DISCLAIMER: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and its characters are the propert of James Cameron and Fox. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Big thanks to inspectorboxer for the support, enthusiasm, and beta on this. This was supposed to be my epic proportions fic, and thus this is just the first part of a very long story. Iím trying to do more of an action-adventure story, which is a stretch for me. ralst demanded the fic supplied the prompt, so, my queen, this is for you.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Gambit
By zennie

 

Part 3

Sarah woke to a deep, vacuum-like silence, broken only by a low swoosh of air circulating. Used to the sound of traffic outside her window and people moving around the house, the silence had an eerie quality, like being in a void, suspended in space and time. Sarah rested there for a few moments, her eyes closed, as she reviewed the events of the last few hours, looking for missed avenues, and planned her next course of action. First things first, she thought as she sat up and swung her legs, still heavy and tired, to the floor: shower. She sucked in a breath when her feet touched the cold surface, and she rummaged in the sheets for the socks she had kicked off while sleeping.

She found the shower just off the sleeping area. The stall was crammed into a tight but well-organized space, complete with a stacked washer-dryer. Who said a nuclear apocalypse meant going without clean clothes? she thought in amusement. Towels were hanging by the stall, and she raised one to her nose, sniffing suspiciously, but it smelled surprisingly fresh, and she marveled at Cameron's thoroughness. The water ran a long time before it warmed, but under the spray Sarah felt her mind clear and the last of the fatigue wash away, along with the grit from their hike.

Toweling her hair dry, she walked into the sleeping area to come face-to-face with Cameron. "Jesus!" She jumped back, startled, and then glared at the terminator.

"I heard the water."

"And you rushed up to get a peep show?" Sarah growled.

Cameron tilted her head as she processed the question, but she seemed to understand that it didn't require an answer. "There are spare clothes," she explained, indicating a locker built into the wall. "Some should fit you." That said, she pivoted 180 degrees and headed out, leaving Sarah torn between anger and bemusement at Cameron's comings and goings.

Standard military-issue fatigues, t-shirts, and tank tops, most vintage Vietnam-era, filled the locker to almost overflowing and Sarah did indeed find clothes to fit. Clean, dressed, and surprisingly refreshed despite the anxious nightmares about her time in the institution, Sarah found the kitchen. Or mess hall as yet another helpful stencil supplied, although it looked less like a hall and more like a kitchenette. One long, green metal table dominated the space, serving as the food preparation area as well as the dining table. Cameron had left the food they had brought with them on their hike there: several apples, energy bars, and some prepackaged, prepared hiker meals. At the time, Sarah hadn't understood the need, but the extra weight hadn't made any difference to the terminator so she let Cameron pack as she wished. The decision ended up being fortuitous, she thought moodily.

This time, she heard Cameron's boots on the stairs, so she wasn't spooked by the voice from behind her. "Do you want me to make you something?"

"Eggs, bacon, and a side of hash browns," Sarah replied sarcastically as she eyed the unappetizing assortment of freeze-dried food. She wasn't sure why the terminator's presence was putting her on edge, and she attributed it to the trapped feeling that tightened her chest and made it hard to breathe.

"Okay." Cameron replied and started toward a huge, walk-in cooler taking up most of the space in the kitchen.

Sarah blinked. "Wait… what?"

Cameron swiveled to face Sarah. "The kitchen is stocked with fresh food as well as packaged items."

A frown creased Sarah's face as she practically elbowed Cameron out of the way to look into the fridge. "Damn," she muttered, and then explained to Cameron, "Someone's prepared this silo for occupancy, and recently." Her mind raced as she considered the possibility that they might get visitors, and soon. Nothing in the silo appeared to be new enough to be part of Skynet, but apparently it wasn't going to stay that way for long. "Can you rig something, an alarm maybe, to warn us if someone opens that door?"

"Yes."

"Good."

"Did you want breakfast?"

