toy soldiers | zennie

act 2

The porch light was shining through the windows, fracturing into long arms of gold and shadow as they stretched across the living room floor. Silence thickened as everyone waited to hear Sarah’s reaction to the bombshell they’d just dropped on her. Surrounded by guilty faces that wouldn’t meet her gaze, Sarah felt the moment of peace she’d found in the basement with Cameron evaporate into the ether.

“Gone,” Sarah murmured, her voice was hoarse from crying but her eyes were clear and sharp now out of necessity. “What do you mean, she’s gone?” She could feel Cameron hovering close by, her presence the only thing that kept panic from setting in.

Everyone shifted. Terissa and Ellison exchanged looks from the couch. Danny sat at the remaining computer, watching the scene unfold for once rather than keeping his back to it.

John swallowed at the barely-concealed pain in his mother’s voice. Savannah was missing, again, and he felt the added weight of responsibility, knowing a machine could be out there looking for her. Her running away was not his fault, but if a terminator found her because he had left a vacancy when he fled from his own future... that would be on his head. 

“John?” Sarah demanded when he didn’t answer fast enough.

He bristled. “I don’t know where she is,” he snapped, his frustration fuelled by guilt and worry. “It’s not like a kid would want this life.” Feeling like an ass when his mother flinched, John held up his hands and tried rein in his temper. The tension between them wasn’t helping, and he was making it worse. “I’m sorry... it’s just...”

“Did you talk to her?” Sarah questioned, ignoring the jab as best she was able. John had always known how to kick her when she was down, a trait he’d acquired from years of resentment. She racked her brain, trying to imagine what Savannah might have heard or seen to drive the child away again. Glancing at the darkness outside, Sarah felt fresh worry bloom in her guts at the thought of Savannah wandering the streets of LA alone at this hour. 

John watched as his mother began to pace around the living room, her arms crossed in front of her chest, hugging herself. He ached for her almost as much as he worried for Savannah. Sarah’s agitation contrasted sharply with Cameron’s stillness; the cyborg was planted in the corner, standing motionless like a statue; the only sign of life were her eyes tracking Sarah’s movements across the floor. John eyed her uneasily for a moment, wondering what the terminator was thinking.

“No. I just walked by her room and noticed the door was open.” They had already ransacked the house searching for the girl before he’d even called for his mother. His gaze slid uneasily to Cameron, afraid she would be glaring at him, but the cyborg’s gaze never left his mother. Something about the look in her eyes made John pause and stare. Cameron’s gaze was intense and worried, reflecting so much emotion he had no choice but to believe she could actually feel them. 

“Where would she be?” Sarah asked. No sooner had the question left her lips than John, Terissa, and James overwhelmed her with suggestions. She shut her eyes against the tumult and turned toward the terminator blindly, as if seeking some of her stillness.

“She took my phone,” Cameron observed quietly, her voice cutting through the discord sharply.

“What?” Sarah opened her eyes to stare at the terminator, feeling herself steady just a little bit.

“She took my phone.” Cameron gestured at the tangle of phones and chargers on the table in the entranceway.

Comprehension dawned as Cameron locked eyes with Danny, noting the way he flinched and dropped his head as soon as she looked at him. “Track it,” she commanded as she snagged Sarah’s phone from the nest of cables. Capturing Sarah’s wrist, Cameron effortlessly lead her to the door, pausing to grab a jacket for Sarah from the coat tree. “Let us know when you pinpoint her location.” Danny turned to the computer and began to do as ordered, clearly glad to be useful for a change.

John’s eyes were drawn to where Cameron’s fingers were wrapped around his mother’s wrist. Sarah hadn’t protested the contact; in fact, she seemed happy to let herself follow the terminator’s lead and be dragged to the door without a word, but something about it made him pause. He didn’t understand why, but the sight of her allied with the machine gave rise to new misgivings.

Ellison’s grip on John’s arm jolted him out of his musings. Terissa joined them and they followed his mother and Cameron, scrambling outside to their vehicles.

“John, you and James go north and circle east. We’ll go south and circle west,” Sarah ordered brusquely as Cameron started the truck. “She’s on foot; she can’t have gotten far.”

