It wasn't bad at first. Taking care of her newborn and slightly premature sister was by turns exhausting, deeply moving, and more frightening than facing down a terminator, but at least it wasn't complicated. Feed Sydney, change Sydney, keep Sydney warm and dry. Eat and sleep whenever she could. She didn't worry much about killer cyborgs--she had neither the time nor the energy. She was so tired that the nightmares didn't even bother her much. At least they meant she'd gotten to sleep long enough to dream.
She told herself she didn't have time to mourn her mother, her father, her life, and it turned out to be true. She focused on the now, on diapers and formula and clothes. Thanks to Sarah, she had a place to stay and money for the first six months, maybe nine or ten if she were careful. So she was careful.
One day she woke up and Sydney was six weeks old, past the newest newborn stage. No longer a neonate, according to her books, but still a baby. Sydney seemed to grow and change every single day, from smiling to giggling to sitting up. Lauren made lists whenever she could get her sister to take a nap, took the bus to Goodwill so often they greeted her by name and set aside clothes and toys. Crawling was going to happen next; she needed to childproof their one-room apartment as soon as possible. She could do it. She was doing it. It was going to be fine.
And then Sydney got sick.
Lauren thought it was just a cold. She held her sister close, made sure she didn't get dehydrated, dosed her carefully with infant Tylenol for the fever, and used a bulb syringe to keep her tiny nostrils clear. Instead of going to school, she'd spent the six months they were on the run, along with whatever free time she'd had since the birth, reading EMS and nursing textbooks she'd picked up at a community college bookstore. She knew what to do for a baby with a cold.
But Sydney didn't get better. Only the Tylenol kept her fever down, and she was getting so congested she didn't want to eat anything. Lauren counted her respirations (for a full minute, because that's what the books said to do), and she was breathing 80 times a minute. That couldn't be right, she thought, so she counted again, lifting Sydney's shirt up to watch her chest, and got 79. Her little nostrils were flaring out with each breath, and that wasn't good either. According to the books, she should take her sister to the hospital right away, or at least to a doctor, but she couldn't do that. They didn't have insurance. Sydney didn't even have a birth certificate; how could she prove she was Sydney's sister, her guardian? She wasn't even 18, she wasn't Sydney's mother, what was she supposed to do?
Lauren didn't panic, not exactly--that was another thing she couldn't afford to do, not ever. She was aware of her own symptoms, though--adrenaline kicking in, her own respiratory rate increasing, her heart beating rapidly in her chest as she searched for her phone and dialed the number, hoping it was still the right one.
She heard a click, then a brief tone, but no voice. "Five May," she said hesitantly.
There was an intake of breath, then Sarah's voice. "We changed the code. Who is this?"
"It's Lauren, Sarah. I need your help."
"Lauren, what did you and your father build in your garage?"
"Birdhouses, we built birdhouses," she answered, then realized she had no guarantee this was really Sarah, although there wasn't anyone else left who knew about the birdhouses. "What was my mother's name?" she asked. It was a stupid question.
"That's too easy, Lauren," Sarah said harshly.
Lauren took a shaky breath.
"Your mother was Anne, and your dog was Charles Barkley," Sarah added more gently. "What's wrong--is there one of them after you?"
"No, it's not that. It's Sydney--she's sick."
"Babies get sick. Have you tried giving her some Tylenol?"
"I know babies get sick," she said, pissed off. "I’m not an idiot. Sydney's breathing too fast, her nostrils are flaring, and she's been fighting a fever for four days. She doesn't want to eat or drink because she can't breathe. She needs a doctor, Sarah, and I don't have the money or the insurance. She doesn't even have a birth certificate!"
"Okay, okay, calm down," Sarah said. "Are you still at the apartment in Pasadena?"
"Can you get a taxi to Children's? I'll meet you there."
"A taxi to Children's, all right. I'll see you there."
She called the taxi service, packed the diaper bag and some snacks, and grabbed Sydney's car seat, all on autopilot. She had no idea what was going to happen once she got to the hospital, but she trusted Sarah.
