Derek came downstairs to see Sarah sitting at the kitchen table, with papers arranged around her. She had her pen in her mouth, and glanced up only briefly to look at him. Aside from the papers, which were filled with her handwriting, a stack of disorganized clothing sat piled up at the far end of the table.
“Morning,” said Sarah.
“It’s four in the morning,” said Derek.
Sarah turned around to look out the glass doors behind her. “So it is. It feels like I’ve been working for longer than that.” She took a drink of tepid coffee and grimaced. “The time travel machine, it doesn’t work perfectly? There’s some variance to it?”
“Yes,” said Derek. He watched her closely. Hard to believe that her hardheadedness had led to a Holocaust in his time. Hard, but not impossible.
“In time, space, or both?” asked Sarah.
“Both,” replied Derek. She seemed satisfied with this answer, but added, “The variance in time seems to be on the order of hours, while the variance in space is about half a mile but confined more or less to the skin of the Earth. That’s what they told me, anyway. It could be that they just didn’t want to say that there was a good chance that I was going to be buried alive or start hurtling towards the ground when I came in.”
“Can it go to space?” asked Sarah.
“Space?” asked Derek.
“It’s a teleporter as well as a time machine, it basically has to be, so unless you’re just straight up running code from the future that you don’t understand – which you might be – it should be possible to use the machine to get to the surface of the Moon, for example,” said Sarah.
“Sure,” said Derek, “I guess. Where you would promptly died without a space suit.”
“Right,” said Sarah. “The whole naked thing. Okay, just curious.” She glanced over at the clock on the kitchen stove, then stood up from her chair and walked over to flip on the porch lights. When they came on, they revealed a naked woman, who covered her eyes with one hand and squinted at them.
“What the fuck!” said Derek. He pulled his handgun out and aimed it straight at her with one smooth motion. “What the fuck,” he said again, looking between the woman and Sarah then back again.
Heedless of the gun, the woman began walking towards the them. She was young, certainly less than twenty, and she had a long scar running from her collarbone down the side of her left breast. Her nose was crooked, obviously broken at some point in the past, but she was pretty, in the way that the men and women that Derek fought alongside in the future were. Her imperfections were the only reason that he didn’t shoot her. She opened the door into the kitchen and walked inside.
“Hello Able,” said Sarah with a smile.
“Hi mom,” said the girl.
“Someone want to clue me into what’s happening here?” said Derek. He hadn’t lowered his gun. The girl that Sarah had called Able went to work sorting through the clothing, eventually picking out a sundress. She’d been carrying a small package wrapped in plastic that she placed on the table.
“Derek Reese, meet Able Connor, my daughter,” said Sarah.
“How?” asked Derek. He lowered his gun to his side and then reluctantly slipped it into the holster at his side.
“It’s called a Preston-Logan attack,” said Sarah. Able had slipped into the dress and was sitting at the table with her hands folded, watching the two of them. “Able, you know the code words?”
“Yes mom,” said Able.
“Flash,” said Sarah.
“Thunder,” replied Able.
“Potato,” said Sarah.
“Minx,” replied Able.
“Saturn,” said Sarah.
“Petunia,” replied Able.
“Good enough for me,” said Sarah. She turned back to Derek. “Questions?”
“Explain,” said Derek. “I’m not in the mood for games.”
“You’ll forgive me for being a bit smug,” said Sarah, “Considering that I just moved our game against Skynet up a level. Skynet is dumb very quickly, you said, and now we’re smart for a very long time.”
“You’re not explaining,” said Derek.
“Able?” asked Sarah. “I’ve been thinking about this for the past three hours, but you hopefully know it better than I do.”
“Sure,” said Able. Despite the fact that she must have come from the future, she looked completely comfortable in her surroundings. More than anything, she reminded Derek of John Connor, the man who helped to clean up his mothers mistakes. “In timeline one, humanity is losing the war. Kyle Reese goes back in time to get Sarah’s help fixing Skynet, and to make sure that she still sires John Connor, the leader of the resistance. She doesn’t believe him, he goes to jail, and so on and so forth. You should know all this. Timeline two, a terminator comes back to kill them both. Timeline three, you come back to get Kyle’s help and make sure that Skynet v2.0 goes live.
“You assault Camp Barstow with the other Kyle, you both die in the process, my mother – after a brief liaison with a police officer who ended up being too nice for Judgment Day – has me, I learn everything that I can about computer programming and artificial intelligence, and eventually we learn how to travel through time because Skynet hands us the schematics. Mom pulls me aside and tells me that I need to meet up with the three of you, and here we are.” She sat back and looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “She planned for this. She said to herself, ‘I need these things now, so I intend to do these things in the future.’ And in timeline three, she didn’t get what she wanted, so she spent the next thirty years making it a reality.” She stood up. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some intelligence secreted about my person that I’m going to retrieve in a bathroom.” She stalked off down the hallway, and Derek was left with his mouth hanging open.
“So you just … wished for it and it happened?” asked Derek.
“No,” said Sarah. “It took far, far more than that. It took a lifetime of working towards a single part of the plan. You can’t wish for something that you wouldn’t actually provide for yourself. Think about this – in timeline three, I said goodbye to my daughter, knowing that I would never see her again. I had to have the will to do that, the will to sacrifice that bond to help a version of myself that I was separated from by twenty years or more.”
“Wait,” said Derek, “That still doesn’t make sense to me. How did you know her name? The time and place are easy enough, I saw you look at the clock and you could give her the location of the house easy enough, but you said yourself that thing about the sperm and the egg, so shouldn’t she have had an equal chance to come out a boy?”
“I’m naming my children after the American phonetic alphabet,” said Sarah. “Baker and Charlie should be along shortly.” She glanced at the clock, and as if on cue – perhaps literally on cue – a group of three men stepped through the bushes at the back of the property and made their way towards the house. They dressed in combat fatigues and carried hard plastic cases with them.
“Hi mom,” said the middle one when they were inside. He was older than the others, perhaps in his thirties, just like John had been. He kissed her on the cheek. “I brought the Reese brothers with me.” Derek looked between the two of them. He could see the family resemblance.
“Baker was in charge of hacking the time machines,” said Sarah. “And apparently it worked, if the three of you came at once with your clothing intact.”
“There are still energy limits,” said Baker. “I cut it down a bit, once I got past some of the obfuscations, but there are still exponential limits past which it’s not feasible. You were right though, the limit on flesh only was a useful lie that Skynet sold us.” He looked around. “Where’s aunt Able?”
“Fishing out some files,” said Sarah.
“I’m never going to let her live that down,” said Baker. He stalked off into the house, leaving the two Reese brothers behind.
“I’m Kyle,” said one of them after a moment, holding his hand out towards Derek. Derek shook it hesitantly. “This is my brother Derek. Which means we have three Kyles and one Derek, and you’re already calling yourself Derek, which only confuses matters. Mom was really consistent about the names, unfortunately.”
“How many more are there going be?” Derek asked Sarah.