Fairer Than Death

- 2 -

"It's not fair, but it goes with the territory."
—John Gardner

Jason dragged himself out of bed early Monday. It had been nearly three before he'd finally fallen asleep; though he'd been tired, he'd kept waking up from dreams of trying to stop Revenger from getting his paws on Billy... sometimes on the whole team, leaving him the only one standing, all alone on the Kingsley Building roof. The dreams hadn't stopped, he'd just finally been too exhausted to wake from them. He was still tired. He showered, called the hospital—with no success—and went downstairs. He wasn't particularly hungry, so he engaged in the minor deception of leaving a rinsed-out glass and cereal bowl in the sink. Then he packed his books in his backpack and teleported to Billy's bedroom to get his Power Coin and then to the Command Center.

"Zordon?" He dropped his backpack on the floor near the Viewing Globe and waited for their mentor to appear.

"Jason!" That was Alpha, coming in from one of the back rooms. "Jason, how is Billy?"

"I'm sure you know as much as I do," he answered. "The hospital isn't saying anything."

"We are sorry this happened, Jason, but I must admit I'm pleased with how well you reacted to this event." Zordon had arrived.

"I'm sure you are," Jason said. "I'm sorry," he added. "I know you can't care like I do, and I know you do care. But I'm not in the mood to be told how well I'm handling this. Please, Zordon. Let's just do what we have to. Did you come up with any candidates?"

"Finding a new Ranger is always a difficult task, even when the original one is merely leaving for one reason or another. But when it is necessary, there is often little time. Therefore we maintain a list of possible candidates at all times."

"Okay, that's good. Who's at the top?"

There was a brief pause, and then Zordon said, quietly. "Your team has fought to defend your planet for more than three years, and this is the first time you have been forced to replace someone. That, Jason, is an astonishing record, and one you should be tremendously proud of."

That caught Jason's attention. "Really?"

"Yes, Jason. Your team has been remarkably successful, and remarkably cohesive. I am sorry for that reason if no other to have to introduce a new member into it: it is very unusual for a team to function as well as yours does. Your team has not only met every physical challenge, but every psychological one as well. You cover each other's weaknesses on all fronts, and you never give up on one of your own. Even when you were faced with Rita's evil Green Ranger, your instinct was to save one whom you believed should be one of you... I am very proud of all of you."

"Thanks, Zordon," Jason said. "That does mean a lot. Probably later it'll mean more. Right now I... I can't look at it like that."

"But you are looking at it like the leader of the team," Zordon said. "You are doing what you must, regardless of your feelings. I am especially proud of you." Then, before Jason had to think of something to say, he continued, "The first name on our list is Adam Park."

"Adam..." that name sounded familiar to Jason as he turned to look at—behold—the Viewing Globe. He saw a slender, good-looking Asian kid stripping off while he yawned. "Oh, come on, Alpha," he protested. "File footage, please!"

"File footage?" Alpha repeated.

"I don't want to watch him take a shower, for crying out loud," Jason said.

"Ay-yi-yi," Alpha muttered as he punched something on the panel and the picture switched to a still-shot of Adam Park, smiling at someone or something out of the picture. "Is that better, Jason?"

"Much, thanks." It raised questions he had no desire to go into, though... "I know him," he said. "I've seen him at school, at the dojo... he'll be good. He's a friend of Rocky's. That'll be good, too."

"Yes," Zordon said. "It will be easier to integrate him into the team if he and Rocky are already friends."

"They are. Rocky said they've known each other since forever... he's a good choice. Let's try him first."

"Very well, Jason. How do you wish to approach him?"

"Well, the grab-him-off-the-street-and-bring-him method is a little pushy, don't you think?" Jason was remembering their own introduction to Zordon. With no preparation, the only one of them who had been unfazed had been Billy, and that was simply because he'd been too busy marvelling to be scared. Jason himself had been wary; he'd felt like bodily removing Billy from the premises, shooing the others ahead of him. And then Zordon had appeared, and Jason had somehow known that everything he was hearing was true. His worry for the others had vanished, and he'd wanted to say yes, but had had to stick with the group when Rocky and Kim had rejected it all, and Trini had gone along with them. He and Billy had, for their different reasons, left reluctantly, and Jason had been arguing for them to go back and accept the responsibility when Rita had attacked them and they'd been forced to morph the first time in simple self-preservation, and there'd been no looking back for any of them. But Adam might react more like Rocky than not, and in any case, there was no excuse for not at least trying to prepare him. "I mean, this place can be kind of a shock, and we don't want him getting angry at us. We can approach him personally. We can bring him here after school. Plus, I should run him past the team, make sure nobody has a problem with him."

