Saturday, August 22, 2009


(Koldok in detail; click on image to enlarge)

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

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

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Pyosz felt a frisson of excitement as she got dressed: Her first Market Day on Pya. She hung a clean shati on the wall to change into at the last minute, did her milking and other chores, and blessed whatever stars held back the rain this morning.

When she got to Koldok, the main streets were lined with stalls and all carts were in use. She stood with her fists on her hips, stumped for a moment. A tall young woman with the most flawless honey-colored skin Pyosz had ever seen walked by, pushing a cart holding only a single bag.

"Excuse me, would you be willing to share your cart for a few minutes?" asked Pyosz. "I've got a big load to get down to the other end of town."

The young woman settled her black eyes on Pyosz with an arresting grin and said "You're the new capriste, aren't you? I'm Uli, and I'd give you this one except my emmas are planning to meet up with me and need it. But yes, let's share for now."

Uli helped Pyosz load the cart and leaned on the handle to push it, giving a small grunt and saying "Wow, this your daily haul?"

"Yes, every ounce of it" said Pyosz, feeling glad she'd washed her hair under the scrutiny she seemed to be getting from everybody, not just Uli. At Kolm's, Uli again helped her with the milk. Kolm said "Ah, you've met Uli! How're your emmas, are Udek's headaches better?"

"They come and go with the rain this time of year" said Uli. "Emma says it's going to be a bumper crop of sugar beets this summer."

Listening, Pyosz learned that Uli's aggie Udek was in fact the woman who had woven her new goat-hair rugs, and was also a basket-maker and kept accounts for the sugar mill. Her emma Licoro was an ejida worker in the sugar beet fields, and her sibu Dekkan, just graduated from high school, was currently at flight school in Skene, though she planned to return to Pya to be a pilot.

"Then your sibu will likely know -- " Pyosz had been about to say Maar, but changed it mid-sentence "Mill, my s'bemma. And my cousin Abbo."

"Oh, yes, she's got a bit of a crush on Abbo. And Maar, of course, you know Maar, right?" said Uli.

Pyosz saw a smile flit across Kolm's face. "I do. She's been most helpful to me as a newcomer. All right, I need to drop off bread at Gitta's, then I can take these empties back to my ferry and return possession of this cart to you, I can do my marketing without out" said Pyosz.

"Oh, but we're introduced now, let's keep each other company, shall we?" said Uli. She had an ease in her way of speaking that reminded Pyosz of Riesig and felt like home. Pyosz nodded with a grin. At Gitta's, Uli said "You're the one responsible for this new bread on the shelves? Quick, Gitta, I need two loaves before it vanishes, my emma raves about it. And is that an apricot pie? That, too."

Pyosz left with hoisin sauce, hen-and-chicks mushrooms, and another small collection of coins. She and Uli stashed her cans in the ferry before setting out to visit every Market stall in Koldok. Uli introduced her with repetitive charm, and her explanatory comments about the new people Pyosz was meeting, even those delivered out of hearing, were informative rather than gossipy. Slowly, Pyosz learned that Uli had gone to the University (that explains her polish, thought Pyosz), she had known Sey who was a year behind her and thought Pyosz was well rid of her, Uli had a degree in geography but mostly made maps for the Lofthall and Pya's government, and there was going to be a dance next weekend right here in Koldok, Uli really hoped Pyosz would be there.

Of course there's going to be a dance. Everyone can replace whatever image they've developed of me so far with the colossal klutz I'll reveal myself to be thought Pyosz. But her foreboding vanished rapidly in Uli's easy company.

They met up with Uli's emmas, and Udek immediately offered to barter for goat fibers if Pyosz would be willing to bring them to her. "Ferries don't agree with me" said Udek. It rapidly became clear that both of Uli's emmas had also attended the University, as their conversation made frequent references to books and studies. Pyosz wanted to ask if either of them had been in a class with her emma, but she didn't want to remind them all of the fact that she was the child of the Genist. Not yet.

Pyosz was able to barter her second capon carcass for a dozen lemons, her bags of cherries for a new towel, a second bed pillow, and a bottle of bright blue ink; and her apricots for a catmint plant, a large stirring spoon, and a bunch of leeks. She determinedly declined all offers of cash for her goods, since they were allotment goods, instead taking small change in the form of a postcard showing the waterfalls on Pubu and a tiny copper sunflower she promptly strung around her neck with a strand of embroidery floss.

"That'll go green against your skin" commented Uli, staring at the hollow of Pyosz's throat where the sunflower lay.

"I bathe regularly" retorted Pyosz, and they laughed together.

They stopped at a stall selling flavored ices. "Let's get one of each and share" Udek said to Licoro. Uli turned to Pyosz and said "Shall we do the same? How about strawberry and, oh, lemon?"

"Not lemon, vanilla" requested Pyosz. They swapped the confections back and forth, unable to keep up with the drips and winding up with sticky hands that had to be licked clean. By their own tongues, of course.

Pyosz ran into Dodd and Briel, who joined their cluster, then Api and Ollow. Her camera was passed around and all ten shots were quickly used up, enabling her to go have them developed at Naki's. She smiled so constantly her cheeks started to ache. Finally, with serious regret, she said "I'm going to have to take your leave, I need to go home and, well, kill old hens, for one thing. But this has been an utter pleasure. I haven't felt homesick once all day."

"Well, if I don't run into you before next weekend, I'll see you at the dance" said Uli in a soft voice, leaning in to press her cheek briefly against Pyosz's. She accepted more robust hugs from her family before clattering down the ladder into her ferry and shoving the lever into gear with a long breath of contentment.

That afternoon, she killed three hens, stewing two for Shmonah's family potluck and using one to make canned stock plus chicken salad for her dinner. She sanded down her new chairs and mixed paint into various bright colors, painting the seats, backs, rungs and footrests each a different shade. She weeded the rest of her tillage, separating some starts to put into new beds, and made a pile of her best compost to use as topsoil. She went into the pasture and sat on a rock to comb any goats willing to endure the process, saving their hair in a tie-up bag. She now had an excuse to go looking for Uli before next weekend.

After milking, she heard rumbles of thunder and wondered what they would do the next day, she and her cousins, about making raised beds if it was raining. Do everything but the final assembly in the barn, I guess she decided. It began pouring as she was doing her dinner dishes. She pulled out the photo album she'd bought from Naki and pasted in all her photos so far, labeling them underneath in her tidy script with blue ink. She wrote more letters, but decided to keep the postcard of Pubu Falls to somehow affix to her cabin wall. She went to sleep to the sound of rain and another visit with the rice-paddy workers in her paperback.

When she got up, the rain had stopped but the ground was soggy. She couldn't see the sky and couldn't guess at what the weather would be like. She took the time to make herself eggs and rice porridge, starting a new pot of rice to cook while she ate. She enjoyed the milking, for the first time enjoying every part of it, talking to her goats. Even her daily threat to Molars had a laugh in it. She stashed the milk in the cold box and splashed with a little song to the cabin, where the katts came out in single file, hopping from dry spot to dry spot.

She gave the chickens a little extra feed in penance because she was going to be cooking one of their sibashte today. She returned to the kitchen to get a head start on lunch. She cut the avocado into thin slices, fanned it on a plate surrounded by cherry tomatoes, and drizzled it all with lemony vinaigrette, salt and pepper before returning it to the coldbox to chill. She started another two gallons of sun tea and put half a dozen sweet potatoes into the oven to bake. She filled Ng's bowl with sea beans, a delicious kind of kelp that was very salty and crunchy, added sliced cucumbers and grated carrots before glazing it with a mustard-garlic dressing and putting it into the coldbox as well. She boiled a dozen eggs and deviled half of them. She pounded filberts in her mortar until it was a paste, added chili flakes and olive oil, and rubbed that into the skin of her remaining capon. She intended to stuff it with rice and mushrooms before roasting.

She pulled out her box of spices to make the curry for the stewed chicken she meant to take to Arta Island the following day. After this large pot of spicy chicken was barely simmering on the stove, she looked at the precious 4 ounce square of chocolate in her spice box and decided to make Tu and Pank the kind of dessert they likely rarely had. Even on Pya, cacao was still very hard to come by. She melted the chocolate in a makeshift double-boiler and assembled brownies with walnuts -- a small pan, but plenty for the three of them. She also had a cherry pie for lunch. She didn't know yet what she'd make for their dinner, probably some kind of gratin as she had lots of good cheese and potatoes.

Once the sun came up, it got warm quickly and there were no clouds visible. She made her bed, swept her cabin and the kitchen for all the good it did, and wondered when her lumber would be delivered. As she had that thought, her radio buzzed and she grabbed it, thinking it might be Mill or Tu.

"Hiya, Pyosz" came Maar's voice. "We took a chance on reaching you, I wasn't sure if you had to go into Koldok on Sju or not."

"No, I'm here" said Pyosz, a mixture of emotions forcing her down into one of her new chairs.

"Listen, I hope this is okay, Thleen has been bugging me for two hours about if we could call you so she could talk with you. I'm going to drop her off soon, we're flying back tonight instead of in the morning, and, well...I don't often talk about people in Pya so she's very curious about you. Do you have the time to talk with her a minute?"

Oh, Maar, what are you doing? thought Pyosz. But it wasn't in her to say no to a child. "Of course" she said. There was a fumble of motion on the other end, and then a piping voice said "Hello, is this Pyosz the capriste? I'm Thleen, Maar's sibu."

"I've heard a great deal about you, Thleen Maar's sibu" said Pyosz. This child's voice had a burble of joy and interest in it that was instantly captivating, as if she were about to break into laughter and hanging on your every word.

"Siba told me you have a goat named after teeth because she's always trying to bite you on your -- well, I shouldn't say the word" said Thleen with a giggle.

"Oh, I've a new story about Molars, she and a pack of kids tried to take over my personal living space" began Pyosz. Within a minute, Thleen was in gasping hysterics and Pyosz herself was having trouble talking from all the hilarity. She followed that up with the latest owl story, which kept Thleen shrieking because Pyosz hammed up the description of her running around in the dark, almost colliding with her wain.

Eventually, Pyosz could hear Maar's voice insisting "I have to go, sweetheart, and she's a busy woman, we'll call another time, I promise."

"I have to tell her one more thing, okay?" pleaded Thleen.


"Pyosz, when I get to come to Pya, can I visit you on Saya Island?" asked Thleen.

"I would adore that, Thleen. We can have worlds of fun here together, you're welcome to visit any time" said Pyosz.

"She said I could visit any time!" Thleen said away from the receiver. She was hanging onto the radio, however, long enough to say "I love you, Pyosz, I hope I see you soon!"

Maar came back on the line, chuckling, and asked "What on earth were you telling her? I thought she was going to pass out from laughing so hard."

"Get her to tell you the new stories, she'll like that" said Pyosz. She could hear Thleen saying "I forgot to ask her to write me a letter, can I talk to her one more time?"

"Tell her I'll be glad to write her a letter" offered Pyosz. Maar repeated it, then said "It's my turn, don't be greedy" to Thleen. To Pyosz she said "How are you doing, feeling okay?"

"I'm in full vigor, and waiting for Tu and Pank to show up any minute, they're spending the day with me, helping me rebuild my tillage beds and doing other stuff around here. They came day before yesterday too" said Pyosz.

