"Please, tell me your name."
"Young. Allison Young. Corporal."
The weary look in her face was outweighed only by the obvious relief she had to be feeling, now that she was back on safe ground. Her features spoke of hardship, pain she'd had to endure every day, and an exultant cheer to be back in the tunnels. Back with her family.
She hadn't questioned being brought into the room, nor had she said anything when they'd had her sit in The Chair. In fact, there had only been one question, spoken with tired urgency.
The answer was that he was in the next room, looking through meter-thick bulletproof glass, surrounded by a half-dozen armored bodyguards, laser rifles at the ready.
The interrogator nodded as she answered the question, writing something down on the clipboard in front of him. John Connor stared across the intervening distance, and it took all he had not to walk through the airlock separating the observation room from the interrogation chamber.
He stared across, and remembered.
The room was dank and stark, lit by sodium bulbs high above on the ceiling, like most of the places they lived in now. He looked across the concrete blankness, over the faces of forty-odd young men and women.
"This everyone?" John asked quietly as the platoon sergeant spoke to the new recruits, and beside him, Major Perry nodded.
"Most of 'em were pulled from the bunkers northeast of San Fran," he replied. "Couple of 'em have military experience. Rest are kid or former noncoms."
"Can they fight?" John asked, but he knew the question was academic. If they were alive and had three or more limbs functioning, they could fight.
"Most," Perry said. "Wouldn't be volunteering if they couldn't."
John nodded, looking over the haggard collection of young men and women, mixed in with some older, grizzled types. They would do; after all, they were all in this together.
He stepped forward, out of the shadows at his end of the room, and the platoon sergeant stopped and came to attention. He bellowed for the recruits to do the same, and they did as requested with varying degrees of snap-to. John didn't mind the slower ones; they'd learn the important skills competently enough, he was sure, just as he had.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, quickly and to the point. "I'm John Connor."
Some hisses of sharp air, a few murmurs. He looked over them, meeting their eyes, and saw a spark of something useful, something he needed, and the one thing that every recruit required: hope.
John Connor always met with the new recruits, because that was the most important ingredient in this war, and nothing gave hope like a hero.
"You've been recruited into the armed forces of TechCom," he continued. "But you know that already. You have all survived the last decade and a half, or longer, against the greatest enemy our species has ever faced. But this isn't about simply surviving. This is about winning. Individual survival is not our objective, but the salvation of our species, from its own errors and its own weaknesses."
He paused, and smiled.
"My mother taught me an important saying, that we have all lived by since the bombs first fell," he said. "No one is ever safe. Its a mantra that has kept our species alive, and has kept the machines from winning for this long.
"But me, I intend to add a qualifier to those words: No one was ever safe, until we destroyed SkyNet. We. Us. TechCom. Those are words I intend to speak one day, and I want them to be ones you speak, and ones your children to speak."
He looked over the unit, and nodded to the platoon sergeant.
"Arm 'em up," he finished. "We've got a war to win."
The grins on their faces were genuine, eager, and sincere, and John Connor liked them. His eyes swept over the group as the sergeant began to bark out orders, and then John froze.
Third row, four down. Small, short, slender. Haggard, wavy brown hair, worn to her shoulders. Dark brown eyes, tired but eager. A round face, delicate nose, and very small lips.
"Hold," John ordered, and the sergeant paused. The resistance leader held out his hand. "Roster."
The clipboard was handed over, and John looked over it. He scanned the squads, moving down to third, and the fourth trooper in it.
He looked at that name, and then back up at the trooper in question, and then scribbled something beside the name. He looked up at her one more time, and handed the clipboard back to the sergeant.
A moment later, the new troops were gone, and Major Perry walked beside John as he crossed the room, feeling a sudden but very explicable weariness cross over him.
"Sir?" he asked. "What was that all about?"
John sat down in a metal folding chair, and looked up at the lamp overhead. After a few seconds, he pulled his eyes away, and then looked down at his calloused fingers.
They were shaking.
