DISCLAIMER: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and its characters are the propert of James Cameron and Fox. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Fourth part of the Mixed Emotions series.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: From Cameronís POV.

In Dreams
By zennie

 

At night, Cameron watches. She moves from room to room on silent feet, keeping watch on both the exterior and interior of the house. Looking in on her charges night after night, she has learned their patterns. She knows that Derek twitches and sweats in his sleep, like a wounded, rabid animal. He makes her nervous, sleeping so close to John and Sarah. John, on the other hand, sleeps the sleep of youth, uncomplicated and sure in righteous arrogance. His dreams seem pleasant to Cameron, and she wonders what he sees that makes him smile sometimes.

Sarah's dreams are rarely pleasant, and rarely dreams at all. She tosses and turns in the grips of unseen terrors, her hands tightening on imagined weapons in defense. Even in dreams, Sarah battles. Her foes, though unseen, are easy to guess: chrome monsters with burning red eyes and pincer fingers; beings like Cameron, stripped of her living tissue. Cameron watches Sarah fight in her sleep and wonders if Sarah sees these nightmare images juxtaposed on her face and if this is why it seems harder for Sarah to meet her eyes in the mornings before school.

Cameron has read about dreams, and she imagines dreaming is like watching the video playback she accesses from memory, except that the images are jumbled and jumpy, driven as they are by hopes, fears, and fantasy. She tried to replicate dreams once, flipping rapid-fire through random images from memory, but the experiment made her more confused rather than less. She doesn't understand how sense can be made of the images, how they might cause John to smile or Sarah to cry out in terror.

Cameron has spent enough time watching Sarah sleep that she can recognize an impending nightmare in the way her eyes move under her eyelids and in the way her hands grip the blankets. Cameron has also learned how to soothe Sarah in sleep. So tonight, like many other nights, Cameron reaches out and catches Sarah's hand, kneeling by the low bed to avoid waking the sleeping woman. Sarah grasps her hand like it is a life preserver, and her forehead smoothes, the tight line of her jaw loosening into a slack frown. She looks uneasy, as if the easing of the nightmare images confuses and bewilders her.

Sarah's grip is strong and tight, and if she were a real human, Cameron knows that the grip would be painful. But Cameron is not a real human and a simple correction to the sensors in her hand removes any pressure she feels. It's a metaphor, she realizes as she connects a conversation in English class with her current thoughts. Humans are so frail and breakable and interrelated, the web of connections stretching from skin to organs to mind to dreams. They cannot turn off parts of themselves, nor objectively review the day's events. Everything is threaded together and shot through with hopes and dreams, fears and fantasy.

A number flashes up: the exact pressure required to crush a human hand, based on the spatial dimensions, bone density, and age of the human. All Cameron has to do is apply that pressure, to the precise decimal point, and Sarah's hand would be a bloody, broken mess. So fragile; the single bullet that glances off of Cameron's endoskeleton causes so much damage to the human body.

Several numbers flash into Cameron's vision: life projection estimates for one Sarah Connor, probability tables listing the many different ways she might die, and accompanying graphs, some short, some long, but all ending. Sarah will die, sooner or later, as will John. Cameron's power cell will last exactly 76 years, 5 months, and 18 days more before she needs a replacement; she is almost indestructible compared to the humans who surround her. Gazing down at Sarah, Cameron wonders what it means that so much of her developing self is wound up in the lives of these fragile beings.

Sarah's eyes blink open, but she seems unsurprised to find Cameron sitting there, holding her hand. She does not pull her hand away nor go for her gun. She stares at Cameron in the thin light from the window as if the night and near-darkness can supply an answer she seeks that has eluded her in the light of day.

The steady gaze of those green eyes is unnerving to Cameron, following so closely after her thoughts on Sarah's nightmare images. "What do you see when you look at me?" asks Cameron curiously.

"I don't know." Cameron frowns; she has been practicing non-verbal communication, and it seems to work as Sarah picks up on her confusion and explains, "I know what I'm supposed to see and I know what I want to see. What I actually see is… somewhere in between."

