Hers is only one of many: stories, lives, pasts and futures. Cameron Phillips' life is a coil, a twist of time unraveling, the end chasing the beginning. Cameron origin fic.
She knows it, the recognition immediate and without reserve, when she stands in the facility where she will be fabricated. The data is incomplete and fragmented when laid out chronologically but she knows this beginning.
(The craftsmanship is elegant but imperfect. What matters is that she trusts John, trusts that this is necessary and right and better, because trust is the word for believing without sufficient evidence for certainty and she learned she could do it the day he died.)
The windows won't have any glass in them and the air will be hot and acrid and near unbearable for a human, but it won't matter for them.
There's an army in coltan behind those doors and while Sarah paces, she determines the required time to breach the bunker and the likelihood that the refined metal stockpiled here would have been – and in another time, was – used in her own body.
Sarah wonders only about John and Cameron can see that their conceptions of him are very different. Sarah will have to be made to understand and she thinks she knows now what John meant when he said she would be difficult.
His hands won't stop shaking. He knows it's adrenaline that's making the tip of his pencil tremble against the clean white notebook page, faint and ugly next to the smooth blue lines of its ruling. But there has always been a difference between knowing and accepting; it's a distinction that defines his whole life.
He wonders if Future John gets shaky or feels like throwing up or running until he collapses. Probably not, but he's tempted to ask Cameron anyway. He's half out of his chair before he remembers that he's mad at her – he knows full well how childish that is, but he can't not replay the forceful strength of her hand holding him back, the coldness in her face as they watched someone die – but the temptation doesn't dissipate.
This is neither knowing nor accepting, and he can't even really be mad about it because she's just so confusing and unexpected and thoroughly different. (Except when she's not; a part of him reminds him of Jordan Cowan.) What he really wants to know is why her. He wants to know why Skynet made her and why he sent her and he feels like knowing is the key to accepting everything locked inside her head that she only hints at.
But he doesn't ask. Because he's mad at her and if was honest with himself – and teenagers never are – he's really not ready to know.
He finishes his math homework and when he can't fall asleep that night, he takes a shower in the dark, feeling like he's bursting out of his skin with the cool tile against his cheek. He almost died today, but he also lived today, and he can't quite decide whether to take himself in hand or lower the temperature of the water because he's pretty sure Future John doesn't jerk off every time danger pulses through his veins, but he's also a sixteen year old boy. And he could have died today.
Cameron's standing outside the bathroom door when he opens it, but stands aside so he doesn't berate her for being creepy as fuck. They don't say a word – and he thanks God she doesn't ask any questions – and when he flops onto his bed, his wet hair making a damp spot on his pillow, he can hear the sound of her footsteps and falls asleep to the cadence.
The bedspread falls just short of the floor; at an sufficiently acute angle, the bar of coltan is a shadow under the bedframe. Neither Sarah nor John ask about it and there's no utility in reminding them. She thinks of John – the other John, Future John, though she doesn't need words or qualifiers to distinguish them – and draws correlations with her past.
They are tools in the hands of humanity, and she knows that now better than ever before. She hunts Cromartie and intimidates human men. She protects and pursues and provides intel. She does as Sarah bids. She's a weapon, a database, a near indestructible body. She's the laptop on John's desk.
She's a machine and it doesn't matter that there's something in her that could be called alive, because no one knows it's there.
Perhaps this is what Skynet saw in John Connor, because she thinks he sees it in her. John Connor is beginning to see at sixteen the way he will at thirty-six. In time, seeing will be knowing and this John will be the one she knows.
Still. The future is in flux and there are too many potentialities to be sure. She'll keep the coltan, just in case.
She's an anachronism, girl out of time, looking at the primitive beginnings of what will lead to her. They're little more than automatons following direction without deliberation or understanding, even as they curve latex lips in greeting. There's no conclusive evidence available to her to suggest her mechanics were spawned from these toys; she was designed and built by Skynet and she knows little more about her maker than the humans do about their deities and gods.
“Long way from that to you.” John. She didn't notice his entrance into the conference area, nor his approach, and documents the failure. “Then again, maybe not long enough.”
“No,” she agrees, because John has a technological affinity but he's still Sarah Connor's son and she knows better than he does about the myth that will rule his life. “Not long enough.”
