Dani glanced at Grace. In the cabin where they had found refuge, dusk was falling. For the first time since they’d met, it was just the two of them. Sarah was away for a few days getting false identification for them all. Grace was not the protector she had been before the night at the dam, tethered to life with a car battery, still healing around that.
That meant Dani was in charge. She had gone through nerves, worry, and a gush of relief around that. After some dinner, she felt as normal as possible. She was perching on the edge of the bed she shared with Grace.
Dani asked her, “Are you ready?”
Grace said, “Yes.”
“Do not tell Sarah,” Dani warned.
Grace replied, “I will never tell Sarah. If she finds out and has a problem I’ll punch her into MY time.”
Dani shivered. “You are not in pain?”
“No. Let’s do it.”
With that, Dani dashed downstairs. Time to do something for herself. She needed it after the day and night she’d had.
Yesterday had started so well, her training with Sarah. Sarah had a rough charisma that came and went, a way of making someone feel special. Yesterday morning, Sarah had lavished it on Dani, powering her through their first real workout together. Sarah had even opened up about her personal life. Like a friend, for once. Then, resting with Grace that afternoon, Dani was startled by a brief, poignant dream of kissing Sarah. She had awoken with a start, aware of how she’d pressed herself against Grace, and gone for a very cold shower. She was overwrought, Dani told herself. Going back to when she used to have gym-teacher crushes, because that time looked safe and far away, now.
That evening, as if Sarah could read that in Dani, she had gone hard and distant, staying that way until she left. Dani had retreated, too. Sarah’s tequila hangover that morning hadn’t helped. It felt like Sarah would never really know her. Trust her.
Dani had found out about the tequila at three in the morning. She’d woken from a deep sleep to realized Grace wasn’t in the bed they had come to share. That was why she'd been so deeply asleep. With Grace there, Dani was always aware of Grace's body. Injured or healing, pained or resting, hot or cold, always some stimulating extreme.
She’d found Grace passed out on one of the downstairs sofas, wrapped around a bottle of raicilla. Dani had stood there for half an hour, heart pounding, angry and worried. Finally, Grace woke up and admitted what, and how much, she’d drunk. Asked why she’d tried to match Sarah, Grace had said, blearily, “I couldn’t not drink with her.” Machisma!
Neither of them had offered her any tequila.
Sarah treated her like a child, Grace like a sacred virgin. In Grace’s future, she had sheltered and finished raising Grace, nurtured her. How she wished Grace had told her that earlier. Before Dani had fallen in love with her dazzling, terrifying rescuer…
Grace, at least, had been contrite. And it mattered to Dani that she shared this with Grace. She unplugged Carl’s heavy old laptop from its snarl of cables and lugged it upstairs.
In the room she and Grace shared, a breeze stirred the filmy draperies around the bed. Dani liked the draperies. They showed how Carl, the former Terminator, had tried to please the woman who once lived there.
Grace was almost too tall for the bed. Her dense weight dented the mattress. In the warm evening, she was half-uncovered, long body rippling with elongated muscles and scars. The dusk dimmed her blonde hair, but her eyes stayed a little too bright. Dani thought she was entirely stunning, save for the paired cables on her left side, hooking her up to a crude, improvised power source, the black brick of it beside the bed. And that was Dani’s fault.
Dani came around from her side, the right side. She shuddered as she slid her legs alongside Grace’s limbs. To cover this, she murmured, “You are cold. Let me close the window.” Being full of metal while running on scant power chilled Grace.
When Dani opened the laptop, Grace leaned closer. Dani caught her scent: a little fresh sweat, a little blood, always a hint of metal. Like Dani's hands when she’d worked at the factory, moving metal around. Maybe that was why Dani had thought, in a rush of love and fear, she could work on Grace. Fix her.
Dani applied herself to the less appealing technology in her lap. From that, she could get what she wanted. It was just the one video, she told herself, and she wasn't logged in, and she'd only watch it once. “There. Diego.”
Her brother. Dani had pulled up the last video he had ever posted. There were the eyes everyone said were like hers, the cleft chin, the sweet smile. He’d filled out in the last year or two. He hadn’t outgrown the idea of making their fortune as a singer. His last video came the closest: 372 likes. If only he could see that.
Grace asked, “Is he why you cry at night?”
Dani flinched. Of course: with Grace’s Augmented hearing, nothing escaped her. “For him, yes.” Dani left the wider disaster of her other griefs, her previous life, unsaid. For Grace had, too, and Sarah as well. Yet it was a loss that left them something, unlike Diego. She had to explain.
“Diego was more than my brother. He was my best friend.” When she had confided in him, Diego had been on her side. He’d understood that she couldn’t tell their father. He took her out to the clubs she wanted to see, covered for her rare dates, brimmed with plans to get her a girlfriend. Silly plans, completely Diego. Unlike the way he had died, helping her and Grace flee the horror of the Terminator.
Grace said, “He had your back.”
So much in so little: praise, understanding, respect. Dani nodded, then clicked PLAY.
There he was, her big little brother. As he moved and spoke, Dani’s heart swelled. Seeing him again shaped Dani’s loss of him into something a little easier to bear.
Grace said, “I thought I spoke your language. But he’s talking too fast for me.”
Grace’s Spanish was much worse than Grace thought it was. Dani translated.
“He’s saying that today he is styling like the 1980s – twenty-five years ago. That crazy shirt belongs to Papi. Papi used to wear it to take our mother out dancing and Diego says he is wearing it for luck.” Diego clicked his tongue, winked, and pointed at the camera with two fingers. With a flourish, he picked up an acoustic guitar. “And he has a song from the 1980s for us: Querida.”
Strumming fast, Diego began to sing, quick and bright. Grace watched, bemused. “What’s the song mean?”
Dani said, “It sounds happy but it’s not. Una querida is someone you love and want. The person you desire. The song means…”
Dani translated loosely.
Every moment of my life
I think about you more every day
See my solitude, see my loneliness
Know that nothing is good to me, please come now
My hurt hasn’t healed
I miss you and still I cry
See my solitude, see my loneliness
Depend on it, that time is cruel
And I don’t want to be without you
I want to see new light again
Tell me when you’ll return…
Dani’s voice faded to a thread.
