Chapter 7

A New Day

“We were that close to going out forever. But there was one man who taught us to fight, to storm the wire of the camps, to smash those metal motherfuckers into junk. He turned it around. He brought us back from the brink. His name is Connor. John Connor. Your son, Sarah. Your unborn son.” – Kyle Reese

“Am I dreaming?”

“I think so.”

“How do you know?”

“‘Cause I’m pretty sure I’ve been dead for the last twenty-four years or so.”

“Maybe I’m dead, too.”

“You’re not dead. I’ve spent a lot of time around the dead. You don’t fit in.”

“Have I been dreaming this whole time, do you think?”

“I don’t know.”

John turned sideways on the park bench to look at the young man beside him. The setting sun cast long shadows over the grass; the park was empty except for John and his companion. He had been here before, in this park, on his sixteenth birthday – which had technically been his twenty-fourth – with Derek, watching two little boys play baseball. The Reese boys, before the end of the world. It was the first and only time John had ever seen his father.

Until now.

Kyle Reese did indeed have kind eyes, just like Sarah had said. He looked like John. Like Derek, too, which made John’s heart constrict, remembering Cameron putting a bullet into Derek’s head. Please let that have been a dream, he prayed.

“You must be pretty disappointed in me,” John said.

Kyle arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“You came through time to help save this bad-ass super-soldier you know in the future, and I’m just some stupid kid who can’t figure anything out. I always mess stuff up.” John swallowed hard. “I always get people killed.”

Tilting his head to the side, Kyle mused, “You know, Sarah said something kind of like that whenever I first met her. That I must have been disappointed that she was this sweet, fragile little waitress.” He laughed. “She was never fragile. Anybody could see that girl had grit. She didn’t realize how strong she was then, because she hadn’t had to be yet. But when she needed that strength,” Kyle finished, “she found it.”

John shook his head. “I’ll never be as strong as my mom, or you, or Derek, or…”

“Cameron?” Kyle supplied, surprising John. To his son’s startled expression, Kyle said, “I’m a dream, remember? Whatever you know, I know.”

So his father knew he was in love with a cyborg. Fabulous. John stared down at his hands, too ashamed to look Kyle in the face. “It’s not like it sounds. It’s not…creepy, or whatever.”

“Connor, I spent most of my life in love with a picture of a woman who had been dead for years. I’m not in much of a position to judge anybody else for who they love.”

Father and son shared a smile.

A distant rumble of thunder brought their heads up at the same time. Kyle frowned. “There’s a storm coming.” He stood. “Come on. We don’t have much time, and I want to show you something.”

John followed his father across the park to a small pond. The surface shimmered silver in the dying light. Kyle picked up a smooth, flat stone from the bank and skipped it across the water; John watched the ripples following in the stone’s wake.

His father said, “You came here for answers, I think. You want to know if what you experienced was real. I can’t tell you for sure. I’m just a soldier. There’s a whole lot I don’t understand. But maybe this will help.”

An image began to form on the surface of the pond: Sarah, when she was much younger, and Kyle, who looked the same as he did now. They were both a little beat-up and a lot tired, like they really needed a good night’s sleep without a Terminator hunting them down. Fear radiated from Sarah, though she was remarkably calm for just having been in her first fire fight, John thought.

“The 600 series had rubber skin,” Kyle was saying, to a clearly dubious Sarah. “They look human. Very hard to spot. I had to wait until he moved on you before I could zero on him.”

Sarah glared at him. “Look, I am not stupid, you know. They can’t make things like that yet.”

“Not yet,” Kyle agreed. “Not for about forty years.”

Sarah scoffed. “Are you saying it’s from the future?”

A weary sigh escaped Kyle. “One possible future. From your point of view…” He shrugged. “I don’t know tech stuff.”

The image swirled into nothingness. John went on gazing into the pond, his heart starting to pound, his father’s words echoing in his mind: One possible future.

Kyle placed his hands on John’s shoulders. “The future is not set,” he said softly. “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

“What if I’m not strong enough?” John whispered, the tears he had been holding back for so long finally spilling down his cheeks. “Dad, what if I’m not ready?”

