"Cameron! Get your ass in the truck!" Sarah Connor yelled, dropping low in the seat as bullets cracked through the windshield. Pushing open the passenger side door with one hand, she used her other arm to steer, popping the clutch before dropping the Jeep into reverse.
Cameron, ever the picture of innocent stoicism -even in the midst of a gun fight- walked with calm purpose towards the Jeep. Grabbing hold of the frame, she pulled herself into the passenger seat. The sturdy Jeep sank low on its frame as Cameron settled in. A consequence of the hundreds of pounds of metal alloy hidden beneath the skin of the deceptively small form beside Sarah.
The crack of another gunshot was quickly followed by the rear window shattering. Sarah dropped her foot to the floor, the reversing Jeep clipping the gunman as she went. A pained cry, the clatter of a gun meeting asphalt and suddenly Sarah was met with the disturbing feeling of four wheels rolling over a soft form. She spared a look for the downed gunman, his broken body unmoving as they reversed from the warehouse where their arms deal had gone wrong.
The trouble had started with the sounds of sirens in the distance. Both parties had turned on one another, convinced the other had brought police, or worse the FBI, down upon them. The situation had deteriorated quickly from there.
"We have approximately thirty seven seconds until the police arrive at our location. They appear to be approaching from all major routes," Cameron warned, pulling a fresh clip from her belt and loaded her Glock. "There is a sniper in the warehouse."
"What?" Sarah's gaze switched from the empty parking lot behind her to the warehouse ahead of them.
"Adjust left," Cameron advised, calmly pulling the slide back on the large weapon.
"Turn left." A strong hand gripped the wheel, tugging hard to change the Jeep's direction as another hand blocked Sarah's line of vision. The unmistakable crack of a bullet pierced the air leaving Sarah a split second to wonder if the terminator had acted quickly enough to save them. She wasn't dead yet, that would have to be enough.
Grunting as the ass end of the Jeep connected with a chain link fence, Sarah kept on the pedal, the engine revving high as the steel refused to give way to her vehicle.
Reflexes quickly over riding her panic, Sarah threw the Jeep into first gear, peeling out of the parking lot. Head ducked low as she turned the corner, tires squealed as she maneuvered them out of the lot into a back alley. Keen eyes caught the spatter of blood across the dash. Sarah did a quick check to be certain she hadn't been hit and that her mind wasn't still trying to catch up to her body.
Didn't look like it.
Sarah hadn't taken any damage beyond the gash on her knee, courtesy of Cameron pushing her out of harms way when the first shots had gone off. Cameron. If the blood wasn't Sarah's then it was the terminator's. A quick glance showed Cameron inspecting a badly mutilated slug in a blood covered hand.
"Did you…" She didn't have opportunity to finish the question as a police cruiser turned into the alley. Slamming on the brakes, Sarah put the Jeep into reverse as Cameron dropped the slug and brought her pistol up to sight on the police cruiser. "Cameron!"
The shots were fired before Sarah could move to push the bullets off course. Perhaps for the best as Sarah noted the shots had been aimed at the hood of the police cruiser, not at the occupants.
"Their vehicle is disabled, move forward." Cameron stepped out of the vehicle, walking toward the police cruiser, gun trained on the now fleeing officers.. Sarah raised an eyebrow as the girl -machine- she corrected, easily picked up the front end of the black and white sedan, rolling the vehicle out of the alley. Driving forward, Sarah waited as Cameron twisted the front axle of the police cruiser to ensure there would be no pursuit.
"We should go," Cameron said, belting herself into the car.
"Took the words out of my mouth, Tin Man."
"We were set up," Sarah said as she, John, Cameron and Derek sat at the kitchen table. Her attention was half on the conversation and half on Cameron's hand, watching with morbid curiosity as the terminator inspected the damage.
"Are you sure? I've used Edwards before, he's always been reliable." Derek didn't bother to spare a glance as Cameron shifted items in the tool box, searching for the right implement. Taking Cameron's damaged hand, Sarah lifted it for Derek to see.
