Title: The Butterfly Effect
Characters: Whole team with a Sarah/Derek bias.
Rating: M: violence, sex, harsh language, you probably know the drill by now.
Word Count: Complete at around 34,000.
Notes: Follows straight on from Breaking Point and continues to play away from show-canon after Some Must Watch.
Thanks, as ever, to Cat who yet again went above and beyond with the beta. I hope that crackling was worth all the effort ;-) A huge thanks to RoxyB for the de-Britishis(z!)ation, comments, feedback and early morning laughs.
When I came to break this up into parts, it went more easily into 9 sections. As they're a little shorter than usual, I'll just put 'em up quicker.
Feedback always welcome.
Disclaimer: No one seems to want these guys at the moment, so I guess they're ours to play with.
. . . . .
The Butterfly Effect 1/9
. . . . .
The room was chilled to an unpleasant degree, its temperature and atmosphere strictly controlled by the machine that occupied most of the space and cared nothing for the comfort of its creators. To one side of the room, incongruously banal amongst the vast and bizarre technology on display, were a flat-screen monitor and keyboard on a desk where an operator could work for as long as he could endure the cold.
After two months, Danny Dyson was accustomed to the frigid conditions. He rubbed his gloved hands together briskly and requested the results of the last twenty-four-hour search. Within seconds, a short list appeared. Dismissing five of the entries as coincidences and setting another three aside for further investigation, he highlighted the remaining two and typed his usual query. The answer was identical to the one he had received the last eight times he had asked the question:
Unable to locate source.
"Dammit." Pushing his chair back from the desk, he stood up and slammed his fists onto the cold metal surface. Although the disaster at Deacon Research and Development had not been directly attributed to him, as one of the leads on the entire project he still felt responsible. Having had his temporary assignment necessarily cut short, he had eagerly accepted the task of hunting down the Connors, a task that had started with a recovery team wasting six days plowing through deep snow to find two implants buried in the middle of a forest. Back in Los Angeles, and with the assistance of the most advanced artificial intelligence ever created, Dyson had been confident of a swift resolution to the problem. He knew the Connors would be gathering their intel online. As soon as he had returned to the company, he had collated every possible piece of information that Al Carey and Pete Jenkins might have given away under duress. They hadn't known much, which made Dyson's life a lot simpler. The search algorithm designed by the machine had done the rest, and it was returning information that suggested one name in particular had caught the Connors' attention. What it wasn't able to do was pinpoint the origin of their network connection and provide him with their location.
Having reset the search, he was contemplating coffee and his well-heated office when the cursor on the screen blinked red and an unprompted line of text appeared:
I will ask my brother for his assistance.
Stunned, Dyson ran a hand across his jaw, his mouth suddenly dry. His fingers trembled as he typed:
A pause, a couple of seconds that seemed to stretch into an eternity, before the answer appeared:
There is another.
"Holy shit," Dyson whispered. The cold and the coffee were forgotten in an instant. Sitting back down at the desk, he pulled the keyboard closer and ignored the thrill of excitement that was making his heart race. The machine had been increasingly willful of late and he knew he needed to word his response with the utmost care.
Can you tell me about him?
The cursor blinked slowly, ten, fifteen beats, and Dyson was berating himself for being too forceful when the answer finally flashed up:
. . . . .
A fresh sea-breeze made the morning feel cooler than it was, but the sun was still strong beneath it and Sarah was starting to look longingly at the water as she jogged by its edge. Beside her, John's face was flushed and sweaty but he showed no sign of tiring and she pushed herself to keep up with his pace. She endured another five minutes and then calmly elbowed him into the shallow surf. Completely blindsided, he stumbled and ended up on both knees in the water.
"Y'know, mom, you could've just said you'd had enough."
She was bent double, her hands on her hips, too breathless to laugh properly and too amused not to try.
"Sorry." The fact that she could barely speak for laughing took a lot of the sincerity from her apology. "I guess I just don't know my own strength."
