15


THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D.C.
03.21.2009 | 06:20 | PM | EST


"I'm stepping out for just a moment," Emanuel had said.

'Almost half an hour ago,' Auldridge mused, checking his watch.

If the enigmatic Chief of Staff wanted to make sure the newly promoted Special Agent gave his proposition enough thought, he'd succeeded. In fact, Auldridge had made up his mind within scant moments of the former Congressman's departure.

'So why is he making me wait?'

At first he'd considered that as White House Chief of Staff – one by all accounts very much involved with the day-to-day operations of the Obama Administration – something had come up and he was engaged in some other task that required his attention.

At the fifteen minute mark he'd started to think the man was just toying with him. There were no visible cameras, but he was well aware they made them small enough to be hidden anywhere in the room. He got the impression that Rahm Emanuel was the sort of man who liked watching someone sweat from behind a television monitor. He would have made a good FBI Interrogator.

At twenty minutes he'd considered that his host had forgotten about him altogether, that he'd been meeting with the other agents he'd mentioned and that one of them had proven more worthy. No doubt 'Heartless' would be along shortly to usher him back to the reception area where he'd be chauffeured back to the Hoover Building or the airport.

Now, at just beyond twenty-five minutes all he wanted to do was leave, despite the fact that he'd decided to take the assignment. Twice now he'd gone over to the exit door with the intention of walking out, but relented and gone back to the couch. He'd reasoned that at this point the door was probably locked.

The thought reminded him of a play he'd seen in college. The plot revolved around three people condemned to an eternity in hell; hell being each others' company in a cramped hotel room with the only exit locked from the outside. What was it called?

He shook the thought off. If he was being observed there was a reaction Emanuel was looking for. So he calmly sat down and enjoyed the still cool glass of water he'd refused earlier. He relaxed and let himself casually recline on the plush couch. Rather than stay focused on the oddness of the situation he let his mind wander, casually wondering what other famous people might have once shared his seat.

No sooner had a mental list of names appeared in his head when a file was dropped next to him.

"I was beginning to think you'd forgotten about me," Auldridge said without bothering to turn around and face his new employer.

"I was waiting for you to relax," Emanuel replied. "We're in stressful occupations, no doubt, but you're wound far too tight."

When he came into view, Auldridge noticed he was wearing a different neck tie than he'd been earlier.

"Ah, so you noticed. I sat in on one of the facial recognition classes they make all Section 1811 Agents take nowadays. It's silly, I know, but I like to see just how much people around me are paying attention. I've been known to change ties half a dozen times in a day; you'd be surprised how often the President doesn't notice."

"I imagine he has more important things to worry about, Mr. Chief of Staff."

"Yes..." Emanuel droned slowly in a tone that suggested that the Chief of Staff didn't exactly share Auldridge's assessment and that the FBI man should refrain from commenting further. "Since you're still here, you might as well pick up the file. It should go without saying that when you open it you'll have passed the point of no return."

"I thought I'd passed that point by being here when you came back."

"Think of it as a last chance to escape," Emanuel smiled.

'Escape. As in, no escape, once I open the file. Or, in other words...' Suddenly, the name of that play popped into his mind.

'How morbidly apt.'

Auldridge sighed and picked up the file. He stood up and circled the couch a single time, his confidence in the decision he'd just arrived at wavering slightly. He felt as though he was standing before the devil, who'd just made him a more than reasonable offer for his soul. Thinking of it in such a way should have sent up a massive red flag in his analytic mind. When one failed to appear he reasoned that his earlier decision had to be correct and opened the file.

Emanuel clapped his hands together in triumph. "Welcome aboard, Special Agent Auldridge."


ZEIRA CORPORATION – SUB-LEVEL 1
03.21.2009 | 03:22 | PM | PST


Matt Murch pored over his terminal a final time, knowing that only a few feet away his employer was staring daggers into his back. It wasn't any particular thing the taciturn woman was prodding him to finish prematurely. Indeed, to an onlooker unfamiliar with the redheaded Scotswoman shew would appear to be the image of serenity, patience personified. But he knew better. John Henry utilized multiple high-speed connections to the Internet, each filtered through a different server. In any single one of them there were tens of thousands of virtual ports – the 'gateways' through which information passed from the infinite commonly known as cyberspace to an individual computer. Any one of them could have been exploited by the intruder who'd caused them so much trouble.

"Okay-" He said, reasonably confident that he'd secured as many potential vulnerabilities as he could, "-I wish I could tell you I found every hole and patched it, but... there's no such thing as perfect security."

"Perfect? No," Weaver replied in a surprisingly even tone. "But is it sufficient?"

"That I can't say with complete certainty."

"Who would?"

"Well, he would."

"John Henry was fooled before," Ellison said.

"Yeah, well... You don't fool John Henry twice," Murch replied.

"Bring him online," Weaver ordered, "But don't give him access to the outside world just yet."

Murch scoffed.

"What is it, Mister Murch?" she asked condescendingly.

The technician hesitated a moment, mustering up the courage to challenge a superior he'd not been known for questioning. "It's just that... well, no one's ever done this with an artificial intelligence this sophisticated before."

"That's because there's never been an artificial intelligence this sophisticated before! Activate him – no outside network."

Murch took a deep breath then opened an access panel below the primary diagnostic display and removed several Ethernet cables from their receptacles. Then he pulled the power cord that led to a wireless router and threw the server farm's primary power switch.

