Inside the FBI office, chaos reigned. There was a low murmur of activity. Phones rang, computers hummed, the TV news played steady drumbeats of war. The future was at stake. The Chinese might be to blame, according to Fox. The explosion had hurt the Dow for sure. Homeland was recommending new data collection measures. There was something about a traffic control system being delayed on one feed, and an upcoming chess tournament on another. Ellison looked down over a junior agent’s shoulder. “The hell is this?”
The agent indicated the screen. “This is a Facebook page called Taxation Is Theft.”
“No, I can see that. What is this white nonsense they’re posting?” Ellison jabbed at a screencap of the exploded freeway with “Who will build the roads?” written underneath it in white capital letters. Comments on the post seemed intent on repeating variations on the phrases “Mission Accomplished”, “Hearts and minds”, and displaying photographs of a rabbit with a pancake on his head as a rebuttal.
“I believe they call it a ‘meme’, sir.”
“Copy.” Ellison sucked air through his teeth. “It’s gonna be a long day.”
A woman with brown hair and a neat black suit came around the corner holding a stack of papers. “Chief Williams from ZeiraCorp at the front desk, sir.”
“I can’t see him right now. I don’t have time for every single corporate lobby that wants to look at my intel, no matter what Blackwater and Homeland think.”
“He says you have one of his people, sir. He said he has no problem bringing their lawyers in if you won’t.”
“Fine. You know, I’m two seconds from shoving this job.”
“That’s all he said he wanted.” The woman laughed and turned away, and Ellison found a spare office to wait in.
Rory Williams was exactly five feet, eleven inches tall. Ellison had made it a point to be able to detect that height no matter what shoes the perp was wearing at a glance. It was a good heuristic for finding people with something to prove. There were, of course, other variables. Like being the employee of a rich single mother with enough balls to disrupt an investigation into…well, it made 9/11 look silly. Sections of freeway didn’t just explode. The nascent Freeway Truther movement (three hours from the blast was all it took) had a better idea than he did. They’d already sent NSLs to Liveleak. But the point was, disrupting this kind of work on a lie like that was not Williams’ idea. “Make it quick, Mr Williams.”
“Uh…” Ellison looked at his watch, Rory gestured like a dying fish. “Your prisoner. He was our research scientist. He’d left the confines of his laboratory. He was on some kind of…research chemical…drugs. Yeah. Neural network stuff. I don’t understand it.”
“You think he just got caught wandering around in the crater thirty seconds after the explosion?”
“Ahhh..actually, sir, I’m fairly sure there’s more to it than that. But he didn’t cause it. You can guess this as well as I can. It’s not hard, actually. Someone blew up that building from the outside. Or the inside. The footage is odd. But they didn’t harm the people at the epicenter of the blast. Who, if they were your culprits, or the explosion had been triggered with conventional means, would be dead, not in custody.”
“Not all of them are in custody. But I won’t lie. You know your stuff. Ever been in construction?”
“Nah. Once I had to move a heavy box from a burning building, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. This is just basic sense, sir.”
“I can see that. I could use an agent like you. Ever thought about Quantico?”
“Actually, no sir. I’m more into the gumshoe novels, that sort of thing. I just work security for Weaver. Who, by the way, has offered her computer banks to help you figure out what did blow up that building. But only on the condition you remand the research scientist to us. I can have the bail put on my company card. He’s her personal Doctor…” Rory’s voice trailed off suddenly. “Can I at least see him?”
“Fair trade, then. Right this way.” Ellison shrugged. “You know, Williams, you may have just saved my career.”
Savannah Weaver was not napping. She was, in fact, playing with her mother’s laptop. Flash games were delightfully entertaining at her age, and her headphones masked any sound nicely while delivering a band called Emerald Rose right to her ears. “Shoopty poner da da dada daa daaaa….” Savannah hummed along. Her mother liked this song. It was strange, full of strange words. She liked it. It was silly.
“Savannah!” Rory waved to her, from the bedroom door. She took her headphones off and looked up.
