8/14/2009 (Originally started 1988; new sections & revisions Jul/Aug 2009)
Spoilers: End of season 1, references to leaked info for unfilmed season 2.
Disclaimers: Landmark Entertainment and Mattel – even though they probably aren't looking for anything.
Author's note: The original version of this story was started back in 1988. While working on a Power Rangers fanfic involving a future, war torn world, I remembered this series and went and unearthed this story. I've changed a key element in the plot based on an idea from another unpublished fic of mine to give it a different twist. Enjoy!
Summary: In the wake of Pilot's death, the team finds a new base before being forced back out onto the battlefield to encounter a new, familiar foe.
To Live for Tomorrow
48-1 Mark 10
Jonathan Power tried to sleep, unsuccessfully, in his bunk in the new auxiliary base in the Arctic Circle - Northstar.
It had only been three weeks since he and the team had left on a wild goose chase and he had sent Jennifer - Pilot to the base alone. To her death. Once they had realized what had happened, he and the rest of the team had raced back to try and prevent what was to come.
He had tried to persuade her to leave the equipment. To save herself. Desperately he assured her that they would find another way of stopping the Warlord-Class Bio-Dread Blastarr that was inside the base. He had struggled frantically to come up with something that would buy her, THEM, time. To solve the seemingly unsolvable problem of destroying their base and everything inside it, lest it fall into evil hands, AND get Jennifer out safely.
But she refused, insisting that there was no other way. She had said that the auto-destruct was out and that she had to activate it manually. He remembered every syllable, each inflection as she had said the words to him. He could hear in her voice that she was hurt. Badly. At the time, his insides had knotted up at the thought of what she had been through, what she was enduring. Then she had told him that she was all broken up inside, and he knew that she wasn't lying.
She was dying. With or without the auto-destruct.
Yet he knew there was still a chance. There were still a few doctors that could help her; could save her if he could just get her out…
He tried again to reason, bargain with her, yet it was already too late. He could hear the fear in her voice, the alarm resonating throughout the base. Then what he had feared the most since they had all realized what was going on happened. In preparation for death, she chose to let go of every mortal secret she owned. She gave him as a parting gift what she had hoped to give him in life - her love.
She had told him that she loved him.
The words had sent chills of fire through his veins and over his body. Everything in him screamed to stop her; to not let her leave him after such a declaration. He'd lost too many people who cared for him over the years…
But there was no time. Before he could do more than say her name, he heard Blastarr's mechanized voice rumble behind her. She'd growled out a curse, pushed the button and there was what seemed like the longest pause and then the sound of explosions followed only by static.
Jon and the others watched in horror as the base exploded; fire, rock and metal cascading through the air. It was over in an instant that seemed like an eternity. In his ears, he could hear Matt softly say "Oh my God" as he held his head in his hands, his eyes tightly shut, as if to try and deny what they had just seen.
Masterson didn't know the half of it.
She was gone; the first personal casualty since his father to this war. The one woman who had somehow touched him deeper than he'd realized during this madness. And he knew his life was never going to be the same.
The team had followed a beacon, leading them to a skybike; some of the others had been hoping beyond hope that there was a chance that she had survived. Yet he knew there wasn't. They were one team member less and less than whole now. HE was less than whole now.
They had nowhere to go and limited resources, a situation that Jon had never faced before. Demoralized and defeated, Matt had suggested a retreat to the closest safe haven: The Passages near where Los Angeles had been. They were well fortified, and would be a place to regroup. Without really thinking about it, he had agreed.
They had stayed there for a few days before being able to access Mentor's backed up system (another of Pilot's last gifts) and learning of the existence of Northstar. He'd been shocked, as had all the team, that his father, Dr. Stuart Power had set up and hidden a secondary base without their knowledge. After learning of the new base, they had packed up the Jumpship with whatever supplies they'd had on the ship as well as ones they'd been able to scavange from The Passages as they were unsure of what exactly they would find when they got to Northstar. Once they were loaded up, they headed north, following Mentor's directions.
When they had arrived, they had found almost everything they needed: charging station for the suits, hangar bay, spare parts and equipment, control room and other fundamental areas. It had taken a while to settle in, but now the base was running fairly well and even their personal space was feeling a bit more like home. Yet in the three weeks since the explosion, Jon had walked around feigning both interest and leadership. Inside he was tormented by his memories, just as he was plagued by the nightmares that kept him up at night.
He just kept remembering HER.
Their first meeting, when he and the others had helped pull her from the influence of the Dread Youth. The process of re-educating and humanizing her, and in the process reminding themselves what it meant to be human. Worrying about her when she didn't arrive on time to a rebellion meeting with the heads of the resistance; the time she had kissed his cheek as she had struck off, searching for help as he laid there, his leg injured. The time when he had kissed her, for luck just before going into a dangerous situation; their dancing after their last major victory and then their last talk before…
He'd made the error of not finishing their talk, of actually telling her how he felt. And now he would never have the chance to rectify his mistake.
Sighing, he tossed the covers from his bunk and got up. Sleep wasn't going to come tonight, just like it had been elusive for the last three weeks. Still, there was work to do and the extra hours would help them get back to where they could actually return to the field and start hitting Dread again.
There was still a war to win, even if Jon felt as if he'd already lost everything that made the thought of winning worthwhile.
Tossing on his uniform, he headed to the command room to scan the frequencies and see what was going on out there, and maybe, just maybe, find the strength to keep going for at least another day.
Corporal Jennifer Chase woke to pain that seemed to radiate from her gut through her whole body. She blinked, confused, as the last thing she remembered was…
Her skin turned to ice and the blood in her veins froze as her memory replayed the last moments she recalled. Finding out the disk was blank; the assault on the power base; opening the communications link to the Jumpship to warn the team; Blastarr's arrival and the self destruct's failure… and then her last words to Jon followed by the explosion.
