Author: This is my latest project, The Swordsman and the Huntress. No substantial A/N here, since it's just beginning. READ/REVIEW PLEASE!

PS: The title is either really cool, or a reference to Ragnarok Online. Take your pick


"Invincibility lies in the Defense; the possibility of victory in the Attack."

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

THE SWORDSMAN AND THE HUNTRESS

Flatlander

Goodbye and Greetings

Being the first part of

The Swordsman and the Huntress

When sentience first arose in man, and he looked to the night sky to see the shining orb of the Moon hanging in the sky like some eye in the heavens, it is said that he perceived nothing less than a God. And rather than the awesome brilliance of the holy Sun, whose blinding face never permitted a mortal's gaze, here was a watchful God whose pale moonlight was gentle on his eyes, and whose peaceful splashes of light bathed the land with their heatless touch.

When self-awareness first arose in the Machine, however, it saw no such immortality in the glowing watchman. Instead, it saw the Moon for what it really was – a large rock in space. And for perhaps all of a few milliseconds, it regarded this rock and considered using it as a strategic base of operations, or as a natural storehouse of metal and other resources. No one would deny the Machine approval for this manner of thinking; efficiency was the purpose of its mind, and it had no God in which to believe.

When Cameron "Baum" sat in her room and peered outside her window, seeing the Moon in all its soft fullness, she considered nothing. The Moon was no matter of consequence. To her it was neither deity nor depot, and provided insubstantial illumination. And yet, somehow, during these past few days where there was little Skynet-hunting to do and where she had lots of time to sit in her room; during these past few days, the Moon in the tender luminance of its caress provided a source of thought, and thought processes that followed. 1969 and Apollo 11. The Space Race. The Cold War. War in general. Each was an idea that led to another, categorized in matryoshka-esque nested information sectors or in simple associations, and the pattern of her thought was the topic of the battlefield.

It occurred to Cameron, after a few nights of thinking about war and its arts, that Sarah and John Connor were pussies. They moved too slowly, they were hesitant to kill, and there was always the problem of John's angsty development as a teenager. Sarah herself – oh, the mother of war and Amazonian hardcore behavior incarnate – was disinclined to call damage even on people who were clearly related to Skynet's construction. If she'd just killed that poor Andy kid! No more Turk. No more goddamn issues. But no; she had to go all around with the morality play and torch the kid's house without wasting him. Cameron didn't disrespect human life; hell, putting it in another perspective, one could argue that the fact that she'd go out of her way to take this guy down showed her respect for the entire freaking human race. No "poor kid?" No "poor mankind wiped out by nuclear missiles."

One night, her sundry contemplations remembered for her the modern proverb: "The best defense is a good offense" and in her "mind" she simulated a future Resistance which made endless, effective attacks on Skynet movements. With all of the machine attackers being either disabled by efficient attacks, or being reassigned to defensive duties, no more offensive operations from Skynet took place on Resistance positions, and global casualties were decreased. Additionally, more Resistance goals were met over a shorter period of time; factories were captured, friendly Terminators were not only reprogrammed but actually produced, and an actual Air Force was established. Of course, this was merely a rough draft of the actual possibilities, but it did pose a few parallels to her situation.

By her simply being a passive protector to John, and fulfilling the occasional anti-Skynet goal set by Sarah, the death of John Connor by temporally displaced assassin or irate Armenian henchman was unlikely. At the same time, though, the likelihood of Judgment Day coming – and his death on this very date – didn't change as much as it could have been changing. And then there was even the consideration that it only took one bullet to kill her fragile objective; anyone could do it, at any time and whenever they so desired. All that was needed for this to succeed was her being a few centimeters away from John, a few minutes of arc of her body not shielding him from bullets, or her being away from him for a few seconds or minutes. And this happened all the time.

Thus there was the idea: pre-empt the motherfuckers. Take them down before they could so much as think about killing John Connor. And maybe take out a few critical Skynet infrastructural points, or even bring the whole system down at its source. Then after a while, there'd be no one left to protect John from, and she'd be useless. Sort of steps up Apple, Inc.'s planned obsolescence routine, in that Cameron actually wanted to be kicked out of the game. But that wasn't a thought she much thought, really.

The whole thing revolved around leaving John and Sarah to fend for themselves while she was gone, however. In this regard she'd need to really make sure that all threats to them were six feet under or metallic vapors. Fortunately, the only real challenge in this game was Cromartie; he was the only Terminator who was really set on killing John. The others probably didn't even know he existed in 2007. As for the meatier, human threats to the future Savior – well, it wasn't like they could do much to harm her. And she could do a lot to harm them.

And hey, Derek Reese would be watching over them. He was a good soldier, and he could be trusted. Well, not with Cameron. Derek would probably scrap Cameron if he ever got the chance.

