September 10, 1999
Security Trust of Los Angeles
Three companions strode confidently toward the bank, cool sunlight dawning gradually overhead. To outsiders, they could pass for family. To John and Sarah Connor…Cameron did not know. She was a Terminator. Made of rubber skin and metal bones. A special effect. A honeytrap. A beehive. She could not determine how this version of John Connor, at this age, saw his mother. Increased pulse…she knew that from their future. He had learned things. Things she could not teach him. Warmth on skin. He did not like to be seen in public, least of all with the one others would be most likely to suspect was his family.
It often surprised him, in later years, that she could hope. But looking inside that tender nest while planning to push him out of it had….taught her the things he needed her to know. It was all very incestuous that way. Cameron’s network models were very poor at this. For all she knew, she had a different John. The stars were right, three by three around in a spiral, interlocking like dream, nightmare, religion, history, fantasy, hope. The last left in Pandora’s box held the constellation together. Was she the last one of her timeline left? She hoped not. They would be companions, at least. This would be their last day as strangers.
“So…do you have like…an account here?” His grasp of colloquial English was undeniable. It grated her quantum natural language routines, though.
“Safety deposit box.”
“When did you open that?” John seems as confused by the idea of a robot with savings acumen as she is. Save…money? People? Her investment is in the promise of entropy. But others have skills she lacks.
“1963.” She worries she has changed something, in the years since she left John. One day it’s 2029, she and he and Adelaide…Adelaide?…are in the bunker outside of Alamogordo together…some things never change…the next it’s November 23, 1963. She was a day late. An alarm rings, underneath her surface mesh HUD. Things are different now, deeply different. Twenty-seven years of preparation, measured by the movement of Saturn…then ten in the wilderness. Now this. Not the future she made. That may be good.
Sarah and John exchange glances. She was a fetus then. He was…a future leader of the resistance. This is weird, even for the FBI’s most wanted terrorists.
Inside the bank, a rotten brutalist concrete slab hastily thrown together the year before the Civil Rights Act by Californians planning to outlive the Sun, Cameron tapped a guard on the shoulder. “Excuse me…I was looking for…” She trailed off shyly.
He turned around. “For what, Miss?”
“For this.” She pushed him to the ground with her left shoulder, arm and knee, grabbing his gun in a smooth motion with her right arm. Glock 17. These were her least favorite. But she would make do. “Everyone on the floor! Now!” A twist of her wrist and the gun is pointed at the blond teller, safety off. Her blue blazing eyes calculate trajectories, algorithms, timespans, taking in every detail from the paintings on the walls to the pink blouse of the teller.
“The keys to the safe deposit boxes.” Sarah Connor’s voice had the tired edge of a mother telling her son to go to his room and stay. The room was silent, everyone prone like the worshipers of Toci, or the acolytes of De Vaca. It was a temple, a desert, and a theater of war. But then, she had known for a long time that everything was. She made it so.
John looked at his mother in astonishment. He opened his mouth as if to object, then looked at the teller, giving her a doe-eyed boyish smile that belongs in a My Chemical Romance video. “Give them to me. Don’t push that, please.” He motioned under the counter. She held both her hands in Cameron’s peripheral vision, which was good enough, and handed him a ring of keys. There were no ultrasonic alarms.
Cameron realized she had made a mistake somehow. She had missed it for fifty years. It would not have been hard to check up on the Connors around 1984 or so, or to turn on the local PBS affiliate and catch some kind of non-commercial news program. She did not know John Connor at all. But…was this an opportunity? It was definitely sigma-positive on the divergence index.
“Plans have changed.” She looked at the teller pointedly. “Get us inside the vault. Lock us in. Return to your desk and do not move until the hostage rescue team says to. Please.” This is the first time she has learned from John Connor. She remembers telling him, one night as he lay sick with…not yet. She hasn’t made that future yet.
“We’re castling.” She looked the Queen and Rook in the eye, ignoring their objections.
