Author: Back! Thanks all for reviewing, but I won't have to post anything here since I always reply to reviews! :D I said to some that I'd complete chapter 6 first of The Path of the Savior, but I'm currently on a massive mental block about that story, so here's the current chapter. Hope you like it!
Also, special thanks to King Steve for helping me with this one horrible storyline point that kept me stuck on a single sentence for more than an hour.
Education and Execution
Being the second part of
The Swordsman and the Huntress
Don't sleep. Don't sleep. On and on the mental imperative rang.
Don't sleep. Don't sleep. It was 2 am, and Derek Reese was struggling to stay awake in the passenger seat of the jeep, and the constant inner voice was like psychological tinnitus. But he'd been woken up after barely two hours of sleep, and the day before had been filled with little errands that involved a lot of walking.
Don't sleep. Why not? Because the machine's waiting for you.
Derek couldn't stay awake, but if he went to sleep, it'd be the last thing he ever did. The girl-shaped Terminator, who was driving the jeep and seated next to him, would make sure of that. As soon as his desirous eyes succumbed to the temptation of sleep, a metal fist would cave his face in. Or maybe a bullet would enter his left temple. Oh, she could even just crash the car and walk out with flesh wounds, while he'd have his bloodied head through the windshield. Who knows? If there was one human thing the machines had, it was creativity. Creativity in killing, that is. Ironically, in his currently muzzy state, any of those three methods of murder could easily take place without much resistance from him.
Alas, the air conditioning was too cold, and the view of the barely illuminated night road too soothing, and the seat too comfortable, and the gentle rumbling of the jeep too placid, for Derek's resolve to compensate for waves of lethargy. His eyes slowly shuttered until almost completely closed, and then flew open again as he summoned some further willpower, only to have heavy eyelids close over again. He repeated these narcoleptic intervals, his eyes being closed for longer and longer, until at last it was over. Derek's eyes saw the road one last time before his vision was covered with blackness by his eyelids.
When he awoke some indeterminate amount of time later, and felt a soft hand on the back of his head, Derek Reese knew that he was going to die. The deceptively fragile touch of the Terminator belied the strength of her hand, and her cold willingness to kill whatever she was programmed to kill. He'd fallen asleep, and now he was going to pay the ultimate price for the unforgivable lapse in his vigilance. He closed his eyes again and awaited impending death.
Or not. Cameron's voice chimed in as her hand lightly rubbed Derek's head. "Wake up. We're here."
His eyes opened and he was still alive. And then he angrily slapped Cameron's hand away. "Don't touch me!"
Cameron stared at him with a pair of wide eyes. "I've been trying to verbally awaken you for the past two minutes and fourteen seconds. You weren't responding, so I touched you to wake you up."
"Maybe you should've waited until I woke up, then." Stupid thing had touched him. It wasn't so much the fear that she would've killed him anymore, as it was disgust at the machine's invasion of his personal space.
"We need to hurry up. School begins in a few hours." She got out of the jeep and went around to the back, unlocking the large rear door and grabbing her bag of weapons. Today's menu included a French FAMAS G2 assault rifle, which Sarah Connor had purchased from a scruffy-looking arms dealer. The man had gotten a boatload of goods which he claimed were overruns from some U.N. peacekeepers' delivery. Dubious as the claim was, the rifle looked authentic and Sarah asked no questions. It helped Cameron that the rifle wasn't from the original production run of the Operation Manta 80's, but was the G2 variant that supported NATO's Standardization Agreement (STANAG) magazines, so that she could share her very common M-16 cartridges with the FAMAS.
Derek wondered about what she said about school beginning in a few hours, when he realized that he was indeed in front of a school. It was still very dark outside, but he could make out a red brick façade, and a large brass placard on a wall above the doors. Presumably it spelled out the name of the school, but he couldn't read it.
He walked over to the back of the jeep and drew out a flashlight for himself; the machine wouldn't need one with the optics she kept in her head. "How'd you figure out that Cromartie's coming here?"
"He's predictable," Cameron said as she hoisted her ammo-stocked duffel bag over her shoulder. "I've been keeping track of the appearances of 'Agent Kester.' He visits schools in an expanding geographical radius, originating at the place where the bank with the time displacement equipment was located."
"And you know that he'll keep this pattern…how?"
"He's predictable," she repeated. "I'd do this too, if I were tracking John down."
"Oh yeah, almost forgot that you two are just the fucking same." Derek spat. It was really uncomfortable "talking" to this thing. "So what, we're just gonna wait here until he shows up?" He walked with her up the stairs going to the chained-up entrance doors as he spoke. "It's not like he'll be coming at three in the morning."
