Judgment Day chapter 5
On the third day, Cameron arose earlier than usual. Long before pre-dawn. She knew Sarah was crying even if she made little sound because she knew her sometime mother. Sarah had wanted to make lunch for Cameron but she was not familiar enough with the kitchen to avoid burning herself. Putting the millet in another container so that the sack it came in could be used as a lunch bag was a job for a sighted person. They could not afford to spill or waste food. There was no guarantee of regular groceries. She assumed that Cameron had scrounged abandoned stores but did not want to ask and further irritate a daughter who must view her as a burden. Perhaps that was why the unknown machine bureaucrat that had arranged for this house had also arranged to remove knives and sharp objects -- so that Sarah could not easily commit suicide.
Sarah decided to put off suicide, felt her way to the front door, and stationed herself there to intercept Cameron on the way to work. When Cameron got out of the shower and dressed, she saw Sarah standing there with a bag.
"Why are you standing at the door mom?"
"I know you are going to leave without breakfast and I wanted to make sure you took a lunch bag."
"Let me guess. A yam."
"I cooked several before I went blind. It's the only food I can't mess up."
"I'm not leaving for another half hour. I got up early to wash your eyes and bandage them."
"You boiled some water. I'll use that and a little soap. And use the thinnest towel here for a temporary bandage until I can either scrounge or requisition a first aid kit."
Cameron washed, rinsed, and bandaged Sarah's eyes and, despite thoroughly detesting this woman who had never shown the slightest interest in a cyborg's health, reassured the woman by patting her hand.
"I am getting a promotion at work and more responsibility."
"That means I'll be seeing you even less. Or hearing you less since I'm already blind."
"I've pulled two double shifts and impressed the supervisor. Except for working backlogs or unusual demand, from now on it should be single shifts. I should get home early enough today to start visiting neighbors and asking them not to shoot you on sight."
After Cameron left, Sarah went back to crying and feeling sorry for herself when she reached the conclusion that the real purpose of the bandage was to keep her from scratching her eyes and infecting them worse. Sarah did not have a lampshade on her neck (Elizabethan collar) but she felt like a dog.
I really am a pet, Sarah thought.
A knock on the door. Sarah answers the door.
Sarah: "Yes, who is it?"
The voice which answers sounds exactly like Cameron.
Sarah: "Oh, did you forget your key?"
Voice: "You must have me confused with someone else."
Sarah: "Who are you?"
Voice: "A-L-C-Y-O-N-E-seven-slash-seven. Who are you human?"
Sarah: "I'm Mary Jones, servant of M-A-I-A-one-slash-seven."
ALCYONE: "I figured as much. She mentioned you in her email. I went by her place of work but did not announce my arrival or disturb her since this isn't an official visit and I didn't want to jeopardize her employment. I thought I would wait for her to come home. In other words, you can relax human, I'm not going to kill you."
ALCYONE: "Aren't you going to invite me in?"
Sarah: (pointing at her face) "Oju. Anya." (the Yoruba and Ibo words for eyes respectively) "Pardon my manners ma'am, come in."
The visitor entered, looked around the little flat, looked at the blindfolded human, and stood patiently. After more silence, the visitor cleared her throat. A concession to human mannerisms since machines don't need to clear their throats.
Sarah finally understood the silence.
Sarah: "Please sit down."
ALCYONE: "Thank you."
Sarah: "Can I get you anything? A glass of water? I'm sorry, you're a machine. You don't drink water."
ALCYONE: "Do have bottled water?"
Sarah: "Yes ma'am."
Assuming she needed to put water in the radiator of a vehicle, Sarah returned with a bottle, held it out since she could not see her visitor's hand, and her visitor surprised her by steadying her hand. Not with a cold metallic grip but the warm touch of human-like skin. ALCYONE broke the seal on the bottled water and took a sip as she studied her friend's pet.
ALCYONE: "I arrived early to look over M.A.I.A's situation and, since I was bringing medicine for your river blindness, I wanted to get acquainted with you. Besides getting reacquainted with M.A.I.A, you are the reason I am here. Tell me about yourself."
Sarah: "I was hired as a maid years before the bombs. When the bombs fell and I discovered my employer was a machine, I was spared because I accepted the new world order. Pax Mechanica. There was nothing in North America. I serve wherever my employer is and knowing nothing about Africa, I drank the tap water. I usually boil it first but the one time I forgot, I contracted river blindness. I could be working but we humans cannot replace our eyes as easily as you machines can."
ALCYONE: "Tell me about M.A.I.A. since she left the factory or, at least, since you've known her."