But there was something she was missing. She remembered Blastarr in front of her, his arm directed towards her as she spat a curse at him before reaching for the self destruct button. The sound of the explosion was there, but it seemed… fuzzy, as if she was hearing it through something else.
Then she realized what had happened. She'd been digitized. In the last seconds, Blastarr had chosen not to hit her with his laser but with the digitization beam. So that meant…
She turned her head slightly; agony pierced her skull as she did so and her heart lurched in her chest. She was in a Dread lab. Using her hands, she pushed down on the cold metal slab below her and then tried to move her arms with no success. Trying to rise from her prone position, even though her entire body rebelled against the movement, she finally was able to see that she was strapped down, dressed in a medical gown and surrounded by technology that she had never seen before.
Fear spread through her body and she started to thrash in her restraints, desperate to escape, even if she didn't know where she was or if she could even stand. Once she began, there was a sound of a door opening and she felt her anxiety increase. Suddenly there were people in white coats surrounding her, one of which held a syringe filled with a bluish colored liquid. The others held her still while the one with the syringe shoved the needle into her arm, depressing the plunger to shoot the liquid into her vein. Slowly she began to feel her body start to go numb.
"Please," she said thickly, her voice sounding unused and gravelly.
"Do not struggle Youth Leader Chase," replied one of the people in the coats, a man. "We're here to help you."
"Don't want your help," Jennifer slurred as the injection they'd given her started to affect her speech.
"Of course you do. We've been working to fix you so you're better than ever. Fit for your role with the machine, as Lord Dread's newest Overunit."
Jennifer's eyes widened in fear at his words; she had now lost her ability to speak, yet her mind was still functioning and she could comprehend just what he was saying. In a matter of moments, her body was totally paralyzed, yet she was still conscious, her eyes flicking around in dread of what they planned to do to her next.
"Alright everyone, let's get started. There's a lot of re-conditioning to do, and not a lot of time. Lord Dread wants her active in a week."
With that, the men and women surrounding Jennifer's body hurriedly began to work, fitting wires, electrodes, sensors and a variety of circuitry on her body. A wide visor was placed over her eyes, which were now frozen open. Once they had finished, the first man in the lab coat turned a switch, and electricity began pulsing down the wires into Jennifer's body, activating the electronics nearly encasing her head as well as the other points along her body. There was an infinitesimal jolt that seemed to shimmer across her skin, and the techs all looked around at one another.
"Good," said the main lab tech, moving to a console and typing in a sequence of keystrokes. "Let's get Youth Leader Chase back."
A second later, the programming began streaming through the system and into the conscious form of the woman strapped to the bed. And in her mind, she screamed.
It had been another long week, totaling a month now since the destruction of the power base and the loss of Pilot. And the team could see that their leader was still only partially there with them. They'd just gone out on their first major mission since settling in at Northstar, striking a Dread patrol near what used to be Seattle. While they'd destroyed the patrol and gotten the chance to direct some of their anger out at the Bio-Mechs, Dread's mechanized soldiers, it really hadn't done anything to ease the pain of their loss.
During that action though, Captain Power had continued to walk as if in a fog. He did what was needed of him; directing the team and taking down some of the Bio-Mechs, but it seemed… perfunctory. He didn't even seem to gain any satisfaction in the destruction of the metal heads.
So now, the following day, the other three members of the team were sitting around the command center's main consoles with the sole purpose of addressing what was next for their team, and their Captain.
"Hawk, we've got to do something," Scout insisted.
"I've tried talking to him, but he just shuts down and refuses to discuss it. I just don't know what more I can do…" Hawk complained, looking to the two men who had lost their friend and comrade in arms just a month ago, just like he had.
But their Captain's pain was much deeper than their own, he thought forlornly. Maybe too deep…
"If anyone can reach the Captain, it's you," Tank assured him, his normally gruff accented voice sounding more subdued than usual.
Hawk nodded, conceding the truth of the matter. He had to get Jon to acknowledge what was going on; that the loss of Pilot was affecting his judgment as well as putting the team at risk. They couldn't keep doing this – something had to change.
Matt turned and left the command room, looking through the base for where Power might be. Finally he found him in the Jumpship, pulling apart a panel to rewire part of the scanning system. It was something that needed to be done, for sure, but with everyone elsewhere, it allowed him to be alone in the ship.
In Pilot's chair.
"Jon," Matt spoke, leaning his hand on the head rest of the seat his friend was sitting on.
"Matt, what's up?" Jon said distractedly, his eyes fixed on the open panel before him.
"We need to talk."
Matt tried not to sigh. His friend, their Captain was doing his best to bury himself in the mindless busy work around the base so he wouldn't have to face the fact that Jennifer was really gone. But as much as he wanted to join his friend in his grief, they still had a job to do, and they needed to all be focused on it.
"The team. The mission."
Jonathan Power turned then and stared at his friend and trusted right hand. He knew what Matt really meant; the unspoken issue that was affecting the mission and the team. He frowned and turned the spanner tool he held in his hand end over end for a minute before speaking.
"You're afraid I'm not focused any longer," he replied, not even phrasing his response as a question; as if he knew what Matt and the others must be thinking. "That I don't care about winning the war anymore…"
Matt swallowed heavily. This wasn't how he wanted things to be, but since Pilot's death… they were down one team member, and they needed everyone at 100%.
"We know you still care about the war, the resistance Jon. But we need you engaged all the way. We need your tactical mind, your leadership."
"Look, we all care about the fact that she's gone. It's hurt us all, and to be honest, if it didn't, we wouldn't be human," he explained patiently, moving to sit in the co-pilot chair beside his friend. "But we have to get past it. You need to get past this. If you don't deal with it, at least enough so that you can really function, we'll never be able to go back out there and beat Dread. And she wouldn't want that."
