, Margaret's here. Margaret needs you, Jo. Wake up and look at Margaret." She motioned me in, and I imitated her, saying hoarsely "Mama? I'm here. I love you."

Be damned if her eyes didn't flutter open. She looked horrible, unfocused, in pain, but she said my name and then asked after Bill. I told her where we were staying, that we were just fine (lie, lie, lie), and at that point nurses flooded in, realizing she'd regained consciousness. We were pushed out of the room, Aunt Sarah yelling over her shoulder "Hang on, Jo, I'll bring her back tomorrow." Triumphantly, we returned to Bill and Aunt Sarah pounded my back with a clenched fist, saying in a grim whisper "I knew it would work. I knew you could do it." Then she began crying, something we'd never seen her do before. I had no clue what to do except sit beside Bill and tell him Daddy would be home soon.

As if that was going to help. Mama was the one who kept everything going.

But two days later, Daddy was back, and in the meantime, Mama had started to rally. Aunt Sarah got me in for daily visits, more or less living at the hospital, I guess. The doctor told Daddy he couldn't move us around any more or it would kill Mama, and I think Aunt Sarah plus Uncle Stuart (who arrived by the weekend) backed that up. Daddy sold his small amount of company stock when he gave notice and bought us a house trailer, which we parked on family land in Stoneburg. And I finished high school there. Despite Daddy's fury at having lost his chance to leave us all behind, despite Mama having two more heart attacks, despite coming out with a terrible, abusive lover -- despite all that, those years in Stoneburg were the making of me.

When Mama finally died, 14 years later, I sat next to Aunt Sarah at the funeral, my arm locked through hers again, counting on her to keep me from dying of a broken heart. After it was over, back at the house, she put one hand on each of my shoulders and, looking intently into my eyes, she said "I'm your momma now."

There is no substitute for the loss of a mother like mine. But I accepted Aunt Sarah's offer as very much the next best thing, and I leaned on her non-stop until she died on 16 July 1999. I miss her, like Mama, every day. Especially this unendingly hot, painful summer.

Lalalala, life goes on.

(No video, only stills of the Beatles, but the song is the point anyhow.)

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]


Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.

Kitteh Potty Training Gone Bad


Monday, August 3, 2009


(Pya, with named islands; click on image to enlarge)

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post from yesterday. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post. Terms first introduced in previous chapters will not be re-explained here.


Pyosz arrived at the Yanja jichang by 7:00 on the day she was going to Pya, delivered by the school sinner, whose pilot helped unload her trunk, her crate of books, a lunch hamper from the abbas, her katt Curds screaming non-stop in a carrier, and her carry-all. She was wearing her new otos, her red hat, her burzaka, and some of the work clothes which she had already washed once so they didn't look utterly new.

The huolon to Pya was next to the Yanja warehouse, being loaded with crates of metals not yet mined on Pya, chemicals, vinegar jugs, silk, tools, cable, medicine, ink, pumice-based cleansers and abraders, mail, and a portable cage containing two long-haired breeding-stock sheep who were making a racket rivaling that of Curds. Doing the loading was her cousin Abbo and another pilot, a tall woman with short orangy hair and extremely pale skin. Getting in the way was a child of six or seven, who despite having auburn hair and tan skin looked so much like the other pilot that she had to be a sibu.

The pale pilot stopped loading when Abbo said "Hey, Pyosz! You're the only passenger, we're gonna put you in the seat right behind us and turn all the rest into cargo hold." As Abbo carelessly dragged Pyosz's trunk across the tarmac, the pale pilot picked up the child and carried her to the school sinner. The child was clinging to her, and Pyosz heard her say "When will you be back, Maar?"

Maar: Pyosz recognized the name. They'd gone to school together, though she was a year or two ahead of Maar. She remembered when Maar had started first grade, her pale face had brown flecks all over it that Pyosz had thought was dirt. She'd told the leraar about it, and the leraar had explained they were called freckles, natural spots on her skin. Pyosz found this disturbing. In fact, Pyosz couldn't remember having seen freckles on anyone since.

