Ron woke up and panicked. She was lying on something soft and sticky, with other people lying on both sides of her and even on top of her, and she was naked. She struggled to get free, but she was weighed down by whoever was on top of her, and it seemed she was stuck to whatever she was lying on. The people lying around her were naked also, as far as she could tell, and they didn't react to her squirming and shoving. Maybe they were dead. Lying in bed with dead bodies–
She finally managed to get free and she ran to a far corner of the room, her heart pounding. She looked around, trying to catch her breath. It looked like a bedroom. There was a dresser beside her, with a little space next to it, between it and the wall. She slipped into that space, hiding her nakedness as much as she could. After a minute, her breathing somewhat under control, she leaned over and peeked out. It was a room in the hotel, by the look of it. The curtains and the bed looked like the ones in other rooms.
There were definitely naked bodies on the bed, but the room was so dark that she couldn't tell much. The shades were drawn (thank goodness for that), but it looked like it was still dark out anyway.
It was at this point that she realized that her arms and legs all seemed to be working properly. She couldn't lean over to touch her legs in the tight space where she was hidden, but she did wriggle her left leg and foot around. Everything worked fine. She flexed the fingers of her left hand as well. All okay.
As the Golden had said.
Now it came back to her. They had come in after the meeting was over and asked how she was. When everybody else had gone out, they had brought over three chairs to sit with her. They had told her that Mr. Bostwick was dead.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ron said. She barely knew Mr. Bostwick, but she knew that was what you were supposed to say.
"With Mr. Bostwick dead, you are really our only friend–"
"Hey," she said quietly, "belay that kind of talk." She had read that in a book in her Literature class and had always wanted to say it.
"We want to help you," Will said.
"What, like carry me around? That's silly."
"No." His voice got quieter and they leaned forward. "We can heal you, your leg and your wrist, too."
"My leg is fucking broken. My mom said so, and she's always right."
They nodded. "She's right," Craig said.
"It's broken in two places."
"But we can fix it."
"It will be very difficult."
"And we will be very tired when it's done."
"We'll probably sleep for a long time."
"But there's an emergency going on."
"And we're sure people need you to help."
Ron frowned. On one hand, this sounded like nonsense. On the other hand, she reminded herself, her grandmother had made the pain go away by touching her cheek, and Vicki had lifted a truck off of her. And, as far as anybody knew, the Golden never lied.
"You'd better be telling me the truth," Ron said, making a fist.
"We are," Sharon said.
Ron shrugged. "What do I have to do?"
The Golden hesitated.
"This is the difficult part," Will said.
"Fucking tell me!" Ron said, raising her fist.
The Golden sat up straighter.
"You can't have clothes on," Sharon said.
"We all have to take our clothes off."
"Cloth is organic–"
"What? No fucking way!" Ron folded her arms and glared.
The Golden waited in silence for a moment, then Will said, "We will... nobody will be there. Nobody will see. We will never tell anybody."
Ron thought. She had no doubt they were telling the truth. She had always thought that there was nothing worse than being naked. She never took her clothes off – ever – except to take a bath, when she really had to, always with the bathroom door locked.
But maybe there was something worse. Lying here on this sofa for day after day, while people got hurt and killed and nobody even knew what was going on. That was worse. If her leg was fixed, she could go out on one of those teams Ray had talked about. She could be useful.
She was sure there weren't going to be mail deliveries, so she had to do something else to be useful. And she damn sure couldn't be useful if she was lying here with people bringing her food like she was a baby.
"Okay," she said. "And no funny business!"
They nodded seriously.
"Where can we do it?" she asked. "Not in here, they'll be coming back for another meeting."
"We found a room," Sharon said.
"At the end of this hall."
"We brought a cart from the kitchen."
"And some garbage bags."
"Garbage bags?" Ron demanded, but the Golden were already going out into the hall. They came back a moment later, wheeling in a metal cart. The top shelf was empty, and the bottom shelf held some plastic garbage bags, a big roll of tape, and two candles. With some effort, the three of them lifted Ron onto the top of the cart. She was sitting up, and she held onto the sides of the cart as they wheeled her out into the hall.
"Ah, excuse me," came a voice from behind them.
"Oh, crap," Ron said.
Marshall came up to them. "May I ask where you're taking my daughter? I'm sure we're not that desperate for food yet, and she's really only slightly damaged."
"It's okay, Dad," Ron said. "We're just going down there. To that room down there. For a while."
"I see," Marshall said slowly.
"I'll tell you about it later. Okay?"
Marshall looked at the Golden, who were motionless, their faces blank. "Okay," he said. "I'll look forward to that explanation later. Yell if you need me."
She nodded. "I will." They both smiled. Ron didn't smile very often, but she was happy that her father trusted her and that he wasn't going to ask any more questions right then. And she did know that if she needed his help she could shout and he'd come running.
