Seven-year-old Rodrigo ben-David sat alone in the hovel, spooning the last bit of last Shabbat’s chamin into his mouth and using a hard bit of crust to scrape the pot clean. The thin, cold wind rattled the aluplaz walls mercilessly. Winters in the Hellas Region were tough, and in Babulandia, one of the most notorious shantytowns on Mars, the lack of municipal infrastructure made it nearly impossible for the residents to keep themselves warm.
As he moistened the crust in some weak, tepid coffee and slowly chewed that soggy staleness, Rodrigo prayed his father would finally return today. The food was now gone, and the boy had already pushed the limits of his neighbors’ meager hospitality well beyond their accustomed limits. Babulandia had accreted into existence during the exodus from religious oppression on Earth earlier in the 24th century, and its inhabitants, a jumbled-together pastiche of cultures and languages, were mistrustful and not particularly giving. Another day of being alone and Rodrigo would have to strike out for Malacandra City, where he believed his aunt lived and worked, though he had never met her.
Isaac ben-David had left a week ago, returning to Nirgal Vallis, where he’d been scavenging a century-old, abandoned research station. Rodrigo’s dad scraped out a living this way: hunting through what others considered junk, looking for bits and pieces that could be resold or repurposed. With the station, he claimed, he had finally found his mina de oro, his gold mine.
“Las kozas van amijorarse, fijo. Ya topo algo,” his father had muttered in Djidio before leaving. “I’m gonna find something good, promise it, and we’re gonna be set, muchacho.”
Rodrigo had tried not to cry, but his eyes had gone damp, and his father had grimaced. “Hey, life of the Sefardis, no? First the katolikos run us out of Spain a thousand years ago, and now they run us off the whole planet, got to come to Mars—el guerko ke se lo yeve—and freeze our kulos off. But you and me, we adams are gonna laugh last, yes? So you stay put, light the menorah right before night falls. Shamash, too, so when I come home I’ll see them burning through the window, yes? Come on, no tears. Pasiensia Cohá, ke la nochada es larga.”
Isaac had smiled broadly then and clicked on the holographic image of Rodrigo’s mother, dead these five years. “Your mom would want you to be brave, fijo. And el Dio Barukh, he’ll be watching over you.”
And Rodrigo had tried, really tried, to be brave. He looked at his mother’s face, flickering with the uncertain power source, and tried to remember her voice, singing to him. In snatches it came to him, overlaid with his father’s rich baritone—the song of Avraham Avinu, newly born, miraculously singing to his mother, Amtilai:
Yo ya topo ken me alejasse
mandará del syelo ken me akompanyará
porke só kriado de El Dio Barukh
Wish I had someone to get me out of this shack, Rodrigo thought. Wish el Dio Barukh would send me someone to keep me company. Read Winds That Stir Vermilion Sands