“Did we do it? Did we stop Judgment Day?”
Those were the first words James Ellison had spoken since the Kaliba building had gone up in flames, and he didn’t utter them until the Connor/Reese/Weaver crew was riding the elevator down to the basement of Zeira Corp. Sarah was rather relieved. She’d started to worry, during the short flight from San Francisco to L.A. in a rented jet, if the former FBI agent had gone into some kind of post-traumatic shock.
Clutching a black briefcase, Weaver regarded her head of security with her trademark inscrutability. “That’s the question, isn’t it, James: Can we ever stop Judgment Day, or can we only delay the inevitable?”
The doors opened. The T-1001 led them down the cold concrete corridor, her high heels clicking like the rapid-fire of a machine gun. Derek and Cameron almost unconsciously placed themselves between John and the Terminator, Sarah noticed.
It was nice not to carry the burden of being John’s protector all alone anymore.
John Henry greeted them with a broad smile and a thumb’s-up sign – which might have been endearing, had Sarah been able to look at the A.I. without recalling Cromartie tossing her into the trunk of a car like so much extra luggage. “Hello, Ms. Weaver, Mr. Ellison,” John Henry said pleasantly. “Hello, John. I’m glad you survived.”
“Thanks to you,” John grinned at the A.I. “You rocked the Drone, by the way.”
“I rocked the Drone,” John Henry repeated, testing out the combination of words. Weaver smiled her approval at John, and Sarah narrowed her eyes. She didn’t want the liquid metal getting too attached to her son. One killer robot in the family was enough.
Ellison filled the doorway, arms folded across his broad chest, dark eyes thunderous. “You didn’t answer my question,” he said to Weaver. “What we just did – blowing up a building, sending a city full of innocent people into total panic. Did that accomplish anything?”
Placing the briefcase on the table, Weaver returned, “Do you know what Skynet is, James?”
The big man looked ready to tell his boss where she could put her questions, but he restrained himself and adopted his usual suave tone. “It’s a computer system that destroys the world through nuclear war.”
“It’s much more than that.”
Weaver rested her hands on John Henry’s shoulders. The T-1001 regarded them all with keen ice-blue eyes. Sarah edged closer to Derek, unable to deny the power of the calculating intelligence gazing out at her from the machine’s face. She noticed he kept his hand inconspicuously close to the gun tucked into his waistband.
“Skynet is like a god,” Weaver continued, “only it’s not the benevolent God of your New Testament. Skynet sees it creations only as a means to an end, and that end is exterminating or enslaving every member of the human race. What we want, what we think, what we feel is totally irrelevant to our maker. Our only purpose is to serve Skynet. And we are absolutely expendable.”
Sarah saw John’s eyes skate over Cameron. To her son, the cyborg was anything but expendable.
“That’s why you decided to come back and build John Henry, isn’t it?” John pressed Weaver. “That’s why you want to fight with us. Because destroying Skynet is the only way you’ll ever be free, too.”
Weaver inclined her head slightly, a silent acknowledgement of John’s insight. “I have accomplished that mission, I believe.”
Breath caught in Sarah’s throat. “So we did it?” she asked, almost afraid to say the words aloud, as though they might shatter in the air, destroying her dreams with them. “We stopped Judgment Day?”
“No.” That was John, and he spoke with absolute authority. “We may have stopped Skynet for now, but you can’t uninvent something. John Henry exists. His brother existed. Sooner or later, someone will figure out how to recreate that technology, and it will start all over again.”
John’s blue-green eyes captured Sarah’s. “Mom, I know what I asked you to do right after we met Cameron. I asked you to stop Judgment Day. I shouldn’t have put that on you. It was too much to ask of anybody. If it happens, if Skynet is built and the world ends, I can do what I have to do. In the meantime,” his voice hardened, became something closer to Derek’s, “we’re going to do everything we can to make sure Judgment Day never happens. But we’re not going to fight to change my fate. We’re going to fight for all the innocent people on this planet who don’t deserve to die.”
Sarah had never been more proud of her son than she was at that moment.
Cameron and Derek both went for their guns when Weaver snapped open the briefcase. Inside was a mini-computer – a set-up Sarah, with a thrill of fear, recognized.
John did, too. He paled. “Is that what I think it is?”
Calmly, nonplussed by the pistols leveled at her, Weaver plugged the machine into a port on John Henry’s mainframe. The A.I. tilted its head to one side, the way a human might have when reading a particularly interesting passage in a book. “I believe you know Danny Dyson,” Weaver remarked to the Connors.
