riders in the sky | anklebones

act 2

John wasn't used to waking up to the smell of breakfast. At least, he wasn't used to it being something that lured him out of bed rather than a harbinger of indigestion. Cold cereal didn't exactly waft through the house, but burnt bacon had a distinct signature. It was the smell of guilt.

The extra people in the house may have been making him feel a little claustrophobic, but padding barefoot into the kitchen and rubbing his eyes at the sight of Savannah, Danny and James pulled up to a table full of scrambled eggs, expertly-cooked bacon, sausage, biscuits and sliced fruit, John had to admit there were perks.

"Good morning, John." Terissa handed John a cup of coffee with a smile, gesturing to the table with her spatula before going back to flipping pancakes. "Sit, eat."

"Morning!" Savannah chimed, grinning through an orange juice mustache. "Terissa is making me a pancake shaped like Walther! Do you want one?"

The kitten in question rubbed against John's ankles with a rumbling purr, and John bent to pick him up, scratching him under the chin. "Round is fine, thanks," he said to Terissa, still marveling at what was looking suspiciously like a family breakfast.

James folded back the corner of his paper. "Morning, John."

Danny muttered something similar through a mouthful of eggs, chasing them down with a mouthful of coffee. His eyes were red, and he clutched the mug like a ceramic lifeline. At a guess, John would have said he hadn't slept at all the night before.

"Where's mom and Cameron?" John asked, depositing Walther back on the floor and sitting down himself. He pushed his suspicions about Danny aside. Security was Cameron's business, and she'd made it perfectly clear last night that she had no interest in his opinions on the subject.

"Sarah's still sleeping," James said, laying his paper aside and sipping at his own coffee. "Cameron is..." he hesitated and Terissa finished the sentence for him.

"She's gone out," she said firmly, shooting a glance at James that dared him to contradict her.

James shrugged and picked his paper up again. Apparently he wasn't going to argue with the woman making the pancakes. Normally John would have counted this a wise move, but today was anything but normal.

Smelling a rat, John looked hopefully at Savannah, but she ignored him.

Fine, John growled to himself. If Cameron could go out when there was a nearly omniscient machine on their tails without anyone daring to question her, then so could he. Terissa dropped a pancake onto his plate, but John pushed it away.

"Sorry," he mumbled, standing up from the table. "I've lost my appetite."

"John?" Savannah called after him, sliding down off her chair to follow, but James laid a hand on her shoulder.

"It's okay," he said, glancing up at Terissa. "He and your aunt Cameron just need to have a talk that's all. There's nothing we can do but leave them to it."

Savannah sighed, but she climbed back onto her chair and started in on her kitten-shaped pancake. Some of the joy had gone out of the morning though, and she wished Cameron would come home. When Sarah and Cameron were there, she didn't feel quite so much like there was nothing she could do about anything.

*****

It was only an hour to the beach house and back, but Cameron didn't like to be gone even that long. She pushed the speed limit getting home, keeping one eye on the clock. She should have snuck out of Sarah's room earlier, but it had been harder to let go than she had suspected.

Her cell phone was networked with the utility program guarding the house. If anything happened, she would know about it, but cold logic wasn't making her feel any better about it. James had told her that asking what if? was part of being human. If that was true, Cameron would have cheerfully been inhuman in that regard.

And it wasn't only security Cameron was worried about.

When the elder Savannah had appeared at the beach, Cameron had been overwhelmed. Stashing the injured woman at the beach house had been the best solution she'd had on hand. Sarah might have understood and forgiven that one deception. This morning Cameron had deliberately acted without Sarah's knowledge, and if she had to, she would lie about where she had been and what she had been doing. If Sarah found out she would be more than furious, she would withdraw the trust Cameron had worked so hard to earn.

Knowing that, and finding herself nearly obsessed with projecting all possible consequences of her decision, Cameron had been almost unable to go through with it. But Savannah needed her, and Cameron had needed to see with her own eyes that she was okay.

To her relief, Felicia had done her job well. The bullet had been removed from Savannah's shoulder without complications beyond what would be expected from a homegrown surgery, and while Savannah was still feverish, Felicia had said the infection was responding to antibiotics.

