Darkness. When Earl Wise was a child he was never afraid of the dark. There was something special about it, something that was more comforting to him than the light could ever be. While friends would run away from it he was always the one that ran toward it to bask in its lack of radiance. After the machines came he was always one to joke about the shadows. Commonly he would joke with his gang that he wasn’t afraid of the dark, that the dark should be afraid of him.
Right now though all he wanted was some form of light. Inside the recesses of his head he kept hearing the mechanical tones of the machine. That demon handed 900 Series Tin Can had brought him here and locked him away in the dark. The feeling of metal holding him down – it felt like a bar but it could have been anything in a world filled with living machines – compressed against his chest. Earl felt like he was trapped in a vise and being squeezed by it. Where was death when he needed him?
In a flash the darkness that had surrounded him was gone. White light as bright as the sun filtered through artificial lighting that lines the massive chamber. Long and narrow with high ceilings, monitors dominated the walls and sinister looking pieces of technology littered the room. One of the walls featured large, circular windows that seemed to be frosted over the color of snow. There was an antiseptic smell permeating the alien looking chamber. Cables hung from the ceiling and seemed to move under their own power around. Some had menacing looking tools attached to them. Earl pushed with all of his weight against the metal bar but it didn’t budge and inch. One of the cables came right before his eyes. A small cutting tool not unlike a knife slid out from a protective covering. Wise closed his eyes hoping that his wish was coming. While evisceration would be painful, at least he’d be dead. The knife plunged downward.
And the wish remained unfulfilled. The scalpel had been meticulous with its orientation and its cutting. It slit through his clothing and missed his body with incredible precision. The clothes that he had wore fell away leaving him exposed on the center of the metal slab he was held down on. More technology came and made its way around his body. Oddly it wasn’t killing him or being sadistic. It was healing his wounds from a quarter of a century struggling to survive. Old wounds hastily repaired were being mended as good as new. Scars that had grown along his body from what felt like a lifetime were being quickly repaired and came out as smooth as the day he was born. An injector lowered from the ceiling and came alongside his neck. It pivoted (Private Wise hoped it was a lethal injection) and slowly pushed into his artery. Golden liquid spread out through his body making him feel better than he had ever been before. What they were doing to him was worse than cruel. Making him what he was before was the most brutal of attacks, worse than making him into one of the zombies.
Twin cylindrical bars began lifted up out of the floor at the foot of the silver slab he was attached to. The bars stopped at an equal height and distance from one another. A paper thin beam of blue energy shot from the bar to his right and attached to the one on the left. It reminded him of stories he’d heard from the death camps of the same technology. It slowly ate away at the skin as it ascended from toe to head. Burning you alive as it demolecularized and cauterized to force you to live the entire time. It was an execution, an execution of the worst kind. They’d made him perfectly healthy, given him moments of what he hadn’t had for years, and now they were going to rip it away by breaking him down at the subatomic level. Their mending had just been intended to keep him alive longer so that the sick mind that was Skynet could enjoy it all the more longer. The bars shot upward.
Where Earl expected to feel intense pain he instead felt only a light tickling – like a feather being run along his body. The monitors surrounding him beeped and chirped as new data flashed over their screens. Maps of his internal organs, his skeleton, even the blood flow came up on the display monitors. A wireframe image of his brain was the last thing to appear after the bars slid passed his eyes. With a loud thunk the scanners fell back into the flooring. The diagnostic table lifted upward and went from perfectly horizontal to a forty-five degree incline.
The glass that Wise had thought was a window broke in half by the center and slid apart with a sigh. The sounds of servomotors propelling them apart filled his ears gently. Through them stepped a man probably in his late middle ages with salt and pepper hair that was quickly receding. The man wore a goatee and had a look that was much different than the former rogue had seen in a long time. The man was wearing dress clothes. His pants were freshly pressed and were a deep black color, his shirt as blue as what the sky used to be. A tie hung from around his neck and rested in the middle of the openings from a white lab coat. His name tag read Fischer.
“How are you this morning?” The man asked with a youthful and cheerful baritone. Despite this, buried deep down, darkness dwelled. All those years of hunting in the dark gave Earl the ability to see it even in the hearts of others. “I hope that you’ve been treated well.”
Earl peered down at the man from his perch on the table, “I’m tied onto a metal slab in the belly of the beast. How do you think I’m feeling?”
“You’re not in the belly of the beast as you called it. You’re on the Enterprise,” he typed something into the keyboard. “We’re in dock outside San Francisco.”
“That’s not possible,” protested Earl from his confinement. “The Enterprise was destroyed on Judgment Day. Plus, Connor wouldn’t be stupid enough to have a Carrier - too easy to spot and too easy of a target for the machines. It’d be like a duck in a shooting gallery!”
