Chapter 10: The Vessel
SERRANO POINT POWER PLANT
The General bolted down the corridor, his aging legs carrying him as far from the carnage as they could manage.
Connor had been very specific in his instructions: do NOT let the Vessel gain control of the bubble tech, and the General was determined to follow these orders to the letter. He and his platoon were busy defending the south-east walkway when the order came through to get their asses down to the TDE chamber ASAP. Details were sketchy, but the General had heard from passing soldiers that a squad of the new T-999 units had punched a hole through the western section.
The soldiers were in too much of a hurry to report to their positions to elaborate further on the attack, but one of them did mention Connor's unit was forced into a bottleneck to avoid whatever was leading the Triple-9s. This did not bode well with the General, for he knew that Connor would never normally shy away from a foe, no matter how dangerous it might be.
The General's breathing became ragged and hoarse as he turned the corner, pausing a moment to catch his breath, his age finally catching up on him. Looking down the corridor with his one remaining eye (the other lost in a skirmish 2 years ago), the General could see the heavy titanium door that protected the TDE chamber beyond. With a grunt, the General forced himself onwards, wheezing from the strain as he hobbled closer and closer to the door.
Before he could reach it, however; two doors burst open on either side of the wizened man. He raised his rifle instinctively but immediately lowered it as several dozen Tech-Com soldiers emerged from the rooms. They cast him swift salutes before taking a defensive position along the corridor. The General slouched against the wall and placed his eye to the retinal scanner, mumbling; "I'm too old for this shit", under his breath as it recognised his authority and the heavy door came free from its locks.
The General heaved the door open, his aching muscles screaming for relief, and he leaned against it with a long sigh as the last few soldiers took their positions. "Someone get me a God damn wheel chair", he groaned. The nearby lieutenant chuckled and knelt down, his plasma rifle raised and ready.
"I'll get back to you on that, General", he quipped as a sudden explosion rocked the entire facility.
"What the hell was that?" a Corporal asked, staring at the ceiling as if expecting it to collapse any moment.
In answer to his question, the wall on his immediate left imploded, showering the hapless soldier in debris, killing him and two others instantly. The General snapped to attention as three T-999s stepped into the corridor and let loose a burst of plasma, terminating another four soldiers with their impeccable accuracy. The old man joined the youths as they returned fire in trained unison, all targeting the Triple-9s' sensor nodes. After a few moments, six more soldiers lay dead but all three T-999s had likewise succumbed to sustained plasma fire.
With the corridor seemingly secure, the General turned his mind back to the task at hand.
"Defend this position with your lives. Do not let it be compromised. Protect it down to the last man, do you understand me?"
The soldier gave their respective murmurs, grunts, and nods of approval, satisfying the General enough for him to heave the door closed and engage the locks. He staggered into the hardened observation room and placed his hands against the bomb-proof glass overlooking the TDE device. Even in its prone state, small sparks of lightning arced around a non-existent sphere, ready to shuttle organics or posers to any point in the past… or future.
Outside the chamber all was quiet; too quiet. Unwilling to be caught by surprise, the Lieutenant nodded at one of the Privates and inclined his head at the collapsed wall from which the Triple-9s had emerged. The soldier pressed himself against the wall and sidled to the edge of the hole. He hesitated for a moment before tentatively throwing a small fragment of stone into the hole. When nothing happened, he jumped out into the dull lamp light that emanated from the next room.
Before he could raise his weapon or even scream, the short-straw Private was blasted by a ball of plasma, ripping his chest apart and liquefying the organs within. The other soldiers raised their weapons in surprise and anticipation, waiting for the attacker to emerge. From out of the hole came a machine much like the Triple-9s in appearance, but even amongst the smoke and dust they could all tell it was not a typical Triple-9.
The machine was toughened like a T-999, every delicate circuit and hydraulic protected by hyper-alloy armour, but to a far greater extent. It held no weapons, but on its right arm was unmistakably a plasma cannon of sorts. To the stunned soldiers' amazement, the machine's cannon dismantled itself and reformed into five barrels, and its left arm did the same. They quickly regained their composure and opened fire on the new threat, but their shots simply ricocheted off its armour.
Green eyes glared at the humans as it assessed their number and threat level:
--[No. of threats: 10 TECH-COM SKIRMISHERS
--[Target Priority: ALL
--[Weapon Selected: INTERNAL – 783 CHAIN REPEATER
The prone barrels suddenly spun like a mechanical screwdriver and a second later violet plasma shot out from every barrel, seeding the soldiers with a hail of destruction. Five seconds later and the entire team lay dead, the machine completely unharmed from their attacks. It strode past their shredded bodies, its left hand assuming its default form while the other reformed back to a plasma cannon.
