He sat bathed in the flickering glow of the television, leaning back on the pillows propped against the headboard. He had been sitting in that position for hours, and his back was starting to ache, but his mind was too numb by now to take notice. The latest wave of tears had passed by now, but his eyes were still reddened by a combination of crying and staring at the screen.
Finally, he fumbled for the remote and muted the television, then painstakingly got up from his reclined position, stretching the muscles in his back one section at a time to get the kinks out. He had almost no feeling in his left arm, and his feet were both asleep, but he was able to rub some life back into his numbed limbs, at least long enough to take the necessary step and a half to reach his desk and pick up his laptop. He brought it back to the bed and got back into his previous pose, but this time unfolded the computer, set it appropriately on his lap, and fired it up. Soon the dim glow of the tiny liquid crystal screen added itself to the unsteady light from the television, and the whirring of the internal fan became the only sound in the room, at least until the inconstant clicks of his rapid hunt-and-peck typing.
I don't know how quick you guys get news out there about what's going on back on Earth, so you may have already heard about this by the time this e-mail gets through on the next outgoing batch. I'll just start by saying that there hasn't ever been a time more than tonight that I wish I hadn't missed the boat. The world is going crazy, and I wish I was anywhere but here.
Yesterday, in a high school near Denver, about a dozen kids and a teacher were gunned down and killed, and ghod only knows how many others were wounded. You know how much I hate watching the news, but I haven't been able to look away. It's f***ing unreal, man. They've been playing interviews with hysterical students who barely got out with their lives, with hysterical parents who didn't know if their kids were alive or dead, and with equally hysterical teachers who witnessed it all.
And do you know who did it? A couple of guys from the "out" crowd. A couple of guys who were always at odds with the jocks, and the popular crowd. A couple of guys who dressed funny, and wore their hair funny, and acted like wannabe military. A couple of guys who were dissed and ridiculed by the popular set, and only had friends among the other outcasts. Just two guys who wanted to show everyone what total bad-asses they were.
Jesus, Farcas, it was US!
His hands were beginning to clench, making it impossible to keep typing. He stopped to take a deep, shaky breath, then stretched his fingers and cracked his knuckles. He stared at the cursor for a full minute before he continued typing.
I don't mean that I sympathize with these guys, because what they did makes me want to throw up, punch a hole in the wall, scream, cry, or just do like I've been doing for the last two days and just come home from work and watch the news all night. Some of the stories have been terrible. I've heard about them blowing away kids that were holding the doors open so their friends could get away. I've heard about them holding a room at gunpoint and telling all the jocks to stand up and get what was coming to them. I heard they asked if anyone in the room believed in Jesus, and when one girl said that she did, they shot her for it. They threw pipe bombs around, they shot people in the back as they were running away, they held people at gunpoint and made them beg for their lives, and I guess they made a propane bomb that could have lit the whole place on fire.
And you want to know the worst part? They killed themselves when it was all over. They either shot themselves or shot each other, and I guess they wired their bodies with explosives. The bomb squad had to come in and clear the entire place, and I guess all the bodies were left lying there where they fell for more than a day until the bomb squad said everything was clear. Some of the parents were standing outside waiting to hear if their kids were dead in there, and no one could do anything about it while there was still danger from the bombs.
And now those two little bastards are dead. They killed all those other kids, and then they were too chicken-sh*t to take the consequences. Now there's no way to bring them to justice. It's times like this that I hope there really is a God, and a Hell. Maybe that's all the more justice the rest of us can hope for.
And now everyone's trying to find who to blame, now that they can't do anything to the murderers. I've heard people blame war toys, and war movies like that Private Ryan thingee. Of course, there's a bunch of people who think video games like Doom had something to do with it. "Run down halls and blow people away! Just like on your computer!" Give me a break. Some people are blaming rock lyrics, like they blame them for everything else. And surprise surprise, some people are blaming the Power Rangers, even though they're retired from the hero thing. "Hey, the Power Rangers solved problems with their fists and their guns! What do you EXPECT these guys to learn from that?" By any chance have you heard a big whooshing sound coming from Earth? That's the sound of the Buck being Passed.
I stopped by the Youth Center today on my way home, and it was nearly empty. I guess no one felt much like hanging out and having fun. The few people that were there were all talking about it, and I listened while I was getting a soda. I actually heard someone say "That couldn't happen here, though. Not at Angel Grove High."
Noooooo, no of course not. Not here. Not in wonderful, peaceful Angel Grove, where up until the Rangers retired we could count on at least one city-demolishing battle every week. Not here, where everyone's an overachiever, and the school wins all its football games and martial arts tournaments and scholastic contests. Nope, never happen.
Everyone here's pretty messed up about this, but it's really got me thinking, and I don't like the thoughts I'm having. One question keeps coming back to my mind over and over again, and maybe you could answer it for me?
How close did we come to that?
