Badasses Of the Multiverse: Book 6: Volume 2: Chapter 01

Badasses Of the Multiverse: Book 6: “The Mexican, The Lawyer, And The Mechanic.”

Volume 2: “The Villains.”

Chapter 01: “The Maid And The Mechanic.”

By Paul Cousins.

Copyright Disclaimer: All copyrighted places, characters, items, and events, within the story, are held by their current owners. No profit is being made on this work of fiction.

(_)

Reality, Pedro and Lee's Home reality. Date, the day after Pedro and Matthew first left Pedro's home reality, to travel the multiverse. Place, a suburb of Los Angeles, California, United States. Time, around seven PM, an hour, or so, before sunset.

It was early evening in the small, but well furnished home of freelance photo-journalist, George Benedict.

George Benedict had been born and raised in Los Angeles.

George's mother was arabic, and his father was hispanic. Over the course of his childhood, he had a well funded education, and he was well versed in speaking, reading, and writing multiple languages.

George was a healthy, slightly tall man, with dark skin, and a medium, though muscular, physical build. His head was shaved bald, with no facial hair showing, save for a slight five o-clock shadow showing on his face.

He was in his mid-forties. Single. As such, he had no wife, nor kids. This was due to him being married to his career.

To that end, for the last two decades, George had made a career of being a freelance photographer and investigative journalist. He has been to and covered stories on nearly every shithole on the planet. He has received several awards over the years. Including, his work an embedded journalists with the U.S. military in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He also had been given awards for his stories and photos, covering several forms of illegal trade and production. Ranging from the diamond mines to weapons trafficking in Africa. To the drug trade and poppy fields of Golden Crescent of southwestern Asia, to the Golden Triangle of Indochina, to the coca fields of Columbia.

As such, very few things scared him.

What George was most known for was his ability to sneak into a city, or place, get the photos, and the information, for the story, and get out before anyone else was the wiser.

George's vernacular and penmanship skills in a number of these languages were fluent to the point that, combined with his thorough knowledge and understanding of various cultures and peoples, along with his skills in deception and disguise, that was it typical for natives he met, from various nations to have difficulty realizing that he was a foreigner.

It was reported, that George was so good at his job, that as long as his was in parts of the worlds where his skin complexion did not attract attention, he could completely blend into a crowd, and disappear, within minutes.

This was not to say that he did not take value his safety. He prefer to be a distance from the danger. With his view being that if he blended in, he could get the photos and information, from a distance, more safely, and get out of the area, more quickly.

Presently, George had just gotten back home, a few days ago, from his latest assignment.

The assignment was a week long, and his job dealt with creating an article and photos, for a story on the how the poor, in the slums of Caracas, Venezuela, were handling the downturn of the economy of that nation.

Going to Caracas was not the most dangerous job he had ever had. But, it was still somewhat dangerous.

And due to him appearing to keep to himself, and being as non-political as possible, the local authorities were not that hostile towards him.

That afternoon, George had just cashed his check for the job, and he was now enjoying a much deserved rest, alone, in his home.

He had just finished his supper, and he had retired to his living room.

George had a news magazine in his right hand, as he casually walked through his neatly kept living room.

He soon passed by a bookshelf, with two row of shelves being full of the awards that he had earned throughout his life.

When George reached his recline, he sat down in it.

He kept his recliner in the sitting position, as he leaned back in the cushioned chair.

He then opened the new magazine, and he flipped through it, to an an article. Specifically, he was reading a publish news article about Caracas, that he had just done. There were also a number of photos had taken, that were also included in the article.

While George continued reading the article, he thought, 'Interesting. I heard yesterday that they ran ran my story, already. With this magazine in my hand coming out two days ago. And I only e-mailed them my story, and photos, a week ago, when I just got back to the states. I guess their lead for this weeks story fell through. And my story was ready to go.'

'Though, from what I see, unlike other companies, this one didn't edit my articles too much. And they used some of the better photos I gave them. I wouldn't mind working for them.'

Suddenly, the wireless phone on the nightstand by his recliner, to his right, started to ring.

George set the magazine on his lap, on the page he was on. He then used his right hand to reach over and picked the phone off its base.

He then used his left index finger to press the talk button. After which, he held the phone to his right ear, as he said, in english, “Hello.”

The male voice on the other end of the line replied, in a casual tone of voice, in english, “Hey George. It's Mac.”

George inquired, “Hi Mac. How are you doing?”

Mac answered, “Fine. I know you just got off of that Caracas job. But, I have a nice, paying job lined up for you. If you are up for it?”

George commented, “I'll hear you out.”

Mac stated, “First, I want you to know, that when I was contacted about this assignment, that your name was at the top of the list.”

George replied, “Of course.”

Mac inquired, “Now, I need to know how long will it take you to be ready for this assignment? I sure you have bills to pay, and a few other things, to do, before you leave town again.”

George said, “I should be able to get all everything I need to do here, done in a few days. So, I will be able to get to the assignment within a week. With a plane ticket, and passport, I am only two days away from almost anywhere in the world.”

Mac replied, “Yes. And a week will be fine.”

George asked, “Good. So, are you paying me the standard rate?”

Mac mentioned, “Actually, my client wants to pay you double you usual rate. With a quarter of the payment sent to your bank account right after you agree to the job.”

George thought, 'No one pays double, unless the job involves something dangerous, that is not being mention. And I prefer a get a check, directly for those I am working for. Though, the best way to get to the bottom of this is ask about who is paying for all this.' He questioned, with suspicion in his tone of voice, “And who is the client?”

Mac coyly replied, “I would rather not say.”

George thought, 'Of course. There could be another reason why he is not telling me who the client is.' He stated, in annoyed tone of voice, “Mac, the client had better not be one of the rags that are sold at the check out lanes of local convenience stores. I have put my life on the line for my work, a number of times. And I do not like my work trivialized.”

Mac responded, “I understand. And I can assure you that the client is one of them.”

George thought, 'This is another possibility.' He asked, “So, it is a foreign client?

There was silence on the phone for a few seconds. Mac then coyly said, “Something like that.”

George thought, 'I see that I am not going to get a straight answer on who the client is. Though, this would not be the first time I worked for an anonymous client. Also, I can ask other questions.'

George asked, “Before I take the job, I need to know where you are sending me? Is it Columbia? Haiti?... I haven't been there since the earthquake that wrecked Port-a-prince. I hear that city is even more dangerous than before. Which I didn't think that was possible. Or, are you sending me to somewhere even more dangerous?

Mac responded, “It depends on how you look at it. I am sending you to an island city, on the east, gulf coast of Mexico.”

George mentally reflected, 'Depending on where in Mexico, this could be a very nice trip. But then, why is the client willing to pay double my usual fee?' He inquired, with curiosity in his tone of voice, “So, this is a milk run, for double my fee?”

Mac answered, “No. It is not. We have been hearing some strange rumors about that place.”

George thought, 'That just does not sound good.' He flatly asked, “What rumors?”

Mac said, in a serious tone of voice, “I would rather not repeat those rumors.”

George thought, 'More evasion. That is not good. Still, let's just get the details to this job, so I can decide what I want to do.' He inquired, “What exactly does this job entail.”

Mac answered, “Specifically, we want you to investigate the hotel on the north end of the island, and a casino on the south end of the island.”

George questioned, in a slightly confused tone of voice, “A Casino? In Mexico?” He mentally added, 'I thought that was illegal in Mexico. And it likely is.'

Mac said, “In many respects, the city is a lawless area. Though, from what I have learned, the police do keep the peace in the city. Even though they let the vice crimes in that city run rampant.”

George commented, “That doesn't sound so bad.” He thought, 'I have been to cities like that. As long as a person was not looking for trouble, they were usually fine. When I visited such city, I just kept my distance from questionable people. I listened in on conversation, instead of asking questions. And I used a telescopic lenses for my camera. If that is the case, here, I think I will do fine on this job.'

Mac pointed out, “Well, keep in mind that the federales don't give a damn about that city. So, watch your back.”

George responded, “Okay. I will get a hotel in the middle of the town. That will allow me to divide my work up, evenly. So, what is the name of the hotel? And the casino?”

Mac said, “Believe it, or not. The name of the hotel is called, the Devil's Hotel and Resort. And the casino is called, Daiyu Palace Casino.”

George thought, with confusion, 'Who would use the word, devil, in the name of their hotel resort? And a casino name that means, black jade?' He stated, “Okay. Mac, you have my interest. Now, where am I going?”

Mac answered, “The name of the city is called, De La Plata Podrido.”

George thought, 'Of The Rotten Silver. Interesting.' He inquired, “Okay. And how do I get there?”

Mac responded, “Well, that is the rub. Plata Podrido is not on any official maps. But, the people I have talked to have confirmed that the place exists. If you accept the job, I will e-mail you the directions, later tonight.”

George thought, with mild amusement, 'So, story on a modern mysterious island city that is not on a map. The article writes itself.'

George stated, “Okay. I will take the job, for double my usual fee.” He mentally added, 'If for any other reason than to say that I have been there.'

Mac happily said, “Good. The client will be happy to hear that. And I will look forward to your article, and photos, within... Say a month?”

George replied, “That should be plenty of time for me to do the job, get the photos, and find some sort of legitimate story in dealing with those two locations.”

Mac responded, with a bit of excitement in his tone of voice, “Excellent. We will finalize the details tomorrow.”

George replied, “That will be fine.”

Mac replied, “Okay. I will talk to you, later.” He then hung up the phone, on his end.

George heard the line go dead. He then held out the phone, away from his right ear.

While George looked at the numerical pad on the wireless phone, he thought, 'And he didn't even let me say goodbye. That is not like, Mac. I guess he really wanted to let his client know that I took the job. Now, to go back to having some fun.'

George used his right thumb to press the talk button, to hang up. Next, he placed the phone back on its base, on the nightstand to his right. After which, George looked back to the magazine on his lap.

George picked up his magazine, off his lap. He went back to reading the article, where he left off, as he thought, 'No rest for the talented. Looks like another adventure is ahead of me. And I doubt that island city could be any crazier, nor dangerous, than the places I have already been too.'

A few hours later, George went online, with his laptop computer, and he confirmed that the first part of his payment had been received, and the directions to the island city of De La Plata Podrido, Mexico. And he then began making travel plans, that would take place, in a few days. Including, what he was going to pack. And if he wanted to either business class, or fly first class.

(_)

Reality, Pedro and Lee's home reality. Date, around week, after George Benedict accepted his latest job. It was a Saturday. The morning after Chang, Lee, and River, had returned from their hunt for Pedro and Matthew. Roughly, a week after Pedro and Matthew original left Pedro's home reality. Place, the penthouse level of Daiyu Palace Casino, in De La Plata Podrido, Mexico. Time, nine twenty-one AM in the morning.

Outside, it was a sunny day, though the temperature was cool, but not cold, with a light breeze.

Inside Chang's office, in penthouse of Daiyu Palace Casino, Chang sat in the chair, behind the desk.

Chang was currently male, and he wore his usual black suit, with his two semi-automatic pistols in holsters, behind his waist.

Chang had just finished breakfast, with Lee, and River. With Chang's two lovers heading elsewhere, to enjoy their morning. With River and Lee enjoying the penthouse, outdoor, heated swimming pool, that used seawater to maintain its cleanliness. With the two of them possibly doing something else, together, later. Not that Chang minded.

Not that Chang minded. Given the amount of time he has spent with his two lovers, Chang completely trusted both River and Lee.

While Chang sat in his chair, he looked at the open door in front of him, as he thought, 'I must say, that hunt for Matthew and Pedro. And I look good in that nice orange and red Ao Dai, which River and Lee, got for me.'

'But, like all things. It had to end. And it is back to business, before myself. Still River, Lee, and I, had a wondering night, yesterday evening, when we returned here, to our apartment.'

'And Roberta of Hotel Caracas made a good point. It is best to try to avoid trouble. And so, we called off our hunt for Matthew and Pedro.'

'I am sure those two will come back here soon enough. If they run into trouble, they will likely be back sooner. Then, we will work things out. Until then, I am sure that Fabiola will take care of them. Also, it was nice see Leigharch again. He is always fun to be around. And Matt seems to have a good head on his shoulders.'

'And I already know what I plan to do when they return. First, I will help Matt get home. And in doing so, I will be in his good graces. Which would be great, given who his friends are.'

'And on Leigharch... I will offer him a job, or find something for him to do here. While he is crazy. As long as someone can keep in occupied, he will do find. Though, I wonder if Leigharch has every thought about formal stock car racing. He does have a natural skill with driving cars at very fast speed. Though, he might find running around a loop to be boring, compared to his other former jobs. And I would him for feeling that way. But, I will find something for him to do.'

'I will thank Fabiola for her help. And I will give her, Roberta, and Garcia, a few weeks, free, at one of the nicer suites here, at this casino.'

'Then, I will focus on Matthew and Pedro's troubles. This will not be too difficult. Matthew's problems can be handled in house, with me telling Revy to lay off of Matthew. As for Pedro. We will just have to work with him, Balalaika, and Revy's group, to set some boundaries for everyone. I have done this before, on a large scale, in Roanapur. So, this should not be a problem.'

'Speaking of problems and solutions. Last night, River, Lee, and I, decided, that after I make sure things have settle down here, we will visit our children in my kingdom, in feudal reality.'

'And I am sure that Book is doing a good job running things there. We raised him to handle such things, so there should be no problem. But, to him, and everyone else there, we will only have been gone a few days.'

'Also, from the few phone calls I have already made today, this city is still doing okay. It seemed that I picked my top staff well. Arcee, Mal, Zoe, and Annie, were able to divide up the workload they had to do, to run this casino, and help the city, at the same time. And they accomplished the task well. I will come up with a nice reward for them, in the next few days.'

'Still, right now, I wish I could join River and Lee in swimming in our heated pool, outside, on the terrace of our apartment, on this penthouse level. They look hot in their swimsuits, and they could care less what gender I am, when I join them.'

'Though, on another matter. As I think about, it might be best not to mention Roberta of Hotel Caracas, to anyone here. Especially, Roberta, or Balalaika. And I discussed this with River and Lee last night. And both of them agreed with me.'

'Also, I need to give Fabiola's message to Annie and Roberta. Fortunately, I will be able to start to make good on that promise very soon.'

'I called for Annie up here, a few minutes ago. She should show up any second. And she is only my first appointment, today. I also have a number of other people to meet.'

'But, that is what one has to do to run a successful business.'

Just then, Chang heard Annie walk up to the open hallway entrance to his office.

Chang turned to Annie, as he happily thought, 'All there, she is, right now.'

Annie look at Chang, as she asked, in english, “Chang, you wanted to see me?”

Chang requested, in enlgish, “Yes. Please, come sit down.”

Annie walked into the room, and she sat down in the chair, in front of the desk, to Chang's right.

While Annie got comfortable in her seat, Chang looked at her, as he calmly stated, “First, I must thank you, and the others for holding down the fort, while we were gone. We did not plan to be as gone for long, as we were.”

Annie looked up at Chang, as she replied, “No problem. And I am glad you are back.”

Chang responded, “And it is good to be back. Still, I was on the phone earlier this morning, with Arcee. And she told that you guys were able to keep this casino, and this town, together. I plan to reward you, Arcee, Mal, and Zoe, for you efforts. I just need a a few days to figure out a proper reward for all four of you.”

Annie said, “I appreciate that. Though, I doubt you just called me up here, to thank me.”

Chang mentioned, “And you would be correct. Also, when we were gone, we ran into Pedro, Matthew, and Fabiola.”

Annie asked, “How are they?”

Chang answered, “They are all doing fine. And Fabiola wanted to let you, and Roberta, know that she is going with Matthew and Pedro, as they travel the multiverse for a little while longer.” He thought, 'For now, I will leave out that Leigharch and Matt, are with them.'

Annie cracked a warm grin, as she commented, in a joyful tone of voice, “Then, they will be fine, together. And as long as you, or Pedro, are here. One of you can keep this city in one piece.” She thought, 'Looks like I won't have to go after Fabiola. And I do feel that will be fine, as long as they are together. Between the three of them, they handle handle just about any problem they run into.'

Chang stated, “Well, we can certainly try. Though, the reason we went after them, was partly because, Pedro was the only one that I feel that can keep this town together for an extended amount of time. Along, with that, Matthew is a good lawyer. With River, Lee, and I, liking both of them.”

Annie inquired, “I feel the same way. So, why did they leave in the first place?”

Chang replied, “Balalaika put a little to much heat on them. And they bolted.”

Annie sighed, as she responded, “Why am I not surprised? I am sure you will talk to Balalaika about that. So, when they do return, there be no problems.”

Chang said, “That is what I am planning to do. Also, after I thought it. I was thinking about who could have sent Fabiola after? And to be honest. I was wondering. Did you sent Fabiola to come looking for all five of us?” He thought, 'Given she mentioned you and Roberta. It was one of you too, and I am guess it was more likely you.'

Annie admitted, “Yes. It was I who sent her. I hope you are not upset.”

Chang thought, 'I enjoy being right. Now, to let you know that everything is fine.'

Chang said, “Actually, I am proud of you stepping up, and sending Fabiola after us. What you did was perfectly understandable, given that we left without giving any explanation to anyone. Still, I thought we would be make it back before anyone realized we were gone. But, we were wrong. And, in your place, I would have likely done what you did. With Fabiola being the best choice to send after us. Given her skills on tracking, subtlety, and kicking ass.”

Annie happily replied, “Thank you Chang.”

Chang said, “You're welcome. By the way, you would happen to know where Roberta would be, today? I need to get in touch with her, and let her know what has happened with Fabiola, and that her friend is fine.”

Annie thought, 'That is nice of you, Chang to want to inform Roberta of this. And I sense you are being honest with your intention to contact her, about Fabiola.'

'Though, given, from what I heard this morning. That the three of you just go back last night. You three likely have no heard about the fight between Revy and Hernan. With Hernan winning. And it then turning out the Hernan is the male counterpart to Roberta. With his wife, Maria, being the female counterpart to Garcia. And I really do not want to get between Roberta and Hernan, in dealing with their personal lives. So, I won't be the one to tell you all this.'

Annie coyly responded, “Heard from the rumor mill that Roberta will be busy today.”

Chang accepted Annie statement, as he said, “Okay. I will just talk to her, later. Is there, anything you need to talk to me about?”

Annie replied, “Not really.”

Chang stated, “Well then, you are dismissed. Have a good day.”

Annie said, “Thank you.” She then got up from her seat, turned around, and walked out of the room.

While Chang watched Annie leave the room, and disappear down the hallway, he thought, with a bit of relief, 'Well, that went better than I expected. I wonder what other surprises today will bring?'

(_)

At that moment, in another part of the De La Plata Podrido, near the center of the city, a car pulled up, and came to a stop in a parking lot of a medium level, two story, motel.

The parking lot was only half full.

After the cars engine when silent, the left driver's side door opened, and George Benedict got out of the car he had rent. He then locked, and shut, the door behind him.

George was wearing some casual clothing, as he stood and looked around himself.

While George continued to look around, he thought, 'It took me around a week to get here, but I am finally here... So, this is the city of, De La Plata Podrido. It doesn't look like much. But, that is usually where the most interesting stories come from. And it is the off season.'

'Also, I am glad that Mac's directions were spot on. With the airport I flew in from being only an hour away. And I heard they accept U.S. cash here. But, if not, I have my credit cards, and some Mexican cash.'

'Also, while I found out they speak english here, I am also fluent in spanish. So, there is no problems, when it came to language.'

'Well, now I need to check into this motel, and rent a room for myself. I will then unpack my luggage, in the trunk of this car, that I rented. After which, I will take a look around town. So, I can get my bearings. I will then start investigating this place more thoroughly tomorrow. I am in no rush. And this place seems calm enough.'

'And if anyone asks, I am just a tourist visiting the city for a little while. All in all, this should be a cakewalk.'

George then started walking towards the door to the check in desk of the motel.

(_)

Ten minutes later, in a more residential part of the city, Roberta got out of her car, as she walked up down the concrete path to the Pena's family home.

Besides her panties and bra, Roberta was dressed in a purple long skirt, that match her purple hair, which was in a ponytail, that was tied a few times, down her long hair. She also were a dark blue, long sleeved, button up, blouse. And she wore dark blue slippers that matched her shirt.

Her weapons here hidden under her skirt, in holsters, on the outer sides of her thighs.

Roberta walked down the concrete path, as she thought, 'Well, it is Saturday. And Hernan said that his family would be here. And we already worked out this plan. So, this should work. All we need to do now, is remain calm as we talk to Maria, and their children.'

