Brave and Kind Of Righteous
by Amy L. Hull
Written for Musesinspiration in the Yuletide 2010 challenge. Thanks to betas: Merlin Missy and Hedgebeast.
"Okay. We go in, maintain radio silence to send off as little electronic trace as we can, set the charges, and get out." Connor's eyes were the only thing visible in his smudged face as he looked at each of them. "Got it?"
There were sharp nods and "yes-sirs," then they climbed the ladder and pushed through the manhole one by one. They moved through the cool night air, keeping low, fanning out like Connor had shown them in their week of training.
Derek's boots were heavy and he cringed and tightened his grip on his shotgun as concrete and metal rubble clumped under his feet the no matter how careful he was.
The only light was the dim glow from the factory's chimneys. Once he was in position, he paused and looked up. He remembered what felt like so very long ago, lying in the backyard with Kyle looking at stars. Now, three years after Judgment Day, there was only black sky above them. No stars. Rarely a moon beyond a smudge of light. Even in the daytime, only a dim glow reached them from the sun.
He wondered if there'd ever be a clear sky again, ever be food growing in the earth again, or if they'd all starve when the pre-J-Day packaged food supply was exhausted. He'd be dead before that, he figured, so it wouldn't matter anyway.
He saw muzzle flash and heard the sharp report from outside of their formation. Shards of rock flew up around him, and grit sprayed into his eyes. He blinked and ran. No laser beams like Connor had warned of were cutting through the dark. That was cold comfort as shrapnel pinged against him among the sharp crack of rapid burst gunfire. He ran, tripped, fell, staggered up, fired toward the flickers in the dark, ducked behind an overturned car, listened to the overlapping voices.
"You're going to get us killed, you idiot!"
"I said fall back!"
The shouts were a jumble. One was female, one maybe Connor, all angry. None sounded like metal, but Connor said the machines learned, adapted, and these could be recordings. Derek's muscles coiled as he tensed in his crouch, ready to return fire.
"Everyone freeze where you are!"
Derek froze. He knew when someone had the authority to back up an order. He pressed his back into an exhaust pipe and listened to the darkness.
He heard a stutter of fire, then a thump, then the sound of metal skittering across rubble, the thwack of flesh striking flesh, feet scrabbling for purchase, shouts of shock and indignation along with the next strikes.
He crept along the car, peering around the edge to see in the dimness. Two figures grappled and it looked like a cross between combat training and a street fight. One was definitely Connor, the other smaller...and quick. Connor got in a punch but narrowly missed getting his arm grabbed. Then he took a solid kick to the chest, and there was a yell that was unmistakably female that accompanied the kick. She planted her foot solidly, taking a stance Derek vaguely recalled from his two years of karate lessons a lifetime ago.
When Connor didn't stand, Sumner appeared from the ruins, but his rifle only clicked. He adjusted his grip and swung the butt of the rifle, but the woman blocked that easily and threw four punches in rapid succession at Sumner's chest then took him down with another kick. She scanned the area, barely moving, and took out Sayles with a single kick to the head.
God, Derek thought, staring. She's one of them. They have machines that look like girls and fight like Jackie Chan.
He shifted his weight, prepared to slip into the darkness and return to Kansas Bunker to report on this mess, but a gun barrel pressed against his head.
"Set it down slowly," said the voice that had ordered them to freeze.
He tensed, deciding.
The gun bumped against him. "Don't be stupid. If you're not a machine, and not working for them, we won't hurt you."
He peered around the car. The woman was securing Connor, Sayles, and Sumner, picking up their weapons.
"What about the metal?" he asked, laying his shotgun on the ground. "It's got my friends."
The man peered around the corner of the car, gripping his rifle. "What metal?"
"That metal?" He kept his hands raised and gestured with his head. "The one that just took out three of the best fighters in the Resistance?"
The man chuckled. "That's not metal. That's Buffy."
"What's a buffy?"
There was a pause, then he could swear the man smiled as he spoke. "You'll see."
Derek was cuffed and marched, along with the other four, toward the perimeter of the factory.
More fighters seemed to appear out of thin air and grabbed his and the others' arms tightly, tugging them along.
A grubby soldier with close-cropped hair barreled into them, gasping. "It's done." She had a woman's face which carried the lines and weight Derek saw in everyone, but was short and skinny. Of course, they were all skinny. "All set," she announced.
"Good, Will," said the one called a buffy. "Let's blow this popsicle stand."
Who are these people? Derek wondered.
