The roar of the air mixed with the enormous propellers of the plane made hearing nearly impossible without a headset. Skynet's enormous core, dim whilst disconnected from its main power source, was strapped down to the floor of the cargo bay. A platoon of soldiers stood or sat around it, all heavily armed and bored out of their minds. Two soldiers sat beside each other, away from the main group, their rifles resting over their laps.
The first soldier turned towards his companion, pointing to the headset they both wore. He flipped the radio to a different channel than the rest of the platoon, the other soldier doing the same.
“There hasn't been a confirmation message yet.” The first of the two said, “They should have sent a signal over thirty minutes ago.”
The second sighed, glancing back at the core, narrowing his eyes. He looked back over to the other man, and spoke into his headset.
“Something might've gone wrong. I think we should wait. John would-”
“John isn't here. He didn't give us a contingency plan to deal with his possible failure at the convoy.”
The soldier swallowed, looking back around the interior of the plane. Thoughts mulled through his head as he tried to come up with a plan, and for the first time, completely on his own. A few seconds of silence passed between the two, until he finally spoke.
“Kill them all.”
“Control of the vehicle will be compromised if speed is increased any further. Even if I did go faster, we will not be able to reach NORAD before the cargo plane does.”
Kyle shook his head, cursing as he looked out at the rapidly passing hills, the trees growing more and more sparse as the soil slowly changed colors. He glanced at Pops, then shifted in the passenger chair, turning around, looking to the back seat.
John was laying across the entire back seat, arms wrapped tightly around his own body as he shook. His face was contorted in pain, the only sounds he made being the occasional sharp gasp for air. Kyle's jacket was still over him, only able to cover John down to his knees. Sarah's hand was on John's shoulder, the taller man's head resting over her lap as she looked down at him. She'd gone quiet since joining him in the back, expression stern and somber as she stroked his hair absentmindedly.
“How much time until the plane gets there?” Kyle asked quietly, leaning between the two front seats so he could keep his voice down.
John glanced up at him, gray waves of metallic pinpricks rising and falling over his face as he spoke.
“An hour and a half. But – I told Skynet we would send a confirmation signal. If he doesn't get it he's – I don't know what he'll do. There's a 50/50 chance,” John paused, wincing, “A 50/50 chance he'll wait, or he'll come up with something. I don't think he'll start Judgment day yet, not while I'm out here.”
“You really think he's going to wait to make sure you're okay? He's a machine, he's Skynet, John,” Sarah said, squeezing his shoulder, expression hard. “He doesn't care.”
“He's more human than you think. If any of this was so black and white, it wouldn't be this way – he wouldn't be afraid of dying in the first place.”
Sarah closed her eyes, resting her head against the window as she pulled the jacket closer around John. Kyle turned back around, looking over at Pops.
“Well either we get there in time or the missiles start flying.” He grumbled, crossing his arms and looking back out at the landscape that sprawled out around them. Pops didn't respond, keeping his eyes on the road and foot on the gas.
Two hours passed, the terrain turning into a flat, arid stretch of low hills and sparse trees. Kyle was asleep in the passenger's seat, somehow finding the ability to nap in the face of impending armageddon. Sarah continued to keep John's head in her lap, the man now laying on his back, looking up at her.
“What are you thinking about?” John asked quietly. Sarah's attention was on the desert that spanned out around them, and she looked down slowly as John spoke.
“Everything.” She said quietly, “All of this. None of this has gone according to plan. Nothing is going the way it was supposed to.”
“That could be a good thing, mom.”
“Please – John, don't call me that.” Sarah said quietly, shaking her head. “It's not that I don't – I don't hate you, it's not that.” She stammered for the right words, shaking her head. “I don't know why it makes me feel wrong to hear it. I don't know what's wrong with me.”
“Nothing's wrong with you.” John answered back, reaching up to wrap his own hand around Sarah's, holding it loosely. “None of us were ever ready for this. None of this was ever fair to me, or you, or Kyle.”
“It doesn't matter if it's fair or not John, it's what we have to do, it's necessary.”
“Not all of it.” John said quietly, staring at her. Sarah looked down at him, a frown slowly spreading across her face.
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“You aren't obligated, Sarah. You don't owe the world anything that you aren't ready to give.”
Sarah tilted her head just barely, confused at John's words. She followed his quick glance to Pops, the old terminator silent as he drove. John placed his attention back on Sarah, the slow creep of understanding beginning to move across her face as she gave a small single nod.
