dare you to ask
chapters:1. dare you to ask
2. completely mutual
3. one in every crowd
4. squaring delta
6. invited in
7. arbitrary things
8. while the screens are dark
9. by any other name
10. thank you
He didn't ask. He just did it. They had all been ordered to stay away from the interdimensional portals, but that hadn't stopped Summer and she'd come back with the wildest story he'd ever heard. Dr. K didn't put much stock in it, but he'd heard Scott and Summer talking it over in low voices several times since.
They needed more information. Whether there was anything to the wacky animal spirits story or not, there was obviously someone on the other side who thought there was, and whatever that person knew could be helpful. Even if they were a little strange in the head.
Dillon figured asking wouldn't get him anywhere, so he walked into Jungle Karma Pizza the moment it opened and immediately found himself one continent and a considerably better atmosphere away. He also found the place empty. The time difference meant that the early morning sun hadn't found its way over the building and through the windows yet, and the floor was deserted.
"Hello?" he called, turning in a careful circle to make sure he hadn't missed any sleeping tigers or anything. He'd heard footsteps overhead the first time they'd been here, and judging by the sporadic pattern they weren't doing anything business-related up there. Residential loft was his best guess.
"Anyone home?" he said, raising his voice. "I can come back." Except that he was wearing his tracking bug, and Dr. K was going to chew him out enough for doing this once. Depending on whether she acted more disappointed or annoyed, it might not be worth doing a second time.
His ears picked out footsteps: hurrying footsteps, so he assumed they could hear him. Two sets of footsteps, even, though only one of them was coming down the stairs. He turned to face the kitchen door and waited.
The tiger guy burst through the door a second later, bright red t-shirt and weird eyes and a kind of half-smile on his face. "Hey," he said, and it sounded friendly and welcoming despite the fact that his posture screamed get the hell out. "We were hoping you'd come back."
"Right," Dillon said, eyeing him. "Summer said you think you know what's going on."
"No clue," the guy said. "But Aisha's staying with us, and she's got an idea. It's pretty wild."
"Yeah." Summer had provided the woman's name and as many of the details as she could remember. "Alternate timelines? Held together by some sort of crystal thing? As our planet's biofield weakens, we draw more and more energy from yours?"
"Sounds about right," the guy agreed. His unspoken aggression had dropped a couple notches. "She's upstairs. You have time to talk?"
Dillon raised an eyebrow. "You mean, is there someone back in Corinth who'll consider my reason for visiting before hitting me with one of her damn training cannons for disobeying orders? No.
"Am I interested enough to stay anyway?" he added. "Yes."
"Red Ranger?" Casey asked, turning to wave him into the kitchen.
Dillon snorted. He could take Scott. "I wish."
It wasn't so much that they forgot what Dillon was as it was that they'd never really known to begin with. They'd all kind of gotten used to him not knowing things about Corinth, or having weird blind spots when it came to pop culture, or taking things that were obviously jokes way too literally. They were more used to him showing off his short-term memory, or leaping down entire flights of stairs.
Occasionally, though, he came out with something that even in retrospect seemed unexpected. Like his argument with Dr. K (and it would be an argument with Dr. K, Ziggy thought, because when else did Dillon actually have to work at what he was doing?) over the cause of the interdimensional portals. None of them actually had any idea what the cause was, but Dillon was at least willing to consider the opinion of the people on the other side.
Dr. K was not, and she let all of them know it. "This is a scientific project, not a religious movement," she said, after Dillon mentioned animal spirits one too many times. "We are not setting up altars to the gods of the natural world."
"Oh, excuse me for not finding your terminology so different," Dillon retorted. "Your miracle 'breakthrough' was the ability to access a universal bioelectric field that connects the life force of all living things. I didn't realize throwing the word 'electric' in there made it scientific; you want me to try mine again?
"This planet is in trouble," he repeated, before she could answer, "and its bioelectric field can't support the constant operation of Corinth's defenses. Specifically those suits. Every time we power them up we're drawing supplementary electric current through interdimensional circuit breakers. Better?"
"Completely implausible." Dr. K dismissed the idea without looking up. "The universal biofield is a localized phenomenon; it isn't a cross-dimensional force. There's absolutely no reason for it to affect other fields through a 'circuit breaker,' as you call it."
"There was no reason for your robotic suits to bend time and space, either," Dillon told her. "Surprise."
"There was a reason," she countered. "We just didn't know what it was until after they did it."
"Well, then, here's a crazy idea," Dillon said. "Why don't we try to figure out what's happening now, and worry about why it's happening later?
"I can see perfectly well what's happening." Dr. K hadn't even looked away from her screen yet, and it was obviously making Dillon crazy. "The ability of your morphers to act as capacitors for bioelectric energy causes them to overcome weak points in the dimensional fabric. In extreme cases, such as the strong and proximal presence of familiarly channeled energy, this enables interdimensional transit for the operator."
"What are you, like Einstein and electromagnetism?" Dillon demanded. "If you can't fit it into your unified theory of everything then it must not be true?"
"That was relativity and quantum mechanics," she said without lifting her head.
"Yeah, he had multiple blind spots," Dillon snapped. "That doesn't sound like anyone I know."
Ziggy glanced over at the door where Summer had come to listen but hadn't yet dared to wade in. She caught his eye, eyebrows raised, and he pointed at them. She shrugged. He shook his head, baffled all over again that Dillon could apparently reference Einstein but had never heard of Apollo 13.
"Fine," Dr. K said, taking her hands off of the keyboard and folding them in front of her. She looked up at him with an impatient expression on her face. "Convince me."
"There was a crystal," Dillon said. He pointed at her and added, "I don't want to hear it. There was a crystal, okay, and it was really powerful or whatever. Some Rangers destroyed it, supposedly so no one could use it for--" He waved a hand. "Bad things. Then they ended up having to put it back together so they could use it. Really effective.
"Anyway, this woman on the other side of the JKP portal... Aisha? She was one of the ones trying to put it back together. They needed it because some other rock had screwed up their timeline or something. She was looking for the last piece when she changed her mind, gave up Rangering, moved to Africa--pretty thorough when it came to quitting.
"The timeline was so messed up by this other rock that it split," Dillon continued. "In her world, she gave the last piece of the magic timeline-fixing crystal to someone else and they took care of it while she stayed in Africa. In our world, she came back. She put the crystal back together herself."
Dr. K was still staring up at him. "Fascinating," she said, deadpan. "This is clearly relevant; I'm glad we've taken the time to cover this imaginary backstory. May I get back to work now?"
"No," Dillon told her. "There's no Venjix in her world because she stayed in Africa. But her timeline is still linked to ours through the crystal. Those interdimensional portals? They're not one way."
"Obviously," Dr. K said. "Since you can come back through them."
"Their Ranger teams are sending us energy," Dillon insisted. "Most of them without even knowing it. Their unified biofield is feeding ours. They're keeping us alive, Doc."
Dr. K frowned. One finger tapped against the top of her folded hands, absently, like she was trying to key something without realizing it. If Ziggy'd had to guess, he would have said she was trying to figure out how sharp an insult it would take to get Dillon to go away, since nothing she'd tried so far had worked.
She surprised him instead by saying, "What's so special about this Aisha? What does it matter whether she stayed in Africa or not? She didn't create Venjix."
Later, it would occur to Ziggy to wonder why Dr. K was so certain of that. Right now, though, the way Dillon bent over and braced his arms against Dr. K's desk was distracting and funny and totally exclusive. He knew Ziggy was listening, and he had to know Summer was behind him. But he wasn't talking to them at all.
"It wasn't her," he said. "It was the person who replaced the person she sent back to fix the crystal for her. The person she didn't pick when she did it herself."
Dr. K didn't move, but she must have followed that because she asked, "Who?"
"Ashley Hammond," Dillon said.