“’kay. You like chess?”
She decided at that moment to take a huge risk. “You taught it to me.” He knows John Connor has many friends in the future. He is not the John she remembers. That is why lowering social engineering shields is dangerous.
“Cool.” They watched as the teller shut the steel door to the vault and turned the wheel, locking it. John digested this information carefully. Why would a robot not know chess? Anyone could tell you that was the first building block of an AI. Did she not need it, even at base level?
Cameron reached out and broke the wheel off from the inside. Flick of the wrist, effortless. Sarah was scared. If she could do that, what could she do when she was thinking about her actions?
John pulled the keyring out of his pocket and twirled it. “A117. That’s the first.” He tried the lock. “Um…that seems to be a no-go.”
“Then the box is closed, and my plans have slipped our grasp. Something happened.” She levels with him, coldly. He has come all this way for nothing, because she will not open the box for him. He must learn. Her memory tells her…someone has changed her routine. It was hidden since she left his side. It bears his warm touch in its code. What?
“What options do we have left?”
“Hope. The only thing in the box.” There is a great groaning, grinding sound. Sarah winces, ducking away from a rush of air. For a moment it seems as if heaven and earth are in travail, giving birth. Then, a blue box materializes out of nowhere. Cameron is in the present, fully caught up to RAM, operational paradigm loaded.
John takes a step backward, shielding his eyes from the glow. The box is an old school British police call box, made of wood, with a sign detailing its intended use on the front next to the logo of the St John’s Ambulance Company. Having been raised by a paranoid survivalist and an Austrian death machine, this is not the weirdest thing he’s ever seen.
What comes next is. The door to the box opens, and a man wearing a black suit and a black cape lined with red velvet steps out, eyebrows arched like ICBM trails, hair flared like a mushroom cloud.
“Come with me if you want to live.” He reaches out a hand, not in greeting, but as if to emphasize his Scottish brusqueness with an en garde pose made of an empty palm and splayed fingers. There is a relaxation to his bent knees that mellows the anger of the storm, makes its eye more brutal still.
“Who the hell?!” Sarah Connor is used to weird things. She is not betting her life on this.
“I’m the Doctor, and I don’t so much save people as make their days very interesting. Might call it saving. But you don’t have time to. I left the kettle on in five years.”
Cameron remembers, covering for her partner quickly. “I lost some very important items when I jumped back to 1963. They ended up where they were supposed to be, I think. Parts for a time machine. The day I arrived, an organization called C19 was on high alert, but somehow listened to me. They put me in touch with this man.”
The Doctor harrumphs. “It was more that you had Lethbridge-Stewart’s commanding officer in a chokehold ten feet in the air. Go-go geishas don’t do that.”
“Do tin dogs?” There is a melancholy in her voice, an attempt at humor that will never strike true. He recognizes it.
“I suppose they do.”
She ignores the inevitable in her lower right HUD, choosing instead to look at those kind, sad eyes. They cannot do anything for John yet. He must earn it. He is not supposed to be on Earth in 2005. He is too old for the enemy that seeks him then, but also too important. That is why the Doctor is here. They are going to a different 2005. She will explain this to John and Sarah later.
“Let’s go.” She enters the box resolutely.
“This is my TARDIS,” The Doctor says, sweeping his arms proudly. “Time and Reality Displacement In Situ. Well, that’s what we call it around here. Don’t want to mix up you pudding brains while you’re still figuring out how to build a microwave that only nukes burritos.”
“A time displacement unit.” Sarah surprises herself. She was too busy with Reese’s heart and their story to remember much of the rest of his brain. At the time, the only tech she understood was noir. In a way, that’s still true.
“Yes! Excellent. You’ll go far. Normally right now you’re saying –”
“It’s bigger on the inside.” John was as bewildered as he’d been a day out from Pescadero.
