Chapter 8 Beside Us To Guide Us

There were no playgrounds in the tunnels. The crowded refuge of a hunted humanity had little space to spare for frivolous purposes. Toys and even the unforced laughter of children were in equally short supply. To be young no longer meant innocence but only a greater senseof vulnerability. The burdens of survival fell onsmall shoulders far earlier than they did before J Day.

Today, however, six children from the D corridor had found a place where they might try to restore their youth, if only for an agonizingly short time. The dilapidated room off the main tunnel had been used as a transit storage point; a place to stack supplies before theywere distributed throughout the underground complex. Latelyprovisionshad become harder andharder to acquire. Box by boxthe room had emptied out. A single low wattage bulb in a corner fixture illuminated the scarred block walls and dirty cement floor. The bare room was hardly a thing of beauty but for the moment it belonged to them.

The two older boys, about eight or nine, had found an old baseball. The stitching was barely holding together but it was still something that could be tossed back and forth. Two smaller boys, evidently brothers from their shared appearance, and a young girl had drawn a rough circle in the dirty floor and were playing marbles with four small glass balls. The little girl had carried the marbles in a tiny cloth bag before distributing them with all the elaborate ceremony appropriate to the treasures she was sharing. The remaining child, a younger girl, satapart cradling what she still treated as a doll.

One of the small plastic figure's arms was broken, the legs were twisted and the original head was missing. Someone had carved a replacement from a small piece of wood then painted in eyes and a mouth. The new headtilted loosely on the doll's neck. There was little about the repaired figure that could be called pretty but the little girl clung to it as if it were the most precious thing in the world. Perhaps in her world it was.

The young officer with the shiny new lieutenant's bars stood in the door and watched the children. Part of him desperately wanted to believe he was seeing evidence of human resilience--an unconquerable determination to preserve a small semblance of normality in a devastated world. But that effort recoiled from his awareness of the emotional flatness in the children. There was no real joy. They displayed no sign of pleasure. They played more by rote than by choice. It was as if their instincts and not their desires were telling them what they should do.

The two boys with the baseball began to argue over who could catch the harder thrown ball. As they exchanged words the ball began to fly with increasing intensity. Inevitably one of the boys missed his catch and the ball struck the wall before ricocheting across the room. The little girl sitting on the floor tried to dodge but the baseball struck her doll and knocked away the carved head. As she watched in helpless dismay, the head bounced and rolled over the floor before disappearing into a hole where an old drain had been.

With a wail of anguish the little girl threw herself across the room. She plunged her small arm into the hole in the floor crying out, "Ginny! Ginny!" But if the head was still there it was beyond her reach.

The young lieutenant could not restrain himself. He stepped quickly into the room and knelt beside the weeping child. He turned his head so she would not see him wince from the pain in his right side.

"Let me try. My arm is a little longer."

He stretched out on the floor and thrust his left arm down the old drain. There was an L-shaped fixture at the bottom and his fingertips could just touch the piece of wood that had lodged there. At first he couldn't quite grasp it but then he jammed his arm harder against the cement. He could feel the ragged surface at the top of the drain pinch sharply against his flesh. Then he had the head between his fingers. Exhaling a long sigh of relief he pulled itout of the drain.

The water processor in this sector had not been working regularly so there had beenalmost noliquid to spare for personal hygiene. The little girl had not had the luxury of even a sponge bath for a long time. The line oftears had left a distinct trail down her grimy cheeks as she had mourned her lost toy. But now the tears were gone and a smile of genuine happiness entered the room.

"Thank you! Thank you!" The child joyfully rejoined head and body.

"You're welcome." The young officer smiledas he got back to his feet once again hiding the twinge of pain from his side.

"What's your name?"

"Sarah," the little girl replied.

The smile on the young officer's face faded. "That was my mother's name."

The other children had stopped their activity and gathered around.

"You are Lieutenant John Connor aren't you?" asked one of the ball players, the one that couldn't catch.

"Yes, I am."

"My dad pointed you out to me. He said you were very brave."

John shook his head. "I'm just a soldier, kid. I'm no braver than anyone else."

