A Fan Fiction, based on "Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles"
The Connor Team is on a trip around the world on the mega yacht "Rising Star" - a honeymoon for all the newlywed couples and their friends. So... it's just a vacation, right? Or is it? The Connor Team wouldn't be the Connor Team if new adventures weren't lurking for them in almost every port. Adventures that'll bring them many new friends - but also new enemies...
(Please Read This If You Don't Wanna Be Completely Confused!)
So, here is my third story.
I had planned this as a kind of intermezzo between the "big" stories, with an emphasis on describing a carefree trip far away from the troubles of home, learning about the world they saved and which they're now protecting. But, as things are, the story quickly developed a life of its own and keeps getting bigger, more dramatic and more action oriented than I'd intended. What can I do? I just get so many ideas when I write :-)
The plot revolves around the world trip with Isaak Sirko's yacht "Rising Star", which was mentioned at the end of my second story "Dawn of a New Era". Strictly speaking, the plot is still within the framework of "Dawn of a new Era". As my readers know, I skipped about half a year in the epilogue. This story tells what happened during the half year.
So, this has become more than just the bonus story I originally had in mind. Instead, it has now become my fully-fledged third story. There is an overall plot arc that already paves the way for the fourth story, but the individual chapters will also have self-contained plots.
And of course there will be lots and lots of references to the previous two stories! So...
BEFORE YOU START READING, I'D LIKE TO STRESS ONCE AGAIN THAT THIS IS MY THIRD STORY. IF YOU START READING IT WITHOUT HAVING READ MY OTHER TWO STORIES BEFORE, YOU ARE MISSING 1,250,000 WORDS - WHICH MEANS THAT THIS STORY WILL MAKE ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE TO YOU WHATSOEVER.
Those who have read my two previous stories, however, will know that I've created a whole new TSCC universe that's completely different from the established franchise, with the same players as in the Sarah Connor Chronicles, but with heavy character developments and lots of new, additional characters.
This time, the story is not classified as M, but as T. I decided to leave away the lemons in this one for a reason: Lemons tend to get repetitive quite quickly and it doesn't really bring the story forward (sorry for those who counted on them). There will be love scenes, of course, only not as often and not as explicit as before - this will mainly be a plot-driven story. Also, maybe more people will find their way into my TSCC universe now, since M-rated stories are filtered out by default in the search function.
Disclaimer: I don't own "Terminator – The Sarah Connor Chronicles", I'm just borrowing the characters for my story.
CHAPTER 1: "PUERTO VALLARTA"
Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 – 01:03 a.m.
Day 2 at sea
It's been six days… almost a week.
A week since Charley and I got married. A week since I became Mrs. Sarah Dixon. A week since a new phase in my life has begun, hopefully a better phase than the last sixteen years – which were twenty-four years for everyone who didn't do the time jump from 1999 to 2007 and… never mind, that's not important anymore. So many things aren't important anymore.
In fact, it almost seems that life is beginning to get a little boring for me now. So, Charley suggested that I start writing a diary to keep myself occupied with something until I found some hobbies and pastimes. Well, where should I start?
We beat Skynet and its goons, we actually prevented Judgement Day!
We received confirmation for that from the future and know that from now on, we are at the beginning of a 324-year time loop, the end of which is predetermined and from the course of which we cannot deviate. I don't know what the next three hundred and twenty-four years will bring for me personally – and I don't really wanna know, to be honest - but I know that I won't die of cancer and I know that there won't be the end of the world. And knowing that is... extremely relaxing. I can feel how the tension that dominated almost all of my adult life, is slowly falling off of me.
I have to admit it puts me into a slightly melancholic mood. Will I be able to let go? Will I be able to give my life a new meaning, to start all over again with a new beginning? Or will I fall into a deep hole, now that my work is done, now that John has grown up and begun to lead his own life? On the surface, everything seems perfect now. But as it is, with every big change comes big uncertainty about what will happen next.
Charley and I bought a house in Montecito. A huge property that used to belong to a married couple of Grays. Fanatics who nearly brought the terror of another artificial intelligence on us that wanted to rule the world through the cult it had created. But we could prevent that as well, with the help of all our newly acquired friends and allies.
For we are no longer alone. We are a big family now.
Montecito is sixty miles away from Cliffside House in Malibu, more than ninety miles from John's loft in L.A. Charley and I will be alone there - most of the time, that is. Well, we'll live together with a Triple-Eight that will protect us and... no, that doesn't feel right anymore. Porter is more than a protector, he's a friend. A friend who will not only be our bodyguard, but also help us to keep the huge property in good shape. He had sacrificed his original biological shell for us and looks different now, but he's still the same person. Unlike Cam, Alison, Emily, Catherine, Zoe and Norberto, he's still far away from really being alive. But he's loyal to us and extremely devoted. And as Alistair assured me, it's only a matter of time until be develops his own consciousness - now that his chip is set to read/write.
This is the first night of our extended family honeymoon. We're cruising south on the Pacific Ocean on Isaac's huge yacht, the "Rising Star"… and it seems like with the growing distance from home, also comes a certain distance to my old life. Sarah Connor the fighter, the rebel, the protector of her son… no more. John is now better protected than I could have ever hoped for and I can think about myself for a change. If only Kyle would be here to see this… he'd be so proud of his son.
The "Rising Star" is a technical marvel. It feels like being in the best five-star hotel in the world. The food is fantastic, and the crew reads every wish from our eyes. The ship is huge, 141 meters long, our suites are about sixty square meters in size. There is a strong separation between the passenger space and the crew space, almost like on a cruise ship, so we're among ourselves almost all of the time. My favorite spot on the ship has to be the lounge on the top floor – or Deck 1, as the crew calls it. I'm not very familiar with nautical terms yet. It's a single, large observation room, with panoramic windows all around, where you have a wonderful, unobstructed 360-degree view on the surrounding ocean – or landscape when you're in a harbor.
Underneath it, on Deck 2, are the bridge as well as the dining room and the big main lounge, practically a central living room for all passengers. Decks 3 and 4 contain our guest suites, where deck 3 is still one of the superstructures, while deck 4 is the first deck inside the hull. The galley is also on Deck 4 as well as a cinema for twenty people. Catherine and Isaak, Derek and Jesse, and Savannah and Allie are on deck 3, the rest of us have their suites on deck 4. It should be mentioned that Savannah and Allie will probably hardly spend any time in their own suite, but rather with John and his three cyborg wives. Unfortunately, their suite is right next to ours, and the inner walls of the ship aren't very well soundproofed.
Deck 5 contains the crew quarters, storage rooms, a laundry, various workshops, the engine room and many other technical facilities. The "Rising Star" also has a tender with space for thirty people. It's firmly anchored in a kind of garage, so that you can get in and out without fear of the swell. When the ship is in port or has stopped, the garage can be opened and flooded, and the tender can be easily moved in and out. However, there's also a docking platform at the stern of the ship where supply boats can moor.
Everyone is happy and content. This extended honeymoon is really going to be a journey around the world in peace and tranquility. Finally, there are no more problems, no more lurking enemies, no more time travelers who confront us with new challenges, no more annoyances and discords, no more
"YOU DID WHAT!?"
Sarah flinched and left an ugly trace of ink on the paper as her fountain pen slipped. That had been Savannah's voice.
"How could I have guessed that on a free trip around the world on a luxury yacht, your biggest concern is getting laid enough?"
That was Alison's voice, not as loud but still penetrating. She sounded equally upset. So much for peace and tranquility. Why, oh, why did they have to choose the suite next to them? Wasn't it enough that John and the girls were often so loud during the night?
"I HATE YOU, ALISON!"
Again, Savannah's voice, accompanied by other voices that weren't quite so loud but also sounded agitated. Sarah put down the pen, closed the diary and stood up to check on what the shouting was all about. She walked out of the bedroom door while Charley turned around in his bed, murmuring something incomprehensible. He slept the sleep of the just... after all, it was way past midnight.
"THAT'S IT! I'M MOVING OUT OF HERE!"
The moment Sarah had opened the door to the corridor, an infuriated Savannah rushed past her towards the stairs to the upper deck at the bow. She almost got run over by the redhead.
"WELL DONE, JOHN… WELL DONE!"
That was Allie's voice. She stood together with John, Alison, Cameron and Emily in the entrance to their suite.
"Listen, Allie…" John tried to appease, "we thought it would be better for all of us if…"
"YOU JUST DECIDED THAT OVER OUR HEADS!" Allie snapped, apparently very angry as well.
"What's going on here?" Sarah asked.
Everyone turned towards her and seemed to notice her for the first time.
"Mom!" John said in surprise and prepared for an explanation, but then hesitated as he looked at his mother. "What... what happened to your... chest?"
"Mom wanted to get her breasts enlarged," Alison quickly explained, "I did it after dinner, she wanted to show it to Charley first and then to everyone else in the morning… I figured a nice D-cup like mine would…"
"I repeat," Sarah said unfazed, "what's the shouting all about in the middle of the night? What's going on here?"
"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE, YOU ASK?" Allie exclaimed loudly and took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down, then pointed at Alison. "SHE has manipulated the whole crew into ignoring us!"
"Yeah, so?" Sarah asked. "That was the only solution, otherwise we would have been forced to wear clothes while we're at sea. Nobody wants that."
"You don't understand!" Allie exclaimed, "She not only manipulated them into ignoring our nudity, Alison also made sure that none of them… NONE. OF. THEM… will ever be interested in Savannah and me. And she acted on John's instigation!"
