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Some Thing to Watch Over Me

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Then come what will of weal or woe
(Since all gold hath alloy),
Thou 'lt bloom unwithered in this heart,
My Rose of Joy!

--R.R.R.

I.

She is programmed to terminate.

She is programmed to find her target, conclusively identify him, and then eliminate him. It is her primary objective, the purpose for which she and all her kind were created.

She is programmed to infiltrate.

It is this function which separates her from her kind. Her ability to mimic human behavior is far superior to that of a T-101, a T-888, or T-1000. It is not completely integrated into her processing cortex--she doesn't always know why she does the things her programming instructs her to do--and often her performance is not all that perhaps SkyNet could have desired. Fundamentally SkyNet doesn't understand humans and never has, and ultimately the fact shows itself in its handiwork.

But still the fact remains that Cameron represents the most advanced infiltration protocols SkyNet has (had, will have--the future subjunctive provides no difficulties for the deep language of her programming) to offer. Primarily designed for simple infiltration for the purpose of immediate extraction or sabotage, or the termination of individuals who cannot be reached through sheer force alone, she is capable of long-term espionage--but with a signficantly lower rate of success.

She is programmed to protect.

Her initial programming overwritten by none other than John Connor himself, she has been provided with a new set of objectives: to find John in the past and to protect him from all danger, from the agents of SkyNet, T-101's and T-888's and T-1000's, and from any human danger that might present itself. To carry out this new mission, she is programmed to rely upon the primary and secondary skills of her original programming, to terminate and to infiltrate.

When her tactical routines have identified the teenaged girl Riley as a threat, then, she is not limited to a single option. She automatically computes the likely outcome of each of her possible scenarios, and immediately rejects termination: John's projected response would seriously endanger the viability of Cameron's long-term mission objectives.

Infiltration, then.

II.

John seems distracted, and Riley knows Jessie's going to want Riley to find out why, but she's also figured out that if she pushes too hard he'll just clam up. So she's going slow, and she's just about gotten him to open up when in walks John's freaky stepsister.

John's freaky stepsister who is really a machine from the future, one of the machines who decimated the human race in Judgment Day and hunted her like an animal until Jessie found her and brought her back here to before.

Riley tries to stay relaxed with Cameron in the room, knowing the machine can detect her tension, the irregularity in her breathing and her heartbeat. She tries to act normally, but John's already pulled back, pulled away from her now that the machine is in the room. At least he doesn't seem happy to see her.

"Excuse us," John says ironically.

If the machine understands the irony she makes no sign of it. "You are excused," she says, but makes no effort to leave. She just stands in the center of John's bedroom, watching John and Riley.

"Can we help you?" John asks at last, trying another track.

"Yes," the machine answers. "I am planning on purchasing several outfits to maximize my attractiveness while remaining within contemporary standards of decency. I was hoping Riley could aid me in identifying such outfits."

Riley almost laughs. The machine wants her to go shopping with it? John seems just as confused as she is as he gapes at his "sister" in shock. He shrugs and looks at Riley.

There is no fucking way she is going shopping with the machine, but neither can she think of an excuse that won't threaten her cover. "When did you have in mind?"

"At your convenience," the machine answers, but she remains standing in the center of the room, staring at them.

"Next week?" Riley hazards. That would give her the intervening time to come up with an excuse.

"Sooner would be better," says Cameron.

"Go now," interjects John. "The two of you have fun."

Damn. "We were in the middle of--"

"We were in the middle of me sulking and you watching me sulk," John contradicts her.

Yeah, Riley thinks, and you were just about to tell me what you were sulking about.

"You'll have more fun shopping," he says.

Like hell. "Actually," she says quickly, "I really need to get home." It's a lie, of course. She hasn't had a home since the fucking machines destroyed it.

III.

"Something is going on," Riley tells Jessie later. They're in one of their rendezvous spots, a park, walking down a paved path winding through trees. A jogger passes them. "I don't know what it is. He was about to tell me, and then she walked in."

Jessie gives a frustrated sigh. "The bitch."

"She wants me to go shopping with her," Riley tells her, rolling her eyes.

