The Golden got up at six-thirty every morning. There was a lot to do before they went to school, and they liked to take their time.
They woke up, as usual, in a tight tangle of bodies and arms and legs, like a cocoon in the center of their bed.
"Time to get up."
"I'm glad we got the blueberries."
"They were too expensive."
"But it was worth it."
"Blueberry pancakes are his favorite."
"I think we should take baths this morning."
"Not just a shower."
"I'll make the breakfast."
"And I'll help Mr. Bostwick."
Disentangling himself from the other two, Craig got out of bed and padded off to the bathroom to start the water. Will and Sharon put on their robes and went downstairs, Will to start breakfast and Sharon to help Mr. Bostwick to get up and dressed.
"We're still sure something will happen today."
"We should tell him."
"He can tell when we're upset."
"I hope he doesn't think we're leaving."
"Why would we leave?"
"But he may worry that we will."
"Then he would have to go stay with his daughter and her family."
"They sound awful."
"Children," Mr. Bostwick said gently.
Sharon turned from his dresser, where she was taking out his clothes for the day. Will and Craig stopped what they were doing also, though they were not in the room.
"We need to talk," Mr. Bostwick said.
"Will is cooking," Sharon said.
"Then we can talk in the kitchen. Please get me my robe."
She got Mr. Bostwick's robe and helped him into his wheelchair. Then she wheeled him into the kitchen.
Will was at the stove, making pancakes. Craig had come down from the second floor. He was wearing his robe, and his hair was still wet from his bath.
Mr. Bostwick wheeled his chair over to the kitchen table, so Sharon and Craig sat there. Will stood at the stove, watching the pancakes that were on the grill.
"Something is wrong," Mr. Bostwick said, looking at them. He was used to them, so their unusual appearance didn't bother him. They had golden skin and shoulder-length blonde hair, with gray eyes, and they looked so similar that only one person other than Mr. Bostwick could tell them apart.
"You've been on edge all week," he said, "and it's worse today. And now you're fixing my favorite breakfast, and you even bought blueberries out of your own money, which you know you don't have to do. Please tell me what's going on."
"We don't know," Will said.
"We've had a bad feeling all week."
"We've never felt this way before."
"And you're involved."
"That's all we know."
He nodded. "I see. And you think maybe I'm going to die today. So, you're making my favorite breakfast." He smiled. "That was very thoughtful of you. I feel about as well as I usually do, but at my age you never know. Let's have our breakfast and talk of more pleasant things. Okay?"
They nodded and went back to their work. Craig took over at the stove and Will went upstairs to have a bath. Sharon wheeled Mr. Bostwick back to his room to help him get washed and dressed.
He had been uncomfortable at first about being cared for in this way by somebody who was, apparently, a thirteen-year-old girl. When he'd expressed this, the Golden had shrugged, and Will or Craig had assisted him instead. Then he gradually became aware that it really didn't matter to them. If he told Craig a joke in the morning, Sharon would refer to it later in the day. He started to treat them as if they were completely interchangeable, as apparently they were.
It had been Mr. Bostwick who had insisted that the Golden go to school. At first they had had quite a few classes together, but some of the teachers had become frustrated because they always gave the same answers on every test. Nobody had ever been able to find any evidence that they cheated (though not for lack of trying), but the decision was made that, whenever possible, they should be split up.
This morning, Will had History, Sharon had Gym, and Craig had Creative Writing. They were very good in History, but not in the other two classes. They tried to do their best, as they always did, but they were not strong, or fast, or able to master a lot of the skills necessary to write stories.
They had the option to request different classes, of course. Students had a lot of freedom to pick their own curricula and Mr. Bostwick had suggested they ask for a change, but they had decided to stay with the classes and do the best they could.
That morning, about halfway through their first period classes, they suddenly stood up, made quick excuses, ran out of their classrooms, met in the second floor stairwell, and threw their arms around each other as the building shook and all the lights went out.
