Flight is Right

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction.

Chapter Five: Set the World On Fire

"Now, the war had been on for two years at this point, with foreign interest in recognizing the Confederacy increasing every day. Lincoln had the proclamation penned and all written up in his desk, just waiting to be issued. He needed a victory on the field, though, so it would not look like an act of desperation. We went over this yesterday, can anybody tell me exactly what that victory was?"

Two people raised their hands; Cameron Phillips and some kid John didn't know the name of. Another girl. She looked like she was about to burst, she was so sure of herself. John Connor knew the answer too. American History was his favorite class (he liked war segments especially, they were always...useful to him,) but his arm remained exactly where it was; kind of slumped over the desk, hanging off slightly. John's head was currently pressed against the surface of the desk, his eyes closed. He was waiting for the announcement to come. Fights in school weren't exactly things that remained unnoticed; no monitors had been around to watch Michael Oxferod get pummeled, but that didn't necessarily mean that several students wouldn't report it. John was expecting a call over the intercom to come any second now.

Mr. Bennett, who was hugely fat but undeniably charismatic and pleasant, frowned at the scarcity of answers and selected the second girl, "Yes, Martha?"

"The Battle of Gettysburg?" Martha said, her eyes huge and hopeful. She'd probably studied immensely last night for their upcoming test. When you grind like that in one night, the answers tended to blend together and not make much sense when you got right down to it. The same held true in this case.

"Ah, incorrect," Bennett said, "Gettysburg occurred later in 1863, and was the turning point of the Civil War." Martha looked positively ashen faced and settled back against her chair, looking vaguely depressed, as if her faith in the world had just drained a bit. Meanwhile, Bennett begrudgingly selected Cameron with a wave of his arm.

"The Battle of Antietam, September 17th, 1862. On the side of the Confederacy it was known as the Battle of Sharpsburg," she paused for a moment, as if mulling over whether or not she should divulge even more detail. John continually warned her against such things on the grounds that it made her look like "a freak", so she was probably taking that into consideration too.

Before she could make a decision, Mr. Bennett gladly seized on her answer, "Yes, very good. That was a crucial battle, as I'm sure you all remember --or don't-- in that it prevented the South from penetrating into the North, which also prevented the international community from re-examining its views on Confederate independence, particularly Britain and France..." And he drifted off as he turned back toward the white board, scribbling busily with a marker.

Someone tapped John on the shoulder, very lightly. John lifted his head up and turned a bit. Two guys sitting diagonally behind him were staring at him, smirking and wide-eyed. The front-most one let out a soft sort of giggle and said, "Did you really get in a fight with Mike Oxferod?"

Cameron's head swung back, staring at the guy. He didn't seem to notice, thankfully. John responded with a short nod, but kept his attention on the guy, expecting another question.

"You beat him up?"

John nodded again, "Yeah. I did."

The guy looked about ready to burst with quiet laughter, shaking his head in mock disbelief. The kid behind him had his eyebrows raised as far as they could go. The guy said, "I can't believe you think that freak is worth the trouble. But hey, to each his own." He giggled and settled back in his seat.

John continued to stare at him in mute fury, his eyes darkening. He didn't want to think about Cheri right now and what had happened. Having this bullshit thrown in his face right now didn't help all that much. He resisted the urge to spring up and launch himself at the smirking prick. The guy seemed to recognize this and seemed somewhat taken aback, perhaps thinking to himself that maybe it wasn't so intelligent to insult a guy who'd recently kicked someone's ass. He flinched back a moment as John suddenly lurched his head forward like a cobra and jerked it back just as quickly. Cameron stirred very noticeably on the edge of John's vision.

"Ahem. Gentlemen, is there a problem?" Bennett called out to them in annoyance. A bunch of dates and names now filled the white-board.

"Nope, none at all," John said easily, turning away from the guy, who said in a small voice, "No." John settled back into his seat and leaned forward intently. Bennett raised an eyebrow and looked back to the white-board, frowning.