“But what about you?” She whispered, knowing Pops could still hear her, but finding herself comforted by the gesture anyway.
“Look at me.” John said tiredly, squeezing Sarah's arm. “I don't want this. It's never going to stop unless something changes. Just because this,” He vaguely gestured towards himself with his free hand, “Was the first choice doesn't mean it was the right one. There are other roads you can take, Sarah. This one just keeps leading down the same path and it's just a loop, you have to break free of it.”
Sarah squeezed John's hand, pulling him closer up against her, scooting down so she could rest his head against her shoulder. She wrapped both arms around him, rubbing his upper arm slowly.
“I'm sorry all of this happened to you.” John said quietly, closing his eyes. Sarah brought a hand to rest against the back of his head, staring down as she grew stoic, working to hide whatever emotions that had suddenly washed up. “I'm sorry you never got to have the life you deserved.”
“It wasn't your fault,” She answered back softly, “None of this is anyone's fault.”
A sudden, sharp metallic scrape reverberated out of John's chest, the man suddenly arching up and writhing, nearly striking Sarah in the face with his elbow. She was an entire foot shorter than him, barely reaching his shoulders, and as he seized, Sarah nearly found herself buried underneath him.
“John – John!”
Kyle awoke at Sarah's shouts, turning around quickly and immediately unbuckling his seatbelt.
“What-” Sarah gasped, grimacing at the oily black resin that was bleeding out from John's skin, “God what is this?!”
“Nano-resin. The same substance that makes up the phase matter in John Connor's altered form.” Pops explained, glancing into the rear-view mirror briefly.
“What's happening to him?” Sarah asked, wrapping her arm over John's chest, attempting to keep him still. Kyle crawled between the two front seats, reaching the back, planting himself down between the back seats and front, holding John's legs down.
“A cascading systems failure, brought on by errors in regenerative programming. This occurred when the magnetic field tore his body apart on a molecular level.”
Sarah glanced to Pops as he spoke, then looked back down at John. The man's eyes had rolled back into his head, black resin pouring steadily from his mouth, nose and ears. She winced, and wrapped both arms around him tightly, holding him close.
“It's alright,” She said quietly, “It's alright John, I'm right here.”
Sarah looked over at Kyle, the two staring at each other, exhausted and grim. They broke eye contact after a few seconds, Kyle sighing as he held on to John tighter, bowing his head. Sarah held John's head close against her shoulder, speaking quietly to him. She stared vacantly ahead, so many emotions roiling around in her head that she couldn't figure out which one to feel.
Eventually John calmed, blinking rapidly as his vision returned, looking around. Sarah looked down, relieved as she let out a sigh, beginning to wipe the remaining resin off of John's face with her palm.
“Hey.” She said, smiling down at him, “You feel better?”
“No...” He groaned, although a slight grin crept to the side of his mouth.
“Well you look better, at least.” Sarah muttered, wiping the remaining resin off of his chin and neck with a piece of fabric she'd torn off of her shirt.
“You mean having a seizure in the back of a car, covered in black goo isn't a handsome look?” John breathed, instinctively trying to catch his breath, even though there were no lungs to appreciate the effort.
Sarah glanced at him, a wry look on her face as she helped him lean back against her. “I'd go for a blazer at least, maybe a pair of chinos.”
“I like chinos.” John agreed, letting Sarah pick away at him, fixing his hair and jacket collar. He felt his legs move and looked down the back seat, watching as Kyle lifted them so he could sit down, letting John's legs rest over top of his knees.
“You think you've got it in you to confront Skynet?” Kyle asked quietly, “That might be what it comes down to at this point.”
John stared ahead, eyes drifting away from Kyle as he considered the others words.
“I know I do but part of me is going to struggle with it. I have my free will back, but, all of the emotions I had before, they're still there. Second-unit -I mean, the T-1000 back there. I'm still upset over him dying, even though all of Skynet's programming has been erased. I still care about Skynet too. It'll be like killing my own son, but I know that I have to.”
“...Well you wouldn't be the first one, John.” Sarah said quietly, rubbing his back. He looked over to her, nodding slightly.
“I understand, but, it would be better if one of you took the initiative to do it. I might not even make it up the stairs at this point. The other T-1000 is there with him, and he's going to be dangerous. Maybe even more than Second-unit back there. They had an emotional attachment, and he's going to be upset.”
