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by Tara O'Shea
John Connor wasn't sure which was worse; waking up to find his mother watching him sleep, or Cameron.
He had 15 plus years experience with the former, and only 10 weeks with the latter. And it was equally as mortifying when, say, he woke up with a boner. Mom pretend not to see it, which is really the reaction you want your mother to have.
Cameron, on the other hand, assured him nocturnal penile tumescence was a parasympathetic nervous system reation common to males his age, and perfectly natural. Which pretty much took care of the problem right there.
But what was ten times worse was when he woke in the middle of the night from a nightmare that left him crying like some stupid little kid.
The difference was, his mom would crawl into bed with him and stroke his hair, until he fell back asleep again. And then the next morning, there would be pancakes.
Cameron, on the other hand, just stared with wide, unblinking dark eyes. And he'd lie awake beneath the cotton sheet, staring at the ceiling until dawn and be sullen and quiet for the rest of the day.
Eleven minutes after Sarah Connor and Derek Reese left for City Hall, John had reached the part of Vick's chip containing the encoded visual memory of the T-888 infiltrator strangling Barbara Chamberlain.
He watched it through twice, the sound playing through earbuds. He closed the laptop, chewing on his thumbnail, not saying anything.
Cameron sat beside him, knees together, hands in her lap. 18.4 centimetres between them at the closest point. He had previously expressed a desire that she sit at least 20 centimetres away from him, and she did her best to comply, but it was difficult as he tended to shift his weight in his chair, alternately leaning forward or backward in response of the images on the laptop screen.
She could hear the audio recordings due to her audio receptors being more advanced, and therefore did not require him to share the earbuds.
Cameron did not need to hear Barbara's dying gasps. She had known from the moment she had seen the first image of the Barbara speaking to the T-888 is if it were Victor Chamberlain, aged 32, what it would ultimately contain.
However, despite the logical outcome of the scenario, John Connor appeared troubled. If not surprised by the recording, then affected by it. Cameron could see it in the way he held himself as he viewed the recording, and how his eyeblinks increased from the standard average of once every six seconds to three 500 millisecond blinks in a four second period. As if his corneas were irritated, but there was no sign of foreign matter in the ocular cavity, which lead Cameron to the obvious assumption that viewing Barbara Chamberlain's death was affecting him emotionally, despite the fact that he had never met her and now never would, and therefore she meant nothing to him personally.
"She said something about Tahiti. That means Vick'll have covered his tracks this time. No body in the Hollywood hills for us to find. No trace of Barbara Chamberlain at all."
John sighed, rubbing at one eye with a two fingertipsa gesture Cameron recognised as him trying to cover his emotional outburst with signs of fatigue and eye-strain.
"Once she had completed the system, she was of no further use to him," she explained. "His mission was completed."
Rather than clarifying the issue for him, her response seemed to upset John further. Cameron watched his facial muscles contort as he tried to keep his reaction from displaying clearly on his face. He was not successful.
"You are upset," Cameron observed.
"Something my mom said, earlier. Do all these people have to die, for us to win?" John asked her as if she knew the answer. Cameron remained silent, aware that any information she could impart to him at this juncture would be unsuccessful in altering his emotional response.
"Vick wasn't sent here to kill Derek and his men, was he?" John pushed the issue. "He only killed them because they targeted Barbara. He was sent back for her."
"He killed her husband, and took his placeto protect her. To make sure the system got finished."
"Does that mean there was a future where it didn't? Because they sent back a duplicate for her husband on purpose. They knew somehow that Derek's team had targeted her, didn't they?"
Cameron cocked her head as she ran scenarios, and tried to find a suitable answer for .0356 seconds until she realised he did not expect her to know.
"Are we stuck in some crazy kind of... I dunno, temporal Cold War?" John's tone was accusatory, but Cameron observed that he appeared to be expressing anger at the situation, rather than directed at her specifically. "They send a guy back, so we send a guy back. Over and over, and instead of stopping Skynet, or stopping me..."
