Five Things That Might Have Happened To Chola Chickadee
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine.
ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers.
FANDOM: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Born To Run.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Chola, Allison, John, Catherine, and others.
SUMMARY: In this timeline, Chola is Carlos Salceda's chickadee and occasional messenger for the Connors. But what about all the others?
MORE STORIES: http://fiction.deslea.com
Names don't mean much in the post-war world.
But then, they didn't count for much in the pre-war world, either. She was just Chola, just a Latina scene girl. Just a bit on the side, not even worthy of her own goddamn name. When you got right down to it, it was pretty pathetic.
"So what was your name again?" a fellow soldier asks her one day as they stop to rest, oh so briefly in the trenches.
She almost says Chola, but on impulse, she says, "Pilar. Pilar Ortega." If she dies, she doesn't want to be buried as Chola. Even if she does answer to it like her own name.
"Pretty," he says. "I'm Connor. John Connor."
"Pleased to meet you, John Connor." Light flashes overhead. "We need name badges," she adds idly. Who is she kidding? They can barely eat. And as for medical supplies...
"Yeah, we do," he agrees, looking at her with sudden interest. "Without our names, we might as well be machines."
Privately, she thinks that's a bit extreme, but she doesn't say so. No need to get a potential death-mate offside.
They survive it – yet another record-breaking survival – and next thing she knows, Connor and his friends are running around with their names painstakingly hand-embroidered onto their fatigues.
She laughs at the silliness of it, but she's secretly jealous, too. And when it becomes standard, when she receives her first fatigues emblazoned with Ortega, she hugs them to her chest.
Pilar Ortega never answers to Chola again.
Chola wasn't always a teacher.
She has dim memories of a life before Judgement Day. It wasn't much of a life, growing up in a lousy neighbourhood and graduating as all her surviving friends did to various positions in the local gangs or the adult service industry. The specifics didn't matter much, because it all turned out pretty much the same whatever your career path. A lucky few managed to live on the fringes of the good life, but bad neighbourhoods had a way of finding you mostly.
But it was a life. There was a roof over your head, even if it was on the scummy side of town, even if it got raided by the drug squad every so often. (It was her experience that there was an inverse relationship between the amount of drugs on the premises and how badly and often they tossed your house). And hell, you could go outside. In the daytime. And Chola never stuck around for any beat-'em-up boy, you can be sure of that. Sleaze came with the territory, but not that kind of sleaze. Not for her. No man leaves a mark on Chola, no way, no how.
Judgement Day was the great fucking equaliser, man. Suddenly no one had money and no one had a house. The women who didn't tolerate wife-beaters were in there, fighting right alongside the men. As for the women who did tolerate wife-beaters in the Good Old Days, Chola never met any. She guessed they didn't have the grit to survive at all – or they found grit fast and didn't want to talk about the time when they didn't have it. Not being able to see daylight has a way of putting the sufferings of the Good Old Days in perspective.
As for Chola, she fought, but not for long. She was twenty two when Judgement Day came, still young, but already old for a female soldier. By twenty nine, lack of daylight and malnutrition meant she had the physical condition of a thirty-five-year-old. Only six years difference – it wouldn't have mattered in the pre-Judgement-Day world – but now, it was the difference between reflexes that kept you alive and those that saw you dead. Her physical condition had dropped off the same cliff as her fertility, and she wasn't a soldier anymore.
So now, she taught. It wasn't easy. She wasn't illiterate or even ignorant, but she was from a world that didn't particularly prize education, and inspiring children to learn was an uphill battle. Parents grudgingly dropped their children off at her makeshift classroom, and sometimes they didn't bother at all. They would keep them home to learn how to fire guns, or how to cook scavenged food. And she would see them again in a week or a month, a little older, a little more hopeless. And if their parents died, she either brought them through it or lost them forever.
