The Terminator raised its head, scanning in the visual and infrared. The sound had been a medium-caliber rifle with a 98 percent probability of being a hunting weapon; it had been fired approximately 1.2 kilometers to the northeast.
It turned and walked in that direction, wading through a knee-high stream of glacially cold water, then through open pine forest. Animals fell silent as they scented its approach; that might alert the humans, and so might the unavoidable crackling of fallen branches under its five-hundred-pound weight. Otherwise it made little disturbance in the environment as it passed, dipping and bending with eerie grace to avoid the standing vegetation.
The two hunters—poachers, given that this was out of season, at night, and on private property—were stringing the deer up to a branch and preparing to butcher it. They turned with startled speed as the Terminator approached over the last ten yards. One wrinkled his nose.
“Hell, what’s that smell, man?” the shorter one said.
The Terminator’s machine mind drew a wire diagram over them both. The larger human’s clothes would be suitable; its own were saturated with decay products. If they did not see him clearly, there would be no need to arouse potential attention by terminating them. At present, both orders and its own estimation of the proper maximization of mission goals indicated stealth tactics.
“You,” it said. “Fat man. Lay down your weapons, give me your clothes and boots, and then go away. This is private property.”
The flat gravel of his voice seemed to paralyze both men for an instant. Then the bigger of the two spoke. “What did you say?”
“I said: You, Fat man. Lay down your weapons, give me your clothes and boots, and then go away. This is private property.”
“The hell you say!”
The bigger man’s accent held a good deal of Western twang, overlaying something else—the Terminator’s speech-recognition software estimated his birthplace as within twenty kilometers of Newark, New Jersey.
“He didn’t even say ‘please,'” the smaller man put in.
“Please,” the Terminator added.
“Mister, your ideas stink worse than you do,” the bigger man said, and reached for the angle-headed flashlight at his belt.
“Don’t turn on that light.”
“The hell you say!”
The light speared out and shone full on the Terminator’s face, glittering in the reflective lenses no longer hidden by false flesh, highlighting the shreds of rotten skin hanging from his lips and the white teeth behind.
A sharp smell of urine and feces reached the Terminator’s chemoreceptors from the smaller man. The bigger snatched up his rifle—Arms Tech Ltd. TTR-700 sniper-weapon system, the Terminator’s data bank listed—and fired. The hollow-point 7.62mm round flattened against one of the pseudo-ribs of the Terminator’s thorax and peened off into the darkness. The T-101 stepped forward three paces as the poacher struggled to work the bolt of his rifle and snatched it out of his hand, tearing off one finger as it came. A blow with his fist between the eyes disposed of the big hunter, and it stooped to pick up a rock for the second, who was fleeing in a blundering rush through the night. The rock left the Terminator’s hand at over a hundred meters per second, and transformed the back of the smaller man’s head to bone fragments and mush.
The Terminator appropriated the big man’s hunting jacket and hat as well as his boots. Then it dragged the two corpses deep into the woods for the wild animals to finish off; after a thoughtful pause it carved a short slogan into their chests with a hunting knife: PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS.
Their truck’s windows were only partially darkened, so that the driver could still be seen, but dimly. It found a pair of sunglasses on the dash and put them on, trimmed away the strips dangling from its lips, started the engine, and began to drive. Except for the smell and the Band-Aid on its nose that hid exposed steel, it could pass for human again, in a dim light and as long as the human didn’t get too close.