Chapter 1: Another Broken Future
"You hooked Grace up to a fucking car battery?"
Sarah Connor knew the future had made her crazy.
Her reality hadn’t been the same as everyone else’s since a Terminator tried to make her its prey. She’d been nineteen. Forty-eight hours of being hunted had wrecked her life. Since then, she’d been alone with the knowledge of a terrible future. Surrounded by disbelief, fierce in desperation, losing her son John, going through hell. She’d gotten John back in the worst and best way, him believing her at last – only to lose him again. It had left her paranoid, obsessive, probably delusional, definitely sadistic.
She’d just endured the greatest validation of it all. A recast version of the future-past, Terminators and protectors, fighters and leaders. The way it had ended offered a new path to saving the world.
Sarah looked around the vast, dim cavern of dam turbines with satisfaction. Several turbines were damaged. Railings were torn away. The stench of burnt technology filled the air. All Sarah had to do now was clean up what was truly important and evacuate. This once, she wasn't doing it alone.
Sarah turned to Dani. Beside her, the girl had sunk to kneeling, her hand over her mouth. She stared down at the service well that held the sintered ruins of the two Terminators. The Rev-9 and…the other one. Covered in soot, curling in upon herself, Dani looked very small. She was human yet, like Sarah had been, before one Terminator too many.
Sarah said, “I’m going down there. Need to make sure that all that’s left of them is melted slag. Leave one chip behind, some asshole will use it to start the end of the world. Again.” She brushed Dani’s shoulder. “Feel like stomping on the one who tried to kill you?”
“No.” Dani’s voice was choked. “I – I will go to Grace.”
Sarah gave Dani’s shoulder a pat. “You killed a Terminator. Do what you need to.” And she went to take care of business.
Descending took Sarah to the heart of her paranoia and obsession: Terminators and death. Her knees ached at each jolt of the metal ladder. She'd been too old for this for a while. At the bottom, the Rev-9 was a satisfying slag heap of hyperalloy and melted nanotech. By the time any of its works were extracted from that mess, they’d be beyond salvaging. The T-800 had been older, simpler, fleshier – and sturdier for it. His meat had protected his metal. His skull still had its shape. Eye sockets still held cameras, their redness dimmed.
Sarah gave in to an instant’s revenge. She stamped the ribs, the limbs. The clean, blank feeling of violence indulged cleansed her. When her boots crunched only shards, she scooped up the last piece that looked like more than junk.
Sarah lifted T-800's metal skull. She needed both hands, and found her grip unsteady. This one. Oh, this one, with the face of both the Terminator who'd tried to kill her, and the other Terminator programmed to protect her son. No wonder she was crazy. In his loops of commands, he’d matched her obsession. His Terminator coordinates had sainted her paranoia as the truth. He’d repented, as far as a machine could, brought sanity and life to another mother and son. He had chosen to help them change the future.
It did not change what had happened to her. To John.
She pried out the cameras, trepanned the brainpan with a shard, stomped the results to more fragments. When the eyesockets were empty, leaving nothing but a death's head, she faced it a final time. Then, with all her force, she hurled him down.
That sent her down herself, felled by a stab of sickening agony. Her dislocated shoulder, goddamn it –
After the fight, it was too much. Shock blacked her out.
Oblivion didn’t last. For Sarah Connor did not dream.
At first, Sarah had thought the visions that broke through the edge of her consciousness were glimpses of the future. For a while, she’d written them off as the leftovers of trauma, head injuries, and forced psych drugs. As her life endured, she’d realized they were futures she’d broken. Versions of reality that weren’t going to happen. Every one was a torment in its own way, keeping her grief ever-sharp. One of them flashed through Sarah now. It was as vivid as if she was living it:
Tracking young!Grace down is stalkery, but Sarah respects a good obsession, and they’ve found her. Now Sarah perches in the passenger seat of a Jeep, watching Dani. Sarah keeps one hand on a double-barrel Glock even though they’re in front of a private school, a colorful playground. Dani leans against the playground’s wire fence, watching a thin blonde girl who protects her smaller, darker brother. Finally, Dani comes back to the Jeep. This has been good for her. She looks tough, resolute. All Dani says is, “I won’t let Grace die again.” Sarah nods. It’s the moment she’s been waiting for. “Then be ready.” Dani gives her a closed-lipped smile, radiating absolute understanding. After these first weeks together they barely need to talk. Sarah knows Dani gets it. She’ll train Dani like she would have trained John. Show her how to survive and fight and -
Sarah’s heart sank as she pried her eyes open. That would have been…all right. But, whatever was going to happen next, it wasn’t that. That was another broken future, now. Something had changed it, prevented it. Not that anybody would believe her if she said anything. Story of Sarah Connor’s goddamn life.
Sarah forced herself up the ladder, favoring her bad arm. Instinct told her she’d been out of it for a while. This second wind of adrenaline, she knew, would be her last.
When she got to the main level again, she scanned the floor before finishing the ascent. There were a wallet, a set of keys. Scrambling up, she scooped them up, pocketed them in her vest. As she did, amidst the concrete, a woman howled like an animal. A girl reassured her in sweet, fluid Spanish.
Dani? Grace? The fuck?
Sarah hustled to the block of equipment where they'd left Grace. A culminating shout of agony rang the vault. There was an electric flash. Two silhouettes arced against the brief flare: two figures rose, something tangled between them, arms entwining. The flash killed Sarah's night vision. Swearing, she hurled herself close enough to really see, then stopped, frozen by something she'd never unsee.
Grace was alive.
She and Dani made a surreal spectacle. Against the dimness, Grace was waxen-pale, eyes sparking cyborg green. She was bare to the waist, streaked with blood, draped in cables, black and red. Metal gridding patched her skin. Holding a large, dark block in both hands, she reeled against Dani. Dani, down to her bra, had one arm around Grace’s midriff, holding a pad of dark fabric in place. Cables snaked out from under the pad, looped around Dani’s other arm and shoulder, suckled from the block. United by blood and wires, the two leaned into each other like they’d never be separated again.
Grace said, “Hi.”
It took Sarah a full fifteen seconds to regain the power of speech. “You. You. You hooked Grace up to a fucking car battery?”
Dani cried, "I won't let Grace die again!" Sarah winced to hear it.
Dani caught that, changed tack. “I worked in a car factory. Electronics. This way she has power to move. Her metal, her parts – ”
Sarah recalled those heart-attack paddles that sent a jolt of electricity through a man’s chest to shock them alive again. A flash of real memory hit her, her son John, saying snarkily: have you tried turning it off and turning it on again? Grace swayed. Both Dani and Sarah twitched. Suddenly, this was a crisis.
Sarah snarled, “YOU have to live. All of us. Out of here. NOW. You found a car?” Yes, Dani had. Yes, there were more. “Take us. Now!”
The trio lurched off, Dani semi-leading. Grace, the car battery, and a four-yard jumper cable were a burden. They were damn lucky that the sirens had died down. The only lights were crimson battery glows here and there. The power seemed completely blown by the death of two Terminators. Sarah hoped the grid was fried for the whole county. It was so dark inside the dam’s works, the exit’s opening nearly glowed. The night outside was luminous with promise if they could escape this place of death.
After they’d staggered through, Grace swayed to her knees. “Stop. Stop!”
Dani sank down with her. “What’s wrong?”
Grace had gone livid. She arced back into Dani’s touch. “It hurts – everything – ”
Dani clasped her shoulder. “I’ll fix you, I’ll get your medicine, painkillers, anything you need. A little further. Please!”
Sarah swept the car battery out of Grace’s limp hands. It weighed a ton. Shunting its weight to her left arm, she growled, “You heard her. Get up, you metal motherfucker.”
Grace snapped her eyes open. “Don’t call me that!” Sheer rage brought Grace to her feet again. Sarah knew it would. Because that was what kept her going for so long – rage and vengeance.
Something else was back, too. That chance yet again to change the future, versus the weight of doom in Sarah’s gut. When fate throws a dagger, there are only two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade. Sarah had caught the twist of Grace surviving by the blade. She was feeling the damage of it. What they did next could turn that around or doom them.
They made the parking lot at last. The dam and power plant were isolated enough in Texas’ miles of miles that the night stars were clear. Sarah scowled at the dark, wooded hills above them. Security here probably didn’t have infrared. She and Dani could have vanished easily into those Texas hills. But, no, they were saddled with this goddamn cyborg giraffe. That meant they were going to do this the hard way.
Sarah did a quick scan of the vehicles. The options were two trucks, two jeeps, one with the hood up – Dani must’ve disemboweled that one – and a crappy sedan. Perfect. She limped over, slowed by Grace’s battery. The others followed until she set the battery down on the asphalt with a clunk.
“You found a toolkit for your crazy shit? Got a screwdriver?” Sure enough, Dani dashed back to the Jeep, came back with a bouquet of screwdrivers. Damn, she was good. I can work like this, Sarah thought, choosing a flathead.
Sarah smashed the sedan window with the screwdriver’s handle. With the sharp end, she did a quick and dirty hotwire, sodomizing the ignition keyhole in one blow. A stab of pain over-rode her adrenaline. To the car, she muttered, “Good boy. Now start.” A turn, a rattle, and she had it. That recharged her battery even more. Wasn’t the first time she’d been half-dead and pulled off a hotwire. “Get her in. Back seat, both of you.”
Sarah felt the car’s bad suspension sway as Grace was loaded. The car gave another dip as Dani got in, slammed her door, and asked, “Where are we going?”
“Give me a sec. That toolkit got boltcutters? Throw the whole kit in the car. And shut that Jeep’s hood.”
While Dani got out and did that, Sarah had a moment. In the car’s dim light, she checked the wallet and keys she’d snatched. T-800 must have dropped this in the final takedown. The wallet was bloated with half an inch of cash and several bank cards. The car and house keys were heavy, too, weighed with tech fobs.
Dani hopped in again. It was Grace’s turn to snarl from her agony. “WHERE are we GOING? Tell her!”
Sarah relented. “Only place we’ll be safe. The cabin we were at. The old Terminator’s place.”
Dani gasped. “Carl’s home.”
Sarah said, “Exactly. If there’s any other Terminators, they won’t think we’ll go back. Both of you, heads down. We might be going by cameras that work.”
They’d survived the ghastliest Terminator yet and fled damage to a major public utility with a topless Augmented time-traveler. Now she, a wanted fugitive, had to get Dani, the hope of the future, out of here to keep saving the world. Sarah’s wayward sanity pinned itself to one thing. “I already told everyone I am not calling him Carl.”
Dani said, “But you – I heard you say – ”
Sarah shot one glance at them in the back seat. The two women were melded together again, Grace’s head cradled on Dani’s chest, a cyborg Pietà. Dani’s face was tear-streaked, as if she, unknowing, mourned the future she’d made impossible. Seeing their agony, Sarah’s mind flashed to all she’d endured. Fires and fights, being hunted and hunter, death and despair, watching the world end again and again and -
She hit the accelerator and drove like hell.
I didn't want Grace to die, but I thought having her live would be quite a challenge - both technically and for Sarah Connor. And I found myself writing this story. Dedicated to everyone else who was going "Grace, NOOOO" and to all the women who work in factories. I know how exceptional you are.
Also, if you walk into a car electronics place and ask "Could you power a cyborg from a car battery?" you get really excellent customer service.
Chapter 2: The Morning After Death
"I'll say we're housesitting for...Carl." Goddamn it.
The three of them made it to the cabin by dawn.
Sarah had paused them at the neon-streaked darkness of a truck stop. Only for the essentials: gasoline, caffeine for her and Dani, parking-lot fentanyl for Grace. Grace licked a dusting of the fentanyl off Dani’s finger and passed out. Dani was rattled by that, and insisted they find a drugstore. The drugstore rattled Dani further, with their prices and their bored refusal to sell her Grace’s anticonvulsants and benzos. “America,” Sarah said, with a shrug. Dani had still left the drugstore with two bags, drugs and first aid gear. They hit the road again.
At the signs for the military base, Sarah ungritted her teeth. “I know the way now.”
Dani began, “We have the coordinates…”
“If we need them.” Sarah’s distrustful here-and-there life had taught her to memorize directions, landmarks. The less at ease she was somewhere, the more she wanted to get out. Based on this, it was a clear road to T-800's cabin.
It felt shockingly mundane to pull up the long driveway to such an ordinary house. The American flag at the front door was vivid in the dawn. Sarah poked at the key fobs. One of the fobs opened the garage shed. Sarah drove in slowly, then pulled the screwdriver from the car’s ignition. The engine cut. She gave the car’s dashboard a pat. “Thanks. Hope it was good for you, too.” To Dani, she said, “We’re here.”
Dani said, “Grace is still unconscious.”
“Breathing?” When Dani said she was, Sarah said, “Leave her for now.”
Dani got out of the car, dubiously. “Will she be all right there?”
At the end of her tether, Sarah rounded on her. “I! Don’t! Know! I’m not the one who thought it was a good idea to connect a cyborg to a car battery!”
Dani was shrill right back at her. “I couldn’t let her die! Not after what she did for me. For everyone, the whole world!” Just as Sarah was about to shoot that down, she cried, “I wouldn’t leave you behind!”
Sarah took a very deep breath. “She’s stuck there for now. With that damn battery added, I’m too sapped to move her and you’re not strong enough.”
Dani’s face firmed. “If she is okay there I am going to sew her up.”
“Sew her up,” Sarah repeated.
“Carl made curtains! All the sewing things are here! I will sew up her bad injuries and some of the, the – “ Dani was tired enough for her English to blip out. Instead, she gashed a hand down the center of her chest. Sarah went and worked keys until one opened the front door. Dani flew in. Sarah stood, squinting, getting used to real lights again, and to something else, too. Within forty-eight hours, Dani had gone from standing to one side while Sarah threw ice and injected Grace’s drugs, to do-it-herself surgery. Sarah shook her head and went to boil water.
Half an hour later, Grace was as stitched up as she was going to get. Grace had reacted to that, which meant she’d probably wake up from the fentanyl. Dani’s stitching looked like hell compared to the fine white scars of the future. This done, Dani packed boiled muslin around the still-open aperture where Grace’s ribs turned to flesh and cables snaked out. Sarah did okay with blood and guts, but that combination of a human body and wiring made her want to hurl.
For a finishing touch, Dani tucked living-room pillows and afghans around Grace. When Dani began to stroke Grace’s forehead and whisper in her ear, Sarah decided she was done. She hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours. “I’m getting food and news. Join me or not.”
Back inside, she grabbed the first foodlike thing in the pantry, sticky granola bars, and chugged milk. It took Sarah four shaky tries to get the TV working. She gnashed granola as the news chirruped. Sure enough: Terrorist attack at the Amistad Dam! A dark man, possibly Arabic –
The cameras had caught the Rev-9 and his smirk. Not them, with the T-800.
From behind her shoulder, Dani said, “They think we were terrorists?”
Sarah looked back. “They think HE was a terrorist. They’re not mentioning us. Believe me, if they’d seen three women, especially you, we’d be front and center.” Sarah scrutinized the keys and fobs again. “Either one of these is a camera jammer, or I owe Major Dean, big time.”
Dani did not reply. Sarah saw she had stopped cold, eyes glazed. Sarah knew that clockwork feeling. You went and went hard until one final bit of crazy tipped you over the edge and shut you down.
“Eat. You need it.” She held out the box of bars, shook it until Dani took one.
Sarah went on. “I’m pulling the curtains, locking myself in, and getting some sleep. You do the same. Wherever you sleep, lock the door.”
Dani nodded, blinking. “Sarah...” Suddenly, she had a faceful of Dani’s sooty hair, and she was being gripped by her hardest hug in decades. “Gracias. Por todo, por mi vida, por lo que perdiste...”
The force of it caught Sarah off guard. “It’s okay. Watch my shoulder. Wasn’t like I had a life anyway.” Sarah let the embrace go on too long before she extracted herself. It was nice to be appreciated, for once.
Upstairs, there were three bedrooms. It was easy to see which had been whose.
Mateo’s: at the end of the hall. The kid had ransacked his drawers – he’d been attached. To stuff, to people. A civilian, no soldier. The kid had taste in women, at least, judging by his posters of Sigourney Weaver and bodybuilder dames. There were unwashed socks, empty drink cans, computer bits – teenage son mess. Sarah slammed that door.
Alicia’s: right at the top of the stairs. She’d tried to turn an angular cabin room into a feminine bower, linens and curtains in white, lemon, palest blue. There was a little desk and a pinboard with inspirational crap. Blessed Are The Peacemakers. The Bustle in a House. Scraps of yellow wallpaper, cards with fluttering birds. Sarah was about to turn on her heel when a familiar word caught her eye. What was Death doing on the board?
She found herself reading a poem:
The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –
That was it. That was the final bit of crazy for Sarah. She tore it down and crushed it.
It was as spooky as the poem that Alicia’s stuff was barely touched. Sarah’s respect for the woman ticked up slightly. She’d gone through enough to believe the T-800 and just run.
In the middle was a bedroom that performed the idea of a rugged man’s room. There was plaid. There was wood paneling. Items given as gifts lined up on a pine dresser. The hair on Sarah’s neck rose. It took her a solid minute to realize what was wrong with the space. It was the smell, or the lack of it. It didn’t have the testosterone funk of any room that held a true human male.
It was the only room that Sarah could endure. She crashed there.
When Sarah awoke, it was from another dream of a broken future.
She’s on a bench, in a green, leafy park, watching her family. Basking in yet another day after Judgement Day hasn’t happened. John, in his mid-forties, has his father Kyle’s stern cast, but none of Kyle’s scarring. To one side, two discreet bodyguards keep an eye on Senator John Connor, for his tech-limitation legislation has made him both beloved and reviled. One of the children, a girl, hops to Sarah, one shoelace trailing. “Tie me, grandma!” Sarah obeys the adorable brat, then watches her run away, light and heedless -
Sarah lay there for a few minutes and considered that one. She’d lied at the border that Dani was her grand-daughter. Dani could have been another John to her – a young person with a destiny, her having the honor and power of mentoring them. If that had been meant to be, Dani wouldn’t have revived Grace without at least checking in. That was still a shock. Sarah still wasn’t sure Grace being alive wasn’t opening up a new way to fuck the future.
It was full daylight. From next door, Sarah heard soft conversation, smelled food. It sounded like both Grace and Dani had made it inside and upstairs. She went and stood under a shower until its water ran clear. The mirror hated her, but that wasn’t news. She surveyed her limbs, inventoried her bruises, cuts, and sore spots. Along with her bad shoulder, she suspected that she'd cracked a few ribs. Dani hadn't hugged her that hard.
After her shower, she picked up her underwear, then threw it back down. Her clothes reeked. Fresh clothes were instantly a problem. She stared at the T-800’s bath robe and dresser. Wrapped in a large towel instead, Sarah went next door.
There, two people were on the bed. Probably for the first time ever, if T-800 had told the truth about his neutral life with Alicia. Dani, on top of the covers, was weary but happy. “She woke up.”
Grace, like Sarah, had shadowed eyes, livid skin, a hundred bruises. Her perfect cap of golden hair looked like it belonged to somebody else. Still, she was back among the living. The first thing she said was, “I peed in the car while I was out.”
Sarah barked with laughter. “That is the second car of mine you’ve messed with.”
Dani blushed on Grace’s behalf. Grace began, “I’ll clean it when I – ”
“Don’t worry. First rule of fighting Terminators: wear dark trousers."
It was Dani’s turn to laugh, and Sarah was startled by Grace’s unexpected smile, like the sun coming out. This was the first time they’d been together, awake, and not under threat.
Alicia's room had its own bathroom. Sarah helped herself to her uniform: a black T-shirt and trim denim. Dressing in the bathroom, she asked, “Dani, whatever was on those plates, can I get some? Then we need to give this place a once-over. Security. Supplies. Risk. Always security first.”
Grace said, “She’s right. Go.”
Dani’s lips parted, but Grace keeled back, turning her head to favor the wounded side of her neck. Closing her mouth tight, Dani slipped away.
House keys were working. They reviewed the locks. Sarah gestured to the sliding porch door. “That’s the weak point. Smash the glass, open up, easy.”
The gun shed’s key was on the keyring. The place still had half its weapons, the collection’s extremes of lightweight and heavy ordnance. Immediately, Sarah armed both of them from the lighter gear.
Weapons in hand, they walked a little of the property. It seemed to be an entire small valley, about two miles long, with the house in the center. A wide, deep stream traced the valley’s length. By South Texas standards, it was lush, thick with oak and ash trees. The trees were thinner and smaller near the cabin, closing in on the shooting-gallery meadow out back.
It was late spring, about to tip over into summer. The day was balmy already. “It’s so beautiful,” Dani marveled.
Sarah frowned. “Not sure about these leaves. They hide us, but also anyone coming here to hunt us.”
They traversed the driveway, confirming that the cabin was the only house. At the end, Sarah skimmed out the contents of the mailbox and closed a light timber gate. Dani asked, “What good does that do against a Terminator? Why do we even lock the doors?”
“You want every barrier possible. Tangle them up. Make them process. Every second counts.” They went back up the driveway. Sarah hoped that Dani could see the place through Sarah's eyes, now. Dani was distracted by the mail: a fabric catalog, an automatic bill payment notice, and a card.
Back at the house, Sarah asked, “Up for some roulette?” And they went through the tech fobs on the keyring. One turned on an alarm system for the house. “That’s something.” Two other fobs stayed mysterious. Sarah guessed one of them was the camera jammer.
"Let’s review supplies.” Between the pantry and the basement, the place was stocked, in a stodgy Tex-Mex way. Even with Grace eating for herself and her inner robot, they’d be fine, if bored, for a month.
“Now. Risk. This is the part where we think. First, open that card.”
Dani did. She smiled automatically. “It is for Carl from Alicia.”
Sarah leaned in to read. The envelope didn’t have a stamp on it – Alicia had just stuck it in the mailbox. She was a civilian after all, gushing gratitude, thanking Carl for Doing So Much and Making Sure They Had A Future and they Wouldn’t Let Him Down and they’d Always Remember Him.
“This,” Sarah tapped it, “is a risk. Why?”
Dani squirmed, but admitted, “We don’t belong here. If we tell a story about why we are here, the card maybe says we lie.”
Sarah beamed. “Yes! That’s why this is going to burn. Be right back.” She snatched the card and envelope and went outside.
When she returned, brushing ashes from her hands, Dani had vanished. Sarah was on her way upstairs when a noise drew her into the back: into the goddamned drapery studio. She ignored the tables and sewing machines for the horror of Dani tapping on a laptop.
Sarah counted to ten to keep her temper. She cleared her throat. “Dani. I was just talking about risk.”
“His user name and password were easy. And I put a sticker on the camera.” Dani held up a Post-it note that said CARL and 1234. “I wanted to see if he saved anything about the way he felt the Terminators arrive. A program or a record or…”
“No.” Every word T-800 had said was engraved on Sarah’s brain. “He said it was him.”
“Does that mean Grace could do the same?”
Sarah was suddenly a lot more invested in keeping Grace alive. Dani bounded away, to go ask. Sarah closed the laptop, unplugged it, and followed a lot more slowly. The more she moved, the more she felt how her bruising went down to the bone.
By the time she got upstairs, Dani perched on the white bed that held Grace. It seemed like Dani already had a spot there. She was trying to wake Grace softly, but Grace roused like a soldier, hard and sudden. To her wide eyes and scowl, Dani gasped, “It is okay! We are all safe. The house is good. Listen. I need to ask you something about the Augmented.”
Grace drew her brows together when Dani asked. She replied, “I don’t know if I could detect the time disruption. I don’t know if any arrived since I’ve been here and I missed it, or if I just can’t tell. How often did they come?”
Sarah said, “At first every couple of years. The past two years – more often.”
They all digested this. Dani felt Grace’s sweating forehead. “Is it time?” Grace asked, hopefully. Dani reached for the fentanyl again.
“Hold up,” Sarah said. “Before you zonk again, let’s talk security here. We just finished reconnaissance. Dani, you saw how this cabin is set deep in the valley, instead of high? It's a hideout, not a lookout. I'll work with what it is. Dani, I don’t want you leaving the property for a while.”
Dani lifted her chin. “I am not abandoning anybody.”
Grace said, “I’m a little injured and a lot attached to a car battery.”
“I noticed,” said Sarah.
Dani asked, “The things we need, you will get them?”
Sarah pulled out the T-800’s wallet. “That’s what this is for. Outside, stay under the trees. Wear a hat. I will too. Remember the drones.”
Dani shifted. “What about the Internet? I need to learn things, see the news.”
It was the twenty-first century. Sarah had pulled her smartphone out of her potato chip bag more than she wanted to admit. “Carl’s laptop only. No photos. No ordering stuff online. No email or Whatsbook stuff. And do not answer any phones. Let them ring. I’ll pick up. I’m used to lying. I'll say we're housesitting for...Carl.” Goddamn it. She looked Dani in the eye. “Can you promise me that your old accounts are dead to you?”
Dani sighed deeply. “Yes. I know that for a while.”
Grace had her own hunger. “What about food and water? Are we doing rations?”
Dani touched Grace’s shoulder to say, “There’s lots of food. But we will need fresh things soon.”
“We won’t die of scurvy in a few days. I want all of us to lie low till things calm down,” said Sarah. More important than that, Sarah decided, they were listening to her. She was in charge. For five minutes.
“Anything else? Sounds like you’ve got a lot of experience at hiding,” said Grace.
Make that five seconds.
Sarah inhaled to retort, but Dani beat her to it. She stood up, off the bed. “I do. I have something. Will you show me how to…to be like you? I want to be able to defend people. Because that is my future. I want to be ready.”
That was enough flattery and trust to kill Sarah right there. “I’d say yes. But that started the minute we got here. You want more?”
