The smell was the worst part of going home. No matter how many times he entered the tunnels beneath Los Angeles the putrid odor that greeted him always made John Connor think about running back into the wasteland to deal with more machines. Allison had assured him that you adjusted to it and that after a while you didn’t really notice it anymore. As they crawled through the broken storm drain it didn’t take much for him to realize that Allison had the same grimace he did.
“Thought you got used to it?” He asked as he pulled the brittle metal bars back in.
She titled her head and brushed her hair behind her head, “You do; it just takes time. I’m not there yet either.”
“I hope that day comes sooner rather than later,” he heard her booted foot connect with the rung of the ladder. He followed her, “That smell could make a rat gag. Not that I’m complaining; at least it’s warm.”
“You complain? Perish the thought of that,” Allison climbed down to the sewers and stepped onto the ledge. “John Connor doesn’t complain, he leads in an emo way.”
She couldn’t see but he was rolling his eyes, “Then why am I behind you?”
“Beauty before age? Put your best foot forward?” She joked but it wasn’t funny.
John followed as they searched in near total darkness for the small doorway that led home. The dark wasn’t by choice or necessity, it was a result of fate. Many of the survivors they’d uncovered had assumed that the darkness made it harder for the machines to find them or to break in. The truth was the opposite. They were in darkness because they hadn’t found any ways of keeping the tunnels lit. It was hell on all of them because the machines themselves did find their way down into the conduits beneath the city every now and then. Hydrobots had been known to swim through the muck every so often. One of them got poor Ortiz after he’d come home from a raid on a Skynet supply convoy only days ago.
Living in the sewers wasn’t really something that John hated because he always had a feeling that he’d one day be living in them even if they’d won and Judgment Day had been prevented. Connor had always assumed that he’d be living in the muck trying to stay off the grid. If there was one thing that Sarah Connor had drilled into him it was that he needed to stay protected; he needed to keep himself out of any databases and especially away from a computer. Where better to do that than underground with the rats? Now he lived with rats and the last survivors of the human race in tunnels that were just really big bomb shelters.
Though the designers never really intended these tunnels for the purpose they were drafted into. While they were planning the Raid on ARTIE, as they joking called it, Derek had told him about the future a bit while they were getting ready to break into the tunnels beneath City Hall. He told him the history and how they were built as a means for the employees of City Hall to escape if the Soviet Union ever launched a nuclear war. When the bombs fell and Skynet brought about that disaster from the darkest nightmares of the Cold War, they fulfilled their original mandate and then some. Derek had taken Kyle and, together, they lived inside the conduits with a handful of other survivors instead of using them to escape. Instead of moving on like so many of the survivors they were still there.
Allison slammed her fist against the metal slab in the secret knock that they’d devised. “Young – Peek-a-boo 1138.” It was the stupidest pass code that John had ever heard, but it was a pretty clever one if you thought about it. How could a machine ever come up with that nonsense? How could a human? Allison Young was good with nonsense though and she was good at being chatty. It was amazing how different she was from Cameron. Allison was just an ordinary person who preferred to have honesty and open dialogue about things; she loved life and embraced every moment. She could be a little bit too talkative at times and asked more questions than Cameron ever did, but he’d welcomed those facts about her. She was a shock to his system after so long with his guardian. Cameron how could you kill someone like Allison even as one of Skynet’s many minions?
They walked through the door and the pack of dogs ran right up to them and started to sniff them vivaciously – almost knocking Allison over from their excited jumping. Allison ran her hand along the lead dog’s head and John just stood behind like the loner of the pack. He always liked dogs but tried to keep his distance from these ones. They were soldiers, guardians, not pets. The door guard – Andre Sumner – nodded politely to welcome them back to their makeshift home.
John had got to know Andre pretty well since he’d come to the future. Derek had spoken highly of Andre in the past and it was strange for John to finally meet the genuine article. In some respects the two men were entirely different people because of their experiences, but the base was still the same. Andre had grown up in the remains of Louisiana on the Bayou. He’d migrated west and had been rescued from an HK patrol by Kyle. Just like in the reality where Connor created the Resistance, Kyle invited Andre to join them. He was good with a gun and he had a natural talent for survival and those were qualities that made him a necessary addition to any war. It was funny though how important Sumner had been, or at least could have been if given the chance. When Kyle Reese first went back to save the life of Sarah Connor, Andre Sumner made the trip too but there was an accident. Sumner died in transit and never materialized in 1984. Kyle actually looked for him for a moment or two after he arrived, but found only the darkness. John would give him a second chance to be a hero and sent him back to help Derek Reese during his recon mission looking for Andy Goode’s Turk. In that world he was killed by a machine that had replaced a Program Specialist in Los Angeles’ husband. He wondered what this particular Sumner’s fate would be. He wondered what destiny had in store for himself.
“Kyle wants ta see ya, John,” he said with his thick accent.
“Wonder what that’s all about?” Cameron’s doppelganger asked no one in particular.
It was Sumner’s voice than answered her hypothetical, “Dunno. Nobody tells me nothin’. I just play doorman.”
“We’ll have to change that soon,” Connor had wanted him on the battlefield with him for a while now. John knew that the man could handle the tin cans and was meant for more than this.
Allison kept playing with the dogs but interrupted, “Anyone else out there tonight?”
“Just Mason and his team,” the guardian informed. “They’ll be comin’ in soon enough.”
Cullen came by carrying his plasma rifle for the changing of the guard and greeted the team with a grunt. The battle weary Connor nodded to him in as nice a gesture as he could muster then returned his attention to his friends. “Guess I better go see what Kyle wants. Maybe he’s found a chocolate bar and wants to share?”
“Keep dreaming Connor,” Allison shot back at him. “More likely he wants you to shine his boots.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me,” John headed down the tunnel to see what Kyle wanted. His finely attuned senses spoke volumes. Behind him Allison headed off to the mess to get something to eat – scraps of bread most likely because that was the only thing on the menu – and Sumner joined her from the sounds of it. The flames coming from a gutted television set kept him from hearing what Cullen was up to, but he did hear a chair slide out.
As he passed by another tunnel’s intersection he heard something skittering about behind a partition. While walking a small child popped up and point a toy gun at him that looked like a phaser from Star Trek. On instinct he slid the gun’s barrel toward the child, but his senses grabbed hold and reminded him that this wasn’t a threat. It was just a girl who was playing a game trying to pass the time. He made clicking noises like his plasma rifle in role play and the girl fell back behind the wall like a duck in a shooting range.
A broad smile took over John’s face at the girl’s antics. It was sad that she was trapped in this world as a victim of circumstances that came about before she was even born. That little girl was hunted, prey for a tin can that wanted her dead because she was flesh and bone. John hoped that a world would one day come where that girl didn’t have to live in such fear. As a Centaur patrol rolled overhead (shaking the ground as if it’d been an earthquake) he had a bad feeling that day would never come. It would never come for any of them.