Saturday, December 5, 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)


Pyosz fell asleep with the radio in her hand, after talking for an hour with her abbas and emma. When it buzzed in her hand, she thought it was one of the katts purring. She tried to push it away, but the clatter as it fell on the floor startled her. She turned on her lamp and leaned over to pick it up, answering "Emma?"

"No, it's me" said Dodd in a grainy voice. Pyosz held her breath. "They've been found. Some of them."


"Abbo and the passengers. They're being taken to the hospital in Skene, mostly hypothermia or exposure, sounds like. Moko is -- missing."

"Oh no, s'bemma. Her family..."

"Mill and Api are with them right now. And Briel" said Dodd. Pyosz thought But those abbas at the Lofthall, they must be sobbing in relief.

"Where were they? What happened?"

"I don't have a full story yet, none of us do. They were on a secano, the second closest to Skene, had to go through the water to get on shore. No trace of the huolon, Maar said. She was right, wasn't she?" Pyosz could envision Dodd's tired smile.

"Worth betting your life on" said Pyosz fiercely. She jumped as her alarm went off. "I guess I'm up for the day. What are you doing?"

"Going home to sleep a few hours. Briel will stay with Moko's family and I'll relieve her later. Moko was one of my favorite students, you know. Kind and smart, a good mix."

What would Pya do without my family? thought Pyosz. "I'll come to the Lofthall after I make my deliveries" she said.

It felt odd to go out into the still-grey dawn without her redcap on. As she milked, she tried to sort through her joy at the survival of that beautiful child, joy mixed with bitter grief for the likely fate of earnest young Moko -- in service to Pya for only three days.

It began raining while she walked the goats to the kissing gate. She released the katts, who skittered off to relieve themselves before fighting for aga territory, then fed and turned out her chickens. She loaded her wain with milk and stopped at the kitchen to pack crates for Gitta, covering them with a tarp. She was about to muscle the wain on down the now muddy trail when her radio buzzed.

"Emma?" she said again.

"No, it's me" said Maar in a flat voice.

Pyosz sat down in the chair nearest her aga, wiping droplets of rain from her front dreads. "Where are you, buddy? How are you?"

"I'm at your emmas, actually. Abbo's at the hospital, talking with my Sheng Zhang. Danaan and Halling were there when I left. Fohol and I went to crash at the Lofthall, but then -- I need to talk, Pyosz. I came here, I hope that's all right -- "

Pyosz heard Qala's voice say "It was absolutely the right place to come."

"You can talk to me, Maar. Whatever you need to say, I want to hear."

Maar's voice nearly broke as she said "I don't have family, I -- "

Prl said "You do have family, and you're in their kitchen."

Pyosz said "Maar? Is this a private line?"


"Then call me back so you won't have to think about censoring, it's okay if we keep calling back" said Pyosz.

"What time is it there, do you have -- "

"Milking's done, it's a perfect time" assured Pyosz. "I'm all yours."

"Okay. Give me a minute." When Maar clicked off, she looked bleakly at Prl, Lawa and Qala sitting at the table with her. A bowl of untouched soup sat in front of her. She said "Pyosz says you three can be trusted with anything. What I'm going to say -- you can't tell anyone. Or try to do something about it. It's up to me to deal with. If you don't want to hear, I understand."

"I want to hear whatever you tell Pyosz, and I'll match however she handles it" said Prl. She clasped her hands to conceal their trembling. Lawa refreshed Maar's tea, adding honey and milk, as she said "Drink that, you need it." Qala nodded, and Maar dialed Pyosz's number.

"We flew low with the floods on, despite the drag and drain on batteries. Every secano we circled three times in increasing spirals. I'm pretty sure after the first hour we had a group of big leviathans keeping up with us, tracking us. I need to figure out what that means..." Maar rubbed her face with her free hand and drank half her tea.

Pyosz said "Tell Halling and my other abbas, they'll think about it with you." Qala spread toast thickly with butter and grape jam as Lawa refilled Maar's tea. Prl cut the toast into fingers, and almost unconsciously, Maar took one and bit into it as she continued talking.

"The two secanos where I thought they'd be, they weren't. I got pretty sunk then, but the sun was up at least, which made it a lot easier. To be where they were, they had to be way off course. Hopelessly off course. That's the thing, Pyosz, Abbo's already covering herself by saying they headed for land but to even be in range of that particular secano -- it's her fault, Pyosz, it has to be. And if she tries to in any way lay it off on Moko..." Maar's voice nearly broke again.

"We'll figure it out, buddy" said Pyosz. "After you've gotten it out and rested, there's plenty of time. You did the urgent stuff already."

Maar swallowed and drank more tea. "That secano is especially small, it was a tough landing, we sloped a little. There were shu guts everywhere, and flocks of feasting seabeaks. Abbo was outside the cabin, waving her scarf like mad. The kid was unconscious and her emma was inside under the blanket with her, in shock. But I got an IV in the little one, and we had electric warmers on the sinner, and she came to even before we reached Skene." Maar sobbed once. "I put your cap on her, Pyosz, and they left it on at the hospital, I'll get you another one. She was so cold -- "

"That's exactly what I would have done" said Pyosz, fighting back her own sob.

"So..." Maar was trying to organize her story. Qala dropped crumbled cheese onto the soup, and Maar picked up her spoon. "She said Moko woke her up because the engine was missing. Half the instruments were out and the radio wouldn't fire. They could get a compass reading, and when she figured out where they were -- it was dark and she said she had to fly by moonlight, mostly. She finally saw the secano but the huolon's too wide to set down and they were going down, anyhow. She managed to glide into the surf without a break-up, which I give her full points for. She yelled for Moko to open the side hatch and launch the raft, and told the passengers to put on float vests, but they couldn't find them." Maar stopped, and Pyosz said "Isn't that part of preflight check, showing passengers where the emergency equipment is?"

"Yes" said Maar harshly. "Maar got on her own vest, and looped the mezi ray over one shoulder, the big lantern over another. The huolon was thrashing about in the surf, and the child was screaming. She pushed the emergency beacon but if it had ever transmitted, someone would have heard it, I think. Anyhow, she told Moko to get in the raft and tie it secure to the hatch so they could transfer the passengers. But by the time she picked up the kid and got to the hatch, the raft and Moko had vanished. She said if Moko had made a sound, she might not have heard it over the racket. She flashed the lantern, but there was nothing, just surf."

In the long silence that followed, Qala finally said "Sign of lev?"

"No. But they were in deep water, still. She decided to go out the front hatch on the other side -- turns out, the emma can't swim, so Abbo told her to wait, climb out onto the roof if the huolon kept going down, and she jumped into the water with the child on her back. She swam about 25 meters, then hit an underwater reef of rocks where she could stand and wade to a tall rock about three meters from shore. She stopped to rest on the rock, turned on the lantern and saw the shore was swarming with shu. So she put her guibba on the child, gave her the lantern, and told her she'd be back with her emma, to shine the light so they'd know where to go."

"Shu can swim very well" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, but the child was already in hysterics, no use in panicking her further" said Maar. "I have to give Abbo even more points for going back into that surf. She had the cockpit light to follow, except it was getting lower and lower, by the time she got there the emma was out on a wing, babbling that something was bumping the plane from underneath. Abbo said she was numb from cold, she had trouble undoing the buckles on her life vest to put it on the emma. Then the woman balked at going into the water, but they heard the child begin shrieking and that got her moving. By the time they got to the rock, the child had been bitten twice on her hands and once on her cheek. She'd dropped the lantern in the water but Abbo managed to retrieve it -- they're tough, those rescue lanterns -- and she used the mezi to kill all the shu around them." Maar had been talking around mouthfuls of soup, and she stopped to spear a final potato for eating. Pyosz made herself a pot of tea and put an egg-and-onion tart into the aga to warm.

"From the rock to shore was only wading, no swimming, but Abbo still had to drag the emma along, holding the child. They were met by a surge of shu, and Abbo went on a killing spree. She cleared a path to the cabin, which shu had not managed to get into but it was still absolutely rank inside from their stench. Icy and damp, and there was no power because shu shit was encrusted on the solar panels. No water, and most of the food had molded, but there was a jar of fruit preserves and a metal tin of rice cakes that were edible. Abbo made everybody strip down and get under blankets together with the child in the middle for body heat. She was trying to get the radio to work but had no luck. She got up, dressed in her freezing clothes, and went back out to a rocky point with the mezi and lantern, slaughtering any shu and yelling Moko's name, until she realized she was falling asleep from hyothermia. She managed to get back inside and under blankets before she passed out."

