Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 12

Derek sat on a stool next to the counter, sipping from a glass of orange juice. There was a bottle of fifty-year-old scotch sitting among other delicacies that was sorely tempting, but he wouldn’t be able to fulfill his role as a soldier if he were drunk, and besides that, orange juice was delicacy enough. He looked over at the family, people that he was in strange way related to. They’d come in over the past few hours in drips and drabs, the first a naked girl, and the later ones in twos and threes, fully clothed and toting weapons and equipment. He’d spoken with them and Sarah, enough to get confused, but now he sat alone with his thoughts.

“Hey,” said one of the family, a girl his own age that looked like a younger version of Sarah Connor. She was the one that had come through the back door without any clothes on; now she wore a yellow sundress that was a little too tight on her. She looked like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “You’re sitting by yourself over here, huh? Didn’t want to share in the stories about how things went in your future?”

“You guys are speaking your own language. And from what I can gather, shouldn’t you already know all this stuff?” asked Derek.

“No,” said the girl. “You died where I’m from.” She reached forward and took a swallow from his glass of orange juice. “Apparently not in the other timelines though, since me being here was enough to get you to stop your suicide mission. So you’re welcome for that.”

“I can’t imagine having Sarah Connor as my mother,” said Derek.

“Right, because in your timeline she made a tactical error that got most of humanity killed,” said Able.

“She said she’d rather die than be a slave. It wasn’t a tactical error, it was suicide.”

“Maybe,” said Able. “You have a little more faith in her now that she’s spent a half dozen timelines getting us here, right? You’re going from a suicide mission to something that might actually be winnable, plus the hundred odd years of thought that were put into Skynet v3.0. You can’t tell me that doesn’t make you feel good.”

“It does,” Derek admitted. “So you’re the leader of the resistance, taking John’s place?”

“Sure,” said Able. “It’s easy to be a leader when you’ve got foreknowledge and a mom like Sarah pushing you. Of course, part of the plan was to get a diverse team of specialists going, so I got stuck with a lot of expert level knowledge in computer programming.”

“And you just come to this place, like magic,” said Derek with a frown. “Not the time travel I mean, but … it’s like she conjured you guys up from thin air to prove some kind of point.”

“Hardly. I mean, she does love to prove herself to people, but it took a lot of willpower on her part. Saying goodbye to mom was difficult for us both. If she’d asked me to stay, I might have. And if I had asked her if I could not go, and continue the good fight with her, I think maybe she would have.” Able frowned into the empty glass. “And now all these brats, who are as old or older than I am, think that I’m someone that I’m not, an old woman that they grew up with. Sarah’s taking it in stride, letting us call her mom, but as she is now, she’s never been around kids, and she doesn’t know the connection that any of us have with her. She’s a lot better at faking it than I am though.” Able had been staring off into the distance as she talked, but when she was done she turned towards Derek. “We’ve got a much better chance with as many people as we have. Are you in?”

“Why not just hand the drive over?” asked Derek. “Wasn’t Sarah saying that Skynet was harvesting us for new versions of itself anyway? Why not just mail it the drive and save ourselves the trouble of fighting our way through wave after wave of terminators?”

“We already tried that, according to the boys from timelines six and up. Skynet has some sort of selection criteria for what replacements it will accept, and either we’re not passing the right tests, or we’ve fouled up our new versions of Skynet so badly that the outcome is largely the same,” said Able. “The former seems much more likely.”

“And why aren’t we just waiting for a hundred more people?” asked Derek.

“Opsec,” said Able. “Every timeline we burn up getting people back here introduces the risk that Skynet captures someone and interrogates them into revealing information about this staging base. Being secure in the present means never giving away your secrets in any possible future, as mom always said.” Derek turned to the side and watched some of the family gathering up Sarah’s papers and setting fire to them in a metal trash can.

“She got this all figured out in the space of a couple hours?” asked Derek.

“There’s a reason that John Connor was the resistance leader in the first place, and I can tell you right now that it’s got nothing to do with something intrinsic to John Connor,” said Able. “Goddamn that orange juice was good. If you don’t mind me, I’m going to eat this gangster out of house and home before the family realizes what’s on offer.” She patted him on the leg as she hopped up and began snooping through the cabinets.

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Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 12

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