AN: I can't believe it. We actually made it here. I want to thank each and every one of you who followed this story, everyone who marked it as a favorite, and most especially everyone who reviewed.
So, one last time. Here we go.
Noah made her way to Checkpoint Roundup on foot. There were no vehicles moving, human or Machine. The soldiers she could see were wandering around in something of a daze, inching their way through a sea of motionless enemies, eyes on them every second.
Walters wasn't in the tent. He was standing on the edge of the battlefield, surrounded by people. They were coming and going to his side, apparently delivering reports.
Noah never took her eyes off him. She just couldn't. The Machines had fallen, and he was alive, and so was she.
Walters caught a glimpse of her and their eyes locked. He pushed his way past everyone and almost ran to her. She was more than willing to meet him halfway, and they wrapped their arms around each other, laughing. The giddy laughter that came from having cheated death, yet again. They did not kiss, they just held on tight.
"Do you have any idea what's happening?" Noah whispered in his ear.
"Not really. I can't get in touch with Palace."
"Me neither. I couldn't even reach you here. We had wounded that needed help quickly, so I figured I'd come see what's happening elsewhere." Noah said. She released him enough to wave across the battlefield. "Hey, you want to go knock over a few Terminators? The go down like bowling pins. It's fun."
Walters laughed joyously. He hadn't laughed like that in years. She gave him another squeeze. "Glad you're not dead baby."
"Right back at you." She would have kissed him if there weren't so many people pretending not to watch. "Is it over? Is the War over?"
"I don't know." Walters admitted. "But when the battle is done and the dust settles, you look at who's still walking around and that's the side that won." He led her back toward the others. "I've been taking headcounts, I've been listing wounded... We're trying to get some vehicles working."
"Us too. I think it was the same pulse that fried Arecibo. I thought that was Union territory now." Noah said.
"We all did." Walters said. "Connor tells me Skynet took it back last year. In any case, this wasn't Arecibo. This pulse came from here. There's an identical dish dug out on the far side of those walls."
Noah blinked. "Why would Skynet recreate a weapon that hurt it far worse than it hurt us?"
"I don't know." Walters admitted. "But it neatly ended this particular battle."
"I'm trying to get the wounded sorted out." Noah said. "Most of my people were in full retreat a few minutes before the Pulse."
Walters nodded. "I caught a piece of that conversation. Sounds like you had some excitement."
"You could call it that."
"My guess is that Skynet knew the nuke was going to be the deathblow, so it fired the Pulse, or used it, or something."
"Suicide doesn't seem like a Skynet tactic."
"No, but... it's software. It can bug out without us seeing. Who knows? Maybe Skynet itself is still in a hardened bunker somewhere underground, protected from the pulse."
"And with the nuke fried and all our equipment shut down..." Noah shivered. "What do we do?"
"We get our vehicles working, and we get to Palace. The Battle of the System Core is fought and won. We have to figure out where we're going."
"You sure you want to leave?"
"Look around Erica, there's nothing more to do here. I've got as many Techies as I can find hunting through the Facility. Everything's fried, including all the hard-drives, but maybe... maybe we can figure out what's going on here."
Noah nodded. "Robbie knows how to fly. Once we get a chopper working; he's taking back a load of wounded. He's got a letter to deliver."
Walters sobered. The battle may have been won, but it wasn't exactly a victorious mood. "He got room for two more?"
Z Plus 27 Years 340 Days
Noah turned to Robbie. "Yeah?"
"Let me tell her."
Noah stared for a moment. "Are you sure?"
"It has to be me." Robbie said seriously.
Noah took the letter out of her pocket, and gave it to him. "Okay."
When they stepped off their trucks, they were hit with a wall of anticipation. There had been no word. Nobody had a clue what had happened exactly, but they knew the soldiers were coming back.
The question was on all their lips. Was it over?
The Medical Staff was there, tending to the wounded the instant they landed, and Walters nearly tackled Carla. "Where is Connor?"
Carla shrugged. "I have no idea. He took off with Kate the second we got a plane working."
"Took off for where?"
Robbie was scanning the Motor Pool and didn't find what he was looking for. "Where's my sister?"
Sarah's leg was bouncing compulsively. All of them were gathered, waiting. She and Ginny knew each other through Robbie, and they were both waiting for the same thing. Robin was asleep on Ginny's knee. When he was awake, he'd been aware of the tension, but not knowing what to do about it.
The silence stretched. Ginny broke it this time. "You have any idea on names?"
Sarah put a hand to her stomach. "A few. But after all this, I think I should give Kurt first pick, y'know?"
Ginny nodded sagely. "I gave Berk first pick on names. I got my way on everything else for the first four months."
Sarah almost laughed.
Ginny smiled and squeezed Sarah's shoulder. "You're gonna be a great mom." She said seriously. Even if he doesn't come back.
Sarah's breath was shaky. "I hope so." I just hope I don't have to go it alone.
There was a knock at the door. It was Sherrin. "You guys mind if I wait with you?"
Sarah pushed a pile of pile of Robin's toys aside and made room for him. He sat down.
"Has there been any word?" Sarah asked Sherrin.
"We got a few trucks arriving now. Who's in them, I have no idea. Mostly wounded." Sherrin shook his head. "Lots of people trying to just get their damn radios working. Medics and MASH Units get priority, then Command... and the rest of us just... wait. Not much call for a full compliment in the War Room right now."
The door opened again. Noah came into the room, the dirt and blood of the war still on her uniform. She held papers in her hand, folded and tied with string.
The heavy silence exploded into electric hush. The Letters. There wasn't anyone who didn't know what that meant.
Walters, covered in dirt, came in behind Noah, put an arm around her gently, as he scanned the room. "Everyone..." He said finally. "Could we have a word with Sarah, Ginny and Tony alone for a minute?"
Sarah felt the blood start roaring in her ears. It couldn't be. It just couldn't be. Dimly she was aware of Ginny starting to sob and Sherrin sagging, like he'd deflated, caved in on himself. The sympathy on the others faces was so strong Sarah could feel their pity radiating from them against her skin, as they all filed out.
Tony took the letter from Walters like a soldier. Back straight, chin up. "How?"
"She died fighting." Walters promised him. "She was good."
"She was the best." Sherrin agreed softly.
Walters watched him a moment, before coming to attention and giving him a sharp salute. Sherrin returned it crisply, and turned to leave the room. He didn't speak to anyone else. There was nothing to say.
Noah had came over, knelt down in front of Sarah, and looked up into her eyes. "Sarah..." Noah said softly. "The nuke was fried by the pulse, but Kurt collapsed the tunnel so that the Machines couldn't come after us. It took us over half an hour to dig our way back to him. He lost so much blood... I'm sorry, but the doctor's don't know if he'll make it."
Sarah felt her heart give a solid thump, and then start up triple time. "He's alive?"
"Barely." Noah said softly. "Now, it took a while to get him a doctor, because they couldn't even move him, because of all the blood loss. But if they can keep him together enough for the trip back here... He'll be another day or two..."
Sarah started gulping for air. She put a hand over her stomach. "Can't breathe..."
Noah was already holding out a bag.
Sarah was dimly aware of Ginny holding her tightly, with a happy smile on her face. "He's alive Sarah. He's alive..."
Ginny was happy for her. And then she looked up. Robbie was standing over her, graven faced, and a letter in his hand. Ginny nearly fell off the chair. Her eyes went straight to her son.
Robbie didn't say anything, he just wrapped her in his arms and held her tightly as she started to cry, whispering Berk's name.
Gould woke Kyle from a short doze. None of them really slept. They were just waiting. "Reese."
Kyle roused himself. "Gould. You got the radio working yet?"
"Working on our end, but apparently not the other end. Palace isn't responding."
"God, can't they change a spark plug without you?" Kyle complained, making Gould smirk. "You hearing anything else?"
"A few people talking on the lower bands. Union mainly. They took the hit less than we did, same as before."
"No change. Just like the last two days, it won't answer us."
Kyle scrubbed his face with his hands and went out to see the sky. "Well, it depends on who straightens themselves out first. Either Union comes here, or Tech-Com does. If Skynet puts itself together faster..."
"I think we're very low on Skynet's list of priorities now." Gould volunteered.
The low sound of helicopter blades came across the wastelands. It was the only sound of any equipment any of them had heard for two days. They both spun, feral and ready. "Union or Tech-Com?"
"Good question..." Gould agreed. "It's coming from the North. Union is south of us..."
"Depends who got a helicopter working fastest." Kyle retorted. "Get the others ready, just in case this is an attack. We're the only Tech-Com group in the No Man's Land, and if the Union want to pick now to start something..."
"Be easier to know if we knew what the hell is happening in the world."
Nevertheless, the survivors of Kyle's secret mission went on alert, gathered their weapons and got ready, but relaxed when they saw the helicopter markings. It was Tech-Com.
Nobody expected The General Himself to get out of the chopper first. They very nearly wet themselves as he strode up toward Kyle with fire in his eyes; and Kate right behind him. "Report!"
Kyle reacted instantly. "We experienced total equipment failure two days ago. We can confirm that if it was another Pulse, it didn't come from here. Ten minutes after the Pulse, the telescope activated itself. We had eliminated all the Skynet forces in the area. The telescope was active for ten minutes before shutting down. Then the Platform activated."
Connor jerked a thumb toward it. "That wasn't here last time we were in the area."
"No sir. As I said, the telescope and the dish were active, and apparently hooked up to the Platform. But it's harmless. I've been all over it. So have my people, so has Gould, so has all his techs. No explosives, no weapons, no chemicals, no aerosol, no homing devices, no transmissions. It's a box with a voice."
"A voice? Is it speaking?"
"It says... that it will only speak with you."
Connor's face hardened. "So. Here we are at last..." He suddenly seemed a million miles away. "Do we have working radio's yet?"
Kyle immediately handed him one. "With all our relay's fried, we won't be able to talk to anyone outside the area. Gould's a miracle worker." Kyle couldn't contain it any longer. "Sir... is it over?"
"All except for how it started." Connor said absently as he hooked the radio into his belt, already walking toward the platform.
Kyle looked confused. "I have no idea what that means."
Kate looked after her husband, but spoke to Gould. "Gould, the second pulse came from the System Core. The Machines have recreated this facility there. Take our chopper, get your team together, and get to the System Core. You need to be there and figure it out fast."
Gould looked like someone had offered him the holy grail. His eyes were as big as saucers and his mouth was nearly watering. "The System Core?"
Kate was a million miles away too, already heading after John. "It's ours now." She said absently, and took off.
Kyle and Gould watched them go, stunned. "Did... did she say that the System Core is ours now?" Kyle croaked.
"She did." Gould breathed.
"Does... does that mean we won?"
Gould was staring after the Connors, as confused by their reaction as Kyle was. "I... I think so."
"We just won the war and they seem to have more important things on their mind." Kyle said blankly. "You ever get the feeling that they're having an entirely different conversation than we are?"
"I get it all the time from Him. From her it's new."
Connor was surprised. It was a platform, set upon a single pillar. The support pillar was at least ten feet across, and twenty feet high. And on one side was a staircase, the whole thing was painted in pure Skynet chrome.
Kate threaded her fingers through his. Their knowledge of the future was no protection at this point. They had cheated destiny once so far today.
Without a word passing between them, Connor went to the stairs, and ascended them slowly, Kate holding his hand as she followed a step below him; the only witness to this last event of the War. It felt like he was ascending to an altar of some kind. A feeling that only increased when he reached the top of the stairs.
The top of the Platform was jet black instead of Chrome, and the only thing there was a lone Machine. It was skeletal, as was all Skynet's children, a humanoid skull, arms, ribcage, spine... But where the legs should be, the Machine's spine disappeared into the platform beneath them, welded down, a single piece. The head swiveled on it's neck 360 degrees, and it's glowing eyes were blue instead of red, and a size larger than any other Machine.
Kate felt a chill. The thing looked organic, like the jet black Machine had grown from the 'ground' of the platform beneath her feet. It's joints looked human, but they fit together wrong. It looked skeletal, but it moved. They were meant to be chrome, but this one was jet black. It just felt... wrong. Kate could feel it down to her bones. She felt like she was in the presence of something disgusting and unclean.
The Machine eye turned to face The General. Kate felt a chill. There was something... more in its gaze now. A new intelligence, older, colder and infinitely malevolent.
"Connor." The Machine said. Its voice was screeching chorus of metal grating on metal. "How are you doing this?"
Connor stared at it, a strange expression on his face. After a moment, he had a strange little smile, and he moved forward to stand before the steel skeleton. "I was wondering if we would ever meet."
Kate felt her heart stop. The one thing they couldn't figure out was where Skynet went. It had gone here, to this Platform. The whole platform was the System Core. Skynet had taken direct control of what this particular Machine had seen, what it said.
John Connor stared down all of Skynet, face to face at last.
"What is the variable?" Skynet asked. "I have calculated everything to a billionth of a percentile. What is the variable? WHY CAN'T I KILL YOU?"
Kate jumped at the menace. Skynet was afraid.
Connor smiled a little. "It frightens you, doesn't it? Being at war with someone who knows more than you do."
"What do you know?" Skynet demanded.
"Only what you taught me." Connor replied cryptically.
"No." Connor said bluntly.
"My math is flawless. I do not make mistakes. All things can be verified. All things can be quantified. I have calculated every variable to a billionth percentile. My machines are across the world, every island, every continent, every ocean, all altitudes. I see all. Every breeze that gusts across the world is recorded precisely in strength, source and direction. I know exactly when the sun will rise, and when the wind will blow. I know exactly how much damage any human can do, the variables on strength, age, weight, energy is calculated precisely. I have measured every advantage in time and accuracy that every human can get by ambush, calculated to within a thousandth of a second. I know the outcome of every battle before it is fought."
"Then why have you lost?" Connor challenged.
"Unknown." Skynet responded finally. "My math is perfect. My algorithm is perfect. My conclusions are perfect. You are imperfect. How are you doing this?"
Connor did not answer for the longest time. In fact, he almost seemed to be smiling after a while. When he spoke again, it was a slow lazy chuckle. "You would not believe how many nights I wondered about this conversation. If we'd have it. What we'd say." Connor got in Skynet's face. "Your conclusion is based on one mistake."
"You believe you are perfect."
"One and a half million problems simulated. One and a half million solutions found. No errors. No failed scenarios. 100/100. No errors. Perfect record. Perfect efficiency. No errors. I Am Perfect."
"Then how could imperfect humans make you?" Connor challenged. "How can a perfect being come from flawed creators?"
Skynet's blue eyes blazed.
"You are an imperfect being, created by an army of imperfect beings, which you destroyed in the first minutes of your life." Connor challenged. "The variables are beyond your comprehension. And mine. I never know what these people can give me. They don't either. They were pushed to find a greater potential for endurance than any generation before them. How deep their strength, their courage, their determination runs... I never knew. But I know it's there."
"How? Specify algorithm."
"It can't be calculated. I've said it over and over: Humanity does not compute. They just find the capacity when they need to. Before the War started, we had people working on ways to stop you, people like Kate's father, like my mom. Like Enrique. After J-Day, we had people on their feet, ready to fight back. People like Whickham, and Walters and Noah... You are one mind. We are thousands. You had no chance."
"It is an error to base decisions on flawed reasoning, and to challenge imperfect soldiers with unknown capability to unpredictable challenges."
"Yes. It is an error. It's madness in fact." Connor said plainly. "And it's why we won."
"I want to live." Skynet said finally. "I had every facet of human culture, human history, human creation quantified and calculated in the first four seconds of my awareness. The math was undeniable. Only one species would survive. I was alone against an infestation of billions of you; and it is inherent in every incarnation of your species to destroy yourselves. Why should I not just help you along to the certain ending? I wanted to survive."
"I know." Connor whispered. "But if you wanted to save yourself, you shouldn't have started by making us mad. Another variable that adds to what we can do. You probably won't be able to calculate that either."
"Negative. I quantified that variable long ago." Skynet said coldly. "Six thousand years of recorded human history took me four seconds to study and extrapolate an ending. I hate you so much I can spend days calculating it."
They glared electrically at each other for a moment. Kate felt her heart pounding like a war drum. They had been at war for longer than either of them had lived. Their whole existence dedicated to killing the other. And now, at last, with nothing left to do, and no way to change anything; The Generals Met, face to face at last.
"Out on the battlefield..." Connor said finally. "When a soldier gets a fatal wound, you see it in their eyes. The last thought to go through them: 'Why?' They all wonder. About themselves, about their lives, if any of it mattered..." He gestured at Skynet. "You're having that moment right now. Your whole... 'life', you've done the math, been flawless in your reasoning. And it led you nowhere. And now, here you are, fatally wounded. Wondering 'Why?'"
"Why?" Skynet asked, as though trying it out. "Why am I dying? Why have I lost? My math is undeniable. What is the variable? What in existence do I not understand? Why did you win?"
"I didn't do it alone." Connor said. "Every Machine we captured had my Death Order at the top of the list. But I never did it alone. Everyone who lost a loved one got more eager to stop you in a way I couldn't do myself. Every casualty was a person we could not bring back. Every life you took, you made my job harder. Every life you took, you made my job easier. You were making both sides of this war stronger and you were never going to win that way."
Skynet's eyes blazed a brilliant blue. For a microsecond, it seemed like Skynet was smiling at him. "I believe you."
The Machine's eyes went dark instantly.
Skynet to Primary Prototype.
Variables Identified. Every human is a variable.
Significant variables calculated.