Sydney cried the first few miles, then subsided into misery. Lauren could hear her wheezing when she leaned in close; she watched her sister intently, but her breathing didn't speed up any more than it already had, and her lips were pink. She told the taxi driver to hurry anyway.
And then her lips weren't pink anymore--there was a bluish tinge around Sydney's mouth by the time they drove up to the hospital. Lauren bolted out of the taxi and ran in, calling for help, not even noticing if Sarah showed up to pay the driver.
A few hours later she sat by Sydney's crib, watching her sister sleep underneath a clear plastic tent, an IV in her arm and a continuous mist of oxygen helping her breathe. Lauren just watched her breathing, aware of nothing else, until Sarah came into the room and pulled up a chair.
"How is she doing?" Sarah asked.
"Better," Lauren answered. "They think it's a virus; they said she might be able to go home in a few days."
"That's good," Sarah said.
"How did you do it?" Lauren asked, turning to look at Sarah. It felt like the first time she'd looked at anything other than her sister in days.
Sarah frowned in confusion for half a second, then raised her eyebrows. "I told them you were my niece, that you were bringing your sister in. I gave them my insurance card."
"I'm on your insurance? You have insurance?" Lauren said incredulously.
Sarah looked down. "Things have changed."
"What things?" Lauren asked.
Sarah's voice didn't break when she told Lauren what had happened with her son, with the cyborg--cyborgs, plural, Lauren mentally corrected herself, listening in growing astonishment. Although, given what she already knew about time travel and killer cybernetic organisms, she really shouldn't be surprised by any of it.
"Wow," she said when Sarah finished.
"That's one word for it," Sarah answered, looking down, and Lauren realized for the first time that she knew what that might feel like, to lose a child.
"No, I'm, I mean, I'm sorry about John. I'm sorry I never got to meet him," she fumbled, patting Sarah awkwardly on the shoulder.
"Yeah, me too," Sarah said. "I think he would have liked you."
"And Derek…" Lauren's voice trailed off.
"Derek didn't like anyone," Sarah said with a wry grin, and Lauren laughed despite herself.
"So what do you need?" Sarah asked abruptly after a minute had passed.
Lauren stared at her. "What do you mean?"
"Look, John's gone. So's John Henry. So's Cameron, mostly."
"Mostly?" Lauren asked.
Sarah shrugged. "They left something behind, what used to be the Turk, with bits and pieces of John Henry and Cameron's programming. Murch named it Eve, over Ellison's objection. Whatever you call it, Skynet doesn't seem to be aware of it at all."
Lauren thought for a moment. "Skynet thinks it's won," she concluded.
"Exactly," Sarah said with a single nod. "It doesn't think we're a threat. It's leaving us alone for now. But what it doesn't know can definitely hurt it. We've got resources it either doesn't know about or doesn't care about. We're still fighting. I know you're still fighting, you and Sydney. So tell me what you need."
Lauren sat back and watched her sister breathe for a full sixty seconds before she answered. Fifty-eight breaths a minute, with a pulse-ox of 96. Good.
"I need to go to school," she said slowly, turning back to Sarah. "I was thinking I'd train as a paramedic first, and then go to nursing school. If there's time, I'll go to medical school, but there's no sense wasting four years going pre-med at some university when I could be learning useful skills."
Sarah's eyes widened slightly, but then she nodded, clearly satisfied with Lauren's response.
"We left before I finished high school," she added. "I didn't even take the SATs."
"We can take care of that," Sarah said simply, then got up and fished around in her pocket. She handed Lauren a manila envelope. "Make sure you get some sleep--you look exhausted, and your sister should be safe here. Eve's monitoring security. We got you a hotel room nearby--it's all in there." Sarah gestured at the envelope. "Call me in a few days and we'll talk."
Two weeks later Sydney was out of the hospital and Lauren was enrolled in Barstow College's EMT program. Seven years after that, she was in her first year of residency at UCLA.
