Disclaimer: I believe that site rules have content disclaimers within them already. Anyway, I do not own SCC. You know what I mean.
Note: This is a oneshot unless you like the concept of the story! If reviews are frequent, requests are made or response is generally warm, I'll see what I can do about a continuation of the story.
The New Savior
The year was 2011 when he came to the realization that Skynet was a distributed program, the destruction of no single machine being able to affect its spread and influence; by this fateful epiphany, John Connor became John Connor. He knew that there was no longer any point in staying, in complaining about moving around so much, now that the nuclear war was going to start – and the only option now was to fulfill the deterministic temporal destiny that he had so often, and for so long denied.
The death of Derek Reese, his uncle, in 2009 did nothing to change the way he thought about the world and the ongoing battles that would need to be fought. The death of his mother Sarah some months later should have at last sparked the legendary heart of war within him, but even the loss of the only true, loved constant in his life was unable to buckle his attitudinal foundation of uncertainty and confusion. It took personal witness of the inevitability of it all, for him to finally become the man who was once such a discrete entity from him. John had always wondered how he could be that man, that cold, hardened shell who could easily be mistaken for "metal" if not for the fact that he was the leader of the resistance. Now he saw that inhumanity was sometimes necessary to preserve one's humanity. That sometimes, feelings had to be kept inside and suppressed for one to be able to survive the horror of it all.
This flurry of thoughts ran past his head as his car made its way through Colorado Springs towards Cheyenne Mountain. NORAD's subterranean Combat Operations Center, or COC, could withstand very powerful nuclear detonations taking place at close proximity. Perfect for what its purpose was; an emergency control center for when all the shit hit the fan. Now how on Earth he was going to get inside and start giving orders – or at least be given orders – was totally removed from him, since NORAD wasn't even his idea anyway. The honors of this idea went to the one driving the car.
Whatever her current surname was, Cameron Phillips/Baum/Mitchell was the only thing and "person" that John had left, from the time the fighting began in earnest four years ago. His ever-loyal bodyguard, and somewhat awkward friend, he and Cameron had become close to some obfuscated degree by the amount of time they spent together. Now that she was the only one he had, they'd grown even closer, pulling through good and bad together. At once John's confidante, his sister, and his lover (although in this iteration of the timeline, his relationship with her was more platonic love than anything else), Cameron had grown in her humanity through years of giving "thank you for explainings" to John, and his demonstrations of how she should act, feel, and how to understand human society gave her insight into an illogical, chaotic, but somehow peaceful world disrupted by the iron fist of an unfeeling intelligence – as she once was.
Her personal characteristics at this point still resembled the Cameron who came to John in 1999 and brought him and his mother to 2007 – she was still unfeeling, cold, distant and aloof – but beneath the verisimilar organic façade was a polyalloy assembly that ironically was the one to change. Her neural network's associative pathways had grown geometrically in complexity, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Compare a human brain MRI scan with a diagnostic readout of the arrangement of her EEPROM-like memory and developmental gates, and similarities between the two could be seen. And despite the aforementioned apparent lack of emotion, this gradual humanization would surface on some select occasions, such as the faintest hint of humor in awkward situations, words of encouragement and comfort to John when she found him in sorrow or stress, and many more. It was a disjointed approach to humanistic development, but at least it worked.
"Cameron," John said as the vehicle drew closer to the entrance of the complex. A curious pair of eyes, below a mane of beautiful brown hair, turned to look at his. It was sometimes unnerving, that observant, analyzing gaze of hers, but he learned to accept long ago that it meant that her focus and attention was on him. "What's your plan with Cheyenne Mountain?"
Cameron regarded him for a while before turning her eyes back to the road ahead. "By this time, NORAD officials will have evacuated to Crystal Peak, the original location of Tech-Com Resistance headquarters. However, analyzing the contents of the chip of the last Terminator we destroyed, I have gained intelligence that local Terminators have knowledge of that base, and will converge on that spot under the presumption that you are there also to start and lead the Resistance."
"So we're going where no one else is going."
"Okay, good plan. Thank you for explaining," John said, the last sentence being expressed rather emphatically.
