For Dana, without whom none of this would have happened
Cyber.kdz :1
In Search of Scum
Available now from Avon Camelot Books
  Deeder discovers a deadly virus on the net and tracks down the scum who put it there. But killing the virus isn't the end. The Cyber.kdz have discovered a sinister plot of sabotage and terrorism. Meanwhile, Josh sets off on his own adventure to confront his feelings about his father and mother's divorce. The Kids slide the talkways searching for him -- they want to make sure he's all right and he holds the key to stop the terrorists!  

Below, you can read the first chapter of In Search of Scum.



There was no way Josh was hearing right. He could see his mom’s mouth moving, and he knew the sound waves of her words were going into his ears. But he was sure something was getting crossed between his ears and his brain. Because there was no way what his brain was hearing could be true.
"We’re going to move next week. I want to be out of here before the first so we won’t have to pay another month’s rent. I know this is sudden. I’m really sorry about that."
Josh stared. Not really at his mom; just kind of past her. He felt his teeth grind against each other as his jaw grew tight. His mom waited for him to say something; but how could he respond if he wasn’t hearing right?
"I know you’re upset, Josh," she continued. "We all are. But your father has left me no choice. I just can’t trust him. We were behind in our bills when he lived with us. There’s no way he’ll be able to pay rent on his place as well as ours."
He turned slowly and stared into his mom’s eyes. All at once he realized that there wasn’t anything wrong with his brain. He was hearing exactly what his mom said. They were moving to Seattle. They were leaving LA. The place he’d lived all 13 years of his life. They were leaving his home.
Josh didn’t like that. He found his voice.
"But Dad promised," he pleaded. "He said he’d pay our rent."
"Yeah, sure," said his mom. "He also promised to stay married to me. You can see how well he kept that one." His mom’s voice cracked a little. Both with pain and anger, Josh thought.
"But we can’t move, Mom. I can’t leave LA. My astronomy club is here. All my friends are here..."
"Josh, we’re moving. You have to understand that. It’s expensive to live here. I need to find a job. Times are hard in California and the economy is better in Seattle. Besides, your Aunt Katrina is there..." She paused, then added quietly, "And I need her."
Josh knew he couldn’t say anything that would change his mom’s mind. He looked across the kitchen table to where she sat. She was staring down at the tabletop, leaning on her elbows, her head resting on her fingertips.
Josh couldn’t believe how sad she looked. He didn’t know what he could do to make his mom feel better. He didn’t know what he could say to make things right. He didn’t know how he was going to survive leaving his home and his friends.
But he did know one thing. This was all his dad’s fault.
Josh’s mom sighed and stood up.
"You’ll have to pack up your own room, Josh. I’ll need to help your sisters. Can you do that for me?"
Josh nodded slowly.
"Thanks, Moonman." She leaned over and kissed the top of his head. Then she left the kitchen to go tell Josh’s little sisters the news.
Josh got up slowly and walked to his room. He shut his door and leaned back against it. He wanted so bad to shake his head and feel like this news — and all these feelings — would just go away. If only his head were one of those little clear plastic games with the BB’s inside. The ones that if you tilted them just right, the BB’s would fall in the slots and you’d win the game. If he could shake his head just right, then the BB’s would fall out his ears and leave him alone. But the BB’s inside his head weren’t little metal balls. They were feelings, and thoughts, and they didn’t belong in him. They were like no other feelings or thoughts he’d ever had. He was scared. And angry. And sad.
Josh looked around his room. It was such a cool room. His telescope stood next to the window; star charts and logs on the table next to it. His ceiling was covered by a map of the solar system that his parents had helped him paint. In the far corner hung his kite collection. Seven kites he had made himself. Not from kits, but each one from scratch. And next to those, his books on UFO’s and aliens. Hanging above them was a fuzzy black and white photograph his grandfather had given to him five years ago. It showed an old barn with something that looked like a radioactive hot-dog floating above it. A cow stood next to the barn and seemed to be mooing into the sky towards the glowing thing. His granddad had said it was proof that UFO’s existed. He gave the photo to Josh shortly before he died. He said that Josh was the only one in the family who could be trusted with it. That had made Josh proud. And he resolved to see a UFO for himself someday.
On his desk, next to the UFO books, sat Josh’s Compaq. It was good computer. The best as far as he was concerned. It was a precision piece of equipment — like his telescope. That’s why he had saved his allowance and birthday money and mowed all those lawns. He could have got a faster computer if he’d chosen a cheaper brand, but Josh liked quality so he worked extra hard to earn the money. His computer was important. It was his link to the astronomy BBS. And to his favorite MUD’s. And, of course, to the Kids.
Josh opened the door to his closet. Junk was piled on the floor and the shelves. With his foot he pulled his skateboard out from the back corner. The stickers on the top were still glossy. There wasn’t a mark on the board even though it was two years old. It had lived in the closet all this time. Josh wasn’t so fond of skateboards. He stepped onto the board and reached up. He could just barely touch the bottom of the box he wanted. With his fingertips he slowly worked it out until it tipped over and down. He caught it and stepped backwards off the board.
He set the box down in the middle of the room and took the styrofoam packing out. Then he walked to his desk.
He got down on his knees, crawled half-way under the desk and grabbed the computer’s power cord.
"Well," he thought, "if we’re going to move, I better start packing."
It was the first time his computer would be unplugged since he bought it.
He gave the cord a jerk. It pulled free from the socket. Josh felt like someone had unplugged the cord that held him to the earth. His face felt hot and he felt the tears waiting to escape from behind his eyeballs.
He clenched his teeth and backed out from under the desk, the cord still in his hand. Then he lay down on his back and stared at the solar system above him.
Little bean pillows shaped like stars and moons, gifts his little sisters had made for him, lay scattered around the floor. He grabbed one and threw it at the light switch. He wasn’t surprised that he missed. But he finally hit it on the fourth try. The light went out. He looked back up at the ceiling. The fluorescent paints glowed in the darkness. He squinted his eyes so he only saw the fuzzy shapes of the planets and nothing else. He stared for a long time at the blur that he knew was the earth.
He wasn’t part of it any more, he thought. He wasn’t even part of the solar system. He was like a space probe heading beyond the planets. Out into deep space. All by itself. No home. No life support. Nothing. Just space. No friends. Just space. Just emptiness.
He was sure Seattle was going to be just like that. Just emptiness. No home.


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