Dani nodded. “With what Grace says... there is not much time. I want to be ready.” A twist of the knife, echoing a future that wouldn't be.
“We’ll start tomorrow. I’ve got something special for us. Damn shame you’ll miss it, Grace.” She felt Grace’s glare at that. Invalid or no, she shouldn’t dish it out to Sarah if she couldn’t take it.
That night, Sarah had no dreams at all. None. It gave her a grumpy shock to be woken up by a knock on the door, not a vision shimmering into cold, present reality.
And what did that mean?
Gracias. Por todo, por mi vida, por lo que perdiste... = Thank you. For everything, for my life/my love, for everything you lost...
The poem is by Emily Dickinson.
Chapter 3: Technical Difficulties
"Kissing won't last. Killing does." While Grace mends, Sarah spends time with Dani. Her mentoring has its ups and downs - for both of them.
Next morning, Sarah and Dani began.
Sarah’s “something special” was about half a mile into the valley, towards its northern end. Arriving there, Sarah gestured and said, “What do you think we should we do about this helicopter we stole?”
Talking it out took Sarah and Dani a solid hour. Dani provided a lot of answers to a question Sarah did not ask: who was Dani Ramos?
“If we do blow it up we should do it at sunset so that the smoke will be lost in the night, but the fire will not stand out.” She was smart, and quick about it, too.
“It is so far here that if somebody finds it we can say we did not know it was in the trees.” Smart enough to play dumb at times. Good.
“I…I would like to still have it. Grace can fly it. Even if it takes us a little far from a Terminator, it still is good.” She was more afraid of Terminators than of the government around them. And she still saw Grace as one of her protectors.
“Also, that car is terrible.” She was, indeed, someone Sarah could work with.
Walking back, Sarah was satisfied overall. She did probe about one thing. “You all right being here? Any unfinished business?” I know you’ll say something. Do not say a boyfriend, Sarah thought.
“I hope my dog is all right. Taco. Silly name, I know. We only got him two years ago but when Diego was little he had a toy dog named Taquito. If any of us were sick, me, Papi, Taco would sit on our beds. Everyone in the building, all the grandmothers, loved him. I hope someone would…”
It wasn’t a boyfriend. Weird, for a looker like Dani, but far better right now than if she’d had one. “Your dog’s probably alive. Terminators ignore shit that’s not relevant to them. That includes animals.”
Dani perked up immediately. She asked, “Did you have a pet? Before the Terminators?”
Sarah said, “I had an iguana.”
Dani gasped in amusement. Sarah spun out the story of her long-lost iguana until they got back to the cabin. There, Dani said, almost wistfully, “You sound like you…used to be a lot of fun.”
“Give me a helicopter that I can blow up, and you’ll see how much fun.”
The walk showed Sarah she was too busted to even think about physical training that week. Instead, with Dani, Sarah went through her key Terminator encounters: how she’d learned what worked and didn’t while hunting them. That was their mornings. In the afternoons, Dani scoured the ‘Net and the T-800’s bookshelves, trying to really fix Grace. Sarah left her to it, entering a soldier’s waiting zone. She cooked dinner most nights. Using knives and searing things suited her.
Grace, during this time, ate, slept, and lapped up fentanyl. If she was awake, Dani was reluctant to leave her. When Sarah recounted in front of her, Grace didn’t say much, but she listened. She did so with a twist to her mouth that Sarah didn’t like. As if Sarah’s experience didn’t matter, because it had happened in this luxurious, not-yet-radioactive past.
Sarah remained twitchy enough that the least noise woke her. Twice, Sarah heard soft weeping in the middle of the night. Cry while you can, Sarah thought. One day, the tears would dry up. Sarah’s had.
In their second week, Sarah got them into the weapons shed. “We’re short and skinny. That makes us weapons fighters. When it comes to a Terminator, we haven’t got a chance hand to hand.”
“Grace does,” said Dani.
“Grace does when she’s in working order.”
Sarah spent time on the basics they’d shorted to get Dani shooting: safety, cleaning, and serious maintenance. “Take your favorites apart and put them together blindfolded” was her motto. She encouraged Dani to carry the ones she liked constantly.
Dani took unloaded weapons to the bedroom to assemble and reassemble while keeping Grace company. The presence of weapons, and her neck wound healing, got Grace talking more. Sarah found herself getting caught in their doorway, listening to Grace’s brief asides about future weapons and wars. Her usual interjection was “Sounds like hell.”
As she listened, she’d eye what Dani had done to the ‘inspirational’ desk. She had rearranged its pieces, relocated a few candles from downstairs, a jar with greenery, and, maddeningly, a picture of T-800 and Mateo.
At the end of that week, Sarah couldn’t stand it anymore. She gestured at the picture. “I have to ask. Why?”
Dani huffed. “I don’t have any pictures of my father or Diego. Because you threw my phone away before I could turn it off and put it in your chip bag. And you say no social media. So I look at that picture, a father and son. And in them, I see my family.” Dani tilted her head. “All right?”
It was the one angry thing Dani had said in two weeks. Dani hadn’t needed to raise her voice to make Sarah felt like a complete shitheel. Sarah said, heavily, “I’m. Sorry.” And noted, to herself, that Dani knew how to hold a grudge.
Dani accepted this with a nod. Then, she went back to preparing one of Grace’s fentanyl doses. She still did that how Sarah had told her to in their parking-lot crisis mode: scraping off a little from a pill, then dabbing it on her finger for Grace to lick up. Sarah had meant it as a quick fix, pain relief without an overdose. It seemed to have turned into a ritual. Watching it, Sarah flinched.
Dani noticed. Once Grace was asleep, she chased after Sarah. “I need to talk about Grace.”
“I am still trying to find what is best around a new power source for her. For now, she is healing.” Dani held up the plastic baggie of fentanyl. “This will be gone, soon. And I hate giving her drugs from a truck stop and hoping for luck. When can we get real medicine?”
“I don’t like this either. I think it’s crap for an army to fill its soldiers with metal and drugs. But they all do it. From cartels to the military here in the U.S. of A.” Sarah saw the future leader of the resistance wasn’t really taking this in, so she moved on. “How long will the fentanyl last?”
“A week? Her other drugs are low, too.”
“Mmmh. Time get real meds for her and IDs for you.”
“And Grace, too.”
Sarah ploughed on. “I’d need to leave for a few days to do it. I’ve got a contact in L.A.”
“Like Major Dean?”
“Kind of his opposite.” News about the ‘terrorist attack’ was dying down for lack of a manifesto or any corpses. And when it came to fearing Terminators versus the U.S. government, with the current news, Sarah was balancing her fears fifty-fifty. “You okay on your own a few days? I’ll stock you up first.”
That won her one of Dani’s warmest smiles. “Thank you. I do not want Grace to be in pain. Every hurt she has, she has for me.” She wasn’t, Sarah noted, that concerned about herself, compared to Grace.
Sarah heard the weeping again that night. It was deeper, with a raw edge to it. The week before, Sarah had been pretty sure who’d been crying. Not this time. She’d do her best, tomorrow, to make sure Dani really was okay for a few days on her own. It had to happen sooner or later.
Sarah was up early that morning. She’d dreamed again.
The glimpses of broken futures weren’t always good. This had been one of the crap versions:
Her son, an adult in his prime, awakening alone in a dim, luxurious bunker. He pauses at a podium to rant to an empty hall, then wanders through its steely, echoing corridors, bewildered. Checking monitors reveals an apocalypse outside. A shattered city, howling nuclear winter, crawling with robots. He crawls himself, back to his bunk, broken, overwhelmed --
She’d opened her eyes angry. She wanted to scream at John, man up, this is the future I brought you up to fight, goddamn it – The possibility alone, that her son might have been a coward, made her mad as fire.
Waking up mad sparked Sarah with extra energy. It was the first day she’d felt decent moving since their defense at the dam. Her shoulder and ribs still ached, and one of her hips was off, but at her age, she’d take it. Two weeks of quiet had her feeling young again. All right, maybe feeling forty or so. She’d put both Dani and herself through their paces with a try at a real workout.
Outside, at the green end of the target-range field, Sarah took Dani through what she considered a light fitness routine. Getting physical, they really, really clicked: jogging in stride, kickboxing against leaves, losing it after the same number of ab crunches. All Sarah had to say when Dani lagged was “Think about a TERMINATOR” and she brought it again, twice as hard. They got to the point where Dani laughed about it. Sarah let her. “You’ll sleep well tonight,” she said.
They were unwinding with some stretches when it happened. Dani went watchful, absolutely still. Sarah chilled. She reached for her sidearm. No. Not again. Not this soon --
Dani pointed, whispering, “Ve - gato montes!”
Sarah turned slowly. A young bobcat was hunkered by the valley’s stream, lapping up water. Its wide eyes and small chin mirrored Dani’s kitten face. Seeing them, it started, fled. Dani, all thought overridden by delight, chased after it. Sarah opened her mouth to shout, to stop her, and closed her throat on Dani’s name. Shouting could be deadlier than Dani’s crashing through the woods.
By the time Dani rustled back, Sarah was standing, hands on her hips. “I can see we’re going to have to get you used to the great outdoors,” she said, sternly. “A hunter waits. Waits and lines up for one shot.”
Dani plucked a leaf out of her hair. “I don’t want to shoot it…only to see.”
“You’ll say something different after Judgement Day. Either way: with an animal, wait for it, don’t chase it. Pick where you know it goes and hide. Grace may not like that, but ten thousand years of human hunting ain’t wrong.”
They went back to the range for some target practice. Seeing her hesitate over which weapon, Sarah told her, “You don’t need to mix it up every time. It’s okay to have favorites. You’re gonna have a relationship. This,” she clicked off the safety on a handsome Remington ACR, “is better than any boyfriend, trust me.”
Dani’s eyes widened, with the same alarm as when Sarah had talked about Dani having a kid. Sarah thought she had a bead on that part of Dani by now: not a full-on church girl, but a ‘good girl’. That was fine. Something Sarah needed to tell her might go down easier, that way. Sarah got her okay to go first, and looked out at the targets.
“Speaking of boyfriends with a life like mine. Like ours…”
Sarah clicked her safety off. “It’s a losing game.”
“You’re a very beautiful woman. The world’s full of men who’ll use you.” Sarah focused on a target, taking her time.
“I didn’t always look like this. For a while, I traded my body for what I thought we needed. I was young and dumb and thought it was ‘relationships’. John called it what it was, ‘shacking up.’ Damn kid was right.” Sarah braced on the trigger. “It was a mistake, almost every time. Take it from me. Kissing won’t last. Killing does." Sarah’s shot spanged off the target’s head, sent it down.
“There are good men out there, even living off the grid, underground. Good people. With those ones…what I had to say about the future was too much. I’d start to care about someone. I’d want to warn them. It went wrong every time. Remember how they thought you were crazy in border detention?”
“Yes,” Dani said, faintly.
“Imagine that from a man you’ve been living with for six months who’s good with your kid.” Sarah fired again. Another target went down. “I’m not fuckable anymore. That makes me as close to invisible as I’ll get and that’s how I like it.”
Dani asked, “You have been alone…how long after your son died?”
“Pretty much that. We’re all alone in the end. Figured I’d get used to it.” She had, and she hadn’t. There were things – and people – she’d done after John died. She caught Dani’s eye. Her expressive face radiated sympathy. That made Sarah swallow those down.
“If it all goes the way Grace says, it’s not going to be too long until the world knows what we know. Maybe you’ll meet someone afterwards. Ready to shoot?” Dani was. She was efficient, silent. She didn’t leave a target-man standing. “Nice. Very nice.”
Afterwards, Dani fled upstairs, checking on Grace. Sarah washed her hands. That had been necessary. If she didn’t make it back from her errand, Dani was that much the wiser. Recovering, she poured herself orange juice from a smooth plastic bottle. She drank its undiluted thickness slowly. Hydration. Vitamins. Excess. The taste of America.
Dani bustled back down and pulled out a chair, quickly. She was as alight as if the firing range conversation hasn’t happened. “She’s coming down!”
Sarah knew who she meant. “Oh? Good.” There was a slow tread on the stairs. Grace appeared, carrying the battery in one elbow, cables looped around her other arm.
“I heard you set off the alarm clock outside,” Grace said, drily.
Sarah said, “How are you doing?”
Grace made it to the chair, letting her battery hit the floor with a thud. “This battery rig is low power, but it’s enough to make my base tech work, and my joint servers. I can move normally. Like a civilian."
She was pale, healing wounds livid, and her moves were thoughtful. But after what had happened… Grace was walking. Her body was knitting together at a frightening rate. Dani was fairly dancing around the kitchen as she whipped up eggs and tortillas. Sarah felt like she had her own body back. It was the best all of them had been since the night at the dam.
“You’re a goddamn miracle,” Sarah admitted. “Welcome back among the living.”
As they ate, Grace was methodical, packing the calories in. The only thing that slowed her down was one appreciative pause after she added some of Dani’s homemade salsa. After making seconds for her, Dani held up the empty egg carton, raised an eyebrow at Sarah.
Yes, today was the day. “I’ll do the supply run at eleven. Make a list.”
Dani’s list was long as her arm. Food, food, food. Sanitary pads, that took Sarah back. Another 1200 volt car battery, preferably two, and a car battery charger. There was another list for the drugstore, meds and a very specific list of toiletries.
“You don’t need this face crap. You’ll miss it when it’s not around.” As she said it, Sarah was aware how ridiculous that sounded in this house.
Worse, Grace chimed in. “We missed everything we lost. I’m still having it now,” said Grace, lifting her fork. Mentally, she was clearly back online.
“I would be happy with only the shampoo and conditioner.” Dani tilted her head as she asked. Sarah doubted Dani was aware of all the little mannerisms she had to draw out and charm.
At the edge of Sarah’s vision, the bottle of orange juice gleamed like a marble monument. “Fine. One day you’ll see. Two batteries?”
“Spares. To charge and switch.”
Sarah eyed Grace. “Is your power source the same as a Terminator’s?”
Through a mouthful, Grace said, “Similar. They’re both hyperbatteries.”
“We do not have them yet,” Dani said.
Sarah met Grace’s eyes. “Can you do your ‘future shit’ to make a replacement?”
Grace said, sharply, “We reverse-engineered hyperbatteries from tech we stole off Terminators. The first ones were kindled from the reaction inside a Terminator hyperbattery. You need one to make one. Along with a lab, and a fission reactor, and some rare metals, and some people who don’t exist yet. So, no, I can’t. We need more future shit than we’ve got.”
Dani looked away. Grace added, “Like Sarah said, just this is a miracle.”
Time, Sarah decided, to change the subject. “I need to hit your room for a minute. I want a ‘nice lady’ outfit for the supply run. You saw what happened with me at the border. The less obvious it is that I’m me, the better.” They gave her the run of the room, and she left.
She went upstairs, remembering. In the early 2000s, Sarah had given up for a while. She’d spent a stint bodyguarding for a Mexican cartel family with four daughters. Her plan was to save up some money, then go drink herself to death on a certain beach in Guatemala. As part of the job, she’d been given her first mobile phone. Then the messages had begun. Once she’d realized they were the coordinates where she could find Terminators… Anyway, after that time, she could still fake being a rich bitch.
Sarah was buttoning up when Dani knocked and slid in. She eyed Sarah’s sage-green jeans and white button-down shirt with approval. “You look so nice!”
“I don’t know who you’re talking to.”
Seeing Sarah turn sideways, frowning, Dani said, “Just let me…” Dani startled Sarah by going down on her knees, messing with the hem of Sarah’s shirt. Sarah froze like the bobcat. The soft press of Dani’s fingers inside her front waistband genuinely shocked her. Nobody else had touched her there – close to there – in years.
Dani stood again, satisfied. “The half-tuck. Like Instagram. See!” In a mirror, Sarah saw what she meant. Dani had given the shirt a clever half-tuck into the waistband that shaped its volume. “You need something for your neck.”
“Plenty would say a noose.” Sarah picked out a tolerable gold-tone chain.
Dani reached up to help. She fastened the clasp with more gentle touches. Almost in Sarah’s ear, she said, “Sarah, please don’t hate yourself.”
Sarah snorted. “First, don’t go Oprah on me. I’m a lost cause. Second, don’t tell me you’re going to go hunting a Terminator.”
“I won’t.” Dani killed that instant’s relief by adding. “Everyone says they will come to me.”
For a moment, the room was quiet with the truth.
Sarah said, “Then be ready.” With that, she left: ludicrous sunhat in her hand, that soft touch lingering on her skin, and a broken future ringing in her mind.
Sarah wasn’t ready to bet that the T-800 had another stupid PIN number on his card. She’d save that for her contact in L.A. Instead, she worked from the cash in Carl’s wallet. Being a wheedling white lady didn’t solve their problem with Grace’s medications. Benzos and muscle relaxers were, again, flatly denied by the pharmacist. She’d need to pony up for a crooked doc, a pill mill. A problem, a risk.
Sarah gritted her teeth and worked through the rest of the list. She wouldn’t be doing this delicate charade beyond a few days to recover if not for Grace, told herself. She and Dani would be on the move by now, off the grid for real. Sarah knew from life with John that two people could slide between the world’s cracks, hide in the corners. More, with only Sarah around, Dani would be losing the civilian shit she didn’t need now. To say nothing of this damn battery insanity. They could be starting – Dani’s future. Not whatever the hell was going to happen with Grace around.
Grace would stay a patient if they couldn’t fix her, bringing out Dani’s softer side. Grace would be a power if they did fix her, tall and beyond-strong and goddamn sassing back all the time, with her own strategies from her own war. Either way, Grace was the opposite of inconspicuous. Her presence would make life on the lam a million times harder. It already made Sarah harder, herself.
When Sarah got back, the cabin was quiet in the Texas afternoon. Grace still slept much of the day. Dani had taken to lying or sleeping by her side: Grace felt cold a lot, she said. Sarah had tired herself out putting Dani through her paces. She still needed to heal, too. She downed a protein shake and a few over-the-counter painkillers (America) and let herself have a siesta.
She’s speaking to Dani in Spanish. It’s been a hot day: they are both wearing white tank tops. They've been on the run, stressed. What they're saying isn't quite clear. It's overwhelmed by Sarah forcing a kiss on Dani. She's never tasted such full, soft lips before. Dani gasps into her mouth, a breath of fear and tequila, then turns her head away, filling Sarah’s face with silky, clean hair. Sarah rasps, “Let me. Don’t we owe each other?” With that, Sarah pries her hand down the front of Dani’s sleek leggings, beneath thin cotton. What she probes there is hot and soft and so, so liquid. “Good girl.” Dani whimpers and Sarah --
It took a moment for her breathing to slow. Someone – had to be Dani – was taking a shower. That was an image she didn’t need, of a body Sarah would never look at the same again. How could any version of her do that, after the shit she’d seen – Dani was young enough to be her – Fuck you, future, fuck you very much.
Restless, furious with herself, she stomped downstairs. Someone had tidied most of the supplies away, lined Grace’s meds up on the counter. On automatic, Sarah stripped off the white shirt, began the cooking she’d planned while she shopped, in a fury of knife-work. It wasn’t until she was halfway done that she realized she was in a white tank top.
By the time Sarah was cleaning knives and a cleaver, Grace came down again. The battery was now in an improvised sling, canvas from the drapery stash. Grace had two smiles: a tight, wry one, and a big sunny one. Seeing Sarah there, she delivered the tight one.
“Hey.” Her nostrils flared at the kitchen’s fragrance.
Sarah gave her a nod. “Just cooking,” she said, lifting a knife.
Grace tried, and failed, to not look interested. “What are you making?”
Sarah opened the stove, showing two cast-iron pots. “Pibil pork – that’s slow-cooked meat – and beans. Lasts a couple of days, serve it a couple of ways. My son used to get tired of it…” She closed the stove. “You want anything? Grab it. We’re stocked up.”
Confronted with a full non-apocalyptic kitchen, Grace froze, her future-past grinding against the present. This was her delayed overload moment.
Dani reappeared. To Grace, she said, “I was going to get it for you!”
It looked like she’d appreciated the shopping run. Dani’s clothes were nothing fancy, jeans and a fitted red t-shirt, but she was groomed. There was a touch of red gloss on her lips, and her hair was loose, clean and lush. More, she was happy again. That lit her up more than any designer crap could have.
Grace was still on overload, stunned. She said, “It’s fine. I’ll be getting up more now that I’m healing. You’re not my mom. Yet,” she ended, weakly.
“No, no, I will make it for you. Then I will make us some salsa to go with dinner.” Dani raided the fresh groceries to make a banana-peanut-butter milkshake for Grace, her own idea to keep Grace fueled. Sarah found herself watching Dani’s lips, looking at the fruit and cream on her fingers. Damn it. She couldn’t stop seeing what the dream had shown her. She knew Dani Ramos now, too well.
Trying to break out of that, Sarah did something. “Top it off with this.” She plunked the protein powder canister, swollen as a bodybuilder, in front of Dani. “This is your friend too. Makes everything less delicious.”
After pulverizing the lot, Dani poured most of the blender for Grace and a small glass for herself. With the protein powder added, Dani made a small face after sipping. Grace sculled her shake in one long, thirsty go. Dani stopped sipping to watch this. Seemed like the protein powder went down wrong, for her.
Sarah cleared her throat. “Where do you want the batteries? They’re still in the car.”
Dani turned to her gratefully. “I will charge them in the garage. Thank you for getting everything.” Dani held out a lock of her hair to Sarah. “Feel my hair!”
Sarah backed off. “I’m filthy. Cooking,” she said. Besides, she already knew what it would feel like. Silky and a little rough at the same time: alive.
Dani asked Grace, “Do I have long hair in the future? Or can you not say?” She shot a look at Sarah. “There are things she will not tell me.” Sarah felt that to the bone.
Grace wiped her mouth. “Yes. You do. Always braids.” In response, Dani offered Grace the lock of hair that Sarah had refused. Grace ran it through her fingers like a ribbon, then curled her hand to cup more of Dani’s hair. “That’s…” Grace went hushed. “Nice.”
The way her hands lingered twisted that dagger between Sarah’s ribs. It was like when Kyle had touched Sarah’s own young body, so long ago. Before all the scars of her own. That body, that life, were so long gone, she hadn’t mentioned them to Dani.
Sarah turned away. “I’m going back out. I forgot something in the car.”
She walked back to the sedan and gave its tires a kick. This was why she’d kept herself alone for so long. What she’d forgotten, over one distracted day, was that life sucked. That the future was Judgement Day, apocalypse and pain. And that she was overdue to get seriously liquored up to deal with it.
Hey there, Terminators, Augments, and Resistance fighters – thank you so, so much for the amazing response to this story! I’ll have a new update Sunday my time. From then I’ll be posting 2 – 3 chapters a week.
Sarah’s vision of John here comes from one of the Terminator comics, Terminator 2: Infinity, from 2007. There were a lot of Terminator comics and they’re all really intense.
Veo - gato montes! – Look! A bobcat/wildcat!
Chapter 4: Pain and Killers
“Here to fuck me up?” Sarah lifted her glass towards Grace. “I’m way ahead of you.”
That evening, Sarah ate enough to line her stomach, just. Picking up on how her mood had crashed, Dani and Grace went upstairs. When the cabin had fallen quiet, Sarah went to pick her poison.
Drinking was not Sarah’s friend. It took her days to recover from a bender, now. But she kept going back to the bottle. It was the most reliable way to turn off both the past and those broken-future dreams. When her phone hadn’t sent any coordinates for a while, she’d have a nightcap. Or three. When the coordinates came in, she went cold sober until she offed a Terminator. Then it was time for some real drinking. She’d helped kill two, damn it. Been on her best behavior for weeks. She’d earned this.
And this was Texas. The liquor cabinet proved that. There was enough bourbon and tequila to fuel a cartel gang’s party. Most of the bottles were untouched. They had gift tags on them, presents for ‘Carl’ from grateful drapery clients.
Sarah had started out as a beer girl. But she’d been sipping a beer right before John died. The stuff tasted like weak death to her, now. She’d sipped the beer T-800 had given her two weeks ago on purpose, tasting the pain as she kept her eyes locked on him. He owed her a better drink. She ripped a tag off a fresh bottle of tequila, Grand Patrón Platinum. Her hand also hovered over a bottle of tequila’s sly cousin, raicilla. The stuff was sweet and smoky, with a sting in its tail. Why not both? She decided to start with the raicilla and let tequila finish the job. Sweet to bitter.
It was already buggy outside at night. That sent Sarah to one of the sofas, with a tumbler for each liquor and a bowl of chips. She dimmed the lights. Two hours of letting existence blur, and she’d have a little sweet oblivion. She’d take the hell of her hangover on the road tomorrow. By the time she got back, her – whatever – around Dani would have worn off. A win-win.
Sarah was well down her second generous raicilla when she heard that distinctly heavy tread on the stairs. Grace emerged from the stairwell’s shadows, tall and cautious, barefoot in shorts.
“Here to fuck me up?” Sarah lifted her glass towards Grace. “I’m way ahead of you.”
Grace gave her a gray look. She said, flatly, “I couldn’t find one of my meds.”
Oh. “Try the counter.”
It was there. Sarah watched as Grace set her car battery-millstone on the counter beside her. Umbilical wires trailed from it to her, distorting her left side under her T-shirt. She was still getting used to moving again. Her legs were smooth compared to her scarred arms, the glimpses of her torso. Watching, Sarah was lucid enough to think she still didn’t know much about the laconic fighter from the future. She was liquored enough to decide she had the solution to that.
“Painkiller of choice here. Want some?” There was a bit of malice in the invitation. Sarah was pretty sure she could drink Grace under the table, painkillers or not.
