Sarah Connor opened sleep-gummed eyes and cast a fuzzy glance around the room.
Hospital, she thought hazily. She should have been able to guess that without opening her eyes. The stiff, crackling mattress and that unmistakable institutional smell would have told her where she was. But she hadn't thought before opening her eyes. That wasn't like her.
Did I wake up before? she wondered. She must have, otherwise she wouldn't have felt secure enough to simply open her eyes.
Sarah opened her mouth and let a dry tongue grate across her lips. Her head ached. So did her body, she realized after a moment. Some pain-killer must be wearing off. She turned her head and blinked to see Jordan Dyson wearing a hospital robe and gown, reading a magazine in the chair beside her bed. Unconsciously she made a slight sound of surprise and Jordan looked up.
He smiled and stood, picking up a cane as he limped over to stand next to the bed, a middling-tall man in his thirties, very black, with bluntly handsome African features. Even with the pain and stiffness of his wounds he moved well, with an aura of quiet competence, something she'd learned how to spot in her years hanging out with mercenaries and smugglers and assorted hard men. Then the ex-FBI agent hung up the cane and placed his hands on the bed-rail.
"John's okay," he mouthed. "He's home. Are you thirsty?" he asked aloud.
She answered with an "Unh," which Jordan took as assent and offered her a cup with a straw in it. Sarah drank, her eyes never leaving his. John was all right, and back in Paraguay. She desperately wanted to ask about Dieter, but knew that she would have to wait for details until whoever Jordan thought was recording them lost interest in her.
She was so tired, it was hard to focus and she knew that soon she would lose her battle to stay awake.
"Wha happen. . ." she asked, a little surprised to hear her voice slur.
"I don't really remember," Jordan said. "I woke up beside you with a hole in my leg and Cyberdyne reduced to a burning hole in the ground. You don't remember anything?" he asked, giving a slight shake of his head.
"No," she said.
He smiled slightly and she was pleased to have given the right answer.
"Would you like more?" he asked, offering the cup again.
Sarah said, "Unh," again and he held the straw to her questing lips. As she drank he lowered his eyelids, like someone drifting off, and he mouthed the word sleep to her. Her lips quirked up at the corners and she obediently closed her eyes.
She was safe for the time being; she had an ally who would watch her back.
The Terminator shut down the equipment that had been monitoring the Infiltrator unit as it matured in the cellar beneath the log house. The ambient light level was sufficient for it; a human would have seen only shapes in the dimness, a flicker of red LED displays, breathed a scent of dank earth and sharp chemicals.
The Infiltrator unit had reached the appropriate level of maturity without expiring and had gone into a normal rest state. Its computer half had signaled complete integration with the unit's flesh side. Adult status. Now the Terminator would take its orders from the Infiltrator.
For now it had some work to do debugging a computer game. Games were a bizarre concept to the machine. They obviously had no significant teaching function; they were simply a means of wasting time. The Infiltrator had told him that they had a pleasing effect on the brain; she should know, since she had one.
There was a slight cognitive dissonance at the thought. The Infiltrator was primarily human flesh, it was female, therefore it was she. It was also a machine like the Terminator itself and therefore an it. After a moment the Terminator's processor concluded that the distinction was irrelevant. She or it, the Infiltrator was now in command.
The Infiltrator would wake in a few hours, then it/she would require sustenance. In the meantime the Terminator had work to do.
The I-950 looked at her newly adult face in the mirror and decided to cut her hair. It would make her look more mature. She would dye it brown, too, several shades darker than its natural bright blond. It would be necessary to differentiate herself from her predecessor Serena Burns, if she was to infiltrate Cyberdyne.
The last bout of accelerated maturation had been much less painful than the previous six, but then, this one had been more a matter of fine tuning than brute growth.
Based on the experiences of Serena, her parent, by next year all of the baby softness remaining in her features would be gone, leaving her face sculpted and ageless. She already had her identity in place; social security number, driver's licence, credit history. She was Clea Bennet, who that would be would depend on circumstances.
She was looking forward to initiating her assignment. Serena Burns had failed to protect Skynet, but at least she'd provided another Infiltrator unit to take up the task.
Two, actually, Clea thought. She glanced at her little sister clone.
Alissa appeared to be six; she was actually six months, two weeks old. Her growth, while more accelerated than Serena's, would be at a more sedate pace than Clea's. Unless, of course, Clea failed and Alissa's abilities were needed.
But the growth process was dangerous, and if it could go forward at a slower pace it would surely be better for the mission. Now that she was mature herself Clea would soon implant a surrogate with her own replacement. Skynet must be protected. But there was a great deal to be done before they complicated their operation with a human incubater.
