John Connor felt the cool water surround his body and let himself to, for a brief second, relax in the weightlessness. To most the water would’ve been far too cold for comfort, but having not been able to bathe in any way for what felt like a lifetime John found it was just right. The lifelong soldier dropped his head beneath the waves and just let himself float beneath the surface, allowing the water to wrap around him like a blanket. It was like being in the womb or being in the time stream heading for a new era. It was amazing to him how similar they were. It almost felt exactly the same.
For a moment the thought crossed his mind not to allow himself to resurface – to just allow nature to take its course with him. All of his failures, all of his successes would simply be wiped away for all of time. What would history remember him as in this reality anyway? In the other John had gone down in history as the man who literally saved the world from the machines. Here he was just the boy that fell from the sky on a cool, clear night. He’d helped them to fight, organize in a sense, but most of what he’d done had been futile. All of those mistakes could be forgotten and everything could just run its course in seconds if he just let the water flow into his lungs.
But there was a voice inside his head that would never let him follow through. “Quit feeling sorry for yourself, John, you have a mission to complete. Remember your training; Skynet cannot be allowed to win this war no matter the cost.” The voice said over and over.
The immortal Sarah Connor’s words pulled him from his reverie and the darkness of his soul. John allowed himself to return to the surface and swung his head back when he met the air, letting the water drip from his longer than preferred hair. After his experiences with Uncle Bob and the T-1000, John had decided to rebel a bit by letting his hair grow longer. His mother hated it but his hair was one of the few things, hell maybe it was the only thing, that he had control over in his entire life. Like his mother he hated it in the beginning, but he actually grew to like it a bit more than he ever imagined that he would. He was even happy for a while – he has his mother, a surrogate father in the form of his Uncle, and the companionship of Cameron. Then Margos Sarkissian stepped into his life. When they were trying to buy The Turk from him, Sarkissian double-crossed them on John’s birthday of all days.
First he incapacitated Cameron by blowing up the Jeep with a bomb and then he came for Sarah and John. Sarkissian and his goon tied them up with zip ties and beat them for a few moments inside their own house. When the goon stepped out for a cigarette, Sarkissian decided to have some fun with Sarah. He pushed John up against the radiator and tried to rape Sarah. Watching his mother, the soldier who taught him everything, being hurt in such a way threw John into a rage he’d never before experienced. Using all of his might he cut the ties with the jagged edge of the radiator – cutting himself in the process a bit deeper than he should have but not caring about his own wounds – and flew after Sarkissian like an avenging angel. He grabbed him by the throat and didn’t stop squeezing until the man stopped breathing. When the man’s eyes rolled back lifeless into his head, John didn’t stop. He just kept pushing and pushing letting his hatred, his anger, and his rage control every action that he took.
That was the first time he’d ever taken a life. Sarah tried to comfort him, tried to calm him, but the pain had burrowed deep in a flash. He felt like a zombie, like he had killed himself instead of that monster Sarkissian. How could he have taken another human life – even someone as despicable as that monster? Humans weren’t supposed to be his enemy; they were never what he trained to fight against. Machines were supposed to be his target. He felt sick to his stomach during the entire aftermath. He’d become one of the metal bastards in so many ways except for one: his conscience got the best of him and reminded him of what he’d done.
But the nightmare wasn’t over. The cybernetic assassin that he’d come to care about came through the door and just stared with her typical blank stare. He’d expected some sort of stupid comment or observation, but he never prepared himself for what came next. She raised her gun at him and she started to squeeze the trigger. An explosion knocked the stairs out and made her miss the shot, but it was enough to trigger every instinct inside of him. He had to run, she’d changed from friend to foe, and that was what they did. He dove through the window with his mother, nearly breaking his leg on the botched landing.