"Oh, I love them" said Maar. "Say hi for me."

"And yesterday I went to Market Day and had an utter blast, met new people, bartered brilliantly, lots of new things to show you" said Pyosz. Inside her head, a voice was saying Oh Pyosz, what are you doing? But it felt so easy to talk with Maar, she seemed to really care about the littlest detail. "You say you're leaving tonight, does that mean you'll be back early?"

"No, we'll lose daylight as usual. But I'll be at Arta Island by noon tomorrow, even if I haven't slept. I've missed my last flight back to Riesig or Yanja, and there's no lofthall bunks here at Chloddia, and the bucky is always crammed, so I'll have to kip down tonight on the couch in the office here at the jichang. Abbo will have to pick me up in the morning and will no doubt bitch about it" said Maar, making a joke of it.

"Don't your emmas have a couch you could borrow for the night?" asked Pyosz.

"Uh, not an option" said Maar, her tone becoming a little guarded. And where is Abbo, why the lev isn't she picking you up tonight, for that matter, why isn't she there with you and Thleen? If I -- But Pyosz stopped that thought, reminding herself Not your business.

"Well, I'll let you go, then. Morrie vaseo" said Pyosz.

"Morrie -- Tu and Pank" giggled Maar. "And thanks for you know what."

"It was my pleasure. I see what you mean about her" said Pyosz.

Maar repeated "Thanks" but her voice was completely happy again. Pyosz realizing she was smiling widely herself when she clicked off. She cut more oranges into thin slices, adding them to the steeped tea and finding room for one jug in the coldbox. She decided to go dig potatoes, but as she pulled on her gloves she heard the drone of a sinner coming her way. She walked to the jichang and watched as a large carry pallet loaded with wood and power tools was lowered to the side. When the sinner hatch opened, out came Tu and Pank, handing her tool boxes with cheery greetings.

Pyosz suggested the lumber be stacked in the flat, rock-floored area where she had killed the chickens. "If it doesn't rain, it'll be a good work area, close to the tillage" she said. Pank looked at the stump and walked over to the cliff, glancing over.

"I bet this is where Ferk slaughtered her goats" said Pank. "It's got a tiny slope to the cliff, so you could rinse it down with seawater and not damage any of the arable nearby, it's where I'd do it."

The killing field thought Pyosz. They emptied the pallet quickly and waved off the pilot. Tu handed another small crate to Pyosz, this one filled with small plants.

"We noted you got next to nothing on this end of Saya in the way of ornamentals" said Tu. "Those are climbing vines from Mti, clematis, honeysuckle, scarlet runner, and some morning glories. Thought you could find a place for 'em."

"Oh, wonderful!" said Pyosz. "The reason why it's barren outside the fenced areas is because Ferk let the goats run loose out here in the evenings, apparently."

"No wonder they think they have a right to be on the table and bed" said Pank. She reached into her carryall and handed another package to Pyosz. "Two pork loins from Mti."

"Dinner!" declared Pyosz. "I know just what to do with them. Oh, the oven!" She ran back to the kitchen and pulled out the brownies just in time. She hid them under a plate, and lined the sweet potatoes on the counter to cool. She put the pork loins in the coldbox and returned to where Tu and Pank were assembling work tables for the power tools. Pank handed Pyosz the extension cord and said "Where should we plug this in?"

"The chicken house circuit, I figure" said Pyosz, going to find the outlet. Once the work zone was in order, Tu and Pank ambled to the kitchen with Pyosz and sat down, accepting glasses of tea while helping themselves to deviled eggs and apricots from the plate on the table.

"Well, we've got a few things to tackle on that list of yours" said Tu casually. Pyosz suddenly remembered that Tu and Pank were infamous for never allowing themselves to be rushed. They worked at their own pace or not at all. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, they got much more done than the average person. She leaned back in her chair and reminded herself to follow their lead.

"We thought I could get started on building the grill while you and Tu begin measuring and cutting wood" said Pank. "Once you're confident working on putting the beds together, me and Tu will go inventory your orchard and forest for you. You can join us later down there to hear what we think." She pulled five rolls of kelp-plastic flagging from her carryall and set them on the table; each roll was a different color.

"I don't remember what the different colors stand for" said Pyosz. Before Pank could answer, Pyosz got her logbook to take notes.

Pank pointed as she explained: "Green means needs pruning now, blue means needs pruning later at the normal time, red means it should come down, yellow means it's got some other health issue that might could be treated, and white means it's an owl tree, don't mess with it."

Pyosz felt a flutter of excitement. "I should tell you, I put escape boards in my hives yesterday. They ought to be settled down by now, but you might want to give them some space. Also, I gathered a big pile of rocks for the grill, and talked to Api about it. She said you know the regulations we have to follow and she'll fill out the forms later."

Pank made an obscene gesture but kept grinning. She leaned over to look around at the pile. "We need shims and wedges. Before we get started, take a couple of buckets down to that shingle beach and fill 'em with the rock there, that'll work for more than one purpose." She ate another egg.

Pyosz said "Uh, I don't want to mess up your schedule, but I was hoping to learn something about rock building from the grill project. Can I come watch?"

"I'll do it in stages and call you over for a lesson at each new stage" said Pank. "You'll get mortar on your hands, don't worry."

"These are new chairs, aren't they?" asked Tu, looking around her. "Nice colors."

"Not wain orange" agreed Pank, with a wink at Pyosz. "Well, I'm going to rifle your recycling pile while you get that shingle rock." She stood, stretched, and strolled toward the barn.

"I drew a diagram of how many beds I'd like and where they should go" said Pyosz, pulling it from her logbook and handing it to Tu before following Pank to get buckets for her chore.

By the time they stopped for lunch, three hours later, Pyosz had learned how to measure twice, cut once; how to make biscuits and slots to hold wood together; how to cut and drive support stakes; how to lay a stone bed for grilling with charcoal; how to stack stone in staggered layers and butter mortar in precise layers; and how giving Pank some tin snips, baling wire, an old tin wash tub with a hole rusted in the bottom, and an empty olive oil can could result in a cover for her grill pit that fit it exactly, had an insulated handle and adjustable vent holes for controlling smoke and temperature.

"You should oughta buy a grill that won't rust quick from Taamsas, use the dimensions of a washtub to figure the size" said Pank, ripping a thigh and leg from the roasted chicken. "I could fashion one from baling wire but it ain't worth the time."

Which Pyosz believed must be true. They lingered over lunch, and eventually Pyosz got up to do the dishes, continuing to talk with her cousins. When Tu wandered off to use the privy, Pank put the final row on the grill pit, creating a lip of mortar to hold the wash-tub lid snugly. Pyosz used the time to butterfly open both pork loins and stuff them with chopped leeks and apples before tying each into a roulade. She made a potato casserole layered with milk and cheese, seasoned with cinnamon and pepper, and reminded herself to put both roast and casserole into the oven right before milking. She'd make a fresh salad at the last minute. For the time being, she was so full she didn't relish the idea of all the bending she'd be doing to finish assembling the beds.

Tu returned and Pank took her turn at the privy. While Pyosz returned to the beds, Tu began making wooden planters with leftover ends of boards. Pank went on to fashion a tripod orchard ladder, three legs with a chain to hold them together, securely leaned against a tree, and a set of rungs that would take Pyosz 20 feet off the ground on a narrowing ascent. It was clever, simple, and easy to carry. By the time she was done, Tu had built ten planters that were 2-3 feet tall and ideal, Pyosz realized, for setting around the outside perimeter of her kitchen to grow herbs close at hand.

Incredibly, Tu and Pank took a break to drink down tea while eating another piece of pie each. Pyosz put the second gallon of tea into the coldbox and decided to use the privy herself. These women had a close grip on vibrant longevity, maybe that's why Lawa was always asking about her bathroom habits.

After their snack, Tu and Pank ambled through the kissing gate, carrying flagging, rope, and a small tree saw. She had mentioned her idea of widening the trail to get her wain through, and wondered what kind of road they might build for her. She finished the beds, wiped and packed their tools, and began filling the wain with the manure and sand mixture as a bottom fill for the new beds. She would put good topsoil for the upper foot of each bed.

She wasn't finished filling the beds by the time she heard goats bleating at the gate, but she was still astonished at how much she'd accomplished. She washed her upper half at the sink, put dinner into the oven, stored tomorrow's finished curry in the coldbox, and went to lead goats into the barn.

She could smell the chicken when Tu poked her head in the barn door and said "It's owl time, shall I put the katts indoor for you?"

"Yes. I've been adding brewers yeast and a raw egg to their fisk, it makes them trot right indoors" said Pyosz. "And will you turn off the oven?"

When she got to the table, it was set with loin, casserole, and a kale salad Pank was dressing. "You could open a restaurant, if you wanted to add another job to the five or six you're already doing" said Tu.

They ate with deep satisfaction. Tu and Pank had taken Pyosz's logbook and neatly filled several pages with tree identification and status. She was sorry to have missed watching them in action. They worked together like two halves of the same mind and body.

"You got two woods owls down there, and at least one more in rocks behind the springs" reported Pank. "I'm thinking the one up here is probably holding all this territory on her own. I'd love to get a peek at her."

"She may oblige us" said Pyosz. "I forgot to ask, when are you being picked up?"

"Oh, not tonight" said Tu. "We're going to lash a tarp over our tools, leave 'em here and take the ferry to Koldok, we're staying with friends there since we're going to Arta tomorrow anyhow. We'll get a ride from Abbo or Maar back to Mti, and stop by here on the way to pick up our stuff."

Pyosz was gratified with the reaction she got when she pulled her hidden platter of brownies from the larder. They downed them with cold milk and kept commenting on how good chocolate was with milk. She sent two brownies off with them, wrapped in a napkin. She stood on the dock, watching them vanish into the dark beyond the pylon, thinking she had the best family which had ever existed on Skene.

There was one brownie left, and she put it in the coldbox before doing the dishes again. She decided to go right to bed; her new muscles had been stretched once again today. As she lay in the dark, she kept remembering Thleen's voice, her peals of laughter, and how all she really had to rely on was Maar. That child is on a serious hunt for family thought Pyosz. She didn't know where to go with that thought, and fell asleep without an answer.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild


Friday, August 21, 2009


Fresh cherries photo by Taylor Kennedy

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

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

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


When Pyosz went to bed, Curds and Ember were both sitting on the window sill -- facing away from one another, but still, it seemed like a major development. She laid out her clothes for the morning and dropped off without reading.

She woke up some hours later to a percussion that seemed to rattle her bed. Katts had thudded to the floor and were snarling at each other. Someone had hit the side of her cabin. Terror filled her throat, but she managed to yell "Who's there?" When there was only silence, her terror grew to the point that her hearing was filled with the drumming of her own pulse. She tried to think of something she could use as a weapon, but there was nothing in the cabin.

Curds jumped onto the bed with a low growl and Pyosz reached for her flash. She looked at the window, to see if there was a face looking in at her. After a minute, she turned her flash on the window. Something was different, she couldn't tell for sure this far away. She turned off her flash and dressed in record time, glad for the steel toes in her otos, however much they might have pained her earlier. She used her flash again to look outside, seeing nothing, but standing right by the window, she could see a hairline crack in the glass and a dent in the steel screen outside.

