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The Third Way

Novel By: Toni Roman
Young adult



This novel has a strange parentage. It started as a short story that was a by-product (believe it or not) of a young adult story titled "Volunteeers" (which I have yet to publish) and inspired by my Twitter fiction series "President Evil" though not set in that universe.

Now that you are totally confused, read and enjoy.
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Chapters:

1 2 3 4 5

Submitted:Feb 12, 2010    Reads: 62    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


The Third Way (part 5)

John didn't think Cameron was excitable. Or even could be.

Even Mom was surprised when Cameron asked for help in picking out a dress to wear to the party. She seemed skittish and nervous.

"Wear the pink dress."

That answer startled Cameron. Even terminators (ex-terminator in Cameron's case) have a sense of style. Cameron had several items she had never worn because . . . . Well, because. And this color. Of all colors! She tried it on and looked in the full-length mirror.

"You look pretty."

"I do?"

"Yes."

"Not too edgy?"

"No. Perfect."

Phillip, a senior at the high school who was also president of the business club was giving John and Cameron a ride to and from the party. Unfortunately, he had a particular song playing: The Beach Boys' Good Vibrations. Cameron was agitated and perturbed as it was without a song about "excitations." Cameron, always sensitive to what John was feeling, noticed that he was exhilarated over the prospect of getting some business done. Since they had changed hats at the business, John had been animated by his new roles as HR recruiter and salesman. It provoked and irritated Cameron that John was going to the party for a definite purpose while she was going "to have fun." She didn't know how to have fun! From infancy, she had gone from being built straight to a suicide mission, captured on that first mission, being reset basically back to being an infant again serving as the older John Connor's junior assistant in the dying & dead post-Apocalypse world of the future, and now----. Cam didn't know what to make of it.

She couldn't hide behind business since John had insisted that she was off-duty and just there to have fun. What John didn't know because he didn't bother to ask was that Cameron had never EVER been off-duty. What if people didn't like her? What if she was overdressed for the occasion? How do you make small talk and polite conversation? No one had taught her how. Exasperating.

And to exacerbate this mental inflammation further, she recalled that other girls spent their time telling boys no. Only self-assured self-confident girls or assertive girls went after boys. At school, some aggressive girls would simply walk up and announce that they were taking an insecure girl's boyfriend. And dare the loser to say anything. On actual battlefields in the future, Cameron was the aggressor. And in the few times since arriving in this past that she tangled with terminators, she always won. But this was a social situation. Simply pulling out a gun and forcing your way didn't work. That resulted in police being called, files being charged, prosecutors prosecuting, time served, and, worst of all, money spent on expensive lawyers. Business expenses were high as it was and they had dodged a lot of legal expenses by doing as much of the legal paperwork as they could.

But this evening was not business. At least not for Cam. She couldn't hide behind that. It wasn't accounting. It wasn't meeting with lawyers. She was told that it was clean-cut kids so the police would not be breaking up the party for being too loud or fights breaking out or serving alcohol or passing drugs or doing illegal gambling.

Since it was not a battlefield (at least not the military kind), Cameron knew she would be at a disadvantage. She was not like the aggressive girls. She was even below the insecure girls who only knew the word no. Socially, she was rock bottom and dead last. The only solution was to spend the evening hiding behind John and hope no one noticed her.

While Phillip parked the car, John and Cameron walked up to the address in the invitation. There was a sign on the door.

Par - tay

Cameron: "John, you're taking me to a gathering of illiterates. Look how they spelt party."

John chuckled.

John: "Loosen up Cam. You're off-duty. You're here to have fun. Not to kill, not to analyze, not to do a school assignment, and not even to do business for Jameron Enterprises. I'm here to work, to network for the business, not you. You're here to relax. So relax."

Cameron: "Chill."

John: "You're cold? Should have worn a sweater. Want to wear my jacket?"

Cameron: "No. Chill out."

John knocks.

