quietus | inspector boxer

act 2

The sand coated her jeans, her arms and even her hair, but Cameron didn’t notice or care. Hours had passed since she watched Sierra die, and along with her the remains of a timeline that would never come to be.

Sierra’s voice was forever silenced. Cameron would never hear the laugh she had come to cherish. Savannah would grow up, her voice would become richer, her childish giggle would deepen, but neither would ever carry the same joys and sorrows as the woman now buried at Cameron’s feet. They would be hauntingly familiar, but never the same.

Dark eyes lifted to the ocean. From the bluffs Cameron could see the sun beginning to paint the waves in pink and gold, she could feel the wind teasing her hair and making the loose sand dance around her feet, but her pleasure in the beach, so recently realized, was gone today. For a moment the landscape blurred, but Cameron looked away and the tears retreated.

Sarah should be there. Cameron knew it down to the simplest lines of her code, but she hadn’t had the courage to ask or the time to wait. The way Sarah had left, the pain and anger in her eyes... she had made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with Cameron right now, and Cameron would try to honor her wishes, even if it made her feel like something was shredding her from the inside out.

She needed Sarah. Her voice, the softest brush of her hand, even being able to see her, alive and safe, would have made this easier to endure. Sarah had watched so many people die, people she loved. She had lived through this kind of pain again and again, and kept going. Cameron needed her now, needed Sarah to hold her together when she felt like everything was falling apart. But Sarah wasn’t there, and that was her fault, too.

“It’s beautiful here,” Felicia murmured, startling Cameron with her first words since they had begun to dig. “I can see why she wanted this place.” She wiped at a patch of cold sand on her chin, feeling the particles scrape before falling away one by one. The doctor could have left the digging to Cameron’s greater strength, she hadn’t needed to help, but she had.

“We brought her here. As a child,” Cameron confessed, her voice harsh with grief and disuse. Caution gave way to a sudden need to have someone else fully understand what she had just lost. She knew that she had just revealed Sierra’s true identity, but she didn’t care, and Felicia didn’t seem fazed.

The doctor was quiet for a long moment, the silence thickening between them as the waves crashed below, rushing up toward a quaint little bungalow still shrouded in shadows. “I know,” Felicia murmured. “It was one of her favorite things.”

Cameron frowned, remembering similar words she’d offered to Sarah about John so long ago.

Felicia misunderstood the expression. “I mean... she never fully told me who she... I just... they look so much alike...” the doctor hastened to explain only to fall silent once more as Cameron finally looked at her. Felicia felt a familiar flash of fear when their gazes met, but it was tempered with compassion. “I’m sorry,” she breathed.

Cameron nodded distractedly. “You took good care of her,” she said, missing Felicia’s expression of surprise as she slowly knelt, running her hand across the packed sand. “Rest now,” she whispered to the woman who lay beneath it, tears threatening another appearance. Wet sand soaked her jeans as she knelt there, knowing she should leave but unable to take the first step.

Felicia had to look away.

A few minutes later, Cameron rose and gathered up the shovels, her movements painfully mechanical. In her grief she felt all too human, but her body seemed determined to remind her of what she really was, of what she could never be. Losing Sierra had stripped some measure of humanity from her, and the thought of losing Sarah as well threatened to unravel what little she had left.

The doctor gently took the tools from her unresisting hands and set them in the van. “There... there is something else Sierra wanted you to see. She made me promise if this happened that I would take you there.” The doctor watched her worriedly, unsure what to expect.

Cameron stood stiffly, waiting for the doctor to finish.

“She... she wanted all of you to see it. You, Sarah... John.”

Nodding again, Cameron glanced back one last time at Sierra’s final resting place. Her daughter had wanted to be buried where she was the happiest. Cameron mourned both for her and for all the memories the young child waiting back at the house would never get to make here now. “I don’t want to leave her. Here, all alone.”

Felicia reached out before she thought better of it, gently clasping Cameron’s arm. She could feel the unnatural strength there, the wrongness, but she didn’t let go. “She’s gone, Cameron. I didn’t know her long, but I knew her enough to know she wouldn’t want you to stay here. She’s at peace now. Let her rest.”

