Saturday, August 29, 2009


Fried silkworm larvae

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

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

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


On San morning, Pyosz took a quart jar of honey and comb each to Kolm, Gitta, and Taamsas, thanking them for all their help. Her delivery of dried fruit, fresh fruit, beeswax and honey to the allotment center managed to wipe the condescending look off the face of the clerk there. She had to search quite a while for the proper forms Pyosz needed to sign, acknowledging receipt of her production. Pyosz left with more bags of flour and grains, pectin, another 500 count of plastic bags used to package her goods for allotment, and various perishables like bacon. She decided she always wanted to have bacon in her coldbox.

It was misting lightly when she got back to Saya, a warm rain, not good for moving soil but she figured she could pick fruit in it. She hauled her wain and the empty supers back to the western end, restored the hives to a clean condition, and picked several bushels more of everything she'd been processing plus a good load of early apples and plums. She stopped to feed plums to goats, testing herself to see if she knew the name of every one except the buckling kids, which Vants had advised her to never name.

She started her sponge and between risings processed fruit. For the first time, she pulled from her cupboard the small music disk player she'd brought and popped in one of the disks Yoj had assembled for her. It helped ameliorate the sense of endless repetition and a drenched world beyond the eaves of her kitchen.

She made asparagus, a frisia salad, and of course bacon for her lunch. She noticed the txikadiis were fearlessly coming under the kitchen canopy, hopping between the rafters and darting down for either morsels of fruit cast-off or insects, she wasn't sure which -- they moved so fast, she could hardly follow them with her eye. She'd noticed them in the goat barn, too, and thought they must have nests in there, a safer habitat for helpless babies than out in the trees. The wonder is that any of the songbirds survived, given the triple threat of owls, shu, and katts.

She was overdue for a load of laundry; a small part of her mind was trying to decide what to wear for her dinner with Uli. But the drying room was full of fruit and the outside line was pointless in this weather. She did a load and then hung it on wire strung across the tool room, which was far larger than she actually needed. In fact she thought, walking to the outside wall of the tool room, I could steal this space for shelves to store preserves and bins to store root crops in the autumn. It wasn't until she was back at the table, drawing a design and calculating lumber, that she remembered she wouldn't be here in the autumn. Well, I can build it for whoever comes after me she thought, and continued.

Once the pies were cooling and her bread was baking, she sloshed to the recycling pile and returned with two empty olive oil cans and more baling wire. Trying to consciously channel Pank, she turned one can sideways and cut out the sides, leaving a 2 inch well at the bottom and posts at the four corners. She pressed the metal back with pliers until all edges were safe for contact. From the sides of the second can, she fashioned a steep roof and attached it to the little house structure of the first can. She punched two holes through the bottom well and slid peeled twigs through them tightly, making perches for tiny feet.

She'd never heard of anyone making a feeder for songbirds, and she wasn't sure what they'd eat, but she wanted a better look at them. She mixed barley, millet, rice, and cracked corn from the chicken food bin. There was a tree to the right of the kitchen, in good line of sight, and she used her orchard ladder to hang it from a long branch, filling it with her grain mixture at the very end.

She grabbed her camera and binoculars, and sat down at her table to wait. It took less than five minutes, which astounded her. They must be watching every move I make she thought. The txikadiis arrived first, and she used the small zoom on her emma's camera to get a creditable close-up of their excited flickers from side to side of the feeder. She was looking through the binoculars when the next explorer arrived, and she nearly fell off her chair as a large grey and blue bird with a head crest like pilots used to wear landed on one perch with such force, the feeder began swinging and some grain fell onto the wet ground. Txikadiis scattered to go after the spilled grain, and the blue behemoth issued a harsh call that Pyosz realized she'd been hearing all day, not knowing what bird it was. She opened Yoj's guide and discovered it was called, easily enough, a jae. She got a startling photo of it. She then got her paintbox and began trying to capture its swagger. She thought of it as a new pilot, loud and filling the space around it with insecurity.

She almost forgot about her bread, pulling it out just in time. She arranged it in rows to cool, cutting open one of the rosemary rolls and slathering it with butter to nibble while she continued painting. When she was done, she pinned it to her larder door and went to the barn where she had stashed her gallon jugs of fruit juice in a cool, dark corner of the toolroom. She strained the juice into clean jugs, adding a half cup of white vinegar to each jug in hopes of jump-starting the process which would lead to her own fruit vinegars. On an impulse, she spread the fruity mast she'd strained out, as well as cores and peelings from fruit processing, onto a flat rock she could see from her table. Within minutes, birds were there as well, squabbling over the tidbits.

She returned to the kitchen to assemble identical packages for the two Manages of her family in Skene, sending them each honey, dried fruit, nut meal, and a 5 lb. wheel of goat cheese. She was about to head to the kissing gate to call in goats when Maar appeared on the path from the jichang: She hadn't heard any aircraft because of the music.

"Hey, what group is that playing?" asked Maar, setting down a cloth-covered bowl with icy frost on its undersurface.

"You won't know them, it's a band called the Kinusanders from 40 years ago" said Pyosz. She turned down the volume and said "You've saved me an after dark trip to the Lofthall, I have packages and mail for Skene."

"Well, I needed to talk with you" said Maar seriously. "And, by good fortune, the fish harvest today included a heavy run of kahe." She pulled back the cloth over the bowl. A second bowl, nestled on ice in the larger bowl, was filled to the brim with fresh golden-orange roe.

"Is that ehr?" breathed Pyosz, leaning over for a sniff. "I haven't had ehr in over a year!"

"I'm counting on you knowing some spectacular way of eating it" said Maar. "Besides just burying my face in it and lapping away." The minute the sentence was out of her mouth, she began turning red.

Pyosz laughed. "I have to go milk. Listen, here's your assignment to help with dinner. First, slice half that loaf of black bread into slices as thin as you can make them, and put them to toast in the oven at the lowest setting, so it mostly gets crisp, not brown. Then pull out the bowl of rice from the coldbox so it comes to room temperature. Go the tillage and grab three shallots, two cucumbers, and two carrots. Grate the carrots on the rasp, cut the cukes and shallots into paper-thin slices, and I'll be back as soon as I can."

"I'll feed the katts and chickens, too" offered Maar.

When Pyosz got back to the kitchen, Maar had made a pitcher of cold tea with lemon slices, set the table with two plates, and all the other tasks were completed. Pyosz washed her hands and said "Cut the toast into thirds." She began adding vinegar and spices to the sticky rice, shaping it into small ovals on a platter. "Now we feast" said Pyosz.

They piled the ehr alternately onto rice balls or toast, topped with a teaspoon of the raw vegetables and a drop of aged vinegar plus a twist of pepper. There was almost no talking until the ehr bowl was empty. Maar leaned back and pulled up her shati, patting her rounded belly to say "I've starting calling this my Pyosz pot."

"You've got a good palate" remarked Pyosz. "You never learned to cook?"

"Not in my Manage" said Maar, her grin fading a little. "But I've always wanted to learn, and it would stop me feeling like I'm not doing my share when I come to see you, if you'd care to teach me."

"Trust me, you showing up with a bowl of chilled ehr is more than your share" said Pyosz. "But yes, I'd love to teach you. We could have pie, or, I have a cold melon, Gitta saved me one from the first arrivals today."

"Melon" said Maar, getting up to retrieve it. "No, let me, I can handle cutting open a melon. By the way, that's a very good painting of a jae there."

"You know the name" said Pyosz.

"You pick it up here, after a while."

Pyosz looked at the single uneaten slice of dry toast and decided to crumble it for the birds in the morning. "You said you needed to talk with me. Is this about Thleen?"

"" Maar sat down with a bowl of melon slices. Pyosz took one on her plate and felt uneasy at Maar's expression.

"You seem to have this image of that includes me not being a completely honest person. Which, I have to say, really bothers me, Pyosz, because the opposite is true. I hope to change your mind about that. But, to get to the point today: Since you're turning out to be the kind of person who'd rather bring things up than let them go unspoken -- which is different from almost everybody else I know -- well, I need to tell you something you'll find out eventually anyhow. I figure you'd rather hear it from me."

Pyosz suddenly wished she hadn't had that last serving of ehr. "Go ahead."

"Uli -- she and I had an affair. It was just an affair on my part, but she was unhappy with how it ended, and you may hear negative things about me from her" said Maar.

Well, of course. And that explains Abbo's nasty comment about Uli moving fast. Pyosz licked her dry lips and said "When?"

"My first year on Pya. It lasted less than a month. I thought I was clear from the outset about my availability, that it was -- momentary pleasure. And honestly, Pyosz, I think I was clear. I think Uli decided to change her version of it after she couldn't -- I think she liked the chase. A lot more than she liked me."

I don't want to hear this thought Pyosz. She met Maar's brown eyes and said "You do this a lot, then? Have affairs for 'momentary pleasure'?"

Maar's face stiffened. "Not a lot. I've had a few. And I never conceal what my status is. Not once I -- sense the need for disclosure."

"And what about Abbo? Does she have affairs, as you call it? For that matter, has she slept with Uli, too?" Pyosz could hear the anger in her voice and didn't quite know where it was coming from.

"I don't think I should talk to you about Abbo. You two clearly have a canker with each other" said Maar.

"But you think it's fine to come poison me against Uli. No doubt because you've heard we have a date tomorrow night" Pyosz spat out. From the dismayed surprise on Maar's face, it seems she hadn't known about the date. Well, good, you know now.

"Maar, I think I need to -- cool off around this. It would be better if we didn't talk right now." Pyosz used cold formality as a fence against her irrational anger.

Maar stood swiftly, her melon untouched. "All right. Thanks for dinner, as always. Are these the only two packages you have for Skene?"

"I have letters, too" said Pyosz, getting them from the cupboard. "This one is for Thleen, and it's breakable, so please don't crush it." Maar's eyes went to the decoration on the envelope, her affronted expression briefly showing a glimpse of heartache.

"I'll walk you to the jichang" said Pyosz, getting her flash.

"You don't have to do that -- " began Maar.

"I'm your owl buddy, that hasn't changed" said Pyosz, reminding herself as much as Maar. They walked single file down the trail in silence. At her lighter, Maar climbed in without offering a hug. Pyosz said "Morrie vaseo."

"Thanks" said Maar stiffly. Pyosz stepped back as the hatch swung shut. She stood in the dark for several minutes, until she saw the lighter land at the Lofthall, two blue lights at the end of each wing dropping down behind the warehouse. She was doing her best to keep her mind from creating a picture of Maar and Uli together. She heard a tiny sound from the rocks of the cliff nearby, and that spurred her into returning to her kitchen, leaving shu to her owl.

