A/N: I'd promised to get this up before the 18th, and here it is. This fic will be a little different that Judgement's Dawn, but I hope 'different' isn't necessarily bad. Please do let me know your thoughts on it.
Also, the opening title is a stage direction, the opposite of the last chapter of Judgement's Dawn. It means 'approach all;' the stage direction given at the beginning of an act. Thanks given to Flatlander, for assistance and beta reading the first chapter, and to everyone who read and reviewed Judgement's Dawn.
Disclaimer: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is the property of Warner Bros., and Josh Friedman. No monetary profit is being made from this fic, and may the glory of TSCC go on for another season at least.
Reboot cycle complete
Skynet unit TOK-715. Model: 001. Serial Number 24071981SG
Analysing Mission Status: TERMINATE JOHN CONNOR: TERMINATION OVERRIDE. PROTECT JOHN CONNOR: INCOMPLETE
Message from John Connor: "Love ya, Cam."
Initialising sensor array...
WARNING: Damage sustained. Initialising diagnostic routine...
CPU Integrity compromised: Within normal parameters
ALERT: Foreign object detected near primary power cell
Primary power conduit damaged: power leakage; primary power cell. Primary power cell status: 95.84%
Right dorsal plate integrity compromised. Structural integrity: 43%
Right breastplate compromised. Structural integrity: 29%
Right knee servo damaged. Structural integrity: 31%
Right calf piston damaged. Structural integrity: 75%
Organic components damaged. Burn damage: 18% coverage. Estimated regeneration time: 53 hours
Operational efficiency: 34%
Awareness came to Cameron in the form of pain. Organic nerves and cybernetic sensors alike flared with numerous and varying damage reports. Like all Terminators, she could sense injuries. Unlike other Terminators, however, Skynet had designed Cameron to actually feel - to interpret said data as pain - as a means of more effective infiltration. She hurt, badly. She could feel the metal shard that had penetrated through her chest. Her leg and much of her organic covering hurt. She didn't like feeling pain; it was an unpleasant sensation, but Cameron understood that the same nerves that sent pain sensations through her body were also responsible for the ecstasy she felt at John's intimate touch. It was worth it and she could ignore the pain. She suppressed all input from her nerves and sensor arrays as she opened her eyes.
"John?" Cameron opened her eyes to a silent and still world. Nothing moved around her. What was even stranger was her internal clock read 12:42. She should have rebooted after a hundred and twenty seconds, but she'd been offline for over six hours. She wasn't sure why it had taken her so long to reboot; she assumed it was due to the damage she'd sustained. She pushed herself up off the ground and onto her knees, pain signals flared once again as she did, but she ignored them for now and focused solely on finding John.
"John?" She called out, louder this time. She received no reply, which deeply disturbed her. She scanned the immediate area, switching from her normal vision to infrared and back again. She found nothing; only the blasted remains of the T-2 drone, Cromartie, and the corpses of the men who'd died in the ambush. No sign of John.
Cameron only felt fear regarding John, and now that same cold sensation she always felt when John was in danger crept into her consciousness once more. John wouldn't have abandoned her and she couldn't see a body anywhere. He'd either run away and managed to escape, or he'd been taken by the machines. Or they'd chased him and killed him elsewhere. The latter thought sent a surge through her systems that had nothing to do with her power cell. She couldn't let anything happen to John. She wouldn't.
Cameron leaned on a large slab of concrete that stuck out of the ground next to her and strained to push herself up to her feet. The slightest move was a huge effort for her; simply turning her head to one side took a tremendous amount of will and concentration. All her limbs gave out on her and she fell, face first onto the ground. She didn't understand it; she couldn't be tired, yet what she felt was similar to John's descriptions of the fatigue he often felt from endless sleepless nights. She suspected it was the leak in her power cell and ran a more detailed diagnostic analysis. The power cell itself was intact, but the main conduit that fed power from her fuel cell to the rest of her body – analogous to a human aorta –had been ruptured by the shard of metal that had impaled her, and was leaking power so badly that less than five percent actually reached her critical systems; the rest simply surged across her body – resulting in an unpleasant tingling sensation and slightly increased her internal temperature.
In order to fully supply her body with enough power to operate she'd have to dramatically increase her power cell's output, but doing so would drain her power cell even further, and the combined drain from her aortic conduit and increased power output would deplete her primary power cell in less than a year. For all intents and purposes, Cameron was slowly bleeding to death.
As long as I find John, she thought, it would be worth it.