Whoever it was, they had struck her window.

She called out "I have an axe and I will use it, you shitter." When there was still not a sound from outside, she crept to her cabin door, flung it open and leaped outside, slamming it behind her. She ran crazily to the barn, avoiding smacking full on into her wain at the last second with a pivot and a shriek. Inside the barn, she flicked on all the lights, launching a chorus of alarmed bleats. She dashed into the tool room and grabbed the newly-sharpened axe she had boasted of seconds before. All right, now she was armed.

She climbed into the mow, where the loft door stood open. From the side, she stared out into the night for several minutes. Each ripple of grass or dip of a tree branch momentarily stopped her heart, but finally she decided whoever it had been, they must have gone.

She left the barn quietly, axe in her right hand, flash in her left, and went to inspect the outside of her cabin, hoping for footprints. Instead, below her window she found a small scatter of pale feathers. She picked up one of them, amazed at how downy it was, and sniffed it.

An owl -- perhaps The Owl -- had been unable to resist the lure of two juicy katts outlined there, and tried to break its way in.

It was a relief in one sense, and newly unsettling in another. She went to her kitchen, turned on the light and started water heating for tea. The sky was completely overcast, and she could smell rain in the air. She made herself a pot of chamomile tea, added milk and a little honey, and took it back to bed. Curds was now sitting on the trunk, with a new expression on her face.

"You know the story here now, huh" Pyosz said to her. "Death in the dark for katts on Pya."

Pyosz leaned her axe on the floor beside her headboard. She read in her goat care book until the tea was finished and her adrenaline rush had dissipated. She turned off the flash and slid down into the covers. She felt a weight jump onto the bed with her and said "C'mon, Curds, you want under the covers?" But it wasn't Curds, it was Ember. "Well, well. Glad to have your protection, Ember." The katt curled up against her back and Pyosz went to sleep easily.

The roof was rattling with rain when her alarm went off. She carried her teapot and clothes to the kitchen and dressed while mutton stew heated, along with tea water. She pulled out the owl feather from her buksers pocket and studied it as she shoveled stew into her mouth. Probably from its underlayer she thought. She tucked it into the front of her logbook. Inside the back cover, she made a two-column table and filled it with a time conversion chart, what hour it was in Skene when it was a certain hour here, for quick reference.

The barn smelled remarkably better, and she fancied the goats were in a better mood as a result. She shaved another ten minutes off her milking time. Curds came out of the cabin cautiously and headed straight for under the kitchen table.

When Pyosz got to the djostiker's, Kolm said "I don't get here before 6:30, you should know that at the rate you're going." She added "I'll be open tomorrow on Roku for Market Day, of course, but I don't work two days of the weekend, I don't know if Mill told you that."

"She hadn't. That means I store the milk in the coldbox? Will it be okay?"

"Yes. It'll have a lot of cream at the top, and you'll have one lev of a haul next Moja, is all."

Pyosz thought And I'll still have to get up for milking. But not trekking in, that'll be a break.

Pyosz went by the allotment center next. She placed her order for lumber and filled out interminable forms affirming that yes, the wood was being used for production on Saya, not to build unauthorized structures or personal furniture. She likewise arranged for rental of a honey extractor, hot knife uncapper, and solar wax melter the following week. She said she'd arrange for delivery of all items through Mill.

She dropped off bread at the grocery, buying an avocado, two bananas, and three limes Gitta had saved for her. She took a pecan pie and a blueberry crumble to Nika, leaving credit on the account there.

Pyosz stopped next at the mercantile to buy pint honey jars and lids, a new strainer, and to ask if Taamsas had candle molds in stock.

"Now that's a good question" said Taamsas, heading down an aisle and looking at the seldom-used tops of shelves. "We did at one time have a candle mold or two, but there's never been any demand for it. Most folks who have hives turn over the wax to the allotment center, which has its own wax factory."

"I intend to do the same for half my product, I don't have the structure to do serious candle production. But I'd like to make some for myself" said Pyosz, following her. She wondered if Ferk had ever turned in beeswax to the allotment center. Taamsas said "Aha!" and grabbed a footstool to pull down a dusty carton.

"Six-candle molds, ceramic, two of 'em" said Taamsas. "Plus good square wicks. And look here, there's a pair of long beekeeper gloves and a manual comb uncapper in the box, how are you set for those?"

"I was going to use my work gloves and tie down long sleeves, but I'll take these. And the uncapper. Do you have netting and a wide-brimmed hat that's metal or some stiff material?"

"Over here" said Taamsas, heading into the fabric section. "I don't remember ever seeing honey labeled from Saya Island in Gitta's store or the market here." Which answered Pyosz's question. Taamsas looked at her speculatively and said "The distiller will take bulk honey to make mead, I understand." Pyosz raised her eyebrows and they shared a smile.

"Look at these rugs, they're beautiful!" said Pyosz, stopped by a display.

"The weaver of those is Udek, lives here in Koldok. I bet she'd barter with you for goat fibers" said Taamsas.

"My goats don't make mohair or particularly desirable hair" said Pyosz.

"Nevertheless, she uses everything she can get her hands on" said Taamsas. "Makes her own dyes from vegetables, too."

"I want this blue and green one for my cabin floor" said Pyosz impulsively. "And this sturdy black one for the entry, to wipe my otos on."

At the counter, Pyosz pulled four books from her carryall and said "I hope one of these is to your liking." Taamsas read the back cover blurbs avidly and asked if she could take them all -- "We read on the weekends, kids too."

"Of course" said Pyosz. "Okay, last item, I need the other end of this prybar sharpened to cut through propolis on my hives." Taamsas disappeared into her forge, and Pyosz waited on a child looking for lathes and string to make kites.

"Do you still fly kites beside the wheatfields between here and Puaa?" asked Pyosz. The child nodded. "That's where I learned to fly kites, myself" offered Pyosz. The child showed no interest in Pyosz's reminiscence, itching to go and be with others her own age.

When Taamsas returned, Pyosz told her about the owl attempt at her katts the night before and made a hilarious story out of her frenziedly brandishing an axe against imaginary intruders. She didn't mind if that story went all over Pya, since the point was that she had a blade with intent to defend herself. They settled her bill, her additional "lending library" discount leaving her with a jangle in her pocket. She said to Taamsas, "Is there a used furniture store here, or do I have to go to Pertama?"

Taamsas grinned widely, revealing the gap in her teeth, and said "Well, I'd have to recommend Klosa. There's mostly clothing in her front window, but the back half is used housewares, including good furniture."

"Don't tell me, not yet another partner?" asked Pyosz, hearing Taamsas' undertone.

"Her partner is Kolm's siba" said Taamsas. "Tell her I sent you. But listen, if you make candles for barter, will you give me first rights on them? Not her or anywhere else?"

"Deal" said Pyosz. The rain was starting to let up a little. She stashed her rugs and netting in milk cans, and found the store with a colorful display of used shatis in the window.

"I need a couple of kitchen chairs" she told Klosa after introductions. "Ideally what I'd like are the old-fashioned kind of wide-seated cast aluminum that were popular in my abbas' youth. They have a dozen in their kitchen, and they seem indestructible. I don't care about finish or color, these are going to be outside."

"I know the kind you're talking about" said Klosa, who had a very slow drawl. "Let's go look in the storeroom. When folks migrate to Pya, they often bring those kinds of chairs because they're cheapest to ship. Then, once they've saved up, they trade them in on wooden chairs, so much more available here."

They found three, two of which had been painted in unfortunate colors along the way, all of them battered in finish but intact in structure. They dickered for a while, and Pyosz finally got them plus five quarts of metal paint in various colors for a price she thought she could afford. As she put the paint in her carryall, Klosa said "Now, this is not the same kind of last-forever paint like what you got on that wain of yours." Her grin was infectious, and Pyosz quipped "The wain stands alone, I wouldn't dream of detracting from its prominence on Saya."

Back on now-sunny Saya, Pyosz started a sponge, while waiting for the first rising, made several more pies, exhausting the supply of fruit she had on hand. She filled a tin tub with hot soapy water and set her rescued recycling bottles and jugs in to soak. She dragged her wain around the perimeter of Saya's eastern cliffs, gathering stones to use for a grilling pit. She mixed sand into the manure pile and spread it out to dry faster.

After punching down her bread a second time and putting pies on the table to cool, she called Api on Arta Island. Ollow answered, and after chatting for a while, Pyosz asked for statistics about Saya's past fruit and nut production.

"I don't have those at hand" said Ollow. "I can have Api give you a call when she returns, she's meeting with someone in Fjer."

"Okay. I'd also like to know which product would be most beneficial to Pya of each item -- like, ripe fruit versus dried fruit, juices, vinegars, that sort of thing." said Pyosz.

After she hung up, she created an orchard harvest schedule in her logbook:
MED: (now and for next 2-3 weeks) Apricots, cherries, currants, peaches.
LJETO: Apples, cherries, figs, plums.
MCHELE: Almonds, apples, figs, hazelnuts, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums.
RACCOLTO: Almonds, apples, chestnuts, hazelnuts, nectarines, pears, pecans, pistachios, quince, walnuts.
BURZAS: Pecans, persimmons, pistachios, walnuts.

It felt odd to outline activities for Burzas and Raccolto, when she would have gone back to Skene, but she thought it might be useful to whoever took her place. Burzas was also when the buckling kids in her flock would need to be slaughtered, and when her does would be bred again. That meant milking would drop off considerably during Raccolto. She made a note to ask Api or Vants how many does she should hold back from breeding to keep milk available for Pya.

The radio buzzed and she answered it instantly, thinking it would be Api. Instead, it was Bux. "Hello, beloved grandchild" she said in her particular way. Pyosz wondered if she referred to all her grandchildren this way.

"Abba! Isn't it rather late there? This time difference is keeping me from calling when I'm most available" said Pyosz.

"Everyone else had gone to bed and I'm sitting in Yoj's study, working on reports and wondering how you're doing" said Bux.

"Better and better, abba. I'm up before dawn and it feels like I go at a dead run until nightfall, but it's starting to agree with me" said Pyosz.

"Your habibis Qen and Veida would say they handed that on to you, an ability for ejida work" said Bux. "Once I got past the terrible shock of emma dying so far from home, I've been glad she was on Pya. I think she went to bed happy that night."

When Pyosz was three, her abbas Yoj, Bux, and Halling had brought her on her visit to Pya, accompanying Qen who wanted to see the new world and was over 90 years old by that time. The few memories Pyosz had of Qen were all from that visit. Halling and Bux had returned to Skene and pressing work demands after a week, but Yoj, Qen and Pyosz had remained on Arta Island. Qen, leaning on a stick, had walked through the fields of corn, marveling at so much room to grow a crop Skene had craved but couldn't spare the land to produce. She had talked constantly about her childhood on Byli, the child of ejida workers. One day Mill took them all in a sinner on a corner-to-corner aerial tour of Pya. When they got home, Qen ate only fresh corn for her dinner and went to sleep on the couch after singing an old harvest tune to her great-grandchildren.

