Tuesday, October 5, 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)


Thleen was standing on the Koldok wharf as the ferry approached, her face tragic. But not broken thought Pyosz, scrabbling for hope. And once they were in range, Thleen called out "It's not Maar."

"Where is Maar?"

"Out there." Thleen bent to take Ngus who repeated "Mar, Mar, Mar!" happily. They loped toward the Lofthall, Lawa and Pyosz running after her.

Yoj and Halling were inside the doorway, weeping on each other's shoulders. Uli and Udek were nearby, looking distraught, and Pyosz had a second of distraction from fearing for Maar to think of Dekkan. Jiips appeared to be running both radios. Mill was pounding on a wall, moaning, and Oby was slumped over a desk.

No sign of Qala or the other children. Prl appeared from the hall and came to wrap her in a hug, whispering "It's Abbo. She's dead. So is another pilot, although we don't know yet who it is, except not Maar -- she's rescued one from the levis, is on the radio looking for others."

The door opened again, and in came Api, Ollow, Ngall, and Ehuy carrying Vlapi. Pyosz could tell by their faces they didn't know the worst. She started for them, but Oby had looked up and cried out "Emma! Emma, my baby is dead!"

Prl whispered to Pyosz "This is chaos, it shouldn't be running the Lofthall." But who could interrupt Mill and Oby? Prl went to murmur with her emmas, and after a minute, Halling blew her nose on her scarf, dropped it on the floor, and moved her scooter next to Jiips. She took one of the radios and Pyosz heard her say "Sinner Maar, please assign quadrants to the other pilots reaching your position."

There was a rumble outside, and Uli pulled her emma to her feet so they could rush to the jichang. Pyosz followed, discovering Qala, Merrl and Qux outside with Briel and a stretcher crew from the hospital. A figure in a harness was being lowered, and Uli reached it at the same time as Briel. The look she turned to give Udek told Pyosz it was Dekkan.

Dekkan motionless, with one arm bent at an impossible angle, a bloodied chest, a horrific wound to her head and both legs of her kalsongers scorched away beneath the knees. Briel got her safely on the stretcher and covered before they sprinted away with her down the street, Uli at their side. Udek followed more slowly, and Pyosz thought about going with them, but she couldn't tear herself away from the Lofthall yet. Merrl had crawled into her arms, and Qux was holding her hand tightly.

Qala went to the landing sinner and opened the hatch from the outside. It was Juny who slid out, her cap missing, her eyes wild. "I need to get back but I have to report in first, Maar needs us." She thundered past Pyosz and Qala rejoined them.

"What happened, abba?" Pyosz said urgently.

Qala glanced at Qux's drawn face. "I only have pieces. Something went wrong with the afternoon sinning -- they had to cancel this morning's, you know. It must have been a lev attack, what else? Maar somehow didn't get pulled in, it was Abbo went under, and then they were trying to hook her harness, she was in the water, and -- I think more levs leaped, knocked at least two other craft from the air. Dekkan was one, somehow they got her back out of the chop. But the other pilot -- I don't know who it is, either one of the sinners or the lighter support."

"Not emma?" asked Qux.

"Not emma" said Pyosz vehemently, bending to swing Qux to her other hip with an exhalation of effort. "Emma is out there trying to save her pilots."

"Abbo?" asked Merrl, her face tear-stained.

"Abbo and another" said Qala, taking Merrl back from Pyosz. "Let's go inside now, see what's coming over the radio."

Mill, Oby, Api, Ollow and Ngall had gone into Mill's office where the door was not quite shut, but grief was no longer dominating the sounds of the Lofthall. Juny left again. Jiips was issuing a brief public broadcast about Dekkan's safe arrival in Koldok, which they hoped would any moment reach Licoro out in the sugar fields.

Neoma had arrived and was holding Ngus, who was playing cheerfully with her beads. Prl said "I used the radio in the bunk area and called Vants, she's taking the afternoon milking. She's calling Herne in case they haven't heard."

"Emma, are they certain about Abbo?"

Prl glanced at Qux before answering "Yes. Yoj said there was -- a visual. Plus the radio was on."

And Mill heard it? Maar witnessed it? Oh no, no, no. Pyosz tried to hand Qux to Prl, but Qux clung to her. She said, "Darling first-born, I want to go sit next to abba and listen to the radio, why don't you go play outside?"

