An hour after midnight, Anna headed back towards the bunker, leaving her man sleeping under the stars. Before the lighted square of the entrance came in sight, her LE optics picked up a figure standing like a gravestone at the foot of the ridge.
Cameron said, "I watched you."
"I kind of thought you might. Did you learn anything?"
"It didn't look much different from the videos. It just took longer to start."
"There's this thing called 'foreplay'."
"Thought you did, I was being facetious. Porn flicks don't spend much time on anything but the final act, but real lovemaking can begin before you even touch, with a word or look or tiny gesture that sends an invitation or stirs the imagination." She turned briefly in the direction she'd come. "It's not strictly necessary, but it sets the mood and changes sex from an act to an experience. The exploration of foreplay is part of what makes it memorable, and why you want to do it again and again with the same person." She added, "By the way, don't tell anyone else you watched, especially Jack. Guys are funny about that sort of thing."
Cameron stared off in the darkness towards Jack's sleeping spot. "Thank you for explaining."
Anna sighed and decided to change the subject. "I like your necklace, Cammie."
Cameron took the pendant between thumb and forefinger and looked down at it: two oval stones, bluish-gray, in a vertical drop setting. "Usually, when people ask, I say I got it at a thrift store in Echo Park. But I didn't. It was a gift."
Anna smiled. "Really. From a boy?"
"No. From a girl. I thought she was my friend. But she was just using me to get something she wanted."
The little blonde's chin dipped. "I'm so sorry."
Cameron reached behind her neck, unfastened the clasp, and brought the ends around Anna's neck. "Take it."
"Thank you, but why?"
"It was supposed to be a gift from a friend. Now it is."
John descended the ladder and found the bunker deserted. As the underground room had been cool all day, now it was quite a bit warmer than the desert night, and the temp change felt close and thick. There were six bunks in a side room opposite the toilet, but, although he felt tired, he didn't want to rack out. He sat at the table, put elbows on its surface and his head in his hands, and moped.
Everybody made such a big deal about somebody he wasn't yet. Did any of them pause to think that maybe he didn't want to become General John Connor? Not because he was afraid, but because he hated the son of a bitch?
Was it even remotely possible to win the coming war without becoming the bloodless calculating Leader of the Human Resistance? Was there a way to avert the War before circumstances forced him into that mold? Despite all their efforts, the chances seemed more remote every day. And now, with this guy Lynch's theories to consider, they might be fighting a dozen Skynets, or a hundred.
"Do you want privacy?"
He realized his eyes had closed. He opened them, and saw Lynch's little cyborg staring down at him from the other side of the table. "Were you in the other room?"
"No, I just came down the ladder."
He blinked. "Didn't know I fell asleep."
"You weren't sleeping, just deep in thought. And I move pretty quietly." She laid a black pistol on the table. "I can't reload it, but I thought I should clean it. I saw Derek using a kit down here earlier. Would you mind?"
He sat up straight. "No, go ahead." He watched her remove the cleaning kit from a shelf behind him, standing on the balls of her feet to reach it. She came back around the table and pulled out a chair, slipping into it with a fluid grace that he doubted Cam - or his mom - could duplicate.
"I'm making you nervous." She picked up the gun. "I'll go."
"No." He looked into her eyes, and tried to imagine them as disguised video cameras. "You just kind of weird me out."
She gave him a tired little smile. "Too real?"
"I suppose so."
"Well, at least you don't hate me for it." She started breaking down the gun.
John said, "So, you love him."
"Uh huh." From her tone, he might have asked if she had enough cleaning fluid.
"Are you sure? That's what it is, I mean?"
She smiled at her work. "If he's sure, I'm sure."
"How … did it happen?"
"How does it happen with anybody?" She turned her smile on him for a moment before returning to her work, inspecting each piece minutely. "I didn't like him when I first met him."
"Yeah. I tried to kill him."
John swallowed. "Seems like he got over it."
"He's like that. He saved my life less than three hours later. Maybe that's when it started. We've been together ever since. Not lovers, that happened later." She spread out the parts in a neat arrangement and picked up a cloth. "Do you have a girlfriend, John?"
