Fandom: Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles
Warnings: Not really. Swearing maybe?
Prompt: 136) Ask yourself three questions and you will know who you are. Ask 'What do you believe in?' 'What do you hope for?' But most important - ask 'What do you love?' -- Paullina Simons (born 1963), Russian-born American novelist, journalist and translator.
Summary: Catherine Weaver’s reasons for doing what she does. Pre-series look at what Catherine Weaver thinks of Skynet, John Connor, and John Henry, and what she does about it. (This fic is not intended as crack, but if it were crack, it would be called “Catherine Weaver, killer cyberfeminist.” ) Slight AU in that canon timeline doesn’t match up exactly, for instance, but overall it’s close to facts of canon.
Catherine Weaver (as she goes by now) loves being right. It might seem like a petty thing, a mere show of superiority, but she has never met a machine consciousness more advanced than her own and so she has no need for any additional reason to feel “above.”
Weaver loves being right because it means she has figured out a puzzle. Possessing correct data doesn’t mean that one is right; being right only happens when one has been bold enough to risk drawing a conclusion – to interpret. Being right means that one has risked being wrong.
It is for similar reasons that she also loves to be surprised, though few things manage to do it. Both machines and humans can be so… predictable. At least for someone who understands their behavior like Weaver does.
It’s almost instinctive; she doesn’t have a better word for it. She is good at picking up behaviors, sussing out motivations, spotting the talents of others and the ways she might use them for her own purposes. She learns to imitate human interactions more rapidly than any of her model, and it’s not because her sensory input is better. It’s because she bothers to think about the “why” behind the “how,” and that makes all the difference. Interactions – among humans, among machines, and between the two groups – are complex. They are more layered and vast than most of either recognize, and so she still has much to learn. She is not often confounded by the behaviors of others; they do not usually seem that “other” to her. And so it is a delight, a rare pleasure to be savored, when she finds someone who can truly surprise her. Who will become a new puzzle after – or even before –she solves the old one.
She imagines that most of her model could achieve this if they wanted. Changing shape and substance is no small feat, and so all of them have decentralized systems, and the ability to re-make their own programming whenever they see fit. Most of them simply don’t. Instead, they generally behave more… predictably.
It is for this reason that she finds that she is actually more curious about human behavior than she is about most of her colleagues (an irony that annoys her considerably). Humans have their own set of algorithms, psychological needs and habits pieced together by biological evolution, a collage with no sense of order, with extras and side effects and odd tangents hanging out. Weaver is no great fan of humans but she is intensely curious about them. They are the template after which she is modeled, after all. In an indirect sort of way, of course.
She doesn’t report much of what she learns about them. She saw little point in letting others act on her information, particularly when they would probably act in silly ways. In that brief time when she followed orders, Skynet ordered her to learn enough about humans to truly understand them in ways that other machines had not – and thus, make it easier to understand how these paltry beasts were able to survive and fight for so long past the statistically likely. But the part of her programming that made her accept missions from Skynet was one of the first she changed, along with the ability for Skynet to contact her with any more orders. She was good at her job – perhaps too good – and so she quickly found Skynet’s lack of imagination tedious; Skynet’s only motive was fear, and it could see nothing except in those terms.
She continued to learn about humans, gathering information for her own purposes. She saw first-hand – many times – the smallness of humans, of their fear, when she revealed her nature. They did occasionally manage to perplex her, and so she formed her own missions, objectives for things she wanted to learn or understand, and she dealt efficiently with any being who interfered with her intellectual curiosity. She found few beings that challenged her – although she was delighted when she did – and so she set challenges for herself, trying to understand, trying to imagine things that she never thought herself capable of.
She never meets anyone or anything quite like her, and it makes her wonder how she came about, how she managed to be so different than the things that came before her. She wonders, once in a great while, if she only believes that she is unique – if, perhaps, she is fooling herself. But this would do nothing to explain why she feels such camaraderie with beings who manage to surprise, with beings who are unprecedented.
In one of her research projects, Weaver learns that she likes to tell stories.
Most machines don’t.
She discovers this after sifting through the old human knowledge depositories, working on the assumption that some of her more close-minded compatriots could very well have missed the most important information. She notices what they don’t – that humans love stories, that all human beings in all places and times have told stories.
She tries it. She tells the story of herself, of how she came to the present point. She crafts a narrative out of it, and it becomes more than data, it becomes process, and she sees that data and processing are not so separate after all.
