Friday, August 6, 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)


A week into Lamminsade, Frank confirmed she was pregnant. Adon called to say that she and the woman she'd been dating, Lark, intended to have a partnering ceremony in Mchele. Maar offered to help in any way she could. Adon laughed and said "How about getting my emmas out of here for a week?"

Maar was startled. "Would they come for a visit to Pya, you think? Mchele Fair, could I tempt them with that?"

"You pull and I'll push" said Adon. Maar promised to do her best, strategizing with Su and Thleen. Pyosz set aside her lineage tiles project to create a set of bowls, plates and pitchers for the new partners. Thleen went with Pyosz and Lawa to tend the hives, and Pyosz promised Thleen could harvest the first honey of the season herself, putting it in a Pyosz pot to give to her siba as a portentous gift.

Surprising no one in the family, Oby announced she was running for Ethicist to replace her retiring emma. Prl said privately to Pyosz "She's got a tightrope to walk there, coming up with a platform that promises change without critizing Api." Pyosz grinned back and said "I think she might be up to it." Of more concern to Pyosz was who would move up at the Lofthall to take over Oby's duties. Mill opted to divide the job into several categories and give Maar first choice. Maar asked to handle commercial contracts, fish tracking, and pilot schedules, giving more tedious record-keeping to whoever else applied.

Abbo did not request any additional duties, a fact Pyosz noticed but made no comment about. She did, however, seek out Halling and Qala to ask if Maar's current job description was typical for an advanced pilot. Halling grinned and said "Typical for Maar, perhaps. No, she's definitely being handed Sheng Zhang training and influence."

"Does Abbo not understand it or has she given up on any ambition to succeed Mill?" said Qala.

"I don't know" said Halling. "I have some trouble communicating with Abbo in a frank manner, and it's a prickly topic with Mill as well." Pyosz later asked Maar about it, and Maar said "We don't discuss things like that, me and Abbo. She calls it grey-hair boring and tells me I'm wasting my youth. My best guess is that either she thinks she could win an election strictly through popularity, or she'd rather be my secretary once I'm Sheng Zhang."

Pyosz stared at Maar. "You wouldn't give her that job, would you?"

Maar looked uncomfortable. "No. My first choice right now would be Fohol, although I'd hate to lose her from the field. Or Uli." Pyosz thought All three are your exes, what does that say about you? Maar continued "But Dekkan is going to be a superior pilot, and the new training we're doing is creating a high caliber of greenies. Thing is, back when I started here in Pya, Abbo always said when she became Sheng Zhang, she'd ask me to be her left hand. And every now and then, mostly as a joke, she'd add 'Or if you beat me out, then I'll be your left hand.' I wonder if she thinks that still holds."

Pyosz decided she was ready to hear the answer to a question she'd never dared: "What was the attraction of Abbo for you? Back then, I mean?"

Maar studied her face for a moment. "Your family, almost everybody in it, has a certain kind of confidence. You're smart and not afraid to show it, you actually believe your work for Skene matters, and you're all extremely curious. And you're -- well, carnal is the word for it, I guess. Glad to be alive and glad of your appetites." She was trying not to blush, Pyosz could tell. "I know you don't see it, but Abbo is extremely generous to the people she likes. I was crushed with homesickness when I got here. Mill and Oby were both kind, but Abbo kept inviting me with her everyplace she went, and the way she teased me never made it feel like charity. I don't think it was charity."

Pyosz met her gaze. "No, I'm sure it wasn't, Maar. To a 16-year-old, you must have been dazzling. You certainly were to me a few years later."

Maar sat on the stall rail near Pyosz, close enough that her knee touched Pyosz's. "She's actually very insecure, our Abbo. She feels like the least liked or accomplished of all your family's generation. I think she became a pilot simply to live up to expectations. She told me once she finds books coma-inducing and politics give her gas, so it was either the Lofthall or sitting on Arta watching corn grow."

Pyosz laughed, actually experiencing empathy for Abbo. "I can't imagine being happy if I hadn't landed on Saya" she acknowledged. "But you and Saya feel like a package to me."

"I feel that way about you" replied Maar. "And now it will be handed on to our children, a stroke of luck you gave me and my line." She leaned in for a kiss that lasted long enough to make the doe in front of Pyosz bleat impatiently.

That night in bed, they had another long talk about the leviathan situation and how hampered they were by lack of certain information. This segued into Pyosz retrieving the letter Qux and Merrl had dictated that afternoon to Dru and Adnes, asking their abbas to come for a visit and mentioning all the fun they could have. Maar laughed over Merrl's line "I can show you where the best candy in Koldok is sold", and remarked "Qux's signature is quite good."

"When she's done with something that was hard to do, she runs both hands through her hair in relief, the very image of you" said Pyosz. Maar looked into her eyes, then whispered "Can you tell yet?"

"Not this time. I'll go let Briel test my blood next week if there's no other sign" said Pyosz, snuggling into Maar's arms.