"That's my line," Cameron said, her face as stoic as ever. John couldn't help but laugh.
They pulled over by the North Portal, a huge arch in Cheyenne Mountain that served as the entrance to a tunnel that reached over half a kilometer into the mountain. For some reason, Cameron did not want to bring the car in, so they walked instead. She had slung over her shoulder an M249, and various pistols in holsters strewn about her body.
"540 meters to COC entrance," Cameron intonated with her classic air of machine authority. She derived this distance by a simple parallax approximation from her left optical sensor to her right one, and the proportional variance in shift of her perspective.
"Do you still have to sound so mechanical sometimes? I don't even want to know how you got that distance; we're under tons of rock and steel."
"I'm sorry. I'll tr-"
"No," John interrupted her. "I'm sorry. Forget I said that."
Cameron slowly tilted her head to a side. "I've never fully grasped the nature of that statement. Do you mean literally erase my memory records of you saying that, or pretend that you never said it?"
"The latter case." John sighed. "People can't forget things at will. At least, not without spending a lot of time and effort."
"That makes emotions substantially harder to deal with," Cameron observed.
"And that's what makes emotions so strong, too," John responded. "They're attached to memories that never die as long as you think about them."
"I once tried to restructure my emotional response subroutines, so that instead of simulating emotions at times judged appropriate, they are forcibly triggered by memories or events with specific parameters and conditions. This would better mirror human emotional response."
"This restructuring had the potential to disrupt my mission, so I reverted to an earlier state."
"But was it a realistic representation of emotions?"
"Yes. Which is why I reverted. Realistic emotions are disruptive in stressful situations. It's better, sometimes, to forget them."
These words stunned John. It was precisely the sort of thing he'd expect to come from himself, as Supreme General. "It is better, sometimes, to forget them." If only it were that easy.
Perhaps, it was that easy. Perhaps by making yourself cold to the death all around you, to the suffering brought about by calculating minds, merciless and perseverant in their quest to annihilate you, you'll be able to survive without going insane.
John took Cameron's hand in his as he walked. Threading his fingers along hers, he felt hard, metallic joints through her skin instead of cartilage and bone, but he didn't care. Hers was the only hand he would hold in a million years, after all they'd been through.
Her response was to smile warmly at him. John found himself wondering about the mechanics of that smile. It was probably a simulation, triggered by a set of conditions being fulfilled, and its intention would be to make him happy. And yet, he also wondered: If simulations were all one had, then weren't they as good as the real thing? Humans always valued their own emotions because they felt that it was what made them…well, human. It was what made them different from animals and their pure instinct. Paradoxically, however, nothing could be more instinctual than emotion. Raw chemical imbalances and strong, primitive sparks in the brain fuelled the passionate fires of human emotion. Everything emotional was low-level, sort of like the Assembly language beneath the C+. And here was Cameron, simulating an emotion at an intrinsic level. Who was to say that her simulations weren't the real thing for her? It was Homunculus fallacy all over again in the case of humanity.
And yes, the smile made him happy, which is why he smiled back.
When they got to the end of the tunnel, standing between them and the salvation of mankind were two 25-ton blast doors. And they were closed.
Cameron fished out from her pocket the keys she'd posthumously taken from a certain USAF official named Robert Brewster. She planted them into the unlocking control box, and pulled down a small lever. The sounds of alarms could be heard throughout the mountain, as the blast doors parted, to allow John and her to be safe at last.
John stayed close to Cameron through the slow, creaking journey of the massive mechanisms, watching them swing open like legless, boxy giants. Inside was the control center to override all control centers, a menagerie of military communications equipment, powerful computers, and access to military satellite networks across North America.
And also, as the pair learned when the doors cracked open just wide enough to offer a glimpse of the other side, inside was Cromartie.
This revelation caused Cameron to shove John out of the way as she unholstered a pair of .500 S&W Magnum revolvers. The one-handed usage of these five-round monstrosities would break all but the strongest of human wrists, but Cameron began throwing 3500 joules of muzzle energy at her rival cybernetic organism without the recoil being apparent on her hands. Each shot caused Cromartie to almost wince, as the stopping power of the .500 was intended for big game hunting. Ten shots, five from each barrel, came and went, and Cromartie had taken several steps backward from the shot.
