Chapter 01: 5 Months Gone
THURSDAY 16th MAY
Sunlight baked the earth beneath it, making the wings of a lone dragonfly sparkle like diamonds across the surface of a small lake. It sat there, perfectly poised upon the water's surface and drank deeply from its depths. The date was May 16th 2011 and little did the insect know that in just six months time the pool it drank from would be filled with the rotting remnants of mankind. Not that it would live long enough to see the coming apocalypse as it took to the skies and flew straight into the path of a Chrysler's windshield.
"Another one bites the dust."
John tore his attention from the passing surroundings to stare at the green splatter on the windshield, taking its place beside the half dozen dead insects littering the glass. Derek flicked the wiper switch and the entrails spread across the windshield, becoming mixed with the other miniscule corpses. The corner of John's mouth twitched as he turned back to the mass of trees and hills along the roadside. Derek glanced at the young adult, expecting him to comment on the over-abundance of suicidal bugs. He did not, however.
"You know, we've been driving for hours and all you've done is sit there and brood", Derek sighed.
"I'm not brooding", John replied quietly, his gaze still fixed on the passing trees.
This was not entirely true, however. Though he had to remind himself that he was almost a grown man, John couldn't help but feel adolescently dejected by the impromptu interruption of his "vacation" at the Presidio Alto Military Academy. It wasn't so much that he was brought back earlier than he had intended, but the fact that he folded so easily under his mother's pressure. Way to avoid the apron strings, he mocked himself.
"This is about your mom, isn't it? You're pissed that she dragged you back here so soon."
Derek's capacity for reading John's thoughts was starting to become tiresome.
"It would've been nice if she listened to me for once, yeah", John replied.
He couldn't have stayed there forever, as much as that prospect appealed to him. Life had been so blissfully simple under the heel of the Tacks, crawling through the dirt and shallow waters, firing blanks in the simulated combat scenarios, and scoring headshots with every paintball in his rifle. His fellow Plebes hated his guts for having to wash the yellow dye out of their hair every night, but it was all good. They knew better than to pick a fight with the guy who overpowered their top fighter in hand-to-hand combat in every bout.
A month simply wasn't enough time for John to come to terms with his life… and what awaited him at home.
"You've gone quiet again", Derek observed.
John sighed deeply and cast his uncle an irritated look. He hadn't picked the entire time they were at the academy, so why start now? I guess he's been saving it. In fact, they had said very little to each other at the academy. John had kept himself locked within his own little bubble while Derek watched from afar. He knew what was bothering the youth, but until now, he daren't mention it…
"This is about her, right? This is about what she's carrying."
"We're not talking about that", John growled, his expression darkening considerably.
A bump in the road shook the entire vehicle and sent harsh vibrations up into John's spine, rattling his teeth and making his entire body shiver. Little did he know that the vibrations were having a more significant effect on Derek, whose thoughts flashed back to the roadside bombs on the battlefield of Los Angeles 2027. The Chrysler passed over some gravel and the crunching of the tires reminded Derek of the HK tanks rolling over mountains of human skulls. Even after all this time he couldn't keep the nightmare out of his thoughts.
"Are you okay?"
Derek snapped out of his reverie and cast John a short glance, mentally shaking himself.
"Yeah, I'm good. Was just thinking about how no matter how screwed up this is, it does seem a little fitting", he answered. John frowned at him, simultaneously asking what he was on about and warning him to stay off that topic. But he continued, "It gets me thinking about Kyle and how I had to look out for him. Hell, I practically brought that kid up and raised him like my own."
"You were brothers. There's a difference…" John replied quietly, his eyes misting over like they always did when his father was mentioned.
"Is there? I mean, it's the same deal, isn't it? You're meant to lead. You're meant to know how to lead; how to make decisions. What better way to learn how to do these things than to raise a child?" his uncle asked. John snorted softly but didn't provide a rebuke. He simply watched the world go by, trying in vain to focus his attention on the beauty of the mountain landscape of Arrowhead.
The road became steeper and less inviting as they gradually ascended the mountain, off-road pathways being what they were. Derek had to admire Sarah's genius for choosing such a location, despite its taxing distance from the city central. Though as a particularly rough bump resulted in his head colliding with the door frame, he had to wonder why she hadn't at least chosen an easier and more direct path to the safe-house. Would be too easy, he reminded himself. In his opinion, she was becoming a little paranoid ever since…
"I'm surprised you believed her."
Derek looked over at his nephew, who was facing him properly for the first time during the long journey home.
"What?" he asked.
"Cameron. When she told you about… it… I'm surprised you took her word for it", John elaborated.
Derek scratched the stubbly hair on his chin and narrowed his eyes at the road as he spoke, "I saw the scan just like you did. We checked, double checked, and triple checked to be sure it wasn't a hoax. I may not understand how, but it simply is. We all just gotta accept and move on."
"Accept and move on", John repeated unconvinced. "And what do you think about that? You still wanna hold me down while mom castrates me?" he joked with acidic cynicism, remembering Derek and Sarah's initial reaction to the news that he'd not only slept with a machine (Cybernetic Organism, Cameron reminded them), but made her pregnant with some pseudo love-child.
The corners of Derek's mouth twitched as he recalled that day several long months ago.
"I might consider it if I catch you two at it again. Once is bad enough", he replied with a hidden smile.
"Yeah, you and mom know all about that", John reminded him snidely. Derek fell silent as he tried to blot that memory away forever.
The crunching of gravel became more prevalent as the corner of the cabin came into view behind the wall of trees and thick green foliage. Derek swung the Chrysler into the drive and brought it to a stop, switching off the engine and letting out a sigh as he relieved his foot from the gas. It had been a long drive… too long.
He glanced up and spotted the swishing of brown hair in the kitchen window as a figure moved into the lounge. Turning to his right, Derek saw a glimmer of panic in John's face, his eyes widening noticeably. "I'm not ready for this", he whispered to himself, briefly unaware of Derek's presence.
"No father ever is", he replied before kicking the door open and stretching his legs for the first time in hours.
John remained in the car and took a deep breath, wishing more than ever that he was back at the academy and far away from here.
He wasn't ready…
Licence plate ID confirmed: MATCH
He was home.