As John looked at the children he experienced a sudden understanding. None of them was more than ten years old. They had no memory of the world before J Day. None of them had ever played outdoors, felt the sun or the Spring rain on their faces or thrown a snowball. It was no wonder they didn't know how to play.

"I had better go now guys. I'm supposed to be at headquarters."

"Goodbye Lieutenant Connor," Sarah said.

"You can call me John, Sarah."

"Goodbye John."

"John?"

"John?"

"John!"

John snapped out of his reverie. Cameron was staring at him with an expression of quizzical bemusement.

"I'm sorry,Cam. I guess my mind was wandering."

"Yes, I noticed."

From the giggles coming from the end of the table it appeared that Savannah and Marissa had noticed as well. OnlyAllison, still tryingto decide whether to eat or wear the applesauce on her plate, was oblivious to John's lapse of concentration.

"I was asking whether you wanted anything else for lunch?"

John shook his head as he rose from the dining room table. He walked to the window and looked out at the city of San Francisco. Cameron assumed that he was worried about Sarah on her way to Los Angeles with Catherine. She was trying to think of something reassuring to say when he suddenly turned back toward the table. To her surprise his face glowed with a broad smile.

"It’s a beautiful day. The sun is shining. The sky is clear.It’s too nice to stay cooped up in the house."John winked at Marissa and Savannah. "I think we should all put on our play clothes and go to the park."

Marissa clapped her hands with glee and Savannah seemed equally pleased. But then her face clouded. "John, I have afternoon lessons with John Henry." John let a hint of conspiracy slip into his smile. "Flametop, I'll write you a note."

As the two older girlsdashed upstairs to change clothes, Cameron gently retrieved Allison from her high chair. John marveled once again at the child's response to Cameron's touch. Happiness flowed from her like bubbles in champagne. And Cameron's expression whenever her brown eyes met Allison's instantly became one of boundless contentment. The bond between the two was fast becoming unbreakable.

"Do you think it is safe to go out like this John, to take the girls into public view?" Cameron was not actually opposing John's plan but she could not completely disguise her concerns.

"They will be with us Cameron. That is as safe as they can be. I don't want them to grow up without memories of playing in the sun." John's recollection of little Sarah's battered doll lurked in the tone of his voice.

******

Vista Heights Park was on the western side of the city on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It had been built as a playground more than a century before and lovingly preserved through earthquakes, economic distress and the aggressive attention of countless children. The centerpiece was and always had been the giant carousel. From one of its sixty-six exotic and colorful wooden creatures a young rider could listen to the ompah of the German Band Organ while watching the ocean and the park alternatively swirl into view.

John and Cameron had changed into running suits and athletic shoes. Both wore jackets long enough to cover the pistols resting in the small of their back. Cameron had pinned up her long brown hair and covered it with a pink baseball cap. Her dark sunglasses completed the effort at disguise.

Savannah and Marissa literally raced each other to the carousel laughing in delight at the sight of its fantastic mounts. Savannah slowed down just enough to let Marissa beat her to the bounding tigerwith a recumbent angel carved on its side. She satisfied herself with the rearing elephant two rows further up. Since Allison met neither the age nor height limit to ride alone, Cameron stood beside the traditional wooden horse and held the child in the seat. Standing at the side John watched happily as the music rang out and the colorful menagerie began its circular journey.

Once they were on the carousel John began to fear that he would have to pry the girls off. Savannah and Marissa seemed determined to ride every one of the fantastic creatures. Allison giggled more exuberantly with each rotation.But finally they were all ready to try something else. Holding hands the two older girls skipped toward the swings.

"Flametop," John whispered to himself still using the nickname that seemed to generate Catherine's disapproval. "You make a wonderful big sister."

As the afternoon wore on John and Cameron led their young companions to the overlook platform on the edge of the bluff. From there they could look up and down the beach below and out into the ocean. A soft wind had stirred up the whitecaps while the afternoon sun was giving a goldentint to the water. A few hundred yards off shore three large rocks thrust up from the Pacific, their white peaks glittering in the sun. As the girls watched intently a number of small creatures could be seen climbing on the rocks.

"John, what are those?" Savannah asked.

"Seals. At certain times during the year they like to play on those rocks."

Marissa's eyes opened wide in wonder."Can we go down and look at them? Please?"

