The green sun rolled along the horizon line, striking rainbows from the crystalline mountains. Zan shifted his grip from the bucket lines to the bars of the shoulder yoke. He heaved it up, over his head. Granfer Q’s bizellia bushes would have to wait for this load of fertilizer, because they wouldn’t get any if his head rolled away from the friction.
Zan emptied his cargo pocket, searching for the coldsheet he’d stuffed in it last week. There. He glanced up the garden row as his fingers twisted the package. The coldsheet unfolded itself across his hand, and he plastered it across the raw spot on the back of his neck.
“Keep those feet moving!”
Granfer Q’s crackling voice made Zan flinch. “Yes, Granfer.”
“Sun’s almost to fourth mountain, boy, and the sky’s going peach.” Granfer twisted away from his prized bushes and shook his pruner at Zan. “We’ve got to get inside before the storm hits.”
The old man had a point. Zan crouched, replacing the yoke. It settled on the coldsheet, which thickened to make a temporarily soothing cushion. Zan gathered the treasures he’d let fall.
He thumbed the dished surface of the flecked bluestone. The pebble glimmered. Granfer sometimes gave in to Zan’s little sister’s demands for a story, mumbling wild tales about his great-Granfer, who once lived on a planet where the night sky looked like bluestone.
Usually, Zan kept on with whatever repair chore Granfer had assigned. He would rather have heard exploration tales about twice-great Granfer and how he’d found this place, with its artesian spring. What difference did Earth make? If the planet had been so wonderful, why had the fellow left it? This was their family’s place now. He’d lived here all his life, and Granfer had, too.
Grunting, Zan stood. He jogged toward the bushes, sloshing the fertilizer in the buckets.
“Watch it, boy. That stuff’s expensive.”
Zan slowed. “Yes sir.” He leaned into the rough branches and held his breath. When he tipped one bucket against the trunk of the bush, purple sludge splattered the soil. It stunk. “Is this enough?”
“Give it more, about half again that much.” The old man reached above Zan’s head, to tug one of the feathery gray leaves. Under its fall sprouted a cluster of faceted fruit. He grunted. “Two days yet, maybe three. It’ll be a good harvest.”
More bizellia jam. Zan stuck out his tongue at the bushes. The fruits had nutrients, or so his teachers claimed, but flavor?
“Granfer, did you ever eat a peach?” Zan dumped sludge at the base of the next bush in the row. He stepped aside, giving Granfer room to work it into the soil.
“How old do you think I am, boy?” Granfer softened the tone of his voice with a wink. He shook his head. “Told you before—nearest I ever got to a peach was the scent of a candle my aunt brought here with her. But it was the same color as the sky is now.” Granfer stepped back. “Give it the rest of that bucket load, and we’ll go in.”
Zan upended the bucket. “Do I have to help pick this season?”
“Don’t you start growing lazy lumps now. The colony depends on what this farm produces, and harvesting is honorable work.”
Granfer paused to crush a dinbeetle that sat too conspicuously on the foliage of a traggleroot plant. “After the storm passes, you’d better come out here and head off an infestation. I’ll be speaking to Councilor Ran’Dell.”
“Yes, sir.” Zan flinched as he lifted the yoke away from his neck. Why couldn’t coldsheets last longer? When he came outdoors again, he wouldn’t need the yoke, thank goodness. “I’ll mash ’em all. Count on it.” If his mother let him, he’d eat fried traggleroot for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Zan nodded. The old man lifted the yoke and slid his hand along the inner surface.
“Slick as can be. Soft kid. When I—”
The engine sound, somewhere between a warble and a hum interrupted him, and Granfer looked to his left. “Hurry. She’s going to need help.”
The family’s old hover approached, rocking erratically. Behind it billowed a wall of dust.
“Mom!” Zan let the yoke fall, and grabbed the spent coldsheet. Holding it over his mouth and nose, he sprinted for the pad. Flying sand stung his forehead. He had to get close enough to catch a mooring line, since the gyros on the hover had gone out of sync again.
