Chapter 14: Target Selection

Don't think of it as being outnumbered, think of it as unlimitedtargetselection.

-Unknown

John Connor's green eyes fluttered open, signifying the end of another night of poor sleep and bouts of nervous insomnia, his eyeballs feeling gritter than the sandpaper aisle at Home Depot. The rest of him was screaming in various states of transitory pain. John Connor may have been 16, but he felt 35. There was a shaft of light piercing the early morning gloom that made another day in the City of Angels. Not that that calmed the raft of unpleasant thoughts swimming through his befuddled mind at a thousand miles an hour. He'd already killed one traitor, Ok, I didn't give the order, but what did I think Derek was going to do? Offer her a pardon? Moreover, he'd not only given Jesse's patsy a job, but was going to train her to at the very least, to be more useful than "potentially sad statistic". Why do I think I just agreed to do the impossible? How anyone so empty headed could survive JD and Skynet? Just proof of the old saying: God does love drunks and fools.

He ran his hands through his blond hair as if to clear the cobwebs, and a thought occurred to him. Why did he and Cameron have separate rooms? I mean, are we an item? Not that I've had a lot of time for that lately. Yep, that's on the to do list. An actual date. Complete with "happy ending". His expression turned sour as he grimaced, realizing all too well what his Mom's reaction would be. Machine or not, John was still her son, and seeing him in the throes of passion with anyone, let alone Cameron would be enough to send his mother over the proverbial falls. She still thinks I'm seven sometimes…John snickered at the last thought.

Cameron's late night TV watching wasn't always solo anymore, as John hadn't slept very well the last two days, especially as inspiration struck him to try a new direction with the decrypt. It turned out Cameron was mostly right. The algorithm was a programming language that was very close to her Skynet code. But it had some subtle and sneaky differences. And we all know where the devil is, in the goddamn details. It was more…artful then any of Skynet's programming. From what code I've seen from Skynet, it's code is brutal, functional and devoid of anything except a cold, focused, single-minded purpose. This? This has subtlety. No machine wrote this. A person did..a very smart, driven person with a really dark mind. Nobody who wrote this could have any illusions why they were encrypting this. John read many industry journals.

This code was way ahead of anything out there. And that scared John. He'd always known people made Skynet. Nevertheless, to actually look at something associated with his long-prophesized enemy, something made by a fellow human being. Somehow, this made it more real than any terminator had. What did Jeff say? Oh yeah, the enemy is often a good teacher, if you survive him trying to kill you. John's face sank at that last thought. He'd had a lot of sobering thoughts lately. Even Cameron had commented on his foul mood and told him to "lighten up". It had been during dinner, and other than Jeff and Derek dropping their utensils in shock and Riley gasping, there wasn't a sound made. Sarah simply smiled, and asked John if he wanted more pizza with a smile that one usually associated with a cat that has just dined on canary.

Cameron's right, as usual. I have to do something to lighten the fucking mood. But honestly, I wanna beat this thing first. I really do hope it doesn't become my white whale.

As John stabbed at more keys, something hit him. He'd been going at it all wrong. A human wrote this. As such, the brute force decrypt he'd been trying was just triggering more layers of encryption on the files. He'd already almost lost the data three times to a security related delete. Thank God I know how to code with the best of them. But with a human, sometimes, the subtle solution worked best…like this…John tapped a few more keys, a command prompt appeared. He typed RUN, and his right index finger hovered over the Enter key.

What the fuck are you waiting for John? Just do it. If you're wrong, you're wrong. If you're right, we get a shot at the offensive in this war.

John exhaled and gently depressed the Enter key.

***010101011010101***

Danny Dyson was sweating like a stuck pig. Ever since he'd downloaded PIERCE ECHO's compiled code, the full truth of what he'd been working on had hit him like a freight train. Jesus H. Christ, somebody WANTS this thing to be a "busy child", and a sociopathic one at that, if I am reading this code right. Danny exhaled and mumbled, "Shit" as he ran his hands through his hair in frustration. Sleep had evaded him all last night, not for lack of trying, but the image unbidden of a world of homicidal machines, like the one who came that night, the last night he ever saw his father, haunted every attempt to gain some sleep. Therefore, here he remained, at the foot of his bed like the well-known statue of the thinker, trying to make sense of it all.

