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Terminator: Lesbian Redux

Chapter Text

As Dani walked out of her supervisor’s office and onto the workroom’s floor, she thought this day might be one of the worst of her life.

She had no idea how right she was.

Her brother Diego had been let go- his job replaced by a machine. Where would he work? How could Dani support her father and Diego on just what she earnt? The sounds of machinery and men talking filled her ears as she walked through the familiar space, her long dark hair swinging against her shoulders. She should tie her hair up, she thought vaguely, but it hardly seemed important at that moment. As she approached her brother’s workstation her stomach twisted at the thought of telling him she hadn’t been able to save his job- that he would have to take the bus home alone, while she remained and worked without him.

She saw Diego first, a look of confusion painted across his face. Then she saw her father next to him, and her walk slowed. ‘Papi?’ she said, her voice lost in the noise of the workroom. A strange grin spread across her father’s face as he turned to face her. He raised his arm- and suddenly Dani saw the gun held in his hand, moving to aim directly at her.

In the moment before her father pulled the trigger a hundred scattered thoughts raced through Dani’s mind. None seemed to make sense. Her father wouldn’t- couldn't hurt her. How did he have a gun- was this a joke? Had he gone insane? Frozen in terror and confusion, she could only stare helplessly. She heard the gunshot like a thunder crack through the workshop, horrifically loud, and she flinched and closed her eyes.

No bullet hit her.

Dani opened her eyes and saw her father staggering backwards, his arms thrown up and head blown open. Another gunshot rang out, and then another, her father propelled backwards by each one.

A tall, muscular woman in a security officer’s uniform strode towards Dani’s father from the opposite direction, a gun bigger than any Dani had seen before braced against her shoulder. Her blonde hair was cut close to her head. She fired again and again into Dani’s father, eyes cold and focused. With each shot his body convulsed horrifically.

‘Papi,’ Dani screamed. She didn’t understand what was happening; she felt like she was in a dream, and nothing made sense, but in that moment all that mattered was her father. She ran at the woman in sudden fury, thinking of nothing but that she had to protect her father. The woman turned to Dani as she approached, fixing her with bright blue eyes. She threw away the gun, presumably emptied of bullets, and pivoted to grab Dani as she approached, wrapping her arms around Dani from behind and pulling her away from her father’s body.

Get off me,’ Dani cried, struggling, but the woman’s arms were like iron around her.

There was something wrong with her father’s body, Dani realised numbly. Not a single drop of blood was visible on his clothes or skin, despite having been shot multiple times- where there should have been open wounds there were only silver crevasses, like a metal object had been torn apart. As Dani stared  in bewilderment his eyes swivelled  towards her, unnaturally red and unfeeling. A strange substance like liquid metal began to trickle up his face, filling in the crevasses and taking on the appearance of skin as it settled. Dani’s blood ran cold.

The woman was saying something, talking urgently in her ear. ‘It’s not your father, Dani, it’s not your father-‘ she grasped Dani’s shoulder gently but firmly, forcing Dani to meet her eyes. Her expression was intense but there was a sincerity in her tone that made Dani want to trust her. ‘Dani, if you don’t come with me right now you’ll be dead in thirty seconds- and so will your brother.’

Diego hovered beside them, his eyes wide and fearful as he looked from her, to the woman, to the body of their father- no. Not their father.

‘Okay,’ whispered Dani, focusing on the woman’s blue eyes like lifelines. ‘Okay,’ she repeated more strongly. The woman was already moving, and this time Dani let herself be pulled away. The woman had one hand on Dani’s wrist, dragging her along in a vice grip, and the other guiding Diego. She pushed them along at a sprint the workroom, passing the surprised faces of Dani’s co-workers. It was all Dani could do to keep up with her- but the panic behind the woman’s eyes didn’t escape Dani’s notice, nor did the way she constantly glanced behind them as they ran. She was scared. That thing- that machine- whatever it was, would be coming after them. But how could it, after being damaged so badly?

The woman was right to be afraid. Dani heard the thing before she saw it- there was a whistling in the air, the sense of movement above her- and then she was flying through the air. The woman had shoved her, harder than any person should be able to, sending Dani hurtling into the ground metres away. The breath went out of Dani as the slammed into the floor and rolled, pain shooting along her side from the impact. As she struggled to her feet, gasping for air, she saw Diego running towards her. Behind him, the tall woman- now brandishing a large hammer- was squaring off against that thing, which now wore a different man’s face. Dani saw that the thing’s arms, instead of ending in human wrists and hands, melded into sharp metal shards like swords- both skin and clothing blended into the metal seamlessly. It swung at the woman with one deformed arm, but she caught its elbow in her free hand, and slammed the hammer with unnatural speed and strength into its face. The thing fell to its knees. The woman kicked its other arm away and beat the hammer again and again into its face and body with force that would have killed any human instantly. The impacts rang throughout the workroom.

Diego reached Dani and helped her to her feet. They clung to each other, stepping backwards, watching the woman fight. The machine was face down as the woman raised and smashed down the hammer into the back of its head once, then twice, grunting with the effort- hope flared in Dani’s chest, that the woman had killed it, that they were safe- but then the strange liquid metal substance Dani had noticed before leaked up from the things head and latched onto the hammer as it came down a third time, holding the hammer inside the thing’s skull. It seeped upwards to encase the head of the hammer completely and as the woman wrenched it upwards she inadvertently yanked the thing to its feet, its head remoulding around the hammer. Its eyes swivelled towards her, face and body now complete reformed.

Dani’s momentary hope disappeared as the thing grabbed the woman and threw her hard into a wall, and then turned towards Dani. The hammer fell from its head and its arms began to reform, liquid metal forming nasty spears in each hand.

‘Stay behind me!’ The woman was back on her feet, sprinting towards them as they backed away. She grabbed an unfinished car door from a nearby workstation and held it like a shield, throwing herself in between the thing and Dani. It pounded on the car door with terrifying speed and strength. Diego pulled Dani along as the thing forced the woman backwards. Dani ran half-facing them, unable to take her eyes off the battle between the woman and the machine. Her mind was working fast. The woman couldn’t kill that thing- she could barely hold it off. She needed help. But how?

The machine lunged at the woman and she fell on her back across a long table, still holding the car door above her. The thing’s long, spear-like arm pierced the car door with an ear-splitting screech and hit the table centimetres from the woman’s cheek.

Time seemed to stop for a moment. Dani and Diego were frozen, backed up against a wall, unable to move backwards any further- the woman’s eyes were on the spear that had nearly killed her, hands still clutching the car door- and the thing’s arm was raised to stab down a second time into the woman, a certain killing blow, when it realised Dani and Diego were now unprotected. Then everything happened at once.

Diego wrenched Dani to the side as the machine launched itself across the table, slamming both spear-like arms into the wall where they had just stood. In the same second the woman flipped across the table to put herself once again in between Dani and the thing, car door still held in one hand and raised to take the blows of the unrelenting machine. Dani and Diego retreated, still behind the woman, as she absorbed each hit. Each blow buckled the door until one stabbed right through the middle, splitting it in half.

The woman went on the offensive. She slammed one piece of the door into the thing’s face and then the other, sending it staggering backwards. With a roar of effort, she grabbed the machine and threw it forwards onto a workbench, pinning it down.

Above the workbench a huge piece of machinery dangled in a rope harness. ‘Diego,’ gasped Dani.

Diego followed her eyes and lunged forward to the lever controlling the harness. ‘Hey lady!’ he cried and released the lever.

The woman leapt backwards just in time as the machinery fell, crushing the thing on the workbench with a crash that echoed through the workshop. Her eyes were wide. She nodded slightly as she caught her breath, staring at the workbench as Dani and Diego stared at her.

‘Grace,’ she said finally, still breathless, and turned to meet their gaze. Her beautiful blue eyes found and held Dani’s, intense with an emotion Dani couldn’t identify. ‘My name is Grace.’ She looked away from Dani, scanning the workroom. ‘That won’t kill him. We have to go.’ She grabbed Dani's arm, pushing her towards the exit. ‘Move.’

‘What?’ said Dani, turning towards where the thing had been crushed. Could it really survive that? She felt her heartrate speed up again, a feeling of desperation rising in her.

‘Go!’ said Grace, and Dani let herself be pushed towards the exit.

Chapter Text

The exit door opened onto a construction site. Dani raised a hand to shield her eyes as they ran out across the concrete, the sun uncomfortably bright. It somehow seemed safer to be outside. There was a small, childish part of her that was certain monsters like that machine couldn’t exist in the sunlight. But Grace’s face was still a picture of worried concentration as she herded Dani and Diego through the construction workers, glancing back at the exit door like she expected that machine to leap out, fully reformed, and attack them at any moment.

‘Please!’ Diego yelled as they approached a beaten-up four-wheel drive. ‘Can you tell us what that thing is?

Grace yanked the passenger door open as they approached, gesturing for them to climb in. ‘It’s a terminator,’ she said confidently, as if expecting them to know exactly what that meant. ‘A Rev-9. He was sent here from the future. I was too.’ She spoke too fast for Dani to take in her words, her eyes still fixed on the doorway they’d run from.

Diego stared at her in disbelief, unmoving.

‘Get in,’ Grace said, desperation colouring her voice. When Diego still didn’t move, she glowered at him. ‘Get in,’ she snapped, shoving him unceremoniously into the car. Dani clambered in without encouragement, feeling Grace’s hand on her back. Grace climbed into the driver’s seat after them and reached across Dani, searching for the key on the visors. Dani and Diego both saw the shallow wound on her forearm- blood seeped from the edges of the cut, but a thin metal mesh was clearly visible beneath her skin.

‘You’re a machine too?’ Diego gasped.

Grace found the key and leaned back in her seat, reaching for the ignition. She frowned at him. ‘No. I’m human, like you.’

‘But- your arm-‘

‘I’m augmented.’ Grace started the engine and slammed the car door. She planted her foot on the accelerator, and the car jerked forward, throwing Dani and Diego backwards. Grace, Dani noted, maintained her balance perfectly. They tore out of the construction site, speeding past a confused security guard who waved and yelled into his radio.

Diego turned to Dani, his eyes questioning. ‘Augmented?’

Dani shrugged, unable to answer his question and unwilling to probe Grace further. They had more important things to think about than what exactly Grace was- she was on their side, and that was all that mattered. There was a part of her though- a small, secret part- that was secretly relieved to know Grace was human. Even if she wasn’t fully human.

They broke through the paltry security gate and onto the road, and Dani heard Grace swear as they swerved and narrowly missed an oncoming car. Dani cried out as the four-wheel drive skidded dangerously- and then saw the police car on their tail. She turned to Grace to ask what they were going to do- and saw Grace’s face go sheet white.

‘Oh, shit,’ said Grace, and the wall beside the road exploded.

A massive truck crashed through the wall, sending a cloud of plaster dust through the air. It missed their car by inches, slamming into the police car behind them and sending it spinning across the road. Dani twisted back to look, her mouth open in horror, and saw only carnage as the truck ploughed through two more cars and slowly began to accelerate after them. Even through the white dust she could make out the figure in the driver’s seat- the machine. The Rev-9. His cold red eyes met hers.

‘Go faster, go faster,’ Diego yelped.

Grace didn’t respond. Her eyes were locked on the road, her face a mask of concentration as she whipped the car around people, street stalls, and other cars. Dani looked back again and saw another car flying sideways as the truck ploughed by it. It was gaining on them.

Dani looked towards Grace, terrified, and saw that the woman’s eyes were on her.

‘I know you’re scared,’ said Grace, her voice level, ‘but I’m here to protect you.’

Despite the circumstances, Grace’s words were comforting- spoken so confidently even as a monster bore down on them. Tears nearly came to Dani’s eyes, but she swallowed them back. ‘Why us?’ She asked, glancing at Diego.

Grace yanked the wheel and they were thrown sideways to avoid another car. When they’d regained speed Grace replied. ‘You, Dani. You’re my mission.’

Me?’ Dani said in shock. Grace’s words from earlier came back to her- they’d come from the future, she’d said, she and the Rev-9 both. For her? But why?

There wasn’t time to ask further questions. Diego grabbed Dani’s arm and she saw in shock that they were approaching an intersection at top speed- an intersection blocked completely by a long, slow-moving truck on the intersecting road.

