[At Baycon I caught myself describing this scene to another writer in the midst of a conversation about culture clash. There is a brief respite from danger, and all the grownups use it to dash to the nearest saloon and party their brains out, except for Blocker, who is feeling poorly. Sonny and Kayliss, being too young to party, go out for a bite instead. -cd]
“I’d best go back to bed,” Blocker said faintly.
“Need any help?” Sonny looked at Kayliss, who was already releasing the wheelchair brake.
“No. I mean. Weren’t we going to have lunch?” She wheeled Blocker carefully toward the elevator and he collected his pile of books and followed, Hina rising from her nap spot to tag along. “Do they deliver it, like breakfast? Or does a milkshake count as lunch?”
“I was just going to eat in the restaurant,” Sonny said. “Risha said to room charge it.”
Kayliss pondered this all the way to the third floor. Sonny stood back as she helped Blocker transfer out of the chair into her bed, which had several extra pillows. The other bed had books piled all over it.
“I’ll be fine,” Blocker murmured as Kayliss adjusted the pillows around her. “You can go out and look at the town if you want. You have my permission as long as you don’t get into any trouble. If you do, you’re a renegade desperado and I was in fear for my life.”
Kayliss laughed. She bent over and kissed Blocker on the forehead. Sonny blinked, not really having thought of her as having emotional connections like a regular human before. He backed away into his room, leaving the door open. He put his railroad ticket safely away in his suitcase. The hotel maid had tidied up the room and left fresh dogfood for Hina, who squeezed past him to devour it.
Kayliss appeared in his doorway. “So. How exactly does this restaurant thing work? Is it like last night, with the big crowd of people? Can I have a second milkshake after lunch? Are those your books? Where did you get them all?”
“They’re awesome, aren’t they?”
“I can’t stop reading them.”
“It wouldn’t be a crowd of people,” he said. “Just the two of us.”
“I don’t like crowds.”
Fortunately the restaurant wasn’t crowded. In fact, they were the only two people there. The grayhaired waitress giggled at them, and Sonny realized she thought they were on a date, and this annoyed him. He had always assumed that his first actual date would happen with someone he actually wanted to go on a date with, and Kayliss was not in that category. She had her very own category all to herself, as he had no other enemies that he was pretending to like. All of her clones fell into another category, of crazy scary dangerous people that he hated with furious intensity, and the minute his family was safely away from them he intended to proclaim it as loud as possible. Therefore, if he wanted that day to happen, he’d better do a good job at faking friendliness.
Sonny smiled charmingly and lowered his menu. “Everything looks so delicious.”
“I can’t eat all of this,” Kayliss said, putting her own menu down and rubbing at her temples.
“You don’t have to eat them all.” He gave her a kind, warm expression instead of the mocking laughter that he stifled. “Pick the ones that you want the most. An appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. I’m feeling a little hungry, so maybe we should get three desserts. And share them.”
“Are milkshakes desserts? I don’t see them listed. What’s apple pandowdy?”
“You know what we should get? Chili and cornbread.” According to the books, these were two foods outriders always seemed to be cooking in cauldrons and skillets, over open flames and underneath stars.
Her face lit up. “Yes! Chili and cornbread!”
Sonny ordered for both of them. The waitress seemed pleased by his order, mentioning that their particular recipe went back almost two thousand years, adding more than he really wanted to know about the heritage herb garden out back where they grew all the spices. Kayliss seemed interested.
“I was reading in one of those books about a pollen curtain they have in the central region, where they have all kinds of heritage plants grown from the seed bank,” she said after the waitress left.
Who cares, Sonny thought. You probably just want to find a way to turn them into weapons. It figures that you’d waste all your time reading the science parts instead of skipping ahead to the exciting parts like a normal person.“Wow, that sounds fascinating.”
“I’ve never read books like these before. They’re not like textbooks.”
“No fiction?” Sonny raised an eyebrow. “No novels? Comics? Stories? No movies?”
“Lots of movies.”
“Movies with actors?”
“Movies that teach you how to do things, like calculus.”
Sonny groaned. “You’re missing out on a lot. These books aren’t even good stories. The kind where the plot kind of makes sense, and the characters seem like people who might actually exist, sort of, and they’re all about deeper themes, not just people running around avoiding danger, and boobs.”
She gave him a blank look. “Boobs.”
His cheeks flamed red, just as their heritage-spice-flavored chili and authentic prairie cornbread served in a miniature cast iron skillet arrived. He dug in. Kayliss carefully watched his silverware method, and cornbread buttering technique, and copied him. The chili was as delicious as promised, and just spicy enough. Conversation gave way to chewing sounds, all the way to the three desserts, but they could only finish two, and the apple pandowdy sat forlorn and neglected as they patted their rounded bellies.
“So basically you would come in here knowing what all the desserts are, and then you would just pick the one you wanted.” Kayliss looked at him as though expecting a passing grade.
“Yup. And then you have to pay for it.” He awkwardly printed “Sonny” on the room charge slip, using the sharpened quill and pot of dark green ink provided. The waitress uttered a tsking sound at his penmanship. “In some restaurants you have to pay before they’ll bring you the food.”
“How can you tell the difference?”
“You ask.” He stood up and stretched.
“That’s what I’m doing, dumbass.” She stood up, staggering a little as she adjusted to her new center of gravity.
“Is that how you talk to each other back home? Dumbass and all that? Exotic foreign cultural tradition or something?”
She snickered. “Risha and Blocker have been trying to get me to stop. I would have just lost ten points if they had heard me. That’s how we talk to our friends. Apparently it’s a threat display to you people, and a sign of disrespect.”
“Go sniff a fart, shitlicker.” He smiled angelically.
Kayliss let out a loud whoop of laughter. She fell back down in her chair, cackling hysterically until tears ran from her eyes. Sonny stood by idly pleased, having never reduced a human being to this stage of amusement before. The waitress shot him a dirty look. Kayliss dried her eyes on her napkin and rose a second time, wobbling only slightly. She was slightly taller than he was. “Ten points,” she announced.
“Bring them on, assface.” He beckoned her toward the door. “Let’s go look at the town.”