Chapter 9 To Escape Tribulation

"How long have they been down there?" Sarah's question was both inquiry and barely repressed exasperation.

"Six hours, thirty-seven minutes, forty-three seconds." Catherine looked up from her seated position on the couch. Savannah was curled up beside her, a book open to the page she had been reading aloud before Sarah's interruption.

"Well, thank you Madame Precision. Does a bird pop out of your mouth on the hour?"

Savannah giggled at Sarah's jab. Catherine simply shook her head, creating an air of stoically dignified endurance.

"It is no use being impatient, Sarah. We brought them a good deal of material from Los Angeles. They are not going to stop until they have analyzed all of that information."

Sarah slumped down into one of the theater room's comfortable armchairs with slightly more emphasis than necessary. Damn, she thought. I hate it when she's right. The problem was, as Sarah reluctantly conceded to herself, Catherine was right most of the time. They had returned from their trip with a treasure trove of new information. The multiple files amassed by James Ellison's security people alone would require substantial time to review. But they had also brought the game...the game...Plato's Cave.

From the moment they had each held the slender plastic case in their hands and seen the reference to Myles Dyson and Andrew Goode on the back both Sarah and Catherine had been shaken. The importance of this child's plaything was incalculable. Certainly, the irony of it all was breathtaking. A present created by a loving father for his son's ninth birthday might contain the key to the looming threat of annihilation on Judgement Day. Certainly, Danny Dyson thought that his old toy was valuable enough to delay his flight from some unknown menace in a fruitless effort to find it. And now John and his brilliant metal friend were studying it. Sarah desperately wanted to know what they had discovered. She also found Catherine's placid equanimity irritating beyond all measure.

It would have lessened Sarah's distress if she had known just how much of Catherine Weaver's facade was just that--a facade that masked her own turmoil. Even as she sat with her arm around Savannah's shoulder listening to her...her...Yes, her daughter, read aloud, Catherine was focusing another part of her consciousness on the blank wall. The heavy steel door to the old fallout shelter hidden in that wall was rarely closed. By shutting it now Captain Connor and John Henry were unmistakably informing both Catherine and Sarah that their assistance was not presently required. The only thing that eased Catherine's frustration with that exclusion was the delicious certainty that Sarah was even more frustrated. Guilty pleasures were the best after all.

Sarah looked up as she heard the sound of running feet approaching from the gymnasium. Cameron had insisted that her two girls go upstairs for a nap after lunch. Sarah felt her thoughts go into an abrupt tailspin. Her two...Cameron's two. How easily that concept had just rolled through her mind. Once again Sarah Connor experienced the disorienting sensation of the ground cracking beneath her feet. It still did not seem possible. How had Cameron gone from being a shattered machine to what she so clearly was now--John's loving companion, the woman he wanted to marry, and in all ways that mattered the mother of two little girls who obviously adored her? Where did fantasy end and reality begin?

The answer to Sarah's question dashed into the room. Marissa was wearing shorts, a tee shirt and her new ballet slippers. Her dark eyes glistened with excitement and a happy smile set her face aglow.

"Savannah, it’s ballet time!"Marissa's voice bubbled with anticipation. At first she had been somewhat ambivalent about Cameron's dance instruction. But as she realized that ballet class was an activity she could share with her new best friend, her own enthusiasm had taken root.

Sarah glanced at Savannah who was clearly undergoing a moment of emotional conflict. The child had fallen in love with ballet the first time she had seen Cameron dance. Daily dance instruction was now a precious part of her young life. But Catherine had been away and Savannah had missed her terribly.To leave her mother now somehow seemed wrong.

Sarah watched approvingly as Catherine deftly resolved Savannah's dilemma.

"Go ahead, dear. Go to your dance lessons and we will continue reading the book after you finish."

Savannah smiled with pleasure and with relief. "Thank you mommy." She leaned up to kiss Catherine on the cheek and then jumped from the couch.

"Come on, Marissa. I have to get my slippers."

