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Written by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Illustrated by: Ian Nitta

Rosetta found the cleanbomb under the squashed skeleton of a runabout. She and Scorpion spent a lot of time creeping under or into broken things, looking for valuable stuff that got thrown out. Scorpion and Rosetta were the smallest people in their families; they could slide into and under things other people were too large to search.

Almost everything on ReWork got thrown out by somebody, sent down the chutes, out of somebody's life or backyard or city dump, right off their planets to here. The whole planet was made of things people threw out, if you counted the dead moon at its core as a discard. Scorpion's dad said ReWork started out as God's shit and people just kept piling more shit on it. Scorpion and his dad lived pretty deep under the surface in a laser-carved cave inside what used to be a small airship. Nobody lived on the surface. New chutestuff fell all the time, so the landscape constantly changed.

Scorpion's dad thought ReWork was a pile of shit, but Rosetta knew it was full of treasure. Rosetta's job was salvage, which she figured was the most fun job in the world.

At midmorning, Rosetta and Scorpion took their mesh bags of new stuff up onto a beached train car carcass into the light of day.

Nobody spent much time in the open. You never knew when the skychutes would come; your only warning was a faint clattering rumble and a shadow in the sky before another load of whatever someone on one of the sixty-three other inhabited worlds didn't want came tumbling down on top of you.

Every time Scorpion and Rosetta went up into direct sunlight, they felt like they were having an adventure. They felt even wilder if their gauges said the air was clean enough for them to take off their masks. People died from getting dumped on or suffocated from gases or toxins. There were lots of ways to be stupid on ReWork, most of them leading to death. Rosetta figured she was doing well to be alive at thirteen.

The train car was her and Scorpion's new temporary favorite sunperch. They had discovered it five days earlier, and knew they wouldn't be able to use it long; junk placement was only semi-random. Most places got a new supply every seven days or so.


Two of the train car's windows were broken out. Rosetta and Scorpion figured if they heard chutesign, they could duck down into the car.

"What'd you get?" Scorpion asked. His mask was down around his neck. Today was sunny and clear; their gauges said they could breathe without danger. Scorpion took an energy bar from a vest pocket and dissolved the wrapper, then bit off the dessert end.

Rosetta took out the boring stuff first. Six pieces of memory plastic she could reprogram—she had a talent for decoding other people's command language. A silver chain with a firejewel pendant she had found inside a smashed handbag, but she suspected the firejewel was fake. Three tiny travel-safety charms she'd found in the cushions of a wrecked familycar, so how well could they work? She saved the cleanbomb back. "You show me yours."

Scorpion chewed his way through his entree before he opened his sack and pulled out a plastipet. It was a purple one shaped like an animal Rosetta had never seen before, but she could tell it was missing a limb—there was an empty socket where an arm ought to be. Its other three arms had two elbows each, and the hands had forests of tentacles instead of fingers. The two feet were flat on the ends of three-jointed limbs, with bending plates instead of toes.

"I think I've got an arm that'll fit," she said. She had a whole stock of spare parts for things back at the family complex, a warren of caves and tunnels a few layers lower than Scorpion's home. "Not the right kind of arm, but something that should work."

"Here's the good part." Scorpion poked the plastipet's head. Its eyes glowed orange. "Still a full charge. Some kid threw it out just because it got a little broken."

"They're so dumb. But then, we're so lucky."

"What's your name?" Scorpion asked the pet. "Tell Rosie your name."

"Kick," said the pet. Its voice sounded human and female.

"I found it because it was talking to itself," said Scorpion.

"Hi, Kick," Rosetta said. "You have cool hands. What kinds of things can you do?"

"Greetings," said the pet. "I cannot answer questions without proper authorization. Where is Master? I must find Master. My seek function is supplying invalid data. It says Master is not on this planet."

"Needs a restart and realign," Scorpion said.

"Let's debonk its info filters and question it first. Find out about Master. Don't you wonder about the people who throw all this good stuff away?"

"I know everything I need to know about them just looking at their discards." Scorpion turned the pet over and found the touchpad that opened its control hatch. He pressed a sequence onto the bumps, but nothing happened. "Coded. I'll figure it out."

"I could do it for you," Rosetta said.

"Worry about it later." Scorpion pressed the button on Kick's head. Its eyes flickered out. "What else you got?"

Rosetta set the mesh bag on her lap. She pulled out the cleanbomb.

"You're kidding," Scorpion whispered.

Rosetta set the ball between them on the train's striped siding. They both stared at it.

It was about the size of a human head, coated in dull white dust that bent the light into microrainbows and made the ball look bumpy and less than round. Rosetta's hands still tingled from having touched it. Something shifted around in her chest. A cleanbomb could blow up anything within about a thousand feet of it. Anything. An explosion that didn't pollute, just utterly destroyed, carved out a ball of space a thousand feet in diameter wherever you put it. It was one of many things she'd read about on the E-net but had never seen before.