'I don't usually wear a skirt, and slippers, but I have to give off as much of a relax impression as I can towards Hernan's family.'

Roberta then reached the steps of the porch, and finally the front door. She then started gently knocking on the front door of the Pena home.

After a couple of seconds, Roberta stopped knocking door.

Five seconds later, Roberta heard both the knob lock being unlocked. The door then opened, and she saw Hernan.

Hernan had short black hair, with a full, well groomed beard.

As Hernan stood in front of Roberta, she saw that Hernan wore a white shirt, brown pants, black leather belt, and brown shoes.

While Hernan looked at Roberta, he said, in a happy tone of voice, in spanish, “Good morning, Roberta.”

Roberta casually responded, in spanish, “Good morning, Hernan.”

Hernan commented, “I see you are right on time. As expected. I hope you had no problems in finding my home?”

Roberta said, “I did fine. Your directions were right on the mark.”

Hernan smiled. He then offered, “Good. Come inside and meet the family. Then, after introductions, we will talk to Maria, about what we discussed, in our kitchen, in private.”

Roberta did not response, as Hernan step out of the way, to allow her to walk inside.

After Roberta passed through the threshold, and into the home, Hernan shut, and locked the door behind them.

Hernan then walked passed Roberta, with Roberta then following him into the living room.

When they reached the living room, Roberta came to a stop. Hernan stepped to his left, to allow Roberta to look around the room.

In front of Roberta was a standard mordern living room. Much like Pedro's living room. There was a TV and entertainment to her left, set against the wall. And to her right was a couch. In front of the couch was a small, rectangular, wooden coffee table.

To the side of the couch, set against the wall, were two identical, small tables, with identical, electrical lamps on them. The lamps used soft, yellow light bulbs, and were had large cylinder, paper covers on them, to defuse the light even more, when they were turned on.

Currently, the lights were no turned off in the room, due to plenty of sunlight coming from large window behind Roberta and Hernan The window had light colored drapes, to allow light through, while allow those inside to have privacy from anyone looking at the windows from the outside.

In front of the two small tables, were two reclining chair, in up right positions. The chairs were positioned at a diagonal direction, to allow the person sitting in the chair to see both the coffee table and the TV.

The floor had brown carpet, which had been vacuumed recently. And the TV was turned on, and switched to a channel that showed a children's cartoon in spanish dialogue.

Along with doors long the walls of the room, there was a large glass cabinet with books on the far right wall of the room. And there was a large, brown stained, wooden table, with six wooden chairs around it, on the fair side of the room, set next to the back wall, and the cabinet on the far right side of the room.

Roberta then noticed those that were in the room.

There were Maria, along with Maria, and Hernan's three young children, were sitting near each other. All five members of the Pena family looked to be in good health.

Maria was sitting on the far side of the couch, next to her eldest. Except for her long blond hair, she looked like Garcia’s female form. She was wearing a pair a dark red drawstring pants, a white short sleeved t-shirt, and dark red slippers.

Sitting next to his mother, and closer to the front wall, was the eldest Pena son. The eldest son looked like a young Garcia, with short blond hair, and fair skin. He wore a pair of black pants, brown leather belt, black tennis shoes, and a green turtle neck t-shirt which was untucked.

There were open books, pieces of paper, and a sharpened pencil, on the coffee table, in front of the boy.

Roberta thought, 'He is probably doing some homework. Which is not bad. It shows responsibility on his part.'

Beside the books, on the far side of the coffee table, was the TV remote.

On sitting in the reclining chair, on the far side of the room, was girl. Except for having black hair, instead of purple hair, she looked like a younger Roberta. Her hair was allowed to hang loosing down her back, with her her reaching her shoulder blades. She wore a short, green skirt, that went up to her knees, yellow shoes, white socks, and a yellow long sleeved sweater over a white t-shirt.

And finally, there was youngest boy of the family. He had short black hair, and his facial features were a mix of his two parents. He wore gray tennis shoes, blue jeans, a brown leather belt, and a gray t-shirt, which was tucked into his pants. The boy was sitting on the floor, facing the TV, with his back to coffee table.

As Roberta and Hernan had entered the living room, the other four members of the Pena family turned to look at the two standing adults.

Maria also, reached down, and picked up the TV remote. She then used the remote to mute the TV. Next, she turned her attention to her husband and Roberta.

Hernan looked at his family, as he happily said, “Family. I would like you to meet your Aunt Roberta.”

Maria raised an eyebrow at Hernan's comment, but she did not say anything.

Roberta smiled warmly at Hernan's family. She thought, 'With luck, this meeting will go well. And then we can move forward with our plans.'

Hernan then turned to Roberta, as he commented, “And Roberta, let me introduce you to my family.” He turned to his family as he continued, “My wife, Maria Flores Pena.”

Maria said, in spanish, “We met before.”

Roberta responded, “Yes. We did. And Hernan has said only nice things about you.”

Maria replied, “That is nice to know.”

Roberta asked, “So, how is your right shoulder?”

Maria answered, “Completely healed. It was only a scratch, in the first place.”

Roberta replied, “Good.”

Hernan turned to Maria. Then, he looked at Roberta. He said, “Now, that is settled, I will introduce to our children.” He turned back his and Maria's children, as he stated, “Our oldest son, the blond one, is named, Antonio. He is eleven years old.”

Antonio looked at Roberta, as calmly he said, in spanish, “It is nice to meet you, Aunt Roberta.”

Roberta replied, “You too.” She thought, 'I guess Hernan and Maria has to say something to their children. And telling them that I am Hernan's sister is the easiest explanation. Besides, I do not mind being called an aunt, and sister.'

Hernan commented, “Our daughter, and middle child, is named Carmela. She is ten years old.”

Carmela looked over at Roberta, as she politely said, in spanish, “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”

Roberta commented, “Same here.”

Hernan went on to say, “And our youngest son, is named, Ramon. He is nine years old.”

Ramon turned to Roberta, as he casually said, in spanish, “Hi Aunty Roberta.”

Roberta replied, “Likewise.”

Roberta looked at Maria, as she thought astonishment, 'So, Maria did three, back to back, pregnancies. I do not believe I could handle that, myself. Which says a lot of good things about Maria's inner strength of will, to go through that, while still being able to maintain her beautiful figure.'

Roberta looked at Hernan, and then to Maria, with Maria looking back at her. Roberta said, in a kind tone of voice, “It is nice to meet you all.” She turned back to Hernan, as she complimented, “You have a wonderful family, Hernan.” She turned back to Maria, as she continued, “Maria.”

Hernan continued to look at his family, as he said, “Thank you.”

Maria stated, “Yes. We appreciate your compliment.” She then looked over at her children, as she continued, “Children, your father, your... Aunt, and I, need to talk in the kitchen. We will be back in a few minutes.”

The three children turned to look at their mother.

Meanwhile, Hernan thought, 'Just as I expected she would do. And this way, I can let her feel that she want the one to come up with the idea to talk in private with us.'

Maria used the TV remote, that was still in her hands, to turn the volume back on the TV. She then set the remote on the coffee table in front of her.

Next, she get up from couch, and walked towards between the coffee table, and the chair Carmela was in. She then turn to her right, and continued walking.

Hernan and Roberta followed Maria, as Maria soon turned to her left, and into the kitchen, with at attached to the living room, from a door, on the back, left side of the living room.

As soon as the three adults had exited the room, the three children went back to what they were doing.

Antonio when back to doing his homework, while Carmela and Ramon turned their attention back to watching the cartoon program on TV.

(_)

Inside the kitchen, Maria and Hernan continued walking into the kitchen, as Roberta stopped just inside the doorway of the room.

The kitchen was a standard kitchen cabinets, drawers, counters. The double-sink had a rotating faucet, and retractable hose sprayer. Also, there was a small table in the room, with five chairs. Along with this, there was a refrigerator-freezer, an oven, a stove, and a microwave, and mechanical dishwater, in the kitchen. There was even a door to the backyard, on the back wall of the kitchen. And there was another door, to a hallway, on the opposite side of the kitchen from the entrance to the living room, with the doorway to the wall, being on the wall opposite to the back wall of the home.

As Maria and Hernan came to a stop, four feet away from each other, they turned to face one another. Though, the angle the two spouse were standing at, allow Roberta to see them both.

Maria inquired, in a serious tone of voice, “What is going on, Hernan? I know she looks like you. But, as far as I know, you don' have a sister. Up until today, you never mentioned one to me. So, what is going on?”

Hernan admitted, “You're right. She is not my sister. But, we are related. I just introduced her as, Aunt Roberta, to keep things simple for our children.”

Maria conceded, “Okay. I will give you that. So, what is the truth?”

Hernan said, in a sober tone of voice, “Maria, the reason I have not told you what is going on, since that night, a week ago, is because the explanation is really complicated. And we have to go step by step. This is the reason I didn't say anything yet. I spent the last week talking to Roberta, and her friends, to figure out how to tell you, in a manner that would not leave you thinking I am insane, with you possibly divorcing me.”

Maria commented, in a heartfelt tone of voice, “Hernan, I love you. And I am not going to divorce you over this. I could tell that something has been eating at you for the last week. And now you are ready to tell me, I am willing to listen. So, like you suggested. Let us take this step by step. What do you need to tell me, first?”

Hernan let out a breath, in relief. He then said, “Thank you for being so understanding. Now, to start with.” He turned to Roberta, as he continued, “Roberta is not of this reality. She is from an alternate Earth. And her friends are almost from alternate realities.” He then turned back to look at his wife, Maria.

Maria looked at Roberta, then back to Hernan, as she stated, “Hernan, if it wasn't for fact you are acting so serious, I would consider this a joke.”

Hernan said, in an even tone of voice, “It is not a joke.”

Maria questioned, “But still, how do you expect me to believe this claim?”

Roberta spoke up, as she calmly said, “I can prove it.”

Hernan and Maria turned to look at Roberta.

Roberta continued, “Not to upset you. But, some of my limbs are prostheses. Though, my artificial body parts work and feel just as well as my original limbs. I can move them. And they have a same sense of touch as the original limbs. I even have artificial nails and very fine body hair, to match my real limbs, with my artificial limbs.”

Roberta rolled up the sleeves of her dark blue long sleeved blouse, to her elbows. She then held up her arms, with the palms and inner forearms facing the two spouses. Next, Roberta held her left arm in that position, as she used her right hand to push into the middle of the inside of her left forearm. She pushed to her left, as she felt a click. After which, she pulled open a hatch, with the skin separating from around the outline of the hatch, as the hatch swung to her right.

The hatch opened to reveal the inner gears, microchips, wires, and artificial muscles, that allowed Roberta's artificial left arm to function.

For a few seconds, Maria and Hernan looked on at the inner works of Roberta's left forearm, as their eyes went wide in surprised at the stark reality in front of them.

Hernan was the first to calm himself down, as he turned looked over at his. He then looked back to Roberta, as he said, “I believe you have made your point, Roberta.”

Roberta replied, “I agree.” She used her right hand to gently flip the hatch shut on her left forearm. Next, she pressed downward against the hatch, then to the left of the hatch. After which, she head a clicking sound, which signaled the hatch was locked back in place. From there, Roberta rolled her sleeves back down her forearms to her wrists. And then, she dropped her arms back to her sides.

Hernan inquired, “I have to ask. Does it hurt to open that hatch?”

Roberta turned to Hernan, as she answered, “Not really. Though, it does sting a little, due to the sense of touch slightly misfiring for a split second, on the skin of the hatch, as the hatch separates from the rest of the arm. But, closing the hatch is painless. And the hatches for these parts, throughout my body, are self-sealing. In about an hour, the skin on the hatch of my arm will bond back to the skin around it. So, you will not be able to tell that there was ever a hatch there.”

Hernan questioned, “Okay. Also, do you have to do any maintenance on those parts?”

Roberta stated, “A little. Every six months to a year. To make sure everything is in working order. But, it is more like a doctors check up, than major surgery.”

By then, Maria has calmed down enough to speak. She then turned to look at Roberta's face, as she hesitantly said, “Okay. This like the Terminator Two movie.”

Roberta thought, with mild annoyance, 'Rock should have never cracked that joke about me being a killer robot from the future.' She calmed down, as she continued her thoughts, 'Though, what is done is done. And I am not going to hold it against her, now. Decades after the event.'

Roberta calmly responded, “No. Though, I will admit there are some similarities. So, please relax Maria. I am not an android. I was born human and I still am mostly human. I am here to talk, so I can get to know your family.”

Maria asked, “Since Hernan welcomed you into our home, I will give you the benefit of the doubt. For now. But, I need to know where are you from?”

Hernan looked at his wife, as he answered for Roberta, “Maria, do you remember that Black Lagoon anime series I showed you a few episodes of?”

Maria turned to her husband, as she replied, “Yes. I didn't care much for it.”

Hernan stated, “Well, Roberta is from that series. It seems that realities that are fiction here, exist in other parts of the multiverse. And we can interact with those realities and peoples. And vise versa.”

Maria said, “Okay.” She turned to look at Roberta, as she commented, “And now that I think about it, Roberta. Your hand does look a little like Luke's right hand from Star Wars.”

Roberta stated, “Actually, my artificial limbs are a combination of technologies, including imperial technology from Star Wars. And, my hair is not dyed. Purple is just my natural color.”

Maria looked between Hernan and Roberta, as she inquired, “After you showed me your left hand. I guessed that much. And now I believe you both. So, how are you two related?

Hernan answered, “There is no coincidence that she looks like what I would, if I were born a woman. She is my counterpart.”

Maria stated, in disbelief, “You expect me to believe that your counterpart of a fictional series? That is out there. The cyborg arm, and the claims of reality travel are pushing the boundaries of belief. But, to claim you are connected to this mess, in such a way, is quite a reach.”

Hernan sighed, as he said, “There is more.” He turned to Roberta, as he calmly requested, “Roberta, show her the pictures.”

Maria watched as Roberta used her right hand to pulled out of pair of small photos. From a hidden pocket in the folds of her skirt.

Roberta then handed Maria the photos.

Maria gently the photos from Roberta's right hand.

Maria took a few steps closer, to stand beside Hernan, as she looked at the photos.

As Maria looked at the two photos, Roberta commented, “You can keep the photos. I have plenty of copies at home.” She thought, 'Like you, and your wedding photos.'

Maria kept looking at the photos, as she thought, with mild amusement, 'Like the wedding picture I gave you, a week ago...' She said, “Good memory.”

Roberta replied, “Thank you.”

Maria continued to look at the photos, as she thought, 'Now, what is so special about these photos?... No way... What the hell?...'

Both pictures were of the face and upper body of an adult. And the person in each photo has the same green turtleneck shirt on. But, one picture was of a fair skinned man, with short blond hair. And the other picture was of a fair skinned woman, with short blond hair. Except for difference in genders, the two adults looked like identical twins. But, that was not all. Except for a being a few years younger, and having shorter hair, the blond woman looked exactly like Maria, and the man looked like he could be Maria's brother.

Maria quickly pocketed the pictures in her right, front pants pocket, as she looked up at both Hernan and Roberta, with confusion, and shock in her facial expression. She demanded, “Who are those two adults? And why do they look like me?”

Hernan thought, 'She took these pictures better than I expected. That is why Roberta and I decided on using these two photos. And I think it might be best if Roberta answers her question.'

Roberta calmly answered, “They are the same person, whom is a very dear friend of mine. The person was born male, and he lives as a man. His name is, Garcia Lovelace. Due to a strange magical curse, he was afflicted with, he can change gender with hot and cold water. And we believe he is your counterpart, Maria. Much like Hernan is my counterpart.”

Hernan turned to his wife, as he stated, “We have compared notes. Except for the gender differences, and you being a parent, there are striking similarities to your past, as a child. And you both have kind personalities, which are very similar to one another.”

Maria hesitantly said, “Fine... I believe you... Just give me a minute. This is a lot to take in.”

Roberta carefully replied, “Of course. It took Hernan time to come to grips with the truth, as well.”

There was silence for several seconds, with only the TV in the other room being heard. Maria then asked, “Who else knows about this?”

Roberta let out a breath. She then said, “Unfortunately, because of the way it came out, that night, with the fight. With all of us present, save for you and your children, realizing what was going on. With you were passing your wedding photo around. By the way, you look good in your wedding dress.”

Maria glared are Roberta, she firmly stated, “You are not helping.”

Roberta thought, 'Maria can even give the same looked that Garcia has when he is annoyed.' She responded, “I realize that. And due to how this was found out, your family connections to my family has become very well known among the reality travelers, whom now live in this city.”

Maria turned to Hernan, as she accused, with slight anger evident in her tone of voice, “And you just let me drive home, without telling me?”

Hernan continued to look at his wife, but before he could respond, Roberta said, “Please, do not be hard on your husband.”

Maria and Hernan turned back to look at Roberta.

Roberta continued, “He was coming to grips with this, as he asked you to leave. He wanted you and your children to leave, for your safety. He was not in the right frame of mind to have a conversation, concerning this matter.”

There was silence for a few seconds. Maria then conceded, in a calmer tone of voice, “I see your point. That was not the proper time for such a discussion.”

Hernan replied, “I am glad you realize that, Maria.”

Maria looked over at Hernan. She smiled warmly at him. She then looked over at Roberta, as she asked, “So, how did you get here?”

With her left hand, Roberta reached into a pocket in the folders of her skirt. She pulled out a small, TV remote sized device. She held it for Maria to see, as she stated, “This is a reality traveling device. Please, do not ask how it works, because I do not know. But, it lets us travel to any time, place, and reality, we can imagine, in an instant.” Roberta then put her reality device back into the skirt pocket that it has previously been in.

Maria commented, “Interesting. I could see how such a device could cause a lot of trouble.”

Roberta flatly said, “You have no idea.”

Maria requested, “You are probably correct. Now, would it be possible for me to meet, Garcia?”

Roberta thought, 'Things are going according to our plan. With letting Maria make the suggestion to meet Garcia is just the next part of our plan.'

Roberta said, in a casual, though happy tone of voice, “Funny you should request to meet Garcia. I recently returned to my home reality, where I spoke to Garcia about your family. And he would also like to meet all of you. But, due to his responsibilities. He cannot come here. So, he would like you and your family to come visit our home for a few days.”

Maria responded, “I don't feel comfortable going across realities, to visit someone we don't know. Especially, while bringing our children along.”

Hernan turned to Maria, as he stated, “Maria. I have spent the last week talking to Roberta. And getting to know her. I trust her. So, please trust me. This could be good for all of us. We need to deal with this now. Not later. Letting these issues simmer will only create problems for us.”

Maria conceded, “You may have a point there. Though, I would like to know where and when we will be going?”

Roberta said, “We will be going to my home reality. It is a few years in the future, when compared to here. The place is a hacienda, located outside of Caracas, Venezuela.”

Maria thought, 'I am from a plantation home outside of Caracas. These similarities just continue.' She asked, “Did Hernan inform you that we both are from Venezuela?”

Roberta answered, “Yes. And the same is true for Garcia and I. So, would you and your family like to come?”

Maria reminisced, as she said, “It would be nice to visit the homeland again. Even if it is a counterpart to our homeland here. Yes. We will come visit.”

Roberta replied, “Thank you. Garcia is truly looking forward to meeting all of you.”

Maria commented, “Well, we have to tell the kids. Then, get packed. And I need to get dressed and ready.”

Roberta complimented, “You look fine. Actually, you look better then me.”

Maria happily replied, “Thank you.”

Roberta mentioned, “Besides this is a family meeting. So, dressing casual is fine.”

Maria stated, “I will just comb my hair and I should be fine. Though, I will have to contact one of the school officials, to let them know our kids will be absent for a few days.”

Roberta commented, “That will not be a problem. My device allows for time dilation. Such as we leave here. Spent a few days there. And come back here, with it only be a few minutes, to a few hours here.

Maria inquired, “If that is the case. Then, why doesn't Garcia come here? I would think it would be simpler, that way.”

Roberta thought, 'Oh. You are as sharp as Garcia.' She answered, “It is the fact that Garcia does have responsibilities, that is he reason he does not do so. He does not like to abuse the time space continuum. Like some people I know of. Besides, he really does want you to come see our home.”

Maria commented, “Okay... But now, we need to figure out what to tell the kids.”

Hernan suggested, “We will tell them the basics. And we will ask them to keep it secret from those outside this home.”

Roberta said, “That could work.”

Maria responded, “I agree. Also, even though I did not care to watch. I believe I need to see this Black Lagoon series in its entirety.”

Hernan calmly said, “Later. Though, we need to talk about it first. You see, it does not always show Roberta in a good light.”

