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#16 Facing One's Fears

Short story By: Toni Roman
Science fiction



My numbered stories are inspired by Season One and its kinder, gentler tone.


I had no idea that the show would throw away a key character when I wrote it.


The story is set in 2008.


Submitted:Apr 4, 2009    Reads: 173    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


#16 Facing One's Fears

Cameron feared nothing. Not a terminator with twice her size and strength. Not John who was to lead the fight to save mankind. Not Sarah Connor who was a legend in the future from which Cameron came and for whom she had boundless respect for as her mother. Not a pack of dogs--though she would have preferred dealing with that annoyance with a machine gun instead of separately breaking their canine spinal cords. Not pitch black darkness. Not sharp objects like scalpels and razors. Not bleeding or being wounded or damaged. Neither failure nor defeat because she would simply try again. But Derek Reese represented The Resistance and so did she. It was one thing to participate in a conversation of which he was a part but to walk up to him alone and initiate a conversation, well that Cameron avoided.

She stood for a long time looking at him across the yard. He was working on the engine of the truck with his head under the hood. Finally, his shoulders slumped; he pulled his head out, threw down the wrench, and turned around.

"What?" he said with irritation.

Discovered, Cameron hid behind a flower bush.

"If you have something to say, come over here and say it!"

Cameron came over to Derek. He seemed to be angry (he always seemed to be angry at her). Perhaps this was not the best time.

"What?"

"I'm sorry I bothered you."

Cameron dejected, turned to walk away.

"Wait!"

He gestured to the truck's tailgate, to sit down. Cameron just stood waiting.

"All right, then I'll sit down. Take your time."

Cameron usually had a direct stare at people but, unusual for her, she looked down at the ground.

"Would you, would you please teach me how to swim?"

Derek never knew what to expect from Cameron but he didn't expect that.

"Just move your arms and legs. There are illustrations in books and instructional videos."

"Okay." she said crestfallen and was about to retreat.

"So you wanted personal coaching. Let me guess. You can't swim and so you can't rescue John if he is drowning in a river or a lake."

Cameron said nothing since he guessed right.

"Do you have a swimsuit?"

"No."

"You should have one already. It was presumptuous of you to assume that I wouldn't help you."

"Sorry."

"Buy one and meet me at three o'clock tomorrow. Don't be late."

Cameron gave him a look that said "When am I ever late?" Machines are always punctual.

"Please don't tell the others."

"Okay." said Derek with some bemusement.

Without missing a beat, he immediately picked up the wrench he had thrown down and resumed working on the engine as if he had never been interrupted. He glanced at her back as she departed. She seemed to have a slight spring to her step and not the usual clomp of someone with depression. Was she happy? Nah, she's just a robot. Derek thought about that a moment and decided that the engine was fine. He put the air filter back on, spun the wing nut, closed the hood, and drove off to make arrangements. He was looking forward to tomorrow. You didn't get to drown a terminator every day. Maybe he should set up a tripod, video record the "accident" that was going to happen, and circulate copies among all the people in The Resistance who would want proof that the wicked witch Cameron was finally dead.

Derek took Cameron to an indoor pool at the private home of someone who owed him a favor. They were out of town and so Derek had the house to himself. There would be too many people at a public swimming pool or a club or the YMCA or a motel. Derek didn't want strangers asking questions he couldn't answer: Why did the diving board break when she got on it? How does such a small girl weight so much? How come she doesn't breathe? How did she kill the lifeguards when they came to save her?

Derek did not plan on letting Cameron jump on a diving board. Nor did he plan on fielding questions from nosy people, letting Cameron become a spectacle for people with cameras, courting a possible panic by Cameron if she started to drown, or explaining to lifeguards that if a drowning Cameron were thrashing in the water that she could hit hard enough to kill.

Derek did not bring any tripod or video camera because he realized that Cameron had come to him reluctantly as it was and that, as much as he hated his mechanical niece, it would violate a trust when she had come to him for help.

