Saturday, July 25, 2009


Leviathan in wave on Skene
To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post from yesterday. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post. Terms first introduced in previous chapters will not be re-explained here.


Pysoz woke up early and rolled over looking for Sey's embrace. When she found she was alone, she tried to remember where Sey was. A few seconds later, it all came back to her. She felt like she had suffered a body blow and lay flat on her back, trying to make sense of it. Half a minute after that, she remember Mill's offer. Reason to get out of bed, she thought. She dressed quickly and met her emma in the kitchen.

"I've made porridge" said Prl, studying Pyosz's face.

"I'll take a bowl with mulberry syrup on it" said Pyosz. "Are these eggs boiled or raw?"

"Boiled but cold, let me -- "

"I'll do it" said Pyosz. She peeled two eggs, sliced them into a second bowl, added some of Prl's salad dressing and a crumble of ikan over it. She ate efficiently, hungrily, while Prl watched her over a cup of tea.

"What are you up to today?" asked Prl when Pyosz began draining her own cup of tea.

"I need to go visit someone in the hospital. After that, I'm heading downtown, maybe go shopping" said Pyosz evasively.

"I have to take the ferry to Juh for a home visit with set of emmas who have a baby in the house, but I'll be back by mid-afternoon" said Prl. Pyosz looked like this information barely registered. Something was definitely up, but her color was good. "Do you need cash?"

"Oh. Yeah, but I'll take my own" said Pyosz. She went into her room and returned jangling coins in her pocket. She kissed Prl's cheek and zoomed out the door.

Prl ate her own porridge, then went to let out the chickens because Pyosz had once again forgotten her chore. She saw Qala weeding the new lettuces and stopped to say "She's all lit up this morning, like there's some plan underfoot. Just took off for downtown. You know what's up?"

Qala met her eyes. "No. And I'd tell you if I did. Do you think she's meeting Sey somewhere?"

Prl considered it. "Doesn't feel like it. Well, I suppose we'll find out soon enough."

Qala shifted stiffly on her haunches and said "Yoj said Mill called the Manage last night while Pyosz was there, talked to her for a long time. One of Mill's neighbors is perhaps dying at the hospital here, Mill asked Pysoz to look in on her."

"She mentioned that, though she left out the details" said Prl, her suspicion pooling now in a definite location. "Did Mill ask Pyosz to come visit?"

"Not that she told the abbas. But..." Qala wiped dew off onto her knees and forced herself to go on. "Pyosz told them she thought you had done something to Sey yesterday when you went to see the Dean. I'm pretty sure she got that idea from me, because it sounds to me like what you would do. Yoj said they're very concerned about it."

Prl snorted. "That's rich, coming from emma. She's the one who said she was going to destroy Sey."

"But she didn't mean it, and you know that" said Qala quietly.

"So are you warning me or asking me a question?" said Prl.

"I don't need to warn you about your emmas. Question, yes: What did you do?"

"I removed public pity and ridicule from Pyosz's back, and I did it more deftly than anyone else in this family could have pulled off" said Prl irritably. "That's really all you will ever want to know." She walked back into the house with her basket of fresh eggs.

"You're not the only one who loves her" Qala said to the empty air. "I moved in here before she was born, at your request." One of Yoj's multitude of Archive katts appeared from behind the bed of marigolds and made an interrogatory sound.

"Not talking to you, Starchy" said Qala. "But come here, there's a beetle you'll find crunchy, I bet."

When Prl walked through the edge of downtown half an hour later, on her way to the ferry, she kept an unobtrusive lookout for Pyosz. She also noted the reactions of people who saw her or said hello. They were not suppressing curiosity or gloat in the way they would have if they knew Pyosz had been dumped. She smiled to herself as she rang the bell at the landing to call the faryaste from Verzin.

Pyosz talked with the nurse at the hospital front desk, who said Ferk was unconscious and no one had been able to rouse her. "She's on a breathing machine and having her blood cleaned" the nurse said. "She has advanced pneumonia, but before that she'd gone into kidney failure. And of course that backwards clinic on Pya missed the renal issue until it was too late."

Pyosz went frosty. "As I understand it from S'bemma Mill" she said deliberately, "Ferk didn't have a chance to seek medical attention at all. She was discovered passed out in her cabin, alone. The curandera in Koldok, S'bemma Briel, immediately recognized she needed the apparatus available only here because Skene won't sell the equipment to Pya, forcing Ferk to fly seven hours before getting the treatment she needed."

The nurse belatedly recognized Pyosz and pretended to be studying the chart. Pyosz continued "I've been requested by the Ethicist of Pya to see Ferk. She knows me, perhaps a friendly face will bring her round."

"Second door on the right" said the nurse.

Ferk looked awful, with bright yellow skin and matted hair. There were inset lines of grime on her face and one foot sticking out from the blanket. Pyosz patted her hand, talked to her for a minute with no response, then left the room and accosted the same nurse down the hall.

"Why has she not been washed?" she said in a loud voice.

"We cleaned as much off her as we could" said the nurse. "We can't wash her hair, not with pneumonia. If you want to discuss her care, I suggest you talk to the curandera. Who's in surgery until after lunch."

Pyosz was steaming mad. She went to the gift shop and asked for the most fragrant flowers they had: When they had visited Ferk as children, she always pointed out the blooms on Saya, saying it gave a singular flavor to her honey. She carried a large bouquet back to Ferk's room and put it on the table near her pillow. She pulled one large rose petal from the bunch and lightly crushed it between her fingers, then swept it on Ferk's cheek near her nostrils. "Smell that, Nan Ferk?" she whispered. "You hang in there, and we'll get you back to your island before the summer wildflowers have faded." She waited for any sort of change. She put the rose petal in Ferk's limp hand, closed her fingers over it, and left the room, stopping to tell the nurse she'd be back later.

She was distracted walking to the shoemaker's shop, trying to conjure clear memories of Saya beyond playing with the goats and climbing an apple tree. Once in the shop, she made small talk for a minute, then said "I need a pair of otos. Made from real leather, heavy duty, like field workers wear."

The shoemaker raised her eyebrows. "That's a first. Waterproof, I suppose. I don't have any in stock your size, I'll have to make them."

"All right. I need them as soon as possible." Pyosz could tell the shoemaker was dying to ask what they were for. Instead, she pretended to look at her empty calendar before saying "Three days from now. End of the day."

"Day after tomorrow" countered Pyosz. "No barter, cold cash."

"That'll cost you 25% extra for the rush" said the shoemaker. "I'll be up late two nights."

Against all Skene bargaining etiquette, Pyosz said "Fine. How much?"

"Well, let me get your measurements" said the shoekeeper, wondering if there was a way to increase her price since Pyosz seemed willing to pay a premium.

"You have my measurements, you're the only place I've ever bought shoes for 20 years" said Pyosz.

"I've never made otos, I need your calf circumferences" countered the shoemaker. She pulled out a tape measure and drawing paper as Pyosz sat down with a sigh and removed her zaoxue.

"Do you want the leather dyed?"

"These aren't for fashion" said Pyosz shortly. She craned her neck around to look at the sokken rack as the shoemaker painstakingly took measurements. When she was done, Pyosz walked in her skarpetki to select six thick pairs of wool sokken. When she brought them back to the counter, the shoemaker said "You'll be wearing those, then, inside the otos?"

"Yes. I'll need the warmth because I'm going to dance from head to head across a mass of leviathans in the Morrie Strati" said Pyosz deadpan. The shoemaker laughed and said "Whatever. Just be sure to recommend me if you survive your adventure." Pyosz handed over her coins and went half a block to a clothing store which offered ready-made garments. She bought two long-sleeved maillot, a pair each of heavy broeks, buksers, and kaidang ku, and a plain black manteau with a flannel lining. At the last minute, she added a jaunty red wool cap with earflaps that could be lowered. The store didn't carry work gloves, and suggested she try the hardware store.

But Pyosz had glanced at her watch and was now panicked about missing Mill's call. She literally ran the few blocks uphill to home, bursting breathless into the kitchen and starting the apprentice, who had charts spread all over the dining table as she snacked on toast.

Pyosz gasped out "Did we get a call from Pya?"

The apprentice shook her head and began moving her papers. Pyosz said "Don't...I'm going to my room" and hid her bags in her clothes press. She pulled from her notebook the pages with her questions and returned to the kitchen to drink down a glass of water. She choked slightly when the radio buzzed, leaping to answer it while coughing.

"S'bemma? No, I'm okay, give me a second."

"This is an open line" Mill reminded her. "Have you talked to the curandera?"

"No, but I saw Ferk and I talked with the nurse." Pyosz related her news.

"Doesn't sound good" said Mill, her voice heavy. "I got hold of a cousin of Ferk's, she lives on Beras and said she'd go after work tonight."

"I'm going back this afternoon to talk with the curandera, I'll tell you what I find out then" said Pyosz. She'd gone into her room and closed the door. "Mill...I'm going to say yes. To the other."

"Waves and ripples, Pyosz, that's the first good thing I've heard in days!" exclaimed Mill. "Have you told anyone yet?"

"No. Waiting until dinner, when the explosion won't ruin other people's day" said Pyosz, not laughing. "I'm having otos made, and got some work clothes."

They began discussing particulars. Eventually Mill said "Okay, so Abbo's flying the next huolun run tomorrow, which means they'll be returning the morning after that. You'll have to catch that one, or else you'll have to wait five days."

"Day after tomorrow?" said Pyosz. Too soon.

"Yeah, be at the Yanja jigang no later than 7:30 a.m., because Abbo will definitely leave without you. See if you can catch the school sinner out to Yanja, talk to Danaan" suggested Mill. "The ejida worker who's been filling in for Ferk is almost out of slack, she's commuting back and forth twice a day. It's planting season at the ejida, so I had to find a replacement for her who could do scut work. Your Sibemma Dodd, bless her, volunteered because school is out, and they're working her 12 hours a day. But Dodd's not the manual labor type, you know."

Neither am I Pyosz suddenly realized. Before she could follow that train of thought, a knock came at her door. "Have you had lunch?" came Qala's voice.

"Mill, I have to go. I'll talk to you later" whispered Pyosz. She clicked off and went into the kitchen, where Qala was making a salad.

"I have to eat fast" said Pyosz. "I need to catch the curandera at the hospital."

"Who is it, from Pya?" asked Qala. Which meant she'd talked with Yoj, of course.

"Nan Ferk. I saw her this morning, and she's in some sort of coma. And abba, they hadn't even cleaned her face properly, or washed her hair, saying basically she came in dirty from dirty Pya and why should they bother." Pyosz's returning anger stiffened her resolve to follow through on her promise to Mill. She talked about Pya in a general way through the meal, and left before Qala could ask more pointed questions.

After Pyosz was gone, the apprentice said "That was Mill she was talking to. And she came in with bags of what looked like new clothes, that she immediately put in her room without showing them to anybody."

You obsequious little sneak thought Qala. Her stony silence got through to the apprentice, who gathered her papers and went to her own room.

