The school day was drawing to a close, and the Rangers, all except for Gia, who was at home recovering from her ordeal, made their way out of their final class. They got into the hallway, and found Spike standing by some lockers, leaning against them, talking on his cell phone.
"Yeah, it seems nice here." He stated. "It's not as big as Panorama, but it seems like a friendly town."
He paused as he heard the voice on the other end.
"Look, I've been in town a couple of days and I've not even seen...well, I lived in Panorama for two years, it's not like it'd be the first time I've seen a monster!"
As they got closer, he just rolled his eyes.
"No, the other kids have been fine." He assured the person on the other line. "Yeah, it sucks, but it'll only be three months before I'm home."
He smiled a little as he heard the voice on the other end.
"Yeah, I love you too." He answered. "I'll talk to you later."
As he hung up and turned around, he saw the Rangers approaching. He quickly studied them, remembering what Lauren had told him from when she was in town. Although she had never confirmed it, by way of having one of them outright tell her they were Rangers or seeing them morph, she had strong suspicions about a certain group of kids she had seen. They all regularly wore clothing that matched their Ranger colours, something that amusingly, Spike's step-mother Kim STILL did, nearly twenty years after her tenure had ended, was something of a habit of Rangers that made many of them suspect that the Morphing Grid gave certain people a predilection towards certain colours. She had noticed that they seemed to have injuries consistent with the battle she had witnessed, but knowing teenagers and the fact that they were not only involved in active pastimes, combined with the fact he personally could attest to the fact they were not the most sensible of creatures meant injuries were not exactly uncommon.
Still, she had described the group in detail, and even shown him a picture she had taken with her Samuraizer. He noted four of them, by the looks of things, the ones she suspected to be Megaforce Red, Blue, Black and Pink. He smiled as he looked to them.
"Hey, there." He started awkwardly, putting his phone away. "Um...that was my girlfriend Vicky. She was just checking how my first day went."
"OK." Troy answered, not really sure what to say. Right now, they had other things to worry about. They all wanted to see Gia, to check up on her. They also had their own things to do. Jake knew it wouldn't be long before his dad came to pick him up from the school doors. "Um...Spike is it?"
"Yeah, my dad was a little bit of a punk when I was born. He seemed to think it was a good idea at the time." Spike replied, offering a handshake. "I don't mind, I've gotten used to it."
"Troy." He replied, gesturing to his friends in turn. "This is Jake, Noah and Emma."
"So...um...what do people do for fun around here?" Spike asked him. Troy just looked to the others.
"There's an ice-cream place in the mall called Ernie's Brainfreeze." Troy informed him dutifully. "Most of the kids go there."
"So...you're from Panorama?" Noah asked. "They had a Ranger team didn't they?"
Spike just smiled. He actually knew them. As a coincidental result of a Nighlock's spell, he had found out who the Samurai Rangers were. He had even been training with them for some time. His latest sensei was Lauren, the last Red Ranger. He had lived through many Nighlock attacks, and knew what it meant to be in a city with a Ranger issue.
"Yeah, they did. I even saw them in action a couple of times." He said, trying not to give too much away, or sound like he was boasting. He didn't want to alienate anyone here, least of all people he was observing to see if they needed help from an experienced Ranger team. "It was pretty scary at times. My mom only found out about the monster attacks here a few weeks back. If she'd known, she'd probably never have allowed me to apply for the module."
"You saw the Samurai Rangers?" Noah shrieked, bouncing a little excitedly. As the others looked at him, he realised how star-struck he sounded. He coughed and tried to compose himself. "That must have been...um...exciting."
"It was pretty cool. You know...aside from the fear of death and everything." He stated. Just then, Jake looked up. They all turned and saw Mr Hollings standing at the door, gesturing to Jake. He just sighed.
"There's the warden guys." He groaned. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"What's that about?" Spike asked.
"Jake was grounded." Noah informed him. "You remember that kid with a face like a punching bag? He did that."
"Well, it could be worse I guess." Spike replied with a shrug. "My sensei once got sued for assault."
"So, will you be in the Brainfreeze later?" Emma asked. Spike just shrugged.
"I guess I've got nothing better to do." He responded.
"Then I guess we'll probably see you there." Troy replied, heading off. As they left, Spike opened his phone and dialled.
