If you haven't read the story yet, it's here. The story with commentary is below.
by David Hines
Cameron doesn't sleep.
No, she doesn't. Hi, I'm David and this is my DVD commentary on "Cinderella, Made of Steel," written as a Yuletide treat for catw00man during Yuletide 2008.
The original prompt was wonderfully vague. Catw00man wanted "Anything with Cameron. It you want her with John put her with John but I main just want HER." Sometimes a vague prompt is just what the doctor ordered, because I'd been thinking about this stuff anyway. So, here's Cameron. You want her, you got her!
John Connor (FUTURE LEADER OF HUMAN RESISTANCE, ESSENTIAL TO SURVIVAL OF HUMANITY) and Sarah Connor (MOTHER OF JOHN CONNOR, NOW EXPENDABLE) are usually in bed by midnight. Sarah often goes to bed earlier. Sarah says it is because soldiers should sleep when they can. Cameron knows it is because Sarah is growing older. Sarah says what she says about soldiers to instruct John. He does not often listen any more.
If you haven't guessed, those all-caps blurbs scroll out as part of the heads-up display in Cameron's vision when she looks in on the sleeping John and Sarah, respectively, much as Arnold's Terminator(s) would get readouts of people as mesomorphs or ectomorphs when looking for clothes to borrow. Or the multiple choices offered when looking for the right way to get the guy outside Arnold's door to piss off.
At night, Cameron performs occasional security patrols. The patrols are at irregular intervals. This prevents observers from learning her routine. She does this because Sarah instructed her to do so. Sarah is wrong. There is no point to patrolling for hostile Terminators. If a Terminator will come, it will come, and Cameron's place then is protecting John.
I think Cameron's right on this. There are times Sarah tells Cameron what to do just so she can tell Cameron what to do.
Between patrols, she tends the house. Cameron doesn't vacuum until the weekend, and then only when the Connors are awake and security needs are minimized. At night, she sweeps, dusts, mops. The house is large and requires careful attention. She starts laundry early in the evening, so the drier will be done by the time Sarah Connor is in bed. The buzzer startles Sarah. When Sarah is startled awake, she grabs for her gun. An accidental discharge would invite attention and possibly would injure John. Cameron wants Sarah to sleep soundly.
I loved the bit on the series where Sarah hands John the laundry basket, and he promptly hands it off to Cameron because she doesn't sleep. It seemed like something that should be taken to its logical conclusion. I can easily see Derek and Sarah, in particular, thinking that Cameron should be kept busy while everybody is asleep.
This paragraph also has the first sign of Cameron-style altruism: she wants Sarah to sleep untroubled because it makes things better for John. If Cameron has some variation of Asimov's first law, in the place of the words "human being" her First Law reads "John Connor."
Cameron is considering learning to cook. If she does, she can drug Sarah's food with tranquilizers as circumstances warrant.
Some folks have specifically mentioned this as something they like, but I think now that I should have deleted this paragraph. It telegraphs the ending of the story too much; Cameron's realization that humans are vulnerable to stuff put in their food is the ending, so I screwed up by putting a minor version of it at the beginning.
At 2:38 AM, Cameron is cleaning the stairs. She hears footsteps. It is not a threat. It is Derek Reese (SOLDIER, FROM FUTURE TIMELINE, BROTHER OF KYLE REESE, EXPENDABLE). He smells of a woman. He thinks Cameron does not know. Cameron will follow him at a future date in order to determine whether the woman poses a threat to John. If she does, Cameron will kill her.
Jesse referenced here, obviously. And Cameron quietly making her little plans to casually murder if it's necessary. I almost had her refer to Derek as "Uncle of John Connor," but no, she's not supposed to know, is she? If she had, she would have made a beeline for wee!Kyle when her chip was damaged and she went killer.
I am very fond of the way Cameron categorizes everybody who isn't John Connor as "Expendable."
"Working late?" Reese says.
"'Healthy, shiny wood surfaces can make your home come alive,'" says Cameron. It is an advertising slogan. Humans often quote them in conversation.
I googled Pledge. It's the alt-text on their homepage.
"Scary prospect," Reese says. It is a joke. He is playing on the image of a house that really does come alive. Cameron smiles and half-shrugs. It is body language that means "I understand the joke but it is not funny enough to laugh." Cameron has never laughed. Terminators know not to. Laughter is difficult to emulate convincingly.
As commenter DEM pointed out, she has laughed. Whoops. Imagine it reads "rarely laughs," or some such.
This is the first time in the story that Cameron explains a joke. It's set up by her explanation of the advertising slogan and her analysis of why Sarah makes the remark about soldiers, but I think that it's when she does it to a joke that we start to see how much she really analyzes the process of pretending to be human. To me, this is what makes Cameron a special model of Terminator. The show has had her regress from perfectly mimicking humanity to imperfectly doing so, because the latter is more fun. But I think what makes her special is not that she mimics humanity well, but that she understands social situations and how they work. Previous models of Terminator just wear disguises to get close to their targets, and take what they want through brute force. Cameron may not be capable of acting perfectly human all the time, but she understands human socialization -- in a Terminator kind of way. I think Cameron isn't just an infiltrator. She's a social engineer, a political saboteur.
(...oh, God. I just had a terrible idea. Election time rolls around, and some minor candidate on the street gets Cameron to volunteer for the campaign. And she works for the campaign as a Terminator would: with utter, complete, horrifying ruthlessness. There's an interesting plot bunny. Could even work, if the politician were somebody that, say, Skynet had killed in future because they were anti Skynet's agenda. Maybe the politician slated to be killed by the Terminator in "Self-Made Man." Or, if she and John are still in school, a student government election.)
"You were out late," she says. It is small talk. She is practicing it. She is also interested to hear his lie.
"I just walked," he says. "I was walking around the neighborhood. For two hours."
"It's a small neighborhood."
"I did laps."
He is not lying. The scent of the woman is faint. He was with her before the walk. "Why?" says Cameron.
"You wouldn't understand."
"No," says Cameron. "But I would like to."
Reese looks at her. He is not comfortable with her. She is not certain why. They knew each other in the future, but she cannot rely on those memories. Cameron came back in time after Reese did. She knows now that their actions in the present alter the future timeline. Before she returned, she was part of that timeline. Perhaps their history has been rewritten. Cameron does not know how he sees her.