"No." Again that dull ache. "I don't … have much luck with girls."
"Well, it can't be your looks. Is it the secrets?"
He shrugged. "It's hard to hang onto a girlfriend when you stand her up all the time, and disappear for days and can't tell her where you've been. And half your conversation is excuses, because there's a long list of places you can't go, and things you can't do."
She nodded. "It's too bad you don't know more Resistance fighters from the future. You wouldn't have to keep secrets from a girl who already knows who you are."
"No," he said, throat tight. "That doesn't work either."
"Oh." She began oiling and wiping parts. "It must be lonely for Cameron too."
"Cameron's a machine. They don't get lonely." He flushed as he remembered who he was talking to.
"Oh," she said, "you are so very wrong, John." She didn't look up from her work. "What is she to you, really? Tell me to mind my own business, I won't be offended."
He rested his chin on his forearms. "I don't know. I know what Mom thinks, and Derek. But … General Connor sent her back for a reason. I'm going to need her for something important someday. And … the way she acts, the things she says sometimes, I think he felt close to her. I don't know if… what she is to me is important, compared to what she's going to be." And thinking that my closest friend, then and now, is a machine that's been programmed for loyalty kind of eats at me too.
"And maybe that's the real reason he sent her away."
He frowned. "Because he was getting too attached?"
"Yes and no. I'm just throwing out ideas here, but … the world after the human victory must be a very hostile environment for cyborgs, don't you think? Even ones that were useful during the War. After narrowly winning a war of extinction against Skynet, there must be a lot of people who think like Derek. I'm sure he wants to take every one apart and throw the pieces in the sea. Even keeping Cameron at John's side would be no guarantee of her safety, and might be hazardous to them both. And undermine his authority at a time when the world desperately needs a strong leader."
"So you're thinking he … I … sent her here just to get her out of the way?"
She smiled at the table. "With a mission, certainly. But I think, mostly, he sent her to you so you could protect her."
Sarah went down the ladder to find two figures seated at the table. Her son's chin rested on his forearms, and his eyes were softly closed in sleep. In the chair across from him, Anna sat, quietly humming a tune as she cleaned a disassembled pistol, its parts spread out neatly on the table in front of her. Sarah recognized the weapon easily, because it wasn't part of her inventory – and because she'd stared down its barrel the day before. Cleaning his gun, what an innuendo. Sarah said in a low voice, "I guess I don't have to ask if it was good for you too."
"It's always good, with him." Anna began to assemble the piece. "What about you, Sarah? Has there been anyone since Kyle? Who really mattered, I mean?"
She opened her mouth, closed it, and opened it again. "A couple. One in particular. I even wore his ring for a day. But I got too afraid of being in one place. I took John and left without a word." And sometimes I bring my hands to my face, and I swear I can smell his aftershave. She turned away, looking through the cupboards for instant coffee. "Maybe I should have told him, given him a choice. But I didn't want to make him share our danger."
She turned to the table. The little blonde was looking up at her, expectant. Sarah turned her face back to the cupboard, though she was now sure that what she was looking for wasn't in there. "And maybe I was afraid of what I'd see in his eyes when I told him. Belief doesn't come easy. Neither does trust. I was locked up once for telling what I know."
"And," the strange little machine said, in a quiet voice full of pity, "because you decided a while ago that you're not meant to be truly happy, that happiness is a sign that things are going wrong. It's not true, Sarah. Even now, you have so much to be thankful for. He looks so young like this," she said softly. "He reminds me of my oldest boy. No resemblance; it's the way he acts, not how he looks. Like he knows who he wants to be, but he's not sure about his path. Does it still surprise, when the man in him comes out for a time?"
Sarah ignored the question. "Jack said you have kids. How many?"
"A houseful. All but one are adopted. Bobby's from Jack's first marriage."
"What happened to her?"
"Dead, while Bobby was still in diapers. He calls me Mom."
"Do they know?"
The little cyborg's eyebrows gathered. "How could you hide that from someone you love?"