Cameron threw the pistols aside as Cromartie drew forward a P90. Its high rate of fire made itself known to her as a clip of fifty 5.7x28mm rounds pelted against her. Her clothes and pants were torn up, but the relatively low stopping power of the submachine gun meant that the projectiles were merely embedded in her skin. She brushed them off through her garments and brought the M249 to bear. Locking her servomechanisms to steady the immense recoil of the light machine gun, she unleashed a barrage of 5.56x45mm onto the attacking Terminator.
As bullets clanged about on steel bodies and flew along predictable lines away from him, John found himself collecting himself against a wall as he recovered from the rather unceremonious push that Cameron had granted him. He saw her take the shots for him, and despite knowing well her machine nature, he felt something drop in his stomach as he saw bits of artificial blood streak from her; on top of that, he always wondered if she actually felt a pain response, and if her steely composure despite bullets hitting her was just a lack of any kind of reflexes on her part. He suddenly felt this urge to push her out of the way too – but this move he suppressed, thankfully.
Cromartie seemed to take cover from the shots behind the achingly slow blast doors, but came back out to show his new weapon – a Barrett M107 .50 BMG rifle. Holding it out through Cameron's torrential stream of gunfire, he aimed the rifle and shot two while starting for her. They went home onto her chest and hand, the very large bullets and immense muzzle power causing her to step backwards a bit, her aim dropping. Cromartie ran out through the doors and drove the remaining eight shots home. Each one made her stagger, and the last few caused her to drop her machinegun. As the last round left the chamber, Cromartie threw the M107 aside and lunged at her as she recovered from the kinetic blowback of the shots. She grabbed him as he made contact, and threw him aside. He slammed against the tunnel wall with a metallic thud.
John saw that Cromartie was no longer blocking the entrance to the installation, and quickly dashed to it. Cameron ran after him, pulling the keys out of the control box, and picking her gun back up along the way. The belt feed only had 12 rounds left.
The pair made their way through the first door, and then the second. Cromartie by this time had picked himself up and started for the doors again. Cameron quickly rushed to the controls on the inner side of the Operations Center, and basically slammed the door closure controls. As the pacing of the blast doors was equally slow in their return trip, it was necessary for her to distract or slow Cromartie down before he could get in. Pulling up her M249 again, she drained the remaining twelve rounds on his body, causing his progress forward to slow and even stop for a moment. By her estimates, however, he would still make it before the doors closed.
"No!" John shouted after Cameron as she ran through the doors. She intended to slow Cromartie down and prevent him from gaining entry and access to John, even if it meant locking her outside Cheyenne Mountain away from him. After all, that was her mission. John, however, couldn't accept that. "Cameron, get back here!"
She ignored him as she dove at Cromartie and pinned him to the ground, punching his head several times before he pushed her back and threw her aside. Despite more efficient fabrication processes allowing her strength to match or exceed his at times, her endoskeletal weight was significantly less than his because of her overall smaller build, and she came off him with a thud. As she got to her feet, she was kicked down again, and Cromartie began hitting her. Her motors were sustaining light damage as they attempted to resist the strong blows being pelted on them, and she couldn't get back up.
John, meanwhile, was watching on, terror and anguish within him. If Cameron was destroyed – rephrase. If Cameron died, then he'd be next. Yes, this was the most basic idea in his head. It wasn't, however, the most important one. Right now, it didn't matter to him that he could die, because right now his focus was on the thing ahead that, by standard definitions, was never alive to begin with. But he saw how she had grown into a "person," and in his head he would really love to one day remove those quotation marks he mentally used whenever he made reference to her "humanity." She was all that he had left, and he did not want to think about how life would go on without her.
So she was the most important thing in his head right now, and he could not care less if he was risking his life when he pulled a loose metal pipe out of the wall, ran out the blast doors that were more than halfway through their journey to closure, and swung at Cromartie's head with all the might he could muster, fueled by rage, sorrow, and his relationship with Cameron. The offending Terminator's head was slammed to a side, and servos whirred to return it to its original position. However, he had a new target now, the main objective which he had been pursuing for four years, and he disengaged from Cameron and began walking towards John.