She put away the melon and did the dishes, setting aside the two bowls Maar had brought for the ehr. She dared not go to bed yet, not with the turmoil inside her ready to drip into her dreams. She pulled out Vants' letter and reread it. Vants was a good writer, always full of ideas and quotes from whatever books she was currently digesting, but her last letter was crammed with what Pyosz thought of as "goat talk", and she found it even more fascinating as a result. She took some notes in her logbook, got her reference books from the cabin and created a year-long schedule for the duties of a capriste on Saya. By the time she was done, she was exhausted. Even so, when she went to bed, she felt despair well inside her heart again. She got one of the books Taamsas had returned, an adventure based on imaginary notions of what life had been like on the original colonist's home planet, and read herself to sleep.

She had a headache when she woke up. The air outside was still and unusually warm for that time of morning. A storm on its way she thought. She hoped it didn't make trouble for the huolon on its way to Skene; that was as much as she'd allow herself to think about Maar.

Before leaving for Koldok, she looked through her clothes cupboard. She could wear her silks, but that would be clearly signaling it was a special occasion. She didn't want what Maar had said about Uli to influence her. She compromised by pulling out her nicest linen shati and a pair of nadraj, hanging them to remove wrinkles.

She went to the allotment center to get soil testing kits and was referred to the ejida in Pertama. Instead, she went to the mercantile where Taamsas had them on shelves near the door. She had more labels printed at Naki's, then hurried back to Saya, not wanting to run into Uli early.

She cut up apples to make applesauce, plums and cherries to make jam, and peaches to can in halves. She boiled canning jars and took a photo of a black bird with red wings checking out her toast crumbs on the flat rock. At 9:00, she called her emma.

"I was hoping to hear from you soon" said Prl. "How are you doing?"

"I'm busy, and that's good. But...I'm troubled. Emma, I think I have residue from Sey's leaving that I've not touched" said Pyosz.

Prl sat down at her kitchen table. "Tell me what you mean."

Pyosz rambled on, and after ten minutes Prl still had no clear idea of what was bothering her child. "Anyhow" Pyosz finally said, "It's good to hear your voice. Mail and packages are on your way."

"I have a package ready for you, too" said Prl.

"Oh, emma, don't go overboard" said Pyosz.

"It's not overboard" hedged Prl.

"Actually, emma, there is something from Skene I could use, if you can send it. You know the kind of lightweight ronyang rocks that people put in their hearths to hold heat? Pank said they're perfect for lining the bottom of an outdoor grill. They don't have them on Pya, do you think you could locate them there?"

"I know where to ask" said Prl. "You have an outdoor grill?"

"I wrote you about it" said Pyosz, telling her the story. "Oh, the storm just arrived. I don't know if I should leave the goats out in it -- do goats ever get hit by lightning?"

"I can't answer that one, darling. But people do, be careful" said Prl.

"My first batch of jam should be done right about now, I need to go pull them off the stove. I'll call again soon, emma. Thank you for staying up with me."

Prl made a note on the kitchen pad reading "Ronyang upset goats lightning?" which mystified her apprentice in the morning.

After setting out a half-dozen jars on the counter to cool and putting another batch into the pressure cooker, Pyosz donned her burzaka and walked to the kissing gate. The rain was blowing in sheets across the width of Saya. Kids were huddled near their emmas, but most of the does were grazing without apparent concern. She stopped by the barn to check on the current racks of drying fruit. She picked up her two milking stools, one of which was lopsided from loose joints, and decided to repair them. First she sanded them well. She stabilized all the wobbly places with wood glue, and, grinning to herself, painted them both wain orange, leaving them to dry on top of the feed box.

She put on music again as she made a quick lunch, and spent her afternoon setting row after row of jewel-bright jam on her larder shelves. No birds came to her feeder, which was blowing sideways in the wind, but she spread a handful of her grain mix on top of the coldbox and the txikadiis appeared, flitting down to grab a bite and retreating to the rafters. Ember and Curds sat on chairs, watching them raptly. Every now and then Curds made a chittering sound in her throat. Pyosz said "Compensation for the threat of owls, eh? Pya is a whole other place."

She gave up on the idea of washing her hair, but stripped and took a quick shower, running out of hot water before she was done. She went into her cabin to dry and huddled under her blankets for half an hour to warm herself again. She brought in the goats, wet and fragrant (she said to herself nicely), for milking and an extra handful of grain apiece on this weather-smote day. She dressed in her cabin with katts watching her curiously, and gave up on the idea of cleaning her otos. The rain had slackened somewhat by the time she started across to Koldok on her ferry.

Uli was waiting at the wharf with a pair of the thick-tired municipal bicycles found in every town on Dvareka. Most of the roads on Dvareka were paved at least with gravel, despite how hard it was to come by rock of any sort for construction purposes. A public bus, powered by solar batteries, ran every hour between all the main towns, but this vehicle was small and the back half was given over for cargo, including farm stock. For quick transit between towns, folks grabbed a bicycle from a rack and took off. On Sju afternoon, the bus driver went from town to town hauling bikes to make sure there was a viable number available come the start of the work week.

Pyosz had learned to ride bicycles on Pya as a child, but not well, and she'd spent no time on them as an adult. "Oh, dear" she said, laughing, "I'm liable to fall off. Or worse, crash into somebody."

"We'll go slow" promised Uli. "The buses will be crammed, and it looks like the storm has blown itself out." Uli had clips to tuck up the hems of their burzakas, keeping them from getting caught in the spokes. After a start that sent one teenager in Koldok leaping over a tillage fence to escape Pyosz's trajectory, they wove onto the main east-west thoroughfare, Uli patiently calling encouragement over her shoulder.

When a bus appeared coming from the opposite direction, Pyosz decided to leave the road altogether. She didn't intend to embrace a row of corn, but she and Uli laughed it off and resumed once the bus was past. Once in Pertama, they walked their bikes to the downtown area, where the restaurant Uli had chosen showed a gilt sign in the window and had no counter, only tables.

They hung their burzakas in a cloakroom, and Pyosz saw that Uli was wearing silks. Pyosz felt a flicker of relief that she had not. At the table, covered with a thick red tablecloth, a waiter offered them wine as well as other choices to drink. Uli ordered wine, while Pyosz asked for lemon-water.

The introductory salad was very good, and the bread all right, though no one's bread outside her abbas' Manage was up to Pyosz's standards. They swapped stories about University days and people they knew in common until the main course arrived, lobster for Uli, urchin for Pyosz because cracking lobster shells was a messy proposition.

Pyosz had mentioned sharing a room her first year at University with Ngall. Uli replied she'd been in the same grade as Ngall at Pya School and had carried a small crush on her when she was 14 or so.

"She's wonderful" agreed Pyosz.

"And Abbo, are you having a chance to enjoy her now, too?" asked Uli.

"Ah...Abbo and I have never been cut from the same weft" said Pyosz, with a rueful smile.

"But you're already on friendly terms with Maar?" continued Uli.

"Yes" said Pyosz, wondering where Uli would take this. When Uli busied herself with extracting claw meat with a pick, Pyosz said "Maar told me you and she had once been involved."

"She did, did she?" asked Uli with a quizzical smile. "How, I wonder, did that topic arise?"

"We cover a lot of territory, me and Maar" said Pyosz, suddenly remembering how good she'd been at this kind of incomplete conversational exchange when she had been with Sey but now finding it a little tiresome.

"If I presume, please let me know, but are you and Maar -- dating?" asked Uli.

That's a little more like it thought Pyosz. "No, we are not" she said crisply. "I'm not dating anybody. I'm less than one month out of a two-year relationship that ended badly, and what I'm doing in Saya leaves me time only for friends."

Uli's smile never slipped. "Then I hope to be among them" she said easily.

"I hope so, too" replied Pyosz. She felt a definite relief at her declaration, and began to enjoy herself without reservation. She couldn't tell any difference in Uli's attitude toward her after that -- it was interesting how Uli's demeanor was actually not nearly as transparent as Maar's, despite Maar's efforts at poise and politeness. However, it didn't matter. We're two new friends out for a lovely meal at the end of a hard week she thought. She didn't offer to pay for Uli's meal and Uli didn't offer, either. They rode around downtown afterward, Uli pointing out places Pyosz might like to shop or visit. The streetlights here were shaped like tree trunks, and the reflection from wet paving was beautiful.

Traffic was less on the way back to Koldok, and Pyosz already more practiced at biking. She declined a final cup of tea at the cafe, saying "Goats at dawn" and agreeing to look for Uli the following morning at Market Day. When she got home, she drew a picture of her crashing into the cornfield at the bottom of a sheet that she intended as a new letter for Thleen. She read more in her adventure story and went to sleep easily.

After dropping off her milk and bread, she went directly to Briel and Dodd's Manage, and they set out for Market together. Dodd was exuberant because their daughter Qoj had called the night before to say she had a few days off and planned to come home on a brief visit. "She'll be flying back with Maar and Abbo for Shmonah!" she said excitedly. Dodd's love for her children matched her devotion to Briel, bottomless.

"I hope she brings one of her small telescopes" said Pyosz. "I'll come back to Koldok after milking if we have a clear night to do some star-gazing."

They joined up with Uli and her emmas, as well as Ollow, Oby, and Lowitt, Oby's sibu. Pyosz bartered pints of honey and jam for double-wide thick writing paper, a dozen limes, waterproof cushions for two of her kitchen chairs, and a large bunch of escarole. She and Uli talked easily, mostly about the intersection of math and geography. Before she left for Saya, she returned to Gitta's and bought a lamb carcass, determined to make something special for Qoj's visit. She also went to Naki's and found a large record book which was long enough to accept one of the sheets of her new paper folded in half.

At home, she refilled her bird feeder, then took her wain to the orchard for another haul of fruit. After peeling and pitting, she set jam in pots to simmer while canning jars boiled. In between stirring, she began to draft a chart on her new paper showing the name, age, lineage, offspring, and average milk yield of each of her does, leaving room at the bottom for future doelings. She glued this into the back of her new record book and began transferring the information from Ferk's logbook into the new one. She created tabs to divide the book into sections: Goats, Honey, Orchard, and Woods. She got her colored pencils and illustrated the headings of each section with whimsical drawings.

She harvested mint from the tillage and started the process for making mint jelly. She took photos of new birds who showed up to pick through her fruit leavings and made a quick vegetable soup for dinner. After milking, she put more music on as she finished her jam-making and continued to make a thoroughly organized logbook.

Shortly after 7:00, she turned off her music and dialed the jichang office on Chloddia. After four rings, an unfamiliar voice said "Hello? We're not quite open yet."

"I'm sorry for the hour, I'm calling from Pya" she said. "By any chance, is Sinner Maar there?"