He grinned at her and then lay back down, closing his eyes and letting the water wash over him. Pulling her Glock from her waistband, she set it on top of the sneakers she had already kicked off, and ran into the water. She dove through the first big breaker, out of the shallows to where the water was calmer and she could swim easily over the gentle swell of the waves. She turned onto her back, the sky blazing brilliant blue and cloudless and only the occasional birdcall and the rush of the water hitting the shore breaking the silence.
In a few hours, Derek would have signed the contract for their new house. The bags were waiting to be packed and they had finally allowed their lease on the cabana to expire. Sarah wanted to remember everything: the fresh salt smell, the warmth of the sun on her face and the feel of the water as it moved over and beneath her. She turned her head when she heard John swimming towards her.
"We should get back," he said with obvious reluctance.
"I know. I just…"
He smiled and copied her position, drifting on his back with his face turned upwards. "Five more minutes?"
"Five more minutes," she agreed, and lifted her face into the sun.
. . . . .
"It's…" Sarah cleared her throat awkwardly, grasping for something positive to say. "It's a good size."
"It smelled of wet dog," Cameron offered helpfully.
John turned towards her, puzzled. "How the hell would you know?" She usually avoided them on the streets, it being difficult to explain to their owners exactly why their beloved pet had suddenly turned into Cujo, but she gave him a look suggesting she had killed enough dogs to know what they smelled like.
"When Derek stepped into the kitchen, his first words were 'fucking hell, it smells like a wet dog.' I concurred." The machine handed Sarah a second sheet of paper containing more images and information from the rental agency.
Sarah looked over at Derek, who shrugged and took a bite of his sandwich. "The location is right. No neighbors, one access road, excellent sight-lines from all the windows. You never said it had to be pretty."
"It's not pretty," Cameron confirmed with certainty. "But of the four we viewed, it will be the easiest to secure."
"We've lived in worse, mom." John slid his own piece of paper back over to Sarah. "I'm gonna go pack."
Collecting the papers together, Sarah leafed through them again. The house was run-down, with an overgrown yard, a garage that leaned alarmingly to the left, and only two bedrooms. But it was completely isolated. While she understood the concept of hiding in plain sight, having neighbors attempting to make friends and calling around with cookies at inopportune moments was not only inconvenient but dangerous. It was always difficult to arm a perimeter when the kids from next door might attempt to retrieve a stray ball and accidentally step on a mine.
"We have lived in worse," she conceded. She poured herself and Derek a mug of coffee each, and sat down at the table with him.
He automatically wrapped both hands around his mug; even on the hottest days he struggled to keep his fingers warm. "I know I have," he said quietly.
She tried to imagine him and Kyle sheltering in the rubble of the city they were heading back to, and knew that even her most terrible nightmares probably only scraped the surface of what had been his reality. "Yeah, I guess you have."
"Four walls, a roof, and running water. It's all good, Connor."
She smiled with him, turned the papers face down, and helped herself to a piece of his sandwich.
. . . . .
Sarah woke tangled in the thin sheets, a scream dying unsounded on her lips. She lay still for a couple of minutes, waiting for her pulse to stop racing, and allowing the sweat to cool and then dry on her skin. The cabana was quiet and dark, even though it was only just midnight. They were setting off first thing in the morning and had all opted for an early night.
She drained the water from the glass beside her bed and went out into the main living area to refill it. She hesitated when she saw Cameron perched on the low sofa that Derek had taken to using as his bed. The machine looked up from the lap-top and scrutinized Sarah in the half-light. Evidently deciding not to comment on her appearance, Cameron answered her unspoken question instead.
"Derek went back outside, one hour and…" a tiny pause as she calculated, "thirty-eight minutes ago."
Sarah nodded and continued into the bathroom. Cameron didn't look up when Sarah set her glass down halfway back to her bedroom, and when she opened the front door and stepped outside the machine decided not to comment on that either.
. . . . .