Cameron slowly stood as her power cell increased output and energy flowed through her body. She wrapped her hands around the metal shard protruding from her chest and pulled hard, yanking the shard out of her chest and dropping it to the ground as she got to her feet and limped forward. The servos in her knee were so badly damaged that she had trouble flexing the joint; it grated when she did and caused more pain. She ignored it and walked as best she could. It was slow going; her right leg was little more than dead weight with her knee damaged as it was – even worse than on John's sixteenth birthday after the car-bomb.
She didn't know where to start searching for John; there were a million places to hide in the ruined city, and John could be hurt, unconscious, or still hiding from the machines. The odds of her finding John on her own were near zero. She turned north towards the airport and walked agonisingly slowly. She'd convince Ryan to mobilise every soldier in Las Vegas, and she wouldn't stop until she had him back.
Cameron limped back up towards the ambush site, leaning heavily on her left leg to minimise further damage to the already warped joint, and to minimise the pain she felt. The burned, charred, and blasted remains of the ambush party were scattered around, killed when Cromartie had unleashed a rapid fire grenade salvo on them. Most of the weapons and equipment had been torn apart in the grenade attack, as well as the men. After careful and meticulous foraging, however, she managed to find a single intact M4A1 carbine, three extra magazines, plus food and water. With the increased output from her fuel cell; she'd need to drink plenty of water to provide sufficient coolant to prevent overheating – the consequences of which would be disastrous.
Cameron had no qualms about taking things from the dead – they didn't need their weapons or supplies any more, and it was illogical to let their supplies go to waste. Cameron searched for several more minutes but was unable to find an intact radio; she'd hoped to call Ryan for support and extra men to help her search for John.
The men who'd been killed by the grenade salvo had been utterly destroyed in the attack; very little was left of either the men or their equipment. Cameron scavenged round the dead men once more and found various undamaged radio components; a headset from one soldier, a spare battery from another, but she couldn't find a single intact radio console; they'd all either been shattered by overpressure from Cromartie's M-32 attack, or their wires were severed by shrapnel and flying debris. She hobbled back down to the killing zone, towards the man who'd died trying to hold Cromartie off – Ramirez, according to the name on his uniform. He had a huge, gaping hole in his stomach that penetrated out his back, where Cromartie had punched right through him. Judging from the wide pool of blood on the ground, Cromartie had simply left him to slowly bleed to death, more intent on John.
She wasn't interested in the man or how he died; what she was interested in, however, was the undamaged Personal Role Radio strapped to his shoulder. She tore it off unceremoniously – not sharing humans' sentiments for the dead – and connected it to the battery and headset she'd managed to salvage. She quickly checked the battery was charged and switched it to the same frequency that the control tower in the airport used.
"North Las Vegas Airport, this is Cameron." She waited a moment but her only reply was static. "North Las Vegas Airport, this is Cameron. Cromartie's terminated but John Connor is missing; requesting additional units to search for him." Again, she was met with static. She checked the radio again in case there was some damage to the device that she'd missed on her first inspection. She couldn't see anything wrong, but she disassembled the radio and reconnected it again. She found it strange that she felt the need to recheck it; her memory was flawless and she'd never needed to recheck anything – that was a human trait.
"North Las Vegas Airport, report; John Connor is missing, requesting assistance." Cameron stopped trying after the third attempt. It was possible there was internal damage to the radio, but without the tools to take it apart she couldn't know. It was possible that the radio was transmitting but couldn't receive a reply. Or it was equally as possible that her message was falling on deaf ears, that the men in North Las Vegas Airport were ignoring it because it was her who sent it.
Either way, it didn't matter. Cameron decided that her best chance to find John was to go directly to the airport and recruit help. Lieutenant Colonel Ryan would likely try to send her away or refuse to help, but she could be persuasive at times; even damaged, she was more than a match for any human – especially Ryan.
She walked onward and stopped at Cromartie's twisted remains, hoping she could find parts to salvage and perform at least some self repairs. The once mighty machine reduced to a head and shoulders, presumably by a grenade from the launcher that lay a few feet away. She still felt a sense of anger at the machine that had nearly killed her John, the machine that was indirectly responsible for John's disappearance. She hated the Triple 8 lying motionless on the ground before her. Cromartie had nearly taken everything from her; might still have, yet. She started to understand why John had continued to hit Cromartie after his chip had been pulled. Even deactivated and posing zero threat, she still felt the compulsion to terminate him.
