* * *
It was peaceful before they came. The teenagers. The first 2 million years waiting were kind of slow, sure, but you get used to it. You adapt to the long stretches of silence and develop a deep understanding of the futility of existence. It’s fun, in its way.
But then teenagers.
Teenagers are not fun, except that apparently it seems as though Fun is all that they are. They are Loud and they are Fun and they laugh at inappropriate moments. When they are embarrassed, they laugh. When they are nervous, they laugh. When they are in pain from being hit in the face repeatedly by holographic renditions of Putties during their training, they make a sound that is not at all laughter, but produces very, very acoustically similar vibrations.
Humans are incredibly dense yet also (non-scientifically speaking) far too squishy. Additionally, they are overly volatile.
It’s clear that, as with any organic life form, Alpha will have to better understand these Teenagers. Their interests (apart from Laughter). Their desires.
Their mating rituals.
Humans, particularly teenagers, appear to have a rich and turbulent inner life — certainly they must, as there is no other explanation for their wildly unsustainable moods — and so the most logical approach in better understanding human Teenagers is to start with the outside and slowly work inward. The humans have a word for this. They call it Therapy.
Every species relies on visible variance for easy identification or attracting a mate, but the variety found in humans is truly astonishing. There is so much difference.
He must determine the reason.
The Teenagers appear to be most susceptible to questioning when they are exhausted from their training. Alpha waits until they are sprawled on the rocks of the arena, laughing — again, the laughter! — before he approaches.
He is very casual as he approaches, the digits of his near humanoid hands clicking in a very unassuming way. “Kimberly, I require a response!”
She blinks. “… okay?”
“Why is your human hair so much shorter than Trini’s and yet also longer than Jason’s?” The group laughs, because of course they do. Alpha pivots, considering them. His head rotates back to Kimberly. “Is it perhaps a variance in your body temperature? Are you hotter than Trini?”
Kimberly produces an alarming choking sound from within her throat, though she does not appear to require resuscitation. (The sound is clearly alarming even to humans, because Trini sits up particularly straight as well.)
“Uh, yeah," Zack laughs around the chocolate bar he's found a way to hide inside his Ranger suit. "She's definitely hot."
Strangely, despite the verbal affirmation, Kimberly's response (for once) is not actual laughter.
"It's called fashion, Alpha," Trini interjects, as she so often does when Kimberly is professing her amusement without communicating her audible laughter response.
"Fashion. I see."
He does not. More study is required.
After the Rangers have left for the day — “hang loose,” Zack says, which appears to be an affirmation of friendship and not, as it sounds, a threat of impending disassembly — Alpha spends the following ten hours studying the so-called human Fashion.
It would seem to be that the clothing the humans garb themselves in serve purposes apart from aiding in protection, adaptability, and general survival. Some fabrics or forms of draping are even seen as implying eagerness to mate. According to his research, the variety of this outerwear is of particular importance to humans during their teenage years. At times, even the act of seeking out new fabrics — new colors, designs, or even textures — can have a soothing effect on the young human mind.
The humans call this Retail Therapy.
Day Four, Part One. The human Teenagers suggest that for them to do the retail they will require funds to exchange for goods and services. Or, as Zack elaborates: “Cash money, baby.”
As such funds are not presently available, Retail Therapy will have to be postponed until such time as they have obtained the cash and also the money.
Day Four, Part Two.
Jason’s blade work is quite impressive, but one weapon alone cannot overcome an army. Until the other Rangers forge their deeper connection with the morphing grid and reveal their full potential to one another and themselves, he has taken it upon himself to train them in close quarter combat with a variety of weapons.
Today they are sparring Putties instead of each other, since Zack complained that Trini’s lack of vertical distance from the ground proved an unfair advantage. He was very concerned with the safety of some kind of jewels within his possession, which must certainly be in keeping with the advancement of the cash and money for retailing.
For now, the training continues.
Billy swings a quarterstaff at a putty’s legs at precisely the correct angle to knock it prone, just as Zack catapults over to bring a mace down on its head, causing the hologram to erupt in sparks that scatter in the air.
Zack leaps back up, moving with a confidence and swagger that seems entirely unearned and attempts to toss the weapon in the air, presumably to catch it again, but it is far too large for him — as has been noted several times by Kimberly, Trini, Billy, and even Alpha himself — and the excess weight causes it to slam back into the earth at an incredibly rapid pace.
Trini produces laughter from within her helmet. “Way to drop the mic.”
