“Are you sure you're alright handling this?”
Kyle scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Christ Sarah, it's not like I've been fighting a war since I was born. I think I can manage taking care of the hideout for a few hours.”
Sarah gave him a look, and Kyle grumbled, shifting his eyes away. She huffed, placing her hands on her hips.
“You know what I mean Kyle.”
“Yeah I know what you mean,” he said quietly, “I've got it under control, Sarah. I'm not even going to go near him unless I absolutely have to.”
Sarah smiled at him softly, standing up on her toes, while Kyle bent down just a bit so their lips could meet in a small kiss. Kyle did his best to smile, which was enough to convince her not to linger on him. She lowered herself back down and turned, walking towards the exit of the underground bunker, Pops waiting for her by the door. The old Terminator looked up at Kyle once Sarah had passed through the doorway, and spoke.
“The magnetic field is operating at full capacity. I have installed a backup generator in case anything happens to the main power supply. Do not tamper with the magnetic devices, Kyle Reese.”
“Don't have to tell me twice.” Kyle snorted, crossing his arms. “You guys be careful too.”
“'Careful' has varying degrees of-”
“You know what I mean.”
Pops tilted his head just barely, then turned, following Sarah up the stairs and out of the bunker. Kyle turned around, looking down the rows of gun racks to the slightly deformed door that separated him from John. A constant hum filled the air now; the presence of the magnetic field that Pops had installed to keep John from completely reforming and being able to regenerate, Pops had said. Theoretically. So far it worked, Kyle figured. Nothing had come out of the room or made a sound since it had been activated.
He set himself to his daily tasks, cleaning any guns that needed maintenance, checking ordnance and ammunition inventory, and finally sitting down to watch television. Before news of Skynet's survival had reached them, Kyle had basked in the privilege of boredom, which had rarely been afforded to him during the war. Simply laying on the raggedy couch that they had dragged down and sifting through the channels had become cathartic.
Or rather, it had been.
Knowing John was just twenty feet away, separated only by a foot of concrete and a couple rings of wire made Kyle shift and squirm on the couch. He found himself unable to get comfortable, looking back at the door every few minutes and listening for any signs of activity. Finally once he'd settled down and begun to grow immersed in the screen in front of him, a piercing howl sent him flying off the couch, pistol drawn as he ducked down.
Kyle stared at the door, the muffled screams piercing through the thick barrier. He shuddered, setting his gun down and slowly standing, starting to edge his way towards the door. The cries of pain didn't stop, and Kyle grew more and more frustrated, walking faster and swinging the door open.
“Stop it!” he barked, pausing immediately afterwards to take in the sight before him.
Pops had set up three large rings of steel and wiring, each of them hooked up to long cables that lead across the floor, to a series of rigged power lines that continued on out through a hole in the cement. Each ring was sized slightly smaller than the last, forming a trio of concentric circles. Within the center was John, or at least, what he'd been able to make of himself.
John's head, neck, shoulders and the left half of his torso were able to form. His left arm too, reaching uselessly for the magnetic ring that was just out of reach. The rest of his body was reduced to its basic nanite structure, waves of rippling gray attempting over and over to make his lower body and legs. Again and again they failed, the field just strong enough to keep the cells unstable.
“Jesus...” Kyle muttered, watching the machine struggle and writhe. He watched as flesh attempted to grow along John's hand and wrist, torn away after a few seconds after forming.
John writhed for a few more seconds before noticing Kyle, his eyes locking on the man and staying fixed, even as he ceased his struggling. Once he quit his attempts to reach the magnetic ring, the nanites calmed, and gathered as best they could to form his body. Metallic bones and muscle grew upwards, until his lower body and legs were able to build themselves halfway up, the rest of him remaining in a pool of nanites that were constantly fighting the magnetic pull.
“John what did they do to you...” Kyle whispered, eyes taking in the grisly sight. John rested his head back on the cement, eyes flickering as he looked away.
“Your sentimentality is pointless.” he groaned, clearly in pain. “You're as stubborn as you were back when we fought together. But back then at least you would listen to reason, now you're just like talking to a brick wall. Judgment day is going to happen, it has to happen. Humanity has had its time in the sun, and now it has to accept fate.”
“You said it yourself that there was no fate but what we make for ourselves. You told that to me.”
“I said a lot of things, Kyle. I'm sorry that I mislead you for so many years.” John responded, a constant underlying crackle in his voice due to the nanite disruption.
“Listen I would've fought beside you-”
“Not about that.” John snorted, “About hope. About being victorious. It was a lie that I didn't even realize myself until Skynet helped me.”