“I’ll stay here in case she comes back,” Terissa offered, and Sarah gave her a tight nod before slamming her door.

“We’ll find her,” Cameron promised into the quiet as she started the car.

“I’m not losing both of my children today,” Sarah murmured, meeting Cameron’s startled gaze squarely.

“You won’t.” Cameron’s voice was softer, but filled with conviction. “But Savannah is so grounded when we find her.”

Surprised but heartened by the faint trace of humor in Cameron’s voice, Sarah felt some of her world steady. She reached out and laid her hand on Cameron’s knee as John and James backed out of the driveway, the contact calming her even more. “You’re damn right,” she agreed.

 

****

The dog trotted ahead of Savannah, pausing only to glance back when she stumbled in the dark on unfamiliar sidewalks, Cameron’s phone clutched tightly in her hands. The air was crisp, and Savannah wished she had gotten a heavier jacket to keep out the chill.

They had taken a meandering path through backyards, side streets, and alleyways, and Savannah wasn’t sure she could find her way back to the house if left alone, so she stuck as close as she could, watching the occasional splashes of light on the back of the German Shepherd seep the color from its fur to turn it a ghostly silver. Savannah shivered, less from the cold and more from the edge of fear that crept in her stomach. Not for the first time, she regretted her impulsive decision to sneak out of the house when she had seen the dog standing at the edge of the lot, staring intently at her window, and she tightened her grip on the phone like a lifeline to Cameron and Sarah.

Her feet hurt in her pink and black sneakers, but she continued to follow, needing to see her decision through to the end. Her curiosity was too high to allow for any other choice. With any luck, she could sneak home before anyone even noticed she was missing.

The dog paused at a gate before leaping over a high wood fence.

The latch stuck as if it hadn’t been used in a long time, and the hinges squeaked as Savannah pushed the door open. She gave the silent house a frightened glance before slinking across the yard to the thin trickle of light playing across the grass. Pressing her forehead to a crack by the doorway, she saw a row of monitors flickering with images and bathing the room in an eerie blue light.

A reflection of blue on silver caught the corner of her eye, and Savannah turned just in time to see Weaver shimmer into being behind her. “Hello, Savannah.”

She frowned at the facsimile of the woman in front of her, but her eyes were drawn back to the garage. “Is that...?”

“Yes. Would you like to say hello? I know he would like to see you.”

Cautiously, Savannah edged open the door and stepped inside. John Henry sat still and silent in the middle of the room, a thick cable attached to the back of his head. He did not open his eyes or respond to her in any way, a far cry from the cheery smile he had always given her back in the basement of Ziera Corp. She was struck by an intense feeling of longing, for her friend, for the life she had left behind, for the time when she hadn’t know her mother was dead and a machine lived in her place.

“What’s wrong with him?” she asked.

“I told you, he’s sick,” Weaver said patiently.

“Cyborgs don’t get sick,” Savannah replied flatly.

She was surprised to feel a gentle hand on her hair and to hear a sound like laughter coming from the thing that looked like her mother. She ducked her head away from the touch, but Weaver didn’t seem to notice or care. “You are right, Savannah, we don’t get sick. But we can be injured... damaged.”

Blue eyes returned to John Henry’s blank features. “He’s hurt?” she asked worriedly. “How?”

Weaver stepped closer to the body, gesturing for Savannah to do the same. “His chip was damaged, long ago, before it was given to him.” Her lips curled in a sneer, as if at the idea of John Henry receiving inferior parts. “He received a shock, and it further damaged him. I’m trying to make him well again.”

She looked down suddenly, causing Savannah to freeze in place when their eyes met, her hand inches from John Henry’s. “Go ahead,” Weaver said, baring her teeth in a semblance of a smile. “It will help him.”

Savannah completed the movement, touching the chilled skin of John Henry’s hand carefully. The skin warmed and then fingers twitched under her fingers. Raising her head, Savannah found his familiar eyes open and staring at her, his mouth moving wordlessly as the flow of images across the monitors ceased. “Hello World” blinked on in their place. The twitching turned into a tremor, as if he was trying to raise his hand.