He'd called in sick already, Danny had no intention of going back and had called his mom to "encourage" her to get the hell out of town for a while. God only knows what they'll do to find me...especially Hsu. She scares the hell out of me. And she believes what we're doing is right! I wonder what she does and doesn't know. God help me. Sarah Connor was right about everything. I think I just want to throw up.

He picked up his cell, and hit the speed dial. A familiar voice came on, as the call went straight to voice mail. "Uh, hi Captain Goldman, it's Danny, I called in sick with HR this morning, and I wanted to confirm it with you. I've got a bad case of the flu, so I'll be in Monday. See you all then."

Danny then hung up. Well, there was the code phrase to let them know I got the info. I just hope like hell that they can do something with it. Assuming they don't arrest us all and bury us UNDER the damn prison.

He shook his head; it was only a quarter to 6 in the morning. Might as well shower and get some coffee. Maybe I can find an all night Starbucks and make sense of all this with some caffeine in my system. Somehow, though, I don't think that's going to happen.

Danny smiled weakly as he made his way to the bathroom, at least I got the damn day off. My shrink says I really should take more time off, but somehow, I don't think this is what she had in mind.

Danny then picked up his cell again, and called his mom, it went to voice mail. It was early and mom, being retired now, wasn't in the mood to wake before ten most days. I think she just hates facing another day without dad, myself. He exhaled, remembering to sound "fluey" and coughed a bit for emphasis.

"Hey Mom, it's Danny, I've got the flu, so I don't think I can do dinner Friday. Listen, I've got some big doings going on at work right now. I can't say too much more. But whatever happens. I love you. Never doubt that."

Danny then stabbed the END CALL button and put down the phone, gently, as if it was a fragile item made of porcelain. As soon as he did, he was wracked by sobs. There was no turning back now. He just hoped it was all going to be worth it. He could lie to Kaliba. However, lying to his mom? It was like hacking off his own hand. Hell, the hand would have hurt less.

Time to get on with it. Danny said as he threw on a shirt and a ballcap, then removed the thumb drive from his keychain and stuck it in a hollowed out part of his shoe. Danny smiled at that last part, What the fuck? I read it in a spy novel. Be damned if it doesn't work.

***01010110110110110***

I did a good job, I did a good job, I did a good job. John Connor repeated in his head as a mantra. His eyes were shut tightly against the possibility he may have triggered the security protocols and erased everything, including his own hard drive... He couldn't look. He didn't want to, but a little voice, sounding surprisingly like Cameron's said; You fucking pussy, man up and take a look. Not the first time life's crapped in your lap. John opened his eyes and shook his head. Shit, now I am hearing things.

He looked at the computer…Data was scrolling by like a subway whipping by a closed station at night. BOO-YAH! I'M IN! YES! John's smile was ecstatic and he jumped up from his swivel chair and pumped his fists in the air, screaming "FUCK YOU, I BEAT YOU! YOU GODDAMNED CODE!"

This triggered the opposite reaction John had wished to engender, however. All of a sudden there was a series of crashes, clicks of metal on metal as safeties on firearms were released and rounds chambered. Then, in a symphony of cacophony, John's door flew open, a very tired and angry looking Sarah Connor in the lead, a chagrined Cameron behind and a bit to the left.

Cameron looked at Sarah with a bit of unspoken concern, the phrase hung between them both. Has he lost his mind? Has it all finally gotten to him? John smiled absentmindedly, his face split by the biggest smile Sarah had ever seen John wear. If he smiled any more, she swore John's head would fall off.

Cameron spoke first. "John, are you alright? Do you feel like self-termination or other inappropriate thoughts?" She had never dealt with someone in such a state, but the basic onboard files told her to keep her voice even, steady and soothing. John's snapped, he's reached the edge of human endurance. I should have sedated him. Though I don't think Sarah would have thought much of the idea.

Sarah noticed Cameron's attempt at talking John down. She leaned over and cleared her throat to get the cyborg's attention. "Better let me handle this, Tin Miss. You sound like some bad 80s after-school special."

Cameron turned her head to face Sarah, the confusion evident on her face.

"Uh, never mind Cameron, I've just got more experience here? Ok?"