"You know who you're going to sell it to?" Scorpion asked after a moment.

"No." Rosetta hunched forward and stared at the ball. She could sell it to the Wreckers. They were always looking for ways to sabotage the Enclosed, the people who lived in the cities and worked at the recycling factories or the air and water plants and aped the ways of life on other planets. A cleanbomb could wreck something at Central Transport, or some kind of support system for the Enclosed, destroy a water purifying plant, a power plant, a library, a supply chute from another planet, or even the central computer system that ran the dumpchutes.

She could sell it to somebody in the Tunnelrat government, the people who made the rules, hired enforcers, ran bargain sites so nobody got cheated so badly they couldn't go on salvaging and rescuing and providing. The Gov would probably use it to clear an area for a new market, or start a new reservoir, or kill off a nest of bandits or antrats.

She could sell it to Crazy Eli, who had his own religion and kept looking for converts and talking about miracles. Eli had found and stashed more great trash than anybody else Rosetta knew. His skill as a finder was only surpassed by his skill at making you feel weird and wrong.

She could keep it. Even though it was probably the biggest score she'd ever made, she could keep it—just in case she needed to destroy something someday.

She picked up the cleanbomb and hugged it. It vibrated on a low note that made her stomach shake and sent a hum through her hands. There was an activation site on the cleanbomb, four raised bumps and two recesses. Rosetta already knew the sequence she would need to press to start the ball's internal timer ticking. She wasn't sure how long the delay was.

"You win this time," Scorpion said. He put the plastipet back in his bag.

Rosetta collected her finds too.

They were already a few feet down the access tunnel on their way to a semifresh collection site when they heard chutesign above them. They pulled up their masks and attached their oxytanks. "Go on," Rosetta cried, and Scorpion ran ahead of her. She stopped long enough to spike a disruptor into the tunnel wall before rushing after him. Behind her, the tunnel collapsed before new garbage could come down and clog it.

They came to a nexus of three tunnels and took the down one; at the next branching, they took a side one. The world shook as new garbage piled on top of old above them. The traincar wouldn't work as a perch anymore.

They stopped and waited about eight layers down in a kink of the tunnel. The air was bad, heavy near the floor and stale. Rosetta set a "fix" beacon in the wall so a repair crew would stop by and drill a circulation tunnel to keep this area safe. Scorpion shone his headlight on the tunnel wall in sweeps, looking to see if there was anything valuable previous salvagers had missed, but it was mostly compacted plastic, nothing exciting to dig out, no special sparkles.

When nothing shook or fluttered in the walls anymore, Scorpion glanced at his watch. "Fifteen minutes," he said. "About right for a standard drop."

"I've got a carve laser. You have tunnel props?" asked Rosetta.


They grinned at each other through their masks. "Let's go." New garbage was the best place to find good stuff. They headed up the way they had come.

At the branch three or four layers down, they took a side tunnel to find a topside exit that would still be open. Better to approach things from the side than from below. Other tunnelrats would be headed this way to look over the new fall; some of them had seismic sensors that could pinpoint new drops from miles away.

Scorpion and Rosetta had a small window when they had first pick; after that, it would be back to scavenging in places other people couldn't get to.

They had to watch out for bandits. Tunnelrat patrols cracked down on bandit activity, but there were always new people so disgusting their communities cast them out and they had to raid to survive. The buyers at the recycleworks didn't care who they got things from as long as there was a steady supply. One tunnelrat looked just like another to the Enclosed. Buyers at tunnelmarkets were pickier, but they would buy really rare things from anybody who had them.

When they reached the surface, the reptilian gulls had already blown up in a huge dark gray-and-white flock to land on the new drop. It was a giant mound of white and red and clear and steel, small plastics, broken devices, and worse.

"Ick," said Scorpion. "Medical waste."

Rosetta followed Scorpion's masked and hooded form across a few pieces of debris she remembered from before this fall, and then they hit the new stuff, stacks of used, labeled containers, some still full of cast-off body products; single-use med injectors, emergency room garments and wipes, bedding contaminated with blood and body products of people who were probably already dead; and then the mounds of things cut off of people, replaced with new vatgrown body parts or prosthetics.

Rosetta checked labels on the containers to find out which planet had sent this load to ReWork. Some planets had developed clean incineration for toxic, dangerous stuff like this. Others had trash-chute deals that made it cheaper to ship the stuff to ReWork than deal with it at home.

The labels were written in one of the twelve alphabet/syllable writing systems Rosetta knew, in a language she could understand. This load came from Lobella, one of ReWork's most frequent donors.

