(Map of Dvareka on Pya, not completely filled in. Click on image to enlarge.)
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)
A few minutes later, they loaded their plates and returned to the pond to eat with gusto. Qoj said "This is how you feast every Shmonah?" and Pyosz earned a look of gratitude from Dodd when she said "Yes. Incredible, isn't it?"
Maar said "Pyosz has promised to teach me how to cook, so the mysteries of this lamb flavor, for instance, hopefully will be unlocked for me."
"Congratulations" said Nk. Abbo didn't look so pleased. Oby said to Qoj "At what point will you officially be called an astronomer and able to transport your skills elsewhere?"
Qoj grinned at the implication. "Well, that's the question, since the idea of an astronomer existing away from Astronomer Poke has never arisen before."
"What benefit would it give Pya to have you here?" asked Frahe. "I mean, aside from all of us wanting you in our midst."
"Space above us holds endless clues and science about how Skene as a planet is organized" said Qoj. "We could use more satellites, and I'd like to help plot those orbits. Weather, of course, is integral to Pya's function, and the current meteorology coming out of Skene isn't nearly as detailed as someone on the ground here could produce. And, I suppose, there's abba's whole Bulwark system, which at present will offer warnings only to Skene."
"Bulwark?" asked Maar. "We studied that in school -- something about providing for contingencies like a meteor strike? Or epidemics?"
Api explained around a mouthful of rib. "Pya's land mass offered a new look at how we, as a critically small population, could possibly survive dire circumstances. Epidemic has been the constant threat, yes, but also the fear of tidal waves resulting from underwater seismic events or a space object crashing into the ocean. Yoj set up a chart of scenarios and how we could prepare against them, researched by experts in various fields. It was voted into law when you were a child, Maar."
Mill added "It's scramble code green in pilot emergency training."
"Ah" said Maar, making the connection.
"You know" said Qoj, "The current theory about what happened to the first colonists here on Pya has moved away from thinking they encountered some organism from water or soil that triggered the illness that killed them. Most gakushas now believe a meteor stroke introduced a pathogen to Pya, which lived as long as its host humans lived, but disappeared when they all died."
Everyone looked at her in speculation. "That's a somewhat comforting notion" said Dodd. "Means we're not going to accidentally dig up the same virus or whatever when a new field is plowed."
"Or mine opened, or well sunk" said Ollow. "Any proof for that theory?"
"Not yet" admitted Qoj. "The original records being so scanty. Anyhow, if I can get a clear night while I'm here, I've brought a special camera to take detailed photographs of the stars visible from this hemisphere. With luck, I'll surpass what exists and guarantee an advanced degree for myself."
Maar began asking interested questions about this project, and Pyosz excused herself to get seconds of turkey and melon. Api followed her and they stood talking by the table for a few minutes. Api went into her office and returned with a sheaf of forms for Pyosz to sign. Pyosz put her copies with her crates inside the door before returning to the pond.
Dodd turned to her and said "We were talking about Mchele Fair, which is a major event here on Pya. You should enter some of your products in the cooking competitions."
Briel said to Tu "Are you doing the tree-cutting race again this year?"
"Yep" said Tu. "Pank's entering bacon and sausage, Nk and Frahe both have furniture to display, and at least one of the folks we work with is going to try for a pig-calling ribbon."
"Is it an all day affair, then?" asked Pyosz. Abbo laughed, saying "It's almost four full days. Starts on Ot after work with plays and a few demonstrations, then goes through Market Day -- "
"With the emma of all markets" grinned Mill.
"Competitions in everything you can name -- " continued Abbo, but she was overtaken by several voices saying "Sheep shearing", "Chicken plucking", "Turkey calling", "Log tossing". Pank said "There's a milking race, which is mostly sheepherders but you could hop in and show 'em how it's done, I bet."
"Maybe for the fun of it" said Pyosz. "I'm not prize-winner material. Not yet."
Abbo reclaimed her thread. "Then Roku after dinner is the all-Pya kickball championship game."
"Which ends badly, no matter who wins" said Api.
"Sju is when awards are given out for arts and crafts, plus the carnival is in full swing" said Abo. "That night is the dance. Then on Shmonah, folks get up late but there's a picnic midday at the fairgrounds, with singing and speeches afterward."
"I can't wait" said Pyosz, thinking about the apricot jam she'd been making with a dash of almond extract in it for a lovely kick of something different.
"So you're here through summer's end?" said Qoj. "Are you living in that metal shack Ferk had?"
"A little less shackified, but yes" said Pyosz. "You have to come see what I've done with the place."
"I found Ferk a little frightening when I was small" said Qoj. "She seemed like part goat herself."
There was an awkward silence. Pyosz said "The fact is, Saya Island is really enough work for a Manage, not just an individual, even a young one like me. She did what she could, and I'm able to handle more in large part because I'm getting serious help from family. And friends" she added, smiling at Maar.
Abbo said to Qoj, in a not-quite-joking voice, "Maar has a bad case of volunteeritis, which usually gets focused around the Lofthall, where she's always sniffing after extra work from my emmas, but since Pyosz got here, she's over at Saya every day pretending to be an ejija worker."
The awkward silence returned. Ollow broke it by saying "Ngall's second baby is due in three weeks, she wrote us. Our second great-grandchild!"
Conversation flowed from there to more singing, another swim, and even a brief nap for Pyosz before she put on her otos again and stood to say "Well, maybe I'm part goat now, too, because I swear I can hear them calling me."
"Let's make you a plate for dinner, we've got so much leftovers" said Oby. Maar stood as well and said "Can you make it two plates? I don't like Pyosz going off to work and eat alone every Shmonah while we get to stay here with each other, so I'm going to volunteer to help her and share her day-off meal afterward." Her wide grin took some of the sting out of her emphasis on volunteer. The vibratto in Pyosz's chest went nearly still when Maar followed this by bending to Qoj, putting her hand on Qoj's shoulder and saying confidentially "I'll be back for our plans by 8:00."
Be happy with what you get Pyosz said to herself sternly. She and Maar each carried a crate and a covered plate to the ferry. On Saya, Maar put food in the oven to stay warm and said "I'll do the chickens and katts."
"Curds and Ember are going to start thinking you're their second emma" said Pyosz, embarrassing herself which she covered by walking to the pasture gate. As they sat down to eat, Maar said "That was very generous of you, what you had to say about Ferk."
"I meant it" said Pyosz. "I can imagine a big Manage here, over there on the north end with a view of Teppe Wasa, and a family full of children thinking this is paradise." They chewed in silence for a while.
"Leave the dishes" said Pyosz. "Seriously, you have other commitments, don't you?" She wanted to know what Maar had planned with Qoj. But Maar didn't offer the information. Instead, she said "I hope this isn't presumptuous, but can I stay long enough to see what your family sent you?"
"That would be fun" said Pyosz. The first crate held more books and a separate carton which contained the lava rocks for her grill she had requested. Maar stared into the box and said "You asked for these? Did you fill out the request forms -- I can't believe you got a permit this fast."
"For what?" said Pyosz, bewildered.
"Importing any kind of rock from Skene is very strictly controlled" said Maar.
"Even this much? I mean, it's not for construction, it's for my grill" argued Pyosz.
"That counts as construction. Whew. This means me and Abbo participated in the commission of a crime" said Maar. She was grinning.
"Shit. So I suppose I better turn it in and suffer the consequences" said Pyosz. "I had no idea."
"Or...you could tell your emma and abbas to not breathe a word of it -- I mean, Bux surely knew this was breaking rules -- and keep the lid on your grill pit when people come over" said Maar. "I won't tell Abbo if you don't."
They giggled together. "Fair enough" said Pyosz. "Help yourself to books, by the way."
The second crate had potholders, tongs, and some new napkins, plus several beautiful old copper pots with lids, ranging from butter-melting size to tall stock pots. Pyosz sat down, overcome with affection for those who loved her so well.
"They looted their own kitchens for these, plus -- I think bought a few used" she said, examining each pot in detail. "This will make a huge difference in my cooking. These tin and aluminum relics from Ferk are now destined for candle-making and other ejida chores."
Inside the stock pot, padded with a sheep's fleece that Pyosz knew the katts would appreciate, were several packages of smoked eel, two mangos, and a pound of chocolate nibs. "If I wasn't stuffed to the gills, I'd be alternating bites of eel with bitter chocolate" said Pyosz.
"Please invite me when you do" said Maar. "Well, I sure wish you were going with us, but I better get back."
"What do you mean?" said Pyosz. "You didn't invite me on whatever it is."
"But you were there when she talked about it, weren't you?" said Maar. Pyosz shook her head, feeling relief travel down to her toes. "Qoj wants me to take her up above the cloud layer to get high-altitude photographs of the night sky. She's not sure if they'll be as clear as ground-based photography because of the motion, but I promised to keep it as smooth as I can. We'll be out until midnight, so I understand if you can't stay up that late. Still..." Maar looked at her hopefully.
"Is Abbo or Dodd going?"
"No, just me and Qoj."
"Oh, lev, count me in, I can't miss this" said Pyosz, hoping her own motivations were as pure as she pretended. Maar danced a jig step and said "Go bundle up, every warm thing you've got. We can't turn on the heater. And no thermos of tea, it might steam up the windows. It'll be uncomfortable before we're done."
"I don't care" said Pyosz.
"Then I'll go pick up Qoj and we'll stop at the jichang for you in a few minutes" said Maar.
Pyosz dressed in layers, two pair of sokken, her red cap and manteau, leaving her lamp light on for when she returned. She grabbed her own camera and binoculars before skipping to the jichang when she heard the small sinner overhead.
It was a night she'd remember the rest of her life. The three of them, chilled by spectacle as much as by the thin air, bonded closely as Qoj talked stream of consciousness about what she was seeing, what it meant, physics asking as many questions as it answered inside her head. Maar would turn off the lights on her instrument panel to improve Qoj's photographs, flying by feel alone, giving Pyosz her first inkling of how very good a pilot Maar was. Pyosz understood the curve of her home orb in a new way, and when they finally began dropping down to Pya again, the twinkle of lights filled her with a surge of emotion.
At the jichang, both Qoj and Maar crawled out to hug her exuberantly. "I have to get up in four hours" she laughed. "But I may not be able to sleep for feeling like I'm still falling into the heavens."
The next morning, her tiredness combined with a triple load of milk was brutal. She stopped in at Taamsas' to give her dimensions for a pot rack to go over her stove and table. As she was heading home, she ran into Qoj. They hugged again, Pyosz saying "I am so lucky, to have you for a cousin!"
"I feel the same way, you made the whole night perfect" said Qoj. "Although that Maar, she certainly is dishy. But we both know she only has eyes for another, huh?" She winked at Pyosz, and Pyosz managed to keep smiling. She said "If you're free, come out for lunch, I'll make something half-goaty."
Qoj laughed and said "Actually, I'm meeting Uli at the cafe for lunch. Another dishy one, Koldok has certainly improved since I lived here."
Fast mover indeed thought Pyosz, and this time it was easy to keep her grin. "Have fun, then. See you soon."
At her kitchen, she ached for a nap but first called the Genist Manage to thank them for her packages. She recounted to Prl the events of the previous day and evening in an excited voice. At one point she said "It's funny, I remember you and your emmas talking about Bulwark a lot when I was little, but I guess it's not such a worry now. Nobody mentions it" said Pyosz.
"It was on my mind daily for several years, that's true" said Prl.
"There would be a signal sent out over Sigrist Radio, right? That we were all supposed to seek shelter or something? And when I started school, you and I began having those fun races every week. I swear, emma, I think that's where I got my endurance and strong legs, from trying to improve my time each Roku afternoon." Pyosz chuckled.
Prl did not. The first weekend after Pyosz had begun first grade, Prl took her to the schoolyard and said "All right, this is a let's-pretend game. The notice has just come over the radio that everybody needs to find safety. Your leraar knows that for you, that means coming home to our Manage, okay? So you simply stand up and run out the door, don't try to get your burzaka or anything else, just start running. I'm going to be up the lane timing you. Don't start until I yell 'Go', because that will be the signal on the radio." Prl walked halfway to the Genist Manage and called down the lane "Now, Pyosz! Run as fast as you can!"
Pyosz fell a few times, but learned to scramble to her feet and keep going, her chubby legs churning as fast as they could. Prl would be calling encouragement and there was always a wild grin on Pyosz's face. Prl would be watching a timer in her hands, and when it dinged, she would come forward to meet Pyosz, swinging her up into her arms and saying fervently "That was wonderful, darling, you were even faster than last week, I'm so proud of you!" The intensity in those embraces was Pyosz's reward.
Each year, Pyosz could get farther before the timer bell rang. Until finally, halfway through second grade, she was able to burst breathlessly into the Genist Manage kitchen where Prl was standing, and they both gave a shout as the bell rang. They didn't practice any more after that.
