Marcus Wright, soldier for the Human Resistance.
At this thought, Marcus let out a silent, mirthless laugh. He sat hunched over on the flimsy cot in the tiny room – if you chose to call it a room – that Barnes had shown him to. The space was really little more than a storage closet, barely big enough to hold the cot and a small, battered wooden table shoved next to it. On the table sat a rusty iron gooseneck lamp that had once been coated with a layer of bright blue paint, and which now provided he only light in the dank, claustrophobic space.
Marcus was hardly bothered by the room, though. It had struck him – when Barnes first turned the key in the lock and unceremoniously shoved the door open – that ironically, his cell at Longview had been bigger. But if he'd had a choice, he would have taken his tiny, grubby hole any day; if nothing else, after his dialogue with Connor, Marcus felt like a legitimately free man for the first time since one fateful day in early August of 2002…
But there was no time to dwell on that. There were more pressing things to think about, to do.
As he and Barnes had walked in silence down row after row of the subterranean tunnels and corridors that made up the barracks, Marcus had stared at the mostly closed doors lining the walls. Here and there you'd pass a partially or fully open door and catch a fleeting glimpse of a meager, shabby interior… once or twice they passed small children darting around, and more than a few adults entering and exiting their quarters nodded respectfully at Barnes and glanced curiously at Marcus.
It was a maze, Marcus realized, and wondered how he was supposed to find her. The unpleasant realization that he would have to ask Barnes had dawned on him. So, as Barnes had turned to leave after showing Marcus to his new quarters, Marcus found himself calling reluctantly to him.
The other man had turned back slowly. 'What?'
Marcus had hesitated. 'Look, I need a little favor,' he'd begun stiffly…
Barnes had just looked at him, expressionless.
'I, uh, need to find Blair.' Marcus paused. 'D'you know where she'd be?'
In response, Barnes had just folded his arms slowly. The two men looked at each other in silence.
'Well?' Marcus was forced to prompt.
Barnes seemed to be thinking. Finally he let out a sigh, shook his head wonderingly. 'Listen, I don't know what this is between you and Blair,' he began, quiet vehemence in his voice, 'And I know I haven't exactly been in her corner lately. But whatever's going on with you two… She's been through enough because of you already. So you better not fuck around with her. If you do, you'll have people to answer to. Including me.'
Marcus blinked in surprise. The last thing he'd expected was for Barnes to be looking out for Blair. If that's what he was even doing; maybe, Marcus reasoned quickly in his head, Barnes just hated him so much he wanted to make sure he kept his distance from the people around them.
Reigning in his anger, he countered quietly, 'That's pretty rich coming from the guy that fired a rocket at her a few weeks ago.'
At this, Barnes had the decency to look chastened for a moment.
Before he could respond, Marcus added, 'But you should know that the last thing I want is to hurt Blair in any way. She's done more for me than I could ever have asked, and I would never let anyone harm her. Especially me. Got it?'
Barnes simply looked at him appraisingly.
'I just wanna talk to her because I owe her an explanation for everything I've kept from her. And if you won't tell me where she is I'll just have to find her myself.' With that, Marcus had turned to walk into his little room, when Barnes spoke up from behind him.
'Her quarters are in the north end of the barracks.'
Marcus turned back to face him, a questioning look on his face.
Barnes sighed heavily. 'Take the main corridor left, go straight down past the blast doors, and take the second corridor right. Then take your fourth right. Her room's the sixth on the left.' Barnes paused. 'Got it?'
Marcus grudgingly nodded. 'Got it.'
Now, Marcus battled with, among other things, his need to see Blair, to talk to her. For all his tough talk to Barnes, he'd been sitting there in his little room for over an hour at least. Part of him was afraid to face her, and he sat there delaying it, letting time pass. It was late and Blair had probably gone to bed by now. It seemed obvious that on the rare occasions when Resistance fighters weren't out in the battlefield they'd want to catch up on whatever precious rest they could, and it would be lousy to go and wake her…
But he had to. He had to talk to her – if she would hear him out – and see what she had to say to him, if anything. If she despised him for turning out to be a coward, a murderer.