They drove up to the deserted house in Derek's truck shortly after 3 p.m. Derek pointed toward the bathroom where Cameron could change. She was carrying a gym bag.

"Don't wander around and move stuff. I got the use of this house as a favor. I didn't have to spend any Resistance money. Don't make a mess in the bathroom. I'll be waiting. Five minutes, young lady." (he pointed in the direction of the indoor swimming pool)

Derek wore his swim trunks under his street clothes. He quickly changed in the other bathroom.

The smell of chlorine. The aqua blue pattern of water reflected on the walls and ceiling. The quiet bubbling of water circulating through the pool filtering system and the muffled hum of the pump. The echo of the slap of his bare feet on the floor. The feel of the poolside surface. Like sand immobilized in cement. Rough enough texture to prevent slipping and falling but not like sandpaper.

Derek prepared to give his unpromising student a swimming lesson. He took a quick inventory of the supplies he had brought yesterday and suddenly realized that he had forgotten one possibly compromising thing. He had forgotten to tell Cameron to buy a regulation one-piece swim competition swimsuit! She might come out in one of those cheesy strapless swimsuits that Miss America contestants wore in Atlantic City in the Nineteen Fifties (as a man he didn't know they were called maillots) or she might wear a bikini or (worse) a Brazilian string bikini or European topless or even nothing at all. Sarah had told him that Cameron always erred in wearing ultraconservative granny underwear at home but had no modesty whatsoever when she, John, and Cameron had jumped a few years through time and arrived naked (as everyone did). She seemed to enjoy those four mooks staring at her before she knocked them out and took their clothes and car.

Derek breathed a sigh of relief when Cameron came out to the pool wearing a regulation swimsuit. No need to worry about a breast popping out of a flimsy top or a bottom falling off the second it got wet.

Derek breathed a sigh of relief at the attitude too. She was not strutting or showing off. In fact, she was looking in dread at the wet stuff. The water.

"Before the lesson I need to know what I have to work with. Turn around. Spin. Like you've seen little children do in the park."

Cameron turned around.

"Faster, faster, until you're dizzy."

"I'm not going to get dizzy. You've seen me do pirouettes while practicing ballet." Cameron said while spinning.

"You're right. Stop. Do a headstand."

Cameron did a yoga headstand.

"Now do a handstand."

"Are you going straight into diving? I don't even know how to swim yet."

"I am not planning on teaching you diving today or any day. You can learn that from an Olympic coach. Maybe get one of those high-tech swimsuits to win a gold medal. I am only here to teach you swimming basics. I am still assessing if that is even possible. Okay, enough handstand. You can stop now. The purpose of the spinning and the upside down is for me to get an idea of how you might react in water. On dry land and exclusive of climbing with ropes, humans are confined to two dimensions. Swimming is three dimensional. If you don't know which way is up, say at night, you might swim toward the depths instead of the surface. Now, is this starting to make sense? In the whiteout situation of being caught in an avalanche, we humans would learn from our saliva drooling up our face instead of down our chin to tell us that we were upside down. Water is wet so instead of saliva we blow little bubbles to see which way it crosses our faces--"

"--on the way up to the surface."

"Good. You understand. Now let's go to the shallow end of the gene pool. Sorry. Swimming pool."

"You're not going to push me in at the deep end?"

Derek could swear that there was a nervous tinge to Cameron's voice.

"No and 'gene pool' will be my last attempt at humor until we get back in the truck to go home. I am guessing that you might thrash in deep water anyway. We'll get to that. First, shallow water. Stick a toe in. Just like taking a bath and I know you've done that."

Cameron stuck a toe in and then shrank back.

"I have picked you up on one occasion when you were unconscious. You are much heavier than you look. But I also know that your weight can change radically over the space of a few seconds. I know. You got heavier and you got lighter but even at your lightest, you still weighed a ton."

"That's classified. I can tell you what you need to know though. I prepared for this lesson by swallowing a lot of air. Fish have an air bladder. That is what I am trying to simulate. There is a limit to how much air I can swallow before damaging my stomach and the few other biological organs I have."

