Troy Rico was brought back from his memories, and once again into the comfortable office of the Academy's in-house psychiatrist, Doctor Lita Kino. He regarded the attractive brunette for a moment with a fowl expression. "How do you think it makes me feel?" He asked, almost snapping on the woman who was simply doing her job. "Its bad enough that my command could send one of my friends to their death, but to have it happen during a simulation?"
"But how would you know the safeties would go offline?" The doctor asked. "When you examine the situation, there wasn't really anything you could have done to prevent it." Her words sent the young man into an uncomfortable place; easily identifiable as he ran his hands through the short blonde spikes that caused a great contrast to his thin brown goatee. "You couldn't help it."
"Is that supposed to make it all better, Doc?" Troy leaned forward in the large leather couch and locked his hands together. "I couldn't do anything about it, so I'm just supposed to not let it bug me anymore?" He promptly rose to his feet, straightening the blue waistcoat with gold trim that he held dearly. "Good, then I guess the sessions over."
"Mister Rico," Doctor Kino said to the departing Ranger, "While you are free to leave, keep in mind that your sessions are not voluntary. I *will* see you again tomorrow, and I *will* submit my evaluation to the Academy Council at the end of this week. If you wish to retain your rank I suggest you learn to cooperate a bit more." She made a quick note of the man's behavior and dismissed him without a second look. "Good day, Mister Rico."
Troy huffed as he stomped out the door. He became slightly disoriented, a common side effect of leaving Doctor Kino's office. Exiting the plush, warm room decorated in relaxing greens and browns, and stepping out onto the cold metal grate catwalks of a school that looked more like a steel mill than anything else often caused one to stop and regain their senses.
He leaned over the simple railing and gazed at the figures moving about the floor of the Academy. Not quite directly beneath him was the collection of bold blue exercise mats that were *always* overflowing with students. Troy couldn't help but find an empty spot amongst the hopeful cadets.
He rubbed the device strapped over his left wrist. His team had been issued their powers only a few hours after Weelo's death, and none of the other members, including Troy, seemed to be too interested with a career in Rangering anymore.
The power source for all the morphers put a truly frightening view on the situation. The entire team was powered by a collection of Verosian Blue Rubies that had been discovered by two of the school's founders during a return trip to the water planet, Inus. The spectral properties of the stones would only allow the creation of Blue Rangers, causing an eerie tribute to the blue-skinned Norian that had died in a supposed freak accident.
"Weird, isn't it?"
Troy merely nodded, not even setting his eyes on his redheaded teammate, Michelle. He often found himself on the same wavelength with the young woman, and both had a strong sense of responsibility. "They just go right on practicing," Troy said with his eyes fixed on the training mats. "Like nothing even happened."
"Shouldn't they?" Michelle countered, ignoring her friend's harsh stare. "They weren't that familiar with Weelo, so why should they go into some long mourning process over someone they barely knew? As for me, I'm using Norian philosophy; Remember the one you've lost, but don't let the one you've lost ruin your life. I miss him, but I'm not going to let his absence prevent me from reaching what I came here to do."
Michelle glanced at her morpher, taking note of the digital chronometer's display. "Well, since you apparently walked out of your session again, and since I have about an hour-and-a-half until mine, whaddya say we grab Tek and get something to eat at the Surf Spot?"
"Might as well," Troy sighed. "I'll be along in a minute. Why don't you tell Jackie about it so she knows where we are?" The red head agreed and left his side, only to be replaced by a Kerovan in a gray uniform.
"Ranger Rico," Zhane, the Academy co-founder and Silver Ranger greeted the new Ranger with a weak smile. In one hand he carried a datapad. Troy didn't want to be directly informed of the pad's message, but he knew fully well that his team was going to be transferred to a Rangerless planet. "Might I ask how your session with Doctor Kino went?"
"Same as always," Troy answered with a shrug.
"That bad, huh?" Zhane shook his head. "Well, don't worry, you won't have to put up with it for much longer." The Kerovan handed over the datapad, speaking as the young man read over it. "Our contract was finalized this morning. Two days from now you'll ship out and spend the next three years protecting the good people of Syrix."
"The contract says we're to provide five Rangers." Troy displayed the clause in question to the Kerovan. "We seem to have a small problem with that, Zhane."
"There's an addendum," Zhane said as he took the pad. "Whoops, almost forgot I need to sign this." He removed a light pen from the side of the pad and scribbled his name across the top form to confirm authenticity. "That's why we only finished this morning," the Kerovan returned to the previous topic. "The Academy has ninety days to send the fifth Ranger, otherwise they can request one from a closer school or supply their own."
"What about Zords? Or are we going to be doing mainly field combat?"
Zhane pointed down to the Mechanics Floor. "Droz will set you up with everything you need." He returned the pad to Troy and tapped it lightly. "Make sure you sign and hold on to that. Without that your team won't be permitted onto the planet. Sorry I can't go over every detail, but things have been pretty insane since Andros and Ashley left for their vacation. Everything you need should be in that packet though."
"How are those two doing, anyway?" Troy asked about the couple Zhane had named. Anyone who knew Andros found it difficult to believe that the man who to plan everything had decided to take a spontaneous temporary leave of his role as Academy Headmaster. "Any news?"
