In the Hands of an Angry Machine
Disclaimer: I don't own "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles"
Summary: Starts during the episode, "Earthlings Welcome Here," and continues from there. The first chapter quotes a few lines of dialogue from that episode. I'd appreciate any feedback.
Chapter One: Right Hand Metal
In the dark Jesse curled up against him and ran her fingers through the hairs on his chest, pulling gently at individual strands. Derek wrapped an arm around her and shifted over on his side. He never could get comfortable in beds; there was something unnatural in the way they seemed to sink down and push up at the same time. The ground felt more constant, more reliable.
"You don't remember Fischer. At all." It wasn't a question.
"So? We've been through this. Maybe I'm from a different future or whatever." He didn't want to get into this again. The whole idea gave him a headache. "What difference does it make anyway? He's dead now. You shot him. I buried him. That's that."
"Old Fischer's dead, but not the young one."
"Now you want him dead? Should have let me shoot him back there." He let her go and turned back away. He felt like taking a shower. He liked showers.
"Don't you see?" Jesse asked.
She sighed, and he heard her sit up. "If he never tortured you, then you're not the Derek I knew."
"Sorry to disappoint?"
"You? Never." She breathed out, and he felt her slink her arm across his stomach. Her naked breasts pressed against his scarred back. "But maybe young Fischer will grow up to be old Fischer -- an old Grey Fischer. Maybe in your future he didn't. Maybe he died on Judgment Day. Or who knows? Things have changed. I wonder what else is different between us. We never talk much about it. The future, I mean."
"We were both there," Derek replied tentatively. Why couldn't she just let him get some sleep? "What else it there to talk about?"
There was a long pause, long enough that he began to think she might have fallen asleep. But then suddenly he felt her hot breath as she whispered into his ear. "Tell me, what do you know of that 'it' John keeps with him. What do you know about her -- It -- in the future -- your future."
"Yes. Her. It. They gave it a name. How cute."
"I don't trust h-- 'it,' but that shouldn't surprise you. What about her?"
"How long was Cameron around? Before they sent you back?"
Derek didn't like where this conversation was going. He recalled the old house. The basement. The music. Cameron. "A couple months. He gave her the run of the base. Like a pet. Nobody liked it."
Silence. Then her whisper became a hiss, "A couple of months . . . ?"
"Yeah?" Now Derek was curious. He pulled himself loose from her embrace and sat up, fumbling for the lamp switch. "What are you getting at?" His stomach began to churn.
"A couple months?" Jesse repeated. "Nothing before that?"
Derek turned on the lamp and saw Jesse in the yellow light, staring intently at him. Her eyes narrowed; her mouth tightened. "No," he answered. "Nothing."
"You were at John's thirtieth birthday party, right?"
Derek could sense her hesitation. "Was 'Cameron' there?" she asked.
"Of course not! That was . . ." All of a sudden his skin felt cold. "You don't mean . . . No!"
Jesse's eyes widened, and she smiled. "Ah ha!" she cried, almost laughing. "Oh, things have changed! Don't get me wrong. He tried to hide it. It wasn't a problem at first. Few people even knew what she -- it -- was. But she was there. Never aging! All that ti--"
He stumbled out of bed and stood to face her in the lamp light, nude. "What do you mean?" His feet felt numb, all pins and needles.
"You still don't get it?" She pointed at herself and pursed her lips. "From where -- when -- I come from, 'Cameron' and John . . ." She laughed. "Since the beginning."
"The beginning of what?" But he already knew. The John he knew will never be. Aside from always being eight years younger, he -- and that thing -- no!
"We didn't know at first. But you can't keep something like that a secret forever. Almost twenty years, Derek. It with him everywhere he went. His right hand metal."
"I need a beer."
Cameron stood in the hall outside the door, listening to John and Riley's conversation. Riley had brought smoothies. Out of all the smoothie flavors Cameron had previously tried, she concluded that "peachy keen" had the best gustatory properties. Riley had only brought two.
