It was strange. Just a few weeks ago, Scott's father had simply been the colonel in charge of Eagle Squadron. Days ago, he'd become the de facto head of the U.S. Air Force. Today, he was the leader of Corinth's defense forces, cobbled together of the remains of Earth's militaries. It was a massive change in responsibilities in such a short time.
And yet, his treatment of Scott remained the same as it always had been. Superior-to-subordinate, never father-to-son.
"You wanted to see me, sir?" Scott asked, saluting.
"At ease, Lieutenant," Col. Truman responded. Scott lowered his arm. "I have a new assignment for you."
Scott blinked. Already? It was barely days since the Battle of Corinth; they'd held a memorial for the dead just yesterday. How could his father be ready to move on now?
"Sir?" he asked, not sure he was hearing him properly.
"Meet Corporals Hicks and Vasquez," Truman stated, pointing out a pair of rather inexperienced-looking soldiers in U.S. Army uniforms. "Both served proudly in the war and narrowly escaped Venjix. They will be serving under you as peacekeeping officers, to be deployed in case of Venjix attack." At this, the two saluted.
Maybe things had changed after all. Scott gave his father a look of shock. "Sir, you're putting me in charge?"
"To an extent," Truman explained. "For the most part, you will be assigned to headquarters under my command, where we will help maintain the city's shields and biosphere. In the event that our unit is deployed and I am unavailable, then you will take command."
Then again, maybe not. Scott had to fight to keep from showing his disappointment as he said, "Sir, with all due respect, I'm ready to take command of Eagle Squadron…"
"You're only a Second Lieutenant," Truman reminded him. "Marcus was a Captain—he had a lot more training and experience when he had to take over command. And there's no need for Eagle Squadron anymore, now that there's no Air Force. The defense forces are combined military departments from all over the world. You know this."
"Yes, sir," Scott answered, biting back his aggravation. "But sir…"
"Can I count on your cooperation, Lt. Truman?" his father asked, stressing the term of address.
Scott took a few breaths and managed to quiet his temper. But his voice was still hard as he said, "I'll need some time to think on it."
"Very well," Truman replied. "Take time to recover from your injuries. You're considered on paid leave until your collarbone heals, but I'd like an answer before then so I can begin making preparations."
So he had noticed Scott was still wearing a sling and couldn't use his left arm. With the way he was insisting on moving on, you'd never know. "Understood, sir."
"Dismissed," Truman said, and Scott spun on his heel and walked out.
Summer sighed as she sat down at Jungle Karma Pizza. While breaking ties with her parents had been a great idea at first, but she hadn't counted on how hard it was to live in the real world. While her parents were enjoying the mansion they'd managed to purchase as a safeguard before the final Venjix siege, she was still living in a shelter, unable to get an apartment because she didn't have a job to pay for one. Her clothes were all donated, and she only had a small amount of cash on her. All in all, it was a very different life from the one she was used to.
"Hey, wait a second," a voice said. She looked up to see a young man in a military uniform, his left arm in a sling. "I know you."
With a start, Summer realized this was the young man she'd rescued outside the dome. "You're the pilot, right? The one from the battle?"
"Yeah," he answered. "I thought I recognized you." He held out his good hand for her to shake. "Scott Truman."
Summer shook his hand and asked, "Col. Truman's your dad, right?"
There was a slightly dark look on his face as he answered, "Yeah. Most people wouldn't know it, though."
Summer winced. "Sorry."
"It's okay," Scott answered. "I thought things might change now that Marcus is…" He trailed off and closed his eyes.
"I'm sorry," Summer replied. "Was Marcus…"
"My brother," Scott explained. "He led our squadron. Dad made me stay out of formation to protect another squad, and Marcus told me not to help when his team went down."
Summer looked down. "If it's any consolation, I know how you feel. I lost someone close to me too that day."
"You'd be lucky if you didn't," Scott said. After a moment, he managed to compose himself and said, "Anyway, I didn't get your name."
Summer hesitated. In all of her job applications, she'd been using her own name, and there were people who laughed at the idea of a Landsdown looking for a real job. Using her parents' name wasn't helping her create her own life at all.
"Summer Andrews," she said. She hoped that Andrews wouldn't mind, if he could see her now.
Scott laughed. "That took a while. Did you forget your name?"
"No," Summer answered. "I just…" Scott gave her a slightly worried look, and she sighed. "I just had a falling out with my parents when we got here. I'm trying to live my own life now."
Scott nodded. "Yeah, I get that. So what are you doing here?"
"Looking for a job," she sighed. "I've been applying everywhere. I heard I might have a chance here, but the owner just hired three people."
Scott looked confused. "I thought you were a paramedic?"
Summer shook her head. "No, I just took their stuff when they said they couldn't risk anyone to go after you. I know basic first aid, and I just hoped it would be enough."
"Well, for basic first aid, you did one hell of a job," Scott said, pointing out his arm. "The doc said you did a great job on my arm and it was a miracle I wasn't hurt worse."
Summer smiled, flattered despite knowing it was more Scott's luck than her skill that had kept him from being too badly hurt. "Thanks. How is your arm, anyway?"