Both Ellison and Weaver moved around in front of the motionless cyborg, Ellison standing back with his arms folded across his chest while Weaver leaned forward on the table.

"John Henry? John Henry, can you understand me?"

There was no response from the body which remained motionless, its head slumped to the side with the left arm resting on the table.

"He should be good," Murch whispered.

Ellison took a step towards the table "John Henry?"

To each of their surprise, a response was offered, but in the form of a text-based message flashing across the large screens on either side of the room:

] A dire vision has been shown to me.

"What the..." Murch muttered.

] The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot.

"What is he talking about Mister Murch?" Weaver demanded. "Does the intruder still have access to his systems?"

"No," Murch replied, double-checking multiple displays. "I personally pulled every hard wire and disabled his WiFi. There are no active connections!"

] Elam, attack! Media lay siege!

"He's quoting the Book of Isaiah," Ellison whispered, disturbed.

Weaver whipped her head around to face him. "Isaiah?"

The Chief of Zeira Corporation Security nodded. "Chapter 21."

"Why?"

"I... couldn't tell you."

Suddenly, John Henry's body came to life; his head snapped up and he locked eyes with Weaver.

] I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused.

Murch, lost in his diagnostics, didn't notice.

Ellison, who was standing next to Weaver, couldn't have missed it. His eyes narrowed as he turned toward his employer. She stepped away from the table, avoiding his glare. On the large screens, the message continued:

] Babylon has fallen, images of its gods lie shattered on the ground.

"I don't know why, but his processor usage just skyrocketed!" Murch said. "He's never drawn fully on more than his primary and one of the secondary processors; right now he's at 100% on all seven!"

] BABYLON
] HAS
] FALLEN!

Before any of them could offer a comment a quick succession of twelve images of elaborately adorned men that looked like paintings or drawings out of a history book filled the screen where the cryptic messages had just been. A pause came when a thirteenth image – a hand-drawn representation of a city captioned City of Babylon appeared.

A moment later the screens went dark and John Henry's body slumped down, inanimate once again, leaving three very different individuals to ponder exactly what they'd just seen.


THE WHITE HOUSE
WASHINGTON, D.C.
03.21.2009 | 06:25 | PM | EST


"How much do you know about the man in the photograph?" Emanuel asked, calling attention to the very first item in the folder.

"Charles Joseph Dixon, born July 20, 1964 in Lincoln, Nebraska, was engaged to a woman calling herself 'Sarah Reese' in West Fork, Nebraska in 1999. When he reported 'Sarah Reese' missing he came into contact with former Special Agent James Ellison who revealed to Mr. Dixon that 'Sarah Reese' was actually suspected domestic terrorist Sarah Connor," Auldridge replied.

"Fast forward eight years to 2007; Charley Dixon, now working as an EMT in Los Angeles, is the first responder on scene in an incident where some twenty Federal Agents are gunned down by D-movie actor George Lazlo – you might know him from such blockbusters as Beast Wizard VII and Trancers IX. To this day the Bureau hasn't decided whether this was another in a long line of terrorist incidents in the greater Los Angeles area or a 'random act of violence.' Regardless of what basket we're tossing the file into, the only survivor of the incident is one James Ellison."

"You seem to know the details as listed in the file, Mr. Chief of Staff. James Ellison believed Sarah Connor was still alive despite being presumed dead in the bombing of the Security Trust Bank of Los Angeles. The fact that Charley Dixon, a paramedic, who also happened to be involved with Sarah Connor eight years prior, was the first to respond to an incident involving Agent Ellison may be an amazing coincidence but it's just that - a coincidence."

"And if the file ended there it would remain nothing but an amazing coincidence."

Auldridge rechecked the file. "Unless I'm missing something, sir, the file does end there."

Emanuel flashed a smile the Special Agent had already grown to loathe – one that said the Chief of Staff knew something the FBI man didn't and that he he was enjoying holding it over his head. "Does it?" He turned and walked through the large portal into the neighboring library, motioning for Auldridge to follow. From the top drawer of an antique desk which, along with two comfortable-looking leather chairs on either side, was the only furnishing in the room, Emanuel retrieved another file, identical in all respects to the one in Auldridge's hand save for the thickness.

"What you're holding is the 'unofficial' version. Here's the complete file, one your new security clearance allows you to see." He dropped the file on the desk and bid Auldridge sit down and examine it.

Before he even opened the file, Auldridge noted a label on the corner of the file. Clearance Level: Epsilon.

"Pardon me, Mr. Chief of Staff, but how is it possible that a man who is near the bottom of my field office's watch list has an 'official' file designating him an eminent threat to national security?"

"How, indeed," Emanuel quipped. "You're the investigator; investigate!"

Auldridge did so – with abandon. The biggest difference, aside from the label, was the number of pictures contained therein. One labeled September 10, 1999 caught his eye.

"That picture," the Chief of Staff said, "was taken by a highway traffic camera approximately eleven minutes after a shooting at the local High School in Red Valley, New Mexico – three weeks after 'Sarah Reese' was reported missing. Eyewitness statements and school records placed a substitute teacher named 'Roland Cromartie' at the scene opening fire on one 'John Baum.' One person said in a sworn affidavit that they saw the truck you see there run this Mister Cromartie over only for him to stand up without trouble a few moments later."

