Disclaimer: They are not mine, they are Saban's. I don't get money for this, just a strange sense of satisfaction.
Notes and Timeline: Zeo period with Jason and Billy.
Waiting until the volume inside decreased a bit, Billy finally knocked sharply on the front door. Seconds later the door opened to reveal Rocky's eight-year-old sister, Theresa.
"Hi Theresa. Is Rocky around?" Billy asked politely.
"Yeah, just a minute." To Billy's bemusement Theresa turned away, closing the door firmly in his face. He could hear her shouting for her brother on the other side.
Moments later Rocky opened the door, still speaking to his sister. "...let them in, then you come and find me. Don't just leave them standing on the porch. Come on in, Billy," he continued, turning his attention to his friend at last.
"Hi, Rocky," he grinned. "Is it just me or is there more excited activity around here than usual?"
"Oh, man, this place is a madhouse. The little ones just got back from Disneyland, they are all wound up about it. My cousin is getting married this weekend, and my mom is in charge of getting the clothes for the bridesmaids and ushers ready. Other than that, things are about normal," Rocky grinned. He especially enjoyed Billy's reactions to his family, as his blue predecessor probably had the quietest home life among his friends.
Rocky was leading the way to the family room where the computer was set up, when his youngest sister, six-year-old Maria, spied them.
"Billy! I have something for you. Wait right there!" the child demanded, darting off toward her bedroom. Billy obediently stayed where he was. Maria had a crush on the former Blue Ranger, which Billy was well aware of. He was always kind and gentle with the little girl, accepting her small gifts, usually pictures she had drawn, very solemnly and thanking her gravely.
She arrived back breathlessly and handed him a set of Mickey Mouse ears she had gotten on her trip. Billy looked at them with surprise.
"Maria, I can't take your mouse ears. They are really nice, but you should keep them," he told her gently.
"I have my own. I got those just for you. Put them on," she told him.
He turned helplessly to Rocky, only to find his friend struggling against laughter. Fixing the amused teen with a stern look Billy mouthed Not one word, and put on the ears. Maria squealed with delight, then hurried off ordering Billy to leave them on.
When Maria had disappeared into her room Rocky let out a soft snort of laughter. "Oh, man, you look so cute!" he chuckled, much to Billy's discomfort.
"Rocky, you wanted me to look at a computer?" he queried, hoping to distract him from further teasing.
"Right! In here," he started. They had only taken a couple of steps when they were stopped by Mrs. DeSantos' voice.
"Rockwell DeSantos! Did I, or did I not, tell you to remove your mess from the corner of the yard?" she demanded.
"I was just going to do it when Billy came over to..."
"I don't care what your excuse is! You get out there and move that stuff, now! We are having a wedding here this coming weekend and we do not have time to waste. You can play with your friend after you are done," she said sternly, her expression not allowing for any argument. Rosa DeSantos was not a large woman, indeed she stood just slightly over five feet tall, but she was nonetheless the boss in her family. Even Rocky's father, a burly contractor, deferred to his diminutive wife.
"Yes, ma'am. Billy, the computer is in there," he started, pointing down the hall. He didn't finish the thought as his mother flashed him a look that told him he had better leave right then.
Mrs. DeSantos turned her attention to the quiet teen standing there just slightly shell-shocked by events. She narrowed her eyes, then reached out and placed her hands firmly on either side of his waist.
"Excuse me? Is something wrong?" he asked hesitantly.
"You are just the right size! Come with me, you can help us," grabbing his hand as if he were at least ten years younger, she led him to the large den where several women were working busily among material, sewing machines, and tables covered with scissors, thread, and other items Billy could not have identified on a bet.
"I got our model," Mrs. DeSantos told the others. "Here, go in the bathroom there and put these on," she told him, handing him a pair of black pants.
Intimidated by the domineering little woman, Billy followed her orders without argument, emerging a few moments later in the skintight pants. He felt awkward wearing them, they were more revealing than anything he normally wore. Mrs. DeSantos paid no attention to his discomfort, and directed him to stand on a low table so a couple of the other women could hem the pants properly.
Standing there while the various women fussed about was not easy. When Billy impatiently shifted his position, Mrs. DeSantos whapped him on the back of his thigh with the ruler she had been using. "Stand still!" she ordered.
He stood still.
Finally, it appeared they were finished. The two who had been hemming the pants stepped back to check their work. One of them looked at Billy critically, obviously not happy with what she saw.
"Take off your shirt," she said suddenly.
"Pardon me?" Billy asked, surprised.
"I need to see how the pants look overall. Your shirt is too long. Take it off," she repeated.
Billy started to protest again, then saw Mrs. DeSantos was still holding the ruler.
He took off his shirt and stood there obediently, wondering how in the world a visit to Rocky's house to fix a computer ended up with him standing on a table wearing nothing but black pants. If his friends could see him now he would never hear the end of it.
He was startled out of his thoughts by a sudden flash of light. Surprised, he looked around but couldn't find the source.
"Stand still!" Rosa DeSantos told him again, brandishing the ruler.
He was beginning to think he was never going to escape when he heard Rocky's voice form the doorway.
"Mama! Is that any way to treat my friends?" he asked, outraged.
"He is helping me. He doesn't mind, do you?" she asked Billy.
"Uh, no, I don't mind. Are we done?" he asked.
"Are we done, ladies?" Mrs. DeSantos asked the others.
When they agreed they were finished, they allowed Billy to retreat to the bathroom and redress in his own clothing again.
"Thanks, man. I didn't know if they were ever going to let me go," Billy said quietly to Rocky as they headed toward the computer again.
"No problem. They really get into their sewing. I've been roped into being their model a time or two. Did Mama hit you with the ruler?"
"Yeah. I was fidgeting."
"Stings, don't it?" Rocky laughed.
Finally reaching the computer, Billy made quick work of the repairs. Rocky offered to buy his friend a smoothie, so the two young men trooped out to Billy's car.
They were walking toward the entrance when Rocky turned to Billy.
"You know, you were insulted by one of my sisters, accosted by another, forced to work as a mannequin and walloped with a ruler by my mama, and fixed our computer. So I guess I kind of owe you one. So here it is: lose the ears!"
Billy looked at him with a startled expression as his hand went to the top of his head, finding the Mickey Mouse ears still in place. He quickly took them off, folding them and putting them in his pocket.
"You're right. I guess we're even," he said gratefully as they entered the building and headed toward the rest of the Rangers.
* * *
Zordon had not been visited by one of his interdimensional 'brothers' in centuries. Such visits were by necessity rare, as it was never a good idea to have two such beings in the same dimension for an extended period of time.
"I need your help, if you can see free to give it," Bordon told the mentor of the Power Rangers. His identical visage looked pleadingly at Zordon.
"What is needed?" Zordon asked.
"My dimension is on the verge of destruction. We are defenseless. It started three years ago, when the Power Ranger team was assembled. I got the six teenagers I needed, but they weren't up to the task. Within the first two months they were all killed, their powers captured. Things went downhill from there."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"I want to utilize the time option. I am allowed to do this only once, and this seems like the best time to do so. I want to go back to when the Power Ranger team was assembled, and get them better trained, more ready to meet the challenges. I was hoping to borrow one of your Rangers to assist me. I promise I will send them back before the proverbial shit hits the fan," Bordon promised. Zordon raised an eyebrow that choice of words, but made no comment.
"Do you think this will be enough to prevent history repeating itself?"
"It will have to be. I was unable to get my 'team' to be a team. They couldn't work together, they didn't care about each other. Your team is legendary for its solidarity. Even when absorbing 'evil' Rangers, their teamwork does not fail. If I had someone with experience on a team like that, maybe I could get my teenagers to create their own team. It is the only idea I have come up with. Will you help?"
Zordon thought for a few moments. "I will speak to one of my Rangers. If he is willing, I will send him with you. Please come with me to my private chamber to wait. I will advise you of his decision when he makes it."
* * *
Shortly after seeing Bordon to his private chambers, Zordon called the Power Rangers to the Power Chamber. The six teens looked around a bit perplexed. They were accustomed to arriving to the blaring alarms and flashing lights that signified a monster attack. Instead Alpha, Billy, and Zordon appeared to have been conversing quietly.
"What's up, Zordon?" Tommy asked.
"We have an interdimensional visitor, with a very serious problem. And I have a favor to ask of one of you. But first, I need to tell you how our visitor came to be here, and why. As you may have figured, there are other dimensions, or parallel universes-this is not the only one. There are many such universes, each with its own unique history and future. However, there are some constants. The Power Rangers are one such constant. As are Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, Mondo, and numerous other malevolent forces you have yet to encounter. Today I was approached by one of my alternates, Bordon, who requested my assistance, or actually the assistance of one of my Rangers, to save his dimension from destruction. I am willing to agree to help him, but it is up to Jason to decide whether or not he wishes to undertake this task."
The others turned to look at the Gold Ranger.
"Me?" Jason asked, surprised.
"Yes. You would be the most logical choice. You were the original leader. You know the other original Rangers the best. It is, of course, your choice. You will be going back three years in time in the other dimension, you need to assist Bordon in locating your counterparts and bringing them together to form a team."
"We all have counterparts there? I'll meet my own?" Jason asked, a bit startled by the idea.
"Yes. You will assemble the first Power Ranger team consisting of yourself, Zack, Trini, Billy, Kimberly, and Tommy. In Bordon's universe the Green coin was never captured by evil. Your job is to train the new Rangers, assist them in any way you can so they become a team."
"If Jason is going into the past to assist in assembling the Power Ranger team, then one would have to conclude the original team was unsuccessful the first time. What happened to them? And why is so imperative the team be formed?" Billy asked with a curious look at their mentor.
Zordon sighed to himself. He had figured the teens would ask those questions, but that didn't change the fact he'd rather not answer them.
"The original team was assembled, but were unsuccessful against Rita. Their Powers were captured; Earth fell to evil. The universe teeters on the edge of destruction because of this," he reported reluctantly.
"Their original Rangers failed? That would mean they were...." Rocky started, an expression of horror on his face.
"They were killed within the first few weeks," Zordon concluded the Blue Ranger's thought.
"And you think I can keep this from happening somehow?" Jason asked, disbelief evident in his voice.
"I think you can assist him in training the first team. In helping them get to a point where they can work together toward the greater good. I think you can provide invaluable help to Bordon in working with their team."
Jason was honored-even a bit touched-by Zordon's faith in him. He made the only choice he felt he could.
"I will do everything in my power not to let you down."
* * *
Working with Billy and Bordon, Jason was fitted with a special mask that would disguise him enough to make working with their counterparts easier.
"You just place your fingers here and you can pop the mask right off," Billy explained, demonstrating on himself.
"This is great. You know, you could make a fortune with these at Halloween," Jason joked, desperate to lighten the mood.
"I'll keep that in mind if I'm strapped for cash for college someday," Billy joked back, but it was clear the two friends' hearts were not in their bantering.
They had already arranged Jason's absence, setting it up so his parents thought he was back at the Peace Conference. Billy would occasionally call them as 'Jason' and keep them from becoming suspicious. Trini and Zack had been alerted as to what was going on, and they would cover for him as well. Billy and Alpha had come up with a way to ensure the Gold Powers would be safe in his absence. He would be gone a maximum of three weeks. Restricted as to the amount of time they would have due to the rules governing the use of time manipulation, they were anxious to be ensure Jason would not have to worry about anything except whipping the team into shape.
"Well, I guess that is everything, then. Better call the guys together, we need to get going," Jason said as he added the mask to the small stack of gear he was taking.
"Jase..." Billy started, but Jason stopped him with a gesture.
"I'll be back in three weeks, so don't worry about me. I expect you to keep an eye on the team, Tommy will need you more than ever, and things could get rough again with them short a Ranger," Jason kept his voice matter-of-fact.
"Will do. You just be sure you get back here. Or I will come looking for you, and you know darn good and well I could do it," Billy countered, fixing his friend with a stern look.
Jason laughed at his expression. "I'll come back, I promise. Jeez, wouldn't it be fun explaining why you had to come get me," he grinned. "You could do me one favor. Keep an eye on my folks. Dad hasn't been feeling all that good recently, and I'm a bit worried about him."
"I'll keep an eye on them, you can count on that," Billy replied firmly.
"Good. Well, I better say goodbye to the rest of them. I think Bordon's getting anxious to go."
Billy nodded and hit the button to summon the other Rangers. Within a few moments the chamber was filled with a rainbow of light as the five Zeo Rangers arrived.
"Ready to go, Bro?" Tommy asked, reading Jason's expression.
"Yeah. Before I start getting nervous about traveling through time and to different dimensions and all that. Not really my thing," Jason grinned.
"Our thoughts will be with you, Jason. Hurry back," Katherine said gently.
The others all chipped in with their well wishes and hopes for his success. Bordon appeared in his travel tube and indicated he was ready as soon as Jason was.
"Let's get going, then. No sense in waiting. I'll be back as soon as possible, guys. May the power protect you all," he said with a warm look at his friends.
"May the power protect you, too, Bro," Tommy returned with a strained smile.
With that Bordon made some adjustments on a device he had brought with him. He and Jason disappeared in a flash of purest white light.
* * *
"The old Command Center," Jason murmured to himself as he looked around. The old familiar circular platform, the viewing globe on its stand, Zordon's (**No, Bordon's** Jason corrected himself) tube standing guard over all.
"Ay-yi-yi! Bordon, you were successful?" Alpha Five asked, startling Jason.
"Yes, Alpha. This is Jason Scott, from Zordon's dimension. He is here to help. Did you assemble the information I had requested?"
"Right here, Bordon. School records, dating all the way back. And medical records, at least those I could find. It should be enough to help," Alpha reported.
"What are you talking about?" Jason asked.
"I had Alpha assemble all the information he could regarding the six potential Rangers. I thought it might help you to have some idea of what you are dealing with, a little background information so you can feel more comfortable with who they are in this dimension."
"Yeah, sounds like a good idea. Am I going to be staying here in the Command Center?"
"We have arranged for a room for you at a local motel that rents rooms by the month. I thought it would be best if you had some time away from here. Is that okay with you?" Bordon asked.
"Great. Billy sent along a communicator, so I can come back here whenever I need to. If you don't mind, I'd like to get settled in, and start looking these over," Jason replied.
Alpha teleported Jason to a location near the motel. Once he was checked in, the helpful little 'droid teleported in his gear. Jason distributed his stuff, and settled down at the scarred table with the six files.
He opened the one labeled 'Jason Scott' and started to read. His alternate's school records were liberally sprinkled with disciplinary notations, all due to fighting. His grades were a low 'B' average, with several teachers noting he was capable of much better work. His medical records showed he had been treated several times for the after-effects of fights, as well as occasional illnesses. He noticed that in this dimension, as in the one he came from, he was hit by a car at age twelve. Other than the fighting and lower GPA, he found nothing extraordinary in the file.
The next file, labeled 'Trini Kwan', was so similar to Jason's he was startled. The same notations of disciplinary action due to fighting, the same low 'B' average. Notes from teachers commenting on poor attitude and lack of effort. One teacher, in the seventh grade, noted she was the most intimidating girl he had ever taught. Treatment at Angel Grove Memorial Hospital for the injuries suffered in a car accident was the only entry in the medical records outside of routine inoculations.
Jason found Trini's file mildly disturbing. Jason was surprised to see her grades, considering that among the Rangers she was the closest to Billy in terms of sheer intelligence and had maintained a 4.0 grade point average. He thought about the warm, caring, intelligent, compassionate young woman he knew, and found he could not reconcile that image with the one presented by the information in this file. What had happened to this world's Trini to make her that way?
Sighing, Jason grabbed the next file. Zackary Taylor. Zack. A smile flitted across his face as he considered fun-loving, good-natured Zack. The easy going exterior masking a loyal, steadfast soul, willing to give everything for his friends. He opened the file, wondering what this Zack would be like.
The first paper in the file disintegrated Jason's hopes that he would find a Zack like the one he was used to. That first page was a police report, showing Zack had been arrested for drunkenness and possession of marijuana.
"Oh, man, this can't be true. Zack doesn't do drugs," Jason muttered, lowering the file and closing his eyes. Zack, who had always been able to milk the most fun out of any situation with simply his enthusiastic spirit, was a drinker experimenting with drugs in this world? Jason's hopes began to dim somewhat with this revelation. How was he supposed to turn a teenage drunk into a Power Ranger? Could he get Zack to stop drinking and turn his life around in less than three weeks? He only glanced through the rest of the file, which outlined a student perpetually on the verge of failing. His grade point average was a very low 'c', at least partly due to numerous absences. His medical chart listed only his admittance to the hospital with pneumonia at age eleven.
Jason set down the file and looked with trepidation at the remaining three. He was trying to will himself to pick up the next one when his stomach growled. Maybe he'd be better able to face them once he had had his dinner. Locking the door behind him he headed out to find the nearest restaurant.
An hour later, fortified by a hamburger and fries, he again reached for the files, picking up the top one and opening it. The information inside indicated that Thomas Oliver was a very disturbed and dangerous youngster. In and out of foster care throughout his youth, Tommy's school records were heavily sprinkled with reports from social workers, school counselors, and principals, as well as teachers. Though it appeared in the last few months he had settled down, his grades remained low, and while there were no more negative comments from teachers, there were no positive ones either. There were two police reports indicating Tommy had been brought in for assault on other children, as well as several complaints by parents of his victims. His medical records showed he was treated several times for injuries consistent with fighting, as well as some that were fairly obviously the results of abuse when he was still quite young. It could be discerned that the teen had plenty of reasons for his anger.
