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.

Like an Avenging Angel

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]

ON THE HIGHWAY TO UTAH

     If anyone had been able to see through the van’s darkened windows, they would have seen a pair of tall, grim-faced twins, a short, dark, balding muscleman, and a child of angelic beauty. Alissa’s golden hair curled to the center of her back and she looked adorable in a little blue sundress and white sandals. She carried an adult’s white purse that was almost as big as she was.
     The purse contained all of their identity papers, driver’s licenses for each of the Terminators, the deed on their new house, the van’s registration, and several thousand dollars in cash, all that Clea thought they would need to get them safely to their new location in Utah.
     The older Infiltrator didn’t know that Alissa had gathered all of this material in one place, and would have disapproved if she had known. But to Alissa it felt right, and since she didn’t really trust her older sibling, she went with her feelings.
     Alissa was looking forward to getting settled in. She was long overdue for her next growth enhancement and the sense of being off schedule tormented her. Once in a while, to distract herself, she checked her sister’s computer to view whatever Clea was looking at. She wasn’t interested in communication so much as she wished she was in a more interesting place than the endless expanse of rolling sagebrush outside. New York was enormous, filled with buildings of staggering size and teeming with life, at once fascinating and revolting.
     For the most part, like the Terminators, she ignored the often spectacular scenery they were traveling through. Occasionally she would take note of a suitable spot for an ambush, or places for the automated factories.
     But for the most part this land was empty and, as far as she could see, always would be. She flicked her inner vision back to the busy New York streets. That was where the war would take place. There, along the Mississippi, and on the West Coast. Soon, she hoped. For now, this empty land was a good place to begin laying plans and manufacturing allies.
     “I’m hungry,” she said eventually. “Pull in to the next available place.”
     The Terminators didn’t acknowledge her order; there was no need. Even voicing it aloud was mainly a matter of training herself in humanizing her mannerisms.
     They did have supplies on the van, but she was bored and wished to begin socializing both herself and the Terminators to the degree that any of them was capable. You really couldn’t terminate humans effectively if they had warning.

