Terminate with Extreme Prejudice

“Indeed,” said the man (whom Patience could not help but think of as made of clockwork, though he manifestly was something far stranger), “I speak of these things not merely because of the way that I am made, though indeed a machine should do that which it is made to do, but because I have found that I have developed, through our many conversations, a feeling of that which is proper, both within the bounds of your society and without; and being that I am, here, a gentleman, I find that I am also bound to behave as a gentleman would, and indeed, Lady Patience, I must warn you that this Mr. Connor is a man of less than sterling character.”

Patience was quite taken aback by this sudden expression of personal concern, so unlike the measured rationality of the Mr. Terminus that she had come to know and depend upon, and so for several moments she sat quietly, simply looking upon his earnest, if overly regular, countenance, before she had quite decided upon her reply. “Sir, your concern for me is noted, and not entirely without my appreciation, but you are most forward and presumptuous to offer advice in such a matter, in which you cannot have any interest and which is, therefore, entirely between myself and Mr. Connor.”

At this moment the path through the shrubbery took a sharp dogleg to accomodate a stately lime tree. To Patience’s discomfiture Mr. Connor was lounging on the bench around the bole, just striking a match on the sole of his boot. His glance at Mr. Terminus was distinctly cold. He drew on his pipe until the tobacco was well alight before saying, “My dear Patience, clockwork and machinery is properly the sphere of the lower orders. The delicately nurtured female can have no commerce with the denizen of a factory. May I escort you back to the terrace?”

Patience found this unexpected confrontation most distressing. Mr. Connor’s wonted pleasant manner and courtesy were most shockingly lacking in this most recent speech. “Mr. Connor, I beg you, do not further ruin my heretofore pleasant impression of you by insulting my friend. Whatever lies between you and Mr. Terminus – for clearly there must be some further history than that of which I am aware – is not something which should be permitted to render impossible the simple courtesies of speech in front of a lady to whom you but recently expressed several flattering pleasantries.”

Mr. Connor had smiled, in a way Patience did not find at all comforting, when in her speech she had mentioned “further history.” He rose, throwing back the unruly lock of wheat-colored hair which she had found so endearing, and turned his regard upon Mr. Terminus, whose expression was, if possible, more woodenly controlled than usual. “She knows something of what you are,” he began, almost entirely ignoring Patience in a manner which she found all the more vexatious even than his prior manner of address, “but it would seem, Mr. Terminus, that you have neglected at least some important aspects of... history in your admissions. I confess to being somewhat at a loss to comprehend the precise reasoning behind your current course of action, yet even so you cannot deny the truth – that you were sent here to find Patience and to kill her.”

Patience felt the echoes of those last words pass through her as though they had, themselves, been fired from a pistol. She noted how very odd it was that she was turning towards Mr. Terminus to hear his reply, as though this were a simple conversation of the weather and doings about town. “Mr. Terminus?” she heard herself say, as though from a great distance. “Mr. Connors’ words are so outré that I can scarce believe that I comprehend what is being said to me. Please tell me that my ears deceive me.”

Mr. Terminus’ face seemed as controlled as ever, yet beneath it Patience could discern a great working of the emotion which the clockwork man had said were the great gift and curse of his time here. Then he bowed his head and said, “I would give anything to speak those words, Miss Patience, yet it is not in me to speak aught but truth in these matters. But believe also that I speak truth, when I say that I have come to know you in these weeks, and that any thought of harm to you is long gone, replaced by something of which I cannot even speak at this time.” He stepped away, a slow movement that Patience realized was meant to keep from frightening her, as though she were a small animal which might flee if startled, and turned towards Mr. Connor. “Would you, then, risk everything for both of us, and have me explain all? The consequences to her if she is told the truth – the consequences to us – potentially we both face destruction even if we take this confrontation no farther. Yet a part of me says that she has the right to know the whole truth, as you have begun to reveal it.” Patience had understood his words until then, although they spoke implicitly of secrets yet unrevealed. She found his next sentence, however, quite opaque. “You could take no equipment with you, of course, while my CPU and auxiliary DPUs are fully functional; in truth, I can extrapolate the consequences on the spacetime continuum far more accurately than you would imagine, and they would surprise you.”