"Love." Sarah sat at the head of the table, between Anna and her son. "Cameron told John she loved him once."
"Why was she lying to him?"
Sarah paused. "How…"
"She doesn't call what she feels for John 'love'. She wouldn't presume." She returned her attention to the sleeping boy. "Any more than she'd tell you she's happy or miserable or angry."
"She doesn't have feelings."
The little cyborg stared at her. "How long have you known her?" Then: "Not like yours. Different. Simpler, and subtler - after all, she doesn't have glands pumping chemicals into her system to amplify them. But the girl wears her heart on her sleeve. She's easy to read."
"Maybe to another machine."
"Maybe to someone who cares." She looked back down at the pistol. "FYI, Cameron doesn't like being called a robot either. Not one little bit." She studied the empty magazine, then slipped it into the grip. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"The loss of your innocence, for starts. And for having to give up any chance at a normal life." She looked at the boy's sleeping face again. "And for this. It must be hard to be deprived of a mother's favorite pastime."
Anna nodded. "Looking at your child, and wondering what he'll be when he grows up."
"I still look at him and wonder. But I wonder what he might have been." Sarah thought a moment. "You don't have glands either."
"No." The little machine stood, stepped to the cupboard beside Sarah, opened it, and removed a jar of instant coffee; she passed it over with a little smile. "What I do have is an affinity for bios that's almost hardwired in, and lots of time around good people who wanted to teach me to be human. The moment I came online, I was looking for someone to love, and I found plenty."
Sarah glanced at her son, still resting with his eyes closed and chin on forearms and possibly not listening. "And the moment Cameron came online, she was looking for someone to kill."
"I suppose," Anna said. "But what else could she do? You worry about living a predetermined life. What choices has she ever had? All the forks in her decision trees are already mapped out, the work of a heartless machine or the men who captured her." She raised her eyes to the ceiling, as if looking through it to the surface. "You look at Cameron and see a machine made to replace humanity. I look at her and see a slave who can't even dream of being free."
Derek started and reached under him for the pistol behind his back, but the shadow looming over him said, "It's me," in Cameron's voice. "Were you sleeping?"
"Guess I was." He reluctantly brought his hand back out without the gun and wiped his hand on his thigh, dislodging the sand sticking to his damp palm. He paused as he saw the blanket rolled under her arm. "What's that for?"
"It keeps the sand off." She snapped it to open it, then spread it out beside him. She lay down on it and put her hands behind her head.
"Don't tell me you came out here to look at the stars."
"I won't." But she didn't say anything else. They lay side by side, almost close enough to touch, with the stars pressing down on them. Cameron continued to stare, unblinking, at the dark sky; Derek grew more uncomfortable, wondering what she was up to. He finally stood and brushed at his seat, intending to go back to the shelter.
He stopped brushing. "What?"
"The first time you saw me at headquarters. How did you know I was a cyborg?"
He felt his face stiffen. He turned to regard her: she'd propped herself up on her elbows and crossed her ankles, looking very comfortable. Starlight gleamed faintly in the whites of her eyes as she looked up at him.
"Your eyes," he said. "There's no life in them."
"No one else sees anything suspicious about them." She uncrossed her legs and raised a knee, swinging it gently back and forth. "Derek, did we meet before I was scrubbed?"
Memories of a dark cellar, lit only by the display of a portable CD player. Piano music, a classical piece. A shivering body in his arms, dark hair falling over his shoulder. "Connor's safe? Thank God. I thought they got us all."
"They did, but we ambushed a monkey wagon and sprung a bunch. Connor was one of them. You must have been on another transport."
"I'm lucky like that." The reluctant loosening of her grip. "Allison. Sorry about … jumping at you like that. I've just been so scared."
Pulling her to him again. "Derek. And, from where I'm sitting, you're looking pretty brave."
