Authors note: I had to do some quick rewrites on this after I had posted it. If you've read it, then I don't think you've missed anything of any great importance. This is what I get for writing most of this four months ago and just finishing it up today…
John tried to ignore the thunder welling in his chest as it turned his hands to putty and fear rolled over him in a cold sweat. That thing down below had just killed his father, throwing him aside like so many other broken soldiers. He saw it cut a deep wound into Alison and toss her aside as well. He had to hurry before it found him with Cameron, stationary and undefended.
Cameron was still and silent on the displacement pad, her dormant body wrapped in its white sheet. John felt her chip in his hand one last time before he finished keying in the sequence on the machine. He locked in the final date and spatial coordinates just as he heard an animal roar from down below. He forced himself to look one last time.
James was fighting the thing hand to hand. John gritted his teeth - he was leaving them. He had to. He saw Catherine holding Alison in her arms, cradling her like a child. She looked like she was asleep. John Henry was there as well. They would be the next through the TDE.
But where John Connor was going only one would follow.
The red 'Initiate' button blinked under his fist. He pressed it down will all his strength, and the machine came to life.
John rushed back to the pad and took Cameron in his arms. He peeled back her scalp and slipped the chip into the CPU port, feeling the satisfying click as it slid into place. He had no idea when she would wake up - maybe two minutes, maybe ten, maybe never.
But when she did, if she did, he would be the first thing she would see.
As the displacement field began to take shape, John pulled her closer to him until her face was buried against his chest. The fighting was intense down below. Soon it would all be gone. Soon it would all be in his past, or locked in a future that had never actually happened. This was the nature of time travel.
Sound faded, and the world around him ground to a halt. Things became transparent - John could see through the bubble, the machinery, the rock, the metal railing, he could see through everything like he was looking at the world through wax paper. James was locked in mortal combat with the other machine, one big fist on its way around to what would certainly be a titanic blow. Catherine cradled Alison in her arms both of them at rest and almost contemplative. The scene was still and eerie.
Slowly life crept back into this canvas. John saw James connect in slow motion, sending his opponent flying off in some unseen direction. The scene picked up speed until the action became a blur. He was moving forward in time - was this right?
Oh Jesus, what have I done?
It ended in a flash of white light, and the room was exposed to the open air. Time was moving forward so quickly now the sun became a blur across the sky, bending into a single yellow arc and making the seasons blend into one continuous movement. The earth was living and breathing below him and John could see all of this, day and night, sun and moon and stars, everything. Still, he accelerated along the timeline to some point unknown.
He looked above his head and watched the sky change. The stars were moving. He was seeing thousands of years pass before him, tens of thousands perhaps. The constellations broke apart. First Orion, and then Scorpio lost its shape and finally the big bear broke off at the handle. As the sky continued to change the world below him became barren and alien. Just where the hell was he going? John pulled his woman closer to him and whispered in her ear, unsure if she could hear and desperately wishing she would return his embrace.
"My God Cameron, I wish you could see this..."
If she did hear him she gave no signal. Her body remained cold and still against him, and John was left to face the end of the world alone and in silence.
When next he looked up he beheld a sight that struck him with terror, shaking his soul down to its foundation. The sun had grown tremendous in the sky, red as blood and furious with energy. Though he could not feel or hear anything, John was certain that outside the world was melting. He could imagine the heat coming off this huge sphere, even if he could not reach out and touch it.
In a flash, the sun shrank back to a point and then exploded in a canvas of a million colors. Whips of red ether spun through space, touching the earth and vaporizing rock and mountain and eventually eroding the very core of the planet. Below him he had seen the real judgment day, the real end of all things to come. It was a sight he would never forget.
Still, the universe did not become quiet. Time continued to accelerate and he saw stars fly past him at breakneck speed. Galaxies collided and danced around one another like rain clouds might, stringing a trail of stars across hundreds of thousands of light years. John looked at the universe as it lived and died before him and took in everything, every color, every shape, all of it. He was truly going where he had never imagined. He knew in his heart of hearts that what he was seeing was beyond his comprehension.
Looking down he realized that he and Cameron were now nude. He didn't remember loosing the clothing; it had just simply vanished without warning. He thought she felt slightly warmer now, though it may have only been his body heat rubbing off on her.