They were rushed along until the woman called Will shouted, "Fire in the hole." Their captors pulled them behind cracked pillars and shoved them down. "Three, two, one..."
The factory behind them exploded, the noise deafening him seconds after the wasteland was lit up with sharp-contrast shadows.
"Why didn't you make contact?" Connor demanded. He sat in a chair, hands still bound.
Derek and the others were seated shoulder-to-shoulder against the wall. In the two hours they'd been there, the concrete at his back had seeped every bit of warmth from Derek, even through two fatigue jackets, one of which he knew would have to go to the next recruit they rescued. If they were rescued from this, that was.
The woman, who turned out to be named Buffy, had a blonde ponytail under her cap. Derek was still not convinced she wasn't metal. At the only door out of this rat-trap she called a bunker stood the man who'd shouted orders. He wore a name patch on his fatigues that read "Finn." It was absurd, wearing uniforms like they were a real army fighting a war. This wasn't a war and never had been. It was a massacre. A dragged-out massacre.
Buffy leaned toward Connor and asked for the umpteenth time, "How did you know where to find us?"
"But you were there!"
"Yes. But not for you. We were there to blow up the plant, just like you." Connor stared straight ahead as he had since the moment they'd begun questioning him. His posture was tense but relaxed, like he was ready for torture to begin at any time. Ready, but resigned, like all of humanity in this hell world.
Derek tucked his fingers into his waistband and pulled out a thick wire. All those old James Bond films he and Kyle had watched with their dad hadn't been for nothing.
Buffy placed herself in Connor's line of sight. "How. Did. You. Know. We would. Be. There?"
"So you being there was just a coincidence?" Her eyebrows rose and she tilted her head.
"Apparently so. We were going to blow it up. Apparently you were too. At the same time." Connor suddenly grinned up at her. "Coincidence."
Buffy's jaw tightened and she closed her eyes. If she'd been a bull, or a cartoon, smoke would have blown out her nose as she breathed. "How do you... who are you?"
"I'm John Connor."
Derek sighed. Connor might be his leader, but Connor was an idiot. Had it even occurred to him that this fighting machine could be a machine? That maybe telling her his name could get them all killed?
"So?" she was saying. "You think name-rank-serial number means anything these days?"
He continued smiling. He couldn't be more than a couple of years older than Derek, but he swaggered around, giving orders, acting like he was older and wiser than everyone. "Nope. Not at all. But I am John Connor, and I know more about what is going on out here."
Buffy tightened her fists at her sides. She clearly found Connor infuriating as well. "You are the most arrogant SOB I've run into since before J-Day. Willow!"
The woman slipped past Finn and glanced at the men against the wall with a sympathetic expression. When she was near Buffy, she said in what she clearly thought was a whisper. "It matches."
Buffy crossed her arms, circled John. "Your voice matches the John Connor from the broadcasts."
Derek wondered what was up with Connor's sarcastic asshole routine. They were being held captive and all he was doing was antagonizing these people (if they were people). He worked at the lock on his cuffs.
John was accusing now, "You knew who I was."
"Of course." Buffy rolled her eyes. "You're impossible to miss."
"You knew who I was, knew we were out there. If you're on our side, why the hell didn't you contact us? That dual assault last night was a waste of resources and-"
Buffy interrupted. "You mean...make contact with the crazy guy broadcasting on all radio frequencies practically saying, 'Hey, Skynet, come get me!' or, better yet, 'Hey, stupid humans, I'm not a real human, I'm a trap!' Really? You think the resistance cells are that stupid?"
Derek coughed over a laugh. It was never good to mock your C.O., even if he was getting his balls handed to him by a wisp of a blonde girl. A blonde girl who could kick all their asses without breaking a sweat, but still a tiny blonde girl...woman.
"No!" Connor protested. "I just..."
Buffy crossed her arms. "You just expect that everyone will see you as this all-powerful leader and fall in line behind you, is that it?"
Connor blinked, frowned, opened his mouth, closed it again. He moved to stand and one of Buffy's people placed the barrel of a rifle on his shoulder. He started over. "It's just that I know what's going on. I have resources. I know how to stop the machines."
"And a fine job you're doing at it too." Buffy nodded.
Derek had not heard such thick sarcasm in at least three years. Not metal, he decided.
"Look. I know where Skynet came from, what its plans are, what the next assault machines will be, how they infiltrate. You need me. And it's clear that you're good. Wouldn't it be better for us to join forces?"
Willow's eyes grew wider and she burst out, "You know about the Initiative?"