When Pyosz got to the hospital, no one was at the front desk. She started down the hall, and saw the curandera emerge from a door at the end. Pyosz went to greet her, introducing herself and asking after Ferk.

The curandera, named Ried, immediately got a resigned expression on her face. Pyosz put her hand against the wall and leaned on it as Ried said "I'm sorry to tell you, she died half an hour ago without ever waking up. Kidney failure causing heart failure. She was in no pain, I can assure you that."

"But I just saw her, brought her flowers!" said Pyosz.

"Are you the cousin from Beras, then? We need papers signed" said Ried.

"No. I knew her from visits to Pya -- I was asked to visit her by my Sibemma Mill, Sheng Zhang of Pya."

Now Ried's face took on an expression Pyosz couldn't read. "Sibemma? Oh...You're Prl's child, that's right."

"Do you know emma, then?" asked Pyosz.

"Not really. I lived next door to your family when she was a child" said Ried with some undefined evasion. "I'm sorry about Ferk. You can check in after her cousin arrives to find out about the funeral, which I'm sure will be tomorrow. Do you want to take the flowers away with you, they're lovely."

"No. Tell the cousin she can keep them with Ferk for her burial. Or give them to another patient if she doesn't want them." Pyosz was fighting tears, and wanted to get away. She thanked Ried and left.

The tillage behind the lofthall had a bench where she'd sat with emmas often as a child, petting the katts and chattering on. She stumbled there now and wept into her hands, hoping none of the pilots saw her. When she was done, she wiped her face and headed for home. Saya Island depended entirely on her now.

Qala was at the kitchen sink cutting seed potatoes, and Lawa had a planting chart on the table, conferring out loud with Qala. They looked around at Pyosz, who only nodded at them before going to wash her face. She went to her room and returned to the kitchen with her notebook, opening it to the page of notes about her new job. Prl came in from her office and Pyosz said "I need to talk with you all. Do you have the time now?"

Prl glanced at the clock and said "All right." Pyosz sat down, and Prl followed suit.

"First of all, Nan Ferk died about an hour ago. Nan Ried said it was kidney and heart failure."

"Ried?" said Prl with an intake of breath. She glanced at Qala, whose face was impassive.

"You do know her, then? She said she lived next door when you were little" said Pyosz, her curiosity poked.

"She did. She was not a good neighbor, however." Prl didn't seem to want to say more.

"Why the gasp, then?" insisted Pyosz. "Is she not a fit curandera? Would she have neglected Ferk's care, should I -- "

"No, no" said Prl. "She -- She's the curandera who spread around how to become pregnant using double eggs. After you were born. She was never identified or prosecuted for it, but I know it was her."

Pyosz wished she'd known that when she was talking to Ried. But she forced herself away from that distraction. She swallowed onto a roiling stomach and said "With Ferk's death, there is no one to take care of the goats on Saya Island. The entire djoste production of Pya is now in jeopardy. Mill asked me to come for the summer and take her place, until they can find someone to immigrate and take it on."

All three of the older women simply stared at her, their eyebrows high on their foreheads. Prl was the first to regain her voice. "You must be joking. You, a capriste?"

"I'll have to learn fast, but I'll be paid and Mill promises to get me any relief or training I need. Pya, indeed, all Skene cannot afford to lose the cheese which comes from the goats of Saya -- "

"I'm more aware than you are of how essential that protein and calcium has been to Skene" said Prl coldly. "All of us but you grew up without it."

The limited land available on Skene meant certain food items -- milk, butter, cheese, corn, wheat to name a few -- were either in very limited supply or not grown altogether. Dairy products had been reserved for children and aggies first, but even then, meal made from fish bones and certain leafy greens had been a necessary dietary addition to make sure small teeth and skeletons grew properly to adulthood.

"What beggars belief" continued Prl "is that anyone in their right mind would turn over production of that precious commodity to you. What you know about goats would fit inside this teaspoon. As for responsibility, did you tell Mill that you forget about our own small group of chickens almost half the time?"

Pyosz suddenly realized she hadn't thought about the chickens in at least two days. Prl had the satisfaction of seeing compunction on Pyosz's face. She pushed her advantage.

"Don't you have to be certified to make djoste for allotment? Or is Mill going to ignore that little -- "

Pyosz interrupted her happily. "I'm not making the djoste, only milking. I deliver the milk to the djostiker in Koldok every day."

"How do you deliver it?" asked Lawa.

"By ferry. It's only a few minutes, and there's morrie vaseo all the time" said Pyosz.

"How many goats?" asked Lawa.

"Around a hundred" said Pyosz, not as happily.

Prl made a rude round with her mouth. Lawa did sums on her fingers. "Figure over half of those are lactating does, that means perhaps a gallon a day -- are you milking twice a day?"

Pyosz nodded, watching Lawa's fingers.

"So that's at least 50 gallons a milking. Do you have any idea how much a gallon of liquid weighs, honey? Especially in a metal can, lifting into and out of a rocking ferry?"

"Ferk did it, and she's almost your age" argued Pyosz.

"Ferk is dead" pointed out Prl. "Possibly from overwork."

Pyosz flared. "Don't you dare speak of her so heartlessly, you effete townie! She gave Pya everything she had for 20 years, she was kind and always welcomed us children and she fed all of levving Skene, and she died alone with her hair unwashed and nobody to hold her hand -- " Despite her best effort, Pyosz could not hold back her tears. As she sobbed onto her fists, Prl decided not to point out that "effete townie" was also an accurate description of Pyosz herself.

Qala patted Pyosz's back and shook her head at Lawa. Lawa craned her neck to look at the page open in Pyosz's notebook. Prl went to her room and returned with a handkerchief for Pyosz. Pyosz blew her nose and said "I'm supposed to leave morning after next. I've got so much to do."

Lawa said "There's beehives on Saya?"

"Yes, I'll have to care for those as well, extract honey. But you and Yoj taught me that well." At least I'm competent in that area thought Pyosz. "There's a woods full of nut trees, and an orchard of fruit trees. Plus a tillage and chickens. I've bought some work clo -- Oh, lev, I forgot about my otos."

"Otos?" said Prl in continuing disbelief.

"Yeah, I'm having some made." Pyosz went to the radio and called the shoemaker's shop. They listened to her ask for the otos a full day early. Then she said "I've already paid you a rush fee, 25% of the price, remember? That should cover any rearranging you have to do." She listened agai and began "I know for a fact the Lofthall gets theirs made in one working day."

Prl crossed to her and reached for the radio, saying "Let me handle -- " They heard a distinct smack of flesh on flesh as Pyosz slapped Prl's hand away, turning to face the stove as she said "Fine, then I'll just cancel my order and expect a full refund. I can go to the Lofthall where they have dozens of good used pairs in storage, one of them will fit me. And I'll be sure to inform my entire family that you put profit ahead of service. I'll be taking my business elsewhere from now on, and recommending the same to everone I know."

Qala chuckled as Pyosz listened to what was undoubtedly a full retreat on the other end. "All right, glad you could change your mind. I'll be by tomorrow around this time to pick them up." Pyosz turned back to them with strengthened resolve on her face.

Prl said in melodramatic tones, "You struck me."

"You were trying to take something from me. But okay, aggie, make a state case out of it. Take it to your emma the Ethicist and have me arrested. Better yet, wait until I'm actually on Pya so you can claim flight and have me extradited, that will give Skene something to talk about for decades."

Now Lawa joined Qala in muffled laughter. Qala thought Prl wanted to smile, too. But the battle wasn't over yet.

"I cannot understand why Mill is willing to exploit you in this manner" Prl said. "Is this her graduation gift to you, throwing you into a situation for which you have no preparation and working you to ill health, as a means of launching your adult life? Or perhaps that's secretly her point, her disdain for education having manifested itself by the fact that neither of her children had enough ambition to actually obtain a degree. Abbo didn't even try, she used her family connections to get her through flight school and ran back home to Pya where her ineptitude is concealed by her emmas."

"Oh, even better, make this all about your unresolved childhood competition with Mill" said Pyosz. "Listen, I'm going to Pya, whether you believe in me or not. I'm needed, I've promised Mill, and I will do what it takes. Now I have to go deal with more attempts to prove how worthless I am from the rest of my family. Feel free to dissect me while I'm gone." She went out the front door with a slam.

Lawa picked up the notebook and read it openly. After a long sigh, she pulled out a blank page from the back and began making her own set of notes. Prl said "I'm not giving her one levving coin towards her support, not until she returns and takes up a career suitable to her talent."

Qala said "At least she won't have to run into Sey and whats-her-name on the street or with her friends. That will be entirely out of her system by the time she comes back."

"Unless she fails immediately and has to crawl back in shame" said Prl. Qala looked at her sharply and said "It almost sounds as if you're hoping that's the case. Which I know you're too good an emma to wish."

A muscle showed in Prl's jaw. "My emmas will talk her out of it. You know how they feel about people in this family running away to Pya. I need to go write a letter to Szebel, make sure she hears from one of us before the rumor mill reaches her and Szebel decides Pyosz is too immature and ungrateful to hold open her offer."

Lawa, her eyes still on the list, said "She's going to be breaking in new otos while on her feet doing demanding labor. Qala, do we have blister pads at our place? And that liniment I rub into your shoulders, we have an extra jar of it, right?" They began conferring as Prl left the room.

Pyosz went into her abbas' Manage without knocking. Tlunu was just getting up from the nap she always took after coming home from sinning. Nobody else was home, although Tlunu said she expected them all within the hour. Pyosz declined to leave a note, but asked Tlunu to tell her abbas she needed to talk with them about an important matter before dinner, and she would return. Out in the lane, she couldn't face going back home. Instead, she went to the booksellers downtown who was favored by Yoj.

The bookseller became the first person outside her family whom Pyosz confided in about her summer plans. They went through the shelves together, locating anything to do with goat-rearing, forestry, drying fruit, making honey, and Pya in general. There were two volumes specific to goats which the bookseller didn't have in stock, but she offered to print them overnight and refused to take extra money for it: Yoj's translations, writing, and requests for reprints had filled this store's inventory for years. Pyosz paid as her new books were wrapped in kelp-paper and string.

She didn't feel up to talking with Ferk's cousin at the moment. She trudged slowly back to her abbas' Manage, where now everyone but Speranz was home. Yoj said "Are those books? I thought you were done with all your studies?", but there was an anticipatory gleam in her eye as she reached for the string on the package.

"Wait" said Pyosz. "I have to tell you all something." She sat down at the table and repeated her news, waiting for more yelling to begin.

Instead, Bux came to hug her and said "I'm so sorry about Ferk. I only met her once, but I heard Mill speak of her often."

Halling said "Do you feel up to what Mill has asked you? Because she can be a poor judge of people, sometimes."

"I do, abba. I mean, I think I can. But I need to prepare." Pyosz pulled back the paper from her books, and they began reading titles. After a few minutes, Bux stood to start making risotto, and Halling said to Pyosz "Come with me into the tillage, let's get salad things for dinner."

Once they were outside, Halling put her arm around Pyosz and said "I can imagine that Prl is having a conniption."