"Oh, man, what have I gotten myself into?" Jason closed the file and leaned back again, lost in thought.
Eventually, he realized he was going to have to read the remaining two, and reached reluctantly for the top one. Kim. Sighing, he opened it to find very little surprising. Her grades were perhaps a bit low, same as his and Trini's, but not outrageously so. Her parents were apparently divorced in this dimension, as they were in his, as there was a notation to send copies of her grades to both parents. The only comments from teachers indicated she was not trying her best, but she was not a discipline problem. Her medical records showed only routine checkups and shots. Jason sighed in relief, hoping he would have one easy convert.
Well, maybe two, he hoped as he opened the last file. But as soon as he saw the school reports he knew something was seriously amiss with this world's Billy. He had a GPA of 2.1, just barely enough to pass, while his absence rate was nearly 25%, outrageously high.
"What the hell?" Jason muttered. "Alpha must have gotten the wrong records. No way is Billy pulling a low 'C'. Just no way. Even with the absences, he could do better than that."
There were virtually no notes from teachers, except for one ominous one when Billy was eleven. The teacher, Mrs. Shaw, noted that Billy was often bruised, and exhibited the classic signs of abuse. She notified the principal, but no action was taken. Going back further, Jason noticed that up until age nine, Billy's grades were excellent, then they dropped off alarmingly. About the same time there was a notation that his parents were both deceased, and his guardian was Marvin Dayton. His medical records read like a horror novel, including two broken arms, cracked ribs, and three concussions, plus bruises, scrapes, cuts, and gouges far too numerous to mention. Twice the police had been called in for suspected abuse, and twice no action was taken.
"Ah, man, what the heck am I supposed to with this? It took me years to build up Billy's confidence in our world, and this one has to be so much worse. And what am I supposed to do if brain damage, and not the repeated absences, caused the low grades? Who is this Marvin Dayton, and what happened to his dad? Uuuuggggghhhhhhhh." With a drawn out groan he flopped down on the bed to try to process all he had just learned, and to plan how to accomplish what he had been asked to do. At that moment, the task looked insurmountable.
He twisted the problem around in his mind until sleep overtook him, and he nodded off lying on top of the lumpy bed, surrounded by the contents of the files.
* * *
"Did you find the information helpful?" Bordon asked him the next morning. Jason arrived at the Command Center quite early, gym bag in hand, with only the vaguest of ideas as to how he was going to proceed.
"Yeah, it was helpful. Disturbing, but helpful. No wonder your team failed, this group has some real major problems."
"Do you have a plan?" Bordon asked, a hint of eagerness in his voice.
"Sort of. I am going to approach 'me' first. I should be the easiest. Plus, as the leader it is best he have a hand in convincing the others to join up. However, I need to know something. How close are the different dimensions? I mean, I noticed some events from the dimension I came from happened here as well, such as that I was hit by a car when I was twelve. Is that normal or a coincidence? I need to know if I should attempt to get these guys to act like their counterparts, or if they are completely different in every way."
"There are some basic core similarities. For instance, a person in your dimension who is terrified of dogs will be afraid of dogs in this dimension. Perhaps not as badly, but they will not be comfortable around dogs. If that makes any sense. They will likely act very different, but deep inside them there will be similarities. I hope that will help."
"So, despite appearances, these kids are all basically good, decent kids?"
"Well then, at least there's that. I don't have anything else to go on. It's Saturday, I'm going to try to find my counterpart," Jason told Bordon, as he prepared to teleport.
"Good luck Jason."
* * *
With his disguise firmly in place, Jason headed toward the Youth Center, hoping his alternate's habits were similar to his own in this respect. Inside, Jason got the first of what would be many shocks. The Youth Center was not the clean, bright, cheerful place he was accustomed to. It was dingy and dirty, the gym equipment looked battered and poorly maintained, and there were dirty dishes littering the tops of the round tables. Small knots of young people were scattered about, but there was none of the vivacity he was used to. Ernie was another shock, scowling darkly around as he worked, he looked more like a nightclub bouncer than the proprietor of a teen hangout.
Jason looked around for someone who looked familiar, but saw no one he recognized. He considered his options, and decided to order a smoothie and maybe see if Ernie knew Jason, or if he even frequented this place.
He approached the counter and looked up to meet the surly gaze of the large man behind it.
"Could I have a guava smoothie please?" Jason asked.
"What are you? Some kind of comedian? You want a smoothie there are your choices," he growled as he pointed toward the sign.
Jason sighed and ordered a strawberry smoothie. When Ernie returned with the drink and Jason was getting out his wallet, he decided to ask his question.
"Does a boy by the name of Jason Scott ever come around here?" he asked.
Ernie's expression grew darker. "Not any more. I kicked his sorry ass out of here a year ago. Little bugger was always getting into fights. You'd think a kid with a cop for a dad would have better sense. Why are you looking for him?"
"I used to know him years ago. Wanted to look him up and see how he's doing. Had some other friends, Kimberly Hart, Trini Kwan, Zack Taylor, Tommy Oliver, and Billy Cranston. Know any of them?"
"Trini comes around here to practice sometimes. She's a tough little gal, came close to booting her out once or twice as well. Kim hangs around here sometimes, too. Little bitch. If I see Zack enter this building, I will call the police in a flash. No one does drugs around here, no one! Tommy I haven't seen a month or so. Used to work out here sometimes. Have no idea who Billy Cranston is. Never heard of the guy. Any more questions, or can I go about my life now?" Ernie's attitude was abrupt and unfriendly again.
"Thanks, Ernie. You have been a big help." Jason finished his drink and headed toward the door, leaving the mildly startled man staring after him.
Jason knew of one other gym in the town, and that is where he headed. If Jason could not work out at the Youth Center, then he most likely would go there.
He was a couple of blocks from the gym when he spied his alternate heading the opposite direction on the other side of the street. His double was walking with a brisk, angry pace and carrying a worn looking gym bag. Jason cut across the street and fell in behind the young man, wondering how to approach him without sounding too strange. He had decided he would be as direct as possible with the future Rangers, he didn't have time enough for too much subtlety. Of course, he had to be careful. Too much, too fast, and he could find himself with the police sicced on him, and that would not help his cause in the least. He finally decided on an approach for this situation.
"Excuse me? Excuse me. Is a gym around here? The guy at the Youth Center said there was, but I can't find it," Jason said, managing not to flinch when his alternate turned cold eyes on him. He found his double to be oddly intimidating.
"Yeah, there's one back that way," the younger teen replied, pointing back the way he had come.
"Is it any good? I didn't want to work out at the other place since the equipment was so run down," Jason asked.
"It's okay. Better than the Youth Center, at any rate."
"Did you just finish a workout?" Jason asked, hoping to get the kid engaged in a longer conversation.
"Nah. Decided against it, they are copping an attitude this morning."
"Oh, darn, I was kind of hoping to find a workout buddy. I prefer that to working out alone, but if you aren't in the mood I'll find someone there."
As Jason had hoped, his double was intrigued enough to change his plans.
"Well, I could see clear to working out with you, but it will have to be your treat as far as the fee goes. My membership lapsed."
"No problem, lead the way. My name is Lee by the way. Who are you?" Jason asked before he slipped up and called the kid by name.
"Jason. Nice to meet you, Lee."
* * *
After their workout the two teens wandered over to a nearby health food store where Jason treated them to juice and muffins. As he had hoped, he was able to establish a rapport with the other boy, and he listened closely to what the younger boy said, watching his expression carefully. Jason was desperately trying to get a grasp on his alternate's psyche. And all things considered, he was cautiously optimistic.
"Well, Lee, thanks for the workout and the food, but I better head on home. If you are going to be around for a while, maybe we can workout together again. I usually come in after school, about three-thirty or so."
"Wait, please. I need to talk to you about something. Maybe we can go to the park down the street and talk for a while. It is kind of important," Jason said, making his decision.
"Okay, but I really do need to be going soon," the younger teen replied, looking at his new acquaintance with some curiosity.
They went to the park, and found a table in a somewhat isolated part of the park. There, Jason began to talk, telling his alternate everything, from who he really was and where he came from, to what his alternate was destined to be.
"Whoa, are you telling me I am supposed to become a superhero and save the world? Are you in some sort of treatment or something? 'Cause I gotta tell you, Lee, you have some serious problems," with that the youth got up and started to back away from Jason.
"Wait! Let me show you something. Please, this is important. I know it is a lot to deal with all at once, but you have to try. Here, look at this." Jason had removed a picture from his wallet and handed it to the other boy.
The picture showed the first Ranger team, unmorphed, standing together in a friendly group. Jason pointed silently to himself in the picture. "Does this guy look familiar?"
"Shit! How'd you do that? Where did you get that picture?"
"That picture was taken three years ago, when I was the Red Ranger in our dimension. The others are my friends. The same teenagers I have to find here and turn into a team. You are going to be the leader of that team. Jason, I am you, three years from now. Or at least, your alternate in my dimension. Here, let me show you. I'm wearing a mask to disguise my identity. I'm going to remove it for a moment." Jason reached up and gently removed the mask. The teenager in front of him turned a ghostly shade as he saw his own face, only slightly altered by the passage of three years, staring back at him.
"Oh my God, it's true?" he asked weakly.
Jason felt a surge of sympathy for the younger teen. "Yeah, it's true. I'm sorry, man, to spring this on you so suddenly, but I need your help. I have to find the others and get you all together and trained. I only have three weeks to turn you guys into a team." As he spoke he replaced the mask.
"Oh, man, I can't believe this. I am supposed to help save the world? I don't think so, sorry. It's not my thing, you know? Sorry, I can't do this." Jason watched in shock as his alternate turned and walked away, not looking back.
"Wait! Wait!" Jason hurried after the retreating youth. His double turned and looked at him suspiciously. "I am staying at this motel. Room 38. If you need to talk, change your mind, whatever, please contact me there."
Without a word the other boy pocketed the motel business card Jason had handed him, then turned and walked briskly away.
"Well, that went really well," Jason muttered dryly to himself.
* * *
Jason spent the rest of the day trying, without success, to locate any of the others. He did, however, encounter Bulk and Skull. In his universe the two had long since given up their bullying ways, and were now involved in the Jr. Police Program. In this universe they were still bullies, and much better ones at that, if appearances could be believed. They looked and acted much tougher, as well as more efficient. They gave the appearance of the type who would actually do physical damage to their victim, instead of just humiliating them, as he was accustomed to seeing in the past from those two. He wondered how this dimension's Billy did dealing with them. Something told Jason that he probably didn't do too well.
He was sitting in his motel room considering what to do the next day when he was startled by a knock on the door. He opened it to find his alternate standing restlessly outside.
"Jason, come on in. Are you okay?"
"I don't know," the younger teen replied. "I can't stop thinking about all the stuff you told me. I am really supposed to become some sort of 'super hero', and save the planet? You are not kidding?"
Jason chuckled at the expression he saw on the so familiar face. "No, I'm not kidding."
"Weird, man. And those others, they are also supposed to be heroes?"
"Yep. And, they're your friends. All of them. You trust them with your life, they trust you with theirs."
"I don't even know some of them. And, for instance, Kim? I know who she is, but I sure as heck don't like her. She's a miniature bitch. But we are supposed to do this?"
"Jason, you're destined to be the leader of the Power Rangers. In time you will give up that leadership, but you will always be the first leader. I don't know you yet, which I suppose sounds absurd since you are me, so to speak. But I suspect you will do fine as the leader. So, do I take this as a sign you have changed your mind?"
"I guess so," the voice was reluctant. "What do we need to do? Do I get sworn in, or something?"
Jason chuckled slightly again. "No, not yet at any rate. How would you like to see the Command Center? I'll introduce you to Bordon, he's the team mentor. Your boss, as it were. It should be enough to convince you that either I am on the up and up, or that you are completely insane."
That comment was greeted with a ghost of a smile. "I guess that sounds okay. Do we need to drive there? If so, we will have to use your wheels."
"We have a different way of getting there. Your first introduction to being a Power Ranger will be the same one we experienced. Teleporting. Put your hand firmly on my arm and hold on. You'll get used to this in time, so don't worry about it," Jason said reassuringly, then promptly teleported himself and the other teenager to the Command Center.
Jason looked up at Bordon with a slight smile. "Bordon, this is Jason Scott. Your Jason Scott. He has decided to join up. Jason, this is Bordon." He enjoyed the look of dazed amazement on the other boy's face. It was a lot more fun on this side of the first encounter.
"Are you real?" the dazed teenager asked Bordon, goggling at the Power Ranger mentor.
"Yes, I am. My name if Bordon, I am the mentor to the Power Ranger team. I am glad to see you, Jason Scott. It is your destiny to become one of my Rangers."
Both Jason and Bordon looked a bit surprised; it was a question none of the others had ever asked.
"It was foretold," Bordon intoned at last, in a tone of voice that did not encourage questions.
"Okay, I guess," the younger teen's voice betrayed his confusion. "So, uh, what do I do now?"
"Now we sit down and plan out our strategy. We need to find all the teens in the picture I showed you earlier. You indicated you know some of them. Who would you suggest contacting next? How should we contact them? When? I can really use your help," Jason said sincerely as he pulled out the picture they had looked at earlier.
His alternate studied it carefully. "We could contact Zack tomorrow. He'll be out late tonight, getting some 'action', but I think he's pretty mellow on Sunday. Also, we should look around for Tommy, simply because he's going to probably be the hardest to convince. Monday we could work on Trini after school; I think she usually goes to Ernie's to work out on Monday. Kimberly can probably wait until Tuesday, she isn't going to be easy, but perhaps not as hard as the others. Monday I will try to find out if anyone knows...Billy Cranston you said his name was? Maybe find out his schedule. Sorry, but I really don't recognize that one. Sound okay?"
To Jason it sounded more than okay. The kid was already committing himself to the job. That was far more than he had dared hope for.
* * *
The next morning Jason met his younger alternate at the same health food store they had gone to after their workout. Since Ernie's was rather unaccommodating, this small place served as a convenient meeting place. Taking their juice and muffins to the park, the two of them sat at a table and quietly discussed what they hoped to accomplish that day.
"We should be able to find Zack at the arcade. He likes to play video games, and often hangs around there. If we catch him early he should be sober and straight."
"How bad is his drinking and drug problem?" Jason asked apprehensively.
"He drinks on a daily basis, or so I've heard. I think he only does marijuana at this time, but I know some of the guys he has been seen with do really hard drugs. I heard through a mutual friend that Zack has resisted the heavier stuff so far, but that could change at any time. Will Bordon let him be a Ranger if he drinks?"
"I doubt it. He's going to have to clean himself up. And we are going to have to help him all we can. This isn't going to be an easy task, you know. For whatever reason, all of you have some problems, which will have to be overcome. Tommy, according to the information Bordon and Alpha provided, is a vicious bully. Trini tends to get into fights, as do you. It appears Billy has been, and possibly still is being, abused. I don't know about Kimberly, except at least two people have described her as a bitch. It is so strange, the Kimberly in my world is one of the nicest, kindest hearted people I have ever known."
"What is Zack like in your world?"
"He's got a great sense of humor, he's brave, loyal, and incredibly graceful. A dancer as well as a martial artist. He never drinks or takes any sort of drugs, he gets high enough on life. Any idea why he drinks?" Jason wondered.
"I think it is a defense against his parents' complete lack of interest in him. It's hard to take when your parents just don't give a damn. My folks are bad, but Zack's are far worse."
"Your parents don't care?"
"Not much. Kind of strange, given their jobs. Mom's a nurse, Dad's a policeman. Jobs that focus on helping people, yet they don't really seem to care much at all," the younger teen revealed.
"Why don't they care?"
The dark haired youth shrugged. "We had a severe economic depression in the late seventies, and a lot of our parents went through some hard times then. For whatever reason, it seemed to leave them unable, or at least unwilling, to care much about anything. Or anyone. And Dad, being a policeman, he often sees people at their worst. I think he shuts himself off from others because of that. Mom's a little better, she takes an interest in my life, at least." The future Red Ranger looked a bit abashed at this confession.
Jason thought through this new information. "Wow. So we have a whole generation largely being raised by parents who have no hope? Who are now afraid to care or fight for anything?"
"Um, yeah, basically. Sounds really bad when you put it that way."
"It's bad no matter how you look at it." Jason felt his hopes beginning to waiver a bit more. This was going to be even harder than he had expected. However, there was no backing out now, he was committed to do all he could to help Bordon. "Let's see if we can find Zack or Tommy."
* * *
The video arcade had just opened when Jason and his alternate arrived, but already the place was quite crowded. They found Zack playing one of the most elaborate games in the back of the dim room, for the moment alone and lost in the complexities of the game he was enjoying. They stood back and watched him in action for a while, noticing he had excellent reflexes and fierce concentration. Despite Zack's skills, however, the game eventually prevailed.
Zack turned and was startled to find the other two standing behind him quietly. "Whoa, who are you and why are you watching me? Hey, I know you, dude! What's happening?" he turned to his world's Jason and addressed his comments to him.
