Toxic

Toxic

by Lydia Kang

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781640634237
Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 200,893
File size: 960 KB
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Lydia Kang is an author of young adult fiction, poetry, and narrative non-fiction. She is a practicing physician who has gained a reputation for helping fellow writers achieve medical accuracy in fiction. Her poetry and non-fiction have been published in JAMA, The Annals of Internal Medicine, Canadian Medical Association Journal, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Great Weather for Media. She believes in science and knocking on wood, and lives in Omaha with her husband and three children.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

HANA

Where is Mother?

Where is she?

Inside my room, my tiny bubble of a room, I pace like the tigers in their tiny iron enclosures from Earth's old menageries — what did they call them in the vids? Zoological parks? Mother is never missing at breakfast. Never. And she is always here when I wake up. I have never begun my day without her warm presence, her crinkling, smiling eyes.

Where is Mother?

To make things even more worrying, I've been asleep for too long.

It had been one entire week that I was embedded in Cyclo's matrix of the ship's walls, held down by her soothing chemicals while I slept. But normally, I sleep only for forty-eight or seventy-two hours at a time. One week is far too long.

Usually, there is breakfast on the table, perhaps some rice. Usually, there is Mother, waiting for me after a long shift in her incubation labs.

But there was no breakfast waiting for me.

No Mother, for that matter.

My stomach growls, and I press my hand against my belly, willing it to be quiet, but what I want to do is quiet my mind. My thoughts are spinning, crashing, shattering with everything that is wrong. My eyes are trained on the door, hoping that it will open and she will be here and this will all be a mistake.

Please, please be a mistake. Maybe an embryo in the lab needed desperate attention for days, and she had to leave me alone for longer than usual. My stomach grumbles again, and I wring my hands, hissing at myself.

"Silence!"

It's a familiar saying in our room. Not that anyone could hear me — the gel walls and the bony endoskeleton make it sound proof, but Mother was not born on Cyclo. She was born on Earth, where walls are made of things like trees — no, wood — and pigment — no, paint — and could readily hear conversations right through them. But maybe if I say the word again — a word that always seems to simultaneously cut and suffocate me — maybe it will bring normal back, like a prayer of wishes.

Silence.

In my thin robe, I continue to pace, my bare feet pressing against the blue gel-like matrix of the floor. It's already been over an hour since I've awoken.

"Where is she?" I demand.

No answer.

Cyclo has been taught never to answer questions not directly asked of her. Otherwise, she would answer everything. When she was a young creature, before she grew into the enormity of this three-kilometer-wide diatom in space, she would answer all the questions in her color language, and it was chaos. Crew members got headaches from the nonstop, vibrant displays. So, for their benefit, each room on the ship has a color translator to help the crew.

I don't need a translator. I understand her color language far better than the crew, and with more subtlety than the translators. I can see beyond the color spectrum that others can, thanks to Mother's genetic tinkering with my retinal cells. So Cyclo's nuances are only seen by me, not her. Other humans are like pigs trying to communicate with jellyfish; their interpretations are so primitive.

But, as a favor, Cyclo has learned to phonate air bubbles and actually speak to me, particularly when I'm lonely. I try again.

"Cyclo, where is Mother? Where is she?" My hands are now grabbing at my ponytail, clawing in agitation.

The matrix on the wall warps, involutes on itself, and a face appears. It's a woman's face, like Mother's but different. Like an ajumma, or auntie. An ajumma made of shimmering blue glass.

"Your mother is not here," Cyclo says in her vibrating, watery voice.

I stand there, not knowing what to do. Somewhere inside of me, a seed of doubt and fear grows steadily into a tree, strong as stone. Where could she be? I can't call her or communicate to her — it's strictly forbidden. After all, no one knows of my existence on the ship except for Cyclo and Mother.

Mother is the ship's reproductive engineer, in charge of making sure the crew's population on Cyclo stays steady and functional. New embryos are decided upon by the leaders of the ship, not the needs of a human who wishes to have their own child. Mother carefully tends these new crops of fetal crew members with a calm expectancy. And yet, I was not needed for the census, or for stability. I would be considered expendable. But she made me anyway, in secret. Kept me in secret. And when she couldn't be here, Cyclo cared for me.