Prl had gotten up to fill a shallow bowl with hot rice. She poured cream over it, sprinkled it with cinnamon and brown sugar, and set this before Maar. Maar had to call back, and picked up her spoon as Pyosz answered.

"When Abbo woke up, it was light outside, though it was raining. She was shivering and stiff but knew moving was the best thing to do. She went back out for more shu-icide, then rigged a plastic sheet to funnel rainwater into a pan. She filled a bucket with seawater and some cleanser she found which has taken most of the skin off her hands, I guess she was too cold to notice how caustic it was. She scrubbed down the solar panels and by golly it worked, the batteries started charging. But the radio still was down. She made hot porridge and they got some into the child before she stopped responding altogether. Abbo was trying to fix the radio, with raw, oozing hands, when she heard our sinner."

"And they're all expected to recover fully?" asked Pyosz.

"Yeah. Except -- " For Moko Pyosz finished in her mind. "We couldn't tell where the huolon had sunk, even with Abbo pointing it out. And there was no debris. But levs everywhere, almost as thick as the seabeaks" said Maar, her voice drained. Pyosz heard the scrape of a spoon on ceramic, and Prl asking "More?"

"No. Wait, maybe a glass of milk" said Maar. She really loves her milk thought Pyosz. She could imagine perfectly that distant kitchen, Prl walking to the coldbox, the green glass pitcher from which she poured the milk. She heard Maar gulp, then say "I don't know what's right here. Abbo is already being hailed as a hero, and for sure she's done heroic things, she saved them. From what I saw, that emma and child would have gone down in the huolon if Abbo hadn't jumped into leviathan infestation and hauled them to land."

"You're right, Maar. But the reason why they were in peril in the first place -- "

"Exactly" said Maar. "I mean, isn't that a question which has to be raised? But Sheng Zhang is going to blow up at anyone who raises it. Not to mention -- Pyosz, I'd never have asked a greenhand to be the first into the raft. I'd have expected lev attack, I'd have strafed the mezi before launching the raft and -- well, I'd have been the one taking the risks. Moko didn't have a chance. And it's possible that none of this has even occurred to Abbo."

"Because you, and others, always do the thinking for her" said Pyosz.

"Or the clean-up afterward" said Maar.

"Which you did this time, you figured out where they'd be and you found them" said Pyosz.

"Me and Fohol" said Maar automatically. "And I didn't do that for Abbo only."

"No, you saved the life of that emma and child, and really the future life of the emma and baby waiting for them on Skene. You know what it means to do the work you do, Maar, it's love that drives your brain as well as your heart. And I don't think you understand folks for whom that's not the case. Honestly, sweetheart, I don't either."

It was that "sweetheart" which pushed Maar over the edge. She lay her head forward onto her arms and wept. "Moko" she choked out, "She was only 17, and so thrilled about getting to pilot a huolon." Pyosz was sure that Qala's long arm was now around Maar's shoulders.

Maar didn't cry long, she was too exhausted. Pyosz said "Do you think you can sleep now? Don't go back to the Lofthall, walk ten feet to my bedroom and lie down in my bed, emma will let them know where you are. After a night's rest under that peaceful roof and some of Lawa's pancakes in the morning, you'll be like new."

Even as she spoke, Prl was putting clean sheets on Pyosz's bed. Maar said "All right. I'll call you again when I can. Pyosz...thank you so much. Thank you all."

Qala said "We're the ones should be thanking you. I'll be right back, I've got a schmatta that will fit you."

Maar said goodbye and handed the radio to Lawa, who said "You all right over there, little spud?"

"I am, thanks to you all taking her in" said Pyosz.

"No problem" said Lawa. "I only wish Halling coulda been here."

"We'll get her in the know" said Pyosz.

"This carrothead reminds me a lot of her" said Lawa, making Maar and Pyosz both blush. "Here, your emma is waving imperiously for the radio."

"Darling, it's an honor to be trusted like this. We've fed her and we'll get her rested, don't you worry. Are you going to be able to sleep all right?"

"It's morning here, emma" Pyosz reminded her. "And yes, her trust is the ultimate honor. I'm glad for all of you. Dodd and Briel are looking after Moko's family, and I'm going to join them after I deliver my milk."

"Call me whenever you need" said Prl. After she clicked off, she put clean towels in the bath room and a carafe of lemon-water on Pyosz's nightstand while Maar went to the privy. She kissed Maar's cheek before closing the bedroom door.

Qala had helped herself to soup poured over rice. "Lev, what a mess" she said softly.

Lawa looked at Prl challengingly and said "The next time you start in about how Pyosz is ruining her life, I want you to remember she's never come close to Abbo's failures and she never will. She's choosing to fill her life with the likes of that pilot, as you call her."

Prl sat down and rubbed her brow with her hand. "I know" she said softly. "Can you imagine having to plan a funeral for your child without a body to wash and wrap?"

They sat in silence, except for the ticking of the kitchen clock.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild


Friday, December 4, 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)


Three days later there was a ceremony at the Lofthall for two new pilots who had completed flight school on Skene and now were returning to Pya to work. One of them was still 16, Dekkan, the sibu of Uli. She had not yet attained her full growth, but pride threatened to burst the seams of her new robin-blue uniform. She blushed and stammered when Pyosz introduced herself, and at the party afterward, every time Pyosz turned around, Dekkan was standing there in mute admiration.

When they had a moment alone, Maar teased Pyosz "Someone's fallen for you rather hard."

"Yikes, I know. But unlike you, I'm not interested in 16-year-olds." It was a risky joke. Maar grinned as she protested mildly "Hey."

"So will having two more bodies help decrease your work load?" asked Pyosz, taking a bite of toast from the Lofthall canteen and frowning to herself at the texture.

"Theoretically, once we get them sorted out as to our way of doing things. Short-term, they'll need a lot of supervision, which will fall partly on me" said Maar.

Though you're only 19 yourself thought Pyosz.

"They need to rack up flight hours without a lot of risk to themselves or others" continued Maar. "Dekkan wants to sin, so we'll put her in a lighter with radar to give her something she's responsible for. We're hitting peak migration for some fish species, and Mill's putting us on two sins a day starting tomorrow. The other greenhand, Moko, wants to focus on hauling, so Mill asked me to sit out the huolon run this week, let Moko do it with Abbo instead."

"Oh, no, that means you won't see Thleen!" said Pyosz.

"Yeah, neither of us are happy about it. But I'm going to be swamped, and it's just this once, and it would be good for the huolon run to have an alternate" said Maar, sounding as if she were convincing herself. "I've asked to be the trainer in the future for that territory."

"Uh-oh, the band is about to start and Dekkan is headed this way, pull me out on the dance floor, will you?" whispered Pyosz.

The next morning she was beginning to sift flour in her massive bowl when the radio buzzed. It was Prl, saying cheerfully "Do you know what today is?"

"Uh...two days until Raccolto?" guessed Pyosz.

"Exactly one month until your birthday!" said Prl. "You'll be back home, and I thought about planning a surprise party for you, but then I decided you might rather organize it yourself as part of your return."

Pyosz set down her measuring cup, then sat down herself.

"Pyosz, are you still there?"

"Yeah, emma." A long tense silence was filled with small static, birdsong, and the remote crash of waves on Saya's cliffs.

"You will be back for your birthday?" demanded Prl. "You promised when you left, I specifically asked you -- "

"I will be home on my birthday" said Pyosz, realizing immediately the wording wouldn't slide by Prl. "But emma, I can't imagine that I'll be finished with what I need to do here by then."

"What are you talking about?" said Prl aggressively. Pyosz thought maybe her emma had worked herself up to make this call. "I'll pay for the shipping of your kiln and wheel, I've already figured out where you can set up a studio. All the rest of it there is the responsibility of your replacement."

"There is no replacement -- " began Pyosz.

"And there never will be if you don't inform Mill to do her end of the bargain" said Prl. "It's one thing to try your hand at so many new things, I understand that, but you have a real life waiting for you."

