Afterimage

by zerofret

Chapter 9: Developments

The next awareness that Stan experienced seemed to come very slowly, in fits and starts. In the manner of a deep sea diver, he found himself slowly swimming up from a deeply unconscious state until he finally broke the surface of awareness. Having arrived there, though, he was thoroughly disoriented; he had no idea where he was. He only knew that he wasn't alone. Someone was in the room with him. He could sense that, and accordingly, he chose not to reveal that he was awake. First, he would take stock of his situation.

He was lying down, and under his arms and hands he could feel the cool, fresh fabric of starched sheets. Vaguely medicinal smells hung in the air around him. And from time to time he heard a voice. Still struggling to maintain consciousness, the voice seemed to him to come from far away; he didn't think it was addressing him.

"Paging Dr. Wright," the voice intoned. "Dr. Wright to ICU."

Stan's sluggish mind finally made an identification. He was in a hospital. The other person in the room – whose presence he could still sense – was probably a doctor or a nurse. Why am I in a hospital? he wondered. I don't remember getting –

Wait. Yes, he did remember getting hurt. He hadn't thought it was that bad, though. He had heard about animal bites and scratches becoming infected and leading to much more complicated and serious illnesses. And Dewey had raked his claws down his arm as if he were plowing a field. Was it possible that the wounds had become infected, leading to fever…maybe even delirium? Serious enough to land him in a hospital? It seemed far-fetched, but stranger things had happened. To Stan, it seemed like strange things had become the norm. He couldn't think of any other explanation as to why he might be here.

But his arm didn't hurt,at least, he suddenly realized. They must have given me some pretty good drugs, he mused to himself. That could also account for why it had been such a struggle to get back to wakefulness. Another thought intruded; who had brought him here? Had they found him in his home? Or had he come here himself? He couldn't remember. He knew he'd just have to trust that the pieces would fit together better once he was more alert.

He reached over to explore the dressing on his injured arm, but to his surprise, he discovered there was no bandage there. Puzzled, he ran his hand up and down his forearm, searching for some kind of indications of medical treatment. But there were none. As a matter of fact…

Finally, he opened his eyes to confirm what his sense of touch had already told him. There were no wounds on his arm. No scratches. No gouges. They were gone. Not even scars remained. He stared blankly at his arm, as if it were something that didn't belong to him. Now the obvious question was, just how long had he been here? How could those wounds possibly be totally healed? He cast a quick look at his other arm; maybe he was just confused about which one it was. But no, his other arm was fine, too.

Now he was definitely confused, and he wanted some answers. He looked up to ask the doctor or nurse what was going on. But his companion in the room was neither a doctor nor a nurse. A man in a suit and tie stood silently at the foot of the bed; it was Carl Stinnett. He slouched casually, hands tucked in his pockets, offering Stan an insincerely pleasant smile.

A brief glance around the room confirmed for Stan that he was indeed in a hospital. A half-drawn curtain served as a partition between his bed and another one. The other bed appeared to be unoccupied, but he could see the shadow of figures moving behind the fabric barrier.

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," Stinnett cracked, immediately laughing at his own joke. It seemed an appropriate comment since Stan felt a bit like he had woken up in Oz. He returned his attention to Stinnett, already wishing he had some way of wiping the smirk off his smug face. Permanently.

"Where am I?" he demanded.

Stinnett waved a hand, indicating his general surroundings. "It's a hospital," he replied simply.

"Where? What hospital?"

Stinnett shook his head. "So many questions…" he remarked, in a mildly mocking tone.

Stan persisted. "What am I doing in a hospital? I feel fine."

"Look, just relax. You don't need to know ev—"

"Everything is fine, Stan," another voice interrupted, addressing him in a reassuring tone that was every bit as false as Stinnett's smile. The voice's owner stepped out from behind the curtain. It was Peter Silberman, now favouring him with a look that was both patronizing and disdainful. But unlike with Stinnett, Stan figured he might be able to change the doctor's expression somewhat.

"Last time I saw you, doc – on TV, it was – you didn't seem too fine yourself."

Silberman's pinched smile faltered slightly at the mention of the disastrous TV interview; he quickly regained his composure. Ignoring Stan's comment, he added, "In just a little while, everything will be even better." His tone sounded like that of an adult promising a child an ice cream cone.

"Great," Stan deadpanned. "What happens in a little while?"

He wasn't sure how much longer he could maintain his own composure. All of this made no sense. As far as he was concerned, the only thing that might happen in a "little while" would be that the drugs would wear off, and when fully awake, he would be much more difficult for them to deal with. He wanted answers, and he wanted them now.

"You don't have to do anything at all, Stan. It's all taken care of."

"What is all taken care of?" Stan snapped irritably.

Stinnett took a step toward him. "Settle down," he ordered, his voice low but containing the unmistakable hint of a threat. Then he smiled again, falling back on the party line. "Just relax, everything's fine." He looked to Silberman, who nodded in confirmation.

"Fine," he echoed.

Stan had had enough of hearing about how "fine" everything was, when it seemed to him that just the opposite was true. Why was he in a hospital bed? What was wrong with him? How had he lost track of so much time? And where exactly was he? Silberman cut into his thoughts.

"The good news is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with you." He paused momentarily, then continued, "The bad news is that soon…there will be."

"What?" Stan asked, stupidly. His mind still wasn't sharp.

Silberman had adopted an apologetic expression now. "You see, Stan," he explained, "I'm afraid you're going to have to be neutralized."

There was that word again. Simmons' word. The seemingly innocuous double-speak that meant a person should be rendered no threat to Cyberdyne Systems, regardless of what action that required. Silberman was raising a hand from his side, revealing a syringe grasped lightly between two of his fingers. It was filled with a sinister looking blue fluid. Grimly, Stan noted the long needle at its end. He had no idea what the stuff was, but he knew for certain that he didn't want personal experience to be the way he found out.

Silberman was holding the syringe upright so that Stan could get a good look at the unidentified substance that would likely end his days. Of course it would be the end. No syringe, it seemed to him, should be filled with anything blue, and anything blue being injected into the human body couldn't be a good thing. That was why he had to move. Now. But despite his efforts, his limbs weren't responding; they still felt sluggish and heavy. He was going nowhere; his apparent captors had seen to that.

A tiny drop of the blue liquid had beaded at the tip of the needle, and Stan stared at it – transfixed – as the syringe drew nearer to him. Silberman clearly intended to inject this stuff into his neck, of all places! But he could only wait helplessly for the moment of contact and hope that it wouldn't be too awful.