"What was I racing against, emma? You must have had some particular goal in mind, although for me it was just against the timer" asked Pyosz.
Prl hesitated before answering. "Emma -- Yoj -- had several hypothetical scenarios worked out. One involved a tsunami approaching Skene, and the best-case scenario of daylight hours and a Sigrist facing the right direction or a pilot calling it in, giving us enough warning to seek higher ground. I used that timetable."
"But why was the Genist Manage considered higher ground? I mean, it's at the top of the lane, but that's only what, 15 feet or so?" puzzled Pyosz.
"The vault inside the Shatters, used by both Genist and Archivist -- aside from the waterproof, blast-proof doors protecting records, Contributions, and a biological archive with frozen DNA for all our essential plants and animals -- there's a chamber at the top, with built-in water and energy supply, food and medicine. It will hold maybe four survivors through almost any calamity, if they can get there in time. The lift to it is in the vault itself." Prl's tone was grim.
"So -- I was running to get to that chamber? Stars, emma. I'm glad I didn't know" said Pyosz. "Who else were among the lucky few allowed to use it? Yoj, I gather."
"If she was at the Archives, yes" said Prl. "The botaniste from across the street here. Our mandate was to have the training necessary to help restart life on Skene. It's in my contract, was added in once the Bulwark program was executed."
Pyosz's brain was working hard. "Except -- I wouldn't have been in your contract, would I, emma? I mean, my survival could not be considered essential to restarting Skene."
"No" said Prl softly. "That was my decision, to include you. Because I wasn't willing to go on without you."
"But emma, I wasn't able to reach the entrance to the vault for what, six years of constantly working at it? All that time, you were facing having to close the door against me if I didn't make it?"
"I was not facing that, no. I would never have left you to face the approaching wave alone" said Prl.
"In other words, you chose me over your sworn duty to Skene" whispered Pyosz.
"It was an easy choice" said Prl.
"That's why -- that day I finally made it to the Manage on time, we were screaming and jumping around, and then all of a sudden, you were crying, picking me up like I was still a toddler and holding me a little too night. It really scared me, I remember. Oh, emma." Pyosz felt her heart break a little, realizing what Prl had been suffering through. After several seconds, Pyosz said "And now here I am, half a world away."
"The contradiction of being an emma is that for the first two years of your child's life, you have not a single second where you're not thinking about them, completely beholden to them because they depend on you utterly. Then, once they start reaching for independence, you spend the rest of your life in progressively more difficult lessons about how to let go of their hands" said Prl.
"Well, emma, the part of Saya Island where I live is at least 20 feet above the water" said Pyosz. As it came out her mouth, she realized that was not high enough. She continued "And from my cabin, I can see an ancient oak that's big around as a room, with roots down into bedrock and a height that tops 50 feet. And I'm really good at climbing trees. Whatever it takes, emma, I'll survive and I'll find a way back to Skene, so you go into the vault and ride that lift up, you hear me?"
Prl laughed. "Getting back here probably won't be the major obstacle. Pilots are scrambled into the air first thing, under the Bulwark plan, to save craft and provide rescue vehicles."
Pyosz allowed herself a brief thought of Maar and jubilation at her likely survival.
Prl continued "But now I'm worried about you climbing such massive trees. Bulwark is a doomsday plan, sweetheart, not something we need to actually keep in our thoughts."
"Then why was it so prevalent for a while there, I wonder?" asked Pyosz.
"Pya was being settled, and for the first time in Skene's history, we could hope for secure longevity. Plus -- for me, you were heading out into the world, not tucked into this Manage with us all the time any more. You were a bold and curious child. The race back to my arms seemed symbolic, somehow" said Prl.
After the call, Pyosz took a two-hour nap, waking up hot but rested. She rinsed her head under the tap and plunged into the next item on her long-term list. Pyosz made small flags from baling wire and leftover tree flagging, and numbered them sequentially. She stuck pins with the same numbers on her map of Saya Island, and began taking soil samples, doing her end of the island first, then working her way from west to east. When she took a sample from a spot on the map, she put a flag in the ground at that spot. She didn't have hope that the goats would leave alone all the flags in the pasture, but for now, kids were following her from spot to spot.
She was halfway between the woods and the kissing gate when she heard Maar's voice call out "There you are" from the escarpment. Pyosz waved her down and explained what she was doing. Maar began carrying the basket into which Pyosz was putting her plastic bags of samples, marked with not only the labels Taamsas had given her but the appropriate flag number. They came to the low area where only gorse grew, now showing a small sheen of standing water.
"I should take two or three samples here" said Pyosz. She began six inches outside the "fallow" zone, then walked into the water a foot and struck her spade deep into the ground, pushing on it with her oto before turning over the soil. She crouched to look into the hole, saying "It's very wet, but oddly, it's paler further down in the hole. Moisture should increase darkness, I think." She dug the hole deeper, to almost eighteen inches, and deposited the definitely pale, dense soil she had turned up onto the puddle surface. She crouched again, taking some of the light grey-green soil between her fingers and kneading it lightly. She held it to her nose for a sniff, two sniffs. To Maar's astonishment, Pyosz then put her fingertips to her mouth and tasted the soil.
She fell back onto her rump, letting go of the shovel. "Oh, no" cried Maar, "Are you poisoned? Pyosz, can you stand up, let's get you to Briel."
Pyosz waved away her tugged. "It's okay, I'm fine. I'm just gobsmacked."
"Why? What is it?" Maar crouched beside Pyosz. Pyosz held out her fingers for Maar to sniff.
"Do you know what that is?" she asked.
"Dirt, wet dirt, that's all I can say for sure" said Maar.
"Try a taste. I promise, it won't hurt you" said Pyosz. Maar briefly touched her tongue to Pyosz's fingertip.
"I still don't know, although I have to admit, it's familiar" said Maar.
"That flavor is kaolin. This is clay, porcelain-grade clay, Maar. As good as anything I've seen on Skene." Pyosz stood again, measuring the fallow area with her eyes. "If this is what it looks like, a clay field, it's a major find." She picked up her shovel with a troubled expression on her face.
"Clay on Pya? Hooray!" cried Maar. "MIll's going to be ecstatic."
Pyosz took a single sample from the bottom of the hole she'd dug and decided not to take any more from the region. She walked silently on to the next quadrant of grassy pasture. Maar, following her, said "What's going on in your head? You look upset, not happy about this discovery."
"Well, I was just thinking about Argile and the clay fields there. Have you seen pictures before they rebuilt at least half the island? It was a waste zone. The clay was too badly needed to think about balance there, they just dug and dug until they hit bedrock 20 feet down." She looked at Maar with troubled black eyes. "I don't want them destroying Saya to get out the clay, here. It'll ruin this pasture, the goats will have to be moved elsewhere."
"Oh" said Maar.
"I'm tempted to not even turn in a soil sample, but they'd notice the gap eventually, since Uli is going to be mapping these results. Lev. I wonder if I could get her to keep quiet about it?"
After a minute, Maar said in a careful tone "I wouldn't count on that. Uli is ambitious, she won't play games with the law."
"Well, I'll have to talk to Mill and Api, I guess" said Pyosz. "I mean, I love clay for its own sake, don't get me wrong. I took two semesters of pottery making at the U, did I ever tell you that?"
"No" said Maar. "But I'm not surprised, you've got a strong artistic streak."
Pyosz smiled at her. "My habibi Ng was a keramiker, one of the best Skene's ever had. I took the first course simply as a break from geometry, which was busting my head that semester. But I turned out to have -- not just an aptitude for it, but a real affinity. It gave me serious happiness to shape clay. I'd have done more if I hadn't been involved with Sey and trying to follow her path instead of strictly my own." She numbered another soil sample and said "What are you doing here, anyhow? Hoping for a late lunch?"
Maar grinned. "I come to visit you for more than gastronomic reasons. But now that you mention it..."
"There's a pot of beans and sausage simmering on the stove. If you'll make a salad, and heat up either rice or cornbread, I'll finish the pasture and be there in 15 minutes" said Pyosz.
When she came to the kitchen to wash her hands, Maar had set the table and steamed some squash as well. "I see you went for the cornbread" said Pyosz. She made a swift dressing in mortar, relaying her thought process out loud so Maar could learn from it, and spooned it into a bowl they could dip from. After sitting, Maar took her hand and initiated the before meal thanksgiving her emma's Manage had always done. Pyosz closed her eyes until Maar squeezed her hand.
Over the meal, she told Maar about the conversation she'd had with Prl. Maar's eyes went wet and she said "I am so lucky to be around your family."
"I ran into Qoj in Koldok this morning" said Pyosz. She paused before saying "She has a lunch date with Uli."
Maar looked at her wide-eyed for a minute before giggling. "Whatever it would take to get her to move back to Pya. Did you see the hope on Dodd's face every time Qoj said something good about being here?"
"Speaking of hope, is there any chance of you getting Thleen here for a visit this summer?" asked Pyosz. She was instantly sorry, because Maar's face lost all its light.
"I won't stop trying, but it looks bleak" said Maar. "My emmas believe huolon flights are treacherous."
"Because of that crash, involving people they knew?" asked Pyosz.
"I'm sure that's a lot of it" said Maar. "But my family -- well, most of Chloddia -- I grew up hearing that the Lofthall is what began the Troubles, way back when on Skene. Pilots waged war, trying to assume control over all the colonists, and innocent people died as a result. People on Chloddia say 'They brought us here to work and nothing else', and perversely, they refuse to try to change that reality in whatever way it still exists. And the number one source of keeping the mining islands down, they think, is the Lofthall. Followed by Yanja and Riesig in general."
"Wow. Sucks for you, but it's also fascinating. Would it be all right with you if I asked my abba Yoj about that? I bet there's some truth to what you've heard, she's always excavating the cores of myths on Skene" said Pyosz. Maar nodded, her cheeks pink.
They cleared away lunch. Pyosz said "I haven't made new pies yet, but here's a quick sweet treat." She cut a few small squares of dripping comb and rolled them in chocolate nibs. Maar's eyes skidded shut after one bite. "That's such a complicated, head-pounding set of flavors" she whispered. When she left, she took Pyosz's soil samples to drop at the ejida for testing.
That evening, as another row of brightly-colored jam jars glinted in a row on the table, the radio buzzed. Pyosz answered to hear Halling "You got a minute? Something interesting happened today." Her voice was more animated than Pyosz had heard in a long time. Halling continued "You'll never guess who came to visit us."
Oh, lev. Not Sey thought Pyosz.
Halling didn't wait for Pyosz's guess. "That child Thleen you've menitioned -- the sibu of your friend the pilot?"
"No kidding" said Pyosz.
"Technically, her two sibas were with her, but they were unwilling lag-behinds. Thleen apparently recognized our door from some drawing you sent her and decided to knock as they walked by. When I answered, her sibas were trying to drag her away, mortified as only teenagers can be" said Halling, chuckling.
"What did you do, abba?"
"Well, she's a beautiful child, bright-faced and engaging" said Halling. "She said you were her friend, which was good enough for me. I asked 'em in and gave 'em tea with cake."
"Exactly what I would have done" said Pyosz.
"Yoj came home half an hour later, and then Bux. When Tlunu got up, we had a party going on. Thleen planted herself in Yoj's lap, that child magnetic zone, as you well know. Finally the sibas said their ferry was running again and they had to get home -- they'd missed the school sinner for some reason. But when Bux heard they had to go all the way to Chloddia, she asked Tlunu to give them a ride. Anyhow, it was quite a conversation. I told Thleen to come back any time."
"Abba, that means she will, I'm pretty sure" said Pyosz.
"I expect you're right" said Halling happily. "With Ngall quickening, we only get to see Ehall if we trek out to Pomar. It was a treat having a little one in the Manage for a while."
Pyosz talked with each of her abbas in turn and clicked off wishing she could walk down the lane and let herself in at that copper door with the cao on it.
The next day when Pyosz returned from Koldok, she slaughtered two more capons and a stewing hen. She put the plucked capon carcasses, cut up, into her coldbox and started stock in her lovely new pot. She decided to make a double batch of bread and pies because the following day she might be too busy with tree-removal to bake. In between punching-down and rolling-out, she worked on letters to Skene.
She'd just found room for all her baked goods in the larder when her radio buzzed.
"Hey" said Maar. "I'm at the fish docks, done sinning, and I'm headed to Mti to pick up the lumber order for your toolroom renovation. I thought I'd grab you some of today's catch to help feed your crew tomorrow, but it was a great run today, I can't decide. What are you in the mood for?"
They began discussing options, Pyosz enthusiastic about each new fish Maar named. Finally Maar said "You free for the next little bit? I could come get you, won't take but a jiff. Add to your seeing more of Pya quest."
"I'm ready now" said Pyosz. She put her camera and binoculars into her carryall and waited at her jichang.
