outside Turtle Cove • 2002 AD
By mid-afternoon, what had begun as a lively, tight-knit celebration was considerably quieter and more widely dispersed, as the Rangers and their allies sorted themselves into twos and threes and drifted toward the fringes of the meadow. One particular couple had wandered all the way to the edge of the nearby woodland, and now leaned comfortably against the wide trunk of an ancient cedar.
Wes peered back toward the center of the meadow. “Is anyone still keeping an eye on all the stuff we brought?”
“I think so,” Jen replied, producing a small telescope. “I see Shayla and Merrick – and Ransik,” she added in a slightly startled tone, abruptly thrusting the device back into her jacket pocket.
Wes gave her an amused look. “What, Ransik making friends? You’re right, that is kinda scary to think about. But after yesterday, you can’t say he hasn’t earned it.” He paused, then asked, “How soon do the others have to go back?”
“Don’t know yet,” Jen told him. “We’re supposed to check in with Captain Logan tonight. It won’t be too long, though – every day we stay is a risk to the timeline.”
“What’s this we?” Wes interjected. “You came early, you can stay late. That’s why it’s called time travel. Or—”
Jen sighed. “We’ve been through this. You know I can’t stay for good, no matter how much I want to. It’s just – impossible.”
Wes turned and gently set his hands on her shoulders. “Suppose I could prove to you that it’s not impossible? That you actually do belong right here, right now?”
“There’s no way. No possible way, not without creating a paradox.”
A quick, light laugh escaped Wes’ lips. “Too late for that. At least that’s what I’m betting on,” he said.
Jen blinked. “I don’t understand.”
Wes nodded. “I’ve been doing some thinking since you guys left. Also, I got Dr. Zaskin at Dad’s lab to run a couple of tests. But I knew what they were going to tell me before the results came back – and so should you, if you think about it.”
“Now I’m totally lost,” said Jen. “What kind of tests?”
“DNA matching, of course. You guys left a bunch of stuff at the clock tower, so it was easy to get the samples I needed.”
Jen stared at him. “So my DNA matches...what?”
“Jen, Jen, Jen,” Wes said, shaking his head. “It’s obvious. Way back when all this started, Alex gave you the morpher – his morpher – and told you to go after Ransik with it.”
“Right,” Jen said, slowly. “But we couldn’t unlock that morpher without your DNA.”
“That’s what you thought. But think about it, Jen. When he gave you the red morpher, he had no idea I even existed. And even if he did, he couldn’t have known when Ransik was going. But he gave you that morpher anyway – and there’s no way he would have done that unless he knew you’d be able to use it.”
Jen blinked again, but her expression was shifting from confusion to outright disbelief. “You’re saying I could have used the Red Ranger morpher?”
“I’m saying Alex obviously thought you could. And there’s no way he didn’t know the morphers use DNA-matching. Right?”
“Right,” Jen said reluctantly. “But – Alex and I were engaged. If our DNA was that similar, there’s no way that would’ve been possible.”
Wes grinned at her. “I wondered about that, too. Dr. Zaskin says your DNA and Alex’s – and we did get a sample of his – aren’t that close in the related-to-each-other sense. But they do both have a handful of specific, rare markers in common, including a few I have as well as a couple I don’t.”
“But you and Alex are—”
“Near-identical twins in looks, yeah,” said Wes. “But as far as actual DNA goes, there’s the thousand years’ worth of drift you’d expect. Mostly what we have in common are those rare markers, and that’s why the morpher worked for me.”
Jen was shaking her head. “This still sounds totally crazy.”
“Maybe so,” Wes told her, still smiling. “But there’s one way we can prove it for sure.” He stepped back, pulled the Red Time Force morpher from his jacket pocket, and fastened it lightly around Jen’s wrist.
She let out a shocked breath. “You can’t be serious!”
“I can and I am,” Wes said, his voice quiet but firm. “Go ahead, call it.”
“But it’s yours! If I do activate it....”
“Not an issue,” said Wes. “Alex and I handed that morpher back and forth with no trouble when he was here. Or you could give me yours,” he pointed out.
At that, Jen let out a laugh. “You? In pink? Don’t tempt me.”
“Temptation is the whole point of the exercise,” Wes retorted. “Now quit stalling and call it.”
Jen scowled fiercely at him for a moment, then sighed. “You’re serious about this.”
“Totally. And you’re still stalling.”
Their eyes locked. The silence that followed lasted perhaps twenty seconds in real time, but felt at least a dozen times longer. At last Jen nodded, stepped back, and turned to face out into the meadow, though she took care to stay just within the shadows of the forest’s edge. She paused, took a deep breath, set her finger on the morpher’s controls, and spoke.
“Time for Time Force!”
Another moment of tightly stretched silence was followed by a short electronic chirp, then by two words from the morpher’s vocal interface.
“DNA . . . confirmed.”
There had been a second’s pause between the words, but then the morphing sequence took hold. Jen was swept up by the familiar full-body tingle, the whoosh of uncanny energy infusing every cell of her body and rearranging the molecules of her everyday clothing into the not-exactly-Spandex body armor of a Ranger uniform – more specifically, a Red Ranger uniform.
She extended a crimson-clad arm, staring. “Oh my God, it really worked.”
Wes looked stunned too, despite having predicted the outcome. “It did. How does it feel?”