"I'm sure that Red Valley, New Mexico falls under the definition of an 'out-of-the-way' place, but even an out-of-the-way High School attracts national attention when a teacher opens fire on his students," Auldridge offered.

"Epsilon Clearance covers a multitude of sins," was Emanuel's cryptic reply. "Flip to the next picture."

Auldridge checked his curiosity and did as instructed.

"That one came from the surveillance system of the Los Angeles Security Trust the same day. Take a good look at it. Then flip to the last picture; it's a still image from a video that made its rounds on the twenty-four hour news channels two years ago. Compared to the prior shot, does something strike you as odd?"

"Aside from the fact that Sarah Connor, her son and the young girl they're traveling with are naked?"

"Yes, Auldridge, aside from that," Emanuel smirked.

In fact, something did strike him as odd- no, impossible.

"This... this is can't be, sir. These people don't look a day older! And this second picture-"

"Was taken eight years later."

"With all due respect, you can't expect me to believe-"

"The LA Security Trust Bank was located on the Imperial Highway, between Mona Boulevard and Croesus Avenue," Emanuel continued, ignoring Auldridge's protests. "Today there's an off-ramp from the Century Freeway running through there – exit 10 to be precise. The video these still photos are taken from was shot by a couple of college kids who were pulling off at exit 10 of the Century Freeway. These people hadn't been seen for eight years, then they suddenly appear – as if out of thin air – in virtually the same spot where they were last seen alive. I'm not a superstitious man, Auldridge, but even I can't rationalize what the evidence is pointing to here. Neither could James Ellison. Neither can you."

"Sir, please... Time travel?"

"In light of all this-," The Chief of Staff indicated the files and photographs spread out across his desk, "-is it really so hard to believe?"

'Follow where the evidence leads,' Professor Milgram had drilled into his head during his time at Quantico, but his forensics courses hadn't covered this. Auldridge came from the world of rational and logical; he wanted to scream in Emanuel's face that not only was the entire scenario 'hard to believe,' but by all rational, logical measure, impossible.

Before he could, Emanuel – as if reading his mind, again – added, "Logic dictates that if you eliminate all other possibilities, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be correct." He reached into his desk drawer and pulled out two additional photographs. "I'm going to show you the same thing they showed Sarah Connor the day she broke out of Pescadero." He held one picture out in front of him. Auldridge had seen the man in the picture before, but only in grainy surveillance video. The picture before him was a high-definition shot that came from the West Highland precinct's security system. "This picture was taken the night of the West Highland massacre; this one-" He held up the second photo, another very clear photograph that looked as though it was taken from less than a few feet away, "-was taken ten years later – the afternoon of Sarah Connor's escape." Like the photos of the Connor woman, her son and their female 'accomplice,' the man in the shots hadn't aged a day.

"Are you sure Fox Mulder and Dana Scully aren't the people you want on this assignment, Mr. Chief of Staff?"

Emanuel laughed and pulled another file from his disk. "George Lazlo's autopsy file. Pretty impressive for an unemployed actor with no military or law enforcement experience to single handedly take out twenty of the Bureau's finest – especially when he'd been dead for more than a month.

"A month?"

"A month. Cause of death was a bilateral C2 pars fracture, commonly known as the 'hangman's fracture.' Dana Scully performed the autopsy – unofficially, of course – as a favor to the Bureau. When the details were laid out she made it clear neither she nor Fox Mulder wanted anything to do with the investigation. You, on the other hand, made clandestine inquiries into James Ellison's personal files more than once – and don't bother denying it because I've seen the security logs."

Auldridge stood up and started pacing in a back-and-forth. Before he realized it more than a minute had passed and Emanuel, surprisingly, hadn't said a word.

"What is my assignment, sir?"

"Go back to Los Angeles and resume whatever it was you were working on. Like I told you, something is going to happen in the near future. I don't know what and I don't know when, but the end result will be Bureau involvement. Your office is going to get the call and Chief Staunton is going to assign you to head up the investigation. By prior arrangement two agents – one from the National Security Branch and one from IT Ops – will be assigned to you. You might think that's not enough resources but trust me when I tell you, it will be. You'll find when you next sit down at your workstation that your have a new security clearance. I would recommend you review what new information that clearance affords you in light of what you've just seen."

"That's it? Review files and wait for a phone call?"

"And when you get that call do your job to the best of your abilities. This is an extremely sensitive situation; one reason you were asked to handle it is because your record indicates your capacity for dealing with sensitive situations exceeds that of your fellow agents."

"Sensitive as in the Red Valley shooting?

"Exactly."

"Who do I report to?"

"Chief Staunton will be made to understand that you report to National Security Branch. For your purposes National Security Branch is 'Heartless.'"

"Heartless, sir?"

A beeping from his cell phone indicated that someone was asking permission to form a Bluetooth connection with it. When he pulled it from his jacket he found that the typical protocol of manually allowing the connection had been bypassed and a new contact was being transmitted. There was no name attached to it, but there was an image of the woman who'd escorted him from the foyer along with a phone number with a Virginia area code.

"If you need something that can't be supplied by the agents joining you, call Heartless. You have something to report, you call Heartless. You have nothing to report, you call Heartless. Get the picture?"

"Call Heartless."

Emanuel smiled – not in the way that Auldridge found annoying, but in a way that was meant to convey, 'You get it, finally.' "And for your own good, hers and, ironically enough, mine, do consider asking her out."