From the kitchen window, Cameron watched as the car pulled into the drive and slowed to a stop; the engine going quiet seconds later. She had been waiting for this for near a month. When he left he said nothing about spending more than a few weeks at the academy. But two weeks later he announces he's going to stay another fortnight, and the meal Cameron had prepared especially for his return was enjoyed by the cat instead. But he was home now. He had returned to her and they could finally have that talk he'd been avoiding.
Time since departure: 26 DAYS 13 HOURS 43 MINUTES
Is this sufficient time for relational healing? John hadn't taken to the pregnancy as positively as she'd speculated. According to her research beforehand, most fathers are overjoyed by the news of an impending birth. Though she was aware that some responded negatively to such information, she was certain he fit the criteria of those who would welcome the news. She was mistaken. It had, as her former socialites would put it; "Freaked the friggin' crap out of him."
Time is the greatest healer, she was told.
Why? she had asked.
Because it gives the person some space between the things that hurt and the scar it'll become one day, they replied.
Thank you for explaining.
By that logic, John should be more receptive to her after all this time. Or so she hoped. The downcast expression on his face left little to be desired. Though she found him aesthetically pleasing at all times, Cameron certainly favoured his miserable visage much less than the others he was known to display. The Y-shaped scar on his left cheek tended to become all the more obvious in this demeanour.
Thundering footsteps reverberated from the stairs and Cameron turned away from the window, stepping into the lounge to meet Sarah as she jumped the last two steps with a relieved smile on her face, which she promptly smothered at the sight of Cameron. "They're back", she informed her. Sarah gave her a look that quite clearly accentuated the obviousness of her declaration and poked her head into the kitchen to gaze out of the window.
"It's about time", she mumbled to herself, not caring that Cameron could hear. And why should she when the cyborg shared her anxiety?
In the corner of her eye, Sarah spotted Cameron reaching for the front door. "You're not going anywhere", she affirmed, making the cyborg stop in her tracks, arm outstretched.
"I'm going to greet John", Cameron innocently explained.
Sarah crossed her arms and entered the lounge, her eyes fixed on the bulging belly protruding from beneath Cameron's dress. "Yeah, well I need to talk to him first and you need to lie down for awhile. I told you not to stand up all day, it's bad for the baby", she insisted. Cameron glanced down at her stomach and placed a hand on the mound, her brow knitting together as she conducted a brief scan.
"The baby is unaffected by prolonged mobility. I don't understand your concern."
"That's because you don't understand children, or what it's like to be a mother to one. Now do as I say and lie down", Sarah ordered.
Cameron regarded her closely for a second before setting herself down on a comfy chair, the slightest hint of dejection in her otherwise blank features. Sarah shook her head and opened the door with a sigh, closing it behind her. Cameron knew the foetus was perfectly healthy and that there was no evidence to suggest her movement was harming it, but then she considered that Sarah was a mother and had carried a child once before. She possesses firsthand knowledge and experience, she acknowledged. So she decided to obey… for now.
Derek was already in the process of unpacking the trunk when Sarah left the cabin. Carelessly, he heaved their bags out of the car and threw them on the gravelled drive, only sparing a single glance at her as she approached with her arms folded. John stepped out of the Chrysler and gave a grunt as he stretched his legs and shoulders before taking small steps in his mother's direction.
Even before he spoke she knew he was tired. Everything about him told her he hadn't been sleeping properly since he left a month ago. Sarah stopped halfway and waited for him to come to her, making a point John was all too conscious of.
"So what tragedy has befallen our humble abode that requires the great John Connor to come all the way home?"
Ever the joker, she mused as he swayed to a stop.
"Kitchen tables", she replied with a coy smile.
John's face became dumb as he repeated her answer, shrugging and shaking his head in his confusion.
"We need someone to cut a semi circle into the table so Tin-Miss can sit up for dinner", she explained.
John snorted and stared at the kitchen window but could see no sign of Cameron inside. She must be getting big, he thought. It had been almost six months since his birthday and she was starting to tell long before he left. A new dilemma struck him: it was hard enough to ignore the growth before; how much harder is it going to be now?
A finger clicked near his right ear and John snapped out of his thoughts, casting Sarah a tired glare.
"You should go inside and get some sleep", she advised after looking him over.
"Nah, I'm okay. I can help Derek put the stuff-"
"No! We can handle it. Go inside. Sleep", his mother commanded.
John sighed and gave her a mock bow. "By your leave, your majesty", he replied before slouching past her and hovering by the door for a second. He could feel her eyes on his back, so he turned the handle and stepped inside. Satisfied, Sarah marched towards the back of the car as Derek hauled the last bag out of the trunk and lowered it gently to the ground.
"What are those?" she asked, giving the bag a gentle nudge with her foot.
"Guns and explosives", he answered, swiping her foot away.
Figures, she thought. It was no surprise that Derek would treat the weaponry with loving care whilst throwing everything else every which way. Bending down, Sarah unzipped the bag to reveal plethora of shotguns, rifles, and an RPG launcher. Fun for the whole family, she mused whilst sifting through the contents. "I see you took precautions", she commented.
"You can never be too careful", he replied distractedly.
Sarah stood up and narrowed her eyes at him as she assessed his behaviour. She had learned long ago how to read people's faces, and Derek's was telling her to leave well enough alone, but there were things they needed to discuss and he was just going to have to like it or lump it. "I thought I made it clear when you agreed to take him. Two weeks. No more, no less", she started.
"He's a grown kid, he can make his own choices-" he began.
"But not when that choice places him away from the protection he needs!" she snapped back.
Here we go, Derek sighed. Slamming the trunk shut, he picked up the weapons bag and squared up to Sarah, meeting her fierce gaze with one of his own. "You may not think so, but I know for damn sure that that kid needed more time than you were willing to give him. And if you wanna blame me, then fine. Blame me. It's what you're best at!" he replied.
Sarah could only glare as he marched towards the garage; no doubt to inspect, clean, and reload every weapon in his arsenal. She clenched her fist as his words echoed in her head, carrying bitter truths she'd rather not admit.
Life is a bitch and so are you, she reminded herself.
