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)
These days when Thleen sat in an adult's lap, she had to drape her legs over the chair arm or find other ways to fit. Maar was glad to see Thleen not slowing down in her quest for contact, however, despite getting older. She thought Pyosz was a good example in this area. She was especially moved by the sight of Pyosz cuddling with her emma, trying to shrink her own height and breadth so she could fit under compact Prl's arm and be comforted one does a toddler.
Maar thought she wouldn't have the desperate memories that still surfaced, especially during sleep, if she had been held enough as a child.
Thleen was now sprawled across Qala's lap, using one arm to anchor herself with a tight grip on the back of the chair. During a break between songs, Thleen used her other hand to lightly stroke the protrusion in Qala's throat, what on Skene was called a grief bump. Only about one out of every nine or ten adults developed these. Turning her face sideways to peer at it, Thleen asked "Does this hurt?"
"No" said Qala. "It's not called a grief bump because we have more grief,"
"No, I mean, when it grows in and starts poking out" said Thleen. Maar listened closely, because she had wondered that herself.
"No" returned Qala. "But when my voice began changing at the same time, I had to change how I sang and I didn't like that."
"What was your voice before?" asked Thleen.
"A lot like yours" said Qala. "I remember that" offered Yoj. Qala grinned at her in a way that made Lawa shift in her seat.
"Why are they called grief bumps, then?" asked Thleen, fingering her own throat. Qala raised her eyebrows at Yoj, who cleared her throat and said "It's a term that began during The Troubles. One historian insisted it was people symbolizing the emotional rupture they felt at losing their original home." She stopped for a few seconds, and Prl prodded "But you don't think that?"
"Well...the first recorded instance is in the writings of Pearl Goldfarb, who was not only the first Genist but also a leader in several areas. She wrote a lot of law, and later was active in collecting memoir for preservation. She went through decades of being angry about a number of things. Her partner died during The Troubles as a result of deprivation caused by, well, folks at the Lofthall." She touched Halling's hand gently. "Pearl gave birth to six children but only four lived to adulthood, again because of hardship, and a third died as a young adult trying to sin. And she herself was...brutalized...during the skirmishes that occurred."
Thleen's eyes were bright with interest but Yoj hurried on to circumvent the obvious question. "So this was later in her life, when she was writing in her journal about the changes she'd lived through, and she was talking about Xs and Ys. She was remarking about more systemic shift, but she used the metaphor of saying she hoped we'd keep growing toward a time when we could afford to expose our necks, now that grief bumps were not such a weapon. She used both terms for it, grief bump and the old phrase, which was an apple named after some mythical woman on their world."
Thleen's eyes were wide. Pyosz could tell Merrl was almost asleep in her arms. She looked around at Maar and saw Qux was also listening intently, but with her usual easy smile. She decided not to distract as Thleen asked "Weapon? How could a grief bump be a weapon?"
"It wasn't, not literally" said Yoj gently. "What she meant is that the women who had grief bumps -- the only women who did -- were also responsible for the violence and damage of The Troubles."
When Thleen was thinking hard, Pyosz imagined she could hear a mechanical whir coming from her braincase. Thleen sucked her lower lip briefly before saying "Ys, you mean."
"Yep" said Qala, slipping her arm a little tighter around Thleen's waist. "Different world then. I've tried really hard to understand why they went crazy, those Ys, and the only thing I can come up with is that they were infected with something from the original planet."
"That's as good an explanation as any" said Yoj. "An infection of the spirit, not the blood. And we've scrubbed it clean on Skene. We're all descended from Pearl Goldfarb, and her partner who was a Y. A Y who did not go crazy."
"What was her name?" asked Thleen.
"Kenneth Yamamoto" said Yoj and Pyosz in unison. Thleen began trying to pronouce the unfamiliar quantity of syllables with the strange accent Yoj had used, and Qux joined her, turning it into a game.
That night in bed, Maar said to Pyosz "Yoj said we were all descended from that original Prl. Was that just her kindly including Thleen, or..."
"No, she's right" said Pyosz with authority. Over the last few months, Pyosz had borrowed the photographs Yoj and Thleen once made of her family's lineage portraits painted on the wall of the Riesig Manage decades ago by Bux when she was wandmaler. Pyosz had traced Maar's lineage as well and begun making sketches for a combined family tree. She was transferring these as carvings into wet clay which she painted and fired onto large octagonal tiles, one per ancestor. She thought it might take her years to finish. She had started with Pearl Goldfarb.
She had also been reading the portions of Pearl's journals which Yoj had so far translated into modern Skenish. They were a mix of observation and strategy larded with grief that felt oddly familiar to her, as if Pearl had been a recent habibi instead of from the mists of time. And anger, Yoj was very right about the anger Pearl had carried. But with all she lost, I'd live in rage too thought Pyosz. She lay her head on Maar's shoulder and breathed in her smell.
Maar kissed her forehead and whispered "Listen, I didn't get a chance to tell you this evening away from little ears..." Her tone of voice seemed to slow Pyosz's blood. Pyosz pulled back to see Maar's face, at least the outline of it in the dark room. It was a flirting moon tonight.
"On the haul this afternoon from Uscat, a levi lunged at me and came...close." Maar herself was straining to see the expression on Pyosz's face. "I'd be counting my luck except, see, I take the deep water radar on that particular run, and when I came in for pick-up earlier, I'd spotted at least two big ones down in the channel. Those of us carrying a full load of rock have gotten into the habit of going the island's length, north or south, to build ascent before hitting water. But the two I saw were sitting at those compass points, one each, like they were waiting. I think they've figured out our routine."
She felt a tremor in Pyosz's body and paused to kiss her forehead. "So, I activated radar as soon as I was in the air again, but that wasn't going to buy me enough time. I just went with my gut and headed due east, in a direct line over the ferry cable. Nobody was using it at that moment, I made sure. And I kept my eyes glued to the blip screen. I think it was yet another one, Pyosz, not the two I'd already seen. It was in the hole south of the ferry route beyond the pylon, closer to Dvareka. It came up so fast it clipped the cable, that's that saved me -- the fact that I put that cable between me and the deep. That lunge tore the pylon loose, ripped out the front posts of the Dvareka-side wharf, and inflicted bleeding damage on the lev. I nearly pissed myself, I really did."
Pyosz was definitely shaking now, her soles curled into the tops of Maar's feet, her arms tight around her waist.
"Why didn't you tell me earlier? Is that why you were late for dinner, you and Halling?" whispered Pyosz hoarsely.
"Yeah, we met at the Lofthall with Mill, Oby, and whatever pilots were around" said Maar. "Mill was calling Danaan when we left. We need to keep this low-key for Thleen's sake. It'll be all over Pya tomorrow, with the Uscat ferry out of commission for who knows how long. We all agreed to shift changes so essential ferry routes without morrie vaseo can be monitored by a lighter with a mezi ray. And Mill wants to bring back lighters flying pattern to music, like Halling did at the start of her career. They'll train a couple or three lighters with some old songs, a set they can pick from to use in emergencies but also every time there's a haul from Uscat. We need to reassure Thleen that the threat has been addressed."
"But it hasn't, has it?" said Pyosz. "Was this one of the giant elders who went for you?"