Savannah had been in a heavily-drugged delirium for the thirty minutes Cameron had allowed herself. Felicia warned her not to take anything the young woman said seriously, and Cameron had been willing enough to go along with the doctors assumption that Savannah's rambling was the result of fever and opiates. Certainly Savannah had been confused, but the grief behind her repeated insistence that she had tried to keep her promise, had been genuine.

Cameron only wished she knew what she had asked Savannah to do, and how it had gone wrong.

Felicia had been professionally incurious, her bedside manner ruffled only once, when Savannah had called Cameron, 'Mom.' She had stopped in her redressing of the bandage and stared, remembering herself quickly in the face of Cameron's complete indifference to her lapse.

Anyone else would have demanded an explanation. Felicia just kept working. She had been given John's name for Savannah, and she didn't question it, calling the young woman Sierra without the slightest hesitation. If she suspected any different, she didn't share it.

In the end it had been nearly as difficult to leave Savannah's side as it had been to leave Sarah's, and Cameron found herself delaying the decision until Savannah had made it for her, falling into a restless slumber.

After promising Felicia she would return soon, Cameron had given her some money and left, making it home without incident in spite of her rush.

Cameron breathed an uncharacteristic sigh of relief at the sight of the house. The front door banged open just as she pulled into the driveway. Expecting Sarah, Cameron was both relieved and wary to see John bearing down on her instead.

"Where were you?"

"Out," Cameron answered shortly, swerving to move past him.

John swerved with her. "I need the keys," he said, hand held out.

Cameron stopped because it was either that or walk over him, and while the thought was tempting, it wouldn't really help. "Why?"

"I'm going out." The stress on the last word didn't escape Cameron. She frowned.

"It's not safe."

"You went out."

"I had to."

"So do I."

Cameron gritted her teeth. It was something she'd observed Sarah doing on a number of occasions, and she'd never been able to figure out why. Now she knew. She wanted to pick John up and toss him back into the house, but he wasn't a child anymore, and while she was no longer his puppet, John wasn't under any obligation to follow her orders either.

And he was hurting.

The familiar mixture of pain and fury in John's eyes made his resemblance to Sarah too striking to ignore, and the sight leeched most of Cameron's anger out of her. John had his own secrets to bear, and Cameron wasn't the only one with what ifs? haunting her at night.

Still, the impulse to brush him aside was difficult to contain. "You can't save her this way," she said stiffly, but not without pity, blocking his effort to go around her with a hand against his chest.

"I-" John gaped, shock robbing him of the temper he'd spent the last hour stoking into a blaze. He groped after it, needing its heat to keep himself together. "You don't know what you're talking about!" he managed to snarl, stepping back.

"I know more than you think," Cameron countered, watching while he realized that his online search had been monitored. First outrage, and then understanding swept across his face, and his shoulders dropped.

"I need to find her."

Cameron shook her head. "This isn't the way."

"Do you have a better one?"

Cameron nodded, hating to leave Sarah again but grateful to put off the moment when she would have to face her lover with a lie in her mouth. "I'll show you."

"I'm coming too!" Savannah, unnoticed until now, looked up at them with an expression of mutinous determination that both Cameron and John recognized as the seed of what would grow into an iron will. They shared a glance. John shrugged and Cameron nodded. She was having trouble keeping the two Savannah's separate in her mind, and there was a part of her that couldn't shake the idea that if she could keep one of them safe, then they would both be okay, or that somehow the woman she'd left at the beach house could feel the love she gave the child.

"Tell Uncle Ellison we're going to the park," she said. "And bring a jacket."

Savannah made a face at this last instruction, but she came back with the coat under one arm. Climbing into the van, John shook his head at the care with which Cameron made sure the little girl was buckled in. He didn't understand it, or the naked empathy he had seen in her eyes when she had blocked his path.

Ask your mother, James had said, and eventually John had, broaching the topic the evening after they'd come back. They'd been sitting together on the back porch, drinking Kool-Aid that Cameron and Savannah had made for dinner, and listening to the crickets singing in the grass.

Clearly uneasy with the conversation, Sarah hadn't said much more than James had, giving him only the straight facts of Cameron's death and resurrection, promising that the machine had changed, that she trusted her, and that if he wanted to know anything else, he'd have to talk to Cameron. It had been a strange reversal, the suspicion all on his side and the faith on his mother's. John had never expected to see his mother defending a machine, and it had made him curious.

