A/N: Well guys, here's the final chapter of Judgement's Dawn. It's up a lot faster than I thought it would be; I've had all week off work to get it done and I hope you all like it. Please do let me know your thoughts on the chapter and the story as a whole. Enjoy!
Two miles north of Las Vegas Strip, 5th August 2011.
Three men trekked through the desolate, dilapidated landscape of smashed, torn and crushed buildings, cars, trucks, and various scattered debris. The Strip itself had been Ground Zero; where the nuclear warhead had exploded from above and flattened almost everything for over a mile around. The destruction had tapered off as it expanded outwards; their current position, two miles from the Strip, hadn't been consumed in the miniature sun created by the warhead that had heated to a million degrees in a fraction of a second and vaporised nearly everything within a mile and a half, but the blast wave had expanded outwards with the force of a thousand hurricanes and torn through the city, reducing the once prosperous area into a large jungle of twisted metal and concrete; the landscape dominated by the burnt out, twisted skeletal structures various buildings.
The three soldiers moved slowly, weapons aimed forward as they carefully picked their way across the ruins and searched for the least treacherous way through. Their path was fraught with danger; rotting corpses, wild animals, disease, even the twisted wreckage of the once illustrious city held the promise of death; unstable hills of loose concrete and rock lined with millions of jagged metal shards waiting to be fallen upon. Their patrol was dangerous enough even without a cybernetic killing machine prowling the city.
As he took point position, Corporal Harland wondered how he'd been picked for this shitty job; trawling through the ruins of the city, looking for a killer robot - the only clue they had was that he looked like the actor George Lazlo - while Ryan and most of the others sat comfortably in the airport. They'd been walking for hours, searching for the killing machine that General Connor's metal sidekick had told them about, and they'd seen nothing so far. His feet ached, he was tired, and he was thirsty as hell. He held his hand out to signal the two men behind him to stop.
"Take a break," Harland told them as he shrugged off his pack and took the canteen from his belt, opening the cap and taking a large mouthful of water; gulping it down greedily then taking off his helmet and splashing some over his face. Even in August, the effects of nuclear winter left Las Vegas perpetually cold, but Harland was sweltering in his combat gear; sweating from unbroken hours of marching. "We'll set off again in ten minutes."
"Seriously," one of the other two men, Private Hook, asked as he sat down on a large slab of concrete and took out his own water canteen. "Why are we out here?"
"Looking for a robot," the third soldier, Private Quinn, retorted.
"I know that," Hook shot back. "I meant, why? Colonel Ryan said Nellis is swarming with machines, so why are we picking our way through this crap, looking for one robot?"
"This one looks human," Harland answered. He'd actually taken the machine's speech seriously once she'd got going. "Just like the tin bitch that follows Connor everywhere. We didn't even know what she was until three days ago, same goes for this other one; what if it sneaks in elsewhere; another base? It'd kill them all in their sleep and they'd never see it coming."
"I guess," Hook replied. "Colonel Ryan thinks Connor's crazy."
"Who'd you trust?" Harland said. "Connor, or Ryan? The man's a desk jockey. At least Connor seems to know what he's doing."
"Yeah, but he's like twenty years old at the most. Who the hell made him a General, anyway?"
"Someone smarter than the moron who made Ryan a lieutenant colonel, that's for sure." Quinn chipped in. "You wanna know what Ryan did back in the world, what his day job was? He was some pen pusher for a defence contractor. That's why he's a lieutenant colonel; he had connections, knew the right people. Connor may be a kid, but I'd rather follow him than that old fart."
"Still," Hook said as he put his canteen away and removed his helmet to cool off. "Why is it we're out here doing all the leg work and putting our asses on the line, while Ryan's sat on his fat ass back at base, and Connor gets to play with funky laser guns?"
"Relax," Harland replied. "All we gotta do is find this asshole and radio in his position, then-"
A loud crack of gunfire sounded from behind them and the top of Private hook's head exploded in a shower of blood, bone, and brain matter, spraying gore all over Harland and cutting him off midsentence. Hook dropped to the ground, still twitching slightly as what was left of his brain hadn't yet caught on the the fact it was dead.
"Contact left!" Quinn screamed out and fired. Harland instantly shouldered his rifle and searched for targets. Three more shots rang out and Quinn fell down screaming. His knees were a bloody mess and a large, gaping hole appeared in his shoulder; all three wounds bleeding profusely.
"Crap!" Harland cursed, torn between helping Quinn and trying to take out whatever was shooting them. The decision was made for him as the 'man' they'd been searching for approached from under a large pile of twisted rubble that had once been a store of some kind, brandishing an assault rifle in one hand and an M-32 grenade launcher slung over his shoulder. Cromartie, Lazlo, Beast Wizard. Whatever the hell it was called; it was here, now, and intent on their blood. "Come on, you fucker," he muttered as he switched to automatic and held the trigger down, spraying a long burst at the machine.
Cromartie twitched as each round struck his chest but the bullets didn't even faze him. "Fucking machine lied to us," Harland muttered as he fired once more, again, to no effect. The thermite rounds didn't work. Let's see you shrug this off, Harland thought as he started to pull a high explosive grenade from one of his pouches. Cromartie surged forward, faster than any Olympic sprinter, and closed the distance before Harland had the grenade even halfway out. He tore the radio headset from Harland's head, lifted him up by the neck, and watched the soldier squirm helplessly.
After a minute of struggling, Harland gave up, exhausted and seeing the futility of his efforts. Connor's metal pet had told them Cromartie was better than them – better than any special forces, even – and he'd listened, he'd taken it in, but deep down he hadn't really believed it; hadn't believed that anything could be that powerful. They'd never had a chance, he realised. It was like a maggot fighting a man; utterly hopeless, and he was the maggot. Still, maybe Connor and his machine would stand a chance with their shiny new laser toys he'd told them about.
