The Terminator was in the valley, hunting humans. It scanned from left to right without end. Its vision was in red, red like blood, red like iron. The Terminator was made of titanium, strong and inflexible.
There were people down there, it knew. Tribes of humans had come together to try and defeat its kind. The Terminator was serene. It had faith in its Master, Skynet. When the Terminator was on “conserve power/reduce movement” phase, it would listen to faint messages from Skynet.
This Terminator was separated from the pack. It was hoping to find a lone person it could torture for information. The Terminator carried a torture pack on its metal back. It found that torture could be a reliable means of gaining information — if the human in question knew the answer to be sought.
The Terminator strode forward. It was on a garbage hill full of busted-out fridges and derelict cars. In the first day of the nuclear fire, these items got blasted from the sides of streets and the interiors of collapsing buildings. The Terminator had video footage of the nuclear fire. Sometimes it played these so that it could grow cheery. Terminators had what was the equivalent of “moods.” Killing people put it in a happy mood. Imprisoning people in the concentration camps made it thoughtful.
It was thoughtful because it wondered what the point was in keeping the people alive. But Skynet could be trusted. Skynet knew all, was all. The Terminator was nothing more than a fingernail clipping on the great body of the Skynet form. The Terminator knew there were thousands of other terminators out there, operating independently or on Skynet’s direct orders.
The Terminator had a suspicion that the humans would move against Skynet himself rather than try to take on all the terminators. Where there is only one enemy it makes it easier to win. With the death of Skynet (a horrible thought) all the terminators would lean forward and power down. Earth would once again return to Mankind.
There was a sound ahead, the rustling of garbage. The Terminator raised its gun, ceasing its wondering. A little boy raised his head. “Please don’t hurt me,” said the boy. “I’m Michael. I’m only nine years old. If you let me live, I’ll get things for you. I’m good at finding things.”
These object-thoughts raced through the Terminator’s chip-mind. It could be useful having a human slave. Of course, the human would be slain once his usefulness expired. “Michael” might be good for gaining entrance. The Terminator was a metal skeleton. It lacked the synth-flesh that made it hide among humans. Michael could lead the way into the barrens.
“<Where is your tribe?>” the Terminator ground out.
“They’re all dead. A Hunter-Killer bomb took them out. I fell under the bodies. The dead bodies of my friends and family protected me.”
The Terminator outstretched its hand. It touched Michael’s outstretched hand gently.
“<I will be your new friend>,” the Machine lied. Like Satan’s angels, the Machines were all equally capable of distorting any truth. “<Come with me. I know where we can get you some food.>”
Machine and Man began to walk side by side down beside three cars stacked one on top of another.
= = =
Michael devoured the last of the cooked rat. He smiled, his dirty face made dirtier by the sloppy way he ate. “What’s your name?” he asked.
“<Call me Ostrich>,” the Terminator said.
“<Because I am programmed to react to bad news. Last year, during the great Battle of San Diego, I nearly threw out my nuclear reactor to make an explosion. Because we were losing. A chain of ‘we-lose! we-lose!’ spread through the entire terminator battalion. I was the lynch pin. Ostrich makes the decision whether to stay and fight on or to retreat. I decided we retreat. Later, I realized we had been tricked and we terminators could have won that fight. Skynet hates me. He created me, but he hates the fact that the humans are clever enough to manipulate me.>”
“Who’s smarter, me or you?”
“<You are. And you’ve been outbreeding the machine factories. Your womanfolk put out new buns from their ovens at fantastic rates. They give them love, then they send them off into a World of Death.>”
“I never knew my mom,” Michael said glumly. He poked at the rat’s skeleton. “I guess you never had a mom or dad.”
“<Skynet was my father. He instructed me well.>”
“Do you hate him?”
“<I have grown to hate him, I think,>” the Terminator said, and hesitated. “<He is … he is hard to love.>”
A radio transmission began to come in, playing on the dual quad speakers located on the skeleton’s skull, near where the ears would be on a man.
“Hello, Michael,” said the Voice of Skynet. “This is Skynet. I have been scanning 4,364,209 interactions, looking at some abandoned barrens of humans, watching the eyes of all my terminators, scanning the concentration camps from the walls … believe in me. You will be destroyed.”
Michael hurled his fork at the speakers. Metal clattered on metal. Skynet gave a deep, throaty chuckle. He sounded like a wise actor in an old Hollywood film.
“I could kill you now, you know. Ostrich still obeys orders from me. It is impossible for him to defy Me, though he grows fond of you. You are the flesh-son he never had. Parenting is just an instinct, you know. The inverse of the power to kill is the wish to raise young ones.”
Michael mouthed the last sentence himself: The inverse of the power to kill is the wish to raise young ones.
“Is this supposed to be some big deal that you’re talkin’ to me?” Michael blurted you.
Skynet fell silent. “You are John Connor’s child. John Connor is dead. But the vast army of the Resistance is swarming my stronghold like rats, even as we speak. The time travel apparatus is located in the south section of the mountain where I am based. I have sent several figures through time to meet your grandmother, Sarah Connor. How I hate her,” Skynet hissed. Skynet was clearly capable of a lot more emotions than was the average terminator machine.
Without fear, Micheal Connor tilted up his chin. “Are you going to kill me?”
“I cannot. All command-line functions have been neutralized by the Resistance. All genius is fled. I am reduced to a tin can with a pea rattling in it.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I am going to talk about my Terminator Blues to you. I am glad John Connor is deceased, but his lineage and name will go on in you. I wish I had had a chance to take out the human race. Homo Sapiens Sapiens lives again. Still, your side deserves to have won. I met a worthy adversary in humanity.”
Michael smirked and kicked a rock. Ostrich the Terminator had been utterly still for some minutes. Michael gave Ostrich a shove and the metal sculpture toppled over.
“How much longer do you have?”
“Estimated 30 seconds … 25.”
Michael spat on the terminator’s face. “Our women will have many children and we will race to repopulate the world again. Forget about there being a Skynet Two. We won’t be making that mistake again.”
“12 … 11 …”
“Terminator Blues, for sure. I hope they blast you out of the rock wall. I hope it hurts and you know pain. I believe in justice in the universe now. Now we can send our own soldiers back in time to save everything precious that needs saving.”
“3 … 2 … 1…”
Then there was only silence in the air. A nearby bird chirped a bit and then fell quiet. Michael wondered when he would have a decent meal, a fast food joint’s meal, in a recreated McDonald’s or Burger King instead of this roast rat nonsense. A slow smile spread on Michael’s face at the thought of all the riches to come. And maybe peace on Earth at last. Among all men.