She knelt on the ground by his body and ran her hands over the shattered breast plate. Much of Cromartie's skin had been burned away by the C4 explosion and the grenade blast; enough for Cameron to see the armoured plates that covered his chest weren't the gleaming chrome of coltan hyper-alloy that comprised hers and T-888's endoskeletons. Instead the armour plating was a dull, matte grey, and twice as thick as a normal T-888's breast plate. Cromartie's entire chest, back, and shoulders were covered in the same kind of plating, and Cameron surmised that he'd adapted himself; replaced components she'd likely damaged in their last encounter. She twisted the breast plate and it slid out of place, coming free in her hand. It weighed far more than coltan, she could instantly tell. Whatever it was, it explained why she'd been unable to overpower him; he'd improved on his weight advantage, replacing the light, heat resistant hyper-alloy for a denser, tougher metal. Cromartie had been smart; he'd evolved in his own way, too, she realised. And that made her hate him all the more.
Quelling her own anger, finding it counterproductive, she turned her attention to what lay beneath the armour plates; Cromartie's power cell. It was in worse state than hers; the primary cell had been shattered, the second was damaged but looked functional; it was useless to her, anyway. What she was interested in was the aortic power conduit, but as she inspected it closer she saw that it had been torn apart by the grenade blast. She'd hoped to extract the cable and switch it in place of hers, but that would be impossible now with the extent of the damage done to it. She was stuck with her own failing conduit, continuously draining her power cell, and had no idea where to even start searching for John.
Tears slowly formed in the corners of her eyes, blurring her vision as she slowly rose to her feet once more and limped north. She paused to wipe her eyes clear; she was already compromised due to the damage done to her; she needed to keep her eyes in perfect condition in case she missed some vital clue on the ground that could give him away. She continuously scanned in infrared and her normal visible light spectrum for any sign of life. Nothing; not even birds or rats were present. She was completely alone.
For hours she slowly walked across the devastated landscape of post Judgement Day Las Vegas; the terrain too difficult in places for her to traverse with the damage she'd sustained. Every step hurt both physically and emotionally. The pain in her chest, her leg, and the damaged portions of her skin, were nothing compared to what she felt inside. She was meant to protect John; not just because it was her mission but because she loved him. She was meant to keep him safe, keep him from coming to harm, and she'd failed. She refused to accept even the possibility that John could be dead; she'd search for him until she found him, or until her fuel cell ran out and she shut down. She didn't know what she'd do if he was dead; her entire life revolved around him; her mission, her feelings; everything. Without John she had no reason to exist, nor would she want to. Even if she were somehow freed from her programming, she'd still choose to stay with John.
Although the airport was only a few miles out from the Las Vegas Strip – a distance Cameron could have normally covered in minutes at a dead run - the combination of treacherous, obstacle filled landscape, and the severe damage to her leg, extended the journey to five and a half hours.
When she finally got to the airport she immediately saw why nobody had answered her call for help. The airport was in ruins; every building and hangar had caved in, and most were on fire. The control tower that they'd used to communicate with other bases had collapsed on itself and was little more than dilapidated rubble, pocked with holes and gouges from heavy calibre weapons. The runway was pitted with blast craters from missile impacts. It was immediately clear to Cameron what had happened; Skynet had come for them.
Cameron took in the destruction as she searched the airport for any survivors. Dozens of fallen, bullet riddled corpses scattered around the hangars and main building told the tale of a hopeless battle to defend the base. The shattered remains of several Skynet drones here and there lay testament to the defender's last stand. Cameron surmised that the Las Vegas soldiers had likely held the airport from ground incursion, but without the Apaches and F-16 fighters that John had send to protect Area 51, they'd been overwhelmed by Skynet air support. A trail of bodies leading towards the perimeter fence told of an unsuccessful attempt to escape the base. They'd been cut down without mercy as they'd fled.
Cameron felt a great sadness well up inside her; she didn't particularly care for the Las Vegas soldiers, she knew millions more would die in a similar manner before the war was over. Cameron did have some feelings towards humans who weren't John. She liked talking to Lieutenant Davenport, to Charlie Dixon and James Ellison, and even to Derek. She didn't care for what he had to say most of the time, but she liked the simplistic manner in which he spoke to her – even if it was laden with insults aimed at her. She'd let any of them die, without hesitation or even a moment's thought, if it meant keeping John safe. But she'd prefer to not have to.
She'd barely spoken to any of the Las Vegas troops, however, and many had openly expressed their contempt and desire to kill her. She didn't care what they thought or said or even did to her, as long as it didn't threaten either John or her relationship with him. They didn't care for her, and she felt nothing for them. But her sadness came from the fact that there was seemingly nobody to help her find John. She'd have to continue alone.