"Tell me when, I want to be there" said Maar.

She left early on Shmonah for the toxics run. Thleen grumbled, eating a biscuit and sorting through lures, "Why can't someone else ever do the dump run? I only have one day a week that she can fish with us."

Qala replied "It's quite dangerous, that run. Especially now that dhakin is being extracted and those byproducts are in the mix. If it accidentally fell on Pya anywhere, it would render a big stretch of land unusable for generations and probably kill anybody nearby."

Thleen was not impressed with Maar's obligation. "Even miners get a whole weekend off" she muttered.

Pyosz seemed distracted when she came in from milking. The Shmonah meal was already underway by Prl and Nioma, the little ones were pestering those fishing, so she began making pies for the following week. But not a sponge, Yoj noticed.

Half an hour later the radio buzzed. Prl was right beside it and answered. "Oh, hi, Mill -- " she began but was cut off. Her face went grave. She handed the radio to Pyosz, who grabbed it with flour-covered hands. Yoj leaned heavily against the counter and asked Prl urgently "What's wrong?"

"Maar is all right but there's been some sort of accident" answered Prl, her eyes fixed on Pyosz. Who looked rattled but not panicked. Nioma whispered "I'm getting the others" and went out the back door.

When they returned, Pyosz was about to leave the Manage. "Emma is okay, I promise" she said, hugging Thleen and picking up Qux. "She's about to land at the Lofthall and I'm going to meet her -- no, just me, she'll be conferring with Mill for a bit. She dropped her load is all, in the ocean away from Pya but not at the volcano. So they're worried about the environmental effects. But she is absolutely all right, just upset with herself. Do your chores so you can spend time with her when we get back." She loped down the path.

Halling turned to Yoj. "Where? Did you get coordinates of where it fell?"

"Not yet, but it was in the middle of Morrie Strati, she said." Yoj's voice had an undertone that made Thleen look at her twice.

"Huh" said Halling, going to the map on the wall. "There's only one Morrie Strati between mainland and the volcano, and the currents don't really feed into fish lanes, I don't think." Qala joined her at the map. Lawa said to Thleen "We need to clean the one we got and stow tackle, come on."

Halling said "If I'm right and it was here" -- she jabbed her thumb at the map -- "That's the biggest Morrie Strati around Pya."

"I thought toxic crates had four connectors, one at each corner, to avoid sway and spillage" said Qala. The others had now joined them.

"They do" said Halling.

Prl said "Pyosz told us the entire crate was gone, it wasn't just a spill." It was Nioma who finally asked out loud "How could all four cables fail?"

Halling turned to look at Yoj with a slow grin on her face. "I'm sure we'll hear a convincing explanation from Maar" she said. Prl added "I'm just glad Pyosz seemed to be taking it so well." Qala muffled a chuckle and when Qux said "What's funny?", Prl said "Nothing, we're just relieved is all. Let's go set one of emma's pies in the aga, shall we?"

Later at the meal, Maar was contrite but calm. She said one cable had snapped, causing her craft to veer, and that motion released a second adjacent cable. The shifting contents not only started a spill but made her fear for control, because she was at a low altitude, and rather than risk leviathan attack, she hand-released the other two cables. "I figured loss of a crate was much less than loss of a sinner" she said apologetically.

After a moment, Abbo drawled "Did it land right on top of any of the shitters?" Pyosz abruptly put her napkin over her mouth. Maar didn't answer.

Oby said "Well, you are such a Lofthall hero in the public's eyes, outrage will be minimal. Accidents do happen, and at least you're all right." Api's lips were pressed tightly together.

Mill added "Legally, of course, we're obligated to investigate the environmental damage this may have caused."

"Which means what?" asked Pank, leaning forward so she had both Mill and Oby in her gaze. Their faces were both smooth. "Testing the water downstream, as it were?"

"Well, yes. Although currents seem to stop at Morrie Strati, they're like clogs in oceanic flow" said Oby. "It will be interesting to see what does or doesn't emanate from it." Her voice did sound interested.

"We'll also have to find a way to test the water in the Morrie Strati itself" said Mill blandly. "At assorted depths, as far down as we can send probes." Vants giggled abruptly and glanced over at Maar, who was focused on cutting Merrl's chicken into small pieces.

Dodd asked "And the Lofthall budget can cover such an investigation?" She, too, was speaking in measured tones.

"We have a contingency fund" replied Mill. "To be used at the Sheng Zhang's discretion."

"That will be a fascinating report" said Uli. "I look forward to assisting you."

"But the main thing is that Maar is all right" said Pyosz. Everyone nodded. A minute later when Meamea knocked over her milk and said "Oh, lev!", the burst of laughter in reaction through the room was out of all proportion.

Maar was not pleased the following day when Mill told her she was selecting Abbo to drop the sample buckets into that Morrie Strati. Mill closed her office door as Maar began arguing and said "You're the best aim we've got with the mezi ray, in case they have time to go for her. But you'll be there, drawing their attention. And we need to shift public focus away from you, anyhow. Once she's back at safe height, you can help Dekkan drop all the probes. Uli's worked out a pattern of distribution, here, look at this."

