Thursday, July 29, 2010

(The planetary nebula IC 4634 reveals two shining, S-shaped ejections from a dying star)

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


by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,
we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the
table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe
at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what
it means to be human. We make men at it,
we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts
of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms
around our children. They laugh with us at our poor
falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back
together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella
in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place
to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate
the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared
our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow.
We pray of suffering and remorse.
We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table,
while we are laughing and crying,
eating of the last sweet bite.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010


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


Sunday, July 25, 2010


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

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

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


Pyosz woke up at close to 1:00 needing to pee, but had to wash her hand thoroughly before sitting on the pot. She heard a laugh from below and realized Qala, at least, was still up with Thleen. She was startled by a moving shadow until she saw it was Maar, padding into the privy.

"Me next" she whispered, coming to stand in front of her so Pyosz could rest her face against Maar's belly.

"Mmm...some serious funk coming from you, my love" Pyosz murmured with a sniff.

"Pyosz soup" said Maar.

"Sorry I'm taking so long, it feels like there's a dozen drops left. Do you get that way, after we go at it really hard -- that your bladder get shy?"

Maar said "I'm sore, but it's more generalized. Listen, we really need to make an appointment together to go get a new blossom."

"Two of them this time" said Pyosz, grinning up through Maar's breasts. "Okay, I give up, your turn." She rinsed with the wand and stood.

Maar sighed with relief and said "Do you think any of the elders use blossoms?"

"I know Halling and Yoj do, or did with Bux. There's a funny family story about it I'll tell you later. I don't know about Qala and Lawa -- I mean, Qala's got something of a built-in accessory, right?" said Pyosz.

"Well, but that only goes one way. And at least with the Y I slept with, she didn't have the stamina of a blossom" said Maar.

Pyosz thought about being jealous but couldn't muster it, not with how her body felt at the moment. Maar continued "What about Prl and Nioma, do you think they -- "

"I do not want to speculate about my emma's sex life" said Pyosz, tweaking Maar's ear. "I'll see you back in bed, farty."

When Maar returned, Pyosz was standing before the closet, reaching to the high shelf. Maar grinned at her new schmatta lying on the floor and said "That lasted about 30 seconds on me. What are you looking for?"

"Qux's birthday present, you have to see this." They sat down cross-legged on the floor and set up the toy carnival wheel, inserting bent-knee little people into the cars and cranking the key.

"I feel like a giant, watching the life of Pya from behind a mountain" said Maar in an awed voice. "She will love this the rest of her days. Those toymakers on Chwet are genius."

"Imagine all the prototypes their kids have lying around."

Maar asked "What did you get for Merrl?"

"Oh lev, I forgot. But you're right, she has to have something to open, at her age. And not a book or another stuffed animal, she likes active play" said Pyosz.

"Well, I had this idea for her, I saw something like it once on Skene but never here. A set of pots and pans, teakettle, and dishes that are one-quarter grown-up size. You know much she likes to 'help cook'..." Maar looked at Pyosz hopefully.

"That's a perfect idea. I'll ask Klosa if she has an idea where it might be. And Taamsas. You know, I could take a wooden crate and paint it to look like a stove and counter, we could find a spot for it in the kitchen." Pyosz could already see it in her mind. Lawa could make handles for the stove from old bottle caps --

Their bedroom door opened soundlessly a crack and Maar lunged forward to hide the still running toy. Thleen's blushing face looked at them in amazement.

"What are you doing?" she whispered.

"Come in and shut the door" said Pyosz. "What are you doing sneaking into our room at night?"

"Uh...Sometimes I look in on you when you're sleeping. It, uh, reassures me" said Thleen, not meeting their eyes.

"You run the risk of seeing something that believe me you do not want to see" said Maar calmly. Thleen went a deeper red. She cleared her throat again and said "So, is this something you do in the middle of the night? Get up and play?"

"No, I was just showing Maar the toy we got Qux" said Pyosz, patting the floor beside her. With her new jangle, Thleen came to sit with them, trying to ignore an odd smell in the room.

"Who won?" asked Maar.

"Mostly Lawa. Is it possible she cheats?" asked Thleen.

"Yep" said Pyosz. She reached to pull out a loose strand of beaded copper from Thleen's hair. She wound it through the spokes of the toy, and Thleen said "That looks great."

"I can't leave it, though. Merrl will mess with it and jam the works somehow" said Pyosz. The melody was now dragging, and Maar rewound the key, lying down on the rug beside the toy. Air fluttered out of her vagina, and Thleen seemed to stop breathing, unable to understand the apparent source of the eructation. Maar ignored her.

"How are you doing?" Pyosz asked Thleen. Thleen cleared her throat and said "Okay. Kinda. Qala said she heard the Talaba elders talking to Ko about how they've decreed no more sleepovers between Xoan and Ziri. I mean, they never did it a lot because they didn't have bed space, but now it's strictly forbidden." Thleen couldn't hide her gloat about this news.

