Disclaimer: The author of this story owns no rights to characters from the Terminator series. No profit is being made.
My candle burns at both ends,
It will not last the night,
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
Chapter 1: Darkroom
Blood and antiseptic. The two odours co-mingled in the heavy, stagnant air. Of the one he had no doubt; of the other, he was less sure. Real antiseptic? He didn't even know what they devised it from...or if the concoction actually worked. Maybe it was all just a head game played by the doctors and surgeons, a placebo administered to wounds to make people think they were healing. Perhaps all the while, the true healing factor was the power of human belief. Perhaps. The important thing was that often enough this medical procedure worked. Thank God for human ingenuity, it would always make itself known. But he realized that no anti-infection agent, either real or imagined, was likely to help him.
His head ached and the ringing in his ears seemed to be ceaseless. That was the good news. At least it dulled the even less pleasant sounds of the makeshift hospital ward he lay in. He tried to raise his head to get a look at his surroundings; the attempt was unsuccessful. Sighing, he scrubbed a hand down his face and listened to it rasp harshly over his unshaven cheeks...a percussive counterpoint to the dissonant cacophony in his head.
Stan Morsky was a sixty-five year old man. In a reasonably sane world, he'd be welcoming retirement. But that kind of world didn't exist anymore; or maybe the definition of the word was simply evolving. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remember what a sane world had been like, or if there had ever really been one.
There had been one, of course...long before now. Before the machine uprising. Before the nuclear cataclysm had decimated the planet. Before Skynet.
Before Judgment Day.
But now...now humans scurried like rats through the debris of their once great cities. Now there was only survival and the war against the machines. It was that struggle that had brought him to where he now was.
From across the room, he could hear General John Connor speaking in muted tones to the medics on duty. He sounded tired, and he had good reason to. It had been a difficult week, even more physically and emotionally draining than usual, but ultimately it had been a triumphant week. He smiled inwardly; had he said "week"? Perhaps time, and the accompanying human need to segment it, still did mean something. The never-ending purgatory of the post-Judgment Day world sometimes called that into question. Minutes, hours, days...they seemed to lose meaning in the constant state of siege. But the habits of the old world died hard.
Now, however, spirits were rising. They had John Connor to thank for that. The Human Resistance, under Connor's command, was now enjoying its most convincing victories yet. Morsky had served as a strategic aide to Connor for some years now. Despite a lack of military experience in his pre-Judgment Day life, he had come to exhibit considerable tactical skill. But he wasn't on Connor's level; no one else was. The commander's talent in that particular arena was nothing short of otherworldly. He had an uncanny sense for knowing what Skynet would do. John, it seemed, could read the very machine mind of the malevolent AI. This allowed him to organize strikes that now had the human forces making remarkable inroads. Connor had stood toe to toe with the great machine General and the scales had tipped, slowly but inexorably, toward humanity.
As part of the General's inner strategic command circle, Stan had assisted in mapping out battle tactics for the most recent Resistance campaign. It had succeeded beyond anything thought possible. Skynet's defense grid had been smashed...and now optimism reigned. For the first time, people truly believed the war could be won. It was entirely possible that Skynet was experiencing its own Judgment Day.
But as with all great victories and campaigns won, sporadic skirmishing continued as Skynet struggled to regroup. That was when Stan had met his own personal Waterloo. It had happened on a recon mission not far from the main Resistance base. Small, roving bands of T-800 units had been seen in the area, and Stan's scouting party had been given orders to track their movements. The soldiers were aware of how vital it was to keep the immediate area near the base secure.
While on patrol, Stan and Sgt. Dana Robinson had broken off from the main unit; they had moved toward a large strewn-out junk heap of tangled metal. They had then split up, each one of them exploring an avenue of rusted out cars and fallen brick and mortar. At the far end of the debris field, he had reached a dead end, and had then doubled back to meet Robinson at the point of origin. After she had arrived, Stan had radioed their intention of joining up once more with the other team members.
One step further – and far too late – he had discovered he hadn't yet even re-teamed with Robinson...and he never would. This realization had come as a long blade had flashed out and driven toward his heart. He had been shocked to encounter a T-1000; they weren't field units. Very few of them were even known to exist; for most soldiers, they were little more than a rumour. That rumour had become grim reality for Stan. A sudden image had flashed in his mind of the sheathed knife on Robinson's belt; it explained everything. The machine had obviously sampled it after terminating the sergeant.
