Thursday, October 7, 2010


(M42, the Orion Nebula)

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 Nicholas Christopher

The girl on the rooftop stares out
over the city and grips a cold revolver.
Laundry flaps around her in the hot night.
Each streetlight haloes a sinister act.
People are trapped in their beds, dreaming of
the A-bomb and hatching get-rich-quick schemes.
Pickpockets and grifters prowl the streets.
Hit-men stalk informers and crooked cops hide in churches.
Are there no more picket fences and tea parties
in America? Does no one have a birthday anymore?
Even the ballgames are fixed, and the quiz shows.
Airplanes full of widows circle the skyline.
Young couples elope in stolen cars.
All the prostitutes were wronged terribly in childhood.
They wear polka dot skirts, black gloves, and trenchcoats.
Men strut around in boxy suits, fedoras, and palm-tree ties.
They jam into nightclubs or brawl in hotel rooms
while saxophone music drowns out their cries.
The girl in the shadows drops the revolver
and pushes through the laundry to the edge of the roof.
Her eyes are glassy, her hair blows wild.
She looks down at her lover sprawled on the sidewalk
and she screams.
A crowd gathers in a pool of neon.
It starts to rain.


Tuesday, October 5, 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)


Thleen was standing on the Koldok wharf as the ferry approached, her face tragic. But not broken thought Pyosz, scrabbling for hope. And once they were in range, Thleen called out "It's not Maar."

"Where is Maar?"

"Out there." Thleen bent to take Ngus who repeated "Mar, Mar, Mar!" happily. They loped toward the Lofthall, Lawa and Pyosz running after her.

Yoj and Halling were inside the doorway, weeping on each other's shoulders. Uli and Udek were nearby, looking distraught, and Pyosz had a second of distraction from fearing for Maar to think of Dekkan. Jiips appeared to be running both radios. Mill was pounding on a wall, moaning, and Oby was slumped over a desk.

No sign of Qala or the other children. Prl appeared from the hall and came to wrap her in a hug, whispering "It's Abbo. She's dead. So is another pilot, although we don't know yet who it is, except not Maar -- she's rescued one from the levis, is on the radio looking for others."

The door opened again, and in came Api, Ollow, Ngall, and Ehuy carrying Vlapi. Pyosz could tell by their faces they didn't know the worst. She started for them, but Oby had looked up and cried out "Emma! Emma, my baby is dead!"

Prl whispered to Pyosz "This is chaos, it shouldn't be running the Lofthall." But who could interrupt Mill and Oby? Prl went to murmur with her emmas, and after a minute, Halling blew her nose on her scarf, dropped it on the floor, and moved her scooter next to Jiips. She took one of the radios and Pyosz heard her say "Sinner Maar, please assign quadrants to the other pilots reaching your position."

There was a rumble outside, and Uli pulled her emma to her feet so they could rush to the jichang. Pyosz followed, discovering Qala, Merrl and Qux outside with Briel and a stretcher crew from the hospital. A figure in a harness was being lowered, and Uli reached it at the same time as Briel. The look she turned to give Udek told Pyosz it was Dekkan.

Dekkan motionless, with one arm bent at an impossible angle, a bloodied chest, a horrific wound to her head and both legs of her kalsongers scorched away beneath the knees. Briel got her safely on the stretcher and covered before they sprinted away with her down the street, Uli at their side. Udek followed more slowly, and Pyosz thought about going with them, but she couldn't tear herself away from the Lofthall yet. Merrl had crawled into her arms, and Qux was holding her hand tightly.

Qala went to the landing sinner and opened the hatch from the outside. It was Juny who slid out, her cap missing, her eyes wild. "I need to get back but I have to report in first, Maar needs us." She thundered past Pyosz and Qala rejoined them.

"What happened, abba?" Pyosz said urgently.

Qala glanced at Qux's drawn face. "I only have pieces. Something went wrong with the afternoon sinning -- they had to cancel this morning's, you know. It must have been a lev attack, what else? Maar somehow didn't get pulled in, it was Abbo went under, and then they were trying to hook her harness, she was in the water, and -- I think more levs leaped, knocked at least two other craft from the air. Dekkan was one, somehow they got her back out of the chop. But the other pilot -- I don't know who it is, either one of the sinners or the lighter support."

"Not emma?" asked Qux.

"Not emma" said Pyosz vehemently, bending to swing Qux to her other hip with an exhalation of effort. "Emma is out there trying to save her pilots."

"Abbo?" asked Merrl, her face tear-stained.

"Abbo and another" said Qala, taking Merrl back from Pyosz. "Let's go inside now, see what's coming over the radio."

