Saturday, September 19, 2009


Blue cat
stolin frum Winnie-the-Kodiaks blog


ANT: Not a cat.
BEAR: Not a cat.
LION: Not quite a cat, looks a little like me but not as petitely beautiful.
FLY: Not a cat. Mildly interesting.
BABIRUSA: Not a cat.
BINTURONG: Not a cat.
HORSE: Definitely not a cat.
ZEBRA: Not a cat either.
MOUSE: Not a cat, good for a laugh.
GORILLA: Not a cat.
PANGOLIN: Not a cat.
FRUIT BAT: I don't think it's a cat. Bloody confusing though. Shouldn't be allowed.
DOG: Are you out of your mind?
COW: Not a cat.
OPOSSUM: Not a cat, despite what some idiots think.
SKUNK: Almost as pretty as I am but still not a cat--get that through your head.
GROUNDHOG: Not a cat.
RACCOON: Somewhat scary, not a cat.
RABBIT: Good eating if you're feeling ambitious, and did I mention? Not a cat.
LAUGHING HYENA: You, sir or madam, are looking in the wrong book.
HUMAN: Not a cat, mildly useful.
GOD: Might be a cat.
BLUE WHALE: Not a cat.


Friday, September 18, 2009


I have two or three posts I want to write, and ditto chapters. But I'm up for the past hour, mostly to eat after a 24 hour unwilling fast, and my body is aleady saying I have to go back into absolute stillness.

This past week really sucked. And that's mostly what I want to say. Body-wise, it was no fun. (That's understatement, kids.)

The lingering headache, which did eventually go away, led into left ovarian pain and cramps, plus eye-weeping from allergies and an inflamed taste bud. Too minor to complain about, really, but nagging and irritating. I was juggling the body mechanics requirements of (a) crappy joints everywhere except my elbows, so far knock wood no elbow issues at all, plus (b) that left ovary which gave out a knife-like jab with most kinds of movements, plus (c) the cramps which came and went, plus (d) forgetting to take the weak-acting OTC and sometimes affordable med I can take for the arthritic shit, Alleve -- trying to change position in bed to reach the lamp so I could write a few things in my notebook, and YIKES, zonked my back but good. The thoracic area muscles plus, either then or soon afterward, my rib muscles on the right side.

The kind of pain that left me unable to find a comfortable position at all, and made me never want to take a full breath. Which is really a bad choice for someone with asthma, I pay diligent attention to full, steady breathing.

This was at about 1 a.m. Five hours later I had spiked a fever, emptied my bedside water jug, and was beginning to wonder if it was in fact a weird-ass heart attack. I fished my blood pressure cuff out of the box with my thermometer and other medical necessities, realising I hadn't checked my BP in over a month.

I do have mild hypertension, kicked in when I was 40. Everybody in my family, even extended family, had hypertension from a young age onward. The family ethic was to simply tough it out, which meant early death from strokes and heart attacks, or to diet obsessively while still smoking, drinking, and/or living in a simmering rage. Hostility is as much a risk factor as hypertension, more of one than being fat or having high cholesterol, but since the drug companies can't come up with an anti-hostility pill that folks will actually take, it's the diet industry which gets all the bucks for "preventing heart disease."

Thing is, in those mass studies that prove a correlation between being fat and having increased incidence of heart disease, if you factor out the folks who are chronically dieting (which most studies do not, but a few have) -- if you factor out the extremely abnormal behavior of self-imposed starvation, there's no cardiac difference between fat people and non-fat people who are not dieting.

I once typed medical records for a clinic of doctors who did medically-supervised weight loss. I typed the release forms patients were asked to sign which indicated it was highly likely if you lost weight by their methods, i.e., focused on calories but not kinds of calories, you would develop extremely abnormal cholesterol levels as a result. Also, 30-40% of their patients had to have a cholecystectomy (gall bladder removal) within six months of the diet beginning. They didn't mention the 95% failure rate of all diets, but my guess is, it still wouldn't have stopped people from spending their money on what sounds like medicine but is pure snake oil. (I mean, can you imagine any other recommended treatment with a 95% failure rate being allowed by law?)

Because the real problem folks have with fat is that it looks like fat. Not what it does to your health.

So, anyhow, when my high blood pressure showed up, I had a good feminist doctor who said "I assume if you're this fat already, you've dieted for years in the past" which is exactly right. We went over what I ate, which at that point was extremely healthy, and she couldn't find any suggestions to make. I did as much exercise as my asthma allowed. So she recommended lisinopril, an ACE-inhibitor, and warned me that hypertensive drugs vary widely, not all of their mechanisms of efficacy are completely understood, and I might have to go through a dozen before I found one that worked for me.

I began on the lowest possible dose, and it worked instantly, easily, no side effects, no spikes after exertion or during stress. Just nice steady pressures in the 110/70 range. Been on it ever since, at the same dose. Because there is no honor in dying young.

But a few months ago, I began noticing that, along with some other physiological changes, my daily or every-other-day blood pressure checks were registering some very low readings. Lisinopril is available as a generic for $10 covering three months, it's not a drug I've had to give up, EXCEPT it costs me $25 to have somebody go pick up a prescription. Even every three months, that $12 a month, which is a significant budgetary item. I mean, fresh broccoli or lisinopril? That's a real question in my life.

So I decided to try not taking it for a while, see what happened. For over a month, no change in my readings. And then I forgot to keep checking.

So, in that world of pain, I suddenly thought "Hey, lingering headache, sign of hypertension you dummy" and I took my pressure: 165/100. The highest, by far, I've ever had. I managed, with serious effort, to move enough to find the lisinopril bottle and took one without water. Then I began to worry about fluid imbalance, what with a fever and all, so with what I honestly consider a heroic effort, I got up to refill my jug. Also checked my e-mail, and I replied to Cowboy Diva's comment about my latest chapter, but it's not there now so I must have either hallucinated it or somehow hit the wrong button. I called Jesse to let somebody know what was up, and also to check in on him because he was also in a world of pain. Then went back to bed.

An hour later, my blood pressure was normal. I've checked it eight times since, and it's never above 120/70, so I'm back on the lisinopril, for sure. I finally found one strange position which eased all the various spasms, and I fell out of consciousness right away. Slept half an hour, which is when the need to shift joints kicks in and in the course of moving while asleep, of course my back and ribs screamed. But with half an hour to an hour of sleep at a time, it's gotten slowly better. Fever is gone, taste bud is normal again, and sitting up/walking is possible.

That's my story for now. Back to living on an island far away from the current of the rest of the world. Dinah is keeping me good company, because I have been free-handed with the treats. The night of her birthday, she even watched a few minutes of a PBS special about show cats with me.

And, by the way, Max Baucus, Dianne Feinstein, and all the Republicans who think the public option is anti-American: I hope you have to spend your old age living off inadequate Medicare and the kindness of strangers. Except you wouldn't recognize kindness if it was a Maine Coon show cat who bit you on your gluteally-challenged ass.


Thursday, September 17, 2009


Nucleus of Galaxy Centaurus A (Nucleus of Galaxy Centaurus A. Click on image to enlarge.)

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


by Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:

Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace

Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow, 15
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!


Wednesday, September 16, 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)


As soon as her milking was done on Shmonah, Pyosz set out for Arta Island. She was first on the scene, surprising Ollow who was filling a metal tub with ice, oranges, and jugs of water.

"I brought two pound cakes with blackberry preserves and sweet yogurt to put on top" said Pyosz. "Plus I figured we'd be grilling a lot, so here's a basket of tomatoes, green onions, zukes, and peppers to put on the grill. And -- two pounds of butter."

"I'll use some of your grilled vegetables in corn salsa, if that sounds good to you" said Ollow. "We're also making fritters. Pank said she's bringing center loin pork chops, that's all I know for sure."

Mill came outside, putting on gloves. "Early bird, that's much appreciated" she said to Pyosz. "Did you bring a machete?"

"I couldn't find one in the barn" said Pyosz.

"I'll get you a good knife" said Ollow. Mill handed Pyosz one of the picking bags and explained the procedure. Oby joined them outside, saying "Abbo wants another hour of sleep, they got in at 2:00. Maar will be doing her usual toxics run from the Lofthall before coming at noon."

Over the next two hours, the rest of the family arrived. Dodd was lugging two heavy metal buckets, and Mill called out "Clams or mussels?"

"Lobsters!" said Dodd proudly. "Briel will be the one to kill them, though. And we have kelp to pack around them for grilling."

Frahe and Nk brought new potatoes and raspberry ice cream. By 10:00, eating cold oranges and drinking water wasn't enough to cool Pyosz off. Mill said "Go get in the pond, take a break."

One hauling crate for the sinner at the jichang was already full. Mill lashed it down and rousted Abbo from bed to deliver it to the corn mill near Pertama. "And don't dawdle, we need the second one in place or else harvest will come to a halt" she reminded Abbo.

Pyosz sat in the sun after her dunk, letting herself air dry while chatting with Pank. After half an hour, she dressed again, wishing she'd brought fresh clothes, and returned to what felt like endless rows of sun-blocking corn. Still, it was satisfying working in collaboration with her family, listening to bad jokes and trying to emulate Tu's economy of movement.

Just as the smell of roasting food reached her nostrils, Mill called out "Go rinse off however you want, dinner in ten!" Pyosz raced Briel to the pond, but couldn't get her gilet off fast enough -- she had to lace it tightly, even on a hot day, to keep her breasts from flopping during manual labor -- and Briel won. They were all drying off and putting on crusty shatis when Maar appeared holding a pair of frosty stainless buckets.