Time had accelerated to such a pace that light itself became visible and threadlike. John thought he could reach out and grasp a single tendril of starlight, some of the last the universe would see. The canvas grew black and distant as stars died around him. Soon, every last star would wink from existence and he would be left with
He watched as the universe died. John was left in complete darkness now and was quite sure that something had gone terribly wrong. He would be left here, a tiny cinder floating in an endless empty space, the last remains of the human race and quite possibly any life in the cosmos. He looked in every direction and saw nothing - the void was complete. No source of light reached his eyes and in this place no things lived or breathed or thought.
Yet even there hope would not die. As the darkness intruded upon his heart and mind, he felt the woman in his arms warm suddenly as if some switch had been flipped. He didn't know how long he had been in this bubble but it couldn't be more than a few minutes. Again she stirred. Something, or someone, else lived here after all.
And then he could see her face, illuminated by a violent, white light that erupted from all around him. Where there had been only the deepest black now the world was flooded with colors so brilliant and intense he had to shield his eyes and even then it burned through him. When he looked next he saw the primordial universe swirling with huge blue stars that bulged and popped like bubbles on a pond set against a background of blinding light and churning primordial gas.
The activity was so rapid and uncontrolled that it became impossible to focus on any one thing. John knew what he was seeing - the beginning. The birth of the universe. He had just seen the end of the world and now he was certain that he would see it remade right before his eyes. As time hurled forward, order emerged. Stars clustered into galaxies and dust coalesced into planets. The sky and the universe were alive with light and life.
John could see time begin to slow. It was almost imperceptible at first but it was there. Below him there was a huge mass of swirling dust backlit by a young spiral cloud of stars. The dusty center of this mass was lit by a faint glow which slowly began to brighten until finally it burst into life, almost as if someone had willed it into existence. The dust around the star was blown back and what was left began to form tiny spheres that whirled around the sun like the hands on some mad clock. They collided and merged, and some were thrown from their orbits into the void, never to be seen or heard from again.
Within his mind John knew this was home. He was seeing Earth and its siblings and their parent star come together in a celestial ballet. Time continued to slow and he could see the familiar trappings of a planet that might hold life. There was rain for what must have been thousands or millions of years, a constant downpour that might have been biblical if it had not been so ancient and real. There were mountains and continents and all at once something else.
Suddenly on this rocky, barren place there was life.
The planet began to change in ways both familiar and alien. The world changed from blue to blue-green as life spread across its face, growing into great swaths of algae and forest that eventually covered every space he could see. All forms of life - some he had seen in history books and some which were too bizarre to imagine - morphed into and then faded from existence. He was getting close to his destination.
This may work after all, he thought to himself.
As if sensing that their final destination was near, Cameron continued to stir. John took his eyes from the world for a moment and looked down to her. She was still asleep or at least at rest. Hey eyes were closed but she began to move as a person might. Her fingers curled and her lips parted in such a way that John felt himself turn slightly red. He went over the likely scenarios in his head. She would wake up, but then what? The possibilities were many but his conversations with John Henry coupled with his own burgeoning understanding of the woman who lay in his arms had settled him on a likely few.
Time was slowing outside. In the little time John had looked away the Egyptian empire had risen and been broken, and the same was said for the Greeks and Romans. Now there was light, not from the stars overhead but from streetlamps and what he thought might have been headlights. The world slowed and John felt a wave of disorientation, as if he were stepping out of a roller coaster. The bubble came to rest in some anonymous clearing nowhere near anything as far as he could tell. There were no roads and no people that he could see. They appeared to be mercifully far from civilization.
As the displacement bubble faded it left a smoking glass crater. The ground felt hot under his feet and the familiar smell of electric fire reached him. It was light out and they had come to rest in some sort of grove where the brush was thick and dry, and small fire burned from their arrival.
As if on cue, Cameron stirred again. This time the spasm was more pronounced, running down her whole body. John thought he heard a sound escape her lips and he could see her eyelids flexing and straining. He looked around and noticed the bubble had left quite a mess - if there were anyone nearby they were bound to see something, whether it be the smoke and small brush fires or the blue lightning and two nude time travelers.
Cameron was locked in a world of pure sensation. What she experienced made hardly any sense - the images were coming far too fast. There was sound too, and touch, every kind of sensation she was allowed to have. There were names and faces, all crushed together into a stream of thought. Trying to pluck one up and read from it was like trying to catch a single drop of water in a torrent. Her body was operating without her input as systems and mechanisms came on line for the first time in ages. Her journey to this moment had taken years, longer than she would ever remember.
Those secrets and more passed through her neural network, working their way into her consciousness. She was very much in a dream state, unable to take control of what was happening. Without realizing it she was reliving every memory she ever had, every sensation and emotion in those few seconds since her CPU had come online.
