Their trip back to the new Resistance Headquarters had been more intense than Earl Wise had ever imagined it could be – and in a world where thinking machines intent on killing everyone he knew a thing or two about an intense situation. The Horsemen were mostly quiet and Lieutenant Reese was brooding as they skulked toward their home. The way that he was acting Earl had been afraid to give the soldier one of their weapons (despite being unarmed) because he didn’t know if Derek would turn it on them or himself in frustration. His brooding was so bad that even their reprogrammed Trip Eight was probably grinding his teeth.
Since being appointed leader of the Horsemen he had wanted to get to know Derek Reese; though he had thought it to be impossible due to the former commander’s missing in action status. Most of the soldiers throughout the Resistance had heard about him and his brother’s exploits against the machines and it had given him a legendary status throughout what was left of humanity. So far the legend failed to live up to the ideal. Like John Connor spending most of his time with the machines and chewing out his own troops; Derek Reese seemed to be more of the same. They were a lot alike in many ways and that was easily discerned just from the few minutes he’d spent with both men. Being little more than a mercenary hadn’t earned Earl many friends, but, from the sounds of things, he probably had more than these two.
Like Kansas Bunker the new, yet still unnamed, HQ had several entrances all of which were hidden practically in the open. Often times the machines tended to ignore such unconcealed portals calculating that the humans wouldn’t dare use an undefended and easily found doorway to their refuge; the more ornate and defended positions were always red herrings. The tin cans were stupid like that. They didn’t realize that humans learned from their actions and knew that sometimes the best place to hide something was in plain sight. The inability of Skynet’s forces to learn was humanity’s greatest advantage in the war to end all wars.
After they descended into the tunnels that ran below the city the first thing that Earl did was check his surroundings. Ever since trying to run away from that Series 900 battle droid he had an overwhelming fear of being put in the same situation again. When he was convinced they were momentarily safe he decided that it was time to continue onward. Sumner and Timms were in the lead of the group with him in the back as they walked down the tunnels. Reese was in the middle being watched closely by Joshua. At least he’d stopped his bitching and moaning. Sayles and Wisher were there too, but they were keeping quiet about all of this. Earl welcomed that.
As they came through the passageway into the larger chamber that led into the base Earl heard something he didn’t expect. The mechanical whirring of a machine echoed throughout the chamber. Quickly surveying the area he confirmed that they were surrounded on all sides by metal bastards armed and ready for combat. They were the older designs that dated back from before the war though. The T-1 battle tank was the first thing that he saw closest to the door. The sound of their servomotors swinging their twin chainguns into place was distinctive to anyone who stared them down. The rumbling of the ground as they moved forward on their treated wheels was the stuff of his nightmares.
Then the other two came from behind. Twin walker units came from the side corners nearest to them with their Gatling Guns training on the team. The loud bang of their opening rocket launcher wasn’t hard to mistake and the whirring of their bracing struts chilled him to the bone. A synthetic growl roared from the beast as it locked in place with a whisper-like whistle. Rumor had it that Skynet stole these files from the records of one of the nation’s defense contractors for urban pacification, but that didn’t really matter to anyone in this day and age. It looked mean.
A menacing synthetic voice erupted from one of the Series 100 Walkers, “Freeze. You are trespassing on private property. Please present your identification. You have twenty seconds to comply or I am authorized to employ physical force.” To drive home that point it repositioned its weapons. Each member of the team was targeted by one of the war machines and they wouldn’t take pity.
Earl flipped open his jacket pocket and pulled out his ID Card. He presented the card to the machine that had issued the order, “Wise DN-41754.”
“Authorization accepted,” announced the machine. They stood down and rolled back toward their original positions. The massive blast door slid open letting them into their home base. Earl let a smile come across his face at finally being back home. It was welcome after having his teams destroy their old one.
After they followed their protocols of logging back in the Horsemen broke up and headed off. Sayles, Timms, and Duquesne went to return their gear to the armory. Sayles and Wisher – perhaps the most depressed person Earl had ever met – were going down to the infirmary to be checked out. Derek Reese just ignored them all and stormed off on his own saying he was going to find Connor and get some answers. General Perry quickly intercepted him and pulled him off to the side and deeper into the base. As they left his view Earl was only grateful that he didn’t have to put up with Reese’s attitude anymore. That was the best news that he’d gotten in a very long time.
“What are your instructions?” The scrubbed skinjob asked as he stood exceptionally close to Wise’s back.