“Emotional attachment?” Kyle sputtered, “You mean those liquid metal things have feelings too?”
“On equal or greater level of an 800 series if you give them the time. Their neural networks are almost as advanced as mine, but with some specific downgrades, and upgrades in sensory areas. They have a much better understanding of how they're perceived by people and they adjust their behavior accordingly - it's really something.”
“We are reaching the mountain base. Expect blockades and road...” Pops stopped mid-sentence, narrowing his eyes as he leaned forward slightly.
Mt.Cheyenne was ahead of them, but a pillar of black smoke was rising from the northern face, the glow of an enormous fire visible even from miles away. Pops kept his eyes on the smoke until he noticed the first of several security stations ahead of them on the road.
Sarah and Kyle sat up, John slowly pushing himself up as well to sit between them, all three turning their heads in unison to look at the guard station they passed. The booth was empty, a control panel for the lowered gate deactived.
“Something's wrong.” Kyle said quietly, climbing out of the car and walking towards the booth. Sarah and John both scooted to the door, watching him.
Walking into the booth, Kyle noticed a telephone receiver, and lifted it up to his ear. He frowned, setting it back down on its base, and searched around the small square station for whatever else he could find.
“There's nothing in here! The phone isn't working either.” He said, walking back to the car. “There should've been at least...four or six guards posted here I'd think. There's no blood either, or bodies.”
“Pops just get us there.” Sarah said darkly as soon as Kyle was back in the car. Pops slammed his foot on the gas pedal, the car lurching forward and smashing through the small toll-booth gate. He sped along the narrow road, small dots beginning to appear along the landscape between them and the mountain.
“John...” Sarah whispered, spotting the dead bodies of soldiers and guards, pools of blood beneath them. Some had merely been stabbed, others decapitated or vivisected lengthwise gruesomely. She placed a hand over her mouth, staring at the carnage as they passed it by.
“It's safe to bet that whoever is inside is dead.” John said quietly, looking at the bodies. “The main entrance gate is located on the eastern slope. Take a right up at the next fork.”
They continued driving for some time, reaching the eastern slope of the mountain where a massive archway was waiting for them, a tunnel beyond it leading to a pair of thick blast doors. A pair of corpses was left at the gates, guns remaining at their sides, blood glistening like pools of black oil in the dark. The lights that would have normally illuminated the tunnel had been deactivated, the only source now coming from the outdoor sunlight.
“Any way we can get those open?” Sarah asked, looking at the enormous blast doors ahead of them.
Pops slowed the car, turning it off and getting out. The other three all mulled out as well, Kyle opening the trunk and beginning to arm himself. Sarah joined him, the two silently loading themselves up with as much weaponry as possible.
John and Pops walked up to the blast doors, examining the panels on either side of the wall, turning back to look at each other.
“Power's cut, going to have to open them manually.” John said, backing away to look up at the tall metal doors.
“Are you capable?” Pops asked, looking over at him. John grinned, shrugging as he approached the left door.
“Well I was able to kick your ass pretty good back at the hospital, I'm sure I can open a door or two.”
Pops gave him a flat look, John's grin widening as he chuckled. The old terminator joined him at the left door, both of them finding good grips along metal poles that acted as extra supports welded to the front of the doors. They began to pull, John wincing and narrowing his eyes, feet digging into the ground. Pops struggled as well, the few joints that remained in his chassis groaning quietly beneath the sheath of poly-alloy that surrounded them. Gray nanites rose and swarmed from John's back, spiking up and coiling around his arm before calming and disappearing beneath the skin. The two finally began to move backwards, the massive blast door pulling back with their combined efforts.
Sarah and Kyle watched close by, Kyle's rifle raised as he prepared for anything that might've been waiting for them on the other side.
The two terminators were able to get the door opened just enough for Pops, easily the broadest of them, to slip through. John backed away from the door, Sarah lugging the enormous Barrett over to him, offering it over. John took the huge rifle, thanking her, checking the magazine and chambering the first round.
“Are you ready?” John asked, looking over at Sarah while Pops and Kyle wedged their way between the narrow gate opening.
“Are you?” She returned. John grunted, looking ahead, and walked towards the door, holding his rifle against him lengthwise and sliding through. Sarah was close behind, leaving just the empty car and the corpses of the door guards to keep it company.