Friday, September 25, 2009


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

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

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


On Roku, Pyosz had so many items for barter that Dodd teased her about needing to set up her own stall. "But that way I won't get to circulate and see what all is available out here" bantered Pyosz. "Unless you want to be my clerk for me -- "

"No, no, it's more fun making the rounds with you. I used that basil oil of yours on our salad yesterday, by the way, and I'm pretty sure there's more than just basil and olive oil in it" said Dodd.

Pyosz lowered her voice so only her nearby family could hear. "It's 25% avocado oil, plus extract of ramson, a dash of shamsjooz, and a teaspoon of dark vinegar in each quarter" she said. "I'm entering it in the Mchele Fair condiments contest."

Pyosz was already making reliable coin from the sale of her oil, vinegar, and preserves at Gitta's grocery. At market, she bartered pint bottles and jars for three jugs of the rare syrup found only on Pya made from maple sap; a new set of very soft sheets in marine blue; a handful of plates and glasses in no-two-matching colors and designs; another handful of silver utensils, again in random patterns; mint-flavored toothpaste powder in a reusable enamel tin; a good second-hand chicken feeder; two fat ducks and a goose for roasting; a bone-handled machete with a rusted blade that Pank assured her could be whet back into gleaming sharp edge; a bag of charcoal made from apple wood; 20 pounds of laundry flakes; a flat of lemons to make marmalade; two dozen sheets of tissue paper in assorted pastels; three of the coleus plants hated by katts; a glass pitcher with a pattern of scarlet trumpet vines snaking throughout its curves; and, going in with Maar, a handcarved wooden toy sailboat with sails of bright yellow canvas and a movable tiller, which they planned to give to Thleen.

Api and Ollow were with them and stopped at a stall run by two women who made baby clothes of silk and fine wool. Pyosz said "Oh, for Ngall's impending birth!" Everyone in the family purchased beautiful tiny garments or blankets, and Abbo bought a plush lamb for her about-to-arrive sibiya.

Oby eyed the purchases in Pyosz's cart and said "You're looking pretty domestic, there." Pyosz didn't laugh at this like the rest of her family did. She didn't want to examine where her feelings about Saya and even her shabby cabin led her. She diverted her attention to the fun she was having with Maar's company for Market, even if it meant Abbo was there, too, making side comments about Koldok neighbors that didn't seem funny to Pyosz.

As the crowds began thinning, the family went to a food stall selling kebabs and yogurt-based drinks. Pyosz noticed Mill ordered goat meat skewers and thought about asking for a taste, but then backed off from the idea. They went to sit in scattered shade on the seawall behind the Lofthall warehouse, dangling their feet over the edge and looking across the Kuono at Arta Island, while Pank, Tu, Nk, and Frahe shared ideas they had for building up Herne.

"Why hasn't anybody settled on Dou?" asked Pyosz at one point. "It's closest of all the Pea Pods to Koldok."

"It's small, has no pond, and the soil is thinner in what would be field areas" said Api. "It would take more investment but can't hold an extended family."

"Those trees in the northwest corner are majestic, though" said Tu. "We considered it. We opted for Herne not just it has more woods but also because of the easy connection to Saya. Which reminds me, Pyosz, me and Pank would like to spend the day on Saya tomorrow. We're going to visit Herne and do more surveying, but we also thought we'd do the pruning in your woods that shouldn't wait until fall."

"I'd be thrilled" said Pyosz. "I'll cook the goose, maybe with a cornbread stuffing."

"I'll bring you sausage and chestnuts for the stuffing" said Pank.

Maar cleared her throat. "I have tomorrow afternoon off as well, Pyosz, and I was going to ask you if you wanted to see another one of Pya's islands, but -- "

"No, go ahead" said Tu. "We'll do our work on Herne while you're gone. We're spending the night in Koldok anyhow."

Pyosz looked at Maar with anticipation. "What island?"

"That's a surprise" said Maar. "But dress for outdoors and ease of movement."

When Pyosz returned to Saya, she wrapped her baby gift in tissue paper with red silk thread that sent Ember into spasms of kittenish playfulness. She was cutting lemons to start marmalade when the radio buzzed.

"Hey" said Halling. "You able to chat?"

"Yes, just back from Market Day." Pyosz recounted her barters, then noticed "Abba, isn't it very late there?"

"Yeah, I've been having trouble sleeping. I shouldn't be napping during the day" said Halling. "But yesterday was interesting. I was warming my solo lunch, a nice leftover chop, mashed potatoes, and greens, when the front door opened and Thleen strolled in."

"Wait, on a school day? Why was she alone in Riesig if school was out?" asked Pyosz.

"School was not out" said Halling. "She just left the grounds, after going to the privy, and came down to see what I might offer for lunch."

"Oh, no" said Pyosz. "What did you do?"

"Fed her" said Halling, chuckling. "First I called Xunu and told her where Thleen was. They hadn't missed her yet." Xunu was Pyosz's cousin, oldest child of Speranz and Tlunu, and first grade leraar at Skene School.

"That's disturbing, that children can wander off without adults noticing" said Pyosz.

"Yes, they're rather upset at the school" said Halling, but there was humor in her voice. "I gave Thleen my chop and potatoes, but she said she didn't much care for greens so I steamed some peas and carrots for her. She ate all of it, plus two glasses of milk and some barley cake. I think that child is hungry. I mean, she reminds me of Yoj in a lot of ways, but one of them is that she appears hungry."

This was stored away by Pyosz for future consideration. She knew how much Halling loved her chops, so she asked in curiosity "What did you eat, then, abba?"