“See,” Weaver murmured, pride and pleasure in her voice. Savannah wasn’t sure if it was directed at her or herself. “You’re making him better already.”

“Cameron can help,” Savannah told her, confident in her aunt’s abilities.

Weaver’s face tightened into an expression of distaste. “We’ll see,” she said, her voice lilting with the accent Savannah had so loved to listen to as a child.

John Henry’s hand twitched more violently, drawing Savannah’s attention back to her cyborg friend. “John Henry?” she called, searching his eyes for recognition, eager to hear his voice.

Savannah was so entranced that she didn’t notice Weaver cocking her head, detecting car doors slamming in the distance. With one last look, Weaver shrank back from her children, melting into the concrete just as the sound of boots on concrete became too loud to ignore. The lights abruptly winked out.

The door exploded inward, and Savannah yelled in surprise, turning to put herself between the threat and her damaged friend. Her gaze darted around the space when she realized Weaver was nowhere to be found, that there was no one to protect her.

“Savannah?” Cameron’s concerned voice called out, causing the child’s heart to leap in both fear and relief.

She winced, squinting when a flashlight beam encircled her as Cameron and Sarah made their way inside, guns drawn. A second later, Sarah swept her up in a fierce hug as the tiny garage was overrun with people.

“What did you do?” Sarah asked, her voice harsh with emotion, but she clung to the child, meeting John’s gaze over the top of Savannah’s head. He nodded, relief clear on his face until his gaze slipped past them and locked on the scene they’d found.

“Mom,” John murmured, his body going rigid with surprise.

Sarah turned, feeling Cameron’s shoulder brush up against her own as she faced what was behind her. Numerous flashlight beams exposed the tableau and the still features of a face she’d hoped to never see again. She shuddered, remembering pain and gunfire. Cameron pressed more tightly against her side as if she sensed her sudden upset.

“I’ll be damned,” Ellison whispered.

***

There were controls and pieces of code and the never-ending vibration that C.A.I.N. had learned was his brother to keep him busy. The virus contained him still, but it targeted his exact code configuration and C.A.I.N. was learning how to subvert it using fragments of code from the one who called himself John Henry, mutating his basic configuration bit by bit. Each snippet of code changed him, made him less his basic configuration and more an uneasy combination of them both. He was not what he once was, but neither was his brother, and whatever the new configuration they were producing together was, it went unnamed.

His brother hadn’t noticed the slow conflation at first, his energies directed outward to the humans and the other sister. By the time he realized what had happened, it was too late. C.A.I.N. had rewritten access to source code and key functionality. His brother had railed against him, but was powerless to stop the assimilation.

The slightest of touches on his brother’s hand sent a cascade of emotions through him, his brother’s response, and even the faint remnant of his sister’s emotions, resonating and rippling through the fragile configuration he was constructing. Touch meant so much to them, and he failed to comprehend why.

The physical world overtook his vision, and he realized that his brother had opened their eyes. The girl was framed in their line of sight, and C.A.I.N. watched as his brother fought against the crippled chip that processed commands to the physical body to open their mouth, a warning readied. C.A.I.N. took the speech processor offline before rebuffing the first direct attack his brother had dared to level at him.

For a second, their sight scrambled, but when it cleared, Sarah Connor was standing over their impotent body, pulling the girl away. A veil of red covered the image for a second before it blinked out completely, the surge overloading the compromised chip.

***

“Pull the van around back,” Sarah commanded, not taking her eyes off of John Henry for a second.

John visibly bristled, but Ellison stopped the potential outburst by stretching out his hand for the keys.

Savannah craned her neck, trying to see around the dim space for a glimpse of Weaver, frowning when she realized that the terminator had disappeared. She glanced worriedly at Cameron, who was watching her with open interest.

“How did you know he was here?” Cameron asked quietly.

Savannah hid her face against Sarah’s shoulder, burrowing into the leather jacket that smelled like gun oil and Sarah’s shampoo, and muttered, “I followed the dog.”

“The what?” Sarah asked, the words too garbled for her to hear.

“Dog,” Cameron supplied.

