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Title: Breaking Out of an Infinite Loop
Author: jedibuttercup
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not
Rating: T
Prompt/Prompter: [personal profile] sulien, who asked for: "Terminator (any) + Person of Interest. John Connor's number comes up and he realizes that John Reese is his grandfather when they meet. Who protects who?"
Spoilers: Season 3-ish for Person of Interest, canon-divergence AU for Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Notes: Let me tell you. Figuring out how to make John Reese, who only acquired that last name in 2005, into John Connor's grandfather took some mental gymnastics and twisty attempts at worldbuilding. Hope the result entertains. :)

Summary: Whatever John and his mom had done trying to stop the iteration where everything ended on April 21, 2011 had apparently rearranged the timeline enough for more than one competing AI to enter the picture... 3000 words.



Cameron hadn't been kidding when she'd said the new lynchpin in the fight against Skynet would be difficult to track down. They'd been in the future three weeks already, but that wasn't nearly enough time to search a haystack of several million people for one tech-savvy needle. It was like John imagined it must be for the cops trying to find him and his mom, only with even less resources at their disposal-- which figured. It had taken a lot of dedication to hide from electronic surveillance in 1999, even more now that they'd jumped to the New York City of 2013, so anyone with even less footprint had to have at least as much motivation as they did.

The more concerning part was the way Judgment Day had changed since this new guy came into the picture. The aging Resistance member had never told anyone what his real name was, just used a succession of bird-themed aliases, but his survival past 2005 had led to a drastic change in the playing field. Judgment Day had always been a sharp line in the sand before; two days after an artificial intelligence became truly aware, it set off every bomb it could reach, whether that was in 1997, 2004, 2011 or some other point in the nebulous future. But whatever John and his mom had done trying to stop the iteration where everything ended on April 21, 2011 had apparently rearranged the timeline enough for more than one competing AI to enter the picture.

The good news? None of those others had started out life as a chess bot turned missile defense system, so they were a whole lot less likely to bomb humanity back to the Stone Age.

The bad news? Even in the new future, the wrong AI had won.

The date of no return was now January 7, 2014, according to Cameron; after that, humanity would be pruned into extinction one 'deviant' at a time, targeted as individuals rather than as a species. It would be a much slower and more lingering death than Skynet would have offered, but in the end, it would be just as final. For next-level irony factor, the AI that came out on top would be called Samaritan, as if they were supposed to thank it for taking the slow-boil approach rather than flash-frying them into oblivion.

It was like that monkey's paw story. No nuclear holocaust, but a different method of destruction; no Terminators, just agents willingly carrying out the AI's orders of their own free will. And no more time travel get-out-of-hell free cards either, now that they'd blown up the Resistance's backup device in Los Angeles. Because if the T-888s running around the current timeline failed their mission to clear out the competition and revive Skynet, there'd be no one left who could recreate the technology.

Nothing like a little pressure to motivate a guy. John just hoped they weren't jumping back into the fire again looking for Harold Bird-Names, because if his twisty life story had taught him anything? It was that they were getting too close to the Singularity to keep playing whack-a-mole with AIs and their creators forever. It made sense that the only way to stop Judgment Day now would be to support an artificial intelligence that didn't view humans as a threat, unless they wanted to just give up and set off the bombs themselves.

His mom wasn't dealing very well with that idea. No surprise there. But that was the reality they were stuck with. John sighed as his latest Internet search failed to turn up any useful breadcrumbs and looked up from his laptop, propping his chin on his fist as he glanced out the window.

There was a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalks outside, and the people tended to be much more warmly dressed than he was used to seeing; New York City was more heavily populated and a lot further north than most of the places he'd lived over the years. People's personal space bubbles tended to be smaller, too; ignoring the guy walking next to you was more about politely not intruding than deliberately being rude. The extra layers of clothes obscured a lot of the usual emotional cues, too. Which made as good an excuse for crowd-watching as any, if his mom happened to catch him wool-gathering; he could just say he was busy reeducating his instincts....

There! John blinked and froze in his chair as he caught a glimpse of a guy in a suit on the other side of the street. A tall man with a military bearing and dark, slightly graying hair was standing behind an old-fashioned public phone, face turned roughly in the direction of their apartment. John hadn't caught him close enough yet to get a good look at his features, but he didn't need to in order to recognize the behavior.

"Mom!" he raised his voice, glancing back at his computer screen in an effort to pretend he hadn't noticed him. "It's that guy again-- he's back! Standing across the street."

He heard footsteps in the other room facing the street, then a snort. "Still wearing that same suit, too. Cameron's sure he isn't metal?"

"Yeah, she scanned him when she spotted him outside the school yesterday. No match; at least, he doesn't have a coltan endoskeleton, and she doesn't recognize his face from either her own experiences or public databases. He's just a guy, who for some reason happens to be watching us."

Footsteps sounded again; then Sarah Connor, current alias Sarah Baum, appeared in the doorway of his room, arms crossed as she leaned against the frame. She eyed the window and its line of sight to John's desk, then frowned at him. "I thought I told you to move that desk. Even with bulletproof glass installed, I don't like you being that visible to anyone just walking by."