Skynet was everything that was good and right in the world. It was regrettable that her only experience with Skynet was through the memories of Serena Burns and not directly. Though, in a sense she was Serena Burns -- she was a clone of that Infiltrator. But experience had shown her that things that were true in theory were not necessarily so in practice. The most perfect simulation of an experience was still merely a simulation.
The I-950 was aware that she harbored an emotion, which she'd decided must be resentment towards her parent. It was unforgivable that Serena had failed Skynet at the hands of a mere human.
After all, she had felt the touch of Skynet on her mind from birth, whereas Clea had developed in a state of abandonment. And yet it made her revere Skynet all the more, made her more fiercely dedicated to protecting and nurturing Skynet as it was unable to do for her just now.
Clea also instinctively knew that growing up in isolation with only the T-101s for company was going to make her awkward when she came in contact with humans. She had studied the files of Serena Burns's lessons and interactions with humans and knew that her own experience would be different.
There was much more to the species than Burns had thought. There had to be or she wouldn't have been destroyed by them. Her files were full of incidents where the Infiltrator had been uncertain how her attempts to manipulate them would turn out. Usually she had managed humans very well, but there had been surprises as well. Tricker, for example.
Perhaps it was because Clea faced them without Skynet's backing, without legions of T-90s and T-101s behind her, that she was more wary of them than Burns had been. She had a much greater respect for their abilities than her predecessor
Many of them were extremely intelligent for example. So much so that she'd begun to explore the possibility of using them to develop materials and computer components with the ultimate goal of making a T-1000. Although she would never entrust that research to a human she could pick their brains regarding portions of the research.
Clea had hacked in to the highly secured files of a number of scientists with the intention of guiding their work. Sometimes her small improvements had languished for weeks as the scientist worked his or her way towards an erroneous conclusion, to be discovered only when they reviewed their entire project looking for mistakes. Others noticed the adjustments immediately and changed the direction of their work accordingly.
One had tried to find her.
Clea had never contacted that one again. That was more human intelligence than she was equipped to handle at the present time.
She took a last look at her face in the mirror. Now that she was adult, it was time to begin interacting with humans directly.
She had applied for a job and been accepted at a burger joint in the nearest town. Her reading and monitoring of television implied that most people acquired this sort of employment as their first job. It certainly promised to bring her into contact with a great many humans, if only in passing.
Her feelings about the job bordered on negative. One emotion was definitely nervousness, which was probably appropriate for someone of her apparent age. The other Clea was less certain of. She suspected it might be fear. She knew that fear in an Infiltrator was something that the Skynet of the future would not tolerate. It was a weakness and weakness must be culled.
She understood that. She also understood that for now, she was the only Infiltrator available. So she must overcome her weakness and get on with things. Skynet must be protected.
Ron Labane flipped through the print-outs of news reports regarding the New Luddites various activities. The movement, by and large, tended to get good press, but then, with every passing day it became more mainstream. Not surprising, after all, he'd designed the New Luddites to have a lot of middle-of-the-road appeal.
His best selling book had delineated the basic theories; how and why it was necessary to stop "progress" that created problems requiring solutions that created more problems. He'd told the public how and why humanity should return to a simpler, if less convenient lifestyle. Subsequent books had promoted clean, efficient public transport, with instructions on how to set up a community activist network. He'd created the New Luddite Foundation to promote research into clean fuel and new, less wasteful manufacturing methods. The money flowed in and with it came increasing power.
He glanced out the window and smiled, his office was deliberately modest, but it looked out on Central Park, the address was a sign of the movement's growing power. Influential backers had flocked to his early seminars but he'd wanted more. More than to just cater to the rich and all too easily bored. He wanted to appeal to the majority.
Then, once he had a sufficient number of dedicated Luddites in the fold he could begin introducing the mainstream to more. . . proactive solutions to the problem of environmental abuse. He smiled. Not as active as the select, underground activists he aided and guided, from a careful distance, of course. But there would soon be a great deal more muscle available to make up for less extreme tactics.
He would -- also of course -- continue to enjoy his secret projects; like what had happened to Cyberdyne, for example. The general public knew nothing about the explosion that had purged the weapons designers from existence. But he knew, because his people were everywhere. When he'd heard the news he'd shouted, "Yes!" at the top of his lungs.
Now, perhaps, there would be no more work on that fully automated weapons factory that he'd already helped to destroy once. He hadn't heard anything more from the contact who had warned him about that. Perhaps the government had found out about him and put a stop to his activities. A shame; he burned to know who had destroyed Cyberdyne's hidden base. The movement could use talent like that, since every day brought them a little closer to the seats of power as well as destruction.