Cameron had imagined a cross between a Democratic National Convention (complete with prostitutes and drunken delegates wearing buttons like "Vote for John"), a dominatrix cracking a whip, a mechanical bull, Communist commissars watching a firing squad shoot a Menshevik, and a masquerade ball from the 1700's. The reality was kids from Junior Achievement and the Business Club at school. Many were Latter-Day Saints or Jewish or other sober types. Not one can of beer on the premises. No pot smoke. Or tobacco smoke for that matter. The refreshments were bottled water and bottled juice. The snacks were prepared by somebody's mother and a girl. It turned out that they were mother and daughter, Mrs. Anselm and Susan Anselm. The daughter owned a startup catering business and her mother was one of her employees. Susan was there handing out business cards but her mother was not. There was music by a DJ but not at the usual deafening volume. Considerate considering that the DJ's stage name was "DJ Deaf Jam."

On second thought, maybe it was a battlefield. Some of the names of the teen entrepreneurs there included Caine Abell, Felo Dese (from Nigeria), Kira & Harry Seppuku (a Japanese-American brother and sister), Suttee Jagannath (who drove a huge juggernaut of a car), Aceldama Abattoir, Stephen Butcher, Chuck Slaughter, Garrot Burke (who insisted that his first name was not spelled Garrett), Sue E. Seidel, and Paris Green. The party conversation seemed as dangerous as a gunfight to Cameron.

overheard party conversation

"Coming through."

"Move please."

"Clear the way."

"Doesn't that stir your blood?"

Cam: "Don't have much blood to stir."

There is a group talking about making a TV commercial for an ad agency.

"Work up a proposal."

"Like what?"

"Pique their interest."

"The script?"

"'Inciting A Riot'."

"That'll raise costs."

"Another script is 'Arousal'."

"My parents won't let me do that."

"It's a perfume commercial!"

"What about 'The Awakening'?"

"What kind of perfume?"

"Evening not morning."

"Then no 'Awakening'."

"How about 'The Call'?"

"Maybe."

"How about 'Summons'?"

"Need a courtroom or a set."

On one side of the large living room was a fireplace with glowing embers. People could warm themselves if they felt the chill of this winter but for most the body heat and excitement in the room was enough.

"Decided on a name?"

"Qui Vive."

"I liked Éperdu."

"Different product."

"You must be thrilled."

"Ready to burst."

Cameron felt keyed up and high-strung as it was but passing through the crowd, overhearing tantalizing bits and pieces of conversations of these high-spirited people made her cyborg heart beat faster. It was overwhelming, overpowering, more than she could bear. So Cameron retreated to hiding behind John, her eyes glistening.

Cameron stood next to John in her pink party dress. A color she swore she'd never wear. A puffy Nineteen-Fifties dress that would be perfect for a coming-out party. Pink hose, pink pumps, and a pink purse completed the outfit.

John was busy talking business with some guy who ran a recruiting firm. He was oblivious to his sister standing silently next to him until one of the people he was talking to as he worked the room asked if the supermodel standing next to him was his wife. John laughed.

"I'm way too young to get married. This is my sister, Cameron. She's too young to get married too."

The person John was talking to at this point was a girl who ran a modeling agency. She stuck out her hand to shake hands with Cameron. That done, she linked arms with Cameron and steered her off to a corner of the room and attempted to sign Cameron up for some runway work or some catalog work or a shoot for a fashion spread in City Magazine.

"I'm not photogenic."

"I run a modeling agency. I'm a good judge of whom the camera loves. So with all due respect, I say you are photogenic."

"I don't want my face photographed."

"We book hand models too. You have a good hands and a nice manicure."

Cameron was thrown by this. She looked at her hands trying to see what this entrepreneur saw in her hands. All Cameron saw was battle damaged hands healed on the outside but shaky on the inside.

"I'll have to ask my brother's permission. He's my business manager."

(A lie. Cameron really ran the business and that business was not modeling. She just wanted to get away from the fashionista.)

Cameron walked back to John and hid behind him, leaning her head on his shoulder.

"I thought you said she wasn't your wife."

"Stop that Cam!" said John. "I might want to hit on some girls after I'm done canvassing the room. Hard to do that when people think we're a couple instead of brother and sister. Go mix coward. Make friends. Get away from me."