"Everything's going well. They said there was only one problem, and I can probably guess what that is." Zhane groaned.
"The whole alien thing?" Troy assumed.
"Actually, Kerovans *are* human," Zhane corrected. "But there are certain - Mathematical differences that could seem fairly deceiving to an Earth human. Without going into boring explanations, Kerovans when compared to other humans are older than they look."
"How old-" Troy was interrupted by the four low-tones that emitted from his morpher. He lifted the device to his mouth, and pressed a small button that would open a secure channel between himself and any member of his team. "Troy here, go ahead."
[Rico, what are you doing?] Came a slightly annoyed but amused voice over the small speaker. [Michelle and I are waiting on your lazy butt; now get a move on before we come up there and drag you over to Adelle's ourselves.]
"Right," Troy smiled. "Be right there, Tek. I just gotta drop something off on my bunk. Shouldn't take me more than a minute." He apologized to the Silver Ranger for his quick departure, but realized that a moment ago Zhane was doing the same. With nothing else to gain his attention, Troy found the nearest stairwell to his bunk so that he may unload the package and spend one of his last few days on his home planet with his friends.
She knew it was cliche`, but somehow Doctor Kino felt the question was appropriate. Everyone reacts differently to death, and it was important to determine if the young brunette sitting across from her would be able to accept what she had seen and still function properly as a Ranger.
Doctor Kino gave her patient a few moments to think about her answer, which in her opinion, wasn't a good sign. Most always the question could be answered right off the bat. When the patient thought over, or analyzed the question by themselves, it usually resulted in a corrupted answer.
"Jackie?" Doctor Kino asked again. "How do you feel about that?" This time, the response was almost instantaneous. The youngest cadet at age fifteen was what the Doctor referred to as a 'kick-start patient'. Jackie would get so involved in her own answers that she would have to be asked certain questions several times before she realized she hadn't spoken aloud.
Doctor Kino scribbled in her notebook as she conducted the session. She found Jackie very different from her teammates, as the young girl was very religious. Of course Jackie was courteous enough to take Doctor Kino's advice and not push her beliefs on her team, but Jackie had usually applied her own life to her faith. Occasionally she had missed a class or two in favor of a nearby mass. Fortunately, the instructors overlooked such an understandable absence.
The question sent Jackie spinning. *Why am I afraid?* she asked herself. *That's a pretty obvious answer if I've ever heard one. One of my friends died in a harmless practice exercise and she asks why I'm afraid? Any one of us could die at a moment's notice that's why.*
"Jackie?" Just when Doctor Kino was about to get an answer out of the girl, the repetitive ringing of an egg timer signaled the session's end. And with a multitude of patients still to see, the doctor was not able to extend her time any further. "I guess we'll have to finish this tomorrow," Doctor Kino said.
"Sorry, Doctor Kino. I know I'm not one of your most cooperative patients." Jackie rose to her feet, not expecting to receive a compliment as she did so.
"Actually, you are. But we'd get a lot more done if you'd answer your questions out loud rather than saying them over and over again in your mind." Doctor Kino closed the file folder that held the girl's records and slipped it into a nearby file cabinet, sliding along the ground on her rolling chair. "I'll see you tomorrow, Jackie."
The girl waved a goodbye to the doctor, and stepped out onto the catwalks. Almost immediately she was met by a face she didn't recognize, but would easily learn to despise. By the time he had offered greetings, the young man just a bit older than Jackie had made a horrible first impression.
"Hey, Sweetheart. Maybe you can help me-"
"Sweetheart?" Jackie gagged on the word, addressing the young man through his metallic sunglasses, quite an unneeded accessory within the Power Chamber. "Sweetheart?" She repeated, jabbing a finger into the young man's chest. "I am not your sweetheart, I am a Ranger!" She tugged on the waistcoat that implied her rank. "And I am to be addressed as such in the future."
The young man didn't seem to be affected by Jackie's statement. "Yeah, sure thing, Toots. Anyway, I'm looking for some dude named--" He whipped a computer-printout from the rear pocket of his jeans, and read over the form. "Andros? Yeah," he squinted at the paper. "I'm looking for Andros. I found the guy's office, but he ain't there."
"No," Jackie said folding her arms over her chest. "He's not. He won't be back for a few more days. What do you need to see him for, anyway?" She sternly held out one had until the young man slipped her the paper. Unfolding it, she ran her eyes over the document until they widened. "You're a new recruit?" Jackie sighed in disbelief and walked past the young man. "Follow me," she instructed.
With Jackie's exceptional navigational skills, she had lead the young man to the office of the only female Kerovan in the Academy, Andros' sister and head of recruiting, Korone. "Have a seat," Jackie ordered the young man. She dropped the document on Korone's desk and explained. "New blood. Very *obnoxious* new blood, as a matter of fact."
Korone scanned the document, and pulled up an according file on her desk-mounted computer. "Ah, here we go. Scott Tyler. You were the first to be placed on our waiting list. Sorry that you had to wait this long, but we've only now trimmed down our cadet list. Give me a moment to get your papers ready and Jackie can show you around the Academy."
"Me?" Jackie confirmed. "Me? Why me?"