Maar put her sibu on the sinner and stood in the hatch, talking with her earnestly in a low voice. She pulled coins from her pocket and put them in the child's hand, kissed both cheeks repeatedly, then finally buckled the child into a seat and closed the hatch. After the sinner was in the air, far enough away that the small waving hand was no longer visible, Pyosz saw Maar's shoulders heave once. Maar turned and walked out of view for a couple of minutes. When she returned, her eyes were red and her pale cheeks roughly wiped dry of wetness.

Abbo said to her "Funny how you always have to say goodbye to Thleen right when there's the last of the lifting to be done." Maar made an obscene gesture and bent to pick up Pyosz's metal crate of books, having to stop and try a second time because the weight caught her off guard.

"What the lev do you have in there, cousin?" said Abbo.


Abbo snorted and rolled her eyes at Maar. "New capriste, bringing shitloads of books to Ferk's tiny cabin" she said. Maar ignored her, putting the crate on top of Pyosz's trunk behind the second pilot seat and strapping them both down. Abbo said to Maar "Where do you want your katt?"

"On the trunk beside my seat" said Pyosz. "Here, let me get in, I'll arrange it." She put the hamper on top of the book crate and her carry-all, which held a small blanket and pillow, at the edge of her seat which was directly behind the pilot. She started to fasten her harness, then said "Wait, I need to take a final piss."

"Good thinking" said Abbo. Pyosz ran to the privy and relieved herself: There was a privy on board but it was chemical and smelled horrific. Experienced travelers tried to not use it during the seven-hour flight. Pyosz stopped at the sink in the office and scrubbed her face. She herself had cried hard after leaving her abbas and emma at the Lofthall jichang, choking it off only as the silent sinner pilot began their descent to Yanja.

At the huolon, Abbo was standing impatiently by the hatch. "Is that katt going to do this the whole trip"" she complained.

"I don't know, I've never flown her anywhere" replied Pyosz, climbing in with a sense of excitement despite Abbo and despite leaving Skene. Maar was in the pilot seat, running a checklist. Abbo removed chocks and tie-down, walked around the plane once, then swung in and shut the hatch with a strong slam, locking it in place. She slid into the seat beside Maar and began flipping switches as she buckled her harness.

The two pilots talked to each other and the radio operator with terse focus for the next few minutes. Pyosz looked out the window as they banked around the southern end of Yanja, catching a glimpse of most of the Eastern Tendril but not quite able to see Riesig. She shifted her legs a few times because the new otos didn't feel right on her feet. They passed over the bubbling red circle of magma where a new island was trying to rise from the Southern Wasa, and then they were over Morrie Strati. Pyosz turned to Curds and began reassuring her that everything was going to be just fine. If anything, Curds' cries went up in volume.

Once the huolon seemed to have leveled off and Abbo was reaching into her own carryall, Pyosz loosened her harness so she could lean forward between the seats. Getting her face close to Maar's so she could be heard over the engine, she stuck out her hand and shouted "We didn't get introduced. I'm Pyosz, replacement capriste for the summer."

"Whoa" said Maar, reeling backward. "Did you have cabbage and garlic for breakfast?"

Abbo howled, pounding on the wall beside her. Pyosz sat back in complete shock. As a matter of fact, I did she thought. It's my favorite dish by my abba Bux, and I requested it especially for a send-off. She rebuckled her harness and looked out the window, hoping her cheeks were not flaming red. She hated Maar on the spot.

Abbo finally stopped laughing and made a nest for herself in her seat, leaning against the sidewall and dropping instantly into sleep. A few minutes later, the throbbing engines died down into a steady hum, and cold began to drift into the cabin. Curds went silent, and Pyosz checked on her. She was curled into the old woolen blanket Pyosz had torn into shreds to line her carrier. Her pupils were completely dilated, and the hair on her rump looked like she had already pissed herself.