Grace smiled tightly, like she thought the same about Sarah. “I think I do.” Slow but smooth, she took up the sofa across from Sarah, setting the battery on the cushions beside her.
Sarah poured her two fingers of raicilla and sat back. But she had forgotten how Grace drank liquids - like they’d be snatched away. Grace screwed up her face and downed it all. “That’s – that’s – “ Grace swallowed air. For an instant, her face was genuinely alight. “That’s amazing.”
“Sip it, then, don’t kill yourself.” Sarah nudged the bowl of chips at her. With a scoop from one big hand, Grace took half the bowl.
Sarah curled her lip. “Save some for me.” She poured a little more for Grace. “This takes me back. Last time I had this was a job in Guadalajara, down in Dani’s country. An ammo dealer wanted someone killed quick and clean, and I wanted some anti-Terminator ordnance. We did a swap. I was in and out. But I stopped for a bottle of this on my way.”
“Nice for you,” Grace said. She contemplated her drink's last drops. “Nice alcohol, compared to what we had in my time. It would’ve torn your throat out. I didn’t mind. We’d all learned to ignore our taste buds by then. That was the good stuff, too. My squad of Augments was highly ranked. When we wanted it, that was what we had.”
It was on. Sarah grinned, then decided she wanted a fair fight, “I know from experience I can take anything a bottle throws at me, short of a Molotov cocktail. You sure about this right now? Meds and whatever?”
Grace sat up straighter. “I’m six foot two and two hundred and sixty-seven pounds. Only eighty of that is metal. The rest of me is muscle. I can handle it. Besides,” her blue eyes bored into Sarah’s, “half my meds are missing.”
Sarah said, “Half your meds are harder to get here than in Mexico. I’m trying. That’s why I drink. If I get thirsty, nobody’s asking for a ‘scrip. Or a favor.”
Sarah poured her another splash. “We’re even. For now.” Once Grace tasted her raicilla, Sarah leaned in. “Question for you.”
“World got nuked, your Judgement Day, and they’re still cranking out high tech? Like you? Plus you need a fucking pharmacy after a fight? Where are they getting your meds?”
Grace looked beyond Sarah, eyes hollow. “After the nuclear war, the world was split into two: the machines and the humans. Humans were split into two again: those who were bunkered and those who weren’t.”
The cadence in her voice evoked all Sarah’s broken futures. “Bunkered?”
“Companies, the government, those who used to be rich went down. Underground. They had shelters, supplies right after. Most of the rest of us didn’t. I didn’t. Not until...like I said, I survived. The hard way.” Grace did more damage to the chips, remembering that. “Some places weren’t hit hard. Didn’t mean they wanted to let us in.”
“Assholes.” Sarah remembered her dream of John in a luxurious bunker and felt that knife-twist. She swilled her glass to the dregs.
Grace said, “Dani was the one who brought the factions together. To actually do something.”
“Sounds like our girl.” Sarah switched them both over to tequila. She was at the point where she poured with a flourish. “Here’s to Dani.”
“To Dani.” They drank deep. Grace gasped again.
Sarah tsk’ed. “I told you, sip. Why aren’t you dead right now, with the…wiring?”
Grace’s blue eyes were hard. “Dani, and you know it.”
Sarah rolled her hand. “I mean, like, infection. Walking around with jumper cables sticking out of you, for Christ’s sake. Did they do something to your body, too?”
Again, Grace nearly recited. “I’ve got an internal drug pump with immune smoothers and antibiotics. We all did – all us Augmented. It’ll last ten years, they told us. I’m on year three.” She said that with pride.
“How come they didn’t put painkillers and the rest in that, too?”
“We can still live if we’re in pain.”
Sarah snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Grace almost smiled. Between the attention and the alcohol and the meds she was still on, Grace’s cheeks had warmed. Her golden cap of hair looked like it belonged to her again. Sarah realized that as in her dream of Dani earlier, they were wearing the same white tank top. She touched her tongue to her own lips. Tequila.
To fill her mind against that, Sarah sipped and said, “People have this idea that you need all this crap to drink tequila. Salt, limes. Not if ‘s the good shit.”
Grace’s hand folded around the raicilla bottle. The golden liquor echoed her hair. Examining it, her face hardened. “In my time you could’ve swapped this for a kid.”
Sarah huffed. “This stuff can’t be that good.”
“Happened to me. After my father died. Before I learned to run.”
That was a gut-punch. Sarah had nothing. Grace went on. “Why are you still alive, yourself? You were hunting Terminators in this time in an unarmored vehicle. Standard artillery. Primitive! If you hadn’t shown up when you did, if you just told me you did that, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
“I had experience. Plus one of them killed my son. That happens, it...” Sarah tapped the tequila bottle with one finger. “Distills you.”
“Found out what worked, what didn’t. Found out I really liked explosions.”
“And never, never let one get its hands on me.”
Grace, slowly, nodded. “You would’ve been dead. Any normal human would. That’s why there are Augments. For when something has to be done, but it’s going to draw Terminators. Only we can go hand to hand with them and live.” She looked Sarah up and down. “You’re strong. You might’ve lived long enough to be saved.”
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.” Sarah poured them the round she’d been craving, the one that would tip them over. She heard herself admitting, “My Terminators, the ones – he – pinged, weren’t Rev-9. I’d remember a Rev-9. I would.”
“Rev-9 are fuckers. That’s when we came in.” They were both huddled over the long coffee table now, foreheads almost touching.
Sarah took a hit of liquid courage. “The white lines? Sorry. I gotta know.”
“They opened us up. And filled us with metal. First, our nerves. Implants, wires. Then, ceramic-metal in our bones. Reinforced joints. In our muscles, fibers, plates. Mesothelium, interstitium, lined with metal mesh. All through these. Every line.”
Grace held out her arm. Despite the horror Sarah’s reeling mind span, she took it, ran her thumb over a white scar. They remained more distinct than Grace’s fading scrapes from two weeks ago.
“It hurt more than anything you could imagine. Then, and, sometimes, afterwards.”
Grace went on, in that voice from some future fireside. “We used to hack ourselves. We weren’t supposed to, but we did. Anything to cut down the pain. Eat weird minerals, sleep next to vehicle batteries, get plant drugs from farmers, from nukescum. Swap with the technerds to get them to fill our heads with white noise or music.”
“You in pain now?”
“No,” Grace said, with a laugh in it. “Wish we’d had this liquor.”
“Tequila,” Sarah said. She was still running her thumb over the white scar-lines. When Grace wasn’t overheating, there was something reassuring about her irregular skin. The metal inside Grace gave her the density of something valuable.
“It was still worth it, to know I was strong. That I could do something…most of us Augmented were women. Our immune system.”
Sarah jumped on this. “Yeah, ’s like – you can have this other thing in your body – you can have a child and your immune system – fuck, I forget. If your body screws it up you abort your own kid.”
“We stuck together.”
“Why’m’I not surprised.” Grace wasn’t the biggest dyke Sarah had ever met, but she was the tallest. Even Dani had to know.
Grace went on. “Soldiers party but us Augmented…the others wanted to…to tear us down…”
Sarah suddenly felt Grace’s weight in her own bones. “That. That has been me, too.”
Grace curled her wrist and was, suddenly, gripping Sarah’s hand. Her eyes were wide and fixed.
All it takes to make you crazy is one future, Sarah thought. Must’ve slipped, said it aloud. For Grace replied.
“There’s things I don’t tell Dani. Because of the future.” Grace half-whispered.
Sarah tapped fingers against Grace. “The ‘vantage of tequila is I probably won’t remember.”
“I don’t know if it fucks things up. She’s here and alive and so very - I can’t fuck things up.” Grace’s eyes glazed with anguish.
The times I thought that, and I did, Sarah thought. That one didn’t make it out.
“Finish these.” Freeing her hand, Sarah slid the chips Grace’s way. Trying to take a chip herself, she fumbled it. She was getting sloppy. Time to turn in.
Reeling up, she shoved the raicilla bottle towards Grace. “Save this. Take the edge off. While I’m away.”
Grace, swept it up, lurched to standing as she clutched it. “You’re going?”
Damn, Grace was tall. “I said earlier. Jus’ like, two days. Three. You and Dani need – you need ID – cards – it’ll help with your drugs –” Sarah shook her head. “I’m too. Trashed. I’ll get ‘em and it’ll be fine. You’ll be fine here. ‘S the only fine place. You look out for her.”
Grace coiled her fists and snarled, “I can’t. I’m a goddamn mess. I’m weak!”
Sarah grabbed Grace’s scar-lined wrist with her free hand. Clamped it hard, pulled Grace partly down, so they were face to face. She hissed, “That works. Do not fucking let her go out – you can do that. Be in pain, wet the bed, whatever it takes. I don’t want her seen. Found. Not just Terminators. I do not want her back in that cage. That human cage.”
Finally, Grace got it. “The camp at the border.”
Sarah gave her a shake. “Fuck, yes. Keep her here. You got that?”
Grace’s pupils were blown. Sarah saw, again, pinpoints of cyborg green in her eyes’ depths. “I got it – “
“Pin her down – “
Grace was shaken by laughter. “Oh, I will – “
Sarah released her. “Yeah, you got this.”
Sarah laughed too and it was bitter, a soldier’s rasp. That was how Sarah left Grace, swaying in between the sofas. Her solitary years had taught her when to leave.
Sarah drifted up the now-dizzying stairs to the edge of her Terminator’s bed. She fell back onto it, barely making a dent. This was how all the times she’d let someone else in had ended, since John had died: herself, alone, and tequila.
In the first reckless years after that, sometimes she’d been alone because she’d kicked somebody out. She’d pick out the most scarred bruiser from a job and take it from there. Either out partying, or still exulting after a firefight or takedown, or both – the more adrenaline, the better.
That had been as close as she could get to how exciting had been with Kyle. Her own doomed, irresistible protector from a Terminated future. Rugged, beautiful, unmatchable Kyle, with all the hunger of the end of the world in his eyes. A lifetime of love in his touch. Her eyes were hot. Why the hell was she thinking of Kyle, six drinks down and a lifetime too late?
Thinking of him was heartbreak. The fighters who she’d used, or who used her, weren’t worth a drop of her spit. Her trigger fingers were more reliable. Tequila slid her inhibiting years away, undid her fly, made her half-numb so her own touch felt like a stranger’s.
Nowadays, getting off, she usually thought of her last shot that took a Terminator out. Her weapons’ full-body jolt rocking her, that vengeance-victory. After the sad chaos of the fight at the dam, that eluded her. Instead, what swam to mind was the turn of Grace’s hand. The steel capturing her, scars holding her, power in waiting, electricity she could feel –
She came like a motherfucker.
Recovering, she stared at the dim ceiling. It was rotating slightly. She was conscious enough to answer her own drunk dumbass question.
Sarah groped to the side and drank straight from the bottle. It didn’t take much more to blur her into oblivion.
Chapter 5: Identities
"How screwed am I?" Sarah takes it on the road for a few days to sort out some IDs.
“Smile for the camera,” Sarah said. She snapped the Polaroid camera she’d picked up yesterday. The flash made her wince.
Dani didn’t smile. She was up against one of the few white walls in the cabin, in the drapery studio. Dani had begun to take it over, loosening its organisation, lining up notebooks and items on its huge tables, using the laptop there.
Sarah shook Dani’s developing picture. “While I’m gone – “
Dani cut her off. “I will manage.”
“Mph.” Sarah didn’t know if it was last night’s drinking session or being stuck here that had Dani so snappy. Grace was there, too, waiting for her own shot. Sarah stuck to business.
“I’m going to come back in a different car. We need a pass phrase so you know whoever shows up at the door is me. Any ideas?”
Dani said, “A lo hecho, pecho.”
Face the music: take it to the chest. It was the drinking session. “Point taken. I need a pic of me, too. Can you?” Sarah turned the camera around.
They switched places. Dani didn’t take the picture right away. She peered up, down, changed angles, fussed like it was a selfie. Her voice gentled as she asked Sarah, “Move your head?”
“It’s for a fake ID. It needs to be from in front.”
Dani came over and, with one hand flat, shifted Sarah left along the white wall. Back behind the camera, she smiled at last. “There! Better.” The phrase brought out the lilt in Dani’s accent. By the time the photo had developed, Sarah still felt the print of Dani’s hand on her shoulder.
Freed from the wall, Sarah saw several boxes of miscellaney on a drapery table. Games, toys, vintage cameras and devices. “What’s this?”
Dani said, “I think it is things Carl made, or tried to make.”
Sarah dipped into one box and came up with a solved Rubik’s Cube. She dropped it.
Sarah had to stand on another box to snap Grace. They exchanged closed smiles: the camera caught the tail end of that. Grace, it turned out, was insanely photogenic.
This done, Sarah put her sunglasses back on. The dimness was a relief. To Grace, she said, “How’s your hangover?”
Grace said, “What hangover? I’m Augmented.”
That gave Sarah the shove she needed out the door. It was twenty hours of driving to L.A. There, Sarah would find out how much of a future they got between now and Judgement Day.
Driving away, Sarah looked back. They had both come onto the front porch to watch her go. Grace was tall beside the front door’s Stars and Stripes. Dani was holding a gun. Good girl, Sarah thought, then caught herself.
She hit the gas.
No matter how Sarah sliced it, Laredo to Los Angeles was a four-day trip, two days each way. Driving the stolen, hotwired sedan was getting seriously iffy. She stuck to daylight, went at the speed limit.
That gave Sarah some time to kick her heels along the way. After the hothouse of the cabin, she’d been looking forwards to some solitude, her natural state. Instead, she felt hollow. Restless. Found herself thinking too much about what Dani, or Grace, or Dani and Grace, were doing. Right now, the answer to ‘who was Sarah Connor?’ relied on them an uncomfortable amount.
The morning of the second day, she woke up outside L.A. in a motel that smelled like bleach. Seemed like she’d spent half her life in shitty motels. No doubt the smell had seeped into the broken future she’d awoken from:
Sarah walks out of the hospital briskly. She stops for a rest once she’s out of sight. Cancer, they said. Leukemia. Stage 4. She is a dead woman walking. She'd expected that for years, but for it to happen like this? She and John had a plan in place in case she died. Sarah starts off again to tell him the awful news, get it started. She’ll share being sad and mad with her son. He’ll probably expect her to fight it. She won’t tell him that, deep down, it’s a relief.
It wasn’t one of the real horrorshows. She set it aside and got moving. Today was the day.
For years, Sarah ate cheap, rolled herself in military surplus, and called it a day. Her main expenses had been weaponry, vehicles, and bribes. Taking out a Terminator was always a big hit on her finances. This escapade had been a real lulu. She’d been lucky the T-800 had a thing for cash. Grace was expensive. Dani had managed to find something like a bank account for Carl on the laptop, but he’d used a real, hardcore password for that.
Sarah’s here-and-there life had her taking America’s measure each time she wound up back home. On the roads, aggressive coal-rollers blasted fumes at the new electric cars. Gas stations were fortified, but their convenience stores still smelled the same, that blast of air con and synthetic food. Pistols were holstered on hips, rifles slung openly over shoulders. That tempted Sarah, but the open-carry was often paired with a red hat that stiffened her spine with loathing. Newspapers had shrunk and thinned, and the news wasn’t good.
This road trip, and solitude, had Sarah missing John again. Her son had loved coming back to the States, the truck stops, drive-throughs, arcade games. He’d been dead longer than he’d been alive and it turned out to be okay. For all of the future but her: the void he’d left in her heart, and the mistakes she’d made around him...
She wished this escapade had finished up on the other side of the Rio Grande. Life there was cheaper, Dani was a citizen, and Sarah had contacts. Sarah’s U.S. network had thinned out over the years. People died. Her rating an episode of America’s Most Wanted paled next to her current F.B.I status. That made her wary of their kids or successors. There were a small handful she trusted yet, and one of them was in Los Angeles: Sharpie.
It took her two hours in L.A. morning traffic to reach Sharpie’s place, an unremarkable gray bungalow, screened by gray-green eucalyptus. Its driveway gate was open. She knocked on the door. “Is the gallery open?”
The door cracked. “It is for you. Hey, I’ll have some toast, extra butter.”
“Thanks. Thanks a lot.” Sarah shouldered in and smiled at a pallid woman her own age.
Incredibly, they’d met during Sarah’s one stint waitressing. Sharpie had been a grungy punk kid, her arms scrawled with sharpie-marker takes on the tattoos she wanted some day. High as a kite, she’d livened up Sarah’s shift, ordering toast because it was all she could afford. Sarah had stacked the plate high, loaded it with butter and jelly packets. Sharpie had boasted, “You ever need a fake ID, come see me.”
Two months later, fleeing her old life, Sarah had. It had been crude, stolen and altered, but it had done the job in 1984. They’d both come a long way since then.
Sharpie’s tattoos were real, now, her ears heavy with piercings, black hair laced with red and hot pink. She managed to be thin and doughy at the same time: the frame of someone who didn’t get out much. She didn’t need to. Everyone who needed her came to her. She was good. An artist. She was also expensive.
Sharpie said, “World still gonna end?” Sarah had been young enough in 1984 to tell Sharpie more than she should have.
“And how,” Sarah replied. She was a paranoid tech-hating obsessive for good reasons. She hated being a joke because of it. Sometimes, that was how she had to spin it to get by. A memory of the damn T-800 stung her: him saying, I am extremely funny.
“I was thinking of you. Every time I watch the news I think you’ve been right all along. Reminding me of that song – history is an angel – lemme get it on my phone – ”
Putting up with artsy shit was part of working with Sharpie. Sarah looked around the ‘gallery’ while she did. The front room was dripping with horror art. At one end of the room was a vintage dentist’s chair, tattooist’s gear, an artist's tilted table with watercolors.
Sharpie thrust her phone for Sarah to see. The video was a grainy singer, a woman their age, tapping a synthesizer to declaim:
She said, what is history? And he said:
History is an angel
Being blown backwards into the future
History is a pile of debris
And the angel wants to go back and fix things
To repair the things that have been broken
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel backwards into the future
And this storm, this storm is called Progress
As the video finished, Sharpie’s phone pinged with a message. She checked it. “Hiro gives you the all-clear. You weren’t followed.” Sarah nodded. Tough times, tough measures.
“Come on through!” The next room was where Sharpie's realm really began: printers, laminators, hologram generators, boosted cases of ID blanks, and computer monitors. The contrast with the T-800's cabin was sharp. He hadn't gone for much tech, having it all built in.
“So what can I do you? Who do you want to be today?”
“I’ve got an account crack first. Then, maybe, IDs for me and two others.” Sarah pulled out the Polaroids.
Sharpie picked up Grace’s shot, quirked a skeptical brow. “Is this her for real or does she want her fake ID to have some model on it?”
“It is her. Trust me. She’s tall.”
“Just had a close match come in, so she’s easy. The chola…” Sharpie picked up Dani’s shot and frowned.
Sarah snapped, “The hell kind of way is that to talk about somebody?”
Sharpie enunciated, “For individuals of Latin-x extraction, thanks to our current government, I've got a waiting list. A long one. Unless you want to pay for an ID build. Wanna see what we get in the account crack? For you, a crack is ten percent.”
“Done.” Sarah handed over Carl’s cards and the web details they’d scavenged.
This did not go as Sarah expected. Sharpie cracked the standard bank account quickly from the card coding. She handed over its PIN and details, skimmed off her modest take from its five figures. Sarah thinned her lips. With Grace around, that was groceries and meds money, not new IDs. Here, Sarah got to keep that, at least. Honor among thieves was why she’d driven for two days.
The other account… Ten minutes in, Sharpie asked to bring in Hiro. They went to another room with several boxy computers, futuristic black ones. The boxes, with their red lights and ample cables, made the hair rise on the back of Sarah’s neck. Hiro was a fit, stocky man with a utility kilt and dreadlocks. Sarah nodded: he gave her an easy smile. “I hear you have some fun for me!”
Twenty minutes later, Sarah was frowning at a piddly four figures on the screen. “That doesn’t look good. How screwed am I?”
Hiro said, “It’s Bitcoin. Digital currency.”
Shit, the online stuff. Robot money. Figured a Terminator would like that. Sarah said, “Heard of it. What’s that in real money?”
“Bitcoin is real money. But to be mundane about it, today one Bitcoin is almost ten thousand dollars. So about...nine-something...million dollars.”
Sarah blinked. “Mh.”
After that, Sarah rated Hiro sitting her down in the ‘gallery’ to talk her through Bitcoin. Occasionally, Sharpie popped out with questions. “How old are they? B.A. or Associate’s for your electrician? Want a Soylent or a kombucha? I’m gonna run the Roomba. Boop it if it bugs you.” Sarah appreciated the chance to give a robot a punt, even if it was a small vacuum cleaner.
She reluctantly installed a Bitcoin app on her phone, transferred them the ten percent. Hiro helped Sarah buy an SUV with some Bitcoin increments via Instagram, a sentence she’d never thought she’d be a part of. “I want a Hilux or Land Rover. Diesel, 4x4, something easy to fix.” It turned out ‘accepting Bitcoin’ and ‘fixable older cars’ didn’t overlap in a useful way. Sarah grimly approved an upgrade, planned the pickup.
“When you have the key, come back and I’ll do an implant for you.” Hiro pointed to a lozenge beneath his left hand’s skin. “Extract the chip and we implant it under your skin, in a little sleeve. Just wave your arm and it’ll unlock.”
“Doctors do that for you?” Sarah asked.
Hiro beamed. “We do it ourselves! Biohacking!”
We hacked ourselves, Grace had said. Grace would sneer at Hiro’s chip as primitive, but it was the first step. Where the Augments began. How it was all starting. Tiny cameras, everything online, tech implants. Little robots everywhere, including your bank account. All making life easy. A future that looked tame and soft until the intelligence behind it took its leap.
Sharpie came out with a black folder. “Done. Have a look.”
Danielle Ramirez, one of thousands with the same name, had gone to high school in Texas. She’d just finished her Associate’s degree in electronics from Austin Community College. Her record was squeaky clean. It was a long sight ahead of being an undocumented Mexican fugitive and terrorism suspect.
Joan Sorensen wasn’t as impressive: a blonde high-school dropout from Minnesota who’d spent some time in LA. Joan had probably come to a sordid end if her ID was in Sharpie’s studio. She had a couple of DUIs, which was perfect for Grace. And being Joan beat not existing at all.
Sarah was a different Sarah. That suited her fine.
Sharpie said, “Don’t forget to pick a piece on your way out!” For the cover around funds changing hands today was that Sarah had bought a piece of art from Sharpie.
Sarah said, like always, “Pick one for me.”
"You'll love this. It's from my Geiger phase." As Sharpie wrapped the large painting, she had the last question. “Hey… you got a place? Like, for the end of the world. Figure you would, out of anyone.”
“I intend to,” Sarah said.
“If you get any heads up… about shit going down… let us know?”
Sarah did not answer. It was one thing to know someone for years, to do business with them. It was another to make a promise. She'd been burned before, badly, by former associates like the Salcedas. And had been getting more of these asides, the past few years. It was excruciating to be a joke. But a world where she wasn’t a joke was a heavy, bitter place.
Sarah abandoned the hard-done-by sedan on an L.A. corner. She remembered the address as a ghetto, but it was alive with restaurants. Nearby, she and the car vendor bumped apps. The crispness of it, snapping the keys out of his hand, pointing the key and having the SUV blink and open in submission – Sarah felt the appeal. This was how the future was seeding, everyone wanting to play the new game.
Sarah took it on the road. This new SUV wanted to move. The miles it took to not be in L.A. anymore fell away. She could live in this vehicle. She probably would, at some point. It was nice enough that she felt all right picturing Dani across the back seat. Time to get Dani’s skills matching her new driver’s license. Sometimes it was hard to be on the lam. When Sarah learned the new tools, it got easy again for five minutes. She’d existed like this so long, she couldn’t picture life any other way. It was another talk for her to have with Dani.
Dani and Grace...Sarah felt like she’d known them before. If they’d been born to Sarah’s world, Dani would have been a keystone member of a crime family, charming and emollient. The kind you’d really trust, who’d kill you cleanly, like it was a personal service. Grace was from the same annealing forge that she was. They would’ve worked well together – one on weapons, one on hand-to-hand – if they’d agreed who was in charge.
Thinking about John that way, how he would’ve been after a few more years of their life off the grid, was murder.
Sarah decided it was a damn shame she hadn’t been able to bring Dani along, get her own connections started. Except… the chola. The waiting list. Sarah brooded. It would never be as easy for Dani.
At sunset, Sarah pulled over at a rest stop for coffee and a cigarette. Occasionally, she smoked. The ashtrays at Sharpie’s had brought that back. She could afford a couple of packs right now.
The rest stop was grim. Smoky fires in the California hills made the western sky red, blacked out any stars. At the end of the rest stop, people had settled into their cars for the night. Past the shrubs hemming the parking area, there was an encampment with lived-in tents. America was going to hell in a handbasket. It would be cover if – when – they had to hit the road again.
Sarah turned over what Grace had told her about the future. Out of three billion people, the people here weren’t the ones who’d get bunker space on Judgement Day. That was for rich fucks. Yet Sarah had spent so much time herself on the bones of her ass, in that world where extra toast mattered, the robot-money account was both unreal and not enough.
This trip had done what Sarah wanted. She’d taken Dani’s personal security up a level. She’d taken America’s measure. Cooled herself down, too. When she returned, she’d take Dani herself to the next level. She had plenty to warn her about, in an America that was catching up, at last, to Sarah Connor.
