NOTES: This is a sequel to "Fuzzy Dice" and "The Killer I Created". I strongly recommend reading the previous stories first.

SUMMARY: John and Cameron have moved to an isolated and idyllic Northwest town so they can raise their daughter in peace and seclusion from the world. Then the killing starts happening. Sequel to "Fuzzy Dice" and "The Killer I Created".

DISCLAIMER: All characters herein are the property of someone other than me. No profit has been earned.


"Land of the Living"
Chapter 10
T.R. Samuels

"I want you to stay here and keep out of sight."

Sarah frowned with mounting dissatisfaction as her mother made room for her inside the bowels of a wooden storage crate. Part of its contents had already been removed or repositioned to make room for her accommodation, and she now sported her latest fashion—two combat vests tied together to create an impromptu armour-plated blanket.

"If you hear someone coming, pull this over yourself and stay as still and as quiet as possible," her mother provided further instructions.

Sarah scrunched her lips with disgruntlement; so far her father's rescue was not going as she'd planned. "But I want to help," she enthused as Cameron took her beneath the arms and lifted her effortlessly into the crate.

"You are helping…" Cameron insisted with expert neutrality, "…by staying here."

Sarah was not to be dissuaded.

"But I can help."

Her mother raised a dubious eyebrow, but made sure as to not seem as though she were dismissing her daughter's pleas out-of-hand. The last few hours had clearly indicated that Sarah was far from completely helpless.

"You cannot call upon your… friend now." Cameron reminded her, "and I won't be able to function as effectively if I'm concerned for your wellbeing."

Sarah bristled, "but I…"

Cameron raised a stern finger, drawing the girl's attention to her even sterner eyes. Sarah could be headstrong to excess on occasion—encouraged, no doubt, by John's genes and indulgences—but now was not the time.

"Stay here," she ordered. Then for added measure, "I mean it."

For a moment, it didn't seem as though Sarah would back down. Then the defeat on her daughter's face became palpable and she shrank down into the crate like a wilting flower. All seemed satisfactory, but then Cameron detected that the girl's manner had adopted just the slightest nuance of masterfully feigned innocence. Her emerald eyes were tempered for resistance and her breathing had become regular and resolute.

Cameron's eyes drew together—skulduggery was afoot.

"Your body language and autonomic intonations are virtually identical to previous instances of disobedience. You will comply with my instructions."

Sarah girded her hind teeth together. It was difficult and grossly unfair that a mother should have such a perfect recollection of one's litany of misdeeds. She wished she was more like her father; he didn't have such a good memory and could never stay mad at her long. She had ways of breaking his resolve too—with tears and doe-eyes and cherubic acts of adorability.

Her mother was immune to such persuasions.

"I will be very disappointed if you disobey me," the words were stern, but the words were spoken in an anger-less statement. "You have proven multiple times that you can be wayward and prone to impulsion."

Cameron had to be clever here. Sarah was as wilful as her father and it had taken years to break him in.

"I know. I'm sorry." Sarah tilted her head down and looked up at her mother though butterfly eyelashes and soul-destroying green eyes, big and glistening and gorgeous. She smiled like an angel, as though butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. "Love you mom…"

Cameron made like Glacier Peak—icy and immutable.

She leaned in closer and gave the girl a look of pure thunder that would make even the most suicidal of Resistance fighters think twice.

"Stay here," she said with a mother's lethality, "or else."

Sarah froze up at her mother's calm severity, swallowing what felt like an entire chocolate cookie without any milk.

"Okay," she submitted finally, crossing her arms with a dramatic huff as the rebel inside her balled its fists.

Tenderness enveloped the place in Cameron's chest that otherwise would contain a heart. Despite her criticism to the contrary, she was illogically proud of her daughter's rebellious streak. Perhaps because it reminded her so much of John, or that deep down, Cameron was just as much a defiant chalk to loyal terminator cheese.

She leaned in a kissed her daughter on the cheek with all the love and tenderness she had.

"I love you very much and I'm proud of you," she assured her. "Nothing is more important to me than you—not even your father." She leaned back and looked down upon a now flummoxed expression. It was very difficult, even at the best of times, for Cameron to articulate her feelings. At this moment, looking down at the innocuous face of her child, it felt all but impossible.

"I have to be something I haven't been for a long time," she tried to begin. "I'm not human, but I do understand the value of human life. For a long time I didn't, and it made me very good at what I was made to do," she tried to continue, but the words wouldn't come.

Sarah ruffled her brow, "what made you different?"

Cameron thought as hard as she could, scanning the nanoseconds of conscious thought that lay stored in the quantum network of her vast and impeccable memory. Her mouth spread into a genuine smile, the kind that made John fall to his knees and capitulate to anything.

"Your father," she said simply, as if the words were synonymous with divinity and liberty and everything good and noble that it made her want to savour every syllable. She smiled at that—John was not particularly spiritual, nor did he believe in any god. The most pious he became was during and immediately prior to an ejaculation.

"Everything good about your father is within you… and I won't allow that to die."

She gave her daughter one last kiss and then reached for the container lid, sliding the timber plinth closed. Her chest contracted as she sealed it shut, like she was closing a coffin, but so long as she kept anyone from passing her on her imminent journey up the train, then Sarah would be perfectly safe.

Her main concern now was for her husband—if he was still alive.

The caboose obviously served as the armoury of the train, bristling with every constituent of the mercenaries' impressive arsenal. As Cameron moved into the interior she came upon racks of assaults rifles, SMGs, hand guns, shotguns, packs of plastic explosive, grenades in every flavour, and strongbox-after-strongbox of clinking ammunition. If Cameron could dream, then this would be it—and nothing short of John's expertise could bring her this close to heaven.

She considered an M4A1 carbine assault rifle with a grenade launcher undercarriage, but quickly reconsidered—the fighting would be close quarters, making the weapon's length slow and unwieldy. John would be amongst the mercenaries too and explosives would be too dangerous. She discarded it and moved on, scanning the racks of weaponry with a connoisseur's eye and soon came upon a compact MP5 submachine gun. Very small and very accurate. She took it and inserted a full magazine and cocked it before wrapping its sling around her shoulder.

Next she found a Remington 870 shotgun with a saddle shell holder and foldable stock. This would be good, she thought, especially in the narrow confines of the carriages that would funnel mercenaries to her and capitalise on the scattering shot and lack of penetration that an assault rifle had. Cameron was a big believer in the shotgun. She hadn't always been—in her 'youth' it had been automatics all the way. Perhaps parenthood had mellowed her, or maybe she'd just grown wiser. She took the weapon up and fed round after fat round of cartridges into its hungry belly and filled the shell holder full.

There were two of her favourite Glock-17s on an upper shelf. Good ones as well. They had the finger stepping and cuts to the backstrap of their frames. It made them easier to hold than previous models. She took them and a pair of magazines for each before pushing back their sliders and tucking them into the back rim of her jeans.

