The Harvest of Young Minds


By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 8
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 diamond.
 
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 for you.
 
“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 despair.
 
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.
 

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