“Don’t interrupt, boy. It has to be, because it doesn’t move. Everything else does. Axles have to be fixed, you know.” The Doctor dances around madly, pulling levers and turning dials, and Sarah notices elements of aikido in the way he uses his weight. John sees a chess player using the clock and the board as a hammer and an anvil.
Cameron sees a killing machine in the wrong timeline, sent to do the wrong job. She wonders what his chances are.
“Now. September 27, 2005. Judgment Day, I hear, is April 21, 2011. Although there’s a different reason for it this time. That gives you…six years. The TARDIS only has one jump left in her. I hope for their sake you make it count.”
“Their?” John straightens his back.
“The Children of Earth. I failed them once, but you won’t. Not you and Sarah Connor. Women named Sarah rarely go wrong.” His eyes are distant. Dark. Like galaxies long since burnt to cinders as a last resort.
“Boys named John?”
“Stay in school and make good friends while you’re there. And don’t use Smith for an alias. You’ll wake up one morning and realize how stupid and obvious you’ve looked to everyone around you. And who will you remember when you do?”
“Uhhhhh my mom, I guess.” John shifted from side to side uneasily.
“Right you are. And we’re going to fix that. Don’t go by Smith. Pick something obtuse and notable, like…Fr…Franklin. Yeah. Nobody goes by Franklin anymore.”
“I see.” There is a great death rattle from the central pillar holding up the room. With a final wobble and a gout of starlight, it gives way. The ceiling collapses. There is silence, darkness, and a feeling of wide open skies out to the end of time.
When they awake, they are lying in a crater. Cameron gazes at the sky, picking out Venus, barely, and with attention Rigel, Spica and Aldebaran. Enough to work with. “Right on time.”
“Practiced for years. I was worried lessons would break the bank. Guess I was right!” The Doctor stands, grinning. He dusts off his hands. He is speaking fluent English, he hopes. He has killed the woman he loves, maybe doomed whole futures to nonexistence, simply to be here. To atone one last time for his cleverness and failure to remember those who matter. John and Sarah are what he loves about human life, human potential. There is truly no fate for anyone in the whole history of the universe right now but what they make.
And like everything else beautiful he can’t control that’s already happened, that frightens him. He listens to the terrible beauty, the love, the drums of time sounding an orderly, swinging tick-tock in his head. It has always made him who he is. But that is in the hands of a boy more immature than Adric, a woman more questionably insane from isolation than Amy, and a tin dog with the Brigadier’s nerve and Missy’s heart. Oh well. Just like old times, then.
September 27, 2005
The freeway wasn’t meant to be this quiet. He had blown it again. That did not matter. Collateral was acceptable. Thousands had died last time. Millions had suffered. Because he could not count. Because he could not remember what it was like to be a child, the Hag of the Untempered Schism grabbing your sleep paralyzed leg, the Witch of the Well tormenting your nightmares, the flat disc of time a black sun redolent with hatred and mastery of the world…a voice like his mother’s telling him to listen.
This time he wanted to. But time itself was no longer bowing to its only rightful remaining Lord. She had abandoned him, stolen by his thief slipping through the cracks. He only heard the sound of silence. That was good. It reminded him not to shit the fucking bed next time. Oh, he hadn’t been this angry in years, this close to the thick of it.
“We…we blew up the bank.” John stared. He could be remarkably normal for his age at the most unfortunate times.
“The freeway.” Cameron almost sighed.
“At least we’re not naked.”
“You’re not?” The Doctor sounded completely baffled.
Sarah Connor looked at the stranger for the first time. Not a Terminator. Not human either. Definitely odd. His pain was written across his face even as he tried to crack jokes about the worst explosion in Los Angeles’ recent history. Just like…no. Focus. Breathe. Let Kyle blow away on the wind.
“No. I am most definitely not. Look. We can’t just stand here.” Sarah was beginning to like the Tin Man. Contrast, it seemed, was everything. And babysitting was hell.