The door from the caboose to the next carriage of the train stood ahead. Once she passed beyond, she was committed. She had a plan in mind, a critical component of which was that she allowed no one to pass her, least they retreat to the caboose and find a hiding Sarah. The mercenaries had to be pushed forward towards the head of the train, carrying fear and defeat like a plague to infect the mercenaries she hadn't faced yet, weakening their resolve and instilling terror from within.

Cameron did not experience fear the way humans did, but she understood its effects on them. Fear was a paralytic, robbing them of the one ability that set them a part from the animals, the same ability that made humans so dangerous—thinking. Thinking humans were organised humans, and she had seen many times what organised humans were capable of.

Fear destroys will. Break their will and you break them. John had said that to her once as they lay entwined in their cabin years ago after a bout of lovemaking—such was the pillow talk between a man you loved military strategy and a woman who loved shooting guns.

She hoped she wasn't too late. John would be buying time and waiting for the most opportune moment, she knew. But what if his captors had grown tired of waiting? What if they'd seen through his obfuscation? What if they would kill him the moment she launched her attack? What if Derek's transmission had been wrong and John wasn't on the train at all and she had endangered Sarah for nothing?

What if John was already dead?

That was the truth of it, what she feared more than anything. If John died she didn't know what she would do. She would be alone and frightened and raising Sarah by herself might be beyond her. She couldn't do it without John and his instincts in all things about Sarah, and the girl would be distraught without her father.

She felt her arms and legs stiffen with her increasingly morbid thoughts, robbing her of the decisiveness to act little pieces at a time. Doubt was like a lead balloon that inflated inside her, weighing her down and making her rethink decisions that only moments ago were crystal-clear in her mind. She began searching her memories for relevant data:

Better to make a wrong decision then make no decision at all, John had said to her once.

But the price of a wrong decision was so high.

Sometimes you just have to roll the dice, he'd said after she'd lost a game.

Cameron had never understood gambling.

Nine times out of ten, your first instinct is the right one, as far as she knew, she didn't have any instincts, other than to shoot first and ask questions later.

"Mom?" The unexpectedness of Sarah's voice shocked her out of her thoughts. She turned and saw the girl peaking out from beneath the crate lid, her eyes bright orbs bathed in shadow. "Are you going to do anything?" she asked uncertainly.

Cameron was about to berate her for coming out of hiding, but instead her mouth turned upwards, thankful as the certainty and resolve rolled back into her like the tide.

"Get back in the crate," she said gently. "I'll be back with your father soon."

Sarah obeyed with a happy smile, and the moment she heard the lid slide shut again, Cameron turned to the doorway, drew her new shotgun, and kicked the door to the first carriage to splinters.

####

"Are you in or are you out, John?" the Engineer demanded in a final ultimatum.

John gave the man across from him the courtesy of at least thinking about it, despite the fact he had already made up his mind.

On the other side of the table sat Phillips, looking like a dour and aloof bank manager in his impeccable suit and gold cufflinks that probably cost more than John earned in a year. He was watching him through narrowed eyes, looking for defiance or disagreement. He had a talent, John had noticed, for looking at people who disagreed with him as though they were crazy.

Beyond the Engineer stood the Delivery Guy—straight as a statue, eyes of flinty stone boring into him like drill bits. He—it—had a talent for looking at people as though they were already dead.

Maybe I am, John thought. But then Phillips could have killed him a hundred times already. Despite their long conversation and brinkman arguments, John was all but certain that he still hadn't gotten to discovering what Phillips really wanted from him.

What can I possibly give him or Kaliba that he hasn't already got, or has taken from me?

Despite his words to the contrary, John still felt that the man's bitterness ran deep enough to project on to him all the years of anger and ill-feeling the Engineer and his former future-self had cultivated, and no amount of reasonable argument on his part would dissuade that.

Maybe he needs my help, he thought then. He might have some problem he can't solve on his own and needs someone with knowledge of the future to fix it. He smiled slightly at that—either things weren't as cushy in Kaliba as he'd like John to believe or the Engineer was simply too arrogant to ask.

Whatever his reasons, John had bought all the time he was likely to now, and it looked as though Cameron wasn't coming. He knew she was angry at him for letting Sarah go, but that last argument with her had hurt, and a moment of pessimism pained him deeply with the thought that she might have abandoned him. He didn't doubt her affection, but Cameron could be very cold and calculating when weighing up risks, and Sarah was worth his life twice over.

They had agreed long ago, after they'd not long become parents, that Sarah would always come before either of them.

I guess it's time to pay the piper, he thought sullenly. It left a foul taste in his mouth, even worse than the wine. But if he was going to live, then he'd have to give Phillips what he wanted.

"Okay," John raised his palms in surrender. "You were right, I was wrong. You've proved that you're far more capable than I am at stopping Skynet and saving humanity." He put his hands in his lap and looked contrite. "You prevented Judgement Day and it looks like you've got everything else figured out too. Kaliba has Skynet and the Resistance's technology now and, like you said, there's money to be made. Take it from me, kids aren't cheap. If you're the man with the plan, then I want to me a part of it. If you agree to leave my family alone, I'll help you."

Not enough. John had to go all in or not at all.

"I'll work for you," he clarified, his voice quivering in defeat.

The Engineer looked at him with those pale blue eyes for a long time, looking more fearsome than John had ever seen him as Delivery Guy began stepping around beside him.

This is it, John thought with finality.

But then Phillips raised a hand and the terminator stopped in its tracks.

A smile then slowly emerged across his mouth, etching a swathe of deep satisfaction that instantly made John want to smack it off his face. But he was committed now. He was playing the hand he'd been dealt and it was either going to kill him or save him.

Don't show your hand now, he thought. He still needed to make it look like he was torn.

"Enjoy it while it lasts," he put in for good measure.

Phillips took the minor insult in his stride. He was too pleased to be angry now.

"I can't tell you how long I've waited to see you crawl," he began, raising his hands before him and twirling a silver cigarette lighter between his thumb and finger. "You don't know how I've longed to see your sanctimonious, dim-witted, smug face beaten and driven from my memory forever." His voice had become a growl, the rage and hate broiling over the rim. "Which is probably why I'm having such a hard time buying it and don't believe a single word that you've said."

Above everything, John had to admit, the Engineer was an intelligent man. His only real failing, as far as John could tell, was that he had a need for other people to recognise he was an intelligent man. Genius always needs an audience.

"Yeah, you're right," John shrugged, done for now and partly glad the bullshit was over. "I'm not interested in dealing with you and I won't surrender who I am," he growled himself a little bit with his own loathing. "Your idea of a future is bat-shit and you won't live long enough to see it." He nodded at Delivery Guy as the terminator stood sentry a few feet away. "Your soldiers are either bought mercenaries or reprogrammed machines. Mine are free-thinkers and devout. I don't need to pay them for their loyalty. Look at the hell just one of them as already given you… and he isn't even my best one. Cameron's still to come."