Within the torrent there was one face that stood out from all the others, and one name that come up again and again. In her mind, every thought produced a sensation and this one came over and over. It was not at all unpleasant, in fact it was comforting and affirming. Through these sensations her memories spoke their own language and this one word kept appearing like a distant beacon flashing against a bed of midnight. She so wished to grasp the thought, to look at it and know who this was and what they meant. There was no hope for pulling anything from the chaos so she settled for watching it all go by, perhaps several lifetimes of memories being swept away. To her they may be lost forever.
Or maybe just for now.
When she regained control of her facilities the first thing she noticed was a feeling of warmth, and a sensation of being held, tightly. She felt something fundamental - maybe sadness or loss but for the life of her couldn't remember why. What had just happened - the torrent of thought and emotion - was no more in her mind than what she had done the previous day. In fact she could no more recall yesterday than she could recall anything.
Her eyes snapped open as she realized she could remember nothing. Reaching down into her mind, where she was sure a lifetime of thoughts and experiences should lie for her recollection she found only a blank slate. Her lips were open and she took in a quick breath and for the first time she realized where she was. Suspended slightly above the ground, in the arms of a young man or boy with a concerned look on his face. There was a flare within her, as if something had tried to come up from the depths. This faded quickly, and she was alone with him.
Without thinking Cameron pushed on his chest and was only mildly surprised when he let her go. She was much more surprised, shocked even, to find that this strange man was completely nude. Her eyes wandered over him and for the first time she felt fear, the sensation of not knowing. Had this man done something to her? His face was strangely alluring though and she didn't feel threatened or intimidated.
John was shocked by her sudden revival. As her eyes opened her body seemed to come to life on its own. She moved in his arms and was now awake, as if she had never really been gone. When she pushed against him he reacted out of reflex and let her slide to the ground. He noticed her eyes wandering over him and for the first time he did the same. Cameron was truly a beauty, but this state would cause more trouble than it was worth. He saw her fear and put his hands up where she could see them.
"Cameron? Are you alright?"
For a moment she didn't answer and John thought she may not have understood.
"Cameron?" He reached out to her only slightly and felt a twinge of fear.
"Who are you?" She whispered, covering herself.
John closed his eyes and swallowed. "I'm John." He said.
She seemed to take this in the same way one might understand you telling them what time it was. "I see." She said.
"Cameron, do you remember anything?"
Again she felt the needle in her mind. She tried to think, to where she had felt this before. She was feeling something else now - acute fear.
"I don't...know who you're talking about."
John felt his heart sink, literally in his chest. Understanding that she would not be herself and seeing it for himself were two different things, it seemed.
"I'm talking about you. You're Cameron, okay? You don't remember your name?"
Again, she shook her head. "I don't know that name, and I don't know you." Her voice fell a notch and John could see her eyes set on his.
He backed off just slightly, keeping his hands where she could see them. "That's fine, that's okay. I thought that might happen."
"What?" She asked. "What did you do to me? Did you hurt me?" She said accusingly.
"No! No, I didn't, I wouldn't ever...look, just feel your temple. You hit your head, okay? There's blood there. Just feel your head, right behind your eye." He said.
Cameron did as he asked, feeling a strong compulsion to obey. She wondered where it came from but soon found he was telling the truth - or at least part of it. She was bleeding slightly from a wound. Her fingers followed it up from her temple to a point on the back of her scalp, following the gash along the way.
"I hit my head? I don't remember any -"
She stopped in mid sentence, her body frozen in time. John waited for a moment before coming closer to her. When he did, he placed on hand on her wrist, still held near her temple. He tried to pull on it but her body resisted. She may have forgotten who she was, but nothing would ever change what she was. He would need a truck to unhinge her frozen joints.
He waved his hand in front of her face. At first there was nothing, as if she had literally stopped in that moment. Her eyes were fixed on some distant point, unseeing and unmoving. Her expression was one of frozen thought.
But Cameron did see and she did feel, though not the sensations of sitting on the warm earth, or the feeling of a young man with his hands on hers, trying to coax her back to life. She felt cold and centered, as if all of the variables of her existence had been burned down to a single, overriding request.
When she opened her eyes she saw the man called John. She felt her hand snap out to his neck and take hold. John looked surprised but she didn't understand why - this was the way it was supposed to be, wasn't it? He was nude and so was she. Had she seduced him? Had John Connor really fallen for such a trick? It didn't matter, soon it would all be over and John Connor would be here, left to rot in this open glade.