"She all but threatened me with prosecution" said Pyosz, conflating events a bit. "And I can tell that Lawa and Qala don't think it's a good idea, which is even worse."

"Do you think it's really the right thing for you to do?" asked Halling, sitting on one of the rusted ancient chairs which for some reason dotted her abbas' tillage.

Pyosz stopped to consider. Halling's acceptance gave her room to turn it all over in her mind. After a couple of minutes, which she filled by pulling onions, she said "I do. I think I need to work hard in a way completely different from what I've been doing. And I need to go away."

"I understand that" said Halling. "I did it once myself, the going away to think part. Well, then, whatever happens, it will be good for you." Pyosz let out a long breath and came to put her onions in Halling's basket. Halling was trimming lettuce leaves with kitchen shears. She said quietly "My emma died right here, right where I'm sitting, you know."

Pyosz felt a chill down her back. "No, I didn't. Ng?"

"Fell over onto a head of Slowbolt. By the time we found her, it had pressed creases into her cheek that we were never able to get out. I couldn't believe she was dead, tried to warm her up again." Halling looked up at Pyosz, her black eyes liquid with old loss. "When someone else's change alters our existence, it can take us a long while to let it be true all the way inside."

"I wish I'd known her" said Pyosz. "Habibi, I mean."

"You'd have adored her" said Halling. "She was fearfully blunt, but always kind. Go cut a couple of squash, will you? I'll get carrots and we'll be done."

Inside again, Yoj said "I bet I have a few more books you might want, come have a look." She and Pyosz went into Yoj's study, which was lined floor to ceiling on three sides with books, many of them extremely rare. They combed through various sections, Yoj constantly becoming distracted by something she wanted to re-read and setting it on her desk next to one of her elderly cats, sleeping away. At one point, she looked over at Pyosz and said "Would you be doing this if you weren't heartbroken over Sey?"

"I don't know. I love Pya and going there for the summer has always meant a lot to me" said Pyosz. "The thing is, abba, I still don't understand how I could have been so wrong about Sey. Until I figure that out, I feel like I'm stuck, like my heart is stuck."

She expected Yoj to reassure her. But Yoj nodded to herself and said "You do need to find the spot where you made a wrong turn. Why did you believe her, when she was lying to herself, at the very least?"

Pyosz felt a lump in her throat. She whispered "Do you think, then, that maybe there's something wrong with me?"

Yoj turned and gave her a wide smile. "Of course not. You're my favorite grandchild, though if you repeat that to the others I'll deny it. But you made a mistake, and now you believe there may be something wrong with you, which is another mistake. You'll have to fix that somehow. Could be tomorrow, could take months. Fortunately, you've got time and opportunity. Listen, you need more to read than texts about horn disease and nut rot. You need poetry, adventure -- here, take this bestiary I made for your emma and her sibs when they were little, showing the animals on the colonist's home planet, it's fascinating to look through. Pick out some other fun stuff. That bottom shelf is all books I'm giving to the library, help yourself. Are you going to eat with us?"

"No, emma will be expecting me home for dinner" said Pyosz regretfully. She bent easily to her knees and began looking through the give-away shelf. Yoj envied her youth and strength.

"Put all you want into that crate there, you can use it to carry them home -- or to Pya, for that matter, it closes with a catch" said Yoj. She returned to the kitchen to set the table for dinner.

Pyosz started for home with a heavy load in her crate. Halling had given her one of Ng's beloved bowls, dark red with a pattern of sliced beets and curled shrimp around the rim. Bux gave her the small silver pepper mill they used on special occasions, saying "This was my aggie's, and hers before that. It's due to come to you through Prl, but I think she'll forgive me for skipping a step." She promised to have dinner with them all the following evening, inviting her own Manage to join for a family send-off.

As soon as the door closed on her, Halling said to Bux "Can you make that risotto last another ten minutes?"

"Calling Mill, are you" said Bux, nodding. "Tell her she better levving know what she's doing this time."

At home, Pyosz set her crate of books inside her room. She removed the bowl and pepper mill, trying to think of what to wrap around the bowl to keep it from breaking. Prl appeared in her doorway and said "Qala roasted a chicken, and I made your favorite carrot dish." She paused, then said "Is that Yerush's pepper mill?"

"Yes. Abba gave it to me." Pyosz lifted her bags of new clothes from her press and emptied them onto her bed. She began wrapping the bowl in her new manteau.

"They're okay with your decision, then" said Prl, coming to look at the red hat.

"They are. To paraphase Halling, if it's a mistake, it's one I need to make for myself." Pyosz still wasn't looking at Prl's face.

"I'll help you pack later, if you want. That list you left on the table said you were to bring your own linens. I have several blankets and quilts in my cupboard."

Pyosz felt a surge of anger at them reading her notebook. "I'll take what's on my bed, emma, I don't need extra blankets. It's summer, and I will have shelter, you know."

Prl left the room without a word. Pyosz went to the table to retrieve her list. Sitting on top of her notebook was a pile of items: A nearly-new pair of ejida work gloves, another pair with the fingers cut away, jars of lotions and liniment, garden tools, packets of Prl's blends of tea, a powerful flash, and Prl's expensive camera. Pyosz closed her eyes against hot tears, then turned to Prl at the stove and said "I'm sorry. I'm having a hard time thinking about doing this at all."

Prl faced her swiftly, saying "I know you must be. I'm sorry I've been an ass, I really am." They hugged, awkwardly. Lawa pushed open the door with an basket full of greens from the tillage and said "Now there's something I wanted to see."

"I can't take your camera, emma" said Pyosz. "It might get wet or damaged."

"I'll take that risk" said Prl. "What I ask is that you shoot a roll each week and send us photos of you in your new world. Is that a burden to ask for?"

Pyosz grinned. "No, it'll be fun." She went to hug Lawa, saying "Thank you for all the practical help, I definitely need it."

"You definitely will" agreed Lawa. Qala came in from the back and said "I did the chickens for you again. May the stars help those poor hens on Saya." The teasing in her voice helped Pyosz laugh. She said "I'll be back in a few minutes, I need to call Mill." She picked up the radio and walked to her room, but returned in a minute, saying "It's busy."

"My emmas" said Prl knowingly. "Make us some dressing while you're waiting."

Pyosz began grinding mustard seed in the mortar and said "Emma, would you have enough time tomorrow morning to cut my hair?" Her dreads extended halfway down her back when they were unpinned from her head.

Prl winced but said calmly "Of course. I'm taking the day off to be with you. How short are you thinking about making it?"

"I still want dreads, but easy to wash in a sink" said Pyosz. "I also want to go visit Ngall tomorrow, I guess on her lunch hour. And I don't know when Ferk's funeral is, or if I should go."

"Ask Mill" suggested Qala. Prl winced to herself again, but Pyosz saw it this time.

"What? Are you still ragging on about Mill exploiting me?" demanded Pyosz.

"No. I just -- you're my only child, and I love you coming home every day. I love being the one you talk to about what's happening in your life. Now you're going to be turning to Mill and Oby, I guess. And Dodd and Briel, which is a little easier to take because I don't think they've been as slipshod in how they raised their children as Mill and Oby. I -- I'll miss you terribly." Prl was not trying to sway Pyosz's feelings, Pyosz could tell from long practice at decoding her emma's maneuvers. This was an earnest admission.

Pyosz said, with dry humor, "As the whole world knows and points out frequently, I only have one emma. And that's you. I'm seriously not looking for another, you're quite enough." She paused, and added "I'll miss you terribly, as well. When I'm not ducking owl attacks or getting a hernia lifting milk cans."

They all laughed, and this time the hug between Prl and Pyosz was easy, close.


Broeks -- Quilted linen pants (outdoor presentable attire).
Buksers -- Roomy canvas work pants.
Djoste -- Chevon/goat cheese (as opposed to pecorino or sheep cheese, kaas).
Djostiker -- Maker of goat cheese (as opposed to maker of sheep cheese, kaasyaste).
Ejida -- State run cooperative farm, for produce, animals, and/or greenhouses (as opposed to a Manage curtilage or tillage, which is for an individual family). All products go toward the annual allotment.
Faryaste -- Ferry boat driver. On Skene, ferries which are in an enclosed lagoon with barriers to keep out leviathans are operated by a chain drive, but still require faryastes to help in case, as has occasionally happened, a leviathan leaps over a barrier. Open-water ferries only run during times of low tide, when Morrie Vaseo can be expected because of pathways between reefs built over centuries of dangerous effort. Open-water faryasters consider themselves superior to chain-drive faryastes because of the much higher risk they face from leviathans, even with the current condition of leviathan truce.
Huolun -- The large, powerful freighters used to fly cargo and passengers between Pya and Skene.
Jichang -- Airport or airfield of any size.
Kaidang ku -- Canvas pants with open crotch covered by tie flap, favored for children and field workers (easy to take a piss in these).
Manteau -- Long wool cloak for cold weather wear.
Morrie Strati -- The vast fields of red-colored ocean where leviathans congregate, named for the increased viscosity of seawater there. It has never been determined if these regions are created by leviathans extruding something from their bodies or if they are naturally occurring and somehow preferable to leviathans as habitat.
Morrie Vaseo -- Meaning "safe ocean" or "easy path", this is any waterway between islands which is considered relatively defended from leviathan attack, because of shallowness, protective reef, and/or low tide. This phrase is also the most common farewell on Skene.
Otos -- Heavy leather boots worn by outdoor workers and pilots.
Skarpetki -- Thin wool or silk socks, dyed deep colors, for dress wear.
Sokken -- Thick wool socks for everyday wear, especially for workers.
Zaoxue -- Dress boots/shoes, ankle high with polished or dyed leather finish.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, July 23, 2009


(Ultraviolet Image of Multiple Comet Impacts on Jupiter from Hubble Telescope)

In lieu of my usual Hubble Telescope image from HubbleSite, today I'm highlighting this week's discovery of an asteroid impact on Jupiter which left a scar the size of the Earth (!). It was spotted by Anthony Wesley of Canberra, Australia, an amateur astronomer using a home-made telescope. This Times Online article is fascinating reporting on the event -- do read all the way through to the end. This Scientific American article is also good reading. Below is the Reuters image of the scar -- there isn't a photo of this event yet available from Hubble.

(July 2009 -- impact scar on Jupiter from asteroid collision)

In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

by Mary Oliver, from American Primitive


Tuesday, July 21, 2009


(Detailed diagram of the Manage on Riesig forty years earlier when Mill, Ndege, Dodd, Prl, and Speranz were children living with emmas -- now abbas -- and their emmas; click on image to enlarge)

To begin reading this sci-fi novel or for background information, go to my Chapter One post from yesterday. Explanatory notes will follow, but terms first introduced in Chapter One will not be re-explained here.


Pyosz cried herself out at her abbas' crowded Manage while soup and salad were put on the table, along with a fresh loaf of Yoj's dark bread. Ehall, the first great-grandchild, was passed from lap to lap as they ate at the long table, telling stories about the abbas' five offspring to their partners and grown children. Ngall took her leave early because of the ferry commute to Pomar, and Ndege's family left not long after: The Sigrist could only leave watch if there was a substitute to sit in for a few hours.