Connor. He realised this thing would be after him; it wanted him dead, and if it succeeded, would also get its hands on the very same laser weapons the young general was after. Harland didn't know much about the machines, only what General Connor and the tin can had told them. What he did know, however, was that a killing machine like this couldn't be allowed to get its grubby metal mitts on powerful weapons like that.
He grimaced through clenched teeth as Cromartie's grip tightened around his neck. "I won't lead you to Connor." Harland grunted in pain as Cromartie threw him to the ground next to Quinn, who was quietly crooning in pain and clutching his shoulder, trying to stem the blood loss.
"I know John Connor's location," Cromartie replied blankly. "I need your assistance."
"Fuck you," Harland snarled back. "Why the hell would I help you?"
"Because if you don't, I will kill him," Cromartie aimed his rifle at the now unconscious Quinn, who'd gone pale from blood loss and shock. "His injuries are severe but not lethal. Not yet."
Harland looked over to Quinn. They'd been in the same National Guard unit for three years now; every weekend out in the field, and serving together since Judgement Day. They'd been good friends for a while now, he, Quinn, and Hook. It was a hell of a choice; help the machine kill Connor or watch his friend die, probably followed by himself shortly after. He couldn't let Quinn die, he decided. And Connor had the machine with him. It was smaller than this one but could probably hold Cromartie off while Connor and the others took care of it. And perhaps Cromartie was bluffing; maybe he didn't know where Connor was, and Harland could try and give their position away and warn Connor somehow.
"What do you want me to do?" he asked.
"Take off your clothes," Cromartie answered.
Las Vegas Strip
John stifled a yawn as he lay still, trying not to move. He'd been in the same spot for two days solid, and he and the others in the ambush party were starting to get restless and impatient. They were laid up in the ruins of what had been a large casino; tacky, flashing neon signs, flashing lights and colourful displays had been replaced by piles of twisted metal and concrete overlooking a relatively open clearing among the rubble that stretched for two hundred metres from the front of the casino, completely clear apart from a few cars and emergency service vehicles that had been blown over like toys in the blast wave; the perfect killing ground for an ambush.
After securing the ambush site they'd laced the killing ground with trip wires, claymores, flares, and remote detonated C4 explosives, all buried in the rubble and invisible even to Cameron. John's logic was if Cameron couldn't see them then Cromartie couldn't either. They'd settled into three groups; the main killer group in the middle consisted of John, Cameron, and six others, and then the three man cut off groups to the right and left, who'd give warning of anything approaching and try to kill anything that tried to escape. All they had to do was wait for Cromartie to enter the killing ground and fill the area with flying lead and set off the explosives.
Cameron had hand picked many of the weapons in their arsenal, specifically to take out a Terminator. Most of the men had assault rifles with under slung 40mm grenade launchers; there were two M240 machine guns, two Javelin antitank rocket launchers, and one man with an M-32 grenade launcher. Cameron had made the mistake of not making sure Cromartie was dead before, she taking any chances this time round. She wanted Cromartie terminated with as much firepower as they could muster, from a distance, with minimal risk to John.
The casino had once been a tall, extravagant building; a monument to the hedonistic and pleasure seeking lifestyle of Las Vegas. When the city was struck by a low yield tactical nuclear warhead, the force of the blast had shattered the building; the top half had collapsed and blown over like a house of cards hit by a strong breeze. What was left had spilled out onto the street in front of the building in large hills of debris; perfect cover for the ambush party to avoid being seen by their prey. John, Cameron, and the twelve man ambush team were hidden up in the rubble, waiting for any sign of Cromartie. Two hundred metres behind them were four men on rear guard; hidden in the back of the destroyed casino behind them and keeping guard against any threats that might approach from behind.
John slowly turned his head and looked at the petite figure next to him on the right. Unlike everyone else, Cameron never got restless, never got tired and needed rest, and seemingly never got bored. The other troops had paired up and kept watch in two hour shifts, to allow some respite from the monotony of prolonged waiting. Cameron had kept her eyes constantly scanning the killing ground site for any sign of movement. So far, the only activity they'd seen had been a pair of dogs fighting over the carcass of a dead bird. It had provided slight entertainment for a few minutes before one of the dogs gave up and slinked off, tail between its legs as the victor proudly carried the carcass away. Other than that there had been nothing to do but watch and wait, and the waiting was getting to John.
Since getting into position two days ago, John and Cameron hadn't spoken a word to each other. They'd needed to stay silent in case Cromartie was out there, listening. They couldn't afford to give away their position; they'd get one shot at Cromartie and one shot only. If he escaped he'd have the advantage.
Still, John hated not being able to talk to her; they still had issues that needed to be resolved, and that couldn't happen until they'd completed the ambush and were on their way home. John hadn't realised just how much sitting around and doing nothing was involved in the war; nobody had told him that ninety percent of fighting involved simply waiting for the enemy to show up. John found himself willing Cromartie to show up, just so they could get this over with. Once they'd taken care of Cromartie, he and Cameron would drive back to Colorado, and they could use the long journey to talk things over and hopefully get their relationship back on track.
Confident no one else was watching, John slid his hand over to Cameron's and gently squeezed her fingers. He gave her a slight smile but she ignored him, staring at the area around the killing ground, scanning for targets. John's heart sank; he knew she was focused on the mission – as he should be – that it was a Terminator trait that would never disappear, but he couldn't help but think there was more to it than that. She could have squeezed back, given some sign of at least acknowledging him. She wouldn't have had to break concentration to do that, which made John think she was deliberately ignoring him, that it was truly over and she didn't want him anymore.