Mother was the only person required to report census data, so she could hide me. And Cyclo, who is programmed to care for all of us, had no issue with taking care of me, too. My caloric and nutrient needs were accounted for via Mother's personal lab records, and easily hidden. There was never a reason for a random crew member to ask, "Cyclo, is there an unsanctioned, extra human aboard this ship?" So Cyclo never had to answer the question.

I stare at the membrane door. She must be busy tending to something in the labs. That has to be the reason. To search her out would be to put my very existence, and my mother, in danger. After several moments, while Cyclo pulsates a gentle, light lavender on the walls (patience, waiting), I decide.

I shall wait.

So I wait another hour. It feels like a very long time. I knit some more of a little afghan I started last week. I read some Shakespeare, The Tempest. I'll reread the story of Cyclo's genetic creation and birth, down to the details of which percentages of her genes have been synthesized, which were knocked out, which were enriched via cisgenesis or transgenesis. I'll read Mother's diary, filled with stories of when I was smaller and her delight over every milestone of my childhood. I eat a precooked, synthetic yam porridge that I find in our food cupboard. My mind is whirling so fast with thoughts I don't want to consider. The panic is there, simmering under my skin, but I cannot unravel over what I don't know yet. So I wait.

Mother doesn't come.

* * *

My heart is beating so fast I can barely stay standing. I have clawed my robe until it has holes in the edges.

It has been six hours now. I am absolutely forbidden to leave my room, a room that does not exist in the consciousness of any crew member except my mother, hidden as it is in the most unused part of Cyclo's body, the northeast quadrant, alpha ring.

For the last two hours, I've raised my hand countless times, poised a few inches from the door, before dropping it. Even touching the door is strictly forbidden. But I can't wait here for much longer. Where is Mother? Where could she be? I'd even read the last entry in her diary, looking to see if anything was off, but there was nothing but our last discussion on why hedgehogs are not related to sea urchins. My eyes are full of tears, and I've already cried several times out of sheer panic.

I keep my voice steady and say, "Cyclo. Please open the door."

Cyclo, not bothering to speak because the message is too urgent, blanches with white that moves in waves over the door.

Forbidden.

"Cyclo. Please open the door," I say again, this time my voice cracking. I'll only just peep my head outside, just a little look. I won't step a foot out there. I know people will be walking the hallways. But if no one is there ... maybe I can make my way to her lab and see why she's delayed. I know exactly where it is. I've spent much of my life studying Cyclo's every detail — the story of her birth, the way she harvests starlight energy, the layout of the ship down to every single storage vacuole and crew member unit.

But of course, I've never seen any of it. Only my room. A day would come when Mother introduced me to the crew. The day was coming soon. We'd talked about it. And then I could say that I'm not just a parasite hidden on the ship, like a worm or a barnacle. I could tell them how much I know of Cyclo — I could be useful in any position they needed me. I would be worth keeping. Wouldn't I?

So if Cyclo could only let me out of this room, I could find Mother. Her gestational labs are located due north, in the alpha ring, only about fifteen hundred feet away, counterclockwise. Cyclo, being relatively flat and circular, was assigned the familiar Earth directional vectors of north, west, south, and east since its creators were Earth-born. And as it doesn't look like other spaceships, with an obvious way to use the traditional nautical designations — bow, stern, starboard, port side — Cyclo was mapped to feel like a huge compass within the hand of the Pleiades star cluster.

North. I need to go north.

I put my hand on the membrane. It is warm like my own skin. Cyclo acquiesces, changing her shade to a yellow with matching iridescence that shows she is worried for me, and displeased with my rule-breaking. A hole appears in the membrane, widening outward as the organic, bony edges of the door appear.

My heart is thudding so hard, I hear it in my eardrums. Cyclo can probably sense it, too — her color hasn't normalized. She can see, taste, touch all my emotions. She is worried for me. I poke my head out of the doorway quickly, looking left and right before withdrawing. I'm hyperventilating from my brashness. The hallway — which I have never seen before in my entire life — is smooth-walled and is a wavering color of blue mixed with Cyclo's worried yellow. The floor is very gently curved, with one door at each end. It is empty.