Mrebbe and her crew appeared on their way to Herne, waving and calling hello. Pyosz waved back numbly as Prl ranted on. Once the timmers were out of range, Pyosz said "Emma -- I will be home for my birthday. But harvest on Saya includes goats, and as sick as I am about the idea of killing any of these beloved animals, I'm not going to leave them in the hands of strangers for those last terrible minutes. And I also want to be the one to launch the next generation of my herd, which you of all people ought to understand. So there's no way I'll feel done here until Burzas at the earliest. I'll talk to you more about it after you've discussed it with Qala and Lawa, whom I'm sure are not there, not the way you're going off on me. I love you, and this is my choice, emma, this is my real life."

She clicked off and stood with a surge of anger. That's when she noticed Tu and Pank beyond the aga. Pank grinned and said "We've all been waiting for that kettle to boil."

"You okay?" asked Tu, setting a slab of bacon on the table.

'I am, actually" said Pyosz.

"I'll talk to you another time about what slaughter entails" said Pank, clapping Pyosz's shoulder before they walked on. Pyosz waited over the next half hour for a furious call back from Prl, but finally relaxed, marveling that her emma had listened to her.

Prl, in her office in Skene, hurled the radio across the room. It bounced off a stack of paper files and skidded into the corner. She surged to her feet and snatched it back up, but after a split second, she punched in another number instead of Pyosz's.

When Dodd answered, Prl all but shouted "She's staying through Burzas! She's not coming back at summer's end like she promised."


"I counted on you being around to help me raise her, maybe if you hadn't taken off she'd respect me more." To Prl's horror, she slid abruptly into sobs.

"Is Pyosz okay? What's going on?" asked Dodd. Prl couldn't answer right away, and when she could talk, she kept repeating "She's not coming back, I've lost my child, my only child."

"I'd commiserate with you, sibu, both my darlings are in Skene. But I do have two, and I have Briel, so I'd be farting in my palm to presume I know exactly what you're feeling" said Dodd. "I will say, however, that Pyosz loves you every bit as much as you love her, and she doesn't want to live apart from you."

Prl sobbed again. Dodd continued "And I have always treated Pyosz like one of my own children. I've been especially involved with her this summer."

"Then stop her from throwing away her future to milk goats and wait on that levving pilot!" wailed Prl.

Dodd listened for a while. Eventually Prl blew her nose and grilled Dodd about Pyosz's life, which got her complete information if not reassurance. In turn, Dodd confided her concern about Qoj and Uli. "I mean, Prl. I've heard Uli has made a move on everyone in her sui. I don't understand these kids and how impulsive they are about sex. At the rice harvest last week Pyosz was trying to get strangers to sniff her armpits."

By the time they said goodbye, they were united as sibs and as emmas. Prl decided to have dinner that night with her own emmas and set them on the task of getting Pyosz back to Skene. Yoj will pull out all the stops she thought.

The next morning when Pyosz dropped off her milk at the djostiker's, Kolm grinned at her hugely and said "I think I've cracked it."

"What?' asked Pyosz, and then she noticed a plate holding a small round of dark caramel-colored cheese. "Oho!" she cried, reaching to slice a piece.

"It's from the whey, after I removed the curds, and it's about the process mostly" said Kolm with intense pride. "Cooking temperature and times, when to stir, how.." Her voice trailed off as Pyosz, her mouth full, began slapping the counter in ecstasy. Pyosz lingered over the flavor before swallowing, then said "You'll never be able to keep this in stock. It's like chocolate!"

"That's what Gitta said." Kolm was wringing her hands in happiness. "Well, I'll take it to our Sheng Zhang, then, but I want to keep it for Pya as long as possible -- us first, and maybe Skene if we have extra. The recipe will be something we can contract for."

"I agree, Kolm, except my abba Yoj is who funneled the idea our way, could I please send them some? Not to be shared or even talked about outside my family? They're trustworthy, I promise."

"Of course" said Kolm, well aware of what personages would thus be in collusion with her. "I have a five pound round wrapped for you, that's half of this batch that finally worked the way I wanted it to, I'll do more in the next few days."

"Well, let's cut my share in half again, and can I use some of your wrap? I'll send this to my abbas on the huolon that's leaving within the hour." Pyosz scribbled a quick note and sealed it in with the package. She put the rest of her share in her gilet -- she didn't think she could resist nibbling on the way home.

At the Lofthall, Abbo and the new pilot, Moko, were loading the last of the huolon. "I have an addition to my crate home" said Pyosz. "You'll have to find it yourself" said Abbo irritably. Pyosz climbed in the hatch and rooted through the lashed crates, having to restack them to reach the one addressed to her abbas. As she was rebuckling the straps, a woman about ten years her senior with a five-year-old child boarded and began making a nest for themselves in the second row. Two older women stood in the doorway, saying "Give our kisses to your baby sibu!"

The child looked stormy. The emma said "We will, and she'll be able to come along with us next year for Mchele Fair." The child burst out "I don' wanna go back home, there's no swimming or trees there and the baby stinks! Can't we stay one more week?"

The emma seemed too tired to have this argument one more time. Before the child could work her way into a tantrum, however, her eyes lighted on Pyosz and she said "I know you -- you were in the parade? With the little goat?"

"Killer, yes" affirmed Pyosz. "Listen, would you like an extra special treat that's made from the milk of my goats, including Killer's emma? It's a new kind of cheese that nobody has ever had before."

The child nodded vigorously. Pyosz retrieved a slice and handed it to the emma, who took a small bite while ignoring the cries of "Gimme, she gave it to ME, emma!" Her face registered astonishment and she forgot to take more for herself before passing it on to the small clutching hands.

"Morrie vaseo!" said Pyosz, making her exit while everybody was happy. Back on Saya, she resolutely put what was left of the brown cheese in her coldbox, thinking about the looks on the faces of her family -- and Maar -- when the rich, melting flavor landed on their tongues. She'd have Maar take some to Thleen in the future, too, but for this week, the box of jam tarts she'd included with her letter would keep Thleen sated.

That evening, Pyosz had just returned to her kitchen from milking, planning to make stir-fry for dinner, when the radio buzzed. She answered to hear Prl say in a grave voice "Darling, have you heard?"

"Heard what?" Pyosz felt chill at the bone despite the torpid air around her.

Prl paused, then said "Are you alone? Can you go to Herne and call me from there? Or Dodd's -- "

"Emma, just tell me what's happened." It was early morning on Skene, something terrible had woken up Prl.

"The's missing, Pyosz. Tlunu got a call to go out on a search, but they're not sure even where to start, the last radio transmission was three hours ago. Halling called me and I called you first, I haven't even told Qala and Lawa yet. Pyosz, my heart is breaking for you, I'll get there as soon as I can but I don't know when that might be." Prl's voice was choked.

"I don't believe it -- does our Lofthall know? Oh, no, Mill and Oby..."

"Emma Halling said they were starting a search from their end, so yes, they know. I'm presuming they're calling Maar's family but if you want me to call them or even go to Chloddia, I'll do whatever you think is right. But first we need to get you with family as we wait for news."

"Maar's family? Oh, emma, Maar isn't on this huolon, it's a new pilot, a teenager, with Abbo. And oh lev, a child -- a small child flying home with her emma, oh lev, I saw them take off!" The flash of relief which had ripped through her at the realization that Maar had escaped disaster was entirely overridden by her memory of that small face, the grin when Killer's name had been mentioned -- a child whose name she didn't even know, but whose well-being now felt as crucial to her as that of her cousin. Pyosz began crying, and realized Prl was, too.

"Emma -- I really want to talk with you, I really do, but I need to get to the Lofthall, for Mill and Oby. And Maar, I know Maar will be out of her mind. I'll be there until -- well, they have to be found, that's all. Thank you so much for calling me."

"I'll be at my emmas, all of us will. Pyosz, I'm glad beyond words that Maar is all right."

"Me, too, emma. But others need our hearts and minds right now." Pyosz grabbed her flash and burzaka before loping down the trail to her dock.

There was already a small crowd in front of the Lofthall. She threaded her way through to the office, where Oby was on one radio and Jiips on another. Mill was bent over a table littered with maps, and a cluster of pilots were listening to her, including Maar and Dekkan. Everybody looked unfamiliar, they were so serious. Briel and Dodd were in a corner, and Pyosz went to them asking "Any news?"

"No" said Dodd. Oby motioned to a pilot, then to Dodd, and Pyosz went to hear. "I've tracked down Moko's family on Nec" Oby said to the pilot, "I need you to take the small school sinner and pick them up. Dodd, will you go with her? They'll need reassurance and I want my pilots focused right now."

