The shrill alarms were giving John Connor a headache. In the years that he’d been stuck in the future war on his search for Cameron’s processor he’d gone through so many evacuations that he’d lost count of them. Sometimes they were preemptive escapes out of fear that Skynet had found them; other times they were exactly like this: running firefights to the escape tunnels with the army of tin cans closing in from behind. No matter what the circumstances behind the evacuation orders they were always calamities.
He couldn’t imagine what they were like before he’d arrived though. When he first appeared in the future with the shape-shifter he was taken to the outpost that Kyle’s group was operating out of. For fear that Skynet may have located them via spy satellite; they decided to move to an alternate site from the main one. Back then escapes were a lot harder and far more complicated during an evacuation (and not only because he was new to this reality). There were no emergency escape hatches that people could get through – no tunnels other than the main one into and out of the base. There wasn’t even an alarm to signal the evacuation orders and it had to be done by word of mouth. The first thing that John did was worked with Kyle and Derek to build escape tunnels separate from the main ones that they could use in emergencies. They were simple, made by throwing up walls and blocking paths, but they were effective. That one little suggestion enhanced the evacuation efficiency; the alarms nearly doubled the survival rate. Now building those tunnels was the first thing that they did no matter where they were living; planning the evacuations were the second. It was morbid but it was the only way to stay alive.
There was also a better division of labor since John arrived. It was true that it’d be better for a team to be making sure that anything that could risk their safety be destroyed, but that just wasn’t an option with more advanced machines coming from Skynet factories. Now, since they split up to accomplish key goals, they could cover more ground and keep the essential tasks going even if one were disrupted. Normally it’d be Kyle who was making sure that the secret documents got burned and that the mainframes were destroyed, but that wasn’t the case today. Today he’d left that task to John, not that John was complaining. It gave him a few minutes to flip through some of the more restricted documents that even he hadn’t seen. Kyle’s mysterious benefactor had been busy; there was a lot of crucial information here about a variety of subjects ranging from endoskeletons to improving the efficiency of the power cells of the plasma rifles.
As he threw several of the files into the oil drum filled with flames he wondered just who that benefactor was. No one had seen him, her, or – quite possibly – it. John had a few theories about who could be behind their gifts, not that he’d share. Catherine Weaver was the biggest possibility, if she were still active which she probably was. John Henry was another likely choice, but John wasn’t even sure if he could still be functional either. For being built to serve as an AI to fight Skynet he wasn’t doing the best damn job in the world. Humanity was losing this war, but maybe he really was only out to help the mysterious other faction? Then there were a few human possibilities. James Ellison could still be alive or maybe Savannah Weaver – she was probably taught and prepared by Ellison after Catherine escorted John to the future. Then there was one name that still came to him and flashed over and over in his mind.
Sarah Connor: mom. Could his mother still be alive and fighting the machines today? Kyle never met her in the present or the future from what John knew. Cameron told him that his mother died of cancer in the original timeline and that was why they jumped through time in the first place. Did she succumb to cancer in this reality too or was she still out there somewhere? Why wouldn’t she reveal herself if she was? Why wouldn’t she try to find him? It couldn’t be her; though, silently, he hoped that it was her. He could use the help and her experience. Hit mother was a fighter so if she’d somehow survived this he probably wouldn’t be surprised by it.
Especially right now. In the distance he heard the sound of more plasma rifle discharges echoing through the sandstone and cement halls. He should have expected something like this to happen especially now that they were planning an attack. It only made sense that they’d be attacked this close to the offensive against Topanga Canyon - it happened in every other timeline so why would this one be any different? He’d long theorized that the timeline was constantly trying to right itself despite the constant changes caused by the temporal incursions both on Skynet’s side and the Resistance’s. Time was trying to find a way to fix itself and a lot of the things that he’d heard about through stories still seemed to happen even in this upside down timeline.
So why would Topanga be any different? The story and the players were the same; just the characterizations were different. In the original timeline John was trying to keep the power systems online while the machines invaded the base and Kyle was making sure that the mainframes and classified materials were destroyed. The locations were even the same. They were in tunnels underneath what was once called Pico Tower – a high-rise hotel. The first machine sent in was an infiltrator that targeted the leader of the base (in the original timeline John; in this one Kyle). The machines were coming in from all the available entrances they could find. It was almost exactly the same.
