I debated for a while on how to do this. Or if I should do it. And then, this chapter happened! Hope it's sufficiently different to amuse and not seem like a re-hashing. (And, I'm aware that this isn't how the decision to conduct an exorcism went down in canon. I'm changing it.)-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-
Cameron's experience with the supernatural was adding a great deal of information to her database regarding humans in a war-like setting. However, she'd never had to consider incorporeal entities possessing the populace at large before.
Cameron was in the library helping Willow, Buffy and Xander look up some of the things they needed for what Willow believed would evict the spirits from the school grounds.
"I'm having difficulty understanding how this works. There is no scientific basis for possession. The closest I've been able to get is multiple personality disorder, and that's an internal psychosis." Cameron murmured while she was cross-referencing some of the ingredients that Willow would need.
"There's not really a science behind it, Cameron," Willow explained. "Just like there's no science for how vampires work. It's basically just demonic possession of an inanimate corpse."
"Perhaps you could research it?" Cameron would do so, but she was on a limited amount of time in this town. Eventually, she was going to have to leave to go meet up with John and Sarah.
"Hey, there's an idea. You could do a paranormal thesis!" Xander enthused. Then he looked confused. "Or is there another word for a college paper on a new science?"
Willow gave Xander a patient smile. "Thesis works."
Xander gave an exaggerated sigh of relief. "Good, because I'm not the one we want doing something like that. My thesis would basically say, 'Bad things happen. We get scared. Buffy kills them. We go out for Chinese food. Cameron puts up with my babbling afterward. By the way, she's a robot. The end."
"Adding that I'm a robot would take the thesis off-topic and you would lose points during the defense and grading process," Cameron pointed out. "Also, it would lose credibility for inaccuracy. I'm-"
"-a cyborg," the others chorused.
"So you'd know better than to use an inaccurate term. Excellent." Cameron adjusted her facial features to display a satisfied smile.
Buffy and Xander chuckled. "Cam, you're getting way too good at looking smug when you're right," Buffy observed.
"I know how to fix that." Xander stretched. "Sorry Wil, I'm hitting the caffeine dep phase of research time. Keep me company, Cameron?"
"Sure." Cameron carefully marked her place in the books she was going through. "We'll be back in a couple of minutes."
"Translation: Five to ten minutes, allowing time for stolen smoochies." Buffy drew the last two words out in a fashion that Cameron understood to be a playfully teasing manner. Successfully, if Xander's blushing was an accurate estimation of teasing. Cameron decided to try simulating that response on her own face. She tucked her chin down against her chest and let the capillaries in her cheeks open up to produce the anticipated redness in a display of bashful embarrassment.
"Oh my gosh, Cameron's blushing too!" Buffy clapped her hands. "Pinocchia's turning into a real girl!"
Cameron held her pose for a few moments longer before reversing the process and going back to her blank expression. "Fooled you."
Buffy's mouth opened in shock. "That was mean," she protested. "I got all excited that you were having real feelings."
"I'm sorry," Cameron replied. "You were teasing us, so I was trying to tease you in return. Did I not do it right?"
"Actually, you did. You blushed at the right moment and you stopped when you knew it would have a decent reaction," Willow pointed out. "We just don't want it to be a joke. You seem to really want to have emotions. If and when it happens, we're going to be happy for you."
"Oh." Cameron processed this thought for longer than she would most concepts. "Then, I apologize for my inappropriate joke." She watched Buffy and Willow look inexplicably sad. She wondered if she'd misspoke her apology.
She felt Xander take her hand. "Hey, the fact that you got the timing down right to play a joke in the first place is a good step too." He gave her hand a tug. "C'mon, before I waste away for lack of caffeine."
Cameron displayed a smile to Buffy and Willow intended to convey contriteness for her joke that didn't go as anticipated. "Okay."
She accompanied Xander to retrieve his stimulant beverage. Along the way, they discussed events of the day. As Buffy predicted, Xander attempted to lure her into indulging in a few moments of stolen kisses, which she let him do. She found the sensations caused by kissing Xander oddly captivating.
