"Angel Grove, 1 mile," the man read, looking at the sign.
He had been driving a very long time, and he was getting sick of being
in the car. Since his destination was so close, he decided to keep driving,
rather than stop at a rest station. As he exited the freeway and moved
into the city's traffic, he couldn't help looking around him at all the
tall buildings. It wasn't that he'd never visited a city before, but this
one was different. It was certainly the only place where the tops of skyscrapers
were chewed off on a regular basis.
After a few more minutes of driving, he pulled into the parking lot of the motel. He checked in and headed to his room, throwing himself down on the bed thankfully. Almost immediately, however, he sat up and pulled out the folder that had sat on the seat next to him for the entire drive. "Almost ten years," he sighed, looking at the picture. "God, they grow up so fast. I wonder if he even knows who I am?" Pulling out his wallet, he looked at another picture, this one dog-eared from years of being pulled out and transferred from wallet to wallet. In it, a young boy with dark hair and eyes grinned at the camera engagingly. On the back, in precise handwriting, it read: Jason Lee Scott, age ten.
Rising from the bed, the man crossed to his window, looking at all of the Christmas decorations lining the streets. It still didn't look right to him without the snow, but in California, that was extremely unlikely. He sighed. Christmas was a time for family, and he didn't seem to have any at the moment. Hopefully, however, that would soon change.
* * *
"Rocky! Watch it with those streamers!" Jason cried. The Blue Zeo Ranger had drunk a little too much Jolt before coming to Ernie's holiday party, and as a result, he was bouncing all over the place.
"What has gotten into him?" Fred Kelman, the Red Turbo Ranger, asked incredulously.
"Too much Jolt!" chorused Rosa De Santos, Adam Park, and his younger brother Franklin.
"Rocky lives on Jolt," Tyler Oliver confided in the younger boy. "You should have seen him move us into our apartment."
"I think he unpacked the truck in three seconds flat," laughed Terry, his wife.
Not all the Power Rangers were present at the party. It was still a few days before the actual holiday, and some of them were still gone. Kim and Skull, in particular, were spending the time with Kimberly's folks in Paris, and probably wouldn't be home at all, except perhaps a small visit via communicator on Christmas Day. Skull didn't say much about his parents, but the other Rangers had gotten the feeling that holidays around the Skullovitch house were not a lot of fun. Katarina had gone back to Russia for the holiday, but she and Rocky had already worked out a schedule for teleporting back and forth to see each other. Christina, the White Zeo Ranger, had remained in London, her family flying out to spend the holiday with her. She and Billy had decided that they could use Rocky and Katarina's schedule, and had already teleported back and forth several times.
"Hey guys!" cried Zack Taylor, entering the youth center with his usual flourish. "Sorry I'm late! There was a snowstorm in New York. La Guardia was socked in!"
"We forgive you!" his friends chorused.
"So how are the Ghostbusters?" Billy asked, taking Zack's coat. The Morphin Warriors had met up with the team of paranormal exterminators during a recent adventure, and Zack in particular had kept in touch.
"Well, Peter is slowly overcoming his aversion to Christmas, Ray is going nuts hoping for a set of Captain Steel comic books, Egon narrowly avoided being trapped under the mistletoe by Janine, and Winston has repeatedly stated that all he wants for Christmas is for Ecto not to get damaged in the next six busts," Zack chuckled. Cocking his head, he turned to Trini, who was reading something over by the juice bar. "What's that?" he asked.
"Hmm?" she looked up. "Oh, it's a letter from Kim. She says that Paris is wonderful, and both she and Skull are enjoying college. Oh, and Skull's found someone to teach him katana. He's met some sword expert by the name of Duncan MacLeod."
"Cool. Is everybody here?" he asked Jason, who had popped up by his elbow.
"Well, all of our group except Kim and Skull, and the Turbos, and Bulk and David are here, and all the Zeos except Katya, Chris, and- hey, where's Lillian?" Jason frowned, snagging Tommy Oliver by the sleeve. "Hey, bro, where's your girlfriend? I thought she was coming to this thing?"
"Sorry I'm late, guys," Lillian O'Neil called, removing her motorcycle helmet as she entered. "I couldn't get away from the dojo, and then the traffic down here from Cross World was murder. I should have listened to Ryan and taken the back roads."
"Well, all that matters is that you're here," Tommy grinned, kissing her on the cheek. With that, the party moved into full swing.
* * *
Jason and his girlfriend Jamie Zedden were sitting at a table and watching the youth center go by. "Look over there!" Jamie giggled. "I think my parents are about to set a world record under the mistletoe!"
"Yeah, well, they're going to have some serious competition from mine, not to mention Tyler and Terry," Jason shot back, gesturing to two of the other sprigs of mistletoe located around the room. Jamie nodded, surveying the rest of the room.
"Oh dear. I think Chelsea is explaining the custom of mistletoe to Trey," Jamie chuckled, watching Tommy's sister pounce on her Triforian boyfriend as he came through one of the doors.
"I think she explained it to him last year," Jason mused, remembering vividly their Christmas party in the Power Chamber. That had been before Jamie had joined the Rangers, and at the time, he had thought it would be the last Christmas he would ever celebrate, thanks to the Gold Ranger powers.
"Well, he must have forgotten," responded Jamie.
Jason laughed. "I think she just likes explaining it to him."
Cocking her head, Jamie regarded her boyfriend curiously. "Jason, are you all right?"
"Yeah," he replied, smiling. "It's just that all of this brings back last year, when I was sure I wasn't going to live to see graduation. You four hadn't joined the team yet, and we had this huge party in the Power Chamber. Speaking of that, where's Lita? I thought they sicced Justin on her to make sure she'd come." The Rangers had discovered that Dr. Lita Kino had a weakness for puppy dog eyes, and Justin could do them better than any other Ranger on the team, including Tommy. Psychiatrists, social workers, and eighth grade teachers all melted and became putty in his hands.