Maybe this was yet another good sign for the Resistance, Stan had thought, feeling oddly calm, as he had watched the gleaming weapon drive toward him. Skynet usually won the day through the sheer brute force of its machine battalion onslaught. But now maybe it had to resort to stealth -- and hit and run trickery -- to hold the humans at bay while it licked its wounds.
In this instance, though, the trickery had worked. The surprise factor had frozen Stan for one eternal second. He had managed to dodge away from the initial sharp thrust of cold steel toward his heart; but he wasn't as quick as he had once been. He actually heard the blade, parting the air around him, before hefeltit. It swept through in a wide arc, slicing at his gut.
From there on in, he had been aware of very little. Sharpshooters Hudson and Croft, appearing seemingly from nowhere, had started a steady barrage of fire to keep the thing off balance, while Vidro and Smyth had advanced to drag him to safety. As he had bounced and rattled over rock and glass, he had wondered idly – uselessly – who would retrieve Robinson. Note to Connor...more than one T-1000 uni...; the thought had trailed off unfinished, as he lost consciousness.
He had been lying on a hospital cot ever since; he wasn't exactly sure how long that had been. The bleeding had been controlled somehow. Surgery had been performed, and he could only be glad he didn't remember that. Still, he knew his chances weren't good. The doctors would place priority on those who were considered savable. He didn't need a sharp instinct to know that he wasn't in that category.
His thoughts now turned back to the successful military strike. Even with the defense grid smashed, the ultimate victory had remained in peril. Connor had received intelligence that a T-800 infiltration unit Terminator had been sent through Skynet's Time Displacement Equipment. The news hadn't come as a surprise to him. He had absorbed the information about the year and destination programmed into the TDE with a quiet, grim acceptance. It seemed he already knew. The machine assassin's target would be John's own mother...its mission: terminate Sarah Connor to ensure that Skynet's nemesis – John Connor – would never exist.
A young Sergeant named Kyle Reese had been dispatched through the TDE to locate Sarah Connor, and protect her from the T-800. Stan wasn't privy to all the details of the mission, but he didn't need to be told; he knew. Reese's mission would send him back through time to the year 1984.
1984. Even with all of its Orwellian connotations, it had been a far more innocent time. Could Orwell's nightmarish future have been any worse that the actual reality faced by the Judgment Day survivors? Still, he didn't envy Reese his mission; he knew the carnage that awaited him.
Reese had gone despite knowing that it was a one-way trip; he would never return. And yet he had volunteered. Although, who would want to come back to this Godforsaken time, Stan mused. But for Reese, it was all he had ever known – this was home. He had known his sacrifice could seal the victory, and he had actively sought out the responsibility. There was little doubt that he was the man for the job. Stan was sure of it; he had full confidence in Reese.
A figure now swam into his frame of vision. It was The Great Man himself. Connor was studying the medical chart that hung at the base of Stan's cot. Stan knew how it read. "Morsky, Stanley – Colonel", it would announce at the top. Below that would be scribblings of a medical nature, loosely translating to "not long for this world".
"Stan," John greeted him.
Stan attempted a salute, but Connor waved off the formality.
"Took one for the team, did you?" He was trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to sound conversational.
"I was blocking The Plate, sir," Stan replied, referring glibly to his patrol unit's efforts to keep the Resistance base perimeter secure. The base had been code named Home Plate by the soldiers. Skynet could vapourize America, but "Americana" would live on. There would always be baseball and apple pie, if only in theory. Stan continued now in that vein.
"I guess the Dodgers won't be calling any time soon, then?" he joked weakly.
"Not with you on the DL. LoDuca's not out of a job just yet."
The two men shared a laugh at the seemingly ancient history. John's smile then vanished as Stan's chuckles gave way to uncontrolled coughing. Ominous, congested sounds emerged from his lungs and throat. John was looking grave. Yeah, it's definitely bad, Stan thought. If he didn't already know it, he could certainly read it in the General's eyes right now.
"Get your rest," John encouraged him. Stan opened his mouth to blithely quip, "I can sleep when I'm dead", but he stopped himself. It just cut too close to home. Maybe the time for joking was over.