In the room, Will put the two candles on the desk and lit them. Meanwhile, Craig and Sharon took the garbage bags and spread them out on the bed, taping them together so they made a solid covering. Then they wheeled Ron's cart over next to the bed, and, with Will's help, they placed her in the center of the plastic covering.
She lay down and Will stood with his hand over her eyes as the others untied the splints from her leg and then started to undress her. She was really trying not to shiver as her clothes came off. She wanted to take Will's hand in hers, but the others would have seen. The room was very dark, lit only by the candles on the desk, but she knew there was enough light for them to see her.
She didn't remember much else, until she woke up and panicked.
Well, she could come out of her hiding space. The Golden were asleep and they had told her they wouldn't wake up for a while. Still, somebody might come in. She reached around in front of the dresser and pulled out one drawer. Empty. She tried another. Empty.
In the bottom drawer, she found a blanket. She pulled it out and wrapped it around her. It was rough and scratchy, but she didn't care about that. Feeling somewhat better, she stepped out into the room. Now, where were her clothes?
When she found them, she smiled again. There was a little shelf at the foot of the bed, probably for a suitcase, and on it were four piles of clothes, all neatly folded, underwear on top. She took her clothes and went into the bathroom to get dressed.
Coming back out (and dressing had been rather challenging because the bathroom had been entirely dark), she wrapped herself in the blanket again and went to sit in the armchair. The Golden were apparently asleep. Naked. She tried not to look at them. They had moved a little when she'd escaped from their clutches, or she would have been worried that they were dead.
If she'd had a cigarette she would have smoked it, though her father had told her she was too young.
She suddenly had another panicky thought. The Golden had done something to her body. Nothing sexual, she was sure of that, but what if they'd turned her into one of them? Wasn't that what happened in movies? She picked up one of the candles and carried it over to the dresser. She couldn't see the mirrror very well in the gloom, but she looked the same as she always had. Bushy brown hair, not like the sleek blonde hair of the Golden. Regular brown eyes, not weird gray ones. Someone had once said she had a pug nose, whatever that meant. She hated her freckles, because old people thought they were cute, but she was glad to see them now.
As she turned from the dresser, she saw the Golden's knapsacks, leaning against the wall in a neat row. She went over and lifted one. There was something in it. She unzipped it, since that's what a detective would have done, and looked in. It was too dark to see anything, so she reached in and felt around.
The pack was mostly empty, but there were a few items in the bottom which turned out to be cheese sandwiches, each one carefully wrapped in paper.
She ate one sandwich as she carried the packs and left them next to the bed. The Golden would probably be hungry when they woke up. Finishing the sandwich, she took another one and folded it over so she could stick it in her back pocket.
Well, it was time to get moving. The problem was her jeans. Vicki had ripped them halfway up her thigh to Jan could examine her leg. Ron wasn't going to go around with her leg showing, she had to get back to her room to get another pair. But the stairs were on the other side of the lobby, and she'd heard that the lobby was full of people.
The solution to that was speed. She got up and took off the blanket, spreading it over the Golden. She opened the door and peeked out. The short hall between her and the lobby was clear.
Thinking like a detective, though, Ron had one question, and she wanted an answer. If the lobby was full of people (and she could see some of them from where she was, and she could hear more), then how had the soldiers made it to the meeting room without anybody noticing them?
The short, gloomy hall had six doors, three on each side. They were all either meeting rooms or sleeping rooms, and she didn't think any of them had doors to the outside. She walked to the end of the hall and saw a little alcove off to the right. She'd never noticed it before because she'd never had any reason to go to the end of the hall. At the end of the alcove was a door to the alley next to the hotel. It had a bar across it that would open if it was pressed, but the lock was broken. She opened it and leaned out to look at the lock from the outside. It looked like it had been forced, and recently.
One mystery solved. There was a a narrow table against the wall with a vase on it, and she dragged it over so that it blocked the door. She figured that if anybody opened the door, the table would go over, and the vase would break and make a noise. Then she realized that the door opened outward.
She shook her head. She'd have to figure this out later. She turned back toward the lobby. She took a deep breath. This was it.
Bang. She was down the hall at top speed, jumping the four steps down to the lobby floor, dodging around a couple of people and through the swinging doors into the stairwell. The best part had been when she'd whizzed past Fifteen. His look of amazement had made her day. As his eyes had widened, she'd straight-armed him in the center of his chest and he'd fallen backwards, his arms waving around.
Feeling more like herself, she came out of the stairwell on the fourth floor and walked to her room.
As she came down the stairs again, properly clothed now, Ron heard engines way off in the distance. Fuck, nobody in U-town had cars. Was this an invasion? The Jinx had motorcycles, but whenever they rode around there was that weird wailing noise that went with them. She didn't hear that. Just engines.
She ran into the lobby, and Fifteen said, "Your parents are outside. Please don't hurt me again."
It was still dark outside, the air was still bad, and she heard the engines getting closer. Her parents were there on the front steps of the hotel, along with Ray, Pat, and Sam. Ray was now wearing jeans and a T-shirt. Ron wondered how long she'd been unconscious.
