As the days crawled by, one bleeding into the next, John began to wonder if they had somehow stepped out of time. Maybe they were in another Sideways Universe, where the urgency to fight Skynet, the constant looking over their shoulders, wasn’t necessary. Maybe they had found an island in the storm.
He thought he would be disappointed when Sarah received a call from James Ellison telling them that John Henry had found his brother and that Catherine Weaver had a plan for destroying the enemy A.I. Strangely, he wasn’t. Seven days after George McCarthy and Ed Winston had blasted into the Connor/Reese living room, John was ready to pick back up the fight.
“San Francisco,” Derek mused, as they sat around the kitchen table munching down on Sarah’s Bisquik specialty pancakes – their first actual meal in a week. “Did Ellison say what we’re going to do once we get there?”
“He just said to meet them at the airfield by ten-thirty,” Sarah answered.
She looked at John, who was trying not to stare moony-eyed at Cameron. His mother seemed to have a sixth-sense about when he’d done something he didn’t want her to know about, and having sex was not something John wanted his mother to know he’d done.
With anyone. Ever.
“You feeling up to traveling?” Sarah asked him. She looked more rested after their week away from daily recon assignments and routine gun battles, without the tight lines of worry around her eyes.
“I’m a hundred percent,” John replied, with a pointed look at Cameron. A half-smile quirked up the corners of her mouth.
“I don’t know about trusting this thing,” Sarah muttered. “Weaver, I mean.”
John had to admit, the idea of taking a field trip with a T-1001 wasn’t exactly a cheery prospect. Still, he said, “If she’d wanted to kill us, she could have done it at Zeira Corp. I think she really wants to stop Skynet.” He turned to Cameron. “What do you think? Can we trust her?”
“I think it’s hard to know who to trust,” Cameron responded, in her wonderfully straight-forward way.
Derek speared a soggy bite of pancake. “Liquid metal gives me the creeps, but John’s got a point. If this thing wanted us dead, she could’ve done us at Zeira Corp. I say it’s at least worth a shot. If all else fails, we know where it lives. We can always go back and take out its little Cromartie pet.”
Luckily, they were traveling by private plane, because the Connor/Reese family packed enough firepower to have sent any airport security guard into hysterics: They all had pistols – Sarah had two, actually, one in an ankle holster plus one in her waistband – and Cameron carried a duffle bag filled with two rifles, a shotgun, and extra rounds of ammunition. John felt like a Colombian gun runner as they loaded up the SUV and drove across the state line into California.
Weaver’s Lear jet was gassed and ready on the tarmac when their crew arrived. She and Ellison were already onboard; a smiling flight attendant offered to take Cameron’s bag, but one frigid look from the Terminator had the woman retreating to her beverage cart.
“Good morning,” Weaver greeted them all. She offered John a particularly wolfish smile. “Glad to see your shoulder is all healed.”
“Thanks.” John settled into a seat across from the T-1001, trying not to stare. He kept waiting for its features to ripple or something else equally freaky, but of course nothing happened.
Derek and Cameron took seats on either side of John, both eyeing Weaver warily. Cameron angled her body slightly to the right, positioning herself ever-so-slightly between John and Weaver. She seemed more determined than usual to protect him. John wondered if she was trying to make up for her lapse in judgment the night he’d been shot, or if falling love had made her mission that much more urgent.
He wondered, suddenly, what he would do if Cameron tried to sacrifice herself for him. Could he let her die so he could go on to save the world?
Across the aisle, Sarah sat next to Ellison, her ankle resting on her knee, her hand nonchalantly covering the grip of her pistol. All in all, the scene was about as relaxed as a fire-fight.
Weaver continued to smile pleasantly, either oblivious to the tension or enjoying it.
“Where’s John Henry?” John asked.
“It isn’t possible to move John Henry at this point,” Weaver explained. “The A.I. is a unique combination of that particular hardware and software. If we were to disassemble him, he might not be John Henry when we put him back together.”
So, who would he be? John wanted to ask. Maybe…Skynet?
John hadn’t planned to be point-man on this op, but since Sarah, Derek, and Cameron were all too busy watching Weaver for signs of impending attack to ask the necessary questions, he continued, “What’s our plan here?”
“As Mr. Ellison told your mother on the phone, John Henry was able to discover the location of his brother. The second A.I. is located at Kaliba’s offices in San Francisco, in their recently-established Cyberdyne Genetics division.”
