2029 Los Angeles John Connor watched Sergeant Kyle Reese step into the chamber of the time displacement device. Reese's face was impassive, determined; if he felt any fear he did not reveal this to John. Connor had already expressed as sincerely as he knew how, that he was confident Reese would succeed. Not for the first time, he wondered what he'd done to deserve the unfailing loyalty of so many good people in this war. Reese must have thought his mission difficult, impossible even, and he had no way of knowing if this device would send him anywhere but to his death. Yet there hadn't been any hesitation in his acceptance. A bright surge of light preceded Reese's disappearance. It surrounded him, enveloped him and then he just seemed to fade into it. He was gone. Sadness swept through John. He'd just sent his father to his death. He hadn't even given the young man the courtesy of a full briefing. Before any of the techs and assorted soldiers could move into the second phase of this operation -- the destruction of the time displacement device -- a crackle of energy passed through the room. To John, it was almost as though he could see the air move as a wave shot out from the centre of the device where Reese had stood, like it was ground zero for some kind of detonation. But the sharp wind passed right through him, making his stomach queasy and giving him an instant headache. He wavered slightly on his feet. Looking around, it was obvious that he wasn't alone in the after effects of the shockwave. "What the hell was that?" asked Captain Miller. Lieutenant Karen Willis shook her head. She was the highest ranking tech they had and was well used to being called upon to explain what she barely understood herself. "I'm not sure, sir. Perhaps it was some kind of energy aftershock from sending Sergeant Reese through." John was already moving towards his radio. Whatever had happened, he couldn't let it distract him from his duty. They were at the end of an enormous struggle for survival; people still counted on him. He would not dwell on Reese. "Colonel Bennett, what's your status?" he called into the radio. Bennett was at the Skynet power station site and undergoing a salvage operation. The radio crackled with static. "Bennett, come in. Repeat, what's your status? Over!" "It's going to take a few minutes to place the explosives, sir," Miller told John. "But we should probably think about an evac route to get to the colonel's position. We can't..." John held up a hand for silence. "What was that?" he asked. Miller listened with unquestioning obedience. "Sir? I don't hear anything." Above them, the lights flickered off briefly before coming back on at only half strength. Then in the distance Miller heard what Connor had somehow already sensed. A deep, distinct rumble of machinery in the distance. "That's an HK," John said, concerned. "Sir, that's impossible," Miller assured him. "We took out the defense grid. They have no juice, no comm. They're sitting hunks of metal waiting for the D-squad." "Willis!" called John, stepping away from Miller and the dead radio. "Get a reading from the Skynet grid for me." Willis immediately moved from where she'd been attaching explosives to the device over to the main computer terminal in the room. "Yes sir," she said, her voice registering some shock. "They're at 93% capacity. But how can that be? They were offline a minute ago!" "Regeneration? Some kind of backup restorative?" suggested Miller as he came to stand behind her. The numbers on the screen meant nothing to him. Willis shook her head. "Even with a fully operational generator, doing a cold start should have taken them several hours. This is just impossible!" John frowned. Bennett out of radio contact, Skynet back online... something about this wasn't sitting well with him. He wished his head would stop aching; it might make it easier to think. Suddenly the door to the lab burst open and Colonel Bennett appeared with five other soldiers, all looking very much the worse for wear. One of the men carried a wounded dog in his arms. "Sir!" Bennett snapped to attention. "We've evacuated all of section 32, 33 and most of 34. The bastards set off a series of mines that took out the secondary base." "Evacuated?" repeated John with a sinking feeling. "Yes, sir. We've got to move out and fall back to point position in section 30. Do you need assistance with the detonation here?" "One moment, Colonel," John said, stalling to try to absorb this information. "Sir, with respect, we haven't got..." Bennett cut off his protest when John turned from him as though he hadn't even heard. "Willis, Miller," he called quietly. When his junior officers approached he lowered his voice. "This may sound like a crazy question but just go with it. Did we, or did we not, just win this war?" "We did, sir," Willis spoke up first, her bewilderment evident. Miller looked more wary. John nodded. "And yet at the moment we are in a very bad position, are we not?" "No shit, sir," Miller said. "Okay," John said calmly. "Well, at least I'm not losing my mind. Willis, any explanation?" The lieutenant's mouth opened and closed as she struggled to form a hypothesis. "How's this for an idea? Sergeant Reese wasn't able to complete his mission." John hated to put the theory to voice. It seemed unthinkable that Reese would fail. "Sir, if Sergeant Reese did something in the past that affected the outcome of his mission then our close proximity to the displacement device could be why we still remember the original timeline," Willis suggested. "I mean, I don't know, but... it's possible, I guess." "Sir!" Bennett spoke up from across the room. "We're ready to detonate and we must retreat. Should I take care of the explosives while you go with the techs?" "No," John said crisply. He was finally starting to see through the fog of the tight pain in his head. "Belay that order. We're not destroying this device." "Sir," protested Bennett, "we really don't have any time for this." John laughed then, a short unamused sound that echoed harshly in the lab. "What we have, my good Colonel, is an over abundance of time. We have a little too much time, in fact. Thanks to this damned contraption." His voice was bitter. He took a deep breath and looked around the room. Frightened, confused, even angry expressions stared starkly back at him. At him, waiting for an answer. "Reese has altered history in some way. We're going to alter it back again. To do that we need to use the device. Willis!" "Sir!" She stepped forward. "How long will it take to power this thing up again, prep someone and send him through?" "Ah... thirty minutes, sir," she estimated. "You've got twenty," he informed her curtly. "And you've got to come up with a way to bring him back this time." "We can't send any kind of recall device, sir," she said. "It would get fried by the..." "I don't accept that," he said harshly. "I don't accept that a heavily armored assassin can make it through that thing and we can't even send a single chip. What if we put something in his mouth?" "He might choke on it, or it could burn his..." She was thinking aloud and switched tacks abruptly. "We might be able to put something under the skin if we were careful to..." "Do it," he ordered, not bothering to hear the details. Then he evaluated the rest of his team. He needed someone who remembered the original timeline so that left out Bennett. But he also needed someone who knew his history well and would require the minimal briefing. And someone he could trust to do the job. "Miller, you're up to the plate," he said. "Sir?" The younger man was obviously confused by the reference. Without explaining, John turned back to Bennett. "Colonel, take every non-essential person out of here and fall back to the point position as we planned. Then I need you to distract those HKs. Keep 'em off us for twenty minutes, that's all we need." It was a testimony to John's authority that Bennett did not offer any more protests. Whatever had happened the Colonel trusted that John knew what he was doing to lead them to safety. He gathered up the remaining soldiers, leaving only the techs and Miller. John paced in front of his captain while the techs stripped him down and began their preparations. One injected Miller with amphetamines while Willis carefully cut into his left bicep. Miller watched with detached disinterest at his own mutilation, giving only the tiniest hiss of pain when the initial cut was made. "Captain Miller, I've never told anyone what I'm about to tell you now," John said. "Sergeant Kyle Reese was my father." Only the barest of tremors in Willis's deft fingers betrayed her shock at this pronouncement. Miller merely turned his attention back to his commander. "He arrived in 1984 to save my mother from the Terminator. He found her, he saved her, he loved her, and he died protecting her. And in doing so, he impressed upon her enough knowledge of the future that she was able to prepare me for it. Are you following me, Miller?" "Yes, sir. Understood, sir," Miller replied. "Since I'm still here, I think we can assume that he was successful in his mission. However, given the disastrous outcome of this war, something didn't happen the way it should have. I'm thinking perhaps he died too soon, maybe without telling Sarah enough about the future for her to react accordingly." The lights flickered ominously as the walls rattled faintly with the shock of an explosion that was too close for comfort. "We'll send you back to the same time," John told Miller. "I want you to pick up where Reese leaves off. Make sure that Sarah knows how important it is, for everyone, that I'm trained to win this war. To fight, to organize... you ever hear me tell stories of my childhood, Captain?" "Yes, sir," Miller said. "Many times, sir." "Good. And remember," John said, as he walked with Miller over to the chamber. The techs started spraying the captain with the blue jelly-like substance. "Even though we're running out of time here, you are in the past. Go slow and steady if you have to, just get the job done and come back. We don't need any other history altering events to contend with, you hear me, Miller?" "Understood, sir!" John stood back and watched for the second time in an hour as one of his men was thrown into the past. Not his past, but his mother's. This time, he wondered if perhaps he was crazy to think he could change anything to give them all the best possible future. Maybe he would only make things worse. Maybe he was sending another good man to his death, needlessly this time. No! There was no room for doubts here. They were losing the war; it was almost done. They needed to win. Just as Miller disappeared a giant explosion rocked the lab throwing it into darkness. Dust and debris fell from the ceiling causing John to duck and hold up his arms to protect his head. He coughed as he stumbled, seeing an enormous crack appear in the far wall. Through it, the eerie glow of red from the Terminators' eyes shone, piercing the gloomy smoke. He fell onto his knees, and bowed his head, unwilling to believe that after all they'd gone through, they still weren't going to prevail. Then, as with before, the after shock swept out from the centre of the device, leaving John feeling even sicker than the first time. He took several deep breaths to try to calm his stomach, closing his eyes against the light that stabbed into his head. The light? John's head came up with a snap but he ignored the sharp pain the movement caused. The lab was intact, the lights fully functional, even back up to their maximum brightness. The crack in the wall was gone. It had never appeared, thought John with amazement, because it never happened. "He's done it!" John shouted, coming to his feet. "Miller's done it!" "Sir, we have something incoming!" Willis's excited voice carried to him. The few techs left around the device scrambled to collect discarded weapons on the chance that whatever was going to appear was not human. Bright tendrils of light shot out from the chamber and the air crackled with an electrical charge. A form appeared, faintly at first and then more solidly, hanging as if suspended by the strands of light. Then with a burst of energy the light dissipated and the body crashed to the chamber's floor. It lay there unmoving. "My God, is he even alive?" Willis clambered over the equipment to enter the device. "There's blood!" "Sir," called another tech from the computer console. "Skynet's defense grid shows total destruction! I'm reading zero activity on the main frames!" John stepped forward too, hoping that Miller still lived to be the hero he deserved. He knelt to place a hand on the cold, bare skin of the man's shoulder, turning him over. And then gasped with shock when he realized the man he held was Sergeant Kyle Reese.