“He dropped a mace, actually,” Billy says, straightening.
Jason’s arms are folded in front of him as he watches with the others from an elevated position, most strategically sound. “Are you maybe ready to try something else yet?” he calls down at an unnecessarily high volume given their distance. This must be what humans call Dramatic Effect. “That thing is way too heavy.”
“Hey.” Zack raises his arms in a defensive posture that shifts into an imploring one as he gestures toward Jason. “If you’d just let me use the broadsword like I asked—“
“Not gonna happen.”
Of all the Rangers, Zack had been most impressed by the ship’s weapons room. What he refers to as a “broadsword” is in actuality an interplanetary sonic emitter with a double bladed exterior, capable of slicing through fleshy exteriors of most beings while also transmitting analytic data of combat to local star systems.
It weighs half as much as an average adult human male.
“How come you get the most badass weapon, huh?” Zack steps closer to Jason. “You didn’t pull that sword from a stone, man.”
“Boys with their toys,” Kimberly says as she leaps down into the Pit from their position above. Trini follows, scrambling quickly down and catapulting off the rock with a highly unnecessary but particularly stylish flourish at the end that places her landing much closer to Kimberly’s.
This appears to have compensated for her lack of vertical distance from the earth quite well.
“Do we have to do everything ourselves?” Trini attempts to lift the mace from the ground, grunting, but drops it again just as quickly. “Jesus.”
Billy turns to her. “It’s way too heavy. Maces were designed to pierce through armor with the intent that they can be swung quickly and effectively for several hours. They normally weigh only two or three pounds, so this is probably some kind of a space mace, which—“
“Billy,” Jason interjects, and Billy quiets.
“Space Mace isn’t an entirely awful name for a band.” From the tone of her voice, Kimberly is most likely grinning from inside her helmet.
“No,” Trini says as she and Kim both grip the handle of the mace together and toss it to the side. “It sounds like a shitty cartoon my brothers would watch.”
“Are we still really doing a band, in addition to being super heroes? It’s not an objection, that sounds totally cool, actually. I just don’t know how to play any instruments.”
Three more putties have spawned while they were bickering. Kim straightens, hefting a pair of daggers in her hands. “Let’s talk about this a little later, Billy.”
“Okay, cool. So later as in—“
“Left, Billy,” Trini shouts and they both turn in time to meet the incoming putty head on. This time yellow goes for its legs as Billy pummels its head repeatedly with his staff.
“Talk to each other.” Jason paces the edge of the overhang. “Communicate.”
“Hey, Kim,” Trini grunts and punches one of the putties repeatedly, serving as an effective distraction while Kim’s daggers puncture both its shoulders before tearing with abrupt downward strokes. “Think you could make it rhyme?”
Another jerk of the blades and the putty disappears along with the front of Kim’s helmet. She is smiling, but it is incredibly sharp and self-satisfied. “Not just ‘go, Rangers, go’? It’s simple, but to the point.”
“I was thinking maybe something that goes along with ‘shit, that hurt, now my knuckles are really sore.’”
“Difficult to rhyme, yeah.”
“Maybe you could workshop it.”
Zack appears at their side, his visor back in place. “If you two are finished, there’s one more putty left, and I don’t have my—“ He probably intended to say the word mace before being swatted aside by the heavy fist of an especially large putty. “Shit,” he groans instead. “That hurt.”
Kim cringes and her visor comes back down as she lowers herself into a fighting stance.
Face-to-face human interaction, though sometimes emotionally beneficial, seems to often serve as a distraction as well.
Though he finds it very strange, Alpha has not inquired as to why Jason wears a metallic device on his knee underneath his suit. It is still there, even as he morphs and his clothing is transformed — as though it exists as some innate part of him.
As far as Alpha is aware, human existence is largely organic, separate from non-biological assistance.
Perhaps he is mistaken and further study would clarify his confusion.
Despite its location several feet below the earth’s crust — and hidden within a gravitational inversion processor field — the ship has a variety of options for research and analysis. Not only does it process and understand data at a speed beyond human comprehension, but it also provides access to the entire history of the human storytelling medium known as Television.
The Tube of Boobs, as Zack calls it.
Alpha spends an evening consuming Tube Boob media with an avid interest, particularly focused on teenagers. This is easy enough to achieve, since it appears that most of what is on this television is about the problems of Teenagers.
There are shows about teenage warriors engaged in conflict much like the Rangers. There are usually many in number and they are always aesthetically pleasing, though for the most part they are quite pale and similar in their appearance. Alpha finds it difficult to tell them all apart if not for their outlandish dress. This must be the true purpose of Fashion.
