Z Plus 9 Hours
Kate stared at the ceiling forever.
The world was ending. There was a general atomic holocaust going on right over her head, and she was safe.
Crystal peak had been set up as a Fallout Shelter to protect Heads of State in the event of Nuclear War. Apparently, the President was to run WW3 in comfort.
The world was ending. It was right over her head, and she was safe. Safe on a warm bed, with smooth sheets, reserved for the First Lady, in a room that was built when Eisenhower was President.
But then, I am going to be First Lady, aren't I? Kate thought distantly. Wife to General Connor, savior and final leader of the entire human race. It's my destiny, according to the machine from the future.
When that thought hit her in full, she managed to keep a straight face for about two seconds, before bursting into mirthless hysterical laughter.
The day had started out so normal.
Crystal Peak was more than comfortable.
She hated it. She hated everything.
Finally, she gave up and got out of bed.
John was still hunched over the radio. He had been talking to whoever he could reach, telling them what was happening. Mostly military, a few National Guard Units, one or two civilians. None of them believed him. Then they started going silent.
That was seven hours before. Finally, the day seemed to be hitting Kate all at once, so he sent her to clean up and get some sleep.
Seven hours later, nine hours after Judgment Day has begun, and he still hadn't moved.
The voice on the other end of the connection became panicked as she walked in. "Conner! We've got incoming! Can y-"
"Captain? Captain!" John almost screamed into the microphone.
There was a great numbing silence.
"DAMMINT!" John Connor howled with a ferocity that made her jump, and he slammed a fist down on the table.
"John?" Kate said quietly.
He jumped and turned the chair to see her. "Sorry. Didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't. Cant sleep." She looked at his face. He looked terrible.
John was already back to the radio. "CQ, CQ, this is Crystal Peak, come back?"
Kate reached over his shoulder and turned the radio down. The static faded to a quiet hiss.
For a long time, John sat at the desk, with his head in his hands. Kate found another chair at the next radio panel.
"We… we could be all that's left." Kate said finally.
"No." John said with quiet certainty. "There are others. Just not in the Northern hemisphere."
"A lot of people will survive. Enough of them anyway. But not north of the equator."
"How do you know that?" Kate said, almost scared to find out.
"All the nuclear powers are in the Northern hemisphere. Skynet will use the majority of the nuclear arsenal hitting them. Since it's been working as a virus, then it can survive in other computers. Some infrastructure has to survive. There are huge computer webs in Australia that'll escape the blast; the radiation will take a while to circulate that far south. They'll have some warning, but the US, Europe, NATO… anybody who can get to Skynet before it starts churning out it's army is already dead."
Kate was crying softly. "You've had some time to think about this, haven't you?"
"My whole life."
Kate looked up, with something close to rage suddenly filling her. "You KNEW this was coming ALL THIS TIME?" She yelled. "And you DIDN'T STOP IT?"
"YOU THINK I DIDN'T TRY?" John yelled back.
Kate was willing to keep yelling at him but felt tears welling up again, and she ran out.
"Kate!' He called after her, but she didn't look back.
Kate locked herself in her bedroom and sobbed.
Two hours later, she came back out to see him. He was still right there.
She started to say something. He beat her to it. "I wasn't trying to save the world, Kate." John said, exhausted. "I was just trying to change my future. I never wanted this. I never wanted to be a hero. Knowing that I was meant to be the Great John Connor has given me nothing but misery for my entire life."
She thought about that. "And now?"
"And now, despite all my best efforts, it's here." John stared at the radio. "Maybe... maybe if I can pass on what I know to people, then I won't have to..."
"If you think that'll do it just as well, then fine. But, John; I could give a damn about your destiny." Kate countered, walking closer to him. "We've been tapped. We're survivors. Time to gear up. If you can save the world by handing the next guy the keys, then do that. But Connor, if there's any way to make this war go better for humanity by wearing the uniform and being the Great John Connor, then that's what you're going to do!"
She was on a roll. "Because you alone have actually been trained for this, and if you don't want to fight because you've got an inferiority complex, then stay right there while I go find something I can beat you with! Because this isn't about your destiny anymore, it's about the survival of the human race! It's about me, and Scott, and MY FATHER NOW!"
"It would make what happened to my father meaningless." He was backed against the nearest wall; she was getting in his face. "So help me, John; if you make what happened to my father an empty gesture, you'll have something a hell of a lot worse than the Terminators to worry about because I swear-"
"WhoaWhoaWhoa! Time out!" John said quickly grabbing her hands.
Kate was suddenly exhausted again. "I'm sorry. I guess… it isn't your fault. I'm sorry, it's just that… This morning I was sleeping next to my fiancée, got a call from a hypochondriac cat owner and by sunset I'm here with you."
John didn't have anything to say to that. He tried anyway. "I'm sorry."
Kate got up and marched out of the room, back to the bedrooms.
She was far too worked up to attempt sleep, but didn't want to go back out and talk to him again.
Z Plus 24 Hours
She came out the next morning. John was still at the control panel, with static hissing out of the radio gently. She came closer. He was almost asleep in his chair, but he kept turning the frequency dial. He looked so exhausted.
"Anything new?" She asked him.
"Found a detachment on maneuvers in the Arizona desert. They were far enough away from things that they didn't get hit, and they were doing long term survival training, so they've got supplies, plus foraging skills. I told them to stay away till the dust settles."
"Will the fallout dust settle any time soon?"
He nodded. "I got a ULF transmitter frequency, and they said-"
"Ultra-Low Frequency. A very long distance transmission. Anyway, they said that the shockwaves screwed with the weather, so there's heavy rainfall in the Midwest. That's a stroke of luck, because it'll wash the fallout out of the air."