Right as he finished up burning their files and setting up the demolition charges around the mainframes he heard a noise at the door. Diving he rolled and crouch walked to the central table. He pulled his rifle from the smooth tabletop, disengaged the safety, and pointed the barrel at the door. The young soldier kept his finger on the trigger and kept his finger ready to strike. He wanted to be ready to pull the trigger if the machine came in from the other side. Deep in the recesses of his mind he wondered which infiltrator Skynet would use this time (he never learned the style used in the raid). Would it be Uncle Bob? The machine sent for Bedell? Rosie? Carl Greenway? Was it going to be any of a slew of other possibilities ranging from all shapes and sizes? Could it even be Cromartie – well Cromartie before he was taken over by John Henry?
The shape came through the door. John pointed the rifle at the head and got ready to pull the trigger, right when he realized who it was. It wasn’t a machine - at least he assumed that it wasn’t because he’d yet to see a machine wearing the face of Derek Reese. He moved the plasma rifle to a resting position and got back to his charges. Derek had other plans, he wanted to question Connor.
“Where’s my brother?” He asked without delay.
John had heard about Derek’s continued quest to find out more about Kyle following the Mission to Topanga in the other reality from Cameron. He’d even lived part of it while Charley tried to save Derek after he was shot by Vick Chamberlain. Back then Derek had demanded answers from John even as he lay bleeding on the kitchen counter from his wounds. John knew the futility of trying to lie to him about something that was so important in Derek’s mind; in all their minds. Family was truly important even now.
“I really don’t know. He was going to the Generator Room to make sure that it was defended during the evacuation. He asked me to…”
The older Reese screamed, “And you let him go alone?”
“I really didn’t have a choice,” Connor answered him as he activated the timers. “I had to make sure that these files and the mainframes were destroyed so that Skynet didn’t know what we’re up to.”
“Face it,” Derek shook his head incredulously, “Skynet already knows everything. How else could it’ve found us? We too every precaution…”
This time John interrupted him, “And sometimes the machines just guess right. This time they guessed right; so we need to make sure that everything that could lead them to us is destroyed and then we need to get the hell out of here.” He tried not to tip his hand too much to let Derek know that he knew more than he should. John looked at the countdown, “And we only have thirty seconds left before we get entombed a thousand feet below the surface if we stay in this room so we need to get the hell out of here! Let’s go get Kyle…”
The explosion was hard to mistake. John and Derek shared a look then they ran for the door. The only room in the entire base that was designed to be destroyed was the control room, which John had just set the detonators for. That meant that somewhere else in the base someone was in a hell of a lot of trouble and both knew exactly where that likely was. The machine had changed its attack plan. It was after the power systems and that had to be where the explosion came from. That was where Kyle was.
They both ran as fast as they could for the source.
Maneuvering through the emergency escape tunnel was like trying to navigate through a maze blindfolded. The whole tunnel was as dark as the night sky and the ground was broken up from years of weathering and misuse. A putrid smell, like rotten eggs but worse, made its way through the air and assaulted their nostrils. Every few minutes the ground and walls would shake as a Hunter Killer tank rolled over the streets above them with its massive treads. Even though the tunnel gave them some protection and all they could hear were the sounds; Allison imagined the sick sound of the skeletons of their fathers and mothers breaking under the weight of the colossus. It wasn’t the first time that it happened, it probably wouldn’t be the last, and like every time before her eyes let loose a single tear of sorrow.
Ahead of her Andre Sumner and Eduardo Timms were helping three children down the long pipe, but both of the men stopped to check on her. Sumner shone the flashlight, one of the last working ones in the world she theorized, in her eyes. She shielded herself with her forearm trying to block out the blinding light as best she knew how. Normally she’d want the light; right now all she wanted was to be in the dark. She wished she had never been born into this.
“Get that damn light out of my face!”
“Just checkin ta see if ya back tere lil lady,” it was of course Andre with his distinctive accent and speaking style. She knew that he spoke normal English, avoiding the accent and words of the land where he grew up from time to time, but this wasn’t one of those times. Timms grinned from ear to ear like the Cheshire Cat, the latest in his line of flirting looks.
