Friday, April 23, 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)


The next morning a tenative knock came at the door. Pyosz was dozing and Prl had gone to the privy. Maar had just changed Qux’s diaper and called out softly “Come in”. Thleen poked in her head, wide-eyed and still in her schmatta.

“Come on, come meet your sibu” said Maar. She sat down on the bed and motioned Thleen to sit between her and Pyosz, who was sitting up with a wince. “Don’t jostle Pyosz, she’s very sore.”

“Where?” said Thleen, diverted.

“Lean back and you can hold her.” Thleen took the bundle into her arms nervously. Her eyebrows shot up her forehead at she looked down into Qux’s face.

“Hey” she said. Prl returned and sat in her chair, watching. Thleen said “Can she open her eyes?”

“Say her name softly and get your face close to hers, she can’t see very far yet” said Pyosz. Thleen complied and Qux’s eyes fluttered open, trying to focus.

“Hey” Thleen said again, a smile spreading across her face. “Look, her chin is like mine!”

“She has part of you in her” said Maar. Thleen hardly seemed to be breathing. Pyosz said “Tell her your name, who you are, she’s wondering.”

“Oh. Hey, I’m Thleen. I’m, uh, your siba. And your sibiya, but I want to be your siba first.” Qux made a tiny exhalation and Thleen jerked, saying “Is she trying to talk?”

“Not talking yet, but she’s showing she heard you” said Maar, tears spilling down her cheeks.

“She’s so tiny” said Thleen.

“Tell it to my ginny” Pyosz murmured to herself.

Thleen and Qux kept staring at each other. After a minute, Thleen said “It kinda hurts my chest to look at her.”

“That’s because your heart is growing, bursting with new love” said Maar, fighting back a sob. Thleen looked at her and said “This is what it was like when you got me, huh.”

“Yes” said Maar.

“How long til she talks?” asked Thleen, looking back at Qux.

“A year or more” said Prl. “Although Pyosz said her first words at 9 months.”

“You’re pretty” Th;een said to Qux. She looked back at Maar. “The abbas are making breakfast and said I could carry a tray up here for Pyosz.”

“Bring enough for us all, you can eat with us” said Maar.

“Okay” said Thleen, handing off Qux with a casualness that made Pyosz gasp. Thleen scrambled from the room, shouting down the stairs “We need a big tray!”

That afternoon visitors began arriving with gifts and endless advice. Pyosz put on her gold silk schmatta and received them all with radiant fatigue. Maar had arranged to take a week off work. Despite the phalanx of abba and habibis, she claimed first rights for baby-holding and never left the bedroom, either. Thleen returned from school with the Heaps children in tow, pushing into the room to announce “That’s her, that’s my sibu. See, she can’t talk yet but she can hear us -- “

“I know” said Ziri arrogantly. “I know more about babies and sibus than you. You said she looks like you, but her hair isn’t red or anything,”

Thleen was stung. She shouted “She’s got my chin, you shu-head!”

Maar began shusshing. Ziri snorted “Chin?!!” Aleri got an arm around her at that point, mouthing in her ear, and Prl’s gimlet blue gaze quelled Thleen.

Aside from occasionally noticing a bit of hubbub like this, Maar was in her own universe where the only real inhabitants were her, Pyosz, and Qux. Qux was suddenly among them and already she loved her like nothing else on Skene. She couldn’t stop watching her. She felt a little disloyal to Thleen and even to Pyosz, except Pyosz was just as enraptured as she was. Qux was very quiet, didn’t cry like Prl said Pyosz had, and in her limited waking hours she simply stared back at them with an air of equal fascination. Producing her was the neatest trick that had ever been pulled off by anyone.

The work of the Manage went on without them for several days. Then one summy morning, Pyosz announced she wanted to go outside, to take Qux outside, maybe meet Killer, certainly go in the greenhouse and walk around this end of Saya.

Maar felt an alarm she couldn’t justify. “I’m going with you” she said, taking out the yameen they had not yet used and starting to adjust it for her shoulder.

“No, I want to carry her” said Pyosz.

“But -- you still have stitches, what if you trip?” said Maar.