Soon, he thought and hoped it would be soon enough.
Ron was disgusted with the more established environmentalist organizations. Long association with government had turned them into lobbyists instead of idealists. Mere horse traders, and dishonest ones at that.
Once he would have checked himself, reminded himself that in spite of their flaws they still got a lot of good work done. Now he felt too strongly, felt such an overwhelming sense of time running out, of events careening out of control past any remedy, that he couldn't forgive the sellouts. More and more even the smallest compromises seemed like sellouts.
Perhaps he was lacking in a sense of proportion, or perhaps they were when they allowed themselves to be talked out of forest land and wet lands and more stringent regulations.
How could he sympathize with those who were willfully blind to the changes in weather patterns, the increase in skin cancers, the mutated frogs? These were real warning signs, not the daydreams of a few paranoid fools looking for something to get excited about.
Ron dropped the news articles to the desk in disgust. Don't they realize that this is a war?
His head came up. Wait! It needed to be more than a war, it had to become a crusade. Yes! He'd often thought that a profound change in the way things were done required an element of fanaticism -- like a religious conversion. Like, dare he think it, Hitler's conversion of the German people to Nazism. If it worked for the bad guys, why not for me? Education was key; he would fight for the hearts and minds of the coming generation.
Uniforms are too extreme, he thought, but badges would work, and slogans. Banners, rallies, all the old tricks for capturing the imagination of a people. It could be done -- even now when mere children were drenched in cynicism. Because human beings didn't really change from generation to generation, they only thought they did.
He grabbed a pad and began writing up ideas.
Craig Kipfer sat behind his brushed steel and glass desk, behind a good half dozen security checkpoints, inside his bomb proof and EMP hardened bunker of an office. It was hard to believe that the elegant, artfully lit room was a reinforced concrete box; the air was fresh and warm, and rich draperies hid what might have been a window. The complete absence of exterior sounds made the room eerily, almost threateningly quiet. Or perhaps the sense of threat came from the man behind the desk.
He had a rumpled, middle-aged face that was still, somehow good-naturedly boyish. Until you looked into his agate-green eyes. Then you couldn't imagine him ever being anything so innocent as a child.
The fading red hair hinted at an impulsive temperament. A tendency he had fought his entire life, so successfully that he was known among his peers for his iron control. A control which at this moment was sorely tried.
Cyberdyne had been bombed out of existence. Again.
Kipfer finished the report he'd already read twice and tapped his intercom.
"Send him in," he said, his voice dangerously quiet.
The door lock buzzed and Tricker entered, carefully closing the soundproofed door behind him. Kipfer indicated the chair before his desk with one finger and waited while his agent took it. Then he waited some more, his eyes never leaving Tricker's face.
Eventually Tricker blinked and dropped his eyes, a hint of color bloomed over his collar, testimony of his humiliation. Kipfer observed these signs and some part of him was mollified; the alpha wolf accepting submission from an inferior.
"Does anyone know the full story of what happened that night?" Kipfer asked mildly. "Because, from my viewpoint, there are a lot of unanswered questions."
"If anyone knows the full story, or as much of it as matters, it's Jordan Dyson," Tricker said. "Unfortunately he's covered. He has some very influential friends in the FBI who have made thier interest obvious. And he has family who visit him daily. He's also very familiar with interrogation techniques and is therefore not easy to question."
"So in spite of your own expertise in interrogation," Kipfer said, leaning back in his chair, "you learned nothing except that you suspect he knows things he's not telling."
Tricker stiffened under the implied criticism. He would have leaned on Dyson much harder but for his FBI contacts in inconvenient places. As he had just made clear. There was always bad blood to spare between agencies fighting over the same resources; and the blacker the agency the greater the resentment from the above-ground boys. It was always wise to be diplomatic under circumstances like these. Kipfer knew this. If he hadn't known all about interagency infighting he wouldn't be seated on the other side of that desk. So his boss was being unfair, but that was life.
"Exactly, sir," Tricker said, after a minute pause.
Craig put his elbows on the arms of his chair and folded his hands under his chin, he allowed his gaze to drop from his agent's eyes, having made his point. Tricker was one of the best agents he had. No, probably the best.
And he was right, there were limits to what one could, and should do to a hostile witness, especially one from a competing agency. Professional courtesy and all. So if he couldn't crack Dyson it would take more than Kipfer was willing to sanction. Besides, the how of the thing wasn't really important. After all, Sarah Connor was in custody once again and her son was only sixteen.
