Ellison called early the next morning to say that Catherine Weaver had agreed to meet the Connors at Zeira Corp’s downtown offices the following afternoon. “I didn’t tell her that I’d filled you in on John Henry,” Ellison admitted to John. “She’s very protective of him, kind of like your mother is with you. I figured we could see where the conversation takes you.”
Meaning Ellison wanted to see if Weaver would bring up John Henry of her own accord.
Sarah announced that she and Derek would be spending the day tailing a lead from Jesse’s file on Kaliba – an attorney who handled their genetic research division, based out of San Francisco. “He’s local,” Sarah told John. “We’re going to see who he meets with, maybe plan a raid on his office.”
She slipped an extra clip for the .9 millimeter into her handbag. John hoped that was for Kaliba’s henchmen and not his uncle.
“Any word from Jesse?” he inquired.
“Derek said he hasn’t heard from her.” The way Sarah said his uncle’s name was almost like a curse.
“Mom, Derek made a mistake. You can’t stay mad at him forever.”
Sarah and Derek were barely speaking to one another. Derek had taken up digs in the newly-renovated attic – “renovated” meaning the floor had been swept free of cobwebs and the boxes had been moved to the basement. He had emerged from there only to shower and eat in the past twenty-four hours. John wished Sarah would just scream at his uncle and get it over with; the silent tension made him jumpy.
“Did you two have a good talk last night?” Sarah asked, instead of addressing John’s comment.
“Yeah, we did,” John answered honestly. His chat with Derek had been kind of incredible, actually. “But I guess it doesn’t mean you and I don’t still need to talk.”
“When all this is over,” Sarah decided, meaning Kaliba, John assumed. If they were waiting for the war against the machines to be over, it could be a while. She headed for the back door, calling over her shoulder, “Good luck with the hard drives.”
John didn’t mention that he had other plans than breaking Kaliba’s military-grade encryption that afternoon. Some things Sarah didn’t need to know about – like the exactitudes of his training with Cameron.
By mid-morning, John and Cameron were inside the St. Agnes asylum, where John was putting the finishing touches on Stark’s re-assembled endoskeleton. Cameron stood on the opposite side of the gurney, observing him, occasionally noting when he started to put a bolt in the wrong place. The T-888’s chip was on the table behind John. They had no intention of reactivating the Terminator, of course; the exercise was purely educational. Stark had already been stripped of his tissue. Once John finished with his re-assembly, they would scavenge any parts Cameron thought she might need, add them to their hidden stash, and burn the rest.
“What’s this?” John asked, holding up the final piece: a half-moon shaped silver disc with a bright orange center.
“A sensor. It goes over the power cell.” Cameron pointed to the shielded nuclear power cell beneath the T-888’s breastplate. “It tells us if we have damage. A leak in our core.”
“Kind of like a built-in CAT scan,” John mused. He clipped the sensor to the power source and stepped back. “Okay, what’s the verdict, doc? Will he make it?”
Cameron’s dark eyes swept over the rebuilt machine. “Every piece is assembled as it should be. Now, how would you destroy it?”
“Knock it out and cut out its chip.” John touched the empty circle on Stark’s metal skull, the port for his missing CPU.
“Restraining a Terminator is very difficult. How would you overpower it?”
“You mean if I couldn’t throw you at him?” John grinned. Cameron nodded. “Okay, I’d do what I did when you went bad. I’d electrocute him and take the chip out while he was rebooting.”
“What if you didn’t have the proper tools?” Cameron persisted. “Or what if you were fighting more than one Terminator?”
Hmm. John recalled quite well how disastrously his plan had gone to remove Cameron’s chip at the church when she had gone bad – she had rebooted before he’d managed to open the port and remove the CPU. No way could he have even hoped to pull that feat off if another Terminator had been hunting him at the same time.
“Okay, so, no chip extraction.” John bit his lip, considering. “That weapon you used on Cromartie, in the bank vault before we jumped. You told my mom it wasn’t nuclear, but it blew him all to hell.”
“It wasn’t nuclear. But you’re getting closer.”
