Saturday, December 22, 2007


A word after a word after a word is power. --Margaret Atwood

As a writer, I'm grateful for the reminder of how dependent we are on our storytellers out on strike during this dismal holiday season, even as I miss them terribly. When I heard the corporate fobbing swag-bellied puttocks intended to flood the airwaves with even more "reality TV shows" (as if any of those situations or losers represent reality), I took an oath to find other ways to fill my time until the strike is over.

This oath is not particularly new. I've never seen a single episode of Survivor, Wife Swap, Big Brother, or the other crapola. I did watch part of an Amazing Race because some blog had mentioned there was a gay couple on it, but I lost interest rapidly and changed the channel. My one exception to the genre is Extreme House Makeover, because they actually help real people in dire trouble in a way that prolongs lives, creates exponentially more opportunities, and rewards poor/nonwhite/nontraditional families as if they deserved as much respect and faith as Ozzie and Harriet. And yeah, it's all about product placement and hype, I know, but I've followed up on those families, they actually benefit long-term. It's more than just a Sears circle-jerk.

(Patti LaBelle as winner of the Excellence in Media Award at the 18th Annual GLAAD Media Awards)

But: I broke my oath last week to check out the first night of Clash of the Choirs. Because, my god, it was Patti LaBelle heading up one of the choirs. I have to say, she definitely did not disappoint. Michael Bolton and his Connecticut milquetoasts were an embarrassment, and at least the country-western guy was honest in admitting he didn't have a fucking clue about anything except kicker music. But Patti blew them out of the hemisphere. I got hooked, in spite of myself. I learned that choirs don't have to sound like badly homogenized eunuchs (or Mormons), and I was fascinated with the all-too-brief glimpses of how Ms. LaBelle formed her musical judgments and pushed her pupils to perform dazzling displays above the rest.

I wound up taping and watching all five nights (taping was essential because I really couldn't sit through Bolton & Co.) And every single night, LaBelle's crew mopped up the floor with extremely original, ambitious, outrageously moving performances. But: the format relied on the standard "let the idiots with cellphones make the final decision" and even my cynical self could NOT BELIEVE IT when Nick Lachey (Mr. Jessica Simpson) was named the winner.

Gag me with the patriarchy. Gormless white boy beats out Patti LaBelle? Yeah, you just convince me it wasn't all those hip-hop-lovin' racist pasty-skinned suburbanite testosterone-poisoned BOYS who couldn't bring themselves to vote for a 50-something black WOMAN. I was utterly disgusted, most of all with myself for giving it a try.

Back to my oath.

And here's the thing: These "reality" shows are designed to bring out the worst in people. Designed to reinforce woman-hating and white supremacy. Even more, they are sops to distract us from the class war being waged with increasing ferocity against most of the population. Shadocat recently pointed out how many daytime shows have devolved into flashy giveaways to audience members, a high-tech throwback to the old Queen For A Day shtick of let's get everyone to believe help from drowning will eventually arrive. It's obscene.

If you care about the survival of unions, the compensation of merit over corporate greed, the value of diverse voices: Check out the Writer's Guild of America site and lend your solidarity. You can go here to find out ways to support a fair contract -- even if it's just writing an e-mail which they'll post, it makes a difference.

And if you'd like to create your own devastating insults such as the I used in the second sentence of this post, check out The Shakespearean Insult Kit for ideas. Language is at our disposal, and we don't have to be stupid or obscene to wield it with maximum effect.

Speaking of art and language...

(Ira and George Gershwin at work)

I watched the American Masters' special on George Gershwin yesterday, and was struck again by how what we think of as pop culture in this country would not exist without the outscale contributions of Jewish immigrants and African-Americans. Gershwin, coming from Russian Ashkenazic immigrant parents who were not in the least musical, still somehow found his way to a job on Tin Pan Alley by the age of 15, playing piano as if born to it and blending Hasidic longing with jazz and blues to create an unmistakable sound. He was especially dependent on his family for emotional sustenance -- never married and, from the sound of it, never even came close to it, although it doesn't seem he was a closet case, either.

It was deeply interesting to hear the two main stars of Porgy and Bess, who owe their roles in that smash to Gershwin's groundbreaking insistence that only blacks be cast for black parts, present two completely contradictory reactions to the fact that the first successful African-American opera was written by a white man: One of them, Todd Duncan, had no problem with it, and one of them, Anne Brown, said tactfully but with strong emotion "I just wonder what it would have looked like if it were written by someone who wasn't white." We'll wonder forever, won't we?

George's creativity found home port when his older brother Ira began creating the lyrics for his songs. They were temperamentally very different, but extremely close friends as well as collaborators, living a life joined in most aspects. Ira Gershwin was the first lyricist to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (for Of Thee I Sing, a profoundly political and still radical script), and his ability to wed words to George's extraordinary music leaves me simply in awe. These brothers made an American art form of musical comedy.

During the late 70s and early 80s in San Francisco, almost weekly I stepped away from my intense role as a radical dyke activist to watch old movies at the Castro, York, Rialto, or other theaters around town. It was a habit I didn't talk about much with my serious revolutionary friends, but I can now see that it fueled my faith and creativity in profound ways. I had a movie-going buddy, Laurie, and the sum total of our relationship was Fred Astaire/Ginger Roger movies. We saw every one of them, more than once. A New York Jew, Laurie found validation of her culture somehow in those dances and melodies, while I reveled in the language and meter. Laurie, if you read this, write me. No, no, they can't take that away from me.

I began crying at the end of the PBS special, not over George's tragically early death at 38 (though I still consider it a great loss), but over the revelation that when he died, he had created the music for a final song with Ira but Ira didn't write the lyrics until after George was gone. That song was his goodbye to his beloved little brother, and no wonder it's one of my favorite of all time. Knowing the history has altered the meaning for me irrevocably for the better:

It's very clear
Our love is here to stay
Not for a year, but ever and a day

The radio
And the telephone
And the movies that we know
May just be passing fancies and in time may go

But oh my dear
Our love is here to stay
Together we're going a long long way

In time the Rockies may crumble
Gibraltar may tumble
They're only made of clay
But our love is here to stay



This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future. There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


Later, after a bath and getting dressed, Yoj had gone into her new study and was trying again to take it in when the emmas came home. Qen called out "Yoj! Yoj! Oh, there you are." She set down a basket of small green pears and dark red cherries and said "We stopped by the furniture place and, oh, Yoj, do they have just the desk for you. But it's -- well, I'm not going to tell you, you just have to come see."

Yoj snagged a couple of cherries from the basket and, eating one, said "All right. Let's get Bux."

Veida and Qen put away the perishables while Yerush showed off the new clear glass globes for the light fixtures. Then the three of them accompanied Bux and Yoj to a large shop off the main street that was crowded with every kind of furniture to be found on Skene. The shopkeeper saw them come in the front door and walked toward them.

"This is our child Bux and her partner Yoj" said Qen. "Yoj is the one who needs a desk."

In the back corner, under a stack of metal kitchen chairs and small lamps, was a dark gleaming expanse of wood. The emmas cleared it off to reveal a desk with a built-in array of small shelves and cubbyholes. It had four drawers on either side of a kneehole, and it was the most beautiful piece of furniture Yoj had ever seen. To be frank, she'd never seen a wooden desk.

"Wherever did you get this?" she marveled.

"Someone who lived on Bosco and worked with wood made it from a tree called mahogany. It was in the family for a long time, but the last of them died out and it came to me. No one's been able to afford it" said the shopkeeper bluntly.

Yoj was instantly wary. Bux, however, could not keep her hands off the lustrous grain. "It reminds me of your hair, Yoj, in the sunlight" she said. Then she turned to the shopkeeper and said "How much?"

The figure made Yoj hold up her hands and said "Well, it's a dream then. We can't possibly -- "

"But she has something equally extraordinary to barter" put in Qen.

"You mentioned that" said the shopkeeper, now the wary one. "Care to enlighten me?"

Yoj looked at Qen blankly. Qen nudged "It's in storage at the school. Rosz's, you know".

"Oh" said Yoj. She paused, and Qen said "Unless you've changed your mind, because it's a family heirloom and maybe we should just keep it, in case one of your children wants to -- "

"No!" said Yoj. "No, I'd rather it find -- another home. With someone who will treasure it just for what it is." She faced the shopkeeper and said "It's a floor loom of golden oak, mortise and tenon joined, made at least a hundred and fifty years ago. It stands six feet tall and five feet wide, with both a breast beam and a knee beam. Its sides are carved and inlaid with emma of pearl mythical creatures. The heddles are ceramic-coated steel. The reeds are stainless steel and unblemished. It's in perfect working order, and was used by Rosz of Isola Fling, the finest takashkinu on Skene. I am her eldest and heir."

Bux was very moved by the pride in Yoj's voice. It apparently affected the shopkeeper, too, despite her merchant's acumen. After a few seconds, she cleared her throat and said "I'll have to see it."

"It's at the school and you can either view it there, or we can bring it here, but if we do the latter, it has to be worth our while" said Yoj. She and the shopkeeper fell to haggling in earnest. The emmas drifted off, knowing this would take some time.

"She'll need a desk-top lamp" said Qen to Veida.

"And a good chair" added Yerush. They split up to rummage through the shop.

By the time Yoj was done, she had the desk, the lamp and a chair of her choosing. "If the loom is what you say it is" warned the shopkeeper.

"Our partner can deliver it by sinner later today" said Yoj. "We'll return to help unload it then and you can see for yourself." They shook hands, and the emmas were able to hold off crowing in delight until they reached the sidewalk outside.

As they were patting Yoj's back, she said, grinning, "What time is it?"

Bux found a clock. "Just past 1:00. No wonder I'm so hungry!"

"We need to meet Halling at the jichang" said Yoj. "Just this once, let's go out to a cafe and treat ourselves. We can pick up something for Halling, since I'm going to make her work right after her shift."

Like a flock of chattering schoolchildren, they went to Bux's favorite cafe and got barbecued goat buns with yamsticks and a lemon bar apiece. Then they walked over to the jichang and sat at the side, eating and watching the first lighters come in. They were done chewing by the time Halling landed. Yoj met her at her hatch and said "I hate to ask this of you, but we have a need for your hauling." She handed Halling her lunch and Halling joined them to sit and eat as they told her about the desk and loom swap.

With a huge grin, Halling said "I'd be really honored. But one of you needs to scoot over to the fish docks, we caught a hnisa today and I want some of those steaks for us."

"I'll go!" said Yerush. "See you all at home." She strode off.