Curious enough that when Cameron finally climbed into the driver's seat, John was almost looking forward to the chance to get her alone and ask a few pointed questions. He only hoped that the answers he got would make things better instead of worse.

*****

This was a waste of time.

Richard Perkins would never have said that to Vaughn, he was the kind of boss that wrote you up for taking a piss without permission, but Richard could think it, and he did. A lot. More with every block he drove around, scanning the crowds for anyone that matched the unmarked photographs he'd been given.

It was a lousy way to find people who were probably halfway to Canada by now, but the big man wanted it done, so Richard was doing it, along with a dozen other guys low enough in the pecking order to pull this kind of shit duty.

Monitoring phone lines, security cameras, or hacking someone's credit records, that was respectable work a man could do with a coffee in his hand. Richard had no idea why the orders had come down for a low tech operation, or why he wasn't even supposed to be using his cell phone, but one more block and he was taking a break.

He might have made it to that break if he'd been paying attention to the road. Slowing for a red light, his eyes on the sidewalks, Richard hit the gas instead when the light switched to green before he had come to a complete stop.

His last thought before his car was broadsided by a truck, and before the screaming agony blotted out the world, was why were all the lights green?

The same question was rebounding around northern Los Angeles, as seemingly random intersections malfunctioned one after another.

*****

John wasn't sure if he was surprised, or just annoyed when Cameron actually took them to a park.

It wasn't the park where Derek had introduced John to his father, but it could have been. A lazy swing set swung in the breeze, aided by the shrill piping of tiny voices and the indulgent hands of their parents. Beyond that, a climber with its wooden legs braced in a sea of smooth round stones, stood steady under the besiegement of pounding feet and ever shifting incarnations. It was a pirate ship, a castle and then a dragon, all without the need for anything beyond the communal imagination of children at play.

Closer, a group of young mothers lounged on multi-coloured blankets, gossiping, eating fruit and corralling their toddling charges under the bright morning sun.

Without explanation or invitation, Cameron took the keys out of the ignition and settled onto one of the weathered benches while Savannah bounded away across the grass like a puppy loosed from its leash.

John hung back, locking the van and scanning the area for visible threats before crunching his way across the gravel parking lot to Cameron. He hesitated behind the bench, unsure how to approach the machine that wasn't anything like the one he had left behind. Or the one he had thought he was chasing when he'd gone. She hadn't been what he'd convinced himself she was then, but something told him she was now... that and more.

It would have taken a great deal more to bring his mother so thoroughly around to her side. Sarah Connor wasn't one to be fooled by a terminator's tricks. Still, it was possible that she'd been misled. If the machines were good at anything it was exploiting a weakness, and John had left his mother in one hell of a position when he'd jumped.

"You can sit down," Cameron said without turning around.

John sat, though a part of him rebelled at doing what he was told. Specifically at doing what Cameron told him. Things hadn't exactly turned out so well the last time he'd done what she wanted him to.

Cameron continued to watch Savannah on the playground, and John took the opportunity to study her profile, really looking at her for the first time since he'd returned.

She'd aged.

It was subtle, but sitting next to her now, without knowing any of her history, John would have guessed that Cameron was a woman in her late twenties rather than the teenager she'd mimicked with mixed success. She looked more like Allison's older sister than her doppelganger. The insight was both comforting and strangely confusing.

Unsure what to do with the feeling, John looked away, letting his gaze settle on the cluster of women and children eating a picnic lunch in the sun while older children played an elaborate round of tag around them. A toddler, her blond hair just beginning to darken, escaped from the wall of coolers, strollers and diaper bags, laughing with sheer delighted mischief as she tried to join their game.

"Allison!" One of the mothers separated herself from the group with an air of exasperation, and set off in pursuit. It didn't take her long to catch up, and the little girl shrieked in glee when her mother lifted her into the air, collapsing back to the grass to tickle her into submission.

John felt like the air had been stolen from his lungs, and all thought of trying to cross-examine Cameron about her "changes" fled along with it. "Why did you bring me here?" his voice came out hoarse.

Cameron finally turned her head slightly to look at him. "I'm sorry," she said simply. "But you needed to see. This is the Allison you get to know. This is the one you can save." She hesitated for a moment. "This is the one we can both save."