“I’m walking back and forth to the privy and around the Manage just fine, Maar, I’m safe on my feet.” Pyosz looked irritated. “Don’t hover, walk beside me like you normally do.”

“Okay, but no goats, not yet” pleaded Maar.

“We’ll stand this side of the kissing gate, how’s that, they can smell her without being able to reach her.” Pyosz caught some of Maar’s fear, imagining Qux’s miniature hands as possibly irresistible to the grinding upper plate of cartilage in goat mouths.

They sat on the porch after their stroll, a little overwhelmed by the enormity of what had arrived. The abbas and Prl joined them, snapping beans and tying heads of garlic into strands. Pyosz nursed Qux, an action that always produced a tug in Maar’s own breasts and made her check at least once a day to see if she was somehow sympathetically making milk.

They heard the radio buzz inside, and Prl set down the quilted fabric she was cutting into ever more diapers to go answer. When she returned, she said to Halling “Naki is done printing the training manuals for flight school. I can pick them up later, I’m having lunch with Nioma today,”

“Just bring a handful home, have the rest delivered to the Lofthall” said Halling.

“Two weeks and a couple of days from now” said Yoj, patting Halling’s hand. “You happy with the trainees Mill chose?”

“Can’t completely tell yet. What do you think, Maar?”

Maar tore her eyes away from Qux. “I just wish we could have said yes to all of them. Two of the ones we turned down applied to Skene, and one got accepted. She says she’ll come back home as soon as we have a job opening.”

“Better not let Danaan hear that” said Halling. “I’m impressed with how much of Pya School graduating class applied. Means you had a lot of wanna-be pilots who couldn’t bear going to Skene even for a summer, seems to me.”

“I think you’re right” said Maar. A pair of buntings had built their nest in the redbud tree, which seemed absurdly exposed to Maar, but so far they had all survived. She watched a bejeweled emma arrive to push beetle parts down gaping throats, and felt the need to cry well up in her again at the miracle of it all. Frank had remarked Maar’s hormones were as turbulent right now as Pyosz’s and recommended she drink the same afterbirth tea.

Qala said “Mrebbe promised the parachute tower would be ready by the start of training. Are you going to take a few refresher jumps?” Maar realized, belatedly, this was being asked of her.

“No she is not” said Pyosz with an edge to her voice. All eyes were now on Maar.

“If I’m to fly at’s better if all my skills are sharp” said Maar reluctantly. Pyosz’s eyes had small blue blazes in them. “I need to pee” she announced, scooting gingerly forward. Maar was instantly on her feet, saying “I’ll take her” as she reached for Qux. Prl said smoothly “And I’ll walk inside with you, child, I need to check on what’s in the aga.”

Maar sat down in Qux world again, whispering to her about the bunting, how pilots fly like birds, her very own emma soared above the clouds. When Pyosz returned she had a bowl of warm custard and an orange, which she ate quickly before demanding Qux back.

At the end of her week, Maar returned to half-shift with piercing agony in her heart. Pyosz cried so much Qux finally bawled for the first time and Prl took the baby downstairs as Halling comforted Pyosz. Maar had to constantly remind herself, while sinning, to stay only in the present moment. She was spent when she got home and wanted simply to sleep with Qux in the bumper against her side, Pyosz within reach. But leaving got easier, and they celebrated Qux’s two week birthday with apple cake and a family party in the great room. Pyosz resumed morning milking, to not lose the muscles in her hands, and found doing it with Qux strapped against her chest in the yameen awakened almost premordial contentment within her.

It had turned out for structural reasons to be as economical to build the greenhouse pyramid entirely of aluminum and glass as to do part of it in wood, but the middle third was of aqua-colored glass which diffused ultraviolet rays in a particular way. Naki's arresting photograph of the building had been made into a postcard which Gitta sold through her store. All earnings from sale of the postcard were funneled into the Pya Polytechnic fund.

The vents and airflow had to be checked throughout the day, and this was a task Qala requested as hers. She welcomed any excuse to weed or gather flowers from the fecund strip around the inside perimeter. She loved turning on the overhead misters and sitting on the bench as the air filled with gentle moisture. Thleen had gotten into the habit of poking her head into the greenhouse on her way home from the ferry, and more often than not she'd find Qala there, ready for a chat.