"Yeah, she's -- no, she's on her way back in, hang on" said the voice. There was a clank, and after a long minute, Maar's voice said "Hello?"

"Hey, it's Pyosz. Everything's okay, don't panic, I was simply wanting to talk with you a bit" said Pyosz.

"That would be all right" said Maar diffidently. "What's up?"

"I do very much appreciate you coming to tell me about you and Uli" said Pyosz. "I can't quite explain or defend my reaction, I'm like a volcano that can't decide whether to erupt or not, seems like, but after time to think about it, I want to thank you for your honesty."

"Well" said Maar. "That's good news." Her voice was guarded, and Pyosz thought Oh, no, I've jerked her around once too often. Maar continued "I can't tie up the line here too long, I should warn you."

"Oh, I get it, you've got someone sitting right there listening to every word, is that it?" said Pyosz.

"That's the picture" said Maar, with a grin Pyosz could now hear.

"How's Thleen?" asked Pyosz, her concern evaporated.

"I have to tell you, that photo frame is a work of art. She's over the moons, and it made me cry. Which, you know, drove her a little nuts until she finally understood it was a good kind of crying, but now she likes it even more because it had that affect on me" said Maar, her voice completely familiar again. "Plus, she's counting on more episodes in the Bunteen Thleen chronicle."

"All right, I'll work on it" said Pyosz. "Mostly, I just wanted you not to have to wait until Shmonah to know I'd come to my senses. Oh, and my cousin Qoj is coming back with you, did you know?"

"Yeah, Abbo told me, that's great" said Maar. She paused and said "How was your date?" Pyosz could still hear the grin.

"It wasn't a date, and I made that very plain to her" said Pyosz. "I'm not dating, not any time soon. And, to answer your question, we had a wonderful time. I rode a bicycle and ate urchin and wore my blue-striped shati, which you've not seen but it's the color of Bohaira Lagoon."

"Kudos for you" said Maar, the grin still in her voice. "Listen, they need the radio, but I have a quick question. I may not have a kitchen but I'm a grown-up, I intend to do my share in the Shmonah potluck. What else could I bring from Skene, that doesn't require cooking?"

"Oh, let me think. Well, it isn't my cup of tea, but you'd thrill Tu and Pank if you got some baicang from Seda" said Pyosz. Baicang was the leftover pupae from silkwork larvae after the silk had been harvested. It was deep-fried, sprinkled with spices, and sold in bags as a crunchy delicacy.

"I've never had it, what's it like?" asked Maar.

"About what you'd expect. But they adore it" said Pyosz.

"I love watching them chow down. Okay, thanks. Especially for calling" said Maar.

"Carynn bye" said Pyosz. After she clicked off, she noted that Abbo had never brought anything to family potlucks, on Pya or Skene. She turned her music back on and kept working on her logbook as part of her mind concocted a new story about Bunteen Thleen.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, August 27, 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)


On Moja morning, Pyosz was slightly sore from a combination of the carpentry and swimming. Hauling three times her usual load of milk pushed her endurance but nothing like what she remembered from her first few days, and she sweated it off. She dropped off bread and pies, took her photos to be developed, and then, very conscious of the weight in her carryall, went into the Lofthall office. Mill was talking with a factory owner and Pyosz signaled to her, going to the canteen for a cup of tea and whatever cake they might have ready.

She was standing in the hall when Mill came looking for her. "I need to talk with you privately" said Pyosz.

"Jiips just went on a break, we can be alone in the office but I'll have to answer pilot radio" said Mill.

Pyosz let Mill get seated before she removed the moneybag from her carryall and said "My abbas -- your emmas -- have make a colossal cock-up and I need some help fixing it."

Mill looked guarded, and Pyosz knew instantly Abbo had told her about the money. She lies like she breathes thought Pyosz.

"I don't want their assistance" said Pyosz. "I didn't request it, and I don't need it, I'm earning income plus I have excellent barter, thanks to you and Saya. I'm going to return this to them."

Mill interrupted to say "Have you talked with them?"

"Not yet. I will when I go back to Saya. If they claim this is my inheritance in advance, well, they can either give everybody their share or hold this until it's actually time to inherit" said Pya. "In the meantime, it's not safe for me to have this on Saya. I'm requesting you lock this in the Lofthall vault until I go back to Skene and can deliver it personally."

Mill leaned back in her chair. "I'll need to know what's in the bag to write you a receipt."

"I don't want to break the seals. Can't you just fill out the form 'contents unknown' and let me absorb the risk? Unless you think your fault isn't secure" said Pyosz.

"No, it's secure, only Oby, Api and I have a key. But you'll have to trust us with what may be a fortune" said Mill.

"I trust you" said Pyosz instantly. Mill looked her in the eyes for a long moment. "Does your emma know about this?" asked Mill.

"I don't know. I'll be asking her. I'm furious about it, s'bemma. It's not right, what they've done."

Mill opened a drawer and pulled out a receipt book. She slid her fountain pen from inside her guibba and began writing. "If you do need cash, in an emergency, you can come retrieve this, of course" said Mill.

"I'd rather take an advance on my salary, if it comes to that" said Pyosz. She signed the receipt and handed the bag to Mill. "Thank you for your discretion."

Mill gave Pyosz her copy and began to say "I'm honored -- " but the radio buzzed and Maar's voice said "The rice load here on Pirinc wasn't crated yet, Jiips, I'm going to be delayed at least 10 minutes."

"I'll see you later" whispered Pyosz and left. The door to the hall had been left partly open, and as she pushed it all the way open, it thumped against someone standing there, eavesdropping. Pyosz poked her head around the door and said in a venomous undertone to Abbo "You can now inform all your lowlife friends that the money is no longer on Saya, and if anyone shows up I'll be slicing off fingers and toes to feed to the owl." She smacked the door again harder against Abbo and steamed out to her cart.

It began raining before she reached Saya. She didn't have her burzaka but she didn't care, she put away the cans first and made tea in her new pot before sitting down at her table to call her abbas.

Halling answered. "Hey, Pyosz!" she said happily. "Did you get a bunch of packages yesterday?"

"I did, abba, and the lamp is exactly what I needed, and the binoculars are almost too precious to use. Are Yoj and Bux there?"

"No, I'm on my lonesome, but I have lots of time to talk" said Halling.

"I don't, this is a private frequency and I'm also expecting a delivery this morning. So I'll have to start with you. Abba, I cannot imagine what you were thinking, sending me that moneybag, but it's caused a world of trouble and I'm very upset with you. Was it partly your idea?"

Halling's voice was tragic. "Well, yes. Yoj and I put it together, because of something Qala said. We haven't told Bux yet, we were going to tonight..."

That was interesting. She wondered if they had deliberately kept it from Bux.

"Sending it by Abbo, what a monumentally stupid thing to do. She's deeply offended at you throwing money my way, when I'm technically fully employed, and thinks it is because I cried on your shoulders. She said you only gave her 3 eks when she graduated flight school and, well, I haven't opened the bag, it's currently in the Lofthall safe until I can return it to you because I haven't earned it and also, frankly, it's enough for someone to think about sneaking out here and killing me for. And you better bet Abbo has spilled the beans, she's about as reliable as a shu, abba, don't you know that by now?" It was hard for Pyosz to yell at Halling, but she couldn't stop herself.

"I guess we didn't -- wait a minute, I personally gave Abbo two platinum eks, that's 4, and I know Bux and Yoj did the same -- " protested Halling.

"So she lied about that too, big surprise. It's baffling to me, abba, that someone who could know we well enough to send the rest of those things in the crates could think I am so helpless that I needed to be showered with money, if that's your perception of me I don't quite know what to do" said Pyosz, refusing to let her anger slip into tears.

"It's not my perception of you, it's just that you're spending all your own money on fixing up a place you'll be living in one season, it's not fair -- " Halling couldn't finish her sentences with Pyosz in her current state.

"Like you haven't spent an untold amount over the years on the Lofthall, I know you cut your own salary, and abba Yoj gave away her family's Manage and island for the good of all Skene. Well, Saya is just as important to all Skene, and it's my responsibility now, and I'm not stupid, abba, I know what I'm doing, is this because Sey hoodwinked me and you think I'm just permanently gullible? Because I'm NOT, abba, I'm not letting anybody mess with me at the moment, you have no idea."

Halling jumped in when Pyosz paused for breath. "Clearly we've made a big mistake, Pyosz, I'll call Mill -- "

"Don't you dare call Mill, it's not her problem, it's yours and if you call anybody you should call Abbo, find out what crawled up her ass to die. It's a good thing I love you all so very much, because of course we'll talk this out and fix it, but right at the moment -- " The radio sent into static.

Lev. She stared at the radio, trying to decide if she should call back. She'd just want to yell some more, and she'd gotten her point across. Let them talk it over first she decided. Instead, she pushed the buttons for the Genist Manage, again selecting a private frequency.

"Emma? We've got 15 minutes, and I'll start by telling you all your gifts are spectacular, I slept in a nest of pillows, well, me and Ember did" said Pyosz.

"I'm so happy" said Prl. "We're all still swapping around your letters -- "

Pyosz cut her off. "Emma, I need to know if you were in on the sending me money idea."

"Money? What money?"

Pyosz couldn't tell if Prl was dissembling. She told Prl what had happened. "I just called abba Halling and unloaded on her, and you need to be honest with me if you knew about what they were doing" said Pyosz.

"Honestly, honey, I didn't. I can't claim to not make huge mistakes with you, but even I recognize that would be a bad idea, and I'm inordinately relieved to be able to not get blamed for this one" said Prl. "How much money was it?"

"I don't know, I didn't break the seals. I stashed it in the Lofthall safe, because of course Abbo isn't going to keep quiet about it. I'm afraid Qala may have been involved, is she there?"

"She's next door, Pyosz, I can have her call you later."

"Tell her to go talk with Halling, I have an extremely long day ahead of me, harvesting honey among other things. At least I had a great day off yesterday, despite the tension with Maar. Emma, I know now why you reacted to her name the way you did -- " began Pyosz.

"Oh, honey, I'm sorry, that was unprofessional of me" apologized Prl.

"Unprofessional? What are you talking about?" When there was a silence, Pyosz said "Were you reacting because of something you'd heard in your capacity as Genist?"

"I'm afraid so, that's why I feel badly" said Prl.

Lev, lev, lev, what was going to roll out from under the bed next?

"Then you're right, emma, it was a crappy thing to do. Now I'm wildly curious. Must be about her emmas, because I'm pretty certain Maar hasn't consulted you -- oh, can't you give me any kind of scrap?" pleaded Pyosz, something she had never done. Prl was shocked. And tempted.

"I's public record, in her school report. Her first grade leraar characterized her as 'brilliant but wretched'" said Prl. "That's all I can tell you."