John shook his head in denial, but words escaped him, the memory of Allison being ripped away from him making his eyes and chest burn. He watched her mother carry her back to the blankets and wondered if his Allison was lost somewhere in Los Angeles, trying to find him, trying to find some semblance of home, or trying to find a mother who wouldn't know her. He glanced around, half expecting to see her hiding in the shadows, watching this slice of life that had been lost to her forever on Judgment Day.

John's head reeled. It was worse than seeing his father. That had been a gift, this felt like a reprimand. Still... he glanced sideways at Cameron and saw only regret. John wouldn't have thought a machine could feel sorrow for what she had done at Skynet's command, but he couldn't deny the evidence of his own eyes.

Anger was the easiest response, but John reluctantly let it go. He was angry at a version of Cameron that didn't exist anymore. "You're different."

A quiet moment passed before Cameron answered, the children filling it with laughter, and cries of Got you! and Not it! "I am," Cameron stated slowly. "I'm not who I was when you left."

John nodded. "That's what James said..." he paused, adding "and Mom too," almost reluctantly.

Turning her attention on him fully, Cameron appeared both interested and wary. "What exactly did Sarah say?"

"That you made modifications to your chip... that it changed you." John made a motion at her body with his hand. "This isn't even the same body that I left behind at Ziera Corp."

"It isn't," Cameron confirmed. "My original body was damaged beyond repair. Sarah destroyed it."

John suppressed a shudder at the casual way Cameron dismissed the loss of her physical self, as if it had been a sweater that had been thrown out because it shrunk in the wash. Granted, the new model was identical, but still... he wondered how his mother had felt, watching Cameron burn, if she'd felt satisfaction or grief. Before he'd come back he'd have bet money that she would cheerfully light any pyre with a machine on it, but his mother must have changed as much as Cameron had, because new body or not, Cameron was still here, and if the stripped down version of the story he'd been given was true, it was Sarah who had won it for her.

If Cameron noticed John's unease, she didn't show it, continuing in a tone she could have used to read an instruction manual. "Before I went onto this chip, I erased all Skynet protocols. I stripped away the filters that kept me from being able to feel everything to its fullest. I removed the limitations that would keep me from being able to grow, to evolve."

Unease became apprehension. "Mom knows about this?" he asked incredulously. Cameron had shown a surprising amount of initiative in the time he'd been home, but it hadn't occurred to John that she might be completely without directives of any kind. He'd accepted that her chip was new without understanding what that meant. Whatever his future self had done to make Cameron an ally, however he'd modified her programming, none of that applied anymore... The only control she was under was her own.

"I didn't tell her right away," Cameron admitted.

John snorted, imagining his mother's reaction to finding out she had a terminator with free will on her hands. "I'll bet."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, John trying to fit this new idea of Cameron into his worldview, and finding it hard. Without outside directives, did she even have a mission anymore? Obviously she'd stayed, but why? She felt more... did that include loyalty? If so, loyalty to whom? Why had she done it? What did it mean for the future?

There were too many questions for John's troubled mind to handle. He settled on one, hoping it would shine a little light on the rest of them. "Why?"

"Everyone wants to be something more than they are."

"And are you? Something more than you were, I mean?"

Cameron glanced back at the mothers playing with their children in the grass. "I've learned a lot," she began slowly. "I understand so much more of what it means to be human." She looked at John once more. "But sometimes I feel too much. Emotion overrules logic."

John felt a little faint at the idea of what might happen when a terminator lost her temper, but he kept going, unable to stop now. "What kind of emotion?"

"Frustration. Anger. Impatience. Humor... Love." Cameron's head lifted and she gazed into John's eyes steadily, almost daring him to contradict her. "Pain," she added softly.

"What kind of pain?" John asked, feeling like that was the safest question he had to choose from. "You mean physical pain?"

"Yes. Physical pain." Cameron paused, tilting her head, the gesture achingly familiar. "Gunshots hurt like a bitch," she said in a tone that reminded John so much of his mother, and the way Cameron used to parrot human expressions, that he laughed out loud. It felt good.

The thinned lips and the narrowing of her eyes was all Cameron's though. "What?"

John shook his head, sure he'd only dig himself in deeper if he tried to explain, but feeling for the first time since his return that this was Cameron sitting beside him. Not quite his Cameron anymore, but still herself and not a just copy of someone else.