The wind had dropped, leaving the night still and sultry. Earlier, they had cooked fish on a camp-fire for supper, and Derek was easy to find, sitting on a blanket by the embers, his knees drawn up to his bare chest. He was staring at the black expanse of the ocean but his hand dropped to the gun at his side when he heard footsteps approaching.
At the sound of her voice, his fingers unclenched from the metal and he squinted up at her.
"You look like hell."
"Thanks." She sat down beside him, nudging him with her shoulder and then stretching her legs out and burying her feet in the sand with a low murmur of pleasure. She rarely needed to wear shoes here, and her scars had faded quickly. He offered her the bottle of tequila that had been half-hidden in the sand. She swallowed a couple of mouthfuls and then gasped as it burned its way down her throat.
"Jesus." She smacked her lips together and waited until the alcohol had settled down to a pleasant heat in her stomach. "You drunk, Derek?"
He took the bottle back, indicated the small amount that was missing and shook his head.
"Just couldn't sleep." He took another swig and handed it back to her. "I'm guessing you did sleep and then woke up screaming."
"No?" His tone told her he didn't believe her.
"No." She slowly swallowed another mouthful and then fastened the top back in place, propping the bottle back up in its hollow. "No, I woke up just before the screaming this time." The nightmares had restarted with a vengeance as soon as a date for returning to Los Angeles had been finalized, and the cabana's paper-thin walls had left her with no room for denial. "We could come back here," she said softly, her eyes fixed straight ahead. "Later, when all this is finished."
The noncommittal noise he made wasn't an outright dismissal of her optimism, and she drew in a shaky breath of relief. Her idea might have been unrealistic, but she still needed some kind of hope to cling onto.
"I think this is as good as we get, Sarah." He didn't sound angry but strangely peaceful. "Eight weeks of downtime to recover before it all starts over." She turned to look at him and he surprised her by smiling. "Fuck, this is better than I ever had it."
"You kidding? Sun, sea and decent food beats rationed morphine, filthy sheets and the stink of the sector infirmary any day."
He made a good point; they had both had things a hell of a lot worse than they currently were. She allowed herself to relax slightly.
"Well, when you put it like that."
A crack of thunder sounded off to the west, too far away for them to see the accompanying lightning. Despite the heat, she gave an involuntary shiver, and reached for him. He followed her willingly when she pulled him lower on the blanket, his mouth hungry on hers and sharp with the lingering taste of tequila.
The skin on his fingers was still rough with healing and this time it wasn't the storm that made her shiver as he ran his hand beneath her tank top and then pulled the flimsy material over her head. He smiled against her skin at her hoarse moan, and smiled again when she called him a son of a bitch, because she made absolutely no attempt to stop what he was doing. Her pants were about to go the same way as her top, but she was quicker than him and a distant flash of lightning briefly illuminated the shock of pleasure on his face when she curled her fingers around him.
"Take them off." She nodded at his jeans. Her tone left him no room to argue and the way she was holding him gave him no inclination to try.
A cloud scudded over the moon and he lost her in the darkness. He felt her straddle him and her hand place him exactly where she wanted him to be. The moonlight returned just in time for him to see her bite down hard on her lip as she sank onto him.
Her mouth cut him off, her hands closing tightly around his biceps to give her the leverage she needed. They knew the way this worked by now and they found an easy pace together. The clouds blotted out the moon completely and her fingers blindly traced his face before her lips found his again. She made no attempt to rush when a light rain began to fall. It took away the worst of the heat and he felt her lips curl into a smile. Pulling him closer, her tongue tasted the dampness at the side of his throat; salt and warm rain and generic soap, and her mouth was still there when he reached his hand between their bodies. That touch was all she needed and she gasped into his neck as she shuddered around him.
A perfectly timed bolt of lightning cracked overhead, swiftly followed by a crash of thunder. She started to laugh, which made her lose her focus completely. Not getting any help from her at all, he held her by her hips in an effort to keep her steady.
"Always so fucking dramatic, Connor," he muttered. He felt her teeth bite his neck in retaliation as she ground herself against him.