There was a wooden stairway from theobservation platform leading down to the beach below.John glanced at his watch and then smiled. "I thinkwe have time to do that."

As they strolled up the beach Savannah and Marissa ran ahead to get a closer look at theseals' domain. "Do you think that I should tell them why the rocks are white?" John asked in a bland tone.

For the briefest of moments Cameronactually looked exasperated."You and your guide books. No, you should not tell them that it is bird excrement."

John laughed. "I think someone else has read a guidebook too. Let's sit down for a while Cameron. They want to watch the seals."

Cameron nodded and gracefully slipped down into a seated position on the sand. The day's exertion had for the moment caught up with Allison and she slumbered in Cameron's arms. John sat down shoulder to shoulder and put his arm around Cameron's waist. There were times that he hated Skynet more than others. At the thought of losing what he had at that moment, he realized that this was one of those times.

He turned toward Cameron and watched her slowly and lovingly caress Allison's hair.Suddenly he realized that Cameron looked unusually pensive--almost painfully so.

"John, why haven't you ever asked me about Allison?"

"What do you mean, Cam?"

"You aren't blind John. You can plainly see that there is a physical connection between us. There always has been. When we were in the future, Allison was grown and we looked so much alike that even you were misled. Years ago after the car explosion and I malfunctioned, I thought I was her. You know all of that but you have never asked me anything about it. Why?"

"Cameron, I have always believed that when you were ready you would tell me everything you wanted me toknow."

"John, there things I know because I remember them and there are things I know only because I have been told about them. When John Henry transferred my essence to a clean chip without the Skynet directives, I lost all knowledge of my creation. My memories begin now whenFuture John reprogramed me. But I can recall that there were people then who whispered the name Allison when I passed and looked at me with a dark hatred on their face.

Cameron took off her sunglassesand rubbed her hand across her eyes. John could see the pain in her face. He waited silently for her to continue.

"You know that therecanonly beone reason why she and I are so much alike. Skynet built me as an infiltrator and used her as a model.

Cameron abruptly raised her head and looked out toward the incoming surf. "Marissa, please do not get too close to the water, dear."

Cameron's voice trembled as she tried to control her feelings. "If I was intended to replace her so I could infiltrate the resistance, I must have hurt her. Each word she spoke now seemed to cause pain. "John, I must have killed her."

Allison stirred for a moment as Cameron slightlytightened her embrace. ToJohn's surprise he saw tears slide down her cheeks. He had never seen Cameron cry before.

"All right Cameron, look at me. Listen to me." John reached out and brushed the tears from her face. "You...YOU did not hurt Allison. The person that you are now is not the Skynet slave that once existed. If something hurt Allison in some other time it was not you.”

John reached down and lightly touched Allison's cheek."I will prove it to you. Tell me how you feel about this child."

Cameron looked as if the answer to his question was beyond obvious."I love her, John .I love her and I love Marissa."

"Would you ever do anything to harm either one of them?”

Cameronappeared horrified by even the suggestion. "No. No, I would not."

John stood and held out his hand."That's all that matters isn't it? That is all that will ever matter."

John pulled Cameron to her feet just as Allison's brown eyes snapped open.She looked up at the two of them and smiled.

"We had better gather up our gang and go home. Mom and Catherine ought to be in Los Angeles by now. We need to go check on Thelma and Louise."

*****

The silence had not yet become uncomfortable but it was moving in that direction. Sarah sat stiffly in the armchair in front of James Ellison's desk and waited for the head of Zeira Corporation's Security Operations to say something--anything. Ellison seemed equally determined that the conversation would begin with her.

Finally, Ellison, as had many others before, surrendered to the implacable will that was Sarah Connor.

"You still aren't sure that you trust me, are you, Sarah?"

"When it comes to my son, Mr. Ellison, I am not sure that I trust anyone except me."

Ellison nodded briefly as if acknowledging an obvious truth. Then his face became resolute, undeterredby any doubts Sarah might harbor against him.

"This may sound cruel, Sarah, but you know you aren't enough anymore. He isn't a little boy that just needs his mother. He is a soldier fighting a war. A war we have to win. He requires subordinates who will carry out his plans and follow him loyally. You may never fully trust me Sarah but I believe John does."