Mill, Oby, Api, Ollow and Ngall had gone into Mill's office where the door was not quite shut, but grief was no longer dominating the sounds of the Lofthall. Juny left again. Jiips was issuing a brief public broadcast about Dekkan's safe arrival in Koldok, which they hoped would any moment reach Licoro out in the sugar fields.

Neoma had arrived and was holding Ngus, who was playing cheerfully with her beads. Prl said "I used the radio in the bunk area and called Vants, she's taking the afternoon milking. She's calling Herne in case they haven't heard."

"Emma, are they certain about Abbo?"

Prl glanced at Qux before answering "Yes. Yoj said there was -- a visual. Plus the radio was on."

And Mill heard it? Maar witnessed it? Oh no, no, no. Pyosz tried to hand Qux to Prl, but Qux clung to her. She said, "Darling first-born, I want to go sit next to abba and listen to the radio, why don't you go play outside?"

"No, I go with you." Pyosz squeezed her as they settled in a chair. Pyosz was sure Halling must be using her clear, cool authority to help Maar coordinate her efforts. At the moment, as second in command, Maar was effectively running the Lofthall but everyone was out there over the deeps. She heard Halling say "40 meters, reminder, 40 meters is the current safe zone unless you are in active diversion or rescue dive."

Halling said aside to Jiips "How did Maar arrive at that number, just add 5 on to the height reached by the one who got Fohol?"

Fohol? Pyosz clamped her mouth tightly shut against the sudden urge to be sick.

"Likely" said Jiips. "Most of what's clustered below are the giants, but it was a young adult who downed Dekkan."

"Has anybody besides Dekkan been able to use a mezi ray?"

Jiips looked at Halling with a moment of shared fury. "Maar. She's firing at anything she can, all the babies and juvies have been taken deep. Her ray charge keeps depleting and she has to rejuice from her own batteries. We sent out all the rest we have with the second wave, but Maar hasn't given an order for general attack, she's just doing it herself. Do you want to..."

"No, they know the general criteria and let's keep them from creating crossfire. Maar knows what she's doing." Halling's tone expressed a confidence Pyosz didn't share. She knew without having talked to Maar that she was bent on revenge, in one of her rare red hazes where injustice could override her reasoning.

Ngall emerged from the office at that moment and asked Halling "Abba, is there any new -- they want to know if -- "

Halling held up a finger and flicked the mic button. "Sinner Maar, requesting update on sign of survivors." Qux's arm around Pyosz's neck went tense with any utterance of Maar's name. Pyosz looked around -- Merrl and Ngus had gone outside with Ehall, Vlapi, and Neoma. Prl, Qala, Lawa and Yoj were in deep conferral, and Pyosz realized Thleen was now right behind her. And Ziri. All of school was out, then.

Halling had left the mic open, and suddenly there was Maar's strong voice washing over them. "All right, everyone assigned a southern or western quadrant, shift over 200 meters and cover that new grid in the same pattern. Everyone to the north or east, shift only 50 yards. Stay out of each other's way, you are all on visual contact primary."

Jiips pointed to the map in front of them. "She's following the current, in hopes something bobs back up."

"Has it?" asked Pyosz quietly. Halling regarded her bleakly and shook her head. Jiips said "It would be another 11 hours or so before debris would maybe wash up on the far side of Nec, maybe Tetama. If it bypasses the volcano zone."

Halling worded a message and said "Will you send that to the foresters and other work crews on those two islands? Any flotsam at all would mean a great deal, but I don't want beachcombers for the macabre out there."

"I know who to ask" said Jiips, slipping her headphones back on. Maar suddenly shouted "Stay clear around me in three, two, one!" They heard a staticky sound in two bursts, then Maar said "I couldn't see from the flash in here, did I get it or did the shitter dive?"

Kuus's voice said "You connected with the blue spot and it was thrashing before it went under." A loud cheer from several throats came over the air. Qux's liquid eyes were huge as she looked at Pyosz, her fist clenched around Pyosz's neck. Before Pyosz could think of what to say, Thleen leaned to Qux's ear and murmured "Maar just killed a lev, maybe the one who ate S'bemma Abbo." The satisfaction in her voice made Qux grin uncertainly.

Halling said into the mic "Sinner Maar, your family, all of Saya is here listening."

After a couple of seconds, Maar said something which was overridden by another transmission. Pyosz made out "love" and "maybe metal." Maar said sharply "Where again, Kuus?"

Kuus read some numbers and Halling's long twisted forefinger jabbed at it on the map as she exchanged a look with Jiips. "Maar, that's within a main current" Jiips said. In a whisper to Halling, she said "We need someone who can read the trajectory better, I know Uli wants to be with Dekkan but -- "

Halling looked around at Pyosz. "Go get Uli. Unless Dekkan is not making it." Thleen took Qux from her and Pyosz broke into a run, suddenly wild to move her body.

