The Green Enforcer streaked through the air, leaving a trail of energy similar to a comet. Typically, he tried to restrain his energy, to keep from attracting undue attention from the people below. Only now, he didn't care.
With increased power came increased speed… and Jocelyn needed medical attention as soon as possible.
It only took a few minutes to reach the ship at the fastest speed he could travel with a passenger, but each second counted.
The hatch opened at his approach and he slipped right in, hurrying to the small area specified for emergency care.
"Matt?" Tamara gasped in surprise. She was still tracing a beam of energy over Keith's injured shoulder, mending the deep wound.
"What happened?" Keith demanded, his gaze fixed on the unconscious girl in Matt's arms.
"There was this… panel of energy in the cave," the Green Enforcer explained, laying her on an empty bed. "When Jocelyn got near it, it flashed with really bright energy, and she disappeared. Then, she reappeared, only she was out of uniform."
"Not only that," Tamara noted. "Her outfit's different. Jocelyn doesn't have any pink dresses."
Matt took a step back, willing the transformation to break. A flash of green light suffused him, reverting him back to normal. Wide green eyes stared at Tamara. "Maybe it's new?"
Tamara shook her head. "Trust me Matt, if she had a new outfit, I would've found out the minute she walked into the apartment."
Keith pushed passed the pain in his arm as he too stood up. He joined his friends, and stared closely at the girl.
"What does it mean?" he wondered.
Just then, the hangar door opened again, as the rest of the Force entered the ship.
"No luck at all," Craig groused. "The portal is gone, and there's no sign of her Spectrum Stone anywhere."
"And the place was in shambles to begin with," Rachel added. "No magic books or scrolls, or anything to give us any clue about what Celea did. Just a lot of broken rock."
"And the brand on the ground," Spectra corrected, lifting a thin panel of rock. On its surface was the very design they had found in the cave, congealed blood sticking to the stone to create a crimson stamp. "I will do what I can to research the origin of this spell. I'm not familiar with this kind of magic."
"First we need to figure out what happened to Jocelyn," Matt insisted.
"She's still unconscious," Rachel noted. "How's her body temperature? She was exposed to the arctic weather without her Spectrum Stone."
"She's fine," Matt assured her. "My ring kept her warm along the way."
"But something is definitely wrong with her," Tamara insisted. "I've never seen her wear anything like this outfit. Plus, her hair's wrong. It's too dark."
Spectra's eyes widened. "Are you certain?"
"That's a weird watch," Keith noted, reaching over and lifting her hand.
Tamara grimaced. "Ugh… I never would've let Jocie out of the apartment with that thing on."
"And we still have to figure out what this thing is," Craig reminded his friends, nodding to the strange machine with leather straps. "It was on her back when she reappeared."
The group exchanged looks of consternation and concern, each trying to figure out a feasible explanation for Jocelyn's change in appearance, and the strange machines she brought with her. Spectra stared intently at the girl for a few moments, and then pulled a metal ring from a drawer.
"What's that?" Tamara wondered, moving aside as Spectra set the ring around the girl's forehead.
"This device will keep her unconscious."
"For what?" Matt demanded.
Spectra then pulled a single strand of hair from the girl's head, and held it up to the light. "I refuse to take any chances. I will not let her regain consciousness until all our scans are complete and conclusive."
The team stared in confusion as Spectra moved to a computer station. She set the hair on a small glass bed, and pressed a button. A flare of light flashed from a bulb beneath the glass, and an image was displayed on the screen.
"Rachel," Spectra ordered, her eyes never leaving the screen, "return to your home. Bring me Jocelyn's hairbrush."
The Purple Enforcer glanced at the unconscious girl, and then her mentor. "I don't understand. Why do you think Jocelyn is a threat?"
Spectra turned, locking her eyes with each Enforcer in turn. "I do not believe this person is Jocelyn."
* * *
When she finally regained consciousness, she felt slime covering her body. Every inch of her, from head to toe, was completely immersed.
Her arms and legs began to wave slowly, but the viscous substance prevented too much movement.
Where am I? What's going on??
Her heart pounded as her terror rose. Memories flooded her mind, of the black ochre that had swallowed her on the planet Edenia, covering her flesh, choking her screams, invading her mind…
She opened her eyes, yet the moisture submersing her stung, forcing her to close them. Her mouth opened, but a mask over her lips muffled her scream.
NO! LET ME OUT!!!
On the verge of panic, she reached to the warmth of the Spectrum Stone, and the power that yielded to her command.
* * *
"…but nothing I can think of explains why she looks so different," Tommy sighed, rubbing the back of his head.
"What did the portal look like?" Jason asked. "Anything like Billy's Portal-com?"
"It looked like a movie screen. We could see people on the other side, and they could see us."
"But why did it suck in Kimberly, and not you?" Zack wondered.
"Maybe I was too far away?" Tommy suggested. "I don't know… I just don't get why I couldn't go in after her!"
Billy rubbed his chin. "Where is Kim now?"
Tommy jerked his thumb to the corridor behind them. "Alpha set her up in some kind of gel to treat hypothermia. When she reappeared, she wasn't morphed, and I couldn't keep her warm enough. By the time we reached the Firebird Zord, she was a little blue."
Trini turned to Zordon. "Have we gotten anywhere with the analysis of Tommy's scanner recording?"
"NOT AT PRESENT. THE CURRENT PRIORITY IS DETERMINING KIMBERLY'S HEALTH. PERHAPS SHE CAN EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED TO HER."
"I'll take a look at the scanner readings," Billy volunteered. "Maybe we can figure out where the portal led, and what made it manifest."
"I'll help you," Trini offered, and the pair proceeded to download the information gathered by the scanner.
"That part is really bothering me," Tommy confessed. "We have no idea who created that portal. There wasn't a sign of Zedd anywhere. No Putties, no Goldar, no monster. Unless he set a trap for us to fall into."
"WE CANNOT DISCOUNT THAT POSSIBILITY," Zordon admitted. "HOWEVER, THERE ARE ALTERNATIVE EXPLANATIONS. FOR INSTANCE, SOME PORTALS MANIFEST AT RANDOM, WITH NO ONE CAUSING THEM."
Alexis' eyes widened. "Really? Wow… that's scary."
"RANDOM TIME HOLES ARE EXTREMELY RARE, BUT THEY ARE KNOWN TO OCCUR."
"But how'd she come back so suddenly?" Jason wondered.
"IF SHE WAS SENT TO ANOTHER TIME OR DIMENSION, SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN STRANDED THERE FOR SOME TIME, ONLY TO LATER DISCOVER A MEANS TO REOPEN THE PORTAL AND RETURN TO THE PRECISE MOMENT SHE LEFT."