Roberta stated, “Like Hernan, I used to be a member of FARC. I left the organization in disgust. I eventually ended up the maid for the Lovelace household. Where, I met Garcia as a child.”

Maria spoke up, “So, there is an age difference between you and Garcia?”

Roberta responded, “Yes. Much like you and Hernan. But, also like you and Hernan, we waited until Garcia was an adult before we became intimate with each other.”

Maria commented, “You do not look so old. Actually, you look to be younger than Garcia, in the pictures.”

Roberta stated, “I am much older than I look. And we will explain that, later. Also, there is more. I was able to rescue Garcia and returned him to his father, Diego Lovelace. And we were happy for a time, until the Americans murdered Diego.”

Maria guessed, in a sober tone of voice, “And you went on a vicious rampage of revenge?”

Roberta replied, in a solemn tone of voice, “Yes.”

Hernan looked over at Maria, as he said, “It was similar to what I did when you were shot, during the cookout, years ago.”

There was silence for a few seconds, with the only noise coming from the TV, in the living room, nearby. Maria then commented, “Well, it is clear that you were able to come to your senses. And you did do it for the right reasons. Still, we will talk about what happened, before I watch the series.”

Roberta said, “That will be fine.” She thought, 'More and more, Maria shows how much she is like Garcia, in personality, to the point it is eerie.'

Maria suggested, “So, shall we head back into the living room, and give our kids the good news?”

Hernan agreed, “Yes. Let's do that.”

Maria and Hernan then started walking towards the entrance to the living room.

Roberta stepped out of the way, to allow the couple to pass by.

Roberta then followed behind the wife and husband.

(_)

A few seconds later, in the living room of the Pena family, the three children were still sitting where their parents had left them.

Antonio was the first to notice the three adults returning to the living room. He looked up from the book on the table, that he was reading. He watched them walked up towards him, and his two young siblings. He turned back to in front of him, as he leaned over and pressed the mute button on the TV. He then leaned back up, and looked over at his parents, and Roberta.

As soon as the TV went silent Carmela and Ramon looked around, and they saw their parents and Roberta come to a stop about six feet in front of them.

The three adults stood beside each other. With Maria to their left, Hernan in the middle, and Roberta to their right.

As the three adults looked over at the children, Hernan calmly said, “Children, we have some news for you.”

Maria continued, for her husband, “After some talking, with your Aunt Roberta, it seems children that you have an uncle that we were not aware of. His name is Garcia. He is you aunt's friend. And it seems he my long lost brother.”

Carmela questioned, “It seems kind of odd, mom, that you brother, and dad's sister, are living together.”

Roberta thought, 'I see these children are young. But, they are almost as sharp as their parents.'

Maria conceded, “True. But, not unheard of. And we are going to go visit him.”

Hernan stated, “Children, as your mother just said, we are going to be taking a little trip today.”

Antonio asked, “But, mom and dad, what about our homework?”

Hernan answered, “Don't worry, Antonio. You can take it with you. And we will help you with your homework while, we are visiting you aunt and uncle's very large home.”

Carmela asked, “Where are we going?”

Maria coyly replied, “To somewhere with a warmer, more pleasant climate. You will enjoy it.”

Ramon inquired, “What will we do there, when we get there?”

Roberta stated, “A lot of things. Visiting family. Seeing the sights. Some shopping. And of course, Senor Lovelace. Your uncle. Has a very nice pool in the back of the courtyard of his home. And I can guarantee it will be warm enough to go swimming in.”

Carmela stated, “I nice. It is always fun to go swimming. And I would like to do that.”

Ramon said, “Yeah! A swimming pool.”

Antonio commented, “I could use a swim. I miss not being able to go swimming during the winter months.”

Maria turned to her husband and Roberta, as she softly complimented, “Good call, Roberta.”

Roberta turned to Maria, as she commented, “Over the years, I have had to babysitting some of my friends' children, from time to time. So, I know a few tricks.”

Maria replied, “That is nice. And I will make sure we all will bring our swimwear with us.”

Roberta replied, “Good idea.”

Hernan just inwardly smiled, concerning how well his wife and his counterpart, were getting along.

The two adult women then turned their attention back to the children, as Maria said, “Now, let's get packed and ready, to go.”

The three children got up from where they were sitting. And then headed into a hallway entrance, that was by the TV, as they went to their bedrooms to pack.

Maria then went to join them.

Hernan watched his family leave. He then turned to Roberta, as he stated, “This won't take long.”

Roberta looked at Hernan, as she commented, “Take all the time you need. We have plenty of it.”

Hernan said, “I know. Now, just sit down, and enjoy yourself.”

He then turned back towards the hallway his family went into, and he walked into hallway, to join them.

While Roberta patiently waiting for the Pena family to get ready for their trip.

(_)

An hour and twenty minutes later, the Pena family was ready to go, as they wall met with Roberta, back in the living room.

The Pena family, along with Roberta's help, made sure, and double-check, that everything in the home was turned off. From lights, to TV, to any appliances, besides the refrigerator-freezer.

Presently, all five members of the Pena family were carrying some luggage, as they stood near each other.

Hernan is holding as suitcase in each of his hands. Maria had a suitcase in her right hand, while she had a bag for medical items on a strap, which was hung from her left shoulder. Carmela was holding her suitcase with both hands in front of her. Ramon was holding a suitcase with his right hand. While Antonio was holding his suitcase with his left hand.

Meanwhile, Roberta was not carrying anything, as she stood a few feet away from the Pena family.

Roberta turned to Hernan, as she offered, “You know. I would be more than happy to carry one of those suitcases?”

Hernan turned to Roberta, as he commented, “Not to sound macho. But, I want your mind to be one where we are going.”

Roberta replied, “Fair enough.” She mentally added, 'It would make sense that he wouldn't want any distractions, as I use my reality device.'

Nearby, Maria, turned to her three children, as she said, in a calm, motherly tone of voice, “Children.” Her three kids looked at her, as she stated, “Children. We have an important request for you. We need you to keep this all secret, from those outside this family. From meeting your aunt and uncle. To where we are going. To how we are getting there and back. It is very important.”

Hernan noticed what Maria said. He turned to his kids, as he said, in a fatherly tone of voice, “Your mother is right. We need you to keep this a secret. Or, we could all get into trouble. A lot of trouble.”

Antonio said, “Yes mother, and father.”

Carmela replied, “Of course mom, and dad”

Ramon stated, “I'll do it.”

Maria said, “Good. And thank you, children.”

Roberta walked over to them, as she used her left hand to pull out her reality device from a hidden pocket she had it in, in her skirt. As she came to a stop, by the Pena family, she looked over at them.

Roberta calmly requested, “Okay, boys and girls. Gather around me. I need you to be very close to me. And keep in mind, that in an instant, where are going to be outside, on a sunny day elsewhere. It is a little disorientating, but after a while, you will get use to doing this.”

The five Pena family members walked over to stand close to Roberta, as Maria asked, “Is this going to hurt.”

Roberta looked at Maria, as she answered, “It is completely painless and it only take a split-second. You will literally be there, before you realize it.”

Maria replied, “Okay.”

By then, all of the Pena family members had gathered closed to Roberta.

Roberta then thought of her home reality, the being right outside the front double-door entrance to the Lovelace, a few days after she had last seen Garcia, during the late morning, on a sunny day of a specific date. With her having checked the weather forecast of, before she left. She then held that thought, as she pressed the red button on her reality device.

The next thing Roberta and the Pena family know, they were instant taking to the Black Lagoon anime reality.

They were all outside, on a sunny warm day. And all of them saw they were standing in front of a large two story him, with a set of double-doors in front of them.

Maria was the first to speak, as she commented, “That was interesting.”

Carmela said, “Cool.”

Hernan turned to Roberta, as he stated, “I can see how that device can be handy.”

Roberta pocketed her reality device, in the same pocket she had pulled it out from. She turned to the Pena family. She smiled towards them, as she said, “Yes. It is.”

Maria overheard Hernan and Roberta's comments. She turned to them, as she stated, “That device must burn up a lot of fuel. Or, energy.”

Roberta looked at Maria, as she commented, “No. The power supply on these devices are designed and built to practically last forever.”

Maria replied, “Nice.”

Roberta agreed, “Most certainly.” She then looked around at the Pena family, as she stated, “Welcome to the Lovelace home. We are just outside of Caracas, Venezuela.”

Hernan looked at his children, as he said, “Yes. kids, welcome to the Venezuela. As your Aunt Roberta said. We are right outside of the capital city of this nation. Caracas. Also, known as city of eternal spring. And your parents homeland...” He looked around, as he continued, in a more heartfelt tone of voice, “And it is so good to be back.”

Roberta looked around, as she commented, “Yes. I know the feeling.” She turned to her extended family, as she continued, “Now, have a look around, then I will show you inside.”

And the Pena family took Roberta up on her offer, as they looked around them.

As the three children looked around, they did not response. Though, Carmela set down her suitcase. She then took off her yellow sweater, as she thought, 'It is too hot for this sweater.' She then held the sweater under her right arm, as she picked up her suitcase with her left hand.

Meanwhile, Maria looked up at the plantation home, she thought, 'This looked almost exactly like my childhood home. Only, mine needed a fresh coat of paint on the outer walls, during the last time I saw it. And this home has a fresh coat of paint on it.'

A few seconds later, Hernan had noticed his family had stopped looking around. He turned to Roberta, as he stated, “I think we are ready to go inside.”

Roberta just looked at Hernan, as she nodded once. She then said, “Right this way.”

Roberta turned back and walked to stand in front of the double-doors of the Lovelace home. She then turned to face the left door, as she pulled out a key. She then used the key to lock the door. Next, she put away the key, and held the door open, as the Pena family entered her home.

The Pena family saw what Roberta had done, and they all filed in the home, with Maria and Hernan being the first to walk inside.

While Ramon passed Roberta, he looked up at her, as he continued walking. He said, “Thank you.”

Roberta replied, “You're welcome.” She thought, 'Ramon is such a polite, young boy. I think our family is going to have a marvelous time here.'

Meanwhile, inside the entryway of the home, Maria came to a stop, inside the entryway room. She looked around the room, as she thought with a bit of nostalgia, 'This is exactly like my home. We are counterparts. Though, I think I will keep this to myself. We are guests here. And I mustn't forget that. Still, it will be nice feeling like I have come home. Even though, I won't share this information with anyone.'

Hernan came to a stop beside Maria, Hernan turned to his wife, and he noticed his wife's glassy eyed stare. He asked, “Maria, is there something wrong?”

Maria held back tears of joy, as she turned to look at her husband. She calmly answered, “No. I am fine. Just fine.”

After they all walked inside, Roberta shut and locked the door behind them. She turned to them, as she stated, “Now, just so you know, besides Garcia. There are three other people in this home. They are three maids. They have already been informed of your possible coming arrival. And they are expecting us. So, there will not be no problems with them.”

“We also have one other member of this household. A green haired woman named, Fabiola. Though, she is on an extended trip. And I do not know when she will return. She is a wonderful woman, whom loves children. And I think you will all get along well, when you do all eventually meet each other.”

“That being said. If you need help, those here will be more than happy to help you.”

“I will now show you to the guest quarters. Where you can drop off you luggage. And then we will meet with Garcia.”

The family turned around to look at Roberta, as Hernan said, “That will be fine.”

But, before anyone could move, Carmela asked, “So, how long are we staying?”

Hernan turned to his daughter, as he answered, “We will be staying a few days?”

Antonio inquired, “Won't that cause problems with school? We did leave without notice.”

Roberta stated, “Actually, you are no longer in your own reality, time, and place.”

Antonio mused out loud, “I was wondering about that.”

Ramon questioned, “So this is something like transporters, from Star Trek?”

Roberta answered, “More like a teleportation. Nothing is broken apart, and put back together. We just fold space-time around us.” Roberta mentally lamented, 'I have been spending way too much time around Akira, Natsuru, and Violin. I am starting to sound like a science fiction geek.'

Carmela inquired, “And that means?”

Maria turned to her daughter, as she stated, “While your father, and I, are not sure about the date. This means we have also time traveled. From when and where we were to another place, time, and reality. After a few days here, we will return soon after we left. For those in our home reality, we will be returning the same day we left.”

Carmela replied, “Cool.”

Hernan turned to Roberta, as he asked, “So, what is the date here?”

Roberta looked at Hernan, as she answered, “It is a Tuesday, in the late morning, of March sixteenth, two thousand twenty-one AD.”

Hernan thought, 'That is a few years in our future. And it has been twenty-six years since the Black Lagoon series had ended in the middle of nineteen ninety-five. Interesting.'

Maria turned to Roberta, as she commented, “So, this is a few years in the future, when compared to when we left our reality.”

Roberta looked at Maria, as she responded, “Yes. But, not much has changed here, over the years. And barring various politics and political influences, along with a few technological advances. Things are the same in both our realities.”

Hernan thought, 'Yes. Except your reality being a work of fiction to those of our home reality. But, now is not the time for such discussions.'

Roberta smiled, as she said, “Now, this way to the guest quarters.” She started walking towards the left part of the first story of the home, with the Pena family following behind her.

(_)

Twenty minutes later, Roberta lead the Pena family to the guest quarters. Roberta then assigned them there rooms, with the Pena family setting down their luggage down in their rooms. After which, Roberta showed then where the guest bathroom was. Which included a tub, shower, toilet, sink, closet, and toiletries.

With their living arrangements settled, Roberta then lead all five members of the Pena family to Garcia’s private study, on the second floor, in the front section, of the plantation home. The office had belonged to Diego Lovelace, Garcia's father, until his untimely demise.

When Garcia took over his father's office, he decided to leave most of the office the way his father had left it.

When Roberta and the Pena family reached the closed brown, wooden double-doors to the study, Roberta was in front. She came to a stop, with the Pena family stopping behind her.

Roberta turned back to the Pena family, as she said, “It is Tuesday. A weekday. And Garcia is usually working on the weekdays. And I know he is here, because this is usually where he is at. And if he was not, these doors would be open. Now, please keep in mind that Garcia is a very busy man. He oversees several businesses, ranging from farming, to mining, to investments. As such, he might not have a lot of time to spend with us.”

Ramon bluntly asked, “So, he is rich?”

Maria looked down at her youngest son, with a frown on her face. She looked back up at Roberta, as she calmly said, “I apologize for my son's behavior. That question was uncalled for.”

Roberta calmly replied, “It is alright. It is a fair question. And yes, we are very well off. Now, let me see if he has the time to see visitors.” She then turn back to the double-doors, as she lightly knocked on the left door, for a could of seconds, with the back of her left hand.

Right she finished knocking, they all heard an adult, male voice, inside the room, ask, in spanish, “Who is it?”

Roberta said, through the doors, “Garcia. It is Roberta, and I have brought the Pena family with me.”

Garcia requested, “Bring them in.”

Roberta opened both doors. She then stepped just inside the room, as she stood out of the way, to allow the Pena family to walk inside the study.

As Hernan entered with his family, into the room, he looked around.

Hernan through, 'This room is nearly the same as in the Black Lagoon anime. There is even the bamboo palm on the right corner of the room, by the window.'

A few seconds later, the Pena family came to a stop by the small table, on the other side of the room from the desk, and windows to the outside. The family turned, as the stood facing the window. With the three children standing in front of Hernan and Maria. With Hernan to Maria's left side.

With the Pena family inside the room, Roberta shut the doors, and turned her back on the doors, to look towards both the Pena family, and Garcia, whom was sitting in an office chair, behind his desk, but in front of the window.

Meanwhile, the family continued to silently look around them.

They saw that velvet curtains of the windows, were pulled away to the sides of the windows, to show the windows with rod iron bars set outside of the windows.

And while the office had not changed much over the years. There were a few changes.

On the book shelves, to the left of the desk, across from the bamboo palm, the second to the top shelf had more modern book titles, and update books on various subjects, place on it. On third shelf, from the top, there were data CD in jewel cases, which were business recoded. And the fourth shelf, from the top, there were a few music CDs, along with movie DVDs and Blu-ray discs.

Also, Hernan saw some more modern computer equipment, and other items, on top of the brown, wooden desk. To Garcia right, on top of the desk, was a thin-screen computer monitor. In front of the monitor was a keyboard, computer mouse. To the right right side of the monitor, near the edge of the desk, there was an external blu-ray burner, and behind the burner was a wireless phone, that was set into its base. Wires for these devices let into the right side of the desk, which meant that the computer tower, and hook ups for the phone, were inside the right side of the desk.

And except for the electrical cord, at the bottom of the desk, there was no other wires visible, meaning that the computer was hooked to the internet, via a wireless network.

The left side of Garcia's desk was empty, except for a few papers on top of the desk. And pen holder that had a few pens and pencils inside the holder.

Hernan thought, 'Well, Garcia updated the office to the twenty-first century. And I have to admit that Garcia is looking pretty good, as well.'

Garcia had grown to be a handsome man, whom looked to be a man in his late twenties. He still had short blond hair, and fair skin. He also had smooth face which had not trace of facial hair.

Garcia was dress in similar clothing as his father once preferred. In among other things, Garcia wore a dark red, turtleneck neck shirt, which was tuck into his brown pants. He had on a black leather belt, black socks, and black dress shoes.

Just then, Garcia stood up from his chair, as he face the Pena family.

Hernan noticed, as he thought, 'Well, in his male form, Garcia has a similar physical build, and height, as his father did. Now, I figure as long as we are polite, this will be a pleasant visit for all of us. And he is clearly no longer a boy. He is now a man. And even with that water curse. He seems to have a handle on things. And if his, Roberta's, and Fabiola's holdings are as vast as I suspect, Roberta would be right. They are well off. And then some.'

Maria meanwhile thought, 'So, this is what I would looked like, if I had been born as a man. And I look kind of like him. With him being cute, in a pure esthetic way. Still, this could be interesting. I hope he is nice. And it is comforting to know we have rich relatives.'

Garcia continued to look at the Pena family, as he calmly said, “Welcome to our home. I have been expecting you. My name is Garcia Fernando Lovelace. You may call me, Garcia. Roberta has inform me what has happened. And what is going on. I know that you, Maria, are my counterpart. And Roberta is Hernan's counterpart.”

Garcia thought, 'It is interesting that her first name is the same as my alias, when I am in my female form. I will have to ask her about that. But, later. When their children are not around.'

Hernan and Maria noticed their three children looking at them, with unspoken questions seen in their eyes.

Nearby, Roberta noticed this, as she thought, 'I did not expect for Garcia to mention that Hernan and Maria were our counterparts, in front of the children. Perhaps we should have told them, before we left. But, I am sure Hernan and Maria can handle this situation.'

The two parents looked down at their children, as Hernan softly said, “We discuss this matter, later, children.”

Garcia asked, “Is, something wrong?” He thought, 'I think I just accidentally let the cat of the bag, on this secret... So, much for a good first impression.'

Roberta stated, “An error on my part. We were planning on telling the children. But, not so soon.”

Garcia just sighed, as he thought, 'Me, and my big mouth.'

Maria, Hernan, and their children, all turned turned their attention towards Garcia, as Hernan said, “No. There is not a problem. It is just another day in the life of raising three children.”

Garcia and Roberta chuckled a little at Hernan's joke, for a few seconds. While Maria just smiled at Hernan's comment.

As Garcia and Roberta calmed down, Garcia thought, 'At least, they are taking this in stride.'

Hernan then stated, “And it is nice to meet you, Senor Lovelace. I am Hernan Pena. Hernan is fine.”

Maria calmly said, “It is a pleasure to meet you, Senor Lovelace. I am Maria Pena. Maria is fine.”

Garcia thought, 'Her voice... Very interesting... But, that is a question for later.' He kindly responded, “Maria, Hernan, please call me, Garcia. And I hope you and your family are able to make yourselves at home here, during your stay. Though, I have yet to be introduced to your children?”

Maria gestured at her three children, whom stood in front of the couple, as she commented, “The eldest son, is Antonio. Our daughter, the middle child, is Carmela. And our youngest son is, Ramon.”

Garcia said, “It is nice to meet you all.” He thought, 'These children have been well behaved. They have not even said a word, yet. While we have been talking. And they look healthy, and well clothed.'

Carmela replied, “Same here.”

Ramon said, “It is nice meeting you.”

Antonio complimented, “You have a lovely home, Uncle Garcia.”

Garcia commented, “Uncle Garcia is fine. And thank you for the compliment, Antonio.” He then thought, 'And I see that Maria and Hernan have raised three polite children. Still, I do need to lay out a few ground rules for their visit. But, nothing too serious. More about my own schedule, and the time I have. Or, lack there of.'