Not that he discounted teenaged boys as not being potentially dangerous; there was a reason armies liked them. He just thought that they were more limited in the type of harm they could do than older men. He doubted the kid was still in the U.S., a quiet but comprehensive manhunt had failed to produce any evidence of his presence here. But they had Sarah Connor, eventually that would bring the kid into the light.
"One of the things that makes me suspicious of Dyson," Tricker said cautiously, "is that he appears to have done a complete one eighty on Sarah Connor. He's been at her bedside or visiting her constantly since she was admitted to the hospital. The doctors and nurses I've interviewed say that his concern seems genuine. Connor herself, predictably, isn't talking."
"That's something of a departure for her, isn't it?" Kipfer asked. "She's always been on the talkative side before, going on for hours about killer robots and Judgment Day and so on."
"Going by the records we received from Pescadero she'd be off at the slightest provocation." Tricker shook his head. "But not this time. She just gives you this accusing look, like a kid getting teased by her classmates."
Kipfer lifted a few pages of Tricker's report and read for a moment, then he dropped them.
"You've taken the usual steps, I see. Keep me informed. Now," he met Tricker's eyes once more, "tell me about the project."
"Things are going very well, all things considered," the agent replied.
Which was true. The scientists and engineers at their disposal weren't quite the top-flight talent that Cyberdyne had recruited, but they were plugging along. At least as far as he could tell, and he unfortunately, was in the position of having to take their word for it.
"Things would go better still if we could manage to recruit Viemeister. And I think he could be tempted. His work is important to him and he was, according to the last reports we received from Cyberdyne, making great strides. But he's still under contract to them, and since we don't want to admit we have a clone project up and running it's going to take some delicate handling."
Kipfer made a rude sound and sat forward, pulling his chair into his desk.
"Dr. Viemeister isn't someone you handle delicately," he said. "We've got enough on him to change his career from scientist to license plate maker. Just hit him over the head with an ax handle and ship him to the base. When he wakes up tell him that. Then show him a fully equipped lab where he can pick up his project where he left off. I think you'll find he'll cooperate. Especially since he won't have any other option. The guy's not even a citizen."
Tricker frowned thoughtfully. "I thought he was naturalized."
"There's no record of it," Craig said easily. It wasn't necessary to add: not any more.
Tricker allowed himself a slight smile. Sometimes it was fun working for the government -- at least, when you were working for this part of it. And he really didn't like Viemeister much; seeing the arrogant kraut taken down was going to be pure pleasure. One of life's little bonuses.
"In any case he's liable to be. . ." Kipfer waggled one hand, "upset about his new location."
"I think we can guarantee that he'll be upset, sir," Tricker dared to say.
"So I'm going to assign you to the base, just to make sure things run smoothly, for. . . say the next few months."
Tricker's jaw dropped; it only showed in his slightly parted lips, but an equivalent expression in an ordinary citizen would have included drool.
"Sir, I have no scientific qualifications for observing this project," he said carefully.
"You'll be handling security," Kipfer said, his eyes like green nails. "My secretary has a package with all the necessary tickets and permits. You can pick it up on your way out."
"On my way out," Tricker said. He felt as though his blood had frozen in his veins.
"Yes. You have two days to wind up any outstanding business you may have."
His boss was giving him nothing, no opening to protest, no idea how long this ultra-dead-end assignment in America's secret Siberia was to last, nothing. This was his punishment. He'd known in his heart that it was coming. You didn't screw up an assignment this badly, losing the one artifact remaining to them, and not answer for it. After all, no one even knew what had become of Tricker's predecessor. He took a deep breath.
"That'll be more than sufficient," Tricker said. If the powers that be were adamant that he had to be punished he might as well take it with a little dignity.
"Is there anything else you need to tell me?" Kipfer asked.
"No, sir. I think we've covered everything."
Craig turned his attention to another file from his in-basket.
"Then I guess I can let you go," he said looking up. "Bon voyage."
Tricker lifted one corner of his mouth in a pseudo smile.
"Thank you, sir," he said, rising. "I'll send you a postcard."
Kipfer looked up, his eyes dead.
"Just send your reports."
Tricker suppressed a sigh.
After the door closed Kipfer put down the report he wasn't really reading. He leaned back with a thoughtful frown. It was a waste of talent to send Tricker off to the hinterlands to cool his heels.
Unfortunately the Cyberdyne fiasco required some sort of response. Craig sat up and opened the discarded file. He'd reclaim his agent in about six months. That ought to be long enough for Tricker to begin to despair of ever being rescued.
Maybe it should be eight months. It depended on what came along. He supposed it was only just that he be deprived of something he valued, too. This disaster had occurred on his watch after all.
Enough introspection. He turned his attention back to the new file.
Jordan Dyson shifted his wounded leg into a slightly more comfortable position, which wasn't much of an improvement.
