Derek dropped the newspaper, choking on his morning coffee.
"Told you not to let Mom brew it," John stage whispered--though why wasn't apparent as Sarah had just left the room.
"No, not that, this," Derek said, pushing the newspaper so that John could see.
"The Power Rangers are coming to town?" John asked. "I mean, that hardly seems like something you would be choking on your coffee over."
"Not them, their mentor," Derek tapped the picture. "Andrew Hartford."
John read the caption. "Owner of Hartford Industries? Are they a computer company? I've never heard of them."
"Don't know about the company but Andrew Hartford was apparently the designer of Terminator endos," Derek said. "Some of the AI programming too. When he realized what his work was being used for, he found John Connor and volunteered to help."
"You're worried he might be a target for Skynet?" John asked.
Cameron looked up from the dishes. "Unlikely, his work was too important to Skynet's development. It's much more likely that they'd replace someone close to him with a Terminator."
John skimmed the article. "They're going to be making some kind of public appearance downtown this afternoon, maybe we should go check it out," John said, pointing to another section of the article.
"Check what out?" Sarah asked, returning to the kitchen and snatching the paper from her son's hands. "Power Rangers? Are you still following them?"
"Derek and Cameron are worried about a Skynet connection," John said, quickly bringing her up to speed.
Sarah whirled to face Derek. "So now you want to bring my son along on assassination attempts?"
"Whoa!" Derek said, holding up both hands. "I draw the line at killing Power Ranger mentors. Besides, didn't John make it clear? He came over to our side, without him, there'd be no reprogrammed Terminators. I'd shudder to think what would've happened to you and John if there hadn't been," he frowned, shooting a glare towards Cameron. "Of course, when they go bad..."
"Derek, off topic," John pointed out, hoping to redirect his uncle.
"So you think he should give Cameron a check up?" Sarah asked.
"We just don't want Skynet keeping too close an eye on him," Derek said. "Or doing anything to undermine the Power Rangers. Can you imagine how much easier Earth would be to dominate if the aliens get there first?"
"We?" Sarah asked.
"Me and Cameron."
Sarah turned to the cyborg. "You agree with Derek?"
"I guess we're going to have to check things out, then," Sarah said. "Maybe John should stay here."
"No way," John said. "It's not like I have to go to school."
"He might be useful during the recon mission," Cameron pointed out. "His knowledge will help us blend in."
"Knowledge?" Derek asked.
"Don't," John said, glaring at both his mom, and Cameron.
"Anyway, he has to learn sometime," Derek said, letting the topic slide. For now. "Besides, Skynet needs to keep a low profile on this one. Can you imagine if the Power Rangers got wind of the threat early?"
"Skynet would get their metal asses kicked?" John suggested. "I always figured that Skynet bombed the Ranger bases first or something."
Derek shrugged. "With most of the intel sources in chaos right after J-day no one knows for sure. Most of the rumors were pretty ugly though. Well, except something about a domed city with a guardian team, but those were a bit on the unbelievable side."
Cameron snorted. "Corinth is a fairy tale."
"Can we focus on the present here?" Sarah asked. "You two can indulge John's inner super hero fan later."
* * *
"You really don't want John along on this do you? Why?" Derek asked as he and Sarah were loading up the Ram.
"I can't protect him from assassins, T-888s, or let him have a normal life. I can at least protect him from his childhood super heroes shattering his illusions of them."
Derek snorted. "He's going to *be* the childhood super hero to an entire generation of kids. It might do him some good to know how it feels on the other side."
Sarah sighed. "I guess I'd just like him to have some semblance of a normal childhood that isn't ruined by Skynet."
Derek just looked at her.
"I know, he doesn't have that luxury. He doesn't have a lot of luxuries."
"Where I come from a full stomach, a soft bed, and a family that loves you are luxuries."
"I suppose," Sarah said. "But I hardly call me and the Tin Miss a family."
"I wasn't talking about the metal," Derek said, nearly spitting out the word.
