Chapter 01: Overleaf
RED VALLEY (NEW MEXICO)
The sun scorched his body, burning its light through his eyes, making sleep all but impossible. Yet somehow he'd managed to drift, if only for an hour or so, but this alone was remarkable. With the blazing sun above, the constant jarring of the car, and the sweet scent of Cameron's artificial sweat, John Connor was surprised that rest could come to him in any shape or form.
Today marked the end of the third week of their little sojourn; the long search for somewhere safe to settle until the inevitable Judgment Day. Inevitable: an unavoidable destiny upon the journey of one's life. There was no escaping it and no means of preventing it. It simply was and is. When they hit the road those many days ago, John had suggested they look into possible Skynet progenitors, but Cameron had countered his plans with the stern revelation that Skynet can never be terminated prior to its creation.
"All we can do is postpone it. Set back its birth to a later date, but the further back we push it, the more advanced it will become and the worse off you'll be. Humanity needs you, John. No one else can ever do what you do." Half sadness, half admiration; her words had stayed his hand, and he conceded to defeat… for now. No, he told himself; not defeat. Defeat implies that we have lost, and the war has yet to begin. There can be no defeat, no endgame, not unless Skynet kills me in the here and now, then the world really would be screwed.
She promised to never let that happen to him though, just like his Mom had once…
Though he kept his eyes tightly shut, John couldn't prevent the small tear from slivering down his cheek at the thought of his abandoned mother. He kept telling himself that he had no choice, that it was for his and Cameron's own good, but he still felt like the world's biggest bastard for leaving her behind without so much as a goodbye. She would no doubt be looking for him, and a part of him hoped that she would find them, but then that would mean Cameron's destruction and he would die before he let that happen.
John Conner, the future leader of mankind, willing to sacrifice his life for the existence of a machine.
Not just a machine though, he reminded himself. Cameron was far more than just metal and wires. Sure, her inner body was made from it, but in the depths of her chip, amongst the code and the programming lay a soul. Not a human soul, mind you, but a soul nonetheless; the soul of a cyborg. Somehow that word sounded less objectionable than simply calling her a robot, because in essence, she was half-human.
Semantics and anthropomorphism; two subjects that made John's head spin on occasion, and not something he needed to bother himself with at the moment. He carefully opened his eyes to a slit, being immediately blinded by the light, and closed them again. He wanted to look at her, to see if she wore any expression, but he wasn't fully awake yet and needed to take a moment to get used to the heat.
Cameron stared blankly at the road ahead, calculating approximately three miles to their destination. She detected a slight movement to her right and glanced at John, who remained motionless, his chest rising and falling normally. After watching him for a few seconds more than was necessary, Cameron returned her attention to the road, her eyes adjusting to compensate for the sun's rays. Though he never spoke of it, Cameron knew that John was in a state of nostalgia, struggling with the desire to turn back and return to those he loved.
But he loved her too. More so, it seemed, than either his mother or his uncle. I am his highest priority, she mused; despite trying to kill him again. He saved me. He could've just smashed my chip and incinerated my body, but he didn't… he couldn't. Cameron chanced another look at him, spotting a small tear running down his cheek. Her mouth dropped a little, unsure as to what to make of this development. John had never cried in his sleep before, or at least; not the John she knew in this time.
She glanced back at the road briefly before reaching over and catching the tear as it dripped from his chin. She held the salty droplet and studied it carefully, occasionally flicking her eyes to the road to be safe. She could cry too, but mostly it was for blackmail, a clever invention of Skynet's that would allow her to appeal to the soft hearted. But there were times when she would cry without having consciously given her ducts the order to do so, times when her echoed emotions would prove overwhelming, such as her near death at John's hands.
The tear evaporated in a matter of seconds, leaving the tips of her index and thumb slightly moist. She placed her free hand back on the wheel and turned her thoughts back to driving. They needed to reach their new safe-house by nightfall, which was pretty much a given seeing as it was only 3:37pm according to her chronometer. John had slept for nearly three hours now, a new record for him as of late.
