Sunday, October 3, 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)


Pyosz could tell Halling wanted Yoj to search through the rest of the box, wanted to reach out and do it for her, but Yoj was in slow-motion archivist bliss. She lowered her eyes to the table of columns and said “I would guess this first column is species names.” Rather than showing them to the gakushas breathing down her neck, she leaned toward Neoma and said “Any of these words register with you?”

Prl’s cheeks were bright pink with excitement. Neoma scanned carefully and said “That word – I think that’s hnisa.”

“So it is” agreed Yoj. “And this is beras, rice. Some are in one of the ancient languages they used for science, but I imagine we’ll be able to decipher them all with time and context.”

“I can’t tell you what a treasure this is” said Neoma, her breath a little ragged. “The botanists and biologists – “

“I’ll get everyone copies as soon as I can” said Yoj. “Looks like this handwritten column is dates, of introduction, I’d guess, and the wide column next also in handwriting, more than one ink, would be maybe notes about how the process was going?” Neoma nodded at her.

“But this printed column between them, is that a secondary species name, perhaps?” mused Yoj. “It’s words, not numerals.”

Prl, practically in Neoma’s lap, pointed to one repeated word in the mystery column and said “That means egg, I’ve seen it in Genist records.”

“Ah” said Neoma, “It’s the form the organism was in when introduced – ovum, seeds, larvae and the like.”

Yoj nodded. She lifted the sheets carefully one by one, seeing similar continuation until the last page, where she stopped and said “It’s a drawing of Hore. A schematic with numbers all over it.” Now it was Dodd who leaned over and said “Except the water around it is different, as if the bays are enclosed somehow, instead of open like they are now.”

Mill spoke up. “When we built the ferry from Uscat to Hore, we discovered pilings underwater at one point that looked human made, remember that, Oby? But nobody could guess what they had been used for, they were more like fence posts than anchoring structures.”

“If they were releasing organisms into the seas, they’d need nurseries to see what survived, give them a head start” said Neoma. “I would guess those numbers on the map correspond to species on the list, where each new life was implanted.”

Yoj raised her eyes to again look across at Pyosz. “Which means Hore is ground zero for the introduction of non-Skene biology to Skene.” Pyosz felt another shiver down her backbone. She thought No wonder they named it sorrow.

Lehen slipped out the front door to go check on the children, and the draft or noise awakened Ngus from her nap. The baby began calling “Poj!” and Frahe, closest, picked her up but she kept looking around for her emmas. Pyosz looked at Maar pleadingly. Maar threaded her way through family. As she closed in, Ngus gave a glad cry, calling “Marrrr!” with a trill and holding out chubby fists. When Maar returned to Pyosz’s side, Ngus slid into her lap with a small grunt and tugged at her shati. Pyosz nursed her while listening to Yoj and Neoma identify words from the inventory. Ngus was grinning past Pyosz’s breast up at Thleen, making funny faces at her.

Finally Halling said “Go on, Yoj, you could parse this list for days.” She reached out and nudged the box. Everyone looked alert again.

Yoj set the list on the parchment and let Dekkan take another photo before lifting out the next item, clearly a book of some sort. Pyosz cupped her hand against Ngus’s head to lean forward, peering into the box: Photos. There were photos underneath. And the glint of metal. She reminded herself to breathe.

Yoj eased open the book’s cover with an audible crack and angled a peek to the first page. She held it up for the gakushas to see and they said together “Journal”.

“Yep” said Yoj, shifting her weight in excitement. “The Journal of Y-liz-a-bath Goldfarb, with her titles and two dates, then their word for Skene. But she’s circled it in ink and then written all around it, inside the cover, too, every margin – she ran out of paper, she had to use every scrap of space.” She turned to the back and verified the volume was crammed full of increasingly small writing.

Her look of joy diminished. “Oh, how to ration her own means of telling, when she began to realize there was no telling how long it might have to last, or if anyone would ever read it. I’m not sure where the end will be in here.”

“Nobody has read it until now” said Thleen, an obvious statement and yet it sent a swirl of emotion through the room.

“This will take a while” said Yoj, and with obvious reluctance, she shut the journal again and lay it reverently beside the list. Dekkan took another photo and Pyosz wished she were beside Yoj now, instead of across the table. Halling and Dodd jostled for line of sight as Yoj picked up the first photograph in the box.

“That’s beside Pertama Poke!” said Dodd. “With different trees, and no doors on the cavern yet – “

Mill was pushing her way in beside the gakushas. She said loudly “It must be right after they landed, see, the huts are stacked but not assembled yet, and count them, that’s the same number as the landing party!”

It was faded, the colors no longer true, but Pyosz got a glimpse of two rows of people looking at her across an unimaginable gulf as Yoj turned over the photo and read the back, a list of names. She reversed it when she got to Elizabeth, holding the image for close-up scrutiny through her lenses to see the face of this, Skene’s first archivist.

After a minute, she handed it to Dodd and said “You hold these, nobody but you. Everyone else can line up behind you and have a look over your shoulder.”