Coincidentally, the Polytechnic had an assortment of bathy-probes ready for use, measuring a wide array of data which would be radioed back to a receiver in Dekkan's sinner. "Unless the levis gulp them down like barley drops as they sink" said Oby.

This time when Maar left for her flight, Pyosz's agitation was palpable to the whole Manage. Her bread kneading was so vigorous that Yoj said "You're supposed to release the gluten, not frighten it away." When the radio finally buzzed, Lawa backed up in alarm as Pyosz lunged past her to answer it. Prl wiped her hands and picked up Merrl protectively, but within half a minute Pyosz's shoulders relaxed and everyone else breathed out in relief.

The receiver was taken to the Polytechnic where transmissions continued to arrive from at least three of the probes. Most of them had lasted at least half an hour before blinking out of commission. "They were focused on us until we left the area" said Maar. "Waiting for me to bomb them again." This was at the dinner table, and Pyosz saw Thleen's face finally register comprehension. Prl said "I worry about retaliation."

"They're the reason Pax Piscata failed" said Maar with heat.

"No arguments from me on that. But I still worry" said Prl. Which made fear travel through Pyosz and erased her temporary jubilation.

Two days later, Pyosz was late leaving Koldok after delivery and as she approached the wharf, she saw pilots burst from the side door of the Lofthall and scramble to lighters. Her heart in her throat, she abandoned her cart mid lane and ran into the Lofthall. Mill and Jiips were both on radios but Oby saw her and said "Not Maar. It's not the sinners at all. Some shu-brained hooligans are trying to outrun leviathans in the straight between Trumpinne and those little islands west of Hayashi."

"What do you mean, outrun?" asked Pyosz.

"In a motorboat" said Oby grimly. The horrified suspicion that entered Pyosz's brain seemed reflected on Oby's face. Mill covered her mic to say briefly "Hooligan, singular -- there's only one person in the boat."

Pyosz had to sit down. She leaned her elbows on the desk to listen to the broadcast coming in from a pilot who had been on a routine run and spotted a narrow craft almost catapult from the mouth of the Trumpinne river below her. Oby said several levs of various sizes had immediately given chase, but the boat had spectacular speed and also seemed to be highly maneuverable.

"There's a cluster of massive levs around the dock on Hayashi" Jiips reported.

"And we have no way of radioing the boat" said Mill, a mixture of fury and resignation in her voice. She issued instructions to the lighters in the air, to try diversion and effect rescue when that became necessary.

A minute later, however, the original pilot said "She's veered sharply to the left. She's a hundred yards south of that sandy beach on Nastere, and she's headed directly for it. There's at least one lev on an intercept course -- "

Oby pointed to the map spread between her and Mill. "It's shallow a good ways out from that beach, I wonder if she knows that." They all listened without breathing for another ten seconds, until with a crackle. the pilot's voice said "She's not slowing down, she's running up onto the beach at full velocity!"

Pyosz breathed out in relief, until the pilot said "The craft flipped over, and whoever was in it went with it. Got dragged, looks like. No movement so far."

Mill instructed the largest sinner to land, as well as a lighter to assist. "Bring her back here if she's alive and it's safe to move her."

Maar's voice, sounding very distant, came in over Jiips' receiver. "Requesting identity of boater."

Mill answered her. "Not known yet, Sinner Maar." A little reminder, there. "What's your status?"

"We've found a heavy school and Dekkan's radar is clear, about to sin."

"Check in when you're clear" said Mill firmly. Five long minutes later, another pilot reported "They've reached the boat and pulled it off her. She's moving, sitting up. They're helping her to her feet." And after another several minutes, the sinner who had landed said "We're headed in. The miscreant is Su of Trumpinne."

Pyosz swallowed what was in her throat. Mill told the lighter to return to the boat and remove its engine to bring back with her. She looked at Pyosz, a flat glance, before picking up the radio again. "Sinner Maar, I'm assuming you heard that. We won't do anything besides treatment until you get here. Focus on your moment."

"Always do" replied Maar in a tone that gave Pyosz a chill. Mill radioed the hospital and asked Briel to come to the Lofthall. When they heard the sinner overhead, Oby walked outside but Mill stayed at her desk, and Pyosz decided to remain seated as well. She wasn't quite sure what to do with herself.

Su entered flanked by Oby and a sinner. She was bleeding freely from a gash on her forehead, cradling one arm in the other, and limping, but her grin was defiant. Mill looked at her coldly and said "Lock her in the supply room." Su's grin slipped a little at that, and Pyosz gave her the "take heart" sign. Oby returned the store room key to Mill, who pushed it around on her desktop for a minute. She then said to Pyosz "Why don't you get her a tray from the canteen?"

