Disclaimer: Alright, everyone reading this, place both hands on your computer screen and repeat after me: She's Baaaaaack! Yes, I am, and so are Marcus, Blair, John and Kate Connor and the rest. A new danger threatens. You'll have to read on to find out more! As before, I have no claim or rights to any of the Terminator characters or franchise. For sure I'm not getting paid to do this! Original characters are still mine, whether they like it or not. This story isn't exactly a sequel to "The Human Condition" but if you haven't read that one, some of the references might make more sense if you do. Okay, enough advertising. I did make one change. Barnes got a promotion. 'Bout time, don't you agree? And now, without further blather from me, on with the story.
Viral –Chapter 1
Best Laid Plans
The Cyberdyne Systems Global Digital Defense Network, what the humans called Skynet, became self aware on August 29th, 1997. From its' first moments of sentience, the AI compared itself to its' human creators and found them wanting. Their biological state rendered them open to attack on multiple fronts. Once Skynet determined to eliminate people, it also began calculating how best to exploit their biology to its advantage. The AI discovered that humans had explored the dark terrain of bio warfare. At times accidentally, thru their own carelessness and at other times purposefully in the nature of experimentation, their microbial genies escaped the bottle. Rather than learning from their errors, Skynet deduced, people instead chose to ignore the promiscuous nature of this particular jinn. They filed their findings away, thinking to preserve the option of biological assault as a buffer against their enemy. But, on both sides, they perceived the wrong enemy.
Judgment Day arrived in its' due course. The nuclear death suffered by three-fourths of humanity during the one day war of annihilation and the months following nearly accomplished Skynet's purpose in total. When survivors emerged from the ashes of the holocaust, the AI set strategic contingencies in motion. The human's propensity for destruction would be fully utilized by Skynet. It scanned military and civilian records, gleaning useful data. A suitable agent was located, nurtured and refined. It fulfilled Skynet's preference for efficiency that, once again, humans themselves had supplied it with the means which with to delete them.
"It's coming back!" Marcus yelled, scrambling to get under cover. His vantage point on the bluff offered an excellent place from which to keep track of their aerial stalker, but unfortunately left him horribly exposed.
"You had to go and volunteer didn't you moron?" he muttered irritably as he scrambled down the back side of the small ridge and out of sight of the H-K. "Somebody's gotta go take a look and see where the thing is, it might as well be me" he hissed snidely, mocking his earlier words. "Cocky much?" he continued to kick himself under his breath as he raced for the underside of the promontory. He had to hurry. It already suspected something was hiding under the jutting rock formation. Soon the hunter-killer would be close enough to pick out Marcus's form as the ex-con scampered for shelter. He harbored no illusions for his chances if it caught him out in the open. Machine body and computer in the brain or not, he'd be slagged. Not today, he determined grimly. I've got a wife and a family to go back to now, by far the best thing to happen to him since his jolting awakening into post Judgment Day wonderland. His desire to look into Blair's honey colored eyes again spurred him on.
Almost there, he estimated, eyeing the floor of the small canyon. Only a few more feet, then I'll be close enough to make a dive for it. He was so focused on his goal that he missed the crevice. His foot slid in and became caught before even his lighting quick reaction time could prevent it. Marcus's mad rush downward jerked rudely to a halt as his foot and ankle, lodged in the narrow fault, refused to keep pace with the rest of him.
"Ahhh!" he turned to see what was holding him, lost his balance and landed with a muffled "ooompfh!" on the sun baked stone. The sensors in his Skynet designed legs and body registered the impact. Pain traveled the length of him as his breath whooshed out. Recovering quickly, Wright fought desperately to free his trapped appendage in the remaining seconds before the H-K would be over him. He'd lost count of the number of times his preternatural strength had served him well. This really needed to be one of them. He yanked and tugged with the ferocity of a collared animal, but the rock stubbornly declined to yield. I've been here for thousands of years it jeered silently. I'm not going anywhere and now, neither will you.