DUFFY’S DINER, UTAH

     The restaurant was clean, with a black-and-white tile floor and chipped Formica surfaces; it smelled of cooking but of no particular food or spice unless it was hot oil. The four of them took a booth where rips in the plastic cover had been carefully patched with duct tape, and a waitress in a pink uniform and comfortable-looking shoes came over with plastic-coated menus. The menus were slightly sticky to the touch.
     “Blue-plate special’s chicken-fried steak,” she announced to the puzzled machines and Infiltrator.
     “Chicken… fried… steak?” Alissa asked. She had a ridiculous mental image of a fowl flipping meat onto a grill.
     The waitress grinned. “You never had that, honey?” she asked. “You dip the steak in the same kinda coating you use for chicken, then you fry it.”
     “Interesting,” the Infiltrator said. It didn’t sound very healthy. “We will have that,” she said, handing the menu back to the woman.
     The waitress raised her brows and looked at the Terminators. In her experience, big, tough-looking men usually didn’t take orders from little blond moppets.
     “You boys okay with that?” she asked doubtfully. They handed back the menus and just looked at her. “How would you like those steaks cooked?”
     Alissa blinked as she considered this. It felt like a trick question. “Until they’re done,” she said after a moment.
     The waitress looked at her, a look that said, “Don’t give me any more nonsense, kid.” “Rare, medium, or well-done?” she asked tersely.
     “Ah, medium,” Alissa said. That sounded like a safe choice.
     “To drink?” The waitress’s voice hardened slightly under their unwavering gazes.
     “Just water,” Alissa said. If the dinner was unhealthy she need not compound the error with fluids made with a surfeit of sugar or caffeine.
     “And you boys?” The waitress stood with her pencil poised over her pad.
     “For all of us,” Alissa told her.
     The waitress sniffed and shook her head as she moved off; maybe they were playing some kind of road game to keep the kid entertained. Who cared? The girl seemed polite enough.
     Alissa looked around the room with interest. All of the furnishings seemed to be at least thirty years old, some of the advertisements included. At least those advertisements that took the form of clocks or lights did. Two men at the end of the counter were looking at her. They smiled at her and waggled their fingers in a friendly way. She just looked at them until they turned away.
     The waitress eventually returned with their food and placed a plate before each of the Terminators without comment, dropping the last one in front of Alissa, who picked up her fork.
     “What do you say?” the woman asked, frowning and smiling at the same time.
     Alissa and the Terminators looked at her mutely. The waitress glanced at the Terminators somewhat nervously. “What’s the magic word?” she prompted the Infiltrator.
     This female has gone mad, the I-950 thought. She was certain that most humans didn’t believe in magic. Had she done something to precipitate this condition?
     “Thank you,” the waitress said carefully. She glanced again at the Terminators, then back at Alissa.
     “You’re welcome,” the I-950 said, equally carefully.
     The waitress laughed. “Enjoy,” she said, and moved off chuckling.
     Alissa watched her go nervously. Insane humans were unpredictable and, she’d read, often unnaturally strong. Strong as a Terminator? she wondered. She’d have to look it up.
     Her excellent peripheral vision told her that the two men at the counter were watching her. The I-950 frowned as she sawed at her meat. Was there something strange about her? She studied them carefully.
