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.



(Judy Grahn, January 1988, Oakland CA, photo by Robert Giard)

Every Saturday evening I post a Judy Grahn poem. Much of her best work is already up here (check Labels to the right for her name) but there is still a wealth more to share. If she'd been a straight white man, they'd have declared her poet laureate a long time ago -- but then she wouldn't be writing the stunning language that she does.

She Who,
She Who carries herself in a bowl of blood
She Who builds herself a bowl of blood
and swallows a speck of foam
She Who molds her blood in a bowl
in a bowl, in a bowl of blood
and the bowl, and the bowl and the blood
and the foam and the bowl, and the bowl
and the blood belong to She Who holds it.

She shook it till it got some shape.
She shook it the first season and lost some teeth
She shook it the second season and lost some bone
She shook it the third season and some body was born,
She Who

© Judy Grahn, from The Work Of A Common Woman


Thursday, November 18, 2010


(Maggie Jochild and Terri Stellar at the Kennedy Center, Washington DC, June 2004, as part of the VSA International Festival where Actual Lives performed; photo by Olivia O'Hare)

What with the recent apparent discovery by the general public that TSA search policies shred civil rights, I thought it was time to re-present a performance piece I wrote and enacted for Actual Lives (a page to stage autibiographical theater troupe for disabled adults directed by Terry Galloway) during the early 2000s. This is a completely true story with, in fact, no embellishment. It has since been published in My Body Of Knowledge, edited by Karen Myers and Felicia Ferlin. The online version can be found here.

In December of 2001, two dear friends who "get it" rescued me from spending Christmas absolutely alone by sending me a plane ticket to visit them in Boston. All I had to do was get myself physically there and back. But that was the part that made me anxious. This would be the first time I had flown since my knee replacement surgery. I can't stand for very long, can walk only short distances, need to change positions often, run a high risk of blood clots in my legs, don’t fit in most airline seats, get asthma in pressurized cabins …. I was, well, anxious.

But if you think I was anxious — this was just a few months after 9/11. I would be flying into cold, grey, paranoid Logan Airport, the airport that launched United flight 175 and American flight 11. To add to their burden, the day I traveled was the day a lunatic tried to set off explosives in his tennis shoes and that flight was emergency landed at Logan.

Passengers were being separated from their loved ones right away. After that point, I would be in a wheelchair and, like Blanche Dubois, relying on the kindness of strangers—strangers wearing dark blue American Airlines blazers and stony faces. I kept telling everybody, at every step of the way, that I needed an extra wide wheelchair. Apparently, Logan couldn't find such a thing, so I was crammed into what I think of as the California surfer girl model. But then, my luck turned. A tall young man with a full beard stepped forward from the cluster of blue blazers to be my official escort: Enter Ahmed.

Ahmed was from Saudi Arabia, from a city that had been home to two of the hijackers. His looks, his accent, his absolute being made all the passengers in the airport freeze up around him. He was fucking sick of it. And here I was, a huge crippled dyke. If we were dumped out of a car together into the town square of an average small white burg, I don't know which one of us would get stoned to death first. We bonded instantly.

Turns out, in his off hours Ahmed was an Elvis impersonator. I don't know how he got around the obstacle of his beard, but in terms of dialogue, he really had it down. My little brother Bill was also an Elvis impersonator, so Ahmed found in me the perfect foil. I’d feed him a line like "Melli Kalikimakki" and he’d start singing "I’ll have a buh-looo Crismuss without yew." I’d ask him which part of Boston he lives in, he’d break into "Since mah baybee left me / Ah found a new place to dwell …"

Ahmed as Elvis was charming, and clearly disconcerting to his fellow American Airlines employees. He didn’t seem to give a rat's ass. He kept trying to find ways for me to get through the long lines and bottlenecks faster. At checkpoints, even though the wheelchair I was in was clearly their property, I had to get up and walk while they removed this chair and replaced it with another — also their property. Looking around at all these humorless guys in camouflage carrying assault rifles, I had to wonder, what is it that I could pull off in a borrowed wheelchair that would be as deadly as those automatic weapons. I mean, I’m not a crip McGyver.