He couldn’t run forever though. Eventually they stopped running and faced Cameron head on, nearly destroying her in the process but that was the mission. When she expressed her undying love for him it reignited his rage and he shut her off for the revelation. As they prepared to melt her down something clicked inside his mind and he turned again, this time he became her steadfast protector. He restored her – against everyone’s advice – and they came to an understanding of sorts. They went back to their temporary sanctuary in the church where they all tried to move on. That was the death of John Baum, Reese, or whatever the hell he wanted to call himself and the beginning of the rise of John Connor – if only for a time. He cut his hair, he changed his look, and he prepared himself for what tomorrow would bring. He was a soldier, a warrior, and that was all he would ever be.
And he nearly killed himself more than once because of his new found knowledge of his destiny. Then something came into his life that he didn’t expect to find: love. Riley Dawson had been his way of finding a normal life, but even she wasn’t normal like he suspected. She was just as different as he was and it didn’t take John long to realize it. Derek’s psychotic girlfriend – convinced that Cameron was the greatest threat to all of the Resistance – took her back in time and warped Riley’s mind into being a weapon against him. Her mission was to turn John against the machine and she nearly succeeded in the task despite his objections at the time. The problem was that Jesse didn’t expect that Riley would become so dedicated to the paradise of the past that she would die to remain in it. Riley tried to kill herself but survived; then Jesse killed her and made it look like Cameron did it in a jealous rage.
That was the final death of John Baum. John confronted Jesse and decided to let her live with her own demons for what she’d done, but Derek had other plans for his one time love. Derek took care of Jesse on John’s behalf and they got ready for what would come next on the wall of misery as he’d come to call it. They were going to run again, to rebuild their lives away from everything so far and wait for the bombs to fall, but Sarah had more plans than just those. She would keep John from Derek and Cameron to let him find himself in a sense with the help of Charley Dixon. They would train him in their own way away from the machinations of the machine and his depressed uncle. But they never imagined that Skynet was still waiting for them and was already sending its minions – including human soldiers – against them. Everybody died for John Connor at some point. Charley died saving John, Derek died saving John, and Cameron died saving John, everybody.
With everything that’s happened to him in his life it was no wonder he’d tried to kill himself.
“Have a nice swim?” spat Derek Reese as John put back on his clothes after getting out of the pool.
“Better than the last time when the hydrobot tried to give me a kiss,” John said matter-of-factly. “How’s Kyle?”
Derek walked toward the pool and knelt beside it. He ran his fingers through it for a second like a kid sitting next to a river. The fallback position had once been a pretty upscale hotel that was off the beaten trail on the outskirts of Los Angeles. This distance had been the saving grace and pretty much survived judgment day with just some rudimentary damage not much worse than what it would’ve gotten during an earthquake. It had a few people in it as caretakers, John had never met them but Kyle had selected them personally, and it was comfortable. A lot of their bases had been hotels it seemed, but this one had more advantages. The closed off pool for one gave them access to water – even though they bathed in it every so often. They boiled it anyway. Plus they were able to put a lookout tower in on the upper floor and it still had access to the sewer system. And the security monitors were still operational and, even now, they were filming everything with someone watching them at all times.
“He’s getting back to normal. He got damn lucky that the metal bastard wasn’t able to close its fist or he wouldn’t have had any hope at all.” He actually laughed, “And he’s still holding onto that snap of your mother.”
“She’s his good luck charm,” reminded Connor.
Derek snorted, “Somethin’ like that. I don’t need reminded every five minutes.”
“Look I don’t want to get into another fight with you about the picture or anything else in particular,” John answered his challenge. “We’ve been through it enough and we’ve had a hard enough day as it is.”
“You’re giving him false hope,” Reese pressed as he started to strip, not caring about what John wanted. “Things like that picture and those tapes that you had to keep from that depot we found in the desert; things like that… they’re material and they’re worthless to us. They have no purpose other than to remind us of yesterday when we need to be thinking about what we’re going to do to survive.” He stepped into the pool just as John had just done and kept talking, “Things like that plasma gun, they’re worth our time trying to save.”
