If Bridge had learned one thing from his years at SPD, it was that his roommate, Sky Tate, was not a morning person.
It was true that every day, from Monday to Saturday, the blue ranger woke at the crack of dawn, intent on pursuing a strenuous training regimen. But on Sunday mornings, nothing would force him out of bed before 8:00am. Nothing, that is, short of what Bridge called the four D's - Death, Disaster, Disease, and Doggie.
This was why Bridge experienced strong feelings of both puzzlement and worry when he woke, one Sunday morning, to find Sky already gone. His first thought was one of panic. Something was terribly wrong.
Maybe Sky had fallen victim to one of Boom's inventions, and had been turned invisible. Or maybe C-squad had pulled a terrible prank, causing Sky to finally lose his mind and join that dance troupe in the Orion Nebula.
Or, worst of all, Piggy had kidnapped him in an effort to blackmail the state into renewing his restaurant license.
No, he reasoned, nothing so terrible could have happened. Sky's bed was made, his side of the room perfectly tidy. His roommate hadn't left in a hurry - most likely, Bridge concluded, he was training somewhere nearby, having convinced himself that his independent training had failed, and that it was necessary to redouble his efforts.
On Sunday morning. At six a.m.
Bridge grimaced at the thought and immediately felt guilty about it. A ranger's duty, he reminded himself, was never done. Quickly changing into his uniform, he ran a hand through his perpetually messy hair, and went in search of his friends.
"Hi, everyone!" Bridge said cheerfully, shuffling into the rec room. Everyone mumbled a greeting – everyone, that is, except for Sky. At first Bridge thought the blue ranger hadn't heard him.
"Good morning, Sky," he repeated, crossing the room to sit next to his friend, who took one glance at Bridge and slumped further down in his chair, an embarrassed look on his face.
"...morning, Bridge," Sky mumbled hastily, blushing bright red. Refusing to meet Bridge's eyes, the blue ranger grabbed his datapad and hurriedly left the room.
"What's wrong with him?" Bridge asked the others, who looked amused and in Syd's case, a little guilty. "What's going on?"
Z grinned. "Let's just say that it ends in 'e' and begins with..." But before the she could finish, Syd covered her mouth with a perfectly manicured hand.
"It doesn't matter," she said defensively. Z shot her an incredulous look, and managed a muffled protest. The pink ranger shook her head. "No, Z. It's not important to anyone but Sky."
Bridge blinked. "But if something's bothering him, shouldn't we try to help? We're his friends, and if I was bothered by something, I would want my friends to help me out, so... maybe I should ask him?"
"No, don't!" Syd exclaimed. Z nodded furiously, her mouth still covered by Syd's hand. Both looked at him, hoping that he would side with them.
Bridge sighed inwardly and considered his options. Either way, one girl would be upset at him. However, a disappointed Z was much easier to deal with than an angry Syd. "Oh... okay. I guess it's nothing," he agreed, and waited until the pair went back to watching television.
'Even if they won't tell, I'll find out what's bothering Sky,' Bridge thought. 'I'm sure that, somehow, I can help.'
After all, he owed his friend that much.
It was nearly mid-afternoon, and already his squad had fought three giant robots, confined sixteen criminals and suffered through an exceedingly long and boring lecture from Cruger on the value of strategy and working with, instead of against, one's surroundings.
Sky had seemed distracted, even to the point of Cruger reprimanding him for inattentiveness. The blue ranger had left the lecture in a deflated mood, and Bridge hadn't seen him since.
''What could be bothering him?' Bridge thought, pacing the length of his empty room. 'Ends in 'e'..." He paced some more. 'What ends in 'e'?
He looked out the window for a moment, observing two cadets eating a quick lunch on the grounds. 'Well... apple? Maybe, but I don't think that Sky would be bothered by an apple. He's kind of stoic.'
He thought some more. 'Pale? Has he looked pale recently?' He considered how Sky looked during the lecture, and earlier in the rec room. 'No, he looked pretty healthy to me.'
He had to think really hard to come up with the next one.
'Solstice? Could the solstice be upsetting him?' Bridge considered what he knew about his roommate. Sky was notoriously close-lipped when it came to personal matters, but he knew the blue ranger wasn't close to his family, which was one reason he almost never went on vacation. 'It's kind of a special day. But it's not a holiday, or anything. And Sky doesn't celebrate things like that. So why would something he doesn't celebrate bother him?'