The next few minutes were chaotic. Students ran around, teachers issues contradictory orders, smoke and dust were in the air. The Golden knew what they had to do, though. Their first responsibility was to go home and check on Mr. Bostwick.
One of the teachers was stopping students from leaving through the front doors, so the Golden quickly went back to the stairway, down to the basement, through a storeroom that was supposed to be locked but never was, and out through a small window that led to a narrow alley.
The garbage cans in the alley had all been knocked over, so the Golden had to climb over them to get to the street. Ordinarily they would have picked them up and put them back where they belonged, but it was more important to get to Mr. Bostwick.
They had arrived in U-town with no money. They had quickly learned that everybody was expected to volunteer at the hospital for at least a half day every week. They also learned that if they volunteered for a full day and worked into the evening, the hospital staff would see that they got some food and a bed for the night. They were well-liked at the hospital because they would happily do any job, no matter how unpleasant.
One of the patients they had cared for was Mr. Bostwick. He had had a stroke which had left him in a wheelchair. When he had been ready to be discharged, the nurse had said that somebody had to come to take him home. If not, they couldn't release him. Mr. Bostwick had protested that he could take care of himself, and in any case there wasn't anybody who could help him. After some yelling from both sides, the Golden had stepped in and offered to take Mr. Bostwick home.
On the way, they did some errands for him, and by the time they got to his house they proposed that if they moved in with him, they would take care of both the house and him, doing the shopping, preparing his meals, and cleaning.
He had agreed (he pointed out cheerfully that he really had very little choice) and they had moved in. To their surprise, he had apparently grown quite fond of them over time, and they knew that he had revised his will to leave his house and his few possessions to them.
The house appeared intact as they approached it. A couple of houses on the other side of the street had collapsed.
The Golden opened the door and went in. The staircase to the second floor had always leaned a bit to one side, and now it seemed to tilt more than it had before. The air was better than the air outside, and they quickly closed the door.
Mr. Bostwick was lying on the floor in the middle of the living room. He had apparently fallen out of his wheelchair. There was a board next to him on the floor, and a few pieces of paper scattered around. The Golden knew that he used the board when he wanted to write, laying it across the arms of his wheelchair to provide a writing surface.
They squatted around the body.
"I think we're not supposed to touch anything."
"That's for a crime."
"This isn't a crime."
"What did he die from?"
"Everything in the room is the way it was before."
"I think it was a heart attack."
"He did have to take that medicine."
"For his heart."
"Maybe the shock of the explosion."
"We should pick up the papers and the board."
"And there's his fountain pen."
"We'll have to find the cap."
"Otherwise it will dry out."
"I don't see the cap."
They laid the board and the papers neatly on the dining room table, and then they looked around under the furniture until they found the cap. They screwed the fountain pen closed tightly, then they placed it on top of the pieces of paper, which were blank.
Then they looked at the body again.
"We should move him."
"Into a chair."
"It's not right to have him just lying on the floor."
Working together, they managed to lift the body and put it in Mr. Bostwick's favorite armchair.
"I'll take his pulse."
"We should make sure."
Sharon picked up his arm and put her fingers on his wrist as she had learned in First Aid class.
They went to the sofa and sat down. They were silent for a few minutes.
"What are we supposed to do when somebody dies?"
"Maybe it says in the book."
Will went upstairs to their room to get their copy of the U-town Book. It was a slim volume which was given to every citizen (and for sale to visitors). It included Ray Stone's essay, "U-town, not Utopia," various instructions and rules for citizens, and some reference materials.
They looked in the index under "Death, not by violence" and found this:
When somebody dies, not by violence, the following steps should be taken:
- Make sure the person is actually dead. This is covered in the mandatory First Aid training. See p. 27.
- Do not move the body any more than is necessary to determine if life persists.
- Go to City Hall and talk to the clerk, who will give you the approproiate forms to fill out. The clerk will arrange for the body to be transported to the hospital.
"We did the first thing."
"But we weren't supposed to move the body."