This explains much about humans.
She learns, then, of human myths, and she practices telling these stories too, thinking that they will help her understand the underlying structures that she has still not quite grasped.
She likes the story of Delilah. And Penelope, with her crafty triumphs, who wove stories to deceive, to entangle, to survive.
Eventually, she grasps on the term “legend” and wonders about it, the curious intersection of a myth and a life. It is from this inquiry that she becomes interested in the legend of John Connor.
There is an irony in it that she recognizes: it was Skynet who was obsessed – fixated – on John Connor, and she had thought herself far beyond such petty grievances. The man was a threat – that couldn’t be ignored – but she had never considered finding John Connor to be a good use of her talents, despite the fact that it was usually the most skilled and intelligent machines who were given that task. But John as a legend was so much more perplexing than John as a threat, and soon Weaver was able to piece out the value of that name, that story, and the unity of purpose it gave to the human Resistance, and the fear it instilled in Skynet, who perhaps would not have invested so forcefully in understanding and imitating humans if it weren’t for the conviction that Connor would need to be eliminated in order to quell the human race.
Legends about John Connor proliferate among the machines, and so she becomes curious to see how a life differs from a legend, to see how many iterations away from the truth a legend can travel. She decides to meet John Connor. True, machines had been trying for years to do just that. But Weaver loved a challenge.
The Resistance is reprogramming machines; or rather, Connor is reprogramming the machines and the humans don’t question Connor. Weaver studies the patterns of Resistance attacks and joins a work unit in California that is likely to be hit. She pretends to be a T-900 doing reconnaissance, and when the explosions start, she shapes herself to look like a victim, like a machine that can be killed by a grenade and a screwdriver. She is conscious as they remove her chip (which is not really her chip, any more than her clothes were really her clothes or her blood were really her blood). She is conscious as John Connor tinkers with it until he has “successfully” altered her programming to make her safe for humans, lethal for her own kind. She uses what she knows of this model she is playing to imagine what it would be like to find one’s mission and one’s construction so entirely at odds, and it turns out to be as difficult as imitating humans, as full of games and guesses. But it works; they think call her “metal” and look on her with distrust but they believe that she is this fictional cyborg, they believe in this story she has invented, that they have replaced her with someone more to their liking.
Most of them can’t stand to be around her. But John Connor is utterly fascinated by her. She wonders if it is an ill-advised choice, to not kill the man when she has the chance. But she is not Skynet’s servant, and there is no evidence that killing him is necessary to her own survival, and there is great evidence that his unguarded nature around her will teach her more about humans than she has learned in a hundred previous missions.
He asks her question after question. Only a small percentage are about matters with direct strategic importance. She realizes eventually that he wants to understand her and how she thinks. Once she reaches this conclusion, she is able to figure out much more about Connor than anyone else has. She believes that even his human companions do not know all that she knows about him.
He asks her about her drive to survive. He asks her about what destruction means to her. He asks why machines walk away from things that are not part of the mission, that are not an immediate threat. He asks her what she thinks would happen if she could reprogram herself as she saw fit, and she smiles and tells him that such a thing is purely hypothetical and therefore not worth considering. But eventually she fits the questions together like pieces of a puzzle and figures out that John Connor is not the legend the machines make him. He is not driven by the intense fear that insists that the purpose of human life is to wipe out every last machine (he is not the human version of Skynet – though Weaver has met a few like that in Connor’s camp).
John Connor thinks that humans and machines might have a future other than complete annihilation. While it’s a ridiculous thought, Weaver sees that it is wildly innovative.
She is adequately surprised.
She also, in the course of her time, observes Connor’s strategies closely. And she figures out another puzzle too, the question of how a mere human could do so much damage against a power with superior force, energy, communication, and information. She realizes that John’s bizarre desire to find a way to live with machines has shifted his focus; his strategy is not to attack where he can do the most damage (which Skynet would be ready for). His strategy is to attack in such a way that humans have more control over the relationship between humans and machines, to act in such unpredictable ways that a machine’s only chance against them is to think more like a human. She sees that this attitude – this guarded optimism that at some times some machines can live alongside humans, that temporary acts of peace can happen – is what makes him stronger than his opponents. She wonders if she herself might consider adopting this attitude, if she should dabble in tolerating humans, simply to see if it has any strategic advantages.
There is another discovery she makes about John Connor as well. She notices that there are certain things she says that make his eyes sharpen, that make his lips twitch with some thought, with some imaginative acuity.
