Authors: Timothy Zahn
Tags: #End of the world, #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General, #Adventure, #Robots, #Media Tie-In, #Cyborgs, #Los Angeles (Calif.), #Film Novelizations
THE OFFICIAL MOVIE PREQUEL
FROM THE ASHES
(An Undead Scan v1.0)
Terminator Salvation: From the Ashes
A division of
Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark St
First edition March 2009
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Terminator Salvation: From the Ashes is a work of fiction. Names, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Terminator Salvation ™ & © 2009 T Asset Acquisition Company, LLC.
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The last day of his life, he remembered thinking afterward, had been hell on earth.
It wasn’t just the heat of the Baja desert. That was awesomely intense, shimmering across the dirt and scrub, and he knew some of his fellow Marines were suffering in it. But U.S. Marine Sergeant Justo Orozco had grown up in East Los Angeles, and he had no problem with heat.
It wasn’t just the job, either. The Eleventh Marine Expeditionary Unit prided itself on its ability to fight anywhere on the planet, and there wasn’t any particular reason why Orozco’s platoon shouldn’t be here running a drug-interdiction exercise with their Mexican Army counterparts. Never mind that the theory underlying the exercise was bogus. Never mind that the Mexicans probably saw this as a slap at their own capabilities. The logic and politics of the situation weren’t Orozco’s concern, and he wasn’t being paid by the hour.
No, what made this particular mission hell was the way every single damn Mexican insisted on calling all the Americans “gringo.”
It irritated the hell out of him, which was probably why they kept doing it. He was an American, yes, but he was also full-blooded Hispanic, and he was damn proud of both. Why some people seemed to think those two identities had to be mutually exclusive was something he had never understood. He’d never put up with that nonsense before, and it galled the grit out of him to have to put up with it now.
But he was under orders to be cooperative. More than that, he was a professional, and he was damned if he would let a few resentful locals get the best of him.
It was getting on toward evening, and the team was just wrapping up a search-and-corral exercise, when out of the corner of his eye Orozco saw the flash.
His first reflexive assumption was that the Mexicans had sneaked an aircraft into the exercise, just to shake things up a little, and that he’d caught a flicker of sunlight off one of its windows. He turned that direction, opening his mouth to warn the rest of the team.
The words died in his throat. In the hazy distance far to the north, right where he’d seen the flash, a tiny, red-edged cloud had appeared.
And as he watched, its top boiled over into the shape of a mushroom.
He was trying to wrap his brain around the sight when there was another small flicker, slightly brighter this time. He waited, still staring at the mushroom cloud, when a second fiery pillar boiled up from the earth a little ways to the east of the first.
“My God,” someone whispered beside him. “Is that…? Oh,
“It’s San Diego,” Orozco said, the sheer unnatural calmness in his voice as frightening as the mushroom clouds themselves. “San Diego.”
“Maybe Mexicali, too,” someone else muttered.
“Or Twentynine Palms,” Orozco said, marveling at the strange disconnect that had severed the link between his intellect and emotions. “Who the hell would want to take out Mexicali?”
“I just thought—”
With an effort, Orozco tore his eyes away from the twin pillars of death. One of the Mexicans was staring past Orozco’s shoulder, his eyes wide and horrified, his face as pale as any of the gringos he derided. Moving like a man slogging through a nightmare, Orozco turned to look.
In the distance to the southeast, another tiny mushroom had appeared, clawing its way toward the sky.
someone gasped. “That can’t be—”
“Hermosillo,” one of the other Mexicans said in a quavering voice. The man had tears shimmering in his eyes, and Orozco remembered him talking about his family in Hermosillo.
Orozco stared at the third mushroom cloud, his mind reeling with the utter insanity of it. San Diego, yes. Twentynine Palms, maybe. But Hermosillo? The place didn’t have a single shred of military or political significance that Orozco could think of. Why would anyone waste a nuke taking it out?
Unless someone had decided to take out everything.
Slowly, he turned to look at the rest of his team, their faces etched with varying degrees of terror, anger, or disbelief. They’d figured it out, too. Or they would soon enough.
Their lives were over. Everyone’s life was now over.
Orozco took a deep breath.
“I think,” he said, “we can safely say the exercise is over.”