"The greens, obviously. Fried some bacon and mushrooms to go with it. We did the dishes together, then I walked her back up to the school. We made a deal, me and Thleen. She's going to come to have lunch with me every Iki and Ot, but only after telling a leraar she's leaving. I'll wait in the lane for her. Yoj says she'll join us those days, and Bux if she can, and Yoj will walk Thleen to school afterward on her way back to her office. I've already cleared it with Xunu. She's sent a permission slip home with Thleen, so it's up to her emmas now, but I think they'll say yes. You might ask Maar about what she thinks, though" said Halling. She sounded very pleased with her twice-a-week lunch date. Pyosz hadn't realized how often she was eating alone, something Halling truly hated. And her arthritis is advanced enough, she doesn't walk to the Lofthall every day any more she thought.

As if sensing what Pyosz might be mulling over, Halling added "When Bux retires, after midwinter, I'm going to begin writing a sort of guide to running the Lofthall. Yoj says it will turn into my memoirs and we might as well write ours together, but Bux promises she'll help keep me focused on technical matters. A sort of text for everything Lofthall related." She sounded even happier about this idea. "Depending on whatever occupation you settle into when you get back, you could help me with it as well."

"I would love that, abba" said Pyosz, adding in her head But I can't promise anything right now. She kept thinking about Halling, about her abbas and their age, all during her afternoon marmalade-making. When Yoj retired, Qala and Lawa would no longer have the Archivist Manage as a residence. Prl had insisted at that point they would move in with her, but it would be a great loss of space for them, especially control over the shared tillage. And what about when emma retires? She won't have a Manage. It's up to me to make sure I have a home for her thought Pyosz.

She showered and washed her hair before milking, grateful it was a dry, warm dry. After milking, she ate a salad but counted on the place where the Gong Tong night was to be held offering snacks. She had one good shati which nobody had seen, a linen plaid of persimmon and cocoa brown, with a linen gilet that matched. She rinsed and lightly buffed her otos, tied a gold silk scarf around her neck, and felt good about how she looked in the mirror.

She met Uli at her house, where Uli already had two bikes waiting for them. "The rest of my friends will meet us there" said Uli. She led the way, around the southern perimeter path of Koldok to a road which went straight south between long fields of ripe-smelling crops. There were almost no lights along the road, and it was a mixture of gravel and dirt with occasional massive potholes, so they went slowly, chatting cheerfully. If there wasn't a pothole or a sand pit, Uli could ride without using the handlebars, leaned back on her seat, her hands on her thighs, which Pyosz found an irresistable sight.

After a mile, they turned almost due west onto a gravel road. Halfway along was a stretch of chicken houses, with lights and the clamor of hens not yet asleep. They arrived at the northern end of Dudor and headed for the center of town, to a community hall next to a large water tank. They parked their bikes in the cloak room and covered the seats with their burzakas, claiming them for the ride home.

Pyosz was relieved to find, amid the usual rice balls and ikan plates, a small kitchen offering to make crab cakes and spinach fritters to order, plus fresh cold soups in sipping bowls. Uli said she was hungry, too, so they ordered a large spread, with a pitcher of icy lemonade and cream-filled oatmeal bars for afters. Pyosz met five of Uli's friends, all of them around their same age, not yet partnered, office workers and apprentices for the most part. They were talkative, funny, and immediately welcomed her.

With seven in their group, they had enough to claim their own Gong Tong table. Several were already in play, so they selected one near the far wall. Pyosz and Uli took chairs facing the wall, back to the rest of the room, and when their food order arrived, they spread it on a smaller table nearby and invited Uli's friends to dig in while Uli counted tiles.

Gong Tong is played on a board three feet square that is intersected by hundreds of raised matrices, originally forged from metal but nowadays on Pya frequently carved from wood. Traditionally the background is black and the raised lips of the matrices is gold or silver. Each player is given 150 small octagonal tiles, 50 each in red, yellow, and blue. On her turn, a player can place an unlimited number of tiles on the board, or remove and rearrange any number of others' tiles, but intricate guidelines must be followed as to the meaning of placement. Red tiles were considered earth or hearth, blue tiles were water or work, yellow were fire or learning. Any tile could symbolize one or both of its meanings.

On a purely physical level, the tiles needed to interlock like a honeycomb, balanced on the thin ribs of the matrices so that future tiles placed on top of them in stacks will not topple. The real effort of Gong Tong, however, went into the constantly shifting expression of values and dynamics between the tiles. Cooperation was essential; competition was forbidden behavior. However, in contrast to Skene culture, when a player began her turn, she was not allowed to consult any other players for help with her strategy and, in fact, Gong Tong rules insisted she remove from her motivation any desire to ensure others' approval or future cooperation. She was, in theory, to create her best move and execute it without thinking of the others at her table, eschewing the desire for public harmony yet also avoiding any appearance of competition.

Which was the ultimate challenge, for a child raised on Skene.

Adding to the difficulty is that once a player's move was on the board, each of her teammates were then expected to critique her choices and intent as honestly and thoroughly as they could. Personal attacks were discouraged, but the raking-over which occurred after a move often left a player shivering with shame -- or with pride. You could never be sure how your team would view your strategy. Games took hours to complete, and left the players with a new intimacy and often a sense of shared accomplishment. The name Gong Tong meant "carrying wave".

After an hour, each of them had had a turn. Pyosz was starting to have insight for everyone's proclivities. She felt like she was working in good tandem with Cremen, a tiny, bright-eyed woman who lived here in Dudor and worked in the land use management office as a surveyor and records keeper. It was an unusual pleasure for her to be in the company of so many women her age whom she had never gone to school with and had the opportunity to get to know completely afresh.