Sarah glared at him. "You're not family, Derek." She slammed the back of the Ram shut and stalked back into the house.
Derek shook his head. Maybe it was time that he let Sarah in on the fact that he knew John was his nephew--even if John thought it was a bad idea to tell her that he'd figured it out on his own.
* * *
"Stay here, John," Sarah cautioned as the four approached the crowd that was gathering to see the Power Rangers.
John rolled his eyes. "Why are you two treating me like a nine year old who doesn't know better than to run off?"
"Because my brother used to have action figures of these guys and he's about eight right now," Derek teased.
John shoved his uncle affectionately, but paused at the thought of his father sharing his fascination with the Power Rangers.
He didn't have time to dwell on it, however, as Hartford and the Rangers took the stage. Cameron stopped dead.
"What?" John asked.
"The man with the red shirt and the curly hair isn't human."
John blinked. "Are you trying to tell us that the Red Ranger is a Terminator?"
"Yes," Cameron said.
"Don't mess around, do they?" John muttered.
"Crap," Sarah said.
John grinned. "We get to rescue the Power Rangers? Cool! What's the plan?"
"Hold your horses, kid," Derek said. "We can't just walk up to the Power Rangers and say, 'hey you've got an infiltration.' For one thing, they'll never believe us."
"We can't walk up to them either, " Cameron said. "They have security guards."
"Where?" John and Sarah asked in unison.
"Plain clothes," Derek said, "on either side of the stage."
Cameron fixed him with a look.
"What, you don't need to be a robot to realize someone's guarding something," Derek said. He rested his hands on John's shoulders, turning his body for a good vantage point. Then pointed. "You see how he's standing to one side? He's doing that so he can scan the crowd. He may not be facing the audience like you'd see at a concert, but he's watching out."
"Now that you mention it, he's standing at attention too," John said. He looked to either side of the stage. "It's the guy in the Incubus t-shirt on the other side, right?"
Cameron had gone stock still during this exchange, but her attention wasn't directed at the stage.
She grabbed John by the arm, roughly pushing him away from the crowd. "There's a T-888 in the crowd," she said shortly. "I'd better handle this alone. You two get John out of here."
"Is there any chance it's on our side?" John asked.
Derek pulled John around, looking him square in the eyes. "Metal is hostile. Even Cameron tried to kill you. Never assume they're friendly. Ever."
"But why would Skynet send a Terminator after Hartford if they already have an infiltrator in the Rangers?"
"You should go," Cameron reiterated.
Derek grabbed both Sarah and John by the arms. "Come on, we'll talk about this in the truck."
"Cameron, just follow it," Sarah ordered. "Don't let it know you're here."
Cameron nodded once, disappearing into the crowd.
* * *
"Why doesn't it just attack?" Sarah asked as Derek herded her and John into the truck.
"In public? With Power Rangers around? It would expose Skynet in a way that no one could argue with," Derek said. "It wouldn't be long before the government was on an AI witch hunt."
"Which means that we have to get to the Rangers and warn them before it gets them alone," John said.
"Or just destroy the thing," Derek said.
"Well, yeah, but there's still the Red Ranger terminator. Is it the 888's back-up or the other way around?" John asked.
Sarah's phone rang. "Cameron?" She waited a few seconds and then hit a couple of numbers on the keypad. "Really, what's the plan? Okay, Derek and I will do that." She hung up, then looked at Derek. "Cameron says it's hanging back while the Rangers are signing autographs. She wants us to flank the exits so we know which way it's going."
Derek and Sarah got out of the truck.
John followed. "What about me?"
Derek tossed him the keys to the truck. "Keep the motor running."
* * *
"You're sure you want to sign all those autographs?" asked one of the security guards as the line started to dwindle.
"Yeah," Ronny said. "We'd hate to disappoint anyone."
"Will, are you okay?" Mr. Hartford asked.
"Something's not right with that guy," Will replied, cocking his head in the direction of a strange man wearing a leather jacket and sunglasses.
"What do you mean?" Mack asked.
