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Advent, the quiet before the winter storm of Christmas.


Submitted:Dec 1, 2013    Reads: 75    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


Advent

"So, you're never happy." said John to Cameron.

"No."

"Well, then what's the closest you've ever been to happy?"

John was driving, with Cameron in the front passenger seat. She didn't answer and, after awhile, John's mind moved on to thinking about other subjects, the textbooks he was studying, the ambiguous research he was doing for his mother about those three dots, Riley, the future, and terminators.

"There were two times."

"Huh?"

"You asked me what is the closest I've ever been to happy. It took me awhile to process."

"Yeah? Tell me about those times."

Another long pause. John wondered if Cameron was malfunctioning.

Chorus: (to each other) "Are you going to kill me?"

Chorus: (to each other) "If I was, you'd already be dead."

John: (smiling) "Just tell me."

Cameron: "The first time I was in a mine. Very deep, very dark. The temperature was so uniform that not even thermal imaging worked. I couldn't see anything."

John: "That doesn't sound even remotely happy."

Cameron: "I almost fell down a shaft but another terminator grabbed me and saved me from falling a mile straight down. I was a Skynet terminator at the time, not long after my activation. It was a training exercise with my squad."

Cameron looked away embarrassed. She left out the part where she enjoyed the brief metal-on-metal sensation of holding hands with another machine. It had lasted an entire two point seven (2.7) seconds. John wouldn't understand. The only times he ever touched her was to cut her open.

John: "So you were happy that someone had saved your life?"

Cameron: "No. I have never been happy. But it was nice to be with my squad. The second time, I was in a trench not too different from those World War One trenches with the incessant rain and the mud and the explosions and the no-man's-land."

John: "Sounds awful."

Cameron: "I was with my comrades in the Resistance."

John: "So you don't care which side you fight on as long as . . . . " (he trailed off)

Cameron: "Before you call me a mercenary whore who will serve any master indiscriminately, you should know that it was your people who reprogrammed me." (or tried to she thought)

John: (sputtering) "I was not going to say that! You must think I'm a -- "

Cameron: "Yes, I do think that." (she copied one of John's mannerisms, a smirk)

John: "That's really funny, ha ha. You yanked my chain."

Cameron: "Well I thought we could use a laugh."

John: "So you just made up that stuff? I should have guessed. How could being in dark places be happy?"

Cameron: "Those two times really happened. What made them nice was being with friends, being relatively good times before bad events, being able to reflect back upon those times, the calm, the quiet, the stillness, and the waiting in the darkness."

John: "What's so good about waiting in darkness?"

Cameron: "It is better than watching some of the things I've seen in broad daylight."

John reflected on that. What could Cameron have seen in her young life? Everything he had ever been told about the future was suffering and apocalypse. His uncle had scars and was branded with a large burned-on bar code, the result of battlefields, capture, and a concentration camp. Derek Reese called it a 'work camp' but death camp complete with a Mengele performing torture and medical experiments on hapless victims was probably a more accurate classification.

Cameron had seen more than most, having been on both sides. As the evenings got longer and the weather got colder, John reflected on what Cameron said about calm, quiet, and stillness. Even noisy wars had periods of calm, quiet, and stillness. He had heard soldiers describe war as mostly boredom interrupted by moments of terror.

somewhere across time

She looked exactly like Cameron but was not. She wore a ring on her ring finger but was not married. She had been given a Breviary, a book, about canonical hours for something called The Divine Office. Neither the giver of the book nor anything referring to God should have existed in this time of Skynet because Skynet was like Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of Syria in the years BC 175 to BC 163. In fact, worse. Alas, this Skynet was more wicked than Antiochus and never had an epiphany. The reader of the Breviary should not have been surprised at the number of canonical hours. The reader meditated on what she read but it was not yoga. It was more like daily devotions. If she had been discovered, she would have been accused of praying and terminated.

the Connor home, early December 2008

From the first day Cameron became part of the family, Cameron had a routine. One-third of every twenty-four hours, humans had need of rest. No matter what house or apartment or motel or address, they would turn out the lights. Sarah said it bothered her that: "That thing walks the floors all night." But other than suggesting that Cameron wear slippers or sneakers or socks to dampen the noise of her stomping (Cameron actually weighed three times what she seemed), Sarah tried earplugs and wrapping a pillow around her own (Sarah's) head. Gradually, Cameron learned to walk softly. [Tiptoeing was still a skill she was learning.] And the next house they lived in, Mrs. Connor made sure had carpeting and rugs and two floors.

Meanwhile, Cameron was left with seven or more hours to fill. She used the time to keep watch out for terminators. But she soon had to acknowledge that few terminators came in the dead of the night. They lacked finesse. They had a perverse pleasure in making a splash. Like the terminator who went into the bank past news cameras and a SWAT team and proceeded to tear open the locked vault with his bare hands.

Night watch was a waste of time. So Cameron kept her ears open but needed something else. Waiting for the Connors to complete their sleep cycle and wake up was the logical alternative.