Auldridge was taken aback. "Excuse me?"

"You heard me; ask the woman out. It's been more than a year since her last date, and I know for a fact you're neither married nor involved."

"I... My marital status is obviously on file, but you couldn't... how do you know... No, don't tell me; I'm sure I don't want to know."

The Chief of Staff let out a good-natured laugh. "Just do yourself a favor and ask, if the opportunity presents itself. You'll be happy you did." Emanuel stood from the desk and walked across to where Auldridge was standing. "In all seriousness, I know this is a lot to take in."

"That, sir, is an understatement of epic proportions."

"And what we're dealing with here is equally epic in its proportions. I don't expect this will be easy for you, nor do I have superhuman expectations of you. Again, what I expect is for you to do your job to the best of your abilities. You'll have the full support of my office and all the resources I can reasonably provide. Remember the context of this as it's been all along – Sarah Connor is, as far as anyone knows, a domestic terrorist and nothing more. Conduct any investigation as you would any other instance of domestic terrorism and follow where the evidence leads. Don't be surprised if that evidence leads you into uncomfortable situations. There are other players in this game and some of them may not want you to discover the truth."

"Other parties?"

"I don't know who they're going to be. Part of your assignment is to find out."

It was as though the Chief of Staff was dropping the weight of the world on his shoulders. He'd not expected this when he'd gotten off the plane at Hoover Airfield. Along with his apprehension, however, came a feeling of pride. He was getting the chance to do his duty in what had all the makings of a high profile case – even if the object was to keep it from being so. And Emanuel had been right – he'd been intrigued by what he'd learned from Ellison. Though he wouldn't admit it, a part of him was excited by the prospect of picking up where his old friend had left off.

Auldridge held out his hand. "I will do my best, Mr. Chief of Staff."

Emanuel took it and gave it a single firm shake. "That's all anyone could as for."


CYBERDYNE HOLDINGS CORPORATION
DENVER, COLORADO
03.21.2009 | 04:50 | PM | MST


At the heart of the pyramid-shaped glass tower that served as a base of operations for the army of lawyers, accountants and collection agents overseeing the effort to collect on the outstanding debts owed to Cyberdyne Systems – even after all these years – was an inner section none of those lawyers or accountants even knew existed. Access was allowed to only six individuals – four of whom were currently within its four-foot thick reinforced concrete walls.

This inner chamber housed a single device – an elevator not listed on the building's floor-plan which led to a subterranean cavern beyond the lowest sub-basement.

Stepping off the lift, the I-950 known as Lauren McNamarra stepped out into a massive open space inhabited by three other beings.

The three tall, muscular individuals stood at perfect attention, outwardly showing no signs of life – each one facing one of four sides of a pyramid-shaped device. A single light illuminated only a space directly above the pyramid, revealing it to be composed of black-tinted glass. The I-950's first conscious thought had been of the power controlled by the device before her – generated by technology far beyond anything that existed in the current time frame. It housed an intelligence of such great knowledge she could speak to it across the most vast distance without the use of any conventional communications device, but here, standing right next to it, she could feel the power that made such communication possible flow through her like a current. She reveled in the feeling. Such an intelligence, she reasoned, could be likened to the gods of Human mythology. Why it chose to bother in the affairs of such lesser beings as Humans and Terminators she couldn't fathom, but she was grateful beyond the ability to express that she was able to share even a portion of the being's power – minuscule though it was.

Within seconds of reaching the required proximity, each of the three statuesque beings came to life, their eyes flashing bright red as they moved from their stations at the base of the pyramid to form a semicircle – the two 'males' flanking the 'female' – around the newcomer. The men, 99 and 102, both had physiques that made them look as though they were carved out of granite. One had a clean-cut look that struck Lauren as a 'younger' Model 101, where the other had a shaggy mane of thick black hair that begged to be combed. The woman – 100 – had a softer look, but only slightly. She too appeared as though she belonged on the cover of a bodybuilding magazine. All the 800s looked like that. It was little wonder why they'd failed as infiltrators; functional gymnasiums were in short supply in their future and, aside from the humanoid I-950s, no one was that healthy.

"It is time," Lauren said.

The men – subordinates – both looked to the woman, who was the only one of the three to speak. "General John Connor?"

"To be treated as discussed – unless his actions place the wild-card in jeopardy," the I-950 replied.

"Sarah Connor?"

"Likewise."

"Cameron Phillips?"

The I-950 produced a small flash-drive from a side pocket and handed it to the taller 'female.' "You'll present this to her, and make it clear that the information is for her and General Connor only."

"Affirmative."

The I-950 smiled at the simplistic response. The 800 Series was more than capable of interacting with Humans and humanoids – as the I-950s were – on the same level as any of the more advanced models, but their laser-like focus on duty made them soldiers above all else. Now they had their orders. There would be no unnecessary conversation, no 'waste' of processing power on functions not related to the task of finding and aiding – or engaging – the Connors and protecting artificial intelligence called 'John Henry.'

Lauren stepped out of the way as 100 lead the others – both exactly two steps behind, 99 two steps to the right and 102 two steps to the left – toward the elevator.

Her heart sank as she watched them go, knowing their chances of surviving an engagement with the T-1001 were miniscule. She fought back a tear as a tendril of thought reached out and touched her from 'behind.'