"More seafood?" asked Frahe.

"Beer, fresh from the tap" said Maar. A cheer went up. Oranges and water was shoved over to make room for the buckets in the ice tub. Pyosz loaded her plate with half a lobster, three cobs of corn, piles of fritters and veggies, potatoes, a pork chop, and poured melted butter over it all. She staked a spot in the shade and went back to the pergola to fill empty water bottle with beer. She had no reason not to get buzzy, and no need to stay clean. She wrenched open lobster claws with the aid of Pank's claspknife and a nearby rock, feeling like a savage eating at the dawn of time.

It was all incredibly good, but the corn stole the show. Pyosz was too full to eat more than a couple of spoons of ice cream. She used her gilet and otos to make a crude pillow, lay back in the shade, and went swiftly to sleep.

She woke up half an hour later to find Maar sitting next to her, putting white cream on her nose. Maar pointed to the empty beer bottle beside Pyosz and said "I didn't think you drank" with a quizzical grin.

"It was a perfect day and meal for cold beer" said Pyosz, rolling onto her side. Sweat was starting to pool under her breasts, she'd need another dip before returning to work. She looked around the clearing, seeing that most of her family were also taking naps. "Where's Abbo?"

"Making another delivery to them Mill, and griping about it" said Maar. "Hey, I ran into Qoj on Verzin, she says to tell you hi and ask her emmas to see the photos. She also said Uli's been writing her."

"Yeah, I heard" said Pyosz with a cautious tone Maar probably mistook for something else. "Are you going to come back to Saya with me again to share supper tonight?"

"I'd planned on it" said Maar.

"Good. I have things to tell you" said Pyosz, getting up to head for the pond again.

At 4:00, Oby called everyone to a halt. When they'd gathered around her, she announced there were 18 rows left. "We'll make this last a competition" she said. "Find a partner and each of you start at the end of a row. Whichever team finishes their three rows first wins the last two quarts of beer, currently in our freezer."

The others had clearly been expecting this and pairing off happened almost instantly -- Tu grabbed Nk, Pank snagged Briel, Oby chose Frahe, and Mill pointed to Maar. Pyosz was left looking at Abbo, Api and Ollow. Api said "Ollow did all the cooking, she gets to sit this one out." Which was gallant, coming from Api who was actually frailer than Ollow.

Abbo said "I've been flying back and forth all day, after flying all night, I'm done, too." Pyosz grinned at Api and said "Then it's me and you, let's clean their clocks, shall we?"

Oby said "Just because it's a race doesn't mean we get careless, right? Okay, get in position, and I'll yell when to start."

Adrenaline pushed them through, mixed with laughter and hijinks. Pank and Briel won by a hair, with Dodd claiming it was unfair "Because Briel has superior knife skills." The final bags were dumped into the crate, and Mill left Abbo to do the lashing of her load this time. They all returned to the pond, sweat making their brown skin glisten as if they had already jumped in before they reached the water.

Floating in satisfied exhaustion, Pyosz said to Mill "I want bags of the meal you get from this harvest. Plus dried corn I can grind myself, plus maxa, does it come in a form I don't have to freeze?"

"Yeah, we have airtight bags" said Mill. "You can have as much as you want."

"No, seriously, s'bemma, I'm talking hundredweights" said Pyosz. "I have to pay you for it."

"Or barter" said Oby, looking at Mill. "You haven't picked up your share of that goat meat you had slaughtered, have you?"

"No" said Pyosz with a slight sense of revulsion. "I'll trade you for that gladly."

"I love curried goat, and slow-simmered stew" said Mill longingly. "I can't believe I'm getting hungry again."

"Well, speaking of goats" said Pyosz, paddling to the shore. The last thing on Skene she wanted to do was resume the filthy clothes she'd been wearing, but there was no helping it. Ollow handed plates to her and Maar as they waved goodbye and walking to the ferry.

"It's later than usual" said Pyosz, hearing the racket of bleats at the pasture gate, "but I'm taking a shower first. My clothes ought to fit you if you want to change as well." She was naked in seconds, giving out a loud sigh of satisfaction as hot water streamed over her sticky skin. She heard Maar said "That pot rack looks very good. Who helped you install it?:

Pyosz said "I did it myself" with pride as she soaped luxuriously. After rinsing and dripping into her cabin, she could hear Maar at the shower already. Curds and Ember were in the cabin, looking at her wet body with disgust. "Wanna hug?" she teased Curds. "Give me a hug and I'll add extra brewer's yeast to your supper."

She set a loose pair of ku -- her favorites, actually -- with knickers, maillot, and a soft white shati covered with large aqua flowers on the table for Maar, next to a clean towel. She was distracted during milking, reliving the final race of the day where she'd covered two-thirds of a row to Api's one third. Molars took advantage of her state by getting in a nasty nip to the back of her arm. Even that didn't sour Pyosz's mood, however.

"I was made to do this kind of work, I do believe" she said when she returned to the kitchen.

"Your family saved Arta the cost of an entire ejida crew" replied Maar. "Listen, there was only half a lobster left, so I split it between us, made up the difference with cheese."

"As long as there's corn, I'm happy" said Pyosz. "That shati looks better on you than it does on me." She could still feel the effects of beer in her bloodstream, mixed with the afterglow of cleansing labor and the happiness of having company for supper in her kitchen. Well, not just any company she thought.

Maar said "What did you want to talk with me about?" Pyosz realized Maar might have been worrying about this pending conversation.

"I gather you've heard about my request to get geothermal here on Saya" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, and I think it's a great idea" said Maar. Pyosz took internal note of the fact that Maar was the first person to expressed unqualified support for this decision.

"It means I can get an aga, with much more cooking and baking capacity. It also means I'll have the juice to never worry about hot water again, and to get a large coldbox with serious freezer capacity" said Pyosz.

"And warmth for your cabin" said Maar.

"But I'll have to expand the footprint of this kitchen to accommodate the aga" Pyosz said. "Here -- " She retrieved her notebook and opened it to the sketch she'd made of a new floorplan.

Maar wiped butter from her fingers to pick up the page for close inspection. "I like how Curds is sitting on your cutting board in this picture, transgressing even in art" she dimpled. "What is this over here, another oven?"

"A kiln. And that's a throwing wheel" said Pyosz with a sense of drama.

Maar whistled. "A studio, in other words. Part of the Pyosz alchemic kitchen."

"Maar, I want to tell you a secret. You cannot discuss it with anybody. Not anybody. If that's not okay to ask you, I'll understand." Abbo, I mean don't tell Abbo thought Pyosz.

"You have my word." Maar's brown eyes were serious.

Pyosz told her about stealing the soil sample, leaving out no detail. Maar began grinning before she was done.

"I know it's a prosecutable offense, Pyosz, and I bet Api would like to throttle you, but lev, you are my kind of woman" said Maar. "You simply go get things done, and if Saya needs protecting, you'll levvin' break the law!" Maar leaned over to slap Pyosz's shoulder in praise.

Pyosz began giggling.

"But Pyosz, where in your crammed days will you find time for -- what do you call it, throwing pots?" asked Maar.

"I've thought about that" said Pyosz. "A lot of what I've been busy with since I got here is clean up and repair. That's all done now. And I've altered my baking schedule to every other day. Plus -- " she winked at Maar -- "Since you're learning how to cook, sometimes you'll be able to make me dinner without my help required."

"Go for it" said Maar. "What do you abbas think about you becoming a keramiker?"

"I only told emma, Qala and Lawa" said Pyosz. She saw Maar digest the fact that she'd been trusted before the abbas.

"Well, that's big news, all right" said Maar.

"I have more" said Pyosz. "Not big, but..." Her voice trailed off. Maar's forehead developed a furrow in the middle. She knows how to read me thought Pyosz. She set down the cob she'd been nibbling and said "At the dance last night, Uli kissed me."

Maar went still, and seemed to consider several different responses. Finally she asked "How was it?"

"Uh...Unexpected. Not what I would have wanted to happen. But still good" said Pyosz with raw honesty.

"I remember her as a good kisser" said Maar softly.

"Well, I've not had enough experience to speak with authority, but I didn't immediately recoil" said Pyosz.


"I did end it. Said don't do it again, don't even think about it. She coped."

Maar's smile was cynical. "She won't try again. She got past the threshold, that's enough."

"Oh, Maar." Pyosz didn't want her to be right about Uli's motivation.

"Well, thanks for telling me" said Maar.

"Again, just between us, all right?" reminded Pyosz.

"I won't be the one who talks about it" said Maar. Her tone was even, and for once Pyosz was clueless about Maar's mood. It was as if Maar had become invisible. Pyosz wanted to restore their connection.

"Abba Yoj said you and y our sibs came for tea on Roku" said Pyosz. "It brightened them considerably. Halling said she was impressed with you."

"Did she?" Maar's voice had gone high. "They were extremely kind to all of us. And -- I think their influence caused what happened after."

She told Pyosz about the conversation she'd had with Adon and Su at the restaurant. "They've never talked with me like that, Pyosz. Not those two. It was as if I suddenly became an adult to them, someone they could trust. It was a sea change. And it all came from that little bit of seeing me be treated with respect by your abbas."