"Broken collarbone and bruises all over, but I should be better in a couple months or so," he answered.
"That's good," she answered.
"So what's your plan now?" he asked.
She sighed again. "I don't know. I'm just going to keep looking for something. I don't want to live in the shelter my entire life, but I don't want to go back to my parents and listen to them say they told me so, either."
Scott winced. "Well, I think I might have an idea."
"Really?" she asked, looking at him in surprise. "You'd help?"
"Hey, you went out of your way to help me," he answered. "It's the least I can do." He then took her hand. "Come on. There's someone I want you to meet."
Flynn had to admit, for trying to survive in the last human civilization on a devastated planet, his life in Corinth wasn't all that bad right now. His heroism in going back to rescue all those people trapped outside the dome had impressed Col. Truman so much that he'd rewarded him and his father with positions as mechanics for the military. And from the look of their advance paychecks, it was going to be enough for them to live decently in the city.
"Ach," he groaned, running a scan on the EPROM chip of a Hummer. "Venjix fried it. That explains things. Damon, mind getting me a new chip?"
"No problem," the other mechanic answered, heading off to their store of recycled and repaired equipment.
As Flynn looked over the rest of the Hummer, he heard footsteps coming toward him. "Back already? Don't tell me we're out."
"Nope, just me," answered a familiar voice. Flynn looked up to see Lt. Truman and an unfamiliar young woman standing next to him.
"Ah, Lieutenant," Flynn replied, shaking his hand. "Good to see you again."
Lt. Truman grinned. "I told you, just call me Scott."
"Aye, Scott," Flynn answered. Still, around here, they were expected to be somewhat formal with the military. "So what brings you here? Don't tell me you got that car you been looking at."
"Not yet," Scott replied. "I wanted you to meet someone." Looking at the girl, he said, "Summer, this is Flynn McAllistair. Flynn, meet Summer Andrews."
Flynn smiled at Summer. "Pleasure to meet you, Miss Andrews. I'd shake your hand, but I'm a mess right now. Lieuten—Scott—doesn't mind as much."
"Don't worry," Summer answered, putting out her hand anyway. "I don't mind either."
As he shook Summer's hand, Flynn joked, "So, Scott, I hope you're not trying to hook me and Miss Andrews up. Between you and my dad…"
Scott laughed, and Summer grinned. "No, nothing like that," Scott insisted. "Summer's looking for a job, and I was hoping you might need help around here."
"Scott, you don't have to do this," Summer argued.
"Don't worry about it," Scott insisted. "So, Flynn, you got anything?"
"Actually, we could use another pair of hands around here," Flynn admitted. "I could take it up with the Colonel, but are you sure you'd want to work in a place like this, Miss Andrews? It's not exactly glamorous."
"Trust me, glamorous is the last thing I'm looking for," Summer insisted.
"She could really use the help," Scott added, ignoring how Summer looked at him in shock and annoyance. "She's tried everywhere else."
Flynn shook his head. "You know just how to pull my heartstrings, don't you?" Scott grinned. "Okay. I'll talk to the Colonel."
"Thanks," Scott answered, clasping hands with Flynn. "I owe you one."
"Just make sure when you do get that racer, you let me look at it," Flynn replied.
"Believe me, you're the only one I'd trust to touch it," Scott agreed. "Anyway, I'd better make myself scarce. Summer, let me know how it works out, okay?"
"Thanks, Scott," she said.
"Hey, no problem," Scott insisted. "Besides, you did more for me than I can ever pay back."
"Flynn, have you finished with the truck yet?" Flynn's father asked, walking into the garage. Seeing Flynn's company, he said, "Lt. Truman, I'm sorry. I didn't know you needed my son."
"Nah, it's no problem," Scott answered. "I was just leaving." Looking back at Flynn and Summer, he said, "I'll see you guys soon," before walking out.
Once Scott was gone, Mr. McAllistair turned to the other two and said, "Well, son, are you going to introduce me to your lady friend, or did you two want to be alone?"
Flynn shot Summer an apologetic look. Maybe life wasn't so bad for a mechanic in Corinth, but the teasing of a father was sometimes a painful occupational hazard.
Working for the civilian staff with the military had a great fringe benefit: free housing. Sparse as the apartment was, Summer looked over it with a feeling of accomplishment. Finally, she was making something of herself, earning what she got. Yes, the apartment was provided for her, but with the stipulation that she worked for it.
There came a knock at the door, and she opened it to find Scott and Flynn outside, each carrying shopping bags. Summer took one look at Scott—his left arm still in the sling—holding a bag and said, "You know you shouldn't be lifting anything!"
"Don't worry, Summer," Scott insisted. "It's only dinner, and Flynn made sure to take the heavy stuff anyway."
"Aye," Flynn agreed as he came in the door. "Mind giving me a hand with these?"
Summer immediately went over and helped Flynn bring the bags to the table. "What's all this for?"
"Well, we figured if you're just moving in, you'll need some things for housewarming," he answered. As they started unloading the bags, Summer saw plates, glasses, a coffee mug, and flatware, and she was stunned.
"You…you really didn't have to do this," she said.
