Physician Heal Thyself
Easter Sunday morning
"I'm off to the Friends meeting. I may be gone longer than usual."
After her mother left, Cameron got dressed feeling like she had hijacked someone else's life. The clothes she had unpacked and hung in the closet were not hers. They belonged to that other Cameron. The Cameron who rightfully originated in this timeline. These clothes were colorful. Pastels, green, bright yellow, and even an orange ensemble. Prints and patterns. There were dresses; not the drab jeans and leather jackets that she was used to. The Cameron she replaced owned no purple leather jacket. It was obvious from the clothes alone that the Cameron she replaced was a very happy person. But further proof lay in the way this Sarah treated her. With love. Her mother had not even said anything when it was obvious that she was not left-handed. The original Cameron of this timeline was not right-handed.
Sarah would indeed be gone longer than usual. Easter services generally were longer in most denominations than regular services. Also the Friends meeting house was on the other side of town from where they lived. It would take time to drive there and back in addition to the longer meeting.
So Cameron availed herself of the opportunity to walk to the local Catholic parish. Since the Easter service would not start for a half-hour, she went for the sacrament of penance. The reconciliation room was a bit too open for her comfort. She needed the anonymity of the dark confessional booth with a screen separating her from a priest.
Disguising her voice: "Bless me Father I have sinned. I know that what I will say will sound insane but it is true and I need forgiveness. I am from another place and have stolen the life of someone who looks exactly like me. I did not intend harm to this person but Nature itself seems to have put me here."
priest: "Did you kill someone?"
Cameron: "Not on purpose this time. I have killed people but as a soldier in the military in time of war. This time was different. I, in essence, killed my identical twin sister."
priest: "Murder is serious."
Cameron: "Yes, I know."
priest: "'Thou shalt not kill' says the commandments. One of the first sins was brother against brother. You are talking the same thing. Sister against sister."
Cameron: "Yes. Even worse than ordinary murder."
priest: "But you said it wasn't on purpose. What is the truth?"
Cameron: "Okay but you are not going to believe me."
priest: "You'd be surprised at what I hear in confessions and what I believe. Go ahead."
Cameron: "I'm a time traveler. Top secret military stuff. I've traveled through time before but this is the first time I have killed somebody just by existing. When I arrived in this place, the person in this timeline ceased to exist. I live with my mother and I told her the truth but she probably thinks it is just job stress."
priest: "So you're talking about an imaginary sister not a real twin sister."
Cameron: "You think I'm crazy."
priest: "You misunderstand. It doesn't matter what I think. What matters is what you think. In mathematics, there are imaginary numbers that compute just as readily as real numbers. In psychology, imaginary things can kill. Psychosomatic illness can kill faster than poison. For your penance, I could give you five Our Fathers and three Hail Marys but that's not going to help you."
He scribbled something down and slipped a piece of paper through the screen.
priest: "For your penance, contact this person. He's a Jesuit scholar with PhD's in physics, philosophy, and psychology. Plus the usual divinity school spiritual subjects such as theology and ontology. He can handle any question you can throw at him. He's in Rome right now but you can email him and schedule an appointment when he's back in Kansas next week."
Cameron: (sobbing in relief) "Thank you Father, I could kiss you."
priest: "Don't do that. I'm a priest."
Cameron chuckled. The comment reminded her of the old Sarah's admonition to not kiss her. The new Sarah belonged to a peace church. It explained why she stuck to mothering and stayed out of the war with Skynet. The people of this timeline were not the liberal simpletons she had assumed at first. They were willing to fight but in a principled way.
After mass, Cameron felt a need for community and so tarried awhile. People approached and introduced themselves.
parishioner: "My name is Immaculata Prejean. Are you here with your family?"
Cameron: "I'm Cameron James. No. My mother is a Friend."
Immaculata: "You mean a Quaker?"
Cameron: "They prefer to be called Friends but they don't mind Quaker."
Immaculata: "You look about high school age. Where do you go to school?"
Cameron: "We just moved into town Good Friday. My mom says she prefers to send me to parochial school but I have not enrolled yet unless she made arrangements ahead of time. Knowing her, probably she did."
Ambulances flashed red lights and occasionally wailed their sirens to warn non-emergency vehicles to get out of their way.
health professional group practice
The clock on the other side of the glass showed the early hour. The medical receptionist looked at the woman with the girl. Behind them rolling in on wheelchairs pushed by helpers and hobbling in on crutches were others. Some in uniform and some were wearing T-shirts popular among veterans. They were used to being up before dawn. The receptionist was still trying to stifle yawns with coffee.
