Saturday, November 20, 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)

Med 591, school just out. Pyosz is 30.

It was Roku, and everyone had returned from Market. After eating reheated soup to go with spicy bean paste and cucumber sandwiches, the children had been poised to scatter until Yoj had said to Qala "It's perfect weather to gather rose petals and other flowers to make crystallized candy." Thus, the great room had remained full of smaller humans. The 5- and 2-year-old were beating relentlessly on the drums Frahe had given them, while Qux and Merrl were inventing a leaping dance to go with the percussion. Lawa was at the table trying to fabricate a new fishing fly from silk thread and baubles she had bought from a trinket stall. Nioma was bent over a chart with Prl, and Halling was slicing strawberries for a cobbler while Yoj did leg exercises.

When the radio buzzed, Pyosz set down her breadknife to answer it. She said "Oh, Maar, where are you? Where? Yes, we're done with lunch, have you eaten -- what? Ngus and Lawoj, STOP FOR A MINUTE, I can't hear. Maar, Thleen is busy making ricotta and I don't know if the baby is awake -- all right, I'll ask everyone -- okay, I'll tell them. Five minutes? All right, this better be good."

After clicking off, she noticed everyone was looking at her. "Maar says there's something spectacular we all have to see, she called it a once in a lifetime thing. She's on her way here in a sinner, says it cannot wait. We are all to put on wellies and take every camera we've got, will you round those up, Qux? Plus our binoculars."

"What is it?" Merrl demanded.

"A surprise, she wouldn't tell me. Run and get Thleen, repeat exactly what I've told you. If Su is at her cabin, tell her, too." Merrl bolted out the front door as Qux dove into the storage room under the stairs.

Thleen was in the cheesehouse which had been built next to the barn. On weekends her arrangement with Kolm was to use all of Saya's milk herself, making the four traditional varieties of djoste to age in the new cellar next to the barn, plus experiment with new flavors and textures. Kolm's retirement was now not so imminent with Thleen's energy and creativity giving a new interest to Pya cheeses.

Pyosz and Maar both worried about the sustainability of Thleen's energy. She was also taking a full course load at the Poly in the newly-created Department of Balance and Policy. Ziri was working toward the same degree, and they were of course, at 17 and 18 respectively, the youngest new emmas anywhere on Skene. Their baby Thiri was not quite one year of age. She was with her aggie Ziri at the moment, upstairs in the study.

Thleen and Ziri had opted to not partner, adding to the scandal of their teenaged pregnancy. They did share, with the baby, Thleen's small room uptairs. Thleen had moved her desk and dresser into the hall to make room for a double bed and the baby's things. But at least one night a week she spent the night with Thont on Teppe, an arrangement Ziri tolerated silently and one that Maar encouraged if that was what Thleen wanted. Ziri appeared to have become pregnant the night of Thleen's 16th birthday, and Maar was convinced the failure to observe precautions was more Ziri's fault than Thleen's. Qala was not so sure. However, all the families supported the arrival of Thiri and assisted the young emmas in continuing their life goals despite having a baby far too young.

And Thleen was incandescently happy as an emma. She tended to have Thiri attached to her every moment except during nursing or when making djoste. Thiri was dark and wiry like Ziri except for a dimple in her chin and a happy nature that Maar said was pure Thleen.

The Heaps had stopped at seven children, and Ziri's old (shared) room on Kacang was already claimed by sibs. Su still occupied the cabin on Saya, and with Maar's second baby Lawoj, now two, recently moved into a room with Ngus upstairs, every corner of Saya was likewise full of family. On sunny days the length of the island was strewn with elders, as Maar privately put it, and there were overlapping generations of children racketing about when school let out.

Halling and Lawa had been hit hard by Moasi's death. What roused Halling from her depression was Yoj's mild stroke and the need to rally her back from slurred speech and an impaired gait. Plus the babies, always a baby needing the lap of an elder to anchor them in their new world.

Now, Yoj reached for own cane as Prl asked Pyosz "How long is this outing with Maar going to be?"

"I simply don't know, emma. You can stay here if you want but I've never heard Maar that excited so I for one am not going to miss it." Pyosz bent to Ngus and said "Can you go get Ziri, quietly? If Thiri is sleeping, tell Ziri to bring her anyhow." Pyosz put away the bread, and after a moment Prl began packing a basket with rice balls, ikan, and a water bottle. Qala lined up wellies.