"What about our area?"
"Hard to say. We could be the only installation left for thousand miles with living people in it."
Kate shivered violently. "Any food?"
"No idea." John said. "Been busy."
"I'll see if I can find where anything is."
Kate headed off and for the first time started to look around their new home. The place had been built into a mountainside, and most of the fortifications were to keep back the fallout or shockwaves. The interior wound back on itself to make use of the space. Except for the communications room and a few of the VIP quarters, the base was entirely functional, and well organized. The supplies were all long life, and the equipment in both the Medbay and the kitchens were largely antiquated, but everything was well stocked. A thick layer of dust covered everything, and Kate could feel it being kicked up into the air by her footsteps. Cleaning the whole place up was going to be a big job.
She came back several minutes later with two mugs of coffee. John was where she had left him. "That coffee any good?"
"Vacuum sealed." She reported.
"Good." He took a deep sip, nodded at her gratefully, and went back to the radio. "CQ, CQ, this is Crystal Peak. Come back?" Only static answered him. "Too much interference. The radiations screwing with everything."
"Do we have a chance?" Kate said quietly.
John didn't look up from his cup. He still looked so exhausted. "If you believe what the Terminator told us, we're a sure thing, married with kids, practically the first family…"
"I meant, does the human race have a chance?" She told him pointedly. "See the engagement ring still on my finger?"
John had the decency to look embarrassed. "Sorry. Yes, I think we have a chance. In fact, I think it's probably a good one."
"You think so?"
"Why go to the trouble of building a time machine to change the way a war goes if you're already going to win?"
The thought was incredibly comforting.
John yawned widely.
Kate's tired, shell-shocked mind finally made the connection about why he looked so exhausted. "When did you last sleep?"
John actually had to think about it. "Um…"
"Have you left that chair since we got here?' She asked him sharply.
"No." He yawned. "Well, there was that moment a few hours ago when you had me shoved against that wall over there..."
"Right." She took the cup out of his hand, came around the console and pulled the swivel chair away from the radio. "Get up. You are taking a break, and you are sleeping."
"I should stay with the radio, just in case there's…"
"Ah! No! You are getting up, you are going to get some sleep, and when you wake up, you are going to eat something."
John would have argued with that if his eyes could focus. "Fine." He stood up… and immediately fell over.
Kate struggled to catch him in surprise; his leg had just given out. She managed to get him back into the chair, then bent down on her knees and ran a hand over his shoe.
When she got to his ankle he howled.
She rolled up his pant leg and saw what was left of his lower leg. She could almost make out the shape of the Terminatrix's claws in his blood.
Fed up, she swatted him. "Why didn't you tell me dummy? I could have fixed this up hours ago."
"You're a veterinarian."
"You think you're the first stray animal to get his ankle caught in a steel trap?" She snapped at him.
John couldn't help but laugh at that.
She started wheeling his chair toward the corridor. She pulled him out of the chair, and helped him into the Medbay.
"This place stocked?" John asked.
"With everything." Kate promised him, and half carried him over to the gurney; where he managed to stretch out, put his leg up on the table. "Get out of those pants." She ordered him.
He gave her a look.
She pointed at her left hand. "Engagement Ring. See? Not yours."
John help up his hands in surrender and pulled the ruined trousers off, hissing in pain. He went through the pockets briefly and slid out the photo.
Kate pulled on a pair of gloves and started collecting medicines, giving his wounded leg a professional inspection. "Well, the supplies may still be usable, but I don't think anybody dusted those workstations since the sixties. This leg is definitely infected."
John nodded, looking at the photo.
Kate glanced at it. It was a candid shot of a youngish blonde woman, wearing a headband, looking sad about something. The way John looked at it made her realize. "That's her, isn't it?"
Kate prepared a syringe. "I don't want to put you under, until we know what state the anesthetics are in, but this'll take the edge off while I work, okay?"
She injected him.
John spoke drowsily as she worked. "We tried you know, mom and me. Miles Dyson, we thought he was the key, but he wasn't. Just another victim. Just like three women unlucky enough to be named Sarah Connor, just like twenty or so police officers stupid enough to try and protect her, just like my father, just like my foster parents, just like your Mister Scott, just like anybody else who ever met me, past or future. Their lives are forfeit because of the Great John Connor." His words were slurring, he was drifting from the drugs. "I really tried, right to the moment of launch to make it stop. Mom tried, she got locked in a loony bin for my entire childhood. I tried; I get thrown into my future anyway. 'No Fate But What We Make.' What a crock."
He finally fell silent. She worked for several minutes, gave him a shot of antibiotics, and wrapped a bandage around his leg. She looked up at him, but he was asleep finally. He looked so miserable.
What kind of life have you known? She asked him silently. Running from monsters that nobody but you believed in, believing right to the last that maybe you could stop the disaster, daring to hope that maybe the whole human race wouldn't rely on you… getting backed into taking the lead at every turn, despite what you have done to stop it.
Kate felt an odd affinity for him. He was in her world now. No. That wasn't right. She was in his. His world was a place where machines that looked like humans could strike. His world was a place where cities were too dangerous to be because there was a bomb coming at any time. His world was a place where friends were targets, and family was impossible. His world was a place where living meant hiding, and putting your name in a computer meant death.
She could hardly blame him for not wanting to be the Great General Connor.
He didn't seem to be offended that she didn't want to be the Great Mrs. General Connor.
But despite that…
Despite that, she was in his world now. And he was in her world now. With his mother and father dead, her father and fiancée dead, and the Terminator gone they were the only ones left that were.
"Thank you for saving my life." She whispered to him, and pulled a hospital blanket over him, turning out the lights as she let him sleep.
