He tried to answer back, the distant voice floating in his mind like a hazy vision he couldn't make out. The edges of it were fuzzy and warm, but when he tried to make sense of what, of who, he was hearing, it just moved further away. John tried to focus, to find a way to grasp at coherent thought once again, the most basic instincts within him fighting and urging the rest of his mind to pull itself together.
A steadfast refusal was all that he was given, and he succumbed to the darkness that engulfed his senses, a familiar numbness filling out each phantom limb.
An older Sarah Connor looked up, eyes fixed forward, body sharp and hardened. She was the Sarah that John remembered, barely a shadow of the person she had been before, having changed into something greater. He couldn't remember where they were – someplace far from the last dark and lonely place, away from society. The walls and ceiling were blurry, the entirety of his focus on his mother as he edged his way out from behind a door.
He saw her mouth his name, but her voice was just an echo in his mind. He walked across the floor, a sudden memory striking him of just how cold it had been, his bare feet hitting the frigid tile. Her arms set down the heavy rifle that she had been cleaning, offering space to him as he wrapped his arms around her.
Even with such a far away memory, he could recall how small he felt when she held him. Sarah was so much, a lion's worth of strength that would pounce at the slightest provocation, at any hint towards John being put in the smallest of dangers.
“I'm scared,” he remembered saying, “Can I stay with you in here?”
Her words in response were muddled and lost, just hints of voice and tone. The arms that had helped him to walk, and carried him when he was tired gently nudged him away, a finger pointing back the way he came. Her mouth moved, forming words that he couldn't understand, but even without spoken language he knew that he was being told to leave. Of course he couldn't stay, he had to return to the dark, he had to be brave. How else could he be everything that the world needed him to be, if he was still afraid of the dark?
The memory began to fade, Sarah shrinking further and further away, suddenly beyond the reach of his useless arms. Drops of gray and silver infected the dream like acid, burning holes in his mind, his memories, his entire being.
A voice that must've been his years ago screamed and cried for that Sarah Connor, who was lost in time, now only a memory that itself was being eaten from his mind.
He snapped awake, jerking violently as his eyes flew open. Kyle was standing a few feet in front him, and Sarah, Kyle's Sarah, not John's Sarah, was directly beside him, a rocket launcher in her tiny arms. He recognized the ordnance in it as the projectile that had struck him in the helicopter. John narrowed his eyes at Sarah, then grinned out of pure spite. It was spite now. A few weeks ago it would've been amusement.
Out of pure instinct he tried to stand up, but found a powerful magnetic vice around him, holding him tightly in a chair. John looked down, frowning at the enormous rings of magnetic coils that were wrapped around his torso and legs like restraints. Nanites that formed his flesh were sucked against the rings, exposing the flayed musculature beneath. The feeling created a burning sensation along the imitation skin that radiated throughout the rest of his body. He found it a minor annoyance at best, and yet even with that simple thought his entire human guise melted away, revealing the true machine beneath. John stared at Sarah and Kyle, whose gazes grew even harder at seeing his true shape.
“You make these just for me?” he asked, artificial muscles pulling at his lips to form them into a sneer.
“They work don't they?” Kyle responded.
John took a quick look around to see just where he was as the other man spoke. Cement walls, no windows, a single door, likely underground. He gave his attention back to Kyle afterwards, relaxing in the chair.
“You know I'll escape. You're wasting your time.”
“You won't escape.” Sarah said tersely, “We know how to stop you, we-”
“You know how to inconvenience me.” John interrupted, milky white eyes pin pointed at Sarah, “That's not the same thing. You're going to go out there and fail. Again. You will always fail, why can't you just understand that?”
“And do what? Just quit the fight and accept it like you did?” Sarah snapped back, keeping the launcher aimed at John.
“Sarah it wasn't like that, you didn't know him.” Kyle muttered bitterly.
