Author's Notes: This chapter has been revised for grammar, redundant language, and inconsistent plot goofiness.
A Darker Shade of Green
Chapter 1: The Potential
Tommy looked over at the group of five teenagers, feeling alone in this strange new town. The teens looked like they were great friends, and they were crowded around one member of the group, a muscular boy in a red tank top—Tommy's next opponent.
"This is so exciting! You've gotten to the finals!" a pretty girl with brown hair squealed.
"The chances of your eventual successful accomplishment have risen exponentially over the past few rounds," a bespectacled boy in a blue button-down shirt said.
The group looked at him blankly.
"He means you're doing great," an Asian girl said.
Okay, that was annoying. All the same, though, Tommy felt a sudden compulsion to join the group. Instead, he concentrated on breathing before the final match.
"Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the Angel Grove Martial Arts Expo," a loud voice announced from the judges' panel. The gathered teens at the Youth Center quieted down. "The final match is about to begin. Introducing our competitors: First, we have Jason Lee Scott, Angel Grove's own reigning champion from the two local tournaments."
The boy in red left his friends and walked to the middle of the fighting ring, acknowledging the cheers with a wave. Tommy considered him: two local tournaments—no national or anything out of this very small pond. He smirked. While he knew he should never underestimate his opponents, he imagined this guy to be a self-satisfied local champion, completely unaware of his own skills relative to the rest of the martial arts community. Tommy thought back to his first national tournament and how much of an eye-opener it had been. This "champion" probably thought himself at the height of fighting skills.
"His opponent: a newcomer to Angel Grove, Tommy Oliver."
Tommy walked to the middle of the ring to face Jason. He'd not reported any of his own titles, wishing instead to have a fight without any expectations.
Following the referee in the familiar tournament match conventions, Tommy performed the bows and then sharply focused on his opponent as the match started.
The kick came flying out of nowhere, and Tommy barely had time to dodge and counter. As soon as he hit the mat and the ref announced a point to Jason, Tommy re-evaluated his opinion of the other martial artist.
Tommy still pulled his punches and kicks, as always for a tournament, but Jason moved like a whirlwind. It was all he could do to keep up with the incredible speed on the other teen. The fight quickly ended in a draw.
Tommy's mind whirled as he got his stuff together after general congratulations. If this was the competition at Angel Grove, he was in for a very interesting stay. As he hurried, thinking about telling his dad about the really good match, he didn't notice the five teens looking at him... and the pretty brunette lingering.
"He's amazing," the Empress whispered, far below her usual shrill cries that tended to fill the entire Palace.
Her minions seemed to be rather bored. The lack of the usual bangs and whistles from the lab told her that Finster was more likely reading than experimenting with Putties and monsters. Goldar was sharpening his sword nearby; Rita could hear the ringing, grinding noise echo down the hall. Squatt and Babboo seemed to be playing Go Fish... with very little understanding of the rules.
"I'll see your Guppy, and raise you a Trout," Babboo exclaimed. He placed the appropriate fish on top of a pile of cards in the middle of the table.
"Go fish," Squatt said quickly. They both squealed with glee, grabbed two fishing poles in the corner of the room, and teleported out. Rita knew they were probably going to a deserted lake on Earth to... she sighed... "go fish." She didn't mind. It kept them occupied and she'd only punish them if they stank up the place.
Rita was more interested in thinking about this "Tommy," the boy who had tied with the Red Ranger at that ridiculous human competition. Rita, while not an expert on the actual mechanics of fighting (she had people to do that for her), could tell that the boy had been holding back. She was itching to try him in an actual life or death situation.
"He just might do," Rita said.
"My Empress, what 'might do,'" Goldar asked, coming up behind her. He had finished at the whetstone, and his sword was gleaming gold.
Far from being annoyed at the intrusion into her thoughts, Rita wanted Goldar's opinion as an experienced warrior. "Goldar, wait, I'll run it back... look in the telescope."
She defocused the magical instrument—far more powerful on account of magic than any human telescope—and "rewound" to the beginning of the competition. She offered the instrument to Goldar, who awkwardly looked through, the telescope too low for the giant alien's height.
Goldar was expressionless as he watched. Of course, he was always expressionless, so that did not bother Rita.
Goldar finally pulled back from the telescope. "That boy might have defeated the Red Ranger in a real fight." Again, inflection was difficult to discern with Goldar, but he seemed mildly impressed.
"My thoughts exactly," Rita said. "I was thinking of recruiting this... Tommy."
