Notes: The summary of this story is adapted from the opening sentence of Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex. It is actually not a book I recommend, but it does have a hell of an opening sentence. As for the content, I don't know, man. Sometimes you get to talking with people and ideas just happen. I do not own the rights to the Terminator franchise, but I can't be worse to John than those that do, so here we go.
Sarah Connor's child is born for the first time on a chicken bus, which is kind enough to pull over for the occasion. The elderly woman in the seat across from her jumps into action. She explains that, while she is not a nurse, she has had six kids, so she knows a thing or two. The ayudante offers Sarah a half-empty bottle of rum, which he shouldn't have and she's not keen on taking. She looks around for anyone suspiciously large, too disinterested. Everything seems in order, but she ought to keep her wits about her. Then the pain hits full force and she realizes there's no keeping her wits either way. She guzzles down the rum with impressive speed, if the look on the ayudante's face is any indication.
The ordeal takes long enough that she should be sorry for monopolizing everyone's day. She's not. Nothing they could be doing is anywhere near as important as what's going on right now. Let them be annoyed. She may not care, but she understands. They don't know that they're witnessing the birth of the future.
Sarah hears him before she can see him, a shrill and unyielding cry.
He must get that from me, she thinks and, for a moment, nothing hurts worse than her heart.
She lifts her arms. In her tired, drunken haze, it's the hardest thing she's done in the last nine months. "Give him to me."
Her self-appointed midwife strips off her jacket, swaddles the baby, and hands him to Sarah. She can't match the woman's toothy grin, but manages a weary smile. Once he's in her arms, he quiets down and looks right at her. He's got her eyes, too; just like Kyle said he would. Her smile grows, but it's a bittersweet one.
"Que linda," the woman says.
The sweat on Sarah's forehead goes cold. Her brain is foggy, but it can translate. She glances up at the woman, then back down at her child. At her daughter.
Her name is Jane, because it's the first thing Sarah comes up with. She hadn't exactly gone looking for baby names. It will be cute, like having a matching set, Jane and John. Because there will be a John. There has to be a John. He is the one that sent Kyle back in time. The fact that Jane exists and is Kyle's daughter means there must be a John.
That's what she wants to believe. In the middle of the night, her memories betray her. She hears the words the son she may never have told the man she had been so sure was his father.
"The future is not set."
She tries to concentrate not on what they might have done but instead what she is going to do. There is a war coming and it's her duty to prepare Jane for it. She may not be the child of prophecy but she is Sarah's child. They drift across Central America. Sarah gives herself over to men, chasing her phantom son, but her body rejects them just like her heart does.
It's not all in vain, though. She plays student to them, so she can play teacher to Jane. The girl is a natural. Her brain, so young and malleable, picks up skills much faster than Sarah's. She learns to reload a rifle twice as fast in half the time, possibly out of sheer exasperation. Weapons are not her passion. If Sarah turns her back for one second, Jane will produce some electronic doodad out of nowhere. She likes to open them up, see how they work, rebuild them according to her design. It bothers Sarah at times, how comfortable Jane is around machines, but such is the art of war, she supposes. Know yourself, know your enemy.
Ever since the future came to visit her, little has surprised Sarah. Coming back from a weapons run to find her eight year old has cut her own hair makes the short list. When Sarah left, Jane had her face buried in the guts of some souped-up pocket calculator she found in the trash. From the looks of it, she'd had her work cut out for her. Where the hell did she find the time to play barber?
"Lose your gum?" asks Sarah.
"It's too hot out here to play Lady Godiva." Jane eyes Sarah's ponytail and winces. "No offense, Mom."
Sarah grunts her pardon. She keeps her hair tied back for a reason. It would make more sense to cut it off, but she can't take the plunge. Sometimes she looks in the mirror and her hair is the only reason she recognizes herself. It's her last tie to the Sarah of old, the Sarah that she was with Kyle. Jane hasn't had the luxury of building attachments, to hair or to people.
Guilt, the eternal pest, rises in the pit of her stomach. She squashes it down. There's too much at stake. She can't condemn herself for protecting her child. So they don't get together with the girls and play Parcheesi. Why bother? Whoever "the girls" might be, chances are they're already dead. They're all dead. They just don't know it yet.
Sarah looks at Jane's haphazard work. It looks like what you get if you go for a bowl cut and keep going once the bowl slips over to one side. Sarah gestures toward the left side of her own head, realizing too late that it should be the right.
"It's not even. Do you want me to clean it up?"
"I dunno," Jane says. "I kinda like it this way."
