AN: Another day, another one shot finished! This one has been bouncing around for a long time, so long in fact that we had completely forgotten we had written it! So, much like our other ideas that we have been posting so far, this will be the second Worm based one! Hope you guys enjoy it!
AtW: Of course this is a bit silly, but we both had a chuckle and enjoyed writing it. So we hope you guys enjoy a less… intense experience this time around.
Power Grid - One Shot
Here is a bit of advice for all willing to hear it.
'People aren't born equal.'
Some were born with a miraculous combination of genes that made them look gorgeous no matter the hour of the day or day of the week. Others were born into well off families that allowed them to do as they bloody well pleased. And others even had the luxury of having a unique talent or genius that made them well known and envied.
But unfortunately, the opposite was also true.
For each flawless pretty girl and handsome, strong boy, there were dozens if not hundreds of the plain and the ugly, destined to fade into the background.
For each once in a generation genius, there was a whole generation worth of averages. Those who, no matter what they did, could never keep up with those abnormally talented people.
And of course, for each millionnaire, there were millions who had to make due with what fate deigned to give them. If it gave them anything at all. The bottom line was that there would always be those who stood atop the ladder, just as there would be those who sat at the bottom, struggling to survive.
And Taylor Hebert was definitely in the later category.
She was plain.
She was average.
She was at the bottom, just looking to survive.
"It's Morphin Time!" Mr Gladly shouted, adopting a ridiculous pose.
Or at least, that's how things used to be.
Behind him, clumsily drawn into the blackboard, was a simple white circle, poorly scrawled with white chalk, the signature thunderbolt cleaving right through it like a blade. For once, outside of a few chuckleheads, the classroom seemed intent on listening to what the teacher had to say.
Sprawled atop his desk were several items and bits of memorabilia, such as helmets, cellphones, faux swords made out of plastic and cheap metal all bearing the same symbol.
"Class, today we have quite a special treat ahead of us. Mighty special, one might say."
Taylor bit down on her lip, stifling an affronted groan of exasperation at the man's cheesiness. Others weren't as acclimating, snickering amongst themselves as their grown up teacher fawned over his little figurines.
Not that she could really blame him.
Those were limited edition after all.
"As you might-y have guessed, today we are going to be talking about the M.R.S. With the aptitude exams soon to come, the director agreed that each and every student should at least be made aware of the basics. Now, can anyone tell me about the squads and what they are ?"
As expected, every single hand was raised.
"Yes, Miss Barnes?"
Taylor, this time couldn't hold back a hiss of annoyance.
"Certainly, Mr Gladly. M.R.S, otherwise known as the Morphing Response Squads are groups of exceptionally talented agents armed with the latest advancements in technology and tasked by the government with protecting citizens against parahuman threats."
Mr Gladly beamed with excitement, looking every bit the part of a child in a toy store.
Or an infant in a grown man's suit. She could never tell.
"Textbook answer, Miss Barnes. Can anyone tell me what separates the Morphing Squads from any other military or law enforcement organization?"
All hands were raised yet again.
"Yes, Mister Veder?"
Taylor nearly planted her forehead into her desk. Really? Out of all the people he could have asked!
"Their awesome powers? The suits? The money? Oh! Oh! Oh! It's the giant robots. Please tell me it's the giant robots!"
Much like their supposedly responsible authority figure, Greg looked just about ready to burst out of his seat with excitement. If anything, their teacher's grin seemed to have grown even larger.
Bone made painful contact with wood.
'God. There are two of them….'
If the two chatterheads cared about her headbutting her desk, they clearly didn't show it, far too busy speed talking to each other about their favorite formations and the best team overall. God did they make her want to do it again.
Fortunately someone decided to clear their throat and bring the two idiots back to reality.
Or whatever passed for it, in their case.
"Ahem, yes. Those are all very good answers, Mr. Veder. But unfortunately, none of them is the one we are looking for. Does anyone else have a guess?"
Taylor raised her hand.
And immediately snarled.