As she did today. Qala was sitting on a plastic pad, separating lavender to plant between daffodils. Thleen heaved herself down on the small path, using her bookbag as a pillow. Qala let the ancients nap in the greenhouse most afternoons. Starchy now stirred herself stiffly and came to sit with bony lightness on Thleen's belly. She rumbled loudly when Thleen began rubbing her head.

"Why don't old katts wash themselves as much as kittens do?" asked Thleen. "Her fur feels gummy.”

“Too hard to stretch, maybe” said Qala. “Or they’re tired of it all. I’l glad I don’t rely on my own tongue for cleanliness.”

Thleen giggled at the image this conjured. “How was school?” asked Qala.

“Okay. Only one more day, and then kickball camp next week” said Thleen with anticipation. “And Pank promised me and Ziri can be stiltwalkers in the Mchele Fair parade if we practice a lot. Not high stilts but our arms will be -- oh, I’m not supposed to say.”

“Pyosz also wants to build a planked ramp from the kissing gate down to the pasture, and put in a spring-fed shower at the hot springs. You and Ziri can ask for helper jobs with that, earn some coin” said Qala.

“And fishing every morning. And siba says I’m old enough to ride my bike with Ziri anywhere on Dvareka, as long as it’s daylight. We’re going to explore every secret corner.”

“Except Puaa Woods” reminded Qala. “Even a pair is not safe there, you need an older third.”

Thleen was silent a minute. “Maybe when Su comes to visit, she’ll go with us” she ventured.

“Could be. Except she’ll want to do things with Pava, too, when Pava isn’t working. And I’m not sure how Pava feels about going into Puaa, let’s ask Vants about that. Privately” added Qala.

“It smells so good in here, not just the lavender” observed Thleen. “And certainly not the ancients” she said with a sniff of her hands.

“There’s a pong outside from the chicken run, it’s overdue for a mucking” said Qala. Thleen groaned and flailed her legs once, causing Starchy to dig in claws for traction. Cleaning the chicken house was now Thleen’s chore.

“Soon as I’m done here, I’ll help you” offered Qala. “Get it out of the way before vacation starts.”

“They’ll just shit more and it’ll need raking again fast” said Thleen resignedly. “All they do is shit and eat.”

“And make eggs with double yolks” said Qala. Double-yolked eggs made Thleen think of Pyosz, for whom those extra-rich treats were saved right now. Thleen stood abruptly, sliding Starchy into the dirt with a sharp complaint. “I wanna go see emma and the baby.”

“Go, grab a snack. But be back here in ten to do the chicken run. Don’t make me come looking for you.”

Thleen cantered off, leaving her bookbag which Starchy claimed as a new napping perch.

It was 20 minutes but Thleen did return to the greenhouse, calling from the door “Can you get a new bale of straw, habibi?”

“Yep” said Qala. standing with a small groan and stepping over the bookbag. At the door, she called the ancients, who followed her to the barn where Vants was starting preparations for milking. Qala poured a few drizzles of milk into the katt saucer and left the ancients to duke it out, starting up to the mow.

“What are you after, s’bemma?” asked Vants. “Here, let me carry that.” Vants hefted a bale to the chicken run and left. Thleen was already raking, her scarf tied around her nose and mouth. Chickens were dodging her tines nimbly, refusing to retreat because tidbits got turned up during cleaning. Clicker sat outside the run, watching the action with longing.

When they were done, they walked to the outdoor kitchen to rinse and dry their tools. Vants was at the sink, stripped to the waist and washing up. She said “I know Molars never bites Pyosz any more, actually comes to her for treats and petting, but she’s still a menace to me”, showing them a half-moon bruise on the back of her arm.

“Shitter” commiserated Qala.

Thleen tugged off her own shati and gilet, joining Vants at the sink, blowing water after splashing her face exactly as Vants did. They heard Yoj calling the katts in to dinner from the front porch. Thleen said “I know we got lotsa katts, but Clicker would really like another kitten around.”

“I like that idea” said Qala. “Maybe we should wait, though, and give Qux her a kitten for her first birthday.” At the expression on Thleen’s face, she added “She won’t be old enough to know how to pick the best one, you can help her with that. And teach her how to play with katts, and hold them the right way,”

“That’s still a whole year off, nearly” said Thleen.