He heard the sound of yet another person entering the room, sweeping in in a business-like manner. Despite his desire to know who it was, he didn't dare look away from the vile fluid that moved steadily toward him. But an inner voice of desperation pleaded that the new arrival just might be someone who could help. He forced himself to look away, bracing himself for the feeling of the needle piercing his skin.

A doctor had entered the room, white medical coat providing instant identification. But Stan didn't yet know if she was friend or foe. She was turned toward the far wall, studying a medical chart – his own, he presumed – on a clipboard. Realizing the needle had never reached its target, Stan glanced quickly back at Silberman. His hand had fallen back to his side, the syringe held out of sight. Stan hoped the shrink would stick himself accidentally. He was aware, though, that Silberman's actions suggested that this other doctor wasn't a part of their plan. There was still a small ray of hope, then.

"Doctor!" he croaked, his throat impossibly dry. "Help me! These people are trying to poison me!"

This wild claim seemed to make little impression on the doctor; she remained absorbed in the medical chart. Stan was shocked. Surely, she had heard him. He tried again.

"They're going to kill me!" he insisted. "Look…" He tried to gesture toward Silberman, but his arm was dead weight. "He's got a syringe in his hand. I don't know what's in it, but it's some kind of poison. Doc – help me, please!"

He realized with dismay that he simply sounded like he was raving from the effects of the drugs. I probably sound certifiable, he thought, disgustedly. But finally, the doctor acknowledged him. She turned to face him, in so doing revealing a pink waitress uniform under her medical coat. The doctor was…Sarah Connor?! It better be the drugs, or I'm losing my mind, he thought. She flashed a bright, warm smile at him; this was the Sarah he remembered from so long ago. What was she doing here?

"Help you?" she repeated. Then she shook her head, now looking regretful, and patiently explained: "No, I can't help you. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." She shrugged apologetically, then without another word turned on her heel and walked toward the door.

Stan gaped, disbelieving. "Wait! You're not going to leave me with them, are you? Come back! Hey!!"

His pleas, however, had no effect. The "doctor" disappeared around the corner, the sound of her footsteps growing ever fainter as she walked down the corridor. He continued to stare at the empty doorway, unwilling to look back at Silberman. He, no doubt, would be wearing a smug smile by now. This had only been a minor disruption to the plan; now things were back on track.

In sinister confirmation of this, another man's voice now came from behind the partition curtain. "Finish it," he commanded.

Silberman and Stinnett both darted nervous glances in that direction. "Yes, Mr. Simmons," Silberman replied quickly. Stan squeezed his eyes shut momentarily, swearing softly under his breath. He should have known Simmons was behind this.

Now there was only one option left open to him: holler for anyone to come and help him. He was on the verge of doing so when, as if summoned by his thoughts, a uniformed police officer passed by the open doorway. Stan didn't question his luck, he simply seized the opportunity.

"Officer!" he yelled. "Officer, in here. Please, help me!"

He thought his appeal would go unanswered yet again, but after what seemed an interminable moment, the officer reappeared in the doorway. The serious looking young man stepped into the room. He remained silent, his gaze moving methodically around the room – from item to item, person to person – as if he were trying to store the images in his memory in acute detail. Stan, who had initially heaved an inward sigh of relief at the officer's arrival, now very much regretted his actions. He knew that face. And he didn't have to be able to see the name tag to know that it had the name "Austin" printed on it. He knew he had only made his situation worse.

But before he could even begin to think of what his next desperation-motivated move would be, a thunderous roar suddenly came from the direction of the doorway, behind the cop. It rattled Stan's eardrums, making him wince with discomfort. At the same time, an enormous hole opened up in the officer's mid-section. But there was no blood, no entrails. Of course, he knew there wouldn't be. Because, he thought with drug-addled giddiness, every wound has a silver lining. Then it liquefies and closes up.

This was exactly what was starting to happen when a second sharp report left Stan's ears ringing. Now a gaping hole appeared in the officer's head. Through this opening, Stan could see that the "doctor" had returned, this time wielding not a clipboard, but a shotgun. Sarah's pristine medical coat now hung over black and olive coloured camouflage clothing. Her long, straight hair was pulled back, and her eyes looked as steely as the gun she held in her hands.

She fired continuously now, until the force of the shotgun blasts threw the T-1000 to the floor. For the moment, it remained prone and unmoving. She stared at it steadily for a long sixty seconds…ninety…two minutes. Then slowly she raised her head.

Silberman's strained expression reflected his sudden awareness that he now stood directly in Sarah's line of fire. She need only raise one hand to steady the weapon, then pull the trigger, and months of abuse and torment at this man's hands could be instantly wiped out in a single moment of blissful revenge. Stan watched with an almost detached amusement, enjoying watching the doctor squirm. Silberman's jaw slackened, and the colour drained from his face. There was a small, insignificant clatter as the syringe dropped from his hand and fell to the floor.

But Sarah ignored him. Instead, to Stan's horror, she swung the shotgun around so that the barrel was leveled directly at him. In an expressionless monotone, she announced: "You stood me up, you son of a –"

The ensuing roar of the shotgun brought Stan to with a startling suddenness, his head snapping forward and his arms thrown up in front of him. He knew in an instant that he had woken up from a dream, and that he was in the safety of the den in his own home, but still his pulse raced out of control. It would take some time for his wired system to catch up to the realization that none of it had happened. "Ow," he muttered, in a delayed reaction, now reaching a hand back to massage his whip-lashed neck. He had dozed off on the couch. Now he slumped back against the cushions, feeling a tremendous sense of relief.

But unexpectedly, the explosive sounds continued. Several sharp reports cracked in succession, causing him to leap to his feet in alarm. The sounds were coming from outside. But before panic could set in once more, he was able to identify the source of the noise. "Fireworks," he mumbled, feeling silly, and laughing a bit nervously. Just to be sure, though, he went to the living room and looked out the front picture window. Bright, colourful cascades of light were tracing a dazzling display against the night sky.

"Happy New Year," he said quietly, while watching more rockets streak upwards and bloom into light. After a minute or two, he turned away from the sight and made his way back to the den. The VCR clock read 12:06. On the TV screen, a giant crystal ball sank earthward as Times Square revelers cheered. That had been three hours ago, of course. Headline News had been re-showing the scene all night. But now, for better or worse, 1997 had caught up to Los Angeles, as well.

Stan had decided to stay home and make it a quiet night. It seemed like more of a night for sober reflection than for celebration. And he wasn't in much of a mood for partying. He poured himself a small glass of champagne, and settled back onto the couch.

