"Are you sure he was planning on doing something today?" Nina asked the others at the conference table. "It's already past eight o'clock; day's nearly done. No sign of anything yet."
Rosen walked over to the corkboard and stared at it for a moment. "Stanton Parish may be a terrorist, but he is a sentimental terrorist. And one hundred fifty years is a significant anniversary."
"We know they're planning something large any day, and this is the only date that potentially has any significance," Bill added.
Rachel sighed. "As I said a couple days ago, terrorists love anniversaries. I just wish we could figure out what he's going to do!"
"You still have no lead on Skylar?" Bill asked her.
"Nothing; she's dropped off the face of the earth," Rachel answered.
"Yeah, and she's ignoring all my pings still," said Gary from his seat at the end of the table. "There's no signal to follow."
Cameron's face settled into a scowl. "So we're just going to stand around and wait for something to happen? That's not what Dani would have wanted."
Rosen met Cameron's eyes. "No, you're right, Cameron. But we will not give up. John, you said they were bringing in another of Parish's people to interrogate?"
"Yeah, they're about ten minutes out." John turned to Cameron. "You want to come down with me, meet them downstairs?"
Cameron glanced back at Rosen before focusing on John again. "Yeah, sure."
"I'll go with you guys too; I'm going stir-crazy in here," said Kat.
Rachel exchanged a smile with John as he turned to walk to the elevators. "Dr. Rosen, should we go over this list again? Maybe we've missed something."
He nodded. "Let's take another look. Nina?"
Nina paused mid-stride out of the room, coffee mug in her hand. "I'm going to grab some more coffee; I'll join you in a moment."
"All right, let's look at this one more time," Bill's voice carried into the hallway as Nina headed for the break room and the coffee machine, which had seen a lot of activity over the past couple of days. Maybe they were wrong, and all of this frantic activity would be for nothing. But what if they were right, and a lot of people died because of their failure to figure out Parish's plan? She bit her lip and sealed the now-full mug before walking back to the conference room.
Nina had just crossed the doorway into the conference room when the lights began to flash. Gary looked up from his computer in bewilderment as Nina collapsed to the floor and the others sitting at the table slumped over, their heads hitting the hard surface with a thud. He stood up from his chair and walked over to Nina. "Oh, your coffee's fallen over, Nina." He picked up the coffee mug and set it on the table, then returned, studying her with a puzzled expression. Her chest was moving up and down, so she was breathing. That meant she wasn't dead. But she didn't seem to hear him. "Hmm," he said, and got up, walking around to the end of the table where his teammates were sitting. "Dr. Rosen? Bill? Rachel?" All of them were breathing too, but none of them heard him. He walked over to the corner where a couple of the tactical team members had been working on something. They weren't breathing, so they were probably dead. He flicked his hand in the electromagnetic streams. "Huh." A bunch of them were gone.
Suddenly, Rachel moaned a little and began to stir. "Oh, Rachel, you woke up," Gary said. "Everyone else is asleep. They all went to sleep when the lights flashed. And I think some of them might be dead, because they're not breathing."
Rachel pushed herself to sit back up, rubbing her nose and forehead. "Ow," she said. "What happened?"
"I just told you, the lights flashed, and everyone fell down."
Rachel wrinkled her forehead as the information processed. "The lights flashed?" She remembered looking at the list, and telling Bill something… and suddenly she was waking up with a sore nose. She turned from Gary back to the others. "Dr. Rosen?" His glasses were cracked where they had collided with the table, and she gently pulled the pair off his face and set them on top of a pile of papers.
"He's not answering; he's asleep. So is Bill. And Nina," Gary informed her. "Just like you were, but you woke up. Why did you wake up so quickly, and they're still asleep?"
With Gary's question the final pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Lights flashing… people going unconscious… "Oh no," she breathed. "I think… I think it might've been a photostim. Like the one that made me sick for a bit when we visited Skylar. That would explain why I woke up first—because I've already experienced it."
"But the photostim that we took to show Skylar was big. And these flashes came from all the lights," he said.
"I know, but… if Parish figured out a way to connect something to the electrical grid…" She paled with the realization. "He could have photostimmed the whole country."
