Always a Ranger - Interlude
A Different Kind of Fight
This would be the toughest fight of his life. None of the villains Thomas James Oliver had ever faced had made his hands shake and his palms sweat like they did now.
Rita Repulsa, Lord Zedd, King Mondo, Divatox… they were all amateurs compared to what he was about to face.
None of the foot soldiers or assorted monsters of the week had ever scared him this bad: putties to tengas to cogs; all of them were just cannon fodder.
But today was different. And his opponents were different.
Because after seven years of higher education; a Bachelors and a masters degree both in his name, now the moment of truth had arrived…
He had to defend his thesis before the UCLA Ph.D. board.
Tommy sat on the wood bench outside the main hall where in less than an hour he’d be called in to present and defend his dissertation. Then he would have to adequately defend it from the questions of the panel in the hopes of having them accept or pass it without revisions. If not, he would be back to either the drawing board, or at least looking at more revisions. And he really didn’t want to spend another three to six months working on fixing what he felt was sound theory backed up by… well, disastrous research.
A flash of fire and the smell of smoke filled his memory as his mind fell into the day of the explosion and he violently shook his head to clear it, his hand coming to rake through the short spikes of his dark hair.
This was not the time to get sidetracked by that tragedy. He needed to stay focused on his dissertation defense and the reason for what he was doing – the degree would allow him to teach, to give something back. His thesis was the culmination of the last seven years of academics, friendship and ranger business. All those things had pushed him to this moment. He had to keep his mind on that.
Yet he still somehow let his thoughts wander down the path that had led him here anyway…
Graduating Angel Grove High School, he’d ended up spending nearly six months racing. But he’d soon decided he needed to do more than feed his ‘adrenaline high’ and had left the racing circuit to go to college. He’d dived into his classes, using everything he’d learned in so many places to help him. The years of leading the team and karate had helped instill discipline in him. Learning about his new zords and adapting to new powers and technology had given him a desire to learn and the capacity to adapt. And the time racing for his uncle had forced him to both grow up and become much more detail oriented. The check lists that the pit crew had drilled into his Swiss cheese brain to assure his and the car’s safety every time he took to the track took on new life in his new academic world as he focused on the tasks for each class with obsessive furor.
All of those attributes had helped him survive and thrive in his new life, and a little under four years later he had his Bachelors. During his last year working on his Bachelors he’d even helped Bulk and Skull open their restaurant in Stone Valley, done the reunion red ranger gig to destroy Serpentera and following graduation, he’d turned around and plunged back into school again, determined now to get his Masters.
It was there that he’d met Hayley, his genius, near Billy level smart, friend. She’d been the one to help him transition his studying to a new level, pushing him to keep up with her and in doing so, he’d finished his Masters in record time. Of course, she’d still finished before him.
He glanced up to see said redhead approach him and sit down on the bench beside him, her hand moving to rest on his still nervous hands, now clenched in fists.
“You’re going to be fine Tom,” Hayley stated as she noted the shaking in his hands that he was trying hard to still. “You know this inside and out and the data is sound.”
“Easy for you to say – you already blew your dissertation defense out of the water.”
She simply shrugged. There was really nothing to say to that. Nearly two months ago her own thesis in Applied Engineering in Emerging Technologies had more than impressed the doctorate panel she’d faced and she’d passed the panel review with flying colors.
His thesis on the mutation of dinosaur species compared to evolutional theory had come from his research on Anton Mercer’s island which had been lost, resulting in Tommy spending weeks rebuilding it. Of course though the cost for the knowledge packed into the document he was presenting had been paid for by the lives of Mercer and his entire scientific staff.
Following Tommy’s phone call from Florida after the explosion, Hayley had arrived in LA to help him and had aided him in crafting what he’d been working on into the thesis he was about to present, and had prepped him with Q&A for his defense of it.