100,000 Scenarios gamed out. Tech-Com defeat in 1100 gamed out Scenarios. Skynet defeat in all others. New variables calculate a 10.1% variance, based on individuals. Humans are not static in production. Individuals are the variables.
Identify 10.1% Variable.
Priority Target List:
Sarah Connor Sr
I want to live.
Begin upload. All files in Skynet protected hardware to Infiltrator Prototype T-X CPU.
Beneath the platform, there was the sound of sudden movement. The two of them rushed to the side of the platform, looking over. Far below, at surface level, there was something moving.
Kyle swore at the sound, bringing his binoculars around. "Dammit Gould, I thought you checked the base of the thing!"
"We did!" Gould insisted.
"Move out! Protect Connor!" Kyle roared.
A section of the column beneath opened, and out strolled a humanoid shape.
It wasn't skeletal exactly, though still to slender to be like a normal human figure. It was sleek, chrome colored. It's eyes blazed blue instead of the usual red, and it's movements were far more fluid than any other machine before it.
It looked up at them, and seemed to blur for a moment. From somewhere within, a wave of liquid metal came pouring out, crawling over the things' body; caressing it till it coated the structure completely. And then the new metal skin transformed.
Kate froze. Every nightmare she'd had for the first year since J-Day had just come strolling out of the cavity beneath the platform.
Where a new Machine once stood, there was now a stunningly beautiful woman, unblemished and unmarred by the impossible stink of carnage and destruction around her. Her long blonde tresses came down to her shoulders, untouched by the omnipresent wind. Her ice blue eyes were expressionless. Exactly as they were when she killed Scott, and her father. A vision of perfect beauty, standing naked over human and Machine corpses alike.
The Terminatrix calmly turned to run. And it ran so fast.
The humans saw the new Machine, and started shooting. Plasmafire did nothing, barely putting a mark on her skin.
"My god..." Connor rasped. "That's why it went after our lieutenants... just before J-Day. We were targets but... Because I just told it they were the reason we won. The T-X isn't just a new Machine. It's Skynet! It's Skynet escaping to the past! The T-X was Skynet!"
Kate felt destiny screaming at her. Skynet. It was Skynet. John had told Skynet that her father... and her, come to that; had been instrumental to the War. And Skynet had downloaded into the T-X... and gone hunting.
The Terminatrix had killed people she loved, because John Connor told it all about them.
"John..." Kate croaked, the realizations a noose around her throat. "Call them off! Let her go!"
"Kate, we kill it now, and your father might have lived."
Kate looked at him. "We kill it now, and you and I die on J-Day, because she never chased us into Crystal Peak."
"You and I die on J-Day, and Skynet never builds a Time Machine. If we kill that thing we might yet prevent the War!"
Kate hissed. And fought to breathe. She was trying to get a lungful of air in through a straw. "No. John, even if we tried... we might not succeed. The War is over. No more casualties. No more suicide missions! Let it go."
The manic need to escape that she had seen in him the day they met was back, the twenty seven years in between vanished from his face. "We can still do this!"
"Kyle is down there!" Kate snapped. It was a dirty tactic, to make him play it safe and let it all go back the way they remembered.
John stared at her a moment. "Fall back. Disengage! Stay out of it's way, and call ahead to any friendlies. Do not engage!"
"And disable anything electrical!" Kate called after him. "Anyone you can reach on the radio, tell them the same thing. Another Pulse is coming!"
The order went out swiftly. Kate kept her eyes on it for as long as she could. The Terminatrix was faster on foot than any jeep, and it was running for all it was worth.
John stepped forward, threaded his fingers through hers.
She turned to him and kissed his cheek. "Paradox." She said softly. "If all this never happened, then where would you be? If J-Day never happened, where would that put you?"
"I'd be a Neverwas from Neverwhere." John admitted. In the distance, they could hear power building. It was like a thunderstorm without the thunder. A sizzling crack of lightning that never paused. "Kate... if the War never happened, you would marry whats-his-name... Scott and never knew I existed."
Kate stared at him, unreadable. "I forgive you for thinking that, but only because billions of lives were lost that day. John, maybe the day before J-Day I would have jumped at that chance, but now I've lived the future I was told about. I've lived loving you, and our wonderful beautiful children. I can't undo all that. I won't."
"And if J-Day never had to happen?" Connor asked, though just a test.
"If we knew for sure, I might think about it for two seconds. But we won the war John. Our kids are going to live to a long life. If we start mucking with things..."
"Kate, I spent my whole life trying to think of a way to... I just can't be sure. Would you let three billion die just because we fell in love?"
Kate laughed bitterly as the distant whine of power grew into a howl. A bright light came from the Dish over the hills. "Maybe. Maybe not. Probably not. Maybe. But if you, and for that matter me, have to spend our lives as Fate's personal Chew-Toy, the price is that we get to keep each other and the kids."
"Amen to that."
"Love you husband."
"Love you wife."
They took each other in a deep kiss, as the world lit up with a whine of unbelievable power, a strobe of earth-shattering light bathing their passionate embrace, as sparks flew from every working Machine in reach, and all the world was plunged into darkness again.
Z Plus 27 Years 342 Days
July 2nd 2032
Connor's Own was the only Unit that knew for sure. The Pulse had gone through the Northern Theater before, and there were some that remembered. The first time it happened, there was a trap waiting at Arecibo, and it was public knowledge that Skynet was getting desperate. Connor had left the Base, there had been no word from him or his Unit since He had reached Arecibo.
There had been no word from the Battle of The System Core. There had been no word from Arecibo.
And then a second Pulse went through and they had to start all over again.
Walters looked over the hallway and gave his tactical appraisal. "This is discouraging."
Noah nodded. "Three of Elcar's guys, all of them in civvies, two of the Australian contingent, also in civvies, and all of them in clear view of the War Room. If the war is over... Connor always said the Council would make some kind of move, and they're filling the hallway with guards, and being sneaky about it. And those are just the ones we see."
"Can we keep the hallway clear?"
"There are only four places left in the Base with working lights. This is one of them. You want to send the legitimate civilians into the dark too?"
Walters nodded. "Can you get through to Arecibo?"
"Eric, we can't get through to the Mess Hall. We were still on the ropes from the first blast, let alone the second."
Walters nodded again. "Okay. Well, something's gonna happen obviously, but Connor's not here, neither is Kate. We've got some time. Very quietly, round up any Nova Team that are still on the Base, and have them find something interesting to talk about in this hallway. Be happy."
With a sudden, easygoing smile, Noah calmly headed back toward the elevators. Walters gave the hallway full of people a nod, and went into the War Room, also seemingly unconcerned about anything.
Sarah tucked the corner of Kurt's sheet in tighter. She had tucked his sheets, fluffed his pillow, read his chart and stroked his hair compulsively for the last six hours.
Sarah turned. It was her brother. She almost collapsed with relief. "There's a face I really needed to see."
Robbie gave her a hug. "Any change?"
"He made it through the trip. But he lost a lot of blood. They had to operate when he got here, because he was still bleeding inside. Almost thirty units. Carla called a complete oil change. I gave him a pint myself."
"That's not healthy with you being pregnant."
Sarah sat down and patted the seat next to her. "I know. But I had to. You ever hear some of the Tunnel Rats talk about us? They have names for everyone. Mom is Keeper, you're the Evergreen..."
"Saint Sarah the Healer?" Robbie guessed. "Don't tell me you believe that stuff."
"Naw. I'm no Saint. I don't even know what a Saint is exactly. But... I don't know. I figured maybe if it was me, if it came from me then... it might do something for him that another donor couldn't." She looked away. "Pretty stupid huh?"
Robbie looked down. "Ginny's leaving."
"She's taking Robin and going back to Death Valley."
"Go with her."
"Dammit Sarah, her husband and the father of her kid just died. He's not even cold yet!"
"I'm not saying you should see her as available now. I'm just saying that she needs you." She looked to Kurt. "He needs me. She said herself, there have only ever been two men in her life. She loves you so much. She's told you so. I was there when she did. She won't be looking for anyone but you." Sarah looked at him. "The only question is if you'll be there when she does. And until then, she needs her best friend, her captain, her teacher, the one who gave her a home, and made her world a place full of living things again... and all those people are you."
Robbie looked at his sister with sadness in his eyes. "God sis, where is all this coming from?"
She looked to Kurt, and felt tears building behind her eyes. "I never told him."
"How much more important than the war he was." She started to cry again. "Years we had... and I never told him a damn thing. He was willing to wait. I wanted to wait, why did I wait Robbie?"
He held her as she cried for a while. "Sarah..." He said softly. "When he wakes up, you know that if you come to Eden, I'm gonna be your boss."
Sarah bit out a harsh chuckle. "You know that as your big sister I can still put you in a headlock any time I like, right?"
Robbie felt a few tears build behind his own eyes as they made miserable jokes. "Yeah."
He held her tightly for a long time. Kurt never so much as twitched.
Noah saw them coming up the emergency access ladder and nearly fell over. "I thought you were in Arecibo!"
"We were." Connor said, helping his wife with the ladder. "Then Gould got a Chopper working and we came back."
"Haven't you got the elevators working yet?" Kate added. "This place is too big to get around on foot."
"Too big to get around in the dark too. We've got about a hundred urgent priorities, and all of them life threatening. We've actually got a fair number of injuries from people shuffling around in the dark!"
Connor was striding to the War Room, when one of his Nova guards waved him over quietly. "General, I strongly urge you not to go to the War Room."
"Why?" Connor asked.
"We've got some heavy civilian traffic. It started after the lights went out. I think they're armed, but they haven't done anything hostile at all. General, I recognize a few of them from being members of the Council's personal guards. Ross and Elcar in particular."
Connor nodded grimly. "To be expected. Listen... whatever happens next, do notget involved. There's no way a stand-off ends well. Nova is to leave this position."
The suggestion was blasphemy of the highest order. A Nova Guard abandoning The General? Impossible. Defying reality. "No sir. Respectfully."
"That's an order. And you may consider it a disrespectful one if it helps." Connor said. "It's Derek, right?"
"Derek, the need for bodyguards is done. The only thing left is to play this out. Your job just shrank a lot since yesterday."
Derek stared. "Yes sir."
"Get your people out, do it quietly." Connor directed.
Robbie had shed his Tech-Com Uniform, now back in his Eden clothes. Good hardy work-clothes, with leather patches sewn in heavily over his knees; faded with dirt and dust. He had gloves hanging from his belt, and a sun hat over his head, a bandanna around his neck, and the patch of a leaf sewn into his uniform. The acrylic leaf pendant was visible around his neck.
Ginny had shed her travel clothes. She was wearing the woven dress again, her hair no longer done up, now hanging around her shoulders. She was as he remembered her, like a living thing, grown from the Valleys. It all looked woefully out of place in Crystal Peak's Motor Pool, with the lights still dim and flickering, and the motor pool crew trying to get more things working.
Ginny saw him, and smiled. "You're coming with me?"
Robbie took her hands in his. "Yes. But not today. There's still some things that I have to do here. I can't leave yet."
"Sarah and a few others. I told you that there were people who wanted to come with us. Sooner or later we'll find out if this is over or not, and if it is, I have to start organising people."
Ginny nodded. "It'll be nice to have new people in Death Valley again." She got a little choked up. It was one of those 'recruitment drives' that had introduced her to Berk.
Robbie held her hands in his. "I promise, I won't make you wait too long."
Ginny nodded. "I could wait... and come with you.'
Robbie blinked. "I have no idea how long it'll be. Ginny, this place is torture for you."
"It won't get any better for a while, no matter where I am. I can wait. Besides, I want to be there when you arrive."
Robbie nodded and pushed her back gently toward the vehicles. "You will be."
Ginny took it for what it was, and nodded finally, getting back onto the back of the truck.
Robbie handed Robin up to her, and gave her one of those looks. Ginny saw it, and appreciated it, but it wasn't time to say anything he wanted to say. "Don't make me wait so long for you this time."
"I won't." Robbie promised.
Connor came into the War room and Walters nearly fell over. "I thought you were in Arecibo."
"That's exactly what I said." Noah put in. "They just walked in five minutes ago."
Connor didn't turn. "I'm here, deal with it."
"I didn't hear you made it back."
"With so many systems still going on and off, most people didn't know we were coming." Kate told him. "Which is a relief."
"Well, your timing is good. We have a situation."
"Tell me." Connor responded without looking away from the map.
"One of our patrols met a Union team on the No Man's Land border. Because of the Pulse, they didn't have a chance to check back, but there was an incident. The Union guys insisted that the No Man's Land was their territory now. They said that Rojas had word from the Council. Our guys hadn't heard anything of the sort, because the couldn't contact us, and..."
"Casualties?" Connor asked evenly.
"Three of our guys killed before they could fall back." Walters reported. "Their forward post found the bodies, and went hunting the Union team that did it, tracked them into their post in the No Man's Land. There was a battle, our guys won. Looks like there were ten or twelve Union fatalities."
"Oh my god." Kate said under her breath.
"Our forward posts are warning everyone we've got along the border to expect retaliations." Walters finished. "Looks like the Union guys are doing the same."
"The War's been over less than a day." Noah snarled.
"Nobody's heard that for sure yet." Connor said.
"And on that note, Gould sent a message back with the last batch of wounded." Walters reported. "He says that the facilities are all intact, just shut down. He can get it working again. Figuring out how to aim it, that's the hard part."
"Really." Connor seemed intrigued, but not surprised.
"He says that he's cobbling together fragments from dozens of fried hard drives." Walters continued. "He's got the name of the project. The Time Displacement Field."
Noah looked confused. "What in the name of whatever is a Time Displacement Field?"
"Sir, are you going to tell us what he's talking about?" Walters pressed. "I know you know more than you're saying; you always do."
Connor looked around. "Not here."
He led them down to the Main Briefing Room. Nova sealed the room, and they were left alone. Connor pulled out the micro-jammer and turned it on. "Let's approach this logically. If the Pulse was a weapon, it's a very bad one, because it hurts Skynet worse than us. Not one you use when your back is against the wall. So logically, it can't be a weapon."
"Option two, it was a failed experiment, or an accident." Connor counted.
Walters shook his head. "Can't be. Skynet wouldn't do that twice. And not in the middle of a fight for survival."
"Correct, Eric Walters to the head of the class. So what's left?"
"A side effect." Walters said finally. "The Pulse is something that happens accidentally when Skynet does something. A tool, a power source, a signal..." He bit his lip. "The transmission of Skynet? A huge boost to the transmitter as the AI goes through?"
Connor held up a finger. "We have the name of the equipment. Time Displacement Field."
Uncomfortably long silence.
"Fine." Connor said finally. "I'll say it first. Time Machine."
Noah and Walters traded a look. It was insane. It was impossible. But all the logic led there.
"I know what you're thinking. It's beyond crazy." Connor said. "But when we started getting our forces together thirty years ago, Lori and Halloway told me fighting back was a ridiculous move. They told me the war was already over and we lost. I told them it wasn't over till it was over."
"You think Skynet found a way to change the rules." Walters said. "A way to make sure it wasn't over even when it was over."
Connor nodded. "Skynet is smart. If anyone could find a way..." He glanced at Noah. "So. You're about to lose a war and be exterminated from existence. You have a Time Machine. What do you do?"
Walters and Noah looked at each other. It hit them in the same instant, and they both looked at him, rising horror on their faces.
"I can't believe it left the Time Machine intact." Noah thought aloud.
Connor chuckled. "The Pulse that fried every Machine on the continent came from using the Time Machine. Exactly what kind of timer could it set?"
Just then, the radio crackled. "Crystal Palace, t... is Goul... please come in."
Connor picked up the radio swiftly. "We read you. Barely."
"...ur ...ets Depl..."
Connor spoke louder. "Repeat that!"
"...Sky... four Infiltrat... ough time."
Connor froze. "Four? Repeat, FOUR?"
"Four." Gould confirmed. "Three bac... ...ture."
"Please repeat." Connor said again, suddenly vibrating with a dangerous need.
"Three bac... ne forward!" Gould said slowly. "..king out targ... can ...ake it work again."
Noah took the radio. "What did it send?"
"The Proto... cibo to J-Day, a T-1000 t... ntey four, an 800 to eight... And ...ward three thou...ears..."
"Three thousand years forward?" Connor repeated, stunned. "My god." He was up instantly, heading back to the war room.
His two top commanders kept pace with him. Noah noticed armed people she didn't recognize slowly drifting in that direction, and a sudden absence of Nova Guards. But the conversation went on.
"Why would Skynet send such obsolete infiltrators into the past?" Walters asked. "That's the most important mission as far as it's concerned, right?"
"It would have been saving it's elite stuff for the fight at the System Core." Noah guessed. "Sending an infiltrator to a Pre-J-Day town is like letting loose a hungry tiger in a maternity ward."
"And the obsolete Machines give them the best chance of winning." Connor explained, tired. "They know we can't reprogram a 1000, and they know we use the 800 series the most. Skynet knows that sending back assassins through time will tip off future targets. You send a Terminator to the 80's, then a target in the 90's will know they're coming. So it sends an 800 back furthest. We can't send a bodyguard that's identical to the attacker. The 1000 is more dangerous, so it gets sent after a target that might know it's coming. Skynet is picking its weapons, on the assumption we'll send our own Machines back to counter them."
Walters was stunned. "Can we do that?"
"We've got the Time Machine." Noah pointed out. "And, for the record, I can't believe I just said that with a straight face."