Before John could dwell on it further he felt a sharp tug on his left hand; the string he'd tied to his wrist yanked his arm slightly and John's heart skipped a beat. The left cut off group had seen something approaching. It was time, John knew. He tapped the back of Cameron's wrist twice; the signal for 'enemy approaching.' Cameron then tapped the man to her right, who passed the signal on to the next, and so on. John shouldered his Steyr AUG and checked the magazine and safety catch, then took aim in through the sight, scanning the killing ground. It was difficult to make out much; dawn was breaking and the sun cast a blood red glow through the murky grey skies of nuclear winter, not warming in the least but it played hell with his vision and he wondered if it affected Cameron at all.
He saw a figure stalk into view towards the far end of the killing ground, past the twisted, burnt out wreck of a car. John's whole world narrowed to inside the telescopic sight and he could feel his heart racing inside his chest in tense anticipation. The figure was tall, well built, and armed. He couldn't make out any facial features in the murky glow of the sun, but he could just about see the figure wasn't wearing DPMs. It had to be Cromartie, he realised. Nobody else would just stroll confidently out in the open like that; any human would be scurrying from cover to cover in case the machines were out on patrol.
"Cam," John whispered softly. "Is it him?"
"I don't know," Cameron replied. The sunrise was affecting her vision and she couldn't make out any details. There was no point in her switching to infrared vision as Cromartie would appear the same as a human. Skynet had designed the T-888 infiltrators with human thermal imaging equipment in mind.
John took careful aim as the figure marched further and further into the killing ground, approaching one of the trip wires they'd set. A hollow WHOOSH sounded from below as the figure tripped a wire and flares soared up into the sky, illuminating the killing ground in a sickly green glow. John fired a burst from his weapon, striking the figure in the chest. He flinched but remained upright. A fraction of a second later the air was filled with the deafening roar of rapid fire from a dozen weapons. Hundreds of rounds of tracer fire streaked into the killing ground and knocked the figure off its feet.
Explosions flared around the killing area as the heavier weapons joined the fray, erupting in fire, shattering the ground and scattering debris in all directions, making it impossible to see anything.
"Keep firing!" John screamed through the din of the gunfire as he and Cameron fired several bursts into the dust and debris cloud caused by a Javelin impact. He looked to Cameron and they shared a quick grin as they carried on shooting. They had the bastard dead to rights.
Cromartie lay still on the ground, his attention directed through the M4A1 telescopic sight at his targets. He'd forced the human soldier he'd captured to switch clothes with him but had allowed the man to keep his bullet proof vest underneath the blue shirt that Cromartie had given him. He'd sent the human ahead into the killing area, instructing him to walk normally into the ambush site Connor had prepared – he'd not told the man it was an ambush site, of course – or he'd kill his injured companion.
While the human acted as a decoy, Cromartie had taken up position behind Connor's ambush and now had the four man rear guard team in his sights. The rising sun was casting a red glow that would momentarily obscure his vision – and that of Connor's cyborg companion. He'd planned for this and switched to infrared vision, seeing the heat signatures of the four soldiers and memorising their exact positions. They appeared to Cromartie as man-shaped orange, red, and yellow blobs among the blue and black of the cooler air and debris surrounding them.
Gunfire and explosions erupted from the ambush site in the distance. That was Cromartie's cue to execute the second stage of his plan. Using the noise from the ambush as cover he fired four single shots at the rear guard. The four guards fell to the ground, dead. The blood that sprayed from their heads appeared to Cromartie's infrared vision as yellow and orange blobs that spattered the ground. John Connor's ambush party wouldn't have noticed four single shots above the sound of their own concentrated fire. Cromartie felt no emotions; unlike Cameron, he was an automaton. He couldn't feel fear, or happiness, or feel excited, but the with a clear run to John Connor's position and the anticipation of a successful mission, all of Cromartie's processes were running much faster than normal. He switched back to his normal, red tinted vision, slung his carbine and shouldered the M-32 grenade launcher as he ran forward towards to terminate his target.
"Cease fire!" John called out finally after nearly a full minute's worth of firing and hundreds of rounds expended. The explosions caused by the rockets and grenades, as well as the exploding claymores that Cromartie must have either triggered himself or were set off by the heavier weapons, had kicked up so much smoke, dirt, and detritus that it had been impossible to see anything. John wished he'd brought ear defenders once again and wondered how he wasn't deaf after all that commotion.
John and Cameron got up slowly, followed by two more men. Together, the four of them advanced in pairs down the artificial hill and towards the killing ground to inspect their kill. One pair covered the other as the approached the clearing smoke where their target had last been seen.
Cameron put herself between John and where she'd last seen Cromartie, not wanting to risk John's safety until she knew for sure Cromartie was destroyed or disabled. That amount of fire would have torn any Terminator to shreds. Nothing apart from a T-1000 could have survived that, but she wasn't taking any chances. Despite what John now believed – and what she hadn't tried to dispel – she still cared deeply for John and didn't want him hurt in any way.
As the smoke cleared she saw the extent of their slaughter. There was barely anything left of their target. Red patches on the ground, fragments of bone and blackened lumps of singed flesh were scattered all around. A smoking arm lay on the ground, still holding the pistol grip of a shattered assault rifle. The hand was clearly, unmistakably, human.
"This isn't Cromartie," Cameron said. To everyone else her face and voice were a blank slate. John, on the other hand, knew Cameron well enough to tell she was worried. They'd just killed a person, not Cromartie, and they'd just given away their position to anyone or anything within miles.
"Where the hell is-" John was interrupted by a series of rapid explosions behind them, followed quickly by screaming and gunfire. John and Cameron turned to see Cromartie fire five grenades in rapid succession from a position on the second floor of the casino. The projectiles smashed into the ambush site, where John and Cameron had been less than a minute ago, and obliterated most of the men in a hail of fire.