The safe-house was a small cabin several miles from the main settlement, giving them all the anonymity they could desire, but living there would require a steady income, which John had little trouble dealing with. He refused her offer to raid an ATM, arguing that it would attract too much attention, especially with the nature of security nowadays. Everything had become more and more complicated.
"Are we there yet?"
Cameron snapped her head around to see John stirring from his deep slumber, wiping the sleep from his eyes as he shuffled into an upright position, pulling the sun blind down to block out the worst of the glare. He still looks tired, she observed. "We're approximately 2.76 miles from the cabin… It won't be long", she promised, keeping her voice as soft as she could, for John had suffered a number of headaches these past days, no doubt brought on by the constant heat.
John certainly seemed to be experiencing one as he rubbed his forehead and groaned; "Two and a half miles is very long by our standards, Cam. Do you think you can step on it, get us there sooner maybe?" he asked, giving her a small smile of appreciation. Cameron shook her head and opened the glove compartment; "These roads are patrolled regularly by highway police. If I exceed the speed limit and we're caught, it could mean trouble. You told me to avoid trouble", she explained, her voice tinged with regret.
John sighed and rested his head back, closing his eyes again as he opened the window, letting fresh air into the car. Cameron retrieved a bottle of water and gently tapped him on the cheek with it. John took the bottle with a grateful moan and took a long swig, giving her a small smile; "Thanks, you read my mind." Cameron gripped the wheel with both hands and tilted her head to one side. "You need to keep yourself adequately hydrated. You haven't been drinking as much water as you should." John snorted and took another swig before giving her a small glare. "So you're worried I might suddenly die of heatstroke or something?" Cameron gave him a chiding look; "I do."
He smirked and stared down at the bottle for a moment before looking her over, taking note of the way her clothes had stuck to her body, perfectly framing her form. She wasn't half as sweaty as he, but her sheen of perspiration was clearly visible and as he examined her, a single bead of sweat ran down the side of her face. Without giving it much thought, John held the bottle over her head and poured some of its contents onto her parting.
Cameron frowned at John in confusion as the water seeped through her hair and down her face. She looked ready to lecture him on his prodigal ways but seemed to think better of it and instead gave him a small smile. "Thank you, John." He drank the last of the water and poured the last few droplets onto his face, tapping the bottle to get every last drip.
"You're welcome, Cam", he said as the soothing effects of the water took hold, briefly dispelling the harsh temperature.
LOUISIANA (RIDGECREST/INFILTRATOR STRONGHOLD)
Calculating: …approximate population; 800 residents over a 0.4 mile radius.
From where he stood, Jason could just about see the movements of traffic in the town below; hundreds of vehicles, hundreds of lives. All so different, all so similar, but none like him. He watched them with cold scrutiny, both despising their existence and coveting it. At least they had a purpose, or at least, were able to decide upon their purpose. Jason had no reason for anything anymore. His entire existence was pointless, yet he was still made to suffer it regardless.
He would have been perfectly happy to die in that desert; at least he would've died doing what he was created to do. Now he was stuck, trapped in a life without meaning or purpose, a hollow existence that bore no fruit or promise of achievement. Is this what humans call Hell, he asked himself. It certainly felt the way philosophers had described it to feel. He was an echo of his former self, now as much machine as he is organic, the result of his "brethren's" experimentations. So desperate were they to save his life that they never considered that he might prefer death.
Jason took a deep breath, his salvaged lungs absorbing oxygen for his brain and other organs. His stomach growled for sustenance, which he had refused himself for two days now. A sudden gust of wind blew at his face, threatening to blow his hood back, but he reached up and held it in place; his exposed right gleaming red eye glaring at the clouds that gathered above. Not his original eye, but that of the decimated T-999 found by his crippled body, much of which was used in his reconstruction and repair, including his left eye as well.