Ron went and stood next to Marshall. He looked down.
"Hey," he said.
"Hey." She waited for some acknowledgement of her miraculous recovery, but he didn't say anything more. Everybody was looking down the block. Ron looked also, but she didn't see anything in the darkness and smoke.
"What's going on?" she demanded.
"We heard the Jinx were leaving. Vicki ran to head them off at the bridge and try to convince them to stay."
Ron waited a minute, then she punched her father lightly in the arm. He smiled and leaned over. "Fifteen warned us," he whispered, trying not to grin. "Are you going to tell me what happened?"
She pointed, and the first group of motorcycles appeared at the end of the block. They were moving in formation, slowly.
Ron didn't know much about the Jinx. They were some sort of motorcycle gang. There were a lot of them, maybe hundreds. They all dressed alike and they weren't very friendly. The only Jinx she knew at all well was Christy. Christy had red hair and was very pretty. She was friends with Ron's father, or really with Jan and Marshall, though Ron could tell that her real attachment was with Marshall. She was their security when they traveled outside U-town.
Ron was sure, absolutely certain, that nothing was going on with her father and Christy. If there was, Jan Sleet the great detective would have figured it out. But Ron knew from experience where this would go, sooner or later.
She had thought of killing Christy to protect her family, but even if she could have done it, her mother would have known and things would have got fucked up anyway.
In the lead was a motorcycle ridden by a tall, blond man. There were about thirty or thirty-five other motorcycles behind him, all coming fairly slowly, like some kind of parade or funeral. Ron remembered that the blond man was named Neil.
At first they didn't see Vicki, but then Pat pointed and they saw small black-clad arms around the blond man's middle, tiny hands holding his jacket.
Neil and Vicki dismounted in front of the hospital, the other riders pulling up behind them. Ron saw someone with a lot of red hair, but she was too far away to tell if it was Christy.
"Where are the others?" Jan Sleet asked, "and where's Dr. Lee?" Dr. Lee was the leader of the Jinx. Ron knew that, though she'd never see her.
"Gone," Neil said simply, his face impassive. "We're the ones who Vicki convinced to stay." He squeezed the shoulder of the tiny figure next to him. "Dr. Lee and the rest left."
Ray started to say something, but Neil said, "We can talk later. Who's handling the perimeter, the bridges?"
He looked at Vicki. "No disrespect, but any objections to my taking over on that?"
She shook her head. "None."
"Where is he based?"
Neil turned to the others, all of whom had stayed on their motorcycles. "We going to the city bridge," he said in a loud voice. "We'll deploy from there. Let's go." They rode off, more quickly this time.
When they were gone, Sam said, "That was pretty abrupt."
"We have to be happy for the help, for what they can do, but I'm not happy about it," Vicki said. "It's like I broke up a marriage or something. I was really hoping to convince them all to stay."
Ray shrugged. "They each made their own decision, that's the best we could get."
Ron tapped her father's arm. "I want to go on one of those medical teams."
He frowned. "Let's step inside," he said. "I want to talk to you for a moment."
She sighed and followed him into the hotel, knowing this meant she was in trouble. Again.
They went into a small empty office across the hall from the meeting room. Marshall sat on a desk chair, so they could talk face to face.
"I really don't want you to go," he said. "It could be dangerous."
"Fuck! Everywhere is dangerous. And people need medicine and stuff, and–"
He put his hand over her mouth. "You're right. And that's what I was going to say. You're needed, and you should go. Even though I don't want you to."
"They why did you bring me in here? I thought you were going to yell at me."
He smiled. "No, I'm going to hug you. Come here." They put their arms around each other. "I'm very proud of you. And I know you hate to be hugged in front of other people."
"Oh, by the way," he said casually as they got ready to leave, "are you going to tell me how your leg got healed?"
"The Golden did it."
"How, if I may ask?"
"I really don't know. I was asleep when they did it."
"Can they heal other people? We have a lot of wounded."
She shrugged. "Maybe. We can ask them when they wake up, but I think they're gonna be asleep for a while. They said it was really difficult."
He nodded. "I imagine it would be."
Ron went to the lobby. She was trying to be cool, but she wanted to jump up and down with the excitement of being able to walk again. She could actually go out and do something useful.
She walked up to Fifteen and said, "I want to be on one of those medical teams."
"Well, Ron, there isn't anybody else available right now. The teams are all out–"
"You're fucking lying. I can tell." She punched him in the shoulder, using her left hand just because it was working again. "What are you lying about, you little piss-ant?"
"Well, your father wouldn't approve–"
"He also probably wouldn't approve if I knock you out and do your job better than you're doing it. If I can't go out on a team, I might as well do that."
"Alright. If something bad happens, I–"
She punched him again, with her right this time.
"Katherine wants to go out on a team, but nobody else wants to go with her." He smiled. "Come on. I'll introduce you."
Ron followed him, doing her best to hide the fact that, for the first time today, she was scared.