Dani and Diego were thrown forwards in their seats as Grace hit the brakes. The woman didn’t hesitate for a second. She yanked the car into reverse and turned to steer over her shoulder as they accelerated backwards. Dani was keenly aware of Grace’s arm on the seat above her head and the woman’s breath on her cheek. They sped towards the approaching truck, and Dani’s heart jumped into her throat- then Grace twisted the steering wheel and car skidded and turned, for a second balancing alarmingly on two wheels, and they were reversing down the freeway ramp.

Dani’s nerves, by this point, were completely shot, so it concerned her only slightly to notice that they were reversing down the exit ramp for the freeway, travelling in the opposite direction to any oncoming traffic. Of greater concern was the truck, which had veered to follow them onto the freeway and was now bearing down on them with quickly increasing speed. The engines of the two vehicles roared, filling the air with noise and fumes.

A car smashed into Grace’s door as it passed them, knocking the door clean off and jolting the car worryingly. It hit the pursuing truck and was thrown off the ramp completely, bonnet crumpled from impact. Grace held the steering wheel grimly, keeping them on course. As they exited the ramp onto the freeway she yanked the wheel to the side once more, sending the car spinning around and crashing into the barrier. Dani yelled from shock at the impact, grabbing at Grace’s arm.

Grace was already shifting the car into drive and accelerating forwards. She’d turned them to face in the right direction with the traffic, Dani realised, knowing the truck wouldn’t be able to change course so quickly.

But the Rev-9 had no care for human life, and a truck that massive has no care for obstacles. Dani turned and watched in horrified awe as the truck curved on a large radius, crashing through barriers and sending cars flying as it laboriously turned to chase them. They were moving fast, now, but the truck was increasing speed too. It was on the parallel road to theirs, smashing through oncoming traffic in its pursuit. Dani tried not to think about the people in those cars, the families, the children- the people who might die because they had chosen this road on which to try and outrun a monster.

Guilt could wait for later.

‘Go fast, go faster!’ Diego said desperately as the truck neared exactly parallel from them. Grace’s foot was already against the floor, and Dani didn’t miss the irritated look she shot Diego. But he was right to worry. A blue car separated them from the truck on the internal lane, and the driver- a young man- shot Dani a bemused look which shifted to horror as he saw the truck smash sideways through the central barrier towards them. The blue car was pinned between them and the truck, and they were forced against the external barrier. Metal screeched against concrete and Dani screamed.

Somehow, impossibly, Grace accelerated the car out from between the barrier and the blue car, which trailed to a stop behind them. Dani made a silent prayer for the young male driver and twisted back to look behind. The truck was on their tail again- and it was gaining rapidly.

‘Fuck,’ yelled Grace as warning lights started to blink on the car’s dashboard. It was the first time Dani had heard her really sound scared. It wasn’t comforting.

Then the truck was on them. ‘No- no!’ Dani cried as it crashed into the back of them, shaking the vehicle and propelling them forward. Diego’s arm went around her, trying to shield her from the impact.

Grace swore again.

The truck crashed into them a second time, harder, and a sob rose in Dani’s throat. ‘Oh my god,’ she said weakly.

Grace wasn’t looking at the road in front of them anymore- something in the back had caught her attention. ‘Drive,’ she snapped to Dani suddenly.

Dani stared at her, uncomprehending. ‘What?’

‘Can you drive?’

‘Well- yes, I can, but I- I mean-‘

‘Then drive.’ Grace grabbed Dani’s hands and pulled them onto the steering wheel.

Controlling a trashed car from the middle seat wasn’t easy, and Dani struggled with the unwieldy steering. ‘Where am I driving to?’

‘Away from that.’ Grace shrugged off her blue shirt, exposing a white singlet underneath and pair of heavily muscled arms. She leaned out of the car window over the open road, gazing back at the truck.

Dani had to drag her eyes away from Grace’s strong shoulders to focus on the road. Now is not the time, Dani. ‘Grace, what are you doing?’

Gripping the doorway, Grace hesitated for just a moment. ‘Put your seatbelts on!’ She called back, and then she launched herself out, flipping over the roof and landing in a crouch in the back of the four-wheeler. In the rear-view mirror Dani saw her slowly rise, wielding a serrated metal pole in each hand.

Chapter Text

While driving, Grace’s mind had been in turmoil. How had this rescue mission gone so wrong? How was she going to get Dani out of this? Her only goal, her only desire was to keep Dani alive- and it was barely more than blind luck that she’d succeeded so far. But now, balanced on the back of a lurching car with only a metal pole clutched in each hand, she felt calm. This is what she was made for. This was familiar territory. Just her and a terminator, staring each other down.

The tiny electronic chip implanted in her eye focused a blue target on the Rev-9’s head as she leaned back, aiming the first pole. It had taken time to get used to the cues and calculations thrown up by her digital implants- her first days as an augment had been confusing, headache-inducing chaos- but by now it was as natural as walking. Grace launched the first pole and then the second in quick succession. The first broke through the windshield and pierced the driver’s seat just centimetres from the Rev-9. The second flew true, breaking through the windshield directly in front of the terminator’s face- but his free arm shot up and caught it before it could so much as scratch him.

Grace was already reaching for two more poles from the pile rattling at her feet, and with a grunt of effort she launched both at once. They smashed through the windscreen, and both found their mark and impaled the Rev-9 through his torso. The terminator didn’t flinch. His functioning apparently unaffected by the two poles penetrating his upper body, he used the pole still held in his free hand to clear the remaining glass from the windshield and then tossed it out onto the road.

Grace had known the poles wouldn’t kill the terminator, but she had hoped they would slow him down. That hope was gone. She reconsidered swiftly, weighing another pole in her hand- and then pitched it towards the front engine of the truck. It buried itself in the metal and some form of gas or liquid exploded, hissing from the front- but the truck continued to barrel towards them, and with a sinking feeling Grace realised the sabotage was too late.

The Rev-9 grasped one of the poles still wedged in his chest, and his skin began to roll off him along the pole in ripples of liquid grey metal. It seeped along and off the end of the pole and began to form the crouching figure of a human on the bonnet of the truck. As the liquid metal settled into human form it once again took on the colour and texture of human skin and clothing. A dark grey endoskeleton with red eyes remained in the driver’s seat, continuing to control the truck as the now fully formed terminator on the bonnet raised its head and fixated on Dani. Grace saw Dani’s eyes watching it in the rear-view mirror, wide with horror.

Grace had fought Rev-9s only a few times before in the future. They were a newer model of terminator, still few in number compared to the older models, but you learnt of this particular trick quickly- or you died. The Rev-9’s unique ability to split into two forms- endoskeleton and liquid metal- had fast become legendary. They were a bitch to kill even with the right weapons, and all Grace had was a few metal poles.

But failure on this mission wasn’t an option.

As the terminator reached to grab one of the poles impaled in the driver’s seat Grace took a final pole from at her feet and threw it towards the left tyre of the truck. It caught, and spun, the tyre alighting with orange flames from friction with the road, and the truck veered into the freeway barrier, and then to the opposite side and began to roll. In the same moment the terminator leaped from the truck bonnet into the air, pole clutched in its right hand, and flung the pole towards their car- aimed directly at the back of Dani’s seat.

Grace reacted instinctively, throwing up her arm to knock the spear off course mid-air. It ripped open her skin as it glanced off, and she heard it puncture through the front seat but knew without looking that it hadn’t hit Dani. There wasn’t time to glance back and check. The terminator had landed with its hands clutching the back of their four-wheeler, scrabbling to climb up as its body dragged along the road. A large red toolkit sat in the corner of the boot. It was as heavy as it looked, Grace noted appreciatively, and she clubbed the terminator in the face with it.

The terminator was thrown backwards by the impact, its right spear-like arm flapping ineffectually. But the other hand still gripped the edge of the boot. Grace stomped at it, hard, but it only readjusted its grip- then leaned forward with its spear-arm and slashed the back tyres of their car. The car swerved wildly as Dani struggled to regain control of the steering, and for a moment Grace could only hold on for dear life. Then, regaining her balance, she kicked out the back panel of the boot with a grunt.

The terminator, taken by surprise, fell backwards with the panel onto the open road, reaching one hand out as it was swallowed by the wheels of a car behind them with a sickening crunch.

 


 

After the back wheel had blown out, steering the car had become nearly impossible. At that point Dani had lost track of Grace’s fight with the terminator- she couldn’t risk glancing back to check on them when just keeping the car on a straight course took all her concentration and strength. So when she heard the front wheel blow out only moments later, she knew they were in trouble. Diego reached to try and help her with the steering wheel, but it was too late.

Dani swore loudly, but her voice was lost in the screeching of metal against metal. The car swerved dangerously, and Dani yanked the wheel to correct it, but their vehicle was past the point of no return. She saw the freeway barrier milliseconds before they collided with it and threw her arms up to protect her face. Diego, she thought desperately, and then Grace- the woman was still on the back of the car- and then they hit the barrier with an impact that sent pain shooting through every nerve in her body and she felt the car spin, and then crash into something else, and her entire world became movement and noise and fear- until suddenly it wasn’t.

The car jolted to a stop. Dani’s head spun, and she felt blood trickle down the side of her face. Her mind felt sluggish as she mentally checked her body for injuries. It was very quiet, all of a sudden- except for Diego coughing next to her.

Wet, gasping coughs.

‘Diego?’ whispered Dani, looking towards him. The world seemed very bright, and she felt strangely as if she was hovering above the car, looking down at herself as she looked towards her baby brother and saw the metal pole piercing through the front of his chest.

Blood trickled out of his mouth. ‘I’m okay,’ he gasped, but he wasn’t.

Everything was moving too quickly and too slowly all at once. Dani reached for the pole and then pulled her hand back, grabbing his arm instead. It was too deeply impaled in his chest. She couldn’t have moved it even if she wanted to, couldn’t risk doing something wrong. Looking at Diego’s face she felt his pain in her own chest, as if she was the one who had been stabbed. ‘Grace,’ she cried, scanning the road around them for the only source of help they had.Grace!

She finally spotted Grace through the passenger window. The blonde woman was slowly climbing to her feet from the ground, but at the sound of Dani’s yell she came running.

Pathetic relief flushed through Dani. ‘Help me, please, it’s Diego-’

Grace leaned through the car window over Diego and pushed him back into the seat gently. Dani held Diego’s hands tightly, watching his face screw up in pain. ‘It’s okay,’ she murmured, ‘it’s okay- please, Grace, take him out-’

‘I can’t.’ Grace’s voice was soft.

‘What?’ Tears came to Dani’s eyes. Seeing Grace unmoving, she reached for the pole herself, determined to free her brother. He couldn’t stay here, with a pole through his chest. She wouldn’t let it happen.

Don’t,’ Grace said, catching Dani’s hand. ‘If you move it, he will bleed out.’ A sudden sound caught Grace’s attention- the sound of an engine revving in the distance. She turned her eyes to Dani, apologetic but resolute. ‘Dani, we have to go.’

Dani couldn’t think. The car accelerating towards them didn’t seem to matter. Nothing mattered but Diego, and his pain, and the danger he was in. She wrapped her arms around him, tears running down her cheeks. ‘I’m not leaving him,’ she sobbed.

She felt Diego shift beside her- he had turned to Grace. ‘Take her,’ he gasped, ‘save her.’

No,’ cried Dani as Grace reached for her, pulling Dani tightly into her arms. She heard Grace apologising, but the words were meaningless. ‘Please,’ she sobbed, reaching for Diego but Grace was too strong, ripping her from her brother and lifting her through the car window.

Then the car was upon them. Grace swung Dani out of danger just in time, kneeling over the smaller woman and shielding her with her own body from the explosion as the two cars collided behind them. One of Grace’s arms was wound around Dani’s waist, the other on the back of her head. Dani clung to Grace, her eyes squeezed shut- and then she opened them and saw the flaming wreckage of their car rolling to a stop metres away.

‘No,’ said Dani, unbelieving, letting Grace help her to her feet. ‘No-’ she stumbled towards the wreck, searching for any impossible signs of life, grief exploding through her chest. Wind tossed her hair as she started to run ‘Diego,’ she screamed in desperation- he couldn’t be gone, not her brother, no- ‘Diego, no, Diego-

‘Dani- ’ Grace had caught her from behind, her arms once again wrapped around her- stopping her from getting to her brother- Dani fought her, and screamed at her, not even knowing what she was saying, just desperate to reach her brother, desperate to make this woman go away-

‘Dani. Dani, stop.’ Grace forcefully turned Dani to look at her, her concerned voice becoming harsh.