Their neighbors, Rark, Danaan, their grown children, and Danaan's emmas Iro and Ektr stopped by from the Manage behind, bringing a cake. Rark actually pulled Pyosz onto her lap when she heard the news, saying "But you're such a good catch, she must have shu-shit for brains." Pyosz cried a little more and was persuaded to eat a small piece of cake.

Talk turned to the Lofthall, as it always did when there were two or more pilots in the room. Speranz's partner, Tlunu, was now head sinner, and fish run yields were dissected in boring detail. Pyosz felt like she couldn't change the subject because, after all, Tlunu and Speranz were going to inherit this Manage, it was as much theirs now as the abbas.

Lawa sat down next to Pyosz in the living room and said "Are you still headed for Yanja next week, then?" in a soft whisper.

"I don't know now. Would Szebel wait a while, you think?"

"Szebel has always been a mystery to me" said Lawa, glancing at Halling, her siba. "I remain astounded that Halling ever leapt into her bed."

"She used to scare the piss out of me when I was little" confided Pyosz. "Those ropes of pinkish hair reaching down to her ankles, and especially her breasts, the way she laced up her gilet so they stuck out a foot in front of her. I was terrified she'd turn around and knock me down with her bosom."

Lawa was choking back her laughter. Pyosz looked down at her own chest and said "I guess I received retribution for that prejudice. You know, Woalt is all bones, no curve at all on her."

"Woalt is a tool, and nobody builds their life around a tool, even a good one" said Lawa. "You had to get your first venture into love out of the way. Not many folks have the luck Halling has had. Most of us have to empty the chamberpot repeatedly until we're ready for an actual fresh start."

Pyosz did not find this especially comforting, except for the tool comparison -- she liked that. "Abba Halling, she never picked a loser?"

"Nope. Xaya, then Yoj, then Bux. Even Szebel was a good thing for her" said Lawa.

Yoj had drifted over near them, and sat down now. "Although you'd have had a knife held to your throat if you'd tried to convince me and Bux that Szebel was anything except a homewrecker, when Halling first told us. She wrote it in a letter from Yanja, can you imagine?"

Pyosz giggled, the first time she had all evening. Lawa said "Her hair, Szebel, I mean, it used to be bright red, like magma. It only went pink when white began mixing in."

"What kind of poor choices did you make with lovers before Halling and Bux, abba?" Pyosz asked Yoj. She wanted confirmation that she was not a misfit.

"Oh, lev" sighed Yoj. "I don't know where to begin."

"Well, how many sweethearts did you have?" persisted Pyosz.

"I don't actually know" said Yoj, shocking Pyosz. "At least half my sui, I think. But -- I was never in love with any of them. Not until Halling."

"I am -- was -- in love with Sey" said Pyosz, tearing up again. Lawa and Yoj exchanged a quick glance.

"And Bux" said Yoj. "She only had two before us, but they were both katt turds. Halling especially hated one of them."

"Why?" asked Pyosz, diverted.

Yoj looked uncomfortable. "She was -- inconsiderate in bed. Among other things."

Pyosz wondered what that meant. "Sey is the only one I've been with, you know, but I have wondered if she was all that good. For instance, she didn't like the taste down there. Whereas I really can't get enough, I have to say." She blew her nose loudly.

Yoj and Lawa were now both crimson. Lawa said loudly to Yoj "So, why didn't you fall in love, I wonder?"

"I didn't think anyone would ever fall in love me" said Yoj, sadness fleeting across her face. "I figured I was going to have friends and family but nobody would ever really choose me as their heart's desire."

This was so identical to how Pyosz felt, she stared at Yoj. "You, abba? How on earth could you think that?"

"Because my aggie loved me imperfectly" said Yoj. "And my emma perhaps not at all. We learn what to expect about love from those first lessons with the people who bring us into the world." She had lowered her voice again, and glanced at Prl now. Pyosz was riveted. Voices rose in the kitchen.

"I'm telling you, that crackpot old sinner theory about them using the bone for some kind of mystical communication has been completely disproven by a biologist at the U!" Tlunu said in a near shout. "They ram levs on the weak spot, that's what the bulge on their head is for. I mean, how else do you explain them being avoided by leviathans? They're the only thing in the ocean that isn't gobbled up like crispy bacon."

"What are they talking about?" asked Pyosz.

"Hnisa" said Yoj. "Listen, do you want me to go get your diploma tomorrow? Do you want to go with me?"

Prl had ventured into the living room. "I'll handle it" she said firmly. "Are you ready to go home?"

"Yeah" said Pyosz, standing with a slight wobble. Lawa put her arm over Pyosz's shoulders and said "This silk is a knock-out. You get to save it for a public debut at another time, now. Maybe a dance."

Which brought grief into Pyosz's throat again. Prl collected Qala and Pyosz got her round of hugs and kisses. Outside, the rain had stopped. There was only one large streetlight between this Manage and the Genist's, at the school. Otherwise, they made their way by memory, drenched shadows absorbing all other light.

At home, Lawa made tea and Pyosz changed into her schmatta. Prl came into her room with her, uninvited, and hung her new outfit in the clothes press for her. They sat at the table with Lawa and Qala, sipping tea in silence. Prl finally said "I have a full roster tomorrow, but I can cancel things, tell me what you want."

"I want to sleep late and have some time to think" said Pyosz. "It's been weeks since I had a breather."

"I'll be around all day" offered Qala. Lawa added, "I can make dinner tomorrow for us, what would you most like?"

Pyosz thought for a minute. She wanted it to be something she hadn't made for Sey. She said "A cheese and potato pie. With onions. And shrimp, if there's any at the market."

Lawa knocked the table in confirmation. She and Qala offered to play cards with Pyosz, or listen to music. Music sounded especially treacherous to Pyosz at the moment. She was dreading going to bed alone, but her body was utterly exhausted. Finally, with a courage that made her lips tremble, she stood and went into her room, closing the door.

She cried herself to sleep. They could hear her through the wall, and discussed whether to go in to her. Prl said "She thinks she's dying. She needs to find out she won't."

"It's better it happened now than after they partnered and moved to Yanja" said Lawa. "It was inevitable, in any case."

"I'm going to bed" said Qala, standing abruptly. She hated gossip or anything that resembled it.

"Lev, the chickens" said Lawa, smacking her forehead. "Eks to eggplants she didn't put them away before she left for the restaurant."

"I'll help" said Prl as they headed outside.

Prl used her lunch hour the next day to go pick up Pyosz's diploma at the Dean's office. The Dean was 20 years older, an ossified reactionary who had no regard for life outside the University enclave and imagined herself to be leading Skene into civilization against the will of baser intelligence. She was also known to be a terrible gossip.

Next to sex and dancing, gossip was Skene's favorite pastime.

Prl accepted a cup of tea and settled herself into the Dean's chair. The Dean stepped to her door and informed the administration secretary that there were to be no interruptions "while the Genist is here", sending a ripple of speculation throughout all the nearby offices. The Dean closed her door and opened a cabinet to retrieve Pyosz's certificate, handsomely enclosed in a kelp-faux-leather folder.

"We sorely missed her at the ceremony" said the Dean, her face avid for Prl's explanation.

"She was torn about whether or not to attend" said Prl, opening the folder to look at Pyosz's name spelt out in gleaming leaf. Gold was less costly on Skene than leather. "All three of my emmas finally persuaded her it would cause less kerfuffle for her to stay with us."

All three of Prl's emmas meant the most powerful people on Skene had an opinion on the matter. The Dean seemed to be holding her breath.

"The fact is, this University is beloved to our family" continued Prl. "We support education above all, and -- well, tawdry dramatics and manipulation have no place in a matriculation. We all believed it quite possible that Sey would act out at the ceremony itself." Prl took another sip of tea as the Dean breathed out with a small gasp.

"Act out?"

"She was -- how to put it -- visibly enraged by Pyosz's decision to not participate in her scheme" said Prl. Yoj's head would explode if she saw how nimbly I can fabricate on the spot, she thought.

The Dean cleared her throat. "I'm afraid I have no knowledge of a scheme."

"Well, good, glad to hear it's not being bandied about and possibly sullying the name of the University, then" said Prl. She leaned forward confidentially and said "And, of course, I'm telling you this for your ears only. I know your reputation for discretion." That last sentence was not actually false.

"Of course."

"You see, the last term Sey was really struggling to pass her courses. Once she got into the advanced academics you offer here, her cleverness was no match for actual intellectual demand. Pyosz spent literally hours every evening and most weekends helping Sey, trying to reteach what she was failing to grasp in class. Sey refused to admit her difficulty or bring it to your attention, ask for help, although I and Yoj both strongly urged her to do so." Prl's face was a mix of empathy and disappointment.

"Ah, um, I had no word from any gakusha that Sey was -- that her marks had dropped" said the Dean, clearing her throat again.

"Well, Pyosz turns out to have a knack for teaching. Funnily enough, going over things with Sey actually deepened her own comprehension, so she wound up simply sailing through her exams." Those exam papers would bear that part out, at least. "But Sey got tired of facing her own limits. She'd begun an affair with another student, Woalt, which Pyosz knew about, of course, and didn't mind. Pyosz's focus was on her degree, always has been." Might as well introduce Woalt to the story, it was likely the Dean had heard that much.

Which she had, Prl could tell by the flicker in her eyes. If people think Pyosz knew about it, then there was no chance of her being pitied as a cuckold.

"Woalt, however, was not the kind of student Pyosz has chosen to be. She knew a number of cramming tricks, mnemonics, you know what I mean, whereby you can regurgitate hastily memorized information well enough to pass a test, but a week later, it's vanished like morning seafog. Sey decided to pursue Woalt's example as the less demanding path. And, if that was not enough -- I don't want to get anyone into trouble..." Prl trailed off and held up her empty cup.

The Dean almost knocked over her chair getting to her feet. She refilled Prl's cup from the pot on the side table. Prl said to her politely "Two spoons of sugar this time, please." She stirred her cup for a minute, and the Dean said "If you're not choosing to lay charges, I can, um, hear you out. But if there's actual wrongdoing -- "

"I know, you're honor bound. I suppose I must leave it to your judgment. I don't have any proof, mind you, but Woalt's family has considerable disposable income and connections. And Pyosz heard gossip, which she insists was never substantiated, that Woalt and Sey managed to get their hands on exams in advance of their distribution. Pyosz said it's possible they scored 100% accurate on those tests. But they were in classes she wasn't taking, so she's having trouble believing it of them." A trouble Prl herself didn't have, her tone implied.

It was, in fact, likely that Sey had scored 100% on one or more exams simply through her own merit. Prl was taking a permanent shit on the scholarship of a young person about to make her start in life. I have only one child, and she is all the world to me Prl reminded herself as justification.

The Dean leaned back in her chair, her face aghast.