"I came prepared too."

Derek hands Cameron a Mae West. Also known as a Type I life preserver.

"Put it on."

He helps her put it on correctly. He grabs two life preservers, a cushion and a ring, both known as Type IV. Then he walks down the steps into the shallow end and lets them float next to him. He holds out his arms as an invitational gesture and waits for her. After a few long moments of hesitation, Cameron steps into the water. Derek has her in the shallowest part of the pool which is knee-deep for Cameron.

"Okay, you are standing in the water same as when you get in a bath tub. Let's crouch down in the water to our chins. I'll go first."

As is often the case, except with heated swimming pools and hot tub Jacuzzis, the water feels cool, even cold, in comparison to the air. After awhile, the water feels warmer than the air.

After a few minutes of acclimation, Derek could swear Cameron was slightly shivering. Perhaps a malfunction. She couldn't be as scared of water as she seemed to imply. Could she? Nah, she's a terminator.

"Okay. Let's stand up again. You have mastered vertical in shallow water. Now you are going to learn horizontal. The water is so shallow here that you can feel the bottom with your hands while still keeping your head above water. Stretch over this cushion and hold onto the ring. Stop flailing, I gotcha."

Cameron stretched out on the raft of personal floatation devices. Derek noticed that Cameron smelled of Ivory Soap as he held her.

"Stop moving. We'll do treading water next. Just concentrate on floating and try to enjoy the experience. We humans are mostly water and fat, we spend our first nine months floating in water, life began in the ocean, and our remote ancestors may have returned to the sea for awhile before parting company with the dolphins. I am telling you this to give you a sense of what we humans feel about water. You are mostly metal but you have skin. You'll have to discover your own peace with water."

Cameron suddenly relaxed and turned her head to look directly at her Uncle Derek's face. When she was in Skynet Forces, her instructors spoke in androgynous monotone and never seemed interested in the material they conveyed to their students. Her uncle was not just teaching swimming basics but communicating the spiritual underpinnings of swimming. Skynet would have been honored to have such an inspirational professor in the classroom. Cameron turned back to her lesson. Too quickly.

"Mouth shut Cam. You're swallowing water. Stand up! Spit it out. The chlorine will get it. But don't put any other bodily fluids in the water. That's not a joke, that's an order. Do you need a five minute break?"

She nodded.

"Go."

When she returned, Derek had to know.

"I'm not trying to invade your privacy but I need to know. Do you absorb water like a sponge? Because if you get waterlogged, then Skynet didn't design you very well. When we went to the beach that time, your hands, legs, and feet were swollen."

"That's personal but no I don't get waterlogged."

Derek dropped the matter. Generally speaking, the saltier the water the greater the buoyancy for humans.

"Okay. Put your life preserver back on and come back in the water. This time up to your waist."

This time, Cameron put it on without help and was less hesitant about entering the water.

"Horizontal. Perfectly still."

This time Cameron managed to float with the cushion and ring without moving.

"Good. But you are mostly bent over like an old person. You keep putting your feet on the bottom. I understand why. You want the security of knowing that it is there so that you can stand up. But this isn't a bathtub. Turn over, face up, and float on your back. You have to depend less on the bottom."

She turned over and lost all the confidence that she had built up when he lifted her legs from the bottom.

"Come on. Horizontal. Parallel to the surface. That's it. Keep still. No movement."

He let her get used to this position.

"Congratulations. That's a back float. I notice that you are afraid to put your face in the water. Let's work on that. Stand up."

She stood up.

"Let's see what kind of lung capacity you have. Not much I'm guessing. Not much room in that metal ribcage for lungs. Blow air in my face. Not the air you've swallowed into your stomach. Just whatever breathing you do."

Few machines breathed. Of the few that did, Cameron was the only one whose breathing was not just simulated chest movement to fool humans. She activated her iron lungs. It was the first time she had turned on this subsystem since she had been forced to switch sides from Skynet to Connor.