Korone tossed the girl a look that read as 'I thought you knew'. "Because assuming Scott can run through the course in three months, he'll be your new teammate. We're a new institution, Jackie. We don't want to breach the first contract we're offered." Once the terminal beeped, Korone loaded a blank datapad into a drive on her side of the desk, and after a few seconds handed the clipboard-sized object to Scott. "All set, mister Tyler. Just follow the instructions in there and you'll be all set."
At this point Jackie was close to launching a verbal protest, but she knew better. She would have to put up with Scott until she could come up with a justifiable cause as to why he should not be her teammate. She would need something more than a bad first impression and an attitude that would most likely be whipped out of him by one of the instructors.
"Cool. I guess I should start off with-" Scott read the datapad, and chose one of the bulleted 'to-do' items. "-Identification. I guess I get that at a security office, or somethin'?"
"Officer Stone's office," Jackie formalized the location. "I'll show you. Come with me."
"Lead the way, Babe." Scott's words caused the girl before him to stop and turn on him with a venomous stare. But before she could utter any sort of protest Korone had decided to administer some minor discipline.
"Mister Tyler," Korone said with a touch of poison in her own words, "You're not a Ranger just yet. You will refer to her as 'Sir' or 'Ranger Wilson' until you have achieved the same position as her, understand?"
Scott nodded with a smile. "Sure. That ain't a problem. Lead the way-" He said to the young girl in blue. "-Ranger Wilson." Jackie merely grunted a response.
Doctor Kino had to force the question out this time. She had to wonder if her patients hated to hear those words as much as she hated to say them. But for some reason, she always found that question popping up, regardless of how much she despised it.
"I *was* mad," Michelle timidly admitted. "And then I was upset, and felt like I might have been able to do something to stop it, but I got over that. I learned a long time ago that things happen, even bad things, and you just have to deal with them.
"Like I was telling Troy earlier today, I miss Weelo, I really do, but I came to the Academy for a purpose, and I can't reach my goal crying over someone. I'm not totally forgetting him, but I refuse to compromise my performance over something in the past, even if it happened a few days ago."
Doctor Kino nodded and scribbled something on her notepad. "So you'd say you're determined?" Michelle nodded and Doctor Kino scribbled again. "After Weelo's death, how would you describe your relationship with the rest of your team."
"It's Troy's team," Michelle corrected. Doctor Kino made another note at that point. "But I'd say we're all a little more realistic now. I mean, I don't think Troy's going to ask us to do something he feels is too dangerous for him to do himself, but then again he probably never would have. Jackie's still her old self. I think she came into this whole thing knowing the consequences. And Tek.... Well, Tek's Tek, y'know?"
"I see." Doctor Kino was about to document that final comment when she was startled by her egg timer. "Time's up," she said with a yawn. "Between you and me, Michelle, I think you made some real progress in coming to terms with this issue. I think we could have gotten even more done if you weren't late."
"Sorry, but I lost track of time," Michelle admitted. "Same time tomorrow?"
Doctor Kino shook her head. "No, two days from now. I think we can cancel one of your appointments. It gives me time to fit in your friend."
"What friend? Troy?"
As she was stretching, Doctor Kino lightly smiled at the suggestion that her most difficult patient would willing come in for a double-session. "No, your new teammate. I have to put him through his entrance psych-exam as soon as possible." When the doctor saw Michelle's face, she knew she had said too much. She couldn't say anything more, for the patient had just stormed from the office muttering 'New teammate? What new teammate?'.
Michelle hung a sharp right as she blazed from Doctor Kino's office, nearly tearing another door from its hinges as she sped down one of the corner stairwells. When her movement had ended she found herself off to one side of the training mats.
She scanned the sea of students for any new faces, and after a moment or two without success decided to search for a few she did recognize. "Troy!" She called into the mechanics area. Michelle crawled past some of Droz's 'boys' - mechanics who love their job and not the money - And once she had reached her team leader Michelle opened the conversation to the topic that had her so worked up.
"Hey, what's this I heard about a new guy on the team?" She asked flatly. Troy lifted a dark brown eyebrow a little closer to his short blonde hair in a questioning expression. "Yeah," Michelle nodded. "I didn't think you've heard about it either. Maybe Jackie knows somethin-" Michelle turned her head at just the right time. From the security office stepped the blonde in question, whose harsh expression indicated she did not like the company walking beside her.
Jackie led the young man to her friends, and began the introductions with a severe lack of enthusiasm. "Troy, Michelle, this is Scott Tyler. Scott Tyler, Ranger Rico and Ranger Warren." She waved briefly while saying, "You two can finish the tour."
"Where are you going?" Michelle asked.
"I've got work to do. We're leaving in a few days, remember? And I don't think any of you have researched the climate, customs, or any of that other stuff that we'll need to know once we ship out. Plus I have to call my parents so they know where I'm going. I'll see you guys later."
Scott eyed the blonde as she left the group. "She's very feisty," he commented with a smile.
"And until you graduate," Troy added, "She's your boss. In fact, she's one of your many, many bosses." Scott held up a hand, but Troy swatted it away. "I don't care if you've already been told this, you're going to hear it again. First, you will refrain from referring to Ranger Wilson as such, not 'feisty'. Second, you *will* lose the attitude and realize that you are one lucky kid to even be admitted into this school."