"Will you stop saying that already?" Flynn asked as Scott set the bag of takeout on the table and started spooning it out onto the plates. "You don't need to get so defensive when we try to help out."
"Besides," Scott added, setting the plates in front of them, "maybe we just want to make sure we've got plates to eat off when we're here."
Summer stared at them in disbelief before shaking her head, and the men grinned. From the few days she'd gotten to know them, she knew they were always like this. Flynn couldn't help but be a knight in shining armor, and Scott was all grins as he forced you to take whatever horrible medicine he thought was good for you. She was going to be hard-pressed to keep up with them.
"Hey, Summer," Scott called, "you were looking for a job at JKP, right?"
"The pizza place?" she asked. "Yeah, why?"
"Looks like you were lucky you didn't get the job," he answered. "Just heard the owner's been in trouble recently."
"What kind of trouble?" Flynn asked before Summer could.
Scott looked deathly serious. "Mob trouble. Someone saw Fresno Bob and one of his bookies leaving while shouting for the owner to make up the rest of the debt."
"I can't believe it," Summer said in shock.
Flynn scowled. "Neither can I. Those robbers in the Cartels are the worst sort—a little loan here turns into a huge debt there, and before you know it, they own you. There's no way out of it."
"Yeah, I know," Scott agreed. "Half the businesses in the city are indebted to one of the Cartels. They get you in Corinth, but you're in deep."
Summer looked down at her food as a terrible possibility suddenly hit her. How safe were her parents from the Cartels? Or any of their friends? Sure, they'd managed to get everything established in Corinth ahead of time, but in the process, had they ended up on the Cartels' bad side (assuming that they anything other than a bad side anyway)?
"Are you okay?" Flynn checked, and Summer realized her friends were looking at her in worry. She managed to force a smile on her face and nod.
"Yeah," she answered. "Just not a pleasant topic."
"No kidding," Scott agreed. "Okay, change of subject. Flynn, you know that racer I've been looking at?"
"Aye?" Flynn responded, giving him a shocked look. "Don't tell me you finally got it!"
"Well, not yet," Scott replied, grinning. Summer couldn't quite help but notice how his eyes were sparkling—it just figured that it was because of a car. "But I've just about got enough for the down payment. Another month and I should be good."
Rolling her eyes as the boys talked cars, Summer got up and went over to the mail on her counter. She hadn't gone through it yet, and she figured now was a good enough time. Honestly, didn't Flynn get enough of cars at work?
There were a couple of flyers and coupons for local restaurants: coupons for JKP, an announcement for the grand opening of a burger place called the Surf Spot, and a free smoothie offer at a juice bar. But after Summer sorted through the coupons and saved what either she or her friends would use, she came across a simple envelope with her named typed on it—her real name, not "Summer Andrews."
"Summer?" Scott asked suddenly. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," she answered quickly, stuffing the envelope in her jacket pocket. "So, yeah, Scott, be sure to bring your car when you do get it. I'd like to see it too."
Scott and Flynn shared somewhat worried looks, not fooled by her redirect. All the same, when Summer sat down again, they went back to dinner and chatting without another thought about her strange behavior that night.
Scott had to head home early for a morning checkup with the doctor, and Flynn helped Summer with the dishes and putting away her housewarming gifts. When the boys were finally gone, Summer took the letter out of her jacket.
Please meet at the new nonmilitary defense construction site on Saturday at 11:00. This is a matter of the utmost importance.
Summer took a shaky breath as she folded the letter and put it back into her pocket. Maybe she'd given out her real name when she was first applying for jobs, but who would know to connect heiress Summer Landsdown with the civilian staff mechanic Summer Andrews? And just what could be so important to track her down for?
Flynn stood outside the construction site, taking another look at the letter he'd received days before. He suddenly wished he'd listened to his dad and taken someone else with him. Mr. McAllistair had been a little suspicious of the letter that appeared in their mail without any kind of return address, particularly when it didn't look like any of the military had anything to do with it. But Flynn, being the trusting man he was, decided it would probably be best to see what it was whoever this was wanted with him without causing too much fuss. Hence, he was alone, bored, and constantly checking his watch. Granted, it was still ten minutes to eleven, but you'd think with something "of utmost importance," somebody would be here to meet him already.
"Flynn?" Summer asked all of a sudden. Flynn looked over to see her walking over, accompanied by Scott.
"You're here too?" Scott asked.
"Aye," Flynn answered. "I'm guessing you both got a letter out of bloomin' nowhere?"
"Yep," Scott answered, holding it up with his good hand.
Summer just nodded before adding, "Neither of us has any idea what's going on. Even Scott's dad didn't say anything to him."
Scott looked a little annoyed at the mention of his father and their lack of communication, but he had to admit, "And if Dad doesn't know about this, then it's got to be something big."
The next thing any of them knew, there was a buzzing noise as a door behind them opened. Flynn and Summer jumped, and Scott reached for a sidearm that wasn't there. But when a second passed and nothing came at them, Flynn looked at the others and asked, "Think this means we should go in?"
It was a ridiculous idea. They'd been called to an empty construction site by some mysterious person under the nose of the city's defenses, and suddenly a door just opened out of the blue. This wasn't a comic book—this could be dangerous. It could be the Cartels, it could be Venjix, it could be anything.