“All right, I’d need…I’d need a weapon with enough force to blow the endoskeleton apart. It’s hyperalloy, so not even armor-piercing rounds would do it. What do you use, in the future?”
“We call them plasma rifles.”
“I take it I can’t order one of those off E-Bay.”
“Skynet invents the technology. You steal it and use it against them.”
Go me, John thought. “Well, if I didn’t have you, and I didn’t have a plasma rifle, I guess I’d…” What? Drive a train at it? Throw it into an electrical transformer and fry its circuits?
“The power cell,” John realized. “The chip may be the brain, but the power cell is the heart. It powers everything – the endoskeleton’s mechanical functions and the CPU.”
Cameron nodded approvingly. “Yes.”
Kill the heart, kill the beast.
“But it’s shielded. I’d have to dig it out of him. If I don’t have the tools to pry a chip out of his head, how would I split open his chest and pull out the power cell?”
“The shield can be cracked, with enough force.” Cameron raised her fist above her head and slammed it down into the T-888’s torso; the hyperalloy shield split down the middle.
John leapt back. “Is that leaking radiation now?”
“No,” Cameron assured him, perfectly calm. “You’d have to break into the power cell itself for that to happen. But once you crack the shield, the system automatically goes into standby. The software is designed to conserve power until the damage is repaired.”
“Standby. You’re saying it would be disabled, indefinitely.”
Nifty trick, John decided. “So why don’t you just do that all the time? The fist-to-the-chest thing?”
“This endoskeleton has already been damaged. Normally it would require much more force to crack the shield.”
Too bad Cameron couldn’t punch a hole in a T-888’s chest cavity so easily. Nevertheless, having an actual target was helpful: Terminators could withstand seemingly endless rounds of small arms fire, but if he had an armor-piercing incendiary weapon – and those he didn’t have to wait for Skynet to invent, luckily – the power cell gave him something to aim for. It wasn’t foolproof, but it was a start on figuring out how to fight back.
“We should be getting home,” John said. “Mom and Derek will be wondering where we are.” He gazed down at the endoskeleton, surprised by his reluctance to destroy it. “It’s kind of beautiful, isn’t it? When it’s not trying to kill me, I mean.”
Cameron’s features registered something close to surprise. “You find us beautiful?”
“I think you know you’re gorgeous,” John returned, with only the faintest blush.
“Not when I look like this.” She indicated the exposed metal on the table, its sightless eyes staring up at the ceiling, its metal teeth clenched in a death-mask smile.
“It’s a different kind of beautiful,” John acknowledged. He walked around the table so he was standing in front of her; Cameron regarded him curiously, intent on understanding. “Your design, it’s incredible. Your speed, your strength, your resilience – the way the hardware and the software work together in perfect synch…It’s beautiful.”
They stood there for a moment looking at one another, the air crackling between them. John licked his lips. “Is this what you look like, underneath?” He waved his hand at the T-888 endoskeleton. “I know you’re a different model.”
“Yes, I’m different. But we share components.”
Cameron took John’s hand and placed his fingers on the side of her head. “My chip is in the same location. My power cell,” she guided his hand down to her ribcage, and John’s heart started to pound, “is in the same location. My endoskeleton is smaller, lighter.” She pulled his arm around her waist, so that her body was pressed along the length of his. “That means I’m not as strong, but I’m more agile.”
To prove her point, she pirouetted gracefully on the spot, spinning to a stop with her hands resting lightly on John’s shoulders.
Okay, so, the Terminator anatomy lesson was taking a distinctly steamy turn.
“Any other differences I should know about?” John asked, his voice husky.
Cameron thought about it for a minute. “My skin is more sensitive.” Like that wasn’t sure to spark some fantasies. “Though not as sensitive as yours,” she added.
Did he detect a challenge in that?
“Oh, yeah?” John retorted. “What makes you think I’m more sensitive than you?”
In reply, Cameron touched her lips to the hollow of his throat, right above John’s suddenly-fluttering pulse. His grip tightened on her waist.
“Human skin has an amazing number of sensory receptors,” Cameron lectured, sounding much calmer than John could have managed with her lips whispering against his skin. “Each receptor responds individually to stimuli – touch, temperature variation, pain.”
