Choices, Chapter One
POWER RANGERS :- Demon Wars
Alpha was in what he would call his quarters. To everyone else it was a cupboard, but it was everything the little robot needed. A place out of the way where he could recharge or run a quick diagnostic.
Right now though he was running anything but a quick diagnostic. Something was wrong with his primary processor and had been for some time. However each scan he'd ran so far came back negative. His positron network was reading all clear, in spite of the error.
Alpha kept finding his processor following a recursive loop. An endless loop always focused on one thing, the same thing. Sari. The far too frail for her own good Techno-organic girl. She put a brave face on it most of the time but Alpha could tell. There were times when she thought he wasn't there, that she didn't notice him and she was very sad.
It was something to do with her family, he knew that. She rarely spoke of her father and when she did it was easy to know something had happened.
Alpha reset his parameters, he was doing it again. He wasn't thinking about the problem. He was focusing on her instead. On her problems rather than his own. There was a quiet, almost silent, sound as the latest diagnostic completed and a scroll of data rolled passed on the right hand side of his vision.
Nothing, no errors or data fragments. His system was clean, but he was still experiencing glitches. He had to deal with this, only that morning he tried to do work on the Ranger's motorcycles but found himself scanning the middle distance as his processor got stuck in one of the loops. He had to find a way to break it, especially now it was interfering with his work.
But without a clear indication he didn't know where to start, without an identified error there was no practical diagnostic code he could run. However as an assistant to the Rangers he knew that there was always other options. If you knew how to look for them.
If the glitch was being caused by Sari's problems then helping her solve them would solve his. It was not standard maintenance, more instinct that told him it was the right action. There was one flaw with that solution, while mechanical she was still a girl. There was a fundamental difference in programming between the two of them. He couldn't think like her, but he knew people who could.
Cassie had enough of Dawn staring into the middle distance and threw pencil at her. Spike and Angel had left a couple of days earlier, Connor had promised to call his adopted parents and feed them some story about transferring to Amethyst College.
After they had left Dawn had been in what Cassie could only describe as a funk. Barely talking, flipping pages in dusty old books carelessly, without really reading them and even worse. Staring at walls as if they held the answer to the the riddles of the universe. The two of them had sat in silence, in their dorm, for at the last hour or more and Cassie would have been surprised that Dawn even knew she was there. "Ow." Her best friend said rubbing the side of her face.
"Ow?" Cassie echoed, "You've been on the same page for the last half hour, what are you reading?"
"Nothing." Dawn shrugged looking down at the ancient book and picking up the pencil.
"No, seriously nothing. I was thinking." Dawn handed it back over to her.
"Thinking?" Cassie echoed, "About the massive mistake you're making? Good, I'll call Jack."
Dawn blinked in shock "What mistake?"
"This whole 'let the solders lose the next fight' thing. That's what you were thinking about wasn't it?" Cassie said hopefully. As soon as Dawn had told her of the idea she knew it would never work. "It won't work you know."
"What did you want me to do? Bully the President?" Dawn asked. "Besides I'm tired. I'm tired of your Uncle Jack always on our case, tired of the news always asking how much better it would be with the army dealing with things."
"Fox news." Cassie pointed out, but she knew what her friend was talking about. It got on her nerves too, but that didn't make it right. "Dawn, I grew up around the military. I know how they think and there's a reason they are called jarheads. It's because they keep their brains in a jar most of the time!"
"The plan's simple." Dawn insisted. "The Marines turn up and when A'Zores or his latest plot comes they run."
Cassie shook her head. "You really think they'll run? The only time these guys run is when they want to get closer to a fight. You'd fit right in."
Dawn blinked, "Me?"
Dawn took a moment to think about that. "They'll still follow orders, won't they?" She asked hopefully before frowning. "Oh crap."
Cassie smirked, and then stopped. She really hadn't thought about it. "Seriously Dawn, what the hell has been up with you lately?"
Taking a deep breath Dawn looked away. "It's about what Spike said, about Marcus."
"Oh no, not again."
"Whenever you get that far away look in your eye and talk about Marcus you're about to do something really dumb about him. You're not thinking of breaking up with him."