Z Plus 63 Days
Several weeks passed, and the radio stayed silent. The two of them fell into a rhythm, making the bunker livable, more comfortable, collecting supplies and figuring out what to do.
The base had a supply of radiation suits, which John took advantage of, to see if the equipment was still working. Almost all of it was. He then rewired the radio antenna, setting it up to send longer range messages.
But silence was still all they heard.
Kate was overjoyed to find that the hot water worked, and took full advantage of the provisions for showers and baths.
Kate wiped the condensation off the mirror and studied her reflection. She didn't look like a soldier. Didn't feel like a warrior. Especially not when she broke down in tears, for the first time in a month.
She wept for everybody she loved that had died before the bombs, whose only crime, had been knowing her name, making themselves targets.
She wept for the Terminator, a machine meant to kill, that had saved their lives.
She wept for John Connor, the man she had come to rely on like an extension of herself, for the burden of fate he had carried alone so long.
She wept for millions of strangers snuffed out in an instant.
She wept for the thousands, who lived to face the war to reclaim the ruined earth.
She wept for Scott, her love in a far more innocent life, who had died horribly, simply so that some machine from hell could use his face as a mask.
She wept for her father, who's dying breath was able to undo Skynet's evil scheming, delivering John Connor to safety from Judgment Day's fire.
And she wept for all Skynet's Machines, for they had no idea how badly she was going to make them all pay.
And then she wiped her eyes, as there was a knock on the door. "Dinner's ready."
"Coming." She called back, proud of the way her voice didn't waver in the slightest.
They were working together non-stop, so there was little point to talking about their day. Plans for future work were discussed at breakfast times. The cooking duties were split, since long-life rations weren't hard to prepare. Over dinner they said little. Kate thought about why for a while, and realized that despite what they had gone through, they still knew very little about each other.
The two of them had fallen into a pure survival instinct, not wanting to talk about what they had lost, not wanting to think about what lay ahead.
Kate looked at him while he ate. His face seemed a lot more focused. When she had found him in the Veterinary Lab, he was punch-drunk from the motorcycle accent, plus the painkillers he had swiped. Everything after that was panic at the approaching disaster, desperation in the face of the T-X or heartbreak in his Mother's empty tomb.
"What did he mean?" Kate said finally. "About how he was selected for your emotional attachment to his model or whatever?"
John looked up at her. His face had finally softened to something resembling human emotion. "Well, Skynet actually sent three Terminators through time. The first was identical to him, sent to kill my mother before I was born. The second was a decade later, but that time the Resistance was able to... I was able to reprogram a Terminator exactly like him to come back and defend me. Then again two months ago." He grinned slightly. "Nothing like having a Terminator as your bodyguard."
Kate looked at her plate. "Y'know, I think about what he said, about how you're the last hope of humankind… If it's still there, they'll carve your face on Mount Rushmore one day, but I can't help but think of you as the guy who tripped on the stairs in Mike Kripkie's basement."
John snorted a laugh.
Kate refilled her cup. "You're wrong about one thing you know."
"You aren't alone in this."
"Never said I was."
"No, but that's how you've been seeing it. You, John Connor, told from the cradle that you're the only hope of human kind, forced into a destiny you don't want at every turn."
"Except now I'm in that boat too John. In the space of three hours that day, I found out that I'm destined to be your wife, and second in command, joint savior of humanity, and that Judgment Day had arrived. You think that was what I wanted to be when I grew up?"
He almost smirks. "I guess not."
They sipped their coffee. Kate sat down across the control panel from him. "Must have been hard. Living with that kind of future forced down your throat."
"You have no idea." He agreed. "I tried to escape it so many times, figured that if I just… if I could stop Skynet before Judgment Day happened, then I'd never have to be the hero." He smiled bitterly. "I guess that's done now huh?"
For a while, Kate didn't say anything. "I've been thinking about it, and the thing is, I never believed in fate. Still don't. I don't know if I'm going to be your second in command, frankly the idea terrifies me, but I'm alive. Against all logic, I've survived a Nuclear War. And so have you. Whether you lead this or not, you have to tell the others out there about the Machines. And whether I'm in this army of yours or not, I have to stay alive. The only way we're ever going to stay alive is by ending it. And the only way we're going to end it, is to win the war. Doesn't matter what your role in the Resistance is, we're still going to fight."
He gave her that look again, like she was something unique and powerful. "Stop comparing me to your mother." She told him firmly.
John couldn't help but laugh. "I'm sorry, but it's the truth, you really do remind me of her sometimes."
Kate got the impression that it was the highest compliment he could pay a woman. She debated saying what she was thinking for a few minutes before finally speaking again. "My Dad never wanted to be a General, you know. He wasn't a GI or anything, he worked for the Pentagon. His rank was Major, because he worked on experimental projects. Smart bombs, GPS, stuff like that… he was field testing some of the stuff his department built in combat zones, when his CO got hit by a sniper. He took charge, and then next thing you know, he was getting promoted. He never wanted to be in command either. Especially not of Skynet." She looked sadly at John. "You remind me of him sometimes. Only sometimes, when you're trying to work that radio. Like you've got the fate of the world on your shoulders but you don't know how it got there exactly."
For a long moment, they looked at each other.
"I wish he was here." Kate said.
"He wanted you to be safe, Kate. He didn't know who I was, he didn't care. All he knew was, some woman who could take a grenade launcher to the stomach was hunting his daughter, and that the world was flying apart at the seams. All he knew was, that this guy he had never met, knew what was going on with Skynet. And he…"
"He decided that you were his best chance to keep me alive."
"Good thing, too." Kate pointed out.
