The Third Way (part 4)
2006-2007 school year
a small town
It was a school holiday for the students, a minor state holiday but not a bank holiday (which tended to be on Mondays) nor a federal holiday nor a religious holy day. It was not a holiday for the teachers. It was what they called an in-service training day. In other words, the teachers had to go in to work doing some catch-up work (reading and grading term papers, book reports, tests. etc.) but mostly professional refreshers and workshops put on by the school district and the state board of education and a teacher's conference. It wasn't as bad as it sounded. The teachers got to take a breath of air in the midst of their busy school year. There were sometimes trips to the state capital or to local sites for demonstrations of new educational technology. Usually there was a catered banquet in the school cafeteria if the lunchroom ladies were given the day off (although even they sometimes had to sit through nutritional talks from the state meal program supervisor). Often several elementary schools or several middle schools or several secondary schools combined their in-service programs at one host school. And always there was a keynote address in the auditorium from a speaker from the US Department of Education or a teachers' college. This year the speaker was a respected emeritus who gave a motivational talk punctuated with humor. Somebody named Ralph Perkey.
Only insane people become teachers. Ninety-nine percent of all students are little ingrates who cannot possibly appreciate that even today there are countries where girls risk death if their parents send them to school because conservative cultures and religions prefer stupid women who stay barefoot and pregnant. Minorities (unless they are Asian or Jewish) are expected by their cultures to be stupid and not pay attention in class. Boys in America are expected to be mooks because it is unmanly to have brains. White Anglo-Saxon Protestants have a strong streak of anti-intellectualism in their culture and a tradition of "the gentleman's C" -- as it was considered unseemly for a gentleman to try too hard or sweat. Problem is, not all white males are trust fund babies or the children of millionaires. In fact, most white people in the USA are not rich. Most white people are middle class and that middle class began to experience the problems of the working class (layoffs, high gasoline prices, mortgage foreclosures and denied credit) starting with the Reagan Administration. Poor whites in Appalachia had long had it even rougher. And, despite conservative rhetoric, most people on welfare are white. Therefore attempts by conservatives to hurt blacks, in fact hurt white people first.
So America is a land where regardless of your color, regardless of your economic class, regardless of whether you are male or female; you are expected to be stupid.
Only insane people become teachers. But teachers (even bad teachers) really worked for that one percent who did appreciate their hard work. If the other ninety-nine percent who were ingrates learned to read their own names, write their own names, or add one plus one correctly as two (Flat-Earthers, Climate Change Deniers, and Anti-evolutionists excepted); all the better. John and Cameron (Cameron especially) were the one percent at their high school who really learned.
Unfortunately, the others did not and, as every bright kid knows, you can get bored in a slow-moving class that is slow-moving because the slowest student (nicknamed Special Ed) sets the pace. He (usually he) slows down the rest of the class but he is not slow enough to be put in special education and the others have to suffer because of it.
What was lost to academia was a gain for the business world. John and Cameron generally finished their homework before they got home. John copied Cameron's practice of reading her textbooks from cover to cover First Day so that she was ahead of even the teacher. With all the exercises in the book done months ahead of being assigned, there was a lot of free time for business.
Mrs. Connor was her real name but as usual Sarah, John and Cameron used a cover name in the small town where they lived.
Mrs. Connor: (to both) "Here are your health forms." (to Cameron) "Cameron, please make sure that your brother takes his to school tomorrow."
Cameron: "Yes, ma'am."
John was often lost in thought and could be absent-minded. John would never be the scary smart brain that The Engineer would be. But, nonetheless, he was still a genius only a few IQ points behind that mysterious asset of The Future Resistance. Where The Engineer was in the present day, no one could say. Perhaps he was born after Judgment Day.
John was often lost in thought thinking about the physics of time, the business, new products, new services, sometimes homework (but he worked ahead like Cameron), anti-Skynet software, designing futuristic weapons, and, paradoxically, peace studies.
Any moron could dream up nastier and nastier ways to wage war, to control free minds, and to invade privacy. But peace and freedom required genius and genius required privacy. Hence, John's interest in peace studies. At summer camp, he had met a guy who "wasn't going to waste his life as a soldier" (often the only career choice of the poor) or as a military scientist (generally the military-industrial complex seduced away the best minds into war and weapons research).