Kyle sat at his workbench in the basement reassembling a gas powered motor. Sarah had gone for groceries so he kept his ears alert for trouble upstairs where John was playing with his friend Timmy Francis. At one point it got so quiet that Kyle moved to the stairs, intending to investigate. But then the boys erupted into laughter again so he relaxed and returned to work. He found the pounding sound of the children's feet as they ran from the kitchen to the living room, giggles trailing behind, to be oddly comforting, even as it distracted him.
The clicking of the dog's paws on the linoleum only added to this. As long as he heard laughter and the dog was calm then things were safe. Kyle occasionally worried about relying so much on the dog, but he really didn't have a lot of choice.
However, it wasn't long before something else penetrated his senses, sending his danger radar into alert. Kyle was very well acquainted with all the proper noises of the boys at play. This was a sound he couldn't identify. This didn't necessarily mean danger but it did mean he was going to check it out.
He came around the corner from the basement stairs to spot Timmy standing behind the couch with a small black box in one hand. John was across the room, running from his pal. Having run out of room and finding nowhere to hide, John turned around.
Kyle's heart stopped. His lungs suddenly could not get any air. There in the middle of the room in between the two boys was a miniature HK. It was no taller than Kyle's knee, if that even, but it was on the move, heading towards John. His son. A tiny red beam of light shot out of the device and splashed onto the wall. It turned slightly and the beam landed on the middle of John's chest.
Kyle didn't see John's delighted grin at being caught. He didn't hear Timmy's triumphant "Gotcha!" He wasn't aware of the game at all. What he saw was a weapon capable of mass destruction, an enemy that never tired, a machine designed solely to kill.
His heart now beating again, Kyle surged forward with a yell towards the device. He picked it up and threw it in one motion, smashing it with tremendous force against the bricks of the fireplace. He wasn't satisfied with that and grabbed the broken and mangled casing to pound it against the stone hearth again and again. Jagged plastic cut through his hand, slicing into his palm and wrist but he felt nothing. He ripped the thing apart, savagely tearing out the power pack of batteries and grabbing a jumble of wires to toss them away.
Dimly his ears heard John's startled cry and over that the dog letting out two sharp barks. If he'd been in control he might have also heard Timmy's gasp of dismay.
The room was suddenly deathly still. Kyle swallowed and turned to see Timmy backing away slowly. The boy's eyes were wide on his shocked features. He bumped into the doorframe and dropped the remote control with surprise. John's expression was of bewildered hurt. Kyle's stomach clenched painfully as he saw those eyes -- so like Sarah's eyes -- reveal fear. Well he should be afraid! He'd had to frighten Sarah too, in order to drive the point home.
Kyle wasn't sure what he might have done next if the front door hadn't opened at that moment. Sarah breezed in with shopping bags on her arms and a smile on her face.
"Hey, get back, get back," she scolded the dog, who'd gone to greet her. Rufus barely complied and barked, no doubt hoping a cooler head had arrived on the scene. "What's up guys? Are you having a good...?" The question died as she took in the silence.
Timmy launched himself at her then, seeing a safe haven in a confusing storm of violence.
"I wanna go home!" he wailed as he clung to her leg.
John, as well, moved quickly away from Kyle towards his mother.
"Okay, okay, sweetie," Sarah said, trying to comfort Timmy as best she could while she balanced her groceries.
It was only then that she spotted Kyle, who'd turned back towards the fireplace, his head down. She took in the broken pieces of Timmy's RoboBlaster. Sadness overtook her confusion. She saw blood dripping off Kyle's fingers onto the hearth and noted that he was completely unaware of his injury.
"John," she said calmly, "take the food into the kitchen. Then you and Timmy go outside and wait for me. I'll take him home in a minute."
The pair scrambled to comply, awkwardly taking the bags from her. Rufus hesitated but Sarah signalled him to follow the boys. She entered the living room. Kyle's head was still down and it troubled her that she couldn't see his eyes. He seemed to be lost in thought, seeing sights she'd never shared, remembering a nightmare she could only imagine.
"What happened?" she asked, although it was fairly clear.
"This..." he stared and shook his head. "This... this thing!" He gestured vaguely at the broken pieces. He shuddered a little and didn't continue.
"It's a toy," she told him. It had only just occurred to her that he might not know that.
"No," he protested with a low tone. "No, it's not."
"Are you okay?" she asked, concerned by the blood on his arm. He looked at his hand impassively as it twitched a little with nerve ending voicing their disapproval.
"It's nothing." His voice was dull.
"Are you okay?" she repeated; the question the same but the meaning different.
"No." He turned away again.
"You understand that it's only a toy, right Kyle?" She had to be sure he was clear on what he'd done. He was shaking his head so she said more forcefully. "It's a RoboBlaster. Something to play with. It's not a threat."
"It's a prototype for a weapon," he said, swinging around quickly.
"It can't hurt anyone," she tried again.
With more speed than she'd thought him capable of he lifted the largest chunk of the damaged robot to shove the underside in her face. Startled by the swiftness and force of his motion she stepped back. But not before she saw the triangular logo of Cyberdyne Systems.
Kyle tossed it down with disgust.
"Can you fix it?" she asked with a frown. Judging by the shattered bits of plastic that now decorated her hearth she doubted. Kyle was good but this was destruction.
"Don't even ask me to try," he said. "I will not repair that thing!"
Sarah took a deep breath. "Then we're going to have to replace it." When he looked like he might refuse, her tone sharpened. "It was a toy and it belonged to a child, Kyle."
"Today it's a toy; tomorrow it will kill you without mercy."
"Let's not borrow trouble," she suggested. "Let's just deal with today for now. You know..." She shifted awkwardly. "It wouldn't be such a bad thing to expose John to this kind of technology. If he's..."
"No," interrupted Kyle. "Absolutely not."
"Come on, Reese, you have to admit you're a little paranoid when it comes to tech. I mean, you won't even go into a bank, let alone use an ATM."
If Sarah had recognized his mood sooner, she never would have attempted the joke. But the truth was that she had limited experience with this side of him despite their time together. Kyle was angry. His brusque detachment was often confused by strangers as anger or impatience. In reality, he was one of the most patient people Sarah had ever known. While she was familiar with his roughness and knew his capacity for violence, she also knew him to be a gentle and compassionate man. One who rarely indulged in rage and even less frequently displayed it.
"You don't understand." The words were more of a realization than an accusation as Kyle felt a coldness enter him. How could this be? He thought she knew. Hadn't he made it clear? How could she not be aware of the danger here? Where had he failed?
"I do," she assured quickly, "but..."
"No, you don't. You welcome the tech, you embrace the computer age. You, like all the others, are seduced by the power, the convenience!" He spat out the word. "Life becomes so much easier when we have them looking after us. But one day soon it'll all be taken away and you'll be left with nothing and no means to protect yourself!"
"You're overreacting," she said sharply, hurt by his harsh words. "And don't accuse me of not knowing. I was the target, not you!" Sarah eyed him warily. She couldn't remember ever seeing him so upset. "I think John would benefit from understanding how this stuff works. Ignorance may be bliss but knowledge is power! How is he going to fight an enemy he doesn't understand?"
Kyle was silent. She sighed. "How is this different from assembling the radio together?"
"Communications are essential for field operations," he snapped. "A radio isn't going to shoot him down!"
"Neither is Cyberdyne," she told him. "They make robotic toys and they've revolutionized robotic assembly lines, like for making cars. The same cars you help Al fix. And they do security systems," she continued.
"Skynet," he corrected bitterly.
