A/N: Gasp, is this an update I see? Yes, yes it is. Life has been so crazy, it's not even funny, but I have indeed managed to finish another chapter for you all.

A massive thank you to everyone who's been reading/reviewing/alerting/favouriting this story! I'm truly grateful for your support! Miranda, thanks for your review, I really enjoyed reading it! I'm glad you're enjoying the fic, and yes, Tommy's backstory is going to be very slowly revealed throughout the entire story. I think Eric McKnight was originally created just to explain James Napier's presence at the end of Ninja Storm, but it does give us fanfic writers lots of fun stuff to work with! Hope you enjoy this nice long chapter, too! Helena, thanks, and I'm glad you're enjoying the fic. As you can see, I fully intend on continuing. Hope you enjoy! Guest, thanks, and I hope you enjoy Chapter 12!

Further, this chapter is dedicated to PinkRangerV, as a surprise early birthday present (because with my updating speed, I probably won't be able to post anything else by her birthday). She is a fantastic person and a great writer and you should all go check out her stuff when you're done with this chapter. :)

Disclaimer: Power Rangers is owned by Saban. I'm flat broke. That being said, please, read and enjoy!

Interlude - Alien Diplomacy:

October 13, 2004:

As Tommy expected, Conner, Kira, and Ethan were already waiting expectantly in his basement. Ethan was sitting at his computer, scrolling through some documents.

Those look suspiciously like classified documents.

"What are you looking through, Ethan?"

Ethan spun around quickly, surprised.

What? You seriously didn't notice me entering? We need to work on your situational awareness.

"Hey, Dr. O! Hayley sent over some documents that she said would help. I'm not really sure I understand them, though."

Tommy scanned the files as Conner and Kira came up behind him.

Oh, come on, Hayley? Really?

"These are classified documents, Ethan."

Ethan's expression lit up. "Really? Cool!"

Tommy sighed. "No, not cool, Ethan. I'm legally bound to report when each file is accessed, who accessed it, where, why, and if the reason's don't align with the ICISI's guidelines – it's a legal nightmare."

"The what now?" Conner asked.

"But we're the Power Rangers," Ethan protested.

"That does not put us above the law, Ethan," Tommy replied as he took his seat, "And the ICISI is the Intergalactic Council of Information Security and Infrastructure. They keep track of information passed between levels of security… Okay, backtracking –

"In the known Universe, there is one primary coalition of worlds. Within that there are five levels. Level I: Uncivilised worlds that support life. Level II: Civilised worlds that are unaware of alien life or do not allow contact. Level III: Civilised worlds that allow contact. Level IV: Civilised worlds that allow contact and trade. Level V: Civilised worlds that allow contact, trade, and settlement."

Tommy typed on his keyboard, brining up a colourful map.

"These are the classifications for the Local Cluster. This is Earth right here – Level II. Now, sentient beings also have classifications on a similar system. Usually they bear the same level as their home planets, with similar rights. Rangers are generally Level III, unless their home planet has a higher classification, or the threat they are called to fight is purely indigent, like Mesogog. However, since Thorven publicly confronted you, you three now have Level III status, which allows you to contact aliens and conduct negotiations. Level IV would allow you to work or trade off-world, and visit for limited period of time, and Level V would allow you to live off-world for an unlimited period of time, and set up your own business there."

"What level are you?" Kira asked.

"Level IV. There are nuances to both systems, of course, but I'm not going to go into them yet. Now, Thorven comes from Horath, which used to be Level V, but has been Level II for the past seven years, after the Machine Empire, well, raped, pillaged, and terrorised the planet. There's been a lot of political turmoil on Horath ever since they were deposed, with various groups trying to restore a leadership structure…"

Tommy trailed off. Horath had been in shambles in the wake of the Machine Empire's tyranny, one that he had helped and empowered. After they were destroyed, Horath never regained stability, and was now as volatile as the Middle East was on Earth.

"So, this Emissary guy…" Ethan prompted.

Tommy snapped back to reality. "Right. Thorven's Emissary status gives him diplomatic immunity, which means the same for any interactions Earth has with outside planets as it does for any countries interacting within Earth – our laws can't touch him. If we attack him, we'd be inviting a lot of trouble for the Earth."

"Trouble like what?" Conner asked.

"Military retaliation, sanctions – which will have a bigger effect than you think – possible invasions… Earth is in a very precarious position right now, since we've started pushing for Level IV reclassification, possibly Level V."

Sanctions now would mean very bad news for the scientists working on SPD and the morphers and hinder a lot of plans for the future of the Earth.


"Wait, when was this decided?"

Tommy pinched the bridge of his nose. "'We' meaning some former Rangers and Ranger-affiliated government officials. And this was first proposed about a decade ago. Could we please get back to the topic of the delegate from a politically unstable planet with murderous intent towards us?"

Conner scowled, and Ethan reared back as Kira crossed her arms, unfazed. "You hold all the cards, Dr. O. We don't know anything about this kind of stuff – we're just high schoolers."

So was I when I started this.

Tommy exhaled slowly, wrestling his temper and frayed nerves under control. He remembered how stressful and, frankly, terrifying it had been when he was a teenager.

"I get that, and I'm sorry for snapping. I remember how stressful it was when I was in your position."

Conner gave a soft, derisive snort. Tommy resisted the urge to narrow his eyes. He had to pick his battles wisely.

Tommy changed, pointing to a section shaded over. "This is the Huaun Void. It's named that way because its connection to the Morphing Grid is warped and scarred by residual Black Magic from a war eons ago. All the Rangers born in the Huaun Void are either Evil or Mercenary.

"Evil Rangers are, as their name implies, servants of evil. They are utterly devoted to their masters and seek only to spread oppression and tyranny. Mercenary Rangers tend to serve evil, but in reality, only fight for the highest bidder, or for their own personal power. They usually have a core set of personal values, like not harming women and children. Other than that, they'll fit for whoever offers them the most money, power, or whatever they're after, and switch sides very easily. Earth has known seven Evil – ex-Evil, now – Rangers, and one Mercenary – now former Mercenary – Ranger."

"Seven?" Ethan repeated incredulously.

Kira's brow furrowed as she dredged up the memory of the Ranger history video they'd watched over three weeks ago.

"Why?" Conner asked.

Ethan and Kira turned to Conner, confused.

"Why what?" Ethan returned.

Conner rubbed the back of his neck. "Why does the Earth have so many Evil and Mercenary Rangers? The Power Rangers have only been on Earth for about eleven years. That's about one every year – every generation."

Good point, kid. But the theory behind that isn't particularly comforting.