"No, I go with you." Pyosz squeezed her as they settled in a chair. Pyosz was sure Halling must be using her clear, cool authority to help Maar coordinate her efforts. At the moment, as second in command, Maar was effectively running the Lofthall but everyone was out there over the deeps. She heard Halling say "40 meters, reminder, 40 meters is the current safe zone unless you are in active diversion or rescue dive."

Halling said aside to Jiips "How did Maar arrive at that number, just add 5 on to the height reached by the one who got Fohol?"

Fohol? Pyosz clamped her mouth tightly shut against the sudden urge to be sick.

"Likely" said Jiips. "Most of what's clustered below are the giants, but it was a young adult who downed Dekkan."

"Has anybody besides Dekkan been able to use a mezi ray?"

Jiips looked at Halling with a moment of shared fury. "Maar. She's firing at anything she can, all the babies and juvies have been taken deep. Her ray charge keeps depleting and she has to rejuice from her own batteries. We sent out all the rest we have with the second wave, but Maar hasn't given an order for general attack, she's just doing it herself. Do you want to..."

"No, they know the general criteria and let's keep them from creating crossfire. Maar knows what she's doing." Halling's tone expressed a confidence Pyosz didn't share. She knew without having talked to Maar that she was bent on revenge, in one of her rare red hazes where injustice could override her reasoning.

Ngall emerged from the office at that moment and asked Halling "Abba, is there any new -- they want to know if -- "

Halling held up a finger and flicked the mic button. "Sinner Maar, requesting update on sign of survivors." Qux's arm around Pyosz's neck went tense with any utterance of Maar's name. Pyosz looked around -- Merrl and Ngus had gone outside with Ehall, Vlapi, and Neoma. Prl, Qala, Lawa and Yoj were in deep conferral, and Pyosz realized Thleen was now right behind her. And Ziri. All of school was out, then.

Halling had left the mic open, and suddenly there was Maar's strong voice washing over them. "All right, everyone assigned a southern or western quadrant, shift over 200 meters and cover that new grid in the same pattern. Everyone to the north or east, shift only 50 yards. Stay out of each other's way, you are all on visual contact primary."

Jiips pointed to the map in front of them. "She's following the current, in hopes something bobs back up."

"Has it?" asked Pyosz quietly. Halling regarded her bleakly and shook her head. Jiips said "It would be another 11 hours or so before debris would maybe wash up on the far side of Nec, maybe Tetama. If it bypasses the volcano zone."

Halling worded a message and said "Will you send that to the foresters and other work crews on those two islands? Any flotsam at all would mean a great deal, but I don't want beachcombers for the macabre out there."

"I know who to ask" said Jiips, slipping her headphones back on. Maar suddenly shouted "Stay clear around me in three, two, one!" They heard a staticky sound in two bursts, then Maar said "I couldn't see from the flash in here, did I get it or did the shitter dive?"

Kuus's voice said "You connected with the blue spot and it was thrashing before it went under." A loud cheer from several throats came over the air. Qux's liquid eyes were huge as she looked at Pyosz, her fist clenched around Pyosz's neck. Before Pyosz could think of what to say, Thleen leaned to Qux's ear and murmured "Maar just killed a lev, maybe the one who ate S'bemma Abbo." The satisfaction in her voice made Qux grin uncertainly.

Halling said into the mic "Sinner Maar, your family, all of Saya is here listening."

After a couple of seconds, Maar said something which was overridden by another transmission. Pyosz made out "love" and "maybe metal." Maar said sharply "Where again, Kuus?"

Kuus read some numbers and Halling's long twisted forefinger jabbed at it on the map as she exchanged a look with Jiips. "Maar, that's within a main current" Jiips said. In a whisper to Halling, she said "We need someone who can read the trajectory better, I know Uli wants to be with Dekkan but -- "

Halling looked around at Pyosz. "Go get Uli. Unless Dekkan is not making it." Thleen took Qux from her and Pyosz broke into a run, suddenly wild to move her body.

Dekkan was in surgery for a fractured skull and a punctured lung, and Uli was standing between her emmas, holding Ulodd. Nevertheless, she handed the baby to Qoj who said "I'll come as soon as there's any word at all. She'd want you to help." As they jogged back, Uli said "The best they can hope for is a body, or part of one."

"That would be a gift" said Pyosz. In the Lofthall, Mill and Oby were back in the main office at the maps table. Mill pulled Uli beside her and said "Abbo was the best swimmer on Pya, what if she went under and struck out into the main stream, used its velocity to evade them?" Pyosz felt sick to her stomach again.