The seven of them had just gotten a refill on their lemonade, with three of the crowd adding a jug of sparkling wine, when the door opened and in walked Maar with another pilot. Maar was wearing "ordinaries", as pilots called non-uniform attire, a sharply-pressed shati in striped sky blue under an unlaced gilet of charcoal grey, atop button-up nadraj in the same grey. The other pilot was in sinner mustard.

Pyosz didn't see them at first, but noticed instant tension at her table. Cremen leaned toward Uli and said "Isn't that Fohol? The one she had an affair with after dumping you?" Uli made a brief shushing gesture to Cremen, rolling her eyes in Pyosz's direction, and Cremen leaned back, pretending to focus on the board. Pyosz turned around in her seat, already knowing who Cremen must be talking about, and waved to Maar. Maar waved back, signaled she was heading for the snack bar first but would join them, and Pyosz grinned acknowledgement. Her brief scan took in the form and face of Fohol: Strong body, wide hips, plain features, and not standing too close to Maar.

It was the turn of the woman to Pyosz's right, and she began laying down tiles now, rearranging rows in two directions. The board was only a quarter covered so far, but stacks seven tiles high were already visible here and there. As the current player finished her explanation and took a deep breath, waiting for her team's reaction, Pyosz felt warmth close behind and said to Maar without turning "Pull up a chair, you two." Then, remembering her manners, she swiveled and held out her hand to Fohol, introducing herself. Fohol didn't seem to be carrying the suppressed tension everyone else around the table was. Maar plunked down a chair next to Pyosz, on the side away from Uli, and began eating from her plate as she studied the board. Fohol set her chair behind Pyosz.

"Nice shati" said Pyosz.

"Same back atcha" said Maar.

"What's that?" said Pyosz, looking at Maar's plate.

"Sweet potato fries with a horseradish dipping sauce. Plus cucumbers stuffed with bean paste" said Maar. Pyosz took one of the sweet potato fries, dredged it in the creamy sauce, and ate it in two bites, saying "I didn't see this on the slate up there."

"Used to be on the menu, they still make it sometimes" said Maar.

"Hold it over here closer so I can share" instructed Pyosz. Maar complied, never looking away from the board. Pyosz saw Cremen exchange a glance with Uli. She decided to ignore all undercurrents and backstories. She was out with friends, and that was the sum of it. She began her critique of the play that had just been made.

Before the round was over, Maar's plate was empty. She murmured to Pyosz "You'll eat more, right?" and Pyosz nodded as Maar stood to get aother order of the fries. The turn came to Pyosz, and she kept eating fries, taking sips of Maar's lemonade, as she considered her options.

"I'm betting you're really good at Gong Tong" mused Maar.

"Used to be" said Pyosz. Uli remarked "I remember hearing at the University that you were unbeatable."

"Used to be" repeated Pyosz.

"Wallflower swots are often expert players" said Maar, making Cremen's eyebrows shoot up. "Did you lose your edge when you stopped being a wallflower?"

Pyosz laughed. "Well, thanks first for graduating me from that category."

"Which I belonged to in high school as well" reminded Maar.

"No, I stopped playing so much because of something my emma told me" said Pyosz, pausing to gobble another fry. Maar nudged her and Pyosz said "She was surprisingly poor at Gong Tong, which I tried to needle her about in front of my abbas. She took it for a while, then declared that people who didn't actually care about earning the false admiration of others would make very good moves but be punished for it by their peers. That comment landed right in my soft middle at the time." She grinned at Maar.

Maar said "I guess your emma can't allow herself to ever be swayed by the need for public admiration."

"She's made a habit of closing her door against it" said Pyosz. "Well, I guess that's not news to anybody."

"Wait" said Cremen, "I don't know who your emma is, does she live in Pya or Skene?"

There was a brief silence. Pyosz met Cremen's eyes, her grin now fixed in place, and said "She's the Genist." Of all Skene.

"Whoa" said Cremen involuntarily. Pyosz watched her as Cremen took the next mental step, realizing who Pyosz must be. Cremen looked away.

Maar said "Yep, our Pyosz here is the pioneer baby of all time. She tries not to let it go to her head." Her bantering tone made Pyosz laugh. Maar continued "Honestly, Pyosz, I dribble a little pee at the prospect of having to meet your emma."

"You'll have to get over that" said Pyosz crisply. "You've already weathered the abbas, emma is -- well, okay, she's tougher than them, at least if you don't know her like I do." She heard Fohol behind her say "Hey, that means your abba, one of them, is the Sheng Zhang? Or was, I mean? Nan Halling?"

Pyosz felt like the people at the tables nearby were listening. "Yes. Plus the Archivist who was also the last Dichter of Skene, the Ethicist of Skene, the former Secretary to the Lofthall, and, bless Lawa, one plain ejida worker to round out the abba line-up." Her tone was becoming defensive.

"That's how I think of you, a plain ejida worker who cooks like a magician and is a secret artist" said Maar. Pyosz sensed Uli's surprise. She said to Maar "I like that description much better. Now stop talking to me, Maar, I need to figure out my play. That is, unless you want to give me advice about what move to make." This last was in an almost flirtatious tone, to counteract the flagrant taboo she was breaking regarding Gong Tong regulations.

Maar chuckled and said "Asking me for advice? That's against the rules, even for a Riesig stickypalms." Pyosz heard a gasp from someone else at their table.

"At least I'm in the open about it, whereas you Chloddia hooligans sneak around in cover of dark to commit your vandalism" retorted Pyosz. Unexpectedly, Uli burst into laughter, relieving the growing tension at their table. Maar said "Those crab cakes up for grabs, or should I sneak one?"