Dekkan was in surgery for a fractured skull and a punctured lung, and Uli was standing between her emmas, holding Ulodd. Nevertheless, she handed the baby to Qoj who said "I'll come as soon as there's any word at all. She'd want you to help." As they jogged back, Uli said "The best they can hope for is a body, or part of one."

"That would be a gift" said Pyosz. In the Lofthall, Mill and Oby were back in the main office at the maps table. Mill pulled Uli beside her and said "Abbo was the best swimmer on Pya, what if she went under and struck out into the main stream, used its velocity to evade them?" Pyosz felt sick to her stomach again.

The "glint of metal" turned out to be an old, slick piece of wood. Dodd arrived and sat or stood in constant contact with Mill, and after a while, it was obvious Mill was leaning on Dodd in a physical sense. Neoma and Lawa took home all the children except Thleen. An hour later, when Mill laid her head on the map and began crying again, Yoj suggested Prl take Thleen home as well. Ziri and Thont had already been sent home, and Herne Island had come and gone.

"No, abba, not until siba -- " began Thleen. Pyosz took her face in her hands and said "I'm staying. I'll make sure she gets back okay. Nobody's taking any risks right now, and she will need us much worse later. I promise I'll call."

Yoj brought in a tray and fed Halling herself. Api was lying down in Mill's office, and Ngall did her best to get them all to take something besides tea, to no avail. Uli got a call from Qoj who said the lung was repaired and Dekkan's signs were all strong, she'd check back when Mruch finished the second surgery. Pyosz brought a tray for Uli and Dodd, a welcome diversion because Uli had exhausted currents to follow.

It was long dark when Briel called to say Dekkan was waking up from surgery and all looked well. Dodd told Uli she could leave, ignoring the desperate look Mill gave her, and Uli hurried out.

Halling had called in over half the search craft, citing loss of charge and the danger of crew exhaustion. Maar's voice was now hoarse but she kept repeating grids with Juny and Kuus. Pyosz finally put her hand in Halling's arm and said "She won't stop on her own. She can't."

"No" said Mill from across the room, "No, if anybody can find them it will be Maar." She rose from her seat, her fists clenched.

"If anybody could find them -- " began Yoj, her voice breaking so that she was unable to continue.

"No, I won't give up on her, she needs me, I'm her aggie!" wailed Mill.

"Abba" Pyosz said softly. "Call her in. She's not okay out there any more."

Halling looked utterly spent. She exchanged a glance with Yoj before saying to Jiips "Which of the pilots who've come in already are likely to be freshest? Someone needs to fly the Arta Island folks home."

Jiips stood and walked back to the canteen, returning in a couple of minutes with a silent kelp sinner. Yoj said "I should go with them, but I'm worried about you."

Halling said "Someone needs to be here with Jiips, it'll be an all-nighter, we'll have to spell each other. I'll sleep on the cot, I promise."

Dodd was easing Mill to her feet. Ngall said "I'll help habibi to the sinner" and went for Api. Mill came to hug Halling, plucking at her collar, and said "Call me when you know anything. Call me anyhow."

"I will. We'll get through this, Sheng Zhang" Halling said, cupping Mill's chin in her hand. Dodd said to Pyosz "Tell Briel where I am, ask if she could maybe come with something to help them sleep."

Pyosz nodded. Once the office had cleared, Halling picked up the mic. "Maar, you are recalled to the Lofthall."

"It's not time to throw in the towel yet, Halling, I have another hour of floodlight juice -- "

"Sinner Maar, I am speaking as the Sheng Zhang. And Abbo's grieving abba. You and your pilots must rest. You are to return to the Lofthall immediately for meeting with me, do you register?"

Several seconds passed. Juny and Kuus said in near unison "Got that, Sheng Zhang." Halling rubbed the joint of one thumb with her other thumb, waiting. Finally Maar's voice, low and flat, said "On my way."

Halling said to Pyosz "Her adrenaline may give out before she gets here, but she's impeccably trained. You should meet her outside, in a pool of light where she can see you."

"Thank you" whispered Pyosz. She went to another desk to radio Briel, then called home. "Qala, Maar is on her way back, I'll get her home as soon as I can, but Halling is staying here. I need to look after Maar, should I ask emma or Thleen to come spend the night with Halling?"

"I'll do it" said Qala. "Don't argue, we know how to sit vigil together. See you soon."

