Derek Reese didn’t pretend to be an educated man, but one thought that always kept popping into his head these days was from his high school biology course. It was his freshman year of high school – little did he know it’d also be his last – and he had a course load from hell filled with little courses that he really didn’t want and really didn’t need. There were of course courses that he liked, like Shop and Physical Education, and then there were the courses that he hated, like History, Home Economics, and Biology. So far the only course that had helped him was History. It was all because in his last year of school he did a project on what would be his home in the future: the underground tunnels between the buildings of Los Angeles. Home Economics was worthless (who cared about baking cookies when you had to eat rat for dinner) and Biology, so far, had been useless except for one key little factoid that he could never forget. An organism must learn to adapt if it is to survive.
No one could say that humanity hadn’t learned that biological imperative. Every day of life in this new world was filled with finding newer and cleverer ways of surviving to live just another day. Humanity got smarter, but so did the machines. Because of their own mistakes, mankind made the very creatures that would supplant the human race as the dominate form of life on the planet. Derek hated that. The survivors were paying for the mistakes of their parents and now humanity was about to die because of it. The refugees were finding less and less survivors and more and more machines that wanted to kill them during the patrols. It was like something out of a horror movie fed nightmare.
Now the machines had found a way of striking a more destructive blow. No matter who you were or what you did if you found a living human you were excited and you felt better than ever before. It was this very fact that led to Skynet adapting yet again. Skynet started to get creative and started putting machines wrapped in rubber onto the ground with the express orders of killing as many humans as possible. For a while it worked, but only from a distance. The further away you were the more likely you’d think that the rubber skinned bastards were real people. When you got close you’d see that they were the exact opposite. The rubber was good, there was no disputing that, but it looked fake the closer you got and it withered away within days revealing the metal skeleton beneath the surface. In the beginning Skynet was tricking people left and right, but humanity adapted. Humanity changed.
Then, apparently, so did the machines. Skynet took all the information that it had from the Series 600 and made a new endoskeleton. They brought forth something more deadly than ever before. It created these infiltrators - if Kyle’s source was to be trusted (which Derek doubted). It couldn’t be true. How could skin be grown just for metal? What made it live? Did these infiltrators eat to keep the skin alive? Did it smell real? Did it sweat, have bad breath, and bleed? It was a ludicrous idea. It just wasn’t possible. There was no way what so ever that it could be true. Machines couldn’t have a living component.
Nevertheless, the machines had proven that they were constantly trying to find ways to improve themselves. If it were true that’s exactly what they’d done. They’d made people, but that was impossible too. No matter how advanced the machines became they would always lack that spark of life that made a human a human. They’d never love, they’d never be afraid, they’d never feel anything. They’d always lack that one little piece of person that separated man from machine. The metal bastards could never have that. They’d never have a soul, but did anyone have one of those anymore? No one was innocent; no one was a good man or woman, not even kids these days could claim innocence for their crimes. They’d all lied, they’d all cheated, and only a few had been lucky enough not to have to murder to survive. If they had souls Derek knew with every fiber of his being exactly where he and the rest of humanity were going to end up. Truth be told it couldn’t be much worse than the world he already lived in; if it existed at all.
While he walked down the old cinderblock corridor he heard the doors open in the distance and the dogs started to bark in frenzied agony. His first thoughts made him wonder what the hell they were barking about so spiritedly. Then his mind reached the point where he realized they were just excited to see new faces (like the rest of them always were). That was when John Connor’s words returned to him and replayed over and over in his mind. Dogs could tell friend from foe. Then he heard that old familiar sound. People screaming as a plasma rifle spewed its deadly payload.
Another scream this time with a single, deadly phrase, “METAL!”
“Protect the children!” Another yelled.
Derek pulled the phased plasma rifle from his back right as he saw it approaching. It was a man, or at least he thought it was a man, who looked unlike anything Derek had ever seen before. He was tall and powerfully built; too powerfully built for someone growing up on scraps of food and garbage. His face was the same quality as a magazine model and was without a single blemish upon its porcelain like skin. Kyle’s mysterious informant had been right about it. This machine did look human. Everything about him looked like he was made of flesh and blood not a heinous mix of steel and flesh. On a battlefield he would’ve had one thing giving him away. The gun he carried was certainly not standard issue for a human or even something that the fittest among them could ever dream of wielding. It was the size of a minigun, but it was far more deadly than the already destructive weapon. A minigun fired bullets, this was firing beams of concentrated plasma at speeds far greater than a human mind could count.