Rosetta checked her gauge. Definitely toxins in this load. All kinds of solvents and cleansers, but also contaminated blood and body waste. "Let's go somewhere else," she said. Sometimes you could find valuable discards in medical waste, but it was messy and horrible work. Scorpion's dad and Rosetta's family weren't interested in drug dealing, and that was what paid the most in medical waste, especially when you found new and experimental drugs.

"Wait," said Scorpion. "Listen."

Rosetta heard the screeches of the gulls. She listened past them. Scorpion had the best ears of anybody she knew, but once he pointed sounds out to her, she could usually hear them.

Crying. Something crying.

"Let's get out of here," she said. If they found someone crying, it would just mean trouble, work, and not enough money. People who got thrown out usually didn't have any money. Well, Junika had found that kidnapped rich kid once in the trunk of a car, and he had still been alive. She had made so much money on his rescue that she'd been able to go offplanet. She stayed away just long enough to lose her reward in some offworld casino.

Mostly, people who got thrown out were people someone had decided didn't deserve to live. If it was a baby, it would mean investing care in it until it got bigger and could work to repay you, and no guarantees then; what if it were crippled or defective and could never work its debt off? If it was anybody older, they were probably too broken to take care of themselves. Best to not even get near.

"I got to find out," Scorpion said, apology in his voice.

"You'll regret it."

"I know. You want me to do it alone?"

Rosetta sighed. She pulled out her tunnelcutter laser. It wasn't very strong, and her charge was almost gone, but it might be good enough to scare the cryer if necessary. "Let's go."

The cryer lay in a pile of cut-off limbs. It was a blue-skinned child with pointed ears and silky green hair. It looked about seven. It hugged a white-skinned arm to its naked chest, the hand at the end open, the fingers and palm pressed against the cryer's breast bone. Its sobs had faded to whimpers and hiccups, and it lay among arms and legs in a variety of skin colors and hair patterns, all the cuts cauterized so that the limbs looked artificial instead of bloody. At least Lobella had laser surgery.

"Hey," Scorpion said gently. "Who are you?"

The cryer hiccuped and opened its eyes. They were large and orange-red, with very little white, the pupils slits. The child stared at them for a moment, then screamed.

"Hey," said Rosetta.

"Monsters!" cried the child in Lobellan.

Rosetta and Scorpion exchanged glances. They did look sort of like monsters in their protection suits, hooded and masked. Rosetta checked her gauge again. Still too much bad stuff in the air to unmask.

Scorpion moved a hand to the vest pocket that held his tranq darts. Rosetta nodded.

He flipped a dart at the child, who screamed again, then gasped and sobbed and curled up around the arm it clutched. In a couple of minutes it had fallen asleep. Rosetta got a carry sling out of her pack. She and Scorpion rolled the child and its extra arm up in the sling and took it away from the site, traveling tunnelways until they came to a meeting room. Rosetta tapped all the lightbumps in the walls. She and Scorpion checked their gauges—good air here—and lowered their masks and hoods.

Scorpion jabbed wakeup into the child's arm. It licked its lips a few times and woke. "What?"

"Hi," Rosetta said in Lobellan. "We're sorry we scared you."

"You're people," whispered the child.

"Yes. We were wearing masks topside. What kind of person are you? I've never seen anyone with your coloring before."

"I'm a genmod clone."

Rosetta scooted back a step, even though she knew that cloning wasn't a disease you could catch.

"What's your name?" Scorpion asked. His Lobellan was strangely accented. Rosetta wondered if the child would understand.

"I don't have a name. I'm number fifty-four."

"They didn't even kill you before they chuted you?"

The child curled up around the white arm, hid its face behind its forearm. "We were all doing tests with Teacher Rambon. I'm not good at tests. All the others are. Teacher Rambon got mad at me because I got the answer wrong three times, and she just—"

"Shoved you down a chute?" asked Scorpion. Rosetta could tell he was feeling sorry for Fifty-four.

"There's fifty-nine more of me, and they're all better at everything than I am."

"Whose arm is that?" asked Rosetta.

The child uncurled a little, looked at what it held. "I don't know. When I fell into the bin, this hand patted me."

So they had a stupid clone who attached to dead limbs. Rosetta tapped the toxin pocket on her vest. Scorpion shook his head. She sighed and dropped her hand to her laser.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

"Feel?" The child touched its chest, its arms. "Like always."

"You don't feel sick to your stomach?"

Oh. Rosetta saw it now. The child had been lying in a bed of toxic waste, and it was still healthy. There were no burns on its skin, despite what the gauges had told them about the latest dump. It might have natural immunity to things that would kill everyone they knew.


"I'm hungry," whispered the child. "And thirsty."

Scorpion pulled out an energy bar, pressed the dissolve bump on the wrapper. "Try this."