"Nothing so elaborate. More like motion sensor flood lamps and card key protected locks. The only DOD contract they have is very small - for a security monitoring system in government offices. It's less than 10% of their business."
Kyle had gone very still. His previous agitation vanished as he stared at with such intensity that she grew uneasy.
"You seem to know a lot about it," he finally said.
He continued to watch her, his eyes almost boring into her with the question. Caught off-guard and too unnerved to think up a convincing lie, she told him the truth.
"I bought some stock in the company. Not a lot!" she hastened to add when his expression turned to amazement. "Just enough so that they send me their reports. I thought it a good idea to keep an eye on them."
Kyle looked at the woman before him - his wife - as though seeing her for the first time. He'd always felt out of place in her world; he'd never truly belonged. But with her at his side he'd thought he could face anything, even a life sentence in prewar society. Now he realized he was totally alone, out of phase with the world, a prophet with a warning no one wanted to heed.
"You support them?" The words were incredulous as his shock took voice.
"No, of course not! Of course I don't!" She pulled on his arm to get him to face her again and he jerked roughly away. "It's more like..." She floundered for words to make him understand. "Like reconnaissance. Spying on them and bringing back a report on troop movement. That kind of thing."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well." Her laugh choked in her throat. "I didn't want to upset you. Guess I had that pegged."
"I don't even know you," he said.
"Hey, that's nonsense. How long have we been together now? Seven years?"
"Six years, 11 months, 23 days," he informed her curtly.
She blinked, totally thrown that he'd known it so exactly. "Uh... well... there, you see? 'Course you know me, don't be silly." She took a deep breath and reached out for his injured hand. This time he didn't pull away and she chose to interpret his flinch as a reaction to the physical pain. "Take care of this," she told him. "I'll take Timmy home and apologize to his parents. We'll talk more later. Okay?"
After a moment she took silence for consent and left him alone.
As young as he was, Timothy Francis understood that life was full of surprises. He couldn't believe he was sitting in the Reese's truck as it barreled down the highway towards the city. It wasn't only his own personal cowardice that made him amazed but also that his mother had given Mr. Reese permission to take him along on the journey. Timmy had overheard his father yelling into the phone last night, promising painful retribution to John's father if he came within a country mile of Timmy ever again. Whatever a country mile was, Timmy was fairly certain that the width of the truck's cab didn't quite cover it.
If he'd been asked yesterday whether he'd ever want to spend time in such close proximity to Mr. Reese again he would have been adamant in his refusal. Yet here he was. Sure, John was sitting in between them like a buffer, but even so, Timmy didn't feel as afraid as he thought he should.
Timmy had always thought that John's dad was pretty cool. He recognized that Mr. Reese wasn't like the other dads and he was as far from Timmy's own father as a person could be. John's dad dropped him at school and picked him up every day, like clockwork. He would organize games with the kids and play with them. He never dictated or lectured; even when ordering them into place for a game his direction seemed more like suggestion. He always asked for opinions and rarely vetoed decisions made by the children. He never yelled, he never hit, and until yesterday he'd never been anything but kind and gentle.
Today he wasn't saying much, and he appeared to be concentrating more on the road than on the boys. John was keeping up a steady stream of chatter that was fooling neither his friend nor his father. That John felt as uncomfortable as he did was not comforting to Timmy.
John was in the middle of a story about a time when they'd lived in the desert and he and his dad had counted shooting stars all night. Billions of them. Billions and kagillions of them.
Timmy was skeptical to say the least. He often found some of the stories that came from John to be... well, unlikely would be the kindest way of putting it. Great big giant whoppers would be more accurate. Still, he couldn't believe John would sit there in front of his dad and spin an outrageous tale and hope to get away with it.
"All night?" Timmy questioned. "Didn't your mom make you go to bed?"
"All night," repeated John firmly. Then after a moment, "Right, Dad?"
Kyle looked down at John. He'd only half heard the boy's tale but he remembered the night in question. The desert sky had been a blanket of starlight, beautiful in its vastness and awesome in its eternity. Kyle had felt lost in insignificance and loneliness, while John had excitedly counted every shooting star as it streaked across their view. He'd wanted to know if you could save up wishes or did you have to use them immediately. It hadn't mattered to Kyle who'd been wishing for peace for humanity and long life for his son since the first one had shot over the sky. John had eventually fallen asleep in Kyle's arms, using his father as both mattress and pillow.
"We stayed up very late," conceded Kyle. "Way past bedtime, I'd say."
As they entered the city and were forced to slow down with increased traffic the atmosphere grew tense again. Kyle was being forced to do something he absolutely did not want to do, and to spend money they really couldn't afford doing it.
The car ahead of them braked suddenly to accommodate another vehicle pulling in front of it. Kyle hit his own brakes hard and instinctively threw his arm across the boys as the momentum carried them forward. In the back of the truck, Rufus whined in protest at being thrown about.
Timmy sucked in his breath at the sight of that arm, hand in a fist, coming at his chest. Kyle didn't actually touch him, but the power of that arm was evident by the muscles visible in relief, and the bandage covering the palm and wrist.
"I have my seatbelt on, you know," Timmy told Kyle.
As if just realizing what he'd done, Kyle withdrew his arm and placed his hand back on the steering wheel with undue care.
"Good," he said shortly.
They arrived at their destination and Kyle found parking on a side street just opposite the store. He lowered the tailgate to allow Rufus to jump down to the street. The boys scrambled out of the cab. Kyle hesitated, his eyes flickering between John and the store.
"Stay with the dog," he ordered finally.
"But..." protested John.
"Stay with the dog," repeated Kyle firmly. "I'll be right back."
With that he jogged across the street, dodging six lanes of traffic. Timmy watched him go, perplexed. He'd never heard Mr. Reese use that tone with John before.
"Why did he bring us all this way if we're not even allowed in the store?" he asked.
John shrugged and sat on the curb with his arms around the dog's neck.
"Your dad's weird," Timmy pronounced, sitting beside him.
The following day...
Miller watched Sarah Connor as crossed the street, dodging icy puddles with sure feet, and disappeared into the pharmacy.
"Target acquired," he murmured to himself. And about time, too. That thought brought a smile to his lips.
He wasn't entirely to blame for his tardiness. He'd had many a moment to contemplate an explanation for John Connor as to why he hadn't executed his mission immediately upon his arrival in the past. First and foremost, it was Lieutenant Willis's fault for miscalculating the equations that ran that damn displacement device. Instead of arriving in Los Angeles three days after Sergeant Reese, Miller had made his entrance three months later.
Sarah Connor had been long gone. He'd searched very diligently for her but she'd seemed to have completely vanished. That had been a momentary setback.
As for the following six years, Miller was certain his general would not blame him. He'd been a POW, plain and simple. But he had protected the recall device and he'd focused on completing his mission as soon as he was able.
"No time like the present," he told himself and laughed out loud at the joke.
Once on the trail again he'd finally hit upon the reason for his previous difficulty in locating Sarah Connor, not to mention the history altering event that had such negative repercussions in the future. Sergeant Reese had survived the terminator. Sarah was living under her husband's name, and her husband was an expert at escape and evade.
If they hadn't settled in this small community, Miller might never have caught up to them. He made a mental note to lecture Reese for stopping.
Now that he'd caught them, Miller wasn't sure exactly how to proceed. His mission hadn't included dealing with Reese, only Sarah Connor. But he felt a sense of urgency to make contact. He'd spent too long in pursuit and was eager to finally carry out his orders.
He crossed the street, following in the same path as Sarah. She exited the store and continued along the sidewalk, walking away from him. The town was quiet, with dismal weather keeping most people inside. When she turned up a lane Miller couldn't believe his luck. She was completely alone.
He stepped forward quickly and grabbed her arm.
To his credit, Miller didn't intend to hurt Sarah, quite the opposite! He was there to protect her, to teach her, to prepare her. But his grip was strong and he had startled her badly. Rather than cooperate with this unknown aggressor, Sarah fought him.
Letting out an angry, "Hey!" she then stepped forward, throwing his balance off. Taking immediate advantage, she yanked her arm downwards out of his grasp.
Miller hadn't expected this reaction from her and mentally upgraded her abilities. He grabbed her again when she turned to run and this time she rammed the heel of her hand hard on his nose. It hurt -- a lot -- but Miller didn't let go. He easily evaded her next move, as it was a predictable knee heading for his groin. Spinning her around hold her tightly against his chest he tried to calm her.
"I don't want to hurt you, I just want to talk."
She wasn't listening. She struck back with her feet, raking her heel against his shin.
"Let go of me, you bastard!"
This wasn't going well. For starters, it was unlikely that they were going to avoid detection. For another, she was a scrappy fighter. Of course she is, Miller told himself with irritation. Reese has taught her. Time to change tactics.
Abruptly, he let her go, holding out his arms in surrender, to demonstrate he held no weapons.
"What the hell are you doing?" she demanded angrily.