This is a development on the show that I really loved. The idea that the future gets rewritten, so people you knew who come back later than you did will have different memories than you do -- that's really great, and it adds uncertainty to situations you'd think would be rock-solid. So Cameron doesn't know if Reese doesn't like her just because she's a Terminator, or if there's a more specific reason. And she knows that if she asks, he won't tell her.
"It hits me sometimes," says Reese. "Before I came back, I thought I'd dreamed it. It couldn't have been like this. But it is. People had lawns. They cared about how they looked. They drove their cars to their jobs along the little streets, they did the laundry, they went upstairs to watch TV. And nobody was trying to kill them." His voice softens as he speaks. "And it's so, so fragile." He stops. "I don't know why I'm explaining this to you," he says.
He is explaining it to Cameron because she asked. She doesn't say that. Reese made a rhetorical statement. It was not an invitation for comment.
Reese's feelings are based on my personal experience. I've been abroad in rather unusual circumstances, working with people who'd been terribly unfortunate, and I came back feeling the way Reese does here: that civilization is not the natural order of things, as those of us blessed enough to live in it tend to think, but something surreal and wonderful, a goddamn miracle that must be guarded like a motherfucker.
"Be quiet as you go up," says Cameron. "Sarah has not been sleeping well."
"Thanks," says Reese. "I don't want to be shot."
Cameron does not want him to be shot either. He would require medical attention. That would be bad. He might die. That would be worse. Cameron has not allotted time in her schedule for disposing of a body. She does not say this.
Cameron knows when to shut up. At least sometimes.
"I feel bad for her," Reese says.
He means Sarah. "Why?"
"I got a normal childhood. John didn't. That sucked for him. But it sucked for her, too. She was so busy trying to raise the savior of humanity that she never had a chance to raise a child."
And there it is: Reese inadvertently sets the ball rolling.
It's a good observation, too, I think. Sarah had to transform herself from nineteen-year-old waitress into warrior woman, mother of the savior of humanity. We tend to forget that, but it's a hell of a transition. She made it, to her great credit, but she lost a lot in the process.
"I do not understand," says Cameron.
"No," says Reese. "I didn't think you would."
He takes off his boots and goes up the stairs quietly, stepping close to the wall to avoid any creaks.
When Cameron finishes with the stairs, she takes Reese's boots, cleans off the mud, and polishes them. Her analysis of the soil shows that it is not typical of the area, and that it is consistent with a tropical rainforest. She hypothesizes that Reese was in a botanical garden with the woman before they mated. Perhaps one is within walking distance of the woman's habitation. As Cameron acquires more data, she will be able to narrow down the woman's whereabouts. Reese is highly trained and would be difficult to follow, but if Cameron knows where the woman is she can arrive before Reese does and establish a surveillance post. Then she could confirm the woman's identity without Reese's knowledge.
That would greatly facilitate the woman's termination, should it become necessary.
Cameron is deeply scary at times. If she feels she has to, she'll kill the woman Reese is sleeping with, do it in such a way that he doesn't know it was her, and then go on living in the house with Reese as if nothing whatsoever has happened. Until then, she'll quietly amass data.
"What is it like to be a child?" says Cameron.
Sarah Connor is cleaning guns. A field-stripped Glock is on the table. The cleaning rods and patches are laid out neatly. This is one of the few times that Sarah does not have a weapon on her person. But Sarah's chair is on rollers and it would be a simple matter for her to push back from the table and roll across the kitchen to the .45-70 Marlin lever-action rifle by the refrigerator. The rifle has a tactical rail and a holographic sight. John gave it to Sarah for Mother's Day.
I like this paragraph a lot: the Cameron voice is really good, and it also gives you a nice picture of Sarah and life with the Connors. Sarah's rifle, incidentally, is the Marlin Model 1895SBL, which you can see here, below the commentator drooling over Megan Fox. It is not actually on the market yet. But I really want one, so I put it in the fic. Maybe John got a similar package done as a custom job.
(.45-70 lever action would, I think, be a fine anti-Terminator weapon. At least, it might make 'em think twice.)
"Why do you want to know that?" says Sarah. She picks up the Glock's barrel, leaving the frame and slide on the table, and frowns as she squints down it. "And why are you asking me?"
"I can't ask John," says Cameron. "His childhood was atypical." Sarah works her bore brush back and forth through the barrel, then picks up a different rod with a cleaning patch on the end. Glocks function well with less frequent maintenance than other firearms require. Sarah's Glock does not need to be cleaned. Sarah is bored and needs something to do. Cameron is counting on this to make Sarah receptive to Cameron's questions.
Social engineering, again. Cameron does this a lot throughout the fic. I like Cameron's thought process here: 1) Glocks need less cleaning than other guns 2) Sarah has not shot anything recently 3) Sarah's Glock does not need cleaning 4) Sarah is bored 5) This is a good time to ask Sarah questions. All very logical. But rather disturbing, when put so baldly.
"Reese had a normal childhood," says Sarah. "Ask him."
Cameron cannot ask Reese because he and John are in Nevada acquiring weapons under false identities. Sarah means that Cameron should ask Reese when they return. That will not be until late tonight or tomorrow morning. Also, Cameron wants to know what Sarah thinks. So Cameron says, "He is a boy."
Sarah looks at Cameron. Her expression is puzzled. "So what?"
Cameron says, "Sometimes people discuss their childhoods. I did not have one. I should know what it is like to be a little girl."
Fair point. Another favorite bit on the series: Shirley Manson's T-1000 is asked about her childhood, and quotes videotaped comments by the (dead) person she's imitating, who did homework on butcher's paper that her father brought home, and liked the way the paper smelled. Asked what it smelled like, Manson's character doesn't have a ready answer from the video and is forced to improvise: "Cow's blood," she says, smiling pleasantly. Manson's best scene, and one of the best of the show. The little details are always the important ones.
"I'm not getting you a Barbie Dream House," says Sarah. The comment is not a joke. It is a wisecrack. People tell jokes to be funny. People tell wisecracks to show superiority in a humorous manner. Sarah is asserting dominance in order to change the subject. Cameron does not want to change the subject.
I like this paragraph, too. Occasionally, Cameron has an insight into human interaction at a level that's so basic and innately obvious -- felt, rather than thought -- that we'd ordinarily overlook the dynamic at work: Sarah's wisecrack doesn't automatically register to us as an effort to establish dominance, but that's exactly what it is.