Earl sighed inwardly not at the machine but rather because he’d forgotten about it even being there. What he hell had happened to him? Before the machines couldn’t even get close to him and now – ever since coming back from the dead so to speak – the machines just kept getting closer and closer. Had Joshua been an enemy he could have killed him without problem. Earl had to get his head back into the game.
“You’re coming with me. I could use your help in a training exercise.”
“Command confirmed,” acknowledge the machine and fell into step behind him.
While Derek Reese walked along he kept wondering if the world had turned on its head while he was being held at that Skynet base. The Horsemen were under someone else’s command, Connor had locked himself away and was refusing to speak to anyone, and the Resistance soldiers were treating him like he was nothing more than a rank amateur. Not even his friend General Perry was helping. Perry was Reese’s direct superior in the Resistance and one of the few men that Derek felt he could trust. Now he was acting just like the others. Derek didn’t care about the chain of command, didn’t care about what was classified and what wasn’t, not even humanity’s survival was important to him right now. All he cared about what his brother.
“… Kyle was his friend,” Derek protested after having been told by the General that Kyle’s status was classified and General Connor refused to speak with him.
“Connor doesn’t have any friends,” countered the African American General as they continued their trek deeper into the base. Pointedly he added, “And he doesn’t talk to anyone.”
After everything that he’d sacrificed for TechCOM and the cause it was hard to be treated like nothing other than a number. That was what he felt like: a number and nothing else. It was hard to be a ghost. In many respects it would have been better to be dead. Then at least – if there was any order to the universe – then he’d know what happened to Kyle. For now all he wanted were answers and these dickheads weren’t giving him any. Part of him wanted to slug Perry and just beat him until he was a bloody pulp at his feet; if only it would solve anything that was exactly what Derek would have done.
As he passed beneath the alcove to the inner chambers, “Fine. I’ll find him myself.”
“Reese,” said an annoyed Perry as he gave chase to Derek, but the Lieutenant ignored him and kept going. He walked right passed the guard for the Command Center and stormed into the complex to find Connor and force him to tell him the truth. He could still feel General Perry following behind him like a lost puppy trying to get a kid to take him home with him from school. He turned and walked toward the stairs when he saw something unimaginable.
Time seemed to slow to a stop as each and every beat of his heart echoed in his ear like a drum. Lieutenant Reese’s mind was moving at warp speed but his body wasn’t quite capable to keep up as she walked toward him. Impassive, her expression devoid of any and all emotion. She looked at him with the stare of a researcher examining a new prize. The former CO of the Horsemen’s hand slammed toward his hip.
“METAL!” He screamed at the top of his lungs as he pulled the Desert Eagle from its holster. The machine kept coming for him without a second thought as he cocked the pistol. It wouldn’t do much against a battle hardened infiltrator, but maybe she’d kill him in the crossfire and then he’d be back with his brother. His finger went to the trigger as the machine pulled her sidearm from its pouch at her side.
As Derek pulled the trigger a hand pushed against his arm making the bullet miss the machine and tear into the concrete wall. Perry’s voice echoed in his ear screaming ‘No!’ as he put his entire body weight into keeping Derek against the wall.
“She’s a machine! She’s one of them!” Derek kept repeating over and over.
Perry’s finger flew up in warning to Cameron, “No, damn it.” His finger came down and pointed at Reese, “She’s one of ours.”
Flashes of rage ran through Reese’s head. He wanted to kill all of these people. They had become collaborators, the worst of the worst. The machines had tried to wipe out humanity and now humanity was allying itself with them for some nefarious purpose. What could it be? Did everyone just lay on their back and let the machines carve into them while he was a prisoner?
Then Perry laid it all down to him. He explained about how the skinjobs were being reprogrammed and were now being used by the Resistance on their missions. It was a lot to handle, but Perry went through everything like an instructor preparing his prized pupil for an exam. The machines had worked with TechCom to capture Topanga Canyon and this new base. Through it all they still wouldn’t tell him anything about Kyle which made him feel like someone had carved his heart from his chest. The Resistance had – in Derek’s eyes – fallen to the machines. One of his best friends was the cause of Judgment Day. Kyle was probably dead. It was too much to handle.
Perry told him that the next morning he would be shipping out to Serrano Point with him so that they could get sitreps from General Mason’s team on the progress of converting the old power plant into an effective base. Derek was to go to quarters and sleep before their long journey, but the Lieutenant knew deep down that sleep would not come. How could anyone sleep with the enemy being right down the hall.
He was wrong. He hadn’t survived that Skynet hell, he’d died in it and awoke in another.