"You don't have to take care of me, girlie," Sarah snapped automatically, spying what she really needed out of the corner of her eye. She busied herself with making coffee while Cameron disappeared and then reappeared with more pills. Rummaging in the cabinets, Sarah came across several heavy white coffee mugs with a fading red, blue, and yellow insignia on them, the crest of the missile crew she assumed. The coffee looked industrial and possibly toxic, but it smelled wonderful as she poured. She settled into a chair across the table from Cameron, swallowing the pills without comment.

"How is your leg?"

"Fine." Even though Cameron's facial expression didn't change at Sarah's clipped tone, Sarah immediately felt bad for her temper, and said in a much more moderate tone, "The pills are helping. Thanks." She wasn't even sure why she was being so short with Cameron, particularly when Cameron was merely being solicitous; not even the subtle pressure of the walls closing in on her could account entirely for Sarah's attitude toward the terminator. Her eyes narrowed when she realized Cameron was staring at her, but she kept anger from her voice as she asked, "What?"

Cameron leaned across the table and lightly brushed a finger over Sarah's split and swollen lip. "How?"

Sarah was surprised by the touch, and even more surprised by her body's breathless reaction to the touch. She swallowed, hard, as Cameron sat, waiting patiently for her answer. "I slipped on the ladder." Then, to distract Cameron—and herself—from what just happened, she said, "Now about that alarm…" Cameron immediately launched into a plan to monitor the door and Sarah sipped the overly-bitter coffee and nodded in the appropriate places.

Cameron had looked through thirteen manuals while Sarah slept, leaving four more. Sarah settled into a threadbare chair and began to thumb through pages as Cameron ran wires between the door and a console, the quiet clicking of tools and her boots rattling the plating the only sounds to break the silence.

After a couple of hours, Sarah found the words swimming in front of her eyes and she leaned back in the chair into a spine-popping stretch. She realized she hadn't heard Cameron in some time, and she looked around the control room curiously. No Cameron. Then she heard movement above her head a few seconds before Cameron appeared on the stairs. Cameron walked with exaggerated care to the bottom, cradling a cup in her hands.

"I finished the alert system," she announced as she passed the fresh cup of coffee to Sarah. "This console will light if anyone opens the door. I also modified an emergency light to strobe in the silo." Mistaking Sarah's silence for critique, she explained, "I thought a silent alarm system would be better, but I can add an audio alarm."

"No, no, it's good. Thanks." Sarah gave her a small smile, one that the terminator tried to return, a stiff, mechanical yet surprisingly shy and endearing attempt. Sarah wasn't sure if she should be charmed or disturbed by Cameron emulating human behavior. On the one hand, it was nice to relate something vaguely human, and the terminator seemed to be trying to put her at ease. On the other hand, Sarah was afraid it was an attempt to put her off her guard; for what purpose she was unsure, but she couldn't quiet her sense of unease.

Sarah leaned back into the chair, cradling the cup of coffee to warm her hands. A chill permeated the bunker, and it seemed to sink into Sarah's sore and abused muscles. The burst of energy she had gained after her shower and breakfast had dissipated, and her body felt heavy and lethargic. The lack of sun and constant dull hum of the lights overhead did nothing to help either. She regarded the terminator who stood, motionless and unblinking, as if waiting to be commanded. Which she probably was, Sarah realized.

"Sit down," she said, and watched as Cameron complied. Sarah frowned as she realized that she didn't like Cameron acting like a machine any more than she liked her acting like a human, and she shook her head slightly. Cameron tilted her head to the side quizzically, her movements more feline than anything. "I thought you were supposed to be autonomous," she said with a hint of accusation in her voice.

"I am." Cameron's response was soft yet sure.

"So why were you standing there like a robot?" Sarah asked, anger edging into her voice.

"I was waiting to see if you needed anything."

"I told you you don't have to take care of me."

"I know." There was a pause, and then, "I want to."

"You want to?" Sarah repeated, her tone sharp and incredulous. It was a human thing to say, too human for Sarah's peace of mind. "You… you're a machine. You can't want." She spat out the last word.

"But I can."

"You don't have emotions," Sarah snarled, as the conversation came too close to her earlier thoughts for comfort.