Many of the segments are about teenage mating rituals, particularly the exchange of fluids and oxygen known as the kiss.
Alpha calculates that roughly 3.8% of all images broadcast on the boobs, regardless of category, are of human teenagers engaged in the kissing ritual. From what Alpha can surmise from available data, the kissing ritual is a vital part of the human experience that, if prolonged, will lead to the necessary removal of human garments as well as, much more alarmingly, the gradual loss of vision until it has faded entirely to black.
He will have to inquire with his Teenagers whether or not they fear the inevitable blindness as foretold by the boobs.
He discovers one program in particular that runs longer than most of the others. It airs on a network named after a human explosive device used for excavation and various destruction. The program itself is named for a club of individuals focused on what Alpha has been informed is the most important meal of the day. These five teenagers spend most of two hours very upset with all the fully matured humans. There appears to be particular resentment and distrust directed at the parental units.
This aligns with what little he already knows of the Rangers and their own relationships with the vital parental units.
The teenagers on the boobs appear to be very accurate representations of his own in a great many ways. They are equally erratic and prone to loud outbursts of sound. There is very often non-verbal auditory response to indicate annoyance or perhaps hunger.
The Boob Teenagers do not laugh at their own statements as often as his Teenagers do, but sometimes an unseen accompaniment provides the auditory amusement response that appears to be such a vital component of human interactions. This usually signifies the change in setting and is perhaps a useful means of changing a topic of conversation.
Theory: all of human behavior can be better understood through careful study of the Boobs.
Further data is required.
Once again, he has waited until the Teenagers are exhausted from expelling energy. They lay sprawled at the base of the Pit, covered in a light sheen of human bodily excretion known as sweat.
According to the Boob, other humans occasionally find its appearance very appealing, particularly as it appears on human skin.
Alpha thinks it looks disgusting, especially the way it causes the fabric of their garments to stick to their strange limbs.
“Do you think we could maybe go one day without questions during break time?”
“I have not asked a question in over one hundred and twenty hours of earth time measurement. That is many days without a question, Zack.” His head swivels toward the black ranger, who remains sprawled on his back in the dirt with his eyes closed. “I fear you may not understand mathematics properly.”
As far as Alpha is aware, humans cannot engage in telepathic communication of any kind, but they do appear to often exchange vital information with their eyes, such as the way they glance at one another now. (All except Zack, who naturally cannot look with eyes closed.)
“Please explain the human exchanging of bodily fluids—“
Jason sits up quickly. “The what?”
“—in the mating ritual known as the kiss. I had not finished my inquiry.”
“Oh.” Zack is sitting up now too. “Just making out? That’s—“
“Why do you want to know, Alpha?”
“There are many things I wish to know.” He swivels his head in Trini’s direction now that they are engaging in direct communication. The human teenagers require this level of stimulation from eye to eye contact to prevent a routine response where their eyes rotate upward and they release a stream of compressed air that lowers their shoulders and shifts their posture into the negative. He has witnessed it many times and is quite sure that directing his focus helps. “The more data I acquire, the more successful I will be in facilitating our mission.”
“I don’t really think it’s going to come up in saving the world, man.” Jason’s eyes are still narrowed to prevent the human salt water excretion from getting in his eyes.
“That is not what the boobs have indicated.”
“He means TV,” Zack says abruptly.
“Yes, the human tube of boobs.”
The auditory amusement response that comes from Trini is sharper than it is with the other teenagers, but very much in keeping with her normal tonality.
“According to that visual document, there is a clear precedent for the human saliva exchange being an important part of the world saving process.” Alpha’s head rotates to face the other Rangers now, studying them for a visual response. “Is it not?”
“Dude has got a point.”
“Can it, Zack.” Jason stands up, brushing the dirt from his jeans. “It’s not really our priority right now, Alpha.” The others, apart from Zack, begin to shift their posture into a heightened sense of alertness, propelled by his innate leadership capabilities.
“Do none of you wish to participate in the kissing ritual?” Alpha finds this difficult to believe. “Really?”
The auditory response from Trini is sharp again, but the wavelength is different from before.
It does not seem to be amused at all.
“Come on, guys,” Jason says, wiping the salt water excretion from his forehead with the back of his arm.
Zack remains seated as the others slowly rise to their feet. “I think I’d make out with you, Alpha, if it meant we could rest a little longer.”