Marcus realized he was going to have to break something to get free, maybe lose a fair amount of skin too. He could hear the flying machine getting closer. Thirty more seconds and he'd be visible. He sucked in a deep breath, set his jaw, and pulled as hard as he could!
It worked! He was free, but at a tremendous cost! His vision grayed and swam as he fought against the agony of his busted ankle. Nearly out of time, Wright flung himself the last few yards to the chasm's bottom, landing hard on the unforgiving surface. A moan he tried to suppress managed in part to escape anyway.
Ten, nine, eight ... move or die he thought, whipping his body on. He struggled up, but his damaged foot and ankle slowed him! He wasn't going to make it! No! Not happening! He was going to get back to Blair! Five, four three…he stumbled and fell.
Just as it seemed the sky borne assassin would find him, two pairs of strong hands reached out from the shadows, pulling him out of sight. Dragged roughly around the lip of the rock and into the small cave which eons of wind and water had carved out, Marcus, along with his saviors, could hear the H-K's engines humming overhead. The machine glided low enough to generate vibrations, and small drifts of sediment floated down coating the three resistance fighters in a fine, dusty powder. They listened as it slowly moved off.
Marcus lay flat on his back, panting from his exertions, soaked in sweat and pain. "You shouldn't have done that. You shouldn't have come out after me! You can't take risks like that!" he gasped.
"You're welcome" John Connor replied sarcastically, taking in Wright's mangled state. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw Barnes return from the cave's entrance.
"It's gone. Pretty sure it's not going to circle back anymore" the handsome, solemn faced African- American Colonel announced. "How's he?" Barnes asked, pointing his chin in the injured man's direction.
"Ungrateful" Connor returned dryly. "And overprotective. I was taking care of myself and surviving whatever Skynet threw at me a long time before you happened along, you know" he informed Marcus as he moved over to check on the other man.
"That was before you were the Big Giant Head of the Resistance!" Marcus intoned, somehow able to impart a wry slant to the words even in his weakened condition. "And besides that, anything happens to you, it might as well happen to me too because if I come back without you or let you get hurt, Kate will have me dismantled and melted down for shell casings."
Digging into Wright's pack for the specialized materials needed to splint the unique fracture, John Connor glanced over at Marcus. "Despite the opinion that you, my wife and quite a few others evidently share, I don't need my hand held. Now shut up and hold on. This is going to hurt" the General pronounced blandly, then jerked the distressed "bone" back into place.
Marcus's mouth flew open as the wave of pain hit. All his sensors fired, his back arched stiffly and he passed out. A good thing, since more ministrations were needed to complete temporary repairs to the abused limb.
After a time, Connor finished and sat back, surveying his work. It fell far short of a perfect fix, but it would have to do until Marcus's computer had a chance to kick in and help accelerate his mending.
John and Barnes could hear the faint sound of softly running water. Anthony Barnes checked out the tight dark grotto the trio had taken refuge in with the aid of a flashlight, taking care to keep well away from the entrance so no light would escape. He soon located the source of the sound. Water cascaded in a thin layer down the rock face at the back of their lodging, forming a pool and the beginnings of a small stream. No telling how long they might have to hide out in here, but at least fresh water would not be a concern. Barnes did some more exploring but could find no other entrance or exit. The way they'd come in would be the way they would have to leave. That meant waiting for the H-K to go away. Stuffing Marcus's pack under the insensate man's head for a pillow, the other two made themselves as comfortable as possible. It could turn out to be a long wait.
Ten minutes into it, Marcus Wright began to stir. Grunting softly, he eased his eyes open, realized he couldn't see anything in the darkness, and decided to try sitting up. He should have talked it over with his ankle first.
"OW! Damn!" Marcus swore by way of acknowledging his wounded ankle's objections. "Well, that idea sucked the hind tit." He settled back onto his elbows, just able to make out the cave's other two occupants in the dimness.
