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Authors: H. A. Swain


BOOK: Hungry
6.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


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For my father



Title Page

Copyright Notice



Part 1: Inner Loop

Part 2: Outer Loop

Part 3: The Hinterlands

Part 4: The Farm






“Surely the apple is the noblest of fruits.”

—Henry David Thoreau

In the ghostly branches of a hologram tree, light winks off the shiny side of something red and round. I hesitate to reach for it. It’s just a projection of the past onto the present after all, but it looks so real that I can’t help myself. I raise my arm. My body feels hollow and slow.

“Hey, who are you? That’s not for you!” someone calls.

I try to tell this stranger my name,
Thalia Apple,
but the words burble up from my throat and pop like bubbles in my mouth with a taste that’s faint and far away. My jaws work, unable to grasp the last word sitting smugly on the tip of my tongue. So I pluck that red and shiny thing from the tree and shove it in my mouth, feel it slide down my throat then watch as it falls out of a perfect empty circle carved from my hips to my ribs. I try to snatch it before it hits the ground, but it changes shape and flitters away on delicate wings, too fleeting to catch.

I must find something to block this opening where my belly button used to be or everything I want to say will fall out. I pick up a pillow, my favorite soft blanket on the ground beside me, then the dark and loamy dirt—like what my grandparents dug their hands into when they were young—but it all falls through, making a mound at my heels. I inhale deeply, catching the slightest whiff of something sweet, something desirable, as red and round as my name, and I moan.




“… comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.”

—Song of Solomon

“What’s the matter, Thalia?”

I wake up with a jerk. Squinting into the light, I see Mom zip past where I’m sprawled across the couch clutching a pillow to my belly, moaning. I try to clear my head and get my bearings. I’m not under a tree. There is no dirt. I poke myself in the stomach to make sure there’s no hole. When I sit up, my head feels too heavy, so I flop back on the living room couch. My arms feel like spindly strings attached to my shoulders. My legs are wobbly. My belly is concave.

“Why were you in the dark?” Mom asks over the yapping of her personal cyber assistant Gretchen, who runs through today’s junk mail on the main screen.

“Today only…” Gretchen announces.

“No,” says Mom. Bonk, Gretchen deletes the message.

“Save big…” Gretchen says.

“No,” says Mom. Bonk, goes Gretchen.

“Cyber sale!” Gretchen announces.

“Send to Thalia,” Mom commands.

I roll away from the noise but can’t get comfortable on the stiff couch because the backs of my legs stick to the wipeable surface. I pull the heavy pillow that smells strongly of synthetic citrus cleanser over my head to block out the fracas. I wish I could dive back into my dream and find that thing I was searching for. I inhale deeply, but the biting lemony-lime scent is not the smell I want. The smell I’m after is less pungent. More subtle. Not yellow or green but warm and earthy brown.

Mom’s heels clack against the tile, then she slips a cool dry hand under the pillow and presses against my forehead.

“What are you doing?” I swat her away with the pillow.

“Checking for a fever.”

“You’re a doctor for god’s sake,” I grouse at her. “Why are you touching me?”

Mom crosses her arms and sticks a hip out to the side. She’s all points and angles. “If you had your Gizmo with you, I could read your vitals from over there.” She points across the room. “But since you don’t, I have to do it the old-fashioned way.” She holds up her hand and waves her fingers at me.

“Gross,” I mutter.

Mom snorts. “That’s how doctors used to do it. They even used their hands for surgery.” She makes a sick face at the thought of digging inside someone’s body. “Why are you on the couch in the middle of the day anyway?”

“I just feel…” I try to describe it. “Weird,” I say because there is no one word I can think of.

“Weird is a relative term,” says Mom. “Be specific.”

“Hollow,” I say. I could tell her more. Details like how it starts in my belly. Between my ribs and hips. Above my navel but beneath that springy muscle, the diaphragm, that makes your lungs expand and contract. How it’s a strange yawning feeling, like my insides grew a mouth and that mouth is opening. I push a finger into the spot, but all I can say is, “Empty.”

“Are you achy?” She cocks her head, and her hair shifts like a black cultured Silkese curtain across her narrow shoulders.

I shake my head no, which makes me dizzy for a moment as if my noggin is a balloon tethered above my shoulders.

Mom switches into full-on MD mode, picking up my arm with two fingers at my wrist, checking my pulse.

“Next you’ll cut off my leg with a rusty saw and no anesthesia,” I mutter, uncomfortable in her grip.

“Your historical medical references are hilarious,” she deadpans. “You should work as a reenactor at the Relics. Did you have your Synthamil today?”

“Of course,” I grumble.

“And water? Sixteen ounces of each this morning?”

“God, Mom, yes.”

“Have you urinated?”

“Would you like a specimen?”