"Whatever soaks your crotch" replied Pyosz, which brought another round of laughter from their table. She focused on her turn, ignoring the conversation after that until she laid down an arc of tiles, reinforcing a heart-fire cluster Cremen had begun. The subsequent critique was much more thorough and interactive than her first round had been. After her team had gone, Pyosz turned to Maar and asked "You want to add anything? You, too, Fohol."

"I haven't watched enough yet to feel competent to comment" said Fohol. But Maar said "You seem to be assuming that the lead you've created between water and learning will continue and form a buttress against collapse on this whole matrice line. That's only going to occur if others agree with your priorities. If they don't, something else will have to be artificially overbuilt to compensate for your early imbalance." Everyone stared where Maar was pointing on the board.

Pyosz said softly "I guess wallflower swots are good at faking leadership but maybe not always tuned in to community sentiment." Maar picked up her hand, kissed the back of it gently, and said "An acquired skill, buddy. Mistakes are course corrections on a good day."

Pyosz heard Fohol snort, and turned with the rest to look at her as Fohol said "That's a direct quote from the Sheng Zhang. From when we were in pilot training together, that terrible day."

"What terrible day?" asked Pyosz.

Maar let go of her hand and sat back on her hips with a sigh. "It's a story, you sure you want to hear it?" Everyone else nodded, not just Pyosz.

"Well, you know before they ever let us even practice two-control flight, we spend hours on the simulator" began Maar. "The programs for these flights are designed by the Sheng Zhang and get progressively more challenging. We were about two months into training, when one afternoon another trainee -- I won't use her name, we'll call her Moja -- Moja was transporting a load of schoolchildren in the sinner from Riesig out to Byli and around the Western Tendril. Sheng Zhang was at the monitor board, and first one of Moja's flaps went out, which caused the sinner to list precariously to one side. The screams of children filled the training shed. It was raining, and visibility was limited, but Moja began looking for the nearest jichang, even on a Fling if necessary. Then two events occurred almost simultaneously, a freak wind sheer from the southeast and a partial electrical failure. The sinner began plummeting down, and Moja just froze as the screams crescendoed, high little voices in stark terror. A couple of seconds later, there was a crash from the speakers that actually rattled things in the shed, and all the lights went out. We sat there in the dark for half a minute. I remember I was having trouble taking a deep breath. When the lights came back on, Sheng Zhang was standing by the wall switch. She said 'This crash was preventable, although some are not.' Then she said that line, I've never forgotten, 'Mistakes are course corrections on a good day.' She told us that session was over, the next morning we were each to present with a paper outlining where Moja had made her errors and what we would have done differently. Moja headed straight for the privy and threw up a while. She dropped out of flight school that night."

"Lev" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, brutal. But necessary" said Maar. Now it was Pyosz who reached over and took Maar's hand to kiss its back.

"And you were 16 years old?" said Pyosz.

"Placenta not quite dried on my skin" replied Maar. "I hear the current Sheng Zhang at Skene has removed that particular module from the simulator. I think that's a mistake. We who survived use the memory to keep us sharp. Every time I climb into the school sinner, I never miss an item on the pre-flight check. Anyhow, let's get back to the game. It's Uli's turn, right?"

Pyosz faced Uli, who looked past her at Maar and said "Where did they get the soundtrack of those kids screaming?"

Maar grinned. "Turns out, Sheng Zhang called in her own children and their friends to make the tape. I've heard it since, and I think I can make out Mill's voice in the mix. Mill says they had a blast practicing screaming down at the Lofthall. But they repeated their performance on the school playground the next day and got jumped on by the leraar who was their abba." Everyone at the table laughed in a little relief.

"Yikes, I forgot to tell you!" remembered Pyosz. She recounted Halling's call about Thleen arriving for lunch. Maar got that furrow in her brow, saying "She's itching to walking into trouble, that sibu of mine. Please tell your abbas I'm sorry about her -- "

"I'm not going to tell Halling anything, she's delighted with the arrangement. I mean, isn't she the source of your wisdom about mistakes blah blah blah?" said Pyosz, dimpling. Maar had to laugh, and the furrow smoothed out.

Maar and Fohol left after an hour, saying they both had early runs the next day and needed to get to bed. Pyosz continued to enjoy herself, and was sorry to have to stop at 10:00, already yawning. The bike ride back to Koldok woke her up thoroughly, with a gritty edge to her alertness. She hugged Uli warmly, thanking her for the chance to meet all her wonderful friends and pleading to be asked to Gong Tong again. She found her ferry ride slightly unnerving, with high tide and strong waves slapping at the sides, the chain screaming and occasionally giving out sparks as it fought the current.

Once in her cabin, however, she suddenly felt too spent to even hang her clothes. She lay them across her trunk and crawled into bed, finding sleep right away.

School grades: Public school on Skene consists of grades one through four. Children begin school at age 3 and usually graduate when they are 16. Grade One includes children from ages 3-7; Grade Two has children ages 8-10; Grade Three has children ages 11-13; and Grade Four is for teenagers 14-16. This clustering eliminates much of the developmental pressure associated with age year-matched grades in our culture, and provides children with a larger exposure to those within their sui, invaluable when they are grown and seeking sexual/lifetime partners. It also fosters community by encouraging older children to stay in close relationship with and assume a helping role for those children who are at the younger end of their grade. Schooling lasts for 14 years. Beginning children at age 3 helps emmas/abbas stay in the work force, helps toddlers socialize faster, and offers concrete assistance to families who might be having trouble providing for their children. Ending school by age 16 or 17 means teenagers who are in developmental need for greater independence are pushed into the workforce, where liberty is matched by responsibility. On Skene, being single and dating does not usually mean privacy or freedom from community observation/supervision. Thus, sexual liberation occurs in a setting where a young person actively dating must still show up for a job, apprenticeship, or the University; has to share/pay for housing; and because of the fertility issue, the risk of unwanted pregnancy plus widespread STD's is virtually nil. Student-teacher ration is about 8 to 1, and about one out of every five Skeners is of school age. This means that on Pya, for example, with a population of 650 currently, 120-130 children attend Pya School, broken down into grades as follows: Grade One, 40 students; Grades Two through Four, 24 students each. Consequently, there are around 5 leraars (teachers) for Grade One and 3 each for the upper grades. Thus, all teaching is team teaching, embodying Skene emphasis on cooperative work and giving children enhanced learning environments.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, September 24, 2009


Hubble color mosaic of the galactic center (Hubble-Spitzer Color Mosaic of the Galactic Center. 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.