The machine scanned the door and located its weakest spot and fired a single burst of plasma, obliterating it completely.
It then strode inside where a lone man remained, a General's emblem stitched to his shoulder. The General placed several expert shots on the machine's face, but it simply closed its protective shutters to shield its eyes and lunged forward, using a recorded image of the room to determine the man's location. It swept aside the plasma rifle and grabbed the old man by the throat, holding him aloft.
Opening its eyes, the machine looked up into the face of its adversary and let out a small mechanical chuckle of amusement.
The General, knowing his time had finally come, grasped a grenade from his belt and pulled the pin. He looked the machine in the eye and said: "You wanted a party, you son-of-a-bitch? Well don't forget to make a wish!" The machine's eyes flicked to the name patch on his chest and recorded his designation, "Mazaki", before the General removed his thumb from the grenade trigger.
The next thing the machine knew was a blinding flash and several warning alerts as it was hurled back against the wall, crashing to the floor. Needing no time to recover, the machine promptly got back to its feet, completely undamaged by the explosion. General Mazaki, however, was not so fortunate; his body completely obliterated by the blast.
The machine observed what little was left of the human before proceeding into the primary chamber, which had thankfully survived the blast. Syncing with the Resistance computers, the machine punched in a time and destination before stepping onto the platform and kneeling down. As the device warmed up and electrical arcs spat all around the machine, it activated its poly-mimetic sheath.
The liquid metal consumed its entire endoskeleton and settled into its default form, a young and handsome male adult, providing the synthetic life "energy" necessary for time travel. The lightning intensified as the machine conducted one last status check on its systems:
--[Status: 'VESSEL' OPERATING AT OPTIMAL LEVELS
--[Target Date Confirmed: NOVEMBER 20TH 2008
The bubble of energy arced around the Vessel, blinding its vision as the machine hurtled across time to its chosen location.
The end had begun and the beginning had ended.
ARIZONA (EN ROUTE TO DISUSED STORAGE DEPOT)
6,822… 6,823… 6,824… 6,825…
Jason observed every white line as they flicked past, counting them like seconds as they neared their destination: a disused storage facility in the Arizona outback. Daniel was driving them to this location, his eyes focussed on the road, paying no attention to anything other than driving. He glanced at the clock on the dashboard and sped up, letting out a small sigh of annoyance.
Jason was tempted to ask the reason for his haste, but decided to hold his silence.
The others were silent also, almost unnaturally so.
Sophie hadn't spoken more than two words to him since they set off from their stop in Utah. John and Cameron had whispered to each other for several hours before both falling silent, the former falling asleep three hours ago. Cameron stared blankly out of the window, casting the occasional glance at John and wearing an expression of guarded regret. Sophie was just as blank, but Jason could easily read her fear and anxiety in the way her eyes kept flicking up to the rear view mirror and averting whenever he caught sight of her reflection.
He was good at reading people, humans especially. Machines were almost impossible to read, as there was consistently nothing hidden inside their behaviour other than deception, Cameron being the exception in this case. Sophie was challenging to read, but not impossible. She could hide her feelings well, but lacked the skill and discipline taught to Jason's generation. He could see something was on her mind.
Jason had considered simply out and asking her straight up what was wrong. However, given her current state, he knew anything she'd tell him would be fabricated. This didn't hurt him, for lying was a prime instinct of all Infiltrators, but he was still concerned as to why she would feel the need to keep this from him. Maybe she is simply afraid and doesn't want to admit it and appear weak, he reasoned.
Her eyes flicked to the mirror again and met his for a split second before she once again cast her gaze elsewhere, missing Jason's frown of confusion. With the smallest of sighs, Jason propped his elbow on the side door and rested his chin on his fist, turning his attention back to counting the white lines once more; 7,038… 7,039… 7,040… 7,041…
John stirred and opened his eyes slowly, his vision blurry as he tore himself from the tight embrace of sleep. Wiping his eyes, John looked around him, seeing everything as he had left it. Turning to his left, John expected to find Cameron resting on his shoulder, but instead she was sitting in a stiff posture, staring into the distance and apparently unaware of his return to consciousness.
He slid his hand onto hers and she tore her gaze from the windshield to meet his. They passed a roadside lamp and the interior was briefly cast in an orange light, illuminating Cameron's features. John's heart skipped a beat as he observed her sweat-drenched face, beads of moisture dripping down her brow and cheeks.
