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THE HARVEST by Tom Godwin

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It was Harvest time.

The Sky People waited where the last tenuous vestiges of atmosphere met the nothing of outer space, invisible to the land creatures below who had no way of perceiving life forms that were almost pure energy. Harthon and Ledri waited a little apart from the others, soaring restlessly on scintillating wings in the light-stream from the sun.

For many days the Release field had enveloped the world below, clouding and distorting the surface of it to the perception of the Sky People with the violence of its psycho-persuasion bands. Now the field was lifted, its work done. There remained only the last little while of waiting before the fralings came; the intoxicating, maddeningly delicious fralings that filled the body and mind with a singing, ecstatic fire . . . 

"There are so many of us this time," Ledri said. "Do you think there will be enough fralings?"

"Of course," Harthon reassured her. "There are more of them, too, and they've learned how to send us as many as we need. There will be more fralings this time than ever before."

"The Harvest—" Ledri's thought was like a nostalgic sigh. "What fun they are! Do you remember the last one, Harthon? And the night we danced down the moonbeams to meet the fralings coming up, before they had ever reached the nets of the Gatherer?"

"I remember. And afterward we followed the sun-stream out, so far out that the world and the moon were like a big and a little star behind us. And we sang . . ."

"And you. And then we were hungry again and we let the sun-stream carry us back to the feast where the others were laughing because someone had almost let a fraling escape. Everyone was so happy and the world and the stars were so beautiful. The poor creatures down below"—a touch of sadness came over her—"they don't know and can never know what it's like . . ."

"It has to be that way," Harthon said. "Would you change it if you could?"

"Oh, no! They have to stay there and we have to watch over them. But what if they should do something beyond our control, as the Wise Ones say they may do some day, and then there would be the Last Harvest and never again any fralings for us?"

"I know. But that may not happen for a long time. And this isn't the day for worrying, little shining one—not when the feast begins so soon."

Their wings touched as they turned in their soaring and looked down upon the great curve of the world below. The eastern sea was blue and cloudless; the western continent going into the evening and the huge mass of the eastern continent coming out of the night. The turning of the world was visible as they watched; the western rim of the western continent creeping very slowly into the extinction of the horizon.

"Can the land people tell when we're watching them like this?" Ledri asked.

"No. They know we're up here, but that's all."

"How did they ever—"

A little sun blazed into being on the western continent, brighter than the real sun. Others followed, swiftly; then they began to flare into life on the eastern continent—two fields of vivid flowers that bloomed briefly and were gone. Where they had been were tall, dark clouds that rose higher still, swelling and spreading, hiding the land beneath.

The Summoner gave the call that was like the song of a trumpet and the one who had been appointed Gatherer poised his far-flung nets.

"They're coming—the fralings!" Ledri cried. "Look at them, Harthon. But there are so many"—the worry came back to her—"so many that maybe this is the Last Harvest."

"There aren't that many," Harthon said, and he laughed at her concern. "Besides, will we care tonight?"

The quick darkness of her mood vanished and she laughed with him. "Tonight we'll dance down the moonbeams again. And tomorrow we'll follow the sun-stream out, farther than ever before."

The fralings drew swiftly closer, hurrying like bright silver birds.

"They're coming to us," Ledri said. "They know that this is where they must go. But how did the land people ever learn of us?"

"Once, many centuries ago, a fraling escaped the nets long enough to go back for a little while. But fralings and land people can't communicate very well with one another and the land people misunderstood most of what it tried to tell them about us."

The fralings struck the invisible nets and the Gatherer gave the command to draw them closed.

"Let's go—the others are already starting," Harthon said, and they went with flashing wings toward the nearer net.

"Do the land people have a name for us?" Ledri asked.

"They call us 'angels,' and they call the Gatherer 'God.' "

The fralings, finally understanding, were trying frantically to escape and the terror of the small ones was a frightened, pleading wail.

"And what do they call the fralings?"

"They call them their 'souls.' We'll eat the small, young ones first—they're the best and there will be plenty for all."


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