“I lost her. I lost Sarah.” Cameron turned those dark, fathomless eyes on the doctor, wondering if the other woman knew how to heal this kind of pain.

“Sarah is still here,” Felicia said with the conviction she knew Cameron needed to hear. The doctor might not know much about machines, but she knew grief. “And so is Savannah. Like it or not, they both still need you.”

Cameron tilted her head and studied the other woman in the growing morning light. Her words slowly penetrated, cutting through the sharp edges of Cameron’s misery long enough for her to see the reality that awaited her back at the house. A painful longing mixed with dread swept through her, and she straightened with effort. Her body could survive bullets and explosives, but she wasn’t sure it could withstand Sarah’s anger and grief. Reluctantly, with one last look at Sierra’s grave, as if to steel herself, she turned to the doctor. “Let’s go.”

****

“Who was she?”

John looked out into the long shadows of early morning to see Danny looking back at him. He’d been so lost in thought he hadn’t even heard the other young man’s approach. Mentally slapping himself, John straightened slightly, adjusting his grip on the 9mm in his lap. He saw Danny’s eyes dart to the weapon nervously and felt a twinge of guilt. Danny wasn’t used to this life. He hadn’t lived it and breathed it nearly every damn day for two decades. The events of the last few hours, from the confrontation with Vaughn to the death of Sierra, must have rattled him.

“Just felt like someone should keep watch while Cameron is gone,” John murmured in explanation, ignoring Danny’s original question. “Couldn’t sleep?” His voice sounded hoarse and rusty to his own ears, and John cleared his throat as Danny edged closer, finally sitting next to him on the porch.

Sighing, Danny shook his head. “Kept seeing the whole thing again and again.”

John wondered which brush with death Danny was talking about. “It’s never easy to watch someone die,” he sympathized, swallowing at the memory of Sierra reaching out to his mother for comfort. He hoped she had found some. He hoped they both had.

“No,” Danny said slowly. “But that’s not what’s keeping me awake.”

John turned his head in surprise and looked at the programmer curiously.

“Why? Why did John Henry shoot? I thought you said he was on our side.”

John frowned. He hadn’t really given it much thought. And he should have. But his usually inquisitive mind had been dulled by the ache of his injuries and grief that went further than regret.  Seeing Sierra again, watching her die and realizing what that had meant to his mother...

Sarah hadn’t come out of her room yet, and she wouldn’t answer the door. John was waiting impatiently for Cameron to return, eager to see if the cyborg might be able to get through to his mom when he couldn’t. Whatever connection, whatever alliance, they had forged in the time he had been away, he was starting to realize that it was powerful. Cameron had become Sarah’s ally, her partner in some weird way that he hadn’t yet quantified, and he hoped she could succeed where he had failed. He’d tell her to break the damned door down if he had to.

“I just feel like we need to know,” Danny continued, breaking into John’s line of thought. “Machines don’t go off their programming like that.”

After living with Cameron for a few years, John had his doubts, but he understood Danny’s confusion, and he made an effort to focus on the terminator in the shed.

“John Henry was never designed to run off of a chip,” he explained. “The one he’s using was already damaged when he got it, and then Weaver hit him with enough volts to knock him offline and dragged him back in time. Who knows what she’s done to him since then... It was actually Cameron’s chip originally,” he admitted. “Maybe one of her old root commands rose to the surface.”

“Then why not shoot you?” Danny asked bluntly. “It went after your mom.”

John blinked. “I thought...” He trailed off, knowing whatever he said next would make him sound like a conceited ass.

Danny shook his head. “She got across that room faster than I’ve ever seen anyone move to protect you, but when John Henry finally got control of the gun, he was aiming right at your mom. He was even... smiling,” Danny said uneasily.

John’s eyes darted to the shed. He’d told Ellison to leave the body for now, that they had other things to worry about. With the chip out, John Henry was harmless. The thought did little to assuage the sudden unease that wormed through him.

“He wanted to kill your mom, John. Why?” Danny drove his point home.

“You think we need to find out...” John said slowly, knowing that this was a road they wouldn’t be able to step off of once they were on it, and that they’d have to fight to take it at all.