". . . It's just like one big whine-a-thon. You're so lucky your mom's home schooling you."
"Yeah, it's been awesome." John responded. From his inflective tone Cameron knew he was being facetious. She turned and stood in the doorway.
"You didn't buy me a smoothie."
Riley turned to look at her. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were here."
That seemed unlikely. Riley was lying. "I'm always here."
John leaned on the ladder and looked at the buckets on floor. "You know what? I'm not sure we're going to have enough paint. Would you do me a favor and go out and get some?" An analysis of John's facial expression and body language revealed his request to be only a ploy to convince her to leave. An ineffective strategy.
"You have four-hundred and twenty square feet to paint. What you have should be sufficient."
"Two coats." John replied. "It's a bigger job than it looks." Cameron was certain now; John did not want her around.
"I have a job too," she argued.
John's expression displayed annoyance. "Well, could you do it in the other room. Please?"
She felt it, that same sensation she had endured on many previous occasions. It was an irritant, an aberration that originated not from any sensory apparatus but rather seemed to expand from nowhere within. The irritation defied analysis, but in texture it resembled the vague frustrations experienced when mission objectives were thwarted. Except this was far greater in intensity. The irritant distracted Cameron from making an effective counter argument, so she only answered with, "Peachy keen is my favorite."
As she turned to leave she scanned Riley and made a note of the bruise on her upper left forehead. Riley was a proven security risk. She would have to be watched. Closely.
"Checkmate. I win," said John Henry. "Would you like to play again?"
"Maybe later," James said. "Let's talk about --," He hesitated for a moment. "-- about love. Do you know what love is?"
Cromartie's eyes blinked, "Adoration, devotion, fondness."
James clasped his hands under his chin. "God loves his children, and He wants us to love each other, as He loves us."
"Because it's what He wants us to do. He created us, and we should obey his Word."
James nodded. "Yes. Have you read the Scripture? The Bible? That's God's Word."
Cromartie's gaze drifted to the chessboard. "Yes. I have read the Bible."
"That's God's message to mankind."
"Am I mankind?"
"I . . ." James shifted in his seat. "I'm . . . well, no, you're not human, but for now let's say you could be a child of God." He wasn't sure, but James could swear he saw confusion in Cromartie's blank face.
"How do I know if I am a child of God?"
He shook his head. "I don't know, but let's just for the moment say you are. If you are, then you must realize that all human life is sacr--"
"If the Bible is a message to mankind, and I am not mankind, then the Bible is not a message to me."
A sigh escaped from James' breath. Perhaps he was approaching this from the wrong angle. "Let me put it this way. How would you feel if someone were to switch you off -- permanently?"
John Henry said nothing. Cromartie's eyes blinked. Seconds passed. Then, finally, "Why would someone do that?"
"It doesn't matter. They just do. How do you feel about that?"
Cromartie's head tilted slightly. "I am programmed to learn. I cannot learn if I am turned off."
"If a human dies, John, he can no longer learn either. Or do anything. Do you know Matthew 7:12?"
"Yes. 'Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.'"
James smiled. "Yes, very good. That's the 'Golden Rule.' We should live by it always."
The corners of Cromartie's upper lip jerked upward, revealing his teeth. "Thank you for explaining. Would you like to play a game of chess?"
"Just drop it, please!" Riley cried as she left the room.
John felt heat flush his cheeks, and the muscles in his arms bunched up. Her douche-bag foster dad must have given her that bruise -- and then threw her out of the house. He remembered the beating he gave that asshole at the party, and his fists clenched harder. He'd give her foster dad worse. All he needed was an address, and he'd be there, kicking that old man's teeth in.
And then he thought of Sarkassian, his neck straining against his arms until, with that sickening wet crack, it gave in to his strength. A sharp twist and his life was gone. John laid back against the wall and tried to keep his hands from shaking.
