The Weird Kid
A Short Story of Nil
by Jessica Crichton
Books peeked around the corner at the weird Kid Gadget had brought home. He made a face behind his way-too-big goggles.
For three years, the brothers had lived together all alone in the big, broken down mall, Books learning everything he could from Gadget.
Mostly, Books' big brother had only let him hold things and read instructions out loud, saying a Stick wasn't big enough to learn anything important. But two days ago, Books had finally earned his name. Gadget had promised that now he was old enough to learn the interesting stuff, and even said he could actually help with Gadget's newest invention, the Rock Walker! Books had been so excited.
Then, this little... thing... happened.
She was tiny, way littler than Books who was pretty littler than Gadget anyway, with dark eyes and skin and frizzy black hair. Like all the tiny Sticks that always showed up around Nil, she wore a dirty white, shapeless dress. That was it. She didn't have any shoes or gloves, or even tire armor! Every time before when they'd found one of these tiny Sticks, Gadget had left it there, saying another group of Kids would find it and raise it right. He said he was too busy inventing important things to worry about another Stick. But he'd chosen Books to raise because he'd shown he was smart from the moment he'd found him.
"Ya was standin' inna port, wailin' up a storm, like all the other Sticks," Gadget had told him many times, "an' I was gonna just leave ya there. But when I turned ta leave, ya said, 'hey, where ya goin?' No little Stick ever talked ta me bafore, an' I was kinda lonely, so I thought I'd just show ya the ropes, ya know? Now stop askin'. I toldya tonsa times already!"
But now there was this new little Stick that Gadget'd actually brought home. Books didn't really know how to feel about that.
"Well?" Gadget asked from behind. "Whaddaya think?"
Books glanced back at his big brother. Gadget was tall and skinny, with green eyes and dirty blond hair mashed up in thick braids he called dreadlocks. He wore big gloves and big goggles, just like Books, but unlike his little brother he also wore a long, stained white coat over his Nil rags and tire armor. When Books had asked about it, he'd said scientists wore coats like that. Books had never found one in the scrap that fit him, but he kept looking.
"I dunno," Books said honestly. Gadget always said to be honest whenever possible. "She's kinda scrawny."
"Sure," Gadget said. "But I think she'll be okay."
"Why'd ya get her?" Books asked. He felt himself get all hot and stuffed-up inside. He sniffed hard to make sure he didn't cry. Scientists never cried. "Ain't I good 'nuff?"
Gadget grinned, and Books braced for a joke about his crying. But Gadget surprised him by being serious. "I just figgerd we needed a new Stick 'round the place ta do the work ya used ta do, cuz ya ain't no Stick no more... Books."
Every time Gadget used his new name it made Books all happy inside, like when the orange Nil sky broke open for a second and showed the bright yellow light on the other side.
"Ya mean I can stop sweepin' an' holdin' scrap an' makin' food?" he asked, excited.
"Not yet," Gadget said. "Ya gotta show her how first. But then she'll do the Stick work till she earns her name. That's when we'll find 'nother Stick."
Books felt his excitement peeter out like the broken balloon in a book he'd read once. "She's gonna be a scientist, too?"
Gadget nodded. "She's smart, Books. Just as smart's you when I found ya." He punched Books in the shoulder. "Only smart Kids're 'lowed ta live here."
Books looked back at the weird Kid. For once she was quiet, just looking around with her big brown eyes like she'd never seen a mall before.
"She don't look too smart."
Gadget pushed Books gently in the back. "Go say hey ta yer new sis."
Books growled under his breath, but walked out into the room anyway.
The Stick looked at him curiously.
"Heya, Stick," he said.
"Stick?" she asked in a tiny voice.
"Yeah," Books said. "You are a Stick 'til ya earn yer name. I earned mine, so ya gotta listen ta me, got it?"
"So what's yer name?"
Books squatted down so he could look at her closer. "Books."
She grinned. "Books!" Then, without warning, she jumped at him, wrapping her scrawny arms around his neck and squeezing tight.
Books looked back at Gadget, who leaned against the wall watching them with a smile. Gadget didn't smile much, but Books really liked it when he did.
He squeezed his scrawny new sister back. "Sure Stick," he said, "yer gonna be a good part'a our family, I think."
He sniffed again. But this time is was maybe a good sniff.