“Wowy? I was sleepin’, honest.”
“Your mama said she wants me to take you for a ride. You’re not napping, anyway.” The Centurion had only one rule. He was following it to the letter. There was room for the Spirit, though, if the flesh was weak.
“Oh. Okay. Where to?”
“A nice farm out in the country.” It beat the other options that went through his mind, anyway.
“Cool!” Savannah skipped out of the room ahead of Rory on her way to the elevator. He slung the laptop over his shoulder in its carrying case, and marched resolutely, keeping her in sight.
“Yeah, I did.” Derek Reese looked angry. More than usual. And a bit scared. “He’s a T-888 model. Google reverse image search tells us he’s an exact body double for a tenant at Winter Quay apartments in the 1940s, and also for a British male nurse who had a minor row with some bimbo he got divorced from in modeling forums and gossip magazines, and also for…get this…the newly hired security chief at ZeiraCorp.”
John and Cameron reentered the room. Her body was sheened with sweat, his hair was tousled. “I built a birdhouse. Cameron made me. Hope you don’t mind if I used your hammer, Derek. It was a good break from all this other stuff.”
“Yeah. Sure. Use my hammer. Wear gloves, okay? And don’t build birdhouses with metal if you want to live.”
“I have detailed files on hobby woodworking.”
“Whatever you say.”
Sarah rolled her eyes. John flushed red. “It’s not what you think, Mom!”
“You’ve never built a birdhouse before. Never had any interest in tools.” Sarah folded her arms.
“I didn’t know I liked it.”
“I always knew I liked it.” Derek smirked.
“God.” John looked Derek in the eye. “You said there’s a Terminator who’s using the same face as the guy from ZeiraCorp?”
“Didn’t say that. ZeiraCorp work in semiconductors and IT. I think it’s either the other way around or the exact same guy.” Derek shrugged. “We sent Wisher to find out but he got killed, we think. Flores too.”
“You think.” Sarah’s eyes flashed.
“John Connor is my CO. You’re not. You shouldn’t have gotten fucking leukemia.”
Cameron winced. “I have not had the leisure time to mention that yet.”
“Leisure time?! Leisure time! Talk about your mission criticals!” Sarah was flying apart at the seams from all the new…newness. The world really was ending.
“Yeah, Mom. Like the Terminator that might have been here since 1945 and killed somebody somewhere and might be the chief of security for a Fortune 500 IT company.”
“Get this,” Reese said. “Catherine Weaver is the CEO. She’s gone reclusive in recent years. Grief-induced psychopathic personality, according to insiders Wisher spoke to on Slashdot and in local meetups. Could be rumor. Tech types are autistic often anyway. But her husband, the father of her child, did die in a helicopter crash caused by mechanical failure in the Andes. He was with them both.”
“I’ve seen a helicopter crash today. They don’t usually survive full main rotor loss. That one did. It could happen.”
“Or it couldn’t. Depends entirely on the circumstances. The NTSB investigation file is locked down tight. Even Wisher couldn’t manage to download it.”
“I probably could. We could investigate personally sooner, though.” John ran a hand through his hair. “I’m a high school student and programming enthusiast. I want to take a tour of this place and find out what kind of working environment I can expect when I get out of college.”
“I’m his mother. I’ll call and arrange it.” Sarah rolled her eyes. “Why can’t cover ever just be cover?”
“I don’t know, Dorothy. You tell me.” Derek tossed the cordless phone to Sarah.
“He’s in here. We’ve officially designated him John Doe. Do you recognize him?” Ellison indicated the Doctor through the double thick glass panes on the interrogation room.
“I don’t know every employee by name or sight. But he looks familiar. We’ve been employed together.” Dash it all. He didn’t recognize this face at all. But those eyes, that bearing. They were all doomed. “Let me talk to him. Please. He’s likely to still be on the drugs.”