"Happy New Year, Dew," he said, raising his glass in salute. "May it not be our last." Dewey, stretched out along the back of the couch, gazed back serenely, oblivious to the implications of Stan's words. Stan returned his attention to the TV; news footage was being shown of New Year's celebrations taking place around the globe. Everyone looked so happy. But everyone else was fully unaware of what this year might bring.

This thought reminded him of the nightmare he had just woken from. The dreams had started shortly after the incident with Stinnett and the robbery of the Cyberdyne items from his home. They had continued to come – always a variation on the same theme – and for one unbearable six week stretch they had come almost every night. He could now truly sympathize with Sarah in regard to the nuclear nightmares that she was burdened with. If he thought his dreams were bad, and there were times when he felt they would drive him mad, hers were certainly much worse.

His days had been equally stressful, as he had wondered if the Cyberdyne brass had anything more in store for him. Was Greg Simmons satisfied that he had effectively "neutralized" him by robbing him of his hard evidence, or did Cyberdyne's CEO have something far more extreme in mind? He didn't know, so the possibilities had played out in his unconscious mind every night.

At the same time, Stan had found it increasingly harder to get film work. People who had been eager to work with him, and thereby hitch themselves to his rising star, now seemed reticent to talk business with him. Others avoided him entirely. Eventually, he had realized that this was Simmons' solution to the problem he posed for him. Somehow Simmons, likely working through Stinnett, had gotten him blacklisted in the Los Angeles film industry. Despite the difficulties this caused him, it had come as a relief to know that Simmons' plans for him didn't involve an evil-looking blue fluid in a syringe. His own mind had thrown that into the noxious mix of facts and fears that made up his dreams. It was something he had read about in the news. Sarah had used a syringe full of liquid rooter as a weapon – holding it to Silberman's neck and threatening him with it – when she had made her escape from Pescadero. He had wondered if she could have ever made good on that threat. Despite all the terrible things that had been reported about her, he didn't think so.

But even though Simmons hadn't called for anything overly extreme to be done to Stan, he would have known that the actions he had taken would remove him from the picture. By undermining his career, he could be sure that Stan would become preoccupied with little else. He wouldn't have time to be meddling in Cyberdyne's business if he had to worry about how he would make his livelihood. And as Stan had come to realize that this was Simmons' chosen course of action, he had no longer felt in fear for his life. Gradually, he had stopped regarding with suspicion everyone that he encountered; he was no longer looking over his shoulder all the time. As a result, the dreams had come less frequently, and eventually, they had stopped altogether.

But now they were back, having started again in December, almost a full year after they had initially stopped. This wasn't really surprising to him. It made sense that the dreams would make their re-appearance as 1997 approached. All roads led to this year. Everything Sarah had warned of, everything Kyle Reese had told her…the truth of it would be borne out in this calendar year.

ooOOoo

That truth would be inextricably bound to the fate of Cyberdyne Systems. The bombed-out shell of the company's headquarters seemed to be the best predictor of whether or not doom was mere months away. In Stan's opinion, it didn't look good for Cyberdyne, and to him that was good news.

But Cyberdyne staggered on defiantly despite the company's vital losses. Greg Simmons kept up a brave front, insisting that he was confident of the company's ability to recover. After all, his business savvy had had as much to do with Cyberdyne's meteoric rise as had Jack Kroll's scientific genius. Ultimately, though, it became evident that the ship couldn't be righted. Like all shooting stars, Cyberdyne had blazed brightly, but only briefly.

The building was gone. Much of the research was gone. Most importantly, Miles Dyson was gone.

One memorable spring day, the morning paper that Stan retrieved from his front doorstep bore a headline that rang the final death knell. "Cyberdyne Files For Bankruptcy", it read. Stan stared at the headline for a long time, absorbing the full meaning of it. He felt neither happiness nor relief, but only a grim satisfaction. Simmons had finally gotten his. Wherever in this world Sarah was, Stan hoped that she was seeing this same headline. And he hoped that it was giving her hope.

It was over for Cyberdyne. But what remained to be seen was whether or not the company's demise would be enough. Would the fall of Cyberdyne Systems prevent the fall of humanity? Would it stop Judgment Day from coming?

ooOOoo

Throughout August, as the fateful day drew nearer, the dreams came to Stan with increasing frequency. The sights and sounds within them were at their most vivid, the details becoming increasingly bizarre. They left him feeling drained, bewildered, and often frightened. Waiting for the end of the month to arrive was like a hell-ish, twisted version of a child eagerly anticipating Christmas. Time was moving far too slowly, and the tension was becoming too much. He had reached the point where he just wanted to have it over with, regardless of what the day brought.

As the month neared its end, Stan pondered whether he should put his affairs in order. But as quickly as the idea came to him, he dismissed it as ludicrous. There wasn't much point to the exercise. Put his affairs in order for whom? Who would be here that he could leave anything to? And presumably, there would be nothing left to leave to anyone, either.

On the night of August 28th, the clock ticked uneventfully past 9:00 p.m. Nothing changed, nothing seemed any different. But it was for Stan. It was now August 29th, 1997 in the United States of America. Judgment Day. The day when everything would end, only to bring a nightmarish beginning to the few souls – not lucky, but damned – who would survive it. Stan hadn't allowed himself to think too much about whether or not he might survive such an event. He hadn't made any special arrangements to try to survive, in the event of disaster; he wasn't sure that he'd want to. He had heard enough about Kyle Reese's world to know that he wasn't too eager to see it for himself.

But now all he could do was sit, wait and think about such things, as the seconds ticked by and the twenty-ninth day of August marched relentlessly westward toward him. Stan was sure that the day ahead would be the longest of his life…that was, if he had a full day remaining.

Midnight came and went. Stan continued to sit quietly for awhile, then rose and went to the door. He stepped out into his front yard – into the air of Judgment Day – and began a slow walk down the street. He felt a heightened awareness of all of the sights, sounds, and smells around him. The city hummed with late night activity. It seemed to Stan like a busy human anthill, its scurrying inhabitants blithely oblivious to the fact that the foot of destiny might crush it at any moment.

The cynical part of himself was wondering if humanity was worth saving at all. This he had spent countless hours mulling over in the days leading up to this one. He felt it wasn't for him to decide such things, but how a machine might come to make the ultimate decision was totally beyond his comprehension. How could something like that be allowed to happen? How could humans be so careless, so…stupid?! That only brought him back to the question of whether or not humanity was worth saving. The subject always led him in circles, never offering up any answers. He stopped now, letting out a heavy sigh. He wished he at least had something to do on this day of interminable waiting, something that would make the time pass more quickly. For now, he could only head back home.

