Ronald Jacobs looked up from the papers on his desk, already beginning to scowl. The sound of jaunty whistling was floating through the offices of the _Gazette,_ and Jacobs only knew of one reporter that disgustingly confident in himself. Taking a deep breath, the editor roared "O'Neil! Get in here!"
The reporter strolled into the editor's office, leaning insolently on the doorjamb. "You bellowed, sir?" he asked brightly.
"I have spent the past two weeks watching some armor-plated nutcase ripping apart my city, and running little second-hand blurbs because none of my reporters had the guts to get anywhere near the action," Jacobs growled. "Now you'd better have something good to show me for being gone for two weeks, O'Neil, or you can take that smirk of yours over to the _Chronicle!_"
Parker pretended to shudder. "And wind up playing shutterclicker for Lane and Kent? I don't think so. Here, boss, maybe this'll help with the ulcers." Parker tossed a packet on the table. As the editor leafed through it, his expression changed from thunderous to sour interest to one of his rare smiles.
"I don't know how you do it, O'Neil."
"Talent runs in the bloodline," Parker replied easily. "And you mentioned Shadowborg? I have something else for you, if you're interested."
Jacobs' eyes narrowed. "What is it?" he asked cautiously.
"Ever hear of Kaitlin Starr, of the _Underground Voice Daily?_ Apparently she got the story of the century off the defense force. If you're interested in running it, of course..."
Ten minutes later, Parker O'Neil was strolling out the door of the office, grinning like an idiot. His temporary roommate, Daystar Dianthan, regarded him in amusement.
"It went well?" she asked dryly.
Parker nodded. "I get to keep my job for another week or so. That's how long it'll take until he threatens to fire me again."
"Reporters," the policewoman sighed, shaking her head. "Well, come on, let's go. You promised to drive me to the station."
Cherry-red convertibles are not the type of vehicle generally found in the parking lots of police stations. The impound lots, yes, but not the parking lots. As a result, Daystar and Parker drew a lot of attention as they pulled in. Looking over at his girlfriend, the reporter smiled. "Hey, you'll do fine. This is the type of job you've been doing for twelve years, right?"
"Yeah, on another planet. I'm just hoping I don't screw up the cover story Adam and Justin came up with."
He grinned. "Don't worry about it. Detective Park will be there to keep an eye on you until you settle in. Now go on."
With a nervous smile, she got out of the car and headed into the building. Instantly she felt more at ease. Except for the fact that everyone in the room was human, she could have been back at headquarters on Erlion. Squaring her shoulders, she walked up to the front desk.
"I'm looking for Detective Trevor Park," she began. "Can you help me?"
"Sure, hon," the woman replied. "Straight back past the coffee machine, turn left at-" Their conversation was cut off by the noise of someone having a violent argument. The reception officer shook her head. "Forget what I was saying. Just follow your ears."
Daystar grinned as she made her way back through the forest of desks. Looked like not much changed from planet to planet.
As Daystar made her way into the small alcove outside Trevor's office, she saw a mousy-looking man in a suit hurrying past her, with several officers smirking as he went. Inside the glassed-in office, she could see Adam's father rubbing his temples absently. Walking up to the doorway, Daystar knocked on the window. "Detective Park?"
He looked up quickly. "Ah, Lieutenant Hunter, I presume?" he asked, using the last name the Rangers had come up with. It was some type of joke, she knew, but she hadn't asked further.
"Yes sir. Reporting for duty." She threw him a mock salute, and he grinned, rising from his seat.
"Welcome to the Monster Squad, Lieutenant, formerly known as the Homicide division. We get about three murders a year here, though, so we spend most of our time dealing with monster related stuff. Let me introduce you to the people you'll be working with."
Walking out of his office, Trevor whistled shrilly. "All right, listen up, people! This is Lieutenant Daystar Hunter, and she's going to be working with us from now on. Star, that over there is my partner, Rick Winslow. Next to him is Lieutenant Marissa Spinelli. That in the cast is Sergeant Charles Maddox. Most of us call him Chuck."
"What happened to your leg?" Daystar asked curiously.
Chuck grimaced. "Got a little too close to the Shadowborg, that's all."
"The guy who hasn't looked up from his Game Boy is Harry Wong- yo, Harry!"
"Just a second, Trev," the young Asian lieutenant replied. "I've almost beat my old record."
"He's a whiz with a phone tap, too," Trevor grinned. "And last, but certainly not least, Sergeant Jayne Washington. Deadly with any number of weapons, especially her coffee."
The pretty black woman stuck her tongue out at Trevor, then grinned. "It's true, I can't cook worth beans," she shrugged.
A sudden commotion made everyone look up, including Harry. Jaws dropped all around as four figures in multi-colored armor walked into the alcove. "Hi," waved the Chromium Gold Beetleborg.
Titanium Silver chuckled. "Hey, Sergeant Maddox. We told you we'd get you that comic."
Platinum Purple handed the astonished policeman an issue of the Beetleborgs comic. From where he stood, Trevor could see four signatures on the cover, and he grinned. Electric Bronze caught his eye, and waved slightly.
"Um- thanks," Chuck managed.
"No problem," Electric Bronze replied. "Say hi to your kids for us." Then, in four flashes of colored light, they were gone.
Harry Wong shook his head. "Never a dull moment around here," he said simply.