The room went into motion, elders waved ahead in line, as the family queued to follow Yoj’s instructions. Except Pyosz didn’t budge, and Maar stayed with her. After Yoj examined the second photo, she held it up for the two across the table to see while she read the caption. Despite her tremor, Dodd’s good light gave them a clear view, another shot of ancient Dvareka and a landed craft that froze Maar in fascination.

There were only six photos, and the next four were from the original planet. It was the fifth one which made even Yoj give a small gasp. She studied it for several minutes before Pyosz got a peek: A family group of people as pale as Maar and Ngus, a composed and clear shot. The second name Yoj read – “Rooth Goldfarb” – she stopped and added “She was aggie to Pearl and Y-liz-a-bath, it says”. Beside her was Pearl and another sib, in front were Elizabeth and her partner. A partner she must have left behind and never saw again.

“Wait” said Pyosz, begging Yoj not to turn it over again.

“Your eyes” breathed Maar, “They all have your eyes.”

“And Ngus’s” added Pyosz. Not the shape or size, but that clear blue. Somewhere across the galaxy were people who looked like her. She didn’t realize how she was squeezing Ngus until the baby protested.

She managed to focus elsewhere and saw that Prl’s cheeks were wet with tears. She heard Neoma whisper “I know how much you miss her” and turned to look at Halling’s hungry face as she took in the family photo.

The few items of jewelry were interesting for the patterns on them, which were unfamiliar and yet made sense to Pyosz. Maar studied the silver closely. They were passed around for everyone to have a look, but Pyosz handed Ngus to Qala and pressed close to Halling for another look at the photo of Pearl’s family, before she ever went off into the stars, perhaps hoping to find her emma’s siba and instead becoming lost herself. She wanted Yoj to go home with her now and sit at her desk, translating that journal while Pyosz wrote down every word that Yoj teased from murky translation.

Instead, they gathered around the piano so Briel could play and Dodd could fiddle, the first music their first grandchild would ever hear. Merrl came back from the meadow weeping, saying the older children refused to play with her, and Maar went to sort it out. At dinner, they all gathered in the main room, Uli and Qoj in front with the baby, and Dekkan took a family photo which required the wide angle lens to fit them all in.

On their way home, Pyosz stopped at the Lofthall to have the box and its contents locked again in the safe. Yoj had promised to get copies made of everything in the morning, as soon as Naki’s was open. Pyosz wanted an enlargement of the family photo to hang in her bedroom, above her headboard, between the photo of Maar holding a newborn Thleen and the picture of her on Prl’s arms that Maar loved so much.

Yoj came home for lunch and said she had canceled her afternoon session, fulfilling Pyosz’s hope that she would start work on translation right away. Pyosz put Ngus down for a nap on a floor pallet and sat beside Yoj at the desk where they whispered together, Pyosz having no real expertise but still helped Yoj to talk over ideas aloud. When Ngus woke up, Qala took her to the greenhouse and Pyosz lost track of time until Neoma joined them, having sped to Saya right after work.

Twenty minutes later Prl came in the study, saying “Halling asks that you come downstairs and report, and Thleen is making some casserole of her own invention for dinner.” They carried copies and notes to the dining table, and Pyosz let Yoj go over the one page she had unraveled while she went to help make a salad.

Pyosz watched Thleen preparing garlic for the casserole using Lawa's method, which was to smack each clove on the cutting block with the ball of her thumb, then rub the smashed clove between her palms swiftly to remove the skin. Thleen didn't have much hard muscle in her hands yet, but it was still working. Pyosz thought If she becomes a woman carrying forth what Qala and Lawa have taught her, she'll be happy all her days and so will those around her. One part of her mind added You made this happen, and she felt her eyes prick with tears. Nursing hormones she told herself, and looked around to make sure Ngus hadn't crawled near the aga.

Yoj decided to take the rest of the week off work, which meant a stream of gakushas visiting Saya and Pyosz not setting foot in her studio. Even so, by the following Shmonah she had very little progress to report. “Between her use of vernacular and the way she went back to crib space, it will take me months to have a coherent story to share” she said, with more relish than apology.

Neoma, on the other hand, had most of the species names translated. “I’ve not yet reconstructed the pattern they used to make over Skene in the image of their home planet, but I can say that there are only two species of sea life, animal or vegetation, which we currently have in our ecosystem which are native to Skene.”

“Leviathans and what?” asked Mill.

“The microorganisms which are found in the red exudates of morrie strati” said Neoma. “Which means whatever was here before, whatever leviathans ate and existed among, has vanished. It must be a catastrophic change for them.”

Abbo snorted and Maar looked irritated. Prl said “We don’t know how long they live, or the extent of their sentience, but it’s entirely possible there are leviathans out there who remember before we arrived. And hold us directly responsible for loss of their world.”

Maar looked like she was about to say something biting, but Oby mused “No wonder they are so congregated around Hore, in particular.”

“It suggests we revisit the question of territoriality” said Neoma. Yoj said diplomatically “Not until the journal’s contents are clear to us, we need full information to make decisions.”