At the fish docks, she settled on uo to smoke the next day, dagaa to make her own fermented fish sauce, and kahe for dinner that night. Maar put the iced crate in her sinner and said "You eat lunch yet? That stall over there has a memorable lentil sandwich. The bun is pedestrian, but the lentil patty is spicy like you'd do it. And their onion rings are made to order."
Maar got a side order to share of apple and celery salad with a quart of chilled lemonade. She led Pyosz up a fire escape ladder on an adjacent warehouse, sitting on a metal balcony overlooking the glassblowing works. "I found the food stall because I spotted the vetriste's from the air and wanted to watch, but I needed to eat at the same time" said Maar, crunching cheerfully and swinging her legs off the side of the balcony. "It's one of the most interesting views on Pya."
"This lentil patty beats anything I know how to put together" said Pyosz, trying not to wolf it down. "Best meal I've had so far on Pya." Maar looked very pleased.
They couldn't linger, though one of the glassblowers looked up to wave and grin at Maar. They returned the empty lemonade jug and flew from the docks in an arc over central Dvareka and Dudor, north again over Arta Island, and west toward Mti. Pyosz took photos whenever Maar banked to give her a good angle. As they traveled, Pyosz told Maar about Halling's call the night before.
At first, that worry furrow appeared in Maar's forehead. Pyosz stressed that her abbas were delighted to have Thleen visit, and Maar relaxed, saying softly "That's my Thleen."
On Mti, Pyosz helped Maar load her small order of pine, signed lading slips, and popped briefly into Nk and Frahe's shop to say hi before they returned to Saya by way of Teppe and Shu overflights. Pyosz stacked her boards at the side of the jichang and hastened Maar off, saying she'd already used up Maar's lunch hour.
After hauling her load to the barn, Pyosz went to her orchard and filled all the bushel baskets, moving meditatively in the early Mchele amber light, part of her mind trying to decode that lentil patty recipe.
The next morning, Pyosz stopped in Koldok only long enough to make her deliveries and have her photo disks printed. She made a post-milking breakfast of leftover kahe fried with eggs on toast, and was looking through her photos for a third time while finishing her tea when Pank and Tu arrived via a brief lighter drop-off.
"Maar says hi and she'll come for dinner later" said Tu. "Is that kahe?"
"Have a seat, you want your eggs over easy or hard?" said Pyosz. After her cousins ate, she showed her lava rocks in the grill to Pank, who laughed uproariously at Abbo having been made an unwitting smuggler. Pank showed Pyosz how to set up her grill for smoking, and Pyosz put on the grill three dozen herring marinated in basil-chili oil.
Tu and Pank had brought only basic hand tools and one portable electric saw this time. They listened to Pyosz's needs in the tool room, and Tu said "This won't be dovetailed or fancified like Nk'd do it. This'll be simply sturdy shelves, some with slide-out boxes to hold onions and the like in straw."
"Perfect" said Pyosz. She assisted as they directed her. When sorting the lumber for cutting, Pank said "Now look here, this plank is double thick and we ain't got the wherewithal to split it -- oh, here's why they did that." On the long end of the two-inch-thick board was a knot that penetrated into the width but didn't emerge on either face. Tu examined it and said "This deformity is at least 3/8 inch clear of the surface. We could chisel out the knot and shape a ilttle one-inch high cavity in there, for a shallow drawer, maybe."
""Don't have the tooks to make dovetails or runners for a proper drawer" pointed out Pank.
"So, just a flat box with leeway on either side, waxed to not jam" replied Tu. "A little secret place if she turns this edge of the shelf toward the wall" speculated Tu.
"If we peg it onto the shelf brace, nobody'd ever guess it'll lift right off so's you can get at the recess" agreed Pank. She said to Pyosz "You got a use for a little hidey-hole like that?"
"As a matter of fact..." said Pyosz, putting two fingers to her grinning lips in the "keep mum" sign. The hidey-hole was adroitly excavated by Pank, the shelves nailed in by Pyosz, and the edges hand-planed by Tu.
"Looks dang good" said Tu, casting an appraising eye from the doorway. Pyosz helped them wipe and put away tools before going to check her herring. She put in the oven a casserole she'd assembled earlier of wide rice noodles layered between cheese, milk sauce, and kale. With a large salad, pumpernickel toast, cold tea, and their choice of four different flavors of pie, she felt ready to feed her lunch crew.
But lunch and the others' arrival was still an hour off. Tu said to Pank "Shall we?" Pank draped a coil of rope around her shoulders, Tu pulled towels from her carryall, and they strolled through the kissing gate.
Pyosz had to follow, curious about how tree-climbing gear was going to be meshed with visiting the hot springs. Halfway across the pasture, Tu and Pank turned south, walking to the shingle beach and staring at the Pea Pod island named Herne which was only nine meters offshore, across a shallow but racing strait.
As Pyosz caught up with them, Pank tugged off her otos and dropped her kalsongers. She left on maillot and knickers, talking with Tu in sentence fragments about the rock face of the opposing small cliff on Herne, while Tu crafted a four-point harness ofrope around Pank's torso.
Pyosz was too stunned to object when Pank waded into the current, using her bare feet to feel her way. Midway, the depth was past Pank's waist, and Tu anchored her heels in the shingle, holding onto Pank's lifeline. She looked arond at Pyosz and said "Here, come lend a hand."
Pyosz complied, finding her voice to say "There's a jichang on it, you know, someone would be glad to fly you there." She kept her eyes obsessively on Pank, whose suddenly fragile-looking frame had reached the base of Herne's cliff and was now testing for fingerholds as she began her climb.
"We know" said Tu lightly. "We've been. But we thought we'd take the chance to look on our own."
Pank's drenched knickers, old and misshapen, hung almost to her knees. Pyosz was muddled with anxiety for her cousin. When Pank finally slithered over rocky lip onto solid ground of Herne, Pyosz gasped out loud in relief.
Pank was tying her end of the rope around the trunk of a hickory tree. Pyosz turned to ask Tu what Pank meant to do now, and was again silenced, this time by Tu stripping down. Tu folded her buksers neatly, removed a claspknife from one pocket and cut a length of rope to fashion a sliding harness. She tied this around herself, looped through it the long rope crossing to Herne, and anchored her end tightly around a boulder.
"You'll stand vigil, yes?" she asked Pyosz. Pyosz could only nod dumbly as Tu entered the current. Pank had both hands on the hickory belay, calling out occasional advice. Tu followed Pank's track up the cliff. With a wave to Pyosz, they vanished into the trees on Herne.
Pyosz decided she'd let her herring and casserole burn to a crisp rather than venture one inch from her post on the beach. The half-hour which passed was an ordeal for her. Once she heard a peal of Tu's laughter. As last they reappeared atop the cliff, and Pyosz now found it was even worse to watch Tu descend with the same slow care she'd displayed in her climb. Pyosz wanted to chastise her, say "You're over 80 years old, no matter how fit you are, bones turn brittle and hip sockets are delicate as china." Instead, she helped Tu coil in rope until Pank was blessedly back on shore.
Both the elders looked slightly blue-lipped from their adventure. Pyosz left them to dry and dress -- or, for all she knew, magically take flight by flapping their old woman arms -- while she returned to her meal preparation.
To her surprise, Maar landed at the jichang a few minutes later. She told Pyosz "I swapped my run for this, couldn't resist seeing those two fell trees. I owe another pilot more time next week." Pyosz didn't have a chance to tell Maar what "those two" had just done because they appeared around the corner of the barn.
"Do you need to go with me to pick up the sledge and come-along, or -- " began Maar.
"Nah, the crew can handle it. We'll serve better here in the pasture, directing your placement" said Tu.
"Well, back soon then" said Maar. Tu and Pank ambled with her toward the jichang, and Pyosz again followed. Past the chicken run, Pank looked left to the stand of trees towering there, taller than anything else on Saya. The central gargantuan was the oak Pyosz had mentioned to Prl as her haven against tsunami. In its shadow was the old fig tree, a chestnut, a maple, and a pecan.
Pank stopped abruptly, causing Pyosz to almost collide with her from behind. "I betcha that's it" she said to Tu. Tu looked at the cluster of trees and nodded.
Moving soundlessly, Pank walked north of the grove to enter it from that side, snaking back toward the rocky escarpment at its west. Tu was at her heels, alert. Pyosz and Maar looked at each other before following. The shade at the back of the oak was deep, and its spongy leaf-litter damp. Its bark was nearly black with age.
Pank stopped a meter away from an oaky tangle of roots and, sliding on her glasses, began scanning upward methodically. After a minute, she pointed with a very restrained motion.
What Pyosz had thought was a vast stain on the bark turned out to be, in fact, a wide hole, probably left by lightning some centuries before. The oak had survived its assault, growing upward around the opening to its heart.
Pyosz was terrified if she looked too long at this entrance, she'd see her great owl peer back at her with anger over its den being discovered. She reached beside her and found Maar's hand, lacing their sweaty fingers together tightly.
The owl did not appear, however. Pank signaled for them to back away, and Maar was quck to lead them back to full sunlight. Pyosz said "I won't be picking figs from that grove any more." Maar laughed a little manically and, swatting Pyosz goodbye on her shoulder, strode to her sinner.
The other three returned to the kitchen area. Tu said "Wonder how many layers of bone fragments there are in the hollow of that oak?"
Pyosz asked "The trees you've marked to cut down today -- they aren't going to bother any owls down there, are they?"
"Got it easy today" said Pank. She lifted the grill lid and helped herself to a herring, eating it whole with what Pyosz assumed were asbestos lips and tongue.
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Thursday, September 3, 2009
(The "Colorful Moon" composite, explanation below. Click on image to enlarge.)
Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space. Usually these photos are captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite. Today, however, the image above is from Astronomy Picture of the Day, authored and edited by Robert Nemiroff (MTU) & Jerry Bonnell (USRA).
The explanation of this photograph is "The crazy, patchwork appearance of the false-color image makes this almost full view of the Moon's familiar near side look very strange. The Sea of Tranquillity (Mare Tranquillitatis) is the bright blue area at right, the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) is the extensive blue and orange area on the left, and white lines radiate from the crater Tycho at bottom center. Recorded in 1992 by the Galileo spacecraft en route to Jupiter, the picture is a mosaic of 15 images taken through three color filters. The image data were combined in an exaggerated color scheme to emphasize composition differences - blue hues reveal titanium rich areas while orange and purple colors show regions relatively poor in titanium and iron. Multicolor images exploring the Moon's global surface composition were made in 1994 by the Clementine spacecraft."
THE VOYAGE OF THE MOON
(by Donovan. When I was 13, I was wild about Donovan and even wrote him a fan letter. This song of his was on a Mary Hopkin album that I played constantly throughout my adolescence. Mary Hopkin sang this song on television just hours before Neil Armstrong took the first human-on-the-man step.)
The moon is like a boat, my love,
Of lemon peel afloat, my love,
And with a sail of gauze, my love,
She seems to slightly pause
Upon her silent way,
while on her silent way.
I see her pearly decks, my love,
Set in with diamond specks, my love,
I see her pearly mast, my love
Far from her seashell past
And gently does she sway
While on her starry way.
Of silk they have been spun, my love,
Her ropes that limply run, my love
Down to her carved prow, my love,
Down to her mermaid prow
And gently does she sway
while on her starry way.
She seems to linger long, my love,
As if spelled by a song, my love
But not, she tarries not, my love
Her journey unforgot
She makes her starry way,
She makes her starry way
All in the Sea of Sky, my love,
The moonships sail and fly, my love,
Though many are their kind, my love,
Though all need but one wind
To make their starry ways,
To make their starry ways.
And there will come a time, my love,
O may it be in mine, my love,
When men will proudly rise, my love,
And board to sail the skies
Moonships from all the spheres
Moonships from all the spheres.
The men be bathed in light, my love,
The women clothed in white, my love,
All in that wondrous fleet, my love,
As each the other meet
Will smile and softly sing,
Will smile and softly sing.
And on some distant sand, my love,
The ships will gently land, my love.
Fair folk will meet them there, my love,
With golden flowing hair
And great will be their joy,
And great will be their joy.
The moon is like a boat, my love,
Of lemon peel afloat, my love,
And with a sail of gauze, my love,
She seems to slightly pause...
Mary Hopkin singing this song as it is on my album -- stills, no live video.
Posted by Maggie Jochild at 12:05 AM
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
(Shoyu bottles outside Shikoku, painting by Jana Donoho-Strong)
Dodd announced the band was taking a break, then jumped off the platform and headed their way, fiddle tucked under her arm, and grabbed Pyosz in a tight hug. "You light up this whole corner of the room" she whispered. She grabbed the chair next to Qoj and allowed herself to be plied with food and drink as she cooled off. Pyosz found it interesting that Dodd sweated as much from playing as the more energetic dancers did.
