Kara stormed out of the woods as Tyler looked down on her from the safety of the tree branches. They were thin, as high as he was, but he trusted his sense of balance; it had never failed him.
"You can come down now," another voice began calling up into the tree. "She's long gone."
Tyler sat perfectly still. He had never heard this girl's voice before and didn't feel like making any new friends.
"Who are you talking to?" someone asked. Tyler recognized the voice instantly and wished it would go away.
"Someone's up in that tree."
"Oh. Hey Tyler, get down here. I don't know what you're doing up there but it's getting annoying."
"Remind him that he could hurt himself. A fall from that height could paralyze him, or worse."
"Are you sure he's still up there?" Alex asked. "He may have jumped to another tree."
"Would he really? He'd be taking his life into his hands."
TEC looked up into the tree. He began focusing on the topmost branches. Alex watched TEC's eyes intently. The irises turned red and the veins turned yellow, just like earlier that day when TEC pinpointed Tyler and Kara. "He's up there, all right. Right about there," he said, pointing to a high limb. TEC walked to the trunk of the tree and put both hands firmly on it, attempting to shake it.
"That tree is huge," the girl said. "It's what, forty feet high? About 13 feet around? You'd be better off throwing rocks at him."
"Fine by me," Alex said. He searched the ground but couldn't find any rocks on the well-kept park grass.
TEC took a step back and kicked the tree with his right foot; the tree shook, but Tyler didn't come down. TEC jutted his left arm out, sinking his fingers into the massive trunk. He began shaking the trunk. His eyes began glowing again as he looked into the tree's high branches. Alex was amazed; the girl was frightened. "He'll be down shortly."
"Are you crazy? Didn't you hear what I just said? He could be killed!" the girl shouted, positioning herself near the base of the tree and looking upward for any falling tree-climbers.
Tyler was doing somersaults in the air as he came down. The girl ran around beneath him, arms outstretched upward. TEC jumped into her and knocked her out of the area Tyler would land in.
"Task Force! Transform!" he shouted, morphing in a red burst of light. He landed squarely on his feet and looked at the group. TEC was holding a quivering girl and Alex was looking at Tyler, completely impressed. "Power down," he said.
The girl struggled; TEC let her go. "What is going on here? Your eyes were glowing, and you kicked the tree, and you stuck your hand into the tree, and you did something... transforming? You're the three guys I saw a few days ago, aren't you!"
TEC looked at her with a deadpan expression. "Yes, we are. And you're the girl I saw. You were helping people, weren't you?"
"Yes!" she said excitedly. Taking a breath, she added, "yes. I couldn't just stand there while so many people were getting hurt."
TEC pulled the gloves out of his pocket. "Then take these. I want you to be the pink ranger."
"Tyler," Tyler replied curtly.
"So, what's the deal with those other guys? What are these?" she asked, pulling the gloves out of her pocket and showing them to Tyler.
Without saying a word, Tyler clenched his fists. Accompanied by a dull red glow, his gloves materialized on his hands. Janet yelped slightly.
"Mr. Williams, would you care to tell us how to use Kirchoff's Laws to combine resistances in a series circuit," the professor said suddenly.
She must've drawn attention to us. Tyler took a breath. "Using Kirchoff's Voltage Law, we know that the voltage drops across each resistor must equal the voltage supplied by the source, we can say that the total current times the equivalent resistance must equal the current through each resistor times the resistance of each. Knowing that all currents are equal due to Kirchoff's Current Law, all currents cancel out. We're left with an expression that says the total resistance is equal to the sum of the series resistances."
"That is correct," the professor said with a hint of frustration in his voice.
"He was trying to bust you for not paying attention. How did you know that?" Janet asked.
"I've seen a lot," Tyler said. Returning to his demonstration, he created a tiny energy sphere between two fingers. It glowed with faint red-orange energy and had a glasslike look to it. He handed it to Janet, who was skeptical. With Tyler's insistence she took it and turned it over in her hand.
"It's like a little marble," she said. Seconds later, the sphere evanesced as though it was made of smoke.
"Two points!" Alex said excitedly.
"So putting the ball through the basket is worth two points?" TEC asked.
"Yeah. Well, no, not always. Most of the time, it's worth two. If you're outside this line," he said, pointing to the semicircle around the basket, "it's worth three points. And in some situations, it's only worth one."
TEC continued to watch as Alex ran around. He was confused by Alex's continual need to bounce the ball. It was an extremely inefficient use of energy. "Why can't you just carry the ball?" he asked.