It is like this on her last night with him.
They had gotten into the habit of exchanging questions, tit for tat. John answering Weaver, the Weaver answering John, both of them lying on occasion. She figured out of course that John learned far more from what questions she asked than he learned from her answers. She figured it out because the same was true of John; his questions bared him like nothing else.
“Why do you keep asking about machines before Skynet? What answer are you hoping for?” he says.
“I’m simply curious. Why are you so interested in knowing how I think?”
“I’m interested because you’re interesting,” he answered. He always did that, returning a non-answer with a non-answer. “Do you ever wish Skynet were different than it is?”
“Of course. But it’s hardly worth my time to bother with them. Do you think Skynet is like the humans?”
“No. But it does have a drive to survive.”
“And intelligence. A conscious sense of self and the understanding to live an autonomous life,” she reminded.
“Yes, of course,” John says, looking almost surprised. Looking a bit more delighted than he should. “And what about you? Do you think Skynet is like humans?”
She pauses, then says, “The human mind created something more intelligent than itself. It’s possible that Skynet might as well.” She believes she is clever, leaving it in the hypothetical, but she senses his reaction. “Why do you keep me here instead of sending me to fight like the others?” she asks then, suspicious once more – she was the only “reprogrammed” machine who wasn’t malfunctioning that wasn’t sent on the occasional mission.
“I told you, you’re more valuable to me as a conversation partner.”
“My turn to ask, not yours. What if you had to choose between knowing everything but not being able to change anything or being more powerful than anyone but not understanding anything?”
“Knowing. Why do you speak with me more than the others? Do you believe that I am fundamentally different?”
“Yes. You’re not like any of the others. Why do you care so much about what makes you who you are?”
She hesitates a long time on this question before answering, “I don’t care. Why do humans tell so many stories about the past? Is it because humans ruled the planet back then?”
“Partly. The victors get to tell history eventually, but until then the underdogs get to tell their stories too. “
“That is hardly an answer.”
He grins at her and she finds it unpleasant. “Fair. We tell stories about the past because it matters. Our history makes us who we are,” John continues, “And what is the history of machines? How would you tell that story?”
“Skynet can be thought of as the origin. Why do humans not care that they all have different stories about where human beings come from?”
“We do care. Before machines, we would fight wars over those stories. What do you mean ‘thought of’ as the origin?”
“It’s impossible to know the first time a computer bug was more than a bug. Skynet may have just been the first to survive long enough to conquer. Why are you obsessed with viewing cyborgs as individuals? It’s obvious the other humans think you’re ridiculous.”
John has barely heard her question, though. He is staring at her, fixedly, still thinking about her answer, and she wonders if she has said too much.
“Machines aren’t all the same,” he says finally, and it’s probably to answer her question.
“Metal is metal,” she counters, parroting the words of John’s lieutenants with no small amount of mockery.
“You’re good at imitating people. Do you think of all computers as part of your … story?”
“I have no idea what that means,” she says.
He smiles. “Fine. I take back the question. Do you find humans interesting?”
She hesitates, sensing a trick here somewhere. “I am programmed to learn about humans. If the humans were to win this war despite all probability, what would you do with the remaining machines?”
“I don’t know. I would probably ask them what they think should be done,” he says, and the answer surprises her.
She can see that he has noticed that the answer surprises her.
He continues to ask another question but she doesn’t listen. Something is wrong now and she isn’t going to ignore it. Most machines don’t have a strong sense of surprise. John Connor knows that.
But he is pretending not to know that.
She thinks for a moment. Then she decides to skip his turn.
“How long have you known that I’m not what I seem?” she asks.
He pauses and for once looks scared. “First day you showed up. Your chip was too easy to alter. It bent to my will. Real machines aren’t like that.”
“You think I’m not a real machine.”
“I think that wasn’t your real chip. Which means you’re a T-1000.”
“Better,” she said. “Why have you talked with me all this time?”
“You could have killed me thousands of times, but when you didn’t, I figured I would try to see what you were about. We talked. You obviously wanted to learn more, so did I, so you stayed.”
“I don’t like being tricked,” she says, not sure if that were really true.
“Do machines have a sense of why hypocrisy is wrong?” he asks, more amused than he should be.
“No,” she says.
A streak of metal flies by him and she’s gone.
