Authors Note: This piece centers mainly on Justin. It is not very long since the story will take place over a long period.

Selection Process

by Shadow Ranger

Angel Grove

12 October 1996.

A warm October and two almost teenage boys were taking advantage of the good weather. They were outside practicing the moves they had learnt in Karate class. For anyone watching from the sidelines it would be easy to mistake the sometimes-clumsy movements for a lack of skill. Closer inspection would reveal the truth; that both boys were wearing weight packs on their wrists and ankles. The intention was to become stronger and faster fighters by making it more difficult to move normally.

“You’re getting better,” Fred Kellman remarked as his friend threw him to the ground.

“So are you,” Justin Stewart remarked.

“I’m starting to get used to the extra weight,” Fred exclaimed. “It doesn’t throw my balance as much as it did.”

“Well, this would work better if we could alter gravity,” Justin remarked. “But since we can’t, this works just as well.”

“Justin!” Mrs Stewart called from the door of the Stewart family’s vast house. “It’s time for Fred to go home. You have studying to do.”

“Oh Mom!” Justin said. “Can’t we practice a bit longer?”

“Don’t oh Mom me young man,” his mother replied. “You waste enough time practicing Karate as it is. You’ll never be able to keep your grades up if you don’t spend more time studying. You don’t want to end up like your father do you?”

That was a cheap shot and both Justin and his mother knew it. Dean Stewart was a former World Karate Champion who had fallen on hard times. He now toured as part of a group known as the World Warriors, putting on shows for people who loved to watch Street Fighting. He was hardly ever home these days although his money was what paid for the Stewarts’ vast estate.

Mrs Stewart on the other hand was a shrew. She had met Dean when he was working for a modeling agency and had used her charms to win his heart. She had planned to marry, gain two daughters and use her husband’s connections to get them jobs as models. Then she had planned to divorce Dean and take him for everything he was worth.

Things hadn’t worked out how she had hoped. Justin had been born instead of the twin girls she had wanted. Then Dean had shocked her by showing her the agreement she had signed before her wedding. A document that stated that in the event of divorce, she would not be entitled to his estate. It had led to an impossible situation where Justin was trapped with two parents who hated each other, but refused to divorce. Home life was not fun.

To make matters worse, his teachers had marked Justin as a genius. Mrs Stewart had jumped at what she saw as a new opportunity and had pushed Justin in every way possible. In her mind Justin would be a success in the scientific world and would make the money she had envisioned her daughters earning.

She had canceled the clubs that he belonged to and forbidden him from seeing his friends. Dean Stewart had intervened and allowed Justin to continue with Karate and his friends. But still Mrs Stewart had scared off all but four of his really close friends and was constantly trying to guilt trip him into studying harder. Using his father as an example of what happened to those who spent too much time making friends and studying martial arts she hoped to keep control over her son.

Some friends were not so easy for Mrs Stewart to remove from her son’s life. Fred Kellman was one such friend. His father had known Dean Stewart for a long time and any attempt to separate the two boys was bound to incur the wrath of Justin’s father. Mara Jade was the daughter of the mayor’s political advisor and a friend Mrs Stewart actively encouraged. She could foresee the possibilities of being linked to such a politically powerful family as the Carringtons.

Malcolm Sinclair was a friend Justin’s mother was determined to discourage. Not only was he a distraction to her son’s study, he was certainly not the type of person she wanted Justin associated with. In addition to her money grabbing and ambitious nature, Mrs Stewart was also a racist who tried to pass her view onto her son. Fortunately for Justin, his father and friends provided a better influence. Malcolm knew as well as Justin that Mrs Stewart didn’t like him. The fact that she had told him to his face to stay away from her son was enough to convince him of this. The names she had called him caused his parents to question whether Angel Grove was really such a nice place. Dean Stewart had stepped in despite his wife’s protest and made peace with the Sinclair family. The friendship had endured despite Mrs Stewart’s best attempts.

Tommy Oliver was her son’s other friend and it was a relationship that Justin’s mother didn’t like. In her mind Tommy was the reason that Justin insisted on attending Karate classes. Despite this, as long as Justin chose to remain part of that class his mother would have to endure his friends.

In spite of his mother’s selfish obsessions and his father’s constant absence, Justin had grown into a well-adjusted twelve-year-old boy. He was smart and well liked even if he only had a small circle of close friends. He also had an imagination and could envision how things would look.

Justin held a secret. It was something that he was not supposed to know, but that didn’t matter. The truth was that he remembered the events that had happened twelve weeks earlier. He recalled how an evil villain named Minion had taken him prisoner and used as a final slap in the face for the Power Rangers. Minion had forced him to watch, as the Gem Coin Rangers were tortured. He still remembered how minion had turned his head and forced him to witness Biilly’s assault on Tommy Oliver.

Then when Minion was convinced that the Gem Coin Rangers were broken emotionally, he offered them a count of six during which they could shoot him. If they fail to shoot they had been warned that Minion would snap Justin’s neck. They failed and Minion carried out his threat. Justin’s neck had snapped like a twig.