Will frowned. "He's standing way too still. I'm not sure he's breathing right. Also, I don't think he's moved the entire time he's been standing here."
"Is he a monster?" asked a small child as she handed him an 8 x 10 glossy to sign.
"No, he's just weird," Will said. "I don't think you need to worry about him. What's your name?"
"Brooke," she said.
Will wrote on the photograph, then passed it to Tyzonn. Tyzonn signed it, then passed it to Ronny.
He then leaned over to Will. "That girl in the corner..."
Will frowned. "She's even weirder than the guy."
"I don't like this. Think they're Chillers in disguise?"
"Or Lava Lizards," Will replied.
The strange guy that was making Will uneasy was now eying the girl.
"This doesn't look good," Mack said.
Tyzonn leaned in. "How much of a scene should we risk?"
Will shrugged, accepting another photo.
Rose got up, moving around the table. "Is the way that weird guy is looking at that poor girl making anyone else nervous?"
"Should we ask him to leave?" the security guard asked.
"Maybe I should just go ask her to come over here," Dax said, getting up.
"Dax," Rose said, her nose crinkling with worry.
"She can't be any worse than Miratrix," Ronny pointed out.
"Hopefully I won't have to get revenge for him this time," Will said with a grin.
Dax approached the girl, who was looking between him and the strange guy in the sunglasses. She frowned as he talked to her, and gently led her by the arm over to the autograph table.
"Cameron, this is the rest of the team, Mack, Will, Ronny, Rose, and Tyzonn."
Cameron looked them over, an expression of mild curiosity on her face. She looked at them for a beat longer than it seemed like she should, then said, "Nice to meet you."
"Sorry to drag you over here, but that creepy guy was giving you the evil eye and it seemed like a better idea than causing a big scene in front of all the little kids."
Cameron raised an eyebrow.
"Not that we couldn't have taken him," Dax said. "But why traumatize all these kids with a big fight?"
"I could take him," Cameron said. "It would be inadvisable for you to try."
"They're Power Rangers!" said a small girl who was bouncing up and down. "They can do anything!"
"Mack can't clean up his room," Andrew said, suddenly appearing behind them.
"Mr. Hartford!" Mack said, blushing the color of his uniform trim.
In the meantime, the Rangers had finished signing the last autograph, and the crowd was starting to leave the area.
"Get down!" Cameron cried.
Instinctively, the Rangers started ducking and pulling down civilians with them. Halfway to the ground, they realized that the strange man in the sunglasses had pulled a handgun from out of nowhere and had opened fire.
Cameron pulled a gun and rushed him.
"How is she not getting shot?" Will asked.
Mack started to get up.
"Mack, stay down!" Andrew hissed.
Mack looked at him. "What's the matter Mr. Hartford? Worried about your prize..."
"Mack, if you get shot I don't know if I can fix you."
"What about the suits?" Ronny hissed. "Are they bullet proof?"
"What do you think they're made of, Ronny? Magic spandex?" Rose asked.
"They're not spandex, they're a..."
"Whatever, Mr. Hartford, are they bulletproof?" Mack asked.
"I don't know, and this isn't how I want to find out!" Andrew replied. He fixed Mack with a glare.
"The hell?" Will asked. "That one had to have hit! And are those two crazy, stay back!"
"What?" Ronny said.
"On either side of the plaza, just on the other side of the building," Will said.
"I don't see anything," Ronny replied.
"Telescopular vision, remember?" Will said.
"Hey, Mr. H, d'you think I'm faster than a speeding bullet?" Ronny asked.
"What? Why?" Andrew asked, but Ronny had taken off.
She returned a full 10 seconds later, with a rather confuzzled Sarah in tow. With a quick admonition she was to "stay down" Ronny was off again, and returned with Derek a few seconds later.
"What the...?" Sarah asked, having finally recovered from being bodily moved from her position.
"You guys got any weapons that can pierce armor?" Derek asked.
"Well, Mr. Hartford?" Mack asked.
Derek wrinkled his nose in confusion.