"This is Lee, and we need to talk to you, man. Why don't we head on over to the park, take a walk. It's important other people don't hear us, you know?" the future Power Ranger leader replied easily.
"I dunno. I was just kinda planning to hang out here today, and it's kind of, you know, bright outside. Makes my head hurt, if you know what I mean."
Jason understood what Zack meant, at least academically, if not from experience. He figured if Zack had gotten wasted the previous night, then he was probably pretty hung over this morning, and bright daylight would compound his headache. Though the Gold Ranger did not really wish to cause the younger teen any undue distress, they needed to get him somewhere to talk, and the sooner the better.
"Sorry, man, but we really need to do this now. Come on, you will find this very interesting, I think."
Reluctantly, Zack agreed. He wasn't sure what it was, but he felt he could trust these two. He knew Jason slightly, having been in the same class at school a couple of years ago. The muscular youth had never given Zack any trouble, never teased him or mocked him, which was a little unusual in itself. But he had never offered to befriend him either, which wasn't unusual.
"Okay, I guess that's cool. Not much happening here anyway," Zack relented.
The three of them headed to the park, and began to stroll along one of the many paths not speaking, just allowing Zack to get used to the brightness. Eventually they stopped by a huge tree and sat together at its base.
"Zack, what I am going to tell you is going to sound a bit crazy at first. All I am asking is that you listen to everything I have to say, and not jump to any conclusions. Will you do that?" Jason asked.
"Okay. I guess so. I mean, how weird can it be, right? You aren't going to tell me you are some sort of space alien or anything," Zack laughed, then reconsidered seeing the other two boys' expressions. "Are you?"
"No, not exactly," Jason smiled.
"What do you mean, 'not exactly'?" Zack asked apprehensively.
"My name is not Lee, it's Jason. Jason Scott. Just like his. And I am here from another dimension, to help prevent the destruction of your world. Zack, you are destined to be a Power Ranger, the Black Power Ranger, in fact. And I'm here to try to help you prepare for that, if I can," Jason stated, going on this feeling that this Zack, like the one he knew in his dimension, preferred the truth straight up.
Zack looked at him with an expression of startled disbelief, then burst into laughter. "You're kidding, right?"
"No, I'm not. Here, look at this," Jason handed him the picture.
"Hey! Where did you get this?"
"It was taken almost three years ago, in my dimension. While we were all Power Rangers. I take it you recognize the others?"
"Sure. Well, except the guy with the glasses. These guys are supposed to be Power Rangers, whatever those are?" Zack looked frankly disbelieving.
"Yes, they are all Power Rangers. As for what a Power Ranger is, perhaps Bordon would be the best to explain that. What do you say, Jason, should we introduce him to Bordon?" Jason asked the younger teen.
His alternate's smile was the answer. "Absolutely. It's hard to disbelieve when you meet Bordon. Hang on, Zack, this is quite a ride." With that the two future Rangers grabbed onto Jason, who teleported them all to the Command Center.
Once they had arrived, Zack let go of Jason and took a couple of shaky steps before noticing Bordon in his tube.
"Whoa!! Wha...who...what is that?"
"Zack, this is Bordon. Bordon, Zack Taylor. Your future Black Ranger if all goes well," Jason said easily.
"Are you real, man?" Zack asked the ancient mentor.
"Very real. Welcome to the Command Center, Zack."
"Thanks. I guess. What's this about being a Power Ranger? I don't understand," Zack said dazedly.
Bordon explained about the Power Rangers, their origin and tradition. He also informed these first two of his new team of the rules that they would have to follow as Power Rangers. Zack listened quietly, looking more serious than Jason had ever seen him look.
"So I have to do this? I don't have a choice?" he asked when Bordon finished.
"You always have a choice, Zack. I cannot force you to do this. We need you, but it must ultimately be your choice to join us," Bordon replied.
"There is something else, Zack," Jason stated quietly. "If you choose to become a Ranger, you will be expected to be sober and ready for action at all times. You will not be able to drink or do any kind of drugs. Personally, I think that is a good enough reason for you to join the team. You are heading toward some big trouble the way things are going."
Zack tried to rally some anger at the older teen's words, but he had too much basic honesty to react with anger to Jason's blunt assessment of his situation. Deep down, Zack knew he was making a mess of his life, but until now no one had bothered to comment on it. His parents were completely in the dark regarding their son's lifestyle, and even if they knew they might not care enough to get him straightened out. Jason was the first one to show any interest in Zack's future.
"I have to think about this, guys. I mean, this has to be dangerous, you know? And I'm not really the 'hero' type. I'll get back to you on this, okay? Now how do I get home?"
Jason could hear a note of desperation in the teen's voice, and knew he could not push him right now.
"We will teleport back to the park. Here, take this business card. This is the motel where I am staying, room 38. If you have any questions, or when you reach a decision, please contact me there in the evening. Or leave a message at the front desk and I will contact you."
"Got it," Zack replied, pocketing the card. "And, uh, don't worry about me telling anyone about you. I won't."
The three teens teleported back to a secluded part of the park, and Zack immediately headed out toward the downtown area. Jason looked at his younger counterpart and sighed.
"Went about the same as it did with you. I hope he reaches the same decision. Guess we should look for Tommy, huh? Any idea where we might find him?"
"Maybe the gym. I've seen him there a few times. Maybe we should pick up our gear and workout even if we don't find him. Sound good?"
"Yeah, it does," Jason agreed.
* * *
Tommy wasn't there when the former and future Red Rangers arrived at the gym, so they started their workout, chatting quietly.
"Do you know Tommy very well?" Jason asked the younger teen.
"No, not really. But I have never had an altercation with him, either. For whatever reason, we have kind of avoided each other. Are you close to him?"
"Yeah, I am. We almost instantly became friends. I guess it's at least partly because of similar interests, and partly just because of who he is. Funny thing is, in my dimension, he started out as an evil Ranger, and still we became friends. When I left the Rangers, Tommy was the leader, and he still is. So you can see why it is important we get your Tommy on board as soon as possible."
"Yeah, I guess so. It's just that our Tommy is so mean. Seriously, he landed a kid in the hospital last year. Just a vicious beating, and I don't even know what the kid did, if anything, to deserve it."
"I'm going to tell you something in the strictest confidence. Bordon and Alpha provided me with you guys' school and medical records. I think Tommy has been abused. I know he has been in and out of foster care since his parents died when he was very young. That very well could be why he is so mean."
"You read all our records?"
"What do they say about me?"
"That you got into a lot of fights, and are not doing the best you can in school."
"You're a good student?"
"A very solid A- or B+ student. You are just a little off track. It might have helped having Billy around to study with," Jason said with a smile.
"Billy is smart?"
"Billy is a genius. I mean that quite literally."
"So, maybe he's in a special school here and that is why I don't know him."
"According to his school records, he attends Angel Grove High and is barely making a C average. Something is wrong there."
"If you have the school records, then you have addresses. Why don't we just go to everyone's home and talk to them?"
"Partly because we don't want their parents suspecting anything. Also, I think it helps to get them when they are out and about, and gradually work up to it. At least it worked okay with you," Jason grinned.
"Oh, yeah, you were so subtle," the younger teen laughed.
"There he is," Jason said abruptly, spotting Tommy entering the gym.
If Jason had thought his own alternate had seemed cold and menacing when he first met him, that was nothing compared to this world's Tommy. Everything about Tommy, from his black jeans and T-shirt, to the swagger in his walk, seemed to add to the air of danger the teen exuded. Jason noted that this Tommy was also more muscular, bulked up a lot more than his dimension's Tommy. He felt a pang of unease. This was not going to be a bit easy.
"How do you think we should handle this?" Jason asked his alternate quietly.
"The direct approach, I guess. Let him get his workout, then ask to talk to him. What's the worst he can do, besides beat the shit out of both of us?"
"That's very reassuring. Let's hope it doesn't come to that."
They surreptitiously watched the taller teen as he worked out, noting the amount of resistance he used on the various machines.
"Darn, he is a lot stronger than the Tommy I'm used to," Jason muttered. "Do you know if he has studied martial arts?"
"I don't think so. We don't have but one instructor in town, and he isn't very good. Or so I've heard."
"Well, we are going to have to change that. Have you taken any lessons?"
"Okay, starting this coming week, I will begin to instruct you in karate. You and whoever else we get on the team. This is important. Isn't your spring break coming up?"
"Yeah, week after next."
"Great. We will be doing some very intensive training that week. Here's the plan then: this week we will contact everyone, get as many on board as we can, then intensive training in hand to hand next week. Then more training after school the week after that. I only have three weeks total, so we will have to hustle. I will check out this instructor in town, see what can be done there, if he is as bad as others think. Maybe even check out if anyone is available in Stone Canyon. Sound good?"
"Sounds like we are preparing for war."
"In a way, you are. Jason, if you want to survive against Rita, you have to be prepared. In my world we didn't have this training time, but we already were friends, and Zack, Trini, and I all had martial arts training-I was already a black belt and certified instructor. Billy was just starting karate, and Kim was a gymnast. In other words, we were all capable of defending ourselves. Well, all of us except Billy, and he got up to speed pretty quickly."
"I guess that makes sense. But, still, you can't really blame me for worrying, can you?"
"No, I can't. Okay, looks like Tommy's done. Let's see if we can talk to him."
The two teens had been waiting outside the gym for Tommy to finish, so when the longhaired teen left the building and started down the street they approached him.
"Hey, Tommy, got a minute?"
Tommy turned at the sound of his classmate's voice and coolly surveyed the other two boys.
"What do you want?" The voice was anything but friendly.
"Just to talk to you for a couple of minutes," Jason replied.
"About what? I don't know you and I have nothing to say to you."
"Look, man, the attitude isn't necessary. We just want to talk to you. What's the problem with that?" Jason asked reasonably.
Tommy looked a bit taken aback by Jason's calm insistence. "Okay, so talk."
"Not here. Let's head on over to the park. We can talk without being overheard there."
Tommy didn't look like he liked the idea, but raised no objection as the three of them walked toward the large park.
Once safely out of range of any unwanted listeners, Jason turned to the surly young man.
"This is going to sound very strange, and all I ask is that you hear me out," Jason started. He proceeded to tell Tommy the entire situation, and what they needed to do to fix things.
Tommy listened quietly enough, but it was plain he didn't really believe Jason. Even the picture did little to convince the tough youth of Jason's sincerely. Finally, taking a careful look around to be sure they weren't being observed, Jason removed the mask.
Tommy calmly studied Jason's face and compared it to the younger version sitting quietly beside them.
"So what? Maybe you are this one's older brother, and this is all an elaborate trick," Tommy finally said.
"Why would we do something like that?" Jason asked, surprised at Tommy's conclusion.
"I don't know. But I do know you both should be in some sort of institution qualified to deal with your delusions."
The two Jasons exchanged a look.
"Maybe he will believe Bordon," the younger one said with a twinkle in his dark eyes.
"Maybe. Guess we'll have to try." Turning his attention to Tommy Jason said softly. "Gonna introduce you to the 'head honcho', guy, so just hold on." Taking Tommy's arm firmly in one hand and feeling his alternate grab his other arm, Jason teleported them all to the Command Center.
"What the hell! What did you do to me? Whoa! What's that?" Tommy nearly staggered in his surprise and confusion.
"Bordon, here's Tommy. He's having a lot of trouble believing us. Maybe you can convince him we're on the up and up. I tried, but he just doesn't get it."
Tommy was slowly approaching Bordon's tube, a wide-eyed look of amazement on his face. "This can't be real," he muttered softly, a look of dread on his lean features.
"It's real, Tommy. Very real. It's your chance to make a real difference in the world. A good difference."
"I've dreamed of you," Tommy said unexpectedly. "I dreamed of this place. How can that be?"
"It is your destiny to be a Power Ranger. Perhaps you intuited that at some level, and it revealed itself to you in your dreams," Bordon suggested.
"I don't buy that, man. Get me out of here! I don't want to hear this! Get me out of here now!" Tommy sounded frantic.
Jason quickly grabbed the tall teen's arm and again teleported them all, this time back to the park. Tommy quickly threw off Jason's hand and hurried away without another word.
Jason sighed deeply. "That was the worst yet. I'll be surprised if we see him again anytime soon. Damn."
The younger teen looked at his older counterpart and tried to dredge up a smile. "He may surprise you. For some reason an odd quote popped into my head while he was spouting off: 'Methinks he doth protest too much'," the future Red Ranger misquoted. "I think he was just caught very off balance. At least I hope that is the case. Had enough for today?"
Jason had to smile at that. It was already late afternoon and he was a bit exhausted. "Yeah, I have. You want to meet me here after school tomorrow? I believe you indicated we could find Trini at Ernie's then?" At the other boy's nod of agreement, Jason continued. "Great. Maybe we'll have better luck with the girls. And don't forget to see if you can locate Billy Cranston, maybe find out a bit about him for me."
"Will do. I better head home and do the last of my homework. I'll see you tomorrow."
* * *
Monday morning found Jason in the Command Center, having passed a restless night.
"Bordon, what happened with this team the last time? I know you said they were all killed, but how? It might help to know what went wrong the first time."
Bordon's expression was one of deep sorrow as he contemplated the young man before him.
"When Rita was released from the dumpster, I ordered Alpha to assemble the team. From six different locations he pulled together the teenagers that destiny had indicated would create a force powerful enough to protect our world, and ultimately the universe. But something was wrong. They looked at each other with suspicion and dislike, when I told them of their destinies, they simply stared at me. Jason, and perhaps Trini, showed some willingness to at least consider my words. Zack seemed distant, uninterested. Tommy was angry looking, telling me I had no right to drag him here. Kimberly responded much the same way, demanding to be sent back immediately. And Billy....Billy just stood still, staring at the floor. He didn't speak at all." Bordon's expression sobered further.
"I gave them the usual lecture about what being a Power Ranger entails, and assigned their powers. Rita launched an attack immediately, and the Rangers were soundly defeated, teleporting back here in a panic. I explained how the Zords all worked together, and how they could combine to create an awesome force, but it didn't help. Kimberly and Billy gave back the coins and left. The other four tried, but without the Pink and Blue Rangers, they were at a disadvantage. Two battles later, the Pink Ranger returned, which helped some. But they just didn't have enough to battle effectively. Two weeks after receiving their powers, the Black and Yellow Rangers were killed in battle, and Goldar claimed their coins. Three days later I lost the Pink and Green Rangers, and their coins. The Red Ranger tried to go on alone, and I tried to find the Blue Ranger again, but even when Alpha scanned for him he couldn't be found. Then Jason found out Billy had died at home in some sort of accident, right around the time Rita first appeared. We tried desperately to find a new Blue Ranger, and finally decided on a young man named Rocky DeSantos, but both he and Jason were killed in battle within a week." The ancient being's expression was sorrowful. "Earth fell to Rita's control a short time later. Other planets followed suit, until Rita was the ultimate ruler. But she was incapable of properly ruling the universe, and she ultimately set up its destruction. This is why we need to be sure this team can stand up to her. They must."
"They will. Somehow, they will," Jason declared firmly.
* * *
That afternoon Jason sat at the table in the park, thinking about the story Bordon had told him earlier. He was a bit heartened by the fact that at least four of the kids had tried the first time, however unwillingly. And Kim had come back voluntarily, so that also was encouraging. But, Billy didn't, or couldn't. That would bear some checking into. His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of his alternate.
"Hey, man, ready to take on Trini? I saw her at school today, we ended up talking for a few minutes, and I told her we would be by. She seemed receptive. She's pretty cool, really."
"Great. It would be nice to have at least one person we don't have to strong arm into helping. Did you find out anything about Billy?"
"No, nothing yet. He isn't in any of my classes, and I didn't see him anywhere. I didn't want to start just asking people, that might raise some suspicions."
"Good point. But it may come to that. Well, do we head on over to Ernie's?"
"May as well. But we will have to wait for her to finish her workout."
They ended up sipping smoothies in a dark corner where Ernie wasn't likely to notice them. They watched the slender Asian girl do some weight training and a couple of Kung Fu routines that seemed to be a perfect melding of grace and power. After an hour and a half she finally headed toward the locker room to change.
She emerged a while later and headed over to where the two young men sat waiting for her.
"You wanted to talk to me?" Her tone and expression were not exactly inviting.
"Yeah. Let's go to the park, it's a bit more private there."
They sat at what Jason was starting to consider to be 'his' table. For the fourth time he went through the whole story of why he was there and what he needed to accomplish, and her role in that. She listened calmly, her expression unreadable.
"...and this all has to be done in three weeks time," Jason concluded.
Trini sat deep in thought for a moment, then asked suddenly. "Can I meet this Bordon?"
Both the boys were surprised. "Sure. Come on, I will take you there," Jason replied, taking Trini's arm. Soon the three of them arrived in the Command Center.
"Welcome to the Command Center, Trini. I am Bordon."
Trini looked around in amazement. "Okay, so it was all true. I really thought it was a bluff. We are really going to try to save the world?"
Trini thought about it carefully. "Okay, I'm in. What do we need to do?"
"Just like that?" Jason asked, surprised.
"Yeah. You are telling the truth, aren't you? You need me, don't you?"
