"I wouldn't be worth much if I couldn't feel," Cameron said. Emotionless, deadpan, flat. To her, the words meant solely what she said. She merely kept staring out the window, feeling the wind and running simulations for any obstacle they might face on their way to Cromartie.
To John though, it seemed a joke. In a way, sensation was not the same as feeling. Why would she use that word? Surely, she knew the difference, and she sure as hell couldn't feel.
No regrets at her betrayal. No gratitude for saving her from a bed of thermite. Nothing.
Then it dawned on him. He never actually bothered raising this new Terminator, as he had with uncle Bob. Time constraints of course. The perpetual on-the-run life, filled with fear and claustrophobia that made you want to claw at your face and the walls around you.
Cameron sat in the passenger side oblivious to the ramblings of John's mind. To her, this was well-used time, just by feeling the wind in her hands and feet.
The rambling shone more light into the darkness. It wasn't the running, or the fear. The reason was he, all along. His age, insecurities and preoccupations, which made him walk around with a stick up his back, just as much as his mother –whom he condemned for doing so.
More light broke in. Yes, Cameron was a genius. She knew every language that existed, and could probably extrapolate to recreate the dead ones. Her mind and body were surgically precise in thought and action, but also she was just a child. No one bothered to teach her anything, when even humans had to be trained to a certain point to understand their own bodies.
Perhaps it had been because Cameron was so intelligent, that everyone assumed she could just make it up on the way. She learnt what had been possible, what had landed on her lap. Having a mission though –a very specific one- narrowed a lot the path from which she could stray. It also gave her little reason to do anything not related to that mission.
John berated himself for always complaining about his solitude, and doing nothing about it. Especially now that there was someone who could be a companion, which could completely cope with his life-style.
Cameron kept wasting bazillions of computing cycles, focusing mostly on the feedback her pseudo-skin gave to the touch of the wind.
Then, she felt something on her face, and turned to look at John. Her face impassive as always, but her mind advising her on the possibility that one John Connor had possibly grown a second head. Such a spontaneous mutation would warrant immediate termination of course.
"What did you do?" she questioned, verifying there indeed weren't any additional limbs sprouting from John.
"I poked your cheek." He was looking up to the road ahead, smiling.
"To see your reaction. What did you feel about that?"
"Pressure on my left cheek, matching the use of one of your digits."
John felt a little disappointed, but decided to persevere. After all, the best things came to those who worked the hardest.
"So you didn't feel anything else? Just my finger on your face, that's it?"
"Yes," Cameron replied, flatly as was her custom. "Does it imply something, or warrant a specific reaction?"
He explained how such things worked. How random little things like that could spur different reactions, like joy, shyness, annoyance. John explained to her, that random little actions like that could help you relax, and get that feeling of getting away from it all also. Breaking the protocols, or expectations, straying from a given path could be liberating too.
When he was done, she stared straight in his eyes. "Thank you for explaining."
John smiled at that predictable response from her.
Cameron didn't understand the reason for the smile but decided to reply with one of hers.
At that point, he decided to delve a little more into the workings of the cyborg's mind, and pinched her cheek.
Her response was once again an unreadable face, with a voice that might as well be coming from the car, reporting that the door was ajar.
"Why did you do that?"
"To see your reaction. Looking at you though, I can't tell if there is any. Didn't you feel anything?"
"Something you could compare in organic terms to slight pain."
"That's it?" John replied, his voice showing a little exasperation.
Cameron looked at John, trying to make sense of his reaction. His tone indicated that he expected additional information from his query, but according to her, the answer had been appropriate. Nevertheless, she decided to comply, and provide him with more information she had gathered from the event.
"As far as sensation goes, yes. There is additional data, though. I would prefer that you avoid attacking me unexpectedly, since it hinders my focus, thus deterring from the mission to protect you."
John rolled his eyes. Of course, the mission. Always the mission, forever the goddamned mission. Terminators didn't need to eat, because they were machines. No, it was because of that single-minded focus, which made them look almost autistic. Like that TV ad from long ago.
Eat, sleep, dream soccer.
The freaking mission fueled them, damn machines.
"It's all about the mission, huh?" he asked, his voice full of sarcasm.
The answer wouldn't disappoint, of course.
"Yes," Cameron stated, staring at him.
"There's nothing else?" he insisted, frowning at her answer, and looking at the road ahead. He would get an answer he already knew was coming, a fact that just angered him more.