"What about my scooter?" said Halling.

"She said it couldn't be used where we're going. Come on, abba, I'll grab your crutches and help you to the jichang" said Pyosz. They were all waiting when Maar landed, Ziri refusing to transfer baby Thiri to Thleen, Yawoj on Prl's hip. Maar's cheeks were red as she opened the hatch, saying "Small children will have to ride on laps, I didn't have time to go get a bigger sinner. Hurry, I don't want them to leave before we get there."

"Who, emma?" Merrl kept demanding as she was buckled in with Qux. But Maar was in a frenzy of haste and didn't answer any questions until they were airborne again and Halling said in her Sheng Zhang voice "What's our heading?"

"Zhao Ze" said Maar. "But not a direct flyover, I'm skirting it to the south and coming in from the west, to keep from scaring them away."

Them? Zhao Ze was uninhabited and had no resident wildlife aside from shu, songbirds, and owls. Jiips had called Maar on her headset and Maar was answering questions about a recent haul. Pyosz tried to recall what she knew of Zhao Ze from her own scanty schooling on the topic and, more recently, helping Ngus with geography homework. It was a scrubby highlands along the western edge of Pya, with a natural lake that spilled down into a river which fed an extensive freshwater bog for its southern half. The northern half was also marshes but of the saltwater variety. Between the upland and the swamps was a wall of rock called Mocsara Sill. The only human structure on Zhao Ze was the small jichang between the lake and Mocsara Sill.

Maar banked as she went over Trumpinne and Ngus shouted "The carnival, we're going to the carnival!"

"No we're not" said Prl, quelling the contagion swiftly. Maar said over her shoulder "Better than the carnival", which stumped the children and made Pyosz stare at her.

Maar dropped the sinner precipitously as soon as they were over the western uplift of Zhao Ze, heading due east, and they were so close to the lake as they flew over it that a fine spritz of droplets blew against the windows. Ngus whispered loudly "Are we landing in the water", and Lawa answered "No" without complete certainty. Maar was staring ahead through the windshield, scanning the eastern sky, as they set down. She turned in her seat to face the cabin instead of releasing the hatch door immediately.

"There's something in the salt marsh that I've never seen before, something alive. I think it's a kind of bird. We have to walk to Mocsara Sill without making a sound -- I mean it, Merrl, not a single word or anything coming out your mouth, Since Halling and Yoj need to move the slowest, I want them to go first. Nan Yoj, will you please carry the camera and try to get photos right away? The rest of us, as we get within a meter of the Sill, I want you to drop down to your hands and knees and crawl, then peek very carefully over the lip. But no talking about what you see. If a baby cries, please bring them back here. When we all get back to the sinner, we can talk as much as you need."

Yoj's face was avid, and Halling took a pair of binoculars to drape around her neck. Pyosz said "These creatures, are they dangerous?"

Maar grinned. "I have no idea. But I'll take the mezi, we'll be fine. Though I won't use it unless there is no alternative. Okay, now we go into total silence." She opened the hatch and Thleen slid out first, turning to take Thiri from Ziri. They assembled on the jichang, the children miming incomprehensibly, and arranged in a rough double file facing Mocsara Sill.

Pyosz reluctantly handed Lawoj to Prl. Lawoj had been the smallest of all their babies, not quite nursing enough and prone to infections for the first year of her life. Maar had worried about her incessantly, and they all still coddled her, though she was now sturdy and red-cheeked. Until Thiri was born, Thleen had behaved as if Lawoj had been aggied from her directly. She remained short for her age, with black-and-mocha beauty reminiscent of Qux and Yoj.

Pyosz needed her hands free, however, to keep an iron grip on Merrl, whose strength at age 7 often pushed at Pyosz's limits. She motioned Su to follow Yoj and Halling, holding Qux's hand. Next were Qala and Lawa, then Pyosz with Merrl between her and Maar, then Prl with Lawoj and Nioma, and last Thleen with Thiri tucked against her, Ziri beside.