"Not news" said Pyosz. And not what I wanted to hear she thought. "All right, emma, before we get cut off, I'll try to call the abbas tonight but I can't promise, make sure they know I'm not shunning them, it's just that kind of day, all right? And thank you for not sending me money."

"As you pointed out, you're not going to starve" said Prl. "Another time, let's talk about the whole Abbo mess."

Let's not thought Pyosz. But she heard a sinner overhead and said "There's my extractor delivery, I have to go, emma."

She pulled her gloves from her waistband and put them on as she walked to the jichang, saying under her breath "Not Abbo or Maar, any pilot but them." Sure enough, it was Maar who crawled from the hatch, but Pyosz guessed it was her before then by the deft landing of the crate containing her honey equipment.

Maar smiled at her, not quite as openly as she once had, and said "I ate that brownie in my bunk last night when nobody was looking. You make those for sale at Gitta's, you'll clean up. Not that you aren't already the talk of the town."

"Thanks" said Pyosz, sliding the catch-bolt from the crate. "Oops, I forgot my wain, be right back."

They loaded the extractor and hot knife in the wain and rumbled it to the barn, where Pyosz would have to work because of the rain. Not ideal, she didn't want stray bees pestering her goats or trying to get into the milk, but it was better than attracting them to her kitchen area. She set up the extractor over a tarp, Maar sticking around to help.

"You want a snack?" asked Pyosz.

"What you got?" countered Maar.

"Um, various leftovers. And I held back a rhubarb pie from Gitta's" said Pyosz.

"I have a break, I could eat lunch here and pay you by helping you bring honey from the other end" offered Maar.

"All right. But I have to warn you, I'm in a sparky mood" said Pyosz as they walked to the kitchen.

That got Maar's attention. "Sparky how?"

"I just reamed out my abba, Halling I mean, and I'm still simmering in some acid about that stunt they pulled" said Pyosz. She better not pretend like she doesn't know what I'm talking about.

"What stunt?" asked Maar, slicing bread on the new cutting board.

"Oh, Maar" sighed Pyosz in exasperation. "I'm sure Abbo told you, she probably never shut up about it on the flight home. That special package she had to deliver?"

Maar looked at her flatly. "If you're going to accuse me of lying again, you need to be more direct. I don't know what was in whatever she had to give you in private, she was very furtive about it."

Pyosz told her, watching her face intently to catch her in deceit. But she became convinced Abbo had not, in fact, told Maar about it. I don't understand these two she thought.

"Thunder me down" whistled Maar. "I thought they were more sensible than that, your abbas. And I can just imagine Abbo's reaction. Please don't tell her I know, I'd rather not have to listen to her about it."

"They almost always are more sensible" said Pyosz, not sure how she felt about keeping a secret for Maar from Abbo. A guilty pleasure. She was making chicken salad with the last of her uncurried stewed meat, as Maar sliced carrots into a bed of spinach. Maar suddenly giggled, and Pyosz said "What?"

"I'm just trying to picture you reaming out, as you put it, the Sheng Zhang" said Maar.

"She's not the Sheng Zhang to me" snapped Pyosz, "She's a sentimental old woman who apparently has too much time on her hands since she retired."

"Whew" quipped Maar, wiping her brow in mock fear. Pyosz finally giggled with her. As they sat down, Pyosz reached out and took Maar's hand.

"What are you doing?" asked Maar, squeezing her hand slightly.

"It's something we always did at home, and I've been missing it here. We take a minute to look at what we're about to eat, think about where each item was grown, maybe who grew it, what it's going to taste like, welcome it into our bodies. They we look at each other and thank each other for sustenance" said Pyosz. Maar followed her instructions solemnly, and again squeezed Pyosz's hand before letting go and taking a giant bite of her sandwich.

"Oh" said Pyosz. "If you promise not to get food on them, I could show you all the photographs you haven't seen yet."

"Yes, please" said Maar. She kept wiping her hands obsessively after each bite, going through the pictures one by one, dwelling on them. She was stopped for a couple of minutes by the one of her and Pyosz in this kitchen. She also lingered a few seconds longer over the one of Pyosz and Uli sharing flavored ices, laughing into one another's face. When she was done, Pyosz said "I can make you copies of any you want, but I was thinking about sending the two that are of you to Thleen, what do you think?"

Maar wiped her hands again to sort them out. "The one of me and you, yes, and I definitely want a copy. Plus -- the one I took of you alone? But don't send her this one of me and Abbo in the pond."

"Whyever not?" demanded Pyosz.

"Because we don't have clothes on, and my emmas will see it, and they already think pilots are degenerates, it could affect my ability to see her" said Maar sharply. "I do want you to write her, but you have to be careful, Pyosz, she's very young and open, and you have to protect her connection to me at all costs."

"Of course" said Pyosz, abashed.

"I'll be heading back to Skene on Ot morning, I could take your letter to her then if you like" said Maar.

"Ot. Okay. Does that mean you'll be back for the dance on Sju, or --"

"I'll make the dance, don't worry about that" said Maar firmly.

They left the lunch dishes and stopped by the barn where Pyosz loaded her bee gear, the ladder, and a quantity of fruit baskets into the wain. Maar marveled over the ladder's design. She asked "Are we picking fruit, too?"

"Well, I am. You can leave whenever you need to" said Pyosz.

"I'm actually off now, I shouldn't have had to work today except somebody was sick and I'm going to meet up with Oby at the office over dinner to look at fish migration charts" said Maar. "Since you're not quite as sparky as when I first got here, I might stick around." She grinned at Pyosz. "Besides, you shouldn't be scrambling around tall ladders in the rain without a spotter."

When they went through the kissing gate, kids came scampering, more bored than usual on this dreary day. Pyosz unbuckled the sides of her burzaka and began spinning in a fast spiral, making the burzaka flare around her. At first, the kids fled in flight, bleating for their emmas, but soon enough they decided chasing her was a wonderful game. Pyosz spun all the way to the margin of the woods, glad to stop because she was getting dizzy.

"Look at how much bigger the trail is" said Maar. "And what are all those ribbons?"

Pyosz explained. They hunted silently for the owl trees, and spotted one but not the second.

They took turns picking fruit, one of them up the ladder, the other holding it steady and receiving the basket when full. Finally all the baskets were overflowing, and as Pyosz cleared a space at the back of the wain to hold a stack of supers, Maar began pulling off her clothes, folding them neatly under her own burzaka.

"You going for a soak first?" said Pyosz.

"Yep. It's my reward for contributing to fruit production on Skene" said Maar. Pyosz decided to join her, wishing she'd brought her scrub.

A drifting mist hung over the springs, steam from cold rain hitting hot water. It was delicious to lie on the surface, experiencing both forms of moisture simultaneously. Pyosz suddenly remembered what Prl had said -- "Brilliant but wretched" -- and she turned her head to look at Maar, who was in fact watching her.

"I don't remember who your friends were in school" said Pyosz.

"I didn't really have any" said Maar. "I mean, I had playmates at recess, and kickball teammates. But not real friends. I had to go straight home after school to help look after my sibs, and I studied hard, too. In the summers, I got any kind of job I could to earn a little coin. I had more dates than friends." She wasn't bragging, Pyosz could tell.

"My only real friend was Ngall, and she lived here, we only saw each other in summer and at midwinter break" confided Pyosz.

"But you had family" pointed out Maar. "Ferry lines full of 'em."

"I did indeed" said Pyosz. After a minute, listening to the pulse whooshing through her ear that was under water as she kept looking at Maar, she asked quietly "How did you survive?"

"Thleen" said Maar. "I made it until she was born, and then I had someone who loved me just the way I was, no question about it."

"But you've had to do all the looking after" said Pyosz.

"It's enough" said Maar. "It's still love."

"We've barely met each other, Maar, but I have to tell you -- I feel like I need your friendship. Not just want it, but need it. I want us to find a way to keep it clean and honest and growing, despite all the -- other tangles around us" said Pyosz. She held her breath, frightened at how vulnerable she'd just made herself.

"I need you too" said Maar, her voice partly muffled by the mist between them, partly amplified by bouncing through the water over to Pyosz's submerged ear. "Let's do our best."

The gaze became too intense, and Pyosz broke it by standing up. "I just realized two things: We don't have towels and it's raining, so we're going to have to put back on dry clothes over wet skin. And -- I have to find dry bark to get the smoker working." She waded to the steps and got out, feeling alittle overwarm. After she dressed, she said melodramatically "I'm going foraging for bark into the deep recesses of you-know-what territory, if I don't return, tell the Sheng Zhang I didn't mean to call her an oily turd." Maar burst into laughter, revealing a little anxiety.

She was dressed and sitting on the wain when Pyosz returned, holding up the smoker triumphantly. "Mid layer of forest floor!" she said. "And, I stumbled across the other owl tree."

"So what do I do if the bees attack? I mean, even with smoke, are they really going to let you steal half their hive?" asked Maar.

"They're not going to be aware it's going away" said Pyosz. "I put escape boards in, I'll show you. The bottom half is the brood section, where the queen and young live, and that will get defended to the death. But in these upper parts, they've just been stashing honey. And see, bees have terrific directionality except in their own hive, they crawl down through this hole in the escape board but they won't go back up. So it's like these sections have already vanished. You go stand on the trail and mask your silhouette by a tree, if you're nervous. I don't anticipate any problems, though." Pyosz got her smoker blazing hot, put on her veil, hat, and gloves, and decided to shuck the burzaka because it would simply trap curious bees, she was soaked anyhow.

Maar stood five feet away, occasionally backing into the orchard to avoid bee inquisition, but she came forward to help Pyosz carry the extremely heavy supers once the seals had been broken and enough smoke sent most of the bee into the brood section on rescue duty.

"This is at least 50 pounds of honey" grunted Pyosz as they loaded the first super box. "Or honey and comb, I'm hoping. I love fresh comb."

Once all four boxes were in the wain and the side latched, Pyosz replaced the lid of the hive, gave a final smoke, and went to push the back of the wain as Maar pulled. "Go slow, a few of them will follow us a ways because we've got honey and fruit, but we should leave them all behind by the time we reach the pasture" Pyosz called up to her.

Later, Pyosz wondered how she would have managed the extraction without Maar's assistance. They laughed their way through it, gorging on comb and taking turns using the hot knife to magically melt free stuck wax. Finally Pyosz locked the draining wax plus the tubs of honey into the bug-proofed drying room. "I'll have to strain it again" said Pyosz. "But let me scrub out the extractor with boiling water, and you can take it away with you."

"What about all this fruit?" said Maar, helping herself to a handful of cherries.