The two girls raced from the room just as Cameron appeared in the doorway. She was dressed in her usual ballet training attire of leggings, bare mid-riff tee shirt and gold ballet slippers. As always seemed the case lately,she carried Allison firmly in her grasp with the child clinging to her neck as if it were a lifeline in a storm.

Sarah shook her head slightly. I don't know if I would recognize Cameron if she wasn't carrying Allison, she thought. Sarah was also immediately aware that Cameron seemed utterly unconcerned about the momentous events that were taking place in the headquarters. The light of revelation gleamed.

Cameron wasn't impatient. She wasn't irritated. She trusted John so completely that she was prepared to wait until he was finished no matter how long that took. Damn, Sarah thought, that is even more frustrating than Catherine's saint-like attitude.

Cameron pulled a box out of the corner and emptied a collection of toys onto the floor. Kneeling down she sat Allison amidst these youthful treasures. When she was satisfied that Allison's interest was fully engaged Cameron rose with her own special effortless grace and turned to Sarah.

"Would you mind watching her for me while I do ballet lessons?"

Badass babysitter, Sarah thought wearily. That's what I am now, the badass babysitter.

The faint rhythm of piano music drifted in from the gymnasium. Marissa and Savannah had already turned on CD player.

"I'll watch her," Sarah answered with a decided lack of enthusiasm. Cameron looked for a moment as if she wanted to say something else but then she nodded and walked toward the gymnasium where her pupils waited. The theater room took on its own special dynamic. Catherine sat staring off into space contemplating matters that could not be discerned from her emotionless expression. Allison examined and discarded one toy after another in a search for the perfect plaything. Sarah tried to focus her fragmented attention on the activities of a toddler.

Suddenly Allison climbed unsteadily to her feet and wobbled over to Sarah. When she reached her destination she reached out and grabbed Sarah's leg for support. Allison tilted her little face upward and looked at Sarah with a deeply serious, unsmiling intensity. It was if she were examining some strange alien creature trying to determine its nature.

And then she smiled, an unrestrained expression of pure pleasure accentuated by the bright light in her brown eyes, Cameron's eyes.

Allison held out her arms to Sarah asking to be picked up, asking to be embraced, asking to be loved. Sarah gritted her teeth and tried to look away. Then like a house of cards her resistance crumbled and collapsed.

OH DAMN! Sarah thought as she gathered the miniature version of Cameron into her arms. I don't need this. I don't need something else to care about, to worry about. But as she felt little arms go around her neck one thought echoed again and again through her mind.

Too late! Too late! Too late!

Sarah looked into Allison's eyes and whispered softly "I know you can't talk yet little one. When you learn, Granny better not be in your vocabulary."

*******

Time, the measure of existence that was moving with such agonizing slowness in Sarah Connor's world, did not exist in the headquarters. As John and John Henry read files, made notes, examined photographs and passed the fruits of James Ellison's investigation back and forth, the minutes and seconds of the clock froze into place. Only the objective remained. Identify the resources Skynet possessed and plan their destruction. Time was irrelevant.

"What is your best estimate, John Henry?"

"Possibly as long as two years. If Mr. Ellison's people are correct in their assessments and if your plan inflicts all the damage that you intend, we may sufficiently disrupt my brother's operations that it will take him that long to rebuild."

"A lot of 'ifs' and 'maybes' in that answer John Henry."

"I am aware of that John but there may be variables we have not anticipated and you did ask for my best estimate."

John smiled wearily. "Touche."

They had been standing on opposite ends of the conference table looking down at the mass of photographs and drawings that covered every inch of the surface. Sensing the fatigue in John's voice, John Henry walked around and put his hand carefully on his shoulder.

"We can be certain of one thing, John. Everything we see here," John Henry pointed at the table, "the construction facility where Alfredo Garcia and his series 500 counterparts were built, this headquarters building in downtown Los Angeles, the trucking company, the Better Destiny Investment Group, the expansion of Kaleba, the Burkes and Armes Security Company, all took shape within the last thirty-one months. These are all my brother's assets. If we take them down he will have to expend time to rebuild.