"Good, now-"

"I have to use the bathroom."

Bennett swung his head over to Cameron, who was the one who'd spoken. John also found himself turning toward her as well in mild surprise, thinking Since when does she-

The intercom crackled and a woman's voice said, "John Baum to the main office. John Baum to the main office, please."

A few knowing giggles from the class. Bennett appeared to forget about Cameron's admittedly rude call-out and said, "He's on his way!" He turned to John and pointed towards the door, a faintly exasperated look on his face.

The intercom snapped off. John bent forward in his seat to grab his back pack, suspecting that he'd be spending the rest of the day in detention. As he did this, Bennett gave Cameron permission to visit the rest room, clearly wanting to get back to the lesson and end the distractions. John and his protector left the class room together and went out into the fairly empty hallway.

"Convenient timing," John said as he started in the direction of the main office, which was just down the hall. Cameron walked with him; the bathrooms were off in the other direction. He raised an eyebrow.

"I knew the intercom was about to activate," she explained, "My auditory sensors can pick up static long before humans can."

John folded his lower lip slightly over the rest of his mouth and looked at Cameron, "So you knew I was about to get called in."

She nodded. John sighed, shaking his head a bit. Christ, did she think he was this helpless? "Why? I don't need an escort to the main office."

"I know you don't," she said, striding purposefully in step with John, "I wanted to ask if you were alright."

John rolled his eyes and laughed bitterly. He turned his head to her, "Does it matter? Really, I mean, why do you care?"

Cameron cocked her head and looked thoughtful. Apparently she hadn't considered that either. She was seriously beginning to freak John out with this behavior, it was such a departure from how she generally acted around him. He paused for a moment himself. Just what was her general behavior? He'd known her for less than a month (in his reckoning, time travel not included) and he still couldn't get a grip on her personality. Did machines even have personality? Was that possible? Were all Terminators exactly the same in their mindset when you didn't consider their infiltration adeptness? He'd known the T-800 protector for less than a week and he'd felt as if the thing was his dad for chrissake. Cameron was far more...human than "Uncle Bob" had ever been.

He was so fucking confused.

Cameron said, "I just feel that I...should. It's difficult to explain."

John's eyes widened. He looked away, embarrassed as he said, "Well, I'm fine."

"You cried," Cameron said. She was staring right at him now, and John couldn't meet her glance, not anymore. Did she even mind the fact that he was uncomfortable talking about things like that? "I saw that you were feeling emotional pain, not physical, after you kicked Michael Oxferod's ass. You were sad."

That last part coaxed a startled chuckle out of John. He looked at her, head slightly bent. He sighed and sobered. Only one thing to really say; "I know."

She nodded evenly and reached out, taking his right hand in her left. She rubbed it with her thumb as they walked, just as she had the other day. John barely resisted this time. He let her do it. She wanted to comfort him. It was something she felt she ought to do. God, what was she... Cameron looked at him and got to the main point; "Why did you cry?"

They were coming up to the main office. John shook his head and sighed, "I...just realized that Mike was Cheri's boyfriend. I guess that's what did it." Even as he spoke he felt his eyes blurring a bit. For some reason he felt it would be appropriate to suddenly just sob into her shoulder or something, but he couldn't. Not with her. How would she interpret that? He was afraid of the answer, so he blinked rapidly, forcing the waterworks back. He stopped, and Cameron stopped with him. It wouldn't do to leave this unresolved because he had to face school punishment. He had to get this out of the way.

"Yes, I extrapolated the same thing, given his reaction to your sitting next to her. He must be very protective." She had a slight softness to her voice as she said that last part.