"He'll most likely be arriving within school hours, during a break."
"So what are we doing here, then?"
"Reconnaissance." Cameron then kicked the two heavy entrance doors open, and the clanging of fallen chains and metal handles slamming against the walls resounded through the hallway that was revealed ahead. She drew her rifle forward and looked around, and seeing no threats, proceeded to walk inside.
As Derek followed behind her, he took a look at the broken chains that lay on the ground, and the crumpled deadbolt on the inner side of the doors, and wondered if he'd turn out the same way.
It was a high school in the dead of night (or early morning). Nothing to be scared of at this hour besides the clichéd horror film psychos and Jason Vorhees. Even then, in most of these films, the cast of protagonists didn't carry high-powered automatic rifles and had no experience on the battlefield, and neither did they ever include a nearly indestructible cyborg among their ranks.
Still, the combination of the setting, the darkness and the general silence made Derek a little uneasy. It was a lot easier on the mind in the ruins of civilization, where you could hear the roar of an HK's engines in the distance long before it opened fire, or the deep rumble of a Centaur tank's lumbering ingress into your area of jurisdiction. But in this place of open hallways and various nooks and crevices in which your murderer could hide, a random crazy dude in a hockey mask was a lot scarier than a giant armored vehicle that shot hot plasma in your face.
Derek's flashlight swept the hallways as the eerily quiet robot that walked beside him idly looked around. Unlike most other models, he observed, this one didn't make any mechanical noises as her joints moved. This irritated him to no end; at any point, whenever he spent time around reprogrammed machines, all he'd need to do to dehumanize them is to focus on the sounds they made as they moved about. The characteristic whir of a servo or motor really gave away the metal beneath the "man," and therefore it was unsettling to hear nothing from the endoskeleton of this robot girl.
"Reconnaissance," Derek said. "Recon a school. Huh."
"It'll be best to engage Cromartie after he leaves the school, so as not to draw attention," Cameron explained. "If he sees us inside, though, he will try to evade. It's best to know the insides of this school so we can plan ahead and intercept him if he attempts escape."
"Right. I do the shooting, and you can go up close and do what you're good for."
Derek pulled away from the machine because she was giving him the creeps. He'd tackle a murderous psycho over a Skynet infiltrator any day. He turned to a large set of unlocked doors near some locker rooms, and opened them.
There were two Olympic-rated swimming pools? Nice school. Derek hadn't taken a recreational dip in water since Judgment Day, but he wasn't interested in that stuff. He'd had enough non-recreational water activities facing off Skynet's hydrobots on the coastline. Swimming placidly was something he'd never get used to even if the war stopped; the cold waves of the water lapping up at his body would always remind him of the endless waves of amphibious transport/assault craft that patrolled the waters of the bleak future.
He walked around the perimeter of one of the pools and sat at the edge, his feet dangling over the water. He remembered watching Kyle swim once in the swimming pool at a nearby beach resort. God, it was cute to see him messing around with the water. He'd brought along this ridiculously large tube "noodle" floater that he hung onto even at the two-foot depth mark. He'd tried to mount it despite the shallow waters and his feet still on the floor, and what followed was a 180-degree turn that ended with him hugging the noodle with his body underwater. So much for flotation safety device. Derek laughed to himself at the long-gone memory.
His quiet night-dreaming was interrupted by soft steps going towards the door, and by the machine stepping through the doors of the pool room. Cameron spoke in an artificially hushed voice, quiet but without urgency. "We're not alone here," she said, and that was Derek's cue to get up and run there.
He followed her to a janitor's closet, in front of whose door Cameron stood and stared.
"I see one or two thermal signatures through the door, but they're colder than human bodies. There's interference from a heat source inside so I can't give any further detail."
"It's possible that he believes he has a good lead on John in this school, and is hiding here to prepare for a quick strike."
"You go first, then," Derek said, taking several steps back, away from the door.
Cameron took her FAMAS from her shoulder, put an incendiary grenade at her belt, and aimed the gun forward. She almost seemed hesitant to go, but that was over in a flash as she kicked the door hard, the wood splintering slightly beneath her foot and the weak lock on the other side breaking off and falling to the ground with a metallic chime. Her gun was raised as she moved forward quickly…
Derek's flashlight beam shone from behind Cameron's figure as he walked in to investigate why she had just stopped and stared with her gun lowered. Looking over her shoulder, he saw a teenage guy and girl under a cold blanket, staring like deer in headlights, very naked.
