The Harvest of Young Minds
By Dolores J. Nurss
Mistress of Magentine
Night filled the window, and the hum of evening insects came through
it, and the scent of night-blooming flowers as yet unnamed, and the
light of a barely waning moon. The little light in the workshop hardly
competed with it at all. The woman at work there did not want anyone to
suspect how late she sat up at her labors. Yet three o’clock in the
morning coincided with a variation in the planet’s electromagnetic
blanket, for which she had good use.
Consuelo winced as she pressed the metal prongs into her chest between
her little breasts, directly over her heart. Blood trickled down over
her belly, but the great blue stone in the middle of the setting seemed
to gleam with a spark of inner light, set about with smaller stones of
deep wine red, like permanent beads of blood in their own right. “The
heart...it has a lot more neural circuitry all its own than most people
realize–its own brain, in a sense.” Her fingers brushed down, where she
had imbedded a row of smaller rose jewels going down her belly, with
curls of bead-rows fanning out to each side here and there, supporting
matching curls of wire. “The digestive system, too, and the endocrine
system–we mustn’t forget those.” She pressed in some new ones,
feverishly, hastening before anyone could stop her, before she could
even stop herself. “Oh, we are full of brains! Yet the heart crowns
all.” She dabbed herself clean of blood , then buttoned up her blouse
quickly, lest her brother walk in on her and see. She couldn’t hide the
one on her forehead–her original magenta stone--yet she arranged wires
about it so artistically that Fobos would think it an ornament,
detachable, trailing off into the chaos of her hair.
No, Fobos would not walk in. Fobos would not see. She reminded herself of this, and strove to calm the pounding of her heart.
Shadows deepened the hollows of her eyes, yet her high-cheekboned face
retained a haggard beauty, grown more ethereal as she continued to slim
down. Her brother couldn’t understand why the scale reported that she
had gained weight, not lost any. Ah, the dear, clueless man, so
confident in things that he could measure. Like that calendar of his,
where he had marked off the nights in which she didn’t sleep. Consuelo
adjusted the seeming-diadem, weaving some wires into it, science
melding with art melding with something else.
She giggled at a memory. “Don’t listen to them, sib!” Bos had told her
in their teens. “They just don’t understand creativity. You can wear
anything you want, and I’ll punch out the first guy who says
otherwise.” It would have sounded tougher if his voice hadn’t cracked
right in the middle.
Suddenly she ripped off the blouse, buttons popping everywhere. She
kicked off the shoes, pulled the socks away, and wriggled out of the
sensible jeans. Underwear soon followed on the floor. She left, for
now, the leather cuffs on either wrist. She kicked the clothing under
the table, out of sight.
She admired her reflection in the night-black window, the demitasse
breasts, the curves of ribs, the jeweled navel in the hollow
underneath, the arch of pelvic bone. And the gemstones, of course, all
the pretty gems and wires, glittering in facets cut by her own hands,
magentine (as she named the new mineral) not being nearly as hard as
She paused a moment, then yanked at a sheer curtain, until the rod
tipped down and spilled all the folds of iridescent white. She wrapped
the fabric about her hips, throwing a loose end over one shoulder,
hiding nothing, really, but feeling so subtle on the skin, and looking
quite ethereal when she posed again before the window, her image cut by
the slanting rod. A night-bird trilled a few perfect, poignant notes,
and she shivered in delight. One edge of her garb still tinkled with
brass rings, softly when she moved; she unpinched a couple rings and
repositioned them to hold the cloth in place.
She became businesslike, returning to her machinery, flipping toggles,
pressing buttons, typing a flood of code. She unsnapped the cuffs on
her wrists, revealing hidden ports. Into these she plugged the tubes
that flowed with blue and magenta fluid, sparkling in the dim light.
For awhile she sat in lotus position on the floor, taking it in,
breathing slowly, deeply, trying not to worry about her brother. If all
went as it should, he slept well tonight–poor man, so robbed of sleep
of late. If he ate the present that she’d sent to him, the bueñuelo of
the rosy local honey, plus a little something extra from one of the
companies in which they held stock. Poor man. They really did need to
take care of each other.
“You intended it for me, didn’t you?” she murmured while the veins in
her arms began to bulge. “That’s why you brought it here–you always
make me sleep when I go too many nights without. Well, what’s good for
the gander is good for the goose...poor brother. Rest. Rest well. Sweet
dreams.” The bulging subsided as the fluid hit her heart, and then
dispersed throughout her body evenly from there, causing a faint
lavender glow just beneath the skin, a kind of pearlescence.