John tilted his head and frowned, "Well. I...just kinda like her, I guess. It was just...very sudden, y'know, that guy coming in there. I wasn't expecting a thing like that, y'know, getting told off like that. And the punch, all of that, it kind of caught me...off guard." He was almost whispering as he finished, fearing that none of what he'd said made sense. He didn't know any other way to articulate this, though. That revelation had hurt in a way John hadn't even known could exist before this day. He was still in the process of wrapping his mind around it, and he realized that ol' Mike would probably be waiting to stare at him coldly as he walked into the vice-principal's office of something like that. Happy day.

Cameron looked at him. "You felt as though you were rejected in some way? Unwanted?"

John looked at her with some measure of surprise. He found himself nodding easily with that, and realized that he was only now accepting that he did indeed feel that way. It hurt to admit that, hurt so much that he felt light-headed. Yet at the same time, the simple fact that he'd acknowledged how he felt filled him with an odd sort of warmth.

"I'm sorry," she said. John's hand was still in hers. She took her other hand and pressed it on top of his, enfolding it. It didn't feel awkward anymore. He felt a bit awed as he realized that she was actually succeeding in comforting him. She understood right away and cut through the bullshit. He nodded a bit more and smiled at her, feeling as though a weight had been lifted, in a way. Maybe he should cry with her. That would feel good, in a way. Maybe in her machine like precision she would understand such a thing more fundamentally than most humans could. One of these days, maybe, if he ever felt this way again. Maybe he wouldn't have to if he could just get his focus back... So confused.

Cameron tilted her head thoughtfully, "You said you like Cheri."

John nodded again. "Yeah."

"'Like' as in you consider her a friend? Similar to Morris, for example?"

John shook his head, as if it should be obvious to her, "No, the other way."

Cameron shut her eyes a moment and opened them again, her facial features going somewhat blank. She let go of his hand suddenly, "In other words, you would agree that you are sexually interested in her."

John blinked at the rather blunt way of putting that, but she was essentially correct. He rubbed his forehead a bit, "Yeah, Cam, I guess." He looked at her. He frowned now. Something had gone wrong, he'd said something she hadn't wanted to hear. If he had a metaphorical rewind button, he'd be pressing it frantically. He kept his face tightly composed as he looked at her, his smile disappearing abruptly.

She stared at him for a moment, almost as though she wasn't really looking at him, but through him. There was a brief moment of silence as she just stared. John licked his lips idly and shifted on his feet, feeling really, really fucking uncomfortable as he considered the implications of this. He felt guilty, as though he'd broken something.

"I'm glad that you're alright," she said in monotone. She wheeled away from him and walked off without another word, her footsteps echoing in the otherwise quiet hall as she went.

John remained where he was standing, his eyes anchored to the ground, taking all of this in. The whole thing had gotten so...it felt surreal to even think about it. He'd felt comfortable talking to her just a few seconds ago. Had he put her in a false sense of security? Sent the wrong message? Cameron had gone from comforting to suddenly off-put as he admitted that he liked Cheri, that much was clear. Why she reacted this way was another thing altogether. The only reason John could think of was that she was jealous, and he was way, way too overwrought right now with too much shit to even think about that right now. John sighed and pushed open the main office door, silently dreading the fact that he'd shortly be sitting in detention for the rest of the day, free to dwell on ALL OF THIS.

----------------

It went down about as well as John expected it would. He had to sit in the vice-principal's office next to Michael, who'd cleaned up his face well enough to give the impression that he hadn't been bleeding profusely only an hour ago. They were both silent as the vice-principal went into a long and complex analogy where two brothers fight over something mundane, and that nothing good ultimately came as a result of their having fought. He de-cried random violence, directing this mostly at Michael, whom he'd rightfully concluded (probably based on witnesses) had started the fight in the first place. Both teenagers answered his questions in curt monosyllables, not looking at one another, not disagreeing over anything. Michael didn't even attempt to lie to cover his own ass.