Troy reached out quickly, snatching the lenses from Scott's face. "Third, these are not permitted. Until you successfully complete the course you will wear what your instructors tell you to wear. That goes for sleeping and eating as well." Subconsciously, or intentionally, Troy couldn't tell, he began to interpret the speech he was given by the Kerovan Headmaster Andros on his first day in the Academy. "Those mats," he pointed to the field of blue that was the training area, "Are now your home. You will spend thirteen hours there every day and you will learn. If you don't, someone will show you the way out."
Michelle placed a hand on Troy's shoulder. "Calm down. You're beginning to scare him," she said all too seriously. "He's nervous enough as it is, don't frighten the guy into failure."
"Scared?" Scott released an overconfident smirk. "I don't think so."
"Never lie to an Empath," Michelle suggested. "It only makes you look bad." She gave Troy a light pat on the same shoulder as she removed her hand. "See you tonight?" She asked prior to the man's nod. "Good. Oh, and Mister Tyler, I do hope you appreciate Ranger Wilson's efforts. After all, we had to go through this whole thing not knowing what to expect. At least you know what to be ready for."
Michelle waved lightly to Troy before parting, leaving Scott to wonder. "So, are you two an item or what?" Troy's short-lived sneer quickly turned into a devilish smirk.
"You know what the best part of this arrangement is, Mister Tyler?" Scott voiced a typical negative response. "It's the fact that I don't have to answer any of your questions if they don't pertain to your training."
"Well then Ranger Rico," Scott stressed the man's formal name. "Might I ask you why I'm not allowed to wear my sunglasses, but you can have some freaky hair style?" He pointed to the superior's light goatee of brown and then to the short blonde spike hair. "Is hair-dye allowed in this place?"
"For graduates, yes." Rico explained. "But this isn't hair-dye young man, it's natural. Or at least now it is. If I could give you one piece of solid advice, it's always stand a good deal away from Professor Stewart when he and Professor Cestro are conducting experiments. They tend to make a mistake or two in their calculations."
Scott scoffed. "I'm surprised someone hasn't died in this place, yet." He said the wrong thing, and he knew it. Along with Scott, a few random mechanics and nameless officers fell silent and for a moment stared at the young man.
"Why do you think you're here, Tyler?" Troy asked grimly. He looked to those around him, silently ordering them to return to whatever task they had to do. "Now if you'll follow me, we'll get your uniform."
*And for that matter, what did you do to your hair?* Doctor Kino asked in her own mind. Robert "Tek" Cruz was known to be a - unique individual, not quite as wild as the Academy's chief mechanic, but there was no telling what the young man would do once a few mere ounces of caffeine had been pumped into him.
She casually took in the young man. He seemed to be partially Hispanic, although his foster parents had never been able to confirm his heritage. But Doctor Kino's focus was on Tek's shoulder-length black hair, which for some odd reason was now a bold blue mane wrapped into a tight ponytail.
"It was a bet," Tek answered to the wrong question, snapping Doctor Kino from her own wondering. She forced herself to express a gesture that said 'I don't think I follow you' in hopes of getting the young man to explain a bit more. "Our team and the Ninjetti were having a Pool tournament. It came down to Maggie, and myself and since both of us were feeling pretty confident we added a side bet. The loser had to dye their hair their Ranger color."
"And you lost." Doctor Kino assumed.
"I hit the wrong ball in." Tek admitted sheepishly. "Oh well, that's the danger of playing blacklight pool at four in the morning after you've just finished off a few two liters of pure sugar. I could've won, but got so excited that I aimed for the stripes instead of the solids."
"So I guess you're handling things pretty well then, huh?"
Tek nodded. "Yeah. Most of the team has been doing pretty good. I mean, we haven't just put the situation behind us. I miss Weelo more than anyone else on the team, but he's gone now, I can't change that, and refuse to think that excessive crying or memories will bring him back."
"That sounds fairly mature." Doctor Kino accepted. "And I'm going to be generous today. I have a lot of paperwork to do, and I have absolutely nothing else to question you on, so I'm going to end our session early if that's okay with you." Tek nodded. "Well, since your orders did come in, and you have - how long until you ship out?"
"Two days." Tek answered.
"Since you have two days before you ship out, and considering the surprisingly stable mental condition you seem to have," she cracked a light smile, "I think we can call an end to your appointments." Doctor Kino extended her hand. "It's been - interesting to work with you Robert."
Tek thanked Doctor Kino for her services and finally freed himself from her office after a few moments time. A few twists and turns brought him to the apartment he shared with Troy Rico. He scanned the sparsely decorated living room, sighing at the lack of decoration. No member of the Blue Team bothered to bring too many things from home into their residence, as they knew it would only be temporary.
He slipped out of his blue waistcoat and tossed it on the simple couch just before he dropped himself onto the basic piece of furniture. The rest of his uniform consisted of a black long sleeved tee shirt and slacks, but his hair would prevent the semi-violent illness that all Rangers suffer in the form of color withdrawal.
Tek shivered, remembering the first time he had seen someone fall prey to the 'disease'. It caused quite a bit of pain and dry heaving until someone managed to wrap themselves up in their respective color once again. Definitely not something he would want to experience.
A low tone traveled through the apartment. Grumbling, Tek gave whoever was using the doorbell to request admittance passage into the compact living space. "Come in," he said somewhat tired.