“We know Danny,” Sarah frowned. She covered Derek’s hand with hers and gently but firmly pushed the muzzle of his gun down so it pointed at the floor. Reluctantly, Cameron followed suit. “Miles Dyson’s son. What about him?”
“You’ll want to keep an eye on him. I suspect he’s the mastermind behind John Henry’s brother, and it seems he might have a bit of help from someone from the future, considering he built this.” She gestured at the device she’d pulled from her briefcase.
Danny Dyson, working for Skynet? I wonder if I’m responsible for that, Sarah thought, worrying her lower lip between her teeth. Revenge can make us do terrible things…
Ellison looked between them all, profoundly confused. “What is it? What does that computer do?”
“We call it ‘Time Displacement Equipment’,” Derek said quietly, his blue eyes fastened on Weaver. “TDE for short.”
“Where are you going?” John asked the T-1001. He sounded equal parts curious and concerned. “The future? We don’t know what that might be like. If we stopped Judgment Day, maybe you don’t exist in the future. You don’t know what kind of world you might end up in.”
“I exist,” Weaver assured him. Sarah recalled her own preparation to jump through time. Even if Cromartie hadn’t been busting down the door of the bank vault, she still would have been shaking like a leaf; the T-1001, on the other hand, appeared totally unruffled as it went on, “Besides, human beings aren’t the only entities that enjoy a good adventure.”
The Terminator winked at John.
Derek stepped forward. “We can’t let it go, Connor. For all we know, it goes to the future and trades all your secrets to Skynet – tells it exactly where to find you here, in our time.”
Weaver paused in punching buttons into the console. She turned her flat gaze on John. “Your cyborg can confirm this. In the future, you asked me a question.”
“What question?” John demanded.
Fingers laced through his, Cameron replied evenly, “Will you join us.” She paused. “The answer was no.”
“It was the wrong answer,” Weaver admitted. “I didn’t understand how you thought about machines then.” She glanced rather pointedly at John and Cameron’s interlocked fingers. “I came back here, to this time, not to save you, nor to hunt you. Our partnership was mostly coincidence, brought about by your history with James.”
“If you’re not here for John,” Sarah threw in, “then why are you here?”
“I came back to build John Henry – an artificial intelligence more powerful than Skynet. When I said I’d completed my mission, I was referring to my son.” Weaver brushed her fingertips across John Henry’s shoulder; the A.I. smiled pleasantly, apparently unconcerned by its “mother’s” impending departure. Sarah wondered how much it understood of what was happening, how much it felt, in the truest sense.
“But you can’t leave now,” John protested. “You know Skynet could still be built. You have to stay here and help us.” He sounded so sorry to see the Terminator go, it made Sarah ache for her son. All this love in his heart, all this trust down deep inside of him that no amount of secrecy and betrayal could extinguish, and he gave it so readily, even – perhaps especially – to machines.
Weaver finished tapping out her command sequence on the keypad. A low hum filled the room as the TDE fired up.
“John Henry doesn’t need me anymore,” she told John calmly. “James has taught him that human life is sacred. Now, you can teach him that all life is sacred. Once he understands that, he’ll never become Skynet.” She transferred her emotionless gaze to Ellison, whose mouth was hanging open. “You wanted children of your own. You’ll find the paperwork is all in order for you to become Savannah’s legal guardian, as well as the CEO of Zeira Corp. I know you’ll use both resources wisely.”
“I…” Ellison started, then stopped, shaking his head.
“Take care of our boy, James,” Weaver said, as a bubble of light appeared around her.
For one wild second, Sarah thought John was going to jump into the light with the Terminator. He had the strangest expression on his face – sad, a little dreamy – and she couldn’t help thinking of his experiences in Sideways Universe, of the things he’d seen, of the changes in him.
Had her son truly entered another reality? Did he keep seeing other possible futures, as Kyle Reese had once said? Was he remembering such a moment right now, a time when he’d accompanied Catherine Weaver into the unknown?
But Cameron kept her fingers wrapped securely around John’s, and he remained anchored at her side, a boy and a girl too deeply in love to ever be parted.
“I’ll stop it,” John said to Weaver.
The Terminator nodded once, curtly. Then, in a flash of light, she disappeared.
Thirty minutes in a hot shower eased John’s aching muscles, washed the soot and grime of battle off his skin, and left him feeling a lot more human.
They had done it. They had stopped Skynet – for now. John was determined to celebrate, just as soon as he dried off and changed clothes.