"That's from a sniper rifle that nearly made apple sauce out of my grey matter. Yes, I'm fairly certain we were set up."
"I told you to send chrome dome in by herself," Derek retorted, blue eyes taking in the damaged hand before he blandly turned back to Sarah.
"I am not chrome. I am a koltan and steel alloy," Cameron said without missing a beat. Sarah raised an eyebrow, letting go of the terminator's hand so the machine could continue to repair herself.
"Find out what went wrong, we need those weapons." They were crucial supplies to outfit a future pocket of the resistance. Derek made no move to leave and Sarah leveled her best glare at him. "Before Judgement Day would be nice."
He pushed up from the table, hands rubbing against the stubbled chin that annoyed Sarah to no end. How the man could assemble any number of weapons blindfolded but couldn't seem to find his way around a razor was beyond her.
"You," Sarah said, turning to her son. "Homework."
She pointed silently towards his room, giving him no quarter. He might never be able to go to college but Sarah would be damned if he didn't finish high school before the whole world collapsed. He sighed in his usual sullen manner, picking up his plate of pizza pockets and moved into his room.
"Can you fix that?" Sarah turned toward the machine who used a pair of pliers to peel back damaged flesh, inspecting the gear system underneath. "I mean, can you sew yourself up properly with your left hand?"
"I'm programmed to function with equal dexterity in either hand." Cameron's eyes squinted in an oddly human manner, as if that would bring the intricate components of her hand into sharper focus. It was disconcerting that the machine would affect such a trivial mannerism when Cameron saw better than any human or machine currently in existence. "You sustained injury to your leg, would you like me to clean your wounds?"
"No." Sarah shook her head, oddly fascinated with the machine as she worked on her hand. "You just worry about fixing yourself up, girlie." Limping out of the kitchen, Sarah headed for the washroom to get the first aid kit. "And come up with a good story for school," Sarah added as an after thought before she closed the door.
Peeling her pants from her body, Sarah sucked in a breath as she took off a layer of crusted blood, opening the wound anew. She had landed on an unfortunate patch of gravel when Cameron pushed her down. A piece of debris had cut deep into the side of her knee. The world had gone white for one intense moment before training took over and pushed her into action.
Sarah looked down at the injury, the greenish hue of the fluorescent lights reflecting off a shard in her leg. No wonder it hurt so badly to step down on the clutch. Sitting on the edge of the tub, Sarah used the showerhead to clean the wound before she began the tedious task of pulling the gravel out of her skin. God only knew what type of germs were crawling over that warehouse floor.
It was the better part of an hour before the worst had been cleared out. Sarah was nearly cross eyed as she used the tweezers to extract the final gravel pieces, one by one. She had only a few pebbles left before she would tackle the shard that had lodged itself just under her knee cap. Trying to remove the shard earlier nearly sent her into apoplexy as the shard shifted and rubbed against the back of her knee cap. She'd hoped her body's natural defense system would numb her before she tried again. No such luck, Sarah thought bitterly. The last pebble made a quiet 'tink' as it hit the bottom of the bathtub and Sarah steeled herself for the next step.
Twice, the tweezers slid off the rock shard. Each time made Sarah feel as if her stomach would revolt and take the rest of her body with it. Finally, she took a firm grip, leaning down on her leg to resist the urge to buck under her own painful ministrations. Sweat dripped into her eyes as she inched the shard out of her flesh. A blinding moment as rough rock slid against bone, a wave of nausea buffeting her and then the world around Sarah went dark.
She hurt. That was nothing new. When you spent half your life running from and training for terminators, pain was a steady companion. Still, it never struck Sarah as a good thing to wake up to her head pounding out the cadence of her heartbeat. Cold tile under her bare legs, shoulders resting against something soft and… lime green. Her bath mat.
