Ian’s right hand tensed around the pistol grip of the plasma launcher. His thumb was poised over the trigger and his little finger rested on the safety detent. The two buttons would have to be pressed together for the launcher to fire. In anticipation, the young man’s breathing had become ragged and irregular.
“It’s okay. Stay calm,” Zella whispered. Her hand still rested on his shoulder. “You can do this.” Her breath was warm on his ear and cheek.
“I can do it,” Ian repeated to himself. He took in a deep breath and held it.
“Just a few more seconds ... ready …,” Zella paused, observing something in her peripheral vision that sent up warning flags. “Stand down,” she whispered urgently. “Stand down. We’ve got movement … a lot of movement. Guthrie … Taylor … security.” She waved them to the entrance of the small room and returned her attention to Ian. “Stow the optics and get ready to move.”
“But … ,” he tried to protest.
“Change of plans.” Zella met his eyes. Her face softened almost in despair. “We can’t win this one.” She turned and peered carefully out the window to the open street and the surrounding blocks below. Four terminators were converging on the one they had originally targeted. They were armed to the teeth and as fearsome as any demonic, mechanical killing machine could be.
The units appeared to be a security detachment scouting the route as if something or someone important was about to pass. They split and took up positions in front of the building directly opposite of the team’s location. Spotlights flooded the area. The intense beams refracted off the misting rain to create a hazy, surreal bubble in the midst of the enfolding darkness. A low rumbling could be heard in the distance.
“Something big is coming.” Zella glanced around her team, judging their diminishing level of calm. “We may have to leave in a hurry,” she informed them. “When this goes down, don’t look back and don’t slow up. Someone has to make it back to give the report.” Her voice was firm with no hint of fear, but it lurked just beneath the surface. They had been in situations like this before and lived through it, but everyone knew that their luck was due to run out.
Taylor and Guthrie had posted themselves on the opposite sides of the doorway. Now, they reached across and tapped their fists together in solidarity. They rechecked their weapons making certain they were ready to fire.
“Ian, stay with the guys. If you get separated, we’ll try to meet at the sanitation station on the edge of town. If you don’t see us by daybreak, we’re probably not coming.”
“I’m not leaving you.”
Zella was about to address his reluctance to follow orders with sharp words, but she was interrupted by rumbling that accompanied the approach of a massive semi. It was three-quarters the width of two lanes of traffic and armed with gun turrets along the top and sides of the trailer. The monstrosity screeched to a halt, its tires skidding over the broken asphalt as the air brakes wailed like a dying animal. The entire vehicle exhaled an enormous, final rush of air sending up a cloud of dust. Support legs from the trailer extended slamming into the ground as it expanded to twice its original width. The entire rig hummed as it powered up.
“What the hell is that?” Zella asked.
“It’s a portable time machine.” Ian answered coolly. He crouched beside her.
Zella eyed him. “And how would you know?”
“It’s the reason John Connor put me on your team. We’ve heard rumors that this thing has been operating in your sector. Skynet’s been using this mobile unit to evade our raids. We have to stop it.”
“There’s no way. I’ve never seen this much firepower in one place. Maybe if we had an army behind us … .”
The other two glanced at one another knowing they wouldn’t have a chance if shooting started.
Zella considered the situation. “You two get out of here and try to be quiet.” Guthrie and Taylor hesitated. “I said, now. Me and the rook have some work to do.”
They shrugged as they gave in and moved toward the exit doing their best to watch where they stepped. Scooting out the doorway, they vanished.
“Now it’s just you and me,” Zella said. They were alone. “Why didn’t I know about this when you came onto my team?”
“Sorry, we don’t have time for that now, but I promise I’ll tell you if we live through this.”
“I’ll hold you to it. So, can you at least tell me what’s going on?”
“I think so. Skynet has decided to go back.”
“We already know that. They’ve been sending terminators back since the beginning of all this.”
“No, Skynet wants to go back.” Ian stressed the word. “It’s occupied a T-X chassis and it wants to go back in-person.”
“Why the hell would it do that?” Zella was annoyed. It didn’t make sense.
“We don’t know. Maybe it thinks it can take over completely in less time or avert the war altogether. Who knows what it’s thinking. Whatever Skynet’s plan, it’s definitely systematic and logical. You can bet on it. Always trust a machine to do the math.”
On the street, the side door of the trailer slid open and a figure stepped out onto the few steps that led down to the black top. It stood for a moment, turning its head slowly from side to side and taking in its surroundings.
“It can’t be.” Zella was incredulous. “John Connor.”
“It’s not.” Ian said. “John was hurt two weeks ago. He’s been walking with a cane ever since. Meet Skynet, the destroyer of our world.”
To Be Continued