Yoj was sleeping on a cot in the office upstairs, and Pyosz was in with Ngall. In the morning, Yoj was the first downstairs -- aging bladder, she'd said -- and found Qen dead, her hand tucked under her cheek, a smile on her face. Pyosz's memories after that were spotty, mostly that she cried about having to go home early and the dreadful silence of the long flight back. She'd sat in Yoj's lap and tried to comprehend what dying meant, why Habibi wasn't sitting up front with them so she could tell Pyosz more stories.

It was interesting, now, to hear that a love of the work she was doing had a place in her family culture. Of course, any aptitude she had wasn't genetic. In addition to Qen not having been an aggie, the secret truth was that Qen -- and Yoj, too -- were something marked as XXY in Prl's records. Pyosz had read something on Prl's desk she was not supposed to, as a teenager, and had been forced to rifle the University library to eventually find an explanation of the unfamiliar terms she'd encountered. Well, it didn't matter on Skene, emmadom was available to all. At least to those who passed muster with the Genist, that is.

Bux interrupted Pyosz's memories with "We got your letters today, have passed them around and absorbed every word. I had no idea you could draw that well, Pyosz." Whenever Pyosz stopped to think how to word a sentence, she had the habit of doodling in the margins, little depictions of what she was thinking about. Sometimes the sketches continued on down all one side and across the bottom of the page, like Ember chasing Curds through the mossy area underneath her thickest stand of trees on this end of Saya, or does lining themselves up to be milked according to self-perceived flock rank, squabbling in the process. For a couple of these illustrations, Pyosz had pulled out her watercolor tin and painted in the inked outlines.

"I'm very visual" said Pyosz. "My math comprehension was always in pictures. I know I disappointed abba Yoj, with my not picking up a musical instrument or showing a facility for words -- "

"I'd hardly call these vivid letters lacking in a facility for words" said Bux with a laugh. "Have you seen the owl again?"

Pyosz told her latest stories, and heard the latest about both Manages she considered home on Skene. She mentioned the possibility that milk production had already gone up, and Bux said "I wouldn't be surprised. Did you know that the current generation of schoolchildren on Skene are an average inch taller than when our children were in school? Clearly due to improved nutrition, mostly because of Pya. When Halling and I were first learning to love each other, I had a hard time with her leaving each morning before dawn. Well, for good reason, it was still a death sentence in those days. But she'd always say 'I have go feed Skene', and now here you are, in a different way, going to feed Skene. I'm very proud of you, Pyosz. I think you're doing well by yourself."

Pyosz was moved to confide the commitments she'd written on her to-do lists. It wasn't a private line, but she had forgotten this fact.

"And how are you doing with missing Sey?" asked Bux gently.

"To be honest, abba, I'm not missing her much. I think of her from time to time, usually with a mix of confusion and a little hurt, but mostly I'm so busy and engaged and... I'm making friends here, it's always fun to make new friends" said Pyosz, not quite ready to tell all.

"You know, I waited seven years for the women I wanted to spend my life with to finally choose me" said Bux. "It look me even longer to get over the remembered pain of that wait, longer than it should have, really. The truth is, I wasn't sitting around waiting, I started a career and was already important to my community by the time dimwitted Yoj said 'Uh, you there, care to aggie?'" Pyosz burst into laughter at Bux's imitation of Yoj's befuddled tone. "So there's no hurry, sweetheart. Not that you'll have to wait seven years, please don't misunderstand me."

"I should hope not" teased Pyosz. "Oh, stars, I forgot about my bread! I have to go, abba, I need to get it in the oven before the yeast dies. Tell everybody -- well, you know."

"I will. And look for a cascade of packages from us, it's been pile-it-up-for-Pyosz around here the last couple of days" said Bux.

She split her dough into loaves and rolls. The smell awakened her hunger, so she ate the last of her mutton stew as she made a complicated line chart of milk production over two pages in her logbook. She ate a banana for dessert. Both katts appeared for combing, and she obliged them, stopping briefly to answer the radio and talk with Api. Turns out, Api could find no records at all of previous vinegar or nut meal products coming from Saya, no beeswax or dried nuts, only whole nuts and fruit juices being remitted to the allotment center by Ferk.

"Does that juicer out there still work?" asked Api.

"Yes, and I scrubbed it out. I'm having new drying racks made, though, there's not to be found" said Pyosz.

"Bill us for that, those are permanent items associated with the Island, not your habitation" said Api. "This lumber order, I've already okayed it and the rest."

"Do I need a permit to build a grill for cooking?" asked Pyosz.

"Technically, yes" sighed Api. "Technically, it has to be so many feet distant from blah blah blah. Ask Pank for the particulars, she'll know it. We'll fill out the form later and I'll back-date it, everybody here has a grill, Skene pollution standards are universally ignored in that regard. Thirty years from now, whoever is Ethicist can revisit it."

Next, Pyosz scrubbed out bottles for an hour, until she had filled one cupboard with gleaming empties. She used a gallon jug to make sun tea, started a pot of rice, and bagged her cooled bread. She sat again to create a smoker from two old olive oil cans and more left-over rubber as a bellows. She basted netting to her new hat, looping string around the bottom to cinch it tight, and donned her baggiest long-sleeved shati. She collected her prybar and two escape boards from the barn, plus a bushel basket and fruit pole, before ambling through the kissing gate, wearing her bee-hat.

The kids frolicked around her, nibbling at her basket and the long gloves tucked in her waistband, but only as far as the edge of the woods. She gathered her nerve briefly before plunging into the dark thicket. Part of the problem was, the trail had a bend in it, which meant you could not see all the way from one side of the trees to the other. Once she made the corner, as it were, and could see an opening filled with sunlight at the end, it was easier to not give in to her impulse to run.

In the orchard, she gathered all the fallen nuts she had missed with Maar, shaking them to discard the rotten ones over the cliff for the time being. These had been on the ground since the previous winter, which could contribute to mold and tree disease. She filled her basket with cherries and apricots. With a little clearing, she ought to be able to get her wain through the woods trail and down here to fill it for a more serious harvest.

She set the basket a few yards in on the trail, then stripped down and took a short soak in the hot springs. She let herself air-dry before re-dressing, this time also putting on her long gloves. She collected dry bark from the forest floor and took her time getting it burning briskly in the smoker. Smokers seemed to go out right when you needed them most.

She managed to put the escape board between the brood section and the upper, extremely honey-heavy supers on both hives with only a couple of stings, both of them caused by her own carelessness. She chewed a bit of propolis as she retrieved her fruit and returned to her kitchen, feeding cherries to begging kids along the way.

She sorted her fruit and nut harvest into bags for taking to the allotment, bags she could use for barter at Market the next day, and enough to make four more pies. She wasn't going to offer bread or pies as Market barter in order to not compete with Gitta. Then, with a sigh, she put on the long apron she deigned to use for cooking, got her axe from the cabin, and walked to the chicken house.

An old stump was next to the run, which was against all the rules of animal slaughter Pyosz had been taught. You don't kill creatures within sight and sound of their kin. She dragged the stump over to a flat rocky area between the jichang and the privy, and returned to select a plump capon. She held it reassuringly under her arm while she walked to the stump, and killed it with a single blow, tossing the head over the cliff: She didn't eat chicken heads or feet. She tied the carcass to the outside of the cliff and returned for a second capon. When both bodies were drained of blood, she sat on the stump to pluck them, katts at her feet chasing fluttering pinfeathers. She took her time with this as well, enjoying the breeze here on the eastern point, thinking about what she would use to stuff one of these for her lunch with Tu and Pank.

She managed to find room in her cold box for both chickens plus the gallon of sun tea. She scrubbed her hands and arms, set the Mti sausages on the counter to make for dinner, on second thought covered that package with a heavy bowl against katt incursion, and went to do her evening milking.

She steamed greens and winter squash to go with her rice and sausage for dinner. She took a quick hot shower, washed her hair in the sink, and asked the heat of the day to linger long enough for her towel-wrapped hair to dry before the evening chill set in. She sat at her table with a small bowl of cherries and apricots to snack on while she sanded down all the rusted iron clasps on the old goat tethers. She then painted them marine orange, grinning at her choice, and braided new handles into the ends of her new rope for the tethers.

Her thoughts kept going to Maar, wondering what she was doing and trying not to care. Finally she pulled out the small bird guide Yoj had given her and studied it until she realized she knew two of the birds by sight and call, something called a kwal and one known as a cardnul. She painted these in the margins of a fresh sheet of notepaper and started another letter home.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Thursday, August 20, 2009


(Young Stars Sculpt Gas with Powerful Outflows in the Small Magellanic Cloud; click on image to enlarge)

Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite.


As I walked out one evening to breathe the air and sooth my mind
I thought of friends and the home I had and all the things I left behind

As silent stars shone on me, my eyes sought the far horizon
As if to pierce this veil of time, and escape this earthly prison

Will there come a time when the memories fade
And pass on with the long, long years?
When the ties no longer bind. Lord save me from this darkest fear
Don't Let Me Come Home A Stranger
I couldn't stand to be a stranger

In this place so far from home, they know my name but they don't know me
They hear my voice, they see my face; but they can lay no claim on me

As I walk this universe, I free my mind of time and space
I wander through the galaxies but never do I find my place

(written by Robin Williams and Jerome Clark, performed by Linda and Robin Williams in 1993 on Prairie Home Compansion which is where I first heard it)


Wednesday, August 19, 2009


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

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

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


When Pyosz woke up, she stretched to turn off the alarm and was immediately aware of how very good her body felt. Her waking mind tried to name why this was so: Muscles finally developed, good weather, more massage, no wait, the hot spring ... And then she remembered about Maar. And Abbo.

She rolled over onto her back, momentarily stilled. With no rain or wind, she could hear the dawn chorus as if it were inside the room with her. She wondered what Curds was making of this, realizing for the first time that Curds had never heard birds before, not these kinds of birds. Not real birds.

The original colonists here, in addition to generating owls and turkeys who at least had a functional purpose Skeners could understand, had also baffled those who read the Pya exploration reports by having introduced 39 species of songbirds to the woods and grasslands of Pya. What upset most tillagers on Skene is that not only did the songbirds have no apparent use in the balance of things, they were actually competing for fruit and grains with humans.

Some folks had speculated that these small birds were there to provide a food supply in locations where shu were kept at bay by successful owl predation, keeping owls from starving. The botaniste and a couple of biologists pointed out how very good birds were at controlling insect numbers, although beekeepers and silkworm growers retorted that was no plus in their eyes.

When Pyosz was very small, waking up to the diverse, utterly alien sounds coming from the trees outside had frightened her. That first visit, her habibi Qen had been along, and Pyosz had gone downstairs in the dark, crawling into bed with Qen and crying from the strangeness of it. Qen had soothed her, saying "Oh, but listen, they're talking to each other. And it's more than talk, it's also song for the sheer joy of singing. Let's see if we can imitate some of them, shall we?"

Pyosz had played along, and gone back to sleep that time, but on every visit since, she'd been slightly rattled by the first dawn chorus. She was glad Skene had vehemently banned the introduction of all Pyan birds to their own set of islands. She liked the sound of chickens in the morning, and emma making eggs, and abbas puttering in the tillage, but nothing more.

