Disclaimer: Only going to do this once so here goes. That which you recognise is borrowed from BVE, without permission, but no harm, no foul and no money made. All hail the mouse! Ben Johnson is borrowed with grateful thanks from Ekat. Everyone and everything else does belong to me. Please ask me first before borrowing.
Many, many thanks to Vanessa (beta'ing) and Chris (test reading) for helping to shape this story. Many, many, many thanks to Gamine for doing all of that and more. You three guys are the best. *genuflects*
Timing: For those who've not yet caught on, this is ten years after the end of the first Identiverse series.
Welcome to Far Future.
Alice slowly wandered home. High School was, she decided, just the same as Middle School only the work was harder. It didn't help that she had no real friends within her class. She'd never really been able to make friends easily and the two friends she had made in Middle School had both gone to a different High School, one moving out of state while the other had been accepted to a prep school in San Francisco.
She kicked out at a stone on the sidewalk. She'd always been more at home in the company of adults. She wanted to blame her mother for it, for being over protective of her as a little kid, but knowing what her ex-father was like, Alice could understand it. She remembered the last time she'd seen her ex-father, being held firmly by the scruff of the neck by the man who'd become her dad. That night had been one of the scariest of her life, but she wouldn't trade the outcome of that night -- or the following four months for anything. Even if they had condemned her to summer school, they had given her a dad.
Rounding the corner, she came upon a sight that dragged her out of her introspection and made her freeze to the spot in shock.
There were bronze robots teeming all over the mall parking lot.
Before Alice could process that comment, four of the robots had grabbed her and had started to drag her away.
"Help!" she screamed, struggling against their grip, but to no avail.
"Hey, bolt brains!" yelled a new voice. "How about you pick on someone your own size?"
Alice managed to twist in their grasp to see the source of the yell. It took several seconds for her to identify who she was looking at, but when she did, she felt her jaw drop open. Power Rangers! This was the first time anyone in Silverhills had seen Power Rangers since... Alice had no idea. Probably almost as long as she'd been living in Silverhills. There were three of them. A woman in pink trimmed with white and a man in red trimmed with white who were standing either side of a second man in a darker red uniform that was trimmed with black.
Recognition dawned as to who the middle ranger was: The Quantum Ranger. A faded memory surfaced of having seen him before, of having had her life saved by him before, but Alice couldn't bring the details to mind. It was a long time ago. She got the feeling it was him that had spoken. She was sure that it was him who added,
"Let the girl go."
"Mission updated," announced one of the robots holding her in a flat, mechanical monotone. "Take out all hostile forces. Mission must be completed." It started to drag her away while the other robots surged towards the rangers.
"Let go of me!" Alice screamed, struggling.
"You will come with me," the robot intoned.
"Over my dead body!"
Alice got the impression of a red blur passing over her head and then there was the Quantum Ranger standing in front of her and the robot holding her.
"Let the girl go," the Quantum Ranger repeated.
"Hostile force must be taken out," the robot answered. It shifted its grip on her and brought its weapon to bear.
The Quantum Ranger dodged the energy blast by diving forwards towards the robot.
She didn't see what happened next. Only felt herself being moved, then something connected with her head and everything exploded into pain before fading swiftly to black. The last thing she was aware of was someone cursing volubly.
"See? Eric, you worry too much."
Alice muzzily realised the speaker was her brevet uncle, Wes. Why was Wes here? What had happened? Why did her head hurt so much? Slowly the details came back to her, as did the details of her surroundings. She was lying on something cold and hard and lumpy -- asphalt, she guessed -- although her head and shoulders were being pillowed in someone's lap.
"And if it had been Lexia or Rick?"
The nearness of that voice told Alice whose lap she was lying on: Her dad's. Opening her eyes, she found herself looking up into Eric's still-worried looking face.
"He's got you there, Wes," said a third voice and Alice realised that not only was Wes present but Jen too.
Alice managed to bring her attention fully to her dad. "Wha'...?"
"How are you feeling?" Eric asked.
Alice thought about it for a couple of seconds, then answered, "My head hurts."
There was a strange expression on Eric's face at that but Alice felt too dizzy to work it out.
"Alice, honey, I need you to look at me." Jen stepped into view and crouched beside her. "How many fingers am I hold up?"
Alice struggled. "I don't know," she admitted.
"Concussion," Jen diagnosed.
"Bad?" Eric asked.
"Not major but not mild," Jen answered. "Alice, if your dad helps you, do you think you can sit up?"
"Think so." With Eric's help, she managed to sit up, although the effort made her feel dizzier.