Before he could provide an answer, a fist struck his jaw with the force of a truck of bricks. Miller fell over, landing on his back with an oomph, seeing stars. That hadn't been Sarah; scrappy fighter or not, she just wasn't that strong. He'd gotten that far in his assessment when two hands grabbed his shirt in fists to shake him.
"Reese!" he ground out through clenched teeth. God, where had the man come from? When he'd spotted Sarah earlier, Reese had been working at the garage. Did he have some kind of sixth sense for danger? "Sergeant Reese!" he tried again before another fist could make contact.
For a second nothing happened. Miller seemed suspended, held by Kyle's strong hands, while Sarah stood behind trying to get him to stop before he beat the man to death, and a dog nearby was barking. Then recognition lit Kyle's eyes and he lowered Miller to the ground.
"Captain?" he whispered with disbelief. "Miller?"
Miller lay there for a moment, getting his breath back. Obviously the years spent in prewar hadn't diminished Reese's fighting ability. Good to know.
Kyle stood back, reeling from both adrenaline and shock. When he'd heard Sarah's cry and seen this unknown enemy attack her, he'd felt fear and rage. Now that he knew the assailant he was confused.
Chasing away the red haze of anger Kyle was flooded with relief. Finally there was somebody here who understood the danger of the future. Someone who knew as well as he the horrible result of trusting too much in a computer operated world. As much as Sarah claimed to know, she couldn't really appreciate it. Here was a man who'd lived the rebellion as Kyle had.
Miller coughed, and came slowly to his feet. "You pack a helluva punch there, Reese."
"What are you doing here?" blurted Kyle.
"You know this guy?" Sarah was incredulous. Miller offered her a sloppy grin by way of apology.
"Yeah," admitted Kyle faintly. "He's... uh.... He's from..."
"Reese and I used to work together," cut in Miller smoothly. "Those were the days, eh Reese?"
"But... how?" Kyle's relief was fading into alarm. If Miller was here that meant the time displacement device was still operational and that meant that others could come and if others come could then so could threats.
"Long story," Miller said. He turned to Sarah who was watching Kyle warily. "I must sincerely apologize. I didn't mean to frighten you. Greg Miller." He thrust out a hand.
"Well, you did," she said flatly, not shaking his hand. "But if you're a friend of Kyle's I guess I can let it go."
"Look, Reese," Miller said. "Is there some place we can go and debrief? It's... uh... it's been a long time."
Kyle's alarm was kicking into overdrive. There must be another terminator on the loose or Connor wouldn't have sent another soldier. "Sure. Back to base. Let's go to the house," he suggested. Miller shook his head slightly, inclining it a little in Sarah's direction. Sarah still had her eyes on Kyle and didn't notice. "Or," continued Kyle, "we could patrol the perimeter."
"Sounds good," agreed Miller.
Now that her shock at being attacked was fading, Sarah could feel some amusement at the scene. Kyle didn't have many friends, and most of those he did have were through contact with her. That he had a work buddy she hadn't known about, and one who seemed to speak the same language as well, was somewhat humorous. Miller must be ex-military, she decided, and that's why they clicked together. She examined him closely, wondering where Kyle had met him. He seemed unnerved by her scrutiny and ducked his head down and away to avoid her eyes.
"Have we met before?" she asked, suddenly thinking he seemed familiar now that she got a good look at him.
"No." Both Miller and Kyle responded.
Kyle turned away from Miller and took Sarah's hands. He was certain the captain would never purposely harm her, but they'd been in the middle of a physical confrontation and he needed to be sure she was okay.
"Where's John?" he asked suddenly.
"At Maggie's. They're baking cookies," she told him.
"Take the dog and go get him. We'll meet you at the house later."
Sarah looked from Kyle to Miller and back again. "Is something wrong?"
"Nothing at all," Miller responded easily but Sarah wasn't asking him.
"No," Kyle finally said. "Everything's fine. We'll be back later."
Kyle and Miller walked down by the railway tracks on the outskirts of Pineridge. They walked in silence primarily because even though Kyle's mind was bursting with questions he dreaded the answers. And Miller still hadn't decided how he was going to deal with Kyle's unanticipated presence.
"Wasn't the device destroyed?" Kyle finally asked.
"No," Miller said. "Connor determined we still needed it."
"Connor sent you?" confirmed Kyle. "Why?"
"Well, Sergeant, I'm here to complete your mission," Miller said bluntly.
Kyle stopped walking. "I don't understand, sir. I protected her. I'm still protecting her. That was my mission."
Miller smiled at his earnestness. "Suffice it to say, Sergeant, that there were subtleties about your mission that Connor didn't impart to you in the briefing. Your failure to comply is hardly your fault."
Kyle felt resentment at these words. He'd done the best he could using primitive weapons and without any support. Sarah was alive, and so was John, because of Kyle's diligence. How dare this captain drop in from the future and tell him he'd failed?
"The terminator was destroyed in 1984, sir," Kyle said shortly. "I think that qualifies as success, not failure."
"You destroyed it?" Miller asked. "My compliments, soldier. I've seen what you have to work with here and that is nothing short of miraculous."
"Sarah destroyed it," Kyle admitted. "I was... wounded in the battle."
"Ah." Miller gave the impression this was information he'd already known. He looked around them. They were isolated from the town by both forest and railway tracks. "Sergeant Reese, my orders are to pick up where you left off and educate Sarah Connor so that she can best prepare her son to fight the coming war. I wasn't expecting your presence to complicate matters so I'll have to dispose of you at my discretion. I hope the general understands."
"Pick up where I left off?" repeated Kyle, amazed. "What the hell does that mean? Sir," he added carelessly. "Did Connor think I would just abandon her after the terminator was gone?"
Miller gave him a patient look. "You ever wonder, Reese, why so little is known about Connor's father?"
"He died before the war," Kyle said. "And he loved Sarah Connor very much but..." His voice trailed off.
"That's right, Sergeant, that's right." Miller's voice was soft. Somehow he'd gotten a gun in his hand, Kyle wasn't sure when that had happened.
"You're going to kill me?" Kyle was shocked. "I don't think so! Why would Connor send someone back to kill his own father?"
Miller dropped the small pack he'd been carrying and, crouching, he reached into it with his free hand. "Don't tempt me, Sergeant, I've had a lot of time to think about how to deal with you. I don't want to kill you. I know you've had it hard; cutoff from support, no decent weapons, no one who listens or understands."
This is was so close to what Kyle had been keenly feeling lately that his breath caught in his throat. It was as though Miller had reached into his mind to lay his feelings out in the open.
"You try to tell them and they think you're..."
"Nuts?" supplied Miller with a grin.
Kyle's heart dropped into his stomach making him feel queasy.
"Crazy? Loco? A few sandwiches shy of a picnic?" continued Miller his grin growing wider. "Or perhaps they use more technical words like paranoid, delusional, mentally unbalanced? Maybe they lock you behind bars, fill you with drugs to clear your mind of what you know to be true? Hey, what do you think, Reese?"
"Maybe," Kyle whispered.
Miller finally found what he was looking for in the bag. He stood and waved the gun at Kyle. "Take your clothes off."
"No." Kyle's voice was firm.
Miller rolled his eyes with exasperation. "Take your clothes off, Sergeant, that's an order."
"I'm not your sergeant any more," Kyle said.
Miller shot him. The bullet entered his upper right arm and exited just as quickly, leaving a trail of burning pain in its wake. Kyle hissed and grabbed at the wound with his left hand, stepping back from Miller. He glared at him defiantly.
"Reese, I'm giving you a choice between life and a shallow grave. I'm not going to tell you again: take your clothes off."
Kyle evaluated his situation. He wasn't sure what Miller had in mind and he didn't trust the captain as far as he could throw him. But slowly his hand moved away from the bleeding in his arm and went to undo the zipper of his coat. Given his options, Kyle chose life.
Sarah was only mildly concerned when Kyle and his friend hadn't returned by supper. Probably, she thought, Miller had dragged Kyle off to the bar for a beer or something. That was an amusing picture.
After getting John settled in bed, she went back downstairs to handle the
dishes and was puzzled by the sight of Rufus lounging on the kitchen floor.
"Hey boy." Sarah crouched to scratch his head. "What's the matter? Not feeling well?"
Rufus lolled his head towards her hand and blinked sleepily.
Frowning, Sarah stood and turned around only to find a man standing directly in front of her. She gasped with surprise and immediately stepped back into a defensive pose. Then she realized it was Miller and straightened, a little put out that he'd managed to frighten her a second time.
"You've got to stop doing that!"
He didn't move so Sarah was forced to squeeze past him to get at the sink. She started running the water.
"Where's Kyle? Did he go up to say goodnight to John?" When Miller didn't respond right away, she laughed nervously. "He's going to be upset because I think Rufe," she gestured to the floor, "our dog, is sick."
Miller squatted to hold his hand out to Rufus's nose. Sarah blinked. There was something about his mannerism that struck her as odd.
"The dog will be fine," Miller said. He glanced up at her. "Dogs are very valuable. You're lucky to have him." He stood.
