The Old Fear

Excerpt from the novel Rising Storm icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Rising Storm" book cover. [Formatted]

ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE, NOVEMBER

     Dr. Silberman was surprised to find his office door unlocked, but put it down to his having been quite tired the night before. He was even more surprised to find a short, dark stranger turning away from one of his filing cabinets.
     “May I ask who you are?” he said carefully.
     In his profession, in a place like this, it was unwise to display even perfectly natural irritation. THis might be a new resident who had wandered in quite innocently, or a new resident hopped up on drugs and looking for more, and it was, after all, his fault for not locking the door.
     “I am the new janitor,” the man said. He raised a feather duster, gripped in a massive fist, as proof.
     “Oh?” Silberman was surprised. Ralph hadn’t said anything about leaving. And usually when someone left it took forever to get a replacement. “What happened?” he asked when it became clear the fellow wasn’t going to volunteer anything.
     The stranger shrugged his impressive shoulders. “I don’t know,” he intoned. “I was told to come here from now on.”
     Silberman noted a slight accent; the man looked Turkish or Middle Eastern, which might explain his odd manner of speaking. But not his apparent desire to dust the inside of the file cabinet. The doctor frowned.
     “No one said anything to me about this,” he said.
     The janitor just stood there, staring at Silberman.
     Very low affect, the doctor mused. Maybe this was a new resident playing a role. Possibly neurological damage.
     “Well, look,” Silberman placed his briefcase on the desk. “Could you come back later? I need to get to work right now. But I’ll be out of here between two and four, so you can finish up then.” He smiled politely, trying to exude confidence; by two o’clock he should have some answers about this guy.
     The smaller man didn’t respond for a moment, then he simply walked forward, as though he intended to go right through Silberman, who jumped aside at the last second. This time he did allow his irritation to show.
     “Hey!” he snapped at the retreating back. Then he forced himself to calm down. “Didn’t they give you any paperwork for me?”
     The janitor stopped, turned his head, said a short “no,” over his shoulder, and continued on his way.
     Oh yeah, it was going to be fun having this guy around.
     “Just what this place needs,” Silberman muttered, “a janitor with attitude.”

IBC OFFICES, NEXT DOOR TO ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE

     Operative Joe Consigli dropped his feet to the floor as the office door began to open and grinned with not a little relief when he saw who it was. “Hey, buddy, what brings you around?” he asked cheerfully.
     He and Paul Delfino had been working this case together in the first few weeks after Sarah Connor was captured, until the powers that be decided only one operative at a time was necessary.
     As far as Joe was concerned this was a totally dead assignment and he was profoundly bored. Especially since Connor had been moved to the halfway house next door. Watching these weird, sad people was depressing as hell and they made his skin crawl. Having someone to help him make fun of them would be primo.
     “The head office sent me over,” Operative Delfino said. “It seems that their janitor”—he indicated the monitors that showed various locations inside the Encinas Halfway House—“was killed during a burglary.”
     “Killed?” Consigli said.
     Delfino snorted. “Boy, howdy! The guy’s head was almost twisted off. The house was trashed, but there was cash left in the poor guy’s wallet.” He shrugged. “Which made the front office think something might be up.”
     Consigli looked at the monitor. “Hunh,” he said.
     He pulled his chair up to the recording equipment and removed a tape, quickly replacing it, then he pushed the tape into a player, rewound it, and set it to play on a blank monitor. He pointed at the screen. “This is the guy who claims he was sent over to replace their janitor.”
     Delfino pursed his lips.. “Not what we were hoping for,” he said.
     Not at all. What they were looking for was a guy about six feet tall, blond, with sculpted features. This was definitely not him.
     When Dr. Ray first proposed moving Sarah Connor to a halfway house, the head office had jumped on the idea and pushed it through. Even Ray was stunned that the committee had approved his request. The organization’s theory was that surely, in such a low-security environment, Connor’s allies would make a move to break her out.
     It had been child’s play to hack into the halfway house’s security systems and begin monitoring the place via its own cameras. The team had planted a few of their own as well. But so far all they’d collected was endless, boring footage of what Consigli thought were hopeless cases and self-centered whiners; losers with a capital L.
     “What’s administration say?” he asked.
     Delfino pulled a face. “This guy is in the computer and all the stuff that needs to be in the computer to get him to Encinas and on the payroll is there. Even the paperwork, for want of a better word, that has to be done for a deceased employee had been done. The only thing is”—he shrugged elaborately—“nobody admits to doing it. Nobody even knew that this guy Ralph was dead. Weird, huh?”
     Leaning back in his chair, Consigli shook his head.
     “What isn’t weird about this assignment? Hey, maybe Connor’s bunch just wised up and decided to send somebody less conspicuous.”
     Delfino laughed. “Yeah, that’d be smart. ‘Cause wherever that big guy goes, hell follows.”
     They sat quietly for a few minutes, watching the monitors, contemplating the footage they’d seen of the “big guy” in action. Truth to tell, it wouldn’t have surprised either operative to find out that the head office wanted to find this guy so he could teach them to shoot as well as he did.
     “So we’re doubled up for the time being,” Consigli asked.
     “Yep.”
     “Kewl,” Joe said. “Someone can go out for burgers. I was getting sick of brown-bagging peanut-butter sandwiches.”
     Delfino gave him a look. “You’ve been alone in this room too long if you think I’m gonna play errand boy, buddy. You want a sandwich you can go and get it yourself.”
     “Kewl,” Consigli said, grinning at his fellow operative’s suspicious expression. It would be nice to get some fresh air once in a while.