"Oh, she told him she had to pick up an old friend," Jamie informed him. "She said she'd be along later." As if Jamie's words had conjured her, the doors swung open and Lita Kino walked in. Beside her was a tall, attractive man with sandy brown hair and vibrant green eyes. Jamie whistled. "Some old friend," she breathed.
"Jason, Jamie, this is Max Delany, an old friend of mine," Lita said, crossing over to the table where they sat. The two teens shook Max's hand, and both were impressed by the strength of his grip.
"Nice to meet you both," Max told them gruffly. "I'm always glad to meet friends of Lita's. Usually she tries to keep people from finding out she knows me."
"Max!" Lita slugged his shoulder playfully.
"Hey, nice to meet you too," Jason replied. "Are you a psychiatrist too?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact. Lita and I went to college together, and that's where we met. We've been friends ever since."
"Lita!" Justin cried, coming out of nowhere. "My dad's here! Come on, you've got to meet him." The young boy latched onto her hand and began dragging her across the room.
"Max, I-" Lita began, but he just waved her off.
"You go on, Lita. I'll be fine." As she disappeared into the crowd, Max sank down in a seat next to Jason.
"So, are you two just friends, or what?" Jamie asked with her usual bluntness.
"Jamie!" Jason cried. He knew Jamie had a tendency to cut directly to the chase, but she didn't usually pry.
Max chuckled. "We're just friends, although not for lack of inclination, at least on my part," he sighed. "But I don't think she's interested, and I'd hate to ruin a good friendship by making a fool of myself."
Jason recognized the gleam in Jamie's eye. "Don't even think about it," he told her in a low voice. "We've already got Justin trying his hand at matchmaking, and we don't need you getting in on the act, too."
"Moi?" she told him, the picture of innocence. "I wouldn't think about it." Jason subsided, not at all reassured.
* * *
Some time later, Jason and Jamie were talking when he saw her face change subtly. "What is it?" he asked in a hushed tone. "Cogs, Tengas?"
She shook her head almost imperceptibly. "Guy at the juice bar. Just came in. Attractive, Asian descent, early forties, good shape. Don't look. He's watching us. He's very good, but he's not trying too hard to hide it. If he was, I probably wouldn't have noticed."
Casually, Jason turned and scanned the bar, as if looking for Ernie. Then he turned back to Jamie. "I see him. What do you think he wants?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. Off-hand, I'd say he's government. The only reason I know of that the government would be interested in you is- well, you know."
"Same for you, right?" She smiled and merely sipped her juice. "Jamie," he began warily.
"It was almost three years ago. I don't think they'd be sending agents after me now," she assured him. "After all, it was just a little breaking and entering."
Jason shook his head. "I don't want to know, do I?"
"Is he carrying a weapon?"
She scrutinized him, then shook her head. "No, I don't think so. Of course, he probably doesn't need one here. It's likely just surveillance."
Jason sighed. "All right. Do you want to dance?"
* * *
While they were dancing, Jamie and Jason noticed two things. One, the man at the bar never stopped watching them, and two, Franklin Park finally got up the courage to ask Rosa De Santos to dance. Unfortunately, while the two of them were swaying around the floor, Jason saw Franklin's expression change, and the five kids quickly regrouped and sneaked out the back. "Guess Divatox doesn't take the holidays off," Jason sighed.
"Guess not. It's getting kind of late, Jason. How about we head back to your place? We can watch TV or something."
"Sounds good to me. Are you sure you don't want to go home, though? Your mom and dad might get worried about you."
Jamie chuckled. "Jason, this is the first Christmas my parents have spent together in almost fourteen years. Tonight is probably going to include a bottle of wine, a roaring fire, and no kid in the house."
"Ah. Well, you're welcome to come over. I don't think Mom and Dad will mind at all." The two of them left, but Jamie was uncomfortably aware of the scrutiny of the man at the counter as they did so.
* * *
"'And what happened then? Well, in Who-ville they say/ that the Grinch's small heart/ grew three sizes that day,'" the TV informed them. Jamie smiled, snuggling a little closer to Jason on the couch.
"I always loved this special, ever since I was a very little girl," she sighed. "You know, my dad used to read me this book on Christmas Eve to get me to go to sleep."
"Bet you never thought he'd be cast as the Grinch," Jason teased gently. She elbowed him lightly in the stomach. Suddenly, their communicators went off, shattering the mood of peace and contentment.
"We read you, Zordon," Jason sighed.
"Jason, there is a platoon of Gasket's Cogs on the street not far from your house. They appear to be attacking a lone man, who is holding his own. I fear, however, that he is quite outnumbered. You are the only Rangers available at this time."
"We're on it, Zordon," he responded, rising from the couch. Jamie followed suit, grumbling about super-villains and union regulations. "Come on," he told her. "We're going to have to do this human form, or at least I am." Jason grimaced. His Morphin Warrior powers, being magic-based, reacted poorly with cold iron. This was less of a problem with Gasket's minions than with Mondo's, since Gasket preferred plastics to metal, but there was still enough iron in them to render his powers unreliable, if not useless.
"Well, it would look kind of suspicious for a Zeo Ranger and an ordinary human to tangle with these goons, so I won't morph either. Let's go!" The two of them ran out the door, and in a matter of minutes, had reached the struggling man. They stopped short as they saw it was the man from the juice bar, the one who had been watching them. Jamie winced as he threw a Cog over one shoulder, ripping its arm off.
"Oh yeah, he's a company man," she sighed. Then she threw herself into the fight after Jason.
With the three of them, the tide quickly turned, and Gasket's Cogs retreated back through the space warp. Jason turned to the man they had rescued, intending to get some answers, only to find him lying on the ground. "Shit!" he cursed, rushing to the fallen man's side. "Jamie!"
Instantly she was beside him, coolly checking for a pulse and head injuries. Then she saw the rip in the front of the man's T-shirt. Pulling the shirt up, she winced. "Jason, I think they got him with some sort of poisoned blade. His pulse is steady and his pupils show no sign of a toxic reaction, so I'm guessing that the poison was some type of tranquilizer. We should take him back to your place."
