Disclaimerage: So not mine. Written for fun, not profit.
Better Luck Next Time
At first she's called Kid.
This isn't unusual. She's mixed in with the newest wide-eyed would-be soldiers - the ones who don't look a day over sixteen - and they're all Kid collectively. It's a brutal sort of logic; there's no point in learning someone's name if they get shot to bits in their first firefight.
She volunteers for the worst jobs - hit-and-runs and sabotage, recon more often than not. She's cheerful about it, too, raising her hand like she's sitting in a classroom she's obviously too young to have ever known.
"Don't worry," she says. "I'll be back."
It isn't until the third mission - the one blown all to hell, where she walks out of a fireball unhurt and alive - that everyone starts to believe her.
Soon enough she's not Kid anymore. She's Lucky.
She rolls her eyes and volunteers to survey Century's watchtowers, possibly out of sheer embarrassment. (She survives that, too.)
The rumors are pretty much inevitable, especially when she comes home from an ambush miraculously unhurt - when she starts making a habit of being the only survivor. There's whispering that she's not what she seems, that she's metal, that she's the reason the men and women with her die and die and die.
So she snatches a knife out of someone's hands and climbs onto a crate - she's too short for everyone to see her otherwise - and sets her jaw and squares her shoulders and drives the blade straight through her palm.
"I'm human," she says as she yanks it out again, voice thick with pain, and throws it on the ground and presses her hand out of sight inside her jacket, the better to stop the bleeding. "I didn't ask for good luck."
After that she wears a bandage around her hand for weeks before switching to thick, heavy gloves; she tells people it's to hide the scar.
If her injury doesn't get infected the way it ought to by all rights - if it doesn't impede her throwing pipe bombs or squeezing triggers or hauling a half-dead comrade out of harm's way - no one bothers to notice. The blood on the knife was real, after all.
Some people are just born with good luck.
The first time she meets John Connor, she does a bit of a double-take and shakes her head. ("You look a little like someone I knew," she says.)
He tilts his head slightly, considering her; the way he moves reminds her of the machines. "I've been told you're good at recon."
"Not really." She leans back against the table doubling as his desk, gloved palms flat against the top of it. "I don't know much about it - how to look for important things."
She wishes he didn't sound so sure of himself.
"What do you think you're good at?" he asks.
That one's always been easy. "Surviving."
He goes silent, watching, and she's sure she's really being asked something else - she wonders exactly what kind of mind it takes to out-think Skynet as often as he does, but maybe she doesn't want to know.
So she amends her answer to, "I'm good at not dying."
A long time ago, she thought these two things were one and the same.
She's better at recon than she thinks - better than she should be, really, no matter how many impossible situations she survives and how many traps she walks away from. She's good at planning and strategy, putting people in the right places at the right time.
When pressed, she admits that she learned from her father.
The first time someone has the nerve to call her General Lucky, she twists her face up like she's just tasted someone's godawful attempt at booze and tells them to go be useful instead of inventing stupid nicknames.
She's no one's superhero; that's Connor's job.
Twice she tells Connor his newest recon mission is a waste of lives and time. Four times she threatens to take her people and join up with the resistance holed up in Colorado Springs, never mind that said people are more loyal to him than her (and she looks at his expression and knows that's on purpose). Once, when a particular job makes no sense at all and will probably get everyone around her killed again, she threatens to punch him in the face.
That's about when the General nickname starts sticking.
Eventually one of his right-hand men takes pity on her and tells her, in the most patient way possible, that Connor only promotes people who argue with him.
She sighs and slouches against the tunnel wall. "So what'd you do, Morris?"
"I told him he was nuts."
"And then he put me in charge of R&D," Morris says matter-of-factly.
Certain events when she was younger forced her to learn the art of thinking in non-linear ways - effects before causes, time turned backwards and sideways and inside-out. She thinks Connor must know this.