“What do we do now?” someone asked.
Orozco took another look around the group…and this time, he saw something he hadn’t noticed before. All the Marines were looking at him. Even Lieutenant Raeder, whose face was as frozen as anyone else’s. They were all looking at Orozco.
Waiting for their sergeant to tell them what to do.
He took another deep breath. One of these deep breaths, he thought distantly, would be his last.
He wondered if he would even know at the time which breath that would be.
“We’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ll survive, because we’re Marines, and that’s what Marines do.
We’ll start by going back to camp and figuring out what we’ve got to work with.”
For a moment no one moved. Then the lieutenant stirred.
“You heard the man,” he called. “Gather up the gear and head back to camp.”
Slowly, the clustered knots broke up as the men finally began to move. Orozco took one last look to the north, noting that the mushroom clouds, too, were starting to break up.
And as he began helping the others collect the gear, he realized he’d been wrong. This day hadn’t been hell on earth. This day had been paradise.
Hell on earth had just begun.
It was after one in the morning by the time John Connor and his Resistance team made their way back through the rubble of Greater Los Angeles to the half-broken, half-burned-out building they’d called home for the past three months. He supervised the others as they stowed their gear, then sent them stumbling wearily to their bunks.
Then, alone in the small pool of light from his desk lamp, amid the outer darkness that pressed in against it, he sat down to make out his report.
In many ways, he reflected, this was one of the worst parts of the war against Skynet. In the heat of battle, with HK Hunter-Killers swooping past overhead and T-600 Terminators lumbering in from all sides, there was no time for deep thought or grand strategy or clever planning. You played it on the fly, running and shooting and running some more, hoping you could spot the openings and opportunities before Skynet could close them, trying to achieve your mission goal and still get as many of your people out alive as you could.
But sitting here alone, with a piece of crumpled paper laid out on top of a battered file cabinet, things were different. You had the quiet and the time and—worst of all—the hindsight to replay the battle over and over again.
You saw all the things you should have done faster, or smarter, or just different. You saw the mistakes, the lapses of judgment, the miscues.
And you relived the deaths. All of them.
But it was part of the job, and it had to be done. Every Resistance contact with the enemy—win, lose, or draw—was data that could be sifted, prodded, evaluated, and tucked away for possible future reference. With enough such data, maybe the strategists at Command would someday finally find a weakness or blind spot that could be used to bring down the whole Skynet system.
Or so the theory went. Connor, at least, didn’t believe it for a minute. This was going to be a long, bloody war, and he had long since stopped hoping for silver bullets.
But you never knew. Besides, Skynet was certainly analyzing its side of each encounter. The Resistance might as well do the same.
It took him half an hour to write up the report and transmit it to Command. After that he spent a few minutes in the bathroom cleaning up as best he could, scrubbing other men’s blood off his hands and clothing. Then, shutting off the last of the bunker’s lights, he cracked the shutters to let in a bit of fresh air, and wearily headed down the darkened corridor to the tiny room he shared with his wife.
Kate was stretched out in bed, the blankets tucked up under her chin, her breathing slow and steady. Hopefully long since asleep, though Connor had no real illusions on that score. As one of their team’s two genuine doctors, the hours she put in were nearly as long as Connor’s own, and in some ways even bloodier.
For a minute he just stood inside the doorway, gazing at her with a mixture of love, pride, and guilt. Once upon a time she’d had the nice, simple job of a veterinarian, where the worst thing that could happen in a given day was a nervous horse or a lap dog with attitude.
Connor had taken her away from all that. Wrenched her out of it, more accurately, snatching her from the path of Skynet’s last attempt to kill him before the devastation of Judgment Day.
Of course, if he
taken her away, she would be dead now. There were all too many days when he wondered if that would have been a kinder fate than the one he’d bestowed on her.
There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves.
The old quote whispered through his mind.
Kyle Reese’s old quote, the words Connor himself would one day teach the boy—
“Good morning,” Kate murmured from the bed.
“Sorry—didn’t mean to wake you,” he murmured back.
“You didn’t,” she assured him, pushing back the blankets and propping herself up on one elbow.
“I only got to bed an hour or so ago. I heard everyone else come in, and I’ve just been dozing a little while I waited for you. How did it go?”