"Pyosz confronted Sey about what she'd heard, and Sey didn't exactly deny it. Eventually Pyosz demanded that Sey come to you, come to her gakushas, and ask to retake the tests. As a way of verifying her ability. Sey became -- well, I had to go into the room because she was screaming in such a frightening way. Pyosz told her that if Sey did not make matters right, Pyosz could not continue being intimate with her. Sey stormed out of the Manage, yelling she'd expect an apology from Pyosz at graduation itself. Or else." Prl stopped to finish her second cup.

"And that's why -- my word. I noticed Sey was agitated at the ceremony, kept watching the door. As did Woalt, actually. I -- Thank the stars you kept Pyosz from crossing her path" said the Dean. "How is Pyosz today?"

"Sad but I think relieved" said Prl. "Which says a great deal right there, doesn't it? At any rate, Sey is free to go find employment now with Woalt's familly's little business, and Pyosz has been promised a mathematics commission by the Vetriste Guild whenever she wants it. I expect eventually she'll be a gakusha here herself."

The Vetriste Guild tidbit was news to the Dean, Prl could tell. A signal honor, and something the U would want to mention in its annual report.

"More tea?" asked the Dean, daring to put one hand over Prl's. Prl squirmed inside but did not pull away.

"I'm afraid not, I have consultations all afternoon" said Prl with a shy smile. She stood, tucking Pyosz's diploma into her bag. "I'll have to invite you for dinner some evening, with the emmas, now that there's no risk of it being seen as me seeking favoritism for my child."

The Dean's face flushed. "I look most forward to it. Please tell Pyosz we welcome her here any time. And -- there will have to be an investigation about the other, Nan Genist."

Prl knew there would be. It would produce no evidence, because there was none to find, and Sey already had her diploma. But the story would be all over Riesig by nightfall, and Pyosz's withdrawal for a few days would be viewed as discretion, not shame. Now all she had to do was concoct a version of this conversation that her emmas would buy, a much more problematic task.

"I leave it to your discharge. You've never failed this University yet." She pressed her hand into that of the Dean and left.

At the Manage, meanwhile, Pyosz had not emerged from her room. Qala knocked on the door and offered lunch, hearing only a pitiful "No, thanks, I'm not hungry" in reply. She turned the knob and entered. Pyosz's face was swollen, her eyes almost shut. The chamberpot had been used and there was some other funk in the room as well.

Qala waved her hand in front of her face and said "You need to air out in here."

"What's the point. No one else but me will ever be in here" said Pyosz.

Qala sighed and sat down on the side of the bed, breathing through her mouth. "You're giving up, then."

Pyosz didn't answer.

"Honey, I know what it's like to feel this desperate."

"I don't want to hear about all the lovers you had who didn't work out" Pyosz said meanly. "I got all that rah-rah from abba last night."

"I wasn't actually thinking about lovers" said Qala. She waited.

"What, then?" asked Pyosz, in spite of herself.

Qala clasped and unclasped her large, lovely hands, looking at them instead of Pyosz. "I left home -- Exploit -- with a request that I never return. The Lofthall became my home because I had no place else to go. Until Yoj and the rest claimed me as family, which took several years. You don't know what it's like to be unloved, not really."

Pyosz sat up. She'd never heard this. "Why, abba? What on earth could they hold against you?"

Qala really didn't want to say, Pyosz could tell. She leaned forward and pressed her forehead against Qala's shoulder. "I'm sorry if I'm prying. I hope you know I love you with all my heart."

Qala finally looked at Pyosz, her eyes wet. "I hope you know it back. You're not prying, I brought it up. It's just -- I guess I still feel some shame."

Pyosz came closer, putting her arms around Qala's thick trunk. Qala said softly "Thing is -- it's a little different on Exploit. Not all islands are identical. And in my family, for two generations or maybe more -- well, I was the first Y to come along."

"So?" asked Pyosz. "You can't mean..."

"Yeah" said Qala.

"That's -- it should be against the law!" said Pyosz hotly.

"Perhaps it is" said Qala. "But children don't know the law, and even if they did, when their emmas reject them, a logical child figures it must be for a good reason."

"I can't believe you had to grow up with that" said Pyosz, her own misery suddenly in perspective.

"I still encountered it, occasionally, even as an adult" said Qala. "But this family thought I was worth handing kids over to, and then Lawa came along." Her face slid into joy, revealing laugh lines which were her basic state. "Lawa adored everything about me. I had to wait until I was 40, but she was worth it. Anyhow, what I learned is that when you don't know what to do, you do what's habit. You keep busy, you act like you make a difference, and eventually the next step becomes clear."

She turned to look at Pyosz. " can have another hour in here to lick your wounds. Then you're getting up and emptying that chamberpot into the privy while I make you a plate of food. Even if it's only ikan and apples." Pyosz grinned reluctantly. "Once you've eaten, we're cleaning the chicken house, it's overdue and it requires no thought to scrape down guano. If you want to do it in silence, I'll oblige you. If you want to talk, I'll listen. When we're done, you can take a hot soak and eat Lawa's dinner, having done something productive with your day." She patted Pyosz's knee and stood.

"Where's emma?" asked Pyosz, pushing back her quilt.

"She went to see the Dean. If I know Prl, the damage she's doing right now to Sey will last the rest of her life" said Qala grimly. "She's more like Yerush all the time." Yerush was Bux's aggie, and a legendary figure for reasons good and not so good. Pyosz wanted to ask more, but Qala was rapidly exiting the room and its stench.

Moving her body did improve Pyosz's spirits, more than she wanted to admit. After dinner, she left Prl to her paperwork and walked down to the abbas' Manage. They had the table covered with materials to plant seedlings for the next wave in the spring tillage. Pyosz sat down to help them. They were almost done when the radio buzzed. Halling glanced at the clock and said "That'll be Mill, this time of night."

When she answered, she spoke in an undertone for a minute. Pyosz knew she was telling Mill about her break-up. She felt suddenly sick to her stomach, as if the realization was hitting her all over again. Halling talked with Mill for five minutes, then handed the phone to Pyosz. "She's on the private frequency, so we've only got another seven minutes."

When Pya was first settled, Skene had a single satellite in orbit which enabled the two distant places to communicate with each other, but only 15 minutes at a time at a specific hour before the satellite moved out of range. Since then, other satellites had been launched, and it was now possible to call Pya any time of day or night. However, these radio conversations were on an open frequency, which meant anybody could listen in. Mill used the old system to speak with her family in private.

"Hey, kiddo, I can't believe you've been treated so shabbily" said Mill, her voice full of empathy. "Next time I'm there, I'm going to accidentally drop a load of raw compost on wherever she's living."

"Fine by me" said Pyosz. "How are things on Pya, S'bemma?"

"Warming up. Apricots have hit the markets, and we're eating them three meals a day" said Mill.

"I don't think we've got any here yet" said Pyosz.

"Of course not, we're hoarding them all" said Mill. An old joke, which some Skeners believed was true. "Listen, I have a proposition for you which I was going to make before I heard about your -- change in status. But you might like it even more now. The capriste on Saya Island, our nearest neighbor, old Ferk, remember her? Well, she's seriously ill and they're flying her back to the hospital on Riesig tonight."

"What's wrong?" Night flights were only done in emergency, even now that the air time between the two locations had been reduced to seven hours.

"Not sure. But bad. Anyhow, we need somebody to take over care of her goats and bees, keep the tillage and chickens alive, and hopefully organize harvest of her orchard. It might be for the whole summer, and it's back-breaking work. Her herd is about 100 right now. But you'll get paid at the end, you'll have a chance to eat our good Pya food and visit us as much as you want, and, well, I wouldn't ask if we didn't really need you. Or somebody you can recommend, maybe." Relief workers on Pya were in short supply; everybody was already doing as many different jobs as they could squeeze into a day.

"Did my emma put you up to this?" asked Pyosz suspiciously. Or the abbas.

"Are you kidding me? Prl will try to have me prosecuted when she finds out, you know how she feels about your visits here" said Mill. Which was true, Prl had always resented Pyosz's time on Pya. There was some old tension between her and Mill, since they were children living in this Manage together. "Truth is, I haven't mentioned it to anybody in the family yet, and I'd appreciate you not doing so, either, until you make up your mind. No sense getting yelled at before there's a reason for it."

Pyosz believed Mill, who was often brutally honest. And she was right, her Skene relations would have a conniption if she went to Pyosz for the summer instead of taking a job in Skene.

"Anyhow, we're about to run out of time. I'll call you back late morning on a public line to give you more details. You think about it. Oby sends her love, and you get an address for that compost dump for me." There was abrupt static. Pyosz pushed the off button.

"What was she telling you?" asked Bux, looking at her keenly. Pyosz was not very good at lying to the abbas, but she did her best.

"Ferk, the capriste on Saya Island, is seriously ill, don't know with what, and she's being flown to the hospital here tonight. Mill wants me to go visit her tomorrow. We used to go see her when we were kids, play with her goats and roam the island. She's hoping I can get more information from the curandera than Mill might over the radio, me being a local and all."

"That's too bad" said Yoj, who was also examining her face. "What did you mean, what was Prl putting her up to?"

"Oh" laughed Pyosz casually. "Mill offered to dump offal onto Sey's house next time she's here. From 30 meters, she said, so Sey can't leap up and reach her." Leviathans of size could eject themselves from the deeps and reach an aircraft, but the magic safety zone was 30 meters or higher.

Her abbas laughed dutifully at the weak joke. Pyosz knew it was not enough to throw them off the scent. Part of her brain was buzzing with the idea of having Saya Island to herself, of haring off and not having to face anybody's sympathy for months, until the break-up was old news. But she forced her attention now onto dealing with the abbas. She sat down at the table and said in a serious voice "You know, emma went to see the Dean. She said to pick up my diploma, but Qala implied there was another agenda, something to do with getting back at Sey. Emma wouldn't talk about it at dinner. And here's what I really wonder about: Qala said emma was more like Yerush every day. What does that mean?"

Her random throw produced a near tidal wave. All three women looked instantly tense and speculative. During the conversation that followed, they were occupied with keeping some sort of information from Pyosz, which meant they were no longer trying to discern her own concealment. She left after half an hour, wishing she could hear what poured out of their mouths once she was gone but glad to have the walk home alone. To think about a summer of work on Pya. Milking 100 goats twice a day, how hard could that be? Ferk had done it, and she was almost as old as the abbas. And Saya Island was beautiful, with its own woods, a hot springs, just a short ferry ride to Koldok. She imagined telling her friends about having to herself an entire island that was almost half the size of Riesig.

Her mind was made up by the time she got home, but she kept mum. Prl noticed Pyosz's altered mood and felt a flicker of irritation that her own child got more comfort from her abbas than from her emma. Lawa whispered to Qala "Your prescription seems to have worked." Pyosz went to bed early and sat up with her notebook, making note of questions to ask Mill, then a list of what she might need to pack.