"They'll find ways, I always did" Maar crushed Thleen's schadenfraude. "Still, they're too young for more than an occasional kiss." Thleen now looked sorry she'd brought up the topic.

"You okay to sleep?" asked Pyosz.

"Yeah. Don't let the little ones wake me up early, though" said Thleen, getting to her feet.

"Lock your door" advised Maar. She followed Thleen to the door, gave her a hug, and turned their own key in the lock.

Pyosz did go milk at dawn but it was at lowest production this time of year and she was back in bed within an hour. She and Maar made it downstairs by 10:30, faces freshly scrubbed, where they were mobbed by the little ones. Herne Island was already present, baking a ham in the aga. Pank was having twists of metal threaded into her lower braids by Thleen. When Ngall's family arrived, Maar sent the children to the upstairs hall with balls and hand nets, making sure adult bedrooms and the study was locked.

The rain outside grew intense, and in the midst of it Koben and Meamea tumbled in the front door, followed by the rest of the Heaps. Maar dispensed towels and helped hang up burzakas while Pyosz took the baby from Aleri. Ziri was last in, looking uncharacteristically subdued. Pyosz hugged her and said "Go watch what Thleen is doing to Pank, maybe you can give her some ideas." This helped drain away their tension. They were laughing by the time Thleen sent Pank to inspect herself in the mirror. Tu remarked "You'll be the one mending all the bed linen you shred with those baubles."

They were still waiting on Teppe Island, who were being picked up by Dekkan in the ramp sinner. Mill said "She'll wait until this heavy part passes, visibility is crap right now." A couple of minutes later, Thleen came to Pyosz and whispered "Me and Ziri want to talk, can we use the cabin?"

"Good idea" said Pyosz. She motioned Ziri over, who looked worried. Pyosz said "I don't want you to feel rushed, so what kind of pie should I save for you?" Ziri's shoulders relaxed.

"Apple" said Thleen. "And lots of that ham, emma. And Halling's scalloped potatoes."

Ziri asked "Is there chocolate pie?"

"Not yet" said Pyosz, "But Yoj made banana."

Ziri nodded and Thleen interjected "Half banana for me, and half apple." Pyosz smiled and gave them a gentle shove toward the door. Once it was shut after them, Nezi asked "Where are they going?"

"To talk." Pyosz saw Qala and Lawa grin at each other. The teenagers didn't return until dishes were being passed around the table, both of them swollen-eyed from crying but sitting easily next to each other, looking relieved and connected again. That's the way we do it on Skene thought Pyosz, impressed with them both. We need each other.

Everyone lingered over dessert as baby Vlapi was fed by Ngall and Maar nursed Merrl mostly to keep her milk flowing. Falle watched them for a minute and said plaintively to Meko "No more, aggie?" Meko cupped her belly and said "I'm having to save all my vitamins for your new sibu in here. But we can still cuddle, come crawl in my lap." Vants and Lehen started dishes with a vigor that made Pyosz fear for her hand-made bowls. Then the front door opened with a blast of cold and wet, revealing Su carrying a case of Trumpinne sparkling wine.

Pyosz hurried to hug her, asking "How did you get here?"

"Squeezed in the back of a lighter which shall remain unidentified" said Su with a wink at Mill. "Rode your levvin ferry with sheets of blown brine in my face. But I don't have to be back until San, so I hope there's room for me."

"Always" said Pyosz, carrying the wine into the kitchen. Yoj had already gone to make a plate of food for the newcomer, but Su had caught sight of Thleen and was inspecting her head. "If you walked within half a mile of the electromagnet in Cogio, it'd rip every hair outta your head" she teased. "And what's up with the dark around your eyes, are you sick?"

"Remind me to loan you my cream for wiping off kohl" Prl said to Thleen.

"Kohl?" exclaimed Su. "You musta knocked 'em dead at that dance last night, sorry I missed it."

"She did" said Pava, making Thleen's face light up.

"Okay if we break into that wine now?" asked Tu.

"What it's there for" said Su, accepting the plate from Yoj and sitting at the table to start eating hungrily. Between bites she said "Siba, all anyone can talk about is you dragging that pregnant woman away from a mass of levis. I told my friends about the time you busted out of the privy bare-assed and dripping turds, screaming something had reached up and touched you, just to keep them clear you ain't a magical being."

Thleen couldn't keep from snickering, and Merrl almost choked trying to laugh and nurse at the same time.

"Thank you so very much" said Maar drily, adding to Pyosz "It was a huge flying beetle."

"I'd have done the same" said Pyosz loyally, but her grin was wide. All the elders were smacking their lips over the wine. Dekkan conscientously abstained and so did Pyosz in solidarity with the pilots and nursing mothers.

