Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

 
 

Title: Façade

Author: Kastellen (uhm... that’s also me, Galloway)

Pairing: John+Cameron (JCam)

Rating: PG-13?

Notes: My first T:SCC fic, though far from my first fic. Before you get three paragraphs in and start screaming about the incredible OOC-ness, give it time. If you follow my conjecture, I don’t think it’s OOC at all.

Warnings: Some language

Spoilers: the Pilot, particularly, of which this is re-telling from Cameron's view. Although it has future hints that might spoil thru Ep 6, “Dungeons & Dragons”

Summary: What if the Cameron she shows is nothing like the Cameron she is?


*   *   *   *   *


On the seventy-third day of my search, he entered my life for the second time. He’d told me the where, though he couldn’t remember the when. The way we bent time over and over, that wasn’t surprising. So we took a guess, he and I, and I came and waited seventy three days, through boring pre-algebraic math lectures and history classes that were fascinating only for their irrelevance, for my first, second sight of him.

It’s alright. I’d have waited forever.

Though I had an idea what he’d look like, I think I’d have recognized him anyway. No one else at that school had such a look of absolute terror hanging about them. Far more than normal teenage insecurity — which I’d only had seventy three days to observe — the young John Connor had an inherent skittishness in him that I’d seen before: in every human I’d met after Judgment Day except the future John Connor. My John.

When he sat beside me in Mr. Ferguson’s chem class, I introduced myself. It helped to verify his voiceprint, of course, though I was certain enough without it. But I promptly got him in trouble. I felt bad, and I should have known better, as all through summer school Mr. Ferguson had proved to be kind of a wank, to quote some of my fellow students.

(Yes, I said summer school. John hadn’t mentioned going to summer school in Red Valley, but I had to cover my bases. It’d certainly have been easier if he’d mentioned we’d met on the first day of school.)

So I caught up with him after class, and turned on my most disarming look, while trying not to overdo the charm.

And he lied to me.

It was a struggle to keep my disappointment off my face, to act like I believed him, as “charming girl” had no reason not to. I wasn’t disappointed in John. He was too fragile, too damaged, to trust me that soon, and I really knew that. No, my disappointment was for myself, for seeing him as my John instead of himself. Thinking, if only for a fraction of a moment, that he’d see me, Cameron, his Cameron, how I wanted him to see me, instead of my having to earn it.

So it was a real surprise when he chose to fess up the very next day. I felt my heart leap — or what I thought of as my heart. Maybe “charming girl” was better than I thought. Or maybe he had seen his Cameron, just a little. Like a future déjà vu. Either way, I instantly felt bad about my own lie, the one I’d had to feed him. For a moment, I let the real me show in my face. I couldn’t help it. I think I fell in love with him for the second, first time right then.

Yet I couldn’t savor the moment, for the very next a man who was not grumpy Mr. Ferguson came in the classroom. A man who had the exact body type for a T-888. I couldn’t be sure, of course, only suspicious, but I had to lock myself to my seat, resist the urge to get John out of there immediately. Wait, Cam, I thought, let him make the first move.

He made an awkward joke, Cromartie did. I bit my tongue while the other students laughed. Then, when he took roll, I waited when he called my name. Made him look at me, watched his eyes. Then calculated every exit and distances to them, while running through escape scenarios and cursing the fact that John’s desk was three feet closer to the teacher’s than mine. I also considered how best to protect John while not giving up my identity to the other students — or even John — and especially not to the other cyborg, at least until I could find and press an advantage.

So I took several slugs to the chest in front of John, collapsing to the floor like a dead human student, silently praying that John would be quick enough to execute his most obvious move — diving out the window — the way I’d computed he would: just ahead of Cromartie’s reaction time to turn and fire. Then disappeared while the horrified other students were fascinated by the Terminator’s exposed endoskeleton. As I made my way to the parking lot I heard the triple-eight pause and make another awkward joke before he followed my charge, my future— well, my future — out the window. God bless the 800 series and their one-liners. My favorite of their design flaws. Gave me a few extra seconds.