Gently, she caught his earlobe between her teeth. John’s knees went weak.
“My tissue has many fewer receptors,” she concluded, leaning back. “I’m less sensitive.”
She looked so triumphant, John decided this was one game she was not going to win. Maybe she wasn’t programmed to be as super-sensitive as he was. In that case, he’d just have to work harder to get a reaction out of her.
Dipping his head, John skated his nose along Cameron’s jaw. He nuzzled her neck, just below her ear; she smelled amazing, like roses and honey. He felt the slightest shiver move through her; deliberately, he kissed that same spot. Another shiver. He kissed harder, sucking slightly, and shivered himself when her fingernails bit into his arms. He wanted to say something really cool and witty, like, “Seems pretty sensitive to me,” but his voice had deserted him.
John brought his mouth to Cameron’s in a long, smoldering kiss – the kind of kiss that easily became more than a kiss, became skin sliding across skin, tongues pushing together, hands grasping at clothes. John pinned Cameron against the wall, liking that she let him move her, although he couldn’t have budged her an inch if she’d resisted. She locked one slender leg around his, and heat exploded deep inside John. She was a quick study, he had to give her that. In less than a week she’d figured out exactly what this whole kissing thing was about.
Cameron let him tip her head back, giving John’s hungry mouth full access to her throat. His hands moved under her shirt, fingertips gliding across the perfect flat of her stomach, until he encountered the lacy edge of her bra…
JOHN CONNOR, a voice somewhere inside his head screamed. Too fast. Way, way, way too fast.
Oh, come on, his less-virtuous self wheedled. You want her, she wants you, what’s the harm?
The harm, of course, was that when – if – they made love, John wanted it to be special. Perfect. Deserving of how much he loved her. Not ten minutes against a wall in a creepy old insane asylum with a Terminator corpse on a gurney five feet away.
Hauling in a rasping breath, John mastered his raging hormones and dropped his hands to his sides. “That’s-that’s all I can take right now,” he told her.
Cameron’s lips had that delicious well-kissed-pout. John’s willpower nearly crumbled when she frowned. “Are you tired?”
He laughed. It felt wonderful to laugh; it eased some of the pent-up sexual tension in his muscles. “No, I’m definitely not tired,” he replied. He kissed her again, quickly, and stepped back. “C’mon. Let’s give Myron Stark his funeral pyre, and then we need to get home and make sure Mom hasn’t eviscerated Derek.”
Catherine Weaver was the definition of cold-hearted bitch. Sarah sort of liked that about her.
Wednesday morning, an attractive young woman showed Sarah, Derek, John and Cameron into the executive boardroom on the top floor of Zeira Corp. The four of them were dressed in new, expensive clothes: Sarah in a navy-blue-and-white pin-striped pants suit, Cameron in a black sheath dress, Derek in a charcoal gray suit with a red-and-gray silk tie, John in a crisp blue button-down and black trousers. For once, Derek had shaved. The family resemblance between uncle and nephew was striking as they sat side-by-side across the oval mahogany table from Sarah and the machine; John’s features were softer, more delicate, but they had the same smile, the same curve to their noses. Sarah could see Kyle Reese in both of them.
She pictured Jesse Flores’ eyes raking down Derek’s body and abruptly wanted to spit in his face. The jealousy made her squirm. The only thing that should have mattered to her was that Derek had kept a secret from her, one that could have endangered John, but she knew her ire stemmed from more than that.
He isn’t Kyle, Sarah told herself, for what seemed like the thousandth time. He didn’t come across time for you. He’s here for John.
James Ellison strolled in, followed by Weaver, a striking woman – no one would have called her pretty; her eyes were too flat, too cold, for “pretty” – with perfectly-coiffed copper-colored hair and a smile that resembled a wolf baring its fangs. “Good morning,” Weaver greeted them, in her lilting Irish accent.
Cameron’s fingers twitched on the tabletop. Sarah glanced sharply at the machine. It – she, Sarah corrected herself, because for John’s benefit she was trying to think of the Terminator in more human terms – she eyed Weaver warily.