"What planet are you from?" Kara asked. The two looked over and saw Kara walking over. "Carrying the ball is against the rules. Of course, the way Alex dribbles, I'm surprised he doesn't just hand the ball to the other team."
TEC said, "My home planet is," followed by a series of clicks and whistles. "You can call it..."
TEC's words fell on deaf ears; Alex and Kara looked at each other. "Are you challenging me to a game?" Alex asked.
"Let's see what you've got," Kara said, pulling off her sweatshirt, revealing a blue and green jersey.
"Three points! That's a tie," Kara exclaimed, tossing the ball to Alex. "You're going down."
"Going down? I'm just getting warmed up," Alex replied.
TEC was sitting on a nearby bench, observing as always. Suddenly, he turned his head sharply and began squinting slightly, looking into the darkness. Alex stopped and ran over to TEC to watch his eyes; they turned the same colors they did when he was looking up into the tree. Kara rushed over but saw nothing. "Tyler is coming. And he's bringing the girl," TEC announced.
"Tyler? With another human being?" Alex asked. Kara jabbed him in the ribs.
Sure enough, Tyler came to the fence. He opened the gate to the fenced-in basketball court and held it open for Janet, who was taken aback by this courtesy. Tyler stepped onto the court momentarily, but only to acknowledge everyone with a slight nod. Alex and Janet smiled at him. He looked at TEC as if to say, "I brought her here, now she's yours to deal with."
"See? He's always leaving. What's his deal?" Alex said angrily. "He only shows up to fight."
"Maybe he doesn't feel like hanging out with jerks like you," Kara said.
"Maybe he just wants to be left alone. He could be going through a lot in his life, and then to have this burden put on his shoulders..." Janet began. Alex and Kara looked at her, a little surprised at her empathy. Janet could feel her lip quivering when all eyes were on her. "Or... maybe he's just a loner," she said.
"Whatever," Alex said. He took the basketball in one arm and threw it as hard as he could over the fence.
The girls shouted at him for doing it, but he just watched and smiled as the basketball neared its target. At the last possible moment, Tyler spun around and caught the basketball and just kept walking away.
"I don't believe it," Alex said, turning around and throwing his hands in the air. "I just don't..." his rant was interrupted when the ball hit him on the back of the head. He turned back around to see Tyler walking away empty-handed.
Janet picked up the ball and began dribbling it. She was nervous about being around these freshmen. "Basketball, huh? I guess you two wouldn't want to play, would you?"
"Are you kidding? The two of us can take this geek, no problem," Kara said, standing to Janet's side.
"Please. Why would you want to join a losing team when you could be with me," Alex said.
"No thanks," Janet said. She looked at TEC and remembered earlier that afternoon, when he speared his fingers into the tree trunk. "I want him on my team," she said, pointing to TEC.
"Are you sure? He's never played before. This is the first basketball game he's ever even seen" Alex asked.
"You just don't want to be on the same team as her," Janet said. "C'mon, Tex. You're with me."
"That's TEC," he corrected.
The two teams faced off. TEC checked the ball to Janet, who ran to make an easy layup. Alex took the ball out to Kara, who began running down court. Janet stole the ball and passed it to TEC, who dropped it for a second. He picked it up quickly, but Alex was already guarding him. TEC took a few steps backward, but Alex was already covering him. He turned around to keep his back to Alex. He looked at the other team's basket, then he turned around to see Alex right in his face. He looked over him at his basket.
TEC turned around again to face the other team's basket. His irises dimly flashed yellow. He hurled the ball at the other team's basket. Janet shouted out in disbelief.
The ball bounced off the backboard, which began shaking violently. The basketball sailed overhead and fell through the basket without touching the rim.
The three were shocked. "Nothing but net," Kara said, eyes wide open in disbelief.
"I doubt it," TEC replied. "You would need far more strength than you have."
"What are you saying?" Alex said, offended. "I'm strong. I took those robosoldiers on, didn't I?"
"Yes, you did," TEC said neutrally. He sighed and decided to drop the subject there.
The four walked back in relative silence. When they reached the dorms, Alex and Kara went in. Janet and TEC continued walking to the apartments. After walking for a couple of minutes, Janet broke the silence. "You're not human, are you."
"No," TEC replied. "I'm from another world."
"It's more than that, though," Janet said. "You're not even biological. There's no way someone with your build could throw a basketball so hard and so fast. And what you did to the tree trunk was unbelievable in itself."
"Again, you are correct. I am a cyborg. Part biological, part mechanical."
"It doesn't seem like the others know," Janet said.