‘Why did you do that,’ Dani cried, images flashing through her mind- Diego, alive- Grace, leaving him to die- why had she saved her and not Diego, why was he dead-

Grace shook her, forcing Dani to meet her eyes ‘Dani, we have to go- if we don’t, Diego died for nothing.’

The words were like a fresh wound, and Dani crumbled. ‘No, no, Diego…’ She didn’t respond, couldn’t look Grace in the eye, but when Grace took her arm and dragged her away from the wreck, she let herself be pulled away. Every time she thought of Diego, remembering his face in those final moments, agonising pain shot through her heart, but she couldn’t think of anything else. She cried silently as Grace hurried her along the road.

But below the grief, anger simmered.

This was not Grace’s fault, she realised even through her grief. This was that machine’s fault- the one Grace had been protecting them from. The one Grace was still protecting her from. Where was it?

It was behind them.

‘Run,’ said Grace, and they ran. Dani twisted her head back to look, and through the tears still blurring her vision she saw the terminator walk straight through one of the barriers, the liquid metal comprising its body melting and seeping through to reform on the other side.

Suddenly, Grace’s hand on her arm tightened and yanked her back. A pole speared the ground where she had been about to step. Dani yelped from shock as she was pulled off balance, but Grace steadied her, her arms encircling Dani protectively. From the opposite direction the endoskeleton of the Rev-9 approached, its red eyes gleaming.

Grace pushed Dani behind her and wrenched the pole from the ground, backing up until Dani was pressed against the barrier of the road. They had fled onto a section of the freeway suspended high above the ground, forming a bridge over another road. Grace glanced backwards, assessing the distance, and Dani saw her forehead crease in frustration. It was too high to jump, even for Grace. They were trapped.

The terminator walked steadily towards them, face impassive. Its human arm melted and reformed as a long, sharp blade.

Grace’s head snapped from the terminator to the endoskeleton and back. She shifted on her feet, raising the metal pole in front of her. ‘When they start to kill me, run,’ she said, in a voice that was far too level considering the circumstances.

What?’ panted Dani, and opened her mouth to protest- then sound of a car engine accelerating filled the silence on the bridge.

An armoured red car swerved out from behind a cluster of car wrecks, hurtling towards the Rev-9’s endoskeleton at dangerous speed. The endoskeleton twisted to face the car, raising a pole in its hands, but reacted too late- the red car smashed into it, knocking the pole from its hands and sending it skidding across the road.

Then the red car spun to a stop, brakes screeching, and someone inside the car kicked the door open.

Chapter Text

A woman wearing combat gear and sunglasses stepped from the car, wielding a very large gun. She looked to be in her fifties or sixties. Her hair was sheared off at shoulder length, and her steely gaze was fixed on the remaining terminator.

The terminator began to run. It ignored the older woman, sprinting towards Grace and Dani with single-minded focus. The woman fired her gun and blew a gaping hole in the terminator’s torso, then shoulder, then head - she fired into it again and again, but the machine continued to move. Grace readied her pole as it neared them and smashed it into the side of the terminator’s disfigured head, sending it staggering into the barrier- then she shoved it over the side of the bridge. Dani heard it crash into the ground far below.

Without breaking her stride the strange woman threw her gun to the ground and pulled out what looked to Dani like a small rocket launcher, bracing it against her shoulder. The Rev-9’s endoskeleton was lurching to its feet from where it had been thrown, its dark metal limbs shifting and clunking back into place. The woman fired, and the endoskeleton was thrown backwards in a small burst of fire.

The woman casually threw this second weapon to the ground with the first and walked past Dani and Grace to the side of the bridge. Still clutching the pole Grace backed away, keeping herself between the woman and Dani, who watched the stranger with intense curiosity. The woman glanced down at the terminator, which far below them was struggling to repair the damage to its body far below them. She pulled the pin from a grenade in her hand and tossed it down towards the damaged machine.

Grace grabbed Dani’s arm, yanking her away from the edge of the bridge.

‘I’ll be back,’ said the older woman with a faint smirk, and strolled away.

Grace pushed Dani further from the barrier and wrapped her arms around her from behind, leaning over Dani’s body to shield her as the grenade exploded. Heat scorched Grace’s back, and debris spiralled into the air behind them. As the smoke cleared Grace loosened her grip, but she kept one arm securely around Dani’s upper body. It felt safer to have Dani close to her.

‘Who the fuck is that?’ Dani asked.

‘I don’t know,’ panted Grace, her eyes on the woman’s receding form- ‘but we have to move.’

Grace could feel her strength leaving her. She’d been struggling since she was thrown from the car. Adrenaline and desperation had prolonged her last reserves of energy, but with each minute now her limbs seemed to grow heavier, her mind slower. She dragged Dani towards the woman’s car, snatching the woman’s abandoned gun from the ground.

Dani hesitated ‘We can’t just- Grace-’

Grace’s legs were shaking with each step, and the beginning of a pounding headache was stirring behind her forehead. There wasn’t time to explain to Dani the limits of her augmented body. She couldn’t protect Dani like this and she couldn’t risk trusting a stranger. That woman may have helped them but if she turned out to be a threat, or if the Rev-9 reformed quickly enough to reach them before they could run, they were dead.

‘Dani either we go now, or it kills you, it’s that simple,’ she snapped, harsher than she intended.

Dani climbed into the passenger seat.

 


 

Dani was silent as Grace drove, her mind in turmoil. She ran over the events of the past hours in her head, trying to make sense of them and fit them with her understanding of the world. But it didn’t make sense. None of it made sense. She kept her mind stubbornly away from any thoughts of Diego and his final moments, focusing instead on the terminator itself, that strange woman, and Grace.

Grace was breathing strangely beside her, panting for each breath. ‘Dani,’ she said hoarsely.

Dani didn’t respond. She knew the resentment boiling in her stomach was unfair- but it was hard not to feel anger towards the person who had dragged her away from her brother’s body. Tears sprung to her eyes again at the memory of Diego’s face, and she raised her hand to her face to catch them. She couldn’t take anymore of this. She couldn’t do this anymore.

‘Dani- I need some water- if you can maybe check in the back-’

‘I want to go home,’ Dani whispered. It hurt her even more that Grace wasn’t acknowledging her grief, that she didn’t even seem to care. More tears fell. ‘Take me home.’

‘We’re not doing that,’ said Grace quietly, adjusting her grip on the wheel.

‘I need to tell my father about Diego.’

‘It’s not possible.’

‘He doesn’t know about Diego.’ Dani’s voice cracked, strained with anguish. ‘I need to see my father!’

Grace’s face twisted with something Dani couldn’t identify. ‘Your father is dead.’

Dani froze. ‘What?’

There was a long moment of silence before Grace replied. She looked towards Dani with those terrible blue eyes, the lines between them furrowed with sympathy. ‘The Rev-9. It needs… physical contact, to copy people like that. They don’t… they don’t survive.’

Dani shook her head. ‘No,’ she said, watching Grace’s face, waiting desperately for her to say that it was a lie, or a cruel joke. ‘No,’ she said again. She felt like she was looking at Grace through a long tunnel, felt her vision retreating, as hysteria rose in her throat-

Grace’s gasps for breath become louder, yanking Dani back to cruel reality. The tall woman’s eyes fluttered, and her head began to dip.

‘Grace?’ Dani’s voice jolted Grace, and her head snapped back up. ‘What’s wrong with you?’

‘I’m- crashing,’ Grace panted.

Concern momentarily overcame Dani’s grief and she reached out to touch Grace’s arm- she felt the intense heat even before her hand came in contact with skin. ‘You’re burning up.’

‘My metabolism was only tuned for short… intense bursts. You either stop a terminator in the first few minutes…’ Grace shrugged helplessly, ‘or you’re dead.’ Her breathing became heavier, her eyes blinking. ‘I need… meds, I need-’

Dani realised what was happening before it happened. She threw herself across Grace to grab the steering wheel as Grace’s arms went slack and her head lolled. The car swerved across the centre of the road and Dani yanked it back on course, steering it towards the edge of the road. They mounted the curb as Dani reached across Grace with her leg and slammed her foot onto the brake. The abrupt stop hurled Grace and Dani forwards, and Grace woke with a gasp.

Dani engaged the handbrake and collapsed back in her seat. What a joke it would be, if they survived all of that only to die in a car accident. The thought nearly made her laugh, and then she remembered Diego and it became a sob.

‘Dani?’ Grace’s voice was confused.

Dani closed her eyes briefly, regaining her composure and trying to think. Opening them, she scanned the streets around the car. In the distance she could see a pair of policemen standing at a nearby intersection. Suddenly things seemed very simple. If that thing came after them again they would need protection, and Grace needed a doctor. The police could help.

Dani climbed out of the car and started towards the police officers.

‘No- ’ Grace somehow stumbled out of the driver’s door, clinging to the car for support as she tried to follow. She only made it a few steps from the car before her legs gave out and she fell to one knee. ‘Dani, get back in the car- I have to protect you-’

The statement seemed so ridiculous it stopped Dani in her tracks. ‘Grace, you can’t even walk. I’m going to the police. They can help.’

‘No,’ Grace shook her head. Her breathing was strained. ‘No, they can’t. Dani… if you put a hundred cops between you and a terminator, you’ll only end up with a hundred dead cops. It will kill anyone in its way.’

Images of the terminator smashing through innocent people’s cars on the freeway sprang unbidden to Dani’s mind, and her mouth twisted with repressed grief. ‘Like Diego was in its way? Like my father was?’

Grace’s head drooped. ‘Yes.’

Dani turned back to look at the policemen, who were laughing as they talked. If the terminator came for her while she was with them, it would almost certainly kill them. Knowing that, could she really condemn them to death?

The answer came easily. No. Enough people had died for her today.

Dani stalked back towards the car, newfound determination coursing through her. Grace sagged with relief as Dani approached. Her eyes were unfocused as Dani crouched to slip an arm under her shoulders, supporting Grace as she staggered to her feet. Dani could feel the heat emanating off Grace’s skin even through their clothes. She took as much of Grace’s weight as she could as they walked to the car, huffing from the effort- Grace weighed more than even someone her height had any right to. She’d be in trouble if Grace ever completely passed out.

‘Oh, no you don’t,’ muttered Dani as Grace went to get back into the driver’s seat. ‘Here.’ She used her elbow to open the back passenger door and kicked it fully open, pushing Grace inside. ‘I’m driving. Lie down.’

Grace’s face was worryingly pale. ‘My meds-’

‘We’ll get them.’ Dani shut the door behind her and climbed into the driver’s seat, adjusting the rear-view mirror so she could keep an eye on Grace, who was struggling to sit up. ‘What do you need?’

 


 

Dani had always found taking care of people to be an excellent distraction from life’s problems. It was much easier to suppress fears and emotions for someone else’s sake rather than your own, and her grief and terror subsided- at least temporarily- in light of Grace’s desperate need for assistance. From the moment this had all started, Grace had protected Dani selflessly. Now, Dani would return the favour. She would get Grace some water and whatever fucking medications she needed- and she wouldn’t let Grace do anything stupid in the meantime.

Grace had rambled off a list of drugs Dani had never heard of, and Dani had found a piece of paper and a pen in the glovebox- beside a small handgun- and forced her to write them down. The handwriting was loose and messy, but legible. Barely.

‘I’m coming with you,’ gasped Grace as Dani parked just around the corner from a chemist. Dani wasn’t sure how this little shopping trip would go, but she had a feeling it might be better to park out of sight.

‘No, you’re not.’ Dani’s voice left no room for debate. ‘I’ll be back soon.’ She grabbed a dirty canvas shopping bag from the car floor and slipped the handgun into it.

‘If the terminator comes back…’

‘Then I’ll die. What are you going to do? Fall on it?’

Dani got out before Grace could reply, slamming the door and locking the car behind her. Even if Grace tried to follow- which she probably would- she wouldn’t be able get far. She heard a thump from inside the car as she turned away but didn’t look back.