He looked back up, seeing Allison sitting in The Chair. Wires ran up its uncomfortable metal length, but she didn't seem to be bothered by it. Then again, she'd sat there often enough before, after long recon missions, like all recon troops. Hell, John himself had sat there, forced his men to make him sit there and ask questions despite their discomfort.
No one was ever safe.
The interrogator continued writing, nodding to himself.
John looked back at her, seeing her face. Exactly as he remembered. She was haggard, tired, and there were cuts along the side of her head, but her eyes, her hair, her face, they were perfect. Just as he remembered.
Blue bolts scored along the concrete directly ahead, and he crouched, duck-walking forward. Ozone and the stink of molten metal filled the air, just like in that refinery when they'd tossed-
He repressed that memory, rifle in hand. He saw fires behind him, from the rest of the convoy, where some of the vehicles were burning. There was a dull rumble as one of the salvaged M1 Abrams loosed a shot a couple hundred meters down the street, and they heard a screeching, inhuman howl as a Hunter-Killer keeled over and plowed into a building.
Behind him, the rest of the bodyguard squad - those who had survived the convoy ambush - were laying down return fire on the enemy. Suppression tactics didn't work against these foes, which meant that they were pinned down until they took out all the shooters.
"Oracle, Kira," his radio hissed.
"Kira, Breakdance," he replied, and a few seconds later, he heard movement behind him. John turned and looked up, along with three other bodyguards, weapons leveled. Two figures, clad in thermal-confusing black cloaks, crawled over the twisted rubble toward them. A momentary flash of a heavy cannon illuminated them as they got closer.
They held up their wrists, and flashed a burst of identifier radiation from their code bracelets. The troops kept their weapons leveled as the complicated identifier dance continued. One man moved forward, waving a metal detector, and finally signaled the two scouts were all organic.
"Good to see you," John said as they moved up, carbines in hand.
"You too," the girl said. She was young - couldn't be out of her teens, but she handled herself like a soldier, and that was the important part. Her brown hair was tied back, and she bore a slightly enthusiastic grin.
"What did you see?" John asked, peeking back over the broken spur of concrete and down the street.
"Nothing to our rear," Corporal Allison Young said, her brown eyes scanning alongside his.
"Looks like this was a patrol team," added the other scout. "Three HKs, each carrying four tin men."
"Enough to stop us dead," John replied, pulling up his binoculars. "Two-Bravo, you see HKs?"
"Negative," replied the lieutenant on the other end. "War Pig got the last one."
"Leaves us with maybe ten, twelve tin men," remarked Allison, and John nodded. The incoming fire slackened, and after a few seconds, the bodyguard sergeant reported an all-clear.
"No movement," he added.
"Means nothing where this things are concerned," another trooper remarked, and John nodded. He glanced to the Corporal.
"Allison, you want to have a look?" he asked, and she nodded. She gestured to her partner, and the two scouts started to split up. Within seconds, they had disappeared into the broken landscape.
John stood at the ready, rifle in hand. He knew they couldn't bring up the rest of the vehicles until they had secured the area and made sure there weren't any skinless ones with anti-vehicle weapons. He glanced back to his bodyguard detail, and knew that they would like nothing better than to drag him back to the rest of the convoy, but he also knew that he needed to be here, at the front.
"Got two metal corpses," whispered Allison after a few seconds.
"Keep on your toes, Ally," John whispered.
"I know what I'm doing," she replied, a bit petulant. "No sign of - balls! Shit!"
Laser fire, eighty meters away. He saw movement, gleaming metal bodies suddenly emerging from hiding and firing rifles one-handed at a single spot atop a debris field that remained from a collapsed building.
"Fire!" John ordered, and sprayed the Terminators as they emerged. Several of them stopped in mid motion, glittering red eyes swiveling his way, and started shooting back as the rest of the bodyguard opened up. Fifty meters to his left, Two-Bravo's twelve men and women began shooting as well.
"Ally!" John called over the radio, straining to see her amid the twisted rubble.
"Pinned down!" she hissed. "Can't shoot, they'll spot my flash!"
"Where are you?" John demanded. Two of the Terminators had toppled in plumes of smoke and sparks, and others were turning to join their comrades against the real threat. There were still at least a couple pummeling the debris pile.
