"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
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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."
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
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