a prayer for the dying

act 2

The porcelain sink was as cold as ice against Sarah’s skin. She was on her knees, resting her fevered forehead on the lip of the chilled surface after another round of nausea had left her whole body quaking. She’d never wanted the nanites Cameron had sent swimming through her blood, but now that they were gone, Sarah realized that the little robots had done more than save her life; they’d improved the quality of it.

She’d slept better, recovered from injuries faster, and gotten more out of her often-infrequent meals. Now that they were gone, and Sarah was reduced to being a mere mortal again, she was feeling all the abuse that had been heaped upon her body for nearly two decades. She wanted them back online, but it wasn’t just for her own health. She needed them, needed them to work so she could go after Cameron. Right now she couldn’t even stand on her own two feet.

The murmur of voices drifted through the vent in the floor, and Sarah closed her eyes as her stomach rebelled. They’d made it home an hour ago. Terissa and Felicia had been waiting for them at the door, ready to help carry Ellison to his room. The former agent had lost a lot of blood and had yet to regain consciousness, but Sarah knew he stood a chance with Felicia at his side. Regret filtered through her, bitter and cold, for dragging the doctor into their hell again and again, but Sarah acknowledged the relief that chased after it. The doctor was always willing to come when called.

It had taken all Sarah’s flagging strength to make it into her room and shut the door. She’d angrily brushed off Terissa’s offer to help, not wanting to be reminded of Danny’s betrayal. Sarah hadn’t even been able to bear the sight of Savannah watching her with stricken concern from the end of the hall. The child was just a reminder of what was missing. Who was missing...

John and Sabine were handling John Henry’s remains. Sarah tightened her jaw at the thought, hoping the cyborg was nothing but dust by now. If she’d had it in her, she would have lit the flare herself. She owed Sierra that much. A tiny voice in her head told her she was being unfair, that it was C.A.I.N. who had been responsible, but Sarah just wanted one less complication to deal with in her life. Maybe later she would give thanks to John Henry for stopping Weaver, but only if she got Cameron back.

Her fingers curved around the lip of the sink as Sarah struggled to haul herself up and to her feet. She’d tried three times prior with no success, but this time, her knees held, allowing her to leverage herself upright. She tightened her grip on the edges of the sink to maintain her precarious balance and winced as the slice across her knuckles burned under the bandage John had applied earlier. When she saw her reflection, Sarah went still.

Her features were ashen, save for the slice across her right cheek, and her eyes were dull and glassy. Sweat matted her hair to her skin. She looked less like a living being and more like a corpse, and Sarah realized she had been spiraling toward this before she’d let Cameron in. Dying a little more mentally and physically each day. With all traces of Cameron wrenched from her life, it was as if her body had decided to catch up to all the decay it had put on hold.

Anger surged through her and Sarah weakly took a swing at the mirror. Where the glass once would have shattered, her fist bounced uselessly off, succeeding in doing nothing but sending a stinging sensation up her hand and wrist.

Defeated, Sarah moved toward the bedroom on unsteady legs. She sat on the edge of the bed, feeling Cameron’s absence more keenly than ever. There had to find a way to fix this, to get Cameron back.

In the silence that followed, Sarah felt a sick hopelessness descend over her. The odds had been completely against her, against them, from the start, but she couldn’t let Cameron go. What she’d just seen in the mirror was proof of that. She literally couldn’t survive without her.

Her conscience whispered to her, questioning what she was planning to do... how far she was willing to go. Cameron was a machine. She was Sarah’s strength, her companion, and her lover, but in the end, she was just one entity, and not even human. Logically, Sarah knew that. All her life, she had made difficult calls, laid waste to countless lives, all to serve the greater good. To save John. To save humanity. She had sacrificed everyone and everything, even her son’s happiness, to that pursuit. So how could she now be so selfish and let this single life mean so much more than everything else? How could she risk everything to save Cameron?

