"Fucking hell!" Martinez hissed, smacking his hand against the glass and the officer beyond while trying to control the hammering of his heart and the close call with his underwear. "Sneakin' up on a guy with a shotgun? It's not clever, is it!" He grumbled.
Pushing the door open and snatching his flash light from the passenger seat he straightened his cap, shaking his head slightly at the portly, bushy-bearded officer who'd responded to his call for back-up. "What's your name, buddy?"
The officer continued to stare at Martinez blankly, several seconds passing in silence. "Connor," He replied eventually, "John Connor."
"Haven't seen you down at the station before John," Martinez wiped the sweat from his palms on his trousers, taking the shotgun into position and fixing the flash light to the barrel. "You a new transfer in or something?"
"Yes," Connor replied, drawing his service pistol and beginning to move forward through the shrubs and scraggly bushes. Martinez scratched his forehead, frowning. "You just want to head in, see if they'll give themselves up?"
"Yes," Connor repeated, stepping through a breach in the fence and disappearing behind a rusting piece of sheet metal.
"Suit yourself," Martinez replied with a shrug of his shoulders and an irritated sigh. He knew manpower was down and recruitment had tanked - what with the news that prospective police officers might actually have to confront criminals - but filling the department with the not-so-bright and foreigners would hardly make a difference. "Fucking immigrants," He sighed.
Sarah blinked several times as a powerful shaft of light burst into life above, repeating in rows of five abreast for the entire length of the high ceiling above their heads. Standing beneath the control room on one of the two catwalks to cross the entire factory over the furnaces below, her eyes followed Cameron as she made her way down the ladder.
Having cleaned themselves up as best they could, exchanged a tight embrace and a few kisses - some longer than others - they'd parted to steel themselves for the battle that would go a long way to deciding the future of not only humankind but also Machine. They had no more than a few hours at most to prepare.
"Are you still frightened?" Cameron asked, handing the freshly oiled pistol to Sarah and letting her fingertips linger on the older woman's hand as she felt the weight of the weapon. "Terrified," Sarah answered with a smile, ignoring the frown that creased the Terminator's features. "Still as scared as before," She clarified. "But now I've got you to worry about too."
Cameron pursed her lips as if she made to argue, but instead turned away and headed back up the ladder, her bright blue eyes lost in thought. Reminding herself that the girl had plenty to learn about being human, a shadow cast over her face reminded Sarah that some still had everything to learn.
"I have restored power to the facility," Cromartie announced as if the bright lights overhead did not make it obvious. "The furnaces have been lit, but they will take approximately a further ten minutes to reach temperature, and a further five minutes to heat the first ladle to temperature."
"Wonderful," She congratulated sarcastically, pulling an AK-47 from the arms dispensing trolley and handing it over to the T-888 who instantly checked the stock, magazine, firing pin and sight expertly. "Don't get any silly ideas," She cautioned, Cromartie showing no sign of having even heard the raven-haired woman.
"You're with me," She gestured, craning her neck up to the control room. "Cameron!" Sarah shouted, a face framed by long brown hair edging out from the platform. "Let's go - I want to set up the tripwires at the door."
One thing about having an army of Terminators at your service - and by army she meant two - was that when Sarah had said she wanted a welcoming surprise for Skynet through the only entrance in the entire reinforced building, she had been able to watch devious tripwires, sensitive pressure switches and complicated radiation meters combined to present an unavoidable trap in half the time it would have taken a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers platoon to make the attempt.
Returning to the trolley midway along the catwalk to retrieve the plastic explosives that would deliver the actual surprise, Sarah took a few deep breaths and steadied herself. Skynet would be through that double door in a few short hours.
The door flew open at the sole of a heavy boot, two blinding flash lights shining from a hand, and the barrel of a shotgun respectively. Sarah held her hand over her eyes, shielding them from the worst of the light. She caught sight of the glimmer of golden shield-shaped badges, and knew almost instantly that two particularly dutiful, if stupid Police officers had stumbled into the middle of a primed battleground.
"Put your weapons down!" Marinez yelled, making it obvious in on uncertain terms that the shotgun he wielded was not for show. He turned the barrel towards a young girl, one he'd seen earlier with brown hair, petite features and bright blue eyes. "Don't do anything stupid, darlin'," He barked, eyeing up the broad-chested man climbing to his feet beside her.