After 20 minutes, Dodd excused herself briefly, went to the mic and said "We'll be resuming in five minutes. Five minutes." Pyosz felt a sudden expectancy in the room, heightened by someone flashing all the overhead lights several times. A minute later, teenagers began appearing at the edges of the room, those who had braved the weather to hunker under trees with sweethearts or hopeful sweethearts. First and second-graders clotted the stairwells at either end of the room, noisy and scuffling with each other, but Pyosz had the sense they were also waiting.
Dodd downed a last gulp of cold tea, winked at Qoj, and climbed back on stage, joined by the rest of the band. As soon as they were all standing in front of mics, the lights went out. The darkness was not total -- there was a geolight on the schoolground, and another small beacon by the row of privies out back, giving a hint of illumination through the rain. But it was inky enough that Pyosz felt suddenly unmoored, then instantly moored again by the sound of wet wind against the wide windows and, eerily, an entire community breathing almost in unison. Until even the breathing stopped.
Pyosz sensed someone moving to stand behind her chair, and she smelled lemon. Two familiar hands rested on her shoulders, and she leaned her head back lightly against Maar's belly.
From where Dodd had been standing, the last time Pyosz could see her, came the mournful call of a bird Pyosz heard every morning as she was waking up, a pre-dawn lament she had been unable to identify yet to a particular bird. Pyosz realized Dodd was creating this somehow on her violin. After one cry and repeat, a second set of song joined it, this from a bird Pyosz thought was a qale. She decided it was the mandolin player somehow making the double trill and whistle. The trumpet brought forth txikadiis, the lower keys of the accordion did a creditable jae, and as the dawn chorus gathered strength, a single thrum from the bodhrán brought abrupt silence to the room again. The bodhrán repeated its percussive cough, and Dodd knew instinctively it was an owl. She felt Maar squeeze her shoulders briefly.
But the light from outside seemed to gather, somehow, a reminder that the sun cannot be stopped in its path, and defiantly the songbirds began their chorus again, joined by various members of the audience who were skilled at this or that call. Pyosz felt thrill after thrill travel down her spine. Skene has no idea what they're missing she thought.
The concert kept growing in strength and variety, until suddenly there was the er-er-er-aroo of a chanticleer asserting that she, too, was a bird. Pyosz giggled as hens began clucking around the room. From clots of teenagers came pig grunts and turkey gobbles; small voices from the stairwells adding quacks and baas, choked with giggles. Pyosz didn't think before she gave forth a long cascade of bleats, mimicking WhiteEye who was the first goat start talking each day and the last to shut up. She felt Maar's belly shaking against the back of her head.
Then, cutting through it all, came a baby's fretting cry that swiftly turned into a high wail. It was so realistic that emmas nearby shifted in their seats instinctively, and a couple of actual babies began crying in empathy. There was no more sleep to be had: Morning had arrived on Pya. With that, someone threw back on the overhead lights and they all blinked at each other before roaring with joyous laughter. Maar returned to her chair, and Uli leaned over to say "Excellent goat."
The band swung into a jig, and older children scrambled back upstairs. Crying babies were carried around the room by comforting emmas. One of them passed in front of Pyosz, and she was still so caught by the aftereffects of the dawn chorus, she didn't immediately recognize the woman in front of her as Poth. The ejida worker who had trained her, after a fashion, her first day on Saya.
Pyosz waved politely and Poth motioned her head urgently, insisting Pyosz follow her. With vast reluctance, Pyosz excused herself and followed Poth to a table crowded with other ejida workers. Poth's infant, less than six months old, had calmed again, and Poth handed her to her partner as she introduced Pyosz around the table.
Pyosz was surprised at the wide smiles she was getting, and even more so when Poth said "I gave her the shittiest reception possible -- the baby was very ill that week, you remember,and all I wanted to do was stay home instead of running back and forth to a place one step away from total ruin. I was sure you wouldn't last five days." She said to her friends "Had never laid so much as a fingertip on a goat, and look at what she's done with Saya." They applauded her with callused hands, and she found herself speechless.
The baby was watching her with sober intensity, and Pyosz finally said "Is she all right, now? Your little one, I mean."
"Like nothing ever happened to her, you know how they can bounce back" said Poth reverently. Her partner Thava passed the baby back, and Pyosz realized this was Poth's real world, this cocoon of love. A first-grader appeared to make a plaintive complaint of Thava, who made a suggestion the child didn't like. The child eyed Poth, who said "I'm with Thava" but offered a quarter slice of apple as a sweetener against emma solidarity. The child took it and vanished back up the stairs.
"We've got one starting fourth grade next year as well" said Poth. "They're spread out, but that way I've gotten to spend more time with each one."
Thava leaned forward and said "We knew there was a problem with excessive bucklings in your herd, unconscionable, really, and Poth was going to address it once our personal crisis was over. But before we could arrange for one of us to come out, here you are sending us the bucklings for slaughter. How did you figure that out so fast?"
"Complete credit goes to my cousin Vants" said Pyosz.
"From Yagi? Vants the capriste there?" said Poth, looking impressed. Pyosz forgave her everything in that instant, as she nodded.
"So how's it going now out there?" asked Thava. They talked goats, tillage, orchards, and other ejida topics at that table through two songs. Pyosz was lightheaded with happiness. Eventually the baby found its way to her lap, and Pyosz kept sniffing of her newborn frizz with long inhaled breaths.
Finally she said "I need to return to my family, but listen, I have free hours during the day -- well, some days -- that I'd like to use seeing other parts of Pya. I remember helping with the rice harvest a few years ago. I'd like to be on a roster as fill-in help for other harvests as they come along this summer -- whatever I can mesh with my Saya demands, of course."
"You sure?" said Thava. "Because a quick learner and strong body like yours, we'll jump at the chance to call you."
"No scut work, okay?" grinned Pyosz. "I get enough shit shoveling on Saya."
Poth laughed. "I'll make sure it's interesting and that the crews you're on are good folks. Frankly, I'll put you in with my crew."
"Good" said Pyosz, reluctantly handing back the baby with a little wave. At her table, Pank said "Poth is one of our best, I'm glad you got a chance to meet that bunch." The music started again, and Pank added "Oh, it's a line dance, come on, cousin."
Pyosz was dragged to the floor by Tu and Pank, who positioned her in line between them. Probably the steps and pivots were elemental, but Pyosz was hopelessly lost and out of sync with the rest of the room by the second turn. Nobody was watching her, however, they were all focused on the person next to them, laughing non-stop with the exuberance of collective motion. Tu and Pank knew all sorts of embellishments and furbelows to the basic routine, so when Pyosz found herself facing left as everybody else faced right, one of her cousins would do a quick do-si-do around her and comically get her back in rhythm.
If I'd gone to dances as a child and young teenager, this is how I would have learned she thought. But Prl had also avoided dances, and Pyosz realized for the first time how odd that was. Unrequited love and dancing, a tough mix, she thought.
Back at the table, Pyosz decided to go get them another pitcher of cold tea and more snacks, since they had run out. Uli stood to accompany her. In line at the drink stand, Uli said "So, are you about ready to share a dance with me?"
"I'll be honest, Uli, I'm woefully unskilled and I won't enjoy it. I mean, the line dance was an exception" said Pyosz. "How about if we find a quiet place to visit for a bit?"
"Accepted" said Uli. "However, I don't want to emulate teenagers out under the trees..." She looked out the window in the direction of Koldok and her own Manage.
"My s'bemma's office is on the third floor, we can go up there" improvised Pyosz. They dropped off refreshments at the family table currently emptied onto the dance floor and snaked around the edges to the nearest stairs.
Dodd's office resembled Yoj's so much, Pyosz felt a little homesick. She sat down behind Dodd's desk, grinning at the battered ancient fountain pen Dodd wouldn't give up and the bottle of green ink she always used. Uli pulled around another chair to sit within reach, turning off the overhead in favor of Dodd's desk lamp.
"So" began Uli. "Do you have ambitions to become a gakusha like your abba Yoj or Yerush before her? Or will you seek a more practical application for your mathematics degree?"
Pyosz was stumped. "I haven't considered my degree in weeks. Not a gakusha, no. I didn't know how suited I was to outdoor life until I got here." Where did I pick that up? she asked herself, and immediately answered The tillages. Small scale compared to Saya, but growing and cooking was always where I was happiest.
"You could join forces with the physicists who are working on creating yet another sort of aircraft power source for the Lofthall" suggested Uli. "The rest of the planet will remain a mystery until we can fly vastly longer distances than our current capacity."
"It's an idea" agreed Pyosz. "But -- a jigong is not outdoors enough, I don't think. I guess it's all on hold until I return to Skene." But my life doesn't feel on hold, it feels like it's just taking off.
"Perhaps you'd like to run for office, that's certainly in your family's repetoire" said Uli. "Ethicists travel between islands daily, touring ejidas and docks, and you have a gift for pleasing people. You could begin by assisting your abba in her re-election campaign this time around, since there's a threat on the horizon."
"What threat?" Pyosz had heard nothing about this, and her hackles rose.
"The manager of rice production on Beras has filed intent to run against Nan Bux" said Uli somberly. "She has no real public office experience, but her sib and cousin network is very influential and sprawls across Skene. The editor of the newspaper is her sibiya, and she's having a quiet affair with the Sheng Zhang of Rahat."
"Is she competent?" asked Pyosz.
"Hard to quantify, especially when compared to the experience of Nan Bux" said Uli. Almost against her will, Pyosz waded into an intense discussion of Skene politics. She was frequently surprised at Uli's acumen, even more so at her unofficial sources of information. This was the other side of her upbringing, the kind of talk that would dominate family meals once the tillage was harvested and food cooked. Time passed without her keeping track. Uli's dark eyes in the lamplight sparkled with intelligence and interest, and the perspiration-dampened silk on Pyosz's back and inner thighs dried completely in the warm room.
Suddenly the door swung open, and Maar stood there, a furrow between her eyes that Pyosz had not noticed before.
"Oh. Excuse me for intruding, I'm really sorry, I just -- we didn't know where you had gone. Abbo said you must have returned to Saya, but..." Maar's face was going deep red, except for the paler indendation of the furrow. "I'll leave you alone."
"No, Maar, hang on, lev, look at how long I've been gone" said Pyosz, standing. Uli rose fluidly beside her and returned her chair to its place on the other side of the desk. "Is my family worried?"
"Not worried, no" said Maar, moving two feet away on the landing to completely clear the doorway for Uli's passage.
"Thanks for looking for me" said Pyosz. Uli offered her arm as they descended the stairs, and Pyosz accepted with a light hand. She sensed Maar deliberately lagging behind in following them downstairs. In the main room, Uli said "That was a fascinating conversation, I hope we can continue it soon."
"It's a lot to think about" agreed Pyosz. Uli hugged her, waved at Maar, and went toward her own family's table. Pyosz turned to Maar and hooked her arm through the crook of Maar's arm. "I really am sorry about spacing out like that. And for the record, I would never go back to Saya without telling you."
"That's what I said." The furrow on Maar's forehead was lessened, though not completely gone. They found a path through the melee to their own table, where Abbo said "Let me guess. Holed up with Uli, right?"
Pyosz was fairly certain Oby kicked Abbo under the table. She said to Briel "Please tell Dodd that the stains on her desktop ought to come out with lemon juice." After a moment, her family exploded into laughter and when Pyosz looked at Maar, the furrow was gone.
The music changed again, to an extremely slow serenade, and Pyosz said to Maar "I'm willing to punish you further on the dance floor, if you're game."
They joined the counter-clockwise glide and drifted toward the center front, where gentle swaying seemed to be acceptable motion. Pyosz whispered "She told me there's someone planning to run against my abba Bux in the next election. I don't think emma, at least, knows about it or else it would have come up. Where does Uli get her information?"
"She splits open moonsnails and reads their entrails" said Maar. Pyosz laughed so hard she had to stop even swaying for a minute.
"I wish we could talk freely about Uli" she said to Maar.
"We can't" replied Maar. "Not yet." Her solid jaw pointed past Pyosz's cheek, but her body was relaxed and for the next minute, Pyosz felt like she might understand the appeal of dancing. The trumpet gave a flourish, the beat changed abruptly, and in an instant, the tempo changed to a polka. Everyone around them seemed to know this was coming, immediately breaking into a rollicking stomp, pairs swinging wildly in each other's arms.
"Just follow my lead, and step high" said Maar, plunging them into the mix. Pyosz sucked in a breath and gave it her best. Two twirls later, right in front of the bandstand, she somehow hooked the heel of one oto around Maar's ankle and pulled her entire leg out from under her partner. Maar crashed face-first to the floor, Pyosz tumbling after and landing on her back.