I recently watched and thoroughly enjoyed the PBS Nova episode Monster of the Milky Way which asked and answered the question "Does a supermassive black hole lurk at the center of our galaxy?" Clicking on the link will take you to the program website, which is fascinating, but I further recommend watching the show itself if you can catch it. I was particularly struck by how difficult it was for physicists, who are generally accomplished at gobbledegook, to actually describe what a black hole is.

I have also been thinking about the possible parallel behind Einstein's refusal to believe in black holes because they defied his view of the universe as "just", and Copernicus's initial belief in a heliocentric solar system not because of science but because he found it aesthetically pleasing -- proofs came later, art was first.


When I heard the learn’d astronomer;
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me;
When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them;
When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick;
Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

by Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


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

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

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


On San, in addition to milk cans and baked goods, Pyosz loaded into her Koldok cart a crate filled with three dozen pint bottles of oil and vinegar. She had another crate filled with jars of shamsjooz hot sauce and jams. At Gitta's she began arraying these on her counter.

"Okay, these are hot infused oils, with the herbs or whatever strained out, but still I recommend they be refrigerated after opening. I'll do cold infused eventually, but they take a while to reach sellable stage. Here's lemon, summer savory, rosemary, horseradish, mint, tumeric, dill, chervil, basil -- isn't that just beautiful, that green? -- uh, tarragon, garlic, ginger, shallot, thyme, clove, oregano, parsley, and curry. Plus one shamsjooz for the adventurous. One of each, and you can tell me which you think are going to sell. My fruit vinegars are not at all ready, but for infused vinegars, I've got basil, garlic, rosemary, tarragon, oregano, chili, mint, and sage. Plus eight fig-infused apple cider vinegars" said Pyosz.

They worked together to come up with Pyosz's price to Gitta and then Gitta's resale price, hoping to break into a new market by keeping it low at first. "The next batch will have redesigned labels" said Pyosz. "When should I try bringing you more?"

"Let's check in tomorrow and I'll report what customers are saying" said Gitta. She took a jar of the shamsjooz hot sauce and a bottle of the fig vinegar and set it under the counter. "For my Manage" she grinned at Pyosz.

At the cartagen's, Naki said while the labels were printing "I notice your name isn't anywhere on the list of parade participants for Mchele Fair."

"What parade?" asked Pyosz.

"At the very end, before we all go home, there's a big parade in front of the bleachers at the fair grounds. Everybody on Pya marches" said Naki.

Pyosz laughed. "If everybody marches, who's watching?"

"We are. We do the parade in stages. You march, then go sit to stand to watch your neighbors. Some folks march in more than one group. For instance, the kickball teams each have a large contingent, and every town on Dvareka parades together, plus the inhabited islands" said Naki.

"What about the Pea Pods?" asked Pyosz.

"Well, there's only been Saya and Arta so far, and Mill's bunch usually marches with the Lofthall and other Koldok groups. But sounds like next year there might be a Pea Pod contingent, eh? Every band marches and plays, we try to intersperse them so there's music all the time. Anyhow, I'm in charge of deciding the parade roster, and I thought you might need urging" said Naki.

Pyosz was thinking. "Put me down for Mill's group, but -- what about Pank and Tu? I guess they go with Mti Island?"

"Oh, no, they're in the best part. At the very end, the last groups are always the stilt walkers and the giant puppets, plus any performers. Tu and Pank ride high stilts, wearing masks that Nk and Frahe carve for them" said Naki, becoming excited. "Folks go all out for this, costumes, children, even bringing a farm animal or two."

"Then put me down also for a Saya Island contingent" said Pyosz with a wide grin. "And keep that a secret, okay?"

"It gets printed in the program" remarked Naki.

"Okay, but that's all I'm saying." Pyosz left wanting to immediately go work on her idea. But other responsibilities intruded. She stopped by the Lofthall and talked with Api, who waved Pyosz on with her plan for dealing with the ejida "as long as you understand, I won't lie for you and I won't cover up any more lies for you." She stashed her cart at the Lofthall and decided to catch a bus to Pertama for her upcoming confession.

As she entered the ejida offices, she felt her stomach roiling. She found her way to the counter where she'd met with Nioma. Instead of Nioma today there were two other women, one of whom, with a sense of dismay, she recognized as Brek, a friend of Poth's she'd hung out with at dances. Brek looked up, saw her, and broke into a wide smile.

"Hey, it's the capriste!" she cried, leaning over the counter to clasp Pyosz's arm.

"Is this your regular job?" asked Pyosz.

"Nah, we all rotate through the desk work stuff" said Brek. "Except for those who are experts in a single area, report-writers, and of course full-of-themselves managers. Right now, leading up to Mchele Fair, we're all putting in 12-14 hour days. And after that, harvest season strikes on all anvils."

""Well, I'm here to make a confession which may add to your load" said Pyosz. "Though it's nonurgent, I'll begin with that."

Brek's grin only widened. "What's your confession, then? You painted all your goats orange?"

