“I can’t believe we’re finally here.” Sandra plopped down on the sand and sighed happily.
Nicole knelt beside her, fussing with a blanket and giant canvas umbrella and a picnic basket and a cooler full of enough snacks and drinks to feed an entire army. “I know, right? It’s a good thing we have such ridiculous knowledge of 1950’s tunes.”
The two of them played a Name That Tune game with their local radio station every week, and finally they’d won - an all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii for two. As Nicole’s husband had to go to Hawaii for a science conference anyway, they’d timed it so the three of them could go to together. Nicole and Sandra would have their ladies’ trip while Sandra’s son had an extended visit with his dad, and after Sandra headed back to the mainland, Nicole could spend time with her husband.
Sandra had a stack of books she’d been waiting to read. Nicole had the grand ambition of learning how to surf. All her Californian cousins did it, and one of her colleagues at work had let her borrow a surfboard, insisted it was easy. As Nicole had recently learned the art of snowboarding, she was pretty sure she could handle surfing.
“Are you sure you don’t want to try?” Nicole asked. Once she had their little beach palace all arranged (at this point all they were missing were slave-boys in board shorts serving them umbrella drinks), she stood up and surveyed their space. Good view of the water (and attractive beach-goers), nice breeze, but plenty of shade.
“Perfectly sure.” Sandra smiled up at her. “Go. Have fun. Don’t break anything. Don’t drown.”
“Are you a hundred percent sure?” Nicole waggled her eyebrows hopefully.
“A hundred and ten,” Sandra said, “because surfing is only slightly less crazy than snowboarding, if only because the board isn’t strapped to your feet.”
From the next towel over, a man said, “See, John? I’m not the only one who thinks this surfing business is crazy. That woman’s a total stranger and she knows what I’m talking about.”
Sandra looked at Nicole, blinked. Raised her eyebrows. Together the two of them peered past the shade of their umbrella at the next towel, where two men were sitting. One was huddled under his own beach umbrella, wearing a t-shirt and shorts and flip-flops. He had thinning brown hair, blue eyes, and a very square jaw, and was pale. The other knelt in front of him. He was wearing a sleek black wetsuit and had wildly spiky dark hair. Both of them were incredibly handsome.
The pale man was gesturing in Nicole and Sandra’s direction. He caught Sandra’s gaze and raised his eyebrows as if to say, You’re with me, right?
“Rodney, I promise I’m a good teacher,” John said. He jerked a thumb at his surfboard, which was planted upright in the sand and giving Rodney some extra shade. “I swear I’ll be patient with you.”
“Like you were patient about teaching me how to use a gun?” Rodney demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
John looked chagrined. “Well -”
Sandra had an idea. This was totally out of character for her, but she took a deep breath. “If Rodney doesn’t want to go, let him stay. I’ll keep him company. Nicole’s never actually surfed before. Someone should make sure she doesn’t kill herself.”
John raised his eyebrows, surprised, but Rodney nodded. “She’s right. Go, take someone who shares your madness. I’ll stay right here with my fine copy of -” He peered at his e-reader. “The Lemuria Gene.”
“If you’re sure.”
“Go. Surf. Let someone else worry about your insanity.” Rodney made a dismissive gesture.
John peered up at Nicole. “Okay. Well, hi, I’m John. I guess I’m your surfing instructor. You ever done anything like surfing before?”
“Hi, John. I’m Nicole. I can snowboard. Kinda. On the bunny hill? But my cousins say surfing is totally different.”
John rose up, grabbed his board. “It is, but if you’ve tried to snowboard, at least you know you’ve got the guts for this. You a good swimmer?”
Nicole grabbed her borrowed board, which looked ridiculously large for her, but John made no comment. “I could swim before I could walk.”
“That’s a good start. Come with me.”
Nicole cast Sandra a look of mingled betrayal and excitement, and then she trotted after John.
Rodney edged out from under his umbrella ever so slightly. “Hello. I’m Rodney.”
“Hi, Rodney. I’m Sandra. You’re reading The Lemuria Gene?”
“How is it so far?”
“Haven’t started it yet. I deeply suspect it’s reworked fanfiction for that terrible television show Wormhole X-treme: Lemuria.”
Sandra bristled. “You have something against fanfiction?”
“I have something against the show,” Rodney said. He flapped a dismissive hand. “Everything’s fanfiction. Every new comic spin-off, every reboot, it’s all fanfiction, just for money.”