Ellison took a deep breath before continuing."I promise you one thing. John will never have reason to regret the faith he has put in me."

The force of Ellison's declaration had an almost physical impact on Sarah. It was one more confirmation that John had truly become the warrior she had wanted him to be. He was a leader. Men and machines rallied to him, supported him, even loved him. Instead of triumph, however, Sarah could not escape a weary feeling of sadness. She would always be his mother. John would always love her. But she would never again occupy the same central position in his life. John belonged to the cause and not to her. The sense of loss was achingly real.

Get your mind on something else, Sarah, she thought. Remember why you are here.

"Let's talk about Danny Dyson. Have you found out anything about him?"

Ellison looked relieved that the conversation had shifted to something more concrete.

"Actually, quite a bit."Ellison took a file from a desk drawer and pushed it over to Sarah."Danny Dyson is nineteen years old. He was, until he disappeared, a sophomore at Caltech on a full academic scholarship. His professors describe him as brilliant, perhaps even a genius. In fact, those that knew Miles Dyson think Danny mightbe intellectually superior to his father."

Sarah opened the file and looked at the photographs. She realized with a start how long it had been since she had seen Danny. The pictures including one that appeared to have been taken at his high school graduation showed a young man whose resemblance to his father had become more apparent. Tarissa was standing at his side gleaming with motherly pride and in that frozen moment without the deep sadness that had lurked in her eyes since Miles' death.

"Danny was following in his father's footsteps, studying computer technology and advanced software design. Shortly before he disappeared he had written a paper on knowledge acquisition programs that was nominated for a national student prize."

"When did he disappear?" Sarah asked.

"November 23 of last year. Just over a week after his paper was submitted to the competition board."

"You think there is a connection?"

"I can't be certain," Ellison answered, "and I don't want to speculate--at least not yet. I do know that the weekend before he vanished he drove into town to visit his mother, something he had not been doing regularly, and that this girl was with him." Ellison slid the picture to Sarah.

Sarah examined the photograph of an attractive young African-American woman, smiling happily for the camera.

"Who is she?"

"Angella Jessup, also a gifted student at Caltech and, according to young Dyson's friends, his inseparable companion for the last three months before he fell off the edge of the Earth."

"Is she..."

"Yes," Ellison anticipated the question, "she is missing as well."Ellison leaned forward in his chair. "The thing I find most surprising is that the missing person's report for Danny Dyson was filed by the University and not by his mother. My sources tell me that she hasn't even been particularly cooperative in the investigation. And there is a tap on her telephone line right now that was not placed there by any law enforcement agency."

Sarah looked again at the file and then at Ellison. "Impressive," Sarah conceded almost grudgingly. "You said you didn't want to speculate but do it anyway. Tell me what you think."

Ellison rose from his chair and began to pace across the room."My instinct, my gut, tells me that something frightened young Dyson. He came home with his girlfriend to talk to his mother and then he ran. He isn't missing, he is hiding. I think something was looking for him then and it is still looking."

For the first time Sarah heardthe fatigue in Ellison's voice. Following John Connor was not without cost. Everyone who chose that course would have a price to pay.

"You sound as if you have been working hard."

"Not nearly as hard as he may have to work."

Sarah and Ellison looked up as Catherine Weaver entered the room. She was displaying her best dress for success appearance--a delicately tailored blue suit, high. But not too high, heeled shoes, an expensive wristwatch, and a pair of diamond earrings that bespoke a restrained but elegant good taste. Catherine Weaver, Chairman of the Board and CEO, had crafted her image to perfection.

Ellison stood as Catherine entered his office. Even his awareness of her true nature could not overcome his ingrained habits of polite behavior.

"I hope your meeting with Mr. Murch was satisfactory."

Catherine looked quietly pleased. "Mr. Murch has been doing well. He has more than met my expectations. Let us hope that your security apparatus exhibits the same high quality."

Ellison glanced quickly first at Weaver and then at Sarah. "I think you will both find that we have put together an organization that satisfies the request John made of me."

Sarah looked at Catherine and a ghost of a smile bounced from one to the other. James Ellison had just reminded them in a not terribly subtle fashion that he worked for John and notfor them.