"Yeah." Sarah's voice died as she tried again to place Miller. She was
sure she'd seen him before. "Where did you and Kyle work together? Where is he, anyway?"
Suddenly uncomfortable with this stranger, Sarah moved to the door, hoping that Kyle was on his way downstairs. As she passed close by Miller he reached out to grab her arms, pulling them firmly behind her.
"What the hell are you doing?" she demanded as she attempted unsuccessfully to wrench out of his iron grip. "Reese!"
"Reese won't be coming back," Miller said softly.
"What do you mean?" she asked, feeling cold.
Instead of answering, Miller yanked her in the direction of one of the
chairs. They nearly tripped over Rufus, who was so far in slumber as to not even notice.
Despite her struggles Miller was able to secure Sarah's arms to the back of
the chair with a rope he'd tied there earlier. After the experience in the lane he'd reevaluated her ability to resist and taken some precautions.
Sarah was also reassessing her opponent. She quickly realized that her
exertion was only tightening her bonds and forced herself to still.
"What do you want?" she asked, rather calmly she thought, considering she was seething with rage.
"To complete my mission," he told her. He sat back from the chair in a
crouch and stared at her with a kind of wonder. Sarah felt her alarm spike into full blown fear when he reached towards her. But his touch was surprisingly gentle as he trailed his fingers across her cheek.
"You have beautiful eyes," he whispered. Sarah stiffened at his
touch. She now watched him with part confusion and part dread as he looked upon her with an intense gaze.
"Where is Kyle?" she asked again, struggling to keep her tone low.
Despite her effort, Miller was irritated by the question. His hand retracted immediately and his chin rose defiantly. "I told you. He's not coming back."
Then he stood to collect his bag from the far corner and began pulling items out as he searched for something. Sarah felt like she'd swallowed her heart when she spotted Kyle's shirt. That wasn't all she saw. There was also blood.
"What did you do to him?" Her voice was no longer calm and she gave one giant tug on the ropes, crying out when they only tightened some more. "Answer me!"
She didn't want to think of Kyle, bleeding and half naked, left abandoned
in the cold weather. But thinking of alternatives was worse.
"See, the first thing you did wrong was trust me too easily," Miller told her almost cheerfully. "We'll have to work on that."
"I didn't trust you!" she spat. "I trusted Reese and he knew you." Her eyes narrowed. "How did he know you?"
Sarah was momentarily distracted from her question by the other items coming out of Miller's pack. Ammonia, moth balls, a box of nails, several pipes, and some string.
"What do you need a pipe bomb for when you've got me tied up?" she asked, more angry than afraid.
"You need to learn how to build them, how to judge when to throw, how long
the fuse should be, how to vary the effects of the shrapnel..."
"This is important!" he yelled.
Sarah laughed harshly. Even given her vulnerable position and overwhelming
fear for Kyle she could not believe this situation. "And you're going to teach me?"
Miller seemed perplexed by the question. "That's why I'm here."
"Well, that's a relief! Because frankly, Miller, I already know the finer
points of home explosive production. Get me a mouse trap and a ten dollar alarm clock and then we'll start having fun with your bomb!"
His expression would have been comical in other circumstances. Sarah sighed. "Look Miller, you're not big on explanations, I can tell. But why don't you untie me and we'll have a civilized conversation about why you feel compelled to train me to build bombs."
Miller was furious with himself. Of course Reese must have constructed some explosives to use against the terminator and it made sense he would have taught her as well. He'd taught her to fight, to make bombs... Miller's mind reeled, what was left? Indoctrination. And for
that, she'd have to trust him again. No matter. She was a captive audience.
He grinned. Sarah shivered.
Sensations returned to Kyle slowly, like something fuzzy being brought back into focus. The first was a dull throbbing in his arm. This spread to more generalized pain that was apparently seeping from every cell in his body. His head ached so badly he was sure that even the slightest movement would cause some kind of detonation and that was welcome.
There was a murmur of voices not too far away but their words were disjointed.
"Sir, I think he's waking up now."
Even before he'd pried open his eyes he knew where he was. It was the smell that gave it away. He hadn't breathed air like this for nearly seven years but the memory of it was forever etched in his nostrils. He was back in the lab. Back in 2029.
Kyle opened his eyes, hoping to disprove his theory, and saw the kind but worried face of Lieutenant Willis peering down at him.
"Oh no," he croaked. "Oh God. No. Please no."
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and willed this to be some kind of horrible nightmare.
"Sergeant? Sergeant Reese? Can you hear me?" Willis place a cool hand on his cheek.
"Go away," he rasped.
"Sergeant." That voice demanded obedience. Kyle opened his eyes again and found himself looking at John Connor. "If you're up to it, I'd like to hear what happened."
"Don't you know?" he asked bitterly as Willis helped prop him up in a seated position. She handed him a canteen and he drank thirstily. He remembered now the prickling on his nerve endings that had stayed with him the last time he'd used that time displacement device.
When Connor said nothing Kyle raised his gaze from the canteen to look at his general. This man -- he'd told Sarah once that he would die for John Connor. That was true enough. Certainly, Kyle would endure anything for John the boy, including death if that was required. But his allegiance to the man before him was more tenuous given present circumstances.
John was shocked by the hostility he saw in Reese's eyes. Did the young man resent his mission so much? Had it been that difficult? Even granting his injuries, which Willis assured him were no more serious than a mild concussion and flesh bullet wound, this Reese was a far cry from the earnest soldier they'd sent back a few hours ago. That young man had looked on John with unquestioning loyalty and trust.
"Why did you send Miller?" Kyle demanded. "Why didn't you just send him in the first place if you didn't trust me to complete the mission?"
"I trusted you," John said sincerely. "I had complete faith in you."
"I have to go back," Kyle said, standing unsteadily. Willis stepped over to offer support which he waved off roughly.
"That's not possible," John said.
Kyle drew a sharp breath. "You destroyed it?" The question was bleak.
"No." Kyle's enormous relief at hearing that slid into confusion at John's next words. "But if we sent you back we'd lose the war."
Vaguely, as though from far away, Kyle absorbed Lieutenant Willis's explanation for the divergent timelines. He couldn't get past John's refusal to send him back in time. Back to where he belonged.
Huh! He hadn't felt much like he belonged there. However, as out of place as he'd been in the past, it was nothing to how he felt now, in the future.
"If I'm not there then... you don't grow up with a father," Kyle said. "How... how can you do this to me? How can you do it to you?"
"You misunderstand, Reese," John said sharply. "I've already grown up without a father."
Kyle searched the man's face for any traces of the boy he loved. For his part, John turned away from the scrutiny, not liking the anguish he saw in Kyle's features. For years John had wondered about his father. He'd gone from idolizing him to resenting him deeply for the burden placed on his mother. Reese had profoundly changed Sarah's life and then abandoned her to face the consequences alone. As a man, as a leader, John knew that Kyle was not responsible. But as a child he'd only known that Kyle was to blame for Sarah's tears and her fears.
Having Kyle alive right now seemed to John to be the ultimate slap in the face of all that Sarah had endured. He didn't want to see Kyle's pain because he was too busy fueling anger with his own.
"I don't understand what you want from me," Kyle said. "I did everything you asked me to. Now you are going to punish me for surviving? That's hardly fair!"
"Fair!" spat John. "Don't even go there, Reese. Was it fair that Sarah Connor was a single mother? That she felt she had to turn to terrorism to fulfill her destiny? That I was passed around from home to home as a ward of the state?"
"You bastard!" Kyle's voice was cold, but low. "How dare you blame me for something that didn't even happen! What gives you the right to manipulate people's lives to suit yourself? You're so busy looking at the big picture and wallowing in your self-sacrifice that you can't see that there are people living and dying for you! And you just move us around like pieces on a chessboard."
"You're out of line, Sergeant!" John's eyes sparked with anger.
"I'm not your sergeant any more, sir!" roared Kyle. "I'm not needed by you in ANY way! Not here, with no war left to fight. Not there, where apparently I wasn't even supposed to be alive." Kyle reached out and pushed John slowly but firmly against the wall, holding him at arm's length but still threatening. "And this time, you have no one but yourself to blame for the loss of your father in your life."
Kyle lowered his arm and stepped back.
John was suddenly struck by how different Reese was. The young soldier he'd sent through time would never have challenged his general in this manner.
There were other differences as well. This Reese looked better fed than the previous version, his hair was shorter, and there were lines around his eyes that hadn't been there... The explanation hit John like a physical blow.
The Kyle Reese who stood before him now, staring at him so resentfully, wasn't the same man they'd sent back because this one was older.
"What year have you come from, Sergeant?" John asked abruptly.
For a moment it looked like Kyle wouldn't answer, but he'd spent too many years in service to the general to disobey. "1991, sir," he replied.
John looked sharply at Willis who had been trying to remain as inconspicuous as she could during the angry exchange. "How is this possible?"