John turned and stepped over to the blackboard where he had been taping up photographs and drawings all day.

"He will also have to replace every one of his servants we kill."There was a rasping visceral anger in John's voice made even more frightening by his low almost inaudible tone.

The photographs taken without their subjects' notice showed men standing outside a featureless commercial building or walking down a street in Los Angeles. There were also sketches of various individuals based on descriptions obtained from the severed terminator head still encased in a plastic cube in the corner. But one photograph in particular had repeatedly drawn John's attention. John Henry had noticed that on more than one occasion, John had stopped what he was doing and walked over to stare at it.

"Are you still certain of your identification, John?"

John looked again at the picture. It had been taken at what appeared to be the patio of a seaside restaurant. Palm trees in the near background and a gleaming ocean behind them suggested a tropical setting. A middle aged man sat at a table in the company of two attractive and scantily dressed young women. He had a high forehead, pale blue eyes and a long thin nose. His smile was that of a man enjoying a sunny afternoon in extremely pleasant company.

"Yes, I am, John Henry. That is Allan Rankin. General Allan Rankin, Chief of Intelligence for the Central LA Resistance Command."

Yes, you traitorous son of a *****, John thought, I know you. I don't care if you call yourself Alastair Culhane now. You were the mole in our command structure. If I never do another thing in this life I will send you to hell.

"Now he is the Managing Director of the Better Destiny Investment Group."

"He won't be for much longer," John growled. "From the tunnels to a beach house in the Caymans. Skynet treats its pet human infiltrators well. Let’s see if the bastard thinks it was worth it."

"He was on the Board of Inquiry that investigated your rescue of the Walton patrol wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was. The last time I saw that piece of scum he was trying to get me court-martialed."

The memories that John had been suppressing all day overcame his weary resistance.

He could see Derek, Colonel Derek Reese, commander of the First Battalion standing in the doorway of the Company J command post. John stood and saluted but Derek barely returned it. He kept his stare focused on some point beyond John's shoulder. The Colonel didn't want to look directly into his eyes.

"Captain Connor, I am instructed by Central Resistance command to inform you that of this moment you are suspended from command of J Company. You will confine yourself to quarters until 9:00 AM tomorrow at which time you will present yourself to a Board of Inquiry that will convene at this location."Derek's voice was a monotone, all feeling, all life driven from it.

"Sounds like my ass is in a sling doesn't it, Colonel?"

"God damn it Johnny!"Now Derek was looking at him with an expression that mingled anger and worry. "You can't just go and start your own private war any time you want to."

If Derek thought his outburst would cow John, he was wrong.

"What was I supposed to do Colonel? Let Chris Walton and his men get slaughtered? Let the Grays cut the throats of those they didn't carry off to be lab rats? You tell me, sir. What was I supposed to do?"

“You are supposed to obey orders, Captain. Then and now.You are confined to quarters." Derek turned and walked away as quickly as dignity would allow to prevent John from seeing his devastated expression.

******

Clean uniforms were a rare commodity in the Resistance forces. John rummaged through the battered wooden crate that served as his footlocker and found the old tan shirt. Actually it wasn't part of any uniform but it was close enough. There were no visible holes, all the buttons were still on and it had been washed at least once in the last month. Using the tail of the garment, he cleaned his Captain's bars before attaching them.

Might be the last time I get to wear them, he thought. He glanced at his watch. Eight-thirty AM. Time to get dressed and go. The Board was to convene at nine in auxiliary tunnel seven. Time to go.

Stepping out of his quarters, John suddenly thought how desperately he wanted to talk to Cameron. But that wasn't possible now. He could never get to the Lair and back in time.
I'll just have to think of her. Keep her in my mind.

As he walked through the tunnels thinking only of Cameron, he slowly realized that there were more people about than usual for this time of day. Most tunnel dwellers used the daylight hours for rest. Today, however there seemed to be troopers everywhere.Soldiers jumped to attention as he passed. No one made a sound. No one spoke a word. The silence became an expression of profound respect.