Ethan and Kira stared at Conner.

"Wow…" Kira murmured, "That was actually a pretty smart question."

Conner threw up his hands violently. "Why is everyone surprised when I say anything even remotely intelligent? I. Am. Not. STUPID!"

"Maybe its because you rarely do say anything smart," Kira sniped back, refusing to be cowed in the face of Conner's wrath.

"Conner! Kira! That's enough," Tommy snapped, "Kira, stop sniping. Conner, get your temper under control."

Teenagers. Why couldn't you have grown up in each other's back pockets like my first team?

"You two have exactly three minutes to get your death glares out of your systems," Tommy said, "And I hope you can multitask because I'm not going to repeat myself. Earth's Morphing Grid is unique and very volatile, which is why it is the focus of so many villains and so often warped to produce Evil or Mercenary Rangers.

"Now, because Horath is so close to the Void, 90 percent of its interaction with Rangers is negative, so if we want to get Thorven to listen to us and back off, we need to counter his first instinct that we're evil by being as non-threatening as possible."

"So sending Conner and Kira in is out of the question?" Ethan ventured, cringing as his two teammates turned to him.

Tommy lips twitched. "We have until sunset to get that sorted out."

Conner turned to Tommy. "Wait, you wouldn't really bench us, right?"

Would you listen to me if I did?

Tommy's eyebrows rose. "With the way today's going? Frankly, the idea looks more and more tempting."

"Conferences not go well for you either?" Kira asked dryly.

Tommy shook his head. "If any of you ever decide to teach, I'm warning you in advance that dealing with the parents will be the part you hate the most, even more than the paperwork. I've been told how to do my job, kept a parent from attacking a student, kept a student from attacking his uncle, been hit on by a student's mother, and been yelled at for trying convert another student into a, and I quote, 'heathen.' Clearly, Mr. Miller never did well in science class."

"Wait, wait, wait," Ethan cut in, "You're talking about Allison Miller?"

Tommy replied, "You didn't hear it from me."

The three teens exchanged glances, before bursting into laughter.

I'm glad you find this so amusing. No, really, I am. No sarcasm here.

"Dude," Conner gasped out, "Allie Miller is the most incorruptible person at Reefside High, maybe even the city!"

"Exactly," Ethan added, "I've known her since the fourth grade. She's, like, a paragon of virtue. Seriously."

Kira snickered. "Sorry, Dr. O. It's just, you being accused of converting quite possibly the only person in the school who can't be converted is too hilarious!"

I think the fact that Allie is so strong in her faith is the only reason her father isn't actively trying to get me fired.

"But seriously, can I count on you two to keep it together out on the field? Diplomacy is a very delicate matter, if you guys can't handle it, I can call in someone more qualified."

Like the man whose career is specifically designed for situations like these. Where is Jason, anyway?

Conner shook his head. "No. We can handle it. We're Power Rangers, right? We face tough challenges and we overcome them – that's what we do."

Ethan and Kira nodded in affirmation.

Tommy's lips twitched into a small smile. They were so proud, so eager, so ready to defend their planet. They'd be fine.

"Alright. I'm assuming that Thorven carries a translator on him, so we don't need to worry about the language barrier – what is it, Ethan?"

"Uh, translator? Language barrier? I thought he was speaking English."

Tommy shook his head. "Emissaries carry a device best called a translator. It picks up on the brainwaves of everyone surrounding the user, and then alters whatever the user says into the most common language. If you listen really carefully when Thorven speaks, you can hear his real voice, like an echo."

"That's awesome," Ethan murmured in awe, "I totally need one of those."

Tommy's lips twitched. "If we make it through to the night alive and without sparking an interplanetary war, I'll see what I can do to get you one."

Ethan beamed and Conner rolled his eyes, muttering affectionately, "Geek."

"Jock," Ethan replied easily.

"Boys," Kira said dismissively, "Focus."

"Right," Conner said, switching his attention back to the topic, "So what do we do? Just go talk to him?"

Tommy nodded. "We have to convince him that we're no threat, and that means no fighting."

"And we can't approach him because we could be seen as aggressors, right?" Ethan added. At Conner and Kira's looks, he explained, "It was in the stuff Hayley sent."

Tommy looked back at the document Ethan was referencing. "Diplomatic Ranger – Non-Ranger Interactions? Ugh, I hated reading that. I'm surprised you managed to make any sense of it already. I had to have a friend who was trained in this to help me."

Seriously, if it wasn't for Trey, I'd have probably screwed up and put the Earth in twice as much danger as it was.

Ethan flashed his mentor a quick smile. "Does this mean you'll let me finish reading it?"

"We'll see. What else did you get from it?"

Ethan's brow furrowed. "Not much, but it seems like Conner has to be the one doing the talking."

"He does."

"I what?"

"Great," Kira groaned, "We're doomed."

Conner flashed Kira an irritated glance. "Hey, you've never had to make Nico Rodriguez and Richard Showalter work together after Dick cheated on Nico's sister, so back off. Dr. O, shouldn't you be the one doing this, though? You have more experience."

Tommy shook his head. "Rank over experience. As the current active Red Ranger, you're the face of the Power Rangers of Earth to everyone else, and Thorven will direct his actions towards you."

"Great," Conner muttered, starting to look overwhelmed.

Tommy stood up, clasping Conner's shoulder gently. "Conner. You'll do fine. I have faith in you."

The corner of the teen's mouth lifted slightly.

"Why don't the three of you get a hold of Hayley and see how she's doing. Ask her how long it would take to set up an internal com-link between the four of us when we're morphed. I have a few phone calls to make."

As the teens turned to the computer, Tommy stepped away and pulled out his phone. Well, it was a phone, though not exactly one used on Earth. He scrolled through his contacts and selected one, holding the device up to his ear.

"Kalik. Dovash th'yo?" [Are you busy?]

There was a crackle across the line before a cheery male voice came on, saying, [Tommy! Good morning! Or afternoon, it is afternoon on Earth where you are, right? And no, I'm not busy. Do I need to be?]

[No, I just need you to find some information for me. Emissary Thorven from Horath.]

[Say no more, my friend. Just sit back and let me work my magic.]

Tommy smirked. [Try to remember that you're a legitimate businessman now, Kalik.]

[There must be a bad connection, Tommy; I have no idea what you said in the last few seconds.]

[I'm sure, Kalik. Do you have anything?]

[Emissary Thorven of the Eastern Kaverra Valley of Horath. Attained his position two years ago with the fall of so-and-so and the rise of such-and-such… Oh, would you look at that, a personal schedule. Tch, what a lucky happening! Thorven is due for a meeting with a tribal leader from Western Kaverra in an hour… Ish? If I'm translating the time zones rightly.]