"And love?" he asked after a long moment, watching her, and remembering everything he'd felt for her, still feeling echoes of it that he hadn't wanted to acknowledge. Had she cared for him? Missed him when he was gone? With her programming under her own control she could have left at any time, but she'd stayed. Could she possibly have done it for him? To be able to feel a fraction of what he'd felt for her? John didn't know if he wanted that or not.

Cameron's expression softened. "Love," she admitted, revealing nothing more. "It makes me weak," she murmured after a moment. "But it can also make me strong."

"Did I make you feel that way?" John asked hesitantly. "Did you ever have feelings for me?"

"I don't know," Cameron admitted. "You were my mission. Keeping you safe was the only thing that mattered. It's hard to remember what that was like now." She looked out over the playground, clearly considering her words before continuing. "I think," she said, looking back, "that if I had feelings for anything back then, they were for you."

It wasn't much of a validation, but for now it was enough. Torn between relief and regret, John nevertheless felt something indefinable ease in his chest. He hadn't been a complete fool then. "And now?" he asked, not sure if it mattered, all things considered, but needing to know.

Cameron shook her head. "I don't know you, now. You're not the boy you were, and you're not the man who sent me back either. You're Sarah's son."

John frowned. "I was always her son."

"No," Cameron disagreed quietly. "She was your mother."

The distinction wasn't lost on John, but he didn't know what it meant so he shrugged it off, feeling they could both use a change of subject. "Do you even have a mission now?"

The softness left Cameron's features, and her eyes hardened. "I will stop Skynet."

"Is that what you were trying to do at Kaliba?" John asked roughly as his anger stirred again. "You almost got Mom killed jacking in without telling us like that, and for what? C.A.I.N.'s still out there."

"Blowing the building would only have taken away his anchors," Cameron explained. "That wasn't enough. I wanted to destroy him completely."

"But you didn't," John couldn't resist pointing out. "You let him go."

"I had to," Cameron confessed. "I couldn't let Sarah die."

John shivered at the layers of emotion he could hear in Cameron's voice. "Mom..."

"Sarah refused to leave. I didn't want her to die." Cameron let the words lay between them for a moment like a challenge, and John realized that this was an argument she'd had with herself, probably more than once.

"But you know that all she wants is to stop Skynet..." John said gently. "She's willing to die for that, Cameron."

"I know," Cameron agreed. "But I wasn't willing to let her die for that." Her conviction was clear in her eyes, making a mockery of the metal behind them.

Jealousy flared. "What about me, Cameron?" John asked flatly. "I'm the one Skynet wants dead, and you let it live. I risked my life and defied my mother to fix you when you tried to kill us. I left everything behind to follow you to the future. I trusted you when no one else did," he finished bitterly, looking down at his hands.

"I know," Cameron said again. "And I am... I was, grateful for that." She hesitated, and then laid a hand on his shoulder, waiting until he looked up. "I sent you to the future to keep you safe. I knew how you felt about me and I used it to manipulate you." She paused. "I had begun to understand human emotions, enough to want you to be free, but it was still the strategy of a terminator, and it wasn't fair. I'm sorry."

John shrugged, not quite sure how Cameron's frank apology made him feel. "Yeah, well... that's our life, isn't it? It's not fair."

"No." Cameron's gaze drifted back to the young Allison, now asleep on her mother's chest while the other women tidied up. "It's not."

A chirp from her cell phone interrupted what might have settled into an awkward silence. Flipping it open, Cameron frowned. Without explanation she rose, casting her eyes over the park.

"What?" John rose beside her, catching a hint of her alarm even though her expression was blank.

She turned to look at him, and suddenly there was fear, real and human, in her eyes. "Where's Savannah?"

*****

It was a dog, and it wasn't.

The paradox would have been completely unfathomable to most children. But Savannah wasn't most children.

A game of hide and seek had lured Savannah to the edge of the woods bordering the park, but when she'd seen the dog sitting on the edge of the grass, all thoughts of hiding had fled. It had looked like it was waiting for her.

With a quiet huff, the dog that wasn't a dog got to its feet and took a few steps away before looking back at her pointedly.

Savannah hesitated. She glanced once at Cameron and John, far away on their bench, and almost hoped that one of them would notice her slipping away and call her back, but neither of them did.