Kyle pulled John into a tight hug; John clung to his father, never wanting to let go. “We need you, John,” Kyle told him, his voice ragged with feeling. “Don’t give up.”

The first flash of lightning illuminated the horizon. John could feel himself fading, becoming insubstantial, slipping away from his father’s embrace. “I won’t give up,” John vowed. “I promise. I won’t give up.”

And for the first time in his life, he really meant it.

Cameron was sitting on the edge of John’s bed, watching him, when he opened his eyes.

The sane reaction would have been fear, of course, because the last time he had seen Cameron, in Sideways Universe, she’d been shredding his house with an Uzi. But all John felt was relief – relief that Cameron was alive, that he hadn’t killed her, and that her dark eyes carried that warm, unmistakably human spark that told him straightaway she was there to protect him, not to kill him.

“Where am I?” John croaked. His throat was painfully dry.

“You’re in the hospital.” Cameron picked up a plastic cup of water from the bedside table and gently placed the straw between John’s lips. He sipped gratefully while examining his surroundings: the beeping heart monitor, the lumpy hospital bed, the gray linoleum floor. It was familiar. He had seen this place when he’d flashed out of Sideways Universe.

“You were in a car accident. A drunk driver ran a red light,” Cameron explained, in her straight-forward, just-the-facts way. She took the cup out of John’s hands, her fingers brushing his – his skin tingled at the contact. “The driver had a blood alcohol level well above the legal limit. He was arrested.”

“What about our cover?”

“The police don’t suspect anything. Your ID is good. It didn’t raise any flags.”

So he was still John Baum, as far as the rest of the world was concerned. John reclined on the pillows, dizzied by how much had changed in a split-second: The life he remembered leading was his life again; Sideways Universe might not have ever existed.

Yet he remembered everything that had happened there, in amazing, almost excruciating detail. Derek dying. Ellison dying. Riley dying. Cameron kissing him, Cameron sliding her hands down his chest, Cameron moving on top of him, Cameron nibbling on his earlobe…

John shut those thoughts down before his body could give him away. He was wearing a paper-thin hospital gown, after all, and the heavily starched sheets didn’t exactly hide much. Cameron was dangerously close for him to be thinking of her that way, perched on the edge of his bed, the palm of one hand pressing into the mattress beside his knee. She studied him with unabashed curiosity, almost like she could sense that something fundamental had been altered in him.

“How long was I out?”

“You’ve been in the hospital for sixteen hours and nineteen minutes. I can’t be certain how long you were unconscious before the paramedics brought you to the emergency room,” she answered, with endearing precision.

Less than a day, then. Amazing how swiftly a person’s life could change.

“My mom and Derek? Where are they?”

“Derek made your mother go home to sleep.”

John was mildly impressed that his uncle had persuaded Sarah to leave her son’s side. “What’d he do, knock her out and drag her to the car?”

“Sarah isn’t well,” Cameron said simply. “She hasn’t been well since Mexico.”

Cameron’s words contained an ominous edge that made John’s throat tighten. “I guess she has been a little obsessed lately,” he said slowly. “The whole three dots thing…I know it’s weird, but sometimes dreams can be pretty convincing.” Understatement.

“Did you dream?”

The question was so unexpected, John fumbled for an answer. “I – it’s – why do you want to know?” He hated how defensively that came off, but he couldn’t possibly confess to Cameron what he’d experienced in Sideways Universe.

Could he?

I understand that being John Connor can be lonely, she’d said to him not long ago. We talk about it a lot. In the future, Cameron was his confidante. Future-John trusted her, enough to send her back through time to be his protector. Maybe he needed to start trusting her now, in the present.

“Medical science does not agree on whether comatose patients dream,” Cameron was saying. “Did you dream?”

“I…” John took a deep breath, weighing his options. He could bury what had happened in Sideways Universe, push it down deep inside with all of his other secrets, have one more thing he could never talk to anyone about – or he could let go of it, take the plunge and trust Cameron the way his heart told him he could.

“Yes, I had dream,” he finally said. “Only I’m not sure it was a dream.”