Merrl decided she was done and wriggled away from Maar. Pyosz thought No hope for them napping this afternoon. As romping continued to escalate in the great room, Halling raised her voice and said "Instead of going right into music, I ask that the adults start with a conversation about the events of this week,"

"No music?" Qux asked Pyosz.

"Music in a while. First, you all can go play upstairs while down here we have a grown-up talk" Pyosz replied, taking her hand and leading her to the stairwell. Meamea, Falle, Omill, Ehall, and Merrl clattered up the stairs with Qux. Thleen said "I want to listen" and Ziri said "Me too."

"It's all right with me" Maar said to Meko, who nodded. But when Koben said "Me too", Meko began shaking her head. Koben protested "Why not? What are you talking about that Ziri can hear but not me?"

There was a silence, which Thleen broke by saying "Leviathans, mostly."

Koben turned to Ko and said "I told you about how scared everyone in my class is, one of the people who died was my friend's sibemma. I need to know what's happening!"

Ko sighed and motioned Koben to her lap. Koben responded with alacrity as Ziri scowled. Su carried her plate to the kitchen and returned with two more bottles of wine to refill glasses. People began settling into chairs at or near the table. Even with all the dining chairs and great room furniture, seating was full with 38 people in attendance. Maar and Pyosz had carried in the porch chairs. Now Maar grabbed a footstool and place it opposite Halling for herself. Pyosz took an ottoman at the third point of the triangle. After a moment, Thleen went to Maar and sat on the floor in front of her, leaning back against her while Maar rearranged a couple of the more bristly hair accessories stabbing her in the chest.

Su, standing by the hearth, watched her sibs with an opaque expression. Pyosz wondered, not for the first time, what it had been like for her and Adon, growing up in that never-quite-enough Manage on Chloddia, to see Maar claim the new baby and lavish her with all the attention none of them had gotten. Pyosz now got Su's eye and motioned to the floor in front of her. Su stood impassive for a moment, then grinned and moved fluidly to Pyosz, whispering "Thanks" as Pyosz pulled her backward into an embrace. Su smelled of machine oil, wine. and saltwater. She offered Pyosz her glass and Pyosz took a tiny sip, almost sneezing as the bubbles hit her palate.

Quiet spread and several people were watching Halling. However, Halling nodded at Mill who began speaking. "We of the Pya Lofthall believe Pax Piscata has failed." She let that hit the bloodstreams around her. "It will be maintained only unreliably by the leviathans. Skene Lofthall is not prepared to share that assessment."

Pyosz felt Su twitch once in front of her. She was watching Maar intently: They had talked an hour that morning, nothing Mill was likely to say would be a surprise to her. Mill went over the recent leviathan attacks in detail, answering questions freely. Pyosz knew against Api's wishes, Mill and Oby had given a very frank interview to Naki's newspaper the day before which would be printed on Moja, scooping the other Pya paper by a day. Maar said sometimes she expected to hear a clank from Mill's belly when she walked because she had ovaries of stainless steel.

Pyosz knew personally that Maar's ovaries were not of metal and she preferred them that way. It was Maar's mind which dazzled her. Well, among other things.

Dodd finally asked the bullseye question: "What does this failure mean to us in our everyday lives?"

Mill looped her hands behind her head and leaned back, a gesture Pyosz had learned meant not that she was relaxing but that she intended to disarm, no doubt learned as a defense strategy growing up in that high-powered manage with a cao on the door. "For the Pea Pods, no change." Not while the reefs hold. "Except for those among us who must sin and haul stone from Uscat. For Koldok, ditto unless you work off Dvareka and must commute by ferry outside the Pea Pods." Mill was studiously not looking in Api's direction. "But we must now consider all ferries without clear morrie vaseo to be open to random leviathan attack. Which particularly affects those living or working on Chwet, Prase, Pabo, Hayashi, Doimoi, and the two mining islands."

"What's to be done about it, then?" said Ulcha, uncharacteristically challenging.

"The Faryaste Guild is meeting right now" said Oby. "It seems certain they will ask for a wage increase and mezi ray protection."

"I can't imagine a rate increase that will attract new workers this week" said Lehen sardonically.

"More to the point, Pax Piscata failure means mezi ray presence isn't guaranteed to work either" said Qala. It was a statement, not a question.

"An alternative we'll have to offer is air commute flights for at least the islands with solid workforces on them" said Mill. "I don't want to be seen as in competition with the ferries, particularly since faryastes have demonstrated courage equal to that of pilots this week. And creating even rudimentary twice-a-day shuttles will mean considerable expansion of the Lofthall."

"But basically you're saying all ferry usage outside the Pea Pods will now be a crapshoot" said Ramea. "I mean, what emma would even ride a ferry under those conditions, much less take her child on one? A piece of our decision to immigrate to Pya involved the safety of ferries here, all of them, not just the Pea Pods."

