Twenty minutes later we were back at the hotel. The rain had lessened, which was a good thing. I couldn’t help but notice along the way that everything seemed gray and unkempt. There was a vacant lot with garbage thrown into it. This was not the world I remembered.
We tromped into the room and found Dad standing at the window. He turned. “Ah, you’re back!” He came over, holding out his hand. “And you must be Otto.”
I looked at Otto and saw every ounce of color drain from his already pale face. Without a word, he raised his hand and took Dad’s. They shook, rather lopsidedly.
“Jonah has told me a lot about you,” Dad continued. “How you helped him get the parts to fix me.”
“Uh, huh,” was all Otto could say.
“A bit too strange for you?”
“No, Sir. I’m just racking my brain trying to figure out how Jonah got all this to work.”
I walked by and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry; I’m still trying to figure it out too.”
“It had to be the lightning,” Rory said, plopping on the bed. “Are you hungry, Otto?”
“Actually I am. Detention center food is terrible.”
“This food isn’t much better. I really miss Grandma’s cooking.” I picked up my tablet and brought up the room service menu. “The chicken here doesn’t even taste like chicken.”
“Nor does the beef,” Rory added.
“The salads aren’t so bad,” Suz put in her two cents. “They make a decent garden salad.”
I looked up from my browsing. “That’s because they grow so many vegetables in the south. Everything else is grown in the Outer States and brought here for further processing.”
“Processing?” Otto said, looking curiously at Dad.
“Yeah, they take the meat and usually grind it up, then add whatever nutrients to fulfill the government requirement.” I tossed the tablet on the bed. “We need to get done and out of here, I can’t stand the taste of this stuff anymore.”
Suz sat down at the table, resting her chin in her hands. “Yeah, I do miss Grandma’s pancakes and the yummy raspberry syrup.”
“For most of my life I ate Inner States food and never knew there was anything else. Until one time we were invited to Abe’s farm and I had some of Eliza’s barbeque ribs. Oh, those were amazing!” Dad said. “Now, I cannot eat anything except electricity—and that doesn’t taste like much.” He joined Suz at the table. “This is not a world where you children belong anymore. I fear that any day it will explode into war.”
“But won’t the Outer States be involved too?” she asked.
“To some extent, yes. But I think the border states will have a bigger part in it.” He laced his fingers. “From what I’ve been hearing, the Outer States are reducing goods and services because they feel they have not been fairly compensated.”
“Makes sense,” Otto replied, taking a seat. “My family used to get fifty cents a gallon for milk, now they only get thirty. And when they complained, they were told to shut up.”
Dad leaned forward slightly. “By who?”
“The Ministry of Nutrition.”