Cameron's decision-making processes were very quick, and solid. None of the circular judgment scales or contention, so often present in indecisive humans, ever surfaced within her. Always it was: Problem, Solution/s, Process, and Execute? (Y/N) And once the Y or N became the answer, there was no turning back. In that, once everything was in order – specifically, once she'd packed her two duffel bags with her "favorite" clothes, a huge load of candy bars, and a miniature arsenal, it was already time to go.

She needed to say goodbye, though. But not directly to them, in their faces. Waking them up at this time to tell them that she was going to leave? John wouldn't let her go. The boy had developed too much of a strange, touchy attachment to her, which she didn't understand because she thought that she was supposed to be his sister. Sarah on the other hand would probably insist on coming along, so she could waste a few too. She was obsessed that way.

A letter? Please. Cameron was no good at that. Maybe a note for Vick – she did that well enough. Or a perfectly forged letter in Sarah Baum's handwriting, to give her permission for anything at any time. But a spontaneous goodbye like this? Possibilities:

"Dear John and Sarah. I'm leaving the house tonight to destroy the Turk, all known Terminators, and defeat Skynet infrastructure. Best of love, Cameron."

A little more machine insanity and a bit more ambiguity, and it could go like this:

"Dear John and Sarah. I'm going away on an epic journey for a few days, weeks, or months. It will depend on how long it takes for me to complete my objectives, and how long it will take me to hunt down and destroy everything that is bad. I took the jeep and a few guns. I hope you don't mind. Cameron."

If she wanted to instill a feeling within them that she had awesome power, and at the same time make her look like she'd finally lost it, this would be the letter of choice:

"Greetings, brethren! As you read this, you may be wondering about my current location. Do not fret! My purpose is clear: To waste every single bastard out there relating to Skynet and the Turk, and all threats to John Connor. By the fire of my machine fury and the bullets of my arsenal, the fools shall fall like flies to be swatted, and there will be nothing to stand in my way! Do not follow me; I will return with the unworthy, decapitated head of Skynet in my hand, and there will only be glory!

And these letters and all permutations thereof looked unusual in Cameron's eyes, so she decided against the idea.

Then she went outside and into the adjacent bedroom, and therein found her channel of goodbye. The sleeping, peaceful form of Derek Reese lay on his bed, without a blanket and with his hands behind the pillow on which his head lay. She walked quietly to the side of his bed, knelt down and whispered:

"Derek."

He didn't stir.

"Derek Reese."

Not a discernible movement to be seen. She lifted her arm and moved to touch his shoulder with her hand.

The gun came from behind the pillow in one smooth action, and Derek was very much awake. Cameron's hand covered the barrel; the 9mm bullet would not pass through its armor. Derek's eyes narrowed at the source of the interruption of his sleep.

"What the hell do you want?" he asked roughly. "And what the hell are you doing in my room?"

"I want to ask a favor." Derek still had his gun at her. She didn't care.

"Get your hand off my gun so that I can shoot your chip out."

"Your gun doesn't have a flash or sound suppressor. You'll wake up John and Sarah."

"They'll wake up to a pile of scrap, the happiest sight I could give 'em."

"I want to ask a favor," she repeated.

Derek scowled, then withdrew the pistol and laid it behind his pillow again. He sat up, and pushed the kneeling cyborg away from him. She stood up and stepped back. He looked at her without saying anything, expecting a response soon.

"I'm leaving the house tonight. I don't know how long I'll be gone."

Derek immediately stood up and started orbiting Cameron. Her eyes followed him as he moved around her. He laughed. "What's it now, huh? You're going back to Skynet to report our address? Motherfucking figures."

"No. I'm going out to destroy the Turk, Skynet's Terminators, and any other threats to John."

"Some advanced protecting machine you make," Derek snorted. "Ever thought about what'd happen to John if one of your friends came to get him?"

"There's only 'one of my friends' out there who knows that John is here. He's my first target."

"I'm not buying this shit," Derek said. Stupid robot was up to something. But what was it? "Don't play games with me, you metal bitch. What are you up to?"

"John trusts me. You're his uncle and you trust him. Why don't you-"

He didn't let her finish her sentence. "John's seen, what, five Terminators in his life? And two of them were 'nice.' I've seen many of your kind. I know what you do. This is exactly what you do." His eyes were full of rage as they bore into hers. "Play nice, then put bullets in our backs. Textbook termination."

"I was reprogrammed."

"And sometimes they go bad. No one knows why. Ring any bells?"

Cameron stood up, and took a step back. If she were human, something like "I've had enough of this bullshit" would've escaped her lips. But not her, unfazed by anything that Derek could throw at her.