"I do not want a Barbie Dream House," says Cameron.
"Good, 'cause you're not getting one."
Hee. I like the whole Barbie Dream House exchange for some reason; I can see it playing very well.
Cameron says quickly, "What would a mother and her daughter do? We could do those things. It would make our cover more convincing. And I would know what to tell people when they ask about you."
I kind of wonder what Cameron's conversations in high school are like. Other than Eric, in "Self-Made Man," we haven't seen anyone she's been associated with over a long period who doesn't know she's a Terminator. I think it would be neat to see somebody who considers herself Cameron's friend.
Sarah blinks, then stares at Cameron. She does not look angry. Cameron has chosen the moment well. Sarah is amused. She is smiling. She almost laughs. Cameron has never seen Sarah laugh. "Are you asking what I did when I was a girl?" Sarah says. She is incredulous.
This is an opening. Cameron says, "Yes."
Cameron takes what she can get. Then she uses that to get to what she wants. Again, that's my take on Cameron: she's not necessarily good at certain types of human interaction, but she understands our weaknesses and petty foibles quite well, and is perfectly willing to exploit the bejesus out of them.
Sarah shakes her head. She appears bewildered. This time she does laugh, a little. It is barely a laugh, more like a harsh sigh, and she only does it once. "The usual stuff," she says. "I climbed a lot of trees. I had pretend tea parties. Rode my bike to hell and gone. I ate cereal with a lot of sugar and watched too many Saturday morning cartoons: Josie and the Pussycats, the Pink Panther, Underdog. The Jetsons. Made up a kingdom with my friend Janie. We worked out a royal genealogy and everything. When I got older, I played softball. I stunk at it. What do you want to know?"
Sarah was seven in 1972. I looked up cartoons in that year to see what she'd watch. I was born in 1975, and all of those cartoons were still on the air when I was little, at least in reruns.
Also, remember the stuff Sarah mentions, and contrast Cameron's reaction to it to her reaction to the stuff that comes later.
Cameron says, "Would you tell me about your mother?"
Sarah does not speak for a long minute. Cameron knows that a Terminator killed Sarah's mother in 1984.
This is not mentioned nearly enough. We tend to think about Sarah being broken up over Kyle Reese's death, which she was -- but dude! The Terminator killed *her mom.* I'd love to know what the official view on Sarah's mother's death is: the government knows that Sarah knows more than she's telling (or at least that they'll believe) about the assault on the police station in 1984, so I wonder what they think about what happened to Sarah's mom. Maybe they think Sarah killed her.
"Most people don't really remember being a little kid," Sarah says. "I do. I don't know if it happened one time or a lot of times, but I remember being a little girl and going to bed. I remember my mother watching me brush my teeth, to make sure I did it right. And I put on my nightdress, and she brushed my hair. I think she put it in pigtails. And I got into bed, and she read me a story. And then she kissed me goodnight, and turned out the lamp. She left the light on in the hallway." Sarah's voice is soft. She is remembering, Cameron can tell. Sarah is thinking about being a child, and watching her mother leave the room. "It's funny I remember that. I was glad she left the light on in the hallway."
A rare vulnerable moment for Sarah. Also set-up for Cameron's upcoming bedtime scene. See below.
"What other things did you do together? What do you remember?"
"She'd look in on me sometimes at night, make sure I was asleep. A lot of the time I faked it. That's what kids do. I remember we baked a lot of cookies."
Note that Cameron ignores the stuff Sarah says she did on her own. Look at what Cameron does in the rest of the story: Cameron isn't watching cartoons. Cameron isn't riding her bike around. Cameron isn't holding pretend tea parties. This is because Cameron is not interested in becoming human for her own sake. Cameron is not Pinocchio. She is not Data. Cameron's interest in becoming human is entirely limited to improving her interactions with real humans, the better to manipulate them to her ends for the sake of her mission. Cameron does not care about things she could do on her own; she wants to know what she can do *with Sarah.*
Note also that the things Sarah says about what she did with her mom turn into Cameron's checklist of things mothers and daughters do. Sarah's mother did these things with Sarah; Sarah did not have an opportunity for a normal mother-child relationship with John; if Sarah and Cameron fulfill functions that Sarah has not had an opportunity to fulfill, Sarah will be pleased and will be happier. She will think well of Cameron, which will be useful. Perhaps she will sleep better, too.
Cameron, for all her understanding of humans, still thinks of happiness in terms of fulfilling one's designated function.
"Could we bake cookies?" Cameron does not try to sound hopeful. Sarah does not appreciate her efforts to feign emotion.
Of course, Cameron's decision to stay in Terminator mode is not out of consideration to Sarah. It's because with Sarah, anything else would be even less likely to work. Cameron is not considerate. She is pragmatic.
Sarah regards her with a strange expression. "You want to bake cookies?"
Cameron can see that Sarah is puzzled. She is not sure why Cameron wants to do this. Sarah does not trust Cameron. Sarah thinks Cameron is dangerous. Sarah is right.
Sarah is so, so very right. Run, Sarah, run! ...ok, give her a hug first, THEN run.
"We can have them ready for John," Cameron says. "When he comes home."
Cameron knows exactly which string to pull here. She is offering Sarah a chance to be a mom to John. Which is what Sarah wants.
Sarah hesitates. Then shrugs. "All right," Sarah says. "Let's go to the store. I think I remember how this works."
Famous last words, Sarah.
The preparation takes twice as long as Sarah's estimate. By the time the cookies are ready for the oven the kitchen counter is covered in flour and softened butter is somehow in Cameron's hair. Sarah slides the tray into the oven and wipes her forehead. The oven door has a small glass window in it. Cameron bends over and sees the little lumps of cookie dough on the tray.
"This is the best part," says Sarah. "Now we lick the bowl."
Cameron sticks out her tongue and bends over. Sarah puts a hand on her shoulder. "Not like that," Sarah says. She takes the wooden spoon they used for mixing and swipes the sides of the bowl. The spoon is soon covered in raw dough. Sarah lifts the spoon up, scrapes off a piece of dough with her finger, and pops it into her mouth. Cameron does the same. The chemical readout is different from what she had expected based on her previous encounters with cookies.