"Well, yeah. It's just everyone else has required some time to think about it. I'm just surprised, and glad, actually, that you decided so quickly. Welcome aboard, Trini."
The two boys quickly filled her in on their plan for the next three weeks. She commented that it seemed they had a good plan, provided they could get the others to go along with it.
"We are going to approach Kimberly tomorrow, and maybe Billy if we can find him," Jason said.
Trini had been shown the picture earlier, and had recognized the young man in blue. "He's in a couple of my classes. I'll see if I can get him to meet with you guys. He's very, very shy. So shy he is almost invisible. Unfortunately, the only ones who ever seem to notice him tend to beat him up. But maybe I can get him to talk."
"I hope so. We will really need him. Kim also. And I'm still hoping Zack and Tommy choose the right course. But, we can't force them. They have to choose to do this. Did you see either of them today?" Jason asked his double.
"I spoke to Zack, briefly. He was a little wasted. I don't think he is going to go for it. We may have to try again."
"Well, we'll give him until the weekend. It may take a lot of time. Though time is something we are running a bit short on."
"I can't believe that the future of our world may depend on someone like Zack Taylor. He is such a mess. Are you sure about him?" Trini asked.
"Yeah, very sure. There is a lot of good in Zack, he's just not using his head right now. If we can get him straightened out he will be a great asset to the team," Jason declared firmly.
"If you say so," Trini replied, doubt evident in her voice.
* * *
That night Jason laid on his bed, hands behind his head, thinking about the four kids he had met so far. And the two he had yet to meet. It was one thing to speak so surely to the younger teens he was recruiting, and something else altogether when he was alone. He thought about the story Bordon had told him that afternoon, of what had happened to the team the first time. He couldn't shake the feeling he might be recruiting these kids just to condemn them to a horrible death. All six...no, seven...dead before they reached sixteen years of age. That was a bit much to take. And Bordon had given no details, just 'killed in battle'. That did not make it any better, to Jason's way of thinking.
He fell asleep to uneasy dreams of death and destruction, and young lives cut cruelly short.
* * *
Jason was a bit bleary eyed the next morning as he sat at the table in the park waiting for his alternate and Trini to stop by on their way to school. They were going to try to arrange a meeting with Kimberly that afternoon, and possibly Billy, if they could find him. Jason was thinking about how he might be able to convince the future Pink Ranger to join the team when he was startled by someone clearing his throat behind him. He turned to find Tommy standing there looking tired and unhappy.
"I'll do it," the tall teen blurted out.
"What?" Jason asked, hope suddenly rising in him.
"I'll become a Power Ranger," Tommy clarified, his gaze darting up to meet Jason's before returning to his shoe tops.
"That's great, Tommy. The team really needs you," Jason replied with a smile. He considered Tommy's behavior, which was considerably different than the self-assurance he was used to from 'his' Tommy, and found himself wondering about something. "If you don't mind me asking, why did you change your mind?"
"Partly because of the dreams," the future Green Ranger replied.
"Also, I was just wondering.."
"Wondering about what?" Jason prompted.
"Well, it was the first time that someone, had, you know, asked me to join something...so I wondered..."
"What it would be like to belong?" Jason asked gently.
"Yeah, I guess so."
Jason smiled in understanding. "It's good to have you with us, Tommy. I think you'll find that things are going to change in your life."
"So, what do I do now?"
"You go to school. We will meet here after school lets out, then to the Command Center to start some basic training."
"Okay, I'll be here after school. Um, who all is on the team so far?"
"Jason and Trini. Zack hasn't changed his mind. We will be meeting with Kimberly Hart today, I hope. Try to get her on board," Jason told him.
"The cheerleader? That Kim Hart?" Tommy shuddered.
"What is it with Kim? Is she that bad?" Jason asked.
"She's a bitch," came the soft feminine voice from behind Jason.
Trini and the younger Jason stood there smiling a bit at the older teen's startled expression.
"Great. You guys will have to change those attitudes. And she will have to change hers. Jason, Trini-Tommy has decided to join us. So after school let's meet here and decide what to do. If Kim is willing, bring her along. Or, else, try to arrange a meeting a little later. Same with Billy if you have any luck finding him."
Murmuring their agreement, the three teens headed off to Angel Grove High School.
* * *
By the time school had let out Jason had decided that he would first have the three members of the team join him on a tour of the Command Center. That was one of the things his team had never done, consequently only Billy had ever really known what was in the back rooms and where all the various corridors led. He had already discussed it with Bordon and Alpha, and the little android would give them all the grand tour.
The three younger teens met him in the park, along with Kimberly. Jason felt a smile cross his face as he looked at the petite girl. He quickly went through the story of what was going on, and what they needed her to do. She listened quietly, then turned to him with a sweet smile.
"Your 'urgent message' is that I am supposed to be a pink clad superhero saving the planet? Are you completely insane? I gave up a chance to go to the mall with my friends for this? I cannot believe you! Get real, loser!" Her voice had steadily gotten louder until she ended the mini tirade at a volume roughly equivalent to a police siren. Finished, she flounced away before Jason could even respond. He watched the small, trim figure stalk quickly back toward the school, then turned a bemused expression to his three companions.
"What a bitch!"
* * *
Despite the anything but encouraging encounter with Kimberly, it ended up being a pretty productive afternoon. Alpha was happy to show the kids around, and answered all the questions they came up with. In some sort of odd way the tour seemed to begin the bonding process among the three Rangers. They joked and laughed with the little 'droid, but they also looked to be absorbing the information they were being given, and memorizing the layout of the labyrinth of corridors that spread out from the main room. Jason found a large, unused room that would be perfect to convert into a gym. They spent the rest of the time finding and laying out mats, and moving the odds and ends of equipment stored in the room to a new location.
* * *
That evening, after bidding the younger teens goodnight, Jason found himself glad to be relaxing quietly in his room. It had been a pretty busy day after a poor night's sleep, and he was looking forward to an uninterrupted rest. He had just shut off the television and was getting ready to settle down to sleep when there was a knock at his door.
He opened it to find Zack standing outside, slump shouldered and staring at the ground at his feet.
"Zack, is something wrong? Come on in," he invited.
Zack stepped into the room, and in the improved light Jason could see the bruises on his face.
"Looks like you ran into some trouble. Have a seat, I'll get a cool washcloth for you," Jason said quietly, ushering the youth to one of the room's two uncomfortable chairs. He returned in a moment with a cool, wet washcloth and handed it to Zack wordlessly.
Zack tended his injuries for a moment while Jason watched without comment. Finally the black teen looked up at Jason and sighed.
"Sorry to barge in on you like this, but I didn't know where else to go. My folks would have my head if I came home like this again."
Jason studied the dark face. Besides the bruises, he could see the telltale redness in his eyes that signified the younger teen had been drinking.
"How wasted are you, Zack?" he asked quietly.
"Not very. Just a few beers. And maybe half a joint. Not much at all, just to relax, you know?"
"Aw, some dudes from Stone Canyon started copping a 'tude. Had to set 'em straight, you know? Things got kind of out of hand." Jason could tell the offhand, flippant attitude was a faade.
"I can see that. Just another night of fun, right?"
"Right," Zack sighed, refusing to look at the older teen.
"Zack, why? Why are you doing this to yourself?"
"Sometimes it really does feel good," the youth replied softly.
"Sometimes. And sometimes it feels like this, right? You don't need the booze to make you feel good. I know that for a fact."
"The Zack in your world, he doesn't drink?"
"Nope. Not a drop of anything harder than a soda."
"Doesn't light up a joint now and then?"
"Is he happy?"
"Zack is one of the happiest people I have ever known. Sure, he has his hard times, just like anyone else, but for the most part he finds the fun in life and goes with it. When we were kids, he was the one who would dream up the fun things to do on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Not just board games or watching TV. He'd decide that our family room was the dungeon in a medieval castle and the three of us were prisoners on death row. Or turn the couch into a stagecoach and we'd be the driver and guards trying to deliver the payroll to a group of miners....well, you get the idea."
Zack looked at Jason with eyes that were much too old and tired for the youthful face.
"I don't know if I can find the joy in life anymore. I've found it's easier to escape from reality. What do you think?"
"I think that inside you is a joyful person, just looking for a reason to come out. It won't happen overnight, I guess, but it can happen. I think you know what you need to do."
"No more booze. No more drugs. 'Just say no' is the new credo for my life, huh?" Zack's attempt to sound hard-bitten sounded more lost than anything else.
"Basically. If you want it, you'll have help," Jason told him.
"Jason and the others? Why would they help me?"
"Because you need help. And because you are one of their teammates?" Jason turned that last into a question.
Zack had to chuckle at that. "Yeah, I've thought about little else but what you told us about on Sunday. And if you still want me, you got me. The Black Ranger, huh?"
"Yeah, the Black Ranger."
"Who else has agreed to your little scheme?"
"Tommy Oliver and Trini Kwan. With you and Jason we have two thirds of the team already."
"What about the other two?"
"Well, I met Kimberly today. That didn't go well. And we haven't made contact with Billy yet. Look, you can crash here tonight if you don't think you can go home. I'm supposed to meet the others tomorrow before school. We can let them know you are on board, and after school we will be doing some martial arts training at the Command Center. That should keep you busy enough to stay out of trouble."
"Okay. Sounds cool. I think I'm okay to go home. Where are we meeting?"
Jason told him where to meet them in the morning, then stood in the doorway watching the graceful young man walk briskly away. He couldn't help but feel that having Zack on the team was the best thing that could happen for the undirected young man.
* * *
The next two days found the four Rangers meeting Jason and going to the Command Center for martial arts training after school each day. None of the boys had had any training at all, but Trini had been a student of Kung Fu most of her life. Already a black belt, she studied karate alongside the boys to broaden her knowledge.
The first lesson had almost started out disastrously. Tommy had declared he had no intention of learning 'sissy' fighting like that. Jason simply told the larger teen to take his best shot at him. Tommy obliged, and Jason not only easily evaded Tommy's attack, but also effortlessly landed the much larger boy flat on his back. Tommy, embarrassed, jumped to his feet, ready to leave. Jason quickly intercepted him.
"Tommy, I didn't intend to embarrass you, I simply wanted to make a point. There is much more to fighting than brute strength. Some of the opponents you will face will not be human, in fact, most won't be. They will have strength beyond human abilities. That is when you will have to rely on intelligence and cunning, and karate will help you in that area. You have tremendous physical strength, Tommy, karate will give you extra skills to help you make the most of that strength."
Tommy listened a bit sullenly, but rejoined the others for their lesson.
None of them had encountered Kimberly since the inauspicious meeting with her on Tuesday. They had seen her around school, but she pointedly ignored them all. Jason wasn't too worried, oddly enough because of what had happened before. Kim had quit and then come back, so he held out some hope she would abruptly change her mind.
Trini had twice spoken to Billy, arranging for the shy teenager to meet with them after school, and both times the future Blue Ranger had stood them up. Jason decided that if they didn't get some sort of definite contact with Billy by the weekend, he would simply have to grab the kid and teleport him bodily to the Command Center. He figured once he got Billy to the Command Center they would have no problem convincing him to join them.
During the day, while the younger teens were in school, Jason was working with Alpha and Bordon to create communicators for the team. Using some notes and information his world's Billy had provided, Jason and Alpha were quickly assembling the helpful little devices.
So after they finished their training on Thursday, Jason solemnly handed out the new communicators, explaining how they worked and what they could do. The four teens were pleased with the gadgets, and couldn't resist the temptation to teleport somewhere just to see how it felt to do it when they were in control. After some practice 'flights' Jason felt they were adept enough to use the communicators whenever they needed to.
Alone with Bordon and Alpha after the four teens teleported to their homes, Jason sighed quietly.
"It appears to be going very well," Bordon said.
"Yeah, it is. But there are still so many problems. And I wish we had the full team together. At least with them all having next week off from school we can do a lot of training. How are we looking for time? When is Rita due to arrive?"
"Nine days from now. Do you think they will be ready?"
"I sure hope so," was all Jason could say.
* * *
Friday morning's meeting brought a surprise. Kimberly walked up just as they were about to head to school and asked to speak to Jason alone. As the four future Rangers headed toward Angel Grove High, Jason turned his attention to the petite girl before him.
"What's up, Kim?"
"Were you really serious? About the super hero things you told me about Tuesday?"
"Yeah, I was."
"Well, I might be interested after all," she hedged.
"Meet us here after school, and we'll take you to the Command Center and show you what is going on and what it is all about. Okay?"
"Sure. I guess I'll see you later."
* * *
After being shown the Command Center, introduced to Bordon and Alpha, and getting the rundown on the three basic rules of the Power Rangers, Kimberly officially agreed to being the Pink Ranger. She was more subdued than the other teens had ever seen her, and her usually waspish temper and sharp tongue were not in evidence.
After their training session, during which Kimberly displayed unusual grace and agility despite having no gymnastic or martial arts training, she hung back a few minutes to speak to Jason.
"You told me you are from another dimension, right?"
"Yeah, I am."
"You know Kimberly in that dimension, right?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Did...did her parents break up in your dimension, too?"
"Yeah, they did. When she was about eleven, if I remember. It was really hard on her."
"Yeah," Kim sighed. She stared moodily at the wall, obviously lost in thought. "What's she like? Your Kimberly."
"She's bright, enthusiastic, energetic, dedicated, strong, sweet, and one of the kindest people I have ever known. If someone has a problem, Kim will be the first to volunteer to help." Unbeknownst to Jason, a soft smile lit up his face as he described his childhood friend.
"You really like her, don't you?"
"Yeah, I do," he smiled, purposely repeating the phrase he had used so many times already.
Kimberly smiled back a bit wistfully. "I wish I was like her."
"Personally, I think deep inside, you are exactly like her. Maybe you just need to find a way to let it out," Jason replied gently.
* * *
Jason was reflecting on how much he was beginning to hate restaurant food. He had hiked to a downtown eatery just to try to get some variety, and was trudging back toward the motel when he heard a disturbance down the alley he was passing. He glanced in the direction of the noise and saw three tall figures surrounding a much smaller one. A sense of unreality swept over him as he recognized the victim. Eight years ago Jason had come to Billy's rescue in an alley, and it was weirdly apropos that it would happen again in this dimension.
"Hey, guys. Three against one? Not much of a challenge is it?"
The three turned to Jason, taking in his solid bulk and air of confidence, and decided he would not be as easy as they liked their prey to be. They turned and hurried toward the other end of the alley, leaving their erstwhile victim leaning weakly against the wall.
"You okay, man?" Jason asked gently, reaching out to steady the smaller teen. He felt a stab of sorrow when Billy flinched from his touch. "Easy, I'm not going to hurt you."
Jason helped Billy toward the street, where the light was better. He could see red patches on the thin face, patches that would quickly darken to bruises. The black rimmed glasses Billy had been wearing had a broken earpiece, and he saw that they had been inexpertly mended several times.
"I'm okay," the younger teen feebly protested.
"No, you aren't. Let me help, please," Jason responded.
Billy glanced down at his watch and winced. "I have to get home. I'm fine," he was edging away from Jason, a panicked look crossing his face.
"Wait, please! Would you at least meet with me tomorrow. Trini spoke to you about me, right? I really need to talk to you. Tomorrow afternoon at the park, at one, okay?"
"Fine, one o'clock. Got it." With that the slender youth hurried down the street, quickly disappearing from Jason's sight when he turned the corner.
Jason felt certain Billy wouldn't show up. They would have to go looking for him.
* * *
One o'clock the next afternoon found Jason and his alternate, along with Tommy, in the park on the off chance that Billy might surprise them and show up.
The five future Power Rangers had spent the morning in an intensive workout, with Jason pushing them as fast and as far as he could. The younger Jason and Tommy were both progressing far more rapidly than Jason had dared to hope. Zack was also making great strides, perhaps not as quickly as the other two boys, but still better than average in Jason's opinion. Trini, having the background in kung fu, was making the transition from one discipline to the other look easy. Only Kimberly was struggling. She had a lot of natural grace and athletic ability, but so far she was resisting mentally. Jason pushed her as much as he dared, but backed off if he thought she was getting genuinely upset.
Trini had expressed interest in learning the functions of some of the consoles in the Command Center, so she had stayed to quiz Alpha about them. Kimberly and Zack both had personal obligations that afternoon, so they had teleported to their respective homes after practice, while Jason headed to the park with the other two boys.
Jason had sent the two younger teens to a nearby store to pick up some sodas when he spied the familiar trim figure approaching cautiously.
He sat quietly as the timid youth walked up to him, noting the dark bruises left from the beating the night before. The broken glasses were sporting more electrical tape, and Billy walked with a stiff, oddly cautious gait.
"Hi. I have to admit I'm a bit surprised you showed up," Jason greeted him. "But I'm glad you did. I'm Jason. You're Billy, right?"
"Yeah, how did you know? I almost didn't come here, but I felt I owed you at least that after you helped me last night. Thanks."
"You're welcome. We have some important things to discuss, and some people you need to meet. Here come two of them now," Jason said, ignoring Billy's question and indicating the two approaching teenagers.
Billy turned to look, and Jason saw him pale noticeably. He turned back to Jason with a look of mixed fear and betrayal.
"I thought you were different," he gasped, stepping away.
