The Harvest of Young Minds
By Dolores J. Nurss
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.
NOT THE TRANSFER DEVICE, SILLY. ME. YOUR SIB.
”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?”
WHAT I HAD TO DO. SOMETHING WANTED ALIVE. I WENT TO THE MAINLAND. I WENT INTO THE HEART OF THE MOUNTAIN.
“Tell me where, Connie. Tell me where to find you.”
I’M RIGHT HERE, SILLY. I’M EVERYWHERE. I TUNED IN.
“Tuned into what?”
EVERYTHING. THE PLANET. THE ENERGY FIELD AROUND THE PLANET. ALL OF YOU.
SOMETHING WANTED ALIVE. SOMETHING WANTED TO LINK THE OLD LIFE AND THE
A growing suspicion horrified him. “Tell me where you left your body, Connie.”
OH THAT! IT DOESN’T MATTER ANYMORE.
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:
FOOLISH SIB! YOU CAN’T UNABSORB ME. AS WELL TRY TO TAKE THE EGGS OUT OF BATTER. THERE ISN’T ANY BODY LEFT.
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
“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.
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.”