She was slowing, but that didn’t make handling the machine any easier. The dust and sand forced Zan to squint. He waved one arm and ran faster. As she released the steering bar to grab a line, a nasty gust tipped the open platform on edge.
His mother pitched hands-first onto the cobbles around the artesian spring. Relieved of her weight, the hover turned over, and bounced upward uncontrolled. “Get down, Granfer,” Zan yelled, belly flopping onto the sand himself. The coldsheet blew away.
The dust and sand didn’t seem quite so thick at the ground, and he crawled toward his mother. Even over the wind he could hear her coughs and cries of pain, as well as his little sister’s screams. From somewhere behind him came Granfer’s voice.
“Deelie, stay in the house.”
A clanging thud told Zan that the hover had come down. He hoped it had flattened the bizzellia bushes. Coughing, he kept going. Granfer’s hand came down on Zan’s upper arm.
“I’ll carry her. Help me get her over my shoulder.”
Zan nodded. When they reached his mother, her right arm was broken and bloody, and her face raw, wet with tears.
Granfer pulled off his belt and strapped his pruner to her arm. She pulled in a deep breath, but the sand and dust forced her to cough. She went limp.
“Granfer, what do we do?”
“It’s for the best. Let’s get her inside, now.” He crouched, planting his feet wide. “Help me roll her over. Then I’ll grab her unbroken arm.”
Zan heaved his mother across the old man’s back, before Granfer staggered to his feet. “Careful, Granfer. Her left ankle is swelling, too.”
“Now get ahead of me, boy. Deelie won’t be able to open the door against this wind.”
The storm blotted out the light. Zan only knew he’d passed Granfer because his elbow brushed against the old man’s arm. He took two blind steps, then another. Afraid to stride out, Zan shuffled his feet. Deelie’s screams continued. Behind him, Granfer coughed.
The wind swirled. For an instant, Zan saw light from the ground. He stepped sideways, and scraped one boot in arcs wide enough to expose the glowstone pavers. Now, they could find the house.
Five steps, six, and Zan collided with the storm door. He groped for the lever. The wind forced the door open to the limit of its hinges, and Granfer staggered through. Deelie’s screams became sobs.
Zan clamped his eyes shut on the grit and faced into the driving wind. He needed both hands on the lever, and most of his strength to pull the door shut behind them. “Deelie, stop that.” His voice rasped. “Bring us a cushion from the sofa.”
He heard her scurry across the floor, then a thump that must have been the cushion.
“I put it under Mommy’s head, Zan.”
“That’s a big help, sis. I need you to turn on the water in the kitchen.”
When she turned on the faucet, he edged toward the sound of the water until he bumped into the kitchen table. Once he had his bearings, he found the sink and stuck his head into the streaming water. After his tears eased, and he could stand to keep his eyes open, Zan soaked a towel.
“Bring this to Granfer, so he can wash his face.”
She ran off, and he took a mouthful of water to rinse the sand from between his teeth. As he spat it out, she returned.
“He wants ’nother one.”
“More,” Granfer called.
“Yes. We’ll put them in here.” Zan pulled a bucket from the cupboard. His mother moaned in the hallway. When he’d loaded the bucket with another half dozen soaked towels, Zan brought it to Granfer.
“Squeeze water from the towel into her eyes,” Granfer said.
After a few minutes, she could keep her eyelids open, and Zan used the now damp towel to gently wipe sand from the scrapes on her face. His mother panted in a steady rhythm.
“Mom, what are you doing?”
She tried to smile. “It—helps with—the—pain.”
Granfer wrung out the wettest towel over her wounded arm. “Deelie, help me. I need these towels soaked again.”
Deelie put the towels in the bucket. Her bangle bracelets jingled. “I can do it, Granfer.” The six-year-old walked around the corner.
“I’ve got to set this break, Mira.”
She bit her lips, and nodded.
He undid the knots that bound the pruner to her arm. “Zan, get me the first aid kit. I need the splints.”
“Yes, Granfer.” Zan opened the emergency supply closet.