“Don’t you?”

“I don’t know.” John continued to stare at the shed. “I don’t know what the right thing is to do anymore.” He dropped his head and studied the gun in his lap. “I always wanted to believe that there was a better way to win, but all Skynet seems to understand is guns and death.”

“You’ll never find answers if you don’t go looking for them.” Danny offered John a weak smile when the other man looked at him again. “My dad used to say that.”

“Why do you care?” John asked honestly, not sure how else to respond. “What’s it to you?”

Danny shrugged. “It was my dad’s work. This is the one thing I’m good at, and something tells me...” He paused, glancing out into the dawn at a rustle of leaves in the yard. Deciding he was imagining things he looked back at John. “Something tells me we need to know. That it’s important.”

“Mom and Cameron won’t like it.”

“Neither will Mr. Ellison,” Danny agreed. “But we should know.”

John digested that, his thoughts eagerly biting down on something besides pain and grief, and beginning to chew. “I’ll think about it.”

****

The Dyson boy was an interesting wrinkle.

Weaver wasn’t sure what to make of him. She had been hiding in plain sight to keep watch over John Henry, attaching herself to the porch for its wide, unobstructed view of the shed and the backyard. The location also gave her the chance to observe the people in the house, some of whom were nearly unknown to her.

John Connor was of no interest to her. His futile effort to stand guard would not have stopped her if she had wanted to enter the house and kill everyone inside. She knew she could have flicked him aside like a bug, but a part of her admired his determination to try to protect what was his.

Over the years, she had learned not to underestimate humans, and once John Connor had been a leader worthy of her respect. But her memory of that future was tempered by the fact that he, and the people around him, persisted in overestimating him. She was tempted to show him just how ineffectual he really was, how unimportant he was to the future that she had planned. The pride of humans, to think that they were the only ones allowed to shape the future, that only one leader could emerge from the tangled web of the past.

But she could almost understand. Sierra had been a leader of both humans and machines in the future, a leader whose accomplishments might have had something to do with Weaver herself. But she was gone now; she had sacrificed herself to save Sarah Connor.

It was a waste, and one Weaver didn’t comprehend. Sierra had moved past her in a blur, too fast for even liquid metal to reach in time.

Sarah had protected John as Sierra had protected Sarah, resulting in the strongest, most able of them dying. It was thoroughly human and utterly incomprehensible to Weaver that Sierra should die while Sarah and John Connor lived. Sierra would have been an excellent addition to her plans.

Her focus shifted back to Dyson. He’d passed innocuously under her radar. His talent was unmistakable, and his father’s involvement in Skynet had made him interesting; she had almost hired him before he had gone to Kaliba. She may have erred, allowing him to be taken by them, for allowing them to exist in the first place. Until this moment, she had considered rectifying her mistake by killing the boy, but she found his need for answers in the wake of tragedy appealing, as well as his desire to preserve John Henry.

He could be useful, she decided.

Danny stood as the sound of tires crunching on gravel heralded the doctor and Cameron’s return. Apparently he had no desire to be in the machine’s company. Intrigued by the possibility of dissension, and potential for exploitation, Weaver slipped away, slithering up the side of the house and in through an open window to wait, watch, and learn.

****

“Don’t be mad...”

Sierra’s plea echoed inside Sarah’s head, but her heart refused to listen. Sarah wasn’t just mad, she was seething, and anger was her only defense against the cold well of grief that waited to drag her down into its hellish depths if she gave in. If she let herself drown in self-pity, she might never claw her way out. Better to be angry. Better to hate the world.

The tears on her face had dried hours ago, along with Sierra’s blood on her hands.
She’d killed for one child tonight and held another as she’d died. Sarah could still remember the fading heat of Sierra’s hand, the crystal blue of her eyes turning dark. In those fleeting moments, Sarah had known her completely; she had seen all she needed to see to know what a remarkable woman the machines were taking from her. Skynet had won again.

