Operation Overdrive belongs to Disney/Ranger Productions. I am using it without permission, but I am not and don't expect to make money from this.
Rated PG: minor language, brief mention of sex, some mature concepts.
This is the third fic I've done for the 'Five Things that Never Happened' fanfiction challenge/exercise started by Panache. What can I say, it's a great fic meme!
Warning and A/N: This contains major spoilers for 'Things Not Said' and every ep after it in the series. It was inspired by Mack's recently revealed situation, which I find absolutely fascinating. Thanks go to my lovely and now very pregnant non-PR-fan beta, Cecilia. (I showed her a screencap of Andrew and Mack from the show - Cecilia: "Wow, he looks so realistic!")
The last part probably goes seriously AU, or maybe AE as in Alternate Ending. I wrote it and am posting it before 'Crown and Punishment' airs. While I'd like Mack's story to end this way, it probably won't - and if the actual ending is close to this, which came out of my own head? That would be kind of creepy in its own way.
Kindly take a moment to review...
Five Questions Mack Never Asked
Why? (after Things Not Said)
He stood at the bottom of the stairs, still and quiet, so far unnoticed by the man standing over the main Overdrive base computer console with head bent and shoulders slumped. Feeling guilty? Mack thought savagely. Good.
Perhaps he stirred slightly in his anger, because Andrew Hartford turned and stiffened as he looked up. "Mack!" he exclaimed, an odd mix of eagerness and apprehension crossing his face. After a moment he continued hesitantly, "Are you okay?"
Mack started forward slowly, arms crossed. "Am I okay? Maybe you should tell me, Dad. Oh wait, I forgot. You're not my father!" He raised his hands with an expression of bewilderment. "So what should I call you? Andrew? Mr. Hartford?"
"I'd prefer 'Dad'." Andrew was watching him cautiously as Mack began to circle around him.
"Ah. Ah, but I don't prefer it. Still, you did make me. You built me. Maybe 'Oh great and glorious Creator' would be appropriate."
"Mack, this isn't helping."
Mack widened his eyes and tapped his chest. "Maybe it's not helping you, but it's sure helping me."
"I know you're angry-"
"Angry?!" Almost without realizing it, Mack stepped in closer, almost nose to nose with the man he still couldn't help thinking of as his father. He waved an arm at the work benches nearby. "Angry! Do you have any idea what it felt like to wake up and find my goddamn head sitting on a table and my body lying over there like - like a broken machine? To find out I'm not real? That my whole life is a lie, just something you made up?"
Andrew winced and backed off a step. "No, son, I don't-"
"Don't call me 'son'!!"
Maybe it was the fury Mack felt, the confusion and fear and the sick knowledge that he would never be any of the things he had thought he already was, like normal, like human - maybe it was the sight of Andrew flinching away from him as if he was some kind of monster - it was as if he blinked and suddenly he had his hands twisted in Andrew's collar, pulling it tight, lifting him off his feet with the strength that was supposed to be a genetic enhancement but that was really the power of a machine...
"Mack - Mack - let go - you're choking me--"
For one moment of blinding rage that was what he wanted, to crush the life out of the man who had given him this imitation of life - but then Mack let go and reeled back, covering his face with his hands, chest heaving as he fought for control. "Sorry," he managed after a moment. "I'm sorry, didn't mean to... Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." When Mack looked, Andrew had one hand braced on the computer console and the other raised to his throat, but he straightened and took a step, reaching out. "It's all right; I understand." He stopped uncertainly, his hand dropping back to his side, fingers clenching. "I just wish I knew what to say to help you."
Mack looked away and muttered, "Maybe you could tell me - why."
"What do you mean?"
He looked back, meeting his father's - no, Mr. Hartford's - eyes. "Why did you make me? And don't give me that crap about wanting a son and never meeting the right woman."
"Don't lie to me!" Mack calmed himself again with an effort and lowered his voice. "If you really wanted a child, why not adopt? With your money and influence, you could have done it easily. And if you really had to make a kid instead, why not use genetic engineering? Why a robot teenager instead of a - a test-tube baby? You didn't raise me. You didn't watch me grow up. What's the point of making yourself a kid if he's already almost an adult?" He shook his head as Andrew's lips tightened. "No, there's more to it than that, and I want the truth this time."
