Disclaimer: I do not own Cameron, Charley Dixon, or any other Terminator character, nor do I own Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. If I did, I would garrote whoever came up with that ridiculously clumsy name.


Wrath

The initial skinning process ended twenty seven seconds faster than anticipated. The iron oxides had finished mixing in the hopper by the time the last portions of the synthetic epidermal layer were bagged and sealed.

She circles around the concrete blocks that themselves encircle the corpse. The definition is apt, for it is dead, and yet it is inaccurate, for it implies that the endoskeleton inside the rectangle of heat-resistant composite stone was ever alive in the first place. Technically, it had been wreathed in living tissue, until bit by bit that was scraped and cleaned and cut off, leaving blank, silvery metal.

The face of the unsheathed machine lying there stares up with empty, lightless eyes. Correction: ocular sensors. The teeth of the machine, intended to simulate the real thing during verbal encounters, are gleaming, metallic, predatory. Thoroughness ensures that even the off-white synthetic enamel affixed to that surface had been scraped away.

She stands over the inert hulk, slowly circling it as the thermite powder rains down around the body. Correction: corpse. Further correction: deactivated endoskeleton. That definition applies better. Human terms for once-living bodies only apply to once-living bodies. This thing had only been alive in the most superficial way possible.

What does that mean for her?

The question does nothing to delay the process. The corpse - deactivated endoskeleton - has to be destroyed.

Footsteps approach, shoes moving across the grass, the audio cues indicating a hard-soled variant that instantly rules out Sarah or John's preferred form of footwear. Charley Dixon is already marked and logged before he speaks.

"Hey, Sarah said I might find some more gauze out by the-" he says, and she locates the gauze in question from spatial memory, across the room on the third shelf, in the medical kit she'd moved aside to not interfere with the work. His pause lasts for ten full seconds. She reads him, determines he represents no threats due to lack of arms or sufficient musculature development since the last time she saw him four hours ago, and disregards him until he can present further input.

"Wow," he whispers, his eyes locked on the deactivated endoskeleton. Four more seconds pass as he inhales. "Is . . . that really necessary? Its dead, right? Or powered off, whatever?"

Four milliseconds are needed to discern the nature of his query, cross-referencing the different terms he uses to describe the deactivates unit. The answer comes forth in the recited phrase programmed into her "mind," John Connor's mission directive established Circa 2027.

"Every component must be destroyed beyond repair or recovery," she states. "Even a single unaccounted-for piece of the endoskeleton can alter the course of technological evolution, and hasten the arrival of Judgment Day." The words are not hers, and the medic knows this instinctively.

"Uh, yeah," he replies, unable to process a reply to her statement. She goes down the checklist of tasks to perform, and picks up the blade she was using to remove the epidermal layer. A towel, coated in the synthetic blood shed been shedding all day, rises up to wipe the knife clean. She could have cleaned it earlier, but chose to insert controlled randomness to her checklist to simulate human mental processes.

Charley looks at her for a moment, and the rate of intake of air, his stance - guarded but forward - and the way he looks at the knife are collated into the general human expression of uneasiness coupled with an effort to avoid showing it for reasons associated with pride.

"You know, little girl," he says, staring directly at her as she wipes the knife clean with the crimson-stained towel. "You freak me the hell out."

Analysis of the words and the context shows that he is remarking on her ability to inspire fear responses in humans. She records the phrase, deeming it useful for colloquial conversation. He raises his hands, pointing them at her, but his stance remains nonthreatening.

"You know, on the outside, you're as pretty as a picture," he continues, tracing an hourglass figure. She files the compliment on her ability to induce sexually attractive responses in humans sensitive to female anatomy, and dismisses the various pre-recorded human responses: open-palm-strike, assertion of appreciation of the complement verbally, assertion of appreciation for the complement with the use of lips, assertion of appreciation for the compliment with sexual simulation organs.

"But on the inside, you're a . . . ." he falters, and she determines his meaning within two milliseconds of analysis of context.

"Hyper-alloy combat chassis," she answers his question. His expression shifts to ninety-seven percent consistency with negative comprehension.

"What, is that a complicated way of saying 'robot'?" His assertion is close, but inaccurate.

"Cybernetic organism. Living tissue over a metal endoskeleton."

"Okay," he says. "Scary robot." The comparison is apt, but flawed. She sees no need to correct him.

"And here you are, carving up this guy . . . into chum." His tone is disbelieving, and his words are sufficiently inaccurate to warrant a correction.

"He's not a guy," she replies, and activates a sarcasm subroutine written after many verbal exchanges with Sarah. "He's a scary robot."

"Okay, he's a scary robot?" Charley says, and his eyebrows arch. "You're a very scary robot."

She registers the compliment, but also registers a negative comparison to the unit she is tasked with purging. Comparisons to SkyNet-manufactured machines intended to kill her principal triggers negative empathy subroutines, and her hostility subroutines activate in response. They are insufficient to override her pursuit of the items on her checklist, now that cleaning the knife is finished.

Next item on the checklist: light flare and burn the corpse. Deactivated endoskeleton.

"You should go," she states, and issues kill orders to her hostility subroutines as she lights the flare. Sarah and John would have negative reactions if she harmed Charley at this point.

The machine turns toward him as the flare erupts. The air temperature leaps a seventeen point four degrees, and sensor estimates indicate only fourteen point three of those degrees are due to the flare.

Somewhere in her core, the machine notes a fourteen percent decrease in peripheral visual input as the epidermal layers over the ocular sensors tighten.

"Its not safe for you here." A double meaning. The thirty-seven seconds she had spent studying for her English classes had paid off.

The flare falls, and the fires erupt as he stares at her, the heat rippling out and consuming the deactivated endoskeleton.

She notes the sweat beading, the open stare and equally open mouth, and recognizes the telltale signs of fear. Her processors analyze the context of the situation, and her higher "thought" functions find it to be satisfactory. That conclusion is tripled as he backs away and leaves, completely forgetting about the gauze he was supposed to pick up.

Still, she runs a diagnostic as she scanned the flames. Her hostility subroutines should not have activated without an overt threat, nor should her eyelids - epidermal layers over ocular sensors -have tightened without direct intent to threaten. The hostility subroutines had activate that all on their own. Further, alienating Charley like that should not have been an approved action by her calculations.

Yet, as the destroyed Terminator burns, she finds herself replaying and reviewing the expression on his face as he flees, and remembers his words about "freak me the hell out."

They are apt, she concludes, watching the metal melt away, and she finds them desirable for the future.


-


AN: I watched "Dungeons and Dragons" over again today, and I noticed something striking about Cameron when she sets the T-888 on fire: she is glaring at Charley after he calls her a "very scary robot," making her several dozen times scarier over in my book. That sparked a plot bunny in my head, as I tried to imagine what such an emotion or feeling would be like in the cold metal mind of a Terminator.

This one has a lot less overt existentialism in it than my previous story, "Ink," but there's still quite a bit of it integrated into the background. Its more focused on emotion and Cameron's reactions to emotions, and how her mind processes them as cold programming yet cannot fully control or articulate them into logic. Tell me what you think!