Honey, vanilla, and a subtle hint of something indescribably sweet filled John's nostrils as he stepped inside the cabin and closed the door behind him. The lounge was empty and he could hear no movement upstairs, but the smell of cooking drew his attention to the kitchen and his heart skipped a beat.
Cameron was standing at the kitchen counter with her back to him, her long chocolate brown hair flowing down her back and curling around her shoulders as her arms moved across the top of the oven. The sudden urge to run upstairs and hope she won't notice him was quelled by the growling of his stomach, which she heard with her keen audio receptors. Looking over her shoulder at him, Cameron's face lit up in a wide smile that caught the sun's light, making her light up like an angel.
John couldn't help but smile back at the sight of her. Cameron's smile softened as she turned her attention back to whatever she was making, not saying a word to John and awaiting him to make the first move. Awkwardly, he stepped onto the threshold and hovered near the table, vaguely remembering his mother's quip. Still she did not turn to acknowledge him, and John knew he deserved such treatment.
"What'cha making there?" he ventured.
Cameron put the spatula down and reached for a plate. Seconds later she turned around and presented him with a platter of pancakes. John's gaze slid from the pancakes to her belly, however, and he felt his mouth go dry at the sight of it. She was perfectly round, the bulge poking out from under her flowery dress, and as his eyes travelled down her body he noticed her feet were bare. Her toes were painted a peachy colour which glistened in the light. Dragging his eyes back up to her face, he could see she had applied a subtle amount of eyeliner.
Her eyes captured him like they always did, trapping him with their intensity and depth. She noticed his enamour and smiled again, holding the plate out for him to take. He tentatively reached out and placed it on the table, obeying her gesture to sit as she handed him a fork and stood over him while he took a bite.
"Mmm… Vanilla, right?" he asked, enjoying the sweet taste of her much-better-than-Sarah's cooking.
Cameron nodded and watched him with bright eyes, silently scanning his features for any changes since their last meeting. Besides the fatigue under his eyes, there was little difference to his handsome face. His eyes were their usual dark green, like the foliage in the woodlands surrounding them. He'd had his hair cut since leaving, and it was now short but with enough length to stick out in odd places. And the scar on his right cheek and above his eyebrow, courtesy of Jason, was little more than a silver lightning bolt.
Without measuring the consequences, Cameron placed two fingers on his scar and slowly stroked down its length, her fingers meeting at the bottom. John felt a tingling sensation in his body and felt a little light-headed from her touch. He let out a small breath and wanted to take her hand, but she was very close now, and all he could see in front of him was her stomach. The pattern of flowers on her dress happened to vaguely resemble a face, with two rose heads glaring at him like the eyes of a machine.
If he didn't know any better, John would take it as a sign that his child was unhappy with his behaviour.
"I err- I gotta get some… sleep", he stammered, pushing out of his chair and backing towards the stairs. Cameron's expression fell and she looked down at the pancakes, then back at him with bewildered eyes.
"Is something wrong? Don't you like my pancakes?" she asked.
John swallowed, still tasting the delicious meal she'd made for him, but it wasn't them that were making his stomach turn.
"No… No, I just… I need some rest. I'm very tired", he explained, placing a hand on the banister and his foot on the first step.
Moving faster than any pregnant woman he'd ever seen, Cameron closed the gap between them and wrapped her arms around his waist, gently pressing him against her belly as she placed a tender kiss on his cheek and pulled back to observe his reaction. John's eyes fluttered from the affection and he stroked her jaw before sliding from her hold and stomping upstairs, his hand on his stomach.
"We can talk some more later?" she asked to his back, but he ignored her and disappeared into his room… their room.
"Later…" she repeated to herself, placing a hand on her stomach.
His behaviour had not improved, much to her abhorrence. Several minutes passed as she remained rooted to the spot, her thoughts drifting back to the day she first told him about the pregnancy. It took him over an hour to come to, and even then he thought it was just a dream, until she told him a second time. Naturally, Sarah tried to blow her head off for being "sick" and "twisted" enough to fabricate such a lie, but showing them the scan changed all of that.
Cameron turned on her heel and stepped outside just as Sarah was coming in, the two almost bumping into each other.
"Where are you going?" she asked.
Updating query tally: 2,485 – 2,486
The 2,486th time she'd been asked where she was going and what she was doing by Sarah, John, or Derek since the baby announcement. It had become almost an obsession to them, and Cameron might've mistaken it for concern if she thought Sarah actually harboured any care for her. No. As far as Sarah was concerned, Cameron was just the unwelcome girlfriend who was now stuck with them in spite.
"I'm going to sit out on the bench for a while", she replied.
Sarah regarded her suspiciously for a moment before nodding. "Don't wander off", she warned her before disappearing into the cabin.
Cameron walked over to the bench overlooking the hills below and considered sitting, but the path into the woods to her right proved more enticing, and despite Sarah's advisement, she took off at a steady pace into the trees. Walking through the woodlands had become a favourite pastime for her since John left for the academy. She would spend hours enjoying the soft breeze caressing her skin, the falling leaves cascading down her body, and the smells and sounds of life around her.
Ever since her moment with John on his birthday, Cameron's senses for the world around her had elevated somewhat, and her appreciation for all the little things extended far beyond sticking a foot out of the window of a moving vehicle. Even snapping the neck of a raccoon the other day was far more satisfying than normal. Though killing things was still her favourite hobby, Cameron couldn't help but marvel at the other joys in life, were she to consider herself alive.
She often wondered whether the child had something to do with her newfound capacity for sensation. So much had changed since that fateful night between her and John, not including how close to death they both came when Skynet came crashing down on top of them in its Vessel form. Cameron had almost died in the struggle, but John saved her, risking his own life to keep her from falling forever.
The breeze dropped by a few degrees and small bumps rose up on Cameron's skin, reminding her of how cold the jelly felt on her belly when Sophie performed the scan of her womb. At first, Cameron was surprised she had a womb in the first place, but the small mass of cells and membranes growing inside it was far more alarming. John almost slipped into a coma when he saw the conclusive evidence.
Movement in the corner of her peripheral drew Cameron's gaze to a small squirrel as it shot up a tree on her left and sat on the branch, clutching a nut firmly between its paws. A brief scan of its markings identified the mammal as the same creature she had encountered many times before. It seemed to have made its nest in the tree, but this one was old and looked like it could topple at any moment.