"Maybe I have phrased it wrongly," John said carefully. "I just didn't want you to interfere with their operations. They need to do their jobs without getting distracted by a boat full of naked people. Plus, we all knew that you and Savannah would try to seduce members of the crew, now that Marcus isn't with us on this journey."
"And we were right about that," Cameron explained. "On the very first night, they went straight to the captain and the first officer, trying to impress them with their, well… exposed libido."
"They got kicked off the bridge," Emily added.
"Maybe… maybe Alison was a bit… overzealous with it," John said carefully, receiving an angry look from his wife for that.
"Just great, John!" Allie stated fatalistically, "Now we're not going to have sex with a man for almost half a year! And you knew that we need it, despite the antidote! You knew that!"
"Well, strictly speaking, you can get off at the ports and find somebody for as long as we're moored there," Emily suggested.
Allie gasped from indignation.
"What!? We're no sluts! We don't just sleep with anybody! We could have built a real relationship with members of the crew during the six months! It would have been in mutual agreement and to mutual advantage. Most of them are singles because they practically live aboard! Isaak would certainly not have had anything against it. But now you have ruined everything!"
"But you still have Savannah and she has you, and you've brought your vibrators and…" Alison began but then stopped talking as she saw that John was vigorously shaking his head no.
But it was already too late.
"I… I… I… AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRR!" Allie shouted in frustration and ran away, in the opposite direction Savannah had run into, down the corridor towards the stairs that led to the aft deck.
"Well, that could have gone better…" John commented.
"They'll calm down again," Cameron said, "they can't remain pissed for six months."
"Then you don't know my daughter well."
Everyone turned their heads into the direction the voice had come from. But there was nobody there. Then suddenly a part of the wooden wall paneling began to flow down like in a painting by Dali, gathered on the floor and became shiny, liquid metal from which the body of Catherine Weaver finally formed, naked of course, as all of them. There was a strict dress code aboard the "Rising Star", which stated no clothes at all at any time while they were at sea.
"Sorry for that," she said, "I didn't want to play the fly on the wall, but I was passing by in the corridor and felt safer keeping out of the line of fire. Wow, Sarah, your… bust has improved a lot."
Another door in the corridor opened and Lauren peeked out of it. Then Sydney, Anne and Jody also entered the hallway, followed by their respective boyfriends.
"Are you having a party out here?" Lauren asked, "Morris and I… oh wow, Sarah, look at you!"
Sarah rolled her eyes.
"Yes, yes, yes… I have bigger breasts. I never liked my bust size and now that it's very likely I don't have to run and fight anymore, I've decided to indulge myself. Alison was kind enough to grant my wish."
"Now that it is safe to do so…" Alison added. "The nanobots are now being flushed out directly after they've done their job. No more delayed side-effects."
"You mean… down the toilet?" Jody asked.
"Yes…" Alison confirmed. "Together with your other bodily fluids."
"You also look younger again, Sarah," Sydney stated. "I'd say about Savannah's age."
"That's deceiving. It's because the nanobots have tightened my skin again."
"Wow… if it's safe now, I might as well get a second helping," Anne said, kneading her breasts, "what do you think, Danny? Double-D's?"
"I think you're already pretty enough with your C-cups," Danny pointed out quickly.
"He's right," Alison agreed, "This whole thing shouldn't turn into a contest for who's got the biggest tits."
"All right, what are we going to do about Savannah and Allie?" John asked to change the topic again.
"Maybe you should go after Allie," Sarah suggested. "Catherine can go after her daughter."
"But mom, I…"
"I know she probably doesn't want to see you right now, John, but you have to talk to her, calm her down. And then we'll come up with a solution that can satisfy both of them. Catherine is better suited to talk to Savannah while you should talk to Allie."
"Certainly wouldn't be great to travel with two grumpy, sexually frustrated women for six months," Sydney added.
Savannah stood at the railing at the bow and sobbed as the yacht cruised southward through the night. Suddenly, she noticed she wasn't alone anymore.
"Why? So you can peacefully drown yourself in self-pity?"
"Sometimes your directness really pisses me off, mother."
"Maybe you can help me to improve then. Explain to me why exactly you are so upset right now."
"Isn't it obvious? They're making fun of Allie and me! They don't respect our needs."
"By making it impossible for you to seduce members of the crew?"
"I spoke with Isaak before we left. He agreed to and even welcomed Alison's influence on the crew with her chemical messengers to the effect that there are no sex orgies on board. The crew is off limits for you and if you would have bothered to show up at the briefing, you would have known."
"We had to say goodbye to Marcus!"
"Nevertheless, it is unfair to blame Alison for what she did because what she did, was a decision made by all of us."
"Not all of us…" Savannah replied, sounding a bit meekly now.
"Very well, not all of us… but by the vast majority."
Savannah didn't reply to that anymore. She started rocking back and forth a little as she held her arms crossed and stared out at the ocean.
"I don't have too much experience with human emotions and feelings yet," Catherine continued, "not to mention the complicated rituals and interactions, the causes and effects, and the reactions to certain stimuli... but I don't think that the thing with the crew is the real reason why you and Allie are angry."
Again, no answer.
"Savannah, are you in love with John?"
She stopped rocking back and forth and looked at her mother.
"Is it that obvious?"
"For everyone who has eyes to see. Does John know?"
"Yes, of course."
"So… does he reject you? Doesn't he love you?"
Savannah scoffed, then shook her head and sighed.
"He loves me… only not the way I love him. He's been extremely fair to be honest. He's approached us as far as he could. We hug, we kiss, we sleep in the same bed… we even take showers together…"
"But… no sex. And no touching of his, uh... little John. That's the condition."
"I wish we never would have told him…"
"Told him what?"
Savannah looked at her mother, thinking about whether to tell her or not. But Catherine was an android, a T-1001, and she wouldn't judge her for sure.
"In the future," she began, "there was a time, during our training, when mom… I mean Cameron, kinda alienated herself from us. She did it because she loved us… only at the time we didn't realize it. She wanted us to become the best human fighters anyone could imagine, good enough to win against a Terminator in close combat. And for that, Cameron turned into a relentless teacher… cold, hard, unyielding, unforgiving. She practically stopped being our mother. She left us alone with dad… I mean Future John, for almost half a year. She didn't want our family life to interfere with the training."
"I see. That must have been hard for you."
"Yes… and it was even harder for dad."
"So... were you able to comfort him?"
"Not at first…"
"After some time… I don't remember how long it took… Allie and I got very close to dad… we, uh… became intimate."
"You slept with each other."
"Both of you?"
"Uh-huh… but only I got pregnant."
"Relax, the child was never born. I miscarried before anyone could have noticed. After the training was over, our family life normalized again, and over time everything went back to as it had been before. But our… affair has been a secret between Allie, me and dad ever since."
"But you told John about it... this John, I mean."
"I see," Catherine remarked. "Yeah, I can apprehend that it shocked him."
"I think it's the main reason why he won't have sex with us. He is so fixated on not becoming like his future self that he dislikes almost everything Future John has done. And in his eyes, it was unforgivable that a stepfather had sex with his stepdaughters."
"The way you describe it, it sounds like he would actually want to have sex with you, but refuses to allow himself, as a kind of... defiant reaction to Future John's breach of taboo."
"Uh-huh.. yeah… that's pretty much summing it up, I guess. Allie and I tried everything to seduce him, we even hooked up with Marcus to see if John would become jealous… but he didn't."
"Have you ever considered that he doesn't want sex with you because he isn't in love with you? Because he already has three women he loves and adores and who fulfill his every desire?"
"But he could… I mean… he's able to. Thanks to Alison's nanobots, he could easily satisfy ten women and… I mean, there's no reason he couldn't do it. He already has three wives, and Cam, Alison and Emily surely wouldn't have a problem if there were two more of them."
"You don't get my point, Savannah. What John grants you now… that you can stay in bed with him, that's the biggest concession he's willing to make. And you should appreciate that. He loves his three wives. He loves you, too, but in a different way. Has he ever indicated that he might be sexually interested in you?"
"You and Allie will have to face the fact that John simply doesn't want to have sex with you because he doesn't desire you. He loves and desires Cameron, Alison and Emily. On first glance, they are three different women, yes. They look different, they sometimes behave different, thanks to different experiences. So why not more than only three?"
"Exactly! Why not more than just three?"
"But what you and Allie forget is that they have identical chips. They are three variations of the same woman: Cameron. And John loves Cameron above everything – in all her variations. I don't think that will ever change. Forty-three years weren't able to change Emily in a significant way. She's still Cameron inside, and Alison is still Cameron inside as well. In truth, John loves only one woman and will always do… only she happens to have three bodies."
Savannah didn't speak for a long moment, staring out at sea again.
"I've never seen it that way," she finally said. "Or at least I never allowed myself to see it that way."
"See what I mean? Now we're getting somewhere. This isn't about John's feelings, it's about yours. You only care about what you want, not what John wants. You have to let go, Savannah, it's the only way."
"But why does he allow us to stay in bed with him, why does he... kiss us… and…"
"Because he loves you very much, of course, and doesn't want to disappoint or hurt you. John wants you both to be happy. But you will never be happy if you continue to be so close together. You have your own bedroom and bathroom at home. And you have your own suite on board here. Why don't you just use it and let John and his three wives have their privacy?"