"Yes" said Maar. "And I'm not sure they'll be distracted by lighters. A mezi ray directly overhead has worked in the past. But..."
"What has changed?" asked Pyosz, her voice a little desperate.
"We don't know. Maybe it's just the easy temptation of that run. Or -- don't think I'm crazy, but I secretly wonder if they know it's me, Pyosz. Maybe they're after me in particular, because I'm a mezi wielder, I'm head sinner, and I've driven their young from the Pea Pods twice now." Maar realized she was shaking, too.
"You think they're tracking you? What did abba say?"
"I didn't tell her yet, Pyosz. I don't want her or Mill to think I'm crazy. But saying it out loud to you, I realize it's not crazy. I'll talk with them about it tomorrow. We're not done strategizing."
Pyosz wondered if Maar was holding back anything from her. "Why don't they switching stone excavation to Shu, there's a lot more rock there and it's a safe haul from its high jichang?"
"We need the marble on Uscat right now" said Maar almost apologetically, sounding a lot like Mill, Pyosz thought. Pertama was building a new municipal building for all of Pya, which was mostly offices but in the center was a hearing room being trimmed out in marble. Jinya had been commissioned to carve a relief of a repeating balance symbol over the dais, the facing waves whose force would cancel each other out. Pyosz thought the green Uscat marble would be especially beautiful in this rendering.
"But, Pyosz, we are changing the haul schedule to a random one, so the levs can't plan ahead. That was Oby's suggestion. Which makes me wonder how much she believes we're being tracked as well."
Pyosz turned to click on the lamp. "You do the scheduling with Oby, yes? Then take yourself out of the rotation for the Uscat runs" she told Maar.
"Haven't you been listening? They need me more than ever, with the ferry out and the pylon having to be replaced, and the increased guard flights, and scrambling to find a new huolon pilot -- my experience and skills can't be spared right now." The furrow was etched deep in Maar's brow.
A second newbie pilot who had been paired with Abbo for the huolon flights was now insisting on being transferred to Pya-side shifts only. The one who had been transferred two years ago had claimed family obligations, but this recent one had been blunt in stating she was tired of either having to take the first half of the shift or face taking over to being off course and chronically late. Maar had heard her complaining in the canteen about Abbo's advances, despite their being a month out of sui. Maar confided to Owl Manage that Mill had privately asked her if she'd resume the huolon runs once Merrl was weaned, at least once a month. As Pyosz and Prl bristled to object in an identical manner, Maar had swiftly added "I told her my family obligations would not lessen with weaning. So we'll keep tapping youngsters fresh from training to be Abbo's partner, and those youngsters will want more as soon as they gain experience."
Now Pyosz flared again, saying "When will it stop being part of your job to make up for Abbo's shortcomings?"
"Don't make this about Abbo. I'm needed in ways few pilots here are. I have responsibility commensurate with my abilities, pure and simple, and if I am to become Sheng Zhang, I need the path I'm on. And I do want to be Sheng Zhang, Pyosz. If I didn't, I'd consider trading careers altogether."
"Well. maybe it's time you consider it, then, because you have two more babies now and your responsibility here should take precedence over other ambition! I won't be like Pearl Goldfarb, I won't watch you die and spend the rest of my decades in grief, if you allow yourself to get hunted down by levs I'll find myself a new partner who puts me and our children first." Pyosz swung her legs to the side to stand, catapulting Curds to the floor with a yowl, and slammed out of the room toward the privy.
She sat for a minute in the dark after wiping, trying to slow down her breathing. Fragments from Pearl's journals kept popping up in her brain, places where Yoj had alternate word choices in her draft translation, trying to come up with what emotion Pearl had actually been feeling and why. Sometimes Pearl had evinced a distrust of other humans which matched that of her reaction to leviathans. Pyosz thought an expectation of treachery might be something that could be handed on in some form, because she felt it now. She felt as if Maar was abusing her trust. She thought at first she was wheezing, but realized it was a thin cry coming from the little ones' room. She went to them swiftly, discovering Qux trying to hold a weeping Merrl in her lap.
"She has a bad dream, emma" said Qux urgently.
"It's all right, I'm here" said Pyosz, picking up Merrl whose sobs now became very loud. "Qux, grab your pillow, and sibu's too, you can both come sleep with us."
Maar took Merrl from her in their bedroom and they curled into each other. Qux claimed Pyosz and wanted to chat, but was eventually coaxed back to sleep by stroking her head. Pyosz thought everyone had dropped off when in the dark, ten minutes later, Maar whispered "We need to talk."
"Not now" said Pyosz, rolling to her other side despite the fact that Qux would probably kick her in the kidneys.
At dawn they left the two children in the middle of the bed, pushing a chair up to the side Merrl was on to keep her from falling out. Thleen always went looking for her sibs when she got up, helping them to the privy and getting them dressed before they all came down for breakfast. The only down side to this custom, Pyosz thought, was that Qux had now acquired Thleen's taste in fashion and was often heading off to school in loud, mismatched patterns.
Pyosz silently sliced bread for toast as Maar brewed her coffee, a smell Pyosz had come to love. Maar added lots of sugar and milk to her daily mug of it, and she always offered Pyosz a sip. Pyosz mixed lavender, skullcap and peppermint into her green tea blend. Maar said "Headache?"
"Yes" said Pyosz shortly. She buttered her toast at the counter and ate a bite, wincing slightly at the crunch.
"Did Qux say what Merrl's bad dream was about?"
"No" said Pyosz. Leviathans, probably she thought. That's what most children have nightmares about.
"Listen, I won't be home for lunch. I'm grabbing a quick bite at the canteen after sinning and heading to Uscat an hour early" said Maar. Pyosz put down her toast and closed her eyes. After a few seconds she said "Great. Merrl balks at eating lunch when you're not here."
"Well what am I supposed to do, Pyosz? I can't be home every day, that's not news. And if you've changed your mind about my job, we have to talk about it like partners instead of you storming out." Maar's jaw was set.
"Like you talked to me first before agreeing to go on being dangled bait for the levs off Uscat? If you're so valuable to the Lofthall, seems like maybe Abbo should be transferred to the riskier jobs -- oh, right, your foster emma Mill actually favors idiot Abbo over you. Because she always has put Abbo first, no matter how wonderful you or Ngall were. And secretly you prefer it that way, you can't imagine an emma who doesn't take advantage of you. Which means I should have another hard look at your definition of family all the way round." Pyosz's tone was venomous. Maar went very pale. She stood and began walking stiffly to the door.
The slam was loud. Pyosz held her breath, listening for a thud from upstairs which meant one or more children were getting up. Instead, when the lighter engine started, she bolted for the front and rushed the jichang, but Maar was already over Koldok Kuono. Pyosz stood staring after the green wing lights, trying to come up with something she could say over the radio, with half the Lofthall listening, to make things better. I can't let her go off sinning with those words in her ears.
Pyosz jumped when something touched her ankles: It was Qux's kitten, Barter, rubbing her ankles. Which meant the front door was open, and it was still owl hours. Pyosz scooped up Barter irritably and went to the door before other katts escaped. She drank down the rest of Maar's abandoned coffee, hoping it would help the throbbing at her temples, and resolved to go intercept Maar at the Lofthall after sinning. Qala came out her bedroom door and said "What's going on out here, are you okay?"