"Yes, this will affect those thinking about relocating here" acknowledge Mill. "Especially since Skene will likely be playing down the threat there. And the Lofthall's budget request will have to increase, probably hauling rates but also charging fares for inter-island passenger transport." Oby was nodding but Api was scowling.

"However, it needs to be publicly reinforced" said Maar "that the attack on the Hayashi ferry was planned and coordinated in advance. They anticipated our reaction to the Uscat ferry loss and accurately predicted pilot presence would be thin elsewhere. That kind of calculation isn't just failure of Pax Piscata, it's escalation of a species-wide assault." Pyosz noted Maar's voice of confident leadership, and how everyone now looked at her.

"Precisely" said Halling. "I am worried about their relentless probing of our weak spots. I don't think the Saya to Teppe ferry is 100% morrie vaseo."

"I'm worried, too" said Maar. "Thleen, you in particular, I want you to never use that ferry without consulting someone older in our Manage. Even in an emergency." Because they know how to manufacture emergency thought Pyosz with cold at her core.

"Why me?" demanded Thleen.

"You look like me. And they may have figured out we are kin" said Maar, her eyes apologetic. Pyosz thought Me, too, they'd love to get me. And the little ones. She wanted to go pull them away from play upstairs and hold them in her lap.

Halling said "I called Tlunu early this morning and expressed a similar concern, that as a member of our Lofthall family, she may be a particular target. And who knows if they've made her connection to Xaya, whom they took down long ago."

"What did Tlunu say?" asked Mill.

"She, ah, didn't agree with my analysis" said Halling, her lips tight. Yoj added with bitter humor "We've all gone over to the Pya side in their eyes, I guess."

Several people in the room jumped as a scream came from upstairs, so high-pitched it could only be Merrl. Prl started to stand, but Pyosz waved her back: "If it's not just a tantrum, Qux will let us know, wait and see." Koben giggled. In a minute, Qux's worried voice came down the stairwell and the wail behind her was patently genuine. Pyosz and Maar reached the stairs together. A minute later Pyosz called down "S'bemma Briel, we need you to look at this". Prl arrived with Briel as Maar, speaking loudly over Merrl, demanded "And why the lev were you standing on the back of the settee in the first place?"

"It's her ankle" said Pyosz, "either sprained or broken." She was holding Qux, who was being glared at by Maar. Meamea spoke up to say "We was playing like it was a ferry. And the levs attacked, and Merrl climbed on top of the cabin, like that emma did. Only she tried to stand up, and Ehall was being the lev swimming around -- "

"All right, I get the picture" said Maar irritably, releasing Merrl to Briel with reluctance. "It's a stupid game and you're not to play it any more."

"Who needs a privy break?" asked Prl, and there was a sudden rush for that room, Prl behind them to assist. Merrl shrieked no matter what Briel did as examination, but finally Briel said "Not broken. She may have really damaged a ligament, however. Let's take her downstairs to treat."

Merrl was furious with Maar for allowing Briel to lay hands on her, and she now reached piteously for Prl, crying "Abba, abba!" Prl carried her downstairs, Maar beside her. Pyosz assured Qux "You were very good to call for help, nobody blames you" and kissed her before setting her down. She told the children "No more climbing on things. Play shu and crabs instead." That involved crawling on the floor and would equalize the game for Falle.

Merrl now had the seat of honor in Prl's lap, with habibis clucking over her while Maar smashed ice a little too violently on Pyosz's cutting board. Briel and Qala conferred over tinctures to add to a cup of warm honeyed milk. Prl persuaded Merrl to allow her to apply arnica, exclaiming "Look at the adorable dimple in that ankle, just like your emma had when she was a baby!" Briel wrapped the joint for stability before Maar applied her ice bag, which was tied in place with Prl's lavish neck scarf. Merrl lolled backward, her small foot elevated on a satin pillow, while she sipped her milk and regarded them with tear-darkened lashes.

Pyosz wasn't sure if she wanted Merrl to drop off now or not. Merrl would have to be carried the next couple of days and cranky restlessness was sure to ensue -- and early bedtime tonight might be a blessing.

Thleen looked hopefully at Maar and said "I saved your seat." Maar sighed, leaving Merrl to her abba, and resumed her place with Thleen in front of her. Halling said "Now, where were we?"

"Seems to me" said Pank "Folks won't be happy having to wait for a seat on a sinner to get home, much less pay for the wait. This surely will funnel settlement our way, here west. Leavin' east of Dvareka to scythe alone."

"Chwet intends to remain alone" said Ulcha with a half grin. "We don't mean to expand, already my generation is mostly having our children off-island." Frank added "They'll still be Owl People."