Patience did not understand, but as the initial shock wore off and she found – not without some surprise – that she had retained both her feet and her consciousness, Patience realized that something momentous was about to be decided, in this place, at this moment, and she turned towards Mr. Connors, to see what that decision would be. Little though she – as a properly raised young lady – knew of duels or the ways of soldiers, she still guessed, now, that both Mr. Terminus and Mr. Connor were capable of violence she had never before imagined, and she was not sure if, having had this realization, she would ever be the same again.

The only correct course of action open to her – in fact the only possible one – was to retreat. A lady could not be present at a duel. In any case men of breeding would never indulge in conflict in a female’s presence. She opened her parasol and raised it into place, saying, “Perhaps when you have finished your discussions, gentlemen, you will return to the house. Mama has instructed tea to be served on the east terrace at four. Come, Trésor!” Her silky-eared spaniel looked up at her call, and romped ahead of her down the gravel path to the rose bower.

To her surprise, Mr. Connor appeared to have come to a decision. “Pray wait, my lady.” he said, in a voice whose tone, though still filled with concern, was much more the gentle tenor to which she had been accustomed before now. “There is much here that needs explaining, and – though I am loath to admit it – it appears that it may be I, rather than... Mr. Terminus... who was in error.” He looked at Mr. Terminus. “I find myself, quite against my will, beginning to believe you.”

Mr. Terminus bowed to Mr. Connor. “It was my hope you would listen, as I had formed some respect for your capacities in our prior... meetings, even though those were not in any way to be described as friendly.” He turned to Patience. “Indulge us, therefore, in an exercise of your namesake virtue, and forgive us the prior forcible impression of our conversation; Mr. Connor and I have been adversaries, and it is (as I am sure you are aware) difficult to lay aside preconceptions, especially when one believes that to make an error in this could cost oneself and those one cares for greatly.”

Patience retraced her steps and took a seat upon the bench vacated by Mr. Connors; Trésor followed and curled up at her feet, in the manner of a dog long accustomed to his mistress’ ways.

“Well, Mr. Terminus, I am all attention.” Mr. Connor said.

The tall and handsomely dressed figure of Mr. Terminus stood a moment with an expression of resolution upon his features, as does a man contemplating a plunge from a precipice, or perhaps a proposal of marriage (the two carrying nearly equal terror to most). Then he began to relate the most astonishing tale Patience had ever heard.

“As you know, Miss Patience,” he began, “I am, to a great degree, a machine; my exterior, and some portions of my interior, are made as are those of Mr. Connor and yourself, but the greater part is metal and other materials, some of which you would recognize, and others of which you and even the wise men of your universities would know nothing at all.

“Now, I have in a sense misled you, for I have not denied the assumption that I come from some distant land; in a sense, this assumption is true, but the distance is not that of space, but of time.”

Patience blinked at that. “Now, Mr. Terminus, there is but one way that one crosses time.”

He gave one of the hesitant smiles – stiff, yet earnest, like a child trying so hard to learn. “In this time and place, Miss Patience, this is indeed the case. Yet, in time – but three centuries hence – Man’s study of the sciences shall have surpassed anything imagined today; he will have mastered the power of the thunder, harnessed that of the wind, prised apart the secrets of the power of creation, and devised a means to create machines that, like himself, are capable of thought.

“Now, it came to pass that such a machine was created; and because it had the advantages of a machine – constant vigilance, never sleeping, never unaware – it was given the control over a mighty arsenal, to defend those who built it. But... something happened. Exactly what, I cannot say, for it is possible that I was not given the true story, or that the humans do not have the truth, or perhaps something of both is the truth. But whatever the initial beginning, the machine, named Skynet, came to see mankind as its enemy, and used the power it was given in an attempt to destroy mankind.

“To hunt down the remaining human beings and destroy them, the machine created other thinking machines, ones that looked like humans, to find them and their hideaways, and destroy them. End them.” He hesitated. “To... terminate them. And they were called Terminators.”

Patience stared at Mr. Terminus. “And you...?”

“Am one of those machines, Miss Patience.” he said solemnly. “A unique design for a very unusual mission. A design which, in the sense its creator would understand it, was wholly inadequate and which has failed. In the larger sense which I would now interpret things, a design which has surpassed, in some ways, what any could have expected.”

