The Harvest of Young Minds

By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 7
Teacher's Training

Classes! Everything that the students had ever wanted, and more, and so much more than that! Escape plans slowed down almost to a halt as the months went by, with so much to think about, so much to do, learn, or explore.
Rob Roy barely had time to lay down his brush, startled by what he had just painted, when a teacher called him over to physics. Just when he had grasped a concept that shook up everything he thought he ever knew about reality itself, another teacher called him over to history. And when a story from ancient days set his heart to pounding with its drama and pathos and inspiration, he found himself studying math. Then no sooner had he solved a puzzle so complicated that his body tingled with the triumph, than his instructor sent him on to dance class.
He had discovered, much to his surprise, that he loved dance the best of all. He’d thought his fake leg would get in the way, the strapped-on antique that a friend had salvaged for him, discarded when biotech had marched on and the rich could grow themselves new limbs of flesh at need. His limp had branded him with poverty. But now he discovered that he could command it better than he’d thought possible, in the trance of dancing, command every tiniest muscle in an incarnate symphony. His steps lightened as he hastened to the dance studio, and nobody could have seen a difference in either side of his tread.
The campus had changed in the past months. Vines completely overgrew the now-earthbermed quonset huts, and framed the deep-set windows, in yellow blossoms as luminous as the tropic sun. Gardens throve everywhere, for food, for herbs, for dyes, and just for pleasure. Pollinators buzzed lazily from flower to flower, daylight iridescing on their wings. Petals drifted on the wind.
Consuelo smiled over Fobos’s shoulder as he tried as gently as possible to push her back into her workshop behind him. “They look so happy!” she exclaimed, pointing over his shoulder at the students. “They look...intent.” Bos finally succeeded in pressing her all the way indoors. “What’s wrong? I want to play with the children!”
“Not right now, Sib. Later, maybe. The Transfer-Device just landed.”
She giggled, fingering her matted hair, no longer combable with the wires now permanently implanted in her scalp. “You just don’t want me to meet the new teachers!” She giggled again, eyes brighter than sparks, and pushed against his chest, but didn’t really try to get to the door. “You think I’ll scare them!”
“I know you would, Sib. And so do you.”
She reached past him for the door, and again he caught her wrist and held her back. She laughed in his face. “I could overpower you if I wanted to,” she told him. “You’ve gotten skinny!”
“Maybe I have.”
“I think you need me to remind you when to eat!”
“Maybe I do. Maybe you could do that for me.”
“You worry too much–that’s you problem.” Playfully she straightened out his collar. “You fear, fear, fear, all the time, just because Mama told you to.”
He sighed. “Somebody has to.”
Her smile dropped for a minute. “Let me out, Bos.”
He studied her, then nodded, his shoulders sagging. “Listen, if you need a breath of air, you can go out the back way, take a walk in the jungle for awhile. Wouldn’t you like that?”
Consuelo pretended to pout, but felt too lighthearted to carry it off for long. “Yes, perhaps you’re right. I can meet the teachers later...when they’re prepared. A walk in the woods might do me good.”
“Yeah, Connie. Find more of those pretty rocks you’ve been gathering.”
“The children like them as presents. Teachers, too. Maybe the new teachers will like me better when I give them presents.”
“That’s right, Sib. Go find them presents. Maybe in a few days they’ll be, uh, ready to meet you.” At the other door he watched her slip away into the rainforest (her steps so light, practically running from manic energy) with an ache in his breast that his sister always evoked in him. He turned and went to attend what he had to do in the back room of the lab.
Teachers and child psychologists stepped shakily out of the transfer-device, straightening as if for the first time in their lives, looking about them in wonder, breathing deeply of the unfamiliar air, in a place of astonishing beauty that seemed to remember everything that Old Earth had forgot. Not least amid the beauty around them shone the faces of children and adolescents, everywhere the newcomers looked, glowing in a fervor of education–something that these refugees from the collapse of academia had longed to see for their entire lives. Little Ramona Cruces craned around the taller folks in front of her, trying to get a better view, but even what she glimpsed filled her with so much joy that her eyes watered. Mute with emotion, they followed Miss Emma to fill out forms.