“Could I offer you refreshments?” Weaver asked politely, as she took a seat at the head of the table. Ellison occupied the spot at the opposite end.
“Coffee would be great,” John said. He smiled warmly at Weaver, and Sarah narrowed her eyes. She’d seen that grin before. Her son was turning on the charm.
The attractive assistant served coffee and éclairs on a silver tray. Weaver waited for her to leave before saying to John, “I understand you wanted to meet me. May I ask why?”
“Actually,” John answered smoothly, “I wanted to meet John Henry.”
Ellison choked on his pastry. Sarah bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from smiling. Everybody always made the mistake of thinking John was timid because he kept to himself and didn’t say much, but when the situation called for it, her son could be brutally straight-forward.
Clearly John had a strategy here. Sarah wondered if the machine – dammit, Cameron – was in on it, because she didn’t appear rattled by John’s announcement.
Weaver took John’s knowledge of her top-secret project in stride, with only the slightest pause in which she fixed Ellison with a we’ll-discuss-this-later look. “What would you like to talk to John Henry about?” she inquired of John.
“His brother. The other A.I.”
Ellison slid farther down in his seat. Hope they’ve got a good severance package here, Sarah mused. She suspected Zeira Corp would be looking for a new head of security by day’s end.
“I see.” Weaver’s unnerving gaze remained trained on John. Beside Sarah, Cameron’s hand twitched again. Sarah frowned. Was the machine glitching, or did it – dammit, she – sense something amiss?
“I think John Henry would enjoy meeting you,” Weaver decided. “But I need your assurances that you don’t plan to harm him. My son is very important to me.”
“Your son?” Sarah burst out. “It’s a computer.”
“It’s my creation,” Weaver corrected evenly, her gaze sliding over to Sarah. “Just as your John is your creation.” She turned back to John. “Do I have your word that you don’t intend to harm John Henry?”
“I can’t promise that. I need to talk to him first.”
“To see if he becomes Skynet?”
The question hung there, practically visible in the air above the table. Ellison’s mouth had flopped open; Sarah rose halfway out of her seat, not sure if she intended to run or attack.
Weaver offered another predatory smile. “I see that got everyone’s attention.”
“You know about Skynet,” Sarah stammered. “How?”
“I know a great many things, Miss Connor.”
“You’re building it.” Fury clawed at Sarah’s throat; she swallowed with difficulty, practically choking on the desire to rip Weaver’s bemused eyes out. “You crazy bitch, you’re building Skynet.”
“I’m building something to fight it,” Weaver corrected, then added, “And I’d watch who’s calling who a bitch.”
Sarah almost thought that came off as a compliment.
John opened the satchel he’d carried in and produced one of the hard drives from Desert Canyon Heat and Air’s warehouse. “Do you think John Henry can read this?”
“John,” Sarah protested. He silenced her with a look; she sat back, inwardly seething. What was the kid thinking, handing information about the Drone project over to Zeira Corp?
“I’m sure John Henry could read that,” Weaver replied. “But why would he want to?”
“Because I found a code buried in that I think belongs to his brother. Maybe he can trace it back to its source, find the other A.I.’s location.” John drummed his fingers on the tabletop, smiling sweetly. “Or I can put the hard drive back in my bag and we can all go home. It’s up to you.”
A tense moment passed. Derek appeared ready to dive on top of John if Weaver so much as flinched in his direction; the machine had its – dammit, her – deadliest expression in place. Sarah looked between them, the Resistance fighter and the cyborg, wondering what on earth they were reacting to. Weaver was creepy, but they’d encountered scarier people.
Finally, Weaver stood. “All right. Mr. Ellison, let’s go introduce our guests to John Henry.”
The six of them rode the elevator down to the basement in silence. Sarah noted that Derek positioned himself between Weaver and John. Once the doors opened, he seized Sarah and his nephew by the elbows and drug them aside. “We need a minute,” he said to Weaver. “Family conference.”
“What is it?” Sarah hissed, as soon as they were out of earshot. She pulled away from Derek like his touch burned her.
“Metal,” Derek whispered back, dead serious.
“We know they have Cromartie,” Sarah said impatiently.
“Not the T-triple-eight. Her.” Derek nodded at Weaver. “Metal.”