"Not at the moment. Protect John Connor; if possible prevent Judgment day, if not, assist in the Termination of Skynet."
"So if it's not programmed, you can't go ahead and do other things, learn other things?"
"I can," Cameron replied, "but since there is no purpose to it, I see no need to do it proactively. In infiltrator mode the mission includes active learning in order to blend in better."
"Wow," John said. "I thought the resistance kind of freed you from being just a number in Skynet's army, and now it seems we are actually sending you off worse than you started."
It took a moment for Cameron to make sense of what he said. She concluded that John thought the resistance was sending her enslaved to her mission, just as Skynet did, and with even fewer parameters and variations.
"Your assumption is incorrect," she explained. "The resistance freed me. Although Skynet's programming included more activities, they were enforced, and I was unable to do anything else. The resistance gave me one mission with no additional parameters, but I am free to accomplish it as I see fit, or perform additional activities if I wish to."
"So why don't you?" John inquired with true curiosity.
"The mission does not require it."
"How come? Wouldn't it make the mission easier, if for example, my mom and Derek saw you in a better light?"
"They are already aware of what I am," Cameron replied looking at her hand, wiggling her fingers. "They hate the machines, and I am one. That's a truth, a fact that can't be changed."
John couldn't help but let out a long sigh. This machine lived only for logic, and since she wasn't bound by complete obedience like uncle Bob, the only way to get her to do something, was to convince her. A tough task when the target of the mind swaying is obtuse and stubborn like a cinderblock.
"Ok, ok," he huffed. "Would you do it for me then? If I asked you?"
"Why would you," she replied, master of poker face as always. "It wouldn't further the mission's success rate."
"It's not all about the mission though, that's been the whole point of this conversation."
John decided it was time to use some more physical aid in his lesson, and rubbed Cameron's head, messing her hair and tossing it in front of her face in the process.
Cameron just sat there and took it like a man –or a wall- and did nothing but compose her hair-do again.
She looked at her companion. "I would prefer if you didn't do that as well. Although not physically strong enough to cause pain, it interferes with my attention, and potentially deters from the success of my mission."
He couldn't help but laugh.
"What is funny?" Cameron inquired; her voice denoted a bit more strength than usual.
"You are!" John replied. "You turn to me with your hair in a mess, and just deadpan a polite request for me to stop."
Seeing that there wasn't going to be any response from the cyborg, he went on to his request.
"Come on Cameron, do it for me. Show what your feelings are." Even though he was trying to act composed, his voice had betrayed a bit of pleading in it.
She stared at him, her face blank. "But I don't have feelings, I am a machine."
Again that same declaration he had already heard a number of times, but never ceased to put a halt to his hope of her being more. This time though, he was going to jumpstart that hope to get it up again. If only because he had never given Cameron a real chance.
"Well, you would rather I don't mess up with you in a random fashion. That's called being annoyed, bothered, and the right way to show it and get someone to stop, is to frown and speak in an angry tone. Unless you are in the mood for some playful teasing, then you can do that jokingly."
Cameron seemed to be pondering for a moment, and this lifted John's spirit a bit. Then, just as the sun will rise every day in the horizon, the machine gave the expected cold logic answer.
"I think you should just stop doing it, that way no one has to go out of their way and can focus on accomplishing the mission in an efficient manner."
The young man sighed in defeat, and silence reigned in the truck for a while.
After some minutes though, John Connor –future leader of the human resistance- was ready for another round. He turned to look at her. She had her hair perfectly arranged again, and was still looking at nothing, while the wind caressed the leg she had peeking out the window.
"What am I to you?" he asked, with a little venom in his tone.
"John Connor is the primary objective of my mission." Her answer came flat as always, and her eyes didn't even flicker. Cameron had had enough of this questioning. It was all so illogical to her; it served no purpose, so she was trying to cut it as short as possible.
"That's it?" he countered, still trying to dig deeper. "There's no more meaning to me?"
"You are everything to me," she replied. "You are the very reason for my being here."
The young man saw a sliver of hope, but his logical thought blocked it. Everything she said, related always to the same, so he prodded around to confirm.
"I am everything, because the mission revolves around me, right?"
"Yes," Cameron answered simply. To her the conversation should have been over a long time ago. Besides John's random attacks to her person, all this questioning was starting to wear on her awareness.
Another sigh was released from John's chest. He was just about to give up, thinking it was impossible for computers to attach to anything for no reason at all. However, at that moment, he recalled a certain purple leather jacket. There was still hope, and he smiled to himself.