He turned to do just that, and was startled to see a large, dark shadow looming out of the near darkness; it was speeding directly toward him. Someone had moved up behind him without a sound, or perhaps he had been so engrossed in his own thoughts that he hadn't heard anyone's approach. His adrenalin surged and he took an instinctive step backwards, but his reaction came far too late to avoid the oncoming form. The weight of it as it barreled into him nearly sent him sprawling. He had been so busy preparing himself for the end of the world that he had failed to protect himself from a common street assault. He wondered briefly if his assailant was armed; it would be the height of irony if he were to lose his life to a street thug only hours before the missiles that would end it all were launched. But he certainly wasn't armed himself, and didn't know how he would defend himself.

He had had time to raise his arms in a defensive posture and turn partially away from his attacker before contact had been made. He now found himself half bent over, with much of the assailant's weight leaning on his back. He was unsure for a moment whether the heavy panting he could hear was his own or the stranger's. Then he quickly regained his wits, as understanding came to him. As he turned his head to face his adversary, the second wave of attack was launched. A long, pink tongue darted out and slurped up the side of his face. "Ugghhh!" he exclaimed, in mock disgust.

Having gotten himself turned around fully now, he was able to see that his "opponent" was a decidedly happy and overly friendly Newfoundland. The dog was out enjoying a late night walk, just as he was. But now imprisoned between the two solid feet that were planted firmly on his shoulders, Stan knew that he wasn't going anywhere soon. He peered past the dog's head into the darkness, but he couldn't see anyone coming. Moments later, though, he saw movement well down the street on the opposite side. A young man clad in shorts and a tank top, a looped dog leash dangling casually from one hand, was sauntering along the sidewalk. He was only now becoming aware of what was happening up ahead. Stan saw him quicken his pace and raise his fingers to his lips. A whistle pierced the night air.

"Webster, down!" he demanded, in a sharp tone.

Stan looked the beast in the eye and spoke as if trying to reason with it, although he knew that nothing he said would make a difference. "Yeah, down, Webster," he echoed, gesturing across the street to the dog's only recognized voice of authority. The dog dropped its front feet to the ground obediently, if a little reluctantly. Then it dropped its entire body to the ground, rolling with delight on the grass of the nearest lawn, after which it leaped up and raced a few happy circles around Stan. Stan was enjoying the animal's antics; its sense of fun was contagious.

The young man across the street shrugged helplessly. "Sorry 'bout that," he apologized. "Sometimes he just…"

"It's okay," Stan laughed, while once more side-stepping the shaggy black battering ram. The man whistled again and the dog paused momentarily, casting a pleading look in his master's direction. He had found a new playmate, and he didn't want to move on just yet. During the brief respite, the connection clicked home for Stan, making him smile again, despite the grim thoughts both man and dog had interrupted.

"Is his name Webster because of his feet, by any chance?" he asked the man.

The grin that appeared on the younger man's face was part sheepish, part appreciative. "Yeah," he confirmed, adding, "Most people don't pick up on that."

Stan enjoyed a good laugh now, and quipped, "I'll bet he's a great swimmer."

"Of course! The best."

Stan leaned over and ruffled the dog's ears affectionately, speaking quietly to him as he did so. "Well, you hang in there, Webster, okay?" The dog's tail whipped back and forth with delight at the attention he was receiving. "You have no idea how important your kind might be by the end of this day."

He straightened up and gestured across the street again to encourage the dog to head back to his owner. With a parting wave to the other man, he continued on his way back home, thinking that it was fitting that his first encounter on this day had been with a dog. When he stood once more in front of his own house, he was hesitant to go in. Doing nothing but sitting and waiting for what might happen would be unbearable; it wasn't yet 1:30 a.m. But where was there to go? What plans did one make for Doomsday?

Then it suddenly occurred to him exactly where he could go. He reached for his keys, and climbed into his car. It was a fair distance to Edwards Air Force Base, but if he headed that way right now he should still be able to observe while under cover of darkness. He had no idea whatsoever what purpose this would serve, but it gave him something to do. If any kind of an impending threat was known, there might be signs of it out by Edwards.

His efforts, however, weren't rewarded. After getting as close as he could – as close as he dared – to the base, he had watched feeder roads that led into the facility. After observing for a full two hours, he'd had to admit to himself that there was no sign of either increased or unusual activity near the base. Military vehicles came and went periodically, but there appeared to be no sense of urgency in their operations.

He drove home under a spectacular purple-blue dawn sky. The sun was rising on what would surely be a gorgeous late summer day. But would it be the last day of any kind? As he stepped in the door at home, he could hear CNN news still droning on the TV he had left on when he had gone for his walk several hours earlier. He went into the den to have a quick look, but the stories being covered appeared to be the usual. There was certainly nothing that suggested nuclear apocalypse was imminent.

Going to bed now was out of the question; he knew he wouldn't sleep. Some time could be passed in busying himself with mundane household tasks. The hungry cat that was currently staring him down would be a good place to start. As he made for the kitchen, his thoughts had already turned to what he might do next. There was no hope of being able to concentrate on anything, so doing any serious work wasn't an option for today.

In the kitchen, he turned on a radio and fiddled with the dial until he found a news station. This entire day would be spent within hearing range of news reports, so that he would know immediately if there was any breaking story about a missile threat. He had just reached for a can when Dewey made his appearance, slowly plodding into the room. Fourteen now, he was slowing down some. But he still had never been known to refuse a meal, not even this early in the morning, and he dug into this one with gusto.

Stan returned to the den and resumed watching CNN. He wished that he at least knew what time this catastrophic event was to take place. He couldn't imagine that Kyle wouldn't have told Sarah this information. Maybe he hadn't known it himself; in his world, it would have been just so much useless oral history. Or maybe that was one nugget of information that had eluded Cyberdyne's file.

By mid-afternoon, he was gazing into his liquor cabinet with serious intent. It would be so easy to drink himself into oblivion so that he would be fully unaware if he were to suddenly get blown there. If he woke up the next day, it would be a pretty good indication that the world was still there. And if he didn't wake up, at least the end would have been quick and painless. And cowardly, he thought miserably, frowning at the bottles.

Or so it seemed to him, because there was one image he couldn't chase from his mind; that of Sarah Connor. Somewhere, Sarah was keeping a lonely vigil of her own throughout this day. She wouldn't be drinking herself into a stupor; she had an obligation to her son. Stan intended to keep that vigil with her for the duration of the day. It was the least he could do. Rather than reaching for one of the bottles, he instead made a pot of strong coffee, hoping it would help to keep him awake.