"Oh, that's not good," said Gary, frowning. "That could hurt a lot of people." He walked back to the tactical team members and studied them again. "I think they must be dead, because they're still not breathing."
"What?" Rachel exclaimed, getting up and hurrying over. She pressed two fingers against the first person's neck, and her eyes grew wide. "You're right." Her hands were almost shaking by the time she finished checking the other one. "They're both dead." She frantically began to check Rosen's pulse, and the steady beating of his heart calmed her a little.
Gary looked at her strangely. "I told you, they're breathing. So they're alive."
"I know, I—I just need to check. To know for myself." Rachel repeated her actions with Bill, and then with Nina on the floor. She smoothed back hair that had fallen across Nina's nose and mouth, then stood up again, her heart rate slowing a little as she realized she had not lost everyone. "Why are some people unconscious, and others dead?"
"All of the Alphas in this room are alive. And none of the humans are. Except for Dr. Rosen," Gary added.
If Rosen was an anomaly… the results didn't bear thinking about. She pressed her lips together tightly and took a deep breath. "I'm going to check everyone else on this floor. Call me if anyone starts to wake up, OK?"
"All right." He began to flick through the few streams left, searching for some information about what just happened.
Rachel moved from body to body, checking each one of the people lying in the hallway, in the breakroom. She called into bathrooms that echoed only her voice in return, and checked people collapsed onto the linoleum. By the time Gary's voice called to her, her stomach felt as if someone had grabbed it and squeezed with their fist.
"Rachel! I think Bill's starting to wake up."
Rachel welcomed the interruption, moving quickly back to the conference room. Bill was pushing himself back upright, his nose dripping blood. "Oh, you must have smashed your nose when you collapsed," she told Bill, finding a tissue and handing it to him.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice muffled by the hand pressing the tissue against his nose.
"You got photostimmed," Gary answered. "Everyone did. And some people are alive—like you and Dr. Rosen and Nina—and some people are dead, like them." He pointed to the bodies in the corner, still slumped over the desks where they had been working.
"Actually…" Rachel began, "we're the only ones alive on this floor. I checked everyone else." Her hands began trembling, and she sat down in a chair suddenly.
"Rachel. Rachel," Bill called, until Rachel met his gaze. "Take deep breaths, and let yourself calm down. We need clear heads to deal with whatever's just happened, OK?"
She hadn't realized she was nearly hyperventilating until she tried to follow Bill's instructions. Slowly, she regained control over herself.
"Ow," came Nina's voice from the corner. She pushed herself up till she was sitting on the floor. "What happened?"
Gary started to try to speak, but both Rachel and Bill immediately tried to answer simultaneously. He stared at them.
"Whoa, whoa, one at a time. Bill?"
"Rachel said we all got photostimmed."
Nina's eyes narrowed a little as she struggled to her feet. "Bill, touch your forehead with your free hand." She sighed as he obeyed.
"Why did you tell him to do that?" Gary asked.
"He's pushed. Somehow I've pushed him, and I wasn't trying to. Bill, you're free to do whatever you want," she told him, watching the slightly blank look dissolve into mild confusion. She turned to Rachel, who had the same look. "You're free to do what you want," she told Rachel, and watched her, too, come back to full awareness.
"What—what happened?" Rachel asked.
Nina turned away from her, just in case. "I don't know! I asked you that, and suddenly you were pushed."
"You did it again, Nina," Gary said.
"What?" Nina asked incredulously. She turned back to look at Rachel and Bill, and her heart sank to see the blank looks returned. "I wasn't even looking at them!"
"Maybe the lights did it to you."
"The lights?" she asked, looking at Gary with a little puzzlement.
"Yeah, all the lights flashed and everyone fell down," he explained. "Rachel thinks it was a photostim, that Parish connected it to the power grid. And when she had the photostim flash her before, it made her ability stronger. Maybe, maybe that's what they did to you. So now you don't have to look at anyone, and it just pushes them. Except for me. It still doesn't work on me."