"Well, if we hadn't come here, we never would have made it past the blast zone. For certain we never would have found a fallout shelter. Skynet trying to kill you is what put you here, ready to start the fight."
"Skynet trying to kill me is what transformed my mom from a crybaby waitress into a soldier." John laughed. "Skynet trying to kill me, is the reason a soldier was sent back in time to protect my mother from the first Terminator nine months before I was born."
Whoa. Kate thought to herself. "Nine months?"
Kate had never seen such a bittersweet look on anyone's face before. "Yep."
Kate couldn't help the smile. She was certain she had already lost her ability to be surprised by anything. "Destiny is not without a sense of irony, it seems."
With this new information on the table, and the ice broken, the two fell into a more comfortable silence for a while, looking at each other shyly.
Almost like a first date.
Z Plus 152 days
Kate woke up sharply, gasping for air.
Her heart was going a mile a minute, and adrenaline was pumping through every vein. The nightmare was always the same. They had faded after the first few weeks, but as the required activity had lessened after four months, her mind had time to work again, and they began to return.
She wasn't going to be sleeping again any time soon.
She got up and went to check. John was not at the console.
Kate smiled to herself. Good. He was finally sleeping without being told. There had been no response for months, but he still spent his nights at the radio. Kate would often wake up to find him asleep in the chair, and he was almost always awake when she turned in.
Looking around the room, she couldn't help but shiver at how empty it seemed. The base was built to be staffed by hundreds in a time of war.
She checked his room. Empty.
She checked the kitchen. Empty.
She checked the larger dormitory, meant for the support staff. Empty.
She checked the supply rooms. There were many of them. Empty.
She checked the garage. Empty.
Kate had quite quickly run out of ideas and was starting to worry. John Connor was her only companion in this place, and there was no way to patrol anything. The place had been built before CCTV, and they had no way of knowing if the TX had actually been destroyed...
She checked his room again. The base was large enough that they might have missed each other.
The bed was unchanged, but looking around more carefully, she saw his feet sticking out from behind the bed.
Horrified, she dropped to a crouch, and drew the handgun from her waistband, held it in a two handed grip. He had forced her to keep it with her always, even when she slept.
She scanned the room quickly. Nothing.
Inching around the bed, she checked around corners. No terminators, no machines.
John was still breathing.
"John!" she hissed as sharply as she could without raising her voice.
She inched over and shoved his leg.
John came upright instantly, his own gun out. "What?!" He yelped.
Kate yelped, swiftly understanding. She put her weapon away and swatted him as hard as she could.
"What?" John was still waking up.
"It's beneath you to sleep in a bed?"
John scrubbed his eyes. "I tried. Look at it!" he waved at the bed furiously.
Kate did, coming off her adrenaline high. "Looks comfortable enough."
"Comfortable enough for you, maybe." John told her. "You have any idea how long it's been since I slept in a bed? In a real bed?"
Kate blinked. The idea had simply never occurred to her before. "Has it been a while?"
"There are cots in the main barracks." She suggested. "The beds look more like gurneys, but it's better than the floor."
John smiled. "Really?" he yawned. "Think I'll try that."
Kate nodded and stood up with him. "You scared the hell outta me, Connor!" She snapped at him as they walked through to the barracks.
"I came in and found you on the floor. I thought you were dead!" She snapped; too relieved to yell, but still mad enough to snipe at him.
"Was there anything new?"
"Commander of an air group in south Brazil had scrounged a couple of AWACS, put them up in the air as relays, was able to sent word that Australia, New Zealand, the Solomon's, and Cuba was still there."
"Yes and no." John told her. "See, the people survived Judgment Day, and so did the infrastructure, but..."
"But Skynet's running their computers."
"Their computers, their factories, their cities..."
John looked in the barracks and the dust filled rows of bunk beds. He went to the nearest one and flipped over the four inch thin mattress, putting the clean side up.
"I'm gonna get a snack." She told him. "Want anything?"
"No thanks. G'night."
Kate was coming off the adrenaline high, both from her nightmare, and the scare of thinking him dead.
What am I going to do if he dies on me? She asked herself. What are any of us going to do?
She ate without tasting anything, suddenly aware that she had only gotten two hours sleep.
Exhausted again, she headed through the corridor, went to her bedroom door…
And walked straight past it.
It couldn't hurt to check on him, just to be sure.
She opened the barracks door softly. He was asleep on the cot, breathing gently.
Kate let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding.
How had she never noticed how scary this place could be? It was built to house hundreds of people, left to itself for decades, and now housed only two people. The place was so huge, the rooms echoed... no windows to the outside, all the lighting artificial, and switched down very low at this time of night... with a billion dead above them, how could this place not have ghosts?
She slipped over to the next cot, across the aisle from his, flipped over the mattress, the way she had seen him do, and lay down, making sure not to wake him.
John was half aware of her, even in his sleep. She wasn't used to cots, and was tossing and turning a fair bit, dozing in between. He wasn't used to having someone close by at night since his mother died, so he listened with half an ear for the sound of her breathing.
Several hours later, her breathing changed. She started to whimper in her sleep, her eyes dancing back and forth under her eyelids fiercely from the nightmare.
John got up and moved closer, shook her half awake gently. She half opened her eyes, saw him crouching next to her bed, and patted the mattress next to her.
Too tired to argue, John settled on top of the covers next to her. The cot was narrow, but neither minded the contact.
An hour later, as his own nightmares started, she was needed to return the favor, shaking him awake. He caught her hand without opening his eyes. With half an ear he heard her breathing clearly. Her breathing wasn't quick or panicked, so there was no danger and he slept again.
Neither of them wanted to risk anything that would make their forced intimacy more awkward, because there was no real way to avoid each other if it got uncomfortable.
