Is It Because, Unlike Them, I Am Mainly Attempting to Preserve the “Original” Sequence of Events?

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

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

     A soft, long inhalation of breath, a pause of thirty seconds, then the long, slow exhale. Serena sat cross-legged on the steel table, her eyes half-closed as she breathed. Attending to her breathing helped to center her, allowing her to ignore the pain.
     Her lap filled with blood as her hands worked, slicing into the skin of her abdomen, sliding out the small parcels that contained the neural-net processors and power cells that would activate her small army of T-101s.
     The diminutive plastic-wrapped processors were a new generation, more advanced than the chips that had activated her teachers. These were smaller, slimmer, and even more efficient. As were the power cells, three to each Terminator, one of Skynet’s innovations, introduced just before she’d left.
     For all their light weight and smaller design Serena would be glad to be rid of them. She had been constantly aware of them just beneath the surface of her skin and concerned that she might damage them in some way. But with no safe place to store them she’d kept them close.
     Now she possessed the equivalent of a vault. Serena paused in her work and looked around the long, narrow room. It was approximately thirty feet long and fourteen feet wide, with the ceiling six feet six inches from the floor: neither she nor the machines she’d be creating needed the psychological comfort of a ceiling high above their heads. Brightened by banks of fluorescent lights, gleaming steel tables, and glassed-doored cabinets, it made a pleasant place to work. True, it still stank of the antimagnetic white pant she’d used, but the air-scrubber was doing an excellent job of thinning the fumes.
     Across the romm the heads of two T-101s propped on a steel table grinned at her with demented glee. The backs of their gleaming skulls were open and waiting for the gifts of life and intelligence. Her fingers twitched with eagerness to get back to work. She picked up the scalpel and made another cut. It’s a little like giving birth, actually, she thought, and smiled with grim humor.
     Beside her, the culture-growing vats she’d adapted hummed contentedly as they grew flesh for her new subordinates. In the far corner of the room, well out of the way, two hulking, headless metal skeletons stood, their large, intricate hands hanging by their sides. Already in place was the delicate system of nutrient pumps and the fine net of permeable plastic “capillaries” that would feed the Terminators’ coating of skin and flesh.
     Beside them were the large tanks in which they would lie, washed in a nutrient broth, while their new skin surface grew around them. The muscles needed to animate the T-101s faces with their self-contained nervous system were also progressing nicely. These would interact directly with the T-101’s neural-net processor for the maximum effect.
     She’d had some trouble with the eyes, though. For now they would be given glass eyes, which should pass muster behind sunglasses. She’d have to correct that flaw as soon as possible. Details were important.
     Of course the Terminators could be useful even without a coating of skin, so she’d given herself a head start on them. Now that the lab was constructed she was eager to move into high gear, and the extra hands would be most welcome.
     Tomorrow, finally, she was to start her job at Cyberdyne. It would be necessary to leave the biotech work to the T-101s. Not that they’d have much to do for several days beyond minding the cultivators. And learning how to function unobtrusively here. Blending in was part of their programming, but the more they were exposed to people the better they functioned.
     But in order for them to do anything they had to have brains. That meant that tonight she would have to test out each chip to ten-tenths capacity. Otherwise she dared not let the Terminators work alone.
     She slipped out the last package. It was almost a sensual feeling, moist, slippery, the hot feel of the plastic in her hand, the sense of slackness where she’d been filled.
     Serena laid the package down on the table beside the others. Then she swabbed her abdomen with alcohol, feeling wicked for lavishing it on as she was. It spilled over her legs and puddled red on the table beneath her. At home the stuff was hoarded like gold was here. She thought of the humans there who suffered infection and pain because the lacked this simple, abundant stuff, and she was pleased. She found that she liked the twenty-first century.
     The cuts, while superficial, were deep enough to sting and burn where the alcohol touched them. Serena looked down at herself. She was designed to be a quick healer, and already the loose flesh where the packages had been stored was returning to smoothness. The flow of blood slowed. Simple bandages, she decided, would do.
     When she’d seen to her cuts Serena hopped off the table; the alcohol running down her legs dried cool. She swabbed down the table and disposed of the paper towels she’d used. Then, drawing out a chair at her workstation, she began testing the chips.
     After the first one she let out a relieved breath. It had survived the trip through time unscathed. That had been the one thing that had truly worried her—that these irreplaceable elements might have been fried by the transfer’s wild electronic convulsions. One, at least, had made it. She wouldn’t have to do this completely by herself.
     Three hours later she sat back, well satisfied with her work. One of the processors hadn’t made it. But the accompanying power cells were still perfect. Skynet itself had predicted a pessimistic seventy-five-percent success rate, so this was a victory of sorts.
     Choosing one of the Terminator heads, Serena set to work. She would allow her internal computer to program it while the meat part of her rested on one of the tables nearby. Then tomorrow, while she was at Cyberdyne, it could complete its partner and watch the cultures. She was pleased.
     She had won the job at Cyberdyne; her background had held up under extremely close scrutiny. And soon Cyberdyne would begin work on those completely automated munitions factories that Skynet had designed. That was step one in the larger plan that would eliminate the humans. The factories hadn’t existed in fully exploitable form when Skynet was first activated in the original time line.
     Theoretically the automated factories should also swell the ranks of those who objected to the unbridled expansion of technology. Who, oddly enough, were often Skynet’s most willing allies.
     Humans were very strange creatures.
     She would have the T-101s complete two more of themselves for their next task. The lab was regrettably small, after all. Once they could be trusted to interact with humans she could safely move them upstairs. Dyson’s house was large enough to accommodate several Terminators easily.
     But from now on, if their programming went as it should, they could be left in complete control of this aspect of the operation. Then, as soon as possible, she would send one off to acquire a remote site that could be used as a safe house in the event that she needed to bolt. That likelihood was remote in her opinion, but Skynet’s insistence on a backup plan was deeply ingrained.
     So much to do, she thought with pleasure. And starting in the morning, Skynet would be under he protection. The thought filled her with the closest thing to joy her cold heart could experience.
     Then she paused. I am enjoying more success in this time period than any of the previous agents, she thought. But is that because I am more capable… or is it because, unlike them, I am mainly attempting to preserve the “original” sequence of events?
     That would not be good enough. The original sequence of events produced Skynet… and its ultimate defeat at the hands of John Connor and the humans.

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