They also seemed to be stopping people randomly and asking them to remove their shoes for inspection. We didn’t know about the sneaker bomber yet, so this struck Ahmed and me as especially hilarious. I can get my shoes off by myself, but not back on without certain kinds of help. I decided if they picked me, Ahmed could use the occasion of kneeling before me to do the proposal scene from Viva Las Vegas.

My friend Danny, who is wheelchair-bound and Latino, also had to fly somewhere this same holiday season. He told me later that when he was selected out for a shoe search, he was honored that he could still be perceived as a possible terrorist, even though he was an overt cripple. Then he added that what probably pushed him over the edge from pity into menace was the spic factor.

When I went through the metal detector, I told the guys on this end of it that my left knee is titanium and it absolutely would set off the alarm. Even so, when I emerged on the other side, the quality of what registered on their security monitor brought every blue blazer in the vicinity to stand around me. Ahmed waved at me over the shoulder of one official. I emptied all my pockets, but I was still setting off red rockets of alarms. But Logan was running short on the little wands they use to wave over people's bodies, so I had to be patted down by a security expert. They sent for the one woman apparently allowed to do this kind of work.

Now, here's the thing. I am a lesbian Chandler Bing; I make jokes when I am nervous. I was nervous then. They were keeping Ahmed and the second wheelchair a few feet away, giving me a folding chair to sit on until the pat-down artist arrived. And when they parted the blue blazers to let her through, she was — of course — skinny, white, extremely straight, with impeccable make-up and hair. Except when I’m in all-lesbian groups, I have never in my life been wearing the right clothes around other women. She looked as dismayed at the sight of me as I was at the sight of her.

So, I had some tension to let off. I managed to keep it together until she reached a certain region that my mother referred to as munchkin land, as in, "Did you wash good in munchkin land?" Which made watching The Wizard of Oz a truly bizarre experience as a child … but I digress. When her pale, well-manicured hands began searching munchkin land for box cutters or plastic explosives, I could not help myself. I said, with complete Tupelo charm: "Thank yew, thank yew verra much."

© Maggie Jochild



(Hubble RTF Composite of Jupiter Storms)

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 Edward Hirsch

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences—a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Pyosz na Prl
Capriste, keramiker & huertanista, Saya Island, Pya
Drawn by  ©Genia Bonyun

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post here. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices.

For more detailed information, posted elsewhere on this blog are:

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Owl Manage on Saya Island, original plans
Saya Island Eastern End After Development
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Map of Saya Island, Teppe and Pea Pods Environs After Development
Skene Character Lineage at Midway Through Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Pyosz was nearly done with milking the next morning when Prl came to the barn with Ngus, letting the baby sit on patient Killer for a minute. "Yoj called. There are hundreds of people arriving at the Lofthall. They want in on the discussion. Mill has managed to keep a private breakfast for the pilots, but she's moving their strategy talk to the great hall at the Poly."

"When?" asked Pyosz. "And where's Thleen, did she get to school?"

"No, she's with Yoj, said Maar okayed it. I think it's set to begin at the same time as school, so emmas can drop off their children. But Yoj said Dodd was coming to the meeting."

"Well, then I am too" said Pyosz, feeling tired at the idea of hurrying with milk cans. However, all of Herne and Teppe, except Moasi, showed up at the Saya dock and the many hands got her to the Poly in good time. She searched the hall for Thleen and found her sitting with Thont and Ziri. She wondered if Ziri was skipping school without consent until she spotted Kacang emmas and elders in another cluster.

"Waves and ripples, it looks like all of Pya" she whispered to Prl.

"The mines and most of the off-Dvareka industry is closed today because ferries aren't running and the pilots aren't flying sinners right now" said Qala, joining them. "Come over here, we've got seats saved." Su was there already.

The Lofthall, plus Oby and assorted Sheng Zhangs, were in the center of the hall where the tiers of seats could gaze down on them. Mill looked as if she had aged overnight, and Oby's eyes were bloodshot. Briel was near Api, who had her eyes closed. Ollow seemed not to be noticing her surroundings, either.

