Sarah doesn't have time to think about John at first. There is only the all too familiar scramble for identification, weapons, and an easily securable place to sleep. She's gone to ground for almost four months before she starts feeling it—a weight in her stomach that's as heavy as loneliness but harder, like a round, smooth stone nestled deep inside her, pulling on her. It makes her feel sick. She keeps doing self-examinations daily but finds no lump on either of her breasts. Not that she would—the weight loss is supposed to come after the cancer has progressed to a terminal point. Sarah knows there has to be some other cause; she hasn't been sleeping right again for one thing (though in truth she hasn't slept right for 16 years). She manages, as she's always done, by learning to ignore her own pain.
But she soon realizes that this is different. Even when she's engaged in other tasks, most of them comfortingly mundane—grocery shopping, the Laundromat—it feels like she's just biding her time until this sickening gravity overtakes her. Sarah imagines that if you were to peel back all of her skin, her flesh, muscle, and bone, you'd find nothing but a black hole of dead weight. Nothing except for an empty womb where she once carried a child.
John is gone from her, gone where she cannot follow. It has always been his future that they were fighting for; she never stopped to think of her own. The terminator had gone with him, and when Sarah's thoughts stray to the possibilities she becomes weary. Weaver had claimed to be an ally, but Sarah knows she will never fully trust a machine's word. Cameron's unpredictability had made it dangerous to do so. And what of those who had trusted her? She'd seen Ellison's shock when the machine had revealed itself to them. Had the girl known? No, she still thought of that thing as her mother. Mother. Machine. Both are words that have shaped Sarah's life. Would it be the same for the girl?
Sarah understands that she must act. Grief is another enemy she's not sure she can defeat.
They meet in the parking lot of an abandoned gas station near the border. It's an old station, privately owned, and it has proved a useful weapons cache and makeshift safehouse in the past. Sarah enjoys the familiarity. Yet, Ellison wears the same look of wary disapproval he always has when she comes crashing into his life. He does a double take when she steps down from the jeep; she's dyed her hair light brown and cut it very short, close cropped around the ears. He looks different too, thinner, more tense, but he's still the same man who knew where he was going until his world shifted on its axis. He's adapted well.
Sarah cuts to the point: "I need the girl." It takes him a moment to realize what she means.
"What? Sarah, you can't—"
"I can. She's in danger. Skynet wants her dead. I can protect her."
That gets his attention. He stares at her hard, weighing what she's said. She is learning to be patient with him.
"You know I can't just let you take Savannah. She thinks her mother is dead. She's an orphan. That's enough for her to have to deal with without you interfering."
"Her mother is already dead. That bitch killed her."
Ellison shakes his head. "Savannah doesn't know. Besides, there's no guarantee that Skynet still wants to harm her."
"It never stops. You should know that by now. I'm surprised it hasn't tried again already."
Ellison sighs, frustrated. "But how would you care for her? I've seen your parenting techniques."
That stings, but Sarah brushes it aside. "Well, what's the alternative?" she barks. "Foster care? I'm not going to let another child go through that if I can help it. And her life will be at risk."
"No, an arrangement. Weaver's lawyers set it up after her…her death. Savannah has no other living close relatives, so they've hired a professional caretaker to look after her. And she has a security detail, which I'm head of. I'm still on the ZeiraCorp payroll."
"You're in charge?" She chokes back a bitter laugh. "But don't you realize that this is the perfect opportunity? You know her routine. You'll be able to get her away from them without suspicion."
"Are you crazy? If she goes missing, I'm likely to be the first person they suspect."
Sarah bares her teeth. "That's a risk we'll have to take. Besides, I know you can cover your tracks."
He's always been a stubborn man, and he glares even as he acquiesces. "If I help you do this, you have promise to keep her safe."
No one is ever safe. Sarah almost lets the familiar words slip out. Instead she merely says "I'll try." It will have to be enough.
She's not sure how he manages it, despite having demanded to be informed of every aspect of what was shaping up to be a rather convoluted plan. Yet, he'd refused to divulge many details, believing she would somehow compromise the operation. She's angry and anxious, annoyed with Ellison. But then Savannah is in the rearview mirror exiting the backdoor of the restaurant, looking around nervously. Sarah doesn't waste time.
The girl is startled when the truck door opens and Sarah calls out, "Savannah, do you remember me?"
It takes a moment for Savannah to recognize her, but she says "yes" in a frightened squeak.
Sarah runs up to her and crouches down, taking the girl's hand. It is startling in its smallness, and for a second she finds it hard to speak. She whispers close to her ear. "I need you not to be scared. You have to be brave right now. Can you do that?"
Savannah nods, braided pigtails bobbing. Together they run to the stolen truck and climb in. Sarah stomps on the gas, and they screech out of the alley.
"Savannah, I know you miss your mother," she says, not turning to look at Savannah but staring at the white lines of the Interstate. Sarah wonders if the girl ever suspected there was something off about Weaver. She must have, a child would always know its own mother, just as a mother would always know her child—Sarah has to believe that. It's hard to say the next bit.
"I miss John."
"John Henry?" Savannah asks. A brief sideways glance reveals the hope that flashes across the girl's face.
"No, John Connor. My son. The boy who was with me last time."
Savannah does remember him. She remembers his kindness. "He helped me tie my shoes."
"We have to help him now. You're going to help him."
Savannah looks up at her then, her babydoll eyes gone wide. It's as though she's peered straight into Sarah with her child's clarity, unnerved by what she's seen: the singularity of loss.
Savannah is so young, although John wasn't much older when she started to train him. Sarah won't let herself think that this was a mistake.
That first night in the dingy two room apartment, Savannah doesn't speak to her except to ask once where the bathroom is. Sarah makes the girl a bed on the floor from two oversized couch cushions and a few old quilts she'd picked up at the Goodwill. It's only eight o'clock, but Savannah lies down, wraps herself in a cocoon of blankets, and is asleep in minutes. Sarah sits on the remaining cushion, watching. John had slept on so many floors when he was young. And here she was, condemning another child to the same life of secrecy, isolation, and danger. She'd deceived herself into believing it would keep her son safe—what did any of it mean now? Mother. Machine. Which am I? Sarah hates herself.
She falls into a fitful sleep on her couch cushion, but is woken by the touch of soft fingers brushing her wrist. She snaps open her eyes to find Savannah staring at her, one of the blankets draped over her head, her red hair plastered across her face. She is solemn but unafraid.
"Sarah, how can I help?"
Savannah is a fast learner, strong minded with an agile body. She will be one of John's greatest soldiers. But things are different this time. Sarah surprises herself; it turns out that there is some tenderness left in her. It's something she'd almost forgotten. The first thing Sarah teaches Savannah isn't how to clean a gun or even how to shoot: she teaches Savannah how to make pancakes. Savannah is the one who eventually decides that they should add chocolate chips.
Sarah doesn't give up easily. She doesn't give up at all.