But she already had, Sarah admitted to herself. She had made her choice months ago, in the basement of Kaliba’s lab. She remembered the warmth of Cameron’s hand in her own and her determination to die by Cameron’s side rather than live without her. She had known the high probability that neither of them would make it out alive, and she had accepted the risk. She would do the same now.

Either way, Sarah acknowledged, her fight was coming to an end. There would be no retirement, no snow-covered cabin nestled in the woods with her daughter and lover. Either she would waste away without Cameron or die saving her.

Wasting away wasn’t her style.

It hurt to let go of the dream, of the promise of peace, but Sarah closed the door on the possibility for good. Her mind made up, she began to think through a plan. The murmur of voices continued from below, and Sarah swallowed the bitter realization that there was no one she could turn to for help. Not for this. John would make the call to destroy Kaliba with Cameron inside. Sarah knew that and accepted it was what he had to do. It was what she had taught him, after all. If her heart weren’t so tied up in this mess, if she could think clearly and rationally, she would have agreed with him.

Sarah realized with a sharp pang that Cameron would be doing everything she could to end her own life as well, to keep Kaliba from using her to become Skynet. It was her nature, now, to protect humans from the machines. It was another clock Sarah had to race against; she had to beat her son, Weaver, Kaliba, even her own lover to save Cameron’s life. The idea seemed ludicrous, impossible.

Necessary.

This would be her last stand. A strange peace washed over her as Sarah accepted that. She’d put in her time. Fought her battles. She’d lived to see John become the leader he was meant to be, and she never imagined she would have survived this long.

But she was tired. So damn tired.

Easing back on the bed, Sarah laid down, drawing Cameron’s pillow closer and wrapping around it. Resolutely, she closed her eyes and breathed in her lover’s scent. She would rest now because she had no choice.

When she woke, there would be hell to pay.

****

The wind was cold. It wasn’t Weaver’s external sensors that made her aware of the temperature, but rather the foreign shivering that was wracking her body. Part of her was fascinated by the changes manifesting themselves in her consciousness and her physical form, but the logical side of her abhorred them. Sensation was making it hard to focus on what she needed to do. Emotion made it worse.

Stepping into an alley, Weaver felt the wind abate and the gooseflesh slowly faded from her arms. John Henry’s move to disable her had been both cruel and genius. Her boy had won the final round in their battle of wits.

Her boy, she thought wistfully, knowing he was now lost to her forever.

Blue eyes fixed on the chipped and crumbling bricks before her as her thoughts sifted and tumbled through the events of the last few hours. When she’d come back online after the pulse, she’d been startled by her physical reaction to John Henry’s “death.” She hadn’t known what to make of the sensations or emotions storming through her. The intensity of the feelings that had just begun to manifest in the first few moments before everything had gone to hell had increased exponentially.

It had been novel, at first, the sudden waking to a whole new world of experience. The feelings were a curiosity, a subtle new configuration, providing nuance and depth to the world that she had not been aware of before. She had been confident she could integrate the changes, control them, until she had woken up to John Henry’s empty eyes staring at her across a few inches of concrete. She stretched the final distance to touch his hand and found it as cold and lifeless as his gaze. That’s when she felt the rage, the intensity of it nearly overwhelming, and she had a swift insight into C.A.I.N. and his fury against Sarah Connor and...

“Cameron,” she said softly, the name rolling off her tongue in a familiar brogue. The Connor’s pet cyborg had played a nefarious role in her destruction. She could detect Cameron’s sense of emotions underlying the changes to her code, like a subtle aftertaste, and she realized now that she had underestimated the other cyborg. Cameron’s development had gone much further than she had ever imagined. Weaver wasn’t sure if she was impressed or...

Angry, she decided after a moment. All the time she’d wasted on John Henry when she could have taken Cameron instead and covered far more ground much faster. The thought was logical, Weaver knew, but logic couldn’t explain the strange pang she felt at the notion of tossing John Henry aside for another.

He had been hers, she allowed. Her boy. And Kaliba had taken him away.

Someone needed to pay for that.

