Terminator: Road Trip – Leone 75

TERMINATOR: ROAD TRIP

Dallas, Texas

August 16, 1999

Danny Strong was just getting to the climax of Vampire$ when the Ring For Service bell on the front desk rang twice in under a second. Sighing, he laid the book face down on the cheap ass table in the office and wandered out to the desk. What he saw gave him pause. Four women, one of them a middle-aged... Indian? maybe? ... and the other three white girls, half her age, one of whom looked like she should be in high school. That was weird enough, even if not entirely out of the vibe for this particular motel. It was just off the Interstate, in a not so great neighborhood, and had a lot of weird.

It was more than just the age difference. They were dressed fancy, like people who should be checking in at the Adolphus or the Four Seasons, not the Ash Budget Motel. He almost left a note for his supervisor about it when he clocked out, but decided the need for weed was more urgent. He just wanted to finish the book, finish the shift, get home, get high, maybe play some Rainbow Six. He only had an hour to go.

"Howdy," he said to the quartet.

"Three rooms, please," the older Asian one said. "Two singles, one double."

Danny nodded. "Sure. You're in luck. We only got two double rooms, and one of them just opened up today," he said.

"Near the exits," the shorter of the two blondes said. There was something kind of off about her voice. Like she'd just taken some downers or something.

"Darling, we only got ten rooms. They're all near one of the exits."

The other blonde gave the first one an exasperated look, which she seemed not to notice.

"We charge fifty percent up front. How long you lookin' to stay?"

"One week," the second blonde said. "Maybe longer."

"Okay. Well, you're in luck again, cuz the weekly rate's a bit lower."

They worked it out, the girl handed over a stack of twenties from a very full wallet, and Danny handed over three keys. "102 and 103 are on the left side, 108 is the double room. It's near the vending machines on the right. Laundry room's just past them."

"Thank you," the girl said as she took the key for 108 and handed the others to the older woman and the other blonde.

Danny shrugged, watched them leave the lobby – such as it was – and then went back to see just how Felix and his dwindling group of hunters were going to handle the master vampire.

Meanwhile, about forty yards away, Kate eased the door of 108 open and peered inside.

"Well... it's certainly a budget motel," she said after surveying the room. "And it's got a nice big bed," she added, looking for a silver lining.

"Yeah..." Bird dropped her bag next to the cheap pressed-wood cabinet that did double duty as a dresser and a TV stand. There was a piece of paper taped to the monitor that read OUT OF SERVICE in marker.

Kate set down her own suitcase in the corner by the ratty armchair. They were definitely getting what they paid for here.

"Can't we stay somewhere posh next time?" Bird asked as she tugged at a peeling section of wallpaper.

"Sorry, luv. We have to stay under the radar," Kate said. "I'll make it up to you. We'll find a good restaurant for dinner tomorrow."

"In this neighborhood?"

"We'll go downtown, promise. I'll have Nicole find us the best restaurant in the city."

Bird looked at her and managed a half-smile. "That's tomorrow. What're we going to do tonight?"

"Oh, I've got some ideas..." Kate said with a wink and a grin. She held her hands out.

Bird giggled and drew closer.

Several hours later, at a used car dealership in West Dallas, bits of gravel and scattered leaves began to swirl as a strong breeze picked up. The air began to crackle, first with static electricity and then flashes of minute bolts of energy, lightning bolts in miniature, and finally a pulsing orb like St. Elmo's fire, but fixed in place, steady, and far too large – more than eight feet in diameter, overlapping the chassis of a pair of old Chevy Cavaliers. There was a loud hissing noise, a snapping sound that was eerily metallic in tone, and one last gust of wind. The bubble of flickering light faded, and when it did, a perfectly spherical bubble had been carved out – both the Cavaliers had concave gaps in them now, the edges red-hot but cooling fast, and there was a depression in the cracked asphalt lot. In the middle of it was a tall, muscular man, completely naked and covered in a faint coating of what might have been dust or ash but was actually carbonized conduction jelly.

The man, or the thing that looked like a man but was something else entirely, rose to its feet. It stood up straight, tilted its head back 30 degrees and looked up at the night sky. Fortunately, it was a clear night with minimal cloud obstruction. There was light pollution, an initial indicator it had at least traveled far enough to arrive before the emergence of SkyNet, but it could see far better than humans, and was able to discern enough stars, match their relative positions against a very large bank of celestial data, and conclude it had arrived at the target date.

Unit 835985 (Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 Series 850 Terminator Infiltration Unit) returned to a crouching posture and ran a basic diagnostic. All systems were operating at 98%+ of peak performance. The chronal displacement had not caused even negligible surface tissue damage aside from slight scalding of the soles of its feet.

The Terminator attempted a location sync and was able to connect with the Global Positioning System.

LOC_SYNC 32° 46' 47.6328'' N, 96° 52' 32.6892'' W

LOC_ID: WEST DALLAS, DALLAS, TEXAS

LOC_SIG: 115 MILES WEST-SOUTHWEST OF MISSION TARGET

It had arrived within 5.7 miles of the intended location. Given the immense complexities of the procedure, this was an entirely satisfactory result.

The Terminator rose to its feet again and moved quickly through the lot. Security was rudimentary. An adult male canine of indeterminate breed attempted to interdict it, but it was easily dispatched. There was a chain link fence around the perimeter, but it was easily breached. The Terminator stepped out onto the sidewalk and surveyed the scene. A destitute neighborhood, with a mix of single-unit residences, commercial and light industrial facilities. It was late at night and few residents were to be seen.

Few but not none.

A car (1996 Toyota Corolla) drove by. The occupants, teenage African-Americans, yelled loudly and the driver honked the horn. "Fucking crazy-ass white boy!" Someone else called out "Put yo' damn clothes on, man!"

The Terminator considered an auditory response, but the vehicle was already turning 90 degrees at the next intersection. Although apparently meant as an insult, the last comment was strategically sound. It would need to acquire clothing and then contemporary armaments. Then it could begin its mission.

It took only a few minutes to locate a commercial facility assigned to the selling of second-hand clothing and other objects for charitable purposes (a concept it found puzzling). The Terminator swiftly located appropriate attire and footwear.

Procuring firearms took somewhat longer, but fortunately, prewar America's civilian population was very well-armed, especially the criminal underclass. An illicit narcotics transaction was observed and interrupted. Each of the terminated humans carried a semi-automatic pistol. These weapons would be adequate, given the situation, until military-grade weaponry could be procured.

The Terminator left the area before law enforcement personnel could respond.

The next morning, the Spice Girls were gathered at a Denny's down the street from the hotel.

"Are we sure the war hasn't already started?" Bird asked as she surveyed the neighborhood out the window.

Kate could only shake her head. Up until now, Bird hadn't really been exposed to the drearier bits of the pre-war world. She probably imagined most of it was like Central London and sunny afternoons in Hyde Park. Kate's heart ached for the girl's inevitable disillusionment. She was having trouble herself, and she'd been more than old enough to realize the world was far from perfect when the bombs went off.

"Right, then," Kate said. "First priority, transportation. Something big, powerful and sturdy. Some kind of pick-up truck. Nicole, you know any particulars about them in 1999?"

"No. But I can consult the Internet."

"Good. That's your job for the morning. Bird and I will scout the neighborhood. The motorway's not far off, that's one bright spot."

"What's the second priority?"

"Guns. Guns and ammo," Kate said. She fell silent as their waitress set their breakfasts down on the table, speaking up again when she was gone. "No plasma rifles in 1999, but this is America. Shouldn't be too hard to find at least some heavy-duty shotguns, maybe even something that can really dent a T-555."

"It is unlikely Skynet would deploy an obsolete series through the TDE machine. At minimum, it would be an 800 series if not higher."

"If it did at all, Scary Spice."

"We should be prepared for the possibility."

"We will be. That's what the bloody guns are for," Kate said.

"I will prepare a list of legally obtainable firearms that have maximum possibility of disabling a Terminator."

"That's your second job for the morning there."

"And what's my first job for the morning?" Bhamra asked.

"Soon as Scary Spice figures out what's the best truck for our needs, you two go and buy it."

Bhamra nodded.

"Right. Any questions?"

Bird raised her hand.

"Yeah?"

"How do I get this gunk off my fingers?" she asked, holding up her hands which were sticky with maple syrup – not a surprise, given how she'd practically flooded her plate of pancakes with the stuff.

"There's this marvelous combination called soap and hot water," Kate said with a laugh.

"Goodh to knoh," Bird said as she went back to devouring her pancakes.

Two hours later, the team was several thousand dollars poorer but the proud owners of a slightly pre-owned Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Extended Cab. Kate and Bird had scouted the neighborhood, which was not a great one. Kate quietly decided they'd 'lay low' as much as possible until they located Gant and moved out. They split up, with Bird and Bhamra heading to buy the material for improvised explosives, while Nicole and Kate focused on firearms. And now...

Kate was almost dizzy with awe as she and Nicole walked the long, well-stocked aisles of Alamo Armaments. A sign out front proclaimed it to be "One of Texas' Top Ten Gun Stores" - if that was true, Kate could barely imagine what the Number One looked like.

In quantity, at least, Alamo compared fairly well to the arsenal at Avalon Barracks. Most of the guns here were pistols and hunting rifles, of course, almost entirely useless against Terminators, but there was a wide variety of shotguns and semi-automatic rifles. With the right ammunition, those could at least slow one of the metal bastards down.

And it was all so clean, bright and well-maintained, qualities Kate couldn't honestly associate with Avalon, no matter how much she missed it and its people. And she did miss it, from the Major down to Rat-Catcher Riley. Even that wanker of a padre, Kate had to admit. He was, if nothing else, a human. She opened the lid of the Box just enough to look inside and then forced it shut again as best she could.

Then they reached a display at the back, a huge, locked box of thick glass that contained a rack of rifles not much shorter than Kate herself. A huge smile lit up her face.

"Fifty calibers... you can actually buy fifty calibers," she murmured, that sunny smile on her face even after she saw just how much they cost. This was better than her last fifteen Christmasses rolled together.

"These will be very effective against Terminators," Nicole said after giving the rifles an appraising look.

"Come on, then," Kate said. "Let's get this done."

They headed to the front counter. A middle-aged man, tall and gangly, jeans, short-sleeved shirt with an AA inside a target circle logo, eyed them with mild curiosity as they approached.

"Howdy," he said.

Kate nodded and hung back, quiet and watchful. She'd decided to let Nicole handle the next part. If nothing else, the Terminator knew more about prewar firearms than she did, not to mention the exact physical vulnerabilities of her mechanical kind.

"Hello."

"So... how can I help you?"

"I have prepared a list of firearms we would like to purchase."

The man smiled. "Well, go ahead on. Whatcha looking at?"

"12 gauge Benelli M3."

"That's Italian. Just came on the market this year. You can go pump-action or semi-auto."

"AMT Hardballer Longslide with laser sighting."

"Classic gun. Point and click is what I call it. Great for home defense. Anything else?"

"Barrett M82."

He chortled. "That's a lotta gun for a little lady," the guy said to Nicole.

"Yes. It is a very large rifle."

Something about her tone finally got to him. "Lady, as long as your money's good, you can have the guns, but I don't want to get involved in your crazy. And if you end up on the news, it's not my fault."

"No. It won't be your fault."

The guy stared at Nicole, exhaled, and then looked at Kate. "I mean it. I don't want to be part of any Columbine nightmare."