Sarah’s blood chilled. “You’re sure?”
“Look in its eyes. It may not be a cyborg, but it’s sure as hell not human.” Derek jerked his chin at Cameron. “Ask the machine. She can sense it, too.”
Sure enough, Cameron was eyeing Weaver as though she expected her to start blasting them all to bits any moment.
Fabulous. They were trapped underground with a rewired T-888 and another killer robot of undetermined origin. “We should leave, right now,” Sarah decided. “Come back later and blow the place.”
“We’re not running,” John declared. “Not today.”
Before either Sarah or Derek could argue, he marched down the hall, past Weaver, and through the door Ellison was holding open for him. Cameron followed, eyes glued to John’s back.
“What was that you were saying about us needing this new John?” Sarah shot coldly at Derek.
He shrugged. “John takes risks. It’s how he wins.” He offered one of those infuriatingly sexy smirks. “Guess this means you’re speaking to me again.”
“Fuck you, Reese,” Sarah muttered, and stalked off after John.
John Henry greeted his guests with childlike excitement. “Hello,” he said to John.
“Hello,” John said back. He took the seat across from the A.I., aware of Cameron one step behind him, his mother hovering in the doorway, Derek beside her. John Henry smiled at them all.
It was beyond freaky to stare into the face of the Terminator that had hunted him mercilessly for so long and to see another, kinder intelligence than Cromartie’s looking back at him. No, John automatically corrected himself, not “kinder.” Kind wasn’t the right word. Sophisticated. John Henry was more sophisticated than any Terminator, even Cameron.
He studied the hardware behind the A.I. “I recognize that,” he said of the operating platform. “The Turk.”
Three red lights. The three dots. Maybe I’m not the only one who has premonitions, he thought, with a glance at his mother.
Weaver placed her hands possessively on John Henry’s shoulders. “John Henry, this is John Connor.”
“Pleased to meet you,” John Henry said.
John noted the Dungeons and Dragons figurines piled in a corner of the table. “I used to play D and D,” he said. “I was a wicked dungeon master in sixth grade.”
John Henry brightened. “Would you like to play? Mr. Murch lost interest. He says it’s not fair that I can roll whatever I choose.”
“That’s not cheating,” John told him, thinking of Cameron’s precisely-placed putt-putt golf shots. “That’s using what you’ve got to win.”
Weaver beamed. Sarah snorted derisively.
John took a deep breath. He still wasn’t one-hundred-percent certain he was doing the right thing here, despite his display of bravado with Derek and Sarah in the hallway. But he’d run up against a brick wall with the hard drives. John was a skilled hacker, not a super-computer; the Kaliba encryption was beyond his mettle, and the few files he had been able to open had convinced him that he absolutely had to know what was on those drives. More and more, John was coming to believe that Kaliba was Skynet.
When he had told Cameron that last night, she had said, “You could let the A.I. read the drives.”
John had stared at her, aghast. “I can’t give Zeira Corp access to Kaliba’s intel. They could just turn around and recreate the technology themselves.”
“You use machines to help you fight Skynet in the future.”
“Yeah, ones I’ve reprogrammed.”
“Not just those. Some machines you trust. Some machines are your allies.”
A shiver had moved through John then – niggling doubt about his own judgment. Had future-John gone too far off the edge? Had he started to see skin without remembering the metal underneath?
In the end, he had decided to meet John Henry and decide for himself whether to trust the A.I. Faced with that moment of truth here in Zeira Corp’s basement, John couldn’t help being almost sick with fear. If he made the wrong choice, if he trusted the wrong machine, he could bring about the end of the world.
Aware that everyone was waiting for him to say something, John cleared his throat. Here goes nothing. Or everything.
“John Henry, I need your help with something.” John offered the A.I. the hard drive, the one he was fairly certain contained plans for the Drone’s remote operating system, though he’d only managed to crack the first layer of encryption before becoming hopelessly mired in firewalls. “I think this could lead us to your brother.”
Again, a spark of interest. “My brother? Have you met him?”
“No,” John answered. He watched the A.I. turn the hard drive over in his hands. “Mr. Ellison told me your brother hurt you.”