The "glint of metal" turned out to be an old, slick piece of wood. Dodd arrived and sat or stood in constant contact with Mill, and after a while, it was obvious Mill was leaning on Dodd in a physical sense. Neoma and Lawa took home all the children except Thleen. An hour later, when Mill laid her head on the map and began crying again, Yoj suggested Prl take Thleen home as well. Ziri and Thont had already been sent home, and Herne Island had come and gone.

"No, abba, not until siba -- " began Thleen. Pyosz took her face in her hands and said "I'm staying. I'll make sure she gets back okay. Nobody's taking any risks right now, and she will need us much worse later. I promise I'll call."

Yoj brought in a tray and fed Halling herself. Api was lying down in Mill's office, and Ngall did her best to get them all to take something besides tea, to no avail. Uli got a call from Qoj who said the lung was repaired and Dekkan's signs were all strong, she'd check back when Mruch finished the second surgery. Pyosz brought a tray for Uli and Dodd, a welcome diversion because Uli had exhausted currents to follow.

It was long dark when Briel called to say Dekkan was waking up from surgery and all looked well. Dodd told Uli she could leave, ignoring the desperate look Mill gave her, and Uli hurried out.

Halling had called in over half the search craft, citing loss of charge and the danger of crew exhaustion. Maar's voice was now hoarse but she kept repeating grids with Juny and Kuus. Pyosz finally put her hand in Halling's arm and said "She won't stop on her own. She can't."

"No" said Mill from across the room, "No, if anybody can find them it will be Maar." She rose from her seat, her fists clenched.

"If anybody could find them -- " began Yoj, her voice breaking so that she was unable to continue.

"No, I won't give up on her, she needs me, I'm her aggie!" wailed Mill.

"Abba" Pyosz said softly. "Call her in. She's not okay out there any more."

Halling looked utterly spent. She exchanged a glance with Yoj before saying to Jiips "Which of the pilots who've come in already are likely to be freshest? Someone needs to fly the Arta Island folks home."

Jiips stood and walked back to the canteen, returning in a couple of minutes with a silent kelp sinner. Yoj said "I should go with them, but I'm worried about you."

Halling said "Someone needs to be here with Jiips, it'll be an all-nighter, we'll have to spell each other. I'll sleep on the cot, I promise."

Dodd was easing Mill to her feet. Ngall said "I'll help habibi to the sinner" and went for Api. Mill came to hug Halling, plucking at her collar, and said "Call me when you know anything. Call me anyhow."

"I will. We'll get through this, Sheng Zhang" Halling said, cupping Mill's chin in her hand. Dodd said to Pyosz "Tell Briel where I am, ask if she could maybe come with something to help them sleep."

Pyosz nodded. Once the office had cleared, Halling picked up the mic. "Maar, you are recalled to the Lofthall."

"It's not time to throw in the towel yet, Halling, I have another hour of floodlight juice -- "

"Sinner Maar, I am speaking as the Sheng Zhang. And Abbo's grieving abba. You and your pilots must rest. You are to return to the Lofthall immediately for meeting with me, do you register?"

Several seconds passed. Juny and Kuus said in near unison "Got that, Sheng Zhang." Halling rubbed the joint of one thumb with her other thumb, waiting. Finally Maar's voice, low and flat, said "On my way."

Halling said to Pyosz "Her adrenaline may give out before she gets here, but she's impeccably trained. You should meet her outside, in a pool of light where she can see you."

"Thank you" whispered Pyosz. She went to another desk to radio Briel, then called home. "Qala, Maar is on her way back, I'll get her home as soon as I can, but Halling is staying here. I need to look after Maar, should I ask emma or Thleen to come spend the night with Halling?"

"I'll do it" said Qala. "Don't argue, we know how to sit vigil together. See you soon."

Pyosz kissed the top of Halling's head and whispered "Qala's on her way" before walking out the back door. She had to pass Abbo's bunk corner on the way, and for the first time, she felt the actual loss of her cousin personally, instead of everyone else's shock. And Fohol. She leaned against the lamppost and let herself weep as Juny, then Kuus landed slowly. They came to stand with their arms around her and each other, giving themselves up to what it meant to see the two empty spots on the jichang.

They pulled Maar into their midst when she arrived, and she pounded on Pyosz's back, throwing back her head to wail to the stars. "It's too much!" she choked out. "It's too much to ask of us!" Pyosz agreed, but knew facing too much was something Skeners were raised to do.