Yet here she was in Pya now, with woods full of small, swift creatures whose names she mostly did not know. She had a book Yoj had given her, well, a booklet really, with pictures of the 39 species and a description of each, including their calls. She decided to pull it out and learn more, instead of lying in dark ignorance.

Her thoughts turned back to Maar against her will. One of the bird cries, which had a forlorn whoop to it that rose at the end, repeated itself over and over. She began crying, not knowing quite why, as memories of the previous night replayed themselves, up to that dreadful moment by the lighter when Maar had said "Me and Abbo..."

She let herself cry for five minutes, then savagely wiped her cheeks and said "Well, nothing's really changed, you've just stopped being darkly ignorant about one thing, that's all." She swung out of bed, and the paperback fell onto the floor. She tucked it under her mattress, still open where she had stopped reading. She got dressed quickly, trying on her otos and discovering they no longer pinched in the former blister zones. She decided she had used her breakfast time in crying, so she gulped the last of the milk right from the pitcher and ate a small apple on the way to the barn.

"Hello, my lovelies!" she cried out as she swung open the barn door. "It's going to be another sunny day, and we will have a clean home by sunset, you'll be amazed." She moved efficiently through her milking, no longer having to remind herself to not squeeze or tug -- the trick was to use the muscles of her fingers and thumb to sequester milk in the teat and give it no place else to go but out into the pail. Both hands, in rapid succession, until no more was coming, then a gentle bump at the back like the forehead of a kid asking for dinner, coax out that last bit more, and presto, done as the doe finished her ration of grain.

She had time to liberate the katts, release and feed the chickens, on her way to Koldok. A group of teenagers were up and about on the wharf, wrestling with each other and pretending they were going to push each other into the water. Two of them came over to help her with her cans, straining in surprise at the weight. She pretended to teeter on the edge and almost fall in, as a reward for their conviviality, sending them into raucous laughter when one earnest youth lunged forward to save her from her fake peril. She clapped her rescuer on the back and said "You're a good citizen, your reflexes must serve you well in kickball." Which clearly scored.

At the djostiker's, Kolm said "I know it's soon to be asking, but have you noticed your milk volumes going up? Because my log is reflecting a slight increase."

"I hadn't worked the data yet" said Pyosz, pleased. "I bet it's the new feed. And the pasture is still very green."

Kolm said with a grin "I bet that's not all of why."

At the grocery, Gitta said "We sold out of your bread and pastries by early afternoon yesterday. I know there's a limit to what you can do, but we can sell more if you make it. And for Roku, Market day, could you do at least a double batch?"

"Wow" said Pyosz. "Yeah, I'll try. One problem is the size of my stove, but I could stagger rising and baking if I had more pans."

"Then go see Taamsas and tell her to give you bakeware free -- here, I'll write a note you can give her. We'll count it as part of doing business" said Gitta. Pyosz bought a dozen oranges and a shank of mutton on sale, briefly thinking "No Maar with fresh fish tonight." Gitta said "We got some of the first blueberries of the season in and I gave five pounds for you, thought you might have a recipe using those."

"Absolutely" said Pyosz. "And is that rhubarb I see?"

She went from the grocery to the allotment center, adding to her stock of flours and oils. When she went in the mercantile, she was carrying an armload of hoes, shovels, pruners, knives, and scissors. Taamsas said "I hope you're not the advance wave of an insurrection!"

"No, just unskilled at sharpening my own blades. Is there any way you could do this now?"

"Sure" said Taamsas, taking them from her. "The grinding wheel is in the forge, will you look after the store while I'm out there?"

Pyosz selected baking sheets, loaf pans, muffin tins, pie and cake pans, stacking them on the counter. She found a hoof trimmer that looked much more functional than the ancient pair hanging in the barn, and she cut 12 lengths of slender rope to make new tethers. She added a sack of limestone for freshening the privy and a gross of sealable plastic bags to package her breads and pastries. She waited on two customers in a row, making neat notes of their purchases in Taamsas's log. Taamsas returned with gleaming and oiled tools that Pyosz loaded in her cart before making the rest of her purchases. She was able to pay with the small but growing store of coins she'd already earned from Gitta.

As she was returning tenth-eks to her pocket, Taamsas said in a confidential tone "I hear you have books to lend."

How very gossipy this place is thought Pyosz. "I do. A steady flow. But my family is already making a line to read them."

"Well, if you could add us, my household, to the rotation, I'll give you a permanent 10% discount on all your purchases here" said Taamsas. "We're all serious readers, and we can't get our hands on enough."

"That's extremely generous" said Pyosz. "And the truth is, when my family is done, I'd planned to donate some of the volumes to the local library anyhow where you can read them for free.'

"Some, but not all? I mean, if you don't want to hassle with it -- " began Taamsas.

"No, it's no hassle. My abbas will be extremely happy to know their books are traveling this far. It's a deal, which you can rescind at any point, of course" said Pyosz. "What sorts of things do you and your family like to read most?"

She left her order of drying rack dimensions with Taamsas, to be picked up the following week, and headed for the cartagen's.

Naki looked over the design Pyosz had painted to create labels for her goods. "This is beautiful!" she exclaimed. In each corner was a different item, a bee hovering over a flower, a rosy apple, a gold loaf of bread, and a goat chewing her graze while looking inquisitively at the viewed. Pyosz had used Spatter as the model for that one. Above it all was an elegant owl, wings outstretched. The legend read "Product of Saya Island, Pride of Pya", with a blank line to be filled in with the item name and price. The letters were bright blue on a muted orange background.

They decided on a size for reduction, and Naki said she could print them onto sticky sheets right away. While the printing was running, she also printed Pyosz's latest disk of photos. Pyosz shoved them in the envelope, wanting to look at them in privacy. Naki leaned on the counter and said "As for payment...I hear you make extraordinary pies."

"Well, I like 'em all right" grinned Pyosz.

"I work here half-days and doing records for the hospital the rest of the time, when I'm not taking photographs" said Naki. "My partners both work for the ejida, and we have a house full of kids who are always hungry. We just don't have time to make more than basic meals. I'd much rather take pies in barter than cash from you. That is, if it won't interfere with your arrangement with Gitta."

"Just one exception won't bother her" said Pyosz. "But don't spread it around, okay?"

As she rode the ferry home, she thought her pie credit at Naki's might be enough to also print out some of the books Yoj had on disk. I'll ask abba to send me copies of volumes she thinks might be popular here.

Curds was waiting at the top of hill by the dock. "I keep coming home with as much as I haul away" Pyosz called out to her. She parked the wain by her kitchen and began frying bacon as tea water heated. She went to the tillage and pulled parsnips, potatoes, onions, and the last of the golden beets. After scrubbing these and cutting them into chunks, she sliced the mutton shank into two-inch wedges, rubbing it with cayenne and salt. She made herself a bacon sandwich which she ate with one hand while searing the mutton on all side in the bacon fat. She dumped this into a thick pot with the vegetables, water, and more seasonings, and set it to simmer on a back burner.

"That's my ejida-worker-style supper" she thought, refusing to miss Maar. But her brain continued on, trying to make sense of the past week. The truth is, Maar is not available because of Thleen, first and foremost. She's not even able to Abbo, honestly. I guess if you want sex and company without having to make an emotional commitment, Abbo is a logical choice. This thought was not much of a comfort, and seemed to her an excuse to insult Abbo, an excuse she didn't need to indulge any more than she did.

She made a pitcher of mint tea into which she sliced two oranges and set it in her coldbox. She ate two oranges with her hot milky tea, sitting down at the table and starting a list of chores for the day on her writing pad. She stopped this list before finishing and started two new ones, labeled "Short-Term for Saya" and "Long-Term for Saya", each on its own sheet. At the bottom of the second sheet, she write in small letters to herself "MY commitment is to Pyosz, first, and Saya, second. I'm not available, either."

She filled both pages and felt better. She started two large sponges, and as they were rising, she cut fruit, mixed fillings and rolled out pastry to make pies. She used brown rice syrup and pecans to fill fried pies, along with the blueberry-soft cheese recipe she'd promised Gitta. She baked as much as she could fit into her oven while her bread rose a second time. She washed her hands and sat down with the logbook to create a line chart for milk totals.

Suddenly she remembered the envelope of photos in her carryall. She pulled them out with a racing pulse. The first five she'd taken: One of Arta Island from her southeastern cliff, brilliant in yesterday's sunshine. Another of Koldok to the east, and a third of Teppe to her northwest, uninhabited and wild-looking. A side view of her kitchen where she planned to draw in the outline of the owl as it had appeared, blocking the light. A group of kids frolicking in the pen. The only flowers blooming on this end of Saya, a cluster of peonies at the base of a filbert tree. The next one made her gasp out loud. It was the one Maar had taken of her making a sandwich. The f-stop made the image a little grainy, and the cone of light pouring down from her overhead metal shade in the kitchen looking almost liquid. Pyosz was grinning with a visible dimple and half-closed eyes, an expression of complete happiness. Beyond the cone of light, nothing at all was visible, as if she existed in a void.

She thought it was one of the best photographs of herself she'd ever seen.

She braced herself for the next one, which was of her and Maar with their cheeks pressed together looking into the lens. It was slightly off-center, but the happy expressions matched. She tucked it behind the others quickly, and burst out laughing at the next one. Maar had photographed her wain with the flash, and the flare of light made the orange look fluorescent. "A ghost wain!" she said out loud.

The next shot was behind her cabin, looking at Ember in the window. Ember's eyes glowed yellow, and her silhouette reflected the daily brushing she was now getting. The last photograph was in the barn. Maar's hand was visible at the left, extending carefully toward a goat whom Pyosz instantly recognized as Molars. Molars' neck was yearning toward Maar's hand, her lips curled back to reveal teeth about to snap. Pyosz cracked up completely, saying out loud "You must've jerked back as you clicked the shutter, to avoid those jaws."

The bittersweet mix of appreciating Maar and not understanding why she hadn't been forthright with Pyosz swept into her chest. She looked at the clock and decided it wasn't too late to call her emma. She dialed on a private frequency, and was surprised when Lawa answered.

"Oh, I'm so glad to hear your voice" said Pyosz. "I've been missing you and haven't talked with you yet since I got here."

"I'm sure missing you, little potato" saw Lawa. "You caught me by chance, I came over to borrow some butter for breakfast tomorrow, we ran out next door and Qala won't eat toast without butter. I hate to tell you, your emma is still down at your abbas' Manage, she went there for dinner. She'll have a fit when she hears she missed your call."

"Well, it's our turn, me and you" said Pyosz. "That first aid kit you gave me has literally saved me, abba. I'm wearing my otos again today, no pain at all, and the liniment has restored my muscles. Plus I'm living in these gloves." She looked down at beside her plate right now.

"And the milking, is it getting easier?"

"Like I was born with the ability." Pyosz chuckled. "Which, in a way, is true."

Lawa laughed with her. "Have you seen Tu yet?"

"No, but I will on Shmonah for sure" said Pyosz. "The whole family will eat together."

"Tell her I miss her like the dickens" said Lawa. "What else is going on?"