Had it been a dream? Justin wasn’t sure if his experience had been real or just a really strange dream. But he did recall the identity of the Rangers in his dream and even though it was strange to see his friends as Ranger it did make some sense. Tommy, Adam, Rocky, Trey and Kat always seemed to have a bond that went beyond friendship. The Yellow Ranger he had seen before, but he seemed unable to remember her name or where he had seen her. _Aisha? _ The name came naturally as he thought about her. Somehow he had expected Tanya instead.

It didn’t really matter. Justin had awakened after the incident in the Power Rangers’ Headquarters. He had faked a loss of memory because he was uncertain what they would do if he told them that he knew their secret. Especially since he remembered what Minion had said.

“Can you believe that in some dimensions this little brat is a Ranger?”

That had caused a lot of speculation about which the kid was, especially from the press. Justin had for once been grateful for his mother’s strict rules. She had turned the press away before they had a chance to approach Justin, claiming that her son had more important things to do than fantasize about being a super hero. Justin somehow knew that if he did become a Ranger, his mother would put a stop to it.

“Justin Albert Stewart, stop daydreaming this instant. It’s time to study!” his mother yelled.

“Yes Mom,” Justin said miserably.

“Inside now!” Mrs Stewart snapped. When Justin had gone she turned to Fred and added: “Don’t bother coming around this weekend. Justin has far too much studying to do. He could be a genius if he’d just put his mind to it.”

“Yes Mrs Stewart,” Fred answered. Secretly he knew he only had to mention Justin mom’s statement to his dad and she would back down.

Fred shook his head sadly as he walked home. He didn’t have a mother and knew the loneliness that could cause. His father did his best to make up for the loss and for the most part was successful. But even during those times that his father couldn’t provide what Fred needed, he never wished for a mother like Mrs Stewart. The woman had made it abundantly clear through her words and actions to her family, friends and Justin’s friends that she only stayed because she knew Justin would make her rich in the future.

While Dean Stewart was forced to live away from home, he ensured he more than compensated for the lost time when he was there. He never took his problems with his wife out on the kid and it was known that Justin and Dean were close.

Mrs Stewart though was a slave driver. She hadn’t wanted a boy and had made that abundantly clear to Justin, Dean and Fred’s father. Fred remembered the times when Justin had been forced to spend the night at the Kellman residence following one of his mother’s tantrums. Although normally short, they had in the past turned extremely violent. Somehow she had always managed to get away with treating her son badly and Dean was unable to step in to help.

After Fred was out of sight Mrs Stewart went inside to supervise her son’s study. She had big plans for the boy, but he seemed determined to ruin them by having fun. He was her ticket out of Angel Grove and all he seemed to worry about was having fun.

She opened his door as quietly as she could. She suspected he was slacking off again and was determined that this time he would learn not to disobey her. To her disappointment she found him hard at work. She watched for a little while and decided to leave him to it.

Outside the Stewart house someone was watching. He had witnessed the two boys training and had been impressed by both their moves and their idea of using weights to improve their speed. The theory was sound; excess weight would slow the body down, so by working out until they could move easily they should improve their normal strength. In practice he could foresee problems with the idea, but it should they were both thinkers, something he desired.

“Mission Log: Subjects Stewart and Kellman observed at Stewart home. Subjects both seem intelligent and skilled. Both are suitable candidates.”

From the glove compartment he took a piece of apparatus similar to the type used by jewelers. In place of the magnifying lens he had placed a special piece of filtered glass. It was designed to retrieve certain information about a subject that routine observation could not reveal. He located Justin within the building and pressed the button on the side of his headwear. The result was copied to a small datapad.

“Subject Stewart is a natural Blue.”

He drove along the road until he spotted Fred. He repeated the procedure and downloaded the result.

“Subject Kellman is a strong red. Both are the correct age and their history reveals no evidence of psionic training.”

He replaced the headpiece in his glove compartment and drove off.

“Recommendation is to retrieve both subjects ready for the next batch.”

Stewart Residence,

Two days later.

“Now remember honey, these people are extremely important and could get you into any university you want. Just be polite and answer all their questions.”

Mrs Stewart was being unusually nice and Justin felt it had something to do with the phone call she had received the previous day. Arrangements had been made for a Doctor Grayson to meet with Justin and his mother to discuss private schooling at the elite Corsec Academy located somewhere outside of Angel Grove and Crossworld City.

Something concerned Justin about the meeting but he was uncertain what it was. For some reason the phone had been faulty and as a result they were unable to call his dad to the meeting. Justin had also been forced to promise not to tell Fred about the visitor.

Dr Grayson arrived late in the afternoon along with three assistants and a strange brown case. After introducing himself the doctor had taken a seat and proceeded to ask Justin question. To start with they were simply general knowledge and mathematics questions that grew harder with each correct answer. After that he was asked to describe his outside interests. Despite Mrs Stewart’s attempts to discourage him, Justin started to talk about Karate and his friends. Dr Grayson made notes the whole time whilst ignoring Justin’s mother.