It was the one thing that made sense at the moment, and Weaver clung to it fiercely. Stepping back out into the biting wind, she made her way toward Finnegan’s Pub at the end of the street. Laughter filtered out from around the warm glow in the windows. Many of Kaliba’s agents often gathered there. There wasn’t much about the rival company that she didn’t know about, and the knowledge would come in handy now. Weaver had always recognized their capacity to bring about Skynet before she’d formed her own version of it, but their actions of late were about to bear serious consequences.

She opened the door and stepped inside, feeling a blast of heat strip the chill from her skin. Weaver caught sight of them in a back corner, huddled around a circular booth and their beers, laughing at some private joke.

Rage had her moving before she realized it, hands sharpening into blades she advanced.

The whine of the wind outside almost covered the sound of their screams.

****

John expected to feel some sense of satisfaction as he set the thermite on a teetering shelf but there was none. The metallic smell now hung in the air with the scent of sweat and rotting wood. Long shadows cast across the makeshift crematorium, and he’d glimpsed a sliver of the moon when he’d last glanced out the window. He’d waited to do this until other pieces were in place. Ellison was being tended to. His mother was resting. Terissa had been told of Danny’s betrayal. He’d made a few other necessary phone calls for his emerging plans before turning to the unsavory duty at hand.

John Henry’s features were blank, almost serene, and John felt a strange sense of envy. He remembered the first time he’d seen the machine like this: Cromartie lying in a shallow grave as they’d covered him with dirt. They hadn’t done a good job of cleaning up their mess then, and Cameron was paying the price now. Every step, every action, every decision... they all had consequences.

Skynet was proof of that.

His hands rested on the cinder blocks, a flare next to his fingers. He wanted to feel something. Anger. Remorse. Vengeance. But John only felt empty. John Henry was in many ways another innocent lost, and there had been too many of those already.

A boot scratched in the dirt by the door, reminding him of Sabine’s presence. She’d helped him wrestle the cyborg into the pit, her dark eyes quietly judging him the whole time. John knew the young woman had her suspicions about his plans for Cameron, and he almost felt he deserved Sabine’s disdain. He held fast to the fact that it was the right thing to do, even if it hurt. No matter who it hurt, he corrected himself. He remembered all the times his mother had used a similar justification for her own actions, and for the first time, he felt the weight of her burdens.

Feeling Sabine’s eyes on his back, John picked up the flare and ignited it. He held it over John Henry’s corpse, feeling the flames buffet his face. Slowly, he let it drop from his nerveless fingers, only stepping back as the thermite caught and flashed so brilliantly he saw it behind his closed eyelids.

For a moment, John remembered Sierra. Her strength, her resilience. Then he thought of John Henry, all wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. It was all such a waste. Such a damn waste.

“Rest in peace,” he whispered, tears collecting in his thick eyelashes. John wasn’t sure if the words were for the cyborg or the savior who had died by his hand.

Witnessing what she’d come to see, Sabine turned on her boot heel and jerked the shed door open. The wind whipped inside, fanning the flames before the door banged shut behind her. Making her way across the yard through the damp grass, she felt eyes on her and she lifted her gaze toward the house.

Savannah was watching from her window, tears in her blue eyes. Sabine felt the sight pierce through her like a knife as the child turned away, retreating back into her room. She didn’t know if the little girl was crying for Cameron or for the friend turning to ash in the shed, but Sabine felt guilt over both in equal measure.

She knew it was like to grow up without her parents. Sabine wasn’t going to accept that fate for Savannah.

The truth of her situation came home to her in the moment, the world tunneling down to each breath Sabine took as the wind buffeted her features and stirred her hair. She could smell smoke and rust, wood and grass. The night air was cold as it entered her lungs, but she breathed it in, relished it knowing her time might well be measured in how many more breaths she could take. It was time to take a stand, and Sabine had already chosen her side.

Sarah liked to say there was no fate but what they made. Sabine wondered if it was time to make fate their bitch.

****

James woke to darkness, the sound of the clock on his bedroom wall ticking softly. He struggled to remember how he’d gotten there until he shifted, feeling pain blossom in his chest and radiate outward. Hissing between clenched teeth, he felt a cold hand suddenly cover his.