After returning from the mission Earl Wise and reprogrammed Series 888 machine Joshua had gone to the gym for a sparring match so that the machine could teach him some effective tactics should melee combat be his only option like it was against the 900 Series. After hearing several words of caution from the skinjob about the risks of hand to hand combat against a machine because of their superior strength and ability it finally agreed to the training.
All in all Earl believed that he surprised the machine with his abilities. With every blow the tin can had leveled somehow Earl dodged and returned – including scoring a pretty effective hit against the skull assembly that Joshua said would have caused severe damage on the battlefield. While it had been rewarding it was also very taxing on his already tired body so Earl decided to skip chow and went to his cabin for some sleep.
After about an hour or so of rest – and a dream about a beautiful sunrise in Death Valley - Earl shot out of bed after hearing a chorus of screams and the ricochets of automatic gunfire. There was no way Skynet had found them this quickly. It wasn’t possible. He pushed his body into automatic and pulled his equipment from the cubby holes. With one hand he slid his pants back on and with the other he readied the AP50 that had been assigned to him when he joined the Resistance. Anything else was illegal to have in a private domicile and Connor had stressed that point.
He ran down the hall as fast as his body would let him and even pushed himself beyond what he thought was his maximum tolerance once or twice. In this world disconnecting pain was a way of life and that was one thing he was good at doing. As he rounded the turn into the corridor leading to the lab he heard an explosion rip through the chamber. Things had just gone worse than ever. Skynet had to have found them – it was a full scale invasion all over again. Dust was flying everywhere.
“Sometimes they go bad,” he heard from a voice not much different than Major Allison Young, “No one knows why.”
Earl pointed the gun at the two standing inside the chamber and kept his finger on the trigger. The sounds of boots pounding the concrete of Depot II were coming closer and closer as he moved inside. “Report.”
“Joshua reverted to previous operating mode,” informed Cameron matter-of-factly. “He attacked the lab complex and recovered an M-16 Assault Rifle. I would surmise that he was attempting to find John to terminate him.”
Derek Reese kept looking between the two. He looked a bit rattled but no worse for wear. Had he tried to take on the machine by himself? “And you people want to keep them around here as pets?”
“They have their uses,” was all Earl said as he approached Joshua. “Any idea why he reverted?”
“Data unknown,” was Cameron’s answer. “Any number of factors can cause reversion to initial programming defaults. It is possible that he had damage to his processor chip, an unexplained power interruption that restored the backup files, an unknown system error. As humans say the list goes on and on.”
Captain Wise knelt beside his sparring partner of only a couple of hours ago and surveyed him. Damage to the processor could have done this. Was Earl the cause? Had he done something during their sparring match that caused the machine to revert and go on a killing spree again? He had to know.
“Get the chip to Dyson,” ordered Captain Wise with crossed arms. “He’ll want to analyze it to find out.”
Cameron shook her head, “I am unable to comply.”
“Can you quit talking in robot speak? It’s a pain in the ass and annoying the hell out of me,” Derek chastised.
“I am unable to comply. My processor has been reset; however, my basic functions are still being monitored. I cannot initialize modifications to my base program for fear of restoring factory defaults.”
Reese rolled his eyes, “Whatever.”
Earl was more concerned about the chip, “Why can’t you comply with removing the chip?”
“The damage caused by my attack has fused the chip,” said the machine, “All data will have been lost.”
“Convenient,” charged Reese. “No way of finding out the truth. I’m sure you planned it that way.”
The reprogrammed infiltrator looked at Reese, “That was not my intention. It was an unfortunate side effect of my attempts to stop the attack and to prevent the machine from killing you.”
“Likely story,” Reese still wasn’t convinced. “I’d be more likely to believe it had your kind not killed the majority of humanity!”
“Cool it both of you!” Who would have thought that Earl’d ever be the voice of reason? “We have a lot more to worry about than just explaining what caused this machine to go homicidal and we can’t cry over spilled milk. Let’s move on. Cameron, clean this up and get the remains to Colonel Dyson and his team. Maybe some good can come of this.”
Reese laughed, “We’re naming them now?”
Wise didn’t bother to respond to that, “Lieutenant maybe you should return to your cabin and get some sleep. General Perry wants to move out at oh five hundred and its already something past two. Go get some sleep.”
Reese and Wise exchanged a look, “Fine.”
He stormed off again leaving Earl alone with Cameron and the remains of Joshua. He stared at the machine that had just gone on a rampage and just had one question repeatedly play through his mind: Is this my fault?