So that's why Jason's not on top of this already. He didn't know.

Tommy's smirk widened. [Well, that changes things. My thanks, Kalik.]

[Do I get to know why you needed this information?]

[I think there's a bad connection, Kalik. Whatever you just said was covered by static,] Tommy mocked.

He could practically hear the other man pout. [You're mean, Tommy. So mean!]

Tommy chuckled. [I'll talk to you later, my friend.]

[Of course, of course. Be well, Tommy.]

[You too.]

Tommy ended the call and turned back to the teens.

"Good news and bad news, Tommy," Hayley said as Tommy approached, "I triangulated the signal to Skalny Grove at the other side of town. However, the com link you want would take anywhere from a week to a month to set up, if I even have the supplies."

Of course, life can't be too easy.

Tommy inclined his head. "Fair enough. Can you get in touch with Jason? Thorven's not here on official business. Officially, he's supposed to be meeting with a tribal chief back on Horath."

Conner's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "So is that good news or bad news?"

"Good news. It makes things a lot easier for us. We can go armed, we can go on our own terms – the only thing we can't do is initiate a battle with him, or injure him significantly."

Conner clapped his hands and stood up. "Great. So let's go, prove we're not evil, and send him home."

You make it sound so easy.

"You make it sound so easy," Kira remarked, unknowingly echoing her teacher's thoughts.

Conner flashed her a quick grin. "Ready?"

"Dino Thunder! Power up!"

They found Thorven at the other end of Reefside, just as Hayley had predicted.

Unfortunately, they found Mesogog, Elsa, and Zeltrax there as well.

Well, today can't get any – no! Not jinxing myself!

"Be careful, Red," Tommy murmured, "Mesogog's here."

Conner nodded and called out, "Thorven! We need to talk!"

Thorven, who could best be described as a purple dwarf with dark green tennis balls for eyes and white dreadlocks, turned and glared at them. Mesogog leaned over and whispered in his ear, causing the alien to narrow his eyes dangerously at the Rangers.

Oh, that doesn't look good.

"Rangers," the alien hissed, spitting the word out like a foul taste, "Mesogog is right, you have no honor. You would attack me preemptively?"

Conner held up his hands. "Hey, we're just here to talk. And besides, you're the one who's not even supposed to be on the planet right now."

Thorven's dreadlocks shot out in all directions as he hissed again.

Well then. So they're not dreadlocks, but tentacles. Good to know.

"How do you know that?" the alien demanded.

Tommy could feel the smugness radiating off Conner as he replied, "I have my sources. So why don't you come down here and we'll talk about whatever issues you have with us."

"Lies! Mesogog warned me that you would try to trick me!"

Suddenly, Elsa jerked back with a loud cry. "Agh! I've been hit!"

Tommy glanced quickly at the teens; all their weapons were stowed. Elsa was lying.

Conner had the same idea, as he cried out. "She's lying! Look at us, all our weapons are stowed!"

"And how do I know you don't have a shooter hidden in the trees, Red Ranger? You and your team have already proven yourselves to be treacherous fiends!"

Oh God, really? This is why I'm not a diplomat. Jason could probably figure a way out of this. I just want to shoot them all and go home.

Tommy spotted a glint of silver and ordered, "Scatter!"

His warning came just in time as Thorven pulled out a laser pistol and started firing at them.

Oh, you've got to be kidding me…

"Well, that went well," Kira remarked as they regrouped deeper in the woods.

"We can't hurt him, can we?" Conner asked.

"No, we cannot," Tommy replied ruefully.

"So what are we supposed to do?" Ethan wondered.

"We need to get Mesogog, Zeltrax, and Elsa out of the picture," Tommy replied, "I wouldn't put it past Mesogog to use his mental torture on Thorven."

"Somehow, I don't think Thorven's going to let us do that easily," Kira groused.

"There's four of us and four of them," Conner said, and Tommy could imagine his mind working through strategies furiously, "Yellow, Blue, take care of Zeltrax and Elsa. I'll take Thorven-"

"Which leaves Mesogog for me," Tommy finished with a nod, "Be careful. Thorven's using assassin's weapons. One hit, you demorph; two hits, you die."

The Red Ranger nodded and the team dispersed back to battle. Conner moved towards Thorven headfirst, and Ethan, Kira, and Tommy charged towards their opponents from the back.

Mesogog caught Tommy's Brachio Staff in his claws as Tommy slashed downward.

"You're going to have to do better than that, Dr. Oliver," the mutated dinosaur sneered.

Tommy wrenched his weapon free and leaped back, his mind racing. The last time he'd fought Mesogog one-on-one, it had felt like he was fighting against himself. He was almost completely certain that Mesogog had pulled his own fighting styles from his mind.

"Oh, believe me, I can," Tommy shot back, digging into his mind to dig up all the training he'd had with staves.

Suddenly, Tommy's head exploded in pain and the world disappeared in a deafening roar. He flew back from Mesogog, barely registering the villain flying back as well before he collided painfully with the ground.

What… the… Brachio…?

Tommy forced himself up with a groan, his head pounding painfully and the BrachioZord's roaring continued at a slightly lower volume. Around him, Ethan and Kira were fighting fiercely against Elsa and Zeltrax, tag-teaming them as Conner struggled to get through to Thorven.

Conner ducked as Thorven fired at him, narrowly avoiding getting hit. Unfortunately, that opened up a clear path to Kira. The Yellow Ranger cried out in surprise, as she was forcefully demorphed.

"Kira!" three concerned voices rang out.

Conner leaped at Thorven as Tommy dashed across the field to their fallen teammate. Ethan bolted into action, kicking his leg out against Zeltrax's gut and plunging his fist into Elsa's solar plexus.

Nicely done, Blue. Conner, get back here!

Tommy helped Kira stand as Ethan started back towards them, barely managed to catch Conner and steady him as he reeled back from Thorven's counterattack.

Good. Conner's still remembering to hold back.

Elsa and Zeltrax groaned and picked themselves up, dragging themselves over to their fallen master.

"Master!" Elsa cried out in shock, "Wake up!"

Thorven glanced around the battlefield, taking in the Blue Ranger supporting the Red Ranger, the Black Ranger holding up the human that used to be the Yellow Ranger, and Zeltrax and Elsa attempting to rouse Mesogog.

"Retreat," Mesogog rasped out.

"But my Lord!" Zeltrax protested.

Mesogog snarled threateningly, and Zeltrax quieted. He helped Elsa support the dinosaur as an Invisiportal opened up behind them.