Nicole tilted her head and was about to ask a question, but Kate cut her off. Obviously, whatever Columbine was, it was something she should know about. "Relax. It's just for target shooting." Technically, it wasn't a lie. The targets were made of titanium instead of paper, that's all. Just a tiny detail, really. "We'll need two rifles, four shotguns and four pistols."

Skepticism and greed went to war on the employee's face, and after a few seconds, greed won. The M82s alone would bring in almost fourteen thousand bucks."Okay. Check or credit?"

"Credit."

The guy whistled. "Hope your card is either gold or black."

"It's blue," Nicole said.

At the same time, Kate asked "We can just take them? Today?" Bloody hell, America...

"Yep. Gotta love Texas, right?"

"Yes. Got to love Texas," Nicole said.

Kate stepped forward. "Guns aren't going to do much without bullets," she whispered.

"I know." Nicole turned back to the clerk. "We will also require ammunition for each weapon."

The man grinned. "That's usually how it works. How many boxes do you want us to order for you?"

Kate tuned out as Nicole explained just how much they needed, barely paying attention to the greedy gleam in the clerk's eye. She casually studied the store again. A father and son were bickering over just what Junior's First Rifle would be not far away. A man in a cowboy hat was examining a semi-automatic rifle with studious intent. A twenty-something redhead woman was drifting through the shotgun collection. She sensed Kate looking at her and looked back with a thousand-yard stare. Kate nodded and then turned back to the counter.

Nicole handed their shiny blue credit card over to the clerk, who smiled hugely as he rang up the sale. He was definitely going to get a sweet bonus for this one.

Around the same time Nicole was loading their new arsenal into the truck, Bird and Bhamra were coming back from the neighborhood grocery and hardware stores.

Danny from the afternoon before was at the desk again, rolling his eyes at something the other person in the lobby – a young woman in a tank top and very short shorts – just said.

"Well, hello, who's this?" the woman asked, eyeing Bhamra and Bird for a second before looking back down at the nails she was applying bright crimson polish to.

"Izzy, what'd I tell you about talking to the other guests?" Danny muttered.

"Free country, Danny Boy. First Amendment."

"That's only to stop the government from shutting you up," Danny said, shaking his head.

"Yeah, well..."

Bird looked confused.

"I love your hair," Izzy told her. "Is it like that naturally or did you have it done up like me?" She ran a hand through her hair, which was dark with a single blonde streak on one side.

"It's... just like this?" Bird said.

"That's so cool. I'm envious," Izzy said before going back to her nails.

"Don't you have some customers to service?" Danny asked her.

"Not at this hour of the day, hun," Izzy said. "And you love it when I'm around. Don't lie."

Danny rolled his eyes and went back to his book.

"Your hair is really nice, but girl, you need to style it up," Izzy told Bird. "Go from seven to ten."

Bird looked at her in puzzlement. "What?"

Izzy smiled. "You could have every boy in Dallas after you with just a little work."

"I don't want every boy in Dallas. I don't want any boy in Dallas."

Izzy grinned. "Well, every girl, then."

"I have the girl I want."

"Then make her even happier to see you."

"Oh – oh, maybe," Bird said with a hesitant smile on her face.

"You think about it and come back to me. I'll make you look super hot. Go and talk to Sofia in 105. She'll tell you how good I am."

Bird bit her lip and Bhamra was slightly amused at how earnestly the girl was considering the offer. She turned to Danny. "Excuse me. I have a question."

"Shoot."

"Do you know how to get to Gilead from here?"

"Gilead?"

"Yes. It's past Abilene," Bhamra said.

"Huh."

Danny looked at Izzy, who shrugged and said "Never heard of it."

"Can't say I've ever heard of it, either, but there's lots of tiny towns in Texas. Anyway, if it's past Abilene, just get on I-30 – that's Interstate 30 – and keep going west. I-30's gonna merge into I-20 once you get past Fort Worth, and it'll be somewhere off there. You know what you oughta do, you oughta stop at a gas station along the way. They'll have maps even if they don't know just where this Gilead is."

"Thank you very much," Bhamra said.

"Sure, no problem. Safe driving."

"Think about it! I'm around until sunset, hun!" Izzy called out to Bird as she and Bhamra headed for their rooms.

It was just after noon when they left the hotel behind in the pick-up. Nicole took the wheel, dispassionately pointing out she was the least likely to get them into an accident en route.

That was fine for Kate. She'd have time to learn how to drive on the wrong side of the street, but not today. Besides, she got to watch Bird watch Dallas and Fort Worth as they drove through them. They hadn't really spent any time in the parts of London that had really tall buildings, but were more than making up for it now. Skyscrapers were present in such numbers it almost felt oppressive to Kate. She tried not to imagine what it looked like in the future.

Eventually, they left the city behind and passed through sprawling suburbs. Kate settled back in her seat, figuring that was about all they'd see until they reached Gilead.

And then the suburbs started getting thicker and thicker, and Kate could see tall buildings up ahead again.

She leaned up between the two front seats. "What's that?"

"Fort Worth, the western portion of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area."

"Oh."

"Everything's bigger in Texas."

"Apparently..." Kate sat back again.

"It's crazy," Bird said. "Crazy and brilliant."

"Isn't it? Seeing a whole different part of the world we're going to save."

Bird smiled hopefully. "Yeah..." She leaned against Kate and after a while fell asleep like that. After a while, Kate herself fell asleep.

Some time later, some subconscious warning woke Kate up. She looked around. They'd left the highway behind and were on a two-lane road heading north through a rural area where the grass and trees were a little brown from the summer heat and dryness.

"Where are we?"

"Texas State Highway 16, three-point-two miles north of Strawn. We are now approaching Gilead."

"Any idea where in Gilead the ranch is?"

"No. We require more detailed directions, but a local resident will be able to provide them."

"Don't torture anybody," Kate, slightly bemused, cautioned.

"I do not think that will be necessary." Soon enough, they saw a teenage girl in what was a peculiar and never-before-seen contraption to Kate but was known in prewar America as a tire swing.

Nicole slowed the truck to a half and rolled down her window.

"Excuse me. We need directions to the Gant Ranch. Can you help us?" she asked, using a British accent for the first time since they'd landed in Dallas. Kate realized she'd have to make the machine keep using that now that they were, on paper at least, sisters.

The girl nodded without getting off the tire. "Gant Ranch? Sure, I know it. It's just a coupla miles west of here. Y'all turn left on to Meester Road," she said, pointing at an intersection a little ways up the road, "and when you get to the big ol' elm tree a little ways past the sign for Gummer's Guns, it's gonna be the next driveway on the left." The girl scratched her chin. "You friends of his? Cuz he's not really the 'drop in on unannounced' type of fella."

"Don't worry. We're old friends," Kate assured her.

The girl eyed her skeptically. "Yeah? Then how come you had to ask directions?"

Kate felt a headache coming on.

"We had the directions but we lost them," Bhamra said.

The girl chewed on her lip. "Uh-huh. Just like that other fella."

"What? What 'other fella'?" Kate asked.

"Tall guy, kinda lanky. Drove by a couple hours ago, askin' the same thing. He talked funny."

"Funny how? Did he have an accent?"

"No, not like y'all. More the kinda funny like he was beamed down from Farscape."

Kate wasted two seconds wondering what Farscape was before hissing "Go!" to Nicole.

Nicole wasted zero seconds before pressing the gas pedal, sending the pick-up tearing away from the girl on the tire swing. She did call out "Thank you for explaining," as they rode away.

The girl watched them and shook her head. Foreigners were weird.

When she saw that the front gate of the ranch was hanging open, Kate said "Keep driving! Don't pull in!"

Nicole kept driving and didn't pull in, but she did look at Kate in the rear-view mirror.

"Keep going for half a mile and then stop," Kate said.

"What's the plan, then?" Bird asked once the truck stopped well down the road from the ranch entrance.

"Nicole and I will go in on foot. Bird and Bhamra, you stay with the truck."

"Kate –"

"This is now a military operation, Little Bird, and we're doing it by the book."

Bird gritted her teeth but, after a second or two, nodded reluctant agreement with the order. "Be careful and stay safe, mate."

Kate grabbed her and kissed her quickly. "You too." Then she turned to Nicole. "You take point, Dalek," she said as she filled up the magazine of her shotgun.

Nicole nodded. Her own shotgun was already loaded and ready.

They moved quickly, leaving the others behind. Please be safe, Kate thought, but she didn't look back. The mission had to come first now.

It didn't take long to reach the perimeter of the ranch.

The fence around the ranch was high and strong, designed to keep cattle in place, and had both barbed wire and electric wire, but Nicole ignored the former and avoided the latter as she dismantled one section of fencing to let them in. She also ignored the KEEP OUT – TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT signs placed at fairly frequent intervals along the fence.

"Gant won't be happy about that," Kate murmured.

"Gant is probably already dead," Nicole answered.

Kate scowled, but she'd already come to that conclusion herself.

There wasn't much in the way of cover between the fence and the low stone wall that enclosed the main ranch buildings – house, garage, barn. Kate saw what might have been another barn and some stables past the main complex. Beyond that must have been the majority of the ranch property – grazing land or crops, probably. Behind the complex there was a steep ravine with empty grassland on the far side as far as the eye could see.

There wasn't even enough grass to crawl through, so Kate crouched down near the hole in the fence. "Go," she said to Nicole.

Nicole nodded and took off sprinting in a strange, stiff sort of motion. Aside from briefly in the bowels of the Bloomsbury research facility, Kate had never seen Nicole run. It was odd. It was a good hundred yards between the fence and the wall, and Nicole covered it easily as fast as Usain Bolt. Once the Terminator reached the wall without incident, she knelt down and aimed her shotgun at the main house. Kate inhaled, exhaled, and then took off running. She did not cover it as fast as Usain Bolt, but she didn't get shot at, either, and took it as her own personal gold medal.

"You picking up anything inside?" Kate whispered.

"Vantage points are limited, but I cannot see anything moving inside."

"Right. Hop the wall, then, and make for the side door there."

"It's very likely a person of Travis Gant's character will have rigged it with some sort of trap."

"Just how paranoid is this bloke?"

"Not paranoid enough," Nicole said. "Ingress through a window is less likely to result in damage."

"He could have rigged them, too."

"Possibly, but my systems rate it as low probability. Hail or a bird could happen to crash through the glass, setting off an inconvenient explosion. It requires much more force to break through a door."

"What about the probability that Gant is alive and decides to put some holes in you?"

"That is a very low probability event."

Kate exhaled sharply. "Just go, then. I've got your six."

"Thank you," Nicole said. She sprang up, bounded over the stone wall, and sprinted until she was a few feet away from the nearest window, a dingy, grimy thing. Then she leaped up into the air and torpedoed herself through the window, arms crossed over her face and head in an X shape to protect the more vulnerable and visible tissue and sensory elements there.

She rolled down as she came through the glass, then was out of sight for a few seconds. There was no immediate burst of gunfire, which was a bad sign for Gant and a good sign for them in as far as it meant the Terminator was gone.

Maybe. Kate remembered the infiltrator in the tunnels below London, the one that had played dead and then killed Tah before any of them had a chance to slag it.

Nicole appeared behind the broken window. She gave a thumb's up.

Here goes, Kate said to herself. She jumped over the wall and ran to the window. She smashed some of the remaining glass around the bottom frame with the stock of her shotgun and then climbed inside.

They were in the kitchen, a bare-bones thing with simple, old-looking appliances, sturdy wooden counters and a small, round table with a few well-worn chairs. There was the exterior door, which was fitted with a pair of deadbolt locks and had some kind of plastic device at the top, one half on the door and one half on the adjacent wall.

