The door to Commander Matthew Zordon’s office was imposing, and Kim felt herself falter as she approached it. She knew what was coming; there was no other plausible reason for her being called here.
Kim caught the collar of her jumpsuit and squeezed the material tightly in her fist. This program had been her life for the past two years. To give it up at this point sent a curl of horror slowly unfurling in her gut.
She wasn’t giving it up though; it was being forcibly taken from her. Kim wanted to rant and wail and plead her case and how it wasn’t fair, but she couldn’t do any of that. Because kicking her out of the program would be entirely justified.
“Trainee Hart, get in here! I can hear you pacing through the door.”
Kim flinched but obediently stepped forward and entered the room. Zordon sat behind his desk with his arms lightly folded in front of him. His high, proud brows were arched at her; admonishing her hesitance. Sitting in front of him, though, was a surprise.
The insignia printed on the back of the stranger’s jumpsuit named her as another Trainee, but not one from Kim’s Rotation. She had her back firmly set against Kim, but her shoulders threatened to curl in on themselves and as Kim rounded her own chair and sat beside her she could tell that the girl was nervous. Kim wasn’t the only one getting kicked out of the program today, it seemed.
Kim glanced at the girl, trying to catch her eye, but she just stared straight ahead at a spot on the wall above Zordon’s head. Her hair was dark and longer than Kim’s and it was braided tightly on one side. She was pretty. The thought floated absurdly through Kim’s head and it broke her out of her musings and made her attention snap back to her Commander.
“Trainee Hart, Trainee Kwan, do you two know why you’re here?”
Kwan? She didn’t look much like a Kwan. Must be a family name. Kim latched onto her curiosity about the other girl like it was the last piece of driftwood in the sinking mess that was about to be her life. If she let herself feel the panic, she was going to break down and that was not happening in front of anyone, least of all the Base Commander.
“Yes sir,” Kwan said. Her voice was softer and higher than Kim expected but it had a bit of a rasp in its undertones that spoke to something more than just a pretty face.
“Well then?” Zordon asked, still impassive.
What an asshole. He was really going to make them say it? Kim wouldn’t do it. Even though she deserved it, hadn’t Kim proved again and again that she was selfish? She wasn’t going to give it up until Zordon pried it from her fucking hands.
Kwan on the other hand seemed apathetic, and it was only the slight tremble in her answer that told Kim that she was absolutely terrified, too.
“I assume you’re going to tell me that I’m no longer a contender in the Jaeger Pilot Trainee Program,” the girl said and then dropped a shoulder in Kim’s direction, “Don’t know about her, though.”
Kim pulled her lips back in a snarl before she could stop herself. She wasn’t mad at the other girl. Or even Zordon, really. This made sense, after all. She was just feeling the panic of a trapped animal with no way out of a situation that should have been avoided in the first place.
Fuck him. She wasn’t going to.
“I’m one of the most promising Trainees you have, sir. I have the test scores, the combat ratings, the Drift aptitude numbers. I want to be a pilot. I’ve been working towards it for years.”
This ignited something in Zordon, and he slammed his hand down onto his desk so hard that both girls jumped, “Then why does your Rotation refuse to work with you?” He roared, “Why have you so alienated your fellows that all your promise and aptitude means nothing?”
He stood and Kim tensed, her face flaming with embarrassment. Zordon planted his hands on his desk and leaned into them, “You think I relish having to bring in two very capable soldiers and tell them that despite all the time, money, and work that this program has put into them, they are unable to do the very task that is expected of them?”
“I can Drift, sir!” Kim pleaded, trying valiantly to keep her chin high and her shoulders square.
“That means nothing if nobody will Drift with you!” He bellowed.
Kim’s head hit the back of her seat. The meaning behind his words, rather than the force he expelled them with drained the fight out of her. Cowed, she dropped her head.
“Sir…” The other girl’s voice prodded at the thick silence. She trailed away as though she didn’t know what to say once everyone’s attention was on her.
“And you,” Zordon’s gaze shifted and Kim winced in sympathy for what was coming but Zordon just shook his head. That gesture seemed to wound the girl more than words ever could have though because she wilted and turned so pale that Kim actually willingly tried to turn Zordon’s attention away from Kwan and back to her.
“Why are you doing this? Just tell us to leave. Dragging this out is cruel.” Kim felt tears on the horizon and she pressed her lips together to try and quell them.
Zordon’s eyes flickered at the blatant disrespect but there was something else in them, too. An acknowledgement, but of what, Kim didn’t know.