She had made it home. That was something. She closed her eyes against the painful fluorescent lights, searching her muddled memory for the cause of her current predicament. She was fairly certain it had to do with the sharp pain that was sending shocks along her nervous system, the epicenter being her left knee. Warehouse. Guns. Cameron.
The soft snick heralded the opening door and Sarah adjusted her head to look at the person who had entered. She was unsurprised to find the slim lines of the young terminator whose programmed protective streak ran a mile wide.
"Are you injured?"
"Only my pride," Sarah said sullenly, pushing herself into something resembling a sitting position. Rubbing at the back of her head, Sarah sucked in a sharp breath as her hand came across a nicely developing goose egg from where her skull had hit the tile. Perfect.
"Do you require assistance?"
Sarah shook her head, pushing herself away from the tub with her good leg to let her damaged leg drop to the floor. Blood seeped sluggishly from the wound, the red puddle on the floor a stark contrast to bone white tile.
"I can remove the object from your wound," Cameron suggested, kneeling next to Sarah. Taking a surprisingly gentle grip of Sarah's leg, Cameron turned it slightly to better see the wound. "Tweezers?" Sarah fumbled on the floor, eventually producing the offending metal tool. "Please do not move."
"Just get on with it, Girlie," Sarah muttered, closing her eyes as she waited for the pain to come. Cameron didn't disappoint, the gentle hand on Sarah's knee unable to ward off the searing bolt that lanced through her brain and drove her into the darkness once more.
Sarah awoke to a gentle shove on her shoulder. The light shove was followed shortly by less gentle, more insistent shoves. She opened her eyes, checking to see that she was indeed still on the floor. Cameron was looking at her with something akin to worry in soft brown eyes. Sarah shook her head. Certainly the momentary blip had been more about a budding concussion than Cameron actually emoting. When her reeling head caught up with her body and Sarah looked again, the ghost of whatever she had seen in Cameron's eyes was gone.
"You've been unconscious for fifty five seconds, should I alert John?"
"No, I'm fine." Sarah's eyes focused on the tweezers in Cameron's hand. A two inch sliver of rock was held tightly in the tines, minute pieces of flesh doggedly hanging from the jagged edges. It was a wonder she had managed to walk out of the warehouse. "Are you going to get off me so I can sew this up before I bleed to death?" Sarah looked pointedly at the heavy hand that was resting on her chest to keep her from moving. Cameron blinked, as if surprised to still find her hand in place and quickly reclaimed it.
"I can sew," Cameron offered, dropping the tweezers and sliver into the sink. Sarah found herself too tired to argue as Cameron helped her up and positioned her on the edge of the tub. "You should drink, you've lost blood."
A cup of water was grudgingly accepted. It was odd to think she, Sarah Connor, mother of the saviour of mankind, was allowing herself to be cared for by a terminator.
Sarah took a deep gulp of water, leaning her head against the wall as she watched through half lidded eyes while Cameron threaded the needle. Cameron's own injury was neatly wrapped with gauze and the terminator, seeming to sense Sarah's gaze, held up the wounded appendage for inspection.
"Come up with a decent story yet?" Sarah asked, more to fill the silence than any real desire to know. It was strange. With most people she preferred silence, the illusion of peace. With the terminator, it was different. Sarah sometimes needed to hear Cameron's voice, if only to reassure herself that the machine wasn't skulking around somewhere she shouldn't be or killing off anyone she deemed threatening.
"I fell while skateboarding," Cameron said as she pushed the needle through torn skin. Sarah flinched for a split second before forcing her body to relax. Tensing would only make it worse.
"So you skateboard do you?"
"For the purpose of explaining my injury I do."
"Fair enough." Sarah took another sip of water. She was beginning to feel nauseated as she watched the methodical stitching technique of the terminator. She was glad for Cameron's efficiency. Cameron snipped the thread from the needle, tying it neatly before giving the wound a final wipe down and bandaging. It was as Cameron picked up her leg to better set the bandage that Sarah became distinctly aware that she was sitting half naked in front of the terminator.