Nina's blood ran cold at the thought. "Then… I won't be able to talk with anyone. Because I don't know how to make it so I'm not pushing every time I speak."
"You can still talk with me," Gary said.
She studied him for a few seconds, and a hint of a smile teased the corners of her mouth. "Yeah, as long as no one else is in earshot." She took a deep breath and faced Rachel and Bill again, quickly speaking the words to free them from the push. Before they could ask her what was going on, she grabbed a pad of paper and a pencil from the table and began writing.
Bill shook his head to clear the cobwebs. "What just happened?" Nina held up the pad in front of his face, and he began to read. "'Every time I talk now it pushes everyone.' Seriously?" he asked, looking her in the eyes. Nina nodded.
"Except for me," Gary added.
"Yeah, well, you're the exception to a lot of things. Like why you didn't end up unconscious like the rest of us," said Bill.
"Oh. That's a good question," Gary said, drifting off into thought. He walked back to his seat and began working on the laptop for a bit.
Rachel blinked the last of the confusion away from her as she processed the conversation. "So you can't talk to us at all, Nina?"
Nina pressed her lips together and shook her head sadly.
Rachel reached a hand out to squeeze Nina's. "I was awake longer than both of you, so this is what I know. Gary said the lights all flashed and everyone fell down. I woke up a couple minutes later. I think it was a photostim, that Parish connected it to the grid somehow. And… if I'm right, this is a major disaster. Because of all the people on this floor, the only ones who are alive right now are the four of us and Dr. Rosen. Everyone else is dead."
Nina's eyes grew wide at the last bit of news.
Bill raised his eyebrows. "Everyone? You serious?" He turned to look at the corner where the two tactical team members were slumped over their table. "Them too?"
Rachel nodded. "Yeah, they're dead. No pulse, no breathing." She took a deep breath herself. "Gary pointed out that the only people besides Dr. Rosen who lived were already Alphas." Her eyes grew watery as she went on. "What if… John… my parents…" she choked out.
Nina placed a hand on Rachel's back and rubbed gently.
Bill shook his head. "Speculation isn't going to do us any good. We need to know more about what's going on out there. Nina—"
Whatever Bill was going to say was lost in the sound of footsteps as Cameron and Kat walked into view, faces somber. Nina sighed with a little relief upon sighting them.
"Anyone alive down there?" Bill asked.
Cameron shook his head silently.
"John? What about John?" Rachel cried.
"I'm sorry, Rachel," said Kat. She bit her lip a little as Rachel burst into tears.
Nina opened her mouth for a moment, then snapped it shut, frustration crossing her face. If she couldn't even say a word to console a friend… She finally reached her arms around Rachel, pulling her into a hug and gently rubbing her back.
"Same here?" asked Cameron.
Bill's eyes met Cameron's soberly. "Rachel checked everyone on this floor while Nina and I were still out of it; our team's the only ones left alive."
Cameron glanced over at Rosen, still slumped over the conference table. "What about Rosen?"
"He's alive, but hasn't woken up."
"Yeah, and he's the only one who's alive who isn't an Alpha," Gary spoke up from his corner. "Or wasn't. Maybe the lights turned him into one."
Kat blinked. "The lights?"
"Yeah, the lights all flashed, and everyone fell down. Like a photostim."
"Wait, are you serious?" Cameron's eyebrows went through the roof. "Alphas are the only survivors? With only Rosen—and maybe a few others like him—being the exception?"
Kat's eyes grew wide as she processed the ramifications of that. "How far did this go? New York City, the state, the whole country?"
"There are posts about it coming in from all fifty states," Gary piped up from his seat. He flicked his fingers in the air, then went back to typing. "No, just the forty-eight states that touch each other; they didn't have the lights flash in Alaska or Hawaii. And Washington, D.C., which isn't a state, it's a district. And even parts of Canada and Mexico. Anywhere connected to the main power grids. Everyone who was an Alpha survived, and their powers got stronger. Like Nina."
Cameron raised his eyebrows at Nina, who looked back helplessly.
"She can't talk without pushing," Bill told him.