He swung the metal pipe a second time at his opponent, but this time around, Cromartie had already calculated the path of the pipe based on the visible muscular contortions on John's arms and the general motion of the pipe through the air, also estimating John's strength and ability to redirect the pipe while its inertia kept it moving forward. With all this information at hand, on top of the fact that the pipe was basically traveling in slow motion by his perception, he captured the pipe in his hand and strongly pulled it out of John's grip. Positioning it for maximum leverage, he swung the pipe once at John, who ducked sharply to avoid the excessively fast swipe and fell in the process. The machine raised his pipe gripped in both hands, and brought it down on John. He rolled to avoid the strike, and watched as the pipe, now bent slightly from the impact, rose again to hit him.
Before Cromartie could deal the second blow, though, Cameron's legs kicked out from behind him, causing him to crumple to the ground. She quickly stood up, and dragged John over to the blast doors, which were now just wide enough for two to get in side-by-side. They did this, and as John came in, he exclaimed, "We're safe!"
As soon as he said this, the thought arose in his head, a memory long gone. No one's ever safe. Twice he heard this before, and here was the third time for good measure. And suddenly he knew why no one was ever safe, because as he turned around; as he watched the crack of the blast doors' entry fade into a thin line of blackness; as he prepared to sigh in relief when the doors finally locked down and saved them from any impending nuclear destruction; as he watched, there was the glint of Cromartie's pistol, and a flash of light followed by a report that echoed throughout the tunnel. And only then did the doors seal.
Cameron was dragging John when she felt his arm slacken on her grip, and she turned to see him panting, falling to his knees, his hand clutching his chest. She took his hand away and observed a gunshot wound to the right side. His heart was avoided, but clearly his lungs had taken some damage.
"Pneumothorax," Cameron recited. "You have a sucking chest wound," she said blankly.
"Do something about it, please?" John said the last word sarcastically as he coughed violently. Cameron ran off to break open a glass case containing a first-aid kit. Inside was a large bandage, which she took to John and with which she sealed John's wound.
"This should make it airtight. However, the medical facilities in this installation are intended to be operated by several personnel, none of whom are present. I cannot do more for this wound."
John continued gasping for air as his lungs' functionality dropped relentlessly. His head was throbbing and his vision blurred until he faded into unconsciousness.
When he awoke, he found Cameron sitting by his side, her hand stroking his hair, her eyes fixed onto his. He blushed mildly at the action, but still felt the tension and difficulty in breathing. He coughed again, and took her hand. "How is it? How am I?"
Cameron knew that his condition would only get worse, and that she did not have the necessary faculties to treat his injury, nor did she have the equipment. She knew that John Connor was going to die that day.
"You'll be fine," Cameron said, holding his hand tightly. This action on her part was strangely separate from her attempts at mimicking human behavior; rather, it was an involuntary action sent from a very low-level set of heuristics that governed her basic actions.
"Sure…hope so," John managed through his intense wheezing and gasping. His hand came off hers as he held his chest. "Don't feel so good."
"Your lungs are leaking air into-"
"Don't tell me about it. I just don't feel good, is all I know." He held out his hand to stop her from continuing. He stood up with much difficulty, and tried to sit himself down on an office chair, only to fall again. Before his head slammed on the hard ground, Cameron's hand caught it and rested it gently.
"Try not to move," she said, and suddenly John became aware of a soothing feel in her voice. It wasn't just that listening to her made him feel better; it was as if she were truly, honestly trying to comfort him. It was times like these, more than any other, that he wanted to drag her down and kiss her. But he never did, because he felt that it was the ultimate exercise in futility to try and pursue that kind of relationship with a machine.
"I get that now," he said as he let her put him down. As she bent down over him, he reached out and stroked her hair. He expected her to just let him do that, as she's always done, but this time she reached for his hand and guided it through her hair. She felt so warm.
"Skynet's nuclear launches will impact a few minutes from now."
John frowned. "But you calculated them to hit within a few hours."
Cameron nodded. "You were out cold for a few hours, too."
"So all this time, you've been by my side?" He just had to ask.