     They seemed ordinary enough. One was about fifty, with glasses and graying hair. The other was younger, perhaps late twenties, early thirties. That one had dark hair and was thin. Their glances became more furtive and the way they occasionally spoke to each other made her think they were talking about her. With a slight adjustment of her ears she listened in.
     “So, whaddaya think?” the thin one asked.
     “Definitely potential.” The older man glanced at her again. “Could be a real winner.”
     “Should we go for it?”
     After a long pause the older man said, “Big risk, might not be worth the trouble.”
     “Yeah, well, you gotta take the opportunities life sends ya. We gotta do something, for Christ’s sake.” The thin man took a sip of his coffee. “We got bills to pay.”
     The older man snorted and took a sip of his coffee.
     “Let’s see if any opportunities present themselves, okay? No point in doing things the hard way if you don’t have to. And those three boys look plenty hard, if you get my meaning.”
     As far as Alissa could tell, this conversation had nothing to do with her; in any case, it was irrelevant at the moment. She continued to eat steadily, her higher metabolism allowing her to eat adult volumes of food with ease. The waitress, when she returned, complimented her on it.
     “I was very hungry,” Alissa told her. “Are there facilities here?”
     The waitress pursed her lips in amusement and indicated a corridor to her right, moving aside when Alissa slipped out of the booth. “She’s cute,” she said to the Terminators when Alissa was out of hearing. They just looked at her. “So,” she said crisply after a silent moment, “you gonna have dessert?”
     As one, the three Terminators looked toward the bathrooms.
     The waitress rolled her eyes. “Coffee, then, until your little girl gets back?”
     One of the men at the counter threw down some bills and left. The other headed for the rest rooms. The waitress took note, estimating with a glance that the crumpled wad of money would pay their check.
     “Coffee,” the senior Terminator said at last, the answer its decision tree had offered as the best response.
     The waitress nodded and cleared the table; and she made a bet with herself that these weirdos wouldn’t tip.

Clay Radcliff was proud of the fact that, like the Boy Scouts on whom he had occasionally preyed, he was always prepared. He never left home without a nice clean handkerchief and his little bottle of chloroform tucked into his belt pouch. He lurked in the men’s room, the door open just a fraction, watching for the glorious little moppet who was soon to be his little movie star.
     Alissa finished her business, washed her hands, and disdained to use the endless linen towel that had apparently never been changed. Wiping off the wet on the skirt of her dress, she walked down the hall back toward the Terminators.
     Clay swung out behind her and with practiced ease clapped the handkerchief over her small face, pulling her tight to his soft stomach as he dragged her into the men’s room.
     Unexpectedly the little brat clawed backward, obviously aiming for his groin. He barely got his leg up in time to protect himself, and even then she grabbed the muscle with the force of a metal clamp. Clay gasped in pain, his mouth wide open in agony and surprise. He swung her off her feet and the girl began to pummel his legs with her sharp little heels. Each kick was like a hammer blow and Clay spread his legs, trying to get away from the punishment.
     Desperately he pressed her body against the wall, clamping her there with all his weight. Still she wriggled and kicked. Damn but the kid was strong! When the hell was she going to black out? Usually they went down instantly. He was getting dizzy from the goddamned fumes and she was still bucking like a bronco!

