TITLE: Deceptive Appearances
FANDOM: Terminator/Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles
CHARACTERS: John Connor, metal
RATING: Teen
WORD COUNT: 1671
WARNINGS: Spoilers for the entire Terminator universe.
DISCLAIMER: Don't own 'em. Don't know who does.
TIMELINE: 2026 or thereabouts
SUMMARY: With John Connor, nothing is ever the way it seems.


"Are you smitten with Corporal Banks?"

John Connor slowly turns his head to the side, staring blankly at the machine. "Smitten?" He's sure he hasn't heard anyone use that term in, well, ever.

The machine tips its head to the side, a long brunette lock of hair falling over its shoulder. "Smitten. Enamored with. Charmed by. Captivated. Taken with. In love with. Awe struck. Infatuated with – "

"I know what it means," he says dryly, cutting the recitation short. "Where did you learn that word?"

"I don't –"

"Sleep," he finishes. "I know." He rubs his eyes wearily. Unfortunately, he doesn't sleep much either. He's been closeted in his SitRoom for at least a week, only leaving when absolutely necessary. He hasn't been topside in at least twice that. He's beginning to feel like a literal tunnel rat. Being stuck down here with only the machine for company isn't really helping matters. The quicker he can decipher the intel the techs gleaned from the damaged CPUs, the faster he can get back to leading the troops. "I didn't realize we had any dictionaries laying around for you to read."

"I found one," it says. "In the tunnels, twelve hundred meters from our current location. It was burned, but approximately sixty-three percent of the text was still legible."

The machine must have found it when he broke down and left the SitRoom in search of food a few hours ago. John forgot how tedious this part is, trying to train the AI to emulate human behavior. Unfortunately, the only way to make it more human is to interact with it more, to talk to it, so ignoring isn't exactly an option. He needs it to be as human as possible. He remembers when he was younger, when he used to forget they were metal underneath, when he could trick himself into thinking they were human. He remembers, but the thoughts feel alien. He doesn't know how he ever let himself believe the mask was the truth.

"You did not answer my question," it says.

He looks at it again, watching it study him. He should name it. He's been avoiding doing that, but if it asks him these questions, they should at least be on a first name basis. He appreciates the irony that he's more forthcoming with the machine than he is with most humans. But this, as many things are in his life, is a means to an end. He needs the machine to be more human, so he'll sacrifice whatever is necessary to make that happen – even his own comfort. "No. I'm not smitten with Corporal Banks."

"Human men are sometimes dishonest about relationships with females."

He raises an eyebrow at it and apparently it is acclimated enough to human behavior to understand the tacit question.

"I found another book," it says. "A 'Guide To Understanding the Opposite Sex'." It tilts its head again. "Though neither men nor women are from Mars or Venus. That part made no sense."

Shit. This is the last thing he needs, a machine taking its cues on human behavior from bad pop psych. "It's a metaphor," John explains.

"A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison," the machine recites. "Thank you for explaining."

"You're welcome." He turns his attention back to the intel strewn across his desk.

"If you are smitten with Corporal Banks, there is a high probability that your wife would suffer extreme emotional duress. In such a circumstance it is possible that she might attempt to physically harm you."

He smiles mirthlessly at the machine. "Are you worried about me?" It's not, of course. But he can't resist having some fun at its expense.

"Worried?" it says, brow furrowing. "I do not worry. I am merely stating the probability. It is my duty to protect you. If your wife attempts to do you physical harm, I will have to intervene."

"You won't," John snaps, pushing away from the desk, all levity gone. He squares his shoulders as he glares at the metal. "You won't intervene. Under no circumstances are you to touch Kate."

The machine pauses and then nods. "Understood."

John shakes his head. He understands that the machine is quickly learning to interpret human behavior patterns and he can't figure out what it is about his interactions with Corporal Banks that triggered this particular subroutine. "Why are you asking about this? What makes you think there's something going on between me and Corporal Banks?"

The machine watches him in silence for a long moment, considering the most appropriate reaction. This both encourages and terrifies John. He has little problem imagining the processors chewing through exabytes of data, formulating a response.

