Fandom: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
Disclaimer: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is not mine...though since Fox appears to be dropping it, rightfully it should be up for grabs.
Summary: Slightly alternate time-line, Riley lives...Cameron's glitch continues to make itself known, and Sarah...well Sarah gets to learn what it's like to be in John's shoes...in more ways than one. I have no idea how long this may end up being...but here's part one.
They were arguing about her again. Cameron sat very rigidly on the edge of an armchair, her hands folded neatly together on her knees. She looked straight ahead, brown eyes unblinking and unfocused, her face a perfect neutral mask. Every so often her left hand quivered slightly, possibly betraying some inner turmoil that she didn’t have the words, or even conscious understanding to express.
The terminator was becoming accustomed to this scene. Derek insisting vehemently that she was dangerous and untrustworthy and they would all be better off if she was deactivated, and John, just as passionately, asserting that they needed her abilities to survive at all against Skynet and the machines.
Sarah usually remained neutral throughout the majority of these debates. She would let Derek and John wear themselves out against each other, and then, when they were reduced to glaring and growling unintelligibly she would banish Derek outside or on an errand to cool off and give John something to do on his laptop, or send him to school, depending on the time of day…and nothing would change.
Tonight was different. Derek and John were still the main antagonists, and Sarah was still mostly staying out of it, but there were a few new players, and it was no ordinary argument. Despite her impassive face Cameron thought it unlikely that this argument would be resolved so easily.
Jessie, the Aussie soldier from the future, stood stiffly just inside the living room. Her arms were crossed and her bruised and scraped face was set as if she were waiting for the axe to fall, and fully intended to go ten rounds hand to hand with the executioner before it hit. Cameron did not think that Jessie would allow herself to be meekly sent outside…even by Sarah. Cameron did not understand this self destructive attitude. Even a terminator could learn that challenging Sarah when she was angry was self destructive. Many terminators had not survived this lesson.
The other addition to their latest domestic dispute was Riley, John’s girlfriend and Jessie’s weapon against his growing infatuation against Cameron. An obsession that Jessie claimed had changed the future and begun to turn John’s own resistance fighters against him. Cameron had not yet had time to calculate the odds of this being true…but after scanning the woman’s pulse rate, skin salinity and body temperature for signs of stress related to lying, she had to conclude that Jessie was likely telling the truth as she knew it.
Riley and John shared the couch, openly holding hands, their entire attitude that of teenage immovability. John’s face was set as only a teenage boy’s can be; at once innocent, furious and self righteous, with no room for negotiation or compromise, and beside him Riley clenched her free hand in her lap, the knuckles white where they weren’t split and bleeding.
Cameron did not approve of Riley; she was a weak link, and a distraction to John. However it was John who had correctly deduced her origins and discovered her connection to Jessie…saving the girls life in the process. The terminator had to conclude that her preoccupation with Riley’s affect on John had distracted her from the greater picture. This was a concern; Cameron needed to remain objective if she was to maintain maximum effectiveness.
“I knew that metal bitch was trouble.” Derek, bleary eyed from lack of sleep and ongoing stress stood with Jessie by the door. “We should have burned her and her damned chip when we had the chance and none of this would have happened.”
Cameron ignored what the ex-soldier was saying; focusing more on the meaning of the hand he rested on Jessie’s shoulder. Was Derek still loyal to John? Had he finally crossed the line from asset to liability? If so he would need to be removed. Sarah and John would disagree because he was family. This apparently leant him additional value beyond his contributions to the team and mitigated some of the risk that he posed. This did not make any logical sense to Cameron, but she allowed that it might be something only human’s understood.
What she was not prepared to make allowances for was the very obvious danger that Jessie had already proved herself capable of putting them in. The woman had attempted to manipulate her, and used John to do it. This was unacceptable. The terminator allowed her expression to become threatening and stared intensely across the room at the older couple.
“If you’re going to kill me, I’d rather you just got on with it…instead of staring at me like a dingo with a snared rabbit.” Jessie returned Cameron’s glare, dagger for dagger, her voice somewhat choked by what was likely a broken nose.
“Hey, no one is killing anyone.” Derek pressed her shoulder reassuringly, looking hard across the room at Sarah where she stood leaning against the archway to the kitchen, her hands wrapped tightly around an untouched mug of coffee, before cutting his gaze to the continuingly placid Cameron, who ignored him.
“Relax Derek. If Cameron was going to kill her it would already be done.” Sarah refused to even look at the metal girl herself, apparently not allowing that there might be some doubt in the machines decision making skills lately. “I, on the other hand, haven’t made up my mind yet.”