"You're right about the geographic pressure on expansion, though" said Oby. "Everyone wanting to build new will be looking at Hamsa now, and what few Pea Pods are left will need to be allocated by lottery to keep down complaints of favoritism." Which drew another scowl from Api, and Pyosz realized Oby was doing a lot of talking like an Ethicist. She also noticed the noise of play from upstairs was markedly diminished with Merrl down here. She smiled tenderly at her youngest, who was in fact dropping off. Pyosz had a sudden sense memory of being small and enveloped in Prl's generous lap: Safest place on Skene.

A few months following their partnering ceremony, Frank and Ulcha had come over one afternoon and, after tea, asked to speak with Prl alone. She led them up to the study for an hour. That night at dinner, Yoj had finally asked what they wanted.

Prl had considered her words before answering. "To consult with me as Genist."

" can't do that" said Pyosz.

"That's what I told them. However, they had some fascinating papers with them. They had copies of each of their emmas' lineages, the public ones which contain only half a genetic picture until Pyosz's generation. It turns out, a couple of intelligent folks on Chwet have been combining those with the green directory to extrapolate, with surprising accuracy, which Contributions were used where for Tu and Pank's generation plus my own." Prl's face showed admiration. "You know, Ulcha's abbas were all from Bosco and are close cousins to Ng's family from Seda. Plus, they had figured out that Pank's eggspark had been in use throughout the Western Tendril, which made sense then since Pank was from Beras on the other side of Skene -- I likewide tried to scatter Contributions in a region different from where the next generation might emma together. But Pank hooked up with Tu, and their lines plus the Bosco folk have a higher than average tendency to develop diabetes. So Ulcha and Frank are concerned."

Justifiably Pyosz had thought, feeling a winkle of worry herself. Diabetes was uncommon on Skene but once it appeared, even stringent diet often failed to control the disease's progression to blindness, amputation, and early death. She had learned at the U there was an animal extract which could theoretically repair the endocrine malfunction of diabetes. However, it was laborious to produce, required a dedicated herd which was not used for anything else, and could not be manufactured in volume enough to create a daily supply for all those who might need it. And Skene did not dispense medication by lottery. Treatment was either equally available or not at all.

Halling had leaned forward to peer at Prl in the porch's moonlight. "Those Owl People, what are they doing with what they're putting together?"

"Using it for their own families, Ulcha said" Prl had replied. "But they now have kin a lot of places in Pya, not just Chwet, and she made it clear they'd share their reverse-engineering with anyone who asked for it. They've done nothing illegal. I actually see it as a community service." From Prl's tone, Pyosz guessed her emma had expected this puzzle-solving would eventually occur.

"So I told them I could not give them any information which I held as a result of having once been Genist. Frank said she understood that. They wanted me to look at their conclusions as a biologist, correct mistakes on that level, and if I had specific reason to recommend they go consult with the Genist, they would do so. It was deft on their part. As family, they know I'll act on their behalf, which includes not making them travel to Skene unless it actually is necessary. Especially not to the Dullard." Prl chuckled.

"So...what did you advise? Can you say?" asked Pyosz.

Prl had smiled at her. "Frank said you'd want to know. I told them I could see no heightened risk, and to clear all other medical issues with Briel. Which of course Frank would do anyhow."

Yoj said speculatively "They'll talk about this. Only to family at first, but it will spread quickly even with just that. Others are going to want a similar consult with you."

"Well, if it's family, I'll be happy to give it" said Prl. "Wherever I have an inkling of doubt or lack of information, I'll send it on to the Genist. And I won't accept barter in any form. That should keep me out of trouble."

Maar said "Pya already feels proprietary about you, that it's a coup to have acquired you as a citizen here. Everyone's going to want your advice, once this gets out."

"I'll talk it over with Nioma. I like being of use but I am retired for a reason. I'll deal with it as it comes" said Prl.

"Talk to Mill or Oby, too" said Yoj, a suggestion Prl hadn't seemed to like as well. "Let them consider implications you might miss. And they'll take it to fussbudget." Pyosz hadn't ever heard this nickname for Api, but from Halling's laugh, it was obviously not new to her, at least. She wondered if Bux had coined it. Sounds like abba she thought, missing Bux.

Now Pyosz sat in her great room looking at Frank and wondering if she and Ulcha were pregnant yet. An Owl Child on Herne she thought with anticipation. I hope it rubs off on my children.

Uben said "We're placing a lot of faith on those reefs which keep the Pea Pods free from levis. If they're as treacherous as you say, won't they be plotting to break in here among us?" Koben looked around at her wide-eyed, and Uben showed regret at having forgotten Koben's presence.

"If we have any indication they're checking out the reefs, we'll reinforce them" said Maar. Abbo looked from her to Mill, as if to signal Maar was speaking above herself, but Mill only nodded at Maar's words.

Yoj stood slowly and gestured to the map of Pya on the dining room wall. "If we had the resource, we could reef in all the western islands from Mti to Trumpinne and east to Dvareka. It would be a vast protected set of interlocking bays with easy transport between islands via sail or motorboat. Skene built ferry line reefs in water as deep starting 400 years ago, we have the technology,"

"But not the self-replenishing volcanic rock to build with" objected Api. "We have very finite amounts of stone here in Pya."