"Very well, Jason. You are the leader. But don't take too much time."

"I know. You can grab him if we need him today, right?"

"As we did you the first time."

"Okay. I'll talk to the team at lunch and we'll bring Adam here after school. If I have to, I'll call you for the second choice. But I'd better go now."

In fact, when Jason found Rocky before classes started—Rocky, being a junior, had no classes with any of the other Rangers—he was with Adam. When he saw Jason coming down the hall, though, he slapped his friend on the shoulder and came to meet the senior. "Jason, any news?"

"Nothing yet. Rocky—"

"I cannot believe it," Rocky interrupted him. "I tried to call you, but you weren't in, so I called Tommy. He said—" he glanced around and dropped his voice "—the guy was after me?"

Damn. "No, not really. Not unless you were around a couple of thousand years ago."

"Okay, not me me, but you know what I mean."

"Yeah. He was."

"Dios," said Rocky, his use of Spanish a sure sign of his agitation. He almost never spoke it outside of his family or his church. "He's going to be okay, Jason. God wouldn't take Billy like this."

"I hope you're right. Look, we need to meet at lunch. We have to talk."

"Okay. See you then."

Jason was in first period, English, with Kim and Tommy, and it was easy to get them for the meeting. Kim was in PE with Trini third period, the first time any of them were in one of her classes before the afternoon—she and Billy were in two AP courses together first thing in the morning—and Kim promised Jason to get Trini and meet the boys outside the cafeteria. Jason spent the morning paying almost no attention to anything that happened in any of his classes. Fortunately his teachers were inclined to cut him some slack; the whole school had heard about the accident.

He headed straight for the pay phone next to the cafeteria as soon as his last class of the morning was over. "I'm sorry, sir," the receptionist said, "there's been no change. William Cranston is still listed as critical—"

"How can there be no change?" Jason said. "I'm sorry, but—it's been more than a day."

"Sir," she said kindly, "that's really not very long at all. All I can say is, keep calling."

"What about visitors?"

"I'm sorry, sir. Immediate family only."

Jason hung up and walked slowly outside. 'Immediate family' was, of course, Billy's dad, who'd finally gotten back to Angel Grove Sunday afternoon. He had come straight to the hospital, where Jason was still waiting. Looking Billy's dad in the eye—although he was actually even a couple of inches shorter than Billy—and telling him the story had been the hardest thing yet. He had wanted to tell him the truth, wanted to make Mr. Cranston proud of Billy; instead he had to tell him that his son had somehow managed to fall off a building. Worried grey eyes had stared back into his, and then Mr. Cranston had hesitantly put his hand on Jason's arm and told him, "I know you're hurting over this, Jason. Please don't. It can't have been your fault."

Jason hadn't been able to think of anything to say.

Mr. Cranston had sighed, removed his hand and run it through his thinning brown hair, and said, "You're a very good friend to him, Jason. I appreciate that, and I know he does, too." And then he'd gone into the ICU, walking very slowly.

Now Jason spared a few moments to think about Billy's dad. He knew his own parents were worried about him; he'd heard them talking Sunday before his father had dragged him home. Mr. Cranston had never gotten over losing his wife, Billy's mom; Jason had never known him any way other than subdued, nor had his parents, but a couple of times Billy had told him stories which featured his dad as someone, well, alive.

Man, he wanted to tell Mr. Cranston the truth...

"Jason, over here!" That was Kim, and a good thing, too, since he'd lost track of where he was. He'd only gotten about three hours of sleep, and less the night before; it was starting to tell on him. He'd probably pass out when he got home. He shook his head, hard, to wake himself up. Better get on with it.

He joined the other four in the shade of one of the eucalyptus trees. Trini looked like she hadn't gotten much more sleep than he had; the others looked better, but only relatively so. Rocky, the only one who hadn't actually seen Billy, was the most upbeat, and the one who asked, "What's up, Jason?" as he settled onto the grass.

He glanced around, but they'd picked a spot far enough away from anyone else. "Zordon says we need to replace Billy," he said baldly. He'd been thinking all morning and hadn't come up with a way to ease into it, so he'd decided not even to try.

"What?" Trini demanded.

"He can?" Tommy asked, more reasonably.