Ek -- unit of currency on Skene, in coin form. The average salary on Skene is 15 eks a year, but this does not include the allotment given by the state of equally divided amounts of food, cloth, compost, construction materials, kelp plastic and paper, and other essentials (allotments differ in Skene and Pya, based on resources). No one pays rent or utilities, although fines are levied if water usage is abused, such as not recycling grey water, failing to collect rain water from gutters, or putting dirty runoff into the system used for drinking. Fees are also charged for shipping freight, for attending the university, for labor involved in construction or utility repair, postage, and comadrona (midwife) services. Ferries, public schooling, medical care, and other public services are free but paid for by a flat 10% tax against all cash income. Barter, which is the bulk of Skene economy between individuals, is not taxed or recorded. Ek coins are gold; half-eks are silver; tenth-eks are brass. A limited number of platinum two-ek coins are in circulation. Purchases which are smaller than a tenth-ek must be made up in credit or barter.
Gakusha -- Scholar or professor at the University
Hnisa -- A large air-breathing ocean animal which may be a porpoise introduced to Skene waters by early colonists which has mutated somewhat to deal with leviathans. Its meat is highly prized on Skene, but they seldom are caught in sinner nets.
Ikan -- A kind of fish with small, limber bones which is pounded flat, flash-fried, and fed to children as a daily source of calcium; also popular as traveling food. Children eat ikan when they won't touch anything else, and it is offered to those who are ill along with broth and sliced apples.
Nan -- Honorific for any adult, used with their name or title
Shu -- Indigenous life-form to shu, a greenish-grey lizard-like creature that is 2 feet long when grown, mostly land-based but can also swim. It has a bite that is mildly venomous, producing local swelling and pain, plus fever and sometimes retching in children. They live in rocky areas, especially near the coast, but are also prone to infest the upper areas of building and are drawn to fruit trees. They are repelled by the smell of human urine and thus avoid privies. They are omnivorous, aggressive, reproduce swiftly, and seem utterly unable to learn -- they will launch themselves in attack at any other living thing despite size difference or witnessed assault on their kind. Considered vermin, they are killed on sight. Early colonists brought out cats from their biological store, breeding them for size and human loyalty, and eventually they became known as katts. Almost every Manage on Skene has one or more katts in residence to control shu. Public instutitions like the Lofthall or the U have a dozen or more katts, and Pomar (with its fruit orchards ringed by rocky cliffs) has a population of hundreds of katts, some of whom are allowed to breed uncontrolled in order to supply the rest of Skene with kittens. Female katts are called malkins, males are called toms when it is necessary to discuss breeding; otherwise all are katts. On Pya, katts share shu-patrol with owls, who do their hunting at night while katts are locked indoors.
Saya Island -- A long curved island immediately west of Dvareka in Pya and the "pod" for which the Pea Pods are named: South of Saya are 14 small roundish islands which look like peas falling from a pod. A chain ferry connects Saya to Koldok on Dvareka and three other Pea Pods, including Arta Island where Mill and family live. Saya has rocky elevations at either end, one holding the goat barn and hut plus a few trees, the other end holding the mineral hot springs, a planted orchard, and bee hives. Immediately east of the orchard is a native woods, which drops down into the saddle of Saya, a grassy plains ideal for grazing.
Schmatta -- Nightwear, a long gown of wool (for winter) or linen (for summer). Usually plain white.
Sinner -- A pilot who uses special aircraft to fish the ocean or harvest deep-water from above the surface, a skill evolved to avoid leviathans. Also the term used for the aircraft itself, which is large and relatively slow-moving. Specialized sinners are also used to haul freight and large numbers of passengers. They are powered by solar panels on the upper surface of stubby wings, and use downward-turning jets to land. Sinners are protected in their ocean-going endeavors by smaller, highly agile aircraft called lighters. Sinner pilots wear a uniform of mustard yellow. The uniform of lighter pilots is said to be robin blue, because robins on Skene (actually a native life-form more reptilian than avian) are a bright blue closer to the color of robin's eggs on Earth.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.


Monday, July 20, 2009


Below is Chapter One of my new science fiction novel Pya, which is a sequel to my previous novel Skene. To read about the background of the first novel, read my post here, which will also direct you to appendices. There is a glossary of sorts for this chapter at the end of this current post.

Above is map of the Skene island Riesig, which is where most of the action in this chapter takes place. At the end of this post is a lineage chart for the family who are main characters as they appear in in this chapter. Updates will follow.


Like so many others of whom she would never know, Pyosz left for the New World because her heart had been broken. In her case, the new world was a chain of islands discovered and explored only a few years before she was born. For 500 years before that, the 1000 residents of Skene believed their own small chain of tiny islands were the only dry land to be found on an otherwise ocean-covered planet. Pyosz's generation was the first to have a "somewhere else" in their frame of reference.

Pyosz was 20, and she believed she had been in love with Sey for two years. They were in the same year at University, and had known each other since they were 3 and had begun first grade at Skene School. They had not been particular friends, however, for most of that time. Sey was from Yanja, a larger island who competed with Pyosz's home island of Riesig for control of Skene's political and commercial power. Sey, like Pyosz, came from a family of influence and ambition.

This comparison, though, fell apart on closer examination. Pyosz's family was, and had been for two decades, the most famous to have ever lived on Skene. Her abbas had been instrumental in bringing sweeping change to Skene, including the discovery of Pya. Her emma was Genist of All Skene, her sibemma Mill had been the first explorer of and immigrant to Pya, and her other sibemmas held important positions as Sigrists, leraars, pilots, and curandera. Her abba Halling had only recently retired as Sheng Zhang of the Lofthall. Abbas Yoj and Bux were Archivist and Ethicist of Skene respectively. And Bux's emmas had been similarly influential. Pyosz could not remember a time when she had not felt the weight of expectation pressing against her like the damp air of Skene, seeping through any fabric to her dark skin, reminding her Skene depended on her heavily in ways yet to be indicated.

Sey had been Pyosz's first and only lover. Pyosz thought her inability to have attracted serious amorous attention before Sey was, also, a result of her family's singularity. Or, to be precise, the unique aspect of Pyosz's birth, which had rendered her the object of gossip and fascination most of her life.

Pyosz's emma, Prl, had become Genist early. By law, Genists could not partner and could not use a Contribution -- over which they had total control -- to impregnate themselves if they happened to be an X and thus able to become pregnant. In the entire history of Skene, no Genist had violated this law. Everyone else came to the Genist for Leave to have children and for a Contribution. The Genist would look at the applicant's health, community, and mental stability. If they were two women living alone in a Manage without abbas or other help, often the Genist would suggest they obtain additional resource and re-apply. Everyone on Skene worked virtually non-stop, at one or more occupations as well as farming the tillage which accompanied each Manage, providing half their food for the year. A child needed more than two adults in the Manage to receive adequate care and attention.

If Leave was granted, the would-be emmas were given a Contribution, selected by the Genist herself based on complicated formulas to maintain the genetic vigor and diversity of the human gene pool on Skene. Everyone on Skene were cousins several times over. Most people knew only to trace their lineage through their emmas, but in fact, biological descent came only though one's aggie and an unknown Contribution.

When the first colonists on Skene realized male fertility was disappearing, even as female fertility increased, a resourceful trio had preserved sperm gathered from the 51 males still able to reproduce. These had been held in cryonic storage for 500 years now, and were the main repository from which Contributions were drawn. Currently, one out of every six births on Skene produced a Y child, and of these, perhaps 10% would be fertile as adults. The percentage in both instances was not commonly known and was still in a slow decline. Occasionally a newly-matured Skene Y would be found to have fertile sperm, and her Contribution would be added to the Genist's archive.

The Genist herself was the product of a modern Y contribution, Ng, who had been known to her family as her emma Halling's emma. Thus, Prl had been half-sister to her own emma. This sort of close relation was simply not recommended, whether or not anyone except the Genist knew about it. It had been the irrational experiment of the Genist before Prl, a woman who gave Prl's emmas five children instead of four (one set of twins), all of them descended from the same Y, their abba. Violation piled on violation. This rogue Genist had actively recruited Prl as her apprentice, and would probably have proved to be a negative influence on her save for the fact that she died abruptly before Prl's apprenticeship was quite concluded, pushing Prl into the Genist role at the unheard-of age of 18.

Which is when Prl discovered the truth about her own conception and ancestry.

Perhaps it was the fact that these violations had resulted in an unusually close and important family. Perhaps it was Prl's youth. Perhaps it was the example of her emmas, who had altered Skene culture more in her growing-up years than had occurred during the previous 500.

Prl decided to utilize a closely-held secret, the fact that eggs could be taken from a single X and combined to form a viable embryo, enabling a single woman to give birth to her own child -- not a clone, a new combination of her own DNA. There was no law against a Genist becoming pregnant, per se. It had not been thought necessary to prohibit pregnancy, since on Skene single people could not get Leave from the Genist to become pregnant or receive a Contribution. Prl realized if she did not use a Contribution, or partner, she would not suffer prosecution if she turned up pregnant and revealed the mechanism by which it had occurred.

Release of this information would mean, of course, a revolution in Skene's approach to childbearing. All lev would break loose. Prl kept weighing the options, as her cycles came and went four times a year. Skene was still adjusting to the changes wrought by her emmas, and by the addition of Pya to an altered world view. Prl had trained a new apprentice Genist who was adequate to carie for Skene should something happen to Prl, though Prl felt the apprentice was a bit of a dullard.

Prl's emma Yoj worked next door each day in the Archivist's Manage. Since Yoj was not actually living in all that space, Prl suggested Yoj ask her best friend Qala and Qala's partner Lawa to move in, sharing the tillage with the Genist Manage. Qala was radio operator and secretary at the Lofthall, one of the key figures who had helped their family bring change to Skene. Lawa was actually Halling's sibu and worked at the state-run ejida across the lane. They quickly accepted Yoj's offer, and Prl felt they would also jump at the chance to be on-hand abbas to any child she might have.

Finally, when Prl felt her own fertility was at a peak, and after her emma Bux had been elected Ethicist (thus reducing the chance that Prl would be sent into exile on Peisuo for not-quite-breaking the law), Prl harvested her own eggs and had a go at becoming an emma.

She had always wanted a child. More than anything, including being Genist.

It worked the first try. Once she was starting to show, raising questions among her family about what she was eating these days, she confessed her state to her family. They sat up most of the night talking things over. In the morning, Bux as Ethicist announced the news over Sigrist radio and called for a week of public discussion, followed by a vote about what action to take. Prl temporarily turned over her Genist duties to her profoundly shocked apprentice and went in for an ultrasound to make sure her child was all right.

Four months later, Pyosz had been born, the first of her kind. Prl had managed to hang onto her position as Genist, though laws were promptly passed prohibiting anyone from repeating her means of reproduction. An exhaustive set of tests run after Pyrosz's birth verified that, indeed, she carried only DNA from her emma. Every time Prl went into public with her baby, people stared at them, comparing Prl's light brown skin and round face to Pyosz's blue-black color and high cheekbones. Truth was, Pyosz looked a lot like her abba Halling had as a child, down to the blue spot on her lower back and her elongated arms and legs. But Pyosz had the smoky blue eyes of Prl, Bux, and Bux's aggie before her. Prl thought she was the ultimate success of Skene's careful attention to reproduction. She loved Pyosz more than any emma had ever loved a child, she was sure. And she named her for not only one of their ancestors, through her emma Yoj's side, but also Pya itself. This was a child of the New World, her name proclaimed.