Pyosz rebounded in horror, getting to her feet with alacrity. But the spectacular crash had thrown off the band's focus, and their playing trickled to a stop. The entire room was in a second of suspended animation, staring at Pyosz and Maar, until Maar rolled onto one elbow with her widest grin and loudly sang the first line of Pya's anthem:
I embrace this good green earth
She kissed the dance floor with exaggerated fervor, and during the ensuing hullaballoo, she accepted the help of guffawing bystanders in getting upright again. She gave an apologetic bow to Pyosz, who was mute with gratitude. Hands clapped Maar on the back in good humor as she took Pyosz's arm and they strolled back to their table, Maar limping slightly. Dodd counted the band back into rhythm and the polka resumed.
Even Abbo was focused on Maar, gleefully yelling "Great save, babe!" and enveloping her in a hug. Pyosz, finally finding her voice, rubbed Maar's knee gently and asked if she needed first aid.
"Just a Molars-style bruise" dismissed Maar, but she gave Pyosz a quick wink nobody else saw. Pyosz sat at the table for two more songs, watching Maar lead Qoj through an elegant waltz after a quick recovery. Then, during a lull, she said "I hate to bring it up, but -- "
"Goats at dawn" finished Maar for her.
"Exactly. I love you all, this has been the best dance of my life, and at least I get to see you all tomorrow" said Pyosz, gathering hugs and kisses. She stopped by the bandstand to wave at Dodd and gave a farewell hand-squeeze to Uli on her way out in Maar's wake. They ran for the jichang, giggling, and instead of a straight shot to Saya, Maar looped them over Puaa Woods, Pirinc, Shu, and back the length of Teppe before setting them down "home", as Pyosz thought of it. Torrents of water kept them from seeing much, but it was still exhilirating to Pyosz.
"Do you want some tea?" offered Pyosz.
"Better not, I owe the last dance to Abbo and you need your sleep" said Maar. "I'm almost dead on my feet, myself."
"No, I'm the one with dead feet, remember?" quipped Pyosz, giving her a hug. But a tiny shimmer of the glory she had been feeling faded with the memory that Maar would be going home with Abbo, climbing into a bunk with Abbo. She stood with her face to the rain until Maar's lighter was out of sight before mucking down the trail to her privy. Once on the seat, she turned on her flash to look for spiders. She didn't much like spiders. There was a web in the upper corner, and she examined it carefully, trying to find its inhabitant, without success. She really hoped it wasn't one of the furry ones, she liked those least of all.
When she turned on the light in her kitchen, she noticed her peppermill was overturned. She could find no other signs of visitation, but the wind wasn't strong enough to have toppled that squat heavy base. She hoped it was an owl rather than a shu. She decided against tea, after all, and went into her cabin. She hung her silks lovingly, though they'd have to be washed before she could wear them again, and rubbed her hair with a towel, smiling at all the glitter that cascaded down to her green and blue rug. Curds kept meowing, probably upset at her long absence on a stormy night. She said "It really was the best dance of my life, Curds" as she crawled under her blankets, Ember giving up the windowsill to join her.
She picked up her adventure book and tried to get back into it. After a few minutes, she traded it for the rice paddy workers novel, which was now falling open to the second chapter. Her hands were cold but warmed up quickly.
The next morning, Pyosz started a sponge before stirring rice porridge for breakfast, adding warm milk fresh from her does. During the second rise, she made pies and jam tarts. It was going to be a hot clear day, and under the kitchen canopy, it was airless. Curd and Ember had taken to claiming the chairs with cushions in them for their own, which was fine with Pyosz -- I have my own built-in padding she thought.
After putting in the bread to bake, she stemmed three dozen figs and cut them in half. She drizzled them with a thick glaze of honey, butter, and lime zest, adding a bare sprinkle of salt at the end. With her lamb and mint jelly, she decided this was enough and no pie was necessary today. She set out for Arta as soon as her bread was cool enough to bag and store in the larder away from txikadiis.
Tu, Pank, Nk, and Frahe were already at Arta. Tu was starting charcoal in a chimney and Pank was slicing perfectly ripe melons. Nk and Frahe had brought short ribs with a hot dipping sauce, and Tu's famous upside-down apple cake sat on the buffet table. Pyosz discussed cooking times and temperature for her lamb and figs with Tu before heading to the pond for a swim. After a few minutes, Dodd, Briel and Qoj joined her. Qoj said "Emma made a stuffed turkey! An entire turkey."
"We put in your lamb with it already" added Dodd. "They should take about the same time." Mill and Oby came to swim, and Api shooed Tu away from the grill, so Tu and Pank paddled around briefly before sitting on a rocky lip with their feet in the water.
"Was this pond here when you moved to Arta?" Pyosz asked Mill.
"Yes, but not nearly so wide or deep. And it was a shu haven" said Mill. "It was Oby who said our children would need a place to swim."
"It was you who moved us out of Pertama" countered Oby. To Pyosz she said "Relocating the Lofthall offices from Pertama to Koldok caused an uproar. Especially from Skene, who wanted another Riesig to deal with, even if it was a town instead of an island."
"They want a Riesig except they won't give us what we need for our own hospital" said Briel bitterly. "Or authorization for a second university" added Dodd.
Pyosz saw a sinner land at the Arta jichang and realized she had been watching for it. A couple of minutes later, Abbo and Maar appeared, Abbo already unlacing her gilet. Maar waved a handful of envelopes, saying "Mail for those who didn't get it yet!" Pyosz got out of the pond as Abbo dove in, going to hug Maar despite her dripping state before taking her mail. "You have two more crates by the front door, but this time they aren't impossibly heavy" said Maar.
"No Seda wine?" called out Tu.
"Something else from Seda" grinned Maar, starting to unbuckled her ku. Tu and Pank looked at each other, and Pank said "I'll go."
Pyosz sat down cross-legged on the grass and looked through her mail. There was one flat envelope in a child's handwriting, and she looked up to see Maar watching her as she pulled off her maillot. Inside was a sheet of school paper with a drawing of a stick-child running toward a kickball. The stick-child had tomato red hair. At the bottom was written "FOR PYOZS FROM THLEEN I LOVE YOU SEE YOU I HOPE SOON". She hugged it to her chest and got up to go put her mail on her crates, away from water splashes.
She returned to the pond area and sat cross-legged on the grass, declining Tu's offer of baicang. Briel was crunching away happily, and Qoj tried one, saying "Not bad. But I'll wait for turkey." When Api and Ollow also joined the baicang feast, Pyosz began to wonder if it was a Western Tendril preference.
Maar swam back and forth across the pond with hard, strong strokes a few times, then got out again to plop down between Pyosz and Qoj. She dried herself and redressed in gauzy ku and shati.
"Aren't you at least going to roll up your sleeves?" asked Pyosz. "It's blistering today."
"That's what I'll do if I sit out in this uncovered, blister" said Maar.
"What do you mean?"
"My skin burns from too much sun exposure" said Maar. Pyosz had never heard of such a thing. Maar pulled a small tub from her carryall and smeared her large nose with a bright white paste.
Pyosz said "I notice every time you get your hair wet, afterward you part it in the middle and comb it down to the sides. But after it dries, it just sticks back up straight."
"I want to look like the latest fashion. My hair, however, has a mind of its own" said Maar. Tu, strands of baicang in her teeth, said "That middle part thing is in fashion again? My emma wore hers that way when I was little, eons again. I guess everything comes back around."
Qoj had half-turned toward Maar and now asked "Why are you and Abbo the huolon pilots? Is that reserved for the best fliers?" There was a hint of flirtation in her voice. Pyosz stared at her and did a quick calculation: Qoj and Maar were within sui. Lev.
Abbo, who had drifted to the edge of the pond closest to them, snorted at Qoj's question. "Hardly. I mean, it's deadly boring. The upside is you accumulate acres of flight hours. But it's not skilled flying, you just point and go." Pyosz could see Mill's frown even at a distance.
"Well, unless something goes wrong" said Pank. Mill's frown deepened. "Then you're up a limbless tree without bark or rope."
"Exactly" said Maar calmly. She leaned back on her elbows and crossed her ankles, her head facing Qoj. "We can ask Pyosz to do the math, but more flight hours means higher odds that the statistically exceptional will occur, isn't that right?"
If you're asking me a question, you might look my way thought Pyosz. "Not exactly" she said crisply. "The causes of ocean crashes are linked to equipment and pilot error, not how many times you fly." Maar's head turned her direction when the words "pilot error" came out of her mouth with a particular emphasis.
"When was that huolon crash?" Pank asked Tu. Maar answered "'64." Dodd looked at her quizzically and said "You must have still been a baby, have you studied it, then, to know the date so fast?"
"Some of passengers were from Chloddia, lived on our lane, coming back from visiting kin in Pya" replied Pyosz. "Folks talked about it for years. Plus, yes, I've studied it. For obvious reasons."
"Was it pilot error in that instance?" said Qoj. Pyosz cast a glance at her to see if Qoj was trying to turn her words back on her, but Qoj wasn't that kind of coquette.
"Nope" said Abbo. "Lightning hit the tail and shorted out every electrical system except radio. The pilots talked for ten minutes before it went silent."
Nobody spoke for a minute. Maar said softly "I've listened to the tape of that transmission. There's a baby crying in the background. That memory wakes me up at night sometimes." She lay all the way back on the grass and closed her eyes, putting her clasped hands on her belly.
"Well, but that was then. We've got all sorts of safeguards now" said Abbo, fidgeting in the pond. "We've got much shorter transit times, and better radio, and if all else fails, we've got life rafts and the mezi. Plus the mezi symbol is painted on the bottom of the rafts."
When Halling had brought about what Yoj named the Pax Piscata, ending leviathan attacks on humans, she used a laser gun to convince the leviathans instant death would be the reward for any assault. It had taken centuries to figure out how to kill levs efficiently, and decades more to oversome Skene antipathy to warfare so that a pilot could use the laser as a weapon. Counting on leviathan sentience, communication, and ability to learn, Halling had a lightning bolt painted on the underside of all aircraft carrying the laser, and she had been right: The levs would not attack if the symbol was on display. At least, not adult leviathans who had impulse control.
It was Bux who had come up with the term mezi, which was an old but still-used Skene term for balance, as a euphemism for what was essentially a gun. Referring to it as assisting the leviathans in their shared quest for balance with humans was a means of circumventing Skene reaction to armed pilots.
Pyosz wondered how many people were actually fooled by the terminology. Yoj had coined the phrase Pax Piscata in irony, and was dismayed when it caught on as an earnest description.
Maar, her eyes still closed, said up to the cloudless sky "You place much more faith in mezi than I do, Abbo. It's a choice on the part of levs whether to concern themselves with consequences, a choice they can undo at any moment. And it was the Sheng Zhang who taught Skene that levs are problem-solvers."
"What do you mean by that?" demanded Abbo. Maar sat up on one elbow to answer. "Well, if I was a leviathan and I saw above me a thin plastic raft that was the only barrier between me and several mouthfuls of creatures I loathe, you know what I'd do? I'd circle around until I found the part of the raft where the person holding the mezi laser was sitting. I'd come up under her from the deep, take one chomp to put her out of action, and have the rest of those left in a sinking raft for dessert."
Abbo was outraged. "You never said anything like that to me before, what are you trying to do, scare me shitless? Who told you that idea?"
"I don't have anything to do for seven hours each way but think about things" said Maar flatly. "Seems like a logical place for the mind to go, it came to me a long time ago. Anyhow", she said, lying back down and closing her eyes, "I'm the one who's supposed to carry the mezi laser in the raft, remember?"
Abbo flung herself backward into the pond, beginning to swim laps. Mill said sententiously "I hope it goes without saying that none of this speculation is to be repeated out there in the general public, we don't want to create fear." She was looking in Qoj's direction, which earned her a glare from Dodd.
"Of course, Sheng Zhang" said Maar equably. Only Pyosz, and maybe Qoj, were close enough to hear her add sotto voce "Although fear of leviathans is, I think, a very smart idea."
"I have news to share" continued Mill. "We've had a firm request for migration from a large, well-skilled family with several children and more to come. They are asking for a Pea Pod, and given their numbers and abilities, they qualify for one of the largest land masses among the Pods."
Tu and Pank leaned forward in interest. "Which means what island, exactly?" asked Tu.
"Either Kacang, right here on our ferry route, in line of sight between Saya and Arta, or Bupkis, which we could link by ferry to Dodor" said Mill. "Technically, Gisantes is the largest of the Pods, but its nearest land mass is Hamsa and they don't want to be that isolated." Pyosz noticed Tu and Pank had looked at each other with a little relief.
"If they choose Kacang" said Dodd, "It will be an easy commute for the children to school."
"Yes, but they have ambitious land use plans, and some of it will depend on the geography of the island themselves" said Api. "They're looking over soil tests and other surveys, and will let us know this week."
"What kind of land use?" asked Pank, the tension returning to her and Tu.