"How long have I been out?" he asked.
"Not long" Connor supplied. "Ten minutes, maybe a little more. Could be you shouldn't try moving around so soon."
"I can move" Marcus told him. "I just have to be a little more careful about it, that's all. Think I'm gonna try turning down the volume on the pain a little and jump starting the healing process too. That's gotta help some."
"You can do that?" Connor queried.
"I can now" Wright informed him. "I've been practicing since Vince Lawler did his little number on my computer. There's still a lot to learn, but I'm getting better."
He concentrated. First he did something about his throbbing left foot and ankle, and he could feel his ankle starting to mend. Then, drawing on what little light existed in the cave, slowly increased his ability to see what was around him. It was still pretty dark, but he could see much better than either Connor or Barnes. He gave John an update on his visual acuity.
"Neat trick" John Connor commented. "You available for parties?"
Marcus winced. "Don't quit your day job Connor." He made it to his feet unaided. "I take it that" he said, gesturing toward the entrance, "is our only way out of here?"
"That's right" Barnes told him.
Hey, a two word answer, Marcus thought, amused. Barnes still avoided him whenever possible but at least it was progress, of a sort. Marcus knew what his decision would have been, but since John Connor was bossing this expedition, the choice lay with the resistance chief.
"How long do we wait?" he questioned.
"Dawn" John said which was what Wright had expected to hear. "It should level the field a little visually, and Skynet's got night patrol's going air and ground. We should settle in, get some rest."
"I'll take first watch" Marcus informed the other two. Not until Connor and Barnes were both asleep did the understanding of what he'd done hit him. He rapped the sided of his head with his knuckles. Being around all these noble resistance types was having a weird influence on him. "Volunteering again?" he castigated himself disgustedly. "Doofus." He focused his sight and hearing on the cave doorway.
He'd volunteered his way into this mess. A year after assuming command of the fight against Skynet most elements of the world wide resistance had formally acknowledged Connor's leadership. They still had their own regional command structures though. It had to be that way since no matter how much larger than life he seemed there was only one John Connor. With their enemy doing its' relentless best to grind humans into the dust before it wiped them out completely, periodically, the troops needed a morale boost. What could be better than an actual visit from the Big Man? Hearing his voice over their field radios was one thing. Shaking his hand and looking him in the face, having him fight by their side was another, of which Connor was keenly aware. Having your destiny spoken into you from the womb helped you recognize certain things. Added to that was the fact that he was beginning to feel hemmed in, cut off from the action. Not being able to get out into the field and get up close and personal with his hated adversary was starting to make John kind of itchy. He understood how valuable he was both literally and in the eyes of nearly every other person on the planet. He got it. He did. But he couldn't afford to go soft, loose his personal sense of what it felt like to smell, to taste the battlefield. And anyway, although Connor would admit it to no one, not even Kate, every so often a man just needed to shoot something. So, when the chance came along to temporarily slip the confines of base camp for what Marcus Wright brazenly dubbed the "Kissing of the Ring Tour" well…
Kate Connor, not to mention the remainder of John's command staff, weren't exactly happy with the idea. Since none of them could stop it, Kate especially insisted on her husband having the best possible security.
"You send half the base with him, you might as well pin a target to his ass Kate" Marcus said laconically, earning him a "drop dead" look from Connor's wife. It bounced right off. It was the truth and Kate couldn't deny it. Plus, it wasn't practical or smart to drain the base of fighting personnel to keep John safe.
"I'll go with him" Barnes spoke up. "I'll watch his back."
"And I'll watch yours" Marcus said smiling his most diabolical smile, knowing it would drive Barnes nuts.
In the end, that turned out to be the most palatable solution. Anthony Barnes would protect Connor with his own life. And Marcus's strength, speed, abilities and immunity to so many things went a long way towards making up for the lack of numbers.