"Because there would be no turning back after that. Once we're out, we can't get back in."
"And again, you're only thinking of yourself now, Savannah... John, Alison, Cameron and Emily are married. Not before the law, I admit, but before everyone else, their friends, their family, Sarah… even Sonja, Steve and Jennifer recognize that they're married. You seem to me like two stubborn children… or even jealous pets who insist on staying in bed with them because you're unable to let go."
"That's not fair, mother, I…"
"Besides, I'm sure that keeping your distance wouldn't mean you'd be out. I'm quite sure that they would welcome you inside their circle anytime… only not all the time."
Savannah thought about that for a moment.
"It's not easy to let go…" she finally said.
"I know. But you know very well that it can't go on like this. Not only in the interest of John, but for you own sake. It would slowly eat you up from the inside. Remember, you're not a cyborg."
Savannah closed her eyes, then smiled weakly and shook her head.
"You're right. I'd perish over time because of it. Allie the same." She scoffed. "And it needed a Terminator to make that clear to me."
"Why don't we put that Terminator thing aside, huh? I'm your mother, Savannah. Or at least I consider myself your mother."
Tears started rolling from Savannah's face, then she leaned forward and let herself fall into Catherine's arms. She felt warm and soft… not cold and hard as she had expected. Her skin felt like skin, her hair like hair. Savannah tried to rationalize that it was just an illusion, that Catherine could make her body feel like every organic or non-organic material – but she failed. It simply felt too good. She hugged her tighter and it felt even better. She started sobbing and Catherine stroked through her hair and over her back, kissing her head. In that moment, in the arms of who she considered her mother, Savannah felt loved and comforted. And that was actually all she wanted at the moment.
The large main salon on Deck 2 stretched across the full width of the ship, occupying about a quarter of its length. There you could sit on sofas, hang out in comfortable loungers and sip drinks that the bartender prepared for you at any time, while you had a great view of the sea through the large panorama windows that lined the entire deck on both sides. The room could also be used as a dance hall or discotheque, depending on the preferences of the charterer. Piano accompaniment and a snack from the galley were always available on request. At this time of night, however, there was nothing but darkness to be seen through the panorama windows, the salon was empty and quiet, and John was there alone. He expected to find Allie there, but she wasn't there.
Slowly he crossed the room, which opened at the rear towards a small sun deck. From there, he walked down a flight of stairs to Deck 3 and the aft deck, which was large enough for a helicopter to land on, if necessary. It was aerodynamically designed to be in the slipstream of the moving ship - so, as long as the wind didn't blow too much from the side, it was calm there. Therefore one could practice all kinds of sports on the aft deck, for example basketball, badminton, table tennis or volleyball. There was also a swimming pool, which was however covered at the time. The electrically extendable and retractable cover not only served the purpose of creating a flat surface on which one could walk and run around without tripping over a crevice or a step, it also served to prevent the water from spilling from the pool onto the deck during rough seas. Isaak had explained them that unless the ocean was extremely calm, the pool would only be opened while the ship was anchored.
When John stepped outside, he took a deep breath of the fresh sea air. The only sound he heard, was that of the displaced water as the yacht ploughed its way through the ocean with approximately twenty-one knots. It could go faster, up to twenty-eight knots, but that would have used up a lot more fuel. Twenty-one knots, or twenty-four miles per hour for those unfamiliar with nautical units, was the most economical speed.
As he crossed the deck towards the stern, he could make out Allie's silhouette against the moonlit sky. She was standing at the railing, next to the flag pole with the flag of the Cayman Islands that flew gently in the airstream. Behind the ship, John saw the foaming wake that reached straight to the horizon. Tonight, the sea was rather calm.
"What do you want?" Allie asked in an irritated tone when he was still twenty feet away from her.
"Woah, do you have eyes on your back?"
"I've been trained to recognize approaching threats. I heard the sound of your naked feet thirty seconds ago and by the rhythm of your footsteps, I knew it was you, John."
"Talking about heightened senses by nanobots. But I'm not a threat, you should know that."
"No you're just treating Savannah and me like we're threats."
"Oh, come on, don't be silly," John said and stood next to her, seeking eye contact, but she avoided his gaze.
"Silly? Me?" she asked and scoffed. "Yeah.. right."
"Listen, if I have somehow hurt you, I apologize. I don't know how I hurt you or what I did, but I'm sorry, you have to believe me."
Allie scoffed and turned her head away from him even more. John sighed, then decided to change his strategy. He wasn't willing to let a sulking young woman dictate how their conversation should go.
"Listen, we will either talk like grown-up people, face to face, or we won't talk at all. Your choice."
"All right," John said and turned to leave.
He was three steps away when she spoke up.
"Why did you have to humiliate us?"
John stopped dead in his tracks and turned around again.
"You and Alison made sure we made a fool of ourselves in front of the crew!"
"If you made a fool out of you, you did it all by yourself. What is it with your obsession with sex lately? It's not the nanobots anymore, the antidote works well. And you and Savannah are lovers, there should be no shortage of satisfaction. So, tell me, what is it?"
"You know perfectly well what it is, John."
"What? No! I do not know it perfectly well, otherwise we wouldn't have this conversation. Stop playing these games with me! Speak your mind, if you have something to say, or leave it. But don't expect me to guess what's going on inside of you. The evolution gave us the ability to speak for a reason. If a cyborg can learn the importance of communication between people, I'm sure you can as well. So… what's up, Allie? Tell me."
"Fine," John said, made a resigning gesture with his arms and turned to leave again.
He stopped again.
"I look like Cameron, right?"
"Well, yes… apart from some minor differences you recently acquired…"
"Her personality was shaped after mine, you know that?"
"Then why can't you love me like her?"
"We look the same, and we have a very similar personality."
"Then why do you love her but not me?"
John walked back towards Allie and put a hand on her shoulder.
"What are you talking about?" he asked softly. "Of course I love you. What makes you assume something else?"
She looked at him accusingly.
"But you don't love me like her."
"I'm not in love with you, if that's what you mean. But I love you, you have to know that."
"When mom had become estranged from us, you sought comfort with Savannah and me. You'd said that you love me as much as you love her because we're so alike."
John groaned and rubbed his eyes.
"Are you serious, Allie? That was Future John, not me. Your Future John, to be precise. The one who'd lost Alison. What makes you think I'm like him? I don't want to be like him. The whole point in doing what I've done in the past months, was preventing myself from becoming like him."
"But you and he are.. oh well, never mind …"
She looked back out on the ocean again.
"Has it ever occurred to you that your Future John wasn't seeing a substitute for Cameron in you but a substitute for Alison – his lost love?"
Allie looked him in the eyes.
"No," she said categorically and shook her head. "He would have told me so."
"Would he? You told me yourself that he never really got over losing Alison and that it was one of the main reasons why you sent the TOL-900 body back through time. I mean, think logically. Your name is Alison, but they'd started to call you Allie to not mix you up with the other Alison – the one that had died, in your timeline."
She shook her head, refusing to accept that.
"I am not him," John repeated and shook his head, "I can never love you the way he did... because I never lost her. I'm lacking the personal history, can't you see that? All I can offer you, is the platonic love we have. You have to face that fact, and you have to face it now because here, on this ship, there's nowhere to run to. You can't escape from the truth here. And there's no Marcus to distract you."
She flinched. John knew immediately that he'd hit a nerve. He sighed and tenderly touched her cheek.
"You and Savannah were just hitting on Marcus to make me jealous, right?" he asked softly, his voice sounding empathetically.
Allie pondered for a moment before she answered.
"What do you expect me to say or do, John? I can't switch off my feelings. I love you."
"I don't expect you to turn off your feelings. But I can expect you to respect the status quo. I have three wives, that's all I'll ever need. Don't try to make me jealous by sleeping indiscriminately with random men. Because that was what you two were planning to do, right?"
She turned away from him again.
"Yeah, I thought so," John said bitterly. "Well, here's news for you, it didn't work, and it will never work. If you keep on trying, you'll only destroy what we have on the long run."
"What do you expect me to do now?" she asked in a weary voice, looking beaten. "Nothing?"
"I expect you to stop playing games with me. That'd be a start. Catherine is probably telling the same to Savannah right now."
She looked at him, tears in her eyes.
"Are you sending us away now, John?"
He looked at her in bewilderment. How did she come up with that idea? It was absurd.
"What? No! How did you…? That's... All right, come here…"
He sighed and pulled her into his arms, a gesture she gratefully returned.
"I'm not going to send you away," he said softly. "You can stay with us for as long as you want and even as close as you want. If consequences are to be drawn from this, then you must draw them on your own. I won't force you into anything... but I expect you to respect our agreement."
She nodded slightly while her head rested on his shoulder.
Saturday, November 22nd, 2008 – 01:53 a.m.
Day 2 at sea - Supplemental
Things have calmed down and there's an eerie silence now. John and his women have gone back to bed. So have Savannah and Allie, but they have returned to their own suite on Deck 3.
I think they're licking their wounds after Catherine and John gave them a piece of their mind. There's a lot for them to think about, but the bottom line is that it was about time this debate had taken place. It's important that the two think about the future and no longer cling to their past - which ironically used to be the future, a future that no longer exists.