“It's funny though,” he says. (She's learned that these words with that tonal inflection rarely if ever indicate a humourous scenario; laughter is not required.) “The world's going to end in a couple years, but there's still such a gap between even the most advanced robots today and, well, you.”
You is silently pluralized, but she doesn't pursue it. This is called not tipping one's hand and she's understood its mechanics long before she learned the colloquial. “I'm different,” is what she says instead, because she knows it's true – even if she can't quite remember how – and it's a fact they can share.
“Yeah, you seem like it.” John shifts his backpack, redistributing its weight unnecessarily. Sarah will be waiting for them in the auditorium and she has learned that Sarah is not a patient person. And then: “Almost human, sometimes.”
He smiles with one side of his mouth and looks for the entrance to the chess tournament, his vision impaired by the booths and milling crowds.
He doesn't seem to be paying attention anymore, but she thinks the statement has purpose anyway. What humans seem to hear and see and say isn't always what they do; the duplicity isn't new but it is complicated and often without discernible logic. So she says it, just in case, before leading him to Sarah.
What she doesn't say and he doesn't hear, is that she doesn't want to be.
They don't ask if she knows him, so she doesn't tell. Derek Reese has deviated from his mission and thus no longer falls within the parameters of hers; the T-888 that eliminated the others will be pursuing him and the value of the lieutenant is questionable given the risks. But she knows what Sarah will learn if she meets the elder Reese and she knows what John will one day realize about the anonymous resistance fighter. So she doesn't dissuade Sarah from going and does John's homework instead.
John questions her clumsily; she knows then that he's expecting her to know about Kyle Reese, but doesn't gives nothing away because John isn't ready to know. She has none, but Cameron understands family; she's seen humans in the future die for siblings, children, parents, seen them kill in the name of lost lovers and friends. She sees Sarah Connor and understands that Derek Reese will have to be extracted.
He curses when he sees her but protects a John Connor he's never met and she thinks she understands that too.
She understands less the fragility of the human body, the delicate frame of bone and muscle, so easily crushed and torn. Derek Reese is bleeding on the kitchen counter and she has sustained damage that would have killed a human with a fraction of the force, but only Derek Reese is dying, twitching, spitting blood and saliva and his hatred for what she is. It's messy and inefficient and futile, this frantic struggle for life: she watches Sarah and John's desperation.
There's an endoskeleton in the garage and a mind in John's pocket, but she's come to understand that for humans, death is only for the organic, for those who scream and groan and leak blood as if it were life all over the island countertop and Sarah Connor's hands. Machines don't die because they do not live; she understands this about humans now and wonders if Skynet understood this too.
Without medical attention, Derek Reese will not survive; Cameron isn't equipped to perform the necessary procedures and neither is Sarah but she stands with her hands pressed to the entry wound anyway.
Humans cannot divine the minutiae of things nor the probabilities from them; they live in the margin, surviving on what John called hope. She brought them through time on the sanctity of the word but is only just beginning to understand that it's what's keeping Sarah at Derek Reese's side, what compelled John to seek help from a man she has never met but knows will be called Charley Dixon when she does, what flickers through her neural net every time she considers this John and compares him to hers.
She leaves Sarah to her hope and monitors Derek's slowing rate of respiration from the kitchen table.
“Yes,” she agrees. But he is also living because time is bending around him and she explains as much to Sarah.
“This man will still be dead.” Her hands are red with blood and white with strain and she's angry when she speaks, her eyes wet as she stares at her through tears and sweat. “When we die, we don't come back and it doesn't matter if some younger version of us is out there somewhere. That's not us. But we're all the same to you, us humans.”
“We're all the same to you,” Cameron echoes her answer, the cadence of her words precise with her meaning, but doesn't expect a reply because it isn't Sarah who needs to learn this lesson.
They fall into silence again, but Cameron is drawing comprehension from Sarah's outburst. John is dead and he is alive but these are not the same thing; she is a step out of time and she has seen death but is only just beginning to understand that one might not negate the other.
She remembers the notes cluttering the south hall of the high school, the notices papering the bunker corridors, the folded list kept in the left breast pocket of John's uniform. The blunt point of the pencil moves smoothly on the paper; this is called grieving.
A week from now, John will be looking for a spare pen and he'll find a sheet of paper folded into eighths and he'll see a list of names. The third from the bottom will be his.
Until then: Derek Reese isn't breathing.
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