"I'm so sorry, baby" Pyosz whispered. She fished a crumb of fisk from her carry-all and opened the small door to put it in Curds' bowl. Curds didn't even sniff at it, but she accepted Pyosz's petting with urgent bumps of her forehead against Pyosz's hand. "You should sleep" said Pyosz. "It's going to be eons in katt-time."

Pyosz pulled out her blanket and pillow, and found a comfortable position. The early morning sun was blazing through the front windscreen, however. She pulled her red cap over her face, which didn't totally block the light but made it a crimson shadow. To her complete surprise, she fell asleep.

When she woke up, she was stiff and cold. Looking out the window, she noticed first the vast stretches of Morrie Strati below, an unsettling sight. Then she realized it seemed appreciably later in the day.

"How long was I asleep?" she said out loud, looking at her watch.

"Coupla hours" said Maar. "But we're flying toward the east, remember."

"Oh, right." There was an 11-hour difference between Skene and Pya, with Pya's time earlier in the day. Which meant flights from Skene to Pya lost daylight. Pyosz began trying to figure out what time they'd arrive without checking her travel papers.

"Pyosz?" The pale pilot had turned around partly in her seat so she could speak more softly through the gap. "First of all, I'm Maar, we didn't get introduced." She held out her hand, and Pyosz shook it politely.

"Listen, it's been bothering me what I said. About the cabbage and all. I've spent the last two days with children -- " here Maar rolled her eyes toward sleeping Abbo, which made Pyosz smile in spite of herself -- "and I was just plain rude. It was a crappy way to start your trip to Pya, and I'm sorry."

Pyosz didn't want to let her off the hook. Still, she was clearly in earnest. Pyosz said "All right. It was rude. But I don't want my first new acquaintance to be someone I avoid."

"I remember you from school" said Maar, turning back to the controls. "You were a year ahead of me, but everyone talked about how smart you were."

I bet that's not all they talked about thought Pyosz. A second later she wondered Has Abbo never mentioned me, then?

"I remember you too, when you started first grade" said Pyosz. She instantly realized she couldn't follow that up with "I thought your freckles were weird." Reaching into her memory, she said "You're from Chloddia, right?"

Maar looked pleased. "Yeah. But I migrated to Pya directly from flight school, been there three years now."

"That child, your sibu? She looks a great deal like you were at that age. Lighter skin and hair is all" said Pyosz.

Now Maar's face was transformed by a grin into something radiant. "Her name is Thleen, and thanks. I think she's the most beautiful being in the world."

Abbo began moving, waking up with a grumpy expression on her face. "Don't get her started talking about Thleen, she'll never stop" Abbo said with a froggy voice. She reached for a metal box at her feet and pulled out a flagon of cold tea to take a drink. "You hungry?" she asked Maar. "Might as well eat before we switch."

Pyosz realized she was hungry again, too. She checked on Curds, who hadn't touched her water or food but was curled up with eyes half-closed. She pulled the hamper into her lap and opened the clasp.

Abbo looked around and said "Hey, is that from the abbas?"

Pyosz nodded, and Abbo said "You know they packed enough for a yanjanger crew. What's for sharing?"

Pyosz saw Maar nudge Abbo, who ignored her. Pyosz said "Um...There's bridies, which are filled with, let's see, this one's pork and onion, and the round ones are, yay, shrimp and cheese. There's a tomato and cucumber salad, some new potatoes in parsley butter, pickled beets, spinach fritters, orange-glazed carrots, a thermos of soup -- it's vegetable rice, I think -- and of course various bread and rolls."

Abbo handed back a large metal plate. "Pile it high, cousin. Except skip the soup."

"Abbo" protested Maar. "We've got our own basket from the jichang at Yanja."

"You don't want to pass by the abbas' cooking" said Abbo. "Trust me on this."