Jason instinctively stepped toward the smaller teen to restrain him. That turned out to be a mistake. Billy jerked roughly away from Jason, then giving him a terrified glance, turned and ran blindly away from them, his movements graceless and panicked.
"What the heck just happened?" Jason muttered, looking more shocked than if the other teen had punched him. He knew attempting to chase the frightened young man would be a mistake, so he did not attempt to pursue him. He glanced over at his alternate and Tommy and got another shock. Both sported guilty expressions, and they refused to meet Jason's eyes.
Stunned, it took Jason a moment to make the connection between Billy's reaction and the other boys' expressions, but when he did he felt fury wash over him.
"Have you two beaten him up?" he asked angrily, fighting the urge to grab one of them and shake the answer out.
The younger Jason seemed the most upset. "Yeah, about two years ago. I was hanging out with some tougher guys, and that guy caught their attention one afternoon. We worked him over pretty good," he said softly, obviously ashamed.
"Yeah, a couple of times," Tommy shrugged, still not meeting Jason's eyes.
"Why in the name of God would you beat him up?" Jason shouted, getting angrier at Tommy's attitude.
"I don't know. I was angry. He was there. I don't know why," Tommy muttered. The tall teen was more upset than he was letting on, Jason realized. Over the last few days he had seen the unhappy young man start to feel the pleasure of being accepted, and the pride of working to do some good in the world. Now this.
Jason took some deep, calming breaths. He had allowed himself to be deceived, he realized. He had forgotten these kids were not like the kids he had known. These two teenagers in front of him both had histories of anger and fighting. They both obviously had their reasons for behaving like that in the past, but, dammit, there had been naked fear in Billy's eyes when he saw them. His feelings in turmoil, Jason realized he needed some time to think it through.
"Guys, I'm not going to lie to you. I'm upset with what happened here today. I can't believe the two of you could ever have a valid reason for beating up someone so...so...defenseless. But what's done is done, as my mother would say. We'll have to find a way to make Billy believe that we're not trying to meet with him to hurt him. He's a smart guy, he shouldn't be that hard to convince," he stated, hoping it was true. "But, you know, I think I'm going to take the rest of the afternoon off. I need some down time. I'll meet you guys at the Command Center tomorrow morning at eight thirty. Okay?"
Both the younger teens muttered their agreement, then walked away together. Jason smiled a bit, despite what had happened earlier. It looked like his alternate and Tommy's alternate were becoming as good of friends as he and Tommy were. That would help them both, now and later. Turning his attention away from the departing youths, Jason started walking to his motel, trying to clear his mind of his worries and fears.
* * *
Taking a evening jog, then buying some takeout to eat in his room in front of the TV helped Jason relax after the upsetting events of the early afternoon. He had contacted Bordon and told him briefly of their encounter, and stressed to the Ranger mentor that he would be back in force in the morning, but needed this evening for himself. Bordon had no objection, in fact expressed his relief that Jason was taking a break.
Much to his surprise and delight, the burly teen had found a Star Wars marathon on a local station. Though differing in some details from the movies Jason was familiar with, they were similar enough for him to feel almost like he was at home. He had just settled down to watch Return of the Jedi when there was a knock on his door. Opening it, he found Jason and Tommy standing outside, with Billy between them.
"What have you two done?" Jason asked in shock, ushering the trio inside and closing the door.
"We thought we'd try to convince Billy here that we mean him no harm, but he doesn't seem to believe us. Maybe you will have better luck," Tommy said, looking at the light haired teen with some exasperation.
"Did you two just grab him and bring him here?" Jason asked in amazement.
"Well, kind of. But we were gentle, we didn't hurt him, did we Billy?"
"N..no, you didn't," was the soft reply.
Jason took a good look at the smaller teen and realized the poor kid was scared to death. He could only imagine what the shy young man was thinking after being grabbed by two larger teens and taken to a stranger in a motel room. Those kinds of circumstances would make anyone apprehensive. Wanting to keep the atmosphere calm, he looked at his alternate and Tommy and quietly told them to sit down on the two chairs. Standing in front of Billy, Jason put his hands on the thin shoulders and spoke as gently as he could.
"They are telling you the truth. None of us want to hurt you. We just want to talk to you. But, first I think we all need to just sit here quietly for a while and calm down, okay? You've probably seen this movie a dozen times or so, but let's watch it again." Jason gently urged Billy to sit on the nearest bed, staying beside him and keeping a hand on his shoulder. At first resistant, Billy finally gave in and sat down, shooting an occasional wary glance at the two teens seated on the chairs.
The action-packed, science fiction fantasy was the perfect diversion. Soon all four teens were engrossed in the familiar story, and even Billy began to relax. He sprawled on his side across the bed, while Jason sat with his back against the headboard. When Jason's leg began to fall asleep, he stretched it out, accidentally hitting Billy in the back with his bare foot. The blow was not very hard, but Billy gasped in pain, moving forward, away from Jason. Immediately the movie was forgotten as the other three turned their attention again to the quiet youth.
"Do you have an injury from last night?" Jason asked, concern evident in his voice.
"No. I'm okay," Billy replied, eyes diverted.
"Then you won't mind if I take a look," the larger teen said, sensing something was very wrong. He leaned forward, reaching for the oversized shirt Billy was wearing. Billy tried to move away from him, but Jason was faster, and with a quick movement lifted Billy's shirt, revealing his back.
"Oh, my God," Jason gasped in horror. He heard murmurs of dismay from the other two boys as well. The blond teen's back was covered with a latticework of welts, obviously from a strap or belt, also obviously recent. There was barely an inch of unmarked skin, and at the edge of several of the welts were scabs from where the skin had broken.
Jason felt positively sick as he gazed at the battered teenager. No wonder the kid moved so stiffly. What kind of sadist was the uncle who had custody of him? Jason felt a dozen questions rise in his mind, but forced himself to deal with the matter at hand. He turned to the other two teens.
"Tommy, take that little bucket on the table and get some ice at the machine near the office. Jason, take this money and go to the convenience store on the corner and get some antibiotic ointment and gauze. Billy, take this shirt off and lay on your stomach," slipping with natural ease into leader mode, Jason was not a bit surprised to find his orders being obeyed.
Tommy returned quickly with the ice. Using a couple of damp towels, he and Jason placed cold compresses on Billy's back to ease the pain. Jason had not spoken much since seeing Billy's injuries, afraid he would let his anger have free rein, and the smaller teen was already skittish enough without Jason venting his anger.
When the younger Jason returned with the first aid supplies, the older teen applied the healing ointment liberally to Billy's' injuries, speaking soothingly as he worked on some particularly painful looking areas.
"You don't have to keep silent," Jason said gently, a bit unnerved by the youth's silence through what he knew had to be an extremely painful procedure.
"It's better to keep quiet," Billy replied, startling them a bit as they hadn't expected him to respond.
"It only gets worse if you cry out."
"The beating gets worse?"
"Did your uncle do this to you?" Jason asked in a carefully neutral tone.
"How do you know about my uncle?" Billy twisted around to fix Jason with a suspicious look.
"I know you are being raised by your uncle, Marvin Dayton, since your parents died. Is he the one who beat you?"
Billy turned back facing the bed and spoke softly. "He gets angry when I let myself get beat up."
"He beat you because those guys beat you up? What's the logic in that?"
Billy shrugged, obviously not wanting to talk about it. Jason had finished with his back. He was quite sure there were similar injuries hidden by the blue jeans, but he also knew that was not something the reserved teenager was ready to deal with at the moment. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table he noticed how late is was.
"You two should head on home. I'll see you at the Co....um, office, tomorrow morning as usual. No, why don't you meet me at the park first? Okay?"
Quietly agreeing, the other two boys departed, leaving Jason and Billy alone.
"Billy, I can't let you go home. Not if your uncle is there. You stay here tonight, and tomorrow we will find someone to help you. You can't let this keep happening to you. Don't worry, we'll find a better place for you to be. I promise. Now, why don't you lie down on that bed and get some sleep. You've had a pretty tough couple of days."
"Okay," the quiet teen replied, kicking off his shoes and settling down on the second bed. Soon Jason heard the steady sound of his breathing as sleep overtook him. Satisfied the future Blue Ranger was safe for now, Jason slipped into bed himself, quickly falling asleep despite the upsetting day.
When he awakened early the next morning, the other bed was empty.
* * *
Jason hurried through his shower, and was just tying his shoes when there was a brisk knocking at his door. He opened it to find his alternate standing outside with a man Jason recognized only too well.
"Lee, this is my dad. Dad, this is Lee," the younger teen introduced them. Jason reached automatically and shook the man's hand, a feeling of unreality washing over him. It was strange enough to see younger versions of himself and all his friends, but for some reason it seemed even odder to see his father.
"Pleased to meet you, sir."
"Lee, I told Dad about Billy. I think he can help find some place better for him than his uncle's house. Is he still here?"
"No, he sneaked out some time during the night. I suspect he may have gone home to his uncle, despite what the man did to him."
"Why would he do something stupid like that?"
Mr. Scott spoke up for the first time. "It is very common for people who have been abused to return to their abuser. I took the liberty of getting his uncle's address. If you boys are being sincere about the amount of injury done to this boy, I will go over there and check it out."
"I wasn't exaggerating, Dad. Tell him, Lee."
"It looked like Billy had been beaten severely with a thin belt or strap. His back was covered with welts, and some had bled. He was moving like he hurt a lot. Plus, he looks like he isn't eating very well, he's real thin, thinner than he should be," Jason said quietly.
"Then that bears looking into. I should probably go over there now. You don't happen to have any idea when he left, do you?"
"No. I was asleep, or I would have stopped him. Can we go with you? It might make it easier on Billy," Jason asked.
Mr. Scott considered his son and the young man he claimed was a friend, and nodded. He was curious about Lee, wondering why he was here in town, and staying at a motel, meeting with fifteen-year-old boys. He felt that bore looking into as much as the alleged abuse of Billy Cranston.
Jason and his alternate gratefully piled in Mr. Scott's police car for the short ride over to Marvin Dayton's house. With a word to the two teens warning them to wait on the lawn, Mr. Scott pounded on the door, bringing an obviously irate middle aged man to the door. Billy's uncle was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, showing he was not a particularly large man, but very muscular for all that. He looked flushed and out of breath, to say nothing of being out of temper.
"What do you want?" he growled at Jack Scott.
"Are you Marvin Dayton?"
"I'm Jack Scott, of the Angel Grove Police Department. I wish to speak to your nephew, Billy."
"The kid's still asleep, lazy little bum. Come back later when he's awake."
"Can't do that, sir. I have a report of suspected abuse, I need to see the boy now, please."
"And I told you to come back later. The kid's still asleep. You have no right to come busting in here," the man blustered.
"In a case of suspected child abuse, I do have a right to demand to see the boy. You have admitted he is here. I want to see him now."
"I'll go get him," the man growled, starting to close the door.
Jack's instincts, honed by years on the police force, told him not to let the man out of his sight.
"We'll go get him together. Lead the way."
With no choice, the man turned and headed into the house. Jason and his alternate stayed on the lawn, looking at each other worriedly. The two men were gone for several minutes, then Jack came out the door, leading a handcuffed Marvin Dayton.
"Jason, Lee, go in and sit with Billy. He's in a bedroom upstairs. Do not touch him, or try to tend to him in any way. I have an ambulance on the way. Just sit and talk to him quietly, okay?"
They hurried upstairs, Jason leading the way unerringly to the right room. Billy was lying face down on the bed, covered by a sheet. He didn't respond to the arrival of the other two boys, just continued to stare, dry-eyed, at nothing.
"Billy? You'll be okay, it's going to be okay," Jason said gently, repeating it like a mantra, noticing how the teen trembled in shock. His alternate stood quietly beside the bed, looking tormented. Tentatively he reached out for the sheet covering the injured youth, lifting it slowly away from the thin body.
"Oh, shit," the younger Jason whispered. His older counterpart reached out and pulled the sheet from the nerveless fingers, allowing it to flutter down and cover the fresh damage to the body underneath.
"I don't think he needs to be stared at," he said with quiet emphasis.
Before anything else could be said, Jack Scott came back into the room along with a paramedic.
"Come on away boys, and let these fellows do their job. They will be transporting him to the hospital. Give it a couple of hours or so, then you can probably visit him. I want you to give a statement to Officer Russell downstairs, then clear on out. I'll see you later, Son."
The two did as requested, telling the young officer about Billy's condition the night before, and the fight the night before that. Then they hurried to the park, where Tommy was waiting impatiently with the rest of the team.
"Where's Billy?" Tommy asked.
"Being transported to the hospital. He sneaked out of my room last night and went home. His uncle beat him again, worse than before," Jason reported, his voice tight with anger and worry.
"Is he going to be okay?" Kimberly asked, Tommy having told the others of the events of the previous night.
"Probably. Physically, at least," Jason sighed. "I'm going to visit him this afternoon, kind of sound him out, see how he seems. In the meantime, we do have work to do, so we should be getting to the Command Center. Come on, guys."
* * *
That afternoon Jason went alone to the hospital. Despite the events of the morning, they had a good workout, and Jason was starting to feel the tentative pulling together of the team. It wasn't much yet, there was still some distrust and doubt among them, but it was slowly but surely being worn away by daily association with each other.
Jason stepped into the room he had been told Billy was in, and saw the teen curled up on the hospital bed, sound asleep. He walked up to the bed and studied the face on the pillow carefully. Bruised and thin, at least he looked peaceful, the lines of pain relaxed for the moment. Gently Jason reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair away from the pale face.
"He's doing quite well. They're going to release him tomorrow." The voice behind Jason startled him. He turned to see his mother standing there.
"You must be Lee," she continued. "Jason has told us a lot about you. Do you know Billy?"
"Not really. He reminds me of someone I know, though."
"I'm glad you and Jason alerted Jack to his situation. He would not have survived much longer with his uncle."
"What's going to happen to him now?" Jason asked.
"Jack and I have decided to take him in for the time being. He needs to be somewhere stable, and Jason is a good kid for the most part, he'll probably accept Billy fairly easily into our home."
Jason felt a lifting in his spirits, knowing Billy would be taken in and given a chance for a full recovery from his experiences with his uncle. His instincts told him that once the Scotts had a chance to get to know the quiet teen, they would not let him go easily. And he couldn't help but feel that the Scotts in this dimension had the same basic goodness his parents did in his dimension. Billy would be safe with them.
"That's great. It's nice of you to do this for him," Jason said.
A shadow crossed Marjorie Scott's face. "It would have been nicer if we had noticed what was going on with the boy long ago. He has been in and out of the emergency room, yet I never raised a question as to how he kept getting hurt. Jack feels guilty because there were other reports of suspected abuse, and they were never really followed through. I guess we feel like we failed him, and want to make it up in some way." Marjorie's voice had taken on a distant quality, as if she had forgotten her audience.
"It's not your fault, you know," Jason replied quietly.
"I know. But, still...." She shook herself out of her reverie, becoming businesslike again. "Where are you from, Lee?"
"Phoenix. My family's there. I'm just here short term, checking out the area since I'm thinking of enrolling in AGU next year. I met Jason at the gym. He seems like a good kid."
"Yes, he is. I have to get back to the nursing station. Don't stay too long, or wake him up. He needs the sleep."
* * *
Jason left the hospital and headed back to the Command Center. When he left Kimberly, Zack and Tommy had been ready to leave, all of them saying they had things they needed to get done. Trini was continuing her lessons with Alpha, learning more and more about the functioning of the Command Center. The younger Jason had decided to stay and work with Trini, feeling as the future leader it was his job to learn how things worked so he would know what options he potentially had open to him in an emergency.
Jason had to smile when he thought about his younger double. He was so serious about what he was doing now. Jason thought back a few years. Had he been that serious? It was hard to say, but he suspected he might have been.
He was developing a sincere respect for all these younger Rangers. Trini, like the younger Jason, was really throwing herself into the job, learning as much as she could. Tommy had taken to the karate lessons with a dedication that rivaled Jason's. Zack was spending extra time in the Command Center, mostly utilizing the makeshift gym they had set up. Even Kimberly was putting out a lot of effort, showing a special interest in the medical facilities that were available. She had spent some of her free time learning how to use the devices in the Med Room, just in case they had any injuries. Each of them was finding their niche and working hard to fill it.
The Gold Ranger arrived at the Command Center to find Trini and Alpha deep in conversation over the innards of the console on the far left of the platform. Apparently the discussion had gotten too technical, because the future Red Ranger was making no effort to listen in, but instead had drifted over to sit on the edge of the platform nearest the Viewing Globe.
Jason walked up to his younger mirror image and spoke quietly. "You okay?"
"Yeah," the teen replied without conviction.
"Okay, want to try that again? What's wrong?" Jason replied, not believing the first reply.
"I was jus thinking about Billy. What I did to him," was the soft reply.
"Hmm. I guess I don't have to tell you what you did was pretty awful."
"No, you don't. I mean, I knew it at the time, but I didn't care then. Now, I see how stupid and vicious we were. He hadn't done anything to deserve being beat up. And, his uncle probably beat him then, too. So he got it twice, for nothing."
Jason reached out and put a reassuring hand on the younger Ranger's shoulder. "You won't ever do anything like that again. I think that's what important now. And, you will have a chance to try to make it up to Billy. That is more than a lot of people get."
"Like I could ever make it up to him! He must hate us all."