"You should vacate the premises. Your current location isn't safe", she informed the squirrel.
It paused at the sound of her voice and stared for a long time in her direction, frozen in its pose as it regarded her without blinking. Cameron tipped her head to one side as she watched him watch her. A deafening crack hit her like a gunshot and a warning light flashed in her HUD. The base of the tree splintered and it loomed over her, crashing towards the earth with the force of a meteorite. Cameron leapt to her right barely a second before it struck the ground with a mighty thud.
A faint cloud of dust rose up from the tree, covering Cameron head to foot in a light layer of wood chippings and dirt. Reaching under her dress, Cameron unclipped the Glock strapped to her right thigh and scanned the immediate area, searching for any signs of life besides the native creatures. But she was alone in the woods, save for the startled squirrel that hopped onto the trunk with an air of utter confusion.
Storing her sidearm, Cameron snatched the mammal from the trunk and held him carefully in her hands. He did not scrabble against her, and merely stared as she examined him. "I told you to relocate. You should've listened to me", she told it. The squirrel wrinkled its nose at her, a gesture she took as 'thank you'. Cameron leaned over to place it back onto the trunk, but paused and thought about it for a second. Leaving him to his own devices without a home to go to would be hazardous. A decision had to be made.
"I will find you a new home and maybe a mate too. You need to be careful though", she informed the squirrel as she walked deeper into the woods. The trees became closer and it wasn't long before Cameron had left the beaten path and set off into the wildest parts of the woodlands. She found a tree, much sturdier than the other, and sat the squirrel on the highest branch she could reach, tip-toeing until her HUD flashed in warning of her increased weight affecting her balance.
Rocking slightly, Cameron set herself back onto her feet and watched as the squirrel examined his new surroundings curiously. Tentatively, he scuttled across the branch and found a small nook in the tree, into which he disappeared without a second thought. Cameron stood and waited for the mammal to poke his head back out, but after 16.2 seconds passed she realised her efforts were not appreciated.
"You're welcome," she spoke in deadpan.
Reacting in an instant, Cameron spun to her left, dropping to her knees as she drew the gun in one hand and placed the other on her belly in a protective manner. She scanned her surroundings but could see no sign of anything unusual in her immediate vicinity. A quick scan of her database informed her of the most likely cause of the noise: a snapping twig. Rising slowly from her crouched position, Cameron backed away from the tree slowly.
After several long moments, she started back to the main path, deciding it better to return to the cabin before Sarah catches on.
She never holstered her weapon until clear from the trees, however…
Military investments, corporate finances, cybernetic research… nothing conclusive.
Sarah threw the files on her bed and picked up her phone from the dresser, hesitating a second before dialling the last number in the world she wanted to call. Placing the phone against her ear, she briefly wondered how things could become so reversed that she was relying on an enemy for help. As the dial tone fell into its repetitive rhythm, Sarah looked back at the past few months.
It had almost been too much on occasion. Ever since the infiltrator had fallen into their laps, all hell had broken loose. The destruction of their old home, Marty's murder, Cameron's reversion, The Vessel; all of it was down to him in her eyes. But he still had his uses, and their life in Arrowhead had been very quiet since, besides the baby crisis. The word 'grandmother' popped into her head and for once she was glad to hear his voice, banishing the thought from her mind.
"What do you want?"
Even to this day, his voice still carried a charm she couldn't ignore. But he held little power over her and his charms would not help him in the slightest. "I want more", she replied matter-of-factly. Over the course of the past few months, Jason had conducted his own investigations into Skynet's genesis, but neither he nor she made much leeway until they grudgingly agreed to combine their efforts.
"And I already told you: I don't have any more information", he replied, his irritation undisguised by his tone.
"You're lying. These files you sent me are incomplete. They don't make any sense as they are which means there must be a second half to all of it. So where is it?" she demanded.
Jason let out a sigh of frustration and Sarah could hear the unmistakable chink of a bottle on glass, followed by the chug chug chug of alcohol.
"Alright look; I know a guy who has access to the second files. But I haven't been able to track him down yet", he explained.
This is new, she thought.
"You know a guy? And how long have you known about this?" she asked with suspicion.
A moment passed, then Jason replied; "Long enough. I know where he'll be tonight. I'll find him. I'll get those files."
"Not alone, you won't", she declared. "I'm sending Derek to go with you."
"I don't need his help. Or anyone else's for that matter", he snarled.
"Maybe… But I have a right to take care of my investment. And you keep too many secrets for my taste. He'll meet you in two hours."
Sarah hung up without another word and threw the phone on the bed in disgust, a part of her feeling dirty for having dealings with the devil. She hadn't forgotten the number of times he'd tried to murder them in the past, and the pure chaos he brought down on them. He was volatile, dangerous, and almost impossible to neutralise. After the Vessel's destruction, Sarah had approached Cameron about trying to kill him once and for all, but she made it clear that he was simply too powerful in his current form.
Cooperation was the wisest move right now, and Sarah wasn't willing to give the abomination a reason to come after her son again.
Sarah snapped out of her thoughts and gunned her glance to the doorway, seeing John standing there with shadows under his eyes, looking like he could barely stand. "Hey to you too. Sleeping alright?" she replied, picking up another file and re-reading the cliff-notes. John staggered into the room and slouched onto the side of the bed, peering over his shoulder at the collection of files and photographs.
"What's all this?" he asked with a slight frown.
Sarah gave up trying to make sense of the notes and handed them to him instead.
"Information… and various other clues that make no sense to me, maybe you can have a crack at 'em", she proposed.
John flicked through the pages and narrowed his eyes at a paragraph, rubbing his eyes and squinting some more. "You look a mess", Sarah observed, eyeing up his tussled hair and thrown-on clothes. The corner of John's mouth twitched as he turned to the next page and read its contents. "How much sleep did you get on the way up here?" she asked.
"A lot less than I would have at the barracks", he sighed.
Sarah took the comment on the nose and bit her tongue from making a snappy retort. "You had plenty of time for that. More than enough…" she muttered just loud enough for him to fear. John looked up at her with a dark expression and smirked sardonically.
"Oh yeah, and what the hell do you know?" he asked.