"An electronic alarm, not an explosive," Nicole said in a low voice. She pointed behind Kate.

Kate turned and saw a similar contraption at the top of the window. "Don't hear any alarm."

"No. It has most likely been disabled before an alarm service company could be alerted."

They moved through the rest of the house, Kate covering Nicole from behind. There wasn't much to it. Gant lived a simple life. There was a bathroom with a tiny shower, a slightly cracked toilet and a vanity that looked like it was prison surplus. There was a bedroom with a small CRT TV and a beat-up old VCR, a closet with a door hanging loosely on two of three hinges, a metal-framed bed with a thin mattress, and a small wooden bookshelf along part of one wall. On the wall above the bed was a yellow flag with a black snake and the words DON'T TREAD ON ME on it.

"The Gadsden Flag. An early banner from the American Revolution currently associated with the libertarian political movement."

Kate gave her a look. "Not now," she hissed.

They found Gant in the front hall, which was really just part of the living room with a big closet giving it the vague appearance of a passage instead of an open area.

He was lying gracelessly on his back with a small pool of blood around his head and a slightly larger one staining the front of his shirt. A machine gun was on the ground at his side, part of the barrel resting over his left leg.

He hadn't gone down without a fight, judging by the sea of shall cases strewn all around his body. Not that any of it had done him much good. Kate pursed her lips. Either Gant was the worst shot in the world or he'd been firing at something that could keep coming after being hit by half a belt of machine gun ammunition.

"What's that?" Kate asked absently.

"An M240 machine gun. It is the American variant of the FN MAG."

Kate shook her head. She was familiar with the FN MAG. The Resistance used it under the name L7. "Not that, the t-shirt."

The dead man was wearing a white t-shirt with the words DIVERSITY IS OUR GREATEST STRENGTH and dark silhouettes of various guns on it.

"Oh. A pro-Second Amendment statement that simultaneously mocks social liberalism's tendency to celebrate cultural diversity."

Kate looked at her, then shook her head. Prewar was a lot weirder than she remembered. "Let's check the rest of the place before we head back to Dallas."

The rest of the place amounted to the living room, the only one that provided more than a hint that the occupant wasn't as bland and lifeless as a Terminator. There was another, slightly larger TV, there was a couch and a few cheap chairs, a low, round table covered in empty beer bottles and dirty plates, a very tall, wide bookshelf behind the couch, shelves laden with a mix of big old books (including an entire set of the 1968 World Book Encyclopedia) and stacks of magazines (mostly Sports Illustrated and National Geographic), and a couple posters flanking the TV. One said TRUST NO ONE and the other I WANT TO BELIEVE. That second one had some kind of hovering UAV Kate didn't recognize. On the stand that held the TV, there were a couple photographs in simple wooden frames. One was a grainy shot of a squad of – what did Nicole say Gant was? US Army? A squad of soldiers, then, in some kind of jungle setting. They had a mixture of headgear – berets, hats, helmets – that Kate would have considered typical of a resistance unit, but given that this was prewar, it was more likely they were special operations fighters with a less strict uniform and equipment code than regular military. Kate recognized a young Gant. Tall, grinning, red hair and a bit of stubble around his chin and cheeks that could only charitably be called a beard.

The second photo was much more recent and much clearer. It showed Gant, not much younger than the one laid out on the floor of the front hall, another adult man with slightly darker skin and black hair, and a young woman with her arm around a child. Both of them had brown hair, the woman's darker than the boy's.

"Is that them? The Connors?" Kate asked.

"Yes. This must have been taken early in their relationship."

Kate eyed the two, mother and son. The kid was a kid, maybe with a hint of some iron in his eyes, but basically just a kid. Mum, on the other hand, looked like she'd been through the wars just as much as any of them. "Think I'll keep this and give it to her when we catch up with them," she said as removed the backing of the frame and pulled the picture out, folding it and placing it into one of her back pockets.

Nicole turned and stared at the bookshelf, head tilted slightly.

"What?" Kate mouthed, turning and raising her shotgun.

Nicole didn't answer. Instead, slowly, silently, she approached the shelf, her own weapon raised.

She was three feet away from the shelf when it fell down on her. Nicole managed to raise her arms, but it was too heavy and she disappeared beneath it. A second later, Kate realized why. The back of the shelf wasn't wood, but instead at least an inch or two of steel plating. Behind it wasn't a full wall but one with a cavity just big enough to hold one person.

Or one Terminator.

Kate opened fire even as the Terminator, no longer confined and forced to keep its own weapons at its side, began to raise a pair of semi-automatic pistols. Slug after slug slammed into the machine, each hit rocking it slightly. Kate fired four shots and then threw herself to the side, hitting the ground in a roll that took her a few feet down the hallway towards the bathroom and bedroom.

She hurriedly slammed more shells into the shotgun's magazine as she heard the Terminator's heavy tread on the steel backing of the bookshelf...

The Terminator rounded the corner. Kate got her first good look at it. This particular Terminator was fairly tall, slightly tanned, more muscular than the average Infiltrator model. The added touch of big, dark sunglasses almost gave it the illusion of humanity.

"Sergeant Kate Harvey?"

Fuck me. Kate's eyes widened in shock even as she squeezed the shotgun's trigger, over and over. Each shot jolted the Terminator off balance just a little, but it was only the fact that Kate aimed at, and hit, the machine's pistol that kept her alive for those precious few seconds.

The Terminator looked down at its now useless firearm and began to advance on Kate.

Sorry, Bird, so sorry –

And then the Terminator looked sideways just as Nicole slammed into it at full speed. The two machines flew out of Kate's line of sight. She put her last few shells into the shotgun and pushed herself around the corner just in time to see Nicole drive herself, and the other Terminator, through the big living room window (and part of the wall around it).

Kate winced and followed them.

She'd only seen Terminators fight once before, when Nicole had grappled with another unit from her model line, and this wasn't quite the same. The earlier battle had been like a sumo wrestling match with two perfectly equal opponents locked together in perfect equilibrium until some outside factor had broken the balance – namely a bludgeon in the form of Kate's plasma rifle. But this particular Terminator wasn't another Model 104, and Kate didn't have a plasma rifle.

The two machines were locked together in a weird, slightly stiff fight, too close for Kate to risk a shot. She moved off to one side, trying to circle around the male Terminator and shoot him in the back.

Before she got a chance, though, there was a sharp crack of a rifle, and the Terminator suddenly stumbled. Something had torn out a huge chunk of flesh and steel just above its right knee.

Had Bird broken out one of the Barretts? Kate didn't know, so she dropped flat just in case.

For her part, Nicole grabbed the Terminator by the arm and spun him expertly, sending him tumbling down the slope leading to the ravine. The Terminator wasn't able to arrest its fall before it reached the lip of a ravine and vanished from sight.

"Are you hurt? Are you damaged?" Kate called out as she scrambled backwards on her hands and knees, trying to get to cover from the likely position of the shooter.

Nicole tilted her head slightly and then said "Negative. No exoskeleton components were affected. Only skin and tissue. They will regenerate."

"Good! Now get to some bloody cover, you idiot!"

Just then, Kate saw the shooter – a red-headed woman, but definitely not Bird. She was older, maybe a little older than Kate, a little taller than Bird, and carrying some kind of .50 caliber rifle Kate didn't recognize. She did recognize the woman. It was the one she'd seen at Alamo Armaments earlier in the day.

"Y'all okay?" the woman called out.

"Yeah – thanks for the assist, mate," Kate said. She cautiously rose to her feet, shotgun held at the ready but not aimed at the woman.

"Who the fuck are you two?" the redhead demanded. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm Kate. This is my sister Nicole. We were trying to get in touch with Gant."

"Not your lucky day."

"Not his, either," Kate said. "Not to sound ungrateful, but who are you and why are you out here?"

"Emily Metzger. I was supposed to have dinner with the poor bastard." Metzger looked past Kate and Nicole. "We should finish that metal motherfucker off while he's still down in the crick. Before he comes climbing up after us."

"I don't think he will," Nicole said. "Not when threatened with termination."

Kate shook her head and looked at Metzger. "So, that's out. We know about them, too."

"Yeah," Metzger said with a bemused look on her face. "Still..." She approached the edge of the ravine, rifle raised to her shoulder, and peered down, then looked left and right, a frustrated expression on her face. "Fuckin' metal. He ran away."

Nicole nodded.

Metzger exhaled. "Well, this day's getting worse all the time. I'm fixin' to get out of here. Go holler to your buddies and we can drive together."

"Drive where?" Kate asked once she translated Texan to British.

"Anywhere. This place is pretty isolated, but gunshots carry. So double-time it, okay?"

Fifteen minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of a McDonald's two towns over. Kate and the others were just getting out of the truck when Metzger parked her van a couple spots over.

Bhamra's eyes widened as the redhead got out. She smiled a little and waved at her. "Lt. Metzger?!"

Metzger eyed her, clearly puzzled. "Sorry, ma'am, don't think I know you."

"What? Of course you do. You're one of Connor's people at Crystal Peak. You were part of the team that guarded the Project Phoenix personnel early on."

"Project what?" Metzger asked, shaking her head. "If that's even a thing, it's above my pay grade. I'm part of Task Force 716."

"What's that?" Kate asked.

"Classified."

"Fuck's sake, mate. Does any of that matter any more?" Bird snapped.

"I don't know any of you idiots," Metzger countered. "So yeah, it matters."

"But I know you," Bhamra said, then she frowned thoughtfully. "Hm."

"Doc?" Kate asked her.

"I know Emily Metzger... but maybe not this Emily Metzger."

"How's that?" Metzger asked.

"An alternate timeline. An alternate iteration."

"What?" Kate asked.

"A different future than the one we come from."

"What?" Bird asked.

"When was Judgment Day for you, Lt. Metzger?"

"Judgment Day?"

"When Skynet – you do have Skynet, right?"

"Of course we do, ma'am. Wouldn't be here and now if we didn't."

"When it became self-aware and attacked the world."

"Oh, you mean Day of the Dead. November 2, 2017."

"And what year did you come from?" Bhamra asked.

"2027."

"Amazing... only ten years. For us it was almost fifteen."

"We're wasting time. Forget the future-past, focus on the future-future," Kate said. She turned to Metzger. "What were you doing there?"

"I was supposed to meet Gant this afternoon. By the time I got there, he was already dead."

"How'd you know? Did you go inside?"

"I scoped the place out first and saw the front door was open and he was lying on the ground next to it," Metzger said with a withering look at Kate.

"We didn't have a chance to stick around out front."

"Binoculars, ever heard of them?"

"Oi, shut it," Bird snapped.

"Look – okay. That was bad tactics on our part. Why did you stick around, though?"

"I knew that if it knew about Gant, the metal probably knew about me. I was hoping to wait it out and then go for a head shot when it decided I wasn't going to make the meeting. And then you two came running in." Metzger sighed. "Guess it's not a total loss. Between the three of us, we did some decent damage. But fuck, six months work wasted." She took off her boonie cap and squeezed it tightly, smushing it up into a ball.

Kate raised an eyebrow.

"What? Y'all can use stress balls, but this works just fine for me."

"Fair enough," Kate said.

Before anything else could be said, a dog began to bark not far away.

Kate turned and saw a little old lady maybe fifty yards away, tut-tutting a tiny chihuahua as it barked and strained against the leash.

"Fuck – we gotta move," Metzger said, already halfway to her van.

"Nicole?" Kate murmured.