"It's okay" affirmed Pyosz. "I'm sure they assumed I'd be feeding Abbo, too." She handed a heaped plate back to Abbo, who ate three large bites herself before offering a bridie to Maar. Once the savory filling reached Maar's mouth, her shaggy orange eyebrows shot up her forehead almost to her bristly hair.

"Thunder me down!" she said through her full mouth. "That's the best I ever had."

Pyosz grinned at her in the mirror as she fished a small bit of shrimp from her own plate and put it in Curds' bowl. Curds sniffed the air but didn't move. Pyosz whispered "I'm so sorry, katt of mine. Eventually you'll forgive me, once you have an island to yourself." She poured a cup of soup and began dipping one of Yoj's flaky brown rolls into it with each bite.

She enjoyed watching Maar exclaim over each new dish, eating as much as Abbo by the time they were done. Pyosz put the lid back on her thermos, and Abbo turned around again to say "Dessert? And don't try to foist off those oranges I see, Halling will have made a pie or Yoj some cookies, we both know it."

In fact, Yoj had made an enormous tin of her cherry-oatmeal cookies; Pyosz had discovered it at the bottom of the hamper. But they were her favorite, and she had a napkin concealing them. "Let's see, this box looks promising" she temporized as she pried up the lid.

"Abbo, we're stuffed, we shouldn't be -- " began Maar.

"Lemon bars!" declared Pyosz.

"Lemon?" said Maar in a weak voice.

"Her favorite" giggled Abbo. Pyosz took a bar for herself and handed the box up front. Later, after she repacked the hamper and Abbo switched seats with Maar, Pyosz reluctantly used the onboard privy and returned to her harness chilled and faintly nauseous. She wished she'd packed her manteau at the top of her trunk. She pulled the sleeves of her sweater over her hands, huddled back in her seat with the cap over her face again, and tried to go back to sleep.

No chance. She had too much to think about. Still, she wanted space to think, not chat, so she pretended to be sleeping, this time with her head away from the window so she was facing Curds and could loop one finger through the mesh of the carrier. Poor Curds. Her emma had all but insisted she not take the katt, citing the risk of owls, but Pyosz didn't want to face a summer without her best companion.

For a high school history project, she had read and listened to all the first reports from Pya, explored not long before she was born. A crew of eight, including her sibemma Mill and partner Oby, had hopped from secano to secano across vast stretches of otherwise uninterrupted ocean, to reach the new land whose presence was originally presumed only from a single unverified map. It had taken a year to prepare the secanos to serve as these stepping stones. They were tiny, shu-infested, and often almost entirely vertical. A lighter equipped with a rock laser and two pilots flew from the nearest land, starting at Yanja, and carved a landing pad on the first secano. By the time they set down, the charge in their aircraft batteries was dangerously low, certainly not enough to return them home. They usually spent the first night in the lighter, saving their piss in bottles to use as shu-repellant.

The next morning, they emerged with the same lasers set to use as killing machines, scrubbing the secano free of all visible shu. It was a vile and messy business, and most of these missions had fallen to Mill and Oby, still very junior pilots who were desperate to earn a place on the subsequent exploration team. After slaughter, the jichang was expanded enough to hold a large sinner plus a prefab metal hut which whose six walls were lashed together in the back of the lighter. The hut was then assembled, bolted to the rock, solar panels erected on its roof to run a small generator, and stocked with a roll-up pallet, carboys of water, food staples, radio, and other emergency supplies. Its exterior was dowsed with the saved urine.

That first night spent inside the tiny structure must have been nearly intolerable: Surrounded by loud leviathan song, the stench of decaying shu and their own piss, the scuttling of surviving shu trying to find a way in through the aluminum. If there had been enough sunlight to restore their lighter's charge, they returned home the following morning. If not, they had to stay until the weather was clear long enough to give them juice.

Once home, the hardy adventurers rested up and their findings were studied. Surveys were made of the underlay of each secano, hoping for perhaps fresh water so a well could be sunk or geothermal presence to allow a permanent turbine for power. Nothing but rock was ever found. This led to speculation that the rumored islands at the end of their quest would also be unwatered, unearthed, and uninhabitable.