"Don't-" laser sizzle "-me! Get back to the convoy!"
"Like hell," John hissed, seeing the Terminators moving up the debris pile, spraying the area with a steady stream of suppressive fire, homing in on their target. SkyNet's machines were implacable, merciless, and utterly willing to sacrifice a hundred of themselves for one human. After all, it took twelve years to raise an effective combatant to replace a human death; SkyNet could build and program replacements in hours.
"First team, move with me!" John ordered, and the bodyguard sergeant balked. He was about to object when John rose, and half the squad moved to follow. The others, knowing the maneuver so well they didn't need orders, intensified their fire. Two more Terminators went down.
The six-man team bounded from cover to cover, with four men covering the two advancing soldiers until they reached cover, then two more moving up. The air was filled with laser fire as the machines and humans exchanged a constant barrage of shots; the Terminators moving resolutely toward their foes while the humans squeezed off careful shots. Another of the metal monsters stopped dead in its tracks, a bolt blowing out its leg actuators, and two more taking off its head.
They were thirty meters away from the debris pile, and John tried radioing Allison again.
"Ally, I can't see you!" he hissed. Her opponents' suppressive fire gave him a rough idea where she was, but not a clear one. More importantly, he didn't have a clear shot at either of them, as they had solid cover, and the machines still shooting their way were keeping the air full of bolts and the humans' heads down.
"Hit," she whispered, her voice full of pain. "Can't move, they've got me pinned down."
"Stay put, I'm coming for you," he called.
A sudden bolt of fire came from a hundred and twenty meters behind them, taking one of the machines clear in the center of its head. It dropped, and suddenly John had a clear corridor toward the debris pile. He waved to two of his men, and they rose, rushing toward the next piece of cover. One of the other Terminators turned to fire, but they sprayed it with las-rounds and tore it to pieces. They slid in behind a chunk of masonry, next to the decapitated Terminator.
John dropped into cover, and looked behind him, searching for the scout who had sniped the Terminator. He didn't see him, but knew he could see John, and the resistance commander sent a wave of thanks behind him.
The Terminators moving up the debris pile were now focusing their fire, and he heard worried panting over the radio. John rose, sprinting around the pile of broken stone and metal, and spotted one of the machines. He shouldered his rifle as his fellow troopers ran up behind him, and shot the thing square in the back.
It stopped, metal melting under the fire, and turned to face him, just as he put two more into its upper torso. The machine took a shuddering step toward him, and then toppled over, tumbling down the side of the hill. John leapt over it, running toward the next one, which had heard the gunfire.
It turned to came him, red eyes boring into John Connor, reminding him all too much of another machine he remembered from a long time ago.
Then he put two rounds into its head, blowing it apart.
It fell to the ground, rolling away over the hill, and John scrambled up the rest of the way.
She was lying behind a twisted chunk of rebar, her leg smoking from a bolt, which had cauterized the wound. She was wincing in pain as he came around the corner, and raised her weapon reflexively.
"Kira, Oracle," he said, and she sighed.
"Breakdance," she whispered through those thin little lips, and lowered the rifle. He crouched down beside her, checking the wound, and then reached around under her armpit.
"Gotcha now," John offered, raising her up. "You're safe."
"Never safe," she muttered, her body remarkably light, even with all her gear. "Why did you-"
"I don't leave a man behind," John replied, helping her stand.
"You're an idiot," she growled into his ear, her breath warm on his cheek, and he chuckled.
"My mom had the same opinion," he replied.
A few moments later, the rest of the squad was moving up, including the unseen scout. John nodded to him as he approached.
"Good shooting, Kyle," he offered, and the scout nodded.
"Thanks, John," he replied.
"You know," Perry said, standing beside him as he looked into the room. "You were right."
"Was I?" John asked, as he heard her continue to answer questions. Allison's voice was tired, and growing quietly anxious. She began to nervously thumb her code bracelet.
This was necessary, he reminded himself, looking at her face, seeing Allison speak so naturally, so fluently. It had to be her, but he couldn't simply go in there. Their metal detectors were all broken, their dogs weren't sharp enough to notice the new models, and he wasn't about to pull a metal-check with a knife. Not yet.
