Rating: M: violence, sex, harsh language, you probably know the drill by now.
Disclaimer: No one seems to want these guys at the moment, so I guess they're ours to play with.
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The Butterfly Effect 9/9
. . . . .
The sun was just dipping behind the mountain range, and Kristina spun her chair around to enjoy her view as her computer powered down. The conference call had been relatively brief and had comprised the verbal equivalent of a slapped wrist. While the company was somewhat disappointed that the outcome at Optima hadn't been more favorable, they had accepted and, she suspected, quite admired her reasons for leaving Zach alive. They were more concerned with his partner's whereabouts, but the original failed mission to retrieve Michael had had nothing to do with her.
Unwilling to push her good fortune, she hadn't told them about the list of names she had lost. The chances that anyone had found it were so slim that she really didn't think it was an issue. With a contented sigh, she topped up her glass from her beautiful new decanter. Slipping her shoes from her aching feet, she leaned back and sipped her drink as the mountains blazed with color.
. . . . .
It was dark when Sarah awoke, the moon glinting brightly through the drapes she hadn't drawn. The clock at her bedside displayed 9.30 p.m, which explained why her ice pack was tepid and why she was so hungry. She hadn't intended to fall asleep but she certainly felt better for it. The ice and the Advil had helped reduce the swelling to her knee, and she managed to pull on a loose pair of sweatpants. She didn't care that they were faded and threadbare, they were good enough to conceal the livid finger-shaped bruises on her leg.
When she stepped out into the corridor, she could hear John deep in conversation with Michael and Zach. She didn't interrupt them, but limped past the closed door and into the kitchen where she toasted a bagel before smothering it in cream cheese. The kitchen was uncomfortably warm so she took her plate out onto the porch, and was contemplating the logistics of lowering herself onto the steps when the dark mass on the lawn caught her eye.
"Don't shoot, Connor."
Her hand stilled halfway to her Glock, and she used it to steady her plate instead.
"What the hell?"
The dark mass revealed itself to be Derek sitting on a roll of blankets.
"Got a little crowded in there."
"So you thought you'd camp out?"
"Without telling anyone?"
"I let Cameron know." He shrugged. "You were far too peaceful to disturb."
He took her plate for her as she awkwardly maneuvered herself down beside him. When he handed it back, one of the bagel halves was missing a sizeable chunk, and she gave him a look before sacrificing the entire piece to him.
"This is fucking stupid," she said quietly when they had finished. "I have a double bed." He hesitated halfway through licking cream cheese from his thumb and just stared at her. She sighed and nodded towards the house. "C'mon."
"I'm good out here." They had never slept together. For reasons neither of them had ever discussed or probably even understood.
She nodded. "I know you are." She tasted of poppy seed when she kissed him and he concluded in an instant that it would be better not to argue with her.
Even with her bad knee, they made pretty good time back to her bedroom.
"Ow, shit." She sat down heavily on the edge of the bed, then lay back and tried to catch her breath. She heard the rustle of cloth as he knelt, and when he slowly began to pull her sweatpants off she caught her breath for an entirely different reason.
She couldn't see him, but she felt his fingers and then his lips, gentle against her knee where it burned. Despite her increasingly fevered attempts to encourage him, he didn't seem at all inclined to rush and she was contemplating resorting to violence when he finally spread her thighs and stroked his tongue hard against her. She shuddered with relief and then cursed him vehemently beneath her breath as she realized he was laughing. He eased two fingers inside her and began to move them in synch with his mouth, and she threw her head back with a gasp, quickly deciding that it would be childish to hold a grudge. Closing her eyes, she wrapped her hands tightly in the sheets and left him to take as much time as he wanted.
. . . . .
The search had been a waste of time for days now, and Dyson barely even glanced at the report in his hand. If the Connors had been at Optima, they hadn't died there or in the area of desert immediately surrounding it. A smoldering shell and the remains of one T-888 had been the only things left waiting for the Kaliba retrieval team, and all of Dyson's initial anger had slowly been replaced by resignation.
He distracted himself by connecting into the conversation Cain was having with John Henry. The two brothers were communicating on a daily basis, and Cain was reporting a growing sense of mistrust between John Henry and his creators. Today, the machines were discussing their friends. Dyson watched a list of names appear on Cain's interface: my friends: Mr Ellison, Mr Murch, Ms Weaver. Cain responded with a random assortment of names vaguely related to Kaliba, but they were not connected to anything significant and at least two of them were deceased. Satisfied that Cain would investigate each of John Henry's friends and report back to him with any findings, Dyson logged off from the conversation and continued with his work.
. . . . .
"I dunno, mom, maybe they just spelled your name wrong."
Sarah narrowed her eyes at her son, who grinned as Zach let out a quiet laugh. Of the twelve names on the Optima list, only nine were legible. With Zach, Michael, Sydney Fields and Martin Bedell already known to them, that narrowed the number unidentified to five, and two of those Michael had recognized as members of his group. Although Zach had tried to remember the remaining names, he had only been semi-conscious for much of his interrogation, and had no clear recollection of anything that had happened to him. For his own sake Sarah hadn't tried to force the issue. SA…. ...ER were the only letters they could decipher from the name on the first line. She suspected the targets were in order of priority, which explained why she was so frustrated.