Kate put her other arm around his waist to make room on the cot.
John had sworn not to take advantage of her when she was at her most emotional, cyborg prophecies be damned.
Kate had made no move to encourage any interest; she was still wearing the engagement ring.
But for the first time since Judgment Day, both were able to sleep with little interruption.
Z Plus 289 Days
"Now right hand first, keeps my gun away, don't try and take it, just keep it pointed away from you."
Kate took his right wrist firmly and pushed it away from her. John didn't struggle.
"Left leg forward." John instructed. "Hook it behind mine."
Kate did so.
"Now left hand, force my upper body back."
Kate did so smoothly; John guided her hand a little higher.
Kate shoved her left hand forward, pushing John back, where he tripped over the leg she had hooked behind his feet and put him down on the mats.
John looked up at her proudly. "Now take the weapon."
Standing over him, she was able to twist it out of his grip easily, and she pointed it back at him.
Kate was grinning like she'd just accomplished a lifelong goal. "That wasn't so hard."
"It's a lot harder when the gun's loaded and the guy you're fighting doesn't tell you how."
She snorted. "Duh." She licked her lips for a minute. "John; thanks for teaching me and all, but do you really think that… I mean, it's not like a Terminator's gonna be that easy to knock down."
"Kate, if you get stuck in hand-to-hand range with a Terminator, the only tactic that'll do anything is a suicide pill, but there are two groups in the world now. The machines, and the humans, and the machines are already all on the same side. The humans aren't." he looked at her. "I'm not losing you to some band of scavengers on the road before the war even starts."
She blushed at his look. "Okay."
There was a crackle from the Communications room.
Both of them shared a look and sprinted for the radio.
"CQ, CQ, this is Lieutenant Eric Walters, USMC, transmitting blind on Emergency frequency Delta. Can anybody receive?"
John grabbed the radio. "Hell yes, we receive." He responded. "Nice of you to drop us a line. This is John Connor at Crystal Peak."
"Connor? I have heard your name from Montana Civil Defense. Nice to know you're still with us."
"Nice to know we aren't alone." John responded. "What's your status?"
"I have 87 men left. We've been holding out as best we can. My unit was on R and R in Barbados. Supplies are starting to run low, but we finally got a decent map of the radiation zones. Before we set out looking for any US bases, I thought I'd check to see if anyone was still transmitting out there. How about you?"
"We haven't moved since Judgment Day."
Beat. "Is that what we're calling it?"
Destiny smacked Kate in the face again. John Connor was clearly the one who started calling it that among the resistance, but he had learned the name from the resistance fighters, through his mother. So… who exactly had thought it up first?
"Yeah." John said. "That's what we're calling it."
"How many survivors there?"
Very long silence.
"How many?" Walters asked for clarification.
"Two." John said. "The machines took over and we were the only ones who could get out."
"Uh… Connor, what is your rank?"
"I'm a civilian." John said evenly. "We both are."
The whole tone of the voice on the other end of the radio changed. "How the hell did you get into a hardened high level military facility like Crystal Peak without a military escort?!"
"General Robert Brewster sent us here."
"The General wouldn't give the access codes to civilians."
"He would to us." Kate said into the microphone.
"Katherine Brewster. General Brewster was my father."
"Ah. Now I get it."
John grinned and took back the Microphone. "Lieutenant, there's another reason. Brewster knew that Judgment Day was just the start of it. The real war hasn't begun yet. He got Kate and me out, because we've got all the relevant intel on the enemy."
"Start talking." Walters said.
Z Plus 1 Year 2 Days
The day before had marked the first Anniversary of Judgment Day. Kate had wanted to celebrate the moment… well, commiserate was the way she had seen it… by getting the two of them completely drunk.
John had forbidden that immediately, stating that nothing would be different the next day, except for the fact that the two of them would be hung-over.
Kate had seen the logic of this and acquiesced, but in truth, she hadn't wanted to get drunk because of the occasion, but because she knew it was the only way she was going to be able to sleep.
And she was right. She had spent the better part of the night staring at the ceiling, trying desperately not to think about it.
Instead, she thought about John.
With the fulfilled prophecies of their late protector, plus the enforced living arrangement, the two of them had come to the unspoken agreement that they would remain together, long before they had sorted out how they actually felt about each other. In fact, neither of them had even brought the subject up since getting locked in Crystal Peak a year before.
But after their first contact with Lieutenant Walters, and faced with the prospect of actually being around other people, the question had now been put directly in front of them, and neither one wanted to be the one to talk about it first.
She knew John had come to care for her very much. But he didn't dare bring it up; because he believed she still loved her long dead fiancée. And she did. She would always love Scott. She was going to marry him, and had lost him before anything could possibly change that.
But Scott was dead. All her ex-boyfriends were dead. Her father was dead. The whole world was dead.
John Connor was alive.
John Connor, who had saved her life five different ways in the space of six hours. John Connor, who was carrying the world on his back but made sure she was eating right every day. John Connor, who had taught her all about weapons, all about fighting, all about the machines, everything she needed to survive, while asking nothing from her in return.
Kate knew she loved him. He was her rock, while the whole world had been torn away from her. But she didn't dare tell him so, because he had put so much effort into trying to avoid his future, that telling him she was ready to move forward with this might make him swear off her out of sheer determination to prove the Terminator wrong.
It was why she had kept the wedding ring. John had never made a move. Neither had she. And Kate was worrying herself sick trying to decide if it was because he was being respectful while she mourned her dead fiancée, or because he had no interest in her and their supposed destiny.
Kate was stuck at that point, before finally dozing into a fitful sleep.
The new day started with Kate waking up to the aroma of coffee. She opened her eyes, and found John holding out a cup. "Morning."