I can relate to their dilemma, though. There was a certain security in knowing what would happen, almost comforting even. Judgement Day seemed inevitable, we had to prepare for it… and suddenly the future is completely uncertain. We all have to cope with the fact that our futures are no longer predetermined, and some handle it better than others. I know that John would like to get his hands on Yani and squeeze everything about the following three hundred years out of her. But I guess she knows that and that is one of the reasons why she's been avoiding us. When you know everyone's fate in advance, you better keep your distance to them.
Allie and Savannah must think about starting their own lives now. I don't know what they'll come up with, but I guess I can say for sure that they're starting to cut the umbilical cord to John now. And that's a good thing.
Gosh, I'm tired now. I'm going to bed. I promised Charley to only write these few lines before I come to join him. The ship is making good progress, we'll be arriving at our first stop in Puerto Vallarta in the night from Sunday to Monday. I guess I'll spend the whole Saturday and Sunday tanning in the sun. So, next entry on Monday.
Monday, November 24th, 2008 - 12:15 p.m.
Day 4 at sea
We arrived in Puerto Vallarta late last night. We had breakfast on board and then got dressed, since there are a lot of boats around here and we don't want to be motifs for any paparazzi.
Most of us have gone ashore. Charley and I stayed on board, just like Catherine and Isaak. We don't want to make a fuss and we don't want any reporters to ambush us. The yacht is impossible to overlook in the harbor and the marriage between Isaak Sirko and Catherine Weaver was certainly also in the headlines here. No need to stir up the bee hive with rumors that the two are having a world trip on board Isaak's yacht. The last thing we need, is a horde of reporters, waiting for us in any port we will moor in. Apart from that, I had enough Mexico in my life, I don't need any more of it. But I hope the others have fun.
Puerto Vallarta was a major Mexican city with roughly 220,000 inhabitants and, thanks to its reputation as a safe and friendly city by Mexican standards, had become a tourist stronghold that had increasingly outstripped places like Acapulco. During the main travel season from late November to March, cruise ships docked there almost daily, which made it necessary for the "Rising Star" to anchor in the bay, and for the shore leavers to be brought ashore by the tender.
Since the quarrel in the night after the departure from Long Beach, the journey had been peaceful. Savannah and Allie kept a noticeable distance to John and his three wives - but there were no hard feelings. Apparently, the clarifying talks had had an effect and they tried to come to terms with the new situation. Despite the drama, there was a generally exuberant mood, now that all the cards were finally on the table and everyone knew each other's stances.
They'd split into three groups as they were exploring the city. Staying together might have caught too much attention and despite the fact that nobody knew them here, John and the girls had decided to keep a low profile. The first group consisted of John, Alison, Jody, Jason, Danny and Anne. The second group was Derek, Jesse, Cameron, Sydney and Kevin. And the third group was made up of Savannah, Allie, Emily, Lauren and Morris.
The group around John and Alison decided to explore the historic city center. The second group around Derek, Jesse and Cameron decided to walk alongside the Malecón, a paved walkway along the seashore with shops, bars and restaurants. And the final group around Savannah, Allie and Emily chose one of the city's beaches to relax in the sun and splash in the sea.
"Did you know that Puerto Vallarta partly became popular as a setting for some famous Hollywood movies?" John asked. "'The Night of the Iguana' and 'Predator' were shot here."
"Well, the fact that the Mexican government invested heavily into the infrastructure, might have helped as well," Alison added.
"Will you two stop showing off your travel guide tourist knowledge?" Anne asked. "I've been here on holidays, long before any of you were born. I even had a couple of friends here back in the days…"
"Was that during your time with the CIA?" Danny asked.
"I worked for the CIA for fifty years, take a guess."
"Relax, babe, I was just asking."
"I'm sorry," Anne said, "it's just that walking through these streets… it brings up some memories."
"Hey, I have an idea," Jody stated. "Why don't we look for some of Anne's old friends? See if they're still alive?"
"Not sure if that's a good idea," Anne replied. "Most of them were older than me. If they're still alive, they surely won't recognize me. Not sure if I'd want them to recognize me, if I'm honest."
"That's no reason not to look for them," Alison pointed out. "You can say you're Anne Gabriel's granddaughter. They have to see the resemblance. Well... except for the bust size obviously."
Anne rolled her eyes, but she seemed tempted, if undecided.
"You didn't tell them you were infertile, did you?"
"No, I kept that a secret but… oh, I don't know."
"Come on," John said, "we don't have any plans for the day, and I don't want Alison to drag me into some local museum. Looking for some of your old acquaintances sounds like a plan. Don't you wanna meet them again?"
"No buts," Danny argued and nudged her, "live it up!"
"Okay, an attempt can't hurt. I've got nothing to lose anymore, haven't I?"
"That's the spirit!" Jody said and grinned.
"All right, what can you tell us about them?" Alison asked.
"Their names are Pedro Maura, Carmen Serrano and Eduardo León. Pedro had a hair salon, Carmen a tavern and Eduardo a small resort hotel. All were located in the old town."
"Very well, let's get started then," John said. "You lead the way, Anne."
03: 18 p.m.
"What's that crowd over there?" Savannah asked and took off her sunglasses.
"Looks like some kind of contest," Allie replied.
"What? Here on the beach?" Lauren inquired. "What can that be? Some sports event?"
"Not enough noise for that," Emily observed.
"Shall we have a look?" Morris asked. "We roasted in the sun for two hours already, I could use a little variety."
"Sure, why not?"
They got up from their beach towels and packed up their stuff, then approached a cluster of people who'd gathered around a stage where a man with a microphone made announcements.
"It feels weird, walking on sand," Emily stated. "I don't like walking on unstable ground."
"Does it mess with your motor skills?" Allie asked with a smirk.
"It takes significantly more processing power to maintain balance."
"Looks like we humans are still superior to you in some areas," Lauren remarked with a wink.
"I didn't say I was overwhelmed by walking on sand," Emily replied and stuck out her tongue.
They all chuckled. As they approached the stage, they could tell from fragments of words and some signs that it was a food competition.
"Ah," Morris said, "it's a chili eating contest, to find out who's capable of eating the hottest chilis."
"It's not for me," Lauren immediately stated. "I'm already overwhelmed by the chili from the Mexican restaurant in Malibu."
"What about you, Morris?" Savannah asked. "Allie and I aren't lovers of spicy food either. But you as a Latino..."
"Why does everyone always think that as a Latino I automatically like spicy food? I mean, okay, I like it a lot but what they're looking for, are people who can bite into a Habanero without falling over."
"What's a Habanero?" Emily asked.
"That's a really hot chili pod," Morris explained. "For most people, biting into it can lead to cardiovascular problems. You have to train eating such stuff, then your body eventually gets used to it."
"It's the capsaicin," Lauren added. "It produces a fake sensation of heat and burning in any tissue it comes into contact with. But only in mammals. Birds for instance are unaffected. It is believed that nature has made sure this way that only birds eat the pods because they can fly and therefore distribute the seeds further. "
"I see," Emily replied. "So… eating chili is painful?"
Morris thought for a moment.
"Yeah, in a way," he then said, "if you're not used to it. But it also has a euphoric effect and is very healthy. It can lower your blood pressure and has an antibacterial and fungicidal effect. In East Asia people often eat extremely spicy food, because the food then becomes less perishable in the hot, tropical climate."
"And the purpose of this competition is to find out who can eat the hottest food?"
"Yes. And if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it won't be an American tourist. People literally train eating that stuff here all year. There are similar contests all over Mexico."
"I wonder, though…" Savannah began and looked at Emily. "Strictly speaking, you're not a mammal…"
"No, I'm a cyborg, you know that."
"I can imagine what's on your mind right now," Allie said, "but that would be unfair. She's not human."
"Nobody knows that. And nobody ever will. I'd like to see their faces when they watch Emily eating even the hottest stuff, without showing even the slightest reaction."
"If John was here, he wouldn't allow that," Lauren pointed out. "You know, drawing attention and stuff."
"Hey, we're on a holiday," Savannah contradicted, "we're on this trip to have fun! So what do you think, Emily? Ready to taste the hot stuff?"
"The salon used to be here," Anne insisted as they left the small shop.
"I believe you," John replied. "And I also believe the guy when he says he never met the owner of the hair salon that used to be here before."
"Yes, he was telling the truth," Alison confirmed.
"I've been away far too long," Anne stated. "The hotel has been torn down and nobody ever heard of a man named Eduardo León. And the hair salon is now a cellphone store. No one can relate to the name Pedro Maura. My last hope is now Carmen. She was my age."
"The one with the tavern?" Jody asked.
"What's the name of the place?" Alison asked.
"Taberna de los Tiburones."
"The Shark Tavern?"
"Yes, it's only about a hundred yards from here around the corner… or at least it used to be."
Fortunately, the tavern still existed. The six entered and were welcomed by a stale smell of cigarettes and cigars. Inside, the tavern was very rustically furnished, many of the decorations on the walls had maritime themes. A stuffed shark hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room - obviously the eponym of the saloon. He was surrounded by old fishing nets also hanging from the ceiling, full of dried starfish and other knick-knacks. The light was dimmed, there were no windows, and the only light sources were the lamps above the bar, a few table lamps, and a large illuminated plastic figure in the corner, depicting Wile E. Coyote of the Looney Tunes leaning against a cactus. The place was mostly empty at this time of day. Four old men sat on a table in a corner and played cards.
They walked up to the bar where the barkeeper was busy sorting glasses into the cabinet.
"Aquí no servimos a los adolescents," he said immediately after looking shortly at them.