All the same, Scott snorted and said, "Guess it does."
Summer had a smirk on her face as they walked in. "Then whoever they are, they aren't very subtle."
They entered to find a large, empty workspace with a staircase leading to rooms upstairs. Across the room was a kitchen, sparsely stocked. While Scott began looking around the workspace, Flynn made his way over to the kitchen, Summer following him.
"A kitchen?" she asked, voicing what was on his mind as he examined what was on the shelves. "Do you think somebody lives here?"
"If they do, they need to fix their eating habits," he said with a touch of disapproval. He held up a Mr. Marshmallow box. "Look at this, nothing but junk food." He shook his head and put the box back. "My dad would never stand for me eating this stuff as a kid. Always fresh fruits and veggies."
Summer smiled. "Andr—the person who raised me was the same way. He couldn't do much to stop me from trying to hide my broccoli in my napkin, but he at least tried to cook everything a way I'd like."
Flynn noticed the odd reference and how she avoided saying any names, but he decided to let it go. The smile on Summer's face was becoming sadder by the second. Instead, he said, "Then I'm going to have to make sure any smoothies I make for you have vegetables in them. You need your vitamins, you know."
Summer laughed. "I eat vegetables fine on my own now, thanks!"
"Then why do you keep throwing away half of the veggies in your takeout?" Flynn teased.
They heard footsteps on the stairs but only saw Scott coming down. He'd apparently gone up after finding nothing important in the workspace. He looked frustrated. "Nothing upstairs but a few bedrooms. There's nothing inside them either—nobody lives here."
Summer gave him a confused look. "But there has to be—why else would there be food here?"
Scott gave a one-shoulder shrug. Sighing, he admitted, "I don't know. We know somebody had to call us here, but no one's here. Just a kitchen and a bunch of empty rooms."
Summer looked at him sympathetically, and Flynn began to wonder about them—or at the very least, about Summer regarding Scott. Gently, she suggested, "Maybe we should go then."
"She has a point," Flynn agreed, though he couldn't help but feel like maybe he was giving up too soon. There was this little, nagging sense of adventure tugging at the back of his mind, insisting that if they just waited a little while longer, it would all be worth it.
And it didn't take long for that feeling to pay off. Before Scott could give the word, another door hissed open—this time a large double door they hadn't noticed along the wall. That sense of adventure kicked into high gear, and it looked like everyone shared it because all three of them walked through the door and into a white room filled with computers. Along the back wall were five numbered cases—inside each of which was a suit and helmet in red, blue, yellow, green, or black. The first three cases were lit, displaying the bright, primary-colored costumes.
"…Is this supposed to be some kind of superhero cave?" Flynn couldn't help but ask.
Belatedly, he realized how pathetic that must have sounded to his friends, but to his surprise, Scott said over his shoulder, "That's exactly what I was thinking."
It was apparently a guy thing because Summer came over looking completely confused and asked, "What's with the spandex?"
"It is not spandex!" a voice answered suddenly.
The three jumped and turned to see a computer monitor on the wall running, the display showing a letter K with sound waves underneath it. Slowly and rather timidly, they made their way over, as the computer-garbled voice said, "I will explain to you what those are in a moment, but I can assure you they most definitely are not spandex."
"Sorry," Summer mumbled, chastised.
This had officially turned into a comic book plot. A mysterious message? Some kind of secret headquarters with cases filled with costumes lined against the wall? And now a strange benefactor communicating only via computer screen? Flynn was disappointed he hadn't been able to bring his back issues of Rebel Justice Unleashed to Corinth—it was almost the exact same setup.
But Scott was regarding the computer screen with suspicion. Keeping as neutral a tone as possible, he asked, "Who are you?"
"My name is Doctor K," the screen explained. "I am the developer of the Ranger Infantry Bio-Suits and all of the technology you see around you. I have called you here because you possess skills necessary to defend the city as an elite anti-Venjix task force codenamed the 'Power Rangers.'"
"Power Rangers?" Flynn repeated. Okay, now he really was in a comic book. "You mean like superheroes?"
"For lack of a better term, yes," Doctor K answered. "As Ranger Operators, you will be assigned a bio-suit and morpher according to your personal bio-field readings."
"Hold on a second," Summer interrupted. "Bio-fields? And morphers?"
"The bio-field is your personal bio-electrical field, generated by your body," Doctor K explained. "The morpher is a transformation device that channels that power into the Ranger bio-suits and allows you to manipulate your field for special attacks. All of this technology is based on bio-energy, which protects it from infection by Venjix."
"Hang on," Scott warned, holding up his good hand in front of Summer and Flynn. "How do we know we can trust you? You could be just another Venjix program trying to use us to infiltrate the city."
This was something Flynn hadn't considered, but it was a reasonable idea. How many times had the villain offered some unsuspecting good Samaritans the chance to help, only to use them to further his evil schemes? Scott was right to be wary, and both Flynn and Summer looked at Doctor K's screen with caution.