Pyosz chose a chair which gave her best line of sight with Maar. When Maar spotted her, she came over to greet them and whispered "No debris, no new sign. The memorial service has been scheduled for tomorrow, after Market."

"How are Mill and Oby?" asked Pyosz.

"Silent, mostly" said Maar. She kissed Ngus's reaching hands, one then the other, and returned to her place in the middle. She and Pyosz still had not delved in Maar's emotions, not alone as a couple, but Pyosz knew they would, knew Maar was counting on it, and in the meantime Maar was turning an open heart to her sibaste.

Pyosz looked around the room. She caught Sey watching her intently. Sey had long ago broken up with Cremen and been through two more lovers from among Uli's friends, as Pyosz thought of them, though in fact they were simply the members of Uli and Pyosz's sui on Pya. Pyosz had remarked to Maar "I'm not surprised no one sticks with her long-term, she's dull as boiled rice and worse than that in bed." Maar had laughed contentedly. Now Pyosz looked down at the flame-haired child in her lap and said "I certainly found my destiny on Skene, didn't I, baby love?" Ngus nodded her head agreeably, reaching up to tug at the silver lighter at the end of Pyosz's braid.

Nioma joined them, as did Yoj, and Pyosz moved down to the end of the row to give them seats beside Prl. Ngus sought Yoj's lap, and Yoj began whispering a story to her which involved interactive hand motions. Frahe and Nk were behind her -- she could smell the wood resin coming from them -- and Ngall with Ehuy and Vlapi in front of them. When Dodd, Briel, Mruch, Qoj, Uli and Ulodd arrived, they filled the row beside Ngall. Herne was strung out beside Frahe and Nk, and Teppe was the row behind that.

We're almost a village by ourselves thought Pyosz. She waved in Jinya's family across the aisle from her, squeezing Jinya's hand across the gap. The row behind Jinya was all Heaps. When a bloc of Hamsa residents filed in -- The motorboats must be working in relays, thought Pyosz -- they claimed places near the Pea Podders. Yoj whispered to Pyosz "Geography shapes human culture, always has."

When Halling spotted Dodd, she nudged her scooter to the front a few inches and said in a carrying voice "Welcome to this community discussion, we're sorry we didn't anticipate the need for it so soon. We're missing most of the residents of Trumpinne, Pirinc, Doimoi, Paba, and forestry and mining islands. Kudos to Chwet for braving the ferries. We will get you home by air later, ask us." Rustling and whispers ceased as she delivered these prosaic sentences.

She cleared her throat and continued. "I am not a Sheng Zhang but I am Lofthall for life, and I have been asked to begin this conversation. We are...grieving" -- her voice broke briefly -- "and we ask your indulgence for where we have no answers as yet." She announced the time of the memorial service, naming Abbo and Fohol in full. Pyosz saw tears stream down Maar's face. Ngus had gone silent and still, two fingers in her mouth.

"The attack on our sinners yesterday was calculated in advance, with intelligent group knowledge of our behavior patterns and likely responses" said Halling. "They were waiting for a moment they could exploit, and once that occurred, our best thinking and valor was not enough to save more than Dekkan. We've gone over the details and there is no lesson to be learned from it, except to never make the smallest of mistakes which is not an option, we're human beings and glad to be so." Extending mercy to Maar and to Abbo's memory.

"Our Sheng Zhang has conferred with Skene's Sheng Zhang and we are all in agreement, Pax Piscata is history." That caused a stir in the room. "All future human endeavor which involves the open ocean will have to operate with the caution we knew when I was young."

Someone from behind Pyosz, in seats occupied by Sepek dwellers, called out "Did you not retaliate, then? Did you just give them your dead and leave?"

Prl swiveled to lay eyes on the speaker, memorize who it was. Mill leaned forward but it was Maar who spoke in an amazingly contained voice. "We killed eight of them, including one baby and two juvies. I personally fired on every lev in range."

