Kyle was curled up against the wall for nearly an hour, watching the pool of nanites whirl and contort as swaths of them died and regrew. He was powerless to do anything about it, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to. The love he felt for his best friend and son - no matter how strange that still was to him – wasn't enough to negate the instinctual fear he had of a machine. Pops was different, but a single exception didn't outweigh a lifetime of fear and horror.
“Kyle-” a voice pleaded, John's voice, emerging from the pool of nanites. “Kyle please – help me... this hurts too much..”
Kyle pulled his jacket tighter around his body, looking away. “You know I'm not going to do that.”
“Dad, please, it's going to kill me!”
“Shut up!” Kyle shouted, standing and leaving the room, door slamming behind him. He walked to Sarah's boombox that was placed on the end of the one of the gun racks, turning it on and hitting play. He turned the volume up as high as it could go, the rock music blasting out of the speakers, and drowning out the screams. Kyle walked over to the couch and fell down in it, bringing a ragged pillow over his head.
“He never cranks it up this loud.” Sarah muttered, frowning as she listened through the doorway that lead down to the bunker. The area that the underground complex had been built in was a heavily wooded forest, with tall trees bordering an old gravel road. At the end of it was a small mound of concrete that rose from the earth, old letters that had once been painted on the sides slowly rotting off.
Sarah opened the door, walking down the stairs to the hallway that lead to the arms locker where Kyle was staying. She winced, placing her hands over her ears as she entered, looking over at Kyle and shouting his name. It was pointless, with the music and the pillow that Kyle had brought up over his head there was no way he could hear her. Realizing this, she shuffled over, nudging him with her foot.
Kyle jumped up from the couch, breathing quickly then shutting his eyes and sighing when he saw Sarah and Pops. He stood, holding a hand up as he went over to the boom box, turning the music down.
“Why did you have it up so loud?” Sarah asked, frowning. “If some hunters or something had driven by they would've heard it!”
“This is private property, and no hunting is permitted for this area.” Pops added in, adding to Sarah's annoyance.
Kyle simply waited, arms crossed, until Sarah raised her head slightly, glancing behind him.
“What is that?”
“That's John. He's been screaming like that since you left. I couldn't listen to that all day, Sarah. And I don't know what I can do to make him stop.”
Sarah looked at Pops, wincing at the howls that escaped the thick door.
“He experiences pain, it is likely that is the cause.” The Terminator explained simply.
“You don't find anything wrong with that?” Kyle asked, crossing his arms, looking at Sarah. “You're practically torturing him.”
“When are you going to get off of this whole 'that's still John' thing, Kyle?” Sarah asked, glaring at him. “Even if it was him before, even if he doesn't 'want' to do what he's doing, he's not going to stop! He couldn't stop even if he wanted to!”
“You don't know what it's like to stare at the person who meant the most in the world to you and see them literally torn apart, and then have to listen to them screaming, Sarah. You don't have anyone real that you've had to care about – hell, he's your son!”
“He's not my son!” she snapped back, approaching Kyle, showing no hesitance standing up to the taller man. “I've never had a son, Kyle. That is some other Sarah Connor's son, but not mine. I can't love a name and an idea and a person that hasn't even been born yet! You can't just throw all of this at me and expect me to care about him when the entire time I've known him, he's been trying to kill us!”
“But it's not his fault, he didn't ask for this to happen!”
“That doesn't change anything Kyle, I didn't ask to be breeding stock!”
Kyle stared at Sarah, mouth open slightly. His brows furrowed and he turned, storming out of the compound, slamming the door behind him.
Sarah moved to run after him, but Pops reached out, grabbing her arm gently. She turned, looking up at Pops, exasperated.
“I don't know how to get through to him, I mean, none of this is fair! I know how he feels.”
“You do not know how Kyle Reese feels.” Pops responded, releasing Sarah's arm. “Nor does he understand how you feel. Neither of you is capable of properly empathizing with the other. It is highly unlikely to expect an emotional conclusion to these events that leaves both parties satisfied with the outcome.”
“Gee. Thanks. That makes me feel real hopeful.” Sarah muttered, sighing and walking over to the couch, sitting down on the armrest.
“Never the less it is essential that you and Kyle Reese mate despite your-”
“It is critical that John Connor be born so he can lead the human resistance.”
“Look at what he is! I can't give birth to a kid that's going to grow up to be that!” she retorted, motioning towards the door. “Besides,” she continued, starting to calm down, “We're close to getting rid of Skynet. Without John it's unprotected, and we've got almost everything we need to sneak back in. Once Skynet is destroyed there's no need for John to exist. We can have our own lives, like we thought we could. Besides...even if Skynet isn't destroyed, we can do something else besides give just one person all of this knowledge. We can record everything, make sure it survives judgment day, if there even is a judgment day, so everyone can know.”