"Will!" Buffy glared at her. "What have we said about interrogations?"
She hung her head and muttered, "Never give away intel."
"The Initiative," Connor repeated. "Weren't they a pre-Judgment Day government thinktank?"
The man who'd taken Derek stepped forward. He'd been leaning against the wall, hands in pockets.
"What do you know about the Initiative?" he demanded.
Connor shrugged. "Like I said: government thinktank."
Connor narrowed his eyes, looked his questioners up and down, checked out their base openly, then turned back to Buffy. He straightened his shoulders. "All right. I'm going to answer your questions, but it's because I believe you're valuable to the movement, because I believe you can help us."
Buffy just smirked. "And not at all because we took you and your people prisoner like child's play?"
Connor just ignored her. "The Initiative worked in reanimation, recombinant DNA, supernatural investigations, biological assault agents both infectious and humanoid in nature, and computer..." His voice trailed off. "Shit!"
"And the other shoe drops. Are you getting it now, pretty boy?" Buffy asked.
"Their work became part of Skynet," Connor groaned.
"Bingo." Buffy stepped forward and leaned into Connor's face. "You wanna be some kind of leader in this mess? You're going to have to suck it up and join forces and share intel. You think you're ready to do that, pretty boy?"
Connor nodded slowly.
"Because I cut you loose, we're all in. We pool intel, we coordinate."
"Riley." She gestured and Finn freed Derek and the others while she unlocked Connor.
Finn handed him the makeshift lockpick and clapped him on the shoulder.
Connor started circling the room, picking up trinkets and inspecting them as he talked. "The one thing I don't understand," he said, "is how you know what you know and," he glanced at Sumner and nodded almost imperceptibly, "how you can do what you do."
Sumner leapt at Buffy from behind. The woman reached back with an elbow and stopped him cold. Timms flung himself toward her knees in a tackle that would have had Derek's high school coach thrilled...except that Buffy leapt into the air, avoiding him and pinning him when she hit the ground, one foot on either side. Maybe she was a machine.
"That's what I'm talking about. You're one of them, aren't you? There are no dogs around. Somehow you knew we were coming and set us up, and now you're trying to win our trust and get us to lead you back to our base."
Finn stepped forward and Buffy gestured him back and stepped into Connor's personal space again, breathing heavily. "Do you really think I'm a machine?" she asked, nearly pressing against him.
"Maybe they think you're the Buffybot," the girl called Will piped up.
"Will," Buffy hissed.
"Buffybot?" Connor's smile was crooked, almost amused.
Buffy's cheeks actually flushed. "Someone built an android of me as a...toy."
"Must've been some toy," Derek said. Connor glared at him.
"I was sure it had been deactivated, but just after Judgment Day, it came stomping into our bunker, took out half the survivors and a couple of our friends with it. That's when we knew this mess was computer-based."
John reached to grab her and Buffy glared a warning at his hand. Derek swiped at his face with a grimy hand to hide smile as his C.O. took a step back. "Where is this thing now?"
"We destroyed it with thermite this time. And Will started searching its connections, which led her straight to the Initiative."
Connor's eyes narrowed. "Bunker. You had a bunker. How did you know...?"
Buffy shrugged. "We were already on alert. Knew something was coming."
Connor frowned. "Oh, really?"
"Care to tell me how?"
"Are we going to go through this again?"
"Apparently, yes, if you're still keeping secrets."
"Fine." Buffy smirked again. "It was clear something big was going down for about two and a half months. They were like rats from a sinking ship. Every demon and vampire in the world started fleeing through dimensional portals, open Hellmouths, and time rifts."
Derek started coughing and couldn't stop. The look on Connor's face...halfway between fury and amusement...it was simply comical. Most of the time he thought Connor needed to be taken down a few pegs.
"You could have just said you weren't going to tell me," Connor said, lip curling.
Buffy shrugged. "How about you? Did you have some kind of warning?"
"I have..." Connor paused. "I had advance intelligence. I think I'll just leave it at that."
Buffy frowned. "So your secrets are all right then?"
"You'd never believe me."
Buffy stared at him. "I tell you we were warned by vampires and demons and you think you have something stranger?"
Connor glanced at Derek and his men. "Maybe another time. Just know that...I know. And you can get others to vouch for my information, if you need."
Buffy studied him then nodded. "You're telling the truth. But we should compare intel, previous missions-"
"Was it your people who took out the Seneca Base?"
Will grinned broadly. Buffy merely stared and nodded once.