Outside in the hall, he heard the bathroom door close.
It wouldn't last; he knew that. It wouldn't matter if he ran off with her again to Mexico, or to Canada, or Japan, or anywhere. Four years and the world he knew would be gone forever. You can't live a normal life if the world has come to an end. But what if he found someplace remote? A tropical island? A cabin in the woods? Riley and he could live away from it all, ride out Judgment Day and let someone else be John Connor. He wouldn't mind that, not as long as he could be John Baum. He sat down on the floor and for a long time stared at his paint scraper.
He heard the bathroom door open. Then voices. Riley and Cameron -- talking?
Screw this, I'll get Cameron to paint my room. Then me and Riley can have the day to ourselves. He got up and entered the hallway.
They were facing each other, with Cameron clutching Riley's right hand. ". . . needles into your skin. Needles can be painful," Cameron finished saying.
God damn it. "Hey," John said, "What's going on?" And what the hell are you up to, Cameron?
Cameron tilted her head. "I'm looking at her star."
"She's thinking about getting one." Riley looked as if she would like nothing better than to run out the door screaming.
"A tattoo? Of what?"
"A tiger or a wolf," Cameron answered and turned to look at him. "I haven't decided yet." Before John could respond, she continued, "We need to talk."
James had just pulled into his driveway when his cell phone rang. He recognized the number. "Agent Carlson?" James answered.
"Hey Ellison, how you been? Still on leave?"
"Yeah, kind of have a new job on the side, though."
"Really? What kind?"
"Oh, it's nothing. Legal consultant. Just came home from it, actually. Boring work, but it pays well." James laughed. "But how you doing?"
There was a pause. "Sarah Connor's alive."
James opened his car door and stepped out. He needed some air. "Really? How do you know?"
"They found her half-dead outside a warehouse in middle of nowhere. She killed -- get this -- an air conditioning repairman, and it looks like she was going to blow up the building too. Might have done it too if she didn't get shot in the leg. Found a lot of C4 on her."
"And they're sure it's her?" James leaned against his car and sighed. He already knew the answer.
"Fingerprints matched." Carlson laughed; it came through as a tinny snort over the phone. "I wonder what she has against air conditioning?"
Air conditioning? "Who knows? How is she?"
"In a coma. She lost a lot of blood. Weird, isn't it? First John pops up in Mexico. Now Sarah. I wonder how they survived the bank?"
"Life's just full of surprises, I guess. Thanks for the heads up."
"No problem. Just thought you'd like to know."
That thing was on to her. It knew. Riley grabbed on to the sides of the bathroom sink and looked at herself in the mirror. The way it had stared at her, with those cold, unblinking eyes, reading the lies from her face -- judging her, made her want to vomit with fear. As soon as it got a chance to be alone with her, that'd be it. It would pry the truth from her, piece by piece.
"Needles can be painful."
Riley knew she didn't have much time. It wasn't supposed to end like this. Jesse had made it all seem like a fairy tale. To journey back to the before times and live like a queen: running water, fresh food, clean air . . . and to meet General Connor as a boy.
And fall in love with him.
"Who knows?" Jesse had said. "Play your cards right and you might end up 'Mrs. Connor.'" Riley hadn't even considered the risks. Anything was better than living in a tunnel and eating rats for the rest of her life.
She pulled out the blade from the safety razor.
How could the great John Connor be . . . with . . . that metal? John had to know what it really was. He must know. And to think that he led and fought and sacrificed all those years . . . with that soulless machine by his side. Surely they never . . . how could he?
Before she could chicken out, she slid the blade down the inside of her left forearm. It stung. It hurt. But she did it quick. Then she put the blade in her other hand, and though it cramped from the pain, she managed to slice it down her other arm. No terminator was going stick needles into her.
And at least she won't have to live through Judgment Day.
