The Morning After
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love. – Hamlet
John thought he looked better, as his spectral self hovered above his body in the private hospital room. The brace had been removed from around his neck; the deep gash on his scalp had been stitched together; the blood had been washed off his face. He appeared to be sleeping peacefully.
Sarah sat on the edge of his bed, staring hard at him, as if she could sense that John wasn’t really sleeping, that his consciousness was there in the room with her. Derek was sleeping in a chair beside the window; the world outside was dark. Cameron, in her skin-tight jeans and leather jacket, stood guard by the door, watching the nurses walking up and down the quiet nighttime corridor.
“Why won’t he wake up?” Sarah asked, without taking her eyes off John. “The doctor said his CT scan was fine. No concussion. No head injury. So why won’t he wake up?”
Derek – who apparently wasn’t asleep after all – answered with his eyes still shut, “Give it time. The kid took one helluva blow to the head. And it’s not like he hasn’t been through a lot lately. Maybe this is his body’s way of letting him get some real, uninterrupted rest.”
Thanks for being on my side, Uncle Derek, John wanted to say, although of course he couldn’t say anything. His body remained lifeless on the bed, his chest rising and falling evenly.
“Could Skynet be doing this to him?” Sarah demanded of Cameron.
The Terminator turned her unflappable gaze on Sarah. “Skynet isn’t doing this. John is doing this.”
Sarah’s shoulders tensed, her mouth thinning into an angry line John recognized as her watch-what-you-say-or-I’ll-lay-you-out-right-here look. “You’re saying he’s faking it?”
“He’s not faking it,” Cameron clarified.
No, I’m not, John silently agreed.
“He’ll wake up when he’s ready,” Cameron went on. “We have to trust him. John knows what to do.”
John woke up with the prickles-on-his-neck feeling that he was being watched. Rolling over, he discovered Cameron, dressed in a clean pair of jeans and a blue tank-top, sitting with her back against the wall, her chin resting on her knees, her hair falling softly across one cheek.
His heart flipped over in his chest. Damn, she was gorgeous.
Aware that he was not dressed, like at all, John tugged the blanket up to his chest and said sleepily, “‘Morning.”
“You found clothes.”
“I brought you some, too.” She nodded at a pair of washed-out jeans with holes in the knees and a long-sleeved brown T-shirt on the desk. “I don’t sleep.”
As he had found out not once but twice last night. John smiled, remembering.
His stomach rumbled. Cameron stood up. “There’s an employee locker room downstairs,” she told him. “It has showers. Get dressed and we’ll get breakfast.”
John arched an eyebrow at her. “Since when do you eat?”
“I can eat.”
She knelt beside him on the floor, leaned in close, and brushed her lips across his, with a look in her eye that suggested John might be exactly what she was hungry for. A delightful shivery feeling moved down his back. He sat very still while she tipped his head back and kissed the hollow of his throat.
“Cameron,” he whispered her name.
Whatever John was about to say next was interrupted by a door slamming down below. In a flash, Cameron was on her feet, her lithe body taut as a bow-string, eyes fixed on the doorway. John’s heart, already beating erratically from her kiss, rocketed off so fast he felt dizzy. “Stay here,” Cameron ordered him. She snatched the .9 millimeter off the desk and strode fearlessly out into the dark warehouse, leaving John to scramble into his stolen clothes.
He languished in the small office, straining to hear what was happening below. Had some vagrant wandered in looking for a place to sleep? Had the police gotten a tip that two escapees from a mental hospital were holed up here? Or had Skynet found them?
Voices floated up to him from the cavernous dark below.
“…said you were going to help him,” a girl was saying.
John froze. Riley?
He crept out of the office onto the metal staircase, moving slowly so his blue plastic flip-flops – Cameron hadn’t been able to locate shoes for him, apparently – wouldn’t slap against the steps and echo. He could just make out two figures, one with a halo of blonde curls around her head, standing on the warehouse’s main floor.
“I am helping him,” Cameron replied coolly. “You shouldn’t have come here. You could have been followed.”
“Nobody followed me, because there is nobody to follow me,” Riley shot back. “There are no killer robots from the future, okay? I know I believed John before, but he’s really sick, and he needs help.”
What the hell was going on? How did Riley know Cameron? More to the point, how did she know where to find them?
Cameron escaped before, he reasoned. Riley knows the hospital grounds really well. Maybe she showed her the way out. Could that have been it? Could Riley and Cameron have met in the mental hospital; could Riley have believed Cameron was John’s Terminator bodyguard and have helped her escape to please him? After all, Riley said she’d believed his “lies” about the machines….
John hesitated on the steps, torn between marching up to them and demanding an explanation or staying right where he was and seeing how this played out. Sure, the fate of the world was at stake, but being fought over by two pretty girls was sort of flattering. He was curious to hear what they would say about him when they didn’t know he was listening. Childish? Yes. But a guy couldn’t be the savior of mankind all the time. Occasionally, he had to be just a guy.
“You bring danger into John’s life,” Cameron said, a weird Sideways Universe version of her words to John a few weeks ago, before he and Riley had snuck off to Mexico: “You bring danger into Riley’s life.”
“You’re the dangerous one,” Riley retorted. She was angry now, her words clipped – but underneath that was a distinct current of fear. “Now, get out of my way, psycho. I’m going to see John – ”
“John doesn’t want you.”