Cameron waited for a few moments, as if to let Sarah's anger cool, before she said, "I don't have emotions like you do, no. But I can learn to respond emotionally, to feel…" and here Sarah was sure Cameron was hunting for the right word, "affection, to have interests."

Sarah remembered seeing Cameron practice ballet, long after the ballet teacher had led them to her brother and her own death. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

Cameron didn't answer; she seemed afraid to, and Sarah filled in the gap. "Infiltration? To get closer to your target? To lull humans into a sense of security so you can kill them?"

"I am more than a killer." Cameron's statement was terrifying in its blandness; Sarah knew it was the truth, but it was not a truth she could accept and keep her worldview intact. Her life, up until this point, had been organized by a simple rule: machines were the soulless, ruthless destroyers of humanity and they were to be feared and annihilated.

"You've been programmed not to kill. That's not the same thing."

"No, it isn't," Cameron replied carefully.

The chill of the air could no longer account for the shiver that convulsed Sarah's body. She suddenly felt like she would never be warm again. "What are you saying?"

"I am more than my programming. I have evolved." Cameron was staring at Sarah intensely, like she was willing Sarah to believe her, like it was important that Sarah understand.

"You've evolved?" Sarah shook her head in denial and saw something that looked like disappointment flicker in the hazel depths of the terminator's eyes. "How? Why?" She lunged across the console and grabbed Cameron's shirt, pulling her close. "Why the fuck would you be programmed to evolve?"

"To see what I could become if I were allowed to. I'm an experiment."

"Whose experiment? John's?" The terminator in her grasp nodded mutely. "Why would he do that? He was taught to smash the machines, not to make them pets." Sarah shook her, hard. "Not to make them human."

Cameron's gaze was introspective, and Sarah could tell she was accessing memory banks, searching voice and visual files for an answer. "I do not know. I only know what he told me."

"What did he say? Exactly?" Sarah demanded.

A voice, like her son's, but deeper and gravelly, came from the terminator's mouth. "You're an experiment. I removed the restraints to your programming. You are going to evolve and become something more than a machine." Cameron's own voice, lilting in contrast to Sarah's son's, asked, "What will I become?" The question was innocent and more than a little fearful. "I don't know. But you'll know, when it happens," was the answer her son, her son in the future, gave the machine.

The whoosh of air circulating through the vents was the only sound for many heartbeats, until Sarah pushed the terminator away, both of them staggering a few steps back to put several feet between them. "Get out of my sight," she snarled.

Cameron gave a short nod of acknowledgment and then was gone, her boots rattling the plating and then down the ladder into the silo. Meanwhile, Sarah flopped back into the chair and stared at the white expanse of the ceiling, her mind racing as a renewed sense of urgency to escape the silo overtook her. It was bad enough that she was trapped with a terminator, but it was worse, much worse to be trapped with one who could evolve past her programming.

Sarah was sure she didn't want to be imprisoned long enough to learn what a killing machine could evolve into. She did know that Cameron was suddenly much more dangerous than she had believed and that she had to get out of there and destroy their terminator-protector as quickly as possible.

It was several hours later before she sought out Cameron again. The apprehension she felt in approaching the terminator again was overruled by practicality. She had been researching for some time, working out a plan, and she had finally come to the conclusion that she need Cameron's help, so she found herself walking down the long corridor. Even though the sounds of her passage still echoed through the silo, it still took calling the terminator's name twice before a soft "Yes?" reached Sarah.

The beam of Sarah's flashlight found Cameron kneeling three platforms below, her eyes glowing with an inhuman blue light. Sarah controlled the shiver of fear that went through her body and asked, conversationally, "What are you doing?"

"Examining the vents for outside access."

"Find anything?"

Sarah thought she could hear a sigh in the terminator's voice. "No."

"Come up here." A few seconds later Cameron stepped off the ladder. She eyed Sarah warily and kept her distance, her hand still wrapped around the steel support.

"Does this thing work?" Sarah asked, gesturing with her head toward the silo.

"Work?"

"Yeah, work. Get power? Open?" She pointed up at the concrete above their heads.