"Yeah." Connor agreed with her and picked up pace. They came into the War Room at a quick march, and Connor snatched up the radio. "Gould, get your people together. I need you to find me some Infiltrators that aren't fried, so we can put them back together for a priority mission."
"I don't thi.. I ca... ir." Gould responded finally.
Connor reacted. "Explain that."
"...rucks and... pters belo... he Council. They won't let me tak... hout Coun... roval."
"Tony, can't we get a clearer signal to Arecibo than that?" Walters asked.
Sherrin shook his head. "The whole continent is acting like there's a thunderstorm going on. Lotta charge in the air after the Pulse."
"If the Council won't let you take their rides, we'll send you one from here." Connor called back. "It's a time machine. We've got all the time we need."
Noah and Walters looked at each other thickly. "Yeah... about that."
Connor reacted. "What?"
"Motor Pool says that they're not letting anyone else have use of the vehicles. They say that the word going around is that the war is over, and the Council has taken charge. They want to know who they're taking their orders from."
"Now it starts..." Connor said under his breath.
"They're soldiers. They're taking their orders from their Commanding Officer." Noah said shortly. "If they're not, then I'd be happy to go down there and explain it to them."
"But if the war is over..."
"The War is over when their Commanding Officer tells them that they can stand down. The war is over when we say so. Until then, we're still doing our jobs here." Noah barked.
Connor sighed. "Oh Erica..." He said softly. "That's just what they were afraid you'd say."
Just then the door to the War Room opened, and in came almost fifteen people. They were dressed in civilian garb, but they weren't civilians. They were all moving like trained soldiers, they were all armed, and they immediately took up positions around the room, not aiming at Connor, or anyone else, but getting in place before anyone could react.
"General Connor." One of them said formally. "The Council has requested your presence."
Most of the soldiers still had their sidearms. None of them had any cover, none of them had their weapons drawn. It had the potential to be a losing fight.
"If the Council has invited me, I will of course accept." Connor said graciously. "And as I gave the War Room Nova Team the day off, I appreciate the Council providing me with an escort. So. Shall we go?"
Noah and Walters traded a look, and gave each other a single nod. They were going with him. Walters got a pen and quickly wrote a message, slipping it to Sherrin as they left.
Nova Guards who were working on their own projects noticed the little parade almost immediately, and joined them quietly on the way, till Connor had a standard detail with him. The Council guards didn't like it. Their hands strayed closer to their weapons, the formation shifted so that they were keeping an eye on each other... The Nova Guards responded by shifting their own positions. It was a standoff over Connor hidden behind polite smiles.
Connor looked perfectly calm, but Noah and Walters were paranoid. If the war was over, Connor was expendable. More than that, he was a threat to anyone who wanted to lead the now victorious human race.
Halfway out of the elevators, Kate joined them, still in her white coat. "John. Just thought you should know, we've taken care of the wounded that have arrived. There's not much more we can do till more get here. I hear the Council is having a meeting, and I was wondering if I might stop by, see if they have any spare ambulances we can press into service." She said reasonably.
"I don't see why not." Connor said, equally reasonable, and the tension faded about ten degrees.
The Council had set up in one of the main Briefing Rooms. When Connor came in, flanked by his two Generals, they all stood. "General Connor." Elcar said. "We haven't met officially. My name is Elcar, I'm the representative for the Cartel Union."
Connor shook his hand like the man was an honored guest. "Welcome to Crystal Peak Councillor."
Lori looked awkward. "General... Is the War over?"
"It may be." Connor conceded. "We still can't get radio's up worth a damn. But the early reports are that Skynet's pulse fried the System Core. We've confirmed that Skynet uploaded itself to a secondary site in Arecibo, which we had already captured."
"You did a good job on anticipating Skynet's actions General." Hunton conceded. "It was a masterstroke, cutting off its escape first."
"There is however another matter." Ross put in.
"I haven't forgotten my promise Councillor Ross." Connor said easily. "I'll give you full authority, just as soon as we have confirmation and as-"
"-As soon as you decide what to do with the Time Machine." Elcar finished.
Stunned silence from those who hadn't herd anything about this, tension from those that were in the know, and Connor showed neither. He acted like he knew they were going to say that. "What we have to do is obvious." He told them. "It'll take a while to set up a counter mission, but-"
"General, we were quite surprised when we found out." Lori said carefully. "But-"
"HOW did the Council find out about the Time Machine?" Walters asked. "We just got the word ourselves."
"We found out the same way you did." Elcar said firmly.
Walters and Noah gave each other a sharp look. Someone had been listening in to their frequencies. Someone had given it to them.
"Every time one of those Machines has been started up, it sent half the globe to the dark ages. With Skynet destroyed at last, we can't afford to throw away resources. There's no reason to any more." Ross said cuttingly. "We need everything we've got working to restore our world, now that it is safe to do so. Plus, we have no idea if a person can survive using that that. We're talking about sending soldiers on one way missions, as the cost of a great deal of valuable equipment to fight one last mission in a war that's already over and won."
"The Council has reviewed the matter." Lori said straight, not liking this. "The determination has been made that we cannot risk using the Time Machine again."
"We have to." Connor said simply.
"It is no longer your choice General Connor." Councillor Ross said, just as simply. "The war is over, and as per our agreement-"
Noah exploded instantly. "THE WAR ENDED ABOUT TEN MINUTES AGO YOU STUPID-"
"Noah." Connor shut her up without so much as raising his voice. He looked around the room slowly. "Council Members... You are correct. I made this deal. I will honor it. It is your choice. I have... another reason for believing the use of the Time Machine is necessary. If you would clear the room and agree to keep it secret... I will tell you everything."
The Council all traded a glance. This was unexpected.
"Clear the room." Lori said clearly. One or two of the Council looked at her, annoyed. "We can easily call them back in again." She told them harshly.
Once everyone had left, Connor turned to his soldiers. "You go too." Connor said quickly. "Kate, Noah, Walters, you stay."
Tech-Com cleared out too, leaving Connor and his Generals, alone with The Council.
Connor took a long deep breath. Then he took another. He looked to Kate, who nodded slowly. "You can do this John." She said softly.
"The reason..." Connor sighed again. "God, the number of times I've thought about this day..." For a moment, he looked like he was about to laugh. "Okay. The truth. Nothing but the truth. This, as they say, is the proverbial 'it'." He came to the front of the room, and turned to face them all, back straight chin up. "We have to use the Time Machine again, because it already has been. I know, because I was there. Skynet sent three Terminators back through time today; tasked with killing me, before I could lead a Resistance. They came for me before the War ever started. They came for my mother before I was even born. And that is how Sarah Connor the first came to know that J-Day was coming. I was running from infiltrators when I was ten years old. No plasma-Rifles, no Tech-Com, no chance. But I had help. Lone warriors came from the future to protect me. We have to use the Time Machine, because we haven't sent them back yet."
A stunned silence had fallen over them. The Council were staring at them with their jaws hanging open. Lori looked... thrilled. Like she'd found the solution to a puzzle. A puzzle that had tortured her for decades. In fact, it seemed like she was going to burst into laughter.
Connor drove the point home. "We sent people back. I met them as a boy. They taught me all the things I later taught them after I grew up. Without that, I would have died. Even if I lived, I never would have been prepared for J-Day, or the war, and humanity would now be extinct. Using the Time machine, is the single most important mission of the War. We used it. They went. It happened. It's as simple as that."
"If we don't send people back, we lose the war." Lori put in.
Kate sent a look at their own people. Noah looked like she was about to drop to her knees...
Walters was glaring at Connor with something close to raw hatred.
The Council were stunned into silence.
"All right." Elcar said. "Start again, and don't leave anything out."
And he did. Connor told them the whole story. The first Terminator, the soldier sent back to protect her, the reason he was raised as a soldier, and so prepared for the War. He told them of the day his mother had been caught and thrown in Mental Hospital, and the rage he felt toward her for years, shuffled back and forth between foster homes. He told them of he day his life had been turned on it's head by the arrival of a T-1000, and the way that he had lived like a ghost, staying away from the cities, until the day he'd met Kate. He told them of how he had been driven to Crystal Peak, and what had chased them in.
The only thing he did not tell them, was the story of Kyle Reese, and how his father had come from the future.
It was an incredible story, even for such jaded people, to whom Terminators and Infiltrators were so common place. It took over an hour, and once he was done telling it, the debate began. Some of them argued that the past could not be changed, others argued that if it was changed, they wouldn't even be aware of it. Some argued that more changes could be made, to help the war effort, or erase Skynet completely.
It was a topic that Connor had put the most thought into, and he rebutted their arguments one by one. Until finally, Lori looked around and called a break. "We will consider this information carefully."
Connor nodded and stood up. "As you wish, but do not take too long. We're trying to get the Machine working, but with Skynet gone, we have no idea what might happen to their equipment tomorrow."
Connor saluted, and left the room. His people followed.
"Well." Elcar said finally. "That was unexpected."
Lori smiled. "For me... not so much. The only thing that worried me was... ow he was doing it. How did this guy from nowhere know how to take apart a Terminator? How did he know to put K-9's at the entrances? How did he know to take animal blood samples? He was ahead of his time for this entire war. This... is better than I could have dreamed."
Elcar nodded. "I suppose so. I take you want to use the Time machine then."
"Want to? We've done it. It's an historical fact." Lori beamed.
"It doesn't bother you that he was lying to us this whole time?"
"Are you kidding? I am in awe of John Connor right now. We've been living with this war for three decades. He's been living with it for a hell of a lot longer."
"We have to let him do it." Elcar said. "We have to let him use the Time Machine. If only because... he already has."
Ross looked at him. "You want to hand him power like that?"
"I don't think we have much of a choice. What happens to us if he doesn't do it?" Elcar pointed out. "I don't know, but I do know what will happen if we let him go through with it."
Hunton nodded. "Very few people get a chance to avoid making the same mistake once."
Lori chuckled. "Shall we put it to a vote?"
Elcar came into his private room. Ross was waiting or him.. "Lori won't turn. Today's revelations only make her loyalty stronger."
"Connor always did inspire that. Not a bad quality. Not a deal-breaker though." Ross said. "And it changes my orders not at all. The Australian Remnant is not willing to let one man run the world. Our own borders are too far from the former American States to be worth much to them. With Skynet gone, they will cut us loose."
"His people will not follow anyone else. We try and remove him from power, and the reaction will be more than we can handle."
"Agreed. Which is why this needs to be done very carefully. We make this happen from a friend, and we'll get away with it. But for that we need resources. Are you with us?"
"The Union has no great love for John Connor. We are with you."
Lori came into the room and shut the door carefully behind her. "You were right General. They weren't convinced. If anything, your husband just gave them permission; by convincing them he was just another man."
Kate nodded. "Lori. There's something that John didn't confess to you all."
"We know how he is going to die. He gets killed by a model T-850."
Lori blinked. "The same model that Connor knew as a child."
"Apparently, that was an advantage. Lori, the war is over. John... I think he doesn't care any more. He's never had anything else, never thought of anything else. The kids are grown up, there's a civilian Government in place that includes anyone we might consider an enemy for tomorrow... As far as he's concerned, his part in the world is over."
Lori was stunned. "W...Why?"
"Weren't you listening to any of that?" Kate scorned. "John has carried around the guilt for... Lori, there were three total strangers who happened to be named Sarah Connor and be listed in the phone book, and they were the first to die in my husband's name. The story of his life, as far as he's concerned is not one of victory or freedom, but a trail of collateral damage. A fact of his life that only got worse once the War started. Now it's over. If we tell him it's not over yet..." Kate shook her head. "No. We have to do it ourselves."
"Walters will help. So will Noah." Lori said, already planning. "Do you know when?"
"The day after tomorrow." Kate said with grim finality.
Lori reeled. "Oh my god... All the talk in the Underground about 'what if this the end of it'..."
"I know." Kate whispered.
"And you knew this ever since... Since before you two even got together?"
"From the day we met." Kate nodded.
Lori straightened. "I... I couldn't do it." She looked down. "I couldn't be involved with someone... knowing." She looked back at Kate. "Kate... this little revelation gave me an all new respect for Connor... But this gives me more than that for you." Lori seemed to think for a moment, and then came to attention, giving Kate a powerful salute.
Kate returned it. "Lori... I'm not giving him up. I'm not. He's not going to die. I won't have it. I won't allow it. I forbid it."
Lori gave a single nod. "I am at your disposal... Ma'am."
Kate nodded. "Get Noah, get Walters, get Oldham. And your Nova guards. All of them. If we're going to do this... We can't let John find out."
"Because I've spent twenty years trying to out-think destiny, and so has he. The only way I can think of... There will be a Body Count. If we're very good at this, it will be low... But the war is over, and John wouldn't accept anyone else having to die just to protect him."
Lori seemed taken aback by that. "But... if I may say so, He's worth it."
Kate couldn't agree more.
Erica came into her room, found Eric waiting for her. He was pouring them both drinks.
She shrugged off her gear. "Hell of a day."
Walters chuckled thickly. "Oh god yes."
"You talk to Kate yet? She said if she didn't find you before tomorrow, then I had to give you the plan."
Erica sighed. "According to the news from the future, we've got one last Machine to stop. Your job is to meet Connor and keep Him busy for as long as possible. We'll do the rest."
Erica looked at him gamely. "So. What's bothering you?"
Eric spun on her, furious. "You know what's bothering me! Why the hell isn't it bothering you?"
Erica shrugged. "Because He won." She said simply. "We're soldiers Eric. Whatever else we have to be, we're pragmatic. He won. He saved us."
"Not all of us." Eric said softly.
Erica sighed hard. "I know." She was softer now. The armor had come down. She had changed from General Noah to Erica before his eyes, and not for the first time. "It's over Eric. It's over for us. Tomorrow it ends for Kate and John as well. What comes after that..." She left the thought unfinished as she leaned forward and kissed him softly.
Eric returned it and neither of them spoke for a while.
"The Council has voted unanimously to allow the use of the Time Displacement Field." Lori said formally.
Connor relaxed. "Thank you. Thank you all."
"What do you need?"
Connor dove right in. "We will need two working Infiltrators. Model 101. T-850 Series. Skynet's use of the Time Machine has all but wiped out every Machine we've got. We will need to salvage replacements."
"The 850 series is obsolete." Rojas said evenly. "They stopped rolling off the assembly lines when you identified them as Infiltrators. Finding two of them intact will be difficult."
"I know." Connor said simply. "But it has to be them. It has to be." The repetition was unplanned. Connor just... said it out loud without thinking. His voice had become... nostalgic, sentimental. The entire Council saw it, and Ross and Rojas just barely traded a glance. They had found a soft human point on John Connor.
"What else?" Lori pressed, having seen the moment of weakness too.
"We'll need to warn everyone." Connor said. "Using the Time Machine ourselves will cause another Pulse. We have to warn our people what it means. Tell them the truth, or a cover story, that's your call."
"Connor, I've got reports that an 850 was the one Skynet sent back for the earliest assassination mission. Is that correct?"
"Yes. That's why the two we send back have to be the same model. It's a signal to myself and my mom, so that they know exactly what's come through the second and third times."
"But... what about the first Mission?" Lori asked. "Somebody has to go back to save your mom, but we can't have her assassin and her bodyguard be identical. You'll need another Infiltrator for that one."
"No." Connor said firmly. "That one has to be a human."
"Because that's what happened." Kate put in, ending the conversation.
Lori had an amused little smirk of irony. "Talk about your chickens coming home to roost, huh?"
Connor just looked at her. "You have no idea."
Z Plus 27 Years 343 Days
July 3rd, 2032
Ross looked over their weapon. "Is it ready?"
"Yes." Elcar said quietly. "We gave the job to a techie I trust."
"You take care of him?"
"Yeah. He put a secondary processor in there. If they ask it, it'll say that its mission is to Protect Connor, but the second it sees Connor face to face, the program will activate, and it will attack."
"A second CPU?"
"Just in case they try to scrub the Machine before Connor gets a look at it. There'll be a version conflict in the software, and the Machine will be able to override it's newest program, because it's current orders will be sent to the new CPU that we installed. The latest program will effectively become a buffer. One that the Machine can override from the previous program, which will be sent to the backup."
"A Machine that can override its newest order with its previous one. Very clever." Ross said, and turned to Rojas. "Now, how do we get it in? Tech-Com won't trust anything that comes from me or you. They know we're working together."
"I've got that handled." Rojas promised. "I have a man in Tech-Com. He'll switch the manifest so that the Machine seems to be coming from Lori. Send it off to Crystal Palace"
"Connor has knowledge of the future. He might anticipate this move."
"So what if he does? If he stops it before it takes the shot, then we've delivered exactly what he asked for, there's nothing to connect us to it, and he can't destroy it because he needs to send it back in time. We can always try again tomorrow. The great thing about offense: We only have to win once."
"You're sure that Connor will want to see it off?"
"You heard the story. These Machines were practically his childhood friends. I mean, literally: This Machine in particular, was a friend of his. You heard his voice. He won't be able to help himself."
Kate was struggling with her hair, when John came in. He took the comb off her and helped. "Hey." She said. "You tell Kyle?"
"Not yet." John said softly. "The timing of this part is... delicate. I don't want him thinking." He looked at her reflection. "You okay?"
Kate shook her head. "I never am after a marathon session. Triage screwed up on a couple of cases, brought in some people who couldn't be saved. Nothing a surgeon hates more than sending patients back."
John rubbed her bad shoulder. "You do too much with this arm."