"You study Corporal Banks," it finally says. "Often. And intently."

John shakes his head. "I do not. I haven't even seen her in weeks."

The machine blinks at him, expression blank. "You saw her five hours, three minutes ago."

Truly confused, John just stands there.

"Five hours, four minutes ago."

"Corporal Banks works in the motorpool," John says dismissively. "I'm not smitten with her. I don't even know her. I certainly don't watch her often or intently."

"The Corporal in the motorpool is named Bass, not Banks," the machine says. "Rachel Banks is a Corporal in Tech-Com. She is approximately twenty-five years of age. Hair blonde. Eyes brown. Height five feet seven inches. Weight one hundred seventeen pounds. She is currently assigned to recon detail with Sergeant Kyle Reese. DN38416."

"Oh," John says, pieces slowly sliding into place. Then, more softly, "Oh. Her." He looks at the machine. "I thought her name was Jennifer … something."

"No. Banks. Corporal Rachel Banks. DN50688."

John shakes his head. "No," he says firmly. "I'm not smitten with her."

"But you watch her," the machine says. It's an observation, not a question.

John shrugs.

"You become agitated when Corporal Banks is in close physical proximity to Sergeant Reese. If the physical distance is less than twenty centimeters, your skin temperature rises and your pulse becomes abnormal. Those are indicators of stress."

"Do not ever scan me again without my explicit permission," John snaps.

The machine watches him for a moment and then nods. "Understood," it says. It pauses before continuing. "Your physiology is consistent with jealousy."

John doesn't say anything.

"Are you jealous of Sergeant Reese?"

"Drop it," John says. "I'm not smitten with Corporal Banks. Kate isn't going to try and kill me."

"But you are jealous," the machine says.

John supposes the machine is far better at observing human behavior and reaching conclusions than he allowed himself to admit. But in this at least, all the data in the world won't help the machine reach the correct conclusion.

He waves it off. "Drop it, Cameron."

It tilts its head to the side. "Cameron?"

"You wanted a name, right?"

"That is correct. I have requested a name on many occasions."

"Well, now you have one, Cameron."

The machine seems pleased. "Cameron," it says.

Abruptly, Cameron turns and leaves John's SitRoom.

Finally alone, John relaxes. He swears under his breath as he leans over, bracing one hand against the table, rubbing the back of his neck with the other.

Cameron's line of questioning is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. He has to get his behavior in check. He can't have people thinking that he has something going on with Corporal Banks. It's bad for morale if people think he's cheating on his wife by sleeping with some girl half his age who is under his command.

At least he doesn't have to worry about Kate. She's one of the few people who would understand. Okay, maybe not understand, but at least she wouldn't be pissed. John isn't sure he understands it himself. It doesn't really make any sense. Why should he care if Kyle Reese has something going on with Banks? He shouldn't care. He should be glad that Reese and Banks can find any comfort at all.

But John isn't glad. He's irritated as hell. And Cameron is right. He is jealous. But not because he wants to sleep with Rachel Banks. He's jealous because he doesn't like to watch Kyle Reese get close to any woman who isn't Sarah Connor.

How fucked up is that? Sarah's been dead for years.

John lets out a harsh sigh. He's pissed because feels like his twenty-two year old father – who doesn't know he's John's father - might be sleeping with a woman who isn't John's long dead mother.

It's perverse. John knows he needs to just man up and get over it. He isn't some five year old kid who needs a daddy anymore. He's a man with sons of his own. As long as Kyle Reese stays alive long enough to be sent back, what he does in his free time and who he does it with is none of John's business.

Walking over to his desk, John pulls open the drawer and removes the photograph. It's old, tattered, definitely seen better days. He remembers the dog, Barkley. Barkley died when John was about five. Then came Max. After the T-1000, John and Sarah quit keeping dogs. It was just as well. That would have been a problem with Cameron around later.

He sighs. He knows from Sarah that he will give this picture to Kyle. He's thought about it many times, but it's never felt right. He still not sure it feels right, but he's going to do it. Time is short. He'll give Sarah's picture to Kyle. And while he's at it, he can inform Banks she's being transferred to Colton's crew in the Valley.

END