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Unpaved Roads

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“Perry, I could stand to hear some good news,” John Connor uttered wearily as he descended into the shadowed recesses of the Tech-Com bunker with his right hand man, Major General Justin Perry. The bustling hallways of people were sharp relief against the battle worn terrains of post Judgment Day earth. But today, he needed more.

Perry appeared glad he could actually oblige. “The Jimmy Carter docked over an hour ago. Full cargo.”

John fell silent for a short beat. Of all the maritime transports, the Jimmy Carter held a special significance, but it wasn’t time, not yet. On the other hand, full cargo meant someone was feeling generous. Far be it for him to look at gift horse in the mouth, but magnanimity wasn’t something he associated with her. John gave the tall man walking beside him a sideway glance. True enough, there was more to be said, just not outside closed doors.  He waited for the other shoe to drop as the steel reinforced doors of Command closed with a mechanical thump.

“Begging your pardon, sir. It’s full cargo plus three,” Perry continued as he handed over a folder marked in red block letters ‘Eyes Only’.

John thumb opened the folder and paused upon recognizing the code name on the submarine manifest. He’d long since mastered his facial expressions and defaulted to a blankness that seemed to work as commanding stoicism. But for her to come all this way and leave her position vacant, John couldn’t help the slightest lift of his eyebrow. “ETA?” he asked.

“They’re at the outpost now.”

“Authorize their passage,” John said. Before Perry could leave to carry out his orders, he added tightly, “And add two more units to patrol and perimeter. Nothing is to happen while she’s here.”

Perry nodded. “Already done, sir.”

Left to his own devices, John wondered again what could have brought her here. Despite the wealth of his knowledge for non-linear time, playing these complex three dimensional games with Skynet meant that as changes rippled through time and space, he would likely encounter more interlopers. So far, this particular game piece appeared to be his advantage. Yet, he knew better than anyone that could change with a simple switch or new lines of code.

It was fifteen minutes before the knock came at the door. John opened the door to Alexandra Udinov, escorted by two of her own soldiers and two of his. They each directed their soldiers to stand guard as the two leaders of the world’s human resistance against Skynet convened to speak behind closed doors.

If there was anyone alive who could understand John and lived as he did, under the enormous weight of his responsibilities, it was Alex, although it was still just a remote similarity for the daily grind of command. She knew nothing of the chess games of Connor vs. Skynet. They could only start to really compare notes if machines were sent back in time to kill her parents.

On the other hand, Tech-Com could hardly run as smoothly as it did without the supply runs from Perth. Zetrov’s reach on the Asian-Australian continents was to the benefit of the human resistance in the Americas. There was no formal agreement between their commands to share supplies and resources, but John was grateful for Alex’s muted acknowledgement of Tech-Com’s needs.

“Udinov,” John greeted lightly.

Alex assessed the room briefly before focusing back on him with a small smile. “Connor.”

They sat on two metal folding chairs, their backs to the wall, somehow facing each other with eyes on the only exit in the room. Their unspoken synchronicity brightened the mood, if for a bit.

“I hear they call you the Czarina now,” John started.

“It humbles next to the Messiah,” Alex returned drolly. Her gaze flickered to the door one last time before setting the full weight of her cobalt eyes on him. There was no smile left in her voice. “And yet, you owe me.”

John had been expecting this since news of her arrival. “I appreciate the supply runs—“

Alex silently placed a picture on the table in front of them. John inhaled sharply as he willed himself to remain seated with a resemblance of calm as his heart raged within his chest. She pushed it toward him, though he didn’t need to look any closer. He knew that picture anywhere. He would need it soon, and a fickle but fateful destiny all but dropped it in his lap. Suddenly, he ached for his mother’s embarrassingly tight, tight embrace. But she wasn’t here, the cancer hadn’t wanted to share the victory of bringing down Sarah Connor. It alone decreed the rite of death and accomplished what Skynet couldn’t. When Sarah gave that picture to Alex, it was a message for him. He would have to settle for this representation of her, this surrogate, here to bring the circle to a close once more. John searched Alex’s face and saw an all too familiar steel gaze. At least, there was that. But the chess player in him was instantly on guard at the calculating glint in her eyes as she spoke again.

“You owe me more than you know.”

He did, but Alex’s next words would inexplicably throw another cog in the game he wasn't sure he could win.

“And now I’ve come to collect.”