Pyosz could see Maar was trembling. Maar cleared her throat and continued. "It's not just Thleen who's looking for help, not really. I'm ashamed to admit it, but we all -- we all, me and my sibs, we've not had enough adult nourishment. I'm on my own now, and I'm giving them as much as I can, but...It hurts like fire to see their numb, dumb need. I hope it wasn't so obvious to your abbas, I hope -- " Maar broke into sobs, coarse and wild. She looked mortified but she couldn't stop herself.

Pyosz scooted her chair next to Maar's and pulled Maar's head onto her shoulder, suddenly realizing Maar was very much not yet 20 years of age. "Let it go, buddy, let it all out. The way is works is that smart, decent people who have extra are always happy to spread it around, not from pity but from gladness to be connected to each other. I learned that from my abbas, we're very alike. I'm so sorry you haven't gotten that little bit of respect before now, but let yourself have it now, you've more than earned it."

Maar bawled unrestrainedly, and Pyosz kissed the side of her head gently, over and over, until the torrent slackened. Maar leaned back and squinted at Pyosz through blurry eyes. "Wow. I guess I was overdue."

"I guess so" said Pyosz.

"I need to blow my nose" said Maar, looking around her.

"Use the napkin, it's the cheapest cloth on Skene anyhow, fill it with pilot buggers." Maar laughed as she lifted the stained cloth to her face and honked. Pyosz said "Stay put" and went to her cabinet to get more napkins. She wet one at the sink and sat down close to Maar again to wash her face tenderly.

"You're going to return to Arta wearing my clothes and with swollen red eyes, no telling that they'll think" she quipped. Maar laughed again, her face entirely relaxed. She was staring into Pyosz's eyes, and said "Your abba Bux, she has eyes exactly like yours. I kept feeling like I knew her, she was so familiar; I hope I wasn't too forward with her."

"Technically, my eyes are like hers" said Pyosz. "And wait till you see emma's eyes, hers are the bluest of all." Maar secretly hoped she didn't have to deal with Prl for a long time yet.

Pyosz's gaze drifted down to Maar's mouth, her lips flushed by crying. She forced herself to look away and pull back a little. "So...Shall we finish eating? You can tell me more about Thleen and your sibs, what's your favorite thing to order to Thina Bowl?"

When they were done, Maar said "Do I get to see what's in this week's package from home?"

"My pleasure" said Pyosz. It was a single carton this time, though there were the usual fat letters for reading in bed. "Ah, a tin of saffron. See this, Maar, this is the stamen from a flower, the entire plant is grown to produce this tiny thing. It's extremely dear, but wait til you see what it does in a dish. Oh, and emma found my gardenia oil! I've been using lemon instead."

"I like how you smell" said Maar.

"Thanks. But this is the real Pyosz, take a whiff. Look, this is from Lawa, it's not a tool, too small." When Pyosz opened the box, her eyes filled with tears. It was a tiny gold charm in the shape of a goat.

"Is that an earring stud?" asked Maar, peering at it.

"Could be. But I'm going to tie it at the end of one of my dreads. I'll do that later, in my cabin with a mirrow" said Pyosz. "Okay, here's more books, good, plays for Pank and, yay, a few language references! And a leather seed pouch from Qala, is this to wear when I'm -- there's something in it." Pyosz pulled out a platinum 2-ek piece, two gold eks, and three brass half-eks.

"They sent you more money?" asked Maar incredulously.

"No, this is a loan to pay for the renovations here. See, she's enclosed a signed document in the pouch as well. The money is from her and Lawa, to be paid back as soon as I can." Pyosz felt very adult looking at the form with Qala and Lawa's signature at the bottom.

"Okay, what's this in tissue paper? Oh, mangos! These are from their miniscule greenhouse out back, Maar. One of my earliest memories is abba Bux carrying me outside during the winter, going from the warm house into cold wet rain, and then suddenly we were out of the rain in a place that was warm but still had trees and plants. I thought it was magical, a blending of worlds. Mangos are sticky when ripe, you know, so she'd wrap her kerchief around one on the tree and hold me up so I could pull it from the branch. I'd cradle it in my arms like a baby, and we'd go back to the kitchen where I'd sit on the counter while she washed it and cut it open. We never made it to the table, we'd eat it right there, her leaning against the counter with me." Pyosz hefted a mango in each hand, sniffed of one, and said "I have a mini pound cake still here, shall we cut it open and top it with these mangos for dessert?"

"Only one of them" urged Maar. "Save the other for yourself, later. There's one more thing in there, looks like a video disk."

"It's from Halling, let me look at the label. Wow. This is footage of her cutting open the first leviathan that she brought back to the docks, causing all sorts of ruckus. Plus some other early sinning flights and -- waves and ripples, Maar, the video of her killing the leviathan that had killed her first lover! The act which began Pax Piscata! I saw this only once, and that was at school. It says this a copy for me, I don't have to return it. She wrote in paretheses 'For sharing.'" Pyosz looked at Maar with wide eyes.

"Do you have a disk player?"

"Lev, no. But I think they do on Arta" said Pyosz.

"And at the Lofthall" said Maar. "You think about who you want to watch this with, only please please include me, and we'll set it up."

Pyosz stacked her treasures back in the carton and stood to peel the mango. Maar began clearing the table. She said "Speaking of plans, I'm slammed tomorrow but I was wondering if we could do our flying-out-for-lunch-elsewhere thing on Iki or San. There's this place in Talaba I want to show you."

"Count me in" said Pyosz. "I went back to that lentil patty stall while you were gone, had another round. One of the vestristes smiled up at me."

I bet she did thought Maar.

"Oh, and speaking of dates" said Pyosz. "I'm going with Uli to a Gong Tong night on Roku. Do you play?"

"I do, actually" said Maar, not looking around from the sink.

"I'd invite you along, except I'm not sure you and Uli ever want to be at the same event, and besides, you'll be in Skene that night, right?"

"I'm not going to Skene this week, because we have to do an early run next week in anticipation of Mchele Fair the following weekend" said Maar. "So, as it happens, I'll be here on Roku."

"Well, then?" asked Pyosz.

"I'll think about it. Where is it, Dudor? That's where they usually have games night" said Maar.

"Yes, I guess you know which building, I don't" said Pyosz.

"Maybe I'll find my own date and just show up" said Maar. She turned to grin at Pyosz, and Pyosz felt her spirits lift even more.

After dessert, Maar put her dirty clothes in the bag Pyosz offered and they walked together to the dock. Maar said "Thleen says to give you a kiss" and she pressed her lips lightly to Pyosz's cheek. She was ten feet away from shore in the ferry when she pointed to the water beside her and said in a voice thick with horror "Leviathan!"

Pyosz's blood stopped pumping inside her veins for a second, until she realized Maar was having her on. "Eat SHIT, you Chloddia hooligan!" she shouted at Maar, who was now bent over in hysterics.

"Back at you, you Riesig stickypalms!" returned Maar. They laughed together until out of earshot.

The following morning, Pyosz took in her letter from Yoj to read to Kolm the section Yoj had found in the memoirs she was researching about a kind of goat cheese which had been made somewhere on the original planet. A precise recipe wasn't available, but with the long-ago colonist's memory of "cooking the milk until it caramelized and turned brown, maybe some sugar added", Kolm's face grew excited. "I bet I can work out the process" she said. "It would be a dessert cheese that folks would go wild over, I'm guessing. Did it have a name?"

"Abba translates it as 'prym'' said Pyosz. "Can't wait to see what you come up with. Do let me have a taste test on what you'll call failures, you're such a perfectionist, even the near misses will be yummy."

At the grocery, Gitta said "I got in two flats of shamsjooz this morning. Folks like 'em, but a little of that pepper's yanjiang heat goes a long way, so I'm hoping you'll take one of the flats and make something with it. Reduced price."

"Dried" mused Pyosz. "Infused oils. Hot sauces. Yeah, I'll take it plus ten gallons of canola oil. You don't happen to have ramson, do you?"

"I do" said Gitta. "Folks rip it out of their tillages because it makes eggs and milk taste like garlic, you know, but it's almost impossible to get rid of once it's rooted. Be sure not to drop seeds at your own place. Also, I've got two dozen bananas which went black over the weekend, you can have them at no charge."

Pyosz grinned at her. "Because you know I'll be bringing back banana bread. Or, since zucchini madness has hit my tillage, banana zucchini loaf with walnuts."

"I was hoping" said Gitta.

Pyosz stopped at Taamsas's to buy three dozen clamp-top pint bottles for her infusion efforts. She picked up more labels at Naki's, printed out photos from the prior week, and got copies made of all her Saya contracts. She tried to order soil amendment materials through the allotment center but was told to go to the ejida. Instead, she stopped at the Lofthall and placed an order for greensand, phosphorus, bone meal, and other bulk items through Mill, filling out extra forms because the allotment clerk couldn't be bothered.

"Don't you need to wait for the ejida recommendations before you embark on soil rebuilding?" asked Mill.

"No, because I got the word from Lawa about what to do. Good enough for me" said Pyosz.

"Tomorrow okay for this delivery, then?" asked Mill.

"Well, I'm seeing Maar at lunch, you could have her bring the bags then. Otherwise, later in the afternoon" said Pyosz. "Is Api here?"

"No, she's down in Fjer" said Mill.

"I've decided to definitely go ahead with the planned expansion of my kitchen, geothermal installation, and purchase of an aga" said Pyosz. "I'll have the money up front, but please pass on to Api that I expect to be reimbursed by whomever assumes the next tenancy of Saya." She saw this didn't go over well with Mill. There was no argument, however.