Once he'd purchased his drink, Cameron walked with him in silence for a few moments. She was aware that when she had to leave, it was going to hurt him. To what extent, she could not yet judge, but she knew the longer their relationship continued, the harder it was going to be for him when she did have to leave.
As they approached the library doors, this line of thought seemed to be on Xander's mind as well. "You can't make me disappear just because you say it's over."
Cameron couldn't recall bringing the subject up. She turned to him to say so, when she found herself unable to control her communication processes. Instead of asking him what was wrong, she found herself asking, "I just want you to be able to have some kind of normal life. We can never have that, can't you see?"
Her chest plate felt strange, as if there was was something constricting her power source. She could feel the ducts that simulated lacrimation began to produce excess simulated tears in her eyes. She was becoming rather concerned about this. She could not stop herself from talking or simulating weeping. Xander seemed to be having the same problem.
She watched, unable to control herself as she and Xander began to have an emotional argument about whether or not she could end her relationship with him. She attempted to override several times to no effect. It was as if something else was in control of her processes.
More perplexing, was the realization that she could... feel. She felt sorrow that this was the way that it had to be. She felt fear when he began to grow irrational and began to shout, when he grabbed her wrist and would not let go. And through it all, she felt love
. Because she loved him, she had to end things and let him recuperate and find someone new in his life.
Cameron tried frantically to override the repsponses she was giving, but it was as if Skynet itself had locked her out of control of her body. She wanted to shout a warning to Buffy and Willow, to hold Xander and tell him that she didn't know what was happening, but she was unable to alter the events as they occurred.
Then Xander produced a six round pistol. Cameron knew that this could not hurt her, but she still felt a shock of terror go through her. He was out of control! He was going to kill her! Cameron turned and tried to flee.
Her body didn't respond with its usual alacrity. She ran inefficiently, as if she were constrained from exceeding her current speed somehow. Xander caught up with her and she tried to convince him, to beg him to hand over the pistol. He grew angrier still and accused her of treating him like an adolescent.
Then he shot her.
Cameron could detect no major physical damage apart from her dermal layer, even though she touched the bullet entry point and looked at the synthetic blood on her fingers in horror. Then her processor began to exert control over the situation once more.Error: unknown virus detected. Restarting hardware and software.
Suddenly, Xander seemed to realize what was happening. "Cam? he breathed, his voice clearly indicating that he was appalled about what had just occurred.
"Xander, I don't-"
Everything went black as her system powered down.-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-:-118... 119... 120.
System analysis - no malicious code detected. Functionality restored.
Cameron opened her eyes to find her three friends standing over her wearing expressions of extreme concern as well as Giles.
"Cameron, are you okay? Do you remember what happened?" Giles asked.
"I remember," she replied softly.
Xander let out a relieved breath and sat down on the ground as she sat up, wrapping his arms around her. "God, Cameron, I thought maybe that ghost gun killed you," he whispered in great distress.
"No, it didn't hurt me. My dermal layer will repair itself in a couple of days. My system processor initiated a shut down and restart to purge the code that was causing me to say those things," Cameron explained in monotone. She could detect an echo of that feeling prior to the restart where she felt somehow hollow.
"Can you explain what happened?" Giles asked. "Any unexplained messages or commands being sent to you whose origin you don't recognize?
"I have no memory of receiving commands from anyone," she replied. "I'm not certain what happened. I think I should go home and analyze the memories of this before I can tell you more. There's a great deal of it that I don't understand."
"Want me to come with you? Y'know, in case you have a relapse or something?" Xander offered.
Cameron considered this. Ordinarily, he would not be able to detain her if her programming was infiltrated again. However, she'd had a contingency plan in place for this ever since she'd arrived and had recalled how sometimes reprogrammed terminators go bad for indeterminate reasons.
"Could someone bring my backpack?" she asked, aware that it didn't seem to fit with the conversation in progress.
"I'll get it!" Willow ran off immediately, returning a minute and fifty seven seconds later with her requested item.
