Earl Wise was really starting to hate his life. First he had the unfortunate happenstance of being in the wrong place at the wrong time leading the machines right to his rogue enclave. Back then he was nothing more than a gun for hire – a survivor doing whatever he had to do to make it on his own. Then the machines came and took away everything that he knew. So he went to the Human Resistance against the machines and was made nothing more than a lowly private despite his skills. So not a week later he found himself captured by a machine strike force during a mission to raid a supply convoy.
That wasn’t the worst of it. Earl was taken to what could be considered to be heaven on Earth – an aircraft carrier that was supposedly under the control of humanity. It had everything he could have ever wanted and he never even got to see passed the small isolation chamber where they kept him in quarantine. If he had thought about it he would have known it to be nothing other than a well crafted lie, but he couldn’t bring himself to look the gift horse in the mouth. Because of his shortsightedness he almost lost his life.
Worse though he let himself fall for the machine and become nothing more than a collaborator in his own mind. Skynet sent him back to Kansas Bunker with a machine that looked and sounded exactly like his one time commanding officer Allison Young. He told it things, things that were very personal to him, and it used the information against him. As they stalked through the belly of the base the Machine broke through the last of his defenses and penetrated his security. It killed one of its own to prove itself to him.
Though that didn’t make him feel any better about any of what had happened. After they killed the other with Allison’s face, something told him that this other Allison wasn’t to be trusted. It was like a RADAR of sorts that came on inside his brain that told him not to let her get close. As the men and women of the search team drug the machine to Connor’s security chamber it came on again for him. General Connor came to praise them but something pushed Earl into action. He dove for Connor and pushed him out of the way just as the skinjob tried to put a bullet into Connor’s chest. The others smashed into her with an EMP projectile that brought her to her knees. As he stared down at the lifeless hulk that he’d trusted Earl just kicked at her over and over. Lifeless eyes focused on him with a demented darkness below. It just watched as he kicked and kicked – only to be pulled away by General John Connor himself.
Because of his heroism that day General Connor had done something Earl had never expected. Rather than keep him at his rank of Private, the General promoted him. It was probably one of the fastest in United States Military history. He went from an enlisted Private – a grunt – to a commissioned officer with the rank of Captain and a leader of his own team: The Four Horsemen. In truth he felt like little more than a pretender in the role of a leader. The Horsemen were created by Derek and Kyle Reese to serve as a special strike team against Skynet. Despite coming back from battle after battle, during a routine mission investigation of a Centaur Patrol they were captured save for Kyle himself. Not long after the last surviving member of the Horsemen – Kyle – was missing and presumed dead following a mission to Topanga Canyon with General Connor.
It was morbid to be a leader of the team. The Reese Boys, Sayles, and Wisher were considered legends and now he was usurping their myth. General Connor had given him broad authority with who he selected to join him in this new fire team. Mostly he selected people who he got to work with in stopping the Skinjob. Sergeant Sumner and Corporal Timms were the first two that he recruited into the group. The final member of the team was a bit harder to come by. While Sayles and Timms were happy to join, the majority of the rest of his potential members turned him down for the same reason that Earl had reservations: the legend. After several attempts Private Robert Duquesne was the fourth and final member of the group that he selected. From just his brief encounters with the young man he saw himself in many ways. This was a good group - one that would last. Rumor had it though that they would soon become the Five. Connor wanted one of the two metal bitches with Allison’s face to join the team.
That was almost enough to make him eat his gun. Suddenly – not like it hadn’t already been – what was supposed to be a reward became a punishment. How could Connor want those damned machines to be in every tactical group? Sure they were warriors, but they were the enemy days before. If they could they would slam a knife in your back and show you your spine. How could Connor want them to deal with them scrubbed or not? Rumor had it that Decker took his own life because of the growing number of reprogrammed skinjobs that were running around the Resistance bases. The Techs even claimed Connor wanted to have at least one of them at every base before the end of the year.
How scary a possibility was that?
Almost as scary as this. When the tin cans invaded Kansas Connor ordered a strategic retreat from the base. They sealed off the connections to most of it and collapsed in sections, but his precious Quadling Country was still accessible from the new outpost. The whole theory of time travel was hard for him to wrap his head around. It was impossible – something that any reputable scientist in the 20th and early 21st Century would have sworn was impossible – but somehow Connor had accomplished that impossibility. Earl didn’t believe it, though everyone else seemed to think that it was a possibility. Messing with the timeline could have irreparable consequences. There was no way he’d be caught dead going through it. No way no how; if Connor tried to send him through he’d have to do it by force. But HQ wanted to make sure that Skynet didn’t try to use a back door to get into the new outpost. It was the Horsemen’s job to make sure that the back door was closed off. They had high grade explosives to take care of that.