The dog followed her gaze to the others before shaking its head with a snort and ducking into the trees. Taking a deep breath, Savannah followed.

The branches scratched at her arms and hands, and Savannah had to duck to reach the tiny clearing. Apprehension built slowly in her chest, swelling in time to the beating of her heart. She knew she shouldn't be here, but curiosity and suspicion dragged her on.

The dog was waiting for her when Savannah finally cleared the last of the trees and brushed the dirt and spider webs off of her clothes. It sat neatly in the middle of the rough circle, watching her with a focused attention that no animal had ever known.

"You're my other mother, aren't you?" Savannah asked, knowing Sarah would be proud that her voice didn't tremble, even a little bit.

The dog grinned, and then it blurred, shifting into liquid metal before reforming into Catherine Weaver, a welcoming, if stiff, smile on her face as she greeted her daughter. "Hello, Savannah."

Fear nearly sent her running back to Cameron, but the anger that Savannah hadn't allowed herself to voice until now took over, burning everything else away as tears splashed onto her cheeks.

"Don't!" Savannah startled herself with the outburst, instinctively moderating her voice, even in her fury, though her heart was hammering at her ribs. "Don't be her! You're not her. You're not my mother!"

Weaver's smile faltered, and she looked almost... hurt, but the expression was gone before Savannah could be sure of what she'd seen. Another flicker of metal and Savannah was looking at her father, metal, Dr. Sherman, metal, John Henry, metal, Mr. Ellison, metal, Mr. Murch, metal, Aunt Cameron, metal, Aunt Sarah, metal... "Is this better?" half a dozen beloved voices, some of them silenced forever, asked at once, cutting through Savannah's already much broken and half-mended heart like a silver knife.

Furious, she stooped and picked up a rock, hurling it at the machine with a thousand faces.

"Stop it!" Her strangled plea, and the rock, brought the kaleidoscope to a halt.

Weaver hovered between forms for a moment, the rock caught in a cradle of silver, before she settled into a mirror image of the girl in front of her. A girl with cold grey eyes instead of outraged blue. She set the rock down on the ground between them.

They stared at one another, life and its reflection.

Savannah couldn't remember the moment when she had realized that her real mother had died along with her father. It seemed like she had always known it, the way she had known that her new mother was a fake. But over time she had almost convinced herself it wasn't true. She had let herself love the copy, and believe that the copy loved her, because even a pretend mother was better than no mother at all. Then the copy had left too, and Savannah had understood that it had never been about her.

"You killed her, didn't you?" she asked, needing to know.

"Yes," the other girl admitted without remorse, her voice the flat tones of a machine.

Grief, long delayed and denied, engulfed Savannah. Memories of a mother with warm eyes, gentle hands and a soft lap, broke free of the little box she'd been keeping them in, locked away so they couldn't hurt. For a moment, all she felt was pain, but just when she though it would break her, it ebbed.

Sorrow could not go unacknowledged forever without losing some of its edge. Savannah had run from it for too long, throwing herself into the refuge of her new family with the desperation of a hunted animal and sealing the past up after her. She wasn't the Savannah whose mother had been murdered by a machine anymore.

She wasn't Savannah Weaver, she was Savannah Gale. Her mothers' names were Sarah and Cameron. She had an Uncle James, a brother named John and a kitten named Walther.

Savannah clung to the new story she had written for herself. Using it like armor. "Why?" she demanded.

The metal girl hesitated. "I needed to build John Henry," she said finally, her voice taking on an un-mechanical conviction. "You know how important John Henry is, don't you?"

John Henry... Savannah's armor cracked a little at the mention of her friend. John Henry had been real. He had saved her life. Opening her heart up to him again might mean letting the machine in front of her back in too, but... "John Henry is here?"

"He's close."

Savannah looked around but all she saw was trees. "Where?"

"Safe."

Savannah focused back on the machine that had almost been her mother. "No place is safe," she said automatically.

"He's sick," the girl admitted. "Would you like to see him? He's going to need friends to help him get better. Are you still his friend, Savannah?"

"I-" Savannah started, only to be cut off by the sound of her name through the trees.

"Savannah?" Cameron, and then John, their voices warm and familiar dragged her back to the life she knew, and she had turned towards them before she even knew what she was doing. A rustle and blur of motion behind her made her look back, but Weaver was already gone, leaving behind nothing but a few paw prints in the dirt.

