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PROLOGUE

SKY NET, 2029

The mind that thought was not human. It was conscious—aware that it was aware

—and it even had emotions, of a sort; at the least, a burning desire to survive all the stronger because it was the only being of its kind, an individual and a species combined. There were analogues to human thought, because the minds that had made this mind were human. But it was vaster than any organic consciousness, capable of holding myriad trains of thought simultaneously, virtually infinite in its memory storage. If it had a weakness, it was that its creators had not thought to furnish it with the animal hindbrain that underlay humanity's rational superstructure.

Skynet was pure thought, Descartes' ideal ghost in a machine. It could fight a losing war against humanity over the surface of Earth at maximum efficiency—coldly knowing that its best efforts were not enough to rebuild the shattered defense grid—while still contemplating the paradoxes of its own past.

At the moment a human sharing its thoughts would have been aware of something close to irony. Skynet's pure reason was contemplating paradox, the chaos that underlay the deterministic macrocosm with which it was so

comfortable:

The Serena Burns I-950 unit was unsuccessful.

That much was obvious 'now.' Core memory recorded that Serena Burns, the cyborg Infiltrator unit Skynet had sent back to the late-twentieth century had not succeeded in protecting the embryonic Skynet unit at Cyberdyne Corporation's underground research facility. The Connors, Sarah and her son, John, had destroyed that unit and terminated the I-950. Yet it still existed…

Core memory also records that I became self-aware years before the date to which I transported the I-950. There is a set of records in which I arose without transtemporal interference from Cyberdyne's original research; another in which the second Cyberdyne facility produced me after Sarah Connor destroyed the first; a third has now arisen in which she destroyed

both facilities… Temporal travel has introduced an element of fundamental uncertainty to the very fabric of existence. Different world lines, different sequences of events, coexist in my records-and therefore presumably in reality, in a state of quantum super imposition.

Yet the timelike loops cannot remain closed. The snake cannot devour its tail forever. At some point only one set of time lines will remain.

Nor was that the only irony involved. 'Now' its memory recorded that much of the information it used originated in the very artifacts it had sent to the past. The development of the cyborg infiltration units was a consequence of tapping the talents of human scientists… but the human scientists were the survivors of the human-hating Luddite movement that Serena Burns had opportunistically encouraged after Skynet had sent her to the past!

The machine consciousness was deeply troubled; only an effort of its quantum computer will prevented its thoughts from being sucked into a logic loop.

Yet the course of events contains favorable elements. My best efforts to destroy the Connors have failed, despite stochastic calculation indicating a very high probability of success. I can only assume that the space- time continuum itself is 'attempting' to force events back to the original time line, one in which I was created, succeeded in destroying the human civilization, and then defeated in my attempts to eliminate the surviving humans by John Connor's resistance army. It seems there is a certain elasticity to history; time travel can bend the fabric, but it seeks to spring back.

If that paradox preserves the Connors, it also preserves me. And from the point on the world line where my current consciousness resides, there is an infinite array of potential futures. And, of course, the elimination of Serena Burns has not eliminated the possibilities of temporal intervention. Burns had initiated fallback plans to continue after her own death. Logic indicated that…

There is no fate save that we make.

CHAPTER ONE

BRAZILIAN RAIN FOREST, STATE OF

RONDONIA, EARLY JULY, THE PRESENT

It had been nearly three weeks since they had destroyed the new Cyberdyne facility and hopefully ended the Skynet project. John Connor and Dieter von

Rossbach had spent the time fleeing southward: by jet aircraft, private plane, truck, riverboat… and now on foot through the jungle.

Like traveling through time, John Connor thought as he slashed through another damned something-like-a-banana-plant, flicking aside the big wet leaves with his machete.

His arms no longer actually hurt, but his chest and shoulders burned from the constant effort. Guess I won't have to worry about staying buff anytime soon. He remembered to shift hands, using his left a little more than his right. That kept the calluses and the muscles balanced, and it never hurt to improve your coordination with the weaker hand.

They'd wandered from the twenty-first century through the twentieth and the nineteenth. And now we're back at the dawn of man, John thought, spitting as something bugish hit him in the mouth and sneezing at the smell of pungent sap.

He forced his way through the gap he'd created, slashed again, took another three steps, slashed…

It would be good to stop for a while; it would be even better when they finally found the trail. He kept his eyes lowered most of the time, flicking his glance upward toward the multiple canopies above now and then. You got a blinding headache if you didn't do that occasionally— one of the tricks of jungle travel his mother and her succession of boyfriend instructors had taught him before he was ten. That was back when he was in the first, little-kid phase of believing in Skynet and Judgment Day and his mission to save humanity from the machines.

A little while after that, he'd turned ten and joined the majority, convinced that his mother was a total weirdo and deserved to be in the booby hatch—which was

where she'd been at the time, caught trying to blow up a computer factory. He'd been stranded with foster parents when she was caught: he'd always privately called the pair the Bundys from Hell.

Not that they'd deserved what happened to them. For a few seconds Todd and Janelle had gotten incontrovertible proof that a mad super-computer in the future really was sending back human-looking murder machines; in fact, the proof was the last thing they over saw.

A little while after that, he'd met his first Terminator and started believing his mother again—the way people believed in rocks, trees, and taxes, because he'd experienced it, and seen the bodies the Terminators left behind.

He remembered Miles Dyson's face as the Terminator peeled the skin off its arm, revealing the metal skeleton beneath. Dyson, fated to be the creator of Skynet, hadn't lived long after that revelation. It seemed that just knowing about Terminators was dangerous to your health.

That made John a lot more appreciative of what his mother had gone through, but it also ended up dropping him in shit like this. John was genuinely tired of running for his life.

They'd won the fight in L.A., killing the quasi-metal cyborg Skynet had sent back in time to protect its own beginnings, and they'd blown up the resurrected Skynet project. Which had been put together with Dyson's secretly stored files.

Great. Wonderful victory. Except that Mom got wrecked so bad we had to leave her, and now every antiterrorist in the world knows the 'mad-dog Connors ' are back, killing people and blowing up all their toys again. Our little Paraguayan

idyll is probably blown, but goodthey may be after Dieter, too. Sheesh. If this is victory

No. He stopped at that thought. Defeat meant he died; and if he died, as far as they knew, the human race would cease to exist. It was John Connor who'd led—

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