I am fond of the image of Cameron sticking out her tongue. From Cameron's perspective, this whole exercise is ludicrous and illogical, so licking the bowl with her tongue doesn't make any less sense. And really, why would people say "lick the bowl" if they're not actually licking the bowl? "Lick the spoon," or "lick your fingers," or just "eat the dough" would make more sense.
...I can see Cameron saying that, actually.
"That tastes funny," Sarah says. She frowns. She is thinking. "No, it's not funny. It's wrong. What did you put in this?"
Sarah's immediate reaction: blame the Terminator. Just in case we've forgotten, there are a lot of ways in which Sarah often isn't a very nice person.
"Only what you told me to. "
"Dammit." Sarah frowns "Something's missing... oh, hell. I forgot to get baking soda."
"Is that bad?" says Cameron.
Sarah opens her mouth. Then she closes it, slowly. "You know, I'm not sure," she says. "I haven't baked in twenty years."
I may have had the oddest beta request in all of Yuletide: "Sarah Connor Chronicles, ~5500 words, canon and knowledge of baking." FYI, if you're a non-baker, the effect of having no baking soda depends on what kind of cookies you're baking. Some kinds won't cook properly, some won't rise and will turn out inedible, some will be okay. The ones Cameron and Sarah are baking... will not be okay.
Cameron is not certain whether Sarah means chronological or subjective time. But she knows better than to ask. She bends over again and looks at the cookies baking. They do not appear appreciably different from her previous inspection.
Cameron and Sarah wait for the cookies to finish baking. Sarah is hopeful, because she has remembered that not all cookie recipes require baking soda. But when the cookies come out of the oven, they are not soft and have not risen. They are dense and flat and hard. They are very difficult to chew. When they try the cookies, Sarah spits out her first bite. Then she shakes her head and laughs. It is a real laugh. The cookies are awful, unfit for human consumption. Cameron eats the entire batch.
Sarah doesn't get to laugh often. And she's laughing at herself, which is good for the soul.
Sarah says, "You'll get a bellyache."
"No, I won't," says Cameron. "I am capable of consuming --"
"That's what my mother always used to say."
"Oh. What did you say?"
Cameron has successfully caused Sarah to identify with Sarah's mother. Logically, this will lead to Sarah identifying Cameron with her younger self, which means that Sarah will at least temporarily view Cameron as a daughter figure. This is a step in getting the end result Cameron desires. I don't know if it's quite neuro-linguistic programming, but it's not far from it. Maybe it's more in the mode of general semantics: more SCIENCE AND SANITY than FROGS INTO PRINCES.
"I said, 'Yeah, Mom. But it was worth it.'"
Cameron knows that Sarah will be angry if Cameron calls her "Mom." So she says, "Sarah. It was worth it."
Sarah stares at her for a moment. Then she shakes her head and smiles.
Cameron shows that she identifies with young Sarah, the daughter figure. Quoting a familiar exchange from Sarah's past strengthens the relationship between her and Sarah, which she hopes will be useful for the future. At the same time, she knows there are pitfalls: Sarah would freak the hell out if Cameron explicitly identified herself as a daughter figure. So Cameron is walking a careful path.
Cameron does not sleep.
Sarah sometimes calls Cameron a machine. To Reese, she is "metal." Technically, Cameron is a cyborg. Cameron has living tissue over a metal endoskeleton. But Sarah and Reese are not far wrong. Cameron's living tissues are not essential to her existence. They are essential to her disguise. Cameron's outer layers look like human tissue, but they are better. Cameron does not need to breathe as often as humans do. She does not need to eat, although she can. She does not need to urinate or defecate, although she can.
An important distinction, I think: Cameron is not so much a true cyborg as a robot in disguise. (TRANSFORMERS! More than meets the eye! Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of -- um. sorry. ANYWAY.)
Because Cameron never sleeps, she does not have a nightdress. She puts on a long T-shirt instead. The shirt front has a picture of a middle-aged man's torso. The torso is wearing a green bathing suit and has a pot belly with a large navel. The shirt is a joke, what people call a gag gift. It is a birthday present from John. Cameron does not have a real birthday. John gave her one. The John she remembers from the future never thought to. Perhaps it is because this John is young.
I like this ridiculous image. And it's a nice picture of John, I think: he is fond enough of Cameron that he gives her goofy, humanizing things.
Cameron goes downstairs wearing the T-shirt. John and Reese are not home yet. Sarah is reading a book on the sofa. The book is Weapons Tests and Evaluations: The Best of Soldier of Fortune.
A little light reading for Sarah. I put this in there as a gag, but I think it actually reinforces how she's had to change. I don't know what Sarah would be reading if she'd never encountered a Terminator and just got to have a normal life and be a normal mom, but based on what she was like at nineteen, as seen in the first movie, I really doubt it would be Weapons Tests and Evaluations. (Which is a cool book, BTW.)
Cameron waits. Eventually Sarah glances up. She sees Cameron, looks back down at the book, and then blinks and looks back at Cameron. "What're you doing wearing that thing?" Sarah says.
"I would like to go to bed," Cameron says. "I want to understand."
Cameron makes it explicit, now. She couldn't have done this without the earlier cookie-baking setup. Sarah would have freaked. Cameron knows about laying groundwork. It's like taking Eric the donuts he likes, as seen in the episode "Self-Made Man."
"You can't go back to childhood," says Sarah. "And you can't make something be that never was."
"You can't make something be that never was." I like that a lot, actually: I think that's one of Sarah's most maternal moments in the story, and it doesn't arrive through a contrived situation. She's telling Cameron that what Cameron wants isn't possible, but although Sarah's bluntly honest she's trying to be a little gentle about it.
"You just want to try it on for size."
Sarah puts down the book. Her hands grope fruitlessly at empty air. "Do you have any idea how ridiculous this is?"
"Yes," says Cameron. She is a cybernetic killing machine disguised as a teenage girl, she is wearing a shirt that makes her look like a middle-aged man with a pot belly, and she is asking the mother of the savior of humanity to read her a bedtime story.
I submit that it is not possible to get much more ridiculous than that.
Sarah says, "All right. What the hell."
There is no other way Sarah could say "Yes" to this *except* "What the hell." It doesn't make sense to her, but it's weirdly entertaining. Also, she's had a taste of identifying with her mother. This doesn't seem viscerally unnatural now, even if it is bizarre.