In stepped Droz, chief mechanic for the Power Chamber. The man was currently wiping his always grease-covered hands with an old cloth, proving that he's not freakish enough to ignore the necessities of hygiene. He took a quick scan of the living room, with the long blonde Mohawk he had tied into a small tail whipping about as he turned his head.
"You the only one here, Papa Smurf?" Droz asked raising a pierced eyebrow. "Where's your boss at? I haven't been able to find him. I've checked all the offices, the labs, and even the restrooms. Not even your friends know where he is."
"I'm sure he'll turn up," Tek attempted to put the mechanic at ease. "But if you can't find him, you might want to talk Michelle. I think it's pretty much unanimous that she's second-in-command."
"Yeah, but she's pretty busy, herself. And I wanted to get Troy's opinion on the new Zords before the boys and I go ahead and crank out a full batch." Droz saw Tek take an interest in the statement, and invited him along in a casual manner. "Well, since you're the closest thing to a technical mind on the team, you'll do. Come on, you can get the first look at the prototype."
Droz lead Tek from the apartment located in one of the Chamber's quieter wings, through a considerably long corridor that took the pair onto the bottom floor of the main building. Both took a brief second to mentally critique or compliment the teams training on the mats before proceeding onto the mechanics floor.
Tek found it a miracle that none of Droz's fellow mechanics, affectionately referred to as 'the boys', have ever broken an ankle by tripping over the ever-expanding collection of loose components and wires. He wasn't five steps into the messier of areas before he nearly lost his footing by slipping on an iron rod that had been laying on the ground.
"Careful," Droz warned, climbing over a large engine rather than around it. It was often easier for someone to simply step on whatever was in front of them instead of crawling around it slowly. "We've got a lot of little things laying about. You could get hurt."
"Thanks for the warning," Tek grunted. He followed the mechanic into perhaps the only open area on the floor, which seemed more like a pit with engines and machines towering above him. In the center of the 'pit' was a relatively small item underneath a heavy oil soaked tarp. "That's the Zord?" Tek asked. "It's a little small, isn't it."
"Why does everyone think battle mecha has to be huge?" Droz raised his arms to the sky to imply size. "Sheesh. Did you even think for a moment that this might be perfect for the Syrix environment?" Droz discovered the cause for Tek's blank stare. "Oh, that's right. Zhane told me in advance where you were headed. Oh well, without further ado, I give you--" Droz reached out and viciously removed the tarp from the Zord. "--the Rotweiler."
Tek was in awe of the heavily armored blue motorcycle, but still questioned its designation. "You named it after a type of dog?" He asked, running his hand along the gleaming metal.
"An ex-girlfriend actually," Droz corrected. "You're going to want to morph before you try that thing out." Droz said. "You can ride it without your powers, but for this demonstration I wouldn't suggest it."
"Gotcha." Tek nodded. He squeezed his thumb and forefinger against his morpher, unlocking the safeties of the small gray device. He heard the locks remove themselves, and saw the activation plunger rise from within it's protective compartment. In the same second, he mashed his hand down on the large blue button, and felt himself undergo not even his fifth morph since the issuing of his powers.
The Ranger suit was blue with traces of gold running about Tek's form, and the roman numeral four was located within a gold triangle on the left side of his chest. The boots were standard issue, unlike the gloves, which only extended up to the wrist. The most unique part of the costume remained the helmet, a form-fitting faceplate of slightly tinted tempered glass that could be flipped upward to reveal the wearer's face.
Blue Four took a seat upon the Rotweiler, turning his head to the mechanic. "Okay, now what?"
"See the big red button?" Droz asked, directing Blue Four's vision to a mechanism labeled *warning*. "Push the big red button." The mechanic forced himself to laugh evilly to establish some light fear within the Ranger, but Blue Four knew Droz would never do anything to hurt anyone.
Blue Four's gloved hand pressed lightly on the button, causing the vehicle to take on more of a transformation than his own. In a matter of seconds the motorcycle had fragmented itself, and attached itself to Blue Four as an armored bodysuit.
The two large wheels jutted from Blue Four's back, and nearly every inch of his arms and legs were coated in a powerful armor. Mounted onto his wrist gauntlets were two powerful blasters, although they were not identical, giving the Ranger the impression that each had different functions. Blue Four found his face even more protected than before with the cycle's windshield draped over him, and he found the heavy protection on his chest did not hamper his movements or his breathing.
The most surprising feature of the suit was its weight. For a motorcycle of its size, Blue Four found it difficult to believe it could be as light as it was and still protect him from harm. But after taking a few steps, hops, and quick jabs, he found himself in love with the new Zord.
"Droz, I have to tell you," Blue Four's voice was clear underneath the additional facial armor, "This is the weirdest, but coolest design you've come up with yet."
"And we're not even done with it," the grungy mechanic replied. "Justin's gonna be giving us the tech specs for the morphers he built for you guys. That way, even if you aren't morphed when you're riding these things, it'll happen when you activate the transformation sequence. But you have to be wearing your morphers for that to happen. These Zords are built around your powers, so unless you're morphed you'll be carrying a few tons of steel on your shoulders."