Still, Halling pushed on with the Lofthall mission to map all known land on Skene. The second secano was reached after a hop to the first to spend the night and hope for a recharge. Each subsequent venture took longer and longer, as two days or more were added for each new secano reached. The lighter Mill and Oby used began to retain a permanent odor of rotting flesh. Some wag of a pilot painted "Death To All Shu" on its nose, and Halling allowed it to stay, although it of course revived gossip about the Lofthall sliding into militaristic aggression again, 500 years since its last such transgression.

Skene held onto its worst fears like they were beloved blankets without which no one could sleep.

Finally, nine months after the venture to Pya had begun, the final push was at hand. To Mill and Oby's unending outrage, they were not selected to be the team who would actually first witness the fabled goal. Instead, Danaan and Rark were chosen as the pair to fly all the way to Pya. This was not just a political choice on Halling's part -- although since Danaan had been the pilot to find the first secano, nearly losing her life in the process, and since Rark had saved Halling from the jaws of leviathans, all of Skene celebrated them being rewarded with the final exploration.

However, it was also going to be necessary for the first visitors to make split-second decisions of extreme consequence. Rark and Danaan had repeatedly proven themselves intelligent, flexible, and reliable. Mill and Oby were brave but not yet seasoned.

The final secano was approximately one-half day's lighter charge from the presumed new world. Danaan and Rark were equipped with several cameras and aerial survey instruments. They were to do a thorough fly-over of everything they could reach, recording constantly, then return to the final secano again and collate their findings. If the data was sufficient, they were to begin a return. If not, they were to risk a second fly-over. And if, because of unforeseen consequences, they were forced to land on the new terrain, they were to remain in the craft unless life or death circumstances forced them out into an unknown environment. Halling trusted them to make judgments based on science, not the thrill of exploration.

There was, once a day, the opportunity for a quarter-hour of direct communication between the far-flung pilots and Halling at the Lofthall. This came in on an open frequency that was listened to, avidly, by all of Skene. Yoj had told Pyosz that on "exploration days", all activity in Skene came to a virtual standstill when it was time for these radio transmissions. Halling, along with her partners and Qala, had created an elaborate code so vital information of a sensitive nature could be transmitted without alarming the general populace. However, when it came right down to it, the exploration pilots were operating under their own authority, and Halling knew it.

Pyosz had of course watched the tapes of Danaan and Rark's flyover of Pya, along with every second-grade class on Skene since. Because Danaan and Rark were as family to her, she could read the intense excitement and wonder underwriting their frequent matter-of-fact statements about what they were seeing. But even for those without this insider knowledge, it had been electrifying.

The hardest concept for people to grasp had been the sheer size of Pya. Once the data was back home, Yoj had commissioned a scale map to be drawn, showing Skene and Pya side by side. This was mounted and hung in the main room of the Lofthall, where it drew daily crowds for a while. Pya had more than ten times the landmass of Skene, much of it on large islands with unimaginable stretches of arable land and/or forests. This had been conveyed by Rark's low-key comment "Now over the main island, and the entire horizon in all directions is occupied by terrain. No ocean in sight." How could there be a place for humans to stand where no ocean was visible?

Danaan and Rark had performed a single flyover. With their typical efficiency, they managed to collect a wealth of readings in that time, and decided it was more important to return this to Skene than to grab for more. Qala had told Pyosz when they reported their decision via radio to the Lofthall, Mill had snorted in disbelief and Oby had said "So close, but scooting back home?" Halling had said nothing but her expression plainly revealed this was confirmation of her wisdom in not choosing Mill and Oby for the mission. Qala had mused that this was perhaps the moment foretelling Mill's decision to eventually migrate to Pya, giving up on any ambition she had for the Skene Lofthall in favor of operating without Halling's leash in the new world. Her choice meant that Halling never again had to decide between the advancement of her own child and that of Danaan, her beloved protege. Which, in the long run, had been good for all concerned, though at the time, Mill's departure nearly devastated Halling.