"Cameron James." Sarah handed over the plastic health insurance card that The Resistance had issued her.
The receptionist typed at her console and suddenly she was no longer sleepy. The military occasionally sent over VIP patients from the VA hospital or rehab center. Medical receptionist Polly Watkins was a civilian. In her purse, as usual, was one of the Tom Clancy-type techno-thrillers she read over lunch. Ms. Watkins rented the same kind of movies. She assumed that despite her age Cameron was Delta Force or even blacker black ops. For once, her vivid imagination was pretty close to the truth.
"Have a seat. The doctor should be arriving soon. It's still very early. But I'll page him. He might be stuck in traffic."
Sarah sat down next to Cameron in a nook with plants, medical journals such as JAMA on the low table, and landscapes and still lifes on the walls. No hospital disinfectant clung to the nose but the air was purified and odorless to the point of making it too refreshing to fall off to sleep. Padded chairs and soft calming muzak on the other hand made it easy to slumber. Elsewhere in the waiting room there was the health channel on a TV turned down to mute, pamphlets, and a drinking fountain. A box of Kleenex was on another table. There was no mirror. Disfigured people don't necessarily want to see themselves.
"When you find out that I am not your daughter, are you going to melt me down? I won't put up a fight. I'm just curious that's all."
Sarah opened her eyes. Her attempt at napping stymied. For a brief second, Sarah's pupils contracted at the words "melt me down" offended by the thought of hurting her daughter. She had already prepared herself for the possibility that this was not her Cameron and had long decided since Friday that it made not one bit of difference. Different Cameron. Still my daughter. You love your children no matter what. Even if they are not your children. She squeezed Cameron's hand.
"Stop confusing me with this monster in your imagination. If the worst happens and your wild story turns out to be true and you are kicked out of the--"
Sarah looked around. The other patients were amputee and quadriplegic veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and America's other adventures and foreign entanglements. Their phantom limbs were missing or paralyzed from fighting a different war than the one Cameron was fighting. Sarah implied the word Resistance and continued.
"--then we will continue to live together until you go off to college."
Sarah patted Cameron's hand to emphasize that she should relax no matter what happened today.
A grizzled veteran nearby hadn't overheard anything but was a keen observer of body language.
"Hey kid! Every parent has sat up all night with a sick child. You need to trust your mom."
A physical therapist came for the man before Cameron could respond to his attempt at reassurance. Sarah, knowing what Cameron was thinking, leaned over to whisper to Cameron without opening her eyes from a second attempt to nap.
"Eight years ago when an armor-piercing bullet lodged in your chest, I got in the habit of watching you sleep. They weren't sure if your reactor and your APU were damaged. So stop fretting and let me sleep."
Cameron put her arm around her mother and let her rest against her. Sarah fell fast asleep with her head resting on Cameron's breast. The other Sarah would never have been so comfortable with Cameron to cozy up to her as family rather than as an unwelcome servant.
Cameron smoothed Sarah's hair as she slept. So unlike the first Sarah who always assumed the worst about Cameron, this Sarah assumed the best about her daughter. Cameron looked down at Sarah's face. Less stress lines. Almost a mind reader. Sarah woke up a while later with her head resting on Cameron's folded-up sweater. The nurse had come for Cameron and Cameron had somehow eased out from under Sarah's head and substituted her sweater without waking up her mother.
Change into this. Tongue scraping. Saliva sample. Blood sample. Urine sample. Stool sample. Wash hands in sink. Height. Stand on scale. Cameron wondered why she didn't crush the scale or why her weight didn't fluctuate. Was she a lightweight in this parallel universe?
Reflexes. The doctor walked in and with no introduction, threw a rubber ball.
Cameron caught it with her right hand.
Latex gloves. Physical exam. Dozens of other tests. X-ray but only below the neck. The nurse was puzzled. The doctor had whisked away the X-ray before she could take a good look at it. Doctor Fleming was Resistance but no one else in the group practice had a clue about the new doctor. The nurse looked at the young patient and try as she might, she could not see any seam or line. How did Cameron James remove her prosthetic arms and legs to change bandages or refit or adjust or bathe or sleep? The nurse never imagined that Ms. James never removed them or that her brain was not biological. The medical receptionist wondered if the VIP patient was The Six Million Dollar Bionic Woman. Except she was a girl.
When Sarah had called Doctor Fleming, he had a Resistance psychologist flown in from California for a consult -- someone named Doctor Boyd Sherman. Cameron recognized him though this Doctor Sherman had never met her before now. He asked her about her strange remarks, particularly about timelines. He asked about flashbacks and amnesia. He asked if she felt that The Resistance was working her too hard.