“Continual adaptation to a future that has not occurred may be the driving factor behind Skynet's continued ability to survive.” Pops responded back. “It is possible no matter the alterations made that a constant pattern of events may unfold, even if delayed.”
“Yeah...John said something like that too.” Sarah mumbled, looking to Pops for reassurance. “Do you really think we're destined for judgment day? That it all has to happen?”
“Destiny and fate are abstract concepts. They have no mathematical principle of which to base a proper decision upon, except when certain factors repeat themselves. If Judgment day is one of those factors, it may be argued that there is somehow a 'fate' that is unavoidable. Theo-”
“Fuck.” Sarah muttered. She brought a hand up to her eyes, rubbing them and glancing at the door. John's howling had continued for their entire conversation, echoing through the underground chamber. “How can you scream for so fucking long?!” she shouted, walking over to the door and kicking it several times. “Shut up!”
“John Connor has no lungs therefor he experiences no physical fatigue. His screaming is a purely mental form of pain distraction.”
Sarah turned, facing Pops again. “Well, do something to make him stop. I'm going to go outside until he's done.”
Pops watched as Sarah walked out, hands over her ears. Once she had left the compound and shut the door behind her, he turned back to the door and walked towards it. He opened it slowly, staring at the muddled, disjointed humanoid in the center of the magnetic field.
John was still struggling, albeit with less and less effort as he had been putting forward before. A head, shoulder and arm were able to rise out of the murmuration, grasping in vain at the nearest ring. Scores made in the cement were in sets of five, deep bores made from metal fingers raking across the surface over and over. Pops closed the door behind him, watching John fight with the ever present magnetism. Eventually he grew still and silent, staring at Pops with a sharp expression of resentment.
The old Terminator approached slowly, drawing a long, thin blade from his jacket pocket. The blade didn't seem to want to separate from Pops' body, having latched up against it whilst in the inner pocket. He finally pried it free, the knife having several coils of wire around it, attached to a small box rigged to the hilt of the blade. Pops crossed over the first two rings, legs shaking as he entered the field. He was drawn towards the ground, falling to his knees upon reaching the third ring. Once near John he took a small box from his pocket as well, the metal case torn from his hand and latching up against the magnetic ring beside him.
John snarled, reaching out to try and grab Pop's jacket, but it was just out of reach. Pop's hand darted out, grabbing John's wrist and holding it tightly. John thrashed about once more, trying to pull his wrist free unsuccessfully. Pops brought the blade to John's hand, the nanites instantly being torn sideways, the magnetism of the knife and the ring fighting for the metallic cells. Pops struggled to tear the box from the ring's grasp, yanking it up towards John's hand. In the same moment he sliced downward, cutting off John's thumb, the box clamping around the joint and locking shut before it had the chance to rejoin the rest of the hand.
Pops quickly stood and backed away, each step slamming heavily to the cement floor until he was out of the field's influence. He held the box up, examining it as it rattled, the nanites inside frantically attempting to return to their body.
“A 101 can't even comprehend what I am, but go ahead and try!” John shouted, his thumb regenerating within seconds.
Pops didn't respond, walking over to a large metal box in the corner of the room. Cables from the rings trailed over to the box, attached at the base. Pops removed the cover, turning down one of five knobs. The magnetic hum lowered, and John let out a long breath as the constant pull on his cells weakened. Eagerly, the nanites returned to the main body, rebuilding his arms and legs, leaving just the silver form laying in the center of the rings.
John slowly rebuilt his false skin, clothes growing on afterwards as he kept himself curled up on the ground. Even though the magnetic field had been lowered, it was still in effect, parts of John's arms, legs and back being drawn to the rings. He tried to stand, struggling, his limbs shaking. John made it to two feet, and got one step forward before the field drew him back down to the ground. Groaning, John crawled back to the center, laying down and closing his eyes.
Pops didn't look up from the large white microscope he was bent over, staring into it as he carefully directed two long metal stylus, each as thin as a needle.
“Sarah. Has your emotional state improved?”
The young woman shrugged, sitting down at the work bench beside the machine, watching him work.
“Yeah...I guess. Kyle's being a real jerk right now, it's the last thing I need. We talked and stuff but I don't think he's ever going to get over what happened to John. It's starting to get on my nerves, honestly.” she said quietly, crossing her arms on the table and resting her head down on them.
“A resolution must be made. We will achieve a greater chance of success with his added help.”
“Wow, couldn't figure that one out. Thanks.”
“Sarcasm is ineffective in this situation.”
Sarah rolled her eyes, shrugging. “Whatever...what are you doing?”
“Attempting to reprogram a small field of nanomachines from John Connor's physical composition. They have a short lifespan if separated from the main host body. I must work quickly.”