Schooling was John Connor's idea. It was one of his big ideas, early on, when some considered him a bit of an upstart. (Mainly the surviving soldiers, she noticed. They clung to the idea of rebuilding the military they all knew and loved, and which had quite possibly gotten them into this mess to start with).
It served a couple of purposes, only the first of which was ever discussed publicly. That reason, the public reason, was that if the knowledge of the world was not preserved and passed on, even if they won, the human race would be set back a thousand years. Literacy must not be lost. Important texts must not be lost. Science and medicine must not be lost. Sociology and law must not be lost. People must come out the other side of this war with the ability to rebuild civilisation. This must not be another Dark Ages, where the only knowledge to survive was that preserved by the monks. Because how many fucking monks did you see down here in the tunnels, huh?
Chola was never told the other, secret reason, but she didn't have to be. She lived it, didn't she? And she spent enough time navigating the politics of utility to know it when she saw it.
She was dispensible. So were all of them, women like her, women in their thirties and forties with broken bodies that couldn't fight and couldn't make babies. In this survival world, serious discussions had begun about whether resources should be used to sustain them. And John Connor knew that this fledgling society was only a breath or two from becoming indistinguishable from the machines.
So school started, and Chola and God knew how many others were given a reprieve. They remained useful. They kept their tenuous place in society. And John Connor gained a following of decent men who wanted the world to go on.
No, she wasn't always a teacher. But she is useful, and she is still alive. She will probably outlive her students – Sumner's sick young son, whose life she saved by teaching him medicine, steely brave Allison who left her at fifteen to fight, sad little Riley who ran away.
And she will keep on bringing them through for as long as she can.
An observer, looking hard at Pilar's career, would have discovered that it extended considerably beyond being a chickadee for Carlos.
To tell the truth, she never encouraged anyone to look very hard. Being a chickadee was a necessary evil, but it wasn't forever. Just until her brother died and the medical bills slowed to a trickle. Then she could just fade away into her other life, and no one would even remember her name. And for now? Being a chickadee was a small price to pay to have that sweet sickly little boy at home.
Not that she was anything really special. Just a beautician at the Estee Lauder counter at a department store, part time. But she had a diploma – she was the first in her family to get one – and she supervised two girls on weekends, and she got a retainer as well as commissions, and commissions on hundred-dollar perfume were pretty damn good. And twice a year, they did special edition gold and jewelled compacts that sold for four hundred bucks. Her name tag said Pilar, not Chola, and it was a nice one, two-tone and engraved. By the time she was twenty one, she'd manage that counter, and then she'd be promoted to a city store. It might not be every girl's big time, but it was enough. Enough for a good life away from the neighbourhood with a nice man and a nice little house. Nothing special. Just nice.
But someone was looking very hard indeed. Someone impressed by her credentials. Someone who sent a cop (ex-cop?) to request her presence.
The request wasn't really optional.
Now, Pilar crosses her arms over her chest – a defensive gesture. "What credentials?" she demands. "I'm a beautician, not a nanny."
Catherine Weaver leans forward on her desk, her expression one of rapt attention, if not admiration. "Your survival credentials, my dear. If I understand it correctly, in recent memory you have survived repeated encounters with Sarah Connor and her cyborg, Margos Sarkissian and his gang, not to mention day-to-day living with Carlos Salceda and his men. This is truly an impressive feat. It speaks to intuition and adaptability. My daughter needs these things to respond to the dark times ahead."
She feels herself slip from her Pilar-life to her Chola-life. It's like flicking a switch. Like opening a cage and allowing some shrewd, slender animal a sniff of the world. She doesn't ask what the 'dark times' are. She doesn't know, but she knows this woman. She is like Cameron. That in itself does not tell Chola very much, but it tells her not to ask. Not if she wants to stay alive.
Part of knowing how to survive is knowing when to ask and when to stay silent.
It's a bit like knowing when to be Pilar and when to be Chola, really.
