Alex lay on his bed in his gray sleeveless-shirt and green gym shorts. He looked up at the ceiling as he threw his black medicine ball upward, hitting the dreary gray ceiling every time.
"Don't you ever have homework?" his roommate Jonothan asked. Jonothan was sitting at his desk, but Alex could hardly see him behind his computer monitor and stack of books.
Alex rested the ball to his side and sat up. "We've been in school for 5 days now. I'm surprised you have homework," he replied.
"Well, I don't know about foreign relations majors, but chemical engineers have a lot of work to do," Jonothan said. Alex shrugged and resumed throwing his ball at the ceiling. "And we chemical engineers get annoyed when we're trying to work but our roommate just keeps bouncing a ball against the ceiling," he added.
Alex grimaced and began throwing the ball harder, enjoying the loud thunk it made against the ceiling. The phone rang, but Alex ignored it. Jonothan sighed audibly and picked it up, said a few words and hung up. "That was Rohit, one of our neighbors upstairs. He said that if you don't stop making a racket he'll call the Resident Adviser," he said.
I gotta get out of here, Alex thought. He put on his favorite pair of jeans and a t-shirt and went outside.
"It's called 'Rush Week.' All the fraternities and sororities try to get people to join their houses," Janet replied without a hint of interest or distaste.
"I don't understand. Will people actually be rushing towards me?" TEC asked.
"No. Well, maybe. I don't know, I suppose it depends on the fraternity."
"What about sororities?" TEC asked genuinely.
"Check your lexicon for 'soror.' It's a Latin word for 'sister'."
"And 'frater' is 'brother'," he realized. "I've heard about these. Adoption is a foreign concept on Varn."
"We're not trying to take you away from your family," a young man added. Janet spun around to see a handsome young man standing next to TEC. He handed him a pamphlet. "Hi, I'm Joseph. I'm a brother of Sigma Sigma Phi. I live in the house on the corner, covered in vines," he said, pointing to a three-story building with vines crawling up the front wall. "We're having a couple of social events today. Playing some games, watching some movies. You should come by."
TEC was stunned by the speed of the confrontation and just nodded in response. Joseph smiled and shook his hand before walking away.
"You can't join a fraternity," Janet muttered as she began to pull him away from the fraternity quad.
"They'll be keeping a very close eye on you," Janet said under her breath as they hurried through the crowd. "And even if you acted perfectly human, which you don't, it doesn't hide the fact that your eyes occasionally glow. Not to mention the fact that you're fighting a war."
TEC flipped the brochure over in his hand and looked at it curiously.
"You're a new student, aren't you?" someone asked. Tyler stopped in his tracks and turned around to see a young man trotting towards him. When the new man caught up to Tyler, he introduced himself. "I'm Steve. This school can be pretty intimidating, I know."
"Not really, no," Tyler said, looking through the crowd. He wasn't really looking for anything; he just wanted to get away from Steve. He began to move, but Steve shadowed him, talking.
"Oh. Well, what kind of stuff do you like to do? Maybe you'd be interested in joining a group on campus."
"I've already joined a group on campus," Tyler said, continuing to move through the crowd. "I don't have a lot of time for others."
"Anybody I know?" Steve asked.
"How would I know who you know?" Tyler replied, stopping and spinning around.
Steve stuffed a brochure into Tyler's hand. "Stop by Gamma Kappa Omega tonight, we're having a gathering."
Tyler stuffed the brochure into his pocket. "Right, right," he said.
"What?" she asked, putting her sunglasses on top of her head. "I had the right-of-way, of course. Intersection's back there," she said, pointing her thumb behind her.
"You. Have a car," Alex stammered. "And an awesome one, too. How much horsepower? 400?"
"It's got 450," Kara said cooly. "Are you going to the Rush Week events?"
"Yeah!" Alex exclaimed, moving to jump into the car.
"Maybe I'll see you there," Kara chuckled. She put her sunglasses back over her eyes and sped off, leaving Alex behind her, waving exhaust away from his face.
"Who is that?" Kellik muttered. He pressed some buttons in the panel on his armrest; the image froze and zoomed in on the ship.
"Sir, we have a message coming in. The ship is hailing us. Audio only."
"I am General Toval. Stand aside Commander, I have been dispatched by the Council themselves."