He stared at that face, and pushed back the overwhelming urge to run in there and sweep her into his arms, after all this time.
He felt groggy, a gummy taste in his mouth that told him he'd been out way too long. He mumbled something, rolling over and feeling for what should have been there, and his fingers touched empty - but still warm - sheets.
That opened his heavy eyes a bit, and he glanced up as he felt movement along the bed. In the dim light of the computer screen across the room, he saw a reflection of milky whiteness sitting up beside him, naked and flawless save for a minutia of small scars.
She looked down at him and smiled, that private little grin on those private little lips. Her hair had gotten a little past her shoulders, but it still looked as clean as one could get it these days.
"Morning," she offered, and John smiled, relaxing.
"Mornin', Ally," he replied. She turned a bit in the bed, the skin of her bare thighs brushing against his in a most pleasant manner.
"What time is it?" he asked, reaching up to stroke her back.
"Oh six hundred," Allison said, and started to rise. His hand moved up and caught her wrist, and she paused.
"Too early," he mumbled, smiling, and she laughed, a light, airy sound. Her body rolled over and she slid over him, and he tasted her soft, warm lips against his. His arm moved up her thigh and caressed her cheeks, and she made a very pleased sound.
Then she leaned back and rolled away, and John felt a tinge of disappointment.
"Later," Allison promised, and she stood up, the sheets falling away from her body. "I'm due for recon patrol at oh-seven-hundred."
"You are?" John asked, sitting up, and she nodded, bending over and grabbing her pants. He watched her do so, sighing.
"Yes," she replied, glancing back at him, her eyes somewhere behind her hair. "You're not in charge of every detail, John."
"I think I'd get to make the call on when you go on patrols," he said. "This leader thing and all." She laughed again, pulling the pants on.
"You don't have to go," he added as she hunted for her shirt. Allison looked back, and a cross look spread over her features.
"I have my role to play, same as you," she said, shrugging. He liked the way that made her chest move, but that was probably why she did it. "You said it yourself. We all have our duty."
"I could order you to stay," John said as she pulled her shirt on, and as her face emerged from her collar, he saw that mischievous smile he enjoyed so much.
"I stopped taking orders from you when I starting taking you," Allison reminded him, and he grunted, sitting up. She hunted around for her socks and boots, and started putting them on. He watched her move, and a sudden apprehension gripped him. His arm moved forward, and grasped her wrist.
"Ally," he said, and she turned to look at him, eyes meeting.
"Don't go today," he pleaded.
She started to smile, and was about to blow him off again when she saw the look on his face.
"What's wrong?" she asked. "Do you know something?"
He hesitated. Memories came welling up, of his mother, of the refinery, of a face so much like hers.
"No," he whispered. "Just . . . a feeling."
Allison considered his words, eyes flicking down, and then she finally looked back up. An uncertain smile marked her face.
"I'll be fine," she said, and leaned over him, kissing him again. "I've got you to come back to."
"Yeah," he said, and she stepped away, moving toward the door.
"Be safe," she called back over her shoulder.
"No one is ever safe," he replied, and felt a chill as he spoke those words. He caught one last glimpse of her smile as she stepped out the door, and John lowered himself back onto the bed, staring at the ceiling.
His eyes traced over the cracks, and he prayed that his feeling was just that - a feeling, created by knowing her, before he knew her.
"Don't know why you're drawing this out, sir," Perry said, looking to John. He didn't reply, staring back at the girl in the room, so young, yet so . . . .
"John?" Perry asked, and he exhaled.
"Perfect," he whispered.
"She's perfect," he whispered. Just like . . . .
In the room, the interrogator was still writing. Allison was starting to get quietly impatient.
"Look, I know we've got procedures," she said, smiling and giving him that pleading look no man could argue with. John stared at her eyes, and he saw redness around them. Warmth in those eyelashes, and a glimmer of light dancing off tears.
"But, please," she asked. "can I . . . " she closed her eyes, and he saw tears running down her soot-streaked face. "Can I just see him? Its been months . . . ."