“Oh, and I suppose he wants you?” Riley snorted.
“Yes,” Cameron answered simply. “He wants me.”
John was too far away to clearly see what happened next. From the stairway, it almost looked like Riley started to push Cameron out of her way, or maybe she grabbed for the .9 millimeter in Cameron’s hand – he couldn’t be sure. He started forward, calling out, “Riley, stop,” but his words were lost in a muzzle flash and the sharp crack of gunfire.
Riley slumped to the floor.
“Riley!” John sprinted across the dark warehouse, his heart lodged painfully in his throat, his mouth desert-dry. He knew, he knew before she hit the floor, he knew before he cradled her shoulders in his lap, that she was dead. John Connor had seen people die. He knew how a person looked when she was fighting for her life, and he knew how she looked when that life had been extinguished in one swift, brutal second.
My fault. It’s all my fault.
The gunshot was a through-and-through, right in the center of her chest, obliterating Riley’s heart. The entry wound was tiny, a singed round hole no bigger than a quarter; the exit wound on her back was much grislier, gushing blood over John’s jeans, forming a sticky red puddle on the floor. He didn’t care. He held her, too stunned even to cry, though tears stung his eyes.
“Cameron,” he said roughly, “why did you…?”
Cameron leveled the .9 millimeter at John’s head, her dark eyes dead and cold. Her chip, he thought. There’s physical damage to her chip.
A Terminator couldn’t be reasoned out of its mission. Never mind that minutes earlier Cameron had been about to make love to him again. Never mind that she had saved his life a dozen times. Never mind that he had sent her back through time to be his protector. John couldn’t simply hold his hands up to her and say, “I love you, Cameron, and you love me.” If a switch had been flipped in her circuitry, she would do what she’d been built to do – kill – regardless of how she felt about him. Every cyborg Skynet had ever designed was programmed with John Connor’s image and one simple, perfect order.
John had less than a second to form a plan. What he did was reckless and desperate – which was probably why it worked: He tugged the blue plastic flip-flop of his foot and flung it at Cameron’s face, startling her just enough that her first shot flew wide.
With a ten-second head start, John bolted for the door.
He didn’t look back to see if she was following. Of course she was following. She would hunt him now, ceaselessly, until one of them was destroyed. John kicked his other flip-flop into the gutter and sprinted down the alley, ignoring the broken glass grinding into the soles of his feet, the startled grunt of the drunk sleeping behind the dumpster. He careened into the street just as a motorcycle rounded the corner, nearly flattening him.
The bike toppled sideways, spilling its driver onto the pavement. John glanced over his shoulder. Cameron was exiting the alley. She saw him and aimed the gun at his head; he ducked, and the bullet grazed his cheek as it passed.
Adrenaline surging through him, John righted the motorcycle – the driver shouted at him to stop, but John didn’t – and revved the engine. Cameron fired again. A bullet ricocheted off the back tire. He jammed on the accelerator and the Harley shot off down the quiet morning street, burning rubber on the pavement.
John hid the bike in an empty garage behind a boarded-up gas station.
In a fog of grief and terror, he broke the padlock on the men’s room door and rinsed Riley’s blood from his hands. Red-tinted water filled the filthy sink. His gorge rose, and he vomited in the corner.
Trembling, he sat down on the disgusting restroom floor, heedless of the filth, and picked bits of broken glass out of his feet. He tried to make a plan, because thinking ahead kept his mind from circling back to what had just happened.
Cameron had killed Riley. Cameron was going to kill him.
John needed a change of clothes. The ones he was wearing were crusted with blood and gore. It was a miracle he hadn’t been pulled over by the police – a blood-soaked, barefoot teenager on a stolen motorcycle wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. He had to lay low until he figured out what to do, or he’d be straight back in Pescadero.
Where Cameron would come for him.
But he couldn’t just hide out, either. Cameron would track down his family to get to him – Sarah and Derek, who wouldn’t have any idea what was coming for them, because they didn’t believe Terminators were real.
Calm down, he ordered himself, standing and leaning both palms on the sink, staring at his wide, frightened eyes in the cracked mirror. You’ve been in tough spots before. Just think.
He wanted to cry, but crying wasn’t going to get him out of this alive, so he squeezed his eyes closed against the tears. He would grieve for Riley later. Right now, he had to figure out a way to fix Cameron.
As soon as he thought it, John heard Sarah say, Not fix her, John. Stop her.
Well, fuck that. He wasn’t going to kill Cameron. He needed her. He had fixed her before – sort of, anyway – and he could do it again. He just had to stay alive long enough to figure out how.
In the end, John called his mother.
He had memorized the Beverly Hills number from the file in Dr. Sherman’s office. The payphone near the public restrooms still worked; he called collect, and Sarah accepted the charges, tears filling her voice as she demanded to know where he was and if he was all right.
John gave her the address of the gas station. “I’m in trouble, Mom,” he said, keeping his tone as steady and sane-sounding as possible. “I know you think I’m nuts, but if you call the police to come get me, you’ll be signing my death warrant. I need you and Uncle Derek to come pick me up. Please, Mom.”
Sarah hesitated. He was sure she had one finger on her cell phone, prepared to dial 911. “All right,” she finally relented. “Stay put. We’ll be there as soon as we can.”