Sarah made a choking noise. “Cyberdyne?” Her lips pursed into an indignant line. “But I stopped Cyberdyne.”
Weaver swiveled just her head in Sarah’s direction. “Apparently, you didn’t.”
Before Sarah could say something nasty in response, John asked quickly, “How are we going to disable the A.I.?”
“John Henry found a back door.”
Niiiice, John thought.
Everybody else on the plane – his mother, his uncle, Ellison, even Cameron – looked blank. John and Weaver shared a secret hacker smile.
John’s mind was working quickly now, running through his considerable store of knowledge about computers, A.I., data back-up. Weaver watched him. He almost thought she looked impressed, like she’d expected him to be a lot slower. Maybe machines have prejudices against humans, too, John reflected. Maybe they call us “meat” like we call them “metal.”
“So John Henry is going to take down the A.I. remotely,” John said, laying out the plan as he assumed it would go down, “and we’re going to do away with any data and hardware that can’t be accessed off-site.”
“Quite right,” Weaver confirmed.
“Translation?” Sarah demanded, looking between her son and the Terminator. Her eyebrows had slanted together in a disapproving line; clearly, she disliked John’s chumminess with the T-1001.
John explained, “John Henry doesn’t need to be in the building to access the A.I.’s files. He’s found what we call a ‘back door’ – just think of it as an unguarded entrance to the A.I.’s system. Once he’s in, he can corrupt the files and introduce a virus into the system.”
Weaver nodded to let John know that was exactly the intention.
“But there’ll be things John Henry can’t get to without actually being in the building. Like the A.I.’s operating system, the wires and fans and circuits. I’m betting this A.I. will be just as impossible to rebuild into the exact same configuration as John Henry is, so if we destroy it, we could stop Skynet for good. Plus,” John concluded, “they may have other things there, like the T-triple-eight hand we found at the warehouse, maybe even the Drone. That kind of thing needs to be taken out in person.”
“We’re blowing the building,” Derek surmised.
“We’re blowing the building,” Ellison agreed. He turned a little green when he said it. The former FBI agent in him seemed to be grappling with this foray into terrorism. Either Ellison believed the fight against Cyberdyne qualified as some kind of holy war where the usual rules didn’t apply, John mused, or he’d decided to ask for God’s forgiveness rather than his permission this time around.
“What about remote data storage?” John inquired of Weaver.
Sarah cleared her throat. “Again, translation?”
Weaver arched an eyebrow at John, like, How do you work with these people?
Patiently, John told his mother, “Computers can only hold so much information. John Henry and his brother don’t run off a laptop. Anytime you’re dealing with programs of this complexity, crunching data in huge amounts, you need a lot of computing power. Kaliba must have a server farm somewhere, not in the same building as the A.I., where everything is backed up.”
“We’ve already located the server farm,” Weaver announced. “It’s in Canada. It’s being taken care of.”
John had a feeling he didn’t want to ever witness Weaver’s way of “taking care” of a problem.
“This building we’re going to, it’s got offices in it, right?” Sarah threw in. Weaver and Ellison both nodded. “Then why are we going there in the middle of the day? We’re not going to blow up a bunch of people.”
For a second, John thought his mother was going to add, We’re not all Terminators, but she restrained herself.
“We have a plan for that, too,” Ellison assured her. “John Henry can trigger the fire alarm. They’ll clear the building, and we can do our thing.”
“If they clear the building, how are we getting in?” John asked.
“We have costumes.” Ellison jerked his thumb toward five suit bags hanging in the back. Yellow firemen’s helmets were stacked on the floor beneath them.
John had a sudden, vivid image of Cameron dressed as a firefighter – only with nothing but a lacy black bra and panties under her unbuttoned yellow jacket, a helmet askew on her tousled hair, a coy smile inviting him to…
He took a deep breath and shoved the fantasy aside. Now was not the time.
Wait, John’s inner voice (the one that wasn’t controlled by sixteen-year-old hormones) piped up. Five suits, for six people?
John looked at Weaver. “You aren’t going in?”
“Oh, I’ll be with you,” she answered. “But I don’t need a disguise.”
Right. She could take any form she wanted. Technically, the T-1001 was wearing her “Catherine Weaver” costume right now.
After John insisted he would be fine, Derek and Sarah reluctantly stopped hovering and accompanied Ellison to the back of the plane to go over the blueprints for Cyberdyne Genetics headquarters. Cameron remained at John’s side; he suspected she wouldn’t agree to be further than three feet from him until they were no longer in the T-1001’s presence. Casually, John slipped his hand into hers. Cameron folded her fingers over his, a gentle, reassuring squeeze. Weaver smirked but didn’t comment.
