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(Fic Commentary) A Storm Coming In

26th May 2008 (15:29)

Since it's a Bank Holiday and I don't have to work I thought I'd write a Director's Commentary on my most recent fic instead... along with some remarks on my storywriting technique.

Link to the original story.

I started writing this story soon after seeing the Sarah Connor Chronicles for the first time. This was also the time when I was working on my Aliens crossover story, We Just Declared War, and it struck me that a Buffy/Terminator crossover would also be fun to do. However, I wrote the first half and then inspiration failed... not to mention the distraction of trying to do the other story. Recently, though, I got fed up with having so many unfinished stories and essays sitting on my PC, and stirred myself to get it finished.


A Storm Coming In

>> The title is, of course, a quote from the last lines of the first Terminator film: "There's a storm coming in." "I know."

-- Sunnydale, California. Spring 1999 --

>> T:TSCC actually starts on 24 August 1999, but Cameron says she's been looking for John for 73 days, putting back the start of her search to mid-June. However, given her robotic precision of definition, it's quite possible that she's not counting the days when she wasn't searching for John in that total of 73, so her arrival in the 20th century might have been even earlier, in Spring 1999. 

>> Rather than tie this down to an exact Buffy episode, I decided to set it in a general "Season 3" time period. It's after 'Faith , Hope and Trick' (because Faith is mentioned) but before 'Lovers Walk' (because Xander and Cordy are still together).


"Weird. That's not something you see every day."

"Um, welcome to Sunnydale, Xan. I take it this is your first visit?"

"You know what I mean. Standard demony vampire strangeness, sure. Big glowing silver energy balls in the middle of the street? Not so much."

>> When I'm writing fanfic, I frequently imagine the scene in my head first, with actions and spoken dialogue, and only then transcribe what I've seen into written words. This often involves characters borrowing their intonation and even words from actual scenes in the show. So Xander's line about "standard demony vampire strangeness" was based on his line in 'Restless' to Anya about "Not a vengeance hobby"... you can imagine him saying this in the same tone of voice, because that's how I imagined it.

"I think it's pretty." Willow was just stepping forward for a closer look when Buffy suddenly grabbed her and hurled her to one side... and a giant burst of energy scorched the sidewalk right where she'd been standing. More electrical discharges were being thrown off the ball, and the three friends backed away hastily.

>> Buffy's Slayer instincts warned her of the danger moments before it actually became real. Also, this is early-season Willow, whose main role in life sometimes seemed to be getting put in danger and then rescued... a far cry from the way I normally show her in my stories...

One last violent surge of power... and the ball seemed to collapse suddenly in on itself, leaving a circle of scorched tarmac and a ring of smouldering debris. And, crouched in the exact centre of it, was a girl. A rather attractive teenage girl. 

>> This is a scene that should be familiar to anyone who's a fan of the Terminator franchise. It's the standard way timetravellers from the future arrive here.

A rather attractive, stark naked teenage girl.

>> For anyone who's not a fan of the Terminator franchise: time travel only works on living tissue, or on inanimate matter which is completely enclosed in living tissue. The cyborgs have metal endoskeletons covered in artificial but organic flesh, so they can come through the time portal... but their clothing and weapons get left behind.

After a stunned mutual moment of silence, Willow hastily put up her hand to cover Xander's eyes. 

>> She did something similar to Dawn in 'Entropy'. It's her mothering nature emerging.

He protested, of course, but when Buffy interjected her own pointed "Xander! Be a gentleman" he sulkily turned his back. The two girls continued to study the strange apparition... Willow herself a little pink with embarrassment, Buffy merely curious. 

>> Why Season 3 Willow would blush at the sight of a naked girl is left as an exercise for the reader. :-)

She started to step forward when the stranger suddenly lifted her head and looked around.

Then she stood, completely unselfconscious of her nakedness, 

>> She's a robot, she doesn't care about such things. (Although she might pretend to in order to pass as human).

and looked fixedly at each of the three of them for a long moment, as if studying them, or matching them against some internal checklist. 

>> Which is exactly what she is doing, of course. I imagine the checklist runs something like this:

1. Are any of these entities posing an immediate threat?
2. Are they armed?
3. Are they human?
4. Are they John or Sarah Connor?
5. Do any of them match me in sex, height and build so I can steal their clothing?


Mind apparently made up, she addressed herself to Buffy. She spoke perfect English, but with an odd lack of inflection.

"You will remove your clothing and give it to me."

>> This scene is taken pretty much straight from the first film (where Arnie's words were "Your clothes.  Give them to me."). Cameron does something similar to the boys in the car in T:TSCC, but we don't hear her dialogue there. It seems to be a standard Terminator modus operandi.