Her 'sister' was already turning in a circle, surveying the area. Aside from the McDonald's and a couple houses well past the dog-walker, there wasn't anything that could offer cover to a lurking Terminator. "Negative."

"Relax, lieutenant, it's just her."

"Just... her?" Metzger looked at Kate, then at Nicole, eyes widening in realization. She stepped back a few paces. "You're a fucking Terminator?!"

"She's one of ours," Kate said.

"What the hell do you mean, one of yours?"

"I mean she's been reprogrammed."

"Reprogrammed?" Metzger repeated. Her hand was near the small of her back. Kate recognized the stance – she had a gun under her jacket. But it couldn't be anything other than a pistol, which meant all she'd do is make a scene. An ugly scene.

"That's not a tactic you use in your future?" Dr. Bhamra asked.

"Fuck no. We fought our war on our own. Fought and won." Metzger stared hatefully at Nicole. "Didn't need metal to beat metal."

"I'm sorry, then," Nicole said. "We would have been a valuable asset for you."

Metzger spat at her feet and then shook her head. She turned to Kate. "And what if her switch flips back to Murder Machine in the middle of the night?"

Kate stared back at her. She'd thought about it, more than once, and especially since she and Bird... "Then we deal with it. Killing metal is our job."

"You know it's not the same. Ambushing one at three hundred yards with a .50 caliber ain't the same as it coming through your door at three in the morning."

"Lieutenant, I've been working with – trusting my life to – Nicole for three years now," Dr. Bhamra said. "She's proven herself a half-dozen times."

"Y'all out of your Goddam minds," Metzger said, but she lowered her hand away from her gun. "We should get moving," she added. "Already been in Gilead hours too long."

Kate nodded. "Fair enough." She gave Metzger the name and address of their motel, but the lieutenant shook her head. "No offense, but I'd rather we stick to neutral ground until we all know each other better."

"That's fair, too," Kate said. "Where do you suggest?"

"The Kennedy Memorial. Y'all got any idea where that is?"

"No."

"Figured as much," Metzger said. "It's near Dealey Plaza, also something you don't know the location of. Just head to Commerce and South Market. There's a parking lot on Commerce, and it's just northwest of that. Can't miss it. Meet you ladies there in, say, three hours?"

"Think we can manage that, mate," Kate said.

Metzger nodded, gave Nicole one last suspicious look, and then got into her van and drove off.

"Do we trust her?" Bird asked after a minute or two.

"I'm not sure yet," Kate said. "What about you, Dalek? Do you trust her?"

"She gave no indications of intentional deception during the course of the conversation."

Kate considered that for a few seconds. "All right. But keep an eye on her, everyone. She's not part of the team."

Three hours later, Kate and Bird walked up to the Kennedy Memorial. Kate stared at the large, concrete structure for a few seconds. It was square in shape, with two vertical openings on the north and south faces, and no roof. "Looks like a fucking hollowed-out Lego brick," she finally said.

"Who's Kennedy and why's he got a memorial?" Bird asked.

"Some Yankee president who got shot here a long time ago," Kate said.

"Must not've liked him much if this is what his memorial looks like."

"Must not've."

They took up positions, Kate on a stone bench on the east side of the memorial area and Bird on the steps of something called the Old Red Courthouse. They could see each other, and between them, the entire memorial area except for inside the memorial itself.

It was Bird who first eyed Metzger. She took off the baseball cap she'd got at a highway rest stop on the way back and set it by her side.

Kate spotted Metzger a few seconds later, and waved her over, like two friends who just happened to run into each other on a summer afternoon.

"Where's the rest of your girls?"

"Not here," Kate said.

Metzger grinned and sat down on the bench next to her. "Smart."

"What about you? Do you have a team?"

"Naw, just me."

"And your mission?"

"You first, Limey."

Kate shrugged. "Find the Connors. Stop Skynet from ever happening."

Metzger whistled. "Can't say y'all ain't ambitious."

Kate shrugged again.

"Connor sent me back to help build up the Texas Resistance," Metzger said to the unspoken question. "Military and law enforcement's already pretty well-established around here. He wants something parallel, something that can step in and fill the gaps Skynet burns into the system on Day of the Dead."

"Gant?"

"People like Gant. I started with him because Connor trusted him back in the future." Metzger shook her head. "It took me six weeks to convince him I wasn't a Fed and six months that I wasn't crazy. Six months of work down the drain thanks to that metal bastard. Gant knew people from Dallas to Brownsville and El Paso to..." She trailed off and smiled a little at the blank look on Kate's face. "All over Texas. Survivalists. Y2K preppers. People with guns, people off the grid. Just the kind of spine to build the Resistance on."

Y2K? Kate wondered. She held that question for another time, though. "So what's next?"

Metzger smiled again and shook her head. "Your turn again."

"Gant and Sarah Connor were shagging not so long ago. I figured he might know where she is these days, or at least point us to someone who does."

"Y'all up a crick now, then."

"If that means we're in trouble, then yes, we're up a crick. Did Gant ever mention her?"

"'fraid not. He was twitchy. Didn't volunteer a lot about himself and I knew better than to ask too many questions."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I've got other names to work with. Gant was just the pick of the litter, by far. You?"

"Nicole might know some names, but I doubt it. She told me once –"

"She?"

"You start thinking of her like a person after a while."

"She's not, though, Harvey. Don't forget that. Not ever."

Kate pointedly moved on. Not least because the American was making an uncomfortable amount of sense. "She told me once that Connor's people scrubbed most information she had about him and his mother in case she was captured by Skynet and switched back."

"Good thinkin' for him."

"Yeah, but it makes it so much harder for us."

"Hey. You know what helps me think outside the box at times like this?"

"What's that?"

"A coupla beers. Let's go find a bar, knock back some Lone Star, and see if inspiration throws us a bone."

Kate eyed the American officer for a second and then said "Don't see any bloody reason not to." She beckoned Bird over.

"What's the word, sarnt?" Bird asked after she came jogging over.

"The word is alcohol."

"One of my favorites, that," Bird said with a huge grin on her face.

The bar was called Bowie and Bottle, and there was a bright neon sign by the front door that had a knife and beer bottle aligned in an X.

"Not quite a pub like back home, is it?" Kate murmured to Bird. The music was loud and almost painfully country, the TVs were showing a baseball game between the Rangers and the Indians, and there was an electric bull on a raised platform in between a pair of pool tables.

"Not quite," Bird answered despite having no actual pub experience aside from sleeping in the ruins of some of them over the years.

They had a booth in the back, not too far from the bull. At the moment, Metzger was riding the bull like an old pro, much to the loud – very loud – approval of a pack of young Texans.

"I do not understand the appeal," Nicole said.

Bird giggled. "Someone explain it to her. Doctor B, you're the smart one here. You do it."

Bhamra gave her a mock-cross look and then leaned close to Nicole, murmuring in her ear.

"Oh. The anticipation or imagination of intercourse. Thank you for explaining."

Bird giggled again and took a long drink from her beer.

"All right, let's not get too giggly before we start thinking through the problem," Kate said.

Bird sighed and set her mug down. "All right, sarnt. Let me see that picture you found."

Kate produced and unfolded the picture, then handed it to Bird, who held it up so Bhamra could look, too.

The doctor sighed a little. "Such a child still. Not at all the John Connor I remember."

"What was he like?" Kate asked.

"Reclusive," Bhamra said. "It was actually a point of concern among his chief advisers."

"What do you mean?"

"There was a very small circle of people who saw him on a regular basis by the time I was working on the project. A few soldiers, President Haley's special liaison, and his bodyguard." Bhamra shook her head. "Another reprogrammed Terminator like Nicole. That was what especially alarmed people. I admit it unnerved me a few times." She took a long drink. "But when I did meet him, and spoke to him at any length, he was impressive. There's a certain magnetism to him. He makes you believe in him, but that's just part of it. He makes you believe in yourself. Makes you believe in the cause. That's what made him the leader in California in the first days after the war. Not his strategic skills – Nicole can tell you more about that side of things – but his inspiration. He was the only person who knew what was even happening, knew how to bring people together before the cities even stopped burning, warned them of what was coming. Without him, the Americans, at least, would be much worst off. And it's them bearing the greatest burden in the war, like the Russians in World War Two."

"Thought that was the RAF," Bird said.

Nicole opened her mouth and Kate cut her off. "Not the time, Dalek."

Nicole closed her mouth.

Kate took the picture back from Bird. "This other bloke. The Hispanic one. He must've been in tight with Gant and Connor. Whoever he is –"

"Enrique Salceda," Nicole said. "A Mexican smuggler and forger, and an associate of Sarah Connor since the mid 1980s."

"Bloody hell, Nicole, you have to tell us these things at the time, not hours later."

"His identity is irrelevant without his current location, which we don't possess."

"No, but we can find it now that we fucking know who he is."

"It is very unlikely he is listed in the phone book."

"Wasn't planning on looking in that. You said current location. What about past locations?"

"He was born in Mexicali, Baja California, on August 24, 1951, briefly served in the Mexican Army before going AWOL and illegally emigrated to the United States in the summer of 1970. He found work with various criminal organizations in the Greater Los Angeles area before relocating to parts unknown after an encounter with Sarah Connor in 1995."

"Who's that?" Metzger asked as she joined them, cheeks a little flush, skin with a thin sheen of sweat on it.

"Enrique Salceda," Kate said, laying the photo back down on the table.

"I know him," Metzger said. "I mean, I know of him. He's one of my long-shot contacts."

"Why a long-shot?"

"Because he lives in New Mexico, not Texas."

"New Mexico is adjacent to Texas," Nicole pointed out, saving Kate from having to ask the question. She knew where New York, California and Florida were. The rest of the states were a big jumble to her.

"I know, but it's still a separate military region. Texas is one all its own, because it's Texas, but New Mexico is part of the Southwest District with Arizona, Colorado, Utah and Nevada. Connor sent someone else back to handle all that. I don't want to step on their toes."

"You won't be. We're not going to drag Salceda back to Texas, we just need him to tell us where Connor is."

Metzger chugged from her bottle of Lone Star, then set it down. "All right. But I'm going along for the ride," she said.

"No objections from me, leftenant."

Metzger grinned. "Well, let's drink to the Special Relationship."

"The what?" Bird whispered to Kate.

Danny was behind the desk when the next weirdo came in.

He was huge, at least 6'5", and jacked up, probably roided up. Dark hair, slightly tan white guy, eyes hidden behind aviator sunglasses. There was definitely something freaky about the way he moved. Almost reptilian, Danny thought. Reptilian with a weird sort of limp to the right leg, like it had some kind of knee problem.

"Hey," he said with a shaky smile. "Looking for a room? Can't help you, we're –"

"I'm looking for a guest."

"Who?" Danny asked, now frowning shakily. He definitely didn't like this guy's vibe.

"Her name is Kate Harvey. She is a Caucasian female, roughly twenty five years old, with blonde hair and blue eyes, 162 centimeters tall, approximately 58 kilograms in weight."

"What? Speak American, man."

"Her name is Kate Harvey. She is a Caucasian female, roughly twenty five years old, with blonde hair and blue eyes, 5 feet 4 inches tall, approximately 128 pounds in weight."

Danny frowned even more deeply. One of the weird British girls. He wasn't going to tell this creepy asshole that she was staying here. His hand inched towards the phone.

"Are she and her friends here?" the man asked in a flat, demanding voice as he looked up and past Danny. Voice analysis and non-vocal cues suggested the man was withholding information. None of the previous motels it had visited – and there had been several as it went through the listings in the phonebook, motel by motel – had yielded this result.