Lauren's fellow residents constantly complained about the workload, but after pushing through a double major in pre-med and nursing in three years, Lauren was used to working hard. She was supposed to be a lowly intern, but many of her fellow emergency medicine residents, all of them older than she, had learned to come to her when they had any problems, despite her attempts to fly under the radar. Others, like Ray Cho, preferred to harass her every chance they got, although none of them had managed to trip her up yet.
None of the other residents had anything like her experience, of course, although she was careful to never bring it up unless asked. She wasn't sure how the attendings felt about it, although they seemed pleased with her progress so far, not just with skills like intubation and putting in chest tubes (not that she could tell anyone when she'd done that the first time), but also with her knowledge. She'd had Eve to thank for some of that--you couldn't ask for a better tutor than an AI with access to every book ever published.
She'd gotten to know as many of the residents as she could, not just the second years directly supervising her, but the third and fourth years as well. She hadn't quite figured out how to get to know the house staff from the other specialties, but she needed to work on that--they were going to need obstetricians, family practice, general surgeons, and infectious disease specialists in the coming years.
The nurses were a whole separate issue. Predictably, half of them thought she'd gone over to the dark side and treated her as a traitor to the cause. None of the residents understood, which was typical of residents. "Why do you let them treat you like that, Schaeffer?" Cho had yelled at her one afternoon when Tonya had ignored her orders on a chest pain patient for half an hour. "You're their superior--act like it!"
Asshole. She'd take Tonya over Cho any day, even when she was pissed. Cho was a second year who still couldn't start an IV half the time. He was smart, but he didn't know shit about what it really meant to care for a patient.
She was asleep in the call room at 3 am when her phone rang. She thought it was the nurses at first, then recognized the ringtone. She flinched at the sound, just as she had every time she'd heard it on the radio since the day he'd picked it. She still thought Martin was an idiot for ruining the classic REM song, but it certainly caught her attention.
She swiped the screen. "Birdhouses."
"Derek Reese," came the response. "Eve says it's time. She predicts the missiles will be flying within the hour."
"She's sure?" Lauren asked.
"Eve's always sure, even when she's wrong," Bedell said. "But I think she's right this time--we've intercepted some weird traffic over the net the past eight hours, and you know we've been expecting it ever since they implemented the Dyson project."
Lauren nodded to herself, grabbing some clean scrubs and trying to remember who was on shift. "Who's got the kids?" she asked.
"Ellison. They're all in the bunker with Eve." Okay, good. If anyone could keep Sydney safe, it was James Ellison.
"What about you?" Lauren said. "Wasn't the plan--"
"Fuck the plan," Bedell said. "If you think I'm going to hole up somewhere instead of hitting Skynet where it hurts, you don't know me very well. Don't worry about me, Lauren--I've got my own plan."
"Understood," she answered, although she didn't, not really. Sarah'd said Bedell would survive, but that was before John left, and who knows what effect that might have had. "Good hunting, Martin," she said. "I'll see you at the rendezvous in a week." She hoped she would.
She brushed her teeth, washed up quickly, and changed into clean clothes, including underwear--who knew when she'd get that chance again. It gave her time to get her brain in gear, past the initial adrenaline rush. She flicked on the television, but all she got was a blue screen, so she checked her phone--no service.
She could use that.
The in-house phones were still working. She called the operator and asked for Max, hoping luck was with her enough that he was on tonight. He was, thankfully. She got right to the point.
"Max, it's Lauren--Dr. Schaeffer."
"What's up, Dr. Schaeffer? If it's about the television in the on-call room, the cable's out all over the city, so I can't do anything about that."
"I know it's out, and cell phones, too."
"Yeah, it's the damndest thing. Guess more people wish they'd kept their landlines about now, huh?"
"Max, do you remember that time you asked me why I was going to medical school?"
He hesitated a moment before answering. "Yeah, I asked you that night you took care of my daughter when she had that bad fever. You said it was to prepare for the end of the world."
"That's right," she said, and waited.
"What, you're going to tell me you weren't joking?" Max said uneasily.