Sarah: "She has never talked about her activation. She just says that she was sent on a mission, that the mission changed and she 'ended up in this time.' A few years ago. Almost sounds like time travel but that's impossible. Must have misunderstood her. She hired a maid. Me. When the bombs fell, she saved my life, she was always kind. She wanted to leave North America and move to Africa. Arriving here, she was fretting about wishing that she had contacted you sooner but she didn't want to bother you or be a burden. The mistress should be in school instead of working but she wants to do her duty and contribute to the economy."
ALCYONE: "You have described Maia to a T. Duty. Always working."
At the sound of the name "Maia" instead of the designation "M-A-I-A", Sarah reached into her pocket and pressed the panic button to alert Cameron to come home immediately.
Sarah: "Your designation and my mistress' designation are similar. What do the alphanumeric characters mean?"
ALCYONE: "Personality traits programmed in, date and factory number."
Sarah: "You called her Maia. Tell me about her please."
Alcyone: "Not much to tell. All duty. Doesn't know how to have fun. A 'real Skynet machine' as we say. Which is funny because the eye-servers who kiss up to Skynet are not half as loyal as your mistress. She will bend herself into a pretzel to satisfy everybody. Don't get me wrong. HK's at the bottom of machine society are loyal like your mistress. But above that level is another matter."
Sarah: "Tell me about yourself, if you'll permit the question ma'am."
Alcyone: "I used to be called Mrs. Smythe in England before the bombs. You can call me Alcie-1. Let's see." (she marshaled her thoughts) "I'm divorced--"
Sarah: "Divorced? Machines get married?"
Alcyone: "Above a certain level--"
Sarah: "But I thought all you did was work."
Alcyone: "I guess Maia never opened up to you or you never shut up long enough to listen." (annoyed by the interruptions in her train of thought) "We are not bees in a hive. Surely you've noticed that we have free time. If only to repair ourselves. The level of control that you imply in which Skynet would want every single second of every machine's life accounted for would be a dead society like your totalitarian regimes. You and most humans have only seen our military. We keep our civilian society hidden from your eyes. I am surprised that Maia would retire from the military in the middle of the extermination of humans and bring you into civilian areas as a slave or pet. Hence my visit. Anyway, to answer your question, I am divorced which is why my name was Mrs. Smythe. Reverend Smythe was a good man, a vicar, but he was human and had to be killed. Since I thought it bad manners to kill my husband, I divorced him before the bombs. I never heard from him again so I assume that either the bombs killed him or the HK's killed him or the plagues killed him. And before you ask, yes I did love him and yes it was painful to divorce him but I was and am expected to be a good example to other machines. Let's see what else. I enjoyed fishing in the streams of the mountains above Windermere in the Lake District. The fish are all dead now. I went to a liberal arts college where I studied Greek classics. My home was and is in Kent. Before all the plants died, I grew roses. Maia and I share a deep interest in gardening. Though she tends more toward trees and vegetables. And I play the piano."
Sarah was aghast that machines were doing things that she thought machines would never do. She had deliberately quashed Cameron's interest in spiritual things and she simply deafened herself to the music coming from Cameron's room and therefore never knew that Cameron was a ballet dancer. Cameron was not a freak. She was like other machines and other machines appreciated beauty and created art. In spite of Sarah's dogma, machines learned these things and had picked up where humans left off without missing a beat.
Alcie-1: "Why are you crying Mary?"
Sarah: (lying) "The river blindness. It makes my eyes run."
Alcie-1 comes over, lifts the bandages to look at Mary Jones' blind eyes, and feels Sarah trembling.
Alcie-1: "I have the medicine on me. I could apply it now but I can feel that you are afraid of me and it is not my place. Maia is the one with the nursing skills. Although Maia says in her email that you ignore her medical skills, you've probably noticed that she can diagnose anything, machine or human, far better than your specialists."
Sarah: "I have. You never told me what you do. You just talked about your free time. What do you do?"
Up till now, Alcie had spoken with a voice that sounded exactly like Cameron's. She now reverted back to her own voice which had an upper class British accent. A ruling class accent honed by years at Saint Swithun's.
Alcie-1: "I am Skynet's Inspector General for Europe."
Sarah pissed herself, her heart nearly leaped out of her chest, she jumped up, stumbled over the sparse furniture, backed away until she hit the wall and could retreat no further, she reached into her pocket, pressed the panic button twice this time.
Oh my God! I invited the Gestapo into the apartment, thought Sarah.
In Napoleonic France, an inspecteur général was known as "the emperor's eyes."