Jason nodded. "He says they usually do it a lot. Replace people. All they have to do is find another candidate and give him the Coin."

"Omigosh. Did that go to the hospital?"

Jason shook his head. "No, I took the morpher, and his communicator, too, before the paramedics showed up. I've been hanging on to them."

Two pairs of dark brown eyes rested on him worriedly, but though Tommy nodded supportively neither he nor Kim said anything. Speculation aside, no one knew if Billy's connection to the Power was helping him stay alive or not. And they had to have someone fighting Triceratops...

Trini was giving him a burning look. "This is Zordon's idea?"

"No," Jason said. "I mean, he says we have to, but I knew it before I talked to him."

"We do," Rocky said. "Trini, we can't fight either Megazord without Triceratops."

"Right," said Tommy. "You could do without me, again, or even without Jason if I was here, 'cause the Fighting-mode Dragonzord doesn't need T-Rex... but the rest of the Zords are all needed."

"We need a Blue Ranger. We can't just ask Zedd to hold off 'cause we're a man short, and we can't forfeit the meet, either," said Kim. "It stinks, but you know we have to."

"So, did you pick someone?" Trini conceded the point.

"I went to the Command Center this morning. Zordon said they always have a list of possible replacements, you know, just in case."

"So," Trini asked, "who'd you pick?"

"I didn't pick anybody," Jason said. "I wanted to ask you guys what you thought."

"Since when?"

"Trini, let up a little," Kim said sharply.

She huddled her yellow fleece jacket around her. "He's just so... bossy."

"Never mind," Kim turned to Jason. "You and Zordon and everybody else are right. If Zedd attacked today, we'd be in a lot of trouble. I'm pretty surprised he hasn't."

"Yeah," Tommy said. "I guess he didn't have anything ready. So who's the first candidate? Anybody we know?"

Jason accepted the intervention gratefully, especially as Trini didn't seem inclined to say anything else. 'Bossy' rankled a bit, but he knew that nobody was at their best right now and there wasn't any point in pursuing it. Especially since there was, well, more than a little truth in it. "Yeah," he answered Tommy. He looked at Rocky. "Your friend, Adam Park."

"Adam? Cool," said Rocky. "He'll be good. He's smart and he's a good martial artist, too."

"He's that Korean guy who works out with you sometimes?" asked Tommy. Unlike Jason, he had focussed strictly on the Japanese martial arts; all the Tae Kwan Do he knew he'd picked up since moving to Angel Grove, and he wasn't ready to spar with the Red Ranger just yet.

"That's him."

"He's a good fighter," Tommy nodded.

"He's a nice guy," Rocky added. "You guys will like him... and I can't wait to let him know why I had to stop spending so much time with him. We've known each other since second grade."

"Zordon said that was one of the reasons he was number one," Jason said. "It would be easier to integrate him into the team if he was friends with one of us already. And I've worked out with him."

"I don't know him," Kim said. "I mean, I think I know who he is, it's not like AGHS has a lot of Koreans, so I'm sure I'm thinking of the right guy. But if you and Zordon think he's the best choice, I guess he probably is."

"Well, who was second choice?" Tommy asked.

"I didn't ask," Jason admitted. He expected what he got—Rocky and Tommy nodded, Kim snickered, and Trini muttered "bossy" under her breath. "I thought it would be better if we didn't know," he explained.

"You're probably right," Tommy said. "So, it's Adam?"

"Unless somebody can't work with him." He looked around the group. "You know how important this is."

"Well," Kim shrugged, "we didn't vote on us, and we worked out."

"And we didn't really vote on Tommy, either," said Rocky.

"He was already a Ranger, though," protested Kim.

"Yeah, an evil Ranger," Rocky said irrepressibly. "No offense, Tommy."

"It's okay," the long-haired boy said. "It's true."

"And we didn't vote, that's all I'm saying. Jason, you knew we needed him, and you were right."

Kim nodded; she'd moved closer to Tommy when Rocky had brought up his past. Now she smiled and said, "I agree."

Trini looked at Jason without saying anything. Jason held her dark eyes with his; he knew as well as if she'd said so that she was remembering it was Jason's unilateral decision to ask Tommy to join them. They'd all known they had to stop him, and all wanted to save him, but it was Jason who had, spur of the moment, said to him, "You own the Power now. Fight by our side and we can defeat Rita. Tommy, we need you. It's where you belong." Billy had seconded him on the spot, but after the fact... It had, obviously, worked out, but it hadn't been a vote.