Dr. K kind of relaxed. Ziggy added that to his list of weird things she did for a reason he hadn't figured out yet. "Never heard of her," she said abruptly. "Is this important?"
"It was in Aisha's world," Dillon replied. "Girl's team goes into space, hooks up with an alien, she falls in love. Convinces him to care about Earth. The guy keeps an eye on the place. Catches the whole Venjix thing before it even made headlines and blows it straight to hell. Problem solved. Fun guy."
Dr. K just stared at him. After a long moment she said, "What an absurd thing to base a timeline on."
Dillon smirked, but he didn't look away either. "Tell me about it."
Huh, Ziggy thought, watching them. Funny thing about that. If there was one thing he knew, it was people and how to read them. And any evidence that Dillon had a crush on Dr. K was outweighed by the evidence that it was completely mutual.
He wasn't totally sure why they had to interrupt their day to be part of some tour a bunch of schoolkids had won. He knew Scott's dad had asked. He also knew Scott's dad had asked Scott, not Dr. K, because Dr. K never would have agreed. But Scott was willing to do his dad a favor, and the rest of them were willing to do Scott a favor. Mostly.
Actually, Flynn and Ziggy didn't seem to mind at all. Summer definitely fell into the "doing Scott a favor" category, though, and he thought Dr. K had agreed only because Ziggy begged. Or because she didn't trust them to represent her project, even to a bunch of ten-year-olds. He didn't ask.
The irony of Dr. K giving them the "don't say too much" speech beforehand eluded exactly no one, but Dillon was too busy trying to imagine her talking to the press to call her on it and no one else bothered. She must have done it, right? A lab like that, with a project like this... how could she not have been in front of reporters?
He assumed there were records of it. He'd have to look it up when they got back. If only to see if she had always worn the same cutesy uniform under her lab coat.
Not that he cared what she wore. She could run in it, she could fight in it; what else mattered? Nothing.
It took him two seconds to memorize the six kids on the tour. He amused himself by committing everything else about the tower to memory as well, classified and non-classified alike. He assumed the military didn't realize he could isolate and duplicate all of those passwords they were entering on the other side of the room.
He turned his attention to the whiteboard briefly, because apparently Dr. K's "presentation" consisted of explaining the unified biofield theory to--
He looked at her math for longer than he needed to, then switched to watching her. Interesting. What was the purpose of that? And how did she manage to look so completely serious while she talked about it?
The question and answer session afterwards was less entertaining, except for Michael and his question about spandex. Dr. K's reaction was predictable. It was also, as far as Dillon was concerned, the best part of the tour. He drew the line at threatening kids, but she let him hold her back and only batted at his hands until he stopped covering her mouth. She stood there for almost a minute afterwards, his hands on her shoulders and her whole body practically vibrating with indignation.
He tried not to smile, but he couldn't help it. The kid had no idea what he'd done. Dillon should probably thank him... he was going to make fun of her for almost assaulting a ten-year-old until something funnier came along.
It could be a while.
"Shotgun!" Ziggy called, darting around Dillon as the vehicle came into sight.
Scott didn't even run and he still got there first. "Nice try," he said, opening the passenger side door and climbing in. "But I do have the coolest hair."
"Okay, one, that is entirely untrue," Ziggy complained, opening the back door. "And two, why does it mean you get to ride in the front?"
Dillon opened the door on the other side and waited for Dr. K to climb in. "Logically," she said, searching for her seatbelt as she settled beside Ziggy, "Ranger Red is best equipped to absorb energy, thus in the event of an accident stands the best chance of surviving a head-on collision."
"Thanks, Doc," Scott said dryly. "Appreciate the vote of confidence."
"Excuse me, but I seem to recall someone asking me to drive," Flynn said indignantly. "What's all this with crashing and survivors? Would you like to drive?"
"I can't drive," she said.
The brief silence that followed was broken by Dillon slamming the door behind them. "You're kidding," he said. "You can't drive."
"I'm physically capable of it," she said. "I'm not legally allowed. I never got a Corinth license, and my military exemption expired two months ago."
"Uh, maybe this is a stupid question," Ziggy said, "but... why?"
"Too busy," she said simply.
Oh. So, yeah. Stupid question.
"Well, you're in luck," Flynn said, already over his protest and waving out the window to Summer as she suited up. When Ziggy craned his neck, he could see her snapping her motorcycle helmet into place and giving him a thumbs-up in return. "It's na like there's a shortage of willing drivers on this team."
"A shortage of competent ones, perhaps," Dr. K remarked, and Ziggy was pretty sure every single one of them thought she was talking about him.
"Come on, Doc," Dillon said, smirking. "They're not that bad."
Except for Dillon, who had gone exactly four and a half days without a Corinth license before the voice of Dr. K told him not to be late for his driving test. And that if he failed, he could expect to find a boot on his car when he returned. Probably an empty threat, considering that Dillon was... well, Dillon, but he'd returned with a license anyway.
"They're not the ones I was talking about," Dr. K informed him.
Ziggy saw Scott and Flynn grin at each other up front, but Dillon just drawled, "Prove you can do better, and I'll consider being insulted."
She crossed her ankles neatly in front of her and folded her hands in her lap, looking for all the world like a meek schoolgirl. Her reply was deceptively innocent. "You don't think I'd design equipment I can't test, do you?"
Deceptive. That was it. It finally occurred to Ziggy that she did it on purpose: her appearance wasn't a result of not caring, it was a result of military training. She was, as Dillon himself had observed, too valuable to be seen as important. And so she hid. Behind a screen, a cloak, an anonymous labcoat.
Behind a letter.
"What do we have to do to get on the volunteer test list?" Flynn was asking.
"Where do you think you are right now?" Dr. K replied.
"Best prototypes ever," Scott declared. "I'll be your guinea pig any day."
"But it's safe, right?" Ziggy wanted to know. "I mean, mostly? Come on, you guys have been using this stuff for a year. And you're..." He gestured vaguely. "Kind of normal."
"Yeah, we've been using our suits," Scott said.
"No need to worry," Flynn said cheerfully. "Dillon's was the really dangerous one. Series Green was just an intermediate step. Right, Doc?"
"Each of the operator suits bends time and space in such a way as to support a unique function," she said. "The first three suits have certainly undergone more rigorous testing in the course of necessary use and priority defense. Series Black includes a complete reversal of the original function, while Series Green is simply a new application of a pre-existing concept."
"Okay," Ziggy said, holding up his hands. "Do you want me to pretend I understood that, or should we just go with 'it's only half as experimental as Dillon's' and therefore, I should point out, three times as likely to kill me given that I'm not a Venjix-enhanced cyborg!"
"One in six when it comes to your relative chances of surviving as Operator Series Black is too generous," she said flatly. "I'd give you one in ten." She glanced sideways at him and repeated, "Relative to Dillon. And only theoretically."
"You think it would kill him," Dillon translated before Ziggy could answer. "And you figure there's a ten percent chance it'll kill me?"
Her tone didn't change. "Does that bother you?"
Dillon narrowed his eyes at her. "Numbers bore me."
"Yes, I could see that," she said. "At least you managed to stay awake."
This prompted an immediate protest from the driver's seat as Flynn tried to claim that he hadn't been sleeping, only working through the equations in his head. Ziggy would have smiled, except that Dillon was leaning back in his seat in his "I'm pretending not to challenge you" pose. "Do you always do that?" he asked idly.
Dr. K gave him a sharp look. "Do what?"
"Fill the board with random symbols that you narrate in meaningless ways until someone thanks you," Dillon replied.
Oh, see, Scott shouldn't have gotten the front seat after all. They should have put Dr. K up there, because letting her sit next to Dillon was clearly a bad idea. Ziggy had thought that even letting them stand next to each other during the presentation was a mistake, but Dillon had mostly been right the one time he grabbed her coat and clapped a hand over her mouth, and no one could really blame her for hitting him in return.
It didn't look very professional, though.