"All right." There was a note of defeat in Andrew's voice as he sighed, reached for a chair and sat down heavily, glancing up with a hint of fear that made Mack's insides twist with shame. "You won't like it."
"I won't try to hurt you again, if that's what you're worried about." Mack looked around and found a chair for himself. He sat tensely, fists between his knees. "Go on."
Andrew looked down at the floor at Mack's feet as he began in a flat voice. "It started about five years ago. I had begun my search for the Corona Aurora, and had read the legends about it. I knew at least some of it was bound to be true. If - when I found the Corona - I knew it would have to be protected." He glanced up quickly and then away. "That's when I started the robotics development that led to you."
Mack gasped as he suddenly understood. "You mean - you mean I was supposed to be some kind of - of super soldier? To protect the Corona?" he demanded, his anger returning.
Andrew winced again, but his voice was firm. "Yes. I was going to build others, too, and equip all of you with the Ranger powers." He added bitterly, "You were supposed to be the first in my own little private army. Powerful, unbeatable. And completely under my command."
The idea was horrifying - and yet, obviously that wasn't the way things had turned out. "What happened?" Mack asked.
"I wanted you to have human intelligence and inventiveness, to be able to think independently, and to feel loyalty and be willing to fight for a good cause. I succeeded too well. As Spencer and I began to train you, we slowly realized that you were more human than we had intended. You had what appeared to be genuine emotions. You laughed. Cried. Wanted to meet other people, have a real life outside of being my - servant. I hadn't programmed you with any of those things - but they were there. I had made you capable of becoming more than what you started as. Of growing and learning, and of wanting to be free. Of - being consumed with envy and longing for the humanity you felt you lacked."
"I don't remember any of that," Mack said after a silent moment.
"No. You were angry and miserable. You began to... question the value of your own existence. Something had to be done, for your sake if nothing else, so I reprogrammed you to believe you were human and suppressed both those memories and your battle training. It's all still there underneath - I'm sure that's how you were able to step in as Red Ranger so effectively."
Mack swallowed before asking, "Why didn't you just destroy me or wipe my programming and start over?"
This time Andrew looked him in the eyes. "Because you were alive. You are alive. Because I had come to think of you as a human being, just as I still think of you." He blinked and shrugged. "It seemed like the best solution was to make you my 'son', so I could keep you near and protected. I gave you a false set of memories, as you know. I knew by then that what I had tried to do was wrong, so I converted my Ranger program to work with humans, and after I found the Corona I searched for the right people to wear the suits. You know the rest."
"Not quite. Why were you so set against me being the Red Ranger? That's what you made me for in the first place."
Andrew's brows contracted as if in pain. "Don't you see? It was too dangerous. Your real memories could have come back. You thought you were human - it would have been devastating to you." His voice dropped, his eyes returning to the floor. "It was devastating to you."
Mack waved a hand impatiently. "But - did you think I'd never find out? That I'd never notice? Something was bound to happen sooner or later. Why lie to me?"
"I was going to tell you eventually. I hoped that the way you reacted the first time was because you were so - young, for lack of a better word, and that in a few more years when you were more experienced and mature, maybe it would be easier for you." Andrew sighed. "Or maybe I was just fooling myself. I didn't know what else to do, and I was - ashamed of what I'd already done and how it turned out."
They sat like that for a few moments until, feeling tired and empty, Mack climbed to his feet. Andrew glanced up at him and muttered, "S-- Mack, I'm sorry. If you believe nothing else, believe that."
It would have been so easy to say something comforting and forgiving, and for a moment Mack found himself wanting to do just that. To forgive, and then go back to his room, and to bed, and pretend that none of this had ever happened. But that would be even more of a lie than the fake childhood his father - his creator - had programmed into his mind.
"I'm sorry too, Mr. Hartford," he said finally, and walked away.
What? (after Nothing to Lose)
"Mack? Bro, we gotta talk."