Halling made sure she had chains and blanket wraps in her sinner, then said "Meet me at the schoolyard."

An hour later, the exchange had been made and Yoj's new desk was in the lane in front of the Manage as Halling flew off. Veida and Qen were inside, having carried Yoj's new chair and lamp home. Bux and Yoj talked over how to get the desk through the door, then decided to wait on Veida and Qen's muscles before going further.

By the time the desk was in place in Yoj's study, they were all sweating. It filled one end underneath the clerestory and smelled of lemon polish in the warm afternoon air. Bux plugged in the lamp, turned it on, then leaned over the side of the desk to give Yoj a big kiss as she sat in her chair. Halling's voice came from the doorway, saying "What a beautiful sight."

"As befits the dichter of Skene" said Bux, going to kiss her as well.

"Are we going to that dance on Bosco tonight?" asked Halling.

"Absolutely" said Yoj, standing up. "Which means you need to bathe and get some sleep. I'll make hnisa for dinner, if you want."

"Of course I want" said Halling.

But Qen stepped in and said "I want to go to that dance, too, and I was up almost as early as Halling. I suggest we all go take a long nap and then we can have a late dinner. I'll marinate the hnisa with tarragon and mustard in the larder, it won't take more than a few minutes to broil it."

"You're on" said Veida, heading for the ladder to their loft.

Bux, Yoj and Halling grinned at each other. "I still have to bathe" said Halling.

"We'll wait up for you" said Bux.

The following day, after sleeping in, Bux finished painting the headboard of their new bed with a panoramic view from Sigrist Poke, complete with Halling flying by in a shining lighter. Once it was dry, they and the emmas grunted it over the high railing of the loft and down gently to the living room floor, then sideways into the new bedroom. Finally outfitted with the new mattress and sheets, it looked like "where I intend to sleep the rest of my days", according to Yoj. They dragged over their clothes chests, hung new metal presses over each chest for their silks, and screwed a small lamp to the wall at one side so Yoj could read in bed.

On Shmonah, everyone but Halling walked up to the school and carried back the three-person bed from Isola Fling. Yoj scrubbed it thoroughly in the lane with vinegar water and then lemon oil before it went into the house. After Halling got home, it took all six of them to get it up into the loft. Halling said "I guess when you talk with Jua about building a ladder to the new roof area, you'll have to negotiate for another mattress, 'cause this one is shot."

"We have to barter for the coldframes, too" added Veida. "And shelves for the starts room."

"Shelves for Yoj's study" added Bux.

"The greenhouse, and which trees to go in it" said Qen.

"And books for Yoj's study" said Yerush.

Yoj looked up at that. "I thought I'd bring those from my cubicle -- at least, what I'll need here."

"Yes, but I have access to printing privileges of volumes at the library that I'm not using up each year. If you'd like to look at the directory and pick out things for yourself, we can add those to your shelves" said Yerush.

Yoj was bowled over. "Oceans, Yerush! Where is this directory?"

"It's at my office. Stop by tomorrow and I'll loan it to you. Just between us, of course" grinned Yerush.

"You might wind up never needing to go to the library again" said Bux hopefully.

Yoj sighed and said "Bux -- the library is where I made my connection with you. For that matter, it's the place where Halling and I first discussed being -- more than friends."

"I didn't know that!" said Bux, looking at Halling.

"So I'm not eager to give it up" said Yoj.

Bux looked upset.

"Not because she might find someone else there, you rockwit" explained Halling, giving Bux a nudge.

Yoj laughed resignedly. "Whatever Yerush can get printed won't begin to approach what are on those shelves. For that matter, even I don't have access to what I really want to read on those shelves."

Yerush said "If you do become a gakusha, that would increase your access."

"How far?" wondered Yoj.

"Well, with my area of study, I can read anything in the library stacks and can apply to the Archivist for anything in her stacks as well" said Yerush. "But she turns me down about half the time. Plus, some of the material is in non-published form."

"On disk, you mean" said Yoj.

"Yes. And reading those requires her presence" said Yerush.

"Well" mused Yoj. "If I ever find an apprenctice to be dichter that I could trust, I could go part-time and pick up my studies again. As long as I'm daydreaming, maybe when I'm older, I can apprentice to become Archivist."

Halling looked troubled but tried to hide it. Yoj put her arm through Halling's and said "Not to worry, sweetheart. As long as your life is on the line, I'm your dichter. That comes first."

Halling still looked troubled, however.

"Come on, you planning fiends" said Yoj. "Let's make a list of what needs doing when and divide up the work still in front of us."

Qen got a pad to make notes.

The next day, Bux and Yoj let Halling sleep in as the rain came down in sheets outside. Yoj walked Bux to the ferry for her off-island wandmaler job and then went on to her cubicle. When Halling got up, only she and Veida were left in the house.

Halling ate toast and yogurt as Veida played with figures on a pad. "What're you calculating?" asked Halling.

"Cost vs. benefits of various numbers of ducks and geese" said Veida.

After a few more bites, Halling said "How do you know that sort of thing?"

"I grew up on Beras" said Veida. "Listen, when you're done, you ready for some hard labor?"

"You bet" said Halling.

After she had on old clothes and a burzaka, she followed Veida out to their new strip of tillage on the other side of the expansion. A red string tied to metal stakes indicated their new property line. Between it and the new rooms was a space of just under seven meters. The soil was heavily compacted from all the recent construction work, and there were many standing pools of water.

Veida said "I think it'll be at least three weeks before there's a surplus of new hatches on Beras for us to acquire our flock here. And this soil needs to be aerated, anyhow. I'm thinking we could turn it lightly with forks, even as wet as it is, and sow winter rye. It'll give the ducklings and goslings something to eat right away when they arrive."

They tramped out a border with their boots, giving the ronyangers room to build their wall and stopping at the place where a fence would block off the flock from the rest of the tillage. They began turning soil in the middle, Halling working up toward the wall beside the lane and Veida back toward the rest of the tillage. Halling relished the sound of drops pelting her burzaka hood, the smell of wet earth, the thrum of her increasing pulse, the growing warmth in her body as she added fresh strips, six inches at a time, of dark churned soil.

Veida was done ahead of her and yelled "Meet me at the shed" as she vanished around the corner of the house. When Halling was finished, she shimmied over the wall into the lane, walked back to the wall next to their lettuces, shimmied over it and walked to the shed, wiping down the tines of her fork with her fingers as she went. She gave it, then her hands, a rinse from the nearby water tank hose. Chickens clustered hopefully about her feet: Maybe it was magically time for dinner.

As she dried her fork with a rag in the shed and hung it on the wall, she said "Okay if I give the chickens a little midday snack?"

"Sure" said Veida. She was measuring spoonfuls from a bag of seed into two big cans of sand.

Halling filled a third can with chicken feed and stepped to the doorway of the shed. A chorus of warbles and clacks greeted her, and she began flinging handfuls into the driest part of the run. She remarked "The bag is the same as the feed we gave our chickens at Motu, but the feed looks different to me."

Veida grinned at her. "We add two quarts each of vis and dried kelp to every bag. Makes for much healthier chickens. And eggs."

"Aha" said Halling, examining her palmful of feed. "Is this why we get all those double-yolks?"

"Yep" said Veida. "Well, that plus Pinny. Her line are amazing layers."

"Which one is Pinny?" asked Halling. Veida came to point her out, then her children and sibs.

"I've noticed we don't seem to sell the double-yolk eggs" said Halling.

Veida leaned one arm on Halling's shoulder and grinned again. "Qen just won't indulge herself much, but a double-yolked egg, that we can tempt her with. So we save them all for her. We mark them in the larder with an x on the round end." Then, casting a critical eye at the swirl of chickens fighting for Halling's tosses, Veida added "I see we've got five -- no, six -- capons ready for slaughter. We can do that next, if you're up for it."

"I am" said Halling. "How do we get pullets and capons, when there's no chanticleer here?"

Veida returned to her seed measuring as she answered, "There's a Manage up near the school with a cock, I'm sure you've heard her in the mornings. Her lineage is good for our hens, so every so often we borrow her for a couple of days. We let Pinny and other good layers keep their eggs after those visits and raise the chicks. From that we select a few new layers to replace those who may be fading out. We pay for the service with a capon or two."

Halling joined her at the shed bench. Veida was adding bright blue powder to each can of sand and seed. At Halling's quizzical expression, Veida said "This is ground clay pigment, harmless. But it'll help us see where we've already broadcast seed."

By the time they were done sowing rye, their palms were vivid blue. They rinsed their hands at the water tank again, released Pinny from the shed where she had gotten locked in earlier, and selected out the six capons, putting them into a mesh carrying-crate. Veida took them to the other edge of the tillage, next to the new boundary, and set them down with a plastic cloth over the crate to keep it dry. "I like to let 'em settle for a bit, it affects the meat if they're upset" she said. "And I never slaughter anything in view of the others. Just not right."

They went in the house to drink tea and warm up. Veida put a giant pot of water to boil on the aga for scalding, and they spread a dropcloth under the table to catch feathers. As Halling refilled their tea, Veida sharpened a wicked-looking cleaver. Katts slowly trailed in through the katt door at the corner, sitting expectantly around her.

"They always know" said Veida, nodding at the katts. "We give them the heads and feet, Yerush won't eat 'em and doesn't want 'em at the table."

They walked back out to the crate, now quiet, with a smaller knife to remove the entrails and a bowl to collect giblets. Veida took the capons out one by one, holding them tenderly and keeping them calm until the last minute. They didn't even have time to squawk before they died. Halling insisted on doing the next two, and demonstrated this was not her first time at it. The katts got their share, and Halling carried in the carcasses and giblets while Veida went to put away the crate and wash their tools.

Halling was scalding a second carcass when Veida joined her. As they plucked, Halling asked "So, if you were a duck-and-goose kinda Skener, how did you wind up at the Lofthall?"

Veida looked at her keenly. "Been a long time since I thought about that." There was a long pause, then Veida said "We clip their wings, you know. When they get up to a certain age, keeps 'em on the ponds. And the first time my emmas showed me how, my aggie pulled out an anatomy chart. It was mostly about how to cut them up for cooking, or the cycle of eggs, but there was an inset showing flight muscles, how the bones are porous, construction of feathers -- all about how they managed to defy gravity. I got curious."

Halling's eyes were bright. "Curiosity is our version of wings, I reckon."

Veida laughed. "My aggie was so put out with me when I said I wanted to go into lighter training. Did everything she could to stop me. I was the oldest, you know. They were terrified my three sibus were going to follow me into danger."

"Did they?" asked Halling.

