Terminator High School 14
"You see the little star beside Padre? Indians call him the guide." [Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop 1927]
"For the first time, perhaps, since the land emerged from the waters of geologic ages, a human face was set toward it with love and yearning . . . Then the Genius of the Divide, the great, free spirit which breathes across it, must have bent lower than it ever bent to a human will before. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman." [Willa Cather, O Pioneers!, 1913]
"He made Kesil and Kimah, the Pleiades, and the chambers of the South." [Bible, The Book of Job, chapter 9, verse 9]
"Can you bind the bonds of the Pleiades or loosen the girdle of Orion?" [Job 38:31]
"(Seek Him) who makes the Pleiades and Orion, who turns blackness to morning and darkens day to night; Him who calls the waters of the sea and pours them out on the face of the earth -- the Lord is His name" [Amos 5:8]
The elders of the tribe say Cameron fulfills prophecy. They are not talking about Christian prophecy though it applies also. Kesil translates as giant or fool and Kimah translates as heap. The chambers of the South refer to the southern hemisphere's night sky. In mythology, Orion is one of the giants who because of rebellion against the gods is lashed to the sky.
John feels a nudge from behind. Quickly he jumps to his feet. Without the warmth and the fur coat, the chill of the old silver mine makes him shiver even while he still drips sweat.
He blushes slightly and grabs his shirt to feel if it's dry.
"She can't be on drugs but she is a dope." judges Sarah.
Cameron has not moved.
"I think she's dead." says John.
Sarah heaves, nauseating metallic vomit, at the thought that her son is a necrophile. Anyone else would be aghast but John knows his mother is starting to revert to human physiology.
Sarah slaps Cameron. Not a gentle tap to awaken but a hard bitch slap to express disapproval.
Vision quest. It was Thursday and she had imagined the passage of three days. John was coming from Los Angeles according to her spirit guide. She had run away from home to here where she was accepted. During summer camp, she had visited a reservation for two days and was initiated into the Turtle Clan. After camp, she recalled the Superstition Mountains on the trip back to Los Angeles, the slap as she walked in the door, the bathroom, the time fracture, the decision to run away, the death march as she walked all the way from California to New Mexico, arriving at the reservation (the only place she could think of) with her ill-fitting shoes worn to holes, and the Turtle Clan finding a Navajo couple (The Diné family) that took her in and adopted her. Siblings, brothers and sisters. Acceptance. They knew she was a cyborg and didn't care. She looked human not like those amputated vets with flippers. Her father who drove her to the Apache reservation for the ceremony. Being allowed to go to school at First American High, classes, making friends, exploring the desert and the ghost town, family activities, and picking piñon pine nuts. Sewing and gardening with her mother. Mrs. Diné was more of a mother to her than Sarah had ever been. Cameron woke up in the Navajo sweat lodge. No.
Sarah pretends to check Cameron's pulse and do CPR. Cameron's eyes open.
"She's coming around."
Confusion. She is in Montana and it is Sunday. Cannot move. Cannot regain composure. Self-confidence destroyed. Embarrassment. Guilt despite doing nothing wrong. Regret that she saved John's life. Exposed to public view.
White cotton underwear can be see-thru when wet. Cameron was soaked in perspiration.
Shame. Once an elite, demoted in rank by being sent to the past by Future John, and now reduced to having her buttons pushed by this woman. She could sink no lower. Painful humiliation. Wounded pride. Mortification.
"What are you doing here? How did you find us? I was careful."
"Those chasing you were not. Their rampage is all over the national news. Didn't mention names or show pictures but I knew it was you. I simply followed the trail of dead bodies until I found hers -- with you on top of it."
"We didn't do anything."
Sarah points. John can not imagine why any sane person would want Viagra or Levitra. At least not first thing in the morning. Why must I be a teenager? To be a teenager is to be in a permanent state of gawky awkwardness.
"Liar. You were using her for a bed."
"It's not what you think! It was freezing. We shared bodily warmth for survival."
"Oh is that what teens call sex?"