"She doesn't even have to look at you now," said Gary. "She can just—"
"Guys, think about this," interrupted Kat. "If everyone who wasn't an Alpha is dead—"
"Not everyone," Gary informed them. "Most everyone, but there are some others that are alive. Most of them haven't woken up yet, though. Only one person in California says their brother woke up already. And now he's an Alpha."
Kat shook her head. "That isn't the point. Do you realize what's just happened?" She looked around at the others. "The world just ended."
Bill and Nina stared at her for a moment. Rachel stilled in Nina's arms, her head still laying on Nina's shoulder.
Cameron's eyes were solemn as they met Kat's. "We're on our own, aren't we?" he asked quietly.
His words were lost to the rest under Gary's speech. "The world hasn't ended, it's still rotating normally. Or else we'd all be dead, because of how fast we're moving."
"She doesn't mean the physical world, Gary," Bill pointed out.
"Oh. A figure of speech," Gary said, processing. "Well, no, we don't know that. Everyone in Europe is asleep right now. And, and people in Asia are awake. But I can't speak Japanese, or Chinese, or any of the other languages there. Anna could, but she's dead. And Dr. Rosen can speak some of them, but he's not awake yet."
Cameron shook his head at Gary's words. "Doesn't matter what happened to the rest of the world. If this has happened all over the country… Kat's right. We aren't living in the world we knew anymore."
"Which means… what are you going to do about them?" Kat asked, pointing to the two bodies of the tactical team members in the corner. "You've got two hours max until they freeze in that position."
"You're saying we should take the bodies and do something with them?" Bill asked, eyebrows raised.
"Who else is going to?" Kat asked.
"Call 911, then," Cameron told Bill. "Try it."
Bill took a deep breath and pulled out his phone, putting it on speaker as he started the call. The ringing clip sounded, and sounded again… and again… After the fifth ring, he finally ended the call and stared at his phone for a moment.
Kat and Cameron looked at each other, nodding slightly.
Before Cameron could speak again, Bill abruptly turned and walked out of the room, calling a different number as he went.
"What?" Cameron watched him leave, puzzled.
"Probably his wife," Kat said simply. Just because she didn't have anyone to call didn't mean she didn't get it. Parish had destroyed any chance she had of ever finding anything about her past; whoever her parents were, they were most likely dead now.
Cameron suddenly swore.
"What?" Kat asked.
"My kid, Tyler. He lives in Vegas, with my ex. He's an Alpha, I'm pretty sure—but Patti… He'll be freaking out." He pulled his phone out and started the call as he left the room too.
Kat looked at the others in the room. Gary was still typing and occasionally flicking his fingers at things only he could see. The occasional sound of ragged breathing came from Rachel, her face buried against Nina's neck. Nina stroked Rachel's back gently with the tips of her fingers.
"She's got family," Kat said to Nina. It wasn't a question.
"You're gonna need to carry paper and pencil with you everywhere," said Kat, not unkindly. Had Nina's predicament been the only thing to deal with that evening, she'd have verbalized a little more compassion for the rotten deal Nina had gotten. But with dead bodies everywhere and half their team worried about family members… Kat had no extra sympathy to spare. Life had altered irrevocably and it was not going to be the most pleasant experience for anyone.
Kat went on, "I don't know how long it's going to take the guys to finish calling, but we should start thinking about where to put them." She gestured with her thumb at the bodies in the corner. "We may be living out of this building for a while, and decomposition isn't something I want to experience up close and personal." She walked over to where Gary was working on his computer. "Gary, could you pull up a map of the area right around this office?"
Rachel finally lifted her head up and wiped her eyes, and Nina wrapped an arm around Rachel's shoulders and guided her over so the three women could look at the laptop screen.
"What are you looking for?" Gary asked.
"Switch to street view?" Kat scrutinized the businesses across the street. "Aha. There." She pointed at one familiar red, yellow, and blue logo.
"Burger King?" Rachel asked, looking puzzled. "What about it?"
"It'll have a freezer," Kat said. "As long as electricity works, it'll freeze the bodies. If or when we lose power… it'll seal them in."
Nina met Kat's eyes and nodded somberly.
"Come on, we'd better get started," Kat told them. She went to the first body and began removing their gun holster.
