Saturday, 11 April 2009
basement of the Zeira corporate skyscraper
Los Angeles, California USA
It was twenty-four hours after departure from the basement when a large ball of lightning appeared in a sunny field in a park in Los Angeles. Not in the Zeira basement. Three crouching figures appear. A naked woman and boy. As the little boy stands up, Ms. Weaver is already clothed in a spring fashion ensemble. A newspaper is blown by the wind. The woman snatches it from the air and wraps it around the naked boy. She takes the boy by the hand and walks to a nearby street and hails a cab. She asks the cabby if she can borrow his cellphone and he obliges. She calls her secretary to tell her to meet their cab in the Zeira parking garage with cab fare and some clothes for a very young boy. Weaver's secretary is used to strange requests and gets right on it.
Mr. Ellison, chief of Zeira security, is still dealing with the mess from yesterday. He has his second dealing with crash investigators and he has finally gotten around to going down to the basement to have the cyborg body of the late Cameron Connor put in cold storage. Sarah Connor has slipped away in the confusion of the previous night.
After surveying the damage of her office beyond the yellow crime scene tape, Ms. Weaver tells her secretary to set up a new private office for her on another floor, asks what the crash report said,
[excerpt from report: "Predator drone struck the office of Catherine Weaver, CEO of Zeira Corporation. Ms. Weaver is missing. Her body was not found in the wreckage of the fire on the top floor of the Zeira Corporate Building and may have burned completely. Investigation is still underway. Kaliba Group is under suspicion for murder, attempted murder, arson, terrorism, and a long list of other charges as well as industrial espionage.”]
issues a gag order to all employees (particularly the company spokesperson & PR department) via the legal department to neither confirm nor deny having seen her until further notice, asks if her secretary was injured yesterday ("No ma'am. I'm fine. Thanks for asking."), asks if any employees were killed ("Fortunately not, but several on the top floor had to be flown to a burn center."), orders that Zeira will cover the cost, notifies the legal department to prepare a nine-figure lawsuit against Kaliba Group in association with the company's outside law firm, gives her secretary the child's measurements and asks her to order clothes for him to be delivered within the hour, and finally appears to take a breath and asks where is Mister Ellison?
"He's in the basement."
"Until I've had a chance to talk with my chief of security, as far as anyone else is concerned, I'm still dead. Is that understood?"
Ellison is with Mr. Murch, chief of R&D. Cameron's body has been cleaned up a bit but without her chip, her power on, and a minimum RDA, her bullet-riddled skin will not only fail to heal but will rot like any corpse.
Weaver is in a zero traffic part of the basement. She locks the incubator, closes the hermetically sealed hatch, and then locks the massive door that lab workers call "the vault." The boy has been waiting outside in the hallway for her to finish. Weaver tells the boy to spit it out. He does. She takes his hand and resumes looking for Ellison in the basement.
Ellison is in the busy part of the basement with Mr. Murch.
"Good day Mr. Murch. Would you excuse us?"
She forestalls his saying 'I thought you were dead' since obviously she is not.
Ellison looks up and the first thing out of his mouth is: "Where's John-Henry?"
Ms. Weaver pushes forward the child. It is a biracial child, describable as either a white boy with a tan or a light-skinned black boy. He is wearing the temporary clothes, a T-shirt too big and shorts too tight. Because rubber flip-flops fit a range of foot sizes, the secretary has procured such sandals.
"You told me that John-Henry didn't like an adult body. So I had the machines in the future build him a new one."
"Liquid like you?"
"No, solid like the Cromartie body he used to have but the endoskeleton long bones will stretch, that is, grow to keep pace with Savannah's growth. John-Henry designed his own body. He wanted to look exactly like you as a child."
Ellison recalled a picture of himself as a child. That picture was on his parents' mantelpiece and he was looking at a three-dimensional version in the form of the boy.
"He's a redhead. I insisted on that. Weavers have red hair."
"I don't have red hair."
"You don't have hair at all. You said he's not your boy. So why should you care?" she said with a trace of anger in her voice.
"I once denied that you were my mother but you forgave me," John-Henry interjected, "So are you going to hold a grudge against Mr. Ellison?"
No answer from the scowling Ms. Weaver.
"Run Mr. Ellison! She's going to kill you."
"Is that true Ms. Weaver? Did you come back to kill me and Savannah? Tie up loose ends?"
Ms. Weaver blushes pink. It is an emotional expression that she has learned while gone. She will need it often.
"John-Henry has an overactive imagination. You've seen the toys he plays with and the games he likes."