Remember those weekends we played laser tag on the high school campus? We were regular G.I. Joes, you and me, running down the halls, diving for cover, trying to blow away all our friends who were playing with us. Maybe you were just play-acting, but it was pretty real to me, man, and my blood was rushing every time we came around a corner with our guns drawn.
Do you remember how we used to spend hours in my garage trying to come up with bigger and better firecrackers? Remember the time we made firework-bombs and took some of my old toys out into the desert and blew the crap out of them?
How about the times we did everything we could possibly imagine to get revenge on Jason and Tommy and all their in-crowd friends? The stories we made up about how we were going to learn martial arts better than they ever could so we could knock the living hell out of them and show Kimberly and Trini how cool we were?
Do you remember the gang we used to hang with before even THEY rejected us? Most of them are dope pushers, car thieves and thugs now.
Better still, do you remember the defensive lineman who kicked about ninety percent of my ass on the lunch quad before you got in there and pulled him off of me? More specific, do you remember how I carried a knife to school for weeks after that? Packing a knife at Angel F***ing Grove High. Honest to god, Bulk, that wasn't for show. I was ready to pull it on him. I was ready to use it if he came at me again. I wanted to make him pay for humiliating me in front of Kimberly and everyone. And I can't even remember his name now. I wanted to stick a knife in him, and I can't even remember his damn name.
All I've been able to think is that it could have been us. I'm thinking if things had gone a little different for us, we could have gone down that road. We used to dream about revenge. We used to dream of being bad-ass fighters with big guns. We used to dream about how we were going to show them all what bad dudes we really were.
I don't know what kept us from going there. Funny thing is that maybe it was the Power Rangers. After all, it was that whole obsession about finding out their identities that made the rest of the gang give up on us. Maybe we wanted to be like the Rangers more than we thought.
For what it's worth, though, I don't think it would have happened to us. You would have stopped it. Maybe I'm insulting you by saying "us" in all of this. I think what scares me is how close I came, not how close we came. And looking back, I think following your lead kept us out of worse trouble than it got us into.
There are days I'm glad to be on Earth. There are days I wish I was up there with you and the prof. And there are days I wish you were still here instead. Nothing makes sense right now. I hope things make better sense for you up there. Write back and let me know if any of this makes sense to you. I'm too tired.
Skull looked over what he had written, then gathered up the computer in both hands, pushed himself slowly to his feet, and returned it to the desk. He snapped the modem cord in place and booted his terminal software to send the mail to the outgoing queue for Terra Venture.
While the modem was dialing, a knock suddenly came from the front door. Leaving the laptop to its work, he went to see who it was.
To his surprise, it was T.J.
He opened the door a crack and peeked outside. "Hey, T.J. What's up?"
"How's it goin', Skull?" T.J. smiled, but it was a very forced smile. "What'cha up to?"
Skull opened the door to let the younger man in. "Just watching the news."
"Yeah," T.J. nodded. "I guess you heard about the shootings in Littleton?"
"I think everyone's heard about it by now."
T.J. furrowed his brow. "How are you holding up, man? You look pretty rough."
"Just a little messed up about the whole thing. I mean, they were... they were kids... A lot like we were, not too long ago."
"I know," T.J. agreed. "That's actually why I'm here. Cass and Carlos and I were going to be heading up there for a little while, to talk to some of the survivors. Some of the local authorities thought it might do some good for them to hear from the ex-Power Rangers."
Skull nodded. "Maybe. What's that got to do with being here, though?"
"Well," T.J. sighed, "I wanted to ask if maybe you'd come with us."
"Why me?" Skull blinked.
T.J. seemed to be having a little difficulty with finding the right words. "Well, I hear you used to... run with kind of a..."
"A gang," Skull finished for him.
"Right. I was hoping maybe you could help us out. I get the feeling you spent a little time on the wrong side of the tracks."
"That's putting it mildly," Skull snorted.
"Yeah, but you got through it, man. You didn't let it ruin your life. I was thinking they might listen to you more than they'd listen to us. Maybe you could help show some of them that they have other options, you know what I mean?"
"It might be a little late for some of them," Skull whispered, bitterly.
"Yeah, but maybe not all of them."
Skull thought about this for a while, then slowly nodded his head. "I'm pretty sure I can swing the time off work, if you really think it would help."
"I think it would."
"Okay, I'm in."
T.J.'s smile was more genuine this time as he reached to shake Skull's hand. "You're definitely one of the good guys, Skull. I'll tell Cass and Carlos."
"Glad to oblige," Skull half-grinned.
Without another word, T.J. showed himself to the door. Skull closed it behind him, then went back to his bedroom.
The T.V. was showing replays of some earlier footage, so he shut it off and checked on his computer. It had logged him in, and now was waiting for his confirmation to send the e-mail.
Rather than send it right away, though, he called it back and began typing at the bottom of the message.
P.S. Then again, maybe some things do make sense after all. Wish me strength, old buddy. I've got something I need to do. I'll write you in a few days and let you know how it went. Meantime, take care of the prof, and take care of you too. Peace.