"Well sir, you told Miller to go slow and steady but get the job done. I would guess it took him a few years."
"Enough guessing!" snapped John. He ran a weary hand over his face and sighed. "Good lord, seven years. Why did it take him so long?"
Willis was mute. After a moment she and John turned to face Kyle who was examining the canteen again. The silence finally forced him to raise his head.
"Permission to guess, sir?" he asked coldly. John nodded abruptly and Kyle took a deep breath. "I have reason to believe Miller may have been institutionalized for some portion of his time in the past."
"Institutionalized?" asked John. "For what?"
"Insanity," Kyle told him shortly.
By all rights Karen Willis was exhausted and should have been sleeping. However, she found herself too keyed up by all that had happened - victory, defeat, victory - to even contemplate closing her eyes.
She entered another batch of calculations into the device simulator, just for the sake of something to do with her hands. Connor was conferring with some of his majors over the distribution of food supplies. Reese sat dejected in the corner, very close to where he'd nearly come to blows with Connor over his fate.
Reese abruptly came to his feet. He stooped to collect a pulse rifle; it was very likely the same weapon he'd discarded just hours ago before going back in time. Willis was a little concerned but he only slung it over his shoulder, nodded at the sergeant by the door, and went out. Curious, she followed.
Kyle just couldn't take another minute sitting in that lab. He cautiously moved along the corridor and up a steep staircase to the surface. It was night and it was cold. He looked around bringing the gun into his hands while he checked for lurking enemies. There were none to be seen so he exited the tunnel. Not comfortable being exposed, he kept close to the wall and he didn't move far from the entranceway before finding a crevice in the concrete to duck into. Hoisting himself up to sit on the uneven shelf, he felt protected by an overhang yet he could look out over the ruins of the city.
It was quiet. Far quieter than Kyle remembered. And it was dark, the only sources of light coming from a temporary refuge set up by Colonel Bennett not far from the lab and several fire visible in the distance. Kyle squinted, frowning, and realize one of the fires was coming from an HK that was on its side. Maybe it really was over.
A noise beside him made Kyle snap to alertness, the rifle back in his hands. He marvelled at how easily he'd slipped back into a soldier's role. Hands raised, the figure moved closer. He lowered his weapon.
"Lieutenant," he acknowledged.
"Stand down, Sergeant," she said. "There are no more enemies."
He blinked and retreated farther into the shadows. "They never go away completely," he said softly.
She pulled herself up to sit beside him on the ledge. After a moment he asked, "Is there something I can do for you, LT?"
She turned her gaze from the darkness that hid his face to the smoldering ruins of the HK. "I was wondering." Her voice was soft. "What was it like?"
"What?" Kyle wasn't sure he knew what she was asking. "Time travel? It hurts," he said bluntly.
"The prewar," she clarified. "What was it like?"
He was quiet for a moment. "Filled with scavs who worry about selfish trivialities," he finally said bitterly.
"Oh." That wasn't at all what she expected.
"There's a lot more people," he went on, his voice gentler. "And they have these complex rituals... no survival skills."
Kyle sensed she was disappointed with his observation and he struggled to think of other things he could tell her. The trouble was there were too many wonders.
"There is glass in all the windows," he said. "You can go into a store and buy anything you can imagine. There'd be a ton of different kinds of chocolate. And children play in the sunlight. At night, if the sky is clear, you can see thousands of stars..." His voice died and she looked over at him feeling his sadness as he tripped over a memory.
"I have to go back," he told her quietly but intently. Even though his face was in shadow she could somehow see his eyes boring into her. When she opened her mouth to protest - she had, after all, been the one to explain it to him earlier - he cut her off. "There has to be a way."
Sarah sat helpless on the kitchen chair, willing her sore muscles to relax enough so that the ropes would give up some slack. It wasn't working but this was more likely due to the tension she couldn't let go. Miller had left her to wander upstairs. Sarah could have wept to think of her baby, lying unprotected in innocent sleep, at the mercy of this lunatic.
Her eyes caught sight of Kyle's shirt, lying discarded in the corner. She closed them, unwilling to dwell on those bloodstains. Oh Kyle!
If only things had been different. If only he hadn't gone off half-cocked over that stupid toy! If only she hadn't countered with such indifference. She should have known he'd react that way. It wasn't as though he'd ever made it a secret how he felt about tech. It wasn't at all surprising that he'd be vehemently opposed to enhancing John's education with robotics.
Kyle had been detached and distant towards her after the toy incident. When he'd taken her hands to check on her earlier that day it had been the first tenderness between them since she'd confessed about the stock. That damn stock! She knew Cyberdyne to be innovative and rapidly expanding but mostly benign. She even remembered reading in their material that they did this program with school kids...
Sarah's head came up with a snap that made her shoulder blades twinge in aching protest. She'd just remembered where she'd seen Miller, on a press release.
Miller chose that moment to re-enter the kitchen. He had that awed expression back on his face. It made her uncomfortable but it was far preferable to his maniacal leer.
"Sarah, he's a beautiful child," Miller said.
"You're a terrorist," she accused coldly.
He stopped advancing towards her and frowned. "I'm a freedom fighter," he corrected.
"You bombed Cyberdyne Systems' headquarters," she said.
What she couldn't figure out was why anyone would want to do this. Besides her, maybe. But Kyle had promptly shut down that plan, stating that their prime mission was protecting John. So if Miller was some kind of right wing radical, anti-government nutcase, why would he target Cyberdyne? And how the hell did he know Kyle?
In her mind's eye Sarah reviewed her introduction to Miller. The way he carried himself, coiled like a spring about to snap, yet furtive and uneasy. The way he looked at her, part fascination and part amazement. The way he and Kyle seemed to speak the same lingo. The way he... oh God. The way he held his hand out to Rufus, as though seeking verification of his humanity.
"You're from the future," she breathed. "You knew Kyle in the war. But how..." Her voice died and then got stronger. "Why are you here?"
He didn't deny it. "I'm here to succeed where Reese failed," he told her.
"Did John send you too?" she asked. When he nodded she pulled savagely on her bound arms and growled when they remained secure. "Untie me right now!"
"I can't do that. You'd never listen to me. And I have much to tell you." With deliberate calmness in direct contrast to her rage he went over to where Rufus lay and sat beside the dog. Leaning against the wall he began, "Let me tell you how it was supposed to happen..."
A cold, gray dawn lit the ruins of the city. Kyle stirred slowly, his body bruised and sore from the previous day's trauma. At some point in the night Willis had draped her jacket over him and now it slid to the ground. Groaning, he stooped to retrieve it. Then he looked out at the crumpled, jumbled mess of metal and concrete. Feeling vaguely uneasy to be out of doors at daybreak, he moved back towards the tunnel.
Before Kyle made it to the safety of the underground complex, Connor emerged flanked by a captain and Colonel Bennett. Willis hung behind and merely nodded soberly when Kyle handed her the jacket with thanks.
"Ah. Sergeant. Good," Connor said. "I want to do some recon. Come with me." His tone did not invite debate, but Kyle hesitated.
"Don't we need some cover? Sir?"
Connor looked a little amused but Bennett barked out, "The war is over, son! Their juice is gone."
Kyle flicked his gaze to Bennett but did not curb his hostility, colonel or no colonel. He turned back to Connor.
"With respect sir, a terminator can run on backup battery power for years."
"Fair enough, Sergeant," Connor said and called back down the tunnel. "Jenkins! Get up here to man the gun. Double time!"
The young man appeared before the order was completed. Kyle stared at him with awe. Willy Jenkins had been killed before Kyle's eyes at least two years prior to the trip back in time.
"Sir!" Jenkins tried not to show how uncomfortable Kyle's reaction made him feel.
"Let's move people." Connor was already walking away.
Jenkins climbed up on the back of the vehicle where a long-range, scoped pulse weapon was mounted. Connor slid into the passenger seat and Kyle, giving a last puzzled look at Jenkins, got behind the wheel.
They were an awkward trio with Connor making minor comments about the damage they witnessed that fell on silence from his driver. Jenkins absently whistled a nameless tune briefly until Kyle deliberately drove over a crevice. Jenkins bounced so hard off the gun mount he nearly bit his tongue and wisely was quiet after that.
Kyle kept his eyes on the treacherous path, steering clear of debris. He had no real direction save for Connor's casual suggestions. He had no idea how to convince this man to allow him to return to his family.
Suddenly a dog appeared out of nowhere, leaping directly in front of the vehicle's wheels. Kyle braked sharply and threw his arm across Connor's chest as they both fell forward. Jenkins swivelled with the gun, nearly losing his balance as momentum swung him around.
"Damn," said Kyle, worried that he'd hit the animal.
Connor stared down at Kyle's arm which was even now retreating as its owner exited the vehicle to investigate the dog. That arm... that arm flung out with strength to protect him, even when he wore a seatbelt. Connor frowned as he could see Kyle's sheepish grin and the arm return with a gentle hand to tousle his hair.