"Correct, Miss Hess. Though in the future you should wait for me to call your name before answering."
The girl shrugged uncaringly, her face a mask of faux contriteness.
"You are, of course, correct. What separates the Squads from an average group of policemen is not just their training, but their capability to bond and assmilite with Morph Technology. Hence the name. Still, what else is there to know about it?"
This time, Taylor's hand struck like a viper.
"Yes, Ms. Hebert?"
"Morph Technology is quirky, Mr. Gladly. It requires a great deal of focus and practice to utilize. Not anyone can learn how to use them to their fullest potential. What makes Morphing Squads so different is how selective they are and the absurd standards they have for all their recruits."
That wasn't all, though.
One might argue that a career soldier would make for a better pick than a random teenager, and they wouldn't be wrong. The former would be able to learn faster and get better results than the former for at least ten years.
But that was as far as older Rangers tended to last.
The human body simply could not handle the stress of the constant inflow of exotic energy. Each squad, generally speaking, had a field they specialized in. This meant that a Ranger had to deal with the basic skills of a military police officer, of a professional soldier or sailor or ERO, and then their squad's specialization. According to rumor, the Japanese had a literal ninja academy where they bred generations of elite near-superhuman warriors to become Rangers. Those same rumors mentioned that those ninja could fly, run on water, breathe fire, and at least some of them could just flat out use magic.
In short, the amount of damage a ranger took over time was insane. Enough that they often suffered debilitating physical damage to their joints and internal organs by the time they reached middle age. It was telling that, that was common knowledge too.
Wait a second. Why was the room so quiet?
Taylor shifted uneasily. Everyone was staring at her in bewilderment. Some, like Greg, in awe, and others in disgusted hostility.
"Did I… say that out loud?" She hesitantly asked.
The silence was telling.
"Yes, ahem…" Mr Gladly coughed nervously. "That was very informative, Ms. Hebert. And you are indeed correct. Proficiency decides for how long a Ranger will be able to fight and how easily they will bond with their Morphers."
Taking a piece of chalk in hand, he quickly drew a small chart with percentages. Building up by increments of ten from zero percent to one hundred percent.
"Currently, the M.R.S only accepts those with a proficiency rate above 75%. Mind you, the threshold used to be much lower, at 50%, but nowadays the process has been refined. There are enough active squads that the government is allowed to take their pick from prospective recruits."
Taylor nodded. It made sense.
While before there used to be only a handful of squads responsible for handling parahuman threats world wide, today the organization counted with over forty teams spread over the globe. Protecting innocents from disasters that local authorities just weren't suited to handle.
An 'Army of Justice', some would call it.
'Unrestricted Mercenaries' was another term thrown around.
"Ms. Hebert." Gladly called out, for once caring more about the fact she was knowledgeable about the Rangers than looking cool for the first time in his life. "Do you know what the primary objection to the Rangers are?"
Slowly nodding,Taylor took her time. She had… been interested in them since she was a kid. And then stayed interested after she got older. Emma turning on her just gave her more time to study.
"There are a few big ones… but if I had to pick the biggest one, it's that they're an inter, and intra, national organization that is only technically regulated by the UN. The Security Council nominally holds the power to issue dictates and the Rangers also need the approval of the general assembly, either through a vote or by signing their charter, to enter into a nation. This means no single nation controls them, however, very noticeably, they are dominated by Americans."
"Excellently stated Ms. Hebert!" Spinning around, he turned on the projector, a slide show humming to life as he did so.
"After objecting to American influence, and Tommy Oliver telling them to, well, you all know the words he used, not so politely go away, the People's Republic of China only fields a single, highly supervised team. Moving past criticisms of the nature of that team, the PRC has been accused of violating the Charter of International Cooperation no less than seventeen times. The Soviet Union was accused of violating it eight times. The US and its allies, four in total. To make it clear, the Rangers have been accused of being an imperialistic, Western, American front more than once. And their operations against ISIL, their fighting in the Mexican Cartel Wars, and the Brazillian Civil War of 1992 are all held up as evidence of such."
