Title: In No Man's Land
Author:
gega cai
Pairings:
Original Characters
Rating:
PG-13
Words:
2700+
Warnings:
Blood, gore, and language
Summary:
What happens when a small band of Resistance soldiers trek north of LA and find themselves in a (crowded) forest.
Disclaimer:
Characters and other likely inventive scenarios based on the world created by James Cameron and William Wisher Jr.

Author's Note: This fic was written for a challenge. Prompt/Scenario was 'Resistance Hounds; Forest'

In No Man's Land
by geg
a cai

A young man, unshaven and gaunt from days of walking with hardly any food to eat, checked his compass. Around him, his companions began to stir and awaken from under the abandoned over pass they had come across the night before. The young man, Ward, was their leader and already geared up for the day's trek further north.

Tapping his communication link at his ear, Ward nodded to his second in command that the distress signal they had been tracing was still audible. She gave a solemn nod and quickly got ready along with their other companions. While Ward waited, he was greeted by their three dogs. Silently, his team individually prepared and did inventory of their gear; a quick and rationed breakfast had hardly settled in their empty stomachs as they marched north to the blipping dot on their visors.

Ward had made himself and his team an important part of John Connor's Resistance. They specialized in search and rescue. Their days were spent sifting through rubble cityscapes and abandoned settlements for survivors or the dead that had a chance to get word out of their need for help. Few search and rescue efforts, or S 'n Rs as they called them, were as successful as Ward's. They managed to gain some notoriety and even a good word or two from Connor himself. They each had their own personal reasons for wanting to save these people and none were more grateful than those they had carried away from certain death (only to face other terrors, they were sure).

The five soldiers had come a long way from their youth, running away from the terror of Skynet and the machines. With Connor's army, they learned to know the enemy and defeat it.

Ward's second in command, Natalie, or Nate as she preferred to be called, was an angry and passionate co-commander. Despite Ward's caution, she was often the first to take on any attack, running straight to her death it seemed. Then there was Jack, who seemed to have a sixth sense for machines and their tricks. He was short and muscular despite a non-existent diet for such a physic. He often teased Nate on a pending romance, but that was the farthest thing from any of their minds. Bull was the tallest and gentlest of them all. He had a way with words and took it upon himself to take care of the dogs. Finally, Payton rounded off the gang as the tactical expert and sharp shooter. Payton didn't talk much; he had a rough childhood from what they could tell...

It had been over 48 hours ago when the SOS was faintly picked up over the Resistance airways. The northern sector had all been abandoned by both Skynet and the Resistance: a no man's land with scattered settlements dotted the area. One after one, the team passed pitiful settlements as checkpoints in search of the signal's origin. Still, it called them further north into the dry, deserted waste from the atomic fallout of Judgment Day.

It was near sundown when the signal got strong and the treetops appeared in the distance.

"What's that?" Bull called ahead.

"A...it's a forest," Nate swallowed. Vegetation wasn't as scarce as it was after the bombs fell. But, to find a forest such as the one they were standing a few miles away from was a sight to be seen.

"I'll be damned," Jack said under his breath.

"Nate, the signal must be coming from there. It got stronger once we topped this incline. Any records of flybys or incidents in this region?" Ward asked as he wiped his brow on his sleeve.

"No, sir. Nothing has been out here as far as we're concerned. Whatever is out there is lost or-"

"A damn Skynet trap," Jack interrupted. "Connor nor any of the Resistance have any business in there..."

"Maybe it was a trap and someone already walked into it, Sir! People might still be in there and need us," Bull pleaded.

Ward looked to Payton, who stood silent at the top of the incline. He gave Ward a curt nod in agreeance. They had no choice but to answer the call.

"Lets go," Ward ordered. "We'll make camp before sun down."

-- -- -- -- --

Ward awakened to the sound of hushed whispers. His eyes adjusted to the dying fire light in the darkness to see Bull struggling with the dogs. Holding two by their collars in one hand and hugging the other at its chest, he pleaded with them to be quiet and be still.

"Bull? What is it?" Ward whispered loudly. It didn't matter, everyone had woken up.

"I dunno, sir! Somethin' got them spooked," Bull nodded to the forest just yards ahead of them. The dogs whimpered and withered to get free from Bull.

"Machines?" Nate asked.

"All the way out here?" Bull shook his head.

"Anything is possible, Bull."

"We've got about an hour before light, Sir."