It had taken another maddening year from the time of Danaan and Rark's flyover to the actual exploration of Pya. This was because it no longer was under the sole province of the Lofthall, but now fell under jurisdiction of votes by all Skene. Without Api as Ethicist of Skene at the time, Yoj said it would have taken much longer, but she managed to cut through minutiae and bring public focus onto the important questions. During that year, a breakthrough in power technology enabled the construction of a sinner which could carry far heavier loads over the distance between secanos -- a technology which had continued to progress to today's level.

Eventally, eight members of an exploration team were chosen. Danaan had become pregnant, and thus she and Rark were out of the running. A veteran sinner, Lmape, became expedition leader. Mill and Oby sweated out the selection process, having long discussions about what they would do if one but not the other of them were chosen. Halling made it easy on them by not forcing this issue.

The explorers landed in the center of the largest island, beside one of two rivers there, next to what looked like a human-made clearing intended to be a jichang. No signs of habitation had been seen on the flyover, but more than one island had these intriguing flat squares of weedy, not entirely overgrown, leveled surface.

The clearing around it was small, and the team first ventured briefly, timorously, into the woods, armed with lasers and (unbeknownst to Skene) long machetes, theoretically intended to clear brush but also clearly available as defensive weapons. Stumps were discovered, straight-cut and mossed over, hinting at trees cut down. Nearby, what had looked like a hill turned out to be a series of buttes atop each other, looking suspiciously like a climbable ziggurat, with a vast indentation in the river-facing side. As they approached it, a small green mound drew their attention. Mill had chopped at the bushes on one side and uncovered a glint of metal. After a moment them all staring at each other, they fell to yanking away the vegetation, eventually revealing the remains of an ancient lighter-like craft.

The first colonists had been here, too. Were they still around?

Eventually, the eight had progressed on to the oddly-shaped hill, where once again Mill used her machete on the thicket of vines in the rocky recess. When she found a large metal door rusted shut, they felt new apprehension. Lmape considered waiting until she could confer with Halling about what to do next, but that would mean waiting until nightfall when the radio transmission window would be available. The idea of camping next to an unknown, possibly occupied dwelling seemed foolhardy. A perimeter was established, with lasers at ready, while Mill and Oby volunteered to pry the door open.

Inside was a room clearly once inhabited by humans, with tables, chairs, a small kitchen with stove vented through an upper wall. Other airhole vents were visible in the dark, and at the back and sides were more doors, including one at the top of a set of stairs. A deep layer of dust covered everything, and there was a faint pong, but no sign of shu. Any cavern on Skene would have been crawling with shu. It felt to Oby to discover why this space was clear.

She went to the back wall, where a desk and shelves looked like it held communication equipment. As she focused her flash on the desk, a hint of motion above her made her jerk her flash in that direction. A massive bird was silently lifting itself from atop a cupboard, a dark brown animal whose size was simply impossible for a flying creature, with a wingspan twice as long as any human was tall. Oby screamed, and as the others turned flashes in her direction, they screamed as well. The owl -- for that is what it was -- aimed for the open door, and most of the explorers in its path fell to the ground, covering their heads. It zoomed swiftly, silently, out into the afternoon. After a minute, Oby followed because she found she had to empty her bowels.

Exploration of the cavern was put on hold. The team set about constructing their metal huts, with a laser assigned to each pair inside a hut. Great quantities of dry wood was collected to build a bonfire that could burn all night long, Skene rules about conservation be damned. As preparations for a meal began, Mill pulled out the old bestiary Yoj had made for her children when they were small, containing pictures of semi-mythical creatures from the original colonist's planet. It was she who was able to name the bird as an owl, and the close-up drawing did nothing to allay their terror. The written description indicated it was not supposed to be the size they had seen, but was carnivorous and mostly nocturnal. They decided to go to bed early.