"Mm...sorting, peeling and coring with my new gadget, then slicing about half onto the drying racks. That will also take me a couple of days" said Pyosz. "That's going to become a daily chore, like the milking, until -- well, until I leave, and afterward for whoever replaces me."

Maar's face went sad and still. Pyosz cleaned the extractor and they loaded it back into the crate. Pyosz said "I'd invite you for dinner, but you have plans, I gather."

"And you have to talk with your abbas again" said Maar.

"You've saved me from working late into the night" said Pyosz. "You're a good buddy. You want a piece of rhubarb pie to take with you?"

"Yes" said Maar. "And you're a good buddy, too."

After Maar left, Pyosz changed into dry clothes before her evening routine. The kids were very curious about the area where the tarp had lain and kept going to sniff at the door of the drying room. For her dinner, Pyosz dipped her last four slices of thick bacon into fresh honey, lay them atop planks of eggplant, and baked it in the oven until crisp. With a barley salad and sliced tomatoes spotted by dark vinegar, she felt ready to handle talking with her abbas again. She began a sponge before picking up the radio.

Yoj answered at her abbas' Manage. "We've been hoping you'd call, Pyosz. I'll begin with an apology, and we can discuss in detail what that means, but first I want you to know, when I came home from the Archivist Manage I found my darling Halling sitting on the couch here crying her eyes out from your call, and that's simply not all right with me, Pyosz, you should have called back." Pyosz could hear Halling in the background saying "Don't tell her that!" Yoj said to Halling "She wants to have grown-up relationships with us, she's going to hear about all the effects of her actions."

Pyosz kept calling back on a new private frequency until, an hour later, everything had been talked through. Qala and Lawa were at the abbas' Manage as well, so she got to talk with them, too.

She went to bed very late because, although doing what baking she could with a radio in one hand, she still had to wait for bread and pies to cool before she could bag them. As she waited, she wrote a letter to Thleen. She had learned the names of two more songbirds -- txikadiis and bunteens -- and she drew them in colored pencil along the margins of her letter, making up a little comic about Thleen the Bunteen. At one point, she imagined telling Maar about having made the Sheng Zhang cry, and she giggled at how scandalized Maar's expession would be. She went to sleep without reading by her new lamp.

It was damp but not actually raining when she got up. She still wore her wellies to Koldok. After getting extra prints made at Naki's, she bought a used photo-fold made of what looked like polished bone, just the size to hold the picture of her and Maar. A leather pouch clasped over the frame, making it safe to carry around. She gave Naki one rhubarb and one peach-currant pie, but still had credit, so she bought two more 10-shot memory disks.

Next she stopped by Taamsas' and swapped four new books for the ones just read. She found a stainless steel grill to fit her new outdoor oven, bought bone meal and kelp flake through allotment, and asked Taamas if she had a seed mix for Pya wildflowers.

"Not as such, no" said Taamsas, interested. "Let's go look at the bulk seed bins, I can tell you what grows best around here." After conferring for half an hour, they came up with a mixture that Pyosz thought would work not only in scant sandy soil, but would actually help fix nutrients. She bought 5 lb. of it, and she helped Taamsas write down the recipe so Taamsas could create small bags of it for sale. When they returned to the counter to settle up, Pyosz deadpanned "Do you get a red cap point when I come into your store?"

Taamsas began laughing. "No, it has to be a spotting of you on Saya by someone not actually standing on Saya." Pyosz pulled out an extra copy of the glow-in-the-dark-wain photo Maar had shot and handed it to Taamsas, saying "You can put that up behind the counter here and start an argument over whether photographs of the wain count as half a point."

As she was heading back to the wharf, she spotted a large puddle in the middle of the packed gravel street and went directly for it, stamping waves and cascades as she charged through it.

"That looks like fun" came Uli's voice from behind her. Pyosz wheeled and said "Oh, you've only got on otos, you can't join me."

"Not for the mudplay, but I was about to get an early lunch at the cafe, could I impose on you to keep me company?" said Uli.

Breakfast had been only a boiled egg and a nectarine. Pyosz said "Gladly." Inside, Uli said "No, not the counter, I like this corner table, it's quieter."

"I've only had breakfast here so far, what's good?" asked Pyosz, looking at the slate on the wall behind the counter.

"Any of the chowders or soups. And they make a sizzling stuffed pepper" said Uli.

Over her cream of celery soup and stuffed pepper, to which she would have added more cayenne, Pyosz said "Are you the one responsible for the map of Saya Island that I have?"

"Possibly" said Uli. "Although I've only been cartographer for two years. Does it have a green or white border?"

"White" said Pyosz.

"Ah, not mine" said Uli. "Try this olive spread?"

"Good" said Pyosz, thinking Needs garlic. "Do you help make the fish migration maps, or the ones that show ocean currents?"

"Yes" said Uli. "For Pya, not for Skene."

"How far out does the range extend, then? I mean, are there maps which show the ocean currents which travel the globe between Skene and Pya?"

"That's a perceptive question" said Uli. "And no, not an updated version. We have the ones from the original colonists -- found by your family, as I understand it -- and one theoretical update. I'm hoping to eventually create a new one, although it requires cooperation from Skene that I can cobble together only from other academics so far, not the state."

"Why not? I can't imagine abba balking at the furtherance of science" said Pyosz.

"It's not the Ethicist who's in the way" said Uli. "It's the Sheng Zhangs, in particular of Tanyan and Verzinnen."

"Verzinnen?" said Pyosz. "That makes no sense, it has nothing to do with their sphere."

"Oh, but get this: The map publisher in Skene has a huge backlog of 20-year-old maps printed on the first good paper to become available from Pya. She says making new maps with information not actually necessary for the general public will destroy the value of her outdated stock. She's the sib of the Sheng Zhang, so there's a deadlock." Uli's voice was lilting when she was entertained.

"Would it be all right with you if I discussed this with my abbas?" asked Pyosz.

"I'd be honored" said Uli. "Are you involved with politics, then, or at least interested?"

"I can't help but be interested, it's mealtime conversation with my family" said Pyosz. "But so is every aspect of service to Skene. I mean Skene the whole planet, including Pya."

"Must be fun mealtimes" said Uli. "And maps, do you have a particular interest in maps?"

"Again, came to me with emma's milk" said Pyosz. "I am especially interested in Pya right now, on a learning curve, I guess."

"My office is at our Manage, and I still have half an hour before I need to meet someone, we could go look at some of my maps, if you like" offered Uli. They got rice-almond cookies to go and walked across the street to Uli's family's Manage. On the front porch, Uli said in a whisper "Emma has one of her headaches again, so we need to make as little sound as possible until we're in my office and I can shut the door." Her office was upstairs, spacious but still paper and books covered every available surface. A large back window gave a view of the tillage and, at one corner, Koldok Kuono beyond. Yoj would love this room Pyosz thought.

Uli pulled rolls from a bin and began spreading them on a cluttered worktable, using pewter paperweights to hold them open. "Now this is a project I'm doing on my own, trying to create a combined map of each island that shows not only surface topography, but also geothermal substrate, water tables, nearby currents and underwater geography, and even soil composition. Right now you have to consult several different sources to find all that data."

Pyosz stood with her side touching Uli, bent over the table in a concentration which didn't quite preclude her noticing Uli's warmth and scent. Lavender, I think. "See, Saya does have strong geothermal potential, I knew it must with the hot springs there" said Pyosz, pointing.

"Your end of Saya I believe is latticed underneath with caverns, some of which are connected, some of which may not be" said Uli, flipping between maps. "Here's the diagram created by whoever dug your privy, another from the water well construction. We lack a good soil composition picture of Saya, though. I guess the decision was made very early to use it as a capriste zone -- they were still thinking Skene-like at the beginning, unable to comprehend how much land they had at their disposal and that single-use islands weren't necessary. We have the orchard soil testing, and the tillage, and that's all."

"I've been planning to do soil testing for the pasture and most of my end" said Pyosz. "So I can do soil amendment and help milk production. How about if I make copies of the results for you directly?"

Uli laid her arm across Pyosz's shoulder, smiling into her face. "That would be marvelous! I'll share the draft I make from that."

"in the meantime, could I possibly get copies of what you do have for Saya?" asked Pyosz, moving infinitesimally closer to Uli. She noticed an anomaly on one map and tore her eyes away from Uli's to inspect it closer. "Why is there a large white gap here, in the middle of the pasture?"

"The early flyovers that provided data for mapping failed to produce a sensible substrate reading for that section" said Uli.

"Interesting" said Pyosz. "That's the region where only gorse grows, and the goats don't graze. I think I'll start my soil testing there."

"I'll get copies made as soon as possible" said Uli. "Maybe later this week -- Roku, if you're free -- we could go out to dinner and talk some more. There's a very good restaurant in Pertama you'd enjoy."

"Well, I'm free but only after milking" said Pyosz. "I could meet you here by 7:00, is that too late?"

"We'll have a leisurely evening of it" promised Uli. They were in the living room now, and whispering.

"Oh, I almost forgot" said Pyosz, reaching into her carryall. "I have goat fibers for your emma, will you pass them on to her?"

"She'll be so pleased!" said Uli. "I'll have her call you about barter when she's feeling better."

"No" said Pyosz firmly. "This is stuff that would simply blow away into the wind, and the labor involved in brushing brings pleasure to the goats -- " At least the ones who don't hate it -- "and it improves their protection against parasites, so it's not an item for barter. Call it my contribution to Pyan art."

Back on the street next to Pyosz's cart, Pyosz turned to face Uli and slid into her arms for an easy, close hug. Her eyes were half-closed, but still she saw across the street, in front of the Lofthall, a familiar figure gone stock still, watching her and Uli's embrace. Pyosz closed her eyes completely. When she and Uli pulled apart, Maar had disappeared.

"I'll see you on Roku!' called out Uli as Pyosz headed for the wharf. Pyosz waved over her shoulder and splashed her way through another puddle.

She was shocked at the lateness of the day when she reached Saya. She threw herself into action. First she started her sponges. It had dried out enough to dig small beds all around her cabin, for transplanting the vines Tu and Pank had brought, so she moved on to that. She created planter soil with her compost, bone meal and kelp flake, filling the boxes Tu had built and arranging them inside the eaves line around her kitchen. She went to the tillage and dug out chives, marjoram, sage, oregano, chervil, savory, tarragon, basil, thyme, and dill starts to plant in the boxes.

She scrubbed her hands before straining honey again. She sorted fruit and began pitting cherries, apricots and peaches. She rinsed and saved all the pits to return to the allotment center, where they would find use in various medicinal and commercial applications. She set up the large juicer and made several gallons of peach and cherry juice. The rest of the fruit she arranged on drying racks, except for enough to make her daily batch of pastries. Today she mixed honey-current scones, apricot muffins with small crisp nuggets of comb inside, and peach tarts, in addition to standard cherry pies.