"Mine's too far away, and we can't exactly take him to the Power Chamber. I can take a blood sample there and send it to Zordon and Alpha for toxicological analysis. No sense taking him to a hospital if we don't have to. Besides, I have a few questions to ask him."
Jason grumbled some, but helped her lift the unconscious man by the shoulders and carry him back to the house.
* * *
He woke up on a soft bed. Sitting up, he looked around in confusion. The last thing he remembered was being jumped by some sort of odd robots. Then someone had come to help him, one of the robots had slashed him across the chest, and he had passed out.
He shook his head, trying to clear it. Had he been captured by the robots? He somehow doubted it. The room he was in looked far too nice to be a cell. Looking down, he realized that someone had bandaged up the slash on his chest, and done an excellent job of it, too. Rising, he pulled on his T-shirt and headed down the stairs.
* * *
Jason and Jamie looked up as the man came down the stairs, rubbing his head. "Ah, you're awake," Jamie smiled, pouring him a mug of coffee. "Are you all right? No headache or dizziness?"
"No, I'm fine," he replied, taking the mug from her and sipping from it. "Did you two help me out with those robot things?"
"They're called Cogs," Jason told him. "Yeah, we saw you fighting them, so we came to lend a hand. Those guys are bad news. They're always attacking people. Most of the time the Power Rangers take them, but I guess we just got to you first."
"Thank you." He took another sip of his coffee. "Who dressed the wound on my chest?"
"I did," Jamie answered. "I grew up in LA. First aid is a good thing to know there. Now, if you don't mind, we have a few questions for you, like why were you watching us in the youth center?"
The man looked startled. "You saw that? Damn, I'm getting sloppy in my old age."
"Not necessarily," Jason contradicted him. "Jamie's good at spotting things like that." There was a note of obvious pride in his voice. The man smiled slightly.
"I take it from your question that you don't recognize me, Jason," he sighed, wincing as a shift in position pulled at the wound on his chest. "No reason you should, I suppose. You've never seen me before, and the only picture you might have seen was almost ten years old. My name is Michael Lee." Jason stiffened, his eyes wide. "Ah, I see that name rings a bell. So your mother did tell you about me, after all."
Jason nodded, unable to speak. Jamie looked from one man to the other in bewilderment. "Could somebody please tell me what the heck is going on here?" she asked, confusion warring with irritation in her voice.
Jason swallowed. "Jamie," he responded, finally finding his voice, "this is Michael Lee, my biological father."
"Your what?" she asked.
"He's my father," Jason repeated. "It's a long story. You see, Mom, Dad, and Michael were very good friends in college. In fact, Mom and Michael were in love. Unfortunately, Grandma and Grandpa didn't like the idea of their only daughter marrying an Asian man, and threatened to make life miserable for everyone. Well, after a while, Mom got pregnant with me. She didn't want to have an abortion, but she didn't want Grandma and Grandpa to know it was Michael's, either. So Dad pretended that he and Mom had been dating, and that the baby, me, was his. Michael disappeared, and Mom and Dad fell in love and got married. That was the last any of us heard of him until now."
"Not quite," Michael cut in. "I didn't leave until after you were born, actually. I was in the hospital, and I visited your mother after the delivery. I only decided to disappear when I saw how much your mother and John cared about each other. I only wanted her to be happy, but I wasn't sure I could stick around and watch them. I wrote to your mother often, though, and she sent me updates on your progress."
"So that's why your name is Jason Lee Scott," Jamie realized.
Jason nodded. "Yeah, Mom wanted to give me some part of both fathers." He turned toward Michael. "But when Mom told me all of this, when I was thirteen, she said she didn't know where you were or how to contact you. I wanted to meet you, but I never could. What happened?"
"Well, I got into a rather- dangerous line of work, one that required me to cut most of my ties to the past," Michael grimaced. "I didn't like doing that, but I felt that what I was doing was important enough that it had to be done. Besides, you had a mother and a father, both of whom loved you very much. You hardly needed me around."
"What were you doing?" Jason asked.
"CIA, NSA, or DOD?" added Jamie nonchalantly. Michael chuckled.
"She's very perceptive. One of the above, and that's all I'm at liberty to say. However, I've recently quit, and I can start picking up my life again. The first thing I wanted to do was to see you, just to know how you'd turned out. I got a picture of you from some friends, but I wanted to see you in person. I hadn't really thought beyond that. If you want me to leave, I'll go."
Jason thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I don't. Mom and Dad will certainly want to see you, and- you are a part of me, part of who I am, and a part I don't know very well. I would like to get to know you, even though I don't think I can think of you as my father."
Michael nodded. "I understand that, Jason. But I'm also glad that you'll at least allow me to be part of your life. I've been away from that for far too long."
* * *
"Jason!" Karen Scott called, opening the door. "Are you here?"
"Keep it down," her husband John chuckled. "He and Jamie probably don't want to be disturbed."
"Thank you so much for raising uncomfortable images in the mother's portion of my brain," she shot back, a smile on her face.
"Um, Mom?" Jason's voice replied, cutting his father off. "We're in the kitchen, and there's someone here you might want to see."
Exchanging confused looks, John and Karen headed for the kitchen. When they saw who was sitting at the table with their son and his girlfriend, Karen gasped and John's jaw dropped. Karen found her voice first.
"Michael? I thought you were dead! You stopped writing, and I was afraid-"
Michael winced. "Yes, I'm sorry about that, Karen. I wound up in government work, and I wasn't able to write. I just recently retired, and I was coming to see you. I would have called, but I was jumped by- Cogs, I think Jason called them. Luckily, he and Jamie came to my rescue."
Karen raised an eyebrow at her son, who shrugged. "I guess the Power Rangers were busy with something else," he responded. Karen sighed. She didn't like the fact that her only child was a super-hero, constantly risking life and limb, but after a while, she had learned to deal with it.