“Now Justin, I need you to tell me about your immediate family,” Dr Grayson said.

Justin did as he was told whilst his mother looked on. When he had finished, Dr Grayson handed the notes he had made to his assistant who in turn left.

“Well Mrs Stewart, I am pleased to tell you that Justin more than qualifies for our special scholarship. It will of course be a boarding post due to our location, but I’m sure Justin will be happy there.”

“Mom?” Justin asked.

“I’ll explain later,” Mrs Stewart said. “Go outside and play.”

Now Justin was really concerned. For his mother to tell him to do something other than study was rare. For her to do so with a smile on her face was less likely than spotting the Yeti. He knew it had something to do with the school Dr Grayson spoke about, but wasn’t quite sure what was happening.

When the boy had left the adults were able to discuss more important aspects of his selection.

“Now, about payment,” Dr Grayson said.

“But, I thought he had a scholarship,” Mrs Stewart protested.

She hated the idea of seeing an opportunity to send Justin someplace where her meal ticket would be able to study without distraction, but disliked the idea of paying money for the little brat.

“You misunderstand,” Dr Grayson said. “This scholarship has a small fund to pay our pupils’ parents for their children’s’ absence. I’m sure you understand how upset some mothers can become.

The words were exactly what Mrs Stewart needed to hear. The chance to be rid of the kid and to be paid for doing so was too much for her to refuse. “Where do I sign,” she asked. The though of what Dean would think never entered her head.

“We’ll take Justin now,” Dr Grayson said. “It will give him a chance to see the campus and decide whether he wants to attend.”

“I’m sure he will,” Mrs Stewart replied. “When do we receive the first payment?”

“After Justin has seen the campus,” Dr Grayson said.

At the Kellman residence Fred and his dad were talking to another man, Doctor Haines. Like Justin they had received an offer for Fred to attend the Corsec Academy on a special scholarship. At first both had been wary of what the man had to say, especially since it involved long periods away from home. But Dr Haines knew how to persuade people. He had dealt with gifted children before. He painted an image of Corsec Academy as a place that encouraged sport above academic achievement. For an added bonus he mentioned Justin was due to attend. That was enough for Fred to agree to take a look around.

The speed with which he was required to leave had been surprising, but soon father and son had hugged goodbye and Fred was on his way.

That night went down in history due to the large number of fires in Angel Grove. The Kellman, Stewart, Jade and Sinclair residences were burnt to the ground with no obvious sign of how they started. The location of Fred Kellman, Justin Stewart, Mara Jade and the three Sinclair children would never be discovered. The other members of their families died in the fire.

In other places throughout the Freak Zone disaster also struck. In Charterville a freak forest fire killed four local children, in North Valley a car crash killed all but one member of the Collin’s family and in Crossworld City the local dojo exploded, killing three people inside and leaving a student by the name of Aaron Thorn missing.

In New York a high concentration of Methane destroyed a vast section of the sewers. In the morning investigators would find a human sized rat on the sidewalk. He would be taken for research whilst believing his four students died in the explosion. Above ground, the explosion resulting in the loss of Peter Venkman’s nephews – Daniel and Garth Nelson, Dana Barrett’s son – Oscar and visiting student Chris Jones, shook Ghostbuster HQ.

Outside the Freak Zone, disaster continued to take its toll. In the Pacific Ocean, the private cruise liner of the Baker family was sunk in abnormally rough seas. Their only child – Scott was washed away by the waves. In Nevada, the bus transporting star athlete Lee Jones skidded off the road and exploded. Nobody was said to have survived the crash and the parents of sixteen children and the wife of the bus’ driver was left to grieve.

In Florida Gunther Schmidt’s compound was destroyed be lightning. All but two of his students made it out alive. Christina Croft and her friend Bruce Chen were the only ones missing.

The deaths were accepted as if they were normal and although sad, the friends of those lost would carry on as before. For some reason everyone would soon forget his or her deaths.

Twenty-three bodies were never found, but then the police had assumed they had been incinerated or wash far away. The fact that all but four of those missing had accepted a placement at Corsec Academy was never looked into. The four who hadn’t signed up were turtles and their bodies were eventually discovered in a taxidermist’s shop.

The next morning Dr Grayson stood reading the paper. The authorities were playing down the incidents, but then that was why he paid them. Only one more student needed to arrive before the academy was full. Corsec was just a front created to impress the parents. Arcadia Academy existed as part of a government project and the students he had selected were the next guinea pigs.

“Well?” the stern looking woman asked.

“Selection of candidates is almost complete,” Dr Grayson said. “We have one more to collect before we can move on to phase two.”

“Excellent,” his benefactor replied. “Begin the thinning out process at once. We only have places for twelve trainees.”

“Have your agents retrieved Lerigot’s package?” Grayson asked.

“It is on its way here. Then we will be rich.”

That said the woman walked away and Grayson was left to return to his work.

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