The child bit the bar and said. "Oh! Good. Thank you." It bit more, chewed, swallowed. Scorpion handed it his canteen, and it drank, then finished the bar. "Oh! That's the best thing I ever tasted."

"Are you a boy or a girl?" Rosetta asked.


She scooted back another step.

"Can I see?" asked Scorpion.

The child capped the canteen, laid the white arm down beside it, and uncurled enough to show them its genitals.

"Wow," Scorpion whispered. "Weird." He and Rosetta exchanged glances again, only this time Rosetta wasn't sure what he was thinking.

Something flashed through her brain. They could sell Fifty-four. Big money from the sex slavers. Not just the genitals, but the strange coloring, especially the eyes.

She hoped Scorpion wasn't thinking that. He was nicer than she was, and shouldn't have any bad thoughts. She was in charge of bad thoughts for both of them. Whenever Scorpion talked about anything dangerous or awful, she made him shut up. Since she'd taken charge of the evil ideas, Scorpion's nightmares had gotten less frequent.

Scorpion better not be thinking about slavery.

Rosetta pulled a pair of olive-colored shorts out of her pack. "Here. Wear these, and never tell anyone else what you just told us." She watched while the child pulled on the shorts. It handled the sticktites at the waist okay, so maybe it had worn clothes before. That was good. She said, "Which would you rather be, a boy or a girl? Choose now. People are going to want to know."

The child looked back and forth between Scorpion and Rosetta. "Which is better?" it asked.

Scorpion shook his head. Rosetta said, "Be a boy."

"All right."

"You need a name," she said.

"Can I have one? They told us we might get names if we were good. They told us we would all be sent different places and we'd lose each other in the end. Twenty-five said they were lying, but Thirty-six said they weren't. I'll never see them again, will I?"

"People don't usually leave ReWork," Scorpion said.

The child rubbed its eyes, sniffled, and stared at Rosetta. "I can have a name?" it whispered.

"Yeah. If you're going to live with us, you need a name," Rosetta said.

Scorpion stared at her.

She wouldn't look at him. She had to draw some lines. She would never sell anyone to a sex slaver, no matter how much she could make. She'd lost a sister and three friends to those vermin. She was all for killing this kid and putting it back where it had come from, but she knew Scorpion wouldn't do that. Maybe he was right, anyway. Maybe the kid would be an asset to their families, someone who could go dangerous places without getting hurt or needing protection. Maybe the kid could be trained. It might be worthwhile salvage.

It might be a huge pain in the butt. Lots of work to train and care for, and maybe that wouldn't pay off. However, it wasn't really stupid. And it had been created to be trainable.

"Do you know any names you like?" Rosetta asked.

"I only know the names of the makers and the teachers and the observers."

"Were any of them nice to you?"

The child thought. It shook its head. Then it said, "The cook. Keri. She gave me candy one time when I was crying."

"You want her name?"


"You're Keri now. Remember that."

"Keri," whispered the child.

"Do you want him, or should I take him home?" Rosetta asked Scorpion.

"I want him."

She had known he would. He had lost three brothers to salvage work, wrong place, wrong time. There was still room in his den. His father would gripe and grumble, but then he would cave, especially if Scorpion got Keri trained fast enough to bring home good things.

"I'll help," Rosetta said. "Keri, I'm Rosetta and this is Scorpion. You can tell us anything, but don't tell anybody else anything except what we say is okay. Do you understand?"


"Well, let's talk about it on the way home. We have a lot to teach you. But the first thing is you can't trust anybody but us, and you might want to think twice about trusting us."

Keri stared at her face, licked his lips, then nodded.

"Good," said Rosetta. Good. He might be smart enough to survive. She held out her hand. No matter how strange Keri was, he was going to be Scorpion's little brother, so she better get used to touching him. They were going to spend a lot of time together.

Keri grasped her hand. His felt small and strong, stronger than she expected. Someone had chosen everything about him, so he was probably full of strange surprises, and not all of them might be good. She had her tox pocket, but who knew what toxins would work on him? They already knew some that didn't.

Scorpion wouldn't be suspicious enough. He liked everybody until they did something unforgivable, and then it was too late. Rosetta would keep track. She would watch Keri, keeping a running tally of assets and liabilities.

"So let's go home," said Scorpion. "I'll show you where we live and introduce you to Dad." He reached for Keri's other hand. Keri looked at the white arm lying on the tunnel floor behind him, glanced down at the warm hands holding his, straightened.

"Okay," Keri said.

"You want a pet?" Scorpion asked. "I have a toy you can have. Rosetta will fix it for you."

"What's a pet?"

As they headed home, Rosetta wondered who was bringing back the more dangerous salvage, her with her cleanbomb, or Scorpion with his genmod clone, created for who knew what purposes?

She would save the cleanbomb. She knew that would work on Keri.

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