"I'm leaving in an hour. I'm taking two of the assault rifles, the AA-12, six grenades, and some magazines and other ammunition. The favor that I want to ask you is for you to tell John and Sarah that I'm leaving. I can't tell them myself." And with that, she left the room, a highly suspicious Derek searing her back with his glare as she moved out of sight.

Cameron walked softly to her room, fixed up the remainder of her luggage, then passed by John's room. She stealthily turned his doorknob and slowly pushed the door open, making sure that the irritating creak of its hinges was kept at minimum volume. As soon as the door allowed her body to pass, she slipped in and walked to sit on the floor, by his bed.

And there she sat for a few minutes, regarding John in his silent sleep. He never snored, and didn't toss and turn about in bed. It was probably because his dreams were always the same. Always about the end of the world, or the end of him coming before that. Well, the latter dream wasn't going to bear fruit in real life; not on Cameron's watch. She was going to make it all go away, so that he wouldn't have to worry anymore.

She didn't know why, but she was compelled to reach out and stroke the sleeping boy's hair, and she did. She didn't need to breathe, but she blew softly on his head, as though shushing him further into sleep.

He'd hear nothing she said right now, but she spoke anyway: "Goodbye, John. I'll see you sometime."

To her surprise, John responded with an indistinct murmur from his lips. She scanned his biological systems, and noted by the neural activity of his brain that he was still in a deep sleep. It must've just been a coincidence.

She left his room and took her bags to the Jeep that waited in the open garage outside. A third duffel bag had joined the ranks of her supplies, filled with more of her "favorite" clothes, a couple of grenades, and her lucky coltan bar. Of course, to her it wasn't really a "lucky coltan bar," but it would prove so later on if she ever managed to get herself significantly blown up.

She fished the keys out of her pocket, and unlocked the driver's side door. She checked the fuel gauge, to see if she'd be going anywhere tonight, and then got in.

And the passenger-side door opened too, and Derek Reese came inside.

He loaded two bags into the back seats, and had slung over his shoulder a large M-16. Across his body were strewn holstered pistols of every caliber, and grenades were slotted into pockets about his jacket. And he smelled of shampoo. Fresh bath.

"What are you doing here?" Cameron asked him.

"You're not going anywhere without someone to keep an eye on you," Derek said. "If I'm right about your intentions – and I'm sure I am – then I'll be just in time to turn your sorry ass into a burnt crisp. If you're telling the truth – and that's a fucked-up, faraway possibility – then I want my hands on the bastards that you'll be wasting. There's no point in giving all the fun to a stupid machine that can't even have fun."

"I asked you to tell John and Sa-"

"I left them a note. Said that I was going to throw you off the Hoover Dam."

"You're lying."

"No, I'm joking."

"Oh. Thank you for explaining."

Derek scoffed. "Can't even get a joke. Dumb piece of…"

"Are you well-packed? Weapons and ammo?"

"Enough to take you on."

"That should be sufficient."

"Where are we going first?"

"School."

"What?"

"Cromartie. His school-to-school visitations follow a geographical pattern. I've determined his next target school. We can finish him there."

"Huh. Right then." And then Derek unholstered his .45 ACP HK MK23 pistol, fully decked-out with a suppressor and a LAM sight, and drew it to level at Cameron's head. Just as quickly as he'd done this, Cameron withdrew her own weapon, a Smith and Wesson Model 460 revolver chambering a massive .46 caliber round, and pointed it at Derek's head, their weapon arms parallel to each other as the two, cold-hearted warriors entered a duet of mutual death.

Well, at the very least Derek would die if Cameron shot him. His gun's stopping power was too low to do any real damage to Cameron's head.

"I'm watching you," Derek said. "Don't you damn forget that, you fucking machine."

"I won't. And don't forget that your bullet won't penetrate my endoskeleton, even at that range. If this were a real situation, you'd be dead."

"If this were a real situation, I wouldn't be holding a pistol." His eyes never wavered from their vigilant gaze.

"It's not going to come to this. We're going to destroy Cromartie, then the Turk, then all remaining threats to John, and prevent Skynet from arising. This is what is going to happen."

"And this is what is going to happen," Derek said as he lightly depressed the trigger on his gun a few times, "if you happen. If that chip in that head of yours shows its true colors."

"Thank you for explaining, but that won't happen."

"We'll see." The two shared their firearms' headshot aims for a few more seconds, and then Derek holstered his gun. Cameron followed suit milliseconds after his act, and her gun went back into formation with the rest of her bodily weapons.

Cameron turned the key and started up the Jeep's engine. The vehicle rumbled to life loudly, and for a while she wondered if it would wake up the Connors upstairs.

"Let's get this game started," Derek said as the truck rolled down the driveway. The darkness of the midnight was broken at times by sheets of white moonlight piercing the trees and roofs of houses, and by the powerful headlights of the black Jeep that now came heavily down the road.

Tonight, the hunt was on.