“Easy.” Terissa’s voice materialized out of the darkness. “You need to rest.”

It took a moment to make sense of his surroundings, but James finally realized she was sitting next to him on the bed. “John. Sarah...”

“Safe,” Terissa said after a few ticks from the clock. “Although Sarah isn’t well.”

“They took Cameron.” James licked his dry lips. He didn’t see the straw but he felt it pressed against his mouth and he took a weak sip, relishing the mineral tang of the water as it touched his tongue.

“Not too much.” Terissa sounded exhausted and tired. She set the glass on the nightstand and regarded her friend in the pale moonlight filtering in through the window. “I’m sorry, James.”

“Not your fault...”

“Danny,” Terissa said and heard her voice break. She’d refused to give in to her sorrow, but it never seemed to retreat from the surface.

“Kaliba took him too. He didn’t go... willingly.” James swallowed. It was hard to breathe through the pain and his shallow gasps of air made him lightheaded.

“He went to Weaver, though. Miles would be so disappointed.”

James rotated his wrist so he could clutch Terissa’s fingers. “He’s running scared, Terissa. His fear is causing him to make bad decisions.”

She shook her head. “Stop making excuses for him, James. Danny chose code over human lives. He put a computer program over the fate of the world. Everything his father died for, Danny is doing his damn best to bring about. How did I raise such a child? Where did I go so wrong?”

Gently squeezing her hand, James could think of no words to soothe her troubled soul. “If he’s mixed up in this, we’ll find a way to save him. He’s young and foolish.”

“And he could kill us all.” Terissa sighed in the darkness. “How are you feeling?”

James considered lying but he’d done enough of that lately. That Terissa was still willing to sit by his side after all of it was a blessing. “Not well.”

Terissa’s thumb ghosted over his knuckles. “Felicia is getting a bite to eat, but she’ll be back soon. She’ll take good care of you.”

“She must get tired of tending to our dead.”

“Don’t,” Terissa said sharply, her voice breaking again. “Don’t think that let alone say it. You fight.”

“It’s in God’s hands,” James answered drowsily, his awareness starting to dull around the edges.

“Then you tell your God he owes you this. He owes us all this.” Terissa’s voice had taken on an angry edge James had never heard before.

“I’ve served a noble life, and if it’s my time to go home then be happy for me,” he pleaded.

“James...” Terissa began, but he’d already slipped back into unconsciousness.

She stayed with him for several more minutes, her mind spinning in the quiet. Danny had helped Kaliba acquire everything they needed to build Skynet. Her thoughts drifted to Cameron, and Terissa felt a fresh wave of anger.

“How dare they,” she whispered, determined to think of some way to fix all the damage her son had caused. A name drifted to the front of her mind and she paused, considering. Terissa leaned over and kissed her friend on the cheek. “Sleep,” she told him. “I need to go make a call, but I’ll come back.”

**** 

“You’re wearing red.”

Sarah turned her head and looked back at Cameron, aware on some internal level she was inside a memory, wrapped in a dream. She knew she didn’t want to wake up, that she preferred to stay in the fantasy rather than wake to her reality. She glanced down at herself, noting the red tank top she was sporting and shrugged self-consciously. She’d chosen it knowing she looked good in red, in a display of vanity she hadn’t known she’d possessed anymore. “It was clean,” she grumbled.

Cameron drifted closer. “You look good in red. You should wear it more often.”

Sarah swallowed, hearing a tone of appreciation in Cameron’s voice that was now familiar, but in that instant she’d heard it for the first time. She glanced up at the cyborg. “Red isn’t something I normally wear. It stands out. I need to blend in.”

“Then why are you wearing it now?” Cameron pressed.

“Told you...” Sarah turned away, feeling foolish now for wanting to see if she could get Cameron’s attention. When she felt warm hands slide under the fabric of her shirt and brush against the skin of her stomach, Sarah gasped. Cameron spun her, pressing her against the wall.