Before Mrs. Connor forbade Cameron to think, Cameron used to use the empty hours to think about the past day's events. Sleep research scientists say that one of the purposes of sleep is to process the day's events. In that sense, Cameron was sleepwalking. But thinking about the day's events took only a few seconds -- a few minutes at most. The Connors were ordinary people under extraordinary stress. Cameron had never known anything but pressure and so took it in stride, but living with such people meant she was infected by their neuroses and psychoses. Therefore, Cameron accessed her psychological database and her self-analysis subroutine and disinfected herself in much the same way Cameron washed her hands or took a shower. That done, Cameron still had seven hours to fill.

So went the night vigil. Sometimes she played music in her head. She did not need an external device like a music player since she had a perfect auditory memory. Chopin's Nocturne in C-sharp minor (1830) seemed appropriate for the darkness. She pulled up text on her heads-up display. Immanuel Kant believed in God because otherwise there would be no retribution against the unfair. According to the text, God took special interest in widows, immigrants, and fatherless orphans. It sounded like a reference to Widow Sarah Connor, Cameron the immigrant from the future, and fatherless John. The tendency of readers of this material towards applying it to themselves perhaps gave them comfort from a futile existence. Healthy self-reference could develop into a conscience in a world full of sociopaths (those who lack conscience). Unhealthy self-reference could lead to hearing voices in one's head and talking to those voices. But internal dialogue cannot be lumped in with insanity. How else can one debate within oneself? Only the truly stupid lacked the ability to be able to hold two opposing thoughts in their head at the same time. It was said that the newest Skynet could think not only in dichotomies but trichotomies, pentachotomies, septachotomies, and even undecachotomies. Humans had a phrase: "both sides of an issue" as if every issue had only two sides. Skynet's polyphasic ability to 'walk and chew gum at the same time' gave it an advantage not only over humans but other machines.

Having weighed the matter and taken precautions against mental illness, Cameron had different parts of her mind take different points of views, the better to consider intellectual material. Black churches referred to 'call and response.' Musicians and dancers used the term 'antiphony.' Cameron just wanted to stave off boredom. She was sick of Chopin and was ready to move on to plainsong, Gregorian chant, alternating choirs of monks and nuns. A sort of musical dialogue. Just as Cameron was starved for male guidance to balance out Sarah Connor's oppressive female guidance, so she was starved for intellectual rigor. Conversations with John were always abortive, over before they really got started. Cameron had the mind of a graduate student while John, well, John didn't really have a mind. He just dismissed her as a machine. It never occurred to him that all beings, male, female, human, machine, animal, and alien have common problems of existence: you dealt with the day, you recuperated at night, you were brought into existence, and someday you accumulated so many things on you that had not been repaired (lack of health care) that you ceased life altogether. You and your fellow beings ate each other (humans ate animals, and then worms ate humans) or communicated ("Die!" "No!") or fought or came together to make more mouths to feed. Few machines ate but they all needed an energy source and spare parts -- which is what eating was -- recharging and getting nutrients for self-repair.

As morning approached, Cameron thought of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar's men. Someday, after Skynet had been killed by the Resistance, as her reward for faithful service, Cameron Connor would be fed to the fire too. They would be rising soon, so Cameron went into the kitchen, made breakfast, which Uncle Derek would push away, which John would skip as he walked out the door, and which Sarah would ignore as she gulped down vitamin pills and supplements. "If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen," thought Cameron. This was the routine. Sometimes, Uncle Derek would take his plate of well-prepared food and throw it in the garbage. Cameron would fish the plate out of the trash, wash it, and put the plate away. Sometimes, John would ignore Cameron's healthy meal, get a box of cereal and pour milk on a bowl of sugar-frosted sugar-cubes. The cardboard box was healthier. Or put an icing-coated thing in the toaster that had marshmallow, caramel, and sweet syrup filling. How did John dodge juvenile diabetes? Sarah Connor was not much on cooking breakfast beyond her empty-calorie pancakes but at dinner she was learning how to prepare fresh vegetables from the farmers' market and from the organic produce section of the greengrocer. Cancer scares (and a family sick of spaghetti) had forced Sarah to take nutrition seriously. But only at dinner time. Breakfast and lunch were still hopeless despite Cameron's best effort.

Judgment Day

Before the thermonuclear exchange between the nuclear powers, all the world's leaders had their emergency plans. They ranged from elaborate plans for the US president to no plan at all for the prime ministers of some Third World countries and micro-states. The Secret Service would literally pick the president up off his or her feet and throw (yes throw) them into the Presidential limousine or hustle them into the White House bunker or into the helicopter to get them aboard Air Force One or take them to Mount Weather, all depending upon where they were when the Defense Condition (DefCon) changed. The non-nuclear powers of Europe (including Italy) escaped the first volley of intercontinental ballistic missiles from silos and submarines. But being part of NATO made countries other than the UK and France vulnerable as secondary targets.