"I'll have her contact you about scheduling" said Mill. "With Mchele this weekend, work won't start on anything until next week, you understand."

"Do I contract for the timmer or is that -- " said Pyosz.

"You do that on your own. There's two contractors on Pya, plus individual timmers, but I strongly recommend Mrebbe, Klosa's partner. She's got her own crew and she's very good" said Mill.

Pyosz risked a joke against Mill's scowling face. "Please tell me she's not to built your lopsided Manage."

Mill managed a smile. "She's not. She's who the Lofthall calls for repairs. Thanks for yesterday's work, again. We're replanting the fields this week in a second crop, hoping against an early winter."

Pyosz held up a crossed finger. "Your corn is the best I've ever eaten."

She went back down the main street to Klosa's store. Klosa called out as she entered "I was hoping to see you soon, I've got a couple more chairs for you!"

Pyosz took the chairs, asked Klosa to keep her eye out for a rolling stool, and looked over agas in the back of her store until she found one that suited her.

"Before we begin bartering, you should know, I'm also going to want a larger coldbox if you can track one down" said Pyosz. "I expect to make another major appliance purchase from you in the next month, don't want to say what yet. And, I want to hire Mrebbe for two different construction projects on Saya."

"A Manage?" said Klosa with bated breath.

"No, not that large. Expansion of my kitchen area and building a geothermal shed" said Pyosz.

"That'll be just Mrebbe, then, not her whole crew. I'll have her contact you." A sly grin came over Klosa's face. "We've all heard about how you feed workers who come to Saya. Remind her of that when it's time for an estimate, she loves good food."

Pyosz laughed. "Thanks for the tip." She bartered jam, fruit and nuts for the chairs but had to pay coin for the aga.

"Will you hold it here until after next week or whenever the geothermal goes in?" asked Pyosz.

"Of course. I'll have a line on a coldbox by them, maybe we can make one delivery" said Klosa.

On Iki morning, Api appeared on Saya with a folder of permit requests for the pending renovation. Pyosz filled them out while Api drank tea and ate banana bread. Once everything was signed, Api said "As regards your clay field...I can't know whether there's other uses for this particular clay until I get a report from the ejida. Which will not be forthcoming because you hold the necessary forms." A delicate way of putting it thought Pyosz.

"It occurs to me that perhaps you can find a means to return the ejida's copies to them without incriminating yourself" continued Api. "Apologize with all the charm you possess, and if you earnestly request a follow-up report on that soil sample, suspicion as to your attempted cover-up will be somewhat diverted. If you can pull that off -- and I'll be the first to know if charges are laid against you -- then my reading of your contract shows no obstacle to you claiming keramiker's rights to the clay. Excepting for a possible Pya share if we find that appropriate."

"I'll need to talk this over with my abbas and emma" said Pyosz. "On a secure line, to go no further, of course."

Api sighed. "If you must. If scandal breaks, I'll deny knowledge of your actions, Pyosz."

That surprised Pyosz. She returned "If you must" and sat it land a small blow. I guess I don't have the proclivity for political maneuvering found in my aggie's line thought Pyosz. I'll steal, obviously, but without much art to it.

An hour after Api left, Pyosz heard a sinner overhead. She had her wain sitting at the jichang, with a tarp to cover her load since it was overcast and threatening rain. She and Maar made short work of transferring her bags to the wain. Once in the air, Pyosz told Maar about Api' suggestion.

"Got any ideas?" said Maar.

"No, but I'll call my family tonight, that'll stir up my brain" said Pyosz.

Maar took her to the rice noodle factory in Talaba, where Pyosz spent more coin that she should have at the store attached, discovering noodles in shapes and flavors she'd never seen. "I'll recoup this from my food budget eventually" she said out loud.

"Well, I'm treating us to lunch, which we'll have to take with us" said Maar, pointing across the street to a small noodle house. There was a line at the door of workers waiting to be seated -- A very good sign in this town full of people who are connected to the rice production on Pirinc thought Pyosz. A side window offered take-out orders, and Pyosz let Maar guide her selection. They had an armful of steaming paper cartons by the time they ran for the jichang, the rain having finally arrived.

They sat in the sinner to eat, steaming up the windows. Pyosz tried one bite of every dish, gasping at the heat of a couple of them, and she declared "Okay, win number two. If this cafe was in Koldok, I'd eat lunch there every day." She wiped her eyes carefully, afraid of getting any of the sauce near tender membranes.

"I come here when I feel a cold coming on" said Maar, jubilant about Pyosz's approval. "Scours me out every time. We gotta run, buddy, you can take the leftovers home with you."

"Not much left" remarked Pyosz, buckling her harness while Maar wiped down the inside of her windshield. "Look, I got sauce on both my shati and my gilet, I'm such a messy eater."

"I have three extra sinner scarves because I'm always having to send mine to the laundry with food stains" commiserated Maar, giving them a brief cloudy view of Doimoi, Katt and Pirinc before looping southwest to Saya. For that night's dinner, Pyosz cooking dark green spinach-flavored noodles in a cheese sauce with baby artichokes and roasted shallots. She dripped on her shati again, and as she was scrubbing the spot with a corner of her napkin dipped in hot mint tea, she had an inkling of a notion about how to get herself off the hook.

She called her abbas anyhow and told them what was up. As she had expected, Halling was not upset with her at all that she could tell over the radio. Halling had broken many rules herself when she thought it necessary. She was more focused on the idea of Pyosz as continuing Ng's legacy as a keramiker. "Don't buy a wheel there, let me call emma's old friends here" Halling said. "Well, no, they're all long dead, but their children or grandchildren will have a good wheel, I'm sure of it."

"Please don't buy anything without talking to me first" pleaded Pyosz. She called back after their 15 minutes was up and talked with Yoj, who whispered "Bux went out to the privy, to collect herself, I think. What you did was rash, but I'm not going to fuss at you about it." They talked about Kolm's embrace of the prym possibility, and then about noodle shapes, how various types might be formed from dough and what kinds of sauce would be best paired with each.

Pyosz took a long drink of tea after they were interrupted by static before calling a final time to face Bux. "Do you not comprehend the fact that Skene, all of Skene, operates on a basis of trust?" began Bux. "We don't lock our doors, we have lots of red tape but few real laws, our economy is reliant on barter which is reliant on trust for all value. The folks who buy your bread, they trust that you have a clean kitchen and aren't substituting machine oil for butter." Pyosz heard Yoj in the background say "That kind of dough would never rise -- " before Bux apparently went into a separate room and slammed a door loudly. "You're just starting out, in a new place, and if you rupture the trust others have in you there, you'll never get it back. I've made mistakes, Pyosz, a few of them very public, and after 40 years people still haven't forgotten some of them. I've worked very hard to earn the responsibility placed on my shoulders, and I know you, of all people, don't want to shit in your own tillage this way. I grew up with two emmas people trusted with their lives and their children, rightfully so, and one emma whom everybody knew was utterly unpredictable except that ultimately her own best interest would win out. They feared her and sometimes respected her acumen, but...You don't want to go down that path, child."

"I'm not, abba, I promise I won't" said Pyosz, beginning to extremely very worried.

"I'm retiring, Pyosz, I'm not going to run for re-election next midwinter -- and yeah, I've heard about that flatulent little challenger, it's nothing to do with her, I want to spend time at home with Halling. The point is, I won't have influence to pull you out of hot water. And Api will cover to the extent that it touches Oby and Mill, but she's never forgotten to wipe front to back, she has no comprehension of giving latitude the way we do in our family" continued Bux. Except when it comes to Abbo thought Pyosz.

"There's going to be at least one sharp person who puts the pieces together, no matter what story you come up with, and understands what you intended" said Bux. "It will be someone who is familiar with devious thought and expects to find it in others. You don't want that kind of person holding any power over you. So tread lightly, check with us or your emma before you make further leaps. And what happens to that clay field when you come back to Skene? If someone at the ejida wants retribution for having been hoodwinked, they'll move the goats to a pen on Dvareka and turn Saya into Argile with enjoyment."

Pyosz was now fighting nausea. Dimly she understood Bux was still talking about Yerush, about her experience of growing up with Yerush.

"So stay in touch, close touch, and clasp this tight to your chest. I love you, and I'll help you as much -- " Static broke in. Pyosz wished she'd begun with Bux and finished with Halling, maybe she wouldn't be this panicked if she had. She poured herself a glass of milk before dialing the Genist Manage.

To her relief, Prl answered. Pyosz said "I just confessed to the abbas, with Api's consent, and Bux reamed me out. I'm really scared now, emma." She took one call back to relay everything, including Api's prod, with Prl reminding her periodically to take a deep breath. She called back a second time to tell Prl her idea for how to return the missing forms. They went over it in detail, and Prl finally said "I think it will work. But it depends on you not trying to conceal your emotions. Let them see how distressed you are, it lends credibility. You're having genuine remorse now, and that's good. It will be good for them to witness it, even if they don't completely know the source."