'Also, I am glad that Roberta informed me of Fabiola's current trip. It does not take a genius to know why she is traveling the multiverse, nor who sent her. Annie always has good taste in finding the proper people for their assignments.'

Though, before Garcia could speak, Maria inquired, in a polite tone of voice, “Pardon me, Garcia. But, I was wondering, given the advantages of time travel, why you could not come to visit us?”

Garcia said, “It is okay to ask. Unfortunately, that is the very real chance I will not make it back in a timely manner. And some of my business dealings are somewhat time sensitive, for this time of the year. Such as the plantations. And if I do go missing, it may effect the livelihoods of many people.”

“Though, now that I have learn about you, and your family, I am planning to set aside some time, to where I can visit. Using the five minute trick. Though, at that point, if I am gone a few days, to a week, it will no effect anyone else, here.”

Roberta happily thought, 'That is my Garcia. Always thinking of others.'

Maria responded, “I understand. And I can appreciate your situation. And keep in mind, you are more than welcome to come visit us.” She mentally reflected, 'I won't ask for a date, or advance notification, because I am not sure how that works between realities.'

Garcia replied, “Thank you.”

Maria offered, “Well, raising three children forces one to improve their time management skills. So, I could give you some pointers.”

Garcia inquired, “I may take you up on your offer. Though, how are the others? Has Revy gotten into any more fights?”

Hernan hid a grin behind his beard, as he thought, 'Garcia, knows his friends far too well.' He answered, “Not that I know of. And not many people would knowingly pick a fight with her.”

Garcia replied, “True.”

Hernan commented, “I think it is safe to say that I was not in my right mind, at the time, I fought her.”

Garcia agreed, “Also, true.” He then looked over at Roberta, and back to Hernan and his family, as he continued, “Though, Roberta filled in the details, and I am not surprised you fought her. Though, learning that you soundly beat her, was a bit of a shock.”

Hernan retorted, “I was just lucky.”

Roberta complimented, “No. I saw the fight. You were just good.”

Garcia commented, “And modest.” He thought, 'Just like Roberta.'

Hernan replied, “Thank you.”

Maria looked down at her children, then around the room at Hernan, Roberta, and Garcia. She requested, in a diplomatic manner, “As much as I am enjoying hearing how my husband defended my honor. I prefer not to talk about violence in front of my children.”

Garcia replied, “I understand.” He thought, 'In her position, I would make the same request. I am already seeing the similarities. And they are uncanny.'

Roberta commented, in a relax tone of voice, “I will keep that in mind.” She mentally added, 'That is a fair request, coming from a parent.'

Hernan turned to his wife, as he said, “I will make it up to you, later.”

Maria turned to her husband, as she replied, “I know you will.”

Maria and Hernan then turned back to look at Garcia and Roberta.

Garcia thought, 'Now, I do have questions I need to ask Roberta, before we continue this conversation. So, I don't accidentally say anything else they have chosen to withhold from their children.' He turned to Roberta, as he requested, “Come here, Roberta.”

Roberta walked over to stand beside Garcia, to Garcia's left.

Garcia stood up, and turned to face Roberta. He then lean over, and whispered into Roberta's right ear, “How much do they know?”

Roberta softly responded, “Hernan knows about the series and Lee's stories. We explained the basics to Maria. The kids are in the dark.”

Garcia quietly responded, “That is fine. So, how do you consider Hernan, to yourself?”

Roberta softly replied, in a warm tone of voice, “Like a brother.”

Garcia quietly complimented, “That is a good way to look at it.”

Roberta smiled in response.

Garcia notice Roberta's smile. He then leaned up from Roberta, with both adults turning back to look at the Pena family.

Garcia commented, “I apologize for the whispering. But, I had to ask Roberta a few questions, before we continued.”

Maria said, “That is fine. Sometime the situation calls for such actions.”

Garcia responded, “Very true. And given all our connections, to one another, I guess that makes you family. With you, Maria, being my sister. Hernan, my brother in law. And my niece and two nephews. If that is okay with you?”

Maria smiled, as she replied, “That is fine with me. And I always did want a brother.”

Hernan calmly said, “I feel similarly, towards Roberta.”

Antonio commented, “It is nice to know we have family we can turn to. If needed.”

Garcia stated, “And if you need our help, we will be there.”

Antonio replied, “Thank you.”

Carmela said, “And it will be nice to get to know you.”

Roberta coyly responded, “While, there are some items in our past, we would prefer not to discuss with you. Due to your age. We would be more than happy to talk to you.”

Carmela said, “I am just happy to talk to you.”

Ramon commented, in a slightly excited tone of voice, “And this means more Christmas presents.”

Everyone laughed for, a few seconds, at Ramon's comments.

As they all calmed down, Garcia commented, in a joyous tone of voice, “Then, it is settled. My home, is your home. You are welcome here, as long as you can conduct yourself in a civilized manner.”

Hernan and Maria looked as each other. They then looked back at Garcia and Roberta, as Hernan said, “That will be fine.”

Maria pointed out, “Though, we do have children. And like all children, items can sometimes break around them.”

Garcia calmly responded, “Accidents happen. As long as I am informed, it is not intentional, and no one was harmed, it will alright.”

Maria thought, 'This Garcia is a very just man. I will have to learn more about him.' She said, “We will do our best to do so.”

Garcia replied, “That is all one can do.” He thought, 'Still, this office is to stuffy for their children. And we do need to continue this conversation. Fortunately, I know a place that will be fine for everyone.'

Garcia suggested, “Good. Now, let use had for the patio. So, the children can play, as we talk.”

Maria gave Garcia a warm smile, as she complimented, “That is a wonderful idea.”

Roberta said, “This way to the courtyard.” She then began walking towards the double-doors that lead to the hallway, with Garcia right behind her.

The Pena family then soon followed the loving couple, to the stairs, and then the center courtyard, of the Lovelace home.

(_)

A few minutes later, they made it to the outdoor courtyard, in the center of the plantation home.

While, Garcia, Roberta, and the Pena family, stood at one of the entrances to the courtyard, the Pena looked around.

As Garcia, Roberta, and the Pena family entered the courtyard, they saw they were surrounded by the walls of the Lovelace manor. There two long balconies overlooking the rectangular courtyard from the second story. The balconies were located on the sides of the home. With no balcony on the back and front sides of the home.

On the ground level, there was and alcove surround all the sides of the courtyard. With breaks in the garden sections, to allow entryways into the courtyard.

For support, roughly every ten feet, square columns when up the outer sides of the alcoves, through the second story, to the roof line.

On the front and back sides of the courtyards, where there was no second story balcony, when the columns met the second story, they curved, to create archways. While the two sides alcoves and balconies, there were just square column, which barely curved as they met the bottom of the second story, and the bottom of the roof line.

On the second story balconies, the columns where connected to three feet high bannisters, with square, wooden spindles located every feet feet, beneath the bannisters.

Unlike years past, the small gardens and trees of the courtyard were not overgrown, with vines reaching up the walls, to almost touching the roof line. Instead, the gardens and trees were well groomed.

Also, the red and blue flowers on the bushes were in bloom.

The stone floors and functioning stone fountain had both been pressure washed to make the floors and fountain white again.

When facing the front of the home, there was a small, cleaned out pool in the on the back, left side of the courtyard. The pool was partly hidden by a bush line, between the pool, and the rest of the courtyard.

Also, the line of bushes hid an open alcove through the building, that lead to a secondary yard, and exit to the home, on the left side of the building. With that backyard having an iron fence around it, attached to the building, and a double-door iron bar gate at the other end of the yard.

Like the outer walls of the plantation home, the interior outer walls of the courtyard had been repainted white. And the reddish-brown roofing tiles had been replaced with new reddish-brown roofing tiles.

As the Pena family continued to looked around, Maria noticed the pool, over the row of bushes, in the back of the courtyard.

Maria thought, 'This would be exactly what I imagined my family courtyard to be, if we had maintained it better. And I am not surprise. Still, we need to talk to our hosts. And we can do so, as our children play, nearby' She looked over at her three children, as she continued her thoughts, 'But first, I need to remind my children of a few things.'

Maria calmly said, “Children, you may go play. But, keep in mind, we are guests. So, behave yourselves. And no fighting. Also, do not go swimming until after I have talked to our hosts.”

The children looked at her, and then back to the courtyard, as they rush out, to play with one another.

Maria turned to Garcia and Roberta, as she complimented, “Garcia. Roberta. You have a very lovely home and courtyard.”

Hernan thought, 'And it is much better than when you were a kid, Garcia. It is clear you have done much to repair, fix, and renovate your family home.'

Garcia replied, “Thank you. It took a lot of work to restore it, but I believe it was worth it.”

Roberta replied, “I agree.” She thought, 'It is much better than when I first became a maid of this household.'

Maria asked, “About your pool. I have a few questions.”

Garcia replied, “You may use it, anytime you please. Later, I will show you where the switches for the nighttime courtyard lights are.”

Maria responded, “Not just that. I was wondering. Does your pool use the chlorine system. Or, the salt water system?”

Garcia answered, “We switched over to the salt water system, years ago. And when we did, we have the pool itself acid washed, while it was empty.”

Maria said, “Good. That will help prevent the children from having eye and nose problems.”

Garcia offered, “True. Now, please follow me. I know a perfect place we can sit down and talk, while still being able to keep an eye on your children.”

Maria replied, “I would appreciate that.”

Garcia then started walking into the courtyard, with Roberta, Hernan, and Maria following behind him.

And as the children play, Garcia lead the three other adults, to a set of four, brown, wicker, lawn chairs. The chairs surrounding a circular white table, with a single, circular pedestal going down, from the center of the table, to from a circular base on the floor of the courtyard.. There was a large tree by the table, which offered the four adults shade from the sun.

Hernan sat across from Maria. And Roberta sat across from Garcia.

While they go conformable in their seats, Hernan noticed a woman in a maids uniform walk up to their table.

As the woman got closer, Hernan saw that the woman was slender, with fair skin. She has long black hair, which was tied into a bun on the back of her head. She also wore a black maids uniform, with a white apron, and black slippers.

The woman walked around the table, to where Garcia did not have to turn to look at her.

As all the adults at the table, looked over at her, the woman calmly inquired, “Master Lovelace, Roberta, would you, and your guests, care for some refreshments?”

Garcia answered, “We would love something to drink. And let me introduce everyone.” He turned to Maria, then Hernan, then back to the maid. He continued, “This is Maria and Hernan Pena. They are relatives, from out of the country. Their three children. From oldest, to youngest, are Antonio, Carmela, and Ramon.”

Hernan saw the woman raise an eyebrow, but she did not response.

Hernan thought, 'She is probably wondering why Maria and I look like Garcia and Roberta. But, she knows better than to ask such questions. Also, even though she works for Garcia, she spoke first. Which means she is very good terms with Garcia. Which is odd, but not unheard of.”

Garcia went onto say, “Maria, Hernan. This is Abella Hidalgo. She is one of the maids of this household. She and her family are good friends of ours. Her husband was of great assistance to me, after my father died. He helped keep my family fiances in order, until I could fully take over. She lives with her husband and children, in a home, near the plantation.”

Maria calmly said, in a kind tone of voice, “It is nice to meet you, Mrs Hidalgo.”

Abella said, “Abella is fine, Mrs Pena.”

Maria replied, “Maria is fine, as well.”

Abella made a slight grin, as she requested, “Alright. If it would be okay? I will inform the other servants of our guests?”

Garcia answered, “That will be fine.”

Abella asked, “So, what can I get for everyone?”

Garcia said, “I will have a batido.”

Hernan thought, 'That is a smoothie made of milk, various fruits, and ice. That is a good drink for a mid-morning snack.”

Maria requested, “I will have a papelon con limon.”

Roberta commented, “I will have one, as well.”

Hernan mentally reflected, 'A papelon con limon is sugar cane juice mixed with lime, or lemon. That brings back memories. Maria probably misses not having that in Mexico. Though, there was not much I could do about that. Though, I am more of a simple person, myself.'

Hernan stated, “I will have some lemonade, with some ice, in the glass.”

Abella looked around the table, as she said, “I will be back in a few minutes, with your requests.” She then turned around and walk away, towards the kitchen area of the home.

When Abella was out of sight, the four adults turned to look at each other. Though, Maria and Hernan, kept and eye on their children, whom were about sixty feet from them, further in the courtyard.

Hernan asked, “How much do the servants of the house know about you? And where we came from?”

Garcia responded, “They do not know a lot. We have no told them anything about reality travel. Nor, the other issues associated to such travel.”

“Though, they do know about Roberta's cybernetic parts. And they know about my other form. Due to the fact I like to swim, and it was just easier to tell them about, and show them, my other form. But, they are discreet, and they are polite enough not to ask any other questions. Though, except for a few others. No else knows about Roberta and my... Oddities...”

Hernan commented, “No matter how strange things can get, life still has to march on.”

Garcia asked, “Very true. So, what do you two do?”

Hernan thought, 'Given what I know of your lives. It is a fair question to ask. But, I think it is best for my wife to speak first on this manner. And then, I will follow her lead.'

Maria answered, “I raise our family, while, Hernan works during the day.”

Garcia turned to Hernan, as he inquired, “So, what is you line of work?”

Hernan looked over at Garcia, as he said, “I am an auto-mechanic. The job pays the bills, with a little left over for my family.”

Garcia complimented, “That is a good profession to have.”

Hernan replied, “I know.”

Garcia asked, “So... I have to ask. How did you two meet, and end up married?”

Maria and Hernan answered, in unison, “Long story.”

Roberta cracked a grin, while Garcia lightly chuckled.

As Garcia calmed down, he said, “We will compare notes, later.”

Maria asked, “I look forward to doing so. Though, do you have any children of your own?”

Roberta blushed, as Garcia hesitantly answered, “No.” He looked over at Roberta, whom was looking back at him. He then turned back to Maria, as he continued, “But, we have talked about it. And it is likely going to be a while.”

Maria complimented, “It is wise not to rush into such things. We took our time, as well. And events have so far worked out fine for us. So, I heard you have some sort of strange magical curse.”

Garcia turned to Roberta, as he raised an eyebrow. He inquired, “How much did you tell them, about that?”

Roberta responded, “Not much. But, it is best to get it out of the way, than to have an accident.”

Garcia thought, 'Well, I did mention I have another form, in front of Maria. And if Maria is as sharp as me, she would have asked about it, eventually.' He shrugged, as he agreed, “I agree. Could you get me a glass of cold water, a glass of hot water, and a towel.”

Roberta said, “Sure.” She then got up, and left for the kitchen.”

Hernan looked over at Garcia, as he thought, 'I did not realize Garcia would be this open about such matters. But then again, if the math is correct, he has had to live with this curse for around two decades. Still...' He commented, “Perhaps you would like to show us, in private?”

Garcia looked over at Hernan, as he stated, in a reassuring tone of voice, “Do not worry. As I said. The people of this household know about my curse. And they know not to ask questions. Besides. Roberta is correct. It is best to get this out of the way now, rather than wait until later.”

Hernan shrugged, as he replied, “Okay.”

The three adults them patiently waited for Roberta to return.

(_)

A minute later, Hernan saw Roberta walking back towards them, with a circular tray in her hands. On the tray were two clear glasses of water, and a small folded hand towel.

Hernan could see steam rising from one of the glasses, meaning the water in that glass was hot.

Hernan thought, with curiosity, 'This should be interesting to watch. From what I saw of Pedro collection of the Ranma Half series, they never actually showed the transformation of Ranma changing genders. Save for a few close up body shots. And while I have met Ranma in person, as a woman, I knew better than to ask her to show me the gender change. I don't want her, nor her friends, to get the wrong idea about me. Still, this will be interesting to watch.'

After Roberta set the tray on the table, between her and Garcia, she sat back down in her chair, at the white, circular table.

Garcia stood up, as he used his right index finger to test the temperatures of the water in both glasses. He turned to see that the three children were at the far end of the courtyard, away from them.

Garcia thought, 'Good. They will not notice. And the servants of the household are busy elsewhere. While the servants know about my curse. It is best not to startle them, in showing the change happening in front of them.'

Garcia then looked over at Hernan and Maria, as he stated, “As you were told. I have a magical water curse, that changes my gender. Cold water turns me physically into a woman. Hot water turns me back into a man. Do not be alarmed.”

Garcia picked up the glass of cold water. He bent down, and pour the water over the top of his head, with the angle allowing the water to flow down Garcia's face, without getting the clothing Garcia was wearing, wet.

The other adults could see the change happen within almost an instant. In that Garcia became several inches shorter, with Garcia's body becoming slightly smaller, as well.

They could see that Garcia was now physically a woman. That also saw that Garcia had moderately sized breasts for a woman, and in proportion to her body, she had slightly wider hips and thigh. This gave Garcia a wonderful female figure. Along with this, Garcia’s face has become more feminine, though had face a still clearly recognizable.

Garcia set the empty glass down on the tray. Next, she grabbed the towel and wiped her head and hair, to dry herself.

A few seconds later, Garcia loosely set the towel around her neck, to prevent any water from her head, from dripping down to her clothing.

Garcia then leaned up, and looked across the table at Maria, with Maria gazing back at the woman standing in front of her.

The other three adults, at the table, could tell that Garcia was now, not only a woman, from her figure, but she looked almost exactly like Maria.

Hernan thought, while feeling a combination of wonder, and concern, 'This is the first time Maria, and I, have ever seen the a magical gender bender change in person. And to actually see the change in person is a completely different experience, than to see it on TV, or computer screen.'

Hernan then looked at Maria, from the corner of his eye, as he thought, 'At least it appears that Maria is taking this all very well.'

While Garcia and Maria continued starring at each other, Maria hesitantly said, “It is likely staring into a mirror.”

Garcia stated, in a female voice that was identical Maria's voice, “I know. I did not want to say anything before, but when I am in this form, we even share the same voice. Except for your long hair, we could pass as identical twins.”

Maria admitted, “Well, you do look a few years younger than me. But, only a few.”

Garcia kindly responded, “Thank you. Now, please give me a few moments to change back. This shirt was not made for a woman, and it is slightly binding my breasts.”

Roberta and Maria slightly giggled at Garcia's comment, while Hernan remained silent.

Garcia then reached for the hot water. She then leaned over, and poured it over her head, to avoid getting her clothing wet.

The other adults then saw the gender change happen almost instantaneously, which Garcia's body growing a few inches in height, and putting on a little body mass, as he returned to his male form.

Garcia then set the empty glass on the tray, by the other glass. He then used back hands to pick up the hand towel off his neck, as he dried his hair and head, again. When he was finished, he loosely placed the towel back around his neck, to prevent water drops from dripping down his head, to wet his clothing. Next, he patted down his hair, with his hands.

Garcia then leaned back up, and saw back down in his chair.

As Garcia got comfortable, he looked over at Maria, Roberta, and Hernan. He said, with relief in his male voice, “Ah... Much better.”

Maria commented, “That was... Interesting... So, how complete is the change?”

Hernan noted that Garcia body language had suddenly stiffened, as Garcia answered, in an even tone of voice, “All the way.”

Maria inquired further, “Oh... So, you have experience everything?”

Garcia said, in a sober tone of voice, “Yes. And it is not something I feel like talking about.”

Maria quietly replied, “I understand.” She then inquired, in a normal tone of voice, “Still, I have to admit a bit jealous of your looks as a woman. Given you are a few years younger than me. And because of that, I have to ask. How old are you?”

Hernan noticed Garcia’s body language return to normal, as Garcia casually answered, “In a few months, I will be thirty-nine years old.”

Maria questioned, with a bit of surprise, and disbelief in her told of voice, “You are older than I am? Yet, you look younger. Is that tied to your gender ability?”

Garcia calmly answered, “No. And we will talk about my age secrets, later. Though, I am more than willing share such benefits. And it is not some horrible secret. It is just a medical treatment that my friends informed me of.”

Hernan thought, 'Garcia must be talking about the rejuvenation therapy. I am not sure how I feel about such an offer.'

Maria said, “I look forward to it.”

Garcia requested, “No problem. Now, I have a question for you, Maria. What is your maiden name?”

Maria responded, “Flores. Why?”

Garcia answered, “That is very interesting. Because, Maria Flores, is the alias I use for my female side, on my IDs. And when I am in my female form, I pose as my own female cousin.”

Maria said, in a curious tone of voice, “That is interesting...”