Janet looked through the crowd to see Kara approaching her from the parking lot. "What're you doing here? Aren't you a little old for rush week?" Kara smirked.
"Nobody's too old for rush week," Janet smiled. "Besides, they always have cool stuff here. It's like a carnival. Don't get used to it, campus isn't usually this exciting."
"It looks like it'll be more exciting this year though, doesn't it? Did you see? Robots." a fresh female voice said.
"Hi, I'm Kara," Kara said, shaking the young woman's hand. "And this is my friend..."
"Janet Kuiper," the brunette woman finished. "I'm Sarah," she said, facing Kara.
"Hello Sarah, long time no see," Janet said, the smile fading from her face.
"I figure all those robots and people fighting are just some publicity stunt or something. You know how the administration is about proving how exciting campus is, right Jan?"
"Tell me about it," Janet replied, forcing a smile.
"I was about to go watch the GKO frisbee tournament. It's not that interesting, but you know, guys running around in sweaty t-shirts, right?" Sarah said eagerly.
"Sounds like fun," Kara said. "You coming?"
"Yeah, we can catch up on old times!" Sarah said excitedly, putting an arm around Janet and pulling her in the direction of the football field.
The microphone changed hands. "And my name is Tyler, I'm a brother of Sigma Sigma Phi! SIG-MA! SIG-MA!" he exclaimed.
The brothers of Sigma Sigma Phi began cheering. Kara's head turned sharply as she looked to the announcer stand. There's no way. There's just no way. She squinted, trying to make out who was in the announcer's box across the field.
"I don't think so," Tyler said. Kara looked down to see Tyler sitting on the seat right in front of her. Tyler looked up at her momentarily; Kara could tell what he was thinking: there's more than one "Tyler" in the world. She just looked back to acknowledge him. She sat down in the empty seat to his right; Janet and Sarah sat in the seats to his left.
"Hi, I'm Sarah. Are you a friend of Jan's?" the giddy young woman asked.
Tyler arched an eyebrow. He looked past Sarah and at Janet. "Jan?" Janet rolled her eyes in acknowledgement. "I thought you were with TEC," Tyler asked.
"No, he wanted to walk around on his own. He's a big boy, he doesn't need an escort," Janet replied.
"The brothers of Gamma Kappa Omega want to introduce a couple of freshmen players! They're a bunch of great guys, give it up for Ahmet Ashan, Alex Johnson, Johnny Stewart and Tommy Sheridan!"
"Did they say Alex?" Kara asked. Tyler nodded once in response.
"And Sigma Sigma Phi wants to introduce Tony Lazarus and... Tex!"
Janet leaned forward, squinting at the players on the field. She looked down at the players who just ran onto the field. One of them had a tiny glint of metal shine from his left arm. TEC.
"How predictable," Tyler muttered.
"Commander, we didn't send General Toval. He's a renegade. When we declined his request to put him in charge of the Earth Project, he took a shuttle."
"I see. I assume my orders are to capture him and bring him to justice."
"Why?" the woman in the center asked. "He seems intent on doing you a favor."
"Indeed," Kellik muttered.
"Remind me. Why are they using three frisbees?" Kara asked.
"A couple years ago, they used to only use one," Sarah replied. "But the field is so big, it's easy to just get bored watching them throw the one frisbee back and forth. So they decided to put a few more out there. Different sizes are worth different point amounts. Isn't it more exciting to see so many out there?"
"No," Tyler said, obviously annoyed that the two girls were talking across him.
"Alex, what are you waiting for? Stop him!" someone shouted, pointing to the Sigma teammembers who were quickly throwing the ring down the field. Alex immediately obeyed, sprinting down the field.
TEC ran up to one of his teammates. "I have a plan. Follow my direction." The confused boy nodded and the two ran downfield, into the middle of the action. TEC's eyes flashed yellow as he assessed the situation. He nodded to himself and leapt into the air, effortlessly intercepting the large red frisbee. He pointed to a spot on the ground; his teammate ran there immediately. TEC hurled the red frisbee at a sharp angle and hit the yellow frisbee in mid-flight. The yellow one flew straight into the waiting man's hands. The red one flew back to TEC's waiting hands.