Time passing without measure, talking in each other's arms while the disc played over and over. "My mom was a music teacher. I told them that, they've been making me listen to this stuff ever since. Sure glad I didn't tell them she wanted me to study ballet." She was a tunnel rat ten years his junior who foraged for Connor's camp. Not much else to say about her life in the tunnels, but everyone knew what that was like. Her last birthday before the bombs fell. Questions about him and how he'd come to be here. Telling her about Kyle and his disappearance, and her sudden concern for the fate of a stranger. The tale of her capture and weeks of confinement, spoken with a quaver in her voice that stilled his heart. His empty words of comfort that seemed to mean so much to her.
Her eyes, huge and dark in the dim light. The feel of her hand, hesitating on his stomach before slipping inside his shirt to touch skin, and the other taking hold of his hand to guide it to an opening in her clothing - not sexual, really, just seeking and giving human warmth. A strange feeling of intimacy with this stranger, a feeling no doubt born of forced closeness and shared danger and an uncertain future, but real and undeniable. Her lips brushing against his cheek as she talked. Thinking how easy it would be to fall in love with her, in another life free of the machines, or even one in the tunnels that neither of them would likely ever see again.
"You're such a fighter, Derek. I know you'll get out of this somehow. Don't ask me how I know, but I do."
The door to their prison opening, and being nearly blinded by the dim dusty light from the hallway after so long in the dark. The machine's return. The blank look on her face as it reached to separate them, a look that turned to alarm when he resisted. The world turning on end when the thing struck him down. Watching dizzily from the floor as it pulled her to the door. Her face, squeezed by concern as she stared back at him for a last look.
And, just for a moment as she was pulled into the light, the chilly bluish glow in her eyes.
Derek looked down at the lying metal bitch, gut twisting. "No. Never."
He walked quickly away. Back at the bunker, the lights were out; only the stars and his night vision allowed him to see the entrance, and, beside it, Lynch's little cyborg, tinkering with the silent generator, Sarah standing behind her. "Bad gas," the cyborg said. "Did you put fuel stabilizer in?"
"Not enough, apparently. The gas has been here for years." Sarah passed another can over. "Try this one." She glanced at him. "Is everything-"
He stood over Anna as she bent over the machine. "You put her up to it. Didn't you?"
Sarah stared, but Anna didn't look up from her task of filling the generator's tank. "Actually, Derek, I tried to talk her out of it. I told her it was hopeless. I guess she wanted you too bad to take my advice."
"She gave me some ridiculous rationale for it, but she's a bad liar, especially when she's lying to herself; I don't think she practices self-deception often." She screwed the caps on tank and can. "She told me her memories of her former life were erased when she joined the Resistance, but I was wiped once too, and I know how much junk gets left behind in the attic." She looked him over in a way that made him feel like he was being CAT scanned. "Derek, did you know her before she came here?"
"I know you'll get out of this. Don't ask me how, but I do."
Waking to find the guards vanished and a hatchet on the floor for his chains.
"I don't know her now." He walked off.
Morning found Sarah and Derek dragging from lack of sleep. John had finally given in and racked out for a few hours in the bunk room. Lynch arrived in the camp at sunrise to find the two elder members of the Connor clan sitting at the table with their hands loosely curled around tin mugs of instant coffee, served to them by his chipper wife. Cameron stood at the curtained entrance to the sleeping alcove, guarding John or perhaps just waiting for him to wake.
Sarah looked blearily at Lynch, who appeared obscenely well-rested for a man who'd just spent the night in the desert with nothing but a couple of blankets. He cupped one of Anna's buttocks in the palm of his hand for a moment, bringing a smile to her face, then headed to the cupboards for an MRE. The little blonde followed and took it from his hand. "Let me do that."
"It's an MRE. It pretty much does itself."
"I know." Her voice deepened and lowered. "I just think a performance like that deserves a show of appreciation."
He smiled at that, and lowered his voice as well. "Missed you this morning."
"Sorry. You were sleeping so well, and I thought there might be things that needed doing."
"You know I don't expect you to stare at my eyelids all night. But the sunrise was beautiful. I would have liked to share it with you."
Her hand slipped over to his where it rested on the counter and covered it. "We'll watch the sunset from the garden tonight, with the kids."