Cameron was a little annoyed at being so easily dismissed. Despite her recent malfunctions she did not like the idea of Sarah making all the decisions. Sarah was often sentimental…especially about children. Riley was probably still a child in Sarah’s estimation. She did not think that Sarah would let her remove Riley, but they should be able to compromise on Jessie.
“How do you know what she’s going to do?” Derek was beginning to look a little wild-eyed. “She almost murdered John’s girlfriend without even telling anyone, and she’s supposed to be under control?” He had the grace to look a little shamefaced when Riley shuddered, and changed his tack. “The fact that Jessie and Riley are even here proves that she’s a danger to John, and probably the downfall of the resistance. Has it occurred to you that that might be the reason she’s here? How do we even know that John was the one who sent her? Skynet probably sent her back to brainwash him!”
“Hey!” John twisted around in his seat to look over the back of the couch at his increasingly distraught Uncle. “Could we please agree that I have some control over this? I’m not a-“
“Sixteen year old boy?” Sarah cut in, her expression skeptical but understanding. “Look John, no one is saying that you’re…” she trailed off, apparently unable to come up with a generous way to say ‘sex crazed adolescent’, and eventually giving up “Let’s just agree that Cameron isn’t exactly your average pretty girl with a crush. She’s a terminator, they don’t give up, and they never stop. If she’s programmed to seduce you, she won’t take no for an answer and she won’t let anything,” here her gaze shifted to include Riley, “or anyone, stand in her way.”
Slightly mollified that Sarah had called her pretty – even primitive terminators were capable of taking pride in the successful execution of their objectives, and she was not a primitive model—Cameron had to allow that Sarah’s analysis was essentially correct. This conclusion left her strangely unsure…Was she actually a danger to John’s future ability to lead the resistance?
“She is right. I may prove to be an undesirable influence on John.” Slowly she turned her head to look at the future savior of mankind, still expressionless.
“My primary mission is to protect you, and assist you in preventing the creation of Skynet.” She paused. “But Future John also knows what it is like to be lonely, and he has seen many human friends die. He did not want his younger self to suffer in the same way, so I was also programmed to become close to you, providing long term companionship that would not endanger you or anyone else. This included attempting to prevent you from forming risky and unnecessary human relationships.” She paused. “Upon consideration of the intelligence provided by Jessie and Riley, It seems likely that this was inadvisable.”
Later, Sarah would be unable to recall exactly who said what, and what threats, insults and accusations flew around the room as a result of that simple confession. She was in a state of shock. Despite actively disapproving of John’s response to the terminator in the past, she had not honestly believed that Cameron was doing it on purpose. Knowing the implacable nature of the machines, she felt real fear for her son and the future of mankind. What if Cameron suddenly decided that John’s relationship with his mother was unnecessary or risky?
Predictably Derek was all for deactivating the terminator immediately. No metal, no problem. John could not develop a perverted relationship with a machine that wasn’t there.
Jessie backed Derek up…Her personal grudge against the metal allowed little room for compromise, and she argued that if the terminator wasn’t destroyed, Cameron’s programming would force her to continue to try and isolate John in the name of protecting him.
John, now white faced and shaking, argued vehemently that they couldn’t really know what the future held. They couldn’t possibly know what had already been changed by Jessie and Riley’s foray into the past.
Furious at Cameron for not telling them this sooner, and terrified for her son, Sarah nonetheless couldn’t see any resolution to this circular argument and she very nearly snarled them all into silence. Had it been only Derek who opposed her, or had she not harbored her own secret doubts about keeping the terminator around, that would have been the end of it.
But uncertainty robbed Sarah of her usual fierce assumption of authority. She had spent too long with only herself to rely on to keep John safe and too long with no one else to count on to have her back in a fight. She needed Cameron’s fighting skills, her unshakable focus and single-minded determination to protect John, but as much as it galled her to admit it, she needed Derek’s experience and position as a role model for John too…and Derek loved Jessie…and clearly her son wasn’t prepared to give up Riley…so somehow she needed a solution that everyone could live with, that didn’t end in future mutiny for the resistance.
It all kept coming back around to Cameron’s unpredictability. To what lengths would the terminator go to achieve her goals? She had already come very close to killing Riley once, who would be next if John tried to distance himself from the terminator?
It was Riley who finally found an answer, her voice shaking a little as she turned wary blue eyes on the subject of their verbal melee, who was still sitting perfectly still in her chair. “Can’t we just reprogram her?”
John threw up his hands, clearly beyond frustrated. “I don’t know how, and we don’t have that kind of technology anyway. I could barely read Vicks chip let alone-” he began, but Cameron interrupted him.