He rummaged in the front hall closet for a minute or two, then returned to the den. As he watched TV news, he glanced down periodically at the scrap of paper in his hand. It had been the object of the closet search. The edges were frayed and the paper was starting to separate along the fold, but Sarah's address and phone number – written in her own hand – were still clearly visible. It was thirteen years ago that that information had been hastily scribbled down. It seemed like a lifetime ago. And it was a different life now…for both of them. The paper still resided in the old leather jacket he had been wearing back then. He had never been able to bring himself to throw out either one. The paper had last been in his hand in 1988, the night of the Dodgers World Series game. A night when he had been jolted by surprising revelations about Sarah. Clutching the paper that night had given him a stronger sense of her, had made his memories clearer. He remembered having thought that night that it was as if something of her essence was retained in it. Maybe it was just a scrap of paper, but it felt right in his hand, somehow comforting. It served as a simple but powerful reminder that he wasn't in this alone.

By six o'clock his energy was flagging noticeably. He hadn't gone to bed at all last night. Still, he was unwilling to give in to his weariness. There would be no sleep for him until this day was over. He stood up and jogged in place for a minute or two to raise his heart rate and get his circulation going. Then he strode decisively toward the door. It was time to get out of here again; he'd go out for dinner. Getting out into the fresh air would be good for him, and even going for a greasy hamburger would help to pass some of the remaining hours of this cursed day. And besides, he thought sourly, if this day lives up to its press, it's not like I'm going to ever have to worry about my cholesterol.

Once he was out in public, things seemed to take on a surreal quality. The weather seemed almost too perfect, the people too cheerful, the traffic too orderly. Even the burger didn't seem to be too greasy. He knew that much of it was a product of his over-tired and under-stimulated mind. Maybe he was just idealizing everything that might be gone in a split second. To everyone else, it was likely just another L.A. day.

After his meal, he drove out to the beach. The setting sun was casting a dazzling display of light on the water, and he paused briefly to admire it. Then he walked along the beach in the surf, dusk closing in around him. There were certainly worse ways to spend the possible last day of civilization. He had nearly put this day to bed. On the east coast, the 29th was already over. He knew, though, that he wouldn't relax until every last second of it had passed into history. In truth, he wasn't sure he would relax even then.

By eleven o'clock, he was back at home and in front of his TV once more. This was the final stretch; he was nearly there. As he watched a newscast that seemed to consist of relatively routine stories, his thoughts turned to the very real possibility that nothing unusual would happen in the next fifty minutes. How would that make him feel? He couldn't very well feel cheated that the world as he knew it hadn't ended. But had he simply been taken in by the ravings of a deranged mind in coming to believe all of this? No; he was sure of that. The things he had seen, heard, and experienced himself had convinced him that there was validity to Sarah's claims. And Kyle Reese had told her that the dark future would begin today. Except…

He glanced at the wall clock. 11:45 p.m. Time was running out.

That left him with fifteen minutes to brood over things, and he now found himself thinking about Sarah's successful attack on Cyberdyne two years previous. About Miles Dyson's sacrifice of not only his life's work, but of his life itself. About Cyberdyne's collapse, both literal and financial. Because of their actions there was no Skynet; at least, not that people knew of. By any other name, there were still missile defense systems, and that meant that something could go awry on this day that had been selected by fate. Or on any other day, he noted, grimly. But it was starting to seem all but assured that those actions had altered things.

Stan glanced at the clock once more. 11:59 p.m. Seconds later – as the minute hand swept over the apex of the dial, dissolving August 29 into a memory – he sensed a hiccup in the cosmos, a breaking free of chains. Something was different.

"You did it, Sarah," he breathed, shakily. His chest felt alarmingly constricted, so caught up was he in the power of that moment. "You and John and Dyson." After a lengthy pause, he added: "And the machine. You changed it."

Their actions had averted Judgment Day. The world would live on.

ooOOoo

The true sense of wonder he had felt in that instant was still having lingering effects even months later, as Stan bid farewell – with a good deal of relief – to the year 1997. Over the previous few months, it had felt more and more like a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. August 29, 1997 had been the looming barrier that he couldn't go around, over, or under. He had had no choice but to pass through it, and having done so successfully he now felt a new lightness of being.

If humanity as a whole had been given a second chance, he had reasoned, perhaps he too would get that second chance, on a more personal level. He had made overtures to a few film industry people, testing the waters to see if he might be able to reignite his stalled career. When a couple of these exploratory contacts had resulted in interest being expressed, he had been both surprised and pleased. It seemed Cyberdyne's bankruptcy had given Greg Simmons more pressing problems to deal with than the ones Stan had presented to him. Or maybe he had simply lost his clout in having the power to blacklist him. Whatever the case, Stan was now in negotiations with a small studio to direct a self-penned screenplay. First, the script had to be green-lighted.

On this crisp but pleasant January day, he was driving toward the moment of truth. He had been able to see that as soon as he had pulled his car into the driveway of his home. A full sized manila envelope was propped up in the mailbox. Due to conflicting schedules, Stan hadn't been able to meet with the studio execs this week. It had been agreed that they would look over the script, and then have it dropped off at Stan's house, with notes included giving their impressions and suggestions. At a later date they would meet with him to discuss it. The studio aide had obviously come around to drop off the script, and had found him not home. Stan was aware of a slight tingling of anticipation as he approached the front porch. Had they liked it? He could only hope so.

His car keys jingled in his nervous hand as he mounted the steps. But as he reached for the envelope, he realized that it wasn't what he thought it was at all. Far from containing a bulky screenplay, the envelope was tissue thin, almost as if it held no contents at all. Slightly disappointed, he drew it from the mailbox and examined it. A self-adhesive label affixed to the front bore his name and address in typed block letters. There was no return address, either on the front or the back. There were also no stamps or cancellation markings. All signs indicated that someone had just dropped it off in person. Slightly unsettled by this, he glanced up from the envelope and took a quick scan of the street, checking for anything unusual or out of place. It was easy to fall back into his old feelings of paranoia. They had been his constant companion during the time Simmons had been targeting him, and he could ease back into those feelings like they were a comfortable pair of slippers.

But his suspicion dropped away as quickly as it had come. He laughed out loud at himself, having solved the "mystery". It was from the studio, of course; it just wasn't the screenplay itself. In all probability, it was a note explaining why there was a delay in returning the script. Or having found him not at home, maybe the aide had left an explanatory note, not wanting to leave the screenplay sitting in the mailbox. If they were taking more time with it, maybe that was a good sign. He reached into the mailbox and pulled out the rest of the mail. As he let himself in the front door, he was still shaking his head in amusement at how quickly his suspicions could be aroused. Once inside, he shuffled quickly through the rest of the mail – "Bills, bill, bills," he drawled softly – before tossing it onto a side table, and heading directly to the kitchen.