After a while they brought in Cheri to give her own account of what had transpired. She was just as dull as John and Michael were, giving a short, factual review of the events. She never once changed facial expressions or showed a hint of emotion as she spoke. The vice-principal thanked her for her time, and she left without saying anything else. Later, John would reflect, he was surprised that he'd been able to maintain his cool through-out the whole thing. He was a positive swirl of emotions during this, and he suspected that Michael was as well, and Cheri. And yet all three of them reacted to this meeting like dead fish. He would learn why later, after school.

The vice-principal had sighed and stood up, circling his desk dramatically, fumbling with something in his shirt pocket. John allowed himself to glower as he did this. Michael remained utterly passive, just staring ahead. Finally, the man turned to them and gave his verdict. Michael was to be suspended for a week for initiating violence. John was to spend the day in detention for retaliating and not seeking aid. He told the two teens that he understood what they were going through, and that jealousy was a natural emotion, but that violence was not the answer. And that had been that. Two minutes later and John was sitting in an average sized room with neutral blue walls and desks arranged alongside, partitioned by wood so the occupants (detainees?) of the room couldn't talk to or see each other.

The teacher in the room laid down an essay question on the desk. John looked up as the piece of paper brushed his arm. He flicked it over and stared down at it. Campo de Cahuenga's staff wanted to know what he thought would be good alternatives for violent behavior in two hundred words or more. They also made it clear that if he didn't do it, the penalty would be another detention the following day after school, obviously to show how nice and forgiving they were. John sighed and looked around in his backpack for a pencil, eventually finding one in two separate pieces. He made do with it. He set the pencil (top half) to paper and it took him about ten minutes to put down a bullshit answer, automatically seizing at the chance to bring his mind away from the completely shitty week he'd had up to this moment, if only for a little while.

He tried to categorize exactly where this had all started and how he could pull himself out of the depression he was falling into. He couldn't, not really. All of these events had basically accreted into one massive golem sitting on his shoulder, occasionally ripping a chunk of flesh out of him when something happened to make him feel even more shitty.

What sort of conclusion could he draw from this? Was it going to get worse, or better as time went on? What exactly was happening to him, anyway? It wasn't just the fact that he felt like a sack of crap after realizing that the only girl he'd been interested in forever was otherwise engaged to a territorial prick, it was a lot of OTHER things. Cameron had something to do with it too. This all on top of his destiny, which every day seemed like a run-away train on its way toward hitting him. Christ, he could only take so much before realizing that it wasn't worth it.

He lowered his head on the desk and resolved to will himself to sleep. He would go nuts if he just sat there and brooded. He was a light sleeper and he didn't snore that much, he knew that from his mom. He'd get away with it. He stared at the desk in semi-darkness, hearing nothing but the hushed whispers of other students nearby. He tried to clear his mind so that he'd have an easier time of going to sleep. He envisioned void, blankness, silence. For some reason, as he stared into this metaphorical void, he imagined two huge glowing balls of red staring right back toward him, and just that brought him back into the cycle.

He still hadn't succeeded in clearing his mind before he actually fell into an uneasy, fitful sleep.

--------------

Silence roared in John's ears as he slowly came awake. His head was laying almost flat upon the cool surface of the desk, and that was the first thing he saw as his eyes flickered open. He stared at the wood for a while, letting himself come fully awake. His nostrils twitched as he smelt something burning, like charcoal. It was distant. He couldn't hear anything burning either. All he heard was a faint, continuous buzzing in his ears, which was the sound of silence. There was a certain kind of dryness in his mouth, as if he'd spent too much time in a dusty vacant lot. His arms were folded against his lap, his feet together at the base of the chair. Slowly, he picked up his head.

The wall in front of him wasn't blue, and it sure as hell wasn't neutral. After a fashion you might call it "vaguely blue", but it was more gray and generally battered looking more than anything else. The thing that really opened John's eyes was the massive scorch mark in front of him, reaching out with black tendrils like a spider on the wall. The air was distorted with heat; the blast was recent. John stared at the blackened section of wall for a moment before turning his head towards the rest of the room, noting that both wooden partitions enclosing his desk were now nothing more than splinters on the floor.