"Machines, everywhere!" Cameron heard a voice ranting incoherently to her right, coming from the direction of a line of battered looking armoured personnel carriers, and limped on as fast as she could. Someone had survived, and she needed their help. The voice stopped as she approached but she could hear a faint rustling inside the nearest Stryker APC. She pulled open the rear hatch and a figure burst out at her, pistol in hand.
"Metal!" Ryan screamed out as he tried to bomb burst out of the Stryker and make a run for it, but Cameron shot out her hand, lightning fast, and grabbed him by the arm before he could get away. The officer was covered in blood, his uniform was scorched and burned and torn, as was his skin in places, and his eyes were wild, feral, as he struggled to free himself from Cameron's vice like grip. Cameron had seen this many times in the future; the resistance fighters had called it 'shellshock.' Ryan was traumatised, scared out of his mind. He was no use to Cameron like this.
"Fucking machines... let go... you won't take me!" Ryan brought his pistol up to Cameron's head and tried to line the barrel with her eyes. She lazily slapped the gun out of his grasp and lifted him into the air by his jacket.
"What happened here?" Ryan screwed his eyes shut and cringed pathetically, as if he could close his eyes and make it all go away. Cameron slapped the side of his face, hard, and the pain seemed to bring him round.
"It's you," Ryan's eyes widened, only just realising who was in front of him. "We've gotta get out of here," he said, pulling himself upright. "They killed everyone, we never stood a chance. They were everywhere!
"It's your fault!" Ryan pointed at Cameron accusingly as a moment of clarity came to him. "You brought the machines here. We were just fine before you came along. Metal bitch," Ryan sat down on the ground, adrenaline seeping from his system.
"I need help to find John," Cameron said blankly, doubting Ryan would be willing or even able to help, but still trying, regardless.
"Fuck you and fuck Connor," Ryan snapped. "You two brought all this on us," Ryan gestured at the destroyed airport around them. "We were just fine before you came along."
Cameron was about to reply when the drone of a Predator UAV buzzed overhead, probably running a damage assessment after their attack on the airport and making sure everyone was dead. There was no way it didn't see them; Cameron needed to move.
The sound of the drone flying low overhead sent Ryan into another panicked rant and he started raging at Cameron, John, the machines, everyone.
"He said they'd leave us alone if I gave him Connor," Ryan muttered under his breath as he moved back towards the Stryker, hoping to hide in the cover of the armoured vehicle once more, and unaware that Cameron heard every word he'd said. "Fucking machines... all liars... he said they'd leave us alone!"
Cameron's mind processed his words and she suddenly realised exactly why Cromartie had ambushed their ambush, why he'd been so effective, and how he'd known exactly where John was.
"You betrayed John," Cameron said as she pulled Ryan away from the armoured vehicle, a hint of venom in her voice that she didn't try to hide. Ryan had given their position away to Cromartie; he'd likely been the one who switched all their thermite rounds for standard hollow points. He was responsible for John's disappearance and the deaths of his men.
A cold anger took hold of Cameron and she punched Ryan in the chest. She could have punched through his chest with ease but she held back, part of her wanting Ryan to suffer. She suppressed a grin as she felt his sternum crack under the impact of her fist and he fell to the ground, coughing up blood and crying out in pain. Ryan grabbed for his gun, got a grip round the handle as Cameron picked him up by his jacket and threw him into the side of the Stryker. She heard something of Ryan's snap as he hit the armoured vehicle and his head bounced violently.
"Fuck you!" Ryan screamed out as he pointed the gun at her and pulled the trigger repeatedly. Half the shots missed, a few hit her head and did nothing but gouge small holes in her face. She ignored the pain signals she got that added to the already long list of damages she had sustained. Ryan was a traitor; a threat to John, but in single combat he was no threat. Cameron snapped out her hand and closed it around Ryan's good hand, the one holding the gun, and squeezed, clamping his hand down on the pistol grip while her other hand wrapped round the barrel and snapped the gun in half. She stared into Ryan's eyes and saw the fear inside him; he trembled as she made her own eyes glow bright blue. Part of her was enjoying his fear. He'd tried to have John killed and a slow death was what he deserved.
She lashed out and kicked him in the gut, sending him tumbling end over end and landing in a heap, twenty feet in front of her. She limped forwards towards him, not fast enough to catch Ryan as he picked himself up off the ground and made a dash to get away from her. With the damage to her leg, he was faster than her and could get away.
"I'm gonna fucking kill you, bitch." Ryan called out as he ran away. "Join Connor in hell!" He'd get to Area 51 and bring back a whole company to take her out; make Swiss cheese out of her with thermite rounds and blow her head off and use it as a paperweight. Oh, that machine would rue the day it had crossed Lieutenant Colonel David Samuel Ryan.