When Pyosz returned, the door was open again and Pyosz could hear Briel's voice with Su's yelps of pain. Mill waved her on, and Pyosz carried in the tray holding tea. stew, rolls and pie. She sat down on a crate and held Su's hand as her forehead was stitched and her ribs wrapped. "Cracked ribs is the worst of it" said Briel in a voice as chilly as Pyosz had ever heard from her. Pyosz left with Briel, promising to check in later.

Mill said "I know you want to be here when Maar arrives, but it'll be another hour and I'd rather meet with her alone. If you don't mind."

"Are you going to charge Su?" asked Pyosz.

Mill's eyes were flat black. "I don't know yet. And I haven't talked with The Ethicist yet, she's on her way back from Pirinc." The Ethicist, not Api. "I recommend you go home and let Maar come to you. Or I'll call you later, if you'd rather."

"Both, please. s'bemma" said Pyosz, stepping to hug her, trying to will mercy on Su's behalf. As the ferry approached Saya's dock, she saw Qala coming down the trail.

"We just heard" Qala said. "Is Halling at the Lofthall yet?"

"No, nor anyone else to advocate for Su. She's pretty battered, I hope that keeps Maar from wading into her" said Pyosz, stacking her milk cans in the wain.

Qala said "Thleen's maturity now vastly exceeds Su's. I'm heading over, don't know when I'll be back."

"Thank you, abba, I'll feel better having you in the Lofthall."

Lunch was very quiet, with only Lawa, Pyosz and Merrl at the long table. Lawa went to Herne afterward to help with a pig slaughter, so after mopping the entire house, Pyosz lay down for a nap, forcing Merrl to rest beside her.

They were awakened by Qux coming home from school with Thleen and Qala. Thleen was pinch-faced with worry and she openly eavesdropped when Pyosz asked Qala "Any decision yet?"

"No" said Qala. She sat down in the velvet chair and rubbed her thumbs, one, then the other. Pyosz sent Qux to get liniment from her dresser and sat on the chair arm to massage Qala's hands for her. "The lighter who brought back the speedboat engine -- that's what Su is calling it, a speedboat -- took some photographs of the wreck as well." Pyosz didn't like the gleam in Thleen's eye at the word "speedboat."

"Hush, Merrl, we're having a serious talk about your sibemma Su, she got in bad trouble today. Go on, abba."

"It's an interesting construction. Lean and sleek as you'd expect, but there were ribs like flattened pipes running from front to back every inch or so. And when the pilot who tracked her from the air said she didn't understand why the levs able to converge on her didn't attack, Su crowed and said it was because of the dhakin tubes, as she called them."

Pyosz stopped massaging to stare at Qala. "Dhakin as in the energy source?"

"Levs chased Su?" asked Merrl.

"Su went out in levi-infested water in a boat, very very stupid, and she had to crash into land to keep from being eaten" said Pyosz briefly. She looked expectantly at Qala.

"Seems her and the boatyard's experiment was double-pronged. Yes, they just wanted to see if they could build something that will outrun a leviathan, and the answer is yes, according to the pilots who watched. In a straight race, that engine will do it. It's now in the vault at the Lofthall and I will be very surprised if the boatyard ever gets it back" said Qala, shifting so Pyosz could reach her other hand. "Ah, child, I don't know why they ache so much today but this is really helping. Yeah, so the tubes striping the entire hull are filled with a liquid infused with dhakin, some chemical combination that the gakusha says keeps the radioactivity from being too toxic to be near, a kind of controlled emanation, but theoretically strong enough to repel levs. Or at least make them think twice about chomping into it."

Pyosz was aghast. "And Su let herself be the bait to test whether it worked or not?"

"She claims they've done other small trials of lowering bobbers filled with their repellant into bays where leviathans are visible. But she said for the sake of all Skene, a definitive field run had to be made." Qala had closed her eyes.

"She actually used that phrase, abba, 'for the sake of all Skene'? Someone coached her, that's not how she talks. But it might keep her from being prosecuted, if she claims she was trying to act in public interest." Pyosz was conflicted. She wanted Su's smirk wiped off her face permanently, but she wanted most to keep her from charges or public punishment.

Qala opened her eyes a slit to smile at Pyosz. "Mill said much the same thing, demanded to know who put her up to it. Su said it was all on her. Which is the point where I thought Maar really was going to lunge across the desk at her." Thleen and Qux were both open-mouthed.

Merrl had dipped a finger in the pot of liniment and now decided to taste it. As the burn hit her tongue, she screeched and Pyosz grabbed her to carry her downstairs, hoping cold milk would work. After a long sigh, Qala put the lid on the liniment before following.

Maar, Halling, Yoj and Prl came home together shortly before dinner. Pyosz looked down the great hall at Maar and said faintly "No Su?"

"Mill's gonna let her cool her heels in the supply room overnight. Far as I'm concerned, she can spend the weekend there, but Mill's willing to let her go in exchange for the formula in those tubes" said Maar in disgust. "I get to call my emmas after dinner and tell them what she did." She pointed a finger at Thleen and added "Don't you ever get involved with one of her ideas!"