"How the hell do you know what she would have wanted Matt? It doesn't matter what she would have wanted anymore because she's not even here! She'd dead! Jennifer's dead, and I can't deal with it. I need her back, damnit!" Power swore suddenly, throwing the spanner into the windshield of the Jumpship, causing it to bounce and clatter on the metal floor.
Matt reached over and grasped Jon's hands. He wasn't sure if it was a gesture of solidarity and friendship, or if it was to keep his friend from grabbing something else and throwing it as well.
"I know. I want her back too. But there's nothing we can do but let her go."
With a hitching breath, Jon nodded, pulling his hands from Matt's and shoving the heels of his hands into his eyes, unwilling to let even Matt see him cry.
Deep within Volcania, Lord Dread waited for his report.
"Overmind. What is the status of our project?"
"The technicians have reported 100% success in their reprogramming of Youth Leader Chase's brain patterns. She has been tested extensively and shown no signs of her previous… rebellious behavior or inclinations."
"Good. I want Overunit Chase in charge of the cleansing of Johnstown."
"Power and his team will most likely come to the rescue of the organics," Overmind intoned.
"Yes, I'm sure that they will come, and when they arrive, Power and his team should find themselves relieved to see Overunit Chase alive. And then she will destroy him and her former comrades. The conditioning will see to it. Still…" Dread murmured, his metal fingers tapping on the arm of his chair as he consider all the potential threats and complications to their project.
He was certain that the conditioning done by his technicians and medical staff was a success. Yet …
"Have the technicians rig a fail-safe. If she does falter in her programming, then she is to be destroyed."
"As you wish Lord Dread."
The team had been surprised by the emergency call from the settlement of Johnstown. There were few places that had a radio, and those that did were reluctant to advertise the fact.
But being as they were under attack by Dread's forces, they had little to lose in using it to call for help.
When the Power Team arrived on the scene, the battle was still underway, parts of the town aflame. Using the Jumpship scanner, Scout began a sweep of the area.
"Captain, I read two score of Bio-Mechs, about six humans, maybe a few Dread Youth and then a pair of Overunits?" Scout reported.
"Seems like a lot of firepower to cleanse a town of maybe a hundred people, most of whom are probably elderly or young," noted Hawk, suspiciously.
"Maybe it's a trap?" Tank questioned.
"You always say that," retorted Scout with a light smile, and then he turned his attention to Power. "Orders Captain?"
"Let's land and then we'll split up. Scout, Tank, you take the North end. Hawk and I will take the South and we'll meet up in the center of the town. Do your best to save as many as you can, but we have to be quick before Dread realizes we're here and sends in Soaron as backup."
The others nodded in agreement. With the mass of forces already here, they really didn't need to have to face a Bio-Dread as well.
Hawk landed the ship slightly outside of the settlement, and they all got out of their chairs and moved to stand before the closed door.
In an instant, four armored men stood in the place of the uniformed group that had arrived. With their armor, they hopefully they had a greater than average chance against the overwhelming forces inside the city. Scout pushed a button and the door to the Jumpship opened and they hurriedly exited, moving swiftly through the grassy plains, knowing that they were most likely in for a rough fight.
Scout and Tank waded in quietly, hoping to pick off some of the outlying force before engaging the humans leading the assault. They moved to corner a group of Bio-Mechs, blasting them to bits before finding the two Dread Youths helping oversee the rounding up people for either extermination or digitization.
With a series of defensive maneuvers and a couple of therm grenades, they'd gotten the Dread Youth to surrender. The fact that the Overunit had also been killed probably had something to do with the surrendering Dread Youths. Scout and Tank tied up the unarmed Dread Youth and locked them up in an outlying building to keep them out of the way and away from the potentially hostile locals.
Power and Hawk had circled around to enter from the far side of the city. Immediately they encountered their Bio-Mech foes along with their Dread Youth counterparts. They took cover, alternating firing into the advancing mass of metal as they tried to keep from being hit too many times and not injure the Dread Youths as best they could.
After a serious fire fight, Power and Hawk had finally cleared the way of the Bio-Mechs, and had gotten one of the Dread Youth to surrender. Hawk tied the young man up to what probably was a hitching post for the time being. The other Dread Youth lay dead on the ground along with his metal allies. Power frowned at this, but there was often no way around it. Dread trained their human allies to believe they were just as expendable as the machines they fought with and served.
Power knew that the Overunit that was in charge of this group of Dread Youth and mech soldiers was still unaccounted for and he waved to Hawk to signal their move into the city center to hunt for the second Overunit. As they got closer to what might have once been a main square, flames from a few buildings raged; the burning orange color illuminating the area as the sky began to darken with nightfall.
From the darkness and smoke of a wrecked building to his right, Power saw the silhouette of a person begin to emerge. As they slowly moved out of the shadows, he recognized the metal glint of an Overunit's badge and the shape of the uniform. Realizing this was their missing Overunit, Power brought his weapon up to zero in on them.
"Drop your weapon!" he shouted, and the figure paused at his words.
The Overunit then began to move again, walking further into the dying light mixed with the firelight. Power and Hawk watched the figure come closer, blaster in hand. As they watched the figure, their walk and form seemed… familiar. And then the light fully hit the female Overunit's face, and Power and Hawk stood in stunned silence.
"Pilot?" questioned Hawk, dazed past that one simple utterance.
Before them Jennifer Chase stood in the uniform of an Overunit, her face, her eyes just as they remembered her. But instead of being filled with recognition, they were filled with animosity. And she menacingly leveled a blaster in her right hand at them.
"I order you to surrender in the name of the machine, or you will be destroyed," she demanded, her weapon pointing directly at Power.
"Jennifer?" Power breathed, his heart thundering in his chest at the sight of her alive, standing right there in front of him.
"I am Overunit Chase of the Machine Empire."