"Run," Cameron grabbed John's hand and pulled him away from the scene and towards the cover of several upturned vehicles. She turned her head as she ran and saw Cromartie follow up his opening salvo of grenades with several bursts from an assault rifle. A few of the men who'd survived the grenade blasts turned and fired on the machine. Cameron used the distraction to push John forward, away from the killing zone and towards another shattered building across the street from the casino.
"Cameron...we can't leave them," John insisted, trying to fight Cameron's pushing. He'd led them into all this and he couldn't just sit there and watch them be slaughtered.
Cameron pushed John against a car door, out of Cromartie's sight. "You can't help them," she insisted. She peeked round the side of the car and saw two men left; the ones who'd accompanied them to inspect the kill. They were less than fifty feet away and Cromartie had jumped from the first floor, down the rubble hill, and towards their position. Both men fired on the machine with everything they had, trying to slow the machine's advance. Cameron noted the rounds had no effect on Cromartie, which didn't make sense. The fire the two men were putting into Cromartie should have been effective. She checked her own magazine to find the rounds were regular hollow points, not thermite rounds. Someone had switched their ammunition.
Cromartie fired a burst into the first man's chest, shredding his insides as he dropped to the ground, dead in an instant. Cromartie pulled the trigger on the second man and a single round hit him in the gut before the rifle clicked empty. He doubled over in pain but kept upright, fighting the white hot agony that seared his insides. The exit wound on his back was as big as a man's fist.
"Go!" The soldier screamed at John. "I'll cover you." He was dead anyway, his body just hadn't realised it yet. He turned and fired at Cromartie, who advanced slowly and calmly as the bullets tore chunks out of his flesh. Cameron wasted no time and pushed John forward again, trying to find somewhere for John to run and hide while she kept Cromartie occupied.
The soldier kept firing as Cromartie got within arms reach of him. Without a gun of his own, and unwilling to expend the last grenade from his launcher on a single human soldier, Cromartie simply punched through the man's gut; his fist burst out through the man's back and he lifted the man into the air as he roared out in pain. His agonised screams chilled John to the core from his and Cameron's hiding spot.
"Run," Cameron whispered to John. John leapt from their hiding place and dashed for the cover of several burnt out cars down the war torn street. Cameron followed close behind him but was too late to see Cromartie waiting, rifle in hand, only a few feet behind the car they'd been using as cover. John turned to shoot but Cromartie was too fast; a burst of fire caught him in the chest and he dropped like a stone.
"John!" Cameron screamed out, panicked as her charge and love was gunned down. Time seemed to slow down for Cameron and all she could focus on was John. If he was dead, she'd have to hope Cromartie would destroy her as well. She regretted telling John their relationship was over; his last thoughts would be unhappy ones. All he'd wanted; all they'd wanted, was to be together. Cameron had put his safety over his happiness, and it still hadn't done him any good.
Cameron fired a full auto burst from her weapon, emptying her magazine into Cromartie's chest. The force of a full magazine of assault rifle fire at less than forty feet knocked Cromartie off his feet and shredded his own weapon. Cameron was about to turn and attack him, eager to rip him apart for killing her John, when she saw John start to sit up. Relief washed over Cameron and she couldn't stop a slight smile from creasing her lips. He'd been wearing the coltan reinforced flak jacket she'd made him, but seeing John gunned down had caused all logical thought processes to abandon her and she'd panicked.
"John, run." She charged Cromartie as he got up and started to shoulder his grenade launcher, snapping a kick to the weapon and hurtling it through the air, away from the pair of them, and followed up with a rapid fire volley of punches to Cromartie's face and torso. Her eyes glowed with rage as she fought the machine that had nearly cost her everything.
John watched for a moment as Cameron assaulted Cromartie; both of them launched a flurry of punches at each other. They were almost too fast for John to keep track of; Cameron's hands and feet seemed to be a blur at times. She pummelled Cromartie's skull, bashing away in what John figured was barely controlled aggression. She wasn't fighting like a machine, he realised. He could see a real anger in her movements; every punch, every kick, filled with searing hatred for her opponent. John knew that Cameron's developing emotions sometimes got the best of her, and now seemed to be one of those times. Her punches were wild and uncoordinated; she lashed out in anger rather than her normal, machine like precision. She was feeling rage for the first time, and it was affecting her in combat. It was making her sloppy. John could see something else was wrong; Cameron was all over Cromartie, raining punches and kicks down on him and scoring several hits for every one that Cromartie got in on her, but it did nothing. She'd never had this much trouble against a Triple eight before.
No way was he going to run now. He wasn't going to leave her alone to fight this thing. John checked his AUG, preparing to enfilade the Triple 8 and give Cameron a helping hand. Cameron's coltan flak jacket had saved John's life, the bullet impacts did nothing worse than bruise his ribs, but some of the rounds had struck his weapon and rendered it useless. John dropped it to the ground and shouldered the shotgun Derek had given him, racking the slide and putting a slug in the chamber. Not that it would really matter at this point, Cameron and Cromartie were viciously fighting hand to hand, so close and so fast that any shot he fired could cost Cameron the advantage as well as give it to her. He circled the pair and got closer to the fight, hoping he could get a clearer shot at Cromartie.
Cromartie smashed his head into Cameron's and momentarily stunned her out of her attack. He pushed her back and then charged at her. While Cromartie was superior in brute strength and had a size and weight advantage, Cameron was quicker, smarter, more agile, and could utilize her strength and speed to put far more power into a hit than Cromartie could using brute strength alone. She nimbly dodged Cromartie's charge and grabbed him by the shoulder, planning to use his momentum to throw him to the ground. She realised something was wrong when she couldn't lift him; he was much heavier than before. Cromartie used that split second of confusion and grabbed her shoulders, pushing her back pressing down with all his might to try and force her to the ground.