John rubbed his chin and kept reminding himself not to go off on him. He could fight bitterly, but he needed to remain calm. That picture was the only thing even he had left of his mother now; the tapes were still at the old base and were probably going off to some Skynet lab for analysis as they spoke.
“There’s more to winning wars than just having bigger and better guns. Maybe we have to give people something else other than this war to think about,” Connor suggested. “Memories of life before those bombs fell on our heads, memories of a life before we were hunted by machines; people need things like those to help them get through the day. When I joined your little group after you found me we had several dozen people with us and now only three years later our numbers are dwindling down to nothing. People are losing hope…”
Reese floated in the water just as John had done seconds ago, “Then they’re weak and none of us have time to be sniveling little girls and boys. There’s a war on and we need to fight, not worry about yesterday. Worry about tomorrow instead.”
“Yeah I know,” Connor was starting to lose control, “Remember that this is a war I’ve been fighting since before your parents even got together and wasted their time making you. Too bad they didn’t have protection that night.”
“Yeah your destiny to be the leader of humanity; what was it we were supposed to call you?” He snickered, “Oh yeah ‘the great John Connor’ the prophesied leader of the Resistance against Skynet… what a joke. Bang up job you’re doing as our leader, Great One.”
John clenched his hand into a fist so tight he could feel his fingers digging into the flesh. He kept reminding himself that this wasn’t how things were supposed to be and that all of this would change soon enough. “At least I’m trying to help people, to win this war, all you seem to be doing is trying more and more to self destruct against the machines. You offend me – you’re little more than a coward who acts more like a bully than a soldier; a petty thug who just so happens to have survived by the grace of God.”
“God has nothing to do with it and it’s better than being a man struggling to keep hold of a destiny that never existed,” he answered bitterly. “At least my skills will help me survive, what’ll yours do to help you live? You want to win the war, but you want to help people too. Don’t you?”
“If we don’t help people we’re no better than the machines,” Connor pointed out.
Derek cocked his head, “Well that’s all well in good – it’s noble that you want to be a man of the people. Let’s give people our food, a blanket, and our guns like great statesmen should. But here’s something you have to remember about humanity and people in particular. We’re animals, plain and simple truth, John. You value human life, I just value living another day. Remember those dogs we kept at the doors to the base and that you, recently, told us could sniff out the tin cans? Well, before the fall, I remember reading a story about a man who had owned a Rottweiler for its entire life. He cared for it, he raised it from a puppy, but one day the man died and no one was left to care for the dog. The dog protected the remains until it got hungry and then it ate its master. People are just like that. They’ll stand by you as long as it meets their needs, but then they become the hungry dog and they’ll eat you all the same.”
“Right now I’d take that hungry dog over you any day of the week.” John looked down at him, “Clean yourself up and start pulling your own weight again other than bitching and moaning about the leadership styles I employ. Your brother seems to think that I have some good ideas. Maybe you should trust him and his judgment.”
Before he could hear another word escape the man’s lips, Connor turned and walked back into the base leaving his uncle alone in the pool. For a second he hoped that Derek would simply fade beneath the surface and never come back up again, but that was only for a moment. He had a legitimate argument, it just wasn’t an opinion that John shared, and he should be allowed to express it. Derek needed to vent and that was how he did it; he needed someone to challenge him and fight him about something. He’d always been that way.
And it’d always been that way between them both in this reality and the other. When he first met him he was, in many ways, just like Uncle Derek but this incarnation had a harder edge. It was probably because of everything that he’d been through that the other had never seen. Life hadn’t been a picnic for Uncle Derek, but it was in contrast to this one’s life and experiences. In Uncle Derek’s reality he grew up somewhat under John’s protection and didn’t have to contend with a struggle as deadly as this one. They had worked well together in the beginning, but as more came out about John’s history Derek’s cynicism got the better of him in more ways than one. They’d still worked well together, but not as easily as they had in the other reality. Maybe one day they’d work better and they’d develop the relationship that they’d had in the other reality, but he doubted it. They’d probably remain at odds for the rest of their days never changing in any way.
That was just the order of things.