"Lauren?" He asked. "Yeah, I've made first contact. I think you're right. I think we've got the right group."
A while later at the Goodall place, Emma arrived, dumping her bag on the floor. She looked over, seeing Gia watching some cartoons. She came across, sitting down with her.
"So...Watership Down?" Emma asked her. Gia just looked a little embarrassed and paused the DVD.
"I...I always liked it." She admitted. Emma just laughed.
"I've got to admit, if you watch it, you'll never look at rabbits the same way again. I know I didn't." She chuckled. "So, how are you feeling?"
"I'm feeling a bit better; I think I might be ready tomorrow." She told her.
"Really?" Emma asked her. "I mean, there's no rush. I can bring your work..."
"Seriously, I'm climbing the walls in here. If I stay indoors much longer, I'm seriously going to go crazy." She told her. Emma just smiled.
"Well, I guess at least we can go to school together." She answered. Gia just fell quiet for a moment.
"My mom came around earlier." She told her. Emma was now the one to grow quiet.
"Um...what did she have to say?" Emma asked, not wanting to fan any flames. She was incredibly angry, furious even with Gia's family. Her dad had kicked her out of the house, and then he had kidnapped her and attempted to brainwash her all because of his own prejudice. Her mom...Emma hadn't even heard from Mrs Moran since the whole situation had begun.
"She said she's divorcing dad." Gia informed her. "She said she wants me to come home. She said that him kicking me out was the last straw."
"Oh." Emma replied, not knowing exactly how to feel about the news. In some ways, she figured it was only natural that Mrs Moran didn't want anything to do with her husband after what he had done. Still, a part of her couldn't help feeling that it was all too little too late. The night her journal went viral, Gia had already become the subject of scorn all over town. The one place she should always have gotten support, the one place she should have felt safe was at home, and yet when she returned, she returned just to get yelled at and thrown out on the street. She couldn't help feeling anger and bitterness at Mrs Moran for not helping her daughter at the time. She couldn't help feeling like she had betrayed Gia by not standing with her there and then. "She wants you to go home?"
"Well, it's a cheap motel, but she wants me to go with her." Gia told her. "I said no."
Gia looked to Emma hopefully.
"Emma, I really want to believe her, I do, but...I just can't!" She implored her. "Does that make me a terrible person?"
"No." Emma assured her. "It makes you human. You were hurt terribly, and when you needed her, she wasn't there. It makes sense you're reluctant to trust her."
She hugged Gia tightly, comforting her. As they parted, Gia had to wipe away a couple of tears.
"I guess you won the jackpot on the parent front." She commented. "Your dad's been amazing."
"Yeah, that's one way of describing it." Emma commented, finding her mind straying back to what she had seen. She did love him, and she was grateful for how he had stepped up when Gia needed someone, but she couldn't get over the feeling that there was a whole side to him she didn't really know.
"He...he wouldn't let her in until I said I wanted to see her." Gia explained. "He found me and he brought me back. He's taken care of me. Your dad's pretty special."
"Yeah, I guess he is." Emma answered. "Anyway, watch the rest of your film. I have something I need to deal with."
As Gia hit the play button, starting up the film again, Emma went into the kitchen, where her father was cooking up some dinner. He wasn't much of a cook, and he often got home late meaning that it was normally up to Emma to do most of the cooking in the house. Still, being home for once, he was making an effort.
"Um...spaghetti bolognaise...just...a little different." He said as Emma looked at the scene of destruction in the kitchen. She just rolled her eyes and came over to the pot, where he was browning off the meat.
"I'll help." She told him. "How's the garlic bread?"
"Uh...in the freezer?" He offered weakly. Emma just groaned.
"Alright, so no garlic bread." She commented as she added the tomatoes to the meat, and vegetables that looked more like they'd been hacked up by a hatchet than cut with any form of care. Once she satisfied herself the dinner wasn't going to burn the house down, she turned down the heat to give herself more time. "Um...dad, can I talk to you about something?"
"What kind of question is that? Of course you can sweetheart." He said as he looked around for something to make a salad to make up for the lack of garlic bread. He noticed the look on his daughter's face and realised that it was something pretty serious. He just gestured her to the table.
"If it's about Gia..."
"Actually...it's about you." Emma began. "Dad, I've..."