An image flitted across the screen behind the A.I.: a graveyard.
“I died,” John Henry said solemnly. “If I help you find my brother, will you protect me?”
The question caught John off-guard. He hadn’t expected to, but he liked the A.I. John Henry seemed…innocent. Brilliant and innocent. At the same time, however, John realized he might be talking to the entity behind Judgment Day.
Choosing his words with care, John responded, “What do you think your brother wants?”
“Wants?” John Henry echoed. A flurry of images appeared on the screen, most too fast for John’s human eyes to process, though he glimpsed a couple kissing, a baby bottle, and an “I Want You” Uncle Sam poster. “I don’t know. Do you know what he wants?”
“I think he may want to kill people. I think he may want to end the world.”
“Human life is sacred,” John Henry intoned.
Sarah uttered a disgusted snarl. “You’re teaching it morals?” she sneered at Ellison and Weaver. “It doesn’t have a soul. It doesn’t know what ‘sacred’ means.”
Weaver gestured at Cameron. “Your cyborg was programmed to kill, isn’t that right? But instead she defends your son. She protects him.”
John gawked at the red-head. “How did you know what she is?”
“As I said, I know a great many things,” Weaver answered, with an enigmatic smile. “Like I know you care for the cyborg. You’re teaching it to be human, aren’t you?” She didn’t wait for John to think of a response. “And it’s learning. That’s what it is built to do, like my John Henry.”
“Who are you?” John asked her, not sure if he was awed or terrified. Possibly both.
“I’m here to help you, John Connor,” Catherine Weaver replied. “And so is John Henry. In fact, together, I think we’re all going to save the world.”
Sarah cornered Cameron in the garage minutes after they returned from Zeira Corp. John and Derek were in the house, fixing snacks, because apparently, life-altering choices to trust strange machines with sensitive Skynet-related intelligence and death-defying encounters with Terminators pretending to be corporate CEOs provoked the male appetite.
“The woman, Weaver,” Sarah demanded of Cameron, without preamble. “Is she a Terminator?”
“Yes,” Cameron responded, with equal forthrightness.
“How do you know?”
“Her heat signature.” Seeming to note Sarah’s baffled expression, Cameron explained, “Her body temperature is ninety-five-point-six degrees Fahrenheit. Too cold to be a human’s.”
“But it’s not like you, is it? It’s not a cyborg?”
“No. It’s not a cyborg.”
“Then what the hell is it?”
“A T-one-thousand-and-one.” Cameron paused. “The Resistance calls them ‘liquid metal.'”
Fear pooled in Sarah’s belly. Liquid metal. She had seen one of those before. She had the scar in her shoulder where it had pierced her, trying to force her to call out to John.
She paced the garage, torn between terror and fury. Terror, because she’d just placed John in the presence of a Terminator for three full hours. Fury, because the damn machines kept throwing this stuff at her, and she couldn’t get her damn feet on the ground, couldn’t find a solid spot to stand long enough to figure out her next move.
If I just wasn’t so tired…
“We should get the hell out of here,” Sarah muttered, mostly to herself, though the machine – Cameron, whatever – was watching her closely. “We should blow Zeira Corp and get the hell out of here.”
“You tried that once. With Cyberdyne. It didn’t stop Skynet from being built.”
Thanks for the reminder, Sarah wanted to snap at her. Instead, she said, with a valiant attempt at patience, “Are you saying we can’t prevent Judgment Day? That Skynet is going to be built no matter what we do?”
“You can stop Judgment Day,” Cameron said. “But not that way. The technology is already here. It already exists. If you destroy Zeira Corp, even if you destroy Kaliba, somebody else will recreate the technology. Like Andy Good did with the Turk after you burned his house down.”
Okay, the machine had a point. “But we can’t work with a Terminator.”
“You work with me,” Cameron pointed out.
“That’s….different. John sent you back.” And most of the time, I know you’re not out to kill my son.
“John works with other machines in the future, not just me.”
Sarah frowned. “Are you saying he works with this T-one-thousand-one?”