Kimberly nudges him in the back with her knee as she runs fingers through her hair, perhaps to shake out any traces of dirt and debris that human hair traps quite efficiently. Trini studies the action, but does not emulate it herself. “I’d pay to see that,” Kim says, giving him another light bump.
“I’m pretty sure Alpha doesn’t actually even have lips.”
As is often the case, Billy’s assessment is the most logical.
Logic however would not appear to always have a place in human interactions.
For example, the Teenagers are very obviously stronger when they are working together toward a common goal, but occasionally they appear to have petty disagreements that result in unnecessary conflict.
Sometimes this manifests as Jason and Zack trying to outdo each other in their training, which appears as though it can be motivational, until one or the other accelerates their intensity beyond a reasonable amount. The boobs have shown this to be the kind of conflict that often results in a competition in fast vehicles or some other show of prowess, often to impress a female.
But neither Trini or Kimberly seem to be very interested in these displays.
In fact, they usually spend this time talking exclusively with each other. Telepathic communication still seems to be unlikely, but that does not stop them from spending inordinate amounts of time looking at each other’s eyes.
Whatever data humans convey to each other through their eyes appears to accelerate heart rate, as evidenced by the way Kimberly’s neck often matches the shade of her shirts once they are finished. Human blood, when pumped rapidly, produces a red or pink hue similar to her ranger color.
It is fitting, though certainly still very confusing.
Humans should not, however, ever appear to be a yellow color. Alpha had suspected such abnormalities in pigmentation could suggest a lack of health, but it is confirmed on Day Thirty-Two when Jason leaves early because he has developed what he describes as a stomach virus.
It is somewhat alarming to learn that human coding can also become corrupted, but the other Rangers assure him that it is not contagious for non-organic life forms and that, in fact, Jason should be fully recovered in a day or two.
“It’s some bad shrimp, I’ll bet you.”
“It’s disgusting,” Kimberly says, looking at the spot where some of Jason’s nearly digested food is now decorating the rock surface.
Alpha intends to collect it for analysis later, but gathers from their mood and tone that it would not go over well with the Teenagers if he were to do so while they’re still here. He provokes the compressed air response often enough when he cannot anticipate it, so there is no need to create added tension.
It makes it much harder to ask his inquiries when they are suspicious of him.
“What is a shrimp?” he asks, because it is the sort of question less likely to provoke an extreme reaction.
“It’s like Trini, but a little bigger.”
“Ha,” Trini says, mimicking Kimberly’s frequent laughter response of vibration without sincere amusement. “You’re funny, Zack.”
“I don’t think she means that.”
“I don’t think so either, Billy, buddy.”
“Another question!” Alpha moves closer to Jason’s DNA puddle and sits down again, very subtly. “Why do humans do that?”
“… what, puke their guts out?”
“No,” Alpha says, well aware that many earth species eject bodily fluids for a variety of reasons. “Why do humans feel the need to express statements that are the opposite of truth?”
Kimberly looks at Trini and then looks away again, very rapidly, which means she is not looking at the Jason fluid anymore. Alpha moves even closer.
“You mean sarcasm?” Zack shrugs. “It’s a way of making jokes.”
“Ah, yes. The humor you believe you all possess.” This is a miscalculation. The human teenagers all believe that they possess a very skilled sense of what they call their humors and they greatly dislike even the slightest implication otherwise.
Now they are all looking at him.
Most of their expressions register as an emotion of skepticism, but Billy is smiling. “It’s alright, Alpha. I don’t always get it either.”
As is so often the case, Billy’s response is the most logical.
All of the other rangers except blue have already left when Alpha collects the DNA sample. Billy does not seem to have the same reaction he had anticipated in the other Teenagers.
He watches with an intent focus and then very abruptly moves closer. “Are you going to sequence his DNA for a reason? You’re not making clones of us, are you? That could be cool, but probably pretty immoral if you don’t talk to Jason about it first.”
“Cloning? You mean more of you to deal with? Ay-yi-yi.” Alpha does not bother to look to see if Billy is following. He usually does once he has focused on a topic. “We don’t need even more teenagers around, I assure you.”
“So this is research? Like all of your questions.”
Alpha loads the vial of fluid into an organic sequencer that exists as part of the ship’s mainframe. Billy watches with fascination, moving quickly to watch the 3D imaging technology as it maps out the data compiling from the DNA.