"Nope. Next oldest stayed on Beras, partnered well and took the Manage. Last two also stayed there. Beras is a good place to live, really. Peaceful and plenty to eat."

"I'd like to meet your sibs, next time you go visit, if I can get off work" said Halling.

Veida was moved. "One is dead, but yes, I'd love you to go with me. And Paha lives nearby to them, lots of family at hand."

"My aggie came from Seda, so that's always felt more like home than Motu, in some ways" commiserated Halling. "Although I would never want to work in the caverns like two of my sibs do. I'd want to be out in the mulberry groves, at the very least."

"How'd you get to flight school, then?" asked Veida.

"Xaya" grinned Halling. "I mean, I did want to fly, you can't fake that. But I'd have followed Xaya anywhere."

"Even into the silkworm caverns?" teased Veida.

Halling shrugged. "Xaya grew up on Abfall right next to the robin nesting grounds, so she watched baby birds learning how to fly. Plus, she just loved motion of any kind. And I had the science and math skills, I tutored her through our courses. I love all kinds of work, hands or head, but I can't imagine having turned out to do anything but flying now."

"It means a lot to me to have another pilot in the house" said Veida softly.

"Me, too" answered Halling.

They were almost done plucking when Yerush and Yoj came in the front door together.

"You've been busy" said Yerush, leaning over to give Veida a kiss.

"Does this mean roast chicken for dinner?" asked Yoj.

"I'd say it does" answered Halling, accepting her own kiss.

"We've not had lunch, despite how late it is" said Yerush, opening the larder door.

"Us neither" said Veida.

"Well, what's fast and won't need chicken-mussed work space to prepare?" said Yoj, joining Yerush.

"I'd like something hot" requested Halling, putting her last cleaned carcass in the pan on the table and going to the bathroom to wash. Veida gathered the dropcloth carefully and took it outside to shake out over the compost pile.

When they returned, the table was scrubbed down, the pan of carcasses was near the sink, and Yerush was chopping onions while Yoj sliced bread.

"Melt some butter and oil in a skillet for grilling tempeh and onions" Yoj told Halling. Veida had a mound of spinach and carrots that she washed thoroughly at the sink after scrubbing her own hands. Yoj took over the frying from Halling so Halling could rinse the carcasses and put them in a clean pan for cold storage.

As they were eating, Yoj suddenly asked "Are your palms blue?" Veida and Halling began laughing. Before they could explain, Sigrist radio came on with a crackle and said "Call to Veida, comadrona of Riesig Pliss. Xichon of Argile has begun sudden labor, requests your services."

Veida began shoving the last of her salad into her mouth as Yerush got the ferry schedule and checked the times. "There's one in 40 minutes from the north landing, can you make that?" she asked.

"Yep" said Veida. "Will you pack my bag while I wash again and change?"

Yerush got up and began filling Veida's leather valise with bottles of herbs and other items from her cupboard in the living room, calling out questions to Veida as she went into the bath room. She then climbed into the loft with Veida and put together an overnight bag as Veida dressed. Fifteen minutes later, they climbed down. Yerush took a handful of coins from the kitchen jar, giving them to Veida and saying "I'll call the Sigrist, tell them you're on your way. Have a good baby!". They kissed and Veida all but ran out the front door. Yerush made her call and returned to lunch.

Yoj said "I don't think we should roast that chicken until she gets back, since it was her effort helped get it ready."

Yerush smiled at her and said "That's sweet of you. I could chop more onions and make a brown soup."

"There's a new batch of mushrooms, I noticed" said Halling, "They'd go good in that."

After lunch, Yoj said she was going back to the furniture store to check out shelves for her study. Halling offered to go along, adding "If you buy something without Bux's approval, well, I wasn't with you, okay?"

"Coward" said Yoj amiably. She did find four floor-to-ceiling shelf/cupboard combos in different metals, all of them used, and got them at a good price by arguing they all had to be refinished. "I'll let Bux be the one to strip and repaint them, and that'll make her happy with 'em" she said to Halling. They staggered home with their awkward double armloads and stashed them in the corner of the tillage for the time being. Yoj sat at her new desk and tinkered with her latest song while Halling did all the prep work for dinner, leaving the actual soup-making for Yerush to finish later. Then she mopped the kitchen and, taking advantage of a brief late afternoon patch of clear sky, weeded both lettuce and pepper beds thoroughly.

Veida got home late the following afternoon. Xichon's fourth child arrived after only six hours of labor to a smoothly-running Manage. Veida's payment was in hard currency plus a small carved box of mulberry wood as an extra gift. Veida hid the box so she could give it to Qen at her upcoming birthday.

At dinner, Qen announced "I'm having dinner next Empat with the botaniste. We're going to walk through the greenhouses afterward and consider all the possibilities for our own greenhouse here. I'll be home late."

After a pause, Yerush said "Why don't you ask her to dinner here? I'd be happy to cook for her, and we can all discuss the possibilities, perhaps walk over to the ejida together for a tour."

Qen said smoothly, "Oh, her dinners are extraordinary, not to be missed. She has ingredients no one else on Skene does, you know. And, well, our conversations go off into tangents the rest of you might not find as fascinating as we do."

Yerush was going to protest further, but Qen said, looking only at Veida, "I promise I'll bring all the plant information back to you, we'll make that decision together." Veida smiled and said "Have fun, then."

Qen tossed in "We'll likely make this a monthly event. The botaniste says her interactions with me are a highlight she wants to make regular." She was still not looking at Yerush.

Halling was trying so hard not to laugh that she choked on her roll. Bux got up to thump on her back and Yoj brought her more tea. By the time this was over, the conversation had moved on. Yerush's face was not pleased, however, through the rest of the meal.

After dinner, Halling carried out the compost and the separate bucket of scraps to feed the chickens. After filling their trough, changing their water, and shutting up the henhouse for the night, she was coming out the gate to their run when Qen emerged from the privy. Halling stopped and said, quizzically, "Qen, just between you and me -- do you and the botaniste have a sweetness going on with each other?"

Qen glanced at the house, to make sure they would not be overheard, then giggled and said "No. Absolutely not. We're really just kindred souls when it comes to growing things. But I let Yerush suspect an affair is either happening or about to happen. It makes her a little crazy."

Halling burst out laughing, and Qen put her finger to her lips.

Halling said, in a lower voice "Seems only fair. But -- honestly, Qen, you're a very attractive woman -- are you sure the botaniste isn't perhaps hoping for more?"

Qen's grin was delirious. "This is an absolute secret, Halling, all right? The botaniste is a Y, and she only likes to go to bed with other Ys. She is having an affair, but not with me and she's not the least bit interested in me that way."

Still giggling, Qen went on to the house. Halling stopped to rinse out her bucket, and to wonder how Qen knew this private information about the botaniste, if the question had never arisen.

The following Ot, Yoj came in from her singing lesson at the school and immediately began making bread. Bux returned a while later from her two-day wandmaler job and Yoj kissed her joyfully, getting flour and bits of dough all over her. When they could finally pull apart, Bux said "Where's Halling, still asleep?"

"Yes, but she'd want you to wake her up" said Yoj. Before Bux could leave Yoj's arms, however, Veida came in from the tillage and Qen opened the front door. Bux had to show off her wandmaler payment -- two pounds of honey and comb in a big blue glass jar, plus a pound each of peanuts and filberts.

"My goodness, your work must have dazzled them!" explained Qen, holding the honey up to the light. Bux laughed gaily. A few seconds later, the bedroom door opened and an almost sleepwalking Halling said "Bux? Is that you?"

Bux flew into her arms and they had a sweet reunion. Halling let Bux pull her into the kitchen still in her schmatta to show her the honey and nuts. They made Halling's eyes light up, but not as much as looking at Bux's face did.

Qen opened the larder door and said "What sounds good for dinner?"

"Well, honeycakes for sure" said Yoj, grinning at Halling, who replied "I brought kala from the docks -- I thought we could press it for the oil, then make frycakes from the flesh."

Veida held up her basket and said "Chard, brussel sprouts, cress, and a few golden beets." She went to the sink to scrub the vegetables. Qen took kala from the larder and Bux got their press from a shelf. Yoj went to rinse the load of laundry she'd started. Halling took her chance to get dressed.

An hour later, Halling was setting the table as Yoj pulled out a batch of dinner biscuits, along with a pan of cake she immediately drizzled with honey. Qen was beginning to watch the clock when Yerush came in the front door, her frizzy grey hair even frizzier from the light rain just beginning to fall. She came into the kitchen, pulling off her manteau, and said excitedly "I have news!"

After a brief pause, she said "The Genist has an appointment available tomorrow afternoon! It opened up suddenly, and Raisa said you three can have it if you want it."

The mention of Raisa's name did nothing to improve Qen's mood. Halling, Bux and Yoj looked at each other -- they hadn't thought to see the Genist for another three weeks. Halling said slowly "The forecast tomorrow is for heavy rain, and I told emma the next rain day I had on a weekend, I'd come out to Motu and visit. With you two along." Halling had been going weekly to visit Motu Fling, borrowing a lighter mid-week to spend the afternoon and dinner with her family before returning to Riesig, but so far Yoj and Bux had not been able to accompany her.

Bux picked up the ferry schedule by the radio and studied it. "The ferries will run in our favor on Sju as well, if the rain continues. Which it likely well, this time of year."

"I guess I feel ready. I mean, nothing's going to change in three weeks, right?" said Yoj. She could see that Yerush was beginning to look irritated, but this was not her decision to make.

Halling said "I don't see how we can pass it up. If I take a letter right now to the central box, emma should get it tomorrow afternoon and, well, she'll be disappointed but she'll understand." Halling went to Yoj's study to write a quick note, then put on her burzaka and hurried out the door.

"Will Raisa be at this meeting?" asked Qen, a little chilly.

"Of course" said Yerush. "And that's to our favor. She is a friend of this Manage."

Not everyone in this Manage, thought Yoj, looking at Qen's stiff profile.

"When Halling returns" said Yerush, "I'll talk you all through the process."

Yoj took off her apron and said "Yerush, will you finish the last of the frycakes, please? Qen, I want to consult with you about something in my study."

It was transparent, but Yoj didn't care. Once in the study, she offered her chair to Qen and leaned against her desk to say "I want your honest opinion. Should we take this earlier appointment? And should we bring one of you with us? My vote is for you, of course."

She was gratified to see Qen's face completely go soft. "Oh, Yoj -- I do so appreciate being asked. But no, it needs to be just the aggie and emmas. And yes, I think it's a grand opportunity."