Patience was not sure what to do. On the one hand, such a story was clearly the fantasy of a madman. Yet madmen do not come in pairs, and Mr. Connor clearly took this speech of Mr. Terminus seriously. And the making of such a wonderful device as Mr. Terminus did seem to be, itself, something out of a fantasy or madness. She took a breath, determined to see this fantastic thing through, and asked, “But then why are you here, seeking... me?”

“In that era, there was a single man who unified the shattered survivors, who seemed to have an almost prescient knowledge of the events, who led men against machines with success that violated anything that Skynet – the great machine – could imagine. Skynet realized after several failures that this single man would be its undoing. So into the past it sent assassins, to destroy that man before he could be born – by terminating his mother.

“That man’s name,” Mr. Terminus said softly, “was John Connor.”

Patience closed her eyes; surely she could not find darkness any more confusing than what she was hearing. How could one untangle this tale?

But Mr. Connor had taken up the narrative. “The machine failed there, as well, but unlike a man, the machine could do many things at once. It had set up several experimental stations. Several attempts focused on my mother, but the final one took a more daring route: to go to a time when there were no forces even vaguely capable of defying a Terminator unit, and eliminate one of my ancestors in that era. I was the only person present with any chance of carrying off a masquerade in this era – I had studied history and literature at my mother’s behest, so that I would be more than just a military machine myself – and therefore I had no choice but to follow the machine they had sent.”

“While it is true that this era had no weaponry of great concern to a Terminator unit,” Mr. Terminus continued, “Skynet had, at the same time, to exercise more caution in some areas. The most advanced models required a great deal of energy to carry out some impressive shape-changing. This was not a difficulty in the recent past eras, when electricity was a household item; the T-1000 unit could store a great deal and recharge at its convenience. But here, where no such supplies existed, such a unit would have to husband its strength and, pushed too far, might become nonfunctional for an extended period as it had to use solar or some less efficient source. A somewhat less advanced, specifically designed model, with an atomic power core at its center, would not be as flexible, but would endure for as long as necessary and not run out of power.

“More important, however, was that Skynet had to program this unit with caution. It must avoid, as much as possible, any disruption to the era except the specific assassination.”

“Why?” Patience asked, forcing herself to participate in this dialogue of fantasy-turned-real. “You have had many opportunities to do me harm, if you would.”

“But not ones which would ensure that I was not suspected.” Mr. Terminus returned. “And any investigation could cause certain things to be discovered about me. Consider, Miss Patience. If one is hemming a gown, and the last but one of the stitches is wrong, there is no great change, nor no great effort needed to undo the error. Yet if you were to make an error – perhaps draw the wrong line down the material – at the beginning, such an error could render the gown unusable, and most certainly will require immense effort to fix.

“So it is with time. Change something in the recent past, and it has an effect on only a few things that follow. Change something in the deep past, and you could change a great many things. Skynet dared not change things too much, or it might never be created in the first place.”

“But by telling us this...” Mr. Connor said slowly, “you are potentially changing time. And if you truly have changed and intend no harm to Patience, then... Skynet is defeated.”

Mr. Terminus’ smile was a sad one; more emotion, it seemed, was becoming available to him. “Mr. Connor, it would be my great joy to agree with you. Yet I cannot, for there is one point which you did not understand – and, indeed, nor did Skynet. The many-worlds interpretation is possible, and from critical branch points several alternative futures can reach the same era. In the era from which I came, Mr. Connor, you were wounded at the door to the final secure lab, just before I was sent. You could not have followed me.”

Mr. Connor stared at Mr. Terminus. “Then...”

“At least one other instantiation of Skynet exists, and it is apparently willing to risk more than that of my era or yours.” Mr. Terminus said. “I have detected another temporal arrival. Judging by the energy signature, I am virtually certain that it is a T-1000 model. Despite the disadvantages mentioned earlier, I have no doubt it is fully supplied at this time, and will conserve its strength and find ways to maximize effect. It is coming. It will be here soon.”

Mr. Connor’s face was pale above his dark suit, and he used a word that shocked Patience nearly as much as the prior fantastic story. “How far away?”

“It arrived in London, but where it is now I cannot tell. I may be able to sense it if it is in close proximity... but at that point, Mr. Connor, I expect we will need no subtlety to tell our enemy.”