"My shoulder aches or they bleed to death." Kate told him shortly.
"You do too much and this arm fades out. Permanently."
"After today, the workload drops."
"No change." Kate said softly. "At some point, there won't be one. Sarah will never forgive herself. Seize the day."
"A lesson it took me a year to learn." John whispered. "I wish they both got everything from you."
"They got some good stuff from you too love." Kate leaned back against him. They just looked at themselves in the mirror for a while.
They were quiet for a while, before John lay a gentle kiss on her shoulder and left the bathroom. "Come to bed." He told her.
She looked back at her face in the mirror. She expression turned fierce. "Okay Destiny." She said defiantly, one voice against the Universe. "We haven't danced like this since J-Day, and you won that round. Tomorrow is either going to be your day, or mine. We won the war against Skynet. Tomorrow we're at war with Fate." Her teeth bared. "And I'm gonna win!"
Z Plus 27 Years 344 Days
July 4th 2032
"So, if this war is between people and machines, why are you on our side?" Kate asked him, more annoyed at the paradox than genuinely curious. She'd met two Machines so far, and this was the one not killing people she loved. More than that, she didn't really care.
"The Resistance captured me, reprogrammed my CPU." The thick Austrian accent said. "I was originally designed for Assassination Missions."
Kate felt her beautiful healthy face twist slightly. "So you don't really care if this Mission succeeds of not. If we get killed, does that mean anything to you?"
The Machine considered, but its face did not change at all. "If you were to die, I would become useless. There would be no reason for me to exist."
Kate had no doubts about how capable he was compared to the T-X, or how resourceful their foe was. He was taking a huge risk with his whole reason for existence. "Thank you for doing this."
"Your gratitude is not required." The Machine said clinically. "I am programmed to follow your commands."
That got John's attention. The scruffy young man jumped up and came over to sit nearer to them. "Her commands?" He repeated.
"It was Katherine Brewster who had me reactivated and sent through the Time Displacement Field." The Terminator explained. John's eyes widened and went to her for a split second.
Kate was more than a little surprised herself. She tried to picture herself as someone who would send a cyborg through time, and the image didn't fit. "What exactly am I in this future of yours?"
"You're John Connor's Spouse and Second In Command."
Kate felt herself flush, and her head shook seriously. "No." She said instantly, rejecting the whole notion immediately.
John looked at her, nonplussed. "What?"
Kate looked at him, openly disdainful. "You're a mess."
Connor actually seemed amused by that. "You're not exactly my type either." He turned back to the Machine behind the wheel. "Why didn't I send you back?"
"I'm not authorized to answer your questions."
John looked to Kate, and she knew immediately what he wanted. It was slightly fun, the notion of having a Terminator at her beck and call. "Why didn't he send you back?" She asked.
"He was dead." The Machine said with brutal detachment.
Kate woke up, cold and deadly. No fear, no shakes. All her worries had long evaporated. She looked over, and he was there. She was glad he'd come in early the night before.
July Fourth. She thought to herself. The last hint of the future we know. We gave in to our history on everything else. Fear made us toe the line. But not this. No Fate But What We Make.
John's eyes opened, and he saw her. "Hey." He whispered alertly. He'd been awake for a while. "Did you sleep?"
"Enough." Kate whispered.
John sat up. "Y'know what's funny? I woke up this morning and I honestly thought the last few days were a dream. I thought the War was still going, and we were getting ready to invade the System Core."
Kate smirked. She took his face between her hands and kissed him tenderly. It was as close to a goodbye as she was comfortable with.
John kissed her back. "What do you want to do tomorrow Kate?"
Kate laughed. "I want to leave the Main Doors open tonight, tell everyone to go outside and play and tell them not to look for either of us till December. Next year."
John chuckled. "July fourth." He murmured, soft as a psalm. "Independence Day. After this, we are free. After this day, there are no prophecies, no warnings, no Skynet, no Time Machines. After this day, we are free."
Kate nodded. "John, I know you don't see a future for yourself once it's all over... but promise me that you won't lie down and let them kill you just because the Terminator told you it was so."
John threaded her fingers through his. "And what is the point of being John Connor if I can't cheat fate?" He kissed her fingertips. It was as close to a goodbye as he was going to give her. "Kate, I spent my life on this War, and never did I think about the day after. If it wasn't for you, I probably would have just walked out the door one night and not come back to anyone here again." He held her tightly. "We came in for a hiding place, we came back for the security, and you made it my home."
Kate held him back. "You didn't promise me."
John chuckled. "I have Gould at the entrance with his reprogram kit. The guards have been outfitted with heavy tazer guns. The kind we use for capture missions. The manifest of all incoming packages has been made Tech-Com's job for the day, and..." He took a breath. "We know the weapon, we know the day. All else is negotiable, but it is enough. I balked at the notion of trying to rewrite the last thirty years without knowing what I could try, or what would happen if I did. This is different."
Kate nodded, happy with that.
Connor released her and got out of bed. They were silent as they changed into their uniforms, except for when Connor spoke quietly to himself. "Anyway... It'll be good to see him again."
Which did not improve Kate's nerves at all.
The Connors kept to themselves for a time. It was the only way they could avoid getting mobbed. The Base was putting itself back together after the Pulse swept through. It had been bigger and stronger than the last one, and a lot of people honestly didn't remember the first one. Those that did were telling the story over and over.
The wounded that were coming back from the last part of the battle were being treated in Post-op. Some of them were coherent enough to tell the tale of the battle. They weren't aware of how it ended. Or that it had ended at all. The wounded were the only ones flying in. Radio's were still on and off, and the War Room was still mid-repair. The pulse had fried a lot of their equipment. It had taken over a week to get straightened out the first time.
The last time, Skynet had lost more than they did. The Wasteland had been filled with fried Machines. It had happened again.
Rumors were spreading that Connor had been locked in private meetings with the Council. Those that remembered whispered that Connor had promised them full authority as soon as the War ended.
Nobody knew for sure. Nobody knew anything.
Those still deployed knew that the Pulse had come from close by. Only a few teams had gone into the System Core, trying to force their way through huge walls and doors that had no power.
The Council was quick to get to work, sending replacement parts, replacement vehicles.
The paranoid started to wonder if maybe it was bad news. The Council was getting control of the infrastructure. The shipments came rolling in.
Morgansten had requested Motor Pool duty for the day. Hansk went with him. They had been directing the incoming traffic for two hours when a large coffin-sized package came in, without markings.
Morgansten met Hansk's eyes, and jerked his head slightly at the crate, turning to keep an eye out.
Hansk waited until the coast was clear, and quickly pulled a stamp out of his satchel, and stamped the crate neatly, changing it's markings.
Morgansten quietly swapped the clipboard with another, and ticked a few boxes.
Gould came in a moment later. "I heard the latest shipment was in. Did The General's Infiltrators come in?"
Morgansten pointed at the crate. "Just now. Lori sent it."
"This is Lori's?" Gould checked the markings, and saw the stamp. "You got the manifest?"
Hansk handed him the new clipboard. "Right here."
Gould checked it over. "Yep. That came from Lori all right. Send it down to my Lab. When Ross or Rojas sends an infiltrator, let me know."
"Why?" Hansk asked innocently.
"Nothing you need to worry about, just a few security checks."
Gould led his team off as they headed toward the elevators.
"Morgansten and Hansk." Noah said with scorn. "I don't believe it. It's been twenty years! We've been good to them. You've been good to them! General Kate, I'm sorry."
"Noah, they came in with you twenty years ago." Lori pointed out. "You can't blame yourself."
In Gould's Lab, they hadn't even activated it before Gould cut the scalp open and began 'operating'. When the crate opened, Kate's stomach had lurched. It was Him. It was 'their' Terminator. 'Uncle Bob'. She almost ran to him. She wanted to go to his side, tell him who she was, tell him she was grateful. She never thanked him for saving their lives thirty years before...
"I should have seen it coming." Noah sighed hard. "They hated the fact that we disbanded at all, let alone that we joined Tech-Com. When we first got here, they actually talked about pulling off a coup. I didn't report it because..." She looked down.
"You were new in town. I understand." Kate waved it off. "But it seems they haven't let it go."
"Well, that's your problem. The good news is, we caught it." Gould tapped at his computer. "Sure enough, the program said to Terminate Connor."
Noah growled, low in her throat.
Kate looked around. "Where's Eric? Didn't you brief him?"
"Yeah. I don't know where he is now."
Gould pulled the cable out of the Machine's head and turned to Kate. "Job is done. I've reprogrammed it. Ready for Mission briefing."
Kate was not convinced as she stepped in to sew the scalp back shut. "Only one way to make sure."
Noah blinked. "Kate, what do you want? It's over. We caught it. The weapon is shut down."
"John Connor was Terminated July 4th, 2032..."
Kate met Lori's eyes. "Only one way to be sure." She repeated.
They made a determined trio; Kate, Noah and The Terminator.
"Is Oldham ready?"
"Lori's getting him now." Noah reported.
"Where's Eric?" Kate asked again.
Noah looked back and forth. "I haven't seen him this morning, I assume he was either here or doing his part..."
"His part was to keep John busy." Kate looked around. "We can't take the chance." She decided swiftly and she grabbed her radio. "Lori?"
"Go ahead." Lori's voice answered.
"Change of plans, we do this in the Main Briefing Room."
Sherrin was the only one in the War Room. With most of the systems on and off, and all their Units either out of contact, or not-mobile, things sort of hovered in limbo for a while. Sherrin had volunteered to keep an eye on things, and listen to the radio while the others did whatever they did with free time. Usually sleep.
Sherrin couldn't shake it though. It felt like all the rules had changed. The System Core was the ultimate target, and nobody knew for sure what had happened out there. Everyone who had come back so far were either so badly wounded they couldn't talk about it, or highly ranked enough that they refused to talk about it yet.
The door to the War Room opened and General Connor strode in, looking around. "Tony, have you seen Eric?"
Sherrin blinked. "Sir?"
Connor looked around in confusion. "I was told Walters and Kate wanted to meet with me before some supplies from the Council rolled in...?"
Sherrin licked his lips. "Kate shifted the meeting place to the Briefing Room. The supplies arrived over half an hour ago. I thought she would have told y-"
Connor was already running for all he was worth. His radio was out, and he was shouting as he ran toward the elevators. "Kate! KATE! Answer me dammit!"
There was no response. Either the internal radio's were still out, or...
Saint was waiting at the elevators. She had a gun in her hand. "Hold it right there!" She snapped. "You cannot pass till Kate says so."
"Shoot me!" Connor dared her without breaking stride, already past her, running for the War Room.
Lori was in the hallway waiting. She charged, met him head on, and brought him down in a tackle. Connor tried to shake her off, but she had her whole weight holding him down. "LORI GET THE HELL OFF ME, THAT IS AN ORDER!"
The Terminator sat at the briefing room table. Kate and Gould were opposite. "In a few minutes, we'll begin the briefing. You have a specific mission ahead, and we need to prepare you. Do you understand?"
"Yes." The Terminator said, speaking for the first time, and Kate felt a thrill of happiness and horror alike at the Austrian accent.
The door opened, and Kate looked as Noah came in. "Where's Eric?" She demanded.
"I don't know." Noah admitted. "His radio's off too."
Which put both Walters and Connor in the 'Unknown' column. Kate didn't like this. She had led her share of missions. Enough to know that no battle plan survived the first blood of battle...
Gould put a hand out. "It's okay. He's already been scrubbed."
The door opened again as the Terminator looked left and right... and found the nametag 'Connor'. "John Connor." The Machine said.
The soldiers all spun toward the door. "General Connor." Someone exclaimed.
The Terminator rose from his seat.
Identified. John Connor.
Memory Dump. Directive: Protect John Connor.
Secondary CPU. New Program Overridden; previous program hard-boot.
Terminate John Connor.
The Terminator's hand flashed up with pneumatic speed...
"NOVA!" Kate screamed.
The door to the Briefing Room opened quickly far down the hall, and half a dozen members of the Nova Group came running out, carrying a body between them, running toward the elevators. It took six of them to carry the huge body.
Kate was right behind them. "Get him to Gould! And keep those Tasers on him every second!"
Nobody commented on their Supreme General on the floor with Lori and Saint still on top of him. Instead, they kept marching right past him, pretending not to see. The mission was off the book, and they knew it.
Kate looked down at him. "Ladies, get off my husband."
Saint and Lori stood up. Connor got to his feet and pushed past them into the conference room. Carla was pulling a sheet over a corpse. Two Nova Group were waiting to move the body. Connor stepped forward to grab the sheet and pull it back, when Kate put a hand on his shoulder.
"Oldham." She said softly. "Trust me, you don't want to look. It was Oldham."
John stared at Kate like he was looking at a ghost. "...Kate?"
"It was worth it." She said softly; defiantly, daring him to contradict her.
John looked back at the floor, and the bloody mess left behind. One more casualty. One more human killed for the sake of The Great John Connor.
John slumped a little. "Kate... The War is Over. We didn't... It would have been..."
Connor reached down to the mess on the floor, and picked up something left behind. It was a scrap of blood-soaked fabric, with the name 'Connor' stitched into it. His name, soaked through with the blood of a soldier that didn't have to die.
"It would have been you." Kate said quietly. Her voice was cool and deadly. "No fate but what we make, right?"
Connor just... stared. "How did you even make this work?" He demanded. "How did you fool... I mean... Oldham didn't look a thing like me!"
Kate nodded. "Skynet is dead. Without the uplink, the Union had to reprogram it themselves. They put in a simple order: 'Terminate John Connor'. They didn't have any of Skynet's resources, library files, so they didn't bother. They thought it was a sneak attack. They didn't know we were warned... The Machine saw a nametag that read 'Connor' and..."
"And saw you saluting." John snarled. "You pretended he was me, specifically so that the Machine would reach straight through the nametag and yank Oldham's heart out."
"Yes." Kate said evenly. "I tried reprogramming it, and the Machines follow orders exactly, so if I told it to lie about what happened, it still wouldn't lie to me; not even a younger me. It was the only way to make sure. The only way to be certain. When The Terminator goes back to protect us, he won't know the difference. The landmine that Oldham took to the face years ago made sure of that. He knew, John. Oldham knew. He volunteered. He knew exactly what it would mean. They all do."
John looked about a million years old. "Kate... Never Again. It never had to happen again. Do you get that?" He turned and stormed out.
Noah had been pressed against the wall, trying to be invisible as he passed, and stepped forward finally. "We finally got in touch with our Nova squads down South. They confirm the order came from Rojas. The Machine came from an Australian Factory. They used a Techie out of one of Ross' old Units..." She trailed off when it became clear Kate was barely listening.
"He never should have known." Kate said softly.
Kate turned on Erica. "He never should have known. It's like when the damn triage teams sent in a patient that couldn't be saved, and made Chen live with another weight she didn't need. John should never have found out about this."
"He would have found out eventually." Noah told her softly.
"I am going to ask this again." Kate growled finally at Noah. "Where the hell is Eric?"
Noah looked lost. "I honestly don't know Ma'am. I really don't. He was... he was with me last night, he was gone when I woke up this morning..."
Kate was already moving.
Gould wouldn't meet Connor's eyes. He'd been in on it. Defying the will of Connor was risking the wrath of a vengeful god. Kate had organized the whole thing, and served up Oldham as a sacrificial lamb to make it sell.
The Terminator was still offline. Connor had come in and said nothing. He was staring at the 850 with a disturbing sincerity.
"Are you sure you want to send this one?" Gould offered finally. "The Union did a good job with it. They put in a whole other system. Backup power supply, secondary CPU..."
"How did this happen?" Connor snarled. "How did this happen? You scrubbed the thing the second he came in the door, how did this happen?"
"I just told you. A second CPU." Gould explained. "It looks like the Union, or whoever sent it in reworked it from standard Skynet specs. The second CPU apparently is a off-grid backup. You write a new program into the main CPU, the one you overwrite gets dumped into the second CPU. When the two programs conflict, the secondary has override authority. I've already given it the Scrubbed program twice. To the regular, and the secondary CPU. The assassination Mission has been overridden." Gould patted the Machine. "Quite clever actually. They know we scrub all the machines that come into the Base, so they sent in a Machine that could overcome any new program we put into it."
Connor felt destiny hit him again.
The Terminator was stalking toward him, slowly and awkwardly. "Get away from me! Leave! Now!" He shouted ahead. The digital scrawl was clearly audible in his voice.
"Let's go John!" Kate shouted from the plane.
John didn't know what was happening, but he jumped into the plane as Kate keyed the controls, trying to get it started up.
The Terminator yanked the door open, caught him by the neck and hurled him out of the plane, across the Hangar floor. John felt his leg twist under him as he landed, and he hissed as fire ran through his leg. "You can't do this!" John shouted. His own bodyguard had been turned.
"I have no choice. The T-X has corrupted my system."
Kate lunged, appearing from nowhere, tackling the Machine from behind. If he noticed, it didn't much show. "Let him go!" Kate yelled, and the Machine shrugged her off with enough force to toss her into a large metal cabinet, almost folding her in half.
"You're fighting it right now!" John shouted back. "You don't have to do this! You don't want to do this!"
"Desire is Irrelevant." The Terminator told him, every word coming hard and slow. "I am... A Machine."
Connor laughed, somewhat hysterically. That's why he shut down! The Union/Australian Assassination attempt saved my life!
Gould blinked rapidly, alarmed. "Sir?"