As Dodd and the pilot headed for the door, Pyosz heard Maar say "We can carry extra batteries to get us through to morning and then ditch them when they're just dead weight, that sinner can recharge itself indefinitely once we have enough light if I fly it right."

Mill was shaking her head, saying "I want you in the other huolon -- " Oby moved in closer as Maar interrupted "Skene already has several search planes out that will intercept our other huolon, that's going to be half a dozen craft covering basically the same territory. I'm telling you, if she was in any way off course or had advance warning of trouble, she'd head for the only dry land to be found and ignore the route. It's what I'd do and I've said it to her more times than I can count."

"What's she talking about?" Oby asked Mill. There was a ripple at the door, Api and Ollow coming in accompanied by two elders that Pyosz recognized as the abbas of the missing child. Mill left the map table to go talk with them. Pyosz felt the lump in her throat grow thicker.

Maar turned to Oby: "I want to take a fast, strong sinner and go from secano to secano instead of following the huolon route. Partly it's gut, Oby, partly it's logic. We've got other pilots who can take the huolon but I'm the only one who's been to the secanos in the last two years, it needs to be me."

Oby seemed to be choosing her words. "We may need the mezi ray, and parachute rescue."

Not after this long in the water, if that's where they are thought Pyosz. She saw the same thought on Maar's face, but Maar wasn't going to say that to Abbo's emma. Instead she said "We may need it more where I want to search, and besides, we have huolon back-ups who've had the basics in both."

Uli had a map of the oceans between Skene and Pya, and she was carefully marking in the secano-hopping route, adding distances and indicating the divergence from the straightforward huolon route. Now she looked at Maar and said "I agree with you, at certain points in the trip heading for a secano would be the rational choice. And you're right about the charge, according to my math."

Maar's cheeks went red with urgency as Mill returned to the discussion. "Please, Sheng Zhang, I want to find them as much as you do. The toxics sinner will hold six of us plus rescue gear, I can fit floodlights onto the underbrackets, it's got new nav and it's fully charged right now."

"Who would you wamt to take with you?" asked Oby, and Pyosz saw Dekkan start to move forward but Maar said "Fohol" and Fohol said instantly "I'm in, it's what I would do, too."

Maar's exes all stand by her thought Pyosz.

Mill looked at Oby and Oby nodded. Mill said "All right, go get the gear you'll need, I want you in the air inside ten minutes." She turned to other pilots and made assignments for the huolon search, but Dekkan's name wasn't mentioned. Oby added "It's going to be no sleep for some of us. but come daylight, Pya will need us as usual and we'll be stretched thin. The rest of you, eat and go right to bed, find a way to sleep. I promise to come wake you when we find them."

Uli handed her maps to Maar, then turned and wrapped Dekkan in a hug which embarrassed the young pilot but she didn't pull away. Pyosz decided to go to the canteen and help put together a hamper for Maar's search sinner, but the canteen staff didn't want her intrusion. She walked instead to the jichang, a maelstrom of activity, and asked Maar if there was something she could do.

Maar didn't pause in her swift, concentrated preparation. "Uh,,,no. Wish I'd been here when they took off" she muttered.

"I was" Pyosz volunteered. "I talked with the child and her emma."

Maar stopped and stared at Pyosz. "Who took the first leg, Abbo or Moko?" she asked.

"Abbo. She was being very crabby with everybody" said Pyosz. Maar said quietly "Then my hunch that they could have been way off course is more likely." But without you there to correct it once the piloting changed hands to a raw beginner thought Pyosz. Fohol at their elbow murmured "Plus she skimps on preflight checks, especially when there's passengers, no telling what got missed."

Maar looked grim: "Well not us." She returned to her clipboard. Mill and Oby both came out to wave the sinner and huolon into the air. Mill embraced Maar and said quietly "Bring 'em back. But don't risk yourself."

"Yes, Sheng Zhang" said Maar. Pyosz intercepted her before she reached the hatch and jammed her red wool cap on Maar's head as she said "Stay warm. Carynn bye."

After the rumble of both craft could no longer be heard, Pyosz's adrenaline plummeted. She wasn't sure what to do with herself. She wished she could go curl up in Maar's bunk, but it might offend the other pilots. Dodd met her at the Lofthall entry and said "I need to stay here with the families, and Briel is also on call, you can sit with us if you like."

Pyosz leaned against her briefly. "I think I'll go home and call emma back. She thought Maar was on the huolon, she was beside herself for me. Then I'm going to follow Oby's advice and find a way to sleep because, no matter what, I have goats at dawn. But will you call me with any word, no matter the hour?"

"I will" said Dodd.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild


Thursday, December 3, 2009


(Nearby Galaxy Centaurus A)

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, followed by poetry after the jump.

This reminds me a joke popular among my friends in the 70s:
Q: What's white and streaks across the sky?
A: The coming of the Lord.


by Sharon Olds

By the time I was six months old, she knew something
was wrong with me. I got looks on my face
she had not seen on any child
in the family, or the extended family,
or the neighborhood. My mother took me in
to the pediatrician with the kind hands,
a doctor with a name like a suit size for a wheel:
Hub Long. My mom did not tell him
what she thought in truth, that I was Possessed.
It was just these strange looks on my face—
he held me, and conversed with me,
chatting as one does with a baby, and my mother
said, She’s doing it now! Look!
She’s doing it now! and the doctor said,
What your daughter has
is called a sense
of humor. Ohhh, she said, and took me
back to the house where that sense would be tested
and found to be incurable.


Wednesday, December 2, 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)


Pyosz remarked to more than one person that her new aga arrived just in time. Her plum and fig trees were still producing a decent amount, but the rest of her orchard was at its peak. The drying racks in the barn ran every hour of the day with apple, pear, and nectarine slices. The generous oven roasted deep trays of almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and pistachios. On top of the aga were heavy pots cooking down applesauce, pear preserves and quince jelly, as well as marinara sauce since tomatoes had hit their stride as well. If Pyosz wasn't in the orchard up a tree, she was in the sweltering kitchen turning ripe yield into preserved savories.

Maar returned from Skene with a second-hand potter's wheel on board, but Pyosz had no time to dig or clean clay, much less trying to throw something. Midweek Pyosz ran into Api outside Gitta's, and Api said starchily "The allotment clerk says you're delivering very little fresh fruit or raw nuts. The numbers are strikingly different from past years."

"Is that a problem?" asked Pyosz, taken aback.

"Not from my perspective" said Api, almost smiling. "Most folks have access to fresh items from their own trees this time of year; traditionally the allotment center has had to funnel Saya's bushels on to a factory which did the work you're doing, for a fee. I went over the books with her, translating jars of jam, for example, into original bushels, and it turns out you're turning over twice what Ferk ever did."

Most of Ferk's fruit went to the spirits distiller Pyosz thought but did not say.

"She then dared to complain that what you were going to earn in barter from your higher percentage from processed crops was an unseemly amount -- you already have an income from the goats" said Api.

"I work my ass off for every copper hundreth-ek I manage to add to my pocket!" Pyosz's voice climbed in outrage, and two people outside the kelp factory turned to look their way. "If she spent one day doing as much as I cram into an hour, she'd crumple on the ground like -- "

Api waved her silent. "Everybody's quite aware of your industry. And the benefit to Pya is considerable. Which I pointed out to her. Your share is less than we paid the factory last year. A factory owned by her relatives, incidentally." She grinned.

"Aaah" said Pyosz. But she was still irked by the unfair criticism. Three days later, when she and everyone else who could spare a few hours descended on Pirinc for the main rice harvest, Pyosz scanned the faces of those being assigned to teams and gloated when she didn't find the allotment clerk -- the indolent shu.

Pyosz had been keyed up since awakening that morning. After milking, she'd put on extra sokken but only knickers under the booted waders. She chose a bright red maillot. because Dodd had told her that despite standing hours in cold water, the effort of harvest combined with the insulating rubber outer layer tended to leave workers soaked in sweat, and most folks stripped down as much as they could on top as well. She put on a linen shati for the sinner ride to Pirinc but she kept imagining the moment when she got to bare her muscles next to the scarlet maillot.

She was assigned to a crew headed by Poth which included Dodd and Uli as well as two vineyard workers from Trumpinne. After half an hour, she had to go use the privy -- all this aquatic stimulation she thought -- and although she wasn't actually warm yet, she returned to her crew bare-armed. Uli grinned at her and Pyosz flashed her underarm hair with a wink. Dodd looked shocked.

