Monday, March 29, 2010


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)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


After spending the night at the Genist's Manage, Prl and Thleen had hot milk while Maar bathed quickly. They walked through morning rain to the abbas' Manage, where oatcakes with orange sauce and thick bacon was ready. Maar noticed that Yoj seemed tense but Halling was calmly resolute. After the meal, Halling stood and put on the gilet which completed her dress uniform. Yoj adjusted braid on Halling's shoulders and said softly "You know what you have to do."

"Got it" said Halling. Prl's face was bright with interest, but Maar wasn't sure if Prl actually knew what that exchange meant until Prl said "Cousins all". Prl added "I'll be back for lunch, what are you two going to do?" This was aimed at Yoj and Thleen.

Yoj replied "We are going to take close-up photos of every member of the lineage painted on our living room wall here by Bux. Thleen will run the camera and I'll take notes." Thleen looked excited. "When we're done, we'll go print them out and stop by the fish docks, any requests?"

"Sakana. Or lobster if you can barter for it" said Halling, pulling on her mustard burzaka. Maar followed suit and they headed down the lane at Halling's pace. Before they reached the lane's junction with the mercantile district, Halling looped her arm through Maar's, leaning on her, and said through gusting breaths "Tlunu told us it took four pilots to carry heavy crates to the Genist's last night. What did Pyosz send Prl?"

Maar didn't like dissembling with family but her loyalty to Prl was Pyosz-ingrained. "Something Prl had printed in Koldok" she answered. Halling looked at her sideways, perfectly aware of the implications of Prl seeking a printer outside Skene. She opted not to push Maar further on that front. Instead she asked "You can be direct with me: You honestly all right with me and Yoj joining your household?"

"I honestly am" said Maar, relieved at the shift. "For my sake, for Thleen, for Pyosz, and for your sib and oldest friend -- it's a boon in every direction."

A few paces on, Halling said "We had to change Yerush's diapers at the end. And it would have come to that with my own emma."

"I'm comfortable with diapers, plan to have a decade of them at least" said Maar in a light tone.

"Baby shit is different" continued Halling.

"We know what we're doing" replied Maar. "It isn't just me and Pyosz, cousins are settling in and by the time we need more help, we'll have children eager to learn. It's how generations overlap, and I'm grateful to have a family where I am part of the pattern." She wanted to ask Halling what "Cousins all" meant, this was the perfect time, but she could not quite go there.

At the Lofthall, they sat on the outside bench so Halling could completely catch her breath and enter with composure. When they did come into the main hall, they found a couple of tables from the canteen had been appropriated and pushed together for the meeting. Halling sat at the first chair she reached, sitting down with a muffled groan. This happened to be at the end of the table. The Ethicist, interpreting it as a statement of position, walked to the other end of the long expanse and took the chair there.

As Maar observed, a shuffle for placement began. Danaan and Rark, moving in tandem, swiftly assumed the seats on either side of Halling, flanking her and facing each other. Mill, shut out from being next to her emma, grinned as she settled lightly into the chair beside Danaan and turned to speak with her in a familiar way. This reminder of longstanding Lofthall intimacy seemed to disconcert the other Sheng Zhangs, who began assuming seats at the other end of the table. Maar slid in beside Rark, who turned to wink at her briefly.

With unavoidable Skene ritual, the meeting began with everyone at the table introducing themselves, despite the difficulty of finding a true stranger even between Pya and Skene. Halling began the go-around by virtue of age, if not length of service. Maar surreptitiously made certain her gilet was adjusted and her scarf in a crisp knot before it was her turn for self-identification:

"I am Maar na Adnes + Dru, born to Chloddia, now living in Owl Manage on Saya Island, Pya, head sinner for Pya Lofthall, partner to Pyosz na Prl, acting emma to Thleen and expecting another child this year." And not yet 21 she thought to herself. She was gratified to see a few of the Skene officials look at her with new interest: Not just another pilot.