"The fact that you didn't understand it doesn't make it meaningless," Dr. K informed him.
"It was gibberish," he said. "Were you having fun with the kids, or trying to keep your work off the cameras? Because seriously, I could have made up something more plausible."
"You're bluffing," she said.
"You squared delta," Dillon said. "It's an undefined variable, you can't manipulate it in a vacuum."
"Don't try to follow my math when you can't understand my shorthand," she retorted.
"You wrote x is less than s is less than x!"
"Those were resultant inequalities for two totally separate conditional phrases!" she snapped. "They didn't relate to each other!"
"Yeah, I read the conditionals," he told her. "They were based on numbers that are by definition reciprocal! You set them equal to each other!"
Dr. K sat back in her seat and folded her arms, glaring straight ahead. Ziggy let out the breath he'd been holding, because if she conceded, they probably wouldn't come to blows. Scott and Flynn were very quiet up front, watching the street slide away underneath them.
"The cameras in the tower run constantly," Dr. K said at last. "They feed into an encrypted database that would take Venjix approximately six minutes to crack, given uninterrupted access. I'm not willing to say that can't happen."
"Okay, wait," Ziggy blurted out. "Dillon's right? You really just made that stuff up?"
She gave him a look. "I made all of it up. That's what I do. It would be more precise to say that some of it works and some of it doesn't. And the research that the military has... doesn't."
Ziggy saw Flynn glance at Scott, who held up his hands and shook his head. "It's her work," Scott said. His voice was loud enough for all of them to hear. "She can do what she wants with it."
For some reason, Dr. K didn't have anything to say to that.
"Oh," Ziggy said, sitting up straight as he caught sight of a sign down the road. "Is that ice cream? Can we stop? I haven't had ice cream since--I mean, it's been months."
"Ice cream?" Dillon repeated.
"See, we totally have to stop," Ziggy insisted. "Dillon hasn't even had ice cream! Why don't we have ice cream at the garage? Can I do the shopping next week?"
"No," Scott and Flynn said at the same time, which he thought was unfair, but they were slowing down. Flynn put on his directional, and Ziggy grinned over at Dillon. Dillon's mouth quirked in return, and they both glanced at Dr. K.
She didn't look like she hated the idea. Which for her was practically a rare endorsement. He wondered what kind of ice cream a super top secret scientist pretending to be no one in particular would order.
Maybe they were about to find out.
Dillon actually did remember ice cream, in the vague way of knowing what it was and what it should taste like. He just didn't remember having eaten it before. The lack of specifics didn't preclude a general fondness for it, though: like the jacks, he somehow thought that he liked ice cream. He just didn't have any idea why.
"Careful," Summer said, her amused tone making him glance across the picnic table at her. "Stare at it any harder and it might melt under the force of your glare."
He shook his head, holding up his spoon in her direction. "I'm pretty sure I can take yours if anything happens to mine."
"Oh, you're pretty sure, are you?" Summer grinned at him. "Don't mistake enjoyment for apathy. I think you're surrounded by the people most likely to put up a fight."
Ziggy and Flynn were already gone, flitting around the manicured edges of the seating area while the rest of them watched from their table. Flynn had put away his sundae in a ridiculous amount of time--Scott thought smoothie consumption helped him build up a resistance to ice cream headaches--and Ziggy had gotten up when he did, cone in hand, to trail him around the picturesque patio. If the idea hadn't seemed so strange, Dillon would have said they were trading gardening tips.
"Likely to fight doesn't mean likely to win," Dillon told her, casting an eye over the table. Next to Summer, Scott only smirked, but across the table--beside Dillon--Dr. K frowned and moved her dish away from him when he glanced her way.
"Oh, you don't want to go there," Summer said. "Trust me on this one."
Dillon flicked his spoon aside and pointed at his own bowl. "Nothing wrong with mine. No one else's is in danger."
"I dispute the implication that anyone else's would be, were that not the case," Dr. K remarked. "Your history of follow-through when it comes to threats is limited."
Oh, he didn't want to go there? He glared at her, peripherally aware of Summer making an almost non-existent effort to stifle the giggles. "Say, Doc," he drawled. "What happens if you spill something on that pretty white coat of yours?"
"I don't spill things," she said primly.
"Theoretically," he said. "Would you take it off?"
She gave him that look like his brain might be missing. "It's the beginning of March," she said. "Why would I take my coat off?"
"It's the beginning of March in a climate-controlled dome," he said. Pushing the ice cream in his bowl with the back of his spoon, he let the melted part pool against the side. Summer and Scott were giving each other looks, and he couldn't tell whether they were more likely to stop him or to help. "It wouldn't look very professional to walk around in a stained lab coat, would it?"
"I told you," she said, "I don't--"
Dillon lifted the spoon out of his bowl and tipped it over the pristine white tail of her coat. "Oops," he said. "My mistake. I should have threatened you first, right? Otherwise it doesn't really say anything about my follow through."
Her eyes flicked to the corner of her coat, which she considered for a moment before lifting her gaze to his. "Well, it certainly doesn't say anything about your sense of common courtesy."
"Yeah, we're both known for that," he scoffed. He tried not to feel like a jerk in the face of her calm non-reaction. "I don't know why you'd expect--"
He didn't realize why she was dipping her finger into her ice cream until it was too late. It was possible he was too distracted by the fact she was doing it at all to think about what it meant. Crazy computer screen Doc K, playing with her food?
She'd swiped an "X" over the Ranger stripes on his leather jacket before he processed the fact that she was reaching for him. With sticky, melted, butter pecan ice cream. On leather. This was war.
"You," Dillon said dangerously, sticking his finger in his own ice cream, "have ice cream on your face."
He was aware of Scott's snicker, Summer's wide eyes, the sound of Ziggy chattering rapid-fire about some shrub he'd seen once to Flynn. He was aware of his own heartbeat, faster than normal and he had no idea why. He was aware of the way everything, everything in Corinth seemed to be so inanely beautiful as he reached for her face.
"Don't touch me." Her tone was cold enough to freeze him where he was.
He didn't understand why she added, "When you're no better," until the cool brush of her thumb traced melted ice cream under one eye and then the other. He couldn't explain why his reflexes failed him, but when he grabbed for her hand she was just gone. She wasn't sitting next to him anymore.
She was standing behind him. Hands clasped in front of her as he whirled, wiping ice cream off his face, her politely inquisitive expression was marred only by the hint of a smile. Her eyes had lightened, and her mouth quirked at the corners like she couldn't quite contain it.
"It's on now," he warned.
She didn't move. "Is that supposed to be a threat?"
He was on his feet in a split-second, hands closing on nothing. She was fucking gone again; how did she move like that? He was the fastest person on this team, and he couldn't--
Dillon's eyes narrowed. A second calculated lunge gave him velocity based on present and prior location: speed and direction both. He was faster. She was just unpredictable. But that was what made him better than Tenaya: intuition.
He saw her, every fraction of a second between conception and capture... the way her coat billowed as she spun, the way her hair swirled around her face, the way she dropped to evade him and didn't so much as flinch when it didn't work. She squeaked when his arm went around her waist, but she wasn't scared. He got the feeling she'd expected him to make that correction sooner.
"Yeah," he said in her ear. "That was a threat."
She was laughing at him, honest-to-god laughter as their momentum carried them around, and he almost didn't put her down. He'd never heard Dr. K laugh. He couldn't hang onto her, though, not without--
"Well," she said, eyes dancing as he let her go. She cleared her throat and tugged her coat straight again. "It's reassuring to know that you occasionally mean what you say."
"I always mean what I say," he retorted. When her almost-smile dimmed, though, he muttered, "I just don't always... say everything."
She raised her eyebrows at him and he managed to hold her gaze, ignoring the way Ziggy and Flynn were staring and Scott and Summer were pretending not to. "I know you'll protect this city, Doc." He owed her that, after everything. "I know that."