By their midmorning tea break, Dodd was stony silent. As Pyosz walked by her, Dodd whispered in a furious voice "I thought you weren't interested in Uli!"

"I -- I'm not" protested Pyosz.

"You've been flirting with her since we got here!" Dodd's eyes were dark green.

"I promise you, s'bemma, I haven't. Not consciously. I'm just in high spirits.." faltered Pyosz.

"Knock it off" hissed Dodd, stalking away. Pyosz was bewildered, but focused her banter on the vineyardists until lunch. Dodd sat beside her as they drank mugs of vegetable soup and devoured thick bean paste sandwiches. Pyosz was having an exhilirating exchange of double-entendres with a dashing iron miner, and didn't notice the glances between Dodd and Poth.

Maar arrived, shuttling an exchange of volunteer workers after getting done with sinning. Pyosz sprang to her feet and sprinted toward Maar as best she could in the waders, crying out "Look at how much I've sweated already!" She leaned over to give Maar a look down her bib.

Maar began laughing nervously, saying "Yeah, buddy, I can tell you've worked up a bit of funk" as she playfully pinched her nose. Pyosz riposted "Imbibe it while you can!" and dragged Maar back to the bench, pushing Maar down and plopping herself squeakily into Maar's lap. Maar's eyebrows climbed up her forehead and her cheeks went dull red as Pyosz squirmed on her lap. A few minutes later, Maar extricated herself to take people back home. Abbo came in her stead for the end of shift shuttle, which Pyosz found intensely disappointing.

After milking, Pyosz waited for someone to drop by during and after dinner, but she was alone in her kitchen, ladeling green jam and red sauce into quart jars. She was reluctant to take a shower, finding she enjoyed the wafts she smelled of herself. Finally she decided to go to bed a little early. It wasn't until she turned out her lamp and slid her hand down her still slick torso that she thought of the riceworkers' novel. With sickening mortification, she realized what had been gunning her engine all day.

"Oh no, Ember, I made a public spectacle of myself. What must Maar be wondering? And I can't explain it to her, not even to s'bemma." Ember was sound asleep and didn't move. A few minutes later, Pyosz sighed, turned on her lamp, and reached under the mattress.

Work was well under way on Herne, building Manage, greenhouse, woodworking studio, and all the outbuildings. Tu had asked to leave her Motu Fling lilacs safely on Saya for the time being, and the starts were thriving. Every morning Mrebbe's full crew filed by her kitchen on the way to Herne, and every other day she walked over at noon with two fresh pies in lieu of the hands-on help she wished she had the time to offer right now. Still, with Nk and Frahe there all day in addition to Tu and Pank, the construction was rapid as well as beautiful.

Pyosz made quick sketches of Herne and its workers in her letters home. She fed her four cousins late dinners when they stayed on Herne until full dark, and it already felt to her like she had near neighbors. Saya ceased to feel separated from the rest of Pya, and she found it a relief.

After catching up from the day devoted to rice harvest, Pyosz squeezed an hour out of one day to go dig blocks of clay from her field, assisted by an inquisitive Killer. One foot-square block she wrapped in wet burlap, then kelp plastic, and delivered to Mill for Pya's use. The other she began laboriously washing when she could spare half an hour for it. After three days, she had clay suitable for throwing. She stored it in am airtight comtainer and had to wait two more days, until a Sju afternoon when freedom from baking gave her time to start her wheel and sit before it on a chair, her pulse racing.

She was lost to everything until Maar showed up with a paper packet of fresh kabwiri. "Hey!" said Maar loudly, wresting her attention away from a coiled vase. "It's full dark, can't you hear your goats?"

Pyosz looked at her foggily, slowly taking in the clamor at the kissing gate, her katts sitting close together under the kitchen table, then Maar's worried face.

"Been potting" she explained unnecessarily.

"Go milk, I'll take care of everything else" said Maar. Pyosz reluctantly stood, wincing as the blaze of muscle pain in her back, and she wet a kitchen towel to drape over her vase before trudging toward the pasture. Maar had to scrub down the table and counters before cooking because a fine green silt had drifted everywhere from the potting area.

She had steamed squash, made a mixed salad, and fried the kabwiri in their own skins coated with cornmeal by the time Pyosz reappeared. Her hands and arms were scrubbed clean, but silt streaked her face and dusted her dreads.

"Lev, I'm so hungry" said Pyosz in a near moan, stealing a green bean from the salad as she pulled plates from her cupboard. "i don't know what would have happened if you hadn't shown up and dragged me from the wheel. I guess the owl flying by with a screaming katt in its talons would have gotten my attention."

They laughed together ruefully. Pyosz wasn't satisfied at dinner's end. She used precious cocoa to make hot chocolate, and spread thick wedges of toast with mustard, sliced boiled eggs, and green onions. It was an odd but savory combination, and Maar joined her. They stacked dishes in the sink and walked to the hot springs, Maar talking animatedly about a change in tracking fish migration that she was trying to get Oby to adopt.

Pyosz washed her hair and body, but after rinsing, Maar looked at her critically and said "You've still got clay in the nappiest parts. Here, let me do it." She poured a palmful of shampoo and stood very close to Pyosz's back to rub her head. Pyosz closed her eyes and steeled herself against the urge to lean back into Maar's wet, warm length.

"You need to build a screen between the potting area and the kitchen" said Maar, turning to pull a bucket of water from the springs for rinsing.

"And set an alarm on the wheel" added Pyosz.

"That vase looked good, how long had you been working on it?" asked Maar, taking the shampoo to wash her own hair.

"Dunno. I'd started over at least eight times, it wasn't coming out the way I wanted" said Pyosz, feeling a tug to resume shaping clay between her palms. When they returned to the kitchen, she used familiar willpower to avoid even lifting the edge of the towel to look at the vase. Instead, she did dishes while Maar dried. It began raining lightly, and Maar said "Big storm due in tonight, you got anything needs lashing down?"

Pyosz looked at the wet towel and upended a stock pot over the vase. She and Maar shared an umbrella walking to the jichang. Maar looked at her closely before shutting the hatch and said "Yet another side of you surfaces."

Pyosz didn't ask for reassurance about what that might mean. She found she didn't need it.

The following day, with rain still coming and going, she used her mid-afternoon break to look over goat records in Ferk's old logbook instead of returning to the potting wheel. Vants kept reminding her to chart a complete lineage of every doe in her herd, and Molars was the oddball, with no siblings in the herd and an unfamiliar name for her aggie. Pyosz called the ejida office on her radio and asked to consult with someone who might have back records on goat breeding for Pya.

After three transfers, she was finally connected to Nioma: The woman I stole a soil record from Pyosz thought guiltily. She explained her quest and Nioma said with a laugh "I'm weak in goat knowledge but I'm still probably your best bet. Let me go pull what files we have, I'll call you back."

Pyosz had time to make a pot of tea, stir her jam, and peek under the towel at her vase before the radio buzzed again. "All right, I've got everything going back to the first shipment of eight does to Pya" said Nioma. "It's not organized in one place, a lot of the info is buried in bills and accounts, but bear with me. What's your question?"

"Let's start with a doe named Molars. She's ten years old and her aggie is listed as Midnight, but I don't find that name anywhere else in the log, why is that?"

Nioma repeated to herself "Molars, Midnight" as papers rustled. "Ten years ago...there was no breeding doe on Pya named Midnight ten years ago. Let's look at imports -- there was a doeling brought from Skene that year, age three months, just weaned. Her name is given as Sandy, not Molars. Aha, but yes, her aggie was Midnight. from Yagi. Probably Ferk changed her name."

"She's got a buff coat, Sandy would fit. Why did we import her, does it say?" asked Pyosz.

"Just 'Herd vigor' which is an all-purpose explanation. I can tell you that Ferk was not in the habit of experimenting with breeding or new blood, this was a rarity. She didn't even request Contributions from Skene but relied entirely on our small frozen stock from a few billys. Which cost nothing but isn't good for a herd longterm." Nioma sounded disapproving. "Hang on, there's some appendixed note about that year, let me find that page..."

Pyosz poured a fresh cup of tea and stirred her jam again. Ember had spread out in all the available space underneath the aga and Curds was hunched on a chair, her fur damp, sulking.

