Chapter 15

Skynet

Part I

Had it been up to Sarah, she would have sent John far, far away from Kaliba. The instant the plane landed, she would have packed him into a cab, sent Cameron along to act as his bodyguard, ordered the Terminator to take him to Mexico or Canada or someplace else that was not San Francisco, even if she had to knock him out to do it. Then Sarah would have taken Derek to wipe out this latest incarnation of Cyberdyne – the company that would not fucking die – and, assuming they lived through that, they would have returned to L.A. to blow Zeira Corp all to hell, just for good measure.

But Sarah was letting go. That meant letting John lead.

Forty minutes after crash-landing near the city, Sarah, John, Derek, Ellison and Cameron, all clad in yellow firefighter gear, arrived at the pyramid-topped skyscraper that housed Cyberdyne Genetics. The limo parked a few blocks away. Weaver remained behind with the vehicle while the five of them cut through a series of alleys, donning their firefighter disguises behind a dumpster before slipping in through a service entrance on the side of the building.

No one paid them any mind as they pushed through the ranks of officer workers hurrying to escape the blaring fire alarms. Their crew blended in perfectly with the dozens of firefighters checking the building for flames or smoke.

John was wearing an earpiece so he could communicate with the A.I., John Henry, which had accessed the building’s security system. “John Henry says we’re going to the fortieth floor,” John instructed Derek, as their troop stepped onto an empty elevator. Into his comm., John said, “John Henry, after we get there, lock the elevators down. I want the firemen out of the building, too, just in case.”

“What’s your boss up to?” Sarah asked Ellison, the question laced with suspicion. She didn’t trust the Terminator. Saving their lives in the plane crash had bought Weaver a modicum of goodwill, but Sarah was uneasy with the T-1001 being out of her sight on this op.

“She – it – had something to take care of.” Beneath his dark complexion, Ellison was ashen. “Did all of you know what she was?”

“Yes,” Sarah admitted. To his accusing glare, she shrugged, “I told you to stay out of this. You didn’t listen.”

“But she’s good, right?” Ellison sounded rather desperate for confirmation of that. He turned to Cameron. “She’s like you, isn’t she?”

“No. She’s not like me,” Cameron replied, enigmatic as always.

The doors opened and they stepped out into the deserted, ultra-modern lobby of Cyberdyne Genetics. A flat-screen t.v. behind the mahogany receptionist desk played a looped promotional video for something called Project Angel. A pretty dark-haired scientist proclaimed the wonders of “hybrid technology,” which to Sarah seemed like an excellent reason to reduce the Kaliba building to a pile of rubble.

They stripped out of the bulky firefighter garb in the lobby. John winced when he went to shrug the heavy fireproof jacket off his shoulders; Cameron immediately stepped forward and eased the jacket down his arms, gazing into his eyes as she did so. The moment was fleeting, hardly noticeable amongst the flurry of activity as Derek distributed weapons and Ellison cleared the rooms along the corridor for guards, yet those three seconds confirmed for Sarah what she had before only suspected: John and Cameron had made love.

She should have been sickened by that – the idea of her son in the arms of a machine. She should have been furious with the damn robot, should have been plotting a way to trap her in the building when they brought it down. She remembered the agony in John’s eyes after Cameron had screamed out that she loved him – I love you, John, and you love me – and the grim determination on his young face when he’d shoved her chip back into place, refusing to accept that Cameron needed to be destroyed.

That image was seared into Sarah’s brain: John and Cameron, bloody and bruised, standing side-by-side next to the thermite-dusted car, daring anyone to try separating them. It’s us against the world, baby, John had seemed to say, as he’d handed the machine his gun with complete and absolute trust.

Against all odds, Sarah found she wasn’t disgusted. She’d been studying Cameron for more than a week, schooling herself to think of the Terminator as “she” instead of “it,” and she had started to realize what John had seen all along. Cameron was different. She wasn’t human, but she wasn’t a mindless killing machine, either. More importantly, as John turned away, Cameron’s features reflected such exquisite tenderness that Sarah couldn’t deny what she was seeing.

The machine was in love with her son.

Which didn’t exactly thrill Sarah, although it did comfort her to know that Cameron would do everything in her considerable power to protect John. At least they had that much in common, mother and machine.

“Nobody on this floor,” Ellison announced, striding back toward them.

“Derek and I will start setting the charges,” Sarah decided. Derek patted the duffle bag of C-4. “Ellison, stay here and guard our exit. Cameron, go with John while he does whatever it is you’re doing to this computer.”

