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Often Imitated, Never Duplicated

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It started innocently enough. Cruger was in a Mood about something or another, and spent half of B-Squad's morning briefing barking at them about the state of their living quarters. The word “disgrace” was used repeatedly, to the point that Jack had to elbow Bridge in the ribs to stop him from suggesting out loud that the Commander make use of a thesaurus. In the end, the entirety of B-Squad was summarily ordered to give their rooms and the common area a thorough scrub-down.

Z, deciding she was having none of that, proceeded to send a duplicate of herself to do her share of the work, while she took to the roof to work on her tan.

Syd proceeded to find her out and track her down.

It was the sound of a deliberately loud clearing of the throat, loud enough that Z heard it even over the music blaring in her headphones, that alerted her to the fact that the jig was up. She opened her eyes and peered over the rims of her sunglasses to find the Pink Ranger glaring down at her, arms crossed, tapping her toe.

“It's not fair, you know,” Syd complained. “If you were going to slack off, you could have at least made a second one to clean my half of the room. Then we could both be up here tanning.”

“How in the world did you know?” Z asked, taking her sunglasses off as she sat up fully. “No one can tell the difference between me and my duplicates. Not even Jack.”

“Well, I could tell. And unless you want me to rat you out to Cruger, you'll get your butt back downstairs and help clean.”

“Come on. Tell me how you knew. Please?”

“I don't know,” Syd replied with a smirk. “I guess you're just not as good at fooling people as you thought.”

Z, of course, took that as a challenge.

** *

She sent a duplicate to breakfast the next morning, as a test. Syd called her out on it after morning briefing. She had one run the obstacle course while she hid in the bushes. Syd showed up and pointed out that she had leaves in her hair. Whatever she tried and whenever she tried it, Syd never failed to find her out. Z couldn't figure out why, and it infuriated her.

Clearly, what she needed were a few more test subjects.

** *

Two Zs walked up to Jack in the common room.

“The heck is this?” he asked.

“It's a test,” said one Z.

“Which one is the real Z, and which is the duplicate?” said the other.

Jack frowned. “You haven't wanted to play this game since we were twelve. You got bored with it because you never lost.”

“Guess,” insisted both Zs.

“Fine, fine, you're the real one,” Jack relented dismissively waving his hand toward the Z on the left.

The Z on the right grinned. “Nope!”

Jack threw a pillow at her.

** *

Two Zs walked up to Sky at the shooting range, and Sky rolled his eyes.

“Do I even want to know?”

“It's a test,” said one Z.

“Which one is the real Z, and which is the duplicate?” said the other.

Sky at least took it seriously. He scrutinized both of them, his brow furrowed.

“You're the real one,” he said decisively, pointing at the Z on the right.

The Z on the left grinned. “Nope!”

“What?! Come on!”

** *

Two Zs walked up to Bridge in the kitchen, and Bridge didn't even bat an eye.

“Oh hi,” he said. “I just made some toast. You want some? Of course, I didn't make that much because I didn't know you'd show up, or that there'd be two of you, but I can always make some more.”

“No toast,” said one Z.

“You sure? It's buttery.”

Bridge," said the other Z. “Aren't you going to ask why there are two of me?”

“I just figured it was Twin Day and you decided to take it really seriously.”

“No, Bridge. It's a test,” said one Z.

“Which one is the real Z, and which is the duplicate?” said the other.

“You know, that's a really good question,” Bridge said. “I've always wondered that myself. How do you know which of you is the real you, and which one is the duplicate? And how do you know which of you is the real you, and which one is the duplicate? Do you know that you're the real you? Do you ever wonder about that?”

Eventually, both Zs left the kitchen with headaches and without an answer to their question.

** *

Two Zs walked into the bedroom, and strode up to Syd's bed. Syd glanced up from the fashion magazine she was reading.

“Copy's on the right, you're on the left.”

“Damn it!”