Lmape asked Mill if she would deliver their first radio report from Pya. Lmape was not especially modest, but she had a slight stutter when excited, and she didn't want that to come out in a historical broadcast. What a lot of people didn't know is that Mill also wrote the content of the report, drawing on her Halling-like ability to be succinct combined with her Yoj-given vocabulary and Bux's grasp of political considerations. Pyosz had listened to all these broadcasts for her high school project, marveling at how young Mill sounded and, for the first time, understanding what a revolution her accounts must have wrought in Skene.

Mill began that first broadcast with "This is Lofthall pilot Mill, reporting we are all alive and well on the big island in the land we are calling Pya." The name Pya had been researched and suggested by Yoj beforehand; it came from an ancient term for "new", and had no other connotation in Skenish. Yoj had suppllied all the explorers with a dictionary of possible terms, and Halling had laid down strict instructions for naming: Nothing based on personal names, nothing similar to or derived from an existing Skene locale, no inside jokes, and preferably names based on simple physical description or salient features. By the end of that first exploration, the large island was being called Dvareka, which meant "two rivers", and most of the other islands had preliminary names as well. All of these were pencilled onto the public map in the Lofthall, pending final vote.

What the average listener in Skene had not known is that Mill identifying herself as "Lofthall pilot" was code for "there have been no injuries and no serious problems." If otherwise had been the case, she would have called herself "Lighter pilot", alerting the Lofthall to listen for further code as to what had gone wrong.

She then said "We have two major pieces of news to report. The first is that the original colonists were here as well and left behind clear evidence of their habitation. We have not seen any signs of recent human presence, but will search for that tomorrow as earnestly as you might expect." Skene reeled at this news, but Mill did not pause -- she only had a narrow window in which to convey her report. She continued "We also discovered a new lifeform today, a dark-colored hunting bird with wings which stretched eleven feet from tip to tip. We think this is an introduced species, descended from a bird on the original planet called the owl. It did not attack us, though we disturbed it and it had ample opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, we are taking all precautions and will sleep on alert tonight."

The next day, Yoj posted a picture and description of owls at the Lofthall. When it became apparent that owls had no history of ever being edible, Skene speculated nonstop as to the insanity of those first colonists, loosing such a menace into their own environment. The link between owls and shu-control was not yet known.

After listening to all these first reports, Pyosz had gone to her abbas for further interviews, videotaping their retrospective views as to what it had meant at the time for each of them. She interviewed Mill over the radio, taping it as well. Her eventual presentation of all this additional material had earned her highest marks and a request from her teacher to present it to the gathered school. After a week of talk, a second presentation was asked for the entire community, and Pyosz obtained permission from her interviewees to comply. Some of her classmates grumbled at how she was only getting all this attention because she had privileged access to those involved, but in fact Pyosz had spent months researching and piecing together her report, full of excitement about an event which happened before she was yet was still very fresh.

She had not gone to Ferk's funeral, after all. Mill told her the Pya pilots would be attending on behalf of Pya, and the cousin wanted things kept low-key. Instead, Pyosz had visited her own family, going to bed late but finding herself unable to sleep. She eventually got up and retrieved the book of Pya's first exploration, including transcripts of Mill's reports, that she had used for her high school project. She lay in bed and read this until, past midnight, she had finally drifted off. She thought about those first impressions of Pya now as she headed in its direction, ready to assume responsibility for one of its important resources.


Bridie -- a hand-held pastry filled with sweet or savory stuffing
Capriste -- goatherder
Chloddia -- Skene island in the Eastern Tendril dedicated to mining (mostly metals)
Fisk -- a variety of plentiful fish used for drying, a staple of Skene cuisine, and baked into crackers for use as katt food
Jichang -- airfield of any size
Secano -- island without fresh water on it
Wasa -- ocean
Yanjanger -- lava sculptor

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.