"It was not a deterrent" joined in Halling. "They remained engaged with us, trying for us and only diving when in direct line of fire. Their numbers are vastly more than us, and their domain thwarts our technology. Until such time as we comprehend their logic, we must assume we will remain targets."

"What about the ferries?" came another voice. Pyosz recognized the speaker as a faryaste between Doimoi and Talaba, the emma of a child Qux was attached to at school.

Oby stood up, keeping one hand resting on Mill's shoulder. "We will ask the Lofthall for increased protection of ferry routes without morrie vaseo, but it may be more cost efficient to turn over all transportation in Pya to the Lofthall where it involves open water. Proposals will have to be drafted and voted on. Right now the Lofthall is overextended. To deal with that, next week a new training period will begin for anyone who previously applied to pilot school without acceptance, or who wants to apply now. Equipment orders have also gone in."

Pyosz wondered what kind of person would opt for a pilot position now. Not fourth graders, Dodd would use any means necessary to keep them in school.

"Where will those eks come from?" asked another voice.

Oby turned her palm upward. "Pya. We'll find a way, we're productive and growing. Human well-being will be covered."

Pyosz thought suddenly If there was still a single capriste on Saya, the push to reallocate my land would be overwhelming now. She'd be moved to a distant island with room for goats and a daily air pickup of her milk, like in Skene. Saya's pastures and woods would be divided into Manages and tillages. She felt with 13 in Owl Manage and their multiple contributions, Saya was safe at least for her lifetime.

Various people began bringing up already familiar arguments for creating reefs, building boats with dhakin repellant, and raising tariffs on goods shipped to Skene. Oby's face was weary as she fielded this dialogue, people venting their worry and frustration into disagreements which could not be resolved here and now. Pyosz wondered what was happening on Skene, if there was a similar impromptu convocation brewing at the U or Lofthall. But none of us will be present to help sort it out she thought, with an odd feeling of loss. Ngus became restless and was passed down to sit in the lap next to Ulodd, so the babies could interact.

Then a miner, from the looks of her buksers, stood and said laconically "I think we should be paying attention to how our panic funnels power in the direction of the Lofthall. I mean, they already control our shipping, do we want to turn over all our human transportation to them as well?"

Maar's face was incredulous as she turned her gaze toward Pyosz. Thleen looked ready to get to her feet, and even Oby was momentarily nonplussed. It was Mill who replied, from her chair but stiffly upright. "Anyone who feels the Lofthall is not making sacrifices commensurate with the responsibility we assume is welcome to run against me, vote me out of office and reduce our service role to Pya." Her tone was flat and exhausted. Pyosz felt animosity traveling in waves toward the miner. Still, she thought she had enough support to dare voice it observed the Prl-trained part of her mind.

Now it was Nioma standing, her long hair braided in a rope around the crown of her head this morning, wearing an indigo pu decorated with silver spiral galaxies spilling down its folds. She said "I know most of us are concerned about the change in ferry travel, or the eks we may lose in years to come. I have a family member who commutes to Doimoi, I am concerned myself. However, what brought us here is death, the horrific deaths of two women I knew and loved. They died while trying to feed Skene. As long as we send pilots out to sin, we are asking them to face death. It is an unbalanced request that washes back on us all. One possible solution, for Pya at least, is to alter our protein demands such that sinning is much less frequent. We have land to grow other sources of nutrition. We could also reef in deepwater channels between large islands in a way that allows larger fish migration but stops leviathans from patrolling our borders. It's a long-term and costly idea, yet generations down the road would be able to count the human life saved." She sat down again and Prl's hand slipped into her lap, as Mill studied them.

This unleashed a barrage of contention back and forth. Suggesting Skeners not eat fish is akin to asking them not to wear burzakas Pyosz thought, hiding her grin. She knew the notion was one which Nioma actually believed was feasible to some degree, and she was a strong advocate for greater diversity in Skene's ejida dependence. They had learned that Nioma knew all along Poth had taken home the rabbit. If it were up to Nioma, rabbits and numerous other animals would be given their own islands to inhabit except for occasional culling expeditions, simply to see what adaptations they made.

