Afterthoughts and Commentary
For those new to my fanfics, I usually write a chapter after the story is complete, explaining my thoughts about writing the story, and discussing how particular chapters were put together, in a sort of 'Author's Commentary.' For those who enjoyed the story, I hope this helps illuminate and deepen your understanding and enjoyment of the ideas communicated.
This fanfic is a straightfoward AU (alternate universe) story based on a very simple hypothetical: what if John Connor did not send Kyle Reese back in time?
"What? John Connor not sending Kyle Reese back in time? But how can you have a Terminator story without the time-travel decision that started it all?" Good question. It depends on how you think time travel works. What happens if, for example, you go back in time and kill your grandfather – is the future is set in stone ('Judgment Day is inevitable') or malleable ('No Fate but what we make')?
The answer I came up with is based on the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, which says that every possible reality comes into existence. If you are able to go back in time and change the past, rather than changing the future from where you came from, you simply create another alternative reality. In the case of the grandfather paradox, if you went back in time and killed your grandfather, instead of ceasing to exist, you would create a new world in which you and your parent never existed. In terms of fiction, this story is closely related to The Proteus Operation, a time travel story where Americans from a future 1975 where Nazi Germany was about to conquer the world go back to the 1930s to try and stop the rise of Hitler. I won't say anymore, so as not to spoil it!
There's an even bigger paradox in the Terminator series: the 'bootstrap paradox' (look up on Wikipedia) – Skynet appears to have been created from nothing as a result of Terminator 1 and 2! In terms of many worlds, the explanation for the bootstrap paradox is this: in a totally different timeline, Skynet came into existence in a way different from the story of Terminator 2. A John Connor was born and led the humans to victory, and then once that Skynet invented time travel, kicked off the Terminator universe. I think this is not a cheat, because Skynet has different origins from Terminator 1 (unknown), Terminator 2 (Cyberdyne and Miles Dyson), and Terminator 3 (General Brewster). The real interesting question is whether John Connor was conceived the same way – by a different man than Kyle Reese originally (who then sends Kyle Reese back and essentially creates a different 'John Connor'), or by Kyle Reese after Connor sent him back (and did Connor know or not? The novels suggest he did, Terminator 1 is more ambiguous, but also suggests yes b/c of the picture he gave to her). So in this story, John Connor decides not to send Kyle Reese back, nothing changes, and life goes on. It is somewhat anticlimactic, to be honest! But that's kinda the point: we're so geared up to thinking the time travel has to be successful for humanity to survive, it's a real twist if it turns out that's not the case.
Explaining Connor's decision not to send Reese back is one side of the coin; the other is explaining why Skynet does so, even though it knows that sending Terminators back in time will not save it in the present. Answering this question allowed me to incorporate something else I wanted to do with this fanfic: have some kind of direct confrontation between Connor and Skynet itself. Even though the various Terminators have been Connor's main adversaries in the movies (and other stories I'm sure), in the movies at least there has never been a direct confrontation between man and the Machine. Skynet is the ultimate enemy in the Terminator universe, and I wanted a confrontation between the two. But not just a physical, combat confrontation; as a Man vs. Machines story, I wanted to compare and contrast the two as adversaries, and explore what was it that allowed humans to prevail despite the odds. This is where the hacking / Internet chat idea came in; I thought it'd be very interesting to see a verbal exchange between Connor and Skynet. Obviously, in reality that would be suicidal, so I constructed the story as Connor having successfully hacked into Skynet's network in the past, and for various reasons Skynet does not kill Connor – because it can't track him mostly, but also because Skynet, like Connor, attempts to use the dialogues to gain additional info for future victory.
These were the ideas motivating the writing of this story; now I will discuss various aspects of the story itself.
Part 1 – Future War
The visuals of the fight between the Resistance and Skynet are inspired by the opening of Terminator 2, both the movie and novelization. In terms of the Resistance victory, rather than a desperate all-or-nothing attack (like in Terminator: Salvation), the idea is that the Resistance has been able to wear Skynet down by guerrilla warfare. Formidable though Skynet's war machines may be, their Achilles heel must be their logistics; mining metals and energy, transporting them to factories, the factories themselves, all would be chokepoints vulnerable to sabotage. Over many years, hitting those weakpoints would gradually reduce the number of Skynet's forces, enabling the Resistance to destroy more and more key objectives. This gradual dawning of inevitable defeat athen gives Skynet the motivation to invent time travel in the first place.
Left unsaid in the Terminator franchise is why a machine adversary would not use biological weapons against their human foes; it should work very well. I guess Skynet is better at physics than biology! ;)
Part 2 – Hacking In
Conversely, hackers for the Resistance would undoubtedly be almost as important as foot soldiers in fighting a computer adversary. The logical existence of a computer warfare division of the Resistance is the basis for having Connor and Skynet communicate with each other.