Auxiliary tunnel seven branched off to the left from the main passageway. As he turned the corner into the new tunnel the silence was shattered.

"ATTTENN...SHUN!!"The command roared out followed by the crash of boots stamping in unison on the cement floor.John looked down a long hallway with a sense of utter amazement. Lining both sides of the tunnel were troopers in full combat gear. It was J Company.

John swallowed, trying to force the burning constriction in his throat to release him. He drew himself up into his most erect position and started down the corridor.

"PRESENT ARMS!!"Resistance fighters were not training ground soldiers. They fought desperate battles. They did not march in parades. But today J Company would have held its own with any fancy drill team. Their rifles leapt into place in near-perfect unison as they saluted their Captain.

John kept his eyes focused straight ahead and walked in a carefully measured tread. He knew if he were to turn his head to look at his men, he might break down.
Keep your head up, Connor, he told himself. These men deserve the best you have. Don't embarrass them.

"That's quite a display, Captain." The voice from behind him was warm, friendly, familiar. John turned to see a face he had not seen in more than a year.

"Major Jividen. Oh, I'm sorry, General Jividen." John snapped off a salute. "It’s good to see you, sir."

"Forget that." Jividen waved off the salute and grasped John's hand. “It’s good to see you too, Johnny. Elise sends her best."

"I hope your family is well, sir."

"My family is well and I am well solely because of you son. Don't think I will ever forget that."

John actually blushed. He tried to wave away the compliment but Jividen would have none of it.

"We have to be quick, John. I had to pull every string I had and a few I didn't have but I am on your Board of Inquiry. So you know you have a friend on the Board but you've also got a powerful enemy."

"I’ve got an enemy? Who?" John asked.

"General Allan Rankin, the head of intelligence. He is the one who insisted on the Board in the first place. I don't know why, but he has a real wild hair about you."

John chuckled bitterly. "It might be because I threatened to have his son shot once."

Jividen's mouth fell open before he laughed out loud. "Well, that might do it. I'm glad to see you haven't mellowed any."

John shrugged his shoulders helplessly.

"Okay, it works this way," Jividen said. "It’s a three man board. Every action requires a majority vote. General Hunter Smith is the senior presiding officer and I don't know him. I haven't been able to get a read on his attitude so you have to play it carefully. Keep your temper and don't give Rankin any ammunition to use against you."

"I'll do the best I can, sir," John replied.

As they talked, Jividen had led John down the tunnel to a gray metal door. A hand-lettered piece of paper taped to the outside said simply:"Board of Inquiry in session. No unauthorized admittance."

"I have to get inside. You wait here until they send for you." Jividen smiled reassuringly. "It will okay John."

John nodded.
I wish I could be sure of that, he thought.

Moments after Jividen had entered the room, the door swung open. A voice called out in a tone that seemed rigidly formal but somehow triumphant as well. "Captain John Connor, the Board of Inquiry is now sitting. You are commanded to appear and give testimony."

John looked up with a start. The person who had called out the summons, who was holding the door open, was wearing a clean and pressed uniform. The polished oak leaves of a major gleamed on his shoulders. His pale blue eyes danced with pleasure and a ghost of a smile passed under his long nose.

Larry the Legend had the appearance of a child on Christmas morning who had just gotten everything he wanted. As John stepped into the room the Legend whispered, "I told you once that it wasn't over, didn't I Connor?"

The room, like most tunnel alcoves, had the casual charm of a prison cell. Cement block walls, rarely swept concrete floors and the harsh light from naked light fixtures created an atmosphere of unadorned ugliness. An old folding table placed at the far end of the room had three chairs behind it and one in front facing it.
The place of interrogation, John surmised. I wonder where they keep the rubber hoses?

As John entered, the three men seated at the table rose. He walked forward until he was standing beside the one lonely chair facing the table. Drawing himself to attention he raised his right hand in a perfect salute.

"Captain John Connor reporting as ordered."