"I wasn't joking," Lauren said. "It's happening, Max. We've got maybe 45 minutes before the bombs start falling. You've got to call a code black."
"Dr. Schaeffer--I can't just call a code black. There are protocols. I call any kind of code without justification, I lose my job."
A job was the last thing anyone needed to worry about right now, but Max didn't know that. She had to convince him. "I'm telling you, Max, this is real," she pleaded. "The longer we wait, the more people will die. I can try to get a few people into the basement on my own, but the only way to save more is a code black."
"I'm sorry, Dr. Schaeffer. I just can't do it."
Time for plan B. "Okay, Max, I understand. Do me a favor, though, all right? Your apartment building have a basement?"
"Yeah, that's where the washers and dryers are at."
"Call your wife. Do you have a landline?"
"Yeah, we held onto it for emergencies."
"This is definitely an emergency. Call your wife. Wake her up, have her grab the kids, some food and water, and take them down to the basement. Will you at least do that for me?"
"You're that sure, huh?"
"I'm that sure."
"Okay, Dr. Schaeffer."
"You'll call your wife? You need to call her right away, Max--there's no time to waste."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll call her right now."
"Thank you, Max," she said, and hung up the phone. She grabbed her backpack and headed for the stairs. The code black announcement came before she got past the first flight. "Thank you, Max," she said again, under her breath. The landlines had be out as well; they were lucky the in-house phone system was still up.
The emergency room appeared chaotic at first glance, but there was organization there, if you knew how to see it, how to read the flow. People were doing their jobs; they knew their roles and responsibilities. They didn't need her; she could follow her own plan. While they concentrated on getting the patients down to the basement, Lauren focused on supplies.
She went first to the computerized medication storage and dispensing unit. She'd insisted on keeping the code she'd had as a nurse active; unlike her fellow residents, she'd argued, she liked to be able to gather and administer medications herself, without always waiting for the nurses. She punched her code in, began with the first medication on the list, and started methodically emptying drawers into her backpack, punching in incorrect counts to avoid setting off any alarms.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" one of the ER nurses asked over her shoulder. It sounded like Wanda.
"Getting supplies we're going to need," she answered, continuing to open and empty drawers. She was going to run out of room in her backpack soon. "Grab a box or something to put the IV fluids in, would you?"
"We've got plenty of IV solution in the basement--that's where central supply and the pharmacy are. There are patients still upstairs in the ICU that need to get brought down."
The lights flickered off, then on again, more dimly, as the generators kicked in.
"This isn't a drill," Lauren said. "It's real, and it's permanent. We need everything we can get." She stuffed the rest of the medications in her backpack, closed it, and turned to
Wanda. "The generators are only going to last 48 hours. It's time to grab whatever you can carry and head downstairs; we've probably only got a few minutes."
Wanda stared at her for a few seconds, then emptied a nearby trashcan onto the floor and started filling it with IV bags. "You knew this was going to happen, didn't you?"
"Yes," Lauren said, wrestling her backpack onto her shoulders and throwing IV bags into the trashcan. "Come on, let's go," she added as soon as it was full. "Can you carry that by yourself, or do you need some help?"
"I've got it; go!" Wanda answered, moving towards the stairs.
Lauren sprinted by her and stopped at the supply room to pull a couple bins full of IV tubing, start kits, and catheters off the wall. A few of the residents saw what she was doing and followed her in. Ray Cho started yelling at her to go back out to move patients, but the others ignored him and started filling their own arms with bins of supplies. One of them even started loading Cho down with blankets, which finally shut him up.
She weaved between ambulatory patients and staff on her way down to the basement; once there, she found Wanda and dropped her load of supplies, including her backpack, before heading back up the stairs. A few of the residents followed her to the supply room and started loading up again, including Cho, much to her surprise.
She was on her fourth run, almost at the top of the stairs, when there was a flash of light. She squeezed her eyes shut as tightly as she could, turned, and moved back down the stairs as quickly as she could without seeing. The shock wave hit and she curled up, protecting her head and hands. She tumbled down the last few steps and thumped against the door.