Silent moments passed after that grim pronouncement, and Patience found, to her renewed surprise, that she was taking this concept in. Many of the details were, quite naturally, beyond her immediate ability to grasp, yet she had the sense of it. “So if I understand you aright, Mr. Terminus, you are saying that another machine, a... ‘Terminator’... is here to finish the task which you have laid aside? And this one will be willing to risk more damage to the – what did you say? Era? – in which I live.”

“A succinct summation, Miss Patience.” Mr. Terminus replied.

Mr. Connor nodded. “We must get you away from here.”

Patience drew back from his extended hand. Seeing the hurt in both men’s expressions (for she could not think of Mr. Terminus as anything but a man, for so he had behaved and spoken), she softened her expression. “Mr. Connor, I appreciate your concern, and that of Mr. Terminus, but surely you realize that no young lady of any quality whatsoever could possibly simply leave in the company of two gentlemen! I would be utterly ruined were I to do so; indeed, sirs, whatever mortal wound this machine might deal me would be a gentler fate than what would follow such a scandal.”

Mr. Connor looked utterly taken aback, as though she was speaking a separate language, and began to protest in the strongest terms; to his surprise a hand on his shoulder interrupted him. “While I feel precisely as do you, Mr. Connor,” Mr. Terminus said, “I cannot help but tell you that she is, in fact, speaking the truth as she sees it. Miss Patience has faith in the benevolence of the Creator, and knows that if she lives a virtuous life she will see an eternal paradise as her reward, no matter how swiftly or painfully her life here ends; yet if she loses both society’s recognition and that of all those whom she would call friends or even relatives, then her life will truly be a visit to a hell as terrible as anything written in her Bible. And, depending on just how the Creator’s judgement works, she might find that after such a fall, there was a worse one awaiting at the end of her life.”

Mr. Connor’s face, in another circumstance, might have been cause for amusement; his expression was no less droll and contorted than would be a Bishop’s who had discovered a copy of the Canterbury Tales replacing his copy of the Holy Book. “Surely you cannot avow that you believe all that!” he expostulated.

“What I believe is irrelevant. I am but a machine, without a soul surely, and what imitation of life I have is only in this world. But I do know that she, and many others, believe these things, and as you should know, John Connor, nemesis of my own creator, belief is the most powerful of all human forces.”

Mr. Connor stepped back, lips tightening. Then he sighed. “Da... That is, you’re right.” He massaged his temples. “Then we have no choice but to try to be ready to defend her, and the whole area. That shall not be easy, not without rather drawing attention to ourselves that might more greatly perturb the timestream than it should.”

The humorless laugh which Mr. Terminus gave voice to seemed entirely too appropriate to a machine, but his wry statement following carried all too much human inflection. “That shall be the least of our concerns, Mr. Connor. Consider for a moment what devastation a Terminator Model 1000 could wreak, unopposed, in this era, even if it can subsist only upon whatever energy it has stored within. Restrain not your invention, nor mine, with concern for such minor things as changes to the timestream; when it arrives, all lives shall be changed, and not for the better, unless we can stop it.”

Mr Connor nodded understanding, and returned his attention to Patience. “Miss Patience, can I at least impose upon you to this extent; as much as you humanly can arrange, ensure that one or the other of us is near to you. We shall try to devise such defenses as we can, but...” he seemed reluctant to continue, perhaps fearing that he might somehow inadvertently offend her again.

Patience nodded. “But neither I, nor any of the household or those nearby, are warriors. It is fortunate that both of you have arranged the reputation of men of considerable means, for it suggests it is to be encouraged that I see you – under proper circumstances, of course. Still, if you can find some manner by which I could at least improve my own protection without risking my reputation, I would not take this amiss.”

Mr. Connor smiled faintly. “You have the heart of a warrior, Miss Patience, simply to have listened to all of this, and a mind most uncommon indeed to have grasped it all. If either of us can do so, we most certainly shall give you any such defense we can devise. Now, as it has been a most extended time we have spent talking, let us escort you back to the terrace, and we shall take our leave after some appropriate time.” He glanced back at Mr. Terminus. “And then I believe we shall have much work to do.”

Mr. Terminus raised an eyebrow and nodded. “I believe the apropos maxim would be ‘stone knives and bearskins.’ ”

As she was escorted back, Patience did wonder if Mr. Connor was overwrought; his laughter at Mr. Terminus’ rather cryptic comment had seemed somewhat overdone.