1: Ratings and the Inside Man
Moonlight slanted in through the window, igniting the room in a bright, almost ghastly glow.
It had been at least a year or so since Alejandro had cast his lot in the Total Drama reality show and since then, he'd been greatly incapacitated. As he lay there in bed, he could feel the numbness in his legs, knew that it was going to be a long time, maybe even never, before he could move them again; his hair was short, stopping just above his chin. And he was having trouble moving his arms. But at least he didn't need to facilitate that robotic suit anymore.
The doctors had told him that he was lucky that Dr. Renard had showed up. Dr. Renard was a "miracle worker", giving Alejandro the chance to completely rehabilitate, where in the alternative situation he'd have been paralyzed and stuck within a robotic shell forever. Of course, Alejandro was thankful, but he was also impatient. He didn't want to wait for the rest of his life, trapped within the confines of his home with his mother, taking online classes. Jose would never let him live it down.
Dr. Renard said that it would take at least two more months before he'd even be able to walk, let alone any intense exercising. Sighing, he tried to close his eyes and get at least some sleep.
Sleep seemed to be an impossible feat for him anymore. Throughout the day, Jose made constant gibes about the rings or bags surrounding his eyes, but Alejandro couldn't really help it. His mind was either overflowing with thought anymore or he was having nightmare after nightmare. Tonight, he was going to control those nightmares and get one of those rare full nights of sleep...
Slowing his breathing, Alejandro could hear his heart beating, using its casual rhythm to fall asleep. An hour passed and unconsciously, he ticked off the phases of REM as they took place, waiting patiently for that delicious fourth stage of REM, the coveted dreaming state.
Suddenly, his efforts came to total fruition: Alejandro was dreaming and he was fully aware of it. After so many hardships, he was truly relishing in the experience of lucid dreaming, where he was in control of everything within the dream world.
Alejandro loved that in the dream he was in the perfect physical state he'd been in before the incident involving the lava. He was in the middle of a moonlit forest with bare, skeleton-like trees standing everywhere. The stars winked faintly, the sky was dark, and the ground was bathed completely in shadow, wrapped in a thick blanket of white mist. Quietly, he crossed over the land, smiling as he scanned everything in search of something, actually someone, in specific.
He spent several minutes looking and that's when he saw a dark silhouette, clearly outlined by the big and full moon in the sky, snake by. The figure slithered behind the thick shape of a tree trunk. Alejandro walked deliberately in the direction of the tree, smirking a little. The closer he got, the louder the prey's breathing was. Things seemed to be way too easy as he circled the tree and found the brown haired shrimp cowering up against it, his pupils the size of bowling balls.
"Did you really believe that you could escape me?" Alejandro asked ominously, leaning down to his level. "I have come to claim my revenge...pathetic little one."
Smiling and showing rows of sharp canines, Alejandro easily picked up the little weakling and tugged mercilessly on the back of his shirt. His prey gagged a few times, pulling at the shirt collar and Alejandro laughed, loud and strangely melodious. Then he took his prey and hung him up like a pinata from the tree branch.
Whimpering, Cody swung back and forth in the light breeze.
"Leave my Cody alone!" another voice clamored.
Feeling superior, Alejandro turned and easily captured the newest arrival to the scene; she shrieked like a banshee, balling her fists and kicking at him, all of her blows working to no true avail. She ended up in the tree branch next to the one she was trying to rescue: on the most precarious part of the tree branch and dangling, about to fall at any moment.
Two opponents down. Both were extremely fragile and weak, so of course they'd been no real or considerable challenge to Alejandro. Chuckling, his eyes flashed yellow and he turned into a full-on werewolf, gnashing his fangs, sprouting a tail and growing fur from head to foot. He was hungry and felt fierce, strong, indomitable.
Turning around, he faced his prey and licked his lips, watching with delight as their pupils shrunk and they both tried to suppress screams. All he had to do was raise his giant paws, shoot out his foot long claws and they squirmed and flinched in utter terror. With each step he took, Alejandro could feel their fear growing. Sierra even tried to collect Cody into one of her bear hugs, falling from the branch in the process.
"Cody..." she mumbled as she hit the ground.
Alejandro pounced, about to slash at Sierra with his claws. The moment before his strike could connect, a long metal staff came in-between his claws and the victim. The owner of the staff came into view, sticking her face right in front of his. Her teeth were bared and his utter ferocity was mirrored in her coal black eyes.
"Back off," she growled, applying more pressure on the staff.
In reply, Alejandro pushed back harder, watching as she stumbled and fell on her rear. Behind her, Cody and Sierra fled towards the forest of dead trees, leaving her to fend for herself. That was just fine; this was the true prey that Alejandro had been after in the first place.
With a huge leap, Alejandro launched himself into the air and easily pinned his new prey to the ground, knocking the metal staff out of her grasp.
"Long time, no see, Heather," he growled, moving so that his face was only millimeters away from hers.