"I know about your brother, dear," Catherine says, her features softening in a single, smooth move. Like clockwork. "He hasn't long. We'll wait for you. You see," she continues, her eyes seeming to become reflective, "I can't stay with Savannah forever. She needs someone special."
"I'm nothing special," Pilar says firmly. (Is she Pilar now? Or Chola? Or some new thing altogether, someone special after all?)
"But you are special, Pilar. And Savannah needs someone who will teach her to survive. Someone who will teach her when to ask and when to stay silent. Like you are now."
Her brother dies that night. Just like clockwork. And Pilar knows, knows it was the woman's doing, but she buries her brother, and delivers for Carlos one last time, and hands in her notice at Estee Lauder and then she goes to look after Savannah Weaver.
Because part of knowing how to survive is knowing when to ask and when to say silent.
Chola lost everyone in the war.
This is not a very unusual state of affairs. This new world is not indifferent to bereavement, but it takes a pretty special kind of bereavement to make the news, shall we say. Just losing your drunken mom and your gangster boyfriend doesn't count for much. Carlos didn't really count for much to anyone, she supposes, but he was hers, and he was damn near all that was hers in a hard old world.
So she misses Carlos, but still, this new world isn't so bad, all things considered. She knows that this is a minority opinion, and she doesn't voice it. But the old world wasn't so kind to her, and here she has surrogate children and there aren't any gangsters, and as for the poverty cycle, those assholes who built Skynet sure took care of that. Hell, no one's even bitching about global warming anymore. If you make it through the day, it's a damn good day, and the only thing to make that any different to her life before is that everyone else is doing the same routine.
But she does miss Carlos. She loves Allison and Kyle, and she even reaches a certain accord with Kyle's brother, but she misses Carlos. He wasn't so special, but he was from Before and he was Hers. She tells the children about him (with a few details omitted) and asks the children about who they had. Before.
Derek takes her to task one day. Why can't she just leave it alone? Why can't she let them forget?
"Why should they forget, Derek? To make it easier for you? Don't you think they need to remember that they belonged to someone once?"
"They lost them!" Derek rails with all the fury his thin fifteen-year-old chest can muster.
"Everyone loses the people they love," Chola says. Softly. Like you talk to a wounded dog, lest it should bite you. "Everyone. What matters is they had them. Before."
"It doesn't help," he snaps.
"It does," she insists. "It's what keeps us human. You think those machines belong? Belong to anyone?"
He doesn't have an answer for that, and she never doubts it until years later, when Allison comes home from fighting, dark-haired teenager, and she isn't...she isn't herself.
Because Allison isn't Allison anymore, but she still belongs. Belongs to Chola.
And then she Belongs to John Connor.
And when the machines start to Belong, does that mean the machines have become human? Or does it mean that the humans have become machines?
Chola doesn't know. She only knows that Allison was from Before and she was Hers.
"Do I have to kill you now?"
Chola watches the brown-haired girl in the rear-view mirror. "The way I remember it, I helped you. Why would I snitch on you now?"
The girl's head tilts to the side, like she's studying an interesting phenomenon. "Because people lie. They always lie."
"Then kill me," Chola snaps. "Why fuck around?"
The hand is on her throat before she can brace against it. She feels a strange sort of relief. She has felt for most of a year now that it was only a matter of time. Now it is here, and she can handle it.
"You don't fight," that cool voice says. "I like that."
"I'm only surprised you didn't do it sooner," Chola chokes out, peering into those eyes. Looking for blue light.
There isn't any.
Cold, human eyes stare back at her without pity.
Terror grips her heart like an ice cold hand.
"You – aren't Cameron –"
"Allison Young," the dark haired girl says, tightening her hold on Chola's throat. "From Palmdale," she adds helpfully. "I'd say I was pleased to make your acquaintance, but any friend of that bitch metal is no friend of mine. What was with that eyeshadow thing? That's some kind of messed up."
"The Baums are friends of metal too."
"Will you – kill –"
The last thing she feels is Allison throwing her aside. "We'll see."