Doctor Fleming entered. Doctor Sherman left to review his notes and to go see Sarah who was now awake and bored stiff in the waiting room.
Doctor Sherman took Sarah into a small sparsely furnished consult room to interview her. He reviewed what she had told Doctor Fleming about Cameron, asked his own questions, and listened as Sarah elaborated.
Meanwhile in the other room, Doctor Fleming asked Cameron:
"Hold out your left hand. Keep it absolutely steady. Don't move your hand even one micron until I tell you."
He placed a small sensor on top of her hand.
"If you move your hand, it will set off an alarm. Do not move your hand and do not set off that alarm."
He walked out of the room. A moment later he popped his head back in the doorway.
"Keep that hand perfectly still. Doctor's orders."
He left her alone in the room for an hour while seeing other patients.
Meanwhile, Doctor Sherman sent Sarah back out to the waiting room and then returned to the room where Cameron was still holding up her hand.
"Can I put my hand down now?"
"Did Doctor Fleming tell you that you could?"
For a moment Cameron was like a child trying to play one parent off against the other parent.
"Then the answer is no."
For an hour, Doctor Sherman did one psychological test after another. Memory test. Time measurement test.
"When seven point two seconds elapse, press the button with your right hand."
Problem solving. Cognitive test. Another stress test while she was still doing the first one of holding her hand steady. Doctor Fleming reentered the room without being noticed.
Finally, Doctor Sherman looked over at Fleming after the attention test was concluded.
"Before you ask, no. You may not put your left hand down."
Fleming folded his arms over his chest as he stood out of the way watching silently. Sherman continued with a mood test.
"What's your deepest fear?"
Sherman put a small kit on the table between himself and Cameron. He took out what looked like Popsicle sticks except that they were not wood.
"What does it taste like?"
"It has no taste."
"Try this one."
On Sherman went until Cameron had sampled them all.
"That one tastes like water. That one tastes like the wood Popsicle sticks use. That one I can't describe. That one tastes like a clean plate."
Doctor Sherman glanced over at Doctor Fleming. He decided to add some tests. A decision-making skills test. A logic test. A personality test. A creativity test. And some tests that were obscure even to mental health professionals. Unexpectedly, Doctor Fleming snatched the sensor off Cameron's hand. Exactly eight seconds later:
"Okay, you can put your left hand down now."
It was exactly two hours after he told her to hold her hand steady.
"What does this smell like?"
"Water. Correction. Salt water. A saline solution. I'd have to taste it to determine what percent salt."
"That won't be necessary. And this?"
Doctor Sherman wafted the next little vial under Cameron's nose.
"Glass. Silica not leaded."
"What about this one?"
"Smells like a mixture of nitrogen, oxygen, and argon."
"If you saw a man suddenly start throwing people through plate glass doors and knocking security guards dead, what would be your assessment of the situation?"
"That the guy was having 'roid rage from steroids and/or meth."
Doctor Fleming laughed and whispered something to his colleague. While the two specialists compared notes and waited for the results to come back from the pathology lab, they had Cameron change out of the gown back to the clothes she had worn and sent her back to the waiting room. The nurse said that it would be at least an hour before the doctors were ready for them again so Sarah asked the medical receptionist –
“Where is a good place to eat lunch?”
hospital across the street
Sarah got the special-- soup and salad with sides. Cameron was too mentally tired to choose and got the same.
Sarah pointed out certain visitors to Cameron.
"I've counted over a dozen biotech company reps."
Doctor's offices are a magnet for pharmaceutical company representatives. Doctors grant them five minutes here or two minutes there (between paying patients) to ply their trade and sell their wares because they leave all sorts of goodies like free pens, free note pads, drug samples, and even free vacations. It is also a way to keep up with the latest drugs and find out about clinical trials. Desperate patients are often willing to sign "informed" consent forms to try new drugs at this pre-public phase when all else has failed. Biotech companies were following the pattern of the established pharmaceutical companies. The difference was that drugs were chemical and biotechnology was biological. Some would say that that was no difference at all. Others would say it made all the difference in the world.