The three men returned the salute, although John noted that the one on his left did so with a perfunctory gesture that was almost contemptuous. That has to be General Rankin, John thought. He looks like an older version of his rat-faced son. John's initial impression was confirmed when the door closed with a resounding clank and Major Larry Rankin took up a position behind his father's chair.

"Captain Connor." The darkly impressive figure in the middle spoke in a deep, sonorous tone. "I am General Hunter Smith. I am the presiding officer of this Board of Inquiry. On my right is General Allan Rankin, on my left is General Albert Jividen. We are here to investigate certain allegations concerning your conduct on Tuesday last. Specifically, it has been alleged that you violated Central Resistance Command orders with regard to the conduct of a patrol. It has been further alleged that you summarily executed human prisoners without allowing an opportunity for official interrogation."

Well, John mused, so far it sounds like I'm guilty. Wonder what the punishment is?

"I wish to caution you, Captain Connor, that these are serious allegations. If this Board were to recommend court martial you could be facing capital charges."

Now I know, John thought. Looking up he could see a broad smile spreading across the Legend’s face. Can't wait to assemble the firing squad can you, you son of a *****?

"Before we begin, Captain Connor, do you wish to make any opening statement or response to the allegations?"

John looked at Jividen who subtly shook his head.

"No, sir. I would prefer to respond to specific questions."

"Very well. You may be seated, Captain. General Rankin would like to initiate the questioning."

"Thank you General Smith." Rankin leaned forward in his chair, his lips drawn back in a smile of stunning insincerity.

"Captain Connor, do you believe that you have difficulty following orders from superior officers?"

"No sir, I do not," John replied.
And I haven't kicked any puppies today.

"Oh," Rankin said in mock surprise. Turning back he took a file his son had handed him.

"Let's review a few things shall we? Isn't it true that immediately before the events that led to your first commendation for valor, you were ordered to withdraw from the area; an order you disregarded?"

Before John could respond, Jividen angrily interrupted. "What General Rankin so dismissively calls 'the events' was this officer's heroic rescue of me, my wife, and my children from circumstances where our deaths were virtually certain."

General Smith held his palm toward Jividen. “Let the witness answer."

"There had been an order to pull back but it came from a non-commissioned officer who was not on the scene." John glared at the Legend before continuing. "I had acquired information that demanded a different course of action. I acted in conformity with the best intelligence."

"So you would say that you exercised combat discretion?" Rankin's smile grew icier with each question.

"I would, sir."

"All right then, let’s turn to your actions during the reconnaissance in force designated as Operation Redemption."

John almost leaped from his chair before remembering Jividen's advice.
Don't lose your temper. Don't give them anything to use against you. But to call the monumental screw-up that was Operation Redemption a reconnaissance in force was a bold-faced lie.

"Isn't it true, Captain, that as a platoon sergeant you positioned your men contrary to the coordinates assigned by your superior officer?"

"Once again General, my superior officer," John made 'superior officer' sound like a curse, "had not examined the terrain nor was he present when my platoon arrived. His designated position had an inadequate field of fire and no flank support. I elected to improve my position."

Rankin chuckled. "You elected? You elected?" He looked at the file again. "Your platoon suffered significant losses in that action didn't it?"

"I lost seventeen of my twenty-nine men. Would...you...like...to...know...their...names...General...Rankin?”

General Smith's voice was soft, almost soothing. "Captain Connor, we can all see this distresses you but please resume your seated position."

John looked around with a sense of surprise. He had not even been aware that he was standing glaring at General Rankin with his hands clenched into fists at his side.

"Your platoon suffered those losses because you disobeyed an order to retreat if you came under heavy pressure, isn't that true?"

Jividen sprang to his feet. "Enough of this! General Smith, I must protest! The heroic actions of then Sergeant Connor and his men took place more than a year ago and are well documented. This questioning is abusive and irrelevant to the matters before this Board."

Thank you General Jividen, John thought. He knew that Jividen's timely intervention had barely prevented the enraged response he was about to unleash.

Once again General Smith's response was calm and reasoned. "I am inclined to agree with General Jividen. I would suggest, General Rankin, that you focus your inquiry on the events of Tuesday last."