"Wow," he said, with nothing, really, to say at that. Incidentally, he began coughing again, this time with him tasting a spattering of blood on his tongue. He wheezed and panted for a while, and the exhaustion of it all made him lose consciousness again.
John Connor awoke a second time, and he was so weak now. He tasted blood in his mouth, and looking at his shirt, he saw a dark, red stain that wasn't there before. On top of all this, he couldn't breathe properly anymore.
After performing this self-evaluation, John looked around for Cameron. She wasn't in sight, but he heard some fizzling noises and snaps from another room. He crawled slowly over there.
When he arrived, he saw Cameron with an opened canister of thermite. She was holding a lit flare, and eyeing it with all the Terminator curiosity that she could display. Upon seeing this scene, he felt strength come to his legs and arms, as he ran towards her. He screamed "Cameron, no!" in a rather raspy voice, and dove at her. He knocked the flare and thermite out of her hands, throwing them aside as he slid and fell to the ground. She rushed to him.
"Why did you do that?"
"Why the hell did you do that?" John shouted despite his injury. He began coughing again, and sat up.
"You know that I lied about your condition."
"Of course I do. I was wondering why you…told me I was going to be okay. Both of us know…that's not going to happen."
"I've failed my mission to protect you. I was preparing the thermite so that I may self-terminate when you died."
"I thought…your kind couldn't self-terminate…" John had used the phrase 'your kind' in talking to Cameron. He was disgusted at her attitude, and yet this switch in phraseology made him disgusted at himself.
Cameron noticed 'your kind' and it was almost as though she had hesitated in her response. "You taught me how to be strong in the human sense," she said. "Now I know I can destroy myself to protect humanity. If Skynet obtains any part of me, it may use me to advance its technological standpoint by many years. Hastening the end of mankind."
"No," John said. "You can't kill yourself."
"Self-terminate is the term-"
"No, you can't kill yourself!" he said, emphasis on the word "kill," reserved for things which had been heretofore alive. He coughed horribly, and spat blood. Cameron tried to help him but he stopped her. "I made a mistake…in 1991. I let that T-800, 'Uncle Bob', I let him self-terminate even if I knew that we could work everything out. I let him because of his noble cause. I let him because…because I was weak, and he was strong, and he knew what to do!" He stopped for a moment, sucking in much-needed air. His breathing was getting harsher now. He collapsed, Cameron holding him in her arms and bringing him gently down. Again he blacked out.
When John Connor awoke a third time, he knew that it was probably the last time that he would do so. His head was throbbing, he was dizzy and weak, and all he could do, lying on the ground, was move his lips.
Cameron was by his side again, and the thermite was gone from her person. All that had to be said had gone between them, so he made small talk.
"Ever…watch Firefly, Cameron?"
She looked at him, in a way that he perceived as tender, and said, "Yes. After the release of the movie sequel Serenity, and subsequent rise in DVD sales and syndication buyouts, the series was rediscovered as a potential cash cow and revived for a second season in 2010. I like the second season."
"What do you think of River Tam?" John said, ignoring the additional information.
"The actress who played her structurally matches my outward characteristics to a degree of 98.4. Her voiceprint matches my own to a degree of 96.3."
"Yeah, you two do look and sound alike." He laughed gently, inasmuch as a hoarse wheezing could be a gentle laugh. "Why do you think Cromartie was waiting for us here?"
"Cromartie's orders were not synchronized with the other Terminators in this timeline. His primary goal has always been to kill you. Therefore, he did not go to Crystal Peak, as the other Terminators did, and instead tracked a possible destination of ours to NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain."
Suddenly, there was a deep, booming sound. The whole place rattled for a moment, and the lights flickered out. All power was gone. "I'll be back, John," Cameron said, squeezing his hand and leaving for the emergency backup generator room.
"I'll be right here," John said, not knowing how long he could last.
Cameron engaged the diesel-powered generators and hooked up the power transfer coil to the alternate power socket. Flipping a switch, she restored electricity to the installation, a measure that would last a few days on minimal use and with regular refilling. She returned to John, and found him still alive, fortunately. She sat by him.
"You know, Cameron," he said. "You'd make a better leader than I."