Cameron brushes her teeth. She does not need to. Her teeth are self-regenerating. She does not develop cavities for long. But brushing makes her breath fresh. That is what advertisements say.
I think Cameron gets a lot of ideas about what people find important from advertisements. They're very illustrative, psychologically.
"Go in circles," says Sarah. "Not up and down. Two minutes." She looks at her watch, counting down. Cameron does the same with her internal clock. It is more accurate than Sarah's watch.
It's important to get these things *right,* you know.
Cameron brushes her teeth in circles. She moves back to front, front to back, up and down, then again. Sarah watches. Sarah says nothing else for the first ninety seconds. Cameron brushes her teeth and waits for Sarah to say something. She can see that Sarah wants to.
Which is, of course, part of why Cameron wants Sarah in this context. Sarah tends to be very closed and standoffish to Cameron, for obvious reasons; an outside observer would think that Sarah hates her daughter. So Cameron is hoping that by putting Sarah into a maternal context, Sarah will be inclined to open up.
Guess what? It works.
"I almost never got to do this for John," says Sarah. "Not like this. We were in the jungle, or in the desert, or in a makeshift barracks somewhere. We almost never had a bathroom to ourselves." Cameron does not reply, because her mouth is full of froth. "When I was a little girl, I had a doll I took with me everywhere. I had it for years. I'd see it in my room at my mother's, when I went to visit. John never had anything like that. Because we moved light. We left everything behind. That was his childhood."
That last is especially telling. Because you know what? That's *Sarah's* life, too. Sarah went on the run with a car and a dog. Nothing from her mom's house, probably -- and no matter what she did have, she couldn't cart it around the jungle with her and John while they were on the move. And even if she did, she'd have lost it when she was arrested and institutionalized. John never had anything more than a picture of Sarah among his permanent possessions. Sarah had an entire life's worth of things she lost.
Cameron rinses off her toothbrush and spits. She cups water in her hand, swishes it around, and gargles. Then she spits again.
"Where did you learn gargling?" Sarah says.
"I saw it on the television," says Cameron. "Would you brush my hair now?"
Cameron has a bedroom. She has never used it except to change clothes. She has not changed its decor to express her personality. Cameron does not have a personality. The bedroom has a dresser with a mirror. Cameron sits in front of it in a chair. A small box on the dresser holds hair scrunchies. Sarah takes four and puts them around her wrist. She stands behind Cameron and brushes Cameron's hair. Sarah brushes with swift strokes at first. She is brusque and businesslike and does not speak. "Is this the way your mother brushed your hair?" Cameron says.
Cameron is reinforcing the identification here: Sarah=Sarah's mom. It's a simple question, and it could be innocent, but it's totally not.
Also: "She has not changed its decor to express her personality. Cameron does not have a personality." These lines say a *lot* about Cameron. She's really not a method actor. There's no point in a performance no one is going to see.
Sarah stops. When she starts again, she brushes more slowly. Cameron watches. Sarah does not brush Cameron for very long. "A hundred strokes," Sarah says. She bundles Cameron's hair and pulls a scrunchie off her wrist. She puts the scrunchie in place and begins braiding. Cameron watches Sarah's fingers. The pattern is simple. Cameron could do this for herself, or for a child.
I want the fic or the episode where one of the neighbors asks Cameron to babysit. OH GOD THE HORROR. John and Derek would be on constant recon to make sure nothing went wrong. And imagine the moment Cameron says, "I can't [do X]. I have to baby-sit." Spit-takes galore.
Sarah says, "Another Terminator told me that the more time you spend with humans, the more you learn." The braid is done. Sarah puts another scrunchie on the bottom and moves to the other side, where she begins braiding again.
The other Terminator, of course, is Arnold in T2.
"Yes," says Cameron. Today she has learned how to bake cookies badly and how to braid hair.
"So here's a thought: maybe this time with us is as close as you'll ever get to having a childhood. Right now. Every day. You don't need to understand it. Because you're living it." Sarah snaps the band in place and steps back. "There you go. Pigtails." Sarah frowns. "It looks a little silly on you."
"Yes," says Cameron. "It looks a little silly."
Awww. This is another bit where Sarah gets maternal. It's not just the hair-braiding: she's offering Cameron advice. Comforting advice. That would ordinarily be way outside Sarah's own comfort zone. She wouldn't try to be comforting to Cameron, because she knows there's no point. But in these circumstances, she naturally softens. This is what Cameron is counting on.
"I suppose you want a bedtime story," says Sarah.
"All right. Get into bed. I'll get a book."
Cameron has not used the bed before. She changes the sheets regularly, for appearances. But the bed is always made. The sheets open with reluctance. They are cool against her bare legs.
I always like putting sensory details in my stories, because it's a good way to put the reader in the character's skin. But since Cameron is not a sensual creature I deliberately didn't include many in this story. Except for this scene. This is a new experience and Cameron is paying attention to every part of it.
Sarah returns with a book and sits down beside the bed. Sarah reads the story of Cinderella. Cinderella's father remarries, and then dies. Cinderella lives with her cruel stepsisters and her wicked stepmother. They make her work as if she were a slave. Cinderella carries the ashes from the fireplace. She cleans and presses the dresses and sweeps the floors and washes the dishes.
"Like me," says Cameron.
"She cleans. Like me."
I think this moment is the closest that Cameron comes to having an actual human reaction in the entire story. She's surprised by her identification with a fictional character. An alternative interpretation is that she's trying to get closer to Sarah by showing her that Cameron identifies with the story, but I don't think so, because if that were the case she'd realize the pitfalls in making Sarah aware of Cameron's identification. To me, this moment feels uncalculated on Cameron's part. Naturally, that's what gets her into trouble.
"Does that make me the wicked stepmother?" says Sarah.
Her face holds confusion and self-doubt, but that is a brief flash, and then Cameron recognizes the expression she's seen so often on Sarah Connor's face. Contempt and anger, barely suppressed. "I didn't say that," Cameron says.
That's how Sarah usually looks at Cameron. Lena Headey's performance is really interesting: she plays a lot of her scenes as someone who has no patience for Cameron, period. John doesn't always treat Cameron as a person, but he treats her as something a lot closer to one than Sarah does. I think a fair portion of Sarah's dislike for Cameron -- in addition to the fact that Cameron tells her how and when Sarah will die -- is rooted in the fact that John was really close to Arnold's "Uncle Bob," and missed him after he was gone, but John and Sarah have had a much less comfortable relationship.