"Of course, General." Rankin's unctuous tone was one beat short of Uriah Heep. "I was simply trying to establish a little context."

Rankin turned back to John and his humorless smile widened. "Captain, what were your orders from Central Command on Tuesday last?"

"I was instructed to send out a patrol of no more than five men without reserve support to examine a warehouse complex approximately five miles to the North."

"And you disobeyed that order didn't you?"

"I did not. I dispatched the patrol led by Sergeant Chris Walton as directed."

"But then you personally led out a supporting patrol."

"Some fifteen minutes after Sergeant Walton departed I decided to conduct a personal reconnaissance of the area. I was accompanied by two volunteers who were concerned about my safety. That is hardly a supporting patrol."

Rankin's reaction was one of well-rehearsed outrage.

"Are you seriously saying that you did not go out to provide reserve support and that your supposed rescue of the Walton patrol was sheer coincidence?"

Lie with conviction, John. "That is my testimony General."

"And would the men who accompanied you testify consistently with your account of this amazing coincidence?"

John now looked directly at Rankin taking in the hate-filled stare of his son standing behind him. "You will have to ask them."

"Oh we will, we will." Rankin again looked at the file. "But let's move on. In conducting your rescue you captured two human prisoners. Are you aware that regulations prohibit the summary execution of such prisoners?"

"I am familiar with the regulations."

"Yet you did carry out such executions thereby denying the intelligence service a chance to interrogate them. In that regard you impaired the ability of the intelligence service to satisfy its responsibilities."

"The prisoners died while resisting our attempts to move them back to the tunnels."John smiled broadly at Rankin. "And given the quality of our intelligence service, I fail to see how it is possible to lower its ability to do anything."

Jividen burst out laughing while Rankin's face turned blood-red. The General's carefully constructed equanimity vanished. After General Smith regained control of the hearing he motioned for Rankin to continue.

"I doubt that we get anything useful from this witness. I suggest that we question the other participants in the events of Tuesday last.”

"All right," Smith nodded. "Captain Connor, you are temporarily excused. Please wait outside while we examine the other witnesses. Do not converse with anyone until you are recalled."

As John left the room he saw the line of troopers waiting outside. Delgado and Klein were at the front followed by Chris Walton and all the members of his patrol. Obviously, Rankin intended to establish and then hammer at all the inconsistencies he could uncover.
Go for it, you S. O. B. , John thought.

As the morning ground on, John stood leaning against the wall watching the individual troopers enter and leave the impromptu courtroom. Some were in there only briefly while others stayed much longer. As they emerged, every man stopped, looked at John and saluted. As he returned the marks of respect, John experienced both pride and anger. These men did not deserve to be dragged through this.

Finally the last trooper emerged. The Legend stood in the doorway and gestured for John to reenter. As he stepped back inside, John found something just short of a brawl in full swing. Jividen and Rankin were both on their feet almost screaming at each other. General Smith was leaning back in his chair, a faint smile on his face, looking from one to the other as if he were a spectator at a tennis match.

"Absolutely outrageous!" Rankin shouted. "He has obviously suborned perjury."

"That is pure unsubstantiated and groundless conjecture!" Jividen shouted back. "You just don't like the testimony the witnesses have given."

"What testimony? Every one of them either doesn't remember anything or didn't see what happened. That is inconceivable."

Jividen smiled triumphantly. "But that is their sworn testimony and you are stuck with it."

Rankin's voice went up an octave. "I am not stuck when the testimony is an obvious pack of lies."

"Gentlemen, gentlemen." General Smith had decided to end the screaming match. "This is not helpful. Let us restore order and decide what to do next."

It was nearly possible to hear Rankin grind his teeth. "I believe that we have heard sufficient testimony. I suggest we vote on the disposition of the matter before us."

Jividen glared at Rankin with unconcealed loathing."I agree with that. Vote."

Smith slowly nodded his head in agreement."I also believe it would be appropriate to vote at this time. Looking at John, his voice gained a level of authority.