“And I'll never have to.” she whispered, backing away towards the door. Kyle stepped back alongside her, opening the door. Sarah backed herself halfway through the door frame before firing at John, the magnetic ordnance striking him dead center in the stomach, the explosion blossoming flames on every side that met the ceiling and spread outward. The door was slammed shut by the time the fire reached it, leaving the smoke to billow and linger in the room.
“Was that really necessary?” Kyle murmured, staring at the large steel door, smoke slowly creeping its way through the small space between it and the floor.
“What else did you want me to do?” Sarah asked, handing the launcher to Pops, who stood by with a large backpack full of wire coils.
“I don't know.” he breathed, voice faltering as he avoided eye contact with Sarah.
Pops glanced at Kyle, setting the launcher aside. “Your tone and posture indicate insecurity. You still have an emotional connection with John Connor.”
“No shit, he practically raised me!” Kyle shouted, “You don't just forget about the guy who was basically your father and best friend overnight!” He turned his attention to Sarah afterwards, “I wouldn't just ask you to forget about Pops, I wouldn't expect you to just go 'oh he's the enemy now' if some...some glitch or something made him go nuts.”
Sarah stared back at Kyle, frowning. She shook her head, scoffing and walked away, clearly annoyed. Pops watched her go, then focused his attention back to Kyle.
“She will not be sympathetic to your situation, Kyle Reese.”
“I know, and she doesn't have to be. I'm not asking her to feel bad, or any of that – I'm just...Christ, fuck it, I don't know what I'm trying to do.”
“You are going through stages of loss, Kyle Reese. It is understandable that you feel confused and unable to cope with the situation in an objective manner.”
Kyle looked up at Pops, met with the same emotionless stare as was present most times. He sighed, shaking his head. “This is all so fucked up. It's...I mean, it has his personality. Can your kind – I mean, I'm sorry, can you guys have personalities?”
Pops glanced to the side, processor working on the question posed to him. He shifted his eyes back to Kyle after a few seconds, a tiny whirring sound going along with the slight tilt of his head.
“Certain models do contain intricate programming based on human interaction and have been able to infiltrate human social groups. The T-1000, and T-X models were the first prototypes.”
Kyle listened, expression falling as he moved to lean back against the wall.
“However,” Pops continued, watching him, “The personality present within John Connor is his own, and not a simulation. He is the same being, rebuilt with different materials.”
Kyle stared at him, blinking several times, then crossed his arms, shrugging.
Pops deliberately let out a sigh, displaying the tiniest hint of annoyance. “In the simplest terms I am capable of...if a box made of cardboard was infected with nanomachines that changed its cellular makeup to steel, it would still be a box. John Connor is John Connor. His cells have simply been changed and altered.” Pops paused, memory banks recalling the rather brutal attack he'd endured at John's hands. “With additional benefits.”
“Do you think he had a choice?” Kyle asked quietly, “Do you think it was all too much for him, being changed, and he just gave up so he wouldn't lose it?”
“The answer to that query is arguable, and contains no answer at this time.” Pops responded, lowering the backpack he'd brought along, taking out several large coils of copper wire and a soldering gun. “Short and long term psychological trauma was the leading cause of failure for the earlier test subjects, it is likely that John Connor experienced similar damages inflicted upon him. However, while his desires may be contrary to his actions, if programmed with parameters that are unable to be overwritten, he would be unable to cease any actions he would otherwise deem 'wrong'.”
“Can you like put that in a smaller, condensed...” Kyle paused, snorting. “Never mind. I get it.”
“Does this help your coping process, Kyle Reese?”
Kyle stared at Pops for a moment, then gave the slightest of smiles. He sucked in a long breath, sticking his hands into his pockets, looking down at the equipment the old Terminator was arranging.
“So what's all that for?”
“I must build a magnetic field generator on a small scale, to prevent the nanomachines from rebuilding. In terms you can comprehend, Kyle Reese, the T-3000 should be unable to rebuild itself with the strong magnetic presence.”
Kyle rolled his eyes at Pops, grinning despite the circumstances, and turned to leave. He gave the machine a small wave, heading through the old bunker to a set of cement stairs, racks of guns and ammunition lined up in rows on either side of him.