“What do you have against the show?” Sandra had seen every single episode of both the original Wormhole X-treme series and the spin-off. She’d be the first to admit it was campy, in a low-budget Star Trek kind of way, but she liked the characters, how they found family in each other, helped each other be brave. “I always kinda liked the characters.”
“I have nothing against the characters,” Rodney said. “In fact, the one scientist on the main Lemuria team is very handsome, if I do say so myself. But the military protocol and complete disregard for general science practice is -”
“It’s a TV show. It’s not meant to be real,” Sandra pointed out.
Rodney huffed indignantly. “I know that. Just - listen to this.” He cleared his throat, lifted his e-reader aloft, and began to read aloud. He actually had a pleasant voice, could make money doing audio books if he so chose. But his voice was dripping with sarcasm, and the way he read aloud the punctuation, the ellipses and dashes, was downright derogatory.
He cut himself off halfway through the first paragraph. “You see? Whoever wrote this knows nothing about graduate-level science. One scientist approaches his unemployed scientist friend and says, Someone threw money at me for a project, want to come with? Any real scientist would be right there. Money, where? But no, this guy has to twist his friend’s arm.”
Sandra reached into the cooler for a bottle of water. “Are you a scientist?”
“Yes. I’m a physicist. And an engineer. I have two PhDs. That’s not the point. I mean, how hard would it have been, to ask a scientist what grad school was like?” Rodney continued to read, pausing to make commentary as he went. Did the writer know what happened when someone fell while hanging onto a rope and came to a sudden stop? It sure as hell wouldn’t be that easy to handle, and it would definitely be painful.
Sandra inquired as to whether Rodney had endured such a thing. He answered cagily, seemingly embarrassed for having done so.
“Sounds like being a scientist is pretty exciting.”
“Not in the real world. Okay, maybe sometimes in the real world, but not generally.”
Stylistically, The Lemuria Gene was not very well-written, but it provided plenty of fodder for Rodney to rant and rave (Oh, now the scientists are Indiana Jones, are they?), and that was entertaining in and of itself. Sometimes Sandra spurred him on, asking questions about what grad school had been like (horrible) and how science was funded (Ha! Half a million dollars? That’ll fund barely six months of work - she shouldn’t be shutting people out, she should be panicking and demanding all hands on deck) and how scientists worked together (terribly, egotistical bastards, all of them, myself included).
Rodney had worked himself up into a good lather, so Sandra offered him some water, and somehow they dragged their blankets together while they poked through Sandra’s collection of books and, after settling on one, took turns reading aloud to each other.
They ended up sharing snacks and drinks - once Sandra sufficiently assured Rodney that nothing had citrus in it - and trading stories about their jobs, Rodney with the incompetent scientists he worked with, Sandra with the irritating students who pestered her while she was in the office.
Sandra didn’t even realize how much time had passed till John and Nicole came trotting up the beach, John looking elated and Nicole looking a little wobbly but pleased. John planted his board in the sand, throwing an extra strip of shade across Rodney and Sandra’s combined towels.
“Nicole,” he announced, “has officially attained the rank of keiki on her board.”
Sandra frowned. “Doesn’t keiki mean child?”
John grimaced. “Well, some guy did say it was really nice, how I was teaching my daughter to surf. But she rode a wave all by herself, no wipeouts. I think that calls for a celebration.”
Nicole attempted to plant her board in the sand, but she wasn’t quite tall enough, and John had to jump in and help her before it fell on her.
“What kind of celebration?” Rodney asked, closing Sandra’s book. “The best kinds of celebrations involve food.”
“Nicole says her husband has to do the meet-and-greet at his conference tonight, so she and Sandra are free to go get some food.”
“Conference?” Rodney asked.
“Yes. My husband’s a chemist,” Nicole said. She added, “Don’t ask me what kind. It’s all beyond me. He’s in town for a conference, so Sandra and I are having fun.”
“We’re on a working vacation ourselves,” Rodney said. John, who was wearing dog tags beneath his wetsuit, which he unzipped down to his waist, was an Air Force officer, and Rodney was a civilian consultant with John’s project. “But I think food is an excellent idea. Shower first, though. I have sand in unmentionable places.”
“It’s Hawaii, not Afghanistan,” John drawled, but he helped Rodney pack up his things.
Once both parties were packed, they all exchanged contact information - they were staying in the same hotel up the beach - and arranged to meet down in the lobby for lunch.
Sandra and Nicole headed back to the hotel room they were sharing, beach gear bundled in their arms.
