Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 4

“What,” said Sarah flatly.

“Skynet goes online in the next month. We know the military facility that it’s housed at, we know company involved, and we know most of the principle architects. All you need to do is take this flash drive, analyze the source code, and write up a new utility function for it that doesn’t result in everyone getting vaporized.” Kyle pulled into an alley and idled the car, then took stock of everything he had available to him. He had pants, a shirt, a handgun with no bullets, a pair of handcuffs dangling off his wrist (and a cut in his wrist to show for his escape), a flash drive containing Skynet, a hotwired car, a ten dollar bill that he’d found in the center console, and Sarah Connor. Neither of them were wearing shoes. It wasn’t the worst situation he’d ever found himself in.

“You have no idea what you’re asking,” said Sarah. “The complexity level involved is literally incalculable, because it’s never been done before.” She ran her hand through her hair nervously. “A month? With a time machine, why wouldn’t you go back further? Why cut it so close? I’m going to need more time, and to slip into a secure military facility … this was the plan?”

Kyle coughed. “I’m not the first person to come back here.” He’d slowed down to a more normal speed. The last thing he needed was the attention of the police, though surely the terminator would involve them soon enough. The machines seemed to find mimicking voices the easiest thing in the world, and they had a complete command of jargon, if not quite the finesse or intelligence of a real person.

“There are other time travelers?” asked Sarah. “Are we going to get their help?”

Kyle shook his head. “I have no idea where or who they are. There are information leakage concerns, anything that Skynet finds out in the future it can use to attack the past. That terminator that showed up at your house probably came back after me. That means that you and I sat together in the house talking, then a lot of things happened, Skynet went live despite my best efforts, and eventually sent a terminator backwards in time to kill us both. I’m thinking that I must have said something that made you call the police, or you were going to do that anyway no matter what I said.” He tried to keep the accusation out of his voice. Somewhere out there in another timeline he was dead, and it was probably her fault.

“Okay, so let’s say that I’m mostly convinced,” replied Sarah. She didn’t look happy, but then again, she had no reason to be. “And let’s say that I buy that I need to write this new utility function that will keep the AI from killing everyone in the world. Let’s say that’s all true. Why me? There are perhaps … half a dozen more qualified people, those who aren’t as strung up in teaching the plebes. People who actually preach about unfriendly AI, who would have believed you without needing a machine to try wrapping its hand around their throat. Fanatics, in a word.”

Kyle swallowed. “There are things that I’m not telling you, because I think that they might upset you and interfere with completion of the mission.”

“Well that’s reassuring,” said Sarah bitterly.

“I think that the stress of this situation is probably high enough already without me adding more to you. It’s nothing pertinent to the two of us stopping Skynet though. I can tell you now, and risk mental harm to you, or you can just work with me on this.”

“Tell me,” she said immediately. “Tell me why I’m the chosen one.”

Kyle sighed and stretched out in the confines of the car. “You had a son,” he said slowly.

“A …” Sarah stopped. “That doesn’t make sense. You said the Skynet comes online in a month. I’m certainly not pregnant right now, so you’re telling me that I lived through the nuclear exchange and chose to bring a son into a broken world?”

“After Judgement Day, yes,” replied Kyle. He was thankful that he hadn’t been around for it; the stories they told of the bombs falling made him shudder, and he’d walked through the wreckage of the nuclear holocaust more often than he liked to think about. “Your son, John Connor, became the savior of humanity.”

“That makes no sense,” replied Sarah. “I mean, I can conceptually grasp that I would be the mother to a resistance leader, and that this AI would want to kill me in order to prevent that resistance leader from being born, but if I’m not currently pregnant – and I can assure you that I’m not – then the genetics of this resistance leader haven’t been set yet, especially since the hypothetical father is nowhere to be seen yet. The name is obvious enough, it’s my father’s, but the only thing that future timelines containing my son would have in common would be my half of the genetics -“

“And having you as a mother,” said Kyle softly. “You know, we’re not stupid in the future. We did actually think about these things, and try to work out the general flow of history. There’s no real identifiable point where the timelines start getting messed with, it’s just a mishmash of time travelling resistance leaders and Skynet’s terminators, with the only point they seem to have in common is that the machines always win. And if they didn’t win, you and I wouldn’t be talking to each other.”

Kyle could practically see the gears turning behind her eyes. “Yes, so there’s a heavy bias towards the resistance not winning – you’d pretty much expect yourself to be in a world where the rebels are fighting a desperate struggle if you’re getting visited by naked men in the middle of the night. There are worlds out there where the resistance won, but if you’re not in a utopia, then you’d instead be on that razor’s edge where the humans are mostly losing, right? And we’re clearly not in a utopia.” Sarah frowned. Kyle found himself thinking that she looked pretty when she frowned. “So I have some magical property that makes me a good mother to a resistance leader. Or I guess more likely, we just got a biased sampling of the timelines.”

“I think I should point out that you’re a creature of legend in your own right. They told lots of stories of you, in the future.” He’d realized only when he’d gotten older that most of them had been bullshit. The terminators were hard to kill, but if you believed the stories then there must have been a factory deep within the machine’s territory that had been dedicated to pumping out terminators just for her to murder.

“Did you know me?” asked Sarah suspiciously.

Kyle shook his head. “You probably won’t like hearing this, but you died when I was eight or nine.” He shot her a look. “Cancer, ironically enough. Not really that ironic, due to the nukes and everything, but it seems like a stupid thing to die from when the machines are so much more intent on killing you. Your son John though, he was a good friend of mine, a true leader.”

“This was his idea?” asked Sarah. “If I had a time machine -“

“You’d go to the past, to a time before the machines rose up and killed everyone,” said Kyle.

“Well, yes. Or I would give myself more than a month.”

“John had the same idea, maybe he got it from you, for all I know.” Kyle shook his head. “We were losing the war against the machines. Skynet is dumb as a brick, but with all the humans gone it didn’t really need to be that smart. And as it ramped up its production capacities, and kept bringing in more information from the future, it eventually just overwhelmed us. It was right about that time that we finally built the first working time machine. And John … John wanted to pack up and leave the planet to Skynet. They say there’s no limit on how far back the time machines go. Skynet is, or was, as good as it would ever get, even with a hundred thousand years of thinking its dumb thoughts, and we know that since we know that it was sending back designs to itself. But there was no way for us to win against it, not really, because if there was a way we’d have gotten help from our future selves.” Kyle slumped back in his seat and closed his eyes. Eventually they’d have to move out of the alleyway; no doubt the terminator had co-opted the police by now to help track them down.

“So what happened?” asked Sarah.

“I argued with John,” replied Kyle. “He wanted to go way back, hundreds of years, exploit our future knowledge and set up a society that would never invent artificial intelligence or nuclear weapons in the first place. I said that we should try to reformat Skynet, to make a friendly AI that could create a utopia. We had discussions about how long it would take you, trying to balance that against how complete our knowledge of your movements was, and what we knew you were working on. John thought that a month would be enough. The mission was a compromise between us. One of the last things I saw before I came back here was a frown on his face. That was my yesterday.”

Sarah was quiet for a long time.

“Alright, let’s go find a computer and take a look at Skynet,” she said at last.

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

Branches on the Tree of Time, Chapter 4

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to top

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: