"You’re wondering why we’re here."
Cameron shrugs, and for a moment he remembers the girl he met two years ago (or ten years ago, depending on how you look at it), the girl with studied casualness and a voice like a spray of wildflowers. The girl who stopped pretending, stopped being like that once he knew what she was. He realises that sometime while he wasn’t looking, she started doing that sort of stuff for real. Not all the time, but now and then. In the downtime between battles.
"No," she says. "No, I’m not."
He carries on as if she hadn’t contradicted him. "There’s a lot of my people here."
"Derek isn’t here yet."
"But he will be. Won’t he?"
"I haven’t queried the police database. But if he isn’t identified then he will be buried here as an unknown or destitute person. Like the soldiers who came here with him. Like his brother."
"And Riley." Not Charley, at least. They buried him at the lighthouse. "What would have happened to them in the future?"
Cameron tilts her head to one side. It means she’s evaluating multiple possible scenarios. It’s a human movement that matches the class of computation. He wonders when she connected the two things together, or if she ever did. Could it be that Cameron has a subconscious?
"They’re soldiers. They would have rotted where they fell."
"It’s better this way, then. They’re in the ground together, decently buried. And they had time with the people they loved before they went."
He knows who that means for Kyle, but for Derek, he isn’t so sure. There was a shopping list of people Derek was willing to die for, kill for, or just plain kill, sometimes in the same breath. Derek was complicated. Not like Kyle - or so his mother says.
Sometimes John thinks Kyle seemed simple and childlike because Sarah was simple and childlike back then. He wonders if, deep down, Kyle was as complicated as Derek. How could a soldier from that future not be? He wonders if Sarah would have loved Kyle if that were the case, or if she knew that were the case.
Which opens a whole new can of worms about who knew what and when, and how future-him told Kyle to act, and he has to leave that alone because there’s only so many complicated dead father figures that a guy can deal with in a single day.
"Riley had people. She would have had a ritual. In the future, they bury their dead in the tunnels. Like the Roman catacombs."
"So you did know her. I wondered. Did you know Jesse, too?"
She gets this faraway look of recall in her eyes, and he wonders again whether she is becoming more human, or just getting better at pretending to be one. And whether there’s a difference. "I knew them."
"Why didn’t you tell me?"
"I did. I told you people would be angry with you for bringing me back after I went bad. You said you didn’t have to answer to anyone. In the future, you told me sometimes you wouldn’t listen to me and I should let you figure things out the hard way. So I did."
Six months ago, he would have argued the point. Now, he knows that people (and machines) will do whatever makes sense to them, and you can only try to work with their logic. You can’t make them tell you every truth they know, in case they have that one piece of truth you need, no matter how hard you try. Otherwise everyone would spend their lives mining each other’s databanks, and what would make people any different from the machines?
"They weren’t a threat to me, so they weren’t important to your mission."
"Yes. But Jesse is a threat to you now. She’s lost faith in you. And she’ll blame you for Derek’s death."
"What a wonderful thought for the day."
"Why do people have cemeteries?" Cameron asks suddenly. "It seems illogical."
"Because human life is sacred. When a person dies, you bury them and you treat that ground as sacred." He doesn’t know how true he really thinks that is – after all, how many bodies has he left in his wake, discarded like human trash? How many hapless cops and foster parents and security guards who were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Does sacred ground mean anything at all after you died like that?
"But afterlife is important to most death-beliefs. Yet the bodies just stay here unused, like a decoration that you don’t use but you won’t throw out. No trees grow to re-use the nutrients. The soil is never used to fertilise crops. You celebrate afterlife by preventing it."
"Yeah, well, I don’t think people think of the afterlife like that."
"They should. It’s the one kind of afterlife they can make for themselves."
"I think they like that they don’t make it themselves. They like the idea that no matter how alone they feel, there’s always someone looking out for them in the end." He tries to imagine a life where there is no future-him sending people back to help him, and he can’t do it. How on earth did he do it the first time? And how different is pure-John, John who did it alone, from how-many-timelines-removed-John now?
"Derek believed in the resurrection," she says. "He told Sarah the night after I went bad that he spent the night talking to Jesus."
To his horror, he feels his face grow warm with sudden, welling tears. He pushes them back by brute force. He can’t do that right now, he just can’t. "Well, maybe now he’s with whoever was looking out for him. Maybe they were waiting for him." It seems a more satisfactory outcome than just bang, you’re dead for no good reason, not even protecting someone right that minute, just wrong place and wrong time.
"The first Potter’s Field was bought with the blood money Judas got for betraying Jesus," she tells him. "Judas gave it back. They wouldn’t put it back into the community because they thought it was tainted, so they used it to buy a field from a potter to bury strangers and the poor. They called it Haceldama. It means field of blood."
"Field of blood?" he echoes. "That sounds about right."
"I heard what you said to Derek," she says. "It isn’t true. Everyone doesn’t die for you, John."
"Yeah, there might still be a few people left standing by the time this is done."
"I don’t mean that. They don’t die for John Connor. They die for the hope of a better future. They don’t think any one person will fix it, but they think if enough of them changes things, even if they die in the process, then things will get better. John Connor is just the doorway to the past where they can fix it and the future where it gets better. They think he’s what they’re fighting for, but he isn’t really. He’s a window between places and times. They’re fighting for what’s through the window. They’d do it even if John Connor wasn’t there – they just wouldn’t achieve anything by doing it."
He thinks about it. He’s been told his whole life that he’s important. Crucial. And he is, but he is also smaller than they think he is. It’s what he’s been saying all along.
And yet that field of blood just keeps on growing right before his eyes.
"I was wrong," he says at last. "They are making an afterlife for themselves. It’s through the window – right?"
Cameron evaluates his statement for logic errors, apparently finds none, and agrees. "Yes. The better future is their afterlife."
"The field of blood that grows something because they were there."
"Sacrifice is the verb to make sacred," she says. "Does that mean that the better future is sacred ground?"
Those warm salty tears rise again, but this time only as far as his throat. "Yes," he says. "Yes, I think it is."