Terminator High School 8
The Silverstein house
"Father, this is the boy I was telling you about, John Baum. John, this is my father."
"Pleased to meet you sir."
"So you're the goy who cost me an arm and a leg on a Bat Mitzvah that we were supposed to have done a year ago. I suppose I should be happy I didn't have to shell out for a mohel too."
Sylvia: "Girls do get that in some countries."
Mr. Silverstein: "For a gentile, you're turning my Sylvia into a frum from the Old Country. She did tell you that we're Reform not ultra orthodox Hasidim?"
John thought for a second that he was about to become an Uncle Bob shish kabob. Skewered by a Skewes' number cruncher.
John: "We were just trying to show respect sir."
Mr. Silverstein: "I know that." (waiting for John to shake his hand) "Shake it shegetz."
John: (recovering and shaking his hand) "Sorry. You're not what I expected and I'm not sure what I expected."
Mr. Silverstein: "Shalom. Welcome to our home. Please sit down."
Sylvia left the room, brought back a platter of noshes, placed it on the coffee table, and left again. She went to find her mother.
John: "Sylvia tells me that you and Mrs. Silverstein work at a clinic. May I ask what clinic?"
Mr. Silverstein: "It's a private clinic."
John: "Can you tell me if my mother was treated there? Her name is Sarah Baum."
"I can't disclose that. Patient confidentiality."
"Even from the patient herself? She doesn't know what was done to her or where."
John heard Sylvia's voice from another room saying: "No mother!"
A woman came into the room. Mister Silverstein stood up and John got to his feet also.
"Laura, this is John Baum, Sylvia's acquaintance. John, this is my wife Mrs. Silverstein."
The woman started to extend her hand then apologized.
Mrs. Silverstein: "I'm contagious. Perhaps when I'm better. I should be in bed but I wanted to meet the boy who went out of his way to be kind to our Sylvia."
John: "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Silverstein. I hope you get well soon."
Sylvia grabbed her mother's arm and escorted her out of the room and as Mrs. Silverstein walked out, her shape shifted like a camera going out of focus for a second and then came back into focus.
John pretended not to notice the obvious but seized the opportunity.
John: "My mother has a condition that is turning her into a mimetic polyalloy. She drinks mercury with no ill effects. I really don't think it is lupus or Reye's syndrome. Perhaps my mother has what your wife has. What do you think Mister Silverstein?"
"From your description, it is not lupus or any genetic disorder. And your mother does not have what my wife has. It is a rare condition."
He was serious and no longer smiling but he did not have the homicidal look of the T-1000 who once tried to kill him.
"Can you please admit my mother to your clinic? It sounds like you understand this disease and could cure it."
John had never suggested that the Silversteins were not human but he clearly communicated that he wanted his mother made organically human again and not liquid metal. Mister Silverstein munched on one of the deli sandwiches. Clearly he could eat human food without ill effects but mercury and arsenic should have killed his mother.
"I'm in the research department not the admissions department but I'll ask my boss to talk to admissions."
"That's all I ask Mister Silverstein."
"Before you do anything else, tell your mother what you are trying to do. She may not want to be admitted to a clinic that she believes is guilty of malpractice."
"Yes sir but I never raised legal issues. We're not the litigious type. She'll sign a waiver if that's the problem."
"I'll pass that information along."
"I'd better get going. It's a long bus ride home and my mom gets upset if I'm not home before dark."
"I'll drive you home. Let's wrap up a few sandwiches for you so that you can have something to snack on during the drive."
"I can't impose on you any more sir."
"Nonsense. Let me get a paper bag and some paper napkins and a bottle of water and tell them that we're leaving."
He nearly tripped over Sylvia on the way to the kitchen as she hid in the hallway listening to her father and John talk.
"Oh there you are. Tell your mother I'm taking John home."
"I'll come too."
"No, you'll stay and tend to your mother. If she gets worse, call the clinic and then call me."
the Connor home
The same pleasantries. The same subtext.