Alissa’s computer enhancements worked hard to overcome the effects of the chloroform. They warned her that if she didn’t break free in ten seconds she would succumb. The I-950 continued to fight. The slight differences in the muscle attachments in her arms and shoulders gave her a strength far beyond her size and years; and there was a greater flexibility built into her joints that allowed her to perform feats so unlikely that no ordinary human could anticipate them.
     She folded one leg behind her, pointing her foot, and rammed it upward into the man’s groin. He gasped in agony and his grip on her arms loosened. The I-950 twisted her arm free and reached up and back.
     The man didn’t even have time to react to the touch of a tiny hand on his throat. One moment he was folding over the agony in his groin, still trying to keep hold of her, the next he was thrashing on the floor, clawing at thin air, blood spraying from his throat, spurting from his mouth. He fell back, choking, his eyes bugging out in horror, the blood turning to a fan-shaped spray as he tried to scream.
     Alissa’s powerful little hand had snapped his windpipe like a paper straw.

Out in the parking lot Gil’s fingers beat a nervous tattoo on the van’s steering wheel. He’d been in position for over five minutes and he was feeling very conspicuous. Nobody sits outside an emergency door in a van with the motor running for no reason. Anybody who noticed probably wouldn’t think that reason was a good one. Most likely they’d think he was waiting for someone to finish robbing the diner.
     He wished. Robbery carried a fairly light sentence compared with kidnapping.
     Hurry your ass up, Gil! he thought fiercely.
     Three minutes later he slammed his palm against the wheel and opened the van door. He moved to the emergency door and opened it with exquisite caution. Gil breathed a sigh of relief when no alarm sounded. He peeked through the crack and saw no one in the short corridor; there was no sound from either bathroom.
     Gil looked around; no one was watching, so he slipped inside and moved quietly to the men’s room. Pressing his ear against the door, he listened and heard water running. Carefully he tried the knob and it turned. Gritting his teeth, Gil opened the door and slipped inside.

The little girl washing her dress in the sink looked up at Gil, who stood frozen, staring at the man lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. Slowly he turned to gaze at her sweet, expressionless face and innocent blue eyes and wondered if he was having a nightmare.
     She blinked at him and Gil shook his head. Her hair was drenched with blood and her face and arms wore flecks of blood so tiny it looked as though they’d been applied in a fine spray. He took a deep breath of the fetid air in the tiny room and nearly gagged on the complex mixture of blood and feces and disinfectant.
     Gil knew that somehow this beautiful little girl was responsible, that somehow, like an avenging angel, she was the answer to all the prayers of all the kids he and Clay had ever hurt. He pressed his back to the door and all he could think to say to her was “no,” over and over, half plea, half denial.

Alissa stared at the human. Then she smiled slightly, watching him pale as her expression changed. “You should have knocked,” she said gently.
     He turned to open the door and she squatted to pick up the chloroform-soaked handkerchief, then sprang up and grabbed him, her legs clamping around his arms so tightly he couldn’t dislodge her. The man shrugged and struggled, opening his mouth as though to shout. The I-950 pressed the handkerchief over his mouth and nose, effectively gagging him. Within seconds he began to totter. Apparently sensing his danger, he began trying to bite her, but Alissa easily kept his jaws apart. Then he slammed himself into the bathroom door. She grimaced and held on, extending her senses to see if anyone had heard the sound. Apparently the crash had been more significant in the bathroom’s small confines. No one commented, no one came.
     Her computer tested the man’s vital signs and concluded that he would shortly be unconscious. The I-950 lost patience; shortly wasn’t soon enough. She took one hand from his mouth and felt along the column of his throat. The man tried to shout, making muffled sounds, then tried to turn his head, obviously meaning to shake off both of her hands, almost succeeding in actually moving. Alissa found what she was searching for, and with a flex of her fingers she felt his hyoid bone snap.
     That should hurry things along, she thought with satisfaction.
     For a moment his struggles became more violent, then he fell forward. The computer confirmed unconsciousness and she let him go; pushing herself upright, she stared down at him. A brief spasm passed through the body and it voided, finally going limp. That was good. She hadn’t wanted any more blood to contend with.
     As she scrubbed her dress the child part of Alissa enjoyed pretending that Skynet had set up a test for her, just like it used to do for Serena, her mother/sister, a test that she had passed. But the computer part of her objected to the dissonance and with a wistful sigh she put the idea from her.
     She looked at the bodies on the floor. It would probably be best to leave here now. This incident had already caused enough delay.
     Holding up the dress, Alissa studied it. Most of the stains were gone, but there was a shadow of brownish red at the neckline. Future washings would probably remove the stain. Meanwhile she could hardly walk through the diner in a soaking-wet dress. She ordered the T-101s to meet her at the van and slipped out the back door in her underpants.