Have I mentioned that it hurts to get shot in the chest several times? Of all the additions to my model, the prototype that I am, pain is the most annoying. I don’t have it for the same reasons humans do — to alert me to damage — as I have plenty of sensors for that. No, it was part of the “think like a human” package, presumably to blend in better, or track them down better, or something. But while I can turn in down, I can’t turn it off. And keeping it at a level where I feel normal human pains but don’t get knocked off my feet from getting shot, that takes some fine tuning. So mostly I don’t fiddle with the levels, I just use what my John calls “Jedi mind powers” and disconnect from it. Actually it can be useful in helping me focus in combat. Given that my size is a disadvantage in fighting most other cyborg models, every little bit helps.

Of course, since the entirety of my plan at that moment was “get to John and then run away”, the pain was mostly just annoying.

Cromartie was tipping over a school bus and climbing up on top of it as I was heading for my truck. Why he felt the need to tip it over before he climbed up escaped me, but again, I wasn’t arguing. As it was, by the time I had the truck pulled around and lined the T-888 up in my sights, he’d located John again. I hit him full speed about a quarter of a second before he completed his mission, thus saving my own. Holding everything inside me, my face a blank lest the pain in it scare off my charge, I pulled the truck back and kicked open the passenger door, and barked my message of minimal hope. “Come with me if you want to live.” On what could only have been instinct, John took the chance and dove inside, and off we went. I think it only sank into him what I was when he saw the bullet holes in my shirt, soaking through with blood. Enough holes to kill a human. His eyes, formerly just filled with fear, took on a new understanding, and I think my heart broke, just a little, at the sight. What I thought of as my heart.

We drove for a little while in silence, and John sat, still with shock. I glanced at him a couple of times, ascertaining his condition, and determined he wasn’t injured, to my great relief. Nice job, Cam, I thought, way to go almost letting your boss get killed, like you’re an amateur or something. I shook my head, and turned to him again. “Do you have a cell phone?”

“Huh?”

“A cell phone. You should call your mom.”

John blinked at me a couple of time, then it finally registered. “Oh, God, yeah,” he mumbled, and started scrambling through his pockets. He tapped a couple keys, speed dial #1 — probably the only one — and I heard him curse under his breath, then repeat the process. “Dammit, it won’t go through!”

“Coverage sucks out here,” I offered in sympathy. “Let me get closer to a cell tower.”

He nodded, still wrapped in his own crumbling world. I wanted to say something, reassure him somehow, but my John had cautioned me to give him time. So we drove a few more minutes in silence.

Finally I pulled to the side of the road, about 200 yards from a tall, spindly metal frame. John looked at me blankly. I pointed, and he followed my gaze to the tower. He blinked, then nodded to himself, and opened the door and his phone once again.

It’s virtually impossible for me not to eavesdrop on both sides of a phone conversation anywhere in my vicinity. In a combat-type situation, it often proved vital, in fact, knowing exactly what was said, rather than wait for the call recipient to paraphrase. Like this time.

John closed the phone and climbed back in the car, shaking his head. “Let’s go,” he said.

“That wasn’t your mother,” I said.

He looked at me, surprised to have his fears confirmed. “You sure? I’m not.”

“I could detect nuances that were artificially generated.” Off his apprehensive look I added, “Better safe than sorry.”

So when we reached John’s house, I pulled a hooded sweatshirt from my things stashed behind the truck seat. “Wait outside. If you hear a struggle, get back in the truck and just go. I’ll find you.”

“I’m not leaving my mother in there!”

“John—”

“I’m not!” he folded his arms in defiance.

I took a breath. Of course you’re not, I thought, you’re John Connor. Pulling on the sweatshirt and zipping it up, I said, “Then go in the back door, quietly, and try and lead her out. Be careful.”

