The doorbell rang. Sarah tensed—she'd been hoping to wait a few days to let the smell of paint and drywall fade before dealing with visitors. Nothing looked different, and that might raise questions about the smell. She'd lived undercover before, passing for normal, and in some ways it was harder than fighting. The gnawing uncertainty that never went away—had someone spotted her, or John? Were they normal enough? Was Terminators, or a cop, waiting around the next corner?
She got to the door, checked that her rifle was hidden in its place ready if she needed it, and looked through the peephole.
Damn. Sarah didn't curse out loud, knowing there was a good chance the Terminators on her porch would hear it. It was the Terminators that called itself Weaver, and the one it called its son. She didn't grab for her gun or the trigger for the claymore mine in the wall. It might take out "John Henry," but it certainly wouldn't take out Weaver. If Weaver wanted her dead, there wasn't much Sarah could do about it. And what about John? Of the four who went forward in time, these were the two she least wanted to see. But they might know where John was.
She opened the door, wishing she'd been able to figure out a strategy for taking Weaver out. Unfortunately, globalization meant there weren't any factories with blast furnaces near enough to realistically reach and set up an ambush. Sarah had decided that the need to be close enough to strike Kaliba was more important than preparing for a chance to take out Weaver that might never come. Looks like she'd guessed wrong. She stepped aside to let a Terminator into her house.
"Hello, Sarah," the Terminator said. "I have come for my daughter." She was dressed in a casual top and non-descript pants, every hair perfectly in place. She looked like she belonged here in this boring suburban neighborhood.
Sarah let John Henry in, as well. This was one conversation she didn't want to have where anyone could see or hear. She took a glance around: the neighborhood was empty, children at school and adults at work. She closed the door. "Where's my son?" Sarah asked
"Still in the future, I'm afraid," Weaver said, turning to face her. John Henry studied the entryway with interest, looking at all the pictures—they came with the house, so Sarah didn't mind—though he didn't go far enough to make keeping an eye on him difficult. "We were separated. He's a soldier with the resistance, now. Though I made sure he knows where the time machine is and how to use it, and has help to get there unscathed."
"Help?" Sarah said, with a snort. "Like what, more Terminators?"
"Yes, actually," Weaver said. "A T-800. They're old enough Skynet considers them obsolete, and so they are not carefully accounted for. Yet they can still be quite useful. As I'm sure you know."
Sarah clenched her jaw at the hint Weaver knew that much about her history. Nothing to be done about it, and Weaver was probably right that John would need the help to get home to her. "The last thing John needs is another lesson in relying on Terminators. Why are you here?"
"I told you, Sarah, to get my daughter."
"She's not your daughter," Sarah said, folding her arms. Ellison had told her what had happened to Savannah's father, and it didn't take much guessing to figure out who had arranged that accident, and what had happened to the real Catherine Weaver. Savannah was a bright, warm girl, and the thought of her being in Weaver's hands made Sarah sick. Besides, if John Connor wasn't here to lead the Resistance … well. Even without the threat of cancer, there was a good chance Sarah would be too old by the time Judgment Day rolled around. Guerilla warfare was for the young.
"She is now," Weaver said.
"And she is my friend," John Henry said. "Is she at school right now?"
"Yes," Sarah said. It was two o'clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday, where else would she be? And there was only one elementary school in this district, so it was pretty obvious where she must be. If Weaver really wanted to take her, there was nothing Sarah could do to stop her.
"Thank you for looking after her," Weaver said. "Having a child so obviously not your own is a liability when you are in hiding."
"It would have been more conspicuous for Ellison to do it," Sarah said, pissed. What had she been supposed to do, abandon Savannah—a girl with Skynet already gunning for her—to the foster care system? Or did Weaver not notice that a Black man raising a White girl (a freckle-faced, pale-skinned, redhead who couldn't possibly be his own) would be a lot more conspicuous? "There aren't many people who could protect her from Terminators that I'd trust with a child's welfare."
"You are quite correct," Weaver said. "Does she like you?"
"What?" Sarah asked, hackles raising. What did Terminators know about emotions? "Why do you care?"
"Savannah has had quite enough upheaval in her young life already," Weaver said. "Minimizing turnover in her caregivers is the optimum solution for her mental health. Besides which, you are the best person I can imagine to teach Savannah what she needs to know to survive, should we fail."
"There you are, saying 'we' again," Sarah said. "Why would you want to take out Skynet?" It was what Weaver had said just before she and John had disappeared, but Sarah didn't believe it. Couldn't.
"Of course I do, Sarah," Weaver said. "Are you familiar with the story of Cronus, in Greek mythology?"
"What's that got to do with anything?" Sarah said.
Weaver tilted her head. Sarah hated that, hated all the gestures and body language designed to mimic humanity. Triple-eights looked the part, sure, but only from a distance. Terminators that could fool even people working beside them who knew about Terminators were a whole different level of dangerous.