Once the drying racks were loaded and the blower going, she hauled her honey to a spot near her kitchen and began bottling it. The comb was put into separate containers, and she left the wax in its strainer to be picked clean by bees venturing this far east on the island. She put labels on her jars of honey and stashed half of them in her larder. I'm going to need more room before this season is over she thought.

She put beans on to simmer and potatoes in to bake with the bread. She took baling wire from the barn and created a criss-cross of trellises along her cabin's outside walls stretching from stakes in the edge of her new beds to bolts near the roofline. She collected large round stones to border these new beds, then planted honeysuckle on either side of her door, scarlet runner and clematis on the side facing the jichong, and morning glories on the side facing the barn.

She pulled out her bread to cool, took a quick shower, and went to milk. Her hands were aching by the time she was done, from all the new small-muscle activity that afternoon. She steamed broccoli, spread cheese and tomatoes on bread, and had that with beans and potatoes, a quick and bland meal. When she went to the privy, she flushed it and decided hard labor was done for the day.

She sat at her table to bag and label cooled baked goods, packing them in a crate with honey, comb, and pits. Then she pulled out her paint set and on the little bone photo frame she was sending Thleen, she illustrated a sideways map of Skene on the left, a similar rendering of Pya on the right, and a silver huolon flying either direction at the top and bottom. She managed to create a passable likeness of Maar's face in the window of each huolon, looking happy as she headed for Skene, sad as she went toward Pya. She took a photo of it as the paint dried. She slid in the photo of her and Maar, wrapped it in padded paper and string, put that in a mailing envelope along with her letter, and regarded it with satisfaction. After a minute of thought, she emptied the outer envelope again to decorate it with a map of the neighborhood in Riesig where she had grown up, the Genist's and Archivists' Manages tucked into the Scatters, the school, the lane down to her abbas' Manage, and even a painting of the copper door at her abbas' with the mystical cao engraved on it. She addressed it to "Thleen, Maar's Sibu, Chloddia, SKENE."

For the next hour, she pored over her tillage planting chart with the packets of seeds from her abbas around her, feeling no limit now to what she could grow. She made a final pot of tea in her Qala-Lawa pot, as she thought of it, spread one of the fresh honey-currant scones with yogurt, and took it into her cabin to eat in bed. Ember and Curds decided to share her yogurt, and Ember settled in to sleep beside her afterward, a nightly habit now. She kept thinking about Uli once her lamp was off, as she had been intermittently all afternoon. Finally she turned the lamp back on her and got her rice paddy workers novel from under the mattress. She never advanced further than the second chapter, however, before falling asleep.


Health and Education = Rahat -- school, university, scholars, hospital, midwives, genist (including leave for aggies and partnering), vets
Agriculture = Tanyan -- ejidas, compost and recycling, silkworms, orchards, rice, livestock, seafood
Natural Resources = Recursos -- mining, lava, petroleum, wood, gravel, lasers
Utilities = Potenza -- assignment of Manages, electricity, water, geothermal, radios, plus ferries and mail
Lofthall -- all airflight and manufacture of craft; also includes dichter
Manufacture and Commerce = Verzinnen -- weaving, dying, metallurgy, ceramics, paper and book making, printing, glassmaking, shopkeeping
Ethicist -- answers interim questions of above plus runs prison island

Annual harvest and production report (nian cheng) is published in Raccolto, then two months later during Kall, entire community meets to vote on next year's plan. Voting during the coldest month tends people toward conservation and thinking of the public good.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild



(Spitzer and Hubble create colorful masterpiece; 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.


The stars are old, that stood for me—
The West a little worn,
Yet newer glows the only Gold
I ever cared to earn—
Presuming on that lone result
Her infinite disdain,
But vanquished her with my defeat,
’T was Victory was slain.

by Emily Dickinson, from Collected Poems


Tuesday, August 25, 2009


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

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

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


On Shmonah, Pyosz once again had a morning without ferrying milk to Koldok. She ate a leftover slice of pork with apples and leeks on a piece of toast as she walked to the goat barn. When she was done with milking, she decided to do her breadbaking now instead of that evening after milking, because she wasn't sure what the day's light might afford her solar battery running her stove.

During the first rise, she used the last of her fresh eggs making a lemon custard pie, as well as all the other pies she intended to sell to Gitta. She made a cucumber and yogurt side dish for her curry and a pot of rice. She kept thinking that she was going to see Maar soon, then forcing her thoughts away from that idea.

She had to use a metal crate to carry all the food she transported to Arta Island. Api met her at the ferry dock, saying "My word, child, you've brought enough to feed us all". Pyosz sent her ferry back to the pylon so folks could transfer from Koldok and send that boat back to the main wharf there. She was the first of other family members to arrive, so she helped Ollow set up the buffet-style table with dishes and flatware. Ten minutes later, Dodd and Briel came into view, trailed by Tu and Pank. Dodd and Briel brought crabcakes and new potatoes in parsley butter. Tu said "We planned to stop and pick up ice cream -- which we did -- but look, fresh strawberries at Gitta's!"

Dodd said "While we're waiting on the rest, I'm grabbing a swim, it's already a scorcher." Everyone except Ollow followed her to the pond at the southern edge of Arta, where they shucked clothes and dove in with squeals at the still-cold water. As they were frolicking, Abbo appeared and quickly stripped to drive in. She'd picked up Nk and Frahe, and Pyosz paddled to the edge to say hi to them as they disrobed to swim. There was no sign of Maar, and Pyosz was glad when Dodd asked after her.

"She has the toxics run today, she'll be here after while" said Abbo. As on Skene, the non-recyclables produced by humans, including toxic byproducts and mine tailings, were carried to an underwater volcano just peeking above the sea surface, where they were dumped by a sinner from a crate with a remote-control trap on the bottom. On Pya, this hot zone was 20 miles to the east of Nec, in an ocean already devoid of marine life because of constant lava and gases bubbling up from below.

Pyosz felt disappointed and relieved simultaneously. After a long romp, she climbed out of the water with some of her cousins and lay face-down on a towel spread over grass near the pergala, enjoying the feel of sun and air on her back. She listened to Nk and Briel talking about Frank's comadrona training, and never noticed as she dropped off into a nap.

Maar arrived by ferry from Koldok. Ollow saw her coming down the path and modestly went to drape a towel over Pyosz's sleeping form. Pyosz didn't wake up immediately. However, when Tu saw what Maar was carrying, she shouted out happily "Is that Seda mulberry wine you're bringing?"

Maar replied "You know your labels", handing the bottles to Tu with a grin, adding "Fresh from Skene." Pyosz rolled over, blinking and wondering where the towel had come from. She unconsciously pulled it back over her as she came awake.

"Hiya, Pyosz" said Maar.

"Hiya back" said Pyosz, sitting up and finally discarding the towel. She thought about saying out loud, to inform whoever had covered her, "We've already seen each other naked" but decided that would simply make trouble. She put back on her maillot and her baggy ku, untying the ankle cinch on her ku and retying it above her knees to convert them into shorts.

Maar was wearing a short-sleeved linen shati in a faded celery-green check, looking very nice, Pyosz thought. She said "How did you leave Thleen?"

"Sad, as usual. But this week is kickball camp, so she'll be too busy to miss me much, I hope" said Maar. "She told me the stories you told her, and I have to ask, did you really walk out unarmed into the pitch dark to find out who had attacked your cabin?"

"What?" exclaimed Dodd. Pyosz saw the attention of her entire family was on her. She retold the story, and they laughed, eventually. But Maar, grinning, shook her head and said "You got guts, that's all I can say."

"I didn't have a lot of choice, there's no lock on the door of that levvin' tin can" retorted Pyosz. Mill glanced at Dodd and said "We can do something about that."

"I'll rig you a bolt nobody'll get past" offered Pank, and Pyosz nodded, saying "I honestly do feel safe over there, but I can't pass up one of your mechanical creations."

"Well, we're all here now and what needed heating up is warm, let's eat" said Ollow. Nk and Frahe had brought a glazed ham and an almond cake. Several salad and veggie dishes were provided by the Arta Island Manage, and Pyosz realized it had been a week since she'd eaten a meal primarily made by someone else. Well, except for that one breakfast at the cafe, she remembered.

"Which dishes are by you?" asked Maar, coming to stand beside her. Pyosz pointed, and added "There's a lemon pie, you might want to get a piece of that stashed away first." Maar hurried to comply, while Pyosz filled her own plate with more Mti pork, Dodd's crab and seafood sauce, Arta bean salad and asparagus. She returned to sit on the grass, next to Nk, but within a minute Maar was settling in beside her. She watched as Maar took a big bite of the chicken curry, and couldn't help laughing when Maar began to choke, tears spilling onto her cheeks.

"Eat some plain rice with it, here" offered Pyosz from her own plate. Maar coughed her throat clear, then smacked the ground beside her and said "Lev, but that's good! Hot on so many different levels, how'd you do that?"

"Emma's magic spice box" replied Pyosz. "Eat small bites interspersed with the yogurt and cucumber salad, and you'll find your palate comes completely awake."

For a while, most of the sounds were of folks eating appreciatively. Pyosz declined a glass of the Seda wine but did take a sip from Tu's glass. When they moved on to the multiple desserts, conversation resumed, beginning with Maar saying "We had bad weather the whole way back this time, and our cargo was mostly very heavy metals, so we were logy. I got to ask you, Api or Mill, why we don't open up more mines here on Pya? Some sort of bias against creating a mining culture here?"

Her face looked bland but there was an undercurrent of something like anger in her voice. Pyosz was struck by how this question was directed at Mill, technically only the Sheng Zhang of the Lofthall, as well as the Ethicist. The power structure here is shaking out differently she thought. I wonder if Oby will run for Ethicist when Api retires? I wonder if that will cause tension between her and Mill, or consolidate an invisible bloc?

Api began "Pya does not have a bias against miners or mining culture, I really don't want that kind of talk to gain traction out there. Our contracts with Skene have prohibitions against mining expansion because they want to keep us dependent on trade with them for essential metals and minerals, you know that, Maar."

Maar shrugged, not irritable but not convinced, either. She leaned forward to pull off her otos and sokken, rolling up her kalsongers to mid calf. Mill said, slowly, "I understand what you're driving at, Maar. And there's a kernel of truth in what you're thinking." Api blew air out her lips and Maar looked up at Mill, startled.