>> The picture, of course, is Cameron's view of the three. Notice that unlike standard T-800 series Terminators she has a full-colour visual display system. (I originally had the picture tinted red, then remembered that the series shows that Cameronvision is different.) The screencap is a Buffy season 1 image, because finding pictures where Buffy, Willow and Xander are standing together facing the same direction outside are surprisingly hard to find.

>> I'll admit that I didn't check Summer's and Sarah's height and weight on IMDb to see if they really are the same build, which could be considered a failure of research on my part. But artistically and thematically, it has to be Buffy whose clothes she wants.

"What?!" - from Buffy.
"Oh thank you God!" - from Xander.
"Xander!" - from Buffy and Willow simultaneously.

>> If there's one thing better than naked Cameron, it's the prospect of naked Buffy. Um, from Xander's perspective anyway. :-)

Buffy turned back to the strange girl, shook her head. "Not going to happen. But we can get you--"

Before she could even finish the sentence, the newcomer took four paces forward and shot out her right hand, stiff-arming Buffy on the jaw. Knocked her flying backwards with enough force to stun or even kill a normal human. Willow and Xander tried to grab the stranger's arms, but she shrugged her shoulders with a casual gesture and sent both of them tumbling, then strode towards Buffy.

>> Terminators are even worse than Buffy in the way they immediately resort to violence. Believe it or not.

Who was grinning. "What's up? Macy's out of your size?" 

>> Does Sunnydale have any department stores in canon? Anyway, they do now. Note that this is early-season Buffy, who's sarcastic and quippy and enjoys violence.

With a graceful acrobatic motion she flipped back onto her feet and swung her fist at the girl with all her strength... only to wince in pain and clutch her knuckles as her hand connected with something far harder than normal flesh. The stranger was driven back a little by the blow, but recovered quickly, picking Buffy up by the arms and slamming her bodily into the nearby building. Hard enough to crack the brickwork and leave a Slayer-shaped indentation in the wall.

Buffy gave an 'oof' of pain, but bunched her legs up to her chest and kicked out forcefully. The other girl was hurled back into the street and fell to the ground... but she picked herself up and came charging back in, swinging her arms in haymaker blows that made up in power what they lacked in finesse. But Buffy ducked and weaved beneath her flailing arms then shot out her leg to trip the stranger. 

>> Here I'm deliberately contrasting the combat aesthetic of the two shows. Terminators are pretty clumsy fighters when they don't have guns, noted for swinging their arms around a lot in big sweeping blows. They also seem to have a strange fondness for picking people up and slamming them against the nearest wall. Buffy, on the other hand, is much more about the athletic manoeuvres, flips and kicks and wire-fu stunts.

Before she could get up again Buffy was straddling her, locking one of her arms behind her back and pressing her forearm against the girl's neck.  When she still struggled, Buffy slammed her head against the pavement, once, twice... and very suddenly the girl stopped moving, and spoke in her peculiar, flat voice.

>> It's one of those perennial Internet debates on a par with the astronauts and cavemen one: who would win in a fight between Buffy and a Terminator? (Whedonesque discussed this back when T:TSCC came out). Of course, I'm biasing the result by setting this story in the Buffyverse: so of course Buffy is going to win; she's the hero. Although it wouldn't be unheard of for her to lose the first round, only to come back and win in the second. (See: 'Bring on the Night'/'Showtime') Buffy is more agile and cunning, but Terminators feel no pain, are possibly stronger (that's debateable), never get tired, and, of course, don't feel pity or remorse or fear. They also use guns. 

>> Still, in T:TSCC Cameron herself seems to overpower an enemy Terminator in hand-to-hand combat fairly easily, doing more or less what Buffy does here: pins it to the ground and immobilises it. Buffy doesn't know about the chips in their heads that can be remved to make the job permanent, though... but luckily, Cameron's mission doesn't require her to kill Buffy.


"You are not what you seem. I should not have attacked you. I will cease interfering with your mission."

"My 'mission'? Who do you think I am? And who the heck are you?"

>> She assumes she's another Terminator, since no human could be that strong.

"You register as outwardly human. Your infiltration camouflage is therefore excellent, it deceived me fully. However, terminating you is not within my mission parameters at this moment. There is no need for further combat; will you release me?"

>> For Termies, it's as simple as that. They'll kill you if you're their designated target, or you get in their way, or killing you will advance their mission somehow. They'll fight to keep you alive if that will help their mission. Otherwise, they simply don't care if you live or die.

"Not until you explain who you are and what you're doing here."

