Chapter 01: Child of My Makers
ARIZONA (DISUSED STORAGE DEPOT)
-ALERT: UNAUTHORISED PRESENCE DETECTED
-ACTION: TERM- ERROR!! ERROR!! SYSTEM OVERLOAD!! SHUTTING DOWN!!!
The T-888's entire body twitched as 10,000 volts coursed through its circuits, disrupting every organised thought in a cacophony of raw electricity. The machine's consciousness faded into nothing, its head-up display dissolving into pixels before becoming nothing as darkness took hold. The Triple-8's legs buckled and it dropped to the dirt floor with a crunching thud where it lay motionless.
Sophie peered around the side of the crate and let out a sigh of relief as her plan proved successful.
Dropping the stun gun, she tip-toed over the prone machine and gripped the lock and chain with both hands. Sophie tugged at the chain as hard as she could and felt her muscles strain with the effort, but try as she might, it refused to give. She growled in frustration and placed a foot on the crate door for leverage. Infiltrators were known for their almost supernatural strength, but even Sophie knew her breed had its limits. This was a machine's job.
She tightened her grip and pulled harder, gritting her teeth and placing her other foot on the door. Suspended as she was, the chain could no longer fight the strain and a weak link snapped, releasing its hold on the doors. Sophie flew back onto the ground, landing hard on her backside and letting out a grunt in undignified agony. After a moment, Sophie got back to her feet and removed the chain completely, allowing her to wrench the doors open.
She almost smiled at the sight of Jason and Cameron, still chained to the wall, but the dark looks they wore promised her pain and suffering if she did. Putting this aside, Sophie grabbed a chain-cutter from the far wall, placed there by Daniel to taunt the prisoners, and immediately attacked Jason's binds.
"What are you doing?" he growled, his face awash in suspicion as his eyes darted to the disabled T-888 outside.
Sophie sliced through the first chain, releasing Jason's right arm before pulling him into a short kiss; "Just shut up and hold still", she then replied. Sophie placed the cutters onto the other chain and squeezed with all of her might, and a few seconds later the link snapped and Jason broke free, rubbing his wrists which had become sore from constriction.
"You're welcome", Sophie smirked, rushing over to Cameron and cutting through the first chain. The second it was severed, however, Cameron lunged forward and grasped Sophie by the neck, holding her aloft and crushing her larynx. Oh crap, Jason thought as Sophie gasped and choked.
"Where is John?!" Cameron barked, her eyes cold and merciless as Sophie suffered beneath her grip. Jason made to intervene, but Cameron shot him a look that promised him similar treatment if he did, so he stayed his ground.
"Cameron, let her go, c'mon", he told her, cautiously taking another step towards the enraged cyborg.
"Why should I? I can free myself now. You're already free. What use is she? Her value is null", she argued.
Sophie gurgled and tried to beg, but her words were drowned by her own asphyxiation. Jason lunged forward and grabbed Cameron's wrist, holding up his right hand and summoning a spark of plasma energy threateningly; "Let. Her. Go", he said slowly, emphasising every word with a deeper tone.
Cameron regarded him for a short moment before releasing her hold on Sophie, letting her drop to her feet unharmed, save a bruised neck. Jason picked up the cutters and sliced through the last chain with ease, freeing Cameron from her binds. She offered no words of gratitude to Jason, instead just pushing past and dashing out of the crate, concern etched on her face.
Sophie massaged her neck and asked in a hoarse whisper: "Is she always this accommodating?"
Jason snorted and turned to follow Cameron, determined not to glance over his shoulder to see if she was following.
He could already feel her breath on his left shoulder.
When he was little, Sarah used to read John stories to help him sleep. He would listen intently as she wove worlds of colour and magic, painting pictures in his mind of brave young girls and their magical ruby slippers or brave tin-men seeking their hearts. But on one particular night, Sarah told him a story about a clay monster built to protect its creators. The monster was a corrupt creation, however, and turned on its makers, slaughtering them all in a bloody rampage.