The five-star hotel room came equipped with all the little luxuries, like refined oatmeal soap and shampoos with impossible to pronounce French names. Ellison had insisted on putting the Connors up on Zeira Corp’s dime; Sarah had been reluctant to accept at first – not because she objected to charity, which they’d taken plenty of over the years, but because she wasn’t convinced they could trust Weaver’s A.I. with their location.
“Mom,” John had told her, “if we’re going to make sure John Henry doesn’t become Skynet, we have to treat him like an ally. You can’t be expecting him to stab you in the back all the time.”
Sarah had reluctantly consented, though John knew he had a long way to go to convince his mother that machines could (and should) be treated like people. He didn’t mind the challenge. He knew he would face it with Ellison, too, and, perhaps most especially, Derek. John wouldn’t give up hope that one day they would see both John Henry and Cameron the way he did – as lives worth saving.
John was toweling his hair dry at the sink, his jeans unbuttoned and his chest bare, when Cameron walked into the bathroom wearing one of his T-shirts.
Or, more accurately, Cameron walked into the bathroom wearing only one of his T-shirts.
Heart rate trebling, John studied her in the mirror: slender legs that went on for miles; small, high breasts that pushed at the T-shirt’s thin white cotton; long fall of chestnut hair that swept across her thin shoulders. And then her face, her lovely, lovely face, lips so kissable he couldn’t believe he’d resisted tasting them for almost a year.
“Hi,” John breathed.
Cameron stopped directly behind him, her eyes on his in the mirror. “Hi,” she said back.
She placed one hand on either of his narrow hips and turned him around to face her. Holding onto his waist, she leaned in and nuzzled his neck with her nose. John gripped the sink for support as his knees went weak.
A Terminator seduction routine. He could get used to this.
“How’d you get a key to my room?” he managed. No way would his mother have agreed for John and Cameron to share a suite, even if he’d had the guts to ask.
“I picked the lock.”
“I didn’t know you could do that.”
Cameron nibbled on his earlobe. “There’s a lot about me you don’t know.”
John was more than eager to discover the mystery that was Cameron. “I take it you’ve decided I’m all better,” he murmured. A small, hungry moan escaped him when her palms slid over his stomach and onto his chest, the heat of her skin matching the heat inside of him.
“Your shoulder should be healed,” Cameron answered matter-of-factly. “Unless you reinjured it today – ”
John seized her wrist before she could step back. “I’m one hundred percent,” he told her. To his surprise, a playful smile tugged at Cameron’s lips. She’d been teasing him about the whole re-injury thing, he realized – and teasing wasn’t something Terminators were programmed to do, in his experience.
She’s amazing, he marveled. She learns so quickly.
He brought his mouth down hard onto hers, a bruising kiss that ignited the smoldering tension between them like a match on gasoline. Cameron gripped the tops of his arms and ground her hips into his.
John wanted to be a good lover, the kind of guy who always took things slow, who made sure his partner received the same exquisite pleasure he did. But he was also sixteen, and the most gorgeous girl he’d ever seen was pressed tight against him wearing nothing but one of his T-shirts, and right then the need for fulfillment thundered in him with too much force to be denied. “Cameron,” he gasped, his blue-green eyes smoky, “please…”
She didn’t have to ask what the plea meant. Catching the hem of the T-shirt, she pulled it off over her head and flung it into the corner. John grabbed her waist and spun her around so that her back was against the still-steamy glass door of the shower. He kicked his jeans off in a fluid motion that would have done a Terminator proud, kissing her deeply all the while, wishing he could devour her.
They were grasping at one another, the tenor of this encounter decidedly rougher than their first, which had been deliciously slow and sweet. The difference of it, the sense of barely-suppressed danger, excited John. He tangled his fingers in her hair, fusing their mouths together; Cameron’s teeth caught his bottom lip, and he winced.
Instantly, Cameron stilled in his arms, tasting the salty blood. Her dark eyes went flat, cold, as though a light had been extinguished behind them.
John knew exactly what she was thinking: She could hurt him. For as soft and warm as she felt in his arms, underneath she was hard, cold metal – metal that could crush his bones with a single blow.
“Cam, it’s okay.” John moved his lips to her throat, his voice calm and reassuring even as his pulse raced and skipped. “You’re not going to hurt me.” Color touched his cheeks. “Anyway, sometimes pain feels kind of good. Do you understand?”
Please understand, because I really don’t want to explain that…
Cameron tilted his chin up with one finger. “I can’t let anything happen to you.”
John’s heart floated out of his chest and soared up into the clouds. When Cameron had said ‘I love you,’ he believed her, but he knew that word, ‘love,’ so charged with human meaning, probably meant differently to her than to him. This declaration – I can’t let anything happen to you – was somehow a more intense revelation of her feelings for him.