"I think the Drive Canon might be able to pierce armor. Do you think he's wearing body armor?"
"Tell us the truth," Will said.
Derek arched an eyebrow at the Black Ranger (it was easy to see, they wore color coded clothing). "How?"
"Really good vision," Will said.
"Fine," Derek said, eying Mack suspiciously. "That's not a he, that's an it."
"Huh?" Will said.
"It's a cyborg, programmed to... well, kill someone, most likely, we don't know who," Sarah said.
"Maybe they decided Hartford was too much of a threat after all," Derek said.
"See, an it!" Mack said pointedly to Rose.
Derek gave him an odd look.
"Can we worry about that poor girl and the guy trying to kill her first? Why later?"
"That's not a her, that's metal," Derek explained.
"That explains a lot."
"You see?" Mack said.
"Mack, killer cyborgs straight out of a movie now, your identity crisis later," Dax pointed out.
"So, Mr. Hartford? Drive Canon?"
"Well, Mr. Expert," Hartford said, looking at Derek. "What else kills them?"
"Semantics later!" Rose said.
"Electricity can short it out long enough for us to pull its chip," Derek said. "If he weren't blocking the only exits, I'd say running like hell was our best bet."
He was fixed with a six barreled glare that made him realize he'd just suggested that the Power Rangers retreat.
"Drive Defenders," Mack said.
All six Rangers pulled out what Derek thought were their cell phones, striking them along the ground.
Oh, morphers. Derek and Sarah were now surrounded by Andrew Hartford and six figures in brightly colored spandex.
Derek was impressed: despite all of his teasing of Kyle about the Rangers' morphing processes when they were little (and damn it, he wasn't going to be able to use that one on John) the Rangers had somewhat quickly and quietly morphed and pulled their drive defenders.
"Can we fire these things staying down?" Ronny asked practically.
"I think we're going to have to jump up and fire fast," Mack said, crawling forward.
As if she'd heard him (and knowing Cameron's hearing she probably had), Cameron did a back flip to the area where the Rangers stood, snatched Mack's Drive defender, shouldered it, and fired it at the T-888.
The shot fired through its body, lightening sparking across it. Derek was up like a shot, but Cameron had already dropped the Drive Defender and was extracting the 888's chip--by applying a knife to its head, and twisting it out.
Cameron stood, then handed the chip to Sarah as she was pulling herself up. "The chip is intact."
"Is the rest of it?" Hartford asked, as the Rangers helped each other to their feet and de-morphed.
"It's useless without a chip, just a shell," Cameron said.
Derek couldn't help but smirk at the fact that the Rangers were now helping up the few remaining civilians, the girls often giving out hugs as they helped the children to their feet.
Sarah's phone rang. "John." She lowered it long enough to press the buttons that formed their telephone recognition code.
"We're okay," Sarah said, reassuringly. "I'd rather you didn't... Yes, you can turn the truck off if you're that worried.... I'll tell him you said that."
"Tell me what?" Derek asked, as Sarah hung up her phone.
"Later," Sarah said, turning over the chip.
"Shouldn't you have told him about that thing?" Derek asked, indicating the chip.
"Hey, Mr. H, is there any way we can read that back at the house?" Dax asked.
"We'll handle this," Derek said.
"Hey, Mister, that guy was shooting at us," Ronny said. "I think we'll handle this."
"The name's Derek. And you don't know what you're up against."
"Maybe we should tell them."
"John Connor, I told you to wait in the car," Sarah said angrily, ignoring both Derek and Cameron's winces as John approached the group.
"Should a kid be anywhere near..." Dax started.
"Weren't the Space Rangers about my age?" John asked.
"Maybe we should continue this discussion somewhere more private?" Derek suggested.
There was a blur of motion surrounding Sarah, then Ronnie grinned cheekily, holding up the chip. "So why don't we take this to our lab in San Angeles?"
John's face lit up. Sarah sighed. Derek scrubbed a hand over his face.
"Give that to me," Cameron said, leaning forward.