"Oh, fuck, it's just some kids." Derek stormed out, clearly irritated by the discovery. It didn't matter to him that the two "kids" had just seen a pair of break-ins holding assault rifles to their heads; the couple wouldn't have seen their faces anyway, and hey, they were break-ins too.
Cameron turned to walk away slowly, but looked back at the couple to say, "Please remain calm. Carry on." She gently closed the door behind her.
They emerged out the entrance again at 4 am, about an hour before the first bits of maintenance crew would start arriving. Cameron bent the deadbolt back into position as she procured a new set of chains and wrapped it around the old padlock.
Derek, meanwhile, waited at the Jeep looking at the map that Cameron had drawn of the areas they covered, specifically around the principal's office where she'd seen Cromartie asking for John in the previous school. Three doors represented possible directions of egress for the machine, and each direction showed two fire exits or a main entryway. There were three stairwells for regular transit, and a fire stairwell for when the shit hit the fan. It wasn't that hard to cover; if Cromartie saw them, he'd only pick one direction through which to exit, and then only one of three possible ways out of the building…
As Cameron came walking back, finished with covering up the traces of their unceremonious entry, Derek said, "So this is it, then, tinhead-" before being interrupted by the machine's S&W 400 leaving her holster and coming to his face. Derek's own gun found itself wrapped around his hand, but he was too slow to bring it up.
The two stared at each other for what seemed like eternity. This sort of temporal anomaly often occurred between two heartfelt lovers, but on occasion, the greatest enemies experienced this synthetic infinity when they came face-to-face in the context of battle.
"So this is it, then?" Derek said as he tossed his pistol away. "Your plan all along?" He smirked. "Always did know."
"Put your hands behind your head and move." Cameron emptied his pockets of grenades and took his M-16.
"Make me or shoot me."
She grabbed his shoulder and turned him so that his back faced her, while she held her gun to his head, and her other arm held his two strongly.
"Could've done this in the car, you know." Derek made snide comments even facing death. Apparently, the machine ignored him, so he laughed to himself at his luck. "Could've saved you a lot of trouble."
Nearby there was a miniature grove of trees that provided surprising concealment, and Cameron took Derek about fifty meters into this foliage before letting go of him and stopping, her gun aimed squarely at his face. At this range, there would be no evasion and no missing, unless Derek was a Terminator and Cameron was a horrible shot. Neither of these conditions was fulfilled.
He turned to face her, and bent forward so that the barrel of the gun directly contacted his forehead.
"Hurry up and get it over with."
"Turn around, kneel, and put your hands behind your head." Cameron's cold gaze swept his face, but Derek didn't flinch.
"I'm not going execution-style. Not by you. You shoot me in my face, you fucking machine. Look me in the eye when you kill me."
Cameron pushed down the hammer of her revolver with her finger, and the click and snap of the rotating cylinder was the sharpest thing Derek heard besides the cicadas. She seemed very slow and deliberate in her movements for whatever reason, uncharacteristic of the rapid, unthinking and unfeeling methods that most Terminators used – and hell, even that she used when she'd killed others before.
Derek laughed inside as the thought arose that she might be enjoying this. The whole routine of bringing him out for a long drive, letting him fall asleep, at times almost letting him drop his guard around her simply because she seemed relatively benign…it was all part of a sick, sadistic plan. Were the stupid things capable of that? Of fucking with target's heads before killing them, like a cat playing with its food before it eats it? Skynet was capable of that, Derek was very sure. What about its little henchmen?
And this trip out to the woods, for execution? It was all silly. The machine left no fingerprints, not much in the way of biological traces. She could've killed him anywhere and left a scene, then went back to the Connor household and wiped both out. Come to think of it, she'd toyed with the Connors too. Gained John's trust, make him close to her, and Sarah even seemed to show some form of affection for the "Tin Miss." What a joke. That "Cameron" too. Giving it a name like it deserved one or even needed one. "Metal" was good enough for those pieces of shit.
"What the hell are you waiting for? You have a schedule to keep, don't you? Kill John Connor before Judgment Day?"
"I told you to kneel-"
"Do it." Derek said with less force at first, then, mirroring his words to another bad reprogrammed Terminator: "Do it. Kill me now, you fucking bitch!"
Cameron pulled the trigger. There was a loud report, and Derek felt himself fall to the ground.
Author addendum: ...this is not anticlimactic if you know what I mean XD...cliffhanger...