Nioma continued "Well this is interesting. Seems Ferk got sick and didn't tell anyone right away, just holed up. By the time the djostiker raised an alarm, three does had gone dry from not being milked and a fourth died of mastitis. We had someone going out there for a week to do the milking before Ferk recovered." Nioma's tone sounded to Pyosz as if she knew full well Ferk had been on a bender. "This all coincided with the arrival of the doeling, and since she needed supervision to be introduced to a new herd, she was kept here at the ejida instead. At first she was put in with some ewes, since we don't keep goats, but they apparently mistreated her, so after two days she was put in a stall by herself, except for feedings."

Pyosz was wracked by sudden empathy for baby Molars, torn from all that was familiar to fly on a chilly roaring monster to a strange place, where she was tormented by big sheep and then put into isolation. Goats are intensely social animals, it's a miracle she survived it thought Pyosz. No wonder she doesn't trust humans, and has never bonded with the herd except for her own offspring.

"That explains a mystery" she told Nioma. They ran down other lineage questions, and Pyosz clicked off with all her gaps filled in. She was scalding canning jars an hour later when the radio buzzed again. It was Pank, saying "One of the crew left the gate open and several of your goats have invaded. We can get tethers on all but one of them, who's biting and kicking every time we get near."

"Molars" breathed Pyosz. "I'll be right there." She slipped a small apple into her pocket, turned off the jam, and shrugged into her burzaka. When she got to the Herne bridge gate, a few kids were being shooed back into the pasture by Frahe, who said to her "The bad 'un is in a thicket on the southeast point." As Pyosz went by the lumber shed, Tu was treating a wicked-looking bite on Mrebbe's palm. Pank fell into step beside her, offering a loop of rope.

Molars was ripping bark from a small tree and wheeled around defiantly as Pank yelled "Hey, you shitter, stop that!" Pyosz halted and went slowly into a squat, looking at Molars steadily. Her silence and calm momentarily interrupted Molars' chewing. Pank stared at Pyosz sideways.

Pyosz said quietly "I found out today what happened to you. Wish I could change how you got neglected. I guess you've figured out, this island isn't where you were born, either."

Molars spit out the rest of her bark and regarded Pyosz unblinkingly.

"Well, we have to go back to the only home you've got, with a nice dry barn. I'll make you all a warm mash tonight, since you've been out in a storm for hours. In the meantime, you have to let me put this rope on you, but I'll sweeten it with an apple. Deal?"

Molars' expression didn't change. The standoff lasted over a minute. Pank sighed and walked off. Finally Molars came forward and bit into the apple with what Pyosz swore was a sneer. Pyosz dropped the loop around her neck and waited until Molars was done with her apple before walking toward the bridge. Molars trotted easily beside her until they came level with the lumber yard. Then Molars turned swiftly and sank her jaws into Pyosz's thigh.

With the thick workpants she was wearing and the burzaka, it didn't hurt as much as usual. Pyosz smacked Molars' flank and said "Cut it out." Once in the pasture, Pyosz called the other goats and took them in early.

(Pirinc, Pya island dedicated to rice, goose and duck production)

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild


Tuesday, December 1, 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)


Pyosz wrote hasty notes to go with the packets of photographs she sent home. Uli and Dodd were both at the jichang, and Pyosz persuaded Dodd to make her goodbyes early, leaving the new lovers a few minutes of privacy before parting. Qoj's eyes were puffy and bloodshot.

"C'mon, s'bemma, take me to breakfast at the cafe and help me put these stacks of pictures into a good order for my album." Uli and Qoj both hugged her gratefully, and Maar whispered "Save next Roke after dinner for me."

Over their eggs and rice in onion broth, Dodd asked Pyosz "Is she in love? Can you tell?"

"I cannot, s'bemma, and likely they aren't sure either, which makes it all the harder, I guess" said Pyosz. "If they are, wouldn't that be good news? Wouldn't that mean Qoj moving back home?"

"She needs to finish her education and pursue the best options for her career wherever that is" said Dodd a little primly. She sprinkled vis into her bowl, then added "Truthfully, I'm just not sure Uli will stand by her, not in the long run. You know what I mean, you sized her up and decided you could do better."

Pyosz was going to protest this as an unfair comparison, but Dodd went on in a softer tone. "Briel thinks Qoj may be as fickle as Uli, says I can't see it. I'm feeling pressure from a lot of angles and probably squeezing Qoj without meaning to. I'm ready for grandchildren, I'd like to cut back on my job so I could write music more, and I feel guilty every day about not living close enough to my emmas to look after them. It's going to fall too much on Prl, especially when you add in Lawa and Qala. I should clean up my own conflict, I suppose, before I demand anything similar of Qoj."

Pyosz felt instantly stricken, as if she too were letting down her abbas and emma. She took note of the fact that Dodd wasn't factoring in her own twin or Speranz, who lived with the abbas, as real support for their elder years. Dodd glanced at her acutely and said "Well, I suppose we should have Uli over to dinner one night this week. You're starting renovations on Saya, right? Tomorrow?"

"This afternoon" corrected Pyosz. "We have to be ready for the geothermal installer who'll be returning with the huolon on San. Which means Tu and Pank will be busier than spring beetles as well this week."

"And the first big rice harvest is next week. You should see if Klosa can set aside some good waders for you right now, by the time of harvest all that's left are stinky or leaky pairs" advised Dodd.

After they ate, Dodd walked with Pyosz to Klosa's, where they rented bib waders, Pyosz bought two more kitchen chairs and finalized delivery of her new aga on Ot. Klosa told her she had a line on a kiln that had been used for enameling in an engine factory. "'Thing is, it's large, maybe bigger than you need" she said. They talked it over, calling in Mrebbe from her shop nexy door to discuss dimensions, and Pyosz decided to take the kiln. She added it to the Ot delivery.

She made trips to the allotment center and Gitta's before heading home to make enough food to keep Mrebbe happy. When she found out that two members of Mrebbe's timmer crew were building the short bridge between Saya and Herne plus Tu and Pank's geothermal shed, she offered to feed all of them as well, saving the commute to Koldok's cafe. In exchange. Pank supplied sausage and ham for meals, Tu did dishes, and they paid for construction of a high goat-proof gate on Saya's end of the bridge. Extra hands were easily available when needed, and although Pyosz never had a free moment, she paced herself by her elderly cousins and enjoyed every hour of labor.

During dinner on Iki, with folks still at her table making short work of pies, Pyosz answered the radio to hear Thleen say loudly "Will you send me some of your jam that won a ribbon? And lemon curd? But not the hot sauce, it's too hot for me." They talked about Mchele Fair until a stern voice in the background -- must be one of the emmas -- told her it was bedtime, get off the radio. Thleen handed it off to Maar, whom Pyosz thought sounded a little tense.

"Listen, buddy, I wanted to let you know there's going to be another passenger on the flight home" she said in a lowered voice.

"You mean beside the geothermal installer? Oh, the folks who are moving to Kacang -- "

"No" Maar interrupted. "Sey. With all her wordly possessions."

Pyosz wasn't sure what to say. She didn't seem to care much. "I guess that'll be an uncomfortable seven hours for you, huh."

"Yeah, well the trip here was pretty grim, with Qoj weeping in the back seat" said Maar. "Anyhow, I wanted to give you a heads-up, in case you were coming to meet the flight or something."

Which I don't usually do thought Pyosz, puzzled. "Okay. Well, morrie vaseo, I should go, I have dinner guests."

"Who? Is it Uli?"

"No, Tu and Pank, Mrebbe --"

"Oh, right, how's the renovation going?"

"Great, you won't believe how good it looks. Are you sleeping at your family's Manage?"

"Haven't been asked. Well, I'll let you go, say hi to everybody for me, see you soon."

After she clicked off, Tu looked at her quizzically. Pyosz synopsized "Thleen requests jam and Maar wanted to warn me Sey is coming back on this flight to move here." She saw Mrebbe's eyes flash interest. Well, all Koldok is going to gossip about it anyhow she thought. "I guess Sey got the job. Woulda been nice if Mill or Ollow had told me,"

Pank said "She won't come near you." Pyosz thought she could detect a vague menace in her tone and was touched.

"I agree, but I'm not worried, actually. Is that milk jug empty? I'll go refill it."