Helga, the cast-iron lady, stuck her head into the office. "Mr. Ellison, the section chiefs are assembled in the conference room."

Ellison nodded in response. "Mrs. Weaver, if you will come with me I will introduce you to the section chiefs of Zeira Corporation Security. I am sure you will find their reports interesting."

Sarah started to rise from her chair but Ellison held out his palm. "I think it would be better, Sarah, if you stayed here."

He reached over and turned on a television set resting on one of his file cabinets."This is a closed circuit feed from the conference room. You can see and hear everything. Those people don't know that they are working for John Connor. If one of them were to recognize you it would cause...complications."

Sarah knew instantly that Ellison's logic was unassailable. She sat back down and turned her attention to the television screen. Moments later the door to the room she was observing opened and Catherine, followed by Ellison, entered. The two men and one woman seated at the table rose. The briefing began.

*****

Sarah remembered what John had told Ellison. "I need a combined FBI, CIA,and Secret Service." Ellison had obviously tried to satisfy that request. The people sitting at the conference table were the embodiment of what John had asked.

Jacob Martin Duquesne, a tall, powerfully built man with gun-metal gray hair and fiercely probing dark eyes was a former navy seal and veteran of the CIA. A specialist in protective serviceshe had headed security operations for the presidents of twoparticularly violent countries and for an Italian judge threatened with assassination by the mafia. No one under his protection had ever been hurt. Those individuals who had challenged his skills had not been so fortunate. Duquesnewas Chief of Personal Security.

Elliot Martin Shaw, a small, balding man with ears so large they almost looked comic and thick, wire-framed glasses resembled either a displaced owl or an ineffectual college professor. He was neither. Shaw had served in the FBI for twenty years. An expert in internal affairs and interrogation techniques, he had recently served as a consultant with three large city police departments. Shaw was Chief of Data Acquisition. Marie Michelle Williams was an elegantly beautiful, tall, dark-haired woman who would not have looked out of place at the most elaborate and expensive society soirée. Fully aware of her own beauty, she had used it quite deliberately to infiltrate and undermine several European and South American terrorist organizations during her service with the CIA. Nicknamed Emma Peel by her admiring CIA colleagues, Rogers was Chief of Overseas Relations.

Sarah listened to the introductions with a growing sense of appreciation. A significant amount of money sat around the conference table. Talent of that caliber did not come cheap. John would be pleased, she thought. Ellison had givenhim the organization he wanted.

The briefing was even more impressive. On every issue, every company, every individual there was a ready response. Sarah felt her head was spinning from the sheer volume of information.File after file slid across the table to Catherine who carefully placed each one in a briefcase. John wasgoing to have a lot of reading to do when they got home.

******

"When are we going to go see Tarissa Dyson?" Sarah asked impatiently. Ellison rubbed the back of his neck and looked into the night outside his office window. "Soon," he said. "I like to wait until I'm sure that Murch is safely headed home before I leave."

As if on cue Helga was in the doorway to the outer office."Mr. Murch is on his way down. The security vehicles are waiting for him."

"Thank you, Helga. Would you have my car brought around please?"

As Helga left to deal with Ellison's request, Sarah looked at the empty doorway. "Your secretary works long hours," she observed.

“She won't leave until I do. I have tried to change her mind but she is...determined."

Loyalty, Sarah thought. This place oozes loyalty.

******

Tarissa Dyson still lived in the two level brick home she and Miles had built when he became an executive at Cyberdyne. Gateway Village was an upscale but not ostentatiously expensive development. It was the neighborhood wherethey wanted to raisetheir son. It was where she had raised Danny alone after Miles' death. It was where she still wanted to live even after Danny had left for Caltech. And from the perspective of Hector Jameson it was an entirely satisfactory residence located just across the street from the grove of trees that gave him a perfect place for covert observation.

Jameson still thought of himself as a private detective even if the licensing authority of the state of California took a different view. The pencil-necked bureaucrats could not understand that what they deemed to besexual harassment, misappropriation of funds, and witness tampering were all within the bounds of solid investigative techniques. At least tonight he was being paid as a detective and not as a third-rate paparazzi, an occupation that had generated most of his income of late. Five nights a week, he watched outside the Dyson woman's house between 8 and 12and photographed her visitors.