** *

After Syd managed to pick the original Z out of the five that were attacking her in a sparring exercise designed to simulate a group attack, Z decided it was time to fight dirty.

The duplicate crept over to Syd's bed in the dark, crawled in next to her, and started kissing her neck. Syd stirred in her sleep, purred, and rolled over to reciprocate.

“That's nice,” she whispered in the duplicate's ear. “Why don't you go back to your side of the room and ask the real you to join in?”

“Damn it!”

** *

As vexed as Z was by her last attempt at fooling Syd, she had to admit that the idea of letting a duplicate join in when they were fooling around had a certain appeal to it. So the next time both of them had a shift off, she attempted to orchestrate a threesome with Syd and herself. The effort fell flat when Syd kept ignoring the duplicate and focusing all of her attention on the original Z. She ended up throwing up her hands in disgust and leaving, and it took several days of Syd pouting at her before they finally kissed and made up.

** *

“I just don't understand how she does it!” Z complained.

She had gone to Kat's lab to help with some testing on a new blaster upgrade. All it had taken was an offhanded comment from the scientist about how much of – or rather, how many of – Z she had been seeing around headquarters lately to send the Yellow Ranger into a full-on rant.

“Well,” Kat posited. “The two of you are very close. Perhaps that's how she knows?”

Z felt her ears heat up. Of course, the way Kat had phrased her remark, she could just have easily been referring to the type of closeness Z and Syd shared as roommates, or friends, or even their solidarity as the two female members of their Ranger team. But the subtle flick of Kat's ears and the suggestive arch of her eyebrow told Z that she was also hinting at their...extracurricular activities. It wasn't that Z was surprised. All regulations on fraternization aside, her relationship with Syd was an ill-kept secret, and Kat had a knack for knowing things. It was just rather embarrassing to be called out on it.

“I had thought of that,” Z replied. “But here's the thing: Jack has known me forever. I'd argue that he and I have been a lot closer for a lot longer than Syd and I. And yet he's hopeless at figuring it out. Always has been.”

“Interesting.”

Kat dropped the topic for a minute or two, as she tinkered with the circuitry of Z's blaster, had her fire several test rounds at a target, and took notes.

Then she offered, “How about an experiment?”

Z frowned. “What kind of experiment?”

“I leave the room. You duplicate yourself while I'm gone, so I've got no way of knowing which is which. And then I'll see if I can tell the difference.”

“I've been doing that with the rest of the team all week. It hasn't helped.”

“No offense to your teammates,” Kat said, with one of those little smiles that never failed to remind Z how old she really was. “But they aren't exactly good about making use of the scientific method. So indulge me, please? I don't think you'll be disappointed.”

Z nodded agreement, and Kat withdrew to her office as promised. When she returned, two very skeptical-looking Zs awaited.

Kat's observations reminded Z of how Sky had handled her test a few days ago. She took her time, circled both of them, and looked them up and down with a degree of intensity that almost made Z uncomfortable enough to have her stop. But no, she reminded herself. This was for science. Well. Science and the all-important task of figuring out how to fool her girlfriend.

When she had finished, Kat came to stand face to face with both Zs.

“Original,” she said, pointing to one. “And your duplicate is standing on your right.”

Sure enough, the Z on the right vanished.

“All right, talk,” the remaining Z demanded. “How did you figure it out?”

“You smell different,” Kat said simply. “Not too different, but enough to give you away.”

“That's it?” Z said, incredulous. “That's how she's been doing it all this time?”

“That's the only appreciable difference I noticed,” Kat confirmed. “And my senses are a bit more acute than the average human's. If I had to make an educated guess, I'd say the only reason Syd can tell is the amount of time she's been spending in your personal space.”

Z started blushing again. “And Jack?” she challenged.

“Is certainly not in the habit of noticing how you smell.”

“And if that's all it is, then all it should take to fool Syd would be some perfume, or something like that?”

“Most likely.”

Z grinned. “That's all I needed to know.”

Syd was about to find out that turnabout was fair play.