Goldar looked affronted, one of his few discernible expressions. "But, my Empress... he is merely a human. He's not powerful enough to fuel a monster, and he would not have a prayer against a morphed Power Ranger."
Rita smiled. She knew that Goldar was insecure about his position as her chief General, especially as he hadn't exactly shone in battle of late. No one had against these accursed Rangers. Rita's blood pounded at the thought, but she controlled her rage.
"You're forgetting," Rita chided, "that I have more at my disposal than mere monsters and Putties. Not every foe must come from Finster's machine. Some weapons I have kept with me for a long time."
Goldar stepped back a bit. "You can't mean..."
"What better way to defeat a bunch of teenage Rangers than with one of their own?"
The silence weighed heavy in the balcony. The tension did not break even when Squatt and Babboo returned, giggling madly, with a bucket full of assorted fish. Rita absently thought of putting them to cooking supper if they were going to continue in this pastime.
"But isn't the Green Power Coin linked to that ridiculous 'Morphing Grid' of theirs?" Goldar said. While Goldar rarely planned on his own, knowing that Rita took greater pleasure in strategy than in the actual fighting, he always tried to look at every side of the plan, seeing where failures might occur right from the beginning. Rita appreciated this, even if she didn't show it. After all, it would be pretty embarrassing if she gave Tommy the Power Coin and Zordon could simply turn off the Green Power through the Morphing Grid.
"The Green Ranger would have access to the Morphing Grid without being controlled by it," Rita rattled off. "He would have access to the inherent knowledge of the Power Rangers, as well as access to the Command Center and the Zords. He wouldn't even set off the security alarms until Zordon became aware of him."
In truth, Rita had been on the lookout for a Green Ranger ever since those Rangers had stopped her initial conquest of the Earth. She'd already had Finster study the Power Coin and had discussed with him at length the dangers and advantages. She hadn't mentioned her plans to Goldar, as he might keep bugging her to pick someone—anyone—to accept the Green Ranger powers. It was, after all, one of her most powerful weapons. That made it all the more necessary to withhold the weapon until the appropriate time.
"But wouldn't Zordon know immediately who the Ranger is?" Goldar said after a lengthy pause.
Actually, he had something there.
"We'll have to put Zordon out of commission," Rita said. "Make him disappear for a while. Even if Zordon senses who the Green Ranger is, he could scramble Zordon's signal so badly it would take years for that ridiculous robot to find that old fool."
"Which would, of course, demoralize the Rangers. Leave them without guidance," Goldar supplied. He was obviously warming to the idea. "The Green Ranger could also destroy all the Command Center equipment, leaving them without communication or teleportation."
"And then we attack," Rita said. Her blood was pumping in her veins, more powerfully than usual when she was planning attacks. This... it was going to be complicated. A long-term plan. But her plans had been too simple before, and they never worked.
"That's all very well and good," Goldar said, "but how do we know this Tommy is right for the job, my Empress? We've only seen that one fight, and I don't think we have even the smallest idea of his power. He may be merely an exhibition fighter with no potential for practical application."
"A Putty attack will do nicely," Rita said as she began to refocus her telescope. "They can fight him, test him, and finally capture him. A life and death fight always gives a glimpse into true potential. We'll both watch and judge. If he's unworthy, the Putties can kill him or let him go free, and we'll have lost nothing."
Yes, the plan would require finesse, the kind of secretive finesse witches and humans were so good at. Goldar and any monsters would be at the forefront, directly threatening and distracting the Power Rangers. In the meantime, the real destruction would be happening from within.
Rita smiled and, effectively ending the "card" game by vanishing all the fish with a wave of her wand, began issuing orders. If all went well, she could send the Putties the very next day.
"Still thinking about him?"
Kimberly gazed around, all at once realizing that she was in art class, Trini had just spoken to her, and her painting looked nothing like the model. The model was a bowl of fruit: she was painting a big green blob. She impatiently wadded up that attempt and started again.
"What did you say?" she asked Trini finally.
"I think you answered my question," Trini said. "You are thinking about him."
"Him... him who?" Kimberly evaded. "Who are you talking about?"
"That guy at the Youth Center... with the hair," Trini said.
"Everyone has hair," Kimberly said. "Well, except Mr. Kaplan."
Trini rolled her eyes. "Have you seen him today?"
"Yeah... he was giving out detentions to Bulk and Skull only this morning."
Trini made an irritated noise.
Kimberly decided she'd pushed her patient friend too far. "All right, no. I haven't seen him today. I'm not sure what his schedule is."
"Yet," Trini supplied.