He looked up at the roof, expecting to see a damp patch, but there was nothing: the roof was fine; the sweat was coming from her.
"Hey, are you okay?" he asked in a low voice, hoping Jason was asleep and the others couldn't hear.
Cameron reached up to touch the side of her face and wiped her brow with the back of her hand; "It's nothing", she replied with a reassuring, but unconvincing, smile. "My sweat glands are malfunctioning is all. Don't worry about it, I'll have it fixed soon", she added.
John popped the small glove compartment on the door and retrieved a handkerchief, which he then used to wipe her face thoroughly, his brow knitting together. "You're not fooling me here, Cam. I know there's something going on with you. If you're… damaged; tell me. Don't keep me in the dark 'cause you think it would spare me the trouble of being worried", he demanded.
Cameron placed her hand on his and held it to her cheek, stroking his knuckles affectionately; "They're minor glitches. I'll be alright, John. So long as I don't get plasma'd anytime soon", she said pointedly catching Jason's eye in the mirror. He simply smirked and went back to counting the lines. John brought her hand to his lips and kissed them, then gently pulled her closer, letting her rest her head on him.
"I'll never let anything happen to you. You know that, right?" he said, stroking her hair carefully.
Cameron placed a small kiss on his lower jaw and nestled her head on his shoulder, placing her arm around his stomach possessively.
"I know. I'll never let anything happen to you either", she replied, ignoring the return of her sweats.
ONE HOUR LATER
Sophie stepped out of the truck, her boots clicking on the sandy gravel of the car lot they'd parked in.
John and Cameron followed suite, the former helping the latter out of the back seat. Jason kicked the door open and got out, slamming the door shut and leaning against the truck. Daniel was last to exit, casting Sophie a knowing look as he did so. She felt her stomach squirm as the clear meaning of that look took hold of her mind. The time was almost near.
Jason scanned the miniature city of shipping containers, surrounding what he assumed was a junkyard of old cars.
"Why is it we have to meet in a piece of crap rust hazard like this? Haven't you ever heard of hotels and fluffy white towels?" he asked Daniel, briefly looking at Sophie for some sign of approval. She was staring in the opposite direction, however. Daniel checked his watch and nodded to himself before starting forward, the others following.
"We have to be inconspicuous in our meetings. I'm sure you of all people understand the value of anonymity, Jason."
Jason snorted and raised an eyebrow at the looming crates; "Yeah, but a little style and class wouldn't go amiss. This is just paranoia."
They stepped through a gap in the chain-link fence and entered the labyrinth of crates, Daniel leading the way down every "corridor" at an urgent pace. At the back of the group, Sophie struggled to control her breathing, taking long deep breaths to try and calm her nerves for what was to come.
"Hey, when we meet up with your cyborg buddies, what're we gonna do then? What's the plan, exactly?" asked John.
Daniel glanced back at the human, not breaking his stride in the slightest; "We'll see."
John rolled his eyes and sighed; "Yeah, thanks for the insight; so helpful."
They finally reached the centre of the compound, and as Jason predicted; a vehicle graveyard. Daniel stopped in his tracks and turned to face them, his hands in his pockets. "Okay, this is the place. I don't know how to do this, exactly, but I feel I owe it to you to be direct."
Jason frowned at the I-950 and took a step forward; "What are you-?" he began, but his words were cut short as every nerve and circuit in his body screamed in agony and confusion.
--[Warning: ERROR! ERROR! HIGH VOLTAGE DETECTED! EMERGENCY SYSTEM OVERLOAD IMMINENT!
He dropped to the floor as the world became dark and his HUD faded into nothing.
John jumped back in surprise as Sophie lowered the stun gun, her face unreadable as she stared down at Jason's inert body. John looked to Cameron for some kind of clarity, but she seemed just as shocked and offered no opinion. Something moved in the corner of his eye, and John spun around in time to see four figures clad in black approaching them, all carrying stun guns like Sophie's.
Before he could act, they fired in unison, tagging Cameron with multiple hits. John could only watch in horror as she twitched and collapsed to the ground, electricity coursing through her every system.
"John?" was all she managed before becoming still, her eyes dull and lifeless.
His mind raced as he stared down at her inert form and the look of shock frozen on her elegant features. It took him a moment to come back to his senses, and John instantly reached for his Glock, but Daniel was too quick for him and delivered a single kick to the side of his head. John was out before he even hit the dirt, joining Cameron in a long sleep.
