A Day at the Park

It's 2027, and Sarah Connor is sitting on a bench in a park in Los Angeles.

In another world, in another time, such a thing would have been unthinkable. The buildings around her, shining in the sun, would be naught but ruins, acting as the gravestones for 3 million people that called this city home, not to mention the 3 billion others that perished in the nuclear fire. The grass would be burnt, and any bodies lying on it would be charred skeletons. No sound of birds, no laughter of children, no chiding of parents. In the world as it once was, nothing like this would be here. Just death and silence, as the survivours looked at the bitter fruits of victory.

That future never existed. She and her son averted it. The world didn't end on August 29th, 1997. People went to work. Laughed. Complained. Watched TV. Made love. No-one looked up to see a spear of death approaching, nor duck to cover when a second sun was created above them. The sun rose, the sun set, and people were none the wiser. Even now, 30 years on and 62 years of age, she remembers it. She remembers how, on that day, she wanted to run out into the street. To tell the people that every day from this day on was a gift. That they could live their lives without fear of being hunted. Without going to sleep and fearing they may never wake up. Instead, she got drunk.

She looks out over the park and smiles, as she sees her son pushing her granddaughter on the swing. John fights the war differently than was foretold. Where his battlefield is the Senate, and where his weapons are common sense and hope. He leads. People follow. Once, John Connor was prophesized to save the world. In this future, in this present, he may yet do so.

She runs a hand over the cassette player that she keeps by her side. Inside it is one of many tapes, made by a young woman who saw nothing but a storm on the horizon. Who could, as time went on, see the fire beyond the fury, and the road that led to it unending, cutting through a desert. She remembers the woman who made those tapes, how they were as much for her as for the life that was growing in her belly. The tapes speak of another time. Of another person. They speak of events that never came to pass. Of a war that was never fought. Of wisdom imparted by a soldier who fought in a conflict that none ever knew. Even after all these years, she's kept the tapes and the means to play them. For her, they're a piece of history. Not just for herself. Not even just for Kyle. They're a testament, a record, of all those who gave their lives in a war. Who, in that time, loved and lost, lived and died, and fought for a better future. She owes it to Kyle, to all those in that future, to remember them.

That, and it's a piece of comfort to listen to those words. To hear the strength laced in the fear of Sarah Connor's voice. To take the former, so that she might surpass the latter.

Her granddaughter runs up to her, asking for help with her shoelace. Sarah smiles and obliges, not looking at the girl's shoe, but at her face. She doesn't know. Maybe she never will. When, if she will know about the world she never had to live in, is a question that she's left for John. In that time, millions followed his word. In this time, millions do so likewise. She trusted his judgement once, and that led to a world where judgement never rained from the sky. So, she trusts him again.

"How's that?" she asks, having finished the job.

Kyra smiles like the sun. "Thank you grandma."

Sarah kisses her granddaughter and sends her back off to play. She sees so little of herself in Kyra. There's so little of any of the Connor or Reese line in her. Which, as far as Sarah Connor is concerned, is just as well. The Connors, the Reeses…they're survivours. Kyra Connor doesn't carry scars, and she doesn't see the scars her father and grandmother hide. She looks at John once more, and tries to spot some of Kyle in him. He looks back at her and smiles. He knows. For good and ill, he knows.

She looks up at the sky, reflecting on the one that is not in this world with them. The one who saved her son, and yes, saved her. The one who did not live to see this future, and yes, "live." That's the word she uses. In spite of everything. And in spite of her desire to just sit there, to look up at a different sky and dream…she answers her phone. She pulls it out of her pocket, a piece of 21st century technology that makes the 20th century technology on the bench beside her even more archaic.

SARAH

It's a text.

HOW ARE YOU?

She frowned, typing, I TOLD YOU NOT TO CONTACT ME

ACTUALLY U SAID NOT TO CONTACT YOU UNLESS IT'S URGENT

The frown deepens. IS IT?

There's a pause before the next text comes. Part of her hopes that it never does. The texts are of the present, the tapes are of the past. And the past, for all its horrors, is more comforting when she doesn't sit here. When she doesn't dream.

NO. BUT I KNOW WHAT DAY IT IS.

Right now, the dream is being shattered. So she types, I'M FINE. NOW STOP TYPING. THEY COULD TRACE YOU.

THEY? The text asks. WE WON.

None of this feels like winning. But she nevertheless types, YOU WON. YOU SAVED THE FUTURE. NOW STOP TYPING.

Another pause, before THANK YOU appears on the screen.

Sarah sighs and pockets the phone. She knows that wasn't polite. She also doesn't care. She's done worse, and said worse. And she knows Dani Ramos can take it.

She also knows that, as she looks back over the park, she can't return to the dream. John isn't there. Kyra isn't there. They aren't here, because they never were. And they never will be. 29 years ago to the day, her son was murdered right in front of her. Assassinated by a machine sent from a future that no longer existed, to complete a mission that no longer mattered, to alter the course of a war that had never even started. 29 years ago to the day, she lost her son. And 29 years on, she can no longer remember his face.

It's why his face changes every time she dreams of it. It's why sometimes Kyra Connor comes running up to her. Or Jane. Or Cameron. Sometimes it's a boy instead. Sometimes she calls him James. Or Tim. At times, she even dares to call him Kyle. But however the dream plays out, it always ends. However the dream goes, she always has to wake up.

It's 2027, and the world hasn't ended yet. Skynet was strangled in the crib. In the end, so was Legion. But it matters little. The sky above her is thick with smoke, as the state burns around her. To the south, people are struggling to get into the country as the world dies – as rain ceases to fall, and the land around them withers. To the east, words, threats, and insults are exchanged between leaders, as they deal with a world on the brink. The weapons that caused the end of the world in averted timelines still exist, and remain as deadly as ever. Even if an artificial intelligence doesn't use them, it takes one finger to push the button that ends the world. And that's provided the world doesn't burn regardless.

It's why she comes to the park. Any park. So she can dream. So she can remember. So she can tell itself that it was all for something. That the Terminator was wrong. That her son was wrong. That it isn't in the nature of mankind to destroy itself, and that they can indeed make it to a better world. She comes here, and sometimes, she believes it. It's why she reminds herself that if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, then maybe humanity can as well. That there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

Twice, she's seen it. And naught has she seen mankind muster the same empathy that machines managed. She can dream. She can hope. But hope quickly turns to ashes upon her tongue, and old grow her bones. She's 64, but looks twenty years older, and knows that she has not long for this world. All that's left for her now is the dream. A dream that, at last, after sigh and tear, she returns to.

It's 2027, and Sarah Connor is sitting on a bench in a park in Los Angeles…