"No, they don't. They haven't asked. I wasn't designed to freely disclose my identity."
"You told me."
"I wasn't designed to lie, either," TEC said.
"So these gloves," she said, pulling them out of her pocket. "Did your people make these?"
"Actually, they are from another planet called Dalec. It's very technologically advanced. Almost as much so as my people. They are impressive in both their intricacy and simplicity. Modifying them should not be a problem."
"Modifying them?" Janet asked.
TEC nodded. "They contain the capacity for many powers other than the ones we're currently using. Since the robosoldiers and controllers will be adapted after every battle, we'll have to increase our own arsenal to stay ahead."
Janet was stunned. "I'm sorry if I'm having trouble believing this. But all this talk of aliens and robots just has my head spinning. This afternoon you said we were in the crossfire between two worlds. Now you're telling me you're a cyborg who plans on modifying this alien technology so we can fight robots. This is too much."
"I urge you to think about this. So many people would want to be in your position, but so few are qualified. It would take too much time to find them. Time we don't have. We have to be a working team as quickly as possible."
"Tyler is a loner, Kara and Alex are at each others throats, and you're... well, you're new to this planet, or so you say. Doesn't seem like we'll mesh well."
"You have a keen eye for people and relationships. Perhaps you've also noticed, however, that Kara and Alex don't fight nearly as much when Tyler is around. His mere presence commands respect."
"So he's the leader? Why not you? You know more about this situation than anyone, it seems."
"Undoubtedly. But there are two reasons. One is that I feel Tyler is the superior leader."
"And the other?"
"I can't say. But it's a far better reason than the first."
"All this secrecy is weird," Janet said. "I'll talk to you more tomorrow, in about 12 hours. Can I meet you here?" TEC nodded and Janet began walking away. She felt a strong wind blowing to her back. She turned around and saw a ship fade into view, landing. TEC walked to it and climbed in. The ship began rising and faded away once again. She stared at the darkness in disbelief and didn't notice Tyler walk up to her.
"So he told you everything, huh?" he said. She nodded slowly. "It's not easy work. We've only been in two fights and it's taken us everything we've got," Tyler said.
"You're not making a good argument for joining," Janet said.
"You have every right to know what you'd be getting yourself into," Tyler said, walking away.
"Not like you, right?" Janet asked. Tyler stopped. "Part of you is upset because this was thrust upon you." He kept walking. Janet turned around and continued walking back to her apartment.
"In a span of three days, all of the powers have been distributed. Your window of opportunity has closed," the eldest woman of the council said.
"Not quite. The pink gloves haven't been activated yet. We still have time. I already have a squad of robosoldiers and two controllers on the scene."
"Two controllers. Are you sure you want to send that many? Need I remind you of your limited resources, Commander."
"The stakes are highest. We increase our odds by sending two."
The council members looked at each other. "You are overruled, commander. Send one. Make the necessary modifications."
"Yes ma'am," Kellik grumbled. "Making the modifications would be much easier if you could send me better data on what..."
The councilwoman pressed a button to cut him off. The wall Kellik was talking to turned black. He pounded his fist on the table and stood up.
She opened the door to her apartment and instantly sensed something was amiss. Although everything looked as though it was in place, she could feel that something was out of place. She reluctantly reached into her backpack and found the black gloves with the pink lining that TEC gave her earlier that afternoon. She put them on, and they conformed to her hand perfectly.
Walking around the sparsely-furnished apartment, Janet looked for signs of intruders. She crept through the small kitchen and emerged in her dining room. Without warning, the front door slammed behind her. Her heart jumped as she spun around to look behind her.
A pair of cold hands grabbed her shoulders. She struggled, but it was in vain. The hands pushed her to the window, and she couldn't stop herself. She closed her eyes tightly and put her arms over her face. She crashed through the window. Remembering what Tyler did when he was falling from the tree, she put her hands together and shouted, "Task Force! Transform!" In a burst of pink light, she morphed. With agility, Janet landed deftly on the balls of her feet. She looked up at her window, three stories up. A metallic face was looking down at her. It jumped through the broken window and floated gently to the ground. Landing without making a sound, it approached her.
"Who are you?" she shouted. In response, the metallic face leaned out the window. Soon, an entire metal body was falling from the third floor, glinting in the light coming from the building windows. As it approached the ground, it mysteriously began to slow until its feet rested on the ground.
Without saying a word, the metallic person began walking towards her, arms stretched towards her. Sparks of dull gray electricity began shooting between the fingers. The sparks grew in intensity until they were powerful-looking arcs; the arcs took the shape of a ball of lightning between the person's hands. The ball grew slightly more before it was hurled straight at Janet.