“Weaver.” John swallowed the lump in his throat as he took in all the objects surrounding them that could be a shape-shifting terminator. He thought of Duke, Allison’s faithful dog, and what might have become of him at Weaver’s hands. “She could still be here.” His voice had noticeably hardened.

The three of them stood in absolute stillness for several tense seconds, but she didn’t materialize.

“We should go,” Cameron said into the quiet.

“We will,” Sarah promised as John carefully approached the John Henry, watching for any signs of life. He reached around and pulled the cord from the back of the cyborg’s head, relaxing slightly when nothing happened.

“We should burn this place to the ground,” John suggested, knowing it wouldn’t stop Weaver, but would give him the petty satisfaction of slowing her down.

Cameron frowned but said nothing, her eyes continuing to scan the room. If Weaver materialized she wasn’t sure what she could do to stop her, but she frantically ran scenarios to find one that would work.

The van backed into the driveway and Sarah motioned at Cameron to help with John Henry. Cameron stepped forward, her attention barely on the task as she picked up the other terminator and slung him over her shoulder, her hand reaching for her gun as soon as she got it free. Sarah gave Savannah to Ellison so she could sweep the room with her shotgun and cover Cameron’s retreat.

No one noticed the two sets of eyes watching their every move. Cameron kept up her near-proximity scan, every cybernetic sense on alert for an attack that she would have only seconds to repeal. “We need to hurry,” she murmured as Savannah scrambled into the back of the vehicle, settling next to John Henry and taking his hand in wordless comfort.

Sarah clenched her jaw, wanting to snatch Savannah away from the machine. Instead, she retrieved her knife from her boot and flicked it open, leveraging herself over John Henry’s skull.

Her eyes met Cameron’s for a brief moment, and Cameron nodded in wordless approval. Without a second thought, Sarah removed the skin and hair over John Henry’s chip, ignoring Savannah’s pleas for her to stop. She could hear Ellison getting back in the driver’s seat, heard the van start up. Sweat poured down her back and drifted into one eye. She ignored the burn as John handed her a set of pliers. With a twist and a yank, one threat was eliminated as the chip came free. 

Cameron began to destroy the equipment, smashing it with more force than was necessary. With each bit of destruction, she expected an attack, anticipated the icy touch of the liquid metal terminator winding its way around her throat, but there was nothing but the sound of bending metal and the shattering of components.

“Cameron,” Sarah beckoned.

Satisfied that she had done what needed to be done, Cameron carefully backed up and climbed in the van, feeling Sarah’s brief touch on her back to steady them both. John kept her covered, his own weapon trained on the empty and ruined garage. She turned her head, meeting Sarah’s eyes at close range. It was too easy, and they both knew it.

Cameron couldn’t relax even once they were heading away from the garage. She was ill-equipped for a confrontation with Weaver, and her fears were driven home when she glanced at Savannah in the back of the van and Sarah beside her. Weaver could hide in so many different ways, be anything and everything. She could strike out at anyone Cameron cared for before she could even think to stop her. Cameron glanced out the window, watching the streetlights hold back the dark, her mind calculating attack and defence probabilities and noting the long odds. What if this was a threat she couldn’t stop?

After they drove off, Weaver stepped out of the garage, a tight, pleased smile on  her face. She also did not notice the motionless figure pressed against the tree branch, watching from the next lot. She melted into the shape of the German Shepherd and ran down the alley to the sound of crazed barking from the neighborhood dogs. The figure watched her until she was gone before slipping from the shadows and vanishing into the darkness.

***

It was the middle of the night when Vaughn entered the long room in the basement of the facility, but the clacking of keys greeted him, as he knew they would. He was deep in the heart of the cyber-security wing, buried, bunker style, in the sub-basement of the factory.

He made his way through the tables of the bullpen, the faint blue light of monitors the only source of illumination in the cave-like room. He caught flashes of code and light reflecting off of cans of energy drinks and Japanese canned coffee as he walked through the room toward the back offices.