His voice changed pitch: "We didn't have sex! She saved my life."
"Yeh right." (to the half-conscious but mortified Cameron) "Get dressed heifer."
Sarah throws clothes in Cameron's face.
Cameron lay there, helpless as a baby, unable even to talk.
Sarah's look of disgust is expressed on her disapproving face.
"You're a damned disgrace."
Every thought, feeling and act had been aimed at proving that she was a good person to Sarah and in one second, a lifetime of effort was down the drain. The pain of knowing that your own mother thought of you as filth from the gutter.
Sarah sighs when she realizes that Cameron is too weak to move. She starts dressing Cameron like a paralyzed invalid.
(to herself) "At least she has on underwear. What there is of it." (to John) "Anyway, the trail led to Montana and this rancher let me come with him."
"Storm Rider. Uh-oh, we lost his horses."
"I settled with him."
"You people are strange." comments Storm Rider.
John blushes crimson at having an additional audience while he zips his pants. He had not noticed the man sitting in the shadows.
"What are you doing in Montana, John?"
"Did you find it?"
"Too bad because you're grounded for three months."
"Grounded! But I found Cameron. She can help turn you back to normal."
"I'm fine." Sarah says wiping the slime from her mouth. Never one to complain. "You have school tomorrow. It's a long way down to lower elevations and we have to catch a flight back to Los Angeles. Let's go Calamity Jane." Sarah throws Cameron over her shoulder and carries her like a sack of potatoes.
They head for the entrance of the spent silver mine and go outside.
Blinding white snow. The blackish gray sky of yesterday afternoon is replaced by piercing blue. No sounds of birds or bighorn. Just . . .
The tranquil serenity of mountain high country not far from Triple Divide Peak whose waters go to the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the Arctic oceans. They are high enough to look down on clouds. Storm Rider is checking his GPS locator. John's eyes widen in fear that the Wild Bunch will home in on them but he keeps his mouth shut.
A while later, Cameron recovers enough to be able to speak but not to move.
Cameron starts to say yes but decides that a more robotic answer is safer.
"My internal recharging is proceeding."
"In other words, yes. Why didn't you just say yes?"
"Yes ma'am. I'm feeling better."
The cold silence of the alpine vista is broken by a distant lontano putter which becomes a louder staccato. Storm Rider had thought ahead and brought a flare which he now ignites to help the approaching pilot spot the landing zone he prepared -- a flat area outlined by black rocks from the mine to contrast with the white snow.
They are choppered out by helicopter. The paramedics treat John for hypothermia and altitude sickness but Sarah keeps them from examining Cameron.
In Sarah's possibly biased interpretation of the Bible's Book of Revelation, her son was The Saviour (which conveniently made her The Virgin Mary), Skynet was the devil, Judgment Day was nuclear doomsday, and Cameron was The Whore of Babylon.
Machines also read the Bible. To them, John was The Antichrist and Sarah was The False Prophet.
When Storm Rider had fled the hoe-down last night to brave the blizzard, Sarah had imposed herself on the man and went with him and his ranch hand. She had traced John as far as this dude ranch and could not sit still while the Donner Party was going on up in the mountains. She knew from the desk clerk that Cameron was with John. While Sarah discounted the possibility that in this cold weather the cyborg might decide that she needed nourishment for the biological part of herself in the form of John's flesh, Sarah had a waking nightmare that the girl from the matrix might harvest her son's body for energy.
Looking out the helicopter's window, Sarah suppresses a smile lest the errant teens see it. The obvious truth is that John harvested Cameron's energy.
Upon return to Big Sky Ranch, Storm Rider's wife was relieved that she was not a widow and that their children still had a father. He was relieved that most of his cattle survived the night. Half the herd by huddling in or near the corral and stockyard and the other half in a thick stand of forest on the ranch that acted as a windbreak.
Old Yeller didn't make it back.
Cameron retrieves her schoolbooks from Storm Rider's wife and Sarah retrieves her rental car and another loose end.