"Cowards," Ethan and Conner muttered derisively as the three villains disappeared through the portals.

Thorven and the Rangers were left staring at each other, each side wondering who would make the next move.

"Sundown," Thorven snarled, "As Mesogog and his fellows have seen it fit to give you a reprieve, I, too shall give you one until sundown, when you shall face your doom!"

Conner tensed, and Tommy could practically feel his rage spike.

"Red, Blue," he called out, his voice brooking no argument, "Let's go."

They could figure this mess out back in his basement, safe and sound.

"I'm so sorry, you guys," Kira said once they were back in Tommy's house, "If I hadn't been hit-"

Conner waved her apology off. "Mesogog was already down, Kira. Dr. Oliver, you going to be alright?"

"Migraine," Tommy replied shortly, "It'll pass. You need anything, Kira?"

Kira shook her head. "No, I just need to sit down for a bit."

Tommy moved over to his medical cabinet, pulling out a bottle of aspirin and taking two. He blinked and forced himself to focus, turning back to the teens.

"Alright. We have until sundown to figure out how to approach Thorven and get him off the planet without sparking a war. Ideas?"

The teens stared back at him blankly. Tommy shook his head slightly and sat down, gesturing for the teens to do the same. Hayley's face was already flashing on his computer screen, signalling him that she was online at the Cyberspace.

"The first thing we should focus on is how to avoid getting hit by Thorven's weapons," Tommy said, "Though it would probably help more if we knew exactly what he had at his disposal."

"Well, I managed to get this," Ethan said, holding out a metal grey sphere.

"What is it?" Conner asked.

Ethan shrugged. "This is going to sound really weird, but it was Thorven's gun."

His three teammates stared at him. "It was!" Ethan insisted, "He had it in his hands, and then Conner tackled him after the beam hit Kira, and it fell, turned into this, and rolled off into the bushes towards us."

Tommy's brow furrowed. A gun that morphed into a ball? It couldn't be…

"Does it have any markings?"

Ethan shook his head. "It's completely smooth."

Ethan passed the ball to Kira, who rolled it around in her hands. "He's right – there isn't a scratch or groove anywhere. It's like a ball bearing."

Tommy stretched out his hand. "May I see that?"

Kira handed over the ball and Tommy hissed as soon as his fingers made contact.

It is!

His palm burned as something foreign flashed through his mind. The metal rippled and swiftly morphed into some kind of gun.

"Whoa! How did you do that, Dr. O?"

The gun was small, about the size of a pistol. It had a slender, rounded handle, and lean cylindrical barrel that tapered to a point.

"I don't believe it," Tommy murmured. He swivelled around in his chair, and pulled something out from under his desk.

It was an identical gun.

"This is a diamond-focus hi-frequency laser from the Regda system, a group of planets in the Andromeda galaxy, with an accuracy within 7 microns," Tommy explained, "It's a standard weapon for interplanetary emissaries with Level II clearance or higher, especially ones that are combat-ready – Everything I said just flew over your heads, didn't it?"

"Kind of, yeah," Kira replied frankly, "I got the part about Emissaries and clearances levels, which you explained before we went out…"

Tommy shook his head ruefully. "Sorry about that. The weapon I pulled out from under my desk is one used by dignitaries, their bodyguards, and anyone traveling between planets who has combat training, like off-duty Rangers. You need to apply for a permit, just like you would with a gun here in the States. The ball, on the other hand…"

Tommy focused and grinned when the weapon reverted to ball form. "This is a selig – it creates a neural interface with the user and can then transform into any weapon they know how to use."

The ball transformed into a shotgun, and then into a dagger.

"So why didn't it transform for us?" Conner wondered, "I mean, we know how to use our Ranger weapons."

Tommy shook his head. "Those are Power-protected. Ranger technology can only be manipulated or recreated by other Ranger technology – at least, here on Earth. Since none of you have formal weapons training outside of your Ranger weapons, it remained in ball form."

Tommy passed the ball back to Ethan who looked over it again, before handing it to Kira, who turned to Conner. Conner looked at it dubiously before taking it.

He hissed. "Dude, that burns!"

Tommy nearly dropped his laser when the ball in Conner's hand morphed into a semi-automatic pistol.

Why does my Red know how to use a military-grade pistol?

"Uh, something you'd like to tell us, Conner?" Ethan ventured, staring at the gun in Conner's hand.

Conner stared blankly at the gun in his hand.

Tommy raised his eyebrows. "Conner, where did you learn to use a Beretta M9?"

Conner sighed. "My Dad… he was really big on me going into the military. He taught me to shoot when I was twelve."

Your father and I need to have a conversation on what is and is not appropriate to teach twelve-year-old boys. Shooting a military sidearm falls under the 'is not' category.

"You? In the military?" Ethan demanded incredulously.

"What does he think you're going to do, knock the terrorists out by kicking soccer balls at them?" Kira added.

"Hey, I'm the one carrying a military sidearm," Conner snapped irritably.

"Whoa, chill, man," Ethan said, holding up his hands as Kira narrowed her eyes.

"Alright, we're putting the dangerous weapon away now," Tommy cut in, reaching over and taking the selig back, "And the burn was from it setting up the neural interface, Conner."

Conner sighed, running his fingers through his hair in frustration. "Sorry. Just… let's not talk about my Dad."

"Daddy issues," Ethan muttered, "Why am I not surprised?"

"Ethan," Tommy warned, "Let's stay focused, shall we?"

"So does this help us?" Ethan asked.

Tommy nodded. "It does. These things are obscenely expensive – I could sell my house four times over and still not even have enough to rent one – so their use and sale is highly regulated. You have to go through a psychological evaluation and list every weapon you know how to use and where you learned to use them before you can get a license."

Ethan brightened. "So if that information's on record…"

Tommy nodded. "With a little work, I can find it. While I'm doing that, I want you three to brainstorm strategy, and how to keep each other covered when fighting. And update Hayley on what's going on."

The teens nodded. "Got it, Dr. O."

Tommy stood up and moved away, dialling a familiar number on his alien phone.

[Kalik's Temple of Knowledge. How may the All-Knowing One assuage your inquisitiveness today?]

Tommy's eyebrow rose at the unfamiliar voice. [Who are you, and what does Kalik have over your head?]

Sounds of a scuffle followed, and Kalik's voice came on. [Tommy! What can I do for you?]

[Temple of Knowledge?]

[Eh heh… Interns.]

[Sure,] Tommy drawled, [Well, All-Knowing One, I need some more information on Emissary Thorven. He's got a selig-]

[And you need me to dig up his permit and send you a list of weapons he's registered for?]