As she spoke, Willow and Xander were approaching cautiously. 

"She doesn't think you're human, Buff. I'd be insulted."

"A-and she kinda said that if you were human, she'd still be attacking you. That doesn't sound too friendly."

>> I dislike inserting a lot of 'he said' 'she replied' into fics, so I try to give clues in the dialogue as to who is saying each line. Hopefully it works. Those two lines were Xander and Willow, respectively. One thing I have noticed on recent re-watching is that Willow stammers a lot, especially when she's flustered or excited; I've kind of missed that out in my past portrayals of her.

"Well?" Buffy gripped the odd girl's arm more tightly. "Are you here to kill humans?"

"Only if ensuring the success of my mission makes it necessary."

"Bad answer. I can't let you do that."

"Why not? Is it your mission to safeguard humanity?"

"Well - uh - yes. Yes, I suppose it is, if you put it like that."

"She's the Slayer," added Willow helpfully. "Y'know, the Chosen One?"

>> She's always trying to be helpful.

"This designation is unknown to me. However, our missions are compatible. We should join forces."

"Whoa now. Buffy, this demon girl just tried to kill you. You can't trust her--"

Willow frowned in thought. "Actually, Xan, I don't think she's a demon. She sounds more like..."

"A robot?"
"...A robot."
"A robot!"

>> I know, I ripped that dialogue straight out of 'I Was Made To Love You'.

"Not a robot. A cybernetic organism. Living flesh over an alloy endoskeleton combat chassis."

>> That's pretty much a direct quote from T:TSCC too.

"Um, sorry to offend you."

"No offence taken. Thank you. Will you release me?"

>> Basic Cameron characterisation 101: she's always polite, and thanks people when they help her.

"First, tell me why you attacked us."

"I require clothing in order to be inconspicuous and thus complete my mission. I have no money or other possessions to use in trade, therefore taking it by force was the only option available."

"Uh, no. You should have just been patient, we could have brought you some spare clothes. My house is only down the road."

"Ah. Thank you for explaining. Are you still willing to do this?"

"We probably should get her some clothes, Buffy. She is kinda naked."

"Thanks, Will. Thanks a lot. I was carefully trying not to think of the fact that Buffy is straddling a naked woman in the middle of the street. I'm going to have nightmares about this for weeks."

>> To be honest, I'd got so wrapped up in writing the dialogue that I'd almost forgotten myself that Buffy is currently sitting on top of a nude girl. So I decided to let Xander call attention to the fact. :-)

"'Nightmares?'" Buffy raised a sceptical eyebrow.

"Well, dreams. Dreams of a highly disturbing nature."

>> I was imagining Buffy from the scene in 'Earshot' where she looks at Wesley, and Xander from 'Once More With Feeling' when he's first talking about the singing in the 'I've Got A Theory' scene, for these bits of characterisation.

"If it will comfort you, I am not actually a woman. I am a combat cyborg designed for infiltration and the termination of enemies."

>> Aww. Cameron trying to make him feel more at ease.

"Strangely enough, that's really not comforting."

Buffy now adopted a no-nonsense tone. "Cut to the chase. Who are your enemies and what's your mission? You said it's to safeguard humanity?"

"Not precisely. My mission is to not only to protect humanity... but to forestall its imminent extinction. I am here to prevent Judgement Day."

>> You have to imagine that there was a big dramatic chord in the background music as she said that.

A long moment of silence, then all three friends spoke at once.

"Is that all?"
"Oh, not again."
"Both been there and done that."

>> A movie franchise about preventing the apocalypse - singular - does rather lose its power next to one where the heroes face an apocalypse every May, without fail...

***

Half an hour later, Robo-Girl (as Xander had christened her) was dressed in some of Buffy's old clothes, and they were all gathered in Giles's front room. 

>> At first I had them meeting in the school library, but then practical considerations intervened. Cameron presumably appeared in a deserted street, since otherwise there'd have been more comment and commotion from passersby. If it's a schoolday, what were B/W/X doing there when they should be in class, or at least hanging around just outside the school with all the other kids? So I assume it's either the weekend or a school holiday, and so the meeting place becomes Giles's house.

They'd also picked up Cordelia en route... she'd come by hoping to spend some quality smoochy time with Xander and instead, much to her disgust, found herself dragged into a Scooby meeting instead. After a few minutes pretending to be interested, she pulled a celebrity magazine out of her bag and started reading it.

>> Setting up the punchline for later where she's the one to name Cameron. I'm sort of assuming they were walking past Xander's house on the way to Giles's, and Cordelia pulled up in her car outside just at the right moment.