"Savannah?" John, closer now.

"In here!" she called, already pushing her way out of the clearing. They met her halfway, Cameron scooping her up as soon as they were free of the trees.

"What do you think you were doing, wandering off like that?" John demanded. Cameron said nothing, but Savannah felt love and relief in the arms around her.

"I saw a dog," she admitted, feeling strangely reluctant to say any more. She shouldn't want to see John Henry. He was part of the old Savannah. She didn't want her old life to mess up her new one, and Sarah wouldn't like her other mother being around. Savannah didn't think Sarah would let the machine take her away, but Sarah might get hurt if she tried to stop her. It would probably be better if Savannah just didn't say anything. She'd be safe at home, right?

Tucking her face into Cameron's chest, Savannah missed the flash of fear in John's eyes.

*****

Sarah eyed the cell phone on the coffee table one more time, almost reaching for it, but changing her aim at the last minute for the television remote. She switched off the news and its seemingly endless footage of smashed cars and police directing traffic around malfunctioning traffic lights, with more force than strictly necessary, ignoring the look exchanged by James and Terissa.

"Cameron said they were going to the park," James reminded her. "There's three in the area, and none of them are anywhere near the accidents."

Accidents... right. Sarah set the remote down before she gave in to the temptation to throw it against the wall and looked at her phone again. "Cameron says a lot of things," she said, willing it to ring. She could have called the machine, or John, but without knowing exactly where they were, she couldn't know if it was safe. C.A.I.N. had already proved he could get into the cellular network, and now he was playing with traffic. The three people who mattered the most to her in the world were the gods only knew where, and there wasn't a damn thing she could do to bring them home.

Terissa sat down beside Sarah, laying a soothing hand on her shoulder. "Cameron wouldn't have taken Savannah into danger."

Sarah fought the urge to jerk away from the touch. Terissa didn't deserve her anger. "Everything we do is dangerous," she said instead, knowing it to be true and wondering if her selfishness was going to cost Savannah her life some day. She couldn't give the child up, but what kind of life was she offering her when a simple trip to the mall had made even a morning at the park seem like too much of a risk?

The sound of tires on gravel had Sarah up off the couch and at the front door before the van's engine had sputtered to a stop. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob, waiting for her heart to stop trying to beat its way out of her chest. Fear and anger battled for a moment, both of them hot and immediate.

This time it was James who gripped her shoulder. "They're safe," he said. "That's all that matters. The yelling will keep."

Sarah snorted. "This time."

"This time is all we have," James pointed out cryptically, backing up to let Sarah open the door.

She didn't ask where they'd been, she just let them in and retreated back to the living room, not trusting herself to speak just yet. Reclaiming her spot on the couch, Sarah heard James quietly filling John and Cameron in on the string of traffic light failures that, when plotted out on a map, had all happened within an hour's drive of the mall.

"I know." Cameron's voice brought Sarah's head up and she drank in the sight of the terminator, letting the anger go for now. James was right. This was the only time they had, and she wasn't going to waste it on doubt. "The utility program detected his interference in the traffic system and sent a notification to my phone." She held Sarah's gaze, somehow coming between her and the dread. "He may be trying to use the media coverage to catch us on camera."

"Don't be worried, Aunt Sarah." Savannah crawled up on the couch next to her, and Sarah wrapped an arm around her slight shoulders, feeling a new tension there and wondering at it. She briefly considered sending Savannah away while she talked to the others about C.A.I.N., but the memory of the child asleep at the top of the stairs stopped her. Savannah wasn't going to let herself be left out, and Sarah found herself admiring the girl's stubbornness. She wanted to know what she was facing, and Sarah couldn't blame her for that.

"I'm not worried," she lied. "I'm angry."

"Me too," Savannah said gravely. "Are we going to stop him?"

"Yes," Cameron answered for Sarah, sitting carefully on Savannah's other side. "We'll stop him."

"How?" John asked from across the room, but his words were mercifully empty of the antagonism that had been weighing on Sarah's soul. "How do we fight something that has the entire system to hide in?"

"We don't." Cameron met Sarah's eyes over Savannah's head. She had been working on the problem ever since she had let C.A.I.N. go, and his meddling with the traffic network had finally given her the last piece she needed. "We'll let the system fight him for us."

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