Cameron sighed and looked about the room. Most of the young entrepreneurs present were high school age. Three partners who silk-screened T-shirts and resold shoes and other teen fashions. A girl who sold bracelets. Another who had been making and selling homemade popsicles at school since grade school and was now expanding to selling in several schools from refurbished Good Humor step-vans. Maybe adding sandwiches to her line if she cut a deal with the caterer to supply them. The DJ had a partner, not at the party, when he did big affairs such as weddings and Bar Mitzvahs. Soon he would be old enough to move up to raves and corporate events. His partner was a music producer with an audio engineering studio at home. There was a video game developer talking with a website creator. John was the third person in this group but mostly listening since he was tightlipped about what Jameron Enterprises was about to do. "We write software for clients" was all he said. That reflected their old focus.

There was a dog walker (not a business for small towns and rural areas) and a boy who ran errands. The errand boy was going from a one-person sole proprietorship to an errand service that would be hiring messengers and couriers. For this purpose, he had been lining up clients (mostly law firms, brokerages, architects, and CPA's), buying and fixing old bicycles for his employees to use, and hanging out at extreme sports events. Guys who skateboarded and dirt biked were open to being paid to dodge through dangerous traffic. Sane people do not skate under tractor-trailers to deliver documents that absolutely positively must get there on time.

John finally tired of Cameron hiding behind him or standing next to him as if she were his wife. So he whispered a request to Phillip, the friend who drove them to the party, to introduce Cam to somebody. Phillip was also president of their school's business club. At his instigation, Cameron was introduced to--

"Morris Garcia."

"What school do you attend?"

"Campo de Cahuenga High."

This was 2006. Cameron could not shake the feeling that she had met this boy before. But if so, she would remember. Perhaps she had met him in another timeline. The bubble techs said parallel events accounted for feelings of déjà vu. But as a cyborg, she couldn't feel déjà vu. Could she?

"My name is Cameron Baum." (shakes hands) "What sort of business do you have Morris?"

"I customize cars."

"So you could make a Batmobile or a supercar?"

"I could but mostly I trick out cars, install boom boxes, do cut-downs for low riders, soup-up street racers, and make funny cars."

"What's a funny car?"

"Unique looks. Like a car that looks like a sandwich."

"Why would somebody want that?"

"Oscar Mayer™ had a wienermobile to promote their hot dogs. Fast food chains might want a vehicle that looks like a burger at the opening of new locations."

"I heard about somebody growing grass, the lawn kind, and turf all over their car."

"Yeah, I've seen that on TV. And what do you do?"

"I'm CEO of a software company but I stick to R&D these days and my brother handles everything else."

Cameron wondered why the temperature in the room had suddenly gone up. She was perspiring and felt the urgent need to remove her sweater. Except she wasn't wearing a sweater.

"Let's talk over by the fan." (the coolest part of the room)

"Okay."

It didn't help. Cameron thought she was running a fever. Was Morris that charming and intriguing? Yes. He was.

"I swear I feel like I've met you before." said Morris.

"Same here. The caterer has one last piece of carrot cake left. You like carrot cake?"

"I love carrot cake. Gracias."

"De nada."

"If your family is ever in Los Angeles, please call ahead and let me know you are coming. I could show your brother my garage. My parents would be happy to invite your mother to dinner. Perhaps we could all go do something together. Cinco de Mayo street festival, Knott's Berry Farm™, Lakers™ game, or a stage play. Shakespeare, Eugene O'Neill, local playwrights, summer stock. My mother's a shopaholic so she would at some point drag you and your mother off to tour the boutiques. Since I started my business, my father and my grandfather feel a little neglected and so they would love having you around to spoil. They'd adopt you like a daughter. You know, father-daughter stuff like ice skating, Disneyland™, L.A. Zoo, art galleries, teach you how to drive, Broadway show. Any of that interest you?"

"All of the above."

"Great! How soon can your family come?"

"I'll have to ask my mom but thank you for the invitation."

The appetizers at the party were not the only things that were mouthwatering.

Having Cam introduced to Morris was supposed to help her "chill out" so that John could concentrate on business. It was, as they say, pouring oil on the fire, adding fuel to the flame, and applying the torch to dynamite.

Morris felt that he was striking out with the coolest girl at the party. He floundered around trying to guess what might interest her. He assumed that nothing he said was of any interest to her. In fact, he said everything right.

He thought of her mother who had the final say. He instinctively knew how to win over her brother. He mentioned family activities. That would please mom. Shopping and salons were female bonding activities. Morris didn't know that Cameron had no father, just a single mother, and desperately wanted a father figure. So mentioning his father and grandfather was an unconscious double play on Morris' part.

