The morning sun's rays slanted across the floor by the time Heidi woke. Vernon's eyes opened. They stared at each other a second and Heidi blinked hard. Heidi yawned, "Uncle Dale, I couldn't sleep", she turned and stretched and gave a cough as she rose.
"You slept a long time, must have had a couple bad dreams, talkin in your sleep last night." He thought she had been talking to him at first, about the pigs, the police, the elephants, her elephant. He wasn't going to bring it up, best leave the traumas to the dreamlands where they belong. "You did get up once. Heh, heh, almost went to the closet before I showed you where the bathroom was, I didn't figure you'd remember. I bet you're hungry."
"Oh, yeah...sort of remember. Hey! We're in The Magic City, Vernon, let's check it out, she parted the drapes. They were several floors up in some kind of office building. "Hey, Vern, there's folks outside on a farm."
"Don't call me that in front of anybody, I mean it," he popped her on the arm with his fist, she retaliated, "You ARE mean, LOOK out the window," "I see it, whoa, look, oh my god everything's so different, s'like I barely remember, it's been so long since we've even been to a city, s'like a wonderland."
Uncle Dale stood up from the easy chair as they gazed in astonishment at the scene below. He turned them both around to face him as he spoke, "Now, look, here. Y'all two are gonna be on your absolute best behavior. They're gonna be up here pretty soon I imagine, and we'll get fed and then they'll tell us our options. I know a few folks who work here, so we have friends here but I'm gonna warn you - You step outta line and we are gonna end up wasting a lot of time explaining what we're doin' here to people who don't need to know where we're goin'."
Vernon was already tuning him out as he turned his head so his eyes could see out the window. His brow furrowed with a mix of emotions. "This town's full a niggers, Uncle Dale. I know they hate us, it ain't safe here"
"Now see here!" The old man's hands gripped the boy and held him fast, "Listen, now, y'all been taught a bunch of junk about this city by folks that you ain't gonna want to see no more." A tear dripped from Heidi's eye, then the other. "I don't wanna go back there, ever." Images of the slaughterhouse flashed before her. She flung herself on the bed. It smelled strange to her. She was not happy about how her life, "I don't have any of my stuff here, when can I have my backpack back?" Vernon changed the subject, "When are we gonna eat somethin..."
The electronic deadbolt on the door made a mechanical sound and a red LED light changed to green. A metallic breakfast cart pushed by a man with bent posture and a broad face painted white. "How y'all doin' this mornin'." "Fine." the kids said. "That's good. Breakfast is ready, smells good, don't it. Egg biscuits, and tea." The kids just sat there, Dale stepped towards the servant to take the trays of food, "No coffee?" "No...no coffee today. They was posed to be but no smugglers can get in from the border. Got most of what we need from the city farms. You can see from out that window where these tomatoes come from, yep." Vernon looked outside again. The cityscape was an uneven work-in-progress bearing the scars of conflict, like multiple mini 9/11's had wracked the infrastructure, drone warfare, the legacy of decades of insurgencies. Aside from the schooling Uncle Dale had been giving him through the Videopad, Vernon had known nothing about the outside world except the stories of neverending apocalypse, offering no clear revelation but the mad savage suspicion that mankind is either another species of talking apes or a race of devils sent to destroy the earth by either satan or god or both.
The server poured some hot tea. "We do have sugar cubes today." Dale said, "Thank you kindly. Any internet here?" "Naw, can't use the internet yet. Might be up, that would be a good thing," He placed some cloth napkins on the table that looked cut from old t-shirts, one square was screeenprinted with the partial words "ham", "zoo" and half a snarling tiger-head, torn and peeling.
Dale scratched his beard. "Things have changed since I was here before. Good things happening, looks like." He eyed the server, could tell he was on to something, had a searching glance, knew more than he was letting on. "Cell phone service online? I must need a passcode, can't get a signal and I can see a cell tower right out that window."
"Cells available only for Blues and Yellowblacks during emergencies. Heh, when is it NOT an emergency folks always say. I don't complain." The server kept his eyes on his work, placing some towels and a wooden box. "This here's the soap. They told me y'all have time to clean up before your escort gets here. So where y'all goin'?" His eyes looked into the staring face of Vernon who sat on the bed like a doberman. "You alright, son? Y'all ain't never been to Magic City before." Vernon didn't want the old negro to get the best of him, but was for a loss of words, and was on the verge of standing up against the man, or smarting off, but Heidi interjected. "No we've never been to the city. Seen em on videopad, though. Seen lots of videos. We know all about em, don't we Vernon?" He glanced back at her in mute defeat, not knowing why he was even angry. His uncle told them on the way to the city in the car not to pass judgment. The whole point of coming here was for their safety, and home was not safe anymore. He looked back at the old black man painted white. He was embarrassed, and angry, but he didn't know why.
Dale knew it was pride that the boy was now beginning to doubt. He had been lied to by evil men, and he had been abused. That damage could be undone if he could get these two to the Hexagon.
Dale noticed the server was studying him. "Y'all have a nice day. I got other guests to take care of. You just press that button on that intercom if you need somethin." The intercom had a camera eye that could be assumed was observing them the whole time. Who was studying them, Dale wondered.