However, Nioma's comment also awakened this gathering's loyalty to the Lofthall who daily stocked the beloved fish docks, reminding them of their debt to pilots. Pyosz was sure Nioma expected that effect as well from her words. She loved Nioma but was glad she had not grown up with two emmas of Prl's stripe.

A few commenters later, Caax of Dudor stood, small but commanding. She was pregnant again. The child she had been carrying when Maar rescued her from the ferry roof was now in first grade with Merrl; they had named her Maax, which had embarrassed Maar but Pyosz thought it only fitting. Pyosz remembered Caax had been flown back to the Lofthall by Fohol, and she could read particular grief on Caax's face now.

"I know what it means first-hand to see those monsters come for me. I watched my cousin...consumed. I also saw pilots risking their own lives to save us. It's the only reason I and my eldest still walk Pyan soil." The room was hushed. Caax swept her gaze in an arc and settled on Maar. "I say we give the Lofthall as many weapons as we can and set them on a course of driving levis away from waters anywhere near us. I don't believe there isn't a deterrent which would work. Before I give up one wave to them, I'd rather see us litter the kuonos with shards of their carcasses, as long as it takes. Pya is where humans first set down and first tried to make home, and I say we lead the way now in wiping levs back from our proximity. We have a right to be here."

As a roar went up, Pyosz saw Yoj slump in dismay. Though not Halling. Her face remained impassive but her eyes glittered. Pyosz could tell the loud reaction was mixed, and it sounded more affirmative than not. She locked on Maar, who had leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, her forehead deeply creased.

Pyosz turned and motioned to Briel, signing for her to pass Ngus back her way. Ngus looked uncertain until she deduced where she was headed, when relief flooded her small pale face. People were standing and talking over each other, their voices loud and angry. Ngus immediately fingered at Pyosz's shati, and Pyosz unlaced it to lay Ngus against her breast -- she knew Ngus wasn't really hungry, she was looking for familiar comfort, and Pyosz sought that link as well. They sighed together as the connection was made, and Pyosz looked up from Ngus's half-closed eyes to see Maar watching them, her brow now smooth.

The argument for and against a Lofthall-led war on leviathans raged while Pyosz and Maar communicated silently and Ngus dropped off at Pyosz's breast. Eventually Qala stood, and Yoj looked at her hopefully.

"I grew up on Exploit, hearing tales of Lofthall treachery and violence. I was already exiled by the time I joined the Lofthall, but that act sealed the deal. What I found there was a sibaste completely focused on doing what Skene needed. The Lofthall which arrived here 500 years ago is not the Lofthall we have remade according to Skene ethics, any more than we resemble those confused colonists in other ways. I trust our Sheng Zhangs, and I'm -- I'm sick of losing pilots. Sick all the way through."

She sat back down to a pat on the back from Tu. Yoj looked slammed, and Dodd was somber. Pyosz knew in her gut Prl was trying to arrange the right words which would distill and swing this clash into a more reasoned direction. Maar blinked at her twice.

Pyosz stood, squaring her shoulders against the weight of Ngus in her yameen. Ngus's dimpled legs showed on either side of the faded purple linen, and her red-gold shock of hair contrasted with the fabric supporting her sleeping face. Pyosz cupped one round foot in her hand and tugged at her own right front dread as she took a breath.

"I come from Lofthall, three generations counting my habibi Veida. I partnered with a pilot, and it appears that at least one of my children will choose the Lofthall." Many faces swiveled to look at Thleen, who scowled at her hands.

"I just lost my cousin, and a good family friend. I fear death for my sweetheart every day. I grew up with that fear under the roof in one form or another. I want us to do anything we can to create more safety, for pilots in particular." She smiled tenderly at Maar before going on.