"I'm terrified, John."

He wasn't. If anything, the only emotion the Engineer felt was indifference to Connor's threat. "I'm sure the fifty or so soldiers I have on this train will be terrified too." He turned to the one standing closest, an inert looking thug with a tattoo that rose up is neck like flame and a blood-red mohawk haircut.

"This guy's wife?" He blurted in ignorance. "We'll enjoy fucking the bitch up every way imaginable and handing you what's left, bitch."

One of John's eyes widened and the other shrunk. He didn't even feel mad about the way he spoke of Cameron.

"They don't know, do they?" he directed at the Engineer, nearly laughing. He spoke more loudly then, for the benefit of every mercenary in earshot. "Cameron's the most advanced terminator Skynet ever built. She'll be the one doing the fucking, but you won't enjoy a second of it." He did laugh then, pitying these half-assed hired hands. He faced Phillips again, "I'd bet the best of mine against the best of yours any day, Daniel. And I wouldn't count Derek out yet either."

"I would." The terminator spoke for the first time in ages.

Neither it nor its master looked particularly intimidated, but John caught out of the corner of his eye a couple of the mercenaries looking at one another, and suddenly, the way out came to John in a flash.

"Just so you know," John sat up and spoke to the mercenaries directly, ignoring Phillips and Delivery Guy entirely. "Any one that stands down now can walk away. You won't be pursued by me, and Daniel here won't be in a position to chase you either."

"Any man who leaves here won't get paid." Phillips raised his own voice, but it sounded just a tad less confident than John's.

"That may be," John shrugged. "But you can't get paid if you're dead either."

The wave of uncertainty rolling through the mercs grew stronger. Some were still resolute, others exchanging glances. The ones furthest away spoke to one another in hushed whispers. Then one of them took a few steps back, as though he were about to walk off somewhere.

Delivery Guy drew his gun before Phillips could stop him and turned the man's head into a burst of red spray. The body crumpled to the floor, the centre of a circle of stunned mercenaries. Another man bolted in fear and got two rounds through his back for his trouble and fell flat on his face.

"You leave, you die." The terminator stated flatly, eyes dead as diamonds.

Phillips looked panicked for an instant, but quickly covered it by nodding in approval and turned back to John with a forced smile. "As you can see, I do have a soldier that's loyal."

John didn't answer, he just took a drink of his water and tried to bury satisfied smile. An automaton, he thought, and I've just shortened you by two men and put fear and distrust amongst the others, you amateur.

"Shoot him in both his legs," Phillips ordered his terminator. "Then throw him off the train for the Cerberus."

Delivery Guy turned to John without a word and began reaching.

The train carriage jolted with a distant thunder. The lights flickered off and on. Everybody stopped moving, even the terminator, and watched the ceiling in silence.

"What was that?" one of the mercs asked.

They all heard something then, like the crack of hundreds of whips going off at the same time, somewhere off in the distance towards the back of the train.

Gunfire. Shouts. Screaming.

"Tell me what that was!" Phillips barked as Delivery Guy cocked his head at the sudden eruption of confused and panicked chatter emanating from his radio. He cocked his pistol and pointed it at John.

"Wait," Phillips held up his hand again, stopping it. "If this is who I think it is then he'll be a useful hostage for now."

Delivery Guy holstered his weapon without inflection and brought the radio to his ear. He was capable of discriminating and identifying millions of individual sounds, but what he heard now was still confusing. It seemed to be a number of transmissions jumbled on top of one another.

"Say again," he commanded coldly. "I don't understand what you are—"

####

"—I SAID WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!"

A lone mercenary, wild-eyed and terrified, looked up from where he was hiding behind a passenger seat just in time to see Cameron loom over him. She jacked her shotgun, flicking a smouldering cartridge away and then pumped the next one straight into the merc's chest.

The carriage was an enclosed capsule of anarchy and bloody carnage. There was yelling, screaming, blind panic. Cameron was the cold centre of it all as she moved slowly down the central isle, shooting everything living as it came into sight. Some mercenaries fought, others cowered and some tried to run. The luckiest made it out of the cabin towards the front of the train—but nothing got past her—and the ones that escaped for now were only prolonging the inevitable.

"Holy shit!" a mercenary screamed as her eyes fell on him next. His eyes nearly fell out of their sockets and he went pale and still. It was the same look all humans gave a gun-toting Cameron.

He went for his sidearm but her hand snatched out, grabbing his throat and snapped it before he even straightened to get to his feet.

A burly mercenary came on next, roaring out of his seat and rushed at her like a bull, trying to tackle her around the waist. All he got was a pneumatic fist to his face and a fatal cerebral haemorrhage for his trouble.

The mercs closest scramble away then, some on their hands and knees, others clambering over the backs of their seats, those furthest away went to load their assault rifles, still feeling brave.

Don't be a bullet magnet, Cam, she suddenly heard John's words in her head. Just try taking cover once in a while. You'll like it.

She had always secretly enjoyed the look of disbelief on an enemy's face when he fired a round into her chest to no avail. It was a sight to behold when the phoney confidence of a gun evaporated and was replaced by outright terror, stunning them into inaction or making them turn and run.

Cameron whirled the shotgun around and fired twice, putting down two men at the back that turned their heads to stumps and sent blood everywhere. Good, she thought. Humans hated the sight of blood. The remaining men looked to their fallen comrades, then at her, and she saw the look of terror that she wanted.

"Take her down," one of them roared. "Fucking now!"

From both sides of the aisle, mercenaries rose from their seats, using the backs of the ones in front of them for cover. Cameron whipped her MP5 around and sprayed the space ahead of her, shredding a man's chest to pieces and nearly cutting him in half. Another one exploded from a nearby chair, much nearer than she expected. This one was female too, the first Cameron had seen, smaller and less noticeable than the males. It wouldn't save her.

Cameron backhanded her so hard that the woman went straight through the window, taking a chair headrest and half the window frame with her in a high-pitched scream that followed her out like a banshee wail.

"Eat this!"

Cameron turned to the scream and saw a rifle stock swinging at her like a fire axe. She grabbed it mid-swing. The attacker was stopped cold and Cameron put a boot to his chest, sending the body into the three men coming up behind and knocked them to the floor in a heap of splayed limbs. As they lay sprawled she flipped her weapon around and sent an upwards spray of automatic fire, drilling them into bloodied oblivion until the magazine was spent.

She dropped the automatic and took up her shotgun again. She had advanced halfway up the aisle of the cabin and the mercenaries that remained had been reduced to a skeleton force of ill-armoured rabble that cowered in corners, hysterical and begging for divine mercy. One was even trying to squeeze himself under a seat.

"NO! Don't kill us! We surrender!"

These were the men that had invaded her home—the ones that had taken her husband and her daughter. Cameron's face went hard as steel.

She gave them the same mercy any terminator would.