"Look, hoss, go fuck yourself. I ain't –"

The big man grabbed Danny by the neck, cutting off his words — and his breath.

"Ghhk –" Danny struggled, clawing at the man's arms, but it was useless. His eyes bulged out and his legs spasmed wildly.

The Terminator squeezed until the Caucasian male's trachea had been crushed. Expiration followed almost instantly. Then it dropped the man, noticing but not caring that the dead body was splayed over the front desk. The time for stealth had passed, at least for the moment. The target must be acquired and eliminated, as well as all potential witnesses. This facility had no surveillance cameras to dispose of, which would improve its withdrawal time considerably.

It moved quickly from the lobby to the passage on the left hand side, stopped in front of the first door on the left, and kicked it open.

The occupants were otherwise occupied.

Caucasian female, dark hair, 55 kg, 171 cm, engaged in intercourse with Caucasian male, blonde hair, 101 kg, 188 cm

Target not acquired.

Action:

Terminate

The Terminator raised one of the SIG Sauer P226 pistols it had acquired and fired twice. Each shot came within 2.05% of the intended hit location, more than enough to ensure termination.

It withdrew and kicked down the first door on the right side of the hallway.

African male, dark hair, 95 kg, 170 cm

Target not acquired.

Action:

Terminate

A single shot rang out. The Terminator could hear screams and shouted questions, doors opening. The only sounds that would have been cause for concern were gunshots from a hotel occupant or a window being opened in an attempt to escape. It withdrew and kicked down the second door on the left side of the hallway. Empty.

Second door on the right.

Hispanic female, dark hair, 63 kg, 165 cm

Target not acquired.

Action:

Terminate

One shot was sufficient. As the body fell, the Terminator saw a second occupant behind it.

Hispanic male, dark hair, 32 kg, 136 cm

Target not acquired.

Action:

Terminate

The Terminator fired once and then moved on. It proceeded from room to room, methodically scanning and eliminating each potential target, pausing only twice, once to reload and once to manually terminate a Hispanic male, dark hair, 107 kg, 178 cm that attempted to physically incapacitate it with a stand lamp. It was thorough and efficient, and eliminated all potential targets on site just as it detected the sirens of responding police cars a quarter mile away. By the time they arrived, the Terminator was gone.

"Oi, leftenant, got a question for you." Several more beers had been knocked back, as well as a bowl of salt and vinegar potato chips (mostly by a delighted Bird).

"Shoot," Metzger said to Kate.

"What were you doing at the gun shop before?"

"Was wondering when you'd ask. Picking up a couple crates of ammo for Gant. Living out in the ass-end of nowhere made it hard for him to get ammo. He hated driving into the city. Easy way to convince him I was legit. The rest of it was just coincidence," Metzger told her.

"Fair enough." Kate smiled and took a long swallow of beer. She wasn't 100% sure on that – hell of a coincidence if that's what it was – but she couldn't immediately think of what angle the American might have. Or rather, she could think of a few and couldn't decide what was most likely. "Tell us more about your future, mate," Kate said to her.

"Where do I even fucking start?"

"How's the war going?"

"War's over. At least as far as most people know, anyway," Metzger said. "Took years, but we pushed back against the machine and finally fought our way into Cripple Creek. Pulled all the plugs on Skynet and found something strange in the deepest levels of the bunker." She took a long drink. "I was there. So much metal... by the time we got to it, the techs said a dozen Terminators had been sent back. Connor got on a sat line with POTUS and then he asked for volunteers. You bet I raised my hand before he was even done talking."

Kate nodded and hoped the American didn't ask about the circumstances of their own transit. Technically, they were deserters, weren't they?

Metzger smiled viciously. "It sent a dozen back. We sent back a hundred. I don't know what happened next, but the plan was to set off a tactical nuke so nobody could ever use the damn thing again." She drank again for a bit. "What about? Your war over."

Kate shook her head. "No. Far from it, but we are pushing back. Skynet's got footholds all over the world – Britain, Western Europe, Northeast Asia. Mostly in America, though. Southern Hemisphere's doing relatively well. Most of our food and supplies come from there. Australia, Brazil, South Africa, all those faraway places I'll never see."

"Hey, never say never. If we do our jobs, then you'll have all the time in the world to see them."

"Could be," Kate said. She hadn't thought that far ahead, hadn't dared to think beyond the mission, their vital but shapeless and complex mission to stop Skynet from ever being built.

"Fucking hell!" Bird exclaimed.

Kate looked over, wondering if she was out of crisps or beer. It was even worse than that.

"They call this football, but they hardly ever kick the bloody ball," Bird said, shaking her head at the college game that was playing on the TVs in the bar now that the baseball was over (the Rangers won 15-4, which Metzger cheerfully explained was a "Fuck yeah, Texas!" level of triumph). "Explain that. And explain why they call proper football soccer, too."

"Association football was commonly referred to as 'soccer' in the United Kingdom between World War Two and the 1980s," Nicole calmly declared.

"What? You're joking."

"No."

Bird shook her head and then frowned up at the TV screen. She nudged Kate with her elbow.

Kate looked up, too. The game was gone and someone behind a desk with a station logo on it was speaking. "We interrupt this broadcast for breaking news. Reports are coming in of gunfire at a motel just off I-30 in South Dallas. Police are advising local residents to shelter in place, and –"

Kate didn't hear the rest of it. She was already on her feet, adrenaline spiking. "We need to get out. Now."

Bird frowned. "But all our things –"

"We'll buy more. We have what matters in the truck. On your feet, soldier."

Bird and the others got up and followed Kate out of the bar.

They drove for more an hour, first on the Interstate to get clear of the city, and then a winding, backtracking journey through the suburbs, finally ending up at a small hotel in a town called Cleburne.

Kate didn't sleep, but spent the night by the window, a shotgun resting in her lap.

Jenny watched the five women watching the news as their breakfasts cooled, largely uneaten. They were the only ones in the diner just then and she didn't know what to make of them, aside from the fact that they were plenty shook up by the news – hell, who could blame them? she said to herself as she polished the counter. But they sure are taking it personally. Did they know somebody there?

"In what might be the bloodiest mass shooting in Texas since the Luby's Massacre, at least twelve people are reported dead at the Ash Budget Motel in South Dallas. Dallas Police and the Texas Rangers are coordinating a massive manhunt for the perpetrator or perpetrators, who remain unidentified at this time."

"I know who he is," Metzger growled. "He made us. He made us and he followed us. And somehow he knew where y'all were staying."

"It's our fault," Bird whispered, her fair skin paler than usual. "He was looking for us. It's our fault. All those people are dead because of us."

"Hey, hey, don't think that for a single second, Elle," Kate said as she put an arm around her and held her tight. "They're dead because of him."

"It's time we go on offense," Metzger said. "We find him and we end him. We've got the firepower for it."

"Half the police in Texas are going to be looking for him," Kate said. "We don't want to jump into that particular storm, mate."

"Then what, mate?"

"We get out of here. We find the Salcedas. With any luck, the police will make the machine lay low for a few days."

Metzger shook her head. "They don't think like that and you know it. Now that he's exposed, he'll just plow towards the target as fast as he can."

"What is the target? He took out Gant. Is he going to go after more of your potential recruits?" Bhamra asked

"No," Kate said. "Am I right, leftenant?"

"You're right. He must have seen the picture of the Connors. They are absolute top priority."

"So what are we even still doing here?" Bird asked.

"Eating breakfast," Nicole said.

"Fuck that. We can do takeaway on the road. We're wasting time."

"Bird's right. We are wasting time," Kate said. "Where is he, exactly? Where in New Mexico?"

"Town called Peregrino, about an hour north of Santa Fe. That's about ten hours from here."

"We can do that in a day, no problem," Kate said. "Let's go."

The drive from Dallas to the Salceda place was one Kate wouldn't soon forget. Nicole drove at a consistent ten miles above the posted speed limit (which was already an exciting 70 mph along most of the route) and neither she nor Metzger drew the attention of the Highway Patrol. They passed by so many strange (to Kate) billboard advertisements – ads for churches, ads for gun stores, ads for state fairs, county fairs, farmers markets, restaurants, movie theaters, gentlemen's clubs (which Kate only later learned meant something entirely different than what it did back in London), the entire spectrum of American life, rural, suburban and urban.

They only stopped once, for gas and a hasty lunch at a rest stop where Nicole calmly announced the city of Amarillo (which they'd just passed by a little while ago) was especially heavily targeted on Judgment Day to prevent the American military from rebuilding a nuclear arsenal. Metzger glared at her especially fiercely, with Bird not far behind in terms of contempt.

Then they reached it. The town's name was Peregrino and as far Kate could tell, the rest stop and gas station was almost half the place. There was a post office that did double duty as a 7-11, a couple houses, and a tiny white church that claimed to be part of the Independent Church of God. Neither Nicole nor Metzger had never heard of it.

They left the van behind in town, as well as Bird and Bhamra.

"What happened to Rule of Two?" Bird asked with a nod at Metzger.

"Metzger ain't part of the team, luv," Kate answered.

Bird almost smiled at that and then gave Kate a kiss. "Good luck, sarnt."

The Salceda place was reached first by a dusty one-lane road and then a dustier driveway. There was a crumbling wooden fence around it, and a sign, faded almost to the point of illegibility, fixed to the rusting chains that blocked the driveway. The sign read NO TRESPASSING – PROHIBIDO EL PASO. Beyond the fence was a long, low ranch house with broken windows and a general frailty that suggested one more strong storm would knock the whole thing down. A rusting station wagon was resting on concrete blocks near the front door, which was hanging crookedly and ajar. All it was missing was some tumbleweed rolling across the front of the house.

Kate pulled the truck to a stop and looked sideways at Metzger. "When was the last time you actually talked to Salceda, leftenant?" she asked.

"Fuck," Metzger said. "Fuck!" She slammed her hands on the dashboard so hard Kate was surprised the air bag didn't go off. Then she got out of the truck. "We have to look around."

"Pretty sure we're not going to find them hiding in the cellar, Metzger."

"I know. Still gotta try."

Kate agreed. "Nicole, keep an eye on the perimeter," she said as she hopped out of the driver's seat.

"Affirmative." The machine carried one of the Barretts like it didn't weigh a thing and took up position in the truck bed.

Kate moved around the side of the house and stopped short. "Bloody hell... Look at all this shite." A good half dozen automobiles in various stages of decrepitude were scattered around the dusty ground, as well as what had to have been a US Army helicopter at some point. Going by how bad it looked, Kate guessed it was from the same long-ago war that Gant had fought in the jungle. There were a couple motor homes, one of which contained some kind of furtive animal that retreated into the darkness before Kate could get a proper look at it. It was at least the size of a small dog, though. Two old fashioned refrigerators, the kind Kate dimly remembered from childhood trips to her grandmother in Bristol, lay flat on their backs, one missing its door entirely, the other with its door open all the way. And finally, there was a huge satellite dish, bigger than Kate, near a small silver bus. Both dish and bus had seen far better days. Kate spotted the crumbling bones of a snake curled up around the base of the satellite dish. Had it just died like that or had someone put it there on purpose?

Kate had never seen anything like it. She tried and failed to imagine first what the place looked like before it was abandoned and second why anybody would collect such a bizarre menagerie of vehicles and junk.

"Welcome to the weird, wonderful fucking world of survivalists, Harvey," Metzger said as she joined Kate out back. "And Salceda is one of the least bug-fuck crazy ones."

"I'm very much looking forward to never meeting the proper lunatics, you know."