Bos glanced out the window at them, snorted once and shook his head, before closing the curtains and switching on a lamp. Paperwork gave a sense of normalcy. It made everything seem legal. People trusted in documents with their names on them, full of provisions spelled out clearly and in an orderly fashion, something that somebody could look up. Here, more than mere miles away from any court of law. He went to the door that led to the more public part of the laboratory, yet did not open it. “Dennis?” he called through the wood. “Is that you out there?”
“Yes, sir. Teaching botany today.”
“Can your students manage the rest without you?”
“I think I’ve shown them enough of the basics, yes.”
“Then come back here. I need your help.”
A brief rain pattered, and when the sun came out, the new recruits saw through the windows how its light sparkled on so many different leaves, all at once, like tears of joy. “Forget everything you ever knew about teaching on Earth,” Miss Emma told them as she led them from the cafeteria shortly thereafter, neat stacks of forms left behind them. “Traditional systems would misclassify each and every one of these children as suffering from ADD, drug them, and drop them through the cracks.”
Rob Roy’s dance instructor called him to move, to shape art with his body and all of the classes that he had taken that day ran together, physics echoed in history built upon a curious math foundation and all of it surfacing somehow in the painting before he’d even learned those things, and now rushing out through his body in the dance like sweat. His hand went out to Xochil, and their fingers intertwined, and they both danced out their lessons together, before parting with a kiss, as they each went off to change their clothes for their next classes.
The brand-new teachers and shrinks walked in astonishment through blooming gardens. Children and teenagers went from building to building on no discernible schedule, rapt looks upon their faces. “What we have here,” said Ms. Emma, “are not ADD patients, but traumatized geniuses: easily bored, distracted by a world of pain, and still working various poisons out of their systems. You can’t expect them to sit and study one subject at a time, in tidy hour blocks. You have to keep an eye on them. Every time you see their attention on the verge of wavering, engage them in something else. Alternate different aspects of the mind. Balance sitting still with getting up and moving. That’s why we’ve recruited so many of you–we need more teachers than students in this school.”
A man raised his hand. “That sounds, um, difficult to structure.”
“Oh, we get by rather well without structure, here.”
“But how can you assure that the right teacher has prepared the right class for...”
“You will develop instincts for these things. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.” And the man nodded and jotted down notes, eyes still wide but trying to pretend that he understood.
Emma surveyed the lot of them, so scared and attentive, crowding to stay close to her, following each motion of her lips with hunger in their eyes. Calluses thickened the scholars’ fingers, and their clothes looked well-repaired but faded. Employment opportunities had not abounded, of late, for anyone foolish enough to get degrees in their specialties. Emma nodded. The Tercos Twins had nothing to concern them, here.
Charlotte and Marie worked in the garden, their minds still reeling from the wonders of poetry unfolded to them moments before, words like tendrils curling between the beans and the rising oats. Marie pointed to different leaves. “That emerald. That teal. Chartreuse. Jade. Avocado. Lincoln. Olivite. That be glaucous, this be glabrous, and that fuzzy little squash leaf over there,” she giggled suddenly, “that be pubescent!”
Charlotte nodded. “We’s weedin’ vigna unguiculata unguiculata,” she added.
“Yup, my favorite. Though I likes vigna cicer arientum too, now’s I got to know it.”
Charlotte pulled up a plant with long, red-streaked leaves.”We ain’t got no name for this li’l fellow,” she said sadly.
Marie reached over with a twig and tapped the weed to either side. “I dub thee Sir Unvigna.”
“That good,” Charlotte said with a smile, tossing it into the weed basket.
Miss Marcy came up behind them. “Marie, I warned you not to teach Charlotte Ebonics. We speak only English and Spanish here.”
“Vas a te chupes, puta del cabron!”
The khaki-tanned face went pale. “That’s enough, Marie!” Miss Marcy didn’t see Tica make a rude sign behind her back, nor would she have understood it if she did. “Now go to your room–no trigonomics for you today!”
“But Miss Marcy!”
“Don’t you be defending her again, Charlotte, or you won’t get no trig, neither!”
“Caught you!” both girls cried at once, pointing as the teacher turned bright red.
Just then Miss Emma came by and gave Miss Marcy one of her raised eyebrow looks, before saying to the new teachers, “You must stay on your toes at all times. Your students surpass you in intelligence, but remember that you have the edge in experience. We will also expect you to challenge yourselves, as well, expanding your own knowledge base so that... yes, Miss Ramona?”
The little woman at the back of the crowd looked startled. “I didn’t say anything.”