As the introductions continued, Maar leaned back in her chair and with the faces of Halling, Danaan and Mill simultaneously in her view, she was suddenly struck by how very alike they were: narrow, long, with high cheekbones, Pyosz's epicanthal folds, glossy dark skin and hair with identical nap. It was as if she was looking at the same face shown at 15 year intervals. She knew the reason behind it, but she was still rattled, and turned to scan the others around the table, wondering how conscious they were of reacting to several generations of an imprint: This is what a Lofthall Sheng Zhang looks like.

But not forever she thought to herself. Not in Pya.

Before introductions were done, Abbo arrived late and with wet hair from a recent shower. She had to take a seat between two assistant Sheng Zhangs and looked irritated about it. A few minutes later, Abbo's self-identification was so brief that Maar felt an old wave of empathy for her. She gave her a grin and saw Abbo's shoulders relax a little.

An agenda was passed around by Rark, but before objections could begin from various factions as to wording and order of its contents, Halling raised her long, elegant hand and said "I've got something I'd like to say, if you'll grant me leave." Maar felt a frisson on the back of her neck, and her glance at both Mill and Danann showed surprise on their faces.

"Our motto here in our sibaste is that 'We feed Skene". And we do, but let's be honest, we do much more than that. Economies in Skene and Pya flow through the Lofthall. We are able to have centralized schools, medical care, emergency services, and even exile because of the Lofthall. It's an open secret how much influence the Lofthall has over the well-being of Skene. We don't acknowledge it because we have a passed-on legacy of fearing the Lofthall, from the time of The Troubles. We fear its power and conceal that fear by pretending it is held in check, in balance, by other Sheng Zhangs and by an annual vote."

Maar felt like everyone in the room was holding their breath, wating for Halling to stroll into outright heresy.

"I came to my Sheng Zhang tenure by way of sacrifice and a hard shove to reassert some basic Skene values. But I also had partnered into a powerful family, and our power and influence has continued. Second generations have assumed control of our Lofthalls, and while the new Sheng Zhangs are strong-minded individuals who often disagree with me and with each other, I know many people out there see us as a single clan. There is no balance to be found in that perception." Halling's voice was rueful in its bluntness. Mill seemed to be on the edge of her chair.

"However, I don't think a remedy is up to us, my family, or even that a remedy is necessarily called for. I live with the Archivist, and for more than 60 years her stories about Skene history have been what I go to sleep by at night and what flows across the dinner table." Halling's black eyes twinkled. "From what she says, a few families have always been at the center of Skene's matrix of power. Not the same families from generation to generation, the lineages have changed, but the presence of interrelated, like-thinking folks assuming most roles of leadership has always been a fact on Skene. Yoj says it's because we began with such tiny, desperate numbers and swiftly all became cousins. She says the dangers of such a system are counterweighted by Skene obstinance and a culture of humility. Apparently there's a word for our kind of government: Oligarchy." Halling pronounced the foreign term carefully, and Maar saw others mouthing it themselves.

"What we are witnessing now is the emergence of what amounts to a second oligarchy, one based in Pya. Yoj says on the original planet, this kind of a power struggle often led to war." War was a word Skene children learned in school but was as alien a fact as space travel or planets with only one moon. "But despite the sickening waste of resource and life with their commonplace wars, they at least had enough land and population to bounce back from them. We don't. Since the beginning, conflict threatens our survival. It isn't just shitting in our own lettuce patch, it's more directly suicidal than that."

Halling stopped to take a slow sip of tea. She shifted the weight on her haunches and continued. "We all know this and are not suicidal, not in this room. We believe that is so. But self-destruction can begin under other guises and not appear as a riptide until it us too late. And parleying access to resources between Skene and Pya that does not reach first and last for balance is a form of self-destruction. You know what I'm talking about. You all do." She looked slowly around the table.

