This Tendency to Brood Might Well Be a Side Effect of Her Chemically Induced Rush to Maturity

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]


     Clea sat absolutely still; one small part of her consciousness monitored the activity of the Terminator on the roof as it upgraded their solar power system. The (highly capable) remainder of her mind was learning from the future experiences of Serena Burns.
     When she’d been younger Clea had very much enjoyed these lessons, particularly those which allowed her to view Burns’s exchanges with Skynet. Especially those moments when Skynet actually took possession of Serena’s implanted computer, essentially becoming Serena.
     Now she found that they depressed her, reminding her forcefully of what she would never have, never know. Once she actually took up her assignment, Clea was certain that her emotions would settle down. This tendency to brood might well be a side effect of her chemically induced rush to maturity.
     Certainly she found Serena’s lightheartedness inappropriate and her cheerfulness obnoxious. Clea was glad she’d never met her progenitor face-to-face; the I-950 was sure she’d have been unable to avoid terminating Serena.
     The memory she was reviewing today was of Serena’s time with the soldiers of the future, when she was infiltrating the enemy in the human-Skynet war. She closed her eyes and saw Lieutenant Zeller coming toward her. This was how she saw all of these memories, from behind Serena’s eyes, as though they were happening to her.


     “Burns,” Zeller said, looking grim. She made a gesture that indicated the Infiltrator should follow and stalked off.
     Serena tilted her head, then followed. As she walked she reviewed all of her actions from the past week and found nothing to worry about. Yes, she’d managed to get poor Corpsman Gonzales killed, but there was no way the lieutenant could connect her with it. She’d risked directing a small herd of T-90s to the Corpsman’s station behind the lines. Such lines as they had.
     True, it had been a calculated risk; there was always the chance that someone, somewhere, might be monitoring in hopes of detecting such signals. But finding the source in the middle of a firefight when the whole episode had lasted mere seconds was remote in the extreme.
     Besides, Zeller always looked grim. It was just as likely she wanted to recruit the Infiltrator for some hazardous, secret attack. If so, excellent. She wouldn’t be able to return to Zeller’s unit, but some other, distant group would take her to their collective bosom.
     They made their way to a secluded glen and Zeller turned on her heel to glare at Burns. “I don’t know how you did it, but I know you killed him!” she snarled.
     Serena blinked. “What?” she said. “Who…?” It could, after all, have been one of a lot of people.
     “Gonzales!” Zeller stepped a little closer, shaking her head, her mouth a bitter line, her shoulders slightly hunched forward. “He liked you! He liked everybody, and all he wanted to do was help people. How could you?”
     The Infiltrator allowed her mouth to drop open in feigned astonishment and she couldn’t help it—she laughed, trying to make it sound nervous. “What the hell are you talking about, ma’am?” she said. “I wasn’t anywhere near Gonzales when those T-90s found him! There’s no way I could possibly have had anything to do with his death!”
     Serena watched Zeller straighten up, but her glare didn’t diminish. Instead, contempt twisted her attractive features into something like a sneer.
     “I haven’t trusted you from the first moment I saw you,” she said. “Sometimes you can just smell trouble, and you, Burns, stank of it from day one. I’m gonna be watching you, bitch! Watching who you team up with, watching who you go off with. I tell you right now”—she shoved her finger in Serena’s face—“they’d better come back alive!”
     The Infiltrator gave a deep sigh and reached out, intending to break the lieutenant’s slender neck. Instead, the sweeping hand met Zeller’s knife; Serena clamped down on the pain and clenched the fist, jerking the human’s weapon away.
     Zeller’s eyes went wide as Serena’s face stayed mask calm despite the bloody wound. “You’re one of them,” she gasped, snatching fro the plasma rifle slung over her shoulder. “But you can’t be—”
     “Inefficient.” Serena batted the muzzle aside as the burst of a stripped ions tore past her ear. If you’d just shot, you might have gotten me.
     Zeller clubbed her across the side of the face with the butt of the rifle, and Serena caught her in a bear hug and began to squeez. Knees, fists, and a small holdout knife struck her again and again. With what must have been the last of her strength Zeller plunged the knife into the I-950’s side, high up, as though seeking the heart.
     Serena felt the knife puncture her lung and gave the lieutenant a fierce, impatient shake. If she couldn’t smother the stupid bitch, breaking her spine would do nicely. With a gasp Zeller went limp and the Infiltrator dropped her. Infrared confirmed that the body was losing warmth. Not something the cleverest human could fake.
     With a spasm of coughing Serena fell bleeding beside the corpse of Lieutenant Zeller and lay watching the leaf-shadow rustle against the sky while a few hopeful crows looked down and waited. She woke one of the T-90s she’d secreted nearby in a resting state, gave it her location, and ordered it to come to the dell and destroy itself in such a way that it would look as though she had done it.
     The T-90 acknowledged the communication and broke off.
     Laying her aching head back down and rolling onto her side to avoid drowning in her own blood, Serena ordered her computer to moderate the damage she’d taken so that she wouldn’t die before help arrived. She could actually feel the bleeding slow as veins and arteries clamped down, almost stopping the flow.
     Without a doubt she would need time to recuperate in the base hospital. She licked her lips. Perhaps it was time to move on. Zeller might well have revealed her fears to someone eles.
     There was a clicking sound. The T-90’s approach. Serena saw it come up over the rim of the shallow little dell and closed her eyes, allowing herself to go unconscious, confident that the Terminator would follow her instructions to the letter.


     Clea frowned. There! That was exactly the sort of thing that annoyed her about her predecessor. Failing to take notice of how those around her might interpret her actions, having no backup plan. What if Zeller had decided to accuse the Infiltrator in front of a crowd? It was obvious that all Serena had planned to do, if she’d even planned anything at all, was to bluff.
     Such lax behavior had been a hallmark of all her missions. It was the product of overconfidence, in Clea’s opinion. Which, given the many successes that humans were having at the time Serena was sent back, was inexcusable.
     Letting out an annoyed breath, Clea bit her lip. She was supposed to be learning from these studies, yet all she seemed to be gleaning from Serena’s experiences was how much she disliked her.
     With a shake of her head she rose and went to her lab. At least there she could be doing her own work, not imitating her highly unsuccessful “parent.”

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