Having no answer to that question, he shook his head, and returned to brainstorming.
Bridge frowned. 'This is harder than it looks,' he thought. 'But what else ends in 'e'?'
'Waffle?' He dismissed the idea almost immediately. 'No, Sky wouldn't be bothered by waffles. He likes waffles. I must be hungry, because I keep coming up with answers that have to do with food.' His stomach grumbled, as if in agreement, and Bridge glanced at his watch.
'Well, I could always go for a walk and get a snack. And maybe then I'll be able to figure out what's bothering Sky.'
The hot dog stand was across from a tiny pharmacy, which was so inconspicuous that Bridge had never noticed it – at least, not until today. The front window was covered with advertisements, one of which was a poster of a woman with long, luxurious red hair.
However, what caught Bridge's attention was the sign beneath it. "30 PERCENT OFF ALL COLORS AND BRANDS OF HAIR DYE!" It declared, in bright yellow lettering.
'Dye ends in 'e'.' Bridge realized suddenly. 'Maybe someone dyed Sky's clothes again? But if that had happened, he would be wearing red or pink or yellow, not blue. And he was definitely wearing blue the last time I saw him.'
Wandering through the aisles of the pharmacy, he overheard two teenagers talking near the make-up section. "It's a shame Revlon has discontinued so many of their hair colors," one girl was saying.
"I totally agree," said the other. "Where else am I going to find this color blonde?"
'Blonde ends in 'e',' Bridge realized. 'And Sky is kind of blonde. Not a bleach blonde or anything, but more like a dark blonde, or maybe a light brown.' Thinking back, he couldn't remember any time when Sky had had a different hair color. But what if that wasn't Sky's natural hair color? What if his color had been discontinued? Surely, that would be enough to upset anyone.
Bridge left the pharmacy, and hurried back to SPD headquarters.
As B-squad green ranger, Bridge had access to the personnel files of most of the staff of SPD – his teammates included. Cruger's rationale was that it was important for his team to know their teammates' strengths and weaknesses, and access to each other's files was part of the package.
Ignoring the text in Sky's file, he navigated straight to the pictures.
A photo from this year, in a blue SPD uniform. Same hair.
Last year, member of C-squad. A startled look on his face. Bridge stifled a laugh – he and Syd had conspired for weeks to sabotage that picture, and the plan had turned out perfectly.
The years before that. A young looking Sky, still with the same dark blonde hair.
Bridge sighed. Once again, he was up a dead end.
It was probably for the best, anyhow. Syd could change her hair color in order to match the seasons, but Sky as a redhead?
He just couldn't see it.
"Something that's bugging Sky..." Bridge wondered aloud, strolling down the corridor. "And it ends in 'e'. What could it be?" Sky was walking down the hallway towards him, but as soon as he spotted Bridge, the blue ranger hurried off in the opposite direction.
Bridge continued walking, feeling a little worried. 'Why did Sky leave so suddenly? What if... what if it's something about me?' He paused and considered the idea. 'He has been avoiding me recently.'
'Something about me that ends in 'e'.' Bridge thought about it for a moment. 'Well, my name. No, that's too obvious. Besides, it never bothered him before.'
'Glove? My gloves?' He looked at his hands, and turned them over. They looked the same as they always did. 'The more I think about this, the more confusing it gets!' Bridge thought, discouraged. 'At this rate, I'm never going to find out what's wrong with Sky.'
He ate dinner in the cafeteria, and for once, he had to eat alone - Syd, Z and Jack were all occupied with various pursuits, and Sky seemed to be avoiding him. 'Or maybe he's not avoiding me,' Bridge realized, looking down at his plate. 'What if it was something he ate? What foods end in 'e'?'
Bridge looked suspiciously at the cookie on the edge of his plate. He had long suspected that the chefs were guilty of poisoning the students and now, perhaps, he might be able to find proof.
Gingerly wrapping the cookie in a napkin, he threw his leftovers in the trash and went to the one place were he could investigate further – Kat's lab.
Kat was working at her desk, completely engrossed in her newest project. Trying to be inconspicuous, Bridge slid into a chair and, breaking a piece off the slightly stale cookie, put it under the microscope.