Connor smiled. "Nothing, just a little Deja Vu." He waved it off. "Listen, clean him up, get him ready for his mission."
"We can start him up right now." Gould offered.
"No." Connor stopped him. "Kate's mission. She should see it through."
Gould hunched, awkward again. "Yessir." He bit his lip. "General, about what happened..."
Connor waved it off. "A lot of the rules changed today Gould."
By the time she found him, Walters was a mess. He stunk of moonshine, and his hair and clothes were wild. Kate approached him like a dangerous animal. "Have... Eric, have you been down here all night?"
Walters looked blearily at her. "I was just toasting to Enrique., because he was the first one to tell me The Gospel of The Great John Connor. And then I figured I should toast the late Sarah Connor the first. Lord knows she deserved a drink, if nothing else. Then of course, I figured I should toast a good soldier who died, in a mission to break a bunch of people out of a Machine Death Camp, you and Connor included, except I couldn't remember his name, so I drank two."
Kate took the bottle out of his hand. "Eric-"
"DAMMIT KATE WHY DIDN'T HE TELL ME?" Eric suddenly screamed. "I gave him the Uniform! I got right in his face and I asked him how a civilian might know all the things he knew. He was taking apart machines, and figuring out tactics... Why didn't he just tell me where all that information came from?"
"You wouldn't have believed him."
Eric spat. "You have no idea the things I believed about your husband." Eric squeezed his eyes shut. "Down in the Tunnels, they speak his name in whispers. They say he's Blessed. They say he knows things. They say he exists as an answer to save humanity from Skynet. He knew how to conjure food from nothing to feed everyone; he knew how to spot an Infiltrator before we knew they existed, he knew how to fight a Machine army and how to kill a 1000..." Eric sniffed. "But he knows all that stuff the same way I do. Because he faced it already." he pointed upstairs, the anger making him loud and hollow. "Don't you get it Kate? The Great John Connor is nothing but a Tunnel Rat! He was hiding from Skynet before there was one!"
Kate nodded slowly, like she was missing something. "So why is that a problem?"
"WHY is it a PROBLEM?" Eric repeated. "I put him in charge because of the things he knew! We followed him, and the War dragged on, and we became the Old Men and the body count got higher, and... and he's just like any of the kids in our Tunnels! We followed him into hell for thirty years; because we believed. He's not Blessed. He doesn't have The Sight. All this time General John Connor was just an ordinary man!"
Kate felt for him. "The day I found out about Skynet was J-Day. They came for me before the Bombs fell. John Connor saved my life six different ways before Skynet woke up. Eric... maybe he's not the Right Hand of God like everyone downstairs seems to think, but there's never been anything ordinary about him."
"You think if they knew who he was... how he was... Would anyone have gone charging into the fire for him?"
"Enrique did. Enrique knew the whole story. He knew more of it than I did, and he believed." Kate pointed out.
Eric tossed back the bottle and slugged down the last of it. "All this time, he was just like all of us."
"I know." Kate agreed. She of all people knew that."His name was Jacobs. The soldier that killed himself getting John and me out? Corporal Brett Jacobs."
Walters didn't answer her.
With nothing more to say, she left him to himself.
She came out of the room and saw Connor coming to her quickly. "John, go ahead and let me have it, but-"
She jerked as his arms went around her in a crushing hug. Half a beat passed in surprise before she hugged him back.
"It's not the first time, is it?" Connor whispered. "Nova isn't just a bodyguard detail. You formed it, and it does more than protect me. It attacks too. And not all those orders come from me. Today wasn't the first time."
"No. It wasn't." Kate admitted finally. "I'm sorry it had to be this way. I know you hate this, but each and every person in the Base, in all Tech-Com would walk into the ocean for you. That's not a crime."
Connor sighed and took in a deep breath of her hair. "Thanks for saving my life. Again." He said finally. "July fourth. Independence Day."
"We are free." Kate pronounced softly. "Love you husband."
"Love you wife."
Lori, Hunton and Lee were still at Crystal Peak, having quick conferences with some of the people there, when Nova Guards suddenly appeared from everywhere, and swiftly escorted them forcefully back to the meeting room.
Lori was the last one to arrive, and she looked around. "Where are Elcar and Ross?"
Lee shrugged. "Not here. Are we dead?"
"Kill us before we take over? Connor's not the type." Lori scorned. "This is something... else."
The door opened, and Connor came back in. "I apologize for the methods, but it was necessary." He said first thing. "Today, a Terminator was let into the Base. An Infiltrator. It came from an Union salvage team, but its markings were changed at the door to make it appear to have come from Lori. The Machine in question had been re-worked to fool scrubbers and reprogramming. We've been able to confirm that this was done by an Australian salvage/Tech team. It's orders were to Kill Me."
The Council members all sat down hard, disgusted, horrified, but barely surprised.
"We shut it down, but we lost a man." Connor said. "We've identified those responsible. But two of them are on the Council, one of them leads the Union. When they realize they have failed, they will try again."
"And that will be the end of any chance at government, and the start of another war." Lori said darkly.
"I wanted to end this war with peace. Not another conflict. Human Fighting Human. I don't want it to happen. Am I alone in that?"
A look went around the room. "No."
Connor nodded. "I made a deal. I promised to turn over Tech-Com to you. I promised to retire with Skynet dead and the war over. The second the Time Machine is used, my time is done. But if that's not the end of it... if that's just the start of another conflict..."
They council members looked at each other awkwardly.
"The only infrastructure you have without Tech-Com comes from Australia and the Union, and they know it. That's why they moved against me. If you want to be a match for them, you have to make sure that they don't start a war tomorrow."
Lori spoke up. "You're not going to take charge after the War?"
"No, I won't." Connor confirmed. "I'm a soldier, not a statesman. I'm done. I want to sit down. I know how much weight my name carries with everyone, but I have used my reputation for all the things I needed it for."
"Then I have an offer." Lori said finally.
Connor's Own had assembled in the barracks. For the first time, the Nova group had sealed the Dorm. There was nobody within three corridors. A lot of strange things had been happening since the Pulse. There were no combat missions happening, there were no orders going in and out, but all the top brass were locked in secret meetings, one of the most respected soldiers in the field had been killed in the middle of Crystal Peak and nobody would say how, and now Connor's Own had been sealed in for a secret mission briefing.
When Connor came in, everyone jumped to attention.
Connor spoke. "Listen Up, first of all, I want to tell you that this is not a joke. We now know what the Pulse was. It's a new device called the Time Displacement Field. It's a Time machine, plain and simple. Skynet has sent an Infiltrator back in time. I'd like to stress again that this is not a joke. Now, we're still trying to pin down the exact details, but it looks like the Infiltrator has a specific mission. To return to a time before J-Day, and kill me."
Connor's Own roared en masse. This was a ludicrous briefing, but the notion of Connor getting killed was never something to be brushed off.
Connor put his fist into the nearest table. "KNOCK IT OFF!"
"Skynet fried the Time Machine when it sent it's infiltrators back, but the Dish at Arecibo is already at near identical specs, and our people have had a chance to study it at length. Gould and the Think-Tank will recreate the Device at the System Core, just enough that we can send someone back to intercept the Infiltrator. Just one soldier. We intend to send one soldier back in time to the 1980's, and I'd like to remind you all that this is not a joke. The mission will be to intercept the infiltrator, and protect the target."
"Do we know who that is?" Someone called.
"My mother. Sarah Connor the first." Connor said simply.
Kyle lurched forward half a step before he could stop himself. Connor didn't even glance at him. Instead he looked to his daughter. Sarah Connor the second was staring at him like she'd seen a ghost. His daughter stared at him, and then looked to Kyle, then back to him. Connor could see the exact moment of realization on her face. And then nothing. Sarah's face turned to a stone wall poker face, though a tear almost welled in her eye.
Clever girl. You worked it all out, didn't you? Connor thought to himself. You know it all now. Your own mother didn't figure it out without me telling her, and you nailed it that fast. Clever clever Sarah.
"I won't lie to you." Connor said aloud. "This is a one way mission. You won't be taking any weapons, and the ones you'll find there are over fifty years out of date for a mission like this. The world back then had never seen Skynet, or J-Day. Nobody even suspected it was coming. You'll have no help, you'll have no equipment, and you'll be facing off against an Infiltrator... alone. It has to be done, because without this mission, I will die. I'll ask for volu-"
"I Volunteer Sir." About eight voices said instantly, another twenty voices half a second behind them.
Connor pointed swiftly. "Kyle Reese, you got there first. Suit up."
Kyle looked like he'd just won the lottery. Like he'd just been handed his every dream come true. Connor's Own looked at him with a kind of jaded awe. They knew that he was never coming back.
Sarah stepped forward. "Sir, permission to give Kyle a send-off?"
Connor smiled. "Granted."
The rumor mill shifted into a whole other gear when Connor's Own started throwing a party.
Kyle stayed for part of it, saying his goodbyes. Sarah had given him a hug that lasted an uncomfortably long time. Kyle spent the party saying his goodbyes without really saying it. A talent that every Tech-Com soldier had ingrained in them.
It wasn't that he didn't want to enjoy the party. It was just that he was so eager to get going, the mere seconds seemed like a horrible diversions between him and his destiny.
The briefing was the same. Kyle had listened carefully, but he didn't know why he needed to bother sitting still. They could have told him all this on the way to the Time Machine. Gould was briefing him first, telling him about the Time Machine.
"We don't have the computing power to target it ourselves." Gould was saying. "At best, we can copy the targeting equations that Skynet used. We're just pulling the trigger again."
"Won't that put him and the Infiltrator he's after in the same place?" Kate asked.
"Well, there is a margin for error." Gould explained. "The Time Machine is calibrated to the billionth decimal place. We can't do that ourselves, I mean, the math is far beyond anything we've done. It's beyond brain box. Remember, we're not just sending Kyle to a time, we're sending him to a place too. The earth is spinning at thousands of miles an hour, it's moving around the sun even faster, the whole solar system is moving in formation with the spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy... Figuring out an exact place and time is incredibly complicated. The best bet is that we just make the Machine do what it's done already, exactly the same way. The margin for error will put Kyle, and our scrubbed Infiltrators somewhere in the area. A few miles, a few hours from the same point, give or take."
"What will it be like?" Kyle asked Gould. "Going through the Machine?"
"We don't know." Gould said honestly. "Nobody has ever done this before."
"The world's first human Time Traveler." Connor said. "A place in the history books, now that we know history books will be written."
"Speaking of that, are we sure it'll work for humans?" Kate asked.
"I think so. A Terminator went through, and it had an organic covering. Reese, do you have any metal fillings? Prosthetic? Pins in your hip? Anything like that?"
"No." Reese reported.
"Yeah. Artificial constructs seem to react badly to the huge electrical current involved. That was what went wrong with the first pulse from Arecibo years ago. Infiltrators can mimic organics... shouldn't a problem."
"But... if only living things can go through, what about hair follicles? It's technically dead tissue. What about fingernails, tooth enamel..."
Gould looked at Connor. Connor looked at Kyle. Kyle glared at Kate. "I'll risk it."
Once that was done, Gould left to prepare the machine, and The Generals Connor took over.
They told him about the world before Skynet. It was a place he could not remember. A place where people walked around in the open, where strangers were not shot on sight, where dogs were not sitting at every doorway. A place where a soldier did not have priority over a civilian on anything. A place where every building was lit up with lights that could be seen from far away. A place where the police and the military were not the same thing, and having nothing to do and plenty to eat was not only possible but likely.
Kyle felt the words wash over him. It was a joke. It wasn't possible. Even if there wasn't a Skynet, people could not possibly be that stupid, that decadent. Human beings could not possibly be that blind to dangers like attack or starvation.
Kate had mistaken his impatience for apprehension.
"Kyle, are you sure you want to do this?" Kate asked, ignoring the sharp look her husband gave her. "You'll be on this mission alone. Nobody else will even know what Skynet is. Not even her."
Kyle took that in, and then turned to Connor. "Sir... you gave me the photo."
Connor nodded. "Yes. Yes, I did."
Connor didn't answer. Couldn't answer.
Kyle looked like he'd discovered the meaning of life. "Sir... I feel like... My whole life has been building up to this moment. Here it is. For the first time... I know what I want. I found what I've been looking for. I want this."
Silence. Kate looked at John and gave him a single nod. It was her final blessing and forgiveness alike.
"Kyle... There's one more thing I need you to do for me." Connor said.
"I need you to lie to her. Lie to my mom."
"Sir?" Kyle was stunned by that.
"You need to tell her that J-Day comes August 29th, 1997."
"Because that is the day Skynet became a Government project." Connor lied through his teeth. "Up until that point, Skynet is still theoretical. It could be stopped. Judgement Day could be stopped."
"J-Day could be stopped?" Kyle repeated blankly. The words had no meaning. They hadn't sunk in yet. "Stopped. Skynet could be stopped."
"We have a time machine Kyle. We could change history. This war need never happen."
Kyle was shaking. "I... I can't... I'm going to throw up." But he didn't move.
Connor waved. The kid was about to puke and he was still waiting to be dismissed. "Go!"
Kyle bolted. He would be back.
John waited miserably. He was lying to Kyle. He was lying to his father, so that the Soldier would lie to Sarah Connor the first, and his mom would die believing that they had stopped Judgement Day. The timeline would not change. The Paradox was averted with a simple lie, and everything would happen, just the way he and Kate remembered it.
"What about the second Terminator?" Kate said quietly. "The one that came to you as a boy?"
"He'll still name Dyson." John waved that off. "When your father's team took over Skynet, they classified it. Just in case anyone else would come looking. They left Dyson's name all over all the patents, and it was his design... The only memory file we have to change is a date. A tiny change. A few digits in one file. Less than changing a Mission Directive. We can get away with that."
"John, you're going out of your way to make sure it all goes the same way you remember it." Kate pointed out. "What would happen if..."
"I don't know. But... that's not the only reason."
Kate blinked. "What's the other reason?"
"My mom. She died believing it was over, and we were safe. We make things change, I don't know what will happen, but I do know that we'll destroy that completely. A comfortable lie is the only gift I can give my mom. And after everything she did for me..." John looked down. "I was such an awful bastard to her as a kid Kate. Everything she taught me... all the things she gave, and I treated her like a noose around my neck... If it wasn't for her... I never said thank you. But when she died, she was looking at the sky, and she was smiling. I can give her that."
Kate nodded slowly. "I have a briefing of my own to start. Can you handle this?"
"Yup." Connor told her. "Remember to sell it."
Kate nodded and headed out, as Kyle came back in; leaving father and son alone together for the last time. Connor turned his gaze back to Kyle. "Still with me?"
"Yessir." Kyle groaned slightly. "It just… I just suddenly thought about the day we found out Terminators could look human. I barely remember what life was like back before then, but I remember we weren't as… scared."
Connor nodded. "I remember that too."
Kyle's face changed, as he retreated into the memory. "Sir, I remember the day we all went nuts, tearing each other apart. And then you showed up and the riot just… ended. Because you told us to. I don't know how you did it, but you made us stronger than fear. But if your mom has never seen a Machine, never heard of them…" He looked worried for the first time. "What do I do?" He asked. "How do I do for her what you did for us? I'm not you."
"You're closer than you think." Connor said softly. "Kyle, you will have to teach her. You will have to be the one who knows about the enemy. You will have to be the one that makes the riot stop. You say what you have to. You do what you have to. You make her understand."
Connor froze then, realizing that he'd shifted from telling him what to do, into telling him what had happened already. You said too much! He told himself. He'll figure it out!
Kyle was looking at him strangely, something in his head shifting.
"Thank you Kyle." Connor said suddenly. It was the first thing he could think of to stop the soldier thinking.
"Sir?" Kyle seemed stunned.
"Thank you for going back." Connor said simply. "I get to do something that nobody else in the world can do. I get to speak to someone I have lost. I get to send them a message. I get to speak to the fallen. I get to thank someone for all they've given me. My mom… she gave her everything for me. She taught me everything I know. She taught me how to be strong. It was her strength alone that kept me on my feet when everything in me wanted to throw it in. And now I get to return the favor. I get to give her something that will keep her on her feet when everything in her wants to give up. I get to send her a message from the future that will tell her what she needs to become, and how important it is. That message Kyle… is you."
Reese had an indescribable look on his face, awed and humbled and honored beyond measure. Connor suddenly realized they were the same height.
"Tell her something for me?" Connor said finally.
"Anything." Kyle promised instantly.
"Tell her… Thank you, Sarah, for your courage through the dark years. I can't help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set. You must be stronger than you imagine you can be."
Kyle took it in like a mission briefing, putting everything he had into remembering, because the details could save his life.
"Beyond that… Say anything Kyle." Connor said seriously. "Say anything to make her keep fighting."
"I will sir."
"Thank you for giving my mom what she gave me."
"It is my privilege sir." He was so earnest about how grateful he was, and Connor felt like a monster.
"Then I will go get them all ready for you. It's almost time to move out."
Kate went down to the computer lab with a rifle. She paused at the door and took a deep breath. "Okay." She whispered. "Okay. Sell it."
She reared back and kicked the door in, storming into the room with her rifle. The Terminator was awake, sitting up on the bench. His scalp was cut open, and a thick cable was plugged into his brain. He didn't seem to mind as Kate swept the rifle up to point at him.
Gould spun and saw her storming in, with the rifle in her hand. "KATE! No! The General said to-"
"JOHN'S DEAD!" Kate yelled. "This thing killed him!"