"Not really" said Pyosz. "Later. I have to milk."
But the coffee didn't alleviate her headache; instead, she began to feel queasy. Prl, Thleen and Qux stopped in the barn on their way to school, and Prl reported Merrl had diarrhea plus had vomited once.
"Oh, so that's what the bad dream was about last night" said Pyosz. "I'm afraid I may be coming down with it, too."
"Qala asked if you'd try to find bananas in Koldok" said Prl. "Are you up to delivery?"
"Yeah, I'll tough it out" said Pyosz. "But I'll come home after and go back to bed with the baby."
At Gitta's, she found three bananas and warned the storekeeper there might not be baking for the following day if she thought she had something contagious. She glanced at the Lofthall when she returned to the ferry, and anger flooded back into her. Anger was easier to bear than fear.
She shooed Qala away from her bedroom, worried about how much more susceptible her abba was these days to the children's crud. She let Lawa bring up tea, rice and applesauce, put Merrl back in diapers, and otherwise dealt with the child's messes on her own. She felt nauseous, which might have been from the unrelenting headache, and her bowels were loose, though she didn't spike the fever that Merrl did. Prl came home at lunch with a tincture from Briel but said it was a garden-variety virus currently laying waste to school attendance. Pyosz's patience with Merrl's crying and inability to rest had worn razor thin, and she let Prl take her for the afternoon since she didn't have a class to teach.
When Pyosz woke up a few hours later, she heard a soft knocking at her bedroom door and thought it must be the kids home from school. Instead it was Qala, who said "I'll sit in the chair, away from your germs. I just wanted to check in with you before the pack returned. Here's some fresh tea, too."
"Prl finally got her down for a bit and she hasn't urped again. Is your headache better?"
"Yeah, but not gone. Let's hope the other two don't get this," Pyosz sipped at her tea, leaning back against the headboard.
"I heard most of what you and Maar said to each other this morning, and of course the news about the Uscat ferry is everywhere. Care to fill me in?" Qala let Ember move into her lap, and stretched out her legs so her pantulflas-shod feet were in a wash of afternoon light through the window. She listened attentively to Pyosz's slightly disjointed account.
Qala said "Halling left before breakfast, when Mill came to get her in the ramp sinner. I'd like to be in on the strategy sessions they're having over there."
"I think you should be, abba, just go barge in, they clearly need better thinking" said Pyosz, one temple throbbing a little as her anger resurged.
"It will come home with them and be at the dinner table" said Qala knowingly. "My question to you now is, are you really withdrawing your support for Maar's career and insisting she change it?"
"You say that like it's me changing my mind, abba, when the fact is circumstances have changed" retorted Pyosz.
"What circumstances? She's been responsible for a child since before you met her here. And the sinning she does most days is far more dangerous than the Uscat hauls. Do you not know that?"
Pyosz didn't know it, but she didn't want to ask Qala for more information. It felt extremely unfair for Qala to come wake her up, when she was sick and overextended, to take Maar's side in this.
"Leviathans are ratcheting up their aggression. It could well be that Pax Piscata is about to fail in a catastrophic way. I can't bear it if Maar is in the way of -- whatever happens" said Pyosz.
"Well, then you, and we, have to help Maar come up with an alternative career. Asking her to pick fruit on Saya is not her life's dream, and would be a waste of both her youth and considerable abilities. She's meant to be a leader to the same degree that you are meant to be an entrepeneur and artist." Qala leaned forward, reassuring Ember to stay put with a hand. "I can imagine her eventually becoming a Sheng Zhang in some other endeavor. But unlike you, she has no degree and no Saya Island dropping into her hands via family connections. She has had to work extremely hard to accomplish the expertise she has. She will need either schooling or apprenticeship plus at least another decade of diligent labor to restore herself to a similar position elsewhere, and we'll have to help her through it. You need to have that offer in your head when you ask her to walk away from the path she's chosen. Maar will do it for her family and never hold it against you. But I won't be party to anything like the loneliness of her first years here."
"I'd never ask her to do it alone, what are you accusing me of?" demanded Pyosz.
"What I heard this morning wasn't you being open" said Qala. "I notice you ran after her -- what did you say?"
"She was already gone" said Pyosz defensively.
Qala sighed and began rubbing the spot on Ember's shoulderblades she loved the best. Pyosz heard Ember's rumble start up. Qala ruminated "I've known Halling and Yoj since they came into the Lofthall. Yoj is who kept Halling alive after her first breakdown. Their deal was that whatever happened out there, Yoj wanted to hear how Halling felt about it. She is who taught Bux how to bear witness, how not to make her fear and worry the center of what Halling to deal with. Because that kind of distraction -- well, it certainly used to kill pilots, in those days, and could again. Maar must've been scared shitless yesterday, and her talk with her superiors afterward would not have been a place for her to let all that out. Pilots need their families for that. So I'm going to sit on the porch now, peel potatoes and wait for Maar to get home. Then I'm asking her to the point and giving her a chance to clean out what's bothering her." She moved Ember to the chair arm, blew a kiss to Pyosz, and said "We're having soup for dinner. Keep feeling better."
Pyosz felt sick to her stomach again after Qala left. She wondered what Qala had meant by Halling's "first breakdown" -- when had there been another? She closed her eyes and lay down, trying to think her way past what seemed like throbbing boulders of emotion. Five minutes later, Thleen and Qux burst into the room, saying loudly "What's wrong, emma? Can we stay in here with you?"
Pyosz gave up trying to rest and went downstairs, where Merrl was crying in Prl's arms because she wasn't being allowed to go outside to look for Maar. Pyosz took her and sat at the table comforting her while Thleen started on homework and Qux followed Lawa around the kitchen, making a snack. Thleen asked "Where's our ferry schedule?"
"Same place it always is, near the radio" said Pyosz, wiping Merrl's face and getting her to take a sip of the milk Lawa brought them. Thleen returned with the well-thumbed pamphlet but immediately complained "This only goes through the end of the year!"
"They only print them for the coming year, why?" asked Pyosz.
"We have to create a tide schedule for tomorrow one year from now. Where else could I find that?" asked Thleen.
"Sounds to me like your assignment is to cast it yourself, not copy it from somewhere" Prl remarked from the kitchen. Thleen scowled and said "I was gonna do the math first, I just wanted to check it." Pyosz didn't buy that for a second. Thleen said "Nan Chiwe likes to give us work that's too levvin' hard." Nobody would ever equal Dodd in Thleen's eyes, and she often complained about her third grade leraar.
"Casting tide tables is a difficult but necessary skill" said Prl a little sentitiously. Pyosz said "Abba is very good at it, how about if she comes to help you? Merrl seriously needs a bath and I might as well join her before dinner."
Pyosz put Merrl back in a diaper and a woolen toddler yi for the night before they left the bathroom. Maar was setting the table and Merrl streaked toward her. Pyosz came to hug Maar as well and murmured "I'm sorry for not listening. I have some hard thinking I'm not done with, but I do want to listen." Maar looked wary, and picked up Merrl who was tugging at her pocket, shouting "Aggie" repeatedly.
Halling and Yoj got home in time for dinner. As Halling unfolded her napkin, she said to Maar "It's all set for tomorrow."