John grabbed Cameron's arm. "If you assault a Power Ranger, I'll pull your chip and smash it myself."
"Where was that attitude a month ago?" Derek muttered.
Rose and Ronny exchanged mischievous glances and Ronnie disappeared in a blur of motion that swept John up and pulled him between them.
"You want to ride with us?" Rose asked.
John's face lit up.
"Absolutely not," Sarah and Derek said at once.
John's face fell.
"Mack and I will ride with them and make sure they don't get lost going back to the mansion," Will said.
"What makes you think we're going to your headquarters?" Derek asked.
"Um, Derek, it took me three days to hack Vick's chip with my laptop, these guys have much more advanced..."
"Andrew Hartford likely has..."
John smacked Cameron, glaring at her. "Ix-nay on the uture-fay alk-tay."
"Future talk?" Dax asked.
John raised an eyebrow.
"You need a better code than pig latin, kid," Derek said, "remind me to teach you sometime."
"Future talk," Mack said, sounding more forceful.
"Somewhere more private," Derek pointed out.
"John's right," Cameron said. "The Rangers' equipment would make cracking the code on the chip more expedient."
"And the Rangers have as much right to know what's on the chip as you do," Mack said. "If not more."
"So Mack and I are riding with you," Will said, firmly.
Mr. Hartford frowned at that. "I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"Maybe I should go alone," Mack said. "There's no sense in risking Will."
"I like that idea even less, Mack."
"You're not going alone," Will said. "Just 'cause you're an android doesn't mean that you're not indestructible."
"You know?" John, Sarah, and Derek asked incredulously.
"What, that Mack's an android?" Will said. "A better question is how do you know. It may not be secret, but it's not exactly common knowledge."
"I realized it when I scanned him." Cameron said.
"You what?" Mack said.
"OK, Red, Black, you're riding with us," Derek said. "We'll meet up at the mansion, this is WAY too public."
Sarah glared at him as the two Rangers followed the Connor-Reese family back to the truck.
Cameron eyed Mack warily while Derek slid behind the wheel and Will gave him directions.
John was bright eyed, trying hard to contain his excitement.
"So how long have you been a Ranger buff?" Mack asked as they pulled out into traffic.
"Since the beginning," John said.
"How old are you?" Will asked. "The first Ranger team formed in '92, there's no way you could remember..."
John shifted uncomfortably. "It's kind of a long story."
"It's kind of a long drive," Mack pointed out.
"I'd rather not have to explain twice," John said.
Derek glanced up in the rearview mirror, eying John critically.
"What?" John said.
"Later," Derek said.
* * *
An hour and a half later, they pulled into the driveway of the Hartford Mansion. Will and Mack piled out of the car, followed closely by Sarah and Cameron, but Derek pulled John by the arm.
"Be careful what you tell these guys," Derek said.
Derek glanced up at the others, gauging their distance from them. Derek dropped his voice. "Hartford's not stupid, John. And he's not military. He asks questions, and if you're not careful he'll figure out more than you want him to know."
"Stuff I had to figure out for myself," Derek said, looking John square in the eyes.
John nodded curtly. Apparently this was Derek's round about way of pointing out that Hartford would meet his father in the future. "I'll be careful."
They followed the others through the foyer and into the lounge, where Cameron was being distracted by a fish tank, and John started inspecting a climbing wall.
Mack poked John gently. "Future talk."
"Chip," Rose said, impatiently, pointing at Cameron.
"Perhaps I should bring the refreshments to the laboratory?" Spencer suggested.
"Or at least tell us why you four all just assessed the room for where the exits are?" Will asked, crossing his arms and moving closer to Cameron.
"Will..." Mr. Hartford said.
"How do we know they're not casing the joint for Flurious or Moltor?" Will asked.
"Aliens are the least of your problems," Cameron said.
"Can you guys quit with the cryptic teasers and get onto the exposition, all ready?"
"This is real life, Dax, not a movie," Ronnie said testily.
John glanced at Sarah and Derek, who were glaring. He realized he was stuck. "Where do I start?"