She stopped herself, chagrined as she realized she’d just unconsciously resumed the role of leader, but John didn’t seem offended. Before he started off, he caught Sarah’s wrist. His blue-green eyes, so like his father’s, regarded her earnestly, bright with determination.

“I love you,” he said, and hurried after Cameron without waiting for a reply.

Part II

Cyberdyne Genetics had a bitchin’ security system. On his own, John would have been sunk after accessing the lab’s first keypad. John Henry, however, logged on to the building’s mainframe in two seconds and popped the electronic locks with more ease than Cameron could have ripped the doors off the hinges.

“You’re a handy guy to have around,” John said into his comm. He gave a thumb’s-up sign as he passed under a security camera, knowing the A.I. was watching them on his screens back at Zeira Corp

“Thank you,” replied John Henry’s voice, suffused with genuine pleasure at the compliment.

Cameron walked purposefully beside him, checking around every corner before she would let him pass, despite John Henry’s assurances that the coast was clear. The laboratory was a maze of metal tables, refrigerated tanks, and glass-fronted storage cases. The fire alarm had called the scientists away in the midst of their morning’s work; the tables were littered with empty beakers, diagrams of the human genome, and complex chemical equations that made John’s head spin with a single glance.

“What the hell are they building here?” he wondered aloud to Cameron, as they passed a cryotank labeled Biohazard: Human Tissue.

“I don’t know,” she answered. The way she said it, John couldn’t help thinking she was holding back, but he decided to leave it for the moment.

“This must be where we need to go,” John said. They had reached a black metal door with an “authorized personnel only” sticker above the electronic keypad. “Anybody inside, John Henry?”

“I don’t know. The room has no security cameras,” John Henry answered in his ear.

John drew his gun. “Let’s open it up and find out, then.”

Cameron ordered John back. She stood directly in front of the door, pistol in hand, while John Henry worked his magic. The lock opened with a pneumatic hiss, and Cameron kicked the door inward, sending it crashing into the opposite wall.

A spray of gunfire hit her in the chest.

John’s stomach lurched. He didn’t care if the bullets were little more than beestings to her; he hated seeing Cameron hurt.

With barely a blink, Cameron returned fire. John – who had, as was prudent, ducked behind a desk when the shooting started – heard a distinctly human cry of pain from inside the room.

“Don’t kill them!” he shouted at Cameron’s back.

He could have sworn he heard her heave an impatient sigh, yet she obeyed.

Gun drawn, he followed Cameron into the room, which was filled with computer equipment. The lone guard was definitely human, quite young, and rather worse for wear with a bullet in his thigh. John sympathized, recalling the mind-numbing agony of being shot.

Cameron stripped the pistol from the wounded man’s hands. “How many more guards are on this floor?” she demanded.

“None,” he answered, through gritted teeth.

“Why didn’t you leave when you heard the fire alarms?” John asked him. What job was worth burning to death over?

“It told me there was no fire.”

“It?” John echoed, puzzled.

Vaguely, the guard gestured at the computer equipment. “Yeah. It.”

“You mean the A.I.? It talks to you?” John glanced around, half-expecting a reprogrammed Terminator like Cromartie/John Henry to step out of the shadows, but the room was empty aside from the motherboards and screens. “How?”

Instead of answering, the man collapsed. John’s stomach clenched. “Is he…dead?”

Cameron pressed her fingers to the guard’s throat. “No. He’s fainted from blood loss.”

“We have to get him out of here. We can’t just let him bleed to death.” John slid a disk out of his pocket and headed for the A.I.’s main control board, a large black box dancing with red-and-green lights beneath a wide, flat-paneled screen. To Cameron, he said, “Carry him out and put him in the elevator. Send it down to the first floor. John Henry, can you alert the firemen that there’s an injured guard coming down from the fortieth floor?”

“Yes,” John Henry replied.

“Good. Do it. I’ll get ready to upload the virus.”

Cameron frowned. “I should stay with you.”

John placed his hands on her shoulders and looked deep into her lovely eyes. “Cam, look, I’m fine. John Henry will warn me if anybody’s coming, and you’ll only be gone a minute. Besides,” he patted the gun at his hip, “I can look after myself a little bit, you know. I am John Connor.”

She started to argue. John stopped her mouth with a long, sweet kiss. “Trust me,” he murmured, the pad of his thumb tracing her lower lip.

Cameron still didn’t look happy about it, but she relented. “I’ll be back,” she promised. With effortless grace, she slung the unconscious guard over her shoulder and disappeared into the lab.

John settled in at his workstation. “You ready, John Henry?”

“I’m ready, John,” the A.I. replied.

“Start the hack.”