As for the others, their own urgency to hear Robo-Girl's story lasted right up until she revealed that the apocalypse she'd come to prevent was due in... twelve years time. Not twelve days: twelve years. 21 April 2011, to be precise. 

>> Date taken from the TV show, of course. See comment above about the difference between the two shows: by the time Skynet goes online in another 12 years, Buffy can probably expect to have faced 12-15 potentially world-ending apocalypses...

There followed a complicated explanation involving computers and time-travel that only Willow really managed to follow. However, the upshot was that Robo-girl had to track down some kid living in the LA region and keep him alive... for the next 28 years. At which point he would send his best friend back through time to knock up his own mother, or something like that, and somehow this would save the world.

>> The plot of the Terminator films does sound a little funny when translated into Buffyverse terms. :-) In the original draft, I had Oz there in the meeting as well, and a comment that he probably understood Cameron's story as well as Willow, but since he didn't say anything except 'huh' it was hard to tell. But I wanted to tighten things up a bit, and so he ended up on the cutting room floor. Feel free to imagine him still sitting there nodding along silently if you want him to be. :-)

"O-kay." Buffy looked around at the others. They looked back at her, equally dubious. (Well, except Cordelia, who was distracted by the picture of Christian Slater in her magazine and didn't even look up). 

>> Christian Slater was Cameron Diaz's co-star in the film 'Very Bad Things', which was released in late 1998. See? Sometimes I do do research...

"Well then." Buffy made up her mind. "That's a very important mission, which I think you should go and do immediately. For the next 28 years, you say? Definitely a job for a robot."

"Yes. I agree. This is my mission."

"So, you're like a robot bodyguard?" Xander seemed intrigued by that idea. "Are there any more robots out there like you? Because I quite fancy the idea of having one for myself."

Cordelia did look up at that. "Xander!"

>> Dialogue and characterisation courtesy of 'Faith, Hope and Trick'

"Only for protection! Definitely not for any other reason!"

Robo-Girl seemed oblivious to this exchange, but simply answered the original question calmly. Her reply was rather discouraging, not to mention ominous. The thought of lethal combat cyborgs wandering around 20th century California was alarming enough, but Buffy refused to let it faze her. 

>> I had to remind myself that this is 1999 so yes, it is still the 20th century.

Indeed, she took an eminently practical approach:

"How do I kill them?"

"Do you have access to phased plasma weaponry or high explosives?"

>> "Phased-plasma rifle in the forty watt range" is what Arnie asks for in the first film. Note that despite what Cameron says, you can also kill Terminators by using your environment in a clever way such as luring them into a hydraulic steel press... Howver, since you can't carry one of those with you when you go hunting one, she's discounting it as a possible method of killing Terminators.

"Um, no? At least, not normally..."

"Then you don't. There are ways to temporarily disable them, however..."

>> I have to suspect that Cameron would not be entirely forthright and honest when telling Buffy about Terminators' weaknesses. However, she might tell her about removing the head plug, and certainly about the vulnerability to high-voltage current.

"Tell me."

At this point, Giles intervened. "While she's doing that, Willow, why don't you go online and see if you can track down this boy that, um, 'Robo-Girl' is trying to find?"

"Ooh! Good idea. I'm so on that."

>> Season 3. Laptop-geek Willow instead of broomstick-action Willow. Also, Giles is still here the one to make the intelligent suggestions about what they could be doing next.

"And in the meantime, perhaps we can think of a less frightful appellation than 'Robo-Girl'? She's going to have to pass as human, after all."

>> I did wonder if "a less frightful appellation" was skating close to parody, but I can hear Giles saying that.

"Great idea! How about... Robbie? Robina? Cyborgianna?"

>> I'm imagining Xander saying that, although I can also hear Buffy making similar suggestions. "Cyborgianna" makes me laugh.

"Oh for heaven's sake!" Cordelia rolled her eyes and opened her magazine to a random page, to reveal a big picture of Cameron Diaz at the premiere of 'Very Bad Things'. She held it out for inspection. "How about calling her 'Cameron'?"

>> And Cordelia is responsible for naming Cameron. In reality, the character was named as a tribute to James Cameron, but calling her after Cameron Diaz seemed more the sort of thing that would happen after she wandered into the Buffyverse.

"That's not very--"

"It is an acceptable name. I will use it. Thank you."

And so the next day, they all gathered to see Cameron safely off on the bus to Los Angeles. She was wearing one of Willow's old pink sweaters, 

>> Compare Cameron in her fuzzy pink sweater - as shown in my icon here - and Willow in 'Lovers Walk'. Sisters!

and armed with a hefty printout listing every 15-year old boy called 'John' in Southern California. 