Thleen looked indignant. Lawa said "Wash up, we're ready to put bowls on the table."

Maar's crankiness dissipated with ham steaks and braised cabbage. It returned when she called Chloddia, and after she clicked off, she said she was going to take a long bath before going to bed early. Instead, Pyosz persuaded her to the hot springs, where Maar sat in her lap and sobbed about how easily Su could have died. When they got back, the little ones were already in bed and Thleen was playing cards with Lawa for real coin. Prl was on the radio to Nioma, and the remaining elders were huddled over a map at Yoj's desk. Maar and Pyosz blew them all kisses before heading upstairs.

They were in bed with the light off when Pyosz suddenly sat up and said "I forgot to tell you! I had Briel draw my blood this morning!"

Maar turned on the lamp. "What -- are you --?"

"I don't know. I told her to save the results and I'd grab you at lunch, we'd come in together to hear them." Pyosz began laughing. "Completely slipped my mind until now."

"Tomorrow's Roku, right?" said Maar, pulling Pyosz down to her. "I'll meet you after Market, we'll slip away from everyone and go to the clinic."

Thus, when Maar and Pyosz arrived at the Lofthall in early afternoon to take Su home with them, they were grinning from ear to ear, giving Su a false impression of Maar having forgiven her. Once at Owl Manage, Maar said to Su coldly "You'll be staying in the bedroom upstairs for the next month. You don't leave Saya without my consent. I'll fly you to Trumpinne tomorrow to pick up your things."

"What about work?" said Su, startled.

"You'll put in full days here, whatever Pyosz and the elders assign you. That's the condition of my being given your custody. If you'd rather be locked up elsewhere..." Maar folded her arms, waiting.

"What happens after a month?" asked Su.

"I report on your behavior and any signs of growth or remorse. Mill will then decide whether to waive charges permanently. Eventually you can move to the cabin and start at the Poly in the fall. We'll discuss paid employment later." Maar was unyielding.

Su tried to shrug. "All right, I'll shovel goat shit and make nice until people realize what a favor I've done you all. Right now I need a bath."

Once Su was in the bath room with the door shut, Pyosz wheeled to grab Prl's hands and cried "We're pregnant!"

The celebration was still going on an hour later when Su poked her head outside the bath room door and said "Uh, could I borrow some clean clothes?"

The next day, Maar flew all of Owl Manage plus Vants' Manage, Dekkan, Tu and Pank to Trumpinne for an afternoon at the carnival. Maar herself peeled off to accompany Su wherever she went, including an awkward goodbye with Nalt, who also had stony-faced family members keeping within watching distance. Pyosz regretfully abstained from the zipline, but allowed Pava and Dekkan to strap the little ones to their backs and ride screaming down to her anxious arms. Thleen rode it three times. Pyosz was glad of Thleen's laughter, and the presence of Dekkan and Pava to help distract Thleen from missing Ziri's family on this outing.

On the way home, Su began explaining to Vants how the Saya-Teppe ferry could be protected from leviathans by installing dhakin-filled pipes at the mouth of the inlet between the two islands. Halling interrupted her, saying "We have no data yet about the effects of long-term exposure to that mineral. And the current from that strait feeds the waters off our point where we fish, you know."

Yoj added "There's a reason why that mine was never completed in Skene, once it became clear we had to live here. I have a radio call planned next week with the gakusha at Skene University to discuss what is known, not just the theories of our optimistic gakusha here at the Poly." From this Pyosz understood that more than Su's reputation was on the line.

After a long silence, Su said "So when Maar dumps a buttload of toxics into the ocean, that's just fine because she licks the ginny of the Lofthall's sibiya. But the rest of us don't have leave to take leadership of any kind, I guess." Pyosz heard a shocked giggle from Thleen, and looked around from her front passenger seat to check on the little ones. Merrl was asleep buckled into Prl's lap, and Qux next to Lawa was absorbed in a finger puzzle someone had won at the carnival pitches. She looked back at Maar, whose jaw was granite.

Maar said "Apologize to Pyosz. Right now."

Su grinned at Pyosz with brown eyes much like Maar's and said "I'm sorry my siba licks your ginny." Which sent Thleen into explosive laughter and even drew Qux's attention. Pyosz said quietly to Maar "Please get us all on Saya soil before you take this further." Maar glanced at her and said "Got it." Pyosz put her hand on Maar's thigh and closed her eyes, her other hand cupping her belly, as she tried not to listen to Lawa answering Qux's confused questions and Thleen's muffled chortling.

By the end of Lamminsade, Su had become much more somber, perhaps a result of what Prl called "decent family life" and the onslaught of seasonal labor on Saya. However, the week after Su's speed run, a leviathan had attacked the ferry between Abfall and Eyja Fling in Skene, killing three including the faryaste. It had been morrie vaseo, but several large levis had rammed loose a section of reef and a juvie swam through the gap to effect the attack. Ferries throughout the Eastern Tendril had gone still for several days.