This is what abba meant by trust thought Pyosz. This woman will believe only good of me until I prove otherwise.

"Last week you ran a bunch of soil samples from Saya for me, and I came to pick them up" began Pyosz, her voice sounding funny to her own ears.

"Yeah, I noticed they were gone from the basket. Nioma said she gave them to you. But we don't have a report ready for you yet, Pyosz." Brek was apologetic.

"Well, I made a mistake" said Pyosz. And how. "I walked off with some of your copies as well as mine." She pulled out the sheaf of results, all put back into numerical order and much folded. The other ejida worker had left her desk and came to the counter now.

"I was going through these one by one with my s'bemma Lawa on the radio to Skene" continued Pyosz, sticking to as much truth as she could by eliminating clear timelines for her actions. "And, well, look..." Suddenly in the stack she was leafing through appeared a form still in triplicate, with pink and green showing beneath. "See this spot here? That's a blotch of something sticky, like honey, I'd guess." In fact, it was definitely honey, because Pyosz had carefully placed it there the night before.

"It made this green sheet stick to the next white one, see? And just so you know, it was me separating these while Nioma went to get more information for me, so it's my fault." Entirely.

Brek turned to her coworker accusingly and said "We've warned people about eating lunch in here -- "

Pyosz interrupted "Oh, no, I'm sure it was my hands who did the deed, I'm a notoriously messy eater and it was at my lunch hour that day." She was wearing again the shati she'd had on yesterday with its assortment of food stains. The coworker glanced at her, then gave an "up yours" glare at Brek before returning to her desk.

"Well, no biggie, Pyosz, we'll just take these and send 'em on" said Brek.

"Actually, it may be a big deal" contradicted Pyosz. "See, I researched the findings of this sample, and it's not like any of the others from Saya. It's crucially different." Pyosz pointed to lines of text on the sheet. The coworker looked their way again.

"See this word, Brek? Kaolin. I did some research -- " Pyosz now pulled out her soil composition reference book -- "and I think this means clay. Very good clay, the sort used for making first-quality tableware."

Brek took the book from Pyosz and read with concentration, going back and forth to the sample findings. The coworker returned to Brek's side.

"Thunder me down" Brek finally said. "Could this be a fluke?"

"I doubt it" said Pyosz. "Look at my sketch of Saya. This sample came from here, and all this area around it -- " she drew with her finger -- "it doesn't grow normal grass. I've gone and dug a test hole, and it's clay all right, down at least 18 inches. I took a sample of it to Mill, and informed Api."

"Thunder me down" repeated Brek.

"I have keramiker background, and if your final report bears this out, I'm thinking about working the field" said Pyosz. "Pending regulations and permits, of course."

"You really are a perfect levvin' match for Saya" said Brek.

"Well, except that my behavior could have lost this resource to Pya" said Pyosz. "I've admitted it all to Api, to insure if there are repercussions they come down only on me." As they should -- don't look at me in that admiring way, Brek thought Pyosz.

Brek asked to make a copy of Pyosz's sketch and sent this task off with her coworker to wherever they kept their copier.

"I've met Lawa" said Break. "She's one of the best. She give you good advice?"

"Always" said Pyosz. "When I'm not too dense to pay attention."

Brek laughed happily and knocked her own head with her knuckles. "This is a big day for Pya, no two ways about it."

"So listen, as feeble apology for my making off with state property" said Pyosz, "Here's a loaf of my rosemary bread, a zucchini cake, and a jar of good Saya honey. For your tea break."

"But don't spill on the reports, right?" joked Brek, stashing the gifts on her desk. The coworker returned with Pyosz's map. Pyosz said "Please give my thanks to Nioma."

"See you at Mchele Fair!" they both called out to her as she left.

She felt ominously weak-kneed when she reached the street. She decided to get a bottle of lemonade at the lentil patty stall, and bought lunch as an afterthought. She climbed to the warehouse balcony nearby, moving slowly, and sat with her back flush against the wall, closing her eyes in belated relief.

She could smell the crisp rich scent of her onion rings, hear excited shouts of glassworkers below her. It wasn't quite 10:00 yet, but the sun on her dreads was insistent.

Why didn't I talk to anyone before I went to the ejida office last week? Maar said I'm the type who gets things done, but sometimes I act without relying on others and always at the worst time. Like sleeping with Sey. Or coming to Pya -- well, no, Mill asked me to come and this hasn't been a mistake -- but I nearly botched it. Why?

She felt a vibration on the balcony and opened her eyes to see Maar's head appear at the top of the ladder. "Great minds think alike" said Maar, beaming and holding up a bag from the food stool. But as she joined Pyosz, she examined her face closely and asked "Are you all right? You look a little ashy."

"I just went to the ejida office and returned their missing soil sample forms" said Pyosz in a low voice. Maar sat close beside her and whispered "How bad was it?"

Pyosz told her, and saw Maar exhibit the same relief she'd felt. She didn't feel ready to share her internal turmoil with anyone, though. Not yet.

"Why are you eating so early?" asked Pyosz.

"Finished sinning, have hours of loads here and there until 2:00" said Maar, opening her bag. "What's that drink you have?"


"I didn't know they had that" said Maar, crestfallen.

"I asked them to make it for me. What's in your bottle?"

"Pomegranate juice" said Maar.

"Let's share, okay?" Pyosz handed her bottle to Maar, who took a long swig.

They stopped at the fish docks after eating quickly to get Pyosz a crate of shrimp and more anchovies before Maar bustled off, promising to come for dinner. Pyosz rode the bus with her iced crate at her feet. She stopped at the Lofthall to tell Api and Mill how things had gone. Back at Saya, she called Prl on a private line and shared her news there as well, but still not her emotions.