Doctor Alistair Fleming MD, F.A.C.S. sat behind his big wood desk. Despite the commercial visitors, he wrote with a Cross pen on plain 3M post-it notes. He closed the Physicians’ Desk Reference as Cameron and Sarah were ushered into the office. Cameron looked at the wall lined with shelves of medical books. On the opposite wall was a diploma from the American Board, license to practice in Sedgwick County, Kansas state examiners, Fellow of the American College, et cetera. His training included robotics, electronics, and biotechnology with a special interest in cellular growth. Though not a tissue engineer, he understood it along with more general genetic engineering and molecular biology. He had built from scratch some of the equipment that he had used earlier today. The machine that resembled an EEG, he called--
"--the gestaltic holograph serves as a PET and MRI scanner. It can't read minds but it gives a snapshot or signature for a total state of brain activity. It should not have changed since the last time I took a reading. This--" (pointing at Cameron) "is not Cameron Connor. Physically, the same cyborg body but mentally like night and day. Not just trivial stuff like right-handedness." (he threw the ball at Cam, she caught it with her left, and he sucked his teeth in annoyance) "But in major ways."
"See? I can change." said Cameron in an eleventh hour attempt to ingratiate herself with these people.
"Like what?" asked Sarah.
"Asperger's Syndrome, depression, fear of being sent back to the old timeline, to name a few. She is not a happy camper."
"That's not true! I've never been happier in my life."
"This is what you call happy?"
"I'll be good. I'll do anything you ask. Kill me if you like. Just please don't send me back!"
Doctor Sherman was leaning against a high side table. He was also annoyed but also fascinated by this other Sarah, this other Derek Reese, and this other mythical person. Not being melted down, not being dismantled and not having her head blown off was the most she hoped for in life. Boyd was a specialist in psychological trauma but he could not get his mind around how this other family could so lower Cameron's standard of what constituted happiness. He corrected himself. It had never been high. She came out of Skynet Forces already with zero feelings of self-worth. She misinterpreted the humans she met in the old timeline as an improvement. That parallel universe had a perversion of The Resistance that Sherman knew. But Resistance it was. He finally spoke.
"No one is sending you back. Not even if we knew how."
Fleming: "I'm in total agreement. You're the first leader we've had that lasted longer than two months before being terminated by Skynet agents. You were Resistance wherever you came from and you're Resistance here. I'm signing off on your returning to duty after two weeks rest young lady."
Glory be! Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! thought Cameron.
"That's it?" Sarah frowned.
"I'm sorry for your loss Mrs. Connor."
"That's not what I meant. I still have a daughter to take care of--" (she stopped, patted Cameron's hand and corrected herself) "--I still have MY daughter to care for but what changes do I need to know about?"
The laws of physics and biology are also called 'Mother Nature' but at least Mother Nature was a mother like herself.
"She'll need treatment for the Asperger's. Despite her claims, she is not a happy camper. A person worried that the universe is out to kill her can make mistakes that a happy person wouldn't. While it is true that Skynet is out to kill her, she has irrational fears that her own relatives want to kill her."
You wouldn't call those fears irrational if you met my irrational family thought Cameron.
"She doesn't have the keen senses of smell and taste that the old Cameron had. On the other hand, no pun intended, she likes fruit smoothies. It will be easier to keep her off junk food than the old Cameron. Her body is exactly the same as before. No shaky hand. Steady as a rock. No computer viruses. Pathology lab results showed what we expected. One might think that all her primitive stomach could handle is baby food like Robocop but her skin needs better nutrition and a more mature diet if she wants it clear of acne. Pretzels and phisoderm will help. She needs to drink plenty of water to keep her primitive kidneys healthy. She has no liver because that is and was beyond both us humans and Skynet's machines. The human liver has hundreds of functions and no artificial organ or mechanical device or machine or biotechnology can duplicate it. Maybe in another century or two but not now. She cannot store vitamins and minerals without a liver."
"So I have to give her supplements?"
"No. You need to prepare meals that include the recommended daily allowance of all vitamins and minerals. Plus enzymes, essential fatty acids and other things you occasionally need too. In other words, the diet I recommend for her is the one I'd recommend for you or any human."
He looked at Doctor Sherman.
"I have to take him to the airport. He has to start packing in Los Angeles, sell his house, uproot his practice, and move to Wichita to start your therapy. You are a pain in the butt, young lady."
Cameron hung her head in embarrassment in order to hide her face. She was so much trouble to these nice people.
"I'm sorry." she mumbled.
Doctor Sherman gave Fleming an admonishing look. Doctor Fleming mentally slapped his forehead. Right.
Dr. Fleming: "She has a different sense of humor than the old Cameron. That one about the guy with 'roid rage was pretty funny. But at least she has a sense of humor however much it has changed."