"That would explain why she looks so different!" Alexis realized. "Only a few seconds passed for us, but maybe Kim was really gone for months!"
A severe frown darkened Tommy's face. "The portal didn't disappear until after she came back. It's not like it vanished and then reappeared. I saw the portal, and I tried to follow her, but I couldn't pass through."
"Then we have to-"
Jason's words were overwhelmed by a loud explosion that shook the Command Center, tossing the Rangers to the ground.
"Something happened to Kim," Tommy muttered, standing up and reaching for his Morpher. "It's Morphin' Time!"
* * *
The Orange Enforcer sucked in a desperate breath, free from the thick substance that had surrounded her.
Energy burned around her frame, brightening the darkened room and evaporating much of the liquid that clung to her hair and uniform. Shards of glass and gallons of gel had erupted from the shattered tank, coating the room like a pale blue oil spill.
The room was small and dark, with a variety of machines and thin cots lining the walls. It didn't look at all like anywhere she had ever been.
*Spectra?* she called telepathically, reaching out to her comrades. *Matt? Rachel? Anybody??*
Her feet touched down on the slick ground, and she began to walk toward the door, when a soft creaking sound drew her attention.
"Ooo…" a high-pitched voice groaned. Jocelyn watched a short figure pick itself off the ground, completely covered with the blue gel.
Jocelyn blinked in astonishment. It was less than five feet tall, with the most ridiculous metal-plated costume and bronze oval helmet.
"What are you supposed to be?"
The being turned toward her, its narrow red lens flashing. "I am Alpha 5, robotic assistant." It's oblong head turned toward the demolished glass cylinder, and then back to Jocelyn. "And you are definitely not Kimberly."
At that moment, the large sliding doors flew open, revealing six figures in what looked like colorful, shiny spandex.
"Freeze!" the one in Purple declared, hovering in the air by way of the gold wings on her ankles.
"You're the person from the portal!" White declared. He drew an elaborate saber from his gold belt, and lunged forward. "What have you done with Kim?"
Jocelyn's energy flared at the intimated threat, casting an ominous glow. "I recognize you," she murmured. "I must've fallen through that screen."
She lifted off from the ground, gradually creating space between herself and the six warriors blocking the door. "What planet is this?"
The Yellow one emerged from the background, setting a placating hand on the White one's shoulder. He slowly lowered his saber, though his tense stance never eased.
"You're on Earth," she said, her tone soothing. "This is the headquarters of the Power Rangers."
Jocelyn glanced at the small robot, and shook her head emphatically. "This is not Earth. We don't have sentient machines."
"Alpha is our friend from another planet," Yellow explained, "but I assure you, this is Earth…"
Her hands slowly moved to her helmet, and undid the latches. Jocelyn watched in wide-eyed surprise as a human face emerged from behind the mask, a girl no older than she, with long ebony hair and gentle almond eyes.
"..and we're all human." She smiled. "My name's Trini."
The one in Black followed Yellow's lead, pulling off his own helmet. He flashed a wide, winning grin. "I'm Zack," he introduced. "You're not in danger here. We're the good guys!"
Orange folded her arms. "If you're the 'good guys,' why'd you lock me up in that gooey prison?"
"The 'goo' was designed to warm your body," the robot responded, his tone defensive. "When the White Ranger brought you here, you were unconscious, your pulse was uneven, and your clothes were soaked from the snow. Your core body temperature dropped below 32 degrees Celsius. Our primary treatment for hypothermia involves submersion in a closely monitored tank to gradually warm the entire body, and warm, moist air via breathing mask."
Orange shivered at the thought, looking around the room with new insight. The machines lining the walls included graphics of the human respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and what definitely resembled an I.V. hung near one of the upended cots. There were no chains, no barred walls, and no visible weapons, other than the saber White returned to its sheath.
It wasn't a cell. It was an infirmary.
These people saved her life.
"Um… thanks," she offered, rather lamely. "I'm sorry I freaked out; I had a bad experience involving goo not too long ago. I… guess I panicked."
She didn't explain herself further. Instead, her feet touched the ground, and the vivid orange energy drew inward. Then, a different aura, brilliant and obscure, covered her body, only to swirl into a gemstone on her finger.
When the light faded, the Rangers saw a face they knew only too well… but slightly different. "I'm Jocelyn, the Orange Enforcer."
* * *
It was strange. One minute, Kimberly Hart was dead to the world. Then, a heartbeat later, she woke with a start, as if an internal light switch had been flipped. She moved her hand to her forehead to rub a sore spot, only her fingers traced a thin metal band that bound her head like a crown. Puzzled, she pulled off the band slowly.
The first thing she noticed was the sun gleaming overhead, brighter than she ever remembered seeing it. Only then did she realize that she wasn't looking exactly at the sun. Rather, there was a translucent dome overhead, consisting of vibrant colors elaborately swirled together. She stared at the tie-dyed dome, watching the waves of color flow into each other like a lava lamp.
Then, as she lifted her head to get a better view, she realized she was lying on something warm, firm, and curved.
She stared downward, and released a startled scream.
The vibrantly colored dome was in fact a sphere, encasing her in its warm glow. And the colored sphere was hanging in mid air, with puffy clouds floating beneath it.
She was miles from the ground!
"Zordon? Zordon, do you read me?"
Her communicator was silent.
Kim's breaths quickened as she reached for her Morpher. "Pterodactyl!"
She expected the comforting flood of pink energy to envelop her, encasing her in her protective armor. She expected to break free from her spherical prison, and fall to the Earth, allowing the Power to strengthen her limbs to let her land safely.
None of that happened.
"Pterodactyl!!" she repeated, her voice urgent. Yet her Power Coin did not react.
Frowning, Kim stared closely at her Morpher. The coin was in place, and it looked like the real thing.
Maybe Zedd kidnapped me. Maybe he's blocking my powers…
Only, no Dark Dimension ever looked like this. Dark Dimensions were supposed to be… well… dark.
Then, with a startling suddenness, four streaks of light appeared around her: purple, yellow, blue, and… green?
At first, Kim's heart leapt for joy that her friends had tracked her down. Only, the sight of green energy instantly confused her, since the Green Coin had been lifeless for weeks.
Then, the streaks of light materialized into four humanoids in strange costumes, and her heart sank anew.
Wait… those outfits! I've seen them before!
Then, she remembered the mission to the North Pole. And the energy portal she and Tommy discovered.
