Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 11

Kyle was woken up by a commotion downstairs, and his gun was in his hand before his eyes were even open. He woke up like that most days, back in the future, and it took a moment to realize that he’d slept in a comfortable bed with a down comforter instead of curled up in the trenches, or on the cold floor of a concrete bunker. When he was satisfied that the sounds he was hearing were just conversation, he pulled on a pair of jeans and a white t-shirt and tried to take his time and calm his nerves. He was halfway down the stairs when he realized that it was a conversation between more than just Sarah and Derek.

When he went into the kitchen, he had to blink a half dozen times before he believed his eyes. There were more than a dozen men and women standing around, almost all of them with familiar features. In the center of them was Sarah.

“Good, you’re awake,” she said as he walked in. “You should have told me that I die of cancer. It really had a good chance to fuck up my plan.”

“Who are all these people?” asked Kyle with a stunned look on his face, though he thought that he knew.

“Your brothers and sisters,” Sarah replied. “And a few of my sons and daughters as well.”

“You’ve lost me, and not for the first time,” said Kyle. He noticed Derek sitting at a counter near the back with a bewildered expression on his face.

“Okay, so do you remember my theory from last night that Skynet was effectively spending whole timelines to trick us into doing research for it or accidentally build a better Skynet?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Kyle, feeling dumb.

“Well, Derek came from the future because we failed in our mission,” said Sarah. She had an empty cup of coffee next to her, and looked like she hadn’t slept all night, despite her energy. Based on the glow on the horizon, it was just before dawn. “And Skynet’s whole plan, from what I can tell, was simply to get us to deliver it different versions of Skynet. It’s not just sending Terminators back to provide security, it’s leveraging whole timelines to get more research out of us, brute forcing on a massive scale. Every Terminator it sends back has more information, and if there are really a thousand of them in the past, then Skynet’s got thousands of years of research time stolen from humanity. I can only imagine that humans work better when we’re working for our freedom, otherwise it would just keep us in slave camps. Or maybe it’s doing both, for all I know. Anyway. Its whole plan is to get us to build a better Skynet – and one that’s aligned with the goals of Skynet. So it wants us to bring these drives to it in order to birth a new Skynet that can more effectively conform to the utility functions – and I would guess that it’s clustering around now because it can’t undo the nuclear war, and maybe thinks that a better Skynet would want to avoid that – it’s keeping options open for the counterparts that it wants us to hand it.

“If I don’t trust Derek’s future society to have gotten Skynet v2.0 right, then I certainly don’t trust Skynet v1.0 to get the evaluation process right in the slightest. So what we needed to do was to start spending timelines like Skynet has been doing. I told myself that whatever you two did, I would weather Judgment Day and spend my time analyzing Skynet program for weakness or flaws that could be dangerous. And I further told myself that if and when we got time travel from the future, I would use it to send hand-picked soldiers and scientists back to me to repeat the process until I got it right.” She gestured to the room full of people. “And clearly that’s just what happened, because I’ve got a dozen timelines worth of people here, all of them trusted. Of course, it would have taken an incredible amount of operational security to get it done, so I resolved to never tell anyone about the plan until my own son or daughter was ready, or I met a Reese I could trust, because if Skynet had ever heard of it, it would have gone all-out against us.”

“I see,” said Kyle. “So we’re engaging in an assault of the military base with all these people?”

“Yes and no,” replied Sarah. “I’ve got a lot of pots boiling right now. In about -” She looked down at her watch. “- fifteen minutes we’re going to be getting a big ball of time travel in or around the backyard which will give us information on whether or not the assault succeeded. Or we won’t get any message from the future, which means that we’re in the original timeline, or that the assault ended so badly that we weren’t able to send a message at all.”

“Okay,” said Kyle. “You should get some sleep.”

“Didn’t I just say fifteen minutes?” asked Sarah. She frowned at him.

“Change it to four hours from now?” asked Derek from across the room. “Please, you’re not at your peak right now, and as much as I’m sure all the brethren here are itching to get moving, there’s really no rush. We’ve got quite a bit of the resistance sitting here, but only one of you.” Whether something had been said between the two of them, or it had simply been the arrival of help from the future, Derek had softened considerably.

Sarah nodded slowly. “Four hours, nothing more.” She moved decisively towards the hallway, then turned back behind her. “Kyle, come with me, there’s something that we need to discuss.”

With a feeling of trepidation, he followed behind her until they got to one of the bedrooms, which was dominated by a four-poster bed and French windows that led out into the garden. When he stepped inside, she reached past him and pulled the door shut, then turned the lock.

“How much did you talk with Kyle II, the one we’re calling Derek?” asked Sarah. She was much closer to him than she’d been before, close enough that she had to look up to meet his eyes.

“Um,” said Kyle, “We compared notes.”

“And did he tell you who John’s father was in his timeline?” asked Sarah.

“Ah,” said Kyle, “He mentioned it.” He could feel himself blushing.

“All those people in the kitchen have been filling me in,” said Sarah. “And it appears to me that you and I are quite an item in a large number of these future timelines. In fact, in nearly all of them. They were having a laugh about it.”

“Ah,” Kyle said again. He didn’t trust his voice not to crack if he tried to speak with her.

“That pisses me off,” said Sarah. She backed away from him.

“Ah?” asked Kyle.

“It pisses me off because in the timeline that Kyle II is from, you had sex with me and then left me alone to raise a child. And it pisses me off because in timeline – let’s call it timeline four, the one that we were in last night before the family showed up – you were ready to go on a suicide mission and leave me completely alone.” She put her hands on her hips. “So while this is somewhat selfish, I want you to promise not to abandon me. No going on that mission with them. If they fail, I want you to stay with me and ride out Judgment Day. We’ll start the resistance before Judgment Day rears its ugly head, and send more men and women back to us until this plan actually works.”

“I would do anything for you,” said Kyle.

“But not that?” asked Sarah.

“No, including that,” said Kyle. He was tripping over his words, and felt like an inarticulate moron, but the Sarah Connor of legend had always made people feel that way. He was starting to think that perhaps the legends had been downplaying her achievements.

“Oh,” she said with a frown. “Well then, good.” She went over and laid down on the bed. “Come lay with me until I fall asleep then?”

Kyle laid down beside her, and tentatively placed his arm around her. He felt an intense surge of gratitude when she leaned into him.

“I’m not rushing into anything,” said Sarah. “I barely even know you. But I trust the judgment of my alternate selves. And if you’re smitten with me, just know that I’m going to move at my own pace. I like you, but don’t expect to be siring the savior of mankind right away.”

“Anything for you,” repeated Kyle.

She turned towards him and kissed him on the lips. Kyle kissed her back, tasting her tongue as it entered his mouth and pressing his body up against hers. After a few minutes she pulled back and stared into his eyes. For a moment it seemed like she would go further, but instead she curled up against him and closed her eyes. A short while later she was asleep.

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Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 11

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