The wind settled down after a moment and Jason lowered his right arm to his side but paused when the light of the sun caught his metallic fingers. He raised his hand to his face and examined his digits closely, gazing blankly at the crimson jolts of galvanising energy that coursed through his wrist, ending at his finger tips. With his muscles yet to grow back and his flesh still stunted by the exotic formulas given to him during the operation, Jason would have to temporarily rely on electrical impulses from his fusion heart to keep his hand working.
Not that this bothered him at all; he could care less about how his body worked and wouldn't be irked in the slightest if he suddenly lost all bodily control and started to tap-dance on the spot. Okay, so maybe that would bother me a little, he thought, a sardonic smirk forming on his lips. The wind started to pick up again and he folded his arms against it, disinclined to allow the weather to dampen his day further. As he continued to stare down at the town below, Jason could feel a pair of eyes watching him from behind and let out a sigh as he recognised to whom they belonged.
RED VALLEY (NEW MEXICO/SAFE-HOUSE)
John held his hand in a salute over his brow, shielding his eyes from the sun and squinting at the small cabin before them. Cameron scanned the building carefully, determining it to be structurally sound before striding around the perimeter. John remained at the front and looked up at the surrounding desert hills, which curled around the cabin, creating a perfect alcove of privacy for them to live in and providing only one viable route to and from the cabin.
Cameron reappeared on the other side a few seconds later, her eyes narrowed against the sunlight but otherwise satisfied with the arrangement. "The hills provide an effective cover but we should set up a camera just to be certain. The cabin is stable, safe, and there's a spot around back that will be useful for storage", she reported, eyeing the building with mild scrutiny. John caught the expression and smirked, placing his hands in his trouser pockets. "Alright, what's wrong with it then?"
Cameron approached the car and popped open the trunk, ignoring John's question. "Cameron?" he pressured. She pulled out three heavy bags and slung them all over her right shoulder, grasping the remaining two in her left hand before turning to John and slamming the trunk back down. "We'll need to revise our identities. Siblings cannot live in such a secluded location without attracting unwanted attention", she explained.
John simply shrugged, not seeing how this would be a problem. "So we pretend to be a couple. Tell anyone who asks that we're private people who prefer to be left alone. How hard can it be?" he mused. Cameron didn't have a reply and strode over to the front door, using her free hand to unlock it and stepped onto the threshold, her sensors picking up a sharp rise in temperature. "John, don't-", she began, but he'd already followed her in and instantly gave out a cry of shock and surprise before shooting back outside again.
"Caray, hijo de a-… mierda, jodiendo calor! ¡Estoy enfermo de ello!" he raged, kicking the dirt in frustration and tearing off his shirt, exposing his bare chest to the sun. Cameron watched and listened with mild amusement as he rattled through every profanity he knew in Spanish until he finally settled down and held his shirt over his head as a makeshift sun block. "I'm fine, I'm good, just do me a favour and open all the windows, okay."
Cameron nodded and proceeded further inside, dumping the bags in the middle of the room. The cabin was small, consisting of only three rooms; the living room, the kitchen, and the bathroom, the latter two located on her right and just large enough to qualify as cosy. In fact, the entire cabin seemed to be built with cosy in mind, as the only bed was located at the back of the cabin, though there was also a two-person couch in the centre of the room and a comfy chair at the end of the bed.
She already knew that this would cause some problems, given John's squeamishness about personal privacy and his annoyance towards her nocturnal awareness. She felt no need to address this issue now, however, and began opening each window in turn; from the large double in the living room to the small one's in the bathroom and kitchen, respectfully. John reached into the cabin and held his arm there for a few seconds before withdrawing again and shaking his head.
"Argh, still too hot, Cameron. Doesn't this thing have air conditioning or what?" he asked, his dislike for the cabin growing with each passing moment. Cameron scanned the living room, finding no trace of a conditioning unit. "Apparently not", she replied, turning her attention to the bags. "You had better come in regardless, otherwise you'll suffer sun burn", she said, glancing up to see him grimace at the interior before tentatively stepping inside and immediately standing over by the nearby window.