Pyosz kissed the top of Halling's head and whispered "Qala's on her way" before walking out the back door. She had to pass Abbo's bunk corner on the way, and for the first time, she felt the actual loss of her cousin personally, instead of everyone else's shock. And Fohol. She leaned against the lamppost and let herself weep as Juny, then Kuus landed slowly. They came to stand with their arms around her and each other, giving themselves up to what it meant to see the two empty spots on the jichang.

They pulled Maar into their midst when she arrived, and she pounded on Pyosz's back, throwing back her head to wail to the stars. "It's too much!" she choked out. "It's too much to ask of us!" Pyosz agreed, but knew facing too much was something Skeners were raised to do.

They had some raw relief by the time they trudged inside, Maar looking away from the area where she had lived so many years in intimacy with Abbo. Halling stood with obvious pain as they entered the office and gave them the pilot's salute, before coming to hug them each with whispered thanks. The other pilots was gotten up and filed into the office, claiming chairs once the sinners were seated. Pyosz turned her chair sideways so she could put both legs as well as her arms around Maar. A canteen worker carried in a loaded tray, and Maar let Pyosz feed her stew.

Qala arrived and came to kiss each of Maar's cheeks, saying "Those are from Thleen and your children, who are sleeping all together in Thleen's room tonight." She then went to repeat the cheek-kissing for Kuus and Juny, whispering "Carynn bye." Halling had accepted stew for herself, which Pyosz was glad to see. They ate in silence. Slowly Maar's shoulders stopped being hunched toward her ears, though a deep furrow remained in her brow. Pyosz gave them the update about Dekkan.

Halling moved on to gingerbread which she dipped into milky tea. Maar took her mug between her hands and simply held it. Pyosz could still feel the chill on Maar's skin. After one sip, Maar said wearily "Abba...I mean, Sheng Zhang."

"Talk to me as your abba for now" said Halling gently. Juny glanced at Kuus.

"What do you need to hear from me? From us?" asked Maar.

Halling said "Let's begin with what you need to tell. What should come out of you before you try to sleep. And, if you want, what you might not want to say to Mill."

There was a small rustle in the room.

Maar said "I don't know...Jiips, was the Sheng Zhang on the radio for all of it?"

Jiips nodded, her lips tight. "We were looking over the schedule and had the mic on speaker between us."

Maar looked resigned. "I can't figure how to word the report so it -- I don't want Abbo to be maligned."

"I'll handle the wording" said Halling. Maar met her eyes, then nodded.

"Short version is, she didn't release. Dekkan spotted the lev on radar before I did but I saw it, too, as -- Anyhow, I ordered release and Juny complied, but then Abbo began arguing that it was the only sin we could make today and we're already behind..." Maar closed her eyes briefly. "I yelled at her and then, I'm so sorry, Halling, I released my own grapple. I saw that Fohol had, too, so I thought the abrupt jerk of all that weight would be good for Abbo, remind her why we have a leader and a process to follow. Only..."

Maar handed her mug to Pyosz and rubbed her temples. "Only she still didn't release. I heard her say something like 'You don't scare me, you sh -- ', well, she called me a name, and then Fohol was yelling at her to release too, but she was at 20 meters by that time and that big one leaped from inside the levvin' net, grabbing Abbo's landing strut on the right, and suddenly the whole thing was plummeting down. She screamed, I remember that, and she got out right before it hit. Her chute didn't open and she hit the water hard, but she was afloat and there was enough to hook her. Her mic was out but she was looking up at me and I could tell she was yelling."

For help, thought Pyosz.

"And that giant one was right beside her, not moving, as the net sank and took her sinner down with it. At first I thought maybe it was injured, you know? Fohol was at the best approach angle so I told her to do the hook and I began shifting so I could follow up in case the missed, and Dekkan was at the side with the mezi, but she was staying at 35 meters because all of a sudden, abba, the water was thick with them, rising up as far as I could see." Maar looked at Halling with a mix of misery and terror. "I told Dekkan if she had the shot to take it, and then -- it all happened so fast -- that giant one leaped at an angle right at Fohol as she came in, it just plucked her from the air, seemed like. And they -- Fohol's sinner and the lev, they landed right on top of Abbo. I never heard a sound from Fohol, did you, Juny?"

Juny shook her head, her eyes closed.

"The sinner just vanished with the lev on top of it, and nothing came back up, not even bubbles." Maar's voice was disbelieving. "And at that same moment, another lev spiraled up past 35, abba, and grabbed Dekkan's lighter. I heard her yell 'Ejecting' and she made it out but landed bad, and a tip of her own wing landed across her -- her clothes caught on fire even as she was floating in water. But Juny was at the perfect angle, and she made it look easy, she snagged Dekkan right out of there, streaking away with those shitters snapping at her like crabs, I saw at least four of them try for Dekkan swinging out behind her before Juny got out of range."