MIT CAMPUS

     The guys’ attitude had changed dramatically in just the few days that John had been gone. Wendy listened to them with growing unease.
     “I feel like I’ve been hypnotized,” Snog was saying. “I can’t believe I was making life-changing promises to some seventeen-year-old!”
     “If what John was telling us is true—” Wendy began.
     “Hey! He lied about his age,” Yam pointed out.
     “That’s because you guys were making such a big deal about it,” she said crossly. “Anyway, if Judgment Day happens, then at least we’ll have lives.”
     “His father is from the future,” Brad said dreamily. “He probably hasn’t even been born yet.” He looked around at his friends. “How the hell does that work?”
     “Not too well,” Yam commented. “At least as far as his dad was concerned.”
     “Yeah,” Carl agreed. “Imagine sending your father back through time to become your father, knowing he’s going to get killed.”
     There was a silence as they all contemplated the idea.
     “Do it to my old man in a flash,” Yam muttered.
     “Yeah, I’ve met him, I second that,” Carl said. They high-fived.
     Wendy frowned but said nothing. She listened uneasily, not liking the implied criticism of John, and not sure where they were going with this. Not knowing for sure how she felt about all this.
     On the one hand, she felt uneasy knowing that all John’s mother’s ravings were nothing but the truth; on the other, she didn’t like knowing that far from being the victim of some government conspiracy, his mother really had blown up a bunch of computer companies.
     And what would you have done? she kept asking herself. As yet she didn’t have an answer.
     “His mother must be terrifying,” Brad said, almost as though he was listening in on her thoughts.
     “I heard she was a fox,” Snog said, and waggled his brows.
     The guys started kidding and snickering about that, and Wendy listened. Maybe they were just acting out because John intimidated them. Her lips quirked in a smile. If seventeen-year-old John was intimidating, then maybe his mom was actually terrifying.
     “So what are we gonna do?” Carl asked. He looked directly at Snog.
     Snog shrugged, his eyes wide in a manner that invited Carl to say more.
     “What do you mean, what are we gonna do?” Wendy demanded.
     “Oh, c’mon,” Carl almost shouted. “When he’s around, you somehow can believe all that crazy shit. But let’s get real, guys. A father who hasn’t been born yet? Killer robots? A maniacal computer that’s going to blow up the world? That’s bullshit! None of that can possibly be real!”
     “But this is real,” Snog said. He held up the chip that John had left with them. “And he sure didn’t create this thing.” He gave Wendy an apologetic glance. “John’s smart, but he’s not smart like us, and none of us could have come up with this design, never mind actually manufacturing it. I know we all want to go into denial, guys. I can feel the pull myself. But there’s always this.” He shook the chip. “And this says it wasn’t a dream, and it isn’t a lie, it’s real. So what I’m gonna do is figure this baby out, then I’m gonna get my degree and get the hell outta Dodge before the fire comes down.”
     Wendy let out her pent-up breath quietly, tremendously relieved. If Snog had backed out on this project John had given them, the others would have followed his lead. There wouldn’t have been a thing she could have done about it, either to change their minds or to retrieve the chip.
     She met Snog’s glance and she still didn’t feel absolutely secure about him, but for now, he was on John’s side, and that would have to do.

DUFFY’S DINER, UTAH

     There had been a little spate of customers and it was a half hour later when the waitress noticed that the three men were still seated, unmoving and silent before their untouched coffee, and the little girl wasn’t back from the rest room yet. These guys are seriously getting on my nerves, she thought.
     She brought over the check.
     “Twenty-eight eighty-seven, boys,” she said with false cheer. “Hope you enjoyed it.” She stood, smiling expectantly, determined not to be intimidated by their size and their silence, even though she was.
     The three Terminators looked at her, their faces expressionless, unblinking. Then one of them took a wallet out of Alissa’s bag and extracted two twenties. The waitress, so tense she actually felt taller, began to count out change. Then, as one, they suddenly rose and walked out, paying her no more attention than if she’d been invisible.
     “Well, hell!” she murmured. Then she shook herself.
     She’d been wrong; they were good tippers. But she hoped she’d never meet their like again.