He'd been expecting his father - no, Mr. Hartford - to show up and scold him again for his recklessness, so Mack was partly relieved, partly curious, and to his own surprise just a little bit disappointed to look up and see Will's dark and lanky form leaning against the frame of his bedroom doorway. Closing his book, Mack summoned up a smile and waved a hand at the chair near the bed where he was lying. He sat up as Will crossed the room and asked, "What's up?"
"I'm the one who should be asking you that. What's up with you?"
"What do you mean?"
Will smiled and shook his head. "Just for starters, I mean the stunt with you trying to blow yourself up in the Flashpoint a few days ago."
Mack shrugged. "It was the only way to stop the Fearcats."
"No, it wasn't. We managed just fine once the rest of us got there."
"I didn't know you'd show up in time. I was trying to do what was best for the team. For the world."
A raised eyebrow and a faintly mocking smile answered him. "I might have an easier time buying that if you hadn't made that crack today about it not mattering if you get hurt."
Mack frowned down at his own hands. "Yeah, well."
"Didn't I tell you you can't go on doing that? Trying to take the heat for all of us and acting like you're not important? Last time I looked, we were supposed to be a team."
"That's pretty funny coming from you. And besides, you already said all that stuff."
"And you smiled and nodded, and then you went after Moltor alone, in the middle of a freaking volcano, and wouldn't leave to save your life. Literally. Mack..." Will's expression was completely serious and sincere for once when Mack looked up. "Why are you trying to kill yourself?"
"Kill myself?" Mack grinned lopsidedly, although what he was feeling was anything but amusement. "How do you figure that?"
Will scowled, his eyes narrowing. "What the hell are you talking about?"
"Look at me, Will. What am I?"
"It's a simple question. I'm a robot, right? Just a machine, a collection of nuts and bolts. I'm not alive, so I can't die. So what difference does it make?"
Will reached out, startlingly fast, his hand closing hard on Mack's wrist. "Yeah, you're a machine," he said with quiet intensity. "You're made of mechanical parts and electronics. And I'm made of water and carbon and a bunch of other chemicals. So what? That doesn't mean you don't count just as much as me." He let go with a gesture of disgust. "Don't ever say something like that about yourself again."
Mack stared at him, and then laughed uneasily. "But I am a machine. I'm not alive. I can't die. Can I?"
"How do you define 'alive'?" Will's face had gone back to its usual sardonically amused expression. "I guess I'm just not used to seeing a machine sitting around feeling sorry for himself, and taking stupid chances that could get us all killed because we happen to care about what happens to you, and making your dad feel like crap because he screwed up. You gotta be alive to be that messed up. And whether you want to call it dying or not, you can be destroyed. Even if you don't care, the rest of us don't want to have to pick up your pieces."
"Gee, thanks. I think."
"Look, just don't do something like that again, willya?"
"I'll consider it." Mack gave him a sidelong look. "Did my - did Mr. Hartford put you up to this?"
"Nah. It was the others. We drew straws for who would get to yell at you for being a jerk, and I made sure I won." As Mack smiled in genuine amusement, Will stood and started out. He turned back in the doorway, looking down, his expression uncharacteristically serious again.
"You asked me a question, Mack, and I'll answer it the best I can. Machine or not, I'm absolutely sure you're a person. A living person. Do us all a favor and keep it that way, okay?"
Mack nodded silently, and they shared another and warmer smile before Will turned and left. Following a vague impulse, Mack got up and went into his small bathroom to lean on the sink, staring at his face in the mirror. And for the first time since he had learned the truth, he dared to see life behind his own eyes.
"Yes, Mack, I have an undergraduate degree in computer science and robotics. I was studying advanced cybernetics in London before I got - er - interrupted by becoming a Ranger. Yes, I published a paper and everything." Rose shot him a half-annoyed, half-curious look from her seat at one of the workstations in the underground Overdrive base, where they were alone while the others took a rest break upstairs.
"And you've worked with my - Mr. Hartford on the weapons designs, right? All the advanced machinery we use?"
"That's right." She put down the notebook she had been writing in and swiveled her chair to face him. "I feel like I'm giving my résumé. Do I even need to ask where all this is going?"