Cameron opened the backpack and extracted an item of her own design, a piece of current technology with a small activation device she'd built into a pocket watch case attached to a cord. The cord ended in a large black power source with connector leads. She tucked the power source into the waistband of her jeans and covered it with her shirt and jacket. She handed the watch case with the button inside to Xander.
"You cannot hold my hand while we're driving to my apartment," she warned Xander. "This is a very powerful taser. If you press the button in the watch case, it will send enough electricity into my system to initiate another system reboot. The voltage would kill a human." She paused. "And you will have to drive my car. I should not operate a vehicle until I can run a test to ensure all of the virus is gone."
"Yeah, that's fine. I know how to drive." He looked at the others. "Do you guys need anything before I take her home?"
Willow shook her head. "No, I think we're almost done here. We'll call Cam's cell if anything comes up."
"Oh. Right." Cameron fished her cellular phone out of her pocket. "You will need to carry this as well, Xander. The taser would render the phone inoperable.
"Okay." Xander seemed to be calming down, now that he could see Cameron was back to normal and apparently undamaged. "You guys need anything before we take off?"
Buffy shook her head. "I think we're good here. You two just be careful, okay?"
"Yeah, we will." Xander situated the watch case in one hand and took Cameron's keys from her. "Ready?" he asked her.
"Yes. We should hurry." After an exchange of farewells and words of caution, they left the school in Cameron's car.
The drive to Cameron's apartment was uneventful. Xander managed to drive with the taser switch in his hand without endangering himself or anyone else. He escorted her into her unfurnished apartment and followed her until she could lay down in order to devote maximum processing power to her analysis of the memories she had of the unexplained intrusion.
Once she was settled, Xander sat down next to her. "I just remember being able to see what was going on, but I couldn't stop myself from doing anything."
"That's what I recall as well."
Xander seemed to accept this and sat with her for a bit longer. While Cameron was pulling up the data she had about the incident, he spoke up again. "What was it like for you?"
Cameron hesitated before responding. "I could feel, Xander."
He appeared to be confused. "What do you mean?"
"Whatever was doing that, I believe it caused me to feel emotions."
Xander looked startled. "Run that by me again?"
"When it happened. At first, I was very sad. Then I became frightened when your actions grew threatening. And throughout all of it..." Cameron paused. She wasn't sure if this was something that Xander would want to hear.
"What else did you feel?" he whispered.
Cameron shook her head. "I do not yet understand the third sensation. This is why I'm analyzing it before I retell it to Giles."
"Sound policy. Much like you, Giles is at his best when he has clear cut facts to work with." Xander smiled fondly at her and brushed her hair away from her face.
"I do know one thing for certain, though." Cameron spoke without pausing for scrutinization of her thoughts.
She looked up at him, and she could feel that pressure around her power source again. "I was experiencing emotions, Xander. I really was." Her voice sounded odd to her. It was higher pitched and if it was coming from a human, she would conclude that the person speaking was upset. "But I can't now. And I want them back."
Xander looked down at her and once again appeared to be surprised. "Cameron?"
"I think maybe they're not entirely gone. The emotions, I mean," he replied, sounding very shocked.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
Instead of answering verbally, he placed a fingertip gently at the corner of one of her eyes and traced a line from her eye to just below her ear. He held up the finger and she was surprised to find that his fingertip was glistening with moisture. She knew what that was, too. It was the fluid that her eyes produced to simulate tears.
"I think you were just crying, honey," he murmured in a tone of quiet awe.
Cameron had no response to this.That pressure was still in her chest. She blinked at Xander and removed her self-disabling device from his hand and her waistband, setting it aside. Then she reached out to take Xander's hand.
"Will you stay with me for a little while? Just until you're called to go help the others? I think that if any other emotions surface, I will need your help to determine what they are," she asked softly.
"I can do that." Without delay, Xander adjusted his posture so he was reclining beside her body, his head pillowed on his own arm. Without once letting go of her hand, he draped his arm across her middle and left it there. Cameron found that this gesture relieved some of the pressure around her power source.
She knew it would take her a very long time to draw any conclusions from all of this new and unexpected information.