Hands still holding the edges of her lab coat, she inclined her head. "Thank you," she said. "I trust you to do the same."
She was tugging her coat off before he could figure out whether he was supposed to answer or not. She offered it to him with an expectant look, sun soaking into her dark sweater and softening her face somehow. "I believe you and Series Green have the laundry rotation this week?"
"Lasagna's ready!" Flynn yelled, banging on one of the pans loud enough to make Ziggy wince. He wasn't crazy enough to leave the kitchen when a finely-honed food sense was telling him dinner was imminent, but he seemed to be in the minority. Summer was the only other one there.
"Come and get it!" Flynn called, tossing the pan aside and waving Summer over to the counter. "Come on, first serving for the lady. Prefer an inside piece or a corner?"
She'd shown up under the pretext of setting the table, then planted herself in front of the counter while Flynn worked around her. He'd made it clear that Ziggy was not allowed to do the same. In fact, when Ziggy began, "So, your parents..."
All Summer had to say was, "Really don't want to talk about it," and Flynn also made it clear that the subject wouldn't come up again except on pain of no lasagna for whoever mentioned it in Summer's presence.
Ziggy had asked her about her bike instead.
"Inside piece," Summer said, giving Flynn a bright smile when he deftly sliced into the middle and maneuvered a mostly square piece free. "Thanks, Flynn. It looks delicious."
"Aye, that it does," he agreed cheerfully. Jerking his head at Ziggy he added, "Well? Corner piece or side?"
"Wait, how come I don't get offered an inside piece?" Ziggy wanted to know.
"Because," Flynn said, rolling his eyes, "you're not as pretty as she is, are you. What'll it be?"
A crash from the garage, followed by a shouted apology from Scott, distracted all of them. Or maybe just Ziggy. Knowing as he did that anything Scott would actually apologize for probably involved bodily harm, and also that Dillon was the only other one out there with him, he turned around.
The front end of Scott's car was heaved up, being shoved aside even as Ziggy watched, and he winced as Dillon slid out from underneath it. He couldn't hear what Dillon said, but Scott offered him a hand up and Dillon only glared at him for a second or two before taking it. Nothing permanently disabling, then.
"I'll just be helping myself, then," Flynn was saying, and Ziggy jumped out of the way as Summer leaned around him with a second plate. "Thanks, love."
"A side piece!" Ziggy exclaimed. "Or a corner piece. No, definitely a--"
"Side piece it is," Flynn said, scooping one out and dropping it onto the plate in his hand. "Trade you. Come on, man, I havena got all day."
Ziggy swapped plates with him, grinned when Summer raised her fork in a mock toast, and followed her happily back to the table. They were all sitting down by the time Scott and Dillon arrived--Scott served himself first, looking around as he took his seat. "No Dr. K?"
Flynn snorted. "Good luck with that one. If you can get her out here, she's welcome."
"Dillon," Scott said, as Dillon set his plate back down on the table. "Go tell Dr. K we're eating."
"Tell her yourself," Dillon said, sitting down. "What is this?"
"This," Flynn said, "is the best vegetarian lasagna you'll ever taste. You're welcome."
"Thanks," Dillon muttered, digging his fork in.
"Dillon," Scott repeated. He jerked his head at the open training room doors when Dillon glanced at him. "We're missing someone."
Dillon's gaze flicked toward the doors. "If I could hear Flynn from underneath your car, she could hear him from in there."
"Oh, for the love of--" Summer set her fork down and got up, walking around the table and leaning past the doors. She knocked on the inside of the door, and they could all hear her call, "Dr. K?"
Ziggy didn't hear an answer, but maybe she leaned out from behind her computer or something because Summer continued, "We'd love to have you join us for dinner. Flynn made lasagna."
This time, they could all clearly hear her say, "I have work to do."
Dillon raised his voice without looking up from his plate. "You gotta eat, Doc."
"Yes, thank you." Dr. K's voice from around the corner was sharp. "I comprehend basic biology."
Dillon got up. Ziggy glanced at Flynn, found him not hiding a smile at all. The empty place at the table proved that Summer had, in fact, been expecting Dr. K, and that was the plate Dillon took over to the kitchen. He scooped out a piece of lasagna and headed for the training room.
"Hey!" Ziggy called after him. "You forgot a fork!"
Dillon just waved him off, brushing past Summer and disappearing around the corner. "Here," they heard him say a moment later. "Eat in here, see if we care."
There was a brief pause. Summer didn't move from the door, and Ziggy was pretty sure Scott and Flynn were trying to come up with a reason to go join her. Especially when Dillon said, "Oh, right, a fork. How forgetful of me. You know, Summer set one out on the table for you."
Ziggy saw Summer shrug, and he guessed Dr. K had just looked over at her. Then she drew back, turning away from the door and pretending to tiptoe back to the table. She flashed them all a grin and a double thumbs-up, though, and a few seconds later, Dillon and Dr. K came around the corner.
Holding her plate in her left hand, Dr. K raised her eyebrows at the entire table. "This notion of eating the same thing at the same time is not conducive to optimum performance."
"Didn't we talk about efficacy before?" Ziggy wondered aloud, and she frowned over at him. "No, I'm serious. It's like a... like a training scenario, right? You never know when you're going to have to depend on your teammates--you gotta know their reactions. This is an opportunity to observe each other outside of the expected battle parameters!"
"I'll say," Dr. K muttered. She sat down, though, and she looked like she might actually try the lasagna when the briefing screen behind them lit up with the city seal.
"Don't," Dillon began, pointing at her, "move. You just sat down."
"I believe the same could be said of everyone at the..." While she was looking around the table, though, Dillon was getting up. He'd pushed a button on the Super Remote before anyone else could act, and the screen switched to an image of Colonel Truman.
"Ranger Black," the colonel said, when Dillon just folded his arms and waited. "I was looking for Dr. K."
"Well, you got me," Dillon told him.
There was only the briefest hesitation before the colonel said, "I see. If you could let Dr. K know that there are two people here to see her, then. They claim to have come through an interdimensional portal from somewhere outside of Corinth City."
"Names?" Dr. K said sharply.
Colonel Truman looked toward the edge of the screen, but Dillon must have fixed the camera because it didn't look like he could see her. "Aisha Campbell and Taylor Earhardt," he said. "They claim to have been Power Rangers once themselves."
"Yeah, we've met 'em," Dillon said. "I'll come pick 'em up."
The colonel raised his eyebrows at the screen, but all he said was, "We're willing to turn them over to you in the presence of a military escort. Pending Dr. K's authorization."
"She's eating," Dillon said. "You can't get by without her for twenty minutes? What do you when shit happens at night?"
"Dr. K is on call twenty-four hours a day," Colonel Truman said stiffly. "As are we all. Including you, Ranger Black."
"I'll take custody of them," Dr. K interrupted. She'd turned around in her chair, but she hadn't actually gotten up yet. "Please have Corporal Hicks or Technician Vasquez bring them to the base at their earliest convenience."
Colonel Truman gestured to someone off-screen, then nodded at them. Or at Dillon, anyway. "You'll have them shortly, Dr. K. Control out."
Dillon turned, jerking his thumb at the screen after it had gone dark. "Did he just ignore me?"
"There's no need to stonewall him," Dr. K told him. "Colonel Truman performs adequately in the defense of this city. I've found him to be efficient and cooperative."
"Yeah?" Dillon came back, taking his seat beside her even as she turned to face the table again. "Well, I find him obnoxious and overbearing. No offense," he added, eyes flicking to Scott and then back to his plate.
"Shut up, Dillon." Scott sounded annoyed but not on the verge of physical retribution. That was better than most of the people Dillon insulted, so Ziggy figured they were okay.
"So, Aisha?" Flynn repeated. "The Aisha from JKP? Tale-telling Bear Ranger?"