"Tommy?" he asked, ducking Trini for the moment.


"Me, too," said Trini. "He's fine. What happens when Billy comes back?"

"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Jason said. "He won't be back this week, or next." If he's back at all.

Tommy interrupted that thought. "So, we don't shanghai him, do we, like Zordon did you guys? I'm assuming he gets a choice."

"Yeah," Jason said. "We got drafted, and you got kidnapped, but Adam gets a choice. I thought we'd talk to him after school, sound him out, take him to the Command Center if he's agreeable, and put it to him there."

"That sounds reasonable," Trini said.

"Can you get him to Ernie's, Rocky?" Jason asked.

"After school? Yeah, I think so. I'm pretty sure I can. We've got classes together this afternoon."

"Okay, then. Ernie's, after school."

Rocky jumped to his feet. "Okay, guys. I'll see you then."

"Me, too," said Trini, following him.

Jason started to stand up, but before he could, Kim pushed on his shoulder to keep him there. "Don't mind Trini too much, Jason," she said, putting her arms around him. "She's just very upset. She's lashing out and you, well, you make a good target for that 'cause you're strong."

"And in the way," Tommy added. "Kim's right, bro. Trini'll settle down. You'll see."

"Am I?" he asked, wondering about it. "Bossy?"

"No," she said. "Not bossy. Just... My dad used to say there's a big difference between being bossy and being boss. You're not bossy. But you do take charge."

Tommy nodded agreement. "You always have, ever since I met you and probably way before that. It's not a bad thing, Jason. It's just... Anytime anything goes wrong you think you should have been able to prevent it."

"Isn't that what being in charge means?" He was surprised at how bitter his voice sounded.

"No." Kim sounded surprised. "Being in charge means trying to prevent it, but, Jason, not even God can stop things going wrong. And you're not God." She hugged him again, and Tommy reached over and gripped his shoulder.

"Nothing you could have done, bro," he said simply. "It just happened."

"I should have been—"

"No, you shouldn't," Kim took his chin in her surprisingly firm grasp and shook it slightly. "You should not. Don't do this to yourself. It was beyond any of us, you included."

"Yeah," Tommy seconded. "You did all you could. Neither one of us saw it coming. None of us did. Even Zordon didn't know he could cut us off from the Grid."

"I know all of that," Jason said. "I just..."

"Don't believe it?" Tommy said.

"I guess."

"You better," Kim threatened him. "You're the best leader we could have. Zordon says they usually have to replace lots? I bet you're the main reason why they haven't with us."

"It's the whole team, that's what Zordon said," Jason protested.

"So," Kim said impishly, "stop taking our blame."

"I don't—"

"You do," said Tommy.

"Something else you always have," Kim nodded. "Plus always being really hyperprotective of Billy."

Jason couldn't answer that. He didn't think "hyperprotective" was accurate, but he knew he always took that extra second to check on Billy. Always had. God willing, always would.

"I didn't know him before," Tommy said. "I mean, I know he's only middling as a fighter, but he doesn't need a whole lot of protection now. This was a fluke. It could have been any of us, Jason."

"Yeah, a couple of years ago, maybe you could take blame for not watching out for him," Kim said, "but you know he can pretty much take care of himself now, Jason."

"Thanks, guys," Jason said, looking from Kim to Tommy.

"Any time," said Tommy, "but I hope we don't have to do this again."

"Me, too."

"We'd better get going," Tommy said, standing up. "Old man Carlson might cut us a little slack, but not if we aren't there at all."

"Hey, Adam!" Rocky trotted down the hallway towards his oldest friend's locker. "Wait up!"

Adam turned and waited for him. They hadn't seen each other since they walked to school that morning, but had their next two classes together. "Hi, Rocky," he said.

"Hey, man," said Rocky, shifting his books from hand to hand. "You want to go over to Ernie's this afternoon?"

"Just us?" Adam was surprised; that morning, all Rocky could talk about was Billy Cranston's accident. He'd have thought he was going to be with his other friends.

Rocky shifted his books again. He was nervous about something, Adam realized. "Uh, no. I'd like you to get to know some people."