So I slow my breathing, and take a step into the hallway, feet bare, still in my thin robe. Surely, Mother is nearby. But what if I encounter a crew member? What will I say that won't get us both in serious trouble? What in the stars will I do?

Hello. I'm Hana. Have you seen Dr. Um? I need to speak with her.

Let me explain myself. I know so much about the ship. About Cyclo. I can be useful, just let me explain.

I walk quickly, maybe twenty paces. Already, my legs feel wobbly taking long strides. I am only used to walking within a room ten feet in diameter. There are rounded plastrix dots every ten feet or so. They must be the translating comms. I touch the door at the far end of the hallway, open it, pop my head through again. No one. There is another corridor. And another. Every time, I expect to introduce myself to a stranger, a real human that is not my mother. My heart rate trills with anticipation at every door, slows with disappointment and dread after each one opens.

They are all empty.

A bright purple line appears on the wall, pulsating in the direction of a leftward corridor, though I know exactly where to go. Despite my anxiousness, each new step brings a tiny thrill that makes my fingertips tingle. Here are the walls I've only studied on my vids! And the corridors on the beautiful maps of Cyclo that look like a spinning flower with smoky, ephemeral tendrils at the edges! I'm finally outside my room. I'm finally seeing Cyclo the way she's meant to be explored.

The purple flashes again for me. Strangely, the translating comm says nothing. Isn't it supposed to verbalize what Cyclo is saying? I'll have to look into why it's not. I don't remember that malfunction happening before I'd gone to sleep. I start running, feet padding along the squishy matrix, my robe flapping softly against my legs as an excruciating anguish begins to set in. The ship is vast, after all. It's a quiet quadrant, but Mother always said that it wasn't completely empty. Maybe Mother is where everyone else is.

After several more empty corridors, I enter the north quadrant alpha. I find a room full of plastrix terminals and chairs and walls of 3D computation boards, and another curved room with a long table that's the mess hall, but devoid of food or plates. A purple line flashes to a door, and it opens into an enormous laboratory, complete with long tables, fluid-filled incubation chambers with no embryos, walls of nutrient pods, biomonitors. Everything is off, empty, blank.

Oh no. No, no. And now I'm crying.

Mother is not here.

On the right, there is a long window made of a clear, indestructible plastrix material embedded into Cyclo's endoskeleton.

Oh!

I have never seen outside of Cyclo before, and it is so breathtaking it nearly buckles my knees. Black and enormous and glittering with stars. I run to it, letting my hand smack against the plastrix, eyes wide and searching, tears still dripping off my chin because I am so alone, and I can't find her, and despite this breaking within me, the universe has just opened her oyster shell to me. I recognize the starshine of nearby Taygeta and Sterope, bright fists of blue light with interstellar clouds wisping around them. It's so beautiful, and Mother isn't here to share this with me. Every first of my life has been in her presence.

As I look out at the sparkling light in the velvety darkness, it's obvious what I must do, but this is foreign territory — I've never even had to process this question in my mind.

I wipe my dripping nose and eyes with my sleeve, trying to catch my breath. "Cyclo," I say.

Her voice comes from somewhere behind me on the wall. "Yes, Hana."

"Where ... where is the crew of the ship?"

"The crew is not here," Cyclo answers.

Nausea fills me. I choke out words before I can possibly vomit my porridge. "Cyclo, where did the crew go?"

"The crew has evacuated onto the seven major transports of the ship. They are currently in hyperspace, and are on their way to Atlas Station IPX- 400."

My knees buckle for real, and I drop to the soft floor. That station is very far away. As in, years away by hyperspace travel. And they cannot communicate with anyone while in hyperspace.

"Cyclo," I choke out. "My mother. Where is she right now? When is she coming back?"

Her colors flash in pinkish sympathy. She doesn't form a humanoid face to speak, because her colors are so much more eloquent when words are not enough, and she knows this. Ellipsoids of pink, orange, and silver pulsate with truth, sadness, and sympathy.

I read the colors with a sob.

Oh, Hana. Your mother has left the ship, forever.