Everyone had turned to look at Juny, who had pulled off the only rescue. Kuus put her arm over Juny's shoulders.

"Jiips said help was on its way, but then it was just me there for however long it was" said Maar. A few minutes earlier, a crew of five sinning, and suddenly Maar was alone. "I stayed where I could see the spot where they'd gone down, and I climbed to 40 meters, I had my hook ready, but I also -- I began firing the mezi. And it was like they didn't care, they were trying so hard to get me. They kept trying until the others arrived, and I went up to 45, just to be sure, but they weren't clearing 40."

Maar looked down at her hands. "I'd done nothing, abba, I hadn't been able to save either of them, and they were utterly gone. So, I did what I could."

"How many did you get?" asked Halling.

"Counting that last one, five" said Maar.

"I got two after I was there" said Kuus.

"One for me" said Juny. That was all the mezi rays available, the rest had gone down with sinners.

"Eight. All adults?" asked Halling.

"No" said Maar without elucidation.

"But they still kept leaping?"

"Only adults in view after I flew to the margin and killed a baby" said Maar. Her voice was thick.

The following silence was prolonged. Halling broke it by saying "Well, I don't know what I would have done differently that any of you, knowing what we did going in. We know more now and will have to rethink things after we've rested and talked. The orders have already gone in for two more sinners and a lighter, the factory here says it will be at least 10 days to fill the request. In the meantime, we're seriously short-handed and in mourning. So go sleep -- not talk, sleep. We'll all have a chance to converse in the morning, when the Sheng Zhang returns. I'm proud of you, proud to be part of this extraordinary sibaste. None better."

The pilots all came to her for handshakes and hugs before shuffling to the bunks. Maar said "Are you calling Skene now?"

"Yes. Pya's going on high alert and so should they. But you go home" said Halling. "No sinning in the morning."

Maar stumbled on a ladder rung down to the ferry and Pyosz pushed in behind her. At the Manage, Prl, Neoma, Su and Lawa were still up. Maar hugged them but begged off even tea. She allowed Pyosz to sluice her off in the tub and, once wrapped in robes, they cracked the door to Thleen's room.

Ngus was tucked into Thleen's side, both of them sleeping open-mouthed, Ngus's hair a pastel version of Thleen's. Merrl and Qux, on the trundle, were at an acute angle though parallel, Qux's forehead off the side of the bed. Pyosz went to trying moving them without waking them, while Maar kissed Thleen and Ngus gently.

Thleen woke up instantly, grabbing Maar in a hug. She whispered "Wake me up for breakfast with you, okay?"

"I need to go eat with my sibaste in the morning" said Maar.

"Then take me with you, please."

Maar nodded and said "Off to school afterward."

When she lay down with Pyosz, she said "I caused this. I shouldn't have released when I did."

Pyosz said "If you hadn't, you'd be dead now, too, what good would that have done? You can't take this on, Maar."

But Maar didn't answer. After a few minutes, Pyosz could tell she was asleep. She hoped it would last all night as she began silently reciting her goats' names, to keep from thinking about Abbo and Fohol.

Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.



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


Sunday, October 3, 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 could tell Halling wanted Yoj to search through the rest of the box, wanted to reach out and do it for her, but Yoj was in slow-motion archivist bliss. She lowered her eyes to the table of columns and said “I would guess this first column is species names.” Rather than showing them to the gakushas breathing down her neck, she leaned toward Neoma and said “Any of these words register with you?”

Prl’s cheeks were bright pink with excitement. Neoma scanned carefully and said “That word – I think that’s hnisa.”

“So it is” agreed Yoj. “And this is beras, rice. Some are in one of the ancient languages they used for science, but I imagine we’ll be able to decipher them all with time and context.”

“I can’t tell you what a treasure this is” said Neoma, her breath a little ragged. “The botanists and biologists – “

“I’ll get everyone copies as soon as I can” said Yoj. “Looks like this handwritten column is dates, of introduction, I’d guess, and the wide column next also in handwriting, more than one ink, would be maybe notes about how the process was going?” Neoma nodded at her.

“But this printed column between them, is that a secondary species name, perhaps?” mused Yoj. “It’s words, not numerals.”

Prl, practically in Neoma’s lap, pointed to one repeated word in the mystery column and said “That means egg, I’ve seen it in Genist records.”

“Ah” said Neoma, “It’s the form the organism was in when introduced – ovum, seeds, larvae and the like.”