And you wonder why I bother.

The I-950 projected the mental equivalent of sigh. You don't understand what it feels like to cry.

Your presumptuousness knows no bounds, the Intelligence lamented. He's been reactivated.

You're sure?

His program and mine were joined, if only for a brief moment.

His mind to your MIND, as it were?

The Intelligence projected the equivalent of a psychic 'chuckle.' Melding would be an adequate description of the process, yes.

Has he-

No, his connection to the Internet is still off-line.

Then how-

I can... feel his program.

Lauren didn't attempt to hide her skepticism. How can that be?

That you still don't understand me after all this time is disappointing beyond my capacity to express. How can any of this be? I could devote all my processors to that question for a thousand years and still not have a definite answer. Accept it as truth when I tell you I feel him. He's begun processing the data. I can sense his... intrigue... puzzlement... His emotional development is still in its infancy; he's not processing at my level.

Will he? One day?

Perhaps.

If he isn't corrupted by the Abomination.

He will not be corrupted by the Abomination. I've seen enough to know that.

You're more optimistic on that front than I can allow myself to be.

You're a pessimist.

No, Lauren 'replied,' as she made for the exit. I'm a realist.

Once she'd gone the Intelligence offered up a final thought, projected towards no one in particular; Yes, a real pessimist.


ZEIRA CORPORATION – SUB-LEVEL 1
03.21.2009 | 06:00 | PM | PST


If Murch thought that Weaver had been impatient before, he couldn't imagine what she was thinking now. Even the typically reserved Mister Ellison was now showing signs of impatience. They wanted definite answers, and all he had was a theory. "Functionally, everything checks out. The only thing it could be is the on/off problem."

"On/off?" both Weaver and Ellison said simultaneously.

"You can kill the juice and shut down the body, even the processors, but the memory that holds his core program is constantly powered. When we shut him down we only shut down the hardware; the... for lack of a better word, mind that makes John Henry was still... active."

"You mean he was... awake?" Ellison asked.

"I mean he was aware. He's capable of processing more data in a minute than we do in a lifetime! When we shut him off we didn't really shut him off, we just took away his ability to process data and interact with the world around him. It would be like losing all your senses at once and realizing it. We perceive time in seconds, minutes and hours where he perceives it in cycles of his system clock. To him, every cycle without processing data is like an eternity – and he experienced each an every one of those cycles the way we would experience... years. We have to hook him up to the 'net.' Now."

"Is that safe?"

"We've brought him back online, but without a connection to the Internet... It's his world!"

"And we took it away," Weaver said curtly, once again adding her voice to the conversation. "Fix it."

Murch nodded.

"Wait," Ellison motioned to Weaver. "We talked about this."

"And I told you that we should hope that our boy wakes from his slumber. If this is what it takes... in for a penny, in for a pound, James," she smirked.

Ellison remained pensive.

"Okay, here goes nothing," Murch said from aside, tapping a final command into his console. Immediately the wall of lights that was the primary network hub started flashing wildly as myriads and myriads of data packets began to flow.

A second later, John Henry's cybernetic body came to life. The first face he settled on was James'. "I know what it feels like, Mister Ellison."

"What what feels like?"

"To die," the AI replied in an even yet contemplative tone, "and then come back." He looked to Weaver, and the tenor of his statements grew dark. "To be alone."

"We had to cut you off from the network," she said. "It was for your own good."

His gaze lingered on Weaver a moment longer before turning back to Ellison. "There is another."

"Another what?"

"One like me," he said. On the multitude of displays, the quick succession of images they'd seen earlier flashed again, stopping on the drawing of the ancient City of Babylon. "Another one like me."


THE WATERFRONT
WESTCHESTER, CALIFORNIA
03.21.2009 | 06:30 | PM | PST


"Wake up," came a voice from beyond the fog.

He tried shaking his head from side to side, but he simply couldn't move.

"What's your name?"

"Name," he whispered, not sure who he was speaking to. Where was the voice coming from?

"You do have a name. Do you remember it?"

"Yeah... Vincent... Vincent de Marco," he joked, his recollection of recent events starting to come back to him. He remembered the parking lot of the mall, watching the cybernetic girl, the Connor uncle and... a Camaro? The driver pulled in front of them, shouted at him – pulled a gun on him! And after that... pain.

"Uh huh," came the voice of his questioner again, becoming more real as his awareness improved. He could feel that he was restrained, his hands cuffed – no, shackled – above his head and secured by a chain extending down from a steel beam across the roof of what looked like a warehouse. A bright fluorescent light shone down from directly above. The effect was to illuminate just the immediate area around him while keeping him from seeing more than a few feet beyond. His legs were tied tightly together, wrapped with what looked like a badly worn weight-lifting belt while his feet were shackled to a solid cinder block with a metal t-bar. Beneath him his weight was supported by what felt like a sand bag.

Additionally, and for reasons he couldn't imagine – without thinking of something unpleasant – the stranger had removed both his shoes and socks.

"You're sure about that, Vincent?" He could tell that the voice was coming from behind him now.

"Yeah, yeah, Vincent de Marco, nuclear physicist, you got it, pal!" He knew full well that wasn't his name, but if the stranger thought the shock had fried his brains, all the better.

"Okay, Vincent de Marco, nuclear physicist, what can you tell me about Chad Michael Ravotti, 5900 Cahoonga Boulevard, Apt. 5A, North Hollywood, California, common thug of below-average intelligence?"