"What is?" demanded Pyosz.
"Starting work on the Uscat ferry replacement" said Halling. Pyosz looked at Maar, trying not to frown. Maar told Merrl in her lap "You can hold the spoon but don't lean on the bowl -- here, let me hold your other hand." She then met Pyosz's eyes and said "Four of us lower a floating collar over where the pylon will go, the old foundation is still usable. We won't be linked together, only to the collar, so we can stay high. Once the collar is down and anchored as a working platform, two ferry installers get lowered to it. They have to reseal the seal around the pylon base and pump in fresh concrete. The pylon gets lowered to them and they seat it, cement it down, and thread cable on buoys in both directions. We're going to have three lighters with mezi rays running constant sentry."
"And which of those jobs will you be doing?" said Pyosz. The tension in her tone had Thleen and Qux both paying somber attention.
"I'll be in one of the sinners lowering the collar, directing that crew." Maar paused to wipe Merrl's face and urge a sip of apple juice on her. "It's riskier than stone hauling from Uscat but safer than sinning, because all I have to do if attacked is release my line. The four of us doing it are our best pilots, because we will look like a more inviting target than we really are. And whoever is the last to release could be in trouble from the sudden drag." Pyosz knew without asking that Maar would make sure the others were clear before she released.
"I don't think they'll have time to coordinate an attack when the collar appears" said Halling. "I think they'll go for the pylon, which has to be brought in well below safety height, and they'll have gathered and talked to each other by then."
"Who's bringing the pylon?" asked Pyosz, her mouth dry.
"Mill" said Halling with a note in her voice that made Thleen turn to watch her face. "She's a little rusty but still the best pilot on Pya, and she said she's not willing to ask anyone else to do it."
There was a turbid silence. Halling added "The perks of being Sheng Zhang". Yoj closed her eyes and rubbed her own temples.
Maar was still looking at Pyosz. "Once I'm free from the collar, I'll shift to over land but line of sight with the collar. My sinner will have the mezi ray symbol, too, and I'll be armed like the other sentries. We figure the levs will assume I'm back-up to them. But my second job will be rescue. See, there's a six-foot tall pole on the collar platform with a large metal ring at the top, and the two workers will clip their safety strips to that ring. It's detachable, and if the leviathans attack the platform successfully -- it's hard to tip over -- I'll zoom in and hook that ring, sweep the workers back to Dvareka. We don't think the levs can anticipate that plan, not yet."
"It'll break bones but keep 'em alive" said Halling with the voice of experience. "But you'll only have one try at it, and that ring is very small when you're coming at it head-on with velocity."
Hence why it had been assigned to Maar thought Pyosz. And she'll have to fly it at an unsafe height.
"I don't envy those cement workers" said Lawa.
"There's only two on Pya who will do it" agreed Maar. "They're not emmas, and they earn a month's pay with this one job." She asked Halling "Who did Mill decide on for the collar crew? Fohol, Kuus, and -- ?"
"Juny" said Halling with something exchanged in her glance at Maar. "Abbo's being given a mezi, along with Dekkan."
"I'll tell you all privately, I hope we get to take one of the shitters out" said Maar, an unfamiliar edge to her voice. "I want to drive them out of that entire zone." She added to Pyosz "The faryaste who used to run the Uscat line quit today. They'll have trouble replacing her. And if the levis get the idea to destroy the pylon again, so they can come to a second repair with foreknowledge of how we go about it..."
"We'll figure that out if it comes to that" said Halling. Pyosz felt a wave of gratitude that her abba was part of this Manage, sitting across from Maar.
Over dessert, Prl was teaching the "Days of the Week" song to Merrl with Qux's exuberant help:
Moja made a mint meringue
Iki eagerly waited to eat it
San sat sadly in the sandbox
Empat expertly sowed eggplants unheeded
Ot was hot and ordered orangeade
Roku romped the roads of Riesig
Sju was jubilant in her jumping
But the one everybody liked the best
Was Shmonah, Shmonah, day of rest
All three voices shouted the song's last line, then Merrl would say "Again, abba!"
Thleen leaned over to Maar and whispered "Uh...you know the dance this Sju?"
"In Fjer, yes. Don't wear black, it's in their feather factory warehouse, you'll come home covered with bits of white fluff" grinned Maar. Pyosz noticed the redness of Thleen's face and moved in to listen.
"Well, uh...I want to ask someone to go with me. Just me and her, I mean. I mean, we'll be with you there, but we could ride our bikes by ourselves. I mean, that's what I want." Thleen's hands were wringing each other in her lap, her baked apple untouched.
Maar struggled not to laugh or to demand "Who?" She looked at Pyosz in silent conferral.
"Well" said Maar. "I think that would be fine. I want you to take a flash in addition to your bike headlamp, and you'll have to leave the dance when we do, but we'll give you a five minute head start for privacy, will that work?"
Thleen nodded vigorously, her cheeks flaming. Pyosz added "And no sneaking outside during the dance, you're still too young." Thleen abruptly went pale and she muttered a faint "Of course."
Qux noticed Thleen's uneaten apple and lunged her way, saying "Can I have that, siba?" Thleen snatched it back and said "No, I'm eating it now." During clean-up, Pyosz saw Qala whisper something to Thleen and slip her a couple of brass coins. She edged toward Qala and when they had privacy, Pyosz asked "So who is it, Ziri or Xoan?"
'I don't know, but if I did, I wouldn't say" replied Qala. "We'll find out soon enough."
Merrl's diarrhea appeared to have ended. She nursed to sleep in Maar's lap during singing, and when Prl offered to take Merrl and Qux into her bed for the night, Pyosz agreed immediately. She and Maar were a little awkward as they changed into schmattas. Pyosz sat against the headboard and said determinedly "I want to hear what it was like when the leviathan leaped for you. Or any other part of it. If you want to tell me."
Maar rubbed her forehead tiredly. "You don't have to do this, and it'll just upset you -- "
"I promise not to get upset at you. But if you'd rather let it go..." Pyosz felt a wave of regret, looking at the fatigue on Maar's face.
"Lie down here beside me. Let me think. Well, the first thing was realizing they were waiting on me, you know? Am I crazy to think they're after me in particular? You can be honest."
Pyosz swallowed her fear to say "I do not think you're crazy. I can't remember a time when your intuition has been off."
Maar eased her head onto Pyosz's shoulder. "That's mixed comfort. So -- I haven't shown you yet what it looks like, those deepwater radar scans, have I? It's like trying to see through a crashing wave, or into a burning fire." Her grip around Pyosz's waist tightened as she talked on. Eventually her mounting agitation broke into sobs, and she fell asleep swiftly after crying her heart out. Pyosz lay awake for a long time, matching her breathing to Maar's, watching Luwise in a waning cresent play tag with tatters of clouds in the sky over Dvareka.
The next morning at the mercantile, Taamsas told Pyosz "I have a proposition for you. My siba on Verzin has a general goods store, as I think I've told you. I sent her two of those rabbit bowls you made and she sold them right away for double what we get here." Taamsas laughed a little darkly. "I meant them as a gift for her family, but she never misses an opportunity to make an ek. Anyhow, she called me and she wants whatever you can send her with what she calls the 'exotic' wildlife of Pya on it -- squirrels, owls, deer, and course your songbirds stuff. Even with shipping, she swears you'll make a very high return. She thinks every Manage in Skene will want a Pyosz bowl or platter." They talked over rates and pricing, and Taamsas agreed to use her merchants' shipping rate in return for first claim on whatever Pyosz brought her for possible forwarding to Skene.