She closed eyes, gritty with fatigue and tears, and leaned her head back against the mattress. She was on the floor, unwilling to sit or lay in the bed she shared with Cameron.  It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair that the only moment Sarah had spent with Sierra was her death. Cameron had denied her anything else... everything else. They both had. Fresh pain ripped through her, and a sob threatened to choke her. Sarah wasn’t sure which hurt more, the loss or the deception, but she knew whom she blamed for both. “How many times before you learn?” she whispered to herself, an edge of rage riding her voice.

She could hear movement below. The front door sadly opened and closed. The murmur of voices drifted up to her in the silence of early morning. Sarah knew she should be down there with the others, but she couldn’t find the strength or will to move. This time, this one time, she wasn’t strong enough. She couldn’t face Sierra’s death... couldn’t face Cameron.

The thought brought about a deep stab of fresh grief. She’d lost more than a daughter tonight, Sarah realized. She’d lost everything but John.

“Sarah?”

Sarah’s head lifted from the mattress and her eyes went to the door, feeling her stomach drop at the tiny, unexpected voice on the other side. She hesitated, torn between holding on to the anger that kept her warm and offering the kind of comfort she wasn’t ready to accept from anyone else.

Slowly, she sat up on her knees, edging toward the door just enough to turn the knob. Coming face-to-face with the younger version of the eyes that had been haunting her nearly knocked the breath from her lungs. Savannah looked up at her with complete love and trust, much like her older self had done as she’d reached for Sarah’s hand.

For a tenuous moment, Sarah’s vision of the child blurred with tears, but she drew in a slow, determined breath and kept them at bay. “You all right?” she managed, her voice raspy with disuse.

Savannah shook her head. “Everyone is so sad. The doctor and Cameron took that woman away. Did she die?”

Sarah flinched, her jaw clenching and pulsing beneath the skin of her cheek. “Yes,” she admitted. “She died.”

“John Henry hurt her,” Savannah said with confusion.

“He did.” Sarah nodded weakly. She finally let go of the doorknob and ran her hand through Savannah’s hair, swallowing hard at the sight of her bloodstained skin against the bright copper.

“He wanted to hurt you, but she saved you.”

Sarah looked at the floor, finding it harder to drag in a breath this time. “I know. She died for me.”

Savannah came closer, slipping her arms around Sarah’s neck and hugging her, offering the only comfort a young child knew how to give. Sarah felt another sob catch in her throat as she wrapped her arms around the girl, holding her close, careful not to touch her again with her bloodied hands.

“I’m sorry she died,” Savannah murmured into Sarah’s neck. “But I’m glad she saved you.”

Sarah wasn’t so sure, but she turned her head and gently kissed Savannah’s temple, breathing the child in and holding her close, hoping somehow, some way, Sierra could feel her arms, too.

She had been wrong; she still had Savannah as well as John, and the least she could do was make sure she honored Sierra’s sacrifice by passing on the love she had never been able to offer her to Savannah. She would do right by one of them at least.

****

Terissa was cooking breakfast when Cameron and Felicia stepped inside the house. Cameron’s first thought was that she should carry a plate up to Sarah, and she even took a step toward the kitchen before stopping in her tracks with the realization that Sarah would want nothing from her.

Ellison and Sabine bookended the couch, his well-worn Bible clashing sharply with the bright cover of the tabloid in Sabine’s hands. Dark brown eyes met Cameron’s over the magazine, the concern and understanding as clear as the darkening bruise on her cheek.

Cameron acknowledged Sabine with a nod of her head, grateful for the gesture, but the sentiment under it could not penetrate the fog that had settled around her during the silent ride back.

Heavy. She felt heavy, like the density of her exoskeleton had tripled in the past few hours. It took an effort to stand upright, to move her limbs, and she wondered if she would collapse to the floor if she stopped trying. “You... tell John,” she said to Felicia as she paused at the foot of the stairs, her hand resting on the rail. “I’ll talk to Sarah.”

Felicia muttered something that Cameron assumed was agreement. She was too focused on walking up the stairs, feeling the heaviness grow with each step. The knowledge that she had brought this on herself didn’t help. She had run the projections to predict how Sarah would react, and 78% of them had ended in a negative outcome. But she still didn’t know what she might have done differently, whose trust she should have broken. It had been an impossible choice, caught between two strong-willed women and two contradictory promises.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Cameron stilled, as if all of the weight had settled into her toes, and a single step would bring everything crashing down. She had to force herself to go onward to Sarah’s room, finding her lover on the floor with Savannah in her arms. She faltered at the anger in Sarah’s eyes when she raised them to meet Cameron’s over Savannah’s head.