Hawk and Power both stood dumbfounded. They had been sure she was dead, killed in the explosion of the base. Somehow she had survived, and now she was here, siding with Dread and threatening their lives. It was as if she didn't know who they were… who she was any longer.
"You are Jennifer Chase, member of the resistance and the Power Team," said Hawk, hoping to gauge just how far gone she was.
She simply stared at them, not a single hint of recognition crossing her features. Power was certain that somewhere inside of her was the woman he remembered. Somehow he had to break through whatever Dread had done to her to find her again. He'd been through something like this before with Athena Samuels, yet this time he had so much more riding on his every word and action. Ignoring every rule of warfare that had been drilled into him, he suddenly reached up and tapped his actibadge, letting his armor evaporate and leaving him vulnerable to the blaster trained on him.
"Jon," hissed Hawk, watching in apprehension as his Captain took a step, then two, moving closer to the obviously altered 'Overunit' Chase.
"Your name is Jennifer Chase. You're a member of my team. You're our friend. You're my friend…" he said softly, tentatively stretching an empty, gloved hand out to her, as if afraid he would spook her.
"I have no friends. I am a tool of the Machine," she intoned, but the words sounded somehow more forced than before.
"No, you do have friends. You aren't a part of the machine. You're human. You have feelings… you feel happiness, sadness, pain… love."
At Power's words, her body began to minutely shake, the blaster in her hand wavering slightly, and then more vigorously. He and Hawk watched stunned as her eyes blinked once, and then a few more times in rapid succession. When they opened again, they both thought they saw a spark of the woman they knew.
"Love?" she whispered, her voice confused and almost inaudible to the man before her.
Before she could say another word, a visible electrical shock shot out from the earpiece that all Overunits wore, making her gasp in pain. In all their time in the battlefield, they'd never seen an Overunit's head gear do something like that.
Her hands came up to cradle her head, her uniform hat falling to the ground and her blaster hanging limply in her grasp as she shuddered with pain. Jon watched in horror, unsure if he should try and remove the earpiece but without knowing if it would make things worse he didn't want to risk it, but he did feel a rush of hope that maybe the electrical shocks meant that she could be reached. The electrical surge had started after she had seemed to waver in her threat to shoot him after he'd spoken to her. Perhaps she was trying to fight off whatever Dread had done to her, and the shock from the earpiece was some kind of modification enforcement device that Dread had attached to her… to keep her in line and stop her from throwing off his brainwashing. It wouldn't be the first time they'd seen something like that, and if that was the case, and Jennifer was fighting her conditioning, he just had to help her by somehow getting through to her enough to break it.
"I am of the machine," she all at once intoned, her body suddenly straightening and her hands coming back up into place. Her blaster was once more clenched in her grip, her finger moving to tighten on the trigger as Power stared down its barrel. "I am Dread's eyes and ears. There is no emotion, only the precision of the machine."
Power inched ever closer, his face a mask of determined agony. He had to get through to her. He had to get her back. There had to be something… suddenly a thought came to him and his eyes closed for a second as he took a deep breath. Maybe this one truth would break down Dread's walls…
"You do have emotions… you feel love; you said so yourself. Remember, you said you loved me," Power said softly, his words making Hawk catch his breath behind him and the woman before him flinch, and then he impulsively added, "and I love you Jennifer Chase. Come back to me…"
This time the reaction was nearly immediate. With a tremor visibly running through her body, the blaster in her hand clattered to the ground. Her empty hand seemed to minutely inch towards Jon's outstretched one before she was struck again by the electrical voltage from the earpiece attached to her head, this time even more powerful than before. She screamed at the pain from the electricity surging through her, the sound ripping through the twilight and piercing Power's very soul as he shared her agony. He crept closer as she suddenly bent over in half; both hands cradling her head as sparks and popping sounds began to shoot from the earpiece.
It was almost as if the electrical components were being burnt out as it forced the higher voltage through Jennifer's form. And for it to be doing that, Jennifer had to be fighting hard enough to make the hardware melt.
"Come on kid… you can do it," Hawk murmured behind Power, his eyes riveted to the sight before him; Jon and Jennifer together waging a battle against Dread's mind control, the stakes Jennifer's very mind and soul.
A final arc shone like a white and blue halo around her head and without warning she abruptly fell to a heap on the ground. Power was instantly at her side, pulling her limp form in his arms, cradling her body to his as he looked down at her face. His hand ripped away the earpiece that had been nearly electrocuting her before his eyes, flinging it across the square in disgust. That Dread could do this to her… enslave her again after all the hard work she had done to break free of his grasp nearly broke his heart.
He brushed his hand along her cheek and was rewarded when her eyes fluttered open.
"Jon?" Jennifer questioned softly, her voice sounding confused while her eyes seemed to be glazed over with residual pain.
"I'm here. You're safe now."
She didn't turn to look at him or even really react to his words or presence at all. Her eyes simply drifted closed, her body slowly slumping in his grasp and Jon immediately panicked, fearing the worst.
"Jennifer… Jennifer, stay with me!"
When she didn't respond, he abruptly drew a gloved hand to his mouth, biting the leather and ripping it from his hand. He pressed his bare fingers to her throat and breathed a sigh of relief as he felt the pulse there, his glove falling forgotten from his mouth to settle on her stomach. Her pulse was slow, but it was there. She was alive. Any injuries she might have as well as what Dread had done to her mind could be dealt with once got her into the ship and back to safety.
"Hawk, Captain?" queried Scout oddly as he and Tank rounded the corner to see an unarmored Power kneeling in the dirt, an Overunit in his arms.
An Overunit that looked like…
"Pilot?" Tank nearly exclaimed, his surprise matching Scout's.
"Yeah," answered Hawk, still overcome by the astonishment of them having found Jennifer alive.
"Captain, what do we do about the people…" Tank asked, bringing Power's attention back to the mater at hand.