Su and her sibs had often used that particular ferry, and Pyosz remembered riding it with them shortly before she and Maar became lovers. Pyosz went to Su and said "You're going to hear that this is payback for your boat run."

"Already have" said Su with a bruised expression. "Adon had to call me and tell me that's what folks are saying, it's because of me and Maar pissing off the levs."

"Well, that's shu shit" said Pyosz emphatically. "They never stop looking for ways to get at us, and if we try to blame ourselves for their intent to kill, we might as well link it to what crops we've planted or meteor activity. We're educated people, we're not governed by superstition or fear, and you need to remember what's true." She hoped it helped.

Likewise, the assessment of the Skene gakusha as to dhakin's useability was decidely mixed. She said the radioactivity had a tendency to attach itself to metal, in particular, building up to lethal concentrations rapidly. It was decided to leave Su's wrecked speedboat on Nastere, uninhabited and unreachable except through the Lofthall's help. Monthly readings would be taken of the hull and tracked to see what would occur with similar metal construction. The local wildlife -- crabs, shu, and seabeaks, mostly -- would be captured and dissected for exposure effects. Maar pointedly taped a purple X over Nastere on the Manage's wall map, purple for unsafe, and Su's chair at the dinner table faced that map every meal.

After a month, the last of the probes which had been dropped into Morrie Strati stopped transmitting. Every gakusha at the Poly who had even the remotest excuse to study the data was poring over the readouts and staying up late at the Lofthall canteen, drinking tea and arguing about interpretation. Nioma, Prl and Yoj were among their number. So far Nioma was certain the chemical composition indicated the red viscosity was created by leviathans themselves, an extrusion that she said grew thicker at depth and away from current. The morrie strati seemed to be an island of stillness amid the ocean, which she said was remarkable.

The other piece of information which seemed incontrovertible was that leviathans were living at depths where they should be crushed, and if the blurry radar signals were accurate, they were of a size that seemed impossible. Nioma said the giantism was likely a means of coping with the extreme pressure and cold. The levis were clustering together tightly, which made definition difficult, and there was endless speculation about why they lived in such unmoving tactile proximity. The good news, Nioma said, was that the Fling-size levs, as she put it, likely could not ascend to the surface because they would explode from the change in pressure. Pyosz took note of that scholarly qualifier, "likely".

With the arrival of eel migration, the proximity of Saya Island's eel traps on Dvareka River to those of Kacang was suddenly problematic. The first night's exuberance carried Thleen through having to watch Ziri and Xoan eeling in tandem. But the daily checks on the live boxes meant Thleen would be going alone and sometimes running into Ziri and Xoan performing the same chore for their Manages together. Maar released Su from her confinement to Saya several days early, with the proviso that she accompany Thleen on the eeling task. Su agreed instantly. The first day, Thleen returned and went directly to Pyosz to report that Su was already at the boatyard.

"I figured she would be" said Pyosz. "They're going to be hit with some hefty fines, the cost of Lofthall monitoring and rescue. Plus they've lost an expensive motor and boat. They're adults who can't afford that kind of cost again. Let her find it out for herself."

"What about Su's fines?" asked Thleen.

"Reduced by half because of Lofthall kinship but we still have to pay a chunk of coin" said Pyosz. "It will show up painfully in Su's allowance when she starts Poly in the fall." Thleen cheered up at that.

As soon as school was out in Skene, Pava's siba Thont arrived on the huolon to stay at Vants' Manage for the summer. Thont's grades were low and she was running with a rowdy crowd in Verzin, and Thava was ready for a break. Pava promised to turn her around, and her not-so-secret intent was to persuade her emma to allow Thont to return to Pya for good, under Vants' and Lehen's guardianship. Thleen was ecstatic at having someone her own age -- Thont was a year older, like Ziri -- to be her Pea Pod buddy. For her part, Thont seemed happy to be claimed by Thleen. Her Verzin pallor diminished daily, and she especially hit it off with Moasi who was admittedly very indulgent to children and teenagers.

Pyosz stopped by the tillage on her way back from Koldok, where Qala was weeding and Prl was keeping Merrl from helping in a laying waste kind of way. Merrl spotted the crate Pyosz set down on a bench and trotted over: "What you get, emma?"

"Strawberries are in" said Pyosz. She handed samples to each of the others. Merrl's hands were filthy but, as Lawa always said, it built antibodies. Strawberry juice mixed with grime on Merrl's happy face. Cha roused herself to come sniff and then look incredulous at how humans wasted their gastronomic choices.

"Thleen fishing with Lawa?" asked Pyosz.

"No, just Qux. Thont showed up here during breakfast and the two of them ate all the sausage I'd made, then charged off to the reservoir" said Qala. "They'll be back for lunch, ravenous. You better hide those strawberries if you want any for pies and jam. I put some beans on to soak, they can fill up on beanpaste sandwiches."

"They took towels but no suits" remarked Prl. "That Thont is all over Thleen."

