The Harvest of Young Minds

By Dolores J. Nurss

Chapter 11
Beyond Hope and Fear

By evening Rob Roy’s fever broke. By morning everyone woke up. Everyone. And that’s when the adults realized that for the first time in weeks no one had died that night. They went from bed to bed, finding their patients alert, aware, and normal in their temperatures.
Pushing off with his arms, Manuelito leaped straight from his bed to his wheelchair, turning the wheels as hard as he could, surprised by the weakness of his arms. He’d seen her over here, the last thing that he remembered. But when he reached Estela’s bed he found it empty, the blanket folded neatly where the nurse had left it days ago.
“I dreamed she sang goodbye,” he rasped. “I never wanted to dream true.” Manuelito hung his head, the hot tears making dark dots upon the fabric of his gown. “She went back to them,” he said bitterly. “Queen of the Orphans. She will find them all, and her mother, and her father, and she will take no argument, she will lead them out of purgatory, she will storm the gates of heaven with demands for grace, she will become the meanest of saints if she has to, the Virgin Estela.” The tears just kept scalding down his cheeks, catching jagged in his chest on the way out, forcing unseemly gulps and gasps out of him. “I will build her chapel if I have to crawl up every row of bricks myself!” And then he stared down, at his twig legs, and cried, “Why do the strong fall and leave the rest of us behind?”
“Because you have something left to do,” Rob Roy said behind him, handing the boy his crutches. Rob Roy took Manuelito’s chair and pushed him back towards his bed, using the chair as a walker, shoving off with his one whole leg, looking forward to when the other would finish growing out.
But then Manuelito stopped him with a raised hand. Without a word, slowly, Manuelito pulled himself out of the wheelchair, onto his two emaciated limbs. They shook so hard that everybody watching felt the jarring in their souls. For a moment he just teetered there, balancing. Several times the knees began to buckle, but he grabbed the chair. Then he took one step. Then another. Then he fell down.
“Not today,” Rob Roy told him. Between the two of them they managed to wrestle Manuelito back into the chair, all adults staring, none daring to step forward to help. “Little by little. Soon. Give it time.”
“Santa Estela will help me,” Manuelito affirmed.
Teachers who had made themselves useful at nurse duty now did their turn in the kitchen, helping the cooks to make meals for everyone, gentle meals for stomachs that had shrunk and now needed to learn to eat all over again. Others joined them, the timid ones who had sealed themselves off in their rooms. Soft porridges bubbled, vegetables whirred in blenders with the eggs and fruits, and the dietician ran about barking orders to everyone, all the weary faces smiling in the steam.
When they brought in the food they found Ramona sitting on the edge of her bed, staring wistfully into a mirror, running her hand over her hairless scalp.
“We didn’t shave it off,” someone said, apologetically.
“I know,” she answered. “It fell out of sympathy.” Then she laid down her mirror and turned her head, looking at them all, one by one. Simply, no delirium left in her, she said, “I know the truth.”
“Tell us,” said Miss Emma.
“I have become a telepath–so have many of the children, or else taken on other psychic gifts–levitation, telekinesis, the ability to create illusions. So have some of you, if you don’t fight admitting it. A conscious telepath–we have already documented quite a bit about unconscious telepathy, you know, though trying to harness it has proven pretty impractical. Yet now...something in the new gemstones focuses and...and bends, I think, a narrow spectrum of brainwaves, to convey psychic information from the unconscious to the conscious mind, and conscious responses back the other way...”
“Connie’s research!” Bos exclaimed, and ran out of there, towards her workshop. With a twin’s insight, combined with abilities he hadn’t admitted before (thoughts shoved back as seemingly baseless) he suddenly understood. Psg--psygenic, something inducing useable psi powers. Paraph, not Paraps--paraphysics, not just parapsychology. She’d known all this–her mind just raced ahead of her ability to communicate it.
The door left open banged in a rising wind, the sky darkening behind it. Rob Roy said, “I pulled them all together. I brought them back. I focused really hard, I made an anchor, see, and brought them back.”
Ramona nodded. “That’s what killed the children.” She blinked, wearily, and looked back at her pillow longingly.
“What?” Emma insisted. “What killed the children? Not Robin, surely.”
Robin Royale shook his head. “No. She means reading minds.”
Ramona nodded. “Yes. They–we–figured out what happened to our loved ones. Anyone who asked questions. The children wanted to join their parents. I almost got pulled along with them...” Ramona grimaced, the toll of long illness heavy on her face. “You cannot imagine the pull of so much grief, shared raw, the sheer gravity of it. And the more it built, the more it tugged the rest of us from our natural courses. We all began to commit unconscious, psychosomatic suicide.”
For a moment her breath caught in a sob, remembering the secret child left behind, the one that nobody could find in any record. Twelve autumns now had piled leaves upon the unmarked grave, dug with her own hands after the soldiers had moved on, ignoring her own blood to dig it for the child who had thought her only a family friend–a grave next to the one for the woman called “Mama” who had fallen close beside her. Twelve autumns had seen Ramona honor the graves as no other left alive could do, eight of them between classes in the impractical subject that she couldn’t bear not to study. For she remembered–nothing could unsear the image from her memory: one of the soldiers had been a child, too.
“I’ll live,” she gasped. “Somebody should live.”
Across campus, Bos slammed into the workshop, lurched against the desk, and made the computer jolt from punching it on so hard. His hand quivered so badly that he almost couldn’t control the mouse. But there, he found it all, the notes he couldn’t understand before, the ellipses in the manic fragments that only a twin could fill in, only one knowing what to look for.