"I'm sure you can guess." Mack watched her expectantly. If anyone could figure out how a machine feels - or rather, whether a machine feels at all - it would be Rose.
"Right." She nodded. "You want me to go over the designs your father used to build and program you. You want me to find out - what, exactly? What do you want to know?"
"Well... It's a little hard to explain." More true than he had thought. It had seemed like such a simple, obvious question until he actually had to put it into words.
"I guess it's... I have all these feelings. Emotions."
"I've noticed." Rose crossed her arms and smirked. "We all have."
Mack leaned forward eagerly. "How do I know that they're really emotions? How do I know if they're real? How do I know if anything I feel or think is real, like what a human being feels? Am I thinking for myself, or is everything just my programming? Am I capable of making a decision, or is it all just circuits in my head?"
"Hold on, hold on." Rose held up her hands and shook her head. "What I'm getting is that you want to know whether you feel real emotions, and whether you have free will."
"Yeah, I guess that's it. Well?"
Rose made a face as she got to her feet, took a few steps, and turned back to him. "You don't ask for much, do you? Those are questions people have been debating for centuries. I'm a scientist and an engineer, not a philosopher; I don't even know the answer for humans, let alone you."
"What do you mean? Humans feel real emotions, and think for themselves."
"How do you know that? The human brain isn't much different from a very complex, sophisticated computer, like the one inside you. Maybe no different at all. Just because one is biological and the other is electronic doesn't mean they can't work the same way. Humans are programmed by brain circuitry and experience - not much different from an advanced computer capable of learning - like you. How do we know any human decision isn't determined by a combination of how our brains are wired and everything we've ever experienced? And does it matter?"
"I guess it matters to me," Mack said slowly.
"Yeah, I can see that."
"Will you please look at my designs, and just give me an opinion?"
"Actually, I already looked at them. With permission from Andrew." She smiled. "I was curious, since you're way beyond anything I've ever worked with. Hope you don't mind."
"No, not at all. So what do you think?"
Rose came back to her seat, her expression serious now. "I examined a lot of circuit designs and blueprints, and read a lot of code. It showed me how truly remarkable you are, and how much work and technology went into making you. But - it didn't show me how you think or feel any more than looking at my x-rays and school transcripts would show you how I think. What happens here..." she tapped the side of her head, "is still a mystery, and what's going on here," a tap on Mack's forehead, "is just as much of a mystery."
Mack looked down at his hands in disappointment. "So you can't answer my question."
Rose sighed. "Sorry. About all I can tell you is that from what I've seen, you're angry and confused. You feel disoriented, like there's nothing in your life you can believe in or count on anymore. You feel - like everything you've known has been ripped away."
Mack stared, startled. "Well, yeah. I didn't even know how to say it, but yeah."
"Identity is very important psychologically. It's critical. And your self-identity as a human being, and as Mack Hartford, Andrew Hartford's son, has been - well, destroyed." Rose gave him an apologetic look. "Sorry if that sounds kind of harsh."
"It's the truth." He looked up at her again. "You're right about how I feel. But how do I know if those feelings are real, or if I'm just a machine programmed to think it feels emotions? How do I know if - if I'm real?"
"You don't." Rose was leaning towards him. "And I don't know those things about myself either. You're talking about what life is, and what consciousness is, and - well - maybe what a soul is. No one knows those answers for sure."
"I guess you're right." He got up with a sigh.
"I know I'm the one all of you look to for the answers," Rose said softly. "Sorry I don't have any for you this time."
"It's okay. You gave me a lot to think about. Maybe that's even better." Mack offered her a smile before heading for the elevator.
"I can tell you one thing for sure." Her voice turned him back as he was about to step inside. He saw her watching him from her seat, eyes bright and intense. "Everything you're going through is absolutely normal - for a human being. You act like a human. Sound like a human. You show all the signs of having the thoughts and feelings of a human. Who's to say you're not really human, no matter what your body is made out of?"