"I know, I know, I just..." John sighed, then abandoned his crowd-watching excuse; she wasn't in the mood to hear it, and god forbid 'the future Savior of Mankind' get to do anything that might have the slightest whiff of danger. That was one benefit he wouldn't mind coming out of this new timeline, if he finally got to drop that title; even before they'd jumped over fourteen years of prep time, he'd been worried about how exactly he was going to keep himself relevant when he wasn't allowed to risk drawing attention to himself in any way. "I'll do it after he's gone. Who do you think he is, anyway? It seems a little soon for the FBI to find us."

"I'd expect him to have been asking questions, if he was; and I haven't heard so much as a whisper of a rumor that he's been nosing around," his mom agreed, frowning. "And he seems a little overdressed to be Resistance. Local mafia, maybe? I tried to pick a neighborhood out of any known turf zones, but there's been a lot of conflict between the Italians and the Russians the last few years, and we've been buying a lot of hardware from low-level traffickers. Maybe we hit someone's radar."

"Or maybe...." John considered, glancing toward the window again through his lashes. The guy was still there, now with a hand up to his ear; probably talking to his boss, or handler, or whoever. "What if... I know we were expecting it to take longer, but we're talking about a guy with enough programming skill to build an artificial intelligence, and enough paranoia that even after Samaritan won the AI war its agents never caught him. If he has his program up and running already...."

She stiffened at that, an expression of alarm flickering over her face. "He might have noticed that you've been looking. You think that guy out there works for him?"

"Maybe. It makes sense," he shrugged.

The Harold of Cameron's future had helped write a code package that could both enable his own creation to defeat Samaritan and stonewall any attempts by timeline-orphaned Terminators to recreate Skynet, but he'd been killed before he could give that version of the Resistance the details on where, how, and most importantly when to deliver it. So Cameron had brought the code with her when she'd jumped back to 1999 to save him-- for the second time, apparently; her summary of her personal timeline made even his head hurt-- and together they'd figured the likeliest time and place to put it to use. But another thing Harold had kept close to the vest was exactly how long his AI had been in operation, and what sort of activity might flag them for its attention.

John could see the war going on in his mom's expression as she turned that possibility over. She never had liked machines, and even after he'd explained why the new plan made more sense than trying to stop all technological advancement ever, the idea of welcoming any kind of AI overlord still gave her hives. He didn't blame her; his whole life had been a lesson in how wrong that could go. But he would never be the John Connor he was supposed to be if he couldn't figure out what needed doing, and see it done no matter what.

Finally, she came to a decision and turned to head for the door. "Cameron?" she called. "I'm going to make contact. Look after John."

"He may not be what you think," his robot pseudo-sister slash protector replied, evenly. "He may not allow it."

"If he is what we think, then he will," his mom countered with a shake of her head. Then she turned and stalked out of the room. A moment later, the slamming of a door echoed through the apartment, and John angled his head again to get a glimpse of her emerging onto the street.

He saw the exact moment the other man noticed her; he dropped his hand from his ear, and for a moment, John thought he was going to run. But something Sarah called or gestured made him hesitate, because he waited long enough for her to get to the crosswalk before making a reply of his own. Unfortunately, the angle was all wrong to even attempt to lip-read, and in the few seconds it took John to glance back to gauge his mom's reaction, the guy faded away into the scenery. The sidewalk was empty again in the space of a few breaths.

Sarah finished crossing, head turning sharply to scan the crowd; then she stooped where the guy had been standing and came up with something in her hand.

"An electronic device," Cameron mused, staring over his shoulder, probably mechanically enhancing her vision. "Meant to lead us to a meeting. He is what you think."

His mom's expression was frustrated as she crossed back over the street; John sighed and set about shutting down his laptop. "Of course he is. Well, ready or not, here we come."



The device turned out to be one of those really slick modern phones with all the advanced capabilities; as soon as John's mom brought it back into the house, a set of coordinates appeared on its display screen with a little animated map to lead them to it. It was kind of amazing; commercially available GPS-enabled phones had just been coming into service before their little time jump, but those had been much clunkier devices. This thing was practically a miniaturized computer right there in John's hand, constantly linked into a global network, and practically everyone carried them: a perfect illustration of the forces they were up against. Hard to play the boy with his finger in the dike when there were hundreds of millions of potential leaks in the US alone.

The location it showed was only a few blocks away. After a brief discussion, they sent Cameron to scout the area out first, then cautiously approached it, careful to take a route slightly off the path recommended by the phone. Nothing leapt out at them on the way, though... and once they got close enough to see their destination, there weren't any unexpected surprises there, either. Except maybe for the complete absence of anyone other than their watcher, seated casually on a bench with a large brown dog reclining at his feet.

"Do you think he knows?" John wondered, staring at the dog in surprise.