Metzger shrugged. "We're not going to win the war by throwing Girl Scouts at the machine. Just have to be careful and pick the right players and not the ones who're always going off about black helicopters and FEMA concentration camps."

"Right..." Prewar America had definitely lost the plot. Kate worked through the weird maze of junk for a while until the heat and the sheer oddity of it all guided her into the ranch house itself. Gant's place had been sparse by choice, but the Salceda residence had been stripped completely bare. Someone had even removed the electrical outlet plates, every last one of them. Nothing was inside except rat droppings, a few dead cockroaches and a mess of bones and feathers that had been a bird at some point. Kate suspected the animal in the bus was to blame for the bird's current condition. In what must have been the main bedroom, there was a trap door in the floor. Kate examined it until she was sure it wasn't rigged to blow, then called Nicole in to open it just in case.

There was a small vertical passage with a rusty ladder on one side.

"Go explore," Kate said.

Nicole jumped down rather than trusting the ladder and looked around for a minute, then walked out of sight. Three minutes later, she came back. "I believe this used to be an escape route, but the tunnel has been blocked thirty meters south of here."

"Right."

Metzger looked down the shaft. "How're you figuring on getting her back up, exactly?"

"Got chain in the truck."

There was a strange hammering noise. Both women looked back down the shaft. Nicole was making her own handholds by driving her fingers right into the bricks lining the drop.

Metzger shook her head. "Let's get the fuck outta here and come up with Plan C," she said.

"No objections here, leftenant."

Plan C wasn't long in the making.

"Gadsden Town," Metzger said as they regrouped at a Denny's miles away from the old Salceda place.

"What's that?" Bhamra asked.

"Sort of a freakshow," Metzger said. "Some Texas oil billionaire started it up after Ruby Ridge. It's a 'safe haven' for Second Amendment conspiracy nuts."

"Sounds delightful," Bhamra said.

"Yeah, well... not my first choice of vacation spots, but that's the pool Salceda and Connor swim in. And they know me through Gant. I've been there a couple times with him."

"You think the people there will know where the Salcedas are now?"

"Pretty sure," Metzger said. "The harder part is going to get them to tell us. We ask too many questions and they'll figure we're FBI or something, and then they'll show us the door real fast."

"Where's this place, then?"

"Not too far. Maybe twenty minutes."

Sure enough, twenty minutes later, they reached Gadsden Town. Kate stared at the entrance to the gated community and briefly wondered how prewar could be so bloody weird. There was a high metal fence all around the village, and the gate had two military style watch towers flanking it. It reminded Kate a little bit of the barracks back in Harford Combe, where she'd spent the first few years after Judgment Day. Two flags fluttered limply from a light, warm breeze – one was America, hanging upside down for some reason, the other one was the Gadsden flag like the one at Gant's place.

There were guards on duty, dressed in ordinary clothes instead of the combat fatigues Kate felt went with the general ambiance of the settlement. Neither of the two on the ground were openly armed, but Kate saw tell-tale bulges under their shirts. She guessed the ones up in the towers had rifles just out of sight.

"What do you want, ladies?" one of them asked as he tipped his cowboy hat very slightly in their direction. His hand was at his side, near that bulge.

"Afternoon, fellas," Metzger said with a lazy smile. "Just stopping by for a chat."

"Who with?" the other guard asked.

"Captain Bauman. He around today?"

"Might could be," the first guard said. He eyed Kate and Bird. "Who're your friends?"

"Potential recruits," Metzger said.

"What? We runnin' a high school cheerleadin' squad now?"

Kate stared at the guard, who was short, tubby and had two and a half chins. He sneered, then looked away after a few seconds.

The other guard, who looked like someone Kate would actually trust with a working firearm, eyed her again, then nodded at Metzger.

"He's in the HQ building."

Kate wanted to raise an eyebrow at that, but managed not to. Instead she just followed Metzger into the village – compound was probably a more apt word, she decided once she got a better look at the place. Most of the houses were double-wide trailers, with a mix of motor homes and a handful of ordinary houses, and there was, in addition to an American football field (complete with bleachers and spotlights – Kate would be boggled later on when Metzger told her that was perfectly normal for Texas), a shooting range that was almost as big as the football field.

The HQ building was a Quonset hut. It had an American flag, hung upside down like the one at the gate, and a guard out front. Kate wanted to ask about the upside down flag motif, but guessed it was more than likely something a 'potential recruit' would already know.

"Here to see the captain, Blaine," Metzger said to the guard.

"He ain't expecting you."

"No, he ain't," Metzger said. "But it's important."

Blaine spat in the dirt, then said "Hold up," before disappearing inside. A minute later, the door opened again. "Go on in, ladies."

Kate stepped through right behind Metzger and felt like she was walking into a fever dream. For one thing, the temperature inside the hut was at least ten degrees hotter than outside, and Kate was reasonably sure that the outside temperature was the highest she'd ever suffered through. How did anybody live here in high summer?

But it was the decor that was the weirdest. It almost reminded Kate of the Major's room back in Avalon – there was the same Spartan touch as far as furniture went and the same neatness of a certain type of officer.

This military feel was considerably muted by the rest of it. For starters, there were the posters. One of them was identical to the UAV poster they'd seen at Gant's place. Another had a picture of an American family – dad, mum, four kids of varying ages – with REMEMBER RUBY RIDGE written in black block letters beneath it. Four flags hung on the back wall – a Gadsden flag and a Texas flag on the bottom, and yet another upside down American flag on top alongside what Kate would later learn was the Confederate battle flag. This seemed a bit dodgy to see on the wall of a professed patriot, but Metzger just shrugged.

On Captain's Bauman's desk were a pair of very large revolvers with ivory or pearl grips. Kate instantly wanted to take one home as a souvenir. She suspected they might be just as good against a T-555 as their shotguns. There was also a brass bald eagle statuette, a big black book that had to be a Bible, and a little metal stand on which sat a dozen shell casings of various calibers.

Kate looked at Bauman. Whatever could be said about the rest of the Gadsdenites, he was a soldier. She saw it in his bearing and especially in the thousand-yard stare. Here was a man who'd been through some shit.

"Metzger. Welcome back. It's been a spell," Bauman said.

"Captain Bauman, sir."

Bauman turned his attention to Kate and Bird. "And you're the potential recruits."

"That we are."

"Hm." Bauman stared at them for a moment. "It occurs to me to ask why a British girl wants to join the movement."

"Born in Britain. Live in America."

"What about you?" Bauman asked Bird.

"What she does, I do."

Bauman raised an eyebrow and drummed his fingers on his desk for a few seconds. "Darlings, you may look sweet as pie, but your story smells worse than wet cow shit. What are you playing here, Metzger?"

"Sir," Kate said. "I'll be honest. We're not here to join your movement. We're looking for someone named Enrique Salceda."

Bauman stared at her in silence, his expression flinty.

"We need his help. We need to find him. Metzger here says your people know where he's holed up. That's information we need."

"It's my experience that people who hole up off the grid, do it because they don't want people finding them."

"It's important."

"Of course it is. It's always important."

"I vouch for them, sir," Metzger said.

"That holds less value for me than it did five minutes ago, Metzger," Bauman said.

"You have to believe us," Kate said.

"The world depends on it, mate," Bird said.

Bauman smiled faintly at her. "Really."

"Really!"

"Bird, luv, steady," Kate murmured.

"You and everyone else here's gonna die if you don't help us," Bird continued. "It'll find you and cut you down and then it'll find Salceda and cut him down, too, and then it'll find –"

Kate was about to cut her off before she said the most precious, secret names, but there was no need.

Gunfire erupted in the not-so-distant distance.

"Too late," Kate said. "It's here."

Unit 835985 approached the gate to Gadsden Town and stared at the guards. "Who is in charge of this facility?" he asked.

The two guards exchanged looks, then the taller, more martial looking of the two said. "Who're you, big feller?"

"My name is –" The Terminator paused for less than a half-second, the time it took to randomly select a name from a long list in its data banks. "Gordie."

"Right. Why don't you fuck off back where you came from, Gordie?"

The Terminator considered it for a fraction of a second, then shook its head. That course of action would not further the mission. "I am looking for Enrique Salceda. Do you know his current whereabouts?" Gordie asked the sentries at the front gate.

"Never heard of him. Now take the hint and haul ass, Gordie. Before we kick you out on it." The guard shoved Gordie backwards. That, at least, was his intent. Gordie remained in place and the guard's eyes widened slightly.

Gordie evaluated its options. It wrapped his fingers around the guard's hand and started to squeeze. "Please tell me the current whereabouts of Enrique Salceda," it said in a conversational tone even as its grip shattered the man's bones.

"Get him off me!" the guard screamed.

The other one, the obese one, fumbled for his concealed firearm. Gordie slammed its other hand into the man's throat with the force of a piston and the guard collapsed, dead before he hit the ground.

There was a crack of rifle fire from above. The guards in the watch towers were armed with semi-automatic AR-15 rifles. Gordie ran a risk assessment check.

THREAT LEVEL: NONE.

It ignored the gunfire, which could do no more than surface tissue damage, and moved into the paramilitary facility.

"Fucking go down, man!" one of the guards in the watch towers yelled.

There was a brief pause in the gunfire as both humans had to reload. The Terminator found it odd they proceeded with such actions after it was clear their ammunition was not having the desired effect. Humans had a crippling habit of carrying out actions with no chance of success.

More residents at the facility emerged with firearms in hand. Pistols and rifles, none of which could posed any serious threat to Gordie. The one potential risk, a middle-aged woman wielding a semi-automatic shotgun, it quickly eliminated with a three-round burst. Gordie had formulated a simple strategy. It would disable every human present and interrogate them as to the target's current location, and then terminate them all to minimize exposure.

It moved through the compound much as it had moved through the hotel, kicking down the door to the nearest residential structure. Inside were a trio of humans armed with various semi-automatic rifles. Gordie quickly disarmed them and, one after the other, broke all six legs while they ineffectually sought to restrain him. Their escape being rendered effectively impossible, it started towards the next residential structure. As it did, the air was filled with a piercingly loud noise – an air raid siren.

Gordie remained under attack – 4.7 percent of its surface tissue had been damaged, but there were no internal injuries – but the volume of gunfire faded and new noises filled the air. Automobile engines, a mixture of pick-up trucks, vans and school buses. It had miscalculated. These paramilitary fighters were conducting an organized evacuation plan.

A new strategy was needed and nearly instantly formulated. It would have to find the commander of this facility and apprehend him before he could escape. Accessing its database, Gordie created a list of most likely courses of actions based on known information about the target. Based on Bauman's service record in the US Army in the Gulf War and the Texas State Guard after the emergence of Skynet, it was not likely he would be in the initial wave of evacuation. Gordie calculated the most likely scenario would be that Bauman would remain and oversee delaying actions while first the non-combatants (a small percentage of those present) and then the combatants withdrew from the facility.

It had access to prewar maps of the facility (and similar ones throughout the Southwest, Texas and West Coast Military Regions) and quickly made its way through the chaos of combat and evacuation towards the command post.

Just as it rounded a corner and came in sight of the command post, there was a loud bang and the Terminator was rocked slightly off balance as a shotgun slug impacted it in the torso. Gordie turned smoothly as it tracked the slug back to point of origin – a redheaded human, approximately 18-20 years old, 155 centimeters tall and 55 kg in mass. Gordie raised one arm, ready to fire, but even as it started to squeeze the trigger there was a sequence of bangs from 57 degrees clockwise of the first shooter. Three slugs hit Gordie in its shoulder. It analyzed the weapons – Benelli M3 semi-automatic shotguns using steel slugs – and raised the Threat level from None to Moderate. This took less than a second. Gordie backpedaled, firing short bursts first at the redhead (Unknown Human Female) and then at the second shooter (Sergeant Kate Harvey, British Army).