Derek held out his diminutive in comparison plasma rifle and returned fire against the machine. It was of no effect. He scored several direct hits against the chest of the metal monster, but it didn’t even step back or flinch. A hit that would’ve knocked a six hundred on its ass ten feet away was just brushed off by this new foe. In the blink of an eye the enemy repositioned itself and pointed the barrel right at Derek’s chest. Pushing his body to the limit he jumped just as the machine pulled the trigger. Dozens of pulses slammed into the wall where Derek had just been drilling holes through to the other side but somehow missing him entirely.
“Goddamn metal bastard,” Reese cursed as he hid behind the broken wall. The machine kept walking forward while Derek planned his next move. More and more plasma bursts slammed into walls and, sadly, people during Reese’s moment of indecision. Plaster rained upon him like fresh snow as the onslaught continued around him. He was better than this. Why was he letting the machine make him look like a fool?
Getting back to his feet he pointed the gun and pulled the trigger only to find that the tin can wasn’t there anymore. It’d moved on but where was it going? There were only a few key points that it could track down if this machine followed standard Skynet tactics. So far everything about the automaton, despite its resilience, was following the beaten trail. The power center was fitted with the emergency generators that powered the base so they’d be high on the target list to allow for an invasion. The barracks were another source because the machine could kill a lot of people there – not that there were many to begin with in the first place since the evacuation was just sounded. Then there was command and control: his brother Kyle. That had to be it. The machine would go for his brother. It only made sense.
Reese vaulted over the barrier and started running down the hall. He had to protect his little brother; the rest of them could take care of themselves.
Allison Young was famished though that was a feeling she’d gotten used to during the long years of the War Against the Machines. To even getting a moment to eat with her friends and, dare she say it, family was welcome to her after having been on patrol for so long; though, even getting the time to eat alone was something she rarely had time for. She was always busy with some task or another. Whether it be planning an operation, running patrol, or playing nursemaid to her wounded comrades she always had something on her plate. Now she was just grateful to have some food on that plate.
The meal could’ve been a bit larger, but beggars certainly couldn’t be choosers and she was happy with what she had. Their cook of the day, Timms she assumed, had been able to make some bread and, somehow, someone had caught one of the stray deer that’d escaped from the Los Angeles County Zoo and had survived for so long. A part of her hated that a living, breathing, being had given its life to sustain her. The other side of her body was crying out for some sort of nourishment. After a silent apology to the creature and thanking it for its sacrifice, she bit into the wonderful sandwich she’d made. Her years of stockpiling made her hold back from gobbling the food up like a pig; yet her stomach cried for more. As she went to take another bite both her stockpiling and stomach were overrode when the alarms began to sound.
“Has ta be another drill,” Andre Sumner tried to reassure her as he set down his dirty piece of bread. “Da machines haven’t been able ta find us so far and I doubt they did today. We’ve been to smart for dem.”
“Don’t be so sure,” she answered him. “This is a day of firsts after all. The first day any of us have had some meat in years other than the rodent variety. Plus, there was no drill scheduled for today. I would’ve known.” As well she would have. She had often helped Derek, John, and Kyle prepare the invasion scenarios.
Andre thought about making a comment about meat, her, and John Connor - their supposed messiah - but he held his tongue as no to provoke his beautiful friend. Instead he got up from the table and extended his hand to help Allison get up from her side. “When we make it outta dis one I’ll hunt you down a cow and make ya a hamburger. Dat way you get more meat on your skinny bones.”
“I’m sure you will,” she sighed and got up from the table. “Not like any of us have anything better to do. I hope Kyle doesn’t,” she shut up midsentence when she heard it: the familiar whine. She looked at Sumner who was just as on edge as she was. She had to ask but his face all but screamed in confirmation, “You heard it too?”
Sumner flipped the safety of his rifle to the off position and started down the hallway with Allison mere inches behind him. Neither of the two had had formal military training of any sort; though, a lifetime of running away from thinking machines had given them a degree from the school of hard knocks. Now they rivaled any of the soldiers from before the fall of mankind. Allison, however, had made a tremendous mistake. Thinking she was ‘off duty’ she’d left her weapon in her cabin when she went to eat. All she had by her side was her Glock 17 pistol. Not that it’d do much good in a fight if Skynet’s army was invading other than giving an endoskeleton a battle hardened look. Pistols and non plasma weapons were mainly used to defend against other humans and that was the extent of their usefulness. You could, sometimes, take out lesser drones but that was with a hell of a lot of luck.