“Ready, Mira? One, two, three.” He pulled his daughter-in-law’s wrist and elbow in opposite directions. The protruding bone slid back beneath the ruptured skin, and sweat trickled down her pale face. Then the arm straightened. “Hurry, boy!”
Zan crouched beside them. “I am, Granfer. This latch is stiff.” He laid the case on the floor, and banged on one latch with the pruner blades. When the closure gave, he tossed back the case lid. With a shaking hand he extended one splint toward his mother’s injured arm.
Granfer eased his grip enough to work one end into position between his fingers and the underside of her wrist. “Get the other end under her elbow.”
Zan made the adjustment.
“Good. Make the straps snug enough to keep the splint from shifting, but not enough that her fingers get cold.” He had to raise his voice to be heard over the rattling vent covers on the roof.
“Yes, sir.” Zan closed the strap at her wrist. His mother’s lips curved.
“Such a mess,” she whispered.
Zan reached around Grandfer’s hands for the other straps. “It’s okay, Mom. Deelie and I will clean it up. She likes to mop.” He cleared his throat. “Granfer, shouldn’t we put the other splint on top?”
The old man shook his head. “Not before the wound on her arm is stitched.” He drew a wheezing breath. “She needs steadier hands than mine to do that.” He leaned away in a coughing jag, then wiped his lips. “Better call—for—transport.”
With the splint secured, Granfer let his daughter-in-law’s arm lie on the floor. “I’ve used up all my gumption.” He heaved himself to his feet, and staggered down the hall to his room, where he shut the door.
Zan bent over his mother. Her swelling left ankle was turning black and blue. He grabbed a bandage from the case. “Mom, can you prop yourself on your elbow?”
She groaned, shifting her weight. Zan stepped behind her head. “I’m going to try pulling you away from this puddle, so you can lean against Granfer’s chair.” He got a grip beneath her shoulders, and she nodded.
“I’ll count to three,” she whispered, “and push off with my good foot. One, two, three.”
By the time she was propped against the front of the plaid recliner, both of them were panting hard. She reached across to pat his hand.
He looked down into her eyes. “I think I remember how to wrap your ankle.”
“Put one end under the arch of my foot.” She tipped her head back. “Keep it smooth, if you can.”
Zan’s hands moved quickly, bandaging the sprain. “Can you wiggle your toes?”
She drew a hissing breath, but her toes moved. She eased her splinted arm across her lap. “Deelie, please bring me a glass of water.”
Zan turned away. “I’ll call for help, like Granfer said.”
“Wait, son. Open the pain pill bottle, and give me one.”
As he changed direction, Zan’s bare foot landed on something sticky. He stopped at the first aid case, and pulled a bottle from a compartment in the second layer. Zan wiped his damp hand on his pants, then struggled for a moment with the bottle cap. His mother could never have done it left-handed. He passed her a tablet, and she put it in her mouth.
Deelie approached, carrying two-handed a glass so full that only surface tension kept the water from spilling. “Here, Mommy.”
Zan held his breath, watching, but his mother managed to accept the glass and drink without sloshing water into her lap. She closed her eyes again, and sighed. Zan put the pill bottle back, before he shut and latched the case.
“Zan, you spilled on the rug.”
“I did not. Go mop up the puddle by the front door.”
“You did so spill.” Deelie pointed. “See, it’s red. Right there.”
The dark stain on the rug was smudged. Zan shifted his weight, but one foot stuck to the floor. Hopping on the other foot, he went to the bucket for one of the wet towels. “I didn’t do it, but I’ll clean it up. You find the mop and take care of that muddy puddle.”
As his sister opened the closet, Zan scrubbed his sticky foot. He glanced at his mother. Her eyes were still closed. The wind yowled like a wounded beast, but Zan heard Granfer cough and spit even through his closed door.
He didn’t have time to scrub the rug. How many minutes ago had Granfer told him to call for help? Zan dropped a couple of wet towels over the spot, and went to the comm-unit. Three keystrokes tuned it to the frequency for emergency aid.