Cameron pushed back with everything she had, straining against his superior weight and height. She was at a severe disadvantage like this and was only a matter of time before her knees or elbows gave out from the strain. Eyes glowing blue once again in anger, she swept her foot out to try and take Cromartie's legs out from under him, but Cromartie had anticipated the move, pulled her into him and lifted her into the air by the neck and dropped to the floor, slamming her head so hard on the ground that the concrete shattered beneath her. He pinned her arms down with his knees and rained punches down on her face. Cameron struggled underneath him, trying to push him off, but Cromartie was too heavy and she couldn't get any leverage with her arms pinned as they were. She realised she'd underestimated Cromartie; he'd made modifications and improved himself; made himself heavier to further increase his weight advantage. She hadn't anticipated that. Cromartie had won, she realised. She couldn't see where John was and couldn't move her head or even focus properly with Cromartie hammering at her skull. She hoped John had run. She didn't care if she died, as long as he was safe.
"Hey!" She heard John shout from behind her. Cromartie raised his head up to see John standing above him. He thrust the barrel of the shotgun toward Cromartie's face and fired. The solid slug burst out of the gun, shattered his teeth and ricocheted inside his mouth like a pinball. The shot forced Cromartie backward slightly as John racked the slide once more and fired again, this time tearing away Cromartie's right eye and exposing the glowing red optic underneath and forcing Cromartie off of Cameron completely.
Before he could fire again, Cameron shot up and pushed him back, then turned back to Cromartie and charged him again at full speed. Her inertia actually forced Cromartie backwards slightly and Cameron pushed with everything she had, trying to force Cromartie backwards towards one of the C4 traps they'd laid for the ambush. She managed to push him back several feet before Cromartie dug his heels in and held his ground, stopping her momentum three feet away from the explosives hidden in a pile of rubble.
"John, the C4," Cameron called out as she struggled to hold Cromartie in place. John pulled out the remote detonator but hesitated; only a few feet away, the blast was a danger to Cameron as well. She was holding Cromartie between herself and the explosives, but John still didn't want to take the chance with her life. "John!" She called out again, snapping him out of it.
John closed his eyes, unable to watch as he pressed the detonator. The ground shook and fire blossomed outwards from the blast, accompanied by an almighty roar as the C4 exploded. Cameron and Cromartie disappeared in roiling flames that blossomed out from the centre like a flower. Bits of metal and concrete burst into the air and rained down on John and all over the killing zone, which had surely lived up to its name.
"Cameron?" John called out as the smoke and the dust cleared. He saw no sign of her and feared the worst. If he'd killed her he wouldn't be able to live with himself. No answer. "Cameron?" A small pile of freshly blasted debris moved and a tiny, feminine hand shot out into the air and pushed bits of metal off her.
"I'm here, John," she replied. John paused for a second as she sat upright. There was no sign of Cromartie, who'd bore the brunt of the blast. Cameron's clothes were torn and ragged, however, and the fireball caused by the C4 had burnt her face and neck severely. Her hair was singed and blackened at the ends.
"You okay?" John asked as he got down to his knees, level with her. He ran his hand over an ugly looking burn on the side of her face; it had burned right through and gleaming coltan showed underneath.
"Yes, my skin's damaged," she replied as she pulled him into a quick embrace. "It will heal."
John nodded to Cameron, and as he turned back at where there had just seconds ago been a magnificent conflagration courtesy of C4, there he saw the most beautiful sight he had ever seen.
Cromartie was dead.
They were okay.
At that moment in time, nothing else mattered.
"Come on, Cam," John said, rising to his feet. "Let's get out of here and-"
Cromartie burst out from under a large steel girder on the ground and lunged towards Cameron. The C4 hadn't finished Cromartie off, but he looked like he'd been put through the shredder. His left arm was torn off at the elbow, ending in a mess of jagged coltan and sparking wires. One half of Cromartie's lower jaw had been torn clean off, most of the skin was torn from his face and the exposed machine eye had been shattered.
Cromartie lunged forward, stabbing Cameron with the jagged end of his ruined arm. An exposed conduit was still sparking with power from his fuel cell. Cameron convulsed as electricity surged through her body and overloaded her systems, forcing her into a reboot cycle.
"One hundred and twenty seconds," Cromartie said in a tinny, robotic voice; seemingly taunting John.
John backed away as Cromartie got to his feet and approached, limping heavily on one leg that had been bent from the force of the explosion. Alone against Cromartie and with nothing that could really damage him, John - for once in his life - did what he'd been trained to do, and ran. He sprinted for the cover of an overturned fire engine and hid behind the cab. Cromartie tried to follow but the damage to his leg was too severe and he couldn't chase after him. He calculated that by the time he got there, John would have run off elsewhere.
Cromartie looked back at Cameron's still form and recalled what Ryan had told him; that John was in love with the machine. It was illogical – machines couldn't reproduce and had no emotions. But he found it useful; he could use the cyborg to draw John Connor out. He turned back towards Cameron and smashed his remaining fist into her face repeatedly; the force of his blows splitting the skin on her cheek. Given long enough, he could crack open the endo skull and smash her chip. A hundred and twenty seconds wasn't long, but it could be done.
John peeked around the corner and saw Cromartie laying into Cameron while she lay there, vulnerable. Only ten seconds or so had passed and he didn't know if Cameron would survive Cromartie's punishment for another hundred and ten when she could do nothing to defend herself. Ice ran down John's veins as he felt a cold fury take over him; fury at Cromartie, for using her to lure him out like that, and fury at himself for running like a coward. Screw a hundred and twenty seconds, he thought. He was going to fucking kill that metal bastard.