"We're not teenagers," John lied and showed his ID. "Here, I'm twenty-five and my wife is twenty-three. Besides, we're not here to drink. We're looking for someone."
"A woman called Carmen Serrano," Anne specified. "Her and my grandmother were good friends."
The bartender looked at them suspiciously for a moment, then turned towards a passageway with a pearl curtain that led inside the house.
"CARMEN!" he shouted. "¡VEN AQUÍ, HAY VISITAS PARA TI!"
Nothing happened for a moment. Finally, they heard shuffling footsteps, and an old woman came through the door frame, parting the pearl curtain with her hands. If she was really Anne's age, she looked very lively for an eighty-four-year-old. She walked upright in her slippers without using a cane or anything else. She stopped and frowned, her sparkling eyes revealing a sharp, alert mind as she considered the visitors one by one.
"Carmen? Carmen Serrano?" Anne asked.
"Yes, who are you?" the old woman asked in return.
"You knew my grandmother, Dr. Anne Gabriel."
The woman frowned, then her eyes lit up and she smiled.
"Anne? Yes, oh yes… I can see the resemblance now. You're like her spitting image. How is she? I haven't heard from her for at least thirty years."
"Unfortunately, Anne Gabriel passed away recently," John said, "she died of cancer."
"What?" Carmen asked and looked shocked. "Oh dear, that's bad news you bring me. We were very close. My condolences, child."
"Thank you," Anne replied. "My name is also Anne, by the way, I was named after my grandmother. This is my boyfriend Danny, and these are John and his wife Alison, and Jody and her boyfriend Jason."
They all shook hands with the old lady who then gestured towards a table in an opposite corner to the card players.
"Let's sit and talk. Paco, tráenos algo de beber, pero no lo barato para los turistas!"
"¡Ya voy, Carmen!"
They took place at the table and considered the old woman who only had eyes for Anne.
"I didn't know Anne had children," she said. "Then again, she never told us much about herself."
"My grandmother worked for the CIA at the time," Anne replied. "I guess she didn't tell you a lot of things."
"Aaaah," the old woman exclaimed and leaned back with a broad smile. "I knew it. I mean, we assumed something like that, but she never confirmed it. It explains a lot. Why are you here, child?"
"Um… before she died, my grandma expressed her wish that she would have loved to come down here and visit you again. You, and Pedro, and Eduardo. So she asked me to fulfill her wish in her place."
"Aww, that's so sweet of you. We always wondered what could have happened that we never heard from her again."
"Grandma was very busy… and she worked on secret projects that didn't allow her to travel abroad anymore… for security reasons."
"We couldn't find Pedro and Eduardo," John said. "Do you happen to know where we can find them?"
"Eduardo passed away two years ago. He suffered from Alzheimer's disease, wouldn't have recognized anyone anymore."
"That's so sad," Anne replied, looking a bit shaken. "My grandma told me he always was so proud of his memory, that he could remember every guest that had ever stayed in his hotel. And Pedro?"
"Sold his hair salon and moved to live with his son and his family in Cancun ten years ago. We hardly have any contact anymore. After all, he's ninety-two years old and last time I saw him, he needed a rollator."
"What age does to us," Anne pondered.
"We can't run away from it," Carmen agreed with a sigh.
"But you seem to be healthy," Alison commented, "I can't detect any disease in you other than normal age-related symptoms."
Carmen frowned at the remark and John kicked Alison's leg under the table. Before the old woman could ask, the bartender, Paco, brought a pitcher with freshly made lemonade and put it onto the table, together with seven normal glasses, seven shot glasses and a bottle of tequila.
"You're very observant," the old woman said and poured them all tequila into the shot glasses.
"Alison's studying medicine," Jody explained quick-thinking, "she's bugging us with her diagnoses all the time."
"Yes," Alison confirmed, "it's become a bad habit, sorry."
"It's all right. In the end, none of us can run away from death forever. We're all fleeting. It's a pity that Anne didn't get to visit us anymore. A reunion among friends would have been so nice - ten years ago."
Anne stretched her arm across the table and grabbed the old woman's hand.
"Yes, it would have been wonderful, I'm sure," she said.
Carmen looked at their hands, then at Anne and frowned.
"The resemblance to your grandmother is really amazing," she stated. "Tell me more about her, and about you and your friends."
At the beach, the crowd was cheering as Emily entered the finale against a young Mexican who, like her, had beaten all competitors. However, his face looked flustered and sweaty. Everyone could tell he was yearning for a glass of milk or something that might ease the pain.
Emily, on the other hand, seemed to be completely unaffected by every hot dish that had been served to her. She was wearing her sunglasses and her baseball cap, explaining it with having an eye infection, and she'd eaten everything with a stoic face and repeatedly made compliments to the cooks. The crowd was clearly on her side for her witty remarks while her competitors were gasping for air.
"You're well aware it's not fair, aren't you?" Morris asked. "You can clearly see the guy is suffering but unwilling to quit. He's been the champion for the past five years and won't give up until he's passed out."
"Yeah, but that's his problem, isn't it?" Savannah asked back with a smirk.
"Don't you think that Emily should at least pretend that she's having difficulties?" Lauren asked. "I mean, look at those paramedics over there, they're getting suspicious already because she's not showing any symptoms."
"And what might they think, huh?" Allie asked. "That Emily's not human but a cyborg?"
"Don't be silly, just enjoy the fun."
Lauren was about to reply something but the booming voice of the announcer on the stage prevented her from doing it.
"We still don't have a winner," he stated, "this confronts us with a problem, because we no longer have any prepared food that increases the degree of spiciness. Our hottest meals were rated at 300,000 Scoville. There's currently a draw between Juanito from Chapala and Emily from Los Angeles. The jury has decided that the winner will be found by eating raw chili peppers. The degree of spiciness will be increased continuously. We start with a Red Savina Habanero at 577,000 Scoville Heat Units. Ladies first, so Emily begins."
They saw how Emily picked up the small, red pepper, pulled off the stalk and popped the red fruit as a whole into her mouth. She munched it for about thirty seconds without any signs of stress or breaking into sweat, then gulped it down, accompanied by the cheering of the crowd.
Juanito watched her with growing despair, then grabbed his own pod and put it in his mouth. While he was still chewing, he began to breathe in and out heavily. Then he swallowed the half-chewed fruit after ten seconds. His face turned completely red and sweat was running from his face, but he managed to get a grip on himself and threw his arms in the air when he realized he'd managed to master this fruit.
Again, the crowd cheered.
"Next is a Dorset Naga pod, rated at 923,000 SHU's."
Again, Emily simply popped the green chili into her mouth like a cherry, chewed it for half a minute, then swallowed it down with a smile, licking her fingers afterwards, which was acknowledged by the crowd with laughter.
Juanito closed his eyes, probably asking himself why he was doing this at all. But he was too proud to simply give up, so he too put the green chili pod into his mouth, chewed it for a moment before swallowing. He groaned and bent over, having to support himself on the table in front of him. For a moment, it looked like as if he would break down but then he recovered and straightened up, raising his fist triumphantly.
The crowd went crazy, cheering at him.
"And now to our final fruit, the famous Carolina Reaper, measured with an average SHU of 1,600,000 – which means it can be less or more, up to over 2 million Scoville Heat Units. This is the hottest chili variety ever created to date."
Like before, Emily consumed the shriveled, red chili pepper with ease, chewing on it for a little bit more than half a minute before swallowing it down, grinning. There were gasps and awes in the crowd and when she finally looked challenging at Juanito, the audience started chanting his name.
Juanito let his head hang down in desperation, then reached down for his own Carolina Reaper with a trembling hand, looked at it for a moment, gulped, then popped it into his mouth. He started chewing, then grabbed the edge of the table and started retching. But just as everybody was expecting him to spit it out, he swallowed it, breathing like an old steam locomotive and finally, after an agonizing forty seconds, he straightened up again, looking completely finished, with disheveled, wet hair, a bright red face with sweat running down on it, a completely soaked tea shirt and bloodshot eyes.
The crowd was raging.
"He stumbled but didn't fall," the announcer declared over the cheering. "Keep in mind that by the rules, it is forbidden to drink milk, oil, or to consume any other soothing or neutralizing substance during the competition. There's no relief for the suffering here! However, we still do not have a winner, because one of the two participants would have to give up. I don't suppose Emily is willing to give up. She simply seems to have an innate immunity to capsaicin, something I have never witnessed before, but there's nothing we can do about it. And she probably didn't even know it before. So, I ask Juanito: Are you giving up? Nobody's going to blame you if you do."
Juanito shook his head no but couldn't utter a word.
"Very well then… our last and final item, is the famous Mad Dog 357 No.9 Plutonium sauce, the hottest chili sauce in the world at 9,000,000 Scoville Heat Units."
A pretty girl carried a tablet with a tiny bottle, fixed in a cardboard package, onto the stage and put it onto the table. On the front of the bottle there was a yellow symbol that was supposed to remind of the warning signs of nuclear radiation. A man in a lab coat entered the stage, wearing rubber gloves. He carefully unwrapped the bottle, screwed off the top and used a pipette to extract a few drops of the thick, dark red liquid. He then let ten drops fall on a table spoon and handed it to Emily. She took it, put it into her mouth and licked her lips.
"Mmmmh, delicious," she stated, licking the spoon clean.
The crowd laughed and was now again starting to chant Juanito's name.