The two soldiers slowly made their way down the long corridor keeping their backs flat against the wall as they walked. The less exposed the better off they’d be in a firefight. Both of them scanned the cramped confines looking for anything that was out of place. They hoped that if there was something that was missed that the other would pick up on it and compensate for the other’s failing. That wouldn’t happen today. During the drills they’d both done this hundreds of times and they knew what to expect and pretty much when to expect it. Today they just got the chance to put what was once theory into practice.
Theory became more real the moment they reached the front door. Only minutes ago they’d both left here and it was a secure port in the storm. Now it looked like a tornado had ripped through it tearing it to shreds. Bodies lined the floor with their cauterized wounds still giving off an acrid smelling smoke that billowed upward. A stray plasma pulse ripped into the masonry above them and caused light chunks of plaster to rain upon the ground. The dog kennel where Allison had been playing what felt like seconds ago with her four legged friends brought only sorrow as she looked at their lifeless bodies. Allison felt sick to her stomach looking at all the carnage around her and she wanted whatever did this to pay. How could anything, including Skynet, kill defenseless people and innocent animals?
She already knew the answer, but never had it hit this close to home. Every day before this they’d always been able to escape before the machines got this far that they struck in what they felt as safety. When the Series 7T Hunter Killer was destroyed they’d all assumed that it was over and that they’d somehow held back the machines for just another day. They’d even convinced themselves that they wouldn’t have to move and that the machines would move on assuming that the humans had left in fear. That was their mistake and now several living, breathing people had already paid the price for their failure.
It wasn’t over yet though. In the distance she heard the sound of a plasma rifle being discharged. The steady, repeated sounds were oddly like the notes from a song. Allison missed music. Her mother had been a teacher and an accomplished pianist. Her home as a child had been filled with Chopin and Beethoven. Now music only came from their guns. A bittersweet symphony if there ever were one. She looked at Sumner who stood with his rifle pointed up the small set of stairs before them.
“We need ta get goin,” he reminded. “That machine’s still down here killin’ our friends. We have ta help dem.”
Allison was in no position to argue. As she was bending down to grab the rifle of Cullen that was when she saw it. Through the open portal to the outside world the peaceful serenity of the water was being disrupted. Ripples and waves spread through the water like a tidal wave was coming for her, hunting her. Metal fins protruded up from the muck filled dankness and then she saw it erupting upward like a dolphin coming out to play. This wasn’t a playful animal. A hydrobot leaped from the water and came right for her with metal pinchers clamping shut over and over. Somehow she moved right in the nick of time and missed its sharp claws by mere inches (the metal fingers had slid through her hair as she dove cutting away part of her brown locks). She turned on her back and emptied the clip of her pistol into the machine that flopped around like a fish out of water, but she knew it was already too late.
The machines could talk to each other, it was a long held theory that was confirmed when John joined them, and this robotic hunter had undoubtedly already sent the messages home. Its big brother was the first wave and this little guy told her that more were on the way and helped to point out the door. She looked to Sumner and he was already running to the door having reached the same conclusion that more would be coming. Right as he started pulling they could hear the repeated firing of machine guns in the distance. Andre had been lucky just as she had been. The bullets managed to miss hid head, but only barely as he struggled to pull it inward. He slammed down the bar sealing the old pressure door; nevertheless, both knew the truth. They were out of time. Skynet had found them and was striking harder than ever before.
Instead of signaling the already active invasion alarm this time she sent another message. It wasn’t her place to make this choice, but there was no alternative. Holding down the control stud the alarms suddenly changed. The new message that each of the survivors, each of her friends, was hearing told them that the situation was untenable. The soldiers of Skynet had come for them and this time there was no defending their home. They’d have to run through the emergency escape tunnels to one of the prearranged safe zones. It was the only way that they’d be able to survive.
Slamming the spent Glock into the holster around her leg she picked up Cullen’s plasma rifle. She flipped the switch putting it into live mode and checked the shot levels. With a full clip of 99 shots in the pulse rifle she started through the antiquated tunnels looking for the nearest escape hatch. As she struggled to keep up with Sumner – not to mention remember her training as it slid like sand through her fingers – she had one thought cross her mind. It wasn’t a thought about herself. The thought wasn’t about her training or where she’d go when she escaped from her hell bound home. Her thoughts were about one man.
“John where are you?” She said in a whisper so low she wasn’t even sure Andre could hear.