Pyosz was glad that an outright conflict had been avoided when half an hour later, Prl stood and waggled her hand for attention before announcing she had asked Neoma to partner with her and Neoma had accepted. Conversation was then split between plans for the partnering ceremony, stories about Ulodd’s first week of life and, once the table was cleared, going over copies of the Hore photographs, as they were being called.

The following week, Pyosz began working on two final tiles for the lineage in glazed clay she had been assembling. Though technically Y-liz-a-bath was not once of her ancestors, she felt integral to Pyosz, someone to be honored as well as her emma Rooth. Once this were done to her satisfaction and fired, it took Pyosz all of that Sju, with Thleen and Lawa, to arrange them properly on the great room wall. Maar took the rest of the family to visit Chwet with Ulcha, Frank and Chank.

On Shmonah, with everyone admiring the new art, Merrl managed to get her small fingers under the lip of the tile representing her and jerked at it, breaking it in half. Maar blew up at her, shocking Merrl into horrified silence, and Pyosz intervened, saying “I can redo it, honey, it won’t be that hard.” Merrl allowed herself to cry then, and Maar waved her off to Prl, saying “You’re in first grade, now, you need to start learning self-control.” Pyosz wondered what she might not have heard about at the Lofthall that week.

That night after the visitors were gone, Pyosz watched as she always loved to do when Halling segmented an orange for her great-grandchildren. Merrl, squirmy impatient on her lap, would on her own bite through the skin and then cry in outrage at the bitterness. But Halling forced her tangled, arthritic joints to carefully separate all pith from membrane, feeding crescents to the smacking child one by one. Pyosz knew when Halling was growing up, oranges had been a once-a-month treat, a sweet acidic globe whose smell on the fingers was savored for hours. She wanted to tell Merrl "Slow down and take this in", and then realized she meant much more than the fruit itself.

The year wore on, Prl and Neoma partnering in an extravagant ceremony where at the dance afterward, Thleen took turns sweeping Thont, Ziri, and Xoan around the floor with serene joy. Thava came to visit and was persuaded by Pava and Thont to move back to Pya, temporarily living with Vants until a Manage could be built for her on Teppe. Thont returned to residence with her mother and sibu, but Pava stayed in Vants’ Manage, claiming she was needed to care for Moasi.

Adon and Lark had their baby whom they named Adark. Jinya and Mlis’s new child was named Aza, and Raki bonded even more with Qux about the turmoil new babies cause in formerly agreeable households. Pyosz sometimes found Yoj at her desk crying quietly over some paragraph she had translated from the Hore journal. She once asked Yoj if she had located where Y-liz-a-bath had ended her account, wanting to know if there were final words from the dying woman.

“I think I can guess where she ran out of room, but I haven’t wanted to look at it yet” said Yoj. “One advantage of age, I’m willing to wait for things to unfold as they mean to.”

Ngus became a crawler who could cover territory at a startling clip but she showed no interest in standing and trying to walk, despite Maar’s earnest coaxing. She could express her needs well and there was always someone to carry her if needed. She slept well through the night; Pyosz was happy to keep the baby in with her and Maar.

Then came a month when it rained every single day, both in Skene and in Pya, often torrential downpours. Pyosz had an outbreak of hoof fungus among her goats and struggled to keep the barn floor dry. Sinning was being cancelled at the last minute sometimes twice a week, and construction projects all over Pya were stalled. Merrl was still jittery about boarding the ferry when the docks and ladders were slick, and Qala began meeting the children after school in Koldock each afternoon to escort the little ones. She reported her presence appeared to be putting some sort of wrinkle on dynamics between Thleen, Thont and Ziri, but she couldn’t make out what.

“Drama, it’s all manufactured drama at that age” said Prl dismissively.

“No more than some of the younger ones” replied Qala. “Ehall and Meamea are joined at the hip, and do all they can to get on Koben’s nerves.”

“We should be daily grateful the Heaps are in our midst” said Halling, a seeming nonsequiteur. When the other adults look at her, she explained “All these cousins spending years together in intimacy, but they can’t date or partner. I expect every one of those Kacang children will wind up with one of our family members. Prl’s green book will be heavily used in future generations to skirt the perils of Pea Pod inbreeding.”

Prl surprised Pyosz by laughing heartily. “You’re right, emma, we haven’t begun to see the drama that’s headed our way.”

The next day, Pyosz was just getting up from her nap with Ngus, making tea in the kitchen, when the radio buzzed. She answered hoping it was Maar, who had not been able to sin that morning but had gone out during the lunch hour because the skies were briefly clear and Pya seriously needed the fish. Instead, it was Qala.

“You need to get to the Lofthall” she said in a tone that made Pyosz go cold. “Bring Lawa.”

“What happened?” said Pyosz. Ngus stopped in mid crawl and sat back on one thigh to look at her.

“The children are all right” said Qala. Pyosz could hear Merrl crying, however, and she clearly wasn’t in Qala’s arms. Beyond that, somebody was keening, an adult. Qala said “Hurry” and clicked off.

As Pyosz scooped up Ngus and ran for the door, yelling for Lawa to follow, she realized the wailing voice in the background had been Mill.

(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.)

1 comment:

Blue said...

Oh NO. Write, Maggie, write like the wind!