Jessie, though, stops short. "Really?"

Riley nods. "I know."

"She's a machine. What does she need to go shopping for?"

Riley shrugs. "Clothes, apparently. She wants to be sexy."

Jessie considers this. "You should go with her."

Now it's Riley's turn to be surprised. "You're kidding."

"Not at all," Jessie says, and starts walking again. "The metal bitch obviously wants something, and we need to find out what. Meanwhile, any time you spend with her shopping for clothes is time she won't be able to influence John. Here," she adds, pulling out four twenty-dollar bills from her pocket and handing them to Riley.

Riley takes the money, in awe at the wealth but nonetheless uncertain. She takes a deep breath. "And what if she's just trying to get me alone?"

Jessie glances at her, amused. "If she wanted to kill you, you'd already be dead."

IV. 

So Riley finds herself at the mall, shopping for clothes with the machine. Trying on skirts with Cameron is a surreal experience, to say the least.

"How do I look?" Cameron asks, walking out of the fitting room in a black miniskirt and matching thigh-high leather boots. Riley has to admit the answer is pretty damn hot.

"Good," she says instead.

Cameron stares at Riley for a long moment. Riley involuntarily fidgets under the machine's penetrating gaze, wondering what exactly it's looking for, before Cameron nods. "I'll take them, then," she says, and returns to the fitting room, emerging moments later dressed in her original clothing and carrying the garments in question.

"What about you?" Cameron asks, ruffling through the clothes on one of the nearby racks.

"I don't know," Riley says. She still has the eighty dollars; its presence in her pocket there is an unfamiliar sensation.

"How about this?" Cameron suggests, taking a top off the rack.

It's a sleeveless dark purple thing, and Riley eyes it doubtfully. "It looks a bit small."

"It's your size," Cameron says, softly but in a way that permits no disagreement. Riley doesn't bother to question how Cameron knows what Riley's size is, and takes the top and enters the fitting room.

The top is a lot more tight-fitting than the sort of thing Riley usually wears, but it does fit her. Like a glove, even. She looks at herself in the mirror and, yes, she has to admit despite herself that she actually goods in it. Better than good, even. Hot.

Damn if the cyborg doesn't have good taste.

She frowns and turns, looking at herself from a different angle. Still hot.

For some reason she can't name, this discomforts her. She considers taking it off and and telling Cameron it doesn't fit, but she knows the machine will know she's lying. So she walks back into the store strangely self-conscious, aware of her bare shoulders and the way the shirt hugs her breasts.

It's an odd feeling; back in the future, she would try to stay hidden in order to forage for food and to avoid the machines, not because of what she was wearing. Clothing was a necessity for protection, not modesty. Being seen half- or even fully-naked wouldn't have embarrassed her then; after all, about half the people she ran into ended up fucking her anyway. It was one of the few things she had to barter with, in exchange for food or water or people just plain not killing her.

She ignores everyone else in the store--who aren't even watching her anyway--and focuses on Cameron, who is eying her up in the new top. "The dimensions of your garment are sufficient for its purpose," she notes. "Your sexual attractiveness has been improved."

There is something highly unsettling about having having her sexual attractiveness judged by a machine. Suddenly she feels used, dirty, contrite, in need of absolution.

She makes her way back into the fitting room and changes out of the purple top. As she passes the discard rack on her way out she almost drops it into the basket, but instead she walks to a cash register alongside Cameron and pays for the shirt.

"Do you want to get something to eat?" Cameron asks as they pass out of the Gap into the mall. Riley knows the machine doesn't even really need to eat, but she is hungry, and she hasn't figured out what Cameron wants yet (other than a tight skirt and a kick-ass pair of boots) so she says, "Okay," and walks with Cameron to the food court.

They both get bacon cheeseburgers with cheese fries, and Riley sips her Diet Pepsi and looks across the table at the machine. "Thanks for your help," Cameron says, and flashes what would be a winning smile if Riley didn't know it was fake.