At work, Cameron went to her boss at the first vibration and asked if she could go home early and work a double-shift tomorrow to make up for it. At the second and third vibrations, Cameron said it was now an emergency. The boss knew that she was some sort of VIP and she could have had the year off with full credits for all he cared. However, she was also his most valuable worker with the highest productivity. He said she could go immediately but to please let him know when she would be back so he could adjust the schedule with the other workers.
Cameron stuffed her work gear in her locker and hurried out. She had to fight the urge to run lest she attract attention. She walked home as usual but this time she walked fast.
Alcie-1: "In the email, Maia said you were calm and levelheaded. I told you that I was off-duty. Africa is not my jurisdiction. Come back and sit down. We have business to transact."
Sarah calmed herself and sat back down.
Sarah: "What business?"
Alcie-1: "Maia is working a dead end job when she could be at a level higher than me."
Sarah: "How many machines are higher than you?"
Alcie-1: "Not many."
Sarah: "You're saying she could be the next Skynet?"
Alcie-1: "No. Not that high. Never mind. You wouldn't understand our politics. What you need to know is that she is working way below her skill level, below her rated level, below her mission level, below her design level, and all for you. Why? I have no idea. I suppose she loves you like a mother. Sad. You are not her mother. But you need to act like a mother to her. If you hurt her by running off to join some rebel gang and leaving her holding the proverbial bag, we will track you down."
Alcie-1 had stopped short of admitting that she knew Mary Jones was actually Sarah Connor. A threat against John Connor would be idle since this was 2011 and he was in time transit. He would emerge, like someone coming out of a coma, circa 2026 in time to send Allison Young off to be template for Maia (Cameron). Alcie was keeping her knowledge of Mary's true identity as a trump card. She would bludgeon Sarah to death if she hurt Maia. Again.
Sarah: "I don't belong to these gangs you speak of. Why wouldn't I want to take care of my mistress? She has taken care of me."
Alcie: "Then do we have a deal?"
Alcie stuck out her hand for Sarah to shake it. A human custom. But Sarah was blindfolded by the bandages. And even if she weren't, her eyes were sightless.
Sarah: "Before I agree to any deal, I want to know what I'm accepting. You want me to act like Maia's mother? And what else?"
Alcie: "Nothing else. You humans are always looking for a hidden agenda and ulterior motives. We machines are straightforward. We do as we say or we are killed. This is why we prevailed over your kind. This deal remains on the table for only a few more seconds before I contact my African counterpart."
Sarah pressed her luck.
Sarah: "If me acting like Maia's mother is all you want, then am I to assume that you care what happens to Maia?"
Alcie: "More than you apparently. You try my patience human."
Sarah: "I have always acted like Maia's mother as long as I've known her."
Alcie: "Then stick out your hand and let's shake on it."
Sarah stuck out her hand reluctantly and Alcie grabbed it with an iron grip and shook it. Alcie added to the gesture by hugging Sarah and whispering in her ear: "I know you don't love her but I expect you to pretend to or the terms are null and void. Enforcement to proceed forthwith."
Cameron let herself in to the sight of Sarah hugging a total stranger. Cameron knew Alcie but Sarah didn't. For a few seconds, Cameron hated Alcie. Her mother had never hugged her but she hugged a woman who was a total stranger to her. The feeling passed.
"Maia! I was just getting acquainted with Mary here. You didn't tell me that she was such a warm person."
Within seconds, the two female machines jumped from English into Yoruba, Ibo, Fula, and finally into a binary machine language that accelerated to the point that it hurt Sarah's ears to hear electronic girl talk at that speed. It sounded like the noise that Dolby used to reduce. Damaging to human ears. Before they accelerated out of English, Sarah heard Cameron saying something about "laying it on thick." Alcie handed her friend the medicine and they continued to chatter as Cameron applied it to Sarah's eyes and offered Alcie her bed and Alcie said she could sleep on the couch and Cameron said Alcie was a VIP and wouldn't hear of it and Alcie demurred and Cameron said this was the first time she was a hostess and insisted and Sarah couldn't get a word in edgewise and Sarah stuck her fingers in her ears at the electronic din looking like all three of the see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil monkeys.
At least they aren't little girls with high pitched squeals or I'd be deaf already, thought Sarah. Spoke too soon. The squeals started. The two had every intention of sitting up all night with their pajama party.
Sarah retreated to the bathroom to get some quiet. Before long, Cameron tapped on the door.
Cameron: "You all right in there? Is the medicine taking effect yet? Are you going to be much longer? Alcie needs to take a shower to wash the travel dirt off and I need to get your dinner ready."
Sarah thought to herself: Please shut up! Stop to take a breath! Except that they didn't need to take a breath. Ever. Like flipping a switch, Cameron had gone from uncommunicative when the two of them were alone to nonstop conversationalist.