“Oh, he is.” Ellison opened the door. “He’s crazy high. Doe! A Williams to see you. Security Chief of ZeiraCorp. It’s your lucky day.”
“Why yes…yes it is.” The Doctor chuckled. The door latched behind them ominously.
“I know what caused their explosion.” It finally clicked. “We’re not going to need computer modeling, and I may have to quit my job. What a day.”
“Where’s AMY.” It was a statement.
“I lost her. The divorce. You know that. You never came back. I got back from signing the papers and you left a message. I took my ring off and pressed play on the voicemail, and found out you’d been kidnapped by Daleks. What. Happened. Where. Were. You.”
“Regenerating. Long story. Long, long story. We have different memories, but it’s good to see you again.” The Doctor stood. “Want to help me with these cuffs?”
“Ah I haven’t wired bail yet. See, there’s the small fact that my boss claims you’re a lead research scientist on her neural network project. You’re on drugs. And all these other things. The cover story she set up for your release implies…well, you’ll need a company car. I can get that for you.”
“I’ve never worked for a computer company before. Sounds fun. I do have something else I’m doing, though…”
“What would that be?”
“Trying to stop killer robots from the future from destroying the planet.”
Rory smiled. “Ah. I remember Tuesdays. Tuesdays were always fun.”
“It’s been a long one. I need a drink, Rory. Get me out of here.”
“Yes sir. I’ll go put bail on my company card.”
“Oh a company card! A company car! A job!” The Doctor put on a nasal, high-pitched mocking air, flapping his hands about daftly in pantomime fashion. “I was a fairy tale prince, now I have a company credit card! It’s okay though, the Doctor needs me!”
Rory looked away. “She’s in another castle.”
“Always has been. It never stopped me.”
“It doesn’t have to.” Rory smiled wanly, and left the room.
“Miss Ostrand!” Catherine Weaver left the elevator on the thirteenth floor of ZeiraCorp headquarters, calling for Savannah’s schoolteacher. “Have you seen Savannah?” The perky, younger redhead was normally much noisier. Especially when Savannah was awake.
“Mr Williams was here five minutes ago. They left, carrying your laptop. She wasn’t napping, anyway, so…” Ostrand went pale.
Catherine Weaver was the fae face of fury, right fist clenched as if to hold herself back. “I sent Mr Williams to the FBI field office. I have not heard from him since. He cannot have been here. Oh, I should have known his face was a liability.”
“What? What’s going on?”
“Call the FBI. We can reach him if he’s still there and confirm voiceprint analysis. Kill two birds with one stone, as it were.”
The intercom on Catherine’s desk rang. “Yes.”
“There’s a Mrs Liddell down here in programming, at the front desk. Are we giving guided tours lately?”
“Use your own judgment, Mr Murch. When I return from an emergency that has just come up I will use mine.”
“Ooooooooookaaaayyyyy.” The channel closed.
Ellison’s desk phone rang. “Ellison, FBI.”
“James. I’d like to report a kidnapping.”
“Who is this? Lady this number isn’t for that.”
There was a metallic hum, then a click and about six dial tones. “Now it is. Will that work better?”
“You probably just committed a federal crime. And you want to report a kidnapping? Again, who do I have the distinct displeasure of talking to?”
“Catherine Weaver, CEO of ZeiraCorp.” Catherine reached inside her cellphone, through the lines, and pressed another button. “This is a secure line. My daughter has been taken. I need to speak to Mr Williams. He is still in your office, is he not?”
“He’s just come in. We’re taking some time to make sure bail checks out and your man is ready for transport.”
“I’m not worried about our scientist right now. Really I’m not.” She wished she could feel cold, feel like terminating Savannah when she’d had the chance would have been the best option. But she couldn’t.
“I’ll send someone out.”
There was a screech so loud Rory winced. Then he heard “LET ME TALK TO MR. WILLIAMS!” across the room.
“Yeah – you might want to, ah…she does that sometimes.”
“Please hold.” Ellison rolled his eyes. “I’m not even in charge in my own goddamn office, Williams. Don’t come in here again.”