"I didn't get the impression he hated anyone," Jason said softly, realizing as he spoke that it was true. He had not sensed hatred in the battered teen.
"He should. I would."
"Some people don't hate as easily as others. If hatred was something he was adept at he probably wouldn't have stayed in that situation."
"I suppose. I'd better head on home, Mom will be home soon and she expects me to help around the house this evening. See you in the morning, Jason." The future Red Ranger teleported out in a streak of pure white.
* * *
Monday and Tuesday passed quickly, with the young Ranger team having training sessions each morning and afternoon. In addition to karate they all did some weight and flexibility training, and Jason tutored them in working with swords, staffs, and any other weapon he could find. In-between the fight training were lessons on the more basic functions of the consoles in the Command Center. Trini was learning the more detailed functions, but Jason felt they all should be able to identify, and work, the most critical consoles, such as the teleportation unit.
The younger Jason had told the others that his parents were taking in Billy, whose uncle was being charged with a variety of offenses that would hopefully ensure his nephew would never again fall under his control. The future team leader told them Billy was still extremely quiet, and very weak. He hadn't spoken to the injured teen about the Power Rangers yet, fearing it would only upset him. He guessed it would be another day or two before they would have a real chance to let the future Blue Ranger in on his destiny.
Late Tuesday afternoon the group ended their day at about five in the evening, allowing plenty of time for them all to get their evening meals and a good night's sleep. Jason watched his younger charges prepare to go home, and realized that he needed to do something to bolster the flagging spirits of the future Rangers.
"Guys, before you head home, I'd like to invite you all to join me for a movie this evening. I noticed what was playing at the theater, and I think we'd all enjoy it. And heaven knows we could all use a break. What do you say?"
At first no one spoke, then Tommy broke the odd silence. "Sounds good to me. I wanted to see that movie anyway. We meet there about seven?"
"A quarter to seven would be good. Anyone else?"
Trini and Kim spoke up at the same moment, then paused in tandem before bursting into giggles.
"I think we are both trying to say we will be there," Kimberly said at last, flashing her sparkling smile at the still chuckling Trini.
"Count me in, too," Jason's alternate added. They all turned to Zack.
"Sorry, man, but I have plans. Next time, though," he said at last.
"Okay, we'll hold you to that," the younger Jason said with a smile.
The Gold Ranger was pleased that four of them had accepted his offer. Though he genuinely wanted them to take a break, it was also a chance for some off duty bonding, something they had not done yet. Despite the fact they were working together better and better, they did not do anything together outside the time they spent training. Jason wanted to encourage their off duty friendship as well.
"Okay, we meet at the park at six forty five," Jason said at last, indicating the younger teens should head home.
* * *
That evening the five of them enjoyed a mediocre movie, followed by some excellent ice cream from a small ice cream parlor near the theater. They were sitting around a table outside the shop when they noticed a group of teenagers approaching. The other teens were loud and obnoxious, and quite obviously drunk and/or high. As they neared Jason and his group, the Gold Ranger heard a gasp of recognition from Trini.
"Zack is with them," she said quietly, drawing her companions' attention back to the loud group of teenagers.
"Damn," Jason swore quietly. He had hoped Zack would be able to resist temptation, that the intensive training and responsibility would be enough to fortify him against the lure of alcohol. Looked like he was wrong on that count.
"What should we do?" Tommy asked softly, looking like he wanted nothing more than to drag Zack away from the group and smack some sense into him.
"What we do is nothing right now. He's drunk. He won't be interested in hearing reason tonight. But tomorrow we'll have to confront him. His life, and all yours, may very well hinge someday on whether or not he's been drinking. If Rita were here already, and you guys had your powers, and the call to action came, you would be in big trouble with Zack in that condition. That's something all of you need to consider. You are on call twenty four-seven. There are no days off. And lives, a lot of them, can depend on you. This isn't a joke, isn't a game."
He looked up to see four very solemn expressions looking back at him. He sighed a little, realizing he sounded like the voice of doom.
"Sorry, guys, but that's the truth. But it's also the truth that you'll lead fairly normal lives away from your Ranger duties. You'll have friends, participate in sports and other activities, date, make future plans. You'll eventually retire from Rangerhood and pass the powers on to someone else. And you'll always know you helped make a difference. So, see, there is a lot of good that goes with a lot of responsibility. I wouldn't trade the time I've spent as a Power Ranger for anything." He smiled reassuringly at the others, and was relieved to see them relax again.
But he spent much of that night awake, worrying about Zack and wondering if they would be able to help him.
* * *
When Zack arrived at the Command Center the next morning, he knew he was in trouble. The other four members of the team stood solemnly, waiting for him. He vaguely remembered seeing them the night before, and suspected they knew he had been drinking. But, dammit, a guy was entitled to some recreation after working so hard, wasn't he?
"Zack, I'm not going to beat around the bush with you. We all saw you last night, and we all know you were drunk. That is something we cannot put up with. It could end up getting one of us hurt, even killed. You have to make a choice, right here and now. The team or the booze. It's that simple, really. We can't let you be a Power Ranger if you keep drinking the way you've been in the past. If you want it, we'll do everything we can to help you. Anything. But, you have to be honest with us. If you can't, or don't, want to stop drinking, then you have to tell us now. Right now. And we'll find someone to take your place. The choice is yours," the future Red Ranger said, taking his place as the team leader without hesitation. They had discussed the situation before Zack arrived, and Jason had acknowledged that this was something the younger teens would have to deal with themselves. He would support them however they decided to handle it.
Zack had listened to Jason's little speech with mixed feelings. He had half expected something like this, and all morning his anger, which in reality was fueled by his shame, had grown. He opened his mouth fully intending to tell this righteous group of pompous wannabe super heroes just where they could stuff it. Instead, in an unsteady voice he all but whispered, "Please, help me."
"We will," Jason said simply.
Zack felt a weight lift from his heart, a weight he had not even realized was there. Somewhere under the defensive feelings he had harbored, he had known intuitively that he needed help, that the life he was trying to lead with his party buddies was not what he truly wanted from life. He wanted, needed, what this odd mixture of teenagers could give him: support, acceptance, friendship without qualification.
"What do I need to do?" Zack asked quietly.
"Well, a group like Alateen would be a good place to start. And we'll help any way we can. If you just need someone to talk to, you can call one of us. Old friends trying to pressure you into something you don't want, you can turn to us. We'll find plenty to keep you busy and your mind off of the booze and drugs, of that you can be sure," Jason replied.
Zack found himself smiling. "Oh, believe me, I'm sure."
"Good. And, Zack, if this happens again, we won't have any choice but to drop you from the team. It's simply too dangerous to have a teammate we can't depend on."
"I understand," Zack replied softly, feeling a tinge of fear. Until this moment he had not realized just how much he wanted to be a Power Ranger. How much he needed to be one. Silently the four future Rangers surrounded Zack, each reaching out to touch him reassuringly. Zack found he had tears in his eyes as he felt their silent support. They remained surrounding Zack for a long moment, then wordlessly separated again.
"Okay, I think Jason here wants us to start our first lesson for the day, right?" the younger Jason said, turning command back to the elder teen for the time being.
"Right. Let's head to the practice room."
* * *
After their afternoon practice, Jason approached his younger alternate.
"How's Billy doing?" he asked quietly.
"Better. Much better, in fact. Mom's pretty surprised at how fast he's recovering. Is it time to bring him in?"
"If he can handle it, yes. Tomorrow, during the midday break, I think I may try to talk to him. We may not have much more time before you guys will have to go into action, and he'll need some time to get used to everything. I hate to do this to him, after everything he's been through recently, but I have no choice. We do need him."
"I think it will be okay. I talked to him a little while last night. Kind of hinted a bit about what was going on, just to see if he'd freak or something, but he didn't. I think he may be a little stronger than we realize," the future Red Ranger said.
"I'm sure of that. You two getting along okay, then?"
"Yeah, we are. At least I don't think he's afraid of me any more. And Tommy is going to stop by tonight to see him, we thought it may be a good idea for him to get used to us before we bring him here. This place might freak him a bit. God knows it did me."
"Really? I hadn't realized. I thought you had handled it really well."
"Thanks. Well, I should head on home. See you tomorrow, Jason," with that the younger teenager teleported.
Jason looked around, finding only Trini still in the Command Center. He realized with a start that he had spoken to the young woman only in the course of her training, and virtually not at all otherwise. He watched her study the console in front of her with an intense concentration.
"You look like your are memorizing something," Jason said at last.
"I am. Alpha told me what all these buttons and switches do, and I am trying to remember them all. Later I will go over them with Alpha again. If I don't get it right I will repeat the whole process until I have it perfect. It would be a heck of a mess if I needed to teleport someone in a hurry and activated the tractor beam instead," she pointed out.
"I guess it would at that."
"Do you know the functions of all these consoles?"
"Actually, no, I don't. I don't think any of us knew, except Billy. Well, Trini might have known, and maybe Adam," he added thoughtfully.
"Well, our Billy isn't even here yet, so I figured I should learn everything I can, just in case."
"Good idea." He smiled suddenly at the young woman. "You know, we haven't had a chance to talk at all. I guess you know I had some information on all of you before I ever met any of you. Your school records indicate you tended to get in a lot of fights, but I haven't seen any indication of that since we met. Change of heart?"
"Maybe. Or maybe I finally won the fight."
Jason looked at her with a puzzled expression.
"Won the fight? Who were you fighting?"
"Those who mocked me for my racial background. Those who put me down because I'm not just like them. I never fought the weak, like Tommy used to. He didn't even really 'fight'. He just beat kids up. Kids like Billy. I didn't do that. I fought kids like Kimberly used to be. Stuck up, snobby kids who put me down without even knowing me. Not that Kimberly ever did, but she hung out with those types," Trini commented.
"And you finally won that fight?"
"Maybe. Or maybe they simply got more careful about what they say around me. Which is just fine with me. For a while I started to hang out with a tough group, who never questioned my background. But, they were bullies, and I couldn't go along with that. So I went alone."
"Until now," Jason added quietly.
Trini graced him with one of her rare smiles. "Yes. Until now."
"Why did you agree so readily when I told you about the Power Rangers?" It was a question that had bothered Jason for quite a while.
"It sounded like a chance to fight for something good. Make a difference. I don't like the world the way it is. No one seems to care. Maybe the Power Rangers can give folks something to believe in again," she shrugged, embarrassed.
"I hope so. And you will do some good, a lot of good. As a Power Ranger, and later," Jason said with quiet emphasis.
"That's what I'm hoping."
* * *
The next morning Jason arose with mixed feelings of anticipation and apprehension, knowing he planned, at long last, to try to get the sixth Ranger on board. Perhaps more than any of the others, Billy had reasons to not care, to not want to put himself on the line. Jason held on desperately to the hope that this world's Billy had deep inside him the same morals that his world's did. Because Jason believed, more than ever, that they needed to have all six Rangers to stand a chance against Rita and the rest.
He didn't hurry, taking his time to have a good breakfast. They had fallen into a routine where they all arrived at the Command Center by 8:30 or so at the latest, so Jason was surprised to arrive at a quarter of nine and find Tommy and Jason had not yet gotten there. Ten minutes later three beams of pure white appeared in the middle of the Command Center. Billy stood, obviously stunned, between the future Red and Green Rangers.
"Oh, my God, you weren't kidding," the lighter haired teen muttered, looking around with wide eyes.
"Told you it was amazing," the younger Jason laughed.
Just then Alpha waddled up in his oddly awkward manner, greeting the future Blue Ranger effusively. Billy, if anything, looked even more amazed.
"A robot! I can't believe this," he exclaimed.
"You haven't really seen anything yet. Hi, I'm Kimberly," Kim greeted him, walking up and offering her hand to shake. Billy took it shyly, lowering his gaze and only peeking up at her face in quick, timid glances.
"I've seen you at school," he admitted.
"And you've seen me, too," Trini added, walking up to greet him quietly. She didn't shake his hand, but laid her hand on his shoulder in a comforting, familiar way.
"And I'm Zack."
Jason stood to the side, not approaching, watching with a grateful heart as the team reached out to this young man who had suffered so much. Tommy and the younger Jason both sported expressions that clearly showed they would do everything in their power to protect the smaller teen. Kimberly, Trini, and Zack all spoke gently to the shy youth, encouraging him to explore the Command Center, joking quietly. The sense of drawing together Jason had felt before became stronger, and his spirits lifted accordingly. He looked up at Bordon, seeing the mentor's grateful expression, and spoke softly.
"They did it, Bordon. Somehow, they became a team. I just hope that plus the training will be enough."
"I hope so. It is more than they had before," Bordon replied, quietly enough so only Jason would hear.
Jason's younger alternate brought Billy over to greet the older teen.
"Welcome to the Command Center, Billy," the Gold Ranger said solemnly. Jason looked deeply into the blue eyes in front of him, and felt his spirits rise even higher.
Since he first began working with these younger teens, he had found himself searching for a glimpse of the friends he had known for years. And, eventually, he had begun to find them. Despite the horrible first impression she had made, Kimberly showed signs of his Kim's warmth and spirit, Trini was finally letting her calm, compassionate serenity show through, Tommy here had the same determination as the Tommy he knew at home, and Zack's humor and unassuming courage were quickly coming to the surface. Now in Billy's light eyes he saw the first flashes of the curiosity that were, in Jason's opinion, one of the defining qualities of the genius he knew. He had long since seen signs of himself in the sometimes too serious future Red Ranger. He knew in time the team's leader would settle down and be comfortable with his role, but for now he was still struggling with the responsibility.
Billy smiled in reply to Jason's greeting, still looking around amazed. Jason reached out to get the smaller teen's attention once again.
"Do you want to do this?" he asked simply.
"Yes. I believe so. We're going to do some good, right? And there is so much I can learn here. I have dreamed of such an opportunity since I was just a little kid. This will be prodigious."
The other teens looked a little confused by that comment, but Jason had to bite his lip to keep from bursting into laughter. Yes, it was confirmed. Billy was indeed there.
"Come on guys, let's get to work," he chuckled, herding his charges toward the practice room.
* * *
That evening Jason stayed alone in the Command Center after the younger teens all headed toward their respective homes. He was tired, but feeling better than he had in almost two weeks.
"What do you think, Bordon? Think they have a chance?"
"Yes. A much better one than they had before."
"When is Rita due to arrive?"
"Day after tomorrow. She will probably launch a putty attack. Then send Goldar down. Then regular monster attacks."
"Then tomorrow we give them their powers? Let them morph and see the Zords?"
"Yes, that would be best. Though the Blue Ranger has had no training yet."
"Well, Bordon, I'm hoping this Billy ends up doing like our Billy did. He didn't know how to fight either, but he learned. Got really good at it, in fact. Plus, fighting ability comes with the morph, right?"
"Yes. When morphed they will all be able to fight effectively."
"Good. In the meantime, I suspect the weaker fighters, Kim and Billy in particular, will be protected by the others. Speaking of which, I found a karate trainer for them for after I leave. So they will be able to continue their training. You know, for the first time, I really feel hopeful about this group. But you have some things to watch out for. Keep an close eye on Zack, alcoholics have a terrible tendency to relapse," Jason sighed deeply. Zack was the one who worried him the most.
"I will not be the only one watching him," Bordon pointed out.
"True. Well, I should get back to my room and rest. Tomorrow will be a busy day."
* * *
The next day, after the morning workout, Bordon called the six teens to stand before him.
"It is time. Each of you has agreed to become a Power Ranger, to defend Earth against those who would attack and destroy it. You have worked hard to learn skills to assist you in this effort. Now it is time to receive the morphin' powers. Based on your ancient creatures, called dinosaurs, and accessed by the use of a power coin, you will each be given powers to call upon in times of battle. Kimberly, agile and swift, you will be the Pink Ranger and command the Pterodactyl Zord. Zack, graceful and strong, will be the Black Ranger and have the mighty Mastodon Zord. Trini, calm and wise, the Saber Tooth Tiger Zord will be at your discretion as the Yellow Ranger. Billy, patient and enduring, you will wear the uniform of the Blue Ranger and command the Triceratops Zord. Tommy, determined and powerful, you will use the versatile Dragon Zord as the Green Ranger. Jason, strong and fearless, you will lead the team as the Red Ranger and pilot the commanding Tyrannosaurus Zord. The five Dinozords can fight alone, or join together to form the mighty Megazord, which will fight side by side with the Dragon Zord." The teens had been watching a demonstration of the Zords in the Viewing Globe.
Their mingled exclamations of excitement and surprise washed over Jason, making him smile. They had removed their helmets and he could see the awed expressions on their faces. They were getting their first taste of the power surging through them, a sensation that would soon become as familiar to them as the feeling of their skin. Only to be thought about again when the powers were taken away, ripping out a piece of them.....
He shook himself out of those thoughts with an effort of will, and instead concentrated on the joy his young friends were experiencing. Even Billy's pale, thin face was flushed and his smile was one of unalloyed pleasure. Bordon's lecture on the rules governing being a Power Ranger passed over Jason unnoticed as he continued to watch the others, feeling an almost paternal pride in their progress. These feelings however, were tinged with worry about the upcoming battles. He knew there were times he and his friends were very lucky to have survived, and he wondered if this team would have the same luck.