“Totally normal, only not,” Jen told him, making a couple of quick shadow-kicks at imaginary targets. “There’s a different texture to the power. And maybe more of it, but that’s kind of hard to measure. Okay, power down,” she said, shifting back into her normal state. “You’ve made your point. I could’ve been Red Ranger. Are you saying I should’ve been Red Ranger? That this whole timeline is wrong somehow?” She flung one hand outward, the gesture taking in the whole meadow.
It was Wes’s turn to blink in astonishment. “Just the opposite,” he said. “Yes, you created this timeline, by making the choices you did. You gave me the Red morpher – and the chance to prove I deserved it. I’m pretty sure you saved Alex’s life by not doing what he expected. You – we – found a way to win against Ransik, and now he’s not just reformed, he’s not even a mutant anymore. You can’t look at results like that and come up with wrong as an answer.”
Jen’s lips pursed thoughtfully. “I see what you mean. If I’d started out as Red Ranger, we wouldn’t have needed to find you at all. We’d have needed a fifth ranger sooner or later – for running the megazord, if nothing else – but it could’ve been anyone, and we would’ve been a different team.”
“And without me involved, Dad might never have founded the Silver Guardians, or jump-started some of the research Bio-Lab did. I’d still be a spoiled rich kid, Eric would never have become Quantum Ranger....”
Jen gave Wes an amused look. “Depending on how things played out, we might have tapped him for our fifth.”
“Eric as Pink Ranger?” Wes almost fell over laughing. “I’m not sure any timeline could survive that.”
“Point,” said Jen, barely restraining her own impulse to giggle. After she’d caught her breath, she went on. “Okay, then. Say this is a stable timeline, and say I could have been the Red Ranger. The fact is I wasn’t – so doesn’t that just put us right back where we started?”
“Not quite,” said Wes. He flicked a hand toward Jen’s left wrist. “If you’re not using that anymore....”
Jen shook her head, unbuckled the morpher, and handed it back to him. Wes quickly put it on his own wrist and tapped the comm button. “Circuit? I could use you over here.”
“On my way!” came the cheery reply. Within moments, the little robotic owl whirred briskly into view and settled onto a low-hanging branch. “What can I do for you, Red Ranger?”
“Do we have a response to the data packet I sent Time Force Command last night?”
Circuit’s antennae spun for a moment. “We do. Reviewing now.” There was a pause, followed by more and faster whirling of antennae. “Oh, you definitely want to hear this. Shall I play it for you?”
Jen’s eyes were darting back and forth between Circuit and Wes. “What did you do?” she demanded.
Wes grinned. “Just listen. Circuit, I’m guessing this is good news.”
“Playing now,” came the reply, followed by the familiar voice of Time Force Command’s Captain Logan.
“Red Ranger,” he said. “Your data and the supporting analysis have been reviewed by both Temporal Forensics and the Timeline Analysis Group. The opinions of both teams concur with yours. In light of the evidence presented, Time Force Agent Jennifer Scotts is hereby granted dual temporal citizenship, and may establish primary residency in either relevant Time Zone as she so chooses.”
Jen’s eyes went wide. “What did you do?” she demanded.
“Showed them the DNA evidence,” said Wes, smiling. “And according to that evidence, there’s only one explanation for all three of us being able to use the Red ChronoMorpher. Alex can use it because he primed it in the first place. I can use it for just the reason we’ve always known – I’m his ancestor, and we share the genetic markers I told you about. And you can use it—”
“—because he and I have some other genetic markers in common,” Jen said, finishing the sentence, “that he couldn’t have gotten from you. Which would imply that I’m his ancestor too. Except that ought to be impossible, or at least a major temporal paradox.”
Wes shook his head. “Not this time. I mean sure, either one of us as Red Ranger gets a little weird. But the way I figured it, picking me as Red Ranger gave the whole team a reason to be here in the first place. If you’d tried to operate on your own, you’d have been just like Ransik – an intruder and a disruption – and most likely we’d have ended up with a sky full of time holes a lot sooner than we did.”
Circuit interjected a bleep. “Also,” said the owl, “individual actions can and do cause temporal fluctuation. Timeline Analysis estimates an 80% probability that in giving the Red Chronomorpher to you, Jen set a time ripple in motion that specifically prevented Alex’s death in Time Force’s present. That, in turn, may have generated a reverse ripple that slightly altered her own genetic makeup to facilitate long-term stabilization of the timeline.”
That made both Wes and Jen blink. “That makes my head hurt just to think about,” Jen said.
“Mine too,” said Wes. “So let’s focus on the positive. Now you’ve got official permission to stay right here. And if you need another reason,” he added, “how about this?”
He thrust a hand into a different jacket pocket, withdrew a small square box, and dropped to one knee. “This was my mom’s,” he said, flipping it open to reveal an elegant square-cut diamond ring. “I’d really, really like it to be yours, if you’ll have me.”
Gingerly, Jen stretched one hand forward, allowing Wes to slide the ring onto the appropriate finger. Then she flung herself into his arms, and for the next several minutes the couple had (tear-filled) eyes only for one another.
Unnoticed by either, Circuit whirred upward and headed back to the center of the clearing, chirping cheerily to himself. “I’d better let the other Rangers know about this. After all, Captain Logan did give them all two weeks’ vacation so they can stay for the wedding.”
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