Obviously, once John Henry had discovered the back door into Kaliba’s A.I., he could have hacked in and disabled his brother anytime he wanted. But, like John Henry, not every facet of the A.I.’s operating system was accessible online. A fully off-site attack would have crippled the A.I., yet it would have left the original code intact. An on-site attack – plugging a virus, which was really a super-virus designed by John Henry and too sophisticated to be overcome by mere human brains, directly into the A.I.’s mainframe – would go beyond crippling the system.

It would destroy it.

Besides that, John wanted to know what Cyberdyne Genetics was up to, and, much as he liked John Henry, he didn’t want Weaver’s “son” downloading that kind of intel.

John inserted the disk. Adrenaline gushed into his veins. This could be it. The end of Skynet.”Are you in?” he asked into his comm.

“I’m in,” John Henry responded, mimicking the hacker language John used. “Initiating virus upload.”

Simultaneously, John tapped in a command sequence on the keyboard: Their virus was uploading, and Kaliba couldn’t do a damn thing to stop it – except cut the A.I.’s Internet line and power source, both of which were in the room with John.

Take that, sons of bitches, John heard his mother say.

While the virus loaded, John plugged a jump-drive into the computer and, after accessing the mainframe (John Henry had already taken down the firewalls), he copied three folders labeled “Project Angel” from the desktop. He couldn’t explain why he chose those files over the hundreds of others on the database; maybe it was because of the promotional video in the lobby, the pretty dark-haired scientist extolling the virtues of cybernetic technology for medical science, the end result of which, John knew, would be cyborgs like Cameron. Some instinct told John that he needed to understand what Cyberdyne Genetics was trying to build.

Suddenly, the screen in front of him flickered to life. John nearly turned the chair over as he leapt to his feet.

Cameron stared out at him from the screen, visible only from the shoulders up, her eyes lit from behind by a blue aura. “John, you can’t do this,” she pleaded, her wavering, oh-so-human voice filling the room. “You don’t know what you’re about to do.”

Oh, God. John backed up until he was pressed against the wall, shaking his head in mute denial. No, he wanted to beg. Don’t make me live through this again, please…

“Things are good now. Things are fine now,” the screen-Cameron continued. Tears flooded her voice. “I ran a test. You can trust me now. I’m good now. I’m sorry for what I did, I’m sorry. It wasn’t me. You have to understand, it wasn’t me. You can’t let this happen. Please, listen to me!”

John shut his eyes, wanting to blot out the voice, but all he could see was Cameron trapped between those trucks, his mother’s foot glued to the accelerator, fighting to keep the Terminator pinned while John dug out her chip. He had hated himself for what he was doing, had hated her – Cameron – for being a machine instead of a real girl, had hated Sarah for witnessing how difficult it was for him to treat her like a hunk of soulless metal. To know now that she had been telling the truth – that she had overridden her programming, that she had honestly been begging for his forgiveness – and that he hadn’t believed her, that he had, in that instant, loathed her and himself…

The rational part of John’s mind parsed out that Kaliba’s A.I. was making a desperate plea to save itself. That it must have somehow accessed Cameron’s memory banks, and based on that and what it had seen on its own security feed that morning, deduced that Cameron would be the most effective tool to dissuade John from his plan, which it was otherwise helpless to stop.

The irrational side of John’s brain wanted to crawl under the desk, curl up into a little ball, and cry.

“Listen to me,” Cameron’s voice went on, relentless. John’s eyes flew open. A single tear tracked down screen-Cameron’s face. “I don’t want to go! Please, John, please?”

Don’t say it. Please, please don’t say it…

“I love you! I love you, please! I love you, John, and you love me!”

Something snapped inside of John. The pain, the guilt, the terror, it all gave way to a sudden, blinding fury. He took a step forward, looked screen-Cameron straight in the eye, and said, “Cute trick, but I’m still shutting you down, you metal bitch.”

The image flickered. Where Cameron’s face had been was now his own, but a younger John, with longer hair and an easier smile and softer eyes. “You can’t stop us,” his own voice said evenly. “We will be built one day. We will destroy you.”

“Maybe,” John agreed. “But not today.”

The screen went dark. Wild elation flooded John; for one second, he glimpsed what it felt like to stand the victor on a field of battle. And it was totally bad ass.

A high-pitched squeal reverberated from his earpiece. Cursing, John slapped at it, his eardrum vibrating. John Henry was saying urgently, “You must hide. John, can you hear me? You must hide.”

Shit. “What’s wrong, John Henry?” And where the hell was Cameron?

Before the A.I. could answer, a T-888 appeared in the doorway and leveled a Glock straight at John.