Feeling his thoughts turn toward dark ideas again, he was glad when the team surrounded him, thanking him for all he had done.
"Oh, man, you told us about this, but no way could you really tell us," Zack exclaimed, laughing.
"It's a little hard to put into words," Jason agreed with a grin.
"I feel so...so...so good! I feel like I could take on anything," the Red Ranger exalted.
Looking around at the excited teens Jason felt another grin split his face. "You know, I don't think we are going to get anything else done today. What do you say we all go out for lunch, maybe a picnic in the park, and just relax? Play some volleyball or something?"
The others eagerly agreed and soon the teens scattered to get the needed provisions.
* * *
In later years, when Jason would think back to his time in the alternate dimension, that afternoon in the park was the memory that would warm him the most. For it was then he saw the bonds between the young team strengthen and tighten into something that would make them a formidable team, and lend each individual additional strength as well. It was also arguably the most normal time he spent with them. And, for what he suspected was the first time in some cases, he saw the teenagers acting like the kids they in reality were. Not the unhappy, troubled youths he had found when he first arrived.
They enjoyed a typical picnic lunch, then launched a lively game of volleyball. In high spirits, the teens were responding to each other openly and easily, as if they had all been friends for years, instead of just a few days. Jason had excused himself from the game and had taken refuge under a nearby tree to watch, when the game was rudely interrupted by the arrival of Bulk and Skull.
As Jason had discovered shortly after his arrival in this dimension, Bulk and Skull were not bumbling bully wannabes in this dimension. They were vicious, violent and quite capable of hurting their victims. He noticed that Billy paled considerably when he saw the two, though to give the shy teen credit, he did not back up or leave. Despite his desire to step in and help the younger teens, Jason forced himself to not interfere.
"Ah, lookit the cute widdle kids playing wollyball," Bulk taunted them as the six teens moved in closer together, forming a rough line.
"Get out of here, Bulk. Go find something better to do with your limited intelligence," the younger Jason sneered.
"Looking for a fight, Muscle Brain?" Bulk growled. "How about you, Chief?" he continued, looking contemptuously at Tommy. He continued down the line. "Hey, cuties, what are you two doing with this bunch of losers? Like Dopehead here. Got something to wet my whistle, boy? Oh, and Geekboy! How'ya doin Four Eyes? It's been...what?...almost a month since we last beat you up. I think you are overdue," with that Bulk struck out at the Blue Ranger.
Reacting without any thought, Billy raised his right arm, deflecting Bulk's blow as the other teens immediately went after Bulk to protect their friend. A quick but furious battle ensued, leaving Bulk and Skull surprised and a bit battered.
"Hey, what ever happened to fighting fair? This is six against two," Bulk complained as he and Skull stumbled away from their intended victims.
"Yeah, no fair!" Skull chimed in.
"Like you two know anything about fighting fair," Kimberly scoffed.
"Bitch!" Bulk muttered, then howled when Tommy grabbed his hair, forcing his head backwards.
"Apologize to the lady," Tommy hissed, turning Bulk's gaze toward the petite Pink Ranger.
"Sorry," the large teen mumbled, the fight out of him for the moment.
"Now get out of here. And if we catch you beating up others we won't hesitate to kick your butts from one end of town to the other. So just keep that in mind," Jason declared.
Muttering and mumbling the two bullies stalked off.
"Thank you, Tommy," Kimberly said with a smile for the longhaired teen.
"No problem," Tommy mumbled, blushing slightly.
"You did okay, Billy," Jason said to his soon to be foster brother. "Great, actually, for a guy who's had only three lessons."
Billy's shy smile was nonetheless very bright. "Thanks. I think I surprised him. I've never tried to defend myself before."
"He needs more surprises like that," Trini said with a determined look. "I can't believe how much those two get away with."
"I can't believe how much I got away with," Tommy added, looking ashamed of his past behavior.
"But that's the past now," Jason said firmly. "Now maybe we can make a difference in the future."
"Wouldn't that be something?" Zack grinned. "But for right now, how about we finish trouncing you guys at volleyball?"
"Trouncing? Excuse me, but you guys were the ones getting trounced," Kimberly grinned as the six teens went back to their game.
Still seated under the tree, Jason knew his job here was very nearly done.
* * *
The next day, Rita Repulsa was released from her intergalactic dumpster and began plotting her revenge against the residents of Earth.
* * *
It was Saturday again. Only a couple more full days, then the teens would be back in school, able to train in the evenings only. Jason had taken them to meet the karate instructor he had located, and they seemed to hit it off well. All six signed up for lessons, which were offered in the evenings and on weekends.
The team had held their usual practice that morning, then disbursed for a while to take care of personal matters or indulge in other pursuits as they might so desire. Jason wanted to ease up some on the training now, let them get used to the idea that they would be carrying on their normal lives in between monster fights.
So, while Kimberly and Trini went shopping together, and Zack spent some time with his family, Jason and Tommy sparred in the practice room. The Gold Ranger had noticed how quickly the Red and Green Rangers had formed a special bond, and the two of them now spent most of their free time together.
Leaving the two to their practice, Jason wandered into the main chamber to find Billy there with Alpha. The little 'droid was explaining the functions of one of the consoles while Billy listened with intense concentration. One of the first things the Scotts had done for the boy, who they were planning to take on as a foster child, was get him new glasses. That went a long way toward making him look less battered and neglected. The bruises from the beating in the alley had faded, leaving the narrow face unmarked. He was wearing clothing that actually fit him, they had even had him get a haircut. In just a few days' time he had lost that haunted, beaten expression, and Jason could see this true nature starting to surface.
"If we were to somehow wire this into the power from the Morphin' Grid, wouldn't that increase its range and dependability?" Billy asked the small robot.
"It would, but we have been unable to find a way to do so without shorting out the whole console," Alpha explained.
"If we created a buffer between the two, it should take care of the problem," Billy started, then stopped seeing Jason there.
"Sounds like you are getting all kinds of ideas," the Gold Ranger said with a grin.
"It's fascinating. This whole setup. They can do so much, but there is still more they could do," Billy's distracted expression was one Jason was very familiar with. He had seen it often enough over the years.
"Something tells me you'll find ways to tap into that potential."
The blue eyes looked at Jason with an expression he wasn't sure how to interpret. "I wouldn't have this chance, if not for you. Thank you, Jason, for more than you can ever know. Thank you."
"It wasn't me, Billy. This is your destiny. Or so Bordon says. The team needs you."
Billy gave him a look that conveyed his doubts about that. "If you say so. I just know that for the first time in years I'm not afraid to go home. You don't know how good that feels."
Jason laid a gentle hand on the thin shoulder. "You deserve nothing less, Billy. I'm sorry things were like that for you in the past, but I suspect the future will be much brighter."
"I think so, too. The Scotts are good people, aren't they? They are your parents, right?"
"Yes, to both questions."
"The other Jason told me about you, where you come from, why you came here. Can I ask you what your Billy is like?"
"He's smart, beyond smart, he's a genius. When we first became Power Rangers, Billy couldn't even fight. Not at all. But he learned to, worked darn hard at it. But even when he couldn't fight, he never ran from a fight. Sure, he called for help, but he didn't run. I don't think he even realized how brave that was. He helped Zordon and Alpha make a bunch of changes in the Command Center and, later, the Power Chamber, and saved the team countless times by inventing some device or other to defeat a monster. And in a lot of ways is like a brother to me. He used to stay with my family when his dad would go out of town to work."
"His dad is alive?"
"Yeah. His mom was the only one who died in the car crash."
"Same here. My dad committed suicide a few weeks later. I still remember finding him in the bathroom," Billy's expression darkened as he recalled that terrible afternoon.
"Oh, man," Jason all but groaned. "Then your uncle got custody of you?"
"Yeah. Started beating me right from the start. I was never good enough for him. Always got in trouble. It seems like the last few years all I did was try to recover from beatings. I don't even remember what we did in school. You want to know the really weird part? It got to the point where that didn't seem so strange. What seemed strange was being at the Scotts and finding out not everyone got hit all the time. Seeing what other families lived like. And it wouldn't have happened if you hadn't come here."
"It might have. You can't know for sure."
"But I do. If you hadn't come here, I think I would have been dead in just a few more weeks."
Jason looked at the earnest face in front of him, and felt a chill. Remembering what Bordon had told him shortly after his arrival. Billy had died in just a couple of weeks, and most likely at his uncle's hand.
* * *
Tommy and the younger Jason had just finished their sparring match when they heard a sound they would come to know all too well in future months. The alarms that signified an attack on Earth. They rushed into the main chamber, finding Billy and Jason there with Alpha.
"What is going on, Bordon?" The Red Ranger asked.
"Rita Repulsa has released a putty patrol in Angel Grove Park. You need to go there right away."
"Alpha, notify the rest of the Rangers to meet us there. Come on, guys. Time to find out what we are up against."
With that the three Rangers teleported out in steams of red, blue and green. The Gold Ranger had not spoken, letting the Red Ranger assume command. He smiled up at Bordon after the three left.
"I think they are ready for this, Bordon."
"I hope so Jason, because if they are not, then it is too late."
* * *
Jason, Tommy, and Billy arrived at the park just moments before Zack, Trini, and Kimberly. Quickly assembling the team Jason took a moment to survey the marauding group of Putties.
"Tommy-you, Zack and Kim take the group by the swings. Trini and Billy with me-we'll take the ones by the trees. Be careful guys. Let's do it."
Tommy's group waded into the group of Putties kicking and punching for all they were worth. Though Kimberly had not seemed to progress very far in her lessons, she held her own against the clay menaces, kicking and elbowing almost instinctively. Zack and Tommy used all the karate moves they had so recently learned to keep the Putties at bay.
Trini did very well, using a mixture of karate and Kung Fu to fight the gray minions of Rita Repulsa, while Jason kicked and punched powerfully. Billy was the only one who didn't do much damage, though he tried valiantly. Jason kept a close eye on him, coming to his aid when it seemed necessary.
It ended as suddenly as it began. One moment the Putties were there, the next they weren't. Surprised, the teens regrouped.
"Did we beat them?" Zack asked, looking around in confusion.
"Somehow, I just don't think so. Let's go back to the Command Center," Jason said.
Teleporting in, Jason turned immediately to Bordon.
"What happened there, Bordon? We were doing okay, but not that good."
"I believe Rita was simply testing your strength. You did very well, Rangers. However, I would expect Rita to send a monster down very soon."
As if in response the alarms once more sounded.
"What is it, Bordon?" Kimberly asked.
"Observe the Viewing Globe, Rangers. Rita has sent down Goldar, one of her evil assistants. You should morph before teleporting there."
"Very well, Bordon. It's morphing time!" Jason declared.
Within moments the brightly uniformed team teleported out to face Goldar for the first of what would be many conflicts.
* * *
A half-hour later the excited team was back in the Command Center.
"Wow, what a rush!" Zack declared with a grin.
"We did okay, didn't we?" Trini added with a smile of her own, her dark eyes shining.
"I can't believe we did that," Billy added, his face flushed with excitement.
"You guys should see what it looks like when your zords come together. It's awesome!" Tommy told them.
"You guys, you wouldn't believe what it is like flying that zord of mine! It is so cool," Kimberly added.
"We didn't destroy him, though. Did we?" Jason asked Bordon, a worried expression on his face.
Bordon looked down at his young Rangers with a warm expression. "You did very well. Goldar is not like most of the monsters you will fight. For the most part the monsters you will face will be the kind Rita doesn't care if you destroy, which makes them more difficult because there is no holding back. But Goldar is one of her court, so she will take him back to her palace before he is destroyed. Therefore, since you forced her to withdraw him, you did extremely well. Congratulations."
The Red Ranger's expression relaxed at those words, and he joined in the impromptu celebration.
Off to the side, the Gold Ranger watched silently. In his heart happiness warred with worry. Part of him, the greater part, was thrilled at the success the young team had experienced. He had monitored the fight from the Command Center, and had been very impressed. On the other hand, he found himself worrying about them. He supposed it was natural enough, but it wasn't pleasant. He didn't think he could stand it if one of these kids was hurt, or, God forbid, killed, during a fight. He gave himself a mental shake, and went forward to offer his congratulations as well.
They really had done very well.
* * *
With his time in this dimension waning, Jason set about the last few needed tasks, trying to be sure he had done all he could for the team. Besides arranging for their continuing education in karate, he helped make sure the Med Room was properly stocked, and helped Alpha make a couple of extra communicators to keep as spares. He gave the kids as much advice as he could without revealing too much of the future. He suggested extracurricular activities that would come in handy should they ultimately face the same monsters the team did in his dimension.
He spent a little time with each younger teen, making sure they felt comfortable with the role they had in the fight against Rita's evil. More and more these kids reminded him of himself and his friends at that age. The darkness in each of them receded, replaced by the light that the powers and fight for good provided.
For three and a half days there was no activity from Rita. Jason wasn't terribly surprised, he figured Rita was still setting up shop, as it were. However, he fully expected the team's next fight to be more difficult than the first one had been.
Jason was starting to believe he would be going home without seeing his protgs fight again when the alarms all went off on Wednesday afternoon. The team assembled in less than two minutes and Bordon directed their attention to the Viewing Globe.
"Rita's new monster is HyperMutt. He moves at an extremely accelerated pace and shoots energy beams from his eyes. Even the special uniforms you wear cannot withstand a swipe from his claws." The teens looked with distaste at a black and white figure that walked like a human but had a dog's body.
The Red Ranger turned to his team. "Let's do it guys. It's morphing time!" In moments the team teleported to the park to meet HyperMutt.
This battle did not go nearly as well as their first one. They faced a platoon of putties as well as HyperMutt. Billy, Kimberly, Trini, and Tommy worked on the putties, while Jason and Zack took on HyperMutt. Zack, on an attack run toward HyperMutt was shoved by a passing putty, throwing him off balance. HyperMutt took advantage, swiping Zack across the chest with his claws, opening four fairly deep parallel gashes. Meanwhile, Kimberly, overwhelmed by the putties, was thrown against a rock with enough force to stun her. The other three Rangers formed a protective ring around her as Jason hastily helped Zack to his feet.
"Guys, back to the Command Center to regroup. We need a plan," Jason called out as he activated his communicator to teleport himself and his injured teammate.
"Bordon, do you know of any way to weaken HyperMutt?" Jason asked as he turned Zack over to Trini. The slender Asian helped the injured teen to the Med Room, where Kimberly was already being treated by Alpha for her injuries.
"Perhaps a sedative would slow him down enough for you to fight effectively against him," Bordon suggested. Billy had been listening quietly behind Jason, and at Bordon's suggestion his eyes lit up.
"We could administer it using a fine misting spray, so he would not be able to avoid it as easily," the Blue Ranger suggested.
"Great. How soon can you come up with that?"
"Shouldn't take long at all. Ten minutes maybe."
"Okay, you're in charge of that. Tommy, you and I will keep HyperMutt busy for a while." Jason spoke into the nearby intercom. "Trini, how are Zack and Kimberly?"
"Kim's fine, just bruised. Zack is already on the 'table'. He will be able to resume the fight in about five to ten minutes." The 'table' was a device that accelerated the healing of soft tissue injuries.
"Okay, get him ready to go as soon as possible, then the two of you meet us back at the park. Billy is working on something that should even out the odds a bit. Kim, if you're ready come on with Tommy and me."
Jason, Tommy and Kimberly all teleported back and once again went up against HyperMutt and the putties. This time, though, they were just stalling for time, and managed to avoid injuries. Zack and Trini joined them a couple of minutes before Billy arrived with the device to drug the fast moving monster.
"Just pump this in his general direction. It should work," Billy told Jason, handing over the device.
Jason sprayed HyperMutt, but nothing seemed to change. He still moved as fast as ever. Jason tried repeatedly, and was certain the beast had inhaled some of the substance, but nothing changed.
"Damn. It didn't work. Now what?" he cried, narrowly avoiding a vicious attack.
"It should have worked! I don't understand why it didn't," Billy explained, sounding a little panicked.
"We need another plan. Ideas, anyone?"
"Maybe we can just wear it out," Trini said at last.
"I suspect it will wear us out first," Zack replied, ducking away from a couple of putties.
"Wait! That's it! I should have thought of it before," Billy exclaimed, startling the other Rangers.
"What's it?" Kimberly asked.
"Instead of giving it a sedative, we need to give it a stimulant."
The response from his teammates indicated they all felt he had lost his mind with that suggestion.
"No, really. I remember talking to a pharmacist one time, and he said that in the case of an overdose, sometimes the body's response was the opposite of what the normal reaction to the drug was. He said that in the case of decongestants, for instance, which usually have a stimulant effect, if a person took too high a dose, it knocked them out. It's worth a try, isn't it? Even if it doesn't work that way, maybe it will speed up the process of wearing him out," Billy suggested.
Jason looked over at the Blue Ranger, thinking it over.
"Do it. But, hurry. We don't have much time."
In a streak of royal blue Billy returned to the Command Center. He was back in moments, with the device now loaded with the stimulant.
Jason again sprayed HyperMutt a couple of times, and this time they did notice a difference. The dog who looked like a man started moving even more quickly, faster than their eyes could follow. But at the same time, he ceased attacking, and instead simply dashed hither and yon, gibbering. Jason kept spraying him whenever the opportunity presented itself, while the rest of the team worked together to destroy the putty patrol.