Daniel adjusted his coat and gestured for the attackers to approach.
"Take the hybrid and the machine and keep them subdued", he commanded, the I-950s following his orders without question.
While they dragged Jason and Cameron elsewhere, he turned to Sophie, who was fighting back her inner turmoil. He could clearly see she was on the brink of tears, but cared little, for her grief paled in comparison to the survival of their entire species. He left her alone and went to prepare. Sophie covered her mouth and began to shake, a small sob escaping her despite her control.
She had finally learned the lesson of betrayal, and she knew now why it was considered so painful.
Every inch of her ached with it.
--[Assessment: ALL SYSTEMS FULLY FUNCTIONAL
At first, Jason believed he was still in the truck, driving to Arizona; that everything that happened was just a dream. But as his senses came back to him, Jason could feel the cold metal wrapped firmly around his wrists and ankles, and he knew this was no dream.
It was a nightmare.
Opening his eyes, all he could see was darkness, so he switched to night-vision instead and found himself inside what he assumed to be a shipping container. The double doors at the end were sealed shut, no doubt with a guard standing outside with a semi-automatic. He shook his head, trying to makes sense of what was happening, but looking back all he could remember was blinding pain and alert messages before losing consciousness.
The rattle of a chain pricked his ears, and Jason looked to his left and was surprised to find Cameron there, chained in the same manner as himself. She was looking around blindly, and Jason assumed she hadn't switched her vision yet, as she glanced right past him. After a moment, she gave a small startle and narrowed her eyes at him, her expression mixed.
"What is happening?" she asked in monotone.
Jason shrugged as best he could, what with his arms bound the way they were; "I haven't a clue. I imagine you know more than me."
"I remember Sophie attacking you from behind. I remember four Infiltrators-" she began, but Jason cut her short.
"She what?! Are you saying Sophie did this to me?!" he asked incredulously, hoping her earlier account was a joke or a fault.
Cameron simply nodded, however, and flexed her arms against the chains. "She struck you with a stun gun at close range; the back of the neck, you were out in seconds", she explained dispassionately. Jason couldn't speak; his voice was stolen away by what he was hearing.
Sophie betrayed me?
A dozen questions and theories and excuses stormed his mind, threatening to override all logical thought, but he forced himself to keep his cool. He always knew she had loyalties beyond him, her determination to return to the Louisiana stronghold to save her kin being an example. But he never would've suspected her of actively betraying him like this, not after everything they'd…
"I don't understand. Why would she and Daniel turn on us like this?" he thought aloud.
Cameron struggled against her restraints, but they were too solid for her break without sufficient momentum; "They're your allies", she replied. "You should know why they've done this. How am I expected to provide any insight into their motives?" she asked.
Jason had no answer to this. Deep down, he berated himself for ever allowing himself to trust anyone at all.
Cameron ceased her efforts, knowing them to be futile, and opted instead to run a full assessment of her systems.
--[Assessment: ALL SYSTEMS RUNNING WITHIN MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
--[Note: POWER LEVELS LOW… REROUTING OF POWER COMPROMISING PRIMARY DISTRIBUTION: 65% COMPROMISE
Her levels were currently enough to keep her moving, but she knew that any fight would be impossible at this juncture. She simply didn't have enough power for such exertions; a troubling development, especially as John was unaccounted for. "We have to find John", she declared, fighting against the chains one last time.
"There's every chance he's dead. You know that, right?" he sighed.
Cameron fixed him with a stern glare, her eyes becoming hard and cold; "He is not dead. I would know if he was, and he isn't. He isn't."
Jason wasn't convinced by her conviction, knowing that deep down in that chip of hers she was screaming in terror at the possibility of losing John. Before he could call her out on this, however, a metallic scraping sound caught his attention, drawing his gaze to the double doors. One opened, allowing a small sliver of light onto the threshold as a single figure entered.
Jason knew instantly who this was, and every nerve in his half-machine body twitched with expectation.
"You have a lot of explaining to do, sweetie", he growled, fixing Sophie's dark form with an equally dark glare.
She simply smiled sadly and looked down, staring resolutely at the cold metal floor; "I owe you the truth", she agreed.
"Where's John?" asked Cameron, her eyes boring into Sophie dangerously.
"He's with us. He's alive… for now", Sophie replied, her voice quavering slightly. Cameron could see her pain but cared not, all she wanted was clarification and to know that John wasn't going to be hurt.
"What have you done to him?" she demanded.