"Yerush is all politics and business sometimes" said Yoj. "But I'm just a hick from the Flings who wants with all my heart to be an emma. You did this for your three -- got any advice for me?"

By the end of their short talk, both of them felt immensely better. Just as Yoj was about to open the door, Qen said "What excuse are we going to use -- for you consulting me in here, I mean?"

"No excuse needed" said Yoj, grinning. "I actually know how to be oblivious to others, too." Which made Qen laugh all the way back into the kitchen.

Halling had returned, and they were ready to sit down. Bux was telling Yerush about her wandmaler job, and Qen slid in calmly next to Yerush without a word.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


Friday, December 21, 2007


Now we are in winter.

Tomorrow a group of us are gathering for the ritual practiced over millenia by our nature- and freedom-loving ancestors. We'll build a gigantic bonfire to remind ourselves that habeus corpus will return, and to hasten her arrival, we've constructed a giant elephant from faux wicker crap on sale at Garden Ridge which we will stuff with neocons and toss onto the blaze while singing "Hairy-legged lesbians sing / glory to our cunning ling!" You're welcome to join us. Bring your own jello salad.

(Postcard for Pine Street Art Works, copyright 2007 Liza Cowan.)

Speaking of Jell-o: Liza Cowan has at last begun her own blog, See Saw, concerning art and retail (as only Liza the Dyke Mother can do it). An auspicious sign of the year to come.

December 22nd is also Global Orgasm Day. Please contribute as best you are able. If you need help, reach out to live members of your community. Consensually, of course.

And I will award 50 (FIFTY) Sistahood points to anyone who can make the link between the graphic preceding this announcement (the cover of Marilyn Gayle's book) and why it is appropriate to the day in question.

Also, in the Old News For Some Of Us Department:

Jodie Foster acknowledges her female partner. After fifteen years.

Why is this news? I mean, here's a matching headline for you: Eva Longoria, Heterosexual!

Nobody with any depth of experience is buying that you were simply "protecting your privacy" -- not when you have two turkeybaster kids and managed to at least confirm their existence without rupturing your veil of mystery.

Nope, it's obvious that you were scared. And that you still are.

Good luck with that, honey. Next....

Returning to our obsession with all things polar exploration-esque: BBC News announces "Penguin sketches made by Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton have been found in a basement at Cambridge University. The legendary explorers drew the pictures on blackboards, probably for public lectures, in 1904 and 1909." I, of course, immediately discerned character-revealing differences between the two sketches and have been moodily examining them for further illumination. Anyone else similarly afflicted?

(Image from Julie's Magic Light Show.)

In past posts here, I've written about waking up during surgery and other complications of anesthesia. There's a new movie out now, called Awake, which addresses the issue of "anesthesia awareness". The New York Times review states this "occurs when patients wake up during surgery because they are underanesthetized. In real life, these periods are generally brief. But the patient can indeed feel pain, ranging from minor to unendurable."

Ever since the late 1980s, with the advent of PET scans and other forms of advanced imaging studies, our ability to study the human brain has catapulted forward, and if it seems like new insights about consciousness and brain function arrive weekly, that's largely accurate. This week, the PBS series Wired Science aired a segment entitled Mixed Feelings: Helping The Blind See With Their Tongue. To quote from the website (which also has video and other links):

"Most of us see with our eyes, but what if we could see with other parts of our body, too? The idea may seem ridiculous, but it's already been done. Nearly a half-century ago, maverick neuroscientist Paul Bach-y-Rita discovered that it was possible to 'rewire' the adult brain, connecting regions in ways no one ever had imagined. Today, his ideas have given a handful of blind people the ability to see for the first time—using their tongues.

"For a long time, scientists believed that after childhood, the brain became 'fixed' in its ways and impossible to change. But Bach-y-Rita reasoned that because the nerves carrying messages from one part of the body to the brain are identical to those carrying messages from other body parts, it might actually be possible, even in adulthood, to substitute one sense for another."

I was especially intrigued by the work done with folks who have severe inner ear damage that renders them unable to tell whether they are prone or upright, leading to profound disability. "Rewiring" the sensory apparatus of the brain, using tactile regions instead of ear regions, has proven in some cases permanent, a complete cure.

The boundaries of human brain plasticity are definitely out of sight at the moment. For those of us who can manage balancing science, art, and faith simultaneously (however you define those) instead of believing them to be in conflict, the sense of hope and excitement is tremendous. It will, of course, mean giving up all the myths that race, class, gender, and sexual orientation are primarily "hard-wired" rather than manifestations of the brain's ability to adapt (even physically alter) to cultural demands placed on newborns. We'll have to accept that difference is mostly a matter of choice, and, as Stuart Smalley would say, "That's...okay."

In related news, this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports that human evolution is speeding up: "People are evolving more rapidly than in the distant past, with residents of various continents becoming increasingly different from one another, researchers say.

"'Rapid population growth has been coupled with vast changes in cultures and ecology, creating new opportunities for adaptation,'" the study says. 'The past 10,000 years have seen rapid skeletal and dental evolution in human populations, as well as the appearance of many new genetic responses to diet and disease.' And they found that different changes are occurring in Africans, Asians and Europeans."

Environment over biology. And -- feed your sisters and brothers elsewhere, because our vigor as a species depends on everyone's development.

(This I Can Haz Cheezburgr image created by little gator.)



This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future. There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of All Skene
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


The next afternoon, right before dinner, Jua the timmer came to their door. Bux let her in and they climbed into the loft over the living room together to take measurements. Jua stomped around a bit, testing the rafters and inspecting the joints, while Bux came back down and made tea and honey toast for her.

When she sat down at the table with the Manage, Jua said "The wood's still sound, but I'd like to redo some of the hangers."

"Okay" said Yerush, though she wasn't sure what that meant. "We're having an addition put on, do you need to do that all together or can we begin with the loft and new bed?"

"Up to you" said Jua. "I can do the bed right away, have a couple of days this week."

Bux looked at Halling and Yoj, then said "Let's go on with that, then. The usual three-person size, whatever wood you recommend."

"Are you bartering or paying?" asked Jua. "Trading in your old bed?"

"No, we're keeping that in the room downstairs" said Bux. "Here's a list of what we have to barter. We can pay for any difference. And we haven't used our wood allotment this year. " She passed a sheet of paper and their allotment book over to Jua.

Jua read them slowly, then pulled out a notebook and made some figures in it as she chewed toast. Finally she said "Our eldest is pregnant, will need a comadrona in two months. Veida comes highly recommended, we'd want her in any event. And strawberries, now, it's rare we see those in our market. Say a pint a week for the season, and birthing the new baby, plus two eks for a bed of pine and the work on the loft?"

"How about that for oak instead of pine, and you redo the ladder as well?" countered Veida.

When Jua looked hesitant, Yoj added "And we'll of course feed you all your meals while you're here. And your family, if they bring them along."

"This is really good bread" said Jua, with a grin. "The family doesn't like to go to jobs with me, but yes to feeding me and maybe a loaf or two to take home?"

"Deal" said Bux, and they shook hands.

Yoj cleared her throat. "I have a request about the bed, that I don't think will alter the cost" she said.

Jua looked at her, and Yoj said "The headboard needs to be really strong, and the footboard shouldn't come all the way up to the mattress."

Bux went bright red, and Veida choked back a laugh. Yerush got up and went outside, muttering something about putting away the chickens. Jua grinned and said "Got it. No problem."

Halling then said "I have a question, too." Bux gave her a stricken look. Qen, chopping vegetables at the counter, dropped her knife with a clatter.

Halling said "We'll need to keep our clothes chests up there. Is the loft wide enough for a larger bed plus access on both sides plus the chests along the railing?"

"Already figured in" said Jua. "My emma is who built that loft in the first place, and just like her, I know what I'm doing."

"That's why we called you" said Veida, grinning. "So, dinner will be ready soon, will you join us?"

"Nah, I need to get on home" said Jua. "I'll be back at 8 tomorrow to do the loft revision, maybe the ladder, too. I'll put in a lighter request to deliver the bed lumber the following day, if you can make sure you have a spot cleared for them to set it down. If the weather stays clear, I can cut and plane the boards outside, then assemble it up there. It'll still be noisy and messy, be warned."

As Jua stood, Bux went to get currency for the cash portion of their payment, and Yoj stepped into the larder for two loaves of her bread. As Yoj gave Jua the bread, she whispered something to her, and Jua grinned as she nodded. After she left, Bux pulled Yoj aside and demanded in a low voice, "What else did you ask her?"

"It's a surprise, for you" said Yoj. Bux had gone bright red again, and Halling was laughing as hard as Veida.

"Tell me now" Bux hissed.

Yoj held up her hands in surrender. "All right! I asked her to leave it unstained, I thought you'd like to stain or paint it yourself."

Bux's face relaxed. "Oh. That's a nice idea."

"Why, did you have something else in mind?" asked Yoj in mock innocence. Bux goosed her in the side and said "Enough. I'm not a pilot, I don't joke that easily about -- all this."

Yoj pulled her into a hug, whispering "Yeah, you play the innocent all you want, some of us know better. And tell me you aren't happy about the first request I made?"

Bux giggled and kissed her. They went to help Qen with dinner.

The next morning, Yoj got up early to eat breakfast with Bux before Bux went to work. Yoj stayed at the Manage to let in the timmer and keep her supplied with tea and meals all day. Veida was gone on a midwife interview visit, so it was just Yoj and Jua for lunch. Jua was not much of a talker, but she did ask "You got your mattress yet?"

"For the new bed?" asked Yoj, startled. "No, none of us expected to have the frame this fast."

"Takes 'em weeks, usually, to fill a mattress order" said Jua.

"Lev" swore Yoj. "I remember that, from when I got the little one for my cubicle. Well, I guess I'll walk down after lunch and put the order in."

Jua cut another slice of Yoj's bread and said slowly "My happens she works at the mattress shop on Verzin." She was staring off into the living room.

Yoj grinned. "Does she now. You and her, between you a complete bed, eh?"

Jua allowed herself a grin and glanced at Yoj. "Works out well. And she says there's a storage room of mattresses that are available for emergencies, or for workers to buy. Workers there get a five percent discount."

"If they pay cash, you mean" said Yoj, feeling her way.

"Yep" said Jua. "If she was to make the request tomorrow, and pay currency down on the counter, like, she could pick one up by the end of the week."

"By the time you finish with the bed, I'm gathering" said Yoj. "Well, that's quite an offer -- if it is an offer?"

Jua grinned directly at her this time.

"But surely we'd need to recompense her for that discount she'd be using on our behalf" said Yoj.