Despite her brash words, Dani scanned the crowds of people nervously as she hurried along the footpath, praying silently that the terminator would not appear, and that all the drugs Grace needed would be found at the chemist. She tried not to think about what she might have to do to get those drugs. Just keep moving, she thought. Just keep going forward. The gun was a heavy weight in her bag.

The chemist, thankfully, was mostly empty of people except for two employees and a bored looking man and woman seated in the waiting area. Dani tried to look innocent as she walked in. She made her way quickly along the short rows of shelves, scanning the lines of medications for the names Grace had mentioned, but none jumped out at her. Her heart thumped harder in her chest. Okay. There was a drinks fridge in the corner, and Dani went to that first and shoved six or seven bottle of water in her bag. Then she approached the counter.

The young man behind the counter smiled at her in good humour, raising an eyebrow. ‘You thirsty?’

Dani couldn’t bring herself to smile in return. ‘I need these,’ she said, shoving Grace’s handwritten list towards him.

The young man frowned as he began to read out loud. ‘An anti-convulsant… insulin… benzodiazepine...’ he trailed off. ‘Miss, do you have a doctor's prescription for these?’ Behind him, the other employee- an older man- had turned to stare at her.

Dani felt for the handgun in her bag. ‘Yes, actually,’ she said, and pulled it out.

The young man’s face went ashen at the sight of the gun. His hand dropped instinctively to under the counter, but Dani brandished the gun at him and he stumbled back.

No panic button,’ she snapped. ‘No police.’ She wondered if they could hear her voice shaking. ‘I just want the meds. Get them and I’ll leave. Please.’ She hesitated. ‘Lots of each.’

Neither of the employees moved.

Get them,’ she cried, her voice becoming shrill.

‘Okay lady, okay,’ the younger man said, backing away. He looked at the list again, his hands shaking. ‘Okay,’ he repeated to himself.

Dani remembered the pair sitting in the waiting area, and swung the gun around to point at them. The man had his phone raised to his ear.

‘Put it down,’ hissed Dani in panic, and he threw it to the floor in fright.

‘I’m sorry!’ he blurted and sat abruptly back down. The woman clutched at his arm, staring at Dani in terror. For a moment, horrible guilt wracked Dani- what was she doing? How could she do this to these people? But then she remembered Grace’s white face and feverish eyes, and her resolve returned.

Dani swung back towards the counter. The young man was piling a white plastic bag full with medications from behind the counter. The older employee was inching towards where Dani suspected the panic button was- he retreated under Dani’s withering glare, but answered with his own in kind.

Rows of snacks lined the counter. After a second’s hesitation, Dani used her elbow to sweep a pile of muesli bars and chip packets into her canvas bag on top of the waters. The man and woman in the waiting area gave her a very confused look.

‘Miss- here,’ the young man’s voice quavered as he held out the bag to Dani. She reached across the counter and snatched it with her gun hand, the contents clattering as they moved. She wanted to check what he’d given her but knew she didn’t have time.

‘Is this what I asked for?’ She met the young man’s eyes, searching them for truth, letting desperation creep into her voice. ‘Please. It’s for my friend.’

His bottom lip shook. He nodded.

Dani’s guilt returned in full strength. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. She backed slowly towards the door, a bag on each arm, still holding the gun and pointing it from person to person. They stood like statues watching her. When she felt her boot hit the footpath outside, she turned and started to run.

Noise exploded in the chemist behind her as she fled. She ducked around the corner just as the older employee burst out the door, no doubt scanning the street for her and any vehicle she got into. A few people turned to look curiously as Dani pounded down the footpath towards the red car and she forced herself to slow down. She didn’t want to attract any unneeded attention to her- or their car. Surprisingly, Grace wasn’t waiting on the street outside the car as Dani had expected. She unlocked the car with a beep and leapt into the driver’s seat, shutting the door quickly. She turned to look behind her, dropping the bags onto the passenger seat.

‘Grace?’

Grace was sprawled across the back seat unmoving, her eyes closed. For a horrifying moment Dani thought she was dead- but no, her chest was moving with shallow, infrequent breaths.

‘Grace- I got your meds- are you okay?’ Dani reached back to shake her gently, but Grace was unresponsive.

A police siren sounded in the distance.

‘Fuck,’ Dani whispered. They couldn’t stay here. She gave Grace a long, worried look, and then she shifted the car into drive.

Chapter Text

It was over an hour before Dani felt safe to stop the car.

She took them far out of metropolitan Mexico city and into the outer rural suburbs, avoiding main roads as much as possible. Her hands shook as she drove, terrified that at any moment the blare of police sirens would sound behind them. Somebody must have seen her leave the chemist and get into this car, and eventually they’d come forward. Even if no one remembered the licence plate, a security camera somewhere would have picked it up. It might take time but eventually the police would put the pieces together and start searching for this car- Dani was certain of it. They had to get somewhere where they wouldn’t be found easily. Away from police, cameras, and concerned bystanders. She also wanted to put as much distance as possible between them and the terminator- assuming it was still alive.

So Dani drove, and kept driving, until the properties they passed were separated by kilometres instead of metres, and traffic around them faded to only the occasional dusty off-roader powering by. Eventually a deserted car-stop appeared to their right and Dani rolled into it, exhaling deeply with relief. She’d tried not to worry too much about Grace as she drove, but anxiety had risen slowly until she couldn’t think about anything else. How much did Grace need those drugs? Could she die if she didn’t get them soon enough? Only the sight of Grace’s chest rising and falling shallowly with each breath in the rear-view mirror had kept her sane

Dani grabbed the white bag of drugs from the passenger seat and climbed out of the car. She went first to the road, peering in each direction. There wasn’t a person or car in sight. Good. If the police or the terminator managed to track them here she’d see them coming from miles away. She turned back to the car and pulled open the passenger door by Grace’s head, crouching down next to her.

‘Grace? Grace, can you hear me?’

Unsurprisingly, Grace didn’t respond. Dani pressed a hand to the woman’s forehead- her skin was still frighteningly hot to touch but didn’t seem any worse than earlier. Grace’s eyes flickered beneath her eyelids, like she was dreaming, and Dani saw her fists were clenched.

‘What are you dreaming about?’ Dani wondered out loud. By the look of the slight frown on Grace’s face, nothing good.

‘I hope you realise I have no idea how much of these you need.’ Dani sat on the floor of the backseat next to Grace, her feet resting on the ground outside. She pulled the first container her fingers found out of the white plastic bag and frowned at it, turning it over. No instructions. No clear dosage recommendations. Great. Dani considered her options for a moment. Purely guessing the dose was unlikely to work- she might give too little to be effective, or too much and accidentally kill Grace.

Pulling out her phone, Dani googled the first drug name, ‘benzodiazepine’ and after a a slight pause added ‘maximum safe dosage human’. She screenshotted the first reputable page of recommendations she found, and then repeated for each of the other drugs in the bag. There. This way at least she wouldn’t kill the unconscious woman. The young man from the chemist had thrown a packet of unused syringes in the bag too, and Dani sent him out a silent thank you. If she survived this, she would find a way to make it up to him.

That was beginning to seem like a big ‘if’.

Carefully, after then googling ‘how to give injections’, Dani injected Grace with each of the meds in turn. It took some force to shove the needle through the mesh grating under Grace’s skin- Dani broke more than one needle trying. But finally it was done.

Dani slumped back against the seat and watched Grace’s face, wondering how long it would take for the drugs to work their magic. Grace’s expression was one of tense concentration even in unconsciousness- she couldn’t seem to relax even in her sleep. Who was this woman? What was she? She said she’d come from the future- Dani still wasn’t sure if she believed that, but it seemed more plausible with each passing hour. If that was true, why had she decided to come back and protect Dani? Had it even been her choice?

What had she left behind, in the future? Did she have a family? A partner?

Grace was beautiful, Dani thought. Not in a classically defined or feminine way- hers was a raw, unfiltered kind of beauty, without effort or pretence. It was different. It was hard to look away from.

Pale, symmetrical white lines criss-crossed Grace’s skin. They ran under her eyes and her chin, and along her muscular shoulders and arms. Dani had noticed them earlier but hadn’t had time to wonder about them. Scars, she realised peering closer. She gently traced one on Grace’s shoulder with her finger, tracking the slightly raised line along Grace’s skin to her wrist. She was sure the scars ran the length of Grace’s body, although she didn’t look to check. They were too precise, too neatly placed to be accidental. Augmented, Grace had called herself. Had that caused the scars? The mesh under Grace’s skin had to have been put there somewhere. Briefly, Dani imagined her skin being peeled back to place the mesh and shuddered with revulsion. What else had been done to this woman, to give her such strength and speed? And why?

It didn’t paint a pretty picture of the future.

Dani sighed. She suspected that trying to figure out the events of the past hours would be an exercise in futility- there were too many unanswered questions, too many moving pieces. Like the woman they’d stolen the car from- was she also from the future? No, there was no use in guessing. She would quiz Grace when the woman finally woke up.

If she wakes up, a small voice whispered in Dani’s head. She pointedly ignored it.

The sound of a car approaching at speed startled Dani to her feet. She whipped around to see a truck roar past them, thankfully without slowing. Dani took a deep breath, trying to calm her nerves. She’d stopped too long. They couldn’t risk staying in one place long, not with Grace still unconscious. If the police, or the terminator caught up with them with Grace still like this- Dani squeezed her eyes shut, trying to banish the thoughts. It was time to move. But first... 

Dani walked around to the car boot and heaved it open- it was filled ubiquitous black duffel bags. Unzipping one, Dani found a stack of guns, and raised her eyebrows. Useful if fighting a terminator, though potentially a bad look if the police did catch them. Searching the other bags, she found one with spare clothes, all of the same generic combat variety the older woman had worn. Dani grabbed a jacket from the top of the pile, then shut the boot and walked back to where Grace lay. She folded up the jacket and carefully lifted Grace’s head to slide it underneath as a pillow. The tall woman stirred slightly but did not wake. Her skin seemed cooler, Dani noticed with relief.

Dani carefully closed the door by Grace's head. Then she climbed back into the driver’s seat and turned the car onto the road.

 


 

 

It was too quiet in the car with Grace out cold. The radio was an option, but Dani wasn’t sure if she could bear to listed to the shallow, inane chatter of radio hosts, or bubbly pop music. But she also could barely stand the thoughts in her own head. Without the distraction of needing to get out of the city, or of needing to care for Grace, time suddenly seemed to pass agonisingly slowly. Each minute was another minute lived in this world without her father and Diego, another minute where she was completely alone but for an unconscious stranger in the back seat. She had watched Diego die. Her father was dead too, if Grace was right. Who was going to bury them, without her? Who would organise the funeral, or speak about their lives?

Diego’s body may not even be identifiable after that crash. Would anyone even know he had died? What condition would her father’s body be in? She hoped his death was quick. She hoped he hadn’t known it was coming. She wondered if Taco was still alive. He’d been with their family since he was a little puppy- who would feed him now? Would she ever see him again?

Each new realisation was like a sharp, tearing pain in Dani’s heart. Tears leaked silently down her cheeks as she drove. She tasted salt as they caught in the corner of her mouth, and felt them run under her chin. She took a deep, shaky breath, trying to control her crying. It didn’t work. She didn’t want to make any noise, didn’t want Grace to wake up. Grace needed to rest, and Dani didn’t want the woman to see her like this. She hated crying in front of other people. She needed to be strong.

God, but where was she even going? She didn’t know where the hell they were, or where the terminator was- and the police were just as big of a concern. Fighting off a terminator was one thing- the police were another. They were people doing their job; she couldn’t just shoot at them or run them over. But if they arrested her and Grace she’d be a sitting duck when the Rev-9 arrived, and any police around would probably end up dead too. So what could she do?

And what about the Rev-9 itself? Even that older woman’s huge gun had barely made a dent in it. Grace had been able to hold it off for a while, but the effort had nearly killed her- would have killed her, if not for the arrival of the older woman. She would have died because of Dani. So many people had been hurt or died today, because of Dani. If the terminator had just killed her back in the workshop none of this would have happened. Then Diego would still be alive.

A sob burst from Dani’s throat, and she put her hand to her mouth to stifle any further sounds.

There was a rustling sound from the back seat, and Dani saw Grace rise slowly into a sitting position, wincing and rubbing her face with her hands. Relief washed through Dani in spite of her misery.

‘Dani?’ Grace’s voice was hoarse.

