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Inner Peace
by Rune Lai

"Aw, shut up, boy! Mother Brain's great an' all, but she ain't providing for us!"

Joshua looked away, trying not to flinch. He slowly clenched a hand into a fist. "I know, Dad, but I really don't think we should be asking her for things we don't already have. We don't have to have the latest theater system or the do-it-all kitchen. Maybe a few other people are getting more than us, but it's not like we're a bunch of Mota people. We're still better than them."

His father drank another bottle of the fermented melik juice without missing a beat. "That's what you think. Mother Brain's supposed to treat us all equal." He thumped his chest. "And then some of us are more equal than others. Like those agents. Well, your old man here volunteered for government duty and you know what I got?"

Joshua leaned against the frame of the doorway to his family's living room. He watched the holovision play some sort of sporting event. The small three dimensional figures engaged in a game of tackle, many of them piling on each other in hordes. He already knew what his father got, and he tuned the man out. There wasn't any pride in being in charge of waste disposal. At least it wasn't sewage, but clearing out other people's garbage didn't offer the sort of glory any other sort of employment by Mother Brain would. If anything, their family was even worse off now. His father's bonus for being a government employee? Being able to keep anything he found among the garbage the people threw out. And the man kept a lot of it. He had the disposal droids programmed to sift through the trash just for him. Now the house stank like a sandworm's nest. At least if he didn't get a job their home would have had some semblance of being normal.

"Hey, where're you going?" snapped the older man.

Joshua barely glanced over his shoulder as he strode away. "I'm outta here."

"Leaving already?" called a voice further down the hall.

He glared at his cousin Donald, a lanky teenager a few years older than him. Joshua's parents decided to take him in--no, were assigned to by Mother Brain--when Donald's own died two years ago. He had tried hard to be sympathetic towards his cousin, but Donald had a habit of dipping into Joshua's personal savings that left the younger boy with a bitter taste in his mouth.

"Yes." Joshua aimed his statement like a knife.

Donald yawned and stretched his arms over his head. "Well, just so you know, I borrowed another hundred meseta from you. I saw a designer knife in the store this morning and you know it might have been gone by tomorrow if I hadn't picked it up right then and there. Pay ya back as soon as I can. You know this streak of bad luck has got to end sometime."

Joshua arched an eyebrow. "Perhaps when you stop betting all my money on the games?"

"As mean as always." Donald winked. "Anyway, don't think you're getting out of here without your chores. Your dad wants his den neat and organized by tomorrow--the cleaning bot's broken again--ho hum, Mom needs to change the automated grocery delivery list but there seems to be a problem with the phone line so you've got to go downtown to work it-"

"Wait just a minute!" Joshua marched up to his cousin, trying to ignore the trash strewn about the hallway. "That cleaning bot has been dead for the past month and Dad suddenly decides he needs the den cleaned by tomorrow?"

Donald sniffed. "The rest of the house would be good too if you could manage it. We've got guests coming over to look at the business."

The business of selling trash.

"And I'm not done," said Donald, carefully weighing out his list. "Clarissa needs you to buy her some monomate for her cold, Bethany forgot her portable and since it's almost sunset she doesn't want to run back to school to get it all by herself, Mimi's with her boyfriend so she wants you to drop off this package for her, and finally, Lily needs a new nightlight because her current one broke."

"A new one? Don't we have a spare?"

Donald shrugged. "Well, we probably have one in the den, but it's not organized right now."

Joshua resisted the urge to do something he might regret to his cousin's lazy face. "And why is there so much to do at once?"

Donald proceeded to walk past him, heading for the front door. "Well, you know me. I tried to get around to this for a couple weeks now, but I never seem to have time. And most of the recent stuff is Mimi's job but she's not here. So I'm opening the door now and--bye!"

His cousin did not bother to shut the door.

Joshua stood in the doorway, looking out at the reddening sky over the Motavian city. The sun looked fat and bloated, like his dad on one of his better days. "Why do I even bother!" he shouted, half-hoping Donald would hear him and turn around. But his cousin was most of the way down the block by now--a swift walker when he wanted to be--and gave no indication of hearing him.