“This is Zan Queller.” His voice wobbled, and he tried again. “This is Zan Queller at Queller Farm. We need help.”
The flat tone of a recording sounded in his ear. “State your emergency.”
“My mother has a badly broken arm, and a sprained ankle.” Zan twisted the neck of his shirt. He’d rather talk to a person.
The recording continued. “All units are in service. Your request will be answered in sequence.”
Zan slapped the desktop. “We need help now.”
A different voice, human, answered. “What’s the problem?”
“My mom has a bad broken arm and a sprained ankle. Granfer says she needs stitches, too.” Zan rested his bent elbow on the desk and leaned his forehead in his hand.
“I’d like to talk to him.”
“Deelie, go get Granfer.”
She ran down the hall and knocked on Granfer’s door. After a moment, she pounded harder. Then, she tried the lever. “Zan, his door won’t open. Granfer, wake up!”
“Stop, Deelie. He must be sleeping. It was hard work to carry Mom inside.”
“But he always hears me.” She whimpered and sniffled.
The dispatcher spoke. “I see where you are, on Queller Farm. Are you Zan?”
“Zan, there’s zero visibility outside now, and the storm may last another few hours. When it eases, can your Granfer bring your mother in for treatment?”
Zan shook his head, then remembered he had to speak. The comm-unit’s vid capability had collapsed the day before. “No. Our hover is wrecked.”
“Then you’ll need to wait. What have you done to make her comfortable?”
“Granfer and I splinted her arm, I wrapped her ankle, and she’s had a pain pill.” Zan shifted in the chair and looked over his shoulder. “Her eyes are closed. I think she fell asleep.”
“That’s fine, Zan. Go check her fingers and toes for me. Are they warm?”
He slid off the chair. When he reached his mother, she was shaking her head—making sounds of protest. Carefully, he touched her toes. “Warm. That’s good, Mom,” he whispered. “It’s okay.”
Zan shifted his attention to her broken arm. Her fingers looked puffy. As he reached for the strap at her wrist, he noticed her hand wasn’t warm, but hot. The skin around the open wound looked red, too. He loosened the wrist strap and went back to the comm-unit. “Her toes are warm, but her fingers are puffy and her hand is hotter.”
“Ranjit,” Zan heard, “There’s a boy out at—” and then the sound was muffled. He started to count the seconds.
“One, two…seven, eight—”
The woman’s voice came through. “We reevaluated some other calls. A team will arrive in three hours. Don’t be afraid.”
“Thank you.” Zan said. Dim green light seeped through the shutter slats. “Must I stay by the comm-unit?”
“That won’t be necessary.”
When he’d switched off the comm-unit, Zan heard Deelie.
“Granfer, I’m hungry.”
He looked down the hall. His sister sat by Granfer’s bedroom door. Her chin was quivering.
“Granfer won’t answer, Zan.”
He had to keep her busy. “Come in the kitchen. I’ll make you a samwich.”
Deelie shuffled her way down the corridor. “Can I have bizellia jam on it?”
“You can have lots.” As he suspected, that short-circuited her urge to cry. “After you finish the samwich,” he pulled out the bread knife, “Mom and I need you to finish mopping in the front hall, and put away the buckets. Medics are coming to help Mom”—and Granfer. “They won’t need that stuff in their way.”
Zan cut four slices from the loaf. He smeared bizellia jam over two slices for his sister, and—he opened the refrigerator— grabbed leftover roast growler for him. He left enough meat for Granfer’s samwich, if he woke hungry.
“Okay, Zan.” His sister sat in her chair, swinging her feet. The thick jam had smeared her face thoroughly at the first bite.
He took a huge bite of his samwich, speaking past a bulging cheek. “After this, I’m going outside to squash dinbeetles.”
“Do I have to help?”
Zan shook his head. “When the mop and stuff are put away, you draw, and listen for Mom. If she wakes up, come to the front door and yell for me.”