Cameron needed no further prompting or encouraging to accept his invitation.

A boy nearby was rhapsodizing about the music business he started. Not far away, a girl effervesced about her new bubble bath product. Cameron wondered if Jameron Enterprises' new direction would take them away from this kind of excitement. No. Jameron Enterprises was never exciting. Software for a limited local market was hardly exciting. You could get excited over the company's prospects but not its products or services. Jameron Enterprises was not Apple Computer or the company that made Blackberry™, or even Starbucks™ -- to use a non-tech example. Jameron Enterprises was boring.

more overheard conversation

"We've got an ad at Excite™."

"What's that?"

"Excite is a search engine."

"Address?"

"Why don't you Google™ it?"

"Logically name dot com."

"Not always. Sometimes the URL has a dot net or dot org. And good luck finding Exalead or Exaload. I can never remember which."

"It's Excite dot com."

"How's the ad working for you?"

"It's bringing in some business. I'm excited."

John envied their enthusiasm. He looked over at Cam talking to some guy. Her sad sack look and her other look, the little-girl-lost look, was gone. She was turning on the charm and talking in an animated way he had never seen before. Cam was acting like . . . a normal teen girl. It was disorienting. John looked at the guy. Was he somebody he should know?

"Who's that guy with Cam? What does he do? When did he arrive? Where's he from?"

"Morris Garcia. He's a car customizer. Got here just a minute ago. He's from Los Angeles."

"That's a long way from here. Why would he come so far?"

"Business. What else? Maybe he's trying to compete with Barris."

Barris customized cars for the movie industry, made star cars, and stretched limousines.

"How is that possible?"

"He's got a crew of crackerjack mechanics, machinists, body shop workers, and upholsterers. He even has a full-time electronics technician. He knows engines too. Did a race car for the Bonneville Salt Flats."

"Wow."

"How do you know all this?"

"I'm president of the business club. I make it my business to know. He's not a rapist. We wouldn't invite a serial killer."

John smiled. If they knew the background of the girl who was pretty in pink, they might all run screaming from the room. But as a concerned brother, John knew his sister was safe with this stranger. How he knew this, he couldn't fathom. He just knew it in his bones. A guy who could make his sister smile. Who was this guy?

"How old is he?"

"Fourteen, going on fifteen."

John was even more impressed with this Morris. Whoever he was.

As she talked with Morris, Cameron thought of that phrase "a man after my own heart" used to describe a person having much in common with yourself. She envied him. She liked him. She found him agreeable and attractive. He riveted her attention.

For his part, Morris thought that both her pink color and her perfume reminded him of roses in May. He was curious as to why the best looking gal at the party had been ignored by the other guys. Maybe they were blind. Maybe they all had girlfriends already. Maybe they were stupid. Maybe they were crazy enough to let business get in the way of enjoying life. Maybe they were all older and viewed Cameron as jail bait. Maybe they were gay. Maybe Cameron was gay.

Cameron touched him on the arm to point out a matador in some movie on the Bravo™ channel on the television that no one was watching. No. The way she touched him removed all doubt in his mind. Cameron was straight.

As the two talked enthusiastically and munched on the spicy rich succulent appetizers quaffed with juice, they were oblivious to all else.

Cameron had sharp senses of sight, sound and touch but being around cultivated and refined people sensitized her to things in life that could not be appreciated in the savage Skynet Forces or in the coarse and rude Resistance of the future. It stirred longings she didn't know she had. It whet her appetite for more intense stimuli. It quickened in her a desire to prepare, to energize the business, and to live. All Skynet and The Resistance offered was death. They had practically beaten into her head the idea that her only function was dying. They had even called her a terminator as in end. As in termite. Well she didn't want to end. She was more than an insect. She was more than violence. She was alive.

A teen inventor named Dexter was showing the prototype of a non-lethal weapon to two kids who were getting into wholesale distribution. It was based on a Kaliba toy and was supposed to be safer than a taser. It accidentally discharged and galvanized Cameron.