"I'm famished, Dew," he announced, happily. "How about you?"

When no grand feline entrance seemed to be forthcoming, he busied himself preparing his own dinner. Once ready, he took it into the den to eat it while watching the evening news. Already comfortably settled in the same room, Dewey raised his head groggily and sniffed the air in Stan's general direction. Apparently rejecting what was on the menu, the striped head slowly sank down onto the couch once again.

"Resume dozing," Stan laughed, through a mouthful of spaghetti.

Half an hour later, he addressed the curled up cat again. "I can see you sure like your comforts. So how about we pay some of those bills out there? His Majesty wouldn't like it too much if the heat got turned off, would he?"

He turned his attention back to the news program he was watching, but after a minute or two of nothing but the two co-anchors bantering and flirting with each other, he decided he'd seen enough. Now would be a good time to get to those bills. He went into his office and turned on the computer, then headed for the front hall where he had left the mail. He hummed tonelessly under his breath as he went, then softly broke into song, the jovial co-anchors still a lingering image in his mind: "I make my living on the evening news, Just give me something, something I can –" He sensed motion to his left as he entered the darkened living room and turned toward it quickly, muscles tensing. The light on his answering machine was blinking steadily on and off. He exhaled, relaxing once more. It really was surprising – irrational, really – how quickly he could fall back into his old paranoid ways. The machine's read-out was indicating one message; he punched the button.

"Stan, hey, it's Patrick at the studio. We didn't get the script back to you today. If you're listening to this, I guess you know that by now." He laughed. "Uh, Ray got held up in traffic, so we didn't get through all of the rest of it today. We're liking what we're seeing, though, and we'd like to hang onto the screenplay for an extra few days before we meet with you. Hope that's not a problem. I'll be in touch. 'Bye." The machine clicked off and a mechanical voice announced, "Three twenty-one a.m.".

Stan chuckled. No, I don't think Pat called me at twenty after three in the morning. The time never seemed to be set right on the machine. "Damn machines," he quipped cheekily toward the non-descript looking box. "I still don't trust you guys." But the message had elevated his good mood even more.

"They like what they're seeing," he announced to the empty room. Then he tried it on for size again: "They liiiiike it!" He had a feeling this deal was going to work out very well. For both sides. He picked up his impromptu singing performance from where he had left off, as he returned to the interrupted task of getting the mail.

"We've got the bubble-headed bleach blonde who comes on at five…"

It wasn't until he was scooping up the pile of letters that he realized he had forgotten all about the large manila envelope. He had thought it would be a notice from the studio, but having heard the phone message, he knew now that it wasn't. It had become something of a mystery again.

He wandered back down the hall to his office. Passing the den, he could hear the news anchors still kibitzing. "She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye," he sang. Before sitting down at his desk, he reached into his pocket and brought out a small jackknife. Once seated, he drew the manila envelope toward him and started to slit it open down one side.

"…it's interesting when people die, give us dir- ow!!" He pulled back his hand sharply, having nicked it with the jackknife blade. He gave the hand a few firm shakes, wondering why people did that with a hurt hand. It didn't really make it feel better. A Kleenex served to both soak up the bit of blood on his finger and to wipe the few red drops off of the knife blade. He snapped the knife shut and tore the envelope open the rest of the way.

Parting the sides, he peered inside. There seemed to be only one sheet of paper in there. Such a big envelope for one little piece of paper. "Halloooo," he called down into the practically empty envelope, then cocked his ear toward it as if listening for an echo. He was being rather silly, he knew, but nothing could spoil his good mood today; not annoying news anchors, not cut fingers, nothing. Finally, he reached into the envelope and pulled out the contents.

The sum total of that was one sheet of paper torn from a newspaper. It had been folded neatly into quarters. He rechecked the envelope, but no explanatory note was included. Maybe it's inside the paper. But as he unfolded the sheet of newsprint, it became clear that no note accompanied it.

He read the paper's name out loud, his tone of voice reflecting his puzzlement. "San Diego Union-Tribune?"

He couldn't immediately think of any contact in San Diego who would be sending him anything, particularly with no explanation given. Sure, he had lots of film industry contacts all over California and beyond, but… A quick perusal of both sides of the sheet confirmed that no story had been circled or starred. There was no indication of which was the relevant news item. Once again, he examined the envelope, but it surrendered no clues.

The sheet had been taken from the back pages of Section 1. The articles – there were several of them – appeared to be news that was relevant enough to report, but which apparently lacked the "wow" factor necessary to make them worthy of more column space. "Local Shark Sightings Up This Summer," he read. "Da dum da dum da dum," he sing-songed in a low voice as he moved on to the next small headline.

"Navy To Test New Vessel." The military connotations of this article gave Stan pause, but there was nothing exceptional or alarming in the few paragraphs written there.

"Lucky Padres Fan Wins World Series Trip." World Series trip? he thought, a bit surprised. The Series was three months ago. How old is this?

He directed his gaze up toward the top of the page to check the date, but as he did so his attention was caught, and held fast, by one of the headlines. It was posted over a short item that was tucked into the far left side of the page, just below the fold. He stared at the headline for a long moment, almost unwilling to read on, a sick certainty building in his gut. This was the article he was meant to see. He scrubbed a hand across his face and blinked hard a few times in a futile attempt to make the words change.

Finally, he read it out loud in a numb monotone: "Notorious Domestic Terrorist Dies In Baja."

He read on, vocalizing key parts of the report. "Sarah Connor…fugitive…terrorist activity…leukemia…last week…thirty-one years old…survived by her son…whereabouts unknown…1995 bombing…Cyberdyne Systems…1984 hostage incident…" He read the last line in full: "Interment to take place at Greenlawn Cemetery, north of Los Angeles."

Now he looked at the top of the page. It was dated October 18, 1997. Two and a half months she had been gone already. He folded his arms on the desk in front of him, then rested his forehead on them, remaining that way for an extended length of time. Twenty minutes, an hour, more? He really didn't know; it didn't matter. No amount of time would ever be enough to come to terms with this cruel reality. Just when she was finally free, he thought, bitterly. She only hung on long enough to… He left the thought unfinished. And he knew that Sarah likely would never have been free. Judgment Day failing to take place on August 29, 1997 only would have motivated her to stay vigilant and prepared in the event that it still did come.