"Who? That bunch of seniors you hang out with?" Adam shut his locker. He and Rocky lived on the same street and had been best friends from second grade until junior high, when suddenly Rocky had become very tight with a different group of kids, all a year ahead of the two boys. It wasn't as though Rocky had suddenly dropped him—in fact, it had taken most of seventh grade for it to happen, and he hadn't dropped him exactly even then, but when Adam came back to Angel Grove after vacation before eighth grade it was noticeable: they weren't spending every weekend and most afternoons together anymore. And when Rocky embraced basketball, becoming Angel Grove High's best player in probably ever, Adam had found himself third on Rocky's list—fourth, if you counted his family—with a lot of spare time, time he'd filled with schoolwork mostly, so that his parents were rather more pleased than not that their son and the de Santos boy were growing apart as they grew up. But Adam couldn't help but be a little hurt that Rocky was nearly always "out with the guys, sorry" when Adam called.

"Yeah," Rocky nodded now. "But they're really great."

"Sure," Adam said as he closed his locker.

"Come on, you like Jason."

"Jason Scott's okay," Adam conceded. "A bit bossy, but I guess that's only natural when you're someone like him." Which was to say, quintessential BMOC: quarterback, martial arts champion of the tri-country—heck, deca-county area, solid student, tall, handsome... It was really no wonder Rocky liked hanging with him. "But Tom Oliver is a little spooky, you have to admit that."

Rocky had smiled at the description of Jason, but sobered to say, "Tommy has a bad reputation, that's all. He's a great guy."

"If you say so... the only one I'd really like to get to know won't even be there."

Rocky paled a little. Adam was sorry he'd said it; much as it annoyed him, he knew Rocky really did like all his new friends. And, he sighed to himself, they weren't really that new anymore. Rocky had been hanging out with them for more than four years now.

"I'm sorry. I mean that, about Billy I mean. Is there any news?"

"No. Jason called the hospital at lunch. No change, they said. He's still critical."

Which just made it odder, Adam reflected as they entered the classroom and took their seats. Although Mr. Davidson had alphabetized seating, Rocky and Adam sat next to each other thanks to Rocky's insisting on using the 'S' instead of the 'd'. Looking at his brown-haired friend as he sat slumped in his chair, Adam wondered why he wanted to bring someone new to the group at a time like this. Knowing Rocky, he'd always discounted the rumors that the six of them were involved in something kinky—details always vague. Adam didn't think the Hispanic boy would recognize kink if it walked up and spoke to him, and he was sure if it introduced itself, Rocky would run. But now he found himself actually wondering about it. Some sort of something that needed six?

Chemistry intruded itself on speculation, and when Rocky repeated the invitation as they headed for last period, Adam found himself accepting. He'd never had a big group of friends before, but he would be glad to be spending more time with Rocky. He'd missed him.

Adam called his mother to let her know he'd be home later than expected—he always did that, though he didn't have to ask permission. Rocky, whose family just expected him to show up for supper, waited while his friend called; Adam thought Rocky might actually be worried he was going to change his mind. He found himself smiling as they walked to the gym & juice bar. It was nice to be wanted, for whatever reason.

The four seniors were sitting on the grass behind the parking lot outside the gym rather than waiting inside. Kim Hart, whom Adam remembered as a slightly snooty cheerleader from junior high, but who had dropped that in favor of the gymnastics team, was, as usual, sitting with Tom Oliver, his arm around her shoulders. But while she was the height of pop in her pink skorts and white, midriff-baring blouse, he looked tough. Not punk-tough, jock-tough: his dark green sweatshirt had cut-off sleeves, and he wore grey sweatpants, his long hair caught in a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Trini Kwan, neatly put-together in yellow and black, had her hand on Jason Scott's black-jeans-clad knee, but they didn't look like an item; rather she seemed to be trying to convince him of something. In fact, Tom and Kim were both also listening to her, though it was hard to tell if they were on her side.

"Hey, guys," said Rocky.

Jason stood up, sliding away from Trini rather gratefully. "Hi," he said to Adam, holding out his hand. "I don't know if you remember me, we met last year at the tournament over in Stone Canyon?"

"Sure, I remember you," Adam said, wondering if Jason Scott really thought somebody wouldn't. But Jason looked, as Rocky's uncle would say, like he'd been ridden hard and put away wet; he obviously wasn't hitting on all cylinders today. It wasn't surprising; he and Billy Cranston, though they seemed to have nothing in common, were, according to Rocky, very close, almost like brothers. Closer, Rocky would add on days when his own brothers were getting on his nerves.

"You know everybody else, right?" Rocky said now, "Kim, Trini, Tommy." He sat down next to Tommy and added, "Pull up some grass, Adam, have a seat."

Adam sat down between Rocky and Jason, who sat down slowly, like he'd taken some bad hits. Maybe he had, Adam thought as he listened to the older boy answer Rocky's next question.