"What—what are you doing?" asked Rachel.
"They don't need their gun now, and we might." Kat put the holster and gun on the table and started pulling off their watch and wedding band. "Come on, you get the other one. Weapons, watches, jewelry, wallets. In the rare chance that a relative tracks them down, we can at least have their wallet to give back to them."
Rachel was still frozen in her tracks when Nina stepped forward. She nimbly removed the holster and gun, and started on the jewelry.
"What are you doing?" came Bill's voice from the doorway.
"Taking off the weapons, valuables, and personal effects before you carry the bodies down," answered Kat, depositing the wallet next to the watch and wedding band on the table. "I think these two are about ready to go."
"What are you— Carry them where?" Bill asked. He walked over to the women as Nina pulled the last effects from the other body.
"The Burger King across the street," Kat answered. "You should be able to get a bunch of them in the freezer. At least, most of the ones in this building."
"We can't put them in the Burger King!" Bill looked at Kat as if she were crazy.
Kat sighed. "What else do you suggest? There are no undertakers who are going to take them anywhere. No one's going to bury them in a cemetery. We don't have a crematorium handy to run." She looked over at Cameron, who stood in the doorway silently. "Aren't I right? No one's going to come for these bodies, and no one's going to return to run that Burger King. It's the perfect place."
Cameron nodded. "Good thinking with the weapons," he told Kat.
"What are you going to do with the guns?" asked Bill.
"Use 'em," said Cameron, without inflection. He picked up one of the holsters and strapped it on. "Want the other one, Kat?"
"Sure," she said, lifting it off the table and strapping it on.
"You can't just take their guns!" Bill exclaimed.
"Look," Cameron said, getting in Bill's face, "there are no cops anymore. Probably all your old FBI buddies didn't make it either. And we all know how much all the Alphas in Building Seven loved us, right?" His eyes bored into Bill's. "I'm also gonna bet that they know exactly where to find us. So I'm not taking this off as long as I'm awake. If I were you, I'd pick up the next weapon you see and keep that on you all the time, too."
Bill gazed at them for a moment, then nodded silently.
"We should move them before they start to really smell," Kat said.
"They already do," Rachel said, wrinkling her nose. It was the occasional side effect of death that the movies rarely explored—the relaxing of the muscles that held in bodily wastes. They never showed a dead person's soiled pants, or the hero gagging on the odor. She could already smell the beginnings of decay, anyway.
"Kat, you take the feet, I'll take the armpits," Cameron ordered. "Coming, Nina?"
Nina grabbed the pad of paper from earlier and wrote, I'll strip the other bodies on this floor first. She held it up for Cameron to read.
He nodded. "All right. Bill, you gonna get the other one?"
"Rachel, are you going to work with Nina, then?" asked Kat.
"In a minute," Rachel answered. "I need to set up something for Dr. Rosen. Bill, I'm going to need your help for just a bit before you go anywhere."
Bill waved Cameron and Kat on. "So what do you need?"
"I need to get him set up somewhere we can monitor him easier," Rachel explained. "The lab doesn't have a lot of space for someone to sit there, and without the central desk monitoring setup that a hospital has, someone needs to be in the room with him. I'm thinking putting him in here. Maybe move the conference table off to the side?"
Nina left them to it and went to the first body she found in the hallway. The weapons she started stashing in Rosen's office, the jewelry and personal effects she put in bags with the name on each one. She deposited one bag after another in the corner of Rosen's office, each bag representing a life snuffed out by Parish's plans. No matter how attractive it might have sounded to force the rest of humanity to acknowledge Alphas' existence and accept them as "normal", nothing justified this—this mass murder. Nothing. After a while the rage was so overwhelming that she had to shut her emotions down, methodically processing body after body. She tuned out their faces; it was easier to handle them if she didn't think of them as human beings who she had interacted with only hours before.
Rachel joined her with only one sentence spoken. "I put an IV in Dr. Rosen and Gary's monitoring him for now."