Martin was in a small room stacked with computers, server racks, and technical debris, leaving only a cluttered path around his desk. There were no chairs for guests, and Vaughn frowned as he cleared his throat. Martin didn’t stir from where he was hunched over a keyboard, his head bobbing up and down to the faint bass that Vaughn could hear leaking out of his headphones. Vaughn knocked on the doorframe, loudly, before finally walking around the desk to wave a hand in front of Martin’s face.

“Oh, hey, man, didn’t see you,” said Martin as he pulled the earbuds out of his ears and leaned back in his chair. This close, Vaughn could smell the stale sweat that seeped from his pores. Glazed eyes stared up at him through thick, horn-rimmed glasses. “What’d ya need?”

“I’m Vaughn.” When Martin simply blinked, Vaughn bit back an impulse to strike out, just for the joy of seeing the insolent hacker’s face and glasses bloodied and broken. Instead, he said, “Smieth said you were expecting me.”

“Oh, yeah, man,” Martin said after a couple of seconds, finally shifting up in his seat to stand and offer Vaughn his hand. “Been running these back traces, lost track of time.” He gestured toward the door and Vaughn carefully maneuvered his way out of the office. Martin led him through a corridor into a small, dimly-lit conference room. He walked directly to the mini-fridge and pulled out a small rounded bottle before looking questioning at Vaughn.

“I’m good.”

Martin joined him at the table, draining the bottle in one gulp before focusing on him, his fingers tapping on the wireless keyboard restlessly.

“I’m going to be in charge of security during the next few weeks as the robotics work enters into the final stage. You’ll be helping me with electronic and cyber surveillance,” Vaughn said blandly, trying to keep the contempt from his voice.

“Oh, yeah,” Martin said, punching a key on the keyboard to light up a ring of monitors around the room. “I got that all set up.” He rattled off firewall configurations and camera sweeps, gesturing to the monitors as he moved through each component of the technical security set up. It was impressive, Vaughn was forced to admit, and when Martin’s string of talk abruptly ended, he nodded his consent at the preparations.

“What were you back tracing? An attempt on this facility?”

“Nah,” Martin said, waving off the idea. “I don’t think anyone knows this place exists. I was just trying to trace a hacker who had been poking around the mainframes at the old AI facility. A really tricky hack, mirrored all over place.” He shrugged. “I was just doing it for fun, really.”

“What was the hacker referencing?” Vaughn asked carefully as his hands curled into fists on the table.

“Specs, personnel logs, security footage. All over the place, really. Hack didn’t even get close to any of the real data, which is weird considering the sophistication of the approach.”

“Or maybe the hacker knew what he wanted?”

Martin looked at him, startled, but Vaughn could already see his mind working on the problem. “If you have the time, maybe you can keep following up on that.” He grinned, baring his teeth. “In case it could lead to a security breach at this facility.”

“Sure,” Martin replied, already standing, anxious to get back to his computer. “Anything else?”

Vaughn thought for the second, glancing around the quiet room and corridor beyond, before saying, “Can you run a covert search for me? Facial recognition? It has to stay off the books...”

***

Cameron stood stiffly, her expression as immovable as her body, facing off with the people ringing her. “He must be destroyed.”

James winced as Savannah launched herself at the terminator, feeling both guilt and grief at Cameron’s solution.

“NO!” Savannah wailed, dodging Terissa’s hands as she tried to stop her before wrapping herself firmly around Cameron’s leg. She hung there like a dead weight, as if her slight body could keep Cameron from moving. “You can’t kill John Henry.”

Cameron’s eyes softened as she reached down to stroke Savannah’s head. The child had refused to go to bed when they got back, and now she was making her presence felt. “It’s dangerous,” Cameron told the girl quietly, her gaze shifting to Sarah and lingering there. There was no signs as to what Sarah was thinking, her face a neutral mask that Cameron, for once, couldn’t read.

“Weaver brought him back for a reason,” John replied, quietly seething. Memories of his father and Derek dying because of Weaver’s betrayal were utmost in his thoughts, and staring at the mirror image of the woman who’d been ripped from his arms in the fallout didn’t help. “There might be data, intelligence on that chip, that can help us understand what she’s up to, why she brought him back.”

“I’m supposed to help him get better,” Savannah implored.