ENCINAS HALFWAY HOUSE

     Sarah met the new janitor as she came out of the large, battered kitchen where she had been given a “training opportunity” while she “adjusted to her new environment.” In a few weeks, they’d gently promised her, if all went well she’d be “encouraged to find a job of her own.” Sarah wondered how long it took to learn to speak in pat phrases like that. It made all the staff sound weirdly alike, as though their thoughts came prepackaged.
     The kitchen job was fine with her; since she still tired easily, she didn’t mind taking it slow. Running the dishwasher and putting things away was about the extent of her duties, so she couldn’t complain, except about boredom. Which was all a matter of perception, she reminded herself.
     Oh God, she thought. I’m beginning to think in happy-talk phrases, just like the staff. If she’d felt better physically… that alone would have made her run for cover.
     But for now this place was about her speed. She could read—light fiction and self-help books—or watch TV. She’d never seen so much Disney in her life. The house had racks of their videos and someone always seemed to be halfway through one. Nothing violent or jarring or unpleasant was allowed in here. As long as she didn’t forget there was life on the outside of the halfway house, she was content for the moment.
     As she was leaving the kitchen she was vaguely thinking about her hair. It had grown out considerably and the light hair above the dark looked very odd. The light part was getting long, so cutting it was a good idea, she thought.
     Sarah almost bumped into him as he came around the corner. He effectively blocked the doorway, he was so broad; for a moment she felt trapped. It was obvious he was the janitor; he had the gray uniform, the bucket and mop, all the usual accoutrements. He wasn’t, though. A nice old guy named Ralph was.
     They stood there for a moment, looking at one another.
     “Who are you?” Sarah asked, trying to put a pleasant tone into the question.
     The face was unfamiliar, though its shape rang a distant bell. His body seemed wrongly proportioned, with the limbs too short for the long torso. He was certainly much too short to be an agent. But he was truculent enough for a species of janitor she’d encountered one or two times in her life.
     The appearance of a strange new face—and he was strange—shook her from her boredom like the scream of an air-raid siren. But it was the way he looked at her, his stillness as he blocked her way, that sent a chill down her spine and raised the hair on her neck.
     *Subject Sarah Connor found,* the Terminator sent to the new base in Utah. *Terminate?
     *Negative. Orders to watch subject remain in effect,* came the response.
     The Terminator stepped back, its eyes still on Sarah.
     She glanced at the narrow space that would allow her to pass and then back at the strange man. “Who did you say were?” she asked, making her voice hard.
     “The janitor,” he answered. Then he turned and went back down the hallway.
     She stood still after he was gone, breathing a little hard, like someone who has faced a dangerous animal that had inexplicably decided not to attack. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
     “O-kay,” she muttered through her teeth. “That was interesting.”
     Maybe he was a patient. Or maybe he was just a very weird little guy. And yet… there was something about him. Her first impression had been that his face was unfamiliar; in fact, she knew she’d never seen him. But there was something about the way he moved, or rather, didn’t.
     His eyes, she decided. She’d seen eyes like that before. His eyes were dead, without emotion. There were men like that; God knew she’d met too many of them in her travels. But this man’s eyes were especially cold.
     At first she resisted the idea, wondering if her old madness—she was far enough from it now that she could admit that she had once been insane—was rearing its head in Silberman’s presence. But over the years she’d trained herself to be honest, to look events in the face, even when a thing was painful, even when it was impossible.