As Sarah drives to the gate of the ranch about to turn onto the newly snow plowed two-lane highway, a well-tailored man steps out in front of the car, puts his hand on the hood of the car, and the engine seizes up. Realizing what the four men barring her way are, Sarah no longer has the option of running them down. No one can say Sarah is afraid of the odds against her, she gets out of the car to fight the degraded sons of Katie Elder armed only with a cattle prod.
Sarah stuck the Tall Texan with the prod. He backhanded her and sent her sprawling in the snow. McCloud extends a hand to help Sarah up and then holds up an admonishing finger as if to say: Don't try that again.
Sarah gasps as she sees the gambler pull John from the car and hold a gun to his throat. The gambler says: "We can't be bargained with, we can't be reasoned with, we don't feel pity or remorse, and we absolutely will not stop until you are dead." He pauses deliberately for effect. "Mindless violence. It's the code of the west."
The gambler is flanked by the steely-eyed gunslinger who has turned a hand into a spike with which to pierce John's brain.
Mr. T looks at Sarah to see if she will interfere. Sarah starts to speak to John to say something like: I'm sorry John. But the look from Mister T causes her to think better of it and she keeps silent. T opens a back door and scans Cameron who is still recharging and too weak to move quickly. She looks at him and gestures a dismissal.
The gambler releases John and the liquid gunslinger steps back from John also.
"Draw." says Mr. T with his hand poised to grab and fire his handgun.
"I don't have a gun." replies John.
The gambler holds his gun to Sarah's throat and the gunslinger extends a spike toward her throat also.
The gambler adds motivation: "We'll kill her first, in front of you, then you and then we'll kill everyone of your kind on the planet. Your species is stupid. It will do anything for money or a cause. We can hire human physicists to build a high yield atomic device or even a dirty bomb for us and detonate it in Mecca and watch as you exchange thermonuclear missiles. We can spend less than ten dollars and develop a super-Ebola in a Petri dish and release it and wipe out your kind."
"Draw." repeats Mr. T.
John has a Marty McFly moment of desperation before realizing that the four machines are stuck in a programming loop. They have to kill him though they have considerable latitude in how. He reaches into the car, grabs a crayon and construction paper. In his short life, he has seen too many of what he draws. After effort, he hands the paper to the man in white.
As if running down a mental checklist, T thinks. No bargaining, no reasoning, no appeal to pity or remorse. The death certificate for John Connor is crudely done and childish but he is no art critic. He glances toward Cameron and remembers her gesture of dismissal. He wavers. Kill Young John Connor.
John remembers something Cameron taught him last night.
"Thank you, sir."
"You're welcome." Mister T responds automatically. Kill with kindness. Close enough. He looks at the crazy-like-a-fox gambler. He looks at the cold Steel Eyes of the gunslinger. He looks at the gentlemanly McCloud and nods.
McCloud puts his hand on the hood of Sarah's rental and The Unforgiven get in their sports car and drive off.
On the way to the airport to catch the flight back, Sarah pulls over to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.
"Get out. Not you."
Cameron and the little girl get out. The little girl is expecting this. Cameron is not.
"Stand to attention girl." Sarah orders.
Cameron stands at attention.
"You are not coming home with us. You will never set foot in my house again. After today, you will not see John, Derek or me."
Cameron bows her head as Sarah pronounces sentence.
"Shut up John." Sarah says before John can say that the whole point of this weekend is to bring Cameron home and make the family whole again. He had brought Uncle Derek back from the dead, found a way to turn his mother back into a human, and even got Skynet to order his bullies to stop beating him up at school. Now his mother is saying that Cameron can never come home again. It is all for nothing. Just when there is hope, this.
Sarah walks Cameron to the bus stop.
"Here's your bus ticket. The note has the name of my second cousin and last known address. Other than Derek, Theodora is the last Reese. Derek, John and me, we're finished. They've made us. I can only hope they're not watching us now. The first war with Skynet is over. I don't know what we are fighting now. I do know that the fate of the human race is now in your hands. All I can do is give you cover. A cover story. As far as Skynet Forces knows, you were a renegade killed by terminators. Most of The Resistance is compromised like Derek, John and me. Many will be eager to believe that I kicked you out and left you to die."