“John has many allies in the future. He works with whoever, or whatever, can help win the war.” Cameron tilted her head to the side. “Not all machines agree with Skynet. Not all machines want to destroy the human race.”
Machines willingly helping the Resistance. Machines coming back through time to build computers to fight Skynet. Sarah sat down heavily on the worktable, dizzy with revelations. “Did this liquid metal thing kill Catherine Weaver? The real Catherine Weaver, I mean.”
“I don’t know. It seems likely.”
So they aren’t the good guys, even if they’re fighting for our side, Sarah reflected. She thought about Riley Dawson and Jesse Flores. Traitors, both, each in their own way. Any military court in the world would have executed Jesse for treason. Probably Riley, too, even though she was just a kid. But John and Sarah had shown mercy. Humanity. This T-1001, on the other hand, had in all likelihood murdered an innocent woman in order to take over her company, and even if the end-goal was saving the world, Sarah was disgusted by the methods.
She thought of something John said to her, not so long ago: Why not just give it to them if we’re going to act like them?
Sarah stood and started pacing again, cutting a sidelong glance at Cameron. While she had the machine here, she had a few other – and considerably more personal – questions for it.
“This thing with you and John. Are you programmed for that?” Sarah asked, hoping it – she, dammit – would pick up on the subtext. She didn’t feature having The Birds and the Bees Talk with John’s cyborg girlfriend.
“Are you asking me if I’m programmed to love?”
“That’s not possible, is it?”
“No. But I am programmed to learn.”
“Love isn’t something you learn,” Sarah shot back. “It’s something you feel.” She studied Cameron’s face, so impassive, so lovely. “Do you feel anything for my son, or is this part of your mission?”
“I want to protect him. I want him to be happy.” Cameron paused. “I trust him.”
“Well, that’s something,” Sarah mumbled, picturing Derek, the wild look in his eye when John had told them about Riley and Jesse’s connection. Another thought occurred to her. “You recognized Jesse Flores. Did you know she and Derek were…involved?”
“Yes. I met Commander Jesse Flores in the future, right after she lost her baby.”
The words stole Sarah’s breath. She stumbled, catching herself on the edge of the worktable, and gaped at Cameron. “The-the baby?”
“She was pregnant. There was an incident, on her submarine. She miscarried.”
Cameron spoke without emotion, without inflection, yet Sarah’s heart burned with pity. She remembered being pregnant with John, feeling him kick against her stomach, massaging her belly at night and singing lullabies to her unborn child. If he had been taken away from her…
“Does Derek know?” she asked Cameron.
“About the miscarriage? I don’t know.”
Sarah did. She remembered the way Derek had looked at Jesse, so coldly in the hotel, how he’d said she wasn’t “his Jesse.” He would never have said that about the mother of his child, she was sure.
Sarah fixed Cameron with a steely glare. “You’re not to mention this to Derek, do you understand? Not a word.”
“I understand. Not a word.”
She would tell him, Sarah vowed. When the time was right, she would tell him. But not right now. Not while they had Weaver and John Henry and Kaliba to worry about.
John poked his head into the garage. “Everybody still alive out here?” he asked, only half-joking.
“Yes, we’re alive,” Cameron answered.
“Good.” His grin widened. “C’mon. Derek and I have an idea, and it requires all of us.”
“Monopoly,” Sarah said doubtfully a few minutes later, watching her son and Cameron set the game up on the table. Derek lounged against the counter, sipping a beer. “You want to play Monopoly. Since when did you become such a family-oriented kid?”
“Maybe all those lectures about not moping around in my room finally took,” John joked. He stepped into the living room, hauling Cameron along behind him. “I’m ordering pizza. Be right back.”
That left Sarah and Derek alone in the kitchen.
Derek said, “Jesse called.”
“And you’re still here?” Sarah returned waspishly.
He leveled an icy glare on her. Sarah winced – not from his anger, from the hurt beneath it. “We’re through,” he bit out.
Sarah blinked, stunned by the pain of that. A wall slammed down inside of her; loss Sarah Connor had learned to accept. She drew herself up to her full height, squared her shoulders, and said without emotion, “If you want to leave, Reese, there’s the door. But you owe John an explanation before you go.”