"We could consider sacrificing one or two small islands, gut them downward until we hit an impenetrable layer and use all that material to fence the levs out" said Maar. Api looked scandalized, although Pyosz knew for a fact it was not a radically new idea. Maar said blandly "Some have suggested Junca or Kumme as sources for rock."

"Not Junca" said Uli, "It has so many ponds and small marshes, it's likely to be porous for quite a ways down. I've tinkered with the math, and for that much volume, we'd need something the size of Mbili Kilima."

Pyosz could feel the distress in the room. All of the islands mentioned were uninhabited as yet, but Mbili Kilima, named for its two jagged hills, was beautiful and visible from Dvareka's coastline, an outline which appeared on colored postcards of the western sunset in Pya. Uli, Maar, and Mill had already faced the idea of island sacrifice as a potential means of protecting the rest of western Pya. Maar thought it would take more than one vote cycle to ever get such a measure passed.

Nioma spoke up. "Well, that's one way to address a territorial dispute -- build stronger fences." Pyosz saw Mill try not to bristle, while Prl smiled down at Merrl's sleeping face. Maar said "What does that mean?"

Nioma took a long breath. "Leviathans don't want to share the oceans with us. The only morrie vaseo is that which we've physically taken with great effort. That's been obvious for centuries, but seldom does anyone ask why."

"We know why" said Halling, a tinge of irritation on her voice. "They're hostile to us."

"But why are they hostile? I study animal behavior, there's always a logic to what they do, even if it's not human logic" said Nioma. "I mean, Nan Halling, you were the one who established there was more to their aggression than chasing flight response." Pyosz thought Nioma might have added that last bit just because she was talking to her lover's emma.

Yoj said "Some species are innately hostile. Shu, for example."

"Shu have an instinct for aggression" agreed Nioma. "It's functional for them to be that way because they hunt as well as forage for food, and young shu are predated on by everything around them plus any adult shu who is not their emma."

Yoj looked disbelieving. "Really?" asked Maar in an interested voice.

"But the two other native Skene species we know something about, robins and seabeaks, are biologically related to shu yet are not innately hostile. It's not a given on this planet. And leviathans were not listed as a risk to the original colonists by any prior survey team. They became territorial after exposure to us. Again, I wonder why." Nioma now had the full interest of most of the pilots.

Maar said "I can't imagine it is because of competiton for food, there's simply too much to go around. And if levs were starving, I think we'd see some going belly up."

Pyosz waved away Su's offer of another sip of wine and said "But you've said before, we never see their dead. Is it possible they also prey on each other?"

"No" said Nioma and Maar simultaneously. Maar made the "go ahead" gesture to Nioma, who said "They function like herd or pack animals. Predation doesn't occur in that setting."

Maar added "Plus no pilot has ever reported aggression between them. And we would have, if it occurred."

Abbo surprised Pyosz by saying astutely "And we're still hamstrung by not having been able to study the depths by dropping scientific probes." Oby replied "I think with recent events plus new wording, we ought to be able to get that proposal funded in the next Vote." She glanced at Nioma, and Pyosz now felt certain about Oby's ambitions. She thought Just leave me Saya, feeling relief at the scope of her own ambitions.

Su waved her hand at Nk to pass the wine bottle going around. Pyosz counted the empties on the table and realized they were down to the last two from the case. Even Qala had been sipping steadily. As Su poured, she said "With or without new reefs. I think we should reclaim Pya waters with boats too big to be sunk."

Maar looked instantly irritated. Mill said mildly "I keep hearing that phrase being tossed around, but nobody seems to have dimensions for a craft large enough that massive levs acting in concert wouldn't be able to destroy it." Thleen smirked across the floor at Su, and Pyosz felt Su's shoulders twitch. But life on Trumpinne had matured Su. She replied "Well, another alternative is speed. The boatyard is almost done with their new dhakin-powered engine."

Maar snorted, and Mill didn't look surprised. Nor did Pank. Dodd, however, said "A safe engine, that isn't dumping castoff in the water?" Her eyes were on Yoj, who answered indirectly "Yeah, dhakin is why those first folks flew the stars to come here. I read one account, a little hard to believe, which said the easily available quantity of dhakin on Yereth was less than a teaspoon. They did have the technology to extract it there but it was an enormously polluting process. That isn't the case here, it can be distilled from seawater near the source." Dhakin bonded with sodium and bubbled up from planet depths with volcanic material.

"But it still leaves a residue, right?" argued Dodd. She could have been a gakusha many times over, their Dodd.

"It does" said Prl, smiling apologetically at Su. "Though I hear my colleague at the Polytechnic has almost eliminated the problems of the past."