"Oh God!" Connor's strangled cry startled both Kyle and Jenkins. He stumbled out of the vehicle and managed a few steps before he doubled over, retching. Kyle deposited the unharmed dog by Jenkins' feet and grabbed the canteen.
"Sir?" Kyle placed a tentative hand on Connor's shoulder. The older man managed a few deep breaths before grasping for the canteen. "Are you okay?"
"No, I'm not okay!" Connor snapped hoarsely. He swallowed and straightened slowly. "I feel God-awful."
Kyle seemed about to speak but Connor brusquely cut him off by slapping the canteen into his chest. "Let's get back."
Lieutenant Willis was experiencing what was becoming an all too familiar feeling. She would really rather not be caught in the middle of the conversation Connor was having with Colonel Bennett about evaluating priorities. The only reason she was still involved was their continued need for technical answers only she could provide.
Connor was clearly unwell and the obvious concern for him on the part of his officers was only contributing to his impatience. He looked like a man in need of a week's worth of sleep in a quiet environment but who knew this to be impossible.
Even more distracting, from Willis's point of view, was that Connor seemed uncharacteristically preoccupied with watching Sergeant Reese.
After they'd returned from recon earlier, Reese had made himself scarce. But driven by an inability to do nothing when so much needed doing, he'd rejoined the group in the lab to help with the communications crisis. Some young soldiers, teenagers really, were despondent over the lack of working radio units. Reese quietly examined the various units and pointed out that while they were all broken, it was for different reasons and perhaps parts from one could be used to repair another. Eager to prove their usefulness, the boys set to getting at least one radio operational. Reese sat with them, offering suggestions or help when necessary, but leaving most of the work up to them.
Willis couldn't figure out exactly what had entranced Connor about Reese's behaviour. Clearly the sergeant was a pro at scavenging parts to repair broken comm devices, but that wasn't very surprising. He was also a very patient teacher, showing a lot of consideration for the accomplishments of his pupils. Yet, Willis sensed that Connor's interest was not an evaluation of how useful such a person could be in the new order of things. It was a more personal scrutiny.
Connor broke away from his conversation with Bennett with the colonel in mid-sentence about the distribution of medical supplies. Bennett bit off his thought with frustration, having sensed that he'd lost his audience even before Connor stepped back.
Kyle looked up from the table to see Connor watching him intently. He grew nervous, wondering if there was something wrong about the way the boys were assembling the comm sets. Maybe he should have just done it himself, and then it would be finished by now.
When Connor spoke, his words surprised Kyle.
"We built a radio together," he said, softly, almost questioning as though he wasn't certain it had really happened. "In the basement."
"Yes, we did," confirmed Kyle after a moment.
Connor could see it in his mind, very clearly for a memory of something he'd never done. His father's workbench, usually so ordered, covered with all the parts - parts they'd found in other things and were now using to create their own radio. He could feel, as though it had just happened, the pride he'd felt when they flipped the switch and heard the crackle of static. And then the amazement of hearing a voice coming to them from half a world away.
"You put a map on a corkboard," continued Connor with awe. "You put it in my bedroom and we stuck pins in the places we'd heard on the radio. And then you tied string from our home to all those places, like a web... You taught me that communications are essential."
"Yes, I did," said Kyle.
"I remember," breathed Connor. Then his eyes clouded with the pain of his pounding head. "But how? I never did that."
Kyle scowled at the radio parts on the table and then raised his sullen gaze to Connor. "Well, I did it, so which one of us has the true memory?" His voice got bitter. "Things cut a little deeper when you're one of the pawns, don't they?"
If Miller had intended to break Sarah by scaring her with tales of life without Kyle his plan completely backfired. Rather than crumble under the weight of such revelations, she felt herself growing strong with knowledge. Miller was obviously in awe of her, vacillating between gentle and harsh, yet never able to actually hurt her. Aside from the cramps in her arms and her growing annoyance, she'd been left completely unharmed.
Some of what he'd told her horrified her, there was no doubt of that. Most of it she found very hard to accept, even given what she'd come to believe from Kyle. John growing up a delinquent who stole from bank machines? Not her son! As for the part about her spending time in a mental institution, that was clearly Miller transferring his own experience onto her.
In fact, given that Miller was a less than credible witness, she was hard pressed to believe anything he told her. The only thing that made her wonder about the truth of his story was the mere fact that he was here in the past. John must have sent him back for a reason and for that alone she listened.
As the long night passed and dawn appeared Sarah grew weary of Miller's tale and her head kept bobbing down as her need for sleep took hold. Miller stopped talking and watched her sleep for a few moments before getting to his feet. He stretched out sore muscles, checked the dog again, and grabbed the keys to Kyle's truck. Sarah would sleep for a while and she was still secure in the chair. It was time to get some supplies.
Sarah heard the door shut softly and she heard the sound of the truck's engine. But only when the truck had backed out of the driveway and faded in the distance did she raise her head. He was gone, but she didn't know for how long.
Taking a deep breath she raised her head even higher and bellowed, "JOHN!"
It took a few moments of her calling to him before John appeared in the kitchen doorway, rubbing sleepy eyes. He looked at her, bewilderment plainly displayed, and then looked at Rufus, still asleep on the floor.
"Listen to me very carefully, Bubaloo," she said, forcing herself to sound calm. "You must go and find Sheriff Dillon, or Maggie or Al, do you understand? Get your shoes on and a jacket and..."
He wasn't listening. Instead, having discovered that the reason his mother sat so awkwardly in her chair was because she was tied to it, he went over to the utensil drawer and pulled out a knife.
"Johnny, listen, please. Put that down and get your shoes and coat and leave NOW!"
He hesitated, but only slightly, before approaching her to attempt to cut through her ropes.
"Where's Daddy?" he asked.
"Sweetie," she was getting desperate as she craned around to watch him, "please, please, listen to me. You must leave the house now and get help. It's very important!" When he persisted in cutting she sharpened her tone. "John Connor Reese! I'm not going to ask you again!" His efforts were rewarded when one of the ropes gave way. He placed the knife in her hands and stepped back.
"I want you to come too," he told her.
"There's no time," she insisted. "But I'll follow you as soon as I can, okay? Now, shoes, then coat, then go!"
He was halfway through tying his laces when the sound of the truck returning snapped Sarah's head up.
"Back door, get moving!" she hissed at her son.
He looked at her, obviously scared, but moved towards the door. She breathed a sigh of relief when it closed behind him just as the front door opened and Miller entered.
John was safe, the pressure of the ropes had slackened, and she had a weapon. The desire for retribution flowed through her veins. It was payback time for those stains on Kyle's shirt. She was going to spill some of Miller's blood.
Willis was arguing with Bennett. Albeit, it was a civilized disagreement, as such things go, and they were keeping their voices low so as not to disturb Connor. His condition had worsened dramatically as he continued to suffer from a debilitating headache and nausea brought on by flashes of memories. Even with these constraints she felt vaguely amazed at her audacity to question her superior officer so vehemently.
"This is not open for debate, Willis!" Bennett snapped.
"Sir," she protested quietly, "I believe we need to look carefully at the options and the long range implications before we rule out any possibility of sending him back!"
He fixed her with a cold stare. "What was lost is now won; there is nothing more to discuss."
"Yes, but sir, with respect, we are making assumptions for why this is so! It could have nothing to do with Sergeant Reese's absence in John Connor's life and something to do with..."
"...something that Miller did prior to meeting up with the Reeses."
"You are grasping at best," he informed her. "We don't want to do anything that might jeopardize our victory." He started to walk away.
"You are assuming that this is the best we can do," she said.
He halted and stepped closer to her. "What do you mean?"
"Well, we think this is great because the war is won. What if we could alter history so that it never had to happen at all?"
For a moment, she almost had him. But then he shook his head. "It's too risky. There are too many things that could go wrong."
With mounting desperation, she plowed on. "Look, we know that Reese was the primary educator in John's life. That is a difference between the timelines. But maybe we don't have to remove him entirely, just allow for Sarah to have greater influence on that education."
"What part of no are you having trouble comprehending, Lieutenant?" Bennett was exasperated.
"We can't do this, sir! It's... it's just not right." Her earnest plea cut through Bennett's annoyance slightly.
"Willis," he said calmly, "I'd like to help the sergeant out. He's a good kid and he had a tough mission. But there's more than just him at stake here. A lot more."
"What about Connor?" Willis asked. "He's at stake here too. What if he doesn't recover from this?"
"Casualties of war, Lieutenant."
In a darkened corner of the lab area, cut off from the activity by only a makeshift curtain, Connor lay on a cot and listened to the argument. He was more amused than angry at the exchange. On the whole he had a lot more sympathy for Reese than he'd had a few days ago. Amazing how your perspective can change with a few memories.
Kyle sat near the cot with his back to the wall and glumly contemplated his knees. He, too, could hear Willis arguing with Bennett over sending him back. He shifted uncomfortably, realizing that he'd been sitting on the floor since Connor had collapsed hours earlier. He should pick himself up and find his own corner to crash in but he felt compelled to stick close to Connor. It was hard to shut down those protective instincts.