Cameron deposited John's bag on the bed and placed her own on the comfy chair. "There are two clothes cabinets in the bathroom, we can put our stuff in there", she informed him as she carried the gun duffel to a convenient trunk at the end of the bed. "We'll store the guns in here, but they need to be cleaned first, they haven't been since…" Cameron trailed off and became silent as she carried the remaining two bags to their respective homes.
John perched himself on top of the dining table and watched her closely, momentarily distracted from the heat by her referral to the events in the Mojave desert all those weeks ago. She hadn't spoken of it since her initial reactivation, and she only enquired as to the fate of Jason, but after that (and apologising for trying to kill him again) she had remained tight-lipped on the subject. John had no desire to bring it up either, as it was as much a trauma to him as it was to her. But in moments like this, he couldn't help but wonder if her pain was greater than his. After all, she had guilt on top of it all, or at least, he believed she was feeling guilty.
A sharp burning pain spread across John's back and he sighed as the tell-tale symptoms of sun burn settled in. Cameron returned from the kitchen with a glass of water and poured it over his head, just as he had done to her in the car on the way up. He smiled appreciatively and leaned against the wall, letting out a long breath as the swelter took hold once more. He watched Cameron remove her tank top and felt his pulse quicken as she began unpacking the guns for cleaning, her exposed skin kept modest by her brassier.
She glanced at him for a moment and gave him an inquisitive look, and he knew she was asking if her mild nakedness was bothering him. He simply smiled reassuringly at her and stared out the window, glad to see something good come out from all this heat.
LOUISIANA (RIDGECREST/INFILTRATOR STRONGHOLD)
Though her feet were bare and she wore a loose-fitting dress, Sophie already knew that he'd detected her and decided to drop the stealthy approach and meet him in innocence. She glided over to his side and leaned forward a little to see around his hood, catching the left side of his face and the exposed eye on his right. He continued to stare at the town below, ignoring her presence completely, as he'd done ever since he awoke from the surgery.
Sophie slipped around to his front and grinned playfully up at him. Jason blinked and averted his eyes to meet hers, but he said not a word and simply stared her down. Sophie maintained the eye contact for as long as she could manage before the red orb of his right eye became too intense for her to endure. She blinked and looked down at the mangled flesh on his right arm, entranced by the metallic duplicate of his once flesh and bone hand.
So damaged was he, that when they got him to their laboratory they had to keep his brain alive through unnatural means. His skeleton was fractured beyond repair, so they were forced to create a mechanical replacement made from the remains of the T-999 and sculptured upon the structural data contained within his neural net. It was a tricky procedure; removing the old skeleton, replacing the new. And then there were the organs; the lungs, the stomach, muscles and skin, all of it reinserted and reattached.
His heart, however, was no longer sufficient to power his mechanical components, so it was replaced with a miniature fusion reactor, also salvaged from the damaged Triple-9. She could hear it "beating" inside of him, but unlike her organic heart it didn't thud, but instead made a noise she could only describe as a mix between a beep and a thump. A heart was a heart though, regardless of its construction, and she was convinced that he still had one.
"Are you going to talk to me today?" she asked pleadingly, smoothing his jacket with her palms. He remained unresponsive and fixed his gaze past her and back onto the town. "You can't stay silent for long", she teased, biting her lower lip playfully. "You tried this with me once before, do you remember; when I was rattling around in that head of yours." He let out a long breath and sidestepped out of her reach, perching himself atop another overhang several feet away. Sophie felt that familiar sinking feeling and followed him to his new spot, but he quickly turned and pushed her away. She caught her heel on a rock and fell back onto the ground, letting out a cry of momentary pain before her systems suppressed the reaction.
Jason motioned as if he were going to help her up, but stopped halfway and stared at her for a moment before turning his back on her once more. Sophie got to her feet and sighed at the small tear in her dress. "Look, I know that you must be feeling like the worst person alive right now, but that's no reason to keep treating me like this! What have I done?" she demanded. Jason looked over his shoulder at her, his brow furrowed in anger, before turning around to face her fully. "What have you done?"