On the ferry home, she thought Income. Extra coin to offset the cost of Maar retraining. Then she felt instantly disloyal, as if she were plotting in secret. We just haven't talked it out yet she reassured herself.
Maar once again ate at the Lofthall midday and grabbed a half-hour nap before the major work ahead. As soon as lunch at Owl Manage was cleared away, Pyosz said to Merrl "Let's go to Dudor and watch emma fly, shall we?" Merrl started running for the door and fell headlong, but despite her shrieks, Pyosz could find no injury. She bundled the child into warm clothing, with mittens and a cap. Qala and Lawa said they wanted to go with them "As long as we can ride the bus instead of trying to bike", and Pyosz said "Gladly. Grab the binoculars, will you?"
Lawa added the video camera to her pack as well, plus a length of fishing line and several dried crusts of bread. In Koldok, Merrl grew restless waiting for the bus so Pyosz walked her over to the Polytechnic and let her run her wool-clad hands over the frieze on Yoj Hall. Merrl never tired of the novelty of her abbas in stone.
Embarking from the bus, they used a privy before walking to the southernmost bluff in town next to a small copse of trees. As Pyosz had anticipated, this gave them an excellent view south along the strait between Uscat and Dvareka. Nothing was visible in the air yet: Maar had said they wanted as much lead time as possible before attracting leviathan attention, so all the craft would arrive together. Lawa took the yameen Pyosz had brought and strapped Merrl to her chest securely facing outward. She settled down on the bluff edge and began tying a crust to line, tellung Merrl they were going to fish for crabs. Merrl's commentary was nonstop; she was much more verbal than Qux had been, and Maar once remarked she feared they had spawned their own Ziri.
Pyosz found a dry rock to sit on whose chill immediately transferred itself to her buttocks. She handed the video camera to Qala, who settled in beside her offering a little wind break, and used the binoculars to inspect the remnants of the ferry line, getting the focus right. Qala said quietly "You sure you want to see whatever happens out there?"
"It was worse being at home imagining it" said Pyosz. "And after listening to her last night, I want to know more." Qala smiled to herself and said "Lawa knows to cover the baby's eyes if necessary."
Pyosz suddenly felt terror that seemed to freeze her to the rock she was on. When Merrl gave out a scream, Pyosz jerked and gasped. But it was only a large red crab pulled up on Lawa's line that had set Merrl off, and she wasn't afraid, she was delighted, trying to snatch for the crab. Lawa held Merrl back and the crab finally realized it should let go of the bread, plummeting back to the chop below. "Oops!" said Lawa gaily. "Let's get another piece of bread and try again, okay, baby sinner?"
A few minutes later, Pyosz felt a rumble coming up from the rock as well as sound to her right. She turned and watched seven aircraft fly high down the strait, three lighters with lightning bolts on the wings, followed by four heavy sinners in formation with a battered metal platform suspended between them. The pontoons on the underside of the platform were painted with lightning bolts, and one of the sinners' wings also showed the mezi symbol: Maar. Lawa and Merrl were waving and yelling "Hi, emma!"
Pyosz trained her binoculars on Maar's sinner but the angle was wrong, she couldn't see into the cockpit. She jumped again as a boom and wail of lev song reached her ears. No, no, no she thought. "Abba, did Yoj and Bux ever do this? Go watch Halling as she -- was in danger?"
"Yes" said Qala tersely, filming the positioning that was going on. And of course Qala listened to decades of it, including the dying of women she loved. Bux, I'm asking you again for help, you know what this means and if you have any power at all...
Two of the sentry lighters were facing her and she located Dekkan in one of them. Her face looked unusually adult. Dekkan had recently begun dating a Polytechnic student majoring in pharmaceuticals named Esra. Esra had a strong bent toward linguistics and was a favorite of Yoj's. She had attended a few Shmonah dinners with Dekkan, and Pyosz hoped it worked out for them. She said silently to Dekkan now My beloved trusts you with her life, and so must I.
Lawa and Merrl were back to crabbing. The platform was now being lowered, and once the sinners were below the 30 meter mark, Pyosz had to remind herself to keep breathing. Qala said "It's remarkably level, Maar must be keeping a tight lead on them." Pyosz let herself be relieved once it floated on the water, but tensed again as Maar dropped a grapple while the other sinners ascended to safety.
"What is she doing?" demanded Pyosz.
"It has to be anchored. She's engaging that weight on the edge there, to drop it over the side. Oh, my, adroitly done!" said Qala. Maar zoomed upward like a dragonfly and Qala pressed her shoulder briefly against Pyosz. As Maar retreated to a stationary watch over the mass of Uscat, another rumble came from their right and Mill's sinner passed by at an altitude of 50 meters, with a cable beneath carrying the new pylon and toggled below it a large metal shipping container.
"Shit, are those poor workers swaying around in that box?" said Pyosz.
"A month's pay is not nearly enough for me to ever be that kind of bait" said Qala grimly. Another cry from Merrl distracted them briefly. This crab, dark green with two very different-sized claws, leapt for the rocks next to Lawa and skittered sideways in confusion, sending Merrl into peals of excited "Git it, habibi, we gonna eat it!" But that potential morsel likewise made its escape, and Lawa let Merrl select the next loaf scrap to try, dissuading her from having a nibble of bread.
Pyosz felt like she could sense the additional alertness in Maar's body as Mill centered her craft over the platform and began sending her human cargo down to it, the descent at a creep to reduce the plumb-bob effect on those riding into lev range. She said to Qala "It's low tide. right? But that doesn't mean morrie vaseo there?"
"Never morrie vaseo on that ferry route" said Qala. "Only runs twice a day. Same from Uscat out to Hore, which I imagine is the main reason there's nobody living on either island. Asise from Hore's depressing reputation. What's it like on Hore?"
"I haven't ever been there" said Pyosz. The swinging metal box was now close enough to the platform to scrape it, sending up a spray of sparks. In the next second, it settled squarely on the collar surface, the play of the suspension chain going slack. Two women in heavy work gear emerged from a door in the box and walked to the safety pillar to strap on. They returned to clip ropes on the pylon and lower it into the partly flooded seat exposed by a square hole in the center of the platform.
Over the next hour, as Mill returned to 30 meters but stayed protectively over the platform, the workers pumped out seawater and welded the pylon to a repaired seat, then began filling the gap with concrete mixed from supplies inside the metal box. Pyosz struggled not to interpret every bob of the collar on the inlet's current as a levi bumping it from underneath. She could now make out Maar in her cockpit, and kept returning to study her face through her spyglass, thinking she would be able to tell when Maar's scan of radar picked up an imminent menace. She noticed how steady Maar looked, and remembered the residual smell of emotion left on Maar's sweat-dried skin when she came home from days of work like this.
There was occasional levsong, but Qala remarked it seemed typical for what you'd hear anywhere, with no indication of additional gathering. She added "Not that I believe for an onstant they're not all keeping track of what's going on here."