     His eyes were the eyes of a Terminator. As was his stillness, and something in his voice.
     Her heart sped up, her mouth went dry while her palms grew moist; it was the old fear, the nightmare kept coming back. Sarah felt the last of her resistance crumble under a sudden, sure knowledge; the female Terminator had left an ally behind, and it had found her. Like they always found her.
     It hadn’t attacked her on sight and she took hope from that. It had been less than a foot away from her, it could have torn her in half, but it hadn’t.
     It backed off. So what did that mean? It’s hoping to make a clean sweep, she thought. It’s hoping John will come to get me out of here.
     Sarah bit her lip. She had to contact Jordan; he would get in touch with John and Dieter, warn them that she was under a more deadly surveillance than any the government was willing to throw at them.
     Then, if possible, it was time for her to get out of here, before the Terminator was too firmly entrenched.
     Well, Silberman said he believed me, that he wanted to help me. This is as good a time as any to take him up on it. But carefully. His sudden desire to be helpful could easily be a trap. She wouldn’t put it past the good doctor to be trying to get some evidence that her obsession as still alive.
     If only he knew how gladly I’d give it up.
     Sarah headed for the doctor’s office. Waiting wasn’t going to make things any simpler.
     She tapped on the door and entered when he called out his permission. Silberman looked up and flinched as he always did when he first found himself alone with her. That she still scared him somewhat pleased her. She knew it shouldn’t, but it did. He had, after all, given her a very rough time.
     “Oh, hello, Sarah,” he said, smiling pleasantly.
     Long training had helped him to recover quickly, but he knew she’d seen his fear. It annoyed him that she affected him this way, but she’d hurt him so many times. She’d broken his arm, driven a pen through his knee, and threatened to kill him in a particularly horrible way. It was hard to forget things like that, no matter how professional you were.
     Sarah stepped in, closing the door behind her, then came to stand before his desk, looking shy. “I was wondering if I might ask a favor?”
     Silberman leaned back. “Of course, Sarah. What did you want to ask me?” Inside, excitement twisted in his stomach. This could be it.
     “I’m nervous as a cat today,” she said, looking down at his desk. “It feel like the walls are closing in on me.” She looked up suddenly. “I was wondering, if I could arrange it, if it would be all right for me to go out to dinner with Jordan Dyson.”
     The doctor’s face jerked into a grimace. “You know the rules, Sarah,” he said. “Any visits or excursions have to be cleared at least one day before they’re to take place. I can’t just go around making exceptions, you know.”
     So much for your generous offer to help, she thought. “You’d be welcome to come with us,” she offered. “I think you’d find Jordan a very interesting man. He’s a former FBI agent and Miles Dyson’s younger brother. Miles Dyson was the project manager killed at… Cyberdyne.”
     “Oh really,” Silberman said, raising his eyebrows in surprise. He’d read about Dyson’s interest in Sarah Connor, but he hadn’t understood it. This would be an excellent opportunity to find out why he was being so helpful to the woman who had killed his brother.
     “Dr. Ray had several sessions with him,” Sarah said.
     Silberman blinked at that. He had to admit that he felt a certain rivalry with the younger doctor. If Ray thought it worthwhile to speak to this Jordan Dyson, perhaps he should see why. “Well,” he said thoughtfully, “perhaps we could categorize this as a sort of informal therapy session.”
     Sarah smiled. “Thank you, Doctor. I’ll go and call him, see what arrangements we can make.” Sarah turned at the door to look at him. “I appreciate this,” she said.