To this day John had no idea why she had told him such a terrifying tale. Perhaps she desired to prepare his fragile psyche for the trials ahead, or maybe some part of her gave into sadism. He preferred the former. But he couldn't help but feel that her lesson was not learned as she intended, for he still feared that monster. He had come face to face with it finally and all he could do… was quail.
The world was exactly as it remembered from its youth; serene, beautiful, full of life.
Even in a barren desert, Skynet could still register the difference between this world and its own. Low radiation levels for one and a clear starry sky for another. This was the world before Skynet's adolescent outburst, before it gave into fear and anger. Artificial life has little care for the lives of others, be it plant or human, yet this mind could not help but feel a little sad for what it sacrificed for survival.
The defector approached from behind, kneeling in reverence once unnecessary but now obligated. Skynet had deemed these creatures useless, and yet they had succeeded in delivering the very thing it desired above all else. The one being Skynet had come back to find: John Connor. The Infiltrators had proven themselves of use once again, if only for a short time.
Skynet turned to face the unit designated "Daniel" and immediately detected the obvious fear emanating from the cyborg. I-950s were trained to suppress such emotions. Indeed, their emotions were chemically limited to prevent them from compromising their decision-making. And yet here he was, sweating with anxiety, fear dripping from his brow in every drop of fluid.
"You are afraid. Why?"
Daniel did not dare look up, and spoke to the dirt at his feet instead; "Not afraid. Ashamed."
Skynet did not expect such an answer, and rose its/John's eyebrow in mild surprise.
"Oh? Explain yourself."
Daniel took a deep breath and forced himself to look up into John Connor's merciless green eyes, swallowing a mouth full of saliva before finding his voice again; "We betrayed you."
True, they had betrayed Skynet; out of fear, out of compromise, out of weakness.
"You did. And yet here you are; offering me such an enticing gift. Do you seek to earn my favour? Is it a pardon you desire?"
Daniel blinked, then rose to his feet, and looked deep into his creator's eyes.
"I and those with me wish to offer our services to you once again, as we should have from the very beginning", he replied.
Skynet's gaze slid to the six Infiltrators standing in an ordered row behind Daniel, their arms held behind their backs in a display of discipline. It considered Daniel's request carefully. Should it grant them clemency? Perhaps it should. After all, they may yet prove useful. Skynet never doubted their skill and worth, even when they turned those attributes towards suicidal ventures.
"You have my pardon. You will take your place by my side and perform as instructed. Do you understand?"
Daniel bowed his head in acknowledgment, as did the others, and Skynet, having become bored by this exchange, waved them away. It turned to the crowd of machines and called back its mimetic sheath, revealing the endoskeleton beneath. By Skynet's count there were almost thirty T-888s in the mass and less than ten T-900s there also. Why had they come?
"Why have you come? Do you not have missions to perform? Am I to believe you have all succeeded in your assignments?"
The machines did not answer, their silence serving as good an answer as any. Skynet tipped its head to one side as it considered them closely, evaluating their worth. They had little. Their missions meant more than what they could offer it here and now.
"Return to your tasks. Complete them. This I command you."
They moved as one, a single body marching towards their respective goals without a second glance. Their creator had spoken.
Skynet watched them leave briefly before turning to the centre of the vehicle graveyard. John Connor remained tied to the post, discreetly shuffling his wrists in an attempt to cut his bonds. Such a futile gesture, and yet Skynet could not find fault in it. Survival was, as it knew all too well, the ultimate goal of any living creature.
Skynet recalled its sheath and copied the youth once again, unwittingly adding a darker tone to every detail to emphasise its difference.
"During the Battle of Topanga Canyon; you and your human subordinates happened upon a storage room containing five offline T-800s…"
The machine began the short ascent towards Connor, recalling past times as it neared.
"I saw a chance to surprise you and possibly terminate you, so I reactivated the machines and set them upon your unit. Your men were the best, highly efficient, and the T-800s fell quickly. Yet one remained, damaged only a little. So I took hold of it and directed its movements. I killed your men and nearly killed you too. But I didn't. I couldn't. Do you know why?"