That aside, she immediately moved to concern. "Did they hurt you? Do you feel all right?"
"Mommm," Jason sighed. "It's been a year, and the Rangers said I wouldn't have any relapses."
Michael looked at the two of them curiously. "What are you talking about?"
"A year ago, Jason was accidentally winged with a stray blast from a monster. That caused a chemical imbalance which nearly killed him," Karen responded, telling the official tale in clipped tones. These memories still bothered her, and the fact that it was Christmas once again was only strengthening the painful recollections.
"But the Rangers saved me," Jason replied, looking his mother straight in the eye. This was still a bone of contention between them, dragged out after every major battle and occasionally just out of the blue. Karen believed that Jason was going to get himself killed, while Jason had decided that the cause was worth the risk. John, sensing another verbal battle in the offing, quickly interrupted.
"So Michael, how long are you in town for?" he asked.
"Well, that depends on all of you. Jason has already stated that he wouldn't mind the two of us getting to know each other. If the two of you have no objections, I was planning on staying in Angel Grove.
Karen smiled. "We'd love that, Michael. We've missed you, you know. Both of us."
Michael smiled back. "That's good to know."
While the adults were talking, Jamie and Jason headed to the back door. "I'd better go home," she sighed. "The four of you have a lot of catching up to do."
"You be careful," Jason cautioned. "You know Rita hates your guts on general principle, since you were, in a way, responsible for losing her Zedd's empire."
"I know. I'll be careful. You too." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and then left, disappearing in the gathering dusk. Jason watched her go with a sigh, then returned to the table.
* * *
"You're up kind of late, Karen," John remarked, watching his wife putter around their kitchen. It was almost two in the morning. Jason had long since gone to bed, and Michael had returned to his motel not long after. Now it was just the two of them, and Karen looked as if something was bothering her.
"Hmm? Oh, I didn't hear you come in. And look who's talking. I don't see you in bed either."
John ignored this. "What's the matter? Are you sorry Michael's come back? You seemed very happy about it this evening."
"No, I'm not sorry. It's just- it's Christmas, John, and I can't stop remembering last Christmas. Jason was so pale and weak, and I was so sure we were going to lose him."
"But we didn't," he reminded her. "His friends saved him."
"He would never have been in danger if he hadn't accepted those damn Gold Ranger Powers!"
"No, and he wouldn't have been our son, either. Karen, we raised Jason to be responsible, and always think about the greater impact his actions would have. He's lived up to our teachings better than we could ever have imagined. You know Jason. He lives to make a difference. Once it was made, how could he ever turn down an offer like Zordon's?"
Karen sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm thinking too much like a mother and not enough like a rational human being. It's just that, sometimes, I'm not sure I know my own son anymore. John, he was risking his life day in and day out for almost a year, and we never knew!"
John looked at his feet. "I can't explain that. I know he lied to us a lot about where he'd been and what he'd done, but I can't understand why we never thought that something might be wrong."
"He's just changing so fast. I'm always afraid I'll lose him, and I won't have known who he was," Karen sighed. John had no answer for that, and just folded her into his arms.
* * *
"It was nice of you to take the day to show me around Angel Grove," Michael commented. Jason shrugged.
"Hey, it's not a problem. I'm just glad that I've finally gotten to meet you. For six years, I've been wondering what you were like."
"How exactly did you find out that John wasn't your blood father?"
Jason chuckled. "Well, I was thirteen and I had my first exposure to genetics in a science course. They told us that dark hair was dominant over light hair and dark eyes over light eyes. I noticed that I was a great deal darker than either Mom or Dad, so I asked if I was adopted. That's when they told me the story."
"I'm sorry I wasn't there during your childhood, Jason. I thought it would be best for all of us, though, since John already thought of you as his son."
"Well, I used to be a little steamed, but as I've gotten older, I've come to understand about difficult decisions. I do want to get to know you, but I don't think I can ever call you ŒDad.'"
"I don't expect you to," Michael replied seriously. "'Michael' is fine. I'm just glad that I have a chance to know you and to see what kind of a man you've grown into. I must say, I'm very proud of you."
Jason smiled. "Thanks." Suddenly, their day was interrupted as a large hole appeared in the fabric of space and a veritable army of Cogs poured through. Jason groaned, dropping into a defensive stance. "As if we didn't have enough trouble!"
The two men fought in an excellent team, sending Cogs in all directions, but were outnumbered. Suddenly one managed to slip a punch through Jason's guard, knocking him unconscious.
"JASON!" Michael screamed, trying to reach his son's side through the press of Cogs. It was no use, however. The Cogs latched onto him and teleported both men out.
* * *
Jason woke up with a very bad headache and the sinking feeling that he was in deep trouble. Raising his head, he groaned at the sight which greeted him. He was in a darkened room, tell-tale shimmers in the air before him indicating that he was trapped behind a force-field. Directly in front of him, on the other side of the field, was Gasket, prince of the Machine Empire.
"What do you want, you bucket of bolts?" Jason growled, slamming a fist into the force-field. Gasket chuckled.
"Let me see. I want to destroy the Power Rangers, conquer the Earth- oh, and finish what I started almost a year ago."
"Forget it, Gasket," Jason snarled. "I'm back at full strength now!" Suddenly he stumbled as a wave of dizziness overtook him.
"You young fool. Did you forget that my machine drains the life from anyone? Just because you're no longer leaking life-force into the cosmos doesn't mean you're immune."
Forcing the sick feeling in his brain away, Jason glared at his captor. "Where's Michael?" he demanded. "What have you done with him?"
"See for yourself." Stepping out of the way, Gasket allowed Jason to see Michael Lee, strapped to a chair that Jason recognized immediately from Tommy's descriptions.
"The Brain Drain? But he doesn't have any powers!" Jason cried, stopping just short of throwing himself into the force-field.