"How about with she's metal?" Rose suggested, pointing at Cameron. "And who that guy shooting at us was?"
"Actually, I think the Cyborg shooting at us is probably more important," Will said. "Like why?"
"We're not really sure," John said. "It was sent from the year 2027 or thereabouts by a computer system called Skynet--which is basically a sentient computer control system that bombed mankind back to the stone age in 2011. Er, will bomb us--if we can't stop it."
"Where were the Power Rangers during all this?" Rose asked. "I mean, we'll probably have hung up the morphers, but Adam says the Power always emerges when it is most needed."
John looked at Derek and Cameron.
"Irrelevant," Cameron said.
Derek just shrugged. "No one really knows; the first things to be bombed were all the news networks, and Skynet took over the internet, so there wasn't really any way for us to know. And if any Rangers survived, they'd have to play it pretty close to the chest; Skynet had bounties out."
"People turned in Power Rangers?" John asked.
"People worked for Skynet, John, why not?" Derek said.
"OK, maybe just the highlights?" Mack said, "This is pretty complicated."
"Apparently we beat them in the future..."
"Not so much..." Derek said.
"Wait what?" Will said.
"'Difficult to know, the future, always in motion it is,'" Dax quipped.
"He's not wrong," John said. "Skynet discovered time travel and has been sending back Terminators--those are the killer cyborgs--back to change things to assure its future and to prevent key victories by the resistance. They tried to prevent my birth, but..." John paused, catching the glare that Derek was sending him... "it didn't work out too well for them," he finished sheepishly.
"And that cyborg? What does it want with us? If the bombs aren't due to drop until 2011, it's not like we're likely to be the active Ranger team then."
"No," Derek said. "Things got kind of quiet after 2008, and then there were some rumors and then, well, Ranger Teams were the least of our problems."
"So what did it want?" Hartford asked, looking uneasy.
"We're not sure," Derek said. "We do know..." he paused. "It might not be the best thing for you to know too much about your future."
Mack went from interest to wide eyed fear. "It's me! I'm going to turn into those!"
"Not happening, Mack, I won't let it," Rose said.
"No, not Mack, not exactly. I built him," Hartford said. "They're after me, right? The technology?"
"You built..." Derek frowned. "That doesn't... OK, here's the thing: I know the Terminators are at least partly based on your technology. I also know that the second you realize what your work was being used for you joined the resistance: we wouldn't have reprogrammed Terminators like that one--" he gestured at Cameron-"without your help."
"I thought I reprogrammed..." John said.
"You did, you do," Derek said. "But Hartford gave you the way in--you've only worked with hacked Terminators in this time, John--or extracted information from Skynet ones. Changing a cyborg's programming is a little more complicated."
"John, you have better things to do in the future than mess around with computer code," Derek said, sternly.
John glanced up, giving Derek a dirty look.
"Well, you do," Derek said.
"How do you know all this anyway?" Ronny asked.
"Broke a leg bone, spent six months as Hartford's lab tech before I was combat certified again," Derek said.
"Six months?" Ronny echoed. "What did you do to be out that long?"
Derek shot John a glare. "I was good to go after three, someone was being overprotective."
"Well, you're his Dad, what do you expect?" Dax said.
"I'm not his father."
"He's not my father."
"Derek is *not* John's father," Sarah added, defensively.
It was true, but did Sarah have to act like it was the most disgusting suggestion ever? Sheesh!
"This isn't helping us ascertain what is on the chip," Cameron pointed out.
"All right, Derek, why don't we take the chip and see if we can read it while um..." Hartford started.
"We show John around the Zords?" Ronny suggested.
John's eyes lit up, as he glanced hopefully at his mother and uncle, but was met with such looks that his face fell.
"We're probably gonna need his help with the chip," Derek said. "He's worked with them on current technology."
Hartford snorted. "Let's show you the lab before you assume anything."
"Come on, John," Derek said.
Sarah shot him a grateful look. Until she realized that Derek, Hartford, and John had left her and Cameron alone with the Rangers.