"No prob," Riley answers guardedly. They're both playing their way through the script here, but Cameron has the advantage: they might both know the rules, but the machine knows why they are playing this game, and Riley doesn't. She tries to not let it bother her as she bites into her hamburger, delicious and juicy. "Mmm," she says, involuntarily. Of all the reasons why the past is better than the post-apocalyptic future which follows it, the food numbers fairly highly on the list.

Cameron smiles. "That good?"

Riley can't help but smile back and nods. She frowns as quickly as she can, reminding herself that Cameron is a machine. The smile is nothing more than an act, an artifice with no purpose other than to manipulate.

Cameron doesn't seem to notice the sudden shift in Riley's mood, which only means Cameron doesn't want to seem to notice. She takes a fry and looks at it, the semi-viscous pseudo-cheddar sliding off of it. "Who invented cheese fries?" she asks. If she were not a machine, the question would seem idle.

But she is, and it isn't, and Riley's beginning to have enough of being played around with. She takes a breath and stares Cameron down, which isn't the most effective line of attack against a machine. "Why are we here?" she asks.

Cameron's facsimile of confusion is fairly convincing. "What do you mean?"

"Look," says Riley, "we both know you have absolutely no real reason to want to look hot in new clothes, and we both know that I'd rather be doing pretty much anything than be here with you. So I have to wonder just what the fuck are we doing here?" Her voice rises with pent-up anger as she says this, and the mother of two toddlers at the table next to theirs shoots her an angry look. Plus she's threatening her cover, but at this point she really doesn't care.

Cameron shrugs. "I thought you were enjoying yourself," she says, and the worst thing is, Riley can't exactly contradict her, so she just scowls and goes back to trying stare her down.

Naturally, Cameron doesn't blink. "Okay, whatever," Riley says, and takes another cheese fry. "We'll do this your way."

Cameron's face is the portrait of innocence. "I just thought, maybe we could get to know each other?"

What is there to get to know? Cameron is a machine from the future, programmed to kill and then to protect, and that's pretty much it. But she can't say any of that here, in public, so she just pushes her fries towards Cameron. "You can have the rest of these if you want."

The machine demurs and soon they make their way back through the mall in silence. They pass the Borders Express and Riley catches a glimpse of a book on the shelf. "Wait," she says to Cameron, wand enters the bookstore, picks up the book and feels it in her hands.

It's Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

"I loved this book as a kid," she tells Cameron, who followed her into the bookstore, as she flips through the pages. She remembers hearing it read to her by her parents, before Judgment Day. She remembers carrying it around with her as she hid from the machines, wishing that Aunt Mirandy would protect her from them, or that Mr. Aladdin would give her one of his marvelous gifts, until the book became so dirty and worn it fell apart in her hands. If only she could escape that post-apocalyptic landscape the way Rebecca did Sunnybrook, she had told herself, then she, like Rebecca, would have been able to succeed through sheer virtue and willpower.

And then it happened, and she has escaped thanks to Jessie, but her will is in conflict and she doesn't feel very virtuous, and if there is anything she is most emphatically not doing, it is succeeding.

She takes the book up to the cashier and pays for it.

"Reading is a very important activity," Cameron announces, and Riley is unsure whether to flinch at the machine's, well, machine-ness, or to laugh. She settles for rolling her eyes as the two exit the mall bookstore.

They continue until Cameron grabs Riley's arm in front of Deb. Cameron stares long and hard at one of the mannequins in the prom dress display, and Riley tenses, wondering if maybe it is a T-1000 in disguise. "I was supposed to go to prom," Cameron states, in that flat tone of voice she uses when she isn't pretending to be normal. "But--"

"But then your mom pulled the two of you out of school," Riley says, finishing the thought. "Here, let's go in, just look around," she says.

"I don't see the usefulness of this activity," Cameron says, but Riley is already pulling her by the arm into the store.

"Hey, you drug me around this place all day for no reason I can see," Riley points out, as she drags the super-strong killing machine through the store. She stops in front of a lavender dress, taking it and holding it up to Cameron. The machine'd kill in it (well, other than literally), but still, something is off.

"You should go to the prom," Riley muses. "The boy still goes to the school, right?"

"Communication silence is necessary for our tactical situation," reminds Cameron. "Prom would be a distraction."