"But he does have an excellent store of knowledge. Hand to hand combat, infiltration techniques, everything I could want in a warrior! I will download his knowledge into my newest robot, the Cyber Agent, and it will finally be victorious over the Rangers! Oh, and don't worry. It won't erase his mind the way it did your friend's. It just copies the knowledge, not transfers it."
"So what about me? Why am I here?"
"You get to watch, knowing that you are helpless to stop the destruction of your friends, as your life-energy fades away to nothing! Enjoy the show." With a cruel laugh, Gasket disappeared. Closing his eyes, Jason sank down along one side of his force-cage to think.
* * *
"We came as soon as we got your message, Alpha," Tommy reported, worry in his voice.
"Yeah, what's the problem?" Fred seconded, looking around him. Every Ranger that was currently in Angel Grove was now in the Power Chamber, except-
"Where's Jason?" Jamie asked, a sinking feeling growing in the pit of her stomach.
"Ai yi yi!" the little android cried, hitting a few switches. "Jason and Michael Lee have been captured by Gasket's Cogs! Observe the viewing globe!" The Rangers watched as a replay of the battle in the park.
"Oh, man!" Adam cried. "What are we going to do?"
"Maybe I can find some way to track them," Billy mused. Justin and Adam were right behind him, and the three of them were soon lost in the intricacies of the problem.
Suddenly, the alarm went off, startling all concerned. "Ai yi yi!" Alpha cried again. "We have another problem, Rangers!"
"It appears that Gasket has sent down a pair of monsters," Zordon rumbled. "This is the Modulator, a creature which can meld any sort of machinery to itself and turn it into a weapon. It is currently raising havoc in one of the residential sectors of Angel Grove. The other, in the park, is the Cyber Agent. It looks harmless, but I doubt that it is."
"Cyber- Agent?" Jamie mused. "Alpha, scan that robot for human energy patterns." Alpha did so, and soon hit paydirt.
"You're right, Jamie! There seem to be energy patterns around the monster rather similar to those of Michael Lee!"
"Figures. Gasket must have downloaded Michael's abilities into that thing. He used to be government. Cyber Agent will most likely be tougher than anything we've ever faced!"
"There are more of us," Tommy decided, "so we'll take the Cyber Agent. Fred, you think you guys can handle Modulator?"
"We can try," the younger boy replied.
"The three of us will stay here and continue to try and track Jason," Billy said from under a console, indicating the rest of the Morphin Warriors as he did so.
"Right," Tommy responded. "It's morphin time!"
Fred was right behind him. "Shift into Turbo!"
* * *
Jason was jarred from his meditative state as a pair of Cogs threw Michael through the force-field. Jason was instantly at the man's side as he slowly came around.
"Michael, are you all right?" Jason asked. He tried to help the other man sit up, but could not lift him. He was suddenly frightened at how far his strength had deteriorated.
"Ugh, I think so," Michael moaned. "That was the strangest thing I have ever experienced."
"Well, I hope the two of you are enjoying yourselves," Gasket laughed, appearing before them in a burst of light. "I've decided, since I am a reasonable machine, to give the two of you a sporting chance."
"What are you talking about, Gasket?" Jason gritted out.
"I'll drop the two of you into my labyrinth. If you escape, you're free to go. If not, Taurobot will tear you to pieces!" A huge humanoid robot with the head of a bull appeared beside Gasket. "Let the games begin!"
Jason and Michael suddenly found themselves in a network of cave-like tunnels that ran in all directions. "Come on, we need to get moving," Jason cautioned, helping Michael to his feet. "Gasket plays for keeps, and he likes to cheat."
The two of them moved off, hearing the echoing of Taurobot's footsteps in the tunnels behind them.
* * *
"Take this, Turbo Brats!" Modulator laughed. Raising the large leaf blower it had appropriated from one of the yards, it sent the Rangers sprawling with a blast of air.
"Man, what a windbag," Yellow Turbo grunted, getting to her feet.
"Yeah. Let's see if we can't shut him up," agreed Blue Turbo. Leaping into the air, they threw themselves at Modulator, who knocked them back with ease.
"A direct assault's no good," Red Turbo informed them. "We've got to use our brains."
"It's either that, or get them splattered all over the pavement," Pink Turbo muttered.
"Everything's got a weak spot," Green Turbo puffed. "We just have to find his."
"While we're thinking on it- Turbine Laser!" called Red Turbo. The large laser cannon materialized above them and lowered into position. "Fire!" A beam of energy flew out of the cannon, striking Modulator and knocking him back several feet.
"Rrrrg, you'll pay for that, Rangers!" Modulator threatened. An arm snaked out and grabbed the Turbine Laser, incorporating it into the monster's weapons systems.
"He's turned our own weapons against us!" Blue Turbo cried.
"That gives me an idea!" exclaimed Yellow Turbo. "We have to head back to the Power Chamber, though."
"Leaving so soon, Rangers?" laughed Modulator.
"We'll be back, metal-head," Red Turbo shot back. "Count on it."
* * *
"Ooof!" Red Ranger gasped, as a vicious kick from the Cyber Agent sent him reeling. "This guy is tough!"
"No kidding," Blue Ranger replied. "We've got to figure out a way to take him!"
Ever since their arrival on the battlefield, the Rangers had been getting their butts kicked by the rather unimpressive-looking monster.
"Adam, any ideas?" Yellow Ranger asked, turning to her boyfriend.
Green Ranger ducked as a laser blast nearly took the top of his head off. "Why are you asking me?"
"You're the one whose Dad taught him to make a Burmese Tiger pit at the age of 12," Black Ranger pointed out reasonably.
"13," Green Ranger grumbled, but it was obvious that he was thinking. "I don't know about stopping him, but maybe we can slow him down. As good as he is, he's only one robot. Let's see how he does against a number of multiple, moving targets, none of which are moving towards him. Use long-distance attacks!"
