Disclaimer: Listen very carefully; I shall say this only once... That which you recognise is not mine. It's borrowed from BVE or Jim Henson/George Lucas without permission but no harm, no foul, no money made. Most of the rest is mine, you're welcome to borrow but please ask me first. The coffee machine, Left and Right belong to themselves.
With very grateful thanks to 'Nessa (test reading/beta'ing), Jonathan (beta'ing), Gamine (beta'ing/plotting) and Leathie and Ecolea (technical corrections). You guys are the greatest and I certainly couldn't have done it without you.
This picks up where Heritage and Like Father leave off (more or less).
Kimberly led Wes and Jen into the kitchen to find Eric still apparently arguing with the coffee maker. She knew he and John had been talking certain things through -- which probably explained why the coffee wasn't ready.
"Haven't you managed to master the coffee machine yet?" Wes teased.
Shaking her head, Kimberly crossed to the work surface and gently elbowed Eric in the ribs, getting him to move so that she could take a look at the various parts of the coffee machine and work out how long it would take before coffee was ready. She pulled a face as she saw the amount of coffee grounds he'd put into the filter. "Who are you making coffee for here, dear -- just you?"
"Guess I've got a lot on my mind," Eric replied quietly.
"Sure has been a crazy week," Jen agreed.
"Here -- let me. You go sit down and we can get this planning session underway," Kimberly advised, not unsympathetically.
Gratefully, Eric relinquished the machine to Kimberly and sat down at the table. A moment later and Kimberly sat down too, percolator bubbling away merrily.
"How do you do that?" Eric wondered.
"Practice," said Kimberly archly, offering him a smile. He rolled his eyes.
"So," said Wes. "What now?"
"What now?" Eric repeated with a sigh. "Well, we know what Lucas is going to say."
"Pretty much," Jen agreed.
"The legal side of things is taken care of," said Wes. "Finished dealing with it this morning, and -- may I just say -- this is probably the first time I've ever been grateful that my father has contacts in just about every single department when it comes to state officialdom."
There were a few brief smiles at that.
"I've spoken with the principal of Alice's high school," Kimberly said. "Briefly explained things -- fortunately...or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the guy started his teaching career in Angel Grove so I got as far as mentioning it had something to do with Power Rangers and he just said 'I don't want to know!'."
"Funny the effect those two words can have on some people," mused Jen with a grin.
Kimberly grinned back. "I wasn't about to complain, certainly. Anyway, when I said what had happened to the kids, he pretty much said he didn't want them at the school -- too disruptive."
"That'll please Lexia," said Wes. "So what about GEDs?"
"Home schooling, I guess," said Eric with a grimace. "Won't take long -- courtesy of the information implants."
"Then what?" wondered Jen.
There was a long silence at that.
"I guess..." Eric eventually began, "it sort of depends on what Lucas says about The Master."
"How do you mean?" asked Jen.
"If he's still a threat?" Wes suggested.
Eric nodded. "If he is still a threat...if they get to keep the morphers."
"If they do?" asked Kimberly.
"They have to join the SGs," said Wes. "No way Chief Mackenzie would condone them running around with morphers otherwise."
"Anyone else here not liking this?" Kimberly asked quietly, feeling her heart sink at that pronouncement. She wasn't terribly surprised to see both Wes and Jen lift sheepish hands. It did surprise her, though, that Eric didn't join them. She frowned.
"I don't like it -- of course I don't like it," he responded, sounding a little hurt that she'd doubted it. "In fact, I like the idea less than I like the idea of you holding Jen's morpher -- or mine, for that matter -- and we both know how much I like that." Kimberly couldn't argue with that statement. "It's just..." Eric sighed. "Whatever way I've turned this mess in my head, there's been two things that've stuck out as inevitable. The kids need to be someplace we can protect them...and we need to treat them like they're adults."
"What're you saying?" Wes asked, frowning.
"Can you think of a safer place than on traffic duty?"
"Point to Eric there," said Jen. "Although the kids will hate you for the rest of your life if you stiff them with traffic duty."
Eric smiled bleakly. "I'll live. But that's the other part of my point."
"What is?" asked Kimberly frowning.
"We can't just dictate to them they join the SGs."
"We can't?" said Wes in a tone of voice that suggested he was more than prepared to do just that.
Eric shook his head. "What do you see when you look at Rick?"
Kimberly watched as Wes frowned. "I see my son." Then Wes paled. "Oh shit."
Eric just nodded, a depressed expression on his face. "They're adults. Once they hold GEDs...we can't order them to do anything."
"Unless they join the SGs," said Jen, a faint smile on her face. "Then we can."
Kimberly snorted, trying not to laugh at the comment, suspecting the laughter was more hysterical than humorous.
Eric offered a smile. "Alice isn't the only one who's devious," he admitted. "That thought had crossed my mind."
"So we...what?" asked Wes.