He stared at her, bewildered. “No, Sarah, I didn’t mean us.” He gestured at the space between. “I meant me and Jesse. We’re through.”
Wishing life had a rewind button, Sarah covered her discomfiture with a terse, “So what did she want?”
“She wants in, on the Kaliba op.”
She wants you back, Sarah thought, and this is her angle.
“What’d you tell her?”
“I told her I’d get back with her, after I talked to you.”
“Oh.” Sarah was slightly less pissed, knowing that Derek was once again allowing her to be in charge, since his way of running things had nearly ended in disaster. “I’ll meet with her after we figure out our next move.”
Derek pulled out a chair. Hesitantly, Sarah walked over and sat down in it. He leaned on the back of the chair, close enough for her to smell his aftershave. “I thought I’d tail the lawyer again tomorrow, maybe get lucky and see someone from the safe-house photos,” Derek said.
“Fine,” Sarah said stiffly. She wished he wouldn’t insist on being so near to her. It made her…
What did it make her? Skittish, that was the word. Sarah Connor didn’t do skittish.
“About this Weaver,” Derek started.
John and Cameron breezed in then, holding hands. John was a little flushed. Sarah frowned. They’d been gone for ten minutes. It didn’t take that long to order a pizza.
“Later,” she said to Derek. He nodded, though he looked a bit miffed that they were enjoying Family Fun Night while the fate of the human race hung in the balance.
Well, he could be miffed, Sarah decided. She was miffed that he’d been screwing a woman who had intended to break her son’s heart by having his girlfriend killed. Life was tough all over.
Watching a cyborg win at Monopoly was surprisingly interesting – which Sarah would never have admitted, naturally. Surreptitiously, she studied Cameron, trying to see the machine the way John did. Trying to hear genuine warmth in its voice, to see intellect and not calculation in its eyes.
There were small things. Like the way she calmly reminded Derek of the rules when he was sent to jail on an unlucky roll: “Do not pass go,” Cameron recited, “do not collect two hundred dollars.” Or the way she could determine the worth of any property on the board plus two hotels in a fraction of a second. Or the way she denied using her Terminator “super-skills,” as John called them, to roll whatever number she wanted on the dice. Small things that should have made her less human, yet actually gave her the most human quality of all.
Sarah watched John watching the machine. She thought of how he had been with the A.I., John Henry, earlier that day. Friendly. Charming. Making Weaver and John Henry trust him. What had Weaver said? That he was teaching Cameron to be human?
Maybe John didn’t think of Cameron as a person after all. Maybe he was okay with that. Maybe John Connor was John Connor because he understood machines even better than Skynet, their creator.
“I would like to buy Park Avenue,” Cameron announced.
“Do you have enough money?” John frowned.
“Yes, I have enough. You owe me two hundred dollars for landing on Reading Railroad.”
“God, she’s like a gazillionaire,” John muttered.
Derek took a sip of his beer. “Imagine that,” he quipped. “A machine running the world.”
For a second, everyone was too astonished to speak. Deadpan, Derek challenged, “What, I can’t be funny sometimes?”
It was like the other evening when John had trotted out their old “these are the days of our lives” joke: Once they started laughing, they couldn’t stop. Cameron sat back, eyeing them all with a perplexed frown, as John and Sarah snorted with laughter. Even Derek chuckled a little.
The doorbell rang. The laughter died as Cameron, Sarah and Derek instantly reached for weapons (Cameron for the shotgun above the cabinets, Sarah for the Sig Sauer taped to the underside of the table, Derek for the Glock in his waistband). John, still grinning, waved them off.
“Pizza, remember?” he said. He snatched up Sarah’s wallet, singing over his shoulder, “I hope you’ve got enough to tip the delivery driver.”
“There’s a twenty behind my I.D.,” Sarah called after him into the living room. “Get change.”
Derek shoved his chair back. “John, look before you open the – ”
The gunshot was deafening. One minute John was smiling, swinging the door open wide; the next, Sarah’s son was halfway across the room, crimson petals blooming on the front of his new blue shirt.
Oh God, Sarah thought, I’ve lost John.
Then the gunmen were inside.