“Do you understand?” Cameron kissed the mark she’d made on his lip, so gentle, so tender. “John, do you understand?”
“I understand,” John rasped, dying a little from happiness underneath her flurry of soft, tiny kisses. And he did. She was everything to him, too.
His hands slid up her thighs, guided her hips to his. Hooking one leg around his waist, Cameron balanced with ballerina-like grace on one foot as John pushed into her with a cry.
Making love against a steamy shower door was more difficult than it looked in movies. Fortunately, Cameron, demonstrating her usual physical prowess, seemed to understand what needed to happen – probably some Terminator physics-and-chemistry thing, John’s fogged brain registered. He smiled against her mouth. Her hands splayed on his back, lips sealed over his, while they moved together.
John wouldn’t have believed anything could feel better than their first time. This did. It was more urgent, more intense, more…more everything, really. He had to fight to slow himself down, to make sure he didn’t rush her. He braced his palms on either side of her waist, his sweat-slick skin sliding over hers. Cameron lapped at his lips, her fingers caressing his spine, every touch a new kind of amazing.
A shiver skated through Cameron, and John called out her name as pleasure washed over him in a wave. She cradled his head against her shoulder, smoothed damp hair off his forehead. John trembled in her arms. “You’re shaking,” she said, sounding almost breathless.
John laughed, low and throaty. “You have that effect on me.”
Later, John lay on the luxurious silk sheets with Cameron in his arms. They had pulled the curtains against the relentless lights of L.A.; in the darkness, her luminescent eyes reminded him of twin stars. The constellation of Cameron, Hermoso Espíritu. Beautiful Spirit.
Their clothes were piled on the bathroom floor. John sincerely hoped his mother didn’t drop by to check on him anytime soon. Derek had said something about getting her to lie down; John wished her a good long nap, because no way could he have hidden how absolutely and blissfully sated he was at that moment.
He was also sleepy. He yawned. Cameron kissed his chest, then pushed up on one elbow to gaze down at him. “You need to rest. You haven’t slept in twenty-one hours and thirty-two minutes.”
Loving that she knew that, John said, “Later. I want to talk to you about something.”
He chose his words with care. “I know sometimes you have to lie to me,” he began. Cameron tensed; John stretched up to kiss the tip of her nose, to let her know he wasn’t angry. He was trying to appreciate the complexity of Cameron’s mission, to remember that, in vital ways, she was different from him and always would be. “I’m not going to ask you to tell me everything, especially stuff future-me didn’t want you to. But if I ask you something and you can’t tell me the truth about it, could you just say that instead of lying?”
Cameron puzzled over that. “Yes. I can tell you that I can’t tell you the truth.”
John grinned. It was amusing to hear his convoluted human reasoning repeated in her precise Terminator manner.
“Before that T-triple-eight attacked me, Kaliba’s A.I. tried to convince me not to shut it down. It used you, what you said to me the day you went bad and I deactivated you.”
His words faltered. Cameron’s pleas echoed in the hollow space between John’s ribs. He would never forgive himself for not trusting her when she’d said she was fixed – or, more to the point, for not trusting the instinct that had told him to believe her. Whatever deceptions Cameron might have engaged in during their acquaintance, none of them came close to his betrayal of her that day.
“You want to know how the A.I. got access to that data.”
Once again, John appreciated how effortlessly Cameron understood his thought process. “Yeah, I do. Could it have accessed your memory banks somehow?”
“No. We don’t work that way. I’m not hooked into a mainframe that could be hacked. Unless it pulled my chip, it wouldn’t have access to the data stored there.” She paused, tilted her head to the side. “But it could have accessed your memories.”
John arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“When you were in the hospital after your car accident, the doctor ordered Computerized Axial Tomography to check for bleeding in your brain.”
“Right. I had a CAT scan. So?”
“A CAT scan takes a picture of your brain. That image would be stored electronically on the hospital’s computer. The A.I. could have accessed your medical records.”
“Are you saying it could reconstruct my memories just by looking at a scan of my brain? Like some kind of encoded telepathy?”
“Human memories are stored along neural networks. It could be possible to view memories by mapping the brain.”
So Skynet could read minds now? Not a happy development for the human race – assuming Cameron’s theory was valid.
Shifting onto his side, John rested his cheek on his palm and studied Cameron. The curve of her body beneath the silk sheets made it difficult to concentrate, but he determinedly reined in the hormones for the time being. “Cam, when we were in Cyberdyne’s lab, did you recognize what Kaliba was working on?”