“They’re both attractive and, as John tells it, unmarried,” Nicole offered. “Obviously neither of them is for me, but for you…”
Sandra sighed. For all that Nicole was bright, sometimes she was incredibly people-stupid. “Didn’t you see the way they acted with each other?”
“Yes, bickering like a pair of brothers.”
“Ah, no, more like an old married couple.” Sandra suspected John had been deliberately winding Rodney up, tangling his hands with Rodney’s under guise of helping him pack up, but she’d seen the way his touches lingered, the way Rodney smiled at him.
“You think so?” Nicole went silent, contemplating as they rode up to the elevator.
The doors slid open with a ping! on their floor, and Nicole’s eyes went wide.
“Oh! You think they’re -”
“But they didn’t say.”
“Has been repealed.”
“But John’s still serving. Changing laws doesn’t always change minds.”
“True. Oh well. And you looked like you were getting along with Rodney so well.” Nicole sighed and somehow managed to juggle the cooler and her surfboard to unlock the door with the keycard.
Sandra pushed the door open for her. “I think I finally understand how you take such great amusement in your husband’s ranting and raving about the incompetence of other people. I mean, on one level it’s insulting, but on the other hand, they get so worked up, and it’s kind of -”
“Cute, right? Like angry kittens.” Nicole propped her surfboard against the far wall near the window and set down the rest of what she was carrying.
Sandra raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, but I wouldn’t call Rodney a kitten to his face.”
“I call my husband a kitten to his face all the time.”
Sandra burst out laughing.
Rodney eyed the dingy interior and made to leave, but John caught him by the wrist and towed him over to the counter, eyes wide.
“I can’t believe this place is still here.”
“You used to come here?” Nicole asked.
“Yeah, when I was a kid. I used to sneak away from the house to go boarding early in the morning, and I’d come here for grub and get home before anyone noticed I was gone.” John looked boyishly pleased. He leaned on the counter and grinned at the woman at the cash register and placed his order.
Rodney crowded in beside him. “Make sure everyone’s orders at our table are citrus-free.”
Sandra and Nicole scanned the menu. Sandra asked John what was good. He assured her everything was delicious, but for Nicole’s sake, since they were celebrating her surfing victory, the obvious choice was kalua pig.
Nicole and John had a brief squabble over who should pay - Nicole, because John had been her generous instructor, or John, because his soldier pay was way better than Nicole’s lame government lawyer pay - and finally Rodney dug out his wallet, because science was much more lucrative than either law or soldiering, but then the four of them were seated at a table.
Nicole, who was a little socially awkward, tended to interrogate new people the way she interrogated pretty much all the new people she met in her line of work. But Rodney was quite content to talk about himself - and John - about how they were stationed at a remote outpost looking for clean, renewable sources of energy, not just for military applications but for the world.
“It’s very cutting-edge,” Rodney assured her.
“So you’re on Hawaii on leave?” Sandra asked.
Rodney was drinking coffee like it was water. John was humming happily into a glass of Diet Coke - apparently soda was very hard to come by, where they were posted.
“Well, it’s a bit of a working vacation for us,” Rodney said. “I’m doing a favor, for an archaeologist colleague of mine.”
“A friend,” John said. “Daniel’s a friend. You survive a kidnapping together, you’re friends.”
Rodney arched an eyebrow. “Like you and Todd?”
John looked rueful. “Well, to be fair, Todd and I weren’t kidnapped together.”
“Anyway, yes, John wanted to come surfing, and Daniel is a bit of a - crypto-archaeologist. He’s looking into myths related to the sunken city of Atlantis and rumors that the native Atlanteans were - merpeople, for lack of a better word.”
“Sea People?” Nicole perked up, then immediately winced. In addition to being socially awkward, she had a terrible poker face.
Sandra saw John raise his eyebrows, but Rodney seemed to have missed the implication of Nicole’s words entirely.
“While I don’t put much stock in the theory myself, there were some specific things around the island he wanted me to check - artefacts in museums, other things - and John really, really wanted to surf, so here we are.”
“That’s nice of you,” Sandra said.
“He’s an archaeologist. It’s all guesswork. I’m sure I can handle his research just fine.” Rodney waved a hand dismissively. “Really what matters is that John relaxes and has fun. His job is very - stressful.”
Sandra wondered if John saw regular combat. He didn’t seem like the twitchy PTSD-suffering type of soldier that Sandra would have suspected, but then she knew not everyone handled trauma the same way, and there was every chance John could suffer stress without it being a trauma.