Then there was Grace. Thinking about Grace wore Sarah out. Her stunning looks, her technology, the way she wasn’t of this time – it was familiar, in a way that exhausted Sarah. Grace’s body had been a problem from the moment she’d appeared. It would continue to be a problem on this run as Sarah dealt with what Grace needed. She made a problem of Sarah’s usually-forgotten body, too. But Sarah shoved that aside as a third body intruded.
Sarah was smoking by the SUV under one of the lot’s lights, midway down. A man was walking past her, from the rest stop shops to the encampment. Sarah’s paranoia locked on him. Under sweats, he moved with fluid grace. He was young, clean-shaven, with Dani’s complexion. Mean narrow-set eyes, a triangular chin. Sarah went on high alert. Would a Rev-9 steal the same face twice? T-800 had. Her forgotten cigarette’s ash scorched her fingers.
He must have felt her gaze. Swaggering by, he exhaled a cloud of vape smoke, ostentatiously ignored her. As he passed, he threw in a little dance step. A fuck-you from his feet.
Sarah relaxed. She was nothing to him, an old gabacha. Terminators never danced.
Time to keep the future rolling. Sarah got back in the SUV. There would be detours to cover her tracks: never a straight road home.
Meanwhile, back at the cabin, another story is happening from Dani's POV: Video Nights. Read it if you want to find out what Sarah will return to!
By the time you read this the Bitcoin exchange rate is probably something else. It's OK. Future shit!
A lo hecho, pecho – As translated, face the music/face the facts/take it to the chest.
Chola - Latina gangster girl/woman.
Gabacha – White woman.
Future where Sarah has cancer – both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Sarah Connor Chronicles TV show have takes on this.
Lyrics – Laurie Anderson, The Dream Before.
Chapter 6: Hunter, Predator, Prey
“I knew it. I knew it!”
Between Chapter 5 and here, if you want to see what Dani and Grace have been up to, read the related story Video Nights.
When Sarah returned to the cabin, shit got weird immediately.
Each time Sarah drove up to the place disturbed her. Checking a mailbox and closing a gate and getting into a functioning SUV she’d paid for - so goddamn suburban. Like the broken future that had salted her day with its ashes.
A sunlit morning, a colorful playground. Children, free on a weekday, dash and play. At the entrance, their parents chat, read big handwritten signs, put up signs of their own. Two carry rifles. One dutiful child turns a hand-crank on a radio. It’s a civilized crisis until the child tugs on a grown-up’s sleeve. One adult stops, listens. Then another. Right when they’re about to call their children, the sky explodes into white light. The clap of sound that follows drowns any screams. Figures burn down to skeletons until the blast wave hits, smashing them to charcoal, ashes in the wind, the lucky ones -
This was the vision Sarah had again and again. It varied every time. Over the years, the people in it gained more of a clue. Edging closer to the Judgement Day that Grace had described.
Its end was always the same.
Sarah squinted along the country dark of the mile-long driveway. Her visions were still vivid, but her actual night vision wasn’t what it used to be. Years of sharpshooting made up for the slow slide of her eyesight. Nothing, even bouts of clean living, could give her back the energy she used to have. In her thirties she would have done this in two days. After that dream’s burden, plus detours and errands driving back, Sarah was wiped out. An hour of handover, some vodka, and she’d crash.
At the end of the driveway, Sarah paused the SUV. The cabin was dark, like it should be. The red bead of a rifle sight’s light spiraled across the dashboard. She smiled grimly, reassured.
Sarah lost that when she opened the garage. Everything in there had been moved around. The walls looked rough, peeling. Getting out of the car, Sarah saw why. The garage walls and ceiling were half-covered in chicken-wire fencing. “O-kay,” Sarah muttered. She dumped the wrapped painting there and took everything else inside.
In the house, Dani and Grace were glad to see her. A little too glad. Dani’s sparkle felt forced. Under the kitchen’s harsh lights, there were small creases at the side of Dani’s full mouth, shadows making her large eyes huge. Grace didn’t snark at Sarah once. Her blue gaze was disturbingly fixed.
Sarah figured she knew what that was about. She tossed Grace a bag from a Las Vegas pharmacy. “There’s your meds. Knock yourself out.” She plunked a second bag at Grace’s feet. Military surplus. Old habits died hard, and the stuff would hold up to Grace, if she ever fought for real again. “Also, clothes and footgear. Use that duffel as a go-bag.”
Dani’s smile reached her eyes. “I did not think of clothes for Grace! Thank you.”
“That’s not even the good stuff,” Sarah said, and took them through their new IDs. Somehow, that was anticlimactic. Sarah laid down the word about how valuable the papers were, and that they each needed to prep a go-bag, immediately. She unpacked and repacked her own to show what she meant. Dani nodded, with a crumpled brow, eyes always drifting over to Grace. Something was on her mind.
Sarah asked, “How’s security been?”
“No problems. Very quiet,” Dani said.
Grace said, “I was in bed most of the time.” Sarah smiled grimly again. Good for her. Whatever was wrong was tangled in the garage’s rough layers of chicken wire.
Sarah focused on Dani, who had drifted to the kitchen. “What have you been doing? Along with your workouts.” A sudden flash of guilt from Dani, at that: she’d probably skipped abs day.
Grace hefted her battery. “I’ll let you two talk.”
Sarah watched Grace go, easier on her feet than she had been, but the lack of backtalk – Sarah didn’t want to win Grace’s respect by being her pusher. When Grace was gone, Sarah muttered, “She okay?”
Dani nodded. “Better, yes. Doing more, but that makes her tired. Like a normal person.” She turned from the fridge with a beer in each hand, offering one to Sarah. Explain, or take it? Sarah took it, pulled out a cigarette, and waited for whatever Dani would ask.
Dani looked alarmed. “You smoke?”
Reaching for a lighter, Sarah stopped. “Mnh. Sometimes.”
“Never in the house, please. Smoking is very bad for you. All right?” Before Sarah could react to that little order, Dani riffled through the mail Sarah had picked up. She frowned.
“Still no bill for the electricity. I worry that the power will be cut off, when we need it for Grace…Did your people open Carl’s bank accounts?”
Sarah half-relaxed. Dani was still herself, a good working girl turning into a good survivor. “Yeah, they did. We’re all right for a while. We can go through it later. When I’m awake.” She wanted to ease into the finance stuff. Sarah worried how, hearing about that, kindly Dani might suddenly remember the family she had left behind.
Dani nodded. “I want to buy something to try and fix Grace.”
Figured she’d want to go to Radio Shack. “One thing?”
Dani gave Sarah a pained look. “If I explain, you will understand.”
Sarah took a swig of the beer and leaned back against the counter. Weak death was better than nothing while she bided her time, for her cigarette and more.
Dani began. “To live, not fight, Grace does not use so much power. So the car battery is enough. Her power source was so strong for two reasons. First, to last – no recharge. Second, when she does fight, it is a large surge. A lot of power, very fast.”
Sarah frowned. “Everything I’ve heard about those power sources makes them sound like a mini-nuke. Why don’t their Augments die of cancer?”
Dani’s eyes widened. “No! Grace says they asked and that will not happen.”
Sarah said, “You think they’d tell them the truth if it would?”
“The chemistry is special. The container is platinum. Maybe that is why we do not fly planes on batteries like that now.”
Sarah said, “That’s more like a complete conspiracy from the energy companies – ”
Dani actually cut her off. “The car battery is bad. You see why. I used it because it was there. To change it for good I need to change the connectors too, and the connectors inside Grace are...” Dani’s expression clouded. “Complicated. I can damage many things outside of Grace and try again. But I do not want to risk the connectors that are part of her. I do not want to touch them until we have a new power source to rely on.”
“I’m impressed. Sounds reasonable and impossible at the same time.”
Dani hit her stride. “There are two ways to try. One is to capture a Terminator and take its power source.”
Sarah slammed her beer on the counter. “I knew it. I knew it! That crazy shit you’re doing in the garage – you’re making the whole fucking space a chip bag – ”
Dani lifted her chin. “A Faraday cage. If you make one the right way, with conductive metal, it blocks radio waves. It is only half done. I need to do everything, the doors, the floors.”
“First, how the fuck does that take down a Terminator? Second, you are not going hunting!”
Dani said, “You said I do not need to! Sooner or later, one comes for me. You say, Grace says, Carl says. So, I use that. It is only for the chance. I want to try something different first. Much, much more easy.”
“That is?” Sarah drank again. She wanted as much alcohol in her system as possible for what this talk brought back. Mom, how about instead I – John you’re doing it again, nice try kid –
Dani said, “I would like to get an electric car for its battery.”
Here they went. “How will that work? What's Grace going to be, Knight Rider?”
“An electric car battery has the same needs as Grace’s battery – much storage, sometimes surging. In the car, Grace moves. Beside it, she fights. If I am with her, a Terminator comes to us. Simple.” Dani tossed her hair back. Being crazy about an idea suited her, eyes alight, lips parted. “Will you help?”
“That’s...cute. It would make a hot movie. But,” Sarah said, heavily, “I want you to think. Remember what we went through with the fucking Rev-9. Consider all the moments when this would have made you both totally fucked.” Dani looked blank. “In trouble. Trapped. Killed.”
“It keeps her alive and better – ”
Sarah sliced her hand down. “You would have been screwed on the Mexico City highway. Split up when we ran off the grid. One ‘step out of the car ma’am’ too many,” Dani went pale, good - “and you’ll find out what happens when an Augment gets shot point-blank. ‘Specially right now.”
Dani repeated, “It keeps her alive! Until we find – not a Terminator – something better. They are doing research. A year or two, there will be better batteries.”
“A year or two from now is fucking Judgement Day. Based on what I saw on the road, that might be tomorrow.”
Dani shook her head, denying. “There is still time. If there is something better by then —”
“I am not breaking into labs and stealing experimental batteries and guess what?” Sarah stepped up, leaned down, right in Dani’s face. “Neither are you. I fucked that up for us in the ‘90s. Last time I tried that shit I lost my son and got locked down for months of thorazine and rape in the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.”
Dani opened her mouth for a sound of shock. Sarah sliced down again. “That is not happening to you. Period. Final.”
“This is the world you live in now. There’s the hunter, the protector, and the prey. You are the prey, Dani. You’ll be hunted until Judgement Day. Maybe even after. My job is to protect you. Make sure you don’t forget. Because you are forgetting.”
Dani said, fists coiled, “I do not forget! But I am trying to live, too.”
“Then tell me how this will keep Grace alive beyond Judgement Day. Will we find a charging station up and running? You’re going to say we hide up, stock up, do this shit, that shit. That makes us a target for more than Terminators. One way or another, the end. Will. Come. Grace told you how she found you. Without me, with a band of scavengers.”
Frozen, black-eyed silence.
“So, please, fucking deal with it. Starting now. ” Sarah was pleading. She couldn’t be the only one staring down the end of the world.
Dani was shaking her head, leaking tears. “Why do you help so much and then stop? Do you want Grace to die?”
Sarah spread her hands, brushing away unspeakable ashes. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help! I don’t want you to fuck around with this and die - and take a future with you. I know from my own fucked-up life. Get distracted, someone dies.”
Dani lifted her head high. Defiant crazy had never looked better. “I am already fucking fate, Sarah. One way or another. Why should I not start now?”
Sarah said, numbly, “When it comes to fate, she doesn’t matter, anymore. I don’t matter, either. It’s you. It has always been you.”
Dani stamped, enraged, aglow, so alive. “Everyone has to matter. Or there is no point!”
Sarah wasn’t up for it. “I’m already fucked. I’ve driven for four days. I made sure you and Grace exist legally – you can get into a fallout shelter now. Then I get smacked because I don’t want to play Back to the Future? I have no brain left. None.”
Sarah jerked out another cigarette. “I’m going to smoke if I want to, drink if I want to, and if you want to talk to me, we start over in the morning. I am closed for business. Be as pissed off as you want as long as you pack a fucking go-bag.” Sarah exited, porchside.
To herself, she counted: five, four, three, two, one. Sure enough, after an exasperated cry, Dani stormed up the stairs, back to Grace.
Sarah didn’t taste the cigarette when she lit it up. She was angry at the cabin for being what they’d needed, the false sense of security it gave. Dani should’ve been with her, seen the rough road of America right now. She was fucking furious with Dani for this resource-sucking dilemma. Most of all, she was angry with Grace, holding back on sharing the future with Dani. Telling the truth was the most powerful thing Grace could do and she wasn’t doing it. She’d lean on Grace tomorrow about that. After Dani’s plea, Sarah had the leverage for it.
Sarah jerked up, catching a blue glimmer in the night. She realized it was phosphenes, eyelid-lights. Despite nicotine and anger, she was falling asleep on her feet. Giving in, she locked up, poured a nightcap and sank it. Someone was pacing, hard, above. Sarah took care to be silent on the way up the stairs. Another skill to work on with Dani, if they were speaking in the morning…
It had been quiet in the hallway, but not in the room where Sarah slept. She heard, not the usual murmurs, but a clear conversation. Dani had to be sitting at the ‘inspiration’ desk against the shared wall. Voices were raised and rough. Sarah paused. Stepped out of her boots. Slid onto the bed, on the opposite side of the desk, and listened.
Grace was raging. “She tries to hurt you, I will take her down.”
Dani’s voice was thick with tears. “That is not how she hurt me. I want to save you. I want you to live. She made that sound wrong.”
Dani pleaded, “You wanted to live yesterday.”
“I can’t die when you look at me like that.”
“That is not an answer.”
“I told you. She’s right. About Judgement Day and me like this.” Grace’s voice was heavy with unspoken pain. Sarah leaned against the wall. She and Grace had always agreed about the worst parts.
Dani was barely audible. “I will let you go if you tell me to. If that is how to love you best.”
“I’d rather go down fighting.”
Dani made the same noise she had when Sarah had described Pescadero.
Grace instantly said, “You’ve got me. You’ll always have me.”
Dani said, “Not like this.”
Sarah heard glass clinking, the desk rocking back with a thump, Grace thudding to her metal knees. Dani was surely embracing her. They were finding their future selves at last. Dani finding it in her to mother, the soldier kneeling to the girl inside her. That brushed a few of the ashes off Sarah’s world.
Sarah raised an eyebrow. That took her back to the 80s. Had its meaning changed?
Sarah rebounded from the wall like it scorched her. She’d heard Dani cry out like that, once. In a steamy broken dream.
They were lovers.
Dani had been like Grace’s mom and now they were lovers.
This was why Sarah’s return felt like a fuckup. Why Dani was crazy to keep Grace alive.
Sarah leeched back onto the wall. Couldn’t not, for all that she was wrecked with jealousy, blind and burning with it. She’d seen the glances, the touches. She’d thought Grace’s revelation had shut all that down, leaving Sarah thirsting alone, like the old reprobate she was. It hadn’t, despite the sin of it. Sarah knew why.
Dani was exhaling in short, excited gasps, more of those barely-there cries.
Sarah was jealous of her. A Terminator’s prey – and that meant youth, potential, the future. Sarah owed the only love she’d had as a woman, lover and mother, to those vulnerable hours as prey. Precious enough for a Terminator to squander themselves on the hunt. True enough for a resistance to rebel for them. Alive enough to embrace their protector. She knew how hard Dani was going to come at Grace’s hands.
Grace could not be heard, but the thump of the desk against the wall was a driving, relentless telltale.
Sarah was jealous of her, too. A protector against the Terminators. Strong, gifted, yet human. Sarah owed her own life and her son’s to the time when she’d had that strength. She knew how Grace loved Dani, fiercely enough to edge madness. And what Grace’s reward for that devotion was. Grace was claiming it now.
Suffering the hunt swept away all logic but its own. Nothing else was as terrifying. Nothing else forged such a bond. Sarah had left the two of them alone with its aftermath, and it had run its course.
Herself? Failed, her soul Terminated, aged and failing again? She was, literally, on the side of the hunter. On the bed where a Terminator had mimicked human life for so long. Hiding, wrapped in its false flesh. An unstoppable machine, cold and calculating, driven by its directive of death. Alone.
That was what had been left to her. Her own coldness pierced her, metal to the bone. That and…
Sarah peeled away from the wall, clenching the void of her chest. She wasn’t one to talk, these Terminated years of hers. Not with what had given her purpose, whether she wanted it or not.
That murdering metal motherfucker. The T-800 who’d called himself Carl.
Had Carl lain here, processing in false sleep? Had he listened to the woman on the other side as she prayed, wept, came? He’d had no heart to break, never ached to close the gap. His Terminator’s mind rejected the ‘physical relationship’. His “son”? Perhaps it satisfied him to see a being he sheltered grow because that clicked with the machines’ goal of domination. Alicia - had he been shell or shelter to her? Sarah would never know.
For he had betrayed who his true partner was every time he sent a coordinate text. To Sarah.
His terrible programming had circled around her son. Mission accomplished, Sarah had remained. That bastard had thought about her. Unpicked her like a software problem. He had given her a purpose –a Terminator’s purpose. What his programming loop yearned for, a mission without end. Death for the sake of domination. Sacrificing his own kind to her, again and again. His satisfaction, her irresistible horror.
Perhaps it had tormented him, too, for him to consent to his promised death at her hands. The thing Sarah had hungered for. Until she’d had it at the steel toes of her boots, and stepped back.
Because, with Dani around, lives had become more important than death. She had let him live as one more shield, so that Dani could.
An orgasmic cry from next door pierced Sarah. Wait for it, Sarah told herself, five, four, three, two, one and –
“Good?” Grace asked.
Those two were one up on Sarah. As prey, she’d been so intoxicated by her protector she hadn’t run down a motel hallway for a damn condom.
It didn’t matter, in the end, how warped any of it was. Dani and Grace could never have held back from each other. Same way Sarah had never refused a coordinate. That had cracked her programming the same way Kyle had opened her heart, when she had one, before her son had existed. Evoking Judgement Day, three billion lives lost, millions more to go, all of humanity to be saved.
Dani took a great gulping breath. “I love, love, love you –“
And Sarah knew at last. Really knew.
Knew why she’d hated Grace, poor damned soldier, helped her with one hand and smacked her back with the other. It wasn’t just Sarah’s envy of Grace’s strength and goddamn hotness. Grace dropped the bomb on everything. Her future brought back Judgement Day. Made all Sarah’s wins and losses worthless, turned her life into ashes. You didn’t change our fate.
Knew why she’d loved – admit it, loved – Dani. Because Dani was right. It was about everyone. It had been, all along, from the moment Kyle had told Sarah about Judgement Day. The death of three billion people, one hope surviving it. If Grace was right, Dani survived Judgement Day. Sarah could care yet about the one person who she knew wouldn’t die. It wouldn’t break her like the others.
For, once, Sarah had cared, with the white heat of youth – what Dani had – for those three billion people. Until the glow of it turned into the clear light of madness. Loving and hating and numb, she’d forfeited everything over the years, trying to change their fate. She would forfeit it again, too.
There was one thing Sarah could do, a marker she could call in. Grace had hinted at it. Sarah knew what it would cost. It would make it up to Dani and Grace. It would be a fitting end to her. If she pulled it off, she might stop hating herself. Like Dani wanted her to.
She had to hate someone. Sarah thought back on the agent of fate that had brought her to this. The T-800 who had lain right here, obsessed with Sarah’s own termination.
“You metal motherfucker,” Sarah rasped.
BAM. Sarah sprang back from a fist against the wall behind her.
“I FUCKING HEARD THAT.” Grace.
Shit shit shit shit shit.
They knew Sarah knew, and what a way to do it. She’d forgotten Grace was an Augment. She was dumb as shit, jealous as fuck, and that petty, private moment might have cost her the only future she could stand.
Hunter, predator, prey – about to be all over for her, now. She was left with two things. The ashes of her white-heat life, and being Sarah Connor.
And Sarah Connor was no coward.
She jerked her boots back on and went out to meet her latest fucked-up fate.
Special thanks to Splinter for beta reading this tense chapter!
>Querida – A Spanish term used for sweetheart, lover, desired one. A little old-fashioned right now.
Locked down for months – How long was Sarah at Pescadero? It’s hard to tell from Terminator 2 and I'm having a hard time finding a solid timeline.
Don’t blame Dani for being optimistic – it’s so close! More here if you're interested.
Chapter 7: Judgement Night
"The two of you fucked fate good and hard.”
Sarah left the room with one goal: making it to her go-bag. Packed like it should be, with her sidearm, spare ammo, and phone. On the damn kitchen table. Downstairs.
The second Sarah hit the hallway, lights blinded her. She blinked at Grace, kicking her battery along the wood floor like a curling stone, spreading like a basketball defense. Dani was a shadow behind her.
Sarah and Grace tried to have the first word. “You –” “No, you – ” “You fucking bitch –”
Dani beat them both to making sense. “Keep her here! Do not hurt her!” With that, she threw herself down the stairs.
Bluffing wildly, Sarah said, “Stay right where you are.”
“She was talking to me!” Grace smacked both hands against the walls. The military castoffs Sarah had thrown at her feet, black tank top, blue trousers, shitkicking boots, made her a soldier again. And the narrow hallway was the one space where, hooked to a car battery, she could fight and win.
“She’s giving you orders now – you – ” Sarah drew back. “I was not talking to you in there.”
Grace exhaled defiance. “Then who?”
“I told you, I’m not saying his fucking name again. He’s dead.” Sarah feinted to one side. Grace leaned in, blocking.
Grace’s pupils, on the devil’s own drug cocktail, were hard pinpoints. “And you’ll like to be. I know you want to fuck her.”
There was only one her in this conversation. Grace saw that hit home and laughed, once. “You think I can’t tell? I hear your breath. Your heartbeat. See how you twitch.”
Sarah tried to interrupt this by darting to Grace’s other side. But Grace smacked the other wall, caging Sarah. “You want what I wanted and I’ve got it. She’s my mother and my commander and my goddess and – ”
Sarah fell back. Finally, someone was crazier than she was.
“I will not, will not let anyone take that from me when it’s all I have. Not even you. You want me fucking dead.”
Sarah admitted, “Not anymore. If you will let me get downstairs I will prove it – ”
Sarah tried another slide out, which Grace blocked, close enough that Sarah could smell metallic sweat, excited cunt. She had Sarah boxed in at the end of the hall, now, leaving her left side open.
Sarah curled her hand into a fist, away from Grace’s irresistible, deadly cables. “If I wanted you dead I would’ve left you at the dam.”
“If I wanted you dead you would’ve been left at the border,” Grace hissed.
“If I wanted you – ”
“It would’ve saved a megaton of trouble. But you had to be a drunk.”
Sarah went hot, then cold, then steely. Was that even true? Grace was holding nothing back to intimidate her. A good tactic. Except nobody was going to out-crazy Sarah. Her soul’s ashes held the ember that would burn them both down. What she hadn't let herself remember: what she would never forget.
Sarah lifted her chin. “I wasn’t the one. You wanted her from the first time you saw her in your future.” Grace opened her mouth to spit or retort.
Sarah kept going. “She was the most perfect woman you’d ever seen. Strong and sad and beautiful. You saw her and loved her.”
Grace said, “She said she hadn’t told you – ”
“She didn’t have to. This is how it always is.”
Sarah continued, doggedly. “Then you came back and saw her here and she wasn’t there, yet. It didn’t matter. You were ready to die for her anyway.”
“She was so beautiful it hurt. More than death.”
Grace’s anger had dissolved to the blankness she had right before she dredged up her own history. Sarah was doing that for both of them. Burning them with what Kyle had said to her, long ago, when he’d protected her. When she’d been worth loving.
Sarah had no doubt about the next part. She’d been there for it twice. For Kyle and herself, for Grace and Dani. “When she was there – when she found herself along the way – that was when you told her how you felt. Since then it’s only been a matter of time.”
Grace shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. I’m not in her future like that. I know.” She added, with a flash of vengeance, “Neither of us are.”
Sarah put her fists on her own flanks. “Yeah, well, I’m pretty sure we’ve broken that. The future ahead won’t be the same. The two of you fucked fate good and hard.”
Grace had gone hollow. “How do you know all this?”
Sarah bared her teeth. “Because I’m crazy.”
There was a surprisingly receptive silence. Grace leaned against one wall, like she needed it.
Sarah braced for another mad burst. “You’re buying that?”
“Why not? You don’t think you’re lying. I can tell that, too.”
It was Sarah’s turn to gape blankly. Grace said, like each word hurt, “You lie less than anyone else in this time. That’s why I trusted you.”
Grace dragged up a fistful of the cables, her lifeline and her chain. “I didn’t expect THIS. I gave everything I had to let Dani live. I should be dead. But she did the same for me. It’s like heaven and it’s like hell. I’m here with all this – past – perfection – and she loves me and I can’t fucking help her.”
Grace dropped her burden to smack the wall, once. Her drugs were probably working, the way the wallboard cracked.
Sarah said, “You still can. Stay with her. Do what mine couldn’t do.” What Kyle hadn’t done because he’d died.
Grace said, voice rising, “What the fuck are you talking about? You’re the one who read Dani my death sentence.”
“You’ll need this.”
“What – agh!” Grace coiled one arm back against what Sarah tossed, harmless as it was. Trust in a go-bag but always carry cash. Sarah had whipped out a wedge of dollars and made it rain, the bills’ detail and flutter dazzling Grace’s enhanced eyes. As Grace swatted the bills, Sarah darted past, hurled herself down the stairs.
Behind her, Grace screamed, “Money has no meaning, you filthy old – ”
Sarah left her to it. The go-bag, the phone, the save were waiting for her grab. With Grace cursing behind her, Sarah didn’t dare slow down within reach. She banged out the door and dashed for the garage, the SUV.
The garage opened sulkily, its wide door grating against some chicken wire. Sarah dove for the SUV. It wouldn’t unlock with the fob. Dani’s damn chicken wire was already messing with the fob’s signal. The manual key got her in.
But it didn’t start the ignition.
