Iris led the way into her expansive kitchen. This was Switch’s favorite room in the entire house. It seemed to be the only place that actually looked the same to everyone who stepped into it. Stainless steel appliances lined the walls and black granite glittered on the countertops. The cabinets were bright white and immaculate; not a single scuff mark could be seen anywhere. Switch sighed in relief that finally he and Iris were on equal footing.
Iris grabbed herself a bottle of water from the fridge and tossed a bottle of orange juice to Switch. He caught it out of the air and drank deeply, enjoying the cold refreshing taste.
“What if I wanted apple juice?” Switch wiped his lip and screwed the cap back onto the bottle.
“You always want orange juice. I was just saving you the trouble of asking for it this time.” Iris smiled sweetly at him, but it was laced with mischief. “Thank you, Iris”
Switch rolled his eyes. “Thank you, Iris,” he echoed, adopting her high-pitched voice.
Iris flipped him off with a wink. “What sounds good to you?” Iris asked poking around in the fridge. “We’ve got protein patties, veggie sticks, some kind of casserole, fruit cups.”
Switch wrinkled his nose. “Is it all synthetic? Don’t you have any fresh food?”
Iris turned to stare at him like he was insane. “Of course not. The fresh stuff is for you Class Fours. I don’t know how you can stand the stuff. It’s all so unpredictable.”
“You should try it sometime. You might be surprised at how much better it tastes than all your vitamin enriched fake foods.”
“Careful, your Class Four is showing,” she teased.
“Protein patties and veggie sticks it is,” Switch grumbled.
Switch wondered if the creators of these foods even remembered what real meat and vegetables tasted like. In his opinion, they’d spent too much time messing with the fake stuff and not enough time around the real stuff.
Switch was lucky enough to live in a boarding house that had its own greenhouse and farm. It was self-sustaining enough for all four of the other boys and the older couple to live comfortably. Switch had always thought it was completely backward that having the freshest foods was considered poor and uncool. If only they knew.
He wondered what Iris would think of his humble home, not that he would ever take her there. She wouldn’t exactly blend in. Her mods would probably short circuit down in his district. Switch shook his head to expel the thought. It felt weird even joking about something like that anymore, though.
Switch watched Iris devour her vitamin-enriched fake food like it tasted delicious, and not like paste and sawdust with only a hint of something resembling flavor.
He watched her curiously as he picked at his own. “What’s it taste like?”
She chewed for a moment and swallowed audibly before answering. “Like a burger and veggies?” she said, not understanding the question.
“Nevermind,” Switch said. How could he ask someone to describe something they’d never even tried. And she wasn’t even tasting it for real. Her mod was telling her what it should taste like. It was too much. What was so bad about eating real food?
“Where’s Jake?” Switch asked. “He’s usually down here stealing my food by now.”
Iris shrugged. “I bet he brought his new girl of the week home for some...” she trailed off with a shudder, “before Mom and Dad get home.”
“Gross,” Switch said, but he was smiling. Iris threw a veggie stick at him. It bounced off his arm harmlessly and landed with a snack on the counter. Switch stared at it with disgust. Real veggies didn’t make that sound.
“Are you going to eat that?” Iris asked, pointing to his barely eaten protein patty. He shoved it in her direction. She grabbed it gratefully and Switch had to laugh.
“Where do you put all that?”
Iris patted her flat stomach, but her smile turned to a frown. A murmuring was coming from upstairs and it didn’t sound right. Iris looked at Switch with wide panicked eyes. They rushed out of the kitchen and out into the large entryway. Someone was shouting upstairs. They crossed the tiled floor at a run and took the stairs two at a time. Iris was in front of Switch so she shoved through the door to her brother’s room first. Switch skidded to a stop on the hardwood floor behind her.
They saw Jake, shirtless, sitting on his bed frantically rubbing at his eyes, and a girl standing in the corner using one hand to cover her chest and the other to clutch at her throat with wide panicked eyes.
Iris rushed to Jake and sat beside him, whispering to him that it was only temporary.
“How do you know, Iris?” he asked with a hard edge to his voice that Switch didn’t like at all.
“This same thing happened to a girl in my class today. It came back after only a few minutes.”
“How many minutes?” he demanded.
“Hey, man. She’s only trying to help.” Switch came into the room, ready to defend Iris if it came to that.
“Yeah? And what do you know, Four?” he spat the last word to emphasize the insult.
The girl in the corner squeaked and started sobbing, gibbering nonsense and crying all the harder at every unintelligible word.
“You might want to get dressed,” Switch told her gently. “I’m not sure if your voice will come back. The teachers kept those kids in the office so we never found out. You should probably head home.”
The girl nodded and hurriedly put her shirt back on. She looked to Jake for comfort but he was ignoring her completely, intent on his own plight.
She ran from the room muttering to herself the whole way.
“Iris, are you okay? I should probably make sure she gets home okay,” Switch said, looking back toward the open door that the girl had just disappeared through.
“What do you care, Four?” Jake spat. “This is a Class One district. She’s safer alone than with you.”
“Jake,” Iris admonished. She looked up at Switch with apologetic eyes. “Maybe you should go. We’re okay. I promise.”
Switch didn’t want to leave her alone with Jake when he was this volatile, but the loss of eyesight seemed to be a temporary hitch, so he turned to leave. “You call me if anything happens and I’ll come right back, okay?”
Iris nodded and smiled a sad smile at him, then went back to rubbing Jake’s back in comfort.
Switch reluctantly left them alone and headed down the stairs and out of the house. He made sure his watch was set to receive calls so that he would know instantly if Iris needed him for any reason. He searched the streets for the girl, but she was already long gone. She probably lived nearby; another Class One. Switch snorted. Of course, she was a Class One. Jake would never stoop to dating anyone outside of his class. Typical stuck-up asshole. Jake’s whole life was a cliche.
The realization hit him hard, stopping him in his tracks. This was much, much bigger than just a mod experiment gone wrong. This spanned three of the four classes. Maybe even all classes. Switch needed to get home now to make sure Abraham and Mary were okay. They were getting older and he didn’t know how their hearts would handle a scare like that if their own implants malfunctioned on them.