The vague sense of discomfort that followed this realization was nothing short of foolish in Sarah's opinion. Cameron was a machine. The concept of nudity was abstract to her. Sarah was fairly certain Cameron only wore clothes because it enabled her to blend in. If the terminator had found her and John at a nudist colony, Sarah had no doubt the machine would be running around commando.
Still, it seemed somehow wrong to be sitting in a bathroom, without pants, while the machine posing as her daughter held her bare leg in what would appear to most as quite an intimate manner. To derail her mind from the disturbing track it seemed to have set itself on, Sarah took another slug of water, desperately wishing it was a cup of something stronger.
The surprised guffaw that followed the unexpected apology very nearly had Cameron enjoying an impromptu shower of lukewarm tap water.
"You're what?" Sarah asked incredulously, wondering if she had cracked her head on the tile a little harder than she realized.
"I'm sorry for causing you injury. I meant to keep you from harm, not cause it," Cameron said, carefully wrapping gauze around the bandage to hold it in place.
"You're apologizing? To me?"
The terminator looked directly into her eyes as though it didn't understand why Sarah was surprised.
"John said when you've done something wrong, you apologize to the person. My actions inflicted injury upon you, it's appropriate that I direct my apology to you."
"Machines don't apologize," Sarah countered, her shock preventing her from processing Cameron's logic. She knew this was part of Cameron's programming, the ability to adapt more readily and seamlessly than other models. Where most terminators could be easily spotted through their aloof air and near mechanical movements, Cameron -save for a few spotty pop culture deficiencies- was nearly indistinguishable from the young woman she pretended to be.
For her part, Cameron seemed to be processing what Sarah had said. "That is an incorrect conclusion. I am a machine, I apologized, thus machines apologize." Cameron leaned forward, pursing her lips together as if expecting something from Sarah.
"Um, what are you doing?"
"I have heard after an apology we 'kiss and make up'," Cameron said, pursing her lips once more. Of all the terminators at his disposal, John had managed to team her up with the only one who watched TV. At least she knew her son kept his sense of humour in the future. Despite herself, a small smile tugged at the edges of Sarah's mouth.
"Cameron, that's just an expression. It means that after you apologize you become friends again." Sarah watched in hidden bemusement as the terminator pulled back. Cameron adopted her usual, slightly disgruntled look that always crossed her face when she was reprocessing information to correct her database.
"Thank you for explaining."
Sarah nodded, watching as Cameron stood and cleaned up the detritus from their first aid session.
"Are we friends?" Cameron asked, looking over at Sarah.
"You're a machine," Sarah answered without thought, gaze finding the doe like eyes of the terminator. She thought she saw a flash of… something in Cameron's eyes at her statement. The young woman paused for a moment, as if waiting for Sarah to say something beyond the simple declaration before she turned to leave the bathroom. Sarah sighed. The past sixteen years had made her hard. It was easy to forget what it was to be the person on the other side, looking for approval. Cameron may not be human but the terminator hadn't done anything to earn the stinging rebuke of her apology. She was trying. And, Sarah thought, even a rabid guard dog deserved a pat on the head every once in awhile.
"Cameron," Sarah called out. The terminator paused and turned. "You don't need to apologize. You did the right thing, you saved my life today." Sarah eyes locked on to deep pools of brown, trying to forget what was hidden behind them. "Thank you." Sarah couldn't be certain -and would never admit it if asked- but she could have sworn she had seen a ghost of smile on the terminator's attractive face.
"I need a new laptop," John said, three days later as they wandered through the large mall.
Sarah rolled her eyes at her son. For someone who should be focused on stopping the seemingly unbreakable tide of technology, he seemed awfully intent on always having the most revved up piece of machinery he could find.