“So, what makes your archaeologist friend think the denizens of Atlantis were Sea People?” Nicole asked.
“Sea people,” Rodney mused. “That’s a less stupid term than merpeople. And he says he discovered some writings that indicate that there was some kind of underwater breathing tech that we’ve lost.”
“So not actual merpeople, just people who could swim really deep,” Sandra confirmed.
“Yes. That kind of tech could be useful. There’s a lot of ancient knowledge and science we’ve lost that far outstrips anything we have today,” Rodney said.
Nicole nodded earnestly. Then she smiled at John. “So, are you a pilot?”
“Ooh! I’ve never been in a helicopter before. Does it make you kinda crazy, when other people are piloting and you’re a passenger?”
John made a face. “Yeah. But - taking Rodney on a chopper tour of the island would be worth it. He deserves to enjoy the beauty on planet Earth more than he usually gets to.”
Rodney lit up. “Really?”
John nodded. “Really. I want you to have some fun too -”
The door exploded open, and five masked men spilled into the restaurant, waving guns.
Gunfire in real life was deafening.
One moment Sandra was staring at the gun pointed in her direction, the next Rodney was dragging her and Nicole to huddle behind the counter with the sobbing cashier.
“What about John?” Nicole cried.
Rodney pinned her against the counter with one hand. “Let him do his job. Mine is to protect you.”
There was another burst of gunfire, and then Sandra heard a voice she hadn’t expected to ever hear again.
“This is Five-0! Put your hands up!” Detective Danny Williams had a loud voice for being as small a guy as he was.
There was a flurry of cursing, more gunfire. Sandra ducked her head, squeezed her eyes shut, clamped her hands over her ears. Rodney had one hand on her shoulder. Nicole was crowded up beside her, panting in fear. The cashier was still sobbing.
“I’ll cover you,” John said.
“Who the hell are you?” Steve McGarrett was there too.
“John Sheppard, USAF. Light bird. On leave.”
“You’re trapped. There’s three of you and five of us,” an unfamiliar man said.
“Yeah,” John drawled, “but we’re smarter.”
“No you’re not, dumbass,” the unfamiliar man said, “because you didn’t let me finish. There’s five of us in here, and another dozen surrounding the building. Now, if you want these people to get out of here alive, you’ll cooperate with us.”
“What is it you want?” Steve asked.
Sandra curled herself in a tighter ball.
“That’s right, McGarrett. An old friend has a message for you - but you better have a message for him first. Get his mouthy partner, and this wiseass wannabe hero.”
“First I’m a dumbass, now I’m a wiseass?” John asked.
“Dammit, John,” Rodney hissed. “Stop with the heroics.”
“Round up the hostages,” said the unfamiliar man who was most likely the leader. “We’ll execute them one by one till Commander McGarrett gives us what we want.”
There were cries of fear, sobs, footsteps, and the footsteps got louder and louder and a man said, from right overhead,
“On your feet. This way.”
Sandra opened her eyes and looked up. There was a man in a ski mask and holding a gun. She had no idea what the man looked like or what he was wearing, but she was hyperaware of the grease stain on the side of the gun barrel, and the man’s gloves where they were wrapped around the grip, and how the serial number down the other side looked like it had been filed off.
The man gestured with the gun, and Sandra rose up slowly, hands raised in surrender. Nicole and the cashier rose up behind her. Rodney pushed his way in front of her, hands also raised.
“Don’t hurt them,” he said.
“Another hero, huh? C’mon, hero. We’ll see just how heroic you are once it gets real.”
Rodney fell in behind other restaurant patrons as they shuffled into the back, and Sandra followed him.
The masked men had Steve on his knees, a gun aimed at his head, in the middle of the kitchen floor, and guns pointed at everyone crowded in there.
Steve had his hands raised in surrender. John and Danny were being held apart from the others, gunmen threatening them.
“Let the hostages go,” Steve said. “You want me, you got me.”
The leader waved his gun wildly. “Damn right we got you, Commander McGarrett, ex-SEAL, Five-0 badass. Not so badass right now, are you? Let’s have some fun before we start with the real questions. Get a bucket and a rag.”
Sandra’s throat closed. She knew what was coming.
“Close your eyes,” Rodney hissed. “Don’t watch this.”
But Sandra couldn’t look away.