Which is all well and good when you're little and spoiled by your abbas, but once you start school and other children make fun of you on the playground for having only one emma, for having been "stirred up in a mixing bowl", even for having a name that seemed to put on airs, well, it was hard being Pyosz. Children who would have befriended her were advised by their emmas to keep a distance, because what if Pyosz went home and told her emma the Genist about some incident in that child's home life? What if an innocent secret kept that family from being allowed to have more children?

By the time she reached puberty, Pyosz's status as a brilliant child who was desperate to please but always on the social periphery had been set in rongyan. At 13, she suddenly shot up to near Halling's height but without Halling's slender build. Instead, she grew breasts and hips before any of her cohort, large fleshy curves which could not be concealed despite Prl readily agreeing to Pyosz's request for a new wardrobe. Now Pyosz became the genetic-mutation one-emma freak with a body like one of Yanja's ginny dancers. She began walking with her arms crossed over her chest, her legs stiff to keep her ass from jiggling, and she stopped going to dances altogether. Instead, she went to her abbas' Manage, where they taught her to cook and grow things and talked about history all the time.

Her emma did not notice Pyosz's isolation because Prl herself didn't really have friends. Who on Skene was brave enough to be friends with the Genist? Prl had always been close with her siba Dodd, who lived a short walk away on Sigrist Poke. However, when Pyosz was a newborn, Dodd had stunned her entire family by emigrating to Pyra with her partner and their two children. Dodd became the second-grade leraar at Pya School, and her partner Briel helped found the clinic in Koldok, a double coup for Pya.

Prl's oldest siba, Mill, also lived on Pya with her family and was Sheng Zhang of the Lofthall there. Mill's partner Oby was a skilled pilot who ran the business end of trade between Pya and Skene. Oby's aggie, Api, had once been Ethicist on Skene but emigrated to Pya and was immediately elected Ethicist of All Pya, a post she retained election after election. Oby's other emma, Ollow, built the kelp-processing factory on Pya. This extended family constructed a Manage on their own small island close to the coast of the main island, Dvareka.

The summer Pyosz was three, she made the then-14 hour flight to Pya on a visit with her abbas. She fell in love with the open space, the abundance of wheat and cheese, and especially cousins her own age. Her cousin Ngall became her best friend, and Mill persuaded Prl to let Pyosz stay the month with them. After that, Pysoz returned to Pya every summer, sleeping in the same room with Ngall and younger cousin Abbo at Mill's Manage, riding the ferry to her Sibemma Dodd's house where books were everywhere and children romped wide, tree-lined streets or explored nearby fields free from close adult scrutiny.

On Pya, Pyosz was not a Special Child. Nobody traveled back to Skene for a consultation with the Genist or to obtain Leave for pregnancy, a laughable idea. Instead, folks went to Pyosz's sibemma Briel if there was no fertile Y in their partnership. Babies on Pya were more likely to be like Pyosz than otherwise. This did not result in a wave of emigration to Pya, however, because Pya was still regarded by most of Skene as a savage wilderness with unfamiliar forests and strange new animals.

Prl dealt with missing Dodd by focusing more on work, particularly on the growing wave of rogue pregnancies on Skene using the method by which she'd had Pyosz. At least one curandera on Verzin had figured out the technique and was risking exile by performing it for emmas who could not get Leave legally. Emmas who turned up pregnant without having using a Contribution swore one of them was a Y or, if this were patently not the case, that the aggie had had a brief affair with someone who turned out to be a fertile Y. Debate about the whole issue raged through Skene for years. Finally, laws were passed which removed the penalties for pregnancy without Contribution, but only if a genetic sample was obtained for the Genist's files and only if no fee was given to whoever performed the fertilization. The latter step significantly reduced financial incentive for at least the Verzin curandera.

Pyosz graduated head of her class at 16 and spent the summer at Pya, as usual. Her cousin Ngall was already at the University in Skene, and they planned to share Pyosz's spacious room at the Genist Manage in the fall when Pyosz enrolled to get a degree in mathematics. With a ready-made friend, Pyosz's neediness disappeared. In the perverse way of things, this made her more attractive to folks she had desperately wanted to befriend before. Her abbas' constant conversation had given her an ability to listen and make clever quips which made her popular among the U's self-proclaimed intelligentsia. She still avoided dances, but she hung out in cafes drinking tea and having earnest, dramatic discourse with Ngall and their crowd.

She had also stopped being the only student who noticeably filled out a gilet and kalsongers. She began to like the appreciative looks cast her way. She had occasional chances to kiss or be kissed, and made the most of these episodes. She'd heard her abba Yoj say more than once that sex was the only thing on Skene free from bureaucratic regulation, and her partners always laughed lasciviously. Sex was remarkably easy to come by on Skene, at least for most people. Pyosz felt a little cursed by her emma's choices and did not find anyone who was willing to progress beyond kissing to total immersion, as Ngall referred to it.

At midwinter break that year, Ngall stayed in Riesig instead of returning to Pya to visit her emmas. She and Pyosz took ferries all over Skene, visiting each crowded island and having adventures. One afternoon they went to Pomar, the orchard island next to Riesig, and roamed the rows of trees there, agreeing it was a joke compared to what Pya had to offer. They eventually got cold and hungry, but the ferry wasn't running for another hour, so they went to the cafe frequented by mostly those who lived on Pomar.

There Ngall met Ehuy. She insisted it was love at first sight. Ehuy harvested fruit and nuts, living in her emmas' Manage nearby. Suddenly all of Ngall's free time was devoted to spending time with Ehuy, riding the ferry back and forth from Pomar because the only privacy the young couple could find was in a drying room at the fruit barns. To the entire family's outrage, but especially Pyosz, Ngall announced midterm that she was leaving the University and moving to Pomar with Ehuy. They were going to partner and have children, sleeping in the loft above the living room in Ehuy's emmas' Manage. Ngall could not be dissuaded, and Pyosz finished her first year on her own.

She did return to Pya that summer, hoping Ngall would come for a visit without Ehuy. Pyosz stayed in Koldok at the Manage of Dodd and Briel instead of on Arta Island with Mill's family, because Dodd's house had more room and Pyosz found Mill's youngest, Abbo, extremely annoying. Abbo had graduated from Pya School, gone to the Lofthall on Skene for pilot training, and was now back on Pya to stay. She had the typical insecure bravado of beginning pilots, but with an Abbo-like obstinance that Pyosz did not find as charming as the rest of her family did. Pyosz avoided the Lofthall that summer, instead visiting Arta Island when Abbo was out with her swaggering friends.

Ngall did not come to Pya. At summer's end, during Mchele, she wrote her family that she and Ehuy had received Leave to become pregnant and she would be trying to aggie with her next cycle. Pyosz stayed on Pya long enough to help with Pirinc's rice harvest before returning to living with her emma again.

She continued to go on occasional dates, forcing herself out from Prl's cocoon and welcoming the chance to fumble in a dark lane with an agreeable student within her sui. Pyosz preferred swots who were a year or two older than herself, the shyer, the better. They were usually feverish, once aroused, and matters could progress to hands inside pants or mouths on nipple through an undergarment, standing up in a dark alley. But there was not really enough privacy on Riesig to go all the way unless you had a room with a door.

Pyosz did, of course. She was extremely rare among Skeners of any age to have a bedroom all her own. However, she was not about to risk taking someone home under the scrutiny of the Genist of All Skene until she'd established herself as their lover. And she could not become lovers without a room.

Finally, at the end of her second year, she'd consented to attend a documentary with Sey. Sey was short, plump, and deeply ambitious. They rode the ferry to Argile, saw the film which was as dull and didactic as most documentaries on Skene, and decided to stop at the local cafe for a meal before returning. Sey managed to get the ferry timetable wrong, which Pyosz later realized she'd done deliberately. They discovered they were stranded for the next nine hours without a way to leave Argile. Sey, more suave that most of Pyosz's dates, suggested they rent a room at the local hostel, to "keep talking in a warm place".

Pyosz instantly recognized what was about to occur, and felt moisture flood her knickers. She agreed, trying to match Sey's nonchalance, and said they could split the cost of a private room at the hostel -- this time of week, it would surely be available.

The next morning, Sey was dismayed by the bite marks on her neck and shoulders. Pyosz pulled her away from the mirror and back into bed, plunging two fingers into Sey as she said "We've missed morning classes anyhow, no need to leave until noon."

That night, Pyosz moved Sey into the Genist Manage without asking Prl's prior approval. Sey was thrilled to meet Prl, to meet all the illustrious abbas, and to be living in the most prestigious address on Skene. Her manners and flattery managed to win over Prl, once Prl was done being furious with Pyosz. The abbas were not so readily taken with Sey, although they expressed only congratulations to Pyosz. Qala privately referred to Say as "that Yanja schemer", and Lawa complained about how many hard-to-come-by oranges they were going through now in the Genist's larder.

Bux reminded them all that Sey was earning top marks in chemistry and Pyosz's grades never slipped. They saw much less of Pyosz, because she now had a date for every weekend. Once the sexual haze wore off, rather sooner than Pyosz had hoped it would, she and Sey made appearances at every trendy event they could. Pyosz still couldn't muster even a slow waltz, but she liked to sit at a table away from the band, holding hands with Sey and entertaining their friends with pointed remarks about folks passing by on the dance floor.

Pyosz did not go to Pya that summer or the next. Halling retired from her Sheng Zhang position, after more than 35 years of service. Her protege Danaan was elected in her stead. Qala retired as well, saying she wanted to grow onions and never listen to a radio again. Lawa went on half-duty at the ejida. Ngall had her baby and got pregnant again, and Pyosz visited rarely, always with Sey in tow.

Her final semester at the U, abba Halling arranged for Pyosz to visit with Szebel, head of the powerful Vetriste Guild on Yanja and Halling's occasional lover. Pyosz took Sey with her, who turned out to be distantly related to Szebel. Szebel offered Pysoz a commission with the Vestrite Guild after graduation. Sey also thought her best chance at occupation with rapid advancement was on Yanja. Pyosz was not excited about living on Yanja, but Sey said with loans from each of their families, they could afford to acquire a Manage of their own on the ridge overlooking South Ocean or, if they were very lucky, with a view of the olive grove. Sey said she wanted children as much as Pyosz did, but they should wait until their careers were both firmly established.

The week before graduation, Pyosz barely saw Sey, who was studying for finals and twice fell asleep in the library, having to spend the night in the stacks. Pyosz was herself consumed with cramming or, when too exhausted to read one more line, daydreaming about plans for her partnering ceremony with Sey, scheduled for Ljeto, a month off. She had a new outfit made for commencement, hanshan and jirekinu of the finest gold silk with calças of black silk sporting fine gold lines from waistband to cuff. She was about to get dressed before going to meet Sey and the rest of her family for dinner at Riesig's best restaurant when a knock came at the Genist's door.