Occasionally one of the workers would pull out a hand-held radio and communicate presumably with Mill. "I wish we had a radio" said Pyosz. Qala laughed and said "I passed that on to you, at least." Pyosz turned and looked into her face: "Abba, you have overwhelmingly shaped me for who I am, and I adore watching you do the same with my babies." Qala's dark eyes, a little filmy these days, filled with tears, and she pressed against Pyosz's shoulder again.
Eventually both workers applied themselves to cranking a spool of thick steel cable, attaching a buoy to the end and feeding it out in the Dvareka-side current. It was pulled far south but hit shore, where another crew would walk it back to the ferry dock for installation to land. The spool was rolled to the Uscat side of the platform and the process repeated. The empty spool was stowed back in the crate and tools were being gathered when Pyosz saw Maar's face grow tense. Her lips were moving, meaning she was talking on the radio. Simultaneously, one of the workers stopped to answer her hand radio. Her body went stiff and she shouted something at her comrade. They bolted into the metal crate and the door slammed shut as Mill began a rapid descent with a catch-hook extended and Dekkan moved to flank Mill, her hatch open and the mezi in sight.
"Something's happened" Qala said, looking up from the camera lens to try spotting where the danger lay. Lawa turned to watch for a minute, then resumed distracting Merrl. Pyosz stayed focused on Maar until Maar's sinner zoomed out of her scope. She too removed her glasses to look unaided as, bewilderingly, Maar, two of the sinners and one sentry zoomed south at top speed.
"Shit, shit, shit" said Qala, getting to her feet stiffly. "Those shit-eating bastards have used this heavy diversion of pilot focus to attack somewhere else. I want to get to the Lofthall."
She walked to take Merrl from Lawa so Lawa could stand. Merrl was gleefully repeating "Chit, chit, chit-eating chit." They all but ran through Dudor, people turning to look at them curiously. At the road outside town, Pyosz looked in both directions and said, trying not to panic about what Maar was facing right now, "There's no bus, we can walk it faster." But Qala was already breathless and Lawa said "We'll wait, you can go on."
"You sure?" But Pyosz had spied a bicycle nearby. She kissed them quickly and streaked away, standing on the pedals to pump faster, ignoring Merrl starting to cry behind her. She dropped the bike on the gravel in front of the Lofthall and pushed her way through pilots inside to Oby sitting beside Jiips at the radio. Mill's voice on speaker said "We're now at safe altitude, Dekkan and Juny, go assist Maar."
"Got that" said Oby. Halling appeared beside Pyosz and said "They attacked the Hayashi ferry, which usually would be full of varnish factory workers heading home, they have an early schedule, but there was a birthday party today and most stayed behind. Ferry was overturned, one eyewitness says three went into the water, none of them the faryaste. Maar's running rescue."
Maar's voice broke in. "Got a visual, portion of ferry cabin roof still afloat and someone's laying on top of it, face flat against the wood. Her feet are in the water. It's being carried south to open wasa. Dekkan, come with me."
Dekkan's reply was cut off by Fohol saying "There's someone swimming with the eastern current toward the Ljeto ferry pylon. Need a mezi providing cover."
Abbo's voice said "Got it." Maar ordered the third sentry to flank the other side of the swimmer and asked Fohol if a ferry was at the pylon.
"No, but it's low tide, she can get three feet above the water until we can lower a harness to her." If she makes it to the pylon Pyosz thought. Kuus was ordered by Maar to keep searching for other survivors. Then Maar's voice came through with an echo, indicating she was on her loudspeaker: "Sibu on the ferry, we're here. Don't move yet, stay on the float. I'm going to lower a harness to you, you can attach it around your body and I'll lift you to land. If you understand me, lift your right leg."
Dekkan said "There's at least four big ones right underneath her, Maar."
"I see 'em" said Maar. "They'll wait until they can get us both. As soon as she's secured, I'm going straight up at max speed."
Mill's voice came in. "We're landing out here. Maar and the rest, you have my express consent to kill any leviathan you can get a clean shot at. No wounding, go for kill. Provocation has already been established." Pyosz heard intake of breath all around her as Maar said with a note of satisfaction "Got it. I hope the shitters can understand that much." Halling was laughing in a way Pyosz hadn't ever heard her do.
Oby pointed to four more pilots and said "Get the remaining mezis and go join them. No mistakes, and no improvising without consulting Mill or Maar. Stay above 30 meters and out of each other's line of fire." As they began running from the room, she shouted after them "And keep it on private channel radio!"
Pyosz felt a chill travel down her spine. How much did this scene resemble The Troubles? And if it's this easy for us to go on a hunt...
Outside, Qala and Lawa had stopped to see Mill land the metal crate. Merrl kept repeating hopefully "Aggie?" and Lawa kept saying "No, it's not aggie, it's Sibemma Mill." Jichang crew scrambled atop the crate to unhitch it as the door opened and the pylon workers staggered out, one with blood on her face from a forehead cut. She waved away help, saying "I wasn't strapped in all the way when we took off, I'm fine, but I need to use the privy." She headed in that direction, and the other worker followed her.
Qala and Lawa persuaded Merrl to go to the Lofthall once she saw it really was Mill emerging from the sinner. Mill overtook them, giving a clipped "Hello" as she strode past. In the office, Pyosz came to take Merrl from Lawa and fill them in. As Mill reached for the radio, Maar's voice came through, again with the loudspeaker feedback, saying "Sibu, the harness is now right above you. Sit up carefully and grab it. The wide strap goes around your back and clips in the front, and the two smaller ones go under your arms and across your shoulders."
Merrl shouted "Aggie! Aggie, where you be? I'm hungry, aggie!"
The room burst into a release of laughter. Merrl scowled, and Lawa took her back from Pyosz, saying "Let's go see what's at the canteen, little spud." In the next few seconds, Dekkan's voice, thick with distress, said "Boils and piles, Maar, she's pregnant! At least six months. Lifting her with that strap around the middle -- "
Mill interrupted "Maar, find out if she's got the upper body strength to hang on with just the underarm straps buckled. If she doesn't do half the work, her shoulders will dislocate and she'll fall through." Before Maar could reply. Fohol said "The swimmer reached the pylon, she's up on it. She looks exhausted but she's hanging on."
Oby said to Mill "We've got four armed pilots on the way there."
Mill nodded, "I passed them. Maar is going to have to move slow now, to not lose this aggie. It will all converge on her."
Pyosz abruptly needed a chair, and not finding one, she leaned heavily across the back of Halling's scooter. Fohol spoke again, her pilot calm slightly giving way as she said "The Ljeto ferry is leaving the dock. I think the faryaste is going to pick up the swimmer at the pylon."
"Lev" swore Mill. "Does that ferry have a radio? Get me the number." She looked around at Jiips, who had moved to another desk and been quietly radioing end of morrie vaseo and high alert on the public radio channel. Jiips put her hand over her mic and said "No radio on those small ferries,"
"Lev!" repeated Mill. She sent four sentries to escort the ferry and two to join Dekkan in covering Maar. As Maar began broadcasting modified harness instructions to the pregnant woman, Yoj, Prl, and Uli came through the throng to join Pyosz. Qala said "I'm going to the school and meet the kids, tell Dodd what's up. She'll know which children might have family on that ferry." Mill overheard and signaled thanks as she called the hospital and asked for medical assistance to come to the jichang. Jiips yelled over Maar's voice in the room "Kuus reports no sign of the other two yet, should she follow the southeastern current beyond Rudni?"