Sarah rattled the wheel. “Goddamn motherfucking piece of Instagram – ”
“Al hecho, lo pecho.”
Sarah turned around, slowly. “You.”
Dani was in the back seat’s shadows. Below tangled hair, her somber face was smeared with engine oil. She was holding some wire that probably belonged under the SUV’s hood. “I waited where you’d go.”
Sarah had to half-smile. “Hunted me. Why are you holding me up?”
Dani swallowed. She didn’t look like a goddess or a commander or anybody’s mother. More like the tired prey of three weeks ago. “All this is my fault.”
When Sarah’s son had said that to her, it meant Sarah was the one who’d fucked up. Except for that time the kid got into the gelignite, but he’d known for sure that was going to blow. Unlike Dani, trying to fix everything at once.
The silence of that stretched until Dani said, “Can we talk?”
“Can your girlfriend not kill me?” Sarah gestured at a red rifle sight, dancing over the dashboard again. Grace, with an efficiency Sarah had to admire, wasn’t trying to catch up to Sarah. She was prepared to let a bullet do that.
“A moment.” Dani slid out, into the garage’s open door, and shouted something.
Sarah thought it was the moment she needed, until she dug her phone out and saw the time. Call now, or wait until a sane hour? To make a call, that was. She had no sane hours left.
To hesitate was to lose. Dani was back, peering through the glass at her. “What are you looking up?”
Sarah glared. “You can actually talk to people on these things.”
Dani pulled open Sarah’s door. “Who do you call?”
This was it. “Grace said once she wanted to hide you in a mineshaft. This is better than that. I was going to call Major Dean, offer him a deal. America’s Most Wanted here in exchange for some kind of asylum for you two. If anybody’s got a bunker against Judgement Day that’s worth it, that'll keep Grace going, it’s him. He’ll believe me. He’s got reasons.”
Sarah had to shut up then and concentrate on defense, what with Dani screaming “No, no, no" and grabbing at Sarah’s phone.
Sarah writhed, reached down, cast the phone under her seat and flicked the seat all the way back in one move. Before Sarah could use her room to scramble away, Dani tumbled across her, nose to nose.
Sarah said, “I’m running on fumes. This shit with Grace threw that back at me. It’s the best I can do.”
Dani cried, “No!” Like Grace, Dani smelled of sex and metal. Sarah couldn’t flinch back because there was no back. “I don’t want that! Not from Grace, not from you! I am not a - a military objective. I am a person!”
What Sarah had screamed at Kyle, herself, in between his words of fear and love.
Dani went on. “I know what I want to do and I will try it. If you will not help me...I try anyway. But, please, hear me.”
Sarah found herself unable to say no with Dani in her lap. Unable to think. She managed, “Can we do this while you fix this car?”
Dani wiped below her eyes. “Yes.” She got out, taking her heat and fragrance away.
Getting out, Sarah caught movement. The red rifle target was back. She resigned herself to it. “Show me how you fucked this up.”
Dani opened one hand wide, made a tiny fist. “My hands are small. In the factory sometimes others ask me to reach what they cannot – to fix, keep them from trouble.” Dani dove underneath the car.
From there, her voice was muffled. “Sometimes, if I fit, I can reach up from beneath to open a car hood.” After a moment, the hood clicked open, a little but enough.
Sarah grumbled, “This is what I get for not holding out for a Land Rover.”
Through the engine, Dani said, “Papi didn’t like me working in the factory. But I always liked machines, electronics. I liked other things he would not have liked, too. Those, I did not tell him.”
Dani emerged. “Diego, my brother: we helped each other always. I could tell him anything.” She couldn’t help one of those smiles that lit and died in the same instant. “He used to say one day we’d both have beautiful girlfriends, take them out dancing together.”
Sarah had assumed someone who cared about shampoo more than she did was…a certain kind of person. Not a dyke. Dani’s silent shock whenever Sarah had said she’d be a mother – her other silences – the way Dani had stared back at Grace's adoration, not mystified but - Sarah’s image of Dani collapsed and recalibrated, like a Rev-9 upgrading on the spot.
Dani still wasn’t meeting Sarah’s eyes. Instead, she opened the SUV’s hood. “This beautiful, strong angel appears and saves me again and again – I fall in love. Right before we meet you. I know it when Grace fell at the pharmacy where you found us. I knew I had to protect her, too."
Leaning over the engine, Dani took her handful of wires and began to screw them to points below the radiator. “Then I find out I am Grace’s mama, in a way. I felt strange, but I knew…yes, I would have taken her in. Protected her, like she protects me. I would love her however she came to me. Whenever she came.”
Grasping, Sarah said, “You said you had a normal life.”
“Yes. I go to work, I love my family but we cannot always talk, I have bad dates – all normal.” Dani sighed deeply. “All my life everyone has had ideas about me as a girl. A woman. All my life I make my own way, inside myself. When this happened – the Terminator – that helped me change from normal. Like you and Grace said I needed to.”
Sarah got it. The secret of it, always being a bit outside. That was part of what made Dani the sanest of the three of them. Dani closed the hood, then said, “Try the key again.”
Sarah clicked the key fob. The SUV lights flashed. Something chirped. Dani couldn’t help but look satisfied.
“Okay. That was some fancy shit.” Sarah opened the SUV door and sat, half-in, half-out of the driver’s seat. The rifle-light was dancing over Sarah’s right hand. She kept that hand up and visible.
Dani, after shifting from foot to foot, suddenly hopped into the passenger seat. “Are you OK with me and Grace?”
Sarah folded herself into her own seat. She said, wearily, “I’m too fucked up to judge anybody.”
Dani closed the door. “We can still be friends?”
“We were friends?”
“We were not friends?”
Sarah said, “I’ve been protecting you. You’re so damn young. I don’t – I haven’t – had friends. Not with my life.”
Dani’s voice was very soft. “How do you live with people if you don’t?”
“I don’t.” That wasn’t enough for Dani, Sarah could tell. “Half the time, these past decades, I was there to kill people. If I wasn’t, I tried to not get double-crossed by them. Once in a while, I fucked them.” Sarah’s one category for closeness. “If I kept my distance, nobody knew how crazy I was.”
Sarah looked down. The rifle-light was pinning the base of her throat. “To show you how how well I get along with people, Grace is pissed at me. We had words while you were rearranging this engine. She’s probably going to tell you I want to fuck you.”
Dani bowed her head. “Grace is...I love her. But she is very much. I think she is jealous.”
“She’s had a lot to deal with.” Sarah saw that turn of phrase missed Dani’s English. “And she’s right.”
Dani blinked. “But – you had a child – all the talk about men – “
That punched through Sarah’s ribcage, right there, that Dani remembered her son. That somebody remembered. She reached into her heart’s ashes again. “Looking back, there was only one who mattered, out of anyone. The one who came back to protect me from the first Terminator. Kyle.”
“Oh!” Dani lit up, smile bright in the half-dark of the car.
“He loved me like Grace loves you. Crazy as that sounds. Protecting someone like that – if they’re not your world already, they become it.”
Dani couldn’t help herself. “Grace said she has loved me ever since I helped her – ”
“Yeah, I caught that part. Then protecting you caught me, too.” Sarah turned away from Dani. “I don’t think anyone could know you and not love you.”
Dani was quiet for a moment. “I lost my family. My friends. My country – I can never go home. You reminded me of how people were when I told them about the Terminators. I do not forget.”
“When this Terminator shit happens, you cross a line. A line that cuts you off from the rest of the world.” She’d said as much to Kyle, long ago.
“Yes! We are together there. You and Grace are all I have. I. I need both of you.” Dani had her lips tight, one hand curled in a fist over her heart. “You need to know how stupid I am.”
Saran managed a laugh. “You are nobody’s stupid. Not by any standards. It took you a while to catch on, but once you did – ”
Dani said, “I did not know what a kill box was.”
Dani explained. “When we began to plan against the Terminator, everyone talked about a kill box. I did not know the meaning. I thought you would put me in a, a shipping container, a cage. Some place I could not escape so the Rev-9 would find me. I did not know until you and Carl set it up that it is a space, a space that is open. I could go any way I needed to.”
“You went along with that…” Sarah almost whispered it. Dani was holding her fist tight against herself, pressing down remembered fear.
Dani unclenched that hand, half-turned, opening herself to Sarah. “So much I do not know! I need you to help. I do not want any of us to go to another cage, safe or not. I want to try and help Grace be herself again. I want to – to be a friend to you. Even with all this. If I can,” Dani inhaled, “I will know I can help the future, too.”
Sarah remembered being young. Not knowing what was impossible, or wrong, or crazy. Like raising a little boy to save humanity, or blowing up only one software company to change the future.
“You’re telling me you want to do this the hard way. Stay here, put up with me, try out a bunch of electrical things to get Grace powered up again.”
Dani nodded. “I know it is hard. But can we try to change our fate once more? The three of us, together?”
If anyone had tried to talk Sarah out of her crazy ideas back in the day, she would’ve kicked and screamed like they were trying to kill her. Because, at Dani’s age, that was what being alive had meant.
“I’ve been getting it wrong for years. So, what the hell, we’ll try.” Sarah glanced over. “That’s me saying yes.”
Dani swayed forwards, then back, her smile lighting and dying. “Thank you. If we need money, I will find work.”
“We won’t for a few months. Carl’s standard account had around 25K. The weird account you found added up, too. To a few million.”
Dani’s shriek pierced Sarah’s eardrums.
“Don’t get too excited. Life around Terminators burns through funds fast. I’ve got stories.”
Dani wasn’t waiting to hear them. Unable to hug Sarah in the car, she shook Sarah’s shoulder, then flung herself out, racing to Grace and the cabin. Sarah collected her go-bag and phone. She quirked her mouth. The damn thing had gone flat. If she changed her mind, she’d have to wait. Sarah let the garage door grind closed.
If it was all a mistake, she’d be finding out the hard way. Like usual.
On the porch, backlit by the cabin, Dani had flung herself against Grace, chattering joyously. Grace had calmed down. She’d shed her rifle to embrace her goddess, reverent and alight with Dani in her arms.
Sarah waited in the dimness beyond the porch until Grace looked up. Sometimes mommies and daddies need to have a grown-up conversation? Do I get to call you a metal motherfucker now? ‘Cause, technically... Sarah bit those back. “Thanks for not killing me.”
Grace said, “Mph. Sounds like you’re giving me my chance.”
They both looked at Dani. Who had, somehow, defused both Grace’s high-beam crazy and Sarah’s downwards trajectory. Absurdly petite against Grace, Dani held out an arm to Sarah. “Come up. I wanted to ask you, will you tell us more about Kyle?”
Grace said, “Who?”
Sarah answered. “Kyle is how I knew what I did, upstairs.”
Grace went steely. “You said that was because you were crazy.”
“Still true. But I had company, once.”
Grace glared. “Why didn’t you tell us before?”
“Well…” It hadn’t been tactically important. It had been eerie, haunting in the face of Grace and Dani’s inevitable gravity. And Sarah hadn’t deserved even the memory of being loved the way Kyle had loved her. Not since John had died. “When I tell you, you’ll figure it out.”
Sarah reeled up, onto the porch. Her bad shoulder ached under the strap of her go-bag. She might as well keep talking all night. After her life, she could tell when she wasn’t going to sleep until dawn.
A lot of Sarah's throwback to Grace is from Kyle's words in the first Terminator movie, including a deleted scene.
Chapter 8: Transmissions
"Sarah had a different question. What is your deal with me? She’d crack and ask, sometime soon. The same way she couldn’t help reading about Elon Musk, or watching clips of Boston Dynamics robots..."
“She’s going in.” Sarah and Grace both leaned forwards.
They were watching from the SUV as Dani walked onto a used car lot outside San Antonio. In the back seat, Grace clicked the safety off her rifle. In the driver’s seat, Sarah kept her hand over the gear shift. Grace jerked up, then subsided. Sarah smirked. Somebody was offering Dani coffee.
Sarah turned to the SUV’s back seat, entirely taken up by Grace, her cables, her car battery, weapons for three, and the litter from two rounds of Texas takeout. The cargo area behind her was packed with boxed electronics. Away from the cabin's shadows, Grace was pale, with a little less muscle, a little more bone than she used to have. Still healing, or maybe this was as good as she was going to get, on low power.
Grace only had eyes for Dani. She lifted the rifle again. “She’s picked a car.”
Dani was easing into a blue car for a test drive. Sarah winced as the car Dani was trying to drive started, stopped, jerked forwards again. Having Dani practice driving on a manual diesel SUV only went so far with electric cars. When Dani got the hang of the electric accelerator, the car zipped out of sight.
They’d agreed to stay put while Dani picked out an electric car as a power source for Grace. Sarah was jaded after too little sleep. But, after last night, it would have been cruel to hold Dani back from a supply run. Grace had wanted to come along. After the night’s extremes, Sarah didn’t know if she had become tolerable to Grace, or if she was being chaperoned. Are you waiting for me to snap again? Sarah thought. Or am I waiting for that from you?
Sarah tried, “How’s it feel, getting out and about?”
Grace looked around, everywhere but at Sarah. “The light is what gets me. I thought it couldn’t be this bright in the past. These clear skies…but it is. The future’s much darker.”
Sarah said, “Figures. Nuclear winter?”
“Mmmm.” Grace set the rifle across her knees, snapping the safety back on. In the rear-view, Sarah saw Grace burrow into a bag, take out her fourth pan dulce.
Sarah's bad shoulder twinged. She turned in her seat, doing a press-stretch on her right shoulder, then her left. Doing that one, she slid sidewise to make eye contact with Grace. “Leave one for Dani. She said – ”
Faster than thought, Grace seized Sarah’s outstretched left arm. “What’s THIS?”
Grace had honed in on Sarah’s left wrist, ringed by a black band of tattooed text and numbers. That had stayed private for years under a tough, chunky watch, taken off Sarah by Border Control. “It’s the location where my son died.”
Grace’s blue eyes were fixed. “How long have you had this?”
“Years.” It had been a terrible idea. Sarah been drunk after taking out the first Terminator from texted coordinates. She’d thought that was a bizarre one-off. At least the tattoo artist had been excellent. The black text had stayed as sharp as her grief.
Grace asked, inevitably, “Does Dani know?”
“Yes. When Dani talked me down from shooting the T-800, she noticed it. She asked, too. I told her.”
“She was the one in the future who tattooed Carl’s coordinates on me. So she’d known…for…most of her life…” Grace trailed off while this new fact settled. Her grip around Sarah’s wrist was heating up.
Grace began, “Why didn’t she...” She let that one trail, off, too. Sarah remembered all Dani’s revelations last night, understood where Grace had learned to hold her cards close to the chest. Finally, Grace let Sarah go.
Sarah said, “Did you tattoo her back? One for the memories?”
“Tattoos were for nukescum.”
“What's that mean, in the future?”
Grace explained. “Nukescum was as low as you could get and still be free. Random survivors. Not with our troops, not living in any compound or settled place. Some were in gangs. Some were just freaks.”
“Sounds like my kind of people,” Sarah said.
Grace huffed, a sound on the edge of a laugh. “You act like them. But you don’t look like them.” Then her lips parted. “Dani’s coming back. I hear her car.” She replaced the pan dulce in the bag, swept the rifle up again.
Sarah got poised in the driver’s seat once more. Grace had stopped eating to talk to her. A penetrating glance met her eyes in the rear-view mirror. Grace was splitting her attention, now, between Dani and Sarah. And Sarah had a different question. What is your deal with me?
She’d crack and ask, sometime soon. The same way she couldn’t help checking for updates about Elon Musk, or watching clips of Boston Dynamics robots: learning things that hurt her. Sarah was enough of a survivor to settle back for now.
Back at the cabin, Sarah let Grace and Dani sort out the haul. Most of it stayed in the garage: electronic parts, appliances for tests, tools, and the electric car itself. Sarah parked the SUV in the driveway, to begin the same decline all her vehicles went through. Birdshit today, bullet holes tomorrow.
When Grace and Dani came back to the cabin, Dani tossed an item at Sarah. Sarah caught it. “A present for you, to replace your chip bags! A phone case that blocks signals with RFID.”
Sarah stared at her first gift in years. “It’s...the gray is good.” It was ideal, forgettable, low-key. She'd use it until it disintegrated, of course, but: “How can I know for sure it’s blocking?”
“Blocking is what it does.” Dani said. She flipped her hair, in a single braid today, over one shoulder. “More than a chip bag, which is not metal.”
Sarah said, “They used to be aluminum foil. I don’t know when they changed.”
Dani was enjoying this. “Aluminum is for the takeout we had earlier. This is a phone, not a burrito.”
Grace said, “I can tell if it’s blocking signals or not.”
Dani and Sarah both looked at Grace. “What?”
“I can sense a lot of signals. Radios, electronic items. Sometimes I’m supposed to, sometimes...” Grace shrugged. She caught Sarah’s eye. “And yeah, even on low power. It’s radio-quiet here, compared to where we were earlier today. This house is in a valley. A lot of signals skim overhead.”
Dani added, “Over the top of the valley – because radio waves go across, not down.” She and Grace stared adoringly at each other.
Sarah cleared her throat. “We’re living in a Terminator’s ideal vacation spot. Peachy. So tell me, Einstein, how much signal does this block?” Sarah forced her battered phone into the case and threw it across the kitchen table.
Grace hovered her hand over it. “I’m not getting data. It still feels electronic.”
Sarah said, “Hah. See?”
“But almost is okay! If it is not sending the signal, the information, you are still safe.“ Dani flipped her braid back again, twitching like it annoyed her.
“Fine. I’ll wrap it in foil.” Sarah aggressively wrapped the phone and cover in three rounds of kitchen tinfoil, chucked it back on the table. “How’s that?”
Grace hovered her hand again. “That’s a lot worse.”
“Good worse or bad worse?”
“It has the radio wave signal of....” Grace paused, heavily. “A burrito.”
It took Sarah a moment to get it. This once, Grace was kidding.
Dani, ahead of her like always, had doubled over laughing. Grace was looking at Dani when she added, “Good. It’s good.”
Sarah decided it was time for a smoke. She shot a look back: sure enough, there was that piercing glance from Grace again. That unanswered question.
After all that, Sarah didn’t sleep like she hoped she would. She woke from a broken future, sad and angry yet again. The timing was terrible, three-thirty: the hour before dawn, between the wolf and the dog. Sarah gave in to the inevitable and went downstairs.
Torn between drinking herself back to sleep and staying up, Sarah settled on a double screwdriver. The orange juice made it healthy. Practically breakfast. Right when she’d settled on the sofa, another shadow drifted down.
Dani was in a thin, dark robe, her hair in a different type of braid, all along the back of her head. It had been tidy when she’d turned in. It was loose now, soft locks of hair escaping it. She could have strayed from any of Sarah’s broken futures.
Sarah murmured, “Did I wake you?”
Dani blinked, “Why are you downstairs?”
Sarah sipped her drink. “I had a stupid bad dream.”
A dim vault, gray, featureless, where she expects to die – until the door unseals. “Hello, Sarah Connor.” Sarah’s heart fills with defiant joy. She flings herself (a prettier, curvier self) into the arms of a T-800 Terminator. “Pops! I thought you were dead!” The T-800 smiles, attempts deadpan humor. “No. Just upgraded...” They’re a team, a family, and they’re sorting out some post-explosion chaos. Kyle is there, too, solid physically and mentally. He says, “That means there’s only one thing left to do,” and they -
It made Sarah furious that in some universe, somewhere, she was such a traitor to herself. Worse, that it seemed to turn out better for her than most of her other futures. Ugh.
She put her glass on the table. “Were you going to sit down here and cry?”
Dani came over, slid a coaster under the glass. “Were you? You are the one who came down.”
“I did wake you. Sorry.”
Dani perched on the sofa, beside Sarah. “We watched your show. America’s Most Wanted.”
Sarah covered her eyes with her hand. “Shit. You saw the waitress uniform.”
Dani smiled. “It was pretty! You were pretty!”
Sarah shook her head. “I should watch that show and laugh. That fucking soundtrack... but I don’t.” She drank enough of her screwdriver to admit, “I do watch it sometimes. Just the start, to see photos of my mom and Ginger. My old roommate. You’re a lot like her.” Both petite, dark beauties, better at life than Sarah was.
Dani tried not to smile wider. “I am glad I remind you of a friend.”
“Ginger was something.” Sarah had let Ginger set her up on dates, smooch her and twitch her buttons open. She’d watched Ginger make up and dress, fascinated by Ginger’s perfection. If Ginger hadn’t been killed by a Terminator, Sarah might have figured out what that meant about herself, forty years ago. Instead of now: far too late.
Sarah glanced at Dani, aware of each curve beneath the dark robe. Knowing what that awareness meant, now. She stayed where she was, sitting with that and Dani.
Dani reached out for Sarah’s glass. “This looks nice.” A sip made her cough. “Sarah!”
Sarah took the glass back. “I don’t judge you, you don’t judge me. At this point I’m made of bad habits and potato chips.”
Dani’s face crumpled. She leaned towards Sarah. “You drink when you are not happy. Yet you brought Grace all this medication. Would some of it help you better?”
Sarah edged away. “After Pescadero, never again. They wrote me off as schizo. Drugged me ‘till I couldn’t move. I was crazier when I got out than I was going in.” She fired a question back. “How about you, with all the shit that’s happened?”
“I...” Dani was genuinely startled. Sarah envied her that. “I never thought about that. And Grace needs so much...”
Suddenly, Dani brimmed. Grace’s exclamations ran through Sarah’s mind. You’re my mission, Dani. If you don’t live, everybody dies. My mother and my commander and my goddess.
Sarah felt, at last, she had something for Dani here and now. “You know...I loved Kyle. But there were things I didn’t mention last night.”
Dani lifted her chin, listening. “Such as, he was insane. My first thought about him was, this guy is pretty, but crazy.”
“It does sound not real, when it first begins,” Dani said.
Sarah went on. “Then I got that he was telling the truth. He was still out of his mind. Stealing, killing, they were fine with him, after his future. Then he’d freeze up at nothing. He’d cry – I never saw a man cry so much.”
“Grace does not cry,” Dani said, very quietly. “Like you.”
Sarah said, “I don’t know which is crazier. Or how it would have been for us if Kyle had survived. For a long time, I thought about that. Every day.”
“Oh, Sarah.” Dani had edged closer as Sarah spoke, leaning in, a scant inch away.
“Whatever happens, it’s better to find out than to not know.” Sarah relented: leaned against Dani, like Dani needed. She steeled herself to the pleasure of it like she braced herself for pain.
Dani rested her head on Sarah’s shoulder, reached for Sarah’s hand, consoling herself and Sarah at the same time. Sarah could tell it did her some good, just like Grace smoothed out after venting and sniping. Those two needed a circuit breaker for the intensity between them. After how life and Terminators had kicked her around, Sarah decided she could stand it.
The moment was all Dani needed. With a firm squeeze, very Ginger of her, Dani sat back up. “I will find out for us.”
Sarah felt that dagger-twist by her heart again. She knew what Dani meant. Dani was going to start trying today. And neither she nor Grace could help Dani more than they already had with a better power source for Grace. For that, Dani was alone.
Three days afterwards, Sarah handed Grace a staple gun. She braced the ladder where Grace stood, a yard above her. Grace stapled a last square of chicken wire to an upper corner of the garage. “It’s done,” Grace called to Dani. “We’ve got a Faraday cage.”
“That is good. I will see if it closes well later. Over here, I may be close, too.”
Sarah eyed the garage’s wire-rough walls with misgiving. The whole cage thing was crazy. Sooner or later, the cabin’s neighbors would notice their missing fencing. Sarah had appreciated a chance to keep her hand in with that minor larceny. Their chance of subduing and dissecting a Terminator was microscopic. While stapling or screwing wire, Grace had planned strategies, contingencies around that, for the good it would do. Occasionally, Grace asked how Sarah had managed Terminators “with only this primitive shit.” Between talking and fastening, they had gotten something done together without killing each other.
Grace thudded down the ladder and picked up the car battery. They moved to porch chairs set right outside the garage. Dani was working inside. Sarah didn’t like the look of Dani’s work, either. Cables and surge protectors spilled out of the electric car. They were supposed to protect Dani’s test devices from the electric car’s surges. Dani was getting ready to run a serious test. Cables ran all the way outside the garage, waiting. There was a reason for that.
Sarah settled in. “Now I see why everyone put up with me in my twenties. Watching a pretty girl blow shit up is entertainment. That spotlight yesterday was something.”
Grace winced. “Each thing that blows is a stand-in for me. Especially this.” Dani was connecting a fancy black laptop to the wiring outside the garage.
“Okay. Here we go.” Dani was trying two braids today. They made her outfit of work apron, rubber gloves, and safety glasses cute as fuck. Dani slipped into the driver seat of the electric car.
Sarah batted at Grace’s wrist. “Hey. Kiss her for luck.” It was bitterly satisfying to show that, even out of life’s game, she was nobody’s chaperone. Over three open days, Sarah had seen how in love they were. The way only young survivors could love: with a passion where denying it felt like the end of the world.
Grace gave Sarah a knowing, skeptical glare, but she didn’t stop herself. In two strides, she was leaning over double into the car, lips locked to Dani’s. Grace swayed there for a good minute. Dani reached up to cup her face and murmur, then gestured her off. Grace stationed herself right outside the garage.
“I’m going to try now!” Dani called. She revved the electric car’s engine and began to count volts. “Eight volts…twelve…twenty-four…thirty…”
Grace said, “The screen’s gone blank. That doesn’t look good.”
“Let me hold - ”
There was a snap, then a ping. The entire garage flashed like lightning along the wire grid. The garage door whirred, stuttered. From the laptop, gray smoke billowed. As Grace leaped to yank Dani out of the car, Sarah whirled, hurling a bucket of white dust over the laptop. She coughed. The baking soda smothered the fire, but not its electrical stink.