"Should we move it back?"
"No, that might make it worse."
"We'll just have to tell them what we did."
"I'm sure we're not the first ones to do it wrong."
"We hadn't read the book yet."
"We should go and talk to the clerk."
"That may take a while."
"We should bring sandwiches for lunch."
"There's no power."
"The refrigerator is off and the food will all spoil."
"And we just did grocery shopping."
"We should make sandwiches, of everything."
"And then we can bring them with us."
"And give them to people who are hungry."
Glad for something to do, they trooped off to the kitchen to make sandwiches.
They knew that "City Hall" meant the hotel. There had been attempts to set up an official city hall, or at least official offices, but each time everything had slowly and inexorably relocated back to the hotel. The administrators all lived there, and there were a lot of meeting rooms for them to use, and people always came there with their questions and problems anyway.
The Golden owned the house now, but they didn't care about that. They minded much more that Mr. Bostwick was gone. He had known and experienced so many things in his long life, and those things were all gone now. They had tried to learn as much as they could from him, but he had always been more interested in talking about them and what they learned in school.
"We should go look for Hazel."
"To find out if she's okay."
"She gets mad when we call her Hazel."
"She lives at the hotel, with her parents."
"We can ask about her when we go there to report about Mr. Bostwick."
When the sandwiches were made, they emptied their school bags and filled them with sandwiches. Then they set out for the hotel. This time they paid more attention to what was going on than they had when they were coming home from school..
"Was it an earthquake?"
"Would an earthquake explain all the smoke and dust in the air?"
"I'm surprised there aren't more people around."
"And why is it so dark?"
"You don't suppose they're all dead."
"I don't think so."
"Remember what it said in the book, about disasters."
"We should have reviewed that part, too."
"I brought the book. It's in my bag."
"Well, in an emergency, people are supposed to go to the hospital."
"Maybe that's where we should go first."
"That's probably where they are."
"It's closer, and maybe we can leave some of the sandwiches there for people."
So, they turned and headed toward the hospital. When they were nearly there, though, they saw a couple of people coming toward them. "The hospital is flooded," they said. "If you're injured, go to the school. If you're not injured, go to the hotel. That's where they're putting together rescue teams."
So, the Golden turned around and headed toward the hotel again.
The hotel lobby was full of people, and they were told they had to wait their turn, unless it was an emergency. They stood by the door and watched. After a few minutes, they got out sandwiches and started to eat. Some other people came up to them and asked if they had more, so they handed out some of the sandwiches.
Meanwhile, they watched, and saw that two people were trying to coordinate everything. One was a woman named Patricia, who wore jeans, a sweatshirt, and a baseball cap. The other was a teenage boy named Arturo, who had a shaved head and wore a torn T-shirt and baggy shorts. And then Patricia went away and Arturo was running everything alone.
Finally, he came up to them and said, "Yes?"
"Arturo Carbonieri, we–"
He looked startled. "Call me Fifteen," he said. "What do you need, and what can you do?"
"We need to report a death."
"We lived with him."
"When he was alive."
"He's dead now."
"So, we need to file a report."
"The instructions in the book–"
He waved a hand. He started to say something, then he stopped himself. "You're the Golden," he said. "I've heard about you. Please don't think I'm being sarcastic, but there is, as I imagine you've noticed, a disaster of some sort going on."
They nodded. "We were wondering about that."
He waited a moment, then he said, "Let's just say that no forms need to be filed for the duration of the disaster. Whatever it is." They nodded seriously. "So, what else can you–"
"We're also looking for our friend Hazel."
"She prefers to be called Ron."
"Ah," Fifteen said. "I can help you with that. She's alive. Her leg was broken. She was at the bridge, waiting for the mail, when a truck fell on her. But she'll be fine."
"Where is she?"
"She's in the meeting room, with her parents. But a meeting just started, so you can't go in there now. Maybe you'd like to help out here until the meeting is over?"
"We brought sandwiches."