There is another silence as Cameron tries to puzzle out Sarah's meaning, but Sarah takes pity on her. "I'm supposed to see a terminator, a killing machine, a thing that destroys the world. What I want to see…" here Sarah pauses, as if the words or the emotions behind them are difficult, and she looks down at her hand clutching Cameron's, "is a human I could fall in love with." The tone is soft, quiet, contemplative, and if Cameron were truly the cold-blooded killing machine she was supposed to be, she would not feel a sharp pain to cut through her, a pain she has no sensors to control.

"I understand." Cameron begins to pull her hand away. "Thank you for explaining."

"Do you?" Sarah tightens her grip, keeping Cameron on the bed. She shifts up onto her elbow to look intently into Cameron's eyes. "Do you really?" Sarah's eyes are angry but her touch is gentle as she brushes Cameron's hair back from her eyes. "You scare me more than any other terminator. I know what to do with other terminators." Her fingers ghost past Cameron's lips. "With you… you're a hell of a lot closer to what I want than I can imagine. If you could just be like them…"

Sarah collapses back into the bed, her troubled eyes still on Cameron. Cameron leans over, her hair falling forward to brush Sarah's cheek. "You want me."

Sarah bites her lip, as if she were trying to keep the damning admission to herself, but she answers. "Yes."

"You desire me."

"Yes."

"You love me."

"I…" The look in Sarah's eyes is tortured, "No."

Sarah isn't lying, not exactly, but Cameron analyzes the stress in her voice and knows that the answer isn't as unequivocal as it sounds. Sarah's confusion is enough, for now. Cameron leans over further, presses a gentle kiss to Sarah's lips, and moves to go.

"You sit," Sarah asks and Cameron nods. "Do you lie down?"

"Yes."

Sarah indicates the bed and rolls onto her side, as close to an invitation she can get. Cameron settles in behind Sarah, feels the bed shift to accommodate her weight, and wraps an arm around the woman's waist stiffly, carefully, in fear that she is misinterpreting Sarah's desire. Feeling Sarah's fingers lace with her own across the muscular yet still frail stomach, Cameron relaxes into the embrace and pulls their bodies together tightly, ghosting a kiss across the dark hair tickling her nose.

Laying there in the dark as Sarah drops off to sleep, Cameron remembers Sarah comparing her to a golem but she finds that she has more in common with a story referenced in her English class, the story of Pinocchio, the puppet that dreamed of being a real boy. He too had hopes of becoming human, of becoming the son Geppetto wished him to be, much like she wishes to become the lover Sarah wants. As she lies there in the dark and closes her eyes experimentally, Cameron wonders if she too is human in her dreams.


Extended Author's Note (because I am a geek and I study emergent systems): A bit about AI 'programming.' There are two main directions in the design of intelligent systems: one is a top-down approach that designs the function of the system to simulate a rational, expert problem-solver in whatever information domain the intelligence is supposed to participate in. These logic or expert systems focus on defining an extensive set of rules for the intelligence to follow, and as such do not allow for emergent behavior. In other words, the intelligence follows the rules as defined but does not necessarily learn, add to, or adapt the rules for different situations. Logic systems are closed systems.

The second approach, often called 'fuzzy,' is a bottom-up learning system/cybernetic approach. Based on neural network theory, this artificial life model is most often seen in simulation games like SimCity or SimLife: the designer sets up an open system of connected concepts, objects, and rules, and allows the system to develop over time as it reacts and self-organizes in response to external and internal stimuli. This is called an emergent system, because unprogrammed or unscripted behaviors can emerge over time in unpredictable ways. Evolutionary simulations, for example, can be set up exactly the same way and yet end up with radically different populations. The reason this happens is because a cybernetic system is, like a neural network, thickly connected. As an old professor of mine used to say, it's not the gene, it's the genome. In other words, to understand a single piece of the puzzle, you have to study the whole interconnected web of pieces. No piece has any meaning in and of itself because the connections create meaning.

Obviously, my reading of a terminator's 'programming' is that it has to be cybernetic rather than logical in nature. However, it appears that the writers want to incorporate both into terminators: they seem to believe that a terminator will follow set rules and programming (and therefore is a logical system), but also that a terminator can learn new behavior (and is therefore an emergent system). I'm not sure I buy it, since an emergent system should be able to rewrite its logical programming as it changes, self-organizes, and develops over time.

The End

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