He growled and punched the door frame. His knuckles cut against the sharp metal of the door's corners. Joshua absently brought his hand to his mouth and licked away the blood. I'm the only real thing holding this family together. Nothing ever gets done without me. Mom watches after Beth, Clar, and Lily. Mimi and Don are a waste. And all Dad ever does is bring home junk, watch HV, and whine at me.

Perhaps it was time to leave.

Joshua walked through the bare streets of Maula, a suburb near the supercomplex of Roron; ironically the largest junkyard in all of Mota. The teenage boy spared a thought of his father moving into the twin dumps. All their house was was a miniature Roron anyway. The only difference between them and the garbage-wallowing Mota people was that they had no fur and Motavians did.

Josh! Josh! Josh! Everyone was always screaming his name. He could barely stand hearing it without flinching. Never a note of quiet to his name, but it was his and he was stuck with it as far as legal matters were concerned. Too bad he couldn't call himself something else, or could he?

He kicked a loose piece of concrete angrily and watched it sail off the ground with some satisfaction. No doubt a maintenance droid would fix it later, but for the moment it was a welcome release. Joshua allowed himself a smirk and sauntered up to the primary school where he, Mimi, Clarissa, and now Bethany had studied.

The administrative office was still open--janitorial droids moved about their business, sweeping through near vacant hallways in preparation for the following school day. Joshua had heard that the classes were getting smaller, though he wasn't surprised. What was the point of learning anything beyond reading and math anyway? It's not like either of his parents used the sort of stuff one learns in school. Joshua only liked the computers, and he knew if he was Bethany he would never have forgotten his portable computer at school. Every day he took it home with a grip that would defy death. Even now, in secondary school with an upgraded computer, he still kept it about him with a tighter assurance than his own citizen ID card.

The secretary on duty gave him the portable after a quick scan of his card, affirming his identity as Bethany's brother. Joshua thanked her, but did not go home right away. Instead he sat on the rooftop of the school gym. When he was little he managed to sneak up there nearly everyday. He liked it because no one could find him, no one could pick on him or his computer. No one could say, "Hey, there's the hairless Motavian! All his blue fur shrank to that fuzz on his head." At one point Joshua was desperate enough to dye his hair, but the Mota person comments did not stop.

He waited up on the rooftop and watched the sun set. Cleaning his father's den would take several hours, but he took his time in going home. He finished his errands and walked back into his shabby home well after dark. A light was on upstairs, his mother singing to one or more of his sisters. He expected a lullaby, but it was an old Palman love song.

Joshua sighed and climbed the steps. He slipped into the lighted room and saw Bethany and Lily dozing in the same bed. His mother sat beside them, her voice tired but still warm. She finished the song and stood up.

Joshua lifted the bundles in his arms. "I got the nightlight and monomate," he whispered.

She smiled and nodded.

He gave them to her and tiptoed back out of the room. Joshua made his way back down the stairs and entered the den. He snapped on the light to reveal the mess he knew would be there. "Climatrol drops another one on the Kain household," he muttered.

"Out late?" asked his father, coming up behind him.

Joshua grunted an affirmative. "I'll clean this."

"It'll take all night."

"I know."

His father left, probably to drink some more or go to bed. Worthless life. But what was worth anything that Mother Brain could not fix?

One more time, Joshua told himself. Just one more time, then I'll go.

He worked long into the darkness, until the first rays of light shown above the horizon. He was more exhausted than he had ever been, but when he stood beside the front door, admiring the interior of the house, he knew he had done the right thing. "One last time," he said, slapping a note up on the inside of the front door. "One last time." Then they could scream all they'd want and he'd never answer.

Joshua opened the door, stepped out outside, and locked it behind him. He walked away. He knew where he would find his fortune. School? Who needed that? A home? Mother Brain would provide, or so they said. As long as he had his portable and mesetas in his pocket he'd be happy. At least Donald hadn't "borrowed" everything.

At the teleport station the clerk asked for his name and he replied, "Josh Kain." Then a wave of pain passed over him, but he took solace in that it was only a memory. "My name is Joshua Kain, but Kain will do."

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