Soon after her strange customers had gone it occurred to the waitress that she might want to check the ladies’ room. She didn’t quite trust that strange little girl.
     Opening the door, she found the place in perfect order. Well, as perfect as a rest room ever got. As she went back down the corridor she decided to check the men’s room to see if it needed paper.
     A bloodcurdling scream was heard all the way to the kitchen.

He Was About to Risk Something He Really Valued Here—the Continued Respect of this Man

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]

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA

     Almost into Oregon, on the east side of Goose Lake, nestled beneath the spreading, green canopy of old-growth pines, was a small log cabin. It had one story, a stone chimney, and three rooms, one with a glass wall facing the lake as well as a state-of-the-art woodstove. It also boasted its own generator plus a slew of more esoteric gadgets. For a rustic log cabin it was amazingly twenty-first century.
     Extending out into the lake nearby was a wooden pier; a small boat with an outboard motor was tied up at the far end. The pier was so low to the water that one could step aboard easily.
     At the very end of the pier, seated in an aluminum chair with yellow plastic webbing, was a big man of about sixty. His gray hair was covered with a battered khaki hat decorated with fishhooks and a plastic badge that held a fishing and a hunting license. He wore tan shorts, white socks with sandals, and a neon-orange shirt decorated with bright blue hibiscus blossoms and green hummingbirds.
     In one hand he held a high-end rod and reel, the butt end resting on his thigh. The other hand was curled in his lap; he appeared to be dozing. Beside him a can of beer sat atop a red-and-white cooler.
     Dieter had been observing this tranquil scene for over two hours from various locations around the cabin. It appeared that there wasn’t anybody around except for him and the old man. Which made a nice change. Several times now he’d had to abort contact with someone he wanted to recruit because of a Sector presence. But if they were here they were too well hidden for him to spot. Time to make his move. He crept silently toward the pier.
     The old man’s hand jerked and suddenly held a Walther P-38, old and well maintained and deadly, the 9mm eyehole looking as big as a cannon when it settled unwaveringly on Dieter’s face. His eyes moved to the tiny mirrors on the inner edge of his oversized sunglasses.
     “Jesus Christ, Dieter, what took you so damned long?” he demanded. “I thought my goddamned bladder was going to explode.” He stood up and held out the rod. “Here, reel this in and come into the cabin.”
     Dieter stood with his mouth open, caught flat-footed. Like some raw recruit, he thought.
     “How did you know?” he asked, accepting the rod.
     “Christ Almighty, you were making so much racket I thought I was being invaded by bears. Bring the beer in, too.”
     Von Rossbach watched the older man trot up the path to the cabin for a moment; then shaking his head, he began to reel in the unused lure. He’d always said the boss was psychic.
     When von Rossbach was a young agent assigned to Doc Holmes’s unit, he’d quickly become aware that his mentor possessed an acute situational awareness. And though Doc was well schooled in every facet of covert technology, he made it plain that he preferred his agents to rely mainly on their native faculties.
     “What are you gonna do if your batteries run out?” he’d ask sarcastically. “Go home?”
     Doc could be as exasperating as he was amazing. At some point whenever they got together, he left Dieter feeling like the overconfident young student in a kung fu movie who could never get the best of the master.
     Dieter tucked the rod under one arm, the chair under the other, and picked up the cooler. In a way it was kind of nice to know that he still had things to learn. At least it means that I’m not the old master yet. And he’s never made me walk over rice paper without tearing it, or asked me to trust the Force.
     When he entered the cabin Doc was flicking switches on what looked like an incredibly complex stereo unit.
     “Siddown,” Doc invited. “Have yourself a brew.”
     He continued to fiddle with the console, though no music began to play. Von Rossbach selected a beer and sat watching him, making no comment.
     Finally Holmes took a seat himself and, indicating the console, spoke as though continuing an ongoing conversation, “Yeah, the Sector promised me they wouldn’t keep me under observation when I retired. They lied.” He put a finger by his nose and winked. “But I never made them any promises in return. What I just did then was erase the little bit of conversation we just had and replace it with tweeting birds and lake water lapping the pier.” He grinned. “I pity the poor schmo they’ve got listening in on me; his brain is probably turning to New Age paste.” Taking a sip of beer, he studied his former agent.
     “So, what brings you here to Goose Lake? I heard you’d retired to Paraguay, of all places.”
     Dieter shifted in his chair. “Paraguay is nice,” he said, a bit defensively. “A little boring sometimes, but basically very nice.”
     With a snort Doc said, “So’s Goose Lake, if you like being bored out of your mind.” He wagged a finger. “You’ve been causing comment, dear boy. What’s this I hear about you and Sarah Connor?”
     “How do you know about that?” von Rossbach demanded.
     Doc looked smug. “Remember how I said I never made them any promises? Wellll… I found a way to keep myself updated. When you left I hear you just… left.”
     “I burned out all at once,” Dieter agreed. “I couldn’t wait to get out of there. They agreed.”
     “Wanna talk about it?” Doc asked.