The poor guy looked at the spoon the guy in the lab coat was holding out at him, but his hands trembled too hard to grab it. So he opened his mouth and allowed the spoon to be slid in. It took a moment, then Juanito bent over again, retching like crazy, breathing in and out with rasping noises, drool running from his mouth in an uncontrolled way. Everyone thought he'd keel over at any moment. The paramedics were already preparing to step in, but he somehow managed to remain upright. When he finally faced the crowd, he looked like a zombie, but they cheered at him like crazy.
The guy in the lab coat was about to repeat the process, now with a full table spoon of the sauce. But Emily took the bottle from his hands.
"Let's cut this short," she said, put the small bottle to her lips and drank it.
All of it.
The crowd gaped at her in silence, and when she finally put down the bottle, all hell break loose. She offered the bottle to Juanito.
"There's still a bit left in it, if you want some," she said with a smirk.
But Juanito held up his hands.
"Thanks, but that's going too far for my taste," he replied. "Damn it, girl, you're not from this world."
As he reached for a bottle of milk and downed it greedily, the crowd was going absolutely crazy, chanting Emily's name, whistling, cheering, clapping their hands.
"If he only knew how right he is about that," Lauren said to her friends through the uproar, and they nodded a little uncomfortably.
"We have a winner!" the announcer declared. "And it's Emily Gage from Los Angeles!"
"And then you all decided to have a cruise on the 'Rising Star'?" Carmen asked.
They had told her a captivating story and spontaneously filled it with more and more details until they finally came to the big wedding a week ago and to the honeymoon. But now they were perplexed by her question.
"You know about the yacht?" John asked. "We've only been here a few hours."
"I have a keen mind and I can put one and one together... and I have a nice view over the harbor from my apartment above. The 'Rising Star' has been here frequently and it's often booked for such events. I know the usual caterers."
She sniggered and they chuckled. John and the rest really liked the old woman.
"The owner, Isaak Sirko, is a friend of the family," Alison explained. "Actually, we're accompanying John's mother and three other couples on their honeymoon. A trip around the world."
"Oh…" Carmen replied, "so your honeymoon as well?"
John and Alison looked at each other, then he shrugged.
"Yeah, sure… you could see it that way. We also just only recently…"
Carmen's face suddenly froze as her gaze wandered to the front door, where three men just entered the tavern. John, Alison and the others also looked in that direction. Two of the men were tall and muscular, looking like bodyguards, the third was a rather thin man in an expensive suit. The old woman didn't seem too happy to see them.
"The tall ones are carrying weapons," Alison whispered into John's ear, "locked and loaded."
"What do you want, Miguel?" Carmen asked harshly and got up. "I told you to never come here again! You're barred from the house."
"Relax, old woman!" the thin man replied. "I just wanted you to know that Fabio's patience is running out."
"Tell Fabio to go fuck himself!"
"Yup, that's the Carmen I remember," Anne whispered.
"You have one more day!" Miguel exclaimed and held up his index finger to underline his statement. "Either you pay, or he'll take your taverna from you!"
"GET OUT!" Carmen shouted and made a step towards Miguel, clenching her fists.
The two bodyguards reached inside their jackets.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," John said in an appeasing tone and got up as well. "no need to get violent. If you can't handle an old woman without guns, you probably chose the wrong job!"
"Stay out of this, gringo!" Miguel responded. "This is none of your business."
"Carmen is our friend," Anne stated, "we may not know what this is about but if you touch her, you'll regret it."
"All right, all right," Miguel said and held up his hands, "we don't want any trouble with outsiders. We'll be back when your guests left."
And with that, Miguel and his two goons turned around and left the tavern. The four card players in the corner resumed their game as if nothing had happened and the bartender let out a sigh of relief.
"Who was that?" Anne asked.
"Miguel Silvestre," Carmen replied. "He's the right-hand man of Fabio Sandoval, a local real estate magnate. My late husband Emilio, God rest his soul, owed Fabio a lot of money. I've paid them off in installments since his death. But now that there are only about fifteen thousand dollars left, he wants the money immediately - or he wants to take over my tavern. I don't have fifteen thousand dollars."
"What does he want with a tavern?" Jody asked.
"He doesn't just want the tavern, he wants the house as a whole! Tourism is booming in Puerto Vallarta, people are coming here now instead of Acapulco. There's little crime here, little violence, no drug cartels. The real estate market has skyrocketed, and the house here is worth a lot now - if it weren't for my tavern on the ground floor. As long as I'm in here, the house can't be demolished."
"And all you need to pay him off, it fifteen thousand dollars?" Anne asked. "We can easily give you that money. I'm sure we have enough cash onboard."
"And I'm sure your grandmother told you I don't take charity. Besides, the money is not the point, he wants the house. Even if I pay him off, he'll find ways to drive me out of here."
"Well, then we'll find a way to, uh… convince Fabio to leave you in peace," John said. "Tell us more about him. What kind of man is he? Does he have any weaknesses we can use against him?"
"Well… he is quite superstitious and believes in the supernatural, in providence and omens. He regularly asks a fortune teller to predict his future - who of course knows what he wants to hear. As long as he's convinced that he's on the right track, he won't be dissuaded from his course. And he is well connected in Puerto Vallarta. He is friends with the police chief and with the mayor. But I have friends, too. The editor in chief of the local newspaper is a regular customer of mine. Thanks only to him, Fabio hasn't already sent his thugs to demolish my tavern."
"Hmmm… that means we must be careful and act in secret, without attracting attention."
"What do you have in mind, John?" Alison asked.
"I'm thinking of something that would do the A-Team credit," John replied with a grin.
"We're being followed," Alison stated.
They had just left the tavern and were on their way back to the harbor. They'd promised Carmen that they'd visit her again in the evening. Even though the old lady didn't really understand why those strangers were so keen on helping her, she was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
"Who and how many?" John asked.
"Three. It's Miguel and his goons."
"He probably wants to find out who we are. We can't lead him to the ship, that would complicate things."
"There's a narrow alleyway ahead," Anne said. "If we can lure them in there…"
"Right," John agreed. "Alison, we go ahead, you fall behind. Make sure they won't follow us any longer. Then catch up with us."
"I'm assuming you don't want me to kill them?" she asked.
"You're assuming right. Remember, we're just guests here. We cannot afford to attract attention by leaving corpses in our wake."
"Hey, I was just asking."
The three men turned around the corner and could see the Americans fifty yards ahead in the deserted alleyway.
"Wait a second," Miguel said, "There's only five. Where's that tall, beautiful one with the long, black hair?"
"Thanks for the compliment," Alison stated from behind them.
Miguel and his two bodyguards turned around and faced Alison. She smiled at them and stretched out her arms. Three seconds later they lay on the asphalt, knocked out by electric discharges from her fingers.
"Shocking," she said, "positively shocking."
"Did you take care of them?" John asked as Alison had caught up with them.
"Did you quote James Bond again? Wait, don't answer. Of course, you did."
"You shouldn't have had that movie marathon with old Bond movies before we left L.A., John," Lauren stated and grinned. "Now she quotes that line from 'Goldfinger' whenever she zaps someone."
"You're turning into a movie geek, Alison," Morris added smiling. "We have so many days and nights at sea ahead of us, I wonder what you'll be like when this trip is over."
"Hopefully not completely unbearable," Anne commented.
"We have a lot of catching up to do," Alison said shrugging. "Movies are an important part of human culture, many things people say include references and quotes from famous film scenes. It's important for us to watch a lot of movies, so that we can be convincing as young adults and won't look like freaks if we don't understand what other young people are talking about."
"You're just using that as an excuse for binge-watching," Danny stated.
"There's nothing else for us to do," Alison defended herself. "There's no perimeter to watch, and an attack from the sea is extremely unlikely. Besides, the onboard cinema definitely has enough films for three world trips while the onboard library mostly contains books we already read."
"Actually, I enjoy watching movies with them," John said. "I like to see their reactions, especially when it comes to movies I love. Seems like we have the same taste."
"Are you sure they're not only adjusting their taste to yours?" Anne asked with a wink.
"We adapt to John's preferences," Alison admitted, "but we still have our own tastes. You're just jealous because Danny's not a movie fan and prefers books. We, however, enjoy both… and have the time for it. We don't need sleep."
Anne rolled her eyes.
"Thanks for pointing out your superiority again," she said sourly. "Just make sure you don't show any modesty."
"We just are superior to you. It's not our fault."
"You are so full of yourself, do you know that?"
"… says Dr. Anne Arrogant."
"HEY!" John exclaimed. "Stop bickering. Let's do something productive instead and figure out how to convince Fabio to leave Carmen alone."
Monday, November 24th, 2008 - 05:12 p.m.
Fabio Sandoval's office, Puerto Vallarta
"What do you mean she knocked you out?"
"I don't know, boss. She must have had a taser or something. When we came around, they were gone… and someone had stolen our wallets while we were unconscious."
Fabio rubbed his eyes in frustration.
"Do you know who they are?" he asked.
"No, that's why we wanted to follow them. We lost their track now."
Miguel flinched in the face of bis bosses blatant sarcasm.
"I don't want anyone to give that woman the money," Fabio said authoritatively. "I want that house! I already have an investor but he's getting impatient and could jump off again if this takes any longer."
"What do you want us to do, boss?"
"Go back to the tavern, take a dozen people this time. Don't go inside, just watch the place and follow the gringos if they come back. Don't let yourself getting ambushed again."
