Roger Colvin, CEO of Cyberdyne leaned back in his chair as his eyes strayed to the figures on his computer.
"Roge," Paul Warren said patiently, recalling his friend's attention.
Colvin looked up guiltily.
"Sorry," he said. He gestured at his screen. "Some of the numbers just changed and it caught my eye."
Warren tightened his lips. He knew the truth, which was that no one wanted to hear how much he missed his wife, how he was haunted by questions about her death. Was it murder, suicide, an accident?
He was better now about not launching into maudlin monologues than he had been, but the questions and the soul searching went on and on. By now though even his most patient friends, like Roger, wished that he would turn it off. Especially during business hours.
Of course for people at their level it was always business hours. So, back to work.
Now that they only had the automated factory as their premier project it behooved them to work their asses off.
"What have we got?" Warren asked.
Colvin sat forward, relieved that his friend was temporarily back in the groove.
"It's very good, in fact. I don't know how they're doing it, but we're a month and a half ahead of schedule now."
"Maybe that's because they're totally isolated out there and want to get back to their homes," Warren suggested.
The factory was going up in the middle of nowhere, no towns around for a hundred miles, and if there were they'd be inaccessible because there was no road leading to the site. And there never would be.
Right now everything was being done by humans and heliocopters. But when the factory was finished all supplies would be flown in on unmanned drones, self guided by one of Cyberdyne's most advanced on-board computers. Raw materials would be removed from the transports by a small army of their latest generation of independently functioning robots. Finished weapons would be delivered to warehouses the same way. No humans involved at all until the end point, and even that was optional.
The Pentagon loved the idea.
Colvin grinned. "You might be right," he said. "I'm glad because they tell me the weather gets fierce up there in the winter."
"Have you heard anything else about the Skynet project?"
The CEO shook his head. "I don't expect to either. I also have no idea what happened to our beloved Tricker. Last contact was with someone else."
Warren raised a brow at that. So even the indestructible Tricker could be pulled up short. Nice to know.
"So when can we get into production?" he asked.
Colvin handed him a printout. "By the end of the month," he said with a cocky smile and leaned back in his chair. "Not bad, eh?"
"Not bad at all." Warren laughed and shook his head. "And boy, do we need a success right now."
"Couldn't have said it better myself," the CEO agreed.
John clicked a few keys and found himself on the Sarah Connor web-site; the Von Rossbach estate might look the Paraguayan equivalent of backwoods, but the satellite-link communications were first-rate, with outlets in every room.
Things had calmed down at the site over the last few months. There were occasional updates, and old e-mail got cleared away, but it was very different from the days when it was new.
What he was here for was the secret Luddite chat-room, where things remained hot. In fact the Luddite movement world-wide seemed to be getting stronger and more active, it had practically gone mainstream, putting up political candidates and organizing outreach stations and websites. Unfortunately, this was accompanied by an increase in terrorist acts both large and small every day, everywhere.
The tone of conversation in the rooms was different, too. It lacked the almost pleading exasperation that wanted to teach of previous listings and had become more militant. Much more us versus them. And that attitude, too, seemed to be becoming more mainstream with every passing day.
John simply lurked in the topic and chat rooms, gathering information, but he'd noticed one user, styled Watcher, who occasionally shook things up. Lately the threats the Luddites made against Watcher for questioning their methods and ideas had become chilling.
He decided to seek out this character. Someone with that sobriquet might know some very interesting things. This might also be someone he could add to his growing list of informants on the Web.
He was in luck; Watcher was online, discussing a recent bombing with the Luddites. If you could call such a hostile exchange a discussion. Good thing Watcher isn't in the same room with these people. On the Internet the gloves came off and people said things they'd never say in meat space. But if you were right there with them when they were saying it. . . who knew what would happen.