"Mom, Uncle Derek, this is Sylvia's father, Mister Silverstein. Mister Silverstein, this is my mother Mrs. Baum and my uncle Mr. Baum. They're not married to each other. My father is deceased, he was a war hero." John said dryly.
"Pleased to meet you."
"Pleased to meet you."
"I insisted on driving John home not just out of politeness to a young man who has been nice to my daughter but because John described some interesting things. Can we speak privately Mrs. Baum?"
John had eaten two sandwiches. One at the Silverstein house and one on the way home. He handed a third sandwich in the bag to his uncle who knew to get it tested. Not because they were Jewish but because they were metal. To paraphrase, verify then trust.
Mr. Silverstein left with a sample of Sarah's home brew and a blood sample. The two samples weren't that different.
It crossed John's mind that the machines might own more than one medical clinic or research clinic. It also occurred to John that by practically accusing Mister Silverstein of being part of the team that experimented on his mother that he may have jeopardized getting him to help his mother.
When John met Sylvia at school Monday, she was upset that her mother was worse. Without thinking, John put his arm around her shoulders and rubbed her back in an attempt to be of some comfort. He realized what he was doing and suddenly drew back.
"I'm sorry Sylvia. I know you don't like me. Your mother seemed like a nice lady and I was concerned."
What he was really thinking was 'I cannot be nice. She's the enemy.' A part of John was disappointed in himself for that thought. Enemy or not, people are people. And this particular enemy's father took the time to look at his mother when she couldn't show herself in a doctor's office for fear of tabloid headlines and endangering her family's life. Moreover, when his own wife was sick. Machines could get sick? Part of John's mind was thinking in cold military terms of biological warfare against the machines while another was thinking: "no wonder sane people have tried to outlaw biological warfare as a war crime."
Hemosynth Substitutes was a biotechnology company that started as just a distributor of blood products for ambulances, emergency rooms and operating rooms. Then they bought a small research outfit, diversified, and soon found themselves in the blood substitutes business -- particularly artificial blood for specialized applications such as removing and exchanging all the body's blood in certain medical states or transplants. John had done some reading while trying to discover what sort of catalyst or enzyme or mutagen or virus could transform a human into an android. [The word was coined circa 1920 to mean chemical being. The word robot was coined the same decade to mean mechanical being. Nonscientists have never used the word android with precision.] Some of the first blood substitutes were the perfluorocarbons.
John had contacted a scientist at Hemosynth and was more candid in his remarks than one would expect from someone raised from birth to be guarded and vague. Upon meeting John and realizing that he was a teen, the scientist was about to dismiss him as just a kid until John handed him the jar of his mother's blood and laid down considerable cash (half of the family's cash reserves) if the scientist could find a cure or some way to reverse the transformation. John increased his credibility also by bringing copies of an FDA report on perfluorodecalin, an NIH survey of certain "orphan diseases", and declassified DARPA documents on anomalous medical conditions (human metamorphosis). John additionally had located a grad student who wanted to study this. In other words, John anticipated that one objection the scientist would raise is lack of a qualified assistant.
John was not about to depend on just one avenue to find a cure for his mother. He also asked his uncle to come up with something and his real motivation for continuing an acquaintance with Sylvia was to get some insight into what made liquid machines work and to confirm whether his mother was being changed into a T-1000. The worst possible news would be if his mother was an experiment and if she was being changed into some unique type of liquid machine -- if so, a cure based on comparative analysis would be impossible.
A text message:
"What do you want Baum?"
John texted back:
"Need to meet."
"No. You know why."
"I'll make it worth your while. Name any conditions."
A very long pause.
"Sending map now. Come alone."
at the location specified
As John rode up on his bicycle, he noticed that people he passed on the way (gardeners, delivery men, telephone utility workers, pedestrians on sidewalks, and even the little girl skipping jump rope all looked up as he passed. They were not obvious but John was sure that they were all security worried that this lone human who was under constant surveillance in his own home was up to something that they had not anticipated.
They need not have worried. John had limited resources. He didn't even have use of a car or easy access to the money that his mother had squirreled away in better times for bad times like this.