"No." Sarah braced herself for an argument with a boy who was getting more headstrong by the day. She knew it was good. Humanity wouldn't be saved by a man who rolled over every time he was faced with an obstacle. Sarah was willing to admit that a strong will was necessary for the future John to be able to stand toe to toe with a mechanical army. However, now, when she found herself faced with a boy who would never just let things be, she wished he wouldn't have to constantly test his will against hers.
'You're the best fighter he knows.'
Cameron's words came unbidden to her mind. Perhaps John tested himself against her because he thought, if he could withstand her, he couldn't be beaten. How Sarah wished, deep in the pit of her soul, that it were true. That she would be the highest standard of all the enemies that her son would face.
"Mom? You're not hearing a word I'm saying," John accused. Sarah pulled herself from her thoughts and looked over at her son.
"I'm listening, you want a faster processor."
He did need a new laptop. His last hacking adventure had overheated the unit to the point where even Cameron had thought it on the verge of combusting. "If you bring the Feds down on us for downloading music, John Connor, I'll have Cameron spank you," Sarah threatened, ruffling a hand through his shaggy hair.
"Nice imagery." He took the cash Sarah offered and headed toward the electronic store.
"Back here in an hour," Sarah called out as he disappeared into the throng of people. She looked around at the busy shops, marveling, as she often did, that in a few short years, it would likely be rubble. Shaking off the dark cloud, Sarah detoured into a music store, hoping to find something decent to listen to while she cleaned her weapons.
"We're back," John called out as they entered the house. Sarah dropped her bags onto the counter, looking over at the kitchen table where Derek and Cameron seemed dead locked in a staring contest.
"She's a machine, she doesn't need to blink. You lose," Sarah reminded as she leaned between the two of them to drop a loaf of bread onto the table.
"She was rifling around in your room," Derek said without taking his eyes off the terminator. Cameron seemed as uninterested in him as it was possible to be without ignoring his existence completely.
There was the familiar twitch of fear that something had gone wrong with the machine's reprogramming before Sarah's common sense kicked in.
If Cameron was malfunctioning, they wouldn't have come back to find the terminator and Derek in a harmless pissing contest. They would have found pieces of Derek strewn across the house and likely been dead before they knew what happened. That being said, Sarah did want an explanation as to what Cameron had been doing in her room.
The terminator held out her hand, opening her fingers to reveal a small mouse who shook fearfully in her palm. Sarah raised an eyebrow. Hadn't it just been this morning when she had mentioned to John that the chewings of the rodent had kept her up to all hours? Not that Sarah really slept but being kept from potential sleep by the sound of small teeth gnashing at drywall wasn't how she wanted to spend her night.
"You caught the mouse in my room?" Sarah asked, her voice tinged with surprise. She turned to John, her gaze accusatory. They had better uses for Cameron than as a glorified rat trap.
"Don't look at me. I didn't tell her to do it," he defended, holding his hands up.
Cameron closed her hand around the small animal, leaving only enough room for a whiskered nose to sniff nervously at the air. The machine would kill or let someone be killed without pause and yet here she was holding gently to a mouse.
"Can I keep it?"
If Sarah had been surprised by the gesture of Cameron catching the mouse, she found herself equally surprised that the terminator now wanted to care for another creature. Still, Cameron had few outlets. Sarah didn't know if machines needed outlets, but just in case, it was prudent to allow her some freedoms. Besides, Cameron had caught it for her for whatever reason.
"Keep the cage clean and don't let it run around the house," Sarah said. "Take John and go to the pet store to get supplies for…it." Sarah held up the car keys for either of them to take. Cameron kept her prize cradled gently in her hand as she took the keys and headed out the door. John said nothing as he followed the machine girl out of the house, his confusion evident in his expression.
"So, now your pet has a pet," Derek said, looking at Sarah with an expression she couldn't read and wasn't certain she wanted to read it if she could. Sarah ignored the comment, pulling turkey from the grocery bag along with other fixings for John's lunches. "You can't keep thinking that it's safe to let that thing roam around like that, alone, with John."