He glanced around his whitewashed bedroom with its black quebracho-timber rafters, and tile floors. E-presence was very different from the physical world. It liberated the Id. Maybe the people threatening to wear Watcher's intestines as suspenders wouldn't harm a fly in reality. But with all the bombings and beatings and vandlism going on, who could be sure anymore?
John checked out the address at the top of Watcher's messages and found it a dead end. But, he thought, there are other ways of finding you, buddy. With a little work he was sure he could trace this person. After a tedious half an hour he found the time Watcher had logged on, then correlated that with an IP address. That brought him to the MIT website in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Cool, he thought, and not surprising. It was pretty obvious from his posts that Watcher was pro-technology.
Narrowing it down to the university was good, but he'd need some power to get the information he wanted. He constructed a password that got him into the operational side of the MIT site -- a little lockpick and insertion program that Dieter had brought with him from the Sector was very useful there -- and registered himself as a systems administrator. That essentially made him a system god, giving him access to all the onsite user's real tags.
He continued to trace Watcher, which was turning out to be a job and a half. This guy knows how to cover his tracks, he thought in admiration. Very definitely a good recruit if all worked out. Finally he located Watcher's origin.
Ah ha! A freshman student at MIT, Watcher was Wendy Dorset. John hacked into her school records, finding a picture. Cute, he thought. Not important, but nice to know. He pulled up an encrypted talk request and sent it to Watcher.
*I'd like to talk with you,* he sent.
There was a long pause. Finally she accepted the request, creating a secure shell in which they could speak. John's screen split into he said/she said columns, as did hers. Now they could communitcate in real time.
*Who are you?* Watcher asked.
John's tag was AM, which stood for Action Man, not necessarily something he would ever reveal.
*I could be a friend,* John typed. *Why don't you blow off these bozos. I think we have similar interests.*
*Similar interests?* she asked.
*Beyond making fools of fools,* he typed with a smile. *But first we should get to know one another.*
*And how are we going to do that? And why should I trust you?*
*Trust?* he wrote. *You trust these guys? Hey, at least I'm not threatening to kill you if we ever meet.*
*Good point. Okay, I'll ditch the creeps. They're getting more excited than is good for them anyway.* Watcher was gone for a moment then came back. *So, what do you want?*
*What drew you to that particular site?* John asked.
*It's rude to answer a question with a question,* Watcher pointed out.
*True, but I'm asking.*
And he wasn't going to answer any questions until he had a satisfactory answer.
*Whatever. I was just looking around when I found it. I wasn't looking for anything in particular, just killing time. Y'know? But something about the Sarah Connor story reached me. Maybe it was that lone wolf thing. I'm a sucker for underdogs.*
Underdog, John thought. Yeah, I guess that pretty well describes my mother. At least in the old days. God! He was still only sixteen and he actually had "old days" to refer back to.
*It turned out to be a really strange site,* Watcher went on. *And as for these idiots, I just can't help myself. I've gotta poke 'em.*
*People who take themselves very seriously can also be very dangerous,* John warned. v*So how's the weather on the east coast?* he asked, deciding to throw her a curve.
There was a long wait for Watcher's next post. Hope I haven't scared her off.
*Probably not as warm as it is waaaay down south,* Watcher finally replied.
John caught his breath. Sure hope she doesn't scare me off.
*O-kay,* he wrote, *this demonstrates why it's a bad idea to tease the crazies. One of them might be computer literate.*
*It may be cocky,* Watcher replied, *but I like to think of myself as being a little more than merely "literate".*
*Actually I think you are too. The dangerous part is in assuming that because you're smart no one else is. It's always unwise to underestimate people. Leads to nasty surprises.*
Listen to me, he thought, I received this advice from masters and I've found it to be true.
Once again there was a long pause.
*Are you warning me against yourself? Whatever. What I really want to know is, what do you want?*
His brief review of Dorset's school records had made her sound like a straight arrow. What he'd observed of her interactions with the Luddites told him she had nerve and could think on her feet. The way she'd hidden her tracks told him she was damn smart. The way she'd found him told him she might be dangerous if she wasn't handled right.