And this isn't? Riley wonders, but instead says. "Well, you're at least trying on a dress. Come on, you don't have to buy it."

They settle on a dress and Cameron enters the dressing room with it, and exits a moment later engowned in silver fabric, her shoulders and back bare, her thighs just visible through the skirt's translucence. "How do I look?" Cameron asks.

"Beautiful," answers Riley in a whisper, her reply much more sincere than she would have liked.

V.

"How did it go," John asks when they get back.

"We had fun," Cameron answers before Riley gets a chance. Then, of all things, she winks at Riley. "Didn't we?"

"Yeah, I guess," Riley admits as Cameron goes into her room. Riley leans across and kisses John, but as usual he seems distracted, and this time her heart's not quite in it either.

"I'm glad you and Cameron are getting along," John says, but the confused look on his face makes clear he's curious as to what Cameron is up to as well. This comes as something of a relief to Riley; at least she's not the only the one the metal bitch has kept out of the loop.

"Yeah," she says, because she isn't, but doesn't want to say so.

"So what did, you know, you two do?" he digs totally unsubtly. Not that her own intelligence could exactly be called subtle, and it feels strangely good for him to be burning with curiosity about something she's done.

Riley shrugs. "You know," she says. "Girl stuff."

VI. 

"Nice top," Jessie's voice breaks through the crowd from behind Riley.

"Thanks," answers Riley, giving a quick glance behind her. "Cameron picked it out."

Jessie laughs dryly. ""So what did Miss Metal Teenage Princess want after all?"

Riley shrugs, disappointed not to be able to give Jessie anything juicy. "As far as I know, to go shopping. She bought a skirt and some boots and I made her try on a prom dress."

"A prom dress?" Jessie raises a skeptical eyebrow.

"Long story," Riley evades. "Point is, to anyone else we were just two girls hanging out at the mall. No one would have guessed we actually hate each other."

Jessie nods, lips pursed. "Did you have fun?"

This is the last question Riley had expected from Jessie. "I don't know," she says. "I guess."

Jessie puts a hand on Riley's shoulder. Ordinarily Riley would be grateful for the touch, even hungry for it, but right now it seems strangely controlling. "It's okay to enjoy yourself," Jessie reassures her, her voice warm. "Just as long as you don't lose track of the mission."

"Never," Riley promises.

VII.

Women. He'll never understand them.

John knows he's not being fair. For one thing, he doesn't get Derek either, not really, although it's easier: Derek's simpler, more direct. For the other thing, no one gets his mother and Cameron's not really a woman, so taking them as representative of the sex is less than fair.

So cross out that part about women--what does John know about women, to even know if they are understandable? In the aggregate they might be the most understandable creatures alive. All he knows is that he doesn't understand his mother, and he doesn't understand Cameron, and he sure as hell doesn't understand Riley, who right now is pacing back and forth across his bedroom like a great cat in a cage.

She seems agitated, but beyond that he's not sure what to make of her. She seems distracted and obsessively engaged at the same time, if that's possible, and it's more than a little frustrating when he's trying to--

He doesn't know why he's reading, really. He has an advanced computer science textbook open in front of him that Cameron picked up from the bookstore of a nearby college. But as important as the information in the book might be, he suspects he's using it more as a shield to keep Riley out than anything else. Worse, he suspects Riley knows this.

She wants to be in, for him to tell her. After Mexico, he supposes, that's even reasonable. She was there when Cromartie came after them, saw Cameron in action, and now they're expecting her to keep on treating him like his life is normal, and Cameron--well, he still doesn't know what that whole shopping thing was about, but if the two of them have declared a truce that can only be a good thing.

John shuts the compsci book, looks up at Riley, really looks at her instead of musing about her while intently staring at a page and pretending to read. He's never had a girlfriend before, but he knows the way he's been treating her hasn't been fair. He takes a long moment just looking at her, staring at her, taking her in. She notices and stares back, quizzically.

"You look good in that shirt," he says; it's the first thing that pops in his head. It's this sleeveless purple thing, not her usual style, and she's . . . hot in it.

He has a hot girlfriend.