"I feel so bad about disappointing abba, emma. She said she's retiring to spend time with Halling, did you know that? I'm worried about abba Halling, too, I don't think she's happy being retired. What if Bux hates it, too? And Yoj, how will she feel being the one leaving the house every day -- " paradoxically, it was concern for her abbas which finally released Prl's tears. She called back a fourth time to finish crying and hear Prl assure her "I'm looking after your abbas, child, and so is Speranz. Ndege hardly stirs from Sigrist Poke because she's terrified Gerra will find out she might like another kind of life, but Speranz and I are enough, my emmas are powerful women, not children. You set it all aside for tonight, and tomorrow morning you can call me any hour, we'll go through it step by step. All right?"

"All right, emma. Oh, and thank you so much for the gardenia oil. Please tell Lawa -- no, I'll take a photo and send it to her, never mind."

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Crying cow carving from Algeria
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)


After Prl, Qala, and Yoj left, Bux decided to stay home and work on reports, using Yoj's study. Yoj didn't want to go back to the Archivist's, either, so she sat in the tillage, weeding and thinking. Tlunu went in for her afternoon nap, and Halling was about to go join Yoj outside for company when the front door opened without a knock and Thleen almost tumbled in. From the street Halling could hear an adult voice saying "Thleen! You can't just go in someone's house like that!"

Thleen said "Hi!" brightly to Halling before turning to yell "It's okay, they told me to come any time." A red-faced, red-haired woman in sinner mustard appeared in the doorway. She froze for an instant when she saw Halling, then began stumbling over herself in apology.

"Come on in" said Halling, grinning. "I remember you, Maar, of course, from flight school and seeing you occasionally with Abbo. Have a seat. Where's -- oh, there they are. Come on, Su and Adon, we have honey bars and leftover broccoli with cheese from lunch, what sort of snack would you like?"

"We're going out -- " began Maar, but Thleen said "Honey bars! And can I have a glass of milk with it, instead of tea?"

"Certainly" said Halling. Bux had opened the door to the study, and she came into the kitchen now, setting a pitcher of milk on the table and filling a large teapot with hot water from the aga. Halling stepped to the back door and called into the tillage "Yoj, sweetheart, we have company."

"So you're the famous siba" Bux said to Maar, whose cheeks were alarmingly red. "We've heard a lot about you, not only from Thleen but also from Danaan and Halling. You were apparently a gifted beginning pilot. No wonder our Mill leans on you so heavily."

Adon and Su cast sideways glances at Maar, who was trying to simultaneously force Thleen into a chair and checking her hands for cleanliness. Yoj came in the back door and said "Oh, goodie, it's the entire set of sibs, isn't it? Halling, in the back of the larder is a box of orange cookies I was saving for lunch tomorrow, let's set those out, too."

"No, really -- " began Maar, but Thleen distracted her by darting past and literally hurling herself onto Yoj. Yoj sat down in a chair and Thleen slid into her lap, saying "We learned about how Pomar Lagoon was built today in school, were you alive then?"

Bux and Halling laughed heartily as Yoj said "A few hundred years before my time, Thleen." Yoj said to Maar "Pyosz mentions you often" and was interested to see that Maar's flush deepened slightly -- she wouldn't have thought it possible.

Halling said to Thleen "We went boating on Pomar Lagoon during our honeymoon. In a little boat we had to row." She exchanged a lascivious smile with Yoj, who said "Rowing is harder than it looks."

Thleen asked, with a trace of anxiety, "There's no levs in lagoons, right?"

"Usually" said Bux.

"I've seen them jump the barrier and attack a ferry" said Halling before her partners could stop her. Maar's face returned to normal color as she dared to look at Halling with disapproval. Su and Adon's feigned disinterest vanished, and Thleen said "Nuh-uh."

"It was a freak event, decades ago" said Yoj reassuringly.

"Before Pax Picsata?" asked Thleen.

"Piscata" corrected Yoj automatically. "Yes, long before that."

Now Bux transgressed. "You know, Yoj once waded out onto the seawall between Pomar Lagoon and the Southern Wasa to rescue somebody, while there was a leviathan there just a few feet away."

Yoj decided this story was all right to tell, since nobody was killed in it and the real heroics, she thought, was not hers. Thleen ate three cookies and a honey bar before Maar said "Enough, your dinner will be ruined."

"Why don't you stay and have dinner with us?" urged Halling.

"I promised to take them out" said Maar apologetically. "It's something we do on Roku if I'm here." Thleen was tugging at Maar's sleeve, but Yoj asked "Where do you go?".

"Thina Bowl" offered Adon.

"By the fish docks?" said Bux. "Excellent food there."

"But can't we stay here?" said Thleen, giving on getting Maar's attention and simply saying it loudly.

"It's not up to me, I'm treating my sibs so majority vote wins" said Maar. Thleen looked at Adon and Su pleadingly, then flounced away from Maar, shunting over to Bux's lap to say "I always get outvoted."

"What rotten luck" said Bux in commiseration. Thleen fingered the maroon velvet choker with the brass seal of the Ethicist that Bux was wearing and said "What is this, again?"

Bux explained, and Thleen swiveled to reach toward Yoj's neck. Yoj untied her own choker, which was dark purple with the silver Archivist medallion, and handed it to Thleen. Maar intercepted, saying "I can see honey and crumbs on your hands, sibu, wipe them thoroughly before touching that fine fabric." Thleen complied impatiently, then asked Bux to tie the choker around her own neck. It fit very loosely, and Thleen slip off her lap to run for a look in the bath room mirror.

Bux said to Maar "Pyosz's emma's Manage heard some interesting news from her this morning. About the geothermal visit? And Herne Island?"

Maar's face was blank, and Bux glanced something confirmatory at Yoj before she explained. Maar's smile was wide as she said "For real? Pyosz getting a real stove, and some heat in that cabin? It's icy in there at night, despite it being summer." The rubor in her cheeks returned as she tried to explain "I mean, I've been in there just to set something down, I haven't -- " She couldn't finish the sentence, it seemed such a scandalous suggestion.

"I should certainly hope not" said Bux severely, and Maar all but gaped at her. She couldn't tell if Bux was teasing her or not. We need Pyosz here as envoy she thought.

Thleen returned to occupy Halling's lap now, asking "Why don't you have one of these fancy things to wear? You're the Sheng Zhang, right?"

"Was" said Halling. "I have a dress uniform, but since I'm retired, I don't wear it much any more."

"It's your name, though, on siba's pilot certificate" said Thleen.

"Yep. Plus my seal. Your siba reminds me of what I was like as a young pilot" said Halling. Thleen looked as if this was no surprise, but Maar was aware of another subtle reaction from Adon and Su.

Bux said to Maar "And what do you think about Tu and Pank moving in next door?"

"It will be great for Pyosz" said Maar. "For all of us, of course, but I'm glad to know they'll be five minutes away from Saya, they do a good job of taking care of Pyosz." She saw Yoj look at Halling, and realized she was being sounded out for some reason. She turned to Halling. "Sheng -- I mean, Nan Halling, it's Tu who is your siba, right?"

"Yes" said Halling, and Bux added "Plus Pank is my first cousin. And what about you, Maar, do you intend to eventually ask for a Pea Pod to start your own Manage and family? Or will you be returning to Skene at some point."

Maar was instantly tense, aware of her sibs waiting for her answer. "I have emigrated to Pya permanently" she said gently. "I hope to convince at least some of my family to join me there. And yes, I want a family, children and in-laws and a big Manage, though I'm not sure where yet." She looked at Thleen to add "None of that can happen for ten years, though, I have other things to do first." Yoj saw Thleen's shoulders relax.

Maar looked at the clock and said "We need to go. It's not a school night but I still have to get you home in time for bath and Thleen's bedtime." As they made their farewells, Halling said to Maar "We extend the same invitation to you that we have to your sibs, come visit any time." As they went out the front door, Thleen was asking "Can I still have a dessert at Thina Bowl? Because see I didn't get to eat here like I wanted to, and if I'd eaten here they'd have given me another dessert -- "

Once Thleen's voice trailed away down the lane, Bux faced her partners and said "Well."

"Did you see that her first thought was for Pyosz's well-being?" said Halling.

"She relates to Thleen as an emma, not a siba" said Bux.

"Thleen needs it" said Yoj. "Prl is going to relish hearing the details of this particular conversation."

"Not tonight, though" asked Halling. "I want us to have more time to talk it over -- " They heard Tlunu's bedroom door starting to open -- "Later" finished Halling in a whisper.

On the way to Thina Bowl, Maar lectured Thleen about proper etiquette. "You do NOT walk into somebody's Manage without knocking, sibu. It's just plain rude. What if they weren't clothed, or were having a family fight, or crying? You give people a chance to answer the door if you respect them."

"I'm sorry" said Thleen, suddenly looking stricken.

Unexpectedly, Su said "They always do seem glad to see us, though. And you are somebody they already respect, Maar, seems like."

"Well, I have relationships with several members of that family, personal and professional" admitted Maar. They sat down and ordered. Adon said "So, what exactly is your job title at the Lofthall in Pya?"

Never once had her two oldest sibs evinced any interest in her job. Maar swallowed hard and outlined her responsibilities. She added her income level and allotment package, telling Thleen "These figures are not to be repeated, you understand?"

"And you got all this just be going through pilot training?" asked Su.

"Well, pilot training plus persistently volunteering for every new experience I can" said Maar. "I work longer hours than our emmas, for example. Some of my responsibilities have life and death consequences. But yeah, it's available to anybody who is a hard worker, willing to learn, and takes the right training."

"You don't have to go to the U to do all that" pointed out Adon.