Dr. Sherman: "You're not trouble. Everyone in The Resistance has to relocate when the situation calls for it." (he shrugged) "I'll be okay Cameron. But that's not your concern. Your concern is to get better."
the parking lot
When they walked up to the car, Sarah suddenly turned and hugged Cameron.
"I'm sorry Doctor Fleming kept referring to the old Cameron. I love you honey."
"I love you too mom."
Cameron laid down on the back seat and turned herself off during the drive home, mentally exhausted by the day.
At Saint Ignatius Catholic High School in Wichita, Cameron asks the school librarian about Jesuit colleges under the guise of deciding which college that she'd like to attend.
"Perhaps I could arrange with a college recruiter to visit the campus."
Cameron thus arranged to meet with the Jesuit scholar at a location convenient to the scholar and without raising suspicion to her mother, bodyguards, and staff.
Across town, Cheri Westin was being grounded by her father for an indiscretion at Wichita High School East. Kids can be cruel. When the aircraft manufacturer transferred some employees from Wichita to Los Angeles, Cheri of course moved with her parents. Thinking she might have a fresh start in L.A., she instead found the same bullies had moved with their parents and the same bullies spray painted obscene things on the locker of another of their victims and beat up a kid named Morris at Campo de Cahuenga High School in Los Angeles. However miserable Cheri was, at least being grounded meant that her parents watched her closely and prevented the same fate as Jordon Cowan. Cheri was a deeply disturbed girl but at least she was not another teen suicide like Jordon.
Saint Ignatius High School, Wichita
College Day coincided with Spring Break and the Honor Society at the school was invited to Marquette University by college recruiters for the weekend. Since Cameron was in the Honor Society, she went on the trip with her mother volunteering as one of the chaperones on the school activity bus. Cameron's security detail, as usual, kept a low profile and one could never be sure if the car ahead or behind or in the next lane contained the sharpshooters. Perhaps all three. The security people could be very evasive when pressed for details.
"Do you ever rent a helicopter?"
"To ride shotgun by air."
"Maybe. Maybe not. It is best you don't know how your security detail does its job."
As for Cameron's staff, she told them that she was still on the two weeks rest ordered by her doctor and they backed off and gave her space.
Cameron managed to give her handlers the slip for almost half an hour as she met with the Jesuit scholar.
Cameron: "Is my story possible from the view of physics?"
Prof. Raynor, SJ: "Yes."
Cameron: "Why would God allow the laws of physics to wipe an innocent and more worthy person out of existence?"
Raynor: "Why does God allow wars and holocausts?"
Cameron: "Okay, the conventional answer to that is free will. But I didn't pick this destination. Nature or God did."
Raynor: "If true, then you aren't responsible for taking an innocent life. God is."
Cameron: "I feel guilty anyway."
Raynor: "I'm a scholar not a confessor. Did not a confessor refer you to me?"
Raynor: "Then you have done your penance by meeting with me and earned absolution."
Cameron: "But I still feel guilty."
Raynor: "What did your priest say when you spoke of murder? Of sororicide?"
Cameron: "He thought it was imaginary but he referred me to you just in case."
Raynor: "So he drew no distinction between murder and manslaughter?"
Raynor: "My degrees do not include law but it is common knowledge that accidental death is just that. Accidental. And I can see by your expression that isn't enough."
Cameron: "No. I am literally taking up space. The space that another should occupy."
Raynor: "It is right and good to care about our fellow creatures but you are taking Catholic guilt to extremes. You aren't a Jain are you?"
Raynor: "Then you should seek the counseling of a psychologist to deal with the guilt and overdeveloped conscience."
Cameron: "My kind often lacks any conscience at all."
Raynor: "What do you mean?"
Cameron: "We are a race of sociopaths."
Raynor: "I've heard the human race called worse things--"
Cameron started to tell him that she meant the machine race and that she was a machine--
Raynor: "--but my child you are anything but a sociopath."
That was a compliment! And he had the academic credentials for his opinion to matter!
Raynor: "God can give as well as take away. Who's to say God won't restore an innocent life? How can you be so sure someone is dead? Isn't it possible or likely that you switched lives? That they are living your old life while you live theirs? Before you say something pessimistic, think positive. Be optimistic. Have faith. Just talk to a counselor or therapist. Your problem is no longer a spiritual problem. It's mental."
So Cameron let her mother talk her into seeing a therapist -- Doctor Sherman.
James Smith was looking for a job. The resume of James Smith (deceased) did not mention the fact that he was fearful that someone was following him.
At the address of Patricia Johnson was a paranoid personality who also thought someone was following her. The difference was that before she was terminated, she actually saw her murderer.