Late San afternoon, Pyosz heard the deep rumble of the huolon overhead and stopped to look, squinting into the sun, but it was at an angle where the pilots could not see her so she did not wave: she certainly didn't want Sey to think she was welcoming her. She was trying hard to finish the last of the trenches she'd been digging all day, snaking from the newly finished geothermal shed to her barn, cabin, kitchen, well house, and chicken coop. In the trenches would go power lines from the new geo-powered generator -- unlimited power, no matter what weather they had -- plus for the aga a direct pipe carrying volcanic heat.

Her about-to-be-retired stove currently baked bread and cinnamon rolls for tomorrow, a rolled pork roast and zucchini/tomato casserole for tonight, simmering chicken and vegetables for the pot pies she'd offer for lunch tomorrow while she was between stove and aga, and steaming maxas for tomorrow's breakfast. Plus one pot of apple butter, because the apples couldn't wait another day. She'd been digging, cooking, or responding to Mrebbe's calls for help all day without a break, and after milking and a final shared meal, she'd still have a late night of last minute work. She longed for a soak in the hot springs, but there was no way to squeeze it in. At least they'd had three days of full sun and her solar power had held up against the extra demands on it. Maybe there'll be enough hot water for a quick shower before bed she thought.

Mrebbe was currently on her back under that bed, framing the hole they'd cut in the side of her cabin earlier to insert the vent and feed for her new radiator which would ensure warm nights from here on. Mrebbe had remarked even with the unlimited radiator, she could use some interior walls with insulation, but Pyosz said her budget didn't extend to that right now.

Pank and Tu ambled into view, trailed by the two timmers who had completed the bridge, built three sheds, and helped level ground for the massive greenhouse to be started next week. Pyosz looked at the setting sun and gave up on completing the final ten feet of trench right now. She stretched her back and said "Dinner's ready, as is everything else for tomorrow. If you'll pull it all out and set the table, I'll join you when I can."

Pank, already at the stove, said "These rolls for tonight?"

"One each. But the main dessert is rice pudding with currants, chilled in the coldbox." She scrubbed her hands and face at the sink in the barn before prepping for milking and going to meet her goats.

When she returned to the kitchen with a fresh pitcher of milk, the chickens and katts had been fed and put indoors, the last stretch of trench had been dug, and Maar was at the table. "Mail and packages from the abbas are on your bed" she grinned.

Pyosz's fatigue melted away. "How are the abbas?" she asked, accepting the plate Tu handed her.

"Thleen and I went for dinner there last night, along with your emma, and the five elders got into an argument about which cabbage was best to plant for the coming winter that became acrimonious. I thought Nan Bux was going to cry. I have no idea why they were so worked up" said Maar.

Tu leaned forward. "Which variety was Lawa advocating? And Halling?" she asked urgently.

"Don't tell her" advised Pank. Tu stuck her tongue out at her.

"Other big news which hasn't reached the papers yet is that someone had submitted a proposal for the next vote that Isola Fling be converted back from cropland into Manages for at least two families. With Pya wheat yields ever increasing, Skene thinks it needs room for population expansion more than the grain field." Maar looked very pleased to be passing on this development, and was gratified by Mrebbe's long whistle.

Pyosz said "I hate missing what my family had to say about this. Especially Yoj."

"Yeah, it was pretty interesting, all about how some problematic values still had not shifted, and the unspoken drive to try to keep more votes in Skene than in Pya, balance of power, that sort of thing" said Maar easily. Pyosz guessed that was as much detail as Maar would divulge in front of non-family.

Changing the subject, Maar said "Sey had booked in advance the only spare room at Koldok bucky, so Schlih the geothermal expert is having to bunk for the night in the Lofthall dorm. She's dour on a good day, but when I left, she was seething."

All the timmers laughed loudly. "She's good at what she does, but not as special as she thinks she is" said Mrebbe.

"What about the family taking Kacang?" asked Tu.

"Only two of the emmas came, Aleri and Nezi, to do a week's work and return to Skene until the whole family moves after midwinter. They have cousins in Dudor and will commute from there" said Maar.

"I'm meeting them on Kacang tomorrow" said Mrebbe. "They pay well but I'll miss the food here more." The other timmers rumbled agreement.

Maar stayed behind when the others left after dinner, saying "I have the day off tomorrow, I want to spend it helping on Saya and Herne. Right now, my aching bones could use your hot springs, you up for that?"

Pyosz raced through her mental list. "I have to roll dough and bake the pies, that can't wait. And I was going to do a cold water laundry, because I'm that low on clean milk rags, but -- "

"I'll do the laundry, you fill the pies, and we can go to the springs while they bake" suggested Maar.

It wasn't until Pyosz was in bed, muscles rejuvenated, body clean, that she realized she hadn't once thought to ask what Sey had been like; nor had Maar offered the information.

The following morning, a quartet appeared on the trail from Pyosz's dock: Maar, Pank, Tu. and a short, scowling woman who looked at the outdoor kitchen with disbelief. Her outrage at the skinflint barbarism of these Pya clients persisted, barely in check, until her first bite of hot, flaky cinnamon roll. When she had downed a crab-and-cheese maxa, interspersed with bites of apple-butter-glazed Mti bacon, she ventured a rusty smile and said "You manage all this without an aga?"

"Wait'll you see what's for lunch" said Maar. "Listen, can I look at the configuration you've got on that rock laser in your toolbox?"

Schlih's face slid into deep suspicion. She said coldly "Why should a pilot be interested in that?"

Pyosz bristled, but Maar answered easily "I'm the pilot who's in charge of our mezi ray as well as doing most of our rock excavating. It's part of my job description."

Pank set another cinnamon roll on Schlih's plate, though Pyosz wanted to drive her from the table at the moment. Schlih took a bite before answering "You can come with me into the hole, if you want. See how I do it." Which even Pyosz had to admit was a major concession.

Tu said "We don't want to be pushy, but we figure you ought to start on Herne. Because the owl will be less rousable earlier in the day."

"Owl?" said Schlih, her voice going high. Pyosz hid her smile.

"Yeah, that huge walnut is our owl nest and it's less than six meters from the geo shed" explained Tu. She said to Pyosz "We've only had one glimpse of her, she's nowhere near as big as yours, at least not yet."

Schlih had stopped eating. Heretofore her work on Pya had not involved owl-infested zones. it appeared. Funny reaction from someone who sometimes has to venture into caverns crawling with shu thought Pyosz.

"The owl on this end of Saya has the biggest wingspan we know of, 11 feet" said Pank. "At least, those of us not from Chwet."

"It landed right here on this table in the dark, right next to Pyosz, her first week here" said Maar. Pyosz suspected Maar was subtly exacting revenge for the crack about pilots.

"But her tree is north of the chicken house, we won't be in her territory at all today" assured Pyosz. She said to Tu "You think your owl could be one of mine's babies all grown up?"

"I wouldn't be surprised if yours was the emma and abba for all the forest owls in this range of the Pea Pods, including the other end of Saya and over on Teppe" mused Tu. "I don't know as much about the rock owls, although with all the caverns we've got around here, there's probably more of them." They began discussing the Owl People demonstration at Mchele Fair, which Pyosz could tell was making Schlih's skin crawl. To PYA she shouted inside her head.

As they were drinking the last of their tea, the sound of a sinner approached. "My aga and kiln!" cried Pyosz, leaping to her feet. Maar said to Tu "You all can go on to Herne, I'll help her here and we'll be over later." The three headed for the kissing gate as Maar stepped out to the area south of the kitchen, cap and scarf wrapped around her head, to signal lowering of the sinner's pallet. Pyosz watched for a minute, then busied herself with dishes.

An hour later, the aga was in place though not yet connected, the kiln was installed, and the old stove was in the pallet. Even with the use of the pallet's side crane and two special handcarts, Maar had scraped the flesh from her knuckles and Pyosz had sprained an ankle fitting the aga into the barely-wide-enough space left by Mrebbe's construction. They rested with cold tea and Pyosz's stream of consciousness ideas about what she wanted to make from Saya clay. After dressing Maar's scrapes with Lawa's ointment and supervising pickup of the pallet, they walked slowly, Pyosz limping, to the gate at the new bridge linking Saya to Herne.

Killer and a few kids were at the gate, and they turned to greet the humans expectantly. More ominous was Molars' presence, with fresh toothmarks around the latch and hinges. "She doesn't give up, does she?" said Maar as Pyosz tried to drive Molars away from the gate.

"Well, once Pank has her huge hogs roaming free on Herne, I imagine all the goats will suddenly think this barrier is an excellent idea" said Pyosz. "I don't know if their world view includes the notion of other livestock. Except for Killer, of course, who has now seen it all."