"And the train trestles along the old 101?"
Again the women nodded. "What about the Zeira Corp Plant?" Buffy asked.
"That was my mother, not me. She decided to go out fighting instead of letting the cancer...it was a suicide run." Connor's face held that flat expression that had followed him for weeks after Sarah Connor took herself out in a ball of fire that destroyed a Skynet stronghold.
"I'm sorry," Will said, looking away.
A simple "sorry" had always seemed inadequate in the face of grief. After the loss of most of humanity, the loss of any one person seemed insignificant. Everyone Derek had known except Kyle had died on J-Day, and he'd just gone on.
Buffy just nodded.
"We lost most of our friends in an early assault, before Riley found us." Willow gestured to Finn. "That was before I knew to base my hacking on Initiative coding. If I had known...it was my fault."
"I doubt it," Connor said. "Sometimes we get unlucky. And you see every day how powerful Skynet is. My mom always said the only fate is the fate we make for ourselves, and you give your people every tool you had. Then it's only your fault if you don't try."
"You miss her."
Connor voice was strained. "She taught me everything I know. But I wish..." He trailed off.
Despite having no patience for Connor's moping, Derek was surprised to hear him say this much about his mother; he never mentioned her at base, unless he talked to Kate about her when they were alone.
"The entire Buffy Base shook that day," Willow piped up. "It totally threw Skynet for a loop. You should have seen the code scrolls-"
Connor's eyebrow went up, his face otherwise impassive. Derek's lip curled at Willow's cockeyed optimism.
"Oh. You did." Willow looked chagrinned and turned back to her computer.
Derek couldn't help thinking she was going to lead metal right to this "Buffy Base," just like Connor was going to get them all killed with his machines.
Suddenly a flurry of footsteps clattered down the stairs and Derek heard sharp bursts of weapons fire. The metal door banged back into the walls. Derek backed against the concrete wall, reaching for weapons he'd been stripped of, cursing Connor's arrogance and Buffy's dead-end bunker.
A clear voice rang out, "Get down. We're here for John Connor and his men. Get down or we will put you down."
Buffy turned to John, who was grinning.
"What have you brought on our heads, Connor?"
"Just what you brought on yourself: the wrath of my wife. I'll just call her. Kate! Down here."
"Stand down," Buffy called. "Everyone, stand down. These are friendlies. Repeat: these are friendlies."
A soldier kicked the door open, aiming his machine gun rapidly around the room as he scanned the area. At a jerk of his head, Kate Connor stepped in, her shotgun aimed at the floor.
"Hi, honey." John waved. "Took you long enough."
Kate lowered her gun and glared at him. "You stupid lug. What kind of mess did you get yourself into this time?"
"Nothing I couldn't handle." The Great John Connor actually looked sheepish.
Derek laughed out loud.
Buffy walked forward and held out a hand. "I'm Buffy."
"Kate. Is this your installation?"
"Very nice. Looks like your setup is better than ours."
"Kate," Connor hissed.
"Do you two have an intel exchange plan?" She kissed him on the cheek and slipped her hand into his. Derek shook his head. Those two were incorrigible.
"We were working on it. Between Will's knowledge of Initiative code and mine of Skynet-"
Kate turned to Buffy. "Was he all macho and superior with you?"
Buffy just laughed. "He tried to be. But we had his number when we ran into him trying to break into a place we'd already set to blow. He would have been in trouble if he'd tried to take that factory with the plans they had."
"Sounds like we're going to be lucky to have you, then." She squeezed his arm where she'd slipped her hand through his elbow. "Right, John?"
"Definitely. Very lucky. We should be able to make more surgical strikes after we combine intel." He caught Willow's eye and they shared a smile.
Kate nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Good thing you ran into them, then." She tugged at him. "Let's get out of here before the sun is up and we have to spend half the day looping around patrols to get back to base. Thanks again, Buffy, was it?"
Buffy nodded. "See you next explosion."
As Derek followed them out, he heard Kate comment, "Lucky you stumbled into them. Sounds like they'll be a huge asset to the movement."
"Yeah," Connor replied.
"And you're a lucky man. I mean, you had me to come rescue you in case they weren't on our side." She kissed him just before they stepped back into the nightmare landscape.
Derek followed as Connor and Kate discussed assets. Derek's pistol hung at his belt, a familiar weight. His shotgun was in his hands where it belonged. He tromped over the rubble, watching everyone's backs as the first glow of a sun they wouldn't see began to lighten the eastern sky ahead of them.