Dani took a deep breath, trying to calm herself. She didn’t want to bother Grace by showing how upset she was. ‘You should have some water,’ she said in a whisper, knowing that if she spoke any louder her voice would betray her. She grabbed a bottle and handed it backwards without turning her head.

Grace groaned in thanks and gulped the water in about ten seconds. She reached past Dani for another- and then hesitated.

‘Dani?’ her voice was stronger now and sounded concerned. ‘Dani, look at me.’

Dani kept her face pointed stubbornly forwards. ‘I’m driving,’ she tried to say evenly, but her treacherous voice cracked. ‘I’m fine. You should eat something. Grace- what are you-’

Grace was climbing through the gap between the front seats into the passenger seat, a feat she accomplished with surprising gracefulness considering her ridiculously long limbs. She leaned towards Dani, one hand on the back of her seat, wearing a worried expression. Which was just her normal expression, really.

Dani bit her lip, trying to stop the tears. They kept coming.

‘Dani, pull over.’ Grace’s voice was soft but firm.

Dani pulled over to the side of the road. She still couldn’t look at Grace. Seeing her grief reflected in those large, sympathetic blue eyes would be too much. Instead Dani leant her forehead forwards onto the steering wheel, still gripping it with both hands, and squeezed her eyes shut. She tried to push down the pain, tried to hold back the wave of grief. Not now. Not here.

She felt Grace’s hand stroke her shoulder. ‘I’m sorry,’ was all Grace said.

The unexpected tenderness in Grace’s voice and touch cracked Dani’s restraint, and the sobs broke through in earnest, noisy and uncontrollable. She shook with them, with all the fear and grief she’d been pushing down, tears streaming down her face. Grace pulled Dani away from the steering wheel and into her arms, as closely as she could from other seat. She didn’t say anything- just held Dani tightly as she cried, rocking her slightly. Dani’s face was pressed against Grace’s bare shoulder, and she clutched one of Grace’s arms with her hands.

Gradually, Dani’s crying eased, petering back into silent tears. Dani’s face flushed red as she regained control of herself and she drew away, avoiding Grace’s eyes. She grabbed a packet of tissues from the glovebox to clean her face.

‘Sorry,’ she said.

‘You don’t have to apologise.’ Grace hesitated. ‘Are you- okay?’

Dani’s face twisted in response to the question into an expression somewhere between crying and laughing.

Grace winced. ‘Stupid question.’

‘No, it’s okay.’ Dani blew her nose and took a long breath, feeling much calmer- and embarrassed. ‘I’m fine. Really. I was just a bit overwhelmed, that’s all. With everything.’

Grace nodded, looking like she wasn’t sure what to say. An awkward moment of silence passed between them. Grace looked around, scanning the empty road. ‘Where are we?’

Dani shrugged. She felt strange. She felt empty now, rather than distraught- but also comforted by Grace’s presence. God, it made such a difference having her awake to talk to. ‘I’m not sure, honestly. I thought we should put some distance between us and the terminator- and the police. I didn’t want to risk getting arrested.’

‘Why would the police be looking for us?’

Dani stared at her. ‘Grace, we just tore apart the inside of my workplace, took part in a very violent car chase, stole some woman’s car, and then I robbed a chemist. They kind of have their pick of reasons.’

‘You robbed a chemist?’

‘They don’t exactly hand out the kind of drugs you need! Why are you smiling?’

‘Sorry.’ Grace was looking at Dani with an expression Dani couldn’t work out- it wasn’t quite amusement, or surprise, or happiness, but somewhere in between. It was the first time since Dani had known Grace that she hadn't looked stressed. ‘Dani?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Thank you.’

Dani ducked her head. ‘I should be thanking you. I think you saved my life about a hundred times back there- least I could do was get you some meds.’

‘You don’t have to thank me for protecting you.’

‘Why not?’

Grace pressed her lips together. ‘We should get moving.’

‘Grace- why are you protecting me? Why is that thing trying to kill me?’

Grace avoided Dani’s eyes. ‘I can’t tell you.’

‘Why not? Don’t I deserve to know?’ Dani’s frustration rose.

‘It’s not about deserving-’

‘Then what is it about? Grace, I need- what is it?’

Grace had frozen, her eyes on the car’s side mirror. In the small reflective surface, a car was visible in the distance- approaching quickly.

Dani’s reached quickly release the brake, getting ready to make an escape, but then Grace’s hand was on hers, stopping her. Dani’s hand tingled under Grace’s fingers. She looked towards Grace in confusion. ‘Shouldn’t we…?’

‘It’s not the Rev-9.’ Grace had twisted around to squint at the approaching car. She turned back to Dani, her brow furrowed. ‘It’s the woman.’

Dani was firstly relieved- and then confused. ‘How did she find us?’

‘I don’t know. But I’m about to find out.’

Chapter Text

Grace retrieved a gun from the boot of the car, loading and cocking it with practiced ease. She levelled the gun at the driver’s window of the car as it rolled to a stop beside them, positioning herself in front of Dani. It was a station wagon, smaller than the red car Grace and Dani had stolen. Dani watched curiously from behind Grace as the older woman opened the door and stepped out, seemingly unconcerned by the gun pointed at her. She lounged back against her car, inspecting Dani with a frown through mirrored sunglasses.

‘I save your ass, and you steal my truck. Nice.’ The woman’s gaze shifted to Grace. ‘So, you’re here to protect her. What are you? I’ve never seen one like you before. Almost human.’

Grace tensed in anger. ‘I am human. Just enhanced.’

‘What the hell does that mean?’

‘It means I can rip your throat out if you piss me off, so don’t.’

The woman scoffed. ‘Lovely. And when are you from?’

‘2042. Your turn.’

The woman removed her sunglasses so she could meet Grace’s eyes. ‘My name is Sarah Connor. Heard of me?’

‘No.’

‘Good. When I was about her age-’ Sarah nodded towards Dani- ‘a terminator was sent to kill me- to stop the birth of my son John, the future leader of the resistance.’

‘Which resistance?’

‘The human resistance. Against Skynet.’

‘What’s Skynet?’ Dani spoke up for the first time, brow furrowed as she tried to follow the conversation.

Grace glanced back at Dani, eyes automatically scanning her up and down as if to check she was unhurt. As if she were in great danger, standing by the side of an empty road behind Grace. ‘I don’t know. I’ve never heard of it.’

Sarah smiled. On her, the expression was scary. ‘John and I made sure of that. We changed the future, and saved over three billion lives. You’re welcome.’

‘Where’s John now?’ Dani immediately regretted the innocent question- a dark cloud settled across Sarah’s face.

‘He’s gone,’ she snapped. ‘These days I work as a freelancer, and I drink until I black out. Is that enough of a resume for you?’

Grace shook her head, unmoved by Sarah’s story. ‘No. How did you know we’d be on that freeway?’

‘Wrong question, captain marvel. What you should be asking is how I knew you were here.’

‘How did you know we were here?’ Dani asked obligingly.

‘I have contacts in the police. They’re looking for you two, and a gas station attendant recognised your number plate a few miles back.’ She checked her watch. ‘I’d say we have about half an hour before they arrive- if we’re lucky.’

Dani’s eyes widened. ‘Grace, we need to move.’

Sarah nodded. ‘Yes, we do.’

Grace took a step towards Sarah. ‘We? There is no we. Dani’s with me. It’s my job to protect her.’

‘Oh yeah? And how’s that working out for you? Didn’t seem to be going great when I saved both of your ungrateful lives on that bridge. Dani- do you have a phone on you?’

Dani hesitated. ‘Yes..’

‘Idiots. You may as well be wearing a tracking bracelet. Clearly you- ’ Sarah directed her words at Grace- ‘don’t know everything about this time. Anyone with a phone can be tracked. Every intersection, every gas station, every supermarket has cameras- no one walks through this world without leaving a digital trail a mile wide, and my guess is that terminator can access that trail at anytime. You two won’t last ten hours on your own.’

Dani could tell Grace was fuming silently, but there wasn’t time to indulge her pride. She reached forward and put her hand on Grace’s arm. ‘Grace, Sarah is right. We could do with her help.’

‘Excellent.’ Sarah strolled over to the back of the red car, yanking open the boot. ‘I’ll get my stuff, and we’ll take my car. This one we’ll burn out.’

Grace took Dani’s arm and tugged her away from the two parked cars, until they were just far away enough not to be heard whispering. ‘We don’t know if we can trust her,’ she said in a low voice.

‘She’s been helping us so far,’ Dani replied quietly. She glanced towards Sarah, who was moving the black duffle bags from the red car’s boot to the station wagon. ‘Besides, look at her. She’s like half your size. Do you really think she’d be a threat?’

‘No,’ Grace admitted. ‘I just don’t like it.’

‘I can tell.’ Dani smiled slightly. ‘She’s not exactly friendly- she really presses your buttons, doesn’t she?’

Grace frowned. ‘What’s that meant to mean?’

‘Nothing.’ Dani shook her head. ‘We should go help her.’

Grace kept herself between Dani and Sarah as they walked back- a gesture that was endearing but unnecessary, in Dani’s opinion.

Sarah didn’t look at them as they approached. ‘So, do I get to know your names?’

‘I’m Daniella Ramos- Dani,’ Dani replied. ‘This is Grace.’

‘Well, it’s nice to meet you Dani Ramos and Grace. Where’s your phone?’

Dani pulled it from her pocket. The screen had been shattered at some point. ‘Here.’

‘Go throw it away somewhere before we leave.’

‘Okay,’ said Dani, resigned. She turned and walked towards the trees lining the road, tossing the broken phone in her palm.

Grace watched Dani walk away. Then she rested her hand on the lid of the boot and leaned over Sarah, her eyes narrowed. ‘Why are you helping us?’

Sarah heaved the final duffle bag onto her shoulder. ‘I’m helping her.’

‘And why would you care what happens to her?’

Sarah sighed, meeting Grace’s eyes. ‘Because I was her. And it sucks.’ There was an uncharacteristic sincerity in her expression.

Grace leaned back slightly. ‘If you get in my way- or if you do anything to hurt her or put her in danger- I will fuck you up.’

Sarah rolled her eyes. ‘Right. I’ll drive.’

 


 

They left the empty red car sitting by the side of the road. Grace sat in the front seat- to keep an eye on Sarah, Dani guessed- and Dani in the back. For a while they drove without talking, with only the growl of the engine and the sound of tires rolling across gravel road to fill the silence. Then Dani spoke up.

‘Grace?’

‘Yeah?’

‘Who sent that machine?’

Grace hesitated, her brow furrowing.

‘We can’t fight it if we don’t know what we’re up against.’ Sarah added.

Annoyance flashed across Grace’s face. ‘It’s a Rev-9 model. You don’t fight it. You run from it.’

‘Yes, but who sent it?’ Dani frowned, trying to remember. ‘It wasn’t that - Skynet, like Sarah said?’

Grace sighed, running a hand through her messy blonde hair. ‘Not who. What. And no, it wasn’t Skynet. In the future that actually happens it’s called Legion.’

‘Legion?’

‘An AI built for cyberwarfare.’

‘Fuck, those assholes never learn.’ Sarah punched the wheel with one hand. ‘It attacked?’

‘Yeah.’

Dani frowned. ‘Attacked who?’

Grace glanced back at her. ‘Us. Humanity.’

Dani nodded, absorbing the information. ‘Bad,’ she murmured in a low voice. Then she remembered- ‘Sarah, you never said- how did you know we would be on that bridge?’

Sarah was silent for a moment before responding. ‘I got a text.’

‘From who?’

‘No idea. It was an anonymous message, encrypted. Precise GPS coordinates with a date- a time as well, down to the second. Signed with ‘For John.’ So I packed every weapon I had and headed to those coordinates to kill whoever was messing with me. It was Mexico City- your address, I’m guessing. I followed that terminator to your work but couldn’t get in- caught up with you on the freeway.’

‘Do you still have the phone?’ Grace reached for Sarah’s bag.

‘Yes- in the chip bag.’

Both Dani and Grace stared at her.

Sarah huffed in exasperation. ‘The foil blocks the GPS signal. So they can’t track me.’

‘Who’s trying to track you?’ Dani asked.

‘I’m wanted in a few states. Fifty, actually. What are you doing?’ This final question was directed at Grace, who had located the chip bag and pulled out the phone.

‘Future shit.’