"Who are you?" the Green one demanded. His hair was reddish-brown, sprouting from the top of his bright green mask. While his face was covered, the growl in his tone made it more than obvious that he wasn't happy to see her.
Kim stared into the blue visor, trying to make out the person's gaze. Only the lens was just as opaque as her helmet's.
"My name is Kimberly Hart," she stated. She was grateful that her voice didn't crack under the stress of the situation. She'd regained at least some of her composure.
"Where are you from?" the Blue one asked. While his height and physique dwarfed the Green one, he was strangely less threatening. His voice held no menace. He sounded calm. Curious.
Curiosity wasn't exactly a good thing, but Kim would take that over outright vehemence any day of the week.
Does he mean what planet? Or what city? Kim decided she'd cover all the bases. "Milky Way Galaxy, Sol system, planet Earth, United States of America, California, the city of Angel Grove."
Something about her answer obviously puzzled her captors. They all turned their heads toward each other, though they didn't say a word.
"I've never heard of Angel Grove," the Yellow one commented. Something about her slim frame, soft voice, and flowing ebony hair reminded Kim of her best friend, making her wonder just what these four beings looked like beneath their masks.
"It's a small city in southern California. Most people had never heard of it, but the monster attacks brought us the same kind of infamy Roswell gets."
"Monster attacks?" the Yellow one repeated. Kim could almost imagine a look of shock on her face. "How is that…"
She bit her tongue, turning toward the one in Purple. But Purple never said anything, nor did she look at her teammate… and yet Yellow obviously got some kind of message.
The one in Purple was in charge. And from her stiff, straight-backed posture and folded arms, she exuded a strength and severity that put Kimberly on alert.
"What is that device you're holding? And the strange watch on your wrist?"
Kim glanced down at her Morpher anxiously. That was the question she had hoped to avoid.
Zordon told us never to tell anyone that we're Rangers… but does that apply to other super-powered beings?
Not that she knew whether these four beings were friends or foes. But since she was powerless, hanging miles from the ground, her life very literally depended on the whim of these four beings. The last thing she wanted to do was give them a reason to drop her.
She decided to start with her wrist unit. "This is a communicator, that connects me to my friends. But it's not working now."
"And that Game Boy-thing?" Green demanded.
Kimberly blinked at his choice of words. I guess my Morpher does look something like a video game. Well, that answers one question: these guys are human. Or at least they're familiar with pop-culture.
That observation eased Kim's nerves just enough to get her to answer. "It's a Morpher. I use it to become the Pink Power Ranger."
"And it's not working," Blue observed.
Kim grimaced, unable to hide her displeasure. Great. Now they know I'm helpless…
"Your uniform is pink and white, and you have a tall friend who wears white, black and gold, right?"
Kim perked up at Yellow's question. "Right!"
"Do you recognize us?" Purple asked.
Kim stared at them each in turn. "I saw you and you," she said, pointing to Blue and then Yellow, "and one in Orange. Maybe the rest of you were in the background."
"What happened to Orange? Did you see her?" Green demanded, his tone suddenly urgent.
"Did I see her… where?"
"Face to face, while you were in transit between dimensions," Blue elaborated.
Kim's eyes widened. In truth, the thought had crossed her mind, though she was thinking more in terms of a wormhole teleporting her to another planet. Alternate dimensions… it was bizarre to hear the concept spoken aloud.
"We have a few theories," Purple said. "And we're going to piece together exactly what happened."
* * *
Keith frowned at the viewing screen as he watched four of his teammates surround the mysterious girl they had found. The mysterious girl that bore a remarkable resemblance to Jocelyn Armand, the Orange Enforcer.
Despite the nigh-identical appearance, the DNA test proved beyond a doubt that the girl, who they now knew was named Kimberly, was not Jocelyn. Nor was she a clone, robot, hologram, or shape shifter. The scans proved conclusively that she was human.
Of course, that knowledge didn't offer much relief to the Force. A clone or robot could be explained as part of Celea's scheme. But how could one explain this?
So far, the only explanations they could come up with were as bizarre and unlikely as a bad made-for-TV sci-fi flick. But then again, after traveling to distant planets and encountering both alien species and freakish magical monsters, each with unique abilities that stretched the human imagination, perhaps the concept of alternate dimensions wasn't really that unlikely after all.
Keith's eyes lingered on Kim, watching her tense as she tried to respond to the Force's questions. From her perspective, the four college students were quite threatening, hovering around her in a perfect square, energy auras blazing so brightly they were difficult to look at directly. Plus, the poor girl was floating in the stratosphere, held only by a thin wall of light that looked as fragile as glass.
"Spectra, I think she's had enough," he spoke, turning toward the small laboratory where their mentor labored. "What's the point in giving her the third degree? We know she's not a Denebian spy."
"No, we don't," Spectra answered. "If she is truly a human being from another plane of existence, she may have come from a reality in which the Denebians have already conquered Earth. She may serve the Empire."
Keith blinked. "You think a human being would help an alien race wipe out Earth? Are you serious?"
Spectra's expression was the very picture of serious. "We know nothing of this girl. She could have been bribed, or coerced to protect family and friends. She could even have been directly influenced by evil magic. My scans are picking up a very low-level energy signature in her system that is foreign to normal humans. It suggests that she is somehow empowered."
"Which could be explained by that 'Power Ranger' story she just told," Keith pointed out. "She was forthright about having some sort of power, and you guys did see people in pink and white costumes through that window. What if she's telling the truth?"
Spectra turned in her seat. "If she is telling the truth, then it is likely that Jocelyn is still alive somewhere in the Multiverse. However, it will be exceedingly difficult to find her."
Keith frowned. "What makes you say that?"
"The number of realms is countless, and the portal has closed. The only clue we have to what Celea has done lies in the blood brand she carved into the ground. My knowledge of the Multiverse is limited; I have always been taught to avoid spells that tear holes in the fabric of reality. I cannot reopen the portal."
Keith tried to fold his arms, only to wince as he aggravated his injured shoulder. "Can't we bring Kim inside? Maybe this interview will go better if she's not scared for her life?"
Spectra considered for a moment, and then nodded. "The Force will meet you in the gym, where the walls are reinforced and no critical systems are accessible, should she try to escape. I will join you shortly."
* * *
The Green one was interrogating her, demanding that she describe what she remembered, when suddenly he cut off in mid sentence. Then, the rest of the group turned around, looking into the distant horizon. Kim squinted against the setting sun, trying to make out what it could be that they saw. But all she could see was the rich blue of the sky, and cloud patterns gathered below. And she didn't hear anything, either.
Obviously, they heard something.
Then, the Purple one drew closer. "Kimberly, we're taking you in."