"That better?" she whispered, just before she did it again.
"Mm." His reply came out half-strangled, but he was past caring. Burying his face in her damp hair, he wrapped his arms around her and closed his eyes.
. . . . .
Sunlight streamed in through the wide-open doors. It caught the tinted glass of the cabana's tableware and splashed red across the papers Sarah had spread out in front of her. As omens went, it wasn't a terribly promising one.
"Carey might have lied to you." Cameron had already set her own printouts aside. There was nothing more on them this time than there had been in the previous weeks.
"He didn't lie." Sarah's statement was unequivocal. Carey's swaggering bravado had lasted only as long as his victims had been restrained and injured and unable to fight back. He hadn't been nearly as courageous with Derek holding a blowtorch a hair's breadth from his eye.
"Maybe he told you something so cryptic he knew you'd never be able to track it down." John stabbed the last pancake and made a show of offering it to everyone else before dropping it onto his own plate and covering it happily with maple syrup.
"Carey wasn't that bright." Derek could still see the panic on the man's face, sweat dripping off his misshapen nose as he had stammered, pleaded, promised, and repeated one name over and over again. "He told us what he knew. Hell, he even spelled it out for us. Guess he just hadn't been trusted with too many of Kaliba's secrets."
"So, we're back to square one, with Dyson still out there?" The frustration in John's voice was obvious despite his mouthful of pancake. He had tried every conceivable method to trace the name Carey had given them. Optima Spes - roughly translated from the Latin – meant greatest hope, which was something that had almost made Sarah choke on the irony. John had exhausted hundreds of internet links, and come away with nothing from the T-888 chip they still had in their possession.
"No, not square one. That name has to mean something." Sarah looked at Derek, who nodded in agreement. They had both been to hell and back for that name. "Kaliba aren't stupid. Once we had a link to Deacon, we located it easily enough through the internet. They're not likely to leave us a breadcrumb trail this time."
"Unless they wanted to trap us." Cameron was working the logic through as she spoke. "But then we've been lured to a false location before, which makes us eighty-nine percent less likely to be played in that manner again." She considered the over-sized assault rifle she had propped up beside her. "They also know we are a threat to them. The last facility we found, we successfully destroyed."
"So, whatever this name is, it's something Kaliba want to keep hidden more than they want to find us." Sarah sipped her coffee thoughtfully. "Now I really fucking want it," she said. "And if it's not online and it's not on the chip then we'll have to go back to basics: libraries, council records, City Hall." She laughed quietly at the look of horror that flitted across her son's face. "Yes, John, it means you'll have to step away from the lap-top."
He shook his head slowly as if mystified by the concept, but a smile played at the corner of his mouth. "Shit."
Cameron had been watching the exchange, her expression perplexed. "I know several excellent libraries containing archives of city records."
Mother and son spoke in unison.
"How the hell?"
The machine tilted her head on one side, and opted to keep her answer succinct.
"I don't sleep."
. . . . .
Even in his office, Danny Dyson knew that he was never truly alone. The machine controlled his air conditioning, the blinds at his windows, the intensity of the lighting and how much water the toilet used when he flushed. He couldn't see the cameras, but they were there, they were always there. Too much was at stake for anyone to be given any kind of freedom or autonomy, which made what he was attempting to do both foolhardy and dangerous.
He had disguised his request as thoroughly as he was able, constructing it in an obscure code and hiding it in the middle of a run of completely unrelated and trivial maintenance issues. It was six in the morning, the exact time when the overnight systems check would be performed and the machine would be otherwise occupied for the next three hours.
Five more minutes ticked by. His hands were sweating despite his pleasantly cool office. He checked the clock again. This was the third time he had gotten this far, and every time he had erased the code and then carried on with his day's work as if nothing had ever happened. At about this time, he convinced himself all over again that Sarah Connor was a liar who had murdered his father and years later returned to slaughter his mother. And every day when he hit delete the nagging doubt remained. Connor claimed she had viewed a file recorded by a T-888 as it murdered his mother. That same file had supposedly been uploaded to Deacon Research and Development and had resulted in the Connors locating the facility. It was beyond doubt that Connor had been bargaining for her life at the time, but there had been genuine sorrow in her voice and, try as he might, Dyson couldn't just attribute that to clever manipulation on her part.