It was ironic. The very conservatives who denied climate change and the possibility of progress and peaceful change for the better were big supporters of a strong military. Meanwhile, there were ongoing studies and threat assessments within the Pentagon that forecast wars caused by climate change. As nations like The Maldives, Bangladesh, and The Netherlands went underwater, climate refugees would attack the big polluting nations (China, USA, etc.) that had caused the glaciers to melt and the oceans to rise. Desperate poor people will not quietly drown. They will kill the S.O.B.'s (us) that drowned their countries and take their land. In fact, many of the illegal aliens flooding into the USA were climate refugees.
It was ironic. The very conservatives who denied climate change were strong supporters of a defense establishment that not only recognized climate change but regarded it as a clear and present danger. The military itself was a major polluter -- and not just at places like Rocky Flats. Young John Connor took this analysis several steps further and recognized that military solutions to world problems usually exacerbated those problems. Afghanistan required a law enforcement approach not a military approach. Neither President Bush nor whoever would be the next two occupants of the White House would ever have the intellect to realize that. "The war" would drag on from country to country (from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan to Yemen to Eritrea to Somalia to Iran) for the next three administrations. The military drones (predators and what they incorrectly called UAV's) would be made smarter after embarrassing hacks by al-Qaeda operatives using products bought for under $30 from Radio Shack ("America's technology store"). The drones would get smarter and smarter until the world according to Skynet was a reality. Flying tanks and military robots may be relatively new but the idea is old. Smart bombs have been around since the Vietnam War.
Mrs. Connor knew John had a lot on his mind. She could even guess the outlines of what he was thinking about. Her son was no dummy. He had to be thinking about the future and time machines and weapons. She was certain of that. But Sarah Connor also guessed that her son would think deeper about time paradoxes and strategy. And so she respected his long periods of silence and only drew him out and dragged him to a park for a Sunday picnic when he looked depressed or overly withdrawn. She couldn't push this duty off on Cameron because Sarah was the mother, because she doubted that Cameron had enough psychological insight to solve her own problems let alone John's and because Cameron seemed depressed herself.
On this school holiday, Cameron left the house early in the morning to do sales calls for John & Cameron's business. She left the house enthusiastic and returned late that afternoon shoulders slumped, head down, and staring at the ground.
Sarah was in her bookstore and noticed Cameron dawdling about near the door of the shop. She was obviously delaying going upstairs to face John. John & Cameron's business occupied the loft above Sarah's store. They rented space from the same landlord but had separate leases. When Sarah got a bank loan to open her book shop, the best vacant storefront happened to be below the space that her children occupied.
It worked out well. Sarah could spot a terminator before it climbed the stairs. Sarah could relate to the entrepreneurial experiences of her children because she was going through it herself. And best of all, Sarah could be near her children.
Sarah could earn enough money to pay the bills. She refused to let John & Cameron contribute to family expenses like groceries, school clothes, water, electricity, house repairs, doctor bills, school supplies, and her car. She wanted them to save the money they earned for the hard times ahead. However, they had to pay 100% of their cellphone bills. Instead of saving, they invested their profits back into research and development. John and Cameron were too young to have their own cars and Sarah did not plan to give them cars until next year. They walked to school, they had pedal bicycles to get around town, and they had bus passes to the nearest large city.
Sarah was painfully aware that the amount of time she would have with them was running out and this small town gave her one last chance to mother them before THE WAR (the one with Skynet), Judgment Day, college or a visiting busybody terminator brought this golden period to an abrupt end.
In this timeline, events had taken a quiet turn after Cameron's arrival after 1991. She rescued John and Sarah by transporting them to the end of year 2006. Sarah had been slightly less belligerent to Cameron and that minuscule difference in attitude had shifted events dramatically. Sarah had listened to Cameron's advice and terminators had been unable to track them down. Sarah had listened to Cameron's advice and the FBI and police had a trail so cold that they assumed Sarah Connor had died in that bank vault, classified her as dead, and stopped looking for her. Sarah had listened to Cameron's advice and had stopped dealing with gang and Mafia types. Sarah had listened to Cameron's advice and there were, for the first time in Sarah Connor's life, no enemies trying to kill them. They had the relative luxury of hunting Skynet without Skynet being able to hunt them.
Sarah rang up the customer's purchase at the register and looked up. Cameron was still there procrastinating the inevitable. If it had been any other loitering teenager, Mrs. Connor might have told them to buy something or move on but she walked over and dragged Cameron inside.
"Sit. What's on your mind?"