“You too,” he said, and I held back a smile.

I drew up the hood, and headed cautiously to the front door. I heard the mimicking voice again before I even opened the door. He’d heard my footsteps.

“John?”

I cracked open the door.

Again, “John?”

My turn. “Mom?”

“Are you okay?”

“Mom?”

The voice matched in his processors. So he shot me in the chest several more times, and I fell down again. Have I mentioned how much that hurts?

And here we get to the part where, yeah, size does matter. Surprise is my friend, other people shooting my opponent, they’re my friends. But size? Not so much. Hey, mechanical frame or not, if getting shot hurts, try getting thrown through a wall. Or two. Unfortunately, John’s mother Sarah likes a little fight before she runs. Sometimes I think she’s more machine than I am. She almost shot John when he “carefully” came in the back. To cover them — and maybe as a little payback — I drove Cromartie through a floor. Without pain sensors, the payback part was lost on him though.

Oh, and, loose, sparking electrical cables? I fairly love those. Those guys are waaaay my friends.

Then it was up and dashing after my truck. I leapt in the back, and John helped me around to the front seat. Though she must have known, I started to explain who I was and what my mission was, but Sarah cut me off. She didn’t want to hear it until we were safely away. Because I’m sure talking would have slowed us down in some way.

In any case, no one did much talking for a long time.

*   *   *   *   *

John dozed on my shoulder a little after it got dark. I’m pretty certain it was when Sarah caught a glimpse of that — or maybe the look of contentment I had on my face at it — that she decided to find somewhere off the highway to stop for the night and check her bearings. Which was more or less all right. I did have a chest full of bullets that were killing me.

So I left John in the truck, covered him with his jacket while Sarah started a fire in a empty steel drum in the abandoned building she’d found. While she pulled out a worn and folded map I sat on the tailgate of the truck and prepared myself to remove the slugs that had impacted on my frame.

Best way to get out bullets from me, by the way? Pliers. Tell me that doesn’t hurt.

I didn’t need to take them out to, well, take them out, but I think I got half-naked specifically to annoy Sarah just a little bit. I’m no expert on parenting, but I don’t think the best course of action when you know your child is going to be the savior of mankind is to tell your child he’s going to be the savior of mankind. Teach him what he needs to survive, help him when you get stalked by evil robots, sure, but why not just let him grow to be the man he will be? Why burden him with this weight of destiny before he needs it?

I don’t know… maybe the man I know so well in the future, the man I love… maybe he needed to be burdened with this, or he wouldn’t have become the man I love.

Time loops really screw with your circuits when you try and puzzle them out, you know?

Anyway, maybe I was predisposed to dislike Sarah a bit, but the few hours I’d been around her hadn’t made me change my mind. The best thing about her was that she’d raised a wonderful son. So I stripped to the waist, which did in fact annoy her, based on the irritated glances she gave me. Petty, I know, but I’m a cyborg, not a PC. Finally it got under her skin enough for her to mention it. With a firearm analogy in fact. I complied, acting as if I hadn’t realized the inappropriateness.

She began asking questions then, about the future. I answered with building detachment at her attitude. When I told her she should have changed her alias, discarded John’s father’s name for something with a better chance of protecting him, I got a “Go to Hell!” for my trouble. I’m not sure which part of the suggestion earned it — the implication that she’d let down her son, that a machine knew better than her, or the crazy idea that this woman who had been on the verge of marrying someone would have been better served not hanging on to the name of a man she only knew for a couple of days. As if the name itself was more important than her son’s safety.

Okay, maybe I’m biased. Maybe that did deserve a “Go to Hell!”. Or maybe Sarah was just a little… how should I put this? High strung?

But either way, I softened it… dismissed the blame, told her they’d have found her anyway. From the look she gave me, I don’t think it helped.