He took a quick check of what he had on him; a single hand grenade and Derek's shotgun. Not enough to take Cromartie out; not by a long shot. He looked around for anything he could use as a weapon. The contents of the fire engine were strewn out on the ground; helmets, hoses, and one other thing stood out; a bright red fire axe lay on the ground. John picked it up and hefted the weight; it was solid steel and fairly heavy. He could use it as a last ditch weapon. He still didn't stand much of a chance, but he wasn't just going to let Cromartie hurt Cameron while he did nothing.
"Cromartie!" John roared, waving at the machine to get its attention. "Come and get me," John grinned as Cromartie got up from pummelling Cameron and limped towards John, dragging one foot slightly as he approached. Everything seemed clearer to John and time slowed to a crawl and he was overcome with a sense of hyper awareness; tracking Cromartie's every move, like a predator hunting its prey.
"That's it," John muttered as Cromartie moved further away from Cameron and closer to him. "Come on..." He pulled the pin on the grenade and threw it as hard as he could at Cromatie's feet, exploding just in front of the Terminator. The grenade did very little damage but the blast threw the already unsteady machine off its feet and gave John time to shoulder Derek's shotgun and move forwards, towards the machine that was bent on his blood.
John thrust the shotgun into Cromartie's face and fired at point blank range, forcing his head backwards from the impact and destroying what little skin he had left on his face. He fired again and again until Cromartie lost his balance and fell backwards to the ground. John dropped the empty shotgun and hefted the axe he'd picked up in the same motion, screaming out in rage and exertion; he swung it at Cromartie's head with everything he had. The blow glanced off the armoured skeleton and forced his head to the side as John swung it again with all his might. John felt, rather than heard, a satisfying snap as the axe connected with the exposed neck Cromartie's head lolled to one side as the axe sliced through one of the thinner pistons at the side of the neck that controlled his head motion.
John swung the axe a third time, screaming out a primal war cry as adrenaline took over and fuelled his attempts to decapitate the cyborg. The axe struck once again in Cromartie's neck and stuck there; lodged in between two armoured vertebrae. Cromartie viciously kicked forward before John could pull the axe out for another swing, catching him in the gut and sending him tumbling, end over end and landing in a heap on the ground.
Rising groggily to his feet, feeling like he'd just been hit by a bus, John looked for something, anything that he could use as a weapon, as it limped towards him again, holding the axe John had just used, seemingly planning to cleave him in half with the weapon.
As his head spun around, searching for another weapon, John's hand went for the combat knife Cameron insisted he carry with him at all times – knowing it to be a useless gesture but having nothing else left – when he spotted Cromartie's grenade launcher on the ground, thirty metres to his left. He'd not realised that the fight had brought them round almost in a full circle from where it had started. He hoped Cromartie hadn't fired all the grenades before Cameron had kicked it out of his grasp; either way this fight would be over very soon.
John dashed towards the weapon and could feel Cromartie give chase behind him. Even damaged as he was, he was still fast and still deadly; if he caught him it was all over.
Twenty metres left. John's heart pounded inside his chest and his lungs were on fire as he sprinted as fast as he could. Time slowed down once again and John felt like he was wading through mud; every stride was a supreme effort to stay ahead of Cromartie.
Ten metres left. John prayed to whatever powers that be were out there that Cromartie didn't catch him. John dived the last few feet towards the grenade launcher, rolling as he scooped it up in his hands and thrust it forward like a fist as he pulled the trigger. A single round shot from the barrel and smashed into Cromartie's chest with an earth shattering explosion. At such close range the concussion from the blast pushed John back to the ground from his half crouched position and stunned him for a moment.
His ears ringing and his vision slightly blurred, John struggled to his feet and blinked away the disorientation. When the smoke cleared he saw what was left of Cromartie. The once formidable, indestructible, unstoppable killing machine lay before him, barely functional. Cromartie was little more than a head, shoulders, and chest; the grenade shot had blown Cromartie in half and everything below chest level had been utterly destroyed. The arm that had survived the C4 explosion had been torn off at the shoulder, and his remaining eye had been blown out, rendering him completely blind. It wasn't enough, John saw. Cromartie still lived.
John knelt down and pushed the head to the side, exposing the CPU port cover to his view. He pulled out his knife and worked the tip of the blade under the port cover as Cromartie struggled to resist; with no limbs, eyes, or even teeth to try and bite him with, all he could do was wriggle impotently. John felt a surge of victory overcome him, having such power over a once mighty machine that was now at his mercy. He finally got the cover off and saw the exposed chip, pulled out the pair of needle nosed pliers he'd brought for this occasion and held them up to the CPU port as Cromartie struggled to keep John away from his chip. Completely disabled and with no hope of accomplishing his mission, he still refused to give up. John pushed the head completely to the side and leaned on it with one knee, pinning it to the ground as he gripped the chip with the pliers.
"The future's ours," Cromartie's last words rang out metallically; the voice modulator destroyed or damaged beyond use.
"Yeah, whatever," John replied his voice dripping with hatred and disgust for this thing now at his mercy. "I win; you're terminated, fucker." He twisted and pulled the chip out, and Cromartie finally stopped struggling.
It was over; finally over. John snapped the chip in half and dropped the pieces to the ground. John felt the adrenaline drain from his system and replaced with a feeling of pure elation. He'd beaten the machine. John Connor had beaten one of Skynet's best. "You're terminated, fucker," he repeated. "Fucking terminated." A broad grin split his face and he burst into a fit of laughter. He knew it was the adrenaline seeping out of him; he didn't know what he found so funny. It wasn't funny, a lot of people had died and he'd barely survived by the skin of his teeth. But he couldn't stop laughing.