She glanced at Grace, and was caught. That light was there in Grace’s face again. The light of adoration Grace had had when she told Dani about their shared future-past. It ached to be so close to such love and strength and have it be untouchable.
Dani met Grace’s eyes to say, this one time when she could, “Querida…”
Grace inhaled, as if in pain. “Dani. I’ve wanted you. I always wanted you. But it’s like his singing. Time is cruel.”
“You want me?” The world stopped. The impossible was possible. “But I was - ”
“I know. Fuck me, I know.” Grace cupped a hand around Dani’s face. Shakily, she said, “This is as close to right as it will ever get.” But her hand stilled. Waiting.
Dani, trembling to her toes, decided.
She stroked from one of Grace’s white-lined cheekbones down to the new scars on her neck. “Querida -”
Grace pulled Dani in hungrily for the kiss of her life.
Dani met her with thirst, pressing to seal them together. She knelt up slightly, pulled back for a breath, drank from Grace’s eager mouth again. When she did, Grace entwined Dani in the longest, strongest arms she’d ever felt. Dani nestled in. Finally, she could lose herself in Grace’s touch, the sleek heaviness she had come to crave.
A final guitar strum caught her attention. Dani fumbled half-loose and stopped the video.
As she turned to put the laptop to one side, Grace sent Dani’s heart to her mouth by caressing her ass. “You’re so fucking beautiful,” Grace said.
Dani turned back, staying connected to Grace’s hand. The awful curve of the cable wrapping Grace’s firm waist made her say, “You are beautiful, too. The most beautiful, the most strong. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wanted you to live.”
Grace’s eyes glinted. “This is making it worth it.”
That did it. Dani drew her leggings down. Grace, leaning on one elbow, immediately nuzzled her face against Dani’s hips. As Dani shivered with delight, Grace worked her way up, sliding under Dani’s tank top, her bra. Dani writhed to help her pull them away, too. Finally, Dani was naked, kneeling beside Grace as she reclined, Dani radiating enough heat for both of them.
Grace, looking her over, tightened almost audibly, the way she did before throwing a punch. She rasped, “I. Have wanted. This.” She lowered her face between Dani’s legs.
Dani gasped. Grace dragged at Dani’s left knee. Dani followed the pull of her and found herself straddling Grace’s face. Grace lowered, adjusted. Dani felt Grace’s hands around her waist, almost encircling her. When Grace inhaled, it lifted Dani. When she pulled Dani in and dove home, Dani cried out.
God in heaven, Grace’s mouth was good, soft lips and tongue braced by a hidden jaw of steel. The strokes of her mouth lapped away Dani’s tension, replacing it with a sweeter, hotter tightness. Astride her, Dani cupped her own small breasts, staring down at the gorgeous miracle before her, the wild contrast between them.
Muffled, Grace asked, “Is it good?”
Yes? No? Getting everything she’d ever wanted in ten minutes had Dani an overexcited mess. She was almost too aroused to peak this way. She fell back on what she’d stolen in a few club bathrooms, car backseats, secret afternoons. “I need you inside.”
Instantly, Dani’s hips were seized and turned. She found herself kneeling in 'her spot' to the right. Dizzy, Dani recalled how Grace had spun and placed her to defend her. Now Grace was, finally, kneeling up herself, in front of Dani, dragging her left arm to pin her t-shirt down on that side, over the cables. “Don't look,” Grace said, and “Here,” she said. Dani closed her eyes, opened her legs.
Grace put her hands on Dani’s shoulders, first. “Tell me if I go too hard,” Grace said. “It’s different, with me.”
Grace ran hands reverently down her. For the first time, she stroked Dani’s breasts, but Dani shifted, urging Grace down more. She was going crazy, so wet her thighs were sliding together.
At first, Grace’s touch between Dani’s legs felt normal, save for her hand’s roughness. Dani turned her flushed face to one side. That was just how she’d thought Grace’s hands would feel. Then she slid two fingers in, abruptly, and Dani tensed.
She knew Grace’s hands were hard. But it was another thing to feel Grace’s Augmented reach inside her. The weight and strength of it – she had never been penetrated like that before. When Grace began to probe her wider, Dani gasped, without thinking, “Ah! Solo dos!” Grace understood enough for that, left it at two fingers. It was still the deepest Dani had ever felt anyone.
Then Grace began to move.
Her arm had a smooth, fast, inhuman roll, stroking and drilling, calibrated heaven knew how. Dani opened herself, tried to thrust into the perfection of it. As she squirmed, Grace asked, “Is it good?”
“Yes – ”
“I want it to be good – ” Grace’s press caught just the right spot.
“The best – ”
And she came, and came, and came.
At the end of it, Dani was, somehow, lying down. Dani opened her eyes, Grace was lying beside her, propped on her right elbow, flushed to the scar-lines below her eyes. Dani brushed the front of her t-shirt and whispered, “Do you need?”
Grace’s blue and white stare cut into Dani’s soul. "Yes.”
So little, to say so much.
Dani ran her hand down Grace’s beloved body, both strange and known. She sent the lightest touch down the right side of Grace’s midriff, not the side with the cables. Leaning up, Dani said, “You must be very good and lie still. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Grace shuddered. Her eyes sank closed. She almost moaned, “I will do anything you tell me to.”
“Then let me...”
Dani stole her fingers down, under the hem of Grace’s T-shirt, following a central white scar-thread. She took a moment to appreciate Grace's fine-turned thighs, the strength she hid there. As Dani caressed, Grace spread for Dani instantly, shamelessly.Grace carried so little tender flesh that the aroused swell between her legs was startling. Nobody had ever been so wet for her. Two fingers, three, were welcomed easily. The deeper she went, the more she found Grace’s unique, intense heat. Oh, God. Dani wasn’t an Augment. Was she good enough?
Dani, kneeling now, heard her own breath hitching. She rested her thumb on Grace where it mattered, and circled, the way she herself liked it.
“Fuck. Fuck. DANI!”
“Ah!” That shriek was Dani as Grace, coming, snapped uncanny muscles. Hand locked in place, all Dani could do was pulse her fingertips. It wasn’t much, but she held fast until Grace eased.