"You certainly don't" said Maar, her pulse quickening. "Which is why my offer to you all is either four paid years at the U or -- OR -- however many paid years is required in apprenticeship to become trained in the field you'd like to pursue."

"What do you mean, paid years?" said Adon. "Don't apprenticeships pay you?"

"Some offer a stipend" said Maar. "Some just give you room and board, which can be like living off allotment. Often the most lucrative and popular fields, like yanjanging, for example, are only room and board, meaning you really need family support to go get through those three years. My offer is that if the board is a shitty bucky -- yes, I know, I used a bad word, Thleen -- and you can find better single housing, I'll pay for that. I'll pay for any extra training that's available at a fee, and good tools, and new work clothes each year. Plus, I'll buy regular walking-around clothes for you, and a nice set of silks each year, enough so you can dress up in style. I'll give you pocket coin so you can go out to eat once a week, go to dances and performances, buy a few luxuries, get presents for your family, AND start a savings. Because at the end of your apprenticeship, for a lot of high-demand fields you will either have to buy into an existing business or start your own, and that will demand savings."

"You can afford to do that?" said Su.

"Yes" said Maar. "I'm thrifty. I'm saving for my family."

There was a long silence, broken by Thleen saying "Could I get more potatoes?"

"Go to the counter and ask for them" said Maar. Once she was gone, Maar said to Adon and Su "You can do anything you want with your lives. I don't have a plan for you, only a request that you find what makes you happy and healthy."

"I don't want to leave Chloddia" said Adon.

"I understand that" said Maar. "So, what could you do on Chloddia that will make you happy and healthy?" When Adon stopped to think this over, not answering "Mining" automatically, Maar's heart leapt inside her chest.

"I like mechanics" offered Su. "I'd like to build machines, fix them, maybe invent new ones. I don't need the U for that, right?"

"Nope, except for inventing you may need to ask questions of gakushas from time to time" said Maar. "Pya is crawling with machinery, almost all the heavy ejida work is done by complicated equipment there. Not to mention the jigongs at Lofthalls, and factories on Verzin and Dvareka. There's never enough mechanics to go around."

Thleen was back with an entire plate of fried potatoes. Maar helped her douse them with tomato sauce but not utterly drown them.

Adon finally said "I like the idea of turning ore into chemicals or metal. Refining, you know. It's a kind of magic. Maybe work my way up so I'm a manager, figuring out how to do things the best way possible."

Maar took a long drink to help blink back tears. "I know for a fact there are good apprenticeships available in the refineries on Chloddia. And Exploit. They all cost money to get into, though."

"Chloddia" repeated Adon. "I mean to inherit our Manage." Su gave her a sidelong look. Thleen said "I'm moving to Pya to live with Maar after school, in her Manage."

"Maar doesn't have a Manage" needled Su.

"I willl by then" said Maar. "And Manages on Pyra are twice the size of those on Skene. With all the food you can eat. And the best dances I've ever been to. It's a great place to be single, and it'll be even better when I start my own family." Thleen looked at her questioningly, and Maar let the moment sit. After a minute, conversation turned to kickball.

On Roku, Pyosz woke to a still morning which turned into bright sunshine by the time she reached Koldok. She picked up extra butter and cheese from Kolm and her newly-forged pot rack from Taamsas. On Saya, she used a hand-drill and much profanity to hang the pot rack. She polished her copper pots and hung them with pride she wished somebody was there to share.

She flushed the privy, cleaned out the chicken house and run, and raked the barn. After getting lunch started, she washed her hair and put on clean clothes. She was emerging from her cabin when Dodd appeared.

"I'm all sweet-smelling for your hug" said Pyosz. "I hope you'll share lunch with me -- it's early, I know, but I eat when I'm hungry. There were squash blossoms aplenty this morning, so I picked a bunch, stuffed them with rice and garlic, to go with some broiled ryba and chilled grapefuit."

"I'll set the table" offered Dodd. They sat down, and Dodd said "I heard about Tu and Pank moving to Herne. I bet this gets Frank home, don't you?"

"It's good on all levels" agreed Pyosz. "I was thinking about offering them my extra chanticleer, maybe with one of the little hens, would that be all right with you?"

"Great idea" said Dodd. "As along as we keep our double-yolked chickens in the family."

"Are you playing at the dance in Sepek this weekend?"

"No, I get to actually dance at this one" said Dodd. "Briel is happy about that. So -- I need to talk with you about something. I hope it can stay confidential."

"I seem to be secrets central these days" said Pyosz. "Never mind that. Of course, s'bemma, you can trust me."

"It's about Qoj" said Dodd, her green eyes looking troubled. "She's gotten a letter from Uli that she thinks is significant, and she's talking about coming for another visit soon."

"Another visit, that's good, right?" said Pyosz.

"Yes. But...well, I just have to come out and ask you, are you romantically interested in Uli? Qoj said you weren't, that you were focused elsewhere, but from what I've seen..." Dodd trailed off.

"You don't want her getting played, is that it?" said Pyosz. She laughed briefly. "Good luck with that in a big picture sense, but as far as Uli goes, I've made it clear to her that I'm not available for dating romantically. I'm pursuing a friendship with her. And if Qoj wants a clear path, she's got it as far as I'm concerned."

"You know, don't you, that Uli looks at you in a way that's -- more than friendly?" said Dodd.

"I'm aware, and I did consider thinking about more with her. For about ten seconds. But my decision is not going to alter now, s'bemma." Pyosz swallowed her bite, and added "Uli looks at a lot of women in a come-hither manner, I think."

"I think so too. Which is the other part I'm worried about, but you can't help me there" said Dodd.

"This wouldn't be Qoj's first serious attachment, would it? I remember her being with someone at the University" asked Pyosz.

"For over a year, yes. It didn't end badly, but she had heartache over it."

"Of course she did" said Pyosz. "Still, she's not wet behind the ears. I think Qoj is smart enough to handle Uli. Possibly Uli simply wants to settle down. She could grow into a very good match."

"Listen to you, sounding like one of the abbas" said Dodd with her first real grin. "Well, part of why we moved to Pya was so our children would have more options available to them, so if Qoj uses this as an excuse to return home, I have to believe it will lead to goodness for her, even if Uli doesn't pan out."

Pyosz was slightly distracted. "You said 'part of why you moved' here. What was the other part?"

Dodd looked at her evenly. "Still confidential, yes?"

"Yes." Pyosz felt anticipation.

"I felt fairly settled at the Sigrist Manage. I had my own room, I worked the midnight to 4 a.m. watch part-time and was still able to keep up with my schoolwork, and -- you know, I didn't really want to move out of my emmas' Manage, but it felt so crowded, even with Prl gone. Speranz was already dating Tlunu, and Qen and Veida were still heads of the household, so I accepted Ndege's offer to live with her and Gerra. Which on Ndege's part was because she wanted me there, but I think Gerra simply wanted another person to work at night who wouldn't make waves in their arrangement." Dodd paused, perhaps to temper her words. "Gerra is a lot like Asha was, her aggie -- she can be practical to the point of being mercenary."

"How did Briel enter the picture? I thought she was Gerra's cousin" said Pyosz.

"She is. She started at the U, and the commute from her family's Fling in the Western Tendril was onerous, plus -- you know that Briel's aggie died when she was very little, right? Her emma never really got over it, blamed herself, and according to Briel, some other folks in the family blamed her as well. So her emma was both distant and controlling with Briel and her sib. Briel wanted freedom. She moved in with us, sharing a room with me -- we put up a divider, and we were basically sleeping different hours, so it wasn't as close as it might sound. Once we fell for each other, however, Briel said she didn't intend to live at Sigrist Manage past graduation, we needed our own space. It was hard to find a place on Riesig, though. And with our careers, commuting was senseless. We came here on a visit when Qoj was a baby, and Briel said Koldok had all the good parts of living on a Fling with none of the negatives. It took me a few months to make up my mind. I wanted my children to grow up with my emmas, their abbas. But Briel came first. And I fell in love with Pya, too. It turned out to be my freedom we found, too."

There was a long silence. Pyosz felt troubled by ideas she couldn't articulate. Finally she said "I asked my family for a loan to put in geothermal here and do some other capital renovations."

"Ah" said Dodd, making the connection instantly. "How did Prl react?"

"I haven't talked with her, or the abbas yet, except for Qala. Qala was great" said Pyosz.

"You'll likely never need it, but if you ever want to live with me and Briel, we'd love it. We've talked it over" said Dodd. Pyosz was surprised and touched.

Curds jumped onto the table and Pyosz said "Nuh-uh, you know the rules while we're eating. Find a chair." Curds leaped into a chair with a flip of her bushy white tail and looked at Pyosz expectantly. "Hope you like spicy marinade" said Pyosz, giving Curds and Ember both a morsel of ryba. She stood to scrape her plate into the compost tub, and Dodd joined her. As Pyosz started putting away condiments, the radio buzzed. She looked at the clock as she answered.

"Emma? I can't believe it's you, it must be the middle of the night there, is everybody all right?" said Pyosz.

"Yes. I had a bad dream about you and couldn't shake it off, and I thought you might be free for me to just prove to myself you're really okay" said Prl, sounded ragged.

"I'm really okay. Do you want to tell me about the dream?"

"No" said Prl. "I want to leave it behind. Qala told me about your call. She told my emmas too, except for the part about the clay field and the soil samples. Which was extremely rash of you, Pyosz."