The aga was not quite hot enough to make dinner by nightfall, but Pyosz roasted kahe and balik on the grill, along with fresh corn and other tillage vegetables, and there were three kinds of pie. Mill, Oby, and Api joined them for dinner, Api signing off on the renovations with a flourish. Pyosz emptied her coin stash to pay Schlih, but the warmth in her cabin when went in to feed the katts was reward enough.

Before they all left, Pyosz turned to Maar and said "I understand the anniversary of your official entry into the Lofthall was yesterday. You're due another service bracelet, aren't you?"

"Yeah, but I couldn't get to the jeweler in Skene this time, I was offered work shifts -- " Her voice trailed off when Pyosz pulled a wrapped box from a kitchen drawer. Her eyes filled with tears as Pyosz, with unaccountably trembling hands, fastened the delicate links of Chloddia silver around her ankle.

"To Pya! To Skene!" cried Mill, and they all joined in, even Schlih. Pyosz took a photo to send Thleen. That night, after a long shower with unlimited hot water and a naked dash into a toasty cabin, she called Prl, waking her deliberately, to burble on about how happy she was. Prl listened with a bittersweet heart. Pyosz okayed the purchase of a wheel Lawa had found for her, accepting the temporary loan of its price and shipping from Prl until she could earn it from future labor, and after clicking off she whispered to her katts "I'm going to be a keramiker. Not just a capriste and baker, orchardist and beekeeper. I'm all of my ancestors distilled into one woman."

Curds gave her a look as if to remind her that such arrogance and ambition was not in keeping with Skene humility, but Ember snuggled closer, perhaps believing Pyosz was the magical source of the cabin's new comfort.

When Pyosz woke up, the sky was emptying itself onto Pya. She thanked the rain for holding off this long, then immediately had a pang for how wretched it would be for those working on Kacang today. She held out a cherry-almond pie from her delivery to Gitta, and as she was approaching the cafe, she ran into Maar in uniform under her burzaka.

"No sinning today?" she asked.

"Maybe this afternoon. Want company for breakfast?"

"Actually, I was going to get a large thermos of hot tea to take to Kacang, along with a pie, but yeah, I could eat something" said Pyosz, holding the door open for Maar. Who got only partway inside before stopping still.

"Move over, it's dripping on me" complained Pyosz, shoving past Maar. Then she, too, saw the occupants of the corner table: Sey and Uli, in laughing conversation. Pyosz walked woodenly on to the counter and shed her burzaka before claiming a stool. Maar joined her, whispering "I don't think they saw us come in."

Pyosz said to the counter person "Maple rice cakes, poached eggs with runny centers, kelp and onion balls, and tomato juice" before she turned and walked determinedly to the corner. "Hello, Sey, welcome to Pya" she produced in a perfectly friendly tone. Uli almost dropped her mug of tea, but Sey gazed at Pyosz eagerly and said "You -- you look really different. Good. I mean, you always looked good.." She trailed off, thick-tongued.

"Thanks. I'm sure I'll see you around. Hi, Uli, I'll be sure to let Qoj know I ran into you in my next letter to her. Have a good day, you two." She walked confidently back to the counter, noting most of the cafe had gone silent. A Redtop sighting with special points she thought to herself. Maar bumped her shoulder in muted jubilation and said "If Dodd walks by the window and spots them, she pry a brick from the sidewalk and heave it through the glass."

"What can Uli be thinking?" hissed Pyosz.

"Oh, it's just automatic with her" said Maar, confirming Pyosz's worst fears. "But don't be too disgusted, I think underneath it all she longs for more than the game. I think she actually wants connection and security. Hang onto her friendship, some of us just take a while to clean things up." Which made Pyosz turn and look right into Maar's eyes, inches away, for a long moment where Pyosz forgot about the scrutiny of the corner table or the rest of the cafe.

By the time they finished their meal, Uli and Sey were long gone. The rain had slowed to a steady drizzle and Maar returned to the Lofthall while Pyosz rode the new ferry out to Kacang. Api was there, under a temporary canvas canopy, and introduced her to the future immigrants, Aleri and Nezi. When Mrebbe spotted her, she yelled out "You bring food?", drawing forth the other timmer and Schlih. Twenty minutes later, Pyosz returned to the ferry with an empty pie tin and thermos.

Tu and Pank, working through the mud on Herne, joined her for lunch and dinner, as well as a mid-afternoon hot springs soak once lightning risk had passed. Maar landed a lighter at the jichang while Pyosz was milking, putting a bucket of clams near the aga for the next day and making the salad dressing for supper. As Pank and Tu took the ferry back to Koldok to stay at Dodd's, Maar and Pyosz buckled into the lighter.

They flew directly away from the long-set sun, over Dvareka in an arc toward the southern tip of Chwet. Maar took them the length of Chwet, entirely dark aside from the handful of lights at its inhabited end.

"Owl paradise" said Pyosz. "And I guess squirrel too, despite the owls."

"We all eat other living things and know there are things that want to eat us" said Maar. She made a sharp bank to the right, climbing at an angle, and Pyosz realized why when she looked out the window and saw they were barely clearing the treetops of Nec.

"Waves and ripples, Maar, is this forest planted on a peak?" she asked.

"Nope. Those older trees are over 100 meters tall" said Maar. "We'll go for a picnic some Sju when I'm not working. It's like nothing else on Skene." She kept flying west, leaving Pya behind. At first there was morrie strati below, visible from the light of a half-full Delma already in the zenith, but it didn't look as vibrantly red as the morrie strati on either side. It soon gave way to deep-looking ocean that was dark green, Pyosz thought, rather than a shade of blue.

As if reading her thoughts, Maar said "We don't sin in these waters. For one thing, no fish migration goes through here, but the reason for our avoidance as well as theirs is what's being churned up out of Jiang Giant land by that." She pointed directly ahead, where the kale green water morphed to turquoise, then magenta, then a bubbling ring of crimson.

Pyosz breathed out in awe. "That looks much larger than the cone off Yanja" she said as Maar began a bank to circumnavigate the emerging volcano, with the best view out Pyosz's window.

"It is" affirmed Maar. "The water here is several hundred feet deeper, so it must be massive to have reached the surface at all. They think this is what's causing all the seismic activity on Tetama. And, of course, if it frankly blows instead if the creep upward it's doing now, the resultant tsunami will wipe out Pya. Probably Skene, too."

"What a terrifying thought" said Maar, taking photographs.

"One I have every week as I fly out here to dump our cast-off toxics right into its open mouth" said Maar grimly. "You have no idea how sweet it is after that solo run to land on Arta and walk toward singing, laughter, the smell of food."

Pyosz became aware of almost tangible intimacy in the small cabin. "I have something to confess to you" she said impulsively. Maar focused on their heading, straightening back toward Pya, before warily asking "What?"

"All this time...ever since I got here, until last week when Ngall set me straight...I've thought that you and Abbo were lovers. Still lovers, I mean."

Maar gave her a swift, incredulous glance before bursting into crazed laughter. For a minute, Pyosz wondered if she should take the stick, except their flight was stable and she hadn't the foggiest notion of how to operate a plane. Maar finally wiped her face with her scarf and said "Well, that explains a great deal."

"You're not upset with me for being so obtuse?" asked Pyosz.

"Your version of obtuse brings a thrill to my existence" said Maar, blushing instantly. After an awkward moment, she began talking about plate tectonics, and Pyosz gladly followed the change in topic. They said goodbye at the jichang: Maar would be leaving the following morning for Skene.

"I don't have a letter for Thleen -- wait there, I'll be right back." Pyosz hurtled into the dark and returned with a cheese box filled with jars of jam, curd, and honey. "Give her this, and if you have a chance to call me, I'd love to talk with her" said Pyosz breathlessly.

"I'll miss you all on Shmonah" said Maar.

"Go spend it with my abbas instead, in my name" urged Pyosz.

Maar hesitated, then said "I want you to know, I've not had a lover in over six months and I'm not going to -- I'm not looking." The small orange light from the lighter instrument panel made her hair look even more fiery than usual.

After a long pause, Pyosz whispered "Carynn bye" and kissed Maar's cheek lightly before stepping back so the hatch could swing shut. She waved her off before going to make instant tea from the always-simmering aga cistern.

copyright 2009 Maggie Jochild



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