Spent, they rearranged. As Dani reclined, Grace scooped her higher, so they were eye to eye. Dani was looking into Grace’s face again. Her mouth and throat were flushed. Her blue irises were thin, sharp blue crystal around wide pupils. So intense. She breathed, again, “Querida.”
Grace slowly shifted some locks of Dani’s hair. Dani started as Grace touched her lower lip. Exhaled. Replaced that finger with the soft mouth over hard bones, again.
Dani tilted her head, swept into it. Time was cruel and the future was terrible but this was new light. When she got out of this bed, the world would be different again, but not yet, no, not yet. This wasn’t over yet. It would be, all too soon, whatever happened.
Grace had bowed her head to bite Dani’s neck. Though she was gentle, the hot weight of Grace pinned Dani, inescapable. For one blissful instant, Grace began to mouth her right breast. Just as Dani was beginning to gasp, Grace snapped half-upright. “I hear – oh. That computer.”
Dani peeked. The laptop was beeping, almost out of battery. Reluctantly, she wriggled free to shut it down. Opening it brought Dani her brother’s face, trapped in time. Oh, if only he could see her now, know what his music had done for her.
"Gracias, Diego.” She closed the laptop. “Good night.”
“I’m not ready to sleep,” Grace said.
Dani said thanks again, silently, this time. And let Grace’s irresistible touch pull her down.
Querida by John Gabriel was a pop hit in ‘80s Latinx music. Spanish lyrics here. I mixed up the translation a little for a more poetic English version.
Chapter 2: America's Most Wanted
Dani and Grace watch America’s Most Wanted: Sarah Connor - The Woman Who Killed The Future.
When Dani had been on the run from a Terminator, it had seemed impossible that she would ever stop. Breathe. Have a day, just an hour, when she felt safe and happy again. But she had, today.
After whispering far into the night, unwrapping all the moments they’d hidden from each other, Dani and Grace had woken up late. They’d made love. After dealing with Grace’s jury-rigged power source, Dani had brought them both breakfast. They’d fed each other. “The times in the future when I wanted to do this for you,” Grace said. Sweetly, inevitably, they made love again. Grace declared that this counted as the ‘abs day’ Sarah had demanded of Dani. Walking on air, Dani had gone on to shoot well at the range out back.
Dani did not think of Sarah at all until she returned to the house and the kitchen. Dani had never left such a messy kitchen in her life. Sarah wasn’t there helping. When Dani had tried to pause Sarah in their first injured days here, she’d kept washing dishes. “Shit work needs to be done. But never do it in front of a man. A group you’re working with on a job, defense. The minute you pick up a dish in front of an asshole, you lose authority. Make them wait on you.”
It had been very Sarah: canny and self-centered, but sharing that with Dani. Focused on the men she’d been around all her life. Caring, and not wanting to admit it.
Now that she was back upstairs, Dani flung herself against Grace’s steely length. “Tell me again how you have been in love with me forever.”
“I have been. But I did try not to be.” Grace said, “There were other people.”
Dani found she wasn’t jealous. “Everybody must have wanted you.”
“They did. I had my pick. Except for you.” The pride and vulnerability of it melted Dani all over again. Then, Grace confessed, “The night before last I was so on edge I hit on Sarah.”
Dani sat up and shrieked. It wasn’t just her. “Oh oh oh! I thought you did not like Sarah! And here you want to kiss her!”
“Kiss her? Fuck, no. I wanted to take her down. Make her beg. I could. I know I’m good.” Grace folded her arms, glowering. “She didn’t get it. Walked away.”
Grace said that like it hadn't happened to her often. “You sound like her.”
“If she got a clue and told you... you think she’s kissable?” said Grace.
Dani lowered her eyes. "I thought, I should not have you..."
Grace unfolded one arm, placed that hand on Dani's shoulder. Like she had in one of the moments they'd unwrapped: on the way to the border, when Dani had rested across Grace.
Dani, melting again, wondered how to forgive her back. Inspiration struck. She said, “Let us watch the TV show. The one about Sarah. America’s Most Wanted!”
Grace grinned. “This, I have to see.”
Shortly, Dani started the video. It was a long one. Grace leaned in, wrapping both arms around Dani, her chin against the top of Dani’s head. Dani succumbed to her weight happily and watched.
ANNOUNCER: Today on America’s Most Wanted: Sarah Connor - The Woman Who Killed A Future.
(Dramatic music plunges, then tinkles into piano notes. The camera pans across a tranquil, sunny, but modest neighborhood)
ANNOUNCER: This is the tale of one of America’s most successful terrorists. Violent, destructive, certifiably insane, and still at large, a fugitive to this day. Yet this tale began with a girl from the sun-kissed communities of Southern California; Sarah Jeanette Connor.
(Photos: images of a young girl, alternately somber and smiling widely)
ANNOUNCER: Sarah’s story began modestly, in a broken home typical of the 1960s. Her Vietnam veteran father left the family to join a commune in 1969. Her waitress mother looked after her and gave her a quiet life, with the weekends in a mountain cabin and support at school. After high school, in the early 1980s, Sarah enrolled at Los Angeles City College while supporting herself as a cashier.
Until one week in 1984. Sarah had just been promoted to a waitress position at a Los Angeles diner.
(Photo: a very young Sarah, blonde hair enormously feathered, in a pink waitress uniform)
Dani went hpppp as she tried not to laugh. Grace frankly snorted.
ANNOUNCER: When disaster struck for every woman named Sarah Connor in Los Angeles.
(Newspaper headlines spin on the screen: TWO WOMEN DEAD AT HANDS OF “CONNOR KILLER”. SERIAL KILLER STALKS DOWNTOWN L.A.)
ANNOUNCER: The Connor Killer went on a serial-killing rampage in Los Angeles – and Sarah Connor was in the killer’s sights. Expert in serial killers Jordan Adminton has reviewed the Connor Killer’s case.
JORDAN ADMINTON: The Connor Killer’s method was simple. He read through the Los Angeles phone book and went to kill every woman in it named Sarah Connor, in order. Not the most artistic killing, but its elemental primitivism shows libidinal id. The pattern would have continued longer if the Sarah under discussion, Sarah number three, hadn’t fought back against the killer. With surprising success.