"No!" She almost shouted. Looking as if she could die of shock before whispering almost savagely to herself. "No, never." After a deep breath she seemed to shudder. "I ever tell you about Riley?"
"One of you're sister's ex-boyfriends. You said he was in the Army?" Cassie said, remembering a conversation from months earlier.
Dawn nodded. "He was a good guy, from Iowa. Clean cut, nice."
"The guy you can take home to mother?" Cassie smirked
"Not that Buffy did for the first ten months but yeah, I guess so. Always called me a kid, I had just combed out my pigtails so I guess he was trying to joke about it."
"What happened?" She asked, not sure where Dawn was going with her story.
"If you ask me things just didn't work out. Thing is he just didn't fit in and Buffy, Buffy didn't, couldn't see it. We were going through a bad patch with my mom's illness and he was right there, wanting to help but Buffy never let him."
Cassie bit her bottom lip. Dawn talking about her mother always reminded her of Janet. "So she didn't let him help, what's this got to do with Marcus?"
"She didn't let him in. Into her life you know." Dawn shook her head. "It was like she tried to keep him in this little box off to one side. Now I think of it that could be why she took so long to introduce him to mom."
"And you think because Marcus isn't part of your Ranger life he's going to feel left out?" Cassie wanted to say that was silly, but it actually made a twisted sort of sense. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I don't know." Dawn admitted, looking back at her book. "I don't know."
It was then that Cassie got the shock of her life. A blue, red and silver column of light landed in the middle of the room. Cassie fell backwards off her chair as Dawn jumped to her feet.
The Blue Ranger cursed as she caught her head on the wall but Dawn lowered her arms. "Alpha, what the…? You could have called you know."
"Alpha?" Cassie repeated, blinking. It was the saucer headed little robot. "What are you doing here?"
The robot waved his arms for a few seconds before stopping and becoming as still as they'd ever seen him. "I need your help."
Tommy rubbed at the stubble on his cheek and fought back a yawn. He'd been at this for days straight, more sure than ever that it needed and just as sure it was impossible.
That meant he had to make a dangerous choice. His old Power Coin was just too badly damaged to be of any real use. He had hoped the residual Powers within him would have been enough to get somewhere. Maybe not full power, but just enough to make a difference when the time came.
If Tommy was honest with himself it wasn't just that he felt it was needed. It might have been years since the last time but he just couldn't stand on the sidelines. He was a Ranger, pretty much always had been. Right there in the battle lines between good and evil, to step back from that felt wrong and he wasn't the only one to feel that. He'd read much the same from Zordon's notes. His anguish from having to send others to fight in his stead and the pride he felt after Tommy, Jason and the others had proven themselves time and time again.
Tommy wasn't going to try and delude himself, there was no way he was anywhere near as good a mentor as Zordon. He couldn't be. All he could do was his best, that was all the others could rely upon, but if his best wasn't enough the White Ranger should have been there.
Picking up the stylus he'd been using he began tapping on the energy equations again as they flew across the screen. At each tap the equation flickered over to another screen, floating free of the whole. They were way beyond him, he doubted that there was anyone left on the planet that could understand them. On some deeper, almost instinctual, level Tommy could see they were incomplete, but that was as far as he could get. It was like something had taken parts of the sums out and Tommy, for all his instinct, couldn't see what they were supposed to be.
Staring at the free floating symbols Tommy hissed under his breath. There was just so many of them, unrelated and worthless. Even if he got lucky and found one answer there were at least ten more he had no hope of understanding. Putting down the stylus he picked up Zordon's archives. He'd tried everything he could think of, everything he could gleam from the tomb in his hands. After weeks and weeks he even he had to admit it was pointless. When Rito destroyed the Zords it caused feed back that broke the original Coins connection with the morphing grid and then some. The others were fixable because the Zords were added to them after they were forged. Repairing and rebuilding the Zords helped, but only so far. When Zordon forged the White Power Coin it was built with the White TigerZord already there.
Tommy had even tried rebuilding the Zord, but it hadn't done any good. It had taken the full brunt of Rito's attack and when it was destroyed the integral connections between the two meant both were effected the same way. While he could put the parts back together nothing happened.