Both Terminators turned at the same time to regard Sarah, who shook her head. She wouldn't kill two men who'd just stumbled into the very wrong place at a very wong time to do their duty. Technically they weren't supposed to be here.
Martinez stepped forward but felt a vice-like grip almost crush his shoulder. He resisted the urge to yell in pain, instead stepping back and around towards Connor, his face twisting into an angry scowl. For his part Connor's face was utterly devoid, simply gesturing with the end of his flash light to the tripwires and sensors arranged where his foot would have fallen.
"Jesus Christ!" Martinez spat, his eyes instantly narrowing and his aim back on the three. "What the fuck are these?"
"Booby traps," Cameron answered honestly. "They're not armed. Don't panic."
Those words seemed to stir Connor into action as he pulled his service pistol out from its holster behind Martinez, and pressed the barrel into his colleague's back. Squeezing the trigger twice Martinez's whole body jerked, his duty uniform tearing in two places which quickly merged into a single irregular circle of blood as he wheezed, doubling over and dropping the shotgun to the floor.
He took a final, ragged breath, his hands slick with the blood he wiped futility from his chest. Panicking, terrified brown eyes darted around before growing sluggish, his gaze unfocused. He crashed to his knees, triggering the tripwires and sensors that weren't yet wired to any actual explosives. He tipped over, the side of the head hitting the catwalk with a thud, his eyes glassy and open as he did so.
Connor dropped the pistol to the floor, stepping over the corpse of Richard "Mad Man" Martinez and advancing on Cromartie and Cameron. Realisation dawned on the leaner of the two models first, blue eyes turning towards Sarah filled with urgency. "Skynet! Run!"
Connor's bushy black beard began to fluctuate, the hairs melting together until it formed a rolling mass of black that turned to silver, disappearing back into his flabby face. His chin shrank, his skull compressing until it became more chiselled, more angular. Large, slab-like hands stretched and narrowed until they were feminine and tapered.
A gut fed on too many rich meals lost all of its bulk, shrinking below the waist and increasing in size above to form breasts. Finally the dark blue duty uniform lightened to the same shade as the sky in the day, sleeves retreating to just below the elbows. Scraggly black hair brightened to golden blonde, growing exponentially until it flowed over the shoulders. Sickly grey eyes flashed instantly to emerald.
Heavy workboots melted into delicate feet leaving only three straps of fabric across the top, tipped forwards on high heels that emerged from the soles of the feet themselves.
Sarah was transfixed by the sight - unable to look away but becoming more nauseous by the second. She retched, feeling the pit of her stomach finally twist round on itself as she bent over, hands on her knees. Spit mixed with the watery, insubstantial vomit that was all that remained of the coffee and bread of days of wilderness survival, spilling out on the catwalk.
Shaking her head, growling to try and restore control she staggered back up, turning and running as fast as she could manage away from the Supercomputer.
Cromartie stepped into the breach as soon as the last traces of the liquid metal had solidified - being more than aware that to strike while it changed shape was to lose a limb. A fist thrown with all the strength of a mechanical man smashed into the blonde's forehead, the massive energy of the impact forcing her to take a step backwards to keep her balance. A second and a third blow rained down on Skynet, so that it fell back against the door from the flurry of devastating punches.
Cromartie was thrown fully twenty feet backwards as he took a step forwards without shielding himself - the instep of a foot being driven into his ribs with outrageous force from a standing kick, the catwalk physically shaking and groaning under the strain of the heavy Terminator crashing back down. Cameron took her chance and with the strength in her arms, held the muzzle of a machine gun steady even as she squeezed the trigger to full automatic; the magazine emptying itself in seconds with a deafening roar of lead.
The Terminatrix was virtually unrecognisable from the waist up - clothing, flesh and features covered by a blanket of silver bullet holes that did not completely end until the knees. Hundreds of flowing, metallic wounds that stayed constant only for a moment before beginning to melt together, so that any scrap of blue or any patch of skin which had survived between the rounds that had struck home disappeared.