"She has" declared Su. "And you won't believe the power in an engine run on dhakin. You could fly to Skene in an hour using it." She couldn't seem to help smirking back at Thleen.

Maar muttered "I knew I shouldn't have taken that egghead with me." Half a year before. Maar had been persuaded to carry the Polytechnic's energy applications gakusha on her toxics run. Before dropping the toxics, Maar had hovered 200 yards away and lowered a small remote-controlled collector to retrieve samples of seawater for testing. Before the winch hit the 30 meter mark, Maar had paused and carefully scanned her radar.

"What do you see?" the gakusha had asked nervously.

"Nothing" answered Maar. "Which is what I want. They don't like being in this area, and that's good news for us, because dropping this bucket down is like fishing for crabs. Only the crabs are big as Manages, and the bread is tied to your arm, so you become the real bait."

The gakusha had gone green and made a motion as if she might heave. Maar had said sharply "Don't spew on my instrument panel, use your cap as a basin if you have to." The gakusha had managed to control her stomach, and her later seawater assays revealed rich concentrations of dhakin. Which explains the scarcity of levis thought Pyosz, since it's radioactive.

Now it was Dekkan who came back at Su with "Powerful engines mean nothing against something that's second-guessing you and means to be where you won't expect them to be." The adult timbre of her voice was briefly cracked by fear, and Pyosz saw both Pava and Uli look at Dekkan with a compassion which embarrassed her.

Nioma said "So we managed to get consent and funding to test for new energy sources, and anything else related to industry or agriculture, but testing the waters of Morrie Strati remains a forbidden challenge. I don't think that's merely our old habit of keeping the Lofthall under our thumbs, I think its related to something buried in our attitudes toward leviathans. Territoriality on our part."
Meerl woke up abruptly and, as was her wont, immediately began crying. After a minute she tried to slide off Prl's lap and cried harder when Prl wouldn't let her go, bellowing over Prl's attempts to remind her about her ankle. Maar stood to look out the front door and said to Pyosz 'The rain's stopped, we could let them play in the Saya."

Children were called downstairs and bundled into manteaus and gloves. Merrl was given the tiller position with no rotation out for the day, which she interpreted as a special treat. Koben looked conflicted about not taking her opportunity to be eldest in the Saya, but opted to stay inside when Frahe began unstacking drums. Pyosz said to Prl "I guess the question of leviathan hostility is being shelved again". Prl looked at her appreciatively and said "Not by all of us, my darling."

Pyosz wished she could share with her emma the soul-searching conversation sne and Maar had had that morning, lying warm under the quilts facing each other as daylight set all the wood gleaming. Pya wood, some of it no doubt harvested by members of her family, perhaps even planted by them before she was born. She remembered the brown grain in Maar's eyes as she said "I love you most of all, and Thleen, and our babies, and I mean to never leave you. But as my passion for you all has consumed me, my love for Pya, Skene itself -- it's like another member of my family, the emma I never had, another child. I have to trust her, Pyosz. I have to keep making balance with her and going back out every day to take my place between stars and sea. Can you see that as me not leaving you, but instead choosing you?"

And Pyosz did see it. Coming to Saya had given her the rest of her life, and she owed this island her best. She whispered "I loved you just as fast as I could, but not a second later."

"I really think I'll never leave you" Maar had whispered back. "I really do."

Instead of confiding this intensely magical moment with her emma, Pyosz pulled her into the back door entry and said "I know Thleen won't want Xoan staying over in her room next weekend, but Nioma's grandchildren are all still welcome, we'll find a way to handle the tension. Thleen needs to keep Xoan as a friend, too."

"Let's all talk about it in a couple of days, after Thleen has more time to weather things at school" suggested Prl. She paused, then said "Nioma let me know with little Eoma now being in first grade, this means she could talk with her family about moving away from Talaba. As long as she remains on call for frequent visits home."

"Move in here with us, you mean? Oh, emma, I'd be so happy for you! I can't imagine having to spend several nights a week away from Maar" said Pyosz.

Prl's smile was enigmatic. "I...rather like the come and go. I was single for most of my life, it comes naturally to me."

Pyosz reminded herself to breathe. "Did you tell her no?"

"I told her I had to think about it. Because if we're to live together, we should be partnered. Which is something I had never entertained doing, not even in my fantasies about -- Gerra." Pyosz realized Prl had never been this frank with her. She asked Prl "Does Nioma know that Ndege and Gerra are planning to visit here next summer?"

Prl's dimple appeared. "She does, and I wonder at the timing of it all. Silly sweetheart, she has nothing to worry about, I am hers until we die." Later in bed that night, when Pyosz had recounted this conversatuon to Maar, they had both laughed wickedly at how these two powerful elders were playing heart games with one another.

