Officially it was called Humanis Beta, but everyone just called it Beta. They pronounced it Bait-uh, like the Americans used to say it. Ah, to have been an American, Apurna thought; a people liberated by the notion that the future was a thing already dead and buried. Apurna was still trapped in the here and now like it was flypaper.
She’d been on Beta for two weeks now, and two days ago she’d finished the last of the Earth food she’d been able to bring with her. Her stomach felt pulled taught like an elastic band and hunger was an ever present standing wave that echoed in her abdomen. Still, she poked at the coarse grains in her bowl with disdain.
Copperwool was a local plant, grown in the red swamp-paddies near the hot springs. In her bowl it looked like a rusty ball of wet yarn, and she had difficulty convincing herself it was indeed food. She lifted a small portion toward her lips and let it splash back into the bowl when it got close enough to smell—it made her think of brown sugar dissolved in paint thinner.
She’d ordered it because it was the most expensive item on the board, and therefore, she assumed, the best. She checked the board above the countertop again. The next most expensive item was just called protein.
“What’s the protein?” she asked the tender.
“Earth accent?” he asked, looking worried.
“You won’t like. Never do.”
What did this backwater short-order cook know about her preferences? “What is it?” she insisted.
He placed his palms on the counter and leaned his spindly body in close. “Pork rat,” he said loudly and walked away shaking his head.
The motherless children nearby snickered. Apurna threw her bowl at them and they snatched up the copperwool, gobbling it up as the scampered away. She noticed absently that they’d taken the bowl, too.
What the fuck was she doing here? Exile had seemed more dignified than prison at the time, but she was coming around to the truth. The whole universe was her prison now.