She glanced at the clock -- it wasn't visiting hours for the Genist. She didn't hear the apprentice with her shuffling gait heading to the door, so Pyosz pulled up her new calças quickly and went to the front of the Manage. She was surprised to see Ngall standing on the wet steps, her belly large with child and her toddler Ehall gripped tight by the hand which wasn't holding an umbrella.

"Did you come to see me alone before dinner?" exclaimed Pyosz, pleased. "Here, let me give the little one a cookie."

Ngall followed Pyosz into the kitchen, but her face was grave. "What's wrong, Ngall? Sit down, are you feeling all right?"

"Where is Sey?" asked Ngall.

"Turning in a final paper, I think. She's getting dressed at a friend's house, closer to the U, she said. She picked up a bag of things yesterday while I was at an exam. Why, did you -- is she all right? Tell me, Ngall."

"She's having an affair. With someone in your class -- Woalt, I think her name is." Ngall shifted her weight from one foot to other, looking miserable.

Pyosz gaped at her, then laughed. "Whoever told you this is lying. Sey loathes Woalt, they can barely stand to speak to one another."

Ngall's voice was apologetic. "They've been seeing each other secretly for a couple of months. Woalt's family is hiring Sey as head of product development in their soap and cleanser factory on Verzin, starting next week. My Ehuy is cousins with Woalt's sib-in-law, she heard it directly from the source. I'm so sorry, Pyosz. I couldn't believe it myself, I went to verify it first." Ngall finally sat down, her kind face stricken.

"It's not possible" Pyosz whispered. "Why would she -- I'm supposed to meet her in an hour, she can't have..."

"Can I have anuvver cookier?" Ehall asked. Pyosz moved woodenly to the shelf and set the entire jar on the table within the child's reach. Ngall swiftly intervened, limiting Ehall's chubby fist grab to one.

"I'm so sorry" Ngall repeated.

"I have to go find her" said Pyosz, turning on her heel.

"Wait -- Pyosz, you only have on a maillot" said Ngall, standing. "I'll go with you, but you have to put on a shati."

Pyosz strode into her room and jerked the gold hanshan over her head, leaving the jirekinu on her bed. She passed Ngall on the way to the door, and Ngall grabbed her arm. "I'm going with you" insisted Ngall. "It's pouring out there, you'll ruin those clothes, put on a burzaka."

Pyosz jerked her raincoat from the hook by the door, feeling anger start to replace disbelief inside her. She handed Ngall her soaked umbrella and chafed at how slowly Ehall walked. Pyosz turned down the lane which held her abbas' Manage. She stopped to knock at their copper door, but no one answered. She looked at the cao engraved who knows how long ago, a beautiful patina making it seem like an animal she might have once seen somewhere. No Manage door for me she thought. Nobody wants me except this household.

Ehall took her hand and tugged at it. "We go on?" she asked. Pyosz said "We go on" and kept hold of the small hand as they headed for downtown. As they reached the block where the restaurant was located, Pyosz felt her knees go wobbly with relief when she saw Halling standing out front under the awning, waiting for her, tall and white-haired with a pilot's erect posture.

"Habibi!" cried Ehall. But it was Pyosz who took off in a run, hurtling recklessly down the slick sidewalk and into her abba's arms. She was wailing by the time her face met Halling's shoulder. She could hear Halling's urgent questions, then the voices of other family members as they saw through the window and came out to crowd around her. Ngall told them quietly what had happened. Ehall began crying in confusion, and Bux picked her up. Yoj said through her teeth "I knew it. She's ruined, I'll destroy her for this."

Pyosz looked up from Halling's sanctuary, her eyes unable to focus, to ask "She's not here, then?"

"She won't show up" predicted Prl. "Now that she's got a better career lined up, she won't bother to tell you herself."

"What is wrong with me?" sobbed Pyosz. "You shouldn't have had me, aggie, you made a mistake and I'm proof of it!" She didn't see Prl's face go grey, but Yoj did and slid her shoulder under Prl's to keep her from falling on the ground.

"Come on" said Lawa. "We're going back to the Manage for tea and soup."

"What about my graduation?" cried Pyosz.

"We'll go later if you're up to it, there'll be gasbags making speeches for hours before they call your name" said Bux.

"I don't want to go if she's there!' said Pyosz, allowing her knot of family to start her moving down the street.

"Then we'll pick up your diploma tomorrow" said Yoj. She was glad Pyosz didn't appear to see all the onlookers who had stopped to stare at them. At the corner they ran into Prl's youngest sibu, Speranz, with her family, coming to meet them. Qala quickly filled them in and asked them to go intercept the final sib, Ndege, with her family.

"I don't think I can bear this" said Pyosz, stumbling. Halling was too elderly now to hold her up on her own, and Lawa moved in on Pyosz's other side.

"I know it's no comfort, but you will" said Halling gently. They headed up the land to their Manage, four far-flung generations gathering to staunch a breaking heart.

© 2009, Maggie Jochild.

Abba -- generic term for any grandparent, gender irrelevant.
Aggie -- the emma who is the biological parent (egg donor) of a child; there is no name for the sperm donor, as this role has no parenting function on Skene
Archivist -- state position on Skene who preserves history and records, has own Manage and protected archives behind a vault hidden in a hillside on Riesig
Argile -- Skene island dedicated to clay production
Arta Island -- small island west of Dvareka in Pya, home to Manage of Mill and family; one of the "Pea Pods" (a particular set of small islands)
Burzaka -- waterproof rain slicker
Calças -- silk pleated pants (dress attire)
Cao -- cow, historical animal seen only in ancient books
Child -- child (no differentiation as to gender on Skene)
Curandera -- doctor/healer, trained at the University
Dvareka -- largest island in Pya, home to several towns including Koldok, means "two rivers" in Skenish
Ejida -- cooperative farm run by the state, providing food for all Skeners
Emma -- generic term for any parent, gender irrelevant.
Ethicist -- governor, elected every half-year, settles interim questions of public good unless larger vote is required
Exile -- ultimate punishment for crime on Skene, which involves banishment to a remote island named Peisuo with enough dry goods delivered twice a year to keep the exile from starving, but no visiting and no hope of parole; Skene relies on community interference and lack of privacy to keep crime from occurring
Genist -- geneticist and genealogist who tracks all lineages on Skene and determines which sperm stock is chosen for an aggie requesting leave to breed; a lifelong position, determined by election when she is an apprentice; only one mother genist and one apprentice at any given time, and the two of them are often at great odds with one another; their records are completely secret
Gilet -- padded linen jerkin, laced; worn for breast support as well as warmth
Ginny -- slang term for genitals (gender irrelevant) or sexual activity itself
Habibi -- generic term for any great-grandparent, gender irrelevant
Hanshan -- silk dress blouse or shirt, various styles all same name
Jirekinu -- silk vest for dress occasions
Kalsonger -- wool pants (can be dress or work, depending on cut and occupation)
Koldok -- town on western side of Dvareka Island in Pya, site of lofthall, school, chevre dairy, and clinic
Leraar -- teacher at school for children, in contrast to teacher at university who is called a gakusha
Lev -- short for leviathan, used as profanity; levs/leviathans are the whale-sized sentient carnivores who dominate the oceans of Skene, making boat travel perilous or impossible for 500 years
Ljeto -- ninth month in Skene calendar, time of high summer
Lofthall -- the guild-like structure which regulates all air flight on Skene, headed by a Sheng Zhang and funded by the state; also the building where the guild is located, with pilotes' residence and adjacent airfield
Maillot -- thin woolen undershirt
Manage -- family home, home farm; belongs to the state but can be inherited through a lineage if occupied by an ongoing family
Mchele -- tenth month in Skene calendar, cooling begins, time of rice harvest
Peisuo -- Skene island set aside for exiles (prison)
Pirinc -- Pya island, northern side, which had been steep and rocky, covered with shu, at first discovery. Powerful lasers were used to reshape the terrain into a multitude of terraces which could be flooded with water for rice farming. A well and central pond were created, a small town of Manages was settled, and floating duck/goose houses were placed on large paddies. Pirinc supplies all the rice and fowl Pya could use, plus exports a significant extra to Skene.
Pomar -- central island on Skene, dedicated to orchards, soybeans, apiary, and large public park accessible by ferry from two main islands
Pya -- a cluster of dozens of islands with land mass many times that of Skene, discovered/deduced by Halling, Yoj and Bux in Year 557; explored by their oldest child, Mill, and her partner Oby; settled by emigrants from Skene in Year 559
Riesig -- largest central island on Skene, containing airfield, university, sigrist, genist, archives, school, fish docks all in town of Riesig Pliss, and acting as hub for the West Tendril
Rongyan -- lava sculpted into rocks
Shati -- pullover linen shirt, ubiquitous, worn long for work, tucked in for company, various sleeve lengths and colors
Sib -- sibling, any other child of shared emmas, gender irrelevant
Siba -- older sibling
Sibemma -- sibling of one's emmas
Sibu -- younger sibling
Sheng Zhang -- governor over a particular field of commerce or public endeavor, with limited powers, mostly an administrator, elected every year
Sigrist -- state position similar to watchtower, keeping eye out for trouble coming from ocean; has radio with receiver in every building, gives times, tides, general announcements, calls for emergency help
Skene -- skein of 39 islands, 14 of which are large by their standards/small by ours; 22 flings (tiny, one-house-sized islands), and 3 secanos (islands without fresh water, thus uninhabitable) which for 500 years held all the human life on a water planet in the constellation Alhena; also the name of the planet, and the name of the language humans now speak there
Sui -- Only real limit Skene places on whom one may select as a sexual partner, referring to age grade/color year; every child is born into a color (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, or violet) and number (current generation is in the 60s) which determines their age grade -- adults from age grades too far distant from one another may not partner, aggie, or have sex with each other; for adults over 21, sui is four years or less
Tillage -- the cultivated fields belonging to a Manage, usually
Verzin -- large central island on Skene, heavily used for manufacture, hub of the East Tendril
Vetriste -- glassmakers on Yanja
Woman -- any adult human over age 16, regardless of whether they are X or Y; interchangeable with human being; only pronoun in use on Skene is she
X -- gendered term for a human with a vulva and.or uterus; considered extremely offensive and only used or known by one's immediate family or those with a medical need to know
Y -- gendered term for a human with a penis; considered extremely offensive and only used or known by one's immediate family or those with a medical need to know
Yanja -- Skene island dedicated to lava sculpting, glass-making, and olive trees

Naming Pattern: Everyone on Skene and Pya has a single name, which no one else has ever had. It is usually constructed from key letters and syllables of parents and other ancestors, arranged in a new configuration.

Pronunciation Key:
ç -- spoken as ssch.
J -- spoken as sh with a tiny rasp, audible mostly to Skeners
Lj -- spoken as leey followee by vowel sound.
Ng -- spoken as ing.
Sz -- spoken as soft, slurred j
X -- spoken as Hebew ch with an aspirate
Zh -- spoken as English ch.
Most names have emphasis on first syllable; Halling, however, is pronounced with equal emphasis on both syllables, as Hahl - Ing.

(Click on image to enlarge)

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.