CHAPTER 2

FENN

This trip is all about firsts.

First time away from my home planet. First interstellar travel. First spaceship job.

First time dying.

Technically, this is a list of lasts, too, if I'm going to be really nitpicky.

God. How did I end up here?

I'm sitting on the bridge of the Selkirk and glancing over the readings of our voyage so far. We should be arriving at the Calathus within the next hour or two. It's in sight now — a bluish-white disc in space with a wispy and irregular fringe at the edges, cut with a pattern of fenestrations. It sort of looks like a snowflake and a moon jellyfish had a wicked fight, followed by makeup sex, and then ended up birthing the Calathus.

"Cyclo. There it is," Portia says. "I mean she. She's really a beautiful crvat, isn't she?" Portia's the one actually driving the Selkirk right now. I don't know what crvat means. Probably "interstellar biosynthetic human habitation complex." Possibly she means "jellyfish." Learning Portia's language is not high priority at this juncture in my life. Even though I've had nine months to learn on this trip so far, I've decided that it's best to not always know what Portia is saying, particularly when we squabble over food. Which I'm always stealing because I like her Prinnia food better than the synthetics I usually eat.

What I'm damn good at, though, is driving nano-theft drones. Any drones, really. But anything ship-size is new territory. While Portia thinks I'm winding the mechanical watch in my hand (it currently doesn't need winding, but she doesn't know that), I'm secretly learning how to drive the ship. Honestly, it's habit. I pick up skills wherever I can, however I can, and by stealing if necessary. And yet, it's hard to undo that urge to survive, to make sure I come out on top, alive, ahead of the authorities nipping at my heels, a quadrant away. It's boiling inside me right now, though it's wasted energy at this point.

Portia's hair is shaved to the skull, showing off her gold Prinnia-pride tattoo — a stylized sand serpent — from her home planet. Her boot-clad legs are curled up beneath her, which seems physically impossible for someone who's seven feet tall. Those unnerving red irises flit around the readouts, checking to make sure we're not all going to die before our time, which ought to be pretty soon.

"Ah. Cyclo is magnificent," Portia murmurs.