Zan left the house carrying a stone poi pounder, his favorite tool for smashing dinbeetles. After a storm, they clanged for mates. The hover’s final landing flattened a fence section beyond the traggleroot patch.
“Uh oh.” Zan dropped his burden, jogged to the hover. He could get his fingers under one edge. He scraped more dirt away, then crouched. He breathed deeply. “One, two, three, AARRGGH!”
Straining, he flipped the vehicle off the fence line into the brush. The wires vibrated, but the fence posts didn’t spring upright.
Zan returned to the traggleroot patch. A dinbeetle hung head down from the tip of each narrow leaf. Zan grabbed one by the back legs, mashed it, and grabbed the next one. It got quieter, until the fourth row, when Deelie screamed.
Zan burst through the front door. His mother frowned. The mop and buckets were gone. Granfer’s door was still closed. Deelie cowered under the kitchen table.
“A cairnbek. It sees me,” she said.
“They don’t have eyes.” Zan crouched nearby, and whispered, to keep from alarming his mother.
“It knows where I am.” She pointed toward the kitchen windowsill. Her dress-up bangles jingled down her arm.
All metals attracted cairnbek.
“Give me those. I’ll put them on the table where they’ll be safe.”
Zan stood, watching the innocent-seeming pile of dust and sand on the windowsill extend a pseudopod, to engulf Deelie’s barrette beside it. The cairnbek glowed, and grew, drawing more dust through gaps in the window frame. Sand Deelie had overlooked in the front hall hissed past Zan’s feet.
A large cairnbek could aggregate good-sized boulders. He had to stop it. Sweeping cairnbek with a broom gave them energy. They re-formed, more aggressive than before.
Granfer’s brother once touched a cairnbek barehanded. He’d lost three fingers. The burn pain never went away. The cairnbek flowed across the counter, avoiding a wet spot.
“Deelie, go to Mom.”
Zan dashed to his room. He flung open the closet, then grabbed his great uncle’s soaker rifle from the rack. He detoured, filled the rifle’s reservoir from the bathtub tap. Panting, Zan reached the kitchen as the cairnbek absorbed foil scraps. Maximum drench was tempting, but dividing the cairnbek would make two targets.
He took a deep breath, set the nozzle of the rifle to dense mist, and fired. Sparks flew. Zan squeezed the trigger again. Stinking steam rose. He walked forward, firing, until the beep-whistle of a district aid crawler penetrated the dinbeetles’ clangor. He paused.
“Deelie, open the door.”
The medics tramped in.
“Mommy’s in here.”
Zan dropped the empty rifle. Everything in the path of his spray dripped while the cairnbek lay inert, a sparkling pile of mud in a patch of bright green sunlight on the floor. He scraped the mud into a container, and sealed it shut.
When Zan stepped into the living room, the medics had shifted his mother onto a gurney. He moved closer. Deelie was whispering in Mom’s ear. The shorter, balding medic beckoned Zan toward the hall.
“I need an adult to sign this form. Where’s your Granfer?”
Zan shushed him, and led the man to the door of Granfer’s room. “After he splinted Mom’s arm, Granfer went to his room. My little sister has tried twice to get his attention, but he doesn’t answer. She’s scared. The door isn’t locked, but it won’t open.”
The medic pushed the lever. His expression shifted. “Does your Granfer’s room have a window?”
Zan nodded. “I’ll show you which one.” He left the house by the side door, careful to keep it from slamming behind the medic. “His window is high on the wall.” Zan jogged around the corner. He raised his voice to be heard over the dinbeetles. “I can’t reach the storm shutters, but the ladder is in the shed.”
“Not only high, it’s small. I’ll never fit.”
“I’m scared too. When Granfer went into his room he was coughing hard. I heard him spit a few times, but he’s been quiet for a long time, and doesn’t answer us.”
The medic patted Zan’s back. “Let’s get that ladder. What’s under your Granfer’s window?”
Zan ran to the shed. As he passed the bizellia bushes, their branches shed the accumulated sand with a sound like a twanged spring.
“His desk.” He unhooked the latch. The shed door swung wide.