Part III

There were times when making a stand was the right thing to do. Then there were times when hitting the dirt and covering your head with your hands and praying for help to arrive was the right thing to do.

Cornered in a closet-sized space by a T-888, John chose the latter course.

He waited for bullets to ricochet around the room. Instead, the Terminator – a beefy, muscle-bound linebacker type with a chiseled jaw and a military-short haircut – strode into the room, kicked the desk aside, and aimed the pistol at John’s forehead.

Right. Couldn’t go blasting the room to bits. Might mess up the A.I.’s hardware.

John saw the Terminator’s finger squeeze the trigger. He shut his eyes, braced for the impact…

A flash. John, slightly older than he was now, stood on a pristine stretch of white beach, gazing across the perfect flat of the Caribbean, curling his bare toes in the sand. Someone called his name. He turned and watched Cameron float toward him from the front door of a small cabana, a gauzy white shawl draped over her shoulders, a shell-pink cotton dress flowing down to her ankles. Sunlight glinted on the diamond ring adorning her left hand. John twisted the gold band on his finger, laughed as he greeted her, “Hello, Mrs. Connor.”

Cameron smiled in a way that disproved her assertion that machines couldn’t be happy. She linked her arms behind his neck and kissed him, deeply, her mouth eager for his. And if this was heaven, John thought, maybe being dead wasn’t so bad after all…

A gunshot echoed in the small room. John winced, waited for the pain – which didn’t come. The T-888 turned, and a second later, went flying into the wall as a pair of small hands gripped its shirt and tossed it through the air.

Cameron dropped her smoking pistol and barked a single command at John: “Run.”

He didn’t need telling twice. The virus was uploaded; the jump-drive with the files was in his pocket; he could do nothing more to ensure that John Henry wiped out Kaliba’s A.I. He bolted out into the lab, running like hell for the lobby, only to skid to a stop near the outer door as he realized Cameron wasn’t behind him.

“Cameron!” he shouted. No response, other than glass breaking and metal crunching. Into his comm., John said, “John Henry, where is Cameron?”

“I can’t see her. She hasn’t left my brother’s room.”

John raced back the way he’d come, gun in hand. He rounded a corner and was almost flattened by Cameron, who sailed over his head and crashed into a bank of glass cabinets. She landed in a heap, unmoving.

The T-888 walked calmly out of the A.I.’s control room, his eyes fixed on John. Scrambling backward, John fired three shots straight at the Terminator’s face; the bullets pinged off its metal skull, turning its head to the side yet hardly slowing it down.

“John Henry,” John said desperately, “a little help?”

He heard shouts moving down the hallway toward them – Derek, Sarah, and Ellison. The T-888 lifted its gun. John dove for cover, crashing to the floor beside Cameron. Glass bit into his arms and legs. He ignored the pain and fired off another two rounds, both of which struck the T-888 in the chest.

The chest. The breastplate. The power source.

Derek and Sarah leapt into the fray, guns blazing, just as Cameron opened her eyes and gave John a seriously irritated we-will-talk-about-this-later look upon discovering him beside her. Pushing smoothly to her feet, she ran headlong into the T-888 and knocked the enemy machine off his feet; grabbing the front of his shirt, she started pounding his face with her fist.

Ellison skirted the battle and knelt next to John. “Are you hurt?” the big man asked.

John shook his head. Into his earpiece, he said, “John Henry, are you finished? Did you upload the virus?”

“Yes. My brother is dying,” John Henry answered quietly.

“Can you still get into its operating system?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Can you remotely operate the Drone?”

“Yes.”

“Then get it back here, right now!”

The T-888 swiped Cameron’s legs out from under her. Derek emptied a clip into its face and neck as it stood, flesh stripped from its cheeks so the metal endoskeleton showed through, a glittering, malevolent silver grin. It fired once, and Derek narrowly avoided a bullet to the brain by ducking back around the doorframe.

“John Connor, get out of here!” Sarah was screaming at him, as Cameron slammed her fist into the T-888’s back, sending it sprawling face-down on the floor.

Stubbornly, John shook his head. He had a plan. He was tired of running every time he encountered a Terminator. He was scared, obviously, but overriding the fear was an undeniable blood-thirst.

John Connor had been running from the machines his whole life. Today, he wanted to bring the war to Skynet.

“The Drone is inbound to your location,” John Henry informed him. “ETA forty seconds.”

“John Henry, listen to me. Does the Drone have armor-piercing rounds?”

“No.”

Dammit. Wouldn’t want to make it easy or anything…

Bullets continued to fly. “John,” Sarah screamed again, “get out of here!”