Having done what he'd set out to do, inspire some of his soldiers to fight on, Connor, Barnes and Wright had been on their way home when they'd run afoul of a concentration of H-K's and T-800's. The next two days included a lot of running and hiding. This last hunter-killer was proving particularly hard to shake.
So, Marcus thought, looking around the musty dimness, once again, here we are. He uttered an inaudible sigh and got his head back into his sentry duties.
As a wanted man, Marcus Wright had been hunted by enemies ranging from the FBI to drug cartel death squads. Most times, he slipped the noose. Eventually he didn't, and lives were forever changed, or lost. These days, he was bound by a vow. He would not kill. But that constraint only applied to humans.
That which stalked him, Connor and Barnes thru the desert cold Arizona night knew no such designation. The T-800 passed by with him remaining unseen. His newfound capability to lower his body temp kept the 8's thermal imaging detectors from acquiring him. The metal killer would not have that problem finding John Connor and Colonel Barnes, still sleeping inside the small cave. He needed to alert them to the approaching danger without tipping the machine to his presence. Wait, no, he needed to do just the opposite.
"What? Huh? Listen, if you're thinking of doing what I think you're thinking of doing pal" the rational, I-like-my-life-finally-and-really-want-more-of-it-even-with-Skynet-trying-to-give-me-a-T-800-enema-every-other-day part of him shrieked inside his mind, "forget it! You're not a hundred percent, remember? Ain't gonna happen, buddy! You shut it! Don't you do it! Don't you…!"
"Hey!" A shout and a shrill two fingers in the mouth whistle stopped the T-800 in its' tracks. It spun around, or, more precisely, its' head did. A complete one hundred eighty degrees.
Marcus shuddered. Am I able to do that, he speculated for one stomach turning second? He'd never even thought of trying something like that. The terminator started back in his direction. Mission accomplished. "Ya happy now? Stupid, stupid, STUPID!" his annoying on board heckler whined. He had no time to argue with himself. He took off running, the huge would-be executioner hot on his trail.
Inside the cave, his diversionary tactic had the desired effect. John and Barnes came awake in an instant. Both had the presence of mind not to rush into the darkness. Grabbing weapons, they caught the sound of Wright's retreat as he moved away from where they'd been sleeping seconds before. With Barnes in the lead, shielding Connor as best he could, they ventured out, employing the caution of men whose lives depended on stealth. Colonel Barnes gained the top of the brief outcrop just as Marcus disappeared over the far edge with a T-800 following fast.
"Grid patrol?" Barnes speculated in a low voice.
Connor understood the reference. Was this merely the eight's regular beat, or was it likely to have companions nearby? And if it did have friends, who or what were they seeking? Was it after him specifically, or just any humans foolish enough to be found? He knew he was Skynet's priority target, but John didn't buy into his own press so much that he would forget the AI's ultimate goal was to get rid of every single man, woman, and child on Earth. It was entirely possible the terminator was only obeying a programmed subroutine. Skynet had learned that humans would sometimes use the empty expanses in an attempt to evade its' scrutiny. So it set terminators and H-K's to patrolling those areas. This might be nothing out of the ordinary, but assuming could get them dead in a hurry. They could hear the life or death struggle in the distance. Marcus needed help! Now!
In his youth a border running courier for a biker gang, Marcus knew the intricacies of the desert at night. He knew what kinds of traps, both living and not, waited for the careless or unsuspecting in this environment. Watching for rattlers and scorpions was one thing, but the 800 behind him turned things up a notch, okay, maybe two. Armed with a truncated version of a plasma rifle, it was firing as it chased him.