"Did you just put a cookie under my microscope?" Kat asked, without looking up from her work. Sometimes, Bridge could swear that the scientist had eyes in the back of her head. "It's not just a cookie," he defended. "It's a potential suspect in a poisoning."
"The poisoning of who?"
"Sky looked fine the last time I saw him," Kat said.
"Yes, but something's bothering him, and Z told me that it ended in 'e'. And I figured it might be 'bake', or 'cookie' or maybe even 'cake', now that I think about it."
Kat rolled her eyes but looked into the microscope anyhow. "There's something weird about this cookie, Bridge. Those look like... fish scales. Oh, that must be why they're so tasty."
Bridge made a face. "If that's what's in the cookies, no wonder Sky's acting weird!"
"Don't even think about investigating the kitchens," Boom warned, joining the conversation. "Many have tried..." he trailed off dramatically, "and failed."
"He would know," Kat said, returning to her work. "But really, Bridge, it's kind of unlikely. Food poisoning has a pretty fast onset in humans."
"Maybe..." Bridge replied, but he was already planning his raid on the kitchens.
It was 1:30 am, and he was dressed in all black. Except for the green socks, and he didn't have a choice about that. Bridge silently padded across the empty cafeteria, pausing in front of the kitchen doors. Pulling a key from an inside pocket, he repressed a slight twinge of guilt. He had stolen the key from a custodian – he didn't know exactly who, so there was no chance of returning it.
Sneaking past shelves of canned vegetable and fruits, Bridge passed several freezers filled with meat and dough. And, at the very back, a pile of sponges and a bag marked "Puppy Chow."
'Must be for the commander,' he thought. Gingerly moving the bag aside, he found what he was looking for – a stack of papers marked recipes. 'Let's see what we have here,' Bridge whispered to himself, pulling out a random page.
Twenty minutes had passed since he escaped the kitchens, and Bridge still felt nauseous. 'I'll never eat in the cafeteria, never again!' Bridge promised himself. 'The Friday pasta special... and the secret crunch in the Tuesday crunch cake.' Bridge shivered. 'And to think, I ate that stuff for all these years!'
'But... wait. Sky's been in the Academy for even longer than I have! He's eaten this stuff for so long that if it was going to make him sick, it would have happened already. So it must be something else.' Returning to his room, Bridge lay down on the bed and drifted off to sleep, still mulling over the question.
The solution was so simple, he didn't know why he hadn't thought of it earlier. The signs were all there.
Sky's nervous behavior during Cruger's briefing.
His reluctance to be near the commander... or anyone else, for that matter.
Bridge shook his head. Sky probably thought it was contagious. Wait? Was it? He hoped not, because he doubted that anti-lice shampoo would work on something like that.
But if Cruger had it, Kat probably did too. 'You're getting ahead of yourself, Bridge,' he thought. 'First things first.' During the next mission briefing, he watched Sky more closely than ever. The blue ranger still seemed distracted, troubled even...
As Cruger resumed his pacing in front of the rangers, Bridge leaned forward, hoping the catch a glimpse of the tiny culprits which were the cause of such torment to Sky.
He saw nothing except for a mass of black dreadlocks. And, suddenly, a pair of eyes and the front of a SPD uniform. 'Is there something wrong, Cadet Carson?' Cruger growled.
Bridge backed up a step, sliding back to his place in line. "Um..." Bridge hesitated, eying his commander a little uncomfortably. "Sir, can I discuss it with you privately?"
Cruger managed to look both annoyed and intrigued at the same time. "Very well. The rest of you are dismissed," he said, gesturing towards the rest of B-squad, who saluted and filed out of the command center.
Leading the green ranger to an empty corner, Cruger crossed his arms and waited. Hopefully, Bridge would be able to explain why some of his best cadets were behaving so strangely. With any luck, he would be able to quickly deal with the problem and his base would get back to normal. "Now, what is so interesting?"
Bridge coughed, suddenly realizing that this was a bad idea. Investigating all leads was a good thing but when that lead turned out to be your commanding officer... 'Well, it's too late now,' Bridge thought. "Sir, please don't take this the wrong way. But..." The green ranger trailed off.
"Out with it, Cadet!" Cruger barked, at the end of his patience.
"Do you have fleas?"
Before today, Bridge had never realized exactly just how many tiles there were in the entrance to SPD headquarters. In fact, he had never really considered who cleaned them and how it was done. However, he was pretty sure it wasn't normally done with a rag and a bucket.