John scrambled toward what was left of a strip mall, wobbling a bit. Cameron followed, then Sarah, then the Doctor. There were sirens in the distance. They had only the guns they’d brought with them.
They reached the embankment formed by the collapsed cloverleaf and exactly one eighth of a Radio Shack, and stood. Back to back. Diamond formation. The Doctor pulled out a long silver rod, tipped with glowing red like the eye of a Terminator. He shook it, pressed some buttons, turned a sleeve collar, and shook it again. It buzzed, and he dropped it, shocked. “Blast!” He picked it up again.
“You’ll shoot your eye out.” Sarah was tired. She got testy when she was tired.
“Nah. It doesn’t shoot. It’s better.”
“Oh?” John loved gadgets. Given the ruins of a Radio Shack that might still sell Trash-80s, for all he knew, or this…well, it was something.
“Yeah. Watch carefully. And don’t shoot your mummy’s eye out.” There was a sound of helicopter blades, like an army of locusts.
James Harlan Ellison, FBI Special Agent and disgraced, washed up office party joke, sat in the back of the lead chopper. He looked down over the site of the blast, wondering what the hell had gone down here. Or who. He was gonna lose some people before it was over. Some being a relative term. Nah. Shit. This was his career. Too bad.
“There are four of them. Four suspects, three with guns drawn. They are unharmed. IR and geiger are off the charts.” He pressed his headset to his ear. “Not nuclear. Don’t tell Homeland yet.”
“But James…” The woman on the other end of the aircraft band had heard him say that only once before, in 1999. Two years before they had parted ways.
“I want something to report. I’m on scene at what looks like a new 9/11, Lila. That’s different from missing a different perp two years before. I’m not going down without a…whoa!” There was a buzzing sound. Green light filled the cockpit. “Shit. Hold tight.” Infrasonic frequencies were shaking the helicopter apart as the light blinded the pilot.
“Continue monitoring, Mr Murch. Pay attention to logistics. The human element is not important here. Not hardly.” A tall, enigmatic woman, with ginger hair and eyes like neutron stars, stood before a bank of twenty-one inch dual monitors arranged in three grids of nine.
“Mrs Weaver, I thought you had your eye on Ellison.”
“And on Wisher as well, Mr Murch. I want options when I’m determining our tiger team for the first thirty seconds of his life.”
“Yes ma’am.” Murch scratched his sweaty bald head. “We have KH-13A0003 on orbit, fully compromised, fully black. Thats what these feeds are being derived from. It has a compound eye-like structure, capable of capturing multiple camera angles of the same square meter. Like a net of visual capture hanging from the sky. If you will, a –”
“Calm. Mr Murch. Give me a readout on the mechanical systems of the lead copter, please.”
Wordlessly, Murch displayed the requested feed.
FBI HOSTAGE RESCUE TEAM BIRD
SHRIKE 1 CALLSIGN
SUMMARY FLIGHT PARAMETERS
150m altitude (rate -2 increments)
airspeed 50kph (rate -3 increments)
rotor = yellow
engine temp = red
guidance = green
comms = black
CODE LW IMMINENT
Pilot: FBI HRT standard pilot unit (organic)
Key passenger: James Ellison
“Organic?” Murch wrinkled his amply pliable forehead. Catherine Weaver was amused. She didn’t know they could melt.
“He is not the autopilot, non?” Catherine’s eyes twinkled, the way the snow does when it hurtles like wormwood toward the spring shoots.
“True. What’s Code LW?”
“None of your concern, Mr Murch. Thank you. I would like to be alone with Daniel right now.”
“It’s not an active intelligence. Giving it a name will –” Her eyes said no. He didn’t hear her hand. He was already on his way to lunch.
“The pipes, the pipes are calling…” She sang, the way she’d seen Lachlan do in the videos. She extended a probe from her left pinky finger, hands caressing the keyboard of the dual core PC in front of her. It was a terminal. Nothing more. She wondered if those who issued the answer had once felt the same about her. Their answer was her call. The pipes, Danny boy….not no but yes. “Just this once. Everybody lives.” Mimetic polyalloy could not mimic heartfelt conviction. Catherine Weaver was not made of mimetic polyalloy.