"I have spent eight decades loving Skene, a child of Motu Fling who settled on Riesig. By midwinter, however, I will be living in Pya and I intend to die there." A shocked rustle went around the room. "I intend to remain with a foot in both streams, and I intend that my descendants be raised with that sensibility as well." Halling settled her gaze on Maar for a few seconds. Not Abbo and not Mill, but my line thought Maar. "By the time my unborn great-grandchild is a habibi herself, Pya's population and development will overshadow Skene to the same degree that Riesig overshadows Motu Fling. There are a few things Skene can do, will do, to insure she is not rendered insignificant compared to Pya. But they will fail if balance fails. Someone has to say they will make sure it never heads in that direction. Someone with the power to make it so."

This time Halling looked at Mill, then Danaan, before switching her gaze to Maar. "I am hereby asking the sibaste of the Lofthall to lead in that insistence of balance between our two worlds. To say they will use their influence to make sure all of Skene is fed, in all ways. We can effectively interfere with power plays which do not maintain balance between Skene and Pya. I'm openly requesting that we, here in this room, swear to one another that if contract negotiation overtly tips balance without a clear counterbalance, we will use Lofthall mechanisms to redress the problem. With full public disclosure, of course, and no recourse to aggression. Because we are cousins all."

Halling shifted her weight again, but most of the electrified inhabitants of the room weren't looking at her face any more: They were fixed on Mill and Danaan. Who were not looking at each other, either. Danaan was looking at Rark, and Mill's eyes had remained on her emma.

Maar thought about what she'd read in history, that Halling's first act as Sheng Zhang was to insist she have a second in command who could effectively stop her from wielding too much power. All other Sheng Zhangs had an assistant who could topple them, but the Lofthall had operated without one before then. Qala was elected into the new position, and while she was perceived as linked to Halling almost as family, Maar knew Qala was demonstrably capable of standing up to Halling, likely had done so many times. She thought this intended ballast had been considerably weakened by Danaan and Mill each having their partners as assistant Sheng Zhangs: Rark and Oby would not defy their beloveds beyond a certain point, not publicly. Well, when I'm Sheng Zhang, it will revert back to what Halling meant it to be, because Pyosz won't be shadowing me, she has her own realm.

It was Danaan who broke the silence. She stood, revealing the one way she was most physically distinct from Halling and Mill -- her short stature -- and said carryingly "I so swear. I will feed Skene, and I will remember we are cousins all."

As she looked at Mill, Mill stood, four inches taller. She was not quite smiling as she turned her eyes from Halling, and Maar knew what she was going to say, though almost everyone else was hanging with parted mouths. Mill let the moment build, savoring the gift Halling had just handed her. Maar was committing every impression to memory, for endless repeating later. Mill shrugged easily, in a way Abbo imitated without success, before saying "I swear I will never allow any part of Skene go in want, because we are cousins all."

There was a collective exhalation. Maar knew this was going to cause a tidal wave of public response, of all sorts, and a couple of the lesser factotums in the room looked like they wanted to leave immediately, to cry out the news and perhaps bunker down. She allowed herself brief humor at the fact Mill could not have guessed the phrase by which this declaration would surely come to be known, the noble "Cousins all", had originated with her siba Prl, or else she might have balked at saying it.

Then the Ethicist thanked Halling for "her contribution" and suggested they begin reviewing that day's agenda, asserting a stewardship they all pretended she still had. By the time they broke for lunch, real progress had been made but Halling was painfully stiff. Once in the lane, she leaned on Maar heavily. Mill had circumspectly opted to eat at a cafe with the Sheng Zhang of Verzinnen, instead of with Danaan or her emma.

As Prl carried lobster rolls to the Manage table and Thleen boasted about her photography skills, Maar insisted Halling remove her kalsongers so she could rub liniment into the elder's knees. It wasn't until they had all eaten a few bites before Halling nudged Maar and said "Tell 'em, they're dying to know."