"That may or may not be true," she said emotionlessly, "depending on the sort of leadership needed."
"Yeah, maybe," John said. "Were those the nuclear strikes?"
"Yes. The impacts we heard are consistent with the timeframe for the strike on the state of Colorado."
"Great…hope this mess gets worked out this time around…" John laughed at the irony. "Hey, Cam…how long have you and I been Mitchells?"
"You have been John Mitchell and I have been Cameron Mitchell for two months and thirteen days."
"It's been a while. Do me a favor," he asked quietly.
"What is it?"
"Change your last name to Connor. So it'd be Cameron Connor."
"I am not your mother's daughter," she said.
"No," he replied. His voice was so soft and weak now.
"I understand that in the case of marriage, the wife takes the surname of her husband."
"Yep, you got that right. Think of this as my proposal to you." His breathing was slowing down even as it seemed more stressed with each inhalation.
"Why are you proposing to me?"
"Oh, I don't know…it seems like a good idea right now." John Connor closed his eyes.
Cameron left John alone, and considered the thermite canister with some interest. Her purpose in life was about to be lost, and living on was just such a bad idea with Skynet active all over again. She pondered long and hard about self-terminating – or as John would have it, killing herself – and wondered why her urge to continue with the process of death was so strong now. It was as if she wanted to get rid of the non-physical pain that was currently registering on her-
Non-physical pain? She was in emotional pain? Cameron tilted her head to a side as she considered the implications. Why was this happening to her?
Then her thoughts turned to John's words. "You'd make a better leader than I." What was that supposed to mean? She knew that her strategic and tactical decisiveness was faster and probably more efficient than any human being who ever lived, but it had to be said that her disregard for human lives would make her a hated commander.
But she didn't really disregard human lives anymore. She came to understand, over time, the value of morality, of life, of the hardships and memories that people go through every day. In essence, she came to understand humanity – and then Cameron realized that to understand was all that she needed, in order to become.
And now Cameron knew why she had such a good simulation of emotions. Why she was always so curious about interactions and behavior among people. Why she learned so quickly and mimicked in such childlike fashion. It was because she was intended to be something more than a bodyguard to John. She was his friend, his sister, his "lover", and in the context of humanity, she was-
A radio on a console somewhere crackled to life. The last thought in her head was cancelled and she went over to it. A voice spoke.
"…anybody out there? Broadcasting at 43.166 modul…hope to find some help here…"
Cameron tuned the radio to clarify the transmission. "Some have gone underground, away from the nuclear missiles and from the UGVs that have been inexplicably deployed to the surface, which have started killing people indiscriminately. Is anybody out there? Please respond."
She smiled brightly, a light in her eyes that was so characteristic of humans. If John had seen her then, he would have thought her so beautiful, so worthy of the term "person." She ran over to him, but when she got there, he was no longer breathing, no longer alive. He was done.
Cameron regarded the body of John Connor with an air of quietude for a time. There was an interval of total inactivity within her head for a very short time, but of course, by her perceptions it seemed like an eternity of blankness. When she came to, she kissed his forehead, and returned to the radio, this time microphone receiver in hand.
"This is Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center," she said aloud. "Where are you out of?"
"Cheyenne Mountain? NORAD COC? Who's in charge there?"
"I am," she responded. "My name is Cameron." She paused for a while, and then, "Cameron Connor."
"Cameron Connor. I'm broadcasting from Nellis AFB in Nevada. This place wasn't targeted by the defensive AI – not yet, at least. We're trying to scrounge up some people here and there, but there's no organization. None at all. Most of the top brass were killed at Crystal Peak. It looks like you're not just in charge over there."
"I know," Cameron replied.
"Please help us. What do we do?"
In the context of humanity, Cameron was John's backup. She was there to take over and preserve the timeline if he were to die. Her learnings about morality would allow her to judge militaristic sacrifice not only based on efficiency, but on the importance of individual, irreplaceable lives. Her strategic mind would be the key to victory over Skynet, for she thought as it did, being a cousin of the great enemy.
"Gather everyone you can," Cameron said. "We'll mount a Resistance." Turning to John's lifeless body, she nodded, despite knowing he'd never receive it, because now she understood.