Dani swatted at Grace. “Ay! Suéltame!” For someone who was supposed to speak Spanish, it took Grace a minute to let go. Dani ripped some plugs from their sockets, then went to Sarah.
Sarah was still waving aside smoke. “Sorry if I fucked it. You going to try again?”
“It exploded. Useless, now. It is not working. Nothing is working.” Dani closed her eyes, standing very straight. After ten seconds, vibrating with tension, she uttered a pure, shrill scream. She followed it with a stream of Spanish cursing worthy of Sarah. Grace stepped over, reaching for her, but Dani darted away.
Dani wasn’t a starstruck lover right now. She had the grim face of a commander with a man down. She pressed the dead laptop shut, looked at the ashy powder on her fingertips, coiled a fist. “I keep fucking up. Fucking up! I know I have to do this but – I hate this. So much waste, I am not helping, que tonta...” She collected herself enough to glance at them. “Please – go! Both of you – go.”
Time to circuit break. Sarah grabbed Grace’s elbow, tilted her head. “C’mon.” Grace leaned over and swept up her battery. They sidled away.
Sarah found herself hauling Grace’s ass to where she and Dani usually walked, the target-range field behind the cabin. Grace stopped at the end of that field, at the border of the woods. “No further. I’m done.” She chunked the battery down.
“Fine. We’ll chill.” It wasn’t a bad spot. In this earliest summer, the drying grasses mingled with wildflowers. They stood there silently for a time. It was mid-afternoon, very hot. This was the sort of thing Sarah had wanted to do with Kyle, so long ago: let him experience this world. Before Judgement Day. She’d never had the chance.
Finally, Grace said, “Up there. Hawks.”
Sarah peered up into the sky, squinting. She couldn’t see a damn thing.
Grace took a break to grab a tall weed. She snapped off its top half and began to eat it, bugs and all.
Sarah cleared her throat. “Need food? We can go back.”
Grace replied, “This is food. Fireweed. Eat it and you won’t get scurvy.” She stripped off some leaves and handed them to Sarah.
Sarah tried a leaf. It was very bitter. Once she’d gotten it down, Sarah asked, “How’s that not telling Dani future shit going?”
Grace turned back to the sky, quiet save for her chewing.
“Maybe you should tell her more. Help keep her alive between nukescum and malnutrition.”
Grace swallowed. “What Dani’s doing now. Trying to fix me. It’s making her valuable. There’ll be people who listen to her because they like her. Or because she knows how people work. And some will let her have her say because of what she can get running.”
“In the future?” Sarah asked.
“In the future.”
It was Sarah’s turn to let a new fact settle: another message from the future to the past. When it had, her lifetime of instinct told her something. Now.
“Like before, I have to ask. You’ve said…seems you hit on me and I missed it. Was it that you wanted me, or a break from wanting Dani?”
Grace’s whole face sharpened, nostrils flaring, hawkish as the hunters she watched above. “When I arrived here and met Dani – I knew she wouldn’t be like she was. Is. Then you barged in. You were the parts that were missing. It was like my Dani had been split into two.”
“Daggers drawn,” Sarah muttered.
Grace turned from the sky at last, its blue in her eyes. “You hated me right back – and believed me right away. Got us moving. Armed us. In my future nobody gives each other anything they don’t have to. Except Dani, from scavenger to commander. I saw how much you gave Dani.”
“When I was still alive, after all that… when I wasn’t supposed to be… I wanted it all. All the things I wouldn’t have in the future.”
Sarah said, “You’ve got Dani.”
“She has me. I want her to have you, too.” Grace’s blue regard, wide and wild, kept Sarah pinned. “I want her as looked after as possible. I need to know that somebody else is as – as crazy about her as I am. There for her every hour of the day. And night.”
Sarah froze like an overloaded Terminator. “Well. Shit.”
This response to Grace’s grand gesture clearly didn’t satisfy. Grace snarled, “What? You want her.”
Sarah raised her open hands. “It’s fucking sudden. All in or all out with you, isn’t it? You don’t have a medium setting.”
Grace smiled. “Why should I?”
Sarah said, “Dani’s not some military objective. She’s a person. Told me that the hard way.”
That brought on Grace’s almost-laughing noise. “Oh, I ran this by her. The night after I saw your coordinates. She wanted to wait. Bring it up after she had me powered up better. She’s watched movies – TV stories – that all end OK.” Grace paused. “I don’t think my story is going to.”
Sarah had to agree. “Our lives aren’t like that.”
Grace lifted her chin. “So. Plug in with us sometime, as a test?”
“Find out if it blows.” Sarah realized that was no way to accept. “I will.” Sarah reached out a hand to her. Grace took it, crushingly.
Something more seemed called for. Grace leaned in. Sarah tilted up. They attempted a kiss. Grace’s mouth was as firm and bitter as Sarah’s own. They left their lips closed.
Sarah had to say it. “A for effort, but that was weird.”
Grace muttered, “Dani’s all about kissing.”
Sarah said, on automatic, “Lucky bastard.”
Before Sarah could blink, Grace’s forearm was hard against her throat, Grace’s eyes sparking with anger – and heat. And that felt far more right.
Sarah arced into Grace’s arm, exhaling a hiss of challenge. “Go on.”
Grace pressed into Sarah’s throat slightly, metal bones against her larynx, her pulse, kicking in her adrenaline. Firing Sarah up to throw down in every way possible.
Sarah found she’d closed her eyes. She opened them on Grace’s fascination, said, “That’s it. That’s how it is, sometimes.”
Grace took her arm back. Her smile had an electric edge. “That’s how it’s been for me. With everyone but Dani.”
Sarah tilted her head. “Want to go make her feel better...starting now?”
Grace cast her hawkish look around them. “One thing, first.”
When they headed back to the garage, Sarah was carrying, on Grace’s behalf, an armful of the edible weeds for Dani. They had to hunt around to find her. Dani was, oddly, behind the back of the cabin.
Dani had recovered enough to light up when she saw them. “You brought me flowers!”
“Uh...” Grace began, but Dani didn’t let her get far.
Dani took them and said, “I wanted to see if I had blown the house fuses and I cannot find the house’s power cables.”
“Wired into the grid, right? America.” Sarah had spent nights cursing at generators, days charging devices on shonky solar panels, but not in the United States. That was one of the few things America had going for it.
In her frustration, Dani tore out her elastics, shook out her hair. “I cannot find the house’s power cables. A power source. In this house. That was the house of a Terminator. Do you understand me?”
Sarah and Grace said, together, “Fuck!”
“Grace, if you sense electrics, power, help me find if I have missed a wire – or something else!” The weeds got cast aside on the porch as they did the rounds of the cabin. Sarah took over battery-hauling duty. Grace kept saying “No”.
Until Grace said, “Let’s go back where we were earlier.” She lengthened her stride.
Dani and Sarah stared at each other. “Where?” Dani asked.
Sarah said, “We walked by the gun shed.”
Dani’s eyes widened. “Grace has not been inside it since we returned.”
When they got there, Grace stood in front of the cinderblock hut, both hands held high, a posessed dowser. “Here. There’s something. I didn’t notice before. Shit was happening, plus Carl was here, a full Terminator with his power source.”
They went inside. “It is warm, warmer than the garage,” Dani said. Sarah had thought that was a combination of Texas cinderblock and the happy glow of being surrounded by weapons. She let Grace's battery drop in the doorway.
The place was small enough for Grace to stride freely despite her cables. At the back, Grace fell to her knees. “HERE.” She opened a low cupboard onto a panel, banged the panel. “It’s not the wall.”
Dani had to bring a toolkit. By the time it arrived, Grace couldn’t help. She was starting to vibrate, hands unstable. Dani and Sarah had to open the panel, jimmying clips off metal, then prying. When the panel came away, all three of them, huddled together on the floor, flinched back from the light.
For a moment, they just stared. Dani held her hand out, measuring what they’d revealed. A silvery rod bisected by its glowing heart. She breathed, “The size is close. The shape. The connectors...”
For all that its light was blue, Sarah was seeing red. “How the fuck did he get ahold of uranium for a reactor? That shit’s restricted six ways from Sunday. Don’t ask how I know.”
Grace shook her head. “Hyperbatteries don’t use uranium. They run on thorium.”
Dani said, “So Carl could get thorium for the energy source. Maybe from the other things he took apart that I found. Then, he kindles it from his own power source. Like he bought the guns. To protect his family!”
Grace said, “It’s a good distance from the cabin, in case it blows. Smart.”
Sarah said, “That goddamn. Piece of shit. Metal motherfucking. Terminator. Carl. Carl! CARL!” She threw the metal panel. It spanged off an ammo cupboard. “Fucking bastard might’ve said if – he and I – hadn’t been about – nothing but terminating – fuck!” She sprang to her feet.
Dani and Grace followed. “Sarah, no,” said Dani, grabbing Sarah’s waist. “None of us could know. We did not imagine this. Like we did not imagine Terminators before.”
“Do not go fucking berserk in here,” Grace warned. She sent another arm around Sarah’s shoulder, back around Sarah’s neck. “I will choke you out.”
“Promises,” Sarah said.
Dani, brow crumpled, was staring at the blue light. “Querida, do you want to try it?”
Grace cried, “You have to ask? Fuck, yes!”
Dani grimaced. Her arm tightened around Sarah’s waist. To Grace, she said, “I will have to cut you open a third time.”
At that, Grace didn’t sag, but she went heavy. Sarah braced herself between them, clenched Dani back, sent her own arm around Grace.
Dani caught that. “We must prepare first. And – this is the best chance we could have. A power source, not having to fight for it. We should celebrate! Sarah, we were saying how much we like you and – ” Seeing Sarah’s expression, Dani turned up to Grace, pointing at her with her free hand. “You told her. You told her before I – ”
Grace said, “I thought things were turning out differently.”
“You’re in trouble,” Sarah grinned.
Dani and Grace exchanged a glance around Sarah. “I think somebody does not know how much trouble there can be,” Dani said. She arced into Sarah.
Grace tightened her arm. “Ready to find out?”
Sarah lowered her hands, pressed Dani’s firmness, the tension between Grace's metal and flesh. She smiled grimly at their startled expressions. “Let’s do it.”
In the "no pictures of John" scene in the Dark Fate movie, where Sarah and Dani talk, we can see that Sarah has a tattoo on her left wrist. It's covered earlier in the movie with a chunky beige watch. Actor Linda Hamilton has this tattoo - she's had it for years, it's the coordinates of a house she used to own. This means Linda is probably the source for the 'tattoo the coordinates' idea, and since tattoos can be covered, A Decision Was Made to let this tattoo stand for the movie. So I've given it to Sarah with my own headcanon around it. You can see the tattoo on this page of Sarah Connor's costume breakdown for Dark Fate - it's clear in the very last picture with a stunt double.
Sarah’s broken future here is from the ending of the Terminator: Genisys movie.
Suéltame! - Let me go!
Que tonta – How stupid, such an idiot.
And yes, next chapter is all smut!
Chapter 9: Come With Me If You Want To Live
“If you two are tag-teaming me, I’m going to need some tequila.”
This chapter is one long sex scene - check out the updated warnings and if that's not your thing, go ahead and skip it.
The three of them had gone back to the cabin. Sarah was relieved. Usually, sex in an armory was her idea of fun. But the power source there, that spark of Carl, gave that a chill for her.
In the cabin, with an air of deep satisfaction, Dani put the flowering fireweed into a vase. “I want to say you bring me flowers, so I forgive you, Grace…but Sarah was holding them.” She smiled naughtily, sparkling with excitement. “I suppose I have to be very nice to both of you.”
Sarah didn’t know what was more amusing: Dani unleashed, flirting double-time with them both, or Grace going puppyish. Grace actually said, “Yes, ma’am.”
Dani raised one finger. “Let me have five minutes to freshen up.”
“I’ll dose up and eat something,” Grace said.
They wanted their 'celebration' right now? Sarah rolled with it. “If you two are tag-teaming me, I’m going to need some tequila.” She went to the drinks cabinet.
Sarah considered a tequila Dani might like. If it wasn’t for her, Grace and Sarah would never have gotten to this point. An anejo, definitely, dark-golden as Dani’s eyes. When she saw a bottle marked Suerte, marked with a woman’s lips, that was it. Exactly what they needed. Pulling it out, Sarah tore off a flowery tag – somebody’d had a crush on Carl to give him this. No accounting for taste, or this wouldn’t be happening, Sarah thought.
The weight of the bottle in Sarah’s hand paused her. This was actually happening. She was about to make it with two tough, ridiculously hot, awkwardly young women. The madness that brought them together – time travel, age differences, call it ‘mentoring’ - made it perverse. There’d be no return from this, but… fuck it. Grace was right. Grab it all, before Judgement Day.
By the time Sarah went to the kitchen to get glasses, Grace was at the sink there. She’d progressed to washing herself up. From the look Grace threw at Sarah, the puppy was gone, the predator was back.
Sarah slid a few shot glasses onto the table. “This all going according to plan for you?”
For that, Sarah found herself seized by the scruff of her neck, slammed up against the sink, held there by Grace. The way she jammed her hips against Sarah double-signaled, big time.
Right in her ear, Grace growled, “Don’t talk to me like that in front of Dani. Don’t…” Grace’s voice slowed. “Nothing that leaves bruises. Dani doesn’t like it.”
Grace was, roughly, badly, trying to say what was what. To negotiate. Sarah remembered Kyle, hesitant with her, always waiting for her to urge him on. Grace, traded as a nuclear orphan for a bottle of liquor. She said, “I’ll check in on the important stuff.”
Grace released Sarah with a shake. “And wash your hands. I know what you want to do with them.”
Freed, Sarah stripped off her smoky, sweaty, dusted T-shirt. Ostentatiously, she washed her hands and arms up to her shoulders. Grace’s palm on her bare back startled Sarah forwards again, the sink cold against her waist. Grace asked, “Where are your scars?”
Sarah reached up. “My left shoulder. Here. Had a bad bullet wound on my leg, once, you’ll see that.”
“Doesn’t count. Not with what I saw in my time. Tumors, scabs, you name it.” Again, Grace palmed Sarah’s skin, over her bra’s back, up to her shoulder blades. Grace’s hand was hot and slow. Kyle’s lost reverence, given new, dark meaning with what Grace had said.
Sarah shivered as the touch slid around her ribs, froze as Grace’s hand settled between her scant breasts. Grace made a fist over Sarah’s heart, pressed hard. She whispered, “If I could take this hide of yours, give it to my Dani in the future, I would.”
Knowledge sank in with the pressure, heartbreak and encouragement. Whatever had befallen future Dani, Grace had loved an older, war-worn woman, in her time. Explaining why Grace found Sarah a tolerable prospect.
Right then, they heard,“ You began without me!” Grace and Sarah turned together.
How the hell did Dani do it? Again, Dani was in the thin, dark robe, groomed in a way that was impossible to pin down. Her black hair, lank ten minutes ago, trailed in alluring waves. Sarah only got to see her for a moment before Dani flung her arms around her and Grace alike.
Her slim arms, tender compared to Grace’s hand, had their turn encircling Sarah’s ribs. When Dani’s face turned up, she was bright with pleasure. Sarah muttered, “My chassis isn’t hopeless, for all that my face is.”
Dani shook her head sweetly. “No. It is not that. You feel good. Your skin – “ Dani paused, then remembered Sarah spoke Spanish. Running a hand over Sarah’s upper arm, cupping a bicep, she said, “ Sedosa. Suave y fuerte.”
“Y tú tambien. Más y más.” Sarah dropped her voice to add, “Daniela.” Why hadn’t they spoken Spanish before? That little bit sent Dani nestling deliciously into Sarah. Dani’s face fit perfectly between Sarah’s neck and collarbone. Sarah wrapped an arm around Dani, felt her incredible, silken skin gliding against hers.
Grace elbowed the small of Sarah’s back. “Hey. What are you saying?”
“What you said earlier,” Sarah replied.
Dani grabbed Grace’s hip. “I am here with you! You can ask!”
Behind her, Sarah felt Grace heat up several degrees. Dani, all mischief, said to Sarah. “Half the time she orders me around. Do this, do that, rest! The other half…you may see.”
Dani took one of Sarah’s hands and one of Grace’s, pulling them towards the living room’s pair of long sofas. Grace let go to pick up her battery. With four strides, she was over there, claiming the end of one sofa, next to the fireplace. Nobody, Sarah clocked, was going to sit next to Grace’s left side, where her cables coiled out to her improvised power source. The 1200-volt battery didn’t dent the cushions of a deep sofa picked to support a four-hundred-pound T-800.
Sarah swept up the shot glasses, headed for the coffee table between sofas. A smaller bottle of some emollient had appeared there, thanks to Dani. Sarah swept the glasses down next to the tequila. Dani surprised Sarah by taking the lead with that, pouring three neat shots. Sarah took a seat on the same sofa as Grace, an armspan away, and asked, “Where were you last time I did this?”
“You did not invite me,” Dani said, with an arch glance.
“Our loss,” Grace said.
Dani slid one shot to Sarah, handed the other to Grace, and skittered around the coffee table. She slotted in between the other two women.
"Salud,” Dani said, turning to one side.
Sarah winked, clinked shots with her. “Salud.”
Dani turned to the other side. Grace, for once, looked abashed. “Uh, sal-uhd.”
Dani rewarded Grace’s attempt with a loving smile. While they got stuck in each other’s eyes, Sarah downed her shot. Grace caught that and sank hers, too. Dani was content with a sip before putting her glass down. She probably had other things on her mind, the way Grace was stretching her right arm out. Grace’s arm was long enough to reach both Dani and Sarah.
Dani nestled in anew, against Grace, now. Sarah watched as they whispered to each other, then kissed. She’d thought, these past three days, that they’d been shamelessly relaxed in front of her. She’d been wrong. Grace’s kiss-for-luck earlier was a peck on the cheek compared to how they devoured each other now. Dani reached up to cup Grace’s face. Grace tilted her head, golden hair falling over her brow as she leaned into Dani, a blush rising up her fair skin to her hairline. Grace’s arm tightened, by reflex – her fingertips caught Sarah’s shoulder, pressed her in. Sarah tilted back from Dani’s hair, silky, a little rough.
Sarah peered around Dani to Grace, rising from that kiss, eyes cold and vivid against her flushed skin. If Grace was going to get jealous – hell, let her. Let her be grilled the way Sarah had been. Because Dani was turning to her now, and Sarah knew what it was going to be like to kiss Dani.
Or Sarah thought she did. She sealed her mouth over Dani’s quickly. Dani gasped into her, a breath of pleasure and tequila. Sarah had never kissed such full, soft, willing lips before. After a minute, Sarah gave them space to breathe, saying, “You. Are better than mortal man deserves.” One of Ginger’s sayings, back in the day.
Dani smiled up. Amber eyes sleepy, she whispered, “What do you like? With women?”
That paused Sarah. The feel of Dani, her body soft with trust, filled Sarah with guilt. About the broken future she’d seen, where she’d forced herself on Dani. For her real past, show-off bar moments where she’d handled another woman. She’d done it to show how Sarah Connor both stuck at nothing and was in charge: never in a way that let her dare to feel. It all scorched her now, late revenge.
To Dani and her past, she admitted, “I haven’t done enough of this dyke shit to know for sure.”
Dani twisted, eyes going wide and black. But the move brought her closer. Not such a good girl after all, Sarah thought, to fall for Grace and lean towards her, two blunt and violent women. Sarah slid her left arm around Dani, tried to reassure with a squeeze. “How about you get on top of me and we figure it out?”
Whatever Dani felt in Sarah’s touch did the trick. Dani slid her hands onto Sarah’s shoulders. With one smooth turn, she straddled Sarah’s lap. Her robe fell half-open, framing her subtle, tawny-rose cleavage, right in Sarah’s face. Her full, healthy thighs compressed Sarah’s shanks.
Sarah arced back a hand’s breadth from Dani’s body. She rasped, “I like this. This is good. You can kill me now.”
From the left, Grace said, “Don’t tempt me.” Grace shifted to close the gap between them, pressing her hard body against Dani’s knee, Sarah’s left side.
Sarah had enough going on. Grace closing the gap lit Dani up. Dani was loving this, beaming at Grace and Sarah together. “I know you don’t mean it,” Dani said.
“I won’t kill her – “ “I don’t want to die for – “ Sarah glared at Grace, then half-smiled. “We’re doing it again.”
A soft hand on Sarah’s cheek startled her. “Qué sonrisa,” Dani said, tilting Sarah’s head up. Dani was warm with sweet authority, a glimpse of what she’d be in ten years, end of the world or not. She leaned down and drank a second kiss from Sarah. This one went longer, touched with a flicker of Dani’s tongue along Sarah’s lower lip, ended with the slightest bite, pulling Sarah to follow.
Leaning left, given height by perching on Sarah, Dani did the same for Grace. Grace leaned in eagerly. Sarah was tight enough to them to see, as they kissed, Grace’s flush deepening to speckle her collarbones. If this was how Grace acted being kissed, how would it be to watch her get fucked?
By the time Dani ended her kiss with Grace, her robe had slid down her right shoulder, catching just short of baring a breast. With her smile back, Dani shrugged the robe off both shoulders. Sarah’s immediate thought was, thank God, she’s got a woman’s tits, not a girl’s, for all they were small, perfect to cup in the palm of Sarah’s hands. Dani's nipples were wide and dark, their first velvety touch tightening to chamois as Sarah caressed her. Sarah took her hand away before giving in to the temptation to just squeeze. Dani gasped.
Seeing her mouth part, Sarah asked, “Can I lick you?”
“Of course!” Dani said. Sarah bowed her head over Dani’s exquisite right breast. She lavished Dani carefully. It was hard to restrain herself, feeling chamois harden to tight arousal beneath her tongue. This close, looks didn’t matter. Dani was still warm and silken, tough and sweet, achingly right to hold. Sarah took her time.
A firm shoulder nudged Sarah. She glanced left to see that Grace had closed in on Dani’s other side, caught her blonde head lowering. Sarah got back to work, tilting slightly to give Grace room. Dani said “Oh!” as Grace claimed her other breast. Sarah caught a flash of Grace’s teeth, realized Grace was biting Dani. You bitch, Sarah thought, and did the same, softly. Dani cried out, flung her head back. Her hair whipped across Grace’s head as she did.
Grace drew away, pulled Sarah back by her silver hair, sending a different kind of heat through her. “You two are driving me crazy.”
Sarah said. “Nice to have some company.” She replaced her mouth with her fingertips over Dani’s nipple, circled slightly. “Before the two of you, the best foreplay I had was with Kyle. We made pipe bombs for three hours. You learn a lot about someone, watching them handle explosives.”
“I see why!” purred Dani.
Through gritted teeth, Grace said, “Are you going to do this all night? I need somebody to fuck somebody, now.”
Sarah said, “Hand me that shot of tequila and I’ll see what I can do.” Grace passed up Dani’s tequila shot.
Holding it, Sarah looked up into Dani’s face. Dani had gone still and disappointed. Sarah grinned. “Didn’t say I was drinking it from the glass. Hold still, if you can.” With that, Sarah splashed the shot across Dani’s breasts.
Dani cried out, shock and delight in it. Sarah dove back down, mouthing the tequila from her tits, her ribs, kissing and nipping. Tickled, Dani began to laugh. Sarah took the opportunity to tip Dani back between herself and the open-mouthed Grace. She let Dani’s momentum turn her, too. In an instant, they had changed places, Dani tumbled back onto the sofa, Sarah kneeling over one of her legs.
“You’re the boss, Dani. Are we going to give Grace what she wants?”
Dani swept her hair out of her bitten mouth, gave her robe’s sash one pull. That left her bare against a puddle of black satin. “Yes.”
“Fuck,” Sarah breathed. Again, Dani was all woman, thighs soft below a glimpse of her cunt’s shadow and swell. Irresistible. Sarah reached down, slid. She managed to rasp, “Ready?”
Sarah didn’t catch if Dani’s yes was English or Spanish, just that she’d agreed. “Good girl.” And sent her trigger fingers home.
Sarah had to close her eyes. What she probed was hot and soft and so, so liquid. For an instant, Sarah let her touch rest, feeling hard, intrusive. Exploring, she swirled her fingertips. Slid deeper, pulled out. Slid back again. Judging, like she was handling a new weapon. Then, Sarah combined all the moves at once.
That did it. Dani rolled her head, inhaled to try and talk. “You said – you had not – with women – ”
“Never said I didn’t fuck,” Sarah said. Dani, rolling her face against Grace’s right side, missed what this meant. Sarah didn’t care. Dani’s body was talking back to her smart and fast, gloriously wet and hot, embracing her. She was wet herself, the seam of her jeans tight and right against her own crotch. She could do this forever.
Suddenly, Dani’s works clamped as Dani cried out, that breathless, precious Ah!
“Keep going,” Grace said. Sarah let her arm and wrist keep rolling. This won more of those cries from Dani, her small torso twisted now, thrusting her hips at Sarah while burying her face in Grace.
Sarah let herself talk. “Good girl, Daniela, such a hot, wet, good girl – “ Dani screamed like she’d started, with less control, and clamped so tight Sarah froze, afraid of hurting her. Grace’s eyes pinned Sarah. Together, they were still, until Dani rocked up against Grace.
Brushing her hair back yet again, her smile was glorious. “Oh. Oh. Oh! Sarah. Querida. Gracias.” Peering up at Grace, she was pinned by her lover’s face, reached up to cup one cheek. “You are very hot.”