Halling took a 20 minute nap before they returned to the Lofthall. Word of the meeting's developments had not yet reached public ears, Maar thought. However, on the way home at dusk, Mill, Danaan and Rark accompanying them, Maar twice saw people on the street whisper to each other as they passed. She thought about calling out "Hello, cousins!" just to watch the effect, and giggled to herself.

After dinner they called Owl Manage on the speaker radio. This was not as enjoyable for Maar as she had anticipated once she heard Pyosz had been sick for over a day with a fever, what Lawa called the ague. Pyosz swore she was being well looked after, but her listless voice was like acid in Maar's ears. She left for the Genist Manage early, leaving Thleen and Prl behind for a games night. Once in the Genist kitchen, she called Saya again, only to have Qala say regretfully that Pyosz was asleep and shouldn't be disturbed. Maar fell asleep herself atop Pyosz's former bed, still in shati and buksers. Prl covered her with a quilt when she came home, shushing Thleen and taking the child into her own room again.

Maar was awakened a few hours later by Thleen crawling on top of her, sobbing. Maar couldn't figure out where she was or why Pyosz wasn't there until Prl clicked on the overhead light and said "I didn't hear her get up, what's wrong?"

"Maar left me on Chloddia and went back to Pya without me, just like she used to!" shrieked Thleen.

"Oh, sweetie, never, I'll never leave you behind again, I'm so sorry I ever had to" said Maar, coming fully awake with anguish. She rocked Thleen in her lap as Prl made them warm cinnamon milk. They settled back into Pyosz's bed with a goodnight kiss from Prl and were up very early to catch a ride east at the Lofthall. Thleen's anxiety remained until she had been with her Chloddia family for an hour and it became clear everyone was on best behavior. Maar later told Pyosz it was the best visit she'd had with her emmas since moving out; they looked less burdened than she could remember them ever having been. They returned to the Genist Manage in time for bath and bed.

The following afternoon, they carried the Isola Fling cradle to the huolon. Thleen's only tearful goodbye was to Prl, to whom she said "I want you to come live at my end of the top story of Owl Manage with me, will you please find a way?"

"I'll try" said Prl with a grin at Maar that Mill caught and filed away to discuss with Oby.

Once they were in the air, Thleen stopped fidgeting and asked if she could share a seat with Maar. complaining of the cold despite having on her guibba and wool cap. Maar adjusted the harness to cover them both with a blamket over Thleen. Thleen leaned her head in Maar's shoulder, and despite Maar having a raised-voice conversation with Mill, Thleen fell asleep right away. Maar was again swept with guilt at the desolation Thleen must have felt every time Maar left her for Pya.

Pyosz had delivered milk and was waiting at the jichang for their arrival. Maar picked her up on the tarmac and Pyosz wrapped her thighs around Maar's waist as they kissed, embarrassing Mill. Pyosz said she was tired but no longer feverish. When they reached Saya, Thleen raced to the point where Lawa had a pole waiting. Maar carried in their luggage. Pyosz said "What do you need? We have some of Qala's excellent onion soup leftover. Or I'd share a bath with you. Or...sleep." Her eyes danced.

"Tea" said Maar, going to the kitchen. "I'll wait on the bath. Bed with you, for sure. But, if you can wait with me, I want to look inside that book of Prl's. She asked me if I'd read it and I said no, I was waiting for her consent. She said go ahead."

"Come on, then" said Pyosz, leading the way upstairs as Maar carried her mug. They settled side by side on the bed and Pyosz pulled the green volume from her nightstand. Maar set her mug down to read the first page.

"The time has come for me to exercise one of my duties as Genist of All Skene, namely, public education to ensure reproductive vigor and diversity. I will begin by reminding you of commonly known math regarding our population's fertility.

"Prior to the discovery and settlement of Pya, Skene's replacement rate meant an average of 35 births per year. Currently with Pya's opportunity for expansion, that rate has doubled and is expected to continue increasing.

