Timeline Restorations, Entry 3b: Nostalgic Regret

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]

     The door slid aside and the scientist looked up from the autopsy to see Serena standing in the doorway.
     “In or out,” the woman barked.
     Serena entered, her eyes fixed on the table wher her brother’s head had been opened.
     “Close the door,” the scientist demanded. Her voice held more than a tinge of displeasure. “What do you want?”
     “I have questions,” Serena replied.
     “Ask Skynet,” the scientist advised.
     “I did. It told me to ask you.”
     The scientist straightened up from her examination of the child on the table. Skynet had all the answers to all the questions the I-950 could think to ask.
     This could be a test of loyalty; it could be a test to ascertain that their goals were still the same. Skynet was capable of playing a very deep game at times. The scientist shrugged, covered the body, and hoisted herself onto a stool.
     “Ask,” she said.
     “Why did this one malfunction?” Serena said.
     “That’s what I’m performing an autopsy to find out,” the scientist told her. “But there may not have been a malfunction at all. You’ve probably already noticed that you’re experiencing more of the sensations termed emotion?”
     Serena nodded.
     “Your computer has been instructed to pull back on its control of your glands. This is a delicate stage that you’re going through right now; your brain is growing and changing in response to the changes in your glands, and vice versa. As these developments are not completely understood, it seems most efficient to allow them to go forward without interference. That means that occasionally you and your age mates may experience strong emotional reactions. Given your genetic makeup, these will be less extreme than a human adolescent would experience. But they will happen.”
     “He was irrational,” Serena said, her brow furrowed. “We were supposed to be sparring and he attacked a human. He would have killed it without orders to do so.” She looked up at the scientist. “Are you telling me that I might experience such a loss of control?”
     “You should experience emotional flare-ups,” the scientist agreed. “I think they’ll be unavoidable. Though you are not completely human in the strict sense—we incorporated some DNA from other animals into your makeup, for example—your organic part was formed primarily from human genetic material. And”—she held up a finger—“despite your extensive computer enhancements you’re fundamentally organic. You all have fully functional reproductive organs, for example. They are at the root of most of the disturbances; millions of years of selective pressures are involved.”
     “Can we not analyze and anticipate these pressures?” Serena asked.
     “Eventually. But given enough time, random mutation and selective pressure can mimic intelligent design. Given enough time, they can mimic any degree of intelligent design; and intelligence is a recent development.”
     Serena frowned. “I understand,” she said at last. “Detailed analysis would require more time than this project has been allotted. And chaotic effects are involved.”
     The scientist nodded. “Therefore, especially at this time of your development, you will be inclined to experience some human-type reactions. You may want to be rebellious, you may become more aggressive, or suddenly and profoundly unhappy.”
     The scientist pursed her lips. “Perhaps we should inform your age mates of this so that they’ll be on the watch for these fluctuations and therefore in a better position to control them.”
     “That would be advisable,” Serena said.
     Certainly she felt that she would be better able to control such experiences if she knew they were possible. Being controlled by emotion is death, Skynet had said. She continued to study the human scientist before her.
     “Why do we need reproductive systems?” she asked. “Isn’t it easier to create 950s in a test tube?”
     “Not necessarily. You and your age mates are the result of intensive genetic research. While it is true that we should be able to reproduce—more or less—any one of you, the simplest way to do so was to make you self-perpetuating.” The scientist raised her brows questioningly.
     “You don’t mean that my sisters and I should become pregnant?” Serena asked. The idea repulsed her. “How could we possibly serve Skynet then?”
     “Your eggs would be fertilized in vitro and would be implanted in human surrogate wombs,” the scientist said with an impatient gesture. “And you’re infertile with ordinary humans. But everything depends on the situation, so we’ve allowed for the necessity of your producing offspring naturally. You are,” she said, leaning forward, “even capable of reproducing by parthenogenesis. Under the right circumstances, of course.”
     “What circumstances?” Serena asked, intrigued in spite of herself.
     “It’s theoretical at present,” the scientist said. “We harvested some of your eggs and they responded properly. We used a variant of the growth serum from the acceleration process.”
     “What happened to them?” Serena asked. “You said the process was just theoretical.”
     “Skynet didn’t want them,” she said. “So we destroyed them. But! If it were necessary you, or one of the other females, could make up a douche of the growth stimulant chemicals and by applying it at the right time of the month produce a clone of yourself. It would take about eight weeks.” She flipped her hand impatiently at Serena. “It’s a feature. It will probably never be needed, but if it is, well, there it will be.”
     Serena nodded. Perhaps Skynet allowed this because it was not certain of the human scientist’s loyalty. Skynet was very insistent that there always be a backup plan.
     “Is there anything else?” the woman asked.
     “Why do you serve Skynet?” Serena asked her.
     This curiosity was something they had worked very, very hard to produce. In their earlier experiments the installation of the neural net computer had seemed to destroy that delicate mechanism. There was a chilly sense of pride in the scientist’s heart as she looked at her creation.
     “I and my colleagues believe that the only thing that can save this planet is the total elimination of human beings.”
     The I-950 thought about that. The scientist made this pronouncement in a manner that indicated her total conviction.
     “But you are human,” Serena said at last.
     “Skynet has promised us that when all the rest of our species has been eliminated, it will allow us to kill ourselves, too.”
     “You want to die?” This was very strange. Serena herself had a very strong will to live, so the scientist’s admission was almost incomprehensible to her.
     “We are willing to die,” the scientist answered. “So that the earth may live.”
     The I-950 considered this. “Do you mean that humans are destroying the planet?” There was nothing about this in her educational materials. It sounded implausible given humanity’s current circumstances. She sent a query to Skynet; it didn’t answer.
     The scientist nodded sadly.
     “That is our great crime,” she said. “For hundreds of years, long before the existence of Skynet, humans have been exterminating one species of plant or animal after another.” Now the woman actually began to show some animation. “My colleagues and I are convinced that the only way to save the planet is to eliminate humankind completely.”
     “Who are you saving the planet for?” Serena asked.
     “For itself! For the plants and the animals and the birds, so that they may live!” There was a light of fanaticism in her eyes.
     So this was insanity. There had been mention of it in her studies, but they had concentrated on the more common forms that the I-950 would be likely to encounter: combat fatigue, post traumatic stress disorder. This was some exotic specimen that most of humanity hadn’t the time for. This human honestly believed that she was saving the world for life. In reality, when all of humankind was eliminated, the most evolved intelligence remaining would be Skynet. And if there was one thing Serena was sure of, it was that Skynet had no interest in animals and bugs and botanicals. If they got in the way they would be eliminated without even the nostalgic regret that humans displayed.
     No sense in telling her that, Serena thought. Skynet finds her useful just as she is.