A buzz caught his attention, and Tommy swiftly looked down to his pocket and his cell phone. There were only a few people who had that number, being as he had just gotten it following his return to school several months ago.
A wholly involuntary smile lit his face, and Hayley raised a brow at his reaction to whomever was on the phone.
“Hey Kim. What’s with the call?”
“The doctorate panel is today, right?” she asked worriedly. “I just wanted to call and wish you luck.”
“I appreciate that. I can’t tell you how nervous I am.”
“I think you’ve faced down more fearsome opponents in the past.”
“I was sort of thinking that myself,” Tommy replied, knowing that Kim was probably going down a similar laundry list of bag guys they’d encountered.
Hayley stood and moved away, not really wanting to intrude on the call between the reunited lovers. When she’d met him after he’d gotten back to California from Florida, she knew that he was a truly changed man on many levels. The explosion had prompted a drive in him to finish the doctorate, but his reunion with Kim made him seem like he wasn’t carrying the weight of that tragedy on his shoulders even if she knew he was.
“So, do you think you’re going to pass?” Kim questioned, a slight spike in her voice prompting him to recall promises made in Florida on her couch.
“Yeah. But if I do, I’m gonna have to immediately start applying for teaching positions. The fall is coming fast,” he replied simply, trying not to think about more time separated.
“I know you mentioned California and a beach… but, are you considering applying anywhere near Boston?”
He let out a soft sigh at her words. He’d love nothing better than to show up on her doorstep at her new place and declare he was moving in since he’d gotten a job there. But the likelihood was just so remote…
Plus, there were other factors that had gained his attention in the last few weeks; an energy reading that spoke of things past and of concerns about what Mercer had really wanted his research for. The Tyrano-drones that had been mutated by Mercer’s staff without Tommy’s knowledge had to be controlled by something. But what, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he needed a job and to figure out what whomever had used the Tyrano-drones to destroy the lab was after in the long run.
And he was deathly afraid that the energy signature was something he had to check out. And if it was more… he had a responsibility to keep it safe from whatever wanted it.
“Huh, sorry Kim, I’m just a bit…” he started, fumbling to explain what even he really didn’t comprehend.
“Distracted,” she finished for him, a patient smile evident across the line. “Look, I don’t want to divert your focus here, ‘cause we both know how important that is and all. I just wanted to call and wish you luck and…”
“I love you too,” Tommy said simply, filling in her missing words for her, knowing that the two main reasons for her call were to wish him luck and to remind him again that even across an entire country she still loved him.
“That’s good to know. I love you, Ph.D. or no. Just be sure to call me when you get done and let me know how it went.”
“That I can do.”
“Thomas Oliver?” called out a young woman as she poked her head out the double doors leading to the dissertation board room, prompting Tommy to lift his head and turn towards her voice. “They’re ready for you now.”
“Kim, I gotta go. They’re calling me in.”
“Okay. Don’t worry, you’re going to do great. Call me later, okay?”
“Will do. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
With that, Tommy closed the cell phone, disconnecting the call and turned to see Hayley near the doors, waiting on him. He turned his phone off and slid it into his pants pocket, closing his eyes briefly as he breathed in and out in a slow, calming fashion as if he was getting ready to go into battle. A moment later he opened his eyes again, determination and Kim’s last words filling his being.
“Alright, into the lion’s den…” Tommy murmured under his breath.
He shoved his way up off the bench and headed towards the doors, Hayley moving to pat his shoulder has he went past her. His hand curled on the door handle of the room where his ultimate fate awaited him, knowing that what he did in there would decide his future – just like his having been a ranger was now in his past. And if he got through this with flying colors, he’d be sending his application to teach high school science… in Reefside.
Well, that’s it for now. Thanks for reading, and please review if you want to pass on any thoughts. I’m gonna start seriously working on a new PR fic – but I don’t know when I’ll start posting it yet. Beyond that, I’ll see people in Pasadena at PowerMorphicon in August! Ms. J.
(May 18, 2010)
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