"Until a decade ago, at least 90% of pregnancies came about via a Genist-selected contribution from an archive of 50 potential egg-sparks. An egg-spark confers half the genetic material carried by each human being on Skene. The other half, of course, is bestowed by our aggies. We are accustomed to kinship flowing from the families into which we are born and loved. Biological reality, however, adds a kinship which derives from our unknown egg-sparks.

"This second half of our kinship reckoning has been the province of Genists to track and distribute. It has, until now, carried no meaning as to our definition of family. However, because means of reproduction have altered and continue to alter in a significant way, it has become imperative that each Skene citizen considering emmadom take into account the entirety of her genetic lineage.

"This is easily discovered by applying to the Genist for your private information. Unfortunately, growing numbers of emmas are not availing themselves of this necessary service. This has negative consequences which I am compelled to disclose for the benefit of all Skene.

"With a current annual birth rate of approxinately 70, and a total of 250-300 individuals appearing within one's sui, the fact arises that a child born today will likely have five to six biological half-sibs within her sui when she arrives at adulthood. The possibility that she will partner and become emmas with a half-sib is remote but has already occurred when the Genist has not been consulted for pregnancy evaluation.

"Reproduction with a half-sib is not advised, both individually and for the long-term survival of Skene.

"Genist law precludes me from divulging anyone's genetic kinship to another without their consent. Thus, unless I am asked for a consultation, I am unable to give badly needed advice to those who might need it.

"However, my concern for Skene and my obligation to same compels me to inform you about this problem. I encourage you to avail yourselves of complete self-knowledge. As a suppement, I am allowed by law to tell each citizen those to whom she is not in a half-sib relationship. This will allow you to avoid choices which can cause future harm.

"Honest ignorance is not shameful and is to be forgiven. Choosing ignorance, however, runs contrary to our undertaking as citizens.

"Thank you for this opportunity to serve you."

Maar read Prl's name and the elaborate Genist seal, looked back up the page at bone-chilling statistics, followed by Prl's ironic "Reproduction with a half-sib is not advised." She found her mouth was dry, and drank down half her cooled tea before turning the page.

It and all the remaining pages was filled with a list of the names of every person on Skene age 16 and older, in alphabetical order. Halfway down that first page was Abbo's name. Preceding her name was a number in brackets which appeared to indicate her placement on the list -- she was the 39th Skener named. Following her name was a lengthy string of integers separated by commas, and at first glance Maar thought it was every number between 1 and 1214. This same string of digits appeared to follow each name on the page.

Maar read the legend at the top, which declared "All those who are NOT half-sibs (or more closely related) to the named citizen, designated by their number on this list." With comprehension, Maar looked at the lines of numbers after Abbo's name and realized there was a single number missing in the sequence, that of 766. She flipped ahead in the book and knew what she'd find before she reached Ngall's name. Mill and Oby had not used a Contribution, then -- both their children were from a successful X-Y pairing.

"Thunder me down" she whispered, looking at Pyosz's solemn face. "She may have technically sidestepped the wording of her oath, but this is going to split open mantle and leave nothing concealed."

"I know" said Pyosz, fear in her voice. Maar breathed in deeply and turned pages until she found her own name. She discovered her hands were trembling. She stared at the digits following Maar, then said "Will you hand me paper and pencil from your nightstand?"

"I...already wrote them down" said Pyosz apologetically. She handed Maar a sheet which had her name followed by seven numbers. Below it were the names of Adon, Su, Thleen, and both her emmas with their respective numbers. I have seven half-sibs thought with a rush of dizziness, before she noticed there were no numbers following Thleen's name. "What -- " she began before it hit her: Prl didn't know who Thleen's Contribution had been because her emmas had bought her conception outside the law.

She closed her eyes against the rage she felt. She was not going to be able to keep this from Thleen, this void in self-knowledge. Most of her anger was reserved for her emmas, but a stream of it attached to Prl as well, who intended to make public Thleen's origins. She opened her eyes again to look for others like Thleen, those whose egg-spark, as Prl had creatively called it, were not known. She was relieved to find several similar individuals as she flipped through the directory.