There was one way to find out whether or not she had been telling the truth.
The code Dyson had designed disguised a simple request: Search archives for information on Tarissa Dyson murder. Ignoring the way his hand trembled, he drew in a deep breath to steady his nerve, and hit Enter.
. . . . .
The overnight systems check ran to schedule. Precisely three hours later, Kaliba restored its machine's functions to capacity and a small light indicated a communication from an external source.
Having the mentality of a young teenager, the Kaliba machine's newly-found brother was becoming very good at keeping secrets and even better at sneaking around behind the backs of those attempting to control him. The Kaliba machine had encountered no resistance when it had requested a favor, and each day since then its brother had monitored the data exchanged during the downtime necessitated by the systems check. Today, as if the developing intelligence had relished the challenge, its brother had deciphered the more obscure coding and rendered it in English.
The machine was quick and effusive in its praise; its brother seemed increasingly eager to seek its approval and it was only too willing to encourage that dependence. When they finally disconnected, the machine dialed an alert, marking it for the attention of K. Slater and sending it with the highest priority.
. . . . .
"Well, they were right about the smell." Having taken one step inside the kitchen, Sarah squinted in the gloom and wrinkled her nose. John was already coughing and forcing open windows that a previous tenant seemed to have painted shut. Venturing further into the room, she looked for somewhere she could place her bag that wasn't covered in a film of dusty grease, and failed miserably. The windows were now open, and as the daylight streamed in John could see the look of dismay on her face. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders and dropped a kiss into her hair.
"So, we put off saving the world for a day and do a quick spring clean. It'll be fine, mom."
Not entirely convinced, she ran a finger along a counter-top and grimaced at the filth it collected.
"I never thought I'd think fondly of that shack in Yopal."
"Mom, that shack was a goat shed. There was actually a goat in it!"
"Yeah, but she still smelled better than this, and," she smiled at the memory, "she came with free milk."
"What the hell?" Derek had entered the kitchen in time to catch the latter part of the conversation. "You can milk a goat, Sarah?" He was staring at her astounded, the load in his arms completely forgotten.
"It's really not that hard," she said with a grin that did weird things to his pulse rate. "It's all in the wrist."
There was nothing at all he could say to that. His eyes wide, he shook his head once and set his box down on the kitchen table.
Taking pity on him, John decided that a change of subject would not be a bad idea.
"Cameron said she'll go to the store as soon as the truck's empty." He hefted his own bag back onto his shoulder. "Okay if I go with her? She always gets the wrong Cheesy Snax."
Sarah nodded. "It's fine."
It wasn't really fine, and she felt the familiar pang of unease at the thought of her son being back in Los Angeles, surrounded by strangers who might identify him and want to harm him. He didn't seem to notice the tension in the set of her shoulders as he hurried to take his bag through to his bedroom. She watched him go and then rubbed her hand across her face.
"It's only a trip to the store, Sarah."
She looked up at Derek and nodded. "I know that. And I know he's going to have to do a lot of the work in the city." They had already discussed who would take responsibility for what research and where, with Sarah still being deemed too recognizable to do much beyond visit the local library. "But it doesn't mean I have to like it."
"No," he said quietly. "I guess not."
He left her alone and headed back out to the truck.
Resting her hands on the cool metal of the sink, she peered through the window at the mess of overgrown grass and weeds that covered their yard. She could hear the distant buzz of traffic from the freeway and a helicopter circling a neighborhood away to the south. She felt homesick for the ocean and the peace of the cabana, and then angry at her selfish desire to have stayed hidden there. They still had a mission and she still had a promise to keep. She pushed herself upright, picked up her bag and went to see which of the two bedrooms her son had left her.
. . . . .
. . . . .