Dani leaned forward to watch. Grace didn’t seem to do anything but focus on the phone, but as she held it the screen went black and lines of white code rolled across, too fast to read. It was indecipherable to Dani, but Grace’s eyes widened in surprise.

‘What does it mean?’ Dani was unable to restrain her curiosity.

‘The text came from outside of Loredo- Texas.’ She hesitated, then twisted to face Sarah and Dani and rolled up the bottom half of her white singlet. A line of blue numbers had been tattooed across her lower abdomen- coordinates, Dani realised. She dragged her eyes away from Grace’s skin, and the sharp angles of her hip, back to her face.

Grace continued. ‘Two days ago my commander had them tattoo these coordinates on me- as if I couldn’t remember shit.’ She let her singlet drop and Dani tried not to feel disappointed. ‘Told me to go there if anything went sideways with the mission. It’s the same location that text came from- whoever sent it to you must be the same person I was told to go to for help.’

‘Interesting,’ Sarah’s tone was thoughtful. ‘So what’s your plan?’

‘We go to Texas.’

‘You want to cross the border with an undocumented Mexican national and a woman who had her own episode on America’s most wanted?’

Grace looked confused. Being from an apocalyptic future, Dani guessed she didn’t have much understanding of American border control.

‘I know someone who can get us across,’ Dani said.

Grace met her eyes. ‘Someone you trust?’

‘Yes. My uncle.’

‘Good,’ said Sarah. ‘Where is he?’

Dani took the phone from Grace and typed in her uncle’s address, showing it to Sarah.

‘Not close,’ the older woman muttered. ‘Alright. Put the phone back in the chip bag. We’ll have to stay somewhere for the night- I think there’s a motel in the next town.

Grace grimaced at the idea. ‘Is it safe?’

‘While that terminator is chasing us nowhere is safe. But we’ve got a good head start, and I don’t fancy trying to fight it without sleep.’

Dani nodded. ‘Sarah is right. We need rest.’

‘I’m fine.’

‘I’m not,’ said Dani honestly. Adrenaline had kept her going through most of the day, but fatigue had started to creep up on her. It had been a long day, and she was drained- physically and emotionally.

Grace’s eyes went soft as they searched Dani’s. ‘Okay,’ she conceded. ‘But we can’t stop for long.’

‘Agreed.’ Sarah flicked on the radio, and grainy country music filled the car. She had apparently decided the time for conversation was over. ‘I’m guessing you two will be sharing a room?’

Chapter Text

The sky was darkening when they rolled up beside the dilapidated motel. Dani sat slouched against the car window, half-asleep. Grace and Sarah had lapsed into silence after their conversation earlier, and Dani was glad for it. She didn’t think she could take any new revelations after the day she’d had. The pain from losing Diego and her father had faded to a strange emotional numbness since her breakdown in the car. Her heart felt achingly empty, and her head felt like it was filled with cotton wool. She yawned and stretched as Sarah left the car to speak to the motel owner, movements lethargic as she reached to unclip her seat belt.

Grace leaned over to look at her from the front seat. Light emanating from the motel lights and streetlamps was patchy, illuminating the panes of her face in interesting ways in the dark. Her head tilted. ‘How are you doing?’

Dani didn’t have the energy to pretend she was fine- and she didn’t want to. After what they’d been through together it seemed okay to show Grace how she really felt. So she just gave a small shrug, letting her eyes convey her sorrow and exhaustion.

Grace’s eyes crinkled in concern.

Sarah climbed back into the car, slamming the door behind her. ‘We’ve got a couple of rooms near the front- they’ll give us a good view of the main road.’

Grace pursed her lips. ‘How secure are they?’

Sarah snorted. ‘They’re not. How good are your senses?’

‘Pretty good.’

‘How close would that Rev-9 need to get for you to notice?’

Grace pulled a face. ‘Too close.’

‘Alright. We’ll keep a watch then.’

 


 

The room was small and mostly bare- a single queen-sized bed dominated the floor. Dani kicked off her shoes and sat on the edge of the bed, her head hanging down. She heard Grace shut the door after them and deposit a bundle of weapons on the rickety breakfast table by the window.

‘I need to shower,’ said Dani, mostly to herself. It seemed like far too much effort.

‘You don’t have to,’ said Grace.

‘I think I’ll feel better if I do.’ Dani sighed and stood slowly, her head swimming for a moment. She saw Grace watching her with concern. ‘I’m fine,’ she said, unconvincingly.

Grace’s expression was sceptical, but she didn’t voice her doubts. Her eyes followed Dani as the dark-haired woman shuffled into the bathroom.

It would have been generous to call the bathroom a ‘room’- it was more of a cupboard, and Dani had to squeeze past the toilet just to get the door shut behind her. She closed the toilet lid and sat down on it as she stripped her clothes off, wincing as bruises and cuts she hadn’t even been aware of twinged in pain. She heard the outside door of their room open and shut and wondered briefly if it was Grace leaving or Sarah coming in. Presumably there was nothing to worry about- if the Rev-9 showed up Dani assumed she would find out very quickly from the sounds of gunfire and things breaking.

The water in the shower took forever to warm up. Dani leaned against the shower door as she waited, her hand held out limply in the stream of water. Memories of home came to her mind, of fluffy towels and comfortable pyjamas, but she quickly pushed them down. The maximum water temperature was little more than lukewarm, but Dani was grateful for it as she washed off the grime of the day- her cuts and scrapes stung enough without scalding water to add to the discomfort. Injuries from the car crash, such minor, insignificant injuries in comparison to-

Dani switched off the water and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel. She dried herself aggressively, scrubbing off the water and throwing the towel down. Her reflection in the mirror looked harrowed and tired. For a moment Dani just stared at herself. She looked the same, and yet somehow she barely recognised herself. Who was she, without her family to look after? Without her home, and her job, and her dog? She felt like her entire identity had been stripped away from her, leaving her alone and lost.

There was a sound from behind the bathroom door- muffled voices, raised in conversation.

Well, maybe not completely alone.

There were folded clothes on the toilet seat Dani hadn’t left there- a white t-shirt and loose brown cargo pants which looked to have come from Sarah’s stash. Grace must have found them for her. A small, liquid pool of warmth rose in Dani’s chest at the gesture, and for a moment she nearly wanted to cry again. It was a small thing, but she wasn’t used to being looked after by someone else- and god it was nice to put on clean clothes. Dani stuffed her old clothes in the bin before she left the bathroom.

Grace and Sarah looked up as she walked out. Grace was standing in the corner, her arms folded, and Sarah was sitting on the end of the bed holding a large gun. They looked like they had been arguing.

‘Thanks for the clothes,’ Dani said. She sat down at the head of the bed and brought up her legs, curling herself against the wall. She eyed Grace’s dirt and blood-stained clothing. ‘You should shower too, while we can.’

Sarah looked at Grace pointedly, and Grace scowled back at her. Dani guessed she’d chanced on the topic of their argument.

‘Fine,’ said Grace shortly.

‘She’ll be fine with me for five minutes,’ drawled Sarah, patting the gun in her lap.

‘I’m not so confident,’ muttered Grace, but she grabbed a pile of clothes and a towel. As she passed Dani, stalking towards the bathroom, her gaze softened. ‘Call out if you see anything,’ she said, holding Dani’s eyes.

Dani nodded obediently, for the first time feeling comforted instead of exasperated with Grace’s overprotectiveness. ‘I will.’

‘Good.’ Grace disappeared into the bathroom, and a moment later they heard the water start.

‘She’s stubborn,’ muttered Sarah.

Dani sighed. ‘She’s trying her best. You don’t have to antagonise her.’

‘Sometimes the truth hurts. And the truth was that she stunk.’

Dani shrugged. She hadn’t thought Grace smelled bad, although in fairness her mind had been occupied elsewhere for most of the day. She felt her mouth pull down at the corners and she squeezed her eyes shut, regaining her composure. Controlling her grief was easier than it had been earlier. Perhaps she had cried herself out for the day.

Sarah was watching her from the end of the bed. She had a hard face, Sarah- it sounded like she had lived a hard life- but when she spoke, her voice was soft. ‘Who’d you lose?’

Dani pressed her lips together. ‘My brother. Diego. He was in the car, when-’ she broke off, her eyes filling again. Perhaps she wasn’t cried out. She took a shaky breath. ‘Who will be there to bury him- or my father?’ Her cheeks were wet with tears now. ‘No funerals. No one there to say goodbye.’

Sarah looked towards the window and out onto the deserted road. It was lit by a single, lonely streetlamp. ‘Funerals don’t help them.’ Her face was tight with sympathy. ‘And goodbyes don’t help you. You just have to learn to live with it.’

Dani reached for the tissue box on the bedside table, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. Images of Diego and her father kept running through her head, each new memory stabbing at her heart. It was hard to imagine trying to live with this pain. She closed her eyes, breathing deeply and trying to clear her head, and gradually the tears stopped.

Sarah was still staring into space, looking like her mind was far away. Was it her son she was thinking about? What had happened to him? Dani was about to ask her about him when the bathroom door opened and Grace stepped out, dressed in a clean black tank top and black cargo pants that were definitely too short for her. Her blonde her was damp and dripped water onto her shoulders. Grace took in Dani’s red face and Sarah’s distant expression and her brow creased, but she said nothing. She put a hand on Dani’s shoulder, squeezing gently. Dani reached up and held Grace’s hand for a moment, then let her hand drop into her lap. Grace gave her an awkward half smile.

Grace, Dani realised, had no idea how to comfort her. But she was trying- and that meant a lot.

‘I’ll leave you to grab some sleep,’ Sarah stood up, slinging her gun over her shoulder. Her customary severe expression had returned. She turned to Grace. ‘If you keep watch of the road until one I’ll take over.’

‘Deal,’ said Grace.

Sarah left without a word, shutting the door behind her.

‘You should sleep,’ said Grace. She walked over to the doorway and switched the light off, then went over to the tiny breakfast table and sat on one of the rickety chairs. She positioned it to face out the window. From the dim light coming in from outside Dani could make out the white shopping bag filled with drugs on the table. She heard Grace start to rifle through the contents.

God, Dani remembered, she’d robbed a chemist earlier. It seemed like a lifetime ago. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked. ‘Do you need more meds?’ She shuffled down on the bed so she was lying with her head on the pillows, curled up and watching Grace in the dark. It was too warm to climb under the blankets, and Dani didn’t want to feel weighed down.

Grace shook her head. ‘No. I’m making some syringes up in case I need them again.’

‘Oh.’ Dani said. ‘That’s a good idea.’

A long silence passed. Dani watched sleepily as Grace filled each syringe with a cocktail of drugs. It was relaxing, watching her work so carefully. She liked watching Grace’s hands.

‘I know you’re still awake,’ said Grace eventually.

‘Can’t sleep.’ Dani didn’t say that she felt nauseous from tiredness, but that every time she closed her eyes all she saw was Diego, impaled in the car. She didn’t say that she was afraid to stop watching Grace, because if she let her mind wander, she knew where it would go. To Diego, and to her father, and to the terminator. The red-eyed machine was out there in the dark somewhere, hunting them. And eventually it would catch up.

Her heartrate increased and Grace turned to face the bed, her eyes finding Dani’s. ‘You don’t have to be scared,’ she said. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you.’

Dani bit her lip, wanting to believe her. She nearly gave a dozen different replies- I know, I’m fine, thank you- but instead she asked, ‘are you finished?’

Grace looked confused by the question. ‘Uh, yeah. Sorry if it kept you up.’

‘No, it’s not that.’ Dani hesitated. ‘Come sit with me.’

Grace looked uncertain for a moment. Then, to Dani’s relief, she walked over.

Dani shifted to the left of the queen bed, leaving room for Grace where she would still be able to keep watch out the window. Grace sat against the headboard, crossing her legs on top of the blankets. Her weight on the mattress- far greater than a normal human’s her size- pulled Dani towards her.

Dani closed her eyes, feeling more content. She wondered absently what time it was. ‘You should try and sleep too, once Sarah takes over.’

‘Maybe.’ The tone of Grace’s voice implied she had no intention of doing so.

‘Don’t you need sleep?’

‘I do. But I can function on far less than you.’ Grace shifted to get comfortable, moving the pillow from underneath her legs to behind her back.

‘I’m sorry you have to be here,’ said Dani quietly.