By now the occupants of the next train car would be on their feet, armed and alerted. Sure enough, once she was finished with the cowards, the door burst open and a squad of fully armed and armoured mercs poured in, taking stock of the bloody devastation that greeted them before balking at her lone presence.

"Who the fuck are you?!" one of them, another female, yelled down the barrel of an assault rifle. They must have been kept in reserve for some reason Cameron couldn't fathom—maybe because the deaths of female soldiers affected the moral of troops more so than males.

This one dies next, she decided.

The mercs fired first. She felt the hailstorm of bullets ripple her chest, two glancing off her cheek and forehead before drew one of her Glocks with one hand and shot each of them through the head. She holstered the small arm and methodically reloaded her arsenal, stepping over her latest pile of corpses and entered the second cabin, utter carnage in her wake.

She decided not to waste time in the next car. She kicked the slow moving door off its hinges, brought up her MP5 and sprayed the whole interior with a torrent of full auto fire, tracking and identifying each target in the nanoseconds between shots and redecorated everything in blood red, bile yellow and brain matter grey. She used an economy of bullets this time—headshots wherever possible, centre mass when not—scanning for and finding the weaknesses between armour plates where bullets could taste flesh.

"Arrrrhhh!"

Cameron whirled at the war cry, but somehow a mercenary had gotten behind her and was coming at her with a knife. He jumped on her back, his whole body brought up short when she didn't topple over before plunging it into the base of her neck. The blade slid down behind her ribs of hyper-alloy, down to the hilt. If she were human it would have severed her carotid artery, maybe even punctured her lung. But Cameron wasn't human.

The look of victory that had spread over his face when the knife went in drained out of him as Cameron turned her head casually, meeting his far out gaze before she flipped him down onto the aisle in front of her. When he tried to scurry away she slammed her boot on his coccyx and he wailed in pain. She had never done this before, but the other mercenaries were watching in disbelief and she wanted them to see.

Her hand stabbed into the small of his back, fingers digging through the flesh and muscle. The man threw his head back and screamed until his throat drowned in fluid and she tore his spine out of his back, snapping the column like a whip as it came to the end and the head came off his shoulders.

She raised her eyes to the suddenly still compartment, raising the spinal column like an old lantern and turned it so the upended head stared back at the other mercenaries.

The sound from the mercs was like a collective gasp, a rush of air that emptied the cabin. One was shaking her head, another looked like he was about to burst into tears, two more threw up. They looked more frightened than any humans Cameron had ever seen and they continued staring at her as she pulled the knife out of her shoulder, dropping it and her hellish trophy on the floor.

"FUCK THAT!" one of them screamed and threw down his gun. He turned and burst through the door behind him into the next carriage like the devil was on his heels. A heartbeat later the others followed, almost wedging themselves in the doorway as they squabbled and scrambled to push through two at a time in a human mass of panicky breath and profanity.

Cameron flipped out a dud cartridge from her shotgun that had failed to fire and took her time reloading, gorging her faithful companion the fat shells it craved. The time she took would allow the terror to spread forward and do half the work for her. With any luck, John would be doing what he did best by capitalising on that fear with a few unsettling truths about what was to come that would exacerbate them even further.

She smiled slightly at the irony of that as she jacked the first round and started walking: the only hope the mercenaries had now was if they threw themselves down at John's feet and begged him to call her off.

Nothing short of her husband's mercy could save their lives now.

####

Phillips rose out of his chair and shoved a handgun in John's face.

"Find out what's happening," he barked at Delivery Guy. "And if it's her, bring me her fucking head."

The terminator hesitated for only a moment, giving John the briefest glance before it turned and strode out of the door into the kitchen carriage and headed down the train.

Phillips watched it go before returning his attention to John.

"She won't get past him," he assured. "Her model isn't designed for combat. She's just an infiltrator and assassin. That's how she was designed. I should know."

John reached for his water and casually hooked one leg over the other, staring down the Engineer's gun like it was a water pistol. It might as well have been—hell would freeze over before Phillips would pull the trigger. John's death would only seal his own now.

"Too bad I didn't mention those limitations while I was encouraging her to be all she could be," he smirked.

Phillips tore the radio off his belt and thrust it under John's nose. "Call her off."

"You assume she's even got a radio."

"She's got everything else. Call her off."

John shook his head.

Phillips pulled back the hammer with his thumb. "You tell her to stand down right now, or I'll empty this whole magazine in your face."

"Kill me, and you kill yourself," he took a sip of the cool water and tongued an ice cube into his mouth, watching the sweat beading on the Engineer's forehead as his face turned red with fury.

"Go and help him," he barked at the handful of mercenaries that remained, waving his gun after Delivery Guy.

None of them made a move.

In fact, John had noted, their demeanour seemed much emboldened now the terminator was gone. Especially Mohawk's.

"I don't think that's such a good idea," Mohawk said as he took a step forward, setting himself up rather quickly as the group's self-appointed spokesperson. "Y'see, me and the guys have been doing some rethinking."

John wished he'd had a camera when he saw the look of sheer ignominy on the Engineer's face. "You fuc…" He turned to them and was about to say something rather rude and unwise, in John's opinion. Fortunately, at least for him, the reality of three gun-toting mercenaries made him catch his tongue.

"There's suddenly not a lot of profit in this for us," Mohawk said, then nodded toward John. "Like he said, we can't get paid if we're dead."

Another merc piped up then, "Come to think about it, I ain't seen any money yet in any case."

John thought he'd stir the pot, giving Phillips a look of incredulity. "You mean you didn't even pay them upfront?" He shook his head with mocking distain. "If I was running things, I'd see that my guys were flush before there was any work to be done."

Phillips smacked the side of John's head with the butt of his gun. "Shut up!"

"I don't know," Mohawk took another step forward, this time flanked by both of his compatriots. He gestured a fat thumb at John, "He's the only one that's been talking any sense. I might like to hear a little more."

When Phillips turned around he had collected himself, sliding his gun in his jacket pocket as approached the mercenaries, palms up and outstretched. "Gentlemen," he started. "If your remuneration is what's troubling you, then allow me to alleviate your concerns."

Bad move, John thought through the throbbing of his head. You don't talk down to men like these or lord over them like you were their betters.

Phillips went over to the nearby mini-bar and retrieved a fat briefcase from a cupboard behind the counter. He brought it back to the table and deposited it in front of John, spun the dials on either lock and opened it for them all to see.

In any other situation, John's jaw would have been on the floor. The mercenaries were appreciative too. The case was at least four inches deep at it narrowest point and filled to the brim with money. One of the mercs let out a long whistle.

"Now you've seen the money is real enough," Phillips said, leaving the case open to whet their appetites some more with the sight and smell of the used banknotes. "Now all you have to do is earn it."

Mohawk made a little nod of approval and so did his colleges, brofisting behind their leader's back, their eyes never leaving the mound of cash—until they turned toward John as if to see if he could do better.