"I guess," said Kimberly, "we tell them what their options are."
"And hint like hell about the SGs," said Jen.
There was a long and uncomfortable silence at that.
Kimberly glanced at her watch. "Showtime," she murmured.
Looks were exchanged between the four of them and Jen produced the holoscreen pieces.
"Coffee?" Kimberly offered as Jen started to set up the device.
"I'll go get the kids," Wes offered.
"I think we're gonna need it," Eric stated as the holoscreen hummed into life. Kimberly nodded and started to move but Eric stopped her. "It's OK -- I'll do it."
"Hi guys," said Lucas. "Ready?"
Rick followed Alice into the kitchen feeling nervous. This was going to be the conference that effectively decided his fate along with the fates of his sister, his best friend...and just how did he classify Alice now?
Maybe that was something he should think about later.
When he knew what was going to happen to him.
When he knew for sure that he was staying this way.
With a wry shake of his head, he plopped down into the seat between Alice and Lexia. Then realised his father was frowning at him. What've I done now? Then he glanced in Lexia's direction. Or maybe it's not me... If Lexia wasn't careful, she'd actually be sitting on top of John...who didn't look as if he'd mind that.
The subtle clearing of a throat drew his attention to the end of the table where the holoscreen had been set up. Pictured on it was an Asian man wearing white. Some of the implanted information stirred. The white was a Time Force uniform. Rick frowned. He probably would never get used to the idea of information just suddenly being there in his mind.
"OK," said the man, "as we're all here, I'll get down to business. My name's Lucas Kendall, I'm a Major within Time Force and head of the Covert Operations department. Your parents can fill you in later as to what that actually means." He smiled. "I don't want to bore you!"
So this was what Lucas looked like. He heard Alice snort softly -- and he realised that she did actually know the guy.
"Courtesy of The Master -- the Frax clone's creator, we suspect -- you four are in my jurisdiction, so it's up to me to work out what happens next. The first thing I need to tell you is that, I'm afraid, what's been physically done to you -- the information implants and the artificial aging -- is permanent."
It was almost a relief to have that confirmed, Rick decided. It meant it was one less decision he needed to make. He sighed. One less out of a huge number, he suspected.
"Secondly, the morphers. All things considered, it's been decided that you four will retain the morphers. The Master is still a threat and, considering we're still not sure what his ultimate plan is, assuming he'll go after you again is a no contest bet. On that basis, it's not fair to leave you un-armed. As good as your parents are -- and they are exceptional..."
"We'll slip you the five bucks later," Wes murmured.
Rick snickered. At least his father's sense of humour hadn't been dented by all this.
"...they can hardly guard you twenty-four/seven," Lucas finished.
"I guess that makes sense," Alice observed.
"Once The Master's taken care of," Lucas continued, "we'll review the situation -- but for the time being, that's how things stand." He paused. "Any questions?" Silence. "Anyone not liking this plan?" Rick was half waiting for one of the parents present to object, but no-one so much as sneezed. They had known this was going to happen, then. "OK. I'll be in touch with more details about The Master as and when I have them. Kendall out."
And with that, the holoscreen went blank.
Rick turned his attention to the parental quartet and tried to work out what they were thinking, but their expressions were all carefully schooled.
"So," said Eric. "Now, we know."
"What happens next, dad?" John asked.
Rick watched as Eric leaned back against the work surface, arms folded. "The immediate next is that you all finish school."
"Oh this sucks," Lexia groaned.
"It does not 'suck'," said Jen firmly. "And you needn't panic that you're going to have to go to high school to do it."
"Then what?" Rick asked.
"Home schooling," Kimberly replied.
"Thanks to Frax, it won't take you long," Eric observed dryly.
"And then what?" Alice asked.
There was something in Alice's tone of voice that made Rick look at her. There was an almost knowing expression on her face -- it was an expression that he was fast coming to recognise as a sure sign she'd come up with a plan.
The four parents exchanged looks and it was left to Eric to say, "Then it's up to you."
"Hm." Rick felt Alice shoot him a glance. "I have an idea...but I want to talk it through with the triumvirate first."
Rick almost winced at the term. It was the term Alice had always used to refer to them. The three 'young ones'. The three kids. The group she wasn't a part of, by virtue of being seven -- nearly eight -- years older than the eldest 'kid'. Except she wasn't any more. For whatever reason, Frax had opted to only age her five years, leaving her a bare year older than the next oldest -- Rick himself.
If he was confused about how to think of Alice, how confused was she?
"Rick -- c'mon."
The impatient edge to Alice's voice dragged Rick out of his thoughts. He realised, somewhat embarrassed, that everyone was looking at him. Both his parents looked amused. Lexia, John and Alice were all on their feet, obviously on their way out of the kitchen to discuss Alice's plan.
"Oops." Hastily Rick got to his feet, earning him a snicker from Eric and a roll of the eyes from Alice.