Hernan thought, 'That is interesting. Though, not very original. I believe that in the Ranma series, Ranma did the same thing, as Ranko Tendo... Or... Oh, she posed as the Tendo's cousin. Not her own cousin... Or, it is his cousin?... I could see how it could become confusing to have a conversation on the matter.'

Roberta commented, “This is too close to be consequential.”

Hernan pointed out, “Yes. But, we have no way of figuring out the deeper connections.' He mentally added, 'And I honestly don't want to. My life is crazy enough as is.'

Garcia said, “True. We will have to look into it, later.”

Maria mentioned, “Agreed. Also, I find it interesting that your name is Garcia. Because Garcia was the name of my father. And Roberta is the name of Hernan's mother.”

Garcia responded, “Fascinating... Well, Maria, you find it interesting to know that Maria was my mother's name. And Hernan was Roberta's father's name.”

Maria said, “That is interesting.”

Roberta commented, “Yes. Our connection runs deeper than any of us first realized.”

Hernan said, “Let us be thankful those are pleasant connections.”

Roberta replied, “Agreed.”

Maria commented, “Still, we have other concerns. Such as what we plan to do while we are here. We have three young children. And I have found I have to keep eye on them, or they can get into trouble.”

Garcia chuckled a little. He then offered, “While I was already expecting you. I will still need about an hour to working around my schedule, so I can take off from work, this afternoon. But, once I am finished, we will have some lunch here, and then visit, Caracas, with you, my new found family.”

Maria lamented, “That would be good. I do so miss the city. I have not been there in decades. Even if it is a Caracas of another reality.”

Garcia asked, with a slight bit of seriousness, and concern, in his tone of voice, “You haven't been to Caracas in decades?”

Hernan spoke up, as he stated, “Actually, we haven't be to South America. Let alone Venezuela. In several years. Our histories are somewhat different. We met under different circumstances. And ran from the cartels, together. We made our way to an island city in Mexico, where we have lived, since then.”

Maria said, in a soothing tone of voice, “Do not worry. We have had a good life there.”

Garcia stated, “Well, you can visit this city, while you are staying here for the next few days. And from what I understand, it is close to your Caracas. Except the politics here are better. The crime is lower. And the economy is more healthy.”

Roberta cracked a grin, as she said, “We have made some sound investments over the years. And since we learned how the politics of other Earths turned out, before they went bad here. I was able to head off, and made sure that changes where made the way they should. Instead of going wrong. As they have in so many other realities.”

Roberta thought, 'Though, I used reality technology, our vast wealth, and third parties, that had no idea who I was, to make a number of the less savory changes, that needed to be done. But fortunately, I was also able to make several changes in peaceful ways. Also, using third parties. With none of these changes being tied to me, nor the Lovelace name.'

Hernan responded, “Well, you had to invest your wealth somewhere. And I guess investing for a more honest government. Along with a more healthy nation and people, would be a good place to put part of one's wealth. As long as you can reign that government in.”

Roberta chuckled, for a few seconds, at Hernan's comment.

As Roberta lightly laughed, Hernan thought, 'And with you, and your friends, Roberta. You probably did some nighttime assassinations, behind Garcia's back. And you also made sure the right people came to power, and stayed in power. The people that you can control, whom can do their job in a competent manner. That is what I would do in your place.'

'Given the rampant government seizures of wealth, from the plantation owners, of Venezuela, in my home reality. Such assassinations, and bribery, would be the only way to insure the Lovelace family had a future.'

'And given Diego Lovelace, a man that both you and Garcia cared for, was murdered over politics. I have no doubt that after you returned from the fall of Chang's Tower, with your cybernetics and super-soldier serum, that you quietly cleaned house, in this nation.'

'Or, maybe you used third parties that could not be traced back to you. Or, a little of both.'

'Either way, it would have been poetic, considering you have been a maid by professional. And a badass maid, at that.'

'Also, I expect, that when you did this, you made sure that it appeared that each opposing side was at fault for your actions. Just like they did to Diego. With you eventually having the enemy oppositions, that is based in this nation, destroy each other, while keeping the rest of the nation in one piece.'

'Though, as tempting as it would be, to go further, into other nations, would attract too much attention. But, with your new abilities, and your resources, keeping such actions inside a single nation, would not be so risky, for one, such as yourself.'

'This also explains what you have been up to, while Book Three and Book Four happened.'

'Still, I do not know if you included Garcia and Fabiola in your plans and actions, or not. You would want to keep them at arms length from such dark actions. But, after Diego's murder, and that whole Blood Trail mess. Leaving you crippled. I do not see how you could have done so.'

'Though, I am not going to ask about any of this, because it is not my place to do so.'

'And doing so would ruin the wonderful relationship we are building between each other.'

As Roberta calmed down, she said, “Yes. And let us just say, that those of this household now have enough pull with the government, to keep the cartels, and others, completely at bay.” She thought, with amusement, 'Without any of them realizing that it is us that are pulling their strings.'

Hernan replied, “That is good.” He mentally added, 'And it does explain the relaxed composure that Garcia and Roberta have, as they have entertained us. And this may turn out to be a very good trip for everyone involved. At the very least, we get to meet, and get to know each other. And this trip should help with Maria, and my own, homesickness.'

Maria then suddenly realized, as she stated, with slight worry in her tone of voice, “Oh no. The only cash we have are mexican pesos, and U.S. currency. Neither are exactly welcome in this country.”

Roberta turned to Maria, as she calmly said, “Not to worry. We have plenty of money on hand.” She continued, in a happy tone of voice, “And it is a wonderful excuse to go shopping.”

Maria giggled a little bit, at Roberta's response. She then quietly said, “Thank you.”

Roberta replied, “You're welcome.”

Maria commented, “We will bring the kids along, as well. It is not to early to shop for their spring and summer clothing.”

Roberta complimented, “Good idea.”

Hernan looked over at Roberta, as he thought, with amusement, 'Roberta offering to go shopping for clothes, with my wife. I never thought I would hear that. Not that I am worried. Maria, and my kids. They will be safe with her. I can count on one hand, the people that I know of, on this planet, who might be able to take Roberta in a fight. And none of them are on this continent. And what they just said about their political ties, only cements that my family, and I, should be safe, during our visit here.'

'And should the military ever invade Plata Podrido. As Pedro sometimes mentions, that he worries about. Though, I doubt that will happen. But, if it does, after getting to know these two people, I am sure my family could move here, to stay on a more permanent basis, with little trouble.'

Garcia said, “I would have to agree. It would be a good excuse to go visit the city.”

Then, something occurred to Hernan, as he casually stated, “I hope you don't plan on me being pack mule on this trip?”

Roberta answered, “No. But, I can see why you would ask.”

Maria questioned, “And when have I ever made you carry my clothing bags?”

Hernan groaned. He then answered, “A couple of times. But, only a couple of times.”

Garcia commented, with a bit of mirth in his tone of voice, “If she only made you carry her bags a couple of times. Count yourself lucky. She is a keeper.”

Hernan quickly said, “Oh. I agree.”

Maria let out a small giggle at her husband's comment.

Roberta stated, in a mischievous tone of voice, “You are one to talk, Garcia.”

Garcia immediately stiffened slightly, as he went silent.

Maria asked, “What do you mean?”

Roberta commented, “There have a been a few times when I was the one carrying the bags for Garcia.”

Maria and Hernan could not help but laugh a little, for a few seconds.

As they calmed down, Roberta said, “And do not worry. I prefer to carry my own bags. And I am not a big shopper.” She turned to Garcia, as she teased, “In all honesty. Garcia has more feminine clothing for his female form, than I have for my own body.”

Maria and Hernan chuckled a little more, for a few seconds.

Garcia sighed, as he admitted, “That is true. And due to that, I will go as a guy, today.”

As the happily married couple calmed down, again, Hernan though, 'I guess that shopping for clothing for both genders, comes with being a gender bender. ' He commented, “Well, it will be nice to have another man along, in this shopping trip.”

Garcia looked over at Hernan, as he replied, “Thanks.” He thought, 'Even with the gender bending ability, Hernan still considers me a man. That a good sign.'

Maria commented, “There are some clothing stores in Caracas, from my reality, that I miss going to. But, considering this is another reality, and decades later. I do not if those stores still exist here. Or, even if they existed at all, here.”

Garcia looked over at Maria, as he pointed out, “Those shops might still exist in this reality.”

Roberta turned to Maria, as she commented, “If they don't exist. I do know of a few clothing shops that you might enjoy visiting.”

Maria looked at Garcia, and then to Roberta, as she said, “Thanks. I look forward to your recommendations.”

Garcia mentioned, “There are also a few eateries we know of, that you might like. Should we still be in the city, around dinner time.”

Maria replied, “That is nice.”

Hernan thought, 'Roberta is giving my wife lessons on clothing... Well, I will admit my sister is a sharp dresser, with an eye for detail. So, that is no problem. Still, there are to matters to discuss.'

Hernan stated, “While I would looked forward to this trip. Keep in mind that someone is going to have to watch the children. And I do not want to leave them with the other servants of the house. No offense, but we don't know them very well.”

Garcia replied, “None taken. And I would have asked the same question, in your place.”

Hernan responded, “Thank you. Now, since we are taking the children with us. We will have take turns watching them. Or, help to get their clothing.”

Maria said, “We have done that before. It will not be a problem.”

Hernan pointed, “I know. Still, how are we going to get there? I know you don't like to use reality devices to travel short distances. And most cars cannot fit all of us. And we don't have current driver's licenses for here. So, if we took two cars, you two would have to split up to drive us. I don't think you would want to do that.”

Garcia stated, “You would be correct on all counts. Fortunately, I do have a vehicle that can fit all seven of us.”

Hernan commented, “I hope it is not a limo. It would not feel right to ride in one. And it would draw too much attention towards us.”

Maria mentioned, “Also, riding in a limo might leave the wrong impression on our children.”

Garcia thought, 'They have a few points there.' He responded, “I agree. That would attract to much attention. And no, it is not a limo. It is a customize SUV.”

Hernan said, “SUVs are nice vehicles. I have even thought about getting one for our family, when our kids out grow our car.”

Maria commented, “That is not a bad idea. But, I am concerned about some reports that SUVs can tip over easily, when turning at high speed. Still, we will all wear seltbelts, so that should help some.”

Garcia stated, “Not to worry, these SUVs are made to not be top heavy. So, there is less chance of them tipping over on a turn.” He turned to Roberta, as he continued, “Though, Roberta, you believe you tell them about the SUVs we have. Since you were the one that oversaw the customization of both SUVs they have.”

Roberta looked over at Garcia, as she replied, “I would be more than happy, too.' She looked between Maria and Hernan, as she said, “As Garcia pointed out, we have two very nice, large SUVs, that we use them go to the city in. Mainly for grocery shopping. And for supplies.”

“Each SUV is gray colored, and looks nondescript. But, under their outer veneers, they have armor plating. Blast resistant glass. Flat resistant tires. And they comes with all sorts of other bells, and whistles. Though, the armor plating does decrease the mileage. So, I make sure each vehicle has a full tank of gas, before we leave the plantation.”

“We have a few large tanks of gasoline and diesel, located in other areas of the plantation. We have their refilled, by truck, on a regular basis. We mostly use our fuel supply for our farming and mining vehicles. But, we use them, as well.'

Roberta thought, 'Though, if we are cut off. We do have some fuel to fall back on, in emergencies.'

Roberta went onto say, “The driver's side of each SUV is to the left. Each SUV has three rows of seating. Though, the middle and back rows are usually folded down, to allow for more storage space. But, we can raise those rows. With there still be a little room for storage, behind the third row of seats.”

“I will drive, and you, Hernan, will be in the front passenger seat, to my right side.”

Hernan thought, 'That is because the front seats are the most venerable parts of a vehicle. And you are always thinking about Garcia’s welfare, Roberta. Not, that I blame you. I feel the same way for Maria, and I would prefer she, nor any of my children, be in the front seat, during this little trip. So, I am more than happy to be in the front seat, in their place.'

Roberta continued, “In the middle row, Garcia will be behind me, and Maria will be behind Hernan.”

Maria said, “I am fine with that.”

Roberta responded, “Good. And your three children will be in the back row. Because, it is not exactly easy for a full grown adult to get into the back row.”

“Also, there are two small TV screens in the car. One that folds down for the middle row, and one that folds down for the back row. And we have plenty of earphones for everyone. Over a dozen came with each vehicle, and they are in the center consoles of each row. Though, the second and third row consoles fold up, to allow for seating in the center seats.”

“Each of these TVs are hooked to a separate blu-ray players, which also play DVDs and CDs. Along, with the TV system in the SUVs hooked to a satellite TV system. And while it is not that far to the city. If we need something to distract the children, we can use TV. That is if you we cannot find something in our video library that you would approve of them watching.”

Maria complimented, “You have thought this all out. And I would like to look at your video library, after we finish our conversation here. While Garcia is finishing his business for the day.”

Roberta replied, “That will be fine.”

Hernan said, “Yes. That sounds like fun. Still, there is the matter of personal weapons. We did not bring any guns with us.”

Roberta stated, “I also have that covered. After some political wrangling. On the books, under an alias, I am now a licensed bodyguard for Garcia. And I have the permits that allow me to legally carry my pistols with me, without a problem.”

Hernan complimented, “That was good thinking on your part.”

Roberta cracked a grin, as she said, “It is part of being prepared in advance. There are also a pair of loaded M nineteen eleven A one semi-automatic pistols, in holsters, under the front passenger seat of each SUV. And there are extra loaded magazines, and boxes of forty-five caliber ammunition, in each glove box.”

Hernan stated, with happiness and astonishment in his tone of voice, “Well played.”

Roberta happily replied, “Thank you.”

Hernan asked, “Does Fabiola have similar credentials?”

Roberta answered, “Yes. And Garcia has permits for both his forms, to car a firearm, as well.'

Garcia commented, “Though, I prefer not to carry a gun. I can do so, legally. If I desire to.”

Hernan turned to Garcia, as he stated, “I respect your decision.” He thought, 'Using a gun is not for everyone.'

Garcia looked at Hernan., as he replied, “Thank you.”

Maria then realized something. She thought, 'Who is Fabiola?' She looked around the table, as she questioned, in a calm tone of voice, “Who is Fabiola? You have mention her name a few times. So, I was wondering.”

Garcia offered, “We will tell you, later. It will make for good conversation at lunch. Or, in the SUV.”

Maria inquired, “Okay. Now, onto another matter. Garcia, given privacy issues, about your cursed form. What do you want said, if one of my children sees you in your cursed form.”

Garcia said, in a casual tone of voice, “Tell them truth. I don't mind my family knowing. And if they told their friends, who would believe them. Especially, at their age.”

Maria conceded, “That is good point.”

Hernan asked, “I have to wonder. How do you explain your cursed form? Such as due to accidental changes in public?”

Garcia answered, “Fortunately, I am very careful. And due to me looking so very similar between my forms. Barring being slightly shorter, and smaller in my female form, as long as, people do not see the change itself. Or, get a good look at me. I can just rush out, and change back in the men's restroom, without anyone being the wiser.”

Maria inquired, “And if someone does notice?”

Roberta looked over at Maria, as she said, “The smart ones keep quiet... And those that don't... Well, it is best we don't discuss such options, in front of children...”

Maria hesitantly replied, “Okay.” She thought, 'I am starting to realize that Roberta has a dark side, like Hernan. I really do need to watch that Black Lagoon series, in its entirety. Though luckily, those sides of them only come out when they, or their loved ones, are threatened, or harmed. And I feel that is a good trait to have.'

Garcia stated, “Fortunately, we have not yet had to resort to such means. Considering magic, and the like, is still considered fantasy, in this day and age. And given the change is not that drastic, at a distance, it is also hard to notice with a camera. This prevents photograph proof. So, unless I get caught changing while naked, or near naked, I should be fine.”

Maria commented, “I can see what you mean. And given we look so alike. Me being around you, while you are a man, in public, would solidify that you and your female form as two different people.”

Garcia gave Maria a wicked grin, as he said, mischievous tone of voice, “And you even go by the same name as my female alias.”

Maria returned Garcia's wicked smile, with her own, as she teased, “Oh, you are devious.”

Garcia smile became a little wider, as he replied, “Thank you.”

Maria pointed out, “Still, I am not cutting my hair for you.”

Garcia said, “I am not asking you, too. I can always say, when I am a woman, that I decided to wear a wig that day.”

Maria commented, “That would work.”

Just then Hernan noticed Abella walking towards them, with a circular tray that had four glasses, filled with liquid.

Hernan thought, 'Ah, our drinks are finally here. Still, I better say something, to prevent one of us from saying something in front of Abella we don't want her to hear.' He casually stated, “Well, our drinks are here.”

The others immediately went silent, as they turned to look at Abella approaching them.

A few seconds later, Abella came to a stop at the table, at an angle, that allowed for Garcia not to have to turn his head to see her.

Abella took a look over at Garcia, whom had slightly wet hair, and small hand towel loosely draped over his neck. And on the table was another circular tray, with two empty glasses on it.

Abella raised an eyebrow at what she saw, but she did not verbally response. Instead, she set her tray down on the table, near the other tray.

Abella then served the glass of batido to Garcia. The next glass she served was for Roberta, and it was a glass of papelon con limon. The third glass was filled with papelon con limon, and it went to Maria. And the fourth glass, which was filled with lemonade and ice, went to Hernan.

Garcia said, “Thank you, Abella.”

Abella turned to Garcia, as she quietly replied, “You're welcome, Master Lovelace.” She then turned her attention back to the table, as she picked up Roberta's circular tray, with its two empty glasses on it. And she placed the tray, on top of her tray. Fortunately, both trays were the same size, and shape, which allowed the trays to fit together.

Next, Abella picked up both trays. After which, she turned around, and walked away, as she headed for the kitchen area of the home.

As Abella left their sight, they all turned back to look at each other. Though, Maria and Hernan continue to keep an eye on their children, playing about fifty from them.

Maria picked up her glass, took a sip of her drink, and she then set down her glass. She commented, “You clearly have very competent help, Garcia. This papelon con limon is fabulous. I have not had this drink in years. But, it takes me back to the better parts of my youth.”

Garcia replied, “I am glad to hear that, Marie. And you are correct. Those that work for me, know what they are doing.” He then took a drink of his batido, before setting down his glass, onto the table. He thought, 'This batido is as good, as usual.'

Roberta also took a drink from her papelon con limon. She then set down her glass, on the table.

Hernan picked up his glass of iced lemonade. He took a drink, and he liked the way lemonade tasted. He kept his glass in his right hand, as he turned to Garcia. He stated, “This is very good. I can tell you used real lemons. This is not store brand? Is it?”

Garcia answered, “No. All the drinks we were just served, were handmade. That is why Abella took so long. She had to make the drinks, herself.”

Hernan set his glass on the table. He replied, “Interesting.”

Garcia stated, “Yes. We prefer to make, and prepare, most of our food, here. On the plantation. Instead of getting it package, at the grocery store.”

Maria commented, “How, I envy such privileges, and opportunities.”

Garcia said, “Well, you can enjoy our wonderful food, and drinks, during your stay here.”

Maria replied, “I look forward to it.”

Roberta offered, “We also have a wonder selection of alcoholic drinks. We have a marvelous wine cellar. And ours assortments brandies, whiskeys, and tequila, are very nice. And we keep a nice selection of cold beer in the fridge.”

Maria turned to Roberta, as she said, “As a rule, I do not drink. Especially, in front of our children. Though, I do occasionally have a beer in private.”

Hernan turned to Roberta, as he stated, “I am the same way.”

Garcia complimented, “I admire you dedication to being good examples in front of your children.”

Maria and Hernan turned to Garcia, as Maria said, “Thank you.”

Hernan commented, “We appreciate that.”

Maria requested, “Though, we will have to be mindful, so our children do not get in the fridge, and accidentally have some alcohol.”

Roberta commented, “That can be easily solved. We can kindly tell them, that they are not allowed to go into the kitchen, unless escorted by one of us.”

Maria turned Roberta, as she said, “That should work.”

Roberta smiled, as she happily replied, “I thought as much.”

As the three children played, nearby, without incident, the four adults continued their pleasant conversation for another hour.

Though, by then, Garcia had to excuse himself, as he to headed back to his office, to make arrangements to take the afternoon off with his and Roberta's new found family.

After Garcia finished making his arrangement, they all had lunch at his and Roberta's home. They then headed out, in one of the Lovelace armored SUVs, to go shopping in Caracas.

When they reached the capital city, they went shopping, and had a great time. They returned to the plantation home, later that evening.

Maria was pleasantly surprised by Roberta's tastes, in recommendations on clothing. Both for Maria, her children, and even her husband, Hernan.