"No. Nothing new. Mom talked to the ICU nurse, they know more than the doctors. He's hanging on."

"It'll be all right," Rocky said. "It has to be."

"Yeah." Jason cut the discussion off, but his eyes—really black eyes, Adam realized, as dark as his own, unusual for a European—were still full of pain. But when he spoke, he was brisk and as take-charge as Adam had heard. "So, Adam, did Rocky say anything?"

"No," Adam said. "Just that he wanted us to get to know each other."

"I'd like that," Jason said, "but we really don't have a lot of time. So—"

"What's going on?"

"I'm going to tell you," Jason said. "But first, I have to get your promise that, whatever you decide about what we tell you, you won't tell anyone else. Ever."

Adam looked at him; he was deadly serious. If Adam didn't say 'yes', they weren't going to continue. He looked around the circle; everyone else was as serious as Jason, and that included Rocky. Adam hadn't realized Rocky could even be this serious. It was oddly impressive. But... "Is it something illegal? Because my dad's a policeman."

"So's mine," said Jason. "I think they know each other. It's not illegal."

"Not per se, anyway," said Trini. "It's more extra-legal."

"What does that mean?" said Adam cautiously.

"It means it's not illegal," said Rocky. "It's a good thing, Adam. Trust me on that much, okay?"

"All right," he said slowly. "I'll keep your secret. What is it?"

"It'll be a lot easier to show you than to try to explain it," said Jason, standing up. "Okay?"

"Is it far?"

"It won't take long to get there," Tommy said, getting to his feet and giving Kim a hand up. "Just a couple of minutes."

"Okay." Adam stood up.

Trini reached out and took his hand. He looked at her puzzledly, but before any wild ideas could really take shape, she smiled and said, "Just hang on, Adam." Then she reached her other hand out and took hold of the bulky wristwatch she wore—

cold, speed, Trini's hand warm on his, dizziness

—and then suddenly ground beneath his feet again. The only reason he didn't fall down was because Jason and Tommy both put out their hands and steadied him. He stared around himself, not believing what he was seeing.

"What happened?" Adam said, shaking off Jason and Tommy's hands. "Where are we?" His voice wasn't panicked; Jason found himself nodding approval.

"Greetings, Adam!" Alpha entered the Command Center.

Adam spun around. "What is that?"

"A fully sentient multifunctional automaton," Kim and Rocky said in unison; Rocky added, "Magnificent!" and the two of them laughed so hard Jason joined in, unable to help it.

"You mean a robot?" Adam said, looking at them suspiciously.

"Yes. With artificial intelligence," Trini said, glaring at the three.

"I've never seen anything like it," Adam said.

The others had started to calm down, but that set them off again, as Rocky gasped "Wow" and grabbed Jason to keep from falling over. Kim tried to say something, but all she could do was gasp and wave her hand back and forth, and Rocky was cracking up every time he looked at Kim or Jason. Much as he hated it, Jason wasn't any more able to stop.

"What did I say?" Adam demanded of Trini, who was the only one who looked like she was capable of answering; clearly she got the joke but didn't think it was funny, and Tommy was obviously as lost as Adam.

"They aren't laughing at you," she said. "Not really... guys—" Her voice turned worried as the others didn't seem to be able to stop. She turned concerned eyes towards Tommy.

"Kim," he said, puzzled. "What's so funny?"

"Sorry," she said, and then suddenly she was crying. Tommy hugged her, and she pulled herself together almost immediately. "Sorry," she said again.

"Yeah, man," said Rocky, burying his face in Jason's red-flannel shoulder for a minute. "Sorry."

Jason repeated it, holding up his hand. "Sorry, yes, it's just—"

"It's exactly what he said the first time," said Rocky, "what we said, then what you said. Oh, man, Adam, sorry."

"What who said?" Adam asked, looking at them.

"Billy," Jason said, taking several deep breaths and regaining his control. It was a lot more precarious than he'd thought, more than he wanted to show anyone. "It's what he said the first time he saw Alpha... That's his name, Alpha-Five."

"I am pleased to meet you, Adam," Alpha interjected at this point.

"Same here, I guess... are there four others?"

"No." That thought sobered Jason and Rocky both. "He's, like, version five," Rocky added.

"Of what?" Adam demanded. "What is this place? And what is that?"

They didn't need to turn around to know what he meant. "This is the Command Center," Jason answered him, "and that's Zordon. He's our mentor."