You did try to warn her, a small part of him countered. Bullshit, he replied. He shouldn't have kept the truth from Blair, the one person who'd had blind faith in him since the day they met. Taking a deep breath he pushed himself up off the creaking, wobbling cot and headed out the door. Fourth right, sixth on the left, he repeated in his head
'You could have spoken to me first, you know,' Kate rebuked her husband in an undertone as she pushed open the door.
John frowned. 'What are you talking about? I thought you were on board with this,' he whispered back as the entered the room off the main infirmary where Silverman and Kate had been camped out for the better part of the day.
A large table in the middle of the room was littered with papers, x rays and files. At the far end John Silverman was shuffling noisily through a large file, oblivious to the Connors' presence.
'Yeah well I still am, technically. But that was before I heard some of the stuff he had to say,' Kate hissed back, jerking her head in Silverman's direction.
John frowned. 'What are you talking about?'
'I'll let him tell you,' Kate said softly. 'Doctor,' she called out.
Silverman looked up with a start, then got awkwardly to his feet. 'Ah, Connors. Sorry, I was rather absorbed…'
'No problem,' Connor replied, pulling back chairs for himself and Kate. 'Kate tells me you two have made some headway with understanding Marcus'… situation.'
'Yes, yes we have,' Silverman began eagerly as they all sat down. He took a deep breath and launched into it without preamble. 'First of all, we've been able to understand some basic things about his functioning that were eluding us before. For instance, the way his healing works. And how his body adapts to certain conditions, what he does and doesn't need to stay 'healthy'… that sort of thing…'
'Do we know what went wrong during the probe?' John cut in abruptly.
Silverman paused, as if trying to decide what his reaction to John's interruption should be. 'Sort of.' He replied finally. 'We already know that Skynet built into Marcus' brain a system that ensured no third party would be able to access his memory centers. But what also happened is that we physically damaged a portion of his brain. The artificial cortex of Marcus' brain contains an extremely delicate and sophisticated system that essentially coordinates the operation of his organic and inorganic components and keeps them both running as one, functional unit. Remarkable, a remarkable achievement…' he trailed off for a moment.
The Connors waited patiently.
Kate decided to continue. 'What happened, is that we disrupted the normal function of a section of his brain that controls healing and pain responses. And that is now kind of haywire. So while his reactions at the time… you know, the pain, his going into a kind of coma… all of that was probably triggered by the Skynet failsafe, but the lingering effects he's feeling now are probably a result of the separate, physical damage that was caused by the probe.'
'Will these effects go away?' John asked.
'We can't say for certain,' Silverman replied bluntly. 'To be quite honest John, I have no idea. But what Kate and I do have an idea of now, is how very fragile the whole system is. Marcus may seem indestructible, but he is not just the body of a T-800 covered in skin. We were foolish to think we could just open up his head without the risk of destroying something in there. Like children tinkering with a toy we couldn't understand.'
John frowned. 'Go on.'
'Well, the damage is of specific concern because it affects his healing abilities. We know that essentially, Marcus' system responds to injury the same way as any of us; organic nerve endings in his skin register pain, and according to the damage inflicted, his flesh will bleed, burn and so on.'
John nodded briskly. 'Yeah. We already know this.'
Silverman ignored his impatience. 'Where minor to moderate injuries are concerned, Marcus is in effect, human, so cuts, scrapes, bruises, burns… they affect him just like any of us. The difference between him and us kicks in only when the level of injury is serious, when the physical damage is extensive enough that in a normal person it would cause severe damage or death.'
'Like the landmine blast he was in?' John ventured.
'Exactly. An ordinary person would have died, or just barely survived that kind of blast. But in Marcus' case what happens is that every injury he receives is instantly evaluated by both his organic and inorganic systems. So, if he's moderately injured, the artificial cortex will remain inactive, and he'll suffer the injury like anyone else. Helps to maintain the illusion that he's human, I suppose.
But when the injury is severe, Skynet seems to have made the calculated decision to preserve their asset at the expense of his cover. Meaning that rather than just let him bleed to death from a serious injury, Skynet engineered his artificial cortex to kick in and launch damage control.'