Yoj and Halling did their best to creep up on the Sill, carefully setting cane and crutch where there was no scrape of metal against the pebbly soil. They each rested a bent torso on the lichen-covered rock, backs stiffened by what they were seeing, and after a nudge from Halling, Yoj lifted her camera to start taking photographs. Despite Merrl's gusty mouth-breathing, Pyosz could hear the sharp clicks of the shutter and saw Maar wince.

She pulled Merrl to a side where the Sill dipped down and the 7-year-old could see into the lower island without a climb or lift. Merrl's hand went limp as they gazed into the salt marsh, and Pyosz gripped it tight, willing her to stay close.

If what waded below them were birds, they were as tall as adult human beings.

They were slender, with buff-colored horizontal bodies extending downward into twiggy long black legs and upward in a crazily thin neck that crochet-hooked into a head with a shears-like beak. It did look like they were clad in feathers, except for legs and beak, and those atop their head were a rusty red. Their knees back backward, like birds, and one wading foot lifted from the marsh to take a step revealed four toes, three front and one back, in a murky yellow.

Pyosz reminded herself to breathe as her artist's eye devoured line and shade, memorizing them to be endlessly recreated later. Their elegance was profound, and when one beak stabbed downward to come back up with a fish, Pyosz felt a thrill of terror at the sudden rapidity of that thrust.

All of the children were gaping but silent, and in fact it looked like Prl was having the hardest time not commenting. Yoj filled the camera's memory card and Pyosz mutely passed her a second. Thiri appeared to have dropped off again, lulled by her family's prolonged stillness. Pyosz was sure she had seen something like this before, but in Yoj's bestiary, not on Skene.

Where had they come from?

One of the alien things approached another and they both pointed their beaks to the sky, with a sharp cry which echoed against the Sill. Pyosz edged herself halfway behind Merrl and looked around to check on the little ones. When she looked back, bent wings were emerging from a lozenge body, buffy wings rimmed in red, and as they flapped twice, the creature leaped languidly into the air, settling back with the grace of a dancer. Pyosz couldn't quite muffle her gasp.

One of the beings nearest them turned and looked directly their way, with the tilt and rock some birds used to locate. Pyosz froze -- everyone did. The observor watched a minute, then resumed wading and nibbling at water greenery. They were too far away to be deemed a risk, apparently.

After another quarter hour of watching, Lawoj whispered "I gotta go privy." Qala walked her to the far side of the jichang, Merrl watching them restlessly. When they returned, Yoj leaned down to Qux beside her and breathed something in her ear. Qux looked at her wide-eyed, then turned to pass on the message to Su. It reached Pyozz via Ziri, Merrl already tugged at her hand impatiently. Pyosz heard "Habibi says it is called a kray-en, and it migrates from one place to another."

She repeated it twice to Merrl, her mind racing, and she watched Maar's face as Merrl transmitted it moistly into Maar's ear. Their eyes talked to each other: There are two places on Skene we don't know about, where it's coming from and where it's heading.

They watched the visitors feed another half hour, until Merrl, Lawoj and Su had wandered away to play not-quiet-silent tag in the edge of the western cliffs. Pyosz and Maar flanked Halling and Yoj, helping them back to the sinner. Pyosz pulled the harness over her and Lawoj as Thiri began crying and Prl handed out snacks inside the sinner. Maar faced them and said "Well?"

"I filled three memory cards" said Yoj. "With close-ups of every inch of them."

"You're certain about that identification?" asked Nioma, and Yoj nodded. Nioma breathed out and said "I almost don't want to tell anybody."

"Where do they live, abba?" asked Thleen, cradling Thiri's head lightly while Ziri nursed her.

"That is the question of the millenium" answered Yoj. Halling kissed her shoulder lightly.

"When I'm a pilot, I'll go find them" said Qux confidently. "Me and Raki." Pyosz saw Prl wince.

Pyosz glanced at the clock. "We could stop in Koldok and get the pictures developed."

"Can we have dinner at the canteen?" asked Merrl, mindful of the array of desserts always there.

Maar said "Sure, I need to tell Mill anyhow. But just for the meal, then home to Saya."

"Home to Saya" repeated Pyosz as Maar started the engine.

© 2010 Maggie Jochild.

1 comment:

Margot said...

Oh, Maggie. I'm going to miss this so much!