"Command Center of what? And what do you mean, mentor? This makes no sense." The slender Korean looked around and then settled his gaze on Rocky, the one he knew best. "Rocky de Santos, what is going on here?"

Rocky shrugged. "Well, I know this is gonna sound weird, but... we're the Power Rangers."

Silence for several minutes, and then: "Power Rangers? You—you guys? You are the Pow—Billy Cranston was a Power Ranger?"

"Indeed," said Zordon, "Billy was the Blue Ranger, and he served with honor. But now he can no longer fulfill the responsibilities of that position. I have selected you, Adam Park, courageous and intelligent, to be his replacement."

Adam didn't react to the end of that statement; he was apparently still having trouble with the first part of the concept. "How could Billy be a Power Ranger? I've seen him in the gym! You guys—" he gestured at Jason, Rocky, Tommy, and Trini "—you could be. And I've never seen you do anything but gymnastics. But Billy—"

Jason said, as calmly as he could, "Billy's been a Ranger as long as, well, from the beginning. Three years now." He paused, looking for the right words and pushing down the strong impulse to defend Billy. "Adam, when you're morphed—that means, changed into the fighting mode of being a Ranger—you get the armor and the weapons, but you also get the knowledge of how to use them, and skills in fighting. Thanks for the compliment, but not even Tommy and me are as good as the Red and Green Rangers in hand-to-hand."

"Right," Tommy said.

"You always wondered why Billy kept taking lessons when he didn't enjoy it," Rocky added. "Now you know."

The rest of Zordon's statement caught up to Adam. "Wait a minute," he protested. "You want me—I'm supposed to be a Power Ranger?"

"Yes, Adam," said Zordon. "You have been selected to be the next Blue Ranger."

"Until Billy's back." That was almost but not quite a question.

"Yes," Jason said, though frankly he doubted that was going to happen. But it might. He added, "For as long as... well, as long as it takes."

"We have to be up to strength," Rocky said. "We need you to come off the bench, Adam."

"You're serious." The younger boy stared at them all. "Trini? This isn't a joke?"

"Nobody here is this good at special effects, Adam," the Chinese girl reassured him. "It's real. We are the Power Rangers, and we need you."

"Adam Park, Power Ranger—man, my father is going to have a fit. He really doesn't trust them—you," he corrected himself. "Us."

"You can't tell him," Jason said. "We have three rules we have to live by: don't use the power for personal gain," he counted them off on his fingers, "don't escalate a conflict, and don't reveal our identities. To anyone."

"Your parents don't know?" He paused as they shook their heads. "Billy's dad doesn't know? Did he get hurt in a fight? Falling off a building, I mean, I wondered, but—"

Jason nodded. Tommy said, soberly, "We've all gotten knocked around, banged up. A couple of times some of us have gotten really jolted. Being morphed really helps, plus we heal faster. Billy wasn't morphed when he got hurt."

"It's not the safest job in the world," Rocky said irrepressibly. "But it's the most important."

"We save the world; it's what we do," Kim added with a bright smile.

"You guys have been the Rangers the whole time?"

"They are an excellent team," Zordon said. "And you are needed."

"Wow... Okay. I'm in. Where do I sign?"

Jason smiled. "Here." He handed Adam the Blue morpher and communicator. "The Blue Power Coin, there inside the morpher? That's the thing that makes you a Ranger. Don't lose it. You might want to put it someplace else after you've used it the first time, bonded with the Power. The morpher can be replaced, the Coin can't. And if somebody else gets ahold of it, especially someone who knows what it is... that's Bad."

Adam nodded. He understood.

"Okay," Jason continued. "Your Dinozord is Triceratops. You hold the morpher out like this—" he demonstrated with his own and Adam mimicked the motion "—and call out the name. Then you morph; it just happens, don't worry. You don't need to know how it works the first time. You come fourth, after Tommy, Rocky, and Kim. Want to give it a shot?"

"Sure." Adam said, watching curiously as the others pulled their morphers out.

Jason could tell the new Ranger was burning with the same question he, Rocky, and Tommy had often debated: just where did Trini and, especially, Kim keep theirs? But like them, he knew better than to ask. "Okay, guys," Jason said in familiar ritual. "It's Morphin' time!"




"Triceratops!" Adam came in, maybe a beat late and it was definitely odd to hear his voice...

"Sabretooth Tiger!" Trini's voice was a trifle shaky.