"Is that why you had a bad dream? It's going to be fine, emma" said Pyosz. "Listen, I just finished having lunch with Dodd -- "

"Oh, then I should let you go" said Prl. Dodd was signaling that she would like to talk to Prl.

"Wait, emma. I need to go work in my orchard while the weather holds, but Dodd is asking for me to give the radio to her, would you like that, or do you need to go back to sleep" said Pyosz.

"I'd love to talk with Dodd" said Prl fervently.

"Then I'll leave you to it. I'll talk to you soon, emma. I love you dearly and I am well cared for" said Pyosz, handing the radio to Dodd and kissing her cheek goodbye. She gathered fruit-picking equipment in her wain and headed west. She worked all afternoon and evening, forgetting to call her abbas or Prl back because she was so absorbed in thinking about renovations she might make.

The next day at Market she bartered jam and nuts for an old brass pencil box of good construction, a set of fine-tipped woodcarving tools that she thought would work in clay, and several half-sized loaf pans. She stopped by Naki's and bought a set of eight colored pencils. At home, she polished the pencil box until it gleamed, filled it with colored pencils, and wrapped it as a gift for Thleen. She pulled out her only other silk shirt, plain jade green but it fit her beautifully now, and hung it in preparation for the dance. She went through her small collection of jewelry and found a gold hair barette in the shape of a nautilus shell outlined in black enamel to wear with the shirt and her black-and-gold calças.

She spent the rest of the day picking immaculate herbs and dropping them into bottles of hot vinegar to make infusions. She did the same with bottles of warm olive oil, and filled her counter with the collection. She cut fruit for drying and made jam of the rest. Nectarines and pears were now coming ripe in earnest, along with figs, apples, peaches, and plums. It looked like this round of cherries might be the last. Next week, hazelnuts and almonds by the basketful she thought.

When she needed a break, she filled a bucket with good composted soil, dug out two dozen lemon verbena plants from the bed which had been overrun by them, and walked around the edge of her cliffs looking for small cubbyholes in the rock where she could trowel in dirt and a verbena plant. She returned to the bed and pulled out most of the rest of the lemon verbena for drying and eventual barter.

After dinner, Lawa called. She and Pyosz spent almost an hour talking over soil amendment specifics based on the sample results, Pyosz filling pages of her logbook with notes. After she clicked off, she was starting a list of what to order from allotment or buy at Taamsas when the radio buzzed again. This time, it was Yoj, who began with "We had another visit from Thleen and her sibs yesterday, but this time Maar was with them."

"Oh, really? I'm glad you got to meet her" said Pyosz, feeling uneasy for reasons she couldn't name.

"Maar and Thleen seem to be cut from the same cloth. I don't have a real handle on the other two yet" said Yoj. "Listen, we're all lined up to talk with you, but I wanted to start with saying we've talked to Qala, and you don't have to avoid us."

"I wasn't avoiding you, honestly abba" said Pyosz.

"We can make crisp loans with you as well as shower you with unrequested coin" said Yoj, a smile evident in her voice. "Halling's crowding me here, but I'm just going to elbow her out of the way and ask if there's any requests you have to make of me in particular."

"Yeah, in the books you're sending? Pank is quite a fan of plays and long poems, she's in an amateur theatrical company here, you know. So more of those. And anything to do with Skene early history, even very esoteric stuff, is going over big" said Pyosz. "I personally would like some kind of dictionary of ancient Skenish to modern, or even pre-Skene languages to modern."

"I'd be glad to share those" said Yoj, a note of excitement in her voice. "You know, I'm working right now on translating a set of memoirs that's been on an unreadable disk until some whiz at the U figured out how to access the obsolete format. When the original colonists began getting old, they realized the world they'd known would die with them, and there was this spontaneous effort to record every memory they could dredge up for future generations. It's fascinating, revealing, and full of pathos. I could send you those as I get each section in rough form, before waiting for the print-ready version."

"Absolutely" said Pyosz.

"As for the language issue, it's complicated" continued Yoj. "Seems like on the original planet, there were hundreds or maybe thousands of different dialects. Not all those came with the colonists, of course, but once it became apparent their link to home was severed, small clusters of speakers of a particular tongue began refusing to use a common or what might be considered agreed-upon pidgin for terms of importance to them, insisting on inserting their language's words into what would become Skenish. As a result, the vocabulary and grammar they cobbled together often has no rational coherence, certainly no easily traceable etymology. But you know I'm working on it."

"It feels important to me in some symbolic way to understand it" said Pyosz.

"Maybe it's because you know on an instinctive level that given enough time, Skene and Pya will drift apart culturally and may wind up speaking different languages as well" said Yoj.

"You really believe that?" said Pyosz, disturbed.

"It's what human beings do, apparently. We're inventive and stubborn at the same time" said Yoj. "Hang on, Hall, one more minute. Pyosz, those bird photographs you're sending me are extremely good. I took the liberty of showing them to the botaniste, and she's requested they get shared with the University. She thinks we don't have actually have any reference material on songbirds with photos of that quality. Is it all right with you, if I make sure you get full credit?"

"Yes" said Pyosz, feeling a swell of pride. "I've got about 14 of the total species documented, and I intend to get them all eventually, even the ones who might not be nesting on Saya."

"Okay, I've got to hand over the radio. You keep doing what you think is right, Pyosz" said Yoj.

Halling and Bux each brought up Maar's visit with Thleen, adding their impressions -- sincerely favorable, Pyosz could tell. Bux asked for a copy of Pyosz's contracts with Pya for review, and Halling made a point of saying that Maar intended to have a Manage and family on Pya in the future -- a comment for which Pyosz could find no reply.

When she clicked off, she thought about trying to track down Maar in Skene to hear her account of this visit, but decided she wasn't sure where to begin at this time of day. It might be a good idea to sleep on it thought Pyosz. She made a fresh pot of tea and returned to her soil amendment plans.

The following day, after a full day and another dinner alone, Pyosz felt extremely ambivalent about going to the dance. However, Dodd called and said they were going to ride bikes down to Sepek, since it was a clear night, and they'd wait on her if she was coming. She said she'd be there in half an hour and began getting ready.

Nk and Frahe were with Dodd and Briel. Pank and Tu had apparently caught the bus, and the Arta Island crowd were flying via sinner. None of the bicycles had working headlamps, so Pyosz strapped her flash onto the front of her handlebars and led the way, Dodd beside her giving route instructions. Although with so many people all heading for the same destination, it would have been impossible to get lost.

The band was from Cogio, comprised mostly of mining and refinery workers. There were two sets of bagpipes, one player of pennywhistles, a tuba, a set of skin drums, and an autoharp. Pyosz couldn't imagine what they would sound like until they started up: Loud, rhythmic, and oddly evocative, she decided.

The dance hall was a cleared-out warehouse connected to Sepek's pig slaughter industry, and cedar sawdust managed to mask most of the odor. It was at the northern end of Sepek, on the road to the Prase ferry. Pyosz declined dancing, finding her family exerting less pressure on her this time. She spent two songs at the table of Poth's family and friends. Walking back around the circumference, she saw Nioma at a large table of family and waved, feeling slightly guilty about having deceived her.

The snack bar here was serving hard cider in addition to the usual libations, and Pyosz thought it was reflected in the dancers, who moved with a sort of blurry bonhomie which lacked a bit of the connection she had felt at Koldok. About half her family had one or two glasses of cider over the course of the evening. Pyosz decided trying to ride a bike while tipsy would be a bad idea, and declined.

There was the apparently requisite singing of the Pya anthem, which she came to her feet for, reminding herself to borrow a video camera before the next dance so she could record this for Yoj. As the intermission began, she asked Dodd if this band, too, would be doing the dawn chorus.

"Nope" grinned Dodd. "Just us."

"I'm really sorry to miss it, then" said Pyosz. Uli appeared at her elbow and asked if Pyosz would like to take a stroll outside "in the opposite direction of the hog pens". Pyosz took Uli's hand to be led through the throng to a side door. Uli aimed them south into Sepek, making a meander through town until they came to a bluff over Dvareka River. One moon was full, one nearly so, and the mouth of the river was clearly visible, even the color mixing as fresh water was cannibalized by ocean.

They shared a perch on a boulder. Pyosz noticed Uli smelled strongly of cider. She told Uli about her renovation plans and the soil test results, except for any hint of the clay field. Uli seemed distracted. Maybe she doesn't want to talk about things that are connected to her work thought Pyosz. She waited for Uli to change the subject.

"It's been a hard week with emma" said Uli abruptly. "Bad headaches and mood swings. I wish Dekkan were around to make it three in the house instead of just me and emma during the day."

"I'm sorry to hear that" said Pyosz. "Is that why she's not here at the dance, feeling ill?"

"No, she's better now, but she gets motion sickness easily" said Uli. "She can walk to work at the sugar mill. Otherwise, she sticks pretty close to Koldok. Summer is better than winter."

"Are you planning to compete or perform in some way for the Mchele Fair?" asked Pyosz.

"I help emma with her rug stall" said Uli. "I enter drawings in the art contest, and my other emma makes pickles which always win a ribbon. Plus, Dekkan and I always construct a kite for the aerial show. If she can get back for the Fair, we've got one of a dragon that will dazzle everybody."

"You know about dragons, then" said Pyosz, pleased. "I used to pore over the illustration that was in abba's bestiary, trying to figure out how you could breathe fire but never burn your tongue."

"I wish we'd known each other as children" said Uli, leaning closer. "I bet we'd have been best friends."