The problem was that the damned woman didn't have visitors. The bonus promised for photographs remained unpaid. No one came to the house. She never left. Hiding in the trees, clutching the camera he never got to use had become boring as hell. It was the boredom that almost caused him to miss the car pulling into the driveway.

It was an expensive car, a dark green Mercedes. A lot more than he could afford. Jameson swung his camera up and prepared to snap pictures. The driver got out, a large black guy, nice suit. Yeah right, Jameson thought, his kind would have that sort of car. The driver walked around and opened the front passenger door. A small redhead got out. Well, well, Jameson thought, that's Catherine Weaver. He had seen her on TV after that attack on her company--Zero Corporation, or something like that. He continued to snap pictures. The bonus gets paid tonight.

The black guy opened the rear door and a slim black-haired woman got out. She was kind of pretty and looked sort of familiar. He snapped a few more photographs before the revelation exploded on him.

HOLY ****!!!That's Sarah Connor!!The most wanted fugitive in California history. What was the reward on her? He couldn't remember but that didn't matter. It was a lot. And a lot was more than he had.

The three of them walked to the door and rang the bell. Jameson pushed the auto-shutter down and took picture after picture as Tarissa Dyson opened the door. In his view finder he could see the shock and then the resignation on the black woman's face as she motioned them inside. The door closed and Jameson smiled.

He reached into his coat pocket for his cell phone before remembering that he had left it in the car. He had angrily tossed it aside after arguing with his ex-wife about child support--unpaid child support. Hell, the kid probably wasn't even his. But that was all right now. His car was just up the block. Walking there would give him time to think. Who should he call first? The LAPD or whoever had the reward, his employer, the TV stations, the tabloids.... So much money to be made,so little time.

*****

Tarissa Dyson looked at her three unexpected guests and shook her head wearily. Sarah moved in more exalted company these days even with the police chasing her.

"I don't know why I should be surprised to see you Sarah. Whenever something bad happens to my family you are never far away."

"Tarissa, please." Sarah tried to keep her voice low. "I had nothing..."

Tarissa angrily interrupted. “I know! I know. You had nothing to do with my son's disappearance."

"I didn't!I didn't even know that Danny was missing until the FBI agent, Aldridge, told me when I was in jail."

"It will still be tied to you somehow, Sarah. It always is. And I suppose you are going to tell me you aren't here looking for Plato's Cave."

Sarah looked mystified. "Plato's Cave? What's that? I don't..."

For a split second Tarissa Dyson looked genuinely surprised. "You don't know. You really don't know do you?"

Sarah shook her head silently.

"The last time I saw Danny he and his girlfriend Angella got here about 9 PM. They both looked nervous, even scared. Angella stayed by the window as if she was looking for something and afraid she would see it. Danny went to his old room and started to search it almost frantically. When I asked what he was looking for, he said Plato's Cave."

For the first time Catherine spoke. "You still have not said. What is Plato's Cave?"

"Its just a game--a child's game. Milesdesigned itespecially for Danny as a present for his ninth birthday. Miles said it would help Danny learn advanced math. I hadn't seen it in years."

"Did Danny find it?" Sarah asked.

"No, and after he looked for almost an hour, he told me they had to leave. He hugged me and kissed my forehead. He hadn't done that since he was in high school. He promised he would call and he left with Angella.”

Tarissa had been pacing in an increasingly agitated state but now she stopped and looked directly at Sarah. "You have a son. You know when he is hiding something. I knew that night that Danny and Angella weren't going back to school...that they were running from something. But I let him go. I let him walk out my door and I haven't seen him since."

Sarah remembered the basement in the old Zeira Corporation. She remembered the despair she felt staring at the empty space where John had been. "Sometimes they go and you can't stop them."

Catherine tried to break themood of maternal anguish. "So you don't know where the game is?"

"I do now," Tarissa said. “I found it in a box of books in the attic, two weeks after he left."

"Where is it now?" Sarah tried to maintain an even tone.

Tarissa opened a large book of travel photographs lying on the coffee table. "Right here." She flipped a compact disk case to Sarah.