The Rangers did as he suggested, and found that the Cyber Agent was indeed vulnerable to such an attack. Unfortunately, he wasn't badly damaged, and he seemed quite content to wait them out.
"Man!" Purple Ranger cried. "If somebody doesn't think of something fast, we're gonna get roasted!"
* * *
Up on the moon, in Gasket's labyrinth, Jason and Michael's luck had just run out. Taurobot had finally caught up to them. "You have nowhere to go, humans!" the robot laughed. "Are you too cowardly to face me?"
"Not cowardly, smart," Michael puffed, falling into a ready stance. "Of course, I wouldn't expect a beef-brain like you to know the difference."
Laughing, the Taurobot kicked out at him. Between the robot's lightning movements and the weakening effects of Gasket' Brain Drain, Michael didn't move aside quite quickly enough. Taurobot's foot made contact with his side.
Jason winced as he heard Michael's ribs crack with the force of the blow. Instantly, Jason threw himself between the robot and the fallen man, sinking into a defensive stance, despite his own weakness.
"You fool! Do you truly think you can defeat me?" Taurobot laughed. "I will crush you like an egg."
Jason smiled. "I don't think so," he replied. "You're very fast. Are you made of plastic?"
Taurobot frowned. "I- uh, I don't think I'm supposed to answer that," the robot said nervously.
"I'll take that as a yes." Jason's grin widened. "It's morphin time! Tyrannosaurus!" In a flash of red light, Jason was transformed into the Red Morphin Warrior. Instantly, the power of the Morphin Grid flowed into him, replenishing all that Gasket's life-drainers had taken away.
"Jason?" Michael asked, incredulous.
"Stay there," Jason ordered, never removing his eyes from Taurobot. "I'll explain everything later." Drawing his sword, he began to press the attack against Taurobot. Raising a hand, the monster quickly conjured its own sword. The two of them fought back and forth across the cavern, while Michael lay on the floor wondering what was going on.
* * *
"Hey, I've got something!" Billy cried, just as the Turbo Rangers teleported in. "Looks like a surge of Morphin energy!"
"Jason must be under attack," Trini fretted.
Zack moved a little closer. "Can you track him, Billy?"
"With my eyes closed," the genius replied. "Teleportation ready."
"You guys go," Fred said, startling them. "Alpha, we're gonna need your help with something. Tasha has an idea."
"You be careful," Trini told the five young Rangers. They rolled their eyes, but agreed.
"Let's go get Jason," Zack suggested, as the three of them dissolved into multi-colored streams of light.
"Ai yi yi!" Alpha cried. "Tasha, what's this plan of yours?"
* * *
"Where are we, Billy?" Zack asked, looking at the cold rock walls around him.
"Not too far from Jason," replied Billy, scanning the area. Suddenly the sounds of clashing swords and angry grunts reached their ears.
"Obviously," Trini concurred dryly. "Come on, let's go!" They ran down the corridor, and soon saw Jason, in his Red Warrior costume, fighting with Taurobot.
"Hang on, Jase!" Zack called, summoning his ax. "We're coming!"
The other two drew their weapons as well, and threw themselves into the battle. With four Morphin Warriors fighting it, Taurobot never stood a chance. It was blasted into scrap almost immediately.
"Michael, are you okay?" Jason said quietly, turning to the man lying on the ground.
"Well, my ribs hurt like hell, but other than that, I'll be fine as soon as I figure out what on God's green earth just happened!"
Billy chuckled. "We'll explain everything to you soon, sir. Right now, we'd probably get you down to the Power Chamber and have Alpha take a look at your ribs."
"Alpha?" Michael asked, wincing as Jason and Zack helped him to his feet.
"You'll see," Jason promised, and the five of them disappeared into streams of light.
* * *
"So, you're back!" Modulator laughed as the Turbo Rangers teleported in. He fired a shot from the Turbine Laser, which they quickly dodged. "Ready for another round?"
"More than you know, metal-brain!" Yellow Turbo cried. "This weapon is going to send you into the stratosphere!" She stepped away to reveal a large energy cannon on the ground. "We're gonna blow you away!"
"Tasha, are you sure about this?" Green Turbo asked worriedly.
"Trust me," she replied, a smirk in her voice.
Blue Turbo looked at her. "The last time I did that, we were mopping the shelter floors for a week!"
"You're doomed, Rangers!" the robot cried. Faster than thought, the Modulator's arm snaked out, grabbing the energy cannon. Quickly, it modified itself to make the cannon part of its own weaponry.
"Aw, man!" Red Turbo cried. "He's gonna toast us!"
"That's right, Turbo Brat! Hope you enjoy the irony of being destroyed with your own weapon!" The end of the energy cannon began to glow as a lethal charge of energy built up, about to be fired. Suddenly the entire cannon exploded, blowing a VERY large hole in Modulator itself.
"The old Trojan Horse trick," Pink Turbo said with satisfaction. "A bomb in a gun, and he swallowed it, hook, line, and sinker."
"Turbo RAM, Cannon Mode, now!" Red Turbo cried. The cannon appeared before them, and the Turbo Rangers discharged an incredible pulse of energy at the robot, blowing it into a thousand pieces.
"And that's all she wrote!" Blue Turbo yelled.
Green Turbo chuckled. "Come on, let's get back to the Power Chamber. They may need our help." In five columns of sparks, they disappeared.
* * *
"All healed," Alpha told them, shutting off the ray he had aimed at Michael's ribs. The man stretched gingerly, surprised to feel that there was indeed no pain.
"Wow. I can hardly believe it," he mused.
Jason smiled. "Believe it. Alpha has patched up worse than a couple broken ribs on us in the past." His smile flickered a little as he remembered the internal injuries that his fight with Goldar in the Dimension of Doom had left him with.
"I'll bet. I've seen some of the Power Rangers' fights on the news, and they can be brutal. How long have you been a Ranger?"
"Since the beginning," Jason told him with some pride. "I was one of the first five, the first to hold the Red power."