Yoj nodded. She lifted the sheets carefully one by one, seeing similar continuation until the last page, where she stopped and said “It’s a drawing of Hore. A schematic with numbers all over it.” Now it was Dodd who leaned over and said “Except the water around it is different, as if the bays are enclosed somehow, instead of open like they are now.”

Mill spoke up. “When we built the ferry from Uscat to Hore, we discovered pilings underwater at one point that looked human made, remember that, Oby? But nobody could guess what they had been used for, they were more like fence posts than anchoring structures.”

“If they were releasing organisms into the seas, they’d need nurseries to see what survived, give them a head start” said Neoma. “I would guess those numbers on the map correspond to species on the list, where each new life was implanted.”

Yoj raised her eyes to again look across at Pyosz. “Which means Hore is ground zero for the introduction of non-Skene biology to Skene.” Pyosz felt another shiver down her backbone. She thought No wonder they named it sorrow.

Lehen slipped out the front door to go check on the children, and the draft or noise awakened Ngus from her nap. The baby began calling “Poj!” and Frahe, closest, picked her up but she kept looking around for her emmas. Pyosz looked at Maar pleadingly. Maar threaded her way through family. As she closed in, Ngus gave a glad cry, calling “Marrrr!” with a trill and holding out chubby fists. When Maar returned to Pyosz’s side, Ngus slid into her lap with a small grunt and tugged at her shati. Pyosz nursed her while listening to Yoj and Neoma identify words from the inventory. Ngus was grinning past Pyosz’s breast up at Thleen, making funny faces at her.

Finally Halling said “Go on, Yoj, you could parse this list for days.” She reached out and nudged the box. Everyone looked alert again.

Yoj set the list on the parchment and let Dekkan take another photo before lifting out the next item, clearly a book of some sort. Pyosz cupped her hand against Ngus’s head to lean forward, peering into the box: Photos. There were photos underneath. And the glint of metal. She reminded herself to breathe.

Yoj eased open the book’s cover with an audible crack and angled a peek to the first page. She held it up for the gakushas to see and they said together “Journal”.

“Yep” said Yoj, shifting her weight in excitement. “The Journal of Y-liz-a-bath Goldfarb, with her titles and two dates, then their word for Skene. But she’s circled it in ink and then written all around it, inside the cover, too, every margin – she ran out of paper, she had to use every scrap of space.” She turned to the back and verified the volume was crammed full of increasingly small writing.

Her look of joy diminished. “Oh, how to ration her own means of telling, when she began to realize there was no telling how long it might have to last, or if anyone would ever read it. I’m not sure where the end will be in here.”

“Nobody has read it until now” said Thleen, an obvious statement and yet it sent a swirl of emotion through the room.

“This will take a while” said Yoj, and with obvious reluctance, she shut the journal again and lay it reverently beside the list. Dekkan took another photo and Pyosz wished she were beside Yoj now, instead of across the table. Halling and Dodd jostled for line of sight as Yoj picked up the first photograph in the box.

“That’s beside Pertama Poke!” said Dodd. “With different trees, and no doors on the cavern yet – “

Mill was pushing her way in beside the gakushas. She said loudly “It must be right after they landed, see, the huts are stacked but not assembled yet, and count them, that’s the same number as the landing party!”

It was faded, the colors no longer true, but Pyosz got a glimpse of two rows of people looking at her across an unimaginable gulf as Yoj turned over the photo and read the back, a list of names. She reversed it when she got to Elizabeth, holding the image for close-up scrutiny through her lenses to see the face of this, Skene’s first archivist.

After a minute, she handed it to Dodd and said “You hold these, nobody but you. Everyone else can line up behind you and have a look over your shoulder.”

The room went into motion, elders waved ahead in line, as the family queued to follow Yoj’s instructions. Except Pyosz didn’t budge, and Maar stayed with her. After Yoj examined the second photo, she held it up for the two across the table to see while she read the caption. Despite her tremor, Dodd’s good light gave them a clear view, another shot of ancient Dvareka and a landed craft that froze Maar in fascination.

There were only six photos, and the next four were from the original planet. It was the fifth one which made even Yoj give a small gasp. She studied it for several minutes before Pyosz got a peek: A family group of people as pale as Maar and Ngus, a composed and clear shot. The second name Yoj read – “Rooth Goldfarb” – she stopped and added “She was aggie to Pearl and Y-liz-a-bath, it says”. Beside her was Pearl and another sib, in front were Elizabeth and her partner. A partner she must have left behind and never saw again.

“Wait” said Pyosz, begging Yoj not to turn it over again.

“Your eyes” breathed Maar, “They all have your eyes.”