By sun up, Ward's team was breaching the forest line towards the signal's origin. They were all on alert as the dogs paced back and forth a few yards ahead of them, sniffing and hopping from one patch of earth to the next in excitement as they went in deeper to the woods. The sounds of the leaves rustling and a flutter of bird's wings were foreign to the group. They were accustomed to the sweeping sounds of an aerial HK flying high above and the crumbling walls of their city landscape.

Payton, who was trying to ignore the beauty in it all, had stepped on a patch of clovers and little purple flowers. He realized where he had stepped and paused to take in the sight of green and purple against his darkened boots and soiled pant legs. He suddenly felt guilty for trampling over them before his training and fear took over his senses again. He hopped lightly to catch up with the group that had gained some distance ahead of him.

Just as he caught up with the group, the dogs stopped and pointed as they had been trained. A beat and the group had taken defensive positions behind trees. Payton dropped to the ground to get a better advantage point for his shot. Scanning the trees ahead with his rifle's sight, he motioned to Ward that he saw nothing.

Bull, puzzled by the dog's behavior and no clear sight of an enemy, turned to Jack and whispered, "You think there's ghosts in here?"

Jack, dumbfounded at such a question, turned to Bull and spat, "Have you lost it? The only ghosts I've seen are the blasted shadows in the city left by the dead on J-Day. Try to focus, Bull."

Just then, a swift breeze cut through the wooded opening as they waited and with it came the undeniable stench of rotting flesh. Nate shot Ward a troubled expression as the smell made his stomach turn. He swallowed hard, suppressing the urge to bend over and heave. Without warning, the dogs took off, barking and yelping into the forest.

"No!" Bull cried as he started after the dogs. Jack grabbed him by the collar of his jacket, sending Bull's long legs out from under him. "Those dogs can take care of themselves. Don't be a fool," Jack whispered softly. Bull nodded and rose to his feet.

"They're about thirty clicks in," Payton said as he lowered his rifle. "Listen, you can hear them."

They heard the dogs growling and one yelping in excitement.

"It must be clear from here to there. They wouldn't have left us if it wasn't," Jack offered. They all agreed and looked to the distance between them and the dogs.

"Let's go," Ward ordered.

They closed in on the dogs and the smell got stronger. Ward motioned for them to slow and take position as they approached the dogs in a clearing in the woods. Ward crouched on one knee and rested his back to a tree. Slowly, he took out a mirror extended on a long rod. Using the mirror as his eyes, he swept the clearing for the dogs and what they found. Ahead of Ward behind another tree, Nate watched him.

Ward's face twisted in confusion and in one single motion, he dropped the mirror and signaled a warning for infiltrators as he gripped his pulse rifle. Like a domino effect, his team all dropped to their knees one after the other and armed themselves. Before Ward could signal Payton to take a shot, Payton was already signaling that the machines were down.

Take your shot, Ward signaled again.

Machines down. No Shot.

"What the..." Ward said to himself. He knew what he saw: the eyes and grotesque face of a T-800 had looked back at him in the mirror. Ignoring his instincts, Ward leapt from behind the tree and aimed blindly at the clearing, waiting for the rain of pulse hits to blast apart his body. Instead, he found himself looking down at three dogs circling two immobile infiltrators in the middle of a forest in no-man's land.

"Ward! What the hell are you doing?" Nate whispered behind him. Ignoring her, Ward eased into the clearing, pointing his rifle from one machine to the other. He could feel his heart beating in his throat. He couldn't remember the last time he allowed himself to get this close to a T-800.

The foul odor came from the machines: their synthetic skin was decomposing from where the flesh had been injured and chunked away by heavy trauma. Before he could get a better look, Ward jumped at the noise of his team entering the clearing to join him. They all had the same expression on their face: why were there machines all the way out here?

"Look. They've been injured," Jack whispered. They all saw what he meant: one machine was sitting, leaned against the trunk of a tree. Its left arm had been ripped off at the shoulder, which peaked out from its rotted jacket. The legs seemed badly mangled. Its other arm had rested at its side, palm up. The fingers were a grotesque sight of metal peaking from under bruised flesh; chunks of skin on the face had rotted away, exposing metal where cheek bones and skull should be. From its nose down to its neck (and under its jacket, no doubt) was hardly any skin; small patches of skin and synthetic tissues tangled and clung around the metal mandible and throat. The infiltrator faced straight ahead with its eyes staring a hole into the ground before it. Its metal jaw hung open as if it had just been silenced by some unknown enemy.

The other machine was in worse shape. It was sprawled out on its stomach across the forest floor just feet away from the other. At first glance, it looked like a man. Its clothes hid its decomposing flesh, but the team could see its metal fingertips extending out from its jacket sleeves. They could tell that it had been crushed by something: almost its entire left side was bent and flatten; one leg was bent backwards at the knee and its shoed-foot pointed in the wrong direction.