Droz could see Blue Four patting himself down for any controls he might be able to use to demorph. "Remember, it's built into your powers. If you want to take it off, you have to tell it you want to take it off."
Blue Four shrugged. For something designed by the unpredictable Droz, it was quite an expected and standard feature. He took a stance and spoke powerfully. "Rotweiler, power down!" Blue Four smiled as the Zord took on its original vehicle form once more.
"You gotta keep another thing in mind," Droz added. "This baby's cycle mode is solar powered. Whenever you can, you gotta keep it out in the sun. I'll try to rig up some kind of solar transformer for you, but I can't make any promises. The armor mode piggy-backs your power supply, so that shouldn't give you any problems."
"I'll remember that," said the Blue Ranger as he powered down. Tek shook out his blue hair, and suddenly snapped to attention. "Whoa, I forgot! I have to call my folks and tell them what's going on." The young man began to crawl out of the 'pit'. "The Zord looks great, Droz. I'll send Troy next time I see him."
"You do that, Papa Smurf. We're working on a deadline, y'know."
"Afraid," Cassie said. "But not about Weelo. I'm mad about what happened to Weelo, regardless of if it was an accident or not. I'm actually afraid -- well, I'm afraid for someone else to tell the truth."
Doctor Kino began to chew on her pen between notes. "Who?" The question was simple and direct, with no room for interpretation. Along with Cassie holding back possible key elements of her current state-of-mind, the senior Pink Ranger also had a habit of misunderstanding the Doctor's question. Possibly intentionally.
"Well, y'know about the Phantom Ranger, right?" Doctor Kino nodded at Cassie's question. "Well, I know it's weird -- I don't know his name, what he looks like, or anything else about him, but something between us just clicked. For some odd reason I have very strong feelings for him. When the others first thought he was dead, when that report came in from the Aqutians, I almost vomited right on my desk. All someone has to do is remove his Power Ruby and he'll die in hours. It's very frightening."
"So would you say a lot of your negative emotions are transferred into worrying about the Phantom Ranger?" Doctor Kino asked. "That anytime something bad happens to someone, you wonder if the situation could be applied to the Phantom?"
"No, I wouldn't say that. I *do* feel bad for other people, but I just can't help but wonder about him. It's -- I don't know what it is." Cassie admitted. "And I think that scares me more than anything."
Doctor Kino thought about the situation for a moment, a scribbled a detailed note on a fresh sheet of paper. "I want you to show this to Justin," the Doctor instructed. "If he can, I want him to figure out if there's something that's not supposed to be. I don't have to tell you that Michelle was on the verge of an emotional breakdown before she was diagnosed."
Cassie took the note and read it over. "Okay, if you think this'll help."
"Have you ever talked with the Phantom about how you feel?" Doctor Kino proposed. "Maybe you should get the test taken care of immediately. It should only take an hour at most. If it shows up negative I suggest you ask Zhane for a leave of absence so you can discuss this with the Phantom himself."
"But I can't just leave," Cassie objected. "I've got a lot of responsibilities here. With Ashley and Andros gone I oversee about a quarter of the Chamber's daily operations. If the other two were here, that'd be no problem, but--"
"Consider it an order, Cassie. I do have the authority to do things like this if it helps you function better. I would've ordered Andros to take a sabbatical, but he beat me to it. Now go get that test taken care of, and come back with the results. If they come back showing nothing, we'll both go down to discuss this with Zhane. Okay?"
Cassie nodded lightly. "Yeah, okay." She stood and straightened her pink uniform jacket. "I guess either way I'll see you later, 'eh Doctor Kino?"
"Cassie," Doctor Kino said, halting the departing Ranger. "Good luck."
The senior Pink Ranger threw a smile over her shoulder and stepped out of the office without saying a word. She felt herself at an intersection. One half of her hoped everything could be explained with a simple latent mental ability. The other half wanted to temporarily throw away all responsibility, speak with the Phantom about her feelings, and finally come to terms with whatever relationship they had.
A quick ride on the turbo lifts brought her to the second level of the Power Chamber. Normally Cassie would have chosen the stairs, but her methodic pace would have made the journey all but endless. After a few dozen steps, the Asian girl found herself at the opening of the Science and Medical Lab.
She stepped through the door and onto the pure white floors. Justin Stewart didn't have a secretary, or the abundance of walk-in patients that justified hiring one, so a lobby was never a consideration. And after Troy Rico's unfortunate exposure to an experiment, even less people began to tread through the area.
There was a waiting room of sorts, however. It was roughly ten feet wide and the same in length. The walls of the room were a heavy plastic, allowing anyone to view into the standard portions of the lab. Cassie could see solid walls set quite a way back into the sub-rooms, most likely used to handle serious injuries that would be unpleasing to the eye.
"Cassie," Justin greeted as the plastic partially slid away. He stepped out wearing his pale blue uniform, and a white shirt underneath. "What can I do for you?" He asked, ripping off a pair of disposable gloves and tossing them into a nearby medical waste container.
"Doctor Kino sent me," Cassie answered, handing over the note she was told to deliver. "She wants some kinda brainwave scan done or something. She thinks I might have some kinda minor psychic thing going on."