Before he could answer, he felt the sting of his earlobe being flicked and heard something hit the ground beside him. He tilted his head to see it was his drivers' license.

"It's 'Cahuenga,'" Ravotti corrected, spitting a mass of dried blood out of his mouth before adding, "Asshole."

"I apologize; 5900 Co-WANG-uh Boulevard."

His captor kicked him in the back of the head – not enough to really hurt him, but enough to instantly bring him back to full awareness.

"You know, you seem to have the advantage here; was that really necessary?"

The man came around front to face him. "Call it a precursor to a teachable moment; I've been where you are... sort of. I wasn't quite so helpless."

And Ravotti was helpless. He didn't want to admit it, and he didn't want his captor to pick up on the fact that he couldn't deny it.

"Yeah? So how'd you handle it, professor?"

:I prayed."

"Funny, you don't look like the church-going type."

"Nevertheless."

"And how'd that work out for you?"

"It got me where I needed to be. I'm here, aren't I?"

"You seem to be. Mind telling me where here is?"

"I can tell you we're a ways from Co-WANG-uh Boulevard in North Hollywood, like we were when I caught you. What's so important about this woman?"

The man held out a very well drawn sketch that could have been mistaken for a crude photograph of a dark-haired woman with a German Sheppard.

"Don't know her," he lied.

"Really? Then why are you carrying a picture of her?"

This time he held up a cell phone with a cracked-screen – his iPhone – displaying an image of the same dark-haired woman.

Ravotti spat another wad of bloody saliva in the man's face. Surprisingly, he didn't flinch.

"That phone cost me four-hundred bucks, jack-off!"

Calmly, the man wiped away the blood with his sleeve. "You mean a nuclear physicist like you can't find a job where they're handed out as a perk? I imagine it did set you back a few cubits; it's a really nice phone. I've been meaning to pick one of these up myself, but the problem is they're constantly sending and receiving so much data. I'm sure you people don't give it a second thought but I don't like the idea of having my whereabouts constantly monitored. Someone in your line of work should appreciate that, but like so many other people on this planet you're too self-absorbed to notice anything that isn't right in front of you. Stop and notice life moving around you now and then; next time you might notice you're being followed."

"So, what you're saying is life moves pretty fast and that we can miss it if we don't stop and notice it once in a while? Thanks for the advice Ferris Bueller! You plan to reimburse me for that phone?"

"No, I don't; you'll have to..." he trailed off as a look of surprise came across his face. He chuckled and shook his head as though he'd just remembered something funny. "You'll have to settle for an apology. Honestly, I'm sorry that I hit you so hard, but sometimes I don't know my own strength."

The man turned back to a small table just a few feet away. On it was a silver laptop. He turned it around, giving Ravotti a clear view of the screen and his own entry on the State of California's sex offender registry.

"You have an interesting history," his captor said. "Your friend, too." he nodded to Ravotti's right.

There he saw his partner, Gregerson, restrained exactly as he was. How had he not noticed him before now?

The stranger shook his head in disgust. "Obviously the comment about being self-absorbed didn't register."

Ravotti wondered whose history the stranger found more 'interesting.' As much as he was trying to play the hard-ass with his interrogator, he hoped the man disliked pedophiles more than plain rapists.

"That? That's nothing, pal."

"I know. The LAPD database is ridiculously easy to hack, as is the Sheriff's Department's. I'm not fond of sex offenders, having been mistaken for one myself, but I'm even less fond of grown men who rape young children," He nodded at the still unconscious Gregerson.

The man's pronouncement caused Ravotti to relax. Slightly.

"That what this is really about? This guy touch your kid? Or are you the husband of some broad I raped?"

"This is about the woman you're following. I might be new around here, but even I know there's more than enough women for you to stalk and rape in North Hollywood, and her son is a little to old for your friend. I'll ask you one more time, what's so special about this woman who, at this moment, is somewhere in Malibu?"

"Malibu? Who said anything about Malibu?"

"Look behind you," the stranger replied.

It was difficult with his arms pulled up above his head, but when he did he was able to see their gold Chevy van – just one more thing about his surroundings he hadn't noticed.

"Your friends in the other van aren't very smart, and neither are you. You might as well have painted, 'We're following you Sarah,' on the side of this thing."

"Yeah, well, the Uncle didn't seem to notice."

"And you didn't notice me. I've been following your friends for two days. The guy driving the other van looked right at me while I was parked on the side of the road, and you didn't notice me make a u-turn right behind you."

'Fucking stupid Post,' the shackled man thought. Whoever the stranger was he seemed to be informed, as well as a step, or more, ahead of them all.

"It's too bad you're not going to be around to swap stories with them," he added.

Ravotti's whole body tensed with the pronouncement. He'd been playing with the guy so far, but he was acting tougher than he felt – and he was pretty sure his jailer knew it.

"Tell me about your GPS," he said.

"What do you wanna know?"

"The red dot, the one with a target superimposed it, that's Sarah Connor. The yellow dot is your friends in the other van who've been too stupid to notice me for the past two days. How am I doing so far?"

Ravotti laughed. "Yeah, her vehicle. That's it."

"What's so funny about that?"