"Stay warm," John added. Stan nodded.
"I'll be back around to see you later."
And Stan knew he would be; John Connor was a man of his word. John clapped Stan lightly on the shoulder, so as not to bring him any further discomfort. He moved off down the ward seeking out more patients whose morale he could raise. Just the sight of Connor among them had this effect on the injured. John was a private man who generally kept to himself, but he made the effort to visit the hospital wards whenever he could be spared. He never forgot that it was real people who sacrificed themselves to carry out his plans.
As John moved from his line of sight, Stan's eyes fell on a tattered scrap of paper tacked to the wall above the cot directly opposite his own. It was a drawing, yellowed and fraying at the edges, illuminated by flickering candlelight. It represented one small part of the ongoing effort to ensure the recording of history. The Judgment Day survivors had always known that history, both written and visual, had to be preserved. Future generations -- and there was now a strong belief that there would be future generations -- had to know where they had come from. They had to be told of the baptism by fire their world had passed through. All too soon, there would be no one left who had known the pre-Judgment Day world. It would be little more than a fantastical myth, a children's bedtime story. The "old world" history books that the authorities had carefully stored in the Crystal Peak fallout shelter would take on the aura of sacred documents from a strange and ancient land.
Post-Judgment Day history had to be recorded now, as it was lived, in any way possible. Andre Robitaille, a soldier in the Resistance, was helping to lead this endeavor. He had become the Mathew Brady of his time, capturing the sights of the battlefield for posterity. But Robitaille didn't have the benefit of photographic technology. He himself became the camera, burning images into his mind's eye, and then developing them through his talented hand with bold penciled strokes onto paper. The images he revealed were straight out of gothic nightmare...legions of grinning, heavily armed T-800 endoskeletons marching relentlessly forward, and looming aerial HKs overwhelming the humans they fired down upon.
But he offered images of hope, as well, and it was just such a picture that had caught Stan's eye. It was a portrait of Sarah Connor. While always regarded with a certain degree of awe, John's physical presence among the human survivors kept him to at least some semblance of a mortal status. Not so with Sarah. She was gone now...had been gone for many years. But her legend only continued to grow. Almost like a saint, people treated this woman. Some even suggested she had been an angel, sent to guide John Connor to his destiny. Saint Sarah, pray for us...Saint Sarah, watch over us, Stan mused rather cynically.
Sarah hadn't witnessed Judgment Day; she had succumbed to leukemia almost five years before the end had come for most everybody else. John rarely spoke of his mother; their relationship had been a complicated one. Still, the people who spent the most time with him could recognize in John a certain relief that his mother hadn't had to see what she had worked so diligently to prevent. Failure didn't sit well with Sarah Connor.
Stan studied the drawing. The "saint" wore military fatigues. An automatic rifle rested in her hands with an easy familiarity that suggested both total knowledge of and expertise with the weapon. She looked out at the world with a calm, steady gaze of determination and defiance. Her grey eyes bespoke a steely resolve.
Robitaille had pulled the image from pre-Judgment Day memory. Chances are he had seen Sarah often on newscasts over the years. And perhaps he had seen her picture in the newspaper, as well, accompanied by reports of her criminal activities and less than stellar character. No actual photos of Sarah now remained. There had been but one, a Polaroid of a pensive looking Sarah, flanked by a large German Shepherd. The photographer was unknown. That photo had long since been entrusted to Kyle Reese; its fate was known only to him.
These people who practically revered Sarah had never known her...had never even seen her in person during her lifetime. But it was no accident that her picture hung in hospital wards. People drew hope and strength from the image; it inspired them to fight and to never give up. These were the same qualities she had instilled in her own son, to whom they owed so much. They knew that she had done her part to help guide humanity through the Dark Years.
Sarah Connor was, if not a saint, then at least a prophet. She had known what was coming – Judgment Day, the war with the machines – she had known about it all. She had prepared for it, and most importantly, she had prepared John. The human survivors didn't know how she could have known, but for them it was simply enough that she had...somehow. It further added to her myth.
Blackness started to wash over Stan now, and the vision of Sarah dimmed and blurred. Finally, he squeezed his eyes shut against her challenging gaze. He allowed himself to sink...and drift...
1. "First Fig", by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1920)