The next morning, they all spent about an hour, swimming in the courtyard pool. The kids played in the pool, while nearby, the adults talked to each other.

Fortunately, Garcia was able to arrange it so that he could take off, for most of the time, during the days the Pena family were visiting his home. And the rest of their vacation was pleasant and enjoyable for everyone involved.

A few days later, at the end of their trip. They say their goodbyes to Garcia, and the staff. With Garcia promising to visit them soon. Then, with their luggage in hand, they stepped closer to Roberta. With Roberta holding her reality device.

Roberta then thought of the Pena's family reality. With them returning to their living room. With it only being a few hours after they left for the Lovelace home. She then held that thought, as she pressed the red button on her reality device, teleporting herself, and the Pena family, back to their home, at the proper time, place, and reality, as she intended to take them.

(_)

Reality, the Pena family's home reality. Date, a few hours after the Pena family left for the Lovelace home, in the Black Lagoon reality. Place, Chang's office, in the penthouse level of Daiyu Palace Casino. Time, two PM in the afternoon.

Inside in personal office, Chang was seated in his chair, behind his desk. With the door to his office left open, across from him.

Chang had just finished another meeting for the day. As he continued to sort out and catch up on what he had missed, when he, and his two lovers, had gone after Matthew and Pedro, in the multiverse.

Chang thought, 'I believe I now have a handle on most of the unfinished work that I missed for the last week. Now, I just need to do it. But first, I need to meet with one other person. She should be here any second. With my enhanced hearing, I can hear her coming down the hallway, right now.'

Chang then turned his attention to the open doorway in front of him.

A few seconds later, Chang watched a Balalaika walked up to stand at the threshold of the door.

Chang thought, 'Ah, there is one of my business partners. And right on time. I am glad she was able to make this meeting on short notice. Considering, I called her last night. Half an hour after we had returned. To be fair, she wanted to know what as going on. So, she agreed to this appointment, on short notice.'

'And she decided to come alone for two reasons. One, it gives us privacy to talk without worry of someone overhearing. With her clearly wanting to know what I have been up too. And two, we both know the other is not going to try anything. Besides, once we realized that working together was profitable, and less boring than we realized. We stopped the sniping at each other, with insults, and bullets.'

'Still, it seems she is presenting herself a little differently today.'

As both adults looked at each other, Chang noticed a few things that were difference about Balalaika. While her long blond hair was styled the same way as usual. In a ponytail. Instead of wearing her usual red dress and low heeled slippers. She wore a matching dark blue dress, with dark blue heeled slippers. And instead of her finger nails having pink nail polish, her nails had dark blue nail polish, which matched her clothing and flat soled slippers.

Chang thought, 'Now, to properly greet her. With a pleasant surprise.'

Chang stood up from his seat. He then calmly said, in russian, “Hello Balalaika.”

Balalaika complimented, in a calm tone of voice, in russian, “Hello Chang. And your russian is becoming flawless.”

Chang stated, “Thank you. River is an excellent teacher.”

Balalaika replied, “I am sure she is.” She turned to the open door to the office. She looked back at Chang, as she teased, “And I see you still have your open door policy.”

Chang commented, “Doing so, helps. And having an open door to my office offers a more friendly atmosphere, when people come to see me.”

Balalaika said, “I agree. And leave the door open also allows you enhanced hearing to better notice anyone approach from the hallway.”

Chang stated, “That too. And I appreciate that you could come see me on such short notice.”

Balalaika responded, “I have questions for you. And you seem willing to answer those questions.”

Chang inquired, “You are correct. So, how are B, Dmitri, and Alexandra?”

Balalaika answered, “They are all fine. Dmitri and Alexandra are even both starting to walk around, and talk now. So, how is your family?”

Chang responded, “Fine. Now, no offense intended. But, what is with the blue dress? Is today a special occasion that I am not aware of?”

Balalaika casually said, “Not really.” She looked down at her clothing, as she continued, “I wore this old thing to just break the monotony.” She then looked back up at Chang.

Chang replied, “Yes. I know the feeling.”

Balalaika stated, “Yes. You would. And I hope your little jaunt across the multiverse was not an act of foolishness.”

Chang offered, “Quite the contrary. And we will discuss this further, in detail. But please. First. Come sit down.”

Balalaika did not respond, as she casually walked over to stand in front of Chang's desk.

Then, of the two chairs in front of Chang's desk, Balalaika sat down in the chair to Chang's right.

With Balalaika seated, Chang seated himself, back into his own chair, behind his desk.

There was silence between the two adults, at they stared at each other, for a few seconds.

Then, Balalaika lips curled into a smirk.

Chang saw the Balalaika face took on an amused expression. With her blue eyes showing a bit of mirth behind them.

Chang raised an eyebrow, as he calmly asked, “Is there something funny?”

Balalaika shrugged, as she answered, “Unfortunately, for you, yes. I look at you, and I think that if a stranger saw you, they would see you as a man in his prime. They would not know what really goes on behind the doors of your bedroom.”

Chang mentally wondered, 'What are you getting at?'

Chang was feeling curious about Balalaika comments. So, he took the bait, as he pointed out, “Yes. But, neither would they know what went on behind your bedroom doors.”

Balalaika admitted, “Touche. And quite true. But, that being said. I know for a fact that, as a woman, you have been pregnant and given birth more than once.”

Chang calmly inquired, “And how would you know?” He thought, 'I would really like to know how she found that out?'

Balalaika answered, “Chang, you forgot that you gave me high level access to your computers. And while most of your medical records are sealed. I did find an interesting CAT scan of your pelvis, as a man, in the computer memory cache of the CAT scan equipment.”

Chang stated, “I will have to remember to ask River to look into correcting that security flaw.”

Balalaika said, “Of course. Checking for such flaws, was one of the reasons I was looking at your computer files.”

Chang responded, “I will give you the benefit of the doubt on that one. But, what could a picture of my pelvis, as a man, tell you about possible previous pregnancies and birth, in my female form?”

Balalaika cracked a grin, as she answered, in an amused tone of voice, “Quite a lot, actually. When B and I were both pregnant. I reading a lot on the subject of pregnancy and childbirth. On that matter, I was surprised that childbirth was not as painful as some woman make it out to be. After we both gave birth to our children, B told me she felt the same way.”

Chang mentioned, “Not many people are as strong willed, and well versed in the experiences of pain, as you two.” He thought, 'Personally, I found childbirth to be quite painful, but worth it. Though, after the first birth. It got better. River and Lee also stated the same thing.'

Balalaika held up her right hand, by her face. She then used the tips of her right index and middle, to slide down the right side of her face. Along her scars. From top to bottom. As she said, “Very true.”

Balalaika then dropped her right hand back to the right armrest of her chair, as she continued, “And I stumbled upon some interesting facts about human pregnancy. It seems, that during pregnancy, the rubbing of the unborn child on the pelvis, creates ripples on the interior sides of the pelvis. This usually happens when woman had two or more children. And it seems that unlike reproductive organs, this rippling is like scars on a bone. They remind, not matter which gender you are in.”

Chang replied, “Interesting. And the childbirth?”

Balalaika stated, “That one is even more simple to find out. I have seen you nude, in both forms. And you have seen me the same way. And there is no caesarian scar on your lower abdomen. So, you gave birth to those children.”

Chang responded, “Well, you have me there. You are correct on both points. Though, those are personal matters, that I do not wish to discuss. So, is there a point to this? Or, are you just trying to start an argument, for old times sake?”

Balalaika inquired, “As fun as that would be. No. I am just leading up to asking my first question. In a manner you cannot just back down from. That question being. Given how long you have spent as a woman, and what you have experienced as a woman, why do you still prefer to be a man?”

Chang shrugged, as he answered, “Personal preference. Playing on the other side is fun. But, I prefer to be a man. Considering how your two children were conceived. I have always wonder what your thoughts are on the subject?”

Balalaika stated, “Well, like you. I do not talk about my personal life. But, I prefer to be a woman. Also, I did this to show you that there are very few things that you can hide from me. Should I wish to learn such facts about you.”

Chang casually responded, “Yes. We know each other well. By the way, I got in some fresh Cuban cigars, as week ago. I could give you a few boxes, if you want?”

Balalaika stated, “That is tempting. But, with my two small children, B and I both agreed that we needed to set good examples for them. We only occasionally drink. And I rarely smoke anymore. And when I do, I do so away from our children. And I do not want such quality cigars to go to waste.”

Chang thought, 'That is good to hear. Because, if she is trying to set a good example for her children, she will be less bloodthirsty.' He requested, “I can sympathize. So, let us get to the heart of the matter of this meeting.”

Balalaika stated, “Yes. Let us do that. Why did you leave this reality for so long? Without letting us know, ahead of time? Your security team were not the only ones putting out fires, in your absence.”

Chang said, “I can appreciate that. I hope there were not too many problems that you had to handle.”

Balalaika replied, “There were not. Which is why I am presently being so civil.”

Chang said, “Well, we did not plan to be gone that long. We were only planning to be gone a few minutes, for those here. But, it didn't work out that way.”

Balalaika commented, “Sometimes that happens. But, I still wish to know the reason you left, without notice.”

Chang stated, “The reason we did not leave notice was that we did not plan to be gone for long. If this happens again, I will be sure to make arrangements, beforehand.”

Balalaika replied, “That will be fine.”

Chang said, “And as for the actual reason we left. That is tied to the problems that happened last week. And well, I believe it started when you, and a few of your friends, decided to pay Pedro and Matthew an unscheduled visit to Pedro's home.”

Balalaika lips curled into a slight grin, as she responded, with a bit of intrigue in her tone of voice, “Really?... I heard they disappeared, as well. But, I was not sure who disappeared first. Nor, the sequence of events that took place. Nor, what happened to those two fools. So, what did happen to them?”

Chang stated, “You rattled their cages a bit too much. They stole one of my reality devices, and then left this reality.”

Balalaika questioned, “But, what would it matter? After all, they are just two fools.”

Chang pointed out, “That is where you are... Incorrect. I have found that you tend to underestimate individuals that you are unable to do a background check on. That is a failing on your part.”

Balalaika conceded, “Perhaps. Though, those two leaving is a small matter. They have never shown any courage against us.”

Chang explained, “You are looking at things from the wrong angle. Matthew may not know us. But, after being part of that chase through Mars Dome, he knows better than to go against us.”

“On the other hand, Pedro is just as much as a badass, as we were, during our time on Roanapur. You should talk to Melanie sometime about Pedro. She has some interesting stories to tell about him. And she has every reason to tell the truth.”

Balalaika said, “Then, I will have to talk to her about Pedro. Still, he seems so spineless towards us.”

Chang stated, “The only reason he doesn't show any real backbone towards us, is because he knows our reputations, and he knows, that even with his entire police force, he cannot take all of us in a fight. So, that was why he was doing subtle things against us, from the shadows.”

Balalaika commented, with slight disgust in his tone of voice, “I have never cared for using bureaucracy to a tool to slow someone down. I find it distasteful.”

Chang thought, 'Ah. But, Stalin did loved to use that tactic. Though, I am not going to mention that to you.'

Chang said, “Sometimes, one has to use the tools which are available. And besides dealing with us. Pedro was one of the main people keeping this city together. For years, he has been walking a tightrope with his superiors, the people in this town, the crooks in this town, and us. And that night you visited him was just the final straw.”

Balalaika asked, “And why did Matthew go with Pedro?”

Chang stated, “They are very good friend. They were thrown together, into this mess. And they had to make do with each others moral support. Matthew is also a fairly good thief. He was the one that snuck into one of the casino technology rooms, stole a reality device, and then walked out the casino, without getting caught.”

Balalaika questioned, “So, the lawyer has more skills, than just legal advice?”

Chang's eyes became unfocused for just a second, as Chang mentally recalled some of what Matthew had told him of his past. Chang eyes then went back into focus, as he said, “Yes. He seems to have several skills that he kept from us.”

Balalaika asked, “From the look in your eyes, I can tell there is another reason Matthew left with Pedro?”

Chang admitted, “Yes. The other reason Matthew went with Pedro was that we have not be as respectful towards him, as we should have.”

Balalaika guested, “And here I thought the reason you left, to go after them, might be because Matthew and Pedro knew too much? With you wanting to make sure they didn't talk?”

Chang responded, “As much as I would like to agree with you, that was not the reason we went after them. They know to keep their mouths shut. Also, River and Lee are good friends with both of them. I would catch hell from both my lovers, if I did anything to Matthew, or Pedro.”

Balalaika inquired, “But, what are Pedro and Matthew to you? And you to them?”

Chang answered, “We have an understanding. And while I may have taken Matthew for granted. I did pay him well. And the benefits he got for the job were very generous for what I asked of him.”

Balalaika commented, “Yes. You tend to prefer to pay for your loyalty.”

Chang stated, “It works. And most of those that work for me also have come to respect me. Anyway, River and Lee convinced me to bring Matthew and Pedro back. To prevent them from getting into trouble. And because this city would fall apart, without Pedro. And those two also convinced me, that when they do return, we that we should help them.”

Balalaika snorted, as she said, “That will be a challenge.”

Chang replied, “I don't think it will be so difficult.”

Balalaika asked, “We will see. So, where is Fabiola? I know she has disappeared. But, I also know she has not returned to the Lovelace home. Has she gone on this little fools errand, as well?”

Chang answered, “Yes. We met her while we were searching for Matthew and Pedro. Actually, when we were finally able to confront those two, together, she was there with Matthew and Pedro.” He thought, 'I think I will leave out that we also met Leigharch and Matt Bluestone, when we found those three. Because, I do not want to tell anyone about them, unless they become a problem. Which I doubt they will.'

Balalaika commented, “She is almost as good a tracker as her teacher.”

Chang agreed, “That she is.”

Balalaika questioned, “So, why did she come after you? Did someone send her, to come looking for you five?”

Chang answered, “Actually, it was Annie whom sent Fabiola to go find the two of them, and us. She is good friends with Matthew and Fabiola.”

Balalaika said, “Well, I will not fault those two for their friends. I take is she stated that she wished to remain with them?”

Chang thought, 'Good guess.' He stated, “Yes. Fabiola told me that she would keep them out of trouble, and protect them. Until, they decided to return here. And that she will make sure they return in a timely fashion, for us.”

Balalaika asked, “And what if they return as old men?”

Chang replied, “With their permission, we would use the vat process on them.” He thought, 'And Leigharch, and Matt too. If they want it.'

Balalaika inquired, with a bit of mirth in her tone of voice, “And how will Pedro explain the gender change to her local police force, and her superiors.”

Chang stated, “Should we reach that point. We will cross that bridge when we get to it. Still, I doubt that Fabiola will let those two stay away for very long. A month. Maybe two, at most.”

Balalaika responded, “I believe you are correct. In that Fabiola will return in a few months. But, how do you know those two will eventually return to this city?”

Chang answered, “Because we all have long since learned that running from one's problems solves nothing. They know that. And they just need some time to blow off some steam.”

Balalaika inquired, “True. Running solves nothing. And I can guess that you wish to talk to me about their possible return?”

Chang requested, “Yes. I want you to go easier on them. Especially, Pedro.” He thought, 'Balalaika. I know that you detest being told what to do. But, this had to be said.'

Balalaika firmly stated, “If they stay out of our way, there will be no problems.”

Chang thought, 'Good. Translated, that means she is open to the idea of going easier on them. Now, to handle this diplomatically. She is not the only one that knows how to push someones buttons. And we both do really know each other well.'

Chang responded, “Well, let's be honest. We are doing this for the fun, challenge, and profit. Not because we have to. We could go to a number of wonderfully places in the multiverse, where we would live a life of luxury, without a care in the world. But, people like us need to be challenged. We need goals. We go crazy if we don't have such objectives.”

Balalaika said, “Unfortunately, I will have to agree with you on this matter.”

Chang mentally reflected, 'I thought as much.'

Chang went onto say, “So, running out of town the only men keeping the city together is bad for business. And even you have to admit that.”

Balalaika conceded, “You may have a point there. Still, what do you suggest we do about Pedro? I have no problems with Matthew. He is your subordinate. But, I find Pedro difficult to handle. He hates bribery and extortion. And intimidation towards him has clearly backfired. And given his friends. Killing him, or threatening his loved ones, will likely backfire on us. So, the usual methods of dealing with law enforcement will not work with him.”

Chang stated, “While the usual methods do not work with Pedro. He is open to negotiation. And due to this, and our history, I want to meet you half way. If there is a disagreement between you two. I will mediate between you and Pedro. And we will find a solution that all of us can agree on.”

Balalaika commented, with a bit of nostalgia in her tone of voice, “Just like old times.”

Change responded, “No. Because there will be no insults. And Pedro is a very flexible guy. He will relent, if given a proper reason to do so. After years of watching him work. I have learned that his main goal is not so much to stop crime, but to keep the city from falling into chaos. Actually, he has encouraged some forms of vice crime, in this city, as a way to keep the town's economy running.”

“But, he realizes that he is walking a tightrope on this. Between enough crime to keep everyone here employed, and too much crime, causing either a collapse of the city. Or, his superiors sending in the military, to deal with us all.”

Balalaika mentioned, “Yes. We tapped his phone lines. Until he realized what we were doing.”

Chang though, 'Yes. Pedro is quick on the uptake. He knows our tactics. If he believed you were after him. He would immediately make changes to insure his communication channels were not tapped. Or, no longer tapped. Which they would likely be. He would then use the resources available to him, to eliminate the wiretapping, and try to prevent future wire tapping.'

Chang continued his thoughts, with concern, 'Also, Pedro conversations with his superiors, do trouble me. They don't like him, nor this city. And he does not like them. With the only reason he still has his job is because they cannot find anyone else to take the job.'

Chang commented, “I have also heard recordings of those conversations, as well. And I do not think his superiors are bluffing. Still, I believe once you understand all this, about Pedro. And realize how to work with him. You will have no further problems with him.”

There was silence between the two of them, as Balalaika thought over Chang's proposition.

Balalaika then relented, as she said, “Alright. I will except your offer.”

Chang thought, 'Good. I will call Revy later, to ask her to lay off on Matthew and Pedro. But, that will not be a problem. Now, to ask you some questions.'

Chang inquired, “Good. Is there anything else you would like to discuss. Anything that has happened while I have been gone?”

Balalaika grinned, as she answered, with a bit of mischievousness in her tone of voice, “Actually, a few interesting developments have occurred in your absence.”

Chang asked, “Good, or bad, developments?”

Balalaika coyly responded, “It depends on how you view having someone from here handing Revy her own ass, in a fist fight?”

Chang thought, 'Interesting.' He questioned, with a little curiosity in his tone of voice, “Is this person still breathing?”

Balalaika said, “Yes. He was able to make a good impression with us.”

Chang requested, in an eager tone of voice, “That must have been some impression. Please, tell me more.”

Balalaika continued to grin, as she stated, “Because you asked so nicely. I will. I was even there at the time, when the fight happened.”

Chang asked, “So, how did it start?”

Balalaika said, “It started at the Rats Nest, with Revy and Eda having a drinking contest.”

Chang stated, “With the super-soldier serum, a drinking contest would be very difficult to win.”

Balalaika responded, “I agree. I just don't think those two want to admit that to themselves. Still, their rivalry has sadly has devolved into a bladder contest.”

Chang sighed, as he said, “I don't want to know the details of their little contest. So, what happened next? How did this fight start?”

Balalaika stated, “It started when Revy lost her little contest to Eda. And well... Revy being Revy, got upset, and she decides to shot off her guns... Which, to be fair, has become a rarity for her. A few buildings away, one of her bullets hit the wife of a family, whom had gone out for dinner that night. Fortunately, it was a grazing, with the wound only mildly injuring her right shoulder. And she is fine. Still, this towards his family, and the injury to his wife, greatly upset the wife's husband.”

“After the man likely checked to make sure his wife, and their three young children, were otherwise uninjured, the man walked out of the restaurant he was in, and he walked into the Rats Nest bar.”

“When he entered our wonderful, little bar, he showed exactly what he was capable of. Including, disarming Revy, literally throwing her out of the bar, and then just beating the hell out of her. As this fight went on, none of Revy's punches effected him... For the most part.”

Chang asked, “How one sided was it?”

Balalaika answered, “Very one sided. Luckily, Melanie knew the family. And she retrieved the husband's wife. And with his wife's help, we were able to calm him down, before he seriously harmed Revy. And afterward, Revy promised, that from now on, she will not bring her guns with her, when she goes drinking.”