*I'm head of a kind of watcher's group, no pun intended,* he explained. Or I would be if I hadn't just thought it up this minute. You'll be my first recruit! He hoped. *We keep our eyes on military/industrial projects, just in case they get it into their heads to do something hinky. We're always on the lookout for new talent. Want to join?*
*Okay, here's my problem,* she answered, *think of where I met you. Now, how do I know you're not a Luddite extremist yourself?*
*Tough one,* he agreed. *Ideally I would meet you face to face.* Which I would loooove to do, he thought. *And that would give us an opportunity to get a feel for one another. But that's obviously not going to happen. I could call you,* he suggested.
*All right,* she replied, and typed a number. *Four o'clock tomorrow afternoon. Eastern standard time.*
*Why not now?* he asked.
*It's not my number,* she wrote.
Then she was gone. Wow, John thought, grinning wryly, I'd better practice my adult voice.
Sarah didn't dislike Dr. Ray; she just didn't respect him. She did, however, think that he might be useful. At least if she handled herself right. In a way, being back in one of the beige-dingy interview rooms of a mental hospital was almost homelike; she'd spent a lot of time at the last one.
This time she didn't have cigarettes to occupy her hands during the medical pseudo-interrogations, though. Times had changed, a hospital would never get away with letting a patient smoke, and besides -- she'd quit. She whished the longing for them would too. Sarah looked out at the gray rain, a California winter day that gave the lie to several songs, and then back at her 'counselor'.
Ray was clearly ambitious. The tone he took with staff and students indicated that he fancied himself as an up and coming "great man". He was one of those energetic, intense men with a thin ascetic face and a long, wiry body.
When he was having a session with Sarah she felt as though he was trying to pull sanity out of its hiding place in her skull by sheer will. He was almost scary.
And maybe it was the knowledge that John was in safe hands with Dieter, or maybe it was the six year vacation from fighting Skynet, but she was infinitely more sane at this moment than she had been the last time she found herself in an institution.
Which should make it that much easier to convince Ray that she was curable and not dangerous. If she handled herself right then she would find herself in minimum security by the time she was fully healed. And minimum security was one short step from freedom.
Ray's dark eyes bored into hers as he waited for her to speak. That was how he always started a session, by allowing the patient to make the first move. There certainly weren't any distractions in the slightly run-down, institutional-bland, disinfectant-smelling room.
"I've been sleeping very well," Sarah said, injecting a tentative note into her voice. She lowered her eyes shyly. "Even without the pain killers."
"You could still have those if you thought you needed them," Ray said.
Sarah shook her head wordlessly.
"Do you dislike drugs, Sarah?"
She waited a moment, then nodded thoughtfully.
"Yes," she said. "I think I do dislike them. I'm grateful they were there when the pain was bad. But when I don't need them I don't like to take them."
Ray nodded encouragingly.
"When you were at Pescadero before you were given a lot of drugs, weren't you?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," Sarah agreed wryly. "A lot of drugs. Dr. Silberman did believe in better living through chemistry." She looked thoughtful. "That's probably why I dislike them."
She'd have to be careful or she'd forget who was leading who here. But Ray was nodding, a little smile tugged at his thin lips. So, Silberman and his treatment of her were something of a sore spot. Or maybe a challenge.
"And how do you feel about Cyberdyne now?" the Doctor asked.
Sarah took a deep breath and looked up at the ceiling, she bit her lip, then finally met the doctor's eyes.
"I. . . don't seem to have any feelings at all about Cyberdyne," she admitted. With a shrug she went on, "Right now I can't believe that I actually had anything to do with the explosion. It doesn't feel like I did that. It's as though this is about someone else entirely instead of about me." She waited a moment, looking into Ray's eyes. "Does that make any sense?"
He allowed her a slight smile. "You're doing fine," he assured her, briefly smiling. "So you're telling me that you feel completely removed from the act of destroying Cyberdyne?"