"You mean the Calathus," I say. I tap my fingers on my thigh in Morse code, a soothing habit.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Toxic"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Lydia Kang.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Toxic 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Rebecca Shelton 8 days ago
I found Toxic to be a really unique experience: a mish-mash of multiple genres that when put together for me just flowed. I would describe this if I had to clarify as a Romantic sci-fi YA with elements of horror. Set in space on an organic ship it was the original premise put forward here that initially intrigued and drew me in. A young girl that shouldn't exist: hidden for years in plain sight aboard a living ship: then later abandoned by her caretaker with only her closest companion Cyclo, left assessable for her needs. Follow this with a suicide voyage of mercenaries sent to harvest data from the dying ship and what we have is a really ingenious and imaginative undertaking. I actually really adored all the technical Jargon used here I think it added an almost authentic feel to the whole endeavour. This for me has more of a Sci-Fi action vibe than an overly romantic one and it is in my opinion still age appropriate despite the intimate references of actions between Hana and Fennec. These references are more about referral and don't go into any great detail. I also felt Toxic stuck a good balance between the romance and action and it was certainly fast-paced managing to easily keep me on my toes. While not overly complicated as a story this didn't really need to be and despite being somewhat predictable in places this didn't take away from my overall enjoyment here. There was still plenty of curveballs to keep this interesting reading: a great experience. This is a story that I am happy to recommend and one I really did enjoy. I voluntary reviewed an Arc of Toxic. All opinions expressed here are entirely my own.
Bookbookowl 22 days ago
Many thanks to Entangled Teen for providing me with this E-Arc of Toxic in exchange for an honest review. Life on the ship Cyclo is closely monitored and the population is capped at 1000.  Unknown to the rest of the crew, there is a 1001st member. That person is Hana. Hidden by her mother for 16 years, Hana wakes up one day to an empty ship. Everyone has evacuated without her.  Cyclo has been Hana's only friend for her whole life and they communicate easily, but now Cyclo is dying.  When a crew arrive to document the ship's demise, it's not as straightforward a mission as they had anticipated - especially when they discover Hana is still aboard.   Sci-fi is always really hit and miss for me, but Toxic was just the right mix of haunting and nerve-wracking.  I did find it hard to remember some of the crew weren't human (mostly because I just don't particularly enjoy reading about alien races, which is often why I avoid sci-fi) but in this case it didn't distract me from the story at all.  I found it a little difficult to wrap my head around the concept of the bio-ship at first, but the more Cyclo cemented as an AI in my mind, the more engrossed I became.   Toxic was a story that was sometimes horrifying and sometimes heartbreaking.  I'll be adding it to the small, but growing, list of YA sci-fi books I've really enjoyed!   Also, I can't not mention the cover - look at how gorgeous it is!
AFCTL 24 days ago
I found quite a similar theme as The 100 and the Netflix show Passengers, however, I did like how this didn't seem to just be a remake and followed its own pace. The plot was reasonably fast pasted, I found myself having to weigh through each page and my eyes kept darting to the page number at the bottom. I wasn’t invested in anything that was going on and I couldn’t find myself relating to the characters. I did think the idea behind the novel was interesting and seemed like something that would appeal to many people. I’ve read reviews and many people seemed to enjoy the novel so I’m sure if sci-fi and space travel appeals to your taste - this book will be right for you. read full review at: https://afewchapterstillove.wixsite.com/afctl/single-post/review/toxic-and-just-pretending
BuriedUnderBooks 29 days ago
I couldn’t help thinking of Kass Morgan’s The 100 when I first saw the description of this book. That’s not a bad thing as I’m a big fan of both the book series and the TV adaptation although they bear only a moderate resemblance to each other, as you might expect. At any rate, thinking of that series definitely made me want to try this and I’m very glad it did. Imagine spending the entire nearly 17 years of your life secreted away in a 10-foot wide room from everyone except your mother on board a bioship in outer space . Logistically, that’s not as impossible as it might seem because we’re not talking about what we envision as a space vessel today; Cyclo is three kilometers wide so there’s plenty of room for hiding. Hana spends 48 to 72 hours at a time in a sleeping state so, when she wakes up one day to discover that it’s been a week since she last saw her scientist mother, she’s naturally upset and full of questions. Cyclo, usually quite willing to converse in her own way, offers no explanation other than, “Your mother is not here” and is clearly reluctant to open the door for Hana but she finally does so. Very quickly, panic begins to set in as Hana realizes Cyclo is not verbalizing as she usually does…and there are no people anywhere on board the ship. What Cyclo tells her then is the most frightening thing Hana can imagine, that her mother has abandoned her. When Hana sees the light of a ship in the distance, approaching Cyclo, she’s sure her mother is coming back but, in fact, the ship is bringing a small crew on a suicide mission to gather data from the dying ship. The moment Hana and Fenn spot each other, not precisely a friendly meeting, everything changes for both of them. Ms. Kang has done a wonderful job with her setting, particularly in making Cyclo seem so very real and truly vivid with her emotional colors and her ability to use her ectoplasm in so many ways. In fact, I’d have to say that Cyclo is a character just as central to the story as are Kana and Fenn. I also like that Hana is of Korean descent and that the mercenaries are all quite diverse, too. Hana’s rampant insecurities and Fenn’s roguish personality mesh well together and the author makes them, and their story, exciting and compelling. When all is said and done, this book is high on my list of favorite books read in 2018.