It hadn't been all that long ago, the last time he had sat out here on the back steps, looking out over the rich green of the lawn that stretched away into distant groves of trees. Only a few months since the first day he had used the Overdrive Morpher, and struggled with his father's refusal to let him keep using it. The confusion and frustration he had felt then seemed like such a little thing compared to now, so trivial that a few words from Spencer had soothed him, and then of course he had gotten the morpher back...
"Mack? What're you doing?"
A glance behind him revealed Tyzonn standing on the stoop, looking down at him with concern in his deep, silvery eyes. "Nothing," Mack said with a shrug.
"Then do you mind if I do nothing with you?"
With his puppy-like grin, Tyzonn descended the steps and sat down, copying Mack's posture of knees drawn up with arms crossed over them. "Do you mind if we talk while we do nothing?" he asked.
"I don't mind."
"How are you feeling?"
"Okay. I mean, fine. The Fearcats are gone, Kamdor and Miratrix are gone, Moltor seems to be gone too. We have four of the jewels, and all we have to do is find the fifth, defeat Flurious, and get the Corona back." Mack rested his chin on his arms with a sigh. "I'm great."
"You don't seem great. Are you still depressed about being an android?"
Mack rolled his eyes at the Mercurian's directness. "I'm not depressed. Not exactly."
"Good. I hope you won't try to kill yourself again, especially in battle."
"I didn't..." Mack shook his head. "No, I won't try to kill myself."
"Still, you seem sad."
"I'm just thinking about things. Wondering what's going to happen when all this is over."
"Ah, I see. You wonder whether you want to stay here, with Mr. Hartford."
Mack frowned. "Yeah, that's part of it."
"And what is the rest of it?"
"Well, lots of stuff." Mack looked out into the distance again. "I've started to think about the future. Like - years from now. Am I going to age? What happens if I stay the same while everyone else gets older? What about jobs, and friends, and..." he took a deeper breath. "What happens if I fall in love? I mean... a woman and a robot... that's just creepy, isn't it?"
"You're not just a robot; you're a highly advanced android, virtually identical to a human being in almost every way. I'm sure there are many women who would be interested." Mack glanced over to see Tyzonn looking up into the blue, cloud-specked sky above. "And beyond this world - it's a big universe. I know of planets where you would not be considered unusual."
"Really?" The thought was both intriguing and attractive.
"Really. There are many varieties of people, both on and off Earth. You can find many friends, and perhaps many people to love, if you look for them."
Another thought followed, sobering Mack. "If I do get married someday, what about children?" He held up a hand as Tyzonn opened his mouth. "And no, I'm not planning on having them the same way my - Mr. Hartford did."
"I was going to say that there are also many ways to have a child. Don't you have adoption on Earth?"
"Yeah. That's not what I always imagined when I thought about having a family, though. And what about - you know, sex? I mean, I know all my parts work, but I've never actually tried it with someone else. What if something goes wrong? What if I blow a fuse or something?"
"If you could survive combat with super-powerful monsters, I'm sure your construction can handle sexual activity. Perhaps Rose or Ronny would help you try it out."
"Rose or Ronny? I don't think so - we're just friends."
"A friend would be a logical choice, but okay. Maybe Will or Dax?"
"No, not them either." Mack snorted with laughter.
"I'd offer to help you myself, but now that I know Vella is still alive - you understand."
"No problem. No problem at all."
Tyzonn smiled with him, and then continued in a more serious tone. "I'm not saying that life will always be easy for you. Just try to remember that your future holds many possibilities, probably more than for most biological humans. If you're willing to take advantage of those possibilities, you'll find as many moments of happiness as any of us do."
"You really think so?"
"Yes, I really think so." Tyzonn regarded him again with that disconcertingly direct and concentrated gaze. "Mack, you were the first person to befriend me on this planet. I'm grateful for that, and I hope you will learn to befriend yourself as well." He got to his feet and reached out to rest a hand on Mack's shoulder. "When this is over, why not come with me when I return home, and perhaps visit other planets as well? You could - see what's out there."
It was a surprising idea, and an interesting one. Very interesting. "I'll think about it," Mack said. He watched Tyzonn nod, climb the steps, and disappear back inside the house. Turning away, he swept another glance over the lawn and the forest beyond it. And then he looked up to the sky, and the stars he knew were above it. So many possibilities...