"Tyrannosaurus!" He hoped he'd held his steady. He looked at the Blue Ranger. It was funny, he thought; just like Zordon had said, to all outward appearances it was the same Blue Ranger as it had always been and yet, somehow, Jason could tell it wasn't Billy. He shoved that thought aside and asked, "How does it feel?"

"Cool," said Adam.

"Welcome, Blue Ranger," said Zordon.

"Congratulations, Adam!" Alpha added. "I know you'll do well."

"I hope so. I can't believe it."

"I know the feeling," said Rocky, and Tommy nodded.

"Zordon," Jason said, "I'll explain the ground rules to Adam, but we need to get back to Angel Grove."

"I understand, Jason. I too am concerned for Billy."

"Adam, to unmorph, you just want it." When they were back to normal, Jason said, "Your communicator? It's got a watch in it, but here—" he touched his own "—to talk, and here to teleport."

"Make sure you know where you're going," Rocky said.

"Voice of experience," teased Kim. "You don't want to end up in the middle of Ernie's—"

"—or worse," interpolated Trini.

"Very funny. It beeps if someone's calling," Rocky said. "Like one of those cute cellulars."

Adam pulled his old watch off and slid the communicator onto his wrist. "How do I set it?"

"It taps into the Command Center's teleportation grid," said Jason. "Just know where you want to go."

"This is very... intuitive, isn't it?" Adam said. "I'm not sure I understand it."

"Nobody understands it," Trini said quietly. "Don't worry about it."

"Just, like the ad says, do it." Kim smiled at him. "Let's go for smoothies!"

"Okay," Jason agreed. "Remember where we left from, Adam?"

"Wow. This is amazing," Adam said as they took their seats in Ernie's. "How long did it take you guys to get used to it?"

"Four years?" guessed Tommy.

"I thought you said... oh. You're still not?"

"Not to all of it," Tommy answered. "But we pretty much know the ropes, so any questions you have, just ask."

"Okay..." He laughed. "Honestly, the only thing I can think of is—and this might be dumb, but I have to know—Why do you call them Dinozords?"

"Zordon told us, 'Their powers are drawn from the ancient creatures you know as dinosaurs'," Trini quoted.

"Yes, but—"

"We know," Rocky interrupted.

Tommy laughed. "They're not. Right. Billy complained about that, too. Only two of them are dinosaurs."

"Three," said Kim. She always did.

"No," Jason joined in; Billy had said it so often that first year he'd actually memorized it. "The Dinosauria are an order of Mesozoic terrestrial reptiles while the Pterosauria are an order of Mesozoic flying reptiles, very different."

"Like birds and lizards," said Rocky. "Or something."

"And mastodons and sabretooth tigers," Jason continued, "are not only mammals but from the Pleistocene and co-something with people—"

"And dragons are mythical," finished Tommy. "So sue us, we didn't make it up."

"Didn't make up what?" said Ernie, sneaking up and starting to hand smoothies around.

"The plot of 'Dragonheart'," said Trini. "Which I liked, even if it was improbable."

"You just like Sean Connery," accused Rocky. "Don't you? Even if it's just his voice."

The others ignored them; this was such a continual argument it was easy. Ernie put Jason's smoothie down and asked, "Any word?"

"No," Jason shook his head. He looked up at the proprieter and said, "There's no news, I called an hour ago. And no visitors, except family... my mom's going to look in on him. We'll let you know."

"Do that, Jason. Thanks... It's funny. He hasn't been coming in here even half as long as the rest of you, but..." the man shrugged. "Who's going to drink my spinach juice now?"

"It's not like it's going to go bad, is it?" Tommy asked. "He'll be back."

"Sure," Ernie said.

Jason looked up at him again; the man had the same look as his parents, as Billy's dad, the teachers all day... that adult look of knowing people died. He looked around the table and realized that none of the others knew that. Except maybe Tommy, but he was refusing to admit it. For a minute Jason indulged himself in wishing he too could believe that Billy was going to be just fine. Then he said, because he couldn't scream at them, "Yeah. I mean, give him a while, he'll be back. Just like Arnold. I, on the other hand, have to get home. Mom's still having kittens about this weekend. See you guys tomorrow." He picked up his smoothie and left.


Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4
Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Epilog


Original Fantasy:
  Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans
Original Fan Fiction
Star Wars | Power Rangers | Real Ghostbusters
Battlestar Galactica | The A Team
Space 1999 | Alias Smith and Jones | Jurassic Park III
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