"Yes," she said simply. Then sighed. "But I know it was me. I know that I did it. It just doesn't make any sense to me now."
"And if Cyberdyne hadn't been destroyed? If you'd failed," he asked.
Sarah frowned, then shook her head.
"I can't answer that. If I'd failed. . . I might well still want to destroy the company. But then again, maybe I would have been satisfied with just the attempt." She looked up at him. "Why do I want to do this sort of thing, doctor? What's wrong with me? Does it have a name? Can it be cured?" She allowed tears that weren't entirely fake to fill her eyes. "What's going to happen to me?"
Ray looked solemn and held his silence for a minute.
"I think we can help you, Sarah. If you're willing to be helped. Since a great deal really does depend on you and your willingness to be cured I can't answer for the long term. But, in the short term, you'll go on trial. I've good reason to hope that you'll be held here after your evaluation and that eventually the state will commit you to my care." He held up his hands, then dropped them to his lap. "And how long you remain here, is up to you."
She smiled at that, she couldn't help it. It might take time, but she was going to go free. She might not even have to escape at all.
Dr. Ray sat across from Jordan Dyson, a coffee table liberally speckled with old cup-rings between them and waited for the former FBI agent to speak.
Jordan finally sighed. He recognized the technique; put someone in a non-stimulating environment, which Pescadero State certainly was, and wait. Most people couldn't take the silence, and started talking. There was no point in disappointing the good doctor's expectations.
"Okay," he said, "you asked me here, I assume you had a reason."
The Doctor smiled a secret smile and nodded.
"Yes," he said quietly. "I did." Then he went silent again.
"Uh-huh," Jordan said. "Are you going to let me in on it? Because I do have a life beyond these walls, doctor. Things to do, people to see."
"I wanted to talk to you about Sarah Connor," Ray admitted. "You were very kind to her when you were both in the hospital. I wondered why, when you'd spent so many years trying to bring her to justice."
Jordan shrugged, and drank a little of the brown sludge the Pescadero coffee machines dispensed.
"Maybe I just wanted to be sure that she'd live to stand trial. Maybe I've been born again and wanted to forgive her. Or maybe I've come into some new information that left her innocent of my brother's murder."
Ray nodded, never taking his eyes from Jordan's.
"And which is it?" he asked, his voice gentle.
Jordan just stared back for a minute, chewing on the inside of his cheek.
"Why do you ask?"
The doctor grinned.
"I apologize," he said. "It can be hard to turn off the doctor/patient dynamic. My goal is to help Sarah. If you wanted to be of help to her too I was thinking that I could arrange for you to visit her. It might be helpful to you as well," he suggested.
Jordan took a deep breath and looked thoughtful.
This is good, he thought. This is very good. I wonder if Sarah suggested it. Certainly it would ease John's worries if he could tell them how she was doing here in Pescadero. And it would allow him to keep his promise to not let them drug her insensible. He looked up.
"I came into new information, nothing I can prove, that Sarah Connor wasn't responsible for my brother's death. Yes, he was there because she brought him there, but she did not kill him and she did not intend for him to die."
Jordan tightened his lips. "That was hard to accept. But I received this information from two independent sources, so I couldn't refuse to believe it. And that changed things for me. I finally realized that it was time for me to move on." He adjusted his position in his chair. "And once I met the woman," he shook his head, "it was obvious that she was acting under some sort of compulsion. She isn't a vicious killer, she didn't want to hurt anybody, but she had to destroy Cyberdyne. Why," he shrugged, "maybe you can tell me."
Ray nodded solemnly, but didn't rise to the bait.
"In the hospital," Dyson continued, "she was a different person. Entirely different. Of course," he waved his hand, "the circumstances were also completely different, so I don't know. . ." he petered out, looking exasperated.
The doctor studied him for awhile as though waiting for him to continue.
"Would you be willing to speak with her again?" he finally asked.