Cameron nodded "Thank you for explaining, Sarah, I shall observe if that is alright? I could stand to learn more to improve my relationship with John."

John watched the byplay between the two women and shot up from his chair, sending the swivel chair flying against the wall with a BANG. "I'm not having a psychotic episode, ..Encryption." John said carefully.

Cameron soon began to share John's grin and rushed forward, taking John in a cautious but heartfelt hug. At that moment, John's exhaustion hit him like a freight train and the room began to spin.

The last thing he heard was Cameron's voice shriek "John!" as he blacked out.

***0010101011010***

Daniel Dyson wasn't a shrinking violet, if he was, he'd have never agreed to this in the first place, but as he quickly covered the distance to the Mexican restaurant, he wondered if he was more than a bit in over his head. I'm not fucking James Bond. I'm a goddamned programmer. A junior one who doesn't even have his Master's yet.

The sweat was coming in sheets now, and it was stinging his eyes like so many needles. His heart threatened to leap from his chest like a cheetah from a tree. Danny kept telling himself, "Dad would want this, Dad died for this" over and over again under his breath. He pulled his cap lower, the bill shading his eyes from the day's sun. It wasn't hot today, but somehow, the light of the sun was offensive, and more than a bit off-putting.

He came to the restaurant's door, and deftly let himself in, looking around the restaurant for anyone from the office. Danny didn't see anyone, which was a good sign. The fact that it's 11:30 in the morning probably helps his mind echoed. He made his way to a booth and a friendly server came by.

"Can I get you something, senor?" the server, a pretty young server of Hispanic extraction enquired. Her eyes sparkled, and the nametag said "Flores"

Danny gasped in surprise, as a shiver went through him. He'd been startled by the server. "Um, yeah, a glass of water and a chorizo omelet?"

"Si Senor, give me ten minutes for the omelet?"

"Sure, thanks." Danny said, his tone being more than a bit high pitched and forced.

He didn't notice the other individual approach the booth as his attention lapsed on the waitress and her rather shapely derriere. Danny smiled. At least the scenery is easy.

He hadn't noticed the other individual until he cleared his throat to announce his presence.

Danny almost jumped in fright. As it was, he did almost void his bladder in sheer fright.

The individual smiled, he was wearing a hoodie with the hood down, grey in color, with a map of Iraq superimposed with the words "Operation Iraqi Freedom-Been There, Done That". His eyes, or eye, as the other was covered by a patch was framed by unruly blonde hair and a 3 day old beard. His single violet eye was hard and had the fire of a man who had done things he'd had to do, and was just happy just to come home to tell somebody about it.

"Captain Goldman sends his regards, Danny."

"Who the fuck are you?"

"Don't matter. Just know, he thinks a lot of you Danny, and anybody who my old PL thinks that much of? He's got my vote."

"How do I trust you?"

"Simple, I know you're more than a gopher, and I know the real reason your dad died. And what you're really working on."

"That's supposed to get me to trust you?"

"All I got. Look, Danny, you're not Jason Bourne, and neither am I, and I am late for my AA meeting at the VA. So, are we going to do this? Or can I be on my way?"

Danny shrugged, Not like I didn't make some copies just in case somebody cheats…he reached for the compartment in his shoe and produced the thumb drive, placing it on the table soundlessly. "It's all here. Enough for somebody to figure out what PIERCE ECHO's all about. And tell Goldman to read the text file first."

The figure nodded and palmed the thumb drive with practiced ease. "Now, you stay here. Have your chorizo, flirt with the waitress and get the hell out of here before the lunch crowd shows up. I've got the rest. Don't worry, kid, you're gonna be a hero in all this."

Danny nodded. "I don't wanna be a hero; I just don't wanna wind up like my dad."

The figure rose, turned and smiled "Nah, they probably don't know it's even gone…now enjoy your food, they make a damn good omelet." And with that, he turned on his heel and left.

As his chorizo omelet and water arrived, he was left wondering, Am I in over my head?

***0101010110110***

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Goldman sat in the living room of the Connor safehouse wondering if cigars really did make anything better. But he also realized it would probably be a poorer world without them.

As he contemplated the zen of cigar, he heard small, heavy footsteps come down the stairs. Ah Cameron, well, hopefully she managed to get John to do a thing called rest?