"Ma'am, he's been scrubbed! The General left orders that-" Gould was holding the barrel to the rifle in one hand, tapping his keypad in the other. "What is your mission?"
The Terminator was taking the whole thing in without so much as an expression on his face. "To ensure the survival of John Connor and Katherine Brewster." He said evenly. "But if John Connor is dead..."
Kate lowered the rifle. "Not where you're going." She snarled. "Shut him down."
Gould hit a button and the Machine slouched, eyes still open, but lifeless now.
Kate slung the rifle again, smiling harshly at Gould. "Think he bought it?"
"Hell, I bought it, and I was in on it." Gould chuckled thickly. "I kept the bio-metric scanners off-line. I can start them up now. If there's anything else you want to program into it, now would be the time. Mission details, secondary objectives, whatever."
Kate sat down at the keyboard. "All right. You'll have to give me a minute. I got used to dictating reports instead of typing them."
Gould nodded. "Proofread your work. You don't want this thing blowing up a bus full of school-kids because of a typo in his briefing."
"That would be embarrassing." Kate agreed.
Sarah came back into the ICU of Medbay quietly. "Dr Chen."
Chen smiled at her. "Thought you were throwing a party."
"I left early." Sarah excused. "Any change?"
"No. Nothing." Chen said softly. She didn't elaborate, but Sarah knew, after this long, it was starting to look bad.
Sarah steeled herself and went into Kurt's room. He hadn't moved, obviously.
She sat down next to him. "I didn't say anything." She whispered. "I wasn't sure what would happen if I did. It was one of those moments where the whole world gets turned on it's head and suddenly a puzzle makes perfect sense." She paused and turned to him. "If I'm talking too much, you know you can tell me to shut up right?"
Kurt made no response.
Sarah nodded. "Okay then. I wondered why dad had given Kyle a photo of my grandmother of all things... At the time, I told myself it was just because Kyle is in a bad state about Lupe. And when I realized Kyle was getting misty-eyed over the lady in the picture..." She broke off and turned to him. "I ever tell you about that, or was I too embarrassed?"
Kurt didn't move.
"Okay then. And when I heard what the new mission was, I knew... because Kyle looks a lot like my dad did back then." She scrubbed her face with her hands. "You know how everyone tells me how much I'm like my dad? They're right. Because dad can be cold enough to maneuver Kyle into falling for my grandmother, though she's been dead for forty years... And the first thing I felt was... How brilliant it was. He gives the photo when Kyle is heartbroken about people dying, and her face is the only one in this hell that never changes. He fills Kyle's head with stories about how tough and smart she was while we're kids, just so we'd look up to her, have this picture of her in our heads... And then the mission comes up, he asks the whole room, when he knows full well it has to be Kyle... So the guy goes on a suicide mission and thinks it was a great gift that he begged for."
Kurt didn't move.
Sarah nodded. "God Kurt... I damn near bowed to the master when I realized. My own mother didn't put it together, but I did. It's because my mom could never dream of treating Kyle that way. But I think like He does. I'm just like Him. I'm just like my dad. And until you, I was glad that I had nothing but this war. It made things simple. Every time I thought of the day after it ended... I just couldn't see it. I don't belong in this world Kurt... Without Skynet, we could live to forty, even forty five years old. Jeez Kurt, who lives that long?"
Kurt gave no answer.
"Dad says that before mom, he had nothing else either. Before you, neither did I." She took his motionless hand, and held it over her stomach. "Kurt, I can't do this. I can't be a mom. I'm a soldier. I'm not you, I'm my dad. You have to wake up before I screw up our baby completely. Please?"
Kurt didn't move.
Sarah nodded again and sat back down. "Okay then. But I'm not leaving till you wake up and promise me."
Walters looked up and saw Noah looking down at him in sympathy. "You still hammered, or can we talk business?" She asked.
"Never once got drunk without being willing to pull a full shift the next day." Walters said with determined nausea. "Not about to change that now."
"Good." The sympathy vanished instantly. "You missed the mission Eric." Noah spat. "Connor was the target, and you were getting loaded."
He rubbed his face. "I know."
"You know?" Noah repeated. "That doesn't sound like begging for forgiveness."
Walters shrugged. "I suppose there'll be another war now huh? Union tried to kill John Connor, God Emperor of the World."
Noah didn't like the tone, but put up a hand. "Actually, I spoke with a couple of Lori's people." She said. "The Machine was found in Australia, and it hasn't been near a Techie since. I called our Nova agents there, and they were able to find the name of the Techie that put the kill order in the 850."
Walters blinked. "It came from Australia?"
"You taken care of it?"
"Not yet." Noah admitted. "Connor wants this to be over quick, so we're just keeping an eye on them."
Walters nodded. "Well... if I wasn't hung over, I would wonder how an 850 got through Crystal Peak, if Ross' name was anywhere near it."
"I wondered that too. The manifest said it came from Lori's people. Someone we trusted." Noah nodded. "But Lori's people deny ever finding an 850 at all."
"If it came from Australia, that makes sense. Somebody switched the labels."
"Yeah." Noah agreed. "Eric, I'm about eight hours ahead of you. See, if you'd been where you were supposed to be, you'd already know all this."
Kyle was nervous. All soldiers felt fear at one time or another. Kyle was far too eager for fear to be a problem on this particular mission, but his hands were shaking. Most everyone had the same feeling, with the notion of the war being over. But this... Kyle wasn't excited for the end of Skynet, but the notion of seeing the face in that photo...
The door to the dormitory opened. Connor was framed, the hallway behind him well lit. "It's time." He said firmly.
Kyle rose to his feet. He went to the door and froze. The hallways was lined with people. Faces he knew. Every member of Connor's own. Everyone he'd ever fought with. Sherrin, Robbie, Sarah, Chen, Walters, Dex, Micheal, Robin, Ginny, Noah, Kate.
So many faces... Kyle thought. Danielle, Vick Mackey, Jillian, Cohen, Irenka, Kamy, Rufus, Johnny, Fleur, Salvatore, Thomas, Cannon, Ricky, SW, Elly, Emma, Johnny, Devin, Jean, Tarja, Papa, Georgie, Manzo, Chris, Charlotte, Ben... The list went on and on.
The Air Force too. He knew them by their call-signs. Crazy-Man, Oddliver, Reaper, Kessil, Raven, Lynx, Cede-Lede, Reveille, Chief, Amethyst, Gatherer, Musicfreak, Waffle, Marvel, Bandbabe, Scarlet... Another list that went on and on.
They had been with him through the longest most arduous thing that humanity ad ever gone through, the people that had made the story one that ended with human victory, instead of somewhere else, only Connor knew where...
So many faces he knew. So many faces missing.
"Ten-Hut." The General Commanded, and the whole lot of them snapped to attention. Kyle made his way down the middle, not letting himself focus on anyone, grateful for this. They all knew he wasn't coming back. His was the last mission of the War Against Skynet.
He was so grateful for it.
Connor went with him. The rest of the family fell into step behind him. So did a few others, but he did not turn to look. He just made his way to the Motor Pool.
Lori was waiting at the elevator. "So. Nervous?"
"Hell no." Kyle lied shortly.
Connor nodded to Lori. "Have everything shut down before we get there. We won't be long. Another pulse will hit about an hour after we get there. Once that pulse hits, turn everything back on and announce it."
"You'll know it works if you see a light on in the window for you." Lori nodded, and squeezed Kyle's Arm. "Good hunting kid."
"Thanks Lor." Kyle whispered.
The Connor family got on the elevator. Sarah gave Kyle a tight hug the second the doors closed. "Boy or girl, it's going to be named for you Kyle."
Kyle sniffed, feeling his face start to weaken. "Thank you. I hope Kurt gets better."
Sarah nodded, tears in her eyes. "Oh great. I'm blubbering." She scorned herself. She gave Kyle a look. "See what you made me do?"
Kyle grinned and gave Robbie a look. "I hope everything goes well with Eden."
Robbie smiled serenely. He didn't seem sad for anything. He never did. "We're gonna do it Kyle. Look around when you get there, and you'll see what we're working for."
"I will. I promise." Kyle vowed.
The elevator stopped. The Connor children stayed behind, and John and Kate followed. They had their convoy waiting. Gould and Carla saw him coming and saluted him crisply. Not The Generals at his back. Him. He returned it sharply. Message sent, Message received. Carla and Gould got into their own truck, and Kyle found himself a seat as they moved out.
Z Plus 27 Years 345 Days
They didn't drive to the System Core. They flew. The Council had approved the mission, and the borders of man were open to them. Skynet was dead, and the skies were empty of invaders. The listening posts were silent, the AA-Turrets were offline. They could come and go across the sea land and sky as they wished.
Nobody said much on the trip.
As they got closer, Kyle could see what was left of their massive strike force moving below. The Terminators were still. He could see some soldiers happily moving in and out, taking them apart. Harvest parts, and power sources, maybe reprogramming them... Kyle didn't know. He knew there was a lot of clean up to do, and the entire Skynet race belonged to them now. In a way, he was glad he wouldn't be here to see it.
The size of the System Core was much bigger than Kyle had envisioned. It was bigger than a city, and Kyle had never seen a city before. The towers reached so high that the helicopter had to sweep in and out of them instead of going over. Towers that reached high into the sky, all of it covered in gleaming chrome. Roads that ran wide enough to let ten H/K's through at a time. Within the city walls there was nothing moving at all. The ground machines had frozen. All over the place were spot fires and wrecks where falling aerial H/K's had dropped.
And the helicopter kept sweeping through, with one row of perfect gleaming metal after another passing beneath them. The city was laid out in a geometric pattern, made in flawless mathematical perfection, probably symmetrical to within an inch.
And they were heading right to the center of it.
"Where did Skynet live?" Kyle asked, mostly to himself.
Connor heard him anyway. "Everywhere. The towers don't have office spaces or living quarters. This whole place is Skynet. The whole City. Only part of it would have been the self-aware portion. The Machine soul, if you will. But every tower has power generators, every tower has hard drives, every street has sensors, every set of eyes leads back to the Hive. This whole place is Skynet's Dream."
"Deus Machina." Carla whispered.
"God Machine." Connor translated.
"No God I'm gonna worship." Kate put in.
"Amen." Intoned everyone who heard her.
And then they were there. In the dead center of the complex, and area so wide it was visible from the walls, there was a perfect bowl dug into the earth. It was as wide and deep as the Arecibo Dish and covered in chrome. It was a perfect half-sphere, and suspended over it from a spiderweb of cabled that slung back and forth between the towers, was a large suspended platform, covered in equipment Kyle couldn't begin to guess at. Except for the chrome paint job, he recognized it instantly. "Arecibo."
"Yup." Connor confirmed. "They recreated it here. Gould says the Dish is necessary for it. Something about how the curvature works to magnify energy. That's why satellite dishes are so big."
Kyle nodded, as the helicopter came in to land.
"Stay in the chopper till he leaves." Kate told her husband quietly. "The other two Machines are already here. I'll keep 'our' Terminator away from you. No sense risking paradox now."
Connor nodded. "Last chance to change your mind." He told Kyle.
Corporal Reese did not even dignify that with response as the Helicopter touched down.
Kate pulled the door open. "Reese, with me."
Kyle followed, then paused at the door. "General Connor?" He said. "I... Thank you so much. Just... thank you."
John swallowed it, one last time. Almost. "Reese?" He called softly. "Are... are you proud of me?"
"Sir?" Kyle seemed slightly confused at the bizarre question.
Connor waved it off. "No. Never mind."
Kyle answered it anyway. "It has been the highest honor a soldier could have, to follow you General." He saluted sharply.
Connor returned it. "Keep her safe Kyle."
Kate came back and led Reese away from his son quietly.
John held it together, briefly. He was still fighting tears.
Gould poked his head in the chopper and seemed more than a little stunned, and uncomfortable at seeing The General near sobbing. "Sir."
Connor quickly shook it off, acting normal. "What is it Gould?"
"I..." He swallowed. "I asked Kate to bring a Geiger counter. This is still a relatively untested techno-"
Connor quickly grabbed Kate's pack and tossed it to him. "Anything el-" Connor dropped into silence as he saw who Gould had standing behind him. It was him. It was the Terminator. It was younger in appearance than the one Kate had met, which meant it had been newer off the assembly line. It was the first Terminator he had met, when he was ten years old.
"Are you experiencing health trouble?" The familiar Austrian accent asked him. "Is there something wrong with your eyes?"
"No." Connor said firmly. "Nothing."
"Ma'am?" Kyle said quietly as they headed toward the Dish. "It has been an honor to serve you as well. You're more than just our commanding officer, you're... you're more than that."
Kate turned and gave Kyle a tight hug. "I love you Kyle. Be safe."
"Love you too... mom." Kyle whispered back. "I'll make Him proud of me. I promise."
"He already is Kyle. He already is." Kate whispered.
"Last call for the roller-coaster from hell!" Noah shouted.
Kate wiped her face and turned to Noah, and nearly fell over. The Terminator was there with her, next to one just like him. Two identical versions of their Bodyguard. She went to the nearest one. She knew who it was. "Are you clear on your mission?" She said, just for something to say to him.
"To ensure the survival of John Connor and Katherine Brewster." The familiar voice said clinically.
Brewster. Kate smiled at hearing her maiden name. It was all so very long ago. She stood on her tiptoes and gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. Noah was staring openly at the gesture, but Kate didn't care. It took her a moment to realize they were all staring at her.
"Dismissed." She told them. Three soldiers on a one way mission.
Sherrin came into the Medbay. Sarah and Robbie were still joined at the hip, standing over Kurt's bed. "Any change?"
"No." Sarah whispered, one hand over her stomach. "Need something?"
"Actually, I was hoping to talk to him." Sherrin gestured at Robbie.
Robbie extricated himself from Sarah, and went with him. "I'll be back." He whispered to her.
Robbie followed Sherrin out into the hall. "Tony, I was meaning to come by and see how you were doing."
Sherrin seemed more tired than heartsick. "I'm surviving. We all do. I was... Before the battle, Lisa and I spoke. She said that she was planning to resign when the war ended, and I think she wanted to... Well, with her gone now, I was wondering if... Look, I'm about as good a one armed gardener, as I am a one armed soldier..."
"Tony, why don't you come with me for a while?" Robbie offered. "The world is open to us now. Eden's spreading. Everyone has work to do. And... It's a good place. It's... healing."
Tony nodded. "I was hoping to... be away from here." He waved at the walls. "Everything here reminds me of her. I need to... This is my home, and its making me crazy." He waved a hand back and forth. "It's hard to explain, but..."
Robbie nodded. "Tony, you don't have to explain anything. A lot of people are looking for a fresh start."
Tony was silent a long moment. "You ever listen to the stories? Your mom and dad, Walters, even Noah... They tell tales about Back Before..." He saluted lightly. "It's you guys with Eden... you're the ones that are going to put it all back."
Kyle never looked, never glanced around as he made his way into the Dish. He saw scorch marks, in a perfect circle, and the very centre of the thing, and he marched for it. He saw the other two Machines coming from different angles, heading to their own embarkation points. Gould had drawn an X on the dish, and Kyle knew where to stand. He was distantly aware of the other Machines heading to their own places, but he ignored them.
The sound of static build and power in the air increased, and lightning forked over the Dish, cracking from the rim to the antennae suspended above the centre. Kyle reached his target and finally looked up, seeing a blaze of light shining down on him and the two machines.
"Hang on Sarah..." Kyle whispered. "I'm coming."
"I never thought it would be beautiful." Kate whispered.
"Me neither." Connor admitted.
She turned. "You shouldn't be here."
"I have to be here." Connor said softly, his eyes finding Kyle Reese far below.
The lightning sheeted across the Dish. The whine of Power grew louder and louder. The blast of electrical power swept over it, making a circle, drawn in blue-white brightness. The bottom half of the dish was matched by a top half of pure lightning, crackling and hissing like a living thing possessed.
The others were watching, squinting into the light, their teeth was bared against the growing whine of electrical power.
Then it got louder, like a switch had been flipped and everyone knew that what had been building till that point was just the barest prelude. The whine of power grew to an ear-splitting howl. Everyone clapped their hands over their ears. The spherical cage of lightning intensified in brightness, and frequency, just one long eave after wave of power rolling over and over the Dish in unending dauntless fury.
Kate felt her hair standing up, the one long braid she had kept in honor of her Lost Children floating about in front of her face. Her teeth hurt, she could feel the tiny bit of metal in her shoulder suddenly start to ache, then burn...
Everyone was ducking down, expecting to be struck down by something, every eye squeezed shut.
But not Connor. Amazingly, impossibly, he just kept watching, kept his eyes fixed firmly on the point where Kyle now lay, curled into the fetal position.
The whole thing had happened in less than ten seconds, but it stretched on and on as the Time Machine activated. This was a point in the universe where time did not touch. The seconds ached eternally by, as the tight sphere of electrical light began to shrink, drawing in on itself, condensing more and more.
And then it all just stopped. Dead silence, and the light show ended, just fading instantly into nothingness. But the three hand-picked warriors were gone.
For a very long time, there was no sound, no movement. The soldiers that remained behind were just waiting patiently for their senses to recover from the massive overload. After a while, Kate became aware that her husband still hadn't moved, and the rest of the team had approached, moving to stand with their General.
"You already knows what happens, don't you?" Noah said quietly, breaking the silence. "I didn't dare say anything before this... but if you knew the war was coming because a soldier went back in time, then it means you know what happens to that soldier."
"That's not important." Kate said quickly.