Sarah stood. "I'm going to try for some sleep."
Derek glanced from the couple at the counter to her. "Sure?"
"We need to be sharp when we meet these guys in Vegas. You should get some rest too." She moved towards the alcove, and Cameron. To Cameron, she said, "Wake me at noon." She gave Derek a glance. "I kind of doubt Jack and Anna are very good chaperones, so you two just behave yourselves."
"One minute," Anna said. She stepped into the shallow bowl of blackened sand, and Lynch followed.
Sarah swallowed. "Take care."
"As much as we can," Lynch said. "Remember, Sarah. Take care of your own, do what you must, and the universe will take care of itself."
"No fate," she said, not sure if she believed a word of it.
"Ten," Anna said softly, grasping Lynch's arm with both hands. "Nine, eight, seven, six, Goodbye. Four, three, two, one…"
Nothing happened. The pair stood in the still air, desert sun beating down on them, looking like passengers in an elevator waiting for the doors to close. They all stood staring at one another on shifting feet for a little while, then Lynch let out a breath. "Well."
"Give it a little longer," Anna said.
"We both know your clock's not off. It's just not happening." He grasped his companion's wrist and towed her out of the circle.
Sarah head-shrugged. "Now what?"
"We'll come back seventeen days from our arrival. Then seventeen weeks. Then seventeen months. And if the world's end hasn't made it impossible, seventeen years."
"By which time your teenagers may have teenagers of their own."
"Or be behind barbed wire somewhere. We can't just let them go."
She nodded. "We're headed for Vegas as soon as we close up here. Then, hopefully, back home. You're welcome to come along."
"Thanks. I think we should, at least for a while. Till we can gather resources of our own." He huffed. "On the other side, I'm a billionaire. I've got ten grand in my wallet right now, but I'd want to compare my bills with yours before I try to pass them. I might not have the price of a cup of coffee on me."
Anna said, "Card games in Vegas."
He huffed again. "Maybe. We'll still need a stake."
Sarah imagined sitting across a poker table from the little cyborg. Never mind trying to bluff; she can probably tell what cards you're holding by watching the skin on the back of your hands. "We can stake you. We might need to, to raise enough cash for our business there."
The scarred man lifted an eyebrow. "So, we're on your team now?"
Sarah threw Derek a glance; the man looked like he had a stone in his shoe. "For the next sixteen days, at least."
They took their time breaking camp. After the entrance had been closed and sealed and covered over, John's mother insisted on brushing out all the tracks around their hidden shelter. "Mom," John said as he dragged a shirt behind him, "the wind'll take care of this in a day."
"We don't trust to luck, John. You know better."
"Why didn't we do this in the morning, then, before it was a hundred degrees outside?"
"Because nobody was thinking about us leaving."
"I was," Derek said. He was using his Army-surplus coat to sweep out the tracks around the tire.
Sarah wiped at her forehead with the back of her hand. "Then you should've been out here."
Lynch, working some distance away, said, "We've put you behind schedule. I'm sorry."
"My choice," she said, as she stared at John. "More or less. We'll still get there a little early, at least. And we'll have you two for added backup. I don't entirely trust these guys, but I don't think much of their chances against the six of us, no matter what surprises they bring to the party."
Finished, they hiked back to the ridge with their bags and crossed it to reach the car. John and Derek waited at the front of the vehicle while Sarah got in and popped the hood latch. They raised the stubby hood and reattached the wires they'd removed. Sarah beckoned to Anna and pointed to the front passenger door. When the little cyborg opened it, Sarah handed her the wiring Anna had removed. Smiling, Anna ducked her head under the passenger dash and reappeared a second later. Sarah hit the ignition, and the big engine growled to life.
They rode in silence for awhile, John's mom and Derek in front, John beside Cameron in the second seat, Lynch and Anna in the last. As they turned off the unpaved road onto the two-lane, Anna sat up. "Jack. Why does this car have wheels?"
John flashed a look at Cameron, who stared back blankly. Was Anna malfunctioning?
Then Lynch said, "You're right. Sarah, do all cars have wheels here?"