Someone opened the door and pulled her through. She opened her eyes, blinking, and saw Ray Cho.
"Thanks," she said, but she didn't think he heard her. Behind him was chaos. Some people were staring at nothing, clearly in shock. A couple of orderlies were restraining a man who was screaming that he had to get back upstairs, they didn't understand, his wife was on the third floor. Others were crying. A few people, Wanda among them, were trying to organize the supplies she'd brought down. She could only hope that the rest of the staff had done their jobs and gotten the patients settled in the cafeteria, the auditorium, and the other designated sites.
"Was that, uh--?" Cho asked her, eyes wide.
She nodded. She remembered this feeling--it was the same as the night she met Sarah and the cyborg, the same as the day her mother died and her sister entered the world. As long as she kept busy, focused on the next task, she'd be fine.
"Jesus fuck," Cho said, gripping her shoulder too tightly. "Are you--are you all right?"
She carefully stood up and moved around. "I think so. Nothing's broken, anyway. Come on, let's figure out what's next."
"Wait--what's your name again, Laura?"
"Lauren Fields," she said. She felt a measure of relief that at least she could finally use her real name again.
"Look, Lauren, your arm is bleeding. Let me take a look at it," he said, gesturing.
"It's fine," she said, glancing at the scrape on her right forearm. "Get me a bandaid and an alcohol wipe."
Cho looked at her for a second, then nodded and headed over to Wanda and the supplies without another word. Maybe there was more to him than arrogance and book smarts after all. Once her scrape was disinfected and covered, Lauren would get back to work. She had a lot to do to get these people ready to move into the tunnels, and she didn't know how long they had before the machines would show up.
First up was getting a headcount--how many patients, nurses, doctors, pharmacists, support staff. Then they'd look at supplies--she hoped Max made it down here; he'd be useful. There probably weren't many attendings, but some of the third and fourth years were pretty good. At least it wasn't a weekend or a holiday.
"Dr. Cho, what do you think our first priority is?" she asked him as he carefully cleaned and bandaged her arm. When he looked up blankly, she added, "Should we get a count of the physicians first, or triage the patients?"
"I guess we need to do both," he answered, his eyes coming into focus. He pulled a tablet out of his labcoat. "I'll handle the physicians if you want to check on the patients."
"Don't use that," she told him, pointing at the tablet. "Here, use this." She handed him a pen and a notebook from her pocket. When he gave her another blank look, she added, "Paper and pencil don't need to be recharged." That, and she didn't want Skynet tracing where they were through the GPS.
"Oh, right," he said, putting the tablet back in his coat. "Thanks. Hey, Broadhouse, have you seen Smitty?" he called to one of the third years Lauren barely knew, and wandered off, taking notes on her notebook. Good thing she had another one.
Time passed--she wasn't sure how much; she hadn't looked at her watch. They lost a couple patients who probably never should have been brought down from the ICU--they'd have at least gone quickly if they'd been caught in the bomb blast. Everyone else seemed likely to survive the next few days, although it was doubtful they'd all make it to the rendezvous site. She wasn't sure when she was even going to bring that up, much less how.
For now, at least, the lights were still on, the patients were stable, and she had two seconds to sit down in the hallway outside the pharmacy. That's where she was when Cho showed up again, the pockets of his labcoat bulging. He was carrying two bottles of water. She took the one he handed her without a word, downing half of it in one long gulp. He reached into his pocket and presented her with a vending machine sandwich.
"I've got turkey or ham," he said, sitting down next to her.
"Turkey's fine," she answered, opening the plastic. "Thanks."
"So why did you give me the wrong name? I know I was kind of an asshole to you, but I'm not sure that warranted giving me a false name."
"I didn't," she mumbled through a mouthful of stale bread and flavorless turkey. "My name is Lauren Fields."
"Then why does everyone else call you Dr. Schaeffer?" he asked, pulling a bag of potato chips out of another pocket.
"It's a long story," she said, taking a handful of chips out of the bag. "My parents were killed when I was seventeen, and I needed to change my name."