Still he had done all that work and effort, and the White TigerZord was just sitting there in the hanger. He had to do something. There was one long shot left, but with this team long shots seemed to work more often then not. Selecting the archive and it's database Tommy brought up the Red Ranger's power computations.
They didn't match, days of staring at the same symbols he could tell that much at least, but that wasn't the point. Taking the complete equations from the White Tiger power and grafting them to the Red T-Rex Tommy grinned
It might just work.
Landing in the Command Centre the latest Red Ranger looked around. He'd only met Dr Oliver a couple of times. He always seemed to be busy with something and always seemed more interested in what he was working on.
"Dr Oliver, you called?" Connor asked, not sure what he was doing there.
"We haven't had much time to get to know one another and I'm sorry about that." Connor nodded as the former Ranger lead him down from the controls and around the back of the empty energy tube. "The truth is I've been working on something, something to help you and the others."
"We guessed as much."
He winced, touching a hidden control. "I thought you would, but I ran into difficulty." Connor jumped back when a shaft of light slid open in front of him. It was one of the secret doors scattered throughout the place. "Come on in." Dr Oliver invited him and vanished inside.
Connor followed and there was sudden feeling of dropping, like he was falling in a fast elevator. At the bottom he didn't exactly stop, more sort of slow down so suddenly that he wasn't moving anymore. It was a cramped room, probably deep underground and far beneath the Command Centre. Most of it was taken up by a low backed chair facing a couple of monitors. One above the other. There wasn't any switches or leavers down here, but there was something else. A mannequin with what looked like parts of a Ranger costume on it.
Only it wasn't like any costume he'd ever seen. There was an arm and a pair of white boots, all with Gold bands on the top. There was also a gold belt with an empty holster but where his morpher should have been there was a buckle made of two squared of spirals. Finally there was one half of a massive chest plate. It was sort of like Dawn's, only it came down a bit further "A Gold Ranger?"
"No, White. My old White Ranger costume." Dr Oliver said glancing at the calculations. After a moment he reached around the back of the costume and pulled out a Power Coin. There was no Morpher but after a flash of light the mannequin was empty and all that was left was the Coin. "I've tried everything I can, there's just too much damage to get a full Ranger out of whats left."
"So what am I doing down here?" Connor asked.
"I said full Ranger. Traditionally, as well as the Zords, the Red Ranger gets what's called a battleizer. An extra weapon that enhances your normal Ranger Powers, sometimes as much as tenfold."
"Whoa." Connor whispered. Being a Ranger was more powerful than Connor ever expected. With this added Battleizer they could finally defeat A'Zores once and for all. "Why me, wouldn't Dawn or Faith or one of the others be better. They've been Rangers a lot longer."
Dr Oliver rubbed his face with his free hand, looking uncomfortable. "Like I said tradition, but you're right theres more to it. We still don't know what or where Dawn's powers come from. Faith's already carrying the Pink Coin as well as her own, Cassie's mental powers are already getting stronger every day and Sari, Sari isn't half as tough as she likes us to think she is. None of them are suitable, heck I'm not sure they'd even be able to use it. That leaves you."
Connor took the Coin. "How do we, I mean I. How do I…"
"Should work just like Morphing, put the Coin in your Morpher and call out for the TigerZord." Dr Oliver said, "But it will only work if you're already morphed."
Connor nodded and the screen flickered with a red border. "Automated alarm." Dr Oliver hissed, pressing his watch. "Rangers, the City's under attack!"
"You don't say." Faith's voice came over the radio link. "Just the standard grunts, so far."
"A'Zores knows they're no match for us. What's he up to? Connor?" That was Dawn.
Connor tapped his own watch, she was counting on him knowing him after the whole Dark Ranger thing. "Not a clue, the guy's a back stabbing traitorous murdering bastard. Not big with the sharing "
"Other than that he's a swell guy." Faith joked. "But I get the feeling this is just the warm up act. You guy's don't want to miss the show."
Connor took his finger off the transmit button and looked at Dr Oliver. "I'm taking the Coin. Just incase."
He looked even more uncomfortable about that before giving strict instructions. "Only use it if you have no other choice. I've only ran a couple of simulations so far and I'm not sure how stable it's going to be. If you do need it only use the Power for short duration."
Connor nodded. "You got it. Morph into Action."