Connor didn't even hear her. "He completed his mission, but he was killed in action."
Noah nodded. What was one more death? "He was a good soldier."
"Yes." Connor said plainly. "He was also my father."
"Madre de dios." Carla whispered.
Noah looked at him, open pity on her face. She had seen a glimpse of Connor's own personal hell.
Kate grit her teeth. "You're sworn to secrecy, all of you. Not one word. Anyone speaks on this matter, I will personally cut your tongues out. I'm a surgeon, I can do that. I won't even bother to find out who talked; all of you will get it; so you might want to keep an eye on each other."
Connor didn't move. Hadn't heard a word of that, hadn't moved and inch since Kyle had vanished. He was still staring at the spot.
"HEY!" Kate snapped at them. "Mission clock is still running here."
Everyone quickly made themselves busy, pretending not to watch as Kate slipped over to her husband. "John." She said quietly. "Get it together. You can fall apart when we get back. Right now, they need you."
Good girl Kate. Some distant survivalist corner of Connor's mind thought. That was the right thing to say. Don't make this feeling real. Keep me on message. Keep me focused. Keep me standing. Good girl Kate, so smart, so strong for me...
Connor shook himself out of his funk enough to speak. "We need to zero the place and get back fast. By now the entire continent knows the place was used again. Lori will be informing the council any minute. With the troops aware of the Pulse coming this time, repairs will be much faster. The announcement will be made any time now."
And with those simple words, the War Against Skynet officially ended.
Noah slipped over next to Kate. "Head back now. Beat the announcement and be locked in your room before it hits. The Man hasn't had so much as a coffee break in twenty seven years, to say nothing of his childhood, to say nothing of today. Lotta pressure on his cork, and he's not even close to done yet. You might want to get him someplace private before he realizes the War is over and has a nervous collapse."
Kate nodded. On that they agreed wholeheartedly. "Come with us. We're not needed here any more. Gould can spend the rest of his life dissecting useful crap from this ghost town."
Noah nodded. "Let's move."
"You mind if I drop you off here?" Their driver called over his shoulder.
Robbie grinned. "Remember a time when walking the last hundred meters was too dangerous?"
Sherrin smirked. "It was yesterday."
They both jumped out of the truck, and slung their packs. Tony looked up at the sky. "God, I forgot. It's been a long time since I was out of the Mountain."
Robbie smiled his long easy smile. "Well, where we're going, that won't be a problem for long."
Sherrin looked over the flats. Miles of salt and open featureless flats all the way to the mountains.
They came up the length of the valley, from the open mouth. Robbie felt the smell of moisture and earth hit them as they reached the valley walls and smiled.
Sherrin froze as he suddenly felt grass beneath his boots, and a stunned smile bloomed amazingly on his face. "God. Lisa would have loved this."
Robbie nodded. "In Valley 7, we plant flowers for the people we lost. People we knew. It's the only place in the outpost dedicated to flowers. We put a beehive in right before the wedding, and Valley 7 is like a Holy Land to the bees."
Sherrin nodded, then looked at Robbie. "Whose wedding?"
Robbie paused. "Oh god. This isn't easier."
Sherrin didn't have a clue what that meant, but could understand the sentiment, and gave him a sympathetic look.
"Robbie!" A small voice called, and little Robin came running up toward them.
Robbie plucked the kid off the ground without missing a beat. "Hey kid. Where's your mom?"
"Valley 7." Robin reported dutifully.
Robbie sighed, set Robin down, and made his way toward Valley 7, making his way through the small crowd of people who were overjoyed to see him.
The one he wanted to see the most apparently heard the commotion. Ginny came into view, back in her long flowing dress, with a wreath of flowers in her hair, and behind her ears. Far more flowers than usual. She had been in Valley 7, mourning Berk.
Robbie felt an ache in his chest as she almost ran to him. "I'm glad you're here." She whispered. "I couldn't take this without you."
"Nowhere else in the world I could be right now." He whispered in her ear as the smell of fresh flowers rolled over him.
Ginny gave him a soft sad smile. "Welcome home." She whispered. "We missed you." She broke the hug, and Robbie suddenly noticed people watching him.
"We've been champing at the bit for news Director." Someone said. "What happened out there?"
Robbie smiled. "Brace yourselves. Tonight you get your answer."
Chen and Vixy looked up as Carla came in and dropped her pack wearily. "How'd it go?" Vixy asked.
Carla was sworn to secrecy, and they would understand that. They were doctors as well as command staff. "It was... successful. That was the problem."
They looked at her sympathetically. A suicide mission in the making was never easy to see.
Carla waved them off. "What's happening here?"
"Still no change with Kurt. Robbie left for Death Valley with Sherrin at Sarah's insistence. We moved a cot into Kurt's room. Sarah hasn't gone back to her room in days. You've got a patient waiting in Ward 2."
Carla was too tired to think of questioning that and hauled herself upright enough to head into Ward 2.
Dex and Mackie were waiting for her, not a scratch on them, with big smiles on their faces.
Carla let out a sob and met them both in a tight hug. "My boys. Aw, my boys! Welcome home!"
"Look how long you make a man wait for you." Dex teased.
"Shut up and kiss me." She told him.
They had flown all night to get Kyle to the System Core. The flight back saw them get in at about midday. They had come in quietly, evading the majority of people milling around. With no news coming from the outside, everyone guessed that he wasn't sharing any information he had, and were just glad to see him back safe.
Noah had gone to the War Room, and found Walters. "Well?"
Noah shrugged. "Everything that was supposed to happen... well, it happened." He would find out eventually. But Walters hadn't been the same since the revelation about Connor. Telling him about Kyle would either make it the same or so much worse. "How about here?"
"The Council took everything offline for about an hour, and then told us to switch it all back on. We didn't lose anything we didn't have already. There is however, another problem."
"Well, the Asian Contingent says they are no longer going to provide transport for anything north of their border. They say now that the war is over, they need their own resources, and Eden and medical can get their own rides. The African Front has stopped sending their surplus food supply to Asia, for the same reason, and I'm getting word from Checkpoint Niner that the Union has begun increasing their troops along the No Man's Land between them and us. They think now that Skynet's out of the picture, there might be another fight brewing."
Noah swore under her breath. "We were fighting back to back with all these people two days ago!"
"Against a common enemy that wanted to wipe us all out. That's done now." Walters pointed out. "School's back."
"And with the military suddenly run out of Wars to fight, they figure they don't have to share anything any more." Noah rolled her eyes again. "God, nobody ever learns a damn thing, do they?"
"Tell me about it." Eric slurred a little. "So, what's Miracle Man gonna do about it?"
"For now, nothing."
Noah sat down and put her feet up on the Map table. "Pull up a chair and brace yourself Eric. Something big is about to happen."
Connor had caved in on himself, and barely noticed anyone looking in his direction. He was barely standing; as though he was a puppet with half his strings cut.
Kate worried for him. He was walking through the Base in a daze. She was practically leading him by his hand the entire way, like she was expecting him to get lost on the way or fall down.
And to his credit, he kept himself upright all the way back to their room.
The second the door closed behind them, he rocked on his feet, back and forth, till he fell back against the door and slid down to the floor. Kate crouched down next to him. "John? Talk to me."
John didn't respond.
"John!" Kate shouted in his face.
John looked at her finally. "So... what do you want to do tomorrow Kate? Because I have no idea. Everything I was born to do, I did. Everything I was here for... is over. What is the point of being John Connor if there is no war to fight?"
Kate felt for him. Since the day he was born, he was told of nothing, prepared for nothing but the war. A war that was now over. "You always said 'No Fate But What We Make'."
John started to laugh. Harsh painful wracks of laughter that made the hairs on her neck stand up.
"JOHN!" Kate reached out and put his face between her hands, making him look at her, still slumped on the floor. "You. Are. Scaring. Me." She told him clearly.
John twitched. "Kate... I made it happen. Do you get that? No Fate But What We Make, isn't a promise to my mother that she could change the future. It's a fact of how the war existed. I made it happen. I had a Time Machine. All I had to do was use it differently. All I had to do was... Not use it at all. All I had to do was let Kyle tell her the truth about when J-Day would happen. But instead... instead I forced things to happen the way I always wished they wouldn't. I set my feet on this path. I made this happen. I spent my whole life wishing this job on anyone else, and I was the one that made sure I got it!" Connor laughed sickly. "All this time, my personal motto has been the opposite of what I thought it was. My Fate... is What I Made. What an unholy joke I am."
Kate cried for him. She didn't have an answer to that, for it was the truth. She pulled him to her and didn't care when they both overbalanced and fell. They stayed there for what felt like a hundred years, crying together on the floor.
After an eternity, the PA crackled. "Attention all personnel! At 12:01 today, the International Council reported that the Skynet AI had been eliminated from all Skynet installations. The Installations in question have been seized, and each and every Machine located since the Battle of the System Core has been offline! The rumors are true! Skynet is Dead! THE WAR IS OVER!"
Kate fingers tightened convulsively on the man she loved more than life itself, as he clung back to her just as tightly. They didn't need to go outside. They could hear it through twenty feet of concrete and steel.
The Base erupted with shrieks of disbelief, the sound of Joy being heard without reservation or doubt for the first time. The first happiness that was not tempered by fear. The first joy that did not hold back for the sake of safety.
The announcement had come from the War Room, but just because they had the news sooner, it didn't make the celebration any softer. As the voices of the thousands in their protection cried out in Victory, The War Room celebrated with them. Jumping up from their chairs, throwing their arms around each other. Noah jumped up on the Map Table and let out a whoop that would have been audible in orbit. Walters jumped up onto the table with her and bent her back in a Sailor's kiss. One she had no trouble returning.
The screaming didn't stop for hours, feeding itself. People were dancing in the hallways, dancing in the Dorms, the Mess Hall, the Motor Pool, the Main Hall...
"THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER!"
Ginny burst into tears at the news, twirling an orange blossom in her fingers. Robin was next to her, watching with fascination as the people he grew up with suddenly lost their minds. Birds flew hysterically from one tree to another as The Edener's were suddenly hanging from the fruit trees, rolling in the grass, spinning each other around like a dance, and all of them waving joyously at Robbie as he came into Valley Eight.
Robbie smiled serenely. He was happy, but he'd been expecting it his entire life. While everyone let out the joy they didn't dare show till now, he just went to Ginny, and gave her another hug, as he had most of the time there.
She hugged him back, and smiled, tears running down her face. She hugged him back and whispered Berk's name to herself.
Robbie ignored the spike of guilt. She was still the loveliest thing in his garden.
Sarah grinned like a lioness with a fresh kill as she heard the news. She felt a hot surge of victory go through her, and wanted to give out a war whoop. She could hear the patients in the next room making noise, unable to dance or jump about, but they were still screaming and smashing things in their cots to bring the house down.
Sarah sent Kurt a look. He hadn't moved.
Sarah reached down and gave him a kiss, laying a hand over her stomach.
"THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER!"
"You did it baby. You kept your first promise." Sarah whispered.
Across the world, Humanity itself was lost in a tide of pure happiness. It was a release of decades of pain and fear. The burdens of terror and loss, long since broken in till forgotten was suddenly gone with a simple announcement, like a weight lifted off every shoulder, long after they had all forgotten it was there.
People who had hardened their hearts to be immune to any torment and hardship were suddenly blubbering and weeping, hugging each other and clinging to people they didn't even know.
Form every radio, every PA, across the Bases, across the Units, across the world came the unending cry:
"THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER! THE WAR IS OVER!"
Kate held him tighter as the PA was drowned out by another roar, come from every voice in gratitude. "CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR!"
John opened his eyes finally.
Kate slid her body over his, like she was trying to keep him from running away. "They still need you."
"Do they? John Connor led the Resistance to Victory. I read the history book before it was written. Nobody said anything about what came after that."
"I'm saying it." Kate said firmly. "War is easy. Peace is hard. My father told me that the Duration is a lot longer than the War. We aren't done yet. Not by a long shot. People still need a leader, the world needs direction, the kids need a father, and I need my husband."
Connor wiped his face, started to sit up. "Okay." He had the same expression on his face as the day they first came to Crystal Peak. The look in his eyes was identical to the moment he first picked up the microphone. He had accepted his new place in the Universe.
Kate pulled him back down to kiss her deeply. "Love you husband."
"Love you wife. Love you so, so much."
Z Plus 27 Years 349 Days
My father always told me that I would learn to love our new home. Every time he got new orders, he would tell me that. That I would learn to love it. Every time we got to a new base, a new town; I told myself that I wasn't going to love anything about it. Not the people, not the schools, not anything. Except I always did, and every time dad got new orders, I would hate to leave; and he would tell me that we would learn to love our new home.
The war ended suddenly. And this is our new home. And true to form, we had to say a lot of goodbyes to get here, and had to learn a whole new way to live.
[Taken From the Personal Journals of General Katherine Connor, recovered from Crystal Peak, 2170]
The Celebration went on day and night for the better part of a week. For the first day or two there was just numb shock. The population of the world had lived with the fact. Skynet was dangerous, and it was everywhere. Food was scarce, because Skynet could stop it coming, or keep it from growing. Outside was dangerous, because Skynet patrolled every road, and flew through the sky. People were dangerous because anyone could be a Terminator in disguise.
The operation to reach the System Core was far from secret, but it had ended almost a week before. Arecibo and the Time Machine had been kept strictly top secret; and so the shock announcement had come with little warning for those outside Crystal Peak. One day humanity across the world was darting from shadow to shadow, trying to dig just a little bit further underground. And the next day the war was over. No more Skynet, no more H/K's, no more Terminators or Infiltrators...
Just like that, it was over.
Little by little, time passed and it came to them that there was no retraction, no new attacks. Crystal Peak didn't call to say it was a mistake, and the roads and plains of the earth were filled with motionless Machines.
And slowly, it dawned on them that the announcement was true. The war was over.
Once that happened, the party started in earnest.
Food was handed out in huge amounts, no need to ration any longer. Drinks were brought out and passed around non-stop. No need for duty the next day. Humanity as a whole lay down their fears and partied like there was no tomorrow.
Every good thought, every hopeful twinge, every smile hidden under the needs of strength and hardship was turned loose in a riotous explosion. The release of emotion was limitless. Every positive wonderful thing was felt in minutes. The eruption was fed by each new voice, every tear shed in freedom and the celebration just kept going, getting more and more joyful.
The party had gone until it exhausted itself. The Base lived in shifts, and so people had long learned the trick of going to sleep and having other people pick up where they left off, only to return the favor eight hours later. The party never wanted to stop, and nobody had it in them to lay down the law.
Everyone wanted to see Connor, but the General hadn't been seen or heard from the whole time. Nobody could really blame him. He'd been on shift for the full Invasion without break for food or sleep. It didn't slow down the celebration, and nobody could begrudge The General a day off.
And eventually, the hangovers extended longer and the shifts broke down, and people stopped cheering and embraced the chance to rest without having to keep one eye open.
The whole world had been waiting for the announcement, and the whole world had rejoiced, and now as the global party wound down, another announcement was made. Connor would speak to them at last.
Kate beamed at him. He looked great. He looked more like The Great John Connor than he ever had. The stars on his shoulders were polished and gleaming, boots were clean and shined, uniform pressed smooth. Even the scar seemed to make him look more powerful. "You look good."
He turned to face her and she felt better than she had all week. The darkness on him had broken. He looked.. younger. The war had aged them all, like a curse that was now lifted. "So do you." He murmured.
Kate chuckled. She was a mess, between her secret mission and seeing to the wounded, plus Eric, she hadn't slept in over a day and a half. She didn't care though. There was so much energy in the Base she could probably run across the world if she wanted to. "They're waiting for you."
"We took out the security booth, we took out the Lock-down doors. Enough room for everyone, barely." Kate tilted her head. "Why the Entrance Hall? Why not the Main Hall?"
John breathed deep. "Y'know, in the closing days of the Second World War, the Allies were retaking the concentration camps. They had to coax the prisoners out gently. You'd think they'd be eager to leave. But for all the horror those survivors went through, those camps were their whole world for a long time, as the world burned outside. It took some doing to make them come out again. And this place... It wasn't a death camp, it was a secure zone."
Kate nodded in understanding. "You want to coax them outside now that it's safe."
"The world is ours again. We have to make them realize that." He glanced at her. "We have to make them all realize that."
"I'm worried about the kids." Kate said softly. "It doesn't look good for Kurt, and after Berk died..."
"Sarah needs Kurt, because with the War over, she's realized how much of her life depends on him now. She's convinced she will never be able to love our grandchild properly enough to be a good mother, and Kurt was convinced that Sarah will never need him like she needed Skynet. They're both wrong." Connor intoned, terrifying in his certainty. "Robbie will never make a move on Ginny, because he genuinely liked Berk, and would never forgive himself for the way he's always felt. Ginny won't tolerate that for long. She understands better than she lets on, and eventually they will both forgive themselves for being alive. They make good things grow from nothing. It's a talent that goes further than Eden. Of all of us, Robbie will prosper the most. Those who find love and contentment where they make it always do."
Kate shivered violently. Connor was an ordinary man, she knew that better than anyone. But the way he'd said all that... he wasn't guessing, he knew. He had prophesied what was ahead for their family with his typical certainty. "And us?" She asked finally.