"John sent Cameron back," Sarah argued. "He trusts her."
"Even Connorss are known to be wrong." Derek stood, picking up his beer bottle and brushing past her as he headed for the living room. Finishing with the groceries, Sarah took her prizes from the day to her bedroom. Aside from the occasional snort from the man in her living room, quiet descended on the house. No soft footfalls of Cameron patrolling the halls. No over spill from John's. No mouse skittering around her floorboards. Sarah fell into bed, tucking her hand beneath her pillow, fingers loosening around the pistol.
Sarah Connor yawned widely, turning over to see John holding a pizza box in hand.
"We got supper, you hungry?"
She shook her head but pushed herself off the bed at any rate, there were better things to be done with the day than sleep. Hopefully tonight she could eke out her usual couple of hours. Nightmare free would be nice but all things considered, she would settle for something less than totally apocalyptic.
Taking the CD she had bought, Sarah found herself outside Cameron's room. The slim lines of the machine moved gracefully as Cameron set up the cage. Sarah walked into the room, giving a slight smile as Cameron turned and presented her with a plastic cage.
"The wheel will provide him with exercise," Cameron explained, giving said wheel a light flick to make it turn. Nodding, Sarah watched Cameron set the cage on her dresser top and gently gather the mouse from the coffee can it had been stored in.
"Does he have a name?" Sarah asked, intrigued by the terminator's behaviour. The second terminator, the one who had protected her and John two years ago, had taken care of them. But it hadn't cared for them, nor had it cared for anything else. It had been a mind focused on its mission. Even if it had evolved to understand emotion by the end of its life time, it hadn't had time enough to apply its knowledge. It seemed, perhaps, Cameron had. The evidence seemed to be pointing towards Cameron evolving into something that was more than machine. Not human. Not even close at this point, but definitely something beyond the cold logic of a machine on a mission.
"John said I should name it. I don't have an appropriate name." Cameron looked intently at her pet as though if she stared at it hard enough, it would tell her what his name was.
"It'll come to you." Sarah smiled as she remembered John's first pet. A scruffy dog, a local stray in one of the many South American villages they had found themselves in. It followed John as though it were his shadow for nearly six months until Sarah forced them on the move again. She hadn't allowed the dog to accompany them and John hadn't spoken to her for nearly two weeks afterward.
"Here." Sarah handed Cameron a CD of 'The Nutcracker'. It had caught her eye in the discount bin while she had been looking through the stacks at the music store. Cameron looked at her strangely as Sarah held the disc out to her. "I know you… liked the ballet." Sarah faltered on the words, uncomfortable using an emotional term for Cameron's curiosity. "This was…"
"One of John's favourites. You took him to see dancers on ice, six months before you were captured and taken to Pescadero," Cameron said. Sarah looked at the young woman with surprise. "John and I talk a lot." Sarah wasn't sure if she was comfortable with that level of… intimacy between a terminator and her son. "Not your John," Cameron clarified as she walked over to her CD player and turned on the music.
"No. Not my John." Sarah wondered if it was John's time with Cameron now that would make him so open with what would, oddly enough, be the 'younger' Cameron in the future. Perhaps he would put so much trust in her in the future because they would have gone through so much together in the past. She shook her head. Time travel. Paradoxes. It all made her want to scream.
Sarah watched with fascination as Cameron seemed to transform her movements -already incredibly fluid for hundreds of pounds of metal trapped in such a small body- into something that was almost feline in grace. It wasn't that the terminator was dancing, not so much as a foot was tapping, but the way she walked away from the CD player was reminiscent of the way the ice dancers had glided along the surface all those years ago.
"Thank you," Cameron said as she sat on the edge of her bed, watching her new pet play on his wheel as the first song from the Nutcracker filled the small room. Nodding, Sarah left the machine to her own devices and headed for the kitchen. She needed coffee.