Cameron was usually direct but there was a delay of a few seconds before the mother was able to drag anything out of the adolescent.
"I'm a good office manager and a good sales manager but I'm not a miracle worker! Orders are drying up. I think the whole economy is headed for a recession."
"Nonsense. Wall Street has never been healthier. But just in case, you might want to look at a totally new approach to your business. Or look for recession-proof lines of business. Maybe both strategies."
"That's an idea."
"You just opened up to me. Why are you putting off telling John about declining sales? You two seem so close."
John and Cameron walked to and from school together. They walked other places in town together also. John, lost in thought, was totally unaware that he often held Cameron's hand. His subconscious had enough sense to depend on her to get him across a street without him stopping, looking, and listening. He might be doing equations in his head and couldn't be bothered with such trivialities. This small town had almost no street traffic.
Problem was, John and Cameron sometimes took the express to a nearby large city and not looking both ways would get you run over. This small town was causing John to unlearn some of the paranoia that had been drummed into him since infancy by his mother. So the hand-holding was not romantic. It was John's own subconscious looking out for him. Big Sister or Little Sister, depending on how you looked at it, certainly noticed that John was preoccupied and rather than disturb him, she let him take her free hand. If she couldn't be with John when he had to go out, she either got an employee to go with John or she said something to him to make him paranoid and alert as to his surroundings. John could function in the real world very well once you snapped him out of the deep thoughts.
Nonetheless other students at school, other townspeople, the employees of their business, and Mrs. Connor noticed that John & Cameron were close. Some whispered the word "Jameron" but it wasn't romantic. Bob (Robert Severn), one of the new hires, more accurately called them "the twins".
John would have honestly denied that he held hands with Cameron since he had no conscious recollection of it. Someone would have to snap a picture of them together and show him the picture to prove it to him. However, in this town, people respected your privacy and would never take your picture without asking your permission first. This was exactly the reason why Sarah had chosen this town in which to settle.
If anyone asked Sarah what was her home town, she would have answered here and not the town where she grew up, not the town where she worked in the diner, not the town where she met Kyle Reese, and not the town where her mother, the original Mrs. Connor, had been terminated for not giving up the location of her daughter Sarah Connor.
Cameron got up, lost in thought, and went upstairs to Camerjohn Inc. Sarah smiled at her foster daughter's silence and decided that John might want to rouse himself long enough to notice that Cameron could get distracted too.
Cameron: (without preamble) "The products you're developing are obsolete. No one wants to buy software packages that have to be expensively maintained. The trend is toward cloudware that the developer maintains in its server farms. And the first time people lose data with a cloudware failure, people will have doubts about cloudware too."
John: (coming out of his fog) "So you're talking about something beyond software or cloudware?"
Cameron: "Gosh John you can be so dense. I'm two steps beyond that. Maybe I should take over R&D and you should take over office management and sales."
John: "What did they do to you today?"
Cameron: "They threw me out of the building John. They said our software was crap. And frankly, I'm tired of doodling corporate logos and playing at PR when we both know that we need to keep a low profile."
John: "You want us to switch hats?"
Cameron: "Yes John. I might fail at it miserably but I want to try now while we still can experiment. If the business fails, we can restart it. If we had a lot of investors, which we don't, we would be handcuffed by the fiduciary duty to be fiscally responsible."
John: "You want us to be irresponsible?"
Cameron: "No John and that remark removes all doubt I had. I am talking about the need to experiment."
John: "You mean innovate Cameron. I read business magazines and business books too."
Cameron: "No I said what I meant. Experiment is not the same as innovate. We need innovation also. Perhaps I should patent the process* instead of talking to you about it."
John: "Did they do anything to you other than throw you out?"
Cameron recalls the humiliation of being talked down to by the adults at that last sales call. It ruined her day.
Cameron: "Get out of my office so I can think."
John: "This is my office."
Cameron: "It used to be your office. One second ago. Your desk is now my old desk. You already know the password to access the office management system. The password to the sales management system is 'kiss up' no caps with a hyphen between the words. You better update the password. Now get out there and get reacquainted with your employees." (she pushed John toward the door)
John: (correcting) "OUR employees. This is a partnership."
Cameron: "Correction. This is a corporation that is run like a partnership. I'm CEO." (closes the door)
She immediately looked at the encrypted files on anti-Skynet software. The progress was appalling slow. Her own mind ran on more sophisticated firmware.