Lawa was not the kind of abba you went to for a shoulder to cry on. She liked things she could fix, preferably with her hands. If you needed to construct a clay volcano that would erupt red-colored lava for school, or go fishing for crabs at the pier, or needed to make a present for your emma, then Lawa was your best choice. But a child grieving left her helpless. Pyosz dodged several topics and said "I know you're not the historian like Yoj, but I wonder, did you ever hear anybody say if the first colonists here were mostly related or unrelated to each other? I mean, I know there were some children, right?"

"A few" said Lawa. "Which means a few partners. I remember Yoj or Qala saying there was one pair of sibs, and a couple of cousins. But mostly I think they just worked together. Why do you ask?"

"Because I was thinking about what it must have been like, discovering you'd never see your family or loved ones again, all you'd ever have were the few people you could see around you. I don't know how they could bear it" said Pyosz. To her dismay, she began crying softly.

Lawa said, in acute distress, "Ah, honey, are you that homesick, then? What can I do to make it better?"

"It's not homesickness, abba. It's -- other things. I don't mean to be mysterious, I just can't talk about it yet. I promise you, I'm okay. Although yes, I am homesick. When I woke up, I was missing that thin little song you whistle when you're in the tillage right after breakfast, you know which one I mean?"

Lawa repeated a bar, and Pyosz giggled through her tears. "Yep, that's it."

"Well, I'll tape a copy of it and you can play it when you're having breakfast" said Lawa. "Are you bowels moving all right?"

Pyosz giggled again. "Regular as rain."

Lawa was on the hunt for a solution. "Are you alone most days?"

"No, I go into Koldok every morning and folks there are already starting to feel like friends. And somebody comes to see me every day, seems like." But that brought up Maar again. "Not to mention two katts sleeping in metal closet with me each night."

"Is Curds still in shock?" asked Lawa.

"She hates the goats but she and the other katt aren't fighting any more, and I think she likes having so much territory to explore" said Pyosz. "Listen, abba, you can repeat any of this call to the others but don't tell 'em I cried, they seem to go crazy about that. Except Qala, Qala is sensible like you." And Qala will be able to explain, maybe, what's going on with me thought Pyosz.

"Well I'll try, but I don't have much luck keeping things from Prl" said Lawa.

"I'm in good shape, and getting better" said Pyosz. "Now I need to go clean a stinky barn and bake -- " The line went into static. She hadn't told Lawa how much she loved her. Well, at least her letters would arrive today, and Lawa had one of her very own. How lucky I am, to have them all loving me.

This made her think of Maar again, who had so very little in the way of people to love her. And Thleen, who had only Maar as a lifeline. She didn't want to feel sorry for Maar, she wanted to be angry with her.

She checked on her pies and pulled them out to cool, making rolls and loaves to put back into the oven. She stirred her mutton stew and hauled her wain to the barn, hanging all the newly sharpened tools except the large shovel. She hated to fill her bright wain with rotted manure, but there was no alternative. She opened the door wide to allow the wain to follow her and began shoveling.

After the wain was half full, she stopped to test her weight against the handle and decided this was as much as she could pull. She was removing two to three inches of almost sopping debris from the barn floor, and it was heavy as liquid. At her compost area, she started a new pile because this stuff would have to dry out and be mixed with other material before it could be used in the tillage; otherwise, it would burn roots. She kept working for two hours, stopping only to scrub her hands, remove one set of loaves and put in another to bake, and drink a tall glass of cold tea before returning to moving shit, as she thought of it.

By the time she was done, all the bread was cool and the barn floor was scraped clean. She felt giddy with accomplishment. She peeled off her shati and washed her entire upper half in the sink, putting on a clean maillot but not a shati, it was too warm. She made a fresh pitcher of orange tea, threw a load of laundry into the cistern to soak, and sat down to eat a late lunch of cheese and tomatoes on a warm roll, with a chopped cabbage and carrot salad. She crossed through "Clean barn" on her list. As she ate, she pulled out the photos again and looked at the image of herself, then her and Maar, leaving them on top.

She did her dishes before bagging pies and bread, filling in the labels as she went. She stored her bounty in the larder and checked her list again. While it was still sunny, she haul sand from the small beach north of the pasture, to mix with barn muck and hasten soil-making. She hauled her wain and shovel through the kissing gate, drawing curious goats from the other end of the pasture. A whole line of them were behind her by the time she reached the beach, including all the kids. When she let down the wain's back gate, three kids leaped in and a rowdy game of territorial jousting began. She threw sand in at their feet and they ignored her, slipping occasionally but never falling.

She stopped when the wain was midway full and used her shovel as a prod to get the kids out of it. They scampered along beside her, ready for another game. At the slope up to her end, she decided to open one side of the kissing gate before pulling up the wain. With a major test of her new muscles, she got the wain on relatively level ground between the two gates, but could not close the first gate before opening the second. She shooed back the kids, opened the second gate, shoved her wain through as quickly as she could, and was about to step back to close the first gate when a familiar voice said "There she is!"

She wheeled around, see Tu and Pank coming toward her from behind the barn. She shoved the second gate toward its latch and broke into a dead run toward her cousins, flinging her arms around them in turn, shouting "Hurrah, hurrah, I didn't have to wait three more days to see you!"

Tu, tall and slender as Halling but with lighter skin -- what Halling called "me with milk added -- had curls that were entirely white now. Pank's bronze face was a fascinating arrangement of deep wrinkles. Pyosz realized her abbas and elder kin must all have been good-looking as young women but they were knock-outs now.

"I talked to Lawa this morning, she asked after you" Pyosz said to Lawa's siba. Pank had turned to look at the wain, and said "I'd heard about this paint job, but it's better in person." The jubilant note in her voice dropped a notch as she said "Uh, oh, goats on the loose", pointing toward the back of a kid streaking around the barn.

"Oh, lev!" yelled Pyosz. She yelled at Tu "Will you close the gate?" and ran toward her kitchen. As she passed the open door of her cabin, she heard Curds shriek and she skidded to a halt, darting into the cabin. Curds was on the windowsill, three times her normal size. One kid was standing on her unmade bed, and a second was on its knees trying to get at something under her bed, which she realized must be the chamberpot. She scooped up one under each arm, somehow holding onto them despite their frantic kicking and writhing. She loped back to the kissing gate, where half the flock was now massed between the two gates, thinking it must be early feeding time. Tu helped with the gate as Pyosz shoved the two kids through, then her own body, pushing goats back into the pasture with brute strength and finally getting the first gate shut as well.

She ran back toward the kitchen, and stopped in horror when she saw Molars standing on her table with the silver peppermill in her mouth. "No!" scrasmed Pyosz. Molars calmly shat on the table and continued chewing. Pyosz picked up her broom and swung at Molars with all her might. Molars took the blow but decided, on casual thought, to leave the kitchen, taking the peppermill with her. Pyosz jumped on her back and reached around to pry open her jaws, finally getting the mill away from her. She tossed it toward Tu, who had followed, and dragged Molars to the kissing gate.

Pank was leaned against the wain, helpless with laughter.

Pyosz went on a search for other fugitives. She found one kid in the barn, standing on the feed box, and a second eating the peonies by the filbert tree. A final kid was trying to get the privy door open. Once her end of the island was clear again, she went to the kitchen, cleared her papers to the counter, swept Molar's pellets to the ground, and scrubbed down the table with hot soap and water. Tu and Pank joined her. Pyosz sank onto the floor beside her larder, sweat streaming from her face, and Tu said "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Cold tea in the box" said Pyosz breathlessly. "Help yourselves."

Tu poured them all glasses and sat in one chair, Pank taking the other, still laughing. After a couple of gulps, Pyosz stood and removed a blueberry pie from the larder, one she'd saved back for herself. She put it on the table with plates and forks, moving her papers back to one end, and sank onto the ground again, grinning and saying "Life with goats."

She remembered the peppermill, then. Tu pulled it from her pocket and handed it over. Pyosz wiped away spit on her kaidang ku and examined it carefully. "Lev it, there's teeth marks!" she swore.

"I guess they want more spice in their diet" said Pank, sending herself off into laughter again.

"That one in particular is a pain in my ass. Literally" said Pyosz. They talked goats for a while, and life on Mti. Tu said "Your tillage needs most or all of those raised beds rebuilt, they're coming apart at the seams."

"Yeah, it's on my list of big projects" said Pyosz, waving her hand toward the papers on the table. Tu picked up one sheet and Pank the other, reading them thoughtfully. They exchanged pages halfway through, but Pank pointed unotrusively to the bottom of the page she handed Tu and Pyosz remember, too late, about her statement of commitment. Oh, well, she trusted these women more than most.

"That stew smells about as good as this pie is" said Pank. "I wish we could stay for dinner."

"Oh, please, can't you?" asked Pyosz.

"We've got to catch a lighter back to Mti, they said they'd stop by here for us, in maybe half an hour" said Tu, looking at the clock. "But listen, if you can get the wood delivered, we'd love to come help you rebuild your vegetable beds."

"And inventory your woods, teach you how to care for your orchard" added Pank, looking at the list.

"That's too much to ask -- " began Pyosz.

"You'll do all the labor, don't worry" said Tu. "You got another sheet of paper? Okay, here's what you need to order." She began writing down lumber specifications. "This will make one bed, so multiply accordingly. We'll bring all the tools, but you need to get planks to make a couple of sawing stands. Are there ladders here?"

"One in the barn that's in sad shape" said Pyosz.

Tu wrote more. "Then we'll build a new picking ladder, they're easy. We'll come on Sju, you can feed us lunch and dinner, and we'll stay with friends in Koldok that night, go to Arta the next day. That way we can visit as much as we want."

"Speaking of feeding" said Pank, reaching into her carryall. "Here's a pound of good Mti sausage, our own blend. And a 5 lb. bag of charcoal."

Charcoal was extremely rare on Skene, used only in some industrial applications, but Pya had no restrictions on its production. "Wow" said Pyosz, standing to take the bag from her. "I don't have a grill, and Mill's warned me about the fire risk here -- "

Pank blew a raspberry. "You've got a water hose, don't you? You need an outdoor grill, with your stove so dinky. Before Sju, buy a bag of mortar and gather as many stones as you can from these cliff edges, we'll show you how to build your own barbecue."

Tu picked up the list of lumber again and added more. "She'll need a little canopy to go over it during rain" she said to herself. "Okay, now, fill me in on how Halling and Lawa are really doing." They had another ten minutes of talk before a lighter circled overhead. Pyosz gave them a loaf of bread and an apple pie before they walked to the jichang together.

"See you on Sju" said Tu, kissing her cheek, and Pank added "Remember, goats like pepper" with a second kiss. Pyosz watched until they were out of sight, waving with both her arms.

She climbed into the mow and dropped two bales of hay into the barn, cracking them open and raking them over the new dirt floor. She pulled her wain to the dung pile and scooped sand over the brown mess, but decided to save turning it for another day. She returned to the kitchen to stir her stew again, and realized the photograph of her and Maar was halfway out of the envelope, very visible next to her lists of tasks.

She washed her hands, beginning to feel like the day was extremely long. She decided to start milking early, and found her flock waiting for her at the gait. "Straight to the barn" she ordered, herding them vigilantly. They bunched up at the door, wary of the new straw, until Boulder led the way and the kids discovered it was an edible playground. It was alarmingly close to dusk by the time she finished. She rushed to the kitchen and found both katts on the table. "Are you following Ember's lead, then?" she asked Curds. She fed them in the cabin, brushing away dirt from the kid's footprints on her sheets, which reminded her of the laundry still soaking in the cistern.