"G'morning." She slurred out, still mostly asleep, and took the cup off him.
"Walters called in about twenty minutes ago."
"No. He said his recon teams found something. They said they'd report back personally in case anybody could hear his unit frequencies."
"Crystal Peak frequencies still secure?" Kate was struggling to catch up, but had long since learned the knack of going from unconscious to vigilant in seconds.
"Crystal Peak is a Command Level emergency base. Skynet could crack whatever we use in seconds." John told her, discreetly looking away as she got up and dressed. "But that's only if it's bothering to listen."
Kate nodded and followed him out to the Communications room. John sat down at the console; Kate took what had become her customary position just behind him, with her hand comfortably on his shoulder.
A few minutes later, Walters reported in. "Conner, we've found what looks an awful lot like human footprints. Thousands of them. They found an old highway."
"Any ideas who?"
"None. The footprints don't look like combat boots. There's sneakers, sandals, a lot of bare feet. But the thing is, the tracks are recent. They haven't been shifted by the wind because they're not in the dirt, they're in the mud."
John gave Kate a significant look. "Which means they came through after the last rain. Any ideas where they went?"
"The tracks are turned southwards when they reached to road. Request instructions. Do we pursue?"
"Uh... say again?" John croaked out.
"Give me an order, Sir; we're ready."
At the word 'Sir', Kate could feel the change in him, through her hand on his shoulder. In the space of an instant, John seemed a lot taller and a great deal older all of a sudden.
"Lieutenant," John said, emphasizing the rank carefully. "For all my talents, I am still a civilian."
"Yes, you are. I am currently violating about eighteen regulations regarding proper chain of command." Walters said plainly. "I have Sergeant Oldham here with me; he's my second in command."
"I have placed an official protest on the record," Oldham put in. "When we get back to a Command Military Base, a field court martial will be convened. In the meantime however, we have yet to hear from the Judge Advocate General's office." He continued with great formality. "Regulations dictate that I have done all I can short of relieving my CO from command, and placing him under arrest. I'm not ready to do that yet."
Another scuffling sound from the radio, and Walters returned. "In the absence of contravening orders, or word from the Joint Chiefs, these 87 men are under my command, and I am answerable to no higher authority at this point. You are my only contact on a secure frequency, from a highly secure Command Level US Military Base." Walters said with equal formality. "What are your orders?"
Kate studied John carefully. His face had hardened. He looked haunted by demons that only he could see, but when he spoke, he was crisp and precise. "Camouflage your equipment as best you can, particularly from thermal sensors. Second, make coded contact with any other population centre you can, civilian or military, regardless of nationality. If you have radiation detectors, map out the hotspots in your area. Try to rendezvous with whomever you can."
"Yessir." Walters responded.
"The background radiation is dropping steadily where we are. Another few days and we can move if we have to, we're going to give it a couple weeks just to be safe before we come meet you, but we will be out there soon. For now, send one team to follow that road. The rest of your men are to find a place you can stay long term, but escape from easily, and then set up gun emplacements and spotters. Don't use the radio while traveling; you'll make it obvious you're not fortified on the road."
"Yessir. Going radio silent now. Check in with you in three days if there's nothing new."
"Crystal Peak, Out."
The radio went silent.
John turned those haunted eyes on her. "Katherine, my dear?"
Kate reacted. "John?"
"Let's get drunk!"
Kate had found a case of bourbon in the Presidential Suite, which John had finally consented to move into. Having many reasons to stay drunk all the time, John had policed the use of it carefully while there was work to do, even for the anniversary of Judgment Day.
Tonight however, he had brought two full bottles from the case, into the staff break room, where the most comfortable chairs were. He handed one to Kate, kept the other for himself, stretched himself out across the couch, while Kate settled in the armchair between them, and the two played drinking games.
"Let's see, after Fort Dover, there was Fort Baxter." Kate said, slightly tipsy. "Had to cancel on my first date because I was being dragged about eight states away." She threw back the shot in her glass and john poured her another. "When I hit eighteen, my Prom date convinced me that I could move in with him so that I wouldn't have to leave my friends again."
"Hell no, he was a moron." Kate said plainly.
John grinned. "My turn?"
Kate poured him another shot. "Your turn."
"Well, there was a Green Beret in Maracas. His name was Salceda, then there was this guy named Enrique, who had like twelve children on this compound. The guy was Black Market see, learned a lot there about stripping cars and motors and helicopters..."
"Life of the modern youth." Kate toasted.
"Let's drink to that."
They both drank, and poured each other another round.
Kate looked up from her glass a moment later and found him staring at her. "What?"
"You're actually quite beautiful."
"Thank you?" Kate said, somewhere between pleased and stung that he had only just seemed to notice. She started pouring him another drink. She missed the glass slightly. "Stop m-moving." She told him.
"I'm not." he protested.
Sighing fatalistically, Kate got up, shoved his feet out of the way and sat next to him on the couch. John straightened up, putting both of them next to each other.
"That's better." John commented. "It's easier to focus on y-y-you when I'm not looking at you."
He put an arm around her and she swatted it away. "Fresh!"
"Sorry." John smiled through the warm glow that liquor brought. "What you told me, about how I was your first kiss?"
John licked his lips. "What I didn't tell you was; that you were, and are, my only kiss."
Kate actually felt sober for a microsecond from the shock. "Really?"
"We were what? Ten?"
"Something like that. See, by the time I noticed that girls were more than just cootie carriers..."
Kate giggled impishly, finding that hilarious.
"By that time I was running. My foster parents were dead, and my real mom was a fugitive from justice. Living underground, with your mom along isn't exactly easy on the social life."