*   *   *   *   *

The following morning I had confirmation of my “I told you so” feeling. I was maintenance checking the truck engine — never hurts to keep us machines in tip-top shape — when I felt my stomach drop almost out of my feet. (And I do have a stomach. Sort of.) The terror that I’d seen in John since my second first glance, bubbled at last to the surface. He confronted his mother with that horrible weight of the world she’d placed on his shoulders. He begged her to stop it from coming, to once more try to undo Skynet before it came about.

To hear the future leader — no, not even that. Just to hear the man, my man, my love, sound so fragile, so weak… it wrung my heart ’til it took all my strength not to cry, just to keep my face placid and still.

“Don’t give it away, Cam,” John had said as I stood on the threshold of the time circle, the border of my old and new/old world. “You know which things they can’t know yet.”

It was so hard, though. So much harder than I ever thought it would be. How do you hide something as simple, and difficult, and overwhelming as my love for the man this boy would become?

But then his mother saved it. His driven, machine-like, edge of sanity mother gave him a living example of what he’d become. She decided to charge back into the mouth of the lion, believe one more time that there is no fate but which we make.

She told me we weren’t heading down the road she’d plotted to Mexico on that dirty folded map last night. She said we were going to find Skynet. And she said it with such conviction that I couldn’t help but smile.

And almost believe her.

*   *   *   *   *

Filling the truck at a gas station while Sarah bought supplies, John tried to strike up a conversation with me. I fought with myself. I could hear his self-pity, and I was still too raw. I apologized for my own ruse when we met. But that only made it worse for me… he dismissed it as what my programming told me to do. I’ve never felt so bad about being a machine as at that moment. Even the offhand compliment on my looks couldn’t help. Sarah had all but crushed any spark John had of believing cyborgs could be more than just machines.

But John didn’t send me back here to develop my own case of self-pity. Sarah had looked at his hardship, and acted like a mother: take the burden away. I instead did what a friend would. I reassured him. I knew that every probability pointed to Judgment Day, to this boy leading humanity back from the brink of extermination. So I nudged him down the road, not off it.

“In the future, you’ll have many friends,” I told him.

Someday I might tell him how much of a friend he would be to me.

My reward was a look of puzzlement. But within that, I knew I had him wondering. He told me I seemed… different. I gave him my most enigmatic smile and, like any girl should, left him wanting more.

*   *   *   *   *

Though I’d assured Sarah that Dyson didn’t invent Skynet, she still made his home — now just his wife’s and son’s — our first stop because, well, what other clues did we have? At least, clues that I could share? Unfortunately, this would make it an easy guess for our pursuer as well.

The first few minutes there were spent in a difficult confrontation between two women who had lost a great deal. Miles’ wife had been told that Sarah had killed her husband, and Sarah had to convince her otherwise.

I could hear a clock ticking in my head. Come on, Sarah, we need to hurry. I understood their pain, but my concern was, and would always be, John above all, not Sarah’s need for catharsis. Or even sanity.

The faceoff nearly led Dyson’s wife to alert the police. I grit my teeth. When the woman finally asked why we were there I answered her with best shorthand I knew.

“We’re back,” I said, ignoring my personal belief that the word “we” was entirely inaccurate. I didn’t have the luxury of excluding myself now. I flashed her my eyes, and she got the picture. I saw her reaction’s echoes in Sarah, and worse, an uncertainty in John. I went to check for danger. Danger to John’s life, not my heart.

And I found it. Cromartie was approaching, inevitable as death.

It was too late to reach the truck, but Dyson’s widow loaned us her SUV. It didn’t prove as good at knocking him out of commission as my truck had been, because he was back up and firing — this time with better firepower.

Sarah took one to the shoulder and… well, at least they only hurt me. This one could kill her, and though again she tried to protect John from it, he was instantly in panic mode. And Cromartie was still following, fast.

So I did what I do; as he passed the truck, my own loyal machine, I asked it for one last favor, and triggered the bomb I had planted inside it. John looked at me in shock, but only briefly, and I couldn’t blame him. But at least I’d lost our tail for the moment.