Kim opened her mouth to ask for some details, but then Purple lifted her hands, causing energy to gather around her pale purple gloves. The others drew back, and then the spherical energy field surrounding Kim grew smaller, the swirls fading into a deep, vibrant, solid purple.
Kim realized she could no longer see through the sphere. The energy was too dense, and too bright. And it kept drawing closer, reshaping into a rectangle, giving her less than a foot of space between her body and the walls on all sides.
Kim held her breath, fingering her Morpher. It hadn't worked before, but maybe whatever blocked her powers had passed…?
She pressed her back against one wall, maximizing the space before her, and thrust out her Morpher at nearly arm's length. But before she could release her Morphin' call, she heard voices outside.
"Ray, you sealed her up in there? Damn, that's cruel!"
It was a voice she didn't recognize… a fifth member of the group.
"Only for a few seconds," Purple's voice defended. "She doesn't need to know how to get here."
Suddenly, the rectangle vanished. Kim fell helplessly onto her backside once the wall she'd been leaning on disappeared, and the Morpher clattered to the floor beside her.
A sterile, white tiled floor, that stretched into the distance. Though since everything was white on all sides, it was practically impossible to see where the floor ended, and the wall began.
The only signs of color where the four monochromatic figures standing in a row in front of her.
"You okay, Kim?"
Kim whirled around, and was shocked when her gaze met a pair of friendly blue eyes.
"How'd you know my name?"
He smiled, and Kim got the sudden impression that this young man was definitely a charmer. "I listened in while you talked with my friends." He offered his hand. "My name's Keith. I'm Red."
Kim accepted his hand, and then he carefully lifted her to her feet. Kim stepped back, her eyes scanning the ground for her Morpher.
"Looking for this?" Blue asked, holding up the device. "Mind if I hold onto it? Just until we figure out what the hell's going on."
"Do I have a choice?" Kim answered.
"Well… not really, no," Blue admitted. "We have to make sure you're not a threat to us. If this thingamajig gives you super powers, then it's something we don't want you to have in here."
"Fine," Kim sighed. Her patience with this interrogation was running thin.
Keith kept his eyes on her, noting her building frustration. "I'm sorry we're putting you through this. I know it's tough to imagine, but the security of the entire planet is on our shoulders. We have to make sure you can be trusted."
There was a sincerity in his tone that helped ease Kimberly's tension. She could imagine the burden of responsibility. She could relate.
"I understand," she said finally. "That's what the Power Rangers do, too. We protect Earth from threats. We fight evil; well… particularly the evil space alien variety."
Kim then mustered a smile. Judging from the surprise on Keith's face, she figured she must've said something right.
"That's what we were doing in the North Pole," she continued, maximizing the opportunity to get her point of view across. "My teammate and I were investigating a strange energy field we picked up. That's what brought us to the cave, where we saw the screen. And then the thing sucked me into it."
"Seems we have a lot in common," Blue stated.
"Right," Green scoffed. "Too much in common, if you ask me."
Kim opened her mouth to respond, but the click of heels approaching drew her attention. She squinted into the whiteness, trying to make out what approached, to no avail.
Then, the figure was close enough to be seen. Incredibly, she was white from head to toe, blending almost seamlessly with the whitewashed walls. White catsuit, white hair pulled in a tight braid, and ghostly skin. The only splash of vibrant color was her eyes, a peculiar shade of pink.
The white figure paused near her team, and nodded to Kimberly in some sort of greeting. "I am Spectra, guide to the Spectrum Force." Her voice was rich, and heavily accented.
"Kim Hart, Pink Power Ranger," Kim introduced automatically.
"Did you figure anything out, Spectra?" Yellow wondered.
"Progress has been made, but it is slow," Spectra admitted. She then held her hand to Blue.
No words were exchanged, but Blue set Kim's Morpher into the pale palm nonetheless. Spectra stared at the device, studying it carefully.
"What is this image on the medallion?"
"A Pterodactyl. It's a dinosaur."
"And this 'dinosaur' is the source of your powers?"
Kim paused, considering. "Not really, no. The Coin is powered by an energy matrix in our Command Center."
Spectra nodded, as if she'd expected that sort of answer. "That is why your coin does not summon your powers. The source of power behind your coin is in another dimension, and it cannot reach you here."
Kim's eyes widened. For the first time since she arrived, she felt true horror. "Then… as long as I'm here, I'm completely powerless?"
Spectra's grip tightened on the Morpher. "I do feel a residual energy, similar to the energy in your body. But it is very, very faint. It isn't enough power to transform you. I'm afraid this device is useless to you."
She then handed the Morpher back to Kim. "Keep this with you at all times. It will not serve you here, but when you return to your realm your powers will be restored."
Kim's face lit up in a brilliant smile. "You know how to send me back to Angel Grove?"
"Not yet, but it must be done." Spectra then turned to Yellow. "Tamara, please escort Kimberly to your apartment. Keith, accompany them. Be discreet. And while you are there, collect as much information as you can about Kimberly's dimension."
Purple stiffened, and Green gasped aloud. "Spectra, are you-"
She held up her hand, and he remained silent.
Kimberly stared in confusion as everyone stood silently. Then, Yellow approached, and reached out her hand. "How 'bout we get some pizza, Kim? Do you have pizza in your world?"
Kim smirked at the question. The strange silences certainly didn't help ease her suspicions, but she couldn't deny the grumbling of her stomach. She never even got to Alexis' barbecue, and she was famished!
"We definitely have pizza in my world."
* * *
Matthew watched Tamara guide the stranger into the main ship. She didn't even bother to cover her eyes; she just walked right out the door.
The doppelganger was free as a bird, and no one knew for certain what she was capable of.
"I don't like this," Rachel said aloud, folding her arms, "We have no reason to trust Kim. We don't know if she's telling the truth about anything."
Matt's severe frown eased. At least he wasn't the only one concerned.
"We know that she is human, and we now know that she was forced into our dimension," Spectra revealed. "I performed a detailed analysis on the brand Celea used. I have not yet found its precise match, but I have determined its class. It is an aggressive portal spell, designed to breech dimensional walls."
Craig's eyebrow quirked. "Aggressive?"
"It forces inter-dimensional transit. Some portals are passive, meaning they open doorways, but an individual would still need to actively step through. This one gave neither Jocelyn or Kimberly the option."
"Any theories why the portal only allowed Jocelyn and her mirror image to trade places?" Matt wondered. "None of us were able to follow."