Sarah snatched the plastic case out of the air and examined it with a growing sense of wonder. On one side a cover showed an image of a fire burning in a cave. On the wall beyond the fire theshadows of men and animals drew theeye away from the blaze. Above the picture in block letters were the words PLATO'S CAVE. The other side of the case was blank except for two small typed sentences at the bottom. "Game design by Miles Dyson. Technical assistance by student intern, Andrew Goode."

Her hands were shaking when she handed the case to Weaver. "Catherine, look at that."

Catherine was equally transfixed. "This may well be it. This might be the link that ties Miles Dyson, Andrew Goode and Skynet together. John Henry needs to examine this as soon as possible."

"NO!"Tarissa jerked the case out of Catherine's hand and backed away. "This is mine! You aren't going to get it unless I get something in return."

"You want money?" Catherine asked.

"Don't be stupid!" Tarissa snapped. Catherine's eyes opened wide. She was not accustomed tobeing called stupid.

"I want my son back. I can't trust the police or the FBI or anyone else. In some strange way, Sarah, I know you and your friends are the only ones that would never betray him.So someone is going to promise me to bring my son back or no one gets this."

Sarah glanced at Catherine and realized she was about to take more forceful action. Suddenly Ellison intervened. He had notspoken since they entered the house but he had studied Tarissa intently. Somehow her anguish seemed to resonate with feelings of loss that he carried. Ellison stepped between Tarissa and Catherine. He looked directly into her eyes and spoke with all the quiet force he could muster. "Mrs. Dyson, Tarissa, I won't promise you that I will find Danny. But I will promise to look for him with every bit of skill I have and if we find him we will protecthim and bring him home to you."

Tarissa stared at Ellison for what seemed an eternity. No one moved in the room. Then Tarissa began to sob and sank down into a chair. She looked at James Ellison, nodded wordlessly and handed him the plastic case.

*****

As he opened the car door Hector Jameson made up his mind. Call the police first. The reward was for information leading to capture. Better get the cops here fast before she could leave.

Jameson fumbled for his cell phone, found it in the glow from the dome light and was preparing to dial when the voice spoke.

"Good evening." The tone was soft, almost gentle, but still somehow chilling in some undefinable way.

Jameson looked up to see a sharply dressed hispanic guy standing beside his car. In the diffusedglow from the dome light the man had an elegantly graceful appearance that Jameson almost envied. Almost.

"Who the hell are you, Chico?" Jameson snapped contemptuously. "What do you want?"

"My name is Emilio Garza. I have been asked to bring you greetings."

"Greetings?" Jameson was confused.

"Yes. Greetings from John Connor."

For a minute Jameson was still confused and then the name John Connor registered. He looked at Garza and saw the animation fade out of his eyes. Jameson no longer had a valid gun permit but he carried the pistol in the ankle holster anyway. Frantically, he reached for his gun. Too slow. Fartoo slow.

As he strolled casually up the sidewalk Garza twirled the camera by its neck strap. With his other hand he flipped open his cell phone and pushed the speed dial.

"Yes, Chola, it’s me. You may tell your friend that there was a problem but I have resolved it. I will see you soon."

Walking away from the street lights, Emilio Garza vanished into the darkness.

*****

John shoved his knight forward attempting to exert pressure in the middle of the board. Without hesitation John Henry immediately launched an exchange of pieces. At the end of the flurry of movement John's knight was gone and his positional advantage had ebbed away.

"So they are coming home tonight?" John asked.

"Yes, Mrs. Weaver actually sounded excited about some of the material they have acquired. She seemed to believe that we would both find it valuable.”

"Check," John announced, thrusting his queen onto a black diagonal.

John Henry smiled--that gentle, rueful expression that always preceded some thunderously effective countermove.

"A bit premature, don't you think, John?Perhaps somewhat overly aggressive?”

"Once in a while, John Henry, I would like to think that one of my moves could cause youat least some momentary distress."

"That may yet happen, John. But not tonight."

John Henry moved his bishop to block the checksimultaneously unmasking a rook to threaten one of John's exposed pawns. John Henry's positional advantage was about to become a material advantage as well.