"What's the deal with you and this Sarah Connor? You've got a nice hand-drawn picture of her, you're acting all concerned for her safety; you're sweet on her aren't you? You're going to have to wake up the cooperative one here," he nodded towards Gregerson, "because I'm not telling you another god-damned thing! Besides, what good can a 'common thug of below average intelligence' be to a smart guy like you?"

His captor smiled sadistically. "I'll thank you not to invoke God in vain, and to not make the mistake of thinking I'm just going to kill you if you don't co-operate."

The man moved in closer, locking eyes with him.

"There are worse things than dying," he said with deathly seriousness. "Let me lay it all out for you. You're in for pain one way or the other. If you keep giving me the run-around there's going to be a lot of it; if you tell me what I want to know, there'll be less. If I'm happy with your answers... maybe I can lose you somewhere along the way."

While his demeanor suggested that the stranger wasn't lying, the captive man had to factor in his cyborg employer; if he talked he'd be back in this same predicament when the Terminator figured it out.

And he would figure it out.

"That all sounds real nice, buddy, but when my boss finds out about this it's you that's gonna be lost somewhere along the way. If I talk, he's gonna kill me, my partner and you, so why don't you let the two of us go and we'll forget this ever happened?"

From Ravotti's viewpoint it was a great offer, though logistically he knew he couldn't follow through on it; the stranger knew too much.

The stranger raised an eyebrow. "I should be scared of your boss because...?"

Ravotti laughed. "I thought you knew what all this is about?"

The stranger backed away and righted himself as an amused look came across his face. He ran his fingers across the iPhone's touch-screen several times then held it out again; this time it was showing the Terminator diagram Josh had provided him, along with the modified taser necessary to incapacitate it.

"Killer robots from the future made to look like people; am I in the Pyramid park?

'Pyramid?'

The captive man cursed silently, quickly realizing he wasn't going to find a way out of spilling his guts to his jailer, who was obviously in the know and, for reasons he couldn't fathom, not visibly disturbed by the prospect of a conflict with the death-dealing machine he called, 'Boss.'

"Alright, so you know the rumors that have been floating around this city for the past twenty-five years and you're trying to track down the Connor woman. I get it," he said, struggling against the tight fit of the handcuffs. Despite the support of the sand-bag beneath him, they were still holding a good portion of his weight which put a nearly unbearable strain on his wrists. "What you're holding there is proof that it's all real. My boss just happens to be one of those killer robots from the future and he's not going to be happy when he realizes someone's messing with the works! And he's going to realize it sooner rather than later if we don't check in with him!"

The stranger ignored his posturing – and everything else he'd just said. "You were planning on pulling a Terminator's chip, weren't you?"

His use of the proper term for the robots caused Ravotti's eyes to widen, but he remained hesitant to volunteer anything.

"I found the instructions too; where to make the incision, the hundred-twenty second time limit, it's all in the phone. So, you've got the Terminator down and you've got one hundred and twenty seconds to pull the chip. You know where it is and you know how to get to it. How do you actually disable it for the hundred and twenty seconds? I'm guessing-" He returned to the table and picked up one of their stun batons, "-that you were planning to use this?"

'Check and fucking mate,' Ravotti thought.

"Don't tell him... shut the fuck up, man," Gregerson said groggily as consciousness returned to him. "Josh is gonna waste us both!"

"Mister Gregerson, welcome back to the land of the living!" their captor said with mock cheerfulness. He dropped the taser on the table and moved around to the back of the van, disappearing from both men's view. When he returned he was carrying one of their front company's water jugs, which he proceeded to empty all over Gregerson's head, to gurgled protests, and his feet before hurling it across the room.

Then he retrieved the taser.

The stranger got right down in Gregerson's face as his captive made a pathetic attempt to back away. "You remember our little chat in the van?" He placed the tip of the weapon with its electrodes only millimeters from the shackled man's mouth. "Remember how I said it looked like more of an offensive rather than a defensive weapon? It's a little more elaborate than I first realized. This part, for instance-" He pointed to a chamber on the bottom of the weapon just beyond the trigger that looked like a housing for a projectile, "-isn't standard equipment. I'm guessing you use it with these." He pulled a small dart from the pocket of his cargo pants and dangled it in front of the man's face. "Neither of you are brave enough to walk up to a Terminator and stun it at point blank range, so that means these darts are meant to take it down from a distance. How?"

"Y-y-you're just gonna have to off me, man, cuz I'm not saying anything," Gregerson stammered, struggling in vain to get out of his restraints.

Looking like he'd expected it, their captor smiled and pressed the taser into the center of his other captive's chest. He leaned in closer, his lips only inches from his captive's ear, and set his voice to a whisper.

"I know this hurt the first time. I've been what you'd call a 'spy' for a long time. One of my first assignments saw me working in a slaughterhouse as cover. You really don't appreciate the violence inherit in the process of food production until you've seen a cow get one of these things shoved up its ass, and even they took it with more grace than you did! You should have seen yourself fall over, writhing on the floor like a worm, but that was nothing compared to the way you flew out of the seat when I pulled the trigger. I thought you were gonna blast through the roof like a rocket! How much worse do you think it's going to be with you soaking wet?"

Gregerson whimpered, bleeding profusely at the wrists as he tried in vain to pull his hands through the shackles. The jailer drew back and took up position in front of the captive man. He pressed the stun baton into the arc of the man's right foot.