Finally, replete, she rose to her feet with a dancer’s smoothness,
unplugged the ports, and donned her cuffs again. She switched on the
small toggle hidden behind all manner of other machinery, where Bos
would never find it. Immediately she felt the power thrum and shiver in
her blood; she closed her eyes and shivered along with it, lips parting
slightly. Then, eyes still closed, and head tilting a little this way
and that, she curled the various wires tangled in her hair for the best
reception. No need to bother plugging herself in, ever again. And not
all the wires picked up on energies generated by anything she made.
Some of them tuned, in various ways that she could never explain, into
energies of the planet itself.
Her eyes opened suddenly, pupils dilated like universes within her
skull, tiny sparkles in their depths twinkling like the stars. She
stood a moment, savoring her change, its permanence, its profundity.
She paused a moment, at a bell-jar, in which a potted plant grew, its
long leaves streaked in red. Tiny insects buzzed around it, and she
admired the iridescence of the rose, blue, and pale green wings.
“Hatched already, are we? Very well, then!” She pulled off the
bell-jar, and laughed as they swirled around her; she giggled over the
bites like lover’s nips. She threw open the window for them. “Farewell,
my pretties! Thank you so much for all your lessons.”
One more thing needed done. She took her soldering iron, and a coil of
solder, and welded the hidden toggle into place. Then, in steps
sinuous, not at all like who she used to be, no more of her uncertain,
jittery pace, she strode out into the night.
Charlotte watched the woman in the moonlight, from the window by her
bed, holding Ted close. She said nothing; she didn’t even move. Maybe
in the morning she would ask if Marie knew any words for precisely that
kind of beauty, the kind that scares you, the kind that seems too big
“Numinous,” Marie murmured from the bunk above, in her sleep. Charlotte
nodded against her teddy-bear. It didn’t seem at all strange to her,
not at that hour, not in that place. After awhile she rolled over and
went back to sleep.
Bare feet now trod the soft path beyond the school, around the bend,
upslope, around another bend, and down once more. A small woman knelt
down there, amid all of the markers glimmering in moonlight, clicking
her beads, murmuring softly. Consuelo came up behind her, the only
sound a tinkling that did not seem to belong to this world.
The woman’s rosary so moved Consuelo that the tears rolled down her
face before she knew it. Then came the sobs, audible in the night. Miss
Ramona froze. The weeping built into a wail. The moonlight cast a ghost
of a shadow, wavering over the grave, of the transparent fabric
fluttering in the wind, and a solider one of the bony arm that it fell
across, and something of the rib-rippled side. All the rest Ramona’s
own shadow hid.
In a tear-husky voice, Consuelo asked, “You would have adopted my baby, wouldn’t you? Had I let him live?”
A long pause, and then the whisper: “Sí, Llorona.”
“You would have made a wonderful mother.” And then she turned away so
quietly, not even the rings upon her garment chiming, that Miss Ramona
knelt quaking for a long time before she dared to turn around, gather
herself up, and return to the compound.
Yet before then Consuelo had already gone ahead of her, drawn to a
light in the infirmary window, wiping her tears as she walked. Her feet
seemed to know better than she did where to go; that was all right. As
her pace picked up, the tinkling returned, surrounding her with every
step, like something crystalizing. She slowed as she neared, crept to
the window, and peered in from the side.
They had shaved off all the lovely black locks. It made Rob Roy seem
smaller, much more frail. She supposed it made him easier to take care
of, or they wanted to examine his scalp, or maybe it fell out on its
own; she had no idea. Veins pulsed on the temples; pale streaks marked
where the glasses had blocked the sun. His head rolled from side to
side in fever, and she could see the eyes dart under the lids in dreams.
A nurse sponged him with alcohol, trying to cool him down. They’d had
to hire more nurses lately, shifts around the clock. Women and men
burned out on the overburdened hospitals of earth, the hopelessness of
it all. This one tended the boy with practice at futility, resignation
deep in the lines of her face. Maybe where she worked before they
shaved all the patients, part of the routine. They would need as many
routines as they could get, to process the dying through factories of
Suddenly Rob Roy’s eyes flew open, and turned towards the window, and
saw her. They dilated in an instant to match her own. Lips quivered,
about to say something. Then the lids fluttered closed again, and the
head flopped in the other direction. The nurse hadn’t even looked up.
Consuelo whispered, though the glass blocked the sound. “Change,” she
told Rob Roy. “Change! Your body knows how. You have the spirit. Deep
inside you know exactly what to do.” And then she wandered off to see
where else her feet might take her.