Next, she looked at commercial products in development. They were not yet obsolete because they had not hit the market yet. But Cameron had not overstated by much.
She thought about the bland generalities her mother had said. Her mother didn't know what she was talking about because she knew nothing about technology but Cameron listened to her anyway. Parents were supposed to give moral support to boost your morale. And in that, mom had succeeded. But the words her mother said:
"Wall Street has never been healthier. But just in case, you might want to look at a totally new approach to your business. Or look for recession-proof lines of business. Maybe both strategies."
kept running through her mind as she reviewed John's R&D files. The old approach was going to take the business into bankruptcy even though they were okay for the moment. Anyone with a forebrain could see storm clouds on the horizon. Ha! That sounded like a TV commercial for a brokerage: "Alert. Scanning the horizon. That's Lighthouse Investments. (800) 555-1212" Why couldn't she think this way when she was in charge of PR? She answered that question already. Perhaps if Wall Street was going to take the economy into a depression, then Wall Street was exactly the point where Camerjohn should focus. Generalized software was fine for a local kiddie company but back at summer camp, Cameron and John had dreamed about something more ambitious. But they couldn't advertise. That was suicide. Skynet would send terminators after them if they went high profile. They needed to develop AI software to fight Skynet and that kind of research was expensive. Wall Street had money and it invested billions in AI software development. Camerjohn could find cooperative investors.
The hedge funds, the arbs (arbitrageurs), the government bond underwriters, the sovereign wealth funds, the LBO funds, and other types of entities that the investing public never heard of would survive the coming crash (even if they stuck that public with the bill) and not all of them would be regulated after the crash. Camerjohn Incorporated needed anonymity without SEC scrutiny which clients like the funds could accommodate. Many of them were privately held (not publicly traded).
In the future from which Cameron came, it was well known among Skynet Forces infiltrators that if you could only transport a few infiltrators to the past, then you infiltrated the most intrusive government agencies: the IRS (they took down the untouchable Capone), the NSA (they eavesdrop on everybody), the NRO (surveillance), and the SEC. Paranoids believed that the true purpose of financial regulators and big banks was to prevent the little guy from getting access to capital. There was truth in the paranoia.
Camerjohn Incorporated could make a ton of money developing next generation derivatives using proprietary processes, knowledge bases, and financial engineering. One of the reasons NASA had failed to get tourists into space (aside from the fact that they didn't want non-government employees in space) was that Wall Street had hired the best rocket scientists to make derivatives. In the future, humans could have escaped terminators by fleeing to space -- except there was no way to get to other worlds.
Completing her review of John's files, Cameron leaned back at her new desk and thought about her mother's advice about recession-proof lines of products and services. She would have to think about that tomorrow. It was close to the end of the business day. The only things she could come up with were health management software (health care was recession proof and a growing sector) and quadruple-E environmental software (ecology, architectural engineering, energy, the economy, and education were all interconnected). Wall Street was advocating the old dying Black death economy (oil, coal, fission, military-industrial complex) at the expense of the new birthing Green life economy (solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, fusion, peace, universal health care). The USA would be left behind because it preferred to remain addicted to the oil that financed the terrorists who wanted to destroy it, the oil that poor soldiers died for (blood for oil), the oil that changed the climate, and the oil that Gaia had worked so hard to put deep underground because it destroyed life. It was artificial price supports that made oil into gasoline at a relatively low price in the USA. Everywhere else, the price was high enough to drive them to cheaper alternatives.
John thought deep but not as deep as Cameron. He never thought past the business and The Resistance. Cameron considered the entire planet as one equation. Sitting down at his new desk, out with the programmers and salespeople, John could not even hide in a cubicle. Camerjohn had no cubicles. There wasn't room for dividers and the company had not yet outgrown the loft. Yet.
John could read a graph as well as Cameron and understood why she bailed on sales. Just as Cameron was discovering that her office management skills and sales outlook gave her a fresh approach to research and development, John was discovering that his research focus gave him a fresh approach to office management and sales. They needed out-of-town salespeople. Why hadn't he seen that before? Not just serving the programming needs of the businesses in this small town but in the big cities in the region. Cameron had a reality check when she went to the city to call on a prospective big client and was tossed out as some hick yokel peddling punch cards and mag tape from the Fifties. No wonder she wanted to develop new products and services.
The intercom buzzed.
"John. You need to hire a physicist, a financial engineer, and the best economist you can lay your hands on."