She began another batch of fish sauce, several sponges, and filled quart jars with herbs plus oil or vinegar to sit in the direct sun for infusion. She went to her orchard and, after another harvest, she raked clear all the ground underneath the trees. She sorted this organic material into that which was decaying fruit and nuts, which she bagged to haul back to her compost pile, and saved the rest of the raked piles to use as mulch.

She dug up and potted every volunteer tree start she found. She lightly tilled the soil of her orchard floor, mixed in a top dressing of soil supplements as per Lawa, and broadcast handfulls of her wildflower mix before re-spreading the mulch.

She stopped by the goat tank a while, to take a long drink and feed her herd whatever they would eat of the old fruit and nuts. Killer kept trying to find a way over the wain yoke into the front where a basket of ripe nectarines sat. When Pyosz would pick up Killer to move her, the small goat would lean against her, seeking a cuddle. Pyosz reflected on how very different Killer was from Molars, though Molars was her abba by way of Nips, Killer's aggie.

Before sorting her harvest, she ventured into the small grove beneath the owl oak, looking for fallen ripe figs. To her horror, she discovered Curds napping there in a tussle of blue-green sedge.

"Scat!" hissed Pyosz. "Stay away from here! What if the great owl wakes up early feeling peckish, glances down here and sees you spread out like an appetizer?" Curds gave her a steely glare as she shambled away.

Pyosz carried several figs back to her kitchen, where she cut them in half, glazed them with honey, and sprinkled them with chopped hazelnuts before roasting. She planned to also roast brussel sprouts with a touch of her shamsjooz sauce, braise endive in parsley oil to mix with steamed carrots for a salad, and make a lemon cream sauce to go over boiled shrimp and noodles.

Or, wait, Maar will be here. I can talk her through the recipes.

She went to her tillage and excavated several large clusters of lavender, rue, and pennyroyal which she transplanted in a strategic spread throughout the owl oak grove. All of these were somewhat katt repellant, although she'd ask around for the coleus which was most successful at keeping katts from a particular tillage bed.

Over the remains of the afternoon, she finished her baking, jam simmering, and preparing fruits and nuts for drying. She was extremely tired by the time Maar arrived, very content to give Maar some cooking instructions, then milk in an eye-closed meditative state, the smell of goat, straw, and warm milk filling her senses.

She whisked together the lemon cream sauce herself at the last minute, as Maar finished all the rest of the meal. "Pretty impressive" said Pyosz. Maar adjusted her shoulders with pride and said "I feel that way, too. Wish I could cook for Thleen like this."

"We'll get you two to that place somehow" said Pyosz. They sat down and Pyosz again closed her eyes to hold Maar's hand and consider all the origins of this meal, including her quirky herd.

As she went straight for the biggest shrimp on her plate, Pyosz said "If you don't have to rush off fast, I wonder if you'd like to go to the hot springs for a soak with me. I never get there during the day and I'm still too spooked to go alone at night."

"Love to" said Maar. "My muscles could really use some unraveling."

"Do you sleep well in general?" asked Pyosz, instantly regretting the question.

"Yeah. Abbo and I are in the back right corner, well away from the bathroom and hall traffic, quietest part of the dorm. The side door to the privy is right there but there's a half-wall baffle to keep out drafts and light, and it's handy having access like that. Plus, early on I sprang for a real mattress, not those skinny lumpy pallets they put on our bunks, so I land in comfort" said Maar.

With arms to hold you thought Pyosz. Sey had been disappointing sexually, in the long run, but she had been a solid sweetness to curl up against in the dark.

Maar said "I'd like to borrow back a clean set of undergarments to wear after we soak, though." She had returned Pyosz's clothes, freshly laundered and folded, along with several clean napkins and dishes from food Pyosz had given her.

Pyosz grinned and said "I don't have the kind of maillot you prefer, with those dropped short sleeves and a V-neck. I prefer sleeveless to show off my bulging biceps."

"Hey, my biceps bulge as much as yours" protested Maar. Very true thought Pyosz.

Later, as they approached the forest, Maar asked "Now where are the owl trees down here?"

"One is to our left, on the south cliff and on the edge of the pasture" pointed out Pyosz. "I'm guessing she has part of the pasture as her territory, whatever the great owl at my end allows her. The other is on the right of the trail, again near the cliff on the north side, and close to the beehives."

Pyosz had brought the bottle of lemon-scented scrub for Maar but made a new scrub with gardenia for herself. They each dipped briefly and washed before returning to drift, occasionally bumping into one another's leg or arm. The night was clear and Pyosz stared up at Pyan stars, trying to remember the constellations Qoj had taught her.

She was in the middle of the pool when Maar shook her foot. She stood to see Maar upright at the far end, staring over her shoulder toward the rocky lip on the western edge of Saya.

"What's going -- " Pyosz was turning as she asked, and broke off as she spotted the shu watching them with glittery gold eyes, perched alertly on the rock nearest the pool. It was fully grown, at least two feet long, and its posture strongly suggested it was about to leap in their direction. Shu were excellent swimmers, and Pyosz had to this point counted on the heat of the springs on keep shu at bay.

Maar appeared beside her and then moved determinedly in front of her, between Pyosz and the shu. "What are you doing?" whispered Pyosz.

"I can't find a weapon, so it's bare hands" replied Maar, moving in slow reverse so the backs of her thighs were actually touching the fronts of Pyosz's thighs. "I can grab it by the neck and hold it under until it drowns." Pyosz thought she should offer to share the risk, but the shu gave out a scratchy growl and Pyosz was rooted to her safety behind Maar.

