When Caleb left the shattered husk of the Harvester Prime behind, bleeding out what it called the knowledge of a thousand generations onto its own mechanical innards, he had collected all the other Harvesters he could, pulling them free from their mechanical cocoons, their prisons. Most were very young, mere children; their leader had mentioned how quickly the Harvesters burned through a body that wasn’t young and resilient.

The oldest Harvester had refused Caleb’s help, defiantly pulling put a piece of vital circuitry and leaving the world on her own terms. A younger one, a teenager, had refused Caleb’s help, piloting his machine into the wastes with a grim purpose.

“You’ve no fuel and no plan, son!” Caleb had shouted after him. “What are you going to do?”

“Find a purpose,” came the reply over crackled loudspeakers. “Or die trying.”

The others had agreed to come or been so young that Caleb felt he had no choice but to take them. They were all cybernetically enhanced to various degrees, apparently at the whim of their departed ‘grandfather,’ but Caleb was able to fashion parts to replace their limbs–each child was missing an arm or a leg, with their connection to the Harvesters apparently passing through instead, an extension of the self in the form of a ten-ton hand.

So, when Caleb set out on his long trek home, he was accompanied by a wagon and nine children aged five to ten. They’d been given names by the Harvester Prime that seemed to imply he saw them as the components of a vast and sinister circuit board–parts soldered into place to serve a purpose like any other. “I/O” had chosen to take her own life, and “CPU” had trundled off to parts unknown, which left Trace, Diode, Switch, Transistor, Capacitator, Chip, Resistor, Breaker, and Fuse in Caleb’s convoy.

Transistor was utterly unable to pronounce her name, rendering it variously as “tray-sister,” “trog-sister,” or even “trap-sister.” By the end of the long ramble to safety, Caleb and all the others just called her Sister. Capacitor proudly and pointedly pronounced his full name every time, but Caleb had little patience for it: “I’m not using four syllables to call you unless I’m mighty angry, kid. You’ll go by Cap when I’m in a good mood.” Resistor, who was the same age as Sister and might have been a sibling or twin, was ironically the most pleasant and pliable of the children. She was “Tory” by the end of the journey.

Trace, the oldest, walked alongside Caleb as he led the wagon crammed with the others. “What’ll you do with us when we get to your home, mister?” he asked once his early fear of Caleb’s grizzled and laconic affect had faded.

“I can’t say I’ve decided,” Caleb said. “But I’m not the sort of guy to leave helpless kids to the jackals. I reckon I’ll teach you a few tricks, give you some books to read, show you how to shoot half-decent and forage for salvageable machine parts.”

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