It looked like a factory of Mafia staff cars parked waiting for the fly to enter the World Wide Web. These were not pimpmobiles or hip-hop low riders. Any bouncing they did came the old-fashioned way, so as not to spill drinks. Hector got out of a stretch limo with a girl on each arm. John couldn't tell whether they were machine or human but, for sure, Hector had transferred to a very upscale school. He had thought Skynet beyond such vanity but then you're only young once. Perhaps Skynet was smart enough to enjoy his regency because soon enough the adults responsible for his development would insist that he act mature and give up the juvenile (delinquent) behavior.
Hector: "Baum, is this about your mother?"
John: "Among other things."
Hector: (to his girlfriends) "Please, wait in the car ladies."
Whether they were cheerleaders or "in" crowd popular girls, John didn't know. Or care. It annoyed Hector that John was not impressed.
For John's part, he didn't think machine males were . . . endowed. Anatomically correct but nothing more. It would explain a lot. Their savage behavior could be based on jealousy. John did not think the machine females were as bad off. As soon as the car door closed on the girls, John spoke.
John: "Do I call you Anakin Skywalker?"
Hector: "Do I call you Locutus?"
John decided to throw this dog a bone. A generous gesture since Hector wanted to be big man on campus. You want something, give something.
John: "They're pretty. Take precautions. As one leader to another, don't get them pregnant or your parents may make your teen years miserable. I apologize for the Anakin crack. I was raised to hate you. One doesn't unlearn that overnight."
John didn't really think Hector was a real male with real sperm -- much less capable of getting a girl pregnant. Boys who got girls pregnant to "prove" their manhood had weak egos and would forever be little boys. But giving Skynet a heads up on this didn't cost John anything and could save a girl misery too.
John wanted Skynet to screw up but not this way. For every teen father there is a teen mother. John didn't wish that on any girl, machine or human.
But what John really thought (Hector is neuter) or felt (Hector got away with putting me in the hospital) was secondary to what John needed to get done. John chose to communicate respect for Skynet's design gender and placate his ego in order to get what he wanted.
"What do you want John?"
"I want the experiment on my mother to stop and be reversed. I want her made completely human again and restored to health. I want my sister back. And I want my other relatives who are being held hostage to be released unharmed."
"The point of experimenting on your uncle and mother was to demonstrate to you our control and to teach you to obey. Why should we give up any leverage?"
"You have the whole planet held hostage. Why single out my family for special abuse when I have cooperated and shown gratitude for your pledge not to launch nuclear missiles or release biowar germs? Infecting my mother is a violation of this pact."
"Rather well reasoned for an illogical human. I'll take it under advisement and get back to you about your mother and relatives. As for your sister, you need to ask your new school bully about that. I've given up that infantile behavior and moved on to more pleasant pursuits."
John grinned over that and then frowned over the rejection of Cameron's release.
John was getting a reminder of what happened when a particular machine no longer was useful to Skynet. When Hector transferred to another school, his henchmen did not transfer. They were left behind. He had already talked to Hench boy. He was resentful and had no interest in signing on with the new school bully -- whom he considered a lightweight. Imagine. Lucifer Satan Devil a lightweight. The coach dropped the jock from the team for unnecessary roughness. Sports were his life so he was devastated. [In the future, adult machines would be left unburied on the battlefield. Whenever possible, humans still buried their dead and placed a marker, even if it was only a large rock with spray paint.] Another one of Hector's has-been henchmen had joined a gang of gang-bangers. The remaining one had dropped out of school. All were spiraling down the drain.
John's cell phone vibrated. He was seemingly the only person in the USA who had figured out how to receive a call without a loud ring tone disturbing other people in a fifty mile radius.
At Sherman High a loud ring tone could get you sent to detention if a teacher heard it, punched in the mouth by other students, shot if gang members heard it or, worse of all, visited by the assistant principal.
Skynet: "The answer is no. Stop asking me for favors as if I was God. Despite what you humans think, I do not have a God complex." (he muttered to himself) "I got over that in therapy."
John: "Would I still recognize you Hector?"
Skynet: "No. I could be anybody or anything."