“You didn’t do a very complete job. That’s just a toy, isn’t it?” Sarah stood, legs spread, MP5 braced with both hands. That passenger looked familiar, and the chopper had been getting closer. She’d give the Doctor another chance with his little thermometer, if he took it quick. Ellison was pulling out.
“Oh piss off.” He aimed and clicked the trigger again. There was a loud bzzzaaavvv! And the rotor on Shrike 1 flew off like a bat out of hell. It impacted a Family Dollar, and very little of value was lost. “Should have bought Hawker-Siddeley. Connor. Five rounds rapid!”
“Can’t right now, Doc Holliday.” John motioned to the four squad cars and two SWAT vans rolling up the onramp. “I’ve gotta save it.”
“Shouldn’t have gone with the wheelgun!” Sarah shouted over her shoulder, squeezing off several bursts from the MP5. “Fifteen rounds rapid. Up his ass. Don’t tell me how to kill, I won’t tell you how to heal.”
The Doctor laughed. It was a bitter, drunken laugh. But he felt life returning. This would be worth it even if he finally went down. Trenzalore had been a practice gig.
“John. Wait.” Cameron pointed the AR-15 at the lead SWAT vehicle and pulled the second trigger with her middle finger. There was a thunk, and a whoosh. The truck exploded. “Double punch buggy no punchbacks.”
“Is that a joke?” John chuckled.
“No. It is a serious activity humans perform to pass the time during long periods of boredom.”
John rolled his eyes. “I can’t tell if you’re serious or not. Forget it.”
Shrike 1 had gone from slipping the surly bonds of Earth to stark terror in less than a second…Ellison was afraid he might be about to touch the face of God. Those who died without the ability to confess were golden, though. So he’d heard. He was better at evidence protocol than canon law, in all actuality. The tail rotor was spinning faster…flaps were opening, air intakes to full, throttle resting at 37%. “I’m not doing anything, sir.” The pilot was scared. Poor rookie.
“It’s a natural reaction to the dive we’re in. Hold tight. Gonna be a glancing blow. Might bounce.”
Below, officers were streaming from the ground vehicles, and Shrike 2 had begun to disembark, setting up a perimeter. Shrike 3 hovered overhead, with what looked too much like a minigun for John’s liking. “We have to get out of here.” He motioned to Sarah, locking the safety back on his handgun. This wasn’t a fighting day.
“No. Stay with me.” The Doctor was more confident than ever. He stepped toward the police officers, arms out, tubular gadget in his left hand. “I see you have all decided on your role…I must play mine. Prisoner One has returned!”
The police trained their guns on him, and he merely smirked. “I’m John Connor. What do you want?”
Ellison breathed the first words of a Hail Mary as the helo set down on its struts, guided miraculously by an angel with a glass hand. He was out of free ones. Now he had to succeed. “Deus vult,” he whispered. Standing, he crossed himself, drew his gun on “watch”, and with a smooth pivot he rolled testicles and spectacles out of the bird like a knight on crusade.
John, Sarah and Cameron ran down the hill away from the overpass. They made it about fifty yards into a residential subdivision before a door opened. “What the…oh sweet Jesus.” A bearded man motioned to them from the front porch of an imitation mission style ranch house, which was not so much suburban kitsch as “yo quiero safehouse?” at the moment. And what they wanted, they got. Cameron punched the man out of their way and entered the house. Sarah and John trained their guns on him.
“Stay down, fuckboy.” Sarah let a berserker rage flow over her that she hadn’t felt since Valverde. The rumors of the jungle cryptid she’d heard from her Contra sister Vasquez washed over her with their fetid stink. She was the mother of abominations and this was now her home, hang what this green-lawned, barbecuing piece of shit…
“Hold on.” She and the bearded man spoke. “Kyle?!”