The green ranger sighed. This would clearly take hours. 'And to think, all I wanted to know was what was bothering Sky,' he thought, wringing out the rag.
It wasn't long, however, before someone noticed him and came to investigate. "Bridge, what are you doing?" Z asked curiously, crouching down next to him.
Bridge mumbled something incoherent.
"I said, Cruger gave me detention."
"For what?" Bridge almost never got in trouble!
"Well," Bridge put down the rag and looked up from his cleaning. "I wanted to know what was bothering Sky, and so..." Bridge took a deep breath, and told her the whole story, right from the beginning. "...and I was so sure the problem was Cruger's mane." Bridge concluded, shaking his head regretfully.
Z laughed. She started to say something but instead began to laugh once more.
"What's so funny?" Bridge asked, a little annoyed.
"It's just..." A girlish giggle escaped her mouth. "You should really talk to Sky."
Bridge sighed and went back to scrubbing the floors. "Can't you just tell me?"
Z shook her head. "I can't. I mean, it wouldn't be right." She got up to leave. "Well, I'm late. I have to go meet Jack. Good luck, Bridge."
And so Bridge went back to cleaning the entranceway, no closer to the answer than before.
Two days passed before Bridge finally managed to corner Sky.
"Sky? Can I talk to you?" Bridge asked, catching the blue ranger by his sleeve. 'Why is he so uncomfortable around me?' He wondered, cursing his psychic powers. 'If I were a true telepath, this would be easy!'
Sky struggled to think up an excuse, any reason to avoid this conversation. "I... er... um..." The blue ranger look at the floor and then the ceiling, anywhere but at Bridge. "Can this... wait?" He asked.
"Oh, okay," Bridge agreed, without thinking.
"Thanks," Sky mumbled, extremely relieved. He hurried away, leaving Bridge to wonder exactly where their conversation had gone wrong. Looking around, the only unusual thing he could see was a group of police dogs and their cadet trainers, clearly heading to a practice exercise.
"Ends in 'e'," Bridge wondered. "Great Dane?" He looked at the dogs, then at Sky's retreating figure, and then back to the dogs.
Bridge thought about it for a moment. "Probably not," he decided and wandered towards the rec room.
The rec room appeared to be empty when he arrived, with all the cadets gone on training exercises or various missions. "I give up!" Bridge said loudly, throwing himself on the couch. Rolling over, he dangled upside down, watching the seconds tick by on the clock. "At this rate, I'm never going to discover what's bothering Sky!"
Bridge nearly fell off the couch when someone cleared their throat nearby. Looking around for the source of the noise, he finally noticed Sky, who was watching him from a chair in the corner.
"Oh," Bridge said awkwardly, getting to his feet. "Sorry, Sky. I didn't know you were in here. I... I guess you already heard but I have to ask you something. I've been trying to find a good time but there isn't one, so I'll just ask you now."
"I know you've been avoiding me, and that if I ask you this Syd will be mad at me, but I have to know. I'm your friend and I really want to help, but I don't know how because I don't know what's wrong. All I know is that it ends in 'e', and I tried everything, from dye to cookies to Cruger's mane and I still can't figure it out."
Sky smiled bitterly before answering. "Did you try love?"
"Wait! Love... that ends in 'e'!" Bridge exclaimed. "But who do you love? Is it Syd, or Z or Kat or..."
"It's you," he finally said, so softly that Bridge wasn't sure he heard it.
"It's you!" Sky shouted. "I love you!"
And, for the first time in his life, Bridge was stunned into silence. He was silent for so long that Sky got up to leave, his face burning in humiliation. "Forget it," the blue ranger said, turning away.
"Wait!" Bridge exclaimed, positioning himself between Sky and the door. His next words came out in a breathless jumble. "I didn't know you loved me, just because you hide it so well and I was hiding it too, but I thought you didn't like me, at least in that way and..." Acting on impulse, Bridge pulled Sky closer, capturing his lips in a kiss.
Sky stiffened in surprise before he responded in kind, deepening the kiss. But then he pulled away, an apprehensive look on his face. "Bridge, you're not just doing this to make me feel better, are you? Because if you don't like me..." he hung his head. "I'll understand."
Bridge looked up at his roommate, completely serious. "Sky?"
"You think too much," Bridge said, and kissed him again.