"Thanks," she says slowly. She's surprised, and a little bit pleased, but there's something else going on in her reaction, something John doesn't know.

John gets up, crosses the room, kisses her. She kisses back, pushes him against the wall, and they start making out.

There's a knock at the  door.

"Yeah?"

"It's me," Cameron's voice answers. "Can I come in?"

The door opens before they can answer and Cameron enters. John shrugs to Riley; at least Cameron's finally learned to knock.

"Have you seen Becoming Jane yet?" Cameron asks, and Riley shakes her head. "I was thinking about going if you want to come."

"The Jane Austen thing?" John asks. "How is that still in theatres?"

Cameron says nothing.

Neither Cameron nor Riley are exactly what John would call girly, and if either of them were to go see a movie--and John's not sure why Cameron would want to see any movie in the first place--it'd be the new Resident Evil or something, not a 19th-century costume drama rom-com romp.

But Riley shrugs. "Sure," she says, "sounds good."

Cameron looks to John. "You want to come?" she asks, but John gets the distinct impression that he's less than welcome. Nor does he exactly want to spend an hour and a half watching Anne Hathaway play Jane Austen.

"Nah, I 'll stay here," he says as Riley exits with Cameron. He sighs, turns back to the compsci textbook, and begins to read.

Huh. He could have sworn Riley and Cameron hated each other.

VIII.

Okay, Becoming Jane wouldn't have been Riley's first choices of movies, and she's not quite sure why Cameron chose it. But it's clear Jessie expects her to take these opportunities when they happen, and so she's sitting in a dark movie theatre, sharing a tub of popcorn while watching a made-up romance about the life of Jane Austen. Their shoulders are touching, and the machine's arm is warm against her own

She finds herself enjoying the movie despite herself. Sure, it's mindless escapism, but she's seen what reality is going to be like in just a few years, and an idealized 18th-century fantasy world is sounding pretty fucking good. Still, as the depth of the hero's undying but impossible love for Jane becomes clear, Riley finds with shock that she has tears in her eyes.

Cameron takes her hand and squeezes it.

As the credits roll, Cameron gets up to leave and Riley follows her almost automatically.

Exiting the theatre, they get hit on by a couple of boys. Riley has to figure Cameron gets this a lot, looking like she does, but then on the other hand it's not like the metal goes out much, other than keeping an eye on John.

"You girls going anywhere after the movie?" one of the boys asks.

"No," answers Cameron simply, not looking at them.

"Well, some of us are going to be hanging out at my house, if you're interested," one of his friends butts in. He winks at Riley. "My 'rents are away."

"That's okay," she answers.

"Come on," he says, putting his arm around Riley, but before he can say anything else Cameron has grabbed the arm and is holding it in what looks like a very uncomfortable position. He wriggles beneath Cameron, but of course her grip does not budge.

"I do not believe she wanted to be touched," Cameron says, then lets go. The boy falls to the ground, clutching his injury. The other boys quickly glance at each other, then walk off.

"That was . . . gallant of you," Riley observes, watching the machine quizzically.

"You're welcome," Cameron answers, not blinking, as she leads the way to the truck.

"You didn't need to do that," Riley persists, as she opens the passenger door and gets in. "They were just, you know, boys. No big deal. They were just being friendly. You shouldn't have caused a scene."

"They were being overfriendly," Cameron corrects sharply as she pulls out of the parking space. "The way you tensed at his touch represented a classic fight or flight reaction. Unwanted physical contact constitutes a hostile action."

"And if someone notices a ninety-pound teenage girl beating up a boy twice her size?"

Cameron shrugs, an oddly human gesture. "I did what was necessary to protect you. It was a tactical decision."

There is a part of Riley which is flattered, but Cameron does not do things because she likes you. She is a machine, supposedly programmed to protect John, in addition to whatever agenda of her own she might have--an agenda that, Jessie has assured her, cannot bode well for humanity. And the fundamental fact is that the scene at the movie theatre endangered the overall mission of protecting John.

But Riley is on risky ground herself; if she probes too far into why Cameron risked blowing her cover, she risks blowing her own. After Mexico, the fact that Cameron has a secret to conceal should be pretty fucking obvious, even without being from the future, but this is the first time either she or Cameron has alluded to it directly.