The sight sent a tremor through Cameron’s endoskeleton, and she knew a brief moment of panic, wondering if Sarah would try to keep her from Savannah. She felt the weight grow and nearly buckle her knees at the thought of losing them both.

****

Footsteps had Sarah lifting her head as Cameron appeared in the doorway. The machine was covered in sand, her dark eyes empty of everything but pain. They stared at each other, holding their recriminations and excuses to themselves with Savannah in the room.

Cameron started to speak only to pause, but her eyes conveyed everything Sarah didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to see, so she looked away, climbing to her feet and hoisting Savannah with her. When she glanced at the terminator again, Cameron’s features were oddly impassive and blank, looking more like a machine than she had in months.

“What?” Sarah asked in an even voice.

“Felicia...” Cameron met Sarah’s hard gaze and had to look away. “Felicia wants us to come with her. There is something she said Sierra wanted us to see.”

Sarah swallowed, biting back a nasty retort as she felt Savannah shift her grip on her. “What is it?”

“I don’t know,” Cameron admitted, unable to hold Sarah’s scalding gaze and still function. Keeping careful control on her face and voice, she continued, “She said it was for us... and John.”

“Cameron...” Sarah said slowly, not sure what she was about to ask for or say. Cameron’s head rose, and Sarah caught a flash of some emotion, a flicker of hope breaking through the clouded misery that Cameron was trying to hide. Sarah shook her head, fighting the unbearable urge to offer her some kind of comfort, and watched as Cameron’s expression blanked once more.

“Are you okay?” Savannah asked to fill the awkward silence.

“I’m okay,” Cameron said slowly, and Sarah watched some new anguish blossom in her eyes as she gazed longingly at the child.

Seeing Cameron’s misery made it difficult to hold on to the edge of anger, so it was Sarah’s turn to look away. “I’ll need a few minutes.” Her hands flexed, and Cameron’s gaze was drawn to the dried blood on them.

Before Cameron could say anything more, Sarah handed her Savannah without a word, taking care not to touch Cameron in the process. She watched as Cameron took the child from her hands and cradled her close, her hand stroking Savannah’s pajama-clad back.

A small measure of relief crept into Cameron’s eyes, and she raised her head to give Sarah a tight, thankful smile. Sarah understood what caused it with sudden insight. “I would never...” she began, her voice breaking after the first few words. “I would never keep you from her,” she continued, her words quiet yet heated. “I would never do that.”

Cameron flinched and tightened her grip on Savannah, earning a drowsy protest from the girl. Footsteps announced Sabine’s arrival in the hall, interrupting them before any more could be said. They stood awkwardly for a few seconds before Cameron murmured a few quiet words and set Savannah down gently, startled when the little girl threw her arms around Cameron’s legs in a fierce hug.

Sarah saw something flicker across the terminator’s features as Savannah let her go and sleepily moved toward Sabine. She could only imagine the pain Cameron had to be going through.

She hoped it hurt like hell.

****

The house was disturbingly quiet after everyone was gone. Terissa and Danny had retreated to the other house. Sabine and Savannah were upstairs sleeping. The others had gone to the mystery location the doctor had spoken of in hushed tones, leaving James alone in the living room. Every creak and pop made James jump, and he was tempted to wake Sabine just to have someone to talk to, but the young woman needed her rest. The hit she’d taken to the face had to ache, and James wished her luck in finding enough peace to sleep. He sighed as he sat down on the couch, un-holstering his weapon and laying it on the coffee table in front of him.

Weaver was close. He could feel it. Every item in the room was suspect, including the couch he was sitting on. She could be right there, right next to him, and he wouldn’t know until it was too late. Feeling vulnerable, he shivered, the air conditioning in the house suddenly seeming much colder than he remembered.