Cameron sat perfectly still while John told her everything, starting with the moment he’d opened his eyes in Pescadero. Well, he didn’t tell her everything. He didn’t tell her that they’d kissed, or that they’d made love, or that, if she hadn’t gone bad, he would never have left Sideways Universe, simply so they could be together forever. But he did tell her about what he’d seen on Ellison’s tape, the interview with Allison Young, and about how she’d gone bad again, seemingly for no reason, killing Riley and Derek and Ellison.

When he finished, John felt completely spent. He linked his arms behind his head, watching her watch him. “Say something,” he begged, when the silence became unbearable. “Tell me I’m crazy. Tell me it was a stupid dream and I need to stop obsessing over it.”

Tell me it was all real and you love me, too.

“There are many realities, John.”

John frowned. “What do you mean?”

Standing, Cameron walked to the window and stared out into the busy ambulance bay. The city rolled by, sirens wailing in the night, millions of people living their lives without any idea of how soon it could all come to an end.

“Time travel wouldn’t be possible if there was only one reality,” Cameron said, with her back to him. “We couldn’t change things if alternate realities didn’t exist.”

“There is no fate but that which we make.”

She turned to him again, her dark eyes burning with…something unreadable. John’s heart lurched. He had seen that look before, in Sideways Universe – a hunger, a yearning mirrored in his own soul.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “There is no fate.”

“You’re saying what I saw, what happened to me while I was in that coma, that was another reality?”

That possibility curled in the pit of John’s stomach, nestling deep inside – the possibility that Sideways Universe had been as real as the world he was in right now. That something he had done in the future, or something he had sent someone back to do in the past, had created an alternate reality in which John Connor and Cameron Phillips were just traumatized teenagers, star-crossed lovers doomed to destroy one another in the end.

Odd, how even that absurd scenario rather poetically paralleled the situation he found himself in now. Because Cameron could still destroy him. She hadn’t been right since the explosion; she had become more unpredictable, less focused, consequently more volatile. Maybe she really had been designed off of a human girl named Allison Young, and sometimes, because of the damage to her chip, she couldn’t remember that she wasn’t human. Maybe that was why she could look at him so longingly, the way she was looking at him right then, making his pulse flutter so wildly he was surprised his heart monitor didn’t alert the nurses.

“Alternate realities exist, but that isn’t the only explanation,” Cameron hedged. “The human psyche is complicated. The psychologist Sigmund Freud believed dreams had meaning. Maybe you were dreaming, but maybe you needed to dream it.”

Cameron walked back over to the bed and lay down, stretching her lithe form out next to John, facing him with her head beside his on the pillow. He rolled toward her. A strand of silky brown hair fell across her cheek; without thinking, John reached out and tucked it behind her ear.

He blushed. You’re not in Sideways Universe anymore, he reminded himself sternly. You can’t just touch her whenever you want to.

They gazed into one another’s eyes, the boy and the machine, the savior and the destroyer. John studied the gold flecks around Cameron’s irises, wishing he could figure out why she always seemed just a little sad.

“Do you remember when we accessed Vick’s chip?” Cameron said. “When you asked me how my brain is organized?”

Not like yours, she’d said. John nodded. “I remember.”

“I don’t have a subconscious. What I see, what I hear, what I feel, I’m programmed to compartmentalize that data in a particular way. I can’t reorganize my memory banks.” She paused. “I can’t dream.”

“What are you saying?” John’s voice was husky. He couldn’t stop staring at Cameron’s pouty lips while she was talking; it was terribly distracting, being this close to her.

“The subconscious allows human beings to make connections no machine can rival. It’s one reason why Skynet is determined to wipe out the human race: Because in the end, humans can out-think machines.”

“I still don’t understand.”

Cameron tilted her chin down, her nose nearly brushing John’s cheek. “Dreams can be powerful. Maybe it doesn’t matter if what you dreamed was real. Maybe you saw what you needed to see.”

A soft smile lifted the corner of John’s mouth. “That’s pretty deep for a cyborg. When did you get so insightful?”

“I watch you.”

The way she said that turned John’s bones to sand. “Oh, yeah?” he managed. “What do you see, when you’re watching me?”

“I see that you struggle with letting people die for you. It’s your nature to put others before yourself. You don’t want to accept that people have to die so you can survive to lead the Resistance.”

Damn, she was good. “Is that something I’ve talked to you about, in the future?”