[It's like you're some kind of psychic deity,] Tommy replied dryly.

[Ha. You're hilarious, my friend. When do you need it by?]

[Within an hour would be good.]

[Ooh, you slave driver!]


Kalik chuckled. [It'll be in your inbox within the hour. Anything else?]

[Everything running smoothly on Onyx?]

[Smooth as a – wait, never mind, underage ears present.]

Tommy rolled his eyes. [Take care, Kalik. And stop tormenting your interns.]

[Static, Tommy, static,] Kalik replied cheerfully.

Thanks, Kalik. Talking to you always makes me laugh.

Tommy glanced back at the teens to see Conner gesticulating and directing Kira and Ethan to stand in different positions.

Kid's got a good eye for positioning and how to use his teammates' talents. I imagine that's why he made Soccer Team Captain as early as sophomore year.

Tommy turned away and dialled another number.

"Jason Scott speaking."

"You're a horrible slacker, you know that?"

"… Tommy?" Jason's nonplussed voice came back, "What are you talking about?"

"Emissary Thorven of the Eastern Kaverra Valley of Horath is in Reefside threatening to kill my Rangers. Actually, I believe his exact words were that he'd 'rid the planet of our taint.'"

Jason groaned. "You're kidding."

"My Yellow took a hit from a Zito laser, and my Blue picked up Thorven's selig," Tommy deadpanned, "Oh yeah, I'm joking. Ha."

Jason swore. "This had to happen now, of all times? When I'm in Russia?"

Why are you in Russia?

"So what is Earth's relationship with Horath?"

"Technically, we don't have any, since we're both Level II. Otherwise: diplomatic in name, neutral in practice," came the weary reply, "So what all has he done?"

"Technically, Thorven's not a he, y'know? The beings of Horath actually have four genders."

Oh, great. I'm babbling.

"That bad, huh?"

"What makes you think it's bad?"

Tommy could imagine Jason rolling his eyes. "You just told me Thorven's species has four genders, bro. You don't spew out useless information like that unless you're really shaken up."

Well, let's think, Thorven like using weapons with a survival rate of one in seven hundred, Kira nearly died, I can't shoot him without sending the Earth into war, and I have a feeling Mesogog is the one who contacted him, which means he pulled a lot more out of my mind than I realised.

Tommy sighed, running his fingers through his hair. "It's been a long day, Jase. A really long day. Tell me I can shoot him with impunity."

"Sorry, bro, no can do," Jason replied regretfully, "He's here unofficially, so you can subdue him if push comes to shove, but your best bet is just talking him down. Is Mesogog involved?"

"Oh yeah. He and his lapdogs are very happily convincing Thorven that my team is evil."

"Hmm… You know, technically, Mesogog could be called an Enemy of Earth, which would make Thorven's alliance with him a violation of Horath's peace with us."

Tommy's brow furrowed as he tried to remember why they hadn't done that already. "… Doesn't that involve a ton of paperwork and red tape?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," Jason replied with a sigh, "The things I do for you."

Seeing as I'm essentially doing your job for you, I think we're even.

Tommy cracked a grin. "Thanks, Jase."

"Yeah, yeah. Go talk to Thorven. Let me know if he leaves peaceably; then I won't have to do as much work."

"Will do. Later, bro."

"Later, Tommy."

Tommy rejoined the teens, tapping Conner's wrist. "Keep your wrist flat. It'll put less strain on your tendons."

The teens turned towards him expectantly.

"We should be getting information on Thorven's arsenal within the hour," Tommy reported, "So what did you guys work out?"

"We're thinking the best way to change Thorven's mind is to show him what we've done," Conner began.

"I've got links to a bunch of footage of us fighting that I can download," Ethan explained, "Most of it is just what's on the news; some of it's phone videos from people who didn't run the moment the Tyrannodrones showed up. And there are news articles. That should help, right?"

This, Ethan, is why you're a Blue. Great work!

Tommy smiled and nodded. "That's a great idea. I have 'permission' from Earth's Emissary – who's actually the one who's supposed to deal with situations like this – to subdue Thorven if the situation demands it."

Conner brightened. "So, we can tie him down to a chair and make him listen?"

"Technically, Thorven's not male," Tommy said, wondering why he was babbling again, "His species actually has four genders."

Conner and Kira's eyebrows rose as Ethan's eyes widened. "Really? Whoa, he's like a mushroom!"

Oh yeah, I remember learning that in Evolutionary Bio.

"What?" Ethan protested at Conner and Kira's incredulous stares, "Mushrooms have four genders! I learned it in AP Bio – wait, Thorven can see in colour, right? 'Cause I know colour blindness is a sex-linked gene-"

"As far as I know, Thorven can," Tommy replied, "Unless he has some innate genetic mutation."

Conner shook his head, a smirk hovering about his lips. "Only you would ask if the mushroom-alien could actually see in color, Ethan."

Ethan made a face as Tommy replied, "It's a valid question. There are species that can only see in UV light, or, even better, only reflect UV light, so we can't see them. The Phantom Ranger, whom you might have heard of when the Astro Rangers were around, was from one such species."

Ethan's eyes were wide in awe. "Dude, that's awesome!"

Tommy cracked a grin. "After we deal with Thorven, remind me to tell you about some of my travels off-world. I bet you'd enjoy it."

Ethan grinned even as his eyes hardened. They needed to focus. All the stories in the world weren't worth risking Reefside's safety.

Apparently, it really was too much to ask for things to go smoothly. For a moment as the Rangers faced Thorven, Zeltrax, and Elsa on the docks with the sun dropping below the horizon behind them, Tommy allowed himself to think that this would be an open-and-shut situation. Thorven remained still as Conner talked and showed him the videos of what the Rangers had done for the city.

And then Thorven start screaming obscenities, crates around them started exploding, and the Red, Yellow, and Blue Rangers ended up trapped behind a forcefield while Tommy picked himself up, his head ringing from being knocked against a wall.

"You will all die!" Thorven howled, "Wicked… Foul… creatures!"

Okay, Thorven's officially gone from annoyingly misguided to completely unstable. And he's making my headache worse again.

Tommy ducked as Thorven lashed out at him with his staff, barely registering the BrachioZord's presence stirring in his mind.

"Watch out!" the teens cried out, hitting the forcefield with all their might.

Tommy swore, dodging more of Thorven's strikes. "Listen to me! We are not evil, and we don't want to fight you! Just stop for a minute, and we can talk this out!"

"I won't be taken in by your tricks!"

"I swear on Zordon of Eltar's sacrifice that I am not lying to you!" Tommy cried desperately.