"I know that letting you stay there any longer would've been a mistake. I know that you were only there because you couldn't face what was happening here..."
John's grip on the bed tightened as he looked away, trying not to listen to the truth in his mother's words.
"…and I know that now is not the time for you to walk away from your responsibilities", she finished. She knew he was taking in every word she was saying, even if he refused to look her in the eyes while she spoke. The twitch in his left temple told her all she needed to know about his state of mind right now. He knew what was coming and that she would win this argument.
But he wouldn't be her son if he didn't at least make her fight for it.
"And you know all about giving up responsibilities, don't you?" he countered.
Sarah's face became ashen at his remark.
Hello Ms. Connor. I'm from DCFS. All the paperwork is in order. We just need to cross the 'T's and dot the 'I's…
"You criticize me for walking away when you did it yourself", he continued.
This states that you irrevocably consent and have been advised of the legal consequences of this relinquishment, and that once the contract has been signed all parental rights will be terminated…
"At least I wasn't turning my back on my family."
Sign here… and we'll get a certified copy to the judge.
John turned to her and instantly saw the pain of the memory fresh in her mind. He drew no satisfaction from seeing her suffer, but she needed to understand that everyone makes mistakes. Everyone does things they would regret later in life. And as her gaze dropped to the floor, he knew his point had been made. Sarah reached out and pulled him into a hug, stroking his hair like she did when he was a child.
"I'm sorry", she whispered.
John closed his eyes as all the anger and frustration was washed away by her embrace.
It had been less than twenty minutes and already Derek was yearning for the uninterrupted silence he and John had suffered on the long ride home. It would make a welcome change to the never-ending natter that bombarded his ears right now. Jason had an uncanny ability to find every right way to tick him off. It wasn't enough that he wouldn't shut up; it was the precision and calculated agitation of his words that really dug the nail deep.
"Dear God, don't you ever shut up?!" he bellowed, finally having enough of his crap.
Jason chuckled and leaned his head back, his knee resting on the dashboard while Derek handled the wheel. "What's wrong, Reese? Not a fan of small talk?" he mocked. More than ever, Derek could feel the weight of his Beretta pressing against his ribs, but idly he remembered how futile it would be to even try to put a bullet in the cyborg's head.
"I'm not a fan of your bullshit. So can it already. Let's just meet this contact and get it over with", Derek replied in exasperation.
Jason smirked and pointed his finger ahead and left, signalling Derek to turn at the next set of lights. He followed the road to its end and Jason inclined his head towards a side road leading down the back of an old box factory. "You agreed to meet him here?!" Derek exclaimed, eyeing the dark surroundings suspiciously.
"You don't like it? I hear it's a quality establishment", Jason quipped.
"You're such a comedian, you know that?" Derek muttered, still scanning the factory for threats.
"C'mon Derek; what's the worst that can happen?" Jason asked as he stepped out of the car… and right into the barrel of a 12-guage.
A man, somewhat squat and timid in appearance, held the shotgun with shaking hands against Jason's left shoulder. The T-999 conducted a brief scan, detecting his elevated stress, though the sweat on his bald head was enough evidence of this. Derek slowly stepped out from behind the wheel, his hand sliding for the gun tucked in his belt. A moment of tense silence passed as each man assessed their respective situations. The gunman jerked the weapon in Derek's direction for a second before bringing it back on Jason, who regarded him closely.
"Don't anybody move a muscle! I ain't afraid to use this, ya know!" said the little man with as much bravado as he could muster.
Jason's expression turned from calculation to mild amusement as a small grin spread across his face.
"You think this is funny? Huh?" the man yelled, shoving the barrel closer to Jason's face. The Triple-9 raised his arms and took a step back, still smiling his smug smile. The man didn't like his indifference and found it very unsettling. Why isn't he afraid? he asked himself. The sooner he got it over with though, the better he'd feel, however; and so he guided his thoughts back to the matter at hand.
"Where's the money you promised?"
Derek let his hand return to his side as he realised who the man was. Jason cast him a brief look and nodded in confirmation of his conclusion. "You bored yet?" Derek asked the cyborg. Jason smirked and turned back to the man, his head tipped slightly to one side as he scanned his posture and bearing.
"Oh yeah", he replied.
"I said show me the money!" the contact screamed, letting go of the shotgun and reaching into his pocket for his handgun.
In less than a microsecond Jason swiped the shotgun from the guy's hand and turned it around on him, making the contact pause with his other hand hovering near the zipper of his jacket.
"When you point a gun at someone you better be ready to use it", he said, levelling the weapon with the man's face. "Now put your gun on the hood, slowly." The man complied, removing the small handgun from his jacket and placing it on the hood, where it was promptly snatched up and pocketed by Derek.
"Now I'll ask you again: where're the files I asked for?"
The man peered down the barrel of his own weapon and gulped, knowing he had just lost all bargaining leverage.
"S-sure, I g-got your stuff…" he stammered, reaching into the back of his jacket and procuring a yellow postal packet and dumping it on the hood of the car. Derek perused the items, pulling out several documents and CDs before nodding to Jason.
"This looks like what we need", he confirmed.
Jason turned back to the man and smiled, lowering the shotgun, much to the contact's relief.
"Now was that so hard? Why did you shove a gun in our faces anyway? You knew my offer was legit", Jason chided.
"I c-can't take the risk these days. Last deal I made I almost got my jingles cut off by a drug baron", the man explained.
Jason cast Derek a look of mutual amusement before poking the man in the ribs. He recoiled and held his hands up to shield himself like a frightened child. Jason chuckled and shook his head incredulously. "What are you even doing in this business? You obviously can't hack it, can you?" he mused.
"I got kids to feed, ya know? Ain't good at nothing else", the man explained, scratching his head.
"Well you're not good at this either", Derek pointed out.
Jason sighed and pulled out a wad of bills, making the contact's eyes light up at the sight of them. He started counting the money, taking his time as he rolled every $100 note, fully aware of the man's rapturous attention. He stopped mid-count, however, and narrowed his eyes at the contact, holding the money closer to his chest.
"What was it we agreed on again?" he asked the man.
"Umm… It was $500 as I recall", he squeaked.
"Well I think since you almost blew my head off, I should take a 20% cut of what I owe you", Jason decided.