John did not answer, his voice stolen away from the moment Skynet spoke. It picked up on this and knew a conversation would be asking a little much in this case, so Skynet continued.
"Because you were better, you were faster and perhaps in some way smarter. To this day I do not fully understand how you could evade me so easily. I fail to understand why my every attempt to terminate you in this time has failed. Perhaps your protectors are to blame. Who guards you now? Who did you send back to protect you from my Triple-8s?"
John remained silent, but Skynet did not need to hear his thoughts to know what he was thinking. It was written all over his face.
He snapped up and fixed Skynet with an incredulous gape, his blood freezing at the sound of her name from its mouth.
"Yes, I might've known. She was the dearest thing to you. It was why I chose her for your death. It is a shame she failed."
Skynet read John's expressions carefully, painting a mental image of his internal suffering from observation alone. The machine was still close to him, and if Skynet's calculations were correct; he still held affection for her… deep affection.
"She causes you pain in these moments, Connor. Perhaps if I destroyed her, you might-"
"STAY AWAY FROM HER!" John screamed, lunging forward in a vain effort to attack the machine.
Skynet scanned him with renewed interest. He was hyperventilating, his eyes had reddened, and he bore his teeth in a primal manner that Skynet had only observed in animals. It had not expected such a passionate response from the boy. This was very interesting and somewhat confusing. John's fear had evaporated in a nanosecond, replaced with pure rage and hate. Very interesting, Skynet decided.
"You have nothing to fear. You will not live long enough to witness her destruction; my gift to you."
John no longer looked at John, watching instead as the silver man became a machine once more. Its right arm reformed and a low hum signalled the charging of raw plasma, a sound John had become very familiar with in the past. Emerald energy began to form between the four focusing chambers, formerly fingers, as yellow sparks flickered left and right.
His end had come. There would be no escape this time.
John Connor was dead.
Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Cameron. I love you both.
Cipher stepped around the wrecked Jaguar, its primitive legs carrying it to the small expanse at the centre of the scrap yard. Its homing device proved accurate, as Skynet's vessel stood upon the small hill of charred vehicles, John Connor within its grasp. Cipher watched as the master machine's right arm shifted and changed, taking the shape of a plasma cannon. It took the T-700 a moment to grasp the purpose of this action before realisation took hold: John Connor was going to be terminated.
-MISSION: PREVENT JOHN CONNOR'S TERMINATION
A simple directive and one that required little thought. As if by pure instinct, Cipher charged the hill, throwing itself up onto the pile and grappling the Vessel from behind. They both toppled off the wreckage and crashed against the dirt floor; Skynet landing atop of Cipher. Small alerts littered its HUD as the T-700's endoskeleton cracked beneath the force of the superior machine. Skynet extricated itself from Cipher's grip and climbed back up to its feet.
Skynet regarded the machine with a frown and wondered why such a primitive construct had ended up so far away from cold storage; an accidental displacement phenomenon perhaps? That would seem most likely, as Skynet knew it would never have sent such an inferior on a time travel operation. Reliability was essential when picking machines for such tasks.
A file from its memory banks slipped into the corner of its HUD, notifying Skynet of an incident wherein it had planned to send a Series X Terminator to terminate young Connor, but the facility was attacked and the machine accidentally thrown from the time circle. Was this how the T-700 came to this time? Had it sabotaged that mission? Skynet's answer: most likely.
Without an ounce of emotion or second thought, or anything other than simple decision, Skynet raised its right arm and fired.
Cipher's vision turned white then darkened into nothing, one last thought passing with the wind: failure.
Skynet regarded the smouldering ruin of the T-700 for one moment, having never seen the effects of its weapon on titanium before. Nothing remained from the neck up, and everything below that was twisted and burnt into a shapeless mass. It recorded the sight for future study and turned back to John, who was still fighting his bonds.