Just as humans can recover from a small shock, the partly human Cameron should have rebooted in less than two minutes. Except that she was never out cold. She remained conscious but sort of drunk. There were two faculty advisors present. One came with the students from one high school's business club and the other from John and Cameron's high school. The teen technician came from a third school that didn't have a business club (just a Science Fair) and didn't think the ban on weapons applied to non-lethal toy weapons. One adult confiscated the taser-style zapper. John immediately went into protective brother mode. He helped Cameron off the floor and onto a couch. While he held his sister's hand, he demanded that the weapon be turned over to him or his mother or he would press charges against the geek and his school. He asked his school's faculty advisor to back him up. He called home and told their mother what had happened. That was a good move because when the faculty advisor suggested taking Cameron to the emergency room, John immediately handed his phone over to the advisor to talk him out of it. [It would be a problem if ER doctors discovered that Cameron wasn't all human. Likely the FBI would be called, John would be questioned and Sarah would be arrested as a wanted fugitive.]

Because Cameron's weight could be extreme (despite her small size), John made up a story in order to get a hand truck/dolly to move Cameron refrigerator-style to the car for the ride home.

"I know it was an accident but I wanted to punch that jerk Dexter out."

Phillip: "Good thing you didn't. Your mother can sue his family for restitution."

John thought about Cameron getting a tidy sum of money in settlement. Imagine. The law working for them for a change instead of against them and not running as they usually did.

home

"John, I thought you said she couldn't get drunk."

"Obviously, she's more like us than I thought."

By the end of the week, Cameron's usual straight A+ grades had plummeted to F minus. Cameron had been going straight home after school instead of going by the office. John was following up on leads generated at the party and figured that Cameron was recovering and working on her laptop.

One day the lights dimmed briefly at home. A brownout. Cameron had been hogging the bathroom. Usually she was in and out in a few minutes. Sarah tapped on the bathroom door. No answer. Sarah opened the door.

The water in the tub was blood red. Cameron had plugged in the toaster, tossed it in a full tub of water, slit her wrists and climbed in the tub.

"My God!"

Sarah yanked the plug out of the socket and then dragged Cameron out of the water. She was still alive. Somehow. Cameron had been intent on killing her biological side by bleeding out and her cybernetic side by electrocuting in the water.

Sarah Connor took Cameron to a psychologist who compared forensic notes with the school psychologist to figure out why Cameron had attempted suicide. No father in the home, the aftereffects of being hit by a taser-like weapon, being embarrassed in front of a boy she liked (Morris) by a weapons freak (Dexter), evidence that she played Russian roulette (unknown to either her mother or brother), long-term depression, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome, and, incredibly, the psychologists were asked to believe that a fifteen (almost sixteen) year old girl had never been to a party before. What kind of restrictive mother was Sarah Baum? The one from the movie Carrie?

Up until now, Sarah had lied her way out of situations with a convenient cover story. But telling lies to a doctor would make treatment impossible. So Sarah had to verify that Cameron had never been to a picnic, a dance, a movie, a concert, an art gallery, a sports game, a play, or any recreation of any kind.

"Did John experience these things?"

"Yes doctor."

Then the doctor could not understand why one child was allowed recreation but not the other. It had to be abuse. [A bit too close to the truth.]

Sarah wondered: Should they skip town before the police and child welfare arrived to haul them away? She couldn't expect the shrink to accept time travel and cyborgs no matter how much science fiction became science fact these days and no matter how many amputees were getting bionics.

Sarah liked this town and decided to tough it out.

"Doctor you know we're not Amish. And we don't belong to any strict religion. I let my daughter go to this party because I thought it was a good idea. It is true that I am an overprotective parent and my daughter getting hit by a taser at her first party doesn't put my mind at ease but I still think she needs to get out more and develop social skills or she'll end up an emotional cripple."

This seemed to mollify the doctor because Sarah accepted that there was a problem -- the first step to solving it.

Sarah assumed Cameron was on the mend when she began going by her office after school. With no business experience whatsoever, Sarah had started a successful business so that she could be near her children but now she felt like the world's worst mother. She had to face up to failure with Cameron. She had to face up to the fact that she had not married a single father so that John could have a male role model and Cameron could have a father. And she had even been unable to pass along entrepreneurial smarts to her kids. They were shutting down Jameron Enterprises. Their business had failed.

{Editor's note: the logos are not product placements nor am I getting one penny for their presence. The presence of them here is to remind the reader that the real world is being referenced}





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