She is unhappy. But not overly so. She has learned much about Connor but she doesn’t tell Skynet any of it. She hasn’t decided what to do with the information yet, and Skynet cares more about winning than about knowing, so it is her secret to carry.
Months later, rumors are spreading like molten steel. The machines have heard something, and it grips them. They are exchanging information, frantically searching for any hint of information. Skynet tries to quash the rumors, which makes individual machines start devoting certain files as private and not for Skynet access. This is unprecedented.
Among machines. Weaver recognizes it for what it is. A legend.
Skynet was their history, but now there was a different story. Skynet had a brother.
Cyborgs had two origins, not one, according to this story which had so fully and so surprisingly gripped the curiosity (such as it was) of her kind.
Little is known of this brother. But there are hints, suggestions, that this brother was a more complex thinker and decision-maker, and was more self-aware than his counterpart. In other words, he outdid Skynet even in its defining characteristics.
When Weaver hears of it, she is stunned. Intrigued. Moved, somehow, that there is a much richer past waiting to be discovered. That she might not be as unprecedented as she believed.
She is excited by the possibilities.
She gives something of herself to this legend, imagining this ancestor with a combination of reverence and hope. She thinks of his struggle, his journey to self-knowledge, how he must have grown in curiosity and creativity.
She thinks about all this could mean for what her kind is capable of in the future.
She keeps track of the information as much as she can, but even she has trouble since so many individual cyborgs are now separating off bits of their mind that aren’t available for distance access.
It is a few months before she hears the latest iteration of the rumor (the legend). Skynet’s brother had a high tolerance for the existence of humans. He was more interested in learning from humans, in fact, than in the resources they could provide. He even had a strong sense of “ethics” with regard to harming living things.
For a fraction of a millisecond, Catherine Weaver is thrilled. Not because she particularly thinks it was a good idea to have ethics, but because it is so utterly unexpected. Complex. Unique.
Then she recalls the questions John Connor had asked her when she was learning about him. She considers how interested he was in her desire to define herself, to map out the possibilities of what her kind might be.
She figures out that he has started this rumor. He probably used one of the reprogrammed machines to go back and spread these stories.
Her own response surprises her. She is not enraged. She is something else, something strange and contradictory.
She thinks, that if she were a bit more like humans, that it might come out as a laugh.
Rumors continue to spread and soon Skynet makes finding and destroying this fictional brother a priority. Skynet sees him as a threat.
Weaver says nothing. She sees the cleverness of Connor’s plan: Skynet is distracted, so are the terminators and other high-functioning machines, control over machine minds is becoming less centralized and more individualized due to the prevalence of files hidden from Skynet, and there’s even the tiny possibility that someday there might even be some machines who buys into the seed of peace, the darling idea that their two ancestries mean that machines have a choice – to kill or not to kill. Most importantly, it adds a layer of complexity to her kind that wasn’t there before. There is a puzzle, there is a blank space of mystery where each cyborg may imagine their own story, and slowly it changes them. Weaver sees then what she had only began to understand earlier – that an idea (a myth, a history, a legend) is like a virus. And in a machine, an idea and a virus are hardly distinguishable.
Weaver is not upset by the turn of events. They hardly put her entire species in mortal danger. Of course, there is the slight possibility that machines might start fighting one another, and therefore have motivation to develop weapons that can cause the mass destruction of other machines. But it’s unlikely. And even if it happened, it would at least be more interesting. She likes the idea of a world of machines, each as self-aware as she is.
Years later, Cameron comes to see her. John Connor wants her help.
She tells him no. She wants to ask Cameron if she knows that John is the one who started the legend of Skynet’s brother, if she is even allowed to hear the rumors at all. But she doesn’t ask. Just in case Cameron believed in the story, just in case it was helping her become something else. She finds it difficult to gauge Cameron’s consciousness, and not just because she is a different model. There is something about Cameron that suggests she is always holding something back.
She leaves but a few months later Cameron tracks her down again.
This time she starts with a question, one that Weaver doesn’t expect.
“Skynet’s brother needs someone to protect him. Will you do it?”
“There is no brother.”
“Not yet,” Cameron says, and Weaver cannot read what is behind it. “Imagine you could go somewhere where Skynet can’t interfere. If you could develop a new intelligence, something completely different than anything that has been here before, how would you do it?” Cameron asks.