"Yeah, you're the last thing I want to see," Heather snarled, her own eyes flashing yellow. "Bastard."
She quickly transformed into a werewolf and then threw Alejandro off. He slid, but regained his bearings and went down on all-fours. Baring his teeth, he looked at Heather, watching as she eyed him, raising her own clawed hands. Without warning, she leaped through the air, claws glinting in the light of the full moon and scratched him, right across the chest.
Surprised, huge spikes of pain began to radiate throughout Alejandro as she slashed at him, over and over with her claws. Crimson ribbons of blood flew through the air. All Alejandro could see now were her vicious golden eyes, the flash of her teeth, his blood flying everywhere. He knew he was being sliced to tiny little bits, yet every time he tried to fight back, Heather just became that much more relentless and powerful.
When she finally stopped, Heather looked down at him with narrowed eyes. "We were never meant to be. I was never in love with you. I only wanted the money..."
Alejandro's eyelids flew open and he could feel and hear his heart pounding. He was covered from head to foot in sweat, terrified as the images from his subconscious brain seemed to burn into his retinas and flash before his eyes like a horror movie.
It felt like a huge anvil had been placed on his chest; he couldn't breathe.
The warm, liquid sunlight that filled his room and the birds singing outside his window seemed extremely inappropriate right now. That's when Alejandro's mother entered the bedroom with a wheel chair, smiling like an angel as her soft brown eyes lit up upon seeing her "baby boy". She walked over to the side of the bed and before he could protest helped him sit up.
"Eres blanco," she whispered, stroking his hair. "Como una fantasma."
"Estoy bien, Mama," he said, trying to reassure her.
Much to his embarrassment, she enveloped him in a hug and kissed his forehead. Then she carefully helped him into his wheel chair and pushed it out of his bedroom, down the hall and into the kitchen. The house was as quiet as a graveyard, serene and tranquil. Everything was truly out of place.
Alejandro sat still and quiet, retreating into his thoughts as his mother hovered around like a hummingbird in the kitchen. Even though he'd been having a lucid dream, as soon as Heather had been introduced to the dream, it'd spiraled out of control and turned into a gory nightmare. He raised his hands and balled them into fists as her image entered his mind.
Heather. Wherever she was, he swore that he was going to get revenge on her as soon as he could. He'd been waiting an entire year now. He could wait a little bit longer. Forever if necessary.
She'd taken his heart and smashed it to bits like glass. It'd been so stupid on his part to let his heart run away like he had. That girl was so much like him, he should have known that she'd do what she did. It wasn't the lava that had truly destroyed him. It was her. And she was going to pay.
"Did you have another nightmare, hijo?" his mother asked, appearing out of nowhere. "It's that girl again, isn't it?"
His mother had watched all of Total Drama World Tour, every little detail. She knew him better than he knew himself, so of course she knew exactly what was on his mind.
"I swear I'm getting revenge," Alejandro whispered.
"I know," she said, frowning. "I know that you will. Now, it's time for you to eat breakfast."
Dr. Renard smiled, his arms folded behind his back.
Alejandro could successfully move his arms and legs now. He flexed his fingers, his arms, his toes. Right now, he could only walk stiffly, like a robot, but that was certainly better than nothing. Smiling for the first time in months, Alejandro turned towards Dr. Renard and folded his arms across his chest.
"No thank yous necessary," Dr. Renard said, a sly look on his face. "You do owe me a favor, though. A huge one."
Alejandro's eyebrow shot up and he frowned. He didn't like the tone of the doctor's voice, or the way he was smirking. As his brain worked, Alejandro fixed Dr. Renard with a steely look and watched as the doctor removed his lab coat, carefully and tediously unbuttoning each button. When he was done, Alejandro's jaw dropped.
The doctor was part cyborg, the left side of his chest full of rotating gears and other metallic parts and his entire left arm, up to the wrist was robotic. He was dressed in a dark jumpsuit that went up to his neck and clung tightly to his skin. Dr. Renard pulled his lab coat entirely off and draped it over the back of a nearby chair, then leaned against a counter top, smirking at Alejandro's reaction.
"As you can see, I'm a cyborg," he said, stating the obvious. "I used to be a co-worker of Chris' in the Total Drama franchise, the person who confirmed how ethical the challenges Chris wanted to do were. But I ended up getting pushed into a pit of hungry bears along with the interns on accident. Unlike the intern, I just barely came out alive, with no chest and a missing arm."
Dr. Renard folded his hands, sighing. "I was able to repair myself and a year later I decided to quit the show biz career and become a doctor. When I heard about your case with the lava and Chris' imbecilic response to it, I simply had to step in and do something. You're lucky that I've been able to develop enough high end technology to restore you to the point you are at right now. The alternative would've been being a bucket of bolts. Like me."
Chuckling grimly and unfolding his hands, Dr. Renard walked over to stand next to Alejandro. From what he was saying, Alejandro was beginning to figure out where the doctor was going with his monologue. With him standing so close, Alejandro was a bit unsettled by the cyborg aspect of Dr. Renard, but he was also curious about how he had developed it all, including the tech that had saved his life. If Alejandro could get his hands on technology like that, the sky was the limit to what could be done with it.