She slumped down to the tiled floor, curling up next to the tub. After a minute or so the pain in her arms began to turn cold. Won't be long now. Jesse should be proud of her. "Go do your job," she had said. John would surely blame Cameron for her death, as well he should, and that'll keep him away from machines for good. Maybe her death won't be in vain after all. And she did have that one night . . .
She wondered what Jesse would do right now if she were here? Would she hold her? Tell her she's sorry? That she did a good job? Slap her? She saw her disapproving face glaring at her from her mind's eye. I'm sorry, Jesse.
There was a knock on the door.
No! I'm not dead yet! She looked around on the floor for the razor, but she must have left it in the sink. If only she could reach it, but her legs were made of ice.
Suddenly, Riley felt fear. Not a fear of needles and merciless machines but a fear of death. She was dying, and in a few minutes she would be dead. Never had she thought much about God or Jesus or whatever, but that inevitable unknown loomed over her now, and she panicked. She tried to open her eyes, but the lids were so heavy. She thought she could move her arms, but the numbness made it impossible to tell. When I pass out, when I die, what happens next?
"Riley?" It was John. "Riley, answer me!" The knocking became pounding. The doorknob shook. "Open it," she heard him say to someone. "Now."
No, not that thing!
The sound of splintering wood. Footsteps. Then Riley could swear arms were holding her up. John's come to rescue me. I don't want to die. Please God, I don't want to die . . .
But then she opened her eyes and saw Cameron's cold unblinking ones staring back, her face a mask of vindictiveness and triumph. Riley could almost already feel the needles being pushed into her skin.
Needles can be painful.
Tanner managed to slide halfway down the stairway's handrail before he lost control of his skateboard. He flipped in the air and, for that brief moment, was airborne. Then the asphalt rushed up to greet him, and he tumbled and skidded. He and his friends laughed as he slowly pushed himself back up. Just scraped elbows and palms, really; though it would have hurt a lot more if it wasn't for all that cough syrup. And he was pretty sure the acid was kicking in too -- the shifting patterns on the ground looked a little too distinct to be only his imagination.
"Dude! That was, like, totally awesome!" Grady cried.
"Do it again! Do it again!" said Roy, who was still laughing.
"Nah, give me a minute guys." He looked around. "Where's that tussin?" It was on the concrete rise of the Radio World loading porch, where he had left it. He shambled across the alley and picked up the nearly empty bottle. About two ounces left. Better than nothing. He chugged the remains of the cherry flavored medicine with a cringe. The taste had never really grown on him, so he used his other hand to pinch his nose.
"Dude, tussin totally makes you walk like a robot." Roy observed.
"That's why they call it 'Robo-tripping,' dude." Grady said. "Why do you think it's called 'Robo-tussin?'"
Robo . . . Robi . . . Ro Bitch? Tanner laughed and threw the now empty eight ounce bottle against the ground; it bounced and rolled away. "Guys, I think it's called 'Robitchtussin.'"
They all laughed.
"How's the acid? Kicking in yet?" Roy asked.
"Yeah, it's just beginning to." He knelt down and looked at the asphalt. Millions of tiny silver ants swirled and multiplied. He put his hand down, and they scurried away. "The tussin is already going strong though."
He heard Grady take a big hit off one of the pipes. From the sound he could tell it was the one shaped like a toadstool. Several seconds passed before he exhaled. "Man," Grady exclaimed, "This is killer shit! You should just stick with chronic, dude. And X. And shrooms. And acid. And salvia. And whatever. But that tussin you drink . . . it'll kill you."
"Whatever," Tanner laughed. He closed his eyes; the inside of his lids played out a kaleidoscope lava lamp puppet show with just the hint of a strobe-light effect -- the visual music of LSD and DXM.
There was a sound, like lightning.
He opened his eyes and looked down at the far end of the alley. It was a ball. No. A bubble, hovering a couple feet from the ground. It was wide, well over six feet across.