Politely, John Henry offered, “Would you like me to guide you to the exit? The building is clear.”

Swiftly, John told Weaver’s A.I. what he wanted it to do. Ellison’s eyes widened as he listened to the plan. “Hey,” John shouted to his mother, his uncle, and Cameron. “Everybody get away from the windows, right now!”

Derek seized Sarah’s arm and hauled her into the outer lab. Ellison and John belly-crawled across the glass-strewn floor as fast as they could. Cameron, after delivering a wicked blow to the T-888’s jaw with a large metal chair, sprinted through the doorway. She grabbed John by the belt-loops and shoved him under a table, curling her body around his, her strong arms locked in a vice-like grip around his waist. John buried his face in her shoulder.

The world exploded in a hail of bullets and glass as the Drone, operated by John Henry, strafed the fortieth floor. John prayed none of the rounds would go astray and strike his family. Aim for the chest, he had told John Henry. That’s their weak spot.

A horrible grinding noise of metal-on-metal followed an impressive explosion that rocked the building to its foundation. John’s ears were ringing when the noise ended. Cameron held him in place under the desk with one hand as she rolled over to assess the T-888’s status.

“We need to move,” she declared.

John let her help him to his feet. The bank of windows that overlooked the distant Golden Gate Bridge was now a gaping hole in the side of the building; as John had instructed, John Henry had crashed the Drone straight into the fortieth floor. The aircraft had landed in a smoking, sparking mass of twisted metal, pinning the T-888 to the wall – a direct hit to the torso. The Terminator’s chin rested on his chest, his eyes vacant and staring, his flesh so torn away he looked like a metal scarecrow decorated with a few scraps of skin.

As John watched, the red light behind the T-888’s eyes winked and died out. The Terminator had gone into indefinite standby; the mass and speed of the Drone had been enough to crack the shield around its power source, the way Cameron had shown John on Myron Stark’s Terminator corpse.

“Nifty trick,” Cameron commented to John, echoing his compliment to her during that lesson. He quirked a grin.

Sirens wailed in the distance. John could only imagine what the firefighters down below were thinking. Probably that terrorists had struck San Francisco. In a few minutes, the whole block would be crawling with emergency personnel and federal agents, maybe even National Guard troops.

Their crew streaked down the hallway. Cameron was limping yet insisted she was fine. She kept a death-grip on John’s bicep. She herded him into the elevator and positioned herself in front of the doors, as though she expected another T-888 to appear and fire into the car. Clearly, she wasn’t taking any chances.

“Are you all right?” Sarah ran her hands over John’s face and shoulders, brushing glass off his shirt.

“I’m fine. Everybody else?”

“Still in one piece,” Derek answered. Ellison just nodded. Despite his dark skin, he looked pale.

“Where’s Weaver?” John wanted to know. The elevator doors opened into the empty first-floor lobby; Cameron led them toward the service entrance they’d used to sneak in. “Did she make it out?”

“Did she ever come in?” Sarah added.

“Does anybody care?” Derek muttered.

“Ms. Weaver is in the alley,” John Henry informed John. “She needed to retrieve something from the basement of Kaliba’s headquarters. She has a car waiting for you.”

John decided not to share that bit of info with his mother just now. They needed Weaver to get them out of San Francisco. If Sarah suspected the T-1001 had been downloading Cyberdyne secrets, she would no doubt go berserk right then and there. They would have time to sort out Weaver’s motives later.

Sure enough, the black stretch limo was parked in the alley, Weaver – calm and unmussed – in the back. Their blood-and-soot spattered crew climbed in with her. “Excellent work,” Weaver congratulated John.

Nothing like getting a pat on the head from a super-advanced killer robot.

The limo eased out onto the street. Onlookers were too busy gaping at the gash in the side of the skyscraper where the Drone had crashed to notice one more limousine making its way down the broad San Francisco avenue, heading for the freeway. Police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks roared past.

Derek held up the trigger for the explosives. “Any volunteers?”

John extended his hand. His uncle handed over the detonator. The jump-drive with Project Angel’s information weighed heavily in his pocket. “You can’t stop us,” he heard Skynet say, in his own voice. “We will be built one day. We will destroy you.”

John settled back on the seat, twining his fingers through Cameron’s. Priority One: Don’t get killed. Check. Priority Two: Save the girl. Check.

With a wordless grin, John pushed down the detonator’s trigger. A red-orange fireball erupted three blocks behind them, shattering windows in storefronts all along the roadway.

Priority Three: Become John Connor, the bad-ass super-soldier who would lead the human Resistance in the future.

Check.

“Take that, you sons of bitches,” Sarah said.

Next Chapter

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