What's In The Blend
by K. C. Norton
Maman, who likes to make sure that we have the best of everything, insists that we have access to at least thirty-two percent. Twenty-one is beggar's blend, she says, and less than optimal. It's true: in gym, which is my third-least-favorite class, those of us on thirty-plus recover more quickly. Behind their helmets you can see who is in the thirties, and who's still breathing the old nitrogen saturated blend like they do back on Earth.
There's a reason we left, says Maman, and she's right. As we bat the artificially gravetized volleyball back and forth across the holo'net I find myself watching from the corner of my eye to see who is keeping up--and who can't.
Peter Centauri is practically blue in the face. That's what happens when you can't afford the nitrox mix. You're stuck with suboptimal air and you fall behind in class and everyone can see that you're a loser.
With Peter C, of course, everybody already knows.
"I'm starving," says Andri when we take our seats at lunchtime. Those of us breathing the better blends have much higher metabolisms. Our bodies burn through calories like souped-up jet engines.
Siri shrugs. Siri is on a diet. Siri is always on a diet.
Andri fumbles with the hookup on her supplement pouch. She's brought a pearly pink mix today, to match her nails. I can see the moment the pouch plugs into her IV because her shoulders relax.
"Much better," she says. "I seriously thought I might pass out."
Siri rolls her eyes and plugs into her minipouch.
"Aren't you hungry, Peia?" demands Andri, like I'm criticizing her by not eating.
"Oh my gosh, look," hisses Siri, and she jerks her chin toward the far side of the lunchroom. When Andri whips her head around, Siri hisses, "Don't stare!"
Across the room, Peter Centauri plugs a supplement cocktail into his intravenous tube. The clear plastic liner reveals that the fluid is pearly white, and I look away, embarrassed for him. Doesn't his family have any money? The school should at least tint the free lunch so that it looks like a designer meal. Instead the pouch hangs at his side like a sign that reads, Poor Kid.
Poor Peter C. That's what everybody's thinking.
"God," says Siri. "What a loser."
"Oh, stop it," says Andri. "Don't you think his life is hard enough already?"
Maman would approve of this line of thinking. I feel suddenly guilty for laughing at him.
Carefully, so that Siri and Andri can't tell what I'm doing, I tune my transmitter until only Peter Centauri can link up to my feed. Into our closed feed I mutter, "You can have some of my lunch. If you want it."
Peter's head jerks up and his eyes scan the room until he finds me. He scowls.
"Come on," I urge. I pat my IV pouch causally. The liquid inside is green, because green is my favorite color, and the color makes my meals feel fresher. "It's got to be better than whatever they're feeding you."
He tilts his head to the side and gives me a strange look through his visor. I hear a crackle of static before his voice comes in, tinny and distant.
"I need a special blend," he tells me. "I can't have corn proteins. Or nut oils. Or sugars."
"Oh," I say, stumped. I've never met anyone like this before. Back on Earth, I know there were people with allergies--whose systems couldn't process certain foods or plant pollens. None of them were invited on the initial expedition.
"It's fine," he snaps, and even with our weak transmission link I can tell he's annoyed. Like offering him some of my lunch is somehow selfish of me. "I'm not a charity case, all right? So back off."
"Sorry to bother you," I snap back, and I spin toward my friends. The sleeve of my suit catches on the edge of the lunch table, and I have to pause and free myself or risk ripping the poly-ply material.
Siri and Andri are staring at me, so I tune back into their audio feeds.
"Um, spaz much?" asks Andri.