“So,” John said, finding the long silence awkward, although probably the two Terminators didn’t notice anything, “what part of Ireland are you from?”
Weaver tilted her head at him. “I’m from Scotland, actually.”
“Oh.” John had always been terrible at placing foreign accents. “So, what part of Scotland are you from?”
The Fasten Seat Belts sign binged, and the pilot’s pleasant voice came over the loudspeaker: “Good morning, folks. We’ve begun our final descent to San Francisco. We’ll be landing in about five minutes. Buckle up, and we’ll have you on the ground shortly.”
As Sarah, Derek, and Ellison made their way back up the aisle, Weaver said to John, “Why don’t you ask me what you really want to know?”
John sensed that the T-1001 was accustomed to intimidating everyone she encountered. Her smugness annoyed him even as it intrigued him. “What do I really want to ask?” he challenged, letting her see that he wasn’t scared of her.
Which of course he was. Absolutely fucking terrified. But, in the interest of Priority Three, he was trying to at least come across as a bad-ass, even if he didn’t feel like one.
“You really want to ask if we work together in the future.”
John gaped at her. How did she do that? It was like she’d read his mind, seen into his fears that Future-John had gotten a bit too cozy with the machines. Well, machines that weren’t Cameron, anyway.
Managing to recover his composure, John shot back, “So do we? Work together?”
“That depends on which future you mean,” Weaver replied, with a sly smile.
Suddenly, the plane lurched sideways.
John and Cameron were still strapped in, but Sarah, Derek, and Ellison went sprawling. “What the – ” Derek started. He was cut off by a horrible shearing noise. The jet banked hard right as a shudder rippled through the cabin, rattling John’s teeth, dumping luggage out of the overhead compartments. Oxygen masks dropped out of the ceiling.
John struggled to look over Cameron’s shoulder – the force of their rapid descent had him pinned to his seat – and saw, with a sickening flop of his stomach, that one wing had broken off. It occurred to him then, as it had during the accident that had sent him to Sideways Universe, that there were all kinds of ways to die that didn’t involve Terminators.
Although a lot of them did involve Skynet, and this seemed to be the case now, as John spotted Kaliba’s Drone circling around for a second attack.
Over the cacophony of alarms, John yelled, “Get down! Incoming!”
Derek had managed to hand Sarah into a seat across the aisle from John. Ellison was dragging himself into the row behind them. At John’s shout, Derek flung his body over Sarah’s, just as Cameron did the same with John.
Something akin to a prayer flitted across John’s mind, along the lines of, Please, protect my family…
Bullets strafed the side of the Lear jet. They would have all been dead – the human passengers, anyway – if Weaver hadn’t intervened.
She stood up and, in one fluid motion, spread her arms like a hawk unfurling its wings. In the blink of an eye, the T-1001 morphed from Catherine Weaver into a glistening mercury-colored angel. The bullets sank harmlessly into its liquid alloy as the Drone completed its pass.
John gaped, unable to form a thought more coherent than, Holy fuck, she really IS on our side.
The barrage ended. Derek scrambled into a seat next to Sarah and snapped his seatbelt together; Ellison was whimpering, staring slack-jawed at the silver angel; Cameron remained on top of John, her arms locked tight around his shoulders. The ride wasn’t over: The jet was hurtling toward the ground at break-neck speed. John gripped Cameron’s waist and braced himself for the impact. Through the shattered window, he could see a green field whipping past.
The T-1001 resumed its Catherine Weaver face and, quite calmly, resumed its seat.
“I love you,” John whispered to Cameron, and shut his eyes.
The world flashed.
John was standing in a courtyard surrounded by tall fences topped with razor wire, several years older than he was right now. Sarah, Cameron, Derek – none of them stood beside him. John was on his own.
“Come on,” he was shouting, to a group of frightened but determined men and women behind him, dressed as he was in filthy rags. “Storm the wire! Like I showed you! Let’s beat these metal motherfuckers into junk!”
John was standing in John Henry’s room in the basement of Zeira Corp, staring in sickened disbelief at Cameron’s deactivated body, his bones still aching with the grief of losing Derek. The words “I’m sorry John” cycled over and over again across the screens behind him.
“John, we can’t,” Sarah was saying, as she stepped out of the circle of light forming around John and Weaver.