     “Nothing to talk about,” von Rossbach said. “There was nothing particular about my last mission that made it my last. It just was. Maybe I didn’t take enough time between assignments, maybe I should have taken a desk job instead of staying in the field.” He shrugged his big shoulders. “I don’t know; it was just over.”
     Holmes looked at him shrewdly. “I ask again, what’s this about Sarah Connor? Not like you to side with the terrorists.”
     Is that what they’re saying? Dieter thought. Of course it was, what else could they think? “Sarah Connor isn’t a terrorist,” he said aloud. His voice was flat when he said it; he didn’t expect to be believed.
     Doc raised a brow at that. “She’s not? She’s bombed at least three computer companies that we know of. Okay, two of them were Cyberdyne, but that still counts as three hits. Not to mention she’s guilty of drug smuggling and arms dealing. These are things that terrorists do, buddy.”
     Dieter sighed. He was about to risk something he really valued here—the continued respect of this man. “But what if she’s not crazy, Doc?” He looked up and met the other man’s eyes.
     Both of Doc’s brows went up at that. He sat contemplating his former agent for a while. “Not crazy,” he said at last.
     “Would you be willing to listen?” von Rossbach asked him.
     Holmes pursed his lips and blew out a stream of air. He shrugged. “Sure, what the hell, I haven’t got anything else on my schedule right now.”
     Dieter studied him carefully; if he didn’t buy this story, Dieter knew Doc would turn him in to the Sector in a New York minute. He ran one hand over his face, feeling desperate. Well, this is what you’re here for, he told himself.
     “It’s all true,” he said simply. Dieter waived his hands. “All of it.”
     For a moment Doc sat still, looking expectant. “That’s it?” he exclaimed. “That’s your explanation? ‘Cause, y’know, I’m sitting here waiting for something more. What if all I know about Sarah Connor is she likes to blow up computer companies?”
     Tossing his head impatiently, von Rossbach said, “You know more about the case than that! I know you better, Doc. I worked for you for ten years. If you saw my name connected with hers in the Sector’s files, you’d look into it. I know you would.”
     Doc waggled his head back and forth. “Okay, good call.” He went silent for a while, his eyes on the middle distance. “I have to admit I was very intrigued by that guy who shot up the police station, then ten years later showed up in a shopping mall.” He waved a hand at von Rossbach. “It was you! Except that at the time of both incidents, you were working for me, and in the first case, you were actually, physically, with me. So what am I supposed to think? I know you don’t have an evil identical twin. I know they say everybody has a double, but that’s bullshit.”
     Dieter watched Doc as he worked it through, the older man’s fingers tapping on the arms of his chair. Doc looked up at him. “Connor says this guy was some kind of robot.” A statement that was really a question.
     Dieter nodded. “I got to meet a couple of them, Doc. They looked exactly like me. I saw their insides; they’re made of metal. Rods and cams, hydraulics, a really impressive small power unit, computer controls—neural-net computers. They’re real.”
     After studying Dieter for a moment, Doc said, “So it follows that the ultimate killer computer and the Judgment Day crap… all that’s real, too?”
     “I hope not. That’s what Sarah has been trying to prevent all these years.” He bit his lip. “Unfortunately we’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it can’t be stopped. Maybe it’s meant to happen and there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it. The best we can do is mitigate the circumstances. Which is why I’m here.”
     “Yeah, Whang said you were recruiting people.”
     Doc waited him out. Dieter could feel heat creeping up his face. Only Doc could make him feel like a naive kid saying something stupid. “So I was hoping that we could rely on you to help when the time came.” There, that was it. This time he waited for Holmes to speak.
     “You’re serious about this, I can see that,” Doc said at last. “I’m not gonna tell you it makes me feel good; like you’ve found a nice hobby to enliven your retirement.” He tightened his lips to thin line, then met von Rossbach’s eyes. “But I’ve trusted you before now and been right. So… I’ll take a chance and agree to help you. But!” He held up a stern finger. “I’m not going to be party to any wacko terrorist behavior. If your girlfriend feels an urge to blow up anything else, I’d advise you to talk her out of it, or I’m gone. Got it?”
     “Yes,” Dieter said simply. “Thank you.”
     “So what do you want from me anyway?”
     “When the time comes we’ll need someplace marginally safe for people to go.” Dieter looked out at the peaceful lake. “This would make a good destination. We’ll also need your training skills.” He hesitated. “And we’ll need someplace to stockpile supplies.”
     Von Rossbach was enormously relieved. The fact that Holmes had agreed so readily meant that he’d given the matter study and thought. And where Doc led, others would follow; generations of Sector agents and allies had worked with, or trained under, the old man. He was glad he’d taken the chance and approached him.
     Doc nodded once or twice, then narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. “How bad do you expect this thing to get?”
     “Bad,” Dieter said. “Not as bad as it would have been six years ago maybe. But bad. Billions dead. End of civilization as we know it. Possible extinction of the human race.”
     Holmes nodded, his eyes on the braided rug beneath his feet, then he looked up, his eyes sharp. “I really hope she’s crazy, Dieter, if that’s an improvement on the original version.”
     One corner of the Austrian’s mouth quirked in a half smile. “I wish she was.”