Who? (After the end of the series.)
Mack looked up from the suitcase lying open on his bed. Andrew was standing in the bedroom doorway, his face tightly controlled, but the pain was still visible for anyone who knew him well. Mack looked down again and took an extra moment to fold the shirt he was holding and pack it away before answering.
"Yeah. Operation Overdrive is over, and you don't need us anymore. Everyone else is going back to their normal lives, and since I don't really have a normal life to go back to..."
There was a pause. Mack waited, expecting arguments, orders, anger. But what Andrew said next surprised him. "I guess I should have expected this. I won't try to stop you, but I was kind of hoping you'd give it another try here. Just for a while."
"Maybe someday. But for now..." Mack opened a drawer and collected a few pairs of jeans. "Ever since I found out about myself, I've been asking questions, trying to get answers from other people. I did get some of them. But there's still one thing I need to find out, and I don't think there's anyone who can give me an answer except - myself."
He looked up to meet Andrew's eyes. "Who am I? I'm not human, at least in the usual way. I'm not any of the things I thought I was. All my life - all two years of it - I've thought of myself as Mack Hartford, and as your son. Now - I don't even know if I have a right to my own name. I need to find an identity of my own."
Andrew's voice was very quiet, but very sure and steady. "I don't know if it helps at all, but you are my son, whether you want to accept that or not. You always will be."
Touched in spite of himself, Mack blinked and pretended to concentrate on folding a t-shirt for a moment. "Anyway, I think I need to do some thinking, and I want to do some traveling." He smiled. "Find myself, sort of."
"Where will you go?"
Mack shrugged. "For starters, Tyzonn invited me to go to Mercuria with him and Vella, and I'm taking him up on it."
"Pretty cool, huh? I used to dream about traveling around the world, having adventures, doing exciting stuff. Then I got to do all that for real as a Ranger, and it was just as great as I always thought it would be. That's something about myself I know is real, something I can count on - that I'll always want to go on doing new things, seeing new places."
"It's strange, isn't it? In that way you're a lot like me, despite - well, you know." Andrew smiled and reached out, his hand stopping and falling back before it could touch Mack's arm. "Life is the greatest adventure, and yours is only beginning. I envy you."
Not knowing what to say, Mack just returned the smile. "Thanks."
"You look like you're almost ready."
"Yeah." Mack surveyed his now-filled suitcase, and closed it. "Tyzonn's waiting. I'd better get going."
Andrew's face was carefully blank again as he put out a hand. "Then I guess it's goodbye, Mack. And good luck. Just remember, if you ever need anything, or if you ever want to come back... well, Spencer and I will be here."
Mack took his hand slowly. After a long moment of hesitation he stepped closer and hugged Andrew, feeling the older man's arms come around him tightly, holding on for a few seconds and then - reluctantly - loosening to let him go.
"It's not goodbye, Dad," Mack said. "Let's just say 'so long'. I'll be back, I promise."
Andrew smiled, his mouth trembling slightly, and pulled him into another, briefer hug. "You called me Dad," he murmured as he stepped back again.
"Yeah, well, Mr. Hartford just sounds weird," Mack said with a grin. "And I figure maybe you didn't make me in the usual way, but you still made me. So whatever."
Tyzonn was waiting, Spencer at his side, downstairs in the foyer. Mack couldn't tell which one looked more pleased at the sight of the two of them walking together to the front door, Mack's suitcase in his hand and Andrew's arm across his shoulders.
"Are you ready?" Tyzonn asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be."
Mack shook hands with Spencer, with his father again, and then they were on their way, crossing the vast lawn for the last time for - who knew how long. He turned back only once, to wave at the two men still standing in the doorway.
"Can't believe I'm really doing this," he said as the realization hit him that he was truly leaving behind everything he knew. "Going off to another world. Starting a whole new life. Nothing's ever going to be the same, is it?"
"There's still time to change your mind," Tyzonn said with a concerned glance.
"And pass up a chance like this?" Mack smiled up at the stars waiting above. "Life is the greatest adventure, and mine is only beginning. Let's go!"
- - End - -