"I'm as speechless as you guys," John rubbed his chin, feeling a little light headed himself at the sight of the cash. "Needless to say I can't match that offer."

Phillips made a haughty smile. That seemed to be that as far as the mercs were concerned, until an almighty ruckus suddenly erupted in the kitchen carriage beyond the doorway Delivery Guy had left by. There was a lot of crashing and banging, punctuated by gunshots, metal screeching and the dull thud of heavy impacts that shook the cabin so hard John feared for a moment that they might derail.

"Fortunately, my wife will be here in a few moments with our counterproposal."

The mercs glanced at one another, never looking away from the carriage door for very long as the mayhem going down beyond it rose in a crescendo, the sound of inhuman violence raging like a clash of titans, all of them mere mortals looking on. Phillips had broken out in a sweat again and as the mercs attention stayed riveted on the door, he had begun inching away toward the other end of the train.

"Somewhere you need to be, Daniel?" John supplied helpfully.

The mercs whirled around and drew their weapons, levelling them at the Engineer who raised his hands.

"Where the fuck are you going," Mohawk demanded. "I thought you said your guy could handle her? You not so sure any more?"

Phillips shook his head. "He can handle her," he reassured. "But we should stay out of the way." He gestured behind him, "My private cabin is…"

"Fuck your private cabin. Tell the driver to stop the train so we can get off."

Phillips raised a hand to forestall them, "We can't stop. We're in the middle of nowhere." The rumbles of war in the next carriage shook the train again, drawing closer. "There are worse things in the forest that will kill you."

The merc raised his rifle at him, "It's what's on this train right now that I'm worried about," he said. "How come it's taking your guy so long over this guy's wife?! Sounds like World War-fucking-Three in there!" As an added bonus, when the merc finished speaking there was a heavy thud that shook everything hard, like a wrecking ball had just taken out the adjacent carriage. The fighting continued almost immediately, but now it didn't sound like a fight. More like something getting punched and pounded into oblivion.

For a moment, John was worried about who was winning. The T888 was designed for combat, Cameron not so much.

Phillips on the other hand looked clannish and assured, certain that any moment now his loyal attack dog would return through the door victorious.

####

When Cameron entered the service carriage before reaching John, she saw the Engineer's terminator immediately. It was standing just beyond the closed doorway of the executive cabin, a statuesque sentinel guarding the entrance to its master's lair.

Cameron closed the door behind her and locked it, sealing off the trail of death she'd left in her wake, and glanced around.

The carriage was a mobile kitchen and service car. No doubt it could provide food for the multitude of passengers it could carry, but Cameron suspected that its main purpose was to keep the architect of the last few days in luxury.

The other terminator didn't move. It just stared at her from the other end of the cabin, barring her way like a roadblock.

"Surrender," Cameron said to it and began walking forward.

The machine cocked its head to the side. It almost looked surprised. It hadn't expected there to be any words—least of all words of clemency.

"Why?"

Cameron stopped a dozen feet away and looked up at the taller, meaner and more powerful machine like it was something annoying.

"I don't want to damage any of your components. I'll need them for spares." She said flatly. "I'm not getting any younger."

The machine looked at her as though she were speaking an alien language. Then when it realised she was mocking him, its eyebrows creased together and a rumble emanated from the back of its throat.

"That one's called 'anger'," Cameron taunted again. "You've been operating for a long time, haven't you."

It didn't answer. Instead it scanned her up and down, noting her bespoke design before identifying her as an unknown model. It cocked its head again, this time slightly troubled. Skynet had given the T888 detailed files on all of its creations—the fact that this seemingly lesser model was unknown to it was somewhat disquieting. What it could tell however was that she had significantly less mass than itself and, compared to other terminators, was not particularly strong.

When it got hold of her, the first thing it would do was twist her head off her shoulders and return it to the Engineer as a trophy.

Cameron's mouth curled at the edges and Delivery Guy noticed immediately.

"It's surprising how difficult emotions are to control, especially when you don't understand them," she said as she reached behind her back and undid the strap of her shotgun before letting it fall to the floor. "Unlike humans, we don't have a childhood to accustom ourselves to them." Her two Glocks followed after she ejected their magazines.

The terminator looked on, perplexed. It had seen a similar behaviour once before when a human soldier threw down its projectile weaponry and came at it with a rusty machete in an act of suicidal defiance and misplaced bravery to give his squad mates time to escape.

The little terminator didn't look suicidal though, and only the fearful could be brave.

She didn't look very fearful either.

"It can be very frightening to feel," she said, reading the invisible emotion on Delivery Guy's dour face, "and fear is an emotion too."

For some reason, the terminator began to dislike not only what she was saying, but the knowing way she was saying it, as though she had seen this all before and could anticipate his reactions before he had them. The certainty he had moments ago ebbed away and he felt compelled to interrupt her with some words of its own.

"You talk too much."

It broke into a sudden advance, feet heavy on the linoleum floor, coming on like a bulldozer.

Cameron stood motionless, her face an impassive mask, and the instant before Delivery Guy would have drove into her like a freight train she stepped aside, grabbed his reaching arm with both hands and flung the heavier machine around herself exactly 90 degrees, ploughing it headlong into the door of a tall refrigerator. Its head went straight through door's layers of outer stainless steel, foam insulation and lead lining before landing in a plate of freshly prepared hors d'oeuvres, smearing black caviar and pale hummus over its face.

Cameron wasted less than a second before grabbing a carving knife off a nearby magnetic hanger and stabbed the entire blade down through the machine's back, straight between the miniscule gap that existed between the hyperalloy plates before snapping the handle off so the blade could not be removed.

Like her T888 counterpart, Skynet had provided her with detailed files too.

Delivery Guy reacted immediately by trying to reach around and remove the blade of metal that had punctured his primary hydraulic unit, detecting the swiftly lowering pressure as the fluid filled his internal cavities and he began losing the use of his limbs.

A feeling tore through him, something alien and unlike anything he had ever experienced. Panic. He had gravely underestimated this other terminator, focussing on her lack of strength and mass and overlooking her speed and agility. Where he lacked any knowledge of her design as well, she made up for by knowing exactly where to disable him through the minute weaknesses few knew to exist.

He stood upright awkwardly and swung his arm around, much too slowly. Cameron dodged it easily and his superior strength was wasted on an innocuous sandwich iron that was utterly annihilated by his backhand.

Cameron grabbed the heaviest thing within arm's reach and swung it like a baseball bat, catching Delivery Guy in the side of the head with the flat side of an enormous, cast iron cooking pan. The T888 went down hard, detecting that the impact was of significant force and had turned the side of his hyperalloy skull into a spider web of cracked metal. One side of his mandible broke free and he lost the ability to speak as Cameron raised the pan again and brought it down on his head double-handed, using the slab of hefty cookware like a war hammer.