The detention room was in shambles, which was a fairly benign term to use for the destruction John was seeing here. Part of the roof near the northern corner had collapsed all over the teachers desk and several chairs. A ray of light shone through the opening, looking almost solid with the amount of dust particles floating through it. Near that devastation was a mound of rubble which looked, until very recently, to have been on fire. Almost every chair in the room besides John's was contributing to this heap; they were all overturned and blackened, and some were completely broken apart. There were a few skeletons lined up along the rim of the debris, and every skull was cracked and fractured. Some were wearing old, ragged looking clothing, mostly great-coats and some belts. Body armor was prevalent. A few cadavers were headless. Every window was shattered, and there was no glass laying around on the floor. A coat of dust seemed to had enveloped the entire room, making everything appear blurred and unfocused. There was absolutely no noise save for the sound of John turning in his seat. No wind, no distant traffic noises...nothing.

John stared at the scene in awe for over a minute, his breath coming in slowly and haltingly, if at all. Ok. Just like his dream from the other day, except...now it was real (Dreams are exactly what they are: fantasy worlds you create out of your subconscious, which are indiscernible from reality when they are actually happening. Therefore it didn't occur to John that this, too, was a dream,) and he was in the middle of it. Judgement Day. All he could think about was where are the machines?

There was silence as he sat there, staring at the devastation. Only an hour ago he'd been sitting at this desk, trying to go to sleep, and...now this? This wasn't the safest place he could be, he knew that. He had to get out of here.

With that thought he pushed himself up from his desk and took a few steps forward, watching his footing. Wayward pieces of debris littered the floor. The dust clouding the room almost looked like a solid wall in some places. If he extended his arm a bit in any direction, he would actually feel some physical resistance. He took a shuddering breath, already beginning to wheeze, and started for the door, a look of mute shock on his face.

That shock turned into terror as he heard, quite suddenly, a distinct rumbling noise almost directly behind him. It was a sound of many metal parts screeching against one another, of buzzing and beeping of systems running and hydraulics. Of parts moving and turning. A crushing noise of rocks and debris being reduced to fine dust under the moving weight of massive treads. One of Skynet's massive death machines was in the area, hunting for prey. John was practically petrified in fear. He turned himself slightly to look out the windows.

The landscape was as he'd remembered it from his dream. Red, hazy. No plants, destruction all around. It looked positively empty if you discounted the largish vehicle that rumbled busily along about a kilometer off. It was a huge construction of chrome and steel, that was all John could discern from it at first. The exact, though blurry features of the behemoth followed after that. The top of the vehicle was dominated by a rectangular box of elaborate make. A single bar of light ran across this, probably making this the control center for the vehicle; it's eyes and brain. Directly below that was a curved platform that eventually led down to the two bus-sized treads that propelled the construction, which in total appeared to be at least fifteen meters tall. At both the right and left side of the platform were two identical gun turrets dangling from the underside. These turrets were swiveling back and forth in a semi-circular pattern. The gigantic steel torso of the vehicle swiveled back and forth, sweeping. A gigantic cloud of dust following in the machines wake.

The features of the machine were becoming more clear and recognizable as John stared at it; it was coming toward him the school at a quick pace, and there weren't any obstructions on the ground which could slow it down.

John turned and ran for the door, not bothering to watch where he was going even amid all the debris. And before he knew it, his foot crashed down on a dust covered skull. His foot slipped on the curved remnant and quickly crushed it, causing John to lose his balance and fall forward with a surprised yell. He hit the ground with a dull thump and jerked in pain as sharpened stones and bone cut into his flesh. Yelling unabashedly in pain, John frantically brushed the debris off his stomach and scrambled up off the floor. He stood there for a moment, breathing in rapidly. He stuck his hand up into his shirt and felt around for blood, wincing as he touched open cuts. His hand came away slightly bloodied. Probably a few small cuts, nothing that would warrant stitches or anything of the sort. That made them no less painful to John, and he quickly tried to ignore it. His mind was on auto-pilot, it was following only one instinct: fear.