"The machines are wicked," says Sarah. "Not me."
"Yes," says Cameron. "Not you."
Cameron knows she has to correct her mistake. Note that Cameron very definitely does not ask if that means that she, Cameron is wicked. Because 1) that would only pull Sarah farther out of maternal mode and 2) Cameron honestly doesn't care.
After a long pause, Sarah goes on. She reads about the glass slipper, the prince who goes from door to door to find the woman whom it fits. Cinderella's stepsisters use knives to trim away pieces of their feet in order to fit into the slipper. But the prince finds them out when he sees the slipper is full of blood. Finally, he finds Cinderella. She tries on the slipper, and it fits, and they are married.
Sarah's reading the original Grimm version, or one close to it. That ends with the stepsisters getting their eyes ripped out and such. Cameron probably likes that part.
"And they lived happily ever after," reads Sarah. She closes the book. She has a surprised look on her face. There is a trace of pleasure there, as well. Sarah had read to a child named Martin Bedell while they were protecting him from a Terminator killing individuals of that name. Sarah had seemed to enjoy reading to the boy. Cameron suspects she has missed doing it.
Sarah liked having Martin around, I think. He brought out the maternal side of her -- not that John doesn't, but Marty put up with it, even wanted it, which John doesn't these days.
Sarah says nothing for several moments after the story is over. She stares into space. She is thinking. Eventually she says, "Why did you want to do this? Was it just so you could experience it?"
It would be impolitic to say that Reese had said Sarah was unhappy. "You have never had a daughter," Cameron says. "It is important for our cover that you should have these experiences too." She hesitates, and remembers that Sarah had seemed happy when John had said the next words to her. "Happy Mother's Day."
Cameron thinks that this is giving Sarah what Sarah wants. After all, Reese said this was a function Sarah had been lacking. Sarah will really be pleased with Cameron now!
...or, y'know, not so much.
Discomfort is visible in Sarah's face. So is sadness. Sarah bends over and reaches for the bedside lamp. She turns it off. Then Sarah stands up too quickly and walks toward the door. Cameron calls after her. "Sarah?"
Sarah stops. "What?" she says. She does not look back at Cameron.
Sarah doesn't like the idea of a Terminator being the daughter she never had. In a way, "Happy Mother's Day" almost rubs her nose in it. It's something she wants, and hadn't realized she wanted; something she needs, but can't have; and the being offering a taste of it to her has motivations that it didn't share. It's one thing for Sarah to say, "What the hell" when she thinks she's satisfying Cameron's curiosity. It's something else entirely to find out that Cameron was thinking of the effect this would have on Sarah, and planning for it. Sarah has seen just a small piece of Cameron's manipulation.
"You're not the wicked stepmother," says Cameron.
And that's exactly what a human who cares about Sarah's feelings would say. You go, Cameron.
Sarah is still for a long moment. She turns around. Hesitates. Then she walks slowly over to Cameron, bends over, and kisses her forehead. When she straightens up, Sarah has a strange expression on her face, as if she can't believe what she has just done. She shakes her head, just a little, and reaches down a hand to smooth Cameron's hair. Her finger drums absently on Cameron's skin, tap tap, tap tap tap, as if she hears and is responding to the sound of distant drums.
That last sentence is a darling I probably should have killed. It feels a little artsy for Cameron's perspective, but more than that, it's a little tacky of me. The sound of distant drums. Tap tap, tap tap tap. dun dun DUN DUN DUN. IT'S THE TERMINATOR THEME. YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?
...I am so fucking precious DeBeers should have a monopoly on me.
"Good night, Cameron," she says.
"Good night, Sarah."
Cameron is very, very, very careful not to call Sarah "Mom."
Sarah leaves, walking a little slowly, as if she's stunned, or very tired.
Poor Sarah. I wonder what she did when she left the room; I think she probably spent a hell of a lot of time staring into space. How freaked out is she right now? She just got reassured by a Terminator. And kissed it goodnight.
Cameron does not sleep. She lies with her eyes open, looking at the ceiling. She will wait until Sarah has gone to bed before getting dressed and making her nightly rounds. If Sarah looks in on her, she decides, she will pretend to be asleep, because that is what children are supposed to do. Cameron has never feigned sleep before, but she does not think it will be difficult.
Again, Cameron's checklist. Sarah feigned sleep when her mother looked in; therefore, Cameron must feign sleep when Sarah does.
Sarah leaves the hall light on.
Awwwwwww. Just like her mom. Which means Cameron has manipulated her successfully.
Y'know, reading back over this fic, I realize that the sweet, aww-inducing moments are actually the creepiest and most steeped in wrong.
Derek Reese and John come home at 1:47 AM. Each of them is holding a rifle case in each hand, and Reese has a duffel bag slung over his shoulder. The duffel bag is likely full of handguns. Cameron knows that Reese is curious about what the .454 Casull and .500 Magnum will do against a Terminator at close range. Cameron is cleaning the windows when they arrive.
Reese is curious; so am I. I'm honestly not sure why Sarah and company carry the Glocks, since they don't even seem to slow a Terminator down. I'd go for a powerful-as-hell hunting revolver, myself, if I absolutely had to use a handgun on 'em. Maybe a .45-70 derringer as a backup, if I felt like breaking my hand.
"Merry Christmas," says Reese. "Got something for you in the truck. Gonna need your help to carry it in, though."
Cameron has never received a Christmas present, so she is curious. She goes outside and looks into the driveway. There is a large crate in the bed of the pickup truck. The crate is covered by a tarp. One corner of the tarp has a cheap stick-on ribbon attached. There is also an envelope with Cameron's name on it. The envelope is held to the tarp with clear tape. Neither the ribbon nor the envelope would stay on at highway speed. John and Reese must have added them before coming into the house.
Analyze everything, Cameron, why don't you? Even the trivial stuff.
Cameron ignores the ribbon and the envelope. She pulls the tarp off the crate. It is military hardware. The side of the crate is stenciled "PGU-28/B."
She ignores the sentimental part of the gift: what's inside? This is very Terminator, very Cameron. It's also very childlike, if you think about it.
"A case of 20mm Vulcan ammunition," Cameron says. Her voice does not show it, but she is honestly surprised. "Semi-armor piercing high explosive incendiary. Thank you. Where did you acquire this? It is strictly controlled."