"OK." Jen had produced a bottle of something from somewhere. "I need you to drink this down -- I know it doesn't taste good, but it'll make you feel better," she promised.
"OK." Alice reached for where she thought Jen was offering the beaker of the 'something' but in the end it took Eric guiding her hand before she succeeded in taking hold of the right beaker. Jen was right -- it didn't taste good, but a moment or two after swallowing the last drop, the dizziness started to subside.
"Better?" Jen asked.
Carefully Alice nodded. "Think so."
"Better take her straight home," Jen advised. "We can hold a council of war later and Wes and I can oversee cleanup here."
"Thanks." Eric gently swung Alice up into his arms and carried her across to one of the Silver Guardian SUVs that were now parked in the mall's parking lot. "OK?" he asked, carefully balancing her on one arm while opening the SUV door with the other.
"Think so," Alice mumbled, feeling suddenly sleepy and tired. "Why did they want me?"
"That," Eric answered, gently setting her down on the passenger seat, "is something I plan on finding out, and fast."
Alice lay in bed, listening to the murmur of chat coming from the kitchen. Although she couldn't make out many words, she knew the tone to be serious. It was probably about the attempted kidnapping, she decided. I am not letting them decide my fate without me getting a say here! I'm not a kid any more. Quietly, she slipped out of bed and padded out of her room.
In the hallway she could hear the voices better.
"You heard what Lucas said." That was Wes' voice.
"I know what Lucas said." That was Eric -- he sounded frustrated. "I'm just saying, you both saw them. What would you call 'em if they weren't Cyclobots?"
"Eric's right." That was Jen. "They were Cyclobots. But what worries me is what Lucas said."
"The only man who knew how to build a Cyclobot was Frax." Wes again. "But he's dead."
"Is he?" That was her mother.
"Did anyone actually see a body?"
"This isn't the movies," Eric objected.
"Very true, but in my experience," What experience?! "if you don't see a body, you can't be certain they're dead."
"It's experience," her mother answered firmly. "I talked to Rocky -- he was telling me about the Machine Empire."
The Machine Empire? What would Uncle Rocky know about them?Alice wondered, venturing closer to the kitchen.
"Oh?" said Wes, bemused.
"They thought they'd taken out Gasket and Archerina, only to have them show up again about a month after Zedd and Rita had put pay to the rest of the Machine Empire."
Huh?!Alice reached the doorway and peered between through the crack between door and door-post. Eric and her mother were sitting at the table, facing the door, while Wes and Jen were sitting at the table but with their backs to the door.
"What are you saying, Kim?" Jen asked.
Alice watched as her mother shrugged. "I don't know -- I guess you guys know more about Frax than I do. I'm just saying...if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck...just maybe it's a duck, you know?"
"It's been ten years," Eric mused. "Why now?"
"And why is he after Alice?" Jen wondered. "I could understand it if he had a grudge against me and Wes but..."
"He released Venomark and Mechanau, didn't he?" Eric asked. Wes nodded. "I seem to remember I played a pretty big part in getting those two defeated. Besides, who says he isn't after you guys too?"
"Gee ya know who to turn to for comfort around here," Wes murmured.
Alice saw her dad smile a little. "Sorry -- but you know what I mean."
"Eric's right," said Jen.
"Twice in one evening -- must be a record," her mother joked.
She saw Eric roll his eyes. "It's pick on Eric Myers day again, isn't it." Everyone else laughed. Even Eric smiled a little.
"One thing's for sure," Wes mused as the laughter died away. "Those weren't ordinary Cyclobots we were dealing with this afternoon."
Huh?!For the second time Alice stared, stunned. There hadn't been any Silver Guardians' present in the parking lot until after the battle was done. Had there? She frowned. Now she thought about it, there had been something very, very familiar about the three rangers. It hadn't hit her before because she'd been initially petrified, then dizzy, but thinking it over now, the way the trio had been standing was definitely reminiscent of someone...three someones she knew. And the most familiar was the Quantum Ranger.
"...picked a bad time to get brains," Eric was commenting. "There was nothing I could do."
Alice felt chilled. No. He couldn't mean that. He just couldn't.
"You managed to pull the blow," Jen consoled.
"Not enough." Numbly Alice realised Eric looked upset. It was the same expression he'd been wearing when she'd come round. "I could have killed her."