Who could have told him this? Why hadn't somebody at least said something about what these monsters looked like? That thing was so fucking huge, those turrets looked like they could mark John from over a mile away and hit him flawlessly. He cringed in pain, clenching his teeth as he burst through the door and out into the hallway. He took a few running steps and skidded to a halt, his mouth falling open in a sudden, wild panic. He gasped and it almost sounded like a scream.

The hallway was gone. He was standing in open wilderness. Horrendously cold wind kicked up almost immediately against him as he stood there. The school was in ruins, there was just a few pieces of wall here, a locker there. Skeletons and blackened, twisted school books and accessories littered the area. Almost directly ahead of him was another free-standing classroom like the one he'd just been in. There was no ceiling, all he saw when he looked up was the sky and the horizon, which was lined with the ruins of Los Angeles. To the left and right of him were continuations of the hallway; the tiles, though nearly red with dust, still existed, and so did the wall, although that eventually ended a few meters away in both directions. The charcoal smell he'd noted earlier was even worse out here. There was a kind of howling from the sky as the wind blew. The rumbling from the Skynet behemoth was immensely loud at this point.

He turned around just in time to watch the Skynet vehicle plow straight into the detention room, generating a cacophonous crashing sound as wood and concrete collapsed. The vehicle was impossibly, awe-inspiringly huge when he was this close to it, bestriding the landscape like a marauding giant. The moving parts and screeching metal roared in his ears, and one of the gun turrets swiveled down as the behemoth moved forward. The turret aligned itself directly on John's forehead; he knew this because his vision was suddenly blinded by glowing red.

John's training rushed back to him like a kick in the ass. He flicked his head to the right and left, determined which was least likely to break his neck, and dived to the right in the space of a second. Almost as soon as he vaulted through the air, the Skynet creation opened fire, spewing forth a large globule of plasma. A flash of light accompanied by a loud ringing noise was all John saw of the impact, and then he hit the ground, arms tucked out ahead of his head to shield it from the shock of hitting the ground. He landed and cut both of his arms on debris, probably lacerating them, but his head was alright, and that's all that mattered to him at this point. He scrambled up and started sprinting for the closest mound of debris. He could hear hydraulics running as the plasma turret readjusted aim and prepared to fire again, and he started zig-zagging as he ran, throwing the machine's aim. The mound he'd targeted was so close now, he could just run another few feet and he'd been in cover. He felt a crazed sort of terror in addition to the adrenaline rushing through him now; it was similar to a feeling of pure determination in that it almost literally gave you wings.

That's when he heard someone yell up ahead of him. He couldn't even tell what it was, but it sounded like a human voice, and that was good enough for him. John yelled at the top of his lungs and waved his arms above his head once as the behemoth finally fired again. A ball of super-heated plasma buzzed right over his head and struck the ground about five feet ahead of him. He barely felt the impact, but it was strong enough to lift him bodily through the air and deposit him a few feet away on his back. He laid there in shock for a moment before he coughed up blood, splattering the corners of his mouth. He could barely move, and he knew that was it.

There was a small, almost miniscule whoosh from a few feet away, accompanied by an brief flare of light. A second later and there was an explosion. Metal screeched. The behemoth's plasma turrets fired off twice in quick succession at another target. John rolled himself around and stared at the vehicle. One of the plasma turrets had been destroyed and smoke billowed out from the wound. The giants torso was tracking something John couldn't see, firing rapidly-

John winced and instinctively covered his head as two pairs of running legs ran out in front of him. When he opened his eyes he saw that those legs belonged to two men wearing an amalgam of body armor and fur coverings. One of them was carrying a sleek looking rifle with a telescopic sight attached. It had a short sling attached to the under side which dangled freely as the man ran forward. The other one, who was now crouching, was carrying a long tube-shaped launcher. He turned and yelled something to the first man, who dropped his rifle and quickly shrugged off his backpack, pulling an arm-length rocket out from it. The second man tipped the launcher over slightly and helped the first load the rocket in. They both turned the rocket counter-clockwise. Finally, the second man lifted the launcher over his shoulder and peered down a telescopic sight as the first man helped to steady the firing tube. The Skynet vehicle was still busy firing rapidly at several other men among Campo de Cahuenga's ruins.