Alex planted his feet and turned suddenly as the announcers roared. "I don't know how he did it!" Josh exclaimed, "Tex has successfully brought the red and yellow frisbees into posession of Sigma Sigma Phi! Did anyone catch that on instant replay?"
Tyler's eye, however, caught something else. A glint of light flashed in mid-air a few blocks away. He stood up and started moving down the bleachers. Kara instantly followed. Janet got up, but Kara stopped her. "You need to stay and keep your friend busy. I'll see what he's doing."
"You don't understand," Janet began. But Kara had already turned and began to chase after Tyler. She sighed and sat back down.
"Where are they going?" Sarah asked.
"No idea," Janet grumbled.
Tyler put a finger to his lips in response and began creeping around the field. "I know it's here somewhere," he said. He clenched his fists, forming his gloves. He seemed to have spotted something and moved slowly forward, forming a tiny sphere in his right hand. Kara moved slowly forward and saw what he was looking at: grass in the field moving as though wind was blowing on it, but the air around them was actually still. Tyler put the sphere on the grass; it shot upward quickly and disappeared.
The two heard a slight rattling followed shortly by a medium-sized explosion, bursting from nowhere. A scorch-mark now sat in mid-air, intermittently coughing yellow clouds of smoke. Kara formed her gloves and took a defensive posture.
The black mark settled closer to the ground. The scorched object became opaque. It was another spaceship, resembling TEC's. The canopy began to rise. Tyler's eyes squinted and Janet's widened.
A hand rose from the cockpit and began firing blue energy blasts. The two dove clear. Tyler rose to his feet and shouted, "Task Force, transform!" Kara was a beat behind him.
The shots continued, but the two rushed forward to the sides of the open cockpit. Tyler tossed in another energy sphere. There was a bright flash of light. The two looked in and found the cockpit empty. "Impossible," Kara said.
The two turned around to hear clapping behind them. "Bravo. I didn't think anyone could use those powers so well. Commander Kellik wasn't exaggerating. TEC-7 has taught you well."
"TEC-seven?" Kara asked, looking over to Tyler, who was still focused on this newcomer.
"Who are you?" he asked in a low yet demanding tone.
"I am General Toval. And I'm here to do what Commander Kellik seems to be failing at."
Kara's head was spinning in her helmet. "General Toval? Commander Kellik? Who are all these people? What do you want with us? What's that number after TEC's name?" she asked.
"I don't answer questions from you, Green Ranger," Toval said. "I wish to speak with the team leader," he said to Tyler.
"Hey, who do you think you are?" Kara said, stepping in front of Tyler. Toval responded by firing an energy blast from his fingers. Kara was blasted onto her back in a shower of sparks.
Tyler looked to Kara to be sure she was okay. He stepped forward, between her and Toval. "What do you want?"
"I want to solve all your problems," he smiled.
"Hold it right there!" Alex shouted. Tyler looked over Toval's shoulder and saw Alex running up, morphed, with TEC and Janet following close behind.
"Just the cyborg I wanted to see," Toval said, smiling again. He stretched out his right hand and fired an energy blast at TEC, who went flying. He hit the ground rolling and slammed into a tree, powering down in a burst of yellow energy. Toval ran toward TEC, but the other rangers regrouped, standing between them.
"Do you really think you could take us all?" Alex asked.
"Give me the cyborg," Toval said to Tyler, completely disregarding Alex's comment. "And give me those gloves. And I promise that all the robots -- all the attacks-- will end." He snapped his fingers and disappeared, along with his ship.
The group looked around and powered down. They rushed to TEC, who was lying against the jagged stump of a now-broken tree. All that remained of his shirt was a few scorched scraps hanging from his neck and shoulders. A charred gash covered half his torso. Alex began to stare at the upper-left portion of TEC's chest. It was mostly metal and blinking circuitry.
"We'll bring him back to my place," Janet said. "TEC, can you walk?"
He nodded slightly and tried to help himself up, but only fell backwards. Alex and Tyler grabbed him under the shoulders and hoisted him up.
"TEC's lying on my bed. That blast hit him pretty hard," Janet said, closing the door behind her. "His wounds are bad, but they're healing fast."
"I'm fine, thanks," Kara said, looking at her bruised shoulder. "How did he blast us? Do his people have some special powers?"