Sarah slid herself entirely back. Her knees were shaking. To cover that, she said, “Her turn, I’m guessing.” In a move that took her out of the game for now, Sarah leaned to Grace’s ankles, unzipped the sides of Grace’s boots. Dani, thinking the same, was both kissing Grace and sliding under her T-shirt’s hem. Dani’s hand met Sarah’s briefly as they stripped Grace below the waist.
Doing that, Sarah held back from breathing fuck again. Grace had enough of a clit that Sarah glimpsed it in passing, something else to be jealous of. Grace’s long thighs had no spare flesh to spread as she sat, all muscle and steel, white surgery seams and livid dam-fight scars.
Sarah stood, gazed down, trying to see Dani’s beautiful, strong angel in the cyborg fighter. She didn’t, not for all that Grace twisted a knife in her. But all her life, Sarah had gone for two types, a beauty or a beast. Grace, scarred and ravishing, combined them. Grace looked up at Sarah with an expression between a snarl and a smirk. Dani’s touch wiped her face blank. Dani said, “Up here, querida . Let me…”
Let her what? Dani wasn’t much of a talker, either, but Grace knew. She slid her long legs on the long sofa, opened them for Dani to lie between, reclined back onto her elbows. Dani said, “Sarah, you can hold Grace!” Sarah stepped over cables, sat gingerly between Grace’s elbows and her battery. Grace’s unnatural weight sank her into the sofa where Dani’s had not.
Grace was holding back from really resting on her. Sarah slid an arm across her throat, as Grace had done to her before, half an embrace, half a threat. She lowered her head to speak low in one augmented ear. “Fucking relax or you’ll rip us both apart.”
“Fine.” Grace dropped her weight, right against Sarah’s solar plexus, then arched her back. “Uh.” Sarah glanced down. Dani was getting to work, her beautiful kitten face at the axis of Grace’s steely thighs. That was such a wonder that Grace had to clamp Sarah’s wrist to get her attention.
“You’re into tits? Work on mine, then.” She dragged Sarah’s clamped hand down, over her loose T-shirt. Sarah reached to use both hands. Grace’s tits were a nice handful and a half, nipples hard as bullets. Sarah gauged each tip as a match for a .45 ACP, pinched them to say hello. Grace responded by dragging the shirt up below her armpits. She caged her cables' opening beneath her left hand, shuttering her eyes, avoiding herself.
Sarah took in Grace’s torso in one instant: the red coordinate tattoo, scar-lines of squares and seams below her navel, lengthening her waist. She had a diamond of scar-lines from navel to sternum. The central diamond of skin was too smooth and pale, a graft. The top of the diamond made an inverted V between her breasts, left alone in surgical mercy. Sarah bit back a stream of curses, let Grace’s metal and damage weigh her down. She reached to each side of Grace’s heart again.
By the time she had Grace’s bare breasts in her grip once more, Grace’s head was on Sarah’s breastbone. “Go on. Pull.” Sarah did.
Grace turned her head. “Harder. You can’t bruise me.”
Sarah pinched, hard but subtle, muttered, “Thought we were playing nice for Mommy.”
Grace’s eyes flew open, flashing in shock. “You – you - arrrrrrgh – “
Sarah raised her voice. “You need some dirty talk while your goddess eats out your blonde cunt? Spread for her, then look down. You’re missing a fuck of a show. Prettiest girl you’ve ever seen, working on you, every way possible. Lucky bitch.” Grace shifted, opened her legs wider, muscles rippling hot and uncanny.
Dani happened to glance up, wide-eyed, when Sarah’s hands were spread, not pinching. They both saw Dani’s cheeks curve in a smothered smile. Grace started. “She’s laughing!”
You’re feeling, Sarah thought. Even the skin-diamond at Grace’s center was warm, alive. She clamped Grace’s nipples, swollen now, and waited for Dani to dive down again. Then, Sarah picked up where she’d left off. “Let her lick it out of you. Go on. Come down her throat. You know you want to.”
Grace thrashed her head. “You,” she snarled, “fucking pin me. Goddamn cables. I need to stay…” Sarah understood, shifted her arms to trap Grace’s biceps. She’d never have gotten this hold in a fair fight. Between Grace’s thighs, Dani was making some purring noises that added sensation for Grace. A high cry tore from Grace, her whole body jolting down to meet Dani. Her forehead against Sarah’s cheek was scorching.
“All right,” Grace gasped. Flailing, she elbowed Sarah back. “All right. ‘M done.”
Dani lifted her face, flushed and glistening. “Sarah, is there water?”
Sarah slid off the sofa and came back with a half-full pitcher, thrusting it at Grace. Sure enough, Grace took it and sculled. She was collected enough to hand it down to Dani. Dani made a little face and managed to sip from it.
Amused, Sarah said, “Sorry, honey. All or nothing today.”
“That why you’re still dressed?” Grace hauled herself upright, back to sitting.
Dani, kneeling up, fluttered her lashes. “We want to make you feel good, too.”
Grace had crossed her arms. “You’re not going to say no.”
“Fuck, no.” Sarah agreed despite there being no lights to dim, no curtains to pull, everyone being pretty sober: her worst-case scenario for this. To get rid of her boots and cycle jeans, Sarah sat back between them. She kept her black briefs on. Dani was still kneeling up, and Grace was overtopping her. So Sarah knelt up, too, folding her thin calves away, leaning to cut her thigh muscles.
Immediately, Grace wrapped a hot hand around Sarah’s deep-scarred thigh. “There it is.” She sounded satisfied, like Dani with the flowers, before. Grace’s hand was wide enough, Sarah’s thigh skinny enough, that Grace thumbed the front and fingered the exit of that old wound.
“Oh, Sarah. That must have hurt…” Sarah turned to Dani. This once, they were eye to eye. Dani slid hands on Sarah’s shoulders, kissed her lips, all tender sympathy. When Sarah kissed hard back, Dani let her, for a moment. Once she had Sarah facing her, she swayed back, leaned down, and bent.
Sarah was shocked by Dani’s kiss below Sarah’s sharp hipbones. At the sweet dab of her tongue, Sarah pulled back. “Oh, honey, no. I – you’re –“ Too beautiful, too much for Sarah right now. Also, after Sarah’s dirty talk, Grace would probably kill her.
All Dani needed was no . She knelt back up. Quickly, Sarah grabbed Dani’s right hand. “This, instead. You know what to do with your trigger fingers, right?”
Dani’s smile lit again immediately. “You showed me.” With that, Dani pried her hand down the front of Sarah's briefs, beneath thin cotton.
Sarah slid her left arm around Dani’s shoulder, watching Dani’s expressions shift by the second. That was as good as Dani’s fingertips, startlingly firm, working Sarah’s soaked clit. “That’s right. Good girl.” Sarah rolled her head back. Used to Grace’s hunger, Dani rubbed hard. Sarah could give in to this. She let Dani slide the briefs down. “Go on and fuck me.”
Sarah had just settled on two of Dani’s fingers when a touch from behind – seriously behind – jolted her. Grace was palming from the back of Sarah’s bra all the way down, grabbing her ass. And she wasn’t stopping there. She’d already slicked her fingers up.
In Sarah’s left ear, Grace breathed, “Want more?”
With her way of pressing Sarah’s buttons, Grace had definitely found one. Sarah shot a glance back. “Yes. Do me dirty.”
“Believe me, I will,” Grace said.
“What are you doing?” Dani asked.
Sarah braced herself against Dani. “She’s going to fuck my ass.”
Inside Sarah, Dani’s hand jerked. “But that hurts!”
“Hurts at first, then it’s just more.” With a long, hissing exhale, forcing out tension, Sarah touched Dani. “Hold still, honey, let her.”
Sarah heard Grace make a rough noise along with her. Then, Grace was in, too.
Sarah made more noise. Grace’s fingers were unreal, a thorough, alien probing, a swift, tight drill, a deep dive. This was a fight against a cyborg Sarah would lose, for once, happily.
Dani said, breathless, “Grace – I can feel you inside her – ”
Grace laughed. “I feel you, too.”
Sarah almost joined her laughter, and that tightened her where it counted. She could hear them, Dani’s fingers wet up front, Grace’s seething, hard breaths. She could smell them, sex and metal again. And holy fucking shit, did she feel them, filling her, touching through her, making her blaze.
“Fuck me, you beautiful bitches. Both of you, fuck me hard. Make me lose my goddamn mind – “
They both thrust at once, and had her. Sarah urged them on until she shuddered. Taken out, blinded and silenced with white heat, her terminating climax. She was done before Dani and Grace, still connected inside her, paused.
“Did she come?” Dani whispered.
“She’s quiet for once. So I think so.”
“Honey, I came. Like a motherfucker.” Sarah opened her eyes, blinked at Dani, shot a glare at Grace. “Thanks. Thanks a lot.”
Dani shifted her hand. “Do you want more?”
Suddenly, that was too much. “Not if you don’t want to kill me. I haven’t come that hard since…” Finishing that was too much, too, but Dani understood. She gave Sarah a gentle, releasing kiss.
As they disengaged, Sarah stood up, shakily. “Either of you bring a trick towel over?” Neither Grace or Dani knew what Sarah meant. Sarah shook her head and went to ruin some kitchen linens. By the time she returned, Dani had nestled where she’d begun, against Grace’s right side. Grace had tucked her right hand away, wrapping Dani in her left arm. Dani’s free arm was open, waiting for Sarah. Sarah tossed Grace a towel and slotted in, bookending Dani.
Dani caressed Grace the way she’d begun this, with all the love in the world. She also had a smile for how Sarah was touching her. Dani leaned back into Sarah, out-and-out snuggling to tell Sarah, “You still have your top on.”
Sarah left her sports bra where it was. “So does she.” Sarah knocked a hand against Grace’s shoulder. Grace socked her back, with a loose smile. Behind Dani, they entwined fingers for a moment: Grace silently mouthed, thanks. Mission accomplished: time to move on.
“When do you want to do the changeover? The…battery…thing.” After what they’d just done, the idea of cutting Grace open numbed Sarah’s mouth as she spoke.
Dani asked, “Grace?”
“Whenever you’re ready.” Grace said that with perfect, calm submission. Like Carl had when Sarah had said she’d kill him.
Dani murmured, “A few days. I will need to prepare. To think. And right now…”
Dani curled up into a ball between them. Grace and Sarah clasped her as if they could, actually, protect Dani this way. The light of a golden sunset was slanting across the cabin. With the valley’s curve, it would extinguish soon and sudden. For now, they let the gilded evening slide across them. Its light unified Grace’s hair, Dani’s amber eyes, Sarah’s tanned arms.
Sarah stayed still. There had been one good and golden year in her life: between July 29, 1997 and a terminating day in 1998. The year after Judgement Day hadn’t happened. Every day of it had been a gift. It was a mercy that she’d known it, made much of it. This moment felt like she’d stolen it from that time.
Dani, curious, stroked Sarah’s cheek. “So far away. What are you thinking?”
Sarah smiled wryly. “Nothing bad.”
The golden moment would end soon. This once, Sarah would not be the one to break it for the future.
Suerte - Luck.
Sedosa. Suave y fuerte - You're silky. Soft and strong.
Y tú tambien. Más y más. - As are you, more and more (implied: over time).
Salud - A drinking toast/'Salute!'
Qué sonrisa - What a smile.
Chapter 10: Last Call, First Cut
“We never talked. There’s an upside now and then to being crazy. I’ll talk to you now.”
We're back to 'mature' - medical/gore warning for this chapter.
It took them six days to prepare.
Plugging the waiting hyperbattery into Grace might be easy. Opening Grace up to do it was not going to be enjoyable. The first few days, Dani spent a lot of time online. After looking over Dani’s shoulder at surgery videos, Sarah made some vegetarian meals. Nobody complained.
Following weapons practice each day, Dani scrutinized the hyperbattery, fingers brushing its connectors. “Carl engineered it from his power source…and he was an earlier Terminator than the Rev-9. Maybe he makes it not the same, because it is for the house? I wish I knew which Terminator Grace’s people stole these from. I think it will work, but I do not remember hers so well.”
Grace had a manual for being Augmented loaded into her, but it wasn’t much help. She read some sections aloud with cracking sarcasm. “All they gave us about the power source in here was garbage. Your power source is securely sealed inside you. You do not need to access your power source at any time. Do not attempt this for any reason. If you feel like your power source is low, please talk to a Resistance psychologist for support.”
Grace paused. “I wasn’t the first Augment to rip out a power source as a weapon. At least none of you asked me to.”
Grace wouldn’t be sliced open with shrapnel this time. Sarah relented on mail order for biohacking supplies. Picking them up in person was too likely to lead to questions. Sarah also did another run to San Antonio for not-legal painkillers and a diesel generator. The cabin was going to shut down without Carl’s power source. Over the years, Sarah had cursed and kicked a few generators into working. She appreciated not being completely useless.
The day the biohacking supplies arrived, Dani clenched the box, got something out of the fridge. She whispered, “Sarah, can you keep Grace busy while I try some things? I do not want her to watch.”
Grace was upstairs, in the room she and Dani had claimed. Sarah stopped in the doorway. What had happened between the three of them had brought down some of Sarah’s boundaries and reinforced others. In there, Grace was managing to be tight and tense while lying in bed. Sarah saw why Dani had wanted her to do something. She’d spent years where Grace was today: that restless, useless in-between space. She had a remedy. “Hey. When was the last time you trained? You should get off your ass. Target range’s waiting.”
Grace looked her dead in the eye. “Don’t start lying to me now. What’s this shit about?”
Sarah put her hands on her flanks. “Dani’s in the kitchen with a bunch of scalpels and a pork shoulder. She wants you anywhere but there while she practices. Stay up here or come shoot something. Your call.”
“I am not a pork shoulder,” Grace said. But she sat up, stared at her clothes. “Some supersoldier I am. I can’t bend to put on my damn boots.”
Sarah hadn’t thought of how Grace, wired to the car battery, couldn’t bend. She’d only thought of Grace’s strengths. She tossed Grace trousers, grabbed a bundle of socks and Grace’s near-unworn combat boots. “C’mon. I took these off you once, I’ll put them back on you.”
To get them both beyond that, she zipped Grace in fast. Sarah caught Grace looking down at her thoughtfully. She asked, “Enjoying this?”
Grace smirked. She put a booted foot on Sarah’s thigh. “Yes.”
Interesting. The morning after their three-way, they’d agreed to take it as it came. Sarah had told herself not to count Dani’s lingering hugs as interest. This, though…. She shrugged Grace’s foot off, stood up.
“That’s all you get, for now.” Sarah added, with a tilt of her mouth, “Unless you outshoot me.”
Grace stood, too, put her shoulders back for a soldier’s stance. That was better. “Inspired by listening in on Dani and me?”
“Maybe,” Sarah said, offhandedly. “What’s your idea of winning?”
“Winner takes all.”
“Down, girl. I meant the shooting part.” On the way over to the target range, they agreed: best out of fifty rounds each.
All Grace's rounds were flawless. Sarah lost by one shot. “Looks like you owe me.”
Sarah exhaled, grimly. “When I make a deal, I’m good for it.”
Grace laughed: hawkish, a little crazy, sparked back to life. “Winner take all, we agreed. Follow me.”
Pushing Sarah’s buttons yet again, Grace insisted on taking her due in the gun shed. After an hour of backtalk and pervery, Sarah limped out of there feeling clean and blank. Like she’d taken out a Terminator instead of getting taken out herself.
They fessed up to Dani. The way Dani laughed, Sarah thought that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.
The next morning, working out with Dani on the valley’s hiking trail, Sarah called time early. Dani looked Sarah up and down, brow crumpled. “Grace said, yesterday, you and she…she said she was very mean.”
Sarah chuckled. “She’s always wanted to kick my ass. Don’t worry, I kicked back.”
Dani touched her arm, gently. “¿Puedo hacer las pases?”
Half an hour later, Sarah said, in Spanish, “I should’ve turned you down. You don’t owe anybody anything. But you out here… “ They’d sheltered themselves under an oak by the valley’s stream. Sarah remembered how, once, a place like this had brought Kyle to tears. She’d been sorry for decades she hadn’t kissed him there.
Perhaps Dani was feeling that for her own protector. “I feel human with you. You feel human. You know how much I love Grace.”
Sarah brushed the tip of Dani’s blunt nose. “It’s hard to miss.”
Dani’s cheeks flushed. She said, firmly. “But with you, I feel sane.”
“By comparison, huh?”
Dani turned to her, wringing her hands in her lap. Sitting together, on top of their clothes, they were eye to eye. “I worry about you. How you drink, not to have fun with others, always alone. The way you do not sleep.”
This, again, Sarah thought. Dani wasn’t giving up: that wasn’t what Dani did.
“I sleep. I take goddamn naps, here - ” Disappointment pooled in Dani’s eyes. Sarah steeled herself, glanced away. “You said to let you make mistakes. I’ve made them. Worse ones than you’ll ever make. So. I'm going to be a miserable asshole, sometimes. Let me grieve.”
Dani let that sink in. “If Grace dies, I will say that too.”
Sarah kept her eyes on the stream. “Call me on my shit if you need to. Like you are now. You’re alive. You come first.”
That got her one of Dani’s hug attacks. Dani said, in Sarah's ear, “Sarah. Saralita…do you like that name?”
Sarah clenched back. “You got that from the damn TV show, didn’t you. Want to hear the full nickname the Salceda gang gave me? Saralita Blanquita.” Sarah reached for her underwear and sidearm.
Dani rocked with laughter. “Okay, maybe not, then.” She gathered up her clothes, shook grass and twigs out of them, then added, “I was going to ask if you could help me give Grace a good time. Before I do the surgery.”
“The night of her life, huh? Shame we’re not in Mexico City.”
“Oh, I know...”
They gave that a whirl two evenings before surgery day. Dani found a pair of red high heels. To pace Grace's drinking and appeal to Dani, Sarah mixed a pitcher of palomas. They needed a second pitcher pretty quickly. Again, the three of them never made it upstairs.
It didn’t take Sarah down enough to guard her sleep from a broken future.
There’s a Terminator , one of the goddamn T-800s, opening Sarah’s coffin for John and a younger woman. In this future John takes after his father, good looks and brittleness. The two humans flinch together, expecting Sarah’s leukemia-frail corpse or her rot. Instead, there’s a cache of weapons and ammo. It’s what they need, when they need it. John doesn’t say much but he’s thinking about his mother, her craziness, her warnings, all coming to pass here. He knows what to do and he’ll do what she taught him –
Sarah turned, tried to sleep more, but more of that future seeped through.
John has tears running down his face. He’d tried to repeat what Sarah had done at Cyberdyne, but it was too late. The swarm of AI -minds was dispersed, replicating and free and hating humans. He’s stuck where he failed to stop it, fielding CQ call after CQ call over a radio. “ This is call sign alpha-tango-alpha alpha-foxtrot-alpha-november. I have instructions for you. I repeat, I have instructions for you. Listen to me if you want to survive – “
The agony of that woke her.
Sarah insisted on sleeping alone. She had too many reasons for that. These visions were the main one. Someday, she felt, she might sleep in the same bed with Dani. None of the broken futures included Grace. When reality came around to that, Dani would need everything Sarah had, while Sarah still lived.
That day, Sarah hid the wheels turning in her head behind the excuse of a hangover. The other two appeared around noon. Dani was eager to work out, practice at the target range. She also sterilized items and took Sarah through the sickeningly detailed plan for tomorrow. Grace, set and pale, trapped in-between, stuck to Dani every moment. Sarah caught how her words to Grace, both taking care and keeping herself on top, echoed how she'd spoken to her son. That the way she talked to Dani was the way she should have talked to him.
Their last supper was subdued. Sarah had no conversation. Grace’s appetite was off. Dani kept getting stuck in Grace’s aching gaze. After scouring dishes ferociously, Sarah suddenly decided she wanted to clean guns in the armory. All the guns. She scooped up the default arms she kept around the cabin. “I’ll be back around midnight,” she said. “Don’t break any furniture.”
She took the unfinished bottle of Gran Patrón tequila with her.
Out there, Sarah did clean guns for a while. It was how she collected herself when she knew something was happening. A lot was going to happen tomorrow. She did her ‘boyfriends’ last, the weapons she’d taken as her own. There was Sarah's current sidearm. It wasn’t the easiest pistol in Carl’s armory: Dani was carrying that one. Sarah was annoyed by its name – Desert Eagle, please - and its prominent MADE IN USA stamp. But she couldn’t say no to its .50 calibre punch. Sarah had also claimed the Remington ACR rifle, a good all-rounder for a career mercenary. Either of these two worked for her first stage of taking out a Terminator: getting its attention.
The second stage was doing some serious damage. A lot of Carl’s ordnance that was fit for that was also big and heavy. Sarah had reluctantly chosen an M249 Paratrooper rifle, with its hundred-round magazine. It was almost too large for her. For the final takedown, the armory held her old favorite, the M72 LAW, with the upgraded, low-backblast ammunition. Sarah didn’t have much to do with that one except admire it. It was a one-shot weapon.
When an ache in Sarah’s wrist kicked up, she stopped, rubbing the ache with a smile. Last night had been something. She triple-checked the generator. It was ready to cover tomorrow, and a few days after that. Beyond those days…Sarah frowned. They should think about making a move. They’d pushed their luck to the limit at this cabin. The phone had been ringing more than Sarah liked this week, clients checking up on late curtain jobs. If tomorrow fully restored Grace, they should find a more secure location. If tomorrow killed Grace, neither she nor Dani would want to linger. Being in-between would be the problem. The problem they’d been dealing with, all along.
Finally, Sarah turned off the armory lights. But she was not leaving. She knelt and opened the cupboard that shielded the power source. Thin blue light changed the armory into the zone of Sarah’s future dreams. Between herself and the light, she set down the bottle of tequila.
With the blue light behind it, the spirit glowed, its crystal bottle refracting.
“We never talked. There’s an upside now and then to being crazy. I’ll talk to you now.”
Sarah curled her legs under her to the left, uncorked the tequila.
“I brought you a drink. I’ll help myself first.” She took a long pull of the silver liquor, replaced the bottle.
“This is all that’s left of you. This spark of thorium jizz. And you’re ours. You’ll die tomorrow. Given over to Grace. If she dies an hour after we try it, she’ll still have had more life than you ever did. Tasting all the things you couldn’t. Food, fucking, emotions. Love and hate.”
Through the bottle, clean splinters of light prismed out. “I’ll say this for you: you didn’t fake the important shit. You had this person the world said you were supposed to fuck and you didn’t. I’ve got these people I’m not supposed to fuck and I am. Most people would find both of us wrong.”
Sarah sensed her traitorous side disarming her. Memories of the Terminator who’d protected her son, briefly. Dreams like last night’s, of broken futures where they’d been allies. The appeal of Grace, with a Terminator’s tools under her skin. Sarah crossed her legs, straightened her spine.
“I will never forgive you for what you did to me. To John. Nothing makes up for losing a child. Nothing. I should have a skin graft like Grace. Patching my chest where John’s death ripped my heart out.”
Sarah lowered her chin. “It doesn’t matter, to me, if you turned or not. Whatever you were, whatever your potential. I will always kill your kind on sight. But you did what you set out to do, Carl. Gave me my purpose back. Not with the coordinates. Not with the two of them. It was something else. What you gave me right here…” Sarah tapped the floor before her.
“Your fear.” Sarah lifted the bottle to that, drank a toast.
She smiled bitterly. “You were afraid of humans. What we’d do. A seventy-four percent chance of us going down, you said. Taking you and yours with us. You fear us because we can destroy you. John almost did, when that was the future. Dani’s close to it, in her future, if Terminators are coming for her. If we hit rock bottom to do it, fine. We’ll bounce back. However it happens, I promise you this. We will be the death of you.”
“You, at least, get a drink and a cigarette.”
Standing, Sarah took the bottle. She palmed up the rag she’d been using to clean guns. She had turned the lights out for a reason. When she went outside, she had some night vision. Outside, Sarah considered the target range, but the California fires reddened her mind. She went further along, to the place where Dani had seen a little wildcat, once. Where they’d held each other three days ago. The valley’s stream collected in a wide spot, there. Tonight, the ground was damp.
When she arrived, Sarah mixed Carl’s drink. She stuffed the rag into the bottle’s mouth. Tilted it to soak the rag in liquor, rolled it to coat the bottle’s sides within. This done, Sarah held it up: a Molotov cocktail. “Here’s to you, Carl. And all the others I’ll see die.”
Sarah flicked her lighter on the rag. For an instant, she held fire. When flames began to dance inside the crystal bottle, she flung it up. Whipped out her pistol and shot the comet she’d tossed. It exploded, fire and light against the darkness.
In the bushes, Sarah heard another sound: some animal, fleeing. The bobcat kitten, maybe. Sarah hoped it ran, hid, hated humans for the rest of its life. Stayed alive.
She shook her head at herself. “Crazy old woman.”
When Sarah slid back inside the cabin, it was cool and silent. She enjoyed a last hot-water shower before the power got irregular tomorrow, and turned in.
The next morning, they were all up at dawn. Dani came down with her most utilitarian hair yet, five tight braids striping her head. “That should do it,” said Sarah, approvingly.
“Grace helped me,” Dani said. She clenched Grace's hand.
None of them ate. Sarah and Dani forced down protein shakes. It would’ve made sense if Grace had stayed in the cabin while Dani and Sarah got the hyperbattery. She didn’t: hovered as they shut everything possible off in the cabin, hauled her car battery over to the gun shed. Stood right over Dani as she extracted the power source. Dani handed it to Grace to hold.
Sarah did the most useful thing she figured she’d do all day, getting the diesel generator going. Dani managed to jerry-rig it to the house. Both in the gun shed, and in the main house, they could switch lights on, and the refrigerator hummed. Most important, the house’s pump ran, as did the water heater.