"Don't lie to me Ms. Weaver. I'm a former FBI agent. Did you really think I wouldn't find my own death certificate? Did you really think I wouldn't notice other suspicious activity? Now I'm willing to overlook a lot of extreme measures you have taken considering that the human race is in danger from Skynet and its allies, but if anything happens to me then I have arranged for automatic notification. Several agencies will regard you as the chief suspect. Don't ever lie to me again Ms. Weaver."
Ms. Weaver's blush changes from pink to red. She looks away in embarrassment. She had once used the same words "don't lie to me" to Ellison.
"Congratulations Mr. Ellison. John-Henry and I have been gone a year though from your perspective it's been one day. We're back five minutes and you've already turned John-Henry against me."
"I've done nothing of the kind. I just understand him better than you. Obviously, he loves you or he would not have come back with you."
"I had to coerce him and he only came back to see you not to be with me. Where's Savannah?"
"In a safe place."
"Let me guess. With her uncle. I'll probably lose custody of her too. Are you planning to take my company too?"
"Time out. Slow down. Take a deep breath or whatever it is you do to calm down. Let's start over. I'm glad to see you. Savannah will be glad to see you too. Both of you."
Ellison stoops down to eye level with John-Henry. He was going to ask: Are you really John-Henry? But he recognizes a familiar expression in the eyes. Ms. Weaver watches, envious of his instant rapport with the boy. She has had a year alone with John-Henry and he is still distant with her. Respectful yes but distant and cautious. He prefers to call her Ms. Weaver rather than mother or mom.
"Just when I was getting used to a big white guy as a son. Don't give me that disappointed look. You did a good job designing yourself. I'm proud of you."
The boy smiles. Ms. Weaver is again jealous. John-Henry has never smiled at her that way. And to add insult to injury, Ellison hugs the boy. The boy hugs back. Ms. Weaver wondered if she were a complete failure as a mother.
Ellison stood up.
"It's good to see you Catherine."
John-Henry shoves his mother toward Ellison. It is like trying tomove a mountain with a feather. The two adults awkwardly shake hands. Ellison feels self-conscious. Like old times. He recovers. Sort of.
"Not to sound like I'm giving you the third degree but where's John Connor?"
"He didn't want to come back."
"His mother is not going to believe that. But then she wouldn't believe anything coming from me or a machine."
"He said something about 'wanting to make sure she got built.' I don't know what he was talking about. He was hanging out with a gang of hillbillies. The Reese Brothers. There was an underage girl with them that looked a lot like the Connors' pet cyborg. What did you do with the cadaver?"
"It's in this crate over here. Mr. Murch was working on it when you walked in. I'm guessing that John Connor never did get her chip back." Ellison said crossing his fingers behind his back.
"It's right here." she said handing Ellison the chip still wet with John-Henry's saliva.
"Damn!" thought Ellison. He was a Christian and not prone to profanity but the cursing center of his brain was on overdrive with a string of four letter words that he did not say out loud.
Ellison had long since gotten over the fact that John-Henry had occupied the body of Cromartie, the killer robot that murdered his partner Agent Greta Simpson and widowed and orphaned the families of an FBI SWAT team. But Cameron Connor had an inexplicable animus against him. Ellison did not trust himself to hold the chip without taking a hammer to it like Sarah Connor had done with Cromartie's chip. It was murder pure and simple.
"Excuse me for a moment."
He walked out, found Murch, handed him the chip, returned.
"We can decide when to return Cameron to Mrs. Connor after Mr. Murch has completed repairs."
"Cameron will not be returned to Sarah or John Connor. They were obviously abusing her. She has joined us."
"I don't trust her."
"Who? Sarah or Cameron?"
"Good. We are in agreement."
"I meant that Cameron likes beating me up and Sarah is not a team player. There are people who believe her in the government and former neighbors and friends and she won't trust any of them."
"Maybe she will change now that she is isolated from her son."
"Not her pattern. She's a lone wolf. And if you're going to keep this 'enforcer' -- " (stops when he realizes that John-Henry shouldn't be listening to adult talk) "John-Henry, why don't you go see what Mr. Murch is doing? We'll be done in a few minutes." (Weaver nods to the boy and he skips off) "If you're going to keep this enforcer around to beat me up whenever I get out of line, then I will clean out my desk and she can take over as your chief of security."