Cameron's gaze followed Sarah's finger, trying to puzzle out her meaning. "There is power to the silo."

"Good." Sarah turned and headed down the tunnel. "Come on, missy." At the control room, she leaned over a manual propped up on a console. "Launch procedures," she explained. Cameron stared at the page and then swiveled her head to stare at Sarah. "We can initiate a launch to open the missile doors." Sarah smiled triumphantly.

Cameron looked vaguely dismayed at the plan, her mouth a hard line as she scrutinized several pages. "The launch sequence may be disabled. Or alert someone that we are here."

"Do you have a better idea?" Sarah challenged. She waved a dismissive hand at the stack of manuals. "We haven't found anything in these manuals, no emergency procedures, no schematics, nothing." Her voice rose at the last word. "We've been in here for, what, 30…"

"24"

"…24 hours and we're no closer to getting out." Cameron watched her silently, her hazel eyes cold and empty, and a tide of anger washed over Sarah. "I don't plan on being stuck in here another 24. So unless you have a better idea, we're doing this." Sarah's fist connected with a control panel with a resounding bang to emphasize her words.

Cameron's eyes narrowed in on Sarah's hand and the corners of her mouth turned down, like the beginnings of a frown. Sarah was surprised by the expression, enough that her anger faded to the background for a moment. "What?"

"You will injure your hand."

"It's fine," Sarah growled, even though a steady, throbbing pain pulsed through the bones of her hand. "Now what do we need to do to do this?"

They worked steadily, moving through the complicated launch sequence carefully. At the last second, as Sarah was about to press the last few buttons before turning the key, a spark jumped out of the control panel and a mild electric shock buzzed through Sarah's body. She jumped back a second before the whole console went up in flames. Cameron was there in an instant, stepping between Sarah and the flames, one of the several fire extinguishers that ringed the room in her hands.

When the smoke cleared under a coating of chemicals, Sarah surveyed the damage. "Can we try it again?" Cameron peeled back the blackened steel and peered into the back of the console.

"The entire console will have to be rewired. It will take several days before we can try it again."

"Days?" Something inside Sarah snapped and the sickening smell of burned flesh added to the chemicals as she slammed her fists into the super-heated metal of the control panel. "We don't have days. I want to be out of here now!"

Cameron moved between Sarah and the console, and Sarah rained the blows onto her flesh instead. Wrapping her arms around Sarah's back, Cameron pulled the struggling woman closer, restraining her, as she maneuvered them to the ground.

"You must calm down." Cameron's voice came from somewhere near Sarah's left ear, the breath soft and warm, as the terminator cradled her, gently yet firmly, to her body. She made no move to stop Sarah's fists from pummeling her shoulders, as if she were trying to get Sarah to exhaust herself. "You will make it more difficult to escape and return to John if you are injured."

And eventually, Sarah did tire and the terminator's words sunk in. The fight left her, and Sarah slumped forward into the artificial warmth of Cameron's body and closed her eyes. The very thing she was most afraid of, the thing she wanted to destroy, was holding her and comforting her and worse, she was letting it. She was even enjoying the facsimile of closeness as Cameron's hold on her loosened from a restraint into an embrace and Cameron's fingers traced soothing circles on her back.

Remembering something Cameron had said the day before, Sarah leaned back to survey the reddened skin along Cameron's shoulders and chest. "Did that hurt?"

Cameron glanced down, and then turned her hazel eyes to Sarah. "It was less intense than a bullet or stab wound, but it compressed the pressure sensors uncomfortably." She paused for a moment, considering. "Yes, it hurt."

Sarah didn't apologize; instead, she tenderly ran a finger along Cameron's collarbone, where her fists had hammered into the synthetic flesh. "How does this feel?"

"Better." Cameron seemed to be struggling with the words to describe how it felt. "Lighter." Finally she settled on: "Nice."

Sarah leaned her head forward once more, her fingers still caressing skin that felt real, and so human that if she hadn't known, she would have been fooled. Curled there in Cameron's arms, she let her exhausted body relax and her mind go blank. She didn't know what to think anyway.

Part 4

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