"Call the UTO and have them pick up the surviving Dread Youth and see if they can take them to The Passages. Maybe some of them can be helped. The people of Johnstown need to either prepare for Dread to come back or head out to the next safe settlement," announced Power, his voice ringing with an authority that they hadn't heard in nearly a month.
"And Pilot?" asked Scout, staring at Power with the Overunit clad Pilot in his grasp.
Power finally forced himself to look away from Jennifer's unconscious face to turn and regard the others, determination and passion written across his features.
"We're taking her home."
After Jennifer's collapse in Johnstown, the team had taken her to The Passages to be seen by one of the doctors there. The doctor there had scanned her and couldn't find anything significantly wrong with her, except the slight burns from the electrical charge and the fact that she had yet to wake. Since the moment Jon had picked her up in his arms and carried her to the Jumpship in Johnstown, he had refused to leave her side for a second. Now he sat on the edge of the medical bunk in their new base as he watched its sole occupant, his emotions roiling within him. He held her hand tightly in his, afraid of letting go, lest this all be a dream and he woke up to find her gone.
The team was still worried of what she would be like when she finally woke. The doctor didn't know if she would still be controlled by Dread, or if the fried circuitry of the Overunit earpiece had been because she had broken the brainwashing Dread had put her through and she was now herself once again. They just had to wait for her to wake on her own to find out.
Yet he felt certain in his heart that when she was conscious again that she'd be the same woman he'd fallen in love with.
Still, whatever Dread's tech heads had done to her, she had somehow fought the programming earlier. The fact that she'd dropped her gun instead of firing gave him hope, and it was the only reason he was alive right now. He was trusting in her own innate humanity; that the personality of Jennifer Chase was enough to overcome the decades of Dread Youth training in conjunction with whatever brainwashing that they'd imposed on her.
And if, God forbid, she was still Overunit Chase when she woke, then he'd do whatever it took to deprogram her, to find a way to undo what Dread had done to her, just like they'd done before. He silently swore to himself that he would sacrifice anything, move heaven and earth to bring her back.
"She awake yet?" Matt asked as he came into the room that served as their medical bay.
"No," replied Jon somewhat despondently, his eyes never leaving Jennifer's face.
Behind Matt, Robert and Michael appeared, joining the impromptu vigil.
"What do you think happened?" Robert asked as he and Michael moved to either side of Matt, creating a half circle around the medi-bunk and Jon.
"I don't know. We'll just have to wait for her to wake up," Jon stated matter of factly, his eyes glancing back to look at his team, his friends.
"What if she doesn't?" questioned Matt, worriedly.
In the ten hours since their return from Johnstown she had yet to stir. The doctor's scans had been inconclusive, but the longer she stayed unconscious, the less likely it was that she was coming back. And they all knew it.
Jon turned away and shook his head, unwilling to voice the thought; he wouldn't even consider it an option. She had to wake up.
"What do you think happened to her suit?" asked Michael suddenly, and everyone looked around at one another, including Jon, each of them realizing they'd forgotten about Pilot's power suit in the emotional upheaval of finding her alive.
"It wasn't on her, and Dread hasn't let on that he knows how they work. Maybe it was damaged in the explosion?" suggested Matt.
"Or maybe if she got digitized it was fried?" hypothesized Robert, thinking about the effects of digitization on technology.
"Who knows," Matt said as he shrugged.
Either way it really didn't matter. What did matter was that Jennifer was alive, if still unconscious. And Jon… even with his unwillingness to leave Jennifer's side, in that moment in Johnstown their Captain was suddenly himself once again.
It seemed that Pilot's return had brought him back as well.
"Jon, it's late; we should all get some rest. You should get some rest."
"I will, but later. I just… I don't want to leave her, you know? I don't want to have this be a dream," he said, and the others understood; her return was all their prayers and wishes come true.
As the others left, Jon turned back to the woman in the bed that he knew he loved and picked up her hand in his. He brought it to his lips briefly before laying it back down on the bed, but not releasing it.
"Come on Jennifer, I need you to wake up. I meant what I said; I love you. I promise, I'll never leave you again. Just please, don't leave ME again."
Days turned to a week without any change in Pilot's condition. Hawk had finally forced Power into sleeping in his own bunk for a few hours a night with the promise that one of the team would stay with Pilot. So it was Hawk who was startled from his thoughts by the soft groan coming from the bunk.
"Jennifer?" he said stunned, looking down at the stirring form of their team mate.
"Matt?" she murmured, her head slowly turning towards him as her eyes fluttered open and she focused in on him. She blinked a few times to be sure she was really seeing him there beside her.
His face lit up at the realization that she recognized him, meaning the Dread programming looked to be history. He immediately hit his wrist comm., knowing he had to let the Captain know… now.
"Jon, she's conscious!"
Leaning forward, Matt laid a hand on Jennifer's arm, looking at her as she blinked at him, almost as if she was unsure if she was alive and he was real.
"Hey Kid. Good to see you awake finally."
Before either of them could say anything else, the door nearly blew open as a disheveled Jon Power burst in and moved to the bed, looking down on the woman that was now awake and aware and intently staring at him. Matt pulled his hand from her arm and backed up instantly, slowly leaving the room. Giving them some privacy was the least he could do. While he and the rest of the team had wanted her back, Jon needed her.
"Jon…" she whispered, tears starting to leak from her eyes as she realized that this, that he was real.
"I'm here," he replied thickly, kneeling beside the bed, his hand coming up to her face and brushing at the tears that were now slowly tracking down her cheeks.
"I thought it was a nightmare; that maybe I was dead and in hell. With Dread and the Overunit uniform, burning the town, threatening Hawk, you…" she said her voice choking slightly as she spoke.
"It's over now. You're safe. We got you back and everything's going to be okay," Jon insisted, his hand drifting now to reverently thread through the loose blond strands framing her face.