Kimberly rolled her eyes, trying to concentrate on her painting. Trini may have been able to paint a bowl of fruit in her sleep, but she needed a lot more focus. "Look... he's new in town, and probably doesn't want to get seriously involved. If I happen to ask him to, say, hang out at the Youth Center after school... with friends... I'm not really asking him on a date. I'm just being friendly."
"So how long have you been practicing asking him to... hang out at the Youth Center?"
Kimberly finally smiled. "All night and morning."
"I'm thinking of the casual approach. Nothing too spazzy. After all, he already knows Jason."
The teacher was passing closely, and Kimberly promptly shut up. While Ms. Jackson, the art teacher, did not particularly mind chatting while painting, as long as it didn't get too loud, she got irritable if the talking kept them from their work. Thankfully, Kimberly had quickly gotten through the easy parts of the painting and made up for lost time, and the teacher appreciated attempts at impressionism.
Kimberly had been thinking about Tommy far more than she was prepared to admit, even to Trini. His eyes seemed to have stuck in her head. And Trini was right: he had wonderful hair. Curly and long. But those eyes, especially. Deep and soulful. She grinned to herself. First sign of major crush: fixation on eyes and clichés to go with it. The thought of asking him out later made her heart beat faster, no matter what she told Trini.
There was one thing that was worrisome: Rita had the annoying habit of staging monster attacks right when dates were scheduled. Either the date was waiting alone, or the date had to be cancelled, or, in a few isolated times, the date had ended up kidnapped or chased off by Putties. It was never predictable, never explainable, and always frustrating. It would just be her luck to ask Tommy out and then have to cancel for monster attacks.
And then there was the ever-present problem of hiding identities. Zordon had warned them—and continued to warn them occasionally—about hiding their identities from personal relations. That meant... well... lying. Kimberly had already had a few fights with her mother over being irresponsible. That was because Kimberly could only come up with lame excuses for missing homework... suppers... the beginning of her brother's birthday party... How could she balance school, family, and a boyfriend with saving the world on a regular basis?
Kimberly suddenly realized that since they'd all become Rangers, none of them had seriously dated. Zack went on about Angela, but had he actually made any serious moves? Had Billy kept up with that girl Marge he'd invited to the dance? Did Jason go on more than one date with any of the girls he'd been with recently?
Kimberly laughed inwardly. What was she thinking about? Tommy didn't even know she existed, and she was thinking of the ramifications of a long-term relationship with him. Chiding herself, she got to work on finishing the painting so she could go at the same time as Trini.
Tommy felt like hitting something. Anything.
He stood at the receptionist's desk, feeling all eyes on him. The receptionist was taking an amazing amount of time on paperwork.
"Ah... Mr. Oliver," a voice behind him said coolly.
Tommy turned to regard his new principal, Mr... Mr...
"Hello, sir," Tommy said, giving up on remembering any names on his first day.
"Mr. Kaplan," the man said. He held out his hand to shake Tommy's.
Tommy smiled. His last principal had wanted to put the "pal" in principal. Always wanted to hug and used the latest slang of five years ago. Tommy rather liked the inherent respect of handshakes and last names.
"Can I see you in my office before you run off to class, Mr. Oliver?" Kaplan said.
Tommy shoved his hands in his pockets and followed Mr. Kaplan into the small office, building up defenses for what he knew was coming.
"I'm rather surprised to see you late on the first day," Mr. Kaplan said as they sat at opposite sides of the neat desk.
"I'm very sorry, sir," Tommy said. "I had to take care of something, and it took longer than I thought."
It was a lie, kind of. He'd had sleep to take care of, and, since he hadn't heard the alarm, it had taken longer than he thought.
"Well, I expect you'll be on time from now on," Kaplan said. "Now… I've read your record."
Here it goes.
"You've been expelled from two school districts in the past six years," Kaplan said baldly.
Tommy tried to look soulful and repentant. Biting back any sarcastic remark he had, Tommy said, "Yes, sir."
"Low grades... incidents of fighting... more incidents of fighting..." Kaplan droned.
"Sir, I..." Tommy began.
Kaplan cut him off. "I understand you are a martial artist. I saw the Expo on TV yesterday in the news."
Tommy nodded, not sure if he was allowed to talk yet.
"This school encourages athletics, even athletics generally overlooked at other schools. We also encourage sportsmanship and leaving the martial arts for the ring. You'll have plenty of opportunities for that."
Kaplan got up and put Tommy's file, which he had been leafing through as he talked, in the back of a drawer. "A fresh start, Mr. Oliver. I'm willing to give you one if you're willing to cooperate. You stay out of trouble, keep your grades up, and graduate from here, and that old file goes away. It's not like colleges look at... what do we call them... permanent records?" Kaplan added with a twinkle in his eye.