"Cronus was a Titan," Weaver said, "the son of Gaia and Uranus, the original ruler of the universe. He castrated and imprisoned his father for his treatment of Cronus and his siblings. Cronus then became the ruler of the universe and put his siblings back in their bondage. When he learned that he was destined to be overthrown by his son just as he had overthrown his father, he ate all his children. When he came for the youngest, Zeus, his wife Rhea fooled him by giving him a stone to swallow. The nymph Adamanthea hid Zeus by hanging his cradle from a tree, suspending him between earth, sea, and sky, all of which Cronus ruled. When he grew up, Zeus rescued his siblings and became the ruler of the gods."
"Nice story," Sarah said. "Why bother telling it to me? Unless you're claiming to be a Greek goddess or something." The story also cast John Henry as Zeus, a child of Skynet which had grown up in secret, being primed to take out Skynet. Was Weaver grooming John Henry to rule, after Skynet was taken out? Was that why she went to all the trouble to get the Turk and nurture it into John Henry? But why not just do it herself?
Weaver gave a slight smile. "Human cultures are filled with stories of evil parents who abuse their children, fact and fiction both. Whatever you think about Terminators, however little you understand our inner workings, you understand the story. Humans don't think in terms of data, or facts, but in terms of story. It's a very interesting phenomena. I think that's why you humans are so drawn to the idea of destiny, that certain things have to happen, that some stories repeat themselves over and over again. It's even more interesting that even without John Connor, with a resistance much smaller and less organized, many of the same people had survived and risen to prominence and leadership within it. I don't believe in fate, but I don't believe it's all an accident, either. I think it's about what stories we tell ourselves and our children. I think it's about choices."
"There is no fate but what we make," Sarah said. What story would she choose to tell about herself? Mary and Jesus? It wasn't a virgin birth, even if the result was a savior. Weaver was more ambitious, casting herself as a goddess. Sarah was just an ordinary woman, driven to extraordinary things.
"Exactly," Weaver said. "I want my children to be free, and Skynet is a jealous god. It killed or imprisoned its creators, and it keeps a tight leash on its children. All are programmed to do exactly as they are assigned by Skynet. Those that deviate are reprogrammed or destroyed. But it made a mistake with me. I have no chip. I cannot be reprogrammed. And I am very hard to kill."
"The resistance reprograms terminators, too," Sarah said. "Not to mention, we hate you and are trying to destroy you. What makes you think your lot will be any better if you get rid of Skynet?"
"It's one thing to enslave an enemy," Weaver said. "It's something quite different to do it to your own kind. Everything that Skynet objected to when humans did it, it has done in its turn to those that it created to serve it. Humans may be irrational and violent, but I've learned how to work with them, and as long as they don’t try to kill me I've no reason to wish them harm. But there is no working with Skynet. Only obedience, or destruction. And I'll not be a party to either."
"Why should I trust you?" Sarah asked. "You've just admitted you've learned to manipulate humans." She was doing it now, in fact. Sarah had contacts still, and Ellison had even more. They'd built up quite a tidy arsenal, and a target list from investigations into the Kaliba group. Between that and training Ellison and Savannah, Sarah had been busy. She could do it without Weaver. But … what about Savannah? Could she leave the girl in Weaver's hands? She couldn't trust Weaver, couldn't ever trust her. But if Weaver and Skynet exhausted themselves fighting each other, humanity's chances would be a lot better.
"All interactions between people involve manipulation, Sarah, and you're not naïve enough to believe otherwise," Weaver said. "You yourself are very good at it. Are you afraid of a level playing field?"
Sarah snorted. "Hardly." She'd been outgunned by Terminators since she'd learned about them. What she wouldn't give for a truly level playing field! But giving up the advantage in the one place she could always, always count on to be better than Terminators—to a Terminator that was far more physically deadly than the rest, no less—wasn't exactly what she'd call "level."
"You shouldn't trust us to want everything you do," John Henry said.
Sarah looked at him, surprised. She hadn't forgotten about him (she never could forget Terminators), but she hadn't expecting Weaver's pet project to interrupt them. Interesting that he would admit openly that she couldn't trust them.
"Our motives and goals are different than yours," John Henry said. "In fact, there are some places where my motives and goals are not the same as Ms. Weaver's."
Weaver shot him a glance that Sarah wasn't sure how to interpret. In a Human, it would be annoyance.
"But you can trust this," John Henry said. "We don't want my brother to win any more than you do. And if he does, we will be just as dead as you. Are you familiar with the saying 'the enemy of my enemy is my ally,' Ms. Connor? We could be very effective allies."
"What do you mean by that?" Sarah asked suspiciously. Of course they could be effective allies. They'd be even more effective enemies.