Janet shook her head. "I did a visual scan while he was giving his ultimatum to Tyler. He has some sort of gauntlet. My guess is that it was designed to be used specifically against TEC. That's why you escaped with bruises and he's staining my bedspread."
"Visual scan?" Kara asked.
Janet nodded. "Say 'visual scan' and you get tons of data on whatever you're looking at." She looked back to Tyler. "He offered us quite a deal. This whirlwind tour of science fiction can be over about a week after it started."
"We'd have to hand over our friend," Alex said, walking in from the kitchen with a sandwich in one hand and a glass of milk in the other. Tyler glared at him, obviously annoyed that Alex was eating Janet's food. "She said to make ourselves at home," Alex replied defensively.
"Yeah, mi casa es su casa," she said. "So do we hand him over?" Janet asked, directing the question to Tyler once again.
"Am I the only one who feels left out?" Kara asked Alex, who was busy washing down a bite of his sandwich with the glass of milk.
"Chime in anytime," Janet replied, never breaking eye contact with Tyler, who was silent.
"So TEC's a cyborg. Awesome," Alex said excitedly.
"Yes, I am," TEC said, standing in the doorway of Janet's bedroom. He looked at Janet. "No, I didn't leave a mess on your bedspread. Many of my wounds had closed up on the way here from the field. And yes, the weapon was designed specifically to be used against not just me, but any Varnian."
"Varnian," Alex repeated.
TEC nodded. "It can be fatal, but it was designed more as an implement of..." he paused for just a second, considering what he was about to say. "Of torture. Searing pain that lasts, but you survive it so you can remember how badly it hurt."
"How would he design that kind of a weapon?" Janet asked.
"Because General Toval is a Varnian too," Tyler added softly and certainly. "Isn't he."
"Yes," TEC confirmed.
A stunned silence filled the room. Everyone realized what this meant.
"So you've given us these gloves to help you fight against your own people," Kara said.
The walls on the sides of the front one blinked to show an old man's face with a smile spreading from ear to ear. "It looks like I'm about to succeed where you've failed, Commander," General Toval said.
"General Toval, sir," Kellik said. "My officers didn't inform me you would be calling."
"I didn't inform them," he said through smiling teeth. "That would be so impersonal."
"Undoubtedly," Kellik said, rising to his feet. He began pressing some keys on the panel in front of him and the footage of the red ranger disappeared. The image of General Toval on the side walls now appeared right in front of him. He pressed a few more buttons and a message, Tracing Transmission slowly blinked on the console. I have to get him to keep talking.
"And what if you do succeed? My surveillance showed your ship being damaged by the red ranger. You're not going anywhere."
"Ah, Commander. I am not only defeating these Rangers, I am going to return with the TEC unit. The Dalecite technology he has integrated into himself should fetch a fair reward. With him in my posession, the Council will send me a ship. Maybe they'll order you to take me home."
"Good," Kellik grinned devilishly. "Once you're in my possession, maybe you'll feel like telling the Council what really happened along the Talin Border."
Kellik saw Toval's face fill with uneasy anger for a split second before returning to calm. "Perhaps we'll make other arrangements," Toval said just before disconnecting the communication.
"I'm sure we will," Kellik smirked to himself. He was looking at the console in front of him. The message had changed to say Transmission Source Located.
"Lighten up, it's a party," someone told TEC, patting him on the left shoulder. TEC winced in response before turning around to thank whoever patted him for inviting them.
TEC turned to Tyler and whispered, "Shouldn't we be looking for the General? We know he's looking for us."
"Then we'll let him take the trouble to find us. He can probably detect your cyborg components, right? He doesn't want to involve innocent people or he would have attacked you at the Frisbee game. You're safest here."
Alex stood up and started to walk off. "Some of the guys want to see my moves," he smiled.
TEC's left hand shot out and grabbed Alex so hard it made him yelp in pain. "We're stronger when we're together," he whispered.
"Janet and Kara are walking around somewhere. We can be together in a second's notice," Alex said, jerking his hand away. TEC let him go. Tyler rolled his eyes.
I'm always in a hurry to get away from you. "We didn't go anywhere," Janet sighed. "I was just hungry and needed something to eat."
"Oh. You could've told me, you know. I would've loved to go with you."