Kyle felt through the pockets of his uniform, looking for anything that might take his mind off the disagreement over his fate and the ill man lying restlessly on the cot. He wasn't even sure where the clothes had come from since he'd been unconscious when they'd dressed him. There were some crude implements in the breast pocket which he recognized as useful for fixing jammed weapons. A broken piece from the comm device they used to affix to their helmets was in the right hip pocket. And in the left one... his fingers came across something soft. He pulled it out to find a piece of dirty cloth on which someone, perhaps the previous owner of the clothes, had drawn a sketch of Sarah Connor.
It was not at all unusual for pictures or drawings or other icons of Sarah Connor to be carried by the soldiers of John's army. Her image was a talisman for all as an image of hope, of life, of success, of determination. Kyle, himself, had been privileged to carry an original photograph for a time.
He laid the cloth across his bent knee and traced the outline of her hair with a finger. It was a pretty good likeness, all things considered, but it did not compare to the real thing. He ached to think this might be as close as he got to seeing her ever again.
"It has power, doesn't it? That image, I mean." John's hoarse voice cut into Kyle's thoughts.
Kyle glanced over at the other man. John had flung an arm over his eyes to block out the dim light but he was watching Kyle through slitted lids.
"She has power," Kyle corrected. "Her image has nothing to do with it."
John smiled. "I don't know. I seem to recall you becoming bewitched with her long before you had the opportunity to meet her."
The words stung Kyle more than they were intended to and his resentment came spilling out. "I may have fallen in love with the photograph, but I loved the woman!"
Startled by Kyle's tone John rolled to better face him and winced when his head protested the movement. Kyle wouldn't meet his eyes and returned to examining the piece of cloth.
"I still love her," he added quietly.
"Why won't you look at me, Reese?" asked John. "You never used to avoid staring me in the eye before."
With tremendous effort Kyle brought his head up to meet Connor's gaze. "I can't look at you and not see the boy," he explained.
Before Connor could come up with an adequate response to this revelation he was struck by another flash of memory. This one was so clear he almost felt transported to another time and place. The image of Kyle seated near the wall faded into the bars of the railing on the stairs. He leaned against them and gripped one in a hand, comforted by its solidness, while his other hand rested on the contrasting softness of his dog's neck. Down below him, he saw two adults, both unaware that they had a child witness to their conversation.
One of the adults, an older, uniformed man with kind but sad eyes was saying something to his mother. He was the sheriff, John knew. He used words that John didn't fully understand, something about foul play, blood, and bullets. Something to do with the trains that rumbled through the town and how there hadn't been anyone there to see what might have happened.
His mother held herself stiffly apart from the man, listening but not looking at him. And even though he didn't really understand what was being said, or why, John suddenly knew that they were talking about Daddy and what they really meant was that he was never coming home again.
He watched as his mother transformed almost before his eyes. She went from being the loving and cheerful woman who'd cuddled him and sang to him, who'd read him bedtime stories and made him favourite lunches for school, who'd tickled him and teased him, who'd hugged him when he cried and kissed him goodnight, to being a cold, determined, and unaffectionate person.
John wasn't aware of having described this memory aloud for Kyle. He was flung from the remembrance back into the misery of illness, his stomach queasy and head throbbing. Kyle crouched close to the bed now, wiping John's face with a cool, damp cloth. Tears trickled from John's eyes down his face to disappear into his hair. He reached up to grip Kyle's wrist, holding the man's touch on his cheek for a moment.
"She was happy?" he whispered. "She was so happy. I never knew that from her. She was always so sad that even the memory of happy times was bittersweet. But she was happy with you? Wasn't she?"
"We were happy together," Kyle said. "All of us."
"And then she changed when you disappeared. Everything changed when you disappeared." John closed his eyes, forcing two more tears out. "And it's all my fault."
Kyle gently disengaged his wrist from John's tight grasp and wiped away the tears. He sat back on his heels, uncertain how to fix things but unable to turn a cold shoulder to John's anguish.
"John," he said softly. "Let me go back. The LT is right. I was the one responsible for teaching you what I thought you should know for the future. Sarah had other ideas and I..." He hesitated, swallowing the pain of their disagreement. "I wouldn't listen to her. I won't make that mistake again. I'll find a way to teach you everything, everything about the enemy so you can defeat it. I'll find a way to do a preemptive strike against Skynet. I'll do anything. Let me go back. Please."
Connor felt a shudder of memories flicker through his mind, like a sense of déjà vu without really knowing why. The divergent timelines were overlapping in him and their contradictions were making him sick. Yet through the confusion of what had happened and what he remembered he suddenly felt he understood where Kyle had gone wrong.
"Ah Reese," Connor said. "I sent you there to protect and you took your mission very seriously. Your overprotectiveness is what cost us our victory." He lifted his arm to offer his hand. Kyle met him halfway and as they clasped hands, Connor's voice got stronger. "Let's see about getting you a proper briefing this time, Sergeant."
"Yes, sir," agreed Kyle. "Thank you, sir."
Miller hadn't meant to return so quickly but he'd forgotten that he had no cash on him. He'd rather not steal unless absolutely necessary. This was a small community and not one in which he could easily evade notice if he started breaking laws.
He was surprised to see Sarah was awake and completely misread her expression to mean she was relieved to see him.
"Sorry, but you were asleep when I left," he said. "I wasn't gone long though. You don't have to worry; I won't leave you."
"That's funny." She laughed shortly. "Kyle said the same thing."
"He didn't have any choice," Miller said sadly as he moved towards her to check the ropes.
"Yeah? Me neither," she growled as she swung her arm up and implanted the knife firmly in Miller's back.
He howled with surprise and pain and stumbled back as she came unsteadily to her feet, holding a length of the now frayed rope between her hands. He moved out of her range to the other side of the counter and grasped frantically at the weapon imbedded just beyond his reach.
"Need a hand with that?" she asked coldly, following him.
"You don't understand," he gasped. The pain was immense. "You don't understand. I'm here to help you."
"I understand," she said as she pulled the knife from him savagely. He cried out. "But I don't need any help from you, thanks."
Although he seemed on the verge of collapse he rallied enough energy to swing at her when she approached again. While clumsy, as punches go, it was solid enough to send her spinning against the doorframe. Her head collided against the wood with a dizzying crack and she fell in a crumpled heap, dazed.
When she regained her senses, Miller was gone.
It was dark and cold rain was pelting the ground when Kyle returned to Pineridge. As tempting as just lying in a heap of tingling nerve endings might be, he was impatient to get home. He was more or less in the same location he'd been in when Miller had sent him forward. He spared a thought for thanks to Willis for not landing him in the middle of the tracks, as a freight train was currently passing through.
Some kind of covering was a necessity, both to stave off hypothermia and prevent an arrest for indecent exposure. Kyle broke into the freight office by the train station and confiscated an old set of overalls worn by the yard workers.
He had no way of knowing when he was in relation to when he'd left. Willis had explained very carefully, with regret, that she couldn't be completely accurate with the time. He was at some point after Miller had ambushed him but that was all he knew.
Going solely on the darkness and cold, Kyle figured it was past midnight so he was surprised to see a light on in the house as he approached. He was cautious, despite his impatience, because he wasn't sure what Miller's reaction to his reappearance was going to be.
Peering in the lower windows revealed nothing. Both the front and back doors were locked. As he leaned against the panes of glass on the front door to try to see past the curtains he was confronted with a very loud bark from the dog. He leapt back, startled, and then pressed his hands against the pane again.
Nothing for it now that he'd been pegged by the dog. He knocked loudly. The dog barked again and faintly Kyle could her an irritated voice telling the animal to shut up. The porch light came on suddenly, making him squint in the brightness. He shivered with cold.
Then the door opened to reveal a disheveled Sarah, armed with a handgun, now forgotten as she stared at Kyle with shock.
"Door was locked," he said, through chattering teeth. "So I knocked."
The gun clattered to the floor from limp fingers and she stepped forward to draw him into a fierce embrace, heedless of his soaking and dirty clothes. He held her no less tightly, and felt a gratitude beyond measure that he'd been given this second chance.
John had taken to watching his father very carefully, as though afraid he might inexplicably disappear again. Kyle indulged him in this; in truth he didn't mind the attention at all. So when Sarah returned from work to find the house seemingly deserted with only Rufus standing guard in the kitchen, she knew they must be together.
A quick investigation found the pair in the basement, hard at work with something spread all over Kyle's workbench. Sarah sat on the stairs watching for a moment, just happy that Kyle was safe and they were all together again. Miller might still be on the loose, Kyle still wouldn't talk about what had happened, John still hovered, and she still had bruises, but they were safe. They were stronger as a unit than individually; this was one of Kyle's lessons.
All of a sudden, Sarah recognized one of the pieces on the workbench and realized that Kyle was teaching John how to reassemble the RoboBlaster.