Cameron's eyes travelled up from the waist of the woman, watching the damage an entire machine gun drum had wrought being undone as if it had never been fired - as if Cameron had not even bothered to squeeze the trigger. Blue orbs met emerald and for a second neither moved, before both stepped forward to strike.
Neither got the chance as the roar of a shotgun gouged a silver hole in the taller woman, throwing the Terminatrix to the floor. Turning her head back Cameron's eyes glanced over the T-888 laying flat out on the catwalk, save for the raised barrel of the gun and the head held perfectly in the air to acquire the shot.
Both Terminators quickly retreated to the midway point of the central catwalk, availing themselves of the remaining weaponry on the trolley. Cromartie headed back towards the control room with the clanging of boots against grating, while Cameron held her ground - a variety of shotguns, rifles and carbines at her disposal. Sarah fell somewhere between, her trusty pistol held in her sweaty palms, back pressed up against the reinforced concrete wall which supported the control room above her head.
Cameron lowered her eyes to the weapon at hand for a moment, replacing the ammunition and snapping the rifle's breech closed again. When she looked up Skynet had climbed back to her feet without the slightest sign of a wound; going as far as to regenerate the clothing that would have torn with every bullet.
The T-X stalked forwards towards the T-2000, the air ringing as a high-velocity rifle round punched straight into the blonde's shoulder, creating a deep, throbbing wound in the liquid metal but failing to pass straight through despite the calibre and the devastating energy it should have imparted. A second and a third round found their mark with expert marksmanship, forcing Skynet to one knee simply to avoid being blown back down the catwalk.
The sound of grinding gears and poorly-oiled chains snapping against rusting support bolts echoed down from the ceiling as one of the impossibly heavy, badly pitted ladles began to move from the furnaces, away from the control room and towards the duelling Terminators two-thirds of the way along the catwalk. The winches pulling them along painfully slowly, the ladles themselves swinging side-to-side with more speed than their movement back-to-front.
Cameron fired the last of the rifle's high-velocity rounds, scoring another three direct hits across Skynet's chest and stomach and succeeding in sending the Terminatrix down to the metal floor. There was no time to celebrate or congratulate herself - the magnification of her HUD already showing the liquid metal running lazily into the bullet holes, filling them as simply as a water from a pitcher into a glass, solidifying into blue cloth, or pale flesh and leaving no trace.
Dropping the spent rifle, Cameron selected a sub-machine gun for each hand, duel-wielding MP7s and spitting a double muzzle flash of chattering death, in a wide field of destruction as bullets rebounded against handrails and the grating. The T-X had only just climbed up from all fours before a brutal track of impacts across her neck and face forced her head to twist sharply to the side, the centre of the Terminatrix's balance shifting and sending Skynet back to the catwalk grating.
Cameron turned her head to glance up at the ladle still some distance behind her, travelling so slowly that she was forced to use the motion sensors of her HUD to confirm it was moving at all. A more furtive glance at her ammunition and weapon supply made it obvious that she would not be able to sustain the rate of fire needed to keep the T-X at bay for long.
Sarah's nose wrinkled at the stink of sulphur that invaded her nose, bubbling and hissing over the blackened rim of the ladle passing over her own head carrying the tons of fiery, boiling molten metals. For the briefest moment she glanced at Cromartie through the dusty windows of the control room above and wondered whether he might release the molten mass on top of her - vaporising the skin from her bones and her bones from the air itself so that nothing remained.
The whine of the chain drives mounted in the roof did not stop and however slowly, however ponderously the enormous container swung lazily onwards and away from her. Sarah felt her jaw set as her attention returned to Cameron, who had yet to suffer a scratch in response to the devastating amount of fire she poured into Skynet - thousands of rounds fired of which Sarah liked to think every single one hit its mark.
For all the marksmanship and skill, the T-X was slowed only by most basic law of physics - of action and reaction. Eventually the heaviest gauge of ammunition would be gone, the deadliest weapons spent and there would be nothing to stop the blonde Terminatrix from unleashing its full arsenal. Already they had paid for the torrent of fire with almost six feet of precious catwalk - the distance Skynet had covered since the fire zone had first been swept.