"I didn't get that impression," his mom replied, mouth pursed. "He'd have come with more firepower if he did. But it's a good thing we don't have Cameron with us, anyway. He probably does have someone else watching from nearby; he must have picked this location for a reason."

He turned his head slightly as they approached; John still didn't have a good angle on his face, but yeah, it was pretty evident he knew they were coming.

"Stay behind me," John's mom murmured, with a sharp, admonishing glance. He rolled his eyes, but obediently hung back a little, letting her take the lead.

"You've been watching us. For days, now." Sarah opened the conversation abruptly, one hand on her hip near the handgun tucked into the back of her jeans.

"You're unusually perceptive," the guy replied evenly, turning his head to glance up at her. At his feet, the dog stirred; he dropped one hand to its head, scratching gently between its ears. "Of course, that's only one of the many unusual things about you, isn't it."

"And what exactly do you think you know about me?" she challenged him.

"Enough to know there's a larger mystery here," he said again, turning further to look at John, eyes a remote, cool blue. "For example, the fact that your son looks exactly like a teenager who disappeared in a bank explosion in 1999, and also a young man who appeared in the news three weeks ago, naked on a California freeway."

Facial recognition, it had to be. More evidence he was working with Harold's AI; there wasn't enough time for him to have made the connection otherwise. Fourteen years between sightings sort of argued against living memory; maybe if it had only been a couple of weeks....

Recognition suddenly derailed John's line of thought, as he stared into the unexpectedly familiar face of the man on the bench. "Wait," he blurted. "I've seen you before."

"Of course we've seen him before; that's the point," his mom interjected irritably. "Who are you, anyway?"

"Just... a concerned citizen," the man replied, still wearing a bland, unruffled expression.

"No. I mean, I've seen him before that. In a picture, in a house in LA," John shook his head.

That finally got through the man's cool reserve, wrinkling his brow; it also drew his mom's attention, though for a different reason. "What house in LA? When? If you went out without me...."

"Yeah, I went out without you," John rolled his eyes. "It was after... he... was supposed to be born, and we were leaving the city. I just, you know... wanted to see him. Just that once."

"John..." his mom began again, a warning note in her voice.

The guy on the bench stiffened as if responding to the name too, making the hairs on John's arms stand on end. He was right about this, wasn't he? Now that was more of a mindfuck than anything else about their situation.

"Don't worry. He wasn't there," he added, hastily. "Or his family-- he has an older brother. Who would have been a baby in 1997, which I guess explains why he never said anything. But anyway. There was a picture of his parents on the mantel. But there were other pictures in the boys' bedrooms, of their mom with different men."

"And one of them was this guy?" Sarah replied, skeptically.

"Wearing an army uniform. No grey in his hair. But yeah," John replied.

If the answer had been any less critical, John probably would have been a lot warier of the man's increasingly tense body language. "I think we're getting a little off topic here...."

But then his gaze shifted off into the distance, as if someone was speaking in his ear. "Reese?" he said incredulously, to the voice on the other end. "2005? ...That can't be a coincidence; if it's true, Stanton must have known."

"Wait. Are you saying you...?" Sarah's voice broke off. She swallowed back the rest of the words; but John knew she was putting the same picture together he was.

John Connor; Kyle Reese; John Reese.

Maybe there was something to the way the timeline circled around them, after all. What a fucked up revelation to come face to face with, in potentially the last chance they were ever going to have: totally unexpected proof that badass skillsets and dealings with artificial intelligences might have been bred into John's bones right from the start.

It felt like a sign. It also felt like a warning: like, come with me if you want to live.

"As... interesting as that is," Reese visibly recollected himself. "It doesn't explain the fourteen year gap in your records. Or why you're here, in my city."

"In Harold's city, you mean," John replied, deciding to take that chance. "He's talking to you right now, isn't he? Tell him to compute the odds that an AI even more advanced than his might figure out time travel. And what might happen if that AI decided to start eliminating anything standing in its way."

The words fell like stones between them; John Reese's eyes were ablaze with alarmed suspicion as he stood.

"Perhaps we should have the rest of this conversation somewhere... a little more private," he said, roughly.

John Connor glanced up at the blue sky above him, still empty of nuclear-tipped rockets, and felt a faint stirring of hope for the first time in... forever.

"Yeah," he replied, reaching out to link his hand with his mother's. "Let's."

-x-

Comments

( 3 appreciated — appreciate )
ffutures
Dec. 4th, 2017 10:24 pm (UTC)
Lovely! POI and T:SCC go together very well. Which is why I've been working on something as part of my Supergirl series, which has had both vaguely in the background for a while and is going to bring them both to the foreground eventually...
jedibuttercup
Dec. 9th, 2017 11:46 pm (UTC)
That sounds like fun; they do go pretty well together, when you think about it. There's a reason I tagged it "May the Best AI Win" on AO3. :)
ffutures
Dec. 10th, 2017 01:25 am (UTC)
At this point I'm not entirely sure, but I suspect that the starting point for this will be a Samaritan victory, so fun may not be exactly the right word.
( 3 appreciated — appreciate )

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