Thorven faltered for a moment as he recognised the weight of the Black Ranger's oath.

"Do not listen to him!" Zeltrax howled, "He is a murderer! He killed my son!"

Tommy's blood ran cold and he faltered, allowing Thorven to knock him back into the wall with a sickening crack. He fell to the floor, unmoving.

"NO!" the Yellow Ranger shrieked.

Thorven stilled, turning to the captive Ranger curiously. She was turned sideways, being held back by the Red Ranger, as the Blue Ranger slammed his fists fruitlessly against the forcefield.

Thorven tilted his head, his tentacles dancing. "Your … soul is… crying… for him?"

"He's our teacher!" Kira hissed, "Our mentor! And you had better hope he's just unconscious, or we will forget all about your Emissary status and annihilate you!"

Thorven's eyes widened. "You – you know what my status implies?"

"Yeah," the Red Ranger growled, "We do. The man you just tried to kill is the one who taught us. Come on, do you really think we're that weak?"

"What?" Thorven spluttered. They weren't fighting at full strength?

"Don't listen to them," Elsa cut in quickly, "They're trying to trick you again!"

"We're not lying!" Conner shouted exasperatedly, "Dr. – Our mentor asked us not to hurt you, because you have diplomatic immunity here, and he doesn't want to bring trouble to the Earth. The only reason we haven't already wiped you off the planet is because he thinks we could talk this out!"

Thorven frowned. "But, but, you're evil! Why would you even care?"

"WE'RE NOT EVIL!" the Rangers yelled back angrily.

"They are!" the Blue Ranger shot back, gesturing at Elsa and Zeltrax, "They're the ones who've been sending out Tyrannodrones to terrorise the city! Not us!"

Thorven stumbled and his tentacles flailed wildly as he pressed a hand to his forehead. "No… You're evil… Mesogog…"

"Was telling the truth!" Elsa cried out, "Listen to what Lord Mesogog said! The Power Rangers are evil!"

"Yes," Thorven agreed, seeming to regain his bearings, "That's – aaaaagh!"

Tommy had used the alien's distraction to sneak up to him and had a vice grip on his leg.

Alright… Brachio… Do your thing…

Tommy's head pounded as the BrachioZord's roaring tore through his mind and he pushed the Power out into Thorven.

If the BrachioZord can protect my mind from Mesogog… The same should work for you…

Dimly, Tommy registered someone screaming at him, telling him he was overexerting himself, but he ignored the voice and continued pushing. A large pulse of energy sent Thorven and Tommy flying away from each other, and Tommy hit the forcefield, shattering it.

Is this what it feels like to have your brain melted?

The Rangers crowded around Tommy as Elsa and Zeltrax ran to Thorven.

"I'm fine," Tommy grit out as Conner helped him stand.

Ethan barked a disbelieving laugh as Kira demanded, "Do you even know what that word means, or is it just an automatic response?"

It's probably automatic, actually.

"Don't worry about me," Tommy replied, "Thorven's a bigger problem right now."

Across from them, Thorven groaned as he picked himself up. "What happened…?"

"The Black Ranger attacked you," Elsa was quick to reply.

Thorven's eyes widened. "He… No! You're the ones – get away from me!"

Thorven scrambled back out of Elsa and Zeltrax's reach and disappeared.

"Did he just teleport?" Conner muttered incredulously.

"Probably," Tommy replied, "We need to find him immediately, before those two get a hold of him again."

Kira looked up. "The PteraZord knows where he is."

Conner nodded, not bothering to question why the PteraZord was there. "Then let's go, while Elsa and Zeltrax are still distracted."

Kira led the way to an alley and said, "Thorven's back at Skalny Grove. I think that's where his ship is."

"That's within our teleportation range," Conner replied, "We should get over there before Elsa and Zeltrax find out."

"Uh, might be a little late for that," Ethan reported gesturing to the side.

Elsa and Zeltrax had just disappeared through an Invisiportal.

Conner cursed. "Let's go."

The Rangers found Thorven in a large clearing deep within the woods, halfway to his ship.


The alien whirled around, his staff held ready to attack. "Stay away from me, all of you! I won't hesitate to attack!"

Yeah, we figured that much out.

"We are not the enemy," Conner insisted.

He demorphed.

Conner! What are you doing?

"I'm unarmed," the teen said softly, walking forward, "My name is Conner McKnight. I'm eighteen years old, a high school student, and I love playing soccer. I've been a Power Ranger for two and a half months."

Kira and Ethan demorphed, and walked up beside Conner.

"My name's Kira Ford. I'm seventeen years old, a student and a singer. I've been a Ranger for two and a half months."

"I'm Ethan James. I am seventeen years old, a student with them, and I like playing video games. I have been a Power Ranger for two and a half months."

This is like Kat and me all over again, except more terrifying.

Tommy demorphed and joined his students. "My name is Tommy Oliver. Twenty-six years old, a scientist and a teacher."

Conner took over. "We're kids. We don't have to do this. We don't have to be Power Rangers, but we took on the mantle because we're able, and because we want to protect our planet, our home, and our people. We're not evil. We're not going to hurt anyone."

As Conner spoke, Tommy felt the hair on the back of neck rise. He caught a flash of light at the edge of his field of vision, and bolted into action.

"Get down!"

Malignant energy flew overhead as Kira and Ethan dropped down to the ground and Conner and Tommy covered Thorven. Tommy hissed as a stray bolt hit his shoulder and burned through his shirt.

Jason, I'm going to kill you. This. Is. Not. My. Job!

The Rangers were up and ready to fight instantly after the attack. Elsa and Zeltrax sneered, ready to strike again.

"Th-they attacked you!" Thorven sputtered, struggling to stand up, "When you were unarmed!"

"That is what they do," Ethan retorted.

"Stay down, Thorven," Conner said, "We'll take care of these goons."

Conner glanced over to Tommy, more specifically his shoulder. "Dr. O…"

"I'll look after Thorven," Tommy said with a nod, "You three go take care of business."

The teens nodded, turning to Elsa, Zeltrax, and the newly arrived Tyrannodrones with vicious grins. "Dino Thunder! Power up! Ha!"

"Nothing like a Tyrannodrone battle to work off stress," Tommy murmured as the three Rangers dashed off.

Thorven looked at him curiously, before commenting, "You never mentioned how long you have been a Ranger…"

Tommy's lips twitched. "Twelve years."

Thorven's eyes widened. "My… That is a long time… Did you serve under Zordon of Eltar?"

Tommy smiled softly. "Yes, I was one of his first Rangers. We went through so much together, it's hard to believe he's gone now."