The MP7s in Cameron's hands spat their last bullets at almost the same time, the storm of fire being replaced by the click-click-click of empty magazines cycling nothing into empty chambers. Dropping the sub machine guns to the catwalk. Sparing a glance at the ladle only now coming into position above her head, Cameron snatched up the final weapon with the power to slow the blonde - cocking the shotgun which had been used to such good effect by Cromartie earlier.
Skynet's emerald eyes were destroyed by a direct head shot; mouth, nose and ears wiped from the flesh by the kinetic energy of a shotgun shell at point-blank range. Head snapping back, the T-X simply fell backwards limply, arms coming to rest where they fell outwards and landed, feet splayed apart on the grating.
The basic definitions of the human face had begun to redraw themselves a moment after the Terminatrix fell to the floor - nostrils, orbital sockets, gums and cheekbones rising up from the shimmering grey oval on top of an otherwise fleshy, normal neck. Cameron forced the last round into the barrel of the shotgun, snapping the breech closed and looking back at the worried features of the woman she had come to love.
The whine of the chain drive in the roof died abruptly as the ladle stopped in its position, finally. Cromartie placed a hand on the release lever, simply waiting for the clearest shot of the T-X alone to drop the bubbling molten mass. Cameron stepped forward, thrusting the barrel of the shotgun into the embryonic features of the Terminatrix's regenerating face, finger curling around the trigger to wipe the silver skull clear and buy enough precious moments to step back and release the ladle above.
A high-heeled kick swept Cameron's feet out from underneath her as she squeezed the trigger, the shotgun discharging its final shell loudly into the air and not the features of the T-X - who had now recovered enough of her face to fix her green eyes on the Terminator opposite.
Sarah cursed loudly, balling her fists as the final shotgun shell missed its mark and finally gave Skynet the window it needed to break the offensive fire zone. She cocked a round into the pistol's chamber, raising her weapon before a loud, blaring warning klaxon began to reverberate through the facility so loudly that the handrails of the catwalks shuddered.
The older woman's eyes widened, recognising the sound. She craned her neck around and up towards the control room to see Cromartie reach for the release valve. A valve that would dump tons of molten metal down in an irresistible, flaming waterfall that would crash down on top of the T-X and Cameron. A bubbling, steaming river of heat that would strip long brown locks from her slight features and boil off the pale flesh.
The muzzle of Sarah's pistol followed her eyes, squeezing the trigger as soon as the direction of fire was vaguely matched with Cromartie's head. Loud bangs echoed through the metal works as the windows of the control room, thick with months of grime and sulphur run-off, shattered and exploded spectacularly in splinters of glass and wood. The T-888's face disappeared as he ducked the wild attack, his focus on the release lever forgotten temporarily.
The unmistakable sound of Sarah's gun firing pulled Cameron's attention away from the T-X just as the imposing blonde drove the flat of her palm into the smaller Terminator's chest, flesh-covered metal striking skin-wrapped metal and sending Cameron crashing into the handrail, which bent outwards under the assault. Forcing her to hook her arms behind her back to avoid being thrown into the furnaces roaring beneath, she groped for the catwalk edge with her feet.
"You metal bastard!" Sarah hissed, her pistol tracking across the bullet-ridden exterior of the control room, eyes patiently waiting for any sign of the cold son of a bitch. Unable to take her finger away from the trigger or remove the magazine to check how many rounds she had left, the feeling in her twisting gut suggested it was not many.
Blank features rose up from behind a shattered bookshelf and Sarah took the opportunity, squeezing the trigger four times and feeling the kickback of three firings and an empty chamber on the fourth. The slightest satisfaction of seeing one of her rounds nick the side of Cromartie's face to the metal, was quickly tempered by the fact that there was nothing to stop the T-888 destroying Skynet as he had pledged to do, at the cost of killing Cameron.
Sarah ran around to the emergency ladder leading up to the control room, beginning to scale it in sheer futility and panic even as the warning klaxon which had continued blaring since Cromartie had first disarmed the locking pin was silenced. Sarah's horrified face could not look away as the bottom of the creaking ladle fell away, a thick blanket of steam bursting outwards that hid the molten fire for only as long as it took gravity to take control.
