Lights burned late in the great communal apartment building Abraham Lincoln, because this was All Souls night: the residents, all six hundred of them, were required by their charter to attend, down in the subsurface community hall. They filed in briskly, men, women and children; at the door Bruce Corley, operating their rather expensive new identification reader, checked each of them in turn to be sure that no one from outside, from another communal apartment building, got in. The residents submitted good-naturedly, and it all went very fast.
“Hey Bruce, how much’d it set us back?” asked old Joe Purd, oldest resident in the building; he had moved in with his wife and two children the day the building, in May of 1980, had been built. His wife was dead now and the children had grown up, married and moved on, but Joe remained.
“Plenty,” Bruce Corley said, “but it’s error-proof; I mean, it isn’t just subjective.”
Up to now, in his permanent job as sergeant of arms, he had admitted people merely by his ability to recognize them. But that way he had at last let in a pair of goons from Red Robin Hill Manor and they had disrupted the entire meeting with their questions and comments. It would not happen again.
Passing out copies of the agenda, Mrs. Wells smiled fixedly and chanted, “Item 3A, Appropriation for Roof Repairs, has been moved to 4A. Please make a note of that.” The residents accepted their agendas and then divided into two streams flowing to opposite sides of the hall; the liberal faction of the building seated themselves on the right and the conservatives on the left, each conspicuously ignoring the existence of the other. A few uncommitted persons – newer residents or odd-balls – took seats in the rear, self-conscious and silent as the room buzzed with many small conferences. The tone, the mood of the room, was tolerant, but the residents knew that tonight there was going to be a clash. Presumably, both sides were prepared. Here and there documents, petitions, newspaper clippings rustled as they were read and exchanged, handed back and forth.
On the platform, seated at the table with the four governing building trustees, chairman Donald Klugman felt sick at his stomach. A peaceful man, he shrank from these violent squabbles. Even seated in the audience he found it too much for him, and here tonight he would have to take active part; time and tide had rotated the chair around to him, as it did to each resident in turn, and of course it would be the night the school issue reached its climax.
The room had almost filled and now Patrick Doyle, the current building sky pilot, looking none too happy in his long white robe, raised his hands for silence. “The opening prayer,” he called huskily, cleared his throat and brought forth a small card. “Everyone please shut their eyes and bow their heads.” He glanced at Klugman and the trustees, and Klugman nodded for him to continue. “Heavenly Father,” Doyle said, “we the residents of the communal apartment building Abraham Lincoln beseech You to bless our assembly tonight. Um, we ask that in Your mercy You enable us to raise the funds for the roof repairs which seem imperative. We ask that our sick be healed and our unemployed find jobs and that in processing applicants wishing to live amongst us we show wisdom in whom we admit and whom we turn away.