John leaned back in the chair, scrubbing both hands over his face, as if he was tired. But Cameron knew he had slept for 7.69 hours the night before. Sufficient for an adolescent human male of his approximate size and level of daily physical exertion, if below the suggested norm of 9-10 hours. In the 67 days she has been with the Connors, John slept on average no more than 7.25 hours a night, and it was more common for him to wake between the hours of 2 and 3am, and not fall back to sleep again until after 4am. During that time he often remained in bed, silent but with elevated heartbeat at rest which suggested he suffered from night terrors.
"I'm just scared that we're not winning the war. That everything we do just makes sure it still happens."
"You are referring to Causality and Chronology Protection Conjecture," Cameron stated, the appropriate reference material flagged and consumed in less time than it took to identify verbally. "A paradox."
"It's a bitch, isn't it? The grandfather paradox in reverse. By trying to kill my mom, Skynet created me. So if I exist..."
"If you exist, then Skynet must exist."
"Yeah. And nothing matters." John's eyes slid away from hers, fixing on the scuffs on the cracked linoleum floor. "I don't expect you to understand."
"Humans believe in free will. Want to believe in free will. That the future isn't set. Mom says that all the time. It gives her hope, and I want to believe it."
"But you don't."
John's smile held no amusement as he raised his hands in a gesture Cameron identified as ironic. "I'm still here."
"Your assumptions are faulty."
"Your knowledge of temporal mechanics hinges on linear time and the concept of causality. By that logic, in the future, you will do what you have to do only because you have already done it. Completing a causality loop. You exist; therefore Kyle Reese impregnated your mother in 1984. You exist, therefore Skynet exists, in order for the technology to exist which allowed Kyle Reese to travel to 1984. You exist, therefore Skynet exists."
John nodded. Cameron could tell he was having difficulty swallowing. She could go and get a bottle of water from the kitchen. It was an acceptable action to take, to alleviate his immediate physical discomfort.
"That timeline no longer exists," she said instead.
"How can you say that? I just told you"
"That timeline no longer exists," she repeated. "You have neglected to take into account the many-worlds quantum interpretation."
"I didn't neglect itI just don't see how it's possible. Nothing changes anything. Miles Dyson, Andy Good. Barbara. They all die, and nothing changes."
Cameron performed a calculation, and accepted the most likely outcome predicted by the algorithm in question.
"In the original timeline, Sarah Connor died in 2005."
John stared at her. A muscle in his jaw twitched, and be blinked three times in rapid succession. Cameron continued.
"We moved forward to 2007. That timeline no longer exists. It is a parallel future that we are now wholly separate from. Judgement Day happened there, but it may not happen here. Because this future is not set. Your mother is right to hope. You should, too."
He breathed in and out several times, and she detected his skin was flushed, and his eyes were puffy as if he was having a systemic reaction causing the tear ducts to produce moisture.
"I want to believe you," he said, meeting her gaze.
She cocked her head, studying him. "Why don't you?"
"Because you told me sometimes you lie to me. About important things."
He pushed away from the desk and went to the kitchen.
Cameron did not follow.
When he came back, his eyes were dry. He resumed scanning through the T-888's memory, and Cameron sat once more on the stool, approximately 21 centimeteres from his right knee.
At 3:27 am, Cameron paused in the open doorway of John Connor's bedroom.
His breathing and heartrate at rest indicated that while not fully conscious, he was experiencing distress. As she approached his bed, she could see tracks of tears on his cheeks, and the sheet was twisted around his waist.
Earlier, when she had reactivated, John had been violating the 20 centimetre guideline regarding personal space he had set for her. As her neural network had finished performing its self-check, he had sat close enough for his hip to touch her outstretched arm as he stroked the side of her face. When the self-check had completed and she was able to access her motor functions again, he had removed the hand, reducing his physical proximity by shifting his weight so they no longer touched at any point.
As he frowned in his sleep, Cameron mirrored his gesture which she had coded as comforting rather than initialising physical intimacy as the T-888 infiltrator had done with Barbara. She silently stroked his hair away from his temple as her thumb traced the curve of his damp cheek.
Cameron noted that this was effective.
Slowly, his breathing became even again. Rapid eye movement indicated that while he was dreaming, he was not aware of her presence.
She continued the rhythmic movement for 17.4 minutes, until by all indications John Connor was in stage 4 sleep, and then returned to her room.