"Give me a few seconds Uncle Derek. I haven't breathed in a very long time. I'm not even sure if the subsystem still works."

Cameron finally blew in Derek's face. Her breath had a chlorophyll smell.

"That's pretty weak. Blow as hard as you can."

Cameron blew harder.

"It will have to do. Imitate me. I am going to blow air bubbles in the water."

Derek stuck his mouth in the water and blew. Cameron imitated him.

"Now the whole head."

Derek went underwater, blew, and then stood up out of the water. Cameron imitated him. The acoustics changed radically. The world closed in. Drumming sounds against the ears. Visual acuity reduced. How do fish stand being underwater?

"No wonder dolphins jump out of the water."

Derek laughed and then stopped himself, trying to remain serious for her sake.

"Head under water and head out of water. You get used to the difference. Some people can't open their eyes under water because it stings at first. Speaking of which, do you want swim goggles or ear plugs or nose plugs? I still don't know if you have a middle ear like us humans. That's why I did all that balance stuff at the beginning."

"I have gyros and inertial guidance. I won't get swimmer's ear or middle ear infection."

"Since you know how to be still, you can do a dead man's float. It's a way to preserve energy. A better way is the back float. Let's go back to that. Turn over. Now, move your feet as if you were walking."

Cameron did so by replaying a motion that she and everyone but wheelchair-bound people did every day.

"Feel how unnatural that seems in water? Point your toes while you continue the walking motion."

If by "unnatural" he meant that what works on dry land for getting around needed modification in water, then she understood. She felt emotions and she felt the touch of his hands supporting her in the water but she felt no instincts. Human babies instinctively knew how to swim until bad parenting caused them to unlearn it. Cameron had no programming from Mother Nature to help her.

"I know you are a dancer so you should be more fluid, more flowing, and smoother in your leg motion."

He let her kick for another minute.

"Okay stop and watch me."

Derek held the side of the pool and demonstrated paddling with his feet and then scissor kicks.

"The last thing I did was scissor kicks. You try without me holding you."

She moved her feet better this time.

"That's half of it. The lower half of the body. Now the arms. You've seen babies crawl and you've seen adults crawl under barbed wire. I'm going to hold you up until I see that you catch on. This is like with the legs. You modify a movement used on land for use in the water."

She was a fast learner.

"Take another break. I need to put on scuba gear for the next part."

Cameron seldom tied her hair back out of her eyes. It was usually loose. It was a vain impractical streak. Allison Young had never been vain or conscious of her looks.

Cameron dried her hair, stuffed it under a waterproof rubber swimming cap, and returned. As always, she was thinking ahead. Of a time when she might overcome her fear of water and need to be streamlined.

Terminator or not, Cameron feared the next part. To hide her anxiety, she made small talk with Reese as he checked the equipment.

"I thought you hated me. How come you haven't been hurling abusive language at me?"

"It would be better if you asked me the meaning of life, the universe, and everything else. Future Leader and impressionable kid John is not here. Hard-as-nails could-have-been sister-in-law Sarah is not here. No one from my old Tech-Com squad is here."

Reese adjusted the pressure valve and continued.

"No anti-machine extremists or Skynet victims in The Resistance are here. That's why. There is just the two of us. So I don't feel the need to beat my chest like a gorilla or do any macho posturing. That's mostly for an audience. Aren't you sorry you asked?"

"No. It makes you seem almost--"

"Human?"

"I was going to say machine but I guess that's an insult in your book."

"No offense taken. In the following exercise, do not panic. Resist the impulse to grab for me and to squeeze my arm. Because if you do, you will probably forget your strength and accidentally kill me and then John will dispose of you. Okay?"

Cameron nodded.

"I will know if you are in trouble and I will either pull you or push you to safety. I know it's not in your nature to wait for help. You are predisposed to act. But in this one instance only, you must not improvise or gesture. You must passively look toward me and use your face to indicate your state of mind. I know you can make any facial expression humans can make so you can drop the zombie robot routine. I won't tell John or Sarah that you were being all expressive. Do you trust me?"