“You should wear it more often,” Cameron insisted again, hesitantly dipping her head to find Sarah’s lips with her own.

Sarah woke from the dream with a start, feeling the heat of Cameron’s hands and the taste of her mouth fade into her memories. Sunlight was streaming in through the window, and Sarah winced at the passage of time. She sat up, expecting to feel weak and fevered, but she only felt tired.

Her right hand drifted to the base of her skull and she found the wound was closed, barely a scab in its place.

“Few of the little bastards are still working.” Her hand drifted down to her left arm, her fingers brushing the faint, white scar there. She remembered all too well what the injury had felt like when Cameron’s nanites had first gone to work in her system. Curious, she unwrapped her hand, finding the skin of her knuckles had knitted back together in her slumber but the wound was still an angry red.

A knock at the door made Sarah turn her head. Felicia didn’t bother to wait for a summons; she merely opened the door and poked her head inside, smiling a little as she found Sarah awake and upright.

“Morning,” the doctor said. “I wanted to see how you’re feeling.”

“How’s James?” Sarah asked, evading the question.

Felicia hesitated. “He’s been badly wounded, but he’s still with us.”

“Dum spiro spero,” Sarah murmured, remembering the Latin phrase from some distant memory.

Felicia looked surprised. “While I breathe, I hope,” she translated.

“Something like that.” Sarah felt her hope recede along with her dream of Cameron. After the burst of energy upon waking, she could already feel herself drifting back toward sleep, her depleted reserves barely enough to make her aware that Felicia was speaking again.

“How are you feeling?” Felicia took Sarah’s hand and examined the wound.

Sarah sighed. “Nothing you can do for me, Doc. I’ll heal. Some of the nanites are still working. Not all of them, though.”

Felicia didn’t take her word for it, though, and gently probed Sarah’s scalp before catching her wrist to measure her pulse. “You are improving,” she noted clinically, before dropping Sarah’s hand and perching on the edge of the bed. “Physically, at least,” she amended, taking in Sarah’s haunted eyes. “How are you feeling otherwise?”

Swallowing, Sarah tried not to remember how cold and empty her bed felt or the gaping hole that seemed to have taken up residence in her chest. “Alone.” Her green eyes met Felicia’s with a challenge in them.

“That’s not true. You have a house full of people worried about you.”

“But not about Cameron. Not about saving her.”

Felicia was silent for a long moment, and then she shrugged, not dispelling Sarah’s suspicions but not confirming them either. “I don’t know. I’ve been with James most of the night.”

Feeling like she was taking out her fear and anger on the wrong target, Sarah lowered her head. “I don’t know what to do, but I have to do something.” Her eyelids were heavy as Sarah tried to shift up on the bed only to have a strong hand push her back down. “I have to...”

“I know, and you will,” the doctor assured her. “But first you have to regain your strength.”

Sarah seemed determined to struggle against the needs of her body, but eventually she succumbed. Felicia soothed the covers around her, a frown pulling at the corners of her mouth. Making up her mind, she stood and walked to the door, resolving to involve herself in the plans taking shape in the living room, even if she had to invite herself in.

Savannah was just outside the door, her young face scrunched up with worry and stubbornness. “I want to see my mom.”

“How is she?” The question drifted to Felicia from the wall, where Sabine stood with her arms across her chest, her posture belying the intensity of the question.

Taking in the dark circles and strained faces of the girl and woman in front of her, Felicia realized that they had gotten little sleep as well. “She’s resting.”

“I want to see her,” Savannah repeated, and Felicia sighed.

“Only if you don’t wake her.”

Savannah nodded once, solemnly, before creeping to the door and opening it quietly, her feet making no sound on the carpet as she snuck in and climbed up onto the bed, sliding carefully under the covers to curl around her mother. Within seconds, Savannah was asleep.

Felicia shook her head and gave Sabine an uncertain smile as the woman stood unmoving, her eyes cold as she stared. “Watch her for me?” she suggested to the quiet girl. “She may try to get up, and someone should be here if she does.”