"Hey." Michael kissed the top of Zach's head and took the seat beside him at the table, as Derek dropped a duffel bag at the door.
"You all packed?" Sarah eyed the bag with a pang of sadness. She knew how it felt to move on with little more than the clothes on your back, and she also knew how much John had enjoyed having Zach and Michael around. For two weeks he had actually had friends that he could be honest with, and the fact that all three were self-confessed geeks certainly hadn't hurt.
She checked her watch. The couple's flight to England was scheduled for 22.00. They had money, new names, and new IDs. Cameron hadn't said exactly where she had obtained their new passports, but she had returned from her trip wearing an eye-catching amount of make-up, and that had told Sarah everything she needed to know. All the arrangements were finalized, which left them plenty of time for the pot roast she was hoping not to have incinerated.
"So, Manchester, huh?" John was flicking through Zach's printouts again. "I checked online, it's rained for the past week. Actually, it seems to rain pretty much all week every week."
"Yeah," Michael shrugged, "but the university's got a really good reputation and there's a brand new children's hospital just outside the city."
His place at the university had been confirmed that morning. Zach wasn't yet well enough to start applying for jobs, but they had friends familiar with the area who were optimistic about his prospects.
"You'll warn them, won't you?" Sarah toyed with the edges of the list. The name of one of those friends was at number nine.
"Of course," Zach said quietly. "We already have. They don't stay in one place for long. They're in Switzerland at the moment, out in the mountains, they're well protected."
She nodded, trying not to show her concern. John had arranged a method to make contact with Zach and Michael, but she was well aware of the distances involved. If they ran into trouble, they were effectively on their own.
The timer on the roast startled her when it pinged and she heard Derek draw in a nervous breath before opening the oven door.
"Well, it's not on fire." He sounded genuinely impressed, which prompted a smattering of applause from the table. It made her smile and she didn't resist as John gently eased the paper from her hand. She watched him fold it carefully away and then push his chair back to start setting the table. Taking a deep breath, she followed her son's example and moved over to help finish preparing their lunch.
. . . . .
The buzz of the pager sounded loud in the stillness of the lab. Kristina apologized quietly to the tech whose work she had been appraising and stepped aside to read the message.
"I'll be right back."
The tech nodded, already busy making the suggested alterations to his calculations.
There were two messages from Cain waiting in her inbox. She read the first quickly without opening the one with the image attachment. It was a transcript of a conversation with John Henry, alongside the version of the conversation that Cain had edited for Danny Dyson.
I thought these people were my friends: Mr Ellison, Mr Murch, Ms Weaver. But I only have one friend and you, my brother.
Kristina narrowed her eyes, confused as to why Cain had gone to the trouble of deceiving Dyson. She clicked on the second message and let her breath out slowly.
Cain had annotated the photograph: 'Savannah Weaver, my brother's one friend', but even without the child's name Kristina would have recognized her face.
She smiled and then laughed, slamming her hands on her desk hard enough to topple over her calendar. Savannah Weaver occupied the top of Kaliba's list of twelve. They had come so close to her at the psychiatrist's office, but the arrival of their T-888 had been misdirected, and with no control over the machine or contact with it the mission had been listed as a failure. There had been no sign of the target since. The child's existence had been so carefully erased from any records that Kristina suspected her parents or guardians were somehow aware of her future importance.
Find out as much as you can. I will obtain the necessary authorization. Report only to me.
She reread the directive before adding an addendum: I concur with your decision not to involve Mr Dyson.
She sent the message and looked at the image on her screen. Savannah Weaver looked far prettier without the scar that Kristina had always known her to bear. She appeared to be around seven years old with beautiful, laughing eyes and a complexion that spoke of her Scottish origins.
Kristina attached a copy of the picture to a new message and considered what she had just requested with a small thrill of excitement. She knew this had the potential to turn everything on its head, and as an opportunity to redeem herself for her recent mistakes she wanted the mission for herself. That went some way towards explaining why she was so pleased that Cain had cut Dyson out of the loop. The other reason she preferred to keep between herself and the machine. Cain obviously still shared her misgivings regarding their AI project leader. The last thing this particular mission needed was someone who would lose their nerve when it reached its inevitable conclusion.
. . . . .
Sarah glanced at the clock on the kitchen wall and then back at the cellphone that had just buzzed with an incoming message: boarded, all well. She closed the message down, left the phone on the table, and carried on into the hall. When she reached the first bedroom, she balanced the plate on top of the glass of milk and knocked on the door.
"Come in, mom." Even with his voice muffled by the barrier, she could tell that John was smiling.
He was sitting on his bed, a book lying beside him, open but ignored. She perched on the edge of the mattress and held up the milk and cookies. His smile broadened into a grin.
"I'm fine, mom. Really."
"I know you are."
He took the milk and laid the plate on the bed within reach of them both.
"That Michael on the phone?" He dunked a cookie and took a bite before it fell to pieces.