"It must be a property of this specific portal," Spectra decided. "But this goes well beyond the scope of my knowledge. I must travel to Lumina City to consult the High Father. He is the only person I know with intimate knowledge of other dimensions, and he may be able to help me ascertain what Celea has done, and how to safely undo it."
Spectra then turned to Rachel. "I will take the Glider, leaving the main ship here. While I am away, you must be vigilant guardians of Earth. I cannot fathom what Celea was trying to accomplish, but this portal may be the first phase in a larger scheme."
"Then we'll take turns monitoring Earth from here," Rachel decided.
"What about Kimberly?" Craig wondered.
"You must keep a careful eye on her as well. I prefer her to remain on Earth; if she does reveal herself to be a spy, she cannot sabotage our equipment from there. My instinct is that she is as much a victim as Jocelyn, but we cannot be certain."
* * *
At Alpha's insistence, Jocelyn submitted to a detailed analysis to prove once and for all that she had recovered fully from her hypothermia, while the Power Rangers reported back to their mentor with an update. Her body temperature was still less than normal, but under the circumstances, it was nothing some warm fluid wouldn't cure.
So Alpha took the only appropriate course of action. "Would you like some tea, Jocelyn?"
She startled at the inquiry. "Excuse me?"
"You should drink something warm," he explained, pressing a few keys and pointing to a monitor. "Look. You're out of the danger zone, but your temperature is still below normal, and you haven't ingested anything in hours."
Alpha pulled a folded blanket from a drawer, and draped it over Jocelyn's shoulders. "Follow me."
She slowly climbed off the cot she was seated on, and followed the diminutive droid out of the wrecked infirmary into the hallway. They walked away from the sound of voices, but Jocelyn could still make out some of what was said.
"…still need to figure out what happened to Kim. Where did Jocelyn come from?"
"Maybe she's some alternate dimension's version of Kim? I mean, Jeez… she looks exactly like her. It's kinda spooky!"
Jocelyn bit her lip. "Alpha? Who is this 'Kim' everyone keeps talking about?"
"Kimberly Hart is the Pink Power Ranger."
An image of a figure in a pink costume similar to the other Rangers surfaced in Jocelyn's mind. "I saw her in that portal at the North Pole."
Alpha nodded. "She and Tommy, the White Ranger, were sent to the North Pole to investigate an energy reading. What they found was the portal that apparently you saw as well from your dimension."
Jocelyn glanced back down the hall in the direction from which the Rangers' voices emanated. "And… I resemble Kim, don't I?"
"It's more than simply a resemblance. You could be twins!"
She grimaced. That just can't be a coincidence.
Alpha turned toward a doorway, and Jocelyn watched as the doors slid open, revealing a cozy kitchen.
She smirked with amusement. "Do you guys live down here?"
"I do, but the Rangers still live at home. A long time ago, the Rangers did live in the Command Center, so these headquarters were designed with all the facilities humanoids need to survive: meal room, bathing rooms, living quarters, training room… the works. But Zordon had decided that it was too much to expect the Rangers to leave their homes, unless their lives were immediately threatened. On one of the previous teams, one member in particular was bitter about leaving his family and life behind. It… ended badly."
Alpha's tone switched from reflective to chipper as he stood at what looked like a wall-mounted microwave. "So, what can I get for you? Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, warm milk?"
"Hot tea, please."
"Black, green, oolong, white, or herbal?"
Jocelyn's eyebrow rose. "Uh… just your regular Lipton tea is fine."
"Sugar, honey, milk, lemon?"
She felt the urge to scratch her head. "Just a little honey. If it's not too much trouble, that is."
Alpha typed in the commands, and Jocelyn stared as a flash of light passed through the clear lens of the door. When Alpha opened it, a mug of steaming tea greeted her.
"Here you go," he said cheerfully.
Jocelyn accepted the cup, staring at it suspiciously. She took an experimental sip, and then stared at the cup anew.
Alpha giggled at her wary stare. "The synthetron still has some bugs to work out, but it's very good at simulating most beverages and simple foods accurately. We're working on programming the more modern foods; my current culinary priority is perfecting the cheeseburger. Would you like anything to eat?"
"No," she answered quickly. "I don't have much of an appetite."
The small robot scuttled to her side, laying a padded hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. Zordon will figure out how to get you home, fit as a fiddle."
She stared at the synthetic being, peering at its neck and head to determine some way to remove the casing to reveal a real person. Could a robot possibly be so compassionate?
"If you're ready, I can show you to the main Command Center," Alpha invited. "We do need to figure out our next steps."
She nodded, taking another long sip of the tea. The warmth flooded her, easing some of her tension. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be."
* * *
Zack had to admit it; he was impressed. Alpha had strolled in, politely introducing Jocelyn to Zordon, and the girl didn't even blink at the gigantic floating head looming over her. She only smiled and waved in greeting.
Who knows what kind of weird aliens she's seen in her dimension?
"So, are you a non-corporeal spirit creature, or is this tube some sort of projection device, sending an image of you from somewhere else?" Jocelyn asked.
"BOTH, ACTUALLY," was the response. "ONCE I WAS A MAN, BUT NOW THIS IS THE ONLY WAY I CAN COMMUNICATE WITH MY RANGERS."
Jocelyn nodded, and smiled at each of the Rangers in turn. They were far less intimidating without their uniforms, and she could even make eye contact with each one… except the hostile one in a white tank top and cargo shorts, who looked away almost immediately.
A rueful smile emerged as she went back and looked at each teen one more time. "Do you guys always wear outfits in your color, or is this just a weird coincidence?"
The observation won an embarrassed blush from the one in a striped shirt and blue jeans, a roll of the eye from the girl in a purple crop top, and a deep chuckle from Zordon.
"I told you guys we need to work on that," the purple one grumbled, folding her arms irritably.
"No one's figured it out before," the one in red stated, an amused grin on his face. He then approached Jocelyn, and extended his hand. "You've matched faces to colors, but you still don't know what to call most of us yet. I'm Jason."
Jocelyn shook his hand, secretly grateful for his easy-going demeanor and genuine grin. The welcome helped set her at ease.
"These are the rest of the Power Rangers: Alexis, Billy, and Tommy… and you met Trini and Zack earlier."
"Right," Jocelyn said, smiling at the two who were the first to let their guard down earlier. Her hazel eyes lingered on Tommy, who seemed to be closely inspecting something on the tip of his sneaker.
He has every right to be upset. They all do, really. They have no idea what happened to their friend. "Have you guys figured anything out?"
"Nothing useful," Trini explained. "All we've been able to conclude is that the portal was inter-dimensional, and that it was very unstable."
"Unstable?" Jocelyn repeated, her heart sinking. "That doesn't sound promising."