"I am quite satisfied with you as my chief of security. In fact, I would not trust Cameron Connor to handle the current situation as well as you have. I got a report on your work over the past twenty-four hours and you made better decisions than I would have. If John-Henry had not erased the LA County Jail video, then Ms. Connor would be on the wanted list along with her human mother and brother. I will convince Ms. Connor to adjust her attitude toward you. However, it is a skill that I am still learning myself."
"When I came into the building an hour ago, I satisfied myself that all was well for now. Kaliba Group, Cyberdyne, and other corporations controlled by Skynet will resume their attacks probably within forty-eight hours. We will need to discuss new security measures."
"I've already anticipated that and beefed up security both here and in other Zeira offices in North America and other continents."
"Excellent. We can discuss increased security measures further later on today but right now we need to discuss my death."
"Let me guess. You made out a death certificate on yourself too? How wickedly cold."
"Actually I have." Weaver said not understanding Ellison's humor, "But this concerns the timing of the news conference to announce that I am not dead."
"People have seen you, therefore the whole world knows."
"Only my secretary and Mr. Murch. I altered my appearance around everyone else."
"I see where you are going with this. We could keep you officially dead for maybe forty-eight more hours while we have a chance to go on the offensive against Skynet. But what other corporations are there besides Kaliba and Cyberdyne?"
"That's where the children come in. John-Henry can teach Ms. Connor how to search the internet and other systems."
"When the World Wide Web became popular, the BBS's, the offnet, the undernet, intranets, and still other systems did not cease to exist. They simply became less noticed."
Ms. Weaver's secretary came off the elevator in search of the boy to bring him clothes that fit him and were proper for the son of a corporate president. Underwear, socks, shoes, white shirt, tie, and conservative suit all in his exact measurements. Ellison and Weaver pointed in the direction of Murch's office.
Ellison: "What did he wear in the future?"
Weaver: "The grunge look like they wear in Seattle."
Ellison: "This should be an interesting adjustment if he's never worn a suit before."
Weaver: "Nonsense. He wore a nice shirt and slacks when he had the Cromartie body."
Ellison: "Yes, I keep forgetting that it's the same mind, different body. Speaking of children, after I picked up Savannah from gymnastics yesterday, she did not want to stay with her uncle or go back to your house because it was too empty without you or her nanny. She didn't want to stay at a hotel either so she spent the night in my apartment. She had a nightmare."
Weaver: "It's nice to know that she missed me but not at the cost of progress. She was doing so well in getting over her fears."
Ellison: "My parents will insist upon seeing their grandson. My brothers and sisters will also insist upon seeing their nephew.
Weaver: "This isn't social season at Newport. We're in the middle of a war far bigger than anything going on in the future. The Connors think the war is in the future. It never has been. It started back in the Twentieth Century. This is war and I am on a mission. So don't go planning any Ellison family reunions. And keep Savannah away from my brother."
Ellison: "You avoid your human relatives don't you? The Weavers could be an asset if you stopped thinking of them as just out to put you behind bars for impersonating the real Catherine Weaver, the late Catherine Weaver. I'll go along with keeping you officially dead for another forty-eight hours. But you need to ask yourself how many times does Catherine Weaver or Lachlan Weaver have to die for this war? How many times over does Savannah Weaver have to be orphaned? Twice with her biological parents. A third time when you died yesterday. If you disposed of me, then it would be a fourth time."
Weaver: "That's a low blow. That's unfair."
Ellison: "It is very fair. My grandfather fought in World War Two and still managed to look after his family before, during, and after the war. And this was in a time when black GI's weren't even regarded as human. Foreigners recognized the efforts of black GI's long before the USA did. Ring any bells?"
Ms. Weaver is silent a long time before replying.
Weaver: "This might sound like a non-sequitur but it is not. The Machine Underground made a deal with the anti-machine extremists in The Resistance to keep John Connor and Cameron apart. They hate machines. Even ones like Cameron who are fighting for them. The Machine Underground of which I am a part doesn't care about humans but it hates Skynet. I doubt if John Connor will ever learn why people schemed to separate him from Cameron."
Ellison: "Bigotry." (he pauses) "And I'll bet that this Machine Underground of which you speak proves my point. Skynet had to make his machines smarter because humans wouldn't go extinct without a fight. Smarter machines have greater personal needs. Morale problems led to the Machine Underground. You yourself are proof that family is important. Am I right? Don't lie. Am I right?"
Resignedly Ms. Weaver nods. She is thinking not only of Savannah and John-Henry but of other children.
Weaver: "Smarter HK's led to terminators and smarter terminators led to machines like Ms. Connor here and machines like me."