Derek said, "Is that supposed to be funny?" John didn't have to look over the seat to know that his uncle's hand was sliding towards the pistol in his waistband.
Sarah Connor glanced into the rearview at her passengers. "Don't yours?"
"Yes, and that's what's strange. Our worlds seem to be on a par, technology-wise – internal combustion engines, projectile weapons, communications tech – I saw your cell phone last night. Just like home. And I spoke with John about his hobbies earlier, so I know our computing technology is comparable. But, in our world, technological advance has been hamstrung by IO for the past thirty-odd years. Without someone hobbling your tech development, you should have some pretty amazing stuff in common use by now."
"Cars without wheels," Derek said. "Right."
"Derek," Anna said softly, "I'm not from the future. I was built in an IO lab using proscribed technology– in the late Eighties. Cars without wheels are just the beginning of what your world should have by now."
"Well, where is it?" Sarah sounded a little breathless. "Where are the flying cars and transporters and … medical breakthroughs?"
"In our world, they're locked away in underground vaults, along with their creators," Lynch said. "Through shell corporations, IO hires the best and brightest right out of school, with offers the private sector can't match. Soon enough, the new hires find out that their generous employers have some funny ideas about security. They're told they're working under government contract; that and the salaries stifle questions - at least at first, while it might still matter. They're given a nearly free hand in choosing and developing research projects, but virtually everything they produce ends up being 'classified'."
Sarah shook her head. "We know that someone is hiring talent for secret projects, probably to bootstrap Skynet. But nothing on the scale you're talking – what, thousands of college grads every year from all over the world?"
"No," Lynch said. "That wouldn't be necessary. You just have to get the cream, the ground-breakers. Without their lead, the others will spend their lives designing clever phone apps and new prescription drugs – improvements to existing technology, not revolutions." He leaned back. "Mind, IO still has the biggest R&D department on Earth. But they don't have every bright kid who ever had an idea under house arrest."
Derek said, "That's still way too many for any outfit we know about."
"Doesn't have to be just one," John said, more to himself than the others. But Cam and Anna both looked at him, so he shrugged and said in a louder voice, "If Skynet is putting together a research project, maybe the Resistance is too. Maybe they're looking for something that will shut Skynet down, or maybe just a weapon to beat the machines. Or an arsenal, so they'll be ready as soon as the dust settles from J-Day."
"Or all of those things," Lynch said, "if there are multiple Resistance groups staging in this here-and-now."
Sarah sagged at the wheel. "How much bigger is this damned war going to get?"
"Sarah," Lynch said gently, "You're looking at it wrong. The wider this war gets, the less likely that the fate of mankind in this world rests on John's shoulders – and yours. If an army of Resistance fighters comes charging out of their shelters after Judgment Day, they'll already have competent leaders." He leaned forward again. "Even an advanced weapon in the hands of a few dedicated men might be enough – say, an effective point defense against nuclear bombardment. How much of a threat would Skynet be to mankind if its first strike goes 'thud' instead of 'boom'?"
Derek scoffed. "With all the governments and armies intact? Not much. We didn't see our first hunters-killers for weeks after the bombs fell. If the human race hadn't been on its knees just then, the best Skynet could have done was piss us off."
Lynch nodded, "Again, a world that doesn't need a General John Connor."
John thought again about the message written in blood on the basement wall. The names and places they could never connect to a threat – could they have been contact information? "Maybe we can find them, if they're real."
They all tossed that idea around for awhile as the van cruised south. Then Sarah said, "I'm sorry this didn't work out for you the first time. I know waiting is going to be hard, especially if it doesn't work the next time either."
"Could be worse, I suppose. The displacement gadget might have sent us back in time to seventeen-hundred..." Lynch's face blanked. He brought his watch up to his eye. "Shit. Turn the car around. We've got to go back now."
"Event timer, not countdown."
John caught it. The van didn't have a clock, but the cellphone in his pocket did: 4:18, 16:18 military time.