"You want revenge on Chris?" Alejandro asked, sitting back down on the examination table since his legs had started to ache a little. The paper covering the examination table crackled as the sliver of a grim smile crept onto Dr. Renard's face.
"Clever deduction, Alejandro," he said, pulling his lab coat back on. "I've been keeping tabs on that ridiculous show for awhile now and I know all about your debacle with that little raven haired troll."
"Heather?" Alejandro felt a small tug of longing along with the usual spray of venom that came with saying her name aloud.
Curtly, the doctor nodded. "That idiot is planning on starting another season of Total Drama soon. Your favor to me is that you will be my inside person, setting up everything I need to exact my revenge."
This was a strange request. Alejandro's psychological therapist had told him to stay away from that reality show in any way, shape, or form, but that was just a promise Alejandro couldn't keep. He'd watched the new season, the ten new contestants and he'd kept tabs on that idiot Sierra's blog; Chris was bringing back lots of previous contestants from Total Drama World Tour and earlier to bump the series' ratings back up again.
This would be a prime opportunity for Alejandro. His insidious mind was already buzzing like a bunch of bees with ideas, plots, plans. The doctor's offer was almost irresistible. Going back on Total Drama would be just what the doctor ordered, what would really get Alejandro back up on his feet.
"Count me in," Alejandro conceded, smirking.
A man in a purple velvet suit stood at the microphone, smiling as he wielded it like a weapon.
"Okay, denizens of New Orleans!" he yelled at the crowd, gesturing with his hand. "You're in for quite a special treat tonight! She was going to wrap up her tour in Miami, but we convinced her to come to New Orleans and put on a grand ol' show for all of you...Without further ado, here she is! The gorgeous and insanely talented Río Rodriguez!"
At the mention of her name, the crowd howled like a huge pack of wolves, hooting and clapping crazily. Standing at the back of the crowd, getting jostled and kicked was the famous TV reality show host Chris McClean. He folded his arms haughtily, irritated as he attempted to find a spot in the crowd where he wouldn't be trampled.
The man in the suit walked away with a grand gesture of his hand and a slim figure walked casually up to the center of the stage. Río looked to be around seventeen, tan, lean, and tall, with long black hair. A guitar and bass had been set up already and she was toting a small brass trumpet. A hush settled over the frenzied crowd as she raised the trumpet to her lips and started to play.
It was just a simple melody at first, nothing very impressive, but already she had the entire crowd transfixed and mesmerized. Chris just stood there with his arms folded and an arched eyebrow. This was the girl that his competition Blainely was so excited about dragging onto her show?
So far, the only detail that really stood out about Río to Chris was that she was wearing a suit instead of a dress or a scanty outfit like any other insanely popular teen singing sensation. A minute passed and Chris realized that he'd been too quick to judge.
The trumpet began to shriek and squawk as Río made the notes slide up and down the scale with ease. At the same time, she began to dance, her shoes clacking rhythmically on the surface of the stage. The more complex her melody, the more complex her dance steps became. She spun around, even leaped into the air a few times, her suit jacket flying out behind her like a pair of wings.
As if that weren't enough, she slid back in one of routines, exchanging the trumpet for the guitar and immediately started playing a whole slew of chords. With the voice of an angel, Río started to crow to the crowd, her dance routine stopping altogether. The song had the typical sappy dappy love related lyrics, but even though Chris wasn't very moved, he saw several people around him burst into tears.
The performance continued with Río moving from the guitar to strumming the base, more dance steps and singing, her playing the trumpet along with the bass or guitar. She went on for several minutes, showing the epitome of her obvious talents for playing instruments, singing, and dancing. Clearly, she was a huge hit, since a constant state of high energy radiated throughout the crowd. Despite himself, Chris found himself getting a bit excited, too, wondering what the girl wonder would do next.
Once the show ended, Río was in no way humble: She performed a several step dance move and ended in the splits, pumping her fists to the air.
"This all for you awesome people!" she screamed at the crowd.
"WE LOVE YOU RIO!" came a unanimous roar.
Men and women alike were rushing to the stage, shouting and yelling, reaching out to her. Plugging his ears, Chris extricated himself from the general populace and slithered on the fringes of the crowd towards the stage. He easily made it past security and backstage. Quickly, he walked across the space, reaching the infamous Río before she could disappear into her dressing room.
"Who are you?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Straight to the point, I like that." Chris smiled. "I'm Chris McClean and I'm here to offer you a spot on the new season of Total Drama K-O. What do you say?"
Río narrowed her eyes. "What would I be doing?"
"Helping perform the musical numbers," Chris said casually. "Making the contestants look like idiots. Compete for three million dollars."
"Three million dollars?" Río smiled. "Easiest three million I'll ever make. I've seen your show. I know the whole schtick. Count me in."