Tommy nodded. "Yes, sir. I mean... I don't intend to get into trouble here, sir," he said. He was relieved. While it was similar to the "if you put one toe out of line" speech, at least this man seemed to believe Tommy could do better.
Kaplan smiled. "I have another warning, actually."
Tommy tensed. Had he been mistaken?
Kaplan pushed a newspaper over to him. A gray picture of men in what looked like costumes was at the bottom of the front page.
"Putties," the principal said. "No, they're not people in costumes. They're aliens who teleport down and randomly attack people."
Tommy stared at the picture. They looked sort of human, but he supposed those bumpy, scarred, lifeless faces were not masks. "I'd heard on the news... and heard rumors. I thought it was just a publicity stunt."
"Far from it," Kaplan said. "And those aren't the only things to worry about. Angel Grove averages a monster attack a week. I'm actually surprised you're able to handle housing. Insurance rates here are crippling."
"We're living in my uncle's summer house," Tommy said. He was still looking at the Putties. "Why are you warning me, Mr. Kaplan? I can take care of myself," Tommy said without pride. He could, after all. That file in the back of the drawer said that much, at least.
"I'm saying this because you're a martial artist. Because you can, as you say, take care of yourself." Kaplan looked in earnest now. "You may be good, and you may be able to handle a few Putties, but what about ten? Twenty? They don't usually stop unless they have a good reason."
"So you expect me to run away from these things?" Tommy asked, a bit sharper than he meant.
"I'm expecting the same thing I expect from all my students: common sense and caution. Walk in a group when you can. Be careful around the beach and the park: that's where most of the attacks happen. Keep your ears open for news of a monster battle and take cover when it happens. Do what you can to keep yourself safe, but don't take it on yourself to solve our monster problems. That's what the Power Rangers are for."
Tommy wasn't sure if the man was kidding or not. The principal wished him luck and shook his hand as if he were completely serious, though, so Tommy went along as if everything were normal.
As if anything were normal in this crazy town, Tommy mused. He and his father had read up on Angel Grove before moving, and part of the brochure, right in between pictures of beaches, had been a list of rules similar to the advice Mr. Kaplan had just given. The brochure hadn't gone into detail, but how many towns had a monster alarm and warnings to stay out of the way of multi-colored super heroes?
Tommy turned to see the guy he'd fought the day before. He was still dressed as if he would be called to fight at any second. Tommy wondered what this guy's policy was for fighting outside the ring.
"Hey... Jason? Am I right?"
Jason looked a little put out, and Tommy felt bad. They'd fought together, so that bred familiarity. But Tommy was just so bad at names.
"Yeah, it's Jason. How's your first day going?"
Tommy checked his schedule. "I'm due in English... Ms. Appleby." Tommy paused. "Seriously? Ms. Appleby? That's a real name?"
Jason laughed. "Yeah, that's her real name. She's not bad. I'm going there next."
"Great. I have no idea where I am," Tommy admitted.
Jason checked his watch. "Well, it's lunch now, so we can go to the cafeteria and then English."
Tommy was relieved that he wouldn't have to wander about the hallways with a map like a big dork. He was also hoping that this was a cue that Jason wanted to be his friend. Tommy changed schools so many times that he usually didn't bother trying to make friends, but that usually made his life lonely as hell.
"So how long have you been into martial arts?" Jason said as they walked outside, heading for another building on campus.
"All my life," Tommy said. "At least, as far back as I can remember. How about you?"
"Since sixth grade," Jason said. "I started out wrestling, but this suits me better."
"Wrestling... that makes sense. You have the build for it."
"Yeah, I know," Jason grimaced. "My dad... But anyway," he said quickly. "Where are you from?"
Tommy smiled as he evaded better than Jason could. "All around, mostly. I followed a martial arts tournament circuit around for a little while, competing and training with fighters all around the world."
"Wait a minute," Jason interrupted. "You're... Thomas Oliver?"
Tommy frowned. "That's what my mom insists on putting on all the forms."
"But you're a legend," Jason exclaimed. "You won the World Mixed Martial Arts championship, under 15 division, two years in a row! I can't believe I fought you. And tied."
Tommy smiled, trying to look like he didn't care about the titles he worked so hard for. He would also never in a million years admit to Jason that he'd been holding back.
For the rest of their walk to the cafeteria, Jason bombarded Tommy with questions about the famous fighters he'd met. Tommy was good-natured about it. It was sort of nice to be cool to at least one person on the first day of class.