"Tell me Cameron, if Derek Reese was the mission, would it be all the same to you?"
A couple of minutes –that at least to John seemed like hours- passed with no answer from the Terminator.
John thought she had just decided to ignore him for being so insistent, so he sighed once again. With all this sighing, he was starting to sound like an old man reminiscing of the good old days.
"No," she replied, after carefully pondering on the question and the context of it.
Cameron's response hit him like a bucket of cold water tossed at his face while being asleep.
"What? Really? Why?" John tripped over his own tongue.
"Derek Reese doesn't like machines, he is less important than you, and is older, not requiring as much a protector as you do. My mission's value is increased in light of these circumstances."
"That's a start," John admitted. "But let's say we are equally aged and valuable, and the only real differences between him and me, being personality and looks. Let me tell you one thing before you answer though. If I had the choice between you and a triple-eight, I would choose you."
He gave emphasis to that last word in his speech by poking her thigh with his index.
"Why?" Cameron inquired, allowing her eyes to wander to John's hand for an instant. "The triple-eight could even prove a more effective protector."
"Look Cameron, I don't know if we can claim that you have a full-fledged personality, but whatever is in here," John explained this and knocked on her head, "has a very specific way of reacting and responding to situations. You are unique, and the way you are is likeable. The way you look too…" At the end of his speech, John's voice trailed off.
"Given your specific set of parameters," Cameron offered, "then I would choose you. Your opinions, your war strategies, I find them more agreeable than Derek's, or even other humans. I also find your physical appearance more pleasant in comparison."
John flushed a little at all this. "So you say I'm kind of special."
"Yes," Cameron conceded.
"Special things, unique things, or people, have added value, right?" He asked, trying to mask his excitement.
"Yes," she agreed again.
"You have preferences, even if they don't entirely apply in our particular case. When someone wishes to be close and in good terms with another person, they compromise."
Cameron pondered a moment before answering. "I suppose that's how it works; most peaceful relationships, even outside of human ones, are of a symbiotic nature."
"Then let's make a deal, you and me. If you try to act your emotions more, for my sake, I will do something for you. Does it seem logical to you?"
It was logical all right, but Cameron couldn't help thinking it was useless. There was the mission, and it preceded everything else, didn't it? What gain was there in John's project?
Before reaching a conclusion though, her train of thought derailed because of another pinch to her cheek.
Cameron turned to look at John, pokerfaced like before.
John was looking at the road ahead and smiling wide. His face was full of mischief, and his mind full of hope.
A moment passed.
He felt the air was becoming lead around him, so he held his breath. All the sweeter was the release of it, when the lead melted around him at Cameron's touch. She had lightly hit his arm with her hand.
John turned to rub his arm in mock anger, and there she was. Cameron, her forehead crumpled in a frown, her eyes lit up with a fire he had never seen before.
"Stop doing that!" she yelled. Her voice tinted with anger and mock indignation. "You're acting like a little kid!"
"Bite your tongue, woman-child!" he retorted, laughing lightly. "You act like a kid a quite lot, and no one berates you for it."
Seeing how it all was going so well, John decided it was time for some more mischief. He was still smiling, and Cameron was still frowning at him, but there was no tension between them. Raising his hand as fast as he could, John went once more for the Terminator's hair.
A human can't beat a machine though. His hand was swiftly caught in a vice grip before reaching its destination.
"Oh no John Connor," Cameron warned with a threatening undertone. "The hair is the hardest to get right. Stay away from it."
Then it happened. Cameron was in disbelief at John's reaction. He braked suddenly and drove to the side of the road, raising a cloud of dust. With the truck safely parked, he jumped from his seat and hugged her.
John was swelling with emotion and excitement. The warmth of her body and the smell of her hair were not helping with that of course.
"How come you never did this before?" John asked. There was no reproach in his voice, only joy. "Why would you prefer friction between you and others?"
"I didn't think you would prefer me, pretending to be something I'm not."
The words made John wince. He separated just enough to stare in her eyes.
"But the feelings are there, or your version of them. You just don't act upon them, and that's pretending too."
Cameron smiled at John. Just a slight arching of her lips. "What if your mother and Derek don't agree to see me acting human?"
She made a good point with that, but John already knew the answer.
"My mom just needs time. You will grow in her, just like uncle Bob did. As for Derek, who cares? He's so single minded about the machines, he might as well be one himself. Let him be jealous of you being more human than he is."