It was the first time he had spoken in weeks, so she was grateful to hear his voice, but the context made her uneasy. He was angry at her, and considering that he was now three times as strong and fast than she, Sophie couldn't help but recoil as he advanced on her. "You mean to say that you have no clue as to what you've done", he blared, his red eye flashing a little brighter than usual. Sophie started to take slow steps back, fearing what he might do next. "I saved your life, you would've died if I hadn't-", she whimpered, but Jason grasped her by the throat and she choked on her words.
His grip was unlike anything she had felt before; so powerful and cold, the coltan fingers crushing her larynx. "You should never have brought me back! You should've let me die in peace!" Her response was gurgled and she started to feel a little faint from lack of oxygen, but before her condition could worsen, he let her go. She dropped to her knees and gasped for breath as he brushed past and disappeared inside the building. Sophie massaged her neck and angrily crushed a stone beneath her boot, tears welling in her eyes.
RED VALLEY (NEW MEXICO/SAFE-HOUSE)
John carefully sat down on his bed, his back aching from the harsh sunburn he'd suffered earlier in the day. Thankfully, at night the weather cooled dramatically and he was able to sit outside for a long time to cool his roasted body. Whilst he recuperated, Cameron had taken care of all the chores and cleaned all the guns. She even popped into the main town and bought some supplies, as well as his dinner for the evening.
John winced as he reached for the cream she'd bought for his burns and flicked the cap open, but was unsure as to how he was going to apply the stuff, what with arm movement proving painful at the moment. As he stared down at the bottle and methodised, Cameron emerged from the bathroom wearing a pair of silk turquoise pyjamas. John looked up to see her in this attire and performed a double-take, studying her intently as she plumped up a cushion and placed it on the comfy chair at the end of his bed.
She was about to sit down when she noticed John's attention raised her eyebrows inquisitively. "Is something wrong? John?" she asked, prompting him to snap out of his reverie and stare awkwardly at the floor. Cameron sat on the bed beside him and took the bottle from his hands. John realised what she was about to do and felt his skin flush. "No, no, it's okay, I'll do it myself", he blurted, but Cameron paid no attention and sat cross-legged behind him.
She poured some of the cream onto her hands and rubbed them together before carefully pressing them against his back. John inhaled sharply upon contact, the pain intensifying for a moment, but after a few seconds it started to lessen noticeably and after a minute or so it actually felt rather pleasant. He closed his eyes and relaxed into her touch, allowing her to massage his back to the best of her ability, which he could only guess would make most trained professionals envious.
Cameron covered every inch of the raw skin with the cream, until there were no red patches to be seen, and was surprised when John suddenly let out a small moan. Startled, she removed her hands, afraid that she had hurt him in some way. A moment's silence followed until John let out a sigh and dropped his shoulders dejectedly. "So I guess you're finished, huh?" he presumed, a tinge of regret in his voice. Cameron wiped her hands on a tissue and slid her legs over the side of the bed, sitting side-by-side with John, who was looking at her with an expression of faint sullenness.
She lightly chucked the cream and the box of tissues onto the couch and rubbed her hands together one last time to remove any traces of the substance. "You'll need to stay on your front throughout the night. Do not rest on your back. You'll be in agony if you do", she advised, regarding him with her brown eyes. John smirked and brushed a thick lock of hair out of her face; "Whatever you say, nurse." Cameron frowned for a second before catching his meaning and smiling at the quip.
She leaned close and placed a tender kiss on his cheek, stroking his other one with her left hand and then got to her feet, returning to her comfy chair. She made herself comfortable and placed her chosen shotgun on her lap, her fingers no more than a centimetre away from the trigger. John regarded her with an affectionate smile as she closed her eyes, just as he'd asked her to do whenever they slept in close proximity.
With care, he laid down on his front and buried his head in the pillow, his last conscious thought pleading that the heat would be kinder the next day.
To be continued…