ANNOUNCER: The Connor Killer tracked Sarah down and pursued her. Along the way, he killed both Sarah's roommate, Ginger Ventura, and Sarah's mother. Amazingly, Sarah survived, while a suspect thought to be the Connor Killer did not. After a final standoff in a factory, police believe Sarah left behind a man’s mutilated corpse. It’s likely that the fatal blow, a broken neck from falling down stairs, was Sarah striking at her would-be killer in self-defense. Sarah’s survival rampage definitely caused two hundred and fifty thousand dollars of damage to machinery, including a hydraulic press.
Dani said, “I think this is when Sarah fought the first Terminator. The one that came for her.”
SURVIVOR PSYCHOLOGIST DR. RUBY LOU STANFORD: Sarah’s brush with the Connor Killer changed her – as it does every woman who survives an assault. Instead of taking the victim role she decided to assert herself. For most women this is psychologically healthy. But Sarah took it too far, tipping over into violence and a persecution complex.
ANNOUNCER: Midway through the police inquiry, Sarah fled. Within a month of surviving the Connor Killer, Sarah had relocated to Central America. Intelligence operatives say she spent the next ten years ingratiating herself with the off-grid life of mercenaries. Gun runners, contract killers, and militias for hire.
(Photo: Sarah in her twenties, mean and lean in sunglasses, holding an AK-47)
Grace said, “Hm!”
ANNOUNCER: Sometime early in this period, she gave birth to her son, John Connor. Sarah was deeply protective of her son, to the point that few photos of him exist. Her other activities at this time were less maternal.
WILSON “BIG W” WILSON , NICARAGUA : Sarah was a <bleep>ing hellcat back then. We shacked up and I showed her ever’thin she knows about heavy ordnance – I was a Green Beret before I went independent-like. Even put up with her kid, mouthy little snot. One day she was a <bleep> and I asked her what the <bleep>ing problem was. What came out of her mouth was ever’ conspiracy theory but aliens. Nukes and robots and government and computers and I don’t know what all. Told her I didn’t believe that <bleep>, tried to shake it out of her. She knocked me out. I came to tied up, <bleep>ing <bleep> and half my inventory gone. <bleep> got me good.
CARLOS SALCEDA, DOS PALMAS, CA: I remember her well. My uncle Enrique, who at times needed security for his business, told us he trusted Saralita. She was a family person, like us. Who else can we trust but our families, in our lives apart? Was she unstable? Yes. Sometimes laughing, charm the birds from the trees. Sometimes her mood is black, not speaking for days except to her son. Put a gun in her hands and stand away. But very good to work with – until she went too crazy.
ANNOUNCER: Sarah had become increasingly paranoid and delusional. She became obsessed with not a person, but a technology company: Cyberdyne Solutions.
DR. RUBY LOU STANFORD: It was a baffling fixation. Perhaps Cyberdyne personified ‘the system’ that had enabled the Connor Killer to find her. Whatever her thinking, Sarah treated Cyberdyne as her personal enemy.
(Photo: a long pan over a glossy black-glass office building, with CYBERDYNE in a retro-techy font.)
ANNOUNCER: Sarah’s first attempt to damage Cyberdyne via a bomb attack was unsuccessful. She was taken into custody. Diagnosed as mentally unfit to stand trial, she became an inpatient at the Pescadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Her son was placed in foster custody. But it seems that was a mistake. Without her son to hold her back, Sarah was unleashed.
(Photo: a harrowed Sarah glaring through bars, long hair tangled.)
Grace asked, “Is this when she fought the second Terminator?”
Dani looked clouded. “I believe so? She did not mention a mental hospital…” She bit her lip.
ANNOUNCER: In an epic night of violence, Sarah escaped from Pescadero. She soon took the star cybernetics developer of Cyberdyne, Miles Dyson, hostage.
(Photo: a handsome man, his beautiful wife, two smiling children)
ANNOUNCER: Police believe another one of her underworld associates murdered her son’s foster carers and came to assist her. It was a race against time because Enrique Salceda had the authorities on her trail.
CARLOS SALCEDA: She came to my uncle to retrieve some materials and she was extreme, even for Connor. Her associate was a cold-blooded killer. Also, there was a substantial reward out for information. Let us say my uncle chose to invest in his family and work with the authorities.
ANNOUNCER: As Sarah’s hostage, Miles Dyson seems to have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome. His last statements show that he had come to share Sarah’s delusions. He blew up the Cyberdyne building, destroying ten years of priceless research. Dyson died in the explosion. Cyberdyne went bankrupt and folded as a company, its intellectual property dispersed.
(Video: black and white security, capturing a building in an industrial setting lighting up, burning pale, then exploding white)
Dani glanced at Grace. Grace’s expression was between impressed and satisfied.
TECHNOLOGY HISTORIAN PROF. LESLIE SCHLESINGER: Cyberdyne was ahead of the curve in every way save data security. If they hadn’t gone bankrupt, if they’d continued to develop, we would have had the tech boom of the late 90s and early 2000s a decade earlier. Apple, Microsoft, and Google wouldn’t have had an open market. Cyberdyne would have been there first. It’s really amazing that one woman’s actions changed America’s social and economic future so deeply. So, yes, you can say that Sarah Connor killed a future.
ANNOUNCER: By the time the dust had settled, Sarah and her son were back in Central America to continue their life as a family outside society . But there were consequences. In 1998, in the beach town of Monterrico in Guatemala, Sarah’s son was killed in a revenge hit – the price of their crimes or of Connor’s obsessions.
Dani said, “Ohhh...”
“They got that wrong,” Grace said.
ANNOUNCER: Since then Sarah Connor has not been seen…or has she? Rumor has placed her as a Mexican cartel assassin, as a bodyguard and security double for the First Lady of Belize, as a yoga teacher in Tulum, and as an international double agent.
(Photos: very Photoshopped ones, flashing quickly through these possibilities)
“Belize who?” Grace asked. Then, together, they started as a face they knew came on screen.
“I remember him – the good man,” Dani began.
“Her military contact,” Grace said.
U.S. AIR FORCE TERRORISM CONSULTANT MAJOR DEAN: It is true that the state of California and the FBI still have Sarah on their Most Wanted lists. Her case remains open.
ANNOUNCER: Why hasn’t she been brought in yet?