'Damage control, huh,' John mused softly, intrigued.
'So, take that landmine blast,' Kate continued, 'What happened is that his brain instantly assessed the degree of his injuries, decided they were lethal, and initiated emergency procedure. Which is that his artificial cortex took control of his organic nervous system, and overrode all the signals from it. Nerve endings in the damaged area were temporarily disabled and pain response was deactivated, resulting in a generalized numbness and keeping him lucid and functional. And to keep him from dying of blood loss, blood vessels at the site of the injury were temporarily constricted to halt bleeding.'
John let out a long breath. 'Makes sense,' he murmured. 'You're right. That is pretty fucking incredible. And it's great that we understand all of this. But what does this mean now? What's changed since the probe?'
'What's changed,' Silverman said grimly, 'Is that thanks to the damage caused by the probe, this incredible, ingenious system has lost its reliability. We don't know that Marcus' body will respond as efficiently the next time he steps on a mine, or has a T-800 shoot him full of bullets. He could die just like any of your soldiers.'
John froze as this Silverman's last words sank in. Kate's earlier distress suddenly made sense; clearly, Marcus was not quite the indestructible soldier John had envisioned. Goddammit.As he thought back to the mission he had basically designed around Marcus only hours earlier, he put his head in his hands, and swore under his breath.
'Are you alright, John?' Silverman asked politely, mildly alarmed. Obviously, he didn't understand the reason for John's react …
John massaged his temples. 'Yeah, fine,' he sighed. 'This just puts a little hitch in my plans, that's all Doctor.'
Silverman seemed confused. 'May I ask what plans those are?'
John gave him an appraising look, then decided there was no harm in telling him. 'I've got a mission lined up for Marcus. A major strike against a significant Skynet target. And it pretty much relies on him being, well, indestructible.'
To his surprise, Silverman responded with distress. 'You can't be serious!' he exclaimed, stricken.
John exchanged a look with his wife. She looked just as confused as him.
Silverman pushed his chair back and stood, beginning to pace around in agitation.
'Okay, what's going on…' John began.
'John, please. I ask you to reconsider using Marcus Wright as part of your strike team,' Silverman implored. 'He can't become part of the Resistance.'
There was absolute silence for a moment.
'What the hell do you mean?' John demanded. 'Look I understand what you're saying about the damage he's suffered and how that changes things. Obviously, we need to tell him about all this. If that's what you're worried about…'
'No, no that's not it…'
John shrugged, 'What then? I don't see any other problem. Once Marcus knows about these latest findings, he's free to do what he wants. I'm not sending him on a suicide mission, obviously. But Marcus has made a decision to be part of the Resistance and I'm pretty sure he won't go back on his word.'
Silverman was shaking his head emphatically. 'You don't understand.'
John felt his patience wearing thin. 'Then make me understand.'
Silverman sighed, and slumped back into his chair. He looked agonized. 'Marcus is not free to just make any choice he wants,' he groaned. 'He can't just up and become a soldier.'
'What? Why the hell not?' John demanded, now clearly annoyed.
Moments stretched out. When Silverman finally spoke, his words tumbled out in a kind of desperate plea. 'Because… there are people out there who won't let that happen. Who, once they hear of his existence, will want to assert control… they'll want to lay claim…'
Whatever John and Kate might have been expecting to hear, this was not it. They exchanged stunned, confused glances. Slowly, menacingly, John leaned forward. He glared at Silverman. 'What the hell,' he whispered furiously'Are you talking about?'
Silverman seemed to shrink from him.
'What 'people'? What are you talking about?' Kate snapped, echoing her husband, 'And why is this the first time we're hearing of any of this?' Her eyes narrowed with suspicion and distrust. 'Dr Silverman, it sounds like there's a lot going on you haven't been telling us.' She folded her arms grimly. 'I'd suggest you start, now.'
AUTHOR's NOTE: First off, a quick word of thanks to anyone still reading this story! And second, there's a change of dates reflecting that Marcus was in prison for only a year, not three as previously stated. (Whoops). Cheers.