"Soon," the interrogator replied, his voice calm and placating. "Soon, Corporal."
She sniffled, and reached up, wiping her face with her sleeve, trying to steady herself. She nodded after a moment, hair falling in her face just the way John liked to see it. He remembered his fingers touching those soft strands, running through them as he'd put-
He closed his eyes, looked down at the table, and clenched his shaking fists.
He stared across the command center, holding a tin cup of coffee as he read the reports flashing up on the screen.
Perry walked up beside him, and reached up, touching his shoulder. He looked up slowly, and then met Perry's eyes. The major glanced down, and John followed his gaze, to see white knuckles gripping his cup. Only then did he really feel the pain of metal digging into his palm.
"You don't know that," the leader of mankind whispered, quiet and harsh. He glanced around the command center, at the men and women quietly working, and then back to the main screen.
"I've had recon patrols scouring the area for the last four weeks," Perry said. "No trace of her."
"She's out there," John replied, shaking his head.
"If she's alive, she's in a work camp," Perry hissed. "You and I both know that."
"Then FIND the GODDAMNED WORK CAMPS!" John screamed, whirling on him.
The command center went deadly silent. Perry stared back at his leader, jaw working, and then glanced to the conference room. Without another word, John stormed across the room and into the side chamber, with Perry following him. The door slid shut, and the windows closed.
Fifteen minutes later, the two men emerged. John's uniform had a black stain where the coffee had spilled, and Perry was holding his lip where it was split. A dark glower spread across John Connor's face, and he walked across the room to one of his men.
"Recall the patrols looking for her," he whispered, his voice tight.
The soldier hesitated, looked into his commander's face, and then nodded. John turned to Perry, who nodded solemnly, and he walked past the major. The commander came to a halt as Perry grabbed his arm.
"You did the right thing," he whispered. John's jaw worked for a moment.
"I did what was necessary," he hissed. "That's not the same." He jerked his arm free and stalked away through the corridors.
He found his way back to his quarters, not bothering to salute the guards, and stepped inside. He found the bed, cold and lonely, and dropped down onto it. He rolled over, hands groping for something he knew wouldn't be there, and stared into the blank darkness for a long, empty while.
"Can I just . . ." she was saying, shaking, and he saw tears flowing down her face. "I need to see him. And he needs to see me."
John felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up. Perry nodded, a tight smile on his face.
"Go on," he said. "Its her. You need this."
John looked back at the haggard, sobbing young woman, and sighed. He straightened, nodded, and then reached down.
His finger pressed a button on the table, and the room darkened for an instant. The shock of a massive electrical jolt lanced through the room, and when the lights came back on, she was facedown on the table, smoke drifting from The Chair.
"John!" Perry gasped, and then he was shoving through the airlock, a knife in hand. He pointed to the body slumped on the table, and the interrogator bolted to his feet, pistol in hand.
"One hundred and twenty seconds! If she so much as moves, burn her!" John ordered, grabbing the head. He shoved his knife down into the skull, and it stopped after a quarter of an inch. He dragged the knife along, through that greasy, soft hair, matted with dirt and blood, and slowly pulled the skin back.
"Ninety seconds," one of the bodyguards reported, while the others circled around, rifles leveled at the body.
John Connor froze as he pulled that flap aside, and bit his lip.
He saw metal.
There was a long moment of silence as he stuck the knife down inside, popping the cap. A tiny hiss of venting gas accompanied the cap as it tumbled to the floor.
"Thirty seconds," the bodyguard said as John held out his hand for the pliers. They dropped into his fingers courtesy of Perry, and he reached down inside, gripping the tab.
He paused, looking down at the head, feeling her hair in his hands, and closed his eyes.
He'd done this before.
"Fifteen!" the bodyguard called, his voice a bit nervous, and then John opened his eyes, exhaled, and twisted. A second later, the object inside slid out, and he saw the faint blue glow inside the socket dim. John Connor pulled out the long, cylindrical chip, and stared at it, feeling a rush of emotions he couldn't quantify or understand.
Silence filled the room, and Perry finally broke it.
"Sir," he asked. "How did you know?"