"So you're a cyborg?" Mack asked.
"Yes," Cameron said.
"Did you always know you weren't real?" Mack asked.
"I am real." Cameron poked him. "See."
"I mean not a person."
"You mean did I always know I was a machine?"
"Yes, of course."
Dax got up, grabbing Mack by the shoulder. "Let's go find something else to do."
"No, I think we need to ask more questions..." Mack said as Dax dragged him off.
* * *
John rubbed his forehead, staring at the code.
Derek stretched, glaring at the console. "It's looking like greek. I'm going to go stretch my legs."
Derek went upstairs towards the mansion, then out the door, towards the outside. He liked enjoying the outdoors while it lasted. Derek leaned against a tree, breathing deeply. It was nice. Trees. Grass. Fresh air.
In a few years it would all be gone, unless they could do something about it.
"You know Mr. Hartford?"
Derek jumped--scolding himself for letting Mack sneak up on him.
Derek shrugged. "Yeah."
"Yeah I should be sorry?" Mack asked.
"Yeah, I know your dad in the future," Derek said.
"Mr. Hartford," Mack said. "He's not my dad, he's like... my creator."
"Could've fooled me," Derek said. "He talked... will talk... damn it, time travel and grammar don't mix. In my past, I heard a lot about you. All the time. Never once did he mention you were a robot. It was always, 'my son used to be a hero'--left out the Power Ranger part, which is weird, 'cause it's not like you guys have secret identities--talked about everything you did--will do, how proud he was of you."
Mack snorted. "Him? Proud of me?"
"He is now," Derek said. "Can't you tell? I could tell just by seeing the way he looks at you."
"I wouldn't go by that: we all thought you were John's father by the way he looks at you."
Derek turned, studying the Red Ranger. "I'm not."
"What?" Mack asked.
"Nothing," Derek said. But it wasn't, not really. He remembered Hobbs' words from Presidio Alto--that John was "latching on" to any handy "male authority figure"--Charley had come to mind. Now him? Or was it that Derek was the closest he would get to knowing Kyle for a long time? He got the feeling, on the way back from the military school, that John had desperately wanted something from him--and the story about the bunker wasn't it.
But then, that was the big question: What did John want from him?
It didn't matter, not really, he needed to get back and worry about the code. That's what mattered.
* * *
An hour later, John paused, rubbing his forehead vigorously.
"If it's looking like greek, it's time to take a break," Derek said gently.
"It's fuzzy, not greek," John replied, in an irritated tone that was unique to annoyed teenagers.
"Go take a break," Derek said. "Go use the climbing wall you were checking out."
"Yes sir," John muttered, going up the stairs.
The door shut behind him.
"Does Mack ever forgive me?" Hartford asked, looking at Derek intently.
"I never met him before today," Derek replied. "You talked about him all the time though--I never knew he was a cyborg."
"Neither did he until a couple of weeks ago," Hartford said. "He's been... weird is all."
Derek frowned. "He thought you were his father, his real father. Family's a weird thing, it'll make you change your mind about..." he trailed off, realizing he was saying way too much.
He tried not to keep it a secret from John that when Derek was in 2027 he didn't get along with General Connor too well. He felt like the General had replaced him in Kyle's life while Connor and Kyle were in Century Prison Camp. That resentment had evaporated the second that he'd realized John was his nephew.
"You're saying he has this crazy idea that we're not family?" Hartford asked, finally, startling Derek out of his introspection.
"That's... pretty much what he told me earlier."
Hartford frowned. "And John?"
"I"m not his father," Derek repeated.
"Yeah, but he looks at you like..."
"He never knew his father," Derek said, quietly. "I've been working with them, living with them, except for a boyfriend of his mom's awhile back..."
"I get the picture," Hartford said. "It's making you uncomfortable, though, isn't it?"
"Helping to raise the future savior of the entire human race is kind of a high pressure job," Derek said with a shrug.
"That's not all of it," Hartford said.