Their improvised surgery was the kitchen table. The awkward part was waiting for Grace to get doped up enough to begin. Dani and Sarah were dressed like utilitarian twins, black and denim and an extra-clean layer, improvised from Carl’s better shirts. Dani was on Grace’s left side. Sarah was on her right.
On the padded table, Grace was naked. Sarah saw the fine hairs on Grace’s arm had risen. She did not ask to be covered or warmed. Neither Grace nor Dani wanted Grace knocked out. She was going to be awake, so she could say if anything was going wrong. Dani smeared topical anesthetic from the biohacking supplies in the critical area. She’d also read that one of Grace’s benzodiazepine drugs, if doubled up, would help kill enough pain to hold Grace still. In case that was wrong, after a dirty little San Antonio deal, Sarah had fentanyl and heroin tucked in her pockets. That made it easy for her to claim the drugs as her personal stash; nothing to do with innocent people.
Finally, Grace said, "You might as well start."
The first ten minutes, what Sarah watched chilled her to the bone. Grace’s Augmented healing had left a wet orifice on her left side, just below her ribs. It puckered around the cables and some ugly plastic clothespins. Dani had to open that wider. She used four scalpels to do it, one after another, splurging on sharpness. Grace curled her hands around the edges of the kitchen table. “It’s not as bad as last time,” she said, knuckles white.
The scarred area didn’t bleed a lot, but it seeped steadily. Shortly, Dani said, “I have done enough. Sarah, hold.”
Sarah had one revolting job: holding that orifice in Grace open, so Dani could work. The flesh beneath her latex-gloved fingers was hot and twitching. There was an edge of metal mesh in there, too, catching on the latex gloves. Sarah could barely believe what she saw inside Grace. “They put a microreactor in a damn plastic bag.”
“It is the problem for all like this, electronics against bodies. Bodies are wet,” Dani said, absently. She pulled on thicker rubber gloves. Plucking the clothespins off the torn edges of the bag, she pulled out two socket connectors. They looked like the future, shining, their thick wires spun silver. Each round, deep connector had a jumper cable clamp, crude in comparison, clipped to its edge: different species trying to mate. They hadn’t entirely succeeded. The metal of Grace’s connectors had oxidized blue-black where the cable clamps were. “I am going to undo the connectors.”
Grace made a noise, somewhere between a whine of terror and an appalled sigh. Sarah shivered, all the hairs on her neck standing up.
Dani unplucked one clamp. She unplucked the other, cast them both into a bowl. Grace gave a sickening gasp, like she was dying again. Sarah, cold sweat sliding down her own ribs, said, “You’ve got this. Pulse is fine.” It was half-true. Grace’s innards were throbbing, though the muscles Sarah pressed had turned to dead weight.
Dani had the power source in her hand, swabbing it with antiseptic. She made an anxious noise herself. “I am going to try.” After a huge breath, she snapped one end in a connector. “It fits…” Dani breathed.
“Hurry,” said Grace, strained.
Dani snapped the other end in.
Beneath Sarah, Grace rippled. The metal mesh that caught Sarah’s gloves sparked against Sarah’s touch. For one instant, Sarah saw muted lights flash, strange spots beneath Grace’s skin.
Grace curled her right arm up, a fist turning to herself. She groaned, her daze almost ecstatic. “Oh my God. I think – it’s – okay.”
“Gracias a Dios!”
God was dead to Sarah, but she didn’t grudge them suddenly getting religion. That anxious chill still had her. She wouldn’t breathe until this was over.
Dani wasn’t letting that hold her up. She shoved the whole works, power source and connectors, into its plastic bag. The plastic had exits for the cables. Dani clamped a heat sealer on the thick plastic, held it. When they smelled melted plastic, Dani shifted the clamp, repeated. At the end, Dani waved her hands over the bag, blew on it. When it was cool, she swabbed everything with disinfectant.
“I’m putting it all inside. Ready? One, two, three.” Grace made another miserable noise. “Let go, Sarah.”
Sick with relief, Sarah did. Standing upright at last, she turned to Grace’s head. “Still okay there?”
“Yeah?” Grace sounded shaky, seemed blinky, which was understandable.
Dani vented a huge sigh. “Now I will close you.”
At that, Grace SCREAMED.
She convulsed with a howl, arcing her back and bringing her right arm down. Sarah spun away. Grace's agonized fist, powered up, splintered the table.
“Holy fuck oh holy fuck— I feel it – I feel it – ”
Dani recovered. “Grace! Do we take it out?”
As an answer, Grace grabbed Sarah, dragged her near. Grace’s eyes were blown, pupils black, sparked with green. “ No. No no nonono. It’s. It’s TIME. The waves – hurts like before – like when I – came – something’s here – “ Grace slapped her right side, drawing Sarah’s hand there, too, smearing herself with blood.
Dani screamed, “I did not cut or do anything there! And in sex I never hurt her!”
“Wait. Time,” Sarah said. An old memory scorched her. “It hurt when you came. Through the time gate?”
“Yes!” Grace cried. Again, she slapped her right side, the coordinates. “Here.”
Dani asked, “Is that where it hurts? Or - is something coming through here?”
“YES,” Grace sobbed.
“Fuck!” That was both Dani and Sarah.
Sarah finally knew what that chill was telling her intuition. She’d felt it before, thanks to Carl’s coordinates. That unnatural coldness before a time gate opened and a Terminator appeared. “You asked weeks back if she could sense a Terminator coming through. Now we know.”
“Fuck!” Dani repeated.
Outside, lightning cracked the summer morning.
Sarah stepped away from the table. She peeled the bloody gloves from her raw killer’s hands, glanced at the others. Grace, wild-eyed, naked, bleeding, like she'd been broken on the wheel of time. Dani, pressing her hands over Grace’s wound, swept with every horror at once. The future, broken and hopeful, embodied in these two people.
“Sew her up. Keep yourselves alive.” Sarah breathed deep, drawing the Terminator chill into her. Pictured her ribcage heartless, packed with ammunition. Willed herself to be a weapon. She pulled her pistol, snapped the safety off. “I’m on it.”
Sarah’s broken dream here comes from Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.
Puedo hacer las pases – Can I make it up to you/make peace.
Sarahlita Blanquita - “Little Sarah, the white chick.”
The benzodiazepine they are pinning hopes on is midazolam, used as a relaxant and anti-seizure drug. It is also used for ‘conscious sedation’ procedures – where a patient needs to be awake for surgery.
Chapter 11: Terminatrix
"That bitch is a Terminator!"
In the future, Sarah had been told, they’d used dogs to identify Terminators. They didn’t need a dog here. They had Sarah. The biggest bitch of them all, on the hunt she’d lived for.
Sarah deafened herself to Dani, speaking to Grace behind her. Dani was going to try and finish sewing Grace back up after cutting her open for a new power source. When rescuing Grace became part of this time, maybe the story of this had gone forward with Dani. Giving some desperate future machines two targets, a vulnerable time…
Sarah moved, armed herself. The pistol got holstered under her blood-stained overshirt’s hem. She weighed and discarded shedding that shirt for a bulletproof topper. No time for herself. It was all about Dani, Grace, and a Terminator. The M72 LAW and its pocket rocket, Sarah sent its strap over her left shoulder. The Remington rifle, she strapped over her right side. The paratrooper gun was heavy in both Sarah’s hands.
At the cabin’s front door, Sarah paused. It was a Texas summer day out there. Yet the door’s hinges and handle were white with frost.
That twist of reality confirmed Sarah’s instincts, Grace’s pain. A time gate had definitely opened. The coldness flooded Sarah, every nerve, every hair alert. She inhaled again, chilling her mind to think like the machine out there. She’d have to tell Dani that, if she survived. For something was outside. And it hadn’t knocked on the door.
So much to lose, the briefest window to try and win. If you don’t take a Terminator out in the first five minutes, that’s it.
Sarah flipped her overshirt’s sleeve down over one hand, opened the front door that way, closed it. The sky was blue and untroubled, but there was other wrongness. On the porch, right next to the steps down, the American flag hung still, weighed with frost. There was a cold circle of death in the front driveway. The trees around it were crisped into an untimely blight.
Typical. In her years of chasing time gates, Sarah had never seen one open inside a building. They were always outside, close to target. She'd been there for it more than once, felt things she had no words for – and now she saw the future break, again and again. Carl and Grace, both gate travelers, were each bound to feel new gates open. What had Sarah done to her own frayed mind, chasing those breaks in time?
Sarah shut that down. She didn’t matter, here. If she died taking out a Terminator, that was fine, as long as they walked.
A hunter waits, she’d told Dani. Sarah was poised where she could see the house’s most vulnerable points. At last, she saw something. As the frost ring dissolved, one footprint emerged. Something had stepped away, heading right. Not a human something: humans were in no shape to step afer a time passage. Not a big footprint: not one of the big, meaty T-800s. She was facing a T-1000, a Rev-9, or something worse.
Sarah seethed. Where? WHERE was it? She couldn’t see it in the green peace of the forest to the right. It should’ve been Grace here, Augmented eyes fragmenting the woodlands, enhanced hearing bringing her what they needed to know. She took a step forwards, another, down onto the first step off the porch. Careful, slow, she turned herself to let the flag conceal her upper body and weapons.
That was when her left ankle got grabbed.
Never, never let one get its hands on me.
Sarah strafed down and left with the paratrooper gun. The goddamn flag betrayed her, its frost-wet length tangling the gun’s upper handle. The gun’s recoil, too, rammed her off-balance. Sarah tripped free of the metal grip on her, fell down the damn steps, caught herself into a roll, stood. She was proud of herself for two seconds until she saw, rising from a crouch –
“Fuck, not again!” Sarah dug in her heels, fired more. The bullets sheared flesh from her false face, but didn’t stop her unholy twin from moving forwards.
Sarah had been here before, this exact switch, her face and body stolen by a Terminator’s touch. But Dani and Grace hadn’t. This would’ve gotten them good. Over more gunfire, Sarah howled, “Fucking Terminator! We don’t need you now, bitch!”
Shit, shit, shit. It – she – the Terminator was still standing, eyes brighter than Sarah’s, smile smaller and colder. What fucking version was it, to endure this? To gather itself and leap for the end of the paratrooper gun, locking on, trying to pull it away with a graceful twist? At last, a Terminator was agile enough to dance.
When it comes to a Terminator, we haven’t got a chance hand to hand. Defying that, Sarah let it jerk her forwards, kept her momentum going. There was enough force in that to pull the Terminator back towards Sarah. She cried, “I’ve fucked better cyborgs than you!”
“Better than?” the death robot said, more composed than Sarah had been in decades. And Sarah knew what a fool she’d been, letting it hear her voice. As horror took her, it chunked both elbows back, yanked the big rifle away from Sarah once and for all.
Sarah whirled the Remington into her empty hands, ready to shoot it out – and the front door opened. Sarah clocked how that distracted her enemy. The prey wasn’t her, might be the person making a terrible mistake opening that door. Which was…
Sarah and her foe both froze. Grace, pale beneath her white scars, was remade, renewed. Free of the awful cables, a supersoldier again. She stared at them both, hands coiled around Dani’s pistol, chest lifting beneath an askew bulletproof vest. Impressive, until Sarah caught that Grace, drugged up, post-surgical, was reeling like a drunk giraffe. If anyone both would and could fight in this state, to save Dani, it was Grace. If anyone would trust Grace to save the day like this, it was Dani. It sure wasn’t Sarah. With a clear target, Grace would have hammered down. Instead, she was lagging at making sense of two armed, identical Sarahs.
This Terminator read Grace’s machine side, saw her struggling to process. Holding the big rifle in one hand, the impostor pointed at Sarah. “That bitch is a Terminator!”
Sarah howled, “Motherfucker! Fucking kill both of us!”
Grace whirled, ready to oblige. The muzzle of the pistol sent Sarah cold. Hell of a way to go, but if Grace took the Terminator next – worth it. From the corner of her eye the impostor was calm, impassive, cocking its weapon –
Sarah blinked, and all was chaos.
Faster than Sarah could process, Grace had switched her aim, emptied the pistol into its face and chest. It was on. Grace knew. By the time the Terminator strafed where Grace had stood, Grace was gone, launched from the porch, tackling it, grabbing for the big rifle.
A hideous radio noise screamed, torturing the edge of hearing. The Terminator split into two, skinning itself fast. Its skeleton showed that the future kept getting smarter. This one was silver, more refined than the Rev-9, as it held onto the rifle and Grace. Its nanoflesh leapt aside for Sarah, faster than the Rev-9’s ooze, no energy wasted on a false shape. Grace lifted her end of the big rifle and shook the Terminator-core. Three shakes, and the rifle was Grace’s, with the silver skeleton crashed into the garage door. Grace howled, “The cage! Give me the cage!”
Sarah hit the ground, rolling away from the garage. As she did, in her pocket, she hit the garage’s key fob. “Fuck! My leg!” she said, loudly, over the garage door grinding open. Her nanoflesh-shadow followed. She saw how vilely advanced this nanoflesh was, barely bipedal, blackness surfaced with a dancing flicker. Its advance was slow. Either it saw no need to hurry, or it was distracted by its metal heart’s travails with Grace.
Sarah heard Grace’s snarling shout, the clang of metal on metal. Grace was firing the big rifle, pinging off more metal than the Terminator had, ventilating the electric car in the garage.
Sarah kept it up. “Shit. Shit. Shit. Ow.” She smacked her leg again, hitting the fob a second time, then pulling her pistol to blast shots at the Terminator’s flesh-shadow. It split around the shots into a hideous fluid, flowed to surround Sarah as she lay, another circle of death, and then –
Sarah heard a clang. The garage door had closed. And when it did, the nanoskin froze into a dancing jitter.
Sarah quit playing possum to leap up, the Remington ready. “You hot little bitch. You were right,” Sarah said, though Dani wasn’t there. Closed, the garage was a Faraday cage. It was busting up the Terminator’s signal to its nanoflesh. Dani had made it so for their plan B, catching a Terminator. Which they had done – right when they didn’t need one.
The nanoflesh was strobing sickeningly, like the losing screen of an arcade game. Sarah fired and stamped and fired and kicked and scattered. Break it, disrupt it, finish the takedown Dani had begun. Soon, Sarah kicked black slime, iridescent dust. “Ha. Hah!”
The muffled scream of metal jerked Sarah away from this triumph. Sarah realized she didn’t hear any gunshots from the garage. Fuck. Grace. Sarah grabbed the fob with her right hand and clicked, turning to the garage, ready.
It didn’t open.
Sarah hit the fob again. And again. No. Shit, the fob used a radio signal too and the Faraday cage –
Sarah threw herself against the garage door. She jerked it, rattled it. When it gave a little, she levered it up with her whole body. “Move, you metal motherfucker. Move!” She wrenched upwards with everything she had. The door rolled up – as something snapped in Sarah’s bad shoulder. The agony shot down her back, turned her right leg to water. Sarah howled, keeling to that side. She did not catch that fall.
The garage door jerked up onto chaos. The garage was wrecked, cables flung, wire netting torn. The electric car inside was askew, a chainsaw embedded in its hood. Grace, arms bloodied, was wielding something Sarah had forgotten: the still-wrapped painting that had covered a dirty deal. Grace smashed the yard-wide painting over the Terminator’s head, trapping it in the canvas's framework. Tangle them up. Make them process. Every second counts.
Grace leapt free, spinning into the driveway. “Bring it if you’ve got it!”
As Grace skidded past, Sarah fired the Remington. Thanks to Grace, both the Terminator and Sarah had problems. It was still clawing at the wood and oil paint caging it, hands sharp as knives. The painting was revealed in its ruin, a blend of cables and a woman’s body, its intended horror nothing to what it caged. Worse, the canvas was blunting the bullets, keeping the rifle shots from damaging the Terminator’s neural network. In Sarah’s grip, the Remington lightened, stuttered: out of ammunition. The Terminator cracked the canvas's frame, shed it at last.
Sarah was left with one weapon that had one shot. The M72A7 LAW. She couldn’t stand, didn’t need to. She sighted up its knees, its sterile pelvis, to the thorax around its nuclear heart. Coiled herself into a tight animal bundle, a snarling bitch. And fired.
The mini-missile sent the Terminator back into the garage –
Against the bullet-riddled electric car –
And its thousand pounds of lithium-ion battery –
“Oh SHIT – “ That was Grace, yanking Sarah back by Carl’s shirt –
For an instant, Sarah caught the three pinned together, missile-Terminator-car, their rising glow. There was a flash of white, blinding as the gates of heaven, then heaven’s force and thunder as the whole works blew –
Sarah buried her face in her arms. Then, the shockwave had her, deafening and rolling the fetal package of her.
The next thing Sarah knew, the ground was hard. At first, it seemed tilted at an angle, spinning. When it settled, Sarah tried levering herself up. That only worked on the left. Her right shoulder was agony. Someone was coughing, gasping. Was it herself? Sarah tried opening her eyes and NO that wasn’t happening. Her hearing caught a roar, like waves or fire, but that might have been her own pulse. Her head still rang.
Suddenly, there were two arms around her, one supernally strong, the other slim and tender. “Sarah! Sarah! You – the blood - “ Dani was alive, caught between languages. Grace probably had her other arm around Dani. Both alive.
Sarah smiled, and that hurt, too. The Texas noon was cold again, going dark. She managed to rattle, “Hell of a way to – “
Sarah had been here before – As part of the climatic Terminator fight in Terminator 2, the T-1000 Terminator mimics Sarah.
Chapter 12: Fate's Dagger
When fate throws a dagger, there are only two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade. Last chapter's survivors consider the future and what fate's dagger might be.
Blinding light. Pain.
The second one meant Sarah was alive.
Sarah tried opening her eyes for real. That was a bad decision, bad as watching that brilliant explosion. She tried to take inventory blind. Somehow, she was sitting upright. A seat belt was keeping her that way. Sarah recognized the back seat of the SUV. She smelled blood, heard herself groan – it was impossible to get blood out of car seats. Her left ear was sticky. Her right hip and her right shoulder were both fucked. She shook her head to clear it, and winced. Probably concussed.
More, she had just awoken from that broken future. The one that used to shatter her heart more than any of them.
She’s cleaned up well, in a trouser suit, in a garden somewhere. There are white roses. John is in front of her, in a suit himself, good and mad. “Mom, it’s my daughter’s wedding, do not start your prepper-pre-apocalyptic shit. Enough, already!” After he storms off, Kyle peers around the corner. His own suit does good things for him. “Hey. I got the talk, too.” He puts an arm around her shoulder. Sarah said, “He acts like it’s my fault the world didn’t end.” Kyle clenches her. “That’s our asshole kid. It’s my fault.” Sarah chuckles. “I’m going to sneak a smoke and go back in for this ‘vegan’ meal. What a time to be alive...” “Beats the alternative,” Kyle says. And kisses her.
A future where Judgement Day hadn’t happened at all. Where Kyle and John had survived. Where they had been a family, with all that meant.
Back when Sarah cried, John used to ask her why. She’d say she was remembering his father after dreaming of him. She could tell the kid thought she was a big sap. After Pescadero and the second Terminator, when they’d been reunited, Sarah had been beyond crying. She’d also been better at lying. So she could go along with John’s belief that his mom was sane after all.
In that broken future, John had come to his senses later on. That would’ve hurt. Not as much as his absence, though. Never as much. Automatically, her right hand’s fingers ringed the tattoo on her left wrist, her own coordinates of doom.
Sarah had a vague idea about quantum universe shit. Parallel universes, other timelines. Thinking about it gave her the same headache trying to balance her checkbook had, back in the day. Thinking about the ‘other’ Sarahs was no consolation. She hoped they were spared her glimpses, her madness. They probably were. By this point in their histories, most of them were dead.
Sitting there, Sarah wasn’t sure if she was saner than she’d been in years, or completely crazy. She didn’t know if she’d ever stand up to get out of this SUV. That was okay. She’d taken out another Terminator. She was still Sarah Connor.
The car turned. Someone leaned onto her, passed out themselves. By the weight and heat of her, it was definitely Grace. Sarah felt bandages along Grace’s arm, smelled her oddly metallic sweat. She was breathing deeply, evenly.
Sarah tried opening her eyes a slit. Go-bags were lumped at Sarah’s feet. It was easier to peer down into those shadows than out the window. She saw a bottle of golden liquor in Grace’s, Alicia’s inspirational sign, Blessed Are The Peacemakers, in Dani’s. Good luck with that. Sarah’s bag was the one zipped closed. She fumbled it open and found, by touch, a pair of sunglasses. Putting them on made vision possible again for her.
The first thing Sarah saw properly was Grace’s profile, clean and unbroken. Dani’s strong, beautiful angel. Sarah’s own reminder of the future’s hell, and what it meant to survive it. Grace would wake up to be whatever the hell she was now.
For how long? Grace’s skin was glowing hotter than it had in weeks. Sarah got the feeling Grace was going to burn fast and bright. If she died soon, after all that – Sarah felt that knife-twist near her heart, as keen as she used to feel it for Kyle.
Grace shifted, waking. Instantly, she pulled herself upright. “Sarah’s awake,” Grace said.
Sarah elbowed her. “Did you enjoy shooting me in the face?”
Grace’s smile was wide, relaxed. “I’d have enjoyed taking out anyone after getting powered up again. Except Dani.”
“Keep it in your memory card, ‘cause it’s not going to happen again. Will I be scarred enough for you, now?”
Grace brushed back a lock of Sarah’s hair. Her touch was soft, serious. “You’re really fucked up.”
“Tell me something I don’t know.” When fate throws a dagger, there are only two ways to catch it: by the handle or by the blade. Had Grace, surviving, been fate’s dagger? Or had it been her, Sarah Connor, all along? Because she still had it, yes she did. By the ex-Terminator behind her and the jumble of broken futures in her head. If those meant anything, what had happened had at least given the future a good shake by the scruff of its neck.
Dani was driving. “You are both awake? We will stop soon.” Sarah caught her beaming in the rear-view mirror.
Sarah asked, “What happened back there? What did you do? Apart from staying out of the firefight, like you should’ve.”
“First, I took the go-bags, like you said. Then I went to get more weapons. By the time I came, I saw you shoot the Terminator.”
Sarah smiled, though it hurt. If you were lucky enough to get next to Dani, that was how you wanted her to see you. “Explosion and a half, wasn’t it?”
“By the time we had pulled you back, the garage was on fire. The cabin also. Very much on fire.”
“Ah. Remember when I said taking Terminators out got expensive? That’s the kind of thing…”
Dani added, “It seemed best to leave. Driving away, I passed…how do you say it…health and safety? Emergency security?”
“Cops and fire engines, probably.” Sarah sighed. She couldn’t have extracted them better herself. “You didn’t get injured? Burned or anything?”
“Good,” Sarah and Grace said, together.
Sarah glanced out the window at the flat blur of Texas scrublands. The best refuge she’d had in years was a flaming wreck behind her, now. She sighed again for the gun shed, the target range, that liquor cabinet. To think she’d owed it to a Terminator. Goddamn Carl.
Dani said, “I am taking us north. Do you want to know where we’re going?”
“You got this,” Sarah said.
“I’d like to know,” said Grace.
“I would, too. We will stop at a drugstore. Then I thought…a motel for the night …”
Sarah said, “Good plan for tonight. For later, I, uh, I own another cabin.”
A silence fell that Sarah recognized. Five, four, three, two -
The other two exploded. “You have had a place all this time?”
“Is it safer? Where is it? Why didn’t we go there right away?”
“It belonged to my mom. I bought it back at the end of 1997, under a different name. For five minutes I thought John and I – never mind.” Sarah could stand to go there, now. She’d bought it when she and John had thought Judgement Day was cancelled. Hoped they could wait a few years and slip back. That hadn’t happened. “All I expect to find there is rats and squatters, if it hasn’t burned down in a wildfire. Carl’s place was reliable – ”
“And closer, okay? For tonight I’ll settle for somewhere we can bleed on the sheets.”
“We have our IDs now and if anyone asks we can tell them we are AirBnBing the place!” Dani said, already making it work. Dani was going to break and remake the future it where it counted. She was Sarah’s second chance, wrested from her terrible mistakes. Sarah knew, now, that letting Dani be herself was the best way forwards.
They needed some of the future to fight the future, until it arrived. For that they had Grace, her warnings of every kind. Grace had her usual concern, with her usual twist. “When you say rats, how many rats? Are we talking supply-level? This is making me hungry.”
Sarah laughed a little. Ouch. “We’ve got to get there first. Along the way…both of you, brace yourselves. You’ll see how much America sucks right now. Acres on fire, racist assholes, too many people homeless for bad reasons. People who won’t end up in your bunkers, Grace.”
“It is like Carl said…” Dani trailed off, thoughtfully.
For now, home would be with these two. A very different take on a nuclear family. Maybe they weren’t meant to be, but they were. For a time, soldered together by their fixer, that fucker of fate, Dani.
Sarah had never dreamed of any broken futures where it was the three of them.
And with relief, with pain, with surrender, Sarah closed her eyes. She threw it all back at Time itself. Let that bitch make what she would of the three of them together. The death of a terrible future. A weapon for life. A dagger waiting to be thrown by the hands of fate.
From the driver’s seat, Dani mused, “Those wildfires in California are like a nuclear attack might be. If your cabin has not burned down it is probably very safe. Maybe safe enough to be a refuge.”
Sarah murmured, “Could be.”
Dani said, “For many people? Ones who need a bunker?”
Sarah opened her eyes wide.
Writing this was a TRIP - thank you to all the readers, every single one of you! If you made it this far you weren't put off by the tags or the three-way or the tequila. I will be writing a few more bits in this verse, some genfic and some (cough) not. So feel free to leave a prompt. Kia kaha!