"Captain Connor, please stand. Each member of this Board will now express his position with regard to the allegations against you. As senior presiding officer I will begin the process."

John stood at attention.
I wonder if the condemned man gets a hearty meal?

The room fell into total silence as General Smith folded his hands under his chin while contemplating his next statement. In that ominous quiet the sudden sound of a metal door bursting open and crashing against the wall felt like a bomb exploding under their feet. Every person in the room visibly jumped. All eyes turned to the doorway as Colonel Derek Reese walked in. Major Kyle Reese was close on his brother's heels. Behind them one by one by one came every officer in the battalion. As if in a drilled formation the officers filled the back of the room standing at attention and staring with focused intensity at the three members of the Board.

"What is going on here?!” General Rankin shouted. "This is a closed proceeding."

"With respect, sir, it isn't closed any more." Derek's voice was coldly and uncompromisingly determined. “This Board is considering the fate of one of the most decorated and respected officers of the First Battalion. This command is unwilling to have that consideration take place in secret."

Rankin looked to be on the verge of a seizure. "Unwilling! Unwilling! How dare you! This is mass insubordination. How dare you!"

Jividen stood, suddenly the voice of quiet reason. "Actually, the regulations say only that a Board of Inquiry may conduct its deliberations in private. They do not require a closed session. Given the demonstrated interest expressed by these officers, I would vote to allow them to remain."

General Smith cut off Rankin's sputtering protest. "I am likewise prepared to allow it, although I might have preferred a more orderly entrance."

John was suddenly aware that a warm smile was gradually working its way into Smith's expression.

"Turning to the vote, I wish to state that after reviewing the evidence presented and the service record of this officer, I am persuaded that Captain John Connor is one of the finest young officers in Resistance Command."

Allan Rankin and his son simultaneously looked as knives had just been shoved into their abdomens.

Smith continued. "Notwithstanding General Rankin's passionate disagreement..."

John's ears perked up. Was there a note of sarcasm in that remark?

"I can find no persuasive evidence of misconduct by this officer. Accordingly, I will not support any action by this Board that does not recommend the dismissal of all allegations against Captain Connor. Furthermore I will personally recommend that Captain Connor receive a third commendation for extraordinary valor."

General Jividen looked as if he wanted to cry and laugh out loud at the same time. "I concur in all respects."

Rankin stared at the table top, his hands clenched in useless fists."I dissent."

"Noted," General Smith responded immediately. "Captain Connor, you are restored to duty and excused from these proceedings. This Board of Inquiry is now closed."

The room that had once seemed so ugly, glowed. The roar of cheers was earsplitting. John's hand shook as he saluted, first General Smith, then General Jividen who was pumping his left fist triumphantly. Turning back toward General Rankin, he held his salute long enough to see that it wouldn't be returned. Then locking eyes with the Legend he allowed his hand to relax and slide down his face until for a brief moment his erect middle finger was framed against his cheek.

Derek, who caught the quick gesture, barely suppressed a laugh. Grabbing John's right hand and placing his left hand on his shoulder, he choked through his own emotion. "Captain Connor, please resume command of your company."

John nodded. No words could be summoned. He turned and slowly navigated his way through the press of officers, all of whom wanted to shake his hand or pound on his back. Reaching the doorway, he turned for one last wave to General Jividen and then started down the hallway. Immediately Delgado, Klein and the members of the Walton patrol fell in behind him. Back in the former courtroom the Board members were gathering their effects when the sound of massed voices from the tunnel began to pour in.

"Connor....Connor......CONNOR.....CONNOR!!...CONNOR!!!"


*******

John Henry had recognized that when John fell into one of his reveries he usually emerged in a restrained, even a depressed mood.But with that foreknowledge, John Henry was still surprised by the deeply anguished expression on John's face as he turned away from the photograph.

"I should never have left them. I shouldn't have come back. I should have stayed and fought with them."

John Henry tried to be reassuring, to offer comfort. "That would have been useless, John. You know, you knew then that in that time line the Resistance was going to lose. You could not have saved them. If you had stayed you would have died with them."