"It means it'll be much more difficult tracing the portal to determine its origin," Alpha explained. "More stable portals can be properly analyzed and reactivated without too much difficulty. Preliminary analysis suggests this is an entirely different kind of portal."
"One thing that may help is knowing what happened from your perspective," Billy commented. "You said you saw a screen, and you saw an image of Tommy. Is that correct?"
"I saw Tommy and your friend Kim," she elaborated. "In fact, we all saw them."
"Who's 'we'?" Alexis inquired.
"Me and the rest of the Spectrum Force. We were investigating an energy reading at the North Pole, and we found the Denebian princess toying around with some sort of magic…"
She stopped when she noticed the blank expressions on the Rangers faces.
"Maybe I should start from the top?"
"THAT WOULD BE HELPFUL."
"Okay… um, a couple weeks ago my friend Rachel was picked by this alien hero Spectra to assemble a team of humans to fight off the Denebian Empire. The Denebians are these power-hungry aliens bent on taking over the galaxy, and they set their sights on Earth to add it to their Empire so they can squash the resistance. Anyway, Rachel picked me and four of our friends to become the Spectrum Force."
Jocelyn held up her hand, revealing her ring. "We each have a ring like this, that transforms us into an Enforcer. We each have a different color; not unlike you guys, actually. There're six of us, and we've each been assigned a color of the rainbow: red, orange… that's me… yellow, green, blue, and purple."
"So there aren't any Power Rangers in your world?" Zack asked.
"Nope. Not that I know of, anyway."
"AND THE DENEBIANS YOU BATTLE, ARE THEY VERSED IN MAGIC?"
"I don't know if they all are, but the empress Phaedra definitely is. She even took over my body once, if you'd believe it."
"And what about this 'princess' you mentioned?" Tommy asked, "What's she capable of?"
Jocelyn grimaced. "I don't know; this is the first time we met her. She's pretty small for a warrior, but she's tough as nails in a fight. When we got to the North Pole, she was just waiting for us."
"When Kim and I got to the Pole, there was no one there; only the portal we found," Tommy informed the others. "That must mean the point of origin was in her reality."
"That makes sense," Jocelyn agreed. "Spectra, that's our mentor, she said she never saw anything quite like the portal we saw. I mean, it didn't look all that special, but the cave was a total mess, and there was this really creepy carving on the ground filled with blood."
Zack winced. "Ugh. Definitely doesn't sound like the kind of magic I want to come across."
"WAS THIS CARVING DIRECTLY BENEATH THE PORTAL?"
"Yes, it was!"
"Do you know what it means, Zordon?" Trini wondered, her voice hopeful.
"THE EVIDENCE SUGGESTS THE DENEBIAN PRINCESS INTENTIONALLY OPENED THE PORTAL THROUGH A RITUAL OF SOME SORT. HOWEVER, I CANNOT SEE WHY SHE WOULD CREATE A PORTAL TO SEND JOCELYN HERE."
"Yeah, that doesn't make sense," Alexis murmured. "I mean, if she wanted to banish the entire Force, why didn't she send them all through?"
"Well, she didn't exactly send me through," Jocelyn admitted. "I think it was my fault. I got too close to the portal voluntarily."
"That's what Kim did!" Tommy added urgently. "The portal just suddenly reacted to her."
"It's more than just proximity," Billy hypothesized. "Otherwise you would've passed through as well, Tommy."
"Unless proximity is required on both sides?" Trini wondered. "It sounds like both Jocelyn and Kim got too close, and together their presence activated the portal."
"I tried to jump through; you can't get closer than that," Tommy pointed out. "And Jocelyn said her teammates were with her. They must've reacted the same way I did."
"Look, we've established that Kim and I look alike," Jocelyn stated, "so maybe this portal only makes even exchanges? Let's say Kim and I are more or less the same person, on whatever cosmic level that applies here. Then the only way anyone else can pass through is if their… 'equivalent', for lack of a better term, also touches the portal at the exact same time."
"Sounds like a pretty useless portal," Zack realized, "I mean, let's say this princess wanted to banish someone to an alternate dimension. What're the odds that person's double happens to be walking by? In the North Pole, of all places?"
"PERHAPS THE INTER-DIMENSIONAL PORTAL IS A SECONDARY FUNCTION," Zordon surmised. "THE SPELL THAT CREATED THE PORTAL MIGHT HAVE ANOTHER, MORE SEVERE EFFECT."
Jocelyn's eyes widened. "Like what?"
"UNFORTUNATELY, WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO DETERMINE ANYTHING ABOUT THE INTENTION OF THE SPELL."
"I could go back to the North Pole," Tommy suggested. "Maybe there's something I missed?"
"THE STORM CONTINUES TO INTERFERE WITH OUR SENSOR RELAYS, AND MAKES TELEPORTATION IMPOSSIBLE. I WILL NOT SEND YOU BLINDLY TO THE POLE. WE CANNOT PREDICT WHAT MAY HAVE MANIFESTED THERE SINCE YOU LEFT."
"The portal closed, though." Tommy argued.
"JUST BECAUSE THE WINDOW HAD VANISHED FROM THE VISIBLE SPECTRUM DOES NOT MEAN THERE ISN'T STILL A CONNECTION BETWEEN OUR TWO WORLDS. UNLESS IT WAS INTENTIONALLY CLOSED FROM THE OTHER END, IT IS LIKELY TO STILL EXIST… AND POSE A DANGER TO ANY WHO EXPLORE THAT CAVERN."
"Then we should wait until the storm calms down," Jason decided. "Better to be safe than sorry. We can all teleport to the cave, and make a quick exit if we find something we can't deal with."
"Fine," Tommy sighed. "Then what do we do in the meantime?"
"It is a school night," Alpha commented.
"What about Kim?" Trini wondered.
"Well, if I'm here, then it's only logical that Kimberly materialized in my world," Jocelyn pointed out. "I'm sure my friends took care of her."
"We don't know that for sure," Tommy groused. "Zordon, you even admitted you don't know what this portal is supposed to do."
"YOU ARE CORRECT, TOMMY. HOWEVER, A PROPER ANALYSIS OF THE READINGS WE HAVE SO FAR COLLECTED WILL TAKE SEVERAL HOURS. THERE IS NO REASON FOR YOU TO REMAIN HERE DURING THAT TIME. YOU SHOULD RETURN TO YOUR HOMES AND GET THE PROPER REST."
Alexis suddenly gasped. "Guys, we've got the PSATs in the morning! Wow, I totally forgot!"
Jocelyn's eyes widened as she stared at each of the Rangers in turn. "You guys are in high school?"