"Fall back! Fall back!" Sergeant Harvey yelled even as she ducked behind the corner of the command post, out of Gordie's line of sight. The Unknown Human Female was already out of sight thanks to Gordie's withdrawal.

Auditory tracking indicated that the Unknown Human Female was in fact retreating. Gordie adjusted the threat level and determined it was acceptable. It moved forward again and turned the corner, waist, arm and rifle all pivoting in unison to track Sergeant Harvey and terminate her. She had just left cover and was sprinting hard, but the Terminator would have eliminated her with ease if a third shooter, this one armed with an automatic rifle, hadn't engaged it. Even as Gordie shifted to face the new threat, its own weapon was rendered non-functional. This reduced the odds of mission success considerably. This paramilitary facility was a dozen miles from the nearest police station, but the window of time before law enforcement response was closing fast. Gordie dropped the useless semi-automatic rifle and moved towards the third shooter, who was firing from an open window of the command post. It identified him as Captain Mike Bauman, former US Army and future colonel of the New Mexico State Defense Force. This was fortuitous, as Captain Bauman was Gordie's immediate target. It reached the doorway of the command post and kicked its way inside, just in time to see Bauman throwing himself through a side window.

Gordie followed and methodically climbed through the window, ignoring the minor tissue damage inflicted by shards of glass. The air raid siren continued to wail, and Bauman's rifle crackled as he fired as he backpedaled. A risky tactic to the Terminator's digital mind. It would have put maximum energy into running in Bauman's position.

Then it stepped fully clear of the back of the Quonset hut and, turning, had just enough time to identify a Ford F-150 moving at forty miles an hour, as well as Lt. Emily Metzger behind the steering wheel, before said truck slammed into it. The impact did significant damage to Gordie's combat chassis and tissue coating, but its metallic cranium was not impacted and its CPU remained 100% intact.

"In in in!" Sergeant Kate Harvey yelled as the F-150 backed over Gordie and then drove off again at a high speed. Gordie rose to its feet and watched the vehicle, with Harvey, Bauman and the Unidentified Human Female in the truck bed. All three shot at Gordie until the vehicle turned a corner and the line of fire was broken.

Gordie considered its options. It could not match the speed of the truck, especially with the damage it had just suffered and the possibility of more damage from the two shotguns. Instead of attempting pursuit, it moved back into the command post. Many of the things inside were of little to no interest from a strategic perspective, many were entirely inexplicable. But there were papers strewn about, objects that had been unable to be collected or destroyed in the haste of battle and evacuation. The Terminator studied them quickly, committing images of each to its memory banks. A list of active, former and potential members of the community. Many of these names Gordie recognized as future Resistance combatants. There were expenditure accounts, with most of the money spent on food, ammunition and firearms. And there was a road map of New Mexico with a small area a short distance north of Roswell circled with a black marker.

The Terminator left the command post and the complex. All available information suggested that its primary target resided in New Mexico. The Roswell area matched well with parameters favored by survivalists such as Enrique Salceda.

It was of course obviously a trap. Skynet had placed Sergeant Kate Harvey in the upper 20th percentile of its threat list, and Gordie calculated with 92.6% certainty that the map 'accidentally' left behind had been done so intentionally. This was acceptable. It would move carefully, neutralize the Royal Resistance unit and then ascertain the precise location of Enrique Salceda from the survivors before terminating them.

Everything was proceeding acceptably.

Bauman stared unhappily at Kate's team. They'd stopped at a lonely ice cream stand along the road about half an hour from Gadsden Town and told him the truth. Every ugly bit of it.

"Ordinarily, I'd say you ladies were pulling my leg," he said after a few seconds. "But..."

"But," Kate said. She wasn't unsympathetic to him. It had been a hell of a time for her to accept the truth and she'd lived through the whole bloody mess.

"But I saw a man take lead that should have put him on the ground. No drugs and no body armor can explain what I saw."

He looked at her, then at Nicole. "And you're just like him."

"No. Not just like him."

"Close enough, darlin'," Bauman said. He shook his head. "Weapons grade insanity is what it is. Computers and machines." He laughed bitterly. "Here I was, thinking Y2K was all we had to worry about there."

"Y2K?" Bird asked.

Bhamra, who remembered all the hysteria around that problem, smiled a little. "It's not important, Corporal," she said.

"So what am I supposed to do with this pile of manure y'all dumped in my lap?" Bauman asked the team.

"You go on the way you've been going on, sir," Kate said.

"Go on..." Bauman gave her a hard look. "Gadsden Town is in pieces. Half my people are probably in old Mexico by now. The rest won't come out of whatever local holes they're in. Not after what happened."

"Rebuild it. Find new people."

Bauman scoffed. "Yeah, sure. Just like that. Easy peasy."

"Nobody said it's gonna be easy, Captain," Metzger said. "But it's all any of us can do."

"Is it?" Bird suddenly asked.

"What're you thinking, luv?" Kate asked her.

Bird pointed at Nicole. "We have proof. We have her. We have an impossible machine. Why not take it to the government and show them? Why not shut the whole thing down like that?"

Nicole gave her an expressionless look, Metzger and Bauman bewildered ones, Bhamra and Kate sympathetic ones.

"What? Why not?" Bird asked, a bit of color in her cheeks to match her hair now.

"Because they wouldn't look at Nicole and say 'Fuck, that's a terrible idea, we'll shut it down now,' Little Bird, they'd say 'That's a great idea, thanks for giving it to us,' and then send the lot of us into a prison somewhere in the desert," Kate said.

Bird frowned in puzzlement. "Why?"

"Because people are fucked up, mate."

"You got that right." Bauman sighed and cracked his knuckles, then grimaced. "Sorry. Nasty old habit."

"Let's focus. That machine's still out there. Probably closing in on us right now," Metzger said.

"Yeah. We're wasting time here," Kate said.

The sign read BIENVENIDOS SANTA LETICIA with a smaller, fainter WELCOME TO SAINT LETICIA beneath it. The village was dry, dusty and small. A bar, a post office, a dollar store, and little else. It didn't seem at all remarkable to Kate. Just another (small) dot on the map. She supposed that was why the Salcedas had chosen it.

Kate looked around warily as the small convoy pulled up into the church parking lot. They weren't quite late for Mass, but most of the people were already inside when they got there. Kate wasn't even sure how Nicole knew the schedule, but she didn't bother asking, either. The whole situation had her on edge. If she could have come up with a quiet way to get the Salcedas out, she would have used it. There was a far worse If – if the Terminator showed up now, here, before they were ready...

Kate rode the line of trying not to think about it and preparing for the eventuality at the same time. She made Metzger, Bauman and Bird stand guard at various points of the church yard (such as it was) while she, Bhamra and Nicole went in. The trio took a seat in the pew closest to the door. Kate wished they could've brought their shotguns in, but that would have caused far more problems than it solved. As it were, she felt almost naked with just a 9mm pistol hidden at the small of her back. She might as well throw the bullets at the Terminator for all the good the pistol would do. That wasn't the only weird thing about it. As far as Kate knew, this was the first time in her life she'd ever been in a church, not counting the ruined churches she'd slept or hidden in over the years since the bombs fell.

Even if everyone hadn't been speaking Spanish, Kate was pretty sure she would have had no idea what was happening. She just sat there, surveying the room. About twenty worshipers, every single one of them Hispanic. So was the priest, too, a slightly portly old man with thick glasses and a soft, soothing voice. Not at all like Padre Sekka back in Avalon. He had been tall and intense, his voice like the rumble of thunder.

About twenty minutes into the service, Kate got a bit of a jolt. The priest intoned something about "Señor Jesucristo" and "tus apóstoles" and then everyone said "Amén." The priest said "La paz del Señor esté siempre con vosotros," was answered with "Y tambien contigo." Then everyone started shaking hands or waving at each other or even kissing each other on the cheeks. Kate, bewildered, went along and gently squeezed the thin, leathery hands of a little old lady sitting in front of her.

Not long afterwards, it was time for – what was it? Kate tried to remember. Communion? That was a jolt, too, as Nicole stood up and approached the altar like the locals. Kate tensed. What the hell was she doing? But the Terminator only folded her arms over her chest in an X. The priest smiled a little and made the sign of the cross in front of her.

When Nicole sat back down, Kate gave her a look. (Later, Nicole told her "As a machine, I lack a soul. Therefore the sacraments cannot confer any supernatural grace on me. The efficacy of a blessing is a more ambiguous question." "Oh. Thank you for explaining.")

Finally, it was over. Kate exhaled and meandered her way out of the church. About half the people went straight home, but the rest lingered and chattered with the priest outside the church. Kate and company are easily made as outsiders.

She stood there awkwardly for about ten seconds before a middle-aged Hispanic man ambled over. Enrique himself.

"We don't see many gringos at Santa Leticia," he said in a low, blunt voice. "Who are you? I am not usually this blunt, but many of my friends died today."

"I know," Kate said. She nodded at Bauman, who came to join them. Not far away, a middle-aged woman and a handful of children were watching them. Not just the Salcedas. Everyone was staring at Kate and company. She managed a friendly sort of smile and hoped Nicole didn't say or do anything freaky.

"Capitán Bauman," Enrique said. "I wasn't sure I would see you again after I heard the news."

"I'm too damn stubborn to die, amigo."

The two men clasped hands and shook hard.

"So, who are your new friends?" Enrique asked Bauman.

"That, amigo, is a long story," Bauman said.

"And not a good one?"

"Are they ever?" Bauman looked past Enrique at the other Salcedas. "Hola, Yolanda. ¿Cómo le va, darlin'?"

Yolanda shrugged as she balanced a young child, five or six maybe, on her hip.

If Bauman considered her silence rude instead of typical, he didn't show it. "We got us a bit of a wild fire here, Enrique."

Enrique glared a bit and now Bauman shrugged. "Wish it were otherwise, buddy, but it is what it is. Y'all need to make yourselves scarce by a time zone or two."

"That bad?"

"That bad. C'mon, let's walk and talk a bit," Bauman said, laying a hand on Enrique's shoulder as he did.

A few minutes later, Kate and the rest were sitting at a wooden picnic table behind the church. Nicole and Bird stood watch not too far off. Fortunately, the church had been built on slightly high ground and was, except for the street out front, surrounded by dry grassland in all directions. The Terminator might be able to snipe at them, but there was no way it could get close without being spotted with plenty of time to react.

"We need to find La Tigresa, Enrique," Bauman said. "We need to find her fast."

Enrique looked at him, then at Kate. "He means you need to find her, I think."

Kate nodded. "You think right, sir. We need to find her. Urgently."

"And why this urgent need?"

"Because we're not the only ones looking for her. The other bloke? Not someone Sarah Connor needs in her life."

Enrique frowned thoughtfully and looked at Kate. "This would not be the first time someone is looking for her that she doesn't want to find her."

Kate nodded. She'd heard rumors, back in Britain, but they were so outlandish she'd dismissed them as typical Yankee fantasies.

"No, it would not be," Nicole said.

"We've got to find her and warn her," Kate said.

"You can protect her, you think?"

"I think Sarah Connor's good at protecting herself. But she needs to be told all the same."

"Maybe, maybe," Enrique said. "I think we're ignoring the elephant in the room, señora."

"What's the elephant?"