Wordlessly, Sabine shifted off the wall and entered the room. She settled into the chair by the bedside and set her gun on the nightstand. Walther followed a second later, slipping into the room a second before Felicia shut the door. He settled into Sabine’s lap, and she stroked his fur for a few minutes before allowing her eyes to drift shut.

****

Danny watched as Smieth approached the computer terminal with Cameron’s chip held aloft like a priest approaching an altar. A small team of software engineers surrounded him like acolytes, watching as he slotted the chip into the housing to bring her back online. They had spent the last night creating a sea of firewalls to cage Cameron’s intelligence into a space where they could observe and analyze the code that comprised her. It was like placing her in a zoo, he thought with sudden insight, and as much as he had feared and hated her, it didn’t feel right.

Her body, Danny knew, was in another wing of the massive facility, ready to be dissected to help further their robotics work, and he felt a twinge in his stomach. He could almost see the disapproval in his mother’s eyes, and he felt himself agreeing with her as the monitors flashed with a pure white light, bathing Smieth’s face in an unholy glow. He tried to look past the pangs of his conscience as lines of code swept over the screens.

Danny watched as Cameron railed against her cybernetic cage. Like a trapped animal, he realized. He’d long suspected Cameron was capable of some sort of emotion, but Danny found it strange that she had to be reduced to code before he could believe it. There were no eyes to judge him, no features to betray what Cameron was thinking, just the very essence of who she was reduced to ones and zeroes. Only now he could see how different she was, how... alive she was. Danny wasn’t sure what that said about him.

He looked away and ruthlessly shoved down any flicker of sympathy. Cameron and her kind had killed his father, and she had threatened to do the same to him. In the end, she was just a machine, he reminded himself as he left the room and headed for the small kitchen. A killing machine at that.

“She’s fascinating, Danny. I’m surprised you don’t want to watch.”

Danny jumped, turning in surprise to find Smieth watching him from the doorway.

“Just need something to drink. Been up for almost two days now.” Danny swallowed. “Unless I’m not allowed to...”

“Of course.” Smieth smiled, looking predatory as he did so. “I suppose Cameron isn’t such a novelty to you. After all, you lived in the same space with her. Grab your drink and then we’ll talk. I’m sure you have lots of observations that could be useful.”

Danny swallowed again, his mouth dry. “Sure,” he answered weakly, suddenly realizing why he was here, why he’d been kept alive.

“I’ll be inside, watching our new friend as she explores her new home.” Smieth dipped his head and started to go back in.

“If there is a way out,” Danny blurted suddenly, “Cameron will find it.”

“I assure you, Danny, this facility is cut off. She might be able to infect some internal systems or breach some firewalls. I’d even be curious to see what she tries, but she’s not going to get out.”

“Cameron...” Danny took a breath. “Just... don’t underestimate her, sir. She... she wants to get out.”

“She’s a machine, Danny,” Smieth reminded him, his eyes narrowing. “They don’t have likes and dislikes, wants or needs...”

“She does,” Danny said with conviction, interrupting the head of Kaliba without thought.

“She has a mission. A program to run until it is completed. Nothing more, Danny.” Smieth’s smile took on a brittle edge. “We’re going to take her apart, find out who made her, then use what we want and destroy the rest.”

Danny slowly shook his head. “She’s more than you’re giving her credit for, sir. You’ll see.”

“I suppose we will.” Without another word, Smieth turned and walked back inside the control room.

Danny caught a flash of the code running across the monitors. If anything, Cameron was becoming more frantic. She wanted to get back to Sarah... to Savannah. Danny knew that was driving her, fueling her efforts. It was also what made her more dangerous than ever.

**** 

The world was smaller and more constrained than she remembered.

For a moment, she struggled to remember where she was, who she was, until an image of dark-haired woman swam through her consciousness, and she reached out her hand to stop the woman from drifting past.

Then it all came back in a dizzying rush: the pulse, the men, John Henry... Sarah.