The sound was deafening, the impacts coming so fast that they sounded like a jackhammer, the floor beneath caving into a crater as she pummelled and pounded the T888 into wreckage, shuddering the entire carriage and the carriages beyond as she remorselessly turned her fellow machine's cranial unit into a hubcap of beaten organic covering and glass-like shards of shattered metal.

When she was finished, Cameron got to her feet, tossed the bloodied pan in the air and caught the handle again after it had done a full revolution.

"No one beats me in the kitchen," she derided, and chucked the pan onto Delivery Guy's lifeless chest.

####

Sudden silence engulfed the occupants of the executive carriage when the fight between terminators was over. All eyes remained fixed on the closed door as John and the Engineer sat and stood respectively amongst the three heavily armed mercenaries.

The door burst open in a cascade of splinters and Cameron strode in victorious.

One merc whirled his rifle to shoot. She grabbed the barrel and shoved it backwards in one quick thrust that impaled the shock into the man's shoulder and tore the humerus out of its socket. He went down where he stood like a sack of coal, squealing like a stabbed pig.

The last two mercs gapped at their fallen comrade and John saw his chance. He burst from his chair, catching the nearest merc unawares as his hand closed around his rifle's flash hider and he floored him with a left hook before he had time to react. He'd barely landed before Cameron broke the neck of the last mercenary still on his feet and finished John's off with a bullet from her Glock, straight between the eyes.

The door to the Engineer's private cabin slammed shut, deadlocks sliding into place as Phillips made his escape. He hadn't waited to see how the fight had turned out—the instant he had seen Cameron he'd taken off running, leaving his hired thugs to buy time with their lives.

John might have felt a flash of anger and gone after him, maybe unloaded the assault rifle he now possessed at the door and hoped to score a lucky hit.

Right at that instance though, he couldn't care less about Phillips.

He turned towards Cameron and their eyes met. The whole world fell away for him and all he could think about were her eyes, her smile, her aching beauty, the war wounds across her cheeks and temple that gleamed with gunpowder burns, blood splatter war paint and the chrome-glisten of exposed metal.

She was the most beautiful woman in the world.

They rushed to one another and embraced hard, their firearms clattering to the floor as they lunged into each other's arms and crushed their mouths together. Cameron's mouth was so hot and devouring, consuming John so forcefully he felt his legs go weak beneath the onslaught. She tasted like blood, metal, sex and summer. He wanted to drink every last drop of her and make her feel the same in turn.

When Cameron saw John again since the night they had parted in anger, all the ill feeling drained out of her in an instant and she had never felt more relieved. John was alive and whole, only feet away, and she was there to protect him now. It had been long years since she had thought of herself as John's protector, but it was a nostalgia that felt like bliss. She pushed her mouth into his and felt his large arms engulf her, pressing her against his tall, firm body.

"Sarah—" he blurted out.

"—is safe," she reassured.

He smiled and kissed her again and when they broke apart they were nose-to-nose, staring into one another's eyes the way they always did in their most intimate moments.

"Well then," he said, the slightest hint of mischief on his lips. "How was your day, dear?"

Sometimes, Cameron couldn't tell if John was being serious or not.

The moment Cameron shouldered the door to the Engineer's private sanctum, Phillips folded faster than a deuce before a flush. He was sitting behind the expansive, ornately carved wooden desk of his office in a high back chair, looking pale and clammy next to the plush black leather and suitably reticent. He was sweating profusely now but forcibly detached from their gun-toting presence, arrogant to the last.

It gave John a slight sense of unease. Cameron could not have cared less.

"Any last requests, Daniel," John asked with enormous satisfaction. "Or should I just shoot you in both legs now and throw you off the train for the Cerberus?"

Cameron gave her husband a sideways glance. "Shoot him in the head, John."

"Cameron," John exclaimed in half-assed objection, enjoying himself more than he should. "We're not executioners!"

She snatched up a letter opener from the desk. "Testicles then."

"Too messy."

She thought for a second. "I haven't strangled anyone before."

"I see you've taught her a thing or two about vengeance, John," Phillips remarked monotonically. "That bodes well for the future."

"It's a future you won't be part of."

Phillips smiled humourlessly. "Look at you. You still think you're the hero. What the fuck have you done?" he snarled. "While I've been saving the world from Skynet and preventing Judgement Day, you've been hiding in the back-of-beyond and playing house with the enemy." He looked at Cameron with disgust. "The great 'saviour of humanity'. Weren't you supposed to have a destiny? Wasn't it your responsibility to save humanity from the machines?"

Cameron listened to the Engineer's diatribe without emotion, assured in her own mind that it was nothing more than an attempt to buy more sand for his hourglass.

For a long time though, John didn't say anything.

"You're right."

Cameron was sure she'd misheard. Even Phillips looked surprised.

"You prevented Judgement Day, Daniel." He admitted freely. "You probably saved us all from Skynet too. Or at the very least you postponed it a good while longer." He lowered his gun slightly. "But none of it—not one single good thing you may have done—can excuse or justify what you've done here. I know you want Skynet gone as much as I do and you want humanity to survive, but somewhere along the line you lost an important part of your humanity—just like the other-me did in the future. Human life stopped having meaning and value to him. That was how he could sacrifice so many of the few people left without hesitation in order to win."

John smiled sadly and shook his head. "That's your biggest tragedy of all, Daniel. You tried so hard to be different than him—but in the end you became exactly the same."

Phillips stared at him, silent and unmoving, his face harder than stone. But something in his eyes seemed to break.

John raised his gun and fired.

When enough time had passed and John put the safety on his weapon, a satisfied Cameron broke the silence.

"We can follow the train tracks back to the mercenaries' base," Cameron noted as she put the safety on her own weapon. "There will be a vehicle there we can appropriate."

John pulled his eyes from the Engineer's lifelessness took the time to search him, taking his smartphone and Sarah's all-important blood sample. He glanced at it in wonder before putting it in his pocket, moving towards Cameron and they shared a kiss. "Then let's go get our baby and get the hell out of here."

They exited the plush quarters and made their way back into the executive carriage. Each of them took an assault rifle from one of the dead mercs for some extra range and stopping power should they need it out in the open.

Cameron turned to leave and John was about to follow before he suddenly remembered. "Oh!"

He looked around and spotted the fat briefcase under one of the dead merc's bloodied arms. He used his foot to flick the limb aside and picked the case up, smiling broadly as he felt its significant weight.

"What's in the case?" asked Cameron.

John just laughed.

####

Her mother had been gone for quite some time and by now, Sarah was getting bored.

She'd heard some distant commotion not long after her mother left, but that had faded into the background noises of the train's locomotion and rickety-creak of storage crates as they groaned in inanimate pain.

She had already counted the rings of a particular knot in one of the crate's timber boards—97—and had spent some time merrily patting away a half-forgotten tune on her knees. Next she had tried blowing saliva bubbles, picked her nose until it was clean and then tried to see how long she could go holding her breath. Five and a half minutes, she smirked. Not bad.