Plenty of the hostages were staring in horror as two thugs dragged Steve up into a chair, and another thug filled a bucket at the industrial sink.
Nicole nudged the cashier beside her. “Close your eyes and cover your ears. You shouldn’t have to see this.”
The cashier nodded, still sobbing, and ducked her head, eyes screwed shut, hands over her ears.
Nicole caught Sandra’s eye, nodded in Steve’s direction, trying to convey something, but Sandra wasn’t sure what it was. Only Nicole hissed to the man on the far side of the cashier to close his eyes and cover his ears so he wouldn’t have to see, and one by one the hostages followed.
Sandra realized what Nicole was trying to tell her seconds before four gunmen pinned Steve’s limbs down and two more forced his head back. They covered his face with a rag, and then the other thug with the bucket arrived.
John’s expression was terribly blank. Rodney’s face was pale, and Danny looked furious and terrified.
The thug lifted the bucket, started to pour it over the rag.
Steve thrashed. His body thought he was drowning, was dying, was -
There was a horrific sound, the tearing of fabric.
The thug holding Steve’s left leg swore. It looked like his legs were melting and expanding and exploding out of his jeans -
John sprang into action, throat-punched the thug closest to him and took his gun. Danny disarmed the other thug.
Nicole let out a wild yell and slammed into the nearest thug at the hips, a solid rugby tackle. He went down with a grunt of pain.
Rodney punched another thug, and suddenly fists were flying and guns were going off and the rest of the hostages flung themselves to the ground, covering their heads and cowering.
At the end of it all - it took forever, it took an instant - Danny was kneeling beside Steve, smoothing a hand over his back and telling him it was all right, he could breathe, he was fine.
Rodney and John were staring at Steve’s beautiful blue fish tail before it started to dissolve into a pair of legs.
Nicole shrugged off her jacket and flung it over Steve’s legs for some semblance of modesty.
Steve lifted his head to thank her, and then he actually managed a weak smile. “Hey, look who it is. You ladies came to the Island after all.”
Rodney grabbed Nicole’s shoulder. “You know this man?”
Danny wrapped a protective arm around Steve’s shoulders, scowled fiercely at Rodney. “You can not tell anyone about Steve, you hear me?”
“Maybe someone should call the cops,” John said slowly, staring at Steve’s now-human feet like he’d never seen feet before.
“They are the cops,” Sandra said.
“I’ll call Kono,” Danny said. “And Max. You need a doctor.”
Rodney eyed Nicole. “Sea people, you called them?”
Danny fixed her with a sharp look.
She ducked her head, suddenly very bashful for a woman who’d just tackled an armed thug. “Um, oops?”
“I think we have a lot to talk about,” Rodney said to Steve.
Sandra put a hand on his arm. “But first, a doctor and the cops. Really.”
“So, aliens are real,” Steve said.
Danny buried his face in his hands. “If this gets out, we’ll never hear the end of it from Jerry. Aliens built the pyramids. Atlantis is real.”
“And Sea People are a thing,” Rodney said. He nudged John. “You have the Gene. Think you can -?”
“Not going to let myself drown to find out, thanks.” John nibbled morosely on a piece of garlic shrimp.
“We promise not to tell,” Nicole said earnestly.
Rodney cast her a look. “My five-year-old niece keeps secrets better than you do.”
“I never told you I knew any Sea People,” Nicole pointed out. “I just happened to mention the term. And besides, who would believe us if we told?”
“That’s half of the trick of Wormhole X-treme,” John said.
Steve looked confused.
“It’s an awful scifi show,” Danny said.
“Not actually scifi, apparently.” Sandra blinked. Then she narrowed her eyes at Rodney. “So about the scientist on the main team on the Lemuria spin-off -”
“That’s neither here nor there,” Rodney said hastily. He smiled at Steve. “We might be able to help you find more of your People.”
“Thanks,” Steve said quietly.
Sandra nudged Nicole. “What are you going to tell your husband, when he asks how you’ve been keeping busy?”
She smiled innocently. “I’ve been taking surfing lessons, obviously.”
“Sometimes you’re a terrifyingly good liar,” Sandra said.
Nicole’s smile widened. “Don’t you mean lawyer?”
Danny raised his eyebrows. “Are lawyers allowed to make lawyer jokes?”
“I didn’t know lawyers could joke,” John added.
Nicole rolled her eyes, nudged Sandra back. “What are you going to tell your boy, about your trip to Hawaii?”
“I’m going to tell him it was an adventure and a half.”