They had some raw relief by the time they trudged inside, Maar looking away from the area where she had lived so many years in intimacy with Abbo. Halling stood with obvious pain as they entered the office and gave them the pilot's salute, before coming to hug them each with whispered thanks. The other pilots was gotten up and filed into the office, claiming chairs once the sinners were seated. Pyosz turned her chair sideways so she could put both legs as well as her arms around Maar. A canteen worker carried in a loaded tray, and Maar let Pyosz feed her stew.

Qala arrived and came to kiss each of Maar's cheeks, saying "Those are from Thleen and your children, who are sleeping all together in Thleen's room tonight." She then went to repeat the cheek-kissing for Kuus and Juny, whispering "Carynn bye." Halling had accepted stew for herself, which Pyosz was glad to see. They ate in silence. Slowly Maar's shoulders stopped being hunched toward her ears, though a deep furrow remained in her brow. Pyosz gave them the update about Dekkan.

Halling moved on to gingerbread which she dipped into milky tea. Maar took her mug between her hands and simply held it. Pyosz could still feel the chill on Maar's skin. After one sip, Maar said wearily "Abba...I mean, Sheng Zhang."

"Talk to me as your abba for now" said Halling gently. Juny glanced at Kuus.

"What do you need to hear from me? From us?" asked Maar.

Halling said "Let's begin with what you need to tell. What should come out of you before you try to sleep. And, if you want, what you might not want to say to Mill."

There was a small rustle in the room.

Maar said "I don't know...Jiips, was the Sheng Zhang on the radio for all of it?"

Jiips nodded, her lips tight. "We were looking over the schedule and had the mic on speaker between us."

Maar looked resigned. "I can't figure how to word the report so it -- I don't want Abbo to be maligned."

"I'll handle the wording" said Halling. Maar met her eyes, then nodded.

"Short version is, she didn't release. Dekkan spotted the lev on radar before I did but I saw it, too, as -- Anyhow, I ordered release and Juny complied, but then Abbo began arguing that it was the only sin we could make today and we're already behind..." Maar closed her eyes briefly. "I yelled at her and then, I'm so sorry, Halling, I released my own grapple. I saw that Fohol had, too, so I thought the abrupt jerk of all that weight would be good for Abbo, remind her why we have a leader and a process to follow. Only..."

Maar handed her mug to Pyosz and rubbed her temples. "Only she still didn't release. I heard her say something like 'You don't scare me, you sh -- ', well, she called me a name, and then Fohol was yelling at her to release too, but she was at 20 meters by that time and that big one leaped from inside the levvin' net, grabbing Abbo's landing strut on the right, and suddenly the whole thing was plummeting down. She screamed, I remember that, and she got out right before it hit. Her chute didn't open and she hit the water hard, but she was afloat and there was enough to hook her. Her mic was out but she was looking up at me and I could tell she was yelling."

For help, thought Pyosz.

"And that giant one was right beside her, not moving, as the net sank and took her sinner down with it. At first I thought maybe it was injured, you know? Fohol was at the best approach angle so I told her to do the hook and I began shifting so I could follow up in case the missed, and Dekkan was at the side with the mezi, but she was staying at 35 meters because all of a sudden, abba, the water was thick with them, rising up as far as I could see." Maar looked at Halling with a mix of misery and terror. "I told Dekkan if she had the shot to take it, and then -- it all happened so fast -- that giant one leaped at an angle right at Fohol as she came in, it just plucked her from the air, seemed like. And they -- Fohol's sinner and the lev, they landed right on top of Abbo. I never heard a sound from Fohol, did you, Juny?"

Juny shook her head, her eyes closed.

"The sinner just vanished with the lev on top of it, and nothing came back up, not even bubbles." Maar's voice was disbelieving. "And at that same moment, another lev spiraled up past 35, abba, and grabbed Dekkan's lighter. I heard her yell 'Ejecting' and she made it out but landed bad, and a tip of her own wing landed across her -- her clothes caught on fire even as she was floating in water. But Juny was at the perfect angle, and she made it look easy, she snagged Dekkan right out of there, streaking away with those shitters snapping at her like crabs, I saw at least four of them try for Dekkan swinging out behind her before Juny got out of range."

Everyone had turned to look at Juny, who had pulled off the only rescue. Kuus put her arm over Juny's shoulders.

"Jiips said help was on its way, but then it was just me there for however long it was" said Maar. A few minutes earlier, a crew of five sinning, and suddenly Maar was alone. "I stayed where I could see the spot where they'd gone down, and I climbed to 40 meters, I had my hook ready, but I also -- I began firing the mezi. And it was like they didn't care, they were trying so hard to get me. They kept trying until the others arrived, and I went up to 45, just to be sure, but they weren't clearing 40."