There was a sound like a sigh—something that wouldn't have come from a machine—before Doctor K admitted, "You are wise not to trust me immediately, Lt. Truman. While I cannot reveal myself for security reasons, I can tell you that I am in fact human, and you will just have to take my word for it. I am broadcasting from a remote location within Corinth, with the permission of the defense forces."
Scott blinked in surprise before looking down. "Dad never told me…"
"Col. Truman obviously did not deem it necessary to compromise the city's security," Doctor K answered. Flynn and Summer gave each other incredulous looks at his bluntness when Scott clearly was offended. Finally, as if realizing how much more trouble this admission had caused, Doctor K added, "If it is any consolation, I did not reveal to him specifically who I was recruiting for Project: Ranger—only that they were both military and civilian employees under his command."
Scott finally nodded and looked up, but he didn't say anything. Finally, Summer asked, "But why us? Scott's military, so he would be perfect for something like this, but Flynn and I don't have any training."
"It's true that Lt. Truman's military background would give him an advantage as a Ranger Operator, but that is not the only reason I chose him or the rest of you," Doctor K replied. "As Rangers, you will be working directly with the public and the military, and you need the skills—both physical and social—to respond to both. Lt. Scott Truman, you possess excellent leadership qualities, yet you're diplomatic enough to follow orders even when you disagree. Summer Lan—"
"Summer," she quickly corrected, and Flynn and Scott looked at each other, surprised. She'd said she had issues with her parents, but she'd never let on that she had changed her name because of it.
"Very well," Doctor K acquiesced. "Summer, while you may not have been raised in an environment that encouraged you to help others though you may have had the means, you are willing to offer whatever help you can now, even when you're not qualified. You also have strong leadership skills and diplomacy, as well as a keen insight into others' personal affairs. And Flynn McAllistair, you are greatly skilled in mechanical trades and technologies, but your greatest strength lies in your determination to defend others. You are willing to go above and beyond expectations to aid complete strangers, so long as you feel it is right." Flynn couldn't help but grin. Maybe all the trouble he'd caused before Corinth had been worth it, if this was what he was getting out of it.
"Because of these qualifications," Doctor K continued, "I ask that you three become Ranger Operators Series Red, Yellow, and Blue. Do you accept?"
"Absolutely," Flynn answered immediately, to his friends' surprised looks. Seeing the shock on their faces, he said, "Come on, when am I ever going to get the chance to really help people like this?"
"I guess you have a point," Summer admitted, albeit reluctantly. "I guess…" She sighed and nodded. "I accept."
"Very well," Doctor K answered. "Lt. Truman?"
Scott sighed and looked down. "I can't."
"What?" Flynn asked in shock.
"Scott?" Summer added.
"Guys," Scott reasoned. "Look, this sounds great and all, but I'm already with the military. Dad's putting me in charge of a unit and everything, even if only in the field. I am already helping people, but…" He sighed again and then looked up at Doctor K's screen. "Can I have some time to think about this?"
"You may," he replied. "I am still reviewing other candidates for Series Green and Black when they become operational, and I can draw from those lists if you feel you cannot perform the duties needed for Ranger Red."
"Thanks," Scott answered. "I'll get back to you as soon as I can."
"Take the time you need to consider your options," Doctor K advised, "but do not take too long. The weaponry we have active right now requires three Ranger Operators. If Summer and Flynn are to be Rangers, they will need a third to complete the team."
"Understood," Scott replied, nodding as he left.
Flynn and Summer watched him leave, and Flynn knew they were both thinking the same thing. Scott was making a mistake—the three of them already had a good enough friendship already to draw from. Any other Ranger Red just wouldn't make the team work.
This was probably the hardest part about the Ranger job, Summer thought. She'd been Summer Andrews long enough that any shift back to Summer Landsdown was unbearable, even if only to say goodbye. She wasn't sure if she'd have even come in person if Doctor K hadn't insisted on it.
"Summer, what do you mean you're not coming home?" her mother asked.
"We tolerated your decision to find your own home and…work," her father added, the word "work" coming out like a foreign language. It might as well have been—Summer couldn't ever remember her parents having any real jobs to go to; they spent all their time at various functions and left all the money management to the professionals. "But that was because we thought it would be good for you to see the world, get that rebellious streak worked out of your system."
Summer gave him an incredulous look and scoffed. "Rebellious?"
"This is not the Landsdown way," her mother insisted. "Debasing yourself to live in a small room in a building filled with others? Getting grease and dirt all over your hands?"
"I like what I'm doing!" Summer insisted, offended. She could only imagine what her parents would think of Flynn and his passion for mechanics. "I always kept my bike in order, and I like learning how to fix other things too!"
"Well, learning is just fine," her father answered. "But honey, you're a Landsdown—you don't have to lower yourself to the level of the Smiths and Joneses."
Or McAllistairs and Trumans, she knew, and she glowered. "In case you haven't noticed, I'm not using the name Landsdown anymore. I'm making my own name for myself."
"And ignoring your responsibilities to our name," her father argued.
It took all she had not to lose her temper. Summer knew that as Ranger Yellow and, for now, the leader of the team, she had to learn how to keep her head in tough situations. But Doctor K had never put up with the Landsdowns—Venjix was going to be a piece of cake in comparison.