Nina nodded and continued, and Rachel silently copied Nina's actions. The others passed them periodically, carrying one body after another. When the two women had stripped the bodies on their floor, they lifted one of the lighter corpses and headed downstairs. Suddenly, Rachel gave a little cry, dropping the feet of the woman they were carrying. Nina laid the rest of the body down and looked over to where Rachel was crouched on the floor next to … John. Nina bit her lip, unable to do much more than be a silent presence.
Finally, Rachel stood up. "I'm going to go sit with Dr. Rosen now, OK?" Her voice wavered, and she looked down. When only silence met her ears, she looked up.
Nina's eyes took in the sheen of tears in Rachel's, and she nodded sadly. Her assistant gone, Nina went back to stripping the corpses of what she could.
The sound of footsteps met Rachel's ears, and she lifted her head from where it had been lying against Rosen's side on the bed they had set up for him. A few moments later the others came into view. Bill held a large sack, and Kat held a smaller one. Cameron carried a plastic tray with some drinks on it.
Rachel scrunched her eyebrows in puzzlement. "What— Where did you get that?"
"Compliments of Burger King," said Kat. Nina poked in the bag and pulled out a couple wrapped burgers, then grabbed two drinks from the tray to set on the table. Kat went on, "There's a burger and drink for you; Nina made sure it was the way you'd like it."
Rachel shook her head. "I'm not hungry."
Kat looked over with raised eyebrows at Nina, who waved them on, and they took the rest of the food with them down the hallway toward the break room.
Nina pulled out her pad of paper and pencil. You can't take care of Rosen properly if you're not taking care of yourself. You need to eat something, she wrote.
Rachel read the message and sighed. She looked at Nina with eyes that reflected a mix of despair and grief with a hint of desperation.
Nina smiled sadly at Rachel and wrote more. One bite at a time. She extended a hand to Rachel, who slowly took it and let herself be led to the table. Nina picked up one of the burgers, checked the mark she had put on it, and handed it to Rachel. Then she unwrapped the other, and slid their drinks in front of each of them. She gave an inward sigh of relief as Rachel began to eat. The last thing they needed was Rachel wasting away—and Nina knew from experience how much Rachel's emotions could affect her ability to eat.
Nina had finished her burger, though Rachel was still plodding away at hers, when Kat re-entered the room. She flopped into another chair at the table and closed her eyes for a moment. "So, where's everyone sleeping tonight? Given the cars clogging the roads, it's not really possible to get home even if you have your own vehicle."
Nina wrote, Couch in Rosen's office?
Kat snorted. "Harken's already claimed that one. But he and Hicks are looking upstairs for the couch Hicks got rid of when he redid his office. Gary's already sleeping in his man cave, of course. I'm figuring I'm short enough, I'll just stick a few chairs together and curl up on those."
Rachel swallowed a bite of her burger. "So that leaves us," she said.
"Yep," said Kat.
Did they discuss what we're doing tomorrow? Nina wrote.
Kat shook her head. "Not yet; I took myself out of there before I'd have to hear Harken blow up at Hicks over what he wants to do."
"What's that?" asked Rachel.
"Oh, Hicks wants to go after his kid, Tyler, you know?" said Kat. "He's stuck in Vegas by himself. The ex apparently didn't make it."
Nina blinked and wrote, He told you that?
"Yeah, we were chatting while we moved them." Kat didn't need to specify what 'them' meant. "I told him the kid was old enough to take care of himself for a few days, and that he'd better not think of leaving all of us without a plan." She sighed. "Besides, we have a lot to do. We brought back enough food for a couple meals - if we all like eating burgers - but that's only a start. And I'm too tired to think of anything more right now. Good luck finding a place to sleep. I'm going to make up my bed now." She got up and left the room.
Nina thought for a moment, then wrote, You'll finish your burger?
Rachel nodded, already chewing the next bite.
Back in a bit, then. Nina went to find Bill, following her ears to the sound of shuffling furniture as he manhandled a couch out of the staircase and onto their hallway. She stayed out of the way as the two men shuffled furniture about in order to fit the couch back into Cameron's office. Can you move the couch from Rosen's office to the conference room?
Bill read it, eyebrows shooting up. "Why the hell would I want to do that?"