Maar looked down at her hands. "I'd done nothing, abba, I hadn't been able to save either of them, and they were utterly gone. So, I did what I could."

"How many did you get?" asked Halling.

"Counting that last one, five" said Maar.

"I got two after I was there" said Kuus.

"One for me" said Juny. That was all the mezi rays available, the rest had gone down with sinners.

"Eight. All adults?" asked Halling.

"No" said Maar without elucidation.

"But they still kept leaping?"

"Only adults in view after I flew to the margin and killed a baby" said Maar. Her voice was thick.

The following silence was prolonged. Halling broke it by saying "Well, I don't know what I would have done differently that any of you, knowing what we did going in. We know more now and will have to rethink things after we've rested and talked. The orders have already gone in for two more sinners and a lighter, the factory here says it will be at least 10 days to fill the request. In the meantime, we're seriously short-handed and in mourning. So go sleep -- not talk, sleep. We'll all have a chance to converse in the morning, when the Sheng Zhang returns. I'm proud of you, proud to be part of this extraordinary sibaste. None better."

The pilots all came to her for handshakes and hugs before shuffling to the bunks. Maar said "Are you calling Skene now?"

"Yes. Pya's going on high alert and so should they. But you go home" said Halling. "No sinning in the morning."

Maar stumbled on a ladder rung down to the ferry and Pyosz pushed in behind her. At the Manage, Prl, Neoma, Su and Lawa were still up. Maar hugged them but begged off even tea. She allowed Pyosz to sluice her off in the tub and, once wrapped in robes, they cracked the door to Thleen's room.

Ngus was tucked into Thleen's side, both of them sleeping open-mouthed, Ngus's hair a pastel version of Thleen's. Merrl and Qux, on the trundle, were at an acute angle though parallel, Qux's forehead off the side of the bed. Pyosz went to trying moving them without waking them, while Maar kissed Thleen and Ngus gently.

Thleen woke up instantly, grabbing Maar in a hug. She whispered "Wake me up for breakfast with you, okay?"

"I need to go eat with my sibaste in the morning" said Maar.

"Then take me with you, please."

Maar nodded and said "Off to school afterward."

When she lay down with Pyosz, she said "I caused this. I shouldn't have released when I did."

Pyosz said "If you hadn't, you'd be dead now, too, what good would that have done? You can't take this on, Maar."

But Maar didn't answer. After a few minutes, Pyosz could tell she was asleep. She hoped it would last all night as she began silently reciting her goats' names, to keep from thinking about Abbo and Fohol.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


C. Diva said...

but it's just people fishing! Not even World's Deadliest Catch involves lasers for pity's sake.

Margot said...

Poor Abbo. She was always destined to be lev-fodder. I can't remember how old she was... late twenties?

She was a pain in the neck, but I understand why she behaved as she did. To be always measured against more brilliant, responsible, community-focused family members, and always found wanting (even if only in her own mind) must have driven her to extreme behaviour. Much in the way stereotyped peoples embrace and exaggerate the stereotype in a kind of perverse rebellion. "You think I'm like this? I'll SHOW you how!"

Blue said...

I loved Abbo. This sucks. In a great, novel-y way.

Abbo was younger than Pyosz, I think, but I've lost track of how old Pyosz is at this point. Mid 20s?

Maggie Jochild said...

Pyosz is a year older than Maar and two years older than Abbo. Pyosz was 20 when she came to Pya, it took her and Maar a year to get together and two more years before they had Qux. Qux is two years older than Merrl, who in turn is around two years older than Ngus, now about a year. So Merrl is 3, Qux is 5, making Pyosz 28, Maar 27, and Abbo 26.

Moving to the New World was Mill's way of staking out territory separate from Halling but also from the family and Skene. She encouraged and rewarded rebellion in Abbo as a continuation of her own need for space and approval, not seeing how untethered it left Abbo. Of those five kids raised in Cao Manage, the two who most identified with Yoj (and Qen) have become the most successful emmas. I know that's biased on my part but I am The Author.

Human beings began as small primates existing in a terrain with large carnivores, and even the herbivores they learned to hunt were usually dangerous. Being removed from that balance has made us arrogant, and we have not always used our extra or leisure in smart ways. Skene threw very modern folks back into an ancient paradigm and offered a chance to do a better job this time around. Depending on your value system, they have or have not succeeded.