Cameron thinks of Jesse.
"It helps that people think that I don't like you. Since that part of the story has the virtue of being true, I can sell the rest of the story if interrogated. Good luck."
Cameron hopes against hope that her mother will relent and give her a hug. For the first time and for the last time. Nothing. Cameron decides to take the initiative and steps toward Sarah.
"Don't kiss me. And don't kiss anyone else either. Go. Take care of her."
Almost roughly, Sarah shoves the shy little girl at Cameron.
"Take care of all of them."
She means not just the other Connors but the whole human race.
Right on time, the bus is coming.
The bus door opens and the driver looks impatient. Get in already.
"Lady," the bus driver says, "I got a schedule to keep."
Sarah turns to go and as an afterthought, presses $3 in Cameron's hand. Three dollars to take a child across a continent. Three one dollar value meals. A bus like this stops not only at every jerkwater town but at every wide place in the road as well. It will take three days to cross the country.
Sarah leaves before the bus does.
Cameron takes the little girl's hand and boards the bus, sobbing the whole time.
"You're squeezing me too hard." says the little girl as Cameron hugs her like a teddy bear.
"Sorry. We better put your seat belt on."
Looking out the window of the bus, Cameron sees the silhouette of a man standing on a boulder overlooking the highway. Cameron cannot tell which of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse it is -- but she has a good guess.
He stares right at her but makes no effort to follow.
Perhaps they have what they want. Cameron away from him. Perhaps they accept that the war is over.
Cameron's thoughts turn to Sarah. It isn't enough to destroy her life by taking her away from a Navajo family that loves her, a school where she has friends, and the promise of a satisfying career after college. Maybe marriage too.
Now she isn't even welcome in the Connor home but she is expected to raise this child -- a Reese, another family that hates her -- and cut short her own childhood. She is expected to become an adult and a parent long before her time. It would have been kinder to kill her.
In the rearview mirror, as the bus disappeared into a distant dot on the horizon on the empty highway, Sarah broke down. John had never heard his mother scream like that.
"You really loved her didn't you?"
"Of course I loved her!" his mother snapped angrily, "She's my daughter dammit!"
"But you--" John blurted.
"--treated her like dirt? I did what I had to do. We're finished. Skynet has you, me and Derek under his thumb. We have a fragile peace which you achieved. I'm proud of you son. Your responsibility now is to maintain that peace and prevent doomsday. My job is to look after you and your uncle. But if that peace fails and war resumes, Cameron is our plan B. Cameron is the last chance of the human race. I knew this moment might come. Why do you think I've been so hard on you?"
"I thought you were harder on her."
"She can take it."
"I don't know." (pause) "What are these Connors that I've never met like?"
"You've always thought we're white trash. Rufus's branch of the family is rock bottom." (John looks shocked, Sarah continued) "I call'em like I see'em. Cameron won't need her schoolbooks. They're lower-lower class. They pull their children out of school to do farm work, to sharecrop, to get in the harvest, to cut timber, to do child labor, to flip burgers to help pay the rent on tenant farms, to attend funerals, heck for any reason. They don't value education."
"Won't they slow Cameron down? After all, Cameron built a time travel device and a plasma rifle, arranged bank accounts, made contacts, and did who knows what else before we slowed her down."
"I did the best I could John."
"I wasn't criticizing." John says as he sees his mother's mental defenses going back up.
"We need to get back home before they cut Derek's head off again. This whole weekend getaway could be trying their patience."
"If Skynet won't attend Sherman High, why should I?"
His mother doesn't bother to answer the rhetorical question.
Sarah no longer sets off metal detectors at airports. As Cameron rolls east into the darkness, Sarah and John fly west into the bright setting sun. Below them are Mount Shasta, Yosemite, Redwood and Sequoia. Therein is giant sequoia, big trees. One in particular is The World Tree.