“About like usual,” Connor said as he crossed to the bed and sat down. “We got the Riverside radar tower—not just taken down, but blown to splinters. If Olsen’s team got the Pasadena tower like they were supposed to, that’ll leave Skynet just the Capistrano one and no triangulation at all.
That should take a lot of the pressure off our air support in any future operations. At least until Skynet gets around to rebuilding everything.”
“Good—we can use a breather,” Kate said. “How many did we lose?”
“Three. Garcia, Smitty, and Rondo.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, and Connor could see some of his own pain flash across her eyes. “That’s, what, ten including the ones Jericho lost when his team took out the Thousand Oaks tower?”
“Eleven,” Connor corrected. “Those towers come expensive, don’t they?”
“They sure do,” Kate said soberly. Abruptly, she brightened. “By the way, I have a surprise for you.” Reaching to the far side of the bed, she came up with a small bag. “Merry Christmas.”
Connor stared at the bag in her hand, a surge of husbandly panic flashing through him. How could he possibly have forgotten—?
“Wait a minute,” he said, frowning. “This is
“Well, yes, technically,” Kate conceded innocently. “But we were all kind of busy on the official Christmas.”
Connor searched his memory, trying to pick the specifics out of the long, blended-together nightmare that life on earth had become.
“Was that the day we raided the air reserve base for parts?”
“No, that was Christmas Eve,” Kate corrected. “Christmas Day we were mostly playing hide-and-seek with those three T-1s that wanted the stuff back. Anyway, I didn’t have anything for you back then.” She jiggled the bag enticingly. “Now, I do. Go ahead—take it.”
“But I didn’t get anything for you,” Connor protested as he took the bag.
“Sure you did,” Kate said quietly. “You came home alive. That’s all I want.”
Connor braced himself.
“Kate, we’ve been through this,” he reminded her gently. “You’re too valuable as a surgeon to risk having you go out in the field.”
“Yes, I remember all the arguments,” Kate said. “And up to now, I’ve mostly agreed with them.”
“You’re the most important thing in my life, John. In fact, you’re the most important thing in
life, even if they don’t know it yet. Whatever I can do to keep you focused, that’s what I’ll do. Whether I personally like it or not. If having me stay behind helps that focus, well, I’ve been content to do that.”
Connor had to turn away from the intensity in her eyes.
“Until now.” She reached up and put her hand on his cheek, gently but firmly turning him back to look at her. “People are dying out there. Far too many people, far too quickly. We need every gun and every set of hands in the field that we can get. You know that as well as I do.”
“But you’re more valuable to us right here,” Connor tried again.
“Am I?” Kate asked. “Even if we grant for the sake of argument that I’m any safer hiding in a makeshift bunker than I am out in the field, is this really where I can do the most good? Patching up the wounded after you get them back is all well and good, but I can’t help but think it would be better if you had me right there with you where I could do the preliminary work on the spot.”
“You could teach some of the others.”
taught them,” Kate reminded him. “I’ve taught you and them and everyone everything I can about first aid. But there’s nothing I can do to give you my experience, and that’s what you need out there. You need a field medic, pure and simple. So you’ve got Campollo and me, and Campollo is seventy-one with arthritic knees. This is one of those decisions that really kind of makes itself, don’t you think?”
Connor closed his eyes.
“I don’t want to lose you, Kate.”
“I don’t want to lose you, either,” she said quietly. “That’s why we need to be together. So that neither of us loses the other.”
With her hand still on his cheek, she leaned forward and gave him a lingering kiss. Connor kissed her back, hungrily, craving the love and closeness and peace that had all but died so many years ago, when the missiles began falling to the earth.
They held the kiss for a long minute, and then Kate gently disengaged.
“Meanwhile,” she said, giving him an impish smile, “you still have a Christmas present to open.”
Connor smiled back.
“What in the world would I do without you?”
“Well, for one thing, you could have been asleep fifteen minutes ago,” Kate said dryly. “Come on—open it.”
Connor focused on the bag in his hand. It was one of the drawstring bags Kate packed emergency first-aid supplies in, turned inside out so that the smoother, silkier side was outward.
“I see you’ve been shopping at Macy’s again,” he commented as he carefully pulled it open.