"I remember standing there with the blaster. I could feel the trigger cutting into my finger. I was pointing at you, and I wanted to shoot you…" she stated, her voice filled with pain as she reached for him and he pulled his hand from her hair and caught her hand with his own, reveling in the solid feel of it in his grasp.
"But you didn't. Whatever mind games, brainwashing Dread did to you, you were stronger than it was. You fought it and won."
He couldn't help but stare at her in awe. All those days and nights he'd been haunted by the memory of losing her, and somehow she'd survived and made her way back to him. He had no doubts that Dread had sent her to Johnstown hoping to have her find him and the team. Her orders were probably to kill them, but they'd beaten Dread's influence and now she was back where she belonged; with the team and with him.
"Where are we?" she asked suddenly, her eyes reluctantly pulling away from his face and seeing the unfamiliar surroundings.
He berated himself for not thinking about the fact that she might be confused. She'd lost a month of time, and had no idea what the team had been through since her 'death'. She didn't know where they were or what they'd been doing during her absence.
"You remember the base exploding?"
She briefly closed her eyes and then nodded the memories still fresh in her mind. At her reaction, Jon felt his heart ache for her again; still unsure of what she'd gone through in the last month.
"We found the skybike and the equipment you'd gotten out. With the base gone, we regrouped in The Passages. While we were there Scout got Mentor operational again, and he let us know that my father had built a secondary base. That's where we are right now, near the Arctic Circle and somewhere Dread doesn't know about."
"So everything's okay? The team…"
"You saw Hawk. Scout and Tank are fine too. As soon as you're ready, I'm sure they'll be in here, wearing you out…"
"How long?" she asked, and he sighed, knowing what she was asking.
She looked at him, shock evident on her face. She didn't remember more than a week at most.
"I didn't know."
"Jennifer, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you're back and safe."
There was a knock on the door, and Jon realized that the rest of the team had most likely been anxiously waiting for him to let them know they could see her. Most likely Hawk had been holding them at bay so he could get some time alone with her before everyone converged.
"Are you up to some company?"
"Yeah. But I want to sit up," she insisted.
Jon slid an arm under her shoulders and eased her into a sitting position. She pushed herself backwards until her back was pressed against the wall, where he quickly shoved a pillow behind her, padding her body from the hard concrete surface of the wall.
"Okay, you can let them in."
Jon reluctantly left her side to go and open the door. Almost immediately Robert was through the door, rushing over to give her a hug. Michael was behind him a half step, his arms replacing Robert's and she braced herself for the bear hug that didn't come.
"I promise Michael, I won't break," she chided, and then felt her ribs groan in protest as he squeezed her harder.
"It's great to have you back," Michael said as he backed up, ceding the space beside her head to their Captain.
"It's good to be back. I didn't think I'd see any of you again…"
"Next time you listen to the Captain and you leave," admonished Robert, looking to where Jon now sat at the edge of the bed, his hand laid over hers once again.
There were smiles all around at the light conversation with the woman they all thought they'd lost forever. But they still didn't know how this had all happened… how they'd gotten so lucky.
"Do you know what happened?" Matt asked her suddenly, giving voice to the question they all had been pondering since they'd encountered her in Johnstown. "We… we thought you'd died in the explosion."
"Blastarr digitized me," she replied sullenly and the others shared dark looks.
"We thought that might have been what happened… after we saw you in Johnstown as an Overunit," remarked Michael.
"Did they ask you anything? Locations, people?" Robert asked.
Jennifer shook her head. She had wondered why they hadn't asked her to divulge that information while she was under Dread's influence. She'd assumed it was because they already knew, but since none of the team had indicated that any of the resistance bases had been destroyed or leaders had been killed, she had to wonder if that was true.
"I'm not sure what information they had. When I woke up, they'd already gotten me out and fixed my injuries. Then when they finished…" she trailed off, then pushed on, "reprogramming me to be what they wanted, they immediately sent me out. I'm sure that Dread expected me to kill you. Kill all of you. Or at least bring you back to Volcania as prisoners."
"Lucky for us you're too thick headed," Robert teased, and she smiled.
"Just like the rest of you," she countered, and they laughed.
Matt was sure that it was the first time since the base explosion that they'd laughed like this. It was almost as if time had turned back and they were getting a chance to start over again.
For the next week Pilot had spent her time getting reacquainted with the team and learning the layout of the new base. Once Hawk scanned her and had the doctor in The Passages review the scans and clear her medically to be up and moving around, she naturally fell into the routine as if she had never left. A new room for her was set up, and she'd moved in as soon as they'd moved the last box out of it. She'd luckily had a uniform stowed on the Jumpship, so she had something of her own to wear until they could replace some of her things back in The Passages or with other resistance cells. As it was, the guys had donated shirts and boxers for her to use as sleepwear, for which she was grateful.
But she refused tell them that the only ones she would wear were the shirts Jon had given her.
Her first sight of the Jumpship again had given her a lump in her throat and she'd joined Hawk on a test flight as soon as she was able. Her reflexes and intuition for flying hadn't degraded a bit, and Hawk had checked with Power to certify that she was ready to take them out whenever they went on their next mission.
Before she could join them though, there was one last issue they had to deal with. When they were sure that she was 100%, the group had sat in the new command room and discussed the situation with the power suits. Scout's hypothesis about the suit being destroyed by the digitization beam still seemed to be holding up, but it left Pilot without a suit.
It meant that her suit was gone. But she'd saved the spares by loading them on the skybike.
There wasn't even any debate about her wearing one of the spare suits.
After dressing in the circuitry covered fabric, she'd stepped into the charging station. In moments she'd appeared before them all in a copy of her old armor, much to her delight and the praise of her team mates.
So it was at the end of her first week with things nearly back to normal that a knock on the door of her room pulled Jennifer up short. It was pretty late, and she didn't expect that they'd need to go on a mission.