Cameron nodded. “I told you. I understand that being John Connor can be lonely.”

John hadn’t fully believed Cameron when she had told him that before. Now, he did. She got him. She got him in a way nobody else ever had, not even his mother, who had been with him on this entire crazy journey. Loving John Connor meant losing everything. Every life he touched, he brought danger into. Even in Sideways Universe, his presence had been like a cancer obliterating those around him: Charlie, Michelle, Riley, Agent Ellison, Derek, Sarah. Over time, he’d become increasingly convinced that the only way to protect people was to shut himself off from them. He wasn’t terribly good at it – he’d sought out Charlie Dixon to help Derek, with disastrous consequences, and he’d nearly gotten Riley blown away in Mexico – but the fear was still there, his constant companion, walling John up in his own invisible prison.

“I understand why you wanted your dream to be real,” Cameron went on. “If Skynet wasn’t hunting you, you wouldn’t have to be so alone. But you’re not alone, John.”

“I know,” he sighed, and parroted her words: “In the future, I have many friends.”

“You do. You will. And for now,” Cameron finished, her breath fluttering sweetly across his cheek, “you have me.”

More perfect words had never been spoken. John’s heart melted. That settled it: He was in love with a machine.

And why not? John reasoned. What other girl could he ever safely love? Cameron could protect herself; she was literally designed for war; he wouldn’t have to lose sleep at night worrying if a Terminator was going to come after her, because she was fully equipped to handle such a scenario. She could fight at his side. Advise him. Protect him.

Before the accident, John had felt like the universe was playing a cruel joke on him, sending him this perfect creature that would haunt his life but always be unattainable. Now, he wondered if the universe hadn’t worked things out exactly as they needed to be – because Cameron was right: Being John Connor could be lonely. Maybe she could change that, if he let her in. Cameron had demonstrated a remarkable capacity for learning. Perhaps it was time he taught her about love.

There is no fate but that which we make, Kyle whispered in John’s mind.

Priority One: Don’t get killed.

Priority Two: Save the girl.

Priority Three: Become the bad-ass super-soldier that could take down Skynet.

I’m working on it, Dad, John promised silently. I won’t let you down.

John ever-so-softly brushed his fingers across the back of Cameron’s hand. “Thank you,” he said, pleased that his voice didn’t shake, despite the emotions raging inside him.

Cameron arched a quizzical eyebrow. “For what?”

“For talking to me about this stuff. For protecting me.” He licked his lips. “For being my friend.”

She didn’t contradict him. Didn’t say, We’re not friends, John. I’m a machine. I don’t have friends.

All she said was, “You’re welcome.”

John yawned. All at once, he was exhausted – which seemed wrong after sixteen-some hours unconscious, but Sideways Universe hadn’t exactly been a restful place. He was wrung out, physically and mentally.

“You’ll be here when I wake up, right?” he said sleepily.

“I won’t leave you,” Cameron promised.

John smiled at that. Tomorrow, he decided, tomorrow would be a new day. He needed to make some serious changes in his life. To stop spinning, anchorless and unmoored, as he’d been doing ever since Cameron had jumped them eight years into the future. He needed to stop putting the weight of the world on his mother’s shoulders and carry some of the burden for saving the world himself, before he succeeded in driving her mad. He needed to learn from Sarah and Derek instead of doing his best to buck their authority.

He needed to take a good, hard look at what Sideways Universe had been trying to tell him about Riley Dawson and about James Ellison, for if Cameron was right – if the human subconscious could make connections the waking mind couldn’t process – then he suspected there were some deep, dark lessons to be learned in what he had experienced.

Judgment Day was coming. John had his priorities straight now; he knew what mattered – his family and his destiny. He was still scared, of Terminators and of Skynet and of the apocalypse and, quite frankly, of how much he cared about Cameron, because he was sixteen and being in love was as scary as it was exhilarating. But in Sideways Universe, John had finally realized that he was not, in fact, a coward. He would be one of those people who never gave up. John Connor would always fight.

For the moment, however, with Cameron watching over him, John slept – a deep, peaceful, dreamless sleep.

A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free. – Nikos Kazantzakis

The End

Next Chapter

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