Jordan bit his lips, frowning, then opened them as though to say something, but he kept silent.
"As I said, I think it could be beneficial to both of you. It might well help you to put the pain behind you."
Looking thoughtful, Jordan sat silent for another moment, then looked up decisively.
"All right," he said. "I'll do it." I'll have to get word to Paraguay somehow. This weather report thing has its limits.
John was watching the clock, waiting to call Watcher, aka Wendy Dorset, when Dieter came into his room, all smiles.
"Good news," he said.
John didn't doubt it, the big man fairly lit up the room with good vibes. It made a nice change from the solemn Teutonic atmosphere they'd all been living in for the last three months. He sat up, setting aside the magazine he'd been reading.
"What's up?" he asked.
"Your mother is up for a move to minimum security," Dieter said, his blue eyes aglow. "Sometime in the next six weeks, Jordan said."
"You spoke to Jordan directly?" John asked. He was both surprised and disappointed. Surprised that Dyson would risk it, disappointed that Dieter hadn't called him to get on the line.
"For about forty seconds only," Dieter said. "I barely had a chance to say hello and he was gone again. He said he'd call back at the next opportunity. After three months of tapping his phone with no results he's sure they'll soon move on. There's never enough man-power or equipment," von Rossbach added.
You should know, John thought, you used to be in that business. He glanced at the time, almost exactly four.
"I'm about to call a possible recruit named Watcher," he said, regretfully. "I think she might be useful. Can I talk to you later about this?"
Dieter nodded cheerfully. "Yes," he agreed. "We have much to talk about."
Wendy brushed back her smooth dark red hair and eyed the phone lying on the table before her, willing it to ring, as she took a sip of the cooling coffee. Her eyes swept the almost empty confines of the shabby café, with its bored waitress and long-dead pastries behind filmy glass; she felt nervous, wary. . . and a bit excited, she admitted to herself.
Perhaps this secret watchdog group could help. Perhaps they were part of the problem and were on to her and just trying to find out what she knew before they. . .
Wow, she thought sardonically, great plot line, there. Maybe I should take a course in screenwriting. Zzzzzt! Cue the black helicopter!
Real life didn't have a plot. It just bumbled aimlessly on its way, unless you directed it by sheer force of will. Which was harder to do than to say, she knew. She'd seen that in her father's life. When he was her age he was an ardent activist, fighting the war in Vietnam, fighting for civil rights.
Now he ran a moderately successful insurance business, just like his dad had done. And as far as Wendy could tell he had no idea how he'd gotten from firebrand to burnt out. She saw herself at his age, complacently middle class, being careful not to rock the boat too hard.
Did middle age bring about a failure of will, or did you just have more to lose I guess, she thought, that you always have a lot to lose, it just seems less important when you're young. So I guess it's better that you're inclined to fight the good fight when you're young and don't have a lot of commitments. Yeah, commitments, that's the glue that slows you down, and when it sets, well, your life's over, I guess.
Wendy lifted a brow. Maybe this wasn't the best attitude to foster when she was about to meet AM. Or anyone else for that matter.
She tapped the cell phone on the table before her. It belonged to the house mother, a really nice woman who left it all over the place, so it wouldn't be missed. Everyone "borrowed" it, then returned it with a cheerful, "Were you looking for this?" She glanced at her watch. It was four, AM should. . .
The phone rang.
She bit her lip and stared at it. Just before the third ring she picked it up.
"Yeah?" she said.
It was a young voice, the youth of it hit her before the fact that it was also a male voice.
"How old are you?" she demanded.
There was a long, drawn out sigh.
"I get a lot of that," he said dryly "Not as young as I sound, I know that for sure." Damn! he thought. "Does it matter?"
"Ye-ah! Why would I want to get involved in someone's high school project? Look, kid. . ."
"I found you, didn't I?" John asked, letting his voice get hard. "It took about a minute."
"Oh, no it didn't," Wendy snapped back. She'd worked very hard in obscuring her trail, no way some kid could find it in less than an hour.