The man's expression turned from acute anxiety to outrage in a flash. "What?! You've got to be kiddin' me! We agreed on $500! No more no less!" he bellowed, bobbing on the spot angrily. Derek could see Jason was enjoying this but made no effort to intervene, as he was curious to see how this would play out. "You should be paying me 20% more!" the man added.
Jason's became thoughtful for a second as he considered the man's demands, then replied; "Okay then. If you agree to lower your asking price by $100, I will give you 20% of $500 on top of that total. Deal?"
The contact's face contorted with the strain of calculating his profit, while Derek imagined a dying hamster running slowly in his head. "Okay… you have a deal." Looks like the hamster croaked, Derek mused as Jason handed over $500 to the man.
He counted his money, only for his face to fall back into incredulity as he realised something was wrong.
"You've only given me $500! You owe me $600!" he protested.
"Actually I don't. You see; you wanted a 20% increase, but I wanted a $100 reduction. You agreed, so I then took that $400 and added 20% of the $500. Your earnings are accurate", he explained with a smug smile. The man took a few moments to process the scandal before going a deep shade of red.
"You swindling bastard!" he cried before driving his fist into Jason's jaw.
Big mistake, Derek thought as the contact started screaming and cradling his now-broken wrist.
"Pleasure doing business with you", Jason quipped before adjusting his coat and stepping back inside the vehicle, ignoring the man's anguished cries. Derek followed suite and brought the car to life, pulling away from the thrashing midget.
"You're a mean bastard, you know that?" he sighed as they pulled back onto the main road.
"I didn't ask him to throw a punch. He reaps what he sows, Reese. As do we all", Jason replied, idly hiding the packet under his coat next to his gun.
"She'll be wanting those", Derek reminded him.
"She'll get them once I've made copies of the originals", Jason replied.
Derek snorted and glanced down at the shotgun by his feet, consciously taking note of the two guns in his jacket, but once again reminded himself of the futility of his desires. "And I'm supposed to trust you on that?" he challenged.
"Like you have a choice? You may be used to sitting beneath Sarah's heel, but I'm not going to let her push me around. She can wait until I am ready to share, not the other way around", Jason countered.
"Whatever you say", Derek conceded, not fully giving a care anyway.
A moment of silence passed as Derek concentrated on resisting the urge to crash the car into the nearest wall, wanting more than ever to be rid of Jason and his agonisingly annoying attempts at conversation. He counted himself lucky that he had yet to say anything though, and a small flicker of hope emerged that promised a mercifully quiet return trip…
"I spy with my little eye-"
"Jesus Christ", Derek sighed.
FRIDAY 22ND MAY
Cameron always wondered why humans were designed to sleep. It was an obvious flaw in their design that left them in a vulnerable state. Surely a constant adrenaline feed would be far more efficient to maintain physical energy. But then, Sarah had told her once that they would not be humans if they were not flawed, and that this was the difference between them and the machines.
But this was not entirely true. Cameron did not consider herself flawless. Her energy cell could only last 120 years before needing to be replaced, though her lifespan was now notably diminished due to the strains of supporting a growing life form. The same functions that monitored her flesh sheath were being stretched to their limits to maintain the foetus in her unnatural womb. She was not designed to bring life, only to take it.
Current status: OPTIMAL
It was still alive. She couldn't understand how or why, but it simply was. No one believed her when she first announced the pregnancy. It was inconceivable (pun intended). But after confirmation was made, there was no doubt that she was carrying John's child. Sophie had offered the only illogically logical explanation for this anomaly:
The process of mapping and creating a flesh sheath from a living human is not without its quirks, John. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes the finished product isn't 100% identical to the original. And sometimes things slip through the cracks in the replication stage; genetic data that would normally be erased. In this case I can only assume that Cameron, the real Cameron I mean, was pregnant at the time of her death…
This shouldn't have happened to her. It wasn't something Skynet could ever have predicted. How was she to know?
The genetic data of the still-born child most likely survived the purging process and was integrated into the sheath's artificial design. The skin and flesh is grown around the endoskeleton, bonding itself to the metal and melding with its functions in a symbiotic fashion. It is capable of regenerating and replacing damaged tissue. So it doesn't surprise me that after a long period of time the foetal data took a physical form inside her uterus…
But why, in all the unlikelihood of this happening, did it have to happen to her; and with John Connor no less?
That's not to say it isn't still a miracle…
Cameron didn't believe in miracles. Everything happened for a perfectly logical reason. She could even provide a logical explanation for why John fell in love with her if asked. But one thing eluded her calculations: why she was in love with him, or how she was even capable of such emotion. How can a machine even interpret such human emotions? She had no answer to this.
But looking down on John as he slept in their bed, she felt (not thought) a sense of clarity about her emotions. She loved him simply because. If fate were to ever have a hand in her existence, this would be the form it would take. John was her everything, her life, her reason for being. She would never harm him, never leave him, never cheat on him or refuse to spend time with him.
She was his… forever.
John's eyes opened and blinked once before he suddenly shot up in bed and let out a gasp of surprise. A moment passed before he gathered his bearings and let out a sigh, slumping back onto his pillow and raising his fingers to clear his eyes from the sleep. "Don't do that, for God's sake", he grumbled. Cameron tipped her head to one side and cast him a bemused look.
"But you always said you enjoy waking up to the sight of me."
"Well not when you're sitting right on top of me like that", he explained.
"But you always said you enjoy me sitting right on top of you", she replied with a sly smile.
John let out a short wheeze of a laugh as he pushed himself up. "Good one", he praised with palpable sarcasm. Cameron leaned back a little and placed her right hand on the bed, balancing herself while her other hand settled on her belly. She was wearing a loose fitting top this morning, with flowery patterns like her dress from before, though John could not see any nefarious faces in them this time. Her arms were bare, as were her lower legs and feet, though she wore a peach skirt that complimented her top perfectly.
John was not oblivious to the thought that she had chosen her clothes with him in mind. She knew what he liked to see and wasn't averse to denying him these pleasures. But she also knew he loved looking at her no matter her state of dress. His attention was not on her this time, however, as she followed his gaze to her abdomen and the large bulge protruding from it. John was visibly tense and she could tell he was thinking about all the fears and doubts she'd seen in him before he left. He needs reassurance, she realised.