The expression on John's face moved from sadness to anger. "Maybe that was what I was meant to do, John Henry. They were willing to stand with me, to die with me. I should have been willing to die with them."

Suddenly John Henry actually looked angry.

"Nonsense! It would not have honored your men if you had died uselessly, for no purpose. They fought to win. So should you."

Surprised by the vehemence of John Henry's reaction, John found himself edging backward. But John Henry's tirade was not over.

"And if you had not come back what of the ones you love? What of Cameron? Of your mother? What of your children?”

John staggered back another step as if he had been slapped in the face. John Henry, who never used a word he did not intend, had been unequivocally clear. He did not say ‘the girls’ or ‘Marissa and Allison’ or even ‘the children.’ He said ‘your children.’ ‘YOUR children.’

"You don't fight fair, John Henry," John whispered.

"No, I do not. Neither do you. That is a luxury you and I cannot afford."

John raised his hands in surrender.

"As usual John Henry, you are right. I let my memories carry me away. I must always remember that we are fighting for a future not for the past."

John Henry smiled. The anger was gone. His gentle, caring and supportive demeanor had returned. "I will always endeavor to remind you."

John took a deep breath. "All right, let's get back to work. We need to start putting some flesh on the bones of our plan. I want James up here as soon as possible."

"I will call him," John Henry replied, "but it will take hours for him to get here. You should get some rest while you can."

John ran his hand across his temple. "Yeah, I do feel a little worn down. What time is it?"

"Two-thirty."

"I guess I missed lunch."

"You missed lunch and dinner, John. It’s two-thirty in the morning."

"Oh, then we have been at it for...."

"More than twenty hours." John Henry was clearly sympathetic. "You must be tired."

"I think I will go lie down for a while," John chuckled."And John Henry, thank you."

"As always, my friend, you are welcome."

******

The house itself seemed to be asleep as John wearily climbed the dark stairs to the upper level. If you listened closely you could almost hear it sigh as the balm of quiet rest wiped away the stress of the day. Reaching the top floor John was surprised to realize that he wasn't ready to join in that restful sleep. There was still something to do.

Slipping off his shoes he tiptoed down the hall to the room Marissa and Allison shared. He pushed open the door straining to avoid the slightest noise. Inside in the faint glow of the night light he could see both girls sleeping soundly in their beds. Allison's brown hair had formed a halo around her small face just as Cameron's did. Marissa's expression was one of placid contentment with none of the pain he had seen when he found her in the closet in the Mitchell house.

She was home now. Both of his daughters were home. At that moment John thought that his heart could not hold any more joy.

And then it could. The arms encircled his waist from behind and pulled him close. He could feel Cameron's head rest on his shoulder. Her lips brushed against his ear as she whispered. "I was afraid that you had abandoned me."

John turned and gathered her into his arms."Not in this lifetime."

Slowly, gently, as if he feared she would break if he pushed too hard, he kissed her eyes. Right, then left.

Then it was Cameron's turn as she sought his lips with hers. John tasted her. She was water to a man dying of thirst. "Not in this lifetime," he repeated.

Cameron held a finger to her lips. "Shhh." Taking his hand she pulled him out into the hallway and softly closed the door behind them."Marissa tried so hard to stay awake so she could say goodnight to you. I had to promise to tell you before she would go to sleep."

John smiled as he let Cameron lead him unresistingly to their room.

"I should have come up but John Henry and I got so busy that I forgot about the time."

"It’s all right, John," Cameron said. "She understands. We all understand."

John sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled Cameron into an embrace. Reaching up he began to unbutton the man's shirt she was wearing.

Cameron smiled slyly. "Don't you think you should get some sleep?"

John grinned back. "I am tired, but I don't think I'm ready for sleep yet." His fingers continued their journey down the shirt.

Resting her hands on his shoulders, Cameron gave, for her, a gentle push. John was propelled back onto the bed. With a casual gesture she jerked loose the remaining buttons and then dove on top of him."You will be when I finish with you."

"Promises, promises," John answered happily.



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