He'd finally beaten the machine that had taken his mother from him. The machine that had torn away his hopes for a normal life back in New Mexico, had chased him and his mother through time, nearly killing them both and making their lives a living hell; forcing them to constantly watch over their shoulders, the machine that had nearly shot him dead – twice - nearly killed his uncle, and strained his and Cameron's relationship past the breaking point; the machine that had killed so many people to get to him, was now gone. It wouldn't bring any of his victims back, though. And it didn't make any of the pain go away.
"Fucking machine... killed... mom... fuck!" John threw a punch at the motionless remains of Cromartie, then another. The thought of his mother brought up an anger he'd held deep inside him, and he rained punches down on Cromartie's remains, ignoring the pain as the skin was flayed from his knuckles and elation turned to rage and anguish as he babbled incoherently.
John didn't see Cameron complete her reboot cycle and get up. Nor did he see her make her way over to John as he laughed, then cried and screamed, and smashed his fists down on Cromartie's body. Cameron had never seen John like this before; even after Sarah had died, John had wept, he'd sobbed; he'd blamed Cameron and cursed and told her he'd wished they'd burned her in thermite, but he'd always been in control of his emotions. He'd never lost control before and Cameron didn't know what to do. She saw John was hurting himself, punching Cromartie repeatedly. He'd never be able to damage the coltan skull with his fists; he'd merely break his hands and fingers. She spotted a bright red fireman's axe on the ground and picked it up as she approached.
She briefly wondered how John had defeated Cromartie; her first reaction on rebooting had been a deep feeling of fear. She knew she'd been disabled for a hundred and twenty seconds and expected to see John's corpse upon rebooting, instead finding John kneeling over the remains of Cromartie. Considering John had no weapons capable of destroying or even disabling a T-888, and that John was the primary target, he shouldn't have survived. She didn't know the specifics, but she knew how he did it. He was John Connor. He beats Skynet. That's what he does; what he'd do.
Cameron stood behind John, watching him sob and rage and beat upon the coltan skull, still not knowing how to comfort him or whether he'd want her comfort; he'd rejected it before.
"John," she said softly, her voice instantly stopping John in his tracks. John turned and looked up at her. She saw his hands were bloodied and the skin flayed around the knuckles. Several fingers were swollen, likely bruised or possibly even fractured, but she couldn't detect any major injuries. Worse than any physical damage, she could see the emotional distress John was in now, his eyes were wild, feral, he was shaking and on the verge of tears. Cameron didn't know how to stop it, but she knew how to stop him from hurting himself further. "This will be more effective," she held out the axe in both hands for John to take, and nodded at what was left of Cromartie.
John stood up as he took the axe in his hands and stared down at the weapon, at Cromartie, and then back up at Cameron. Her eyes caught him as he took in her face, a childlike innocence within that he'd only ever seen in the smallest of children. It instantly quelled the raging flames inside him and gave him just enough clarity to realise the extent of his hysteria. Cameron's simple act of handing him the axe was enough to pull John back from the brink of insanity. He threw the axe away and roughly grabbed Cameron by the shoulders. He stared at her for a long moment, fire still in his eyes, before he dropped to his knees once more and sobbed into her chest.
Cameron knelt down on the ground, level with John, and held him as he cried into her, releasing all the anguish and pain and anger that he'd kept bottled up over the years. She held him close to her still, wanting to make his pain go away and make everything okay. She knew only she could do that. She'd been the only one who John had turned to for comfort since Sarah had died. She realised then that John didn't need her protection; he needed her. Future John would have suppressed it, unable to let go in front of anyone. Her John had her; he could let go and show weakness around her, and only her. With her, John could be human, instead of always a cold, calculating general. His safety wasn't more important than his happiness, she realised, and he needed her just as she needed him.
Cameron pushed John away slightly, knowing what she needed to do to make things right. What she wanted to do. She cupped his chin and held his face close to hers, locking eyes with him before she spoke.
"I love you, John."
"You don't love me," John replied, tears streaming down his face. "I pushed you away; you said it was for the best." Part of him thought she was just saying what he wanted to hear.
"I was wrong," she answered back simply.
John stared into her deep brown eyes, seeing the emotion in them that no one else acknowledged, that no one else could see for what it really was; real emotion, not a fake or a facsimile. He saw Cameron waiting expectantly for his reply.
He couldn't bring himself to say it back; not because he didn't feel it, but because the words felt completely inadequate, a shadow of his true feelings for her. She fought for him, day in, day out. She'd kept him sane over the past year and come to understand him like no one else could. Cromartie had taken nearly everything from him, and Cameron had given him something back in return; a rock, a companion, someone to trust and rely on, someone with whom he could rant and rage and cry - and would never judge him, someone he could love. But love was only a word, and spoke nothing of the volumes he felt for her right now, especially now.
He pulled her closer and lowered his lips to hers, connecting in a long, deep, passionate kiss, his actions expressing more than words ever could. All their pain, their troubles in Las Vegas, Cromartie, the breakdown of their relationship, all of it forgotten in a single kiss that washed everything else away and forged them together once more. All the death, all the destruction, all the pain and suffering that they'd see and experience firsthand, it was nothing, as long as they had each other.
"I love you too, Cam," John finally said as they broke the kiss and they embraced once more. John didn't hear the quiet rumblings of treads on the ground as he held Cameron in relative bliss. "You know, Cameron," John smiled as she wiped the tears from his cheek – now tears of joy that they were together once more. "As long as we're together, I think we'll be okay."
Cameron opened her mouth to answer but she heard the rumbling tracks approaching. The behemoth form of a T-2 unmanned drone appeared from behind the overturned fire engine John had used for cover earlier. She could hear others approaching in the distance, and an HK buzzed overhead. Their battle with Cromartie had attracted Skynet's attention and it had sent units to investigate. They were surrounded by broken, burnt out car wrecks and in relative cover from the machine and it couldn't see them yet, but they'd be in its sights within seconds and had they had nothing to fight it with.