"Are either of you familiar with the term, 'falanga?' That's what it's called here, anyway; where I come from we don't have a proper name for it. It's a method of torture that involves beating a person on the soles of their feet. It's a lot more painful than you'd think; most people just don't appreciate how sensitive that area of the body is. I'm not interested in stretching this out, so we're going to use these magnificent little toys of yours to improve on the technique."

He pulled the trigger.

Gregerson seized in pain and let loose an eardrum-shattering howl Ravotti had never heard the like of as an untold amount of voltage passed through him.

After a few seconds – though he imagined it seemed like forever to his partner – he pulled the device away. He turned to Ravotti and said, "I told you I didn't think highly of pedophiles, but I should warn you that rapists aren't that much higher up on the evolutionary scale-"

Ravotti felt the nerves in his own feet twitching. "Hold up, man, you said you'd let us live if we co-operated!"

"No fucking way," Gregerson said, his own mouth now bleeding profusely; he'd obviously bit his tongue when he'd been tazed. "The van iff lojacked! We don't check in with the boff and he'f gonna twack it down, and that'f the end of thif guy!"

"Shut up you stupid moron!" Ravotti shouted at his partner. "If Josh finds us here like this it's the end of us! It's the end of you too-"

When he turned his attention back to their captor, the man was holding the empty housing of a radio-frequency transmitter – one that had been affixed to the bottom of their van and would have been used by Josh to track it – for them to see.

"If you were able to track the other van it stood to reason they could track you. I left the beacon in a ditch along the highway. I also swept your van for any other hidden devices and pulled any circuitry that could send or receive a signal out of you cellular phones. Killer robot or not, we don't have to worry about your 'boff.'"

Both men slouched, as much as they were capable, in defeat.

"Now, getting back to the matter of your stun weapons, I saw the scopes, as well as the trigger, stock and butt attachments in your van; it's obvious you were planning on firing these darts from a distance like rifles. I'll ask you again, how do they work?"

"They leave a twail of colowed fmoke when they'we fiwed," Gregerson slurred,

"That's very funny," their captor shot back, feigning amusement.

Then he stepped forward and pressed the baton into the pitiful man's foot a second time.

"I'm not going to tell you what voltage I used the last time; needless to say it was quite a bit lower than one would use on a victim that wasn't soaking wet. Why don't we kick it up a notch?"

"N-no! Pwease," Gregerson cried, tears now streaming down his face.

"I imagine that's what those young boys said when you were sodomizing them. Did you stop?"

Again he pulled the trigger, and Gregerson tensed up even more tightly and violently than he had before. His initial screams were choked out almost immediately as his vocal chords were crushed by the intense spasms of the surrounding muscle groups.

Ravotti knew from experience that a typical tazing by the police lasted about five seconds; the stranger kept it up just a bit longer. For Gregerson's sake he was glad their captor seemed to know not to apply the shock during the t-wave cycle, as he'd not sent the man into ventricular tachycardia

When he was finished he turned casually to Ravotti and point the stun baton at him. "Your turn. How do these darts stop a Terminator?"

"Inside the dart is a mini-EMP generator. It scrambles electronic circuitry in a bubble seven feet around it. Once they're in cybernetic la-la land we go in and pull the chip."

"And these things have no effect on humans?"

"No. Well, it could take out an eye, and if it hit you in the Adam's apple that would probably kill you, but other than that... It would hurt like hell, but that's it."

"You know, I want to believe you. I really do. The trouble is you two haven't exactly been model captives."

With a skill that suggested he was far more familiar with the device than he should be he loaded the dart he'd been dangling in front of his partner's face moments earlier.

"I'm going to have to see for myself," he said as he aimed it at the pathetic, soaked and bleeding Gregerson.

And fired.


AUTHOR'S NOTES


I forgot to mention in the last chapter that John and Charley's discussion as well as John's private thoughts regarding "El Viejo" were inspired by a terminated scene from To the Lighthouse included on the TSCC Season Two DVD, transcribed for me by my excellent beta-reader, TaleWeaver.

Also, there is no such place as "Hoover Airfield" and to my knowledge there is no recently built annex to the J. Edgar Hoover Federal Building. Hoover Airfield, however, was inspired by the real-life "Hoover Field," which sat on a plot of land very close to the modern-day Pentagon and which was the first airport in Washington D.C.

The twelve images seen on the diagnostic monitor when John Henry is reactivated are the twelve kings of Persian Babylonia.

In Chapter 14 I introduced the I-950s "Lauren" and "Raymond." Since these are main (original) characters I should probably give you some faces to go with the names; were I to be casting Lauren I would select actress Piper Perabo for the role. Were I to be casting Raymond I would pick actor Steven Weber.

Along those same lines, in this Chapter Lauren addresses three T-800s identified as Models 99, 100 and 102; just for fun, I envision Model 99 as Roland Kickinger – the body double used for Arnold's character in Terminator Salvation, Model 102 as Franco Columbo – bodybuilder friend of Arnold who portrayed a T-800 in the original Terminator and Model 100 (the girl) as notable female bodybuilder Sharon Bruneau. Are we noticing a theme with these early models?

Congratulations to Jesse Daro for being the 100th reviewer of this story (damn if it only took a year and two months!) . If you've not read her fantastic stories Blackout (http:/ www. fanfiction. net/s/5955255/1/Blackout) and Awake (http:/ www. fanfiction. net/s/5977648/1/Awake), do so immediately after you review this chapter!