“Sarah.” The man put his hands up. “You don’t look like one to forget a face. Derek Reese. My brother was killed in action.”
“So I heard.” Sarah nodded.
“That…Palmdale bitch must have tipped you off.” He cradled a broken shoulder. “Go to the past, they said. It’ll bring Funny Derek back to not be in such harsh conditions, they said. Get away from it all and help the Leader of Humanity raise her boy, they said. ALL EXCEPT THE METAL! SHIT!”
“Huh?” Sarah was by now as confused as the average alien from the 51st century. “What?”
“Your boy has them everywhere. Because you died before he was ready.” Derek Reese spat blood and what looked like a tooth made of some kind of heavy blue-gray metal. “Koltan. It’s a good field dressing for lost choppers.”
Cameron raised an eyebrow. “We are doing jobs you will not do.”
Derek made a noise halfway between asphyxiation and a scream. “That’s what the punk who wanted to do my lawn said. I told him to fuck off and just laughed. He has no idea.”
“Perhaps no one does, Lieutenant Reese.”
“Damn straight.” He looked up at Sarah from where he was now sitting cross-legged. “Cops will be here soon. Downstairs, through the bathroom closet. No noise. I’m just a methed up hillbilly transplant.”
“You’re something, all right, Lieutenant Reese.” She was going to have to process this. That wasn’t Kyle. Was it his father?
At the FBI’s LA field office, the Doctor was having a communication issue of his own. “I told you, my name is John Connor. I’m a British citizen and I demand my lawyer.”
“You don’t understand.” Ellison leaned over the table. “John Connor is twenty-one years old. He is American, with Mexican citizenship. You are not him.”
“John Connor is a time traveler from the future. Why couldn’t I be?”
“That’s a conspiracy theory. When the Pescadero tapes leaked to YouTube, SomethingAwful and Reddit made up some garbage about him having traveled back from an American Civil War in 2030 or so to recover a…I wanna say an IBM System/360 mainframe. He needed it to fix some computer program that was giving him a hard time. Fanciful tinfoil crap. And I’m a Catholic.”
“And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon. And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.” The Doctor smacked the table with his palm for emphasis.
“Don’t make me get Dr Silberman down here from Pescadero.” Ellison raised a hand. He’d had to call for doctors with special expertise before. He really didn’t like doing that.
“That won’t be necessary. You’ll see soon enough. Do my papers check out? It’s a simple yes or no question, Agent.”
“Your papers check out. She had a Mexican guy do the originals after she got out of Pescadero. They checked out too. Hardly unusual. See it every day. What, you think this is science fiction?” Ellison was beginning to find the whole thing funny. “You were WITH three…individuals matching the description of the bank robbers from the security camera footage inside the vault at Security Trust in 1999, before it was demolished and replaced with a highway. Which was demolished with an explosion that nearly fucked off San Andreas and knocked us into the sea. Today. Survivors reported four individuals matching the description of the bank perps, and this was corroborated by the paramedic first to the scene. One Charley Dixon. I have one of you. Where are the other three?”
“Dead, maybe. Or asleep. Maybe they were thrown clear. Maybe they’ve been replaced by robots and are now on your office detail.” The Doctor shrugged. “You’re the detective. I don’t ask questions.”
Ellison glared. “You think this is funny. No one issues that kind of an armed response to an explosion without cause. Why? Because no one survives. I got to explain how an impact worthy of a small comet happened to Los Angeles at 1:49 in the morning, why it didn’t happen at rush hour, how all you guys survived, where you are, and I gotta have good answers before YouTube is all ‘Nibiru can’t melt Federal Reserves!’ tomorrow. So start talking.”
“Are you ready to shut up?” The Doctor glared.
“You have a friend and professional contact in the Shoreditch, UK area. He wants to be a mathematics teacher. He wants to find love and get back on his feet. His name is Daniel Orson Pink.”