Sophia barked a laugh. Gladly actually managing to cock an eyebrow in response.
"Something to say, Ms. Hess?"
Not hearing the actual hint of anger in her teacher's voice, Hess forged ahead.
"Please. We all know about that. And about their actions at Waco. And them stopping that loser Kaczynski. And about how they tore through the Serbs. The Rangers are badassess. So when someone shits the bed, they rub the loser's nose in it. So what if those losers don't know how to handle the truth."
The girl's sneer was rather intense, actual anger burning in her eyes. Gladly laughed.
"Bleak. But not entirely incorrect." Glancing at the clock, he nodded. "Well, we don't have enough time to discuss the differences between real-politik and the ideals the Rangers represent. But do remember, the tests are next week and that homework is due on Friday!"
Unfortunately for him, the class was already chattering as the bell rang. Filing out, a few, including Veder, stayed behind to speak with the still excitable man for a short while longer. Taylor simply kept her head down and prayed Hess wasn't looking for her today.
"Hebert." Taylor grunted. Two steps into the hallway and she was already caught. Head down, she ignored Sophia and kept moving.
'Mrs. Knott is just down the hallway. Just keep looking. Don't turn around.'
She took a sharp turn to the left.
And ran straight into Emma.
"Going somewhere, Taylor." She smiled sweetly back at her.
"I think she was trying to get away." Madison giggled. "Probably embarrassed after she gushed over Gladfly's geeky shit."
Sophia bumped into her from behind. Hard.
"You sucking his dick too, Hebert? Slut like you, well, I hope the fatty doesn't catch something."
"Hardly. I know Taylor's slow, but even Gladly is out of her league. Though…." Emma tapped her chin thoughtfully. "That might be how the poor girl has managed to pass. You know she needs all the… extra credit she can get."
Taylor didn't cry. She didn't slap Emma or scream or even meet the eyes of any of the other students just… standing there. Watching. All she did was stand there as the Trio and their lackeys giggled at each other and mocked her. Emma implying Taylor was an idiot, bringing up her mother. Madison asking if she was anorexic, mentioning how she was so thin she looked like a tall twelve year old. Sophia just leered at her and made jokes about her body only sometimes getting physical, just like the wannabe rapist the track star was.
She was used to it.
It still hurt though. Excruciatingly so. But she had put up with this for over a year now, so most of it just washed over her back.
Mostly because it was true. It was reality.
Taylor Hebert was not a track star with a career ahead of her. She wasn't a rich girl with the best looks money could buy. Hell, she wasn't even a freaking mascot like Madison. She always had been and always would be a simple average girl, destined it to fade away under most circumstances.
Only these weren't normal circumstances, were they.
"Say what you want. Doesn't make your Ratings higher than mine." She said simply.
And just like that the mooks crowded behind Emma collectively winced.
Because everybody knew that Emma Barnes was everything she was not. She was rich. She was beautiful. In some areas she was even more talented. Yet there was one thing that Taylor Hebert was better at than her. Something that could never change no matter how much the other girl hissed and spat venom her way.
Taylor Hebert. proficiency rate: 77%
Emma Barnes, proficiency rate: 22%
Something every kid thought about, but no one but the Rangers actually knew for sure was how the ratings were determined.
The most common arguments were a mixture of physicality, mental stability, will power, intelligence, cunning, and willingness to fight.
Others said it had to do with a ghost man scanning the planet using hyper advanced tech to implant alien devices into human children to make them weapons.
Considering everyone from literal psychics to super geniuses to guys that could phase through walls were counted in their ranks, the handful of actual cripples and the plethora of mind-bogglingly average people always stood out. Until they weren't, of course. According to rumor, even Tommy was 'just' a karate instructor who worked at a crappy strip mall. Before he became the single most famous man in the world, at least.
So no theories, even the ones involving demons and magic or ghosts or just flat out super science were dismissed. Not unless there was hard, hard evidence disproving it. And even then, when a new squad revealed a new set of insane powers, well, nothing was ever really set in stone.