“Fuck, John, listen to yourself, if you're even capable of that. Don't you understand what's been done to you? Do you even comprehend what you've become? Skynet brainwashed you, it tortured you into this...whatever the hell you are now! John you told me you couldn't be reasoned with, or bargained with, but you aren't some skinjob playing dress-up, you're John Connor.” Kyle pleaded, keeping himself in the doorway but leaning forward a few inches into the room. He grasped nervously at the sides of his cargo pants, bunching them up in his fists over and over, watching John from afar.
“Yes, I am.” John responded quietly, staring up at the ceiling. His voice was barely audible over to hum of the magnetic field, and Kyle decided to take a few steps towards the rings so he could hear better.
“You survived what Skynet did to you, you're still alive, you can fight this John, please – just try.” Kyle urged, walking to the edge of the outer ring. “I know you didn't want to do what Skynet made you do, I get it – I promise, John, I understand-”
“Understand!?” John snapped, causing Kyle to jump back slightly. The nanites began to swarm around his half formed arms, coalescing to grow full limbs. Even as the powerful magnetism pulled at his fingers, John began to crawl towards Kyle, dragging his torso and the swirling, distorting pool of nanites that relentlessly tried over and over to form his legs.
“How could you ever understand?!” John snarled, the gray teeth beneath false lips visible as he shouted, “My entire childhood, entire life – I was built to be a soldier, with a single purpose – and no choice, never a choice! Never a future except the one I had to save, for all of you people who were just too pitiful to do it without me! No 'fate' but what was forced on me before I was even born!”
“Yeah well you fucking lied to me the moment you met me! What did it feel like seeing your own father and knowing you would be the one sending him off to die in a couple years, huh? I thought you were my friend, John, I thought you actually gave a damn about me. The moment you met me you knew how and when I was going to die and you just pretended the entire time, is that it?”
John paused in his crawling, having reached the first ring. He lowered himself down, unable to fight the powerful field any longer, allowing his arms to slowly be broken down, nanite by nanite.
“If I didn't care, I wouldn't have offered you the chance to join me, dad.” he hissed, voice garbled as he was slowly pulled back into the center of the smallest ring. “My offer still stands.”
“You know I won't do that, John.”
“Then you'll die.”
“Doesn't that upset you? Do you even feel anything anymore? Did you feel anything back then, when you sent me off to die? Or was that just another check on your list to make sure you survived? Send my best friend off to bang me into existence? You didn't even seem upset. I guess the exalted John Connor had to make sure he made it, above everyone else, right?” Kyle asked, a look of disgust creeping across his face as he spoke down to John.
The machine didn't respond right away, allowing the magnetism to pull at his body once more, distorting his form into a pool of fragmenting gray ridges, his torso, arms and head the only things able to grow.
“No,” John groaned, relaxing once again as best he was able. “I told you, Kyle, you couldn't understand.”
“Stop treating me like I'm less than you! You're not better than anyone else John, not back then and not now.”
“Are you saying all of this because of what you really think, or because you're angry I'm not what I used to be?” John muttered, voice beginning to sound strained.
Kyle's eyes momentarily darted to the pool of nanites, noticing small black spots starting to melt their way through the distorting sea of gray.
“What's that?” he asked, John's previous words pushed aside as he approached the rings, eyes narrowing as he squinted to get a better look at what was occurring. The opening wounds continued to increase in size, the edges of the nanite pool starting to degrade and collapse into a black, chalky dust. The dust was pulled to the surface of the magnetic rings without any resistance at all, adhering to it instantly. John began to struggle again, pits of dead nanites growing along his torso and chest.
“Hey-” Kyle muttered, standing at the edge of the largest magnetic ring, “Hey what's going on? What's happening?”
John didn't answer, turning away, an arm and shoulder growing from the mass of his torso and angling his body so he wasn't facing Kyle.
“Will you just talk to me!? I don't want you to die, I want there to be some way to fix this!”
“There is no more fixing, Kyle.” John groaned. The silvery mass of half-formed limbs and nanites grew to be a swirling mix of gray and black, the powder of nanite corpses drawn to the magnets without resistance. Once it had been sucked off by the magnet, large open pits remained like gashes made in an ocean of silvery mud.
Kyle stared, distressed, unsure of what to do as he lingered on the edge of the third ring, watching the semi formed human become a mess of black and gray ridges. Waves rose and fell in the pool of nanites as millions died and were slowly replaced, over and over. John had abandoned all attempts at human form, the strain from the field too great while mixed with sweeping deaths from malfunction.
Slowly Kyle began to back away, sitting down against the wall and watching. His expression was worn and vacant, the man bringing his legs up against his chest and waiting.