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The Children's Crusade

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A.D. 2013
Timeline Alpha Bravo Three, Code "Born to Run"
Three Years After "Born to Run"; Three Years Before Judgment Day

According to legend, in the early thirteenth century, a young boy inspired by a vision led an army of thirty thousand children to the Mediterannean Sea, as part of a trip to the Holy Land in order to fight the Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. There they were given passage by friendly merchants . . . who, rather than taking them to Jerusalem, quickly sold the children into slavery.

I can't help but think of those children as Savannah stands on the shooting range with a pistol in her hands, calmly and coolly firing shot after shot. She's twelve years old, and after three years of practice she's already a better shot than John was at that age. Of course, that was before the Terminator came and changed everything, when John didn't really believe and I was locked up in the mental hospital as insane.

Savannah believes. At the age of twelve, she's already seen too much not to.

Both Savannah's arm and aim are steady. She fires her shots, and when the target is retrieved, most of the shots fall within the bullseye, with the ones outside never too far off. "Good job," I praise her and then, because good is never good enough, remind her, "Watch your breathing."

Savannah's known me long enough to understand that my words aren't a criticism of her, not really. "Thank you," she says, but her voice is solemn, not excited at her accomplishment as John would have been at that age. Those shots outside the bullseye trouble her as much as they do me; she knows just how thin the thread by which her life may hang might be. "I'll try harder next time."

I remember the way John's face lit up at getting a shot in the bullseye, and it seems to me that the problem isn't that Savannah isn't trying hard enough. If anything, she's trying too hard. I now have the conscientious student that I was trying to mold John into, and suddenly I'm wondering if the other way wasn't better.

"Just do your best," I tell her, but the words sound empty even as I say them. We both know one's best is worth nothing if it doesn't stop the machines.

"Ms. Connor, hello," Mr. Murch greets me warmly. He, indeed anyone to be found on this level, is involved enough in all this to know my true name and why it doesn't match the name on my identification badge. "Come for a visit?"

I nod, not particularly eager to chat. Mr. Murch knows me well enough to not be offended.

"Well, you know where to find her," he says with a soft laugh, and continues about his business.

Cameron's chasis, repaired as much as possible by the ZeiraCorp engineers, is seated behind a desk, the signs of the damage to it from the raid on the prison still visible. It was Matt Murch and his team who fixed her up. A series of wires runs out of the back of her head, connecting the body to the massive supercomputer behind her.

She looks up and sees me. "Sarah," she greets me, her voice cool. "Welcome."

Savannah doesn't know she is down here; if I can help it, she will never know. Tied to the basement as she now is, Cameron is unable to protect Savannah physically, and I don't want Savannah learning to become too comfortable around the machines. I won't let what happened to John happen to her.

I sit down on the other side of the desk. "Hello, Cameron."

Cameron simply studies me, unhurriedly. "Hello, Sarah," she says.

Cameron has a theory, that John hasn't returned because he can't return, not to this timeline--that we are the past of the future he has traveled to, one which will never have known a John Connor, leader of the Resistance, and that when he tries to return he will change history, creating a new timeline with a different Sarah who will get to have her son back. But to me, he is forever lost.

I try not to hate that other version of myself. I fail.

I think of the parents of the children in that Crusade, who had to watch their children leave their homes to try and win the war the adults could not, and I wonder if they ever tried to tell themselves it was all worth it, and if so, if they ever managed to truly believe the lie.