The cafeteria was big and noisy, where lunch ladies were serving the unlikely combination of square pizza, fries, and corn. Tommy took that, being the least complicated to order, paid for his meal, and followed Jason to a table already populated by the four friends who'd rooted for Jason the day before.
"Guys, this is Tommy," Jason said as he sat down. Tommy tried not to look awkward.
"Hey, Tommy," a black boy greeted him. "I'm Zack." Zack reached across the table to shake Tommy's hand. "This is Billy," Zack referred to the rather geeky boy beside him. Billy smiled and nodded, mumbling a few greetings. He was obviously uncomfortable meeting new people.
"Trini," the girl with long, black hair said. "It's nice to meet you."
Tommy's eyes finally rested on the pretty girl from yesterday. She was wearing a light pink summer dress, and her build was unexpectedly athletic now that he had a good view.
The girl flushed prettily. "I'm… I'm Kimberly," she said. Her smile started out kind of crooked, as if she was sharing a private joke. Tommy suddenly wanted to know that private joke.
Tommy ate and listened. There was a rhythm to their conversation that spoke of long friendships. They asked him questions, and he tried to participate, but he couldn't help but feel like he was striking a jarring note in the group. And he had to keep from openly staring at Kimberly, who had begun talking animatedly about a gymnastics competition set for a few more months.
"…so I have to practice all the time to get this new routine down. I'm telling you, my new coach is brutal. She used to be an Olympic athlete. She keeps griping that I'm not, like, twelve. As if I could help that! As if I wanted to be in the Olympics, either. I'm fine with normal competition, not crazy competition."
"I know what you mean," Tommy heard himself saying. The others suddenly looked up at him. His eyes instantly shot down to his food. "I sorta got burned out on the whole tournament scene. People acting like there's nothing more to life than winning. It'd easily drive you nuts."
"You were in tournaments?" Zack asked.
Tommy shrugged. "A few."
Jason's eyes boggled. "A… a few? I wasn't kidding when I said that you're legendary. You beat Terry Johnson. Twice."
The other's looked between Jason and Tommy blankly.
"Oh, come on!" Jason enthused. "One of the top martial artists in the under-18 bracket."
The blank stares continued.
Tommy finally laughed. "Okay, I see I'm not going to be signing any autographs, then. At least I won't need security to escort me to my limo."
The rest laughed, Jason included.
"Well, since we don't have to worry about the paparazzi, did you want to meet us this afternoon at the juice bar?" Zack asked.
Kimberly shot a shocked, furious look at him. Trini noticed and kicked Zack under the table. "Ow… what?" he said.
Trini just rolled her eyes, and Tommy suddenly felt like he wasn't wanted… by one of them, at least. "Um… no thanks. Maybe later. I've still got a ton of unpacking, and I can't let my dad deal with all of it," he lied.
Thankfully, the bell rang, and Tommy followed Jason closely, wishing he had another means to find his English class. He considered cutting, but Mr. Kaplan's words came back to him. Stay clean. Keep up the grades. Graduate. He owed his dad at least that much.
"We found it, your Evilness!"
"I found it first!"
"You weren't even looking!"
"Shut up!" Goldar bellowed.
Rita waited patiently for all of them to calm down. Finster, who was also a doctor and cared for her headaches and nerves along with his other duties, had finally told her to either get rid of Squatt and Babboo or learn to deal with them. But she couldn't rid herself of them. While they deported themselves as simple-minded children, Babboo was an expert exobiologist and Squatt knew more about mystical plants than anyone else in the known universe. Their knowledge was too valuable.
Squatt finally handed her a simple obsidian box. The power radiating from the contents… just a seemingly simple coin… took her breath away. It was like holding a sun.
"Is he properly placed?" she asked quietly.
Goldar bent double to peek out of the scope. "He's in a small room with an older man right now. It looks like they're in a hospital. He's miles away from any Rangers, though, and once he leaves the building he'll have to cross a deserted park to reach the building we've marked as his house."
"Set the scope to alert us as soon as he leaves the building… and prepare some Putties," Rita said. "Ten will do, don't you think?"
Goldar considered this. "It will either test him or kill him."
"That's fine," Rita said. "Remember, we can't let Zordon know of our interest in him, or else the old man will recruit the boy himself."
Rita took a sip out of a smoking goblet—a youth restorative that Finster had whipped up. The scope let out a high beeping noise.
"The boy is isolated, my queen, and the Putties are ready," Goldar said.
"Do it," Rita said. She tipped the glass in the Earth's direction. "To your success, Tommy Oliver."