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Was the Terminator instructed to lay low after completing its mission and reunite with SkyNet? Maybe there were secondary missions? Blow itself to smithereens to avoid contaminating the timeline?

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    Except that the T-800/101 wasn't allowed to self terminate. – Monty129 Mar 3 '14 at 21:59
  • Good point. So maybe travel to a remote location and avoid contact with humans? I suppose eventually the T-800's power plant would run low anyways. – RobertF Mar 3 '14 at 22:08
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    In Terminator 3 we see that the T-X has a whole host of secondary targets relating to John Connor's lieutenants; terminator.wikia.com/wiki/T-X_(character) – Valorum Mar 3 '14 at 22:25
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    Blow itself to smithereens to contaminate the timeline? Considering that most of Dyson's work was based on the CPU from the Terminator, the timeline needed to be contaminated. If the Terminator had succeeded, it wouldn't have been destroyed and there wouldn't have been a SkyNet. – SQB Mar 4 '14 at 7:21
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    Run for governor of California? – sjl Mar 5 '14 at 21:07
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The Terminator had no way of knowing when he killed the right Sarah Connor, so he would go on killing them. After he exhausted the names in the phone book, he would hunt Sarah Connors in other ways. Some women would not have a separate listing in the phone book; their husband's name would be listed or they could have an unlisted number altogether. These women can be found using other public and business records--- driver's licenses, marriage licenses, birth certificates, credit reports and so on. So the killing spree would continue until the Terminator ran out of legitimate targets.

Woe to any woman named Sarah who decides to marry a man named Connor; she's liable to be killed on her wedding day as the tireless and remorseless Terminator continues its mission. Woe to any Sarah Connor who foolishly moves into the Los Angeles metropolitan area, or even changes planes at LAX on the way to Honolulu. There's no reason to think that the Terminator will stop, ever, even past Judgment Day.

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    Brilliant answer, I would love to watch that movie. In the paraphrased words of Sarah Connor: "Watching the machine, it was suddenly so clear. The terminator, would never stop. It would never leave, and it would never help, or say it was too busy to spend time hunting down 'Sarah Connors'. It would always be there. And it would die, to terminate them all." – user20155 Mar 4 '14 at 2:07
  • +1 for being funny. :-) If the Terminator inferred that Reese was from the future and had information on how to recognise Sarah, then it would assign a high probability to the Sarah accompanied by Reese being the correct target. But if it killed off both Sarah and Reese, I agree it would probably have moved onto secondary targets and/or other women named Sarah Connor, just to be thorough. – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 4 '14 at 10:06
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    Also, Skynet seems to have known John Connor's birth date with pretty high accuracy, since the first film takes place not very long before John's birth and the Terminator was looking for Sarah, not an infant John. So after a certain point its primary target would have changed to children named John Connor. – Royal Canadian Bandit Mar 4 '14 at 10:22
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    @RobertF How do we know the Terminators didn't invent the Internet, so that they can search for all the Sarah Connors, on all the Facebooks? :p – Chahk Mar 4 '14 at 18:33
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    @Gaius - Nope. In terminator, when you change the future that creates a new timeline. It doesn't seem to remove artifacts from the old one. – Valorum Dec 22 '14 at 17:05
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The original script treatment makes it clear that the Terminator did have a way of telling whether it had got the right Sarah Connor. It was checking for a distinctive leg injury she'd suffered prior to Judgment day. The irony is, of course that she suffered that injury while fighting the Terminator:

Vukovick stops the report. Did he hear correctly? Two homicides in one day with the same name?

"That's not all that's the same," Buckman says, lifting one of the girl's pant-legs which has been slit up past the knee. Also slit, from ankle to knee, is the skin and muscle of her calf, peeled back like a hotdog bun to expose the shin-bone.

Vukovick scowls. The same mutilation as the Encino housewife, left leg only. Too fucking weird. The news guys'll have a field day with this... the first one-day pattern killer.

Since we know that the Terminator has a "win condition", this gives us two possible options for what it would do after.

  • In Terminator 3, we see that the T-X has a list of "secondary targets"; known accomplices of John Connor who would become his key lieutenants in the fight against SkyNet. In the absence of a primary target, she begins killing the secondary targets. It's reasonable to assume that the Terminator would also have some tertiary targets, perhaps known rebel strongholds or senior commanders that it would attempt to terminate.

  • In Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles, in the episodes "Heavy Metal" and "Self Made Man" we see a Terminator place itself into a low power hibernation-mode in order to avoid polluting the timeline. Given the evident restriction on 'self-termination' It's possible that the Terminator would just hide itself.

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