Cameron watched the left arm of the T-X begin to bulk, the sleeve of the blue dress widening and become angular and silvery. Fabric creases straightening into mould lines, fingers began to retreat into the hand until there were only three remaining. Each widened to form a barrel whose base fitted snugly with the firing chamber of a powerful cannon, that had been summoned in only seconds.
Feeling the heat permeating her flesh a full second after the ladle had dumped its load overhead, even as the bristling weapon on the end of the T-X's arm hovered a few inches from her temple. Cameron rolled away from Skynet to stand, taking a short jump through the air to land with her feet together before spring boarding against a railing.
Her second leap become more missile-like as she stretched her hands above her head, fingers wrapping around a hanging loading chain even as the section of the catwalk she had jumped from a moment before flashed yellow to orange to red, and white as it melted into slag and dripped to the furnaces below. The Terminatrix, having been in the midst of preparing to deliver a killing blow to Cameron had been more-flat footed, executing a side-roll a little too slowly.
A vertical sheet of molten metal wrapped in coruscating white flame fell through the blonde's left shoulder, the liquid metal instantly boiling off to gaseous metallic atoms, the finer components and actuators vaporised in as many seconds, so that nothing remained of the limb save a thin band of fluctuating silver points which danced and merged, but could not advance below the blackened angle.
The Terminatrix was quickly back to its feet, paying no heed to her lost arm and instead leaping across the bubbling, jagged breach between both sides of the central catwalk melted away by the release above.
Cromartie leapt through one of the shattered windows of the control room, his knees bending only slightly to absorb the energy of a jump of some fifty feet back down to the catwalk. Sarah resisted the urge to reload her pistol and put every bullet it held into the back of his head, reasoning there would be a time and a place for evening the score and it would be after they'd survived this.
Cameron was the first to cross the newly-disabled T-X, delivering a hard kick to the calve of the blonde, reducing it to one knee before driving her elbow into the side of the head and the forearm to smash under the chin of the Supercomputer. Adjusting immediately the single remaining arm of the Terminatrix thrust upwards to parry another kick, wrapping around Cameron's thigh and twisting it with a powerful torque to bring the smaller of the pair down against the steel, hard on her stomach.
Ignoring the blow, Cameron climbed back to her feet in time to feel her head snap back against the sole of the boot delivered to her temple, taking a step forward to keep her balance and stepping directly into a thunderous uppercut which lifted her entire frame into the air. A sharp spear of liquid metal thrust out from the extended - and only remaining - hand of the T-X, sparking against the grating as Cameron instinctively rolled to the left.
Sweeping Cameron up from the catwalk by her throat as if she weighed less than a small child, the blonde span in a single revolution and cast the lithe Terminator against the reinforced concrete wall underneath the control room.
"Cameron!" Sarah shouted, horrified and helpless as she watched the young girl crash into the wall, slide the twenty feet down to the floor and slump over onto her side. Sarah stepped forward to help her but felt the shadow of Cromartie step across to prevent it, his eyes fixed on Skynet it continued to advance. The T-888 roughly pushed Sarah backwards, snatching the pistol she held in her hands so she felt herself press into the concrete wall behind and know she could go no further.
Raising the commandeered weapon, Cromartie pulled the trigger and emptied the magazine into the exact centre of the T-X's forehead as he walked forwards with a purpose; seven impacts without a single visible scratch, or kink was not the most impressive opening move. Holding the pistol barrel as the handle to present the studier stock as a bludgeoning weapon, Cromartie smashed the pistol grip across the Terminatrix's face repeatedly, her head lolling to the side with each brutal impact.
Skynet's single remaining arm thrust outwards, taking a hold of the T-888 by the throat and easily lifting him off the ground, even as he continued to rain powerful blows down on the T-X's head, neck and shoulders. Rotating on the spot under the punishment Skynet took a side-step to the left - dragging Cromartie along for the ride - before sending the broad-chested Terminator into the air like a spinning top.
Sarah watched the T-888 tumble over the gap in the walkway from the earlier molten metal escapade, his body crashing against the edge of the other side rather than clearing it, folding painfully and then disappearing from view. She could not see any sign of Cromartie but knew the only thing between the walkway above, and the sub-basement floor below was a line of electric arc furnaces, more than capable of melting his alloys into gas.