He raised his head. "I guess she's free now," he said quietly, with a defeated sounding finality. There was no comfort in that knowledge. His high spirits had plummeted, having met their match, after all. Even the optimism with which he had entered this new year, all of it was threatening to drain away in an instant. For the moment, he resigned himself to it, slowly refolding the paper.

Then he felt a sudden surge of anger, and an impulse to crush the offending paper between his hands, to shred it into nothing recognizable. The unfairness of it was almost too much. Sarah had earned her peace of mind, her chance to rest. She should have had more time to enjoy it. This kind of "rest" wasn't the way it was supposed to be.

He slammed a fist down on the desk with full force, the sound of it thunderous in the silent, dimly lit room. "This wasn't the way it was supposed to be," he insisted, in a low, choked whisper.

He rose from behind the desk, now feeling overcome by a deep weariness. He wanted to just go and collapse into bed, even if he knew sleep wouldn't come. But first…

He picked up the page of newspaper from the desk, snapped off the desk lamp, and left the room. In the kitchen, he pawed impatiently in a drawer of small utility items until he came up with what he was searching for: a book of matches. He struck one, staring into the flame as it ate its way toward his fingertips. Then he dropped it into the sink and watched it consume itself. To him, this was a micro-cosm of the world itself. But for the actions of Sarah and her allies, the world would have consumed itself in flame five months ago. Nodding, as if coming to a decision, he struck a second match, then reached for the newspaper page. He might regret burning the page later, but right now it would serve as a catharsis for his anger and grief.

He held the page over the sink and fed one corner of it into the hungry flame, watching expressionlessly as the fire chewed its way along one edge. Suddenly, his eyes widened in amazement. "Damn!" he gasped, in disbelief, now groping in the sink for a cloth. After frantically beating at the paper with it, he succeeded in smothering the flame. He looked down at the singed and soggy mess in dismay, before retrieving it from the sink. The bottom half of the page remained intact, and it was still reasonably dry despite falling into the wet sink. The upper half of the page was mostly gone, but fortunately, it was the other half he wanted. He placed it on the kitchen table and ran a hand over it to flatten it out, all the while peering closely at the page. But it wasn't an article he was studying so intently; it was the page itself.

The bottom right hand corner of the page had been neatly folded upward, creating a triangle about one inch across. The top part of the triangle had been folded down, then folded upward once more, creating an accordion effect on that corner of the page. Stan had seen this before. He had seen it many times, in fact. On pieces of notebook paper, on receipts, even on dollar bills. What had once been simply an absent-minded habit was now serving as a calling card, a signature.

"Alex," he whispered, the amazement still evident in his voice. He hadn't seen Alex Chang since that day on the pier over two years ago. He had simply vanished without a trace, just as he had told Stan he planned to do. And even yet, clearly he believed that Greg Simmons – despite his problems with Cyberdyne's insolvency – was still a threat to him. And probably he was right. Simmons would likely forever hold a grudge against Al for having handed over such revealing items to Stan. So Al was protecting himself, sending on this information without identifying himself or his location anywhere on the outer envelope, or in the envelope's contents. He had seen to it that there would be no postal cancellation indicating where he was.

How it had been delivered, and by whom, Stan suspected he would never know, just as he would never know how Alex had come upon this article himself. Surely, he couldn't be as close as San Diego. He also knew that there wouldn't be so much as a single fingerprint on the items that could connect them to him. He had "signed" the package, identifying himself as the sender, in a way that only Stan would recognize.

Stan shook his head, a slight smile creasing his lips. "Alex, you clever bastard," he muttered. "I sure owe you one."

He picked up the half page of paper and took it with him down the hallway. After tucking it safely into the top drawer of his dresser, he turned off the light and lay down. He stared into the darkness for a long time, mixed feelings warring within him. How should he feel after receiving such bad news and such good news at the same time? By the time sleep claimed him, he still had no answer.

ooOOoo

Stan chose to ignore the driver who was giving him the finger, as he roared past on his left. He had been riding Stan's bumper for half a mile now, and it was obvious he was in a hurry to get somewhere. As far as Stan was concerned, he could have passed him on the all-but-deserted two lane highway any time he had wanted to. For his part, he was taking his time; there were no time deadlines where he was going. The morning sun shone down brightly on the rural landscape. He was driving through rolling countryside northeast of the city. It seemed like a pleasant, peaceful area, as good a place as any for…

The car ahead was slowing and signaling a left hand turn. Stan was reasonably sure that this was his destination, too. He smiled wryly at the realization that this was where the finger-flipper had wanted to get to so fast. A large sign near the roadside confirmed that he had found the right place: GREENLAWN CEMETERY.

Relax, pal, he thought, there's nobody here in much of a hurry.

He parked in a lot near the gate, then climbed from the car, having already dismissed the impatient driver from his thoughts. He had been cramped up in the car for some time, and now he enjoyed a good stretch and a deep breath of fresh air. Surveying the well-kept grounds from the parking lot, he finished his earlier thought aloud: "Yeah, as good a place as any – for a cemetery."

The sun was doing little to warm up a cool January day, and he pulled his jacket more tightly around himself. He had been in far too many cemeteries to believe that he might have shivered for any other reason. But an uneasy feeling told him that this visit was different. This was Sarah Connor, the woman who had haunted his entire adult life, even while she was alive.

He reached into the car and lifted out a small, tasteful flower arrangement – Sarah, he felt sure, wouldn't have wanted anything garish – then walked toward the grounds. He had no idea where to look for Sarah's grave, and he found himself wandering aimlessly through rows of headstones, reading names and failing to find the one he was looking for.

Now coming to the end of yet another row, he paused and glanced across the roadway that ran through the cemetery. A pathway ran from the road, past a fountain, and up to the door of a crypt. He crossed the road and approached it, fully expecting the door to be locked. But the latch gave easily under his thumb, and the door swung open. He hesitated, wondering if his "friend" from the highway might be in there. Or anyone, for that matter. He didn't want to disturb anyone who might be in there.

He stepped inside and descended the stairs to a statue-adorned anteroom. After listening for a minute or two, he hadn't heard any sounds coming from the next room. A quick look around the corner confirmed that the room was empty. In this room, rows of plaques with names on them lined one wall, behind which presumably were the coffins of the deceased. Small flower holders were mounted on the wall beside each plaque. Stan relaxed a bit, now that he knew he had the room to himself. He walked into the inner room and looked around a bit more. Branched wall lamps provided soft lighting. Urns stood encased behind glass along the marbleized walls. Benches were located on both sides of the room.