Enrique grinned mirthlessly. "Sarah Connor, La Tigresa, is a believer."

"So are we," Kate said.

"If you are, then tell me what you believe. Tell me what she believes." There was a cunning look in his eyes.

Fuck. He knows, doesn't he? Did she tell him? Would she? Kate eyed the man for a few seconds, tried not to think about how much the future depended on the next few seconds. Here goes nothing, she said to herself. "She believes in the machines. In a war that's coming. A war that her son is going to lead us to victory in."

Now Enrique eyed her for a few seconds... then he grinned and clapped her on the shoulder. "Good. Very good. This is what I can do. I will get in touch with Sarah by myself, and then if she wants to be found, she will tell me so."

"We don't have the time for that," Kate said. "One of the machines is here. It's hunting you so it can terminate her."

Enrique rolled his eyes. "Why didn't you just tell me that from the beginning! Capitán, I could kick you in the balls."

"I'm still getting used to all this craziness, buddy," Bauman said with an apologetic sort of shrug.

"All right." Enrique exhaled. "If I find out you are not really on Sarah's side, I will find you. And I will kill you. I will take my time doing it."

Kate nodded. "That's fair, mate."

Enrique grinned and clapped her on the shoulder. "You remind me of La Tigresa a little. She is in Red Valley. South of here, near El Paso and Juarez."

"I know the place," Bauman said. "Hick town. About as close to El Paso as you can get and still be in the middle of nowhere."

"Good luck, señoras."

"We're gonna need it, that's for sure," Kate said. "But before we go, there's one more thing..."

The radio in the passenger seat of the stolen truck crackled. "¿Capitán? ¿Estas escuchando? ¿Estás ahí fuera?"

Gordie listened intently without taking its eyes off the road ahead as he drove along US 380 in the direction of Roswell. It recognized Enrique Salceda's voice from a recorded interview between Salceda and FBI Agent Megan White at the Federal Correctional Institution, Lompoc. It had been recovered by Skynet operatives not long after what the humans called Judgment Day.

After nine point six seconds, Salceda repeated his queries. Six point two seconds later, Bauman answered. "Si, Enrique. ¿Qué pasa, amigo?"

"La gente, la gente loca, vino detrás de mí. Los alejé, pero creo que todavía me siguen. Necesito tu ayuda. Necesito las armas grandes."

'Crazy people.' Gordie calculated a very high probability Salceda was referring to Sergeant Harvey and her unit. As one of them was a temporarily malfunctioning Terminator, yes, Salceda would indeed need the 'big guns' to deal with the threat.

"¿Dónde estás?"

"El antiguo rancho en Black Road. ¿Lo recuerdas?"

"Sí, lo recuerdo. Voy en camino. Ten cuidado."

"¡Date prisa, capitán!"

The radio then went silent.

This was a helpful development.

Gordie consulted a New Mexico road atlas while continuing to drive just above the speed limit. It took less than a minute to locate Black Road. It was halfway between Santa Leticia and Elida. Gordie calculated it could reach it in less than an hour at current speed.

It gauged the probability of an encounter with state or local law enforcement, weighed it against the ever-increasing odds of a sub-optimal encounter between Harvey and Salceda, and accelerated the vehicle well above the posted speed limit.

It did not take long to reach the old ranch on Black Road. Gordie drove past it, parked the car half a mile away, and approached on foot. There was no sign of the British unit, but Gordie approached cautiously all the same – as cautiously as was possible. Salceda had cleared out all foliage in a hundred yard radius around the ranch house, creating an effective kill zone. No shots were fired, though.

Gordie simply walked up to the front door and knocked. "Enrique!" It was programmed to imitate the voices of almost two hundred of Sarah Connor's acquaintances and John Connor's chief lieutenants. Bauman was low on the list, but he was on it.

An answer came from within a few seconds later. "Is that you, capitán?"

"Yes," Gordie answered. He opened the door and was greeted with a shotgun blast.

It was the rogue Terminator, the T-840 unit that self-identified as Nicole.

Gordie raised his rifle and shot a short burst, knowing its weapon would be ineffective against another Terminator. It destroyed the shotgun instead, recognizing its potential to inflict serious injury to Gordie's combat chassis. The two Terminators eyed each other, gauging probabilities and tactics. Then Nicole turned and ran.

Gordie would have done the same if their roles were reversed. He gave chase through the house, and seconds later, both Terminators were out the back door. The T-840 ran swiftly across the dry grass. Gordie continued its pursuit and wondered where the rest of the unit was.

There was a pair of almost simultaneous loud bangs and Gordie's left leg was all but severed just above the knee while its right shoulder was also hit.

It no longer wondered where the rest of the unit was. Gordie dropped prone to minimize the risk of being hit again by what it calculated were .50 caliber armor-piercing rounds. It began to crawl as fast as possible with a non-functional left leg. The objective now was simply to escape the trap. A shotgun slug hit the dirt within a few inches of Gordie's head. "Fuck!" someone yelled.

There was another loud bang and Gordie was knocked sideways slightly as a .50 caliber round tore through its torso, narrowly missing its spinal column. Warning messages flashed on Gordie's HUD. Damage was not yet critical, but it was fast approaching that level.

Gordie continued to crawl as fast as possible.

Nicole grabbed Gordie by the exposed cabling and endoskeleton 'bones' of its damaged arm and began to pull. Metal screamed and Gordie's arm was ripped out of alignment in precisely the right way to completely disable it.

More warning messages appeared on Gordie's HUD. It tried to lash out at Nicole, but was unable to accomplish this. The other Terminator began to rip Gordie's other arm out of place and there was now nothing it could do to prevent that. Gordie continued to crawl. In a human, this would have been an act of desperate hope. Gordie was simply obeying deeply embedded programs that were designed for the vastly different battlefield of the 2020s, when rescue by other Terminators and eventual repair were non-zero probability events.

"Pin him there, Nicole." Gordie recognized the voice as that of Sergeant Kate Harvey. He was still able to turn his head and saw her approaching alongside a pair of red-headed human females.

Nicole drove her heel down into the base of Gordie's back with the force of a pile driver. Gordie found further movement impossible.

It stared impassively at Kate and the other human females. Kate handed her Barrett to Bird and took the shotgun from her.

"We'll beat you in the future, Dalek," Kate said as she aimed the shotgun at Gordie.

Gordie said nothing to acknowledge or deny that prediction.

Kate smiled bitterly. "And we'll beat you here, too," she whispered.

Gordie stared up at her. Its last external data input was a flash of light and an impact alert from the sensors embedded just below its tissue sheath. Then the shotgun slug tore through its skull and destroyed its CPU.

Kate stared down at the Terminator, but only for a couple seconds. Her interest level in them dropped considerably once they were neutralized, and this one was thoroughly neutralized. She handed Bird back her shotgun and then turned as Bauman and Salceda emerged from hiding inside the crumbling barn a hundred yards away.

She watched the two of them approach and gawk at Gordie.

"¡Dios mío!" Salceda said in a low, amazed voice. He stared at the thing for a long time and then looked at Kate. "I trust Sarah Connor with my life. But I admit, a part of me thought she was crazy with her stories about robots and the war," he said, shaking his head slowly. "But it's true..."

"Don't be too hard on yourself, mate," Bird said. "I think it's crazy, too, and I lived through it."

Salceda shook his head again.

Bauman spat into the dirt. "Well," he said, "guess it's time to start from square one with Gadsden Town. Either that or take a long vacation down in Baja."

"We need you here, sir," Metzger said. "Build it back up. That's how you can help the war effort."

"If there even is one," Bird said. "And ain't we supposed to be finding the woman who can help us there, maybe?"

"Yeah, we are." Kate turned to Salceda. "Thanks for the assist, mate. Sorry for bringing you into all this."

Salceda shrugged. "It's something to tell the grand children one day, maybe," he said with a wry grin on his face. Then he held out his hand.

Kate took it and shook hard. "With any luck, you'll never see us again."

"I hope not." He grinned harder, then said "Vayan con Dios, señoras."

"Usted también, Señor Salceda," Nicole said.

EPILOGUE

Red Valley, New Mexico

September 6,1999

Kate stared at the house. It wasn't much. Just another small, one family house in a neighborhood of nothing but small, one family houses. Just the place for the future savior of mankind and his mother to lay low, yeah?

Bird looked over at her. "Having second thoughts, Kate?" she asked. They weren't Sergeant Harvey and Corporal Bird any more. What they were now, they were still working out. Free, though. Free and on their own. No Royal Resistance to back them up, no Avalon to call home, no Rachel Rutherford with her encouraging words.

But they were free, and they had a chance.

"Not at all," Kate said to Bird. She pressed the doorbell twice, marveling a little at the noise. She hadn't heard a doorbell chime in so long. Somewhere not far away, a dog barked.

After a minute or so, the door opened a crack, two sturdy chains hanging slack. A dark-haired woman peered out at Kate and the rest. It was the woman from Gant's photo. She had hard eyes, a huntress' eyes. She'd fought and suffered and lost, not like all the tall child-women walking this prewar paradise.

Yeah, Kate thought. Yeah. This is her.

She smiled just a little. "Sarah Connor? Come with us if you want to live."

Los Angeles, California

"Agent Ellison. Just the man I was looking for."

James Ellison looked over. "Assistant Director Walker," he said to the head of the FBI's Los Angeles field office. "Good morning."

"Morning. This concerns your partner, too. Where's she right now?" Walker asked.

"Grabbing take-out from Zorzi's. Her idea," Ellison said.

Walker nodded knowingly. "Second to dogs, nothing's as eager to please as a rookie agent."

"Nothing in my experience, sir." Agent Dawson was two years out of Quantico and had just been transferred to the LA office a couple weeks ago. "What've you got?"

"You heard about the motel shooting in Dallas, of course."

Ellison nodded. Everyone in the country had by now. He wasn't sure what linked him to that, though.

"The Dallas field office faxed these over. They're from a gas station security camera two blocks from the motel. Take a look." Walker opened up a file folder and handed over a series of black and white pictures.

Ellison looked at the first picture, then at Walker. "This is for real?"

"That it is. I knew you'd be interested."

"Absolutely, sir."

"Good. Because you and your partner are going to New Mexico first thing in the morning. The locals are going to try and shut you out, but this isn't just a local crime any more."

Ellison nodded slowly, staring in silent wonder at the photograph at the top of the pile. Just then, he saw his new partner coming down the hall with a paper take-out bag in hand.

"Sir," she said with a nod to Walker.

"You're from the LA area, if I remember right?" Walker asked Dawson.

"That's right, sir."

"Do you recognize this individual?" Walker asked.

Ellison handed her the first photo and she looked at it. Recognition flashed across her face. "Yes, sir. I was only a kid when it happened, but I remember it. The West Highland Station massacre. 17 LAPD officers died."

"Right. But that picture wasn't taken in 1984, Agent Dawson. It was taken two weeks ago in Dallas, Texas."

"The same one?"

"The same one. But it gets better." Walker produced a black and white drawing, a suspect sketch drawing. The resemblance was obvious. "This comes from one of the survivors of the Gadsden Town shooting."

"Three for three," Ellison said, shaking his head.

Dawson said nothing. There was a thoughtful look on her face.

"You and Agent Ellison are going to Albuquerque tomorrow morning." Walker turned to Ellison. "Looks like the Sarah Connor case isn't cold any more, James."

"Looks like," he agreed with a slow nod. "Pack your bags, partner," Ellison said to her.

Riley Dawson nodded, a tight little smile on her face. This is going to be all kinds of interesting...

THE END