"But I beg of you, don't ask our pilots to become killers." She could feel Yoj's eyes on her. "I myself have to kill as part of my job to feed Skene. I have to kill intelligent, sweet-hearted animals who depend on me utterly. Anyone who knows me can tell you, it wrecks my mind and spirit for days, sometimes weeks. It leaves me out of balance. Those of you who likewise perform slaughter for our ejida system understand what I mean, and all of you on some level understand we don't spread that task around on Pya, we have a small number of individuals who can handle the work of large-scale slaughter. My own children judge me for it, and I allow them that judgment because it takes an adult reason to make allowance for what I must do."

She paused to shift Ngus's weight, standing on her other leg. "I know it is sometimes necessary for my partner, for other pilots, to kill a large sentient creature who loathes us and who claimed Skene long before we did. I think we have the right to defend ourselves and the very human right to become temporarily unhinged when we are hunted. But to institutionalize hunting for the sake of sowing death would be to ask our pilots to change their primary instinct, that of looking after Skene, and add on a differing, conflicting logic, that of killing in the way leviathans do. I don't want that change visited on the pilots I love. It won't make them any safer, and it will diminish them. That is my belief, and it is what I will pass on to my descendants in this Lofthall family of ours." She stood a few seconds more, and Ngus woke up at the sudden silence. Her eyes immediately spotted Maar, facing them below, and she flung out both hands, crying happily "Mar!"

The room erupted in laughter. Pyosz sat down, folding away Ngus's insistent point and saying "I know, darling, she's right over there but she's working right now, we'll go see her when this gathering is over, all right?"

Which was not long. Mill stood and said "Thank you all for your concern. I need to take my pilots back to the Lofthall and come up with a plan for resuming our hauling today. If you need a ride today, come tell us. Otherwise..." She couldn't finish, because what was left involved remembering the funeral tomorrow. Halling took her hand, and Mill leaned heavily against her scooter.

Pyosz went against the throngs heading outside and Maar met her halfway along the aisle. Ngus patted Maar's face and said "Come home, Mar?"

Maar took time to kiss Pyosz before answering Ngus. By then, Thleen had joined them, trying to wrap her arms around both their shoulders. "I agree with you" Maar told Pyosz softly. "I didn't know it until you spoke, but -- "

"One of us is always a small step ahead of the other, we take turns" said Pyosz. "Are you able to come for lunch, or leave early this afternoon?"

Maar shook her head sadly. "But after dinner, let's me and you go to the hot springs for an hour."

"All right. Then I'm going to the schoolhouse and eat lunch with all our children" decided Pyosz. "Come on, Thleen, Dodd is waiting for her students."

Dinner was quiet. Qala had made gingerbread with the little ones after homework, and they had that for dessert, dipped into milky tea. A rainstorm had arrived, and Prl lit the hearth, more for comfort than needed heat.

Maar gathered towels and scrub for the hot springs. Pyosz grabbed one of the candle lanterns Lawa had fashioned from recycled tin and the children had painted in gay colors. She said "We'll be back before bedtime", kissing Qux's upturned forehead. Merrl was already protesting, and as they departed, Pyosz heard Thleen telling Merrl "It's okay, Maar's heart is broken right now and emma knows how to fix it when they're alone."

They linked fingers for the long trek through the pasture, mud already starting to suck at their otos. They walked single file through the woods, where the constant aroma of fecund decay was sharpened by the downpour. They folded their attire into burzakas and submerged to their chins in water with a halo line of steam above the surface.

When Maar got out to wash, Pyosz joined her, soaping her back, then kneeling to lather her legs. Pilots needed massage of their lower body muscles as much as their upper. Maar groaned when Pyosz knuckled her calf muscles and slid slick thumbs along the backs of her thighs.

Back in the springs, Pyosz drifted near the candle to show Maar "On the ferry home, Merrl made this gesture and asked me what it meant." She pressed her palms against her face on either side, pulling backwards to imitate cheeks being squeezed by thighs, while extending her tongue. Maar looked very disturbed and said "Shit and thunderation, where did she pick that up?"

"Well, Thleen and Ziri both looked immediately guilty, so three guesses. I impressed upon her that it was never to be done in polite company or as an insult" said Pyosz.