"Stay here," Cameron pushed John low to the ground and pulled him into a quick kiss and moved to the edge of cover, waiting for the drone to approach. The drone had sensed their heat and was closing in to investigate. It emerged from the edge of their cover and swivelled its guns to track them. Cameron leapt on top of the machine and kicked the left gun with all she had, bending the barrel in the middle. The right cannon turned to fire on John as Cameron wrapped her hands on the barrel and heaved upwards, pulling the gun up and away from John as it fired into the air, unleashing a volley of 30mm shells that would have torn John apart. Cameron could hear more machines approaching as she tried to disable the T2, which was swivelling rapidly to try and throw her off.
"Run," Cameron called out to John as she punched and kicked at the machine, thankful that for once John actually ran when told to. He didn't run far, though. He wouldn't leave Cameron to fight alone. Cameron had hit something critical on the machine and the gun kept firing in a single continuous burst, apparently unable to stop. She had to hold the chain gun pointing upwards to keep it from targeting John. The HK that had buzzed overhead hovered in the air for a moment and fired on the two machines. Cameron saw the missile's rocket motor ignite before launch and threw herself from the UGV. Despite her Terminator reflexes she was too slow, she'd never outrun a missile. She was in midair when the armour piercing rocket struck the T-2, erupting in a brilliant flash of roiling flame that consumed her.
"CAMERON!" John saw her engulfed in the flames and ran out of cover towards her and the remains of the T-2 drone, ignoring the HK. The explosion died down almost as soon as it flared. John's heart dropped when he saw Cameron lying face down on the ground, not moving, and a large shard of metal sticking out her back. He rolled her over onto her side and saw it had penetrated all the way through and out her chest. Her deep brown eyes were wide open and still, devoid of life. The skin around the right side of her face had been torn apart with shrapnel and a huge gash ran from her cheek down under her jaw, gleaming coltan shone through the gaping open wound. One of her legs looked completely torn up and the knee was bent at an odd angle.
"No, Cam, come on. Wake up," John shook her, knowing it wouldn't wake her but he at the edge of panic, not knowing what else to do. He'd never seen her that badly damaged before. "Wake up!" he cried out. Was she... No, he thought; she couldn't be dead. He'd seen Terminators survive worse than that before. So why isn't she moving? Had it hit per power cell?
John hooked his arms under her armpits and pulled backwards, trying to drag her away. If he could get her back to the airport, he could drive to Area 51, or failing that, back to Cheyenne Mountain, and fix her up good as new.
He'd barely dragged her ten feet when more HKs soared overhead and a pair of T-70s emerged from the same direction as the T-2 had come from. John could hear even more machines behind them. The marched closer and raised their gun arms at him as he moved so he was in their line of fire. John backed away from Cameron and steeled himself for the bullets that would end his life. He looked down at Cameron; if he was going to die then what better way that to be looking at the face of his lover?
A long moment passed and John wondered why they hadn't killed him yet; he'd never once seen a machine hesitate to kill. Then he remembered the stories his mother had told him about how they captured people in the future, and wondered if they'd started doing that yet. The other one approached Cameron's still form to investigate. John felt a cold rush down his spine; he couldn't allow them to capture Cameron. The worst thing that could happen was that Skynet got its hands on a Terminator; it would advance Skynet's technology by a decade at least. Terminators would show up everywhere and people wouldn't stand a chance against them.
Worse than that, John knew, Skynet would tear Cameron apart to learn her secrets, to find out what she was and how to reverse engineer the technology. Cameron would die alone in a cold stainless steel laboratory somewhere, dissected like a lab rat and her chip ravaged, pored over and over and played with until her very essence was erased. John wouldn't allow that.
"Come and get me," he called out to the machines as he turned and ran, hoping they'd follow. He sprinted as fast as he could, not caring where he went as long as it was away from Cameron. Both lumbering machines chased after him, more interested in live prey than the motionless form of Cameron, as he'd predicted. Cumbersome and ungainly, their appearance was almost comical as they ran. John ran across the killing ground as fast as his legs could carry him, bringing back memories of Cromartie chasing after him mere minutes ago. He made it across the killing ground and back towards the casino they'd hidden in front of, before the machines caught up to him, guns aimed at his head.
"Okay," John said as he raised his hands above his head. "I surrender." He didn't know if they understood him or not. One of the machines raised its other arm and pointed it at him, a large, tube shaped device that he'd never noticed before lay on top of the wrist; some kind of weapon, he figured. As if their machine guns weren't enough. "I surrender, tin cans," John repeated, looking back at Cameron and hoping he'd be able to find a way back to her. John snapped backwards as something burst out of the tube on its wrist and enveloped him, forcing him to the ground. It took John a moment to realise the device was a net launcher, and he was now ensnared. The net itself was lined with metal wires that poked and dug into his skin, obviously not designed with comfort in mind.
"I'll come back for you, Cameron," John swore. A second later he realised what the wires in the net were for as electricity coursed through the net. He twitched and convulsed uncontrollably as thousands of volts surged through every cell in his body. His last thoughts were of Cameron as his body finally gave in to the searing, all consuming agony, and shut down, everything turned dark and silent.
I'll find you.
A/N: Well, that's the end of Judgement's Dawn. shitty place to leave it, I know, and you may begin flaming me now if you wish, lol. But the end of the fic is NOT the end of the story, not by a long shot. The story will continue in the sequel to Judgement's Dawn; "Century."
The title, "Exeunt Omnes," is latin for "All Exit." My beta reader, Flatlander, thought it up and I found it fitting. It's a stage direction used in theatre productions, given at the end of a scene.