Because Rachel should have a couch that smells familiar, and I doubt she'll leave Rosen's side. You can get one from upstairs.
He looked at Nina and sighed. "Come on, Hicks, we got more lifting to do."
Rachel was finishing the last bite of her food and throwing away the wrapper when Nina re-entered the conference. Nina caught the motion as she walked in, and wrote, No one's going to be emptying the trash; we should bag it and take it to the dumpster.
"Ugh, yes. If I have to smell that tomorrow…" Rachel said with a groan.
Bill will bring Rosen's couch in here for you.
"I thought he was going to sleep on it."
He'll get a couch from upstairs.
Rachel looked at Nina and smiled a tiny bit. "Thanks."
Nina smiled back, and pointed to herself and the trash.
"OK," said Rachel in acknowledgment, and Nina went to find where the janitors stored the trash bags.
Nina dodged Bill and Cameron carrying in Rosen's couch as she took the trash down to the dumpster out back. They'd have to be careful how much trash they produced from then on, she realized. She didn't fancy carrying loads of it out every week. She returned to a sight that made her turn her head instantly, and nearly opened her mouth to question before she remembered. Out came the pad of paper again. What on earth are you doing? She held it up to Rachel.
"Oh, we're putting in a catheter, since Dr. Rosen is still unconscious. Kat watched a video on how to do it," said Rachel.
Nina winced and left them to it. She found the guys on the next floor up, lifting another couch to take downstairs, and held the doors for them on the way down.
When the couch was finally settled into place, Bill looked up at Nina. "Where are you gonna sleep?"
"Another couch?" asked Bill with a sigh.
Cameron shook his head. "Take mine, then. I can sleep on the floor."
I can't ask you to do that, Nina wrote.
"Look," Cameron said, "I'm so tired I could sleep anywhere, and it'll be more comfortable than some of the places I slept when I was in the Marines. Plus I'm tired enough that I don't want to carry another couch down right now. I'll just crash in Bill's office, since he'll be in Rosen's."
Nina smiled at him. OK. I'm going to make sure Rachel gets to sleep first, though. She scrawled another line, this one for Bill. Did you hear from your wife?
He shook his head silently, looking away.
Nina grabbed his hand and squeezed briefly. Then she walked back to the conference room.
Rachel sat at Rosen's side, listening to the quiet steady blips of the monitoring equipment. She looked up at Nina as Nina entered the room. "Kat went to bed," she told Nina.
You need to sleep too, Nina wrote.
Rachel looked down at her hands. "I'm not sure if I can," she whispered. "I can't stop thinking… seeing John…" Her voice wavered on the last words.
Go get ready for bed. I'll sit with Rosen.
Rachel nodded tiredly and did as she was told.
Nina clasped one of Rosen's hands in hers, warming the cool skin between her fingers. "Wake up," she whispered, but the monitors remained unchanged, mapping the constant rhythms.
Rachel returned in a few minutes, clutching her blanket and dressed in a set of clothing she kept for emergencies.
Lay down. Nina turned off the lights and pulled a chair up next to the couch. She wrapped a hand gently around Rachel's.
Rachel fled the memory of John's body by intensifying her senses, one at a time. Her nose picked up the faint scent of death, the acrid odor of urine, and the stink of human waste; hints of each lingered on her tongue. She switched senses.
Her eyes took in the outlines of the furniture, moved to its new configuration to make room for Rosen's bed and all the monitoring equipment. The heart monitor showed steady beats, the brain monitoring the same low-level activity. No change, and no indication when it might change. She switched again.
She expanded her hearing to take in the building. Seven heartbeats on their floor, familiar and comforting. The utility systems still hummed and whirred, and the security system actively guarded against any entry. But there was not a single heartbeat anywhere else nearby: no conversations or sounds of traffic, no humming of vacuums or jingle of keys. She blinked back tears and switched again.
Soft fabric of her blanket enveloped her, the clothing gentle on her skin. And a warm hand in hers, soothing, the hand of a friend—no, of family now, perhaps the only family she had left. She clung to it and slowly relaxed enough to sleep.