I don’t really ever want to, Rory mouthed. “Yeah hi.”
“Savannah has been taken, Mr Williams. You took her a plate of milk and cookies as I asked, yes?”
“Yeah. Oh boy.”
“Is she there with you?”
“No, she isn’t. I wouldn’t take her with me.” I should have. Amy would have cursed him for it. He had a feeling Catherine would love him for the same action.
“Are you sure she’s not in the basement? You know she won’t nap.”
“Daniel is asleep and I have locked the basement elevator. She cannot get down there.”
“Yeah. Well. I’ll be right there.”
“One more thing.” There was a sudden pounding ache in the right side of Rory’s head right by the phone’s earpiece.
“Ow. Ow ow ow.” He held the phone away an inch. Ellison watched, amused.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I bumped a button and accidentally sent an infrasonic pulse capable of exploding any electronic device within a foot of the speaker broadcasting it to an FBI office over national cellular phone networks. How silly of me. Are you still there, Rory?”
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Rory sighed. “My head hurts though.”
“Well come back to the office. We’ll file a report later. I want to handle this internally.”
“Okay.” Rory hung up the phone and handed it back to Ellison. “We’re going to withhold filing a report.”
“I see. You found her?” Ellison looked at his computer screen. “Wait hold on. Computer’s off.”
Rory shifted uneasily. Ellison pushed the power button twice, then pulled his cell phone out of a desk drawer. “What in blue blazes?”
“Everything. Even my clock radio. You better leave before I figure out what happened.”
“Yes sir.” Rory swallowed. They were on their own with Savannah. That meant Ellison was in a weaker position, for sure. That was good, right? He walked out of the room and picked up the Doctor at a table in the main office, where he was drinking a tall coffee.
“Too much cream. Tastes like pumpkin. Does all coffee in this timeline taste like that?” The Doctor threw the styrofoam cup in the trash without stopping.
“No. Just the terrible kinds.”
“Did you do that…you know, with your sonic?”
They turned a corner and left the office, entering the lobby. “Do what?” The Doctor drew his sonic from his pocket and looked at it, turning it over in his hand. He clicked a button. Nothing. “No. No I did not.”
“Dammit. Weaver’s really messed us up now. I think she might be trying to kidnap you. The others you were with. We should return you to your companions.” And get you on your way. That was useless, though. He was stranded, and they both knew it. It must be bad.
“Rory, for Other’s sake. Daleks. I was kidnapped by Daleks. Do you think one crazy Girl Steve Jobs can stop me?”
“She’s not Girl Steve Jobs. More like…Mecha Hitler and Girl Blofeld.”
“Ah. We shall do lunch, then! Try to entertain her belief that I am in custody, will you?”
Rory opened the door to his SUV. It was black, with the Zeiracorp logo on the front passenger and driver’s side doors and the tail. “Get in please.”
“You aren’t dead set on keeping that job, are you?”
“You need me. You weren’t there when I needed you. So yes, I am. I need the job to help me help you. If that means we find out what a TASER does to two hearts…” He put the truck in reverse and headed out.
“I see. I see how it is.” The Doctor folded his hands in his lap.
“You’re bound anyway. A prisoner wherever you go. That’s why you’re letting her take you.”
“Whatever do you mean, Nurse?”
“Oh, is one of this incarnation’s rules insulting nicknames? That’s what I mean. You play by strict rules. Except instead of Queen to Knight’s Six, it’s ‘pretend to let yourself get captured’ and ‘call your enemies names, call your friends worse names, call yourself awesome badass fantasy movie names’ and ‘be a gigantic festering twat when someone I l…am responsbile for has been kidnapped’, all so you can feel safe. Your first rule is be in control. Your second rule is feeling safe. The others follow from it. ‘The Doctor lies?’” Rory swung into a wide left turn, angrily cutting across traffic to the sound of horns. Behind them, the light turned green.
“I do. What’s wrong with that? You lived.”