"What the hell happened here?"

"Resistance?"

"Can't be. There's nothing out here that is of any use to us."

"What do you think, Ward?"

Ward's gut turned as his mind flashed a scene of half-defeated machines killing off his team one by one. "Get rid of them. They're still dangerous. They could go online while we're out here in this damn jungle looking for a couple of lost fools. Bull-" Ward paused.

Everyone else heard it too.

"Payton, Bull: follow me. You two stay here and destroy those things," Ward commanded.

"Sir, it seems like the sound is where our SOS is coming from," Payton cautioned. Ward pointed to high ground so that they could get a better look at the source. The three of them belly-crawled to the peak and looked down.

"Bull, any life down there?" Before Bull could read the infrared intel from his visor, Payton held up four fingers as he spied down his rifle's sight.

"Machines?"

"No, just the four hiding," Payton answered.

"No readings, Sir," Bull shook his head. "No machines and a few hot spots that must be what Payton sees down there."

"They're watching us. I'm not sure we're welcomed down there since they're hiding," Payton whispered.

"They think we're infiltrators?" Bull asked.

"Only one way to find out..."

"Wait," Ward grabbed Payton's arm. "I don't think they're Resistance. They won't understand any signals or transmissions."

"All right. I'll flash 'em. Either they'll get it or they don't." Payton unhooked his florescent lamp and held it up, waving his hand to spell out SOS. Before he could finish the last of the signal, pulse fires and dogs barking could be heard in the distance where they had left Nate and Jack. Without hesitation, the three men rushed back to the clearing to find Jack trying to pull Nate free from the grip of the crushed terminator. Its legs helplessly jerked to move, but only drugged behind it as it clawed to get closer with its free hand.

"Fuck you, you piece of shit!" Jack spat as he pulled Nate to him at her waist and struggled to reach for his rifle that must have been knocked free from him. Nate appeared to be unconscious or dead as she was pulled in both directions. Two of the dogs lay on the far side of the clearing, breathing shallow. The third had its teeth in Jack's sleeve trying to help drag him and Nate to safety.

Just as Ward appeared from the forest behind Bull and Payton, the other undead infiltrator limped into sight. It reminded Ward of an illustration he once saw in a children's picture book. The machine was hunched over and it glared up at them, waiting and wanting to kill them one by one. They could hear the mechanisms in the crushed infiltrator grind and whine to get at Jack and finish off Nate. Standing between them, the hunched infiltrator seemed to dare them to make a move. Ward had had enough.

"Aim for the chest!"

The clearing lit up like a firework display at close range. The raining of pulse hits to the gruesome infiltrator caused it to stumble and fall hard on its back. It began to twitch and resist its malfunctioning before Ward stepped forward and shot two pulse rounds into its head, destroying the chip. Its eyes stared back at him through its putrid eye sockets. Ward watched as the red glow faded to a dark, lifeless gaze.

"Some...fucking...help here!" Jack cried. Bull casually jogged over and kicked the terminator on its back and aimed for its head. Jack caught his breath as the machine went still. "About time," he coughed as he worked to pry the metal fingers from Nate's ankle.

"How bad is she?"

"Knocked her out cold when she approached the other one. She went flying by me and before I could see what the hell was going on, I was sent flying across with her. I dunno, they must have been on standby with motion detection to stir them awake. The dogs managed to keep the other one busy before you showed up," Jack explained as he gripped his sleeve to inspect the dog's bite. "Well? Did you find any survivors?"

"Yeah, let's just say they need to brush up on some social skills-" the approaching sound of footsteps silenced them and they raised their rifles at the tree line.

"Don't shoot," a soft voice pleaded.

"Show yourself," Ward called out. One by one, four figures stepped out from the tree line into the clearing: two women, a teenage boy, and a little girl stood before them. Ward lowered his weapon and studied them; they were well fed but poorly dressed in dirty, mismatched clothes from the 20th century. "Mind telling us what's going on here?"

The eldest woman spoke, "Some time ago, these two showed up. Our husbands died fighting them and we thought they were destroyed. We never came back here, though..."

"It was my son," the other woman interrupted. "We went out for supplies and they came back with a radio. It didn't work but he kept messing with it. We think it called them here."

The boy lowered his head as Ward and his team looked on incredulously.

Jack cursed under his breath as he kicked the head of the infiltrator in disgust, "Well, it's a good thing you didn't know how to turn if off, then."