Nathan Bridger and his brother Harvey were out on a piece of narrow highway between Reno, Nevada and the California border. It was a Sunday morning and they were driving, like they did sometimes when his wife Laurel was at church. Nathan needed a good days rest after driving a squad car all week and Harvey wasn't much of a churchgoer, though it may have done them both some good.
They talked about politics, the weather and the Dodgers. Harvey said it wasn't right - they belonged in Brooklyn and he'd never call them the Los Angeles Dodgers, not even if Saint Peter himself was wearing a god-damned blue and white baseball cap. These feelings and more found expression when the brothers were alone. They had spent all of their childhood together but now the rigors of adulthood were beginning to put a strain on the two boys. Harvey was the younger and always in his brothers shadow. Nathan, or just Nate as it usually was, was easygoing and a pretty good guy if you asked the right folks.
Whatever they had been talking about that Sunday morning at around eleven was quickly forgotten as the crested a curved hill and saw blue strands of lightening on a day as clear and as calm as any they could remember. Nathan pounded the brake as hard as he could, straining himself as the car came to a halt.
Up ahead, beyond their vision there was smoke and fire. The lightning was gone but it had been there, and for more than just a few seconds too. They shared a glance that was at the same time nervous and excited.
Harvey got out of the car and checked his pocket, tapping his left thigh out of habit. "God, did you see that? Wonder what the hell that was." He walked to the edge of the road and put his hands on his hips, looking down off the corner of the road.
Nathan shook his head. Harvey was interested in anything out of the ordinary but this may actually be something dangerous. The light show was probably nothing and he wouldn't be surprised if half the town was dark when they got back from their little day-vacation. He followed Harvey to the road edge where it tilted into a ravine heavy with brush and sharp rocks. There was a veil of smoke blocking their view.
"I can't see shit, come on." Harvey said.
"Where are you going Harvey? Don't tell me you're going down there."
"What does it look like?" He was already halfway down the hill when he called back, trying to keep his footing. Nathan couldn't help but shake his head again and resign himself to following his brother down there. God knows what else there might be, hidden from sight. He'd hate to have to explain to mom that he let something happen to his little brother but the kid did have a knack for stirring up the shit. The last thing he needed was Harvey getting excited – particularly with that new .38 special he was carrying around. As quickly as he could, Nathan followed down the hill.
Nathan was the first to see it, but Harvey was the first to say anything. The elder brother was sort of mesmerized by what he was seeing. It was bizarre in a way that his mind would not allow. He stepped into a clearing only a few meters across where the vegetation was burned away and the ground was like charred glass. Smoke still curled up from the dirt when Harvey stumbled in next to him.
"Whoa there Nathan, what have you got here?" Harvey said, and followed almost immediately with "Just what the hell happened here? Nathan?"
"Shut up! I think I hear something." He motioned with one hand. "I don't know what happened here but I think I see something down there. Look."
As Cameron laid her hands on him another voice shouted out, this one for more powerful than the last. She realized that this was her as well - she was hearing herself literally screaming inside her head. The words didn't make sense, their language, their order, it was gibberish but Cameron could sense the anger and the terror. It seemed to grow stronger as her grip on Johns neck tightened.
John registered only mild surprise at her assault. This had been a possibility all along, he knew. There could be worse fates than this, having your neck snapped like a twig by this woman. Cameron wrapped her hand around his windpipe and he braced himself for the pressure that would come next, the crushing, unforgiving grip of the single-minded machine.
It never came.
Somehow Cameron stayed her hand. Fate smiled on both of them, surely saving John for some more other encounter not yet foretold. Her grip tightened down, but only to the point where it was uncomfortable. She stopped there and her face changed expression from the terminal blank stare to one of confusion and fear. John placed his hand on her wrist and tried to move her but found her strength had never left her arm.
"What's happening to me?" She said, her voice strained. "I…I can't stop this."
John put his hand on her shoulder, brushing past her left flank. He centered his vision on hers and for the first time in so many days or weeks he looked into her eyes. They were her eyes, so dark and telling for a moment the situation slipped away from him. He felt her grip loosen and she spoke to him once again.
He did, without looking back.
Seconds later Cameron was crashing after him through the underbrush. She was faster than him and didn't mind being slashed by the thorny plants that made a narrow corridor to nowhere. The gap between them closed quickly and John was almost certain that he would feel her on his back in three strides, maybe less. He braced himself once again, readying himself to dive forward as he felt her grip on him. It was hopeless, though. She was a machine and he was just a man out of time.