Thorven bowed his head. "His sacrifice saved us all. We are forever in his debt."

Tommy inclined his head, pushing back against the memories pounding at his temples. Five years, and Zordon's death still left his heart aching. Thorven fidgeted beside him.

"What do you want to ask, Thorven?"

"The Red Zeo Ranger," Thorven blurted out, almost stopping when Tommy stiffened, "If you know him… could you… advise him to steer clear of Horath? Things are very turbulent there, so much so that some even resent my journey to Earth. Old wounds are being reopened, and with our proximity to the Huaun Void…"

Tommy remembered that during his first week under the Machine Empire, he had been the one to order that all of Horath's warriors be taken and the strongest used to power his monsters, instead of just brainwashing them into serving him. He remembered the arena, and the bloody riots that had taken place outside. Even with the numerous public apologies and high-profile alien advocates like Prince Trey of Triforia, he hadn't expected the people of Horath to forgive him for getting half their population killed.
Tommy swallowed and nodded. "I'll make a note of it. I'm sure he'll be grateful for the warning."

Thorven sneered, "It's not for him that I give the warning. I simply do not want my planet in any more chaos than necessary."

Tommy winced. Note to self: never reveal my identity as Red Zeo Ranger to Thorven.

Thorven, misreading Tommy's wince, exclaimed, "Your wound! Come, I have some salve in my ship!"

"Salve sounds good," Tommy agreed, and the pair moved back towards Thorven's ship, "Wait, mind if I try something?"

Thorven watched curiously as Tommy wrapped his hand around other's arm. Thorven tensed, but watched in fascination as Tommy focused inward, drawing on the Power and guiding it where he wanted it to go. He turned invisible, and slowly, Thorven did, too.

"Amazing!" the alien murmured in awe.

"I'm not sure how long I can hold it, but it should help us get back to your ship unnoticed. Let's go."

They made it back to Thorven's ship just as Tommy's hold on his invisibility dissipated.

"Talk about good timing," Tommy breathed, sitting down as Thorven searched his ship for burn salve.

"You probably don't need to do that," Tommy informed him, "The Power heals wounds pretty quickly. I'll be fine."

"Nonsense," Thorven replied, batting away Tommy's assurance, "It's the least I could do, after letting myself be tricked by Mesogog so easily."

Tommy shook his head. "If what I've heard is right, Horath has never had the best experiences with Rangers."

Thorven scowled briefly. "No, we haven't."

A tense, awkward silence descended between them, allowing Tommy to hear Elsa's cruel laughter and Kira's scream.

Tommy bolted to the nearest window. Kira just managed to roll out of the way as Zeltrax fired at her. The boys couldn't even glance back at her, too overwhelmed by Tyrannodrones.

Oh you've got to be kidding me! Just once, I'd like a battle not to get worse before it gets better.

Tommy looked between Thorven and the teens, cursing. "I have to help them!"

As if in response, the selig in his pocket jolted. Tommy's eyes widened, pulling it out.

I'm an idiot.

"Is that my selig?"

"Uh, yeah… I'm just going to borrow it for a bit."

The metal rippled and morphed into a long rifle, though not one made on Earth. If Kalik's information was correct, Thorven knew how to use the weapon as well.

"Can I get some ammunition for this?"

"Y-yes," Thorven replied in surprise, opening a cupboard and pulling out a box, "Here."

"Much appreciated," Tommy replied as he loaded the weapon.

Conner fell to the ground, cursing as a Tyrannodrone tripped him, and brought his arm up to shield himself from the incoming attack.

Except he didn't have to, as the Tyrannodrones started exploding.


Never one to look a gift horse in the mouth, Conner spun on his heel and continued taking down Tyrannodrones with his teammates.

Back at the spaceship, Tommy smiled. Attaboy, Conner.

"You have remarkable skill," Thorven commented, "Almost like you were trained on Daria itself!"

Daria was a mercenary outpost near the Regda system, far away from the Milky Way Galaxy. It was well known for creating firearms and their fighters were said to be the best marksmen in the known Universe – they were.

Tommy smiled slightly. "Thank you. A friend taught me, and she actually trained on Daria. She said I was a quick study."

It had been the summer after his sophomore year of college, a few months after Zordon's death. Rangers all over the universe were taking back their positions as protectors and fighting to eradicate what Zordon's goodness couldn't. He had been traveling with Andros and Karone, drawing on his experience and status as a veteran Ranger. There were no battles, not like the ones the Rangers normally fought. Tommy and Karone were more like assassins, killing evil Rangers and despots from the shadows, while Andros worked in the light in the aftermath.

Tommy remembered Karone lying a few feet away from him on a cliff overlooking an encampment of evil Rangers and their drones. Six sniper bullets for the Rangers and a bomb for the drones – they were in and out within ten minutes.

Tommy let the selig return to its natural form and massaged his shoulder. The kickback on that thing was a nightmare.

"- only trains males."

Tommy blinked and turned to Thorven. "Hmm?"

Thorven looked at Tommy with a calculating gleam in his eyes. "The Darian Warrior Guild only train males, and on occasion, non-gendered beings. You said your friend was female."

Tommy felt a prickle of unease. "The Guild trained Princess Astronema."

Thorven's eyes narrowed. "Yes… And after Zordon's death, her two closest companions were her brother, Andros, and… the Red Zeo Ranger."

Tommy swallowed. Now I remember why we tried so hard to work in the shadows. Fame isn't always a good thing.

Before either of them could say anything, a loud explosion came from the battle site. Tommy and Thorven looked out the window to see Conner, Kira, and Ethan groaning and picking themselves up as Zeltrax and Elsa scrambled back into an Invisiportal.

"What… was that?" Ethan groaned.

"Serendipity," Tommy said via their bracelets.

Conner's brow furrowed. "Isn't that the name of a chick-flick?"

Kira rolled her eyes as they walked back to the ship. "It means good luck. We could have done with some warning, though, Dr. Oliver."

"You and me both, Kira."

By the time the teens made it back to the spaceship, Tommy was standing across from Thorven, glaring.

"DS rounds? Without a carrier? Were you trying to get them killed?"

"An unfortunate casualty, perhaps, but if you had been a better shot, Zeltrax and Elsa would not have survived."

Conner's eyes widened. "Wait, what?"

It was all Tommy could do not to leap across the room and beat Thorven into a pulp.

Conner cast his teacher a wary glance, saying, "Can someone explain what just happened here?"

Tommy clenched his fists, then unclenched them and forced himself to calm down. He picked up the selig and pointed to it when it morphed back into the rifle. "This is a type of long-range rifle used outside the Milky Way Galaxy."