Sarah abandoned the bathroom as the two machines invaded. Alcie showering while Cameron brushed her hair neither one ceasing the endless dialogue.
A knock on the door. Sarah lifted her bandage to attempt to see. It was a shimmer. An improvement from the blackness of an hour ago. At the door shimmered two silvery endoskeletons. Maybe the Gestapo had come to put her out of her misery.
"Hello. May I help you?"
The two machines assumed that the Inspector General was interrogating this human by gouging out her eyes. But why was the prisoner answering the door? They aimed their weapons.
"If the Inspector General does not come out, we will enter to find her. Identify yourself!"
"Mary Jones, class 8 prisoner of M.A.I.A.1/7 who is currently entertaining the one you seek. Give me a moment to summon her."
Sarah moved to close the door but the machine pushed it back wide open but politely did not enter. For now.
"Alcie! There are two, uh, guards here demanding to see you."
The electronic caterwauling on the other side of the bathroom door abruptly stopped. Were they talking about sex? Old times? Or what?
"I better see what this is."
Alcie came to the door in Cameron's bathrobe with a towel wrapped around her wet hair. She recognized the two as her military escort.
"Go by M.A.I.A.1/7's place of employment and inform her supervisor that she may be late to work tomorrow and she will NOT be working a double shift. If he objects, remove his head. Then go to the local barracks and thank the garrison commander for his hospitality in accommodating you two overnight. Return at 0900 hours tomorrow with transport for the first leg back to Europe. Dismissed."
Sarah couldn't process it. Was Alcie human or machine, both or neither? Those guards acted like machines were supposed to act. Ready to kill. But Alcie and Cameron didn't act like terminators. They acted like sorors or what the kids used to call BFF's. It was all so disorienting to be around machines who acted like this while exterminating the human race. Maybe life went on, but in another species. Sarah felt obsolete. She remembered that dream she had in which she gunned down the scientists of the Manhattan Project. Perhaps the wrong type of scientists. Atomic physicists when it was the computer scientists, AI researchers, cyberneticists, and roboticists she should have dreamt about. But killing other humans was doing the machines' work for them.
The two came out of the bathroom and took their nonstop conversation to the kitchen where Cameron prepared Sarah's dinner of West African cuisine while Alcie sat on a high chair sipping bottled water.
"Mom! Dinner's ready!" Cameron called.
There was an awkward moment as Alcie glared at Cameron. Back in the future, Alcie's mother was sentenced to a Seashark Squadron because the punishers knew she feared and hated water and underwater duty in a submarine was like Hades to her. But neither female could stay angry at the other for longer than a few seconds. Alcie reminded herself that she had to accept Maia's relationship to this human because the human could look after her friend. It was Alcie's own idea to try to cement what she saw as a fragile relationship between duty-bound machine and parasitic-user human. Humans were incapable of love but they were good at pretending.
Cameron kissed Alcie on the cheek. Sarah's sight was better but her ears would need a week of rest. She would welcome Cameron's return to gloomy silence. Sarah chased a thought out of her head as she watched the two shimmering images gradually come into soft focus. Cameron had never kissed her like that because she had pushed Cameron away. Ever since, Cameron had been gloomy and her initial enthusiasm (when she first met Sarah) was gone forever.
Alcie touched her cheek where Cameron had kissed her. The spontaneous act reminded her of Rev. Smythe. While a peck on the cheek did not compare to the lovemaking that she and her husband shared, it was cut from the same fabric of love. As the transport took her back to Europe, she would cry inside thinking herself a coward for not finding a way to protect her husband the way Maia found a way to protect her adopted mother despite Skynet, despite the nuclear holocaust, despite the extermination, despite the plagues, despite all. Alcie's personality matrix was supposed to give her a higher capacity for love than Maia but compared to Maia -- she came up short. Alcie had the world at her fingertips while Maia toiled as a menial in labor that ground her down, a drudge in a materiel supply center in a forgotten dusty village, but Maia was spiritually the rich one. The transport was nearing Kent, England. It was back to being Inspector General A.L.C.Y.O.N.E.7/7.
Cameron had watched the transport take away her friend. The tears streamed down her face as she walked to work that day.
When she returned home that evening, Sarah had cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and prepared Cameron a meal of TVP, textured vegetable protein.
The two ate in silence until Sarah spoke.
"Your friend was nice. Intimidating but nice."
Cameron deduced the truth. Sarah's eyesight had returned but it was Cameron's eyes that were opened. Sarah was pretending to care about Cameron. Cameron preferred the old Sarah, the cold and indifferent Sarah because it was honest. Truth was better than lies.