The moment he finished, John decided to try his newly established agreement with Cameron to the limits. He started to poke around her ribs –or the area where they should be located- in an attempt to elicit some more responses from her.
Disappointingly, there was no response from her. It was too soon to give up though. Not all people were ticklish in the common areas.
Smiling at Cameron, he lifted her left arm a little, and was pleased that she let him. He wasn't sure if he was holding the full weight of it, or she was helping him, but it didn't really matter. John started running his fingers lightly on her skin, over the length of her arm.
There was no big difference in her expression, but he could tell his work was going in the right direction. Cameron was looking at him doe-eyed, her expression softer than usual. She seemed relaxed and content.
Of course –Cameron being a machine- she was aware, apart from the sensations produced on her pseudo-skin that they had to go to Cromartie's burial-ground soon. It wasn't such a pressing matter right now though. There was time enough to loiter a little.
When John grazed her armpit, a sound froze him in place. Had Cameron produced just the lightest of snorts? He couldn't tell now, since he had missed the chance to look at her face before, and now it was back to a neutral expression. He could certainly explore the possibility further though. A mischievous smile appeared in John's face as his fingers trailed again towards Cameron's armpit.
At first, the petite cyborg just smiled at the playful touch. When it became more insistent her smile became a grin, and she shifted a little in her seat.
Then the magic exploded into music in John's ears. Cameron was giggling. The most light and cute of giggles he had ever heard.
The music of her laughter breached something inside him. He pounced on Cameron, sitting on top of her thighs with a predatory look on his face.
The surprise John felt when he saw the expression in her eyes almost broke his resolve. They were wide open, almost begging, when she realized what was about to happen. For a moment, he was lost in the beauty of her face. Being a soldier though, he reminded himself that to win this battle, he could spare her no quarter.
John started mercilessly tickling both her armpits. Cameron's giggles soon turned into full-fledged laughter.
He knew that to her all of this was partially an act, but he also noted that it was hard for her to stay in full control all the time. Some of her small movements were much stronger than any human could muster –all things considered, let alone a girl this size- and they hurt against his thighs and chest. If knowing she was pretending bothered him, it mattered little right now. Knowing that she was letting go just a bit for his sake, made up for everything else.
After a little of the playful tickling, John was all out of breath, gasping in between laughs. Cameron was smiling, but otherwise she of course looked fresh and composed, as if nothing had happened. She had no breath to spend.
John was still sitting on top of her thighs, facing her. After his laughter ebbed and he relaxed, his face fell uncomfortably close to Cameron's, who was holding a deep stare into his eyes. The smell of her hair and body reached his nose; a tantalizing mixture that evoked views of fields brimming with flowers.
For a couple of minutes an almost comfortable silence reigned between the pair, until John nervously broke it.
"So," he started a little fidgety. "How did you feel about acting up on your feelings?"
Her answer came so fast, that he felt his heart sink a little.
"I don't feel much in particular about it, or much inclination towards it all."
John was about to just move away, defeat in his eyes, but then Cameron cupped his face with one hand.
"There is one reason though, for which I would prefer to continue doing it. The attention and physical contact this has elicited from you. Both of which I would very much prefer in my day to day."
John was lost for words, but of course, Cameron wasn't –being a machine and all that- she started pressing to continue on their journey. Nevertheless, he was starting to see the bright side to that. She was the perfect company because of it. Letting go and staying alert at the same time, allowing him to have fun and be safe in the same package.
Then, something completely unexpected happened.
Tentatively, Cameron claimed his lips with the gentlest touch from hers. It was short, and the pressure just enough for him to make out the form and texture of her mouth. He didn't even have time to respond properly.
It had been brief. It had been bliss.
With nimble movements and inhuman strength, Cameron accommodated John –who didn't offer much resistance- in the passenger's seat. He just stared at her blankly, his mind lost in imaginings of fluffiness and flowers.
Aghast, John turned to look at his Terminator bodyguard, his mind fixed on her mouth. Driven by the sight of that beautiful pout Cameron's lips so naturally formed, he touched his own with his hand.
When Cameron saw John doing that, the slightest of smirks and the lightest of blushes appeared on her face.
Still smiling, she turned the ignition to start the truck. "Let's go burn Cromartie."
Raising a cloud of dust as high as their newfound expectations for the future, they rode towards a better tomorrow.