Tommy then pointed to a small box of bullets. "Those are the bullets Thorven gave me to use with the rifle. They're called double suicide bullets, and they're not actually supposed to be left unmarked like normal bullets. Someone clearly ignored that rule."

Thorven sneered. "I don't answer to you for how I keep my weapons, Ranger."

Tommy snorted. "No, but you certainly answer to me when you try to kill my teammates!"

Ethan's eyes narrowed. "Why are they called 'double suicide?'"

Tommy glared at Thorven again, before replying, "They're kind of like mini-grenades. When they're first shot, they explode upon contact with the target. Then the bullet fragments will explode again, causing even more damage. They're usually used for large-scale attacks, nothing this compact. If I weren't such a good shot, the entire forest would be up in flames and we'd all be dead by now."

Conner's brow furrowed and he turned back to Thorven. "And you tricked him into using these? Why?"

Tommy scowled. "To get revenge on Elsa and Zeltrax, why else? My guess is that he's too afraid to take them on himself since Mesogog mind-raped him when he first got here to convince him we were evil. Am I right?"

Thorven's tentacles started flailing defensively as he realised he was facing off a team of four angry Power Rangers, at least one of whom was trained as an elite mercenary.

Conner huffed in exasperation. "Seriously, dude? Get your own revenge. We have enough problems to deal with."

Thorven sneered.

Conner stepped forward angrily in response.

I'd say it's about time to wrap this up.

"Go back to Horath," Tommy cut in, "And leave Earth well alone. It'll save us all plenty of legal trouble."

Thorven looked slightly insulted at being spoken to so curtly, but he nodded stiffly. "Very well."

Taking that as their cue to leave, the teens moved to the exit.

"Goodbye," Kira muttered, " Hope we don't see you again."

"I hear that," Ethan agreed lowly.

Tommy shook his head at their antics, despite how much he agreed with them. Just at the threshold, he stopped and turned back. [Oh, and a final word, Thorven: I brought your planet to its knees when I was brainwashed and held captive. What do you think I could have done to you out of vengeance with the full scope of my powers under my control?]

He left the ship without looking back at the stunned alien.

"Man, what a day," Ethan said as the four Rangers watched Thorven's ship disappear into the night sky, "Parent-Teacher Conferences, Elsa, Zeltrax, Mesogog, aliens…"

Conner ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. "Yeah, no kidding. It feels like today's gone on forever."

"But hey," Kira piped in, "Conner managed not to spark an interplanetary war!"

Conner threw her a mock scowl as Tommy clapped his shoulder and said warmly, "You did great today, Conner. All of you did."

The teens grinned and beamed at him.

"Come on, let's get back to the lab. I need you guys to sign some paperwork, and then you can go enjoy your Fall Break."

"Yeah!" Ethan cheered, "Five days of sweet freedom!"

"You still have training on Saturday," Tommy reminded him amusedly.

"Aw, man…"

Tommy sighed and leaned back in his chair, massaging his neck. The teens had signed and dated all the appropriate forms, Tommy had filled in the rest and submitted them, then updated both Jason and Kalik, and was finally done with the aftermath of Thorven's visit to Earth.

And then the back entrance to his lab opened and Hayley walked in angrily.

I'm in trouble for something, aren't I?

"Did I mortally offend you somehow?" the redhead demanded with no preamble.

Tommy blinked and opened his mouth to reply, but Hayley bulldozed on, "Because that's the only explanation I can come up with for the way you've been acting."

"And how have I been acting?" Tommy asked tiredly.

"Like a jerk," Hayley replied, "You've been ignoring me pretty much since you got back from school. You talked to the teens and told them to tell me things, instead of telling me yourself. And of course you ignored me when I tried to stop you from overexerting yourself when you were fighting Thorven, but at least that I can excuse as a Ranger thing. And you still won't even look me in the face. So what did I do? Was it whatever I said to Maria this morning that made her freak out?"

Tommy immediately sat up. "What? No, not at all! No one holds that against you, Hayley!"

"Then what is it?" Hayley pressed, "I've been with you through a lot, Tommy; the least you could do is be straight with me."

And now I feel really petty. Great.

"It's nothing, Hayley. Don't worry about it."

"Clearly it's not," Hayley shot back, "I'm not about to let this go, Tommy, so spill."

"You really want to know?" Tommy snapped, "I've spent the last four hours filling out paperwork and fielding calls to clean up your mess!"

"'My mess?'" Hayley demanded, her eyes widening, "This is about the documents I sent to Ethan?"

Tommy sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering why he'd even opened his mouth. This was not going to end well.

Hayley threw up her hands in exasperation. "You have got to be kidding me! You use Kalik's hacking skills like it's the only way you know how to get information, and you're mad at me for showing Ethan a couple alien documents?"

"Kalik at least knows how to cover his tracks," Tommy retorted, "The ICISI tracks those documents, Hayley, where they're opened, when they're opened, and by whom. You have to have written permission from three different agencies before they can be opened on a Level II planet, especially if by a non-Ranger, and Jason's not even in the country to try and get anything backdated before the ICISI comes down on us."

Hayley stared at Tommy, her eyes wide and her posture tense.

Crap. I really need to learn to stop talking sometimes.

Hayley's eyes narrowed. "This is isn't about me at all, is it?"

She turned and walked away.

"Hayley, wait," Tommy protested. His head fell forward into his hands. Great, another thing that managed to go wrong today.

Tommy looked up at the sound of glass clinking against the table. Hayley had set down a glass of water and two small white pills.

"Take these and go to bed," the redhead ordered, before leaving.


Hayley stopped at the stairs and added, "And next time, take your bad day out on a punching bag."

As the clack of her heels faded, Tommy let his head fall forward again with a tired groan. Maybe he'd get lucky and the pills would keep completely unconscious for the night.

He ended up dreaming about blood and slavery instead.

A/N: Apparently, there's no such thing as a happy ending for Tommy. Oh dear. Things to address:

Diplomacy - If this chapter seemed wishy-washy or like an info-dump to you, this is what diplomacy is. If this chapter had you on an emotional roller coaster fearing for the future of the planet, this is what diplomacy is. I drew from my own emotions from a simulation run in the National Youth Leadership Foundation's program on Intelligence and National Security, where we simulated a real-time night for various high ranking government officials on the eve of peace talks in Turkey.

Alien planets/weapons - Daria and the various weapons, I made up. Everything else comes from PR canon. Let me know how I did? Evil/Mercenary Rangers - This is the first glimpse into my Power Theory. More will come in future chapters.

Anyway, please, leave a review!