Then another sound reached them, from their left and high up. The shu looked away from them in that direction, which gave Pyosz enough slack to also look. She spotted the owl first, in a chestnut tree: Not her great owl, about half its size, but formidable. And completely focused on the shu.

In the next instant, it simply became airborne, a catapulted glide without any wing-flapping which reached the shu in less time than the flicker of Pyosz's eyes. Feathered haunches reached out, and only one set of talons sank into the shu's flanks, but they were more than enough. The shu gave a ghastly scream and the owl shuddered upward, off the western cliff, into darkness over the inlet between Saya and Teppe. At the very end, they saw a thin stream of urine drop like silver into the void of night.

Pyosz realized her arms were clasped around Maar's waist, and Maar was pressed against her so tightly she was more or less sitting in Pyosz's lap, with Pyosz's knees bent to lower them both a few inches into the slight protection of the pool. "I got you" Pyosz whispered to Maar. Maar's hands closed over Pyosz's as she said in a raw voice "Tell me you saw that. At the end..."

"I saw it. I guess I have more than one guardian here on Saya" said Pyosz. She was suddenly aware that her legs were parted, as were Maar's, and a slight pulse of water flowed between them both. Maar must have had the same perception, because she moved to the side, off Pyosz's lap, but not out of contact. Turning to look at Pyosz, Maar said "Always something interesting when I come to visit here." Her grin was brave.

"How's that muscle relaxation treatment working for ya?" said Pyosz, and they exploded into laughter. A few minutes later, they agreed to get out, dress, and go back to "the end of Saya where I don't actually have to watch owls hunt in front of me", as Maar put it.

After Pyosz went to bed that night, despite her enormous fatigue she slept poorly, waking up with dreams she didn't quite remember. It was raining in the morning and she had the day off from baking, so she focused on fruit drying, making seasoned roasted nuts, and starting cold infusions for the oils and vinegars Gitta had decided were going to sell the best. She was happy to be in her kitchen, mostly sitting, with music playing and a spicy pork stew simming on the stove.

Shortly before noon, a strange woman walked up the path from the ferry dock. She was short but wide with muscle, dark brown skin and lighter brown eyes, and her brown hair was so short it was a rich fuzz on her scalp. She introduced herself as Mrebbe, the timmer who was partnered with Klosa. Pyosz asked her to eat as they went over her plans for the kitchen expansion, and Mrebbe instantly accepted, slowly savoring her way through two bowls of stew, several rolls, and a quarter-of-a-pie slice of cherry crumble. Mrebbe outlined what the geothermal installer would require, what labor Pyosz could do or ask friends to help with, and eventually left the pleasures of her place at the table to take detailed measurements. She was busy for an hour. Upon her return, she sat down and cut herself another sliver of pie. Pyosz poured her a glass of milk and said "What's your estimate?"

"Can I ask for bread and pie to take home, in addition to what you'll feed me?" grinned Mrebbe. Pyosz thought that wouldn't actually conflict with her exclusivity agreement with Gitta, not for a single large project, and nodded.

"Well....four loaves of bread, four pies, I get to pick the flavors...two jars of pound each of whatever roasted nuts you produce...five jars of that hot sauce...and all I can eat...Let's add on one ek and that's my fee" said Mrebbe. Pyosz decided not to barter further, she loved the presence of this woman and wanted a chance to see her work. They shook on it, and Pyosz paid the honey and nuts in advance.

After Mrebbe left, Pyosz made a small pen for her chicks in the bottom of a large crate lined with straw, spread it with tasty chicken morsels, and carried it to sit under her table at her feet, next to the oven where she was continuing to roast nuts on a low heat. Alternately writing letters and chick-watching, she had a quiet afternoon. All this warm rain is germinating my wildflowers in the orchard she thought.

She ate dinner alone, finishing her letters. She had glazed a few pounds of pecans with honey and cinnamon. She made herself a pot of tea, poured a bowl of these nuts as dessert, and went to bed early, munching and reading one of the history books Yoj had sent, flanked by katts who were now forgiving her for not allowing them to pounce on the chicks earlier.

On Ot, Pyosz stopped by Klosa's store, where Klosa said immediately "What did you put in that stew yesterday? Mrebbe wouldn't stop talking about it." They were alone but Pyosz leaned over to whisper "Cayenne and turmeric. Plus a cup of apple juice added to the stock."

In a normal voice, she said "I'm putting something together for the parade, and I need to look at your caps for babies or children. But keep it to yourself, our secret, okay?" Klosa was delighted to help her find what she needed, including a battered child's toy that was exactly the right size. With a little paint, stitching of leather, and two holes cut for ears, by lunchtime Pyosz had her Saya Island contingent equipment ready to go. She had decided on Killer as her goat emissary, because Killer was all black like Pyosz and least likely to completely freak out in the crowds of Mchele Fair.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.



Just out from, this biting video on health care reform starring Will Ferrell, Jon Hamm of Mad Men, Olivia Wilde of House, Thomas Lennon of Reno 911, Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911, Masi Oka of Heroes, Jordana Spiro of My Boys, Linda Cardellini of ER, and Donald Faison of Scrubs.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009


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


Sunday, September 20, 2009


Scene from The Birds
I'm back. Breathing normally, minimal back pain, everything else regular. Which is to say, crappy but bearable. Thanks for all the GOOD energy, well wishes, and bless you Jain for the donation.

I desperately need to catch up on work, but here's something I want to share. I was watching Gary Muledeer on Letterman, and he talked about how one of his first jobs was managing a movie theater in a small South Dakota town. He lost that job when Hitchcock's The Birds opened and Gary decided it would be fun in the middle of the movie to release six live pigeons from the balcony.

I laughed enough to make my ribs hurt. But good hurt, you know?