Mill swiveled to look at the wall map as she asked Oby "Who else is on search, Juny?"
"Yes, but we have every available sinner fitted with harnesses and lights, ready to go" replied Oby. Mill pointed to pilots and said "Go, I'll radio quadrants once you're in the area. Report back any lev sightings, radar included, and stay above 30 meters unless rescue is involved."
The room cleared swiftly. A minute later, Briel and two other hospital staff arrived. Oby talked with them softly while Mill and Uli conferred on currents. Uli had unrolled a second map and was pencilling in a search grid while Mill assigned them one by one on a second channel. Maar had just said "Hold tight, sibu, I'll be as gentle as I can. In just a few minutes, you'll be standing on the jichang at Sepek." Maar's repeated use of that tender "sibu" for the unknown woman made Pyosz want to cry every time.
"She's airborne" reported Dekkan, followed by Maar on the private channel "You see that? Two or three?"
"Three" said Dekkan. "If their depth changes, I'm going to intercept."
Maar's voice again on loudspeaker said "You're doing great, sibu. Stay calm, hang tight, I'm going to say something meant not to scare you but the leviathans." Her voice changed to flat serious. "You make a move for us and we will kill you. We will kill not only you but any of your young we can find. We will come after you. Your chance is over now. We are flying death."
There was a brief, complete silence in the room. Then Fohol said "She's on the ferry and it's reversed back to Ljeto, shortest distance. Request permission to come escort Maar."
"Go for it" replied Mill. "Three what, Dekkan?"
"Massive levs, almost too deep to see but keeping right underneath Maar. She's not climbing, she's staying at ten meters."
Maar responded before Mill could. saying "If she slips at this height, hitting the water's surface might not kill her. And it takes time to ascend and descend, I need to get her to land as fast as possible." Even if it means you're temptingly within reach thought Pyosz. No wonder Fohol wanted to go to her side.
The next few minutes were filled with pilots reporting to each other about the search effort while Mill kept gridding the map with Uli and Oby sat with Jiips, coordinating all the human transportation calls pouring in now that ferries were shut down everywhere for an unknown length of time. Then Maar's echoing voice said "I know we're almost there, but hang on sibu until they have you solid in their arms." Everyone stopped to listen, and Pyosz found herself counting. At 14 Maar said "She's on Pya soil." The room erupted. Mill cupped her hand over the mic to say "Well done, sinner. I hate to say it, but we need you to join the search effort as another sentry. Fohol, since you have no mezi, please land and transport that survivor here as soon as you can."
"Got that" said Fohol and Maar almost simultaneously. Pyosz leaned heavily against Prl in disappointment at the delay in seeing Maar. She straightened when Qala, Thleen and Qux came in the door, Qux rushing to her to be picked up. Pyosz pulled Thleen tight and said "Maar rescued a pregnant woman, she's back at safe height now and helping search for more people who need help." Thleen linked her arm around Pyosz's waist and wrapped her other hand around Qux's chubby ankle.
Dekkan's voice said "Sheng Zhang, I can't locate any deepwater levis. Nowhere. Anybody else seeing surface sign?"
As a chorus of "No" came through, Yoj and Halling looked at each other. Halling said 'Best to assume they understand our transmissions." Yoj replied "We need the same translation skill they have." She looked suddenly old. Pyosz thought And they know Maar is now out of reach. For the time being.
In the next moment, Abbo said "Faryaste and passenger back at Ljeto. Passenger has fallen on the ground above the dock."
"Go get her, and anyone else you can fit in who wants a ride to Dvareka" said Mill. "Find out who she is so we can notify family. Speaking of which, Fohol, you in the air again?"
"Yes, Sheng Zhang. My passenger is Caax of Dudor' said Fohol, her voice a little loud. There was a strange sound in the background that Pyosz realized was someone keening, one long cry after another. "Sheng Zhang -- she says the faryaste from Hayashi pushed her up onto the cabin roof as the levs attacked. She saved her life but didn't have time to get up there herself. Caax heard the screams amid the splintering boat and -- she has blood soaked into her otos and cuffs."
Mill lay her face forward into her hands. Fohol continued "Also...the other passenger was her cousin. I don't have a name yet, she won't say it. But the woman was swimming for shore and in line of sight when Caax saw her devoured. In one gulp, she keeps saying." The keening grew louder before the message ended.
Mill breathed out and clicked on the mic. "Fohol, make it clear to her that if there is any chance she is in error, or if there could be other passengers -- we can't call off search if there's any possibility." After half a minute, Fohol said "I'm sorry, Sheng Zhang, she's certain. Only two survivors. I think she's credible. We'll be there in two minutes."
Briel and her crew headed out the door. Mill said to Oby "I'm going to wait until Briel agrees with Fohol."
Lawa and Merrl returned, Merrl with a smear of frosting on her cheek that Qux stared at suspiciously. Mill looked off into space. Then the front door slammed back and two wild-eyed young women burst in. The shorter one said "The ferry, our partner was on Hayashi and said she'd come back early, is she okay?"
Mill's face was grim. "What was her name?" Pyosz noticed the verb tense.
"Caax, she's carrying our first child" said the taller one. Mill's face transformed, a joyous smile startling in its intensity.
"She was rescued and she's about to land outside." The two women bumped into each other in their attempt to pivot and get back out the door. Pyosz could feel Thleen trembling. Qala whispered "Would you like to go see who Maar saved?" Thleen nodded and they followed the women.
Two minutes later one of the clinic workers returned and said to Mill "She seems to be all right on initial exam, they're rolling her to the hospital now. We'll treat her for exposure, check on the baby. Briel said to tell you her mind is sound. I've got to get back out there, the other one is landing."
"Thanks" said Mill, all trace of her momentary gladness erased. She radioed "All pilots, survivor reports remaining two passengers are lost. Search and rescue is hereby suspended. Sinners, stand by for new transportation assignments from Oby. Relief sentries return to pick up school and other passenger sinners. I know tomorrow is Roku but plan for full shifts. Good work, all of you. We have two Pyans still among us thanks to you." She clicked off, then clicked back on. "The order to kill on sight remains until further notice. Do so without risk."
Halling muttered "They owe us two levs." Mill glanced at her and stood, saying "I have to go talk with Danaan. When that faryaste gets here, give her a meal and keep her on hand so I can thank her." As she walked back to her private office, Naki came in the front with her camera.
Merrl said "Where is aggie?"
"She has to work some more" said Lawa. "I think some of us can go home now, would you like that?"
Thleen looked urgently at Pyosz, who said "The danger is past, and she'll be hours yet. How about if you and I bike to Pertama and see what of Maar's favorites we can get at the fish market?" Thleen nodded, her body about to burst with pent tension.
Prl said to Qux "Let's you and I head home and think about what dessert to make." The little ones wriggled to the ground and began tugging at hands to go. Yoj and Halling said "We'll stick around for now. To help Mill if we can."