She tended to the chickens first. The smell of the stew was driving her mad, but she ran the laundry through its cycle, rinsed it, and hung it in the barn before calling it day. It was full dark in her kitchen. She turned on the light, filled Ng's bowl with stew, and ate it with fresh bread dipped into its heavenly gravy with every bite. With Tu and Pank's visit, she didn't miss Maar at the meal.

She had a second piece of pie for dessert. She called the Lofthall and placed her lumber order with Jiips because Mill and Oby had gone for the day. She slid off her otos, turned to a fresh page on her writing pad, and began a new letter home.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. The first one is dedicated, of course, to Kat.


Monday, August 17, 2009


(Chinese propaganda poster, "New view in the rural village", 1953)

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

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

Pya Dictionary from Skenish to English (complete up to present chapter), with some cultural notes included
Pya Cast of Characters (complete up to present chapter)
Map of Pya with Description of Each Island
Map of Skene (but not Pya)
Map of Saya Island and Environs When Pyosz First Arrived
Skene Character Lineage at Start of Pya Novel
Skene, Chapter One (With Cultural Notes in Links)


Pyosz handed Maar her biggest stock pot and put in it two towels plus her body scrub and a washrag. She put a set of clean clothes in her carryall, picked up the flash, and they started for the pasture. On the way, Pyosz ducked briefly into the barn and came back with a prybar.

"What is that for, defense?" asked Maar nervously.

Pyosz giggled. "Nope, I'm going to take a look into one of the hives while I'm there."

"Won't you get stung? Aren't you supposed to wear protective gear?"

"They've gone to bed and I know how to not rile them, it'll be a quick peek" said Pyosz confidently. "I'll do an actual harvest and cleaning in daylight."

As they walked through the pasture, Maar pointed to their right and said "You been to that little beach over there yet? It's good nice shallow swimming on a warm day."

"I haven't" confessed Pyosz. "How's the current, doesn't it rip around the head of Saya as fast as it does through the channel by the ferries?"

"Yes, it's rapid, but if you don't go out very far it's all right" said Maar. "It's just as fast at the other beach, the shingle one on the south side, but the drop-off there is steeper. Although you could still walk over to that little Pea Pod nearby at low tide."

Though it was too far to see in dark, Pyosz pointed the flash to her right and said "That big area over here, in the pasture between the sand beach and the woods, why does it grow only gorse and a few thistles? I've never seen a goat in there grazing, is it contaminated somehow?"

"Ferk said no, it was simply poor soil. It collects water during the rainy season, you'll often see it standing like a shallow pond" said Maar.

Pyosz led the way into the woods with a bravery she was trying on for size. Thick roots sometimes crossed the trail, and she had to keep her flash aimed on the ground. She went slowly so Maar could benefit from the light as well. The absence of moving air or any starlight was striking. She couldn't tell if the rustles she heard was from leaves and branches or something which had legs. She pushed into the contrastingly open vista of the orchard on the other side with a definite sense of accomplishment. She heard Maar give an exhalation of relief as well.

Pyosz went first to the hot springs and checked it from all angles with her flash. "What are you doing?" asked Maar.

"Looking for lev knows what" said Pyosz. "I've had some ugly surprises since I got here."

"The springs are fine" said Maar. "Abbo and I were out here last week."

Pyosz felt a flare of irritation and -- disappointment, was that it? She moved off into the orchard, identifying trees and noticing the large numbers of fallen fruit and nuts, some it showing evidence of having been chewed. "This is just asking for shu to move into this end of the island" she said angrily.

"Won't be when you get done with it" said Maar equably. "You can scrub the trunks and paint 'em orange."

Which drew a reluctant chuckle out of Pyosz. She produced a fat candle from her carryall and held a lit match to its base to affix it to a rock overlooking the hot springs. A backdrop of more rocks protected the flame and projected warm flickering light onto the pool's surface.

"Now that is really clever" said Maar. Something Abbo didn't do first thought Pyosz. She said "I'm doing to check the hives now, you can go ahead and get in, if you want. I won't look."

There was silence behind her. She took her flash and prybar to one of the two hives and, after inspecting the outside of both hives, she began working to get the lid loose. It took a couple of minutes of effort, and during that time, despite her slow pace and quiet, a few workers emerged from the entrance, a couple landing on her forearm and walking around drowsily. When the lid finally came free, her arm jerked.

"Ah, shit" she said.

"What's wrong?" asked Maar from the middle of the pool.

"Well, it's completely filled with comb, for one thing, hasn't been tended in maybe years. And I upset a bee, she bit me" said Pyosz, replacing the lid and wiping away the body of the worker. She slapped at her neck and backed away from the hives, circling around through the orchard until she was sure she'd gotten beyond the defensive range of the few warriors out.

"Are you okay?" asked Maar. Pyosz glanced at her. She was chin deep in the pool, glancing uneasily into the air around her head. Pyosz couldn't see Maar's form clearly but it was just as pale as the rest of her.

"Yeah, fine. I've been bit a lot. Abba says beestings will make you less susceptible to arthritis when you get older" said Pyosz, unlacing her gilet and dropping her red cap on a shelf of rock. She didn't look Maar's way as she undressed with as much dignity as she could muster, despite the awkwardness she felt internally. When she finally turned toward the pool, Maar was facing the other way, toward the hives. Pyosz stepped into the end where a succession of rocks made a kind of stairway, and she gave a long groan as she was finally immersed in steamy water.

"I used to think this was too hot to bear when we came out here as kids" she said. "Now it feels utterly rejuvenating." Maar faced her again, smiling. They stayed a modest three feet apart as they drifted around the pool. Pyosz dipped under the surface and scrubbed her dreads lightly, working heat into her scalp. She popped back above water and sat on a rocky ledge at the side that still allowed her breasts to remain submerged, though they did tend to try bobbing upward.

"I wonder if I could plant warmth-loving plants, like maybe strawberries, in the rocks along the ocean-side edge" she mused out loud. "Don't you think if the hot springs are here on this island, there must be geothermal somewhere at the other end? My abbas have a tiny greenhouse and grow their own mangos and limes all year."

"You sure know a lot about farming for someone who grew up Riesig -- " began Maar, cutting herself off.

Pyosz grinned. "Riesig Rich, you were going to say. I like that one better than Riesig Rude. And yeah, only one of my five abbas grew up with eks in her pocket. The rest of 'em either suffered as children or grew up in very modest circumstances. They made sure to teach their kids, and me, how to do things for ourselves."

"Well, I didn't grow up with extra, either, to put it mildly, and I still don't know much about tillages or stuff like bees and owls" said Maar.

"Are both your emmas miners?" asked Pyosz.

"Yeah, and except for six months after a baby was born, they were gone all day. I was looked after by my abba Gusu until I went to school. After school, I ran in a pack with other kids. I worry about Thleen, she's having to do the same and, like me, she doesn't have her height or strength yet. She always has bruises on her" said Maar.

"From fighting?" said Pyosz, shocked. Fighting was strictly prohibited in Skene culture.

"They don't call it that, they call it rough and tumble play, with lots of shoving and falling down. But yeah, it's to impose yourself physically on others" said Maar. "Plus with Thleen, she can be sweet a pie, but when you tick her off, she's got a big mouth and won't back down."

"That's a good thing, in some respects" said Pyosz.

"She needs more defenders" said Maar.

"What about her other sibas?" asked Pyosz.

"They run with different packs and, well, there's all this tension between my family and me. So when I made myself the person sticking up for Thleen, it actually created jealousy between her and my other sibus. They're teenagers completely focused on not drawing attention to themselves, they treat her like she's a freak" said Maar bitterly.

"Why the tension? I mean, if you want to tell me" offered Pyosz. Maar drifted a little closer. That candle light makes her skin rosier thought Pyosz. Or maybe it's a flush from the hot springs.

"My family's been on Chloddia forever, since the first colonists, they claim. And everybody's been miners. So it was a major betrayal when I refused to go down underground. See, I can't take tiny spaces, or being away from open air. It wasn't that I always longed to fly -- I mean, yeah, every kid on Skene wants to be a pilot at some point, but it was more I had to get a job because I was thrown out when I refused to go into the mine, and piloting paid well. Plus, it turned out I had an ability for it, and now I love it. At least on Pya" said Maar.

"What would you have done if you'd had the chance?" asked Pyosz.

"Gone to the U" said Maar instantly. "Studied everything, maybe have gotten a degree in history. But there was no money for it, even if my emmas believed in such. I'll make levvin' sure Thleen goes, though. And I've offered to pay for my other sibs, but they're not listening to me."

"Do you read, then?" asked Pyosz. "'Cause I've got a steady supply of books coming my way."

"I noticed that" said Maar with a grin. "Abbo complains about the light from my bunk, but yeah, I read myself to sleep. Sure you'd like to loan me your expensive volumes?"

"I'd love it" said Pyosz. "Then we can talk about what we've both read. I'm more inclined to science and math, but when you meet my abba Yoj, and my emma, you can all have torrid conversations about history."

Maar looked agitated. Pyosz thought she must still be worrying about Thleen.

"Maybe you could bring Thleen here to live with you, I bet Mill could come up with some sort of housing for you" said Pyosz.

"Oh, I've been working on that for three years" said Maar. "Thleen wants it as much as I do. But my emmas won't hear of it. See...Part of the story is that when they disowned me, they said I couldn't see my sibs any more. It nearly killed me and Thleen. I joined the Lofthall and got through my training, because once I began drawing real pay, I thought I could maybe buy myself a visit. Then Mill came to visit us new pilots and offered us all jobs on Pya, and the pay here is 15% more, you know. Plus it's more interesting, and she told me I could be a huolon pilot, which meant I'd be going back to Skene once or twice a week, which was about all I thought my emmas would let me see Thleen anyhow. So I came to Pya. And I was right, eks did find a key to the door. I give them a chunk of my salary and allotment, and Thleen gets one or two days a week with me."

Pyosz wondered how much "a chunk" of her salary went to the graspers on Chloddia. She bet it was half. As if reading her mind, Maar added "But I save regularly, too. I'll have enough to send all of them to the U, I'm making sure of that."

And what about your own future? What about a Manage, and children? Pyosz didn't realize she'd said it out loud until Maar looked her with wide eyes. Maar said "Thleen is my future. She doesn't have anybody else. When she's safely graduated, I can make other plans."

Pyosz felt a surge of unsorted emotions at this bone-honest declaration. She said "I'm glad she has you" as she headed for the steps. She removed the towels and scrub from her pot and set it beside the steps, asking Maar "I'm going to wash myself. When I'm done, will you come over here where the soap won't drain into the pool and pour buckets over me so I can rinse?"

Maar cleared her throat and said "Okay."

Pyosx didn't look at Maar once as she let the lemony oatmeal scrub remove layers of sweat and grime from her body. She hurried, because her body was chilling fast. "Okay, drench me" she called out, immediately regretting her choice of words. Maar stood on tiptoe to upturn the pot's cascade over Pyosz, but she paused and said "Lev, is that where the goat bit you?"