*   *   *   *   *

Going on pain and adrenaline, Sarah found a convenience store and dropped off John for bandages and alcohol. They weren’t really necessary, at least not yet. Sarah always kept first aid supplies close at hand. But I saw her need to protect John from seeing the damage up close. Though I felt otherwise, I also knew he could only move up that dark road a little at a time, or he’d leave it on his own with no help from his mother.

So we found shelter out back: a machine shop that would be empty ’til morning. As I’d be her surgeon I offered her comfort for the pain, but she was stubborn as a Terminator. So I helped her to a table and examined her wound.

But more than that, I examined her. As I started to apply the stitches, perhaps I saw her for the very first time. I’d considered her before in the same light I saw all those humans I’d been around in the future. The Resistance fighters. I knew John had told me Sarah was the best fighter he’d ever known, and I’d really had trouble believing that at the time.

In her life, Sarah had seen, counting me, five cyborgs, and two of us had been on her side. She’d seen barely a handful of dead in their wake, just the smallest hint of the destruction to come. The men and women of the future, by contrast, had seen countless numbers of killing machines, had seen and known almost nothing but death in their lifetimes.

Yet they also had one another. To fight with, to grieve with. To hope with.

“We can’t keep running,” she said to me, as I watched her hold back the pain almost as effectively as I did. “I’ll lose my boy.”

I felt the barest tremor in my jaw.

“He’ll leave me,” she said. “He’ll leave me.”

She fought harder than anyone in the future, because perhaps she had more at stake. The one constant in her life was her fear of us. Knowing that to speak of it would get her put away. To stay too long in any one place would make her and her son a target. Because, above all, they were the only targets that mattered anymore in this war.

Sarah wasn’t blind to what John needed to be, to the road he must travel. She spent his life preparing him for it, while at the same time trying to protect him from it. It was impossible, the task she’d been given. Insane, perhaps. But she was his mother, and that’s what mothers did.

John wasn’t a just soldier to her, he was her son. The only thing that mattered to her.

To either of us.

She lived in fear that, not only might she lose him to one of us, but she might lose him if she strayed too far from that road. From us.

And so, in that moment, I did something I knew all along I might have to do, but was loathe to: I became a robot. My John said I would, and I was dying to prove him wrong. But Sarah… all my calculations, all my instincts, told me that being robotic — instead of being me — was the only way to get her to accept me. No, accept was the wrong word. Sarah was like most of the humans who’d actually seen the apocalypse and its aftermath: so distrustful of cyborgs that their reactions upon identifying us were universally violent. It was best to get that reaction, that knowledge, out up front. Thus, in the future I acted like all the others, like the Terminators, unless I was alone with John. Only then would I be myself.

I think he liked it that way. Laughing with him; teasing him to break the tension of our life in Hell; easy silences and friendly — and more than friendly — touches… I could be human with John. That I only did it with him, I think he liked that. Frankly, he only ever got to be human with me; to everyone else he was a leader, a friendly, caring figurehead.

Our humanity, our love… that was our secret. And so it would begin here, now. I knew I could not spring it on him all at once, who I was. He wouldn’t accept it like that. I’d have to ease him into it.

But for Sarah, no, it was best to be, ironically, the stuff of her nightmares. She wouldn’t believe the real me. She, like John, would think it was programming to make her drop her guard. I knew she’d fight me, but I could take it. I am, after all, a fighter by nature. But best to earn her respect as the thing she expected me to be. If nothing else, she’d trust that, because of “my programming”, I’d never hurt John.

And that was all I required. All I’d ever need.

*   *   *   *   *

As morning broke once more I watched the sun rise between the skyscrapers of L.A. Sarah had slept through the night, while John had dozed on and off but mostly watched his mother and worried. This constant fear had to stop, I’d decided. We needed time, and time was something I happened to have access to.