Part 3 – Skynet
As said earlier, Skynet is the main adversary, and except for Helena Bonham Carter in Salvation, we have never seen Skynet portrayed. She was adequate, but a little too anthropocentric—more like an evil human than a computer AI. Here, I wanted Skynet to present to Connor its 'true self', so to speak; how it actually sees itself. Of course, it probably wouldn't be a computerized face, but it was hard not to envision something like 'Deux ex Machina' in Matrix: Revolutions. The voice was meant to be something not human, but not Terminator, either; more alien, inscrutable. It's impossible to say in words exactly what I heard in my mind, but that was the impression I wanted to portray.
Connor's suggestion for a 'prison' for Skynet is inspired by the episode of Star Trek: Next Generation called, Ship in a Bottle. It was a genuine offer; I envisioned Connor as being interested in ending the war as soon as possible, and perhaps secretly, he has a soft spot for intelligent machines (Uncle Bob, Marcus, the Terminators from The Sarah Connor Chronicles).
Although critically panned, I did enjoy Terminator: Salvation, and so I wanted to incorporate Marcus Wright; I especially enjoyed his scenes with Blair, which made him very sympathetic, and hinted that men and machines need not be enemies. Given his nature, it was easy enough to create an explanation of how his brain could have survived. Having an AI on their side would be an extremely potent weapon for the Resistance, and I liked the idea of springing that fact on Skynet at the end.
Quick note: 'Your mathematics is correct but your physics is abominabale' is what Albert Einstein said to another scientist (Georges Lemaitre) who suggested that Einstein's theory of general relativity implied the universe was created in what we now call the Big Bang. Connor really wouldn't think 'That sounds familiar', but it's a cute inside joke!
The big revelation was hopefully a big surprise for most of you; if time travel doesn't change anything, it really throws the whole Terminator storyline for a loop. Why would Skynet use time travel if it wouldn't save it? The answer comes in part from what I read about many-worlds theory, that an electronic intelligence that was aware of its existence at the quantum level, would be able to discern and experience the splitting of quantum realities, and could possibly existence simultaneously among them. If Skynet had such a view of reality, the fact that it would not be saved by time travel would be irrelevant; so long as more realities than not existed where it prevailed, that would be victory.
It wasn't easy constructing the persona of Skynet in its conversations with Connor; didn't want it to be sterile monologue, but overly humanistic emotion would not work either. Its speech is blunt, but its accurate perception of Connor's psychology reflects a disturbingly accurate understanding of humanity. Its use of English becomes more clipped and unusual as it displays its anger at Connor for beating it; again, not a histrionic, explosive ranting rage, but more a bewildered, exasperated one. When it begins to express its hatred of humanity, Skynet begins speaking just like a human, reflecting it is closest to its creators when feeling hatred. At the end, Skynet finally is acting in all-out fury, because it has learned to understand what hatred is and how to use it, and be corrupted by it. Recognizing this, Connor demonstrates how humanity can learn from its mistakes to create a better future, one that might still include machines – a choice Skynet could never learn to accept.
Part 4 – Change of Plans
The interior of Skynet's facilities is also inspired by the T2 novelization. I thought it was very important that Connor explain to his men and women why he was doing what he was, and to be both inspiring and reassuring. Being old enough to remember the world before Judgment Day, his words not only show the strength of character in leading them to victory in war, but the compassion and foresight that will be needed for their new postwar objective: to put aside violence and try to rebuild a portion of what was lost.
Connor is extremely happy that his father is alive, and desperately wants to be his son and live that life, but properly recognizes it would be confusing and awkward, and ultimately unnecessary; having the chance to have a life with Reese in the end is enough. In his meal with the troops, Connor still struggles with the choice he made; should he have sent Reese back anyway, even if he knew that changing the present was impossible? Here, I have John Connor decided not to send Kyle back, basically for two reasons: first, because he wants to keep his father alive, and be able to spend time with him; second, because he wants to put an end to Skynet's maniacal quest to eliminate humanity in every possible quantum reality, and the only way to do that is to cut the never-ending circle that time travel causes. Obviously the first choice is selfish, and somewhat out-of-character, but I wrote it with an idea of expressing his deep desire to be with his family, after all he has lost and suffered. The second choice is more noble (made easier by the fact that his present would not change!), even though it means that Skynet wins in all the other timelines that will be created by sending Terminators back in time. But remember, by doing so, even though in those realities Skynet wins, because it does so, it does not invent time travel to go back and stop John Connor, so it cuts down the number of alternate universes created by time travel. Still, Connor is haunted by the what-ifs, and like quantum realities, at that moment when he sees in his mind the ruins of his Los Angeles existing side by side with a future undamaged LA, in a sense through imagination he is experiencing something like what Skynet does.
Notwithstanding many worlds, whatever the laws of physics say, humans exist from moment to moment, one life at a time, so it is okay to make decisions accordingly. You may disagree with his decision to sacrifice another world so he can have obe mo, but certainly more than anyone else, Connor has earned the right to make that choice.
Okay, that about does it for this story. There are lots of interesting areas that this fanfic leaves open for future development, in particular the idea of a Marcus-inside-a-computer and Connor fighting together against Skynet, but I think for now I have done what I've wanted to do with Terminator. Thanks for reading, and hope you read my other fics!
- October 9, 2011