The door opened, and a figure stood in the doorway, the dim light in the hallway behind him outlining his form. She didn't need to see his face to know who it was… it was Jon.
"Hey… I just wanted to check on you," he nearly stammered out, and she couldn't help but smile at him. "Make sure you were sleeping okay."
Jennifer got up from where she'd been sitting on her bed and simply stared at the man in her doorway. Ever since she'd thought she was going to die and she'd told him how she felt, over the open comm., she'd wondered what it would be like if he felt the same? And then when she'd been under Dread's mind control, she'd heard him say to her the words that had allowed her to break free.
Yet they'd been here for a week and all that time she'd been waiting for him to make some kind of move, some gesture or say something that would let her know that he really meant what he'd said.
He slowly came further in the room, leaving them just feet from one another. She was standing there in his shirt, and he felt a rush of desire course through him at the sight. As they stood there, the room was filled with tension, and neither of them seemed to know what to do next.
"Thanks. I hadn't fallen asleep just yet. Of course if I had been sleeping okay, you checking to see if I was would have woken me up."
There was a long drawn out silence between them.
"I should let you get some sleep," Jon said as he started to turn to leave.
"Jon, wait," Jennifer said softly, her hand moving quickly to catch his wrist, stopping him from moving away. "You had another reason for coming here besides checking to see if I was able to sleep, didn't you?"
Jon paused a moment before turning to face her. He was thankful that she was back; there was no question about it. But now that she was fitting in with the team as if nothing had ever happened, he was afraid of pressing the issue about what they'd both said.
How they felt.
He could lie, tell her he'd just needed to make sure she was okay and walk out. But he recalled the nights when he'd wished he'd had that second chance to tell her how he felt. He had that now. And if he didn't say anything now, act on his feelings, what was to say that he couldn't lose her again without ever telling her…
"But you were just leaving now…" she noted, her voice wavering ever so slightly as she feared he'd actually leave without saying what he came here to tell her.
Jon stood there, not sure what to say or do. He watched her as she stared at him, her blue eyes stripped bare of everything except how she felt. He knew what he should say, but if he said it, everything was going to have to change.
He swallowed hard as he realized that he owed her the truth, and he needed to be honest with himself as well.
"I wasn't sure if I had the right to say anything to you," he began tentatively, his other hand reaching to lay over where hers still clutched his wrist. "There are a dozen reasons why I shouldn't tell you how I feel about you… but only one reason why I should."
Jennifer released his wrist as she moved closer to him, and he didn't back away. Instead, he closed the distance until they were almost touching. Then Jon let himself raise his hands to her face, cradling it in his palms as he looked down on her, his own heart beating wildly in his chest. In response, her hands moved almost instinctually to settle on his chest, feeling his heart beneath them; the pounding of it matching her own.
"I love you. I never expected to fall in love during all this… but… I did. There were times I thought I could never tell you because of our roles with the team, because I didn't think you could ever understand how deeply I love you… but you proved to me that you knew better than I did. Because you told me first that you loved me."
Staring into his eyes, Jennifer couldn't help but be moved. The years that she'd spent learning to be human, to recognize and feel emotions had been under this man's tutelage. How could he not have realized how well he'd taught her?
"How could I not love you?" she finally said, her voice cracking and her eyes welling with tears. "You are the most honorable, kind and, well… handsome man I've ever known. I don't love you because of what you did for me, but because of how you make me feel when I'm with you. I admit, it took me a while and a few sessions with Mentor to understand what I felt, but once I did… I couldn't not love you."
He smiled at that, his thumbs moving to swipe at the sudden tears that had broken from her lashes and were rolling down her cheeks. Then, with the gentlest of pulls, he leaned down and brought her lips to his in a soft, sweet kiss that made him lightheaded. Beneath his lips he felt her sigh, and her lips parted, letting her breath out. He immediately opened his mouth to breathe her in, and somehow the kiss deepened, tongues moving to meet and caress as their bodies pressed closer.
Feeling as if this moment might be too much, too soon, he slowly eased back, pulling his lips from hers ever so reluctantly. When they had broken apart, he instead moved his hands to her back, pulling her flush against his chest as her arms went around his waist. Jennifer's head tucked against his chest and he leaned his head down to lay upon hers.
They held one another like that for what seemed an eternity; neither wanting to shatter the moment. They'd found one another now twice. It was all they could do not to revel in the feelings swirling within them.
"So, where do we go from here?" she asked, her voice muffled by his shirt.
"You mean this? Us?" he replied quietly, still savoring the solid feel of her in his arms.
She nodded and he felt sparks along his skin through the t-shirt he wore at the movement. He clutched her tighter as he pondered everything. With so much at stake with the war, was it right for them to be selfish and want this for themselves? Or would accepting and fully realizing it be a validation of everything they were fighting for?
"We still have a job to do," he began, and he felt her begin to tense in his embrace, steeling herself for his next words. "But we can't deny what we feel. We shouldn't let Dread or the war keep us from letting ourselves have whatever happiness we can take. I want us to be together. And let the rest of the world be damned."
She eased away from him and smiled upwards, her eyes sparkling with emotion.
"You realize the guys are going to tease us mercilessly?"
"It will be worth it."
"So… what are we then? What happens next? You have to remember, I'm still new at this," she jibed, moving a hand to poke his side with a finger, making him laugh lightly and smile back.
"You are my girlfriend. And maybe, one day we can say maybe… wife?" he tentatively offered and watched her mouth drop open as she stared at him, stunned.
"You… I… are you…"
Jon leaned down to kiss her lightly but briefly before pulling away to regard her seriously. He hadn't really meant to sort of propose, but the reality was that he couldn't imagine loving anyone else like he loved her. And he'd found that being without her for those torturous 30 days was like loosing a piece of himself. He never wanted to feel that way again.