"And he has served with honor and dignity ever since," Zordon rumbled. Michael looked up at the head floating in his tube and shrugged. He had been a bit startled by Zordon when the Morphin Warriors had just teleported him in, but had adjusted quickly. Jason supposed that he saw enough unusual things in his former line of work that nothing surprised him for long.
"Jason, that illness your mother seemed so upset about. Did that have something to do with the Power Rangers?"
"I'm afraid so," Jason sighed. "It's a sensitive subject between Mom and me. See, the reason I was so sick wasn't because of a monster. Trey, the Gold Ranger, he couldn't hold onto his powers for a while, so I took them. Unfortunately, Trey is an alien, and the powers weren't compatible with human DNA. I gave them back to Trey, but my troubles didn't stop there. The powers had short-circuited my own life-force, and I was dying. If it wasn't for Jamie and Christina, the White Zeo Ranger, I might have died. But I'd do it again in a heartbeat if I had to. It's what I was meant for."
Michael nodded slowly, looking at his son. "I can see that. You know, Jason, I said earlier that I was proud of you, but now that this has come out, I don't think I can say just how proud of you I am. You've grown into a son that any man would be proud of."
Jason smiled. "Thanks." Suddenly the harsh sound of the alarm cut through their conversation.
"What the hell is that!" Michael cried, hands over his ears.
"It's the alarm," Billy responded, crossing quickly over to the viewing globe, even as the Turbo Rangers teleported into the room.
"Now what?" Fred cried in exasperation, even as Justin dropped everything and headed over to the console with Billy.
"Look's like Cyber Agent is beginning to get a leg up on the Rangers," Justin reported.
"I see you rescued him, guys," Tasha said to the assembled Morphin Warriors, nodding towards Michael. Michael regarded her incredulously.
"How old are you five?"
Franklin sighed. "We're thirteen, but we know what we're doing."
"Speaking of," Rosa broke in, "I suggest we get out there and help the Rangers before that thing toasts them!"
"Gasket based that thing on your knowledge of combat and such," Jason told Michael. "You wouldn't happen to know any weak spots on it?"
Michael looked thoughtful. "Maybe one. I've always been a little impulsive, especially when my temper was involved."
"Oh, gee, that doesn't sound like anyone we know," Zack chuckled. Jason glared at him, and the Rangers leaned closer to hear Michael's plan.
* * *
"Never fear, the cavalry is here!" Blue Turbo cried as the Turbo Rangers and the Morphin Warriors appeared in the park.
"Just in time," Red Ranger wheezed. "I'm not sure how much longer we can hold out."
"We've got a plan," Jason told him. "Form the Zeo Blaster. The kids'll call the Turbo RAM, and we're going to fire at him in unison."
"Are you kidding? Those won't do more than make him angry! We'll need the Zeo Cannon and the Turbine Laser to do any damage!"
"Tommy, trust me," Jason replied, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder. "I know what we're doing."
"Okay, Jase," Red Ranger sighed. "Zeo Rangers, form Zeo Blaster!"
"Turbo RAM cannon mode, now!" the Turbo Rangers cried. The two weapons shot out two fast beams of light, knocking Cyber Agent back onto it's butt. However, it levered itself up again and began to advance on the Rangers.
"Oh man, now we pissed it off," Blue Ranger gulped. Jason grinned.
"All part of the plan, man. Now run! Follow the Turbo Rangers!" All of the Rangers took off running, and as they ran, Black Ranger noticed something. There was no green anywhere in the group. Green Ranger and Green Turbo were nowhere to be seen.
The Rangers ran until they came to a dead end, in between to buildings. Trapped, they could only watch helplessly as the Cyber Agent advanced towards them.
"This had better be one hell of a plan, Jason!" Purple Ranger yelled.
"Trust me!" he shouted back.
Cyber Agent had made it halfway down the alley when two bolts of green laser fire blasted into it, one on each side. The Rangers looked up to the roofs of the buildings on either side of them, and saw Green Ranger and Green Turbo up there, firing away. Cyber Agent was unable to deal with either assailant, as they were too far away to attack.
"Now," Jason called, "while he's distracted! Open fire!" The light from four Zeo pistols, four Autoblasters, and the Golden Power staff joined the two streams of green, and within seconds, the Cyber Agent was just an unpleasant memory.
"Man, where did that plan come from?" Gold Ranger asked incredulously.
"Michael, of course. He filled us in on the monster's weak points, which are his own. Come on, we'd better get back to the Power Chamber," Jason replied. In a blaze of multi-colored light, the Rangers disappeared.
* * *
"Jason Lee Scott, where have you been!" Karen cried as Jason and Michael tiptoed through the door. "You have been gone for hours!"
"Sorry, Mom," Jason sighed. "Gasket decided to bust up the family reunion. One thing led to another, I wound up fighting an ugly robot called Taurobot, and Michael was introduced to Zordon and Alpha."
"So you know about Jason's secret, do you?" John asked his old friend, coming out of the family room.
"Yes, thanks to those machines. Do I have to worry about getting kidnapped a lot?"
"I don't think so," Jason told him. "No one ever went after Mom and Dad, and after seeing what happened to Gasket when he tried to use your specialized knowledge, I don't think they're going to be too eager to try again. But we did give you a communicator, just in case."
Karen looked from one man to the next, her lips pursed in disapproval. "Well, I can see you're just thrilled about this." Turning on her heel, she stalked out of the room and up the stairs. Michael and John looked at each other.
"You go," John sighed. "Maybe she'll listen to you." With a shrug, Michael headed up the stairs after Karen.
"Karen?" he asked, knocking on the door to the master bedroom.
A muffled voice answered him. "Go away."
"Karen, do you really want me to pick the lock on your bedroom door? I can do that, you know." For a long moment, there was no answer, then the lock on the door clicked and it swung open.
"What do you want, Michael?" she sighed.
He brushed past her into the room, and sat down in one of the chairs. She did the same, staring at him. "Why is this so hard for you?" he asked quietly.