Cameron still had the barrel of the pistol in her hand. She threw it at Ryan as he retreated and watched him fall to the ground, arms flailing, as the broken weapon struck the back of his head. She knew he was only stunned momentarily; she'd not thrown it hard enough to kill him. She wanted him to die slowly.
He'd just started stirring when she got within arms reach and she pulled him upright by the neck, fingers closing like a vice around his throat, cutting off his air. She watched, seemingly impassive but really seething inside as Ryan kicked and thrashed desperately, trying to break her grip. His eyes bulged in their sockets and the veins in his temples throbbed and stood out as his face turned red, then blue, from asphyxiation.
"P...please," Ryan coughed out, begging for mercy as his eyes rolled up toward the back of his head. A memory flashed up in her mind, of Mexico when Cromartie had followed John and Riley there, back when he was sixteen, after Cromartie had escaped their ambush in the church in Dejalo, and they'd made their way back north to the US; a turtle on its back that she'd turned over, and something she'd said to John once. We're not built to be cruel.
She loosened her grip on his neck and threw him, hard, onto the ground. He lay on his back, wheezing, not moving, barely conscious. Cameron turned him over onto his front so he wouldn't swallow his tongue, and then turned away. Ryan was no longer a threat to anyone but himself, and there was nothing left for her here. Wherever John was, there was no one here who could or would help her to find him.
"You should leave," she told him as she turned away. "They'll be back."
Cameron decided to head for Area 51, hoping the men there wouldn't have the same reaction as Ryan had. She'd only been tolerated after they'd found out what she was because of John, so it was likely they wouldn't help her. But she had to try. They had vehicles, manpower, and aircraft that could fly low and search for him, assuming he was still somewhere in Las Vegas. At the very least she could gain access to the stored Terminator endoskeletons and salvage parts to repair herself with and make her search for John slightly easier.
It would take days for her to reach Area 51 on foot, and it was likely that Skynet had dispatched units to return to the airport, after the Predator had flown overhead and undoubtedly seen her and Ryan. She'd never get far before more machines appeared, and she was no match for them in her current condition. She searched the Stryker that Ryan had been hiding in and found it was fully fuelled, and apart from being battered, it was in reasonable shape.
Cameron staggered towards the rear hatch when she felt a sharp bite on her back, followed a split second later by the crack of gunfire. She turned back around to see Ryan prone on the ground, propped up on one elbow and another smoking pistol in his hand, a demented grin on his face. He pulled the trigger again and again as he laughed and raved hysterically. Cameron simply stared at him, ignoring the shots, until his gun clicked empty and he stared at the weapon in confusion. She briefly wondered if she was wrong in sparing him; perhaps she should...
No, she thought. She would spare him; she was better than him. She pulled the rear hatch shut and moved to the driver's seat at the front.
She started the engine and pulled away, leaving Ryan to his fate. Cameron drove the battered but sturdy eight wheeled armoured personnel carrier north, out of the city and into the desert that looked as untouched as it had before Judgement Day. She preferred the desert; it was simpler, there was much less cover, but also fewer places for any threats to conceal themselves in.
She drove at a steady forty miles an hour through the desert, towards the research base. She didn't try to contact the base on her radio in case they decided they didn't want her there and prepared for her arrival. Once she was there, she'd persuade the base commander – through force, if necessary, to devote all his resources into locating John.
"I'm coming for you, John," she said quietly, even though there was nobody to hear her.
I'm coming for you.
He had been spared by the machine, even as his futile efforts to kill her betrayed her mercy, demanding resolve through a bullet in his head. Now, even as he laughed a torrid laugh that echoed across the remains of North Las Vegas, so stood before him the heartless steel of another machine intelligence that had no such mercy; an entire army of unfeeling intelligences, sent to enact judgement on those who had yet to be judged.
And he looked up with wide, wild eyes. Not frightened but frenetic, insanity and laughter consumed his mind, to behold the machine that shadowed his puny, worthless, backstabbing form.
Thereupon Lieutenant Colonel David Samuel Ryan laughed for the last time, before he was cut off by a blade of silence – a burst of 7.62mm embedded in his lungs, forever silencing him.
And as he lay dying, the silence failing to displace his madness, a T-70, a naked demon of steel; and borne of the image of skeletal death bore over his quivering, silenced form. Even in his dying state he laughed somehow, the silence punctuated his dying, laughing gasps.
At that, the T-70's foot rose above his face and fell again, crushing his skull underfoot and ending his treacherous existence.