Goldman smiled at Cameon as she came, but the smile died as quickly as it was born. "Trouble?" he inquired.

"Not in a sense, but John has driven himself to exhaustion? Can he have an extension on his paper?" Cameron replied

"Sure, I was going to give him one anyhow. He's been burning the candle at both ends. I am probably going to make our next lesson be about the importance of sleep plans for combat leaders?"

Cameron nodded with a look of chagrin on her face.

Goldman understood, and decided to quash the feelings he knew were going through Cameron's cybernetic mind. She didn't fail him. Damn lad doesn't understand doing it all himself is what got the resistance in some of the messes we were in.

"You know you didn't fail him."

"Did I? I can protect him from everything else, sir, but himself."

"Welcome to being the girlfriend. Trust me; human women have the same lament."

"Do they, then why do they tolerate such behavior?"

"Some do, some don't. My wife realized early on, I am a big kid. Always was, always will be. John's more of a driven kind a guy. When he takes a risk, it's not for the hell of it. But even the smartest of us men have what we call "hold my beer and watch this" moments."

"But he is healing from a concussion, not to mention a hairline skull fracture. Taking it easy is recommended. Yet I allow this. The feelings I have for John are compromising me…ugh!"

"No, you're learning the balance Captain. He needs to be General Connor, and you need to salute, step back and let him be General Connor. His mom can freak out when he takes the risks..your job is to be at his side going right into the fire with him."

Cameron nodded in understanding. "Do I have to like it?"

"Nope"

"At least that makes sense."

"It'll get harder Cameron, but, if I may? If you love him? Then you'll deal with it best you can. Trust me. We did, and my wife wasn't somebody going to Af-Pak or Iraq with me. Cameron. He worries about you too, and not just for tactical reasons."

"Emotions are hard, how do you deal with them?..."

"One day at a time, Captain, One day at a time."

***01010110110110***

Daniel Dyson made his way to his car, the parking lot was large, as the Mexican restaurant was co-located with a supermarket, and the parking lot was beginning to fill with SUVs and minivans on the weekly shopping expedition. The random movements of the cars reminded Danny of so many electrons around an atom. I'm thinking of tenth grade science at a time like this? An amused smile crossed his face as he made his way across the lot to his avocado green Honda Civic.

He reached down for his keys and whistled a random tune. Danny had done it. The damn information was somebody else's problem. I am done. I am going to find a new job tomorrow, something fun, maybe Harry's still got an in with that game company. God were they working on some cool stuff I CAN talk about…

He didn't notice the whine of an accelerating engine and the squeal of protesting tires. A horn sounded, too late, as Danny looked up with a horrified look on his face. His eyes met the driver. Shit, they knew after all.

Danny Dyson, 22, of Alameda, California, was hit in the left hip by a white Chevy Impala travelling at 37mph, he flew across the hood, smashing the windshield with his head and then landing in front of the speeding car. The car the proceeded to mash his head into the pavement with the left front and rear tires. Mercifully, Danny had been killed by the blow to the windshield by massive intracranial bleeding.

His last thought was of his father, I'm sorry Dad, at least Goldman knows where the insurance is…or he will.

From a distance, ex-Corporal Jim Leyton looked on as Daniel Dyson's last moments played out. Leyton had been just a paratrooper before losing his eye to an RPG blast in Safwan, but he knew enough to know what a hit looked like. Fuck, I'm delivering this to the Captain, and then I am getting my drunk ass gone. I am a one eyed alcoholic, not what I was. Somebody's playing for real keeps. He put his tan Bonneville into gear and turned into traffic as sirens rang out into the distance.

***0101011010***

Captain Jeff Goldman was showering after a long day of work. It had been a nerve-wracking day for him and Major Sherman. Both were careful not to show it, because there was always the chance PIERCE ECHO might pick up on it.

As he toweled off after a long shower, he turned on the ancient hotel TV, he settled down to the local news just in time to catch the beginning.

The Asian female anchor smiled and introduced herself and her partner. "In our top story, a hit and run claims the life of a promising young IT professional. Daniel Dyson, 22 of Alameda, California was killed in a hit and run collision near Modesto today in a local strip mall. Police have no leads and have asked…

Goldman's blood ran cold. Fuck, somebody made him. But who? Who in the hell figured out he was in the system. Does it matter?