“Yes. That may be feasible. I have a verbal override system keyed to John’s voice that should allow him to authorize minor alterations to my secondary and tertiary directives. It is a failsafe that Future John put in place.” She appeared to be taken a little aback, but nodded approvingly at Riley. “That was a very good idea. My programming did not permit me to suggest it, much as I cannot attempt self termination, but I am apparently allowed to explain the process.”
And that more or less ended it. If Cameron’s threat to John as a barrier between him and the rest of the world could be neutralized without compromising her ability to protect him, then there was no reason to deactivate her, and every reason to keep her around.
Derek and Jessie were poor losers, and there was a great deal of grumbling from that quarter, but Sarah suspected that it was mostly for show. Jessie was clearly relieved that she had not completely failed in her mission, and Derek seemed almost pathetically grateful that he hadn’t been forced to choose between his loyalty to John, and supporting his lovers concerns for the future. While neither of them was happy about the terminator remaining part of the team, they accepted it with only as much ill will as they felt was absolutely necessary to save their pride.
While John conferred with Cameron on the step by step process of accessing her directive fail-safes, and Derek took a rifle outside to cool down and make himself useful covering Cameron’s patrol for her, Jessie sat down with Riley on the couch.
Brewing a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchen, Sarah couldn’t hear what the women were saying to each other, but it seemed to be civil enough so she hoped the Aussie was apologizing. How exactly someone apologized for setting you up to be murdered in order to save mankind, she had no idea, but she hoped for Riley’s sake that it would give the girl some closure.
As for Sarah…despite her outward calm she was still reeling from what Riley and Jessie had revealed about John’s future. How could her son lose touch with humanity so completely that his own resistance began to doubt him? Despite Cameron’s admission Sarah couldn’t rest the entirety of the blame of those thin metal shoulders…much as she would have liked to. No. Some of the fault must be her own. She looked back over the last 16 and a half years…every time John had formed an attachment to a place, she had been forced to move them again.
Countless burgeoning friendships had been left behind because Sarah was afraid to let anyone get too close to them. Even Charley, the first man, excluding the T888 that she had lowered into boiling slag, that John had really begun to look at as a father figure, had been sent away to keep him safe.
No, Sarah couldn’t blame it all on the terminator, or Future John’s understandable wish for a friendship that wouldn’t end in blood and death. Not when it was her fault that he had been so alone. No wonder he had sent himself a friend back from the future…one made out of metal, that didn’t die, and would not endanger them. No wonder he’d instructed that machine to jump them over his mother’s death…he had no one else.
“Sarah” Cameron’s voice, coming from right behind her where she stood brooding over the gurgling coffee pot, made the older woman jump.
“Damnit girlie, we need to hang a bell on you. Make some noise next time.” Sarah turned, swiping a hand across her face quickly to make sure that the slight burning in her eyes hadn’t resolved into tears.
Cameron deviated from her usual blank expression to give Sarah one that was pointedly irritated, as if asking how she was to patrol effectively while jingling. “I am sorry.” If Sarah hadn’t known better she would have said the tone held a hint of sarcasm. “I shall attempt to be louder.”
The terminator indicated the kitchen table. “John and I are ready to begin now. May we use the table?” At Sarah’s affirmative she continued. “It would be better for us to be alone. I will be vulnerable in the receptive state, and John should not be distracted. I have explained to him what he must do to alter my directives, but the process is delicate and any deviation could cause complications.” She paused and looked back into the living room where Derek was just coming in the front door and joining Jessie on the couch. “I would also prefer not to have those who wish me harm nearby when I am not fully operational.”
Sarah followed Cameron’s glance and nodded understandingly. “Yeah I get that.”
Since there were limited beds and John was not about to let Riley out of the immediate vicinity, Derek and Jessie went back to her apartment for the remainder of the night, and Riley, with Cameron’s permission, was bedded down in the terminators room. When asked if she minded giving up her bed, Cameron had fixed John with her best neutral stare. “I don’t sleep.”
Sarah meanwhile was busying herself checking all the locks on doors and windows and setting the alarm system. Cameron watched her from the kitchen archway as she keyed in the alarm code and despite her obvious exhaustion, took a book from the bookshelf and shoved a small handgun into the waistband of her pants before heading for a chair in the living room.
“You should sleep. Your body is extremely enervated.”
Sarah ignored her, settling down on the armchair furthest from the kitchen so that she would not be a distraction. Coming up behind Cameron John seconded the terminators advice.
“Mom, you really look like hell, you need to sleep.”
“Hey, don’t worry about me; I’m not going to bed until you two are finished with your ones and zero’s in there. Someone has to be on guard while the Landmine is out of commission.” That settled she opened her book and proceeded to pretend to be reading. Conversation over.