After the rest of the family was gone that evening, Su told them she was applying to the Polytechnic. "I'd like to get my degree in whatever that gakusha is teaching" she said to Maar, a little defiance in her tone.

Maar grinned. "I'm delighted to hear it. You'll be the first of us with a diploma." Thleen looked swindled but Maar didn't notice. "Let me know when your tuition is due, and let's figure out your living expenses." Su looked relieved at this instant affirmation that Maar's offer still held.

"I have some savings" she said proudly. "And I can work half-time at the boatyard. I may not need more than board and fees."

Pyosz asked "Will you be moving in upstairs, then, at the start of the fall term?"

"Well...I was wondering if I could have that little cabin instead" said Su. "And use the kitchen for studying and maybe visitors sometimes."

"Of course" said Pyosz. But it was Maar who asked the obvious, "What about your relationship with Nalt?"

"Aahh...I think that's not gonna work out" said Su. "She wants me to work full time with her family's business, I don't mind repairing grape crushers or harvesters, but I don't know one vintage from another and it just doesn't interest me." Explaining not only the lure of the Polytechnic but also this impromptu visit home thought Pyosz.

"Come on" she said, "Let's make sure there's fresh sheets on the bed upstairs."

Midweek one of the does went into labor early. Pyosz and Vants nursed her through delivery but two days later, during a severe cold snap, the new kid died. Pyosz began sleeping in the barn every night, forcing Merrl to nap with her each afternoon as her ankle healed, and Thleen often took advantage of Pyosz's absence to show up for late night talks with Maar that resulted in her falling asleep on Pyosz's side of the bed.

Maar's work hours were also extended, and the business of tillage and all else at Owl Manage fell mostly on the abbas. Yoj allowed Qux to carry her breakfast bowl out to the barn to eat while watching Pyosz milk, just so they'd have those few minutes together. Still, the flood of adorable new babies on Saya kept everyone happy to pick up the slack.

Halfway through the kidding, Pyosz couldn't get Molars to rise from the straw one morning. She left her in a stall with Nips, and radioed both Ulcha and Vants. After an exam where Pyosz sat on the floor, stroking Molars' head in her lap, Ulcha shook her head. "It's her heart, her lungs are filling with liquid" she said.

Pyosz shifted so she could look Molars in the eyes. "We won't eat you" she swore. "It won't hurt. Right, it won't hurt?"

Ulcha nodded, opening her pack. "So you tell me if you're ready" Pyosz said, tears starting to stream down her face. Molars' breathing was labored. She closed her eyes and lay her cheek against Pyosz's thigh.

Afterward, Vants sent her into the Manage and Pyosz never asked what she did with Molars' body. Pyosz dropped to the floor at Qala's knee by the hearth and cried her eyes out, sending Merrl into such distress that Yoj carried her to the point for distraction. "And Boulder's muzzle is completely white now!" wailed Pyosz. "At least Molars didn't hate us all to the very end."

'You are the capriste they deserve" murmured Qala. Which only made Pyosz wish Maar was there more intensely.

Rice planting began, rain turned all exposed soil to bogs, and Frank's pregnancy began showing. Maar continued nursing Merrl at noon if she came home for lunch and at night as Merrl fell asleep. She felt strongly that emma's milk was one of the most valuable things she could give her child. She told Pyosz she liked what she thought of as the flow of nutrients through her.

But right before eel migration began, as she went to bed with Myosz, Maar folded the sheet hem over her quilt edge and said "Are we stopping with two -- well, three altogether -- or going on?"

Pyosz raised her eyebrows behind the book and slowly closed it. "I guess it's coming up on that time, huh. Well...I want to do it again. Carry and birth, I mean. If you feel up to it."

"I hope I'm not as scared about it this time, but fact is, I may be even more. It's playing with mortality" said Maar, rolling to face Puosz. "Still...yes, I'm up to it. And I want to do it again, too. For me."

They stared at each other, breathing deeply. Finally Maar said "Technically it's your turn -- "

"Yes, but if you need to go again because of your job demands down the road, we could stagger it, I could bear to wait" said Pyosz.

"No, I was going to say, Mill isn't going to retire for at least ten years, and I'd like to nurse Merrl another half year" said Maar. "So if you want to take your turn now -- "

"I do" blurted Pyosz. "Just thinking about it has me a little feverish. Shall we talk to the abbas? See if they are slowing down in a way we haven't noticed?"

"Yes, and Thleen again" said Maar. "Our next cycle is due in what, a month?"

"Let's practice now" said Pyosz, tossing her book on the floor.

When they broached the topic two evenings later, after dinner, Thleen turned to Qux and said "They want to make us another sibu. A new baby. Sounds good to me, how about you?"

Qux eyed Merrl and said "Babies cry alla time. Would she sleep in your room?"

Thleen and Pyosz said "No" in the same breath, with different emphasis. Maar said "Let's wait until she's old enough to tell us what she wants, years down the road."

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.