Lita Kino sank gratefully into the leather chair behind her desk. In a display of extremely unprofessional behavior, she promptly kicked off her shoes, placed her feet on the desk, and leaned back. Serena must think she was nuts… especially since she was supposedly coming off a two-week vacation and she looked like someone recently inducted into the ranks of the undead. Not that the secretary would ever actually ask about that.
No doubt about it, it had been an eventful two weeks, and she had been almost constantly on duty. If it hadn't been for Peter Venkman, she would have run herself into the ground, and things might have turned out for the worst. Thinking of the irreverent pyschologist, Lita grinned. She liked Peter a great deal, and she had noticed the kids throwing a number of speculative glances in their direction. But their relationship, while more than professional, was definitely NOT romantic in any way. It was as Peter had said once- they were just too similar. Psychological professionals, Thunder Green personalities- Peter was a wonderful friend, but not what she was looking for in a romance. Besides, his work tied him to New York, and she doubted she would ever leave Angel Grove.
Plus, she had a boyfriend, even if their relationship wasn't all that serious or even exclusive. Max had his practice in Los Angeles, and to be honest, Lita's work with the Power Rangers gave her little time to spend on anyone not part of that secret. Which probably contributed to the kids' ideas about her and Peter. Relationships with people outside the "inner circle" never seemed to work.
So why didn't it bother her? Why on earth, Lita wondered, was she taking this so calmly? In effect, she had sacrificed any chance of having a real life to her work, just as her father had, years ago. After seeing how miserable it made him and her mother, she had vowed never to let something like that happen to her. So why was she taking this in stride?
The photo on her desk caught her eye. It was a huge panoramic photo of all four teams of Rangers and support staff, taken sometime before the whole Shadowborg ruckus had started. It was already out of date, she thought whimsically. Chris Sterling, the Silver Astro Ranger, wasn't included. Idly, the psychiatrist wondered when the photos from yesterday's party would come out.
This, she realized, was why it didn't bother her. She hadn't sacrificed her life for her job- she'd just traded it in for a different one. These kids regarded her as one of the family. They told her their troubles, but they also shared their joys and hopes, their dreams and fears with her. And she was free to do the same for them. If she were ever in trouble, the Rangers would drop everything and rush to her rescue, without a second thought. They were her life, not her job. Really, she hadn't sacrificed anything.
As she sat looking at the photo, she remembered something Peter had said to her late one night in the Power Chamber. "Love's a precious thing," he'd declared, his eyes fixed on nothing in particular. "If you've got one person in this world that you'd lay down your life for, without hesitation, you're lucky. If they feel the same way about you, you're blessed. I've got THREE." Lita studied the faces of the Rangers, warmth rising inside of her. Peter had three. How many did she have?
In the dim and quiet Power Chamber, a small robot sighed with relief. "That's the last console, Zordon," Alpha 5 declared, sinking to sit on the floor. Zordon smiled slightly at the little android's extremely human reaction.
"Excellent, Alpha. The Rangers certainly did a thorough job of- reorganizing, didn't they?"
"That's one way of putting it," his cybernetic assistant muttered. "Aiyiyi!"
Zordon chuckled. He couldn't blame the Rangers for rewiring the Power Chamber. After all, it had been designed around his presence. With that suddenly removed, they had been forced to do some hasty redesigning to keep everything working. He couldn't follow all the logic of their changes- but when it came to Billy and Justin, that was often the case. In keeping with the Blue energy of the Morphin Grid, both boys were geniuses, complete with the sometimes unorthodox reasoning that implied. And then once the defense force had begun operating out of the Chamber, even more changes had been necessary. Zordon was still undecided as to the wisdom of allowing Ray Stantz free reign with some of the consoles, but desperate times… _And everything turned out all right,_ Zordon told himself.
He had, of course, been monitoring his Rangers periodically through the day. Outwardly, they were engaged in all manner of their usual pursuits, but he suspected that all of them had many things to think about. _As do I,_ he admitted. First and foremost was the realization that no parent likes to encounter- his "children" were growing up.
Except for the Astro Rangers, the teams had always looked to him for guidance. Despite Tommy, Jason, and Fred's positions, in the end, the final decisions had always been his. And yet, without any real assistance from him, the Rangers had managed to travel through space and recruit an astounding array of witnesses for his trial. Meanwhile the five left on Earth had pulled together an alliance to face an evil that would even frighten him. They didn't need him anymore, and that thought was just a little bit saddening. But it had to happen sometime, and Zordon knew they would never push him out of their lives.
And then there were his old friends. Zarador, Lexian, Dulcea- it had been so long since he had seen them- since before his confinement, in fact. It had been wonderful beyond words to see and speak with them again- but a bittersweet pleasure, because he could never really be with them. He was confined beyond the boundaries of this world, able only to see and hear. Lexian had seemed unaffected,- nothing ever seemed to ruffle the Edenite monarch- but Zordon had seen his own pain echoed in Zarador's eyes, and ached to be able to comfort his "younger brother." But there was nothing that could be done.
Now six of his Rangers were Ninjetti, Jamie was hailed by the people of Danata as a princess, and six others had passed the test of the Morphin Masters, virtually guaranteeing them entrance to the academy should any of them wish to apply. Things had changed so much- and yet they were still his children. This was still his home.
Zordon let out a soundless sigh, aware of Alpha's expectant gaze. He smiled. "Engage the full sensor net, Alpha. We are finally home."