Dillon didn't answer, probably because he didn't know any better than they did, so Ziggy jumped in. "Taylor's animal is the bear, too. Well, the eagle, but also the bear. Max says his whole team had multiple animals."
Dr. K was frowning at him. "Do I want to know when you were talking to Max?"
"Uh..." He glanced at Summer, who was pretending not to smile. "I don't know. Do you?"
"Maybe more importantly," Flynn remarked, "how did people from their dimension wind up over here? I saw someone try to walk through from Storm Chargers, and it didna work."
Dr. K must have known that, because she didn't look at him funny at all. "The portals clearly aren't one-way. They do, however, seem to be keyed to certain types of energy. At least on this side. There's no reason to think the same isn't true of the other side."
They all looked at her while she took another bite, and she looked up. Glancing around the table, she swallowed and added, "They probably had to find their own portal."
"Oh," Ziggy blurted out. She could have said that to begin with. "So now they can come visit us whenever they want?"
"I certainly hope not." She eyed him. "There are plenty of holes in this city's defenses as it is. Active interdimensional portals can't improve the situation."
"Hey, sometimes you gotta invite good people in to keep the bad ones out," Ziggy told her. "Am I right? Come on, I'm right. Who thinks I'm right?"
He held up his hand, and hey, Dillon raised his fork like he kind of agreed but didn't want to look stupid doing it. Flynn shrugged, but he lifted a hand, and Summer totally nodded. Scott didn't answer, but Dr. K replied, "I suppose you could say that's why you're here."
"Me?" Ziggy repeated.
"All of you," she said. "Except for Ranger Red. He was already here."
Summer got it first. "Before the city closed."
Dr. K inclined her head.
Before anyone else could comment, Dillon said, "I wasn't invited."
"I spent more time and resources recruiting you than the rest of this team put together," she answered without looking at him. "Don't sulk because you didn't get a handwritten thank you note."
Summer raised her hand, mischief in her eyes. "I got a handwritten thank you note," she said.
"Not from me," Dr. K replied.
"I was thanking you for saving my life," Scott said, and Ziggy assumed this was directed at Summer.
"Hey, I've saved your life," Flynn protested. "How come I didna get a thank you note?"
Ziggy knew the answer to this one. "Because," he said, nudging Flynn's elbow with the back of his hand. "You're not as pretty as she is."
"Oh, aye," Flynn said with a grin. "That would explain it."
Scott had a look on his face like, how did we get here? "Could we get back to the part about the two Rangers from another dimension who are currently on their way here for some unknown reason?"
"We're na gonna read their minds from here," Flynn pointed out.
"That would be a great suit superpower, though," Ziggy said.
"That would be a terrible superpower," Summer said. "One thing I've learned is that sometimes it's better not to know what people are thinking."
"I accept," Dillon said, out of nowhere.
No one batted an eye when Dr. K said, "Well, I'm not writing you a note."
Across the table, Ziggy saw Dillon smile.
"You realize we're outnumbered," Ziggy said, watching intently as Dillon demonstrated scrubbing with the jacks. "Also, who taught you that?"
It was almost midnight. The table was long since cleared, dishes done, and Vasquez was still standing guard at the door to the Ranger training room. The doors were locked open, and Dr. K had informed her that she was allowed inside. Dillon personally thought that Vasquez had instantly guessed what he and Ziggy had taken half an hour to figure out: nothing interesting was happening in there.
"I don't know," he said, bouncing the ball higher. It let him slow the movement down, since Ziggy didn't seem to be able to follow it otherwise. "I can't remember where I learned it."
"You remember how to play jacks, but you didn't know what Power Rangers were." Ziggy shook his head, leaning on his elbows as Dillon went through ones and twos, all the way up to six. "You, my friend, have some seriously weird gaps in that head of yours."
It didn't bother him as much as it once had. "They're not really gaps," he said, offering Ziggy the ball. "Kind of like the opposite. Like it's all blank, except for these arbitrary things that are just... blurry."
"Jacks," Ziggy said, as Dillon threw them down on the table. He bounced the ball, knocked two of the jacks out of the way, and completely failed to catch it on the way down. Dillon grabbed it before it could bounce off the table. "Thanks."
"Jacks," Dillon agreed. "Driving. The music. I don't know why."
Ziggy missed the jacks again but at least managed to catch the ball. "Dude, this is way harder than it looks."
Dillon tried not to smile. "It's really not," he said. "How are we outnumbered?"
"Women," Ziggy said, picking up a jack as the ball bounced away. Dillon caught it again. "There's five of them and only four of us."
Dillon frowned. "What does that mean?"
"It means we're outnumbered," Ziggy insisted, bouncing the ball again. He grabbed a jack, but it went flying as he reached for the ball. Dillon plucked the jack out of the air and tossed it back on the table. "They could carry out their secret plan for world domination and there wouldn't be anything we could do!"
"Don't we want them to dominate the world?" Dillon watched him almost pick up another jack. "Everyone keeps saying it was better before Venjix."
"Humans," Ziggy said. "We want humans to be in charge, instead of machines."
"But not women," Dillon said. He could see Vasquez glaring at them out of the corner of his eye, and he had no idea why.
"Well, yeah, women," Ziggy muttered, losing both the ball and the jacks this time. "And men. Balance is key, Dillon."
Dillon offered him the ball again. "Five to four is more balanced than four to two," he pointed out. "Doesn't that make this better than usual?"
"Okay," Ziggy said, pushing himself away from the table. "It's slowly--very slowly, I admit, and way more slowly than I wish it had--dawning on me what a bad idea this discussion is. Let's move on."
Dillon bounced the ball on the table, picked up a jack and tossed it in the air, then caught the ball and the jack in quick succession. "Whatever you say."
"Oh, you're kidding me," Ziggy complained, drawn irresistibly back. "How do you do that?"
"I'd say it was practice," Dillon said, eyeing him with amusement, "but you're kind of disproving that idea, so."
"Give me that," Ziggy said. He took the ball back and bounced it determinedly against the table top. He managed to grab a jack and the ball at once, and his eyes widened in comic surprise. "Hey! Did you see that? I totally did it!"
"Very impressive," Dillon agreed.
"I'm gonna get this," Ziggy said, settling in again. "They saying anything interesting in there?"
Around the corner, he could make out Dr. K's voice telling Taylor that her military sounded not totally unenlightened, and Summer's voice overlapping as she asked Aisha about the crystal's ability to show the future. "Aisha's still confusing them," he reported, "and Taylor's mostly sucking up. Successfully, it sounds like."
He caught the ball as it bounced away from Ziggy again and Ziggy made a face. "Does that mean I have to start over?" he wanted to know. He was holding two jacks.
"Not in practice," Dillon said. "You're getting it."
"Thanks for saying that," Ziggy said, a smile breaking over his face. "Don't let anyone tell you you're not good with people, okay? Even me. 'Cause if I say that, I'm totally lying."
"You're good with people," Dillon said. "I'm just the guy who keeps you from getting killed."
"Hey, I don't--" Ziggy's protest was automatic, and he seemed to think better of it almost as quickly. "Well, yeah, that's true, actually. Thanks for that. But you're better with people than you think. You make me keep trying things. And look at Dr. K, she's totally, like..."
Ziggy waved the hand with the jacks in it, catching his eye at exactly the wrong moment. The ball went flying, and Dillon couldn't reach it in time. Ziggy only pointed at him and said, "She laughed. Don't tell me you didn't notice that. She hangs out with us now, she ate dinner with us, and you totally made her laugh!"
"She probably laughs at us all the time," Dillon muttered, getting up to go after the ball.
"And this thing," Ziggy continued, "where you pretend not to like her? She does that too! She pretends not to like you back! That's so... kind of weird, actually. But you're both sort of backwards, so I guess it makes sense. In a weird way."
"I don't pretend not to like her." Dillon put the ball down on the table in front of him.
"Dillon, you said you didn't like her," Ziggy reminded him. "At the flower shop."