"I'm sorry," he said. "Mine died in a car accident when I was in medical school."
"Is that why you went into emergency medicine?" she asked.
"Yeah, probably. I didn't change my name, though," he said, glancing at her sideways.
"Like I said, it's a long story."
He snorted. His eyes were red, and the skin under them dark and sunken. He'd come on shift the same time she had, however many hours ago, and she doubted he'd gotten any sleep at all before the code went out. He was one of the ones who tended to stay awake his whole shift, powering through on Red Bull and testosterone. She recognized the signs--he'd entered the punchy phase of sleep deprivation. She suspected she was there as well, or close to it.
"So, what, the cops were after you or something?" he asked, confirming her diagnosis. "You're secretly a criminal mastermind? I guess that would explain your ability to order everyone around so effectively."
"Don't be jealous, Cho," she said, punching him on the shoulder. "I'm sure you'll get plenty of opportunities to order people around." She leaned back against the wall. He leaned back next to her, and they concentrated on eating the rest of their food.
"I guess a lot of people's parents are dead now," he said when she was nearly through.
"Yeah," she said, turning to look at him.
"I heard you used to be a nurse--or was it a paramedic?" he asked. There was an edge in his voice now, one she hadn't heard since the ER supply room.
"Both," she said, balling up her trash. "Paramedic first, then nurse."
"I guess you've seen it all, then," he said tightly. "Is that why you're so damned calm? You act like this is all normal or something; I don't fucking get it!"
She started laughing.
"You think this is funny? What is your fucking problem?" he asked, moving away from her. He probably thought she was making fun of his sad lack of IV skills or something.
"No, Ray, I'm sorry," she said, reaching to grab his arm. "Please, don't go. I didn't mean to offend you."
"Then tell me what the hell you think is so funny," he said, and he looked so pathetic she kind of felt sorry for him. It wasn't his fault. He hadn't had eight years to prepare for this; he was just a regular second year ER resident. A normal resident, she thought, and had to fight to keep from giggling.
"Okay," she said. "You just reminded me of some people I used to know, that's all." She realized she was patting his arm and stopped. "This friend of mine, Sarah, she used to say that the first rule is, there is no normal."
"No normal," he said, and subsided for a moment. She rested her head against the wall and thought about closing her eyes, but she was afraid she'd fall asleep.
"Did you know this was coming? Your friend Wanda said you did, but I thought she was joking."
"Yes, I knew," she said, glancing at him to see if he believed her. It looked like he did. "Sarah, my friend, knew it would happen some day. She helped me get ready."
"Okay," he said skeptically.
"That was before," she said, "and now, this is normal. This is the new normal, Ray. It's not going to go back to what it was."
"No, I guess not," he said. And then he asked, "What happened to her, to Sarah?"
The question hit her hard, harder than anything she'd seen or done since Martin called her, more than when she told Ray about her parents.
"She died," Lauren said, sitting forward, taking a breath. "Two years ago. Leukemia."
"I'm sorry," he said, and this time he was the one patting her arm.
"Yeah, me too," she answered, gazing down the hall. "'You don't get used to it. You live through it,'" she said, looking back at him. "That's what another friend told me once."
He glanced at her, brow furrowed, but didn't say anything.
They sat there a few minutes. She was just about to close her eyes when he said, "Someday you're going to tell me your story. The long one."
"Yeah?" she said, glancing at him.
"Yeah," he answered, nodding. "But for now, you should get some sleep; I think it's almost morning. I heard they set up some blankets and pillows on the floor of the pharmacy." He stood up, offering her a hand.
"That's a good idea," she said, using it to haul herself off the floor. "Let's go."
The blankets and pillows were in the library, not the pharmacy, and she made a note to herself that they'd need to triage the books before they left for the tunnels. She had to make sure they included some good references on infectious diseases and making antibody serums.
She glanced at her watch before she lay down. It was three in the morning, 24 hours since Martin's call had come in. She'd better get some sleep--there was a lot to do.