"I have my own responsibilities," she insisted. "I'm joining the new Power Ranger project, and I'll be defending Corinth and you from Venjix. My mind's already made up."
Most parents would be proud of their children for deciding to defend the peace, or if they were horrified, it was because of the danger. Summer's were horrified, and for all the wrong reasons.
"Defending the city?" her mother repeated. "Corinth has a military for that!"
"Summer, we've been extremely tolerant, but you've gone too far," her father added. "Your duty is to this family, not to a city full of strangers."
"Well, in case you haven't noticed, I just turned eighteen," Summer reminded him, biting back any mention of them missing her birthday. "Legally, I can make my own decisions now, and if I want to be on my own, I will."
"This is more important than you realize!" her father argued.
"Summer," her mother offered, gently taking her hand. Somehow or another, she managed not to frown at the calluses that had been forming for weeks from working on cars and riding the motorbike Doctor K had provided. "We would normally respect whatever you chose, but we need you right now."
"Need me for what?" she demanded.
"Well, the Winchesters have this very handsome boy…" her mother started, and Summer looked at her in shock and anger.
"You set me up?" she cried.
"This marriage is extremely important to us," her father said. "And your fiancé will more than be able to provide for you."
"I can't believe you!" Summer shouted. "When did I ever factor into this? You're treating me like some kind of…prize cow that you need to breed!" She'd been listening to too many of Flynn's stories about his Aunt Aggie and her farm, if this was the best she could come up with.
Though repulsed by the livestock analogy, her parents managed to keep their tempers, and her father said, "We would have let you have the decision, but the Winchesters are the only family of good standing still in Corinth that aren't indebted to the Scorpion Cartel."
And Summer felt her heart drop. Looking at her parents in horror, she asked, "You didn't…"
"No, we've managed to avoid Fresno Bob and the other Cartels," her father assured her. "But it's only more reason for us to want you to be married to someone still of your station who hasn't sold out to the mafia."
"Summer, please," her mother pleaded. "You don't know how important this is for us."
Summer closed her eyes and took a breath. She couldn't believe she was doing this, and she wished she hadn't heard everything Scott and Flynn had said about the Cartels. She wished she didn't care.
"Give me a year," she said.
"What?" her mother asked.
"One year," she insisted, looking at her parents with a steely gaze, hating them all the more for putting her up to this. "Let me be a Ranger for a year, without any interference from you guys. And when the year is over, I'll do what you say."
"But Summer…" her father started.
"Take it or leave it," she said coldly. "Otherwise, I leave and I won't be coming back. No one can make me."
There was a tense silence before her father said, "Deal," and they sealed it with a handshake. Wryly, he said, "With that kind of ultimatum, you should have no problem arranging your pre-nups."
Disgusted, Summer scoffed and turned, heading to her bike. She pulled on her helmet before anyone could see her tears, and she rode off, taking the long way back to base. She needed the time to think.
She'd managed to calm down by the time she pulled into the base she and Flynn were beginning to call "the Garage." Flynn was sitting in the kitchen, dressed in blue sweats and drinking some juice. Seeing the way she practically dragged herself over and plopped herself into a chair, he winced.
"Your parents didn't take it well, I imagine," he guessed.
Summer snorted. "You could say that." She rested her head against her hand. "I swear, Scott has lost all right to complain about his dad."
Flynn passed her a cup of juice, and she drank it in one shot, making him wince. "Are you sure you'll be able to run your tests today?"
"Yeah," she sighed, heading upstairs to change into workout clothes. "I think this is something I need to 'work out of my system.'"
The physical tests were brutal and exhausting, putting Summer beyond her limits to determine just how she would fare in battle against Venjix's forces. The strength tests were difficult, the endurance tests painful, and the fighting tests demanding, but she didn't care as long as she was burning off her anger. By the time she was finished with the day's tests, she could barely stand. And she could barely feel the burn.
"I must admit I'm impressed," Doctor K confessed, and Summer could detect a note of surprise in the synthesized voice. "Given your background, I did not expect that you would be able to perform at such high difficulty levels."
Flynn laughed. "That's our Summer. Not a damsel in distress, that one." Summer grinned.
"Indeed," Doctor K agreed. "I apologize for misjudging you, Ranger Yellow. I will ensure not to let initial perceptions cloud my judgment in the future."
"It's all right," Summer admitted. "It's not the first time. Aside from Flynn and Scott, not many people know who I really am." A little more quietly, she added, "I'm still trying to figure out who I am."
"You don't have to look too hard," Flynn said, and she looked over at him in surprise. "All those qualities that made Doctor K pick you for Ranger Yellow—that's what makes you Summer. If you're wondering what you should be seeing when you look in the mirror, well, that's it." And he thumbed in the direction of the Ranger Yellow suit in the case behind him.
Summer smiled. "Thanks, Flynn."
"And now, Ranger Blue, it's time to run your second round of tests for the day," Doctor K said. "I will prepare the lab for your levels."
"Aye," he answered before leaning over to whisper to Summer, "Watch me surprise him with my gymnastics. Been taking it since I was a wee lad."
"Really?" Summer asked.