“I didn’t. I haven’t seen Melody in years.”
“Melody?” The Doctor scratched his head. “Oh! Neither have I.”
“And you married her, you prat. The point is, lying is not rule number one. The real point is, I don’t play by a single damn rule. And I’m driving this thing.”
“Oh.” The Doctor reached to roll down the window, putting his feet on the dash. “Can we stop and get a Happy Meal?”
Cameron stood in the lobby at ZeiraCorp, programming division, while Sarah and John spoke to Murch. Derek was reading a copy of the Wall Street Journal and sitting on a planter. She took the time to review her programming and objectives. It was all swimming in a fog, obscured by twelve separate sets of code. All bore the same signature. Using her mind made her head hurt. Made her feel, think, sense things differently. She was concerned for John. She cared. And the rules on her HUD gave her a method for achieving the goals she cared about.
Primary objective: Protect John Connor
Secondary Objective: Aid John Connor’s personal development
Secondary 2: Stop Skynet
Secondary 3: Terminate all enemies of John Connor, including any compromised metal or organic members of Resistance/TechCom
Tertiary: Remove trace programming from TOK715 baseline
“Gnothi seauton.” Cameron looked at Derek.
He looked up. “Hm? That’s Greek to me.”
“If you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom. There’s something in my eye.”
Murch pointed at the main floor, filled with row upon row of programmers in casual dress, sitting at their computers, many with visible food and even alcohol containers. “So as you can see, we cultivate a more permissive work environment. As long as work gets done, the profits are achieved, and no one kills anyone” – he laughed, a braying, goat-like sound that ran screaming down Sarah’s spine – “whatever’s clever is what we want. The true test of creative ability is willingness to break the rules knowingly, and we want that passed on to any software that comes out of ZeiraCorp. Catherine likes to call it ‘crossing against the light’.”
“I see.” Sarah did not like this. Computers gave her hives. Computer companies gave her flashbacks.
“So we can like…drink in here? What about weed?” John perked up. Sarah hoped he was playacting.
“Sure. Whatever gets you there, baby. I sometimes think Catherine’s so uptight the worst crime she can conceive of is jaywalking. You can tell a lot about a person by the metaphors they use.”
“Your security division doesn’t mind? Are there background checks?” john ran a hand througb his hair, pretending very hard to be a boy. Sarah thought he was doing well.
“Oh, most of them are cool. The new chief, though, he’s an uptight jerk. Catherine has tried to explain he doesn’t understand what their goals are. He’s an Atari living in a Playstation 3 world.”
“He doesn’t understand, or he can’t?” Sarah studied Murch, waiting for his reaction.
“Oh, he’s not stupid. You know the type. Total narc. He expects Roman legion discipline from everyone and he’s got issues, too. Lots of dead spouses at this company.”
“And yourself?” John looked around, lowering his cellphone to photograph a few screens behind his back.
“Single by the grace of God, and working on the kind of projects single programmers do. I’m at a creative peak.”
“Show me.” John grinned, taking his cue from Sarah’s nearly imperceptible nod.
“You know anything about artificial intelligence?” Murch opened a large steel door. “Right this way.”
“Yeah. A thing or two. My mom has more experience with it.”
“You program, ma’am?”
“Punch cards in the seventies. My job was replaced by an AI.”
John winced. “I did say experience.”
“Ahhh. Well, I’m not turning anything on. But this here is a broad-spectrum logistics monitoring and control array. There are fifty-four monitors you see there, which display all kinds of info. Each screen can be customized or personalized by account and specific rules in a custom scripting language, giving us control down to the pixel. We can get finegrain data to the point where if you were pumping gas, and we had access to the pump computer, we could read the displacement sensor and determine what kind of car you had, what condition it was in, and how much fuel you had. With other data from the same gas station, we could produce a travel itinerary and a complete basic personality profile.” Murch beamed. “I’ve set up a complete duplicate of the workstation on the main floor. Boss doesn’t know. No rules, right? Work gets done.”