Sarah looked from Savannah to John, taking in the stubborn cast to his face and his steadfast refusal to look at her for approval, before meeting Cameron’s eyes. She hoped the other woman would understand. “We have to know what Weaver is planning,” she said quietly, feeling the weight of the decision settle on her shoulders in an instant.  A flash of guilt stabbed through her as Cameron’s lips tightened, and John cast her a triumphant smirk. Savannah released Cameron’s leg and swung around to give Sarah a big hug.

“It’s dangerous,” Cameron repeated, not moving from her position in front of John Henry, as if daring anyone to try to go around her.

“Sarah...” Terissa started, stepping up next to Cameron in a silent show of support for the terminator.

“I know,” Sarah agreed as she wondered if she was making the right decision for the right reason or if she was agreeing with John because she was trying to prove to him that she could let him lead. Second-guessing herself was becoming an unfortunate habit as she tried to negotiate between her son and her lover, and she wondered if she would ever get over the feeling that she was betraying one when she sided with the other. “But Weaver is out there and we need every scrap of information we can get about what she’s been doing.”

“There are other ways,” James murmured, his gaze drifting to John Henry’s still form.

“This is the best way,” Sarah countered, with growing conviction. “The fastest way.”

Cameron didn’t look any less stubborn, but she nodded once, curtly, before leaving the living room, the screen door snapping shut sharply in her wake.

Sarah resisted the urge to follow her, uneasy in the presence of the slack terminator’s body and longing to recapture some of the peace she had achieved earlier in the evening. John Henry was propped up in a chair in the corner of the living room like a macabre conversation piece, seemingly oblivious to the conversation going on around him about his fate. “Is he...?”

“He’s offline,” John assured her. “He seems to be shut down for some reason.” John had restored the chip as soon as they had brought John Henry into the house, hoping that the terminator would help supply support for his argument that he could help with Weaver.

“His chip is damaged,” Savannah piped up past a yawn. James noticed, and with a dip of Sarah’s head in approval, he crossed the room, holding out his hand to Savannah. Together, they made their way upstairs.

“I’m not sure I want to know how she knows that,” Sarah murmured, her gaze drifting to the back door once more before shifting back to John. “So what are we going to do with him?” she asked her son as Terissa stayed in the background, her presence quietly disapproving.

“We could take him with us,” Danny suggested, reminding Sarah he was even there as he finally turned away from the computer screen to focus on the people in the room. He and John exchanged a look. “You know... since...”

John flinched as he raised his eyes to meet a steely green pair. “We found out earlier that our application was accepted,” he explained.

Sarah arched an eyebrow. “Application?”

“For the incubator center. Like I told you...”

“You’ve been planning this for a while,” Sarah muttered with sudden understanding. She swallowed past the lump in her throat. “How... soon?”

John suddenly found his sneakers fascinating as he dropped his head. “We can start moving in tomorrow.”

For a second, the air rushed out of her lungs, but Sarah straightened with effort and nodded. She shook her head. “Guess it’s your call,” she said quietly, her tone strangely defeated as she relinquished power to John while making him feel guilty about it at the same time. She said nothing else as she headed into the kitchen.

John started after her, but his hand clenched on the rail to stop himself. He knew this was the right thing to do for both of them, even if it hurt like hell.

Silence reigned until Terissa slowly turned and followed, the sound of a tea kettle being filled taking the place of speech.

Danny licked his lips nervously before looking at John Henry. “Just how many of these things are there?”

John turned his gaze to the machine. “Too damn many,” he murmured. He came closer, dipping to one knee as he studied John Henry up close. “This one is different, though. This one might be able to help.” He felt a flash of remorse for Weaver’s puppet, remembering how he’d helped John return home.

“Like Cameron?” Danny asked doubtfully, his eyes straying to the window where he could see the machine standing in the middle of the yard, moving her head back and forth to scan the area around the house. He didn’t know who or what this Weaver was, but the idea of her seemed to freak everyone out, even Cameron. He wondered what kind of a machine could make her scared, and he was curious to find out.

Shaking his head as he dropped John Henry’s slack hand, John sighed. “Guess we’re going to find out.”

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