In any other world, Taylor would have been an average plain girl.
But in this world, she stood out in a way that other people just couldn't.
You couldn't buy it.
You couldn't steal it.
You could devote your entire life to training and never quite achieve it.
The ability to be a Ranger was limited to a chosen few. And Taylor Hebert was one of them.
"And you're a weak little bitch with more fat than muscle, bulimia bitch." Hess pushed her. "So even if you've got a stick up your ass about having special blood, you aint got what it takes."
Sophia was in Taylor's face, snarling and ready to beat the crap out of her when the SRO officer's voice barked out.
"Hess! Step away! NOW!" His order had the black girl give Taylor one last push before the burly former cop, now sporting a beer belly, dragged the girl away towards the principal's office. A venomous glare scattering the crowd and leaving Taylor alone, holding her book bag, and almost late for class.
Glancing at the clock on the wall, she shrugged.
The trio might be psychotic bitches, but it didn't make them wrong. She was still just plain old Taylor. No need to be late and make her any worse than she already was.
Turns out, Mr. Gladly's class had been the high point of Taylor's morning for once. Talking about badass warriors wearing spandex and metal plates was much more engaging than english or ancient history. Maybe it was because all the Rangers seemed to be either ruggedly handsome, bubbly and bouncy, or scarred in ways that just made them look badass, but, somehow, they pulled off the otherwise ridiculous costumes. And that was ignoring that one team that looked more like heavy infantry with laser guns than cops!
Everything else felt… boring by contrast.
The Trio had spent the rest of the morning being passive aggressive bitches to her, trying to make her as miserable as possible at every turn just because she reminded them that they weren't the perfect idols they liked to believe they were.
Though it had been, admittedly, a low blow.
In a world where those lucky enough to be born with certain criteria could become super heroes, every child hoped they'd be one of the lucky few. The Ranger Squads were a cultural phenomenon.
But not everyone could be a ranger and join the M.S.R. And to rub someone's face in their incapability to be one was considered bad form to say the least. While things like racism had largely, and it was only largely, faded in the face of literal aliens and demons and horrific monstrosities the size of skyscrapers, eugenics had certainly made a come back. So when certain countries were restricting people's right to have kids, based on their ratings, insulting someone for their genes could certainly fall under the category of "dick move".
There had been… a few different things that had led up to it. But, in the end, things had gone wrong and now Emma was only happy when she was ruining someone else's day.
And it wasn't like Brockton Bay was one of those super busy cities where a Case 53 attacked every week. Those places had to be constantly rebuilt over and over again because of the parahumans' constant rampages. Not to mention, they had a constant M.R.S. presence and as a result were amongst the most advanced cities in the world.
Silver Hills. Turtle Cove. Reefside.
Once upon a time, they had been just average cities. If you looked at them on a map, it'd be a random scattershot of random cities with literally no major shared features. Yet they were now pseudo strongholds, modified to survive the constant onslaught that necessitated a Ranger Presence.
Amusingly, that also meant classes were cancelled whenever one of these 'monsters of the week' popped up.
Brockton Bay, by contrast, only had the most basic of M.R.S. presences, a building off the coast of the bay, created on top of an abandoned oil rig. And that was more because of their nearness to Boston, a city that was attacked regularly, and because a number of important battles had been fought here in the past.
The Allfather and his Dark Valkyr, Lung and his Brood, the Marquis and his Fairy. Even the Allfather's children had shown up and started another round of fights. And even above all that, the Leviathan, an impossibly powerful monstrosity, had been dropped onto the city by a massive alien spacecraft.
Back then, they'd had the "Brockton Bay Brigade". Two generations of native Rangers, trained and mentored by Tommy himself, and they'd still had to call in backup.
Nowadays, the Brigade were based out of Boston and the Brockton moniker had been dropped.