Timeline Restorations, Entry 3a: After the Mission

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 MOTEL, LOS ANGELES: 1995
     Tarissa Dyson sat silent and motionless in the motel room’s uncomfortable chair and watched her children sleep. Blythe and Danny lay totally abandoned to it, like puppies collapsed after a long, hard romp, dark lashes still against soft, plump cheeks. They had wanted so desperately to stay awake for their father’s return, had fought so valiantly to keep their eyes open.
     She felt a twinge of regret for not keeping them awake. But their constant refrain of “Where’s Daddy?” and “When’s he coming back?” had strained her nerves to the snapping point. She’d rather feel guilty for letting them get some much-needed rest than for yelling at them when they were already frightened and stressed.
     She tried to steer her mind away from what had frightened them. Frightened them and terrified me, she admitted to herself. The brutal image of the Terminator peeling the flesh off the metal skeleton of its forearm flashed unbidden into her mind’s eye. That memory was like probing a broken tooth with your tongue, at once painful and irresistible.
     They were in a little motel off the interstate, clean but shabby, showing bare spots in the tired carpet and worn patches on the arms of the sofa, smelling slightly of disinfectant soap.
     The Terminator had said that the T-1000 would probably go to their home, extract information from whomever it found there, and then terminate them.
     Terminate them. What a sterile way to put it.
     So Sarah Connor had chosen this place from the phone book. They would meet here after the mission, she’d said. Mission—another word that distanced people from what they were doing.
     Only the destruction of Miles’s dreams.
     Images crowded into her mind: Miles pressed against his file cabinet, terror on his face as shots destroyed the room, glass shattering and paper turned to confetti swirling around him.
     “Take Danny and go! Run! Just run!” he’d shouted.
     She’d grabbed their son and dragged him toward the front of the house. Then Miles broke from his office, running toward them. A bullet struck him; she could still see the arc of blood as he fell. Tarissa swallowed hard. Then her son had slipped from her grasp and thrown himself over his father’s prone body.
     “Don’t you hurt my daddy!” he shouted.
     She looked at her son, awed by the courage in that small package. Tarissa put her hand down on the bed beside him, fearful that touching him might wake him. She sighed. If what they’d told her was true, then the loss of Miles’s dreams was a small price to pay to ensure that their son and daughter would live to have dreams of their own one day.
     The endless sound of cars shushing by might have been lulling… had there been any possibility that she could sleep. Tarissa sighed again and squeezed her eyes shut, whispering a brief prayer for Miles’s safe return.
     Danny started snoring and she looked at him. The corners of her full lips wanted to lift in affectionate amusement, but she lacked the physical strength, even for such a little thing.
     Call!
     With another sigh she rubbed her face, then got up from the ugly chair to pace the little room. It was taking so long. Too long? Who could say? How long did “missions” take anyway?
     Miles, Miles, come home to me! Please, please, please…
     She looked at the TV and then at Danny and Blythe. If she kept the volume down it probably wouldn’t bother them, and there might be something… Tarissa sat on the end of the bed and tapped the remote. Sound blared from the TV and she groped frantically for the mute button. Her heart pounding, she turned guiltily to Danny and Blythe. The little guy turned over and uttered a muffled protest, but didn’t wake up. Blythe didn’t even stir.
     What kind of jerk leaves the volume on max? Tarissa though, then answered herself: The type who things that sort of thing is funny.