This was the part she really hated. She couldn't explain how she knew, but she really needed to hear from him his explanation about the difference she had seen in him. She couldn't exactly tell him she was standing five feet away from him when he fired a loaded gun at her best friend's father. She took a deep breath as she prepared for yet another lie. She was beginning to resent the regularity with which she was building up the lies she was telling her dad.
"I...um...I talked to Gia. She told me a little about when you found her." Emma began. Eric just watched on as she tried to find the words. Hearing that Gia had told her about the rescue, he was starting to worry about what she might have heard. "She said you were...she said you...um...she said you shot at her dad."
Eric was scared this was coming. He had been riding on instinct when he was in that apartment. He was enraged by the fact a young girl that he considered one of his family was in danger, and as soon as he found out that the one putting her in danger was one of his best friends, it took all the restraint he had not to go berserk. He looked to his daughter.
"I love you too much to lie to you." He said, leaving it at that. Emma could tell from his reluctance that he was basically confirming it, without saying it out loud.
"Dad...I really need you to tell me...did you do it?" Emma asked him. He seemed morose as he realised he couldn't avoid it without outright lying to her.
"Yes, I did." He told her. "I shouldn't have done it, but I don't regret it, and I would do it again in a second."
He saw his daughter looking a little ill as he admitted this. He had never lied to her, but he had always tried to keep as much of the ugly side of his business from her. He had tried to keep as much of the ugly side of the world from her as he could. He loved how much Emma took after her mother, how she was so optimistic and hopeful that he didn't want her weighed down by the fact he had seen a lot of things that would make anyone question the point. He reached over.
"Dad...you...you're not like that!" Emma protested. "You...you've never..."
"Never is a long time." He interrupted her. "Emma, you're seventeen now, and maybe it is a little late, but I guess it's time you knew that...there are certain things I've kept from you because...well...I wanted you to see me a certain way. I always wanted to be the dad you thought I was."
"Dad, what are you saying?" Emma asked him.
"I wasn't always in private security." He told her. "I got into that after I left the Marines."
"You...you were in...?"
"I served in a special unit in the Middle East during some pretty bad times there." He informed her. "I was assigned to a security team for dignitaries in the area. In that time, I saw some things I wouldn't wish anyone to see. I saw some of the very worst things people can do to each other, that's why when my tour was up, I went into security. I wanted to make sure people got home to their families."
"What I did, I know was wrong. I can't justify it as self-defence; I can't justify it in any way. All I can say is that all I saw was someone hurting someone I care about, and I couldn't let that go." He told her.
"Dad...you've never been like this..."
"I've always had that side of me, but I only use it when I feel I have to." He told her. "In all my life, I've never once lifted a hand to you. All the times I've read to you, spent time with you...that's the real me. The person that did that...that's a different person."
"But...you did do it!" Emma reiterated.
"The one thing that I learned in all my years is that there are some people that cannot and will not resolve their differences without violence. It's all they know." He told her. "So, I'm violent when I have to be. I'm just trained, and...a little better at it."
"It is better to be violent if there is violence in your heart, than to hide behind a cloak of non-violence to hide impotence." He said to her. Emma just looked at him a little puzzled. "One of your idols, Mahatma Ghandi said that."
"He...he did?" Emma asked. He just smiled and nodded.
"Sometimes, the only thing you can do is fight for what you believe in." He told her. "I know it's a shock, it's why I always try to keep that side of things from you, but I promise you one thing. You and Gia...you matter more to me than anything in the world. If anyone threatens either of you...and I do mean anyone, they will sincerely regret it. It's only because I love both of you so much, I will never allow anyone to harm you."
Emma could hardly believe what she had heard. There was indeed a lot about her dad she didn't know. She didn't know he had served in the Marines. She didn't know about a lot of what he had seen and done in his life. All she could do now was satisfy herself with this. He had never strictly speaking lied to her. He had never tried, not even when she outright asked him about something he clearly didn't want to tell her. There was only one thing that she was certain about. Even with this new information, he was the dad she'd always known. There was another part of him, things she might want to know more about in time, but for now she could only feel the sincerity of the fact that his only motivation was the love he had for her and for Gia. She just threw herself over the table and engulfed him in a tight hug. He returned it as she held him tightly. It was a world she was no longer certain of, and for now, she was glad to have one thing she was certain of. Her dad would always be there.