>> If she's going to spend 73 days searching, I could hardly have Willow just give her Sarah Connor's telephone number and address, could I? Not to mention that if Willow could find them that easily, presumably so could Skynet.

Xander looked quite wistful as she left, although he quickly schooled his features into a more neutral expression when he saw Cordelia watching him. 

As for Willow, she regarded Cameron with a thoughtful, calculating expression. But she likewise blanked her gaze, this time when Cameron herself looked at her. She'd followed enough of her story to realise that the visitor from the future would see it as a serious potential threat if anyone should happen to, oh, y'know, build a robot with advanced AI herself. Not that she anyone was planning to do that, really and truly. But wouldn't it be cool if they did?

>> I wonder whether she kept the parts she salvaged from Ted the previous year? It's probably just as well for the world that Willow decided to pursue magic instead of becoming a mad scientist, or who knows what would happen? She might have reprogrammed the Buffybot and inadvertently created Skynet and blown up the world...

And Buffy? She was just relieved to see her go. Faith was quite enough competition for her without yet another superpowered teenage girl running loose around Sunnydale...

>> There are a lot of them around these days...
.

Comments

Posted by: Beer Good (beer_good_foamy)
Posted at: 26th May 2008 21:18 (UTC)
Terminator/Buffybot=ROBOTP

I always enjoy these commentaries; thanks for doing one for this one too.

I'm biasing the result by setting this story in the Buffyverse: so of course Buffy is going to win; she's the hero.

This is an interesting angle, which I've thought about myself every time I do a crossover (hell, it was basically the whole plot of that Buffy/Texas Chainsaw Massacre thing). Almost every canon has a hero who is almost all-powerful in their 'verse, not just because of their strength but simply because they're the central character - so if you cross two of those over, how do you decide who gets to trump whom?

Christian Slater was Cameron Diaz's co-star in the film 'Very Bad Things', which was released in late 1998.

Also, Buffy's big celebrity crush in the BtVS movie. Which of course just adds to Buffy's jealousy.

However, I strongly object to the word "termies." :-)

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 26th May 2008 23:44 (UTC)

if you cross two of those over, how do you decide who gets to trump whom?

I do think you need to distinguish between simple plot immunity because someone is the star, and actual talents they demonstrate on the show. In other words, how do they win? Buffy isn't bulletproof, for example. She does show a remarkable talent for dodging gunfire - see her fights with Darla and Adam for examples - but if she isn't alert and ready, she can be shot just as easily as a normal human. So if Cameron came up behind her with an Uzi 9mm, you could rule that Buffy dies.

Where it becomes a judgement call is whether you accept things like luck and a sixth sense for danger as valid character attributes. I'd certainly argue that Buffy shows a positive knack for stumbling over an enemy's hidden vulnerability and spotting a way to exploit it... and because the Buffyverse has magic and prophecies and sacred destinies, you can say that this is an actual power of hers rather than just plot contrivance.

So what happens if one plucky underdog with a talent for spotting the right thing to do comes up against another? (Buffy vs Luke Skywalker, perhaps?) I'd say they're both lucky enough to realise they should be on the same side, and stop fighting each other. :-)

Of course, it also depends on the genre you're trying to write... which is another way of saying "whose universe is the story set in?" If it's the kind of horror film where everybody dies horribly, then obviously Buffy would have to die horribly too...

Posted by: MrTeufel (mrteufel)
Posted at: 27th May 2008 13:36 (UTC)

Wouldn't Giles have understood the time-travel story too? And I reckon that Willow would probably have been a better fit for clothing for Cameron, but agree with you about the story needs. Although I could see Cameron going for Willow, and Buffy diving to intercept.

Posted by: StephenT (stormwreath)
Posted at: 27th May 2008 14:05 (UTC)
cameron-explaining

I'm assuming Giles heard the talk turning to computers and technology and artificial intelligence, and his brain turned off. :-)

And Cameron is dressed in Willow's wardrobe cast-offs by the end of the story anyway. It's not like Buffy and Willow are that dramatically different in build, anyway...

Posted by: Owen (owenthurman)
Posted at: 1st June 2008 20:30 (UTC)

Looks like SMG is giving up 4 inches (ten centimetres) and about 20 pounds to Summer. But in 1999, Sarah would have been a good 10-15 pounds heavier so it's really just the height and muscular build. I can bend my brain into believing it.

Aly H is much closer. Plus, there's that sweater.

Posted by: Dio (diachrony)
Posted at: 2nd June 2008 01:26 (UTC)
buffy - squee

I always enjoy your "director's commentaries!"

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