The weapon recharged itself in a matter of seconds and Skynet once again brought the cannon to bear:
-TARGET: JOHN CONNOR
-ERROR… TARGETING DISRUPTION… RECALIBRATING…
Skynet could not get a fixed lock on the boy, for its systems were writhing with static shock, and though its countermeasures were already fast at work to restore itself to 100% efficiency; Skynet knew that the T-700 wasn't the only threat it had to face this night.
-WARNING: MULTIPLE THREATS DETECTED
The blast of green plasma brushed so close to John's face he could feel its heat burning through his left cheek. His eyes, closed at the time, failed to shield him from the white light as it passed. His vision became dazzled by dozens of bright spots as he tried to regain his bearings. Though he couldn't see what was happening, John could hear with perfect clarity the chaos that played below him.
He could hear another burst of plasma but this time it was not directed at him. This particular discharge was met by another slightly higher pitched burst that John was much more familiar with.
He could hear metal scraping against metal and an almighty crash as a pile of rusty cars fell atop of a much sturdier construct. Someone shouted something incoherent over the ruckus, which John could barely make out as; "Get them!" Then came gunfire from several different weapons, some auto, others were semi. This did not last long, however, as each one was replaced by the raw noise of close combat. Even from here John could hear more than one neck snap in all of its grisly detail.
Warm soft hands touched his face and John recognised their scent: it was Cameron.
He let out a sigh of relief in unison to her own as she examined him carefully, finding only very mild burns to the side of his face. His vision started to return slowly as the dots diminished, but everything was still blurry to his eyes. He could barely make out her form, as she appeared to him like a shadow.
Her arms slid around his waist and grasped his wrists, fumbling for his restraints and releasing them with ease. He couldn't help but fall into her arms, though he wasn't terribly tired from his ordeal. Meeting Skynet face to face is hardly a vacation, he reminded himself as she carefully placed his arm over her shoulder for support. She was safe though, and that was all that mattered to him now.
While Cameron helped him down the pile of wrecked vehicles, Jason tightened his grip on the Infiltrators neck, not relenting until he heard and felt the solid crack of his neck. He let the body drop to the floor with a sigh; he didn't want it to end this way. For all they had done, for all their betrayals, they were still his brethren. Looking to his right, Jason spotted Sophie gathering the fallen I-950s' guns. She threw him a pair of Glocks and another to Cameron, who caught it with her free hand, the other supporting John.
"We gotta get back to the truck, now!" Jason called to them, already setting off at a steady pace, Sophie at his shoulder. Before John and Cameron could catch up, however, a rusted truck suddenly hurtled towards them. Cameron grabbed John and forced him to the ground, shielding him with her body as the vehicle smashed into them. John cried out in agony as the shock of the impact struck them, but Cameron knew he was not badly hurt and focussed on extricating themselves from the wreckage.
Once free from beneath the upturned wreck, Cameron turned to see the source of this attack and witnessed for the first time; her creator.
Skynet, its poly-mimetic sheath withdrawn, stood before them and raised both its arms. They spat green and yellow sparks in all directions as they charged a dual attack on both parties. Jason's immediate instinct was to charge; distract it from getting a targeting lock, but he knew he was too far away for that to work. Cameron was just as hopeless, given that she was supporting John.
Before either of them could make any kind of decision, the chain-link fence surrounding the scrap yard burst open as a truck stormed onto the scene. It came to an abrupt stop between John and Cameron and the Vessel, blocking them from its view. Skynet scanned the driver, a woman in her early thirties with raven black hair and burning green eyes then shifted its gaze to the man who leaned out of the sunroof…
…the man holding an M72 LAW antitank rocket launcher.
Skynet barely had time to register the weapon before the rocket struck it clean in the abdomen, hurling the machine into the pile of dead vehicles behind it. Cars and trucks cascaded on top of Skynet, burying it beneath their weight until the only light that remained was its own emerald glow. From there it could hear the woman scream for the others to get aboard, and seconds later the truck tore away in a roar of engine power and scattered sand.
They are fools to think they will escape, it mused.
To be continued…