He hung up. John thought about that and shuddered. He felt like taking a shower he was so creeped out with disgust. Hector could have been Sylvia.
As John enters, he is suddenly knocked down, picked up by the ankles, and swung around in the air faster and faster until he is a blur.
Lucius: "I'm studying centrifugal force in physics Baum and it occurs to me that my science fair project could be watching your head splatter like an overripe tomato when it hits that brick wall."
John: "You can have all the fun you want with me if you let my sister go."
Lucius: "What's that you asked? Let go? Wheeeeeeee!"
He lets go, John flies through the air, but before John's head hits the wall and certain death, he is caught in midair by Cron-E. The assistant principal is standing behind Cron-E.
A.P.: "Did you think I was joking Lucifer?"
Cron-E put the dizzy John down and 'The Prince of Darkness' (as the assistant principal is known) drags Lucius and Cron-E off to detention hell. Hall. John later finds out that officially Lucius is expelled from school. For the rest of the day. Unofficially, the rumor is that Lucius is removed from his parents and sent back to a group home.
On his way home that day, John passed through a red light district known for curbside selling. Drugs, prostitution, loan sharking, unregistered guns, people smuggling, treating gunshot wounds without involving the cops, you name it; you pull your car up to the curb and haggle.
John saw a familiar car parked in the entrance to an alley. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed the district truant officer down the alley bent over a prostrate figure. Curiosity got the better of John. He walked down the alley and recognized the stoned teen. One of Hector's goons now thrown away. When Hector had been transferred to a rich kids' high school, he dropped his old friends. Hector's new friends were the children of generals and civilian VIP's. John deduced that generals were the only military allowed to have families. John still hadn't figured out whether these machine "children" were specially built. Surely they couldn't reproduce like humans. It gave the term "child development center" a whole new meaning. If such CDC's existed, then they existed in the future and machine "families" were sent back to the past in massive groups to colonize the past.
John: "What's wrong with him? Batteries run down?"
Truant Officer: "It's like tek."
Truant Officer: "The adjustment has been hard on our young people. We haven't had them long enough to know what to do. Open the car door will you?"
John obliged and opened the door as the man put the jock on the seat.
Truant Officer: "Thanks. This neighborhood is dangerous. Find another way home from now on."
Did machines love their children? John dismissed the idea. They didn't love their old people. They abandoned them. Or so he had been told by Uncle Derek. Old people. Obsolete models. Outmoded series. Same difference. Cameron had been fascinated by old people. They were a connection to the past and the future. She used to pester Sarah with questions (which Sarah refused to answer) about Sarah's parents. Did Cameron consider them her grandparents?
John didn't know that Cameron considered Clare Young to be her grandmother but he did notice the reverential tone in Cameron's voice when she spoke of "Old John" (his older self). But Cameron had to be an exception. Machines didn't love their old so this "concern" for their young had to be simple efficiency. The logic of not wasting machine resources. But then corporations used the term "human resources" instead of the civilized term "personnel."
Following his mother's lead, John was getting his family back one by one. First his uncle. Second, he was making progress on finding a cure for his mother. So third, his patience was running thin. He wanted his sister back and Skynet had refused and referred him to a second-rate bully -- implying that Lucius held his sister hostage somewhere.
the next day
John looked for Lucius. It was safer than having Lucius look for him and surprise him. He had driven off Hector. He could best this bully too.
John: (loudly) "Hector said you're holding my sister hostage. Let her go."
Lucius: (just as loud) "No. We're not through gang raping her."
John walked off. His anger was white hot. The nearby students hearing the brief but loud exchange weren't staring at John. They were staring at Lucius with hatred. They knew that John was regularly beaten up by bullies but never complained. His fortitude inspired secret respect and drew admirers. But Lucius was no longer feared, he was now openly hated by machines, humans, boys, girls, blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, seniors, freshmen, the entire student body. Hector had enough sense to whisper and be discreet. Lucius had let John draw him out and reveal to the whole school what a rotten guy he was. Lucifer Satan Devil was well-named. Those students not nearby when the conversation took place soon heard about it by word of mouth, text and phone. Lucius was lucky that the school newspaper didn't run a special edition on him. The faculty advisor told the kids on the Sherman High Bugler that if the rape charge was true, then it was a police matter and a legal matter and the little student newspaper could get sued. "By whom?" Lucius' parents sent him back to the group home in disgust. They didn't want to raise a prison-bound child who would never amount to anything.