"Sounds fair" drawled Jua. "Plus you'd have to haul it yourself."

"Where in Verzin?" asked Yoj.

"North end of Nahar, just across the river from the Astronomer's tower."

That was quite a distance to carry a three-person mattress, most of the length of Verzin, then catching the ferry to Riesig and up the hill to home from the ferry docks. Still, had to be done.

Yoj said "Now, when I bought my one-person mattress, it cost me half an ek. So I'm thinking a three person must be about an ek and a half. Before the discount, of course." The bartering had begun in earnest. Yoj was determined not to pay more than two and a half eks.

"Well, that must have been some years ago, because prices, you know, they go up. A three-person, of good quality, is now running just over three eks" said Jua. "Discount would bring it down to, let's see, two eks and six ten-ek pieces."

"That's pretty steep" said Yoj. "We eat well but we're not fancy, here. We'll have to make do with a less expensive model, I guess. Something in the range of, oh, say 2 eks. With the discount."

"I've seen that two-ek mattress" said Jua, "And frankly, it's lumpy. Now here's a decent one at the two-and-a-half range."

"Which with the discount -- " began Yoj.

"No" interrupted Jua smoothly, "That two-and-a-half after the discount is figured in."

Yoj pretended to think it over. "And we'll have to haul it, you say, an island and a half's distance."

"Can't help where you live" replied Jua.

"All right. If you'd be good enough to take our payment to your partner tonight, and arrange for us to pick it up on Ot, it would be much appreciated" said Yoj.

"You need to consult with your partners? Especially that one who blushes so easily?" said Jua slyly.

"No, we trust each other" grinned Yoj. She got up to pull coins from the kitchen stash, along with a pad of paper. "If you'll just write out a receipt while I count the money" she said, handed Jua her fountain pen.

The deal concluded, each was pleased with herself. That afternoon when Halling and Bux got home, Yoj told them about her accomplishment. Bux said "It better be good quality, because I know for a fact good three-person mattresses really are running over three eks."

Yoj said "The discount at most factories on Verzin for workers starts at ten percent and goes up with seniority. And we're going to have future business here, what with kids in our plans, which Jua will want to be considered for. I'm pretty sure we're getting a top of the line model, and her partner is still making money on it."

"You're not such a hick from the Flings, are you?" Halling teased her. "But forget about us trying to tote that heavy thing, especially on an Ot with everybody in the streets and on the ferry. I'll pick it up with my sinner after work and bring it to our front door. You tell Jua tomorrow, and one of you will have to be here to unhook it from the chains since I'll have to hover over the lane."

"Pays to know a pilot" said Bux. "And a sharp deal-maker from the Flings." She kissed them both, then said "Sheets. We'll need bigger sheets."

"Well, lev" said Yoj. "I keep missing the obvious."

"Don't worry about that" said Bux. "We've got lengths of linen, I can make those tonight. Just a series of fast seams on the machine. I'll use an old set of the emmas' sheets for measurement."

Halling lowered her voice, although they were alone in their bedroom. "What about -- you know, we'll be up in that loft, not behind a closed door? And your emmas in their loft in the next room?"

Bux was determined to be casual. "I grew up listening to them make love."

"That's all well and good for you" said Yoj, "But I'm not ready for it. And I'm certainly not ready to do -- things where I know they can hear us."

"What's your plan, then?" said Bux, staring at her. "We save all our fun for your cubicle?"

"No" said Yoj dejectedly.

"You'll just have to not listen" said Bux. "And they'll do the same for us. It's how it works on Skene, I mean, didn't your emmas ever -- ?

Yoj cut her off. "All right, don't bring that up."

Halling was laughing hard. "And you, Bux, so blase about it all -- what about when you start shrieking at one of us 'Don't stop, please, go all the way, more, more!' That won't change a bit once we're out over the living room?"

Bux's face went deep red. "I don't shriek, it's a quiet kind of urging" she said.

"You make the windows rattle" argued Yoj.

"In that case, they've already heard me countless times" said Bux, standing up and heading for her door. "I'm going to make sheets, and you two need to go help with starting seeds for the next round of transplants."

As she left, Halling said "You're as loud as she is. And she's right, you know. This room is not sound-proof, we don't have any secrets from them."

"But, Hall, I just don't want to hear Yerush putting it to Qen" said Yoj with a tinge of horror in her voice.

"Or -- Qen putting it to Yerush, and Yerush begging for more?" conjectured Halling. Yoj threw up her hands and followed Bux out the door. Halling was still laughing as she went to join them.

The next morning, Jua and Yoj stood in the small grassy patch right outside the back door and received lumber lowered down in chains by an apprentice sinner pilot who looked extremely nervous. Yoj guessed it must be nerve-wracking handling work that would be judged by Halling and the dichter. After she flew off, Yoj helped Jua set up sawhorses and run extension cords to her power equipment. For the final carving, however, she had a gorgeous set of shiny chisels. All six katts sat on nearby perches, watching intently.

Bux intended to work a full day with the Sheng Zhang so she could take Ot afternoon off, to receive Halling's delivery of the mattress. Veida was on another call, so again it was just Yoj and Jua for lunch. The bed was already taking solid shape. Jua was slow but wasted no motions, and Yoj kept getting up to watch her out the kitchen window, admiring a skill she'd never seen: woodworking was a rare craft on Skene. She kept refocusing, however, on her song, which she hoped to have done by the following afternoon.

Jua came in around 2:00 for a mug of tea and to warm up a bit by the hearth. It was clear and sunny but cold outside. She was still there when the crew of yanjangers and house carpenters arrived to begin work on the extension. A surveyor had been out the week before, along with a couple of rongyangers who had disassembled the wall between their tillage and the next, piling the stones at the corner for re-use later. This crew now had a roll of plans which they spread out on the table to show Yoj. She nodded blankly at their explanations -- she didn't understand the half of it. But Jua joined the conversation and they all chattered at each other with much excitement. Every so often, Jua turned to Yoj and translated, which Yoj really appreciated. Basically all they needed from her was access.

Yoj cut into the bread they had planned to use for barter at Market and made a pile of sandwiches, along with big pots of tea. Workers tracked endless dirt into the kitchen, coming back and forth to eat, drink and confer. Jua didn't return to her own work for at least two hours. When Yoj went outside to check on their progress, she was shocked to discover a vast hole in the earth where the next-door fallow tillage had been this morning. The good topsoil was heaped neatly next to the rongyan stones, and various big machines were doing damage to the thankfully empty tillage. They must have been lowered in by sinner over the past couple of hours. She had heard nothing sitting in the kitchen.

A fadian and a qigong were down in the hole with yanjangers, marking electrical and steam lines. Once these were clear, a woman-sized metal contraption with two wheels was grunted down into the hole and one of the workers, snapping on protective eyegear, turned it on. Getting it into pernsnickety position, she grabbed the handles and suddenly bright white laser light shot down from it into the ground. Yoj watched in fascination as she dug the holes where yanjang walls would snug down next to the foundation, with drainage below into the municipal tunnels. It took an astonishingly short period of time for the entire addition to be outlined and readied. The fadian and qigong hoisted themselves over the wall into the lane and left. The rest of the workers covered everything, including the large hole, with tarps, ate the last of the sandwiches, and tromped out the front door, saying they'd be back the next day when the walls and roof were delivered. Jua, with obvious reluctance, returned to her bed, pulling out a small chisel and giving a great sigh before she laid in a delicate line, peeling up oak curls.

Yoj returned to the kitchen and began stew for dinner. Halling planned to get her nap at Yoj's cubicle today, anticipating noise at the Manage, so everyone arrived home at around the same time. They all went out to gape at the hole and listen to Yoj's description, then stood around watching Jua until Jua straightened up, took off her her glasses, and said mildly "You're giving me the jimmies, you're worse than the katts." They apologized and went back in the house, where Halling swept the floor and Bux mopped it after her as Yerush and Qen helped Yoj finish making dinner.

They called Jua in to eat, and she sat down between Yoj and Qen, smelling deliciously of sawdust and resin. She explained she was behind and would need to rig lights outside to finish, because it might rain and she wanted to be done with carving before that happened. After eating, Bux and Halling set up lamps without shades on chairs where Jua directed. Yoj began making bread a day early -- they were going through it at an alarming rate -- and Yerush mashed bean paste while Qen sliced tomatoes and onions for the next day's sandwiches. By the time the bread was done, Bux and Halling were already in bed. Yoj wrapped her loaves and put them in the larder. Then she, Qen and Yerush began helping Jua haul in pieces of bed to the loft, where Jua would assemble the final product the next day.

Glancing at the clock, Yoj said "You'd better run, if you plan to catch the last ferry. We'll put away your tools, I promise to do it right, I watched how you unpacked them." Jua hesitated a long few seconds, then said "All right. I'll be late tomorrow, the ferry doesn't run until 9." She put on her coat and hustled out the door, the fastest Yoj had seen her move all day.

Yoj lovingly wiped and put away Jua's tools as Yerush and Qen took down the lights. After stashing the tools indoor, Yoj took a flash and a small bag out to the grassy plot and carefully gathered as much pieces of wood shavings as she could, joined by intrigued cats. She set the bag in her cupboard, said goodnight to Qen and Yerush going up the ladder to their loft, and went tiredly to bed herself.

The next morning she woke up alone and was just making herself tea when the yanjang crew returned. She let them in, made them tea and honey toast, then began assembling sandwiches after they went out the back door. At 9:20 Jua arrived, ate a sandwich and refused her offer of help with the bed, then climbed the ladder in the living room. Today Yoj heard percussions on the side of the house and went out to look. A huge slab of black lava flooring, polished on one side, was being lowered into place at the bottom of the hole. Once it was down, the sinner flew off and several workers came into the living room with metal braces they jacked into place between the roof rafter and the floor. They joked to Jua that she want to get out of the loft since if the wall failed, the whole rafter assembly would come down. Jua laughed merrily, unconcerned.

Yerush came home early, and Yoj wanted to hug her with relief. They went out to look at the hole, where now wires were snaking over the flooring. One worker told them they should either get out of range or put on protective goggles because they were about to use laser. Yoj and Yerush walked back around the corner of the house, calling katts as they went. Inside the house, they got the same warning from the workers inside. Jua had on a pair of dark goggles. They shut all the katts, with much protest, into Yoj's bedroom and went back outside to sit on the steps as a horrific racket began from two directions.

"I hope none of the katts empties their bowels on our bed" said Yoj.