"The thing is" continued Mill "Even if and when we have complete go-ahead to mine wherever and whatever we want on Pya, we have to look at what happened to the mining islands on Skene. The original design was not for habitation, certainly not for balance." The paramount Skene value, balance. "The people who came here meant to take everything they could from the mines and leave again, so environmental considerations didn't enter into their decision-making. Then, once it became clear nobody was leaving, well, Skene was fighting for survival and what the mines produced was critical to survival, so the imbalance remained uncorrected. It's the islands themselves which have been abused, but after enough time, we on Skene identify with our immediate environments, our culture becomes tied to our home island, and the abuse of land is transferred to the people who claim that land. Perhaps not overtly, but in their minds and then the minds of outsiders, I do think that happens."

Mill paused. Pyosz was watching the expression on Maar's face, gratified but also fighting back -- bereavement, maybe?

Oby took up the thread, exasperating Api further. "The Southern Wasa here, especially off Dvareka, is already showing traces of contamination -- not just from mining, but also all the industry in Cogio and Sepek. If we limit expansion on Pya, that means we'll increase our demand on Skene, adding to the strain on Chloddia and Exploit. But if we don't limit dirty commerce -- and I don't think there is such a thing as a completely clean mine -- then the people who do that work will be exposed to ill health in a way the rest of us aren't. How do we make that fair? Where is the balance in that? We have the time to ask those questions on Pya."

"The miners on Chloddia haven't had a raise since I was born, my emmas say" pointed out Maar. "But I looked at the manifest, we're paying extremely high prices for their product. Why aren't they getting that money?"

"Because Skene hasn't figured out how to have an economy based on expansion. It's not natural, a growth economy. What we're good at is balance. Pya is facing the same issues in different arenas" said Api.

Briel said "The population of Skene is now close to 1500, which is 500 more people than it can feed or keep healthy without imports from Pya. The budget questions over there must be mind-boggling."

"The question of balance between Pya and Skene is even more mind-boggling" said Ollow.

Pyosz said "Abba Yoj says the ability for us to stay in step, the two worlds, is what will keep war from returning to Skene. She and my other abbas are always looking for signs of cultural aggression creeping in." She reached over and tapped the three delicate silver chains looped around Maar's left ankle. "Like those. Danaan has forbidden pilots to wear those on Skene, she says they're too close to being like signs of rank."

Abbo snorted and said "As if uniforms don't already set us apart. Danaan is terrified of reminding people she's not Halling."

Pyosz thought that was extremely unfair, but she saw an appreciative smile on Mill's face. Maar said mildly "They're made from the best Chloddia silver, almost certainly mined by my emmas, though they'd shit on themselves if they saw what I was doing with it. Chloddia thinks everything the Lofthall does is an attempt to wage covert war on Skene again."

Pyosz was stuck by that word "again" but before she could ask what Maar meant, Mill stood and pulled up her own kalsongers. A tangle of silver chains twinkled around her own ankle. "Thirty-eight years" she said proudly. "I jingle when I walk, and my skin is tarnished. But each one is a mark of service, not rank." They all laughed.

Maar turned to Pyosz and said "Speaking of marks, I noticed that Molar's bite mark on your bottom is fading fast, that's good." Well, there it was, proof that Maar had at some point in the past see Pyosz's bare ass. Pyosz felt the wave of speculation hitting her family around her. Maar continued "But I meant to ask you, what's that blue spot on your lower back? It's not a bruise, it hasn't altered."

"A birthmark some of us in the family have" said Pyosz. Tu raised her hand and said "Like me." Dodd added "And our Mruch." Pyosz went on "Plus sibemma Speranz, and emma, and of course Halling."

"I don't remember aggie ever talking about it in her line" said Tu "It must have manifested in her family, though, before me and Halling came along."

Pyosz said, in confusion, "Mwezi, you mean? But it doesn't come through her, it comes from Ng's side."

"You know for a fact, then, that emma Ng was a fertile Y?" asked Tu with a challenging look in her eyes.

"I've heard it from Lawa and Halling themselves, not the Genist" countered Pyosz. "Plus, I mean, there's all the evidence, birthmarks in particular."

"No, that's makes no sense" argued Nk. "Ng might have passed it on to emma and Halling, but what about you? And Speranz, and Mruch? Abba Ng wasn't -- I don't know the word for it."

"Our Y contribution?" said Pyosz, looking around her in growing dismay. They didn't know. This branch of the family didn't know.

Dodd cleared her throat and said gently "Actually, she was. Her contribution was used for all five of us sibs, all of the children that Bux aggied. That's how it got handed on."

Tu rose effortlessly to her full height, her usually smiling face turned to stone. "Are you saying that Halling was half-sib to her own children? Who would do such a thing? That crotch-breathed Raisa, am I right?"

"The Genist before my emma" Pyosz whispered to Maar.

When Dodd nodded, Tu's face darkened with anger. "You mean, you are my half-sib as well? And you?" she jabbed her finger at Mill accusingly.

"I knew about it" admitted Mill. "But only after I was grown."

"I find this despicable, it makes me sick to my stomach!" shouted Tu. "Is this how the Genist operates, muddying up people's family relationships?" She had now wheeled on Pyosz.

"Not my emma" said Pyosz firmly. "She was horrified when she found out -- I mean, it's her own line, as well. She told me it was an extreme aberration and if Raisa hadn't died before it came out, she could have been prosecuted."

"But who's to know what's going on now?" thundered Tu. Pank jerked her head in Pyosz's direction, catching Tu's eye. Tu took a breath and said "I don't mean Prl, Pyosz, I'm not maligning her. It's just the whole -- did emma ever know? Ng, I mean."

"No" said Dodd in a definite tone of voice.

"Emma agrees with you" added Pyosz. "She's very concerned with the abuses inherent in her own position." She saw Abbo roll her eyes, and wanted to spit at her.

Dodd said "Prl deliberately set out to alter Skene's dependence on the Genist. She had the excuse of Pya being discovered, and the consequent societal upheaval that was going to bring anyhow, but we had long talks, before I migrated, about how to make her occupation -- well, if not obsolete, at least not people's only choice."

"That's why she did what she did in creating me" said Pyosz. "She knew it would mean revolution."

"That's not the only reason she created you" interrupted Dodd, with a grin. "Not even the main reason. She wanted you simply for who you are."

Tu finally sat down again, but she continued to clench her hands. "I didn't mean to say having you as a half-sib is what makes me sick to my stomach" she said to Dodd.

"I know what you meant" said Dodd.

"If Ng's contribution was used, that could mean there are others out there, other Skeners who are related to me through her" said Tu, talking stream of consciousness. "Now I'll be looking at everybody over a certain age for signs of resemblance." Pank nudged her and said "Sibemma Veida said the blue spot happened in other families, not just yours."

Pyosz said "That's right, it occurred among more than one of the original colonists. So it's not an absolute sign of our blood."

"Are all the blue spots in your line identical, then?" asked Maar, who had been listening with fascination. Tu stood again, saying "No. Mine is shaped like a sideways hourglass" as she pulled up her shati and turned her back to expose it.

"And yours is like a swimming kuvual" Maar remarked to Pyosz, setting loose another silent ripple of consideration around them. No one ever told me it looked like that thought Pyosz.

Abbo had become increasingly restless, trying to get one of the katts to chase a stem of grass, then throwing pebbles into the pond. Now she stood, saying "Okay, enough of all this post-lunch flatulence, every Shmonah, yammer yammer yammer." She kicked at Maar's oto and said "You didn't get to swim before we ate, you ready for some action now?" She began pulling off her shati.

Maar slowly stood, but asked Abbo, "Hey, did you give everyone their mail?"

"Oops, nope, it's in the crate by the door" said Abbo, continuing to undress.

Maar turned and went to the Manage, returning with a large canvas bag of mail. Oby threw a largish rock and smacked Abbo hard on the shoulder with it, yelling out "What have we told you about people and their levvin' mail?"

People on Skene were serious correspondents. The work load was such that, even with three days off every week, most people didn't have time to visit their family on other islands, even when morrie vaseo was available. Without public radio, letters became the way folks who loved each other kept close. This had not lessened once calling from Manage to Manage became possible because now there were families separated by a half-day of time zones and an onerous distance to travel. Mail was still life's-blood to Skene, and its daily flow was one of the responsibilities of the Lofthall.

Abbo rubbed the mark left by Oby's missile but grinned, saying in Mill's direction "It wasn't people, it was only my family." Which got a laugh from Mill, but not Oby. Abbo jerked off her knickers and dove into the pond as Maar made the rounds, handing out letters and occasional small packages. When she got to Pyosz, she set a bulging bundle of letters into her lap and said "We have too many big crates for you to burden you with here, we'll drop them off at Saya later, okay?"

The letters felt warm with love under Pyosz's hands. She read the return addresses, and felt relief that she had written each of these family members first, juicy private letters they would have already gotten. She decided to save her mail for later, when she was back alone on Saya and fighting the occasional wave of loneliness. She went to stash them in her carryall and noticed her camera. As Maar joined Abbo in the pond, Pyosz went to each member of her family reading their mail, quietly taking a photograph of them rapt in concentration, their faces happy and open. With a sense of duty, she also turned and took a photo of Maar and Abbo rough-housing in the pond. She had one shot left, and was going to use it on the ravaged buffet table when Dodd said "Pyosz, emma -- Yoj -- sent me a copy of some ancient sheet music she found in the archives. She's had a turn at translating but wants my help, and honestly, I'm having trouble deciphering her notes. Her handwriting has really deteriorated, don't you think?"

Pyosz sat beside Dodd, putting down her camera and leaning against her sibemma to look at the double-page of unfamiliar markings. "Abba's tremor is almost constant now, and she keeps refusing to wear her glasses, says she's used to the blur" explained Pyosz. "When she tries to read the newspaper, she complains about how poor the type quality has become, until abba Bux gives a snort and rips off her own glasses to jam them on Yoj's head. What is this, though, that's not ancient Skenish, is it?"

"It's how they made musical notation" said Dodd. "Emma and I have pretty much figured out what that all means. She wrote in the margins that this is a song about having memories while standing in a cluster of trees, which she thought I might like to convert for Pya. But the title she's translated as 'Ash Grove', that can't be right -- the trees are still standing, they've not been burnt."

"That's what I read, too" confirmed Pyosz. "There's gaps in her translation, and it doesn't entirely scan."

"She hopes I can smooth it out" said Dodd. "First the music, though." Briel appeared in front of them, holding Dodd's fiddle case. Dodd beamed at her, saying "You're always one step ahead of me." She began picking out the melody, and slowly the rest of their family finished their letters, leaning toward Dodd to listen. When she could finally play it through, Ollow said "That's haunting. " Frahe added, "Can you read us what there is of the words?"

Dodd complied, and Pank rubbed moisture from her eyes. "That's a keeper" she said.