"Well, a small vineyard, for one" said Oby. "A winery with their own label. A paddock for sheep with black fleece. A soybean field from which they intend to produce tempeh and fermented paste. And -- what was the other one?"
"Saffron" answered Api. "If the climate permits."
"Pricy stuff" said Tu. "And labor-intensive."
"They've got the numbers" repeated Mill. "Children to do basic picking and chores, ejida-trained abbas to perform technical tasks, and there's three emmas. None of them are over 50. I liked them all when they came here to check out their options. Well, I didn't actually meet the children, they left them on Skene. Anyhow, if its Kacang, we're going to see some serious construction beginning soon."
Briel asked their names but Mill declined to pass that on until their arrival. "We like to let people control their own migration information" said Mill. Pyosz noticed Tu and Pank were relaxed again. What was that about?
"Speaking of construction" said Pyosz, "I was wondering if I could convert an unused wall in the barn's toolroom into bins and shelves for storing some of the stuff I'm canning. My larder is inadequate."
"Pyosz the producer" teased Maar.
"Shouldn't be a problem" said Api. "I'll review it with you when I come for my inspection."
Pank said "We could help you, maybe, when we come to cut those trees."
"What trees?" said Pyosz. "You mean the ones you flagged in the woods?"
"They need to come down this week" said Tu. "There's a magnificant old maple whose roots are so shallow, really the only thing holding it up is a too-close walnut that's also dying from crowding. One major storm, and they'll both fall in ways that could be very damaging."
"I'll need your signature before you leave today" Api said to Pyosz. "Pank already filled out the forestry forms, and arranged for transport of the equipment."
"We was thinking San afternoon if the weather's clear" Tu said to Pyosz. "We could come in the morning and do other things."
"Sounds good to me" said Pyosz. "I'll feed you lunch. This will be very interesting to watch."
"You'll need to feed the work crew that comes with the equipment, too" said Api. "Two of them. Lunch and possibly dinner, depending on how long it takes."
"I was going to be killing more chickens this week anyhow" grinned Pyosz.
Pank said to Nk "You remember that Manage you built in Talaba with the upstairs porch, and how you made wooden blinds to go around it on all sides that could be shut when it stormed? I had the idea of getting something like that made for Pyosz's kitchen, when it comes winter again. That sound feasible to you?"
"Absolutely" said Nk. "You know how to take measurements, get me those and a basic floor plan, and we'll come up with a design."
"And permits" added Api. "Though I agree, it sounds like a great idea."
I won't be here in the winter, have you forgotten? thought Pyosz. But she didn't want to say it out loud. The smell of roasting meat hit her nostrils, and she said "I'm going to baste my lamb, shall I do yours, too?" to Dodd.
"I'll come with you" said Dodd, standing and brushing off her bottom. At the grill, Dodd said "Seeing you so happy and successful here is having a positive effect on Qoj. We've got our fingers crossed about her coming back home."
Nk appeared on the trail and came to turn her pork ribs. "Time to put on my figs, I think" said Pyosz.
"Then let's find room for all the veggies Oby has arrayed on this platter, too" said Dodd. After the lid was replaced, they set out more ice and arranged the buffet table while Nk went to tell everyone food would be served in 10-15 minutes.
"Emma sent me more sheet music" Dodd told Pyosz.
"Oh, can we have a preview after we eat?" begged Pyosz.
"I'll see, it's pretty thick going."
"The dawn chorus, s'bemma -- was that your idea?"
Dodd grinned shyly. "Yeah, but it evolved from a few bird calls into the amazing collaboration you saw last night. We always wind up with real babies crying. We haven't had goats before, however."
"When I woke up this morning, I got shivers listening to what was going on around me in a brand new way" said Pyosz.
(to be continued)
© 2009 Maggie Jochild.
Sunday, August 30, 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)
The following day, Qala walked in to the Genist Manage kitchen where Lawa and Prl were sitting down to afternoon tea holding a crate with a bundle of letters on top. "Mail from Pya!" she declared. They unwrapped the string-sealed envelopes and read in silence for a few minutes.
Lawa said "She writes that Tu was there when she opened the hoe and remembered it was the first one I ever bought for myself. She says it made her cry; that's a good kind of crying, right?"
"Best kind" said Qala. "She says here that Dodd is giving her chicks descended from the double-yolk line at the Manage down the hill, she plans to reinvigorate the chicken flock on Saya. She also says she's set up a killing field near a cliff where blood can drain into the ocean." She looked askance at Lawa, who replied "Makes sense to me."
"I've got photos" said Prl, trumping them both. She'd been through them twice already, not reading her letter yet. She handed them over to Lawa and Qala, going to her office and returning with a thick sheet of chart parchment which she pinned to the wall next to the table. Once Lawa and Qala had pored over the pictures as well, Prl sorted them into clusters and began pinning them to the parchment. The one of Pyosz in her kitchen drew a simultaneous exclamation from Qala and Lawa, who got up to come look at it closely.
"That's her, that's her down to essence" said Qala.
"Who's she looking at behind the camera?" asked Lawa. Prl pointed to the photo of Maar and Pyosz together. "The pilot whom she's been asking me questions about" said Prl with disapproval in her voice. Beside that snap, she'd put the photo of Pyosz and Uli together. "And this is the mapmaker who went to University here on Riesig."
"Looks to me like we got a competition under way" said Qala. "Oh, look at the one of Pyosz and Dodd together, that's beautiful!"
"And here's the pilot frolicking naked with Abbo" continued Prl, her jaw tight.
"Doesn't she have a name?" asked Lawa.
"Maar" said Prl tersely. She could see Lawa trying to work out where she'd heard it before. However, what Lawa said was "Sounds like you've made your mind up about which one she should choose. Because University means smart, and pilot who helps her on Saya means stupid, right?" She stalked out of the kitchen into the large larder.
"Don't I get to have an opinion about my child's life choices?" complained Prl to Qala.
"No" came from the larder. "You totally fell for Sey, you used up all your barter credit."
Prl glared at the larder door, waiting for Lawa to return. Qala pointed to the photo of Pyosz with Dodd again and said "Look at her arm muscles, those are new." Lawa emerged and came to peer through her bifocals.
"Stars" said Lawa. "She looks like a Jiang Giant."
There was an old and endlessly expanded-upon children's story about Jiang Giants who lived beneath Skene's crust, massive beings made of sizzling rock, swimming in magma which was also their sustenance. Every now and then, lava would find a fissure to the surface and erupt into the open air, where it died. This would enrage the Jiang Giants, and they would stomp around, throw boulders, and rage in stony roars. This is what children were told caused earthquakes.
Qala laughed. "That's a great description."
Prl said to Lawa, in a challenging but kind tone, "Why do you do that?"
"Act like if some reference is made to intelligence or education, that what's being hinted at is that you are stupid" said Prl. "Lawa, I've never ever heard anybody question your smarts. I've leaned on your mind for decades now. So why do you have that tender spot?"
Qala was exulting inside at someone else confronting Lawa about this, and doing a nice job of it.
Lawa pursed her lips and thought for a minute. "I don't know." And that was one of Lawa's most golden attributes, when she was asked a hard or painful question by someone she loved, she never showed resentment. After another minute, she said "I'll think on it."
Prl hugged her lightly and said "Thank you. I guess I've got some thinking of my own to do, huh." She refilled the teapot with hot water from the aga and sat down at the table. Lawa was now peering at the photos of Tu.
Qala sat down across from Prl and poured herself a cup of tea. "Aren't you going to open the crate? I imagine it's a duplicate of what Yoj's Manage received."
Prl opened the latch and began pulling out bags of dried fruit. Lawa came to her side and examined the label closely. "She's been there two weeks, and look at all this" she marveled. Prl opened the honey jar and put a teaspoon of it into her tea, taking a long sip.
"Mill certainly knew who to ask to come help" she said not quite neutrally.
"I think Mill lucked out" said Qala. "She asked Vants, I know that for a fact, and Vants turned her down. Let's give Pyosz all the credit here and leave it at that. Hand me those apricots, will you?"
She and Lawa began sampling each bag of fruit.
"Speaking of stupid...." began Prl, her voice soft. "I have no wisdom or experience at all in the ream of romance, lovers, dating, whatever you want to call it. It's hard for me to acknowledge. I don't have anything to offer my child. Maybe that's why I'm herding hard in a direction where it looks like I can have a rational judgment." She laid her head on her arms.
Lawa looked around at her. "You're her emma. We don't take questions like that to our emmas. I mean, Ng was an open door, but I never once told her who I was sweet on."
"Who did you talk with?" asked Qala, feeling an old flicker of jealousy that there had been lovers before her.
"Mostly nobody. Sometimes Tu or Halling" said Lawa.
Qala grinned. "And Halling is who told you I had feelings for you."
"I didn't need to be told twice" said Lawa with an answering grin. "I actually ran down the hill that night toward the Lofthall."
Qala saw that Prl's eyes were closed, and signaled silently to Lawa that they could reminisce another time. Qala said "You know, Prl, I can imagine Pyosz actually bringing some of her questions to you. They'd be indirectly phrased, and she'd float a windsock kite first, to see if you were going to be all lecture-y. But you and she have been closer than any other emma and child I know."
Prl's eyes opened. "The odds are, I'll piss her off right away."
"Mebbe not" said Lawa. "You're already thinking on it, that's a sign."
Prl sat up. "You realize we're spending as much time dealing with her as our youngest, despite her being half a world away, as we often did when she lived here?"
Lawa chuckled. "Remember that time when she was four and you discovered she was getting up in the middle of the night to cook stuff?"
"Oh, lev" said Prl, her face losing a little color. "I walked into this kitchen and she was standing on a chair right there, the aga door open, trying to stir burning oatmeal with the sharpest cleaver I owned, and the hem of her little shati was so hot it was about to burst into flames."
"Well, you got to let her stir this pot now with whatever she's got to hand" said Lawa.
"Or you could mail a bunch of eks to the pilot and see if you could buy her off" said Qala, deadpan. After a long moment, Prl and Lawa both burst into laughter. Prl looked at the clock and said, "Crap, I have to go tell a couple of 19-year-olds they're not suitable to add a child to their mix." She carried her cup to the sink. She almost never talked about her duties, and Qala stared after her.
"How do you tell someone that?" asked Qala.
"Well, in their case I'll simply suggest they wait a year, until they're 20, making it sound biological rather than emotional" said Prl. "They won't be together in a year. One of them is cheating on the other with her partner's siba. Or so rumor has it. If I'm wrong, they'll come back in a year and I'll take another look."
"How do you hear all this gossip?" demanded Lawa, part of her mind trying to figure out who Prl might be talking about and the other part of her mind insisting she leave it alone.
Prl turned to grin at them a little wickedly, and lowered her voice to say "I go to Market every week, right? And it's well known that I duck under a canopy and take forever looking over selections before I actually barter."
"You're a reverie kind of shopper, that's true" said Qala.
"No, I make up my mind right away. But if I stay quiet, I can hear the conversations going on five and six stalls away. People are appallingly indiscreet about what they discuss in public. I store it all away in my memory, and if a rumor persists, I find some subtle way to refer to it with emma. Bux, that is. She's like Qen, she knows what everybody is doing." Prl kissed Qala's cheek and said "I don't actually like that part of my job, not like emma does, but everybody lies when it comes to their children, real or hoped for." She kissed Lawa's cheek as well and went to her office to retrieve her carryall.
Lawa sat down close to Qala to say "If it's not the University thing, then she's heard something about the pilot. But she don't have no dirt on the mapmaker."
"See, you just put that together lickety-split" whispered Qala. "Let's go next door, Yoj is deep in the stacks and the Manage is empty."
On Pya, Saya Island had been sunny and bustling since goats were released to pasture. Pyosz finished adding soil to her new raised beds, using leftover planks to make sequested areas for aggressive plants like mint and fennel. She built trellises for future beans, at the opposite end of her tillage from the onion/garlic/shallot bed. She also built trellises for cucumbers, next to the beans but well away from potatoes, and capers in the area most protected from the northwest prevailing wind. She made hills for an entire field of corn, enough to make her abbas crow, and buried a core of enriched dung at the base of each hill.
Until soil testing was completed, however, she couldn't rearrange her tillage according to her new chart or put in new seeds. Instead, she planted starts in the special trays her abbas had sent and put them in the sun on top of her grill cover. She folded tiny envelopes for half of each seed type, labeling them and adding a small drawing, to pass on to Tu and Pank. She felt the txikadiis watching her avidly from the rafters as she poured seeds from one envelope to another.
She cleared the table, scrubbed it down along with her hands, and brought the latest batch of dried fruit from the drying room to bag and label. She made a marinade for her lamb of mashed peaches and juice, lime juice, honey, vinegar, and a dash of allspice. Before she rubbed it over the carcass, she cut slits into the meat and inserted slivers of garlic, then returned it to the coldbox. She called Arta to make sure there would be room in the aga for roasting, and Api told her they were planning to build a fire in their massive outdoor covered grill, despite the hot weather, because Dodd was also bringing a dish for roasting. "We're planning to grill asparagus, onions, squash, whole heads of garlic, and onions" said Api. "Plus potatoes."