"I hope the house remains standing" said Yerush, expressing Yoj's deepest fear. After half an hour and a distinct thud that shook the ground, there was a minute of silence. They stood up to go see if things were done, when the racket began again. They sat back down. The chickens were traumatized, hovering near their house.

"Not many eggs today, I bet" said Yerush.

"Or more than usual -- scaring it out of them" said Yoj. They managed a laugh.

An hour later, the noise had stopped but they still weren't sure whether to go in until the work crew came around the side to the back door, laughing about how "It damned near turned her into paste, eh?" and pushing cheerfully by them into the kitchen. Yerush followed them in to serve a big platter of sandwiches from the larder, plus cups of hot soup Yoj had managed to make before the lasers began.

There were now two holes in the wall of their living room, letting in light to reveal clouds of rock dust in the air and drifting down onto everything. Jua descended from the loft and said "She's done", then went to eat with the workers. Walls now stood around all the new rooms outside, with gaps at the seams showing steel connectors riveted deep into the sides. There was no roof yet, but metal rafters stretched across the space above them. The walls had holes in them for clerestory windows in the new bedroom and study, plus two low, wide windows in the back room that looked out on the tillage.

Yoj went back into the kitchen to set out apples, plums, and ikan. These workers were phenomenally proficient. After every possible crumb was consumed, two stayed in the living room to affix braces and doorframes to the new doorways, two went back outside to receive delivery of the roof sections, while the rest went into the new rooms to install windows and finish seams.

Jua prepared to leave. Yoj asked her "How are they going to close those gaps, where the metal is?" Jua looked at her to see if she was joking, then said "With rock. Molten rock. One of those machines out there can heat lava back to liquid level. When they're done, it'll all be one solid sheet of rock again, all six sides."

Yoj gave Jua another loaf of bread and said "We'll see you again, I'm sure."

"Glad to hear it" said Jua. "Much joy in your new bed."

After she left, Yoj let the katts out. They skittered in a wild-eyed clump out the back door and over the back wall into other tillages. There was fur all over the quilt but no accidents that Yoj could find.

Returning to the kitchen, where Yerush was beginning to wipe rock dust from surfaces with a wet towel, Yoj said "I hate to do this to you, but I really need to finish this song, and I can't do it here."

"Go" said Yerush. "You've done your share and then some. Veida will be home soon, and Bux." Yoj hugged her, grabbed her pack, and headed for her cubicle.

She found her desk and small room blessedly peaceful. She was able to finish and set the song in time to walk over to the canteen just as the pilots came in for dinner. Singing it through with them twice, she posted it in the hall and walked home in early dusk.

Inside the Manage, everyone was working at all-out speed. Bux was in the living room loft, washing down the new bed, the loft and the rafters. The new mattress was leaned against the mural wall. Halling and Veida were in the tillage hauling wheelbarrows of topsoil to their compost pile before other neighbors pilfered it. Qen was making dinner, and Yerush was in the new rooms, washing walls and floors.

The addition was all done. The roof was on, bare light fixtures hung overhead with a lit bulb in each, and smudged windows or doors hung in each opening. Yoj could feel heat coming up from the floor beneath her. It felt miraculous to her, this appearance of new rooms where two days before there had been nothing.

She went into her study and stood for a minute, looking at the four walls and imagining shelves of books, planning where to put a desk. She'd have to get a new desk; no matter what Bux suggested, she was not giving up her cubicle.

Halling joined her, smelling of sweat and loam. "Sweet little room, isn't it?" she grinned.

"I never once dreamed of having this kind of a space" Yoj answered.

"The rongyangers won't be back until Monday to rebuild the wall. Once they do, we can erect fencing and put in a metal tank for ducks and geese, then go pick out some gosling and ducklings, won't that be fun?" said Halling.

"All I want at the moment is a meal and an early bed" said Yoj.

At dinner, everyone talked of the weekend's projects. Bux planned to stain and paint a design on the new bed. Veida intended to set up shelves in the back room and begin plant starts. Yerush wanted to wash windows inside and out, polish the new metal doors, and go buy globes for the light fixtures. At the end of her shift, Halling wanted to haul Yoj's childhood bed to put in the new bedroom. And with the Manage next door empty and the wall down, Qen wanted to go raid their tillage for plants left behind that might find a new home in their own plots.

Bux turned to Yoj and said "Are you going to put up shelves, or go hunt for a desk and chair?"

"I don't know" said Yoj. "Mostly, I just want a bath and sleep."

"Oh, gutters!" said Qen. "They didn't install the gutters, left that to us. We have to get to that right away, before it rains."

"And coldframes for the new roofs" said Veida. "We'll need a second ladder, won't we?"

"We can get Jua back to build it" said Yerush.

Yoj drained the last of her tea, took her plate to the sink, and went to run hot water for her bath. When she got done with her bath, they were all still at the table, talking. She went on to bed.

The next morning, Yoj woke up alone in the bed again. She turned to look through the clerestory and saw clear light, so Halling must be at work. She felt reluctant to get up. She lay still, distracted by stray images from the day before.

A while later, the door opened softly and Bux came in carrying a plate and a cup of tea.

"Oh, you're awake already!" she said happily. "I was bringing you breakfast in bed."

Yoj sat up and leaned against the headboard. The plate Bux handed her had two poached eggs cooked to just the doneness Yoj preferred, fried potatoes with Veida's hot sauce, and a small bowl of chunky applesauce.

"Oh, Bux, this is lovely" she said, taking the offered fork and digging in. Bux sat down beside her, holding her tea and giving her a sip when Yoj asked. The door was open, and after a minute, Yoj noticed the rest of the house sounded quiet.

"Where're the others?" she asked, through a mouthful of potatoes.

"Market. They wanted to barge in here and wake you up to go with them, because they want to go by the used furniture place and get a desk, but I told them to leave you alone. I thought you needed a break" said Bux. "All three of them were up at first light installing gutters and hooking them up to the municipal drains. They were exhausting even me."

"Thank you" said Yoj. "Have you started on your painting of the bed yet?"

"I made a couple of sketches at breakfast, but no" said Bux. She reached over and put her palm against Yoj's forehead, checking for fever.

"What?" said Yoj.

"Well, you didn't wake up at all last night when Halling and I joined you. Are you okay?" asked Bux.

Yoj thought about it. She still felt tired and resistant in some way. "I don't know" she admitted.

"Is it -- the new bed? The loft, I mean, having to sleep out there? Because we can just move into the new bedroom, if that's the case" said Bux.

"No. I mean -- I don't think that's upsetting me, but maybe yes to moving into the new room instead of the loft. We can talk it over with Halling when she gets home, if that's really all right with you" said Yoj.

"So you are upset, then" said Bux, looking a little worried. "Is it all the expense? Are we spending too much of your money?"

"No" said Yoj emphatically. "First of all, it's our money, not mine, and secondly, it's my life that's getting better as much as anyone else's, I'm clear on that."

"Then it must be losing Isola" said Bux.

Yoj had finished her breakfast. She set her plate on the floor, her teacup on top of that, and slid down in the bed. "Come here" she invited, and Bux lay down to face her. Being alone with her, alone in the house, suddenly felt extremely comforting to Yoj.

"I don't know what, exactly, is going on with me" said Yoj. "I don't mind losing Isola. Going back there with Veida was awful."

"She won't tell me what happened. Is it a secret?" asked Bux.

"Not a secret. Just -- hard. I had a hard time as a child, Bux. In ways I haven't told you. I want to tell you, I do. It's just -- I get so ashamed."

"Oh, Yoj, you have nothing to be ashamed about, whatever happened, it wasn't you, I know that" gushed Bux, kissing her gently.

"I know you think I'm perfect" said Yoj.

"Not perfect" giggled Bux. "But close enough to make me breathless around you."

"Ah, you have quite the gift for words yourself, you know that, sweetheart?" said Yoj, finally smiling.

Bux's bare toes were playing with Yoj's ankles. She slid one foot between Yoj's, then her knee. Yoj waited for Bux to roll on top of her. Instead, Bux stuck to her questioning. "Then what is bothering you, my Yoj?" she asked sweetly.

Yoj thought hard. She closed her eyes against the distraction of Bux's deep blue eyes. When she opened them again, she said "There's a lot of change happening at once. All of it is good, but -- in my life, moving forward into goodness has usually meant a loss of something else. I mean -- even how I got Halling only happened because Xaya died, and I was always aware of Halling's broken heart. Getting to go to the U meant not doing the kind of work people in my family have always done. Moving to Riesig permanently meant losing -- that's when I lost Isola and my aggie, way back then. So -- here's all this change again, and I guess I'm waiting to find out what I have to sacrifice in order to get you, and this Manage. Replacement emmas. Lots of food, never having to worry about meals again." Now that she said it, Yoj felt like crying. But she could not quite let go.

Bux pulled her in even closer and said "My darling, my hard worker -- this is all due you, it's just finally time you get what you deserved. You can relax now. I'm going to be with you the rest of the way."

Yoj didn't not relax, however. Bux pulled back so she could focus her eyes on Yoj, and said "What else?"

Yoj finally said "I'm so scared of losing Halling. I'm scared every single day, Bux. I've learned how to not let it stop me in my tracks, but that's why I have to always go see her land -- I can't tell you how relieved I am to see her overhead."

"I know" whispered Bux. "I feel the same way, and it's only been these few weeks for me. I can only imagine how much it's built up for you." Now Yoj moved to hold Bux tightly, letting her in.

"Promise me if -- something happens to her, we'll find a way to go on" she begged Bux. "Promise me it won't destroy us both."

"I promise, Yoj. I don't know how, but we will -- I will, I won't let you go, no matter what it takes" breathed Bux. Now, finally, Yoj could let herself cry. She went on longer than usual, and when she was done, the tightness inside her had unwound. At least for today.

She rolled over on her back and said "Ahhh. That was the best breakfast ever."

Bux laughed and said "Now what? Do you want to brave the Market, it's still going on?"

Yoj looked at her and said "I'd rather you get up and close that door."

"Oh" said Bux, a dimple appearing in either cheek. "Be right back."

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, December 20, 2007


This is draft one of my sci-fi novel Skene. To read earlier chapters, go to LABELS in the right-hand column on this page, scroll down to the Skene tags and click on the one you want to read. Skene is set on a human-habitable planet in the Alhena star system at least 500 years in the future.

In this chapter, characters Danaan and Rark get introduced, and this is my chance to thank Shadocat for ALL her support and encouragement. The character Rark is based on her.