"C'mon -- this side of Christmas," Alice muttered.
"What," asked Wes as the quartet of Vengeance Rangers left the kitchen, "do you make of that?"
Eric drained his coffee cup. "Ever get the feeling all your nicely laid plans are about to be neatly spiked?"
Jen craned her neck to look at Eric. "You think she's thought of the SGs?"
"This is Alice we're talking," said Kimberly. "The implanted information might have done wonders for her temper but my daughter is still a smartass."
"Can't think where she gets that from," Eric murmured, looking at the ceiling.
"Oh, you!" Kimberly made a halfhearted swat at him.
"This is good, isn't it?" Wes enquired. "We know that if Alice leads, the others will follow."
"Oh, it's good," Eric agreed, "saves us the trouble."
"But?" said Jen.
"It means someone has to figure out their training schedule a hell of a lot quicker than I was thinking."
"Pardon?" said Kimberly, frowning.
"Well," Eric explained, "I was figuring it would take us at least a week to convince the kids, which would give me plenty of time to figure out a training schedule...but if they come out and ask to join the SGs today..."
"Eric Myers, you lazy son of a bitch!" Kimberly exclaimed.
Eric offered her a grin. "You asked."
"In fairness," said Jen, snickering, "it isn't easy -- it's not like the kids can just join the next training group."
Kimberly snickered in response. "I guess not," she admitted. "But you're still lazy, Eric." She swatted at him again.
"Hey!" he objected.
Wes shook his head. "Remind me never to piss Kim off."
"Damn straight," said Kimberly, swatting in Wes' direction. "Pissing me off is a seriously bad idea."
There was a cough from the doorway. Alice was standing there, Rick beside her. Both looked amused.
"Guess you don't have to grow up to be an adult, huh?" Rick offered.
Alice grinned. "I could have told you that."
"Is there something you two want or are you just going to be rude?" Jen asked.
"Actually," said Alice, "we were wondering if you guys were ready to hear my plan -- but it looks like you're having way too much fun, so we'll just..."
"Alice," said Eric sternly, "you're not too big and grown up for me to..."
"Relax -- I'm kidding," said Alice, grinning.
"Twisted sense of humour," murmured Rick as he and Alice, closely followed by John and Lexia, entered the kitchen.
Eric growled in mock irritation. "OK -- what is this big idea of yours?"
Alice glanced at the others. Rick nodded, as much to say 'you're the leader, it's your idea, you tell him'.
"Well," she began, "I know...from stuff you and mom have said that Chief Mackenzie doesn't like Rangers at the best of times."
Eric blinked. That was comfortably the last opening he'd been expecting. "Ye-es?"
"And we," she waved a hand at herself and the triumvirate, "didn't exactly endear ourselves to the city...what with blowing up the East Hills training centre and making a mess of Cranston Plaza."
"Ye-es." Where the hell was this leading?
"So...what I thought -- and what Rick, John and Lexia have agreed about -- is that we should join the Silver Guardians." Eric wanted to feel relieved that this was what Alice had been leading up to, except that she was clearly hesitating. "Publicly."
"The sound of the other shoe," murmured Jen.
"Why publicly?" Wes asked.
"We want to make up for what happened," John offered. "We know that no-one beyond Silver Guardians got hurt..."
"...but they could have been," Lexia finished.
"And if Chief Mackenzie's as big an ass about Rangers as Alice says he is," said Rick, "if we don't join the SGs..."
"He will raise hell," Eric agreed dryly. Then lifted an eyebrow. "And just where did you get the idea Chief Mackenzie was an ass, Alice?"
Alice snickered. "You should learn to be quieter when he's annoyed you."
Eric closed his eyes and groaned. Softly.
"You walked into that one," Kimberly murmured.
"You realise that it's not going to be easy," Wes pointed out.
"We do," said Rick.
Eric opened his eyes again. "And you realise that if you do this, it's for real. You will have to train and you will have to take orders from people you've grown up around, like Ian Foster, Ben Johnson and Taylor Earhardt."
"We know," said Lexia.
"Dad," said John, "can you think of a safer place for us to be?"
I'm so not ready to have my kids use my own arguments at me!Eric groused silently. "OK." He nodded. "It'll take a week to get things sorted out -- which should nicely take care of your GEDs -- you start a week from today." Eric smiled a little. "With a suitably public press conference."
"Anyone ever told you you're evil?" hissed Wes.
"Frequently," Eric answered. Looking in Alice's direction, he added, "You were the ones who mentioned the public thing."
Alice looked less than overjoyed by the prospect of a press conference, but she nodded. "OK."
"The real work," Eric continued, "will start the following Monday."
A look was exchanged between the four 'kids' at that ominous pronouncement.
"Suddenly," said John, "this seems like a really bad idea..."
TO BE CONTINUED...