MAJOR DEAN: Could be some parties out there find a loose cannon like her useful. More likely, she just keeps slipping through the cracks. If Sarah is crazy, she’s crazy like a fox. Everything she did, I believe she had her reasons. What they are…I hope we never find out.
ANNOUNCER: We asked our interviewees…did they have any final words on Sarah Connor?
DR. RUBY LOU STANFORD: A warning to us all about the intergenerational costs of violence.
WILSON ‘ BIG W ’ WILSON : <bleep>ing <bleep> hellcat!
CARLOS SALCEDA: A very fatal woman.
PROF. LESLIE SCHLESINGER: Make sure you have backups. You don’t want your future to get killed next.
MAJOR DEAN: If you’re out there, Sarah, sleep with one eye open.
ANNOUNCER: This has been…America’s Most Wanted. To help the FBI with any information, you can call -
Dani stopped the video.
“How did she – how does she know Major Dean – why did she not tell me about the mental hospital? Agh!” Dani shook her head. “She really was like me, to begin.”
Dani gestured at the screen, frozen on Sarah’s FBI mugshot from the early 1990s. “That was crazy. Those awful men, and – all by herself, and – what if they did that show about us?”
Grace was quiet for a moment. Then, she said, slowly, “What kind of hellcat?” And began to laugh like Dani had never seen her.
She didn’t stop. Couldn’t stop. Dani found herself joining in, until they were crying, ill with it. Whenever it died down, Grace would wheeze hellcat and they'd start up again. It was awful - Sarah - and it was wonderful to laugh with Grace, drink in her new expressions - and Dani needed to not cry, just for a while.
Lying together, still at last, they realized it at the same time. Dani felt a little warmth from Grace that wasn't quite right. One touch tracked it to the opening in Grace's side around the cables. Grace said, "Shit, I'm bleeding." They both had to take care of it.
From the screen, Sarah’s stern and grainy face watched them.
I just wanted them to have a nice day AM I SO WRONG
Also, next chapter brings both angst and heat again...
Chapter 3: Threads
Dani and Grace watch some science fiction - and future fact brings some hard truths to Dani.
Warnings get bumped up for this chapter!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Dani ached to know more details about the future Grace had survived, where she would, someday, lead. She knew the elements: that the artificial intelligence Legion had sown human chaos, that nuclear war had been followed by machine war, that someday she would lead in that war and nurture Grace. She knew there had to be more. But there was a problem: what Grace always said when Dani asked.
“I told you, I can’t remember shit.”
Now that Dani and Grace were lovers, perhaps Grace would open up more?
Their next day together went so well that Dani thought she would ask again. When Dani had shared her electronics project for the day with Grace, Grace had wanted to help. For this one, Grace’s height and hands were very useful. They only got distracted by sex in the garage once. By late afternoon, the project was half-done. Plus, Grace had figured out how limited her strength and movement really were, attached to the car battery.
Back in bed that evening, Dani slid a hand onto Grace’s waist. She stroked the coordinates tattooed there. How strange, to think she would be tattooing them herself, years from now. “A set of coordinates is one thing to remember. All those numbers! I would not remember, either. But parts of your life, your world, are more than that. Surely you can tell me a little more?”
Grace looked away, shaking her head. “It’s true. There are years I don’t remember. Or I remember in parts. Like, the time between when my father died and I met you. Or the year after I became an Augment.”
The parts that hurt, Dani realized.
“I’m starting to think the time travel messed up my memories of day to day stuff.” Grace said that like it didn’t matter much. She offered, “Here’s one thing I remember. It has you.”
Dani snapped to attention. Grace was still looking away, but her face had softened.
“I’d just joined up with your group. It was a cold night. It’s really cold in the future, compared to this time. I got up and you were on watch. I was feeling bad about stuff. Don’t ask, I don’t remember what. You asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t say. You let it be. Said I could help look out. So I did. We just sat together. And halfway through… the night sky came alive. Auroras. We got them now and then – the war messed up our atmosphere. The whole dark sky filled with sheets of light, above a blasted city. We watched until dawn.”
Dani couldn’t help smiling. “That is beautiful. Like BladeRunner.”
Grace turned to her. “What?”
Dani had an idea. “Maybe if you can tell me if any of our movies are right. Movies we have now about the future.” Perhaps that would help Grace’s memory.
Grace said, “Okay, but I doubt it.”
The video clips Dani shared seemed to prove that right.
A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies! The chance to begin again in a golden world of opportunity!
Remember where you are. This is Thunderdome. Death is listening, and will take the first man that screams!
“I like her, but no.”
Soylent Green is PEOPLE!
“It was never like that.”
The fourth video struck gold – or uranium. Dani hadn’t even meant to click on it when it came up in the sidebar. She’d meant to click on something called The Day After. But the video Dani tapped by mistake transfixed Grace from its dark opening. A methodical British voice droned:
Money has had no meaning since the attack. The only viable currency is food, given as reward for work or withheld as punishment. In the grim economics of the aftermath…
Grace leaned forwards. “This. This is it.”
Dani checked the name of the video: Threads – REALISTIC Look at Nuclear War.
They watched the fifteen-minute clip. It was gray, grim, no special effects beyond physical ruin. Only nuclear war and real people, sad and sick. Bandaged, burned, and struggling on. The droning voice underscored what they watched with quiet facts about a government failing, again and again.
A growing exodus from cities in search of food. It's July. The countryside is cold and full of unknown radiation hazards. By now, five to six weeks after the attack, deaths from the effects of fallout are approaching their peak…
By the time it was done, Grace was gray, herself, eyes faraway. Dani’s heart plummeted to see her really, truly remembering.
Grace confirmed. “That’s how it was. Is. Except six weeks out was when the machine attacks on us began. They look like they had water, at least. Where I was, it was dry.”
Dani was shattered. Grace and Sarah referred to nuclear war so often and casually, yet always with scant details. Both of them assuring her that, as the future’s savior, it was something she’d overcome. After this video, the full meaning of that froze her, the same way she’d reacted to learning about the Terminators. Hushed, she asked, “If we know…why do we have the weapons? Why keep them at all when we know?”
Asking, Dani realized. It was like the border wall, the border prison. Laws that didn’t make this world we, but her versus them. They kept them because they had power, and they could.
“Never mind. I am sorry,” Dani said.