“Well, we’ll see who turns up with kittens needing homes” said Qala. Thleen was doing a better than usual job of scrubbing her hands, emulating Vants. After a minute, she observed “Qux is an X.”

“Yep” said Qala.

“You think emma and siba will ever have a Y?” asked Thleen, focused on her hands. Vants, now drying, exchanged a glance with Qala. Qala said “Decent chance, if they have enough kids.”

There was another long silence. Vants handed a towel to Thleen and resumed her shati, getting ready to walk to the Manage. Thleen said, looking out toward Dvareka, “Sometimes my ginny gets hard.”

Vants sat down on a battered chair, and Qala said “Yeah, mine too. That’s natural.” Thleen cut a sideways look at Vants, who nodded.

“How come it does?”

Vants said “Well, it means there’s extra blood flow inside right then, under the skin. Like when you blush and your face turns red? Same thing. If your cheek wasn’t smooth, when you blush your cheek would stick out a little.”

Thleen smiled at that. “But why does more blood flow?”

Qala took over. “Lots of reasons. Maybe you need to pee, or maybe you just took off your knickers and cool air hit the skin. Or maybe something touched your ginny. It’s nerve endings responding to a stimulus from somewhere. Happens to me at least once a day, often more.”

“What about Xs, does their ginny do that too?”

“Yes” said Qala. “Every human responds that way. And every human ginny is a different shape, like their face, so it looks different on them.”

Thleen was rejecting the idea of resuming her shati, instead wadding it in her fist. Almost in a whisper she said “Sometimes it happens when I...think about somebody.”

Qala said softly “Yes, our minds are the best source of stimulation of all. Perfectly normal, we all do it. When you grow up, thinking will be the most important part of your sex life.”

Thleen looked amazed and a little pleased with herself. She handed her shati to Qala and gently picked up the three additional eggs they had gathered, now cradled in her cap. “I’m so hungry, I hope there’s potatoes” she announced, heading for the house.

Near the end of the meal, Pyosz forked two chunks of mutton from the casserole onto her plate, cutting them in half to eat between bites of buttered bread. When she reached for a third piece, Thleen said “Why does she get all the meat?”

“She just made a new person out of her body, and she’s low on some important nutrients. And now she’s feeding that new person from her body as well” said Prl.

“I want more meat, too” said Thleen. “Can I have some if I skip fruit for afters?”

Maar and Pyosz exchanged a look. Thleen was lithe as ever, but her sleeves were once again not quite covering her wrists. Maar put three spoons of mutton on Thleen’s plate and refilled her milk glass, saying “Thanks for letting us know. Keep telling me when you want a specific thing to eat, okay? And you can still have stewed apricots for afters.”

During clean-up, Yoj said to Thleen “I’m presuming there’s no homework tonight, tomorrow being school’s end.”

“No more homework!” said Thleen happily. “But, oh, I gotta get my slip signed for kickball camp -- where’s my bookbag?” She looked around at the kitchen counters as if it would materialize there.

Yoj said “Did you bring it home?”

“Yeah, because on the ferry I -- I just had it on the ferry, I know. And then I came here -- no, wait, the greenhouse?” She wheeled on Qala. “Did you leave it in the greenhouse?”

“I think the question is ‘Did YOU leave it in the greenhouse?’” said Qala.

Muttering, Thleen ran out the front door, yelling “NO, Clicker, how many levvin’ times do I have to tell you?” and slamming it behind her. Qux, in Maar’s arms. awoke with a jerk. She tried to focus on Halling nearby with wide eyes.

When Thleen returned, she wailed “The misters were on and it’s all wet!” She dropped her bag on the kitchen floor, looking at Qala accusingly. Lawa said “Bring it to the hearth, we’ll set out everything to dry.”

“But my permission slip. I gotta have it signed by tomorrow!” said Thleen, fumbling at the bag.

“It’ll be dry by the morning, I’ll sign it before I leave for work” said Maar. Pyosz added “And set out your oldest clothes to wear tomorrow, don’t forget.” Thleen’s face brightened as she went into the great room.