Charles turned his head toward the patient, “All true. Connor wouldn’t use a Carrier, but then again you and I both know that Connor isn’t God. The Resistance isn’t the only force on Earth trying to reclaim it from the machines you know. We’ve had our share of engagements against the machines, but we have a very limited power output here and we rarely, if ever, have to deal with the Machines attacking. I don’t even think that they look for us here anymore.”
The Resistance’s conscripted soldier looked around the room by rolling his neck, “Forgive me if I don’t sound grateful for your help, but your story is shit and we both know it. You can’t tell me that this room doesn’t take enough power to light us up like a Christmas tree on the machine’s sensors, or that the medicine you’ve been practicing isn’t from the machines themselves. It has dozens of sensor drones after all just watching for us even to turn on a light bulb. These machines you’re using probably have enough energy to light us up to the sensors as far away as Death Valley.” The last words had a special meaning from the tones he used when saying them. “You’re probably working for them.”
“What would you have me say to you, Private? If this were a Skynet outpost how would I even be here walking around like I am? Wouldn’t they have me locked away in some sort of cage on the deck or building bodies in the machine shop to kill our brothers and sisters?” Even though he was fighting there was calm coming from him. “As for our power output, if you want I’ll let you talk to our engineer but he’ll tell you the same thing. Our signatures are dampened and this comes off as just a dead hulk moored at a port. Nothing more and nothing less than that. I expected some opposition and questions, but not this glaring ungratefulness.”
Earl let out a long breath, “Sorry, I just find this all a bit hard to believe. Especially, since I’m a prisoner here.” He looked down at himself and saw passed the metal bar, “A naked one at that.”
“I apologize for that,” Fischer input a four digit code into the table. “We needed no obstructions as the computers scanned you for injury. Don’t worry, we’re not networked and they Navy never bothered to give the Enterprise one of those Skynet brains because it was to be decommissioned within three months.” The restraints retracted inward as the Doctor hit the enter key on the pad. Earl almost fell off the table if not for the small lip that the balls of his feet rested on.
Doctor Fischer opened the door of a locker and pulled out hospital scrubs, “We’ll happily let you go out and explore the ship, but I have to leave you in quarantine for about 48 hours to protect our population. I hope that you can understand and that it won’t be a problem for you.”
“I thought I wasn’t a prisoner?” The Resistance Private asked.
“I never said that you were,” Fischer wrote something down on the clipboard he was holding. “We just have the policy to protect the people that are on this ship. We can’t afford their safety. I’m sorry but that’s the way that it is.”
Wise shrugged, “I was never big on dealing with people anyway. Is there anything to eat though? I’m pretty hungry.”
“I don’t doubt it,” the Doctor sat the clipboard on a receptacle and sealed the garage door that covered it. “I’ll have them send something down to you tonight. We have some fresh rabbit brought here aboard the Jimmy Carter. I’ll have them send you a bowl of it.”
Earl let a small smile form but quickly hid it, “I think I’d like that. It’s been so long since I had real food.”
“Be glad you were rescued by a ship with a galley.” He buttoned up his lab coat and walked over to the window like observation door. “I’ll be back to check up on you in a few hours. Feel free to use the entertainment pack that we have down here. The laptop is at your disposal.”
“How did I get here anyway?” The traces of his antagonism started to slide back into place. “I was being carried by one of those endos.”
Fischer cocked his head a bit from next to the exit, “If you must know it was an accident that we even found you. We’d heard that a Skynet supply convoy was being carried through the area and our strike team was in the area. They found you and a couple others being hunted by one of the Ogre’s and an HK. I don’t know exactly how they rescued you, but I could bring you the report if you’d like to read it.”
“Sounds like a good bedtime story,” the Rogue sat down on one of the stools. “You said others, are they here too?”
“We were able to rescue three others from your team,” answered Doctor Fischer. “All of them are beautiful women – you lucky devil. We have them in other isolation rooms. Don’t worry about their safety though, we have them secured. Only people with a pass card can get to them and only my people have the pass cards. Plus, I mostly work with women anyway.”
For the first time in a long time a full smile came on Earl Wise’s face, “Don’t be so sure that’ll protect your people though. Lauren – our medic – is a lesbian from what I’ve been told and she enjoys ‘exercise’.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” said Charles as he slid his card against the reader. “Pleasant dreams.”
“I never said thank you,” yelled Private Wise.
Fischer turned and leaned through the open doorway, “And you’ll never have to.” The Doctor stepped back out into the dark corridor and the door slid shut again with a clank. It instantly turned opaque again to protect his privacy.
Earl crossed his arms and walked around the medical lab of the Aircraft Carrier Enterprise. Was Fischer’s story at all possible? Could he be another of the wolves in sheep’s clothes that they had been warned about? The young Private didn’t really know. As he sat down at the desk to load up the entertainment pack that Charles had offered his mind kept on the puzzle that was his life instead. He wanted to believe him, but something about this still seemed too good to be true.