"What will your mother think?" Riley asks.

"She's not my mother," Cameron answers, her eyes on the road.

"Stepmother, then."

"She's not that either."

"Mrs. Baum."

"That's not her real name."

Riley freezes. Why is the machine telling her this?

"John's mom, then. Unless you're going to tell me that's not his real name either."

"No," Cameron answers. "His name is John." There's a few moments of silent driving before Cameron adds, "I don't take orders from her."

Neither of them speak the rest of the ride back to the house.

IX.

Riley gradually begins to grow accustomed to the machine butting into her life. She's still not sure what she--it--wants, but since going out with the machine seems to keep Jessie not only happy with her, but plying her with cash to subsidize the outings, Riley relents to having a new companion. She has to admit it's nice having money to spend, even if it is a piece of metal who is her indirect benefactor.

Being involved socially with Cameron means it's harder to exclude her when she and John do things together, but since that just means she's there with them instead of trailing the two of them from a distance, there's a way even that is a relief. Sometimes when the three of them are together she wonders if it is really Cameron or her who is the third wheel, although sometimes--the strangest moments of them all, in Riley's estimation--it seems to be John.

The two of them, working together, do seem more effective at pulling John out of his room, out of his shell. He's more open nowadays,  less reserved, which means she's more often able to go back to Jessie with some nugget of information. John still hasn't explicitly taken her into his trust--not even to the degree that Cameron has, odd as that may be--but at least he doesn't pull away whenever they are together.

So this time it's all three of them in the mall food court, sharing a pineapple-pepperoni-and-sausage pizza. They're joking and laughing, and Riley's not having a completely sucky time, when she spots a familiar face in the crowd and freezes.

Cameron lays a hand on her arm reassuringly. "I see him," she whispers. "Act normally; he hasn't identified us." Despite the "act normal" exhortation, a breathless silence follows, and Cameron adds just loud enough for both Riley and John to hear, "Be ready to run when I say."

The T-101 stops, looking straight at them over its shoulder, and Cameron quickly says, calmly but forcefully, "Now. Run!" She practically pulls both Riley and John out of their seats, and the trio is off, weaving through the crowd, the T-101 breaking out into a run behind them.

"Break up," Cameron instructs them as they reach the center of the mall. Boscov's is on their left; Macy's is on the right. Cameron turns around to face the T-101 as John rushes into the Boscov's, so Riley darts into the May's. The two machines exchange blows, throwing each other the mall promenade, as the crowd quickly departs, getting out of their way. The T-101 manages to throw Cameron off him and into into the fountain and turns right into Macy's, pulling a .45 caliber from his coat as he does.

Riley is frozen, unsure whether to run or keep hiding, when Cameron catches up to him and attacks him from behind, throwing him into the wall.

Riley takes advantage of the moment to run, but the T-101 simply picks up a clothing rack and throws it at her. It hits her in the leg, pinning her to the wall, and she hear the crunch of her bones as the pain races up her spine, unleashing a primal cry. He stands and aims the gun at her, firing at more or less the same moment Cameron tackles him. The bullet strikes her in her side, above the hip.

Cameron pries open the elevator doors and manages to push the T-101 into the shaft just before the elevator box descends from above.

Cameron quickly clears away the clothing rack and picks up Riley, carrying her through the department store and into the parking lot. Cameron smashes the window of the first car they get to, a sporty blue compact, and within a minute it's hotwired and they're on the road.

"Where's John?" asks Riley, the minute she catches her breath.

"He's safe," Cameron answers. "The T-101 didn't identify him. You're the one it's programmed to terminate."

"How do you know he wasn't just pretending to go after me so you would leave John undefended?" Riley asks.

If a machine can snort, that's what Cameron does. "It's a T-101," she says imperiously. "It isn't that smart."

"Here," says Cameron, pulling the car over to the side of the road. "You should be safe here." She picks up Riley and lays her down behind a couple of trees.

"Where are you going?"

"To stop it," Cameron says. "I'll be back."