Goldman knew what his contingency was, and began to pack. He knew the people at Kaliba wouldn't take long to make 2 + 2 equal 4 and come after him…or worse yet, his family. And the only way Goldman could stop that was to get to them first.

Goldman rooted around for his duffel; he knew what he would need. Can't get a sidearm through security, but my little brother can bring my extra .45. Dammit Jeff, you really got yourself in the pot, didn't you? In went every civy piece of clothing he had. He couldn't wear his uniform for this. Technically, what he was doing was desertion, but to ask him to sit by while these bastards killed him and his family to keep their pet monster safe was just too much. Still, he couldn't pull a Houdini until he got the data from Leighton. Here's hoping like hell he's still breathing.

He lunged for his cell phone and stabbed the speed dial, "American Airlines Reservations…" the phone answered.

***010101101010***

James Leighton was an agitated man; he had been sucked into something that frankly, wasn't what he had bargained for. Just pick up something for my old PL. Nobody said about anyone getting killed.

He paced the Chick N Cluck's parking lot for what seemed for the umpteenth time, and then glanced at his watch. Fuck, he's three minutes late! Calm down man, it's just the paranoia talking. James had packed a .38 this time. He wasn't going down like a punk like that poor kid had. And I had the nerve to tell him he was going to be a hero. Yeah I forgot to include the dead part.

It was then that he saw the white Ford Escort pull into the dark parking lot. He compared it to the plate number his LT had emailed him. He'd also said to memorize the email and delete it. Shit LT, what the fuck have you gotten me into?

The car motored over to Leighton, and the window rolled down. "Leighton, good to see you. How's civy street?"

"Fucking awful sir, who the hell made you a captain?"

"Somebody with a sense of humor, Corporal. You got that drive?"

Leighton fished out the drive from the pocket of his olive green cutoffs. "Yeah boss, right here." as he handed the drive through the open window to Goldman's outstretched hand.

"Thanks Leighton. I'd disappear if I were you."

"Planning to. You know that kid?"

"He worked for me. His dad was killed by some terrorists." Is that really true anymore? Goldman wondered.

"See you on the flip side, sir." as Leighton came to attention and saluted.

Goldman returned the salute and smiled. "You were the best SAW gunner in the platoon, you know?"

Leighton smiled "I was, wasn't I? Now look at me? I am a one-eyed drunk."

"Not any more, your orders are to sober up, disappear, and stay alive till I get in touch with you..and I will be in touch Corporal."

The years seemed to fade away from Jim Leighton. He wasn't a derelict of a man, broken by a fight long ago. He was that SAW gunner again, and he had a mission.

"Yes sir. I am out of here."

Goldman smiled and rolled up the window, as Leighton slipped into his battered old tan Bonneville and after starting up the car, glided out into the parking lot and into the ribbons of moving light leading to the freeway, and hiding.

Now it's my turn, gotta keep going into work for a while..let em think I am not onto them, but my time to disappear is coming soon…

***010101011010***

With John's cracking of the encrypted files from Gulfwind Fourty, it soon became apparent that all roads lead to the Kaliba Corporation. A simple internet search produced the company website, and from there, a phone directory. Some of the names were all too familiar to Sarah Connor. She recognized them from people she'd cased at Cyberdyne.

Do they know or even care what they're working on? Sarah mused to herself. She'd found a good place to observe the campus. It was pretty far off, a mile and a half from the fence on a hill overlooking the campus on some vacant commercial property. It was simplicity itself to set up an observation hide in an abandoned Radio Shack.

As Sarah slowly swung the binoculars across the front gate, she mused about the fact that they'd never been closer to Skynet than now. Cyberdyne had been a dry hole, if it hadn't than neither Derek, Cameron or Jeff would have shown up…but Kaliba…Kaliba was for the marbles.

And Sarah always played hard for the marbles.

Sarah continued to swing her binoculars across the front gate, there hadn't been any departures or entries in the past hour, but that wasn't unusual after hours. But the fact that most of the lights on campus were out told her one thing. It told her that something on that campus had some pretty heavy power demands. Something like Skynet. I can almost feel how close I am to ending you, you murderous son of a bitch.