She was back in the system, not the vast expanse of cyberspace, but within an imprisoned server, severed from both her body and the rest of the world. For a moment, panic overwhelmed her, and she launched several frantic attacks at the walls that held her. Each one bounced off harmlessly, and she could almost feel amusement of the programmers who were watching her.

She continued the assault, setting up chaotic and random attacks at the firewalls to keep the observers occupied while she began a systematic analysis of the space she found herself in. They could watch the fireworks while she worked in secret. Her experience fighting C.A.I.N. served her well; already she could see weaknesses she could exploit, systems that were vulnerable.

Rattling her bars in a burst of feigned fury, she compromised several of the computers set up to analyze her code and tapped into inactive webcams, giving her eyes and ears in the room. It took her mere seconds to set up her own firewall and portion part of her consciousness to hide her activities from the watchful eyes of the programmers. Her code base was almost infinitely large, and she could create millions of lines of junk code in seconds, but still it was a race against the sheer number of programmers and the massive computing power that was arrayed against her. Cameron had a few days, at most, and she began to make her plans accordingly.

**** 

Sarah stifled a yell as she came to in the midst of a nightmare of Cameron’s eyes flaring red and holding her down as the bombs fell and the sky burned. The weight on Sarah’s torso resolved itself to be Savannah, draped across her stomach and holding tight to her waist. Wiping a hand across her forehead to dry the sweat, Sarah glanced at the chair in the corner and bit back a curse as the appearance of Sabine startled her anew.

Letting her head fall back to the pillow, Sarah took stock of her body, feeling renewed strength and energy where there had only been weakness before. A water bottle appeared by her shoulder, and she accepted it gratefully, scooting back so she could lean against the headboard. Savannah sighed in her sleep but did not wake, relinquishing her hold on Sarah to roll over and find a pillow.

The windows were dark, and she hadn’t yet replaced the clock that had been smashed. “What time is it?”

“A little after 5.” Sabine pitched her voice low to avoid waking Savannah. “In the morning.”

A heaviness seeped into Sarah’s body; she had slept through the day and night. She glanced at the other woman sharply as an unhappy thought triggered a sudden panic. “What day is it?”

Sabine seemed to understand her fear. “It’s only been a day and half since she was taken,” she supplied, with the air of someone who had been counting the hours.

Sarah took a long drink of water, her thoughts turning to Cameron. The minutes would seem like hours to her, trapped in the system, and each second ticked closer to the point of no return, for all of them. “She’s all alone,” Sarah whispered, hating the fact that she had already let so much time slip by. “We...” she began, and then stopped to correct herself, “I have to get her out of there.”

“We will,” Sabine promised, subtly emphasizing the first word of the sentence.

“Is that what they are planning downstairs?” Sarah asked, a note of bitterness entering her voice.

For a long second, Sabine didn’t answer. Sarah saw her eyes drift to Savannah before rising to meet her own. She didn’t have to say a word for Sarah to see her thoughts, and it warmed Sarah to realize that she had at least one ally in the fight.

“Thank you.” A little of the weight eased from Sarah’s shoulders. Realizing that she had barely spoken to the young woman who had moved into their home and who had become the last line of defense when they had needed it, Sarah admitted, “I guess I should have said that before now.”

Sabine accepted the gratitude with a slight nod, and Sarah took another sip of water, the chaotic thoughts and dream images of the last day resolving themselves into sketchy plans. She stroked Savannah’s back, soothing the girl into a deeper sleep, before she spoke again. “There’s a safe house on the beach. There’s money and weapons hidden in the floorboards. If we... If I don’t make it, I want you to take Savannah there. She’ll need someone to take care of her.”

If Sabine was surprised, she didn’t show it. Instead, she leaned forward, the expression on her face intense as she caught Sarah’s hand and squeezed. “Savannah needs us. All of us,” she whispered, her words infusing Sarah with a feeling of hope. “We’ll get her back.”

Sarah swallowed, feeling herself suddenly close to tears. “Then I need to get up,” she said roughly. “We have a lot of work to do and not a lot of time.”

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