John sighed but let it go. There was absolutely no arguing with his mother when she was like this…though on second thought, there was never any arguing with his mother, so really it was business as usual.
Cameron and John settled themselves at the kitchen table. John had several sheets of paper in front of him with the complex codes that Cameron had given him to activate her directive’s receptive state. If he understood her correctly, this failsafe would only allow him to make minor shifts in her programming. He should be able to disable her imperative to remove all human obstacles between them and get cosy, but he might not be able to remove the directive entirely. Apparently the verbal coding that future John had put in place had not been thoroughly tested…there hadn’t been time.
He also could not change anything that was hard wired, like her termination overrides. Those were coded directly into her chip, which is why the damage she’d sustained in the jeep explosion had caused a reset.
John had never managed to get a straight answer from her about whether the hasty repairs he had made to her chip, her own self analysis and repair, or simply being rebooted, had renewed the override. She just ignored the question. It was possible that she herself didn’t know. While this did not exactly give him peace of mind, he had to allow that she had some right to privacy as far as her own systems were concerned.
“You’re nervous.” Sitting across from him Cameron was looking at John with something that looked like a combination of concern and reservation. Since he was about to rearrange her software with nothing but a handful of written notes and good intentions, John couldn’t bring himself to blame her.
“You’re heart rate is elevated and you’re sweating…are you confidant that you can execute this procedure?”
“I’m good.” John laid out the sheets in order. “Just like programming a vcr.”
“Sarah programmed the vcr.”
“Well, then we’ll just have to trust that I could have done it better.”
Cameron raised one eyebrow, a human trick that she rather liked for its effectiveness in adding various nuances to a conversation. “You can tell her that.”
John coughed to cover a laugh. “Let’s get started shall we?”
The sun was just coming over the horizon when John finally obtained access to Cameron’s directive programs. Future John had built in multiple technical hoops to jump through and tests designed to ascertain that it was actually John Connor trying to gain entry and not a terminator using his voice. And it all seemed to be for nothing as John was having absolutely no luck removing the directive.
He had come at it from every direction he could think of, and he could access the program, given in monotone by a blank eyed Cameron,
System Mode: Infiltration
Target: John Connor
Instructions: Secure primary affections and discourage outside competition.
Provide support and companionship; simulating human affection until spontaneous replication can be achieved.”
John tried removing the directive all together, only to be informed that he lacked authorization to deactivate active directives. He tried inserting “do not” into the code…and got
“That modification would contradict the Primary Directive.”
He tried removing key words to try and disarm the effectiveness of the program, but no matter what he tried, Cameron’s inflectionless voice found a way around it. Eventually he was issued a warning that further attempts to undermine the integrity of this directive would result in a 24 hour lock out.
Almost pulling his hair out in frustration John got up from the table and paced, trying to figure out some way to change the wording in the code that would maintain its integrity as beneficial to him, John Connor, but not force Cameron to throw Riley, and anyone else he happened to like, out a window. Not to mention giving Derek ample ammunition to insist on her deactivation
Walking past the doorway to the living room for the fifth time, John’s attention was caught by his mother…she had fallen asleep over the book. The weak sunlight filtering in through the blinds was just enough to illuminate the dark circles under eyes, and the worry lines etched into the skin around her mouth and between her eyebrows. Even asleep she looked beleaguered.
John fleetingly wished that there was someone strong enough to take better care of his mother. He had people looking out for him…he glanced back at Cameron’s rigid figure…too many in fact, but she had no one. He was also painfully aware of the fact that his mother would never let him put her welfare before his own, and it wouldn’t occur to Derek to try. There had been Charley…but after his wife’s death he no longer wanted anything to do with them…
Reluctantly returning to the table, John looked down at the vacant terminator and got the barest hint of an idea. His mother would kill him if she found out…but she didn’t ever need to know. Cameron herself had admitted that she may be unaware of the specifics of minor changes to her lesser directives unless he told her about them. Future John had been very upfront about what he was asking her to do, but this John knew the benefits of a covert operation. He sat down with a grin…all he needed to do was a little substitution.
“Cameron. Reset directive 0002. Change target to Sarah Connor.” Cameron blinked and John held his breath, waiting to be told he was locked out.
"Affirmative. Reset and replacement is acceptable. Directive has been modified."
There….with the smug assurance known only to teenagers, thoroughly convinced of their superior understanding of life, John congratulated himself on devising a solution that would be good for everyone. That would teach them to assume he couldn’t think for himself, and it wasn’t like a hard bitten warrior like Sarah Connor was ever going to be susceptible to the wiles of a petite 16 year old girl anyhow, terminator or not..