“This technology is incredible. It’s so fast! It’s—“
“What’s incredible is how behind you humans still are. We’ve had this kind of technology for literally millions of years, and I am using literally correctly here. Because I have been on this ship for at least two million years myself.” Alpha begins to analyze and process the data, vaguely aware of Billy still standing nearby. “That’s why I need to understand the physical limitations of your small human bodies better.”
“How will that make us smarter?”
“It won’t. But at least I’ll be less surprised by it.”
Billy’s nod in response seems to indicate an understanding of being surprised by the complex mundanity of human interaction.
He remains for another hour discussing DNA, the weakness of human stomachs, and the careful and correct use of the human laughter response with Alpha.
It is illuminating.
Alpha cannot help but notice, as time and research progresses, that there is no human who behaves in the way that Billy does on the boobs.
Blue is logical, almost predictable, in ways the other teenagers seldom are and such reliability does not seem to ever exist in the historic documents found on the boobs.
Theory: human behavior, even when it is most consistent, is difficult to categorize.
It is not easy to devise a reliable means of testing this hypothesis, outside of further observation.
So he watches.
He sees the way Jason carries his weight differently when he is outside of his suit, more detached from the morphing grid, favoring one leg over the other. How he never acknowledges it and the others don't either. (Except Billy, who occasionally asks if Jason is alright and awaits the verbal affirmation that always follows.)
Alpha watches the way that Trini, already so small, sometimes makes her presence even slighter, nearly silent, when she slips in close at Kimberly's side.
He notices the way that Kimberly pretends not to see it herself.
He watches the sharp tension Zack keeps in his shoulders that is not present in the rest of his body. He moves like he exists eternally in the human practice known as dance, feet shifting like he's on a ship adrift in space; but that calm is not there in his neck. He tenses when no one is watching and keeps his smile response on his face much longer than his eyes show the same warmth.
Human bodies, as established, are incredibly fragile, especially without their ranger suits to shield them. Their muscles are easily harmed by over exertion. The way he holds himself, always tense and on the alert, is bad for Zack's long term health.
It is the leader's responsibility to see these things.
One day Alpha takes it upon himself to say so. "Zack is unwell."
Jason looks up quickly, his expression intent and focused, as it is when he is directing his team in training. "What?" He moves closer, a heat retaining receptacle containing the liquid fuel known as Caw-Feen in his hand. "Did he say something?"
"He says a great many things. More than any other ranger apart from Billy," Alpha says, but then the intention behind Jason's question registers. "But about this, he is silent."
Human bodies are fragile and highly malleable. Their confusion and hurt shows on their faces as clearly as it sticks to the muscles under their skin. They are like the surface of a planet scraped raw from a ship's landing gear after a very long flight.
All that confusion, hurt, and worry is there on Jason's face in an instant.
"He carries his pain with him," Alpha says, by way of clarification.
"Yeah." Jason's throat produces a dry attempt at a laughter response, which is also a great deal like soil ripped free from the earth. It is just as dry. "We all do, Alpha."
"Is it the human condition?" Alpha says, wanting not to register any of his own annoyance out confusion in the wavelength of his voice. "To always hurt?"
The rough cracks in Jason's voice do not convince.
But just then, Trini and Kimberly arrive on the deck, their laughter preceding their arrival by mere moments.
They lean close, each favoring the leg near each other.
"See?" Jason says, his voice suddenly as smooth and even as glass plating on the hull of the ascending ship.
He is standing straighter now himself.
Alpha does not see. Not precisely.
But perhaps that is what he is meant to know. Perhaps the very essence of humanity is its own unquantifiable nature.
There is no one on the boob like Billy, but none of them are quite like Trini either. Or Kimberly, Zack, or even Jason, though a majority of those present do resemble him the most.
They are each their own being, not only as Rangers, but as Teenagers.
Theory: not everything about human nature is available for analysis. Some qualities — those most likely to prevent the inevitable and frequent Hurt they carry with them — are not easily quantified or calculated, but present all the same. As though happiness exists in humans in an almost molecular level, invisible to the eye and beyond even the reach of science.
It is annoying, but so is everything else about Teenagers.
Conclusion: human behavior — from their laughter to their ritual kissing — cannot be predicted in advance. It is to be experienced and observed, in all its many variances, however loud or frequently frustrating they might be.
And they almost certainly will be both loud and frustrating.
New theory: if the boob cannot be completely trusted, then it is possible that the data it presents has left him with an unrealistic expectation of how frequently humanity must deal with the threat of creatures known as the Zahm Bees.
Further analysis is required.