“If You Turn Me In to the Cops, One Day I Swear I Will Take You Down”

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]

MIT CAMPUS

     “Who the hell is Sarah Connor?” Snog asked.
     Wendy smacked his leg. “I told you about her, remember? She’s kind of a Luddite heroine.”
     “Oooh, her,” Carl said.
     “You’re Sarah Connor’s son?” Yam asked.
     “Yup.”
     “You’re daddy was from the future?” Snog asked.
     “That’s right,” John agreed. He wondered if Snog was worth the trouble.
     “Cool,” Carl said. He leaned forward eagerly. “So how does that work anyhow?”
     “Wait a minute!” Snog snapped. “You can’t just come in here and claim you’re John Connor! Give us some proof, for cryin’ out loud.”
     John laughed at him. “Do you seriously think I carry around some kind of irrefutable ID?” He shook his head, grinning. “Call up the FBI or Interpol Web site and scroll to my name. Look at the age-enhanced photo, then look at me.” He shrugged. “Best I can do for ya, buddy. Or you could just take me at my word.”
     They all stared at him, then turned toward Snog’s computer as he began to type in an address. In a few minutes they were looking at a photo of a smooth-shaven, rather young-looking John Connor. It had been blown up from a class picture taken when John was nine.
     John took off his glasses and turned his head to resemble the photo.
     “It’s kind of hard to tell with the fake beard,” Yam objected.
     John blushed. “Yeah, I’m finding it a little hard to take it off.”
     They all crowded close to the screen to study the image, then looked at John, then back at the screen.
     “Damn!” Brad said, impressed. “It really is you!”
     “Waaaiit a minute!” Snog protested. “I thought that we all agreed with the site about Sarah Connor being a victim of government mind-control experiments and that there are no Terminators except in her mind.” He turned to John. “You want me to believe you’re John Connor, show me a Terminator.”
     John chuckled; he couldn’t help it. “Well, they’re a little unwieldy to carry around since they run about six feet tall and weigh in at about five hundred pounds. But there is this.”
     He drew what looked like a candy bar from his pocket and peeled off the wrapper to reveal a tiny series of interconnected black blocks. “This is a Terminator’s CPU.”
     They gathered around, their eyes alight with pure greed, just one step away from their tongues hanging out.
     “It’s weird,” Snog conceded.
     “How does it work?” Wendy asked.
     “Well, people, that’s why I brought it with me.” John looked at each of them in turn, making eye contact. “I won’t leave it with you, however, unless you’re prepared to meet certain conditions.”
     “Hey, man,” Snog jeered, “we could promise you the world on a string and then when you leave do whatever the hell we want. I mean, what are ya gonna do about it?”
     John addressed himself to Snog. “First of all, we’re not certain that all the Terminators were taken out of play. So if you light this up without putting it in a Faraday cage, you might find yourself being visited by a whole Terminator. Second, if you exploit this with the wrong people you might be responsible for bringing on Judgment Day. Third, if the government finds out about this you just might disappear. Fourth, if you turn me in to the cops, one day I swear I will take you down.”
     “Oooo,” Wendy said. “Tough guy.”
     He looked at her. He genuinely liked Wendy, but she was expendable if necessary. He’d hate himself, but he’d do it.
     She saw something in his eyes that caused her to back down. “So what do you want from us?”
     “When we disconnected this the Terminator was probably changing or erasing information. If it’s possible I’d like to stop it from doing anything else and perhaps recover whatever information it tried to eliminate. This could be a gold mine.”
     “Or a crap mine,” Yam interjected. He reached out one long finger but didn’t touch the chip. “Fascinating design.”
     John’s lips tightened. He didn’t want to let go of the chip, but he couldn’t learn anything from it himself and he didn’t know any scientists. These kids were the best chance he had of utilizing this resource. It wasn’t a sure bet, but then neither was any other option.
     “If I entrust this to you to work on,” John said, “you could give us the edge that will allow us to beat Skynet. But you have to know that Skynet is capable of putting agents in the field anytime, anywhere. And it’s desperate. So you can’t afford to take any chances. Which means you can’t show or tell anybody about this without my clearance.”
     “Why would you trust us?” Snog asked, sounding for the first time as though he was willing to cut John some slack.
     “I’ve checked you guys out,” he said. “You’re all brilliant, this work is definitely within your capabilities. You have access to facilities that I don’t. And, you’re close enough to my age that I felt I could trust you.” Actually, that wasn’t true, but he thought they’d like hearing it.
     The guys looked smug, but Wendy said, “Hey, wait a minute! You just met my friends tonight. How could you possibly have checked them out?”
     John could feel the color rising in his face. “Uh. There was a slight—”
     “Invasion of privacy,” she snapped. Her eyes glittered with fury. “How dare you?”
     “I’m sorry, Wendy, I really am. But if I hadn’t been able to check you and your friends out, I wouldn’t have been able to come here.”
     She crossed her arms. “Yeah, well, I did a little checking on you, too, when I got interested in Sarah Connor’s story. You’re wanted for murder.”
     With a sigh John rewrapped the CPU. “I’ve never killed anybody in my life,” he said. Well, nobody human. Do sentient killing machines from the future count?
     “What about that ‘I’ll take you down’ stuff?” Snog mocked.
     “Nice to know somebody here knows bullshit when they smell it,” John said.
     Snog laughed. “He’s all right. “He held out his hand. “I’m in.”
     The relief in the room was palpable and Brad, Carl, and Yam all offered their hands as well. Only Wendy sat scowling at him. “I want you to promise me you’ll never invade my privacy again,” she said.
     John shook his head. “I can’t promise that. All I can promise is to respect your privacy as much as I can.” He could see that she didn’t like that. “Somethings are greater than our personal likes and dislikes,” he explained. “I genuinely don’t like making you unhappy with me. But I’m not going to lie to you if I can help it. What I’m trying to accomplish, what you’ll be helping me to accomplish, is more important than any one person or their privacy. I won’t abuse it. That’s all I can promise.” He met her eyes, willing her to believe him.
     “I don’t like it,” Wendy said frankly. She turned her head away, then gave a half shrug; looking back, she frowned at him. “I’ll have to get back to you on it. Meanwhile”—she looked around and let out her breath in a little huff—“I’m starved. Who’s up for pizza?”
     “Thought you’d never ask,” Carl muttered.