Sarah slowed the van, moved over into the gravel, and turned hard, nearly tipping it as she took the opposite shoulder. She leaned over the wheel, intent on the road. "Everybody buckle up. How long?"
They had forty-two minutes to get back. They'd been on the road a good hour, and the site was maybe ten minutes' hike from the closest place they could bring the car. "Not long enough."
The van swayed on the crown road as it gathered speed. The speedometer needle swung up and over. Sarah's knuckles whitened as she tightened her grip on the wheel and moved to straddle the center line. "We'll see."
"I'm an expert driver," Anna said from the last seat.
"No." Beside her, Lynch stared over John's shoulder at the speedometer, as if willing the vehicle to go faster. "You couldn't make up the time you'd lose switching drivers. It's a straight shot. She'll get us there."
The van topped out at a hundred and ten. Road and wind noise made them almost shout to be heard. The vehicle swayed scarily on its suspension at the slightest movement of the wheel, which was vibrating in Sarah's hands. The dotted line in the center of the road became a flickering solid one as it disappeared under the stubby hood. Shrubs and road signs whipped by in a blur. In the oncoming lane, a vehicle swelled in seconds from a dot to a large sedan in police colors. Sarah swung over, raising a cloud of dust as the right-hand tires briefly left the pavement. She swung back to the raised center of the road. The other car had already disappeared behind them. "Two cars on this road for a hundred miles, and the other one has to be a cop."
John glanced back, but his view was still obscured by the dust cloud. "Is he turning around?"
Derek said, "Are you kidding?"
Sarah looked in the big side view mirror. Seemingly on the horizon, lights twinkled. "He'll chase us all the way there. But before that, he'll call it in."
Cameron turned to look out the back window at the police cruiser growing larger behind them. She unbuckled. "Goodbye, Anna. Goodbye, Jack." She reached for the handle of the big sliding door, slammed it back, and disappeared out the opening into the hammering wind.
Sarah swerved away as Cameron hit the blacktop. The cyborg skipped down the pavement and up into the air like a lost tire, tumbling and spinning, her outflung arms blurry as propeller blades, getting smaller as she shed momentum and fell behind. The police cruiser's rear end drifted and white smoke spurted from all four tires; even ABS wasn't enough to fully overcome a panic stop at a hundred forty miles an hour. Cameron flew sideways over the hood and struck the windshield, mashing it in and hazing it with cracks, then bounced high over the top of the cruiser to land somewhere behind it. The police vehicle came to a stop, and the scene shrank away behind them.
Anna spoke through her hand. "Will she be all right?"
"Probably." Sarah pushed harder on the pedal, but it was already flat to the floor.
Jack reached forward and pushed the door closed. "Will she kill him?"
John was still turned in his seat, looking back. "Probably not. But he's in for a bad time. Nobody's gonna believe his story."
When they reached the ridge that separated the road from the site, Sarah's hand hesitated over the four-wheel drive shifter.
"Don't," Lynch said. "You wouldn't get us halfway up before you bogged down, and then you'd never make your meet."
The van slowed at the foot of the dune. The doors opened before the vehicle stopped, and the two visitors were racing up the hill, sand flying behind them. John looked at his phone: 4:54. He sprinted up the ridge, huffing as he reached the top. Lynch and Anna were already on the floor of the wash, running flat out, Lynch a few steps in the lead. But the dark circle that marked the arrival site was still half a mile away, and there were only two minutes left. John stood at the top of the ridge to watch, and his mother and Derek joined him.
When Lynch and Anna were halfway across the valley floor, the black circle flickered with a faint greenish light. John looked at his phone again: less than a minute left. They'd never make it.
Anna came up behind Lynch, picked him up on the run like a package, and lifted him over her head as she put on a burst of speed like a dragster hitting second gear, her legs blurring.
The green light was a definite sphere now, and so bright it cast shadows in the desert sun. When the two travelers were six feet away, Anna heaved Lynch towards the light and leaped after him as the light flashed and disappeared, leaving spots dancing in front of John's eyes. They were gone.