Derek was supposed to relieve her in another hour. Ideally, this was a two man job, but with John out of commission for a week longer, it fell to Sarah, Derek and Jeff being the primary means of maintaining the OP. Sarah didn't trust Riley and Cameron was better left behind, lest her new emotions get the better of her and she go and do something dumb.

Sarah Connor smiled as she continued to slowly sweep the binoculars across Kaliba. She knew it was a tougher nut than even Cyberdyne had been, but they'd find a way. They had to. Sarah Connor may have made a lot of noise about her son's destiny, but truth be told? She wasn't eager for him to realize it. The 3 billion dead part was among the less than optimal parts of said destiny.

To his credit, Sarah mused. As much as John had been a handful to deal with lately, he'd never gone as far as "I'm the savior of humanity, shut the fuck up and get me a cheeseburger and fries…yeah! Thank you very much!" Sarah chuckled quietly at the image of her son impersonating Elvis.

Sarah was left wondering, how in the hell one was going to waltz in there. It was obvious that unlike Cyberdyne, waltzing in there just wasn't going to happen, and from what she'd seen of the guard force? They made Gulfwind Fourty's bunch look like boy scouts trying to earn extra money during the summer. Somebody hired quality for this bunch. Not that the PMC at Gulfwind sucked, Derek just got lucky.

There was also the double fence line topped with razor wire, the dog runs, and the reaction force she'd seen during a random alert she had the good fortune to observe. These people are serious. And if they're this serious, they're not just paranoid, they're expecting trouble..like us.

An involuntary shiver went through Sarah Connor. She didn't like being expected. She'd always been on the wrong end of the odds, and surprise was the best weapon she'd always had. Take that away and she was out of her element.

Here's hoping John and Jeff have better luck figuring out how to peel this onion. All I see is something that might wind up with all of us winding up dead.

***010101101101***

The "contractor" was a veteran of a few nasty places, Angola, Northern Ireland, and the former Yugoslavia. He wasn't a front line grunt. His was a talent that specialized in making people dead that paying clients wanted dead. And the "hit and run accident" was his favorite. Hard to tell a hit from a hit and run, especially in Southern California.

He allowed himself a small smile as he waited in the parking garage. He'd worked with Ling Hsu before. She was an artist with a Sykes-Fairburn. Enough that it made him wonder if there was any SAS or bootneck in the family tree. I doubt it, the lads were rather impressed to the point of being a bit horrified.

Before he could continue his thought, he saw Ms. Hsu walk across the parking garage, wearing a black pantsuit and a pair of conservative pearls. Her hair was up in a severe-looking bun and her heels somehow not making a sound as she crossed the distance to the contractor's black Audi. She tapped three times, then once on the passenger's side window.

The contractor nodded at Ling, and then opened the door with a deft flick of a button.

Ling got in and let out a sigh. "Well done, I liked the way you closed the contract, but couldn't you have hit him at night? Less possible attention."

The contractor shrugged, "He met a contact, and that contact was a potential means to pass on the information. So, I closed the contract. Simple as that."

Ling smiled, Yes, he did, but I wasn't too happy about the public nature of the means. I do hate doing this but examples must be made.

Ling folded her hands in her lap, and smiled again, the smile not quite reaching her eyes. "Well, things can't be helped, can they?"

"No, I assume the usual arrangements."

"Yes, your account in St. Barts."

"Excellent, I'll be on my way then," the contractor said with a sigh, contracts such as these were routine, but they did pay the bills.

Ling turned to leave the car, and then stopped, "Oh, one last thing…" she never finished the thought, as a spring loaded knife sprung forth from her right sleeve and she moved like a snake, lightning fast and with no mercy, stabbing the contractor twice in the throat. Blood spattered like red ribbons of gore from the ragged holes in the man's throat as his eyes went wide and his hands grasped ineffectually to stem the tide of gore flooding down his chest and seat.

Ling leaned in towards the man's ear "I said no witnesses. I meant it. Think on that with the time you have left."

As the blood began to spurt like a hose all over the windshield, Ling let herself out, leaving the man to lapse into shock and fall over dead on the steering wheel.

Well, time for me to find a new contractor. Ling mused as she walked away.