Pyosz and Thleen were flagged down once on the road and interrogated at the fish market about what had happened. They were given two crates of lobsters at no cost and had to ride back on a crowded bus, the entire ride filled with discussion of the attack. Pyosz took in how much it helped Thleen to say "It was my siba, Maar, who led the rescue."
Pyosz believed in killing lobsters before dropping them into a boiling pot. She noticed this job seemed to increasingly be left to her, as well as culling chickens. The slaughterer of Saya she thought with a tinge of bitterness. Qux would never leave the kitchen when Pyosz killed lobsters, but she'd weep at each whack of the blade on the cutting board, clinging to some adult's legs. Merrl was demanding "Show me dem" as Pyosz lifted each flailing purple crustacean from the bucket, and she would nod in some mysterious confirmation before waving Pyosz on to her task.
When Pyosz was done, she washed her hands and tools before picking up Qux to comfort her. They walked into the great hall, Pyosz singing a soft version of the "Coming Home" song. They stood in one spot, Qux now quiet but still pressed against Pyosz as they swayed slightly. Prl and Thleen, making corn salad at the breakfast bar, began singing with them. Merrl came to the doorway and watched them solemnly, three middle fingers stuck in her mouth. Pyosz pressed her face in Qux's spiky hair and inhaled, a mix of Qux, gardenia shampoo, and Maar, as always.
"Aggie" whispered Qux. "I am indeed your aggie" murmured Pyosz. That brought Merrl clomping toward them, and Pyosz managed to pick her up one-armed, balancing her on the other hip. Merrl said "I washded potatoes wif habibi, and we put dem in de aga."
"Yum" said Pyosz. 'And what dessert are we having?"
The front door opened and there stood Maar, her face nearly as pale as a sliced radish. Her eyes adjusted to the light as she focused on Pyosz and the little ones with a grin, but Thleen reached her first. Thleen was quickly encircled by a five-way hug.
"Mill sent me on home" said Maar. Pyosz hear the wheels of Halling's scooter on the porch but didn't move from her embrace, they could open the second door. Qux said "Emma, you smell funny."
"Well, that woman I pulled out of the water, she'd been surrounded by levs and their stink was all over her, rubbed off on me when I hugged her at the jichang" said Maar. "Here, sniff it: This is the stench of mortal peril. You ever smell this, you get to dry land fast as you can."
Qux and Merrl were wide-eyed, Merrl considering whether to cry. Pyosz handed them both off to Maar and said "I'm running us a hot bath."
"We play wif boats!" announced Merrl.
"Nope, this bath is just for emmas" said Pyosz over her shoulder. She heard Maar swiftly ask them "What have you been making for dinner?"
"Me and habibi catched lobsters wif bread" announced Merrl.
"Nuh-uh" jeered Qux. Pyosz turned the water on full blast to drown out the incipient squabble and reached for the lemon bath salts.
(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.)
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite, followed by poetry after the jump.
by Billy Collins
The way the dog trots out the front door
without a hat or an umbrella,
without any money
or the keys to her dog house
never fails to fill the saucer of my heart
with milky admiration.
Who provides a finer example
of a life without encumbrance—
Thoreau in his curtainless hut
with a single plate, a single spoon?
Ghandi with his staff and his holy diapers?
Off she goes into the material world
with nothing but her brown coat
and her modest blue collar,
following only her wet nose,
the twin portals of her steady breathing,
followed only by the plume of her tail.
If only she did not shove the cat aside
and eat all his food
what a model of self-containment she would be,
what a paragon of earthly detachment.
If only she were not so eager
for a rub behind the ears,
so acrobatic in her welcomes,
if only I were not her god.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
I am a feminist. By this I mean I speak out against a socially constructed system of dominance where what is identified as male in our society (a cultural construct, not the biology itself) is systematically and institutionally advantaged over that which is identified as female or not-male. I take this stance in the pursuit of morality and justice for all but particularly, as a feminist, for females. I am therefore opposed to the institution of male domination in all its permutations.
As a feminist who helped define, by theory and by works, the meaning of my movement, I do not grant you the right to support male domination and still call yourself a feminist. I will not allow my movement to be coopted in this way.
I will cry foul when you disingenuously dilute the concept of male domination as gender imbalance. The struggle to topple racism is not an effort to create a "color-blind" world or even primarily to address "racial imbalance" (nor is the colonization of the Americas based on "triangular trade", it is based on the enslavement of Africans and indigenous Americans by white Europeans.) To be anti-racist is to be, primarily, in opposition to the institution of white supremacy. Unraveling social injustice demands we clearly name who is targeted for oppression in a system and who is not targeted.
Under sexism, it is not "gender" which is targeted, it is any human who is identified as Not Male, which includes all females, all males "tainted" by being perceived as partly female, and all human beings otherwise perceived as ambiguously gendered. The default human being under male supremacy is Male. Those who are non-target for a given oppression in a social construct do suffer from existence in a dehumanized environment but they are not targeted for that oppression, and the effects on their lives must be named as different.
I will cry foul when you distort this demand for justice as being "anti-male". To insist on equal citizenship and access to all human rights for females is "anti-male" only if you believe males have claim to more than their equal share, which means you subscribe to male domination.
I will cry foul when you resort to essentialism and biological determinism, even if you are within my movement. One of the founding principles of feminism is "Biology is not destiny." Having a uterus has NO inherent relationship to my intelligence, goodness, strength, morality, attire, nurturing, valor, or power except what is assigned to my gender by male supremacy and conditioned into every female from the instant of birth using every cultural tool available. The story of human evolution is the story of using culture and conditioning to advance our species, often in contradiction to biology and instinct. When you claim a biological reason for your learned behavior, I will dispute you because feminism is not fatalistic about human possibility.
I will not allow feminism to be portrayed as standing in conflict against other liberation struggles, because that is the lie of patriarchy: That there is "not enough for everyone to be free" and we must compete for liberation against other groups also targeted by patriarchy. The dismantling of male supremacy can ONLY be done in tandem with the dismantling of classism and of white supremacy. The patriarchy is a well-integrated, mundane institution that passes for reality. If you are confused about that reality -- if you try to rank oppressions or advocate for one liberation push at the expense of another -- I will endeavor to clear your confusion, especially if we are in alliance together. But I will be public about your confusion, even if we are allies.
The nature of oppressive conditioning is that it must be administered to everyone, target and non-target alike. We all resist this distortion to the point of death as children. We cannot help but accept it, including internalized oppression about our own targeted groups. It is our work as adults to expose and unlearn this conditioning, first admitting it is there and forgiving ourselves for having been unable to stop it as infants. We are all target in some areas, non-target in others. We need every human being alive to repair the world.
I undertake the dismantling of the patriarchy as a feminist with full comprehension that this will mean going to the root, re-examining, re-inventing, facing possible chaos that is a human response to unfamiliar environments. Thus, by definition, I am a radical feminist.
"Look at me as if you had never seen a woman before."
(The people responsible for my being able to articulate this statement are far too numerous to mention, but in particular at this moment, I want to mention Ricky Sherover-Marcuse who invented "intersectionality" as an activism tool before it was taken over by the academy; the revolutionary poetic voice of Judy Grahn; and the writing of Denise Thompson and her choice to define feminism.)