“The Trainees in my base become pilots. My program’s failure rate is less than five percent. Angel Base has turned out more highly rated pilots than any other base on the Coast.” Zordon sat back down and drummed the fingers of his left hand slowly onto his desk.
The other girl had her head cocked, listening intently and Kim felt the same way. A tiny slip of hope flared up before Kim could help it. They both waited, breath held.
“One chance, Trainees. You get one more chance,” he said, and Kim couldn’t stop an exultant whoop from sneaking out as Kwan collapsed back against her seat, limp with relief.
“I’ve gone over your scores and they indicate that you two may be candidates for compatibility. You become partners, and make your time, effort, and training worth it, or you will be asked to leave the program. There is nothing left on this base for you besides each other. This is your last opportunity; it’s up to you if you use it.”
Kim sucked in a breath, adrenaline rushing up, and turned to look at the person on whom all of her future rested. If she refused her, like everyone else, Kim would be ruined. She was already facing her, and Kim finally met her eyes for the first time. They were steel, determined and entirely unreadable. Kim wondered what she saw in her.
They held eye contact, Kim waiting on a knife’s edge, before Kwan nodded once. Kim crushed her grin before it could surface and returned the gesture. It was a promise; she would do better this time.
Zordon cleared his throat, “It seems as though this is agreeable to you both. J-Chief LOCCENT Officer Alphonse is going to oversee this venture. He will be in touch.”
Kim knew a dismissal when she heard one and she bounced out of her seat before he could change his mind. The other Trainee, her potential partner- Jesus how long has it been since that phrase floated through her mind- was right on her heels.
They spilled out of the office and into the empty hallway, Kim practically vibrating with exaltation. The other girl’s face was still blank, and she looked back over her shoulder warily as they put some distance between themselves and Zordon’s office.
Kim spun and walked backwards so she could introduce herself, “My name’s Kimberly Hart, but you can call me Kim.” She offered a hand and Kwan took it and gave her a short solid squeeze.
Kim let herself smile this time. Her insides felt like a ball of manic anxiety, because there was a lot Trini didn’t know about her, but she couldn’t help feeling slightly joyous. Walking into that office had been a sort of death sentence, and right now Kim felt like she’d escaped the reaper by the skin of her teeth.
Trini dragged a hand down her face and mumbled, “Zack is going to shit his pants when he hears this.”
Kim started to ask but Trini seemed to remember where she was and interrupted her, “I lied. I do know who you are and I do know why you were in that office today.”
Kim’s guts bottomed out. She opened her mouth but… of course Trini knew. Kim was silly to even entertain the thought that she didn’t. There was no reason for her to hope for her transgressions to stay sealed within her own Rotation, and this proved that they hadn’t.
She tried to swallow but it got caught in her suddenly dry throat, “Why did you agree to be my partner then?”
Trini scuffed the ground with the toe of her Base-issued boot, “I don’t know. I shouldn’t have. It doesn’t matter anyway; it’s only prolonging the inevitable in my case.”
“What do you mean? Why were you even in there in the first place; what did you do?
“Nothing. That’s my problem,” Trini looked up at her and Kim saw shame reflected at her from a crack in Trini’s unruffled façade, “I can’t Drift.”
Kim reeled backwards in surprise. That was… unexpected. Drifting was tricky, that much was true, but to make it this far in the program without a successful simulated Drift was almost unheard of.
Trini must’ve been able to guess her thoughts because she hastily pulled her walls back into place and tilted her chin up at Kim. Defiance flickered in her eyes and instead of rising to Trini’s unspoken challenge, Kim just gave her a little nod, like the one Trini offered her back in the office.
This was their challenge then. A girl who nobody wanted to Drift with trying to connect with someone who couldn’t Drift at all. Okay, Kim nodded. Okay. Zordon’s words echoed back at her. There is nothing left on this base for you besides each other. They would just have to figure it out, then.
“Well, we’ll just have to jump that hurdle when we get to it. For now, let’s go.”
“Go where?” Trini asked.
“The Kwoon Room of course. Everyone else is at dinner so it should be free. We have to see if Zordon crunched his numbers correctly.”
“I’m telling you all of this is pointless, but...” Trini smiled, the first one Kim had seen from her. It was uneven, pulling up on the right side more than the left with a hint of a sharp canine, and Kim liked it. “But, I like the Kwoon Room.”
A little shiver of anticipation worked its way down Kim’s spine.
