Teens are gullible, too tempted by careless acts and stupid stunts. Don’t be stupid, Halley.
“Yes, Mom,” I would say. “Right, Instructor Morris.” “Yes, Counselor Blackford.” To all: “I’m a smart girl.”
Yet here I was waiting for Marco, who was late. Probably not coming. Stupid me.
A mag train shooshed to a stop at the tube platform. Two people stepped off and hurried away.
I decided to take the next mag home. Enough was enough. Today Smart Halley banished Stupid Halley forever.
My medimplant chimed and throbbed. I tapped Suppress on my wristpad then Allot. Across the deserted platform the public dispenser disgorged my midmorning nutrition. Three gelcubes, two reds and a green. I gulped them as another mag arrived.
The train’s doors parted. I stepped on then jerked back around into Marco’s chest.
“Miss me?” he said, releasing my blouse.
I might have squealed. A little. Since I loathe appearing weak or frail, I covered for it accordingly.
“You turd!” Thwump went my fist on his ribcage. “Where’ve you been?”
It worked. “Where do you think?” He backed off, looking sufficiently apologetic.
That’s when I spotted the canvas bag slung over his shoulder.
“You got it?” I sucked in a breath. Held it till he nodded.
He patted the bag. “One Levitt special.”
Hearing the name we’d been secretly whispering for three months, I cringed. I glanced over my shoulder to check the mag car (it was empty) and shoved Marco toward the platform exit.
“Shhh!” I said. “Are you crazy?”
“Nobody’s here except me and you.” He stuck his hand out. “Come.”
His clammy fingers squeezed mine. Again he yanked me around, back into the mag. We stood inside the door.
“Where are we going?”
“You mean: went. As in, off the grid.” He held up our clasped hands. A pale green band dangled around his medimplant. “Blocker. So nobody can track our movements.”
I frowned. “Isn’t that an — ”
“Infraction? One of the worst. Decades in rehab if you get caught. So don’t.” The mag surged underneath us. “And don’t let go until this is over.”
“Take the blocker off my dead wrist like I did Javier’s three months ago.”
This was the majorly stupid part. “You can’t die, Marco.”
“Probably will. Only Levitt hasn’t.”
“Maybe he did. Maybe not.”
That’s when his medimpant squealed and shuddered. I almost flung his hand away, the pulsation was so intense. He silenced it.
“Critical nutrient deficiency,” he said.
“You skipped taking nutrition?”
“Since yesterday. No more gelcubes. So no turning back now.” The mag glided into the next station. “We don’t have much time though. The blocker can’t prevent my medimplant summoning an emergency evacuation.” The doors parted. “Hop off.”
The station squatted on the fringe of an industrial zone, empty and still on a dreary Sunday morning. Great place to commit severe infractions.
I eyed his bag. “What brilliancies did Levitt offer when he gave you that?”
“Not Levitt. A guy named Cookie. Instructions printed on the inside of the blocker led me to him. He said he followed something called a recipe — same one Levitt supposedly used — which came from some banned ancient transcript called Southern Living.”
My skepticism sizzled.
“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe he did. Maybe not. Doesn’t matter though.”
Hand-in-hand, canvas bag between us, we settled on a dusty maintenance road tucked behind the desolated station.
“Together,” Marco said.
From out of the canvas bag, we tugged a bulky paper sack. One after another we tore through four sealed sacks. By the third one, my nose wrinkled at the pungent, earthy aroma. By the last, my mouth felt strange — moist and gooey like never before.
In his palm he held a paper-wrapped wad stained with wet splotches. Inside, the Levitt special waited.
“Ready?” he asked.
No, but I nodded anyway.
We both leaned in and unwrapped. The wad produced a small stack of mushy objects, different sizes and shapes all smashed together into a fist-sized pile.
“Wow, see that?” He pointed to the darkest object. “That’s the cooked flesh. It’s supposed to be bovine but when was the last time you actually saw one of those outside a museum?”
He patted the top spongy part.
“This is the bun, one of those yeast-based pastries people used to contain all kinds of other strange materials. Sandwiches, they named them, a really creative way to turn anything they wanted into so-called food.”
He lifted the bun’s edge and revealed a pale, yellowish paste.
“That’s the cheese. Made from animal lactation fluids, usually bovine. Underneath the cheese is where the various plant matter goes. I’m not sure what these are supposed to be,” he said, frowning at the puckered clumps draped over the charred flesh. “Mock produce of some kind.”
“Mostly. People would sometimes spread other creams on the buns if they wanted stronger sensations.”
“I don’t know. Seems like plenty enough,” I said, uncomfortable with my mouth’s sensations just from watching this.
“So… what do you think?”
“It’s ugly. Messy. Nasty. Want more? How about: I can’t understand why you’d put it into your body.”
“Because it’s no gelcube. It’s a personal choice. All mine.”
Again his medimplant screeched.
“Which millions enjoyed long, long ago.” He raised the wad to his mouth. “Remember the blocker.” Then, his teeth ripped away nutrition like some extinct primate’s might.
Within moments, his medimplant detected a new life-threatening condition and summoned help. To no avail. None of the kids who’d attempted this had survived the resulting toxic shock. Save one, apparently.
That’s when I left Marco, the blocker draped over my own medimplant. I should have flung it away. Ended this. Let enough be enough.
But I didn’t.
Too many lives coiled around that band, all craving what Marco had yearned for. Was it worth it? I must know.
Until I’ve found and confronted Levitt though, dutifully I’ll gulp my gelcubes. Every impersonal one.
I might be crazy but I’m no longer stupid.
In the micro-slices of free time permitted by his high-tech job, Todd Thorne tries to be a decent family man and a writer of dark, disturbing tales.