"I said I didn't have a crush on her," Dillon said, which wasn't true at all. He'd definitely said he didn't like her. But Ziggy could sometimes be talked out of remembering things that were inconvenient.
"No, you didn't," Ziggy said. "You said you didn't like her, which was a total lie. Because you are pretending not to like her."
Not this time, apparently. "Why would I do that?" Dillon asked.
"Because you actually like her," Ziggy informed him, which made no sense. "And when you like someone, you want them to like you back. If they don't it hurts, see. The more you like them, the more it hurts if they don't like you. So when you like someone a lot, you pretend not to, because you don't want to be hurt."
"That makes no sense," Dillon said. "People either like you or they don't. It doesn't matter one way or the other."
"Then why are you nice to Summer?" Ziggy asked.
"Because she's funnier when I'm nice to her than she is when I ignore her."
"Why are you nice to me?" Ziggy pressed.
Dillon eyed him. "You're funny too."
"Okay," Ziggy said, "why aren't you nice to Dr. K, then?"
If this was supposed to be going somewhere, Dillon didn't get it. "Because she's funny when I'm not."
"Setting aside the fact that you seem to think we're all here for your personal amusement," Ziggy said, rolling his eyes, "have you tried being nice to her? How do you know she wouldn't be even funnier?"
"She's not nice to me," Dillon pointed out.
"So?" Ziggy smirked at him. "I thought it didn't matter whether people liked you or not. If she's funnier when you're nice, who cares if she was nice first?"
"Or ever?" Dillon added.
"She's nice," Ziggy said firmly. "You're the only one she's still mean to. On purpose, anyway."
"Which means I should be nice to her... " Dillon paused, inviting comment. "Why?"
"Because you're also the only one she calls by name," Ziggy said. "When did she start doing that, anyway?"
He frowned, because he didn't think about it. He couldn't help it if his brain kept track of everything. "The day we met her?"
"For real?" Ziggy grinned. "You should totally be nicer to her. I bet crazy things would happen, like... I don't know. But it would be cool."
Ziggy had been wrong before. He'd also been right.
"I'll think about it," Dillon said at last. "You think they're gonna talk all night in there?"
"Nah." Ziggy bounced the ball again and managed to scoop up a jack. "Flynn'll make them go to bed eventually. Well, Scott and Summer, anyway."
"It's earlier where Aisha and Taylor came from," Dillon said.
"Oh, yeah." Ziggy frowned, scooping up another jack. "That's true."
"Hey," Dillon said over his shoulder. "You have to stay as long as they do?"
Vasquez probably wanted to pretend she didn't know he was talking to her. "Until Dr. K says I can go," she said grudgingly.
Dillon stood up, thumping his hand twice on the table before he turned away. "I'll let you know how the nice thing goes," he said, not looking back. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what Ziggy's expression looked like.
The only people who didn't look around when he strode into the training room were Aisha and Scott. They were both talking, and Scott had probably heard him coming anyway. Leader instinct, and all that.
He stood on the other side of Dr. K's computer and waited until Scott stopped talking. "Getting late," he said into the momentary quiet.
"It's barely past midnight," Dr. K said, not looking up.
Scott shifted, and Taylor gave her watch a sharp look.
"We're keeping you up," Aisha said quickly. "We didn't mean to. We forgot about the time difference."
"There's nowhere for you to sleep anyway," Dr. K said. "I only need a few more hours."
He didn't know why it was so hard to say, "Need any help?"
"Can you model abstract math?" Dr. K asked her computer screen.
She lifted a hand from her keyboard long enough to wave over her shoulder. "Have a seat."
"Uh, what about us?" Scott asked. "You need us here for this?"
Must have been more boring than it sounded if Scott was trying to get out of it, Dillon thought. He swung one of the observation stools away from the wall and into the semi-circle of Dr. K screens. "Where?" he wanted to know.
"No," she said. "You can go. Right there," she added, pointing in front of Dillon as a series of basic derivatives sprang up on one of the screens. "See if you can make quantum distance connect multiple timelines in equivalent dimensions."
Dillon sat down. "This related to the seeing the future thing?"
"You were listening." Dr. K glanced over her shoulder at him, just for a second. "Yes. Possibly. You know what we're trying to do, then?"
What was she always trying to do. "Control the flow of energy," he said.
She blinked. "Yes," she repeated.
"You can sleep in my room," Summer was telling Aisha and Taylor. "I have plenty of space."
"I need her," Dr. K interrupted, pointing one finger at Aisha, "to explain, and I need her--" She pointed at Taylor. "To translate her explanation. It's earlier for them; they'll be fine."
"Okay," Summer said, when neither of them protested. "Well, wake me up when you're done, okay? I'm the single door at the top of the stairs."
"Hey," Dillon said. "Particle dependency. How do I get this to show up on your screen?"
"You tell me about it and I turn around," Dr. K said, twisting her chair to look at his screen. She tilted her head. "You did that just now?"
"No," he said. "I did it in the future and sent it back to myself on a special closed-circuit morpher. With modeling capability."
It occurred to him after he said it that maybe it wasn't very nice, but she just raised her eyebrows and remarked, "Design a morpher like that and we won't need the future." She reached past him to key something one-handed, adding, "Your processing speed must be off the charts."
When the three-dimensional simulation started to turn, she said, "Reset it, please."
"Time," she said impatiently. "Reset time to zero."
Oh. That he could do. He could also see Summer tugging Scott's sleeve, pulling his hand away from his hip as she quietly urged him to follow her and Flynn. He could hear Flynn murmur, "It's na just me, is it? I mean, that's disturbing on so many levels."
"Look at it this way," Summer whispered back. "Maybe they'll keep each other out of trouble."
He heard Scott scoffing at this, saw Taylor leaning over the desk like the model would make any sense to her, and he was aware of Aisha getting comfortable on her stool. But mostly he was watching Dr. K, staring intently at the screen. She looked...
Well, he had never actually seen her look impressed, so he didn't know what to compare it to.
Ziggy didn't know what he'd find when he crept down the stairs the next morning and snuck up on the training room, but he didn't expect it to be good. Dillon wasn't upstairs, and it didn't look like he'd been back to their room at all during the night. He might not need to sleep--much--but the rest of them did.
So when Ziggy poked his head into the training room and found it completely empty, he didn't know whether to feel relieved or confused. Maybe both. If they hadn't pulled an all-nighter... where was everybody?
"Hey." Dillon's voice from behind him almost made him jump out of his skin. "Got a question for you."
"And I have a heart attack, thanks to you," Ziggy retorted. "Thanks. Thanks for that. You want to try and be a little quieter? I think ninjas might have been able to detect you."
Dillon ignored him, as Ziggy had known he would. "Can you help me look something up? Without... you know, getting a lot of attention?"
Ziggy preened. "Of course! I'm the master of discretion. That's what I'm known for; I can get anything for anyone and no one will ever know. Except the person I get it for."
"And you," Dillon said.
"No, no, I make it a point to forget," Ziggy assured him. "I have a terrible memory."
Dillon shook his head. "Whatever," he muttered. "I have a name, but..."
"But you don't want anyone to know it," Ziggy finished. "No problem. Write it down and pass it this way. If they're in Corinth, I'll find them."
He half-expected Dillon to say the person wasn't in Corinth. Which might make the job harder, but would also make it way more interesting. When he didn't, though, Ziggy changed his mind. Who could Dillon be looking for who was in Corinth, but he didn't want anyone to know about?
Dillon took the writing it down part seriously, though, so Ziggy hopped up on a stool to wait. "What happened last night, anyway? Where is everyone?"
"Dr. K sent Vasquez home," Dillon said absently. "Everyone else crashed a few hours ago. I've been doing laundry."
"Seriously?" Ziggy looked around. "You did laundry by yourself?"
"The tags all have instructions on them," Dillon said, like he'd ever bothered to read them before. "I left anything I didn't get."