I'm sure you would've. "You're right, that was inconsiderate of me," Janet said. "Excuse me, I'm not feeling well," she lied, breaking away from Sarah and bolting for the exit.
"We should really get together sometime," Sarah called after her.
Alex threw the frisbee again. He closed his eyes and held out his hand, which seemed to impress the group. He closed his hand but only grabbed air. When he opened his eyes, Kara was standing in front of him. "Boo!" she shouted, just inches from his face. The startled Alex stepped back. "Throwing the frisbee to yourself? Child's play. Watch this," she said. She made a hooking motion with her arm a few times before releasing the frisbee. The frisbee flew in a wide circle before returning to her other hand. The increasing crowd began clapping and she took a bow to annoy Alex.
Alex yanked the frisbee from her hand. "You and me. One on one," Alex said. "We're both clearly capable of it."
"Are you sure you want to embarass yourself in front of your new friends?" Kara taunted, poking him in the chest.
Alex pushed the frisbee into her chest. "Bring it."
"It's dangerous to be walking alone, Pink Ranger," a voice from the shadows said suddenly. Janet jumped in shock and began looking around, clenching her fists to call her gloves.
"You can forget your deal, General. We're not giving him up."
"Are you sure, Pink Ranger? Do you want to endanger all these innocent people?"
"We can defend the people. But if you take TEC we have no guarantee you'll leave us alone."
"You can't defend them. Not every second of every day. We may be flesh-and-blood but robosoldiers are relentless," he said slowly, stepping out of the shadows and slowly approaching Janet. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime offer. You condemn yourself to fighting. Possibly for the rest of your life. Do you want that?" he asked. When he was within arms reach of Janet he reached out and grabbed her by the throat. He looked gleefully at her, hoping for resistance. His smile faded when she didn't fight back.
"You don't struggle. Fascinating," he said, arching an eyebrow before releasing his grip. He snapped his fingers and six robosoldiers appeared in the darkness.
"Task force, transform!" Janet exclaimed, punching the fist of her right hand into the palm of her left, morphing in a burst of pink and white light. "I won't fight a person, but I'll fight your robots."
"Will you, now?" the amused Toval said, watching the robosoldiers circle around the lone ranger, who had taken a fighting stance but was quivering, clearly hesitant to attack. A pink cloud of energy formed in her right hand when Toval asked, "What do you know about TEC-7, anyway?"
Janet lowered her fists slightly and the cloud disappeared. "We know he's a kind man. Well, kind cyborg. But he wants us to defend the Earth against you."
"Is that what you think?" the General asked. He raised his right hand and the robosoldiers backed away slowly. "Let me tell you a little about Transformative Experimental Cyborg Number Seven... and his predecessors."
Tyler put down his drink and whispered, "Did she morph?"
TEC nodded slowly. "Let's go."
The two stood up and left the building. They walked past the crowd of people that was watching Alex and Kara play Ultimate Frisbee one-on-one. Tyler hoped Alex and Kara wouldn't notice him and TEC walking casually by. And if the frisbee didn't fly off the field and right into TEC's hands, they would have succeeded. "You should have let it go," Tyler whispered. TEC was confused.
Alex ran over to claim it. "Where are you guys going?"
Before Tyler could open his mouth to say "Nowhere" TEC told him the truth.
"I can't go, Kara and I are in the middle of a game. All our friends are watching."
Friends? You barely know them, Tyler thought. He pushed TEC forward, through Alex. Alex raised his hands and pushed back. "Can't you wait a couple minutes? I got her on the ropes."
"That's what you think," Kara said, rushing over. "I thought I recognized you two."
Yeah, lucky us, Tyler thought. He whispered to TEC, "Break it."
Without hesitation, TEC obeyed, loudly snapping the frisbee in half. The crowd gasped in unison when they saw him effortlessly break the frisbee into two uneven pieces.
"Now stand aside," Tyler said, pushing TEC forward past Alex and Kara. As they walked past Alex, TEC whispered, "Janet's apartment." Tyler gave TEC an annoyed shove before running off.
Janet, no longer surrounded by robosoldiers, was wearing an expression of shock under her helmet. "It's too much to believe," she said slowly. She started to stand but was knocked back to her feet when the ground started rumbling. Before her eyes, Toval was covered by a slight ripple and swept back by an invisible force.