‘What?’ Even without seeing her face, Dani could hear the frown in Grace’s voice.

‘I’m sorry you had to come back here from the future. To protect me. And that you have to put your life in danger.’

‘Don’t be.’

‘I am.’

‘Dani, coming back here- protecting you- I wasn’t forced to do this. I wanted it. It was my choice.’

‘But why?’

‘Because. You’re important.’

Dani didn’t feel important. She felt tired, and weak. ‘But you can’t tell me why.’

Grace didn’t respond. She tensed, her eyes fixed on the window. A minute passed and then Dani heard the sound of a car approaching.

‘Grace?’ she whispered.

Another moment passed before Grace replied. ‘It’s not him.’ Grace relaxed, her face smoothing. She reached out, seemingly unconsciously, and took Dani’s hand. Her skin was hot. Not like it had been when she crashed after the fight, but warmer than a normal person.

Dani sighed and sunk back against the mattress. The car passed outside the window, headlights briefly illuminating the room. ‘Can you talk to me?’

‘What about?’

‘I don’t know. Anything. What was your life like- in the future?’

Grace huffed. ‘It wasn’t much of a life. It was war.’

‘Against Legion?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Will you go back there? After this?’

There was a long pause before Grace responded. ‘No. I can’t.’

‘Oh.’ Dani hesitated. She brought her other hand up to clasp Grace’s as well, holding Grace’s hand between both of hers. ‘Do you… miss it?.’

‘Not the war. Some people, yes- but I'm doing them more good here.’

‘No one in particular?’ Dani felt like a schoolgirl probing for gossip, but she couldn’t help but ask.

Grace actually gave a small laugh. ‘No. Not much time for that in the apocalypse.’

‘Pity.’ Dani tried not to sound glad.

‘What about you? Any partner we’ll need to explain all this to?’

Dani shook her head against the pillow. ‘No,’ she yawned. ‘Too busy for that.’ It was the excuse she’d always given her father and Diego for why she didn’t have a boyfriend. Her heart ached at the realisation that she would never get to tell them the truth- that it was women she was interested in, not men. It had always been something she thought she would do next week, next month, or next year- but she never had, and now she never could. They had died without knowing that part of her and now they never would. A tear ran down her face, blotting on the pillow case. Her head felt like it was spinning.

‘Dani?’ Grace squeezed her hand gently.

‘I’m fine,’ whispered Dani. ‘Sorry.’ She closed her eyes, trying to push back the thoughts of her dead brother and father, breathing deeply. She heard Grace say something else, voice soft, but couldn’t make out what it was. She shifted closer until she was pressed against Grace’s legs, her mind going fuzzy with sleep. As she drifted off, she felt a hand stroking her hair.

 


 

Grace held still as Dani slept, afraid to move in case she disturbed her. Dani had gradually moved closer in sleep until her head was resting on Grace’s lap, her arm thrown over Grace’s legs. It was not the first time a woman had fallen asleep on Grace- platonic or otherwise- but it felt different when it was Dani. It pulled at her heart in a strange way. She stroked Dani’s hair gently, running her hand down Dani's back.

She hadn’t known what to expect when she came back from the future. Would Dani be like she was in Grace’s time, hard-hitting and competent? Or would she be completely different, young and helpless? The answer was somewhere in the middle. She didn’t have the battle experience and hardened nature of the Dani Grace knew in the future, but nor was she helpless- she’d shown an impressive level of resilience and adaptability, particularly considering what she’d been through today and how confusing it must all be. It was easy to see the hero in her.

And yet she was so naïve and vulnerable- especially now, asleep on Grace, her chest rising and falling slowly with each breath.

Grace’s stomach twisted with guilt and anger at herself. Dani would have died today if not for Sarah and a hefty dose of luck- and Grace would be dead if not for Dani’s help. She had nearly failed her mission- she had nearly failed Dani. She wouldn’t fail again.

She watched over Dani until the morning, her arms protectively around the sleeping woman.

Chapter Text

It was still dark when Grace roused Dani awake. Disoriented, Dani flinched away, flailing for the bedside light. It took her a few moments to remember where she was and who she was with. Grace’s arm was firm around her, grounding her.

Grace reached over and flicked on the light. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I forget not everyone can see in the dark.’

‘It’s okay,’ Dani yawned, rubbing sleep from her eyes. ‘What time is it?’

‘Trust me- you don’t want to know. Sarah’s packing the car.’ Grace squeezed Dani’s arm and walked over to retrieve her meds and guns from by the window.

‘No sign of the terminator?’

‘No. Let’s keep it that way.’

Dani followed Grace outside, stretching out the stiffness in her limbs. She had half expected to wake up in her own bed, with light filtering through her curtains and Diego and her father sleeping in the next rooms. The events of yesterday had seemed like a nightmare. But they had been real. And now she was standing in an unfamiliar town at dawn, on the run from a murderous robot with two strange women and more weapons than she had ever seen in her life.

And yet she felt oddly calm. Light had just begun to creep over the horizon, the lower border of the sky streaked with orange and red. It was perfectly quiet and still; not a single car engine or birdsong broke the silence.

Sarah closed the boot of the car with a loud bang, and Dani jumped.

‘You’ll wake someone up,’ Dani scolded automatically, as if Sarah were Diego or one of her little cousins.

‘If we have to be awake at this time then so do they.’ Sarah stalked over to the driver’s seat. She already wore her sunglasses despite the dim light. ‘We need to ditch this car as soon as possible and get off the grid. How do we get to your uncle’s?’

‘There’s a train we can get.’ Dani frowned, trying to figure out where they were in relation to the train line. ‘From… Los Heroes, I think. It will take us close by- I can call one of my cousins to pick us up from near the station. We won’t need tickets.’

‘Good. Can you direct us?’

‘Uh, I think so.’

‘That’s encouraging, that is.’ Sarah sat down in the driver’s seat and slammed the car door.

Dani sighed and climbed into the back seat.

Grace glared at Sarah through the window. Instead of getting into the passenger seat she climbed into the back beside Dani and placed a crumpled street directory on her lap. ‘Found this in the motel.’

‘Oh, good,’ Dani breathed out. She flicked through to search for the name of the town. ‘Stay on this road for now, Sarah.’

Once Dani had figured out where they were going she relaxed back into the seat, watching the houses and green paddocks flash by. It felt safer to be moving once again, putting even more distance between them and the Rev-9. Grace looked more relaxed too, although she kept a gun in her lap and her eyes on the rear-view mirrors. Relaxation, Dani suspected, was a relative thing for Grace.

‘Grace?’ she asked.

‘Yeah?’

‘Did your commander say who this person was? In Texas?’

‘No. They barely told me fucking anything, actually.’

‘Why not?’

‘Some bullshit time travel reason for why I shouldn’t know too much. They tried to explain it but it does your head in trying to understand it- honestly I don’t think they even know what they’re talking about.’

Sarah huffed a laugh. ‘Sounds about right.’

Dani frowned. She felt stronger than yesterday, her mind clearer, and she was determined to try and understand what was happening. ‘How would this person know when and where that terminator would appear? Could they be someone from the future as well?’

Grace shook her head. ‘Not from my future. It took years of planning and hunting resources just to send me back, let alone a second person.’

‘Maybe they were sent back after you but arrived before… Oh, but then how would they know what coordinates to give to you? Unless someone from my time remembered and told them in the future, but then…’ Dani trailed off, trying to wrap her head around the endless possibilities and paradoxes time travel posed.

Sarah tapped a finger on the wheel. ‘What I’d like to know is how they know about John.’

A heavy silence filled the car. The question of John’s death loomed in Dani’s mind, but she suspected now was not the right time to ask. ‘Whoever this person is,’ she mused, ‘they brought us together. They knew about us- and the terminator- and you.’

‘I don’t trust anyone who knows more than they should,’ muttered Sarah.

Grace’s expression was irritated. ‘My commander trusted them- so I do too.’

‘Well I don’t know your commander, so you’ll excuse me if I make that choice myself.’

Neither Grace nor Dani replied, and conversation lapsed into a tense silence. Dani watched her two allies curiously. Sarah’s face was impenetrable, sunglasses hiding her eyes and face fixed on the road. Grace was frowning out the window. The two had formed an uneasy alliance, and seemed to trust each other, but that didn’t mean they liked each other. It was a strange dynamic, and Dani found herself wondering what drove Sarah to help them.

Grace’s motivations were clear to Dani. It was her mission to protect Dani, to make sure that she lived to fulfil whatever purpose she was meant to in the future. Grace was determined, single-minded, and unwaveringly loyal. Guilt still plagued Dani, that Grace was so willing to endanger herself for Dani’s sake, and so she was determined to return Grace’s loyalty in kind. Maybe she couldn’t fight the Rev-9 like Grace could, but she would do everything she could to help Grace and make sure they both survived this.

Sarah was more difficult to work out. Why was she helping Dani and Grace? She had been in a similar position to Dani, so she probably empathised, and she had been very kind the previous night- but Dani suspected it was more than just kindness. Sarah seemed like the sort of person who thrived when she had a purpose to fulfil, and her hatred of terminators was obvious. Was it just her experiences being targeted when she was young, or something to do with John’s death? The mysterious texter mentioning John had seemed to rattle her- she definitely wanted to find out their identity. Would she stay with Dani and Grace after that? Dani didn’t know if she wanted her to or not. She liked Sarah’s presence, but also didn’t want anyone else to risk themselves for her.

Dani sighed aloud. Grace glanced at her, and their eyes met for a moment- a small thrill shot through Dani and she quickly looked away towards the car window. The feeling of Grace’s hand on her hair from the night before suddenly returned to her, and Dani didn’t know whether she felt embarrassed or grateful. She felt Grace’s eyes on the back of her head as she continued to look out the window, unable to focus on anything but Grace’s reflection in the glass.

 


 

It was late afternoon when Sarah parked in the shadow of a dusty bridge, a short walk from the station. The three women climbed out. Grace walked out ahead of Dani, raising an arm to keep her back- she checked their surroundings carefully in both directions before she turned back and let Dani walk on, squeezing her shoulder in confirmation that everything was safe.

Dani strolled into the sunshine, surprised by how natural Grace’s protectiveness seemed to her now. In the past it had always been Dani watching out for others- it was odd to have someone so dedicated to looking after her. She had thought it would irritate her fiercely independent nature, but somehow she didn’t mind the way Grace hovered. It was sweet- and reassuring, considering the circumstances.

A small voice in the back of her head suggested that perhaps there was another reason Grace’s attention was so welcome- something to do with her intense, sincere blue eyes, and muscular shoulders- but Dani pointedly ignored it. She had heard somewhere that it was normal to form attachments to people during shared traumatic situations- this was probably that. And besides, Grace was just doing her job. She wouldn’t feel the same.

Grace was helping Sarah lift several huge bags out of the car. Dani took one look at them and sighed. ‘Ladies, we can’t take all those guns.’

Grace and Sarah stared at her with twin expressions of protest.

‘We’re on foot! We can only carry so much.’

Grace frowned. ‘I can carry a lot.’

‘I’m sure you can, but we also don’t want to draw attention to ourselves by hauling around five bags twice our size.’

Sarah threw one of the bags onto the ground. ‘She’s right. Damnit. Took me a long time to get all this stuff together, you know.’

Dani shrugged. ‘Perhaps they’ll still be here when we get back.’

Sarah snorted. ‘Glad to see you’re still an optimist.’

Eventually Sarah and Grace managed to reduce their stock of weapons and supplies- mostly weapons, Dani guessed- to two duffel bags. Dani led the way to the station with Grace walking by her shoulder, eyeing any people passing too close by.

‘Grace?’ Dani murmured.

‘Mmm?’

‘Can you tell if the terminator is copying someone? Like it did my father?’ A stab of grief shot through Dani’s heart, and her mouth twitched downwards, but she held her calm expression resolutely.

Grace nodded. ‘Yes. I’ll know it if I see it no matter who it looks like.’

Dani let out a relieved breath. ‘Good.’

Sarah caught up with them as they approached the station. It was bustling with people, travellers sitting and talking or milling through temporary stalls selling all kinds of street food. ‘This is off the grid alright, but I wish it wasn’t so crowded here.’

