I was still crying twenty minutes later when my older brother came in to the kitchen, looked around and then punched me in the ribs. Unsurprisingly that didn't stop me crying, but spurred me on to greater volume, and I found some more tears to dribble down my cheeks.
"Shut it!" he said. "What have you done with the mom-bot? Where's tea?" He scuffed his shoes on the black and white checkered linoleum floor and looked ready to punch me again.
"The mom-bot's gone," said Dad from behind me. "Stop crying, Kirstin, the mom-bot's not coming back."
This time I did stop crying, but mostly out of shock. I turned to stare at him, and he did this funny shrug thing with his shoulders while there was a strange smile on his face. "It was defective," he said. "It didn't do things right. If the Yard can fix it, then we'll get the mom-bot back. Otherwise we'll have to make do without it."
The mom-bot never came back. It was odd being the only family on the street without a mom-bot, and at first, quite hard at school. No-one expected you to be missing both a mother and a mom-bot, though it was the lack of a mom-bot that always got attention first.
"You poor thing," murmured teachers when I told them. "It must be very hard for you. My own mom-bot is... well, I couldn't do without her."
That was the first time I noticed that everyone else called their mom-bot her, but we'd always called ours it. I was sixteen before I realised that Dad must have been responsible for that.
At the same time, I'd been taking a lot of mathematics and computer science courses at school, and so when I realised that the Yard had a substantial online presence, I decided to do some snooping. I stole Dad's National Security number and used it to access the Yard as him. His personal questions were easy to answer, and soon I had a record of all of his interactions and requests to the Yard. They were, to my surprise, encrypted, but using a simple Playfair cipher that I cracked in half an hour.
And there is was, in white-on-black on my screen. The reason for the return of the mom-bot.
'It does not make pasta correctly. It consistently adds the sauce to the pasta instead of the pasta to the sauce.'
Below that was a question from the Yard: 'Requested action?'
And Dad's reply: 'Destruction. This is a crime against humanity.'
I laughed, and then stopped, and then laughed again. Surely this was ridiculous? No-one requested destruction of a mom-bot, let alone for the way it made pasta! Then I wondered; why on earth had the Yard complied with Dad's request? A mom-bot was an expensive piece of equipment; most families spent years paying for theirs, it was like a mortgage. All the upgrades came at a cost too, to have a truly up-to-date mom-bot required a high-paying job and a willingness to make personal sacrifices. Dad was just... what was Dad? I suddenly realised I had no idea what Dad did for a living.
Well, I was in his files, all I had to do was call up the personal identity section, which I did. And then I turned the computer off, opened up the case and pulled the memory chips from the board and hacked them apart with scissors. There was no way I wanted any proof I'd looked at Dad's account to be anywhere, even if meant not being able to do my homework until I'd replaced the chips.
At dinner that evening, my brother served up the meal with a smile on his face.
"Pasta!" he said, "Just like mom-bot used to make."
I couldn't bring myself to look at Dad's face, but I heard him whisper, so quietly that he thought we wouldn't hear, "Oh dear, oh dear."