Tommy glanced at her. "Why? How old are you?"
"Eighteen… and I'm the youngest on the Force!" She frowned, obviously thunderstruck. "I mean, how do you do it? Sneak off the save the world when you've got classes that actually take attendance and parents to deal with every day?"
"We manage," Zack understated with a casual shrug.
"Barely," Alexis sighed.
"But this time, it's going to be tough," Trini realized with a thoughtful pout. "Kim's gone, and the absolute earliest we'll see her again is tomorrow. Mrs. Hart will go ballistic if she doesn't come home tonight."
"Trini, call her and ask if Kim can stay overnight at your house," Zack suggested. "We've tried that before."
"But this is a school night, and we have an exam tomorrow morning," Jason responded, shaking his head. "Mrs. Hart won't agree to a sleepover; she'll insist that Kim come home tonight."
Then, an idea seemed to strike Trini, Zack, and Jason at once. Three pairs of eyes slid towards Jocelyn, their gazes calculating.
The Orange Enforcer took a step back. "You're joking…"
"You look enough like Kim to pull it off," Trini answered, stepping closer to the startled stranger. "Same height, same build, exact same face… just your hair and eyes are a little light. Mrs. Hart might not even pay much attention."
"I'm sure she'd notice I'm not her daughter!"
"Only if she spends some time with you," Jason countered. "I mean, it's not like she's expecting a substitute. Just go home and tell her you're going to sleep early so you're rested for the test."
Jocelyn blinked. "Wait… you want me to actually take Kim's PSATs? Isn't that cheating?"
Zack grinned impishly. "It's not like they really count for anything… besides, how'd you do on your PSAT?"
"I don't remember, but I got a 1380 on the SAT last year."
"Wow," the Black Ranger murmured. "Okay then, just try not to do that well. Kim's a good student, but she's not that good."
"But… I don't know anything about this world, or you guys, or Kim's life!" Jocelyn persisted. "How can I masquerade as her?"
"We can advise you on the most critical elements of Kimberly's school day," Billy proposed. "Tomorrow would be an optimal day for such an attempt, since the PSAT will take up the morning. You will only have to attend homeroom and the afternoon classes, and I believe at least one of us is in each of those classes."
"It won't work," Tommy decided. Everyone turned to their leader, who stood beside the Viewing Globe separated from them all. "She may look like Kim, but she's not Kim… and she can't just become Kim. Somebody's going to notice that 'Kim' is acting weird. She won't recognize people, or know what's going on in class, or even know the combination to her locker. Even her voice is different! And don't forget her appearance… somebody will notice."
"Then maybe a wig… or some hair dye?" Trini suggested.
"Hey!" Jocelyn growled. "I'm not dying my hair!"
"Well, if anyone asks, we could always say Kim dyed her hair," Billy pointed out. "She does have a penchant for adjusting her hair color and style every now and then."
"If I tie my hair up, it might not be as noticeable," Jocelyn contributed, holding her hair in a bun to demonstrate. "The ends are lighter because of the sun."
Trini grinned. "So does that mean you're in?"
The Orange Enforcer sighed. "I sure don't like it… but so long as I don't have to fundamentally change my appearance, I guess I can try it." She then turned to Zordon. "But you'll keep us informed the minute that polar storm eases? I'd like to see what's going on up there myself."
Zordon smirked at her somewhat demanding tone. "TO THE EXTENT IT IS PRACTICAL, YES. I WON'T INTERRUPT YOUR EXAMINATION IF I CAN HELP IT."
"I guess that's fair." Jocelyn released another heavy sigh, and glanced at each of the Rangers once again. "So, which one of you will take me 'home'?"
* * *
Sitting so close to her, watching her through the rearview mirror, he couldn't ignore the differences even if he'd wanted to.
Her hair's way too light… it's almost blonde. Kim would never dye her hair blonde. She might lighten it a little… but this is too drastic. And her eyes are all wrong; they're almost green. Not like Kim's… not at all.
He couldn't explain why it made him so uncomfortable, seeing this girl that looked so much like his girlfriend. When he first brought her to the Command Center, he'd tried to come up with explanations to her altered appearance. He hadn't even considered the idea that she wasn't even Kim.
Then, when she transformed and turned the infirmary upside down, Tommy had been outraged. At first, he thought this being had somehow followed Kimberly, and abducted her once again. But then, he couldn't rule out the color of her hair billowing beneath vibrant orange energy.
The girl in orange was the girl he'd brought from the North Pole. Meaning… he'd abandoned Kim.
It was too unsettling to ponder. Was there anything he could've done to find Kim? Did he miss some critical clue? Did he leave too soon? What if the portal only vanished temporarily, just to reappear later? What if Kimberly materialized a little later? It wasn't impossible for Kim to fall back through, right?
Had he known that the girl wasn't Kim… would he have left that cave? Or would he have lingered, desperate to find the woman he loved?
If he'd stayed, Jocelyn would have died. It was a simple fact. Even as it was she'd suffered from hypothermia… had he fully investigated the cave, or delayed in any other way, she might not have recovered.
At least Jocelyn had recovered. That's one life that didn't weigh on his shoulders. But that didn't do much to ease his anxiety. Kimberly was out there somewhere… and instead of trying to find her, they were trying to return to normal life. They were asking Jocelyn to fill Kim's shoes, as if those shoes were so easily filled.
"So, this is Kim, huh?" Jocelyn murmured from the seat behind him.
Tommy glanced again at the rearview mirror, noticing the sleeve of photographs she'd found. They were the photographs Kim had gotten developed just that afternoon.
"Yeah, that's Kim," Trini answered from beside her, "And the pirate there is Tommy."
"Great costumes," Jocelyn murmured, flipping to another image. "You guys look like you had a great time. I guess it was Halloween?"
"Right. We'd had a Halloween Ball on Friday."
Jocelyn blinked. "You mean this passed Friday? Wow… that's so weird! It's February in my dimension."
"I wonder if that's meaningful? We should tell Zordon about it tomorrow when we get a status update. Oh, here's a shot with some other people you should know," Trini added, sifting through photographs. "Here are Bulk and Skull, they tend to be a little obnoxious…"
Tommy's gaze lingered on Jocelyn until he finally forced his attention back to the road. When the question rose of who would escort Jocelyn to Kimberly's house, Tommy had almost flatly refused. But it was simply too logical: Kimberly had left her purse in his car that afternoon, immediately before leaving on their fateful mission to the North Pole. Either way Jocelyn had to make a stop at Tommy's car to collect Kim's essentials. And with Trini along for the ride, who better to provide Jocelyn with all the basic information she'd need?