Of course, there were still scars. The debris of hundreds of ruined buildings, multiple supertankers, a pair of destroyed zords, literally thousands of vehicles and pieces of tech, pieces of the destroyed monster, and that alien craft that had unleashed the Leviathan had covered parts of the Bay for years.
Instead of cleaning up each and every piece of debris, a project the city estimated would have cost almost three hundred million dollars and would have taken two decades, they lopped off a section of the city's destroyed industrial park several square miles in area and shoved everything in there. Not that there was really anything left in that pile of kaiju crap. Immediately after the fights the M.R.S and the D.O.D. and the C.I.A. and literally a hundred other agencies and organizations and even a couple non profits had picked over the corpses. Anything useful, including a small fortune in copper wire, had been stripped out. The result was a wasteland of slowly rusting metal where people went to drop their junk since the local Squad didn't seem to care. It was so much cheaper the city had just expanded the county scrapyard to include it, threw a few special permits at it, and called it a day.
Turns out that having an alien cruiser stationed on the front door was good for tourism but horrible for business. And of course, once the novelty wore off, there just wasn't enough interest in running maintenance or upkeep.
Nobody went there. Which made it the perfect place to be alone.
The smell of salt burnt Taylor's nose, stung her eyes. There was a faint electricity in the air, a tingle which ran over her skin.
Miles wide, filled with small mountains of battle scrap and small hills of regular crap, the Scrapyard was on the Brockton Bay postcard for a reason.
Sitting in the middle of a pile of assorted trash was what she could only describe as a jumbo sized cargo ship made out of chromed metal. Large, a spheroid, and with a gash that ran at least a kilometer in length torn in the side, it was permanently grounded but still impressive as all Hell. Getting in was simple, the lock was very obviously broken, and so she just pushed the gate of the chainlink fence open and walked in.
She already knew the way to the alien ship by heart, weaving in and out between piles of metal with almost instinctual ease.
All the while, she allowed the frustration and anger of her day to wash away. With no one around to see her, her face warped and twisted with misery. Yet she wouldn't cry. Rather, she refused to cry until she got to her hideout.
Her one safe place.
Settled just behind the giant tanker was the alma matter of the scrapyard. Something that had once inspired awe and terror in equal parts depending on which side of the law you stood on. A monument to the wonder that children like her felt when they watched old recordings of zord battles.
It was a head. A giant head.
Most of it had been gutted, but it was still possible to make out the reddish metal and curling horns of a once mighty titan.
The original of its kind.
The Dino Megazord.
Or what was left of it, really.
Even though the rest of its body had sunk and become unretrievable over a decade ago, somehow the head unit had detached and washed ashore in Brockton. Rumours went that the Second Generation Squad, lead by Jason Lee Scott had piloted it in order to battle the Leviathan, a gigantic monster freed by an evil organization or some other psychopath.
Details were hazy and hard to come by.
Even so. It was still a monument to the world of today.
While nearly two decades had passed since it was destroyed, the Dino Megazord was looked at as the scientific accomplishment of the century. To build and power something so massive was no easy feat. Rather, it would be easier to call it a pipe dream. And while many new zords had been created since then, This was still considered the Zord.
Personally, Taylor was relatively sure no one actually knew it was here. She searched the wikipedia page, even a few forums, and double checked the records on the official website, M.S. Online.
So as far as the world knew, the Dino Megazord was still at the bottom of the Atlantic. And whoever had placed the head here, and covered it in a few decades worth of junk, either didn't know what they had or didn't care. Neither were likely in Taylor's opinion, but that didn't change the fact she was, literally, the only person to know it existed at all.
Of course. That also meant she had all the time in the world to figure out its secrets.
After all, there were people who would give both their arms and legs for a chance to peek inside the first megazord ever made, so Taylor had made it a mission of sorts to figure out a way to get inside.
She then went on to fail spectacularly for an entire year, banish it from her mind entirely for half that time, and then find a hidden panel about two months later when she decided to try and give the old battle machine a fresh paint job.