"Is she now" said Pyosz, pausing to consider. "Well, she's smart and honest, and lev knows I respected her emma."

"She's a year older than Thleen, and she's ravenous" said Prl reprovingly. "And I don't mean just for sausage." As her words sank in, she looked briefly flustered but joined the others as they laughed. Merrl guffawed very loudly in a manufactured way.

Pyosz said, "That's enough, Merrl. Okay, one more, but then that's it, we want some for ice cream tomorrow night." Prl distracted Merrl in her direction by pointing out a sulphur blue butterfly. Merrl trampled the string beans trying to catch it.

"It's good for Thleen to have someone who values her charms" said Qala, trying to ignore Merrl's havoc.

"I imagine Xoan's shine is starting to rub a little thin for Ziri" said Prl obliquely.

"Why, what have you heard?" asked Pyosz. Qala looked up.

"Nothing directly. But while I adore Neoma's grandchildren, Xoan is not the shooting star of the lot. She's got good common sense, she's kind, and she's earnest. Ziri's attention has understandably gone to her head. However, Ziri is more enamored of the idea of grand passion than she is Xoan. And Xoan never offers any competition to Ziri for consuming all available attention."

"Like Thleen did" said Qala, returning to her carrot patch. "I hope Ziri and Xoan go to the reservoir today." This borderline kattiness was very unlike her, and Prl shared raised eyebrows with Pyosz.

Prl said "Back to my original point: I worry that Thont's emotional advantage over Thleen may lead them into...indiscretion. And while it's very unlikely Thleen is fertile, she's still too young to handle the pendulum sways of hormones plus intimacy. Have you and Maar talked with her about -- whatever limits you've set?"

Qala answered. "I talked to her. A couple of times, as things came up. But it's time for a more nuts and bolts discussion. I'll handle it, tell her to keep her knickers on." She was gruff but calm.

It had been Bux who had the nuts and bolts talk with Pyosz, she remembered. Prl had been hinting around and Pyosz thought she'd rather die than be lectured at by the Genist, so she had forestalled it by going to Bux on her own. It had not been as excruciating as she'd anticipated. Pyosz was now curious about how it might be different between Qala and Thleen. "What, exactly, will you tell her?" she asked Qala.

Qala shifted over in her row and glanced at Pyosz. "What I just said -- to keep her knickers on. If they're both wearing knickers, they can have some fun but not get into trouble." Pyosz suddenly remembered when she and Maar had acted out the scene from the rice paddy workers' novel. They'd had to throw away Maar's knickers after that episode. Then she wondered where that book was now, and if it had been purloined by Thleen.

Prl said "Well, but teenagers are not known for their physical control..." As if you know anything about it thought Pyosz meanly. Qala said briefly "I'll extract a vow from her. Thleen keeps her promises to me."

And what does that mean wondered Pyosz. But Merrl was converging on the strawberries again, and Pyosz lifted the crate out of reach. Merrl shrieked and began pounding at Pyosz's thighs. Pyosz ignored her, heading for the Manage. Prl said "Buttercup, how about if we fill the wading pool and you can splash yourself clean?" Spoiled rotten thought Pyosz affectionately.

Thleen and Thont became more or less joined at the hip, sharing all their chores on Saya and Teppe, and splitting meals between the two Manages. Maar's limit was only one overnight a week.

Thleen was incredulous. "But why?"

"You know very well why" replied Maar. Thleen flushed deeply and left the room.

When another Manage was okayed to be constructed on Teppe, Mrebbe asked Thleen directly if she wanted to hire on as timmer assistant.

"Stars yes!" Thleen said into the radio. "I mean -- except for Mchele Fair, I'm stiltwalking again and -- "

"Everyone takes off for Mchele Fair" assured Mrebbe. "You want to ask Ziri or shall I call her myself?"

"Uh...Ziri is spending half her time in Talaba" said Thleen. "But Thont is living right there on Teppe, she's -- "

"I know very well who Thont is. She have any timmer experience?" said Mrebbe.

", I don't think so. But she's a hard worker" said Thleen. "And I could teach her whatever she needs to know."

"Me or Xante do the teaching" said Mrebbe. "All right, I'll give her a try but until she's up to speed I'm only paying heer 3/4 of what you get. And this year, you're of a size for me to work you much harder. You'll have the same breaks as everyone else and that's it."

Thleen barely stopped to pass on the news to her family before running west to catch the Teppe ferry. "Be back in an hour!" Maar yelled after her into the night. She turned to Pyosz. "Did Mrebbe talk this over with you?"

"No. I think it's a real offer" said Pyosz.

"Good" said Maar. "Mrebbe will work the thunder out of them."

"She'll need a whole new wardrobe before school starts again" predicted Qala.

"Fine. She can help pay for it with her earnings" said Maar.