"In general, no, but I trust you during this swimming lesson."

Derek resisted the temptation to laugh.

"I guess I earned that one. We're going to walk across the bottom from the shallow end and go halfway toward the deepest end, turn back where the bottom drops off at a sharp angle downward, and return to the shallow end. I am going to have my hand on your arm at all times. You will not, repeat NOT walk fast because if you build up momentum you will go over into the deep and I will not be able to stop you from plunging like a brick. I will have to leave you, come to the surface, and get this raft." (he pointed to something that looked like a backpack on the floor near his feet) "swim back down to you, struggle to get it under you since you weigh a ton, inflate it, and finally get you to the surface. Meanwhile, you will probably be freaking out and possibly rip the raft sending you down to the bottom again."

"I got it. Don't walk fast."

Derek thought about his own words. To save time in an emergency, he hooked a weight to the self-inflating raft and threw it into the deepest water. It was the kind of raft that transoceanic airliners keep aboard in case they have to ditch far from land. It could support the weight of one terminator or many humans.

"That'll save time in case I need it. All right. Put on this Type III life vest this time. Not enough buoyancy to make you float but enough buoyancy for me to be able to assist you. Let's start walking. Don't be afraid terminator."

Derek took Cameron's arm. They walked to the poolside, down the steps into the shallows, and waded onward. Up to ankles, knees, waist, shoulders, neck, boundary layer from air to watery environment. As the water deepened, she fought primal feelings of impending doom. She distracted herself by turning on her heads-up display, something that she did less and less. Looking at a schematic of the pool, its underwater lights, which were turned off at the moment, statistics, a graph of the pool bottom morphology, the continental shelf's edge approaching, and the increasing pressure of Uncle Derek's hand on her arm. He was digging his flippered heels into the bottom trying to slow her down. And she was walking slowly. She looked at him with no control of the expression on her face (fear) but could not easily tell his expression under his scuba goggles and breathing mask.

Cameron couldn't believe it! It wasn't the laughter of a smile. It was concern! Feeling reassured, she relaxed slightly. He guided her turn and they finally faced looking back towards the shallows.

Cameron finally took notice of things other than her fear. The sound of the air bubbles, Uncle Derek's calm slow heartbeat, other sounds muffled by the water and her rubber cap, clicks. The buoyancy. The resistance that water gave to movement that air didn't. The way light bent differently underwater [than looking down on someone standing waist-deep in water, their legs seemingly foreshortened]. Water entering nasal passages, sinuses, and throat. They were now breaching the surface and waded on until they walked back up the steps out of the water. Only then did Reese let go of her arm.

"I told you I wouldn't let go."

"I'm sorry I was walking so fast."

"You weren't walking fast. You were walking slow as I instructed."

"Oh. It seemed like I was walking too fast because I wanted to get out of the water."

Machines had a time sense that made humans seem slow by comparison. A second would seem like a million years to a supercomputer. For humans, a bad experience seems to last forever because the human time sense is subjective.

Derek took off the scuba gear while Cameron ran to the bathroom to cough up the water she had inhaled and swallowed and to replace it with air again. She didn't want to puke in front of her uncle.

"Next exercise is a solo swim across the shallow end. You will wear the Mae West. No cushion. No ring."

Cameron balked.

"You questioning my teaching style?"

"No, sir!" she said like a boot camp graduate.

Derek got in the water and demonstrated several swimming techniques, calling out the name of each before demonstrating it.

"Side stroke." "Single overarm." "Double overarm." "Backstroke." "Breaststroke." "Butterfly." "Australian crawl."

He stopped and stood in the water.

"I recommend the Australian crawl for you. Don't worry. I'll be nearby."

She put on the Mae West and started the crawl. Surprised that she didn't drown because Uncle Derek wasn't holding her and she didn't have the cushion and ring, her confidence started to return.