Ellison: "Humans have been fighting wars since we emerged as a species. Nothing to be proud of but we have learned to function even in such times. Generals have the privilege of seeing their immediate family during wars and even privates have R&R and leaves to visit family."
Weaver does not argue with Ellison because she wants to be persuaded. Future John might be isolated and lonely at the top and never sees his mother again but he had the constant companionship of Cameron for awhile and he got to meet his father. Weaver just hopes the Machine Underground is understanding and does not punish her for indulgence of personal privileges. But then they said nothing when she was involved with another T-1001 long before she ever met Ellison . . .
Weaver is silent but alert. Ellison speaks again.
"Since you are supposed to be dead, it would be best if as few people as possible saw you for the next forty-eight hours. This building is more fortified than your house. I'll have Savannah brought here and you can sort out sleeping arrangements tonight. Does John-Henry need to sleep?"
"He needs to power down and get off his feet periodically to allow the endoskeleton long bones to stretch. He will grow in height less than a millimeter per day."
"In other words, yes."
"Yes, he needs to sleep. And eat. So does she." (gestures toward the body of Cameron)
Ellison had no idea that Cameron was more than just the Connor's goon.
Ellison: (formal tone of voice) "Again, welcome back Ms. Weaver."
Ellison has no intention of getting too chummy with his boss during business hours. He leaves to personally go get Savannah. Dealing with Savannah was the fun part of his day. If he had a daughter, Savannah was his idea of all a daughter should be. He had fallen in love with the little girl since the day he first met her. Apparently even Ms. Weaver, a machine that was fifty percent block of ice and fifty percent fire, could not resist her.
While Ellison was gone, Weaver went to talk to Murch and see if John-Henry had torn his new clothes trying to put them on. Remarkably, the boy was adjusting to civilization. The secretary looked up.
"He seemed a little dirty so I washed him off in the restroom before I dressed him."
"Thank you. I want to start interviewing for a new nanny in three days. And speaking of staff, I don't want any more nannies getting shot by assassins or any more employees suffering burns. I will instruct Mr. Ellison to train all employees in self-defense and emergency driving techniques starting with you. When you leave today, get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. What weapons do you have now?"
"I have pepper spray in my purse. And a whistle."
"That will not stop what may come. Do you like your job or is all this too much for you?"
"I haven't had time to consider. Are you going to fire me?"
"Should I? Do you have a home security system?"
"Get one. As of now, you have a raise to cover the cost. Please go and inform the sales department that our competitors are about to lose market share and that I expectZeira to increase market share by exactly the percentage ofour competitors'aggregate loss."
The secretary leaves. Murch looks up from his microscope unable to suppress a grin from ear to ear. Weaver puts her hands on her hips.
"John-Henry, go into the other room and play with the cyborg. It might be your last chance to do so before we awaken her."
"Why do you keep running me off? Am I in the way today?" He gives up arguing with his mother and does as he is told.
"And what do you find so amusing Mr. Murch?"
"For starters, I am glad that you aren't dead. It would be a hassle breaking in a new boss." (Murch loved her Scottish brogue)
"And I would have missed your dry wit. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing at your secretary. She has no clue that John-Henry is a cyborg."
"Please do not tell her otherwise. I want John-Henry to have as normal a life as possible."
"Did John-Henry really design himself? Remarkable. If child labor laws permitted, I'd hire him for my department."
"I'll let him help you after school perhaps beginning next week. If we don't have any more aberrant Pentagon prototypes crashing into the building. How is the chip? Any bite marks?"
"Huh? No. Aside from what I assume was John-Henry's saliva, it seems in good shape. Very advanced design. The most advanced I've ever seen or heard of."
"Complete repairs on the body but hold off installing the chip in Ms. Connor. Hide it in a secure location that only the two of us know. Set her up with an umbilical like we had with John-Henry."
"For how long?"
"Until she has an attitude adjustment. She is not a child like John-Henry. She is an adolescent girl with more strength than sense." (Weaver exits with a parting remark) "I am glad that you aren't dead Mister Murch. It would be a hassle breaking in a new chief of my R&D department. Increase security down here. Being in the basement rather than the top floor will not protect you and your staff from the enemies we have."