Dani’s heart felt a little lighter as they joined the crowd. It reminded her of home, the smells bringing up memories of her mornings spent strolling through the markets in Mexico City. ‘Well I wish you two weren’t so white,’ she replied, throwing her arms with a rueful smile. Her joke was more than partially true. Sarah and Grace stook out like aliens in this place, particularly Grace, who was a head taller than anyone nearby. Still, there was nothing to be done except smile back at people’s curious stares.

Dani crouched down to speak with a street vendor, a woman with a kind face whose food smelled amazing. She doubted Grace and Sarah had thought to pack food, so it was up to her to make sure they were fed. Grace wolfed down food like she was starving whenever she had the opportunity. Her altered metabolism seemed to make her burn through food quickly, and if she wasn’t going to make sure she got enough food then Dani would.

Grace and Sarah sat in the shade, pointedly ignoring each other as Dani made small talk with the woman in Spanish. God, they were like children. The woman was happy to chat and fill Dani in on the day’s gossip. Thankfully, none of that gossip involved a scary man with swords for arms.

The train blew its horn, signalling that it was preparing to leave. Dani shoved the containers of food into her bag as the clunking sound of the train moving filled the air. She smiled and waved at the woman in thanks. ‘Let’s go, chicas.’

The sun was beginning to set as they jogged over to the train, which was moving at a crawl past the station. People ran alongside, leaping onto the sides of carriages and clambering onto the roof to join the crowds already on top. Grace kept behind Dani as Dani scanned the carriages for one that seemed to have empty spaces. She gestured to one and Sarah hauled herself onto it first. Grace helped Dani climb up next, her hand on Dani’s back as Dani found her grip on the carriage, and then leapt up easily beside her. A few people raised eyebrows at the sight of the two white women with Dani, but their faces were friendly, and they soon returned to their own conversations. Dani led them to an empty spot near the end of the carriage and they settled down as the train picked up speed.

Dani handed out containers of food to Grace and Sarah and for a while they ate in silence, listening to the conversations around them and watching the sun dip below the horizon. It was dark when Dani finally spoke up, voicing the question she’d been wondering for the past few hours. It was easier to ask sensitive questions in the dark.

‘Grace?’

Grace looked up from her food, her large eyes questioning.

‘What happens? When this all falls apart?’

Chapter Text

Grace was sure Dani could see the pain written across her face at the question. What happens? The world she knew had ended, that’s what happened, and her life became a horror story. She rarely thought back to the years following judgement day- they were too painful to remember.

She forced herself to look up and meet Dani’s eyes. ‘Nothing happens,’ she said, her voice tight. ‘There’s no warning. Day one, everything just stops. No phones, no power- cities go dark.’

Her parents had come to pick her up from school at lunch one day- they had been scared. There was something happening, they said, and we have to leave the city- but it’s fine. It will all be fine.

It had not been fine. The next day the car had gone dead on the freeway alongside hundreds of others, all frozen in place.

‘They told us we had to leave- just until things got back to normal.’

She had stood on the freeway as her father cursed at the engine, watching people hurry past, the breeze tugging at her hair. She hadn't understood what was happening but she knew something was wrong. Then someone had screamed, and she saw the plane. It had plummeted from the sky, so close above her she felt the wind of its passing. When it smashed into the ground beyond the freeway it erupted in flames; the heat burnt her skin even from where she was standing. She hadn’t been able to look away.

Grace looked out over the dark landscape from the train. ‘But normal was… never coming back. Day two, they launched nukes- they thought they could contain legion with tactical EMP strikes.’

Her childhood home had been obliterated by a nuclear strike. If not for her parent’s paranoia- they had fled at the first warning of trouble- they would all have been killed immediately. They would never have known the dark days that followed. For them, that might have been more merciful.

Dani’s eyes were filled with horror and sympathy. Sarah’s face was grim.

‘And by day three the whole world was at war.’ She closed her eyes, wondering how much to tell them. ‘Millions died. And then, when the food ran out, billions.’ Grace’s mouth twisted. ‘Some men killed my dad over a can of peaches.’ Her voice was hoarse.

‘I’m sorry,’ Dani whispered. She reached out and took Grace’s hand, holding it tightly between both of her own.

The weeks following her father’s death had been the hardest of Grace’s life. Her mother and brother had died only a few months following judgement day, taken by a sickness that spread unchecked and untreated though the group of survivors they’d joined. Starving, hopeless people fall easily to disease. Her father had taken her away soon after burying them. He had said they would be better off alone, that soon the remaining survivors would be fighting each other for the few scraps of food left.

He was right. It had been two men from their old group that hunted them down, knowing they had food with them. They had murdered her father and chased her through the ruins, leering at the ‘pretty young thing’ and yelling exactly what they wanted to do with her. She had escaped, somehow, sprinting until her lungs gave out and she collapsed in the dirt, alone and more empty than she had ever felt before. What had kept her going, after that? She didn’t know. Giving up had just never seemed an option.

‘When we thought the worst was over then Legion started to… hunt survivors.’

Grace had been sleeping on the second story of a building when she saw a terminator for the first time. Gunfire had woken her and she had sat up, peering through a destroyed window, and seen a metal, humanoid figure standing over the dead body of a young man. Its red eyes had swivelled towards her and it had turned, raising a gun. Her blood had run cold in her chest and she had fled. She was like a wild animal by then, reacting on pure instinct, grabbing her bag and running. It had not followed her- a larger group of survivors had caught its attention. In a way, they had died to save her life that day.

From then on, other survivors were a lesser danger compared to the cold, red-eyed killers Legion had unleashed. The terminators did not tire, or starve, or hesitate- no matter how young or helpless the victim. Every survivor knew that death by terminator was inevitable- you could only put it off for as long as possible. It had been a hollow, violent world- until that day.

The day she had been saved must have been like any other. It was hard to remember now. Her years on the run were little more than a blur of hunger and fear in her memory. She had been running from a Legion aircraft, ducking through ruined buildings, careful to keep undercover, when she had realised there were people chasing her. She had kept running. That was the trick, to always keep moving, to make yourself a difficult target- but someone had hit her from the side, sending her tumbling to the ground.

She barely felt the impact as she hit the uneven floor. Bruises and scrapes were nothing compared to what could happen if you were caught. She scrambled backwards and then froze, eyes darting between the three adults surrounding her. A dark-skinned woman and two white men looked down at her. There was no space to run as they circled her. All taller, all stronger- and all armed.

The woman had spoken to her. ‘We know you got food, kid. Give it up.’

Grace had shaken her head, pulling her bag closer to her. She had so little food left- it was becoming harder and harder to find as survivors pecked the city clean.

The woman had looked almost regretful. She had nodded towards one of the men and he flicked open a switch knife, walking towards her.

Grace realised she had gone silent, staring out into the night. Dani and Sarah still watched her, waiting- she made herself continue, focusing on the feeling of Dani’s hand in hers and letting it anchor her to the present. ‘I don’t know how I made it through the next few years. I just try not to think about it.’ Her mouth twitched. ‘But I got lucky.’ It was hard not to smile at the memory, at the pathetic love and gratitude she felt even now. ‘Someone found me.’

She couldn’t help but glance at Dani- she was so young here, so innocent compared to the Dani who had stalked into the ruins that day to save Grace’s life. ‘Saved me. And then we started fighting back.’

Sarah gave a long sigh, leaning backwards. ‘And let me guess. Dani gives birth to the one man who can save us all.’

What?’ Dani’s expression of shock and confusion mirrored Grace’s own.

‘The future wants you dead for the same reason it wanted me dead,’ Sarah continued, with a certainty that made Grace’s blood boil. This woman didn’t know a fucking thing.

‘But I’m nothing, I’m, I’m nobody.’ Dani looked at Grace, her eyes searching for confirmation or denial of what Sarah was saying.

Grace avoided Dani’s gaze, her mind in turmoil. She had been told not to tell Dani the truth- but right now she wanted nothing more than to slap Sarah across the face and tell Dani everything. Dani was not a nobody, or the mother of some mythical fucking man. Grace bit her lip. She was too emotional after having to tell them her goddamn life story. Now was not the time to rashly tell Dani anything.

‘Well, you’re not the threat.’ Sarah scoffed. ‘It’s your womb. Fine. Let someone else be Mother Mary for a while.’

‘If you’re Mother Mary why do I so want to beat the shit out of you?’ Grace snapped. The coldness in her glare made Sarah actually shrink back a little.

Grace stood up and walked to the edge of the carriage, folding her arms. The wind was pleasantly cool on her skin, calming her. She didn’t like remembering those dark years between judgement day and being found by the resistance. She didn’t like the person that world had made her- wild, desperate, and so utterly helpless. Unable to do anything but run. She was stronger now. She could protect herself- and the people she loved.

Dani came up beside her, dark hair buffeted by the wind.

Grace’s chest tightened. She wasn’t sure how many more questions she could field about the future, or Dani’s role in it. But Dani didn’t probe any further.

‘I always liked travelling like this, you know.’ Dani’s voice was soft. ‘I love being under the stars.’

I know, Grace wanted to say.

Dani crouched down to sit down on the edge of the carriage and Grace automatically reached out to steady her, images of Dani slipping over the edge flashing through her mind. But Dani was fine, and she only smiled at Grace’s concern, her brown eyes crinkling with affection. In spite of her pensiveness, Grace couldn’t help but smile back. She sat beside Dani. Their legs, pressed together, dangled into the open air above the ground rushing by below.

They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes before Dani spoke. ‘I know you can’t tell me what I’m meant to do in the future,’ she said. ‘I understand. I hope Sarah’s wrong, though.’

Grace looked away, trying not to reveal anything through her expression.

When Dani spoke again her voice was gentle. ‘I’m sorry about your family.’

‘It’s okay.’ Grace’s response was practiced, automatic. ‘It was a long time ago.’

‘I can’t imagine time helping,’ Dani murmured.

Grace glanced at Dani, cursing herself for having momentarily forgotten Dani’s loss- her brother and father had been killed only the day before. Dani’s eyes were wet with tears, staring unseeing out into the night. Grace’s heart ached to see her hurt. She knew well how painful it was to lose people you loved so deeply. Everyone in Grace’s time had lost family, but that didn’t make it any easier.

Grace wrapped her left arm around Dani, pulling her against her side. She felt Dani’s right arm slip around her waist, and Dani’s head rest against her shoulder.

‘It does help,’ said Grace. She struggled to think of what to say to comfort Dani. God, she’d never been good at this kind of thing. ‘It doesn’t- it doesn’t stay this painful.’

Dani nodded against her. ‘I’m sorry you had to go through this alone,’ she said, her voice muffled.

It took a moment for Grace to realise what Dani meant. ‘It’s okay,’ she repeated, although at the time it had not been. ‘I got through it.’

‘You shouldn’t have had to.’ Dani’s arm tightened around Grace, and Grace responded in kind, hugging Dani closer. Grace’s throat felt tight. She didn’t respond, just leant her cheek against Dani’s hair, breathing in her sweet scent. They held each other as the train rumbled on through the darkness.

When Grace felt Dani start to nod off she shook her gently, pulling her to her feet and away from the edge of the train. Sarah was already asleep, using her pack as a pillow, and Grace sat down near her. She pulled Dani down beside her.

‘We’re only a few hours from the station,’ yawned Dani, her eyes heavy.

‘I know. You should try and sleep until then.’

Dani nodded, too tired to protest. She lay down and curled up with her head on Grace’s lap. As she drifted off her breathing slowed, becoming even and deep.

Grace’s heart contracted strangely in her chest as she watched Dani sleep. Dani's soft weight on her legs sent warmth all through her body. This was the second night Dani had fallen asleep on her- she hoped, stupidly, that it would keep happening. But she shouldn’t hope that. Dani was vulnerable- she couldn’t take advantage of her while she was like this, grieving and scared. Besides, she’d be an idiot to assume this was about her. Dani needed comfort, and Grace was the only one here to give it. That was all.

Dani murmured something in her sleep, frowning, and Grace tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, stroking her cheek. Dani’s expression smoothed over once more.

‘Someone looked at me that way, once.’ Sarah’s voice, rough from sleep, took Grace by surprise. Her eyes were narrowed with an unspoken question.

‘Sorry for them,’ snapped Grace as quietly as she could manage. She felt oddly defensive, as if she was a child caught with her hand in a candy jar.

‘So am I,’ said Sarah. She rolled over so her back was to Grace and said nothing more.