“Mom,” he said, and it was a plea, and a prayer, and a goodbye…
John was standing on the steps of the Beverly Hills mansion that belonged to Sarah Connor and Derek Reese in Sideways Universe, leaning over the banister, looking down at the dead bodies of James Ellison and his uncle and, to his horror, the very human girl who had been deluded into believing she was a Terminator from the future…
“Don’t leave me, John,” Cameron whispered in his ear.
John came back to himself just as the pilot executed a textbook emergency landing. The jet skidded and bounced to a halt in a field a quarter-mile from the private airstrip, leaving the passengers shaken but unhurt.
Well, not total silence, because the flight attendant was sobbing, the pilot was barking orders at his co-pilot to open the emergency exit, and the jet’s alarms were still screaming, but nobody in the Connor/Weaver crew spoke for almost a full minute.
Then, in a trembling voice, Sarah called, “John? Are you okay?”
Cameron sat back, and John released a breath he hadn’t been aware of holding. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m alive.”
“What in the name of God are you?” James Ellison demanded. He was gawking at Weaver like he’d never seen her before – which, John supposed, he hadn’t.
“She’s a Terminator,” Cameron informed Ellison, quite calmly. “A T-one-thousand-one. Skynet’s most advanced model.” She paused. “Humans usually call them ‘liquid metal,’ although the term could be considered impolite.”
Ellison’s eyes darted between Cameron and Weaver, obviously trying to decide which one was more frightening. Cameron offered him what was probably meant to be a reassuring smile, but the effect was somewhat ruined by the fact that a shard of metal had opened a cut on her cheek, revealing the endoskeleton underneath. Ellison swallowed audibly.
John smothered a laugh. God, he adored Cameron.
The pilot was shouting for them to disembark. Cameron helped John to his feet – he was shaking like a leaf, as they all were – and he cupped her chin in one hand, examining her cut. “You okay?” he asked.
“I’m okay,” Cameron assured him.
Together, they stepped out into the cool Northern California fog. A sleek black limousine bounced across the rutted field from the direction of the airstrip, no doubt coming to take them to Kaliba’s headquarters.
Weaver went to speak with the driver. Ellison pulled the pilot aside, probably instructing him on what to say to the police and fire crews when they arrived, since John could hear sirens screaming toward the plane crash. Bullet holes riddled the side of the jet. The Drone was nowhere to be seen, but it was still out there, waiting to strike.
John held tight to Cameron’s hand as they walked toward the limo. Sarah and Derek hurried along with them. “Maybe this is a bad idea, John,” Sarah worried, looking back at the smoking wreckage of the plane. “Obviously Kaliba knows we’re coming.”
“If they know we’re coming, they’ll take the first chance they get to move the A.I. If we don’t stop them here, we may never find them again,” Derek said. He turned to Sarah. “Take John and go. The machine and I will handle this. If we make it out, we’ll call you.”
John folded his arms across his chest. “No,” he said, and for once, he didn’t have to affect a future-leader-of-mankind tone – he spoke decisively, without pretense. “We all go together, or we all leave. We’re not splitting up.”
Derek considered him. He seemed ready to argue, but then he nodded curtly, a soldier deferring to his commanding officer. “You realize we’re walking into a trap,” he pointed out, in a way that said he was cool with that if John was.
“Yeah, but we have something they’re not counting on.” John nodded to Weaver. “I’m betting Kaliba doesn’t know she’s a Terminator.”
He saw the doubt on Sarah’s face, saw the hesitation in Derek’s eyes, saw the caution in Cameron’s frown. Going in to Kaliba was a risk, no two ways about it.
Someday, John supposed he would need to become adept at making battlefield speeches – the kind of rousing St. Crispin’s Day rhetoric Shakespeare’s King Henry had given at Agincourt, when the French had outnumbered the English by ridiculous odds, yet the underdogs had won. “Look,” he wanted to say, “I get how crazy it sounds to talk about seeing the future or visiting other realities, but I know what I saw while I was blacked out. I know what I keep seeing. Every other reality except this one, we’re torn apart. We aren’t fighting together. And because of that, the machines win, every time. Whoever I am in the future, I keep sending people back here to stop Judgment Day. I have to believe that there’s more to my mission than just to lead the Resistance after the world ends. I have to believe that we can destroy Skynet before it’s even built.”
At the moment, however, John was sixteen, and he hadn’t yet seen war, though he’d fought more than his fair share of battles. Speeches didn’t come easily to him. So all he said was, “Nobody’s running today.”