"Plus wondering if your girlfriend was a terminator."
John laughed, slurring slightly. "Plus that." he sighed nostalgically. "You're right. I'm quite a mess."
"So's the world." Kate said, leaning against him easily. "Johnny boy, I've been the good girl my whole life. My dad never even bothered to meet Scott because he knew I wouldn't pick... well..."
"Someone like me?" John toasted without being offended.
"Right, and the thing is, a year ago, that was the way to be, now..." She trailed off.
John held up the bottle. "More?"
Kate held out her glass. "More."
They drank without speaking for a while.
"Don't call me that."
John nodded. "I think I want to kiss you again."
Kate grinned. "Better do it now while I'm drunk."
John leaned forward, put his hands on her shoulders to hold himself steady and gave her a kiss. She kissed him back warmly.
After several seconds, John ran his hands, off her shoulders, down her arms, to her hands, which he held. He felt her engagement ring under his fingers and they quickly broke for air.
Kate seemed to be thinking about what just happened very seriously, like she was clinically analyzing it. "Not bad."
John laughed. "Not bad at all."
She pointed a finger at him dramatically. "You're still a mess, Connor!" She told him imperiously.
"You're still not my type, Brewster!" He fired back.
"Let's drink to that!"
Z Plus 1 Year 20 Days
"Crystal Peak, this is Lieutenant Walters, come back?"
Kate, who was asleep in the chair, opened her eyes, yawned, and picked up the radio. "This is Crystal Peak."
"Didn't interrupt you two, did we, Kate?" Walters' voice was teasing.
Kate didn't hesitate to deal it back. "Not at all, he's still asleep."
"Right." Walters sounded sorry he started it. "Get him on the line."
Kate went into the Presidential Suite and woke him up. "Eric's checking in." She told him.
John was on his feet and in the Communications room in seconds. "I'm here Lieutenant. What've you got?"
"Well, remember those tracks we found three days ago? The human tracks?"
"We found where they lead. We've found people, Connor!"
Kate had a huge smile at the news. John did not. "Where?"
"They're in a camp about twenty miles southwest of what used to be LA. They've been collected around a metal-works or something. Thermal camera says the furnaces are going, and we can smell meat cooking."
John glanced at Kate, but she had already gone over to their map and marked the spot. "How many?" He asked into the microphone.
"Well… hundreds at least, but we can't really go and look."
"Because there are machines surrounding it. Some on the ground about the size of Mini-Coopers, only armed with mini-guns. Others in the air. We're staying as hidden as we can."
"Labor camp?" Kate guessed.
John looked at her like she was missing something. "Kate, I don't know how to tell you this, but that meat Walters can smell getting cooked… it isn't for eating."
Kate swiftly understood and turned green. "Death camps."
John nodded. "The machines are rounding up the survivors for orderly disposal."
"Connor, we could really use some Intel here."
As John started asking questions about the camp layout, Kate slipped away from the console and went to the bathroom.
She studied her reflection carefully. She looked harder. She felt stronger… but she didn't look like a warrior.
She pulled out a pair of scissors from the drawer, and trimmed her hair down, making it short and manageable.
She slipped off her necklace, the one her father gave her. She pulled off the engagement ring, the one Scott gave her.
She studied her reflection carefully. Better.
And she returned to the Communications room, where Lieutenant Walters had finished his report of the layout.
"Any Intel you can give me would be appreciated, Connor. My men have never faced anything like this before."
John considered. "The ground based HK's don't have a great range of vision, so you can flank them fairly easily. Toss your mines under the treads." John instructed.
Kate put a hand on his shoulder leaned over him so that she could speak into the microphone. "And for the airborne ones, aim for the Red eye on the front, or for one of the turbines on the wings. It's built to move fast and aim straight while hovering, not take a lot of fire."
"That explains a few things." The answer came through.
"What do you mean?"
"There are a LOT of them, sir."
Kate suddenly felt a chill of fear go through her. This was it. A human strike on a Machine camp to liberate the human prisoners. This was the start of the war.
"Lieutenant," Connor said crisply. "Split your squad into three groups. Group one to use the flares, group two to take out the relay and start knocking them down, and group three to evac the refugees."
John twitched again. Someone was calling him 'sir' and he didn't like it.
"Going radio silent now."
John glanced over at her. If he was surprised at her haircut he didn't show it. He returned his gaze to the console as though still getting something from it. He was suddenly very aware of her fingers kneading the back of his neck. He looked up at her again. "So this is it, huh?"
"We knew it was coming, John," Kate leaned forward and gave him a kiss. It had been unplanned, and neither of them had spoken about it before, but it felt so normal to kiss each other that neither of them even blinked.
John accepted it. "Some things are meant to be."
There was silence as they turned the conversation over in their minds. Both knew that they were talking about more than the inevitable war.
Kate got up and stretched. "I'm gonna turn in." She said. She took a step toward the hallway, and glanced over her shoulder. "You coming?"
John blinked rapidly at the unexpected offer. "Any other time, I believe I would. But I've gotta stay up and see what happens."
"It'll be hours."
Katherine understood without being offended. It was the first time that the last army of man was going into battle under his command. He couldn't walk away from that. And she wouldn't want him to. Priorities. She told herself. Get used to them now.
Kate went to her bedroom door, and walked straight past it, going to the dormitory. She had long gotten used to the cots, and sleeping in the barracks was their unspoken signal that one of them wanted the company while they slept; half because of the isolation, half because of the nightmares. She wasn't sure if the rules had changed tonight, but figured he'd find some way to let her know one way or the other.
He did. Several hours passed, and she half-awoke to the feeling of someone picking her up from the cot gently, and carrying her to the Presidential suite.