“You want to. After awhile out here one acquires an intuition for knowing when someone wants to ask something–a necessary skill in this kind of institution.”
“Well, I was just wondering...I mean...when do we get vacations?”
“You go off duty every weekend for all but the most basic parental duties, which we spread out between the entire staff. For longer breaks, we have a lovely retreat for staff on the other side of the island, which we take turns visiting year-round. In fact, by overlapping visits, everyone gets a week off every three months–I am sure you will find this quite a refreshing change from the policies of most Earthside employers.”
“But what about going home? You know, visiting family.”
Miss Emma stopped and faced her fully. “I was not aware,” she said, “that you had any family whom you cared to visit.”
“I...I suppose I don’t, not really. But I thought that some of the other teachers might...”
“Do any of you have family back on Earth that you would care to visit?”
Murmurs of “No” and shaken heads answered her. She glared, pair by pair, into all the hungry eyes, over all the smiles desperate to please.
“Well, then,” Miss Emma said, and then continued to lead the way. “Now over here we have the laboratory...”
“But I have friends!” Ramona blurted. “We all have friends–you wouldn’t want teachers who couldn’t form relationships at all.”
Miss Emma leveled her gaze at Ramona. “And if they truly are your friends, they would want you to enjoy the unique opportunities that we offer here. Wouldn’t they?”
“Well...yes, I guess, they...they...”
“Of course they would. Now as I was saying, the laboratory, here...”
Sweetie-Pie exited just as the newbies flooded in, on her way to Ancient Literature. She always liked when Mr. Joe taught. Today he would lead them out on the beach, to act out scenes from The Odyssey. They had already arranged that she’d get to play Circe, and so she had donned her costume even before botany, and painted on her eyeliner extra thick and mysterious. She liked how her roots now showed, a tawny brown streak above the blonde, like a tiger stripe. “If anybody knows how to turn men into pigs, I sure as hell do!” she muttered. But not Mr. Joe. He never touched her, no matter how she played. “Maybe he’s gay,” she said with a shrug.
Botany had gone well. The students had discovered three brand new saponins in the latest specimens, an unheard-of cobalt molecule, four catalysts of potentially useful properties, a surprising symbiosis between plant and insect, and a promising alkaloid. She chewed a leaf with a flavor indescribable by any gourmet on earth, and she knew exactly the chemical properties that had caused that flavor to exist.
But that did not entrance her attention as she made her way down to the beach, between two slopes so riotous with life that the passage felt holy, in a primordial way, something from back in the days when sacred whore priestesses presided over mysteries of life, and of death, too–back in Circe’s day.
She passed a roaring waterfall, its spray upon her face, dampening her homemade chlamys and jeweling her hair. She paused before a still pool off the main body of water, to admire her reflection. Yes, something sacred there, something powerful, in a savage kind of way.
Now she walked along the bank of the stream that rushed out of the waterfall-pool, down to the sea. She clutched tightly the stone that Rob Roy had given her, of a deep rose hue like no stone that she had ever seen before, translucent in her hand. He had not given it to her as payment for anything, not even a payment in advance. Well did she know the looks and gestures that passed these days between Xochil and Rob Roy. Robin did not look on her that way. Yet he gave her this rock–this jewel, and it meant something, maybe like nobody had ever meant before in her life.
Ms. Emma quickly shut the door to the back part of the lab when she saw Bos Tercos in there, before the new teachers could peek in. Mr. Dennis looked up at the sound, where he stood beside Mr. Tercos to close up the autopsy on the latest little boy. So he knew to drop his voice down to where only his employer could hear him. “Same as all the others, I’m afraid. The usual evidence of mortal fever, without any indication of infection whatsoever. Not even a spike in the white blood cells. No observable trace of any pathogen–viral, bacterial, or parasitic, native or exotic. No abnormal chemistry of blood, brain, or stomach contents. Nothing to cause death–except for death.”
“What about the insect bites?”
“Normal urticaria, just what you would expect from a small insertion of insect saliva. No sequelae beyond the localized swelling. No histamenic reaction beyond the norm, and nothing to indicate pathogens or poisoning.”
Fobos rubbed a slightly stubbled chin. “There has to be an answer,” Mr. Dennis thought the man had grown quite gaunt of late, his eyes too large for his face. “Everything has an explanation, if only you look hard enough.”