"I could have used a best friend" said Pyosz. Before she could add more, Uli's mouth was on hers, slightly open, soft, and distressingly delicious. Pyosz leaned into the kiss, letting the tip of Uli's tongue part her lips gently, before her mind caught up with pleasure and gave it a hard yank. She pulled back, and when Uli followed, Pyosz put her hand over her own mouth.

"No" she said from behind her fingers. "That was nice, but it's not what we agreed upon."

"I'm so sorry" began Uli, looking stricken. "I wasn't really thinking, I just -- looking at you in this light, feeling the relief of being with you -- "

"It's all right" said Pyosz. "I mean, don't chastise yourself. But don't do it again, okay? I need us to be friends, Uli, only friends. Don't muck this up, I like you too much to want to lose out on our friendship."

Uli leaned forward, putting her head in her hands. Pyosz thought she must need to cry. However, after a minute, Uli stood and said "I won't muck it up. Any more than I have already."

"Sit back down and talk some more" said Pyosz.

"No, I'd rather walk back, clear my head" said Uli. Pyosz felt let down. She got to her feet, and noticed motion to their left -- some sparking couple was also on the river bluff, looking their way. Pyosz didn't recognize them but one of the figures had on sinner mustard.

By the time they got back to the dance, they were talking almost normally again. Uli sat at the table with her family for a while, being very polite to Dodd and Briel. Before she left, she invited Pyosz out to a games night the following Roku. "It's mostly Gong Tong, do you play that?" asked Uli.

"I love it" said Pyosz. A single round of Gong Tong could take hours, involving creating matrices of cooperative patterns on a large grid, teams building cumulatively on each other's efforts.

After Uli departed, Dodd looked at Pyosz questioningly. A slow ballad began, pipe music skirling almost visibly through the rafters. Pyosz said "S'bemma, will you risk your feet in a dance with me?"

She and Dodd found the center of the floor and Pyosz said "If we mostly stick to swaying, I probably won't knock us down." Dodd chuckled and let Pyosz set their pace. Once she felt relatively competent, Pyosz leaned close to Dodd and said "Uli just tried to kiss me."

"You looked odd when you came back" said Dodd. "Was it upsetting?"

"Not really. I didn't see it coming, and I stopped it, but not immediately" said Pyosz. "I told her never again. I got the distinct feeling she's unhappy at home. Plus she's had too much cider, I'm pretty sure."

"None of which are excuses" said Dodd severely. "I need to tell Briel about this."

"Okay, but not Qoj, s'bemma. Let Qoj be the grown-up she is" urged Pyosz. "I mostly told you as a substitute for my own emma, not wanting to keep it all to myself. It isn't worth romanticizing that way."

Dodd leaned back to look her in the eyes and said "All right. Thanks for trusting me."

Two songs later, Pyosz realized she was getting sleepy and decided to pack it in. None of the rest of her family was ready to leave, and she made her goodbyes feeling a little sorry for herself. She opted to ride the bus back instead of biking half the length of Dvareka along in the dark. She stood at the bus stop half an hour before one came along, getting more fatigued by the minute and trying to ignore a couple nearby who were making out noisily, clearly on their way home to lovemaking.

The bus smelled like sheep droppings and managed to hit every pothole on the poorly-paved northeastern road to the main artery north and south. Once they were on better surface, Pyosz leaned her head against the window and closed her eyes. She didn't quite drop off. Still, the driver had to rouse her when they reached Koldok. A light rain had begun, and Pyosz had only her manteau, not her burzaka. She ran to the wharf, getting her blood pumping again, and leaned over the side of her ferry to watch occasional patches of underwater terrain illuminated by moonshine despite the rain.

In her cabin, she hung her manteau so it would dry out, dumped her silks on her trunk, and then realized she needed to piss. Wearing only otos and a burzaka, she trudged to her privy. She crawled into bed without wearing a schmatta, aroused by the kiss in spite of herself. After a few minutes, she turned on her lamp and reached for the rice paddy workers novel.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Happee Aytf Burfday to Dinuh!

Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.


Monday, September 14, 2009


Blue Moon
Contending with a headache that keeps coming back. Probably linked to hormonal crap, as there are other signs of that. Behind on work. Not enough money to buy medications. But wanted to say a few things...

Yesterday it never reached 90 degrees as a high. Last night the low was below 70 degrees. This is the first time in months and months that either has occurred. Plus, we got Rain. Even so, with the relief, I kept thinking about it being the anniversary of Hurricane Ike all weekend. Galveston has nowhere near recovered, may never recover. All the lives and livelihoods lost.

During my coverage of the aftermath last year, I looked through hundreds or thousands of photographs online. And there was one -- I'm not even going to tell you what it was about, except it showed what must have been a long, agonizing death. I wish I hadn't seen it. I wish I could wipe it from my mind. It haunts me still.

One of the "hormonal signs" is that my sleep is all awry. I keep dropping off at odd times and not sleeping through a complete cycle. This plays havoc on an already challenged body. The new TV season is not yet arrived, and I'm not sure it will be much good when it does get here. Except for those PBS documentaries and science shows, g*d bless them.

I watched one last night about the history and impact of Helvetica. Yeah, the font. It was utterly fascinating and raised more questions than I know how to answer. It's yet another source of brainwashing and homogeneity. Will we ever throw off corporate control of our lives? Postmodernism can go FUCK itself. Clarity does not equal communication or respect. Reacting against something does not produce new ideas or energy if that's all you're doing. These are a few of my sub rosa reactions.

Cat Dinah as a kitten (Dinah as a kitten in November 2001)

Tomorrow Dinah turns 8 years old. She usually comes and sits by me when I create the LOLCats weekly round-up, which is a little unsettling because I know she's not registering the photos, it must be something I'm generating energetically to attract her. Or the occasional zany laughter. I'd give her a special treat tomorrow except she doesn't like wet food or human food, only kibble and Whisker Lick'n treats, both of which she gets on demand. I guess I can pick up some of the red rings scattered around and throw them all day so she can run around like a maniac, that will make her happier.

("States United" map from Strange Maps

I've noticed that in the blogs I like to read first/most often, there's a serious collective movement underway to unroof the bedrock racism of what's being aimed at Obama in the name of "anti-socialism" or the teabagger reactionaries. A solid group of us are naming names and making a list, and I feel good being part of this effort. A few of them have written me private e-mails or linked to me. More are using ideas I raised without credit, but perhaps it was their idea simultaneously, that happens when an inevitable realization sweeps the minds of thinking folks. There is also a concurrent decision to call out crazy where crazy appears, differentiating delusion from those who foment and prey on delusion. It has libertarians very, very upset out there. My name has been bandied about with extreme negativity. Oops.

It reminds me of how outraged hippie and counterculture boys were when women started demanding equal rights. Like, we were trashing their good times by pointing out what THEY were doing that was sinking the possibility of real, enduring change.

I never enjoyed "Happy Days", just like I find "That 70's Show" unwatchable. You have to ignore huge segments of the population to pretend like the 1950s or the 1970s were lighthearted, with only rock and dope added to what is (in Hollywood-land) still all about white boys looking for sex.

Here's some of those fighting the Very Good Fight: Jill Cozzi at Brilliant at Breakfast; Richard Blair at All Spin Zone; Crooks and Liars in general, but especially Mike Finnegan's daily blog round-up and DO GO READ Nonny Mouse's recent post Stoopid Peepul ; Hullaballoo in general but especially Digby, Tristero and DDay; Batocchio at Vagabond Scholar; Michael's incisive analysis of current images at BAGNewsNotes; Echidne (24/7) for Real Feminism and astute take-downs of pseudoscience; and, while I always read my friend Kat's BitchCraft, her latest post (Challenging Art and Our Educations) promoting her friend -m-'s reaction to seeing Judy Chicago's "Dinner Party" for the first time is extremely good.

The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago (The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago)

Yeah, Kat and -m-, we been robbed. We coulda been a contender. However, unlike Marlon Brando, we are still alive and still able to lace on gloves. Even with this damned headache, I'm not dead yet.

To give thanks in another direction, I'm a big fan of the adventure games produced by Sandlot Games, which assuredly must have some really really smart women designing product. The entire Tradewinds series has been female-friendly and good on a number of oppression issues -- for instance, when you have the option of creating your own character, some of the images you can select from are actually fat. And the people of color are not Cosby-women-light. However, their latest, Tradewinds Odyssey, set in ancient Greece, is outstanding in its non-sexist portrayal of genders, its inside humor, and its clever rethinking of myth and history. For instance, when one dimwitted god or king (can't remember who it was) says he wants something sparkly to get himself a woman because "Girls like shiny things, right?", the hero replies "I think you're confusing girls with crows". Zing!

Even better, during one quest the Minotaur's sister is trying to help her discriminated-against brother (lots of disabled-rights messages in this one), and she turns to the Amazons for assistance. Once she's done with her part of the story, she announces that Hippolyta has created a "women's commune" that she's going to join because she's decided to come out. It's couched in other language, but the message is clear. Right ON!

Tradewinds Odyssey screenshot (Tradewinds Odyssey screenshot)

Okay, back to typing emergency room reports of people who've arrived with far progressed conditions because they don't have insurance and couldn't afford to see a doctor back when a simple prescription or low-cost treatment would have interrupted a downward spiral. We can't afford NOT to have universal health care any more. Do the math, stoopid.