Pyosz twisted her neck to look down at herself. "It looks worse than it feels at this point" she said. She noticed Maar's gaze travel upward, to the blue spot at the base of her spine, a birthmark which ran in her family. But Maar didn't asked about it, instead pouring water over Pyosz's back. Pyosz squealed and hopped from foot to foot. She said "Okay, that's good enough" and dove back into the deep part of the pool, coming up gasping.

"If you want to use my scrub, go ahead and I'll return the rinsing favor" she called out. She couldn't help but notice that the carroty-red of Maar's head hair was repeated under her arms and at her groin. She forced herself not to stare: She hadn't known thatch hair could be red like that. When Maar was rinsed, they both went to the rocky ledge and sat only a foot apart, invigorated from the cleaning.

"Where did you get that scrub, in Skene?" asked Maar.

"Nope, made it myself. I'll make you a bottle, if you want."

"You bet" said Maar. "I meant to ask, how are the other goats adjusting to the loss of some of the herd?"

"I can't tell yet" said Pyosz. "I can't even tell them all apart yet. I've been looking at the logbook whenever I make milk entries, and slowly I'm figuring out some of the names. Like Spatter, black flecks on a buff coat, she was easy. And Echo, she's got the funniest bleat, like she's instantly repeating herself. Waddle and WhiteEye. And I finally figured out who Vapor is, from the wafts hitting me while I milked her -- I don't know what's going on in her digestive tract, but it must have been there since birth for her to have that name."

Maar was laughing.

"Speaking of goats, I have milking at dawn. I'm going to get out and dress, pick some of the fruit that's still good on the ground, and then we need to head back" said Pyosz. They dried themselves in silence, facing opposite directions. Still, Pyosz now knew that Maar's ass was fuller than it looked in the roomy kalsongers she tended to wear, firm as melons, and her thighs were massively thick with muscle. Her breasts were also larger than how she laced her gilet would indicate.

Pyosz filled her stockpot with fruit and nuts. She handed it to Maar, saying "Do you mind?" When she blew out the candle, the darkness was suddenly absolute.

"Uh, Pyosz?" asked Maar. "I want you to lead us back through the woods, but would it be okay if I like held onto your back belt?"

"I'm your owl buddy" assured Pyosz. "Like you're my lev buddy. You want to wear my red hat, it's thick."

Maar accepted. They moved in matched steps through the still and now even darker forest. Pyosz could feel Maar's breath on the back of her neck. About ten steps into the open pasture, Pyosz wheeled and hugged Maar around the pot. "I was scared too, I confess" she said. "Thank you so much for helping me see Saya from tip to tip."

"Make me a pie from these apples and we're even" said Maar.

At her kitchen, Pyosz piled the fruit in Ng's bowl and hung the damp towels over chairs to dry. Maar insisted on spreading more liniment on Pyosz's shoulders, and once Pyosz's shati was pulled off, Maar said "You've got a welt on her neck, did you get stung there, too?"

"Yeah" admitted Pyosz. Maar went to the sink under the cupboard and returned with ammonia, which she daubed on Pyosz's two wounds. "I may not know much about growing things, but I know how to tend injuries" she joked.

After a generous massage, Pyosz took Maar into the cabin to look through her books. The katts watched Maar coldly until she left with two volumes to borrow. In the kitchen, Pyosz began making Maar a lunch for her flight the following day, sandwich from brown bread, sheer slices of onion, goat cheese and strips of green beans, putting it in a carrying box with two slices of her pear-walnut pie. Maar picked up Pyosz's camera from the open cupboard and said "Does this have a flash?"

"Yes, but you'll do better to adjust the lens and take it in this overhead light" said Pyosz. Maar took one of her slicing onions, then held the camera out in front of them both for a joint photo as she stood next to Pyosz, still wearing Pyosz's red cap. She wandered off into the night with the camera and flashlight, and returned in a few minutes, saying "That disk is ready for printing" with a sly smile.

Pyosz walked Maar to the jichang and was suddenly too shy to give her a hug. She said "Tell Thleen hello for me, and that I want a chance to visit with her as soon as we're all in the same part of the world."

Maar grinned hugely. "You're asking for it."

Pyosz said "I presume you're flying with Abbo? Don't share that pie unless you have to, you have my permission to be greedy."

"I'll try" said Maar. "Yeah, me and Abbo are a team, have been for three years now."

A flicker of light seemed to pass near Pyosz's peripheral vision, so real she turned to look.

"What is it?" asked Maar, a little nervous.

"Nothing" said Pyosz. The flicker must have been internal, then. Pyosz's radio buzzed and Abbo's voice said "Maar? If you're done babysitting, we actually have to get up in six hours, in case you've forgotten."

Maar looked irritated and said "Ignore her. I'll see you at Arta Island on Shmonah, then."

Pyosz took a step back, stung by several realizations hitting her at once. "Morrie vaseo" she said automatically, turning off the flash to conceal her face. Maar buckled in and shut the hatch, her final wave lit by the instrument panel. Pyosz walked off before it rose into the air, heading for her privy because she felt suddenly sick to her stomach.

She sat on the seat in the dark, fighting nausea and letting memory fill in all the gaps. Her first year at the University, early that spring, Mill had shown up suddenly at her emmas' Manage one afternoon. Pyosz had been there talking over a study project with Yoj. Bux and Halling were the only others home. Mill coming in the door had clearly surprised them all. She'd sat down in a chair, run her hands through her hair, and said "I don't know what to do about Abbo. I think she's sleeping with a pilot."

"Who?" demanded Halling.

"Her name is Maar, and she's from Skene" Mill had said with a tone of accusation. NOW I remember why her name rang a slight bell when I met her in Yanja thought Pyosz. And emma of course knew all about this, that's why she reacted with recognition. How unbelievably obtuse I've been.

Halling had blinked and said "She's 17, I think. And Abbo is 16. I mean, it's not unusual at that age -- "

"Well Abbo is simply not mature enough yet to be having lovers!" Mill had exploded. "I caught them sneaking around, and Abbo just laughed at me. I gave that pilot what-for, and she's promised to keep it on a dating level, but of course that's not going to happen."

Halling said quietly "From what I remember of Maar during training, she's honest. If she says she'll do something -- "

""She's seventeen!" shouted Mill. "And Abbo won't leave her alone, and I simply won't levvin' have Abbo's future ruined by getting involved like this before she's even decided between the U or going into the Lofthall."

"Well, then, you can forbid them to see each other. The pilot will comply because you hold her future in her hands" Bux had pointed out. Pyosz, sitting in the living room, appeared to have been forgotten and she sat very still to keep them from reining in their conversation.

"And then Abbo will blame me forever" said Mill.

"Maybe you could ask them to wait a year, like we did with you" said Yoj.

Mill had turned a withering look on her. "You asked me and Oby to wait TWO years, and neither one of us was an independent adult like Maar is." A small reminiscent smile stole onto her face. "As it was...the night of my 16th birthday, I made sure we didn't live under that restriction any more."

Halling had begun to say "Then why are you being so rigid about -- " but Yoj had interrupted to ask Mill "What do you mean? We had a big party for you at the Lofthall, I remember, and then we all came back here. Without Oby."

Mill grinned. "I had arranged for her to come over the fence after you were all in bed and sneak into my room. I told her I wanted to open her present from me in private. But I had another plan in mind, and she finally got the idea."

Bux had turned to Yoj indignantly to yell "I told you we shouldn't have let her have that room with its own door!"

Halling, returning to her own thread, had leaned forward to look Mill in the face and say "Seems like you have a different standard for yourself than you do for Abbo. You might want to take a look at that. If this is a battle of wills between you and Abbo, you're probably going to lose. You need to save your effort for life-and-death issues. If Maar isn't bad news, then leave them alone. Abbo will be coming here to Skene in three months, anyhow, no matter which choice she makes. Do you think Maar is going to follow her?"

After half a minute's consideration, Mill had said "No. She's committed to Pya. And she's -- way more responsible than Abbo."

"Is there a chance of pregnancy?" Yoj had asked.

"No" Mill said again. She was chewing the inside of her cheek. There was a long silence. Finally Yoj had said "Sex and love is what normal kids do at this age. The fact that both of yours are seeing someone means you and Oby did a good job."

Pyosz had been flattened by that comment from her abba -- "what normal kids do at this age." But not me Pyosz had thought.

Mill, however, had looked confused and said "What do you mean, both of mine? Are you talking about Ngall?"

"Oh dear" said Bux. "We thought she'd written you."

Mill had risen, in cold fury, and demanded "Where is she? Where is Ngall?"

"Either at the U or -- " At that moment, Yoj remembered Pyosz was in the living, because she'd turned to look at her. Slowly, all the others did as well.

"She's not at home" Pyosz had said weakly. Mill's gaze scorched over her as she turned and stalked out the front door. Pyosz made her escape soon after.

So Maar and Abbo were lovers. It explained so much -- Abbo's hostility in particular, because Maar was paying way too much attention to Pyosz, even as a defacto member of the family. Maybe they hadn't partnered yet, maybe there were still in that pilot kind of juvenile attachment, but even in that situation, you don't chase your sweetheart's cousin.

Or had Maar really been chasing her? Pyosz wasn't sure of anything any more. She'd been crashingly wrong about Sey, and now, less than two weeks after being left, she'd already been setting herself up for another duplicity. Or self-delusion.

She held her hands over her mouth and refused to throw up. The odor in the privy was starting to get to her. She pushed into the cold night air and walked back to her kitchen, gulping in breaths and not turning on her flash, forcing herself to focus. She drank down a glass of milk and thought about writing home. Or calling emma. She could use a hard cry.

But she decided to go to bed, instead. She turned off the kitchen light and glanced for just a second toward Koldok before entering her cabin. She thought it would be a good idea to read a while before sleeping. She put the candle back in a holder and lit it, pushing her trunk next to the bed to act as a nightstand. Both katts came to investigate the flame, and Curds managed to singe a whisker. In alarm, she leaped up to Ember's windowsill. Ember regarded her steadily for a minute, then moved to the end of the trunk to wash.

"You two are a lesson to me" said Pyosz. "Ember, are you glad to have a friend of your own kind?" Ember didn't respond.

Pyosz changed into nightwear and stood in front of her books, looking for something that wasn't about mastitis or worms or vinegar-making. She remembered abba Yoj insisting she take poetry and fiction, but four of those volumes were now loaned out. Suddenly she remembered the novel with the lurid cover, which she had shoved under her pallet. She pulled it out now and thought "Might as well. May be as close as I ever get again."

She crawled into her nest of blankets and curled toward the candle, starting to read. After one page, the deathless prose was already getting to her. She began scanning the pages, unwilling to invest in the build-up. "We know what these books are good for, let's get to it" she said out loud. She kept flipping pages until, in the middle of the second chapter, the word "drench" caught her eye. She giggled briefly, remembering her use of it earlier that night. She began reading more carefully, and a page later she said "Aha." She read the next two pages with an increasing pulse, and when the exposition was done -- with a disappointing dearth of detail -- she read it through again. She blew out the candle, drawing a small hiss from Curds, and slid her hand down to pull up her schmatta, finding her own drench with her newly muscled fingers. Five minutes later, she was blissfully asleep.

© 2009 Maggie Jochild.