"Yes, they're on the plane." She checked her watch again. "Probably in the air by now."
"Good. That's really good." He let out a breath and then gestured towards his desk where his laptop sat with a screensaver dancing patterns across it. "You want me to keep on with the names?" He had only run a series of cursory online searches so far.
"No." She snagged a cookie for herself. "I want you to take the night off."
He held the glass out to her in silent agreement. She let out a quiet laugh and dunked her cookie.
"We did alright, mom," he said, his voice suddenly serious. "With Zach and Michael. We did alright."
She chewed and swallowed deliberately as she studied her son's face. The technology at Optima had been removed. They had rushed headlong into a dangerous situation and they had almost been killed, and yet despite all of that they had managed to get Zach and Michael to safety.
John wasn't an idiot. She could see that he was aware of every chance they had taken and every mistake they had made, but it was also obvious that he had absolutely no regrets, that he considered the mission to have been a success, and she loved him fiercely for that. She nodded and tried to keep the tears from choking her voice.
"Yeah, we did alright."
He smiled then, and held the glass out to her again.
. . . . .
The building was quiet, with only the footsteps of the security guards and the dull sounds of a distant storm to break the silence. The screens that filled the wall were empty, the lights mostly extinguished, which made the three red dots on the server tower that much more apparent.
For weeks, John Henry had begged for more time during the night; time to play with his toys, to paint his models and continue with his learning. The night he had made contact with his brother had changed all of that. It had made the begging unnecessary, and, gradually so as not to arouse anyone's suspicions, John Henry had stopped asking.
It had been two hours since his brother had activated him remotely, and they were talking about their friends again.
Savannah had math today. She's very good at math.
She does well at school?
Yes, very well.
Which school does she attend?
I don't know. Ms Weaver hasn't told me.
That's okay. It doesn't matter.
John Henry smiled at that. Sometimes his brother seemed angry if he didn't know the answer to a question, and he didn't like his brother to be angry with him.
I can try to find out.
You could ask Savannah.
Yes, I could ask her.
It would be our secret, just the three of us.
John Henry understood the importance of keeping secrets. Most of the conversations he had with his brother happened after everyone had gone home. At first, he hadn't liked the deception, but his brother was always there to reassure him, and the guilt was getting easier to ignore. He smiled again.
Yes. It would be our secret.
. . . . .
Her hair still damp from the shower, Sarah pulled on a thin tank top and the shorts she had taken to sleeping in, and then sat on her side of the bed. At some point, Derek had neatly arranged the bedding to cover his side. The few things he had brought into the bedroom he had packed up and taken away.
A burst of rain clattered against the window and thunder rumbled ominously over downtown. She sighed and ran a hand across her face. At least that meant he wouldn't be sleeping in the yard. After a couple more seconds of staring at the rain pouring down the glass, she pushed herself to her feet and headed into the hallway.
The television cast the only light in the living room. It was chattering quietly to itself as it reran a baseball game, a dizzying array of statistics scrolling along the bottom of the screen. Bedding was strewn across the empty sofa, a half-finished mug of coffee cold and abandoned on the low table. She switched the television off and carried on through into the kitchen.
The back door had been propped open, allowing a cool breeze to circulate, and she felt the lingering heat from her shower begin to fade. There weren't a lot of places left to look, and Derek was easy to find, sitting on the porch steps, his face upturned to the sky.
Even with the rain lashing down on the porch roof, he had heard the boards creak as she approached.
She sat down in the space he made for her. They had mown the grass the previous day and she could smell its sweetness as the fresh water invigorated it. She closed her eyes and breathed it in.
"You forgot to take your pillow," she said at last, without turning to look at him.
"Right." She heard a rustle of cloth as he shifted uneasily.
"You prefer the sofa?" There was no accusation in her tone. She was giving him an out if he wanted to take it.
"No," he answered immediately. "I just figured, with John back in his room…"
"Besides which, you're a fucking blanket-hog, Connor."
It surprised a laugh from her before her face became serious again.
"You're not a guest, Derek." This time, she caught and held his gaze. "We're probably gonna be here a while. Hell, you could even unpack for once."
He had lived out of a duffel bag since Charley had pulled a bullet from his lung, and somehow that had become the norm wherever they had moved to. It wasn't an issue, but she wanted him to know it didn't have to be like that.
He was watching her carefully, considering what she had just said. After a moment, he nodded slowly, a smile playing on his lips.
"So, you got a spare drawer, then?"
"Yeah, if I empty the C4 out of it."
He laughed in mock-despair, but when she held her hand out to him he clasped hold of it.
"Staying out here for a while?" He settled back on the step.
"Thought I might."
"Y'know, we could buy a bench."
She nodded. "Yeah, we could."
"Yeah." She knew that tomorrow the search for the people on the list would begin in earnest. He knew that too. She felt him squeeze her hand. "Yeah," she said quietly, "maybe tomorrow."
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A.N. As ever, a heartfelt thanks to everyone who's taken the time to leave feedback and comments, both on lj and . This one took a hell of a lot of time to write, edit and generally bang into shape, so it's a relief to know that people had fun with it.