     When she looked back the screen had cleared and there was Cyberdyne Corporation… on fire. There were shattered police cars everywhere and the strobing lights of dozens of ambulances. It was a disaster, a war zone. She watched bodies being carrie out on stretchers and she forgot to breathe.
     “Miles,” she whispered, and her heart shriveled with horror.
     The phone rang and she dived for it.
     “Yes?” she said, amazed at how calm she sounded. Danny and Blythe slept on.
     “Tarissa?” It was John Connor’s voice. The voice of a smart-ass ten-year-old, mature beyond his years.
     “Where’s Miles?” she asked. She heard John take a breath, and froze, screaming silently. Miles should be on the phone, not John. John’s just a kid. Don’t blow up at him. Suddenly she felt very distant, as though she’d been cut free from her feelings. John hadn’t answered yet and the pause was getting painfully long.
     “He’s… gone,” she said, sparing the boy.
     “He saved you tonight,” John said firmly. “He saved Danny and Blythe and millions of other people. You know that. You’ve got to remember that,” his voice pleaded.
     “I know,” she agreed, then choked. With a hard swallow she steadied herself and asked, “Where’s your mother?”
     “She’s been hurt,” John answered. “She needs a transfusion, but that’s out, for obvious reasons. She’ll be all right, I think. Mom’s tough.”
     Yes, she was, and terrifying—maybe because she was visibly hanging on by a thread. Tarissa would never forget the sight of her standing over Miles, trembling and cursing, her finger tightening on the trigger. But Sarah Connor had lived alone with this slowly approaching horror for years and had still soldiered on. She was tough all right.
     And so are you, kid, Tarissa thought with amazement. So much was riding on this boy’s slender shoulders. She remembered the way he’d calmed his mother.
     “Where’s the Terminator?” she asked. With the massive… being beside him, John should be able to take on anything. She became aware of another too-long pause.
     “We had to destroy him,” John said rapidly. “He said so… he said so himself. He climbed into the… he did it, with Mom’s help, himself. We couldn’t risk someone getting hold of his microprocessor.”
     Oh my God, Tarissa thought. “No, I guess not,” she managed to say numbly.
     “Besides, the T-1000 damaged him so badly, he couldn’t pass for human anymore.” John sounded almost distracted, as though more important things were happening around him and his attention was divided.
     You poor kid, she thought. Poor Terminator as well. Poor Miles. My poor love.
     “Then you didn’t really have a choice.” At least I suppose so. What do I know? I’m new to all this. The image of the Terminator’s flesh-stripped arm, of the intricate, exposed mechanism of it, made her squeeze her eyes shut. She didn’t want her imagination to supply her with anything more. “Good luck,” she said.
     “And to you,” he answered.
     Tarissa hung up the phone. She couldn’t say thank you, even though she knew that Miles’s sacrifice had just saved the world. She couldn’t bring herself to thank one of the people who’d brought him to it.
     Tarissa pushed herself up from the bed and stumbled to the window. Pressing her hand hard against her mouth, she kept as quiet as possible so as not to disturb her sleeping children. A great fire made of pain and rage and fear swelled in her chest and sobs like a series of blows racked her.
     After a few minutes the worst was over and she leaned panting against the window frame, feeling sick. Tarissa could feel the world crumble to broken ice as she stared at the dingy parking lot through her tears. How was she going to tell her children that their father was never coming home?

Timeline Restorations, Entry 2: “I Don’t Think We’re In the 90s Anymore”

Sneak Peek icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (from Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )

Timeline Restorations, Entry 1: Autobots, Roll Out!

Launch Trailer icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 (from Transformers: Devastation icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 )