Kate settled into the far more comfortable bed, but kept her eyes shut and let herself sleep again as she felt the covers get drawn up over her. She felt him settle next to her in the bed, felt his arm go around her waist. She shivered as she felt him give the back of her neck a kiss, just below her shorter hairline, and a memory from two weeks before drifted up.
"What I didn't tell you was; that you were, and are, my only kiss… By that time I was running. My foster parents were dead, and my real mom was a fugitive from justice. Living underground, with your mom along isn't exactly easy on the social life."
Kate fell back into slumber with a sweet smile.
When she woke up the next morning, he was sitting next to her on the bed, sitting upright against the headboard, holding her hand. He seemed very aware of her third finger, where the ring had used to be. "Morning." She said quietly.
"It worked. They knocked out the command signal relay. Skynet lost control of the HK's, and Walters' men fooled their automatic systems. That tactic won't work for long, but it got several thousand survivors out of their control. That's a good start."
Kate sat up and ran a hand through her hair. "So this is it, huh?"
"It wont take Skynet long to figure out where those radio signals are coming from, and we can't risk taking a plane while Skynet has all the radar systems. We've gotta get there by ground."
"Too far to get to in the dark, when we don't know how many roads are still there. By the time we load up the Jeep it'll be noon. We leave tomorrow at dawn."
Kate nodded and leaned against him. They were finally leaving Crystal Peak. "Will we ever come back?"
"An isolated, fortified, military fallout shelter under human control? Something tells me we'll be bringing friends too."
The thought was incredibly comforting. "We got dibs on this room when we do though right?"
"Come to think of it, the last time that blast door was open, the Terminator sort of blew it up. It might not even work." Kate pointed out.
John burst out laughing. "Wouldn't that just be the final kick in the butt?"
Kate gave a thin smile. "We should check it out."
There was no trace of the two Terminators. The hallway on the way from the blast door to the elevator had been trashed. The door itself was built for the sole purpose of holding up to massively powerful explosions. It had been built well. The door had still been open partway when the Terminator's power core had blown, enough that the force of the blast was directed out from under the edges of the door.
The controls had been damaged, but John knew the combinations, and was able to hotwire the circuit. Fortunately, the security protocols weren't nearly as exacting on the inside of the door.
The sound of grinding gears made Kate jump out of her skin. "No. Don't open it yet. Not till we're ready to leave."
John nodded, and the door settled.
"John," She said finally. "Are you scared?"
"No." He said serenely. "See, I spent my whole life, either preparing for this day, or trying to escape this day. Now it's here. As much as I hate it, I'm ready for this war. I've been ready for this war since I was ten years old. I'm not scared of it. Finally, the waiting is over."
"Me too." Kate said quietly as she stared up at the door. Funny, on the way in, it hadn't looked quite so big.
The two of them studied the door with open nerves for a long time, neither looking at each other. After a moment, John felt her hand in his, just like when they had first arrived. Neither spoke.
Life was stressful in the shelter, it was lonely and more than a little intimidating, but for all the worries about the world outside, it was outside. They had food, they had water, they had heat, secure behind big thick walls, hidden far from everything, where no machines had reached them in over a year. It was dusty, it was scary, and the fact that there were only two of them had given the whole thing a frightening isolation, but it was their Haven, it was their hiding place, and it had protected them well.
And when the sun came up, they were going to leave it, and take nothing from it with them.
"John…" She said quietly, as both of them stared up at the door.
"Kate." He returned in the same tone. He was nervous about the whole thing too.
"We…" She stopped herself; thought had for several minutes, and then decided to speak finally. "We work well together. The last year, getting ready, training, making plans… we've got a good thing going."
"Yeah." John said.
Kate licked her lips. So far so good. "After tomorrow, everything changes… us working like this… that won't change, right? I mean, we'll still be partners out there, wont we?"
John finally looked at her. "Kate," He stopped himself; thought had for several minutes, and then decided to say what he was thinking. "It's been a long time since I had a partner. I just got used to working that way. The last year, I had to learn a whole new way of doing things… and it's been really good. I… I um… I've come to rely on you. More than anyone. More than I ever have."
Kate tried to keep her face neutral. "Me too. But, when we get out there, there are going to be lots of people relying on us, well... on you anyway, and we'll be relying on them. There will be people that need us. So… you and me, we'll still be a team right? There won't be anybody else that we'll rely on like we do each other right?"
"Right." He tried to think of what to say next. "Kate, what comes next will be very hard. In fact, it'll be impossible. You'll always have my back, right?"
"Always." She smiled slightly. "Wherever this war leads us, it leads both of us. And one thing I can promise you right now, you won't have to do it alone."
A long comfortable silence passed.
"One could almost call those Wedding Vows." John said finally.
Kate let out a breath explosively. "Finally, one of us said it."
John burst out laughing.
"Don't laugh; I've been terrified that it was going to be me, and that I'd make an ass of myself." Kate was on a roll. "I mean, relationships are hard enough, but we actually had a cybernetic assassin from the future set us up on our first date!"
"Second, if you count Mike Kripkie's basement." John put in.
Kate turned to face him fully and gave him a heated kiss, which he returned instantly.
When they broke for air, he glanced at the door. "Y'know, after we leave here, I doubt there'll be many places to stop where we'll have things like beds, or showers, or privacy."
Kate caught the hint easily. "We best make the most of today and tonight then."
She threaded her fingers through his more firmly and led the way back to the elevator.
Neither of them said much as they descended.
He broke the silence. "I don't have a ring to give you."
"S'Okay." She said easily. "I doubt we'll find a Church or Justice of the Peace anywhere nearby anyway."
"Love you, husband."
"Love you, wife."