"The baby is growing within normal parameters. It won't be long now. Four months at the most", she informed him.
John snapped out of his reverie and tore his eyes away from her stomach and down to a loose seam on his shirt.
"Oh really? That's cool…" he mumbled. Cameron watched him fiddle with the seam for a moment before reaching over and snapping it free from his shirt. "Thanks", he said as she dropped it in the bedside bin, hiding his annoyance that she'd removed a convenient distraction from the equation. Cameron continued to watch him expectantly as the awkwardness ensued, patiently waiting for him to speak first. She would not carry the conversation for him.
"So err… What you been up to while I was gone?" he asked, keeping his eyes fixed on hers instead of the belly.
Cameron smiled, making her eyes glitter in the way he loved. "Consuming resources", she replied. John snorted and shook his head at the thought of her stealing the last piece of pizza Sarah always reserved for herself. "There's not much to do here when you're not around", she added with a subtle poke at his conscience. This did not go unnoticed, as John looked away again and let out a sigh.
"Cameron, I never meant to -"
"It responds to your name", she interrupted, knowingly saving him the discomfort of apologising.
"It… what?" John asked.
"The baby; it responds to the sound of your name. Whenever someone speaks it, after the third time it moves", she explained.
She had first discovered this a few weeks ago during an argument with Sarah over the motives for John leaving. The baby had started kicking like crazy as they threw his name back and forth like a tennis ball. She had never felt anything like it, and alerted Sarah to the movements immediately, putting an abrupt end to their bickering. Even she was intrigued enough to place a hand on her belly and feel it, a small smile on her face as it booted her fingers as hard as it could.
"It does?" he replied with chuckle.
Cameron nodded and reached for his hand, placing it on her stomach and holding his fingers there. John gulped and let out a shuddering breath, having never touched the mass before. She was perfectly round and were she not wearing a top, he was sure her skin was still as smooth as ever. His heart began to beat faster in anticipation as she spoke his name twice, pausing to watch him for a moment before speaking it once more.
A tremble passed through his fingers as the child kicked, just as she said it would. John let out a gasp of surprise and stared wide-eyed at the bump, prompting Cameron to repeat the process. The second time was stronger than the first, and his whole hand quivered from the movement. Laughter escaped him as he marvelled at how it felt, feeling more joy in the moment than he had since first learning of its existence. His child was real and alive and kicking. My child, he repeated to himself.
Cameron spoke his name a last time and enjoyed his delight of the movement.
"That is incredible", he exclaimed, still smiling brightly and making no effort to remove his hand.
This is good, she observed.
John fell silent and started stroking her belly with his thumb, his expression becoming serene as he felt true peace for the first time in many months. Cameron saw no need to break the moment, so she curled her fingers around his and smiled faintly at his attention. They remained like this for many minutes before John shuffled forward so he was sitting beside her. He looked into her eyes for a second, then snaked his other hand up her neck and into her hair, pulling her into a deep (and long overdue) kiss.
She tasted as sweet as he remembered, and the feel of her lips unlike anything he had felt in life. Her scent made him want to melt in her arms. Suddenly, the months he spent ignoring her seemed like such a waste. He should've been here for her before, instead of running away because he couldn't hack it. John had no delusions about his motives. He had cowered in the face of responsibility, and as he gently parted his lips from hers, he promised himself he would never fail his family again.
"I missed you", she whispered.
John simply smiled and stroked her hair, stopping as his fingers brushed something rough amongst the silky strands. Removing the object revealed it to be a twig with a piece of dead leaf attached. Bemused, he held it for her to see and raised an inquisitive eyebrow. "Well?" he asked expectantly.
"I took a walk in the woods earlier", she explained.
"You do that often?"
Cameron nodded and took the twig from him, closing her fingers around it and crushing it into a fine powder.
"I used to go deep into the woods, but not since yesterday. Trees are dangerous", she told him.
"Oh yeah, and why's that?" he chuckled.
"One almost fell on top of me", she answered.
John's eyes flickered at her matter-of-fact admission and immediately focused on her belly as anger rose in his chest.
"What the hell were you thinking?!" he scolded.
"I was-", she struggled to reply.
"You could've been crushed! You could've hurt the baby!" he shouted.
Cameron was affronted by his reaction, having not anticipated such a response.
"I'm sorry…" she offered tentatively.
"You should be", he replied, his expression still darkened by her recklessness. "I want you to stay out of the woods from now on, you understand?" he demanded. Cameron fixed him with a blank stare before nodding in compliance.
"Good. Now go lie down and let me sleep", he commanded.
Cameron dithered for a second before lowering herself onto the bed.
"Somewhere else", he clarified.
Obeying his instruction, she stood up from the bed and looked back at him, only to be met with a cold glare comprised of mingled disappointment, anger, and guilt. The last one made her pause, and suddenly his behaviour seemed somewhat justified in her eyes. He's just concerned for me, she realised. She approached the door and looked back at him again, smiling a little as a thought occurred to her.
"You sound like your mother."
"Then maybe you should start listening to her", he advised, the corners of his lips twitching in a slight smirk despite himself.
Cameron gave him one last smile before leaving him in peace and descending the stairs. Sarah was sitting in the lounge with several files and papers spread across the coffee table. "What did I tell you about walking around?" she sniped without even looking up from her work. John's advice echoed in her mind, but Cameron chose to ignore it and stepped outside into the soft sunlight. A soft click caught her attention and Cameron watched as Derek carried a bag into the small shed next to the Chrysler.
A query popped into her head, and the need to answer it proved too much to ignore, so she followed him inside and found him laying weapons on a table, rifles specifically. This was Derek's OCD. Even when the weapons were perfectly clean and ready, he would still find a reason to come back and check them again. Between drinking beer and watching baseball, and occasionally performing vehicle maintenance and tasks for Sarah, this was all he did in the day.
"Is there something you want?" he asked, not bothering to turn around.
"Yes. I have a question about John", she replied.
Derek chortled as he loaded a Beretta. "And here I thought you came to talk about maternity bras", he quipped, remembering the day she cornered him in the bathroom and asked if she looked "tight" in the compensational attire. He later learned she had originally asked Sarah, only to be told to ask him instead. Typical Sarah, he thought at the time.