"Energy shockwave!" TEC shouted, releasing another burst from his hand. Toval dove out of the way, letting the shockwave hit a parked car, pushing it clear across the street and flipping over the curb on the other side, landing on one side.
"Please don't do that again, TEC-7," Toval said, dusting himself off. "I'm an old man, I can't keep diving away from energy blasts. I shouldn't even be up this late at night."
"Then back off," Tyler said, tossing one of his glass energy spheres in one hand.
"Not without the TEC unit," Toval said, extending his right hand toward TEC. "This will hurt." Tyler stood in the way.
"Tyler, let him go!" Janet screamed suddenly.
Tyler never broke eye contact with Toval as he responded to her. "Why?"
"He's defective. All the TEC units are," Janet said.
"All the TEC units?" TEC asked.
"Surely you didn't think you were the first?" Toval grinned, inching toward Tyler and TEC. "I don't know what they told you that 7 in your name meant, but that's your number. You were the seventh in a rather unspectacular line of experimental cyborgs."
"Tyler, let him go!" Janet repeated.
"Toval wants something," Tyler said calmly. "And I'm willing to bet it's got to do with these," he said, pointing to his gloves. "You've had your eyes on my fists the entire time. Our morphing call, 'Task Force, Transform'. That's the 'T' in TEC's name, isn't it? 'Transform'?"
"You're very perceptive, red ranger. Far too perceptive to let you live. You may thwart my plans, you understand," Toval replied. The gauntlet on his right hand started glowing.
Toval's advance was cut short when he was suddenly blasted from the side. The general fell, landing on his side near Janet, who helped him up. The three looked in the direction of the blast to see Alex and Kara, morphed, running towards them.
"You guys okay?" Alex asked, putting his hand on Tyler's shoulder. Tyler shrugged it off.
Kara ran to Toval and saw Janet sitting on the ground, not moving. "Janet, are you alright?" But Janet was immobile, paralyzed by indecision and doubt. "Janet, come on!"
Toval stood up and extended his hand, but Kara fired first, knocking him off balance. "Let's see how you like being blasted with energy. Energy lightning!" she shouted, extending both hands. As they exchanged blasts, neither noticed Tyler moving calmly behind Toval, careful not to attract any attention. Without warning, both were knocked down by a forceful blast. Kara turned around and saw TEC with a hand extended forward.
"What the..." Toval said, struggling. Tyler was wrestling the gauntlet off his hand. It was halfway off when it began glowing; Tyler hung on as long as he could but he was quickly shocked by the gauntlet. Toval got to his feet, eyes locked on TEC. "Time to meet your maker, cyborg."
Once again, Toval was blasted from the side. "Don't you people ever stop?"
"No, we don't," Janet said, standing up. She hurled another pink energy blast at his face. "You claim to help, but all you've done is hurt my teammates. Get out of my sight."
While he was thrown back by the powerful blasts, Tyler and Alex each grabbed one of Toval's arms. Kara ran forward and took the gauntlet completely off, then ran immediately back to Janet. Tyler and Alex let go and joined her Janet took the gauntlet and put it on her own gloved hand. Again, the four were standing in front of TEC. Janet was holding the glove out in front of her. "I was told this thing was designed to be used against Varnians. Do you want it to be used on you?"
Toval looked angrily at them before disappearing, just as he did earlier that day.
"Power down," Janet, Alex and Kara said. Janet removed the gauntlet and handed it to TEC, who shyed away at first but took it. "I'll let you decide what to do with this."
His ship lifted slowly from the ground, gaining speed as his altitude increased. As soon as he left Earth's atmosphere, his ship exploded violently.
Kellik watched the explosion from Earth, where it looked like a tiny red gleam in the sky. He grinned to himself and took a few steps before disappearing.
"So, what are you going to do with that gauntlet?" Janet asked.
"I should study it. We may need to use it in the future," he replied. Janet frowned at this. "So, Alex joined that fraternity" TEC said, changing the subject.
"Yeah," Janet replied. "Kara thinks he's being a 'moron'. Tyler didn't say anything but I can tell he doesn't approve." She paused and added, "So, you have some brothers of your own."
"Six brothers. I can't believe it," TEC said.
"Finding out you have six older brothers can be a shock," Janet replied. "You'll get through it. And we'll help you. That's what friends are for."