“Yeah. No rules. Work gets done. You must be a joy to work with, Mr Murch.”
“Hey. Don’t harsh John here’s mellow, lady. He’ll make six figures here, easy.”
“Can we turn it on?” John grinned.
“Nah. Electric bill is too high, and Weaver’s in a mood right now.”
“Oh. You can afford all this but you can’t pay the electric bill?”
“I didn’t say I afforded it.”
“Hmmm.” Sarah laid a hand on John’s arm. “Seen enough, sweetie?”
“I think so. I’d like to meet the security chief, though.”
Murch made a shocked face. “Narcing on me already?” He laughed.
“Not at all.” John grinned. “School project. Dad was in the military. KIA. I’m running a column on public and private security, military, FBI, LEOs, what have you for the school paper.”
“Ahhh. He’s out right now. I can set up an appointment?”
They moved toward the exit to the main hallway. Sarah faked a smile. “That’d be great.”
“All righty then. Let me call up to his office.” Murch stepped away, pulling his cell from a shirt pocket.
Sarah and John’s both vibrated. They moved behind a pillar and checked their texts.
CHIEF’S CAR IN PARKING LOT NO DOCTOR NO SAVANNAH. NOT SURE HIM.
“Cameron’s not sure?” John’s jaw hung loosely. “She’s got to be able to tell.”
“Maybe he’s too far away.”
There was an explosion outside at ground level, and another vibration. NOT HIM
“Let’s go.” They broke into a run.
Cameron punched the Centurion in the face, then planted her foot in his chest, grabbed him by the head, spun him around, and flung him through the bathroom stall divider. The toilet shattered with a glorious racket, and there was a gush of water, which rapidly filled the floor. She pulled her pistol from its holster – one of Derek’s M&P Shield .40 calibers – and aimed for the head and eye socket. Five rounds rapid, separated only by the gas recoil assembly’s inability to keep up with her trigger finger. The Doctor would be proud of her. He had never approved of anyone else’s murderous instincts. Maybe that was because he had never met anyone for whom they were authentic.
Derek held his pistol at the ready, showing it clearly to the security team that had just arrived. “That’s not your boss, you know. Let’s take him out.”
“It sure looked like him. Maybe he was under duress.”
“No.” Derek pointed the gun at the leader and thumbed off the safety. “Girls take forever in the bathroom, I swear…”
“Drop it.” The team lead wore a black jumpsuit and sunglasses. He held a gun of his own and pointed it at Derek’s head.
“Oh Christ. I leave the room for two seconds and everything goes to hell. No, you drop it.” Sarah Connor leveled her MP5 at the leader.
John covered the others with a 9mm more suited to his smaller arms. “I think we ought to work this out. My sister is in danger.”
The Centurion writhed in the rushing toilet water, holes in his head allowing it to flow through from one ear to the other. He was shorting out…hopefully. Cameron continued unloading the pistol. When it was gone, she kicked the T888 in the head repeatedly, stomping its face until it was deformed and disfigured. The light in its eyes died. “Fifteen seconds!” She shouted.
Derek heard her first, and ran into the women’s bathroom. This was completely ridiculous.
Another black SUV pulled up. From the hole in the ladies’ room wall, Cameron shouted at the man disembarking the passenger side. “Doctor! Your screwdriver!”
“Oh crikey,” Rory said, looking at his smashed robot face and body twitching on the floor. “It’s broken, right?”
“Yup. It’s dead.” The Doctor indicated the hole in the wall. “Go. Sarah and John are in the lobby.”
At this moment, the basement elevator dinged. It had been exactly fourteen seconds since the trip-eight shorted out. The doors opened. It was fully operational after all, Rory observed, peering into the building, shading his eyes as he headed for the bathroom.
Catherine Weaver rolled her head back and forth, cracking her neck and knuckles with a dancer’s grace. Her eyes gleamed like embers. “Well. Today is certainly interesting.”
In the bathroom, the Centurion woke up.