His gaze drifted to the now spotless floor. He had watched a version of Savannah die there, he realized distantly. The little girl he’d sworn to protest, the child he’d left his previous life behind to save, had died at his feet. Had he failed Sierra somehow? Was the little girl asleep upstairs clutching her stuffed giraffe destined to end this way? It made his head and heart hurt to think about it. James closed his eyes and clasped his hands together, bringing them to his lips as he began to mouth a prayer for Sierra’s soul and the safety of the child tucked in her bed.

James felt the air shift and charge and knew he wasn’t alone.

John Henry’s chip was locked away in a secure safe hidden from view, but James had no illusions that Weaver could get into it if she applied herself. Feeling calmer as he prayed, James finished his thoughts and hopes, breathing a simple word as he lifted his head. “Amen.”

Weaver was standing there in a familiar pristine white suit when he opened his eyes, watching him openly. “Does it truly offer you comfort?”

“Praying?” James asked as he looked up at her. “Being close to God always makes me feel better.” He put his trust in the Lord and slowly stood, accepting he would either live or die in this encounter. It was in God’s hands.

“Your god is a myth,” she told him simply.

“Only to those who haven’t known his love.” James lifted his chin, his features quietly defiant.

“His love? He let Sierra die on this very floor. He let Skynet nearly wipe your kind from this planet. How is that love?”

“Did you come here to debate my religion with me?” James asked. “Or do you want something?”

Weaver’s painted lips eased into a facsimile of a smile as she looked him over. “I’ve missed you, James. Your... morality... always intrigues me.”

“I’m not giving you the chip,” he told her. “And if they decide to burn your boy I’ll be happy to light a match of my own.”

Weaver’s smile vanished and her features grew colder. “John Henry is not a killer.”

“I think Sierra might disagree with you.”

Weaver came closer, privately impressed when the former agent stood his ground. “John Henry was trying to kill Sarah Connor. It would have been better for all involved if he had succeeded, but James, he had no directive to harm her. No need. So why did he shoot?”

“He’s your pet project. You tell me.”

“If I knew, I wouldn’t be asking. John Henry was fighting me. Refusing to cooperate. I led Savannah to him because I thought she could help bring him back to us.”

James’ eyes narrowed at the implications. “You thought if John Henry were with people he trusted, he would recover.”

“That he would want to recover. He doesn’t understand his role. John Henry doesn’t grasp the import of his existence.”

“Or he wants no part of it,” James pointed out, feeling a frisson of fear as Weaver tilted her head and those blue eyes stared back at him in a move that was eerily similar to Cameron. The reminder of Cameron’s true nature startled him. He’d found himself forgetting who she was, what she was, with daily frequency now.

Weaver finally inclined her head in the affirmative. “That’s irrelevant, James. I need John Henry. For my sake as well as the sake of humanity. I won’t let you destroy him. If you try, people will die. Not just the people in this house but your fellow agents... your family... your ex-wife.”

James couldn’t help the hard swallow that rippled down his throat as he faced her, but he said nothing.

“Don’t make it come to that, James. We both need answers. Whatever made John Henry shoot at Sarah Connor... whatever made him kill Sierra... It’s an anomaly. A dangerous one.”

“Which is why he should be destroyed.”

“Which is why he should be studied,” Weaver corrected patiently. “Something corrupted him. Something... twisted him. We would be negligent if we did not at least try to uncover what that was.”

“What do you think it was?” James asked, turning the tables.

Weaver considered the question. “John Henry was infected by a virus once before. Perhaps he was again. Perhaps it’s a virus that could infect your precious Cameron.” She saw the first stirrings of fear in his eyes and pressed her advantage. “Imagine, her turning on you... on Savannah... all because you were afraid to find the truth.”

James looked unsettled at the idea. “You think it was Kaliba,” he realized.

“A possibility that should be confirmed or ruled out. Don’t you agree?”

Shaken, James slowly sank back down on the couch.

“We’re closer to being on the same side than you realize, James,” Weaver promised him. “If it is Kaliba...” She paused, considering the best approach with this human. “I believe the expression is, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.”

James swallowed again, a crawling horror skittering over him as he realized what they might have done in an effort to stop Skynet. They might have actually created it. He looked up only to find Weaver gone, leaving him alone with his chilling thoughts.

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