"No...no..." The final seconds before she'd been knocked unconscious suddenly played through her mind in sharp clarity. The robot had moved as the Quantum Ranger had aimed a blow, but in ducking to the left, the robot had dragged her straight into the path of the blow. She could see the gloved fist heading straight for her head, moving in almost slow motion. She struggled in the robot's grip, twisting and trying to avoid but to no avail, the punch connected with the side of her head, just below and behind her temple. She heard the cursing start and knew why it was familiar, it was a tirade heard often albeit softly, around the house whenever her dad...her stepfather had done something he considered to be particularly stupid.
HE was standing in front of her now. HIS own words ringing in her ears. I could have killed her. She was dimly aware that her mother, Wes and Jen were also standing there but the only person that mattered was HIM.
"How could you?" she found herself murmuring. "You promised you'd never do that."
"Alice it wasn't my fault..."
A sudden surge of anger overrode the shock that had been so far dictating her responses. She lashed out with fists and feet, not caring that most of her blows were skilfully deflected. "You promised me!" she screamed.
"Shut up!" she yelled. "You hit me -- you're just like Dirk." Through the tears and the anger, she saw HIS face pale at that accusation.
"Alice this wasn't your father's fault," her mother cut in.
"He's not my father!" Alice hissed, lashing out again, one hand catching HIM hard across the face while both feet connected against HIS shins one after the other. "He's no better than the monster who is...and how can you take his side? He hit me!" Alice turned a furious gaze on her mother. "You must really like getting beat up but I sure as hell don't. It's never going to happen again. I'm not gonna let it." With one last blow, one that she knew had hurt HIM; she fled back to her bedroom.
There was a long moment of stunned silence between the adults in the wake of Alice's flight. It was eventually broken by the sound of Eric groaning softly. Jen looked at him and could see where the physical blows had landed but the pallor and haunted expression highlighted that it wasn't just physical pain. He'd been beating himself up over Alice getting hurt anyway -- and to hear Alice make the accusations Jen guessed he'd been making against himself... Jen didn't think Eric had looked as shattered as he did now -- certainly not in the whole time he'd been married to Kimberly.
"I'm going after her," she murmured.
Without waiting for anyone to answer, Jen headed along to Alice's bedroom. She didn't think Alice was likely to run away, but beyond that she had no idea. Trying the bedroom door handle, Jen was unsurprised to find it was locked.
"Alice?" she called.
Jen winced. The tone was tightly controlled, as if Alice didn't dare let it be anything else. "Alice -- please..."
"You're on HIS side," Alice hissed. "Go away."
Jen winced again. "I'm not..."
Alice closed out the rest of Jen's attempts. There was no way she was going to talk to anyone just yet, least of all someone who knew HIM...her stepfather...Eric...
Oh God what a mess.
Alice curled herself around her pillow, burying her face into it to muffle the sob that welled up. She wasn't sure what -- or who -- she was upset with. Eric for not telling her about being a ranger? Herself for needing the rescue? Eric for not being who she thought he was? Her mother for trying to play peacemaker? Herself for being a complete idiot? Herself for freezing this afternoon? Herself for what she'd just said to Eric? Eric for not fighting back?
Maybe I should have talked to Jen...
No! Jen's bound to be on HIS side...
I wish none of this had happened...
The morning rolled around far too soon. Having spent most of the night crying, Alice felt like death warmed over and the last thing she felt like doing was facing either of her parents. She had, she reflected, been a complete idiot the night before and they would both be well within their rights to give her the lecture from hell before grounding her from now until hell froze over: She'd physically attacked her dad!
How dumb am I?
And the things she'd said... She cringed.
I can't believe I told him he was like Dirk...
The incident that had sparked the whole scene -- the attempted kidnapping and subsequent rescue -- had pulled itself into context. Now that she was calm and rational, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that Eric had certainly not intended what had happened. The memories of the whole attack were finally clear and she knew that the robot -- Cyclobot -- had deliberately put her into the path of the blow. That wasn't Eric's fault. It had been an accident.
But eating that crow isn't going to be fun.
Alice sighed and slowly rolled out of bed. Thankfully this was a Saturday otherwise she would have been seriously late for school. A glance at the clock told her it was approaching eleven o'clock. She frowned. It was unusual for her mother to allow her to sleep in like this, even when she was employing a 'cooling off period' because of Alice's temper.
If anyone's like Dirk round here I guess it would be me...she mused ruefully.
Yawning, she crossed to her bedroom door, unlocked it, opened it and stopped dead.
She had time to take in the impression of a tall, lanky man wearing an old, grungy raincoat and an absurd fedora hat before he sprayed something into her face. Whatever it was acted fast and even as he was replacing the aerosol in his coat pocket, Alice felt the world start to spin. Her knees buckled and she collapsed forwards into the man's waiting arms.
TO BE CONTINUED...