The medic stepped in, grabbed the ladder, and rushed back to the window. “Up you go. I’ll brace the ladder. When you get in, unblock the inner door.”
Zan climbed until he could slide the shutter bar aside. He swung the shutters back against the wall. Granfer was sitting on the floor with his back against the door. “There’s blood on Granfer’s shirt, and the carpet.”
“Get in there quickly.” The medic radioed his partner in the house. “Horace, it’s Bil. We’ll have two patients to transport. We’re gaining access to the old man’s room.”
Zan swung the window open, grabbed the eaves, and stuck his feet through the opening. He landed on Granfer’s desk. He jumped down and crossed the room.
“Can you wake up?” He shook Granfer’s shoulder then grabbed the front of his sweater in both fists. When he’d helped his mother, she’d been awake and tried to help. Granfer sagged sideways at first, but a strong yank shifted his direction. Panting, Zan moved him far enough to clear the doorway.
When Zan opened the door, both medics came in with another gurney. The taller one slipped an oxygen mask over Granfer’s face.
“I still need an adult to sign this form, before we can transport them for treatment.”
“I’m coming, Mom.” Zan jogged down the hall to the living room. His mother was pale, her hair stringy with sweat. He reached for her left hand. She squeezed his fingers tightly.
“You’re as resourceful as your father.” Her voice wobbled, and Zan managed an equally shaky smile.
He turned to the medic who had followed him. “Mom can sign the form, if it’s okay if she uses her left hand.”
“That’s fine.” The medic steadied the clipboard for her, and she signed awkwardly with its attached stylus. “We’ll be transporting you and your father-in-law in a few moments, Mrs. Queller.”
“Both of us? Oh dear.” She frowned. “Zan, turn on the comm-unit, and contact your Aunt Arugula.”
“But she always talks to me like I’m Deelie’s age.” He slogged toward the comm-unit, scuffing his feet across the carpet.
“Open the link and bring me the headset.”
“Yes, Mom.” The unit squawked as he tuned it in. Maybe his aunt wouldn’t be home. Zan carried the headset into the living room and slipped it onto his mother’s head. He sat cross-legged on the carpet beside the soggy towels, and supported his head in his hands.
“Rollo, it’s Mira. Max and I need to go into the aid center. I had an accident with the hover. The medics are here to transport us, but could you come by and take Deelie home with you?”
Zan lifted his head to stare at his mother.
“No, you won’t need to find room for Zan. He’s old enough to stay home alone for a day or so.” She beckoned to Deelie, who came closer. “Go put some clean clothes and your toothbrush in your suitcase,” she said, “You’re going to stay with Aunt Arugula and Uncle Rollo for a few days.”
Deelie squealed and hopped to her room to prepare.
“Bil,” the taller medic interrupted, “Let’s get this second patient loaded now.”
The first medic went to Granfer’s room, and reappeared pushing him on a gurney, while his partner squeezed a bag attached to a mask over the old man’s mouth and nose. Granfer’s face was an odd color.
Zan stood to hold his mother’s left hand. She squeezed it tightly.
“It will be all right,” she whispered. “Rollo should arrive in the next ten minutes.”
Zan felt a great tightness leave his neck and shoulders. Uncle Rollo had lots of common sense, and wouldn’t panic or ask prying questions. “Love you, Mom.”
The balding medic returned. “Time to go, Mrs. Queller.” He stepped to the head of the gurney and steered it out of the room and out the door.
Zan watched the aid crawler until it reached the main road. When he stepped back into the house, and shut out the dinbeetles’ clanging, he heard Deelie’s bracelets jingle as she ran through the rooms.
“Granfer? Where are you? Zan?”
“I’m here, sis.”
Deelie came to the arched living room entry. Her face was wet. “Granfer’s door is open, but he’s not in his room. He’s not anywhere!” She snuffled.
“Granfer is riding in the aid crawler with mom.”
“But I didn’t get to see him.”