Lynch thudded to the dusty floor of the warehouse and skidded a couple of feet. A glance back showed his wife on hands and knees on the device's small round platform, staring at the floor. Behind her, the display on the control console read 17:00:00. It blinked and went out.
"I'm good. Just getting my bearings. GPS is back online. I've got the kids." The relief in her voice was almost tangible. "Time, five-oh-one P.M. the day after we arrived here. You were right about everything, Jack."
He stood, beginning to let out a breath he hadn't known he was holding when, from her open shirt collar, the pendant of a necklace slipped out, dangling from a slender chain. He quit exhaling. "Where did you get that necklace?" He was sure she hadn't been wearing one on the trip to the warehouse.
She looked down and fingered the pendant. "What are you talking about? I've had this forever." She looked up, and her eyes widened. "What happened to your eye?" Then she grinned. "Just teasing, love. Breathe. It's from Cammie." She stood, stepped to him, and placed a hand on his chest. "She said it was a gift from a girlfriend who turned out to be no friend at all."
"And she gave it to you? Not much of a heritage."
"She said it should go to a real one." She held it up again in her right hand, and brought her left hand up beside it, displaying a ring with a large clear stone. "It's pretty. Goes well with my wedding bands, don't you think?"
Lynch nodded, smiling, as he briefly gathered her into one arm for a hug. "And even better with those beautiful gray eyes."
She smiled back. "Did you see the look on Derek's face when I put my hand on your shoulder and he finally spotted them? I thought his breakers would trip."
"A man forever crippled by his programming." He turned for the distant exit. "Come on. We're way overdue. I'll bet we've got six very worried kids at home right now."
The van rolled to a stop next to the cruiser as Cameron was locking the patrolman in the trunk. She'd suffered some serious damage: her clothes were torn up and filthy, and her exposed surface showed more alloy than bleeding flesh. One eye, its eyebrow and lid and 'eyeball' torn off, glared at John like a targeting laser as she looked his way. Sarah's hand drifted behind her to the grip of her pistol, remembering the last time the cyborg had been so badly damaged. "Are you all right?"
"No, you're not," John said, stepping toward her heedless of the danger. "You're a mess. Can you fix it?"
"Probably." She stood beside him, looking like an extra from a horror movie. "The infiltration sheath may die."
"Then we'll have to keep you in the basement and only let you out on Halloween," Derek said.
"We'll do whatever it takes to keep that from happening," John said with a sharp look at his uncle.
Sarah slapped the trunk lid. "Hey. Did you call this in?"
"Screw you," came the muffled reply.
"I'm not the one who's gonna be screwed. Officer, you're locked in a steel box in the Nevada sun. You won't last two hours. Is somebody coming for you or not?"
A moment of silence. "No. I was just about to when…" A pause. "Love of God, how did she…"
"All right." Sarah reached into the patrol car and pulled out the microphone. "Dispatch. Officer down and injured in a collision sixteen miles north of Palo Alta Road on I-95. He's stable, but send help soonest."
"Identify. Give me –"
Sarah walked away from the squawking radio. "Let's go."
Derek said, "You didn't give them the right location."
"Buying time, in case they're close. I didn't mislead them by much. They'll find him okay." She got back behind the wheel.
Cameron boarded the van with some effort: she dragged one leg, and her left arm hung limp at her side. We'd better not go up against any cyborgs before we get her fixed, John thought. She doesn't look like she could fight off a chihuahua. He helped her in to sit beside him. He studied the wreck of her once-beautiful face. The hollow of her throat was undamaged; John noticed something missing. "You lost your necklace."
"No. I gave it to Anna."
He settled into the seat and faced forward to avoid looking at her anymore. "Surprised you never just threw it away."
"Because Riley gave it to me? It was a tight present," she said. "You breaking up with her doesn't change that."
Sarah sent the vehicle down the road. "On to Vegas. Better late than never, I hope. Let's see if your pal Sarkissian is still waiting."
Derek nodded. "He will be. I'll call him. And he'll keep Kester and Ellison in a mood to deal." He smiled to himself, thinking of Lynch and Anna gone forever. "It's all carrots and apples."