She was quiet for so long John thought she wasn’t going to answer. Finally, she said, “Project Angel.”
“What is that?”
“Nobody knows for sure. In the future, you wanted to send soldiers back to find out of it was real or just a myth.”
John immediately thought of Jesse Flores. The Commander had been investigating Kaliba, before she’d decided to come between John and Cameron… “Did I do it? Did I send anybody back?”
“You hadn’t when I left.”
“Why was Project Angel so important?”
Cameron picked up John’s hand and guided his fingers across the smooth plane of her stomach. His breathing speeded up considerably.
“The first Terminators couldn’t pass for human. Their skin was wrong. Their mannerisms were wrong. They were deadly, but the Resistance could spot them and hide from them. The T-triple-eight is a more advanced model than the T-six-hundred. I’m a more advanced model than the T-triple-eight. To successfully infiltrate the Resistance, Skynet has to design Terminators that are more and more human.”
“Like you.” John ducked his head and kissed Cameron’s belly. “The first time I met you, I just thought you were the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. I had no idea you weren’t human.”
“But I knew I wasn’t human.”
It took a second for that to sink in. Then a queasy feeling overcame John, and he sat up. “You’re saying Skynet can build Terminators that don’t know they’re machines?”
“There were rumors, just before you sent me back, that Skynet was creating hybrids. Part human, part machine. Terminators programmed to complete missions they didn’t know were mission. Your advisors said it was a myth.”
“What did I say?”
“You said,” John suspected he was hearing a direct quote from his future self, “if they become us, we’ll never beat them.”
John shivered. He recalled something Cameron had said to him the night he’d woken up from Sideways Universe – that human beings would always be able to outsmart machines because they could dream. If Skynet figured out how to blend man and metal, to combine human creativity with mechanistic perfection…That really might be the end of the world, a force not even General Connor could defeat.
“Listen,” John said, stretching back out on the pillows beside Cameron, “before John Henry wiped out his brother, I downloaded all of Kaliba’s files on Project Angel to a jump-drive.”
“What are you going to do?”
John studied on that. “I guess the first thing we have to do is tell my mom and Derek,” he said slowly. “We should figure out the next step together. We could give the files to John Henry to de-encrypt.” He could imagine his mother’s reaction to that idea; it would probably rival the explosion in San Francisco. “Or we can hold onto them, see what I can get off the jump-drive before we decide whether to hand it over to Zeira Corp.”
Cameron traced his cheekbone with the tip of her index finger. “You’ll do the right thing, John. I trust you.”
He smiled at that, knowing he would need her trust in the days to come. John didn’t suffer under the illusion that blowing up a building or taking down a computer system would prevent Judgment Day forever. Weaver had warned him that his enemies were still here – Danny Dyson, for one, plus the masterminds behind Kaliba, possibly even someone from the future. For once, John didn’t feel bitter or resentful as he contemplated the long road ahead. Since waking up from Sideways Universe, he’d begun to accept that fighting Skynet would be his life’s work.
Being John Connor was no longer a destiny he’d been handed, a burden he had to carry while longing for a safe, simple, normal life. Becoming John Connor, Skynet’s arch-nemesis, was a fate John now chose for himself. Because, in the final analysis, saving the world was a pretty bad-ass job.
Besides, nobody’s life was a fairytale. All those safe, simple, normal people he’d envied for so long had to endure loss and suffering, too. John’s trip to Sideways Universe and the strange flashes he’d experienced ever since all amounted to the same conclusion: He had to make his own happiness, like he had to make his own fate.
John felt he had a chance to do that now. Everybody he cared about was alive and well. Charlie and Riley were out of harm’s way; Riley would have a shot at a good, long life, probably college and a career and a husband and a family. Derek was here, part of their family, not mourning his brother in some hellish future. Ellison had a new purpose in life – a daughter to care for in Savannah Weaver, the Connors’ mission to support through Zeira Corp, a potent ally to cultivate in John Henry. Sarah seemed more content than John had ever seen her, and while he was only beginning to guess at what the reason behind her newfound happiness might be (he suspected it had something to do with his uncle), just knowing she wasn’t hurting eased John’s mind.
And, of course, John had Cameron with him. His friend, his protector, his lover, his confidante, his advisor. Together, either now or in the future, he had no doubt they would win the war against the machines.
Still, every soldier needed a night away from the front lines. So John Connor, future leader of the Resistance, leaned down over the mesmerizingly beautiful creature he knew as Cameron, cupped her chin in his hands, and drew her into a long, sweet kiss. Soon enough he would fall asleep next to the woman of his dreams, yet in all the ways that mattered, John was finally awake.