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A Furnace, Seal'd

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—The heart is human, says Kate, —and very powerful.

The eyes are human too. If John believed in souls ... he doesn't. But there's something looking out at him, something that isn't machine.

—You think you're human, he challenges it.

—I am human.

John walks right up to it, face to face, close enough to smell its breath. Blood and iron, something stale, something chemical. John reaches up and unhooks the chains from the thing's head. Lets it see itself.

What John sees then is complex. (But the machines are getting smarter.) He sees shock, agony, rage. Betrayal, too. He knows what betrayal looks like.

—Leave us, he says to the women behind him. He doesn't need to watch them go. He's still examining the cyborg, looking for ... He doesn't know what he's looking for. A serial number? A trademark? There's nothing that can prove it's human. Plenty that can prove it's machine.

The thing struggles, tenses, contorts in the restraints. The chains are silent where they press and bruise flesh. Where they touch metal there's a grating grinding slide that echoes round the well.

—Still think you're human? says John to the cyborg.

—I'm not ... I feel ...

It blinks liquid from its eyes.

—Put your hand on me, John Connor. Tell me that's an engine hammering away in there. Tell me you believe I'm a machine.

John sets his hand on the cyborg's torso, just above the place where the skin and muscle have ripped away to show sleek metal. He can feel the strong steady beat of the heart: the human heart in its tempered steel cage.

—I'm a man. Not a machine.

—Maybe you were a man, says John, cold and deadly. —Not any more.

—I'm human. I was born—

The cyborg gulps back its words as John's hand slides lower, down to the waistband of the filthy pants. Kate hadn't cut 'em off. Respect for the man they'd thought it was, or fear of what she'd find under there?

It's staring challenge at him, daring him. John stares back: squeezes, and the thing thrashes and groans and bares its teeth at him.

—Feel that? it says. —That ain't a battery pack.

—So they let you think you were human. You're not.

The cyborg's skin is flushing red under the dirt and the bruises. John squeezes again, less cruelly: not to hurt but to ... to feel. There's more there than there was a moment ago. There's hardness, but not like metal's hard.

—Do it, says the thing that thinks it's Marcus Wright. —Then maybe you'll believe me.

There isn't an answer to that, except to work the zipper open. John doesn't look away, doesn't blink. The cyborg's pupils are dilating, its breath's coming quicker, its skin flushed and warm like a human's. John's not looking down at where metal expands and contracts over the lungs. He's not looking at the places where torn skin shows steel beneath. He's looking at, touching, the parts that are human, the parts that are Marcus Wright. Bringing him back, making him more man than machine.

—Machines don't do this, he says. —You done this before?

—Been a while, says Marcus Wright thickly. His eyes are closed, his breath's ragged, his dick's shoving against John's hand, swelling, pulsing, coming.

When John raises his hand to his own mouth, it tastes of salt and bitterness.

—Human enough, says John. —Human enough for now.

He leaves the chains locked when he goes.

-end-