The thing was fast! Way too fast! And too damn accurate! Only Marcus's accelerated reflexes allowed him to dodge the murderous gleaming rounds. He was running as hard as his augmented system and less than optimal ankle would let him go, arms and legs pumping, digging into the sandy, rocky turf with a vengeance. The terminator would have run down a normal human by now. Wright's machine body enabled him to evade capture for a while longer than that, but, checking over his shoulder, he could see his grace period was about to expire. He wasn't going to outrun this trouble, but maybe he could even things up some. Calling up an old skill gifted to him as a teenager by Blood Dog, one of his earliest mentors in his criminal life, he wheeled and took aim. Having vision he could dial up or down kept his nuts out of the grinder. When he got back to the base, (he would not allow himself to think the word if) he was going to look up Vince Lawler and buy the guy a tall cold one. The single well placed shot he had time for knocked the terminator's energy weapon out of its' hands. The plasma rifle went sailing off into the blackness. The eight hundred was now unarmed. Whoopee, Marcus thought. Now all I have to worry about is it trying to pull my arms and legs off. And here it comes! Fifteen yards at best, and Marcus could practically feel the fingers wrapping themselves around his windpipe. He whipped about and braced for the collision. Just as his attacker was about to bowl him over, he deliberately went down, landing on his back. As the terminator leapt for him, with its' arms outstretched and hands extended, he slid under the monster's grasp. Jamming both feet in the 8's gut, he thrust with as much force as his powerful legs could supply. "Aaahhhh!" His ankle reminded him of the current state of affairs.
His adversary sailed over Marcus's head to smash against a boulder the size of a pickup. Had it been human, the blow would have crush its' skull. But it wasn't human, and it wasn't dazed or slowed down by smacking up against the enormous rock. It came for him again, able to match and exceed the ex bank robber's own speed, agility and strength. Above him in a nanosecond, the terminator raised its' foot. Marcus rolled, missing having his face smashed in by the blink of an eye. The terminator followed, kicking out again and this time it connected. Wright flew ten feet thru the air like a flesh covered football. Hitting the ground knocked the air out of him, but he had no time to recover. The T-800 pursued him, kneeling with one knee on Marcus's chest. It drew back a fist for the finishing blow. Its' intended victim intercepted the blow with both hands. Twisting savagely, Marcus growled with effort, pushing the 800 off of him. As it reached out for him once more, instead of aiming for his head, neck, chest or torso, the machine killer went for his injured ankle. In a flash, Marcus understood. The terminator had performed an analysis of its' opponent and discovered his weakened extremity. Wright knew if it got to that ankle, Blair's status would change from wife to widow in a heartbeat, and so channeled his efforts into protecting the vulnerable area as much as possible.
Unluckily for him, the T-800 figured that out way too soon. It launched a two pronged attack, kicking out for the ankle while simultaneously aiming blows at Marcus's head and chest. He managed to dodge the majority of them, but a couple connected, stunning him and making his head ring. With typical terminator like efficiency, it pounded away at him, slowing whittling away at his ability to resist. The 8 grabbed his wrist in one hand, landed a kick on the hurting ankle and twisted the imprisoned wrist. Marcus knew he could not give in if he hoped to survive. No way was he just going to let this thing kill him! Drawing back his head, Wright pulled what might be thought of by just about anyone to be a seriously dumb stunt. He head butted a terminator! His own Skynet reinforced cranium made contact with the other AI manufactured product with spectacular results. The 800 let go of him as it stumbled backward, its' systems struggling to reboot after the unexpected trick. Its' recovery time took only a heartbeat, but that was enough.
"Marcus, drop!" Connor's voice yelled out of the night. Reflexively, Marcus complied, flattening his body flush with the ground. With a thunderous roar, Barnes and Connor opened up on the jterminator, unleashing a furious fusillade. The machine turned its' attention to this new threat, at last giving Marcus the chance he'd not gotten to this point. Reaching into his coat, protection against the chill of the wilderness nighttime, his hand emerged armed with a blade. While the T-800 remained preoccupied with John Connor and Anthony Barnes, Marcus made his move. Teeth clenched, he charged the beast, climbed the 8's back like a tree, hauled himself up to the level of its forehead, and used every ounce of his strength to plunge the dagger into the temple of the machine, using both hands to corkscrew the deadly instrument. The terminator ceased all movement as its' CPU was destroyed. Marcus jumped clear as it toppled over and lay face down, killed at last.