Flynn winked and grinned as he walked over into the lab for his tests. The doors closed for safety, but Doctor K brought up the footage on the monitors in the kitchen for Summer to watch. As laser fire came at Flynn, he suddenly back-flipped out of the way, with far more grace and flexibility than anyone would have expected by looking at his muscular physique.
"It appears I have much to learn about you, Rangers," Doctor K confessed, and Summer couldn't help but grin.
Scott sighed and took a seat in the garage at base as Summer and Flynn ran off for more tests with Doctor K. He was glad that for now, they were still working their jobs with the military, but that would end once the Power Rangers were fully operational. He already didn't get much of a chance to see them because of this job. Training left them too tired to get together for dinner anymore, and all their free time was dominated by either training or resting. It didn't help that Scott was constantly fending off his dad's questions about his decision whether to take up that promotion or not.
"Lt. Truman, sir!" came a pair of voices, and Scott looked up to see Hicks and Vasquez standing at attention, saluting.
"At ease," he ordered, knowing from experience that the duo wouldn't relax unless specifically ordered to do so. "You know, you guys don't have to call me 'sir'—I'm not officially in charge yet anyway."
"We know, sir," Hicks answered, "but you're still a commissioned officer."
"Guys, just relax," Scott insisted. "I'm considered off-duty until the doctor clears me." Here, he gestured with his left arm, finally out of the sling but the collarbone still ached. He was supposed to give it another couple of weeks with the sling, but he was getting tired of the lack of mobility. His father argued with him to follow doctor's orders, but there was no convincing a stubborn Truman. "How'd you guys find me, anyway?"
"We knew that you took your lunch breaks with Flynn McAllistair and Summer Andrews down in the garage," Vasquez explained, taking care not to add "sir" at the end. "We were a little surprised that they're not here."
"No, something came up," Scott answered. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to discuss it."
"Understood, sir," Vasquez replied. Scott only just managed not to roll his eyes at how quickly she added the "sir."
"Well, I'm here on my own now," Scott said. "Anything you needed to tell me?"
Hicks and Vasquez looked at each other uneasily before Hicks said, "Well, sir, it's about your assignment…"
Scott sighed in aggravation. "Did my dad put you up to this?"
Hicks looked confused. "No, sir, the Colonel had nothing to do with this."
"We were wondering if you've made your decision," Vasquez added.
"With all due respect, you've avoided giving an answer, and your time's almost up," Hicks pointed out.
It wasn't the only decision he hadn't made yet. Summer and Flynn were too polite to ask, but Scott hadn't told them what his decision was about Doctor K and the Ranger project either. And he could tell they were getting anxious. On one hand, he had the chance to be a real leader and work with his friends; but on the other, he had his responsibility to his father. And with Marcus gone, Scott knew there were going to be even more expectations and responsibilities on his shoulders.
"Sir?" Vasquez asked hesitantly.
"Let me ask you something," Scott said. "If you had the choice between two assignments—the rank equal, so the only thing different is who you're assigned to—would you prefer working with friends or family?"
"That…depends," Hicks confessed.
"How so?" Scott asked.
"Well," Hicks began hesitantly, "it depends on how your relationships with them are. If the relationship can survive the terms of the assignment."
Scott was taken aback. He'd never thought of that possibility. Seeing his surprise, Vasquez added, "Assuming you're taking orders from family like you will be under Col. Truman, can you keep it professional?"
"…Superior-to-subordinate and not father-to-son," he realized.
Slowly, Vasquez nodded. "If an argument breaks out in one role, you can't let it affect the way you behave in the other role."
"And what about when it comes to friends?" Scott asked.
"That might be easier," Hicks admitted. "But again, you need to keep a professional relationship on the job separate from your personal relationship off the job."
Scott wasn't sure what he thought about that. But at least, he was beginning to understand his father's own decisions.
"Sir?" Hicks asked. "Is that any help?"
"Yeah, it is, actually. Thanks," he answered. He stood up. "I'm going to take a walk. If you see the Colonel, let him know I'll have an answer for him soon."
"Yes, sir!" they chorused.
Flynn closed and locked his suitcase and looked over at his father. "Well, that's the last of it."
"Aye, it is," his dad answered, a tear in his eye.
"Dad, don't worry," he insisted. "It's not like I'm leaving the city—I'm not even going all that far!"
"I know, I know," his dad replied. "But I want you to know how proud I am of you. And Ranger or not, you've more than proved yourself as a hero."
Flynn had to fight off the tears he felt. "Dad…"
"Come here," his dad said, grabbing him in a bear hug. For a moment, the McAllistairs just held each other tightly, letting the hug speak for itself. But at last, they pulled apart and Mr. McAllistair said, "You've got a strong heart, Flynn. Between that and your friend's leadership, you'll do this city good."
"Thanks, Dad," Flynn answered.
He picked up the suitcase and slung a backpack over his shoulder. Without looking behind him, he said, "I'll come back later to pick up the boxes. Hopefully, Doctor K can let me borrow a car or…" But there was no answer, and he turned to see that his father was gone. "Dad?"
"Out here," his father said.