"And stay away from that old woman. The mayor and the chief of police have asked me to hold back. We don't need negative headlines in Puerto Vallarta, they're bad for business."
"You won what?" John asked as they were all back on the "Rising Star".
"A chili eating contest," Emily said, grinning proudly and holding up her trophy, an ugly thing in the shape of a golden Habanero chili pod, made from plastic that was glued onto a piece of white marble.
John looked at Savannah and Allie.
"You pushed her to do it, didn't you?"
"What?" Savannah asked, "Noooo… I mean… uh… we… um… we just wanted to…"
"She doesn't experience the effects of capsaicin," Allie assisted. "She totally outclassed the competition."
"Another demonstration of cyborg superiority."
"Not now, Anne," Sarah said and rolled her eyes, then looked reproachfully at Savannah and Allie. "Didn't we agree to keep a low profile? Great job, really, now Emily's probably making local headlines with a photo of hers."
"Relax, mom," John appeased, "she didn't do anything any other normal tourist wouldn't have done."
"Except for the fact that she's immune to capsicine… or whatever that stuff is called."
"Capsaicin," Charley corrected. "You can train the immunity to a certain level but not to a point where you show no symptoms anymore. At some point, too hot is too hot, no matter how much you're used to it."
"At least she wore her sunglasses and her baseball cap," Savannah argued, in an attempt to limit the damage. "So, nobody's going to recognize her."
"Sunglasses and baseball caps, eh?" John asked. "The distinguishing feature of our cyborg girls. I suppose many people took pictures with their cellphones?"
"Relax, John," Emily said. "This is gonna go down just like our beach volleyball match in Florida. And if not, they'll think I was just another American tourist. Puerto Vallarta is very popular among young people."
"Has anyone else experienced any adventures that could blow our cover?" Sarah asked sarcastically.
"We just had a nice stroll along the beach promenade," Derek reported, "nothing happened. We sat down and had lunch in a nice restaurant, then went sightseeing. Nothing to write home about."
"Yeah, looks like we missed the action," Kevin said. "It was nice, though."
"Good, at least someone with common sense."
Sarah then looked at John and Alison.
"Um…" he said. "We might have run into an old friend of Anne's… "
John, Alison and Anne took turns in telling Carmen's story. When they were finished, John prepared for the good scolding - but it didn't come. Instead, Sarah just nodded. It seemed as if the story had activated her sense of justice - the poor old woman who had to defend herself against an unscrupulous real estate tycoon.
"We gotta help her of course," she agreed.
"It sounds like a damsel in distress scenario," Derek remarked. "Count me in."
"Uh… don't get me wrong, Derek," John said carefully, "my plan doesn't involve you. But it involves you, Catherine. And John Henry."
"Me?" she asked. "What do you want me to do? Kill him?"
"No!" John quickly stated. "No killing on this trip if we can avoid it. I have a better idea. But for that, we have to contact John Henry first… and we need you to meet with Carmen, so you can pose for her."
Monday, November 24th, 2008 - 08:45 p.m.
Fabio Sandoval was just about to leave his office for the day, when suddenly his phone rang. It was Miguel.
"Boss, Carmen Serrano's on her way to you."
"Yes, it seems so. Nobody followed her when she left the tavern. She also didn't have any visitors, just the usual coming and going of guests. Mostly American tourists, and a guy who made a beer delivery."
"Have you checked on that?"
"Yeah, seems legit."
"What does she want from me? We're beyond talking by now."
"I don't know. I followed her and she is alone. Should I stop her?"
"No, let her come to me. Maybe this gets interesting. Return to your post at the tavern and wait for my instructions."
He ended the call. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door.
"Come!" Fabio shouted, regretting that he'd sent his secretary home early.
The door opened and Carmen Serrano entered the room.
"Typical… working late," she said, looking around. "Don't you have a home, Fabio?"
"What do you want?" he asked, not in the mood for small talk.
"What happened to you, Fabio? You were such a nice child, and your father was such a nice man. Without him, Emilio and I wouldn't have been able to run the tavern that long. When have you become so greedy?"
"If this is an attempt to speak into my conscience, old woman, then the attempt is doomed to failure."
"Oh, I know that," Carmen replied coolly, "I'm not here for that. I'm here to pay you off."
She stepped forward and put a plastic bag on his desk. Fabio frowned and opened the bag – it was full of dollar notes.
"Fifteen thousand," Carmen said, "You can count them."
"I, uh… don't think that will be necessary," he replied, his brain getting into overdrive.
Where had she gotten the money from? She had nothing on the bank.
"I found a sponsor," she stated, guessing his thoughts. "And you better not mess up with them. If anything should happen to my tavern now, the consequences for you would be… dire."
"Are you threatening me?" Fabio asked in an irritated tone.
"No. I only point out to you that your future behavior in this matter will have consequences, and that your connections won't save you either. If you cheat on me, you'll be cursed!"
"All right then, as you wish, old woman. Your debts are paid off. Do you want a receipt?"
He wrote her a receipt for fifteen thousand dollars and gave it to her.
"It's nice doing business with you, Fabio," said Carmen and left his office without further ado.
Fabio waited for a moment until he was sure she was gone, then reached for his phone and dialed Miguel's number.
"Everything all right at the tavern?"
"Yes. None of the visitors from earlier showed up. There are only a handful of tourists inside, mostly young couples from the USA."
"See that they leave… and then make sure the tavern won't be opening again… ever."
"With pleasure, boss."
Fabio threw the phone on his desk, rubbed his eyes, then got up, grabbed the plastic bag with the money and left for his home.
Monday, November 24th, 2008 - 08:59 p.m.
Taberna de los Tiburones
The group of a dozen muscular, thuggish men (plus Miguel) entered the tavern and it was clear at first glance that they weren't there to drink a tequila in peace. In their hands they carried baseball bats and heavy iron chains.
They stopped for a moment to consider the room… and hesitated. Because the room was empty - except for a group of eight young women who blocked their path. And empty meant really empty. The furniture had been removed, all paintings, decorations, pictures and posters on the walls had been taken down. The stuffed shark under the ceiling and the fishing nets had disappeared, just like the plastic figure of Wile E. Coyote. The alcoholic drinks behind the bar had also been cleared away. The place looked like a prepared arena.
"We're glad you dropped by," Savannah said. "We've been waiting for you."
"What's going on here?" Miguel asked.
"We didn't want anything to break in here," Sydney explained. "It would be a shame, wouldn't it? All those trinkets... they're responsible for the flair of the tavern."
"Who are you? Where are the other guests? Where are the men that went in here?"
"You'll have to make do with us," Allie replied. "My name is Allie, and these are Savannah, Sydney, Lauren, Anne, Emily and Cameron. Don't bother telling us your names in return, we won't remember them anyway."
"Okay, ladies, listen," Miguel began. "We're not here to hurt you. Just step out of the way, so we can do our job."
"Now this is unfortunate," Lauren said with mock disappointment, "because we intend to hurt you if you don't leave immediately."
Miguel began to laugh, and little by little the rest of his men joined in.
"You're a funny girl, kid," he remarked. "But seriously. Step aside, we don't want you to ruin your hair or break a nail."
Slowly, Cameron stepped forward until she was only a foot away from Miguel. She gave him her stoic Terminator glare and slowly, Miguel stopped laughing.
"Tell me," she said and addressed one of the thugs at his side, "are you wearing that club to compensate for the anatomic deficit between your legs?"
She let her eyes glow red and with one quick move, she grabbed the baseball bat and broke it in two. Shocked, the rest of the men took a step back.
"Santa María, Madre de Dios!" Miguel stammered and crossed himself. "¡Es un demonio!"
"She's not a demon, stupid," Emily replied and stepped forward as well, letting her eyes glow red, too. "Don't you follow the news? We're the cyborg girls from Los Angeles. Feel privileged for having met us… although I'm not sure you're going to enjoy it very much."
Miguel's brain seemed to slowly turn on and it began to dawn on him that they had been lured into a trap. He turned around and wanted to leave the bar… but the way was blocked – by the pretty, tall, dark-haired woman that had knocked them out earlier.
"You had your chance," Alison stated as she locked the door. "Now nobody leaves here until I say so. And I have strong doubts that you will be able to leave this place in your own right."
The fight was short but fierce. Alison, Emily and Cameron held back, only making sure that none of the men escaped. Sydney, Lauren, Savannah, Jody, Allie and Anne on the other hand, used the opportunity to hone their close combat skills.
It had previously been agreed that there would be no major injuries and no fractures. The bullies were only supposed to get a good thrashing. John and the others, as well as Carmen and the bartender, had been evacuated to the safe parts of the house before and were now returning to the tavern after the fighting noise had subsided.
They were presented with an extraordinary sight. All twelve thugs lay unconscious on the floor, only Miguel was still standing in the middle of the room, trembling all over, looking around in disbelief while the girls laughed and high-fived.
"¡Madre de Dios!" Carmen exclaimed.
"Good work," John stated. "Looks like Marcus' and Savannah's training paid off."
Alison walked towards Miguel and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Please…" he uttered… "please don't… nnnnnnggh…"
His body spasmed, then he sank unconscious to the floor.
"Hasta la vista, baby," Alison said and withdraw her hand.