Before much longer she felt the carriage shudder and sensed their forward motion slowing down. The train was beginning to stop. Maybe that meant he mother had found her father and was on her way back now. She began peering through the narrow gaps between the slats of the crate, pressing her face against the timber and smelling the acrid wood stain as she surveyed the caboose.

There was nothing much that interested her; other crates, racks of weapons and ammunition, a cheap kettle next to a tiny sink basin—

—and a plate with a red doughnut on it.

Sarah's eyes opened to the size of eggs, spying the lone article of confectionary where it perched near the edge of the worktop. Someone must have left it there, probably the guy her mom threw off the back of the train. It was fat enough to be a jelly doughnut, its crown smothered in red icing and sprinkled with fine white sugar.

Without knowing, Sarah pursed her lips and began tapping her knee with her fingers.

Could she? Should she?

She had another look around the caboose from her narrow vantage point—nobody there. There hadn't been anyone since her mom left and the train had almost stopped moving now, giving a last jolt as friction finally brought it to a complete halt. The coast was clear, and if she was quick about it, her mom would be non-the-wiser.

Carefully, she put her hands against the lid and tried to push it open, surprised at how firmly her mother had sealed it. She huffed and strained harder, clenching her teeth, and the lid gave way with a sudden clunk. She waited for a minute to be sure no one had heard before she slid the lid out of the way and clambered out of the crate. Her small stature made the wall of the container feel like an obstacle wall, but its bracing boards made for convenient handholds and she was soon out into the cavernous space of the carriage.

As she slid closer to the doughnut, stalking her prey, she thought she heard a muffled sound of some sort, but by now she was close enough to smell the icing and she reached out and claimed her prize.

It was a jelly doughnut! Her taste buds sang and her mouth watered as she sank her teeth into the fried confectionary, putting a Joker-smile of icing and sugar up both her checks as the jelly ran down her chin.

"Mmmmmm…" she murmured languidly, swallowing the first bite with her eyes closed in deep satisfaction before opening them again.

That was when she saw the mercenary looking at her.

Sarah froze, panic rising in her chest, her heart in her mouth and throat. Breathing felt very difficult, and the cry for help to her mother came out in a breathless exhale that was barely audible.

"Well… look what we have here…" he smiled an ugly smile from his perch in the high-level storage compartment. At least that was what Sarah had thought it was, but what looked like yet another cubby hole for equipment only a few minutes ago had actually been a foldaway bunk bed with a pinewood privacy screen. The mercenary must have been sleeping there the whole time.

When he jumped down, the whole carriage seemed to shake, and Sarah got an eyeful of his dishevelled bulk as he loomed before her. His smile revealed a pair of crooked incisors, one slightly longer than the other, that seemed to give him a perpetual snarl. His beard was a scruffy shadow, his eyebrow broken by a scar, and he stank like stale beer and dry sweat.

Sarah made a high-pitched squeal, dropped her prized doughnut and darted towards the back of the carriage.

"Come here you!" he yelled and rushed after her, legs stumbling with the anaesthesia of sleep.

Sarah could hear his laboured breath behind her as she slipped and slid between the crates and scrambled under them, her legs feeling the breeze made by his callused hands as they groped and fumbled for her.

"There's nowhere to go! Come here!"

Sarah was terrified now. She could hear him getting closer and hear the mounting anger in his voice. He was going to get her and she didn't know what he was going to do. Before long she found herself herded to the back of the carriage—out of crates to hide behind and space to escape. She got to the door to the caboose's rear platform and tried for the handle, but it was too far out of reach for her stubbly height and her sweaty, icing-caked hands could only fumble uselessly around the spherical door knob.

"Got you now!"

Sarah spun around and pressed her back against the door, her breath catching as the mercenary stepped towards her slowly, at a relaxed and indolent pace now there was nowhere left to run to.

"What's the betting that you're the little one the boss has been making such a fuss over, huh?" he cackled at her, bouncing on the balls of his feet and clapping his hands together. "You're pay dirt for me, little girl! Y'know that! The boss-man will pay through the nose to have you back!"

Sarah looked left and right, grasping frantically in every direction for somewhere to go, somewhere to hide where he couldn't get her, but it was useless. When the mercenary got within arm's reach of her, he leaned over her and she slide down onto her rump, her legs twisting beneath her. She thought that she might dart between his legs, but it was as though he read it in her eyes and he shifted his feet to make that impossible.

"Nowhere to run now, pretty thing," he hissed in a child-like voice, looming his ugly face so close to her she could smell his filthy breath. "Just close your eyes and you won't even feel…"

An arm the size of a tree trunk burst through the ceiling, claws the length of swords seizing the mercenary. In the blink of an eye he was yanked upwards, away from Sarah and through the roof, screaming wildly and crying for help. Sarah closed her eyes and shivered, not in fear or horror—only blessed relief. A smile even traced her mouth as the muffled screaming outside was intercut with wet smacking and tearing, wails of agony and the sickening snap of bone before all of it fell abruptly silent.

After a minute or two, Sarah got to her feet. "Thank you!" she called up out of the hole in the ceiling. "Can you get me out of here?"

Silence followed for a few moments, then the dull thud of giant footsteps getting closer.

Sarah smiled and gave a little giggle as claws sliced into the metal of the carriage, cutting through it like a can opener with the ungodly screech of tortured metal until daylight flooded in and the entire end of the caboose was cleaved away—door, rear platform, walls and ceiling—and hurled a hundred feet through the air into the forest.

The Cerberus loomed over her like a juggernaut of death, looking like it had just won a war, its immense bulk of mountainous muscle shuffling awkwardly towards her before it crouched down as low as it could and moved its enormous head forward until they were virtually nose-to-nose.

Sarah smelled and felt its colossal breath, saw the enormous candles of saliva drip from its massive jaws, saw her reflection in the bottomless orbs of coal-black eyes, and she smiled at the sight of its pointed ears as they relaxed in on themselves. Its jaws parted slightly and it made a small sound between a growl and a mewl, nudging her chest gently with the tip of its nose.

She put her arms around its snout and pressed her check into its coarse black mane, the fur so thick and wiry that if she rubbed it the wrong way it felt like the steal bristles of a wire brush.

"I love you too," she murmured as it placed its giant paws either side of her and splayed its claws in a protective cage.

"Sarah…"

The Cerberus snapped its eyes open, lifting its head toward John and Cameron and roared so loudly it shook the wreckage of the caboose like an earthquake. The two parents stopped approaching, John's mouth opened and closed and his heart hammered in his chest, Cameron gritted her teeth and aimed for the creature's eyeballs. The creature opened the cavernous maw of its jaws, putting row-upon-row of jagged teeth and dripping saliva on display as it drew Sarah closer, glaring fury and daggers at her parents.

"Daddy!"

John tore his eyes from the creature's depthless gaze. "Are you alright, Sarah?!"