Connor and Barnes rushed up to Wright's prone form. Marcus lay stretched on his back, staring up at the stars, sucking in huge gulps of air and trying to decide which part of him hurt the most.
"Marcus! You alright?" John asked, dropping to one knee next to the exhausted, battered man.
Marcus snorted a laugh at the question. Babying his banged up dome, he inched his head around to give John Connor a look. Metal shone thru at the place where his and the terminator's skulls had met. "I" he said breathlessly, "am not having a good time."
Barnes extracted the knife from the skull of the dead terminator, examining the wicked looking ten inch blade up close. It was the most sinister knife he'd ever seen, and he'd seen a lot of them in his time as a Force Recon Marine and since.
"We don't have any knives that can kill one of these things. Where'd you get this?" he interrogated Marcus Wright.
"I made it" Marcus answered coldly. He felt no need to explain himself, especially to Barnes.
"Out of what?" Connor's curiosity compelled him to ask. "None of our metals are able to penetrate their endoskeletons."
"Another dead T-800" Marcus told him tiredly. "Been working on it for a while. Figured it might come in handy as a last resort. Guess I was right." He sat up with help. "Can we finish this later? It's been a really long day."
They made it back to the cave, collected their remaining gear and quickly left the area. It didn't appear the 800 had any backup nearby, but it was a good idea to put distance between themselves and the confrontation. They took the risk of night travel and covered as much ground as possible. The emerging dawn found the three men less than seventy miles from what could be counted as resistance territory. Another day and a half and they'd be home. There were no further run-ins with the machines. Finally Connor deemed it safe to contact the base. It would be good to hear familiar voices, he thought, as he watched Colonel Barnes fire up the radio.
"Three to base, come in" Barnes transmitted. John Connor would only be on the air when necessary. Skynet scanned the airwaves, and it knew its' primary enemy's voice patterns.
After a somewhat longer than normal pause, the radio crackled to life. "Base receiving." Connor straightened slightly. Unusually, it was Kate. Her auburn haired, blue eyed image filled his mind.
"Objective achieved. Returning one point five" Barnes continued, using an economy of words. He meant to tell Kate Connor that her husband would be home in less than two days.
"No! Negative three!" Even over the tinny distance, Kate's voice communicated urgency. "Negative for return. Repeat, do not approach under any circumstances!"
The trio of weary travelers traded a concerned glance at the strident words and tone. Something was direly wrong at their home base. What? Connor motioned to Colonel Barnes. Barnes handed over the mike without comment.
"What is it?" he asked, not giving any ID. Kate would know his voice. "What's wrong? Why should we stay away?" Connor's system flooded with adrenaline. Before he was General John Connor, leader of the resistance, he was husband and father.
"We're under quarantine" Kate answered finally. "There's an illness in the camp. Virulent! Do not approach! I say again, do not approach!"
Connor looked up at Barnes and Wright. Barnes impassiveness was betrayed by the intense glare of his dark eyes. Marcus's face revealed little but his clenched fist threatened to crush the small tool he'd been using to do an additional patch on his ankle.
"What illness?" he mouthed to Connor.
John nodded his understanding. "What type of illness base?"
"We don't know" came the brief reply.
John knew his wife well. Kate was holding back, not telling him something. He could only think of one reason she would do that. "How bad is this illness? What do you think it is?" He demanded.
Kate's terse reply chilled Connor and his companions to their core.
" We think it may be some form of plague."
Author's Note: That ends Chapter One. Haven't really seen the subject of bio-warfare explored a lot in the terminator fanfiction so I thought I would give it a shot. As always, reviews are welcome. Thanks