While they were getting ready to detonate the proximity silent alarms were tripped. It was probably just another rat but they couldn’t risk that. Connor had left specific instructions to them. Readying their weapons the Horsemen used a rush tactic to move down the Cold War Era tunnel. After about five minutes of it they reached the devastated front where the third machine began his assault upon them. Each of them had their weapons at the ready - their fingers on the trigger and their safeties off. As members of the Horsemen they had only the best weapons and Earl was afraid they were going to have to use them for the very first time.
“Plasma burns, secondary explosions, Skynet was here,” said a raggedy looking man wearing a black cap. His eyes were focused on the Hang in there baby graffiti.
They kept walking – secretly being watched from the side. “Maybe Connor and the others fell back to the tunnel downtown.” He said with futile hopefulness. The second man kept watching a third who was knelt over a discarded footlocker.
As the third stared inside he looked as if he were going to break down. With a loud thud he slammed the lid shut on it and cradled his head in his hands. The man stared at it full of emotion like he wanted to cry. A long breath and a plea to God were all that came from him. The first man leaned in to comfort his friend. Wise nodded giving his people the word. Looking at the man he recognized him. It was Derek Thomas Reese. With a nod he gave Sumner his seal of approval.
“Stand down,” the second in command ordered as he stepped into the light. Incredulously he said in a near question, “Reese. Derek Reese.”
Lieutenant Reese took Sumner’s hand, “Sumner.”
“We thought we lost you guys to the junkyard.” Sumner charged nodding to Sayles.
Reese put his hands to his hips as Earl stepped into the darkness to observe. It was oddly clear to him in this darkness of the ruins of the undercity.
“You did. What happened?”
Sumner went through the story of what happened to Lieutenant Derek Thomas Reese. He told him about how the machines had struck four nights earlier and how the TripEights were able to get around and take out the defenses. He explained how they took some and killed most of the survivors. The storyteller found his tongue becoming tar as he explained about Kyle Reese and lied about John Connor being away from it all. He didn’t tell him anything about the device that they stole – perhaps he didn’t know – but he did tell him the whole story of the destruction of the Skynet Outpost in the Canyon. Then Reese asked the hardest question of them all.
“What happened to my brother?”
Sergeant Sumner had trouble with that question. He took a deep breath, “No one ever saw your brother again.” Time seemed to skip a beat and Earl Wise took that as an opportunity. The newly minted Captain stepped out of the darkness right as Derek made his demand.
“Take me to Connor now.”
“In time,” said Earl Wise as he stepped into view. “Right now my people and I have work to do?”
Reese looked up at him, “Who the hell do you think you are?”
“I’m the new leader of the Horsemen,” Wise said honestly. “Captain Earl Wise, Lieutenant. Connor gave us strict instructions to level this place incase the metal bastards come back.”
“They never hit the same place twice! They know that we’re smarter than to stay in the same place too long! Take me to Connor, I want to talk to him. I want to know about my brother. He’ll tell me what happened.”
Sumner looked at him, “Its fine, really Captain. I can take him to the new base. It isn’t a big deal and you and the rest of the Horsemen will have time to finish up the work here. I’ll come right back.”
Earl crossed his arms and looked at the legend himself as he stood before him. After some mulling around inside his head he nodded, “We’re almost done here and we can’t risk Skynet coming back and learning what we were up to. If the three of them help us we can get out of here all the faster and then I’ll see what I can do about getting you in to see Connor. He’s not too keen on talking to much of anyone these days.” Captain Wise looked at Sumner, “As you and Timms can attest.”
“Whatever,” Reese protested, “I’ll find him myself.”
Wise brought up all the force of his position, “Lieutenant! I am giving you an order. You will take your place helping us to blow these tunnels to hell. I understand that you lived here for a long time, you can help us get this done faster.”
“Go to hell!” was his answer.
Earl shook his head, “Some legend…”
The other two refugees just stood in the back watching the drama unfold. It was Sayles who was the voice of reason, “Derek, we could really use your help here. Like the Captain said the sooner we get finished here the sooner you can get your answers. Even if he didn’t say it nicely,” his eyes drilled into the leader.
“Drop it already,” Sumner said with his Louisianan accent playing on all their ears. “We don’t have time for this so lets quick dickin’ around and get this over with.”
Reese agreed and rejoined the group, “Fine. Where do you need me Captain Asshole?”
“Sumner,” Captain Wise looked at the Sergeant, “Take him down to the entry and lay the last of the explosives. I want us out of here in half an hour at most.”
“Yes Sir,” they were heading off.
“Wait a second,” Earl got their attention as he bent over the footlocker. The name drew him back to it and the contents inside. Wise looked at the contents with interest much to the chagrin of the Lieutenant. As he protested Earl lifted the burnt up photo and held it in his hand.
The Captain gave it to Derek, “I thought you might want this.”
Without a word Derek Reese snatched the photo from the Commanding Officer and stormed off with Sumner. Wise had hoped to make a good impression with the man who served as his predecessor, but obviously life was like what the great philosopher Jagger said all those years ago.
You can’t always get what you want.