There's a considerable amount of appendix material and diagrams also available here as needed:
Map of Isola Fling
Map of All Skene
Skene Glossary (Skenish to English)
Skene Cast of Characters
Skene Culture, Calendar, Clothing, and Islands
Map of Riesig (the main island)
Map of The Manage on Riesig
Map of The Lofthall on Riesig


On Moja, Yoj received a letter from the Ethicist's office informing her that a crew would be going to Isola Fling to clear it out by the end of the week; if she wanted any of her belongings remaining there, she needed to get them within the next few days. She had just walked home with Halling after work when she read it. She sat down heavily at the table and looked bleak.

"I don't know if I can handle going back there" she said colorlessly.

"Bux will go with you, you know that -- and me if I don't have to work" Halling said.

Yoj met her eyes. "I'm not sure I'm ready to show Bux -- my past" she said. "And she's behind on Sheng Zhang tasks, anyhow, because of all her wandmaler and other work lately. Maybe I should just let it all go, I can't remember what I'd want from there, anyhow."

"Nonsense" said Veida. "If you can't remember, then you must go look. I'll go with you. We'll get the earliest ferry we can tomorrow, we should get there by noon and be able to leave before it gets dark. You can trust me with your past, can't you?"

Yoj looked at her, still not smiling, and said "I guess I could."

"Forget about ferries" said Halling. "I'll sign up to do the school run tomorrow, which will happen even if it's raining. Meet me at the schoolyard by 8:00. Then I can use that big sinner to drop you off at Isola, it'll take just a few minutes. I'll come get you around 2:00, and if there's furniture to haul, that sinner can handle it. I'll drop you off at the schoolyard and do the afternoon bus run from there."

"All right" said Yoj, still in dread.

"I'm going to run back to the Lofthall and change my schedule now" said Halling, grabbing her guibba.

"You're tired -- " began Yoj.

"Yeah, but I get to sleep in tomorrow, don't worry" said Halling, heading out the door.

When Bux came home for dinner, she tried for half an hour to devise a way of going with them that would still allow her to meet her other obligations that week. Finally she sighed and said to Veida, "You'll make sure she's okay out there?"

Yoj said "I'm sitting right here, you know. I'm not helpless." But her expression wasn't convincing.

Veida nodded unobtrusively at Bux. Bux added "Even if she's not sure she wants it, bring it back. We'll find better homes for it than the Ethicist's crew will."

Yoj went to bed early with Halling while Bux used her office to do paperwork for the Sheng Zhang, but she had trouble going to sleep and staying asleep. She felt ragged in the morning as she ate a silent breakfast with Veida. It was raining lightly when they walked up the lane to the school and waited in the foyer, tall figures among swirling children, for Halling to arrive.

Yoj sat in a rear seat and let Veida have the front next to Halling. Veida was very animated, asking questions about changes in instrumentation and controls. Almost immediately after take-off, Halling set down again at the Lofthall tarmac and said "I'm going to grab some crates for you, be just a sec." When she sprinted back and handed crates in to Yoj through the big sliding door, she said to Veida "Sheng Zhang is nowhere around and Qala gave me the okay. Would you like to fly this baby to Isola?"

"It's been decades -- " Veida started to say, then, with her eyes dancing, she said "Lev, yes, I would. But you remind me of everything, okay?" She scooted over into the pilot's seat and Halling climbed in beside her, taking her through a long check list. Yoj began to feel a new kind of dread.

But once Veida engaged full power and pushed on the handbars, her usual calm competence came to the fore. The take-off was smooth and steady. She followed the lift path over Verzin to have enough altitude before she reached any deeps of East Tendril. At one point, during a small arc toward the south, she gave a bark of triumphant laughter, but otherwise she was completely focused. The excitement in the front of the cabin was as thick as the rain beating down the windshield.

North of Beras, with Yanja a blurry darkness ahead of them, Yoj looked down into the water of East Tendril and saw vast pinkish shapes not far below the surface. She glanced at Halling to see if she saw them, too. Halling picked up the radio and reported the bearings of the leviathans to Qala, then turned to Yoj and said "They're always here. We always report them, but there's nothing to be done about it."

Veida circled Isola from on high twice, checking out the small landing pad. "It looks very overgrown" she commented. Yoj spoke up: "It often got that way, but it's completely level, I made sure of that and it's volcanic rock underneath, I don't think that will have changed."

"All right then" said Veida, her jaw set. She put herself in hover position, because sweeping in low from the side was not an option, not as perched on deep water as Isola was. The descent was a little choppy, because of crosswinds and nervousness on Veida's part, but aside from one lurch at contact, it was a solid landing. Halling whooped and thumped Veida on the back, and Yoj joined in. Veida held out her hands and said "Look at how white my knuckles are!"

They emerged from the sinner to wind and a sense of complete desolation. Yoj looked at the dark house and felt her blood turn to tapwater. Halling put her arm through Yoj's and said "Whatever you need." Veida handed a picnic basket to Halling and picked up the crates herself. After a moment, Yoj began walking them along the overgrown path to the back door.

The house smelled not just stale but a little putrid inside. Veida reacted with shock and said "Oh, no, that's not -- what is that odor?"

"Shu" said Yoj briefly. She began looking desperately all around her as she took one slow step after another. Halling stared up into the rafters, where she could hear skittering and scrambling. She walked over to a metal kitchen chair, pulled it in the middle of the room, and commanded Yoj "Sit down here. We're going to check things out."

She fastened her guibba tight, pulled on cap and gloves, and turned on her large pilot's flash. Veida looked around, picked up a dusty umbrella by the door, and followed Halling. Yoj lifted her feet to the rungs of the chair and kept her face turned upward, toward the rafters.

The house was extremely small. Aside from the kitchen with a table occupying most of its free space, the adjoining room had a loft and small hearth, a double bed at one end and Rosz's loom plus boxes of weaving supplies stacked at the other end. A single pitted metal rocking chair by the hearth indicated it might once have been a living room. The ladder to the loft was blocked by an old but well-made wooden three-person bed, turned on its side and leaned against it.

"Was this your bed as a child?" called Veida. Yoj turned cautiously to look. "Yes" she answered.

"Someone's been here, rifling through things" said Halling. "They got the bed down from the loft but I guess couldn't get it off the island right away."

After a minute, Yoj said "It has to be the neighbors, on Insula Fling. They're the only ones with unobserved access to the ferry here."

"Well, they're not making off with your family's things, not now" said Halling grimly. Twice, as she and Veida checked cupboards and murmured to each other, Yoj heard exclamations and then the sound of whacking as Veida killed a shu. She closed her eyes and shuddered. Finally Halling came back to the kitchen and said "Electricity is still on and the clock's right. Radio's working, too. I have to go, I have other jobs to run. If you need anything, call the Sigrist and have them call me. I mean it, Yoj. I'll be back by 2:00, no later." She lifted Yoj's chin so their eyes met and said "I love you. You're with me now. This is one last time. You got it?" Yoj nodded, and Halling kissed her sweetly before leaving.

As the engine on the sinner flared into life, Yoj and Veida heard a long deep wail, followed by strange belches, reverberate through the stone walls of the house. Veida went pale and said "It sounds like it's right outside the door!"

"It more or less is" said Yoj hollowly. The leviathan calls continued nonstop for a couple of minutes, more than one in conversation, but disappeared into the direction that Halling was flying.

Veida shook out her shoulders and said "I appreciate you letting me come with you, Yoj." Yoj tried to stop her shivering. Veida continued "Halling and I agreed, the big bed and the loom go for sure."

"I don't want the loom -- " began Yoj.

"I understand" said Veida, "But it's a work of art, and it should go to another weaver somewhere. Qen said we can store things in the spare room at the school, don't worry, it won't be sitting around house, all right? The bed can be cleaned and refinished for your own children, unless you can't abide it, either."

"No" said Yoj, "The bed is -- neutral."

"What about this rocking chair?" asked Veida.

Yoj looked at it, and a faint smile appeared on her face. "That was my abba's. Yes, I'd like that."

Then she remembered, "There's a crib, somewhere, made of real wood like the loom. From when we were babies."

Veida walked around with the flash Halling had left her, playing it into the rafters until she said "I see it. When Halling comes back and we can shift that bed away from the ladder, we can get it. Now, what about this table or any of these chairs?"

"They're not anything to look at" said Yoj. "I leave it to you."

Veida inspected them and said "They'll do for putting in the shed or sitting out in the tillage. Speaking of which, is there anything planted on the grounds you'll want?"

Yoj began to shake her head, then said "When I was little, very little -- aggie liked to grow roses. Yellow and red, I remember. And every spring, she had violets. But she wasn't much at raising food, or herbs. You'd know better than me."

"All right, if it clears any, I'll go check it out. What about dishes?" said Veida, pulling open a cupboard door in the kitchen.

Yoj managed to get to her feet and walk around with Veida in the brightly lit kitchen, saying Yes or No to plates, bowls, pans and other items. All the Yes items got wrapped in old towels and dishclothes and packed into crates. The kitchen was not so laden with memories for Yoj -- they had not gathered here much. It was the area around the loom that was haunted. And her emmas' bed -- where, apparently, Rosz had died.

When they moved on into the second room, Yoj suddenly said "I need to use the privy."

"All right" said Veida, but when Yoj didn't move, Veida looked at her and said "Oh, yes, of course. I'll come with you." The trail out to the side of the house was even more overgrown, and the rustling of small bodies in the undergrowth was unnerving. Veida inspected the privy thoroughly before coming back out and said "All clear." Even so, Yoj could not close the door behind her. Veida turned away to give her modesty. When Yoj was done, Veida said "While I'm here" and took a turn. As they walked back to the house, Veida said "This is scaring even me, Yoj. I can't imagine being a child, having to come out here in the dark."

After a second, Yoj said softly "I escorted my sibus, too, so they didn't have to do it by themselves."

Back in the house, Veida opened the first of the crates stacked next to the loom and gasped. Yoj froze, waiting for a shu to jump out, but Veida reached in and pulled out a length of opulent blue silk in a pattern of stars and phases of the moon. "Oh, my word, this is unbelievably beautiful!" she exclaimed. "The looters must not have looked in here."

"Or -- if it's the people on Insula, they're not the sort to notice beauty" responded Yoj. She joined Veida and they inspected all eight crates, and every one of them was filled with either stunning bolts of silk or vivid spools of thread, not yet woven.

"All of this goes" said Veida emphatically. "Straight to our loft storage, where Qen and Bux will make us the best-dressed Manage on Skene for years and years to come. Wearing your inheritance, Yoj" she said with emotion. Yoj leaned against her and felt a little of the horror inside her subside.