Justin shrugged. "Anything's possible." He stepped aside and gestured his hand to the still open transparent door. "You're lucky. We leave the equipment set up all the time now." He led his former teammate to a nearby chair not unlike one found in a dentist's office. "After we diagnosed Michelle Warren as an empath, we've been scanning everyone who steps through the door."
Cassie took her seat and continued the conversation as Justin began attaching several miniature electrodes to her forehead. "Do we have any other --advanced-- students besides Michelle? As far as I knew she was the only one."
Justin nodded, still attaching wires. "She's the only confirmed case, and even she is a low level empath. We had to help her advance herself so she would stop sensing the emotions of everyone around her. She would've gone nuts, otherwise."
Justin finished the last connection, and activated a terminal mounted into the wall. "You're going to drift off once I start the test. If you do have any abilities they're most likely residing in your sub-conscious. But you won't feel a thing."
The Pink Ranger nodded, and Justin began his testing.
Cassie awoke the same way she had fall asleep. Quickly. To her it felt as if a second had passed, but a look at the clock on the opposing wall proved that almost one hour had gone by. To her immediate right, Justin was staring at the same monitor as a 'second' ago, perplexed.
"I see a borderline level of activity," he reported. "But I don't think it's even a factor. At this level, you should not be receiving or broadcasting any telepathic, telekinetic, or empathic signals or activity. Whatever the problem is, its not coming from your brain." He tapped a few more buttons on the terminal. "I've sent the results to Doctor Kino. She'll probably want to discuss them with you."
"Which means," Cassie sighed, "I'm taking a little vacation."
TJ leaned back on the couch, absorbing the question asked of him. How did he feel about the whole situation? He didn't even find out about the death of one of his friends until he had returned from his mission of reclaiming the Hope Fortress from the Devarian known as Kibro. And even when he was delivered the news, it was several hours after the event had occurred.
"I can honestly say, that I have no idea how I feel." TJ relaxed even further. "I'm very upset about losing Weelo. Cassie and I saved him from some high-profile murderers, and we watched him tear through everything that was thrown at him in the Academy. In a sense, we watched him grow up.
"Then there's the possibility that the equipment failure was sabotage. If that's true then I'd have to say I'm incredibly angered. Jerome said he couldn't find any facts to go on, and no one has left the Chamber since the accident, so if anyone did do the job, they did it very well. And that's what ticks me off, that it could've been someone on the inside.
"But then again, it could've been a freak accident like everyone else believes. And under those circumstances, I'd say I feel helpless. I wasn't able to save Weelo, and I wouldn't have been able to do it even if I was standing in the Simudeck with him."
The door to the office opened, and Cassie stepped through, her face flushing. "Oh, I'm sorry." She apologized. "I didn't know you were still in session---"
"It's okay, Cassie." Doctor Kino said. "We've already gone over the hour." The Doctor nodded to her patient. "TJ, if you'd like you can schedule another appointment and we can pick up where we left off."
"I'll do that," TJ smiled as he rose to his feet and headed to the portal. He was quite confused when Cassie wouldn't allow him to leave the office. "Something wrong?" he asked.
Cassie nodded. "You might want to hear this too." She turned her attention to Doctor Kino. "Justin said the scan came up negative. He sent the results to your personal computer. I guess that means I get to do some soul-searching, huh Doc?"
"Soul-searching?" TJ repeated. "Cassie, what on Earth are you talking about?"
Cassie shyly asked the Doctor for a moment to speak with the young black man outside. After a quick and positive response, the Asian girl lead her friend out to the catwalks, and began to spill her guts on the subject, covering most of her session with Doctor Kino and the importance of her scan in a matter of minutes.
"I'm going with you," TJ decided.
Cassie sighed, and reluctantly denied TJ assistance. "You can't go with me. Not this time. Teej, I appreciate you wanting to help, and I know you mean well -- But this is something I have to do alone. Its hard enough dealing with this situation as it is. Having a friend with me wouldn't make it much easier."
TJ accounted for his friend's logic, and agreed. "Okay, but be careful all right? Chances are you're not on a trip to Inus, here. Where was he last time, the Draven mining colony?"
Cassie shook her head. She knew the senior Blue Ranger had a good point. The Phantom was not one to stay in one place for any extended period of time. It was a miracle that Cassie had come across him while searching for the legendary Zordon almost two years ago. "Last time I heard from him, he was with the Pemdra. It's about a two-hour trip by Galaxy Glider. I'll probably stay a day or so."
"You think you'll make a two hour trip and carry all your supplies on a Galaxy Glider?"
"What can I do?" Cassie asked. "Andros gave the set of Zords Droz made for us to the Ninjetti once they took over for us. And I doubt we have an extra ship laying around." She saw a smile crawl across TJ's face. "What? We do?"
"We have two actually." TJ explained. "Remember when Dark Spectre recaptured Korone, and Andros and Zhane went onto the Dark Fortress to bring her back?" Cassie nodded. "Remember what they brought back with them?"
Cassie's eyes lit up. "Velocifighters!" She recalled. "I can use one of the old Velocifighters! Oh, thank you Teej!" She gave her friend a quick embrace. "I've got to make sure the Phantom's still where he was and leave as soon as possible."
"Wait a minute," TJ demanded. "You're leaving now? What's the rush?"