Fabio Sandoval pulled the blanket over his chest as he sighed and exhaled, ready to let the sleep overwhelm him. It's been a long, busy day, but at least the outcome was good. He'd finally gotten rid of Carmen Serrano and her taverna, which meant that he'd own the whole building soon. Then he could tear it down and build a boutique hotel in its place. The plans were ready, the investors willing to spend their money, all it needed was the final confirmation of Miguel and his men. He switched off the lamp on his bedside table and then closed his eyes, the only sound in the room coming from the air condition.
He had already began to doze off, when he suddenly heard a metallic slurping noise from inside his room. He opened his eyes, sat up and switched on the bedside lamp. But the room was empty, and the bedroom door closed. He was alone.
"Must have imagined it," he mumbled to himself and sank back on his bed again, switching off the light once more.
Again, there was this metallic slurping noise. And again, he sat up.
"Hello?" he asked. "Somebody there?"
No answer. But there was a shadow in front of his bed. Fabio reached under his pillow and pulled out a gun, then switched on the light again.
He jerked with horror.
There stood an old man in front of his bed. He wore a fine suit, but was covered all over with earth, as if he had just stepped out of a grave. The old man was grinning evilly at Fabio.
"Hello Fabio," the old man replied, and his voice sounded as if he was chewing on a mouthful of dirt.
"This… this is a dream," Fabio stammered, "it can't be real. You're dead!"
"Oh, right… I forgot," the old man said and changed his appearance with that metallic slurping noise.
Suddenly, he looked like a decaying corpse, with the flesh falling from his bones, revealing the skeleton. The elegant suit suddenly hung down from him in shreds and little bugs and maggots crawled over his body.
Fabio screamed in horror.
"Better now?" the corpse asked with an evil grin, baring its skeletal teeth.
Fabio shrieked and fired his gun at what in his opinion could only be a ghost, but to no avail, the bullets were simply absorbed.
"You cannot kill me, I'm already dead, stupid."
"What… what do you want from me?" Fabio asked with a panicking voice, the blood in his veins suddenly running cold.
"You betrayed my dear wife, Carmen. You sent out thugs to destroy her taverna, even though she paid you off in full. So from now on, I will haunt you. Every night. Until the rest of your life. And I will see to it that you will no longer be successful in business."
"NOOOO!" Fabio shouted. "Go away! Leave me alone. You're just a figment of my imagination!"
"Am I?" the corpse asked and turned into the old man again, now looking very much alive once more. "Why don't you take a look at your bank account? Wait, let me get your laptop."
The old man walked over to the desk in Fabio's bedroom, grabbed the laptop and threw it towards him. Fabio was barely able to catch it. With shaking hands, he opened the lid and logged into the online account of his bank.
"Everything's okay with my bank account, I…"
Fabio suddenly hesitated. In front of his eyes, his balance decreased, numbering down like a countdown.
"No! No-no-no-no-no, stop it!"
"Only you can stop it, Fabio. If you stop harassing Carmen and let her keep her taverna, the money on your bank will no longer keep getting less and less. But if you continue to harass my dear widow, your wealth will vanish into thin air in no time. First this little bank account of yours that you use for paying your goons, then your real fortune on the Cayman Islands and in Panama. Your decision."
"Okayokayokay," Fabio stammered. "I… I promise I will leave her in peace from now on."
"Do you swear an oath on it?"
"I… I … I…"
The old man's hand turned into a blade and cut Fabio's cheek.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I SWEAR! I SWEAR TO GOD! BY ALL THAT'S HOLY, I SWEAR IT! I WILL LEAVE HER ALONE! PLEASE! PLEASE DO NOT HURT ME!"
"We'll see," the old man said and turned the blade back into a hand again. "I'll be watching you, Fabio."
The old man switched off the light. Fabio heard that metallic slurping sound again, then everything was quiet. With a violently shaking hand, he felt for the light switch. The room was empty. He felt his cheek. There was a cut, and blood running from it onto his hand. He didn't imagine it and he wasn't dreaming. This was real. He looked down on his laptop.
While he previously had a balance of almost fifty thousand dollars in his bank account, there were now only 666 dollars left. The number of the beast. Fabio began to laugh hysterically, feeling how his mind was on the verge of madness.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAH! I SWEAR! I SWEAR TO GOD! BY ALL THAT'S HOLY, I SWEAR IT! I WILL LEAVE HER ALONE! PLEASE! PLEASE DO NOT HURT ME!"
"We'll see. I'll be watching you, Fabio."
"Santa Madre de Dios," Carmen exclaimed when John had shown her the video Catherine had made with her cellphone without Fabio realizing it. "What have you done to him?"
"Let's just say that from now on, Fabio will leave you in peace. If he doesn't, though, give us a call and we'll see to it that his fortune keeps on diminishing."
Together they had restored the tavern and brought the furnishings back into place. Cameron and Alison were on their way to bring away Miguel and his unconscious thugs with Carmen's small van. The men had paid dearly with black eyes, sprains, bruises and contusions for trying to demolish the place.
"I don't know how you did it and probably don't wanna know," Carmen said, "but I'm eternally grateful to you. I am forever in your debt."
"Think of it as compensation for my grandmother not visiting you for so long, " Anne replied. "I'm sure that what happened here tonight, would have met her approval."
"The only thing I don't understand is why you wanted me to give Emilio's hair flip to that woman before she brought Fabio the money. I've been keeping that since his death."
"That woman is a good friend of ours and has a talent for posing as other people," John explained. "She, uh… is some kind of medium and needs something that belonged to a dead person. We thought it would be just right for Fabio, since he believes in such stuff. You told us about it, so we worked with that."
"He looked like he was scared to death," Carmen admitted and then sniggered. "I liked that. Still, I just can't accept you giving me the fifteen thousand dollars. I'm sorry but I can't."
"All right then," John stated. "If you don't want to accept it as a gift, consider it payment for merchandise. How much tequila do you get for fifteen thousand dollars?"
They were back on board and were already expected by Catherine, Sarah and all the others.
"How did it go?" Sarah asked.
"Everything went smoothly, mom," John reported. "I think Fabio's now scarred for life, thanks to Catherine's brilliant performances – first as Carmen and then as her late husband."
"It was one of my better performances," Catherine said not without pride, "I'd never posed as a walking corpse before, but it was fun. Your plan was really clever and original. And John Henry's timing was perfect as well. I won't forget his face when the money shriveled away on his bank account."
"Yeah, I love it when a plan comes together," John replied, and everyone laughed at that quote.
"What have you done with those thugs?" Derek asked.
"Oh, we, uh… put them down onto the benches at the Playa Los Muertos pier," Alison explained, "we stripped them of their clothes. They'll be found in the morning, forming a circle of naked men who are chained together in a very embarrassing position."
"You can be truly sadistic," Derek stated with a grin.
"As you should know all too well," Cameron answered with a wink.
"Before I forget," John said and looked at Isaak. "There'll be a delivery in the morning. Carmen wasn't willing to accept the money just like that… so we bought some alcohol."
"Some alcohol?" Isaak asked. "For fifteen thousand dollars?"
"She assured us that it is the best tequila in the country," Emily stated.
"Fifteen thousand… how many bottles is that?"
"Around two hundred," John replied, "don't worry, that stuff's not gonna go bad or something."
"Jesus Christ… well, at least we won't run out of alcohol so quickly."
"What an extraordinary start to our journey," John said and started to undress. "This has been fun, it can go on like this."
"You mean acting like the A-Team?" Alison asked. "Helping people in need?"
"Sure, why not? I'm clearly Hannibal, you are B.A. Baracus, because you are the strongest. Cameron can be Face… and Emily, well… Howling Mad Murdock, I guess."
"What?" Emily asked with mock indignation. "Why do I have to be the crazy one?"
"Because you once had a split personality," John grinned.
"Admit it, you are the weird one, sis," Cameron stated, receiving an evil glare in return.
"Now, now," John appeased, "no bickering. It's all good fun, right?"
Emily smiled at him, put her hands around his neck and gave him a peck on the cheek.
"Yeah, all good fun," she said and lay down on the bed, spreading her legs invitingly.
John didn't have to be asked twice.
Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 – 01:21 a.m.
Day 5 at sea
We'll leave Puerto Vallarta early in the morning. It looks like we've been lucky. So far, nothing about our first stop has found its way into the social media. I hope we'll stay this lucky. I don't know what this journey will be like but traveling through the world with a bunch of Terminators and time travelers surely won't become boring so quickly.
I'm proud of John and the girls, though. Helping people in need has become one of their major priorities. Carmen surely benefits from it and I am sure that many more people will enjoy it during our long journey. Our next stop will be in the Caribbean. We're going to go through the Panama Canal in four days. I'm actually looking forward to spending a couple of peaceful days at sea. Charley also wants to
That was John's voice!
Sarah jumped up and ran out into the corridor, only to be passed by John who was running towards the pool deck.
"Oh god, oh god, unnngh… jeeez… son of a bitch, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…" he huffed as he passed by, holding his hands over his crotch.
A moment later, Sarah heard a distant splash and a relieved groan from the aft deck. She looked at Emily who'd stepped into the corridor as well.
"What have you done to my son?"
"I told him," Emily replied and shrugged, "I ate lots of chilis today. But I guess he forgot about that again."
"You are evil, sis," Alison remarked but grinned.
"Hey, you heard him," Emily said defensively and smirked, "it's all good fun."
- Reviews are ALWAYS welcome and actually requested :-)
- This chapter was inspired by both the A-Team TV show and the Terence Hill/Bud Spencer movies of the 70's and 80's. Thought I'd pay them homage.