Incidentally, if anybody is ever Christmas shopping for me, THIS WOULD BE AN EXCELLENT GIFT. Um, if it wouldn't result in me being send to prison. Dammit.
"Ah," says Reese. "Well, it's a long and complex story --"
"National Guard vehicle broke down," says John. "They transferred the shipment, overlooked a crate."
"Or it could be simplified."
I should probably have killed this bit, too, but didn't because it's a riff on/allusion to my favorite running gag on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER: CHARACTER A. "What's going on here?" CHARACTER B. "It's a long story." CHARACTER C. *quickly sums up the situation in one pithy sentence.* CHARACTER B. "Apparently, not that long."
"We just lucked into it," says John. "Picked it up and ran like the wind. Cut the trip short and had to take the very long way around to get back without running into roadblocks."
"It was an unnecessary risk," says Cameron.
"Yeah," says John. "I know. Merry Christmas. Should be good in that little takedown rifle from Anzio Ironworks. And hey, it beats reloading, right?"
God bless the good folks at Anzio Ironworks. I heard that the folks on the show might try to use one of the Anzio 20 mm rifles down the line. That would be TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME. Consider this my enthusiastic vote of support for that notion.
"We baked cookies for you," says Cameron. "But they turned out very badly. So I ate them."
Cameron does not believe in long stories.
Reese and John are confused. They stare at her, then turn and look at each other. Cameron suspects they want to know about the cookies. But they do not ask. Reese clears his throat first. "Okay," he says. The o is long and drawn out, as is the a, and they carry exaggerated tones, the o falling and the a rising. People do this when they are dubious and slightly puzzled, but have no desire to make an issue of it. "You want to help me bring in your present?" says Reese.
I originally had Reese's "Ooooooookaaaaaaay" written out, but then I realized that Cameron would express it another way. I like this much better.
Cameron does not need Reese's help with the crate, but she cannot easily see around it while she is carrying it. She solves this problem by walking backwards and looking over her shoulder. Reese moves ahead of her to make sure the way is clear. As Cameron comes up the stairs, the heel of her shoe catches on the bottom step. The strap is loose, and her foot comes out. It falls to the walkway in front of the bottom step. Cameron does not need shoes to protect her feet. But John bends down anyway. On one knee, he picks up the shoe and carefully slides it back onto her foot. "There you go," he says.
Cameron says, "Someday my prince will come." It is a joke. People find unexpected cultural references to be amusing. She expects John to laugh, and he does. So does Reese.
Another thing that might be a bit of a darling, but I think it ties in nicely to the relationship John and Cameron have in the future, which may or may not be limited to consulting and protection.
After the crate is put away, Reese goes up to bed. John does not go upstairs right away. He goes to the kitchen and pours a glass of milk. Cameron follows him. "You took an unnecessary risk tonight," she says. John shrugs. He is clearly unrepentant. He is also unprepared for what Cameron says next. "Would you like to take another?"
I imagine that John's next line would be, "Is this a trick question?"
Cameron leaves the house behind. She does not take a vehicle, because she does not want to wake Reese or Sarah. She walks briskly down the road. When the houses thin out, she switches to a run. Although this is an unnecessary risk, the house is not unprotected. John Connor is on watch. This will be a useful training exercise for him. Cameron will not be away for long. The all-night drugstore is only twenty-six blocks away.
Though I didn't think about this consciously, John and Cameron really are a team here. Cameron gets to run her errand, and John gets the independence he wants. Which is why she approached him, and not Reese, of course. Half of horse-trading is picking the right person to trade with.
There is no traffic on the side streets. Cameron slows to a walk five blocks away from the drugstore. She is careful not to be observed moving at her peak speed.
Only one drugstore clerk is on duty. He is a middle-aged Indian man. He is balding and has a pot belly. If his skin were lighter and if he were wearing green swim trunks, he would look like the man on Cameron's long T-shirt. He is standing with his elbow propped on his ribs and his chin on his hand. He is clearly tired and looks half asleep. He is startled when his eyes flicker open to see Cameron standing in front of him.
Cameron says, "Good morning. Do you sell baking soda?"
When she returns to the house, she sees that John has folded the tarp and put it away. The card with her name on it is stuck to the house's front door. This means that it is important to John that she open it. So Cameron does. There is a Christmas card inside the envelope. The front of the card shows a Christmas dinner. Everyone at the table is a robot. The robots do not look like Terminators. They have rectangular heads and square bodies and limbs that are rounded with no joints, like flexible ducts. Their hands are pincer-like claws. The picture does not show them below the waist, so Cameron cannot see their feet. The robot at the foot of the table is the smallest of them. It has a crutch under one arm. The other robots are looking at the small robot. They are smiling. The small robot is lifting its glass. People do this when they make a toast.
This is one of my favorite paragraphs in the story. I really like the Christmas card, and I think the way Cameron processes it comes across extremely well. I would totally send out a Christmas card like this, for the record. If, y'know, I weren't Jewish.
Also: I added the robot crutch just to make sure people would get it: hey, it's a Tiny Timbot! It gives you a hint as to what's in the card, even if you don't read binary or feel like looking up an online translator.
Cameron opens the card. The small robot at the end of the table is on the inside of the card, too. It is still lifting a glass. This time there is binary code in a black-bordered white oval by the robot's head. A pointed tail runs from the oval to the robot. This is to indicate that the robot is speaking. The robot is saying,
01000111 01101111 01100100 00100000 01100010 01101100 01100101 01110011 01110011 00100000 01110101 01110011 00101100 00100000 01100101 01110110 01100101 01110010 01111001 00100000 01101111 01101110 01100101 00100001
Which is, of course, binary for "God bless us, every one!"
Below the robot John has written, "Merry Christmas to a new sister and a great bodyguard." The card is signed by John and Reese.
Some readers questioned whether Reese would have signed the card. I think they're right; he probably wouldn't. Not of his own volition, anyway. John probably talked him into it. ("What the hell are you doing?" "It's a Christmas card. For Cameron. Want to sign it?" "No!" "Oh, c'mon. It's Christmas, man." "I am not signing a Christmas card for metal." "Look, Derek, am I the future savior of humanity or not?")