Sophie sighed and shuffled her feet before answering. Jason watched her every movement carefully, and knew she was not faking now. For the first time since meeting her, he could see her true self; a young woman trapped in desperation and bound by undue loyalty.
He'd seen her nude before… but until now; he'd never seen her naked.
"John is tied up at the moment. We need him", Sophie explained.
"For what?" Jason asked.
Sophie took a deep breath and linked her hands, forcing herself to look them both in the eyes as she spoke.
"Things have changed. We were going to link up and find another place to hide, but that isn't possible anymore. We have to take a more desperate method to ensure our survival. We are no longer safe, no matter where we might go and hide. It will find us and kill us all until there are none of us left. We must take measures to protect ourselves."
Jason frowned at her and shook his head; "What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about The Vessel, Jason. It's coming. It's coming and it is going to kill us all unless we provide a peace offering", she explained.
He couldn't believe what he was hearing: The Vessel, Skynet's last hope of survival, was coming to 2008.
"Why? What happened in the future, and how do you even know its coming? Who told you? Daniel?" he asked.
Sophie took a step closer and reached for his arm. For a second, Jason thought she was going to release him, but instead she simply took his hand and entwined her fingers with his. "Every machine that still possesses the Skynet base code has a temporal beacon in their programming. It basically alerts them to the arrival of an intelligence unit, but it also forewarns them of The Vessel's presence. Cameron is unaware because her base code was lost in the Jeep explosion, and you have shut out that part of your neural net."
"And the future?" Jason pressed, his tone growing darker with every passing moment.
"We're not sure. I can only guess the war has gone badly and The Vessel was forced to escape before it was destroyed", she answered.
"And John?" Cameron asked. "Where does he fit in to all of this?"
Sophie bit her lower lip for a long moment before answering: "John will be given to it. He will be terminated and we will be spared."
Cameron screamed and lunged forward, the chains keeping her from ripping Sophie's head clean off. Jason clamped down on Sophie's hand, causing her to cry out in agony as he crushed her fingers beneath his grip; "You can't let this happen, Sophie!" he roared.
"We don't have a choice", she cried, trying in vain to break free.
"Do you honestly believe you and the others will be spared? You're all threats, and threats are eliminated, no matter what you place on the silver platter! It will kill you ALL!" he shouted, applying more pressure to her fingers. Sophie screamed as the pain intensified, fearing the truth behind his words.
Cameron thrashed against her chains; her eye glowing blue as disparity took hold. She couldn't let anything happen to John, she'd sworn to that. He was everything to her. Without him, she was just another machine. The fear of losing him was overwhelming.
"LET US GO! LET US SAVE HIM! YOU HAVE TO LET ME GO! LET ME GO!!!" she screamed.
Sophie ignored her, however, the pain of her hand blocking out everything else.
"Please. Please, let go. It-It hurts, Jason. Please", she begged, tears streaming from her ocean blue eyes.
"Does it? You have no idea what pain feels like, and I assure you…" he squeezed harder, and Sophie dropped to her knees, crying without restraint; "…this is nothing in comparison!" She looked up at him pleadingly, gasping in agony as blood seeped through their fingers. Jason watched her suffering for a long moment before finally relinquishing his hold.
Sophie dropped to the floor and cradled her hand, vaguely thankful that he hadn't broken any bones.
"You can still fix this, Sophie. Let us go, help us save John, and we can find a way out of this", Jason offered, his tone even again.
She staggered to her feet and stepped close, keeping her hands away from his.
"I can't. I'm sorry. My place belongs with my people", she whispered, a single tear running down her cheek. Before he could argue his point, she leaned close and pressed her lips to his, kissing him deeply for a long moment. She slowly broke away and brushed her cheek against his; "I love you", she breathed into his ear, before stepping away, fresh tears spilling down her cheeks.
Jason swallowed, still tasting her lips on his; "Don't do this, Sophie. Please", he pleaded one last time.
She shook her head and backed towards the doors, stepping out into the cold night air and paused for a long moment before closing the door. Darkness and silence descended upon them and Jason heard the crunch of her footsteps as she walked away, sobbing into her hands. Jason didn't bother to go back to night-vision and stared instead at the empty black before him.
Cameron's eyes remained blue and provided a little light to their surroundings.
"Do you love her?" she asked.
"I wish I knew", he answered.
John awoke to a sight that would surely have killed him were he 80 years old.