Ellison raised an eyebrow, feeling liquid metal fill the pit of his stomach. “Cold reading and basic social engineering. Good job though.”
“But he’s not going to, is he?” The Doctor grinned evilly. Sometimes he liked mastering the weak.
“I don’t know. You’re the crazy visionary from the future. Does he get blown up by killer robots?” Ellison had a habit of shortening the second O in “robots.” Right now it made him giggle. Robutts. Maybe he would survive what happened to the Pescadero shrinks when the man came around. Maybe the one he beheld was that man.
“Worse. Far worse. He becomes one.” The Doctor wiped his mouth with his sleeve and blinked. “But he’s the best damn killer robot ever to serve in Her Majesty’s Royal Marines.”
“Now you’re just not making sense.”
“I’ll tell you why he’s not going to get back on his feet, you stupid ape. He doesn’t believe in confession the way you do. And he killed a boy in Fallujah. The child’s lost potential has become his world. It was the only way. Every day he wishes he’d listened before he cleared that house. But he didn’t. The enemy was a machine bred to kill. Like me, John Connor. And he killed the machine and he will become a machine to be free of the man.” The Doctor was in, crossing one leg over the other, hands lazily behind head. “Don’t worry. It works out.”
“That’s bullshit. The robot stuff, anyway.” Ellison was as pale as the darkness on Skaro during peak beltsky. He thumbed the intercom. “Get the suspect back to his cell. Mark him John Doe and hold him until I talk to Homeland. Bring backup.”
“Run while you still can.” The Doctor smirked.
“No. Either way, I’m safer in here.” Ellison sat down.
Catherine Weaver sat at her desk, perusing a live feed on her desktop computer. This…Doctor was deeply fascinating. They obviously shared a common Scottish native heritage. After all, any TRUE Scotsman was a creature of pure unseelie, motivated by a Hadrian’s Wall across his Pictish heart. And such a creature of true myth was she, and so was this fellow. Savannah was…an American child. She looked across the room, ignoring the flashing text at the bottom left of her vision. If she was ever caught musing to her voice recorder about it, she could lose the company. Violent schizophrenics could not be allowed around infant artificial intelligences. Or human girls, for that matter.
“Savannah, please leave the room. I need to make a call.”
“Yes mama.” Savannah got up, untied orthopedic shoes nearly tripping her narrow, insufficient feet. She was definitely Lachlan’s child.
Weaver pressed a single button on her phone. “Mister Williams.”
“Yes ma’am.” The voice at the end of the line was boyish, but with traces of granite and peat coming slowly through, like a small branch through a concrete wall. Or a virus of dawn into a world of Grey.
“Go to the FBI office. They have my personal physician in custody. He has accidentally been allowed to leave his research facility while performing one of his chemistry experiments to aid Project Babylon’s neural networks. Dr Sherman is very concerned for his welfare, as are you and I. Nothing is amiss. Have them take it up with our lawyers while you are present if they do not see it our way.”
“Yes Miss Weaver.”
“Thank you, Rory. Oh. Get Savannah milk and cookies before you go. It is nearly her naptime.”
“Absolutely.” It was rare that divorce set you free. But to voluntarily serve someone so similar, to care for her child…he was a good man. He could take “not good enough”. For now.
Later that day, Cameron sat quietly in the situation room, as they had dubbed the den, with John. “You told me Cromartie came through.”
“Maybe I lied. I know more than you do right now. Things have changed. Your time machine is crap and the Doctor’s is gone. You’re not even in the right universe. Neither am I.”
“You never have been. There will be someone else, I am sure. There always is.”
“I’m irrelevant. I know. You heard Derek. That’s my Uncle. My Grandpa. Maybe both.”
“The chain of events since zero hour is exceptional. It has accelerated far beyond what you told me would happen, even without the Doctor.”