The “mosquitos” had first given her the clue. Consuelo noticed how they’d hover in a cloud over a group, then distribute perfectly evenly, one per person, annoying, but not so many concentrated on any one individual that it would prompt too heavy a retaliation. One bite each, then move on, but never to someone else bitten that same hour, dart in and out quickly, move on to someone not yet tasted–by any other mosquito that day. In short, it showed a coordinated intelligence.
They did not breed like Earth mosquitos. They laid their eggs at the base of that weed that the children had named Unvigna. They pierced the base and injected blood deep into the roots, where it mingled with natural sugars in the sap to form a nutritious bath, a sort of insect amniotic fluid. The eggs hatched quickly there, floating in nutrients supplemented by the magentine brought up through the deep weed roots, saturated with it. About half of them usually died and fed the plant in return. The other half metamorphosed into flying insects. The females drank animal blood while the males fed on nectar, pollinating as they went.
“And they started the processes in us,” Bos breathed.
JUMPSTARTED US the computer wrote across a suddenly blanked screen. BUT IT TOOK MORE THAN THAT.
Bos gaped at the computer. The time had come for the daily upload from the shuttle that hadn’t arrived, that might never arrive again.
”Connie?” he gasped.
Pixels formed into her image as a little girl–the way he’d always thought of her, deep in his secret heart, from the days before he’d realized her madness, before the cruelty of the world had fully dawned on him. A little girl with wildflowers braided into her hair, only in this image they never wilted.
“Oh Connie!” He hadn’t told her about that fantasy, about the flowers that wouldn’t wilt. “What have you done?”
“Tell me where, Connie. Tell me where to find you.”
“Tuned into what?”
A growing suspicion horrified him. “Tell me where you left your body, Connie.”
His fists thumped the desk. “Of course it matters! Listen, Sib–you don’t know your own good.”
He rose, knocking down the chair behind him. “I will find you,” he cried, shaking his finger at the screen. “Mainland, huh? A mountain--can’t be too far from the closest shore, a day’s walk. A cavern in it? I will find you!” And he dashed out, not seeing the last words on the computer before they dissolved into static:
From high up on a cliff, Dennis watched Bos push a log out to sea and sit astride its floating length, paddling with his feet. Dennis watched the speck ride further and further out, past the breaker-line, till he could barely discern it, and then he blinked and couldn’t find it anymore. He regarded the banks of stormclouds, marching closer on a curtain of rain with lighting flashing inside. He thought about the reefs. He turned up his collar against the rising wind. There. The thunder rumbled. Not that far, anymore.
And another rumble. Far in the distance, where he knew the mainland stood, he could just barely make out a column of rising smoke. That volcano deep in the continent had woken up again. Something about it made him glad for a moment, though he knew he had absolutely no reason to celebrate whatever might have caused the planet to erupt with joy.
Dennis turned his back on what he knew had to be the final sighting of Fobos Evangelio Tercos, the first rain pelting on his back, and he joined the others in the cafeteria. He accepted a hot cup of cocoa from Ramona and joined her and the others at the table.
Joe continued speaking. “...I didn’t understand the whim at the time, but after seeing Rob Roy’s guns, it all makes sense now. I’m glad I bought it. And I’m doubly glad it arrived before everything shut down.”
Marcy patted him on the arm. “It doesn’t have to make sense. None of us really knew what to do with our pay, with no need for it here, and all the charities folding one right after the other.”
“No, seriously. You’ll have to come and see the cannon for yourself. I stashed it out in the jungle as soon as I got it–sort of embarrassed by the impulse, you know, and then I forgot about it till just now. But we can move it, the wheels still work, though it will never fire again, of course, what with all the dampness and corrosion–that’s the whole point; I can see that, now. The patina patterns and the moss actually look quite beautiful.”
Ramona sighed, smiling faintly. “A cannon transformed, by this planet, beyond brutality–yes, I can see how that could make a potent symbol for this new start.” Then she shook her head, staring into her cocoa. “If we’ve left anyone to make that start. I’m not sure how many of the children will come through this sane. I’m not sure if we might have to redefine sanity.”
“We come through,” Maria answered, trying to remember the old language enough to tell these people what they needed to know.
“At least,” said Dennis, warming his fingers on the cup as the temperature dropped noticeably, “We saved as much of the Earth’s knowledge as we could.” And he laughed, faintly, at the lightness of such treasure when weighed against so much else.
“Ain’t no light about it!” Marie said, smacking him on the shoulder as hard as her still-weak arm could go. “We gots sumpin’ to build with. Can’t make reparation without it.”
Joe leaned back, holding his own cup carefully. “Reparation. Of course.” He sipped slowly, waiting for anyone to say anything else.
After giving the adults time to speak up, Marie filled in the silence. “Sure. Lots of people comin’, now. You can’t sit on that kind of technol’gy, not with so many needin’ it. Theys comin’, from all over the Earth. Anybody with a toolbox, a blueprint, and the guts to forage for spare parts. They figger on it, they learn what they needs.” She shrugged her thin shoulders.. “Some’ll make it, some won’t, but Earth be dyin’, no hope left there. They comin’ here, and in none too good a shape. They be needin’ help for years to come.”
Dennis took a deep swallow of cocoa, felt its warmth and sweetness in him. “Of course we’ll help. We have to. We’ll have to pay for our sins. Somehow. Forever.”
Marie nodded, the fuzz coming back on her scalp already. “We’s T.L., now, all at’s left. We can do it. We can build anything we puts our minds to. We finds a way.”

Previous Installment Main Page Next Installment Dream Notes