Grace had no reply save a full-body shudder. Clumsily, for her, she closed the laptop, set it aside. Then, she flicked the switch that turned off the bedside lights. The room fell almost dark, save for the laptop’s leak of cool technology light. Its bluish glare carved out Grace’s cheekbones, muscles, wires.
Hoarsely, Grace said, “Fuck me. So I’ll forget again.”
It was better than talking. Dani fell against Grace, a human tangle of tears, kissing, hasty caresses.
Their mouths locked together. Dani slid beneath Grace’s top to palm one high, scarred breast, then the other. Grace’s nipples were as hard as flesh could be. Her breastbone was harder, slick with sweat, radiating dangerous heat. Grace clapped her left hand over Dani’s touch, grinding Dani against her, desperate.
Grace released Dani to thumb her briefs low. Dani arced up to kneeling, swept them away, leaving her own scant clothes in place. Grace’s fine pubes caught the bluish light. Dani stroked them down tenderly, then began to probe, as Grace had asked. All this was abrupt enough that Grace was dry. Dani swept up the oil they’d started to use last night. In her hurry, Dani tipped out too much.
Grace only noticed that Dani’s touch was gone. “More. I need more. Please…”
The sheets were a mess, Dani’s touch, four fingers by now, barely frictioned. But Grace moaned approval. Dani glanced at Grace’s face briefly, caught her clenching her teeth, pullling herself together. Their eyes met. Just as their fighting need had torn facts from Grace before, Grace’s own need tore something from her now.
“You had your whole hand inside me once. I need that again.”
Dani would have been shocked three nights ago. But she’d learned she was small and tender against Grace’s hard-boned frame. Like loving Grace, it didn’t seem so impossible, now.
“Here?” Dani pulsed her fingers inside Grace’s cunt. “Right here?”
Grace’s breath was raw. “Yes…hard...” Her head fell back, blind and feeling.
Sliding her thumb in, Dani realized how close they both were, already. “Hold on, querida.”
Flushed, open-mouthed, Dani took and was taken. Grace cried out, twisted her spine. Dani set her free hand on Grace to still her, murmuring, no, no. Grace inhaled, a great gulp that opened her up, somehow. Dani’s thumb slid home. Her wrist was embraced by Grace’s entire channel.
Grace screamed in triumph. “YES! Fuck me!”
Dani moved her hand, carefully at first. For, inside Grace, Dani could feel both her wild pulse and the metal of her. Ghosts of technology brushed Dani’s fist briefly. Then Grace’s flesh, fiery, alive, became all. Grace’s abdominal muscles, reinforced, clasped Dani’s questing hand. The dim room was black and blue. But when Dani closed her eyes, concentrating, she saw the red colors she felt inside Grace: pulsing, bright, hot, hot, hot.
Grace wasn’t talking anymore. Dani’s compact frame was trapped between her high-flexed knees. Her cries were a rough, rising song of promise. She was close to enough pleasure to sweep away the pain.
Grace’s orgasm seized Dani’s arm. Her howl was defiant enough to cut through time. Dani didn’t remember, later, if she’d cried out too, urging her onwards, higher, promising her everything.
She heard it when Grace found words again. “It’s good – so good – Dani – I’m done – “
Dani slid out very, very carefully. The room’s air was cold against her hand. “I think you need some water right now.”
Grace gasped in agreement. It turned out Grace needed her medications, too. Really needed them, as if she’d been in a fight. She dosed herself calmly, accepted a little of their last-resort painkiller, fentanyl, from Dani. As she did, Dani whispered, again, “I am sorry.”
In the darkness, Grace’s pupils were blown wide enough that a rare flicker of cyborg green touched her gaze. Those lights locked onto Dani. “Don’t be. In the future… you always helped me. If you pushed me it was good for me. Like this. Dani, I’ll always… always…” She sighed. Her penetrating eyes closed. When her breathing went even, Dani relaxed. A little.
Sleep was far away for Dani. If any space in this strange house was hers, it was the little desk in this room. Dani sometimes felt the ghost of Alicia here, doubted Alicia would approve of what she and Grace did in her bed. But she felt Alicia approved of Dani borrowing her desk. She had kept Alicia’s quotes and cards, added candles, a vase of greenery, a picture. Dani lit the little candles there. The lights reminded Dani of the past, returned her to the present.
This was what it was to love Grace, stray survivor of that awful future. Through Grace, what Dani learned made her a stranger to the rest of the world, just for the knowing it. Both its terror and its potential. Dani had wondered how she had been so stern, in the future, as to not love a tall young Grace. She knew now. Love like this, defying such damage - Grace’s courage to ask - took everything a woman had. Dani was barely strong enough to accept it, herself. Grace had only brought it to her when Dani, herself, felt something of her pain. Pain arcing back to the world waiting for Dani.
In that future world, humanity had gone through nuclear war to another war against the machines. They’d been close enough to real victory that the machines had sent a Terminator back for Dani. Yet people had been surviving in that world of ruin and rainbows, and more. They’d made advances like the Augments. Maybe survival could become really living again in that future world. If Dani had the strength to fight for it her whole life long.
Her heart hammered, aching and shivering inside her ribcage. Dani sat in the candles’ modest warmth to wait until her full heart slowed.
She had to wait for a long time.
What movies are they watching clips of?
- A new life awaits you – BladeRunner
- Remember where you are – Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
- Soylent Green is… – Soylent Green.
- Money has had no meaning - Threads
. Out of the nuclear-disaster films of the early 80s, Threads stands out for its documentary realism. (It's a full length film.) Every description of watching Threads is paired with a sense of nuclear horror and trauma made real. People often cite being depressed for weeks afterwards – so please be aware if you watch it, or some of it, yourself. Many also had this experience watching the American film The Day After.
Chapter 4: El corazón nunca se equivoca
Dani fails at a distraction, succeeds where it matters, and starts the future.
“We take it easy today, okay?” Dani said. And she got to work.
It was the first day since Sarah had left and Grace had kissed her that Dani could concentrate. Last night’s intensity had Dani wanting to work on another power source for Grace again.
Before Dani went, she asked Grace, “How are you, today? Last night was…”
Grace looked perplexed. “I’m tired. But my mind isn’t. I haven’t been tired like this since before I was an Augment.”