It was the custom at Pya School that the final hour of the term was spent outside in a mudfight free-for-all. A wallow was created in the middle of the playground the night before, covered with a tarp until classes were let out early. The melee was segregated into qaudrants based on age and size, and overseen by leraars who weren’t above getting dirty themselves. The culmination was when Dodd strolled nonchalantly outside. She would be mobbed by third and fourth-graders determined to drag her into the wallow and push her face down into it. Her struggle was mighty, and it took all of them to bring her down, screaming in glee. She would emerge from the muck with a roar, mud cascading from her beard, to beat her chest and vow vengeance next year.

Halling said quietly to Qala “Lawa still planning to go?” Lawa had borrowed one of Tu’s wooden masks and Pyosz’s slaughter apron, and planned to sneak upon the fracas from cover of nearby trees, carrying her own bucket of mud. Lawa’s throwing aim was dead-on. Qala nodded with a wide grin and said “I’m taking the video camera but I plan to stay inside the cover of the schoolhouse.”

When they all walked up the path from the ferry the following day, Thleen was almost unrecognizable from mud caked all over her, penetrating her scalp and even her ear canals, Prl reported after her bath. Lawa’s apron and mask had spared her somewhat, although violet bruises covered her forearms once she disrobed. Qala had been peppered all over her back, the result of an ambush by Thleen and the Kacang children who waited on the other side of the schoolhouse door. They did a first rinse under the outdoor shower, but Thleen required two refillings of the tub inside to finally be declared clean. After dinner they watched the video Qala had made using Halling’s trainer equipment, laughing so hard they had to rewind over and over to catch parts they were missing. Qux stayed awake and wriggled a great deal in excitement about the hilarity around her.

That weekend Yoj was the guest speaker at Pya School graduation, and the following Moja, Maar flew Halling and her scooter to Koldok for the day, to begin pilot training. Instruction was being held in the Lofthall because Mrebbe had said she could get the Polytechnic’s main building plus the parachute tower done by summer’s end, but not the Polytechnic’s dorms,cafeteria, or the Lofthall’s other buildings, they had to prioritize. For the first term, college students could eat at the canteem or cafe and still live at home. But lecture halls, labs, offices, and Yoj’s library of books would be finished by Pyosz’s birthday.

Yoj had declined being dean in favor of heading up the history department. She said she wanted to teach and study, not glad-hand and play with budgets. The dean position was not offered to Prl, but she did receive an proposal to teach two classes in human biology, which she graciously accepted. Nioma was also offered two courses in animal biology, and she asked to share a corner office with Prl. The curriculum was heavy on pragmatic training for the time being. Skene University was still denying accreditation to Pya, but everyone knew they’d eventually have to cave as the Polytechnic added departments and gakushas emigrated from Skene for the chance to pursue specialized interests.

Qux’s hair remained thick like a black bottle brush, and her eyes lost their cloudiness to reveal they were Maar’s brown. The second week of Mchele she smiled for the first time, an enchanting grin erupting across her face at Thleen’s antics. The whole Manage melted. They competed to make her smile, and she was happy to oblige. Her life was one marvelous kick after another, and as Thleen said, “Wait til sibu sees Mchele Fair.”

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Blue said...

Oh, thank you for this. It's absolutely wonderful.

BTW, not that you're editing and I can't blame you, but - when you first introduced buntings, you called them "bunteens".

C. Diva said...

accreditation? really?
I like the mudfight imagery; I wish there had been something like that available to end a school year for me.
By the way, are we in year 3 yet on Saya, or still in year 2?
thanks again for sharing this with us.

Anonymous said...

Maggie here -- Bureacracy, guilds, and minute territories, the lifesblood of Skene. So yes, even though any gakusha on Pya would have been trained at the U on Skene, the U wants to deny Pya Polytechnic graduates the right to transfer to the U. Ridiculous, and Dodd's curriculum will make hash of it all in short order.

By the time of Qux's birth, Pyosz had begun her third year on Pya.

Thanks for being the reader you are, C. Diva. And Genia, yes, point out errors like that. I corrected it in the manuscript. I've also sporadically mispelled Shmomah and fixed that.