She nodded, so happy to see him as she peered between the wall of blade-like claws. "Dad, this is Charlie," she introduced them and grinned at the look on her father's face. "I told you you'd be scared."

John put on a brave smile as he looked back at the beast. "I believe you." A thought occurred to him, "Sarah, can you make him let you go."

"Yes," she frowned, suspicious. "He's not dangerous."

"Maybe not to you, sweetie. But he's very dangerous to everyone else." John slung his rifle behind his back and took a knee, gesturing with his hands for her to come towards him. "Get him let you go and come here to me."

Sarah took an intake of breath and looked over at her mother as she stared the creature down along the sights of her assault rifle, fire and war in her unblinking eyes.

"You not going to hurt him, are you?"

She looked like she was going to burst into tears, and the creature's reaction to that filled John with sudden dread. "No! We won't hurt him!" He vowed, hoping Cameron would listen or at least play along. "We want the same as Charlie does: for you to be safe."

Sarah turned around and looked upwards at the creature, reaching out and grasping a tendril of matted mane and tugging on it to get his attention. The Cerberus closed its jaws and looked down at its tiny ward, John and Cameron forgotten.

"I have to go home now," she said, as though she were speaking to another child. "I'll see you later, okay." She went to move and the creature made to follow her. "Stay here," she said, raising a stern finger. "I mean it."

For a moment the Cerberus didn't move, just gazed down at her and twitched its ears. But as it did so the ferocity seemed to flow out of it, its claws withdrew from around her and it lowered its head until it was level with Sarah. She smiled and gave it a parting scratch behind its ear before turning away and trotted off into her father's arms. John gathered her against his chest and lifted her off her feet, burying his face in her shoulder as she kissed him on the cheek. Cameron moved in beside them and put her arms around them both, kissing Sarah on her head.

"What do you want to do about…" John looked up towards the creature, but the Cerberus was gone. The only trace of its presence was the wreckage strewn about them and a thicket of heavy branches in the nearby treeline that swayed contrary to the wind.

####

They found Bacchus and Derek on their way back to Redwood. The sheriff's loud-yellow Challenger was parked next to the ancient pumps on the forecourt of Kamarov's gas station. They nearly drove straight past in their newly stolen Humvee, but Cameron's eagle eyes spotted Derek in the passenger seat and she swerved the wheel at the last minute, skidding over the forecourt's thin bed of gravel and stopping on a dime alongside the battered Dodge.

"I found him halfway down the mountain a few hours ago," Bacchus said quickly as John leapt out, his sleeves rolled up and his arms bloodied to the elbows. "He's lost a lot of blood. I had to pull in or he'd have bled out. An ambulance is on its way."

John could have appreciated Bacchus's military succinctness, but right now his only concern was for his uncle—bloodied, bloodshot and beaten to within a hair's breadth of his life, propped upright in the front passenger seat. His skin was frighteningly pale and very clammy, every move of muscle in his neck clearly visible beneath the skin and he laboured to breathe.

"Don't try and move him, I already tried," the sheriff mopped his own forehead with the only clean bit of sleeve he had left as John checked Derek's neck for a pulse that barely existed. Cameron took Sarah from the back seat of the Humvee where she was trying to see what was happening and took her over to the convenience store, away from the scene of carnage.

The inside of the expensive sports car, black leather and suede upholstery—Bacchus's pride and joy—looked like the killing floor of an abattoir. Far too much of Derek's blood covered everything on his side of the vehicle and had pooled in the footwell to such extent that it made the rubber mat slip around.

Despite it all, Derek managed a bare slither of a cracked smile when he saw his nephew.

"You're okay," he muttered in a gravel murmur. "Good."

John looked him up and down, taking in the magnitude of his injuries. He didn't have to be a doctor to know that they were mortal.

"Crummy way to go, huh," Derek murmured again through pale, chapped lips.

John tried to put on a brave face, but Derek was a better soldier than he'd ever be, seeing the certainty in John's eyes that he wasn't going to make it. He looked around the car's ruined interior and forced a smile, "At least you're going in style."

Derek made a noise between a grunt and a sneeze, his lips curling upwards as far as his fleeing strength could lift them. John smiled too, this time for real.

"You saved my life again," he began to explain. "Cameron heard your transmission. She came and got me." Derek could only nod his head slightly and swallow. John set his jaw and continued, "The man behind all of this—Daniel Phillips—is dead."

The recognition came as a light in Derek's eyes. "I remember him," he croaked. "Shifty little bastard."

Derek convulsed and groaned hard in pain, but he was so exhausted it sounded more like the weak mewl of a child. John saw fear in his uncle's eyes as they became glazed and unfocussed, staring off in awe and wonderment at something only he could see. John took his clawing hand and held on to it as the worst passed and Derek came back, weaker than before and looking like he had aged a hundred years. It was one of the most frightening things John had ever seen.

A thought came to John then and took the breath out of him. He couldn't even speak about it as he fumbled inside his pockets with his free hand. For a moment he thought he'd lost it. Then his fingers came upon the narrow cylinder and his breath came back.

"I don't know if this is a good idea," he freed his bloodied hand from Derek's and pulled a nearby first aid kit closer, it's innards burst open and strewn about where Bacchus had dug for dressings. He searched frantically for a syringe and seized upon the only one it had, bringing it together with the object he had retrieved from his pocket—the plastic vial containing Sarah's blood sample.

"S'that?"

John ignored him as he tore the wrapper off and mounted the delicate needle, trying to be as careful as his shaking hands would allow as he inserted it through the rubber seal and withdrew as much of the ruby fluid as possible. He flicked the barrel and expelled as small an amount as possible.

John nearly despaired—when it was in the Engineer's hands it looked like too much, now all he could think was that there was far too little.

"John," Derek had been watching and tried to focus on the mystery medicine that John was bringing closer to the throbbing vein on his arm.

"Just hold on alright, she's the same blood type as us," John begged. "Phillips said that it has regenerative properties." He pushed the needle through the skin and depressed the plunger, watching as his daughter's blood vanished into his uncle's arm.

Derek clamped his teeth down and growled in pain. The prick of the needle in his weakened state felt like a bullet wound. It burned slightly as well, even after John removed it.

Long moments went by and nothing happened. Derek barely showed any reaction, let alone any improvement. John wasn't even sure what he was looking for or even expected—some sign perhaps that it might have been having an effect, but there was nothing.

He sighed in disappointment and began rolling up his own sleeve, turning to call Bacchus over to help him set up a last ditch effort with a transfusion.

Derek's eyes burst open and his body snapped taut as a drum. His one hand grabbed the hand brake and the other seized John's arm, squeezing so hard John thought he was going to break his arm. The brake lever snapped off in his hand as John tried desperately to pry him off his arm, and a soul-destroying roar tore from Derek's throat, echoing through the forest and scattering the birds from the trees.


Better late than never ;)