"I'm hungry already" said Pyosz. "I can't wait until the corn harvest comes in."
"Best time of year" agreed Api. "It's not too late for you to get in a crop before fall, you know."
"I'lm planning on it" said Pyosz.
"I need to come inspect your renovations, by the way" said Api. "Maybe this week."
"Any time after 9:00 most days" said Pyosz. When she clicked off, she made lunch with warm-yolked eggs for her wilted escarole salad. She gathered her orchard gear, plus scrub, towel, and clean clothes, and trundled her wain through the kissing gate.
Halfway across her pasture, she heard the distant drone of aircraft approaching. She looked around at the nearest goats and grabbed Yams, a large yellow-brown doe who was easy-going to the point of near somnolence. She whipped off her red cap and tied it over Yams head, which brought all the kids in for a hopeful nibble. She lifted Yams into the wain, jumped in after her, and lifted Yams as high in the air as she could. Yams decided this was really too much and began struggling, and it was all Pyosz could do to hang onto her as the lighter zipped overhead. It made an instant banking curve and swing back around for a second look. She was laughing wildly, goats running in all directions, and she wished there was a camera in the lighter to photograph her, but it was unlikely. After a waggle of flaps, the lighter went on and Pyosz set Yams down in the wain. Yams promptly urinated, narrowly missing the pot holding towel and scrub, before leaving the wain with a complaining bleat at every step.
She took a long soak and washed her hair, scrubbed every inch of her body, and then laundered her red cap in the pot with shampoo, setting it on a wain upright to dry. She missed Maar's company during the rinsing process and also during the fruit picking. Back in her kitchen, she sorted dutifully for allotment, preparing half for drying or sale as is, the other half for jams and preserves. At one point she heard the jae calling repeatedly. She walked out to spot it, and discovered it was sitting atop her red cap still drying on the wain, trying to remove the fluffy red ball at the peak of the cap. She ran toward her wain yelling "Stop! You there!" The jae waited until she was only a yard away before taking wing. She carried her cap back to dry in her kitchen.
It began raining before she was finished milking. She had hung her silks earlier to air, but as she ate dinner, she began to feel dread about the impending dance. She wondered if the downpour was enough to excuse her absence. Chewing, she picked up her radio and dialed the Genist Manage.
"This early, I knew it must be you" said Prl happily. Pyosz thought she could hear the cast-iron lid on the aga cistern being lifted for tea water in the background. "We have a wall covered with your photos here, and I've eaten so much of your cheese I'm going to need some of Lawa's stewed prunes to unbind me."
"Emma, I went out to eat at a fancy restaurant in Pertama with Uli last night" began Pyosz. "But I told her it wasn't a date, and I realized as I said it that dating is simply not something I can handle right now. I mean, I'd already said something similar to Maar, but this made it official."
Prl sat down abruptly. Listen, just listen she reminded herself. "How does it feel, a day later?" she asked with light interest.
"Good. I had a good day. Curds and Ember found a nest of baby shu and killed them all, and I lavished praise on them, though I suspect the shu were easy pickings because its emma was hunted by an owl this week. I can't imagine shu being emmas, but I guess they are" said Pyosz, off on a tangent.
"Well, reproduction and emmadom are not necessarily the same thing" said Prl.
"You oughta know. I mean because of your career, not you personally" added Pyosz hastily. Prl laughed and said "Clarification not necessary." Qala came in the back door with a basket of eggs, and Prl wrote hastily on the kitchen pad: "Pyosz. I was right, pilot and mapmaker both chasing her. She said no. Brought it up with me!"
Qala gave her a thumbs' up, whispered "Give her my love" and left again.
"Emma, why do you think Ngall and Abbo were treated so differently? Ngall has always lived up to expectations, at least until she scratched dirt in her emmas' faces to go marry Ehuy, but Abbo still got treated like she was the favored child" said Pyosz. "Makes me really glad I didn't have sibs."
"I don't think Oby treated Ngall differently than Abbo, I think that's mostly Mill's doing" said Prl. "And isn't it obvious why? Look at Abbo."
"What about her?"
"She's an almost exact duplicate of Oby" said Prl. "Physically, I mean. Especially if you knew Oby as a teenager, which of course you didn't. Mill and Oby fell in love by the time they were 13 or 14, and had known each other all their lives, so I'm fairly sure when Mill looks at Abbo, she sees the young Oby who's had her heart nearly forever. And Oby doesn't interrupt that because ego is human nature, after all."
"Do you think Abbo is good looking?" asked Pyosz. There was a note in her voice that caught Prl's attention.
"Yes, I do" said Prl honestly. "She's every bit the looker Oby was. But I don't think she's really at all like Oby in other ways. Oby was raised by two emmas who are profoundly service-oriented and on the conservative side, in an intelligent way. She pursued adventure only in realms where it enhanced public good. At heart, she's not self-absorbed." Prl didn't need to make the comparison. She suddenly realized this was on a public frequency. Before she could ask if that were so, Pyosz changed direction again.
"Emma, have you ever been in love?"
There was a long silence. Pyosz said "I'm sorry, I'm prying -- "
"No, it's a good question. But will you call me back on a private frequency?"
"Oh. Yeah, right away."
Prl got down a sip of honey-laced tea before the radio buzzed again.
"All right. Yes, I've been in love. Only once, but for a long time." Prl felt dizzy. She'd never told anybody, not even Dodd or Yoj although she suspected they both knew.
Pyosz was stunned. Even the request to change frequencies hadn't altered her expectation that Prl would say no. "Wow. I guess I can't ask you who."
"I'd rather not say" admitted Prl.
"Which means it's probably someone I know" said Pyosz. Prl closed her eyes. "Did she know how you felt, emma?"
"We didn't speak of it...directly. But yes, I think she did. She chose someone else" said Prl.
Which means it must have been before you became Genist thought Pyosz, this time not saying it out loud. "Do you still have heartache?"
"For her specifically? Not really. I think my love for her was, shall we say, misplaced. You know what I mean" Prl dared. "But I wish I'd had a lover. I'm not sorry to be Genist, and I certainly pushed the boundary lived by any other Genist on Skene, but I'd like to have had a partner. Or partners."
"Wow" said Pyosz again. "I can hardly wrap my mind around this. I don't think I would have liked sharing you with someone else."
"She would have been your emma, she would have given you double what I could" said Prl.
"I can't imagine that" repeated Pyosz. "You could retire, emma, and go find love again."
Prl was close to crying. "I have more work to do, Pyosz. At least one big piece, one problem yet to resolve, before I can feel okay about turning it over to the dullard." She whispered the last phrase so softly Pyosz only understood it because she'd heard it so often from Prl.
"I really thought I was in love with Sey, emma. I think I wanted to be in love, I wanted to be like everybody else. You know, even if I don't fall in love again, I mean to have a Manage and children. Several children. You showed me I can do that no matter what" said Pyosz.
"That may be the finest thing you've ever told me" said Prl softly. "We're all so proud here of what you're doing, how you're leading your life, we can hardly contain ourselves."
"We're going to run out of time. There's a dance tonight in Koldok and I really don't want to go, but the rest of the family is expecting me. I guess I'll write you all about it" said Pyosz.
"Thank you so -- " Static cut in. Prl lay down the radio very gently before bursting into tears.
Pyosz sat for a long time, staring into the slanting quicksilver of nighttime rain. Finally she went into her cabin and lay her gold commencement outfit on her bed. She stripped down and wiped off her otos before changing into clean underwear, then donning the silk, which felt luxurious in a new way against her skin -- it had been over two weeks since she'd worn silk. As she was lacing the jirekinu, she heard Maar's voice from outside calling "Hello? Are you still here?"
"Getting dressed, I'll be there in a minute" she called back. She pulled a small pot of gold glitter from her cupboard and dropped a sprinkle onto her damp hair. She put back on her otos, tucking her calças legs into the tops to keep them dry, then donned her burzaka and red cap. She found Maar sitting at the table, drinking fresh tea. Maar said "I thought you'd appreciate a ride in this weather."
"And how" said Pyosz. "Are you hungry, I could -- "
"No. Hard as it is to pass up your cooking, I'm full enough and don't want to try dancing after the kind of gorging I do with your food" said Maar. Pyosz grabbed her flash and they splashed their way to Maar's lighter. Two minutes later, Maar was tying down the craft at the Lofthall jichang, shouting into the rain "Go on ahead, I'll meet you there."
Pyosz ran for the schoolhouse, entering through the mudroom and finally locating a free hook to hang her burzaka. The buzz of voices from the adjoining assembly hall was louder than the rain. She stuffed her hat into the burzaka pocket. As she turned around, Maar was coming in the door. Maar froze and gaped at Pyosz.
"Thunder me down, but don't you clean up well" she said. She bent closer to look at the glitter in Pyosz's hair.
"Oh, dear, I'm not overdressed, am I?" worried Pyosz.
"No, folks deck out for dances. But I've lost the crease in my kalsongers, and, well, you look dazzling, that's all" said Maar. She held out the crook of her arm and Pyosz took it gladly, suddenly shy to walk into the next room alone.
There were appreciative looks cast their way as they entered, and Pyosz could see people whispering "Who is that?" Before the gauntlet got too embarrassing, however, Tu was waving them down from a table crammed with family. Pyosz hugged them all exuberantly, even Abbo who said "You'll have to save me a dance, cousin, you're going to sparkle on that floor out there." Dodd and her band were already on the small stage, but Dodd waved at her. Pyosz sat down next to Qoj and they started talking excitedly. Nk went to get her a glass of cold tea, and before she returned, the music began, a swinging two-step.
Oby asked Pyosz to dance, and Pyosz said "Thank you so much, S'bemma, but I need to just sit for a while and take it in. The idea of not moving my body is most attractive at the moment."
Oby turned to Mill and they swept onto the floor, along with Abbo and Maar, Tu and Pank, Briel and Api, Frahe and Qoj. Nk returned with her drink, and they listened to the band for a while. In addition to Dodd on the fiddle, there was a mandolin, a bodhrán, an accordian, and a small silver trumpet. Nk said the squeezebox player would switch on and off to the piano there in the schoolroom, as melody required.
Pyosz managed to avoid the dance floor for a few more songs, either by engaging herself in conversation which it would be rude to interrupt or going to get drinks herself. Her family was dance-happy, and there was an even number at the table plus Maar, which meant Pyosz sitting it out didn't keep someone else from taking a turn. Finally, however, thankfully during a relative sedate number, Maar said "All right, it's time for you to let Pya see you on your feet", grabbing her hand and tugging her upright. As they reached a clear spot and Maar pulled her closer, Pyosz whispered "I'm a terrible dancer, Maar. I truly am."
"You haven't had me as a partner" said Maar gallantly. She smelled of rain and juniper, Pyosz noticed. Their hands were almost exactly the same size, clasped together, and their matching height helped Pyosz relax a little as they began moving slowly in unison. Every muscle in Pyosz's body was trying to guess where Maar was going to direct them next, and almost half the time, it was a wrong guess. Maar demonstrated no impatience, however. Her grin was wide and Pyosz had fleeting seconds of enjoyment between the times when she stepped on Maar's feet or brought them to a brief halt because she had jerked them in the wrong direction.
When they reached the end, Pyosz was sweating hard. Maar stood beside as they applauded the band and said "Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?"
"You tell me" said Pyosz.
Maar bent to her ear to whisper "I'll keep Abbo off your back, okay?" Pyosz felt a flush of something move through her, and she was grinning when they returned to the table. "Save one for me" said Tu as she was heading onto the floor with Nk. Abbo grabbed Maar before she could sit down, and Pyosz sank into her chair gratefully.
A few seconds later, she recognized the song Dodd was beginning. It had been written by Yoj not long after she, Halling and Bux had partnered. She'd once told Pyosz it was about a weekend they'd spent on Pomar, surrounded by orchards and nature without other people nearby. The verses were about trees, about unobstructed views toward a distant coast, and about falling in love with a new place. The music had long chord stretches with high, sweet notes.
As she listened now, however, Pyosz realized it applied much more forcefully to Pya than to Pomar. At the end of the first verse, Dodd stopped playing to sing the chorus, and most of the dancers halted as well to sing with her, Dodd's clear tenor almost piercing with emotion:
I embrace this good green earth
Rising safe I am this hour
Above the ocean's salty scour
Rising safe for each new birth
This is my home above the sea
This is my home, embracing me
Pyosz felt tears sting her eyes, looking around the room. This is a kind of anthem for them here she thought. She wished the abbas could see this, could see how Yoj's words had been claimed by the new world. She resolved to find a way to describe it in a letter.