Which probably wasn't that much, considering that Summer wouldn't let them do her stuff and anything guys wore was pretty much the same. Still. Dillon had never shown any interest in it before. At most, he'd helped one of them cart stuff back and forth.
"How far'd you get?" Ziggy wanted to know. "You want help?"
"It's all done." Dillon handed him a piece of paper that said K. Kshana on it and added, "Breakfast? We probably have time to go out."
It all clicked. The initials, the laundry, the fact that Dillon had brought it up now--while the screens were dark. Geez, it had taken his brain this long to wake up. He resisted the urge to look at the name again as he slid off of the stool.
"Sure," Ziggy agreed, folding the paper up and shoving it into his pocket. "Let's go."
It didn't take long for him to think better of it. Hadn't Ziggy told him to be nice? Sneaking around behind her back probably didn't fall into the "nice" category. And it turned out, at least in preliminary trials, that Ziggy had been right: she actually was funnier when he wasn't deliberately antagonizing her.
The screens were still dark when they got back from breakfast, but the rest of the Rangers were up. Minus their visitors from the other dimension. They wouldn't be far behind, though, and the garage would wind up for another day. Controlled chaos and no time outside of training to ask the question he'd already tried to hand off to Ziggy.
Training probably wasn't the best time.
So he was standing outside the garage's second fire exit--the one only one person ever used--waiting for Dr. K to do a perimeter scan. He didn't know that she did one first thing, but he would. How smart was it to leave such an isolated, indefensible location without knowing what was on the outside?
He'd been there for twelve minutes when the door beside him clicked. "I assume you have a reason for being here?" Dr. K's voice said.
Arms folded, Dillon eyed the opposite side of the alley and told himself it was too late to reconsider. "I wanted to ask you something."
That was it, just... curiosity? Impatience? When had he started trying to judge other people's reactions? Beyond threat or no threat, why did it even matter?
"Why do you go by Dr. K?" he blurted out.
"It's a strategically advantageous nickname," she said. "Why do you go by Dillon?"
He blinked. "I don't know," he admitted, after a brief hesitation.
"Is it your name?" she insisted.
"I don't know," he repeated.
There was a pause, and then she said, "My answer was more informative."
He turned, bracing his shoulder against the wall, and stared down at her. "How much do you care whether we know your real name or not?"
"The military prefers that I don't use it," she said.
He waited, but she didn't say anything else. "That's not what I asked."
"I've trusted you with my life," she pointed out. "The use of a nickname is intended to make me harder to find. It would also make weaknesses, if I had any, harder to exploit. Neither of these goals apply to the operators of Ranger technology."
"So if I asked you what your name is," Dillon said, "would you tell me?"
She raised her eyebrows at him. "Are you asking?"
His automatic reaction was to say no. But Ziggy would tell him to say yes. And Ziggy had been giving him pretty decent advice lately.
"Yeah," he said.
She shrugged, apparently unconcerned, and stepped back from the doorway. "You might as well come in, then."
"Mail call!" Ziggy shouted, a couple of times because seriously, no one could hear anything in the garage when someone brought one of the zord attack vehicles in to work on. Especially with the music cranked up loud enough to hear over the engine noise.
Sticking his head into an apparently empty training room, Ziggy called, "Fan mail! Come and see!" He ducked out again just as quickly, since not being able to ask him why he thought this was important might be enough to get Dr. K out from behind her computer.
"What's going on?" Flynn wanted to know. He beat Scott to the kitchen, but he lost time when he stopped to wash his hands. Dillon managed to look like he just happened to be passing through and Summer didn't show at all. Probably working through the whole wedding thing.
"Check it out," Ziggy declared, pulling the giant hand-decorated card out of its envelope. It had little printed out images of all the Rangers, with carefully painted color designations over top of them. "Mrs. B's class sent us a thank you card!"
"Who?" Flynn asked. "Oh!" he added, when Ziggy opened the card. There was a class picture inside, surrounded by notes from each of the kids they'd answered questions for in the tower and the words "THANK YOU POWER RANGERS" printed in large bold letters. "That's nice, then!"
"I remember class thank you cards," Scott said with a grin. "They did a good job with that."
"I think we should put it right there," Ziggy declared, turning to sweep a hand across the briefing screen. "They went to all the trouble of making it; the least we can do is display it!"
"Someone say something nice about you?" Dillon sounded amused.
"Well," Ziggy said with a smirk, "nothing that isn't totally true!"
"Is there some reason you felt I should be notified of paper deliveries?" Dr. K was standing in the door to the Ranger training room--and why she had left the door open when Scott was blasting his music was an interesting question all on its own.
"Yeah, look!" Ziggy exclaimed. He would have lifted the card up, but Scott and Flynn were both studying it now so he settled for waving her over. "You have an admirer!"
"I'm sure I have many admirers," Dr. K informed him. She frowned slightly, then added, "Or I would, if anyone knew who I was."
"Come here," Ziggy said, pushing away from the table to circle her. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he gave her a gentle push. "Someone knows who you are."
"'Doctor K,'" Dillon read aloud. He was standing off to one side, reading over Flynn's shoulder without so much as squinting. "Parentheses, 'Ranger White. You are the brains of the Power Rangers, and my hero. I want to design zords and operator suits someday. Thank you for keeping us all safe. Your friend, DeeDee.'"
Scott moved aside enough that Dr. K could see for herself. "There's no Ranger Operator Series White," she said, frowning down at the card.
"She didna say you were an operator," Flynn pointed out. "She said you're a Ranger."
"Which is true," Dillon said, not moving.
"Yeah, absolutely," Ziggy agreed quickly, looking from one of them to the other. Dr. K had looked up from the card to frown at Dillon, so she didn't see the pointed look Flynn gave Scott. "You're totally a member of the team!"
"The most important member," Scott said, like he hadn't even been prompted. "None of us could do what we do without you, Doc."
"Obviously," she said. But she was looking at the card again, and she didn't complain when Ziggy got out the tape. There were six decoder ring lists on the wall now, all lined up in a row. The card fit perfectly, centered and taped open above them.
He'd thought becoming a Power Ranger was the weirdest thing that would ever happen to him in Corinth. That was before the other Power Rangers started trying to get him and the crazy developer of Ranger technology together. Most of the weirdness that followed could be directly or indirectly traced to that.
One: asking a former mob member for information wasn't as strange as changing his mind afterwards and having to explain why. He went with the direct approach. Pulling the door of their room shut, he said, "You know that name I asked you about?"
Ziggy had earbuds in, but he pulled them out as soon as Dillon spoke. "Yeah, about that--"
"I found them," Dillon interrupted. "The person I was looking for, I mean. I know who it is."
"Okay," Ziggy said with a shrug. Waving at Dillon's bed, he added, "You'll probably want to tear up the piece of paper in the back of your notebook, then."
He'd left the notebook--a gift from Ziggy--on his bed yesterday afternoon. If he'd had to guess, he would have said it hadn't been touched since. When he flipped open the back cover, though, he found a single piece of folded paper.
He looked at it for a long moment, then glanced at Ziggy. "I asked her," he said abruptly.
Ziggy shook his head. "I've already forgotten what we're talking about," he said, though he didn't pretend to be confused. "You want to talk, you'll have to, uh, remind me. Otherwise I'm just over here. Not noticing you and your ninja ways."
Putting his earbuds back in, Ziggy turned away. Dillon unfolded the paper, absorbed the whole thing in a matter of seconds, and went to crumple it up. He couldn't do it. His fingers just wouldn't clench around the words.
Kaia Kshana, the paper said. Born 30 June 1990. Toronto, ON, Canada. Enrolled at Taddle Creek Montessori School 1993-1995. Enrolled at Xavier Institute for Gifted Youngsters 1995-1997. Recruited by California Institute of Technology 18 August 1997 for JPL-linked think tank "Alphabet Soup."