Chang stated, “That must have been some fight. It is rare for someone to get the upper hand on Revy. Though, given who we all are. I ask, again. Why is this man still breathing?”

Balalaika responded, “Well, we started it, by not doing something about Revy bringing her guns to our parties. And we didn't feel like harming him, after we learned who this man turned out to be.”

Chang questioned, “And who is he?”

Balalaika replied, “Hernan Pena.”

Chang inquired, “The mechanic you took your Zil too? The one with the full black beard?”

Balalaika said, “The very same. He did fine work on my car. And it is rare to find someone who could do such a good job. I may hire him for other automotive jobs.”

Chang responded, “Yes. It is. Kaylee is another good example of such skills. Still, I don't know why that would stop you from having some type of reprisal?”

Balalaika stated, “Well, it turns out that Hernan's beard hides a very interesting secret under it. We saw a picture of him without his beard. A wedding photo of him, and his wife, Maria Pena. And barring the hair color differences, he looks like Roberta's identical twin brother. It turns out that Hernan is Roberta's gender reversed counterpart for this reality.”

Balalaika saw Chang's eyes go wide for a seconds, before he forced himself to calm down.

Balalaika could not fully hold in her desire to burst out laughing. Though, the only response towards the surprised look on Chang's face, as her smiling, and letting out a small giggle, for a few seconds.

Chang said, “This town is just full of surprises. So, was Roberta there, as well?

Balalaika replied, “Yes. She helped calm Hernan down.”

Chang inquired, “How did she react to the news?”

Balalaika answered, “She laughed. She gets a kick out of it. And she and Hernan seem to treat each other like brother and sister.”

Chang questioned, “That's good. So, when his family is not in danger, how is Hernan's demeanor?”

Balalaika answered, “From the look in his eyes, he is calm on the outside, firm on the inside. Like Roberta is. But, you can tell that he is always thinking about what is going on. Also, from the way Hernan acted when B and I brought my car to him. He knew what was going on. But, he knew better than to mention it.”

Chang said, “It is clear the people here are not idiots. Many of them have likely put many of the pieces together, on who we are, and where we are from. But, they knew to stay quiet about such information.”

Balalaika agreed, “That is my assessment, as well.”

Chang requested, “I would like to meet Hernan.”

Balalaika stated, “Not today. Roberta took him, and his family, back home, to our reality, to visit Garcia, at the Lovelace home.”

Chang thought, 'Annie likely knew this when I talked to her. But, I will let her not telling me, slide. After all, it was not her place to discuss such matters with others.'

Chang asked, “Well, I hope they have a good time. Anything else interesting about the Pena family?”

Balalaika answered, “Yes. The wife, Maria, looks like Garcia's female form. Though, I do not know enough about her to get an assessment of her personality. Also, they have three small children. Two boys, and a girl.”

Chang commented, “I guess that makes sense. When will they be back?”

Balalaika replied, “Likely later today.”

Chang said, “Then, I will arranging a meeting with Hernan. Given he and his family will likely be a good mood, from their vacation, I do not think it will be a problem. And you know I can handle temperamental people.”

Balalaika responded, “Yes. You can. I believe that would likely be fine. Do you need his business phone number? I do not have his home number.”

Chang said, “I will have someone look up the number.”

Balalaika inquired, “Is there anything else you wish to discuss?”

Chang said, “Just how are things coming on your end?”

Balalaika answered, “Events are preceding in motion, as expected. Within six months, Hotel Moscow will have its own headquarters downtown.”

Chang inquired, “Given the cheap beach property on this island, I am surprised you did not put your new headquarters by the sand?”

Balalaika commented, “That would be too open for my tastes.”

Chang replied, “I can see your point.”

Balalaika mentioned, “Besides, we have the Maria Zeleska in the water.”

Chang questioned, “I guess that is as close to the water as one can get. So, is your new headquarters going to be like the old place in Roanapur?”

Balalaika coyly responded, “Somewhat. But, larger. With more floors, and floorspace on each level. With parts of the interior being laid out for apartment space for all our women.”

Chang commented, “Yea. From what I remember. Of the few visits I made there. Your place back in Roanapur was quite cramped, back then. And your ship is just as bad.

Balalaika replied, “True.”

Chang asked, “So, what defenses will that place have?”

Balalaika answered, “I am not going to talk about weapons and weapon placements. But, I will say the walls will be armor plated. The windows will be blast resistant. A concrete fence. And we will have a working energy field, surrounding the building, that we can turn on at a moments notice. Also, we have the same style of alien energy generators that the Lagoon family uses on their island. Only, ours are designed to be used on an industrial scale.”

Chang mentioned, “That is good thinking. I have been thinking of doing something similar for the casino. But, would draw a lot of power. And while I have similar generators, as what you have. And they work fine for the casino. They don't produce enough power for much else.”

Balalaika offered, “I have a couple of spare generators that would work for your defenses. If you want them?”

Chang answered, “Yes. I would like them. And thank you. We will discuss the details, later.”

Balalaika said, “That will be fine. And it seems that events are working out for all of us.”

Chang inquired, “I hope you are right. Still, did anything else happen during that last week, that was interesting.”

Balalaika coyly replied, “A few things.”

Chang questioned, “Such as?”

Balalaika answered, “I heard from Revy, that Lotton finally found a gunsmith to works on those old, antique pistols she likes to use. It was Melanie who knew the gunsmith, and that she has been keeping secrets from us.”

Chang commented, “Melanie probably knows quite a few secrets about this town. And having guns is not legal in this country. So, it was likely a secret on her part. And she can not be trusted with our secrets, if she can not be trusted with the secrets of others.”

Balalaika flatly replied, “I understand that.”

Chang casually responded, “Besides, she is Bao's girlfriend, and a nice person. So, there is every reasons to let this slide.”

Balalaika said, “I agree. As long as her secrets do not endanger us.”

Chang complimented, “As I would expect from a professional, such as yourself.”

Chang saw Balalaika crack a grin as his compliment towards her.

Chang inquired, “So, how good is this gunsmith?”

Balalaika answered, “From what Revy told me. The gunsmith in question did a good job on Lotton's pistols.”

Chang asked, “Nice. So, who is this gunsmith?”

Balalaika stated, “I heard from Revy, whom talked to Lotton, that the man goes by the name of, Burt Gummer. Though, the name rings a bell. I cannot place him.”

Chang chuckled a little, as he thought, 'Could he be... Of course, he is.' He said, “He is likely the same Burt that worked on our weapons, back in Roanapur.”

Balalaika replied, with interest in her tone of voice, “Really?”

Chang said, “Yes. And it gets better. He was the one we lost in Nevada, all those years ago.”

Balalaika commented, “Interesting... Now that you mentioned it. I do remember Mister Gummer's name coming up a couple of times in Lee's stories.”

Chang said, “Yes. But, with such a long story, it is easy to miss minor details.”

Balalaika stated, “Exactly. Given the amount of trouble he gave us in Nevada. And the artistic skills he displayed Roanapur. What is his backstory? I have a feeling that there is quite a tale behind his abilities.”

Chang responded, “And you would be correct. First, Burt loves guns. That is why he is so good with using guns and working on guns. And his story is one that is quite intriguing.”

Balalaika requested, with a bit of eagerness in her tone of voice, “Do tell.”

Chang grinned, as he answered, “Certainly. In back in Roanapur, I had my suspicions about him. He even used his real name. But, I thought that Burt from Tremors would never have been crazy enough to sell weapons to us. I guess I was wrong.”

Balalaika commented, “This would not be the first time you were wrong on such matters.”

Chang conceded, in an even tone of voice, “True.” He then grinned, as he continued, in a casual tone of voice, “Also, you might find it humorous to learn that he was just about as bummed out over the fail of the Soviet Union, as you were. His wife left him on the grounds that he could not live without the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

Balalaika burst out laughing, for several seconds.

Chang remained silent, as he let his friend laugh.

As Balalaika slowly calmed down, she requested, in an eager tone of voice, “What else? Is he from a fictional series, himself?”

Chang answered, “Yes. And Burt is likely the most badass monster hunter in existence. He is from a movie and TV series, called, Tremors. First two movies are worth a watch. I will loan you my copies, later today.”

Balalaika said, “I look forward to it. And we will have to visit Burt sometime. He always did well in the jobs we paid him for. And he was always respectful towards us.”

Chang asked, “I fully agree with your assessment. Do you have the address for Burt's gunshop?”

Balalaika replied, “No. But, I can find out his location.”

Chang said, “No need. I will just ask Lotton for Burt's address, his phone number, and the times he is open for business.”

Balalaika commented, “It figures that you would still talk to Lotton.”

Chang stated, “Of course. Lotton has remained a good friend. And I will arrange for us to visit Burt, at his shop, in a week, or so.”

Balalaika responded, with a but in intrigue in her tone of voice, “I look forward to it.”

Chang asked, in a relaxed tone of voice, “So, is there anything else you wish to discuss with me.”

Balalaika replied, “Well... Not for right now. What about, yourself?”

Chang mused out loud, “Hmm... You know. Besides the lesbianism. And conflicting organizations. I always wondered why we never slept together, at least once? And don't blame Lee for you preferring woman. The signs were all there, long before she had her hands in on the situation. It was just that Lee recognized those signs. Such as your butch lesbianism. No offense.”

Balalaika shrugged, as she conceded, “None taken. You have a point there. And the answer is real simple. Both of us have dominating personalities that will not yield to the other for very long.” She then cracked a grin, as she mischievously continued, “And we both have the same taste in women. We both like badasses. Especially, redheads.” She thought, 'Though, I do care for B.'

Chang returned Balalaika smile, as he said, with excitement in his tone of voice, “I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.”

Chang thought, 'So, way back in Tokyo, the likely reason you were telling Revy that she did belong in Rock's world, was that you didn't want give up your chance for her. Not bad. And I don't blame you for that. Still, it is interesting. Though, since we are having such a playful conversation, I will not mention this, because it might ruin the mood we have going between each other.'

Balalaika giggled a little, from Chang's response. She then said, “Don't tell me that you were not at least a bit attracted to her. It wasn't Revy's... Shining personality that was the determining factor for you deciding to teach her.”

Chang admitted, “I have have to agree with you, there. But, she had a lot of potential that I did not want to go to waste.”

Balalaika responded, “True. And for a while, I thought Revy preferred women... Well, at least more than she does. It was why I was interested in her.”

Chang stated, “You are not the only one that thought that.”

Chang thought, 'That, combined with her saving your life, when you first showed up in Roanapur, years ago. With you shooting me four times, and I shot you three times. With you going over the pier. Then, the Lagoon crew showed up, fished you out of the water, and patched you up. With Revy giving you some of her blood, in a transfusion, to keep you going until they could find you a doctor.'

'After our battle that night, I wasn't in that good a shape, either. And it took us both a few months to fully recover from the wounds we gave each other. Though, after that battle, I think our egos took a bit of a beating, as well. Considering, for all intents and purposes, it was draw.'

Balalaika lamented, as she said, “Still, at that time, if I had known about her past, I would have handled things differently toward her.” She then continued, in a dispassionate tone of voice, “But, then Rock showed up. And he unknowingly prevented me from forming any such relationships with her.”

Chang responded, “True. And though Dutch and Benny helped to keep her from getting worse. It was Rock whom was able to help her through some things.”

Balalaika commented, “Yes. Rock helped her become an overall better person.”

Chang stated, “True. And I have never been jealous of Rock's relationship with Revy. I mean, while we both liked Revy for body, and her sense of up front honesty. She is the living embodiment of the term, fiery redhead. And given her temper and reputation, I honestly believe that Rock didn't realize that anyone else, whom knew Revy, was attracted to her.”

Balalaika commented, “You are correct on both points. And it was my fault for not making my move sooner. Still, thanks to Rock's help. Revy is more pleasant to be around.”

Chang thought, 'I am glad you are mature enough to admit that you should have acted sooner. And if that had happened, I would have been okay with the relationship.'

Chang agreed, “Yes. Rock influence on her has made is much easier to be her friend.”

Balalaika said, “And that is something we need to be grateful towards Rock for.”

Chang replied, “Oh, I am. I would have hated it if she had lost her temper in a way that I was forced to take her down.”

Balalaika stated, “I feel the same way.” She then offered, with a bit of mirth in her tone of voice, “And, back to a more interesting proposal. While I should have also made this offer, sooner. Since you can turn into a woman, I would be more than willing to show you, and your two lovers, a good time. I am sure B would enjoy the company, in our bedroom, as well.”

Chang asked, “And what about your kids?”

Balalaika said, “Surprisingly, a number of my subordinates were willing, and very good, babysitters.”

Chang stated, “Careful now. A few of your subordinates might decide to become mothers, as well.”

Balalaika mentioned, “Interesting, you should mention that. Years ago, I had a wonderful discussion with Roberta, on this very subject.. She told me about how FARC use to handle their female soldiers. With the woman balancing being a soldier, with being a mother. And the practices they used were fairly reasonable... At least, until things went bad hill with FARC... But, I see no reason I cannot apply similar practices with Hotel Moscow.”

Chang said, “Leave to you, to always have a plan for every occasion.” He thought, 'It is also a good long term way to maintain the ranks.'

Balalaika smiled, as she playfully inquired, “You are one to talk. Though, what are you feelings in dealing with employees that have outside relationships? And the possibility of children?”

Chang stated, “As long as their actions do not effect their jobs, nor this organization, I could care less. My staff knows I will be more than willing to help them with any wedding they wish to have, free of charge.”

Balalaika commented, “That wedding you hosted, for Zoe and Wash, was nice. And that is generous of you.”

Chang said, “Thank you. Also, I will make allowances for when they are pregnant, up to a year after the birth of their children, for them to make arrangements on the care of their children, while they return to work.”

Balalaika responded, “I feel that same way when it comes to such issues. Still, we will cross those bridge we get to them. B and I, decided we would not be hypocrites on the matter. We will just deal with the events, as they come along... So, what about my offer?” She licked her lips, in a seductive manner, as she teased, “B and I won't be too rough with you three.”

Chang declined, as he said, in a calm tone of voice, “Thanks. But, no thanks. If half of what I heard is true. From River and Lee, concerning yours and B's discipline lesson on Lee. Back on Lagoon Island. I believe we have differing tastes in the bedroom.”

Balalaika shrugged, as she casually requested, “To each her own. And let me know if you change your mind, Chang.”

Chang replied, “I will, Balalaika.”

Balalaika commented, “Also, I must say. These meetings are so much nicer than the ones we had in Roanapur. But, that is likely because here we do not have to deal with riff raff that don't know when to sit down and shut up.”

Chang said, “Yes. It does make things easier, when one does not have to deal with idiots, whom are put in positions of authority.”

Balalaika giggled a little. She then replied, “So true. And have a pleasant day, Chang. I will be in touch.”

Chang stated, “I looked forward to your phone call. We have each others cellphone number, so that should not be a problem. And I hope you have a nice day, as well.”

Balalaika replied, “Thank you.” She then stood up from her chair. She turned to her right, and walked between the two chairs, in front of Chang's desk, and towards the open door, leading to the hallway.

When Balalaika reached the threshold of the doorway, she turned around, to look at Chang, whom was looking back her.

Balalaika smiled, as she said, “While I would have loathed to admit it, years ago. I can now say that we make a pretty good team.”

Chang returned Balalaika smile, as he stated, “I fully agree.”

Balalaika then turned around, and exited the office, and into the hallway, as she headed for the back elevators. And to her car, which was parked in the casino garage.

With Balalaika gone, Chang leaned back in his chair, as he allowed his body to relax.

Chang thought, 'Well, that turned out to be a delightful meeting, filled with pleasant surprises. I will have to arrange for Balalaika and I, to schedule a reunion with Burt. But, that is for, later.'

'Right now, I need to contact Hernan. If he really is as good as Balalaika made him out to be, I need to talk with him, as soon as possible.'

'It is likely that Roberta will return then Pena family back home, sometime this afternoon. Though, they will all have likely spent a few days, to a week, with Garcia.'

'I truly hope they had a good time. Because, that vacation will help put Hernan in a good mood, for when I meet with him. And I have been to Garcia's home. It is a nice place to spent a few days at.'

'Though, to get in touch with them, will be simple enough. I will just call their home, at the top of every hour. They will eventually answer my phone. Then, I will invite Hernan to come speak with me this afternoon. I would invite Maria, as well. But then, they would likely have to bring their children along. And that would likely cause problems.'

'Besides, I can meet with the entire family, later. Though, for now, I need to find out his home phone number and address.'

Chang then pulled out his cellphone and started to dial the extension to his security room, downstairs.

(_)

At that moment, elsewhere on the top floor of Daiyu Palace Casino, River and Lee had just come in from the outside, heated, pool, through the terrace and into their bedroom, by way of the sliding glass door, that lead from the terrace to the bedroom.

The two lovers had spent much of the morning in the heated pool, before they took a break for a few hours. But, because they wanted to swim some more, among other things they skipped, lunch, and swam some more, in the heated pool, for part of the afternoon.

Presently, they were both wearing one piece swimsuits, because of, while the pool was heated, when they got out, the cool wind, on the terrace, bit a little against their wet skin.

They also each had a cloth towel in their hands. With them drying themselves as they walk into the bedroom.

River had opened the sliding glass door, and walked through it first. With Lee walking behind her.

After Lee passed the threshold of the doorway, she turned around and slid the sliding glass door closed. But, she kept it unlock. After which, she turned around to face River.

River walked over to her left, by a set selves mounted to the wall, were where a set of six metal bars. The bars were set on the wall, to the right of the sliding glass door, when facing the door from the inside. The bars were placed their to allow for the residents of the apartment to hang their towels and swimsuit, after coming into the room, drying off, from being in the outside heated pool, or hot tub.

River then came to a stop by the set of metal bars, as she turned to look at Lee.

Both women dropped their towels on the floor, as they took off their one piece swimsuits.

With both women nude, Lee then walked over by River, with both women setting their swimsuits on the same metal bar, to dry off.

Both women were only a few feet away from each other, as they picked up their towels, and started to further dry off their hair and bodies.

River and Lee began dry off by, wiping down their long hair. With River's hair being red. And Lee's hair being black.

While they continued toweling down, in the nude, River shivered a little, as she commented, “Brr. It is a bit cold outside, while wet. But, it was worth it for a swim in that warm pool.”

Lee continued to drying off her hair, as she responded, “I agree. And you know what?... Well, since you are a telepath, you already know what I am going to say.”

River casually replied, “Yes. But, go ahead and say it. I enjoy casual, light conversation.”

Lee stated, “Well, I find it so much easier to dry water off as a woman, instead of a man. Due to woman having less body hair, and finer, small hairs.”

River commented, “I thought, with your female body being a cursed form, that except for the hair on your head, and the pubic hair between your legs, you have no hair on your body? With you skin being very smooth.”

Lee stated, in a considerate tone of voice, “That is correct. But, I didn't want to make you jealous.”

River had finally finished drying off her hair. She started toweling down her body, as she said, “I appreciate you consideration for my feelings.”

Lee commented, “You're welcome. On another matter. I am still concerned with Pedro and Matthew being out there, in the multiverse.”

River responded, “Well, Fabiola is with them. And she will keep them out of trouble. Or, at the very least, get them out of trouble. I mean how much trouble could they get themselves into?”

(_)

Elsewhere, in the multiverse, on a six lane highway, on Earth, at twilight. On the right side of the highway, in the center lane, of the three lanes, on that side of the road, was a mid-level, four door car, speeding down the road, with the windows all rolled down.

In the left driver's seat, was Leigharch, laughing his ass off, as he floored the gas pedal, in the high speed chase they were in.

To Leigharch's right, in the front passengers seat was Pedro. Behind Pedro, was Fabiola, and behind Leigharch was Matt Bluestone.

Fabiola had one of her pistol in her left hand, Pedro out his semi-automatic pistol, and Matt had his semi-automatic drawn. All three of the armed adults were firing behind them, outside their windows of the cars, at the twenty-one police cars, and three police helicopters, chasing them.

As this went on, in the center of the back seat, Matthew silently sat as he leaned forward. He cupped his face in his hands, as he slowly shook his head in disappointment.

(_)

Back in Lee's reality, in the bedroom of the penthouse of Daiyu's Place Casino, River had just rhetorically asked Lee how much trouble their friends could get into, while traveling the multiverse?

Lee strongly stated, at an even tone of voice, “Given our lives, you should know better than to say things like that. With Leigharch with them. I would say they could get into a lot of trouble.”

River pointed out, “True. On both counts. But, Matt Bluestone with them. And Fabiola and Matt have a lot of experience with fighting strange creatures. And being in strange situations.”