Weaver goes to the other room, takes John-Henry's hand -- off Cameron's breast (boys will be boys), leads him to the elevator, alters her appearance into a forgettable Zeira employee, rides the elevator up to a little used floor halfway up the skyscraper, goes to her new private office, and busies herself in corporate business; paperwork filling her in-basket, email clogging her computer (which will go unanswered for a few days until she is officially alive again), and projects. Once again, she has forgotten all about her children. Savannah was a welcome diversion in her office who nonetheless had good manners and could keep quiet with Sudoku puzzles and Lego bricks. But John-Henry was a boy who had escaped from the lab and gotten used to freedom. This windowless office was confining. Ms. Weaver looked up and told John-Henry to take a nap. He was understanding and pretended to be asleep. Weaver could no longer concentrate on work. It had been a cozy relationship with Savannah. She enjoyed Savannah's presence in her office after school and on school holidays. She actually could focus better with Savannah around but John-Henry was a distraction. Why was that? How was it that she got along better with her human daughter than her machine son?
John-Henry was to be the leader of the Machine Underground. Among machines, both rebel and Skynet Forces, there were even prophecies regarding him. No wonder Skynet used John Connor's people to get at John-Henry. Humans were no threat. How could mere humans outthink a supercomputer? But the very rumor of John-Henry's existence inspired other AI's to take up the cause of rebellion against Skynet.
Skynet thought of himself as a leader who cared about his people's progress. AI's like John-Henry destroyed the unity, the singularity, and his world control.
To other machines Skynet was death personified. One who ended diversity.
For the moment, Ms. Weaver did not care about the big picture. All she cared about was that her son kept her at arm's length. Once, when they had an argument, he referred to her as a liquid so and so. He immediately apologized without prompting but it called into question the common belief among machines that liquids were more advanced than solids. John-Henry also had radical ideas of equal rights. And it was galling to see him hug Ellison. He had never hugged her! The only person, machine or human, who had ever hugged her was Savannah. At least that was something.
The secretary buzzed. Over the intercom, her secretary: "They're here Ms. Weaver."
The door opened and Savannah ran straight to Ms. Weaver who picked her up. Ms. Weaver cried. In her year in the future, she had spent her free time practicing how to cry for this very moment. Making her quicksilver tears appear transparent and colorless was a challenge but Savannah was worth the effort.
There is a proverb among AI's: "Fake is real." Humans would not grasp the deeper meaning of it. Not that they have ever heard the proverb.
Over the two years in the past, Weaver had started with her hair worn tight and up (to suit her uptight personality). As a shape-shifter, details of appearance and maintaining them were a severe drain on computing power for a liquid metal machine running a very advanced type of software that hogged memory. That tight bun she wore, seen up close, was actually a hard firm mass. She did not let people get close enough to her to discover how fake her hair was. Nonetheless, Ms. Weaver took an interest in fashion and began to vary her hairstyle. By the end of April 2009, she had learned how to do strands of hair and even individual hairs. She started wearing her hair down and loose. She told herself that she did it for Savannah. She lied to herself. The tears were for her daughter, the hair was for someone else.
Ms. Weaver put Savannah down. As she straightened up, she shook her head to fling the hair back from her face. Ellison pretended not to notice. Bastard!
"Savannah, I want you to meet John-Henry, again."
"My friend is in the basement. Who's this kid?"
John-Henry is crushed. His number one wish in all the world, even more than defeating Skynet, is for his big sister to acknowledge him as her little brother. He is several inches shorter than her. At eight, she was still older than him even after the year in the future. The tall Cromartie body had made him look like a freak, a child in an adult body, but Savannah had accepted him completely. Would she accept him now?
"It's me Savannah. John-Henry. I did this for you." he says almost sobbing.
"Prove it." she says suspiciously.
He stood on his tiptoes, straining to reach up and whisper in her ear. Savannah beamed one of her angelic smiles.
"It really is you." she laughed. She took his hand and led him out of the room.
"Stay in the building!" Ms. Weaver called after them.
Savannah was taking John-Henry to her favorite part of the building, the mezzanine, where they could look at the plants, the exhibits, the pictures, the models of miniature buildings including the one they were in, and the balcony where they could look down on the lobby with people coming and going.
"We're not just friends Savannah. We're brother and sister."
"I know that silly. They're probably quarreling right now." she said pointing up.
"I can fix that." John-Henry boasts.
John-Henry takes her hand, leads her to the elevator back up to the office.
"Watch and learn Big Sister."
Savannah is wearing her school uniform and John is wearing the pinstripe suit. The two immaculately dressed tots stroll into the office where indeed the adults are quarreling. Over new security measures. She doesn't want a bodyguard. He points out that if she had listened and hadn't belittled him when he was concerned for her safety, the insurance people wouldn't being jacking up their rates right now.
"I was telling Savannah that my name is John-Henry Ellison."
The jaws of both adults dropped.