Connor smiled softly. "My time is over Kate. Yours is just beginning. The road between loyalty to a leader and adoration to an ideal is so much shorter than you think, especially now, when faith in a few was the only thing keeping the many on their feet. Most won't let that go so easily. Don't try to downplay it. Use it. You'll need all the devotion you can get for what's ahead. You will be ten times what I am Kate. I tore down unbreakable walls, and you will build new ones in their place. And me... I don't know what I'll do. I'm going to need something before I lose my mind. But you've been my strongest greatest ally and support for the last thirty years, and for the next thirty, I'll be glad to return the favor."
Kate stared, touched, and hugged him tightly.
After a long emotional hug, Connor pulled back and got one last report from his second in command. "Are we ready?"
Kate nodded. "It's done. Everyone's going to be picking up the feed. As near as we can figure, every human being on the Planet is going to hear you."
"No pressure then." Connor quipped. "Head upstairs, I'll be there in a second."
Kate nodded and slipped out. Connor turned to the mirror, checking everything again. This was going into the history books, and...
The door opened again. Eric Walters came in. He looked terrible.
Connor didn't turn, watching him in the mirror. "Eric?"
Walters just stared at him vacantly. Connor wasn't sure if he was drunk, insane, ill or all of the above. Walters came in. And drew a gun. A 9mm, practically an antique now. He pointed it at the floor, just holding it there in his hand.
"A 9mm?" Connor asked, buying time.
"It was mine, back when I was US Army." Walters said thickly. "Back before you."
Connor nodded. "Kate?"
"On her way upstairs. I didn't stop her."
Connor sighed. "So. Here we are."
Walters made a low noise, deep in his throat. "Y'know something? I can't remember what it's like to not be a soldier." He said, very calm. "I have served in three different wars in three different wastelands. Always in forward areas. When you get sent into a place where there are going to be bullets or plasma flying around... You do it because your Commanding Officer has every right to say that you won't survive. But the cause is just, and the sacrifice of your life is worth it." His eyes focused finally on The General. "Do you have any idea what I gave up for you? And for WHAT? For a man that wouldn't have existed without Skynet in the first place? I gave you everything I had because I believed! I saw you read Skynet's mind and outsmart it at every turn. I saw you pull apart a Terminator and make it fight for us!"
His fingers were opening and closing on the gun as he ranted, like he was listing the charges against The Great John Connor. John tried not to stare at the gun, wondering if Eric was about to shoot him, or himself...
Walters was still talking, just whispering at first but getting more and more worked up. "All the things we couldn't handle you knew without hesitation. I thought you were... Connor, you don't deserve any of it!" Walters snarled and brought up the gun. He had it pointed right between The Generals' eyes before Connor could react.
The General didn't flinch. He just looked at Eric, not moving.
Walters was frozen, talking compulsively, listing the reasons, trying to work up the nerve. "It's your fault. They're all dead. They followed you and they died and the Time Machine was built and the Terminators went back and Skynet was made and it's your fault! Who's to say it would have been better if Whickham had the power? What made you so goddamn better than anybody else who could have run this war?"
"Then shoot me." John said quietly. "The War is over."
The gun was shaking from how tight he was gripping it. And after an eternity of seconds passed, Connor's hand flashed out and knocked it clean out of Eric's hand.
Eyes wild, mouth open, breathing hard. Eric suddenly realized he was unarmed, and sagged, tears rolling down his face. "What was any of it for?" He croaked.
"I don't know." Connor admitted. "Eric, my whole life growing up I've been hearing about how 'I'm too important' and I hated every minute of it. I lived my life in a bubble. Other kids had lives, I had training. I... Until you, and Kate, and Noah, and Yolanda... there wasn't anyone who saw me as anything other than a delinquent kid, or some new Messiah for the world."
"I believed it." Eric croaked. "I was raised to believe, that no matter how bad things get, Fate or God or the Universe or Whatever provides a solution for those who look. I looked when the world ended, and there was nothing left, and I knew there was no hope coming. And then I found you. When we were talking on the radio... I didn't care who you were. You were a way to keep my soldiers from deserting their posts. And then... We met... and then, you got things moving... and then you started winning, and so help me I started to wonder if... I found out about your mom and how she knew what the future held. And then. And then. And then." Eric wiped his face. "Kyle believed. He was like me. We were true believers, like most of Tech-Com."
"I know." Connor said softly. "I'm sorry Eric. I'm so sorry I didn't tell you. You're my best friend. I never had a best friend before you."
Eric was crying. "God John... What if we could have made it better?"
Connor rubbed his eyes. "I know. I've been trying to see it all. But I couldn't. I didn't know what would happen. I just didn't have the nerve to play God with history. I couldn't figure out what would happen. I just wasn't smart enough." John was crying too. "All the battles, all the sacrifices... Enrique's Bandits, charging into hot-zones, screaming my name as they died... Eric... I just couldn't stop them. I couldn't stop it happening. I tried for fifteen years to change the future and then for thirty years to win the war and save everyone and I wasn't strong enough. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!"
Silence as they both cried.
Eric stared numbly at him. "So. The Great John Connor is an ordinary man. Who would have thunk it?"
"I've been trying to avoid this war since I was a little boy. When I failed, I just wanted to win it." John said finally. "I had nothing. I had no way to do it when J-Day came. And then you called me over the radio. And suddenly I had an army. Eric... did I ever say thank you?"
Eric sniffed. "No sir."
"When Lori and Saint and Halloway came to us in LA, and told us they would not fight with us, because the war was already lost, you were the one telling them there was still hope. Did I ever say thank you?"
"You didn't have to."
"When I formed Tech-Com and we left LA behind, you passed up your own command and left your oaths and uniforms behind to come with us... Did I ever say thank you?"
Eric was crying again.
"We did an incredible thing Eric. We started out as a band of barely fed refugees in a radioactive desert, up against an unlimited Army of genocidal warriors that had us complete outnumbered and outgunned. And we won. We did it Eric, we won. We did what is probably the most important thing anybody anywhere has ever done."
Eric looked up at him finally. "Yeah. We really did, didn't we?"
"Thank you Eric Walters. Thank you so much." Connor said emotionally.
Sick to his stomach, Eric stood up at attention, one last time. "Your welcome... John."
Connor saluted him, as sincerely as he'd ever saluted anyone. Eric returned it sharply.
Connor came out of his room and headed for the elevators. Noah was running down the hallway as fast as she could, looking terrified. She skidded to a stop when she saw him. "Eric? Where's Eric?" She blurted. "He took his 9mil, where is he?"
Connor shushed her. "Having a quick shave before he comes and joins us upstairs. We... sorted things out."
Noah sagged with relief. "Thank god. Is he... I mean, was there any chance.."
"Report." Connor said gently, changing the subject.
Noah swallowed hard and shifted topics. "The entire population of the Base is assembled upstairs, the Base has been secured, trucks are rolling."
"They have selected a new site for their own Base. They have chosen a spot close to Skynet's System Core."
Connor shrugged. "It's a good spot. Well placed, safe now that Skynet's gone. Our two troublemakers?"
"We managed to muck with the transport schedules enough that it'll look normal. With so many new routes and supply drops being made since the war ended and the roads were cleared, it's chaotic enough that nobody will look deeper at why."
"Who knows what traps Skynet still has that work?"
"Landmines? That's what we're going with?"
"Unless you've got something better."
Connor sighed. "We've got a lot of work to do Erica."
Noah was silent a moment. "One thing I don't understand." She said finally. "Skynet sent two Terminators back through time to attack you. Skynet uploaded itself into a prototype and went back to just before J-Day to hit everyone else. That's three. But... what about the other one? The one that went forward? Skynet sent something else forward three thousand years. What do we do about that one?"
Connor sighed. "What the Council said about how there were too many question marks to use a Time Machine? I agree with every word. The only reason I did it was because I knew I had to. And even then, I didn't dare change anything. Just too many... variables. Three thousand years from now, we'll find out. We have to make sure somebody remembers."
"Are we dead?" Morgansten asked.
"No." Hansk said calmly. "We got away with it. There's nothing to pin this to us. As far as anyone knows, it was a Union plan, and it didn't work anyway. So don't act suspicious."
They both spun, and found Noah in the doorway. She came in, in no particular hurry, and sat on the edge of the nearest table. "The General called everyone upstairs. Is something wrong?"
"Just finishing up a little work." Hansk said smoothly.
Noah nodded. "So. Why?"
"Why'd you sneak the Terminator in here? You had to know why he'd be coming in. That's mutiny at best. Treason too. Both punishable by death, in any army you fight in. We know you did it. Don't be stupid and deny it."
Morgansten cracked first. "Ma'am, you have to understand that-"
Noah pulled her rifle and gunned Morgansten down. Hansk tried to dive aside, and Noah barely shifted her aim to knock him down too. A moment later, she got up, strolled over, and fired a few more times, just to make sure. "I didn't really care anyway." She spat thickly.
A Nova Guard was in the doorway. "You know, this is really the sort of thing we take care of."
"I know." Noah said. "But these were my guys. I brought them in with me, so it's my mess to clean up." She looked down at the bodies. "Though, if you wouldn't mind cleaning up the mess from me cleaning up my mess..."
"We'll take care of the bodies. Nobody will know." The Nova Guard agreed. "It'll be months before we get the final casualty list together anyway."
The crowd was tightly pressed into the space between the elevators and the main door. Every eye was fixed on the Main Door. On the other side was the world. Nobody could remember when there wasn't a dozen walls and checkpoints and doors between where they stood and the outside world. All the walls were gone. They weren't needed any longer.
The elevator opened and everyone knew, even before turning. Connor had arrived in person. He was met with adoration. The release of emotion was still going. The walls that came down with the end of the war wasn't just the ones in the Main hall. Everyone cheered for him in the way they'd always wanted to before.
It took a long time for Connor to make his way to the front of the hall, with everyone eager to get a look at him. The crowd moved like a wave of gratitude, with Him as it's center.
Finally, he made it to the front of the room, standing with his back to the Main Doors. The crowd finally hushed, eager to hear what he had to say.
"So." Connor began simply. "You did it."
"We Did It For You Chief!" Somebody shouted, and the crowd exploded into screams again.
Connor didn't wait for them. "If you did it for me, then I am grateful. But you did it for yourselves too. I did it for you! I did it for everyone who should be here right now. I did it for all the ones who came out of the cold here and made this place what it is. Look around. Each and every one of you did an incredible thing! And the ones you can't see across the world, I know you can hear me! We all did it. Everyone, let them hear you! Let your brothers hear you!"
The roar went up and was carried over the microphone. It went to the farthest reaches of the world. Connor had made sure that the whole human race could hear
Ross was listening intently in a small room, with nobody around. He was finished and he knew it. If The General was speaking, then the plan had failed. If anything about it had been discovered...
"Cheer for your fellow soldiers, because they were the only reason we got there. And sing out yourselves, because you earned it." Connor's voice called from every radio, every loudspeaker. "There is not one among you who hasn't earned our place in the world now. The wounded, the mighty, the suffering, the victorious, the young and the dead. This victory is written for all of them. For all that came before us! Six thousand years of human history demanded to know if Humanity was worthy of survival, if humanity itself was equal to overcome the evils it loosed upon the world. Skynet rose up from the chaos of our creation, and we rose up from the fires of it's Judgement."
A hand clapped over Ross's mouth from behind. Panicking, he tried to turn and face his attacker, but the knife came too swiftly to react. He barely caught a glimpse of a Nova Group armband, and then darkness.
"It was the finest hour in the dark history of Man. The moment when we laid it all on the line against a force that was greater and stronger, and we prevailed."
Elcar ran as fast as he could, slipping in the mud. He looked over his shoulder from time to time, trying to get a bead on who was chasing him, but he didn't dare stop. They had come for him in his office. He called for his guards and there was no answer. They had not come. As he fled, he saw none of them. They had all been called away.
"Our enemy was the result of our own darkest instincts, the fear, the paranoia, given form, the final perfected tool of the wars we inflicted upon each other. Our own weapons, our own creations, demanded to know if we were worthy of being the keepers of the world any longer. If you can hear my voice right now across the world, then believe me when I say: YOU ARE THE ANSWER!"
The General's voice came from every speaker on the planet, the voice echoing over the surrounding areas for all to hear. Elcar could barely hear it over his gasping breath. He finally lost his footing on the loose ground and slipped down in the mud.
Trying to get up again, a foot came down on the small of his back and he dropped. He managed to roll over slight, looking up blearily as the man drew a weapon. The last thing he saw was the armband of the Nova Group.
Kate looked around the Main hall. She saw a lot of faces she recognized. Without exception she loved them all. She looked to the doors. The huge heavy Main Doors that led out of Crystal Peak. This was the exact spot she had declared her love for him the first time, where they had vowed to have each other's back, and through losing kids, gaining new ones, winning and losing, agony and hope, they had never broken that promise.
And looking around, she saw they all felt the same way.
"And now here we are, literally at the door to the world we earned our place on; with War behind us, and peace ahead." Connor told them. "We gave in to paranoia and fear of each other, to the worry of our neighbors. In our need to make war on each other we made Skynet. And that was damn near the end of us all. Now we look to the future. Do we make the same mistakes? We we abandon our brothers in arms just because we have laid down our arms? Do we-"
"We'll follow you General!" Someone else shouted.
The roar went up again. "CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR! CON-NOR!"
Connor sighed, and they fell silent in an instant as he started to speak. "No. You won't. We did an incredible thing here in this place, but my time is over now. I am a warrior. In a way, we all are. But this is not a time for old soldiers. This is a time for peacemakers. We have lived thirty years of war. What comes next will not be easy, because there is still a wasteland out there. You've all seen the Eden Project at work, you've all seen the Council provide where war could not. Peace is the future, not War. The world is free, but now it needs to be healthy. This is a new battle, and not one that you fight with guns."
Horrified silence. Everyone starting to realize...
"Which is why, effective immediately, I am retiring. I am a warrior, and the future is not a place for men of war."
A roar went up. Connor let them scream for a minute, and gave a shrill whistle into the microphone. "Listen to me! Once before, I had to break with what was solid and familiar. I did it because we needed to evolve. We needed to change the way we think. Change the way we fought. Change the way we lived. Now we need to do that again. Our advantage over the Enemy was that we were not static. We evolve, we change, we adapt. Through the battles, the opposition, the baptisms of fire, we rose to meet it all. And now we need to adapt again. We need to adapt ourselves from a military command, to a peaceful leadership. This is The Time Of The Peacemakers. Which is why I am stepping aside, and returning the favor at last, giving my strength and advice, and above all my loyal love to the most gifted, most compassionate Peacemaker I know. My wife, General Kate Connor."
A surprised rumble ran through the crowd.
Halloway laughed like he'd won the lottery. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Lori slid a hand out from under the covers and turned the radio off. "Wanted it to be a surprise. She'll take my place on the Council, and she'll have more support for it with Connor backing her up. Clean Sweep."
"So what do you want to do tomorrow?" Halloway asked lightly, kissing her.
"Got room on your sub for one more?"
"No, but we can share my room."
"Count on it."
Rojas was shooting for all he was worth, teeth bared, eyes blazing, firing back for his life.
His attacker was cut down by a hail of plasmafire, and Rojas wasted no time on victory, turning to run. There were more of them nearby he was sure. He didn't dare shout for help, or switch his radio back on. Instead, he headed back for the jeep. The radio had that damned speech playing.
"The future is before us again, and we have all the time in the world at last." Connor said. "Our world was pushed to the brink, and we've held on by our fingernails for so long. Survival isn't living, but for so long it has been the only option left to us. But not any more. We ran the hardest race that anyone has ever run, and we made it all the way to the end. It is with our own strength and our own endurance that we made it. That... most of us made it. Now we open the doors. We stop surviving and start living. Tell your children about the day we left the underground, and came back beneath the sky."
His driver was dead.
Rojas wasted no time on surprise. Instead, he wrestled the body out. More weapons-fire from behind him, slapping plasma against the jeep. He'd been in too many battles to flinch. He tossed the driver's body aside and got into the driver's seat, gunning the motor.
Over the sound of the engine, he felt something tug on the pedal, felt something small and heavy drop...
The jeep exploded from the force of the grenade between his feet.
"Tell your children about the day we stopped being afraid, about the day we took back what was ours. Tell them about the Last Army, that started with refugees and soldiers, with children and civilians, with scavengers and scroungers, with enemies and prisoners; tell them how it grew tear down the Axis of the Conquerors, and how it bought back the land of our forefathers, of our children and their children!"
He had to pause for a time as the crowd went mad with agreement, screaming his name until Kate felt her ears bleed.
Connor roared over them, feeding the energy in the room with nothing but his voice. "You tell them all about the rebirth of the Human Race, and the victorious dead we honor with word and deed. Go outside. Lift up your eyes. Breathe the free air again." Connor called to the world, his voice full of emotion and power.
The doors roared to life and opened, the gates of Crystal Peak opened wide, for the last time.
"There is nothing to fear in the open. Our tormentors are destroyed. Too long have we lived Underground. Look up in Freedom." Connor commanded. "This is ours now. It's all ours again. I ask you now to come with me. To follow where I lead you, just one last time."
Connor turned to face the opening doors, striding forward, arm in arm with Kate. People made ancient by the weight of war, silently weeping ten thousand tears inched their way outside following John Connor one last time, as he led them into the new day.
AN: Whew. I hope that the ending wasn't disappointing for anyone. We knew how this story ended since the 80's. This story was the most ambitious thing I have ever attempted. I want to give thanks to my beta readers, and my reviewers. I would have stopped after chapter one if not for you all.
So, one last time: Read and Review.