At the end, the dancers again stopped moving to repeat the final verse. They all then flung their arms into the air and shouted "To Pya!" Pyosz came to her feet belatedly, and remained standing as her family returned to the table. In their wake was Uli, who hugged her and said "Can I join you for a while?"
"Of course" said Pyosz. Maar had sat down on the other side of the table, next to Abbo, and Uli took her chair. Tu and Pank returned immediately to the dance floor.
"That last song was amazing!" Pyosz said to Briel. "Does Yoj know what it's become here?"
"I don't think so" said Briel. She said to Abbo and Maar's questioning faces "Dodd's emma wrote that."
"I never knew that" said Abbo, looking shocked. "We sung it every day in school, I just thought it was some old piece from before I was born."
"Well, it was" said Mill, mussing her hair. "Seems like half the popular music on Skene was composed by emma."
Uli leaned toward Pyosz and said "Those hanshan and jirekinu are gorgeous. And clearly Skene-made. Which shop do you use?" Pyosz told her, and Uli pointed to her own dubikun, saying "They made these, too."
Api and Ollow went to the snack bar and returned with a platter of ikan, salted tomatoes, rice balls, and assorted fruit, along with a pitcher of cold tea. The dancers ate lustily, talking at volume over the hubbub around them. People kept stopping by to visit, and they were all introduced to Pyosz, who quickly lost track of names but found she was happy to gaze into interesting faces, press hands in her own, and accept the welcome being extended her. Uli showed no signs of wanting to return to her own family table. She was charming the sokken off Qoj, Pyosz could tell, and very deferential to all the older women, but hardly engaged with Maar at all.
Two songs later, Dodd stood in front of the mic with her fiddle lowered and said "I have a new song for you all tonight. It's from ancient Yrth, lyrics translated by my emma Yoj, music hopefully translated correctly by me. The band has worked all week to learn the words, but before we sing it, I'll play you the melody. We're calling it 'Oak Grove'." A murmur went around the room. Pank said to Pyosz "Good name change."
The room had gone silent by the end of the second bar, except for thuds from children playing on the second floor above them. When Dodd lowered her fiddle again and the band broke into the lilting ache of the first line, Pyosz realized she was going to cry all out, no stopping it. Uli held her hand as Pyosz stifled her sobs enough to hear the beautiful words. Dodd was smiling at her. After the last chorus, Dodd played the melody again, and there was a thunderous roar of applause.
The band began a clogging melody, and Uli said to Pyosz "Care to take a turn with me?"
"Oh, lev, not right this minute" said Pyosz, wiping her face with her palm. Uli turned to Qoj and they melted onto the floor, adding to a cacophony of leather on wood. Half a minute later, Maar was in Qoj's chair, leaning toward her to say in her ear "What did that song make you think of? Missing Skene?"
"Um, I guess some. But more, about those poor people who were stranded here against their will, never to see anything familiar again. I mean, I'd have gone crazy too. Memory is linked to the soil, you know? I'm so attached to Saya already, it's a little frightening." Pyosz was close enough to Maar's face that she had an impulse to touch her forefinger to the dimple in Maar's chin.
"I know what you mean" said Maar. "My third week here, I was flying over Zold and even though a cloud had covered the hot springs, I could see the beetle green of its color in my mind as if it were clearly visible. And I said out loud 'Zold, you're quite the beauty.' Unfortunately, my radio was on and Jiips heard me."
Pyosz giggled. "You know, I realized while I was biking precariously to Pertama with Uli, I haven't gone beyond Koldok since I got here. One of my intentions this summer was to explore Pya as an adult. I need to start venturing out on the weekends, instead of work, work, work."
"I concur" said Maar emphatically. The song ended, and Maar stood to grab another chair for Qoj before returning to sit beside Pyosz again. Abbo leaned across the table to say "You're the talk of the Lofthall, cousin. There's a raging debate about how many points are awarded for a redcap sighting on a goat with a two-person lift in a wain." Pyosz and Maar erupted into laughter, and Abbo explained to the others.
"Whatever possessed you?" asked Qoj.
"Oh, public scrutiny is something you have to not take seriously" said Pyosz. "I learned that early. My next plan is to find a way to put my cap on an owl." Maar and Pank roared, and Tu said "Take a photograph this time, before it removes your kidneys for you."
When the band resumed, Tu said "My turn with the capriste" and extended her arm to Pyosz. Tu's frame was very much like that of her sib Halling, with the long bones that Pyosz herself had, but elegant and light. Pyosz hoped to do better with her cousin than she had with Maar. Tu seemed to sense her limitations immediately and moved them into the center of the dance floor, where elders and small children traveled at a slower pace. This plus Tu's decades of practice kept Pyosx from repeatedly crushing Tu's feet beneath her otos. Pyosz was again breathless at the end of the dance, mostly from strain, while Tu had not even a flush. As they returned to their chairs, Pyosz said "It's so crowded, I'm beginning to think the entire population is here." Tu replied "Folks on Pya never miss a dance. It's our main form of community gathering. Even the Owl People are here."
"The Owl People?" said Pyosz. "I thought that was some yarn Mill spun us when we were kids."
The older folks at the table sat out the next dance in order to talk with Pyosz about the Owl People. When Pya had first been explored, not every island had resident owls, though most did. In particular, the medium-sized island of Chwet, choked with a mixed forest of oak, beech, hickory, chestnut, and pine, seemed to have great numbers of owls.
There were two different owl species which the original colonists had apparently introduced as their form of shu control, one which preferred to live in rocky burrows and one which required large trees as a habitat. Any island which had a respectable forest would have the latter, and over time, these owls had become the massive creatures which struck terror into those back on Skene who heard the reports: Flat-faced birds with wing spans averaging eight feet and often up to 10 or 12 feet from tip to tip, a height of 3 feet, and talons like elongated razors. The rock-dwelling owls had wing spans under five feet, and were a buffy-grey instead of the dark brown plumage on the tree owls.
Despite the extreme efficacy of owls as shu-hunters, Skene had adamantly refused to allow this species a foothold on their own set of islands. So great was their fear, that only a single specimen was allowed to be kept by the botanist. It was aversion which determined this vote, but in practical terms, it also made sense: Katts on Skene prowled at night, and to an owl, a katt was as good a meal as shu. So were lambs, kids, chickens and other fowl. Those who immigrated to Pya learned to keep all small stocks and pets indoors once darkness fell. Skene was unwilling to make that change.
Early on, a set of three families from Bosco had migrated to Pya together. They had expertise with forestry and farming wild pigs, and they were offered their choice of the wooded islands as their home. After a stay in Pertama to get acclimated, they had surprised Api by asking to settle on Chwet.
Api explained to them that Chwet, like Pabo, had been set aside by Skene law as primarily inhabited by a now-native species, and therefore human development would be limited to activities which would not substantially threaten the habitat of the owls on Chwet or the turkeys on Pabo. This partial observance of environmental law, in place since the Troubles 500 years earlier, was being circumvented on Pabo by the decision to build a small community on the coast, adjacent to meadows avoided by turkeys (likely because of human proximity). A small group of wild turkeys were caught and "observed" for a couple of years, during which time they hatched many young who were declared by the people on Pabo to be "no longer wild" and therefore available for breeding and farming. Thus, early on Pya had earned a steady income from importing turkey meat to Skene, who had no environmental qualms about consuming vast quantities of the protected animal.
In the case of Chwet, Api said, there could only be cutting of trees which were clearly impeding the growth of other nearby trees, or which were already dead or dying. The wild pigs of the forests could be hunted and eaten, because Skene did not recognize the rights of wild pigs on Pya any more than they recognized the rights of wild pigs on Bosco in Skene. But hunting and consumption had to not threaten the ongoing numbers of pigs on Chwet. Further, there was no ferry to Chwet and none planned for the coming decade, because it was never going to be a high population or industry center. And, of course, Chwet was simply crawling with owls. Wouldn't the new immigrants prefer to settle on Mti or Nec, instead?
No, they said, they wanted to live in a wilderness and they rather liked the idea of the owls. They were dropped off with an allotment, their belongings, and a set of tools, plus the little metal cabins used by the first Skene arrivals on Pya, identical to Pyosz's on Saya. Oby returned after three days to check on them, and discovered they had begun building houses made of entire logs, not boards. They were observing the tree-cutting guidelines, and were employing an ingenious method of notching the logs at either end so they would stack without much gap. When Oby asked where they had come up with this technology, one of them produced a translation of ancient, pre-Skene texts written by Yoj.
It turned out, they had read Yoj's translations extensively, and were keen to reproduce life as it might have been on the planet before Skene.
One of them had a nasty gash in her leg from a wild boar attack, and said boar was roasting on a spit. Oby stayed to eat with them, discovering they also had located in one of Yoj's translations a means of leeching the tannins from ground acorn meal so it was edible. She said the acorn mush she had was appetizing and filling. They requested a few more basic items -- wire mesh to build pig-proof fences around their small settlement, tin roofing for their cabins, and red lenses to place over their flash so the light would not disturb nocturnal creatures. Owls, it was presumed.
Over the next year, they dug wells, set up solar panels for electricity, and fed themselves well from their tillage, a pen of chickens, and the allotment. One member of each family went to work as a forester on other islands, hitching rides to and from Chwet on the school sinner. Their children proved to be above-average students and voracious readers. On Market day, one individual from Chwet arrived with a load to barter. What little income they earned was often spent on ordering more books. Otherwise, they all stayed on their island. They accepted one radio for emergencies, which was used primarily to call in a comadrona as their numbers increased.
After a few years, one of the Chwet foresters working on Mti was part of a crew which unwittingly disturbed a tree whose trunk was the home of a large owl. The owl emerged, making an angry cry and flying around their heads. Most of the crew scattered in stark terror, but there was one who remained and served as witness to the Chwet woman holding up her arms and beginning to answer the owl in its own language. The owl settled down quickly, the Chwet woman led everyone away, and despite repeated questions, she refused to pass on what she might have said or how she had learned to speak owl. That was when those on Chwet began to be called the Owl People.
After ten years, a ferry to Chwet was constructed. Visitors were not treated badly but they weren't especially welcomed, either. Teenagers now grown to adulthood took jobs elsewhere on Pya long enough to stash a nest egg of eks and, occasionally, to find sweethearts who would move back to Chwet with them. New cabins were built, and rumor had it that the Owl People were extraordinarily good lovers.
At the next annual tasting and Vote, all of the residents of Chwet showed up, listening to arguments on issues, asking intelligent questions, and relishing the food at the tasting. Two of them approached the botanist and strongly requested that the following year, she regenerate an ancient species called squirrels. The Owl People said squirrels were endemic to forest environments, made a tasty stew, and had highly desirable pelts.
Intrigued, the botanist complied with their request. Six squirrels were brought into being and allowed to breed in number sufficient to provide meat for the tasting on both Skene and Pya. Skins were cured and on display. Everyone on both locations agreed the meat was all right, though not plentiful given the animal's small size. The botanist, however, was alarmed by the rapid reproductive capacity of squirrels and their utter lack of domestication: Finding them for slaughter would mean endless hunting through woods with snares and traps. Some members of the population found them a little too much like small katts to view them as food. The decision was near unanimous to leave squirrels out of Skene and Pya's animal roster.
Six squirrels remained alive at the Pya ejida. While the botanist was trying to decide what to do with them, two nights after the Vote a heretofore unnoticed break appeared in the enclosure which held the squirrels, and they escaped. A panicked search was made throughout wooded areas on Dvareka, and Skene demanded a thorough search of all crates and imports from Pya. The squirrels were never found. That is, until the pilot flying the school sinner noticed two long-tailed red-furred creatures racing up and down a tree trunk near the jichang on Chwet. Api and Mill talked it over, and finally decided if the Owl People wanted squirrels badly enough to steal them, they could have them. There was no guarantee they could now be removed from the forests on Chwet, anyhow, and spread from the island to the rest of Pya was unlikely.
Two years later, Chwet children were seen coming to school wearing coats and hats of luxurious dark red fur. Again, no action was taken. Mill said quietly to Oby that she bet owls liked the taste of squirrel as much as the Owl People did.
At last year's Vote, the contingent from Chwet had another request, this time for return of a herbivore called deer who lived primarily in forests, again reportedly had excellent-flavored flesh and large skins which made superior leather. The botanist had researched this organism extensively and had decided they would appear on the menu and in pens at the Midwinter tasting. Api said "This time we'll keep a close guard on them."
Pank said with a grin "You'll never hear the Owl People at night, though; they fly in on massive silent wings."
During lulls in the music, those at the table had lowered their voices so as not to be overhead. Pyosz now whispered "So they're here, at this dance? They've started coming to dances?"
"All but the infirm" said Briel. "And no, I'm not going to point them out to you, that would be extremely rude."
© 2009 Maggie Jochld.