“And Ngus’s” added Pyosz. Not the shape or size, but that clear blue. Somewhere across the galaxy were people who looked like her. She didn’t realize how she was squeezing Ngus until the baby protested.

She managed to focus elsewhere and saw that Prl’s cheeks were wet with tears. She heard Neoma whisper “I know how much you miss her” and turned to look at Halling’s hungry face as she took in the family photo.

The few items of jewelry were interesting for the patterns on them, which were unfamiliar and yet made sense to Pyosz. Maar studied the silver closely. They were passed around for everyone to have a look, but Pyosz handed Ngus to Qala and pressed close to Halling for another look at the photo of Pearl’s family, before she ever went off into the stars, perhaps hoping to find her emma’s siba and instead becoming lost herself. She wanted Yoj to go home with her now and sit at her desk, translating that journal while Pyosz wrote down every word that Yoj teased from murky translation.

Instead, they gathered around the piano so Briel could play and Dodd could fiddle, the first music their first grandchild would ever hear. Merrl came back from the meadow weeping, saying the older children refused to play with her, and Maar went to sort it out. At dinner, they all gathered in the main room, Uli and Qoj in front with the baby, and Dekkan took a family photo which required the wide angle lens to fit them all in.

On their way home, Pyosz stopped at the Lofthall to have the box and its contents locked again in the safe. Yoj had promised to get copies made of everything in the morning, as soon as Naki’s was open. Pyosz wanted an enlargement of the family photo to hang in her bedroom, above her headboard, between the photo of Maar holding a newborn Thleen and the picture of her on Prl’s arms that Maar loved so much.

Yoj came home for lunch and said she had canceled her afternoon session, fulfilling Pyosz’s hope that she would start work on translation right away. Pyosz put Ngus down for a nap on a floor pallet and sat beside Yoj at the desk where they whispered together, Pyosz having no real expertise but still helped Yoj to talk over ideas aloud. When Ngus woke up, Qala took her to the greenhouse and Pyosz lost track of time until Neoma joined them, having sped to Saya right after work.

Twenty minutes later Prl came in the study, saying “Halling asks that you come downstairs and report, and Thleen is making some casserole of her own invention for dinner.” They carried copies and notes to the dining table, and Pyosz let Yoj go over the one page she had unraveled while she went to help make a salad.

Pyosz watched Thleen preparing garlic for the casserole using Lawa's method, which was to smack each clove on the cutting block with the ball of her thumb, then rub the smashed clove between her palms swiftly to remove the skin. Thleen didn't have much hard muscle in her hands yet, but it was still working. Pyosz thought If she becomes a woman carrying forth what Qala and Lawa have taught her, she'll be happy all her days and so will those around her. One part of her mind added You made this happen, and she felt her eyes prick with tears. Nursing hormones she told herself, and looked around to make sure Ngus hadn't crawled near the aga.

Yoj decided to take the rest of the week off work, which meant a stream of gakushas visiting Saya and Pyosz not setting foot in her studio. Even so, by the following Shmonah she had very little progress to report. “Between her use of vernacular and the way she went back to crib space, it will take me months to have a coherent story to share” she said, with more relish than apology.

Neoma, on the other hand, had most of the species names translated. “I’ve not yet reconstructed the pattern they used to make over Skene in the image of their home planet, but I can say that there are only two species of sea life, animal or vegetation, which we currently have in our ecosystem which are native to Skene.”

“Leviathans and what?” asked Mill.

“The microorganisms which are found in the red exudates of morrie strati” said Neoma. “Which means whatever was here before, whatever leviathans ate and existed among, has vanished. It must be a catastrophic change for them.”

Abbo snorted and Maar looked irritated. Prl said “We don’t know how long they live, or the extent of their sentience, but it’s entirely possible there are leviathans out there who remember before we arrived. And hold us directly responsible for loss of their world.”

Maar looked like she was about to say something biting, but Oby mused “No wonder they are so congregated around Hore, in particular.”

“It suggests we revisit the question of territoriality” said Neoma. Yoj said diplomatically “Not until the journal’s contents are clear to us, we need full information to make decisions.”

Pyosz was glad that an outright conflict had been avoided when half an hour later, Prl stood and waggled her hand for attention before announcing she had asked Neoma to partner with her and Neoma had accepted. Conversation was then split between plans for the partnering ceremony, stories about Ulodd’s first week of life and, once the table was cleared, going over copies of the Hore photographs, as they were being called.

The following week, Pyosz began working on two final tiles for the lineage in glazed clay she had been assembling. Though technically Y-liz-a-bath was not once of her ancestors, she felt integral to Pyosz, someone to be honored as well as her emma Rooth. Once this were done to her satisfaction and fired, it took Pyosz all of that Sju, with Thleen and Lawa, to arrange them properly on the great room wall. Maar took the rest of the family to visit Chwet with Ulcha, Frank and Chank.