Next they went through the wall cupboards in the second room, where photographs, a few mementoes, and a stash of books and stories from Yoj's childhood got put into crates. The small children's clothes chests were mostly empty, and were so rusted that Yoj insisted they were not saving. This left the clothes chest next to Rosz's bed. Yoj hesitated at that, and Veida said "Why don't you go sit down for a minute? I'll see what's in there and bring anything to you I have a question about."

Yoj took refuge in the kitchen. After a few minutes, Veida came in with a small ceramic jewelry box and said "This was at the bottom. It's got some things I think you'll want."

Yoj fingered through the necklaces, bracelets, a few rings. None of them were of great value or beauty, and in truth Yoj could barely remember Rosz wearing any jewelry. But she nodded and Veida put it into a crate. Bux would want them, and maybe their children.

Veida glanced at the clock and said "I'm getting hungry, how about you?" Yoj nodded and stood up, saying "I don't trust the aga's cistern, but we can drink just plain water from the faucet."

"All right" said Veida, putting the picnic basket on the table and starting to unpack it. Yoj opened the cabinet next to the sink and leaped backward instinctively at the faint sound of movement within. A shu just missed her, leaped to the floor and disappeared behind the aga.

"Lev, lev, lev!" swore Yoj, starting to shake again.

"We were just in that cabinet, an hour ago!" exclaimed Veida. "Here, sit down again, I'll get the water." She made Yoj drink down a glass and got her a refill, then sat down close enough to touch her and handed her a sandwich. "Cheese and tomato, with Qen's dressing. Eat."

The taste of her own bread and the unmistakeable flavor of Qen's spread on it grounded Yoj like nothing else. She did have a home to go back to, she suddenly remembered. She ate hungrily, sharing a salad with Veida and then cutting into an apple as she told small stories about the few happy memories she had in this house. After they were done, she repacked the basket as Veida went to the window and said "Not raining at the moment. I'm going to inspect the tillage, do you want to wait here or come with me?"

"Wait here" said Yoj instantly. Then, "You're doing all the work, Veida, I'm sorry."

"Hush. Your work was to get you out of here, I'm just helping you finish it" said Veida, grabbing a big metal spoon and knife to use as garden tools. Yoj heard her, a minute later, squeak open the rusting shed door, then more swearing as no doubt she contended with the mass of shu who always inhabited it. Half an hour later, Veida returned with muddy hands and a tray of various-sized clay pots holding cuttings. As she washed at the sink, they heard the sound of a sinner overhead, and Yoj felt relief flood her body. She went to the back door to watch as Veida said "She's an hour early, thank goodness".

Halling had returned with a large high-sided metal pallet slung underneath the sinner. She laid it carefully onto a flat portion of the path, then somehow went gently sideways at the last minute to land the sinner itself on the pad. She climbed from the door, waving, and started for the house. Yoj yelled at her, "Be sure to shut the door good!" and Halling, comprehending, returned to secure the sinner against stowaways.

In the house, she and Veida conferred. "Everything will fit in or on the pallet, I think" said Halling, "Except that big bed. Let's haul it out first, lift the pallet and tie the bed on underneath. I've got ropes and padding in the sinner."

Yoj helped them get the bed outside and in position. Halling and Veida used pilot's knots to make it a solid piece underneath the pallet. Back in the house, Veida handed Halling the flash and a hoe she'd found in the shed and said "The loft storage has to be checked. There's a crib for sure we want. And you're more agile than me."

Halling again bundled up and climbed the ladder. She shined the flash into the rafters and began swearing steadily. After a minute, she stomped around, then yelled threateningly and banged the hoe against metal crossbeams.

A frantic scurrying erupted all over the upper part of the house. Yoj, sitting in her kitchen chair, froze in terror. Veida had a broom and was waving it around, making contact with falling shu in mid air. The next second, a shu landed directly in Yoj's lap, leaped to her wrist and bit it viciously, then scrambled down her leg and out the open kitchen door.

Yoj couldn't seem to stop shrieking, even after Halling and Veida reached her. Finally Halling pulled Yoj's face into her belly, up against the guibba, and Yoj switched from screaming to crying.

A few minutes later, she was able to lean back and look up at Halling. Halling kneeled beside her and said "I'm so sorry, darling, I'm a rockwit." Veida had gone outside and come back in with a selection of herbs which she was mashing on an old plate, mixing with something she'd found in a cabinet until it was a paste. She smeared this over the shu bite, already inflamed and throbbing, and tied it with strips of old rag.

"Come on" said Halling, "We're going to put you in the sinner until it's time to go." She led Yoj to the craft, helping her clamber over the pallet on the path. Once the sinner door shut with a solid click, Yoj began shivering in release. She lay down on the double seat and closed her eyes.

What seemed like only a minute later, Veida was opening the door to hand in the tray of plants and the picnic basket. The pallet was piled high, covered with a tarp and lashed securely. Halling said "You ready to say goodbye?"

"Absolutely" said Yoj, fastening her seatbelt. As Halling began the engines, she said "With this load beneath me, I dare not head out over any deeps. I think I'll have to follow the ferry line until I can get height over Yanja."

"That way, the thieves on Insula will see there's no need to return here" said Veida.

It began raining again before they reached Verzin. Halling did her lowering the pallet, then sideways landing trick again at the schoolyard, where children had to be held back from harm's way by teachers. Halling hopped out to unfasten the pallet as Yoj and Veida, carrying their gear from the sinner, went to greet Qen.

Qen kissed them both and said "How was it?"

"Dreadful" said Veida. Qen noticed the bandage on Yoj's wrist, then, and said "Go inside to my classroom. Get some tea and sit down. There's cookies in my desk drawer."

A cluster of loft-struck teenagers had been recruited by Qen to unload the pallet. Halling gathered her first round of children to be delivered to West Tendril and took off. The hauling of items back and forth to the school's storage room took quite a while. Eventually Yoj went to help them. Veida held back one crate, full of photos and mementoes, for them to carry home today. She showed the silks and threads to Qen, who was speechless with their splendor.

When they were done and the store-room locked, they leaned the pallet against the school and all the teenagers returned to Qen's classroom for tea and cookies. Two of them, around 13 or 14, were a pair of best friends Yoj remembered from their enthusiastic attendance at her singing lessons. One was very small and dark, the other was tall and pale, with red hair, but despite their difference in size, they clearly thought of each other as absolute equals. They hovered around Yoj now, the small one asking "Do you have a new song for this week already?"

"No" laughed Yoj, "It'll be a few more days before that's done. I often have to work until the last minute on the weekend to get it to the pilots on time."

"We're going to be pilots" said the taller one, quite unnecessarily. "We want to be on Nan Halling's crew."

Yoj asked their names again: Danaan, the dark one, and Rark, the redhead.

Danaan said "You wrote that song about Nan Halling and Xaya, didn't you?"

"I did for a fact" grinned Yoj. "That was before Halling and I became partners."

"And Nan Qen's child, that's your third partner, right?" said Rark.

"Bux, yes. And this is one of her other emmas, Nan Veida" Yoj introduced.

A teenager a year or two older than Rark but with the same red hair came into the classroom and said "The sinner is about to land, we need to catch it home, Rark."

"Where do you live?" asked Yoj as they stood.

"Abfall" they answered in unison.

"Would your emmas mind, you think, if you were the last to be dropped off today?" asked Yoj.

Their faces filled with hope, and Rark's older sib came to stand with them, saying "I'm in charge of them until dinner, it would be all right."

Yoj took a piece of paper from Qen's desk and wrote a note on it saying "Please give these two future pilots the grand tour, for all their help to us this afternoon -- Yoj". She folded it and handed it to Danaan, instructing her to give it to Nan Halling. They ran from the school to the sinner, and Yoj went to the window to wave goodbye to Halling.

Yoj and Veida helped Qen clean up, sweep the room, and lock the school doors. The three of them carried their armloads down the lane, in a light but steady rain, to the clean warmth of their Manage. As Veida walked through the kitchen to put her plants outside, Yoj followed her and said quietly, at the doorway, "Would you please not share the -- details of today? Not unless I bring it up first."

Veida kissed her forehead and said "It's yours to tell."

After putting her box of mementoes in her study, Yoj felt suddenly exhausted. She went out to the privy by herself, accompanied by two katts whom she kept petting and praising. Back in the kitchen, she sat down at the table and said to Qen, "I'll help you start dinner in a minute, I just need to take in how good it feels to be here."

"You're not doing a thing but resting" said Qen. Veida returned, washed her hands, and they took off Yoj's makeshift bandage to inspect her wound. It was definitely looking better, but still red and painful. As Veida was putting together a new salve, this one with antibiotics in it, Bux came home. She was outraged over the bite and insisted on dressing it herself, kissing Yoj over and over, saying "Oh, I knew I should have gone with you."

Finally Yoj said "Veida did everything you could have, Bux. I don't mean to put you down, but she was incredible today, and I can't thank her enough for how she took care of me."

Veida's face melted, and Bux went to hug her, saying "Bless you".

Yerush arrived soon afterward, and as she and Qen made dinner, Veida and Yoj listed all the items brought back from Isola. By the time Halling got home for dinner, Bux had Yoj's family photos spread out on the table, deciding which ones had to be framed and put up in the house. Halling helped clear and set the table, remarking to Yoj "Those two third-graders you had bring me the note, they shared the front seat and watched every move I made. I flew them out past Isola far enough to see the edge of Morrie Strati, and the little one looked like she might throw up, but she managed to hang onto her stomach. On the way back in, a lev took a leap at us, scaring the piss out of the siba, but those two laughed and said 'Wait till we're lighters, you bastard'. By the time we landed, I thought maybe they could fly the sinner themselves."

"Next generation" said Yoj. "Thanks for giving them the thrill."

"That's all I'll hear about tomorrow" said Qen. "I just hope the emmas don't crawl down my neck about the visit to the Morrie Strati."

"Send 'em to me if they do" said Halling, handing a bowl of greens to Bux.

"We have two new rosebushes from Isola" said Veida. "They're small but will grow huge, I think. I want to put them on either side of the front door."

"Oh, that will be lovely!" said Yerush.

Yoj told them about Veida flying the sinner, which shocked her partners but also made them look at her with a new respect. She informed them of the attempted pilferage, which Bux said she would pass on to the Ethicist. She asked Bux to refinish the rocking chair and maybe the bed and crib.

She also told the story of how the shu came to drop on her, making it funny as she imitated Halling's assault on the rafters, and joined in everyone's laughter. But Veida kept her silence as Yoj left out the parts about going to the privy, the leviathan song following Halling, and the smell of her childhood home.

Copyright 2007 Maggie Jochild.