Dawn landed second, only slightly behind Cassie, behind the Coffee Shop. Faith, of course, was already there. Sari came just after and last came Connor. Beaming in like the set of them.
"Where'd you go?" Faith asked, her helmet tilting as she turned on the late comer.
"Told you, I was on break. I was on my way back to the hotel."
She obviously thought about that for a second. "Right then, lets go."
"We can't" Dawn told the Slayer. "We have to wait for the Army."
"Oh crap, I forgot. Was that really a good idea?" The Black Ranger asked.
"Consensus seems to be a resounding no." Dawn growled mostly to herself. "But we didn't have much choice."
"Look they should follow orders and retreat as soon as things get difficult, right?" Sari asked.
Connor pointed as a Military truck sped past the alley entrance. "Why don't we ask them." There were no more words the five Rangers dashed out and followed it, Morphed they could keep up with the tuck on foot but it was just too fast to catch.
It was only a dozen or so of the scabby rotting foot solders but they were making enough noise for a thousand and Dawn got an uncomfortable feeling of déjå-vu. It was a trap, a way to draw the Rangers out.
Dawn's legs went stiff skidding her to a standing stop. That meant A'Zores was going to drop something heavy on them any second now and the team of marines were right in the middle of it. From the way the other Rangers stopped in their tracks they saw it too.
"What have I done?" She whispered. Ten men jumped out from the truck, armed with nothing more than machine-guns to use against whatever was coming. One of them looked at her and barely hid a sneer.
Knowing Cassie's fears were all too true Dawn forced her legs to move "It's a trap!" She shouted at the sneering marine. "Get out of here!"
High above news helicopters began circling. "I take my orders from the President little girl and they said only retreat when necessary. Marines, firing positions."
"Hey, General Destruction!" Faith shouted. "What part of trap don't you get? The trap part or the fact you're going to die."
He ignored her as the Demons began shouting and bellowing even louder, but they weren't attacking. The bad feeling in Dawn's gut got worse. "Take aim!"
'Fire.' The general, or whatever, ordered and the Marines fired. Under the hail of bullets the dozen or so foot solders didn't stand a chance and were mown down all to quickly. Instead of exploding, like they did when Dawn and the others hit them these just fell over, bleeding goo from bullet holes. The Marine's Commander turned to face Dawn, looking smug. "That's how you do it. You've done good work for your country little lady, it's time to let the professionals deal with it."
Dawn could almost hear Cassie rolling her eyes. "You did not just say that." The Blue Ranger said. "There's more than just those guys."
"And we'll deal with them as they come."
"Oh yeah, going to deal with him?" Sari pointed at a roof top. The most disgusting creature Dawn had ever seen lumbered into view. It was so greasy that as he stood there a trail of slime leaked over and down the wall. As bald as a billiard ball and looking as if he was a pale lumpy bag filled with them the demon laughed.
As one the marines, showing off their training spun and fired. Peppering the skyline with holes. When they did hit the bullets bounced or rolled off of the fat demon, like throwing stones at a mattress.
"Told you." Dawn hissed, "Get out of here!"
The General, or whatever, looked as green as Dawn's costume. His eyes wide with fear he stumbled over the order. Faith and Connor didn't wait, grabbing the nearest Marines they started to pull them back as Dawn's whole scale of disgusting was reset.
The Demon stood up straight and threw it's head back, folds of fat thankfully still covering the top half of it's legs. Then it began hawking up, it sounded like someone was trying to clean a sewage tank with a vacuum cleaner even from where they were standing. Then it spat at them.
Thinking for a spit second Dawn grabbed the idiot and pulled him behind the truck. Faith and Connor getting another two under cover as it splat down between the Marines and the dead demons.
There was a horrendous scream, as if the other seven men were burnt by acid. Fairly sure the only reason she wasn't throwing up was that she was too angry with herself Dawn opened her eyes and looked around the truck.
The dead demons were shambling to their feet, glassy eyed and lose limbed. Most of them still bleeding their familiar black goo. "Oh crap." Faith whispered aloud "I hate zombies."
One of the Marines followed, standing with the same glassy eyed vacant expression on his face. Machine-gun in hand. "Zombies with guns." Dawn pointed out.
What had she done?
End Chapter One