"And please do not think you will achieve three repetitionstonight. I am alert to that as well."

John leaned back in his chair, looked at the board and laughed. "I didn't think I would get away with that again. It’s been my experience that a surprise attack only works once."

The teasing good humor left John Henry's face. "But if your plan is successful, once may be enough."

"Let's hope so," John answered. He studied the board for a prolonged period before looking up at his opponent. "Mate in seven?"

"Actually, I believe six," John Henry replied.

John stood and held out his hand. "I think I'm going to spare myself the humiliation. I resign."

John Henry shook his hand. "Better luck next time."

"Or the time after that, or the time after that.... But what does it matter if the field be lost so long as we maintain the unconquerable will and the couragenever to submit or yield?"

John Henry smiled broadly. "You have been reading Milton."

"Just enough to keep up with you my educated friend. Good night, John Henry."

*****

As John came up from the headquarters into the theater room, the last musical notes of the dancing penguin video were fading away. Cameron sat on the couch flanked on either side by Marissa and Savannah. Allison, comfortably nestled on Cameron's lap, still gazed at the television screen. She was too young to understand the story, but the color, movement, and music all enthralled her.

Standing in the doorway, John was suddenly overcome by a memory. Years ago, before the jump to the future, Sarah had ordered Cameron to help with some household chores. John remembered making a smart-aleck crack, something like "The most efficient killing machine ever designed and you've got her doing laundry."

An efficient killing machine.God, John thought, how had he ever been able to characterize Cameron so callously? How could he ever have dismissed the miracle she was so thoughtlessly? Of course she was a machine then. She still was. But she followed her heart and not some mechanically imposed programing. Why, he wondered, had it taken him so long to grasp that essential truth?

Cameron had heard him come up the steps. She turned her head and rewarded him with that special shy smile she reserved for him alone. "I think it’s time for little girls to go to bed, don't you John?”

*****

John rocked back and forth in the large wooden chair in Marissa and Allison's room. From beyond the closed bathroom door he could hear splashes of water, giggles, laughs, and occasionally Cameron's voice, soft but commanding. Evidently preparing two children for bed after a day of energeticplay was a fully interactive enterprise.

The door to the hallway opened and a smiling face framed by a mass of red hair peeked in. Seeing John in the chair she dashed up to him.

"I forgot to say thank you. Thank you for taking me to the park. I had a great time."

John leaned forward to hug her. "I’m glad you had fun. And you are very welcome Savannah."

Savannah stood on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.Then she winked. "Flametop," she whispered and hurried out of the room.

Almost simultaneously the bathroom door opened and Cameron came out leading Marissa by the hand and carrying Allison. Both girls were in their nightgowns and their hair was neatly combed. Cameron on the other hand looked slightly disheveled and even a little frazzled. For a moment it appeared as if her cyborg strength had been severely tested. But then she smiled broadly and deposited Allison in John's lap.

"Your turn," Cameron said.

"I don't hum, whistle, or sing," John said, grinning.

"Just rock, John. That will be enough."

It was. As the motion of the chair fell into a gentle rhythm, Allison followed the sensation into sleep. Still cradling her in his embrace, John glanced over at Marissa and Cameron.

Cameron was tucking the cover over the little girl when she raised up and whispered something. John could not hear the exchange, but he could see a sudden change in Cameron's facial expression. She leaned forward, whispered a response, and kissed Marissa on the cheek.

Moments later they switched off the overhead bedroom light leaving only the faint glow of a child's nightlight in the room. John thought again, almost involuntarily, of little Sarah clinging to her battered doll. As if talking to Marissa and Allison he whispered softly. "Remember today," he pleaded. "Never forget what it is like to play in the sun."

Cameron had taken his hand to lead him to their room when he abruptly stopped.

"What were you and Marissa whispering about?" Cameron looked up at him and for the second time today he could see the glistening sheen of tears in her eyes.

"She asked if it would be all right if she called me mommy."

John cupped Cameron's face in his hands and lightly kissed her. He did not need to ask what her answer had been.

*****

A/N: Lest anyone from San Francisco be upset with me, let me acknowledge that there is no Vista Heights Park. It is a fictional creation blending attributes of two other parks in the city.



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