Dani half-laughed. “Tired like a normal person, after all you did yesterday! Rest.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Grace said, with wicked earnestness. Dani was glad yesterday’s nuclear cloud had lifted from her, at least.
Dani left Grace with a stack of magazines and took herself to Carl’s curtain studio. The place looked very tidy. Dani had uncovered signs of how the Terminator had struggled, trying to fit in with humans. There were boxes of oddments, from sewing projects to electronic mysteries. Each box held one ‘type’ of item. Sometimes Dani could see how each box held a progression, from clumsy to clean. Sometimes she couldn’t. He’d tried and tried again – like the machine he was.
Dani applied herself to their shared problem of Grace’s power source. It was work, but it was also a break: a rest from feeling. Time spent thinking, solving, made Dani feel clearer. A few days away from the problem also seemed to have helped. Dani saw new connections, anticipated problems and ways to stop them. At the end of three hours, she had enough of a plan to share it with Grace. She went back upstairs.
Dani perched back on their bed to show Grace some images on the laptop and explain. It was complicated, unsure, imperfect. She would need to test it and make it work. At the end, Grace was intrigued. “I could move fast. I like that.” She smiled without thinking about it. Dani’s heart reeled.
“Maybe we can ask Sarah to steal what we need.” Dani sighed. Could they get money to buy the main source? It was expensive, thousands of dollars. Sarah would be back late that night. It was like tossing a coin, trying to guess if Sarah would be up for some defiant thievery or if she’d be security-minded. “I wish we would not have to. Steal, I mean.”
Grace said, “Why? Everything this present has is stolen from the future.” She picked up one of the magazines and smacked it onto the others.
Dani opened her mouth to protest, then realized: Grace was right. She sighed, “We will get it. One way or another. I promise.”
That was good enough for Grace. Satisfied, she cupped an arm around Dani. Dani let herself lean against her.
Dani still had the laptop. For a few minutes, she indulged in what she would lose when Sarah returned, browsing the web. She murmured, “I wish we could use Netflix. This was my favorite telenovela. Juntos el corazón nunca se equivoca. That means The heart is always right. Ah! The new series came out. ”
“What is it?” asked Grace. She probably wasn’t listening, based on the way she was lacing her fingers through Dani’s loose hair.
“Oh, first, it is in Mexico City, often I know the places it is made. And it is the first telenovela about two gay men. They are students at the university, in love, and one of them wants to be a politician. Let me see if it is easy to catch up.”
Dani began the first new episode. Ten minutes in, she stopped the video.
“All done?” Grace asked.
Dani admitted, ashes in her mouth, “I. I cannot watch it anymore.”
Grace asked, “Am I a distraction?”
She shook her head. “The world where it is – it feels gone. Lost.” Dani hunched away from Grace, folding in. She wasn’t a machine. All the feelings she’d dammed up since last night pulsed against her eyelids. “I miss my city. My life. I miss just liking a telenovela and instead – I have to – “
Dani bit back her own future as a survivor, a commander, all the things Grace loved her for. “I should not even feel like this because you, you lost so much more.”
Grace said, calmly, “This is my fault.”
“No! No it is not! You were a child in the war – you fought so hard, all your life, then came to protect me – I made you feel like that, I did this to you – ”
“It’s my fault for not fucking you last night.”
Dani fought down the urge to laugh wildly. “That. That is not a solution.”
“What else do we have?”
Once Dani would have had telenovelas and her dog Taco, her gentle father and her partner in crime Diego. Other family and friends. Even a simple walk in the market, coming home with fruit and flowers, or a video of one of her crushes, had made her feel better.
Grace had none of that. Nor did Dani, any more. Yet something was still wrong with what Grace said, for all that Dani couldn’t say what. Especially with so much flailing inside her at the moment.
She tried, “I must deserve you.” Dani pointed at the jerry-rigged cables and battery keeping Grace powered up, alive. Big and heavy, so ugly against Grace’s body. She heard herself shrill, “I have to save you right now! As soon as I can. And then – “
Before Dani could say the rest of the world, Grace laid an arm around her shoulders. She had that irresistible light in her eyes. “You already did once. You will again, whatever happens. You’re my mentor and my goddess and my commander.”
Grace felt how Dani shrank from that, right now. She went on. “I – you’re different here. I can touch you. And you’re not different, with how you looked after me, last night. Like you always have.”
Dani had to admit, “I have tried.”
Grace smiled at that, the edged smile of a hotshot soldier. Her hand stole down Dani’s shoulder to her arm, brushing the edge of Dani’s breast. “I can’t take it all away. But, let me make you feel better…”
So seductive. So confident. And hitting the bar of something-wrong in Dani again, square and true. Dani had endured so much because I said so, from Grace and Sarah alike, it left her tight and snappish. A firecracker. She edged back. “I have not said yes, yet.”
Dani went off. “I am sad and I am stupid and – I need to say it! Not hide, pretend away. If I do not say it I cannot fix it. If I cannot fix I am not your Dani. The Dani you say I am. If you love me true, let me be me.” Dani heard her English getting worse, and didn’t care. “All right?”
Grace was out and out gaping at her. Finally, she breathed. “Jesus. Fucking. Christ.”
“You only cracked that out when I’d fucked up. You let me get away with shit but when you came down – After I joined the troops, and you made commander, you’d end that with ‘All right, soldier?’ You’d glare at me like that until I said ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
Dani found herself kneeling up, hands on her hips. The extra height put her eye to eye with Grace. “And today?”
“Yes, ma’am.” She bowed her head and muttered, “I’ll listen.”
Dani had never heard Grace say sorry. Now she knew why. It made her feel very forgiving, herself. She smiled for the first time that day. “You like it when I give you orders?”
Grace twisted her mouth. “Am I that obvious?”
“So obvious!” Dani tossed her hair over a shoulder that felt lighter, now. “If I get to be stupid, you get to be a very bad soldier. Taking advantage with your good looks.” Dani stretched upwards. “Show me what you think will make me feel better.”
Grace knelt up, too, overtopping Dani immediately. Carefully, she shunted her cables to the left, then laid her right arm over Dani’s shoulder. Dani’s eyes were at the level of Grace’s mouth as Grace spoke. “You don’t like too much… you’ll let me kiss you almost anywhere. You like it clean. What you like best is my mouth, or my hand…” Grace was showing how she’d listened, these few days. Was asking what Dani wanted now.