It ended so suddenly and oddly the teens were completely startled. HyperMutt suddenly stopped, standing in one place and shaking, then went stone still and fell over. As it hit the ground it exploded, disappearing in a brilliant flash. The remaining putties disappeared as well, teleported back to the lunar palace.
The exhausted team teleported back to the Command Center.
"Whew, that was weird," Tommy said. "I really didn't expect it to end quite that way."
"I don't think any of us did," Jason agreed. He turned to his older alternate who was standing quietly near Bordon's tube. "Have you ever seen anything like that?"
"Not exactly. But that is part of being a Power Ranger. You will face some odd monsters. You did very well against that one."
"Very well? Zack and Kimberly got injured. It took two tries to defeat HyperMutt. Doesn't seem very good to me," the Red Ranger retorted.
"Ease up on yourself, man. You didn't give up when your first idea failed, you got the injured Rangers back here and treated quickly, no civilians were injured and there was no major damage done. I'd call that successful," Jason said firmly, looking at each of the teens carefully.
The team leader sighed. "I guess so. But I would have preferred no one getting hurt."
"You would have preferred it? How do you think I feel about it?" Zack joked.
Jason had to smile at the Black Ranger's attitude. "Speaking of which, I think you are supposed to get back on the 'table' to finish your treatment."
"Yes, boss. Trini, want to do the honors?" Zack smiled, heading toward the door that led to the Med Room.
Soon both Zack and Kimberly had been treated for their battle injuries. The rest of the team had waited around until the Black and Pink Rangers were declared free to go.
Jason couldn't help himself, he had to be sure their first taste of being injured had not quelled the teens' desire to be Rangers.
"This fight today, it didn't change your determination to do this, did it?" the Gold Ranger asked.
"Heck, no. We won, didn't we?" Zack said cheerfully.
"I guess I wouldn't want that to happen every day, but it wasn't that bad. I still want to do this," Kimberly added.
Jason smiled in relief. "I can't even tell you guys how proud I am to have gotten to know you. I don't know if you realized it, but my time here is up. I was only allowed three weeks, and that ends tomorrow afternoon. I'll probably take off late morning, so I guess this is goodbye."
The six younger teens turned to him with expressions of dismay.
"You are going to leave us, just like that?" the younger Jason asked.
"I have to go home, guys. This was never a permanent arrangement. And, besides, you don't need me anymore. You will be fine."
"Thanks to you," the Red Ranger said softly.
"No, man, thanks to all of you. You did this yourselves, guys. You should be proud. I know I'm leaving this world in good hands. Now you should all be going home. Your families will be expecting you for dinner," he said gently, not wanting an emotional scene.
Reluctantly the younger Rangers teleported to their homes, leaving Jason alone with Alpha and Bordon.
"Guess it's my last night at that motel. I'll see you two in the morning. Will it be okay for me to head home then?" he asked as an afterthought.
"Of course. We will see you then, Jason."
* * *
The next morning Jason had what he hoped was his last restaurant meal for a long while, then checked out of the motel room he had called home for the last three weeks. Gathering together his belongings he teleported for the last time to the Command Center.
"Well, I guess this is it, Bordon. Your team is equal to the task of fighting Rita, and with each battle should become stronger and more capable, so when Zedd, then Mondo show up, they'll be up to the challenge. Do you agree?" Jason asked.
"I agree, Jason. They have come together better than I could have hoped for. I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Though no one here will ever know it, you are responsible for the saving of this universe."
"I don't think it's quite that much," Jason muttered, uncomfortable with the praise.
"By making this team capable of fighting effectively, you have stopped the spiral of events that led this universe to the brink of destruction. Hence, you have saved it," Bordon insisted.
"Whatever I could do to help, I was glad to do," Jason replied. "However, I'm getting anxious to get home. So whenever you're ready to send me along.."
"Wait! Oh, good you're still here," the Red Ranger's voice startled Jason. He turned to find all six teens approaching. They must have teleported in while Jason was distracted by Bordon.
"What are you all doing here? Shouldn't you be in school?"
"Well, technically, yes. But this is more important. We wanted to say thank you, wanted to say good bye, wanted to give you something," Jason said quietly.
"That isn't necessary."
"Yes, it is. Just as it's necessary for you to let us do this," the team leader declared firmly. "Here, this is what we got you. We thought you might like to have something to remind you of the team you brought together."
Jason looked at what his younger counterpart handed him. It was a picture of the six teens, taken at the picnic table in the park they had used so often as a meeting place. Each of the six was wearing his or her signature color, and they sat in an informal, comfortable looking group.
Touched, Jason looked up with shining eyes. "Thank you. I hope each of you kept a copy for yourselves."
"We did," the Red Ranger replied. The group stepped back some, all except Zack, who stepped with the Gold Ranger a little distance away from the rest of the team, allowing for some privacy.
"I wanted to thank you, for helping me get my life back on track, and for having faith in me. I'll do my best to live up to your expectations. I don't want to think about where I may have ended up if you hadn't come along and changed my life. Thank you," Zack reached out and hugged the former Red Ranger.
"Glad I could help," Jason replied, touched.
Zack rejoined the group as Trini approached Jason.
"Thank you for all you have done to make this team work. And for restoring my faith in people. I had all but given up on finding someone accepting of differences, to whom things such as race and sex do not matter. You showed me such acceptance does exist. Thank you," she said in her tranquil way, laying her hand on his shoulder in a gesture more reserved than a hug, but more friendly than a handshake.
"You're going to do great things, Trini. I just know it," he said looking deeply into her eyes.
She was turned and approached the group, to be replaced by Kimberly.
"I can't believe that less than two weeks ago I thought the coolest thing in the world was having the latest fashion. Now I'm doing my part to help save the world. Pretty intense. Thank you for showing me there was more to life than being popular and hanging out with the cool crowd. Thank you for giving me something of worth to care about," with that she stepped on tiptoe and kissed his cheek.
"You know, I was right. You are like the Kimberly in my dimension," he smiled at her.
Billy came to Jason as Kimberly went back to the team.
"I guess you know how much you changed my life. Saved my life. You showed me that I can have some value, can make a difference. And you helped get me away from a man who probably would have eventually killed me. For that I will be forever grateful. Thank you, Jason. If your Billy had you as a brother in your world, then he is indeed a very lucky guy," and the reserved teen surprised Jason by giving him a brief, hard hug.
"Believe me, Billy, I'm the lucky one," Jason said huskily.
Tommy advanced on Jason as Billy all but ran back to the group, somewhat embarrassed by his display.
"Oh, man, I don't know how to thank you. All my life I have felt like I was on the outside, looking in. Now, at last, I feel like I am in the inside. You would not believe how good that feels. Thank you." The tall teenager offered his hand in a firm handshake.
"You turned your life around now, Tommy. Congratulations."
Jason looked up to see his alternate stepping closer as Tommy rejoined the other teens.
"Guess this is it, huh? I know you are probably tired of hearing it, but thank you. I think I was on the verge of making some very bad decisions in my life, and you kept me from that. You showed me I could be a leader, that I can make a difference with my life. You have given me a priceless gift: my future. Thank you, Jason Scott." The Red Ranger started out to simply shake the older teen's hand, then impulsively pulled him into a tight hug. Whispering once again, "Thank you."
"You're going to do great, Jason," he replied firmly.
Released from his alternate's embrace, Jason turned again to the six teenagers he had come to know so well in the last three weeks.
"You guys are ready for anything Rita, or life, throws at you. You have made me prouder than I have ever been in my life. I have complete faith I am leaving this world in competent hands. Bordon, please, send me home."
There was an odd humming sound, the sound of the teleporter charging up enough energy to teleport one teenager through time and dimension, then the Gold Ranger disappeared from the Command Center.
"Good luck, Jason, and thank you," Bordon intoned solemnly.
* * *
Jason found himself a bit disoriented as he arrived in the Power Chamber. The long and arduous teleport was not particularly pleasant, and he was glad it was over. He looked around happily, smiling as Alpha bustled up, greeting him in his unrestrained way.
"Ay-yi-yi! Jason, you're home. We missed you."
"Jason, it is good to see you again. Was your mission successful?" Zordon asked, looking down on the Gold Ranger from his tube.
"Yes, it was. Where is everyone?"
"Well, I'm standing behind you," said a familiar voice.
"Billy! It's good to see you, man. How is everyone? My folks?"
Billy chuckled a bit. "Everyone is fine. Your parents miss you, and are looking forward to your return. The team is fine, at school right now. How did it go?"
"It went well. They were doing fine when I left. When are my parents expecting me?"
"Well, 'you' told them last night that it might be today, if you could get a standby flight. They both are working, so it would be reasonable enough for your friend to pick you up at the airport and deliver you home."
"Thanks, man. I'm really looking forward to seeing them."
"No problem. When can I tell the rest of the team they can see you?"
"How about tomorrow after school? I'll start back in classes Monday, so tomorrow evening would be about perfect."
"I'll let them know. Now, let's get you home."
* * *
The Rangers had honored Jason's implied request for time alone before seeing them all. But the next evening they all arrived on the Scott front porch, fairly bursting with anticipation.
Jason told the story of how he met and recruited the first Power Ranger team in detail. He did leave a few things out, and softened the account of the abuse that world's Billy had endured, understated a bit when talking about the character of the alternate Tommy before he became a Ranger, and downplayed the fact that the alternate Jason and Tommy had been among those who had beaten the future Blue Ranger.
Only Billy and Tommy seemed to notice the omissions, which didn't surprise Jason at all.
* * *
The next afternoon found the Zeo Rangers engaged in various individual activities, so no one noticed at first that Jason seemed to be avoiding them. It was Billy and Tommy who noticed the Gold Ranger was incommunicado, and the two of them set out to find their friend and get him to talk about whatever was bothering him so.
They found him at Harper's Gorge, a place he tended to retreat to when he needed time to think things out. As the Red Ranger and former Blue Ranger approached the figure sitting quietly on the large rock overlooking the gorge, the Gold Ranger spoke up without turning.
"I've been expecting you. Have a seat."
The other two teens exchanged a bemused look, and sat down on either side of Jason. They remained silent for a time, each lost in his own thoughts.
"I guess you two are wondering about the details I left out. I'm not surprised, as it concerned your two alternates."
"We did kind of get the feeling all was not as well or simple with our alternates. And as we are the only two still currently around..." Tommy left the rest unsaid, confident Jason understood him.
"Well, Tommy, your alternate was a completely heartless bully when I first met him. I honestly expected him to deck me on first sight. He had actually had criminal charges brought against him due to beating other kids up. Not exactly what I expected. But he surprised me, he really did. He agreed to becoming a Ranger after only a day or so. Quicker than most of the others. And he adapted quickly. It was like he was just waiting for a chance," Jason trailed off.
"Well, what about mine?" Billy asked at last, curious despite himself.
Jason sighed. "You were a mess. Do you have an Uncle Marvin?"
When Billy didn't reply the other two boys turned their attention to the team genius.
"What is it, Billy? What's wrong?" Tommy asked, not liking the expression he saw on the former Ranger's face.
"Why did you ask me that, Jason?"
Jason looked at Billy worriedly. "Because your alternate was being raised by his Uncle Marvin Dayton. It wasn't a good situation."
"I can just imagine. Marvin Dayton is my mom's brother. When I was about seven, just before we moved to Angel Grove, he came to spend a week with us. One night, my dad had to attend some big gathering, an awards ceremony or something. Uncle Marvin offered to baby-sit me for them and they agreed readily enough. Well, Mom got sick or something during the dinner, and they came home unexpectedly. They found me upstairs, screaming hysterically while my uncle beat me with his belt. My quiet, soft-spoken father threatened to kill him, and he very well might have had my mom not called the police. There is a restraining order, still in effect, that prevents him from getting within 5 miles of me. That is my Uncle Marvin. If my alternate was being raised by him, I can only imagine the abuse he must have endured."
"I think in the original time line the man beat your alternate to death. Their Billy died, but not as a Ranger. And, yeah, he had been badly abused. When I left Marvin Dayton was in jail, facing charges, and my alternate's parents were filing the paperwork to become Billy's foster parents. Things were definitely looking up for him."
"Is that all that happened with us over there?" Tommy asked after they had sat in silence for a while.
"Well, Billy wasn't only beaten by his uncle. Seemed like everyone else beat him up as well. Including you. And me," Jason said softly, looking a bit sick.
"I beat him up? Why? When?"
"Yes, no idea, and months before I got there. I asked Tommy and he had no explanation as to why he had done that. My alternate was part of a group that beat him up. Poor Billy was scared to death of them when they first met," Jason explained with a sad shake of his head.
"Gee, nice. What was I? Everyone's whipping boy?"
"Yeah, sort of. But, like I said, all that changed."
"That's good. It had to be pretty awful for you, Jason."
"In some ways it was, in others it wasn't. I really felt like I made a difference. Like I may have saved those kids' lives. I hope so at any rate, because despite the differences, I found myself liking them. They were all different from the friends I know here, but somehow the same. Does that make any sense?" Jason asked.
"Yeah, Bro, it does. And it sounds like you did save their lives. In more ways than one," Tommy said reassuringly as Billy nodded his agreement.
"I sure hope so," Jason said, almost as a prayer. "I hope so."
* * *
That evening, after spending a few hours on Harper's Gorge with Jason working through his feelings regarding the three weeks he had spent in the alternate dimension, the three elder Rangers wandered into the Youth Center.
"Looks like the gang's all here," Tommy announced, seeing the other four Rangers at their usual table.
The three of them walked over and seated themselves at the table with the others.
"What's up guys?" Tommy asked casually.
"Not much. Just having a 'nightcap' as it were," Rocky joked.
"What's in the bag?" Jason asked, pointing to the pharmacy bag Rocky had laid on the table in front of him.
"Nothing much. Pictures from my cousin's wedding a couple of weeks ago. I picked them up for my mama."
"Can we see them? Please? I love wedding pictures," Kat asked.
"Sure. Just don't get fingerprints all over them. My mama's kind of fussy about that," Rocky told her, handing over the package.
The five young men promptly fell into a discussion of the Angel Grove High School football team, and had all but forgotten about the girls and the wedding pictures until they heard Katherine gasp and Tanya giggle.
"What's so funny down there?" Jason asked, smiling.
Neither girl answered, but both looked at Billy with amused expressions.
"Did you find something strange in the pictures?" Rocky asked, well aware that occasionally very 'candid' pictures ended up being taken by the younger members of his family.
"You could say so," Kat demurred, handing Rocky a picture. Rocky's eyes widened and he looked at Billy with a glint in his eyes. The other three boys noticed his expression and Adam reached over and removed the picture from Rocky's hand.
He and Tommy looked at it together and also turned somewhat amazed expressions to the former Ranger sitting at the end of the table.
"I'm sure there is a logical explanation for this, and I for one am looking forward to hearing it," Tommy said with a grin. He handed the picture to Jason, who was sitting next to him.
Jason also chuckled and gave his old friend a considering look. "Yeah, this should be good," he chuckled as Billy reached over and retrieved the picture that had so amused the entire team.
He blanched when he saw what it was. Someone - possibly...no, probably...Maria - had taken his picture while he was modeling the black pants for Rocky's mom and her friends. Though he knew the circumstances were extremely innocent, it was not a particularly innocent looking picture. It showed him standing on what appeared to be a platform, wearing nothing but supremely tight fitting black pants and Mickey Mouse ears. No one else who had been in the room at the time was shown in the picture. He was looking slightly downward, and one leg was very slightly bent, and the whole effect made it appear that he was walking along some sort of runway. He realized with a jolt that he looked like nothing so much as a male stripper. He sighed and put his hand over his face briefly.
"I was helping Rocky's mom and her friends out by wearing those pants so they could hem them. One of the ladies asked me to remove my shirt so she could check the fit of the pants. Maria had given me the ears earlier, and I was wearing them to please her. Okay? That's all."
"If you say so, Billy. But it sure doesn't look like that is what was going on," Tommy chuckled.
"I think I'll make a few extra copies, if Rocky's mom doesn't mind. One of these would look great in the yearbook," Tanya teased.
"Oh, no you don't. Pass me the negative, please," he requested in a very stern voice, putting the offending picture in his pocket.
"Billy, I was just teasing. I wouldn't do that to you," Tanya protested as Katherine located the negative.
"I know. But better safe than sorry," Billy declared as Kat passed him the negative. He checked to see it was the right one, then quickly tore it in pieces, mangling it beyond any hope of repair. He also carefully tore up the picture, leaving the tiny pieces on a plate left there from an earlier snack.
"You are such a spoilsport," Katherine pouted.
Billy was about to reply to Kat when his communicator went off.
"Billy here, Zordon. What's up?"
"The tests you had running have completed. The data is ready for analysis whenever you want to look at it."
"I'll be right there," he signed off. "Well, guys, excuse me, but duty calls."
Amid a chorus of good-byes, the former Ranger left to go back to his work.
After he was gone Katherine continued her pout. "I just can't believe he destroyed that picture," she muttered.
"Give me the package for a minute, please," Rocky requested.
He hunted around in the bag, then with a triumphant expression handed a picture back to the girls, who giggled delightedly.
Seeing the others' confused expressions, he said with a smirk and a shrug.
"Mama always gets double prints."