The launcher fired, disgorging the rocket and sending it flying toward the behemoth. The vehicle quickly swiveled toward the incoming rocket and tried to turn its remaining plasma gun on it, but it was far too late. The rocket smashed into the Skynet behemoth directly in its head, causing it to explode. The machine rumbled on its treads for a few seconds before it stopped, its gun turret drooping and falling silent. John's eyes lit up victoriously as he realized that the thing was dead. He heard no shouts of elation, though, no cries of victory. The men in front of John just quietly re-appropriated their equipment and the second man, the one with the launcher, started running toward the killed Skynet vehicle, yelling something John couldn't hear in a sharp, commanding voice.

The first man turned almost instantly and looked over at John. He was wearing a coal-scuttle helmet with some kind of chip attached to the helm, in front of his right eye. His eyes were a light green, and John couldn't see his hair. The soldier --a resistance fighter, John dully realized-- shouldered his rifle and walked forward. The other fighters were currently sprinting toward the behemoth and the ones who had already reached it were busily trying to strip it of...something.

John stayed exactly where he was, frozen to the ground. A large part of that had to do with the fact that he felt as though he'd broken something in his fall, otherwise he'd be leaping up to hug the guy who'd helped kill the Skynet behemoth. He felt a dull sort of pain in his leg, and blood was trickling down from his mouth a bit.

"Are you hurt?" the guy asked as he reached John. He pulled off his backpack and quickly produced a small box with a red-cross on it. John felt himself nod. The man stared at him for a brief moment and told him to open his mouth. John opened his mouth. The guy scooted forward and removed a small pencil light from his kit and shined it into his mouth. He grunted in satisfaction and flicked the thing off, "Just bit your mouth, should be fine. Can you tell me where else?" He spoke in soothing tones, but came off a bit haggard just the same. He'd just been in a battle, after all.

John opened his mouth, as though to test if he was still able to speak. "Uh..."

The man raised an eyebrow --not that John could see it-- and tilted his head forward, waiting. John gulped and said, "I-I hurt my chest and my back. And my leg, I think it's broken. Arms too. Uh, cut up, that is."

The man sighed and cast an apprehensive look toward the horizon, scanning. After a moment he turned back and said, "Lift your shirt up, lemme see."

John obeyed. The man squinted a bit and grunted, "Just some cuts, you'll live. Arms? Roll em' up. Jeez, are you one of Sarkissian's traders? Rich bastards."

That term meant nothing to John. He rolled his sleeves up, which were rather red with blood. The soldier's eyes widened a bit in sympathy, "Lacerations. They'll need stitching. Not now, though." He was speaking a mile a minute, the words rushing out seemingly over and under one another. He was definitely in a hurry, constantly looking back to his compatriots as they scavenged parts off the machine. "Try standing?"

John started to stand up and felt a blunt sort of pain in his leg, but nothing like a broken bone. It was probably sprained. He managed to get in one demonstration that he could stand before flopping back down in pain. John felt very detached, as if he was suffering from post-traumatic stress. He was shaking all over and couldn't stop himself. That thing tracking him...jesus christ. And the worst part was, John had barely even stopped to register just where he was.

"Tough stuff," the soldier said, smiling. He looked back to the dead machine and yelled, "ONE MINUTE, ELSE AERIAL'S WILL BE ON OUR ASS!"

"Thanks," John said. He looked around, sighing. "That was...shit."