“Don’t get smart.” She drops my arm, which flops to the couch. I feel like I’m made of Just-Like-Skin. “Your Synthamil has been precisely calibrated, and if you don’t…”

“Jeez, Mom.” I sit up and hold my head in my hands. “I know. I drank it all and I had water on schedule and I peed. Okay?”

“Well, you’re certainly grouchy,” she mutters.

I glare at her through my fingers as she clacks away and returns gently shaking a bottle of blue Synthamil with my name embossed in gold across the label. “Maybe we need to recalibrate. Your metabolism might have shifted.” She twists off the cap and hands me the liquid. “Maybe you’re having one last growth spurt.”

I roll my eyes at her before I take a swig. “I’m seventeen, not twelve.”

She shrugs. “It’s been known to happen. Sometimes people in their twenties grow a few more inches. Especially when they enter the Procreation Pool and their hormones surge.” She’s off again, clicking through the hall to her home office.

I chug the Synthamil then wipe the back of my hand across my mouth so I don’t have a blue moustache.

Mom returns a few minutes later with a patch and an antiseptic swab. “I’ll monitor you for twenty-four hours and see how everything is looking. Lift up your shirt.”

“I don’t want that on me.”

She tugs at the back of my shirt anyway. “It’s only for a day. It’ll give me more info than just your Gizmo, which you never have with you anyway.” She manages to expose my lower back. The swab is so cold it makes me jump. “Hold still. You won’t even know it’s there.” She peels the ultrathin two-inch patch off its backing and presses it firmly against my skin, rubbing around all of the edges to make sure it’s good and stuck. Then she takes her Gizmo out of her pocket and establishes a link with the patch.

“Doesn’t have a locator, does it?” I scratch at it.

She swats my hand away. “Don’t pick. You could break a circuit.” She checks the connection then slips her Gizmo into her pocket. “And it’s not an affront to your personal liberty. It only collects internal data.”

“As if that’s not personal?”

Mom’s eyes narrow and she frowns, which makes her look just like her mother.

“That’s your Nguyen face,” I tell her. She gives me the eyebrow. “For real, you look just like Grandma Grace when you’re mad at me.”

For my biology class, we’ve been mapping the genomes of our four grandparents, our parents, and ourselves in order to figure out where our traits come from. I’m convinced there must be a humorless gene that comes straight from my mother’s Vietnamese side because Grandma Grace is the most serious woman I’ve ever met, which is probably why she’s such a good hematologist. There’s nothing funny about blood.

Mom pushes off the couch. “I’d be happy to find a specialist to go over your data and make a recommendation.”

It’s an idle threat and we both know it. Specialists are the last resort, only called in when all the existing science has failed and the only thing left to try is some experimental treatment a doctor is hoping to patent as the latest breakthrough therapy. “As long as it’s Papa Peter,” I say.

This actually makes Mom laugh. She looks like her father when she’s happy, with his broad smile and bright eyes. My whole life, I’ve heard stories about what a gentle and sweet pediatrician he was and how he sacrificed part of his family’s rations for food and medicine to save starving children during the wars. That was a huge point of contention between my hard-nosed grandmother and my bleeding-heart grandfather that almost destroyed their family. My mother says it’s an example of an old-fashioned cultural divide—Asian versus African American. Since Papa’s black, she claims he had a family history of looking out for the most vulnerable. But that never made much sense to me. I think Grandma and Papa are just different sorts of people no matter what their cultural backgrounds may have been.

“Papa Peter’s hugs and stickers won’t recalibrate your Synthamil formula if something’s off,” Mom says as she finishes tidying up the mail, because she can’t stand anything unnecessary junking up our waves. “By the way, Gretchen sent you some VirtuShops,” she tells me. “You need new pants.”

“I have plenty of jeans and skirts.” I get off the couch and tug my miniskirt down around my thighs.

She gives me the eyebrow again. “Thalia, we discussed this. You can’t keep wearing old stuff like that.” She points to my corduroy mini. “What’s it made of, anyway?”

“A vintage natural fiber called cotton, thank you very much.”

She looks to the ceiling as if the solar lights will recharge her patience with me. “I know what cotton is, Thalia. You have an Interpersonal Classroom Meeting this week. You can’t wear Grandma Apple’s old clothes to an ICM. What will your instructors think?”

“Who cares what they think? Anyway, it’s not a real class. More like four hours of product placement combined with a thinly veiled focus group, if you ask me. Not that anyone ever does.”

Mom shakes her head and sighs. “A, that’s not true. And B, your father and I care what your teachers think.”

“Teachers?” I snort.

“Thalia—” she starts, but I cut her off.

“Dad doesn’t mind,” I tell her, and she doesn’t say anything because she knows it’s true. “I’d rather go real-time shopping anyway.”

BOOK: Hungry
6.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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