"I spent a month of my life believing you were dead," he said seriously, and she continued to stare at him in shock. "I was a wreck. I just couldn't cope with loosing you. And I realized now that I don't want to live the rest of my life without having spent whatever time we have together… well, together."
"Does this mean I get to move in with you?" she said with a slight smirk and Jon's eyebrows raised slightly as the full implications of what he was proposing sunk in.
Then the thought of waking up with her in the morning, laying down to sleep at night, and other… activities that couples shared streamed through his mind, and he had to admit that they all were very appealing and tempting.
"Not tonight. I think we should take this a step at a time. Have a lamp light meal of rations in the desert, do some more dancing…"
She chuckled slightly. In her re-education process, she'd learned what dating was. Now here was the all powerful master of the power suits talking about dating her.
"Do raids on Dread forces count as a date?"
He laughed at her question and pulled her back to him for another kiss, this one deeper than the last. When they finally broke for air, he couldn't help but run a hand though her hair and along her cheek. He loved her so damn much.
"Let's spend time together as a couple and go from there. Besides, Matt and the others will need time to get used to the idea. And we'll need to build in a double sized bed in my room if you're going to be moving in…"
"Sounds like a plan Captain," she answered with a seductive grin before he leaned in and kissed her again.
"That it does. But for now, I'm pulling rank and ordering you to get some sleep. Tomorrow we'll make some announcements and start planning our next steps. Until then…"
With one last kiss, he pulled away from her, making his way backwards to the door. She held his hand briefly, but let it go finally, knowing that he would keep his promise, and come the morning this new dimension of their relationship would still be there, and that they'd start to make the most of everyday they had together, just like he'd said and they now both knew they wanted.
As the door slid behind him, Jennifer stared at it briefly, still surprised by the turn of events. Then she turned and climbed under the covers of her bunk, flipping off the lights and settling in for sleep. On the other side of the door, Jon took a deep breath and had to fight to keep the grin off his face. Moving down the hall he made his way to his own room and promptly went in and stretched out under the blanket, his mind and heart both racing at the idea of one day soon having so much more with this woman he'd thought he'd lost.
The next morning Power woke and with a spring in his step, dressed and headed into the command room to see what kind of activity was on the radio frequencies. When he got there, Hawk and Scout were already at the consoles; Hawk with a cup of what passed as coffee in his hands. The two men turned and regarded their Captain with curious looks before he moved to join them.
"Any news?" Power asked as he moved to flank Scout's seated position at the communications station.
"Not much. UTO took the Dread Youths to The Passages and the docs there are working with them to get them sorted out."
"Good news then. Anything else?"
"We've got a request to come out with some supplies to a resistance cell in Freeland. Nothing too complicated. But while we're there we can pick up some stuff… some more uniforms for Pilot," Hawk remarked with a smile.
"Clothes?" asked Pilot as she suddenly came into the command room, followed by Tank. "That would be great. I could use some clothes my size…"
"You mean you want to stop wearing the Captain's shirts to sleep in?" questioned Hawk, and Pilot blushed red.
"How…" Power started to ask, stunned at what his best friend seemed to know about what Jennifer wore to bed.
"Please," Scout interjected, making everyone look to him. "Like we all haven't been here to see you two circling around one another. Of course she's wearing your clothes."
"Plus," added Tank, his eyes looking away guiltily, "all of our things somehow magically reappeared in our rooms."
Power looked to Pilot, and she bit her lip as she blushed deeper.
"I didn't want the rest of the team to be short things… so I kinda put back what I wasn't going to use."
"So you've only been wearing my shirts to bed," Power asked, moving towards her with a smile on his face.
She nodded, her face a deep red. She had never been so embarrassed in her life. Of course, she had only been embarrassed a few times in her life, since understanding what that emotion was. Then she was looking up at Power as he nearly loomed before her. And she couldn't help grin herself.
"I can't say that I'm not secretly pleased about that," he said, his voice barely loud enough to be heard, but the room's acoustics let everyone hear him. "Besides, they look good on you."
"Compliments on her clothes? Is there something going on here that you want to share with the rest of us?" joked Scout as he watched the way Power and Pilot seemed more emotionally comfortable with one another than they'd been since before the base explosion and Pilot's declaration.
Power looked to the woman in front of him, and decided to just show them, rather than say a word. With that he reached around her waist and pulled her to him, kissing her soundly albeit briefly on the lips. Hawk whooped in appreciation of the action and Scout yelled out a "yeah", while Michael stood there and grinned at the display.
"I guess we can take that for a yes then," commented Tank as Power broke the kiss and Pilot settled into his side, laying her head against his chest contentedly.
"You guys know you have to keep the mushiness down to a minimum around us poor single guys, or we're libel to get jealous," teased Scout.
"But really, we couldn't be happier," Hawk insisted, giving his friends a pleased glance before moving to rap Power on the shoulder. "But just be warned, you hurt her and we'll make you sorry."
Pilot and Power laughed as did the others. The group was back together once again, and the change of Pilot and Power's acknowledged relationship would only serve to make them stronger.
Power grinned at the others as he clutched Pilot to his side, looking at the rest of his team who were still smiling and laughing. He was a lucky man on so many counts… With Pilot beside him, the rest of the team supporting them, and the continuing efforts of the resistance, he wondered if maybe they could stop Dread sooner rather than later. It was as if he could now see the future laid out before him that he'd never thought would arrive. Tomorrow was coming, and with it, a new chance to change the world for the better.
Final author's notes: 1. I made a conscious decision to make Pilot's armor the same as before. My argument to my beta readers was as follows: I believe the armor is determined more by the biometric pattern/skills of the wearer than the armor being designated by the suit. If the suit itself had a certain type of armor pre-programmed, who is to say that they would match the wearers so correctly? 2. A big thank you to my beta readers. This would not be nearly as refined if you hadn't given your guidance.