The man shrugged, "We do what we gotta do. I just hope we didn't lose anyone doing it." He gave John a severe look, "How old're you?"

"Fifteen," John said. "I'll be sixteen soon, though." He added quickly.

The man nodded easily at that, "One of my guys, he's just a bit younger than you are."

John stared at him. "Oh, christ." He looked around, and that revelation and this fucking landscape just fell on him all at once, "Oh christ." He lowered his head and held his forehead. God, what was he doing here? How did this happen so quickly? Where was everyone? He cast an ashen look toward the desolation around him.

He expected the soldier to scold him or something for being ignorant. Instead he merely crouched down and sighed, "It's going to be tough, John. And it's going to look exactly like this."

John blinked at the guy. "How'd you know that?"

The soldier took off his helmet, revealing brown, scruffy hair and a broad forehead. He set down the helmet and looked into John's eyes, "I know you doubt right now. I know there will be times where you feel that it's not worth it. You're confused, I know, and yes, I know you want to live a regular life, but you've got to believe me...John. We need you. You can't give up. You've got to be there to lead us."

There were a lot of things John could have said right then. He could express disbelief, tell him he was wrong...thank him for his inspirational words...vow to live up to them...He could simply sit there and wonder what the hell was going on (leaning toward that), or...

"Why me?"

The man stared at John a moment. There was a distant noise like jet-engines going off, and the man's eyes drifted over to the horizon. John's gaze remained fixed on the soldiers face. The man stood up and looked down at John. He just sighed again, as if overwrought. Finally, he said, "Look, I have to run, I'm sorry. Just...you've got to remember not to give up. Please." He sounded almost pleading as he finished, and the two stared at each other a moment before the soldier picked up his backpack and helmet. If he thought that that settled things, he was fucking crazy. John glared at him, as if it was his fault for not explaining everything to him. The rest of the resistance fighters ran over to join him, and all of them ignored John except for the first man, who kept looking back as they started to run in the other direction. John stared at the retreating soldiers until they had disappeared into the ruins.

The jet noise was getting louder. John turned his head skyward and was blinded by an HK Aerial's search-light as it sighted him.

-------------

"Baum, wake up."

John slowly raised his head, murmuring a bit. He tried to shake the hand away.

"Oh, please. Wake up!"

John's eyes shot open, and he turned quickly to survey the room. Neutral blue walls. Chairs and desks all where they ought to be. Bemused teacher in front of him. He resisted the urge to let out a huge sigh of relief as he realized, again, that he'd only been dreaming. That had been...a lot more real than his last dream. Idly, he wiggled his leg a bit to see if it hurt. Felt fine.

John smiled blandly at the teacher, "Sorry. Guess I dozed off." He also felt the urge to touch the teacher, to feel if she was real or not. He closed his eyes tightly for a moment, annoyed with that sporadic thought.

"More like passed out," the woman spat, obviously depleted of perkiness for the day. "The day's done. You've gotta go."

John nodded and groggily picked himself up from his seat. The teacher stood nearby with her arms folded; she wouldn't be satisfied until the status quo was restored and he was gone. John started toward the door. A few other students were still sitting around, obviously doing extra time. They glowered at him as he left. His mind was on other things, though.

Not only had this dream felt more real than the last one he'd had, he had a feeling that they were connected, too. The soldier he met...It was the second figure from the first dream. Looked just like him. There was a definite theme growing here, and that theme seemed to be "make John learn something," but he was damned if he knew what that 'something' was. What was his sub-conscious trying to tell him? What did he feel, even vaguely, guilty about? He sighed and rubbed his head as he went through the door.

...and found Cheri Westin leaning against a locker. She looked right at him and started to approach. A quick look around the hall confirmed that Cameron wasn't around, but he suspected she'd be along quickly enough. Cheri appeared to be mentally reciting something as she walked over. John, seeing no way out of this, bit his lip and said "Hi," to her.

"Hi, John."

This day wasn't gonna fucking end.