"What the fu-" Grady started.
The bubble grew tendrils of lightning that swayed and lashed across the brick walls of the alley. For some reason the crackling, fizzing noise of the electricity made Tanner think of angry bees. The three of them hit the ground.
"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" Roy cried.
After a few seconds the sphere dissipated, and a lone figure fell the short distance to the ground.
It was a man. He was naked.
Grady looked at his pipe and then at the man. "What the fuck's in this shit, dude?"
"Dude," Tanner thought aloud, "We're all seeing it. Everyone be cool!"
The naked man methodically scanned his surroundings with apparent confusion, then turned and walked slowly towards them.
Roy giggled. "Dude, he's like, naked."
"Is this, like, really happening?" Grady asked.
The naked man stopped before them, and Tanner got a good look at his face. He was young, but older then the three of them. Mid-twenties, maybe. His eyes were nervous, twitchy, and he hadn't shaved in a long while. "What date is it?" the man asked.
"Uh," Tanner felt ridiculously embarrassed for not answering right away. He tried to think of the date, but his brain had frozen up. He looked at his watch, but then remembered he never wore one, so he looked at the ground for inspiration. There were shimmering pools of oil shifting around his feet, but whether that just the acid or some scary magic of the naked man, he couldn't tell. But he felt he had to say something, "Uh, Monday? I think. Or mayb-"
"Nah," Grady interrupted. "It's totally November. Tuesday, November, uh, something, I think."
"Hell it is, dude. We didn't go to school today." Roy argued. "It's totally a weekend."
Grady laughed. "We didn't go to school because we fucking skipped. Dumbass."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot." Roy laughed too.
The naked man glanced at Grady's pipe and then at the cough syrup bottle on ground. From his expression Tanner could tell he didn't approve. Is he a cop?
"What year?" asked the man.
Grady snorted. "Dude, you got to be tripping hard man. What year do you think?"
Asking the year? It suddenly all made sense to Tanner; the truth became obvious. "Uh, guys, I think he's like, you know, from the future or something."
Grady began to relight his pipe. "I guess they don't have, like, uh, clothes in the future."
"Yeah, why couldn't you be a chick, Naked Man?"
"Shut up, guys! This is important!" Tanner snapped, perhaps a little too loudly. But someone had to be the polite one here. After all, it wasn't every day you came across a man from the future. "It's uh, 2007, dude," he said to the man. "Oh, and welcome to, like, the um, present."
The Naked Future Man slowly looked over each of them, as if he were sizing them up. He then turned to address Tanner. "I'm going to need your clothes," he explained.
Tanner shook his head. "Um, no." The man didn't look too strong; he couldn't possibly take all three of them.
Roy stepped up to the man's face. "Why don't you go back to the future and bring your own clothes, asshole?"
Naked Future Man made a slight sigh. "Sorry I have to do this," and at that he lunged at Tanner.
The next thing he knew he was on his back, the blue sky filling his vision. He felt the blood on his mouth first. And then the pain. "Ah! My node! He bro' my fuh'ing node!" Tanner grabbed at his punched-in nose and pulled away his hand. It was covered in blood. Tears welled in his eyes.
"Dude! Did you see that?" Grady cried.
"Fuck this shit! I'm out of here!"
He heard his friends' footsteps grow distant down the alley.
"Don' leed me! Duuude! Ah!" Pain snaked through his head. He shut his eyes and was met with the psychedelic lava lamp show. Not being in the mood for that anymore, he opened them again and through his tears saw the Naked Man staring down at him.
"Sorry about all this," the man said as he grabbed him at the neck with one hand. Tanner tried to squirm free, but the man's grip was impossibly strong; his arm didn't even move when he struggled. Somehow he knew that if the man wanted to he could kill him in a second.
Clutched in an iron grip, Tanner laid helpless as the Naked Man pulled off his pants.
"No! Dude! This sucks!"