She gives the longer side a light tug and smiles. Sarah drops the matter with a curt nod. Happiness is a fleeting thing. Soon it will disappear forever, another casualty of war. It's almost quaint that something so simple as a haircut can bring Jane such joy. For all that she's been through, she hasn't lost that childish gleam in her eyes. Yet. It will have to go. The only question is who will take it from her, the machines ... or Sarah herself.
The guilt burns in her throat like warm liquor. She has to turn away.
Jane proves to be some kind of reverse Sampson. With her hair gone, she has greater energy, better stamina. She begs to go on runs. Then, just as Sarah starts to get used to this new, unencumbered Jane, she disappears. In her place is a Jane more sullen than she's ever been before. She barricades herself and funnels all her energy into repairing that pocket computer. Everything else is going through motions. Sarah hopes it's some early onset teenage moodiness. Jane's kind of entitled to it but, Christ, it needs to end.
Wait until there's two of them, Sarah thinks. Never mind how hollow it feels in her chest. She has to think it. If she doesn't, if she gives up on John, the machines will have already won and Kyle will have died for nothing.
She lets Jane ride the wave, because she knows better than anyone that, sometimes, pain just can't be shared.
It takes two weeks for Jane to speak unprompted again. When she does, it's so joyous and full of life that Sarah doesn't care she's woken her up at the crack of dawn.
"I did it! Some water must have gotten into the LCD, cuz it looks like crap, but it works and I did it!"
Jane shoves the pocket computer in her face, but Sarah can't make out what's on the tiny screen. This is why calculators and computers should stay two separate objects. She rubs the sleep from her eyes, takes another look, and wonders if she'll ever sleep again. A single word scrolls endlessly. The letters are faded but unmistakable.
She never said his name. She hadn't even asked Jane if she'd like a little brother. It seemed like an open invitation to take things further off course. Yet, here is his name, blinking in and out of existence before her eyes, like a specter of all she never had but still lost.
"Why is it doing that?" she asks.
"Test program." Jane shrugs. "Nothing special. I just wanted to make sure it was working."
"Why John? Who is John?"
If Jane hears the urgency in Sarah's voice, it doesn't show. She shrugs again. "I dunno. It's a cool name. Like, if I were a boy, I'd definitely want to be a John."
Sarah looks at Jane like she's seeing her for the first time.
Maybe she is.
Sarah Connor's child is born a second time in the backseat of a car, stranded in the Nevada desert. She's asleep, as she has been for the better part of a week, even when her eyes are open. Sarah reaches over the driver's seat and shakes her by the shoulder.
She responds with a well-timed snore. Too well-timed.
Sarah shakes her again. Jane rolls over and lets out a miserable whimper. Sarah's hand hovers over her, trembling with the weight of her thoughts.
She's been so careful. Could she stand to risk it all on a hunch? Is it even a hunch? Or is it wishful thinking? Is she desperate enough that she's reading signals that aren't there? Suppose she is wrong. How could she face Jane knowing she'd tried to turn her into someone else?
She pulls her hand back. "Come on, Jane."
Jane curls into fetal position, clutching her stomach as if the sound of her name has assaulted her. It's the sight of her in such pain that plows through Sarah's reservations. Being herself wouldn't hurt so much. Jane is someone else. She has been all along.
His head pops right up. "Mom?"
"The car is shot." Sarah's tone stays brisk and even, despite the humming in her veins. "We have to-"
"You called me John," he says, soft and incredulous, like he's been waiting for it his entire life.
Sarah mimics his shrug with ease. "It's a cool name."
"But ... it's not a girl's name."
"Are you a girl?"
"Am I a girl?" He glances around the car and chokes out a few laughs, trying to look casual and coming off as anything but. "Jeez, Mom, what a dumb question. You were there, weren't you? Getting forgetful in your old age?"
"No," Sarah says. "I remember. I also remember teaching you that flesh can be a lie."
A look of intense longing passes across his face, so brief that Sarah, vigilant as she is, almost misses it. He throws up his hands and looks to the sky in mock surrender. "You got me, Mom! I'm an infiltrator! And I've infiltrated to my little robo-heart's content, so now I'm out of here!"
Before she has a chance to react, he's out of the car. She chases him, but he's younger and faster and the sand only makes things harder.
"John!" she cries.
He stops. She takes a moment to marvel at how bound he is to his name, the name she didn't give him but he still chose. He turns to face her. Each of them stares like they're afraid the other will disappear.
"It's okay, John. I promise. It's okay."
"You mean you're not, like, disappointed?"
"Disappointed?" Sarah takes a step towards him, shakes her head, and breaks out into a run. Her feet sink into the sand, deeper and deeper the more she tries to fight it. The uneven surface puts her off balance and brings her to her knees. He moves to help her. She grabs him by the shoulders, pulls herself up to his eye level, and smiles.
"How could I be disappointed? John, you are the future."