The Asian girl's excitement quickly lessened, her smile inverting into a frown. "I can't explain it, TJ. If I could, you'd understand. But this is something that's consuming a large part of my life right now, and I don't feel like I can handle anything else until I get this straightened out."
At that moment, Doctor Kino emerged from her office. She pardoned herself for the interruption and continued on. "Cassie, why don't we head down to Zhane's office and we can take care of all lose ends. TJ, if you would excuse us for a few moments?"
With given approval, Doctor Kino began escorting the Asian girl down the catwalks. "Are you nervous?" She asked. "About what you're about to do? Because I know I would be in your shoes." The Doctor flashed a quick smile.
"I'm terrified." Cassie revealed. "But either I do this, or I'll probably never be able to keep a steady relationship with anyone." The Asian girl leaned over the rail for a moment to watch the newly inducted Rangers collectively known as the Blue Team squabble with each other.
"I wonder what's up with them," Doctor Kino thought aloud.
"My guess is one of them finally asked about Syrix. I can't say I blame them for being a little ticked about the situation," Cassie admitted. "If I found out I was going to spend three years on a desert planet, I'd be a bit mad, too." The senior Pink Ranger was taken aback by Doctor Kino's harsh stare. "Hey, they can survive. The B'nari have been living there for a hundred and fifty years. But those four should be used to it after a few weeks."
"Shall we continue?" Doctor Kino asked politely. "Unless you've changed your mind?"
Cassie shook her head, and followed the Doctor to the Silver Ranger's office. The entire proceedings were a blur to the Asian girl. Did the situation gain any more of a reaction than necessary? Was Zhane's reaction enough? All she knew was that after a few minutes of explaining her reasons, she was out on the catwalks once again.
The nervousness she felt had evaporated. Now that she had full permission to leave, Cassie felt afraid. Her mind was filled with questions that left her feeling empty. What would the Phantom say when he saw her? What would she say to him? What would he think of her motives for seeing him again?
She put those questions aside. They would all be answered in due time. *Time,* she mused. Not exactly something she had an abundance of at the moment. If she were to see to Phantom, she only had enough time to grab a few days worth of supplies and say quick good-byes to all of her present friends.
As she headed for her quarters, she looked down to the Mechanics Floor once again. There still was the Blue Team, however their moments of stress had seemed to have passed, and the four were once again enjoying their lives as much as possible.
In a way, Cassie found herself envying the soon-to-be departing Rangers. They may not see Earth, their friends, or their families again for three years, but at least they knew what awaited them at their destination.
-- Epilogue --
The alarm sounded softly, but still managed to cut through the silence enough to wake Troy Rico from a jittery slumber. The low but irritating tones usually caused the Blue Ranger to throw back his covers, and smack his hand down atop the alarm controls to deactivate it in the most violent of manners. Then, he would usually spring out of bed, ready to meet any of the day's challenges head on.
Today was different. To Ranger Troy Rico, the past two days had not happened. He could recall fragmented memories, events, but the time had passed too quickly for his liking. Today would be the last day he would reside on his home planet for some time to come.
Twelve hours from now, he would be on a transport to the Hope Fortress. There, a representative of the B'nari, a once nomadic tribe that had finally settled on the desert world of Syrix, would carry the team over to their new home for three years. A world where Troy Rico would only see the Earth in the form of a small blue star.
He lay on his bed for a moment, staring at the ceiling. Slowly, he removed his interlocked hands from behind his head, and sat upright. He swung his legs over the bed, and with a gentle hand turned off the annoying sound of his alarm clock.
He gazed to the other side of the shared bedroom, to the bunk containing the currently lazy form of Robert "Tek" Cruz, Troy's only male teammate at the moment. On standard occasions, Tek was the betting man of the group, but Troy knew his hunch was correct.
"You asleep?" The leader of the Blue Team asked.
Troy smiled and breathed a small chuckle. He knew that unless the female members of his team had elected for medical assistance, none of them had gotten a full eight hours of rest. Troy calculated his own as just fewer than three, which would not make him the most loved person during the team's transport.
He stood, tugging the wrinkles out of his blue tee shirt as he did so. And just out of habit, Troy adjusted the fit of his white sweatpants before slipping his feet into a pair of worn but comfortable hi-top sneakers that he had owned for longer than he could remember.
He saw Tek roll onto his feet as well, taking note of the young man's sleeping attire which consisted of nothing more than the slacks and black shirt of his uniform. On any standard day, Troy would have chewed the fourth Blue Ranger out for his actions, but decided against it. Today was not a day to argue, it was a day to savor.
Together, both men exited their quarters and stepped out onto the cold metal floors of the Academy where Jackie Wilson and Michelle Warren were already patiently awaiting their friends' arrival. Without speaking, the four banded together into their close unit as they have done time and time again, and casually but adamantly made their way to the Academy's front entrance.
The doors swung open before them, permitting them to step out into the fading evening's darkness. Each inhaled deeply to smell the crisp night air as they left the Chamber's security. And one by one, the Blue Team slumped to the rocky ground with their backs against the off-white walls of the Power Chamber.
Troy watched with a mixture of joy and sorrow as rays of red and
orange carefully pierced the night sky. "Take a good look at it
Rangers," he said while not taking his eyes off of the approaching
sunrise. "You won't be seeing this again for a long, long time."