Ten minutes later found them circling barefoot on the mats, feeling each other out. Trini was almost laughable tiny, especially once she shrugged out of the arms of her baggy jumpsuit and tied them around her waist instead. Nobody would ever call Kim tall either, but even so she easily had about five inches on Trini.
It didn’t really matter. Trini charged her the second Kim’s focus wavered and Kim nearly got bowled over before she was able to twist out of her path. Trini swung at her again, aggressive and quick, and Kim felt distinctly like a matador as she dipped and spun to avoid it.
Kim knew Trini was going to launch forward again, and caught her by the heel with her staff when she did, flipping her neatly onto her back.
“Gotcha,” Kim crowed, pointing the staff at her chest.
Trini’s face held the beginnings of a flush and she hopped back onto her feet without hesitation, “Lucky guess.”
Kim darted forward first this time, forcing Trini to actually defend instead of just barging into her space and for a few moments they just traded blows, staff to staff. Their weapons caught and locked and Kim used her height as leverage to bear down. Quick as a whip, Trini went limp, using Kim’s force to propel herself sideways into a roll. Kim stumbled forwards, off balance from the sudden loss of her opposition and by the time she righted herself, Trini’s staff was pointed at her temple.
“Gotcha,” she mocked, but her face was a reflection of Kim’s own smile.
They crashed together again, but this time they were collaborating instead of testing the waters. Kim could feel herself falling into sync with Trini and the familiar tug of compatibility was impossible to resist. Trini must have felt it too because she easily met Kim’s next blows and turned them aside to offer her own.
Kim spun away, leading Trini on a dance-like chase before ducking back in to score the next hit. Trini landed two more after that, and then they stopped keeping track.
Sparring with someone who didn’t fit was stressful or unfulfilling depending on the skill level of the other person. When you couldn’t find that harmonious chord, the fight became as unpredictable as a car crash. When what was supposed to be an ebb and flow turned into one Trainee muscling another one around, or one submitting completely to the other, the Kwoon Master would call off the match.
Nobody would have had to call off Kim and Trini’s fight. God, Kim loved finding that one-in-a-hundred person. It was like sliding into a rhythm that didn’t exist except for the two of them together.
She’d felt it only once before, when she and Amanda had met for the first time in the Kwoon Room. Their spar went a lot differently; they both had sharp streaks of ruthlessness that lead to slamming each other roughly into the mats. They fought dirty and hard, but what was important was that they fought together. The connection was there and Kim hadn’t realized just how much she missed it until now.
She saw Trini’s next swing coming but didn’t move to block it. Instead she dropped her own staff and ducked underneath Trini’s to drive herself forward into Trini’s abdomen. They fell in a flailing pile of limbs and when Trini squirmed her way to the top and shoved her forearm up underneath Kim’s chin, Kim couldn’t help but laugh in delight.
Trini rolled her eyes and let pressure off of Kim’s throat, “God, you’re weird, you know that?”
Kim wrapped her legs around Trini’s waist and flipped them hard, Trini’s breath rushing out with an ‘oof.’ “Don’t act all superior! You felt that too!”
Kim let Trini shove her off and she fell onto her side, still facing Trini, who rolled her eyes again, “Yeah, yeah, whatever. You don’t even know me.”
Kim ignored her, “I know your name, and now I know my ‘weird’ brain waves are compatible with yours,” she wiggled her fingers in Trini’s face for emphasis and got them swatted away for her trouble. “That’s enough for a start.”
Kim sobered a little bit. Despite what she’d just said, it was true, she didn’t know Trini and Trini didn’t know her. Sure, maybe she would spar with Kim, but that didn’t mean she was going to trust her inside of her head. Hell, Kim wasn’t sure she’d trust herself if she was in Trini’s position.
She flopped onto her back, mirroring Trini, and they lay together for a few minutes, each contemplating their own internal musings while they caught their breath.
After a while, Kim felt inclined to break the silence, “So, who’s Zack?”
Trini roll her head to look at her, “Huh?”
“You mentioned him earlier, when you were talking to yourself in the hallway,” Kim reminded.
“Oh,” Trini’s face darkened and she looked back up at the ceiling. “Zack’s my friend. He was in my Rotation. We were supposed to be partners. We passed all the tests, were compatible and everything but…” Trini sighed. “But, I couldn’t Drift and he couldn’t wait. Then he found Jason.”
Kim felt her eyes bug out, “Wait, are you talking about Zack Taylor? One of Ranger Triton’s pilots?”