"No, I decided they would not be necessary at this stage. I can't breast feed", she pointed out.
"Gee, thanks for that image", he replied with a shudder. "So what do you want?"
"I want to know what John talked about at the academy. Did he mention me or the baby?" she enquired.
Derek paused a moment to scour his brain for anything related to her, but came up empty. He had been very quiet on that front, and it didn't surprise him in the least. "He never so much as spoke your name", he informed her. Derek looked over his shoulder to observe her reaction, and felt a small twinge of mixed satisfaction and guilt at the sad puppy expression on her face.
"But that doesn't mean you weren't on his mind 24/7", he added to ease his conscience.
Cameron's face brightened noticeably and she tipped her head back up. "How do you know?" she pressed.
"Why else do you think he went away in the first place? He never mentioned you, so that means whatever was going on in his head was kept there, which I'll bet a million bucks was revolved around you and no one else", he explained.
"Are you sure?" she challenged one last time.
Derek sighed and abandoned his work, turning to face her properly. "If I was a kid his age with a knocked up cyborg on my plate, trust me; you would be the only thing on my mind", he clarified before turning back to his guns. Cameron absorbed his words and saw the logic behind them, finding comfort in the knowledge that John still cared out there.
"Thank you for explaining", she said.
Derek simply shrugged and proceeded to ignore her, a cue Cameron took to leave him be. Leaving the shed, Cameron stood in the sunlight, enjoying the warming sensations it sent through her body. Her moment came to an abrupt end, however, as something caught her attention in the nearby bushes. They rustled and shivered; movement inconsistent with the current wind. Curious, she walked towards the bush, her head tipped slightly to one side as she expected a woodland creature to hop out any second.
Adjusting her vision to zoom x2 revealed something else, however, as two very human eyes peered back at her from behind the foliage. Realising they had been spotted, the two eyes widened and a clicking sound could be heard from within the bush. Suddenly, Cameron's threat assessment flashed a warning and she drew her Glock in a heartbeat. Before she could take aim, however, Cameron felt her centre of gravity shift and it took her a moment to realise she was hurtling through the air.
A microsecond later she heard a deafening explosion and could feel intense heat biting at her left side, followed by the jarring tremor of her body striking metal and glass. Her HUD flickered and fragmented as a multitude of damage alerts and situational assessments screamed inside her neural net. Her endoskeleton hummed from the impact, slowly dissipating as the seconds passed by. She was grateful at least to have not been knocked offline. Sleep equates vulnerability, she repeated.
From her current position, Cameron idly noticed the shape of the clouds above, spotting one resembling an acorn and wondered whether her squirrel friend had recovered his stash.
Cameron snapped back to reality at the sound of John's voice. Leaning her head forward, she saw the scene around her and the aftermath of the explosion. The Chrysler was blackened and consumed by flames, some of which were burning the trees above and licking at the shed nearby. Derek burst out with a rifle and strafed around the burning wreck that was once his car, scanning the perimeter while Sarah likewise hurtled out of the house with her trusty shotgun in hand. A second later, John emerged; unarmed.
He immediately made for her, but Sarah caught his arm and held him back, but John elbowed her off him and rushed to Cameron's side.
"Oh my God, Cam; are you okay?" he asked, his face awash in distress and concern.
A quick check of her systems provided the answer he desired. "I'm fine."
"And the baby?" he asked with bated breath, fearing the worst.
"Everything's okay, John. My endoskeleton absorbed the impact. The baby is stable", she answered.
John let out a deep sigh of relief and took her hand, helping her off the crumpled windshield of Sarah's Jeep. Her entire left side was blackened and bloodied in places, with small glimmers of metal poking out here and there. Her left eye was bloodshot and she twitched slightly, but seemed otherwise okay in his opinion.
"What the hell happened?!" Sarah yelled over the roaring of the flames.
"I dunno. I was just in the shed when the God-damned car blew up!" Derek answered uselessly.
Sarah's eyes darted all over the place as she struggled to understand what had happened.
"Tin-miss, did you see anything?" she asked.
Cameron immediately recalled the person in the bushes and pointed in that direction.
"I saw someone. There", she answered.
Sarah stared at the bush and nodded at Derek, and he set off to investigate the area. John placed his arm around Cameron's waist and started directing her back into the house. "We gotta get you inside", he told her. Sarah eyed the fire and realised it would have to be put out before it attracted any unwanted attention, so she ran back to the house and pulled the hose from the wall, setting it on the flames as John escorted Cameron inside. A dozen questions jumbled in Sarah's head, but first and foremost she wondered: who did this?
The figure was lithe and fast, and Derek had to slide down the hill to cover most of the distance between them. Once righted, he pushed his body to the max, flashing memories of running from HK fire fuelling his muscles to work faster and harder. The suspect had a head start, but he caught up in little time at all. As they hurtled down an open patch among the trees, Derek pushed his body twice as hard and spotted a shortcut between two bushes.
As predicted, the escapee darted around the clump of bushes, but Derek burst straight through them and landed within reaching distance of the person. They side stepped him, however, and used his momentary misbalance to make another break for it. But Derek was quick to recover and once again took chase. He was beginning to tire, however, and he/she were showing no signs of stopping; so he skidded to a halt and fired his rifle once, hitting the tree ahead of him/her.
The person stopped, momentarily stunned by the proximity of the bullet as it passed right by their ear.
"Don't move a muscle or I'll put one right in the back of your head!" he shouted, slowly approaching the now prone figure.
At a closer look, the suspect was wearing a grey sweater with the hood pulled up with blue jeans with a pair of running sneakers. Judging by her size and build, Derek correctly deduced she was female and reminded himself not to let that alter his perceptions of who she was.
"Pull your hood down and place your hands on your head", he ordered.
The woman complied, pulling her hood down to reveal raven black hair before placing her hands on the back.
"Now turn around", he said.
She hesitated, so he repeated his command with more force. Slowly, she turned on the spot and what he saw made his jaw drop and his trigger finger to slacken. He couldn't believe his eyes as those familiar features greeted him with a slightly flustered smile. As the disbelief took hold with an iron grip, only one word escaped his lips:
End of chapter