“Everything does on Earth,” Mr. Dennis said, and then wished he hadn’t.
Bos glared at him. “Everything must. If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be anything–here or on Earth.” He stripped off his gloves, dropped the bloody latex in a receptacle, and then washed his hands for good measure. “When will the new children arrive?”
“Not for awhile, yet. It’s not as easy anymore, not like gathering them up from the Americas. We’re still working on the language problems Earthside.”
Bos shrugged. “Bring them anyway. They’ll learn quickly enough. That’s what they do.”
“Gary wants to know–should they emphasize English or Spanish?”
“Both. When they get here. Best they learn the local versions.”
“You mean the languages that the children are evolving? I don’t know all of that, myself.”
“Then you’d better catch up, shouldn’t you?”
“We aren’t preparing them for Earth anymore, are we?”
Down at the beach Robin Royale made a magnificent Ulysseus. His artificial leg next to the muscular one, beneath the tunic (which also bared some lean yet well-toned chest and curvacious arms) imparted a kind of industrial chic to the ancient story. Surrounded by other students doing their enthusiastic best to grunt and wallow like hogs, he strode to Sweetie-Pie’s outstretched hand, his eyes burning like he could sear past all her masks, past her very skin and skull, into the depths of her reality–the person behind Sweetie-Pie, behind even Sondra Kodak, whom nobody had recognized for as far back as she could remember.
Somehow, their improv on the ancient drama evolved into an unrehearsed choreography. They danced around each other like enemies in love, Sweetie holding up her head as proud as any sorceress-queen, yet shaken, uncertain of herself and craving that uncertainty. It felt like falling into something completely different from anything described in romance novels.
As their faces came closer she whispered, “I found a plant rich in nicotine.”
“Well done, Lieutenant!” Lately he had taken to calling her that. She liked it even better than “Sweetie-Pie”. In fact she now wondered why she had ever accepted such a name as Eldon had given her; maybe she even loathed it a little bit. She considered whether to tell everyone to call her Lute. Yes, Lute suited her better than Sweetie-Pie. She would learn the instrument, in fact, she would ask for a class in the luther’s art and make it herself from the local wood. They spun away again, and then came back together. Cheek to cheek they now danced, his face hot against hers. “That will bring Charlotte on board, and Marie will follow.”
“I thought Charlotte did all the following in that pair.”
“Ah, but Marie wouldn’t want...wouldn’t...” and she felt him stumble against her.
“Robin?” He sagged against her, his eyes closed and mouth open. ”Rob?” He had gained much muscle in these past months; she couldn’t hold him up for long; They sank to the sand together.
All around them children scrambled back to their feet, shouting, “Mr. Joe! Mr. Joe! Another one’s sick!” Just then Xochil crashed through the foliage above the beach, still in her gymsuit, her face scratched and leaves in her hair, so carelessly had she run to them, terror in her eyes. Sweetie reached up a hand. “Robin atonahui,” she said, in pigeon Nahuatl: “Robin has a fever.”
Upslope, clear at the other end of the campus, beyond where shouts from the beach could reach, the teachers toured the gym area, only momentarily startled by the student who had just run past (in a gymsuit, so therefore no doubt jogging a course of her own devising, considering the nature of this school.) All eyes focused on teenagers playing a curious hybrid of soccer and baseball that the students had come up with by themselves. Most of them didn’t notice the little boy on the sidelines, when he dropped his barbells with a grass-softened clunk, then propelled his wheelchair to the back of the group. “Ven conmigo,” Manuelito whispered to Miss Ramona. “Come with me.”
“Excuse me,” Ramona said in English, “A disabled student needs my assistance.” And before anyone could stop her she pushed Manuelito’s wheelchair wherever he pointed. He said nothing more to her as they bumped along the footpaths, just gesturing here and there to let her know where to turn. At last they passed the final quonset hut, yet the path still seemed well-worn. Manuelito steered them around a spur of the southern slope, where the path climbed a bit, went around another curve, and down.
“Mira Usted,” Manuelito said, pointing one last time. “Look.”
“Madre de Dios!” Ramona whispered, crossing herself before the rows and rows of markers in the field before her. She could see the names from here, and the numbers, the last ones all denoting this year, the first ones noting years too soon before, a few with question-marks.
In Spanish he told her, “You will think, ‘I must tell someone!’ Yet we have no one to tell. They will never let us go back to Earth again.”

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