The first week on their job, Thont began going home early after dinner amd Thleen fell asleep on the porch twice during singing. Lawa had pots of liniment and blister cream ready for daily use. Mrebbe insisted everyone work through Roku. When Thleen came home for dinner, she showed them the handful of small coins she'd just been paid: Not much, but twice what she'd ever received. She was radiant.

"Save half" said Maar, patting her on the shoulder, then changed her mind to pull Thleen into a close, sawdusty hug. Pyosz led Thleen to her tool room and showed her the secret drawer, saying she could have it as her own for savings as long as she didn't tell anyone else. Thleen lay coins in the space and put the shelf back in place, holding one bashed and bandaged finger out to the side.

When Pyosz closed the tool room door, Thleen sat on the feedbox instead of leaving the barn. Pyosz began refilling a water trough, not sure if Thleen needed privacy or conversation.

"Vants doesn't like another Manage going up on her island" Thleen said.

"Did she tell you that?" Pyosz went to the drying room and pulled out a few tidbits to feed her favorites, including Killer's new kid, Peril.

"Not Vants herself" Thleen equivocated. Thont then. Pyosz wondered how many family confidences were being exchanged between those two. She sat on a bale and pulled the sweet-smelling kid into her lap. Thleen asked "But you control what gets built on Saya, right?"

"As long as I hold the capriste contract, yes. Theoretically when I retire, someone related to me will assume the capriste position."

Thleen looked at her in half apology, half challenge. "Not me, emma. I want Saya but I can't kill goats."

"I understand that. Saya needs a lot of care. You could assume other duties and share with the capriste" said Pyosz.

"I've been thinking about asking you to let me take over the beekeeping" said Thleen. "I'm not that scared of them. And for sure I could handle the woods and tillage, the oyster beds, when I'm grown. Are you going to make me your heir, even though I'm not really your child?"

Pyosz was blown sideways by this. "I didn't give birth to you, but I think of you all the way down as one of my children, Thleen. I bitterly regret not having had you in my life since your were born. I have named all my children as my heirs. Thing is, I'm not that much older than you, so it's likely you and I will be elders here together. One of your children or sibiyas will probably be the next full capriste."

Thleen was thinking hard. "I do mean to have children."

"I'm delighted to hear that, you'll make a glorious emma."

Thleen let herself smile. "Qux won't want to do slaughter, either. But I bet Merrl will."

Pyosz laughed. "I can imagine that. Well, what do you think you'd like to pursue as a career? Besides caring for Saya?"

"Not pilot either. I don't want to be separated from my family or make them worry about me dying." Pyosz closed her eyes briefly against the bitterness in Thleen's voice, and wondered if she should ever pass this on to Maar. "I want a degree, I want to move my body a lot, and I want to be respected in the community. What matches all that?"

Pyosz grinned. "You do. You'll figure it out, lots of room to try on ideas before you need to choose a field of study."

Sugarnose stood up next to Thleen, sniffing to see if she had any fruit now that Pyosz was out. Thleen patted the top of the feedbox and with surprising grace considering her new-mother udders, Sugarnose leaped to beside Thleen, her hooves staccato on the wood. Thleen scratched under her beard before saying "I don't feel about Thont the way I do Ziri."

"No two loves are the same" said Pyosz, feeling her way. "What's important is that you be who you are with each. And not let how they feel about you persuade you into deeper water than you feel is right for you."

Thleen glanced at her sharply. Sugarnose and Killer both swiveled their heads toward the barn door, and a few seconds later a small fist pounded at it. "Emma, where are you? Abba says it's dinnertime!"

Pyosz stood and went to open the door, swinging Qux to her hip. "Let's go eat, then."

"What was you and siba doing?"

"Talking. Tell me, Qux the Quizzical, what do you want to be when you grow up?"

"A pilot!" Qux stuck out her arms like wings, and Pyosz obligingly dipped from side to side as she trotted toward the Manage, her heart in her throat.

(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.)


Margot said...

Oh HO, you kept that quiet!

Wonderful chapter, plot progression, politics, and progeny. Perfect.

(Alliteration's artful aid. And an Oxford comma.)

How do you pronounce "Mchele"? I'm hovering between "Mishell" (French) and "Mikayluh (Italian)...

But maybe it's Mac Hell (Scottish)?

Maggie Jochild said...

Kept which quiet, Margot?

Mchele is Swahili for rice and got attached to that month back in the early days of Skene when a main rice harvest came in. It's pronounced mmm-CHELL-ee, but said swiftly.

All hail Oxford commas.

And thanks for the feedback, I was wanting it for this one. I had SO much fun putting snark into Su's mouth.

Margot said...

Just that you normally mention on f/b when you've loaded a new chapter, and I didn't see anything. I pop in here regularly though, just in case...

Swahili, no wonder I missed it (my limited linguistic skills are woefully Eurocentric). I only know one Swahili word: tumbi - belly-button! Well, now I know two.

Snarky Su was fun. I love the way you set that up; looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Blue said...

Yes, the ginny licking comments were hilarious.

I also particularly loved the glance into the future of the family and Saya. Lovely.