River thought, 'Though, I did sense from Pedro that they were running from someone. But, I didn't have time to find out who. Still, if it was important enough, they know they can return here for help. Lee and I would certainly make sure they got the helped the needed.'

'Unfortunately, I cannot tell Lee and Chang this, because they might not have left, if they knew this was the case. Still, I can hope that Fabiola and Matt, can keep them out of trouble. Fabiola, I know can handle herself, in most situations. And from watching the Gargoyles series, Matt seems to have a good head on his shoulders. With Pedro and Matthew, not far behind Matt, in that department.'

Lee had finished drying her long black hair, and she was now drying off her body. While she did so, she commented, “Still, I wonder how Matt Bluestone ended up running with those four? I mean, Leigharch, I can understand. Pedro and Matthew likely ended up in Black Lagoon's past, after the series, but before my stories. And they picked them up. I am glad that I didn't mention Leigharch.

River had just finished her hair, as well. And she began to dry off her body, as she agreed, “Yes. It does make for a more interesting situation with friends.”

Lee stated, “I know. Though, I thought Pedro and Matthew has more sense than to go to the Gargoyles reality. There is a reason Chang and I, both refused to have anything to do with the people of that reality.”

River commented, “I get the impression that the reason that Matt ended up with the rest of the group was likely an accident, on all their parts.”

Lee replied, “That is very likely.”

River asked, “So, would you like to get a late lunch?”

Lee answered, “Sure. I was thinking of that cuban restaurant downtown.”

River complimented, “Nice choice. After we get dried off, we will change clothes, and take the pink Cadillac, to that restaurant.”

Lee inquired, “My thoughts exactly. So, should we invite Chang? Or, has he already eaten?”

River stated, “Due to our mistake of returning a little over a week later. Instead, of a few minutes later. Chang has a lot of paperwork, and meetings to catch up on. And I sensed that he had lunch an hour ago.”

Lee asked, “Okay. Do you think we could help him with his work, in some way?”

River answered, “If he needs our help. He will ask. Otherwise, we just need to stay out of his way.”

Lee replied, “Okay.” By then, Lee had finished drying off. She looked over at River, as she asked, “So, you finished drying off.”

River stopped drying off, as she held her towel in her right hand. She looked over at Lee, as she answered, “Yes. I see that you are done, as well?”

Lee said, “Yea. Let's get some warm clothing on, and get some lunch.”

River replied, “Good idea.”

Each woman hung their towel on one of the bars. So, both towels could dry by the swimsuits.

River and Lee then headed into the walk in closet that they shared. So, they could change into some more winter theme, and warmer clothing.

Once they were dressed, they made a quick trip to the master bathroom of their apartment. Next, they headed downstairs, to the garage, where they would retrieve their pink Cadillac. And then, they went to go get something to eat at a local cuban restaurant they sometimes frequented.

(_)

In another part of the town of Plata Podrido, around fifteen minutes after River and Lee left for lunch, at two fifteen PM, inside the living room of the Pena home, Roberta and the Pena family had teleported back to their home, after spending three full days, and a full morning, at the Lovelace home.

It was a wonderful vacation for Roberta, and Garcia, and the five members of the Pena family. But sadly, their vacation was over. And they had to move on with their lives.

Roberta had her reality device in her right hand, as each of the Pena family members were holding a suitcase, full of their clothing. Maria also had a travel bag hung on her right shoulder, by its strap.

The six individuals were looking at each other, Ramon childishly commented, in spanish, “That was great.”

Antonio calmly agreed, in spanish, “Yes. It was fun... And at least my homework for the weekend is all done”

Carmela happily mentioned, in spanish, “The food and shopping were great.”

Ramon said, “And the pool was so much fun.”

Carmela stated, “And I got a chance to try on my new swimsuit, that we got over there.”

Antonio shrugged, as he commented, “It was okay.”

Maria turned to her three children, as she stated, in spanish, “Yes. Children. It was a fun trip. Now, go unpack.”

The three siblings, turned around, and headed into the hallway, that lead to their three separate bedrooms.

With her kids disappearing into another part of her home, Maria turned to Roberta, as she kindly thanked the purple haired woman, “I must say. That was a wonderful vacation. I am glad you invited us, Roberta.”

Roberta pocketed her reality device, as she turned to Maria. She happily said, in spanish, “You're welcome. And Garcia and I both, thoroughly enjoy you, and your family's company. I could have not asked for a most pleasant experience.”

Maria replied, “I agree. And I do hope that Garcia is able to come visit us, in a few days. Like he said he would.”

Roberta kindly responded, “Don't worry. Garcia has always been a man of his word.” She thought, 'Even when he was a child.'

Hernan looked at both Maria, and Roberta, as he stated, in spanish, in a calm, though pleasant tone of voice, “Yes. It was a very good experience for all us of. And I feel that we all gain much from getting to know each other.”

Roberta turned to Hernan, as she agreed, “Yes. We did.”

Hernan then looked at the clock on the wall above the TV. The clock stated it was two seventeen PM. He turned to look at Roberta, as he asked, “So, we are back on the same day?”

Roberta responded, “Yes. And not to worry. I have plenty of experience with reality travel. This is the same day we left.”

Hernan replied, “Great. I just wanted to make sure.”

Roberta said, “No problem. I would ask the same question, in your place.”

Hernan commented, “I realize that.”

Maria offered, “Yes. This is good to hear. This means that we have all of Sunday, together, to enjoy, as well. And I was wondering. After treating us so well in your home. It would be rude for us not to offer you a nice home cooked dinner. So, please stay for the afternoon, and join us for supper, tonight.”

Roberta said, “I would be happy, too.”

Maria happily replied, “Good.”

Roberta inquired, “Also, you have my number for my suite, at the Devil's Hotel?”

Maria responded, “Of course. It is written down on a piece of paper, in my pocket.”

Roberta offered, “Well, if anyone in your family needs to talk to me, about anything, I am more than willing to listen.”

Maria calmly stated, “I have no doubt about that. We will only be a few minutes. So, sit down, and watch some TV, as we take care of unpacking our belongings. We were are all finished. I plan to have our family play a board game, or too.

Roberta kindly replied, “I look forward to it.”

Maria and Hernan then turned around, and started walking into the hallway, that lead to both their bedroom, their children's three bedrooms, and the master bathroom of the home.

As Roberta watched Maria and Hernan disappear into the hallway, she thought, 'It is going to be so much fun to be around this family. They are such nice people to be around. And it gives me hope for myself, Garcia, and Fabiola, for our futures.'

'Though, I am not planning on getting pregnant anytime soon. Fabiola still has the zest of youth, and she clearly has no plans to be a mother, right now, either. And even without his responsibilities, I would loath to request Garcia to go through such an experience.'

'But, those worries are for later. For now, I need to patiently wait for them to get unpacked, and come back here, so we can have some more fun.'

Roberta then walked around the coffee table, to sit down in the couch, across from the turned off TV, as she patiently waiting for the Pena family to finish their tasks.

(_)

Around forty minutes later, at three PM, inside the living room, the Pena family, among with Roberta, sat around the coffee table, as they were in the middle of playing a simple board game.

On the reclining chair closest to the kitchen, sat Antonio. To his right, on the part of the couch that was nearest to Antonio, was his mother, Maria. In the middle of the couch was Hernan. On the other side of Hernan, on the couch, was Roberta. On the reclining chair to Roberta's left, sat Carmela. And Ramon was sitting on the floor, across the coffee table,

While, it was a short board game, and they were nearly finished, with the children were having fun playing the game, while the adults were enjoying the children having fun.

Suddenly, the wireless phone started to ring, on its base, on top of the table, by an electric lamp, that was between Maria and Antonio.

Maria picked up the phone, pressed the talk button, and held it to her right ear. She said into it, in spanish, “Hello?”

A few seconds later, Maria then spoke english, which caught everyone's attention. They all stopped playing the board game, as they looked over at Maria. Maria inquired, in english, “Who is this?”

Beside Maria, Hernan saw Maria turn to face him.

Maria handled the phone to Hernan, as she said, in spanish, “Hernan. It is for you.”

Hernan took the phone, and placed it to his left ear. He stated, in english, “Hello.”

On the other end of the line, a male voice asked, in english, “Is this Hernan Pena?”

Hernan replied, “Yes.”

The man stated, “My name is, Chang. You may have heard of me.”

Hernan calmly said, “I have. What is this about?”

Chang requested, “I wish to speak with you. In the next twenty to thirty minutes, if possible. In my office, at my casino.”

Hernan thought, with annoyance, 'Damn it. And it was such a lovely day. Chang is to dangerous a person to say, no, to. But...' He requested, “As long as I can bring someone with me. I will be more than happy to do so.”

Chang responded, “That will be fine. I am at the casino. My office is on the penthouse level. Do you know where the casino is?”

Hernan replied, “Yes.”

Chang stated, “Good. Then, when you arrive there, walk inside the front entrance. Next, keep going straight, to the front elevator bay. When you reach the elevator bay, let the guards there know who you are. They have already been informed to expect your arrival.”

Hernan thought, with concern, 'The man already knew I was going to say, yes. From what I know of Chang. That is par for course for him. Still, he put guards at his elevator. I wonder what is up with that?... Chances are it is just probably for show.'

Hernan stated, “I will do so.”

Chang replied, “I will see you then.” He then hung up.

Hernan handed Maria the phone. With his wife putting the phone back on it's base.

Maria turned back to Hernan, as she asked, in spanish, “Who was that?”

Hernan looked at Roberta, then back to Maria. He answered, in spanish, “It was Chang. And he wants to meet me. Right now.”

Roberta frowned, in response to what Hernan said.

Maria questioned, “Who is Chang?”

Roberta over to Maria, as she answered, for Hernan, “Chang is the owner of the large casino on the south end of the city. He is a very dangerous man. But, he knows not to cross me.”

Hernan stated, “And he wants to see me in twenty to thirty minutes. So, we don't really go time to talk about this.” He turned to Roberta, as he requested, “But, I was hoping that Roberta would coming along. If she wants too.”

Roberta turned to Hernan, as she said, “I would love too.” She mentally reflects, 'If for any other reason than to bring Chang's ego down a notch.'

Maria stated, “Given Roberta will be with you, I am sure you will be alright. I will watch the kids, and start dinner, in an hour. So please, try not to be long.”

Hernan replied, “I won't.” He thought, 'I will try to get my business done with Chang as quickly as possible.'

Hernan then looked around the room, at their children, whom were looking back at him, with concern looks on their faces and in their eyes.

Hernan thought, 'Even they can tell something is wrong.' He calmly said, “Children, I will be back in a little while. Try not give you mother a hard time.”

Roberta offered, “We will take my car.”

Hernan replied, “Good. Because, I am not in the mood to drive.”

Hernan stood up, with Roberta also getting up a second later. Roberta then turned to her left, as she walked around the coffee table. Hernan followed right behind her.

They soon made it to the front door, and from their, they reached Roberta's car, which was parked on the street, by the Pena home.

Roberta then drove Hernan to Daiyu Palace Casino.

(_)

Twenty five minutes later, Roberta and Hernan made it to the casino parking lot. After Roberta parked the car, they headed inside the front entrance of the caisno. They then made their way passed the front of the casino, through the busy gaming floor, and to the guarded, front elevator bay.

The two well dressed, chinese, female guards immediately recognized Roberta, and the two women quickly allowed both Roberta and Hernan to use the expressed elevator.

Once Roberta and Hernan were on the penthouse level, Roberta lead Hernan through the hallways of the penthouse, to Chang's office.

When Roberta and Hernan reached the open door to Chang's office, Roberta walked in first, with Hernan following inside, right behind her.

The two adults soon came to a stop, in Chang's office. The two adults stood side by side, with Roberta to Hernan's right, as they saw Chang, in his usual black suit, sitting in his chair, behind his desk.

Chang looked back at them, as he raised an eyebrow, upon seeing Roberta. He calmly stated, in english, “Well, hello Roberta and Mister Pena.”

Chang though, 'And right on time. And on short notice. To boot. Not bad. Not bad at all. And I should have seen this coming. Of all people, Hernan would have most likely want to bring Roberta here. And this proves what Balalaika said. He knows who we are. And Roberta and Garcia has likely told him and his wife, Maria, some more about me, and our friends.'

'Still, I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Such, as I know spanish. But, I am speaking in english, because I do not want you both to know that I speak spanish. That way, you two may slip up, and say something in spanish, that I can use. With you to falsely believing that I don't know spanish.'

'The only reason I didn't use this trick on Balalaika. And I let her know I knew russian was that it would be counterproductive for her to think she could not trust me, on such a minor issue.'

Hernan replied, in english, “Hernan is fine, Chang.”

Chang responded, “Alright, Hernan. And it figures the person you said you wished to bring would turn out to be, Roberta.”

Roberta calmly said, in english, “Hello to you too, Chang.”

Hernan cracked a grin, as he casually asked, “If you could bring anyone you wanted to this meeting, to offer their support for you, who would it be?”

Chang admitted, “Her.”

Hernan maintained his smile, as he stated, “My point exactly. Besides, I trust my sister.”

Roberta could not help but crack a grin as Hernan and Chang's compliments of her.

Chang commented, “I guess saying you are siblings would be the least confusing way to explain why you two look so similar. And depending on how you look at it the situation. There is some truth in your blood relation claims.”

Neither Hernan, nor Roberta, took Chang's bait. Instead, Roberta flatly asked, “So, why do you want to speak to Hernan?”

Chang answered, “I just got back in town, and I found out who, Hernan, here is. And that he beat Revy in a fight. I wanted to meet him, myself.”

Hernan replied, “Well, I am here.”

Chang requested, “Yes. You are. Now, please sit down. So, we can continue this conversation, with some class.”

Roberta and Hernan did not respond, as they just walked over to the two chairs in in front of Chang's desk.

Roberta then saw in the chair to Chang's left side. And Hernan sat in the chair to Chang's right side.

While Roberta and Hernan got comfortable in their chairs, Chang mentioned, “By the way. River, Lee, and I, ran into Fabiola.”

Roberta and Hernan looked up at Chang, as Roberta casually asked, “So, how is she?”

Chang answered, “Good. She decided to stay with Matthew and Pedro, for a while. She promised to return soon. At least for us.” He mentally added, 'I won't mention Leigharch, nor Matt Bluestone, since there would be no point in doing so. Since neither of these two people personally know those two men.'

Roberta stated, “Then, everything should work out for them.”

Chang responded, “I believe that will be the case.” He turned his attention to Hernan, as he continued, “Now, let's talk about you. My first question is. How much do you know about us?”

Hernan calmly answered, “I have seen the Black Lagoon series, and read Lee's stories. And I have discussions with Roberta on the matter. So, I have fair idea of how dangerous you are.” He thought, 'I will leave out that Maria and Garcia were also in on some of those discussions.'

Chang commented, “And yet you still are friends with Roberta?”

Hernan stated, “I am probably the only one in the whole multiverse whom could understand her.”

Chang thought about his experiences in Santo Domingo, as he coyly said, “Maybe not. But, you are on a very short list. When is comes to that. I heard that you, and your family visited Garcia in his home. I hope it was a pleasant visit.”

Hernan responded, in a low, dangerous tone of voice, “I don't know how you found out about that...”

Roberta thought, 'Oh no...” She quickly spoke up, “I believe I was at fault about that. I talked to Aeryn and Violin about it, at the Rats Nest, a few nights ago, local time. It is possible that one of my other friends over heard me.”

Hernan turned to Roberta, as he said, in a calm tone of voice, “Mistakes happen.” He looked back over at Chang, as he warned, “Still, if you think threatening me, or my love ones, with the information you have on us, is a good idea. I am hear to tell you that it is not.”

Chang responded, “I am not threatening you. I am just stating what I know. Do you honestly think I would risk getting on Roberta bad side. And I hear that you can likely can be as bad as her. I don't think I could survive a fight with both of you.”

Roberta conceded, “Chang has a point, there.”

Hernan forced himself to calm down, as he replied, “Okay. And yes, it was a pleasant visit.”

Chang inquired, in a relaxed tone of voice, “Good. Now, moving on. Do you know, Lee?

Hernan answered, “No. But, Pedro and Melanie are good friends of mine.”

Chang mentioned, “Of course. I believe Melanie may have mentioned you, once or twice.”

Hernan conceded, “That is possible. I have a bit of a reputation.”

Chang plainly asked, “What happened?”

Hernan stated, “Since you will eventually find out. I will tell you. Years ago, some cartel members track me to this city. They shot my wife. She fortunately recover. But, Pedro and I then took out the cartel members that were here. And Pedro's brother, Paciano, convinced the cartel not to send any other troops after me.”

“Still, that was pretty much my own personal Blood Trail. If Pedro was not there to reign me in. Or, if my family had been further harmed, or even killed. It would have been likely far worse for those I was after.”

“But, it seems that all it takes is a single bloody rampage, and one never lives it down.”

Roberta commented, in a sympathetic tone of voice, “You are not alone on that.”

Chang agreed, “Yes. That seems to be the case.”

Hernan questioned, “So, what do you truly want?”

Chang said, “I want to offer you a job?”

Hernan flatly replied, “You're kidding?”

Chang calmly stated, “No. It would be foolish not to offer someone with the skills similar to the Bloodhound here, a job. Roberta has already turned me down. But, you have not. I will make it worth your while.”

Hernan answered, “No. For several reasons. No First, like Roberta here, I really don't like the more violent aspects of my personality.”

Roberta spoke up, “He is correct.”

Hernan went onto say, “And we may both be good at fighting and killing. But, we prefer to try to move beyond our past actions. And don't fool yourselves. I was in FARC. Roberta and I compared notes. We both believe that I am just as good as her, when I was in my prime.”

“We fought the same types of enemies, in the same types of mud. And while I didn't have a nickname, like the Bloodhound here. I am likely just as good at killing, as she is.”

“My fight with Revy proofed the skills that I had. And I was not going full out. And I am passed my prime.

“I am happily married to a wonderful woman named Maria. And yes, she is Garcia's counterpart. Still, I would do nothing questionable, that would risk breaking her heart.”

“Along with that, we are the parents of three children. And I have to be a good role model them. Besides, my wife is cooking dinner in an hour. And I do not want to miss her good cooking.”

Chang stated, “I can appreciate that. And you are right, family comes first. Though, I do not want you to feel that you have wasted you time here. So, be aware that the heated, employee pool, and the employee gym, downstairs, in the back, on the first floor, are open to you and your family. At anytime, for free. Just like Roberta here, and her friends.”

Hernan replied, “I will consider it. But for now, I need return home.”

Chang responded, “Fair enough. If you decide you wish to hear my offer. Just call me. Roberta has my number. Also, if you decide to bring your family to the casino, we will do a meet and greet between your family, and the security staff, so they know that you and your family are clear to use employee pool and gym, without a problem. And also, have a safe trip, and a pleasant evening.”

Hernan and Roberta did not reply, as they both silently stood up from their chairs. They then turned around, and headed out of the room. Roberta took point, with Hernan following right behind her.

(_)

As Chang watched Roberta and Hernan walk out of his office, and into the hallway, he thought, 'Just like Roberta. Direct and to the point. Silent, unless they are spoken to. They really are a lot alike, in a several ways. Still, offering Hernan a job was worth asking.'

'Yet, like Roberta. He clearly cares for his loved ones. Which is a very good thing. I have always admired Roberta for the loyalty and concern she gave to her loved ones.'

'And with Roberta around the Pena family, being with them should mellow her out. Which means even less of a chance of her coming after Lee.'

'So, this outcome may have been beneficial to everyone, after all.'

'And in the future, there is always Hernan children, and any children that Roberta might have. All I have to do is have patience. And that is something I have plenty of.'

Chang then went back to business, on catching up with work, from the previous week he, and his two lovers, had accidentally missed.

(_)

A few minutes later, Hernan and Roberta soon reached parking lot, where Roberta had left her car. They got into the car, and Roberta drove them back to the Pena home.

When the two adults reached the Pena home, they spent the rest of the afternoon having a pleasant time with the rest of the Pena family. Roberta then stayed for a wonderful meal with the Pena family.

Maria had fixed a tasty meal. And they all had a pleasant conversation during their meal.

A few hours later, when it was time for the Pena children to go to bed, Roberta said her goodbyes. Though, she promised to come by to visit again, the next morning. With Maria and Hernan, saying she was welcome in their home, anytime.

Roberta then exited the Pena home, got into her car, and headed to the Devil's Hotel, and to her suite, where she could get some rest, for the night.

To be continued.



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