Trini snorted, “Jesus, don’t ever make that face in front of him, his head’s going to get so big it’ll explode.”
Kim hummed, thoughtful. “Jason Scott and Billy Cranston were in the Rotation a year ahead of mine. Do you know them, too?”
“A little, but only in passing. Zack doesn’t have much time to spend with me anymore.” She said it without blame, but Kim scowled. What kind of so-called friend was he if he didn’t have time for someone he almost piloted with?
“Stop,” Trini poked her arm.
“Stop thinking badly of him. Giga Strike is close to retirement and Ranger Triton has been picking up a lot of slack for them. His responsibilities are slightly more important than keeping up with his failure of an ex-partner.”
“Don’t talk about yourself like that,” Kim said. She pushed herself up on one arm and Trini mirrored her movement. “You aren’t a failure. We have to do this, Trini.”
Trini tensed in frustration, “I know we have to! But ‘have to do this’ and ‘can do this’ are two completely unrelated things!”
“Ladies!” A voice interrupted. Kim and Trini scrambled to their feet, argument forgotten for the moment, and faced the newcomer.
“Hello Alphonse,” Kim greeted with a little bow of her head. Trini mumbled her own greeting and Alphonse cheerily returned it.
“Good evening and please, call me Alpha! I hope that your session was a positive one. Commander Zordon sent me to give you these,” He held up two new key cards on lanyards.
“Uh, what are those?” Trini asked.
“The keys to your new bunk!”
Kim could see Trini stiffen, “What’s wrong with my old room?”
“We’re getting in a new crop of Trainees soon and the single rooms need to be freed up. The Commander thinks that rooming together will help you connect and there is an open double bunk in the pilot wing.”
Kim didn’t see anything wrong with this, she had no particular attachment to her closet sized bunk in her Rotation’s hallway- in fact living shoulder to shoulder with her peers there was pretty miserable nowadays.
Trini, however was rigid and nearly trembling with an emotion Kim couldn’t pinpoint. She snatched one of the lanyards out of Alpha’s hand and stalked out of the Kwoon Room without another word.
Alpha adjusted his round glasses, the man was small and eccentric but always exceedingly kind, and said, “Ah, I apologize. I wasn’t expecting that reaction. I hope I didn’t affect your potential bond.”
“Uh, no worries. I’m not sure what’s up with her. Thank you for coming to give these to us!” Kim took her own card and ran off in the direction Trini went, offering Alpha a wave of affirmation when he called out, “I’ll check in with you two on Monday!”
She caught up to Trini just as she was jamming her card into the door of their new bunk. Trini ducked inside without holding the door and Kim huffed as she barely caught it before it shut. The bunk consisted of a small kitchen with a table and a couch in front of a small television off to the right. To the left of the kitchen was a short hallway with a bathroom and the door to their room, where Trini had made a beeline to.
“Goddamnit!” She heard Trini curse, and Kim hustled into their room to see what was wrong.
The other girl was standing over the bed on the left, where it looked like Base Staff had dropped off her clothes and the rest of her belongings. Kim’s duffle was on the bed on the right and her family photos had been put on the small night table that was settled between the beds. There was a single frame among the bunch that Kim didn’t recognize and it was that that seemed to be attracting Trini’s fury. She caught a glimpse of a few smiling faces, a man and woman and three smaller figures, before Trini moved to block her view.
Except, when Trini snatched the photo up and shoved it under the bed, her expression wasn’t one of anger. She was pale, and once the photo was stowed away, she sat down on the floor and pulled her hands down her face. Her fingers were trembling and Kim hovered in the doorway, uncertain if she should go to her or if it would just make whatever was happening worse.
“Just go away. Please.”
Kim nodded, not that Trini was watching, and gently closed the door behind her as she backed out. Kim walked back through the kitchen into the living room and ran her hand through her hair. The day had exhausted her, both physically and mentally and she was ready for it to be over. Kim curled up on the couch and hugged one of the slightly dusty pillows to her chest.
A whirlwind of thoughts bombarded her and despite her efforts to shove them away, it wasn’t enough to keep some from sneaking past. What was up with that picture, and what did Trini mean when she said she couldn’t Drift? She didn’t know Trini, that’s what Trini herself had said and it was true. She didn’t know a goddamn thing about this girl that her future was resting so precariously on.
She’d gotten a second chance, but Zordon gave it knowing that it was a long shot. Kim was willing to try, of course she was, but it was very possible that trying wasn’t going to be enough.