Degree: B.S. Applied Abstract Math
Degree: M.S. Exoskeletal Robotics
Consulted for Massachusetts Institute of Technology 2002-2003. Joined "Living Breathing Robots" at MIT 23 January 2003. Headed branch laboratory Horizon Bioelectrics 2003-2007.
Recruited by US Army to run Project: Ranger 2 February 2007.
Military codename: Dr. K
There the parade of names and dates stopped. No mention of family. At the very bottom Ziggy had added in parentheses, (Likes pussywillows, spaceships, hard science fiction. Favorite color: pink.)
Ziggy's foot was tapping against the floor, slightly out of sync with the music. "Ziggy," Dillon said, and he turned around immediately. "Thanks," Dillon said, holding up the paper.
"No problem," Ziggy said, like he'd gotten him a glass of water or something. "Does it say anything interesting?"
He took the whole discretion thing very seriously. Dillon tried to figure out how to respond. "Just the last line," he said at last.
Ziggy smiled. "Cool," he said.
"I asked her," Dillon repeated. "Her name, I mean."
"Yeah?" Ziggy took his earbuds out again. "She tell you?"
Dillon just nodded.
"Huh." Ziggy seemed to consider this. "Maybe she'd tell you the rest of it, too. If you asked."
"Is this--" He thought he already knew the answer. "This--" Holding up the paper, he said, "This isn't very nice, is it."
Ziggy shrugged. "I guess it depends. It shows interest, right? That's nice. Most people ask the friends... you know, when you start dating someone?" He must have seen Dillon's expression, because he added, "You ask the girl's friends about her. Or your friends, if they know her. Dr. K doesn't really have any.
"The thing about asking friends, though," Ziggy continued, "is that usually they'd tell her. That you were asking? So she'd know. She doesn't know about this, so that makes it kind of... weird."
"So I should tell her," Dillon said.
Ziggy held up his hands. "I'm not gonna say anything, okay? You can do whatever you want."
Dillon frowned. Apparently that was all it took, because Ziggy sighed and said, "Yeah. I'd tell her. If I were you, I mean. Which I'm not, and I, being me, won't say anything. So if you don't say anything, she'll never know."
"Which would be weird," Dillon said slowly.
Ziggy didn't answer, but when Dillon glanced at him he shrugged in a way that usually meant yes.
Two: finding a way to talk to said developer of Ranger technology while she was trying to convince inhabitants of another dimension not to come through to Corinth whenever they felt like it--apparently they wanted to help defend the city--and irritated on top of it because half of her supposedly secure facility was going to be used to stage a wedding was about as easy as finding the city had been in the first place.
When she canceled training in the face of an overwhelming Venjix infiltration, he finally gave up. He took a pen to a piece of electrical tape, then slapped the tape on the top of her primary computer monitor while she was off somewhere with yet another interdimensional visitor. If nothing else, she would know he was coming.
Dillon, the tape said. 8pm.
The doors were closed--possibly to block out the noise of wedding preparations--but they slid open for his ID easily enough. Given her mood earlier, though, he wasn't sure just walking in would be seen as "nice." So he stood in the doorway and asked, "Can I come in?"
Dr. K leaned out from behind her computer screen, a skeptical look on her face. For a long moment, she only stared at him, but finally she said, "You're on the schedule."
He felt his mouth quirk. "Sorry about the tape."
She raised her eyebrows, but all she said was, "It was effective."
The doors closed behind him as he walked over to her desk. He figured if anyone could appreciate information independent of presentation, it was her. "I think you're interesting," he said. "I asked Ziggy if he could find out more about you, but in retrospect, it seems kind of weird not to just ask you. Myself, I mean. So. I wanted to apologize."
Okay, not as easy as it had seemed when he was thinking about it. It was true--so why was it so awkward to say? Was Ziggy right that he'd be hurt if she didn't like him? It wasn't like it mattered. She'd proven she would back them up in the field no matter what she thought of them personally.
"I find it hard to believe that Series Green could tell you anything worth remembering," she said flatly.
Dillon pulled the folded piece of paper out of his jacket and handed it over without a word.
She took it, eyebrows raised as she scanned the list. "Well," she said, almost to herself. "I withdraw my original judgment. Never underestimate cartel connections."
He knew when she got to the bottom of the page because she put her finger on it, pressing the paper against the edge of the keyboard. She opened her mouth, and her expression softened a little. "Not all hard science fiction," she said after a moment. "Kim Stanley Robinson, yes. Arthur C. Clarke, no."
"I don't know what that is," he said, but carefully, because maybe it wasn't that important.
"I could lend you a book." She was still staring at the bottom of the list. "I assume it would only take you a few minutes to read it."
"Yeah," he agreed. "I mean... that'd be great."
She folded up the paper again, precisely, along the lines he'd already put in it, and handed it back. He took it automatically, but he wasn't sure he was supposed to. "I was just curious," he said. "I should have asked."
She shrugged. "If there was anything to find on you, I would have found it," she said, looking back at the screen in front of her. "It's understandable that you'd want to know what you can about the people you're putting your trust in."
"That's not why I wanted to know."
Her gaze flicked to his.
"You're interesting," he repeated. "I was curious."
She tilted her head the slightest bit, as if studying him from a different angle. "And is your curiosity satisfied?"
"No," he said.
She gave the auxiliary screens a cursory glance. "If you can work and talk at the same time," she remarked, "you're welcome to join me."
She said it like she didn't really think he would, which only made him want to do it more.
Three: he was completely against "formal wear" for every reason in the book, right up until he saw Summer wielding her wedding veil like a weapon. He had zero fondness for violins until Dr. K turned the amp into a makeshift sonic cannon. Also, Tenaya was really starting to piss him off.
"Can we get some fucking security in here?" Dillon demanded. "Why are all these people still hanging around?"
"Dillon, we're the security," Scott said. "Chill, okay?"
"Yeah, that's worked out really well so far," he snapped. "Tenaya knows who Dr. K is, and apparently grinders can storm the place any time they want, so excuse me for seeing this as a problem."
Unexpectedly, it was Flynn who backed him up. "Man's got a point, there."
"We've been getting pretty lax when it comes to security." Summer, back in uniform and minus her parents--finally--held up her hands. "I know, I know; it's mostly my fault. But maybe it's time to go back to no badge, no entry."
"Uh--" Ziggy raised his hand. "Maybe this is an awkward question, and I'm not trying to say that anyone here would actually do this, but... what if we forget our badge?"
"Don't," Scott told him.
"Right." Ziggy nodded. "Don't. Got it. Very clear." He paused, then added, "But what if we do?"
"Don't," Dillon and Summer said at the same time.
"Fire exits," Scott said. He caught Dillon's eye. "The one out here doesn't have a pushbolt yet; does the other one?"
"No," Dillon muttered. "But they will by tomorrow."
"I'll do it," Scott said firmly. "This isn't personal, Dillon; it's just base maintenance. Nothing to get upset about."
Dillon folded his arms, but he and Scott had already had it out too many times in the last few days. He wasn't going to fight with him when he was right, too.
"Just out of curiosity," Ziggy began, "does Dr. K have a badge?"
"Yes," Scott said.
"Of course," Summer agreed.
"Uh..." Flynn frowned, looking from one of them to the other. "Guys?"
"It's just, if she didn't leave the base before," Ziggy continued, "and it's not like it's really been, uh, locked down lately--but she must have an ID, right? I mean, she goes in and out of the training room, so yeah. She must."
"She wears it on her waist," Dillon muttered.
All four of them turned to look at him.
"Really?" Summer asked, when he didn't elaborate.
"It's clipped to the bottom of her sweater," he said. Like they'd really never noticed before. "Under her lab coat."
Summer and Flynn exchanged glances, but Scott just shrugged. "Okay then," he said. "Question answered. Let's get this place cleaned up and cleared out."