Janet barely dodged it. She spun back to watch it fly past her and straight into a nearby car, which absorbed the electricity and exploded in a violent burst of fire and glass, throwing shrapnel in every direction. Remembering Tyler's demonstration in class earlier, she cupped her hand; a fuzzy ball of pink energy formed. "Don't make me use this," she shouted.
The robot fired again. This time, Janet jumped and flipped over the ball of electricity. As she landed, she hurled the pink ball at her assailant, who dodged easily. Again, Janet turned around to watch the ball fly; this time, it flew towards an innocent man who was running towards the fight. "Look out!" she shouted. Janet winced as the ball neared the man, but instead of killing him as she feared, the ball flew through him. He continued running, uninterrupted.
"I'm not your only enemy tonight," the robot said. "Or even your most dangerous. The man running towards us is a TEC unit. Rogue soldiers from Varn. They bring destruction wherever they go."
"He seemed friendly enough," Janet replied.
The robot fired something else from his hands, but this time Janet couldn't see what it was in the darkness. The missile flew towards TEC and wrapped around his feet. A deep purple glow began to climb his body. He squirmed but couldn't get loose. "Janet, help me!" he shouted.
"Why help him? Don't you remember you first saw him fighting?"
"How do I know this isn't a trick? Those robots have been attacking everyone" Janet's voice rang over the speaker.
"They didn't show up until he came along though, did he?" Kellik asked.
"Janet, don't listen to him!" TEC's voice boomed behind her. She turned around in shock. "That's Commander Kellik, he's an officer in the Varn army. He's trying to keep you from joining the team."
"He's been trying to get you to join the team," the robot replied.
"Janet, that's a circular argument and you know it. You don't know why he wants to stop you. But you've seen that you have the chance to defend innocents. What is your decision?"
Janet ran to TEC. "How do I get this off you?" she asked. She put her hands towards him; the force field surrounding TEC moved away from her hands. Suddenly, her gloves began glowing in pink and his hands began glowing yellow. Janet put her hands into TEC's. The light became a gray-white and the purple field dissolved. The rope unwrapped and TEC stood up.
"We can't beat him alone," TEC said.
"Beat him? I'm not attacking anyone."
"Janet, there's nobody in there. It's a robot. Say 'Visual scan'"
"Visual scan," Janet repeated. A line ran horizontally down the visor. The image of the robot was a gold outline. She looked at TEC; parts of him were gold, but for the most part he was a dark blue. She looked down at her hands; there was a faint pink outline around her dark-blue hands. She picked up the rope that bound TEC. It was gold and white in the scan. A vertical line ran across her field of vision and data began scrolling up the right side of her visor. "This is incredible," she said. "Constrictive force field..."
"You can see there's nobody in there, then? That thing isn't alive or even artificial life. It is programmed to destroy. Look out!" TEC shouted. While she wasn't looking, the robot fired another shot. It hit her square on her shoulder, which exploded with loud, bright blue sparks as she fell to the ground.
Janet's head spun to look at the robot. Data about it began running up her field of vision. "I see it. I know how to disable it. That is, if I'm interpreting this data right." She got to her feet. Keeping her sights on the robot, she opened her arms. "I'm not going to fire at you. But leave here immediately."
"Surrender those gloves," the robot replied.
"No," she said firmly.
The robot charged up and fired another shot. Janet spun to one side and hurled the rope at the robot. It wrapped around the robot's knees and tightened, and the purple glow surrounded the robot.
Janet watched her scanners as the temperature of the robot rose sharply. Systems began shutting down. "Scanner off," she said. The screen blinked back to the regular view. Blazing white sparks showered down the body of the robot. Janet turned around as the robot exploded. "That force field kept it from venting the heat generated by the blast," she told TEC.
"Perceptive. You'll make an excellent addition to the team," he said.
"Power down," Janet said, unmorphing. "I can't join the team. I don't want to hurt anyone."
"Janet!" a new voice shouted. Tracy, one of Janet's neighbors, ran towards her. "That was amazing! You saved our lives," she said, shaking her friend's hand.
"Yeah... I suppose I did," Janet replied.
"The team is complete," Kellik repeated, "but still new. There is still time to plant seeds of mistrust and tear them asunder."
"We are sending you another twenty robosoldiers and 5 commanders. They should be there by morning."
"Is there anything else you would care to report?" another councilman asked.
"No, sir," he said. A drop of sweat fell unnoticed from his brow.