“Your hand.” When Dani said that, Grace’s arm coiled around her shoulders, dipped her. Both Grace’s hands were equally agile. When Dani was down, Grace’s free hand, rough, long-fingered, hand pried Dani’s legs apart. Dani went liquid. Grace moved her around so easily now. What would it be like when she had a real power source?
It was different from the first time with Grace, because Dani knew. Knew to dig in her heels and brace her hips, for if she didn’t, the pleasure and force of Grace would send her sliding. Knew how Grace was reading her with all Augmented sensors, hearing her heartbeat, feeling her temperature. Knew when to say “Slow”, for if she didn’t, she’d begin to come helplessly. It was so good with Grace that she wanted to hold off, draw it out.
This time, Dani wanted something new: Grace’s priceless, loving obedience. Each little spark of it felt like fuel for Dani’s destiny, her future self. When she said, “Make me come,” kindled by that spark, it was hotter. Deeper. When Dani opened her eyes, and saw Grace rapt and vivid, she knew it had lit Grace up, too.
Dani caressed up Grace’s withdrawing arm. “How are you today?” As she had last night, Dani then stroked Grace’s pubes, dun-golden in the midday room.
Grace laughed a little, awkwardly. “I’d be careful there. Some parts of me are more Augmented than others.”
Dani sat up. “An idea. Can you touch yourself? Here, with me? I want to see how you do it. What you like.” Grace, Dani thought, would not hurt herself.
Grace’s flush deepened. “Yes, ma’am.” She reclined, then shifted her head across Dani’s thigh. Her eyes were wide as she looked up to Dani. “Can I, uh, lie here?”
Dani was charmed. “Yes.”
Grace settled in with a look of intense satisfaction. From this angle, Grace’s face was softer. Her body cut into harshness again where her scars blended into her collarbones. Dani was fascinated, then worried, to see how roughly Grace handled herself: twisting her round nipples hard enough that the flesh went white, scouring ruthlessly between her legs.
“Don’t hurt yourself, querida ,” Dani said, laying one finger across Grace’s love-bitten lips. In reply, Grace mouthed that finger. Dani slid one, then two, into Grace’s mouth. “No biting.” Not with the way Grace came, and that Augmented jaw of hers.
Grace’s no ma’am was muffled, in her throat, as the blood rose to her face again. Her hand dug into herself, harder, with a wet sound. Dani took her fingers back to lean closer. Left to herself, Grace was tightening on her clit. Her breath was hot across Dani’s nipples.
Dani leaned more to close their gap. “Can you suck my breasts?”
“Please,” Grace rasped. “Ma’am.” Dani shifted so that her small frame curled around Grace’s head and narrow-strong shoulders, her breasts next to Grace’s mouth. The pull of Grace’s mouth was sweet. After feverishly sucking one nipple, making Dani squirm, Grace buried her face in Dani’s cleavage.
Dani, stroking Grace’s dishevelled hair, peeped at Grace’s moving hand again. There it was, what she’d been watching for, that faster-than-human flicker. Dani marvelled that she’d been able to make Grace come at all, when that was what Grace was like for herself.
Grace rolled her face against Dani’s chest, mouth hot, tongue a lick of flame. “Dani. Ma’am.”
Dani pressed Grace closer. “I love you. I want everything you want. I want you to come.”
Hot and heavy, in shuddering gasps, Grace did.
Half an hour later Dani left Grace drowsing. It was two and a half weeks since the fight at the dam. The first two weeks, a lot of Grace’s sleep had been due to drugs. She’d had one day up and about. These past few days, Grace had slid back to being stuck in bed. Probably, Dani thought, frustration about hauling a car battery around. Right now, Grace’s rest was real sleep.
Downstairs, Dani did a quick sweep of the house, tidying. It was a nice afternoon, hot and sunny. The rising summer was drying out the grasses around the cabin. A bird called. The world hadn’t ended yet.
Conscientiously, Dani went to Carl’s firing range to practice. Preparing her weapon of the day, she remembered getting bombarded by advice, here. But when she’d followed her heart – saving Sarah, listening to Carl, partly saving Grace – things had gone all right.
And so many other people had helped them escape the Terminator, again and again. Diego and her uncle. The pharmacist outside Mexico City. The people on the train who’d pulled them on board. Alicia, feeding them, giving them clothes, letting them stay in her home. That nice Major Dean. They had all been kind, even when they were afraid. It was easy to overlook people when Terminators were around. She weighed that against the awful inhuman future, people and Terminators both at fault.
Some of the advice she’d gotten here had been to let herself be angry: that from Sarah. Dani understood Sarah so much more, now. Sarah had gone through her own war. She liked to say, in a warning way, “Be ready.” Dani felt ready, now, for Sarah. She would be strong and open, act like a woman instead of a child. Tell Sarah who she really was, ask Sarah to tell her more. However hard it was, for both of them, it was how they would come to truly trust.
Sarah was a living warning in more ways than she meant to be. Dani resolved, quietly, to try and stay kind and human. And to love. Even when it was difficult?
She thought about Grace and knew: especially then. “El corazón nunca se equivoca!” she said. And fired until she hit her last target.
Dani went back inside, upstairs. She felt like she’d lived a whole lifetime in four days. She’d felt the same way about the Terminator hunting her, start to finish. But this, with Grace, was different. It felt like a good lifetime. She’d love present-Grace as long and hard as she could. She’d make as much of it part of her present, soon to be her past, as possible. For the future could be taken away, for good or ill. The past was what it was.
When she got upstairs, Grace was dark and serious, the shuttered soldier again. She had the laptop open, but she wasn’t looking at it. She met Dani’s eyes.
“You know this time better than I do. You know Sarah. What’s she going to say about us?”
Dani took the laptop from Grace. The things of life she had lost – she could let them go, now. Real passion was here, in front of her. Real drama was coming. Dani closed the laptop, very gently, and straightened her spine.
“We will find out.”
What happens next? Chapter 6 of Fate Throws A Dagger will show that.
Want to watch Dani's former favorite telenovela? It's here: Juntos el corazón nunca se equivoca