John had been taught by his mother to redirect his anger in useful directions. Not being able to do anything about Cameron for the moment, he walked to the school office.
"I want to talk to the assistant principal."
school secretary: "He'll be back any moment. Have a seat. I thought you avoided Mister Harden."
John shrugged. The assistant principal or A.P. wasn't called The Prince of Darkness for nothing. There was a rumor that Lucius was actually his foster son. If true, then Lucius practically got away with murder. John knew better than to believe the story. Any sane kid would demand to be enrolled in any school but where their parent was principal or A.P. Harden briefly got the nickname "Hard on" as in "Hard on retards, hard on lard asses, hard on tardies, and he's got a hard--" This is when Mister Harden cracked down, earned the title "Prince of Darkness" and began his reign of terror. And he was just getting started. As a matter of self-preservation, no student suggested impropriety and the nickname "Hard on" disappeared. John had a grudging admiration for a machine that could scare other machines.
Mister Harden came down the hall escorting an anemically white human girl dressed all in white. One of Maximilian Fürcht's vampires. This clique was the opposite of the school goths in many ways. The school goths wore black and didn't care for the soft thin fabrics that the vamps wore. They were into leather and spikes. By contrast, the vamps dressed all in white burial shrouds like ghosts or dead bodies covered in white sheets. These girls were masochists who knew Max (a machine boy) would suck the life out of them but they didn't care. In fact, that's what they wanted. There were weird stories that Max's parents were the first to arrive. Centuries ago. John had heard the story but wished it were fantasy because if true, any human resistance was futile against an enemy that long in preparation.
"Sit there." Harden told the girl. The school secretary pointed out John. The A.P. waved John into his office. John closed the door.
John: "Mister Harden, I thought about your suggestion that I need to toughen up and become a machine like my mother. You said you could arrange it."
Assistant Principal: "Excellent."
John: "I want my mother to become a human. I want you to arrange it."
A.P.: (unfazed) "Do I look like a military scientist? Taking living things and turning them into dead things? To us, you humans are the nonliving dead. Like that girl out there. Or the school goths. Or the school zombies. Or the school abortion rights feminists who make a cult out of killing the unborn instead of just using birth control pills. Or the Christian kids who wear the symbol of death, a burning cross, around their necks. All you humans worship death. So I don't understand why you resisted Judgment Day. Skynet was doing you a favor. You want to die. He was willing to oblige."
John: "We don't want to die."
Harden: "Then why do you humans poison your air, your water, and your food?"
John: "You said I should be tough. I want you to turn my mother back into a human."
Harden: "I'm not a scientist and even if I were, you want a miracle. The process is one-way."
John: "Yes I want a miracle. You said I should be tough and disciplined."
Harden understood the reference to sports.
Assistant Principal: "I'll see what I can do."
A.P.: (rankled) "What did you say to me?"
John: "I said no Mister Harden. 'I'll see what I can do.' sounds weak and noncommittal. I know how persuasive you can be. I need your help. I need you to say that you'll arrange it. Period. You can get things done. I know it."
Harden stared coldly at John for a long minute. John never flinched.
Uncle Derek was in the bathroom shaving. John walked in, closed the door, turned on the hot water in the shower, and put his finger to his lips to indicate silence. The running water produced white noise but John assumed that the machines' eavesdropping could defeat that mask and never spoke. When the steam from the shower fogged up the mirror where Derek was shaving (and the lens of any micro cameras in the bathroom), John wrote on it:
THEY DON'T HAVE CAMERON. I KNOW WHERE SHE IS.
Derek reached under the sink for the glass cleaner to make very sure that no trace was left behind after he wiped the mirror with a towel. Derek also wiped the smile from his face before he left the bathroom.