"Which of course means she'll memorize it forever now" sighed Maar. "Funny how obscene that's considered, when we all do it in real life."

"Yeah, like calling someone a turd-dripper or a crotch-muncher" agreed Pyosz. "Normal adult activity, really. In fact, I can only think of one profane phrase that really is hateful."

Maar raised her orange eyebrows in question, and Pyosz said softly "Well, it's particularly horrible right now...You know it." She didn't want to speak it out loud, the curse which wished "May your mouth still be screaming as your feet begin being digested": A graphic description of being consumed by leviathans.

Maar shuddered and said "I've never used that one. Have you?"

"I started it as a teenager once, furious at my emma. Qala was there and she slapped her hand over my mouth, a hard slap, the only time she ever raised a hand to me. She said 'Not in this family' and I was stricken with guilt on the spot" said Pyosz. She glided to Maar now and wrapped her arms around Maar's middle, whispering "I'm glad Thleen has such faith in me, but I don't think I can mend your heart right now. Not all at once."

Maar began crying, and Pyosz joined her. Maar choked out "Every day. I'll miss them every day. They're a part of everything I do at the Lofthall."

Pyosz let herself feel the dread inside her, at Maar going into the air without Fohol there to pick up the slack. And although Abbo was her least favorite relative, no one deserved to die the way Abbo had -- she vowed to begin a stealthy brainwashing to dissuade Qux from going into the Lofthall, ever.

Maar went to the side to blow her nose, then returned to look blearily at Pyosz. "I want to ask you something, and I need you to be honest, no matter what. I can tell if you're holding back part of the truth."

Pyosz breathed deeply, suddenly chilled despite the hot water. "All right."

Maar licked her lips. "Is this -- am I to blame? For what happened to Abbo? Because I..." Maar trailed off.

Pyosz kept her eyes steady on Maar's flushed face. We got this far by never hiding things she reminded herself. "The ability of that leviathan attack to bring down a sinner is the consequence of several things, one of them being that Abbo had not released her grapple. Did you tell her to release? Had you told her repeatedly in the past to release on your direction? Did you insure that no one else suffered as a direct result of her obstinance? The answer to all those is yes, Maar. They were waiting for an error, and the error was hers, not yours. And if you had been in line to rescue her, instead of Fohol, it would be you who was taken down. So yes, there is a series of events, each of which is a consequence of the event preceding it, but you did not set the series in motion and there is no way you could have seen to interrupt it in advance. I mean, do you think I am to blame for Merrl falling off the dock and nearly drowning? Because in retrospect, it seems obvious she was going to make the mistake she did -- "

"No, there's no way to completely predict what another human will do" verified Maar.

"Add in the levs, and it's a maelstrom of uncertainty. I can understand you wanting to take the blame here, because blame might mean you could do something different in the future, which would lessen the terror that is going to hit the next time you have to sin. A terror we are both carrying right now, my sweetheart, the absolute love of my life." Pyosz was crying again. "But blame won't, in fact, make you safer. Or ease any of the gap which has appeared in your days."

This time Maar sobbed without restraint. When they dressed again to return to the Manage, Pyosz felt enervated, ready for sleep. The children were still up, damp-haired themselves from a shared bath with Thleen, in cotton schmattas and on laps. Pyosz and Maar walked them upstairs to once again share Thleen's room, telling soothing stories until everyone, including Thleen, had dropped off. Pyosz carried Ngus back to their bedroom and lay her in the cradle to begin the night.

The next morning after breakfast, Thleen silently took the blue paint from Maar when she was done and wiped her eyes before drawing a cobalt hand on her own face. Qala and Halling followed suit. Maar reluctantly parted from Pyosz to fly elders to Pertama. The sky was clear and cloudless as Pyosz, Prl, Nioma, Su and Thleen helped the little ones ferry to Koldok, standing on the wharf to wait on the rest of the Pea Podders.

Pyosz kept having to beat back waves of panic in her chest as they began the spiral walk upward to join Mill, Oby, Maar and the rest of the Lofthall. Her mind was imagining the day she would have to face this kind of goodbye for Maar, the only emma left for her children, her bed empty forever. When she reached Maar, her hand grip was almost crushing, and Maar looked at her keenly. She had given Ngus to Prl, meaning to focus her attention on Maar.