On Shmonah, with everyone admiring the new art, Merrl managed to get her small fingers under the lip of the tile representing her and jerked at it, breaking it in half. Maar blew up at her, shocking Merrl into horrified silence, and Pyosz intervened, saying “I can redo it, honey, it won’t be that hard.” Merrl allowed herself to cry then, and Maar waved her off to Prl, saying “You’re in first grade, now, you need to start learning self-control.” Pyosz wondered what she might not have heard about at the Lofthall that week.

That night after the visitors were gone, Pyosz watched as she always loved to do when Halling segmented an orange for her great-grandchildren. Merrl, squirmy impatient on her lap, would on her own bite through the skin and then cry in outrage at the bitterness. But Halling forced her tangled, arthritic joints to carefully separate all pith from membrane, feeding crescents to the smacking child one by one. Pyosz knew when Halling was growing up, oranges had been a once-a-month treat, a sweet acidic globe whose smell on the fingers was savored for hours. She wanted to tell Merrl "Slow down and take this in", and then realized she meant much more than the fruit itself.

The year wore on, Prl and Neoma partnering in an extravagant ceremony where at the dance afterward, Thleen took turns sweeping Thont, Ziri, and Xoan around the floor with serene joy. Thava came to visit and was persuaded by Pava and Thont to move back to Pya, temporarily living with Vants until a Manage could be built for her on Teppe. Thont returned to residence with her mother and sibu, but Pava stayed in Vants’ Manage, claiming she was needed to care for Moasi.

Adon and Lark had their baby whom they named Adark. Jinya and Mlis’s new child was named Aza, and Raki bonded even more with Qux about the turmoil new babies cause in formerly agreeable households. Pyosz sometimes found Yoj at her desk crying quietly over some paragraph she had translated from the Hore journal. She once asked Yoj if she had located where Y-liz-a-bath had ended her account, wanting to know if there were final words from the dying woman.

“I think I can guess where she ran out of room, but I haven’t wanted to look at it yet” said Yoj. “One advantage of age, I’m willing to wait for things to unfold as they mean to.”

Ngus became a crawler who could cover territory at a startling clip but she showed no interest in standing and trying to walk, despite Maar’s earnest coaxing. She could express her needs well and there was always someone to carry her if needed. She slept well through the night; Pyosz was happy to keep the baby in with her and Maar.

Then came a month when it rained every single day, both in Skene and in Pya, often torrential downpours. Pyosz had an outbreak of hoof fungus among her goats and struggled to keep the barn floor dry. Sinning was being cancelled at the last minute sometimes twice a week, and construction projects all over Pya were stalled. Merrl was still jittery about boarding the ferry when the docks and ladders were slick, and Qala began meeting the children after school in Koldock each afternoon to escort the little ones. She reported her presence appeared to be putting some sort of wrinkle on dynamics between Thleen, Thont and Ziri, but she couldn’t make out what.

“Drama, it’s all manufactured drama at that age” said Prl dismissively.

“No more than some of the younger ones” replied Qala. “Ehall and Meamea are joined at the hip, and do all they can to get on Koben’s nerves.”

“We should be daily grateful the Heaps are in our midst” said Halling, a seeming nonsequiteur. When the other adults look at her, she explained “All these cousins spending years together in intimacy, but they can’t date or partner. I expect every one of those Kacang children will wind up with one of our family members. Prl’s green book will be heavily used in future generations to skirt the perils of Pea Pod inbreeding.”

Prl surprised Pyosz by laughing heartily. “You’re right, emma, we haven’t begun to see the drama that’s headed our way.”

The next day, Pyosz was just getting up from her nap with Ngus, making tea in the kitchen, when the radio buzzed. She answered hoping it was Maar, who had not been able to sin that morning but had gone out during the lunch hour because the skies were briefly clear and Pya seriously needed the fish. Instead, it was Qala.

“You need to get to the Lofthall” she said in a tone that made Pyosz go cold. “Bring Lawa.”

“What happened?” said Pyosz. Ngus stopped in mid crawl and sat back on one thigh to look at her.

“The children are all right” said Qala. Pyosz could hear Merrl crying, however, and she clearly wasn’t in Qala’s arms. Beyond that, somebody was keening, an adult. Qala said “Hurry” and clicked off.

As Pyosz scooped up Ngus and ran for the door, yelling for Lawa to follow, she realized the wailing voice in the background had been Mill.

(Copyright 2010 Maggie Jochild.)