So when she asks him what that one mission is really for - what it is she's supposed to find hidden in a Skynet research facility - she's more than a little annoyed when he refuses to tell her.
("Because you're never one of the people who's told," he says, and she clenches gloved hands and doesn't shiver.)
There's a picture she used to carry with her, of a man and a woman and a boy. "My parents," she says when someone asks - back when she's still one Kid among many. "My brother."
She loses it when they have to evacuate one base, somewhere between shouting orders over gunfire and setting off the bomb that brings the tunnel down behind her.
"You know what's coming," she tells Connor, then considers and corrects this to, "You always knew."
He doesn't look up from whatever small component he's fiddling with.
"What are you?" she asks. "I don't mean what everyone says. What are you really?"
He smiles slowly and carefully - as if maybe he's forgotten what to do with the expression, and that there ought to be something happy or funny or human behind it.
"Someone who's good at staying alive," he says.
He makes it sound like a character flaw.
She balances on someone's shoulders when she has to give orders to lots of people at once. She cups her hands around her mouth and projects her voice and occasionally tells whoever she's commandeered as a human footstill to hold still. By now no one wonders why they're apparently being bossed around like a teenage girl; no one would ever dream of calling her anything but her title, because everyone knows who she is.
There are four generals in John Connor's revolution - she is just the newest and least-informed - and not one of them has gotten there without questioning him. It gives them a mystique and power all their own.
Skynet tries to kill her on a regular basis. That's how she knows she's doing something right.
Eventually she comes back from the damn recon mission - the only one who comes back at all, after running headlong into metal that had no business guarding one unremarkable research facility, but she's used to that by now. She tears strips of cloth off the bottom of her shirt; she has wounds to hide before they disappear, but she won't waste real bandages where they're not needed.
Connor doesn't bother to sit as he listens to her. He has people behind him - Morris and Brewster and Reilly, the other three people who argued back enough to be trusted and promoted and left in charge of the vital components of his resistance - and they listen to her report with the sort of half-disbelieving expressions she's gotten used to over the years.
It's only when he dismisses everyone that she leans forward, propping her weight up on his table with fisted hands, and scowls at him. "I want to know what I found," she says.
He laces his fingers together and presses them over his mouth. "Nothing," he says. "You confirmed something, that's all."
"Fine." She wonders if this is the real reason he picked her: not because she argued, but because of her good luck - because she always comes back, because she's enough like the machines that she can't really die. "What did I confirm, then? What did you know would happen this time?"
He starts laughing.
For a second she thinks he's snapped - and really, if she broke the leader of the resistance even the cell in Colorado Springs won't take her in - but he settles down soon enough, shaking his head at her and sighing and looking absolutely ordinary for the first time since she's met him.
"What do you think of me?" he asks.
He's expecting her to tell the truth, so she does. "I think you're a scheming bastard," she says, and surprises herself by not leaving it there. "But I know what you are, so I guess I trust you anyway."
"Oh?" he says, like he's discussing weapons allocation or radiation readings or something equally routine.
She doesn't realize she's smiling - or something like it, devoid of humor - until she feels the corner of her mouth pull up. "It's no fun, is it?"
"Saving the world."
The soldier who stands in front of her is one of Connor's favorites, serious and tense and just a little prone to hero-worship, and he repeats his orders to her like he's waiting for her to do something interesting. That's how she learns she's in charge while their illustrious leader is out on one of his secretive missions - the ones that don't make sense until days or weeks or years after the fact, if they ever do at all.
"I thought I wasn't one of the people who gets told," she says to Connor.
He looks up from checking his ammo - darts the quickest of glances back at the young soldier, an expression she knows she'll never put into words hardly skimming across his face before it's gone.
"Think of this as a variable," he says. "Or a test. Whatever you want."
"I want the truth," she says.
She's asked this before, to many people about many different things, and it's never quite as important as it is now.
(Once upon a time she could change the future.)
Maybe that's why he tells her.