"Wendy if I'd known you were going to be so judgmental about my voice I would have had you speak to one of my associates. If this is an issue for you I can hang up now. It's up to you."
Associates, she thought. The kid has associates. Well, that was intriguing. Besides, though he sounded young he sure didn't come across as a kid. Still. . .
"Look, this was supposed to be a get acquainted conversation," she said at last. "So why don't you tell me something about yourself and, uh, your organization, I guess."
"We're not exactly an organization," John explained, relaxing a little. "We don't have a central location, for example. Our associates are spread all over the world, all over the net."
"Do you have a central address where their reports can be accessed," Wendy interrupted. "I mean I assume that you're collecting information for a reason, which means that you interpret what you collect. Presumably you allow your contributors to assist in that."
"Actually. . ." John thought for a moment. How to put this. "Evaluating the kind of information we're going after isn't something a person can just walk in and do. You need training."
"So, train me." Wendy tapped a fingernail on the Formica table. "That's my price 'cause I don't work for free, and I refuse to work blind."
John raised his eyebrows at that. He didn't need a loose cannon on board.
"You're not even hired yet and you want a seat on the board," he protested with a light laugh.
"Look, why did you even want to talk to me if you don't think I'm worth investing time in?" She was beginning to get annoyed. Speaking of time, this is a waste of it.
"It was obvious that you're very smart," John said, "also that you might be so bored you didn't realize you were killing time in a very dangerous way. A lot of you computer jockeys think that what you're doing online isn't real and doesn't count. You think you're perfectly safe behind your keyboards and monitors, but let me tell you, Wendy, you kick the tiger hard enough it will find you and it won't be friendly. Those are real fanatics you were talking to."
He paused and ran a hand through his dark hair. "I wanted to take your intelligence and talent and direct it into a useful channel. I'd like you to be safe, lady. You're at MIT for God's sake! To the Luddite movement that's like ground zero and you think they couldn't find you. You're kidding yourself."
Hunh, Wendy thought, the kid's really passionate about this. She knew she was suppressing the unease his words had wakened in her. Perhaps she had been foolish. Careless? Well, unwise, maybe.
"So what do you want from me?" she asked quietly.
"I want you to keep your eyes and ears open and to report to us anything you find out that might be useful. Useful being defined at something that will prevent harm from being done. I really don't care which camp is generating the damage. Are you interested?"
Wendy thought about it. Was she interested? I dunno, this all sounds kinda wierd. A kid gathering information for some undisclosed reason and passing out dire warnings? I don't think I want to get involved. It wasn't like she didn't have enough to do with her time, after all.
"Sure," she heard herself say. Then laughed at how she'd surprised herself.
"What?" John asked.
"Sure, whatever," Wendy said. "I guess I'm game. Tell me what you want and I'll try to get it for you." It wasn't like she was joining the army or something.
So John told her what he was looking for, gave her a few Internet addresses he'd like her to check into and a few general guidelines. When he was finished he hesitated.
"What?" she said.
"You might like to recruit some friends to help you out," he suggested. "People you can trust."
Wendy sighed. "Well, I'd like to think I'm unlikely to recruit people I don't trust."
John winced. "Well, you know what I mean."
"Yeah, I guess. See you online, kid."
He could hear the smile in her voice and pressed his lips together impatiently. This wasn't a terribly auspicious beginning to their relationship. He'd prefer that his recruits not find him amusing.
Hey, he reminded himself, if she knew the real story she'd run a mile. Screaming.
"Thank you," he said. "I'll keep in touch." He hung up and sighed heavily. I really need to be grown up, he thought. Too bad it wasn't something you could arrange. I guess I could work on my voice, or maybe get some sort of synthesizer. I feel grown up, I just don't sound it. Oh, well. For real emergencies there was always Dieter.
Copyright © 2002 by S.M. Stirling <firstname.lastname@example.org>