"You are obviously learning how to use breathing to help your swimming. You will never be able to go near water without a life preserver but you have accomplished something Cromartie never did. I still think this is more about conquering your fear of water than about being able to help John. You still would sink like a millstone around his neck. You could not be a lifeguard if he were drowning."

"No, but I could paddle a rope or life ring out to him. Maybe on a surfboard. The point is that I wouldn't be useless."

"Commendable. Well, lesson over. I need to pack this stuff up and you need to straighten up any mess you made in the bathroom."

"Wait. That's it? You're not going to push me into the deep water? I thought you lived for seeing me suffer."

Derek ignored the sarcasm.

"What? You want more instruction? It's almost four thirty and you're a slow learner. Maybe another lesson, another day."

Derek lied. She was a fast learner. Most people needed a semester of instruction to get good at swimming. He was actually proud of her and his instruction but gave no indication of it.

"Please."

"Well, if you're sure. I have to go down to get that inflatable off the bottom anyway. No diving board and not from a height. That's too advanced for today. And that's a whole 'nother chapter on how a belly flop could smash even a terminator hitting water from sufficient height. It's the physics of the surface tension of water. First, a practice run across the shallow end. This is not a leisurely swim. Maximum forward speed is your goal. You will dive in the way I dive in. Pushing off from the side for maximum horizontal momentum before you hit the water. In fact, you should start swimming motions while you are still in the air. No thrashing. Smooth but fast."

Derek backed up and made a running start and used his tiptoes to get one last bit of thrust as he flew across the water, cut the water at an almost one degree angle, and made it to the far side faster than most professionals. Climbing out, he motioned her to follow. What she lacked in grace, she made up for in enthusiasm. Quite a few nations would fight to have her on their Olympic team if they knew about her. But again Derek hid his pride in his niece well.

"I've seen worse. That practice convinces me that you're ready for the Big Kahuna."

"Shooting a tube off Waikiki?"

"Right. And a great white shark would use you for a toothpick. They eat license plates and metal you know. I guess you really are nervous or you wouldn't be so obtuse and cracking jokes. Walk to the deep end poolside and wait. Face your demons, pray, or whatever you terminators do to crank up your courage while I get my scuba gear back on. I'll tell you when to dive into the water."

Derek put his scuba gear back on for Cameron's big solo swim. Looking down toward the far end of the pool, Derek saw the girl apparently hyperventilating. Panic attack or was she trying to produce more internal buoyancy? Probably both. The crazy machine had taken the Mae West off and apparently planned to do this solo without a life jacket. Against his advice. He joined her at the deep end.

"Go."

She made a good start, cutting the water at a thirty degree angle, but she sank and the shallow end looked so far away. It would be humiliating to have to walk along the bottom. Like Cromartie. As she continued to sink deeper and finally hit bottom, she realized that her own weight would keep her from climbing up the steep slippery slope. She could not walk out! It was stay sunk or swim. She knew her uncle had joined her in the water from the sound of his dive in. She glanced back. He had retrieved the pack and was coming to inflate it under her. That would be even more humiliating. She waved him off, looked toward her goal, and concentrated on improving the efficiency of her strokes. She ignored the pressure of the water against her skin at this depth. As she increased the speed of her strokes, she got nearer and nearer the surface until she reached the top of the water and hit the side of the pool with her forward arm.

"Whoa! Stop before you break your arm or damage the side of the pool."

Derek came up beside her, took one of her hands, and put it on the poolside ledge. With his other hand he removed his diving weights and threw them onto the dry deck so that he would have more buoyancy to help Cameron out of the pool. Before getting out, he tarried. He treaded water and she imitated him.

"I didn't make it to the shallow end."

"Doesn't matter. What matters is that you conquered your panic and you swam without a life preserver. Against my advice, but in an emergency you might not have luxuries like personal flotation devices."

"I had to do it. To see if I could."

Strands of hair had gotten loose from under her swimming cap and were down her face. Derek Reese could swear that his mechanical niece was crying, but it could simply be the pool water. Cameron had adopted him as her uncle but at this very moment--she wished God could make him her father.

the end





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