My John had given me flexibility in this assignment. He trusted my judgment. I’d spent the sleepless night tracing and retracing scenarios and probabilities in great detail. Sometimes being a cyborg came in handy.

The conclusion I’d been led to required some not-so-subtle moves. The kind that would draw attention from the authorities, but worse, attention from our pursuer. It would require precise timing and, like that first day back in Red Valley, some good guesses and a bit of luck to make it happen.

And no arguments. We had to dive in head first, no life jackets, so my charge(s) would have to go along. Nothing like a good bank robbery to catch someone by surprise.

When I had the teller lock us in the safe, I could feel their indecision. I could also feel her suspicion, and, sending a tiny thrill through me, John’s trust, and as the plan became clearer, his admiration. Under my blank mask, I chuckled. It was, after all, his plan.

The police arrived, as expected. But soon enough, too soon for my tastes, so did he. The weapon was assembled, and I handed it over to her. She knew from weapons.

Now the hard part. They had no choice, but still I made the case. In some part of me, I knew that some part of her needed convincing. I could, if I needed to, simply take John and go if she refused. She’d be helpless to stop me, even with the weapon in her hands.

“What have you done?” she accused me.

“You wanna find Skynet? You wanna stop Skynet?” I replied. “This is the way.”

“You don’t know who builds it!”

“No,” I answered, having gone over this conversation, and these arguments, thousands of times while she slept last night. “But we know where and we know when. We can go kill it before it’s born.”

I looked her in the eyes. Told her what she wanted to hear. What she needed to hear.

“You can stop running. Stay in one place. Fight.”

They hesitated, even as they tried to accept what I’d just shown them. The impossible that they already believed in but never thought they’d see. A time machine.

An escape.

Hope.

Cromartie pounded on the outside of the vault, having already ripped all the supports away. He stuck a hand through an opening he’d made and fired in bullets blindly. Enough with the help convincing, triple-eight, I thought, I’ve got it from here. Wishing he had a brain to process that, were I to actually say it to him.

I looked at John then, turning my whole body to face him. I willed it out of him, silently begged him to make her believe.

And like the fighter she’s always been, Sarah yelled to me to do it, to set our own future in motion. Then took one last shot at our past before we went, blasting Cromartie’s head from his body as the lightning pulled us in.

*   *   *   *   *

Then spit us out, naked, in the middle of a freeway. Damned L.A. and their obsession with cars. I’m almost surprised there are still buildings in L.A., and not just roads and parking lots.

I saw John and Sarah on either side of me in my peripheral vision, shaking from the pain and shock of the jump. Oh yeah, those things hurt. Don’t hurt the Terminators, but for those of us who feel pain, jumps hurt like a mother. I just couldn’t show it.

Instead I stood, staring at the cars stopping in front of us. I spotted a kid in the first with a camera on his cell phone, pointed directly at us. Great, publicity already. I stored his face for later, in case I had the opportunity to kill him. Well, I can dream, can’t I?

But first, I got us off the road. Sarah asked me where we were, and I explained with the help of a nearby road sign that only our time had changed. Then I made to get us some clothes and a vehicle, while only taking a little pleasure in the knowledge that John was definitely staring at me naked. Not the time for such thoughts, Cam, I told myself.

Then, getting dressed, I relaxed just a bit, grabbing my destiny with both hands. Skynet was here to be found, and destroyed. The future is not set in stone; there is no fate but what we make.

“No one knows we’re here?” he asked.

I shook my head, knowing I was probably lying. But making him feel protected was sometimes as important as protecting him. I walked closer to him. “You’re safe,” I said, then moved to our new wheels.

Behind me, they said in unison, “No one is ever safe.”

I know that. I truly do. But that was my job, to make it so, to make him as safe as he’d never been.

Not by hiding, but by fighting. It was what he was born to do, after all.

And I was born to be by his side. Someday I’d get to tell him that.

Someday.

Somewhere down that road.


~fin~

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