“Actually, I just keep reusing their bags,” Kate said. “Adds class to all my gift-giving. For heaven’s sake—were you this slow on Christmas when you were a boy?”
“Given that my mother’s typical Christmas presents were new Browning semi-autos or C4
detonators, it didn’t pay to open packages too quickly.”
Kate’s eyes widened.
joking, aren’t you?”
“Of course,” Connor said with a straight face. “Christmas was survival gear; Fourth of
munitions. Okay, here goes.” He reached into the bag.
And to his surprise, pulled out a badly cracked jewel case with a slightly battered compact disc inside.
“What’s this?” he asked, peering at it in the dim light.
“A little memory from your childhood,” Kate said. “Or at least from simpler days. An album called
Use Your Illusion II.”
Connor felt his eyes open. A memory from his childhood, indeed. “Thank you,” he said. “Where on earth did you find it?”
“One of Olsen’s men had it with him last month when they came by to swap munitions,” Kate said. “I remembered you talking about listening to it when you were younger, so I traded him a 8
couple of extra bandage packs for it. You know, those packs we dug out of the treatment room at the Orange County Zoo.”
“I just hope Tunney was able to get that CD player working,” Connor commented, cradling the disk carefully in his hands. “I miss music. That and Italian food, I think, are what I miss most.”
“For me, it’s definitely music,” Kate mused. “Vocals, especially—I used to love listening to a live choir in full four-part harmony.” She smiled faintly. “Just a
different from your taste in music.”
“Differences are the spice of life,” Connor reminded her.
“And G’n’R is probably better music to kill machines by.”
“Probably.” Kate’s smile faded. “Besides, nowadays what reason does anyone have to sing?”
“There’s still life,” Connor said,, eyeing his wife closely. Kate didn’t get depressed very often, but when she did it could be a deep and terrible pit. “And love, and friends.”
“But mostly just life,” Kate agreed. “I know. Sometimes we forget what’s really important, don’t we?”
“A constant problem throughout history,” Connor said, breathing a quiet sigh of relief. So she wasn’t going there, after all. Good. “Thanks again, Kate. This really makes my day. Probably even my
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Oh, and
The man who gave me the disk told me to say that.” She took a deep breath, and Connor could see her chasing the memories back to where they belonged. “Meanwhile, it’s been a late night, and the world starts up again in about five hours.
Come on, let’s go to bed.”
“Right.” Standing up, Connor reached for his gunbelt.
And paused. “Did you hear something?” he asked in a low voice.
“I don’t know,” Kate said, her head tilted in concentration.
Connor frowned, straining his ears. A whispery wind was blowing gently across the bunker roof, setting cat-purr vibrations through the piles of loose debris up there. Everything seemed all right.
had caught his attention. And something was still screaming wordlessly across his combat senses.
“Stay here,” Connor told his wife, crossing back to the door. He listened at the panel for a moment, then cautiously opened it.
The earlier overcast sky had cleared somewhat, allowing a little starlight to filter in through the cracked shutters. Connor checked both directions down the empty corridor, then headed left toward the rear of the bunker and the sentry post situated between the living quarters and storage room.
Piccerno was on duty, seated on a tall stepladder with everything from his shoulders up snugged up inside the observation dome. Like everything else these days, the dome was a product of simplicity and ingenuity: an old plastic office wastebasket that had been fastened to the top of the bunker, equipped with a set of eye slits that permitted 360-degree surveillance, then covered from above with strategically placed rubble to disguise its true purpose.
“Report,” Connor murmured as he stepped to the foot of the ladder.
There was no answer.
“Piccerno?” Connor murmured, the hair on the back of his neck tingling. “Piccerno?”
Still no answer. Getting a one-handed grip on the ladder, Connor headed up. He reached the top and pushed aside Piccerno’s bunched-up parka collar.
One touch of the warm, sticky liquid that had soaked the upper surface of the collar was all he needed to know what had happened. He spent another precious second anyway, peering up into the narrow space between Piccerno’s face and the rim of the dome, just to make sure there was nothing he could do.
There wasn’t. Piccerno’s eyes were open but unseeing, his forehead leaning against the dome, the blood from the hole in his left temple still trickling down his face.
Skynet had found them.