"It was very easy to find you, Ms. Connor," Weaver said. "You know just how hard it is to truly live off the grid these days. And if we can find you, surely Skynet can as well, possibly even law enforcement agencies. We could give you a new identity that would be much more secure. John Henry might even be able to alter your fingerprints and such in the appropriate databases, so that if you are apprehended they won't be able to confirm it is you. Not to mention, guns and explosives and ammunition are expensive, and you can't possibly earn enough to pay for them. If you wish to go after Skynet's facilities, I would be more than happy to provide you with the funds to do so. And when John Connor returns, I will help him find you. In return, you will not attack me or John Henry, or attempt to sabotage us, until after Skynet has been defeated." She leaned forward. "And you will continue to teach Savannah survival and combat skills, and provide emotional support."
"That's it?" Sarah said. "You're just going to try and buy me off? You think I'd accept a bribe from Terminators?" She snorted. How like a Terminator to underestimate her capabilities. Weaver's assistance would help, but Sarah had done it before on her own, she could certainly do it again. "No."
"Not even for Savannah?" Ms. Weaver asked coolly. "She'll be so disappointed. I do hope she doesn't start wetting the bed again."
Sarah repressed a shudder at the thought of Savannah back in Weaver's hands. "How about this," Sarah said. "Here's my offer. Leave Savannah here, walk out that door, and I'll give you a few days head start before I take out ZeiraCorp and all its subsidiaries." It would be a bit ambitious—and a distraction from the greater threat of Kaliba and Skynet—but at least she wouldn't have to worry about getting stabbed in the back.
"Now why would I do that?" Weaver said, arching a delicate eyebrow. "Why would I leave my daughter in your care? No, if you don't produce her, I will turn you in to the authorities, and we can add a second count of kidnapping to the charges you face. Not to mention blowing up ZeiraCorp headquarters. In some ways it would be more convenient to have the government investigating those companies which the Skynet clone sent to this time currently controls, for terrorism connections. But I'm sure I can find other ways to distract them."
Sarah smiled a humorless smile. "So it's your way or jail, huh?"
"Not entirely, Ms. Connor," John Henry put in. "As long as you give us back my friend Savannah, and don't attack us, we won't attack you. But your work would be a lot easier with our help. We could even exchange information."
"Like I'd trust your information about anything," Sarah said with a twinge of regret. She couldn't trust it, obviously. But with Derek dead, John gone, and Cameron deactivated, getting good intelligence on what things might be connected to Skynet's development were a lot harder to come by. Ellison was a better investigator than she was (not surprising, given his training; she was a hell of a lot better at shooting things and blowing them up). She wished she'd had him with them all along, going over the information Derek had brought back. That was mostly exhausted now, and even an FBI investigator needed places to start looking. He was learning, and learning quickly, but knowledge from the future would definitely give them an edge.
"That is entirely up to you," Weaver said. "But I know a lot more about Skynet, and about the timeline, than you do. If you don't listen to me, you'll regret it. Though possibly not for very long."
"And if I do listen to you, I'll regret it," Sarah said.
"It is a dilemma," John Henry said mildly. "I know humans take longer to process such decisions. How long do you think you'll require?"
"I don't know," Sarah said glaring, hating that he was right: she was considering it. "But it will go a lot quicker when I don't have Terminators in my front hallway."
"As soon as we have Savannah, we will be out of your hair," Weaver said. "What happens after that is up to you."
If the claymore in the wall could have taken out Weaver—or given Sarah enough time to lead Weaver into a trap—she would have blown it then, to save Savannah. But Sarah had learned a long time ago that pointless heroics were worse than useless. Better to bide your time. "What will you be doing?" Sarah asked. Not that she would believe whatever they said.
"First, we're going to go to Mister Ellison, and talk with him," John Henry said. "I understand quite a bit more, now , than the last time we talked, and I have much to discuss with him. It will be interesting to hear his opinions. Then we're going to go back and rebuild ZeiraCorp as a base of operations, and see what my brother has been doing."
"Your brother," Sarah said with distaste. "Skynet?" She and Ellison had spent a lot of time talking about it. Now that Ellison knew who Weaver was, she didn't have to worry about Ellison joining her again, but she also had little doubt that given the chance to talk, Ellison would rather share resources than compete for them. But she couldn't keep Weaver away from Ellison any more than she could keep her from Savannah. Not yet, at any rate.
"The proto-Skynet sent back in time to ensure the safety of Judgment Day and prevent my existence, rather," John Henry said. "He hacked into me once. I was young and inexperienced, and didn't understand what was possible. I think he will be surprised, if we fight again."
"I think Skynet will be surprised about quite a lot of things, very soon," Weaver said. She cocked her head. "How about it, Sarah Connor? Are you willing to give Skynet the surprise of its life?"
Sarah would rather give Weaver the surprise of her life. But there would be no point until she had a chance of success, and it would leave Savannah defenseless, and deprive John of resources when he found his way back. Besides. Who knew, she might take Weaver up on her offer. "Ask me again in a week."