However, Qux left Lawa to come to Pyosz and plead with her eyes to be held, and when Pyosz obliged, Merrl immediately did the same with Maar. It actually helped to have those small bodies pressed close, and Pyosz motioned Thleen to stand right next to her on her other side. The only relief to be had seemed to be in numbers.

Before it was over, Mill staggered and would have fallen except for Vants quickly moving to hold her up. Halling pulled her back onto her lap, and no one thought it at all odd to see two ornately dressed Sheng Zhangs, one with white hair and one with grey, weeping in an emma-child fashion. Yoj was wrapped around them, and Oby stood between her two frail-appearing emmas, bolstered by Ngall and Ehuy.

Pyosz felt relief that Kuus did not have any bodies to lift off to the volcano, because she looked close to passing out herself. Pyosz met Fohol's three emmas and two sibs for the first time. She was surprised to see Uli until Uli whispered to her "Dekkan begged me to come in her stead. She tried to stand this morning, insisting she could make it, but doubled up in pain and they knocked her out again."

The gathering afterward was at the Lofthall. Pyosz told Maar "Will it be all right with you if I leave for ten minutes and go visit Dekkan?" Maar said "I wish I could, too. Tell her I love her and will be by this evening." Thleen said she wanted to go with Pyosz, and from the look on her face, Pyosz suspected it was partly to look after Pyosz herself, so she assented.

Dekkan was awake when they came in. She had somehow gotten paint to draw a blue hand on her own face, and she nodded at Thleen in sober appreciation. Pyosz repeated most of the eulogies and remarks, drawing on her Yoj-trained memory, and kissed Dekkan right on her cobalt-touched lips before they left.

At the Lofthall, Pava and a few other young adults had taken the smaller children away to the schoolgrounds to play after consuming cake and cookies. Pyosz made a plate in the canteen and sat beside Maar, feeding her small bites and watching Dodd do the same with her emmas. Mill had sat down apart from everyone else and had lain her head back on the chair, her eyes closed. People were telling quiet stories.

Ngus began fussing to come to Pysoz, so Pyosz handed the plate to Su, whispering "Refill it and keep her eating, she missed breakfast". Su looked embarrassed but complied as Pyosz began nursing Ngus, staying in contact with Maar's side. She saw Mill's eyes open after a while, Mill staring up at the ceiling, her face blank with desolation.

A minute later, Prl pushed a chair next to Mill and sat down, taking Mill's hand. Mill looked startled and sat upright, but she did not close her fingers back over Prl's. Pyosz could not hear them. However, she knew her emma's mouth well enough to read her lips across the room.

Prl said "It's not your fault."

"What?" said Mill.

Prl leaned closer. "It's our job as emmas, our entire job, to prepare our children for the life they will face. Once they are grown, we see the gaps in our preparation. And with Abbo, you aren't -- weren't merely her emma, you were her Sheng Zhang. So I know what you must be thinking. You must be scalding yourself for failure, trying to unravel the path which led unthinkably to her death. But Mill, it's not your fault."

Mill gaped at Prl in rank disbelief.

"I know we haven't been especially close, and live our lives somewhat differently. However, I respect the work you've chosen and how well you've excuted it. You are a gift to Pya and to all Skene. And you are a good emma, Mill. You did not fail Abbo. I trusted my own child with you, and I trust you with my child-in-law each day. I don't lie to you, Mill, you know how blunt I can be. I swear to you, Abbo's death is in no way your fault."

Oby was now listening, as were Yoj and Halling. Prl gathered Mill's other hand in her own and said tenderly "My siba, forgive yourself, lean on me and we'll get through this unbearable time." Mill abruptly pitched forward, dropping her face onto Prl's shoulder and starting to wail.

"What happened?" said Maar. "What did your emma say?"

"What Mill needed to hear" said Pyosz, her own eyes welling.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there.