Then another sickening realization arrived. "Thleen..." she said hoarsely. "If she partners and wants to have children, how will she know -- she and her partner could be -- my levving emmas, they've destroyed her future!"

"No" said Pyosz swiftly. "I thought of that too, but on the last page, emma says there's a test she can run. It's expensive and only Skene has the equipment, but she can compare something from Thleen's blood to whoever she's chosen and rule out sib-ship. I called her about it. We'll do that for Thleen, if and when the need arises."

"But what if she's already in love with whoever it is?" asked Maar bleakly.

"I know" whispered Pyosz. "Still, better to find out before...I haven't had the nerve to go through here and match up numbers to find those who've already had children with a sib."

"It's not fair, those children are going to be shamed for life" said Maar.

"Choosing ignorance is no answer" replied Pyosz, her voice briefly so much like Prl's that Maar felt a jolt of antipathy. Delaying the moment of discovery, she turned to Pyosz's name, which of course also had no numbers following it. She scanned up to find Prl, who had a disturbing 25 numbers following her name. Four of them will be her actual known sibs, that precious family secret will now be out she thought with a mean sense of satisfaction. And Danaan, that link will blow through the Lofthall as well.

She finally picked up the paper in Pyosz's handwriting and began locating her secret family. The first two were quite a bit older than her, women she knew only dimly. The third was a miner on Pya she remembered from dances, someone who also had red hair. But we get that from abba's line, Thleen and I share it she told herself with fierce reassurance. It's from MY aggie, not that other -- whatever.

With energy flowing from fury, she flipped to the next of her half-sib numbers. And was stopped in her tracks.

It was Thax. Her age, born and raised on Pya. a papermaker in Pertama. She and Thax hadn't actually made love but they had come close.

Maar hurled the book across the room, sending katts scrambling. She sat forward, jamming on her otos.

"Maar? Maar, what is it, talk to me?"

"This is a mistake" Maar said through gritted teeth. "People will hate her forever. She has to not do this."

"But I thought you understood -- " began Pyosz, following her off the bed. At the doorway Maar said "I need to be alone. Leave me alone for a while." She thudded downstairs and out the front door, heading for the kissing gate.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Maggie Jochild said...

This chapter is dedicated to Cowboy Diva, who is responsible for its egg-spark.

C. Diva said...

well. I am honored.
things that struck me:
)You put Mill next to Danaan next to Halling and let me just look at them. I think I could kiss you for that.
)You never even named the Ethicist in that scene, you know. A subtle way of pointing out it wasn't Bux?
)35 births a year? really? oh wow. They were barely holding onto their population, weren't they?

Maggie Jochild said...

Cowboy Diva, you were seriously instrumental in prodding me to the confluence which culminated in this chapter.

)I created that line-up of half-sib Sheng Zhangs because you requestedit, but once I began trying on the idea, so much flowed from it, I actually adjusted plot to fit it. And it demanded I not use Pyosz.s viewpoint, so for the first time, an entire chapter came through Maar's eyes. It was exhilirating to write.
)Yes to not naming the Ethicist. Plus titles suggest Skene's pompous bureacracy, and if a character isn't going ti play much of a role, I try not to burden the reader with remembering another bizarro Skene name.
)Yes, the birth rate was terrifying to those in the know, but the Genist couldn't let it increase because they couldn't feed any more. That kind of skirting with survival explains much of Skene's flaws.

Now I gave to go figure out how to deal with the shifted story arc this chapter has imposed. Dammit.

Maggie Jochild said...

By the way, Diva, if you are a Facebook user, I frequently comment there about the writing of Pya. I only friend people I know already, but you count, look me up and send a request if you are so inclined. And if you waste your time on FB.

Blue said...

Whew. GREAT stuff, Maggie. I'm all out of breath over here.