Despite Tommy's initial resistance, the rest of the team was convinced this Kim look-alike could pull it off. Before the White Ranger's protests could become vehement, Jason had taken him aside, and offered his own two cents in private.
"Tommy, we're doing this for Kim. We'll find her; it's only a matter of time. But realistically, we don't know how much time. Zordon and Alpha are doing all they can to track her down, but in the meantime, we have to do what we can to make things easier for Kim when she gets back. Jocelyn's willing to try it out, and if this works, when Kim does return she won't have to worry about panicking parents or missed exams. She'll be glad we did it."
Jason did have a point. Jocelyn was doing Kimberly a favor by keeping control over the more mundane elements in the Pink Ranger's life. The least he could do was help Jocelyn out… right?
But it still felt so wrong.
"Here we are," Tommy murmured, pulling his Jeep to the curb in front of the modest townhouse Kimberly and her mother shared.
"Tommy, Mrs. Hart's car isn't here," Trini noted, gazing out the window at the empty driveway. "And the lights aren't on."
"So, maybe we can give Jocelyn a little tour? It could only help things."
Tommy couldn't argue that. So he shut off the engine, and climbed out of the driver's seat.
Jocelyn followed the pair to the door, and frowned when Tommy held his hand to her.
"You've got the key. In Kim's purse."
"Oh, right." Jocelyn dug out the house key, and a moment later Tommy flicked the switch, illuminating the small but stylishly decorated home.
Tommy and Trini led the way, Tommy entering the kitchen while Trini went to turn on the lights in the den. Tommy glanced at the answering machine, and activated it.
"There's a message," he explained.
Soon, the voice of Caroline Hart projected from the machine. ^Hi, honey, it's me. I guess you're still out, but I wanted you to know that I'll be going for a drink with Gerard. I may be back late. I'll see your in the morning.^
"Who's Gerard?" Jocelyn wondered.
"Kim's parents are divorced. I've never heard of 'Gerard' before, but I guess he's Caroline's most recent… uh… interest."
Tommy then turned to the cabinets, and began pointing out features of the small kitchen. "Here's the flatware, cups and dishes, and here's the cereals and snack foods. Kim doesn't drink coffee, by the way, so Caroline will definitely notice if you do."
"No coffee?" Jocelyn repeated with a grimace. "Wow."
"Kim usually walks to school when the weather's nice, but sometimes I pick her up. So I'll be at the door at seven-thirty."
He then led her to the stairs. "There're three bedrooms, but one of them Caroline has set up as a home office. She's a staff writer for a women's magazine. You know, clothes, makeup, the arts… that stuff."
Jocelyn nodded, trying her best to capture all the details.
"Kim's room is the second door on the left. The first door is a closet, and the bathroom is directly across."
"You really know your way around here, don't you?" Jocelyn commented innocently.
Tommy bit his lip, turning away.
Jocelyn noticed the silence, and her eyes widened when she reached a conclusion. A conclusion that explained a lot about the White Ranger's behavior.
"Oh…" was all she said.
Thankfully, Trini emerged from Kim's bedroom and dissolved the awkward air. "Here, I've written you a list of all our home numbers. Feel free to call me if you have any questions, or need anything. Kim has her own phone line, by the way."
"Thanks," Jocelyn murmured, taking the index card. "So how can I get in touch with Zordon?"
"We have communicators that link us to each other, and the Command Center," Trini explained, holding up her wristwatch. "But we don't have one for you, so if you need to talk to Zordon, you'll have to let us know."
"I can live with that."
"So, is there anything else you need?" Trini asked.
Jocelyn shook her head, and tried her best to smile. "No, I think I'm situated."
"Okay, then we'll see you tomorrow." Trini then wrapped the startled Orange Enforcer in a warm hug. "And thank you for helping Kim like this."
The friendly gesture helped ease Jocelyn's growing discomfort. "Sure."
She then waved to Tommy, and watched as the two Rangers headed out the door. She stood in the hallway, listening as the car pulled away into the night.
She was alone in Kimberly's house.
The strength just seemed to flow from Jocelyn's limbs as she dragged herself into the bedroom Tommy indicated. She switched on the light, and released a tired sigh.
The room was spacious and neat, with pink frills and stuffed animals adding a sense of cheer and innocence that threw the Orange Enforcer for a loop. On the dresser stood over a dozen framed photographs, and on the shelf propped above the bed rested several photo albums.
"This Kim is a real shutterbug," she realized, browsing through the framed images first. Kimberly and the other Rangers at the park. At the beach. At a football game. At a fair. Kimberly wearing a flaring miniskirt, holding pom-poms.
"Oh God… she's a cheerleader? I'm doomed…"
She shook her head in remorse, setting the photograph back on the dresser. Then, her eyes were drawn to another photograph, oddly dark when compared to the other pictures with bright colors and settings.
Kimberly, wearing a floor-length graduation gown and matching cap. At and her sides were two adults, the man dressed in a neat charcoal suit, and the woman wearing a black skirt and understated burgundy blouse.
"This must be Kim's middle-school graduation. And these are her parents."
It was particularly odd seeing this image of Kim's parents. Jocelyn hadn't really given it thought, but looking at them now she realized that she had expected them to look like her parents.
Admittedly, there were some similarities. Julian Armand did match Mr. Hart in approximate height and build, and the overall coloring was just about right. Though Julian's shape of face was wholly different. At best, they could pass for cousins, but really there was little resemblance.
Caroline Hart was slender and elegant, which differed greatly from Nancy Armand's less feminine ways. Nancy was heavier set, and significantly taller. Plus, her fair, freckled complexion, bright green eyes, and strawberry blonde hair provided a stark contrast to Caroline's darker coloring. And yet, something about the shape of their eyes and jaw was strikingly similar.
"This is all just too weird," Jocelyn huffed, setting the photograph back on the dresser.
She made her way to Kim's neatly made bed, and stared at it for a few moments. She didn't have the heart to remove the arrangement of stuffed critters… but surely Mrs. Hart would be perplexed if her 'daughter' slept on the floor in her own bedroom.
"It's no big deal," Jocelyn reminded herself, setting the decorations on the chair beside the bed. "It's just a bed. I need to sleep somewhere."
She uncovered a frilly pink nightgown beneath a pillow, and her eyebrow rose. "No way in hell," she groused. "My Dreiser shirt will just have to do."
She pulled off her worn sneakers and loose-fitting jeans, set them neatly under the bed, climbed under the pale pink sheets, and turned off the light.
Jocelyn stared at the ceiling, trying to fall asleep by sheer force of will.