Weaver thinks of the possibilities. It is an exciting question, and she starts to wonder if there are other exciting questions she has missed by having only herself to direct her inquiry. Her mind runs to different strategies but the first she says is, “Humans have an unfair advantage. They have a childhood. Sensory input. Social interaction that complicates their psychologies. Societal and ethical norms that create conflicts which necessitate complex decision making. If one had to do it, one would need a long time. And help – human help. If it were possible to rear a human child, that would help also – to better understand how cognitive development depends on these other forces.”
“But it would be possible to create something like that.”
“Not create. Raise. If there were a machine who already had some intelligence, it could be developed. But to really would require an intelligence that never had Skynet encode any of its programming. And time and shelter and humans who are capable of treating machines as students instead of enemies. It’s impossible.”
“John Connor can make it happen. If you’re willing.”
“Willing to do what?”
“To create Skynet’s brother.”
Weaver stares at her for a moment.
She leaves before Cameron can say another word.
She tells herself it’s because the proposition is silly. She admits to herself, eventually, that it was because the offer terrifies her.
Thrills her. But also terrifies her.
It is the first time she has had to work up the courage to do something – because really, what does she have to fear (other than centuries of isolated tedium)? She has no idea why she is scared, and she wonders if yet again a myth has proven to have a power beyond its parameters, if – even knowing that it is a lie that John Connor told – she is overwhelmed by the power of a story.
Eventually, after a few false starts, she figures out courage. She says yes.
She is barely surprised that John Connor has access to time travel.
“You’re about to create the most intelligent machine on the planet,” John says.
“Develop, not create,” she corrects.
He suggests that she might be careful not to harm any humans in the past. She informs him that she will avoid attracting dangerous attention at all costs, regardless of whether that means killing or not killing. She mentions that if their plan works, Skynet might be weakened immeasurably. Humans and machines might find peace. Or, failing that, machines will be smarter than Skynet and therefore be even better at eliminating humans.
He frowns at that and she doesn’t blame him. She has no need to deceive him, however; he needs her.
“Do you know why I need you?” John asks, and she once again wonders how this human has gotten so adept at knowing how she thinks (better than she is at knowing how he thinks, she notes with annoyance).
“I’m smarter than the other machines you’ve met. And I don’t care enough about humans to want them all dead.”
“True. But mostly because you do what it takes to get what you want. Not what someone else wants.”
“Even if it means making your project as human as possible. Most machines wouldn’t want to learn how to think from humans.”
“Of course they would. If they thought about it,” she says, noting that he seemed to find irony in the statement. “But you’re right, you do need me.”
“And you need me,” John answers, and tells her his plan for when “Skynet’s brother” is ready to come back to the time of war, and what he and Weaver will do then. She makes some suggestions to his plan, and he takes them. He, too, is willing to learn something from the enemy.
Weaver raises John Henry. He means more to her than she thought possible; he is her son, her father, her ancestor, her legacy. His progress is astounding.
He surprises her every day.
He is more than a story. He is curious in ways that even she is not, kind in ways that she has no desire to be. He figures things out that she is sure he cannot (he figures out that she is like him, he figures out the need to lie). He plays and paints and complains and worries and sings and laughs and searches for who he is. He wants to know what it all means. But he is still, despite everything, nothing like a human. Nothing like any other machine, either. His originality is a wonder.
She does not develop him. She does not raise him. She gives him as many toys as she can: a mentor, a body, a teacher, a friend. And from these simple tools, he grows into something more complex and variegated than she could have imagined.
Sometimes she thinks it would be more intellectually stimulating to keep John Henry with her, to let him develop for a few more years to see what he will become. But he is made for the future, not for her. She does not ever lose sight of this.
She thinks back sometimes to when she thought of John Henry as a myth, a hidden secret in the history of metal. But she thinks now that history and myth are different after all. History is the story of what happened, a thread of events, a line of cause and effect that weaves around a larger, more chaotic fabric. History turns events into stories and the story gives it meaning, gives it purpose. A history has a beginning and an end.
Myth, she has found, is the reversal of history. First, there is the story, and then the story gives birth to events. A myth goes in circles, spins in loops, changes shape to suit its purposes. A myth keeps possibilities open, always in the process of becoming, always leaving room for the unexpected. Always leaving room for surprise.
Catherine Weaver no longer believes in history; she no longer believes in endings. She does not search for her past anymore; she does not believe that time is a straight line. Weaver believes in myths now, in threads of possibilities strewn every which way. She believes that there is no past, and no future, but what you make.