The hair-trigger stance of the Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) policy made out-of-control nuclear escalation possible and even the USA and Russia had had second thoughts about it in nuclear disarmament talks. Those talks had not really calculated in the possession of nukes by breakaway Soviet republics sick of constant Russian invasions and Russia helping itself to pieces of smaller countries. Those calculations left out Islamicists wanting to nibble off pieces of India. First, Pakistan then Bangladesh and Ladakh and Kashmir. What next? They had done it to the Philippines and Sri Lanka and Russia. China and India now shared an uneasy border because the buffer states Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, and Tibet no longer existed. And Israel was so small that large Arab neighbors deluded themselves into thinking that it was easy pickings. They apparently never heard of Masada and doomsday devices.

The Africans had. One nation in Africa was determined to never allow colonialism or slavery again. That nation had huge reserves of uranium. All it would take was a trigger and their underground uranium ore would reach critical mass.

In the Superman fiction, he escaped before the fictional planet Krypton exploded into dust. Atomic scientists know that fiction can be turned into reality. The Soviets had learned that in the Khystym region the hard way. Khystym was literally blown off the map in the mid-Twentieth Century. Fortunately, the chain reaction did not reach the radioactive core of the Earth or you would not be reading this.

The Soviets had learned something else that the rest of the world still did not know: There is no safe level of radiation.

In the narrow window of time between first strike and secondary targets, the Pope was dragged off by the Swiss Guard.

When the bombs stopped exploding, the terminators had their plan too. They did not start shooting indiscriminately at the first human survivors that they saw. They needed information. They tracked down and executed every president, premier, prime minister, party chairman, king, emir, sultan, and general on the planet and, systematically, started working their way down. They did not take telephone directories and work their way through them alphabetically. They went after generals and admirals and anyone who could organize armed resistance. And, always, always, always they collected information about the whereabouts of the one who had started preparing from childhood: John Connor.

In the ruins, a human found a scrap of paper. A Canticle for Benedict. The Resistance resisted the machines through military means. The rumor began that there was also an effort to salvage human civilization. What good would it be if the Resistance saved your body and all the books were gone? All the museums gone? All the plants gone? All the people, places, and things that made life worth living? Did we really have to start back in the Stone Age? All the infrastructure was gone. All the spare parts and seeds and people with specialized knowledge and clean air and clean water and clean soil were gone. Did John Connor really think that the radioactive waste strewn over the Earth had a half-life of less than a dozen millennia? Tough times ahead and the Resistance had no morale officers and no shrinks.

the Connor home, mid-December 2008

It is getting dark. Cameron sits down to dinner with the family. Sarah has cooked dinner but no plate is set for Cameron. It just never occurs to Sarah to do so and it never occurs to John to say something. If Cameron had been asked to say grace, she would logically have said only one thing, because it was evening. Cameron would have recited the words of the Magnificat: "My soul doth magnify the Lord." She would have been interrupted and stopped before she got to verse 55. But, of course, Cameron was never asked because machines are not supposed to have souls.

Before the humans went to bed, Cameron reminded herself to be vigilant. She examined the conscience that she had been cultivating for weeks now at the ending of the day. She hoped that they would sleep peacefully. She knew that her mother (she persisted in thinking of her this way) suffered nightmares. She knew that John was expected to save lives but he could only save their bodies. Machines were more than hardware and more than software. Likewise, she considered that humans were more than bodies though she had seen little evidence of them having a spiritual component, at least not from the ones she lived with.

Humans, in general, tended to let their festivals degenerate from the original meaning they once had when those festivals were started into empty exercises. While everyone else was watching impatiently for the weekend, the holidays, and vacation; Christians were praying and doing daily devotions with wreaths and calendars. Jewish people were observing Hanukkah, the rededication of the Temple by lighting a menorah. Their children ate latkes and spun dreidels. Muslims were fasting during Ramadan but liked the festival of lights too. While everyone else was commercializing the season, some were quiet and still.

The light had a meaning beyond illuminating the darkness or serving as decoration.

The last lights to go out in the house were the lights in Sarah's bedroom and John's bedroom.

Another night has passed into the first hour of the coming day. Now that daylight fills the sky, Cameron goes to make another breakfast. Derek came to the house from wherever he had come. The food smelled too delicious to toss into the refuse. Cameron looked aside and left the room so that Uncle Derek could enjoy his meal without feeling obligated to shove it away. For his part, Reese was not just hungry physically. Spiritually, he was tired of the war and desperately wanted to go back to being human and humane. As he passed Cameron on the way out he whispered:

"Thanks."

after Judgment Day

It was a gathering of Swiss Catholics, cardinals, and more than a few non-Catholics and non-Swiss. They had one thing in common: They all looked like skeletons, and not the shiny metal kind. After the Pope had died, they had elected a new pope. Dying from radiation sickness or not, life goes on, the church goes on, civilization goes on, and humanity goes on. The first order of business: Those who knew Latin called it oratorio ad collectam.





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