Following the voice, Flynn headed out to the front yard where he saw a freshly painted blue Hummer sitting in the driveway. As he stared at it in shock, his dad came over and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"I figured I'd give you a gift before you left," he said. "A hero needs transport, after all."
Flynn walked around the Hummer, taking note of everything. "This is the truck I've been fixing, isn't it?"
"Aye," his father answered. "We managed to finish the repairs, and I asked the Colonel if you could have it, since you were being reassigned. He seemed to know what I was talking about and agreed. Damon dropped it by earlier. I had a hell of a time hiding it from you." Flynn was still stunned, and he gently placed his hand on the hood. "Blue truck for the Blue Ranger."
"Thanks, Dad," Flynn said again, barely able to find words.
"You're welcome, son," his father replied. "Now let's load her up. You've got some moving to do."
Nodding, Flynn followed his father inside to grab his things.
Scott walked up to his father's desk and saluted.
"Lieutenant," Truman acknowledged, motioning for him that he didn't have to stand at attention. "I trust you've come to your decision?"
"Yes, I have, sir," Scott answered. He reached into his jacket and pulled out an envelope. It felt heavy in his hands as he took it and slowly handed it to his father. "This is my letter of resignation."
"Lieutenant, if you feel you have not served admirably…" Truman began.
"No, it's not that," Scott interrupted. "I've just been given an opportunity for another assignment, one outside the military. I'll be acting as field commander against Venjix's forces, and while I will be working closely with the military, it will be as a civilian fighter, not as a soldier."
Truman nodded as he skimmed the contents of the letter. "Project: Ranger, then?"
Scott nodded. "Yes, sir."
"Very well," Truman answered, standing up. "You will be missed, but if you feel this is the right choice for you…"
"Yes, I do, sir," Scott affirmed. It was where he belonged.
"All right," Truman answered, offering a hand for Scott to shake. Scott took it, knowing this was probably as close as his father could come to showing affection. "Good luck then, Scott."
"Thanks, Dad," Scott said softly before saluting a final time, then turning on his heel, and walking out the door.
As heavy as he'd felt giving the letter to his father, Scott felt far lighter as he got in his car and drove for the Garage. The door opened when he approached, thanks to a call to Doctor K earlier in the day. As Scott pulled up, he noticed how the Rangers' base of operations had begun to look a little bit more like home, with Summer's motorcycle and Flynn's truck parked off to the side, and various tools scattered throughout the workplace.
"Scott?" Summer asked in surprise as he got out of the car. "What are you doing here?"
"Hey, guys," Scott replied, waving.
"Scott, I don't believe it!" Flynn said. "You got the racer?"
"Yep, decided on the red," he answered with a grin. "Figured it'd go better."
Flynn looked up in shock. "You're not…"
"You're joining us?" Summer asked.
"Yep," Scott said. "Cleared it with Doctor K earlier."
"But what about your dad?" Summer added.
"He'll be fine," Scott insisted. "He seemed to take it okay, at least."
"Well then, Ranger Red," Doctor K said as they walked into the lab. "Welcome to the team. Before you are your morpher and Engine Cell. We'll begin training in a week to allow your clavicle to heal completely…" But before he could finish, an alarm began blaring.
Scott hurriedly pulled the lanyard with his Engine Cell over his head and stuck his morpher in his pocket. "An attack?"
"Yes," Doctor K answered. "Venjix has sent a team of Grinders to the warehouse district. The military is en route, but they will need backup."
"All right," Scott said. "Let's head out there and show Venjix what we're made of."
"Ranger Red, you have not begun your training…"
"It'll have to wait," Scott insisted, running over to his car. Flynn and Summer were right behind him and heading for their vehicles.
"Very well," Doctor K answered via their morphers. "I will provide instructions on how to morph."
Scott grinned. He had a feeling he was going to love this job. "Let's do this."
He shifted gears and sped out of the Garage, followed closely by his other teammates. When they reached the warehouse district, Col. Truman was leading Hicks and Vasquez and other soldiers against the Grinders, but they were outnumbered easily. The Rangers brought their vehicles to a screeching halt and climbed out, morphers at the ready.
"Oi, Grinders!" Flynn shouted. "Tell Venjix if he wants Corinth, he's going to have to go through us to get it!"
"That's if we leave enough left of them to tell him," Summer pointed out with a smirk.
"Oh, he'll get the message," Scott said. "Ready?"
"Ready!" they chorused.
All three held out their morphers and inserted the Engine Cells.
"RPM! Get in gear!"
Power Rangers: RPM is the property of Disney. While there have been fics exploring how Scott, Summer, and Flynn became Rangers, I was more interested in exploring how they became a team. I also felt like exploring just what they did before becoming Rangers, such as how Summer learned everything she did about mechanics, how Flynn's improved relationship with his father went, and how Scott's worsened relationship with his father went. Like the series itself did, I also made reference to other Power Rangers seasons, most notably in the recruitment scene, which is essentially an inversion of the original Power Rangers' recruitment in "Day of the Dumpster"—where Jason had been the only one to really consider Zordon's offer and was dragged out by the others, Scott is the only one to turn down Doctor K and pretty much gets dragged in through his friendship with Flynn and Summer.