“Nanomachines are manipulated by transmitting a series of instructions. I must find the proper transmission frequency, and once that is complete, begin transmitting attempts at overriding the preexisting code. If that is successful, I can begin work on a kill-switch signal to deactivate the nanomachines and effectively terminate John Connor, leaving no chances of future regeneration.”
“Oh...cool.” Sarah mumbled, watching him work. “I'm gonna go back into town and get some food, let Kyle know I'm waiting in the truck, okay? I'm sure a couple of beers will make him feel better.”
“Your company will also improve his mood.”
Sarah laughed, reaching over and giving Pops a small hug. The Terminator didn't look up from his work, carefully setting the long stylus down and flipping on one of several large switches on the side of the microscope.
“I cannot return the physical act of hugging at this time, as this is a crucial point in the experiment. However, the sentiment is present.”
Sarah laughed against the back of his jacket, squeezing him once more before letting go, turning and walking towards the bunker exit. Pops continued to work, a tone sounding from the side of the microscope, where two routers were wired together. He continued to stare, finally backing away after a few seconds of observation.
“I am aware of your presence, Kyle Reese.”
Slowly, Kyle stepped out from behind a tall gun rack, having been crouched down behind it. He cleared his throat, sticking his hands in his pockets, walking over.
“So is the uh...the nanomachine kill-switch thing working?” he asked, looking down at the work table.
“The results are definitive. By transmitting a frequency with a similar kill command as is contained within my own processor, the nanomachine cells will deactivate.”
Kyle stared at the microscope, then looked at Pops.
“There's no other command you can give? Nothing but the kill-switch?”
Pops stared back at Kyle, staying seated. “What is your implication, Kyle Reese?”
Kyle shuffled, crossing his arms and looking away, as if embarrassed with what he was about to say.
“Is there uh...any way you could change the signal to just deactivate the programming? The stuff that's telling him to protect Skynet?”
“You wish for John Connor to be given agency of his actions once more?”
“Yeah – whatever. It's like you said, even if he doesn't want to do these things, it's the programming that's forcing him to do it anyway. If he's got the choice, he might be able to – to, you know, be himself again.”
Pops continued to stare at Kyle for a moment, then turned back to the microscope, speaking as he began to gather his equipment.
“That is a possibility Kyle Reese. But the probability of John Connor regaining the former self that you knew him as, is considerably low. It would be unwise to chance his capabilities of return from the physical and mental trauma undergone by the transition. As I said, the other test subjects died from such circumstances. The programming gives him set commands to which he must act towards, this process can force him to stabilize and cope.”
“Please...” Kyle breathed, staring at Pops, a desperate look on his face. “Please – just let me give it a chance, let me try to help him. I promise, if it doesn't work – we use the kill-switch. But, fuck, just let me give him a chance. Please.”
Pops looked away, resting his hands on the table. He shifted his eyes back and forth, processor mulling once more over the decision.
“I am unsure of this proposal, Kyle Reese. Sarah would disapprove, and the chances of recovery are below acceptable ranges.”
Kyle shook his head, moving closer to Pops. “No,” he pleaded, “Please, he was all I had back then. He's my best friend – he's my son, he's a part of me. I can't let him go without a fight. It was weird at first but knowing the truth I just can't...” he shook his head, rubbing at his eyes and looking away. “Fuck, look at me, I'm sorry.”
“This emotional response is understandable, Kyle Reese.” Pops responded, watching him. The machine glanced away, then looked back at Kyle after a moment's hesitance. “I will attempt creation of a program override. If it is effective in ceasing the Skynet commands installed in a test of nanomachines, I will install it in polyalloy nanites to be injected into John Connor. Once in contact with his cells, it may be able to flood his systems and transmit the program override, thus deactivating the Skynet control. This is all in theory.”
Kyle nodded, an enormous sigh escaping him as he dropped down to sit in the nearby chair. He rested back in it for a while, staring at the door, then at Pops.
“I went in there earlier, when he was screaming, and I saw something. Some of the nanomachines turned black, like they were dying. Do you have any idea what was going on?”
“The exposure to the destructive magnetic field within the Cyberdyne chamber, and subsequent explosion, seem to have triggered an internal error. A cascade failure has begun through John Connor's systems. The end result is the mass death which you witnessed. This process is irreversible, and as I have observed, each episode results in a 1.5% increase of nanomachine die-off. In time the process will be complete and fatal.”
Silence hung between the two for a while, Kyle drawing his jacket around himself tightly. “So he's going to die no matter what.” he whispered, staring off at a nearby wall.
Kyle was silent for almost three minutes, stare growing more and more distant.
“If he's going to die, I can't let him die a slave.”