Holding onto her rifle tightly she made her way up to them over the cracked cement, “I’m not a little lady that needs two big strong men to keep her going; I don’t need anyone. Whoever told you I was was lying to you so just get that thought outta your heads.” She dropped her hand and looked at Timms, “That goes to both of yours.”
“You’re not my type,” Timms said back to her hoping that the kids didn’t understand what she was saying. He didn’t care if they did, but he hid his embarrassment. She was the first to refuse him in a long time. They didn’t have many options after all.
“And you’re not mine,” she said looking him dead in the face then she remembered that the kids were there. Timms had quite the reputation among the survivors as being what they would have called a player a lifetime ago. He didn’t seem to get over the fact that they were dying; he just hopped from bed to bed and didn’t care about the consequences. One of Allison’s friends had killed herself after seeing him with another woman.
“Let’s keep moving before the metal starts following us,” she ordered without any real authority over them.
Sumner agreed, “Best idea I heard in a long time.”
They continued on their march toward the escape. The kids were doing remarkably well considering the circumstances, but kids were better survivors than even the adults in this world. Kids could adapt quickly to new situations; adults had a bit more trouble with change. Kids weren’t blowing their heads off after the fall of man – adults were left and right. Those kids were now they adults and taking care of the next generation. Some of them were even losing that gift of adaptation.
Allison herself was only a kid when the bombs fell. She was three years old when Judgment Day came and she wasn’t even with her parents at the time. She had been in the care of their kindly old next door neighbor Mrs. McCluskey because her mom and dad were both at work. She was eating, something better than garbage probably but she barely remembered, but she could remember seeing the mushroom clouds in the bay window. They hung over Los Angeles and, to her young eyes; they were prettiest things that she’d ever seen. Mrs. McCluskey had a harder time with it, frantically moving and trying to get things together. Allison never cried out for her parents, never even cried once during the storm, but she silently worried about her mom and dad not understanding what had happened (all she wanted to know at that moment was if they saw the pretty cloud). A short time later Mrs. McCluskey passed away from the stress – a heart attack most likely – and Allison was left alone at the age of three to fend for herself.
As the group came to the Y-shaped intersection she stood for a moment to regain her bearings. It was pretty clever of them when they came up with the escape route. If you went to the left you’d end up back at the base near the entrance, but if you went to the right you’d come out at the intersection of Third Street and Cameron in about half a mile. There was another intersection shaped like a fork. If you stayed on the right path there were booby traps and detours that you had to know how to navigate through. The one in the middle led to a massive drop off that would kill you. Then if you went to the left you’d be able to get to the escape tunnel. The machines could never navigate through these jury rigged tunnels, well they could but it’d probably take some time, so they needed whatever advantages they could get. Allison took point and led them through the tunnel.
They didn’t get far before all hell broke loose. About two hundred feet down the long corridor another Hunter Killer patrol rolled over the streets above them. This time the ground shook and buckled, which was made worse when they heard the explosion. It shouldn’t have done any damage, but the explosion rocked the foundations of the tunnels. Rubble and debris fell from the ceiling and separated Allison from the rest of her group. She turned back and started clawing at the garbage; there had to be at least three feet of debris separating her from the others. She kept clawing at it trying to free them, but it was a worthless gesture. If only she’d had her rifle she could’ve blasted away the field. They couldn’t follow her; there was no way they could maneuver through the junk. They’d have to loop back around to the other side. If they were alive of course.
Allison was torn. She could help free them but risk being captured by the machines, or she could keep going down the corridor and escape. There were points where she could possible loop back around and, if she were lucky, she could get to them, but there weren’t many of those options ahead of her. There was just too much debris blocking her path to her friends, to the children. Looking down the dark corridor she knew what she had to do. Instead of running to her freedom she ran to the intersection that led back to the base. Her legs pumped as fast and as hard as she could make them go. She passed the turn that would lead to freedom and raced to the far end that would loop back giving her the chance to rescue the others. She rounded the corner and fell back on her butt. Looking up she saw a vision of hell light up before her. Twin red eyes started to glow and they focused in on her. The machines had found the escape tunnels and they were lying in wait, just waiting for the refugees to try to escape. She apologized silently and started down the exit conduit, praying for her friends and her own survival.