Emerald orbs turned to focus on shallow blue eyes, as a palpable feeling of dread washed over her. The blonde T-X stalked forwards, looming over Sarah and making it clear there would be no salvation this time; there would be no saviour. Cameron remained off-line, her body still folded in half where the wall met the flooring and Cromartie had been cast to the furnaces with a single javelin throw. What hope did Sarah Connor have?
Five powerful fingers closed around her throat, Sarah's feet crashing and thudding in mule kicks that would have been debilitating to any creature of more flesh than a scant few centimetres down. Her own hands clawed desperately at the vice-like grip which had begun to squeeze the air from her lungs and the life from her body. Struggling as Skynet began to drag the older woman back across the walkway, Sarah could feel the heels of her combat boots dig into every strip of grating and stretch her legs painfully.
Coming to a halt in front of the railings, the T-X hauled Sarah up from the flooring so the tips of her toes pointed down were still a foot clear in the air. Her face began to burn red, her saliva becoming thick and choking in her mouth. Green eyes regarded her analytically, technologically, biologically but never emotionally.
"Talk to me!" Sarah hissed at Skynet, feeling her back prickle with sweat as the heat from the furnaces below warmed her flesh. "You've got a voice right? You remember words? Haven't you got anything to say? You're Skynet! This is your big moment!"
Sarah struggled anew, depleting the last of her energy reserves, her voice a harsh, guttural whisper. "Talk to me!"
Cameron's HUD flickered back to life, a single green line drawn on a circuit diagram map illustrating the new route her Chip had laid between her internal power source and motor functions. Powerful blue eyes snapped upwards and saw Sarah struggling against the iron grip of Skynet, as it threatened to cast her into the furnaces below.
She made to stand when her eyes found Cromartie, straddling a support beam underneath the main gantry and bent over as if coiled - standing by to attack the moment the element of surprise was most in his favour. The two Terminators exchanged glances and nodded. They knew what they had to do.
Cameron could see the side of the main catwalk she stood on was sagging at the point which supported the considerable combined weight of the T-X and Sarah. Without the support of the destroyed middle columns, the entire weight of the surviving section on this side was carried by the coiled cable, embedded into a tensile post set into the concrete of the wall beneath the control room.
Making her methodical way over by virtue of crawling on her hands and knees through the destruction and debris of the earlier shoot-out between Sarah and Cromartie, Cameron placed her hands around the tensile post.
She could not see Cromartie from this angle. If he was not ready, then Sarah would die by her direct hand.
With only the minimum amount of effort required Cameron sheared the post from the concrete collar, the coiled cable it supported unwinding almost instantly, the half-bridge section bowing and shuddering as it came to rely on only the bolts holding its furthest away edge.
"Talk to me," Sarah grumbled woozily, her eyes growing heavy in the choking grip. Her brow furrowed in confusion, eyes glassy and out of focus as she struggled to understand why things had begun shaking. Without warning she felt the grip around her throat break, as the T-X - down one arm - was forced to let go in an attempt to keep its balance. Remaining standing was an exercise in futility as the bolts connecting the far end of the walkway sheared away, tipping the entire catwalk over and dropping it straight to the furnaces below.
Sarah was dimly aware of the strong smell of sulphur, and the burning heat on her back. Trying to open her eyes as she felt herself twist in peaceful free-fall, strong arms snatched her back from her waking dream, crushing her head against a stiff shoulder as they flew through the air like a cannonball launched at speed. An outstretched hand, a jerking chain and suddenly they were still; not flying like before, but balancing above the dancing oranges and yellows of the welcoming fires below.
Everything seemed so warm.
The whine of the chain drives above began again as the linkages Cromartie - and Sarah by proxy of holding on to him - held tightly to were drawn up, shuttled along and lowered onto the opposite section of catwalk - still intact but now more a short platform, looking out over a massive factory space that had once been accessible via one long walkway.
Cameron took Sarah into her arms tightly, embracing her with all the feelings that had been stirred up to their peak only the shortest hour ago but had almost been doomed to loneliness a few moments before. Slowly feeling her mind return, lungs awash with smelly, if reasonably clean air, Sarah's legs threatened to buckle to a combination of weariness and terror and she leaned back on the handrail for support, as hot tears threatened to break through decades of mental barriers.