The intercom went silent. Apparently Cameron had more than just vague ideas when she had them switch hats. John picked up the phone and called a student he knew in the business club at school. That led to an invitation.
Mrs. Connor came up the stairs. Her business day ended the same time as theirs so that the family could walk home together. John got his coat and his school books and tapped on the door.
"Mom's here. Quitting time."
Sarah looked quizzical. She thought John had the private office and workshop and Cameron had the desk out with their employees. She kept silent. How the kids ran their company was literally not her business. They didn't tell her how to run her bookstore.
Nor could they. The two businesses had little in common. Sarah started with a bank loan and had a contract with a local academy to handle their textbooks. Camerjohn had started with the money they earned at summer camp and had no such steady institutional client -- and not for lack of trying. It was a lot of short-term projects. People here did not want to pay a lot for finicky software. And who could blame them? Sarah could pace herself with the bookstore. She could let her assistant run the store and take a long lunch. Producing art was exhausting and John gave it up because he couldn't do it and school too. The eBay items that John & Cameron could deal in turned out to require a lot of time and labor and warehouse space just to turn a slim margin of profit and, like the art, it took them away from technology and the main reason that they started the business -- a way to fight Skynet. Cameron was taking the business back to that focus. And it was already obvious to John that changing hats (switching responsibilities) was a brilliant stroke on Cameron's part.
John tapped on the door again. Finally, he just walked in, turned off the computer and led Cameron out by the hand. As the three walked home, John looked around and wondered where this town came from. He had never noticed it before. Talk about stopping to smell the roses! Mrs. Connor might have to drag Cameron out of the house or out of the office to do something other than stare at a laptop. Had Cameron ever gone to a movie? Had Cameron ever gone to a concert? Had Cameron ever gone dancing? Had Cameron ever played sports? Had Cameron ever seen a Broadway-style play? Had Cameron ever been to a party? John doubted it. Certainly they didn't have anything nice in the future. Could he in good conscience expect his cyborg sister to fight for human lives and yet let her have so little experience of human life? Wasn't that like whites forcing blacks to fight for the American dream while denying them that dream? Wasn't that liberal hypocrisy and conservative bigotry?
"Mom, I have been invited to a party. I'd like to go."
"Where is this party?"
"In the city."
Mrs. Connor grimaced. It wouldn't be The War with Skynet, Judgment Day or terminators who killed her kids. It would be the city and its drugs, fast cars, alcohol, sexually transmitted diseases, gambling, crime, and insanity. Mental diseases were as contagious as physical diseases. Sarah knew. She had been in an asylum once and had known more than one shrink.
"Mom, there are drugs in suburbs and rural areas too."
Two could play that game. If John guessed that his mother was worried about him being in a bad crowd, then she guessed that her son had a motivation other than fun.
"Why do you want to go? And don't say fun. I know you too well."
"I need to hire some new people but the only people I know are the people in this town. I need contacts. HR people. Recruiters. Headhunters. Other entrepreneurs. You don't want me to hire drunken frat boys from the college do you?"
John thought that was pretty nifty reverse psychology. There was a college in the area with a really bad reputation as a party school. A student had died during a hazing but the alumni association had shrugged it off as the cost of doing business as long as the college continued to win games and have the best tailgate parties.
"Oh all right." The day had been long and the bookstore inventory tiring.
"I'm taking Cameron."
"Good." (to Cameron) "Cameron, make sure he drinks nothing stronger than bottled water and that no one slips John drugged food."
Cameron is lost in thought mentally going through Camerjohn's inventory. Sarah shakes Cameron.
Sarah: "Are you listening?"
Sarah: "I said to make sure no one slips John--"
Cam: "--rohypnol. Got it. Like anyone would want to jump his bones." (starts to drift off) "John we need to sell off the old inventory while we can still get decent money for it." (drifts off again)
John: "Mom, it's not that kind of party. These are young entrepreneurs like us. Sober types."
Mrs. Connor has an awful thought. She whispers to John so that the vacant Cameron cannot hear.
Sarah: "Make sure no one slips her anything."
John: (whispering back) "It's not that kind of crowd. Besides, I think she's immune."
Sarah: "Are you one hundred percent sure?"
John had to admit, no.
*since this is a series about entrepreneurship, I'm willing to talk to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists about my business and technology ideas. Serious inquiries only. Leave your email address in a private message at http://toni-roman.xanga.com/