"Yes, it is," Derek said, shortly. But it wasn't. He didn't want this generally affable, human, *caring* teenager to turn into the cold, callus general that Derek knew him as. And yet, if the world was to survive, that was exactly what had to happen.
It was a responsibility he wasn't entirely happy with fulfilling.
"What?" Derek asked, when he realized that Hartford was still staring.
"You look like one of my Rangers when they don't want to tell me something," Hartford said.
At that moment, a sound not unlike a herd of elephants came down the stairs. John appeared a moment later, Rose close on his heels.
"If you're in that much of a hurry, you should have used the poles," Hartford said.
John looked at Rose, his eyes wide. "You guys have poles and you didn't tell me?"
"You took off so fast it was all I could do to keep up!" Rose said.
Hartford gave her a strange look.
"What? I'm not Ronny!"
"We were talking at the climbing wall," John said, fingers flying over the keys, "and I was talking about how the reduction algorithms kept making everything go all wonky..."
"...and I suggested maybe he needed to use the..."
Derek, Andrew Hartford, and Rose crowded around the screen as the letters and numbers resolved into images.
"Huh?" Derek asked. "It looks like a cyborg's HUD display, but there's no picture."
"I'm reading the chip off Mr. Hartford's input device. It's basically got the database query function lined up through the keyboard," John said, fingers flying across the keys.
He typed in "Andrew Hartford" and pressed return.
The response came up, "surveillance target. Protect from resistance activity. Has working prototype. Prevent contact with resistance operatives who may compromise mission."
"Not thinking too hard are they?" Derek asked. "You're just as important to the resistance as you are to Skynet."
John was scrubbing his forehead.
"What's wrong, John?"
"If we'd stayed away, it probably never would have attacked," John said.
"Read the rest."
"Allow target to reach target objectives before termination," John said. "Oh."
"Yeah, oh, that was a ticking time bomb," Derek said.
"So why don't I feel like I scored one for the good guys?"
"A couple dozen traumatized little kids?" Rose asked.
"You're think they're traumatized now, wait 'til J-day," Derek said.
John threw Derek a glare, then got up and left.
Hartford and Rose stared at Derek.
"What's your problem?" Derek asked
"He was looking for comfort," Rose said, still staring. "Not that."
"We have a word for comfort in the future, it's called lying," Derek said. He turned, following John up the stairs.
John had returned to the lounge area and plopped down on the couch next to a very uncomfortable looking Sarah.
"What happened?" Sarah asked.
"We're done here," Derek said.
"And the android?" Ronny asked.
"Sent to make sure Hartford invented what he was supposed to and then didn't make it to help the resistance," Derek said. "Don't worry, they'll only send the one. If not, well, blast it." He turned to Sarah. "Let's go."
John hauled himself up, heading towards the door, without even going through the motions of saying goodbye. Until he bumped into Ronny, who grabbed him and gave him a big hug. "Take care of yourself kid."
"Good luck," Rose added--she'd raced up almost at Derek's heels and hugged John as well.
"Um, thanks, I think," John said, accepting fist bumps from the guys as an impatient Derek bounded out towards the truck.
"Why so anxious to leave?" Sarah asked.
Derek glanced up at the front door to the mansion where Cameron stood. He didn't want the metal to hear the whole truth, so he settled for, "The less they know about the future, the better."
Sarah studied him intently, but didn't say anything.
"Come on, John, let's move out," Derek shouted.
"He's a boy, not a soldier," Sarah reminded him.
"In four years, he has to be a soldier," Derek reminded her.
"We'll stop it," Sarah said confidently.
Derek raised an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, Sarah, you keep telling yourself that."
"Keep telling herself what?" John asked, having finally extricated himself from the Rangers and approached the Ram.
Derek frowned, "Don't worry about it, let's go."
John muttered something under his breath, but Derek couldn't make it out.
"He does; he worries," Cameron said, succinctly.
Derek gave the metal an odd look, then started the engine.
The sooner they got away from the Power Rangers, the better he would feel.