Taylor jogged until she was behind the giant head, lightly patting the warm metal until she reached the area where the 'neck' was supposed to meet the 'spine'. The silhouette of the hidden hatch had become visible when the paint she was plastering over it seeped into the cracks and revealed the outline of a door.
Of course, she had decided to cover it up with an extra layer of black paint later, just to make sure it stayed hidden.
Figuring out how to open it had taken another couple of weeks. But, apparently, all she had to do was slip a screwdriver into the join and the whole thing popped open. Getting it closed was a bit harder, and involved sparking a few wires while sliding under the falling door. Long, long practice had finally made that particular maneuver easy.
The first few times had been…painful to say the least.
'But it was sure worth it.' Taylor grinned as she worked her trusty screwdriver into the panel, stepping to the side as it easily popped out to reveal a staircase leading upwards. Taped to the walls were bundles of glow sticks.
She'd never quite found the lightswitch, likely because it was on a section no longer connected to the head. That or it was simply gone. There was a lot of damage after all.
Taylor wasn't totally sure how tall it was, the headpiece that was, but it was big enough to have two floors. The first, located in the mouth area, had what looked like some kind of engine or battery that filled about a third of the room, perhaps an emergency back up or capacitor of some kind. However, it was the second floor that people worldwide would have recognized.
Five custom built crash chairs, arrayed behind a command panel, that even then flickered with the occasional light. She couldn't say for sure, but there was an itch in the back of her head that the Zord was very, very slowly repairing itself.
'I wonder how long it would take.'
It was a massive and massively complex machine, after all.
But for the moment, it was still her's. And she loved it. Plopping down in the Blue Ranger's chair, Billy Cranston's, she sighed. The urge to cry was gone, mostly, but she still felt angry.
"Angst, thy name is Taylor."
But it was hard to do anything but just let the toxic mix of self loathing and gut wrenching frustration wash over her. Intellectually, she knew it was unhealthy. That she was wallowing. Yet that changed absolutely nothing. She was still hurting and there was still exactly nothing she could do about it.
"Self improvement is all about taking it one step at a time."
The truth of the matter was that even after spending eighteen months learning how to work with, at first, very simple tools and then building up to electrical work, metal working, and eventually a good, solid refresher on the basics of robotics all she'd managed to do was give herself a very expensive hobby she was lucky was subsidized by the hobbies.
Even her attempts to get in shape changed nothing about how she was treated in school.
Taylor had managed to knock her muffin top out of the way almost two years ago now, in part of that initial burst of enthusiasm over finding the megazord.
"I was so sure this meant I was supposed to be trying harder. That all I had to do was be like them."
A lack of skill or guidance and an over abundance of drive meant she'd hurt herself more than once. Nowadays her routine was so normal to her that jogging ten miles, going to the Union affiliated gym four times a week, and even her normal work out at home was easy.
"Well not easy." She chuckled. "Still have to use the special socks if I don't want blisters."
But, in the end, nothing had changed. Sure, she was healthier, and a bit happier, but Sophia still kicked her ass. Literally whenever she stood up to the bully, Hess would just come down on her, out of school if she had to. And its not like she was even that strong. Tall and thin, wiry and with long legs, Taylor was great at eating up distance but just was not meant to take a punch. Not like the bigger, stronger girl could toss out anyways.
Staring into a dull, lifeless computer monitor, seeing her hazy, neon green reflection staring back at her, Hebert took a deep breath.
"I accept that I'm weak. I accept that I'm ugly. I'm just Taylor. And I need to be happy being me."
Who needed an ego when you were supposed to be focusing on making it to college in a couple years?
And that was why she was proud of his aptitude score. Because there were very few like her, those who could join the M.R.S. and hope for a spot at the squads. Even if she weren't chosen, she would be effectively on reserve and gain a buttload of benefits from it. Which would go a long way to help.
Never let it be said that Taylor Hebert wasn't pragmatic.
After all, what was the point of being a hero if she were miserable doing it?
Standing up, she walked to the main console, brushing a bit of the dust away when it did something she never in a million, million years expected. It flickered to life.