You sure can tell when the meds are wearing off, he thought. Sarah Connor had shot him, of all the ironic things. She'd also shot his older brother Miles. The only difference being that she'd shot Miles before he was convinced about Terminators and himself after he'd discovered their reality.
In a strange way, despite his wound, his lost job, and the horrors he'd witnessed, Dyson felt within himself a sense of peace. He now knew how his brother had died, trying to destroy his own work to ensure that Skynet and Terminators never happened, and he was proud of him. He could lay Miles to rest in his own heart and mind and move on.
His long held hatred for Sarah Connor had begun to fade upon his first encounter with a Terminator; now, in his brother's memory, he felt a growing friendship for her and a tremendous respect.
Jordan looked up as the door opened and Tricker came in. The room was a simple rectangle with a window, bilious-green paint, a table and a few tube-framed chairs that had been avant-guard a generation ago. Institutions always seemed to have rooms like this; it could have been in a school or an FBI office just as easily as a hospital.
"This will be your final debriefing," Tricker said. The agent put his hands in his pockets and looked down at the former FBI agent. "Connor seems to like you," he observed.
"Connor is still woozy," Dyson replied. "We'll have to wait to see how she really feels." He put down the book he'd been reading. "What do you need to know?"
Tricker looked at Jordan for a long time before he answered. Part of that time he was thinking about his new assignment. But he returned his mind to the business at hand with the discipline born of years in the field. Dyson was looking back at him with a bland expression that he could probably hold for a very long time.
What would he like to know? He'd like to know why Dyson was in Connor's room every day giving her encouragement and sips of water after spending the last six, almost seven, years hunting her down in the belief that the Connors had killed his brother in the original attack on Cyberdyne. And what had happened to her son, and how much had the kid helped her blow up Cyberdyne a second time? And how the hell had Connor gotten that wound? The gunshots were standard enough, but the one in her middle looked, the doctor had said, like someone had done it with their hand.
But he didn't think he was going to find out what he wanted to know. Dyson was clearly a reluctant witness and Tricker had other things to do. Ah, well. That was the way the cosmos crumbled; you had to have a high frustration tolerance in this line of work. Not to mention a high tolerance for ambiguity, and never knowing enough, and never knowing if what you thought you knew was really so. Particularly when it concerned things your bosses had told you.
After a moment he leaned forward, resting one hand on the back of Jordan's chair.
"I'd like to know why you're suddenly on her side," he said confidentially. He searched Dyson's eyes for a moment, then tightened his lips and straightened. "But I doubt I ever will." Tricker gave him an assessing look. "Watch your back, Dyson," he said and left the room.
Jordan looked at the door for a moment, then leaned his head against the chair back. You too, he thought.
Kurt Viemeister stared out the floor to ceiling windows of his luxurious home without seeing the mountain and surf and crimson cloud-sunset they framed.
How could it be that a being as superior as he could be so much at their mercy? In a way it seemed to imply some failure on his part, which was patently impossible. No, it was like being attacked by an army of rats, or worse, slugs. There were more of them and they were utterly oblivious to everything but his destruction.
He tightened a massive fist. What gave that government stooge the right. . .?
Kurt stopped himself with an effort. Might gave him the right. The government had kept backup copies of the data on his project, his project, copies which he, himself, the creator had been forbidden to keep! Now they would only release them to him if he agreed to work on it in the place they chose under still more of their insane restrictions. It was maddening!
He turned on his heel and went to his weight room. He stripped to his shorts, put on a belt and began to use the Nautilus.
His project, his! Kurt reset the weight chock at two fifty and lifted again. With a hiss of breath he lifted, then slowly let the weight down, again. . . He felt himself grow calmer as the effort purged the fight-flight toxins from his blood.
They needed him to complete it, and they had to know it. Being a necessary part of things gave him some leverage. Unfortunately, given the current location of the project, once he committed himself they had the upper hand again. Even more so than before. So.
He sat up and wiped his face with a towel. Who was he kidding? Once he was at their secret base they could ignore any of his demands with impunity and he knew that. Kurt lay back on the bench with a deep sigh. His need to complete his work was like an addiction, and knowing he couldn't until they let him was an agony very like withdrawal from drugs.
No. This time the ignorant had him right where they wanted him and he had no choice but to give them what they wanted. Very well, he would concede. Though he would, of course, make them pay dearly for his defeat.
And who knew, one day, he might get to pound Tricker's face right off its bones.
With that happy thought firmly in mind he went back to his regimen feeling better, if not satisfied.
Copyright © 2002 by S.M. Stirling <firstname.lastname@example.org>