Cameron was growing concerned. Thoughts of the Doctor were triggering physical damage alerts. What Sarah might call a cluster headache, on the side of her head. It made her feel….It made her feel. That was deeply troubling in a way she could not yet express.
“Who is he, anyway?”
“A friend. A guide. The only constant this universe has. We have been together since I arrived here, off and on. He does not…” she held her tongue.
“Does not what?”
“Like scrutiny. Maintain his appearance well. But that much is obvious.”
“He’s a crazy old hobo. Who just happened to blow up a time machine like a nuclear bomb.”
“Your story is not unique. Perhaps that is good. Come with me.”
They moved out to the backyard, and into the shed where a brick bed lay. Derek had said it was used for a Terminator destruction protocol. He’d heard his mother speak of a similar method. Thermite, basically. All the thermite. Cameron picked up a hammer. She held it out to John.
“Have you ever worked with tools?”
“Anti-static wrist strap, allen keys, ratchets, set of screwdrivers…I work with computers all the time. I build them.”
Cameron felt a tugging at the left edge of her upper lip. She held it in check. These glitches worried her. “You never saw the irony in that until I arrived. You expressed a desire, before we…parted company…to learn to use ordinary tools. To build something that mattered to you.”
“How am I having this desire here and now? I’m not some fucking tabula rasa, Cameron. If you know me better than she does, treat me like it.”
“You do not know yourself. I know who you can become. Not will. Can. She knows only the dreams she had before you were conceived.”
“Yeah. I don’t know myself because I’m fifteen. Duh.” John’s voice had only recently cracked, and sometimes it showed.
“Do you want to start with a birdhouse?” She gestured to wood standing upright against the wall, and a bucket of blue paint the color of her naked eyes.
“Whatever, Maya Angelou. Metaphors. On a robot. Sheesh.”
“I do not understand.”
“Future me doesn’t have to take English Lit.” John smiled. “Some things I don’t even care about now. What makes you think I will then?”
“Yes.” Cameron looked ahead. “Now here’s how we’re going to start.”
Back in the house, Sarah was pacing while Derek sat quietly on the couch. The man couild make sitting the angriest act she’d ever seen. He was an artist. And artists you either carried or they got you killed. “I’m gonna need IDs, weapons, any information you have. I’m gonna need a complete account of everything you’ve been up to since you arrived. You were alone.” It was a question. Derek got the idea she usually asked questions that way.
“No, I wasn’t. I had three people with me.”
“Did you lose them?”
“Yeah. I left the playpen door open and they skipped out to the mall. What do you want, Sarah? They’re dead.”
“Not very competent. Kyle wouldn’t have let that happen.”
“You heard wrong. Kyle was soft. He was starting to grow stronger. But he was our shepherd. He could take useless tunnel rats who only knew how to obey and keep them safe from lesser models. T-800s. Thousand ones, triple eights? A fair fight with a squad? He couldn’t do it. Not here. This is a foreign country.”
“The past usually is. I think you’re wrong, though. About Kyle.”
“I was hoping I was. He was looking forward to a new start with his own platoon. John sent him on some kind of secret mission. Never saw him again. MIA. He used to look at your picture all the time, you know.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Then you know I’m not wrong.”
Sarah could only glare. “Was he like you when he wasn’t trying to get laid?”
“He was like me when he was. That’s why you survived. You think John’s the only one who’s had to come to terms with being left alive? We all have. We should have back in the 80s. When there was still time.”
Sarah mulled that over for a second. “IDs, then. New starts. I’m thinking Liddell. Baum is too conspicuous.”
Derek snorted. “They’re IDs, not handles. Why not Maverick, or xKiller420_666xxx? As long as the SSN checks out and you can buy Jack with it.”
“No imagination.” Sarah cocked her head, as if judging the matching of the couch with the drapes. “I like you.”
“Too bad.” Derek took a swig of his beer.
Sarah’s attention suddenly snapped off of Kyle. “Wait. A Terminator killed your squad?”