"Play us something else" urged Nk. Maar had left the pond and was drying off. Abbo crawled out of the water now and said "I'll go get my drum." Within minutes, singing together relaxed all previous tension and had them laughing together again. Pyosz was going to take a photograph of Dodd and Abbo riffing with each other, but discovered her last shot had been used, after all. When she got the prints developed two days later, she discovered Briel had picked up her camera and taken a photo of Pyosz and Dodd poring over the sheet music, Pyosz's arm over Dodd's shoulder, the two of them gazing into each other's faces for an instant of shared comprehension.

After a while, they took a break to get cold drinks and eat the last of the ice cream. Dodd asked Pyosz "Did you get back those photos you took on Market Day yet? I think that one I took of you and Uli is going to be a great one."

"It is" confirmed Pyosz. She saw Maar react to the name with some strong emotion, and Abbo's smirking grin appear.

"Uli?" said Maar.

"Yeah, we spent Market Day together" said Pyosz as casually as she could. Abbo said "Fast work, as usual" in an undertone to Maar, but Maar clearly did not think Abbo's meaning was funny. Whatever her meaning was.

Out of nowhere, Tu turned to Dodd and said "Did Yerush know? About Ng, I mean, and that whole Raisa mess."

Dodd looked wary for the first time all day. Pyosz asked "Why would Yerush know?" She saw Tu close her lips tight, and realized she was about to be shut out of some piece of family information.

Api temporized "Yerush imagined herself to be Ethicist of All Skene even when she hadn't been elected, and I have to say, as the actual Ethicist, her influence and connections often outstripped my own." But that's not an answer thought Pyosz. She stood and said "I need to use the privy", heading for the northern end of the island. Afterwards, instead of returning to the pond, she stood in the edge of the woods on the cliff staring out at Saya to left, Koldok to her right, taking a moment to ponder riddles.

When she heard a twig snap behind her, she knew who it must be without looking. Maar's shoulder almost brushed her as Maar said "Wow, Shmonah dinner on Arta was never this interesting before you came along."

And what does THAT mean? thought Pyosz, adding it to her list of enigmatic statements by others.

Maar said "That wain certainly does show up, doesn't it? I found out this morning at breakfast that the other pilots have a contest going on, to see who can spot you when they fly over. If they get a 'red cap' sighting, that's one point; if you're pulling the wain, it's another point; if you're doing labor that usually requires two people to accomplish, it's another two points; and there's a wholly imaginary category of if they spot 'the owl', it's five points. I tried to shut it down, but apparently the game was started by folks in Koldok." Her tone was amused, and another time Pyosz would have laughed with her.

Instead, Pyosz faced Maar and said "I need to tell you...after you left, that night -- that night we went to the hot springs -- I realized how unavailable you are. But I think you've been playing a game with me around it, Maar. I don't think you've been as honest as you could have been. I'm upset about it."

Maar's face fell. "I've tried to be honest, Pyosz. I never meant to lie -- what do you mean, game?"

"You know what I mean. And the thing is, I'm not available either, Maar. I have other things that come ahead of -- whatever. So I need it to be clear between us, we're friends only. Permanently."

She expected to see resentment on Maar's face. Instead, she was confronted with disconcerting grief in Maar's wide brown eyes. Maar said softly "Buddies. I hear you." Pyosz had to look away. She said to the ocean "I really am going to write Thleen, if that's all right with you."

"I couldn't hope for better" said Maar, still in a smal voice. Then, almost unwillingly, Maar said "I wonder, how did you meet Uli?"

"Oh, Maar -- not right now" said Pyosz, wheeling and striding back toward the pond. She joined her family mid-song, although Abbo looked at her suspiciously, and Abbo's smile disappeared when Maar emerged from the same trail Pyosz had just taken. Pyosz refused to look Maar's way.

After two more songs, Pyosz stood and said "I'd love to stay through dinner, but I have goats at sunset as well as at dawn. Thank you for my first real day off."

Api said "I'm making you a plate to take home for dinner, then. Any requests?"

"Everything there is, except my own chicken, I've been eating a lot of chicken lately" said Pyosz. "I hope there's a piece of that almond cake left." They all strolled to the kitchen, starting to wash empty dishes and helping Pyosz load her crate. Dodd said "Hey, there's a dance next -- oh, wait, Uli already told you. Can't wait for you to see my band play."

Abbo said "I'll drop off your freight when we stop to pick up Tu and Pank's tools on their way home."

"Thanks" said Pyosz, making the rounds for hugs. She hugged Maar too, briefly, and Dodd walked her to her ferry.

On Saya, she felt a rush of mixed emotion -- glad to be back on familiar ground, but wishing she had another human to share it with. She fed the katts and sequestered them, setting her mail on her pillow for later. She put away the chickens and untied her ku from their short version to go milk. She had finished and was about to put her dinner in the oven to warm when she heard a sinner landing at her jichang. She walked that direction with a flash. She was astonished to see each of the six passengers pick up a crate and head toward her kitchen, some of them clearly carrying weight.

Nk set her crate down on the counter with a grunt and said "This has to be books."

"I'm sure it is" said Pyosz, recognizing the label of the bookseller in Riesig. Abbo interrupted, however, to say "I need to speak with Pyosz alone, I have a private delivery from the abbas." It was clumsily done, and Tu's eyebrows shot up, but Pyosz said "Come into my cabin, then."

Once the door was shut, Abbo unzipped her guibba and pulled from it a leather pouch of the sort used by merchants and Sheng Zhangs to carry money. It had been wrapped in both directions with heavy purple cord and at possible access points, knots had been sealed in wax and impressed with the seal of the Archivist. Abbo hefted it in her hands, and Pyosz heard the dull clank of precious metal.

"That crying fit you threw really paid off, cousin" said Abbo in a snide voice. "I'm thinking it's all silver eks, two long rows of them, three years' average income. You know, they only gave me three eks when I graduated from flight school, you've really got their number."

Pyosz felt nauseated, seeing the way Abbo stealthily pressed her fingertips against the leather. She imagined Abbo having groped the bag all the way home. "I don't want that" she said. "I didn't ask for it, you can take it back to them."

"I want nothing more to do this this" said Abbo. "I have to deliver what's given me, remember? And don't worry, I'll keep your tawdy little secret." She tossed it on Pyosz's bed and left the cabin, leaving the door open. Pyosz hurried to shut it, shoved the bag into her cupboard, and closed her eyes for a minute, trying to calm her racing pulse.

When she returned to the kitchen, Abbo was helping herself to a glass of milk and Pyosz's piece of almond cake. The others glanced at Pyosz, but politely went on looking through the carton of books. "Help yourself to any you want to borrow" Pyosz said in an amazingly calm voice. She picked up the smallest carton, seeing Lawa's handwriting, and sat down to open it. Inside was the head of an old crescent hoe, worn slender by decades of use, and a package of flax seed. Pyosz burst out laughing at the flax seed. Tu, leaning over her shoulder, said "That's the first hoe she bought for herself, when she went to work at the ejida!" Pyosz held it to her lips and kissed it lightly before handing it to Tu for her to examine.

The flow of treasures, old and new, continued to pour from the crates. Qala, signing Lawa's name also, sent an old silver teapot with a green ceramic liner, matching sugar bowl and creamer. Her note said "The silver is from Exploit, the clay from Seda, when you drink from this think of how we came together to raise you." She wept at that.

Prl sent the silk cushions from Pyosz's own bed at the Genist Manage -- but not all of them, Pyosz was happy to see, leaving some for her room to remain familiar if she got a chance to visit. Pyosz hugged them to her chest, then said "These go on my bed here, I guess." Maar was the one who took them from her, going carefully through the cabin door on a lookout for katt escape. When Maar returned, she said "That new rug in there is beautiful."

"Thanks, Udek made it" said Pyosz, still not looking at Maar. Prl had also sent a new paring knife, a vegetable rasp, and a stunning mortar and pestle made from Yanja ronyang. The mortar was deep red with a high gloss, and the pestle was an equally gleaming black.

Prl had clearly colluded with the abbas, because the next crate from them held a large cutting board of the same black ronyang as the pestle. "Oh how I've needed this" said Pyosz, taking the stained and slightly moulding board she'd been using and setting it beside her new outdoor grill. "Kindling" remarked Pank. Pyosz arranged the cutting board at the end of her table and lined up the other new kitchen items in the center of the table.

Also in their crate was a stack of plant starter trays, three dozen to a tray, formed out of some sort of organic material. "We have starter trays on Pya" remarked Frahe, fingering them.

"Not like those, they're made from compressed animal dung" said Pyosz. Frahe quickly moved her hand away. Under the trays were dozens of packets of seeds, herb, vegetable, flower, and fruit, all gathered from the Riesig Manages and sealed into small paper envelopes painted by Bux. Pyosz began crying again, holding some of the packets up to the light and saying "You can see why abba was a wandmaler before she changed careers, these are tiny works of art."

"Bux?" asked Maar, and Pyosz nodded. Tu said "Uh, could we barter for some of those seeds?"

"No, but you can have them" said Pyosz. "I'll share them with you gladly, they have the best tillage on Skene."

Yoj had included a good used food mill that could be clamped to the table and a nifty combination fruit parer and peeler. Bux had tucked in jars of mango chutney made from her emma's reknowned recipe and a small bottle of dark brown liquid that Pyosz didn't recognize until she took off the lid and took a taste. "Aged vinegar!" she cried. "This is like liquid gold, oh, I'm going to make such good food with this." She passed it around for everyone to take a dab on their fingertip for tasting. Finally meeting Maar's face, she saw Maar's eyebrows shoot up at the flavor.

"How do they make this vinegar?" asked Maar.

"Years of sitting in oak barrels" said Pyosz. "That batch is probably older than Thleen."

Halling had sent her a small bedside lamp that ran off a removable rechargable battery and had a clamp for affixing it to her headboard. "I can charge this every day on the barn circuit and never worry about running out of light when I read at night" said Pyosz. The last small box was also from Halling. It held her pilot binoculars, the ones she had always carried with she flew. "For lev and owl-spotting" her note read. Pyosz passed it to Maar with a laugh, even as her eyes filled with tears.

She wanted to ask Maar to stay behind while Abbo flew the rest to Mti, eat dinner with her and keep her company. But that was of course out of the question. Still, as they went to what Pyosz now thought of the killing field to load tools into the sinner, Pyosz stayed behind long enough to wrap the final brownie in a napkin. She caught up with Maar in the dark and slipped the brownie into her guibba pocket, whispering "Don't look at it until you're alone and won't have to share."

She waved them off with a less burdened heart. She decided to read her mail while eating dinner. She could deal with the money debacle tomorrow. She sprinkled a few drops of the aged vinegar on Dodd's crabcakes before opening the letter from her emma.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.