He looked down at her still, lifeless body, and into her face, quiet, serene, beautiful.
She looked at him as they stood beside the foosball table, her features confused, uncertain, and lacking in anything resembling trust.
The exact opposite of who - no, what she was supposed to be. Then, she spoke.
"I'm Allison," she said. "From Palmdale."
"Out," John Connor breathed, setting the chip on the table. He turned, looking around the room at his bodyguards and officers.
"Out," he snarled, and the force in his words made them back off. Perry nodded, and the guards and interrogator filed out of the room. John followed, but only into the observation room. There, he cut off the cameras and microphones, and walked back into the chamber. He slid the door shut behind him.
John pulled the chair around beside where she lay, still and quiet. The metal legs scraped on the floor, and he settled down into the uncomfortable metal seat.
He stared at her chip, and then at her. That delicate nose, those brown eyes, and those petite little lips.
"That was effective," she said. "What he did. When he touched her lips."
"Effective," he mumbled.
"I could see that she liked that."
She was . . . .
His hand moved forward, touching her face, the warm, soft skin, streaked with dirt and soot, and he found himself moving closer. His fingers slid through her hair, and though it was dirty and matted, it still felt like hers. It was hers. It was . . . .
He felt it surge into his eyes, repressed for a long time. He'd bit it back for so long, not allowing his people to see him, to see their great leader be human.
"Allison," he whispered, and he reached out, hugging the body, and they came loose. He embraced the shaking sobs that rolled through his chest and shoulders, grief stumbled out of him and into the open. John Connor let himself go, allowed the emotions and the pain and the grief to flow.
She was gone. He knew, in his heart, that he would never see her again, no matter how many times he sobbed her name, his fingers in her hair, her body close to him. What he saw, what he held, was not a corpse, but it was just as much a confirmation that she'd been torn away from him, and he was alone once more.
The memories welled up, a confused jumble. Her smile, her face as he'd pulled her from the rubble, the serene look on her as he'd put the chip in her head. Her lips against his in the dark. The blank look on her face as she pointed the pistol at him. Standing together, rifles in hand, against a hundred Terminators. Blood dripping off her chest as she told him to come with her. Laughing as they compared wounds. Her sobs as she begged him not make her go away.
She'd loved him. And he'd loved her.
He leaned back after a while, and stared at her, his eyes blurry and face warm and wet. He looked into that perfect face, and it came back again, a second wave of grief and understanding. He put his head in his hands, and didn't fight the pain.
Allison Young, his Ally, was dead.
And he knew, deep down, that it would always be this way. No one was ever safe, not even the woman John Connor had loved.
He wasn't sure how long he sat there, crying into his fists, but when he'd finally grown exhausted and looked back up, the clock told him it was past dinner. He looked up at it for a long while, and then down at the body beside him, and the chip on the table.
He slowly picked it up, looking it over, scanning its facets and wires, and sniffed. He pulled the grief back inside himself, locked it in place, hammered deep down within him, and then looked to the machine.
John Connor stood up, and started to step around the body, before pausing. He reached down and ran a hand through that hair one more time, and slid his finger along her warm lips.
"Goodbye, Ally," he whispered, and closed his eyes. "I'll always love you."
He once again looked to the chip, and at the machine sprawled across the table, and held the chip up in the air, before casting one last look at the piece of perfection slumped before him.
"Welcome back, Cameron."
Author's Notes: This story was, obviously, inspired by "Allison from Palmdale."
The fundamental idea stemmed from the not-so-subtle implication that Allison knew John, and that Cameron was adopting Allison's personality. Naturally, if she was, then it would explain why Cameron knew John so well. I extrapolated from there, throwing in some of that good old fashioned time travel amusement to work John's psyche over.
Of course, in this story, Allison is significantly tougher than she was in that episode, which was deliberate; I felt that the episode in question showed Allison after she had suffered a prolonged period of capture and imprisonment, and had lost a lot of hope that she'd ever escape. This story reflects the woman we see at the very end of that episode, where she suddenly rises up and defies Cameron, even as Cameron is about to kill her.
Until next story . . . .