Anonymous 3 months ago
Enjoyable sci-fi adventure! Thanks to NetGalley and Entangled for the opportunity to read and review Toxic by Lydia Kang! Toxic is a sci-fi adventure involving an abandoned teenager created in a lab, a biological spacecraft and a team on a suicide mission. Hana’s alone on the ship after her mother and the crew left without telling her. Fenn and the rest of the mission group members are researching Hana’s ship for future progress, even though they won’t be around to see it. They went to this spacecraft knowing that they would not make it off alive. They will die with the ship, as it deteriorates, so will they. I don’t feel like I can explain much of the story without giving too much away. I can safely say that the range of characters is fun, the story is original and Toxic is an enjoyable, interesting science fiction read, 4 stars!
Danii_045 3 months ago
Toxic reminds me of a cross between The 100 and Passengers. It's a survival story which belongs in the horror genre. It's also a romance read. It's fast-paced and written well. I'm not really a fan of horror and that's probably why I didn't like this more. For the right reader, you will love this, I'm just not that girl. Hana is a secret. Her mother and the ship have kept her a secret for seventeen years. She lives in her mother's shop quarters and Cyclo (the ship's intelligence) attends to her needs. One day out of the blue her mother doesn't return home. Hana has never left her mother's ship quarters but eventually realises something isn't right. When Hana enters the main ship area she realises there is a lack of people. In fact, the whole crew are missing including her mother. Fennec is part of a small data collecting crew. He is sent to retrieve the ship's log to find out what's gone wrong. His mission is an end of life situation. The ship is unstable and Fennecs reward is for his family if he succeeds. Cyclo is dying. The crew have abandoned her. The days are numbered. Cyclo cares for Hana but she also has dark secrets, the deadly kind. Hana and Fennec need to work out what's going wrong before it's too late. Fennec has been instructed to only collect data but Hana wants to know what's happened. There are a few twists to this story and it has a happy ever after for the two main characters. 3 stars out of 5. It's written well but not really for me. *I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
onemused 3 months ago
"Toxic" is a creative YA sci-fi that primarily takes place on the ship, Cyclo. Cyclo is actually a living organism which is designed to work like a machine. However, Cyclo is dying, and things are changing. Hana was born on Cyclo and has only known the ship. Her mother, Dr. Um, is the ship's geneticist, creating the embryos which will replace crew members as they die of old age, designed to fill a specific role. Dr. Um created Hana in secret and has been working with Cyclo to keep her hidden. Creating a child for anything other than the ship's need is strictly forbidden, and Hana could die if anyone found out. Hana, like the ship's crew, sleeps within the walls of the ship, where they are given lovely dreams, nutrients, and healing by Cyclo. The book begins when she wakes up after a week- longer than she usually sleeps, and for the first time, Mother is not there to greet her. Fighting with herself, Hana eventually decides to venture out of her small room, which has been her whole life. She soon learns that she is the only person on the ship- everyone else is gone. Fenn (short for Fennec) is on a small ship, the Selkirk, sent to Cyclo on a mission which they know will end in their death. They are working for the ship's company to collect as much data they can about why Cyclo has failed, and then, as the ship dies, so will they. In exchange for doing so, they have been offered a large sum of money- provided they collect the amount of data they are required to plus that they die (they must die)- to be given to an individual or individuals upon their death. Fenn is doing this mission for his sister, Callandra, who was paralyzed in a mining accident for which Fenn feels responsible. The mood of the crew is somber, as they are all knowingly traveling to their death. However, when the Selkirk crew arrives, they are surprised that there is a girl on this abandoned ship. As things grow more complex than anticipated and the rules keep changing, they enter a quest for survival to achieve their objectives- and potentially to save their lives (since Hana is not required to follow the rules in their contracts). The high stakes and quick changes give this sci-fi a thriller feel which makes it quite the page-turner! I really enjoyed this book and found it impossible to put down- the sci-fi elements seemed well-researched and were well-explained despite being complex. The mysteries of what is going on/what happened to the ship and what will happen to the Selkirk crew/Hana really kept the plot moving quickly. In terms of the romance, it was very fast, seemingly insta-love, and it felt very take-it-or-leave-it in that I wasn't invested one way or the other and it felt more like filler. I kept that feeling all the way to the end, and it was really the sci-fi and thriller elements that made this book a fantastic read for me, not the romance. There are also some interesting messages about genetics/heritage, and how we are not destined to do or be anything. This holds true of both Hana and the ship, Cyclo, who were designed with specific characteristics. Hana also has some elements of impostor syndrome given her Korean/Earth heritage but being born on the ship and from a designed embryo, as if she is somehow lesser for it (she corrects being labeled Homo sapiens to Homo sapiens novum, etc.). She considers and grows as an individual, with her heritage, during the book. Although these are minor plot points, they were interesting to include and added some