Stan started to scan along the rows of plaques. It didn't take him long to find the one he was looking for, and when his gaze fell on it, he took a small, involuntary step backwards. He had only learned of Sarah's death yesterday, and it hadn't fully sunk in for him yet. Coming face to face with the engraved truth of it suddenly made it very real. He sat down on one of the benches, staring steadily at the words on the plaque. It read:

SARAH CONNOR

1959-1997

NO FATE BUT WHAT WE MAKE

"…for ourselves," he added quietly, completing the phrase that had become very familiar to him. And what was in front of him was that fate; gone far too soon. Sarah had been just thirty-one years old at the time of her death. This thought made him realize that something wasn't quite right. Still looking at the plaque, Stan frowned. He shook his head, mildly disgusted. They got the dates wrong. Sarah hadn't been born in 1959; she was a good five years younger than that. He wondered if the manner in which she had lived had aged her beyond her years. Maybe whoever had given the engraver the information had only been guessing at her age. Surely John would have known the correct dates, though. But regardless of how the mistake had come to be, the fact remained that even in death, Sarah had been dealt one final indignity.

Having thought momentarily about John, Stan now wondered if he had ever been here. Had he arranged his mother's interment, or had it been someone else? The article in the Union-Tribune had said his whereabouts were unknown. He reflected on that, and on all of his memories of Sarah, for some time. Eventually, the sound of a car door slamming out in the parking lot brought him out of his reverie. He glanced at his watch and realized that close to an hour had passed since he had come in here.

One thing seemed curious to him. This was the closest he had been to Sarah Connor in fourteen years, yet he had no sense of her actually being there. He knew it was a bit much to expect to sense the presence of the no-longer-living, but still the emptiness of the feeling gnawed at him. Even the tattered bit of paper that Sarah had written on so long ago, and which he still had, seemed to have more of her essence in it than he could sense in this room. Maybe it was because there were specific memories – happy ones – attached to that small memento. He reached into his pocket and brought out the battered scrap. There was practically nothing left of it now. The writing itself was faded and ghostly, and the paper had all but disintegrated where it had been creased. But that was okay; it, too, had reached the end of its journey.

He stood up, stepped over to the plaque, and pressed the frayed remnant of paper to the letters of Sarah's name. "I never forgot, Sarah," he said. "I wish I could have made it up to you. And I wish I could have done more to help." He thought briefly of what his world would look like right now if August 29 had gone differently, if things hadn't been changed. Emitting a small, mirthless laugh, he concluded, "But you didn't need it, did you? You did just fine."

The words seemed hopelessly inadequate, but it was the best he could do. He pulled some flowers from the arrangement he had brought with him and set them into the holder affixed to the wall beside Sarah's plaque, leaving the rest of the arrangement at the base of the wall. Then, parting the leaves of the flowers in the holder, he tucked the small scrap of paper in among the stems and closed the greenery around it once more. Stepping back, he laid his hand on the plaque and stood meditatively for a short while. In a barely audible voice, he whispered, "No fate…", then he turned and walked away.

ooOOoo

Stan's final words in the crypt had been meant as a sincere tribute, but they had also been laced with bitterness. The moment marked a turning point for him, one characterized by a sense of suspicious cynicism. No fate but what we make for ourselves, indeed. He could no longer believe it. It was the big lie, one which sent people on hopeless fools' errands. What had Sarah's efforts brought to her? Only a premature death and societal condemnation. She had deserved better. No one would ever know the truth of what she had done, what difference she had made. He knew that it was enough simply that she had made that difference, but the bitter feelings clung stubbornly to him, casting a pall over his disposition for several months.

The good omens that his year had begun with were fully realized as the weeks went by. The movie deal was struck, and he developed a solid relationship with the small studio. But it was hard for him to enjoy the success. The clouds didn't part for him until mid-summer, when he finally started to feel more like his old self again. It had been a strange and lengthy grieving period over someone that he, in a sense, had never really known.

But he was thankful that he was starting to see the world in colour again. Over time he felt increasingly better, and by the time a new year arrived once more, he was looking forward with optimism. This was against the better judgment of the now ever-present voice of cynicism within him, but he couldn't help it. He dared to believe that things were looking up.

When he arrived home from shooting one day to find a large manila envelope standing up in the mailbox, it stopped him in his tracks. He didn't need to puzzle over the mysterious unidentified sender this time; he knew who it was. It was just a matter of seeing what the message was. The lump rising in his throat suggested that he wasn't anticipating good news.

He tore the envelope open as soon as he got inside. Like the last time, the envelope held one single sheet torn from a newspaper. As he had expected, the bottom right hand corner of the page had been folded to create an accordion-type effect, identifying Alex as the sender. Stan didn't even look for the date or for where the paper was from; he started to scan headlines immediately, looking for the relevant one. A sudden, sharp intake of breath signaled that he had found it.

"CRS Acquires Cyberdyne Assets", the article was headlined. He read on: "Pentagon sources have revealed that the military-affiliated Cyber Research Systems has acquired all remaining assets once belonging to Los Angeles area computer company Cyberdyne Systems. Cyberdyne failed to recover from a 1995 domestic terrorist attack on its primary facility, ultimately declaring bankruptcy. CRS has reportedly come into possession of the off-site back-up files that had been kept by the Irvine-based company."

"The nature of the files and the research remains classified, but a CRS spokesman said the company would continue to build on the work that Cyberdyne's top scientists had started. Miles Bennett Dyson, the director of the original project, was killed in the 1995 attack on Cyberdyne's facility. 'The best tribute that we can pay to Miles Dyson,' the CRS spokesman said, 'is to see that the potential of the technological research he started comes to fruition. Full military funding for the project will hasten the research, and allow for the resulting technology to be put into active practical use at the earliest date possible. Americans can rest assured that our country has never been so secure.'"

Stan dropped the paper to the kitchen table, shocked; he could already feel a sense of dread rising within him. It was happening again, all his positive feelings swept away in an instant, just like a year ago. The implications of the article were clear; obviously, they had been equally clear to Alex. The world's ultimate fate was being made even yet. It still wasn't over.

xxx (End Chapter 9) xxx

Chapter Notes:

1. "Dirty Laundry" (Henley/Kortchmar), by Don Henley (1982)

2. Stan's thought about the fluid in the syringe, and how anything blue being injected into the human body couldn't be a good thing, is based on a comment made by James Cameron in the Director's Commentary of the T2: Extreme Edition DVD.

3. Thanks for the reviews, as well as the e-mails/messages asking when Chapter 9 is ever going to be posted! The answer is…now. :-) (December 2, 2006)