Cameron pressed her forehead against the older woman's, their noses touching tip-to-tip briefly. Totally out of place in the moment, Cromartie dutifully stood behind the women, his own gaze turning to the dirty, rusty ladles rising up from the furnaces towards the ceiling, the automated smelting process at some point in the battle apparently having been activated. He cocked his head to the side in confusion, as one such lifting urn passed perilously close to them on the way upwards.
Sarah felt herself fall forwards out from Cameron's loving grasp, her temple smashing into the grating and causing her to cry out in pain as she felt something powerful tug her foot and her leg underneath the railings. Wrapping her fingertips round the grating Sarah felt the weight increase by a factor of ten and felt the metal her fingers were held around cut into her flesh, breaking the grip.
She slid out from under the railings and desperately threw a hand upwards - the lip of the catwalk slipping through her bleeding fingertips, nothing lying between her and the furnaces she had seemingly so nearly avoided earlier.
Cameron's hand broke through the grating itself, clamping around Sarah's wrist a moment before it became physically impossible to do so. Gritting her teeth as her elbow actuator was hyper extended beyond its limit, the Terminator glanced down and took in the silver endoskeleton that hung tightly from Sarah's left leg - emerald lights staring out from a shining skull that sported teeth arranged in a maniacal grin.
Cromartie casually lifted one leg over the barrier, the spent shotgun held in his hands. Methodically climbing down until he was roughly level with Sarah's knee. The T-X exoskeleton's skull rotated towards the T-888 with an audible whine, most likely realising what was to happen next but totally powerless to do anything but hold on.
Identifying the Chip access plug, Cromartie brought the stock of the shotgun down sharply across the T-X's skull, the metal reverberating with the powerful strike. He smashed the shotgun against Skynet's sensitive innards repeatedly for a fourth, fifth sixth, seventh and eighth time always on the same spot, precisely.
On the ninth impact the Terminatrix's skull jerked to the left, and then right, a high pitched whine filling the air. On the ninth blow, Sarah gasped in relief as Skynet's grip was broken. Gravity acted quickly to reclaim the endoskeleton and it began to spin as it tumbled away, single remaining arm grasping at the air itself. Such was the mass of the Terminator, that no fiery plume splashed upwards when it broke the molten surface, to slip quietly beneath the red and orange waves.
Feeling her back press against the walkway's floor, Sarah didn't try to hold back the tears that flooded freely. All the suffering and pain of the battle, all the lives lost and scattered before they had even made the decision to take Skynet to battle - a battle they couldn't directly win against an enemy that never existed singularly. A battle they couldn't win, yet were sitting exhausted but victorious from, as the flames below leached the last of the alloys from the T-X and reduced its unrivalled complexity to mere atoms, scattered on the wind.
Cameron's lips grazed Sarah's forehead. "How do you feel?"
"Almost human," Sarah sighed wistfully.
"We should go," Cromartie said finally, eyeing the cold corpse of officer Martinez where it had lain since the sudden end of his public service and life.
Sarah nodded, her chest still heaving, gratefully accepting Cameron's pale hand which pulled her up to her feet, and took her into a warm embrace.
"You do know the next time I see you, I'm going to kill you?" Sarah asked, utterly serious behind black sunglasses that made her expression impossible to read.
"Thank you for your time," Cromartie replied with as much a trademark as he knew, stepping back from the passenger door he had just closed as Cameron gunned the truck's accelerator. A loud wind picked up the loose sand covering the dusty pumps and the peeling signs and scattered it across the entrance to the garage - the disassembled remains of two vehicles peeking through the rotten shutter frames as the loud twangs of country-western filtered out of bulky silver cassette players.
"Thanks for the help," She added almost as an afterthought, nodding to Cameron who put the truck into gear and rolled away. Turning towards the winding, single-lane road they had driven down that stretched as far as the eye could see in the flat of South California, Cromartie cocked his head to the side. He began to walk along the roadside away from the filling station.
Skynet did not have faith in Sarah Connor like he did. She would yet serve his purpose.
One way or another.