"Why? My baby, my only son, is risking his life constantly, and you wonder why it's hard for me?"
Michael sighed. This was not going to be easy, but it had to be said. "Karen, he's not your baby anymore. From what I saw today, he hasn't been your baby for a fairly long time now. He's a man, and a very good one. Do you think that you're going to be able to stop him from putting himself in danger to defend what he believes in? Do really want to? All this constant sniping is doing is driving a wedge between the two of you."
She looked at him in astonishment. "Don't you care at all? Don't you care that he could die?"
"Yes, damn it!" he snapped. "He's my son too, even if I never was around for him. But I respect his right to make choices, just as I respect my own. I'd be pretty hypocritical if I told him that he couldn't put his life on the line for what he believed in when I'd spent the last ten years doing just that. Yes, the thought of losing him scares me. But if you try to make him be someone he's not, you'll lose him anyway, and it'll be a lot worse. Karen, don't you understand? What you're doing to Jason- it's not that far from what your parents did to us."
Her head snapped up and her eyes went wide. "What are you talking about?" she croaked.
"You want to protect him from what you see as a threat, and so you're restricting his ability to make a choice. Back when we were together, I was your choice. At least, I always thought that what we had between us meant something special. But your parents thought that I'd be bad for you, because of who I was. They just wanted to protect you from what they perceived as a threat, to your reputation and your happiness. And in doing so, they forced you to make a choice that no one should ever have to make."
Karen sighed, her body relaxing. "It turned out for the best, I suppose. I did love you, but John and I- I love him so much. We're happy, and he really loves Jason as if Jason were truly his son. Still, you're right. I always swore I'd never make the same mistake my parents did, and now here I am, following in their footsteps." She looked at him. "It's not too late, is it?"
He shook his head, smiling. "No, Karen. You haven't lost your son yet. Just bite down on your worry. He's got his friends to watch out for him, and there's nothing more you can do." He rose to his feet and she followed suit, throwing her arms around him.
"I missed you, Michael Lee," she told him shyly. "I'm glad you're back, for all our sakes.
"I'm glad I'm back too," he told her, hugging her tightly. They broke apart and descended the staircase, hand in hand.
* * *
A few days later, December 24, all of the Rangers and their close friends had gathered in the youth center for a private party. They would all spend the evening and the next day with their respective families, but for tonight, they were all celebrating with the other family they had, the Power Rangers.
Lita was beginning to get nervous. She had seen Justin and Tasha in a corner, whispering and throwing looks her way. Whatever was going on, she wasn't at all sure she wanted to be in the center of it. Suddenly, the two kids broke from their huddle and approached her, the picture of innocence. Lita was not fooled.
"All right, what are you two up to right now?" Lita sighed. Justin and Tasha gave her their best wide-eyed stares.
"Us?" Justin asked. "We're not up to anything, Lita."
"Yeah, why would you think we were up to something?" Tasha added, her pores oozing sincerity.
"Because the last time I saw anyone turn the charm on that high, Lillian wound up swearing vengeance on Tommy for talking her into a certain evening gown," Lita chuckled.
"We've just got something you ought to see," Justin told her, smiling.
Tasha nodded. "Yeah, it's in the back room."
Lita sighed, but rose to her feet. "All right, but if you two are looking for a way to get rid of stolen property, forget about it." She followed them into the back room of the juice bar, and immediately regretted it. They ducked out the door quicker than she could follow and slammed it behind her, leaving her in pitch darkness. She finally found the light switch and flipped it on, only to find herself staring at a sprig of mistletoe. Pulling her eyes down from the mistletoe, she saw Max leaning against a wall, smiling at her.
"Max?" she asked incredulously. "What are you doing here?"
He chuckled, and Lita was reminded once again of why he had never lacked for dates all through college. "Following tradition," he replied in his deep, gruff voice.
"Tradition?" Lita squeaked.
"Well, you are standing under the mistletoe," he pointed out reasonably. Then he reached out and pulled her closer, giving her a deep kiss. When they finally broke apart, she grinned.
"It's about time," she told him. He just laughed and shut her up with another kiss. Justin and Tasha, who were outside with their ears to the door, shook hands in satisfaction. Jamie would be proud of them.
* * *
John and Michael sat at the juice bar, watching Karen as she laughed and danced with her son out in the middle of the floor. After her talk with Michael, Karen had found herself far more at ease with the Rangers, and was enjoying the party immensely.
"I don't know what you said to her, Mike, but it worked," John told his friend, never taking his eyes off his wife.
"I just pointed out that what she was doing wouldn't really have any effect anyway, and she might end up doing to Jason what her parents did to her. She didn't like that idea."
"Neither do I. You know, in all the chaos, I didn't get to tell you. I really am glad to see you again. I've missed you. We were pretty good friends back then, and I was sorry that you had to leave."
"Yes, I was too. But some wounds just have to heal with distance and time."
"And have they? Healed, I mean?" John asked softly, watching his friend. Michael smiled, a bittersweet expression.
"Yes, they've healed. I still love her, of course, and always will, but it means so much more to me that she's happy. That's something I never got a chance to say to you in all of this nuttiness. Thank you."
"What?" John was startled.
"Thank you. Thank you for taking care of her, making her happy, loving her, and for loving and raising Jason. I don't think he could have turned out any better."
John nodded. "He's had a lot of good influences." Suddenly, he shifted. "Look at these kids, Mike. I've never seen anything like it, you know. I've seen friends before, I've even had friends that I thought I couldn't get any closer to. But these kids- it goes beyond that. They'd die for each other without a second thought."
"They're family," Michael said softly.
"Yeah. Kind of makes you think, huh? Family is more than bloodlines and marriages. It's about feelings, bonds. Don't you ever think that you're not part of the family, Mike. You are, and you always will be."
Michael chuckled. "Looks like I'll have a Christmas with family after all. Merry Christmas, John."
"Merry Christmas, buddy."