Cameron has now read the card, as John wished. She walks around the corner of the house to the garbage can. She removes the lid and holds the card over the opening. Then she remembers something Sarah had said.
Cameron does not throw the card away. She goes to her unused bedroom and puts the card on the dresser. That is what people call decor. It shows her personality. When Cameron goes away on a mission, and then comes back and goes to her room to change clothes, she will see it. This will please John. But John has never had reminders of his life around him. So if this is her childhood, it will not be like John's. This will please Sarah. By pleasing Sarah, Cameron may be able to influence her in the future to make her better serve John's requirements.
The level of ruthlessness in this seemingly sweet gesture is pretty deeply disturbing. It actually gets freakier to me the more I think about it.
Part of the freakiness is that *this is a very humanizing action.* If I were watching this story as an episode of the TV show, and I saw Cameron do this, I'd think, "Awww! It's the 'she's learned something very important today' moment!" And I wouldn't be wrong. It's just that, as a Terminator, what Cameron learns from social interaction *is not necessarily anywhere NEAR what a human being would learn.* A human being who heard Sarah talk about John not having anything from his childhood, the way Sarah had, would take the lesson to be: "A Spartan existence is not necessarily desirable. Memories connected to objects can give you a sense of grounding and permanence." And since we're human beings, that's what we would be inclined to think that Cameron has learned.
But that's not the case at all. Cameron has learned that *humans* find these things to be important. Therefore, if she gives the impression that she does, too, they will be inclined to think of her as more like them, which gives her a better opportunity to get them to confide in her or do things she wants them to do. I don't mean to give the impression that setting up the card is a sign of Cameron's contempt. Contempt is a human thing. That's not Cameron's feeling at all. She's more like a traveller in an extremely foreign country who doesn't really understand why the natives do all these weird things, but wants to be polite so they'll like her and she can get done what she wants to get done on her trip.
But hey, she's got a cute Christmas card with robots on it.
Cameron positions the card so that it is standing up and is visible from the doorway. Then she goes downstairs with the baking soda.
"Visible from the doorway" is key. The point of having a personality, in Cameron's view, is to use it to influence others and to give them the impressions about oneself that you wish them to have.
On any given morning, Sarah or Reese is usually first to rise. This morning, the smells from the kitchen permeate the house. Cameron believes this explains why Sarah, Reese, and John all come downstairs at the same time. They are still in their sleepwear. They appear puzzled. Sarah is first into the kitchen.
I think the image of sleepy, puzzled Sarah, John, and Reese in their PJs is awfully endearing for some reason. Agatha Christie said that you know you love someone when you are fond of them at their most ridiculous. Waking up is a pretty ridiculous time for most people, so I suppose that's a testament to the essential likeability of these characters.
"I baked cookies," says Cameron. "My batch yesterday was bad. I forgot the baking soda. So I tried again." She blames herself for Sarah's mistake. This shows deference to Sarah.
Social engineering, again.
"Where did you get baking soda?" says Sarah.
"I found some," says Cameron. "In a cupboard." It is a plausible lie. She could tell the truth, but then Sarah will be angry with her and with John. More so with John. Lying to Sarah shows John that Cameron will keep his secrets. This will encourage John to entrust Cameron with information. "I followed your recipe. And I licked the bowl."
"I licked the bowl:" Cameron wants to make sure that Sarah knows she did it right, which means following Sarah's checklist and including what Sarah says is the best part.
And she ain't lying, folks. She really licked it.
Sarah hesitates. Then she picks up a cookie and bites into it. She chews and swallows. "It tastes like Mom's," Sarah says. Her voice is quiet. Cameron tries to gauge Sarah's reaction. Sarah does not look pleased. But she does not look angry.
Sarah is probably as close to crying over the past as she ever gets. She is very good at hiding it.
Because Cameron Doesn't Get It. Playing at mother and daughter was Cameron attempting to do something nice for Sarah, and thereby manipulate her into viewing Cameron more positively. But she didn't realize how deeply weird it would come off as to Sarah, even if Sarah found herself strangely enjoying aspects of it. Whereas baking cookies from Sarah's mother's recipe, giving Sarah something she hasn't tasted in years, giving her the rush of memories that come with that -- I don't think Cameron is capable of realizing just how emotionally affecting this is for Sarah, and how good a Christmas gift it really is.
Cameron says, "Merry Christmas."
They sit down to breakfast together. Everyone has a plate piled high with cookies and everyone has a glass of milk. Cameron is usually busy elsewhere while the Connors eat. Now she sits down with them. Cameron is at the foot of the table. The scene is like her Christmas card from John. Cameron is in the place of the little robot. She remembers the card, and what the little robot said inside it. So she lifts her glass and says, so that John can hear her and understand, "God bless us, every one."
From Christmas card to the Christmas breakfast: set-up and payoff. I'm big on the set-up and payoff in story writing. Perhaps slightly pathological at times. But it works *really* well, and it can even be a great tool for figuring out parts of your story that give you trouble: if you know where you want to end up, but have trouble with your middle, ask what you could do to set up or foreshadow your end. Often the answer will be surprisingly helpful.
For John and Cameron, this is what people call an in-joke. This will strengthen their relationship. Cameron knows it is also a humorous cultural reference. The others will find this amusing. This will dispose them to look more favorably on Cameron.
Which will make it easier for Cameron to manipulate them in the future. In order to serve her mission and John Connor's interests, naturally.
Cameron watches as the Connors and Derek Reese enjoy her cookies. She realizes that Terminators too often focus on overtly physical means of destroying their targets. She decides to research poisons and their manufacture and uses. She will start with ricin.
And just in case you'd forgotten Cameron's nature, the sight of Sarah, John, and Reese unhesitatingly tucking into food that she has prepared makes her think, "Hey! I could totally kill people this way!"
Andrew Plotkin made a comment on this story that I really liked: he noted that "...the last line is *not* creepy, at the same time. Because Cameron *is* manipulative, dispassionate, mission-oriented... and happy. It's Christmas and she's achieving her mission and she's looking forward to messing with poison. She's happy! (And her people are happy too, and *that's part of it*, even though she would never think of it in those words.) It's a perfect Christmas for a killer robot."
I think that's pretty spot on. Cameron has successfully performed social engineering, learned to do it better, improved her standing with her peers, and she's going to be messing with ricin after breakfast. So, naturally, this is her BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.
God bless us, every one.