Once again there was no final attack. John heard a crash behind him and when he thought he might be in for it, there was nothing else. She had stopped. He dared to turn around just to look over his shoulder and saw her nude form sprawled out across the turf. She was bleeding from a half a dozen wounds on her legs and hips but she was still, as if she had been gunned down.
John hated himself for what he was about to do. He took a chance and went back and crouched by her, trying to find the seam in her scalp where her CPU port would be hidden. He nearly had it when he heard something else coming down through the brush and his heart dropped. There were people here, after all.
Harvey saw the boy crouching over her naked form and didn't waste any time. He hated perverts and their entire ilk and had always imagined a moment like this, where he could get the drop on one of them and crush him like a bug. He was short, squat and powerful and he knew the little runt didn't have an ounce of fight in him. Nathan could tend to the girl. He was going to break this little son-of-a-bitch in half.
John moved with the ease of a football player dodging an incoming tackle. Harvey may have been big but like a lot of big guys once he got a head of steam there was no way in hell he could change his direction. Harvey looked perplexed as he sailed by John who didn't seem to give him another thought. He did a half-way duck, when he came back up his mouth was full of grit and grass.
"Harvey, just hang on, alright? God dammit Harvey!" Nathan yelled as loud as he could. He didn't warn the boy - Nathan had a pretty good idea what was going on here but he wasn't ready to hurt anyone. His voice was enough though and he saw Harvey pull the revolver from his pocket and try to aim it.
By this time John realized just how serious the situation was. He looked like a criminal, and with Cameron in god knows what state, they were all vulnerable. If she woke up again and was in a foul mood they would all be as good as dead. He heard the other one - the one not called Harvey - yelling at this one and he turned just in time to see the fireplug pull a gun. It was a snub-nosed pistol and John saw his hand shake. He knew he would probably miss the first shot and if he did he could close the gap. But if he didn't...
There was a zing! And John heard the bullet bounce around the trees behind him. Everyone that was awake ducked and John threw his hands up in the air. The last thing he need was to get shot by some out for blood amateur. The pistol was still shaking, but the fireplug had steadied his hand.
"Harvey put the fucking gun down! Are you trying to kill someone?"
A light seemed to go off in Harvey's mind and he lowered the barrel of the pistol only to raise it again. He took his hand off the trigger, but kept it leveled at the boy. "Just hold on there son, don't move." His voice was as calm and measured as he could make it.
"Yeah I got it, no problem." John said.
"That's right. Nathan, get down here and put the cuffs on this kid."
"You're not the fucking cop Harvey so put that thing down. I swear to god that ricochet came within three feet of my head. Jesus, sometimes I wonder what you're thinking." He had indeed taken out his cuffs and brandished them at his own brother. "I should be putting these on you. Hold still kid." He wrapped one around Johns wrist, then the other. John kept his eyes on Cameron and was rewarded with another stir – she was getting up.
Cameron felt better now, somehow she felt as if the worst had passed. She got up to her knees and waited for something to happen – the voice, the gibberish language, the feeling she had earlier, but nothing came. She felt normal, which at this moment was just as strange.
Harvey took off his jacket and handed it to the girl. "Are you alright miss?" He threw it over her shoulders. "Can you tell me your name?"
She studied his face. She looked at John and saw his hands were bound. Whatever the two of them were doing before it was over now. She ran her hand up to her temple and felt the blood there, touching the gash along her scalp.
"My name is Cameron." She said, looking at John. She saw what she knew was relief pass over his face as she spoke. "That's John."
Harvey helped her to her feet, trying not to notice her state of dress – he found it damned hard to keep his eyes off of her and this was not at all lost on John or his brother. Cameron didn't seem to notice, though.
"Okay Cameron, can you tell me what the two of you were doing out here?" Harvey asked.
She didn't know. "I don't know."
Harvey shot John a look. "Alright, look lets all get back to town and we'll shake this out. Come on, my brothers car is back up the hill."
The walk back of the hill was an unpleasant one. John was thoroughly humiliated. They had given Cameron a jacket, two of them in fact but they had left John to hike in his birthday suit. He had no choice at this point, but his spirits brightened somewhat when they reached the road and he saw the vehicle. It was painted tan, with big chrome wheels and John knew that the whitewall tires were brand new. When they got to the car John sat down in the back seat along with Harvey, who still had his gun but now looked far less likely to use it. Cameron and Nathan sat in front. Between them there was a newspaper.
FIGHTING AT THE BEACHHEAD – MERCS INVADE CUBA
The date was April 18th, 1961.