He was tied to a large post in the centre of the junkyard, and all around him stood tall men and women, the former far outnumbering the latter. They were all looking at him with blank expressions, their eyes fixed on his, as if in expectation of something. John knew without a shadow of a doubt that he was surrounded by no less than 30 Terminators, but was baffled as to why none of them had killed him yet.
At the forefront of this crowd stood Daniel, and on his left stood Sophie, who looked like she'd cried enough to fill an empty lake.
Jason was nowhere to be seen, nor was Cameron. A sinking feeling in his gut made him fear the worst, so he shouted: "Where's Cameron?!" No one answered at first, but after a few moments Sophie took a step forward and cleared her throat.
"They're umm… They're safe. Don't worry about them", she croaked, her voice hoarse and ragged.
Daniel rolled his eyes at her and John took this as confirmation of her claim, but that did nothing to stem his concern.
"Why am I here? What are you doing?"
No one answered. Sophie stepped back and hung her head, her eyes closed as more tears spilled forth. She couldn't help revisiting what she'd said to Jason earlier. Looking back, she couldn't help but wonder what prompted her admission. Could it be that her words were truth, or was she simply pretending to ease his pain? Sophie couldn't tell at first, but the more she thought about it, the more she came to realise…
Jason tapped away at the computer, installing a virus into Cameron's chip while Sophie knelt down and rested her arms and chin on the desk. She smiled goofily at him, and he chuckled, forcing himself to concentrate on his work.
He took the silver bracelet from her and held it aloft, bemused by her gift, but pocketed it all the same.
She heaved the last of the rubble off of his crippled body and knelt down beside him, finding the bracelet around his wrist; she took it for safe keeping, and to give it back once he was saved.
They sat together in the cold garden of the Louisiana stronghold, sharing each other's warmth and she snaked her hand into his; he did not object or push her away when she laid her head on his shoulder.
The bullet wound burned like fire, torturing her body a thousand times over, but he held her close and sleep came easily.
He tucked the blanket around her, and he thought she was asleep while he stroked the skin of her arm, and failed to notice her smile.
She pressed her lips to his, and though he knew the situation demanded he talk her out of it, he responded in kind.
She had told him nothing but the truth.
As if in a dream state, Sophie turned away from John and swept through the crowd, not hearing Daniel's confused questions. Once free of the masses, she bolted down the long passage through the containers, following the small map in her peripheral to the correct one. She ran as fast as her legs could carry her, lightning crackling from the junkyard she pushed herself harder to reach her destination.
She had failed everyone around her, but this time she would amend one such failure.
ONE MILE FROM THE DISUSED STORAGE DEPOT
Deep within his primitive CPU, the T-700 could hear its master's call. They were close now, so very close, but late. It was here already, he'd missed the arrival. But there was still time to witness its magnificence, still time to meet his creator in the flesh (figuratively speaking). The truck sped up, almost as if Derek could sense Cipher's urgency. Muffled voices reached his audio receptors through the thick cover concealing him in the back. They were talking about electricity in the distance, and the T-700 knew the time had finally come.
The bubble dissipated and dispersed, revealing a lone figure kneeling within the crater left by the time bubble.
Slowly, it rose to its feet, standing at full height as it scanned its surroundings.
It observed the machines, all T-888s, standing in silent reverence, or their equivalent of worship. It stared at the small group of I-950s that stood between him and the boy tied to a post in the middle of this arena. He paid them little attention, his eyes fixed on the boy, who stared back with wide eyes.
--[Identification Confirmed: JOHN CONNOR
Excitement, relish, whatever it could call it; The Vessel was feeling it.
It stepped out of the crater and passed between the Infiltrators, tapping one absent-mindedly and mimicking his clothing as it stepped up to the boy's position. John's chest was rising and falling to an excessive degree, on the edge of fatal hyperventilation as the machine reached out and brushed a finger tip against his cheek. To his horror, The Vessel turned silver and its face and bodily dimensions reformed to match his own before settling back into texture and colour.
John looked into his own green eyes and knew, without a single doubt, what he was looking at.
Those eyes glowed bright green and The Vessel tipped its head to one side as a sly smile crept across its face.
"John Connor, we meet at last", it spoke, its voice metallic and hair-raising; so unlike his own.
John looked for the first time into the heart of his nightmares, the being that dominated his life, whom he was destined to one day fight. The machine, the mind that started it all. Bringer of Judgment Day and the architect of the war. John Connor had finally met his opposite, his negative, the darkened reflection of everything he would one day become.
The child of humanity had returned home; the son that was Skynet.
To be continued in "Judgment"…