It was better that she hadn’t, but Zan wasn’t about to say so. “Don’t cry any more. Go blow your nose, then bring your suitcase to the door. Uncle Rollo will be here in a few minutes.”
The suitcase wheels clacked as she returned. Time for another distraction. “Do you want to watch for Uncle Rollo, or help me clean up this mess on the rug?”
“You spilled. You clean it up.” She plopped herself on the ottoman and pressed her nose to the window.
Zan grabbed a bucket. He’d helped his mother clean the carpet more than once. As he scrubbed the suds down to the backing, Deelie hummed a repetitive children’s song. Going places, going places—seeing new, new things. He sighed. The words and tune were already stuck in his mind.
Quietly, he lifted the bucket. Maybe he could get Granfer’s rug scrubbed before his sister noticed. Before he attacked the spots, Zan climbed onto the desk to shut the window. The ladder still leaned against the house. He could take care of that when she’d gone.
The mess in the living room was easier than this spray of fine spots. The more he looked, the more he saw. Zan set to work, and tackled a third of the job before Deelie called.
“I see Uncle Rollo.”
Zan left the bucket and brush, and sprinted down the hall. He nearly collided with his sister’s suitcase before she dragged it out the door. She ran straight to the parked hover.
“Mommy says I get to come to your house. Where’s Aunt Arugula?”
“She’s shopping. Do you want to fly?”
Deelie held out both hands, and Rollo gripped her wrists to spin her in a circle. After five turns, he set her on her feet. “You’re getting big for this game.” He set her suitcase on the hover, and Deelie’s chin quivered.
“I don’t wanna ride a hover. Mommy fell off.”
“It’s a very long walk to my house. You’re coming, aren’t you?” Rollo lifted her.
The corners of his sister’s mouth turned down, and Zan spoke up. “Mom fell because our hover is old and broken. Uncle Rollo’s is brand new, and everything works.”
“Zan is right. You know hovers only move when the driver grabs the steering bar.” He fastened a safety harness around her. “Where is your hover?”
Zan pointed. “After Mom fell, the wind blew it past the traggleroot patch. The hover flattened part of the fence when it landed.”
“You and I better do something about that. Don’t need growlers running around tonight.”
When they reached the spot, Zan said, “The fence is still charged.”
“Good. Do you have any idea what’s wrong with the hover?”
“One of the gyros is out.”
Rollo squeezed Zan’s shoulder. “I’ll bring my tools in a day or so. For now, it can stay where it is.”
Zan tapped the screen on his wrist-unit. “The fence is offline now.”
His uncle crossed the property line and found two thick wild bizellia branches that had snapped off in the wind. When Zan took one branch, he shoved the end under the nearest toppled fence post. Rollo positioned his branch under the other post.
“Ready,” Rollo said, “One, two, three, heave.” Together they levered the fence until the posts snapped upright. When the quivering stopped, Zan gripped the top of the post and vaulted over the fence. His uncle followed. Zan reactivated the fence.
“I’ll be by in a day or so. Call me if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Zan said, and shook Rollo’s hand.
“You’ll be fine, boy. I’ve got to get going. Arugula is making roast growler for supper.”
Zan waved as the hover whisked into the distance. He jogged to the back of the house and pushed the ladder until it toppled. Then, he dragged it into the shed. He grabbed a pair of thick gloves, stepped out, and bolted the door.
The dinbeetles’ sound had changed. To save the crop, as he’d promised Granfer, Zan needed to kill both males and females now. The females were bioluminescent—easy to see in the dimming light, but they bit, painfully. He trudged to the row where he’d left the poi pounder, and back-tracked further to the row nearest the fence.
“Come out, come out, I’m waiting for you.”
Off to his left, a female dinbeetle flashed her unmistakable orange and purple pattern. Zan snatched her from her perch, and crushed her, followed by several males that had vied for her. The poi pounder was smooth in Zan’s hand as he found his rhythm.
“Gotcha.” One plant clean. Silence grew, as well as his appetite. He pounded the last dinbeetle as the edge of the green sun emerged from behind First Mountain.