"WelcoME White RaNgEr, obJeCtivE loCaTEd."
The mechanical tone was distorted and corrupted, barely comprehensible even after the wash of static faded.
"TrAnsMiTtIng COorDinATes NOw."
For a moment, a map flashed on screen. Just as distorted as the voice, it was only because of Taylor's familiarity with topographical maps of Brockton Bay that she recognized what she was looking at. But the white icon moving towards the dot in the center was very obviously someone moving around in the junkyard. More importantly, the icon that had been labelled "inactive morpher" made her throat seize up.
It took her a moment to remember to breathe.
"Fuck. Shit…. Fuck."
Her first thought was pretty obvious.
'Oh my god, did it say White Ranger!?'
Because of course there was a White Ranger, there were, in fact, fifteen active rangers who were white, not to mention those who went with silver or gray. It had become a very common addition to ranger squads as morphing technology advanced.
Problem was… this was an old computer.
As in second generation old.
Meaning that there was only one active White Ranger registered at the time this was built. Which of course, meant she had to get out of dodge before the man arrived and found her sitting inside restricted technology, not to mention private property.
She didn't know which was worse.
So she opted for the tried and true tactic of running away.
'Going to prison is not worth the autograph.' She jumped off the seat, running down the stairs, past the engine room and through the second set of steps. Mind running a hundred miles per hour as she hastily sparked the wires to open the door.
Ten seconds later and she was sprinting away from the wreckage.
This time, with a clear destination in mind.
Because there was another piece of information she'd just learnt.
An inactive morpher.
Morpher could only ever indicate one thing. That being the alma mater of super science, the gadget used by the Ranger Squads to tap into the virtually infinite well of energy from the Morphing Grid in order to become the protectors of peace and punishers of evil!
And there was one just lying about in this trash heap.
There was no way Taylor wasn't taking a look at it! To hesitate would be sacrilege.
She didn't need to keep. She just wanted to look, just wanted to touch it, to feel the genuine article in the palm of her hands. Maybe then she would make up her mind and decide if this was what she really wanted. What she needed to do. It would make all of this worth it if Taylor could only see the thing for herself.
And of course, there was no way a Ranger fan girl like her was losing on the chance of seeing on in person!
Maybe she could return it personally and get an award!
'An autograph! Definitely an autograph!' Of the entire team, or just Tommy's.
Being retired was boring, Tommy reckoned.
Now, that didn't mean he missed the life risking battles, grievous wounds, and brushes with death that seemed to become more frequent the more time he spent as a Ranger. In fact, when the time came to hang up his boots and pass on what he knew to the next generation, he relished the thought of sitting down and breathing in peace.
And he continued to appreciate it… for the first month.
Then things became boring quickly.
There was a big difference between being a ranger and teaching one.
Out in the field you had to learn as fast as possible, react as fast as possible, fight as long as possible to make sure you survived and saved as many people as possible. It was a whirlwind of action and adrenaline. A rush of power the likes which he hadn't felt since.
To be honest, he missed it.
Perhaps not the danger, but the triumph and sensation of accomplishment he'd had fighting against monsters and criminals alike with his squad. There hadn't been anything quite like it.
Which was why he had volunteered to trudge through this tetanus ridden scrapheap. It was like a trip down memory lane, a reminder of days far gone, when he'd been no more than a karate instructor making ends meet, and then a young Ranger trying to fit into his squad. Only the second ever in the history of the United States.
'I wonder how the others are doing.'
Jason, he knew, had retired comfortably and moved to Canada.
He had more contact with Billy, who stayed as an employee of the M.R.S, helping make better gadgets and tools for future Rangers. He well and truly envied the new squads, having so many toys to play around with.
The last he'd heard of Trini and Zack, the two were touring Europe together.
And Kymberly well…
It was complicated. And he would leave it at that.
"So, did you get a ping back?"
"Nah. There was a data burst, but nothing my handheld could make out. Sorry Hanna."
Looking over his shoulder, he couldn't help but flash a smile at the very pretty woman who was one half of his escort today. Not that he really meant anything by it, but old habits die hard. And she was quite the Ranger herself. She'd fought across the width and breadth of North America, even participated in Operation Desert Storm when Behemoth was lighting the near east on fire. Some of those oil wells were still burning to this day, but thanks to people like her the monster had been stopped.
"I'm getting a response myself, but its unclear. As if I'm not cleared to actually connect. Do you think there's working tech in here somewhere?"
Colin dropped to the ground next to them, having just clambered up to the top of a pile of debris.
"It's possible. There's debris from, what, six fights?"
The cyborg gave a chuckle.
"All Father took my legs in the last one, so I should hope I could count."
Holding up one arm, small golden wedding ring glinting in the sunlight, the half machine waved the limb back and forth a few times.
"So, how's the Missus doing?"
This time the former blue ranger practically beamed.
"Dragon just received official recognition as sentient life. We ended up getting married at a courthouse in the rebuilt Newfoundland municipality, but we're going to have the ceremony in a month or two. And yeah, there's a couple different power sources in there. And a few dead zones. The scanners built into my body just aren't meant to burn through this much interference I'm afraid."
Hannah hummed in thought.
"But to think there's so much old stuff here. You'd think they would have been more careful with leaving even half of it unsupervised. When was the last time they did disassembling at this place?"
"The records show operations have ceased nearly five years ago." Colin supplied.
"Five?! Just what were they thinking? If they forgot to disassemble even one combat model it could suffer catastrophic failure and cause an explosion. This whole place could go up in flames."
The veteran of the trio chuckled.
"The ravages of time, I'm afraid. And the issue with having to supervise a continent wide network of parahuman crime fighting. Before, we could afford to be as minutious as needed. But nowadays you have over a dozen teams getting into fights, so they needed a simple and quick solution."
Unfortunately, simple and quick translated to dangerous in this case.
"Still, we might be in luck. My old communicator isn't attuned to new frequencies, so we can head straight to the motherload."
"Race you there!"
Leaping over a fallen pillar, the kurdish woman, who was rocking a very… Americanized camo outfit, took off like a track star. Laughing, Tommy decided to go up, scaling the side of a pile of debris, and leaping to the next and beelining towards the place his communicator told him had something important. Below, there was a loud crash as Colin simply smashed through whatever twisted metal had been blocking his way.
Five minutes later and the veteran ranger flexed his knees, managing to execute a corkscrew flip, and stuck the landing. And it was purely coincidental that he landed five feet in front of where the other two heroes had stopped.
Hana looked down at his legs.
"You tore your pants."
Looking down, he realized that, yes, he had shredded his pants legs.
"So that explains the breeze."
"Pants are silly. Just wear powered armor."
The cyborg's chuckle rumbled through the clearing and the two humans joined him.
"All right, let's see. Sending the handshake… and… woah! We've hit paydirt, right over here!"
Rushing across the cluttered path, Oliver slid under an overhang, hopped over a shattered car, and then came to a small nook. Waiving the other two over, he called out.
"I heard something in there, do you have any wild animals we need to be worried about?"
Colin raised his arm again, ready to conduct another scan, and then, just as Hanna reached for the pistol on her hip, a massive black explosion rocked the trio. Colin had enough strength to tank the blast, but the smaller kurdish woman was sent flying and Tommy, in particular, was slammed into the wall of debris behind him.
Adrenaline spiking, he was on his feet, ignoring the wet feeling trickling down his back, fists raised.
